Showing posts with label antique utensils. Show all posts
Showing posts with label antique utensils. Show all posts

Friday, August 16, 2013

Beating and Whipping Oh My!

by Sheila Connolly

Having road-tested my choppers (and picked my murder weapon), I am now moving on to the second-largest group of items in my recent auction haul: the beaters. [Note: if the history of cookware drives you nuts, just skip ahead to the good part—the recipe.]

Think back to watching your mother (or if you were lucky, your father) make a cake.  Cakes were a big deal in those days, before Betty Crocker et al. took over the universe—I seem to recall the cooks being very concerned that the cake layers would fall while baking, so we children had to tiptoe around the kitchen while they were in the oven, or better yet, go out and play somewhere else.  Maybe the ovens were less dependable in those days, because I don't hear many complaints about fallen cakes nowadays.

Cakes rise while cooking for only a few reasons: one, you include a leavening agent, like baking soda or powder or yeast; or two, you beat a lot of air into the batter, so that when the cake cooks, the air inside the batter expands and voila, the cake swells. Or you combine these techniques.

Now, if you can, think back to a time when there were no electric mixers, either hand or stand. You had to mix things by hand, and that's not easy.

So crafty manufacturers started making hand-operated mixers that took at least some of the work out of it.  No small number of them were made of cast iron, which is why they have survived for over a century (some makers were so proud that they stamped the patent number and the date on the item itself).  And now I have a whole batch of them, in different designs and sizes.  I decided to see what they can do.

 Often these are labeled "egg beaters," some even right on the piece itself, but they were used for mixing a wide range of things.  Cream, logically.  Mixed drinks. Batters. Ice cream. The list goes on.

Being of a scholarly bent, I had to do some research into my wonderful haul,
and to that end I acquired a second-hand copy of Linda Campbell Franklin's book, 300 Years of Kitchen Collectibles (5th ed. 2002), a two-inch-thick tome that includes item descriptions, comments, and even recipes. I have already learned a lot from browsing through it (including the fact that one item in my haul isn't for cooking at all—it's a pot scrubber!).

I wanted to find a recipe of the same era as my new old utensils, to see how well the beaters worked.  Luckily I have a clutch of old cookbooks, so I turned to an older version of the classic Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (aka Fannie Farmer), whose copyright dates range from 1896 to 1951.  What is interesting is that this particular edition straddled the line for mixing:  it offered instruction for both hand-mixing and machine mixing.  In other words, the instruction for using an "electric mixer or beater" were given separately.  I thought I'd play it safe with a simple cake recipe.

Fanny Farmer's Butter Cake

This is a basic and versatile cake. You can add almost anything—chocolate chips, currants or raisins, honey, cinnamon or nuts.

I made this with no modern appliances (unless you count the oven!)

1 3/4 cups cake flour

1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
2 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease your pans (or if you're making cupcakes, you can use paper liners).

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder.

Cream the butter thoroughly. Add the vanilla.  Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy.  Add the egg yolks.

Stir in one-half cup of the flour mixture, then one-quarter cup milk, then add the rest of the flour and milk.

Beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry, then fold them into the batter (by hand).

It worked!
Bake cupcakes for 20-30 minutes.  If you're making a cake, bake layers as you would the cupcakes; in a loaf pan, bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

Oh, and then there's the whipped cream:

Behold:  whipped cream!  And fast!

My final assessment:

--cooks in 1900 had to work hard!
--they had time to master the
  techniques for using the tools, which I didn't
--some of the tools work better than
  others, but the successful ones may not be the ones you expected
--the cream whipper worked really well!
--there was some real pressure to clean up as you went, because if you let metal tools sit, they rust

It was fun.  Will I do it again?  Maybe.  I still have a few interesting pieces to play with, including a mandoline-like thing that may be for making cole slaw. But it could be hard on unskilled fingers! And a hand-turned rolling pin.  And two butter presses--don't you think butter should be pretty?

Friday, August 9, 2013

My New Old Treasure

by Sheila Connolly

Our town is home for an auction house, which holds auctions of miscellaneous junk at the Rotary Club hall every few months.  The types of item vary widely, both within and between auctions. For a while they had a lot of Nazi militaria (which seldom sold at all), and a few months ago there was a row of five or six nice mahogany chests of drawers.  You never know what you'll find.

Last week I went to the preview, and the first thing I encountered when I walked in was a table full of antique cooking utensils.  Like someone had entered a time warp and grabbed everything small from a Victorian kitchen:  choppers and egg-beaters and poachers and butter molds and a bunch of things I can't even identify.  It was all one lot, of 51 pieces.  And I wanted it.

I went to the auction; I bid; I won (even within the dollar limit I had set myself).  I am now the proud owner of a hodgepodge of antique (not vintage, nope—older than that) cooking items.  And I plan to try them all out.

Round one:  the choppers (note: there were no knifes in this collection).  An even dozen, all different.  Or maybe thirteen, if you could the strange bell-shaped one.  I think they're gorgeous—hand crafted, with lovely wooden handles.  So of course I had to find out how they worked.  Guess what:  they work just fine, and each one works a little differently.

Confession:  when I first looked at the lovely array of sharp-edged tools, my immediate thought was, "what great murder weapons!" I'll be testing them with that in mind.  They fit so nicely in my hand, and I just sharpened them…

Okay, back to the real world. I set myself the task of chopping the onion for today's dish:  stuffed squash.  What can I say?  They had cute, stripey locally-sourced pattypan squash at our market, and I had to take them home.  They make a pretty presentation, and the stuffing could be used in a wide variety of vegetables—peppers, or even onions.  Anything that starts out hollow or that you can hollow out without the vegetable collapsing.

Stuffed Squash 
(this filled four small squash, but you can multiply the recipe)

1 small onion, chopped

1 Tblsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 lb sausage
1/2 cup white bread crumbs, soaked in milk
Fresh thyme (or other herbs)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Slice the smaller end off the squashes and hollow them out with a melon baller or small sharp spoon (try not to pierce the skin).  Place in a lightly oiled baking dish.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Place in a large bowl and let cool.

When the onion mixture is cool, add the sausage, breadcrumbs (drain off the excess milk), herbs, salt, pepper and cheese.  Mix (hands work well for this!).

Fill each of the hollow vegetables with the mixture.  Stand them up in the baking dish and sprinkle a little more oil over the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes (length of time will vary depending on how large your squash or vegetable are—you want to be sure the pork sausage is thoroughly cooked).

These can be served hot or warm (so can be made ahead).

Next time:  the six antique egg-beaters!