My original plan for this week was "History Week," as I have a small collection of cookbooks ranging from late-19th to mid-20th century and thought we could just skip and hop amusingly through the years. But as soon as I started flipping through Cookbook #33: Fannie Farmer's seminal Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896), I became utterly smitten and knew that it deserved its own entire entry. Provenance: Mom. Previous recipes on this blog: none. Balance of actual awesomeness and hilarious old-timeyness: excellent.
I do want to note that I will not be mocking Fannie Farmer, because Fannie Farmer was a badass. Born in the 1850s, she was partly paralyzed by a stroke at age 16 and was unable to walk (for a time) or attend college (as she had planned). So obviously she did what anyone would do and just sat around taking it easy oh wait no she became president of the Boston Cooking School, lectured at Harvard, figured out that food was pretty important for helping sick people get better, and straight-up invented standardized measurements in American cooking, NBD. Next time you follow a recipe and see a bunch of "cups" and "teaspoons" as opposed to "enough cabbage to fill a gentleman's bowler hat" or "bacon the size of a muttonchop," you can just go ahead and thank Ms. Farmer for that. Note that some people still have not heard the good news, Jamie Oliver. Anyway! Not making fun of Fannie. Might be questioning the year 1896 a bit.
The first recipe I chose was Lenten salad, primarily because this week was my last shot at making that at a seasonally appropriate time. Lenten salad consists of lettuce with a chopped hard-boiled egg on top of it. Recommended dressing: French. Recipe for French dressing: oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. You're starting to get the idea of the general tone of this thing. (Is it nonsense? No. It is the opposite of that.) As name-appropriately sparse as the salad was, I picked something a little froufier to go alongside it: chicken soufflé.
Here is what I like about Farmer's approach to soufflé: it's exactly like her approach to everything else. Which is to say, it's about a paragraph, few ingredients, basic instructions, lots of flour/butter/milk. There's no "oh, don't be scared of soufflés, I'll know it's tricky but we'll get through it" because why would you be scared of soufflés she overcame a paralytic stroke at 16 this is just whipping some egg whites, come on. Not a coddler. Just make the soufflé.
|That's Mushroom White Sauce on top. Recipe: add a can of mushrooms to White Sauce.|
Here's what I didn't like about Farmer's approach to soufflé: her nineteenth century lack of an electric temperature sensor and the resulting instruction of "cook in a slow oven." I'm really, really grateful for the level tablespoon and whatnot, but the actual cooking directions are a little vague for delicate dishes, and there was some soupiness in the middle. (Oh, what's that? The last time I made a soufflé in a modern oven it was soupy in the middle? Curious.)
Her it's-just-a-recipe-deal-with-it attitude toward things that I find intimidating also extends to homemade pasta. Mix it up! Cut it up! Boil it up!
|Serve it as a vegetable!|
|Also, Dan liked this and doesn't usually like pork chops. Cook in hot pan. Now I know.|
Did I mention that Fannie has an entire chapter on eggs and that I love her? Curried eggs, even! I MAKE CURRIED EGGS ON THE REGULAR. Usually with less flour, butter, and milk, but who's counting?
|Okay, I cheated here and combined Cucumber Salad with Cheese Salad. I'm going to let you work out what those recipes entail. Serve with French dressing.|
I didn't want to wrap this thing up without something more obviously old-fashioned, so I threw together a St. John's pudding, which is flour, baking soda, spices, molasses, and dates. I had to steam it! I've never steamed bread before. Fannie was not specific as to how one steams a pudding, but the internet told me to use my crockpot.
|Soooooort of authentic.|
I was really pleased with our menu this week. Turns out flour/butter/milk can sustain you for a while without really bringing in too many other agents. There are definitely some things that I'd still like to try:
|Why have I never had my potatoes in marble form? WHY?|
Some things I would not like to try:
|You know what Fannie, I'm just going to let you remove those tongue roots.|
Some things that sound really disturbing at first blush but thankfully do not turn out to be literal:
|No voodoo involved.|
And some things that are just crazy. Why on earth would you ruin a nice citrus drink with a bunch of trendy health-food seeds?
|1896, you are drunk.|
As surprisingly solid and normal-sounding as I found the food overall, I'd have to say things go slightly awry when invalids get involved. I know you're all mad I didn't attempt to make Frozen Beef Tea this week, but what was I supposed to do? No one here was sick! It's not like I didn't want to make Clam Water. (Seriously though, ask me if I would rather drink that or Russian Spiced Tea.)
|I do respect the wide variety of gruels and mushes, not least because it's been Miss-Hannigan-ing around in my brain since I saw this list.|
I think Fannie definitely has a few missteps. It's one thing to make those pitiful convalescents drink Irish Moss Tea, but are we really going to put moss in our dessert, Fan? Are we?
|Oh, what's that you say now? Irish moss is considered a superfood and adds a gelatinous effect to a wide variety of foods with hardly any flavor and I should probably stop questioning Fannie and her wisdom? Curious.|
As if all that weren't enough, the selection of hundred-year-old advertisements in the back are probably worth the price of admission.
|Here I've been using non-sparkling calves-foot like a sucker.|
|I'm going to tape this lady to my pantry door as inspiration.|
|Oh, thanks a lot for not changing your logo in over 100 years and being utterly un-hilarious, King Arthur Flour.|
|This is exactly the kind of thing that happened before FF standardized measurements.|
Verdict: there's really nothing not to love about this. I am going to use it. And I am going to track down some sparkling calves-foot. Recommended for: anyone with flour, butter, and milk in their larder.
Hey, we went to Kiddie Acres today and Anna got to visit her favorite bench!
Meanwhile, Ivy has gotten significantly worse at hiding.