Sunday, 5 October 2014

Challenge #9: The frugal housewife. Cabbage soup (1917)

(Scroll down for the short version!)

I always knew I wanted do make something from WWI for this challenge. Since this year marks 100 years since the war broke out, that's not so very remarkable. But I had had war time recipes on my mind since last year when I did a project for my history course about a particular event that took place i Stockholm in 1917. While researching that event, it was hard not to notice the many references to the food shortage in Sweden at the time.

Queuing for bread in Stockholm. 1917-18. Stockholms Stadsmuseum.
Sweden was a neutral country during WWI and was thus spared most of the horrors that the warring nations endured. Food shortages did however become more and more dire as the war progressed, especially in urban areas. By 1917/1918 almost everything was rationed and the things that weren't were mostly unavailable anyway. As you can imagine, frugality was not just a virtue but a necessity.
Park turned into potato field close to where I actually live now. Stockholms Stadsmuseum.

I couldn't get hold of the cookbook I wanted to look at (a 1917 book with war time recipes sent in to a newspaper by the readers!) because it was presently on display at the National Library - in a small exhibition about WWI from a Swedish perspective! How's that for coincidence!

I did however find two other books about cooking in "expensive times", both from 1917, and had a good look at them.

"The home and the expensive times", L.D. Lagerström, 1917.

I felt kind of bad about it, but my initial response was to feel... disappointed. Most of the recipes in the book didn't feel that different from other "everyday" cookbooks of the time. I had kind of expected things like "hedgehog stew", "grass bread", and "chicken feet pie" (well, maybe not exactly those, but you get my drift I hope!). Here were recipes mostly based around meat, although often with a meat-saving aim, and butter, sugar and eggs were not at all excluded.

It made me wonder how useful these books were to the struggling housewife at the time? And who bought these books? Surely not the poorest of the poor, who might have had the most use for extremely frugal recipes. My belief (although they're mostly speculations) is that these kind of books were targeted against a middle class that until these hard times hadn't really felt the lack of good food. These books picked up on what the poor/working class might have eaten under normal circumstances and made it available to the classes that suddenly found themselves lacking food even though money wasn't the biggest issue. Kind of like a reversed "trickle-down theory", whatever that's called.

But I digress. Whatever did I take back into my own kitchen from these books?

I picked a soup, simply called "Cabbage soup", mostly because it really felt like a "poor" recipe. No meat, hardly any fat, just cabbage, carrots and a lone onion. Very sad. But cheap, at least today and probably one of the cheaper meals you could imagine even in 1917.

The recipe is as short as the soup is meager: Clean and chop one small cabbage and fry in fat until brown. Add stock made from the root and the tough pieces of the cabbage, 4-5 carrots and an onion. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a long time on a slow fire or in a haybox.

The ingredients (salt, pepper, sadness and poverty not pictured):

I started with the stock and I guess this picture says it all:

I then ignored it for a few hours and did other things. When everything felt like it was more liquid than solid, I strained it and began frying the cabbage. It was quite a lot of cabbage, though I picked a small one...

I fried it in  lard and  margarine. I decided that butter was off-limits for the purpose of accuracy, but most fats were scarce at the time. Perhaps some bacon-fat-from-last-night would have been more accurate, but I didn't have any saved. Anyway, I fried it until golden brown-ish (and a bit burnt here and there, but this is war. We can't be too picky here).

Then I added the stock and some salt and pepper, and left the soup to it's own devices for several hours (this is about 1,5 hours in). It just said to cook "for a long time". A haybox would have been neat indeed, as the recipe suggested, and oh so accurate! All sorts of fuel-saving methods were tested and tried since coal and fire wood got more and more expensive along with everything else. I have a household book from the 1930's which goes a great bit into the virtues of hayboxes, so it was not just a wartime fad but were apparently in use until the mid-20th century when electricity and gas stoves became common and affordable enough.

Anyway. It did cook for a long, long time - I lost track, but probably close to 4 hours (I had things to do, such as laundry, so time flew away, and the end result looked pretty much like in the picture above.

But here's a picture of the final product, just because.

No, it's not a pretty soup but it tasted better than it's appearance suggests. Then again, I like cabbage, so it was pretty much what I expected. Cabbage. Mushy cabbage, with a sweetness to it, as cabbage tends to become rather sweet after a long cooking time. Exciting, no. But completely edible. A piece of sausage or something would have helped, and I'm not the kind of person that absolutely must have meat with every meal, but it could have helped this soup become "nice" rather than just "okay".

But I have at least three more servings of it left, so I have plenty of opportunities to experiment with leftovers in days to come...

Bonus pictures from the exhibition at the National Library in Stockholm:

1918 magazine. The people are praying to the angel of Peace - with a flour sack for body, cheese for a head, wings made from sausages and legs in the shape of butter barrels...

