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I know we just discussed the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book, but I couldn’t resist sharing one more image. My favorite image – a scene that mesmerized me at six, seven, eight years old and apparently, at forty-three. They’re so scrubbed and eager, so satisfied with their electric frying pan and paper plates. Look at her crisp plaid jumper, and her jaunty red bow. See she holds out the bun?

They just can’t wait. They just cannot wait for Saucy Hot Dogs.

“Be sure to make plenty…”
saucy
“…because everyone will want ‘seconds’.

When my friend Sara from Culinerapy visited Concord, Mass. last year, she made a reader’s pilgrimage to Orchard House, the historic home of Louisa May Alcott. Since Sara and I (and half the women we know) share an abiding love for Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women, she sent me a thoughtful souvenir: the author’s recipe for Apple Slump. It’s a homey, deliberately simple dessert, comfort cousin to fruit buckles, bettys, cobblers, grunts and pandowdys. Still, reading the calligraphy-script recipe, I could see where I might tweak it. And I thought, who am I to edit Louisa May Alcott?

Not editing, really. Finessing. Alcott may have mastered prose at the desk, but in the kitchen she was likely closer to Jo March, for whom the “bread burned black” and the “cream turned sour.” Making Apple Slump would be like cooking with Ms. Alcott’s domestically-challenged ghost, and while I cored and sliced I considered my years reading and rereading the March girls, picturing Amy’s limes, Meg’s vain high heels and lonely Jo in the attic with apples, writing and cursing scarlet fever, the villain that stole Beth. I regretted that my little tweaks – dash of vanilla, an extra apple – could not make Laurie come to his senses and dump Amy. Pecans would add crunch but they would never make Jo marry Laurie, nor bring Beth back. They’re a matter of personal taste, like my feelings about Meg wedding that dull John Brooke, and while they won’t change the story they can at least enhance Ms. Alcott’s kitchen legacy, and certainly perk up the Slump.

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For Fall Fest’s Apple Week, a few choice scenes – with apples – from Little Women.

Alcott Apple Slump

- THE LAURENCE BOY -

“Jo! Jo! Where are you?” cried Meg at the foot of the garret stairs.

“Here!” answered a husky voice from above, and, running up, Meg found her sister eating apples and crying over the Heir of Redclyffe, wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa by the sunny window. This was Jo’s favorite refuge, and here she loved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by and didn’t mind her a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into his hole. Jo shook the tears off her cheeks and waited to hear the news.

- BETH FINDS THE PALACE BEAUTIFUL -

“See the cunning brackets to hold candles, and the nice green silk, puckered up, with a gold rose in the middle, and the pretty rack and stool, all complete,” added Meg, opening the instrument and displaying its beauties.

“‘Your humble servant, James Laurence’. Only think of his writing that to you. I’ll tell the girls. They’ll think it’s splendid,” said Amy, much impressed by the note.

“Try it, honey. Let’s hear the sound of the baby pianny,” said Hannah, who always took a share in the family joys and sorrows.

So Beth tried it, and everyone pronounced it the most remarkable piano ever heard. It had evidently been newly tuned and put in apple-pie order, but, perfect as it was, I think the real charm lay in the happiest of all happy faces which leaned over it, as Beth lovingly touched the beautiful black and white keys and pressed the bright pedals.

“You’ll have to go and thank him,” said Jo, by way of a joke, for the idea of the child’s really going never entered her head.

“Yes, I mean to. I guess I’ll go now, before I get frightened thinking about it.” And, to the utter amazement of the assembled family, Beth walked deliberately down the garden, through the hedge, and in at the Laurences’ door.

Louisa May Alcott's Apple Slump

- HARVEST TIME -

There were a great many holidays at Plumfield, and one of the most delightful was the yearly apple-picking. For then the Marches, Laurences, Brookes and Bhaers turned out in full force and made a day of it. Five years after Jo’s wedding, one of these fruitful festivals occurred, a mellow October day, when the air was full of an exhilarating freshness which made the spirits rise and the blood dance healthily in the veins.

