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Country Cooking

Pimento Cheese Cornbread

Country Cooking

Cornbread Final under 2 megs

When I was a kid, an easy sandwich was pimento cheese. It came from a small, narrow jar and was basically a cheese sandwich with red flecks in it (pimentos) that to me tasted like nothing.

I was an adult before I realized people actually made pimento cheese. To give it a novel spin, I decided to make it "within" cornbread. It's a regular now. There are only three ways I make cornbread: regular, coarse; "Tippin's Style" (based on a restaurant chain in K.C. that uses half cornmeal and half white cake mix); and the cheesy style below. It's just about as easy to make as regular cornbread, and gets raves from your guests.

Pimento Cheese Cornbread

Ingredients:

1 can (4 to 5 ounces) mild chopped green chiles
Two 4-ounce jars (or cans) of pimentos
1 stick butter, divided
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 3 cups)

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut 1 ounce from stick to butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan on bottom and sides. Microwave remaining butter for 15 seconds on high or until melted. Set aside.

2. Drain green chiles and pimentos in a strainer. Leave to continue draining until needed.

3. In a bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, paprika, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk, melted butter, and eggs. Pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Do not overmix. Add in grated cheese, chiles, and pimentos and stir just until mixed.

4. Spread mixture in the pan and smooth the top. Bake until golden brown on top, about 20 minutes. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes. Turn out of pan, slice and serve.

This is best on the day it's served, but if storing, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator.

Mrs. Rorer's Cook Book

Country Cooking 

Not long ago, a friend gave me a $1 book find from a rummage sale. The pages were OK, but the binding was so askew that I got out the duct tape. Turns out, it was a cookbook from 1886 — the oldest one I own — modestly titled, Mrs. Rorer’s Cook Book. On the cover, a well-dressed cook is holding a torturously hot dish with a mysterious orange glow in the background that suggests the kitchen has caught on fire.

RorerCookbook2

Mrs. Rorer was Sarah Tyson Rorer, who authored at least 49 more books after this one, her first. She became a noted Philadelphia cook, and an early pioneer in the emerging science of home economics.

In her vast output were cookbooks like Hot Weather Dishes (1888) and Diet for the Sick (1914). She was in her late 30s when her first cookbook came out, and within a decade after its publication, became an editor at Ladies Home Journal. This position lasted until 1911, at which time she switched to Good Housekeeping.

Her initial book has some real gems. Any old cookbook will have recipes with ingredients you’ve never heard of, or would never want to use. There are usually a few recipes for the “infirm” that definitely seem like they would make you sicker, or starve you. But Mrs. Rorer’s Cook Book, in its breathtaking 500-plus pages of overachievement, has some downright scary recipes.

Mock Turtle Soup starts with these three ingredients:

1 calf’s head

1 pound of calf’s liver

1 calf’s heart

Starting with the entire head of a calf is bad enough; thank goodness calves don’t drink liquor, since you would be using the liver.

And here are the graphic instructions for that part of the recipe. (If you are squeamish, skip several paragraphs): “Have the butcher unjoint the jaws and take out the brains. Now wash the head well through several cold waters. Pour boiling water through the throat and nasal passages, then wash again in cold water.” The rest is more palatable, and fortunately, you do remove the head from the pot before serving.

Some thoughts:

* You get the love from the calf since you use the heart. But you don’t get the smarts of the calf because the butcher has removed the brains.

* I’ve had colds so bad that the idea of pouring boiling water through the throat and nasal passages makes me inventive: the amazing Boilin'-Hot Neti-Pot!

More meat weirdness is that there are six recipes for tripe. Since it’s likely you haven’t had that lately, let me explain. Tripe is the “first or second stomach of a cow used as food.” I doubt you will see this at your local grocery store, as demand has slowed since 1886.

Mrs. Rorer tells you how to expertly prepare Dressed Calf’s Head, Dressed Sheep’s Head (“the same as a calf’s head, using two heads instead of one calf’s head”) and Sheep’s Tongue. The recipe for Stewed Eels starts with “Six nice eels.” Wouldn’t mean eels also work? I’d rather cook up the ornery ones.

