May I Take Your Order, Please?

I’m not a big fan of blog posts that are nothing but links, but a few people have requested this of me, and I dare not disappoint my loyal followers.  What they wanted to know was which recipes I featured from my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, went together to create the meals.  I didn’t write the posts in order, and since my novel has yet to be published, I thought I’d do them this favor.

From Chapter One, I featured fried eggs and potatoes, ham and redeye gravy, buttermilk biscuits with butter and jelly, creamed peas, fried apples, and canned peaches for the breakfast celebrating my protagonist’s birth.

In Chapter Six, the first time Johnny Welles meets his Aunt Prudence, I had his stepmother, Collie, serve fried chicken, black eyed peas, fried okra, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

The menu for the meal I created for Chapter Seven, when Johnny leaves the farm with his Aunt Prudence, includes cold fried chicken (See recipe above), fresh peaches, apple pie, and lemonade.

The pork chops I served in Chapter Nine went with the buttermilk biscuits, fried eggs, and fried apples from Chapter One.  If the food item appeared twice in my novel, I only featured the recipe once.

The brisket from Chapter Twelve, when John and Claude celebrated Hanukkah with their friend, Sam Feldman, was enjoyed with latkes.

John and his girlfriend, Garland, were served roast chicken, buttermilk biscuits (See recipe above), and peach pie by Garland’s father, Hugh Griffin, in Chapter Fifteen.  Those buttermilk biscuits were obviously a favorite of mine!

But then I must have liked the latkes, too, because they reappeared in Chapter Twenty Eight when John dined with the Hannah and Reuben Wise and I featured salmon patties topped with carrot slices and horseradish, latkes (See recipe above) with applesauce and sour cream, and homemade grape juice.

The last little meal I have to mention is the brown beans and cornbread served in Chapter Twenty Nine.  I assumed most people would figure out they go together, but they’re just too delicious not to mention.

I hope this satisfies the request to group my recipes as they were featured in my novel.  I still laugh to myself when I think how I feed my characters as if entertaining good friends.  It’s probably because I grew up with parents who can cook and enjoy doing so, and a grandmother whose simple food prepared with love forms some of my best memories.

There are only a handful of chapters that do not include a single mention of food.  As for the ones that do, and aren’t included here, I hope you’ll enjoy a trip through the Edible Fiction portion of my blog discovering the recipes.

The Artist’s Corner – Cooking With Priscilla Smith

I’ve mentioned before that I have a tendency to feed the characters in my stories.  In fact my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, is replete with the mention of food prompting the sharing of recipes.  So when I began The Artist’s Corner, it made sense to feature someone who enjoys the art of cooking as much as I do.  I don’t believe Priscilla has ever cooked for a fictional person, but if she did, they would enjoy her talent as much as the real people for whom she cooks.

Hello and welcome to the Artist’s Corner.  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Well, I’ve been married for fifty-one years, and I have two children and two grandchildren.  I have enjoyed being a homemaker for the better part of my marriage.  I was heavily involved in raising my family and my children’s schooling, but I also worked in the banking and legal industry as well as a volunteer at the fire department.

How/when did your love of cooking develop?

I learned to cook under my mother’s instruction, but growing up in West Virginia didn’t expose me to a variety of foods.  My basic cooking skills didn’t develop until my high school home economics class in Ohio.  My final project was to collect recipes, and I gathered some good ones, but they were basic.

I honed my skills through my relationship with my oldest brother’s wife.  Inta is Latvian, and she introduced me to other foods and methods of preparation.  I fell in love with cooking and realized I could do this, too.

Do you consider the food you prepare art?

All of it.  From the first steps of preparation to the finished meal is the creation process resulting in edible art.  That’s why I take pictures of it and put it on Facebook!  At first I thought just the fancy stuff and my baking was art, but I realized it all is.  The quality of the food contributes to the finished product.  Homemade food is art with love infused.  In fact, something as simple as fried green tomatoes when made with good ingredients and love are impressive.

And don’t forget that the table setting is part of it.  Presentation plays an important role.  You eat first with your eyes, then your sense of smell, and finally with your mouth.  Sure, it’s the same food when you hastily prepare it and eat right out of the pans, but beautiful dishes, large platters, place mats, candlelight, napkins, silver, and crystal:  all this enhances the food.  You make it worthy of being presented in a magazine.

Do you put yourself into your cooking?

Absolutely.  How I season, what I choose to cook for a particular meal, how I approach the preparation process:  this is me infusing myself into the food.  I love to cook what I enjoy eating for other people.  It’s a small expression of my personality that I can share with others.  And you really can’t go wrong when you’re cooking something you like to eat; it’s like giving a present of yourself to someone.

