Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rose Water

Gather the damask rose leaves; have a tin pan that will fit under your warm-pan; wring a thin towel out of water, spread it over the pan, and put rose leaves on this about two inches thick, put another wet towel on top of the leaves, and three or four thicknesses of paper on it; put hot embers in the warming-pan, and set it on top of the paper, propped up so as not to fall, when you renew the coals, sprinkle the towel that is at the top of the rose leaves; when all the strength is out of the leaves, they will be in a cake; dry this, and put in your drawers to scent the clothes; put another set of leaves in, sprinkle the towels, and so on till you have used up all your rose leaves. Rose water is a very nice seasoning for cake or pudding; it should be kept corked tightly.
Domestic Cookery, by Elizabeth Ellicott Lea, page 148, Baltimore: Cushings and Bailey, 1869

Modern note: Make sure if you make rose water, the roses are organic or aren't sprayed with any pesticides. You can purchase rose water in ethnic sections of some stores.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Season's Greetings

by Roxe Anne Peacock

October 12, 2006

A roaring fire
Cinnamon, hot cocoa,
Friends and family,

Snowflakes falling
Singing, laughter, stories
of long ago,

The smells of Christmas
Sharing gifts,

Love of all countries
Embrace of all faiths,

Soldiers coming home
Peace on Earth,

Season greetings,
From our family to yours!

Fruit Cake

Take one pound of butter and one pound of sugar rubbed to a cream, yolks of twelve eggs, one tablespoonful of cinnamon, one teaspoonful of allspice, half teaspoonful of mace, half teaspoonful of cloves, one-fourth of a pound of almonds (pounded), two pounds of raisins, (seeded and chopped), three pounds of currants (carefully cleaned), one pound of citron (shredded very fine), and one-quarter of a pound of orange peel (chopped very fine). Soak all this prepared fruit in one pint of brandy over night. Add all to the dough and put in the stiff-beaten whites last. Bake in a very slow oven for several hours and line your cake-pans with buttered paper. When cold, wrap in cloths dipped in brandy and put in earthen jars. If you wet these cloths every month you may keep this cake moist for years.
Aunt Babette's Cook Book, by Aunt Babette, pages 288-289, Cincinnati: Block Pub. and Print Co., 1889

Note: This recipe leaves out the flour. The Fruit Cake No. 2 by Aunt Babette uses one pound flour.
Modern Version:
Many people dislike Fruit Cake today due to its inferior flavor. Nothing beats a cake made from scratch using natural dried fruits and the best spices. Fruit cake is as healthy as most fruit bars. Why not make this special cake with your children and serve as snacks all year round. The unsalted butter cannot be substituted.

1 pound unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 pound granulated sugar
1 pound all purpose flour (sifted with spices)
12 large eggs, separated and room temperature
1 pint good brandy or liquor of your choice
1/4 pound blanched almonds, chopped (4 ounces)

1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon cloves

2 pounds seeded raisins, chopped ( I prefer golden)
3 pounds currants (carefully looked over for stems)
1 pound of citron, chopped
1/4 pound orange peel, chopped

The fruit: Always use the best quality of dried fruits. You may use "organic" fruit, but make sure it is not discolored or over-dry.

If you use candied fruit, rinse the fruit in cold water to get rid of some of the sticky glaze. Dried fruits will absorb alcohol, but candied fruit does not readily soak up the liqueur.

To make fruit and nut recipe substitutions, add up the total amounts in the recipe and then use your preference.

Cut up your fruit with a knife or kitchen shears. If your fruit is too sticky, you can dust the fruit lightly with powdered sugar. Place the chopped fruit in a very large bowl or roasting pan to mix.

Pour the pint of brandy over the fruit and mix well with a wooden spoon. Place in a very large airtight container and macerate for up to 72 hours.

Some fruit alternatives are: dried apples, pineapple, coconuts, cranberries, peaches, bananas, pears, blueberries, date bits, mango, papayas, cherries, figs and apricots. Be sure to use only a small amount of apricots or they will over-power the rest of the fruit.

The spices: Whole spices ground in a coffee grinder or spice grinder are best. Due to the intense flavor of fresh spices, you may want to decrease the amount of spices. If you prefer the store-bought ground spices, make sure they haven't been sitting in your cupboard for years. Always use fresh.

Nuts: When you chop your nuts, be careful not to make the pieces too small. Use only fresh nuts. You may substitute the almonds for pecans, English walnuts, filberts and hazelnuts. If you have the time, crack the nuts yourself. Store extra nuts in an airtight container in your freezer.

Pans and equipment:
Always use a "wooden" spoon to mix Fruit Cake.

A fruit cake is best baked in a decorative ring mold, bundtpan, or tube pans. Other pans used are round cake pans, bread pans, and cupcake pans. Whatever pans you choose, you'll need to line them. Fruit Cake is very sticky and hard to get to release from the pan if you skip over this step.
Non-stick is no exception to the rule. Baking parchment paper is the ideal choice.