Ration cards - butter, coffee, sugar, bread, peas... 

The facts!

The Challenge: The frugal housewife

The Recipe: See above. Cabbage soup from a Swedish cookbook on economic housekeeping during WWI.

The Date/Year and Region: Sweden, 1917.

How Did You Make It: See above, but in short: a vegetable stock made from cabbage scraps, carrots and an onion, and chopped cabbage, fried brown, then put together for a looong simmer.

Time to Complete: Ouch! Allowing for cooking time for the stock and the soup itself, at least five hours! This recipe is not frugal in a 'time' sense.

Total Cost: This is so cheap. One cabbagae, four carrots and one onion. That's the cost!

How Successful Was It?: Considering the few, bland ingredients, not bad. It's not a gourmet's meal but it's a somewhat nourishing soup made on the cheap and that's what it's supposed to be.

How Accurate Is It?: The ingredients and the prep work is as accurate as could be. My pots and pans are of a modern variety, and a gas-top stove may not have been too common in 1917 (but not unheard of).

Recipe source: 
  • Lagerström, L.V. (1917). Hemmet och dyrtiden: råd för dyrtidshushållningen ...(2. uppl.) Tingsryd: Nordiska konstförl..

Monday, 1 September 2014

Challenge #7: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread. Nougat Pudding (gelatin)

Oh well! This challenge turned into one of those adventures where the ready dish didn't turn out the way you imagined but still tasted good – but at the same time looked so bad you wouldn't want anyone to see it. You who have ventured here will still get to do that as long as you stay around…

But first thing’s first. This challenge is about inventions and improvements, and I decided rather swiftly that I wanted ’my’ invention to be gelatin. And by that I mean processed, store-bought gelatin as opposed to the more old-fashioned way of acquiring jelly, since boiling bones and skin isn't something I’d like to do (and I hardly think my kitchen is equipped for such an enterprise).

Besides – I learned during my research that my native country Sweden is home of the largest pigskin gelatin factory in the world (if that doesn't make you feel peckish, I don’t know what will) so it must have been written in the stars!

When I embarked on my research, I thought the history of processed gelatin would be pretty straight-forward, as in: ”It was invented by So-and-so in 18XX”, but that wasn't quite the case. Many online articles stated that modern gelatin began when the American brand Jell-O was introduced in the 1890’s, but when I looked in cookbooks older than Jell-O I realised that that couldn't be the case (I think Jell-O was the first flavoured, and granulated, gelatin product to hit the market and that’s why there’s some mix-up).

I was curious when the gelatin leaves I’m used to were introduced and also what the product may have looked like before that. After some fruitless searching I eventually found the wonderful 'Gelatin Handbook: Theory and Industrial Practice' on Google Books (you can read most of it and fortunately the history chapter was more or less complete) and most of my inquiries were put to rest.

To put it shortly: gelatin is produced the way glue is produced, because (if I understand correctly) gelatin is animal glue in it’s most purified form, so it was the glue producers who eventually started to produce gelatin for distribution to consumers.

At the beginning of the 19th century large-scale production of edible gelatin was not yet in existence, but that would change rapidly during the century. Plants started to operate in France, England and America, and Germany seems to have been extra industrious in this regard, not least since gelatin started to be used in photography! During the mid-19th century and up to about 1880-1890, the purchasable gelatin was in the shape of ”thick gelatin plates, like those of chocolate” as ’Gelatin Handbook’ describes it. Things started to fall into place for me at that point, since some recipes I looked at talked about ”slices” of gelatin, as if you were to cut a piece from a block or something. Many recipes also advised to soak the gelatin for much longer than what I’m used to before melting it, which would make sense if the gelatin came in thick pieces (in advertisements from the 1850’s and upwards I also found many mentions of red or white gelatin, and the French variety seems to have been regarded as the best).

There appears to have been a veritable gelatin boom in Europe and especially Germany after ca. 1865 which makes sense if you look at those fantastic jelly moulds from the Victorian kitchens – you need a lot of gelatin to fill those up! Somewhere around the 1880s, the thin gelatin leaves that I’m unfamiliar started to come about, and also the powdered form. What I haven't yet figured out is how expensive gelatin was at different points during the 19th and early 20th century, but I may try to find that out later on. Or maybe you can tell me?

And with that, I’ll end this brief history of gelatin (but I do recommend the ’Gelatin Handbook’ if you want to learn more about gelatin and it’s uses besides the culinary) and go straight to my little disaster of a recipe:

Nougatpudding. Iduns Kokbok, 1911.

Nougat made from almonds, hazelnuts and sugar? Yummy! Cream as well? Even better. It can’t fail, right?


Honestly, I’m usually the first to blame myself when my cooking endeavors fail but there were a couple of things about the instructions in this recipe that bugged me… But, I had decided to halve the recipe and maybe you weren't supposed to do that. Who knows.

