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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Good Old Days?

In 2010, TCU Press published Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook, a follow-up to Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, the first attempt to chronicle the contributions of women to our city. So when we decided on a cookbook some asked, "Now that we've gotten women out of the kitchen, why put them back in?" M answer? Because all the time they made their contributions to the city and its culture, most of them were feeding their families. And there may have been another factor--I love cookbooks and food writing, and I got to edit the recipes.
Contributors unearthed some fascinating old recipes. Joyce Williams, who wrote about frontier women, discovered directions for fixing squirrel. First you have to skin and clean it (as Joyce says, you couldn't just go to the market and buy it): remove the entrails and skin. To skin, cut off the legs at the first joint, raise the skin on the back and draw it over the hind legs. Then slip it over the fore legs and cut it away from the head and neck. Wash well and dry. Cut in pieces as  you would a chicken. Dust with salt or seasoning. Cook or bake in a Dutch oven, adding vegetables and a small amount of water. Bake uintil done. Sorry, no oven temperature--in those days it was baked over coals on a fire with coals placed on the lid.
For my chapter on ranch women, cowgirls and wildcatters, I found a wonderful recipe for syllabub, a traditional drink associated with eggnog but usually made with wine rather than stronger liquor. Often thought of as a ladies' drink, it was considered mild enough to serve to children.
One old recipe went as follows:
Sweeten a quart of cider with refined sugar and a grating of nutmeg, then milk the cow into it until you have the amount  you consider proper. Top if off with about half a pint of sweet, thick cream.
A recipe for those of us who don't have a cow in the barn:

Whipt Syllabub
2 c. white wine
Grated peel of one lemon
1 c. sugar
3 c. milk
2 c. heavy cream
3 egg whites
Combine wine, lemon peel and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and add milk and cream. Beat (with a rotary beater, of course) until frothy. Beat egg whites separately until stiff and gradually add 6 Tbsp. of sugar, beating constantly util the mixture forms stiff peaks Pour mixed wine into chilled bowl. Top with spoonfuls of the egg whites. Serve in chilled glasses.
To me the recipe is a strange mix of past and present--the rotary beater indicates times gone by--but where did the chilled glasses come from? The block of ice in the icebox?
The yeast rolls at the Fort Worth Woman's Club Tea Room are legendary in this city, although I believe a cateror now provides the food and the rolls are gone. But Ruth Karbach unearthed a 1928 version of the recipe in The Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book:

1 quart milk
2 yeast cakes
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. lard
3 quarts sifted flour
Let milk come to a boil and cool; when lukewarm add two yeast cakes, the sugar and enough flour to make a soft dough. Let rise one hour. Melt shortening and stir into soft dough; add balance of flour. Roll to about one-half inch thickness, cut with small round cutter, dip in melted butter and fold in pocketbook shape. Let rise about one-half hour and bake in a moderate oven until brown
Sounds like my mother's recipe, except for the lard. In later years, she substituted corn oil for the Crisco she had used for years. Mom always told me that you must scald milk and cool it or it will kill the yeast. And this recipe doesn't say anything abut kneading, but I was taught to knead lightly until flour was thoroughly mixed in; if you knead too much, your dough becomes heavy and the resulting rolls are tough.
I'm not about to cook a squirrel--or skin it--but the syllabub sounds sort of interesting, and I've done a version of the rolls most of my life. Comforting to know some things never change, and, yes, in some ways they were the good old days.

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