September 1, 2014

American Potash Cake or Long Island Pound Cake: Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge 7

The 1700s housewife had two options when trying to get her cake to rise. For the first, she could beat eggs or egg whites strenuously for 2-3 hours or she could use yeast and let her cake rise just as she did bread.

The first method was costly in time and money. Recipes of the time call for 12-35 eggs and while eggs were a bit smaller in the days before egg grading and genetically modified hens, that is a lot of eggs for one dish.  The second method worked but the housewife would have to wait until the cake rose which can be longer than an hour.

The issue housewives faced was time. If visitors suddenly showed up, it would take at least 2 hours to make a cake. To get around this a housewife might make treats like Hannah Glasse's Portugal Cakes, which she directed lasted half a year if they were made without currants or she could make smaller "cakes" that relied solely on a few eggs for rising. Today we call these small cakes, cookies.

In the 1750s scientists were experimenting with potash, which was wood ash with the lye leeched out and some lye added back. They found that when added to food, it acted as yeast did. Potash did leaven food but it had a bad after taste. Pearlash, a more refined potash became popular in the United States. These leavens revolutionized baking for women who were used to time consuming leavening methods. In later years, saleratus became more popular and eventually baking soda.

For this Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge I used pearlash (potassium carbonate) to make American potash cake or Long Island Pound Cake, so called because the American women adapted this new technology early and apparently the women of Long Island were known for it. Pearlash was called for in four recipes in the first known American cookbook, Amelia Simmons' American Cookery in 1796.   

The Challenge: "The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread August 24 - September 6
Create a food item that reflects historical food improvements. Showcase a new discovery in food preparation, a different way of using food, or a different way of serving it. Make sure to include your documentation!"
The Recipe:
This recipe was printing in more than one European publication at the time.


 The Date/Year and Region: 1799 U.S. and England

How Did You Make It: (a brief synopsis of the process of creation)


- 6 Cups Flour (save one cup for dusting and adjusting)
- 1/2 Pound Butter (2 sticks)
- 1 heaving teaspoon Pearlash or Baking soda (You did use enough)
- 2 Cups Buttermilk or Sour Milk
- 1/2 Cup Sugar


Cut butter into small pieces and mix into the flour well. Put the sugar in the buttermilk and add to the flour mixture. Dissolve baking soda in a little water, add to mixture. Blend together until a soft dough is formed. Add more flour if necessary to make a workable dough. Roll it out to about a 1/2" on a floured surface with a floured rolling pan. Cut out into small circles with a cookie cutter or cup. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. The cakes won't spread while baking.
Time to Complete:
30 minutes

Total Cost:
$8.00 I had to make 2 batches.

How Successful Was It?: (How did it taste? How did it look? Did it turn out like you thought it would?)
I made the cardinal sin of cooking with potassium carbonate. I added too much, even though every instance of someone telling me they cooked with it ended with them using too much. I guess I read too much into "heaping teaspoon." I had to make a second batch.

When i first started, the recipe seemed similar to sugar cookies, but as i went on I realized that it was actually going to be closer to modern day biscuits.

How Accurate Is It?:
More accurate than I would have liked. In the future I would cook these with baking soda as the pearlash is scary to use and I don't feel comfortable serving foods that contain it. 

I've really wanted to try a recipe with potash or pearlash to see how differently they acted from modern day equivalents. It was fairly similar. It does have a "taste" but so does baking soda if you put too much in. Can't wait to see what everyone else makes for this challenge!

August 23, 2014

Civil War Peach Pie for the Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenges 5 and 6

I knew that pie baking was one of the challenges. I was dreading it. But as it came and went I felt secure in not doing it.

I'll do the next one, I convinced myself. Besides, why would anyone want to see my pie when there were REAL pies out there to drool over.

The truth is, the thought of making a pie is frightening. Terrifying. I don't make pies.

I look upon every pie recipe with incredulity. Every time I see a pie at a bake sale I assure myself that it's in a store bought crust. Sometimes when I'm sleeping, I dream of pie filling dripping down the walls like blood in a horror movie.

It all started with the first pie I ever made. My mom and I were bored. We decided we'd make a pie as practice for one that we wanted to make for Christmas.

