Friday, December 23, 2011

Brunswick Stew

We are pulling Christmas together here in Ohio. Everyone's pitched in wherever they can, and the house is finally starting to look holiday-ish. We're winding garlands around the banisters and laying boxwood across the mantle.

We keep asking each other, "What are we forgetting?" "Are we in good shape this year?" Because usually Christmas Eve feels rather frantic.

And aside from some last-minute wrapping, we are in good shape. There was time enough for baking cookies this morning, and throwing together a quick cranberry-banana bread yesterday afternoon. I even managed to make Brunswick stew, our Christmas Eve staple. Never mind the fact that we're having Christmas Eve dinner at my aunt and uncle's house; it's tradition, so we have to make it. You know how it is.*

I'm not sure where this tradition of serving Brunswick stew came from, since it supposedly originated in the South. And our family is solidly New England/mid-Western. Opposing sources claim that the stew originated in Germany, which might make a little more sense, given my mother's German ancestors. Whatever the source, it's been a family staple since my mother was little.

It's a rustic sort of dish, full of meat that's falling apart and potatoes that melt in your mouth. If you're being really true to the colonial Williamsburg recipe, you'd make it with "two Squirrels," but I decided to grant them a reprieve and use up the last of the Thanksgiving turkey.**

You simmer the turkey, a half pound of ham, and a sliced onion in about three quarts of water for a time, until the water has turned to a  fragrant broth. Since I used pre-cooked turkey and ham, I didn't have to wait the couple hours that it would take for the meat to cook through.

Then you add lima beans, corn, four diced "Irish Potatoes" (I used Idaho, since I'm not quite sure what Irish potatoes are), and tomatoes. I'll be honest: I really cheated here. We had frozen lima beans and corn, as well as canned tomatoes, so the only fresh item I stirred in was the potatoes. But sometimes, during the holiday season, you have to cheat a little so it all gets done.

I tossed in a few dried herbs that might have been floating around a colonial kitchen--rosemary, tarragon, parsley--then simmered the stew for about an hour. It was finished just in time for a quick meal with crusty cracked-wheat bread, another family staple that we make whenever we have the chance.

The stew was just the thing for a chilly winter's night. Warm, hearty, filling; it tasted like Christmas. Funny how you associate holidays with special foods.

If you're celebrating Christmas tonight and tomorrow, I wish you the best of the season, full of your favorite traditional foods (and maybe some new ones, too). And if you're not partaking in the holiday, I hope you have a few good meals set aside for this chilly weekend. Try the Brunswick stew! Just spare the squirrels, okay?

* The stew served as our Christmas Eve-Eve meal last night, which was just as good.
** Which was frozen, don't worry. And it was a Williamsburg turkey, so we were being extra historically accurate!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Sallad of Anchovies

Yesterday was a cobbled-together sort of night. Chores like cleaning the hamster's cage. Piano practice. A dinner of leftovers and random bits and bobs. Some schoolwork. The 1959 version of The Shaggy Dog (I don't care how silly it is, it was one of my favorite movies when I was little). Mulled wine before bed.

Overall, a very nice night.

Let me tell you about this anchovy salad. I'm one of those weird people who loves anchovies. LOVES. In a Caesar salad, on pizza (much to Josh's dismay), in pasta, mixed in with tuna salad....they are salty and deliciously fishy. I tend to keep a can or two in my pantry in case of emergencies.

Yes. I am one of those weird people who considers anchovies to be lifesaving in case of food emergencies.

(very modern anchovies)

Luckily, anchovies seem to have been quite the thing in colonial Williamsburg. The very first entry in the "Garden Stuff & Salads" section is this Sallad of Anchovies. It's quite simple: you rinse the anchovies until the water (or wine, whatever your rinsing preference)* runs clear. Then you trim the tails and fins and "flip them from the Bones," which I skipped because I was using scandalously modern canned anchovies. I also cobbled together the salad part; you're supposed to garnish the anchovies with onion, parsley, lemon, and beetroot, but I only had onions and carrots. (I didn't think Williamsburg would mind.) The final touch is a dressing of "sweet Oil with Lemonjuice." According to the internet, that font of wisdom, sweet oil was the archaic term for olive oil. Apparently it was thought of as sweet! Who knew. Anyway, arrange your salad nicely on a small plate, and drizzle the dressing over the salad.

Now, if you're ever tempted to give straight anchovies a try, this would be the recipe to use. The dressing dampens the intensity of the anchovies, while the carrots and onion slices complemented the flavor. This salad was definitely the best of my cobbled-together dinner.

But I can't be the only one over here enjoying the anchovies. Come on and join me! They're great!


*I used water, but really, I'd love to live in the kind of world where wine is an appropriate rinse.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book Two: The Williamsburg Art of Cookery

Apparently an interest in historical cooking runs in the family.

I stole our new book, The Williamsburg Art of Cookery, from my parents' house last time I was in Ohio. I think they bought it on their honeymoon in Colonial Williamsburg. Otherwise they acquired it during a family trip to Williamsburg over Thanksgiving, back when I was in middle school. Secretly, I like the honeymoon story better--it's such the perfect trip for my parents, who loved antiquing when they were first married. I can imagine my mom slipping a copy of this cookbook into her stack of history books to buy at a Williamsburg bookstore.

Either way, my parents set a precedent for this project.

This book is a lot like The Little House Cookbook in that it's a compilation of recipes from historical sources. First published by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1938, it brings together recipes from "cookery Books" that would have been found in 18th-century Virginia households, as well as those written on "Scraps of Paper" found among the ephemera of Virginia housewives. Helen Bullock, the author, assures us that many of the recipes have been tested in the taverns of Colonial Williamsburg. So rather than the personal labor of love that was Little House, this cookbook seems deliberately created to serve those devotees of living history.

The best part about the book is Bullock's attempt to recreate the flavor of those 18th-century recipes. Tongue in cheek, she reminds us that "Heaven sends good Meat, but the Devil sends Cooks." The book also replicates the creative spelling and capitalization of the 18th century. (It's fun to decipher those old-fashioned s's that look like f's.) I feel that slowly but surely, I'm working my way towards those original recipes.