When Life Gives You Lemons….

My father grew up devouring homemade lemon meringue pies for his birthdays. When he turned 6, his mother decided to bake him and his twin brother a pie – and that was it. No more cakes for them!

Then he got married, and my mother continued the tradition, spending two full days creating his beloved tart treats. Each February 22nd I’d leave for school, lemons scattered amongst flour, glass bowls and extra coffee cups. But by God, somehow she’d get it done by the 24th.

She lovingly baked pies for her husband of 40+ years *every year until she died in 2012. I adored her meringue best; many times she’d open the fridge door to see smooshed plateaus. “What?” I’d innocently ask mouth full of her hard work.

Now it’s my turn to step up. Since I don’t bake, I’m forced to improvise. I give him “homemade” Campfire-brand lemon meringue marshmallows!

Lemon Meringue Pie
7 tablespoons cornstarch
1 ½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup hot water
3 egg yolks – save whites
½ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon peel
2 tablespoons butter
1 9” cooled baked pie shell

Meringue
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
6 tablespoons sugar

Blend cornstarch, sugar and salt in saucepan. Gradually stir in hot water, bring to a boil over direct heat and cook medium heat, stirring constantly until filling is clear and thick – about 8-10 minutes.

Beat egg yolks and stir several spoonfuls of hot filling into egg yolk, mixing well.

Stir egg yolks into hot mixture. Bring to a boil, turn heat low and cook 4-5minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat, gradually stir in lemon juice, peel, butter.

Cool filling, turn into cooled pie shell.

Top with meringue.

Place egg whites in a deep medium-sized bowl and warm to room temperature. Add lemon juice and beat until egg whites stand in soft peaks. Add sugar gradually beating well.

After each addition, continue to beat until mixture stands in firm, glossy peaks. Spread meringue over pie filling, sealing edges of crust.

Bake at 350-degrees 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.

Note: up to 6 egg whites with sugar increased in proportion can be used for a higher meringue on pie.

Just in Time for Grilling Season….

While sifting through several handwritten recipes from my deceased mother, I came across a lined notecard, presumably from my (also) deceased grandmother, Kellene, of barbecue sauce.

She loved cooking, and I loved her chicken noodle soup the most. Simple, yet flavorful and equal in salt and vegetable taste. It was the only great thing about being sick!

But I never thought barbecue! Who knew?! What a great discovery – and extremely easy to make.

Barbecue Sauce

1/2 cup catsup (which also shows its age!)
1 bouillon cube dissolved in one cup hot water
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon onion juice
cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon mustard
1 clove minced garlic
1 tablespoon parsley

Bring all ingredients to boil before pouring over meat.

Can’t get any simpler right?! I’m assuming it works for everything from beef to pork, and everything in between, since there were no linear notes indicating so.

There’s no date on the card, so I don’t know when this was written, but no matter – a surprise discovery makes for another great personal stepping stone.

On that same note, I stumbled across a recipe for ‘Potato Salad, Cold’ from the 1894 White House Cookbook. It was included in the updated 1996 version. I picked up the cookbook during the Association of Food Journalists conference in Washington, D.C. in September 2012.

whitehousecook

I’m including it here because once again – it can’t be simpler. And what barbecue would be complete without some lemonade and potato salad?

Potato Salad, Cold

Chop cold boiled potatoes fine, with enough raw onions to season nicely; make a dressing as for lettuce salad, and pour over it.

Even without exact amounts given, it still sounds great, and gives the cooker more control to decide how much they want/need, unlike the sauce recipe above. And as any cooking enthusiast can tell you, sometimes experimentation can be a gift in itself.

Age of Cooking Enlightment

I grew up around my mother’s cookbooks. And it wasn’t until a week after she died last January that I found her greatest treasure: dozens of recipes handwritten inside a math book from around 1850. There are no specific oven timings or measurements in some. It just exudes pure amazement and awe.

It’s also the same feeling I felt when I got the chance to view several rare cookbooks , dating back to 1458, inside the Library of Congress during a recent trip with the Association of Food Journalists.

It was one of the many stops during our 3-day tour of the nation’s capital.

On that rainy day we headed upstairs to an ordinary looking room, but inside – was a feast for our eyes.

Books on every possible food-related topic filled the entire rectangular room. Food Policy. Early American. Southern. Cocktails. And even the government.