My accent is on good, solid food.  Not necessarily fancy, but I’m not afraid to try something new.  Thai food has been of interest to me lately.  But if asked to prepare something that I’m not particularly fond of or have never made, I’ll still make every effort to please whoever I’m feeding.

I don’t consider myself a chef by any means, but I consider myself a cook, and a good one.  I have training in life experience with cooking.  My education comes from searching through cookbooks, vintage recipes, online, and word of mouth which usually provides the best recipes.  And I can never leave a recipe alone; I always tweak it!  Sometimes my recipes are never the same twice, but they’re always good.

What other cooking experience have you had?

On a whim, I took a cake decorating class with women from a craft club I attended years ago when my children were young.  A bunch of us went.  I fell in love with the art of cake decorating and started making my kids’ cakes, cakes for neighbors, cakes for family functions.  I realized I could channel my talent into a small business.  With a lot of practice, I worked my way up to wedding cakes and was quite successful.

Did your non-cooking work experience lead to the pursuit of cooking?

Not exactly, but cooking for my family fed my interest.  I’ve never even been a waitress, but I’ve been involved with hosting tea parties (in my home, at church, and in other people’s homes), guests breakfasts for Pastor Appreciation, luncheons honoring staff or administrators at schools, catered wedding receptions, wedding showers, baby showers, conference luncheons for two hundred people at churches, a week’s worth of meals for an equestrian group with special dietary requests, and company Christmas parties.  In each instance, I worked with my client(s) to create a full menu that would be visually pleasing and delicious, and then I prepared the food.

What or who is your inspiration for cooking?

Julia Child, Ina Garten, and Martha Stewart—they cause me to rise up to their standard of cooking.  I love watching them and reading their cookbooks.  Factor in Graham Kerr and Justin Wilson.

What do you enjoy cooking?

It would be a lot quicker to say what I don’t enjoy.  My favorite things to cook are my childhood comfort foods which are brown beans and cornbread, meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  Simple desserts like Crazy Cake and fudge.  Really, it’s hard to say any one thing since I like to make big meals and serve people.  I love to make pasta, beef roasts, chicken in many forms, roasted vegetables.  I love baking pies, breads, cookies, and cakes in that order.

Do you still cook for others as a business?

No, now it’s all for pure pleasure.  Well, actually, I’d take small jobs for close friends or family.  I’ve done everything I want to do business-wise with cooking.  I could turn all my handwritten recipes into a cookbook.  I could see a market for it based on people’s positive reaction to The Pioneer Woman and Paula Deen.  People like well-prepared, basic food that tastes good and isn’t difficult.  Food you already have in your cupboards.

Have you ever competed in a cooking contest or bake off?  If so, how did you do?

I baked for competition once.  When I was a young mother, I made candy apple pie for a local grocery store’s competition.  I took second place and received a ribbon!  I love watching the competitions on television and thinking, I could beat Bobby Flay, but cooking shouldn’t be under pressure or about throwing food around.  I’m not going to cook octopus, but if Bobby and I competed at potato soup or chili, I know I could take him down in a heartbeat.

How have you shared your cooking skills?

Lately, I’ve been teaching a young girl how to cook because she’s homeschooled.  Her mother asked me if I’d teach her to bake cupcakes and cookies because she’d tasted my stuff.  We slowly progressed into pies (double crust and with meringue), and she’s made palmiers, pudding, and angel food cake.  Next she’s going to make cheesecake.  We keep progressing with more and more difficult techniques.

What’s your opinion on the removal of Home Economics from school, specifically cooking?

It’s sad because young people don’t know how to cook.  They come home from work and buy something frozen or already prepared.  And I’m not talking about just girls.  Boys need to know how to cook, too.  My one grandson is prime example that boys can learn how to cook.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but they need to learn how to feed themselves.  Breakfast and dinner are essentials because that’s usually when they’re home.  Lunch is often eaten out, so they need to learn how to choose wisely.

How is what you cook for yourself different from what you cook for other people?

If I’m making a grilled cheese for myself, I’m going to grab a couple slices of bread from the fridge, use American cheese, and the fanciest thing I’d include would be a slice of tomato.  But if I’m making grilled cheese for someone else, I’m going to use seven-grain or homemade sourdough bread, gruyere, fontina, or a combination of exceptional melting cheeses, spread one side with Dijon mustard, and put a slice of roasted red pepper on that baby.  Still grilled cheese, but see the difference!

No doubt you’d work presentation into this simple fare?

Absolutely!  And it’s not just dressing up ill-prepared or tasteless food.  Make no mistake; it all starts with delicious food, quality ingredients.  Even how you refer to it is important.  Simple things like cutting the crust off toast or sprinkling chopped green onions over an omelet and serving it on pretty dishes can go a long way to turning the eggs and toast you always have for breakfast into something special.

