Jerusalem Airlift continued – Easter, 1974

I’ve remembered enough of the big old kitchen on the corner of Tunxis and Jerome to start a fairly substantial drawing. The 12′ ceilings made the perspective difficult to work out correctly, but the proportions are nicely balanced in a room with four large windows, four doors and enough floor space to accommodate three tables. These are only the children who would have been present for Easter dinner – there were probably a like number of adults that year. Below are the text selections for the illustration:

Dad has planted all the early things: peas, carrots, lettuce, beets, onions, turnips, cabbages and parsnip. The rest of the garden is still to be spaded up. The little daffodils are up under the lilacs out front, and by the back door, but only the ones near the back door have bloomed.

We went to mother’s. Aunt C. was there too. Uncle Bert was bowling in the a.m. We had delicious leg of lamb, mint jelly, tossed salad, peas, mashed potato, gravy, mashed turnips, rolls and ginger bread with whipped cream. Also had toffee-crunch and heavenly hash ice cream.

Potato and Green Onion Fishcakes

My mental picture of Ireland includes green rolling hills, green pastures, greenstone houses and the occasional peaceful lake. I don’t immediately think of the ocean, but Eire is an island, after all, and most of the Irish recipes handed down through my family involve fish. I learned this recipe “by hand”, that is, I watched someone make it and then joined in. I don’t have precise amounts for the ingredients, but it’s a peasant dish and the measurements aren’t critical to having a good meal out of it. The recipe is also a little more complicated than I would generally make for a weeknight dinner – lots of pans and dishes complicated. On the other hand it’s cheap and absolutely wonderful. You have been warned.

You’ll need a potato ricer and: 1/2 pound white fish (I use haddock); 4 medium or 5 small boiling potatoes (I like Yukon or Caribe); 4 C chopped spinach (about 1/2 pound fresh); 3 green onions, chopped; scant 1/2 C matzoh meal; 2 large eggs, beaten;  salt and pepper, oil and butter for frying. This amount serves 2, generously.

Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks and cook until done – you’ll want them uniformly soft for ease of ricing.  Drain them in a colander so that they cool a little and won’t cook the eggs when you add them later. In a 10″ skillet poach the fish in water with a little white wine and lemon juice until opaque and flaky. I like to drain and cool the fish on a cake rack so that it doesn’t add too much additional water to the mix. In another large skillet saute the green onions until soft and add the spinach and cook until quite done.  You can add a 1/2 tsp sesame oil at this point if you like. I”m pretty sure my ancestors did not. Dump the spinach and green onions into a large bowl.

Clean up all the dishes and pans and let everything sit and cool off for a minute.  Now rice the potatoes into a another large bowl and let them stand. Flake the fish off the cake rack into the bowl of spinach (nicely cooled so that it doesn’t overcook the fish. My ancestors were a patient people, at least when it came to fishcakes). Add the beaten eggs and mix gently and not too thoroughly, add the matzoh meal the same way. Season with a 1/2 tsp salt. Add this mixture to the riced potatoes and mix until you can pick up spoonfuls of more or less cohesive batter on a large spoon.

Heat the large skillet with oil and 1 Tbsp of butter. Drop large spoonfuls (about 1/4 C) of the mixture in the pan, fry until browned, flip over and squash with the flat of the spatula. Repeat until done. I remember meals of just fishcakes – vegetable, starch and protein all-in-one – but I like these with a green salad and a piece of soda bread full of whiskey-soaked currants and caraway seeds. And the new Betterbee catalog. Paradise!

Fishcakes and the Betterbee catalogue - paradise!

Jerusalem Airlift

Jerusalem is an adjective in my family; it denotes a similarity in a New World object to something from the Old. Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) isn’t even remotely related to an artichoke, but the taste is similar. Jerusalem Cherry, (olanum pseudocapsicum), is a member of the nightshade family with poisonous fruit – small, round, bright red fruit that look something like cherries. The Old World names were good enough, but the distinction had to be made lest you make a fatal pie out of New World cherries.

My family wrote hundreds of letters when I went away to college. Going away to college was new, but they’d had experience with going away to war and that’s how they approached it. Hundreds of letters about food. About their lives back home, actually – but I’d never realized that food was so much the overarching motif of those lives. I’m working the letters up into a collection. The Old World sent food, but the New sent a facsimile – a Jerusalem Airlift.

Mary came back to the Firehouse after, and we arranged platters of meats, breads and salads for 100. They gave us much more and also sent a beautiful whole ham for Mother and Ben. Dad cut it in chunks last night with the big knife so it could be divided easily. Mother froze the bone for soup later on. PS Thought I’d send nuts – maybe you can use a hammer and something for a pick.