The first thing that irked me was that it said to ”chop” the nuts. Not grind them, but chop.

So i chopped them the finest I could, even though I thought to myself: ”Why not just grind them?”. But perhaps this nougat was supposed to be more chunky? What did I know.

Then I melted sugar, carefully, in a greased frying pan as per instructions.

My own fault in this may have been that I used a too wide-bottomed of a frying pan for that amount of sugar (I did halve the recipe after all), because when the sugar had melted, there wasn't a whole lot of it, which became very apparent when I added the chopped nuts. The recipe suggested that this mixture would be rather liquid since it was supposed to simmer for a bit. Liquid? Not a chance! I had a hard, chunky dough on my hands. Which smelled delicious, but I was thinking about abandoning it all by this point. But I didn't because those nuts were expensive, dammit!

So I warily mixed the paste/dough with 1 egg plus one yolk and three leafs of gelatin, rinsed in water and melted in a few tablespoons of warm water, and let it chill. Then I stirred in 2 deciliters of whipped cream and mixed gently.

All that was left was to put it all in a jelly mould in shape of a pineapple (because that was the only one I had of the right size and I didn't really care at this point anyway), said a prayer and banished the pudding to the fridge for a few hours.

Those hours flied by and it was time for the test. After some wrestling, I managed to get the pudding out of the mould and was greeted by...


You can all laugh, gag or whatever now. I know. I know. "Cat food" is the nicest thing I can compare this pudding's appearance to. I could say something else as well, but I won't. Because we all know.

Maybe from another angle..?

This may have been one of the grossest-looking things ever to have come from my kitchen (and I did 1970's recipes at least one a week as an experiment for two years so I've seen some things).

Of course, this terrible presentations doesn't help a bit. If I had made an effort with some berries or whipped cream or something, maybe it would have looked... Nah, who am I kidding!

But how did it taste, you must ask. Actually quite good. I was right about the nuts, though: in my opinion, they should've been ground, not chopped. I would have liked a smoother pudding. The taste was still quite nice, if a little bland. The cream made it more like a thick mousse than a jelly (and there were only three gelatin leaves in it after all) which was nice. With some experimentation, this could perhaps become a hit. Next time: smaller frying pan. More sugar or less nuts. Grind those nuts.

The nitty gritty:

The Challenge: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread.

The Recipe: Nougat pudding, from Iduns Kokbok, 1911 (Idun was one of the biggest magazines for women in Sweden in the late 1800s and a better part of the 1900s).

The Date/Year and Region: Sweden, 1911.

How Did You Make It: Chopped almonds and hazelnuts. Melted sugar and mixed in the nuts. I halved the recipe, and I don't know if that screwed it up or if the recipe was off, but it appeared to be too high a nuts to sugar ratio. I mixed sugar/nuts with eggs and gelatin and added whipped cream and allowed to set in a mould in the fridge for a few hours.

Time to Complete: The preparations, maybe 30 minutes, but it needs a few hours to set.

Total Cost: The nuts were the expensive part. At least $10/7 EURO (but I didn't use all the nuts I bought).

How Successful Was It?: Appearance: 1/10. Taste: 7/10.

How Accurate Is It?: I used modern kitchen aids like an electric chopper and whisk, other than that nothing too out of place.

Recipe source: 
  • Östman, E. (1911). Iduns kokbok. Stockholm: Ljus.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Challenge #6 - Seasonal. Lamb chops with tomato sauce (1835)

For the 6th challenge, I wanted to try a recipe from a new (for me) cookbook, the 1835 "Handbok vid den nu brukliga finare matlagningen[...]" by Margareta Nylander which originally was published in 1828 (i.e. "Handbook for the presently common finer cooking").

As usual, scroll to the bottom of the page for a quick write-up!

In the preface the author claims that all recipes in the book are thoroughly tested to ensure suitability for the Swedish cook, especially the one working in a better kitchen. I thought that was interesting, because I found a recipe that included tomatoes, something I hadn't heard of this early in the 19th century in a Swedish context.

I asked a friend who is more versed in antique cookbooks, and she knew of one even earlier recipe from 1821. That cookbook, however, was obviously directly translated from French and may not have taken into account what was actually used and available in Sweden at the time.

According to the vendor, this variety (Costoluto Genovese) is common in Italy and has been around since the early 19th century. 
I had to try and research the history of the tomato in Sweden, and even to I couldn't reach a conclusive verdict, I found some clues.

First, the tomato wasn't called 'tomat' as we say presently in Sweden when it was first mentioned; it was called 'pomme d'amour' (love apple) - isn't that darling? Carl von Linné naturally knew of the tomato since he was the one that classified the plant, but he believed that the fruit was poisonous when grown in a Scandinavian climate because it couldn't fully ripen (which isn't true, of course) although he acknowledged that the tomato was successfully grown and healthy to eat in countries like Spain.