Yes, government. During World Wars I and II our federal government issued pamphlets, broadsides and posters informing us about cottage cheese benefits, and how ‘overcooking’ destroys vitamins.

One WWI poster (1917) advises families to ration sugar since it was in short supply.

sugarposter

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture even published ‘Dietary Studies in New York City’ in the late 19th century.

Then there’s Walter Jetton who prepared food for most of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s barbecues. The caterer, along with Arthur Whitman, later went on to write Walter Jetton’s LBJ Barbecue Cookbook (1965, Pocket Books). It’s chalk full of gems like mashed potato salad, barbecued beef tongue and barbecued spiced bananas!

lbjbook

Did you know that President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth I exchanged recipes? A 1960 newspaper photo of him barbecuing quail reminded her to write a letter and accompanying drop recipe she promised during a visit to Balmoral Castle. Typed instructions end with a handwritten ‘Enough for 16 people.’

At the same time, thousands of miles away, Ryori Shitsuke, painstakingly created over 500 illustrations on how to properly cook and prep fish and fowl. Ink stains bleed through dozens of similar scribbles underneath. No words – just drawings.

sushibook

Anything and everything you can cook on grill – which brings me to tailgating books! Yes, the Library of Congress had some on display including one toted as “an insider’s guide to tailgating at the races.” NASCAR races that is.

But most impressive was the middle of the room. More than a dozen and very fragile books sat atop a long linen-draped rectangular table. It was only upon closer inspection, I realized what I was seeing. Some handwritten texts older than the birth of our nation, some older than William Shakespeare, some, date back to when ‘The Last Supper’ was painted.

Written in Latin, De re coquinaria, (correct lower/uppercase) recants ancient Greek and Roman cuisine but offers sparse details preparation and cooking details. It’s one of the earliest collections of recipes that’s survived Europe. A first print edition dates back to 1483 – 530 years ago.

earlycook

So fragile nearby attendants flipped through pages for us.

To the immediate right – the first printed cookbook. Italian humanist Bartolomeo Platina compiled and published de Honesta Voluptate in Venice in 1475. Later appointed Vatican librarian, he translated recipes for meats, broths, stews, pastries and pies from Maestro Martino’s Libro de Arte Coquinaria manuscript.

I also fawned over the many drink-related offerings.

‘The Mixologist: For Correct Drinks’ by AJ Bailey combines delicious tidbits of info from an emerging cocktail culture and seemingly historical forward business thinking. Not very FDA-correct now, the book even offers this good laugh –

Doctors Usually Recommend:

Champagne for the stomach.
Port Wine for blood.
Brandy for faintness.
Rum for colds.
Sherry for weakness.
Gin for the kidneys.
Scotch for lungs.

Ah, only if NyQuil could do all those things!

docrecommend

You can read some of the works mentioned above in the Golden Bitting Collection

On This Mother’s Day…..

I wanted to share a recipe I found a few weeks after my mother died. Literally hours after she died, I scoured the kitchen for recipes I remembered growing up hoping she wrote them for posterity.

I’m lucky I found a few written in her hand, and even more written in my (also) decreased grandmother’s handwriting. It’s those recipes that mean the most, not because I may or may not like the food, but because she enjoyed it enough to preserve it in her pantry.

More than a year later I still stumble across handwritten letters or post-its. At first glance I tear up at its familiarity, but I also take comfort in that I have a tangible memory. Some are smeared or covered in grease spots; I don’t care. She will never walk this earth again.

Recently I came across her recipe for apple sauce cake. Sadly I don’t know much about it, or where it came from. I just remember eating it and enjoying it.

applesaucecake

I hope you will too.

Apple Sauce Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup cold unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon soda
1 cup raisins or nuts, cut in pieces
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powered clove
2 cups flour
3 eggs – beat in one at a time, add to sugar and butter. Next step then applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter, add sugar gradually. Then do eggs. Add soda to applesauce and add to butter and sugar. Add other ingredients and baked in buttered and floured pan 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

This cake may be frosted or left plain and it keeps very well. Freezes well. It is particularly good with coffee any time of day.

My mother loved cooking and baking for my father and I. Many times I’d come home from school and be surprised with giant Valentine’s Day cookies or cakes, or stews. I do miss that dearly.

But I take comfort that she’s enjoying her time now wherever she is, and hopefully making new friends and traveling the world.

I really couldn’t ask for a better mother.

I hope you feel the same with yours.

Happy Mother’s Day