Saturday, November 29, 2014

Robinson Nature Center Updated

Back in March I wrote a blog post about "Building a Museum Exhibit - part 1". In it I talked about a super cool exhibit at the Robinson Nature Center, but I unfortunately didn't have very good pictures to draw from and couldn't find the ones I'd taken a few years ago. So, my kids and I went back and I took all new pictures and have updated the post to include my most recent observations. Their mill exhibit is absolutely fantastic and such a brilliant use of technology in a museum.

Check it out! HERE

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 47 - Fat & Fritters

Most of these images I found through
Happy Thanksgiving! 

I'd have to say that this week's ration recipe is one of the most important when it comes to talking about food rationing during WWII. Both in the UK and in the United States, saving fat drippings for use in cooking was a huge deal as fat was rationed during the war and it was a vital ingredient in making explosives. Any waste fat was saved and given to munitions factories for the glycerin to be extracted from the fat. Housewives had a direct impact on the war effort by donating those fats.

Fat was of huge importance, not only because it was essential for the war effort, but also because fat made food taste better and it added much needed calories and nutrition for hard working men and women. But since it was rationed, they needed to make their fat ration stretch as far as they could. Saving every ounce of fat and rendering it to be reused again in their cooking and baking was absolutely essential.

There were quite a few posters about saving fat from the British and American governments:

 So, let's say you were a patriotic citizen and you saved your fat drippings from bacon, beef, hamburger, ham, sausage, whatever. What would you do with it then? How would you get it from fat contaminated with food particles, flavors, and smells to a nice clean fat you could cook with?

Well, that's what we're going to explore today. I'm excited for this one and it's been on my to-do list for a long time! Today's ration recipe comes in two parts: rendering the fat, and then cooking something with the fat. My recipes and information are from two British wartime leaflets that talk about fat - "How to Fry" and "Making the Most of the Fat Ration".

I collected fat from several sources - beef broth, bacon drippings, and ground beef drippings. The majority of the fat was bacon drippings and smelled heavily of smoky bacon. I really wondered if I was going to be able to change that into a useful cooking fat.

The recipe says to put your fat into a saucepan and cover with water.

As the fat melts, it will look a little gross as a thick fat layer floating on top of the water. Blech.

Bring it to a boil and then remove from heat.

Pour the fat into a container and set it in a cool place, like your fridge.
I wanted you to be able to see the water and fat in layers, but my container was too small!
Thus the two containers.
 After sitting in the fridge, the fat is a nice creamy white and the impurities have mingled in the water or sunk to the bottom.
 The recipe says to scrape the bottom of the fat to remove any additional impurities that stuck to the bottom, but the bacon fat was much too soft and it all kind of fell apart. I think beef fat is the best as it's a much stiffer, sturdier fat to work with.
My cleaned fat.
 At this point your fat is ready for baking, but if you'd like to use it for frying or to keep it longer term, you have to cook it again to drive off the water. If your fat has a strong smell (like mine did), the recipe says you can cook a cut, raw potato in it until it's brown which will absorb any flavors/smells. Interesting, eh?
The fat will sputter and steam as the water works its way out of the fat and evaporates. Once it's stopped doing that, your fat is ready for frying or storage.
Cut potatoes cooking in my rendered fat to get rid of the bacony smell and flavor.

My cleaned and purified fat! It was looking more golden than I was expecting...
I was happily surprised that it didn't smell like bacon anymore! Amazing!
 As for a recipe, I used the one provided in the "How to Fry" leaflet for Fritters. I've never made fritters and always wanted to try. They are such a simple, and wonderfully easy food to make.

For the fritter batter, it calls for 4 oz. flour (about 1 cup), a pinch of salt, 1 egg, 1/4 pint milk and water (1/2 cup with 1/2 milk and 1/2 water). That's it!
Ingredients for the fritter batter.
 Mix it all up. It will make a nice, thick batter. You can use this to dip fish or apples in, or you can add chopped ingredients to the batter and just drop spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil. I opted for the latter, but I wanted to try a sweet and a savory version.
Once the batter was made, I divided it into two separate bowls.

For the savory I chose their suggestion of flaked fish. I had a tin of canned salmon, so I opened that up and put in about half the can.
Fritter batter with flaked, canned salmon
 For the sweet, they suggest using chopped, dried fruit and I felt using cranberries would be appropriate for the Thanksgiving holiday!
Fish Fritter batter on the left
Cranberry Fritter batter on the right
 Heat up your oil on medium heat and fry spoonfuls of the fritter batter. I used a small saucepan to get the depth I needed since I didn't have that much rendered fat. I'd say the fritters took about 5 minutes, flipping several times throughout their cooking. I also made sure to fry my cranberry fritters first so they wouldn't taste like fish from the fish fritters!

