Bits and Pieces

Recently I finished writing my first fiction novel, and I think I will publish here bits and pieces of it.  Many of the chapters begin with a scrap of poetry to set the tone.  This is the heading for Chapter 4 of Grove of the Patriarchs.

Busy bobbing birds

Flitting and feathering

Needing naught but nests and nuts

Seeds and scavengings

Courting and calling

Hailing high aloft the hedges

Far unfettered flight

                                                   Jessica Rush

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Non Stick Pan Nonsense

Non-stick coated “Teflon” pans make me nervous. We are told to throw them away if the surface becomes scratched to avoid getting the non-stick substance in our food (this seems wasteful to me).   Toxins may be leached out of non-stick surfaces into our food and into the air whether they are scratched or not. That is part of the reason I do not use Teflon non-stick frying pans. There is an interesting history of Teflon, etc. at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polytetrafluoroethylene. The other reason is that if you have a quality frying pan that is well seasoned not only will you have a naturally non-sticking pan, but you will either keep it your whole life or it can be recycled.

The oldest non-stick frying pan (without teflon) would be the cast iron pan. Cast iron was so valuable and durable historically in the kitchen that old time homemakers often passed them on to their children. Cast iron pans have excellent heat retention, can add iron to your food (great if you are anemic) and when well seasoned are non-stick.

Though I have some cast iron I primarily use Calphalon frying pans in my home. My pans are about 9 years old. I am unsure whether they are the same as what is on the market today, and I am not advertising Calphalon necessarily. What I enjoy about my pans is that they are receptive to seasoning.

Large Seasoned Frying Pan

Large Seasoned Frying Pan

This large pan I use to make quesadillas and grilled cheese and items of that nature. I no longer need to add any oil to this pan when cooking low-protein foods. It has darkened into a perfectly smooth surface. I never run this pan or the little pan I use for eggs through the dishwasher. I hand wash these and scrub sparingly. Though I seasoned them when I bought them, time has seasoned them better.  Seasoning can be reached through applying shortening or lard to a pan and heating it. It may take a few seasonings to reach non-stick.   For me it took carefully cooking in the pan for awhile. Then I baby the pans, only lightly scrubbing so as to not remove that precious layer. For more detailed instructions for seasoning various kinds of pans click here: http://www.webstaurantstore.com/guide/562/pan-seasoning.html

Take note: that if you do burn something in your seasoned pan, you will have to scrub it thoroughly and then reseason.

Lastly, how you cook in your pan also determines how well your seasoned pans work. Overheating or burning something in your pan will cause problems on the slickest surface. When cooking protein’s like fish, meat or eggs it is best to heat your pan first, add a little cooking fat like olive oil or coconut oil and make sure that it is hot, usually on a medium heat before adding eggs or meat.  Cold dry pans cause sticking. In other words, you’re best friend in keeping your pans in prime condition and your food at it’s yummiest is patience.

The Joy of Old Time “Receipts”

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In the greater scheme of history, cookbooks have not always been readily available for the common household, nor have the books (or blogs) with housekeeping advice that is now so plentiful for the modern household.  More often, a girl learned from her mother how to cook and keep house.  Diets were simpler and regional.  If you grew up in Norway for example, you learned from your family and neighbors how to cook Norwegian food.  For those who could write, some recipes were written down, but often learned by heart as well.  The first American cookbook, according to The Pioneer Village Cookbook” by Ann Chandonnet (2010) was called American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons and wasn’t published until 1796.   Here is her recipe for Simmons’ Pompkin Pie,

“One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.”  (hmmm)

During the 19th century, cookbooks and books on housekeeping started to come into use more regularly, but were still rare.  Another interesting book in this area is The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child first published in 1829.  It contains interesting bits of advice like this:

“Barley Straw is the best for beds; dry corn husks, slit into shreds are far better than straw” (who knew?)

(Or)

 “Keep a course broom for the cellar stairs, wood-shed, yard &c. No good housekeeper allows her carpet broom to be used for such things”  (I remember this one every time I take my good broom outside).   But the volume has all sorts of advice ranging from keeping an immaculate apartment, preparing the cheapest cuts of meat, raising children (play is not encouraged, children should learn to enjoy being productive so that life is more pleasant in the long run), cheap dyes, and of course recipes like this:

“Cider Cake is very good, to be baked in small loaves.  One pound and a half of sugar, quarter of a pound of butter, half a pint of cider, one teaspoon full of pearlash; spice to your taste. Bake until it turns easily in the pans. I should think about half an hour.”  Notice the lack of precision in this recipe.   These sorts of recipes also assume that the cook already has plenty of baking experience.  While these old cookbooks are fun to read some of the recipes are not advisable to try… health codes have changed.

What we would now call a recipe was known pre-20th Century as a “receipt”.  A receipt could even be used to describe any set of how-to instructions including this wonderful excerpt from a fundraising “Kokebok” I found.  This book was pulished by the Ladies of the Sons of Norway Lodge #44 Poulsbo, WA in 1966, but the excerpt is attributed to being much older.

For your enjoyment I will print it in full:

“A “RECEIPT” FOR WASHING CLOTHES BEFORE THE 20TH CENTURY”  provided by Mrs. Paulmer Slind

This is the original spelling.

1. Bild a fire in the back yard to heet kettle of rain water.

2. Set tubs so smoke won’t blow in eyes if wind is pert.

3. Shave on hole cake soap in bilin water.

4. Sort things, make three piles. 1 pile white. 1 pile cullord, 1 pile work britches and rags.

5. Stur flour in cold water to smooth then thin down with biling water.

6. Rub dirty spots on board, then bile – rub cullord but don’t bile –

7. Take white things out of kettle with broom stick handle then rench, blew and starch.

8. Spree tee towels on grass.

9. Hang old rags on fence.

10. Pore rench water in flour bed.

11. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.

12. Turn tubs upside down.

13. Go put on clean dress– smooth hair with side combs–brew cup of tee– set and rest and rock a spell and count blessins.

I so enjoy reading these bits out of the lives of our predecessors.  I can see right into the day of an American family as close and fresh as any American novel, bringing history more fully to life.  They tell a story of love and care, principles and economy, of the joy of a hard earned rest at the end of the day and a slower pace of world.