How long this assumption prolonged, I do not know. In 1811, a book on household matters by Nicolas Appert was translated into Swedish from French and describes when tomatoes should be harvested (I have only read a snippet from the book so there might have been more). Again, since this was a translation from French, the mere mentioning of tomatoes is not definite evidence of them being commonly eaten or available in Sweden at the time.

George William Whitaker, late 19th century?

Then I found a wonderful book on Google Books, a 1815 dictionary of commerce. It lists all sorts of things that could be produced, manufactured, grown, caught and eventually sold, both domestically and internationally, from lace to iron. The entry for 'love apples' is short and doesn't exactly tell us if the tomato was actually imported to Sweden but I still think it is interesting that it's mentioned. The entry describes the tomato as common in Spain and Italy, where it is used for soups as well as pickled with pepper, oil and salt and also eaten as a refreshing and cooling snack.

Then we have the 1821 cookbook I mentioned above, and finally the 1835 recipe I decided to make for the challenge. Up to that point it's still hard to say how common tomatoes were in Swedish kitchens, but thankfully it gets easier after that but I'm going to limit myself to mentioning that tomato jam was offered for sale in Stockholm in 1842 and in 1853 were plain tomatoes (this time called 'tomat') advertised in a Stockholm newspaper. And in Swedish-speaking Finland tomato seeds for gardening were available in 1852, so I think it's fair to say that by the mid-19th century, tomatoes may not have been common but certainly not unheard of.

Onward to the recipe (and i guess it's clear by now that I chose the tomato as my seasonal ingredient!):

Lamb chops with Pomme d'Amour Sauce

 It was a simple recipe: lamb chops with salt and pepper dipped in clarified butter and breadcrumbs...

...then fried.

The tomato sauce was equally non-complicated. Tomatoes were cut into wedges and put into a sauce pan with a piece of butter and some water to simmer until soft (well, the recipe didn't say as much, but it made the most sense to me).

The tomatoes were then strained through a sieve, thus.

Then I melted some butter with flour in a saucepan, added bouillon (the non-period cubed variety...) and lastly the tomato sauce. It simmered on until the thickness seemed acceptable and was served on a dish with the lamb chops as per instructions!

The colours are a bit off in this picture (even though I tried to correct them in PS) but I can assure you that it looked much better in reality. The sauce wasn't tomato-red, but a softer orange shade, like Campbells tomato soup (I added the chopped parsley just for some additional colour).

And when all was said and done, the sauce actually did taste like a mild tomato soup. Since the recipe didn't call for any additional seasoning, except for the bouillon, it was not a huge sensational experience, but nice all the same (then again, Swedish commercial tomatoes are a bit bland even when they're at their best).

The lamb chops, well, they were lovely because you can't go wrong with lamb chops, in my opinion. The bread crumbs really added some yummy texture (and extra fat to be sure!).

So, considering how easy and comparatively cheap this recipe was, I'd absolutely say this was a success. My husband liked it as well and he's not always easy to please so that's something!

The Challenge: #6: Seasonal fruits and vegetables

The Recipe: Lamm-Kortletter med Pommes d'Amour-Sås (Lamb chops with tomato sauce) from Margareta Nylander's cookbook (online version courtesy of Umeå University Library).

The Date/Year and Region: Sweden, 1835.

How Did You Make It: I cooked tomatoes with butter and water until soft, then strained them through a sieve and added the juice to melted butter with flour and bouillon and cooked until thick. The lamb chops were seasoned with salt and pepper, then dipped in clarified butter and breadcrumbs and fried in butter.

Time to Complete: Less than 30 minutes.

Total Cost: The biggest cost were the lamb chops, since lamb is often expensive where I live, the rest was cheap or I had it on hand so let's say  about $11/8EURO for two persons (we were very hungry so i planned for 2 small lamb chops per person).

How Successful Was It?: The sauce was nice, if a little bland, probably because Swedish tomatoes tend to be a little bland! Some herbs, like basil, would have been a nice addition. The lamb chops were delicious with a breadcrumb coating.

How Accurate Is It?: Well, firstly, I how no idea how tomatoes tasted in 1835 so I used modern, normal commercial tomatoes. I also used store-bought breadcrumbs and modern store-bought bouillon cubes. So, not quite accurate after all.

Recipe source: 
  • Nylander, M. (1835). Handbok wid den nu brukliga finare matlagningen : innehållande tillika beskrifning på confecturer, sylter och glacer ; samt ett bihang, att göra soja, fransk senap, ättikor, bär-winer, bär-safter, att inlägga anjovis, m.m. ; jemte några underrättelser om slagt, brygd och brödbakning. (6. tillökta och förbättr. uppl.) Stockholm: Online version courtesy of Umeå University Library

Friday, 8 August 2014

Challenge #5: Pies! Tart of Strawberries and Ice Cream

Hello! Hope everyone is enjoying Summer. I'm starting to do that just now as I've been working for most of June and July, hence my hiatus form the latest challenges.