The recipe for White Stock starts with the ingredient, “skeletons of yesterday’s chickens.” Well, hopefully, you didn’t have a ham yesterday or you wouldn’t have skeletons on hand. A better title for the recipe might have been “Halloween Broth.”

Graciously, her highness Mrs. Rorer has a lengthy section on advice to maids, with tips like:

* You are not cooking to suit your own taste, but that of your employers.

* A white linen cap, that can be washed every week, will keep the odors from your hair.

* Never give “things” out the alley gate unless you are told by the mistress to do so.

* If your mistress finds fault, bear it patiently; it is she, and not yourself, for whom you are working, and it is your whole duty to please her. One rude answer might cost you a good situation. (I can envision Mrs. Rorer bearing down hard on her fountain pen when writing this part, thinking, “I can’t believe Tessie dared to speak to me that way!”)

Among the less-gory recipes is Brown Bread Ice Cream. There are three ingredients: 3 slices of Boston brown bread (toasted and ground), 1 quart of cream and ½ pound of sugar.

A thought: wouldn’t it be better to just skip dessert?

salamanderkitchentool

Doesn't everyone have a salamander tool in their kitchen?

Near the end of the book is a list of “all the utensils needed in a well-furnished kitchen.” While it does include everything like the stove itself (a “Jewel gas stove”) and cloths, twine, floor mop, etc., in total it lists an astonishing 198 items. These include such “necessities” as a Turk’s head (now called a Bundt pan), “sad irons” (a clothing iron, I guess for the maid’s uniform, which is kind of sad), sardine scissors, a salamander (the creme brule tool pictured here), a set of deep corn Gem pans, a keeler (no idea), a jelly bag, and “one old doctor’s ice pick.”

One of these days, when I get up the courage, I’ll try one or two of these recipes to post here. But be assured it won’t be anything involving cleaning out a calf’s head.

Pineapple Coconut Pie Recipe

Country CookingA delicious pie was an almost-everyday thing for country living a few decades ago. If not that frequent, it was at least a weekend thing. Nowadays, pies are much harder to come by, and I suspect many young’uns think it only comes in a few cream flavors, apple, cherry, blueberry, pumpkin, or pecan.

There was a time when pies were routinely created in dozens of varieties, if not hundreds. In the dead of winter, fresh fruit was not always available like it is today. Take a tip from housewives of the 1950s and 1960s, who had to make a pie with no fruit on hand and in a jiffy when company was coming on short notice. The result is a pie you will surely never have unless it is homemade. It’s simple and brightly-flavored.

Pineapple Coconut Pie

Pineapple Coconut Pie

Ingredients:

• Unbaked 9 or 10 inch piecrust
• 1/2 stick butter, softened (do not use margarine)
• 1-3/4 cups sugar
• 1 tablespoon cornmeal
• 4 eggs
• 1 can (8-1/4 ounce) crushed pineapple, drained
• 1-1/2 cups flaked sweetened coconut

Instructions:

1. If using frozen piecrust, fully thaw. Preheat oven to 450 F.

2. In a large bowl, mix softened butter, sugar and cornmeal. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg. Add pineapple and coconut; stir to mix thoroughly.

3. Spoon mixture into piecrust. Place a ribbon of aluminum foil loosely on edge of piecrust. Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 F and bake 30 minutes. Then place aluminum foil over top of pie and continue baking an additional 15 minutes.

4. Let cool for at least 15 minutes and remove all foil.

This pie is firmer and best served at room temperature or cool, but is still delicious when warm.

Apple Butter Cookies

Country CookingI can tell you “first-hand” stories about ancestors I never met. You’ll feel like you were back in the 1700s or 1800s, when it happened. But I have one close relative I know little about — and each new discovery is a gem.

She’s my mom’s oldest sister, aunt Alberta. She was like a “second mom” to her family, helping with a household of little kids close in age. Her mother — my grandmother — had six children by the time she was 26.

Alberta was named after her rather, Bert, and her uncle, Albert. She was nicknamed “Apple Butter” because the youngest in the family, Garnett, pronounced it that way when he was a toddler. Apple butter would have been an easier name from him to know from a young age because every fall my grandmother got out the cast-iron kettle, set it up in the yard over a wood fire, and made a big kettle of apple butter. The kids, who were supposed to be helping, spent more time jumping around the yard, whooping and playing. After being canned, the jars of apple butter would last for months.

