I found out about the Historical Food Fortnightly challenge a year or two ago. I never got around to participating in the challenges although I was close a time or two. This year I determined that it was time to put our cookbooks to use, stop drooling over food porn, and start cooking.
This first challenge was “Meat and Potatoes.” I considered a number of recipes from a variety of time periods before finally selecting one from the online International Jewish Cookbook from 1919. The recipe was fairly straight forward, but it left some interesting holes. When I first work with a recipe, I want my hand held and bullet points. This recipe did not have those. But I learned a few things – like what forcemeat was – and I think we managed to make a dish that was good, if bland, and possibly close to the original.
The kiddo helped me out a bit on this. He cooks mashed potatoes for us normally and he was excited about using them as a ‘crust’ for this pie.
The Challenge: Meat and Potatoes
The Date/Year and Region: 1919
The Recipe: Beefsteak Pie, from the International Jewish Cookbook, 1919
How Did You Make It: I thought the recipe was fairly easy to follow… until I got into it. Based on the references to stew, I thought this would be a yummy beef stew surrounded by mashed potatoes. I know how to make beef stew, right? Yeah, with onions and carrots and flour and all sorts of things. This didn’t have any of those and I found myself suddenly at a loss. I went ahead with the stew idea, though, to see how it would go.
I browned the beef before I threw it on ‘to stew’ in a little water with the lemon and seasonings. While that was stewing, the kiddo peeled the potatoes and I rolled out some small forcemeat balls. In this case, I made small balls of just ground beef. There were only two references to forcemeat in the cookbook. The other recipe was for stuffing peppers. Judging by both recipes, I made the decision that they were referring to just ground meat rather than meatballs made with breadcrumbs. I threw the mini balls and small pieces of potato into the stew to cook.
When the potatoes for the ‘pie’ were done, we mashed them with two tablespoons of butter, a little bit of fresh parsley, and two eggs. The kiddo at this point was quite interested in seeing the shell take shape.
We preheated the oven to 450 and filled our shell with the stew. The kiddo and I debated on whether we should add the liquid to it or not. In fact, we used the liquid and then drained it out after we had covered the top with the rest of the potatoes. The kiddo had the sudden thought that there wasn’t a vent for the steam to escape so the pie would explode. I didn’t think it would explode, but we took out most of the liquid anyway.
The top layer of potatoes got the egg yolk wash and then it was thrown in the oven until brown, which ended up being about twenty minutes.
Time to Complete: It took about an hour to prep all the pieces, cook the potatoes, ‘stew the meat,’ and get the oven up to temp. It took another twenty minutes to cook the dish.
Total Cost: I had everything but the stew beef on hand. Two pounds of stew beef cost about $8.00 at my local store.
How Successful Was It?: It looked the way I thought it would, and it tasted the way I thought it would. I liked the look of the browned mashed potatoes and the layered effect of the potatoes and the meat. I was hoping the bottom layer would hold up as a crust and it could be served in one piece, but it fell apart a few inches from the pan.
The taste I was somewhat disappointed in. I had a feeling it would be rather bland when it called for only salt, pepper, and a little bit of nutmeg. I was hoping the lemon juice would produce a nice flavor, but it was non-existent. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but there wasn’t anything special about it. If I had been making this outside of the challenge, I would have added different seasonings to the meat. I wonder if when the recipe called for putting the meat on ‘to stew’ it meant to do a bit of that.
How Accurate Is It?: Outside of one or two minor changes (and any screw ups I might have had when deciphering the recipe), I believe this to be accurate. I used a casserole dish rather than a deep pie dish. I did break the laws of kasher according to the cookbook as I used butter for the potatoes instead of suet or other fat. I also browned the beef before I threw it in to stew.