Plum Lucky

By spring of 1920, twelve year-old Johnny Welles had made up his mind to leave the only home he’d ever known.  As hard as it was to say goodbye to his beloved stepmother, Collie, Johnny was determined to escape the tragedies that marred his childhood.

His three older siblings, Stanley, James, and Eunice, supported Johnny in his decision even though it broke their hearts to see him go.  His Aunt Prudence, who would take over Johnny’s care, was thrilled by his choice to reside with her in Baltimore and even more so with his pronouncement that he wanted to become a doctor.

In the months after his youthful declaration, Johnny spent all of his free time with Doctor and Mrs. Hager.  The Hagers, German immigrants with no children of their own, welcomed Johnny when they discovered his passion for all things medical.  The Hagers, aware of and sensitive to Johnny’s heartbreaks, couldn’t resist the opportunity to share their medical knowledge with the young boy.

Whenever possible, Doc and Mrs. Hager included Johnny in consultations and examinations.  Between patients, the three would pore over medical journals and Mrs. Hager’s pflaumenkuchen (plum cake).  The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the scene above.  This rich, delicious cake is quick and easy to make.  The beauty of this recipe is that you can substitute any stone fruit for the plums.  Consider peaches, nectarines, or cherries as an alternative.

Little Italian plums are my favorite when making pflaumenkuchen with black plums as a close second.  Italian plums aren’t available in my area until July, so I’ve presented this cake with black plums which are also quite appealing.  If using Italian plums, cut them in half and pit them.  The same goes for cherries.  For large stone fruits, cut them in half, pit them, and cut into slices.

The Gibson household enjoys this cake still slightly warm and served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Pflaumenkuchen

1 c sugar (I used raw)

½ unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 t vanilla

1 c flour

1 t baking powder

Plums, pitted and halved

2 T sugar (I used raw)

1 t cinnamon

Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Grease an 8 X 8 glass baking dish.

Cream the sugar and butter.  Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well.  Add the flour and baking powder, and mix thoroughly.  The batter with be thick like soft cookie dough.

Spread the batter into the baking dish and level it with a knife or spatula.  Place the halved plums (if using Italian) cut side down in even rows across the surface.  The same applies to cherries.  All other stone fruits should be placed in single-layer rows across the surface.

Combine the two tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle the mixture across the top of the cake and plums.  Bake for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

When cooled, sift powdered sugar over the cake if desired.

Enjoy!

All-American Goodbye

Granny Smith ApplesWithout a doubt, apple pie ranks among the top choices of best comfort food. Like the other recipes I’ve shared here (biscuits, cornbread), every family has their own version, compliments of mom or grandma, and their own opinion of exactly how authentic apple pie should taste. This humble, all-American classic, often the cornerstone of Sunday dinners, picnics, and church-hosted bake sales, is also the dessert of choice that Collie Mercer sends with her youngest child, John, as he leaves the family farm to go live with his Aunt Prudence in Baltimore.

Collie’s decision to send the pie with John is probably based on the fact that apples are a readily available fruit, and her hands could make the pie from memory. Or perhaps her choice is slightly more self-serving as she silently prays the taste of the pie that John grew up with will prompt a change of heart and return her youngest child to her.

Whatever Collie’s motivation, the following recipe is the one I had in mind for her to bake during that melancholy June in 1920. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does and as much as John did on the day he began a new chapter in his life.

Collie Mercer’s Apple Pie

5–6 Granny Smith apples

2 c flour plus 2 T for thickening

1 t salt

1 c cold, unsalted butter, cut into dices

¼ – ½ c ice water

½ c sugar, I use raw

1 t vanilla

1 ½ t cinnamon

Allspice

4 T butter for dotting

Cinnamon or sugar for dusting

Preheat your over to 425 degrees.

Mix the two cups of flour with the salt. Toss in the cold butter and cut it into the flour/salt mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles coarse meal. Slowly work enough ice water into the dry ingredients until you can form a ball of dough, making sure it’s not too wet or too dry. Work quickly by hand to ensure that all the dry ingredients are mixed in thoroughly. Be careful not to overwork the dough or the butter will become warm and the dough will be tough. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic and place in the refrigerator for twenty minutes.