Make templates for the bottom and sides of your pans out of the parchment paper, or brown paper. Next, butter the insides and bottoms of your pans. Butter the front and back of your templates. Attach the templates to the buttered pans as you would wallpaper a room; leaving no bubbles.

Use two very clean bowls. Have a very clean whisk and egg separator ready. Make sure your equipment is dry. Eggs need to be room temperature. Separate the eggs using the egg separator. Be very careful not to get any egg yolk in the egg whites. Don't whisk the egg whites yet.
Cream the sugar and butter together with a "wooden" spoon. Add the egg "yolks" to the sugar mixture.

Sift the flour and spices together two to three times. Sprinkle a small amount of the flour spice mix over the fruit to keep the fruit from sticking. If your fruit still has too much liquid, you can add a little extra flour.

Add the spiced flour to your creamed sugar and butter a little at a time.

Stir the batter into the fruit mixture using a large "wooden" spoon or your hands. Next, add the chopped nuts.

Last, fold in your egg whites; which have been whisked or beaten until they are stiff.

Whisking Egg Whites:
First, make sure your whisk and bowl are absolutely clean and dry. Your egg whites need to be room temperature. If there is any residue or hint of egg yolk, it will interfere with this process. Egg whites are particular especially without cream of tartar. Make sure you have time for this very important procedure. Once you begin the process, "don't" stop. The eggs are best whisked if they are at least seven days old or more.

Start with a pinch of salt in the egg whites, which will help firm up the eggs. About a fourth of the way of whisking the egg whites, you can add a drop or two of lemon juice.

If your whites are not stable toward the end, or you have over beaten them, whisk 1 tablespoon of sugar into the egg whites for about 15 seconds. This will stabilize the foam. Immediately fold the egg whites into the fruit and nut mixture.

If after the egg whites have been whipped, if any water has developed in the bottom of your bowl and the egg whites are floating over it, don't put the water into your fruit cake batter. Drain the liquid off. This will not produce a good cake.

Fill your selected pans 2/3 full, pressing the batter into corners of the pans and leveling.

Make a cover for your fruit cakes out of brown paper bags. Don't use the part of the bags with writing. Butter both sides of the brown paper. Cover the top of your fruit cake and pans with the buttered paper. Leave the brown paper on for the first two hours or longer if the tops of your cake are turning too brown. This step helps keep the tops of the fruit cake from burning.

Have ready a pan with hot water. Place on the bottom rack of your oven. This step will keep the tops of the cake moist. Remove the pan of hot water the last hour or the cakes will become too moist.

Place the covered pans in a cool oven. Turn the oven on to 250 degrees. The length of time for baking depends on the size of our pans.

A small pan takes approximately 1 1/2 hours.
10" tube pan takes from 3 hours and 15 minutes to 3 1/2 hours.
10" round cake pan takes about 3 hours to 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Baking time for other pans can vary from 1 1/2 hours to 4 hours.

Testing cakes:
When your cakes looks done and springs back when you touch it, or the side are beginning to come away from the pan, test your cake with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out clean, your cake is done.

Immediately remove the cakes from the oven to a wire rack. Spritz the top of the hot cakes with more brandy.

To remove cakes from pans:
When the cakes have completely cooled, use a plate larger than the pan the cake is in and carefully invert. Repeat then process once more to get the cake upright. If you have buttered and lined your pans properly, the cakes will slide out. If any areas of cake look even slightly stuck, use a thin sharp knife and run it carefully down the sides and edges of the pan.

For a short-term storage, cut a piece of cheesecloth large enough to fit around the fruit cake. Soak the cheesecloth in brandy. Muslin is better for long-term storage. Natural cheesecloth and muslin can be found at most bed and bath stores.

Lay out a piece of plastic wrap on your counter larger than the fruit cake or pan it is in. Place the "soaked" not drenched, cheesecloth around the entire fruit cake. Next, wrap the plastic wrap around the wrapped fruit cake; sealing it completely. Last, cover the wrapped fruit cake lightly with aluminum foil. Place all in a large sealable freezer bag or an airtight container.

Do not apply more alcohol than the cake can absorb. You may spritz the cake every two to three days or for longer storage once a week. Fruit cake is better as it matures. It takes four to six weeks to fully ripen. Store in a cool, dark place.

When you serve your fruit cake, use a thin sharp knife dipped in hot water.

Sounds of War

by Roxe Anne Peacock
October 5, 2006

Drums beating in the distance
Soldiers galore,

Pounding of hearts,
Sounds of War,

The smell of gunpowder,
Shots being fired,

Fighting the enemy
Whoever they may be,

Notifying the families,
Funerals and sorrow,

Knowing without war,
There would be no tomorrow!

Peanut Candy

To every half pint of shelled and blanched peanuts, use one cupful each of molasses and sugar. Boil the molasses ad sugar together until the mixture is brittle when dropped in cold water. Then stir in the half pint of peanuts before taking from the fire. Pour into buttered pans and mark off into squares or lengths before it cools. Hickory nuts, English walnuts or almonds may be used in place of peanuts.
The Los Angeles Times, page 103, Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Co. 1905

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas Bells

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(The original poem, complete with all seven stanzas)

"I Heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

The pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"