So I'm happy that I finally could participate in the pie challenge. Although 'pie' might be a bit of a stretch, as you shall see, I'm still happy that I tried a new recipe the best I could (even though the result was semi-successful at best...). I had fun and learned a few things (but have SO MUCH to learn still!).

(As usual, scroll to the bottom for the short version).

The recipe:

which called for an additional recipe:

Both recipes from The Professed Cook[...] by B Clermont, the 1776 edition. I can't find this edition I have as a pdf online but here's an 1812 edition on Google books.

It all sounded pretty straight-forward, and not too complicated for the novice, right? Well...

It started out with scalding and peeling of 400 grams of sweet almonds:

Those almonds were then turned into a kind of course almond meal with the help of two different kind of blenders/kitchen aids, because this stuff was tough! The recipe called for adding some egg white to prevent oiling, which I vaguely recall from other recipes involving almonds so I did that.

The result above. The meal lumped together but was otherwise quite even (those are lumps you see, not large pieces of almond). According to the recipe, you should beat the almonds in a mortar and the end result may have been very different Had I done that. Unfortunately I must admit that I don't own a mortar (I know, I know. I'm on the look-out for one but I'm too cheap to buy a new one and I've yet to find a suitable one in the thrift stores I trawl) so that option had to be ruled out.

Above is the almond paste after some time on the stove with sugar mixed in.It did indeed get a bit firm and pasty (you can see a little ball I kneaded with my hands to test the texture) but I started to get wary by this point...

It was pliable and knead-able, and you could flatten it with a rolling pin, as the recipe suggested, but it was so, so brittle. The smallest flattened pieces could carefully be picked up and put into a tin, but a piece large enough to line a larger pie tin? No way!

I had already decided to bake the crust in smaller, individual tins so that wasn't a biggie, but it was still pretty hard to force the paste into place in a somewhat aesthetically pleasing manner (and I didn't quite succeed with that either to be honest...).

The recipe suggested low heat for a short amount of time so I baked a test run on my oven's lowest setting (165 Celsius).
This is the result after a whopping 20 minutes. I think that was too long. It became hard and dense - too hard and dense, I think. I may have had a too thick layer of paste in the tins but a thinner layer would probably have made it impossible to get the crust out of the tin. I baked the rest of the batch for a shorter amount of time and they became a bit chewier, i.e. less hard, but a few of them broke fatally when I tried to remove them from the tins. Damned if you do...

Anyway, they still tasted nice. I mean, almonds and sugar, how could they not. But the consistency was way off - in no way could this paste of mine been served as a tart and pie where you cut and serve pieces. It was just too hard and dense.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm not a great cook! I know when I mess up, but I don't know why and how I did so. Any suggestions? 

Thankfully, the ice cream part of the recipe was a huge success in comparison!

I have never made ice cream the old school-way with ice and salt so it was a very exciting experiment! I don't own a sabotiere (no, really!) so I just used two bowls - one big plastic bowl with ice and salt and a small metal bowl with the ice cream ingredients - cream, sugar, orange flower water and egg yolks. These were mixed and heated onthe stove, then I let them chill over night and made the ice cream the day after.

Here it is when almost done. Like with so many things, at first nothing happened for a looong time, and then everything happened at once! Towards the end you had to stir like a madman to stop the ice cream to set at the edges of the bowl to make it somewhat smooth and even. I'm happy to say that I managed that pretty well. I served the ice cream when it was a bit more firm than soft serve.

Then me, my husband and his daughter devoured these treats in quite a rush, because they melted fast! There was literally no time to arrange the strawberries in a neat manner, as you can see.
Unfortunately, strawberry season is over here in Sweden so I had to use boring, watery imported strawberries, lightly sweetened.
The almond crust served mainly as a bowl at this point. You could take a bite out of it but no spoon or fork could best those things.

But the ice cream was yummy , yummy - how could it not be, it's cream! The orange flower water just gave a hint which was fine with me since I was afraid it would taste too much of perfume but it was fine. Lovely.

So the ice cream really saved this one. I'm a little bummed about the crust still, though, because I really liked the concept. I would like to serve something like this again, but I would use a different recipe for the crust in that case. Again: any pointers very welcome!

The short version

The Challenge: #5: Pies!

The Recipe: Tart of Strawberries and Ice Cream from The Professed Cook by B Clermont.

The Date/Year and Region: England, 1776.

How Did You Make It: For the crust, I mixed ground almonds and sugar in a pan on the stove which I then put into small pastry tins that I baked in the oven. The ice cream was made with the ice and salt method with two bowls.

Time to Complete: The crust: 1+ hour. The ice cream: About one hour.