Alberta

When I enjoy apple butter, sometimes I think of Alberta. She spent a quiet young life helping with the household and the younger kids, devoted to her church and family. When she was issued a marriage license in 1936, she was 19. Her husband-to-be, J.C. Tolbirt, was 31 and it was his second marriage. She left no children when she died of a kidney infection in 1940 — a few days after her 23rd birthday.

Part of the intrigue about Alberta is that after she was gone, her husband was, too. The Hamiltons never heard from him again. Grandma didn’t talk much about J.C. Too many problems: he’d been married before, was too much older, and from a “foreign country,” Texas. We discovered this year that he married only two months later. We are still searching for Helen Tolbirt, a daughter from his first marriage, who was my mom’s friend in childhood.

But those are just facts. The sad part for me is not knowing her, because as one cousin once said, “I never met a Hamilton I didn’t like.” Alberta served her family when young, being the oldest sister, and later served the churches and communities where her husband ministered. She helped write sermons and supposedly preached on occasion.

I’m sure Alberta cooked, as all women did then, because she was a pastor’s wife. They lived in north and south Missouri, Kansas, and Texas in their short marriage, serving churches in each place. Though this isn’t Alberta’s recipe (we have no written recipes of hers) I dedicate it to the aunt I never knew.

Apple butter cookies

APPLE BUTTER COOKIES (with Apple Butter Frosting)

Cookies:

4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 cups sugar
1 cup lard
2 eggs
2 cups apple butter
Butter for cookie sheets

Frosting:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup apple butter

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream sugar and lard together. Then add eggs and applesauce. Mix well. Add in dry ingredients, a third of the quantity at a time, and continue mixing well. Drop by small spoonfuls (about the size of a golf ball) on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F for 8 minutes. When done, let rest on cookie sheet for 1 minute, then cool on wire rack.

For frosting, mix confectioner’s sugar and apple butter until smooth. Add more of sugar to make consistency thicker, more apple butter to make it thinner. When cookies are completely cool, frost cookies with icing. These cookies stay moist for several days.

Makes approx. 4 dozen cookies.

How I Develop a Recipe

Chuck MalloryIf you’re an avid cook you’ve probably made up your own recipes, then tried to duplicate them, and find you can’t! Or maybe your cooking is good enough that others want your recipes. Either way, it’s time to start developing your own recipes in written form.

First, two key points. The first should be obvious, the second might not.

1. If you find a recipe you like and change one ingredient, you really haven’t developed a new recipe. There are copyright battles about this, and it’s hard for anyone to claim a recipe that is exclusively theirs. But have integrity and come up with something that really is yours.

2. You don’t have to start every ingredient from scratch. You can review other recipes and create your own version. The trick is to use similar recipes from a variety of sources, and create a recipe that is notably different from the others.

People think I have hundreds of cookbooks, but actually I only have 106 (at present). Since I’m interested in rural cooking, culinary history, and side dishes, I’m selective about what cookbooks I buy. Almost all of them are out-of-print or rare cookbooks. As a result, I have some recipes that are unusable. For instance, I have an entire book on how to make aspics and vegetable salads with gelatin. In this era, people really don’t want to eat those.

I write in most of my cookbooks. I’m not going to re-sell them and I want to keep notes on when I made it, how it turned out, and flag any steps that seem wrong. For the last reason, I almost never use “community cookbooks,” which are not vetted by editors. I have two – one that includes a recipe from my mom, and another that includes a recipe from my “great aunt” Georgia Ruth.Yes, community cookbooks are fine for fundraisers, but are a very general set of recipes and often contain mistakes and omissions.

cookbooks

When I start with an interesting idea I’ve seen in a cookbook, I find similar recipes in other cookbooks and compare. There is a crucial first step here in developing a recipe, even if you are starting from a recipe in your own mind. It’s the start of “editorial testing.” Read through the recipe and ask if it makes sense or if there is something missing – just like you should do before you try a new recipe.