The old orchard wore its holiday attire. Goldenrod and asters fringed the mossy walls. Grasshoppers skipped briskly in the sere grass, and crickets chirped like fairy pipers at a feast. Squirrels were busy with their small harvesting. Birds twittered their adieux from the alders in the lane, and every tree stood ready to send down its shower of red or yellow apples at the first shake.
Louisa May Alcott Apple Slump, Steamy

“Yes, Jo, I think your harvest will be a good one,” began Mrs. March, frightening away a big black cricket that was staring Teddy out of countenance.

“Not half so good as yours, Mother. Here it is, and we never can thank you enough for the patient sowing and reaping you have done,” cried Jo, with the loving impetuosity which she never would outgrow.

LOUISA MAY ALCOTT’S APPLE SLUMP

from Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts

4-6 tart apples (I used 3 large Granny Smith and 3 medium Golden Delicious)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, well-beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter

Peel, core and slice the apples. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease with butter the inside of a 1-1/2 quart baking dish. (NOTE: for a shallower, more even apples-to-topping ratio, use a 9 x 13 pan.) Put into the dish the sliced apples, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bake apples uncovered until they are soft, about 20 minutes.

While the apples are baking, sift together into a bowl the flour, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and sugar. Mix into this the beaten egg, milk, and melted butter. Stir gently. Spread this mixture over the apples and continue baking — until the top is brown and crusty (about 25 minutes). Serve with whipped cream. Serves 6.

NOTES (with apologies to Ms. Alcott)

1. Use at least 6 good-sized apples – 7 or 8 if they’re small – or you’ll have more topping than fruit.

2. Where the instructions say “Put into the dish the sliced apples, brown sugar, nutmeg…” I tossed the apples with the brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a separate bowl, then poured the mixture into the baking dish. I also added 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla to the apple-sugar mixture.

3. I sprinkled 1/2 cup chopped pecans over the batter topping.

4. Baking times (for both the uncovered apples and the batter-topped Slump) may be longer than noted. Watch for the apples to soften and the top crust to turn an even, light gold-brown.

Did the Marches have vanilla and pecans? No. But they didn’t have blogs, either.

————

Continue Reading »

spinach, dill and green onionsToward the end of a community board meeting, a woman was invited to the podium to describe her recent trip to Japan. She’d gone on a cultural exchange, and though the board members were slouched and glancing at watches, she began: “It was beautiful.” Slouched in my own chair I thought, yes, beautiful. Now on to the bridges and temples and orange fish. “It was really beautiful,” she said. Yes, I’d heard that. “It was.” This went on, starting with “Everything was so nice…” and ending with “…a wonderful experience.” She was a lovely person who’d clearly enjoyed her trip, but what had we learned? That Japan was beautiful, and nice, and she had a wonderful time.

Writing experts would say she was telling, not showing. Why was it nice? Did her Kyoto hosts present her with a yellow origami-wrapped book while crossing a carved red bridge at dawn? Because that would be nice. She of the generalized journey might have benefited from an old-fashioned slide show because something – if not someone – must bring a story to life.

Most of the food I share here on Simmer comes with a story. But what if there is no story? If I make something new with no taste of history, I find myself like our details-challenged traveler, vaguely at the surface, story-less, but glad that with little to tell I am, at least, oh-so-grateful to show.

I made up a scone for Fall Fest. It’s a beautiful scone. Made of scone dough.
spanakopita filling for scones
Everything in the filling was so nice.
spanakopita scones, ready to bake
Making scones. A wonderful time.
spanakopita scones
They are nice.  Nice delicious scones. So they are nice, and delicious, and also good. A wonderful experience.

(I can also tell you the golden tops break at first bite, sending tender crumbs to your lap. They are savory, earthy and salty, with a scallion edge and mellow streaks of dill. They’ll share the plate with smoked salmon and eggs for breakfast and thick seafood soups at night. I nibbled a crusty, cheese-baked corner and thought they’re good, okay, maybe needs something, and twenty minutes later I’d eaten three. Scones, not bites.)