It is supposed to snow this afternoon 2 – 8″ stopping around midnight. I am working overtime tomorrow, then on Sunday we are having your father’s birthday party. He wants that coconut pineapple cake of Doris Watkins’. It always falls apart, but he always asks for it.

I have plenty of excerpts to work with, and hope to begin setting up material to draw as illustrations. (I’m going to skip the ham.) A perfect frontspiece for the book, I think, will be a picture of me standing ghostly in the back yard, holding a layer cake.

Our hardy ancestors. . .dog

Here is a photo of my grandmother’s dog. She took the picture, so I imagine that shadow at the front of the photo is my grandmother. Her dog was known to be fiercely protective and not dependably obedient but he sits here for his picture – perhaps distracted by something over her shoulder. He looks like he might be a really good dog.

This is one of my favorite pictures in our vast collection of family snapshots. Together with the one below they were held in a tiny, fragile wooden frame with glass wired in, like they might have belonged to a young girl for a very long time.

I wish someone had written his name on the back one of these. No one knows it now.

Hardy Ancestors – Mincemeat

68 adams rdI grew up in this house. There were cows wandering the first floor when my parents bought it in 1955 shortly after I was born. My father had adventures and tetanus shots ripping off the decrepit front porch and flipping the huge old floorboards over to hide the damage from the livestock. The house was built in 1770 – or thereabouts and had been updated last around 1800. He did extensive renovations before my grandmother would allow my mother to move in with the new baby.

The Institute Cookbook’s recipe for mincemeat “has remained unchanged for quite some time”. The book dates from 1800 and the editor is prone to understatement so I imagine a cook in my childhood home might have made it the same way in 1770. My father told me once that his grandmother made mincemeat with woodchuck, but he too was prone to understatement and I would keep to the “lean beef” mentioned in the recipe, myself.

1 lb suet, 2 lbs lean beef, 1 quart chopped apple

1/4 C candied orange peel and 1/4 C candied lemon peel, 1/2 lb citron, 3 C seeded raisins and 1 C currants

Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon and one orange

1/2 C molasses, 1 C sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp allspice and cloves, 1 nutmeg, grated (about 1 tsp)

2 1/2 C sweet cider (as opposed to hard cider)

Let the meat simmer slowly in a covered kettle until tender (insert my father’s story about sampling the meat cooking on the back of the stove, finding it fairly lean and good, and then being told it was ‘chuck). Run the meat and then the suet through a meat chopper and mix well. Add the other ingredients, chopping the peels and citron before adding. Put in a stone (ceramic) crock and let stand several days to ripen. Bake in a plain or half puff paste double crust pie.

I should add that I’ve had vegetarian versions made with beets and dried apples instead of meat and suet – not the same, but not bad.

Our Hardy Ancestors, documented

lyman sheldonWinter is truly here and there is no gardening at 21 degrees F and 30 knots unless you count going through the seed catalogs.  (Here’s where I man up and admit that I’ve already placed my seed orders for summer 2010, so that exercise would be redundant.) At 19:30 EST in July I’d still be working outdoors in broad daylight, but it is late November at 44  Lat and the sun went down hours ago. Winter is the time for research, and I have plenty of indoor projects that need work.

As part of my genealogy project I’ve been going through boxes and scrapbooks to find illustrations of the characters I’m researching. Or at least that’s how the process is supposed to go; I’ve reached Dorothy Filley Bidwell’s part in the family tree and it’s time to find a picture. But sometimes my hand stutters over a snapshot that’s just too good to put back in the box, never mind that I haven’t quite got to that branch of the tree.

This is, right to left, Minnie Cornelia Smith and her husband Walter Alexander Sheldon, and Emma Estelle Smith and her husband George Elisha Lyman. The Smith sisters had a double wedding on October 1, 1895 and this picture was taken on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. Bet that was a heckava party.

Our Hardy Ancestors, continued

Generally these OHA posts are all about food and the way people cooked the dickens out of it around the turn of the last century, or possibly the one before that. But in the olden days they did more than overcook seafood. When the sun went down and chores were done, my maternal grandfather researched genealogy at his rolltop desk. My mother remembers him calling long lost relatives in New York state, noting marriage lines and cross referencing maiden names. His four children could recite the Barnard line back seven generations: Raymond, Louis, Judah Harrison, Judah Pinney, Ebenezer, Francis and Joseph.

All his work on the family line is gone now, lost with the rolltop desk. A few years ago I inherited a family bible (or three) and tried to begin again. After a few weeks the piece of vellum I had taped to the wall had grown to 5′ x 6′, with extra pieces flapping all over with the names of children I’d forgotten and second marriages. I had to take it down when winter really set in and we started up the wood stove so as not to end the family line in a house fire.

