Friday, December 13, 2013

Apple pie

Sometimes you get old recipes right the first time: you decipher the flowery language, you make the right substitutions, you determine the correct proportions. And sometimes, well, you don't.

This is a story of when I got it wrong.

We begin in apple season. I've been buying apples nonstop at the farmers' market every Saturday, and sometimes my friend asks me to pick up her farm share for the week and I wind up with a dozen more apples besides. A few weeks ago, I found myself with more apples than I knew what to do with. So I decided to make a pie. Easy, right?

I turn to my newest cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Mrs. Hannah Glasse, originally published in 1747 and updated in 1805. Hot off the presses! Verbatim, here is what she tells me about how to make apple pie:
"Make a good puff paste crust, lay some round the sides of the dish, pare and quarter apples, and take out the cores, lay a row of apples [t]hick, throw in half the sugar you design for your pie, mince a little lemon peel fine, throw over, and squeeze a little lemon over them, then a few cloves, here and there one, then the rest of your apples, and the rest of your sugar. You must sweeten to your palate, and squeeze a little more lemon. Boil the peeling of the apples and the cores in some fair water, with a blade of mace, till it is very good; strain it, and boil the syrup with a little sugar, till there is but very little and good, pour it into your pie, put on your upper-crust and bake it. You may put in a little quince or marmalade, if you please."
This raises several--okay, many--questions. First, I need to find that puff paste recipe. Second, how many apples? What kind? I suppose I can wing the seasonings, but really, how much sugar should I design for my pie? (And why on earth is this recipe so poetic?)

The recipe for puff paste is no help:
"Take a quarter of a peck of flour, rub in a pound of butter very fine, make it up in a light paste with cold water, just stiff enough to work it up; then roll it out about as thick as a crown-piece, put a layer of butter all over, sprinkle on a little flour, double it up and roll it out again; double it, and roll it out seven or eight times; then it is fit for all sorts of pies and tarts that require a puff-paste."
Upon doing a bit of research, I discover that a quarter of a peck of flour is 2 dry quarts of flour, or 8 cups. This tells me several things: First, this will make WAY more puff paste than I possibly need for one pie. Second, this is probably because most women make a lot of pies and tarts at once (on baking day, for example), unlike our silly modern methods of making one pie at a time when we want it. Third, I need to know how thick a crown-piece is.

Happily, I have some help in the form of Fresh from the Past, a collection of modernized recipes from 18th-century London. The book contains recipes very similar to Mrs. Glasse's puff paste and apple pie, so I set to a makeshift sort of preparation, combining and substituting where I see fit. For example, I design 1/4 cup and 2/3 cup sugar for my pie (divided for that layered effect) as recommended by the modern book. The most troubling part is where I make a syrup of the apple peels, water, and sugar. Most likely this is meant to extract some of the pectin to help the pie gel, but my syrup winds up more watery than pectin-y. Nevertheless, I pour it over the apples, cover the whole thing with a top crust, and bake. Thanks to the mace and cloves, the pie smells heavenly.

And it tastes heavenly, too. The problem? The watery syrup turns the whole dish into pie soup. It never gels, perhaps too because I used a mixture of sweet and tart apples rather than sticking entirely to tart Granny Smiths.

Josh makes a lot of fun of the pie, and I vow to redeem myself later with a new pie. (It's semi-successful.) And I settle down to enjoy the tasty pie soup served over Greek yogurt, which I highly recommend should this happen to you.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Afternoon Adventure: The Tavern Club

Happy December! I've just returned from a whirlwind trip home to Cleveland for Thanksgiving, and it was wonderful to see family and take long walks and eat lots of delicious (modern) food. Around the holidays we often reflect on the past--not only our recent past and childhoods, but the "family past," stories about my grandfather's grandparents and early Cleveland. Occasionally trips downtown are involved. Yes, I come by my history obsession genetically.

This time around, my sister and I had the chance to visit the Tavern Club, a venerable men's club in downtown Cleveland. Our grandfather is a long-standing member of the club (and he owns the striped tie to prove it!), and he escorted us to the club's yearly Father-Daughter Tea the evening after Thanksgiving. This is the one time women are allowed in the club, and while we weren't allowed to take documentary photos, I took careful mental notes to report back to you.

(Cleveland Area History, 1904)

Back in the 1890s, when Cleveland hadn't yet experienced its troubles of the mid-twentieth century and was still home to millionaires like John D. Rockefeller, many well-to-do men belonged to clubs. As Warren Corning Wick, chronicler of Millionaires' Row, noted,
"Membership in these clubs was carefully noted in code next to a man's listing in the Blue Book, the Bible of high society."
Just as in England (where Cleveland men most likely got the idea), a man's club told a lot about him. And in the 1890s, the sons of prominent Cleveland families decided that none of the available clubs were quite right; they were too stuffy, too grown-up, with not enough emphasis on horse-racing and squash. So they got together and founded the Tavern Club in a humble house, though it quickly moved to its official, current building in 1904. The new building, "an adaptation of Elizabethian architecture," included squash courts upstairs, lockers, and plenty of dark rooms for playing poker and smoking cigars. While the squash courts have been improved, the building still looks remarkably like it did in 1904.

Founder and first president Henry K. Devereux (Heritage Pursuit)

My grandfather gave us the grand tour, and we took our time poking around. Dark wood paneling and chinoiserie accents make you feel immediately like you're in a turn-of-the-century club, and there's a massive fireplace surrounded by comfy leather chairs in almost every room. The walls are covered with tasteful paintings of female nudes (it is a men's club, after all), 1916-era photographs labeled with inside jokes, and portraits of club presidents and squash team champions. The bar on the first floor is plastered with old stock certificates, supposedly dating from the stock market crash in 1929--the certificates were worthless, so members papered the walls with them instead. Upstairs you can peek in the marble bathrooms, and in the basement wooden lockers remain from the days of Prohibition, where men could store a personal bottle of spirits away from home.

The whole building felt like such an old-boys' club. As my grandfather put it, it's the kind of place where "deserving young men" could get away from the rigors of business and relax with their closest friends in a congenial atmosphere. What's even more fascinating is how the club has survived, because it's such a hold-over from the days when men and women relaxed in segregated circles. I'm not sure you'd find any all-male clubs being founded in America today. More's the pity: despite the exclusivity, the Tavern Club was a cozy place to while away a late November afternoon.

Works cited: My Recollections of Old Cleveland by Warren Corning Wick. Excerpt from Cleveland Town Topics, May 7, 1904.