We bought all of the ingredients and started in earnest. Barely following the recipe, we plopped all sorts of things in there we thought would be good. Flour flew as we rolled out our crust and rerolled our crust and mangled our crust back together. We put frankenpie in the oven, shrugged at each other, and set the temperature to whatever we thought sounded good. The smell of cinnamon and apples wafted to us for about an hour before we went to check on it.

The oven door creaked open. We peered in at our creation together.

It was beautiful! And it tasted like rainbows and fluffy clouds.

 So we tried to make it again for Christmas and instead of rainbow-cloud pie, we ended up with swamp pie. We gave up. I tried making other pies over the years since the first one and they've never turned out. If it wasn't burnt crust, it was mushy crust, or watery filling. I've gave up making pies but I'm not upset about it.

I am now convinced that the person who made up the saying of "easy as pie" was being sarcastic. There are even whole forums dedicated to pie troubleshooting. It's not me. It's pie.

But wait, you say. You've seen me with a million pies you say? Oh yes. 

That's all been a lot of sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors. I've held pies, I've made pie filling, I've helped make pies. But most of the time, I watch other people make pies. People are only too happy to make pies. 

I know what you are going to say. But what about the book?

Completely ghostwritten. In fact, I didn't even read it. :) 


The Challenge: Pies and In season Fruits and Vegetables

The Recipe: 

The Date/Year and Region:
1856, Philadelphia

How Did You Make It: 


- 1/2 Pound Butter
- 2 1/2 cups Flour


-Peaches, peeled, pitted and diced


Cut the cold  butter into cubes and add to the flour, rub the pieces of butter though your fingers until entirely flaky. Divide the dough in half.  Roll out one half of the dough on a floured surface using a floured rolling pin. Place the dough in the pie tin. Fill the pie crust with the peaches and add sugar to taste. Roll out the second crust and cover the pie. Crimp the edges together and put some holes in the top crust. Bake for 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 450. Turn the temperature down to 350 and bake until golden brown, around 45 minutes. 

Time to Complete:
About 1 hour.

Total Cost:
About $3.00

How Successful Was It?:
The crust was delicious. I definitely did not add enough sugar to the peaches. I was being conservative as I had never made it before.  I wish I had added some spices and more sugar to the filling and  a little sugar to the crust but was trying to keep as accurate as the recipe said. 

P.S. I'm fairly sure this pie only turned out because of spite. :)

August 18, 2014

Middletown Peach Festival 2014

I just got back from the 21st Middletown Olde-Tyme Peach Festival, hosted by the Middletown Historical society in Delaware. The festival includes a parade, car show, live music, pie baking contest and more.

The living history part is hosted by the Victorians of Virtue and Valor and is set up in front of the Historical Society. With the Victorians of Virtue and Valor, visitors played with Civil War period games, learned about soldier life and how those at home supported the war effort. Visitors also wrote letters to modern wounded soldiers.

It was a fun day, we had great weather and very interested visitors.

August 13, 2014

Timeline Event 2014 at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation

Last weekend I went to my first timeline event which was held at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation. Timeline events were never attractive to me because it seemed like more of a joke, like it was the answer to sarcastic reenactor comments about how all of the reenactors from different time periods should fight each other.

I was pleasantly surprised that this type of event doesn't trivialize the time periods but instead offers spectators a little something of everything. It's interesting to see groups from each time period and make comparisons between them. This type of event also really lent itself to specialty impressions that are normally out of place at time-and-place-specific event, opening up educational value to people who normally see and hear about the same thing at each event. I also liked that unlike at a time specific event where half of the people present are reenactors and half are spectators with a clear divide, at a timeline event the modern spectators almost seem like the final addition to the display, bringing the past into the present.  

The weather was fantastic, it was spring weather with a cool breeze. It was the perfect day to be outside. For those of you who have never been to the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, it is truly a place stopped in time.  

Demonstrating the sharpness of their swords.

I didn't get to move around and take photos of everything because I was helping cook a meal in the farmhouse kitchen as well as learning to milk a cow. Surprisingly this was my first time.

The corn at the farm has gotten so big! If you know Jeff, you know he's about 6' 4". You can read his description of the event here.

It was great getting to see a lot of people I haven't seen in a while as well as see some new faces at the farm.

Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party: Post # 26

This is my favorite time of year but it is going by so fast. I always like how after the main rush at the beginning of fall there was a lull. I feel like I am missing the lull as I am swooped up in all these new transitions. I am hoping to get these posts back on track soon. 



Milk accident in the spring house.


Pumpkin, banana, cranberry cornbread. Surprisingly delicious.


It's finally berry picking season!


Saw a fishing spider at work. I've seen one of these once before and no one believed me about how big it was. I'm afraid of spiders but just had to catch a photo of this one. They eat small bugs and fish.



Stormy night. 


Learning to dye cloth using madder root. It looked red in the pot but dyed the fabric a nice pink.


 Part of the Native American feast cooked for summer camp.


Andy made dinner. Pesto and angel hair pasta.

August 4, 2014

Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party: Post 25

Yet again another very late post. However, I have great news. I got a new job! The transition has been keeping me very busy but I am very glad for the change.This post is missing some images. If I find the time, I may go back and track them down. I've been so busy with the new job transition.


I'm taking the deep clean very seriously.


When you find 9 month old cannoli in the freezer.


What's a Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Post without a few tree photos?


My friend decided to try making some stinging nettle dye. She needed more nettle than she put in so it stayed rather pale.


The dog likes to make his own beds out of pillows when no one is home, much to my dismay.


Tons of dishes to be done.


Made a pudding finally. I've been meaning to try it but always thought I'd mess it up.

July 22, 2014

Why is it Called an Egg Roll if There is No Egg in it? Chinese Egg Roll 1917: Historical Food Fortnightly, Challenge 4

If you are like me, you might have sat in your favorite Chinese restaurant and ate an egg roll only to ponder why it has such an unusual name. After all, there is no egg in it. I had always assumed they used egg to make the dough and that's why it was called an egg roll. It turns out some recipes use eggs for the wrapper but plenty don't. For those of you new to egg rolls, egg rolls are cabbage and meat filled pockets wrapped in dough and fried. 

Egg Rolls are a strictly Chinese- American meal and no one knows who invented them but two Chinese- Americans have taken credit for popularizing them. There isn't an equivalent dish back in china but modern egg rolls are very much like spring rolls which are meat and vegetables wrapped in a thin rice paper wrapper.

Another possible origin for the misnomer could be a dish called "Dan Gun" or Egg Roll. In 1917, a Chinese American Cookbook was published with a dish that was vegetables and meat literally wrapped up in an egg and sliced. This type of an egg roll was also mentioned in a 1921 issue of Good Health. In 1943 in a pamphlet entitled Two Bells, the 1917 recipe was reprinted as an example of a dish that could be made from produce from a victory garden. Was it possible that the name stuck even though the wrapper didn't? We will probably never know. What we do know is that the dough wrapped version popped up sometime in the 1930s.

So for this Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge, I've made the traditional Dan Gun.

The Challenge: Foreign Foods

The Recipe: 

The Date/Year and Region:
1917, New York

How Did You Make It:


- 3 Eggs
-  Dried reconstituted Mushrooms
- Bean Sprouts
- Thick Slice of Ham
- Piece of Chicken
-Sesame Oil


Slice mushrooms, ham and chicken in long slices. Add sesame seed oil to skillet on medium heat. Fry the bean sprouts, ham, chicken and mushrooms for around 5 minutes. Add enough water to cover the food and cook until the water is gone, make sure to stir once the water is low to prevent burning. Once cooked, set aside to let cool.  Scramble the eggs. Grease a small skillet with the sesame oil and place on low heat. Add a few tablespoons of egg and tilt the pan around until you have a thin layer of egg. Cook until done, remove and let cool. Once cool put a thin layer of bean sprouts and meat on the entire egg and roll up. Cut into slices and add sauce. I used the sauce as a glue for the roll instead of raw egg.  

Time to Complete:
30 Minutes

Total Cost:

How Successful Was It?:
It tasted good but I didn't have any knives sharp enough to cut the rolls perfectly straight. I would eat something similar to this again. I would probably add nappa cabbage and bamboo shoots.

How Accurate Is It?: I don't eat meat, I used a meat substitute. I also used a store bought sauce as I had it on hand. There is a sauce recipe in another part the book.
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