Peel and slice the Granny Smith apples to approximately ¼ inch slices. (They are an extremely firm apple and any thicker will require sautéing prior to being placed in the crust or they may not cook well during the baking process.) Toss the apples with the sugar, cinnamon, a couple of hearty dashes of allspice, vanilla, and the two tablespoons of flour. Stir to coat the apples thoroughly and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into two pieces. One piece should be slightly bigger than the other to serve as a top crust. Working on a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough enough to cover the bottom and up the sides of an eight-inch pie plate. The bottom crust can hang over the edge of the pie plate just a little. Fill the bottom crust with the seasoned apple mixture and place four tablespoon slices of butter on top of the apples. Roll the top crust larger than the diameter of the pie plate and place over the apples. Tuck the edges of the top crust beneath the edges of the bottom crust and crimp to seal. I prefer pressing with the floured tines of a fork to create an old-fashioned look.

Cut several vents in the top crust with a small, sharp paring knife to allow steam to escape. Brush the top crust with your choice of wash. I prefer a milk wash, but egg white thinned with water is also a good choice. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon or sugar. Bake for 30 minutes. Check on the brownness of the crust and bake in five minute increments until a golden color has been achieved but no more than 45 minutes total.

Remove the pie from the oven and let stand for fifteen minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

By Bread Alone

1433270193628Forgiveness is a tricky concept. It is easily applied to a situation when the transgression is minor. A forgotten birthday, a word misspoken in haste, a misunderstanding of perceptions; forgiveness is willingly doled out in each of these instances.

But what about the attempted genocide of an entire people? Or searching one’s own soul in an effort to release a lifetime of guilt? Who is responsible to bestow forgiveness to the offenders when these are the circumstances? Man and/or God?

These are the questions that trouble the minds of Reuben and Hannah Wise and Dr. John Welles after they dine together one January evening in 1955. All three are divided in their opinions concerning the particular events that generated their questions. While they remain polite toward each other, a wedge has been driven into their friendship, especially between Hannah and John.

I chose to have Reuben serve challah bread during the Shabbat meal to which he and Hannah invited John for two reasons. For one, challah is traditionally served during the observation of Shabbat. More importantly, though, the presence of bread during this significant meal drew attention to the many references of bread in the Bible as well as underscored the differences between the Wises and Dr. Welles.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the challah Reuben made in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I hope you will enjoy this lightly sweet, rich, and delicious bread with your meals.

Reuben Wise’s Challah Bread

1 ½ cups warm water

2 tablespoon yeast

½ cup olive oil

½ cup sugar (or honey) (I used raw sugar)

3 eggs (2 for the recipe and 1 for the wash)

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 cups flour (slightly packed)

In a Kitchen Aid mixer add 1 ½ cups lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons yeast. Mix gently and allow the yeast to foam.

Add ½ cup sugar (or honey), ½ cup olive oil, 2 eggs, and ½ teaspoon salt. Mix well, approximately one minute or so. Add the six cups of flour one at a time and mix thoroughly with a bread hook. You may need to add ½ cup of flour if the dough is very sticky.

Remove from the mixing bowl and divide the dough into two halves. Divide each half into four pieces and roll each piece to about 12 – 14 inches in length. Braid the pieces of dough. (You can find instructions for braiding challah on the internet. I chose a four-strand braid for my bread.)

Brush each braided loaf with an egg wash (beaten egg with a little water to thin it). Place the braided loaves on a non-stick cookie sheet with parchment paper or a cooking mat on it and sprinkle liberally with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or slivered almonds. Let the loaves rise until about 1/3 larger in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the loaves for 23 – 25 minutes. Loaves should be golden and firm when finished.

This recipe can also be mixed and kneaded by hand.

1433270494920

The traditional blessing over the bread as spoken by Reuben Wise:

HAMOTZI – Blessing Over the Bread

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, Ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.

hamotzi_0

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe,

who brings forth bread from the earth.

The Bitter Truth

Horseradish and GraterWhen I first chose the meal my protagonist, John Welles, would enjoy with Reuben and Hannah Wise, I flinched at including horseradish sauce. A website on authentic Jewish cooking suggested the pungent condiment as a topping for the salmon patties I had Hannah serving.

I hate horseradish. My earliest memory of it involves cocktail sauce served at a seafood restaurant called Arthur Treacher’s that went out of business in our area years ago. My aunt was pumping the sauce out of a dispenser into little paper cups when one hefty pump spewed the offending sauce all over my shirt. I was mortified, and I guess my face showed as much because my aunt busted up laughing even as she wiped me off with paper napkins.

To this day I can sniff out horseradish in any meal even as someone is setting the plate down in front of me. I was sure I wouldn’t include it in my Edible Fiction posts featuring food from my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Until my mom made fresh horseradish sauce.

