Monday, January 26, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Despite the pie's success (my husband downed three slices in a single sitting), my craving for molasses was hardly allayed. So this afternoon, finding myself at the proverbial loose end, I decided to find a cookie recipe sweetened only with molasses. A quick search of Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project provided this gem from The New England Economical Housekeeper by Esther Allen Howland, published in 1845.
In case you are having trouble reading the image, here's the recipe:
I substituted baking soda for the saleratus of course, but otherwise followed the directions exactly. The mix of boiling water, soda, and molasses fizzed up in a most alarming way at first, but it calmed down once I began stirring in the flour. I must admit I have no idea how much flour I ended up mixing in. Probably somewhere between three and four cups, but part of the fun was just adding more until it seemed about right. I had to knead the last bit of flour in at the very end, after the dough became too thick to stir effectively.
61. Gingerbread, No. 8.
* Take a tea-cupful of molasses, a tea-spoonful of saleratus, dissolved in half a cup of boiling water, a tea spoonful of ginger, and flour to make it hard enough to roll. Bake it five minutes.
I rolled it fairly thin, with lots of flour to keep it from sticking to my pastry board. My cookie cutters were less than 19th-century (a duck, a cowboy, and a giraffe) and of course I baked them in a modern oven. I set it to about 350 degrees. They baked through after about 7-10 minutes -- perhaps the oven should have been quicker -- and stayed nicely soft while cooling. I wonder if they will get hard once they've been in the tin for a day or so. We shall see . . . if they last that long.
Did I mention they are quite tasty? Not very sweet, but nicely spiced and chewy.
Monday, January 19, 2009
The consequence of this growing obsession is quite serious however. I seem to spend every free moment with needles in hand, instead of writing, reading, studying, or even cleaning my apartment. I must find a way to cut back...
On a side note, but also in the nature of a confession, two days ago I discovered proof of something I have long suspected: I knit backwards. I cannot tell you what mortification this has caused me, not to mention the oaths I suppressed while attempting to teach my hands how to do it right way round. I think I have the knitting part almost mastered, but the pearling still gives me pause. Since I knit with the yarn held across my left finger instead of casting every stitch, I have had to modify the little twists I use to pick up the working strand. The result is less slanted than my previously twisted style, but it's still a bit uneven (perhaps that will correct with practise) and definitely slower (also something that may improve with continued industry).
My camera cord was left at work by mistake, so I cannot even post pictures of my latest knitting accomplishments (including the beginnings of my hat, knit in the new, corrected, manner). But perhaps that is not such a tragedy. It will force me to focus on other topics as I plan upcoming posts.
Cheerio for now. Back to my knitting.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
In honor of the New Year (and just in time to serve on January 1), I finally got around to testing out Eliza Leslie's New York Cakes recipe, which she claims are quite similar to New Year's Cakes.
The recipe, being quite old, needed some interpretation and substitution. I also hunted about in various places for a corroborating description of said cakes, which oddly enough, I found with little trouble. My final preparation was to purchase an intricate cookie mold from a Pennsylvania Dutch wood carver I found on the Internet: srwhitecarving.com.
The flavors (nutmeg, cinnamon, rosewater, and caraway seeds) are a bit jarring to the modern palate and the cakes are barely sweet; it has taken me a day or so to find them rather pleasant after all. As I mentioned at first, the texture was definitely a surprise. I had thought they would be very similar to German Springerle -- they certainly are in appearance -- but instead of being cakey, they have a definitely biscuit-like crunch. The insides are flaky and break apart in layers.
Here is the description of New Year's Cakes I found. You'll note that it is from Buffalo, not New York City, but according to Godey's in January 1847, writing about New Year's calling, "A custom obtains in the city of New York - and we believe to a considerable extent throughout the state..." so I think that we may fairly attribute Buffalo's general attitudes on New Year's Day to the rest of New York.
There must be many younger men and women who well remember Van Velsor's New Year's cakes. I had almost said that New Year's was ushered in by these famous confections for their popularity in Buffalo was almost universal. They were of various shapes and sizes, some being eighteen or twenty inches across, and from three quarters to an inch in thickness; the smaller ones were about half an inch thick. They were heart-shaped, or in the form of stars, spheres or diamond-shaped, with flowers, baskets of fruit, cornucopias, birds, etc., stamped on the upper side in very distinct relief. They were redolent with caraway seeds, and fond papas quite generally stopped on their way home on New Year's Eve, to purchase the expected New Year's cake.
New Year's Day In The '3o's, Collected Essays from the Buffalo Historical Society edited by Frank H. Severance, 1905
From Directions for Cookery by Eliza Leslie 1817 (1840 edition)
NEW YORK COOKIES. --Take a half-pint or a tumbler full of cold water, and mix it with half a pound of powdered white sugar. Sift three pounds of flour into a large pan, and cut up in it a pound of butter; rub the butter very fine into the flour. Add a grated nutmeg, and a tea-spoonful of powdered cinnamon, with a wine glass of rose water. Work in the sugar, and make the whole into a stiff dough, adding, if necessary, a little cold water. Dissolve a tea-spoonful of pearl-ash in just enough of warm water to cover it, and mix it in at the last. Take the lump of dough out of the pan, and knead it on the paste-board till it becomes quite light. Then roll it out rather more than half an inch thick, and cut it into square cakes with a jagging iron or with a sharp knife. Stamp the surface of each with a cake print. Lay them in buttered pans, and bake them of a light brown in a brisk oven.
They are similar to what are called New Year's cakes, and will keep two or three weeks.
In mixing the dough, you may add three table-spoonfuls of caraway seeds.