What’s your favorite meal to cook?

Passover.  I love cooking for Passover.  When I’m cooking the Passover meal, the whole experience becomes holy.  Of course the Seder is beautiful; it’s for Adonai.  It can be quite long, so people are getting hungry.  You’d better serve them your best, and I do.  What I hope they know is that I’ve given my best to them because of my love for Adonai.

What’s your dream meal?

To have lunch with Martha Stewart, but I prepare the food.  There’d be a salad involved, probably a soup and sandwich combination.  The time of year, whether spring or fall, would influence the menu.  And I’d make homemade pie, probably lemon meringue because my crust is excellent.

What’s your biggest complaint with cooking?

The cost of good ingredients can be prohibitive.  One meal could be outrageous.  I’ll buy organic when it’s feasible.  My concern isn’t just for myself, it’s for everyone.  We live in a country that wastes too much food.  The GMOs bother me, too.  Whole foods and organics should be available at reasonable prices to everyone.

So do you have a recipe to share with us?

You know I do!

Homemade Potato Dumpling Soup

6 – 8 Redskin or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced

3 – 4 ribs of celery, sliced

Medium sweet onion, chopped

4 eggs, beaten

1 ½ c flour

½ t salt

Stick of butter

4 – 6 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned (enough to cover, depends on the size of your potatoes)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 quart half-n-half

Place the potatoes, celery, and onions in a large pot and cover with the broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cover while you’re making the dumplings.

Combined the eggs, flour, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir thoroughly to make a thick batter for dumplings.  Take a large spoonful of dumpling mixture and cut off pieces with a butter knife, dropping them into the hot soup.  Add a stick of butter.  Cover and let the dumplings cook for 5 – 8 minutes.

Turn the heat off and add the half-and-half until there is plenty of liquid around the ingredients and the soup looks creamy.  Taste to see if you need more salt, then season further with salt and pepper.

My family likes to top the soup with small chunks of Havarti, let it soften ever so slightly, and then eat it!

Have a Holly, Jelly Christmas

Christmas morning of 1917 was a time of excitement for Johnny Welles and his three older siblings.  In addition to celebrating the special day, a secret was brewing behind the scenes that would add to the festive holiday season and bring joy to the entire family.  In a passage leading up to the discovery of this secret, I wrote a portion for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, that included the special treat of apple jelly on pound cake served for Christmas breakfast.  The following recipe is the one I had in mind when writing the above-mentioned scene.

Collie’s Apple Jelly

3 lbs. tart apples (¼ underripe and ¾ ripe)

3 c water

2 T lemon juice, strained

3 c white sugar

This recipe doesn’t require an outside source of pectin because it uses tart apples which are higher in pectin.  Also, the slightly underripe apples further ensure a natural source of pectin.

Sort and wash the apples.  Remove the stems and blossom ends.  Do not pare or core the apples.  Cut them into small pieces.  Add the water, cover, and bring to a boil on high heat.  Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.  Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the apple pieces are soft.  Do not over boil or you’ll destroy the pectin, flavor, and color in the fruit.

Dampen a jelly bag and suspend over a clean bowl.  Ladle the cooked apples and liquid into the jelly bag and allow the juices to drip through on their own.  Pressing out the juice will result in cloudy jelly.  If a fruit press is used, pass the juice through a jelly bag to reduce cloudiness.

Pour the apple juice into a flat-bottomed pot.  Add the lemon juice and sugar.  Stir thoroughly.  Boil the mixture over high heat to eight degrees above the boiling point of water (this temperature depends on where you live in regards to sea level) or until the jelly sheets from a spoon.  Remove the jelly from the heat and quickly skim off the foam.

Immediately pour the jelly into hot, sterile jars.  Be sure to leave ¼ inch headspace.  Wipe the rims with a clean, damp paper towel.  Fit a canning lid into a ring and place on the jars of jelly.  Take care to level and tighten them properly.  Process the jars in a water bath canner.  The time required will depend on the altitude at which you live:

0 – 1000 ft. for five minutes

1001 – 6000 ft. for 10 minutes

Above 6000 ft. for 15 minutes

Remove the processed jars using canning tongs.  Allow the jars to cool on several layers of towels.  During this time, you’ll hear the lids pop indicating successful canning.  You can remove the rings for reuse once the lids pop and the jars cool.  Any lid that does not pop has not sealed properly.  These jars should be cooled and refrigerated for immediate use.  This recipe yields about four to five half-pint jars of golden sweet deliciousness.