Homemade horseradish sauce is a whole different creature. The key, as I discovered, was to grate the horseradish fresh instead of using the jarredHorseradish Grated stuff. Freshly grated horseradish is zesty like radishes; it actually has flavor. Unlike the jarred stuff, which is bitter without much flavor at all, fresh horseradish tastes like peppery herbs.

As for recipes, there are thousands to be found for homemade horseradish sauce. I imagine Hannah would have mixed her freshly grated horseradish into a quality mayonnaise with a little salt and pepper to taste. Sour cream or crème fraiche is another suggestion as is the inclusion of white wine vinegar, chives, and Dijon mustard. You really can’t mess up the recipe; it’s just a matter of tasting as you create until you achieve the flavor you’re looking for.

The following is a basic recipe that provides a great jumping off point.

Horseradish Sauce

4 ounces of freshly grated horseradish root

1 ½ cups of mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and grate the horseradish root. Stir into the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper.

In For a Penny, In For a Pound

 

Done and cut

It is Christmas morning, December 1917, and young John Welles is celebrating with his family. Their festivities are halted for a moment when John’s often absent, always inebriated father walks into the kitchen. John and his three siblings hold their breath until their stepmother, Collie, prepares a plate of fried eggs and a cup of coffee and sends him back to wherever he spends his days.

As a surprise for her stepchildren, Collie made pound cake and hot cocoa. She’s not the type to serve dessert for breakfast but makes an allowance for Christmas.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the scene above. I first tasted this particular pound cake at a work function. My co-worker, Cheryl Pandrea, really has the magic touch when it comes to making this recipe. The cake is rich, moist, and delicious. It’s perfect served with the cocoa recipe on my blog.

Cheryl’s Pound Cake

2 sticks of butter

3 cups of sugar

¼ teaspoon baking soda

6 eggs

16 ounces sour cream

3 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 325°

In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar. Add the baking soda and mix. Add the eggs two at a time and mix thoroughly after each. Add the sour cream and mix thoroughly. Gradually add the flour a half cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Grease and flour a bunt pan, be sure to get all the fluted edges. Bake the cake for 1 – 1 ½ hours or until golden brown. A tester inserted should come out clean.

Turn the cake out on a cooling rack. Let it cool until just warm or room temperature, then serve.

A Special Christmas Breakfast

A Special Christmas Breakfast

You Haven’t Been Cooking Again, Have You Prudence?

1424624185921October 1925 is the start of a very exciting time for John Welles; he’s beginning his pre-med studies at the University of Maryland. John’s deepest personal secret to date, the fact that he wants to study medicine, is becoming a reality.

Unfortunately, his first day is overshadowed by the rift that still exists between him and his stepmother, Collie. For three months, John hasn’t received a letter or telephone call from her. As much as he misses her presence in his life, he doesn’t know how to repair the damage.

His Aunt Prudence discerns that he’s still upset by the harsh words he exchanged with Collie, so she surprises him with a special breakfast consisting of the dishes he enjoyed as a child on the farm. John teases his aunt about her terrible cooking skills to which Prudence replies that her cook, Lucia, actually made the breakfast.

One of the breakfast menu items Prudence and Lucia serve John is fried apples. They’re delicious over biscuits, cornbread, ice cream, pancakes, or served in a bowl as a side dish. The great thing about fried apples is that you really don’t need a recipe. I’m sure recipes exist, but you’ll end up tweaking them to your tastes anyhow so just wing it from the start.1424622543744

I suggest at least two apples per person and keep in mind that people will want seconds and leftovers.  Just to be safe, make it three apples per person; they really do reheat well. We like a combination of sweet and tart apples. Any of the cooking varieties will do.

Apples

Unsalted Butter

Brown Sugar

Cinnamon

Salt, optional – add when seasoning

Slice each unpeeled apple in eight pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Toss the apples with approximately a ¼ cup of brown sugar, several hearty shakes of cinnamon, and salt if using. Heat at least half a stick of butter in a very large skillet because this is one of those recipes that seem to grow as you make it. More butter means more syrup.

Transfer the spiced apple mixture to the skillet, cover, and cook the apples until they are tender but not falling apart, stirring occasionally. As they cook, the apple juice mixes with the brown sugar and cinnamon to make sticky syrup. This is where you’ll decide if you want more or less sugar, butter, and cinnamon or to add another flavor like honey or ginger. You really can’t go wrong with fried apples. Be adventurous and make the recipe your own; your family will love you for it!