Editorial Testing

1. Are any ingredients vague? What is a “box” of gelatin? At least one major brand has two sizes. While a “pinch” of something usually won’t throw off a recipe and can be understood, other simple-sounding ingredients could derail the cook. A “cup of green beans” could be a cup of canned green beans, or a cup of raw green beans. If the recipe doesn’t simmer for a long time, that makes a huge difference. Also, think about how a cook who is not your age would interpret your ingredient. Since I’m not a spring chicken, a recipe that calls for “gelatin” to me would mean powdered gelatin. A college-age cook might think it means a plastic container of pre-made “snack pack” type gelatin.

2. Does it have one or more highly unusual ingredients? Some cooks cannot find the same ingredients you can. Often I find myself wanting to include an ingredient like kimchi or banana leaves, then I remember people from Grandma Hamilton’s small town could not get those unless they drove over an hour to a city grocery store. That points to the next step.

3. Who is your audience? Are you writing your favorite recipes for your children? Fine, they know you and likely can interpret some things. Since I write about rural Midwest cooking and publish my recipes, I avoid unusual and foreign food ingredients. In some places – and you might have foreign readers if you’re a food blogger – some ingredients are not available or understood. Could you add vegemite or arepa?

4. Be suspicious if a brand name is used. There are many recipes out there from food companies. Does your recipe call for “Bisquick”? I don’t use Bisquick. It’s easily combined from homemade ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt and oil or butter. Does the recipe suggest adding “Country Crock” for margarine? People tend to substitute, and butter is quite different from margarine. Why use a box of “Duncan Hines cake mix”? Why isn’t another brand OK? Make your ingredients as broad and basic as possible.

5. Are all amounts, containers and temperatures specified? Some old family recipes do not have a baking temperature. Everything seems to have been cooked at 350 F or was made on a wood-burning cookstove. To fine-tune more, do your instructions make sense in the order they are cooked? If you assemble most of one dish, then list a sauce that must be simmered for hours to go with it, start with the part that will take the most time. What is a “loaf pan”? There are at least five sizes. The ingredients should be in order and logical.

I start with a written rough draft, and make notes on it while I cook, such as “the batter will be thin.” Often I consult my go-to cooking book, Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee. I have read this cover to cover, highlighted the “good parts” that pertain to my style of cooking, and refer to it at least weekly. Knowing the science behind cooking can save you from many mistakes.

Wasting Food!

Usually a recipe takes at least a couple of tries before I get it right, and sometimes more.

Occasionally I throw out the attempt altogether, as when I tried to cook a savory dish with bananas.

When I first started trying to make my own recipes, it was hard to fail and throw away a bunch of food. But if you’re going to develop recipes, you must. Just have a compost pile to “save” what you can. Unless you’re a master baker, or have worked in a creative bakery, do not start with baking. It’s tricky. 

Here are three great sources:

The Kitchen: How to Write a Recipe 

Cookbook Style Sheet  – This is for the serious recipe writer, though it’s worth a look for anyone.

Here’s a great piece from a cookbook editor, showing how a recipe is edited.

And if you want to write or blog, go for it! Sure, the cooking/food world is crowded and popular now, but if you do what you love, you can’t go wrong. I wanted to write about my ancestors, since I love genealogy and have all kinds of old family photos. Since I liked rural-style old-time recipes, the ideas meshed and “Country Cooking” was born.

Triple Apple Bread

Chuck MalloryImagine my dismay when one day, about a year ago, I got a hankering for apple butter. I had never seen it at my local farmers' market, so I went to the “local” Jewel grocery store (Jewel-Osco/Albertsons/Safeway, and maybe a different name where you are; I know it’s different from Kroger/Ralphs/Food4Less/Harris Teeter).

I couldn’t find it. The first young clerk said, “I haven’t heard of that, but you might check dairy.” When I told him it was not dairy, but more like applesauce, he led me over to the applesauce. “It’s not here, I already looked,” I said.

So apparently they didn’t carry it. I tried another clerk on another aisle, who said, “It must be jams/jellies.” We found it – two lone jars of apple butter on the bottom shelf. I picked up one and dusted off the lid.