They cooked up very nicely and in the end my oil was even deeper golden in color:
I'm not sure if this is too dark to reuse or not. The recipe says that as long as you don't burn the fat,
you can use it many times over. After you've gotten as much use as you can from the fat,
you would sell it to your butcher to be sent off to the munitions factory.
 And here they are! The recipe suggested that you could sprinkle a little sugar on the sweet fritters which I took liberty in doing. Both the fish and the cranberry fritters were very tasty! They are such a simple, yet filling food, and so much easier than I thought they'd be! I think it helps that you can just throw the chopped ingredients in instead of worrying about dipping. It saves a lot of time!

My husband had the fish ones for lunch. I think they could have used a little malted vinegar. I seriously just need to buy a bottle, already! The cranberry ones were just perfect - the only sweetness being lent by the sweetened cranberries.

I was also very happy that my fritters didn't have any off or bizarre bacony flavor. That, I think, was the big victory with this recipe. (Just as a side note: I only fried a few of the fritters in my rendered fat to try for the recipe, because the fat was starting to look really dark. So, for the rest of the batter I fried them in grapeseed oil and they turned out great.)

Here are a few portions from the British Wartime leaflets published in the fabulous book Eating for Victory: Healthy Home Front Cooking on Wartime Rations that I would highly recommend to anyone to buy! 

"Making the Most of the Fat Ration"
by The British Ministry of Food

The rest of the pictures come from "How to Fry"
by The British Ministry of Food

I followed these instructions for clarifying fat

Here are the recipes for the fish and fruit fritters!
The celery and cheese fritters look interesting!

Happy rendering and frying! And have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 46 - Bohemian Kolache

Better Homes & Gardens
Cook Book Wartime Section
1945 edition 
As my project winds down, I'm scrambling to try and find recipes in sources I've neglected and get in the last few recipes I feel are important to experiment with as a representation of the period. I know I won't fit them all in, but it's been fun going through and trying to select those last golden gems! Like the recipe I made today.

This week's ration recipe for Bohemian Kolache sounds so exotic doesn't it? I looked it up and found on wikipedia that a kolache (coming from a Czech word) "is a type of pastry that holds a dollop of fruit rimmed by a puffy pillow of supple dough. Originating as a semisweet wedding dessert from Central Europe, they have become popular in parts of the United States." Sounds yummy to me!

I wanted to make a bread and I wanted to use my 1945 issue of the Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book again. I think I've only made one or two things out of it. So, when I saw this sweet bun recipe that called for mace I was intrigued! Mace is one of those ingredients that not many people use and not many recipes call for, but I love it. Mace comes from the outer covering of the nutmeg seed. So it tastes a lot like nutmeg, and yet it's also a bit peppery.

After making these, I really felt that these kolache would make a fabulous breakfast bread for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's day. The only catch is that it needs to be made the day before as it requires 4 separate risings - 3 if you cheat like I did. If you start in the morning, you should have it done by the early afternoon.

I love this nifty wartime insert they included in the Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks
published during WWII.
 On to the recipe! This recipe calls for flour, sugar, salt, mace, grated lemon peel (I used dried), yeast, shortening (I used butter), milk, and eggs.

Scald the milk. Combine the sugar, mace, grated lemon peel, shortening and the scalded milk.
Sugar, salt, lemon peel, mace, and shortening.
 Cool the mixture to a lukewarm temperature. Soften the yeast in the mixture for a few minutes. Add in the eggs and flour and beat well. I found the dough to be too sticky so I added another handful of flour.

 Beat the mixture well. I beat with my electric mixer first and then hand beat it.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. At this point the recipes says to punch it down and let it rise again, but I skipped the second rising and went straight to rolling it out.

Roll out the dough to a 1/2" thickness.

 Cut 1 1/2" rounds. The recipe says it makes 2 dozen, but I'm pretty sure I got more out of it than that. Place them on a greased cookie sheet or use parchment paper. Brush them with fat - I used butter.
Aren't they cute? The fact that you had to cut them out was another
reason why this recipe intrigued me.
Cover and let the kolache rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Once they've risen, use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each one.

Put a dollop of jam in the center. Now, the recipe calls for orange marmalade. Unfortunately, I didn't have any orange marmalade, so I used a homemade blackberry-plum jam instead. It tasted good, but I think any berry flavor is too strong and overpowers the lovely mace flavor. A jam with a more delicate flavor like orange marmalade like they suggest or maybe even apricot is perfect for these.

Next, you cover and set