Enjoy!

So easy the hubby can do it!

So easy the hubby can do it!

Crossing the Road with the Chicken

Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Mounds of Smashed Potatoes and a hungry child in the background.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Mounds of Smashed Potatoes and a hungry child in the background.

In June of 1920, John Welles travels with his Aunt Prudence to her house in Baltimore. It is the first time he has been away from his home on the farm. As much as he loves his family, John is desperate to escape the two tragedies that haunt him, leaving him with a painful secret.

John’s stepmother, Collie, packs a picnic lunch for him and Prudence. Buttermilk fried chicken is sure to ease the sadness John feels at his departure. Her gesture will also soften the heartbreak she experiences when her youngest child leaves home for good.

The fried chicken I imagined when I wrote this scene tastes like what my mother made during my childhood. Unfortunately, by the time I became a homemaker, frying had long since been replaced with baked or grilled skinless chicken. To make matters worse, Mom didn’t really remember how she prepared the chicken.

I called my sister-in-law because her parents host fish fries, but I discovered that she, too, possessed no talent for frying. After a good laugh, we collaborated on the following recipe. I took responsibility for the marinade, and she handled the coating. Together we monitored the frying process like a new mother watching over a sleeping baby. What we created was juicy, delicious, and not too bad for a couple of chicks learning to fry!

I hope you enjoy our recipe.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Chicken – 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 wings

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups buttermilk

2 teaspoons hot sauce

3 cloves garlic, crushed

½ teaspoons dried thyme

House of Autry Chicken Breader (I highly recommend this product; it is seasoned perfectly and deliciously)

32 oz. bottle peanut oil

Vegetable shortening

Rinse and trim the chicken pieces for excess fat, pat dry with a paper towel. Place the pieces in a baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate about an hour.

Mix the buttermilk, hot sauce, garlic, and thyme in a gallon-sized, re-sealable plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces, making sure all pieces are submerged, seal and refrigerate 2 to 4 hours, turning the bag every hour.

Remove chicken from the bag and gently shake off excess marinade. Place half of the chicken in another gallon-sized, re-sealable bag with two cups of chicken breading. Seal and shake thoroughly to coat the pieces. Remove from the bag and shake off any excess breading, set aside. Repeat with remaining pieces, adding more breading if necessary.

Fill an electric skillet with all of the peanut oil and two large spoonsful of vegetable shortening. Heat to 350° F, making sure the shortening melts completely. When the skillet reaches desired temperature, a bead of water dropped in the oil should dance across the surface.

I suggest cooking the thickest pieces first (breasts and thighs). Use tongs to carefully lower the coated chicken into the hot oil. The temperature will drop, so adjust the skillet heat as needed to maintain the correct cooking temperature.

The following indicates the number of minutes per side for each piece, with flipping in between, to ensure doneness without burning. The first five minutes per side sets the breading:

Breasts – 5, 5, 3, 3, 3

Thighs – 5, 5, 3, 3

Legs & Wings – 5, 5, 2, 2

Remove the chicken to a cooling rack lined with paper towels to drain, sprinkle with salt, and let rest a few minutes. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Serve with favorite side dishes.

Simple Fare, Shocking Secret

An invitation to dinner is a most coveted offer for a bachelor to receive. While many of them are experts at instant foods or eating out, single men rarely take the time to prepare a decent meal for themselves. It is no different for my protagonist, Dr. John Welles.

John grew up eating delicious food prepared by his stepmother, Collie, and later by his Aunt Prudence’s cook, Lucia. Unfortunately, their culinary skills never rubbed off on John. If not for the good food he eats at Bea Turner’s diner, John would probably lose a considerable amount of weight while living on his own in West Virginia.

During the snowbound winter of 1955, John accepts an invitation to dine with Rueben and Hannah Wise. The Wises own a small grocery store, and while they aren’t wealthy people, they provide a meal that is both simple and delightful. In addition to saving him from his own bachelor cooking, the Wises second, more important reason for inviting John to dinner completely catches him off his guard.

The following recipe for salmon patties is the one I had in mind as I wrote this scene. Salmon patties were cause for nose wrinkling when I was a 1422563010122child; I didn’t develop a taste for them until I became an adult. I do suggest making them when you can have the windows open or prepare them in a skillet that can be covered. Salmon patties are delicious, but they will leave a pungent, lingering aroma in your home for a couple of days!