Now it’s time for the confession portion of this post.  Thinking like a modern woman, I had Collie making the apple jelly a few days before she served it for Christmas.  In my world, one would simply go to the store for apples or pull them from the refrigerator where they waited patiently to be eaten or made into something delicious.  Refrigerators for home use weren’t invented until 1913, and I seriously doubt the Welles family would have had one by 1917.  They could have had a cellar, but I never mentioned this in the description of the house, and to do so for the sake of one scene would feel contrived.

Apples will last for six to eight weeks with refrigeration, but left on a counter, they will ripen ten times faster because enzymes are much more active at room temperature, and they will only last for a week or two.  More likely, Collie would have made the jelly during the months when apples were in season.  So while I made a small culinary mistake in my novel, fortunately I discovered it prior to publication.  As I’ve always said, the research begins with the author.  It will be easy to edit this scene by having Collie say she held back one jar to use on Christmas morning.

It’s What Liv Ordered

In May of 1951, diner owner, Bea Turner, was asked to make a birthday cake for Toby Bruce Robishaw who was turning one.  Toby’s mother, Liv, was an extravagant woman who loved to make a show of everything she did.  Her son’s first birthday party was no exception.

The people Liv invited to Toby’s party were simple folk living in the hills of West Virginia.  They had simple tastes and probably expected a simple dessert such as Crazy Cake.  However, Liv used the occasion of her son’s birthday to show off yet again.  The cake she came up with is lovely, but it was completely lost on the birthday guests.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene taking place in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.  By tweaking portions of other recipes, I created a cake suitable for the splashy tastes of Liv Barrette Robishaw.

Now don’t get me wrong; the cake is delicious.  It’s not what one would serve at a child’s party.  Here’s a passage from my novel describing exactly what Liv requested of Bea:

Three, double-layer cakes were divided by pillars with plastic circus animals placed in the space between.  Red and blue icing crisscrossed the edges of the cake in every direction.  A handful of colorful flags exploded out of the top layer.  Every inch of the cake not already taken up with decoration had a piece of candy pressed into the icing like a gingerbread house.

Liv’s outlandish request is what prompted Bea to say, “It’s what Liv ordered.”  Bea’s statement was offered as an explanation and apology to the townsfolk who understood completely.

The quantities listed below will make one layer of the cake I described above.

Hazelnut Cake

12 oz. hazelnuts

2 t baking powder

6 egg yolks

5/8 c white sugar

6 egg whites

Toast the hazelnuts in a 350° oven for 10–15 minutes or until lightly golden in color.  Cool completely.  Remove the skins from the toasted nuts by placing in a tea towel and briskly rubbing them together or place them in a colander and swirl them around to remove the skins.  Grind the hazelnuts until very fine.  Add baking powder and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Thoroughly grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

In a large mixing bowl, use a hand-held electric mixer to combine the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow in color.  Beat in the ground hazelnuts.  This mixture will be extremely heavy and sticky.

Wash your beaters to remove any traces of fats.  In a separate bowl, beat room temperature egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Carefully whisk 1/3 of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten the batter.  Fold in another 1/3 of the egg whites taking care not to delate them.  Fold in the remaining 1/3 of the egg whites until no streaks of batter remain.

Gently pour into the prepared 9-inch springform pan.  Bake in a preheated oven for 60 minutes or until the top of the cake springs back when lightly tapped.  Cool completely on wire rack.

Cinnamon Crème Filling

1 c heavy cream, chilled

1 c powdered sugar

1 ½ t ground cinnamon

1 t vanilla

Chill a metal bowl and the beaters of a hand-held mixer in the freezer for ten minutes.  Pour the heavy cream into the chilled metal bowl and beat on high speed with a hand mixer until the cream is frothy.  Slowly add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Place the bowl of cinnamon crème filling in the refrigerator until needed or use immediately.

Whipped Buttercream Frosting

3 c powdered sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 T heavy cream

2 t vanilla

Beat the butter, heavy cream, vanilla, and one cup of powdered sugar with a hand mixer until they are completely combined.  Add the remaining two cups of powdered sugar one cup at a time.  Blend well after each addition.  The lighter weight of this buttercream frosting is perfect for the delicate hazelnut cake.

You can use this frosting immediately or chill for later use.

Assembling the Cake

Once the cake has cooled completely, cut it in half horizontally.  Place the bottom half (cut side up) on a cake stand  and spread the Cinnamon Crème Filling generously over the top with a spatula or knife to within ¼ inch of the cake edge.  Place the top layer of cake (cut side down) over the filling, taking care to position it correctly.