So. Now we know about showing and telling and it appears, at least where food blogging and community trip reports are concerned, that showing is best. Now, off with you to make these scones. I hear they’re quite nice.
spinach, dill, green onion, and feta: spanakopita scones

SPANAKOPITA SCONES

Spanakopita Filling

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz. spinach, washed, trimmed and chopped (about 2 cups chopped)
5 green onion stalks, chopped
4 large sprigs of fresh dill, chopped
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Scone Dough

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
6 oz. cold butter, cubed (12 tablespoons)
4 large eggs
1 cup half and half (light cream)

extra half and half, for tops
extra sea salt, for sprinkling

———————

make spanakopita filling:

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped green onions and saute, stirring, until onions are softened and slightly browned. Stir in spinach and saute with onions until spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Set a strainer over a bowl. Scrape spinach mixture into strainer, and press on spinach to drain as much liquid as possible.

When spinach mixture is drained and slightly cooled, place in medium bowl. Add chopped dill, feta cheese, sea salt and white pepper, and stir together until chunky, but thoroughly combined. Set filling aside.

mix scones:

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, sugar and grated Parmesan in large mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl.

Cut in butter. You can do this one of two ways:

Electric stand mixer With the flour mixture in the stand mixer bowl and the paddle blade attached, turn on the slowest speed and slowly add butter chunks, mixing to a coarse meal texture, with only a few remaining large flour-butter crumbs.

(or)

By hand Using a sharp-bladed pastry cutter tool, or two knives, “cut” the butter pieces into the flour mixture until you have a coarse meal texture.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and half and half.

Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients by hand or with stand mixer on low, using “on-off” mixing. Stop just before mixture comes together. Add cooled Spanakopita Filling, then continue mixing briefly to form a soft and sticky dough. Scrape dough onto lightly floured surface and turn over a few times to combine, adding flour if necessary.

Form scones Pat dough 3/4 – 1″ thick and use tall cookie or biscuit cutters to form round or triangle shapes, large or small. As you cut and remove scones, gently push remaining dough together (do not knead or press dough again) to cut new scones. Alternatively, you may divide dough in half, form each half into a 3/4 – 1″ thick round, and cut equal wedges.

Transfer scones to parchment-lined sheet pans.

If desired, lightly brush tops of scones with half and half, then sprinkle each with a dash of sea salt. Bake 15-18 minutes, or until set and tops are golden brown. Cool briefly on baking sheet, then transfer to rack.

Approximately 12-16 large scones, 24-32 smaller scones. Serve warm or at room temperature. Scones are best served the same day.

For more on mixing and forming scones, see Scone, Scone on the Range.

Summer Fest is now Fall Fest, an ongoing celebration of good food and great ideas from food and garden bloggers around the globe. Every week we share great recipes, stories and tips for marvelous seasonal ingredients. You can participate by visiting the guest blogs to share links or comments – and if you’re particularly inspired, contribute a post of your own. Drop by A Way to Garden for details on how join the party.

Continue Reading »

In 1975, the first recipe I tried from the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book (“For Beginning Cooks of All Ages”) was Creamy Lemon Pie, page 58. “You’ll be proud to serve this mouth-watering pie at a family dinner or a fancy party.” I was eight, and reread the words several times, to make sure they were talking to me: Serve. Family dinner. Fancy party. I followed the recipe to the letter, agonizing over the terms. “Beat egg with fork till no white shows.” Did I see any white? I think I saw white. More beating.  “The delicate graham-cracker crust.” How delicate was delicate? Delicate like bubbles, or delicate like that green candy dish I broke? And how did you pronounce that, anyway? I hoped no one would ask me to say it.

