I just walked out of my Food History seminar tonight with a new appreciation for the fact that not so long ago we women were still hunched over the floor and cooking over an open fire.
Did you know that America was the last industrialized nation to accept the new invention that became the stove?
Religious men far and wide in America railed at the pulpit against allowing the family to retrofit their hearth to have a coal (or wood based) stove thus elevating women from the back breaking drudgery of cooking at the open hearth and allowing them to work upright something we had all done from primal animals thousands of years before. These deacons, priests, ministers and men of the cloth considered the stove to be evil, or the devils work. They rallied and cried that if women had a range in the house or a stove they would suddenly have free time thus leading them straight to the path of hell.
Imagine all the free time these women would have after raising the children, running the family household, doing the laundry by hand with lye soap, preserving the harvest, sewing the family clothes by hand, obtaining enough water to cook and clean and cooking all of the family's food.
These women might save..oh say...an hour or two from being a slave to stoking the fires.
With this new invention they might no longer have to reach into an open hearth and swing the crane arm around to bring the pot of stew closer to them while adding more wood and tending the flames underneath. They might not have to burn wood for over two hours in the beehive oven in order to reach temperatures hot enough to bake the families bread. Their petticoats might not ignite into human torches by the sparks of the open fire.
The next time fair readers think of these women and how this freedom came not so long ago as you stand over your cooktop and stir your pot of soup.
We've come a long way baby indeed.
If your matzoh balls are looking especially sparkly, you might consider reviewing the recipe because brother, I think something might be wrong.
I'm not, nor have been, Jewish, but I find the Pesach holiday very meaningful. (BTW, "I" is guestblogger Kenneth, not our Bakerina.) Pesach is the commemoration of the Exodus story and the creation of the Jewish people, but it can also be a universal story of enslavement and freedom. It has had particular resonance for me as a gay man.
For many years, when I was living in Philadelphia, I was privileged to be a part of the seders made by my friend Barbara and her housemates. After moving to Boston, I eventually decided I needed to create my own tradition if I was going to be able to depend upon having a seder. So last year I made a seder all on my own for the first time. This year I did it again, with a bit more aplomb.
Last night's menu:
- Seder standards included two kinds of haroset, one Ashkenazic, one Sephardic, and horseradish cream in addition to prepared horseradish.
- Gefilte fish
- Matzoh ball soup
- Lamb, mushroom, and spinach mina
- Vegetarian tzimmes
- Macaroons, chocolate, and fruit slices
I don't follow recipes so much as use them as guideposts. I also don't measure much, so what follows is really just notes on food.
The Ashkenazic haroset is the familiar (to most Americans who are familiar with it at all) chopped apples, chopped walnuts, honey, cinnamon, and sweet red wine mixture.
The Sephardic haroset I made this year included almonds, dates, dried tart Montmorency cherries, dried apricots, candied ginger, cinnamon, and a dash of sweet red wine all put into the food processor and made into a paste. I served it rolled into little balls.
No, I didn't have a carp swimming in my bathtub for a week. I didn't even buy the standard jars of gefilte fish. I happened across a store that carried little gefilte fish appetizers: small balls about the size of an olive. Perfect for dilettantes!
(I suggest they're best smothered in horseradish.)
I just use the Manischewitz mix, but I substitute schmaltz for the vegetable oil called for on the box. I love pulling skin and fat off the chicken pieces, putting them in a little skillet over medium heat, and then watching the savory, clear golden fluid collect. Yum!
I used packaged chicken stock for other preparation, but I wanted to make stock for the soup. Going to the nearest crunchy-granola kind of store, a Whole Oats, I decided it would be smarter to buy a whole fryer than to pick from the limited selection of parts. Not having the world's sharpest knives, I asked the helpful guy behind the counter to cut it up. After he walked off I thought perhaps I should tell his associate to make sure he didn't trim anything off and throw it away. When the guy came back he made a comment about having worked at Boston market.
When I got home his comment made more sense. Never was I so glad I was just putting it all into a stockpot! One of the wings was still attached to about a third of a breast; there were no real thigh pieces; there was one bit of boneless, skinless breast meat. Well, live and learn!
A mina is a Sephardic layered casserole made with matzoh for Passover. (Think of lasagne or spanakopita.)
I sauted an onion, a bunch of garlic, and some minced parsely in a dollop of olive oil, then added two pounds of ground lamb. When the lamb still had a few pink spots, I put it all in a big mixing bowl. Then I added a touch more olive oil to the frying pan and dumped in a bag of Trader Joe's frozen "exotic mushroom mix." I'd never seen this marvel before. They released a lot of liquid, but it eventually cooked off, leaving tender mushrooms and a bit of wonderful-looking gravy. This, too, went into the mixing bowl, with a bag of frozen spinach that had been thawed and squeezed vigorously. After the lamb/mushroom/spinach mixture had cooled, I mixed in five beaten eggs.
The matzoh gets soaked in chicken broth for a few minutes (I used packaged broth), then layered with the filling in a greased and oiled pan. I brushed olive oil onto the top layer of matzoh, and popped it into a 375 oven to heat through.
My tzimmes was a big sweet potato, a medium white yam, four large carrots, and a couple of handsful of dried apricots, cut into about 3/4 inch dice. Then I added some minced candied ginger, a dash or two of cinnamon, a bit of cayenne pepper, the juice of one orange, a bit of wine, and a bit of water, and into the 375 oven. (It actually went in before I started assembling the mina.)
The macaroons came from cans (coconut, almond, and "chocolate-flavored" but were delicious; the chocolate was brought as a gift (similarly delicious but not as surprisingly); and the fruit slices weren't actually fruit--they were those little jellied candies.
Not part of the menu, but the texts and instructions read before and after the meal. I adapted a version I found last week at the Velveteen Rabbi. It's great, especially the Ballad of the Four Sons, sung to the tune of Clementine--perfect for a bunch of goyim.
Our dear Bakerina sent me an email a little while ago. She wrote, "Today I ate a dosa. I hate my job at the box factory." She has indeed sunk to new depths, friends. I trust that a couple weeks of haggis and scotch will set things right.
Because it's Friday, here's a photo of two of the cats with whom I live.
It's another sad fact of Jen's life that she does not live with cats, poor girl. (I'm not casting any aspersions whatsoever on Lloyd's fitness for anything, but he is not a cat.)
While I am guest posting here at PTMYB, there will likely be photos of cats on Fridays... unless Jen tells me to cut it out already, and just engage in such silliness over at my own place.
What goes better with pie crust recipes than a quiet suggestion about what might go well inside that flaky crustiness?
I love hand pie.
[pardon, folks. just testing testing, ah-hjuan, ah-thoo, ah-thrdee.]