Using a knife or spatula, ice the top of the cake with the Whipped Buttercream Frosting.  Do not drag the frosting too hard across the cake.  Level the top with icing and proceed to ice the sides until they are completely covered.  Wipe any icing smears from the edge of the cake stand with a clean, damp cloth.  Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Enjoy!

SIDE NOTE:  If you’ve never folded egg whites into batter, I strongly suggest you watch the video I’ve provided.  It’s a delicate process, but don’t be daunted by it.  Regardless of how you whip your egg whites, it’s the folding process the chef demonstrates that is of the utmost importance.

The Art of Folding

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!

Wholesome Homecoming

August of 1945 should have been a time of celebration for Dr. John Welles. The Second World War was over in Europe and swiftly coming to an end in the Pacific. However, John’s homecoming wasn’t what it appeared to be, and the secret surrounding the circumstances were known only to him and his Aunt Prudence. While she was instrumental in helping her nephew make the transition from his experiences as an Army doctor back to civilian life, there was one painful secret of which even Prudence was not aware.

John’s family was seated in the kitchen eating when he arrived. He stood outside the row house and watched from a distance as they ate a simple breakfast that included oatmeal. I chose oatmeal because it is humble and solid just like the Welleses, and this basic breakfast food was representational of the support John’s family would provide during his first, difficult days home.

Long before experts started touting oats for the health benefits, oats have been used as a food source for people and animals. According to one source, only five percent of the oats grown in America are used for human consumption as breakfast food or oat flour. They are believed to be Asiatic in origin and appeared on the scene later than wheat with the earliest uses being for medicinal purposes. Then there is the debate on steel cut versus rolled oats, the explanation on the different types of oats, and the history on the most famous brand I know, Quaker.

The preparation of oats appears on the container, so I’ll focus on the toppings. This is where one has endless possibilities to explore. A favorite at the Gibson household is Zante currents, maple syrup, toasted, chopped pecans, a pat of butter, and cream that has been warmed. Some people keep it as simple as a pinch of salt while others go crazy with chocolate chips and a dollop of peanut butter.

When cooking oats, opt for water over milk as cooking in milk will make for stickier, thicker oatmeal. Save the dairy for a topping. Spices can be added during the cooking process and should be ground; picking out whole cloves and cinnamon sticks afterward is unpleasant. Don’t forget to add a pinch of salt to the water because that’s where seasoning begins.

Bringing the oats and water to a boil together makes for a creamy cereal whereas bringing the water to a boil and then adding the oats results in a chewier meal. I wouldn’t suggest trying this with steel cuts, however, as they are already springy in texture to begin with. Serve oatmeal in a deep bowl to keep it smooth and hot. A shallow dish will cool your breakfast treat too quickly, and you’ll end up with a gluey, unpalatable mess.

If you’ve never enjoyed oats, don’t curl your lip, raise an eyebrow, and pass up oats and oatmeal. They are delicious beyond their nutritional value and neutral appearance. Also, consider them for lunch or dinner, and if you really want to impress, offer them as a side dish to dinner guests with the inclusion of caramelized shallots and uncured turkey bacon or as a dessert made with saffron and cardamom.

“Oats.” Oats. Purdue University – Center for New Crops & Plants Products, Feb. 1999. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Walsh, Danielle, and Kimberley Hasselbrink. “9 Ways to Totally Screw Up Your Oatmeal.” Bon Appetit. Bon Appétit, 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

**Read Easy Peasy to learn how to quickly generate citations.

Dark, Rich Secrets

Twice in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, I featured chocolate pie. The first time was in December of 1925 when John and his Aunt Prudence discussed the painful details surrounding his father’s death. Prudence kept trying to turn the conversation away from the truth of the situation even going so far as to use the pie as a diversion. The delicious dessert popped up again in a scene between John and his best friend’s wife, Babby, in June of 1964, as they worked through the awkwardness of not seeing each other for sixteen years.

As many of my followers already know, my food choices actually play a peripheral roll in my writing. In this case, chocolate pie is dark, not unlike the secrets about to be revealed in the above-mentioned scenes. In both cases, John’s past was dredged up for him to face yet again, and someone would try to smooth over the situation. Keep in mind that chocolate pie is exceptionally smooth. It is also rich and sweet which matched the outcome for John in his conversation with his Aunt Prudence as a young man and again with Babby as an adult.

The recipe I had in mind for the chocolate pie is simple yet elegant. It is a favorite at church bakeoffs and picnics as well as a top off to any family dinner. I hope you will enjoy it as much as my characters did.