Two years later I tried my first software genealogy program. It sucked – I think that’s actually the technical term. Family Tree Maker 1.0 was deeply flawed, structurally unsound and compulsively tidy. No one ever remarried, had step children or came into the line undocumented. In my family it’s not unusual to have one set of siblings marry another set, and then the remaining two marry after their spouses have passed on. This kind of behaviour is hard on probate courts and software, and don’t even get me started on gender issues. FTM 1.0 hated my family so much it eventually stopped working altogether.

Two weeks ago I bought a copy of Family Tree Maker 2010, because winter is setting in and I knew what would happen if I started taping big sheets of vellum to the wall behind the wood stove. I never thought I’d be plugging software on this blog, but this product is more fun than a video game. Well, any video game that’s not GTA IV.

My favorite of the Barnards has always been Francis. Referred to as “Deacon” Francis in the lore, he married Lucretia Pinney in 1740 when she was 19 and he was 21. Starting  in 1743 they had 13 children: Lucretia, Lydia, Irana, Aaron, Moses, David, Sara, Elizabeth, Elijah, Ebenezer, Samuel, Elihu, Caroline and Francis, Jr. They lived in the same town I grew up in, and my mother often told me of the sign on the side of the house that proclaimed:

house sign FB

The house stood on Duncaster Rd. until 1989. I have a vivid memory of the sign, but now I can’t remember if I saw it myself or simply heard the story often enough to make it real. In ’89 they took the house down and the Wintonbury Historical Society put up a plaque in honor of the sons. Tonight I’m going to fire up the program and record the  daughters, too.

francis barnard 1719 1789 house


Our Hardy Ancestors, cont.

fishing group coloradoFour generations go fishing. It sounds like the product of a random sentence generator.

Why do I have a dozen pictures of us fishing? We probably went all of twice – to a beautiful resevoir where Frank and Wat often fished under the bright Colorado sky. We baited hooks  with orange roe that glowed like jewelry and got my fingers all sticky. After a long day we took  home a damp canvas bag of small brown trout.

If you actually catch a fish you will need to read  pages 56 through 58 of the Institute Cookbook, where an extremely thorough description of cleaning, drawing, scaling and disemboweling your fish may be had, so there is no need of us repeating that here. Seriously, this is the only cookbook in my collection that uses the word “putrification” four times in one paragraph. And I had to look up “ptomaines” at Wikipedia. Now we will ignore your gutted fish, resting on it’s plank of ice in the cellar (to avoid tainting the butter in the icebox), and have a nice recipe for deviled crab that requires “cracker dust” instead.  Remember, as you read this, that the crabs being fried for 10 minutes at the end of this recipe have been boiled for half an hour at the beginning and then cooked “over a hot fire” for a little while longer.

6 crabs, 1 hard-boiled egg, 4 Tbs butter, ground nutmeg, 1/2 C heavy cream, salt and cayenne, 1/4 tsp sweet marjoram, cracker dust

Put the crabs into hot water, add salt and boil for thirty minutes. Cut the meat into small pieces, add the hard-boiled egg, cream, butter and seasoning and cook for a few minutes over a hot fire, thickening the mixture with cracker dust. Fill the shells, dip them in the raw egg, beaten, then in cracker dust; place in a hot oven or drop into boiling fat and fry until deep brown.

Don’t try this at home.

Our Hardy Ancestors, Part III

birthday 2007

OHA is a series of posts about how my family ate and behaved around the turn of the last century. They (mostly) survived to great age, and I expect some would have past the 120 year mark if any of them had eaten vegetables. Herewith a “skeleton menu”, copied out by my great, great grandmother and pasted into the cover of The Institute Cookbook for her reference.

A Full Course Dinner

Shellfish – on ice with lemon – light oyster crackers, then Clear Soup – in soup plates, half full – thick slices of bread or roll folded in the napkin. Followed by Hors D’Oeurvres – olives, celery, radishes, etc. to be passed after soup is served, then Fish – with appropriate sauce, potato balls and cucumbers if possible. Then the Entree – patties, timable of chicken, or creamed dishes in paper cases (bread passed), then Meat – with appropriate sauce, jelly, potatoes, one vegetable and fruit punch. Then Game – small birds, whole; other in halves or slices with varying accompaniments then Salad – served with the game – Brie, Roquefort orcream cheese and crackers. Then Hot Pudding with lemon sauce; Glace – ice, ice cream or frozen dessert – with sweet wafers, followed by Dessert – nts, fruits, bonbons, crackers, cheese and finally Coffee – black, served with sugar alone.

The painting is “Jacob’s Birthday”, from 2006. And to think, we only had three courses.

Bon apetite!