The tangy yellow pie was a triumph, especially the graham-crumb star on top, which they had pictured on page 58. You may want to make up your own design, the book said. Nothing doing. I copied it, certain their six-point star would unlock the door to mouth-watering. Fancy party. I cooked my way through the book step by 1-2-3 step, carefully turning out Tutti-Frutti-Ice Sparkle, Quick Walnut Penuche, Flip-Flop Pancakes and steaming, butter-pat perfect Baked Potatoes.
baked potato cookbook recipe

Baked potatoes had few ingredients – one – but apparently required a recipe. I followed it. Fifteen years and four kitchens passed before I stopped following recipes, before I started jotting yolk-stained notes, before trusting my own hands, before saying why yes, I will make up my own design. Enough experience and the deceptively easy – the omelet, the pie crust, the potato – will come easier. Directives loosen and slide and one day, in your kitchen, you throw in this and take out that, and the recipes serve as inspiration. Your hands trust you.

Still, even the seasoned cook takes steps forward and back. For Summer Fest Potato Week (soon to be Fall Fest),  I thought nothing like baked potatoes, and since no tricks or twists can make them better than they are, I decided to pull my BHG Junior Cook Book and retrace my steps, following the Baked Potatoes recipe exactly as I did in ’75, which is to say, exactly. I found the beloved blue squares basic and soothing, and also found they produced the finest baked potato a beginning cook – or any cook, of any age – can make.
scrub potatoesfork in potato
Set oven at 425°. Scrub dirt off potatoes. Stick with a fork to make holes for the hot steam to escape.

Note that the wire brush is not the exact one pictured in the book. Had I the wrong brush in 1975, I might have assumed the potatoes would come out wrong – deflated or something. Guess what? Brush not important.

Put potatoes on oven rack. Bake potatoes 40 to 60 minutes. They will be soft when squeezed with toweling.

And indeed, they are soft when squeezed with paper toweling. I was so enamored with the word. Would you pass me a paper toweling? Mother, I think we are out of toweling.
DSCN0742
Cut a cross in the top of each potato with a paring knife. Place a pat of butter or margarine in each opening.

That cross-cutting bit was clear to me but oh dear, butter or margarine. Which one? Also, the BHG illustration (see above, #3) taught me that when dealing with butter, a pat was not just a slice, but a square yellow thickness of your choice.

There we have it. I followed my own junior footsteps and turned out the same excellent, crisp-skin and fluff-center potatoes. I didn’t toy with perfection then and, experience aside, don’t see any reason to now.
baked potato
Well. You know.
holy potato!

Continue Reading »

kugel-paloozaIt’s Rosh Hashanah this week, the Jewish New Year. I like a holiday with food symbols and Rosh Hashanah delivers with apples and honey, for the sweetness of life. Yes, the holiday also features bittersweet looking back, and ruminating, planning and promising but mostly, it brings kugel.

So many cooks out there right now, today, standing in a kitchen riffling crumb-filled pages and spotted recipe cards, looking for that kugel. Grandma’s kugel, my mom’s neighbor’s kugel, that kugel we had at Lynn’s house, Aunt Rose’s kugel. Those bags of yellow egg noodles form a rock-solid tradition, so once a year – the old-school, annual way we used to watch The Sound of Music or The Ten Commandments – we’ll revisit Aunt Rose’s kugel. She was a lovely lady who smelled of atomizers and Aqua Net, always ready with a hug (and an index card). Wishing you good cooking, with an orchard of apples and a river of honey. Have a sweet year.

Noodle Kugel: Four Sisters, One Card

From October 18, 2008. Original post here.

noodle kugelNoodle kugel is a humble dish with an outsize name – a funny name, good for comedians and grandmas and giggling kids. Kugel is ripe with pronunciation – koo-gle or kuh-gle or whatever, just pass-me-that-stuff-now. It’s found on Jewish holiday tables and in deli case pyramids, golden twisty egg noodles cut in thick and improbably square slabs, bound by sour cream and more eggs, cottage cheese and drifting sugar. My family’s kugel is found on this 3 x 5 card.
noodle kugel recipe
Wearing butter stains and cinnamon age spots, the card appears each holiday in my mother’s kitchen – first under a fridge magnet (“I need to know where it is”) and eventually, on the counter. She could probably make kugel in her sleep, but it sits there, near the Pyrex, guiding the process like a curious lucky charm. Continue Reading »

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