Lucia’s Chocolate Pie

Single Crust:

1 c flour

¼ t salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cold and diced into ¼-inch pieces

½ c cold water with an ice cube

To make a bottom crust, combine the flour, salt, and butter. Work with your hands until the flour and butter combine to make pea-sized pieces. Add the water a tablespoon at a time and work through until you can form a ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for twenty minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425°. Roll the dough on a floured surface to fit a nine-inch pie plate. Crimp the edges and prick the bottom and sides of the shell with a fork. Line the pie shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or baking beans. Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, remove the baking weights and continue cooking for 10 minute in 5 minute increments or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

Pie Filling:

½ c cocoa

¼ c cornstarch

3 egg yolks, beaten

1½ c sugar (I used raw)

¼ t salt

2 c half and half

1 t vanilla

3 T unsalted butter

Sift the cocoa, cornstarch, and salt directly into a saucepan. Add the sugar** and half and half, and stir carefully to mix. Bring to a boil over a medium high heat, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute. Remove from the heat and spoon a small amount of the mixture into the egg yolks to warm them. Pour the warmed yolks in a thin stream into the saucepan taking care to stir them in thoroughly.

Return the pan to the heat and boil for two more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the baked pie shell and allow it to cool for a few minutes before topping with a piece of waxed paper to prevent a skin from forming. Bring the pie to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator to cool completely. Whipped cream is the perfect topping for a chilled pie.

**If using granulated white sugar, sift it as well. The large crystals of raw sugar will not pass through a sifter. Simply break up any lumps before adding to the mixture.

~OR~

You can top it with meringue using the following recipe. Make the meringue while the pie is cooling on the countertop. Once topped with meringue set in the oven, you can continue cooling in the refrigerator.

Meringue:

4 egg whites

6 T sugar (I used granulated white as the raw is too coarse for this step)

Pinch of cream of tartar

Whip the egg whites on a high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar, and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over the pie and seal at the edges of the crust. Set the meringue in a 425° oven for eight minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool the pie on a wire rack until you can handle the edges of the pie plate and serve warm, or chill the pie in the refrigerator for a couple hours and serve cold.

Tips for success:

Chill the beaters and bowl in which you will beat the egg whites for meringue

That pinch of cream of tartar is what will keep your egg whites from breaking down and becoming watery.

Enjoy!

Javaaaah!

Coffee features quite often in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Whether my characters consumed it with dessert, dinner, or by itself, coffee plays an important role in the scenes as much as the food I’ve chosen for them to eat. Rather than bore you with the entire history of coffee or mention trivia such as how many cups are consumed in the world a day, I’ll focus on how coffee was prepared during the years my novel takes place.

By the time my novel opens in 1907, one of the simplest methods of brewing coffee involved placing grounds and water in a heat-proof container and bringing it to a boil over a heat source. It was that inelegant sometimes. Most of the containers were actually metal pots with a handle and spout intended for coffee, however, brewing coffee in a cooking pot wasn’t unheard of.

javaaaah2I imagine Johnny’s stepmother, Collie, might have brewed coffee in a pot without a filter, heated on a wood-burning or coal stove. I envision it looking much like the speckleware version pictured to the right. Careful pouring ensured that most of the grounds stayed in the bottom of the pot. Another name for this simple process is cowboy coffee. Riding the plains and herding animals didn’t lend much time for the more sophisticated methods of brewing, and in Collie’s case, neither did running a farm.

Perhaps Collie was lucky enough to own a percolator. She still would have heated it on the stove because electricity wouldn’t have been available as far out as the Welleses lived on their farm. The advantage to the percolator would have been a separation of the spent grounds from the final product, making a much more palatable beverage.

Percolating coffee pots consist of a chamber at the bottom with a vertical tube leading from the lower chamber to the top of the pot. Resting on the vertical tube is another chamber with a perforated bottom. This is where the ground coffee is placed. The water level should not touch the bottom of the coffee chamber. There was also a lid with a clear knob.

javaaaahThe heat source beneath the percolator heats the water in the lower chamber. Heated water starts to boil, and the boiling makes the water rise up the tube and spill over into the coffee chamber. The heated water seeps through the grounds, out through the perforations at the bottom, and back into the water chamber. This process is repeated until the desired strength of brew is achieved. Those using a percolator would check the clear knob on the lid to see if the brew has reached the right color and strength.