“Hmm,” she said, “that doesn’t look right. Check the expiration date.”

“It’s supposed to be brown,” I said. “It’s not applesauce. It has cinnamon and spices in it.”

“Oh, it’s like cinnamon applesauce,” she said. “So why isn’t it pink?”

Suddenly I missed my small-town childhood grocery store, with owners Joe and Phyllis at the counter, along with worker “Milky,” a former milkman.

I asked people at work the next day about apple butter. Remember, this is Chicago.

“Is that like honey butter?” one person asked.

“Do you chop up apples and mix them with butter?” another asked.

I realized apple butter might now be relegated to the status of old-timey and country-people food. But I still like it. When you’re a kid and need to make your own after-school snack, it’s easy and delicious to put a glob of apple butter on a saltine cracker. I still eat those occasionally for comfort food. Maybe the sweet/salty mix was prescient, since salted caramel became the rage in this decade.

Now that I’m grown up, I needed a grown-up way to use apple butter. Granted, this recipe doesn’t actually require apple butter – since you could include the same ingredients a different way – but I’m pushing apple butter so it doesn’t become extinct and I have to start making my own.

Triple Apple Bread

Triple Apple Bread

2 large apples, peeled, cored, and grated
1 cup applesauce
1 cup apple butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan.

In large bowl, mix together apples, applesauce, apple butter, brown sugar, oil, eggs, cinnamon nd nutmeg, and stir well.

Add flour, baking soda and salt and stir well.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. Let loaf stand for 10 minutes after baking, then turn onto a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.

This bread freezes well. Wrap tightly to prevent freezer burn and when needed, thaw at room temperature for several hours.

Peaches 'n' Cream Pie

Country CookingI haven’t gone completely crazy. I simply realize that while most everyone likes many of the trappings of the holiday feasts, there are those who don’t like everything – or want variety. For instance, I like pumpkin pie like anyone else, but it’s nothing I seek out. I could live without it. I’m not into pumpkin-flavored anything else: Sorry, Starbucks, sell all the Pumpkin Spice Lattes you want, I won’t be buying any.

If you are making a holiday dinner, or bringing something, try a complete surprise – Peaches ‘n’ Cream Pie. Peaches are certainly not in season, but this is a pie you rarely see. Grocery stores don’t sell them. Many people in the north have never even heard of it, and fewer Southerners than ever can claim to have tasted it.

It takes a classic Southern dessert – fresh peaches coated with heavy cream and a sprinkling of sugar – and puts it into a pie crust for a highly satisfying dessert that is sweet, fruity and moist.

In developing this recipe, one that required much more trial-and-error than usual, I wanted to created a baked pie that didn’t use the usual ingredients in peaches-and-cream-pie combos you see online. Those have canned peaches, cream cheese, or pudding mix. I wanted real cream, frozen unsweetened peaches (as close to fresh as you can get), and as simple a recipe as possible. (The journey was inspiring, though: how I develop a recipe is my next blog.) If you have fresh peaches to make it with, the recipe is still the same.

It’s a nice surprise for family or friends, no matter what the season.

Peaches and Cream Pie

Peaches and Cream Pie

Homemade or purchased pie crust (deep-dish 9-inch pie crust with top)
1 egg white
4 cups (approximately 20 ounces) frozen peaches, thawed and chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

Brush bottom of pie crust with egg white. In a large bowl, mix thawed peaches, sugar, salt and vanilla.

In a separate small bowl, mix cornstarch, heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk until smooth and lump-free. Add cornstarch/cream mixture to large bowl of fruit mixture. Stir thoroughly until blended.

Pour filling into pie shell. Cover pie with top crust. Brush top of crust with egg white. Place in refrigerator 1 hour to chill. Prior to baking, preheat oven to 400 F.

Bake on center rack for 50 to 55 minutes; cover edges in foil the last 15 minutes to prevent crust from burning. Remove from oven and let rest at room temperature at least 15 minutes before serving.

What it looks like uncooked

Peaches and Cream Pie, good anytime 

Stay in touch with my goings on:

My “country roads” pix on Pinterest; Twitter; and my blog for book readers and writers.