Here is the flour/butter mixture with all the spices added.
Kneading was fun, and the dough did actually become quite light.
Rolling out, stamping, and cutting the cookies was very laborious. It took me nearly 2 hours to produce 80 cookies. Since I only had a single mold, I had to press (very hard) each cookie and cut around it with the 'jagging' knife individually. I began by rolling the dough nearly 3/4 of an inch thick, but discovered that it took far too long to bake them through. I discovered that if I rolled the dough on the thin side, it would contract once I cut out the oval and become nearly 1/2 an inch thick.
I tried baking them first at 425, for a 'brisk oven', but they seemed to burn on the outside before cooking through. So I lowered it to somewhere between 375 and 400. It took about 15 minutes for each batch to develop the called for 'light brown' color.
When fresh out of the oven, they were soft and flaky, like butter biscuits. After cooling, they began to harden, and now, a day old, they are very hard indeed. Not unpleasant though. We shall see how they fare with the guests tomorrow! Perhaps their pedigree will help ingratiate them with a 2009 audience.
Happy New Year to one and all!
ANOTHER YEAR! another year,
Is borne by Time away;
Nor pauses yet his swift career,
Nor tire his wing, nor makes me here
E'en one short hour's delay. -
But hurries on, and round and round,
The wheel of life is sped;
Unnoted oft, until rebound
Upon the ear, the startling sound,
Another year has fled!
Who ever said, 'tis New Year's day ,
With unmixed care or glee?
For hope still points the future gay,
And memory o'er the past will stray,
With sorrowing constancy.
Yet blest if they here behold
The grave of well-spent days'
The joy of gratitude that told
The tear, in patient trust that rolled -
The christian's hallowed bays.
Another year! so swift it flew,
We scarce had marked it ours;
Ere, fading from our backward view,
'Tis but the past our eyes pursue;
Eternity's long hours!
'Tis New Year's day , the coming year
All blank before us lies;
Oh! may no blot or stain appear,
To mar its history written here,
When published in the skies!
'Tis New Year's day ! how oft have I,
While yet a simple child,
Made it the goal from whence to try,
That race to run, which to the sky
Can guide through Time's dark wild.
The sky, that home of quiet rest,
When Life's poor dream is o'er,
Where spirits mingle with the blest,
And sorrow, in the aching breast,
Shall reign, shall reign no more!
Weekly Advocate, January 1837
Sunday, December 28, 2008
P.S. I'm going to give in and buy some machine knitted stockings online. I found a few sites that sell them at various prices/qualities. And someday, maybe, I'll find someone with a working 19th-century stocking frame -- and bribe them.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Considering its ubiquitous popularity, I will presume that you have already read the work (or at least can find the text elsewhere) and will not attempt to reproduce said lines here. Instead, let us take into consideration where Mr. Moore found his inspiration for the jolly old elf, depicted above in an early illustration.
Can it be mere coincidence that the 1821 (just a year before Mr. Moore's poem was reportedly written, though it was not published until 1823) edition of Washington Irving's History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty by Dietrich Knickerbocker, in which St. Nicholas (Irving's designated patron saint of New York) is described as:
. . . equipped with a low, broad-brimmed hat, a huge pair of Flemish trunk-hose, and a pipe that reached to the end of the bowsprit.
. . . riding over the tops of trees in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children . . . And he lit his pipe by the fire, and sat himself down and smoked; and as he smoked, the smoke from his pipe ascended into the air and spread like a cloud overhead. . . . And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hat-band, and laying his finger beside his nose, gave the astonished Van Kortlandt a very significant look; then, mounting his wagon, he returned over the tree-tops and disappeared.
And a few pages later, the same book expands further on the predilections of St. Nicholas:
At this early period was instituted that pious ceremony, still religiously observed in all our ancient families of the right breed, of hanging up a stocking in the chimney on St. Nicholas eve; which stocking is always found in the morning miraculously filled; for the good St. Nicholas has ever been a great giver of gifts, particularly to children.
We are told, in the sylvan days of New Amsterdam, the good St. Nicholas would often make his appearance in his beloved city, of a holiday afternoon, riding jollily among the tree-tops, or over the roofs of the houses, now and then drawing forth magnificent presents from his breeches-pockets, and dropping them down the chimneys of his favorites. Whereas, in these degenerate days of iron and brass, he never shows us the light of his countenance, nor ever visits us, save one night in the year, when he rattles down the chimneys of the descendants of patriarchs, confining his presents to children, in token of the degeneracy of the parents.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Those happy chimes!like fairy laughter!How deliciously they carol !What sounds to my soul,like "peace on earth; good-will to men!"Godey's Lady's Book, 1855
It came upon the midnight clear,That glorious song of old,From angels bending near the earth,To touch their harps of gold:Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,From heaven's all-gracious King.The world in solemn stillness lay,To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,With peaceful wings unfurled,And still their heavenly music floatsO'er all the weary world;Above its sad and lowly plains,They bend on hovering wing,And ever o'er its Babel soundsThe blessèd angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strifeThe world has suffered long;Beneath the angel-strain have rolledTwo thousand years of wrong;And man, at war with man, hears notO hush the noise, ye men of strife,And hear the angels sing.
And ye, beneath life's crushing
load,Whose forms are bending low,Who toil along the climbing wayWith painful steps and slow,Look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the
wing.O rest beside the weary road,And hear the angels sing!
For lo! the days are hastening on,By prophet bards foretold,When with the ever-circling yearsComes round the age of goldWhen peace shall over all the earthIts ancient splendors fling,And the whole world give back the songWhich now the angels sing.