by Sheila Connolly
I love old cookbooks, not merely for the recipes but also because they’re such entertaining reading. I learn a lot about how things used to be done, and I’m usually saddened by the diversity that we’ve lost. Of course, I’m willing to admit that cooking is a lot easier today than it once was.
|One might question the use of|
"cooked into a dead
certainty" for one's jacket copy!
Recently I acquired yet another new old cookbook, entitles Mrs. Rorer’s Cook Book, printed in Philadelphia in 1914 (second edition). Since the fifth book in my Philadelphia-based Museum Mystery series, Razing the Dead, is coming out on June 3rd, it seems appropriate to tap Mrs. Rorer for some ideas.
Well, I ran into a few stumbling blocks as I began reading. Take the recipe for Calf’s Head Soup, for instance. You begin with a calf’s head, then “Wash the head well through three waters; scald it, wash it again in cold water, and soak it fifteen minutes. Be sure the throat and nasal passages are perfectly clean.” After all this you simmer it (Mrs. Rorer loves to italicize “simmer”) for a mere five hours, skimming it until the scum stops rising. I think I’ll skip this recipe.
And you probably don’t need to know how to clean a suckling pig.
Or there’s Green Turtle Soup (a Philadelphia classic), which begins, “The day before you intend to dress the turtle cut off its head; and to do this properly you should hang up the victim with its head downwards, use a very sharp knife and make the incision as close to the head as possible. You must not be surprised at seeing, many hours after the decollation, the creature exhibit extraordinary signs of muscular motion, by the flapping of his fins.” I might use this for a murder, but for soup? I don’t think so. Mrs. Rorer was a brave woman.
But in spite of the gore, the book is filled with interesting tid-bits. There are pages of recipes for oysters (on the half shell, stewed, fricassee, creamed, panned, broiled, baked, fried, scalloped, with macaroni, deviled, croquettes, fritters, kromeskies (no, I don’t know what these are), and pickled). I’m going to guess that they’re much less plentiful today than they were a century ago.
Mrs. Rorer tells us that asparagus should be soaked for twenty minutes, then boiled for thirty minutes. You can stew or fry your cucumbers, even in batter (really? Seriously?), or make Wilted Dandelions. So many wonderful options!
Let us now turn to the section on Pastry and Pies (the book just happens to fall open there!), which begins with Apple Pie, soon followed by Cherry, Cocoanut Custard, Cranberry (to the version which includes molasses, the author appended GOOD—I hope to try this one), Cream, Gooseberry, Huckleberry, Lemon Custard, Mincemeat, Molasses, Peach, Sweet Potato Custard, White Potato Custard, Pumpkin, and Rhubarb—and that’s before you reach the Hot Puddings. I rather like the recipe for “The Pudding of Long Ago,” which involves apples and breadcrumbs and must boil for a mere three hours.
Let me note that Mrs. Rorer’s list of items required for a well-furnished kitchen runs to three pages of small print. I regret to say I am sadly lacking a Mudge cannery, a coffee biggin, a Turk’s head, a griddle spade, a pastry jagger, a Keystone beater, an old Doctor’s ice pick, a keeler, and a plank for planking shad, not to mention the cave for freezing.
So many intriguing recipes! Here I present you with one, chosen purely for its name.
Weight of eggs in powdered sugar
Weight of eggs in butter
Weight of eggs in rice flour
1 tsp vanilla, or the juice and rind of one lemon
Sounds like the original recipe for pound cake, right? One pound of everything. I am lucky to have a small kitchen scale, and I’m happy to translate for the modern cook:
4 large eggs weighed about 8 ounces, so for the rest:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 pound salted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup rice flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease small scalloped tins (Mrs. Rorer calls them pattypans). The greasing part is important: I tried a variety of pans, from aluminum madeleine molds to French brioche tins to my vintage (yes) pattypans, and the well-seasoned pattypans worked best and stuck the least, although I’d greased them all equally with Crisco.
Beat the butter to a cream, then add the sugar gradually, beating continuously.
Separate the whites and the yolks of the eggs. Add the yolks to the batter and beat. Whip the whites to a stiff froth, then add to the batter (do not overmix, since this is the only leavening), then gradually add the rice flour.
(Note: this was the original sequence. I was worried that the egg whites would deflate if I added them before the rice flour, so I added those two ingredients in reverse order.)
Finally, add the vanilla or the lemon. Beat the whole until “fine and light” (so says Mrs. Rorer). Pour into the greased tins (not too much batter—these are not cupcakes!).
|The pattypans are on the right.|
Bake about 20 minutes (or more). The timing will depend on the thickness, but in general the top and edges should be lightly browned, and the edges should pull away from the pans. [Let cool briefly, then turn out onto a rack to continue cooling. When cool, put them in a sealed box.]
The plunkets are crisp and sweet (and gluten-free?), and the rice flour added a little crunch (or maybe I have crunchy rice flour). Thank you, Mrs. Rorer! Maybe I'll try her recipe for Jolly Boys next--they're supposed to be accompanied by Nun's Butter.
Coming June 3rd! I've rewritten the Revolutionary War! (Well, a very small part of it.)