One source credits James Nason of Massachusetts with patenting a percolator design in 1865. Another says on August 16, 1889, Hanson Goodrich, a farmer from Illinois, received his patent for the percolator. Still another gives American-born, British physicist Count Rumford, AKA Sir Benjamin Thompson, the acclaim for the invention of the percolator somewhere between 1810–1814. Regardless of who invented or patented it first, earlier models used glass construction, but percolators made from the 1930s on were made of metal, mostly aluminum and copper.

javaaaa3Only John, his Aunt Prudence, and some of the wealthier characters would have had access to restaurants that served espresso, the result of making coffee with steam pressure, or friends who owned a French press, a pot that brews coffee then separates the final product from the grounds by use of a plunger. The classiest method the others might have encountered would be filter drip brewing invented in 1908 by German housewife, Melitta Benz, in an effort to eliminate the bitter taste produced by boiling loose coffee grounds

After experimenting with various types of filtration, Melitta Benz ended up using blotting papers from her son’s exercise book. The ensuing result was met with enthusiasm, and she patented her invention, started a company, and hired her husband and two sons. Melitta coffee filters and pots are still around today.

So the next time you enjoy a cup of coffee from your favorite establishment, whether it’s a simple cup of joe or a fancy latte, keep in mind coffee’s humble beginnings and that, as of this post, it’s still the world’s favorite hot beverage.

A Crazy Little Thing Called Cake

In May of 1951, Dr. John Welles attended the first birthday party of Patty Ann Hoffman whom he had delivered the year before. The doctor was friends of Patty Ann’s parents, Morris and Lorraine, but he also had a soft spot for the spirited little girl since the day she was born. For this reason, he willingly attended a child’s party.

The Hoffmans weren’t well off, but they made do with what they had. The ingredients for the cake Lorraine served were items she probably had on hand. Furthermore, as parents they would forgo the special treat of cake and ice cream to ensure plenty for their children and guests.

The cake I had in mind when I wrote this scene was a cake I grew up with: Crazy Cake. Also called Wacky Cake, this chocolatey cake had its origins during the Depression when milk, eggs, and butter were expensive. For this reason, you may know it as Depression Cake. I have found that most people are familiar with it by one of these names. A little ingenuity solved the problem of making cake without the pricey ingredients, and following generations were none the wiser.

img_20170205_182131906Because it is so rich and delicious, and because so many children these days have dairy and egg allergies, Crazy Cake is one of the old fashioned recipes to have survived until today. Even if one is financially stable, Crazy Cake is not to be missed.

Although Crazy Cake is tasty enough to eat plain or dusted with powdered sugar, I’ve provided a frosting recipe and a fudge recipe as toppings for the cake. The frosting is a titch more elegant if you’re serving the cake to guests. The fudge is the old fashioned kind that you can pour over the cake and allow to drip and puddle down the sides until it sets. There is no other way to describe this magnificent concoction other than to say it is a hillbilly delicacy. But then that’s where my experience with this cake has its origins.

One of the things you’ll find if you conduct your own research on Crazy Cakes is that they were often made right in the baking dish. All the dry ingredients were combined, and then three depressions were made in which the vanilla, vinegar, and oil were placed. The water was added, and everything was stirred into batter. I suspect because my mother learned how to make this in school, her recipe calls for greasing and flouring the baking dish. Either way, the results are the same. You’ll also find recipes for other flavors of Crazy Cake. I cannot testify to how good they are, and they do look good, but I can’t seem to make it past the chocolate version.

Enjoy!

Crazy Cake

1 ½ c flour

1 c sugar (I used raw)

3 T cocoa (heaping)

1 t salt

1 t baking soda

1 t vinegar (I used apple cider)

1 t vanilla

6 T oil

1 c water

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8 X 8 baking dish. Mix the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients. Stir thoroughly. Pour into the baking dish, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. A knife inserted in the middle should come out clean. Cool completely in the baking dish before frosting. This recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9 X 13 baking dish.

Cocoa Frosting

4 c powdered sugar

¼ t salt

⅓ c cocoa

⅓ c unsalted butter, room temperature

⅓ c milk

1 t vanilla

Mix the powdered sugar, salt, and cocoa. Warm the milk slightly and add the butter and vanilla, then add to the dry ingredients and combine. Blend until it is smooth using either a stand or hand mixer.  This recipe is enough frosting for a 9 X 13 cake. Half it for an 8 X 8 or make two and fill in between the layers.

Old Fashioned Fudge

1 ½ c sugar (I used raw)

¼ t salt

⅓ c cocoa

¾ c whole milk

2 T unsalted butter

1 t vanilla

Mix the sugar, salt, and cocoa in a large saucepan. Add the milk and stir thoroughly. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches a full, rolling boil. Boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 234° on a candy thermometer (the bulb of the thermometer should not rest on the bottom of the pan). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, after about twenty five minutes of boiling, test a small drop of fudge in ice water. The fudge should form a soft ball which flattens when removed from the water.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and butter. Do not stir. Rather, swirl the pan until the vanilla and butter are mixed in. Allow the fudge to cool to lukewarm (110° on a candy thermometer). Stir the cooled fudge with a wooden spoon* until it thickens and loses some of it gloss. Pour the fudge over the cooled Crazy Cake. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

*There is some debate on the Internet from professional cooking sites to blogs such as mine regarding the use of metal versus wooden spoons for stirring fudge. Both present logical arguments, however, I’ve used wood and metal with success.