Total Cost: Almonds, cream, strawberries and salt were ca $12.5/9,2 EURO. Sugar, eggs and orange flower water I already had on hand so a bit more if you have to buy those too.

How Successful Was It?: The crust wasn't too successful. The taste was nice but it was too hard to serve as a crust for a tart. The ice cream, on the other hand, was delicious!

How Accurate Is It?: The ingredients were fine, I think. The heavy cream may have been too fat for the 18th century - I think I've learned that our high-fat cream became possible after the separator was introduced but I may be wrong. The strawberries I used is of course of a modern variety that may have been very different to the types that were cultivated in the 18th century. I use dmodern kitchen appliances for most tasks involved, including a modern gas range, but I'm going to give myself some credit for making ice cream with salt and ice, dammit!

Source: The Professed Cook[...] (1776) by B. Clermont. An online 1812 edition is available courtesy to Google Books.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Challenge #2 - Vaniljsås (a kind of custard)

For the second challenge - Soups and sauces - I took a very easy route. I initially wanted to make a soup of some kind, but I didn't really have the energy to look for a recipe that seemed doable skill-wise and fitted my, for the moment, very restricted budget. So I settled on a sauce, and a very easy recipe at that. But it was a recipe I hadn't tried before and it came from a cookbook I hadn't used at all yet, so I still felt like I achieved something!

The recipe was for vaniljsås (literally 'vanilla sauce' but basically a custard but with potato starch as a thickening agent) and it came from this lovely 1945 cookbook that I was gifted by a friend last year:

It's called Billig mat ('Cheap food') and was first published in 1913. This is a 1945 edition though, published the same year that WWII ended. Sweden was a neutral country but food (and many other things) very rationed and scarce, but this book doesn't seem to take rationing into account at all. But it is supposed to be a frugal cookbook ('for the simple household', as the title says) and it is interesting to see how some things have shifted over the years: food that used to be regarded as cheap is now expensive, and vice versa.

But - onward to the recipe!

It was a very easy recipe with few ingredients.

Rough translation:
(For 6 persons)
4 dl milk/cream or cream
2 tblsp vanilla sugar
3/4 tblsp potato starch
1-2 egg yolks

Heat milk and sugar to a gentle boil. Mix the potato starch with a little bit of water and add to the milk while stirring. Allow to boil for a short while.
Remove the sauce pan form the stove and stir in the egg yolks, return the sauce to the stove and allow to simmer while stirring briskly until thick enough. Continue to stir until the sauce is completely cool.

I used dl of milk and 2 dl of cream, and three egg yolks because my eggs were very small. The vanilla sugar I used contained 'real' vanilla, not the synthetic kind, but either would have been correct in a 1945 context. 
Milk/cream and vanilla sugar on the stove (vanilla sugar also pictured in the small jar), potato starch + water in the bowl and egg yolks.

It was very quick to put together; the potato starch was a powerful thickening agent and the egg yolks helped as well. It felt like it was done and ready in no time at all!

I wanted to quicken the cooling-off process so I placed the pan in a bowl filled with cold water and continued to stir until the sauce was room tempered.

After some additional chilling in the fridge, I served the sauce to a modern rhubarb crumble, and it was very well received and I was rather pleased myself. I'll add some notes below!

Just the facts

The Challenge: #2 -Soups and sauces

The Recipe: Vaniljsås (a kind of custard) from a 1945 cookbook that I own (recipe can be found above).

The Date/Year and Region: Sweden, 1945.

How Did You Make It: See above!

Time to Complete: 10 minutes tops.

Total Cost: Not very much. I had all of the things already so it was basically 'free'. Should be a very cheap recipe wherever you are.

How Successful Was It?: Very. I really liked it. Before I chilled the sauce in the fridge, I thought it had a too distinct taste of 'warm milk' but it wasn't noticeable afterwards. It was thick and nice, almost a bit on the thick side, at least after a day in the fridge but still totally edible (and it was still yummy even after two days!). It was very rich - you could tell that it contained cream. I think using only cream (as the recipe suggested) would have been too much. I could have used a stronger vanilla flavour, but adding more vanilla sugar would have made it simultaneously sweeter, so next time I might add some extra pure vanilla for a little boost.

How Accurate Is It?: All the way, I guess. Even my gas stove would have been similar in 1945 (my non-stick IKEA pan not so much, on the other hand). 

I'm definitely making this again. In fact, I'm having people over in a few days and I need to serve something sweet, so I think I'll make another crumble with berries or fruits of the season and make this sauce again!

  • Friberg, Elvira (1945). Billig mat: Fullständig kokbok för det enkla hushållet. [Ny uppl.] Stockholm: Bonnier

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Challenge #1 - Literary food. 'Meat pie', or Pastej af stek.

Literary Foods - Food is described in great detail in much of the literature of the past. Make a dish that has been mentioned in a work of literature, based on historical documentation about that food item.

