Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Goodies!

For Christmas, Santa brought me some cooking things! (Who woulda guessed?) I got Come to the Table, a book about the Slow Food movement, its food producers and some of their recipes. I also got Alice Waters' cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. Alice is considered by many to be the founder of Slow Food in America. For those who aren't familiar, Slow Food is the antidote to fast food. Slow food is locally produced--you know the farmer who raised it. Slow food is sustainably produced--no rain forests cleared to graze cows. Instead, it is usually produced in small scale agriculture, family farms and such. And Slow Food is consumed in settings that affirm relationships. No burgers on the run. Instead we share it with people we love. Check it out: www.slowfoodusa.org

And then there was the bread. Santa gave me a couche which is a piece of heavy linen canvas used for raising French baguettes, and also this fancy reed basket called a brotform used for raising large loaves. I made a rye bread with caraway. I had to try it right away. Check it out:

And to give you a sense of scale:

Incidentally, if you want to learn to bake old fashioned loaves like these, its really quite easy (especially if your baking environment is somewhat thermally stable, which mine is not, neither the pioneers' drafty log cabins). The best starting point is the book Bread Alone by Daniel Leader.

Hope your Christmas was full of joy and peace!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas day in London

So I was reading ol' Wilf's diary the other day, and found this little gem from 1840, when he was on a mission in England:

"Christmas day in London... We took our Christmas dinner with Br. Morgan. He had his family at home with him. The dinner consisted of Baked Mutton, Goose, Rabbit Pies, Minced Pies, and Plum Pudding, and bread and cheese, Porter and water. We spent the evening at Mr. Albums in conversing about the things of God..."

This citation is just one example, which may or may not represent a broader cross section of what was common. If we were to use this one example as a representative sample, here's what we might learn:
Wilford (and other early Mormons) indulged in fine food for holiday occasions.
Christmas dinner was an important dinner.
Some Christmas dinners were heavy on the nice meats.
Meat pies figured prominently as main dishes.
Sweets came from the pudding, not the pie.
Starches came from bread, not potatoes.
The Word of Wisdom was not observed: "porter" is a heavy dark beer.

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas Pudding

I've been negligent: three weeks since my last post. Terribly sorry. In that time, I've received the manuscript back from the publisher. The editor pointed out one particular criticism in my theoretical framework. I feel that folklore and oral tradition emphasizes starvation and weed-eating too heavily. My rebuttal was to write about all the times people didn't starve and had plenty to eat of diverse dishes. Apparently I did this too well, and made it sound like things were pleasant most of the time. I swayed too far in the opulent direction, so I'll have to modify some of my modifiers.

In the mean time, I also read Dickens' A Christmas Carol (in prep for the fantastic new animated movie). Here's one of Dickens' many passages describing Christmastime food (in this case a pudding):

"Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating house and a pastry cook's next door to each other, with a laundress' next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered--flushed, but smiling proudly--with the pudding, like a speckled cannon ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half a quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck to the top."

I wish you all such a Christmas pudding, and fine friends and family who might share it with you.