‘Til Death Us Do Part

In the summer of 1964, Dr. John Welles and Bea Turner attended the wedding of a couple that never expected to marry. Many hardships had paved the way to the happy couple’s nuptials, but they put every adversity behind them as they celebrated their special day. Everything that came before their marriage and whatever would come after only served to strengthen the bond that existed between two people truly in love. All of Addison came out to join in the joyous occasion making it a day the bride and groom would never forget.

The wedding cake I had in mind for the couple had to be completely homemade. Box mixes wouldn’t do, and the grandiose cakes created by bakers to satisfy the whims of brides today wouldn’t be believable. Unfortunately, neither my mother nor I had a recipe for a homemade white cake. Scandalous, I know.

My Internet research led me to a website with a cake that, from the recipe, looked as if it would suffice. I don’t have a problem with giving credit and linking back to the originator of a recipe, so I contacted the owner of the site requesting permission to do so. Unfortunately, I never heard back, and I’m not a recipe thief. This forced Mom and me to rework the recipe to our liking and present it as our own. Not a problem since we always tweak a new recipe the minute we find it anyhow.

The most important requirement: the cake had to taste homemade. You wouldn’t think that would be a difficult task since we weren’t using a prepackaged mix, but our cake had to capture the essence of the above-mentioned scene. How does one bake hope, beauty, richness, longing, humbleness, elegance, era, location, and love into a cake? Follow our recipe and find out.

Timeless Wedding Cake

3 sticks unsalted butter, softened

3 c granulated sugar (I used raw necessitating the need to pulverize the larger crystals in a food processor to ensure incorporation during the creaming process. Don’t skip this step; it’s worth it. You’ll be glad you did once you taste the cake.)

5 eggs at room temperature

3 c flour and more for dusting the cake pans

¼ t salt

2 t baking powder

½ c buttermilk at room temperature

½ c whole milk at room temperature

2 t vanilla extract –OR– 1 t vanilla and 1 t lemon

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Spray three nine-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray and dust evenly with flour. Make sure to coat all the edges, and tap out any excess flour.

In a stand mixer, cream the softened butter and sugar until it is very light in color and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time taking care not to over beat after each addition or you’ll end up with a tough cake.

Combine the milks and vanilla in a glass measuring cup and whisk. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture alternately with the wet ingredients. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. A rule of thumb for this process is to add one-third of the dry ingredients, one-half of the wet, another third of the dry, the remaining half of the wet, and the last third of the dry.

Mix on a medium speed until well combined, taking care to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Evenly distribute the batter between the three cake pans. The batter will be thick, almost like a pound cake batter, so use an off-set spatula to level the tops. All three cakes should bake on the same level of your oven, somewhere near the middle. Carefully shift position of the pans from front to back midway through baking.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The top of the cakes should not jiggle, and a light crust will have formed on the top. Cool for five minutes in the pans, and then remove the cakes to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Bourbon Soaking Syrup

1 c water

1 c raw sugar

2 T bourbon (I recommend Woodford Reserve)

Combine the sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over a high heat. When at the boil, the syrup is done. Remove from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Set aside to cool. The syrup will thicken as it cools. Brush the cooled bourbon syrup on the top of the cooled cake layers.  If you like thicker syrup, cook longer until more water has evaporated, but take care not to burn the sugar, or it will taste scorched.

Buttercream Frosting

1 c unsalted butter, softened

3 c powdered sugar

2 t vanilla extract

2 T whipping cream

In a stand mixer, cream the butter with one cup of powdered sugar on a low speed. Scrape the bowl as needed and add the remaining two cups, one at a time. Increase the speed to medium and beat for three minutes. Mix in the vanilla and whipping cream. Beat an additional minute, adding cream by the tablespoon if needed, to achieve a spreadable consistency.  If you enjoy a thicker layer of frosting between your cake layers, consider doubling the recipe.

Assembling:

Place one layer of completely cooled, bourbon-soaked cake on a stand or plate and ice the top of the cake to the edges. Place the second layer directly on top of the first and repeat the icing process. Add the final layer of cake and ice accordingly. Use the remaining frosting to ice the sides of the cake. The bourbon soak will add a layer of flavor and keep the cake moist longer.

I knew we had achieved success with our recipe when my sister-in-law took a bite and said, “Oh…this just tastes old-fashioned.”

Enjoy!

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