For the short write-up, scroll directly to the bottom!

Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1792) is perhaps as close as we get to a national poet in Sweden. His songs and poems are still well-known and sung here and are to me (and many others) a magical portal into 18th century Stockholm, to the gutters, public houses, bed chambers, pastoral picnics and all the other places Mr Bellman panted with words. A treasure indeed.

Source: Wikimedia
I chose one of the many drinking songs that Bellman wrote as my inspiration for this challenge (Fredmans sång N:o 14: Hade jag sextusende daler/If six thousand dalers they gave me). This one is about all the things you could do if you, somehow, got hold of a lot of money. The persona in this song will buy a great house with tonnes of servants, hold magnificent parties, buy beautiful things, keep a beautiful mistress or two and gamble among other things - but more than anything else: drink, drink and drink!

In the second verse below, something called Nubben's kräftpastejer (crayfish pies) are mentioned. That was my starting point. But minus crayfish. So, pies.

||: Löpare och kusk och lakejer,
     som jag säjer,
skulle jag också ha,
mumsa Nubbens kräftpastejer,
     jag ej väjer :||
ropa natt och dag hurra.
Men framför allt så skulle jag dricka.
     och så nicka
     och så hicka
     och så dricka,
glömma världens små besvär.

(Martin Best recorded an English version of this song in the 1970s, but the verse with the pies is omitted from his version that is based on a translation by Paul Britten Austin. You can listen to the song on Spotify among other places).

 I'm going to be honest here! I force-fitted the following recipe into this challenge's theme. That is, I decided on the recipe first, and then tried to squeeze it into the theme. The key word here is pastej. In the Swedish language of today, pastej typically refer to a pâté-like dish. But back in the days, a pastej meant some kind of savoury filling inside a crust of dough baked in an oven - in other words: a pie. Funnily enough, the word pie is now used in the Swedish language (but spelled paj) and refers to both sweet and savoury pie dishes.

The reason for choosing a pastej/pie was that I was going on a historically themed picnic on June 6th and I wanted to try a recipe suitable for picnic food: not messy, easy to transport and edible without too many utensils. Small, Pirozhki-like pies seemed suitable.

And I did find a recipe that looked tasty and not too hard for an unskilled and sloppy cook:

Pastej af stek, or (approximately), little meat pies. 
This is a recipe from a Swedish 1821 edition of an cookbook originally published in 1804 by Carolina Weltzin (who by the way had several literary connections; she translated novels and plays, wrote travel literature besides several works on cooking and housekeeping. And not least, Carl Michael Bellman dedicated one of his most beloved songs to her).

The recipe called for any sort of left-over meat: beef, veal, lamb or hen.

A rough translation of the recipe:
When you have cold leftovers of meat, whether it is beef, veal, lamb, or hen, chop it fine, melt butter over the fire and add some flour, finely chopped onion, lemon peel and parsley, stir it together over the fire, and add the chopped meat, some wine, gravy, if you have, or stock, a couple of egg yolks, mace, salt and grated bread, and stir well over the fire, and let it cool. Then you take puff pastry, do not make it too thin, and put it into small mould; put some of the filling therein, and cover with a lid of puff pastry or strips of puff pastry laid out in a grid pattern and bake in the oven. You may also bake them without moulds if you take squares of pastry, put some of the filling thereupon and fold the rest of the pastry over and seal with some egg; thereafter they are baked in the oven.
Day 1. 
I didn't actually have any leftovers on hand, but I did have a small hen in the freezer so I decided to cook it and pretend I had. I wanted to prepare the hen in a somewhat period manner and looked in an older cookbook (Cajsa Warg; see sources below) and found a recipe for hen fricassee. I followed the directions for the first half of that recipe, which was to let the hen boil/simmer in water with crushed ginger, butter, lemon peel, a whole onion and parsley.
Not too complicated, and tasty!
I let the hen boil/simmer for nearly three hours - I had planned on ~2 but forgot about it! At least the meat wasn't chewy... I picked all the meat from the bones and put it in the fridge over night.

Day 2.
Most of the ingredients for the pie fillings can be seen below. I used some home-made chicken stock I had stashed away in the freezer instead of 'gravy' (because I had no idea what kind the recipe referred to) and white wine. I used store-bought bread crumbs as well, since bread rarely have the chance to go stale and dry in this household.

The cooking process was uninteresting and resulted in a not too good-looking mince-like filling:
But it was very tasty! A flavour of lemon was quite distinct and made it taste fresh and a bit tangy (I think the wine helped as well). I was very pleased so far. 

While the filling cooled off I made the dough and here I strayed away from the recipe. It did call for puff pastry, and the cookbook had a recipe for that, but I haven't made a proper puff pastry from a modern recipe ever, and I wasn't sure if I was going to be successful with a historical one (that also was quite different from modern recipes). I know that making a good puff pastry is labour intensive and takes many hours. I didn't have the time, the skills or the inclination, to be frank.

So I went to another early Swedish cookbook from 1802 (by Anna Maria Rückersköld; see sources below) and found a recipe for a dough that was recommended for pies. It looked a lot less complicated than a puff pastry, and the author added that it was a lot easier to digest than the former! So, yeah, that was totally the reason for using this recipe instead!

Approximate translation:
Take 1 mark (212,5 gram) flour and ½ mark unsalted butter and when it is well worked together make a hole therein and add three eggs and work them into the dough and splatter cold water thereupon, a little at a time, until the dough is rather hard, then it is worked until it is tough.
That didn't sound too bad, but I'm not sure how successful I was. Maybe the eggs were too large, but the dough was far too sticky as long as I followed the recipe. I had to add quite a bit of flour to make it resemble a functional pie dough, and I'm still not sure that I would call it tough but it seemed to work.

I let it rest in the fridge for appr. 30 minutes before I made the pies. I used the method mentioned that didn't call for moulds and took ca. 12X12 cm squares of rolled out dough, filled them up, folded over with some egg between the edges and sealed them up by pressing down with a fork. I forgot to take any pictures of this, but they pretty much looked the same before and after their time in the oven (I baked them for 10-15 minutes, I think).

I know that poor craftsmen blame their tools, but my oven is terrible at it's job. I love my gas-top stove but I hate the gas oven that's part of the deal. All heat comes from below which in reality means that everything baked in the oven will look unbaked on top, and slightly to very baked on the bottom-side.

So this is what I ended up with. No they don't look very appetizing. Unfortunately, I'm very used to that.

BUT - they tasted very good, much thanks to the filling (the dough was alright but nothing to write home about, a bit dry and bread-y). I ended up with 13 little pies that I brought to the picnic and treated friends and strangers to and they were well received in spite of their unfortunate appearance.

The Recipe: Pastej af stek/Meat pie from a 1821 edition of Carolina Weltzin's 1804 cookbook with the LONG title of: Ny kokbok. Eller Anwisning till en myckenhet nu brukliga mat-rätters tillredande; jemte ett bihang innehållande kunskaper om hwarjehanda hushålls-rön. Available in pdf version here.

The recipe for the dough is from an 1801 edition of Anna Maria Rückerschöld's Den nya och fullständiga kok-boken[...] available as pdf here.

I also took a peek in Cajsa Warg's 1755 cookbook that unfortunately isn't available online.

The Date/Year and Region: Sweden, early 1800s.

How Did You Make It: I made a pie dough of butter, flour and eggs and filled them with a mince of cold hen's meat, onion, parsley, eggs, wine, chicken stock and spices. They were made into small envelope-like pies and baked in the oven.

Time to Complete: If you count cooking the hen, five hours? otherwise, perhaps two hours.

Total Cost: I had most of the ingredients on hand, so not much; I consider this a rather cheap dish.

How Successful Was It?: They tasted so much better than they looked! I was very happy with them, and my husband who is a very picky eater also liked them, which I take as a very good review.

How Accurate Is It?: Not too bad, I think. I used store bought bread crumbs, but otherwise I think I used as good ingredients as I could considering this day and age. My gas oven isn't very period though. And it's a bad, bad oven.

At last, some bonus pictures from the picnic! It was a huge multi-era historical picnic held on the national day in Sweden.

Me. I chose clothes to match the food. Of course.

Guests with food.

Most of the guests posing for a group photo.

Minus the blue plastic bowl, this is a very pretty 'picnic-set'!
This as well.

  • Rückerschöld, Anna Maria (1801). Den nya och fullständiga kok-boken, innehållande beskrifning, at med mindre kostnad tilreda hwarjehanda smakliga rätter äfwen af potates, samt wälmenta råd och påminnelser, som jämwäl för bättre hushåll kunna wara tjenande, jemte bihang af et litet hushålls-allahanda [Elektronisk resurs]. 2. upl. Stockholm: Available online as pdf.
  • Warg, Cajsa (1755). Hjelpreda i hushållningen för unga fruentimber./(C.W.) Stockholm, tryckt hos Lor. Ludv. Grefing, på desz egen bekostnad 1755.. Stockholm: page 189.

  • Weltzin, Carolin (1821). Ny kokbok. Eller Anwisning till en myckenhet nu brukliga mat-rätters tillredande; jemte ett bihang innehållande kunskaper om hwarjehanda hushålls-rön. Af C. Weltzin. Fjerde upplagan. Stockholm, 1821. Tryckt hos direct. Henrik A. Nordström, [Elektronisk resurs] : på eget förlag.. Stockholm: Available online as pdf.
A selection of Paul Britten Austins's English translations of Carl Michael Bellman's poems and songs can be read online here.