Salmon Patties

1-14.75 oz. can of pink salmon, drained

½ cup crushed Ritz crackers

1 egg

1 T parsley

1 stalk of celery, minced

2 T onion, minced

Tabasco, several hearty shakes

Black pepper & Sea Salt to taste

Approx. 2 T Olive Oil

Approx. 2 T Butter

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl until well blended. If mixture is dry, add 1 tablespoon of half and half at a time until mixture forms a ball. Gently press out salmon patties on a cutting board using your hands. Be sure to keep the edges neat so patties won’t crumble while cooking.

Melt the butter in a skillet with the olive oil. When the skillet sizzles, add the salmon patties and cook on a high heat to set each side. Take care not to burn. Flip once to cook the other side. Patties should be nicely browned and lightly crisped. Serve immediately.

Peas, Glorious Peas!

My Great Aunt Edie, a classy lady who never ceases to amaze me, once told me a story about a trip she and my Great Uncle Bud took to Maryland to attend the Butler Family Reunion. The most interesting part of the story included her description of the breakfast menu.

1422562899611One morning, Aunt Edie, Uncle Bud, and the relatives with whom they were staying ate breakfast with close family friends. Their hosts served the usual breakfast fare, but my aunt was surprised to see pork chops, creamed peas, and bowls of other vegetables on the table. She mentioned this to my uncle.

He explained that the men had been up early and already completed a full day of work before she and my uncle woke up. After breakfast, the men would return to work, break for lunch, return to work again, and finally eat dinner well after dark when all the barn chores had been completed.

I recalled this story as I wrote the scene in which the family of John Welles celebrated his arrival with a huge breakfast. Although the birth of a new baby was exciting, it didn’t take precedence over the work that had to be done. Those not involved with bringing young John Welles into the world still had chores to complete.

Once my novel has been published, I’ll be interested to see if anyone comments on creamed peas for breakfast. Will readers find it odd or familiar? The following recipe is the one I had in mind as I wrote the celebration scene in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.

Enjoy!

Creamed Peas

2 cups of frozen peas

1 T butter

1 T flour

½ cup of whole milk

black pepper, I use a mixture of black, white, green, and pink peppercorns

sea salt

1 t sugar, I use raw sugar

2 green onions (white and green portion), diced

Bring water to a boil in a three quart saucepan. Add the peas, reduce heat, and stir. Cook/defrost the peas for three to five minutes, until they begin to float. Drain the peas.

Melt the butter in the hot pan. Whisk in the flour until smooth, be sure to not burn the mixture. Add several grinds of cracked black pepper, salt to taste, and the sugar. Slowly pour in the milk and whisk over medium heat until thickened. Stir in the cooked, drained peas. Toss lightly and stir in the onions.

Saved by the… Beef?

The year is 1927. John Welles’ best friend, Claude Willoughby, has had a falling out with his father. John isn’t aware of the details yet, but he suspects J.D. Willoughby isn’t as charming as he would like everyone to believe.

Part of Claude’s punishment is to remain in Baltimore while the rest of his family returns to Kentucky for Christmas. He’s heartbroken. Only the support of his two best friends, John Welles and Sam Feldman, manage to lift his spirits.

Part of their suggestion for Claude’s untraditional holiday is to spend some time with both of them at their respective homes. Sam goes one step further and proposes an after-the-fact Hanukkah celebration including traditional Jewish dishes such as brisket.

I had the following recipe in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. My family looks forward to eating brisket every Hanukkah. This recipe is perfect for celebrating any time of the year. I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

Jewish Brisket

4 pounds beef brisket

Olive Oil

1 cup water

1 cup ketchup

½ white vinegar

2 onions, sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon salt

Drizzle olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven.  Add the brisket and heat over medium-high heat. Cook the brisket until browned on all sides. Mix water, ketchup, vinegar, onions, garlic, brown sugar, and salt. Pour mixture over the brisket and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue simmering until tender, turning brisket occasionally, 2 hours and 30 minutes to 3 hours and 30 minutes. Check often after initial 2 hours and 30 minutes to keep from burning or drying out.

Remove the brisket and allow it to cool slightly before slicing the meat against the grain. Place slices of brisket in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan or large platter, pour sauce on top, and serve. Cover any remaining brisket and refrigerate. Spoon off any excess fat and reheat before serving.

Eager hands waiting to attack the brisket after prayer.

Eager hands waiting to attack the brisket after prayer.

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