The theme for the third Historical Food Fortnightly challenge was “History Detective.” The goal of the challenge was to piece together a recipe through clues or to work with a recipe without a lot of details. Given that I am brand new to trying to read non-redacted recipes, I thought it would be easy to find recipes. But I was mistaken. I ended up having a hard time finding something that didn’t include all the details… and then I got a bit ahead of myself….
With modern recipes, I feel confident enough with my cooking skills to go off script. If there’s a recipe that I want to try but don’t quite like, I’ll change it up. But historical cooking is different from modern cooking, or at least that’s what I tell myself. Let’s just say that I feel like a beginner having problems following the directions on a box of mac and cheese. The perfectionist in me isn’t having problems at all, really….
For this challenge, I decided to do two different recipes. One is from 1840 and the other from the mid 16th century. Let’s start with the more …successful… of the recipes.
The Challenge: History Detective
The Recipe: Pork Steaks (with gravy), from Directions For Cookery, In Its Various Branches, by Miss Leslie.
The Date/Year and Region: 1840, United States
Time to Complete: About an hour or two. The gravy cooked for longer than the rest and I procrastinated starting the meat for a bit.
Total Cost: The pork steaks were the only thing we had to buy and I think it was about $8 for three of them.
How Accurate Is It?: Except for the gravy and not cutting the pork steaks myself, I’m fairly certain this is pretty accurate. I am sure I am still missing something in the gravy making…
How Did You Make It: This was one of those challenges where I was convinced it was going to be fairly easy and I wouldn’t have much of a problem following directions. And then somewhere along the line I decided the gravy was going to my entry into this challenge. Gravy is easy, right?
Yeah, I forgot that I only know how to make sausage and gravy.
I looked through a couple different recipe books and the one the recipe I was using came from and they all sort of said the same thing . The Directions for Cookery book had a whole section on gravies and sauces. The ketchup recipes were most interesting. I had no idea that the word ketchup referred to anything other than a sauce made with tomatoes. Did you know there is such a thing as lobster ketchup?
Anyway. Most of the plain or meat gravies said to just add thickener… so I did. I added just a little bit of flour to my boiled meat and onion water. I think I could have added more or at the very least, more salt. I think next time I make this gravy I’m going to ‘brown’ the meat bits first with the onion, and then scrap up the fond with some broth instead of plain water. I liked what we had, but it could have been much better.
The pork steaks we got from the meat counter had the bone in, so I removed the bones and a bit of the fat. Those were thrown in a pot with a little water, onion, and sage and set to stew on a medium heat. The steaks were cooked in a frying pan over medium high heat on the stove.
How Successful Was It?: Ugh. Amon and the Kiddo liked the pork steaks but they weren’t really for me. I’m picky about food and I don’t like pork steak that is super crispy on the outside. These were definitely crispy. They were, however, good with the gravy and really good with the store bought apple sauce I served them with.
I think next time the steaks will be cooked at a lower temperature and we should have a better result. I also need to spend more time researching my recipe before I dive into cooking them.
The second recipe was one that I found in both a redacted and non-redacted form. In both, I thought the instructions were fairly easy to follow and that I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it. Uhm, I made something, but I certainly don’t think it was what I was supposed to make.
The Challenge: History Detective
The Recipe / Date / Region:
1 – To Frye Beanes, from A Proper new Booke of Cokerye – English, mid 16th century
2 – Benes yfryed, from A Boke of Gode Cookery, original source Forme of Curry – 14th Century, English
Time to Complete: About half an hour.
Total Cost: The onion and butter were on hand. I used a jar of our pressure cooked beans which were cheap when we bought the beans dry.
How Accurate Is It?: Not very. I used great northern beans because they were on hand and I couldn’t find fava beans anywhere.
How Did You Make It: So both recipes called for you to boil the beans, fry them up with onions and butter, and then ‘cast salt upon them.’ One recipe calls for the onions to be boiled before you fry them. The non-redacted recipe didn’t call for boiling the onions and in my head I couldn’t understand why I would want soft and mushy onions before I fried them. I should have listened to the redacted recipe. Or at least cooked the onions a bit before putting in the beans.
Rather than boiling my beans, I used a jar of pressure-canned beans we had made previously. The beans were not the best quality to begin with, and I’m pretty sure that we over cook them. I let the beans sit in a strainer while the rest of the meal was cooking. Once the butter was melted, I threw in the beans and the onions and started to stir… and created refried beans.
The beans turned to mush as soon as the spoon touched them. Most of the time the spent cooking this dish was trying to get the onions to soften up a bit.
Both recipes say to cook the beans until brown. I assume this means that they were supposed to stay in bean form and not turn to paste.
How Successful Was It?: Refried beans! With a little more salt, these weren’t bad, actually. I mixed in some of the pork gravy and it was fairly tasty. But this was not a successful recreation of what the recipe was supposed to be.
Next time I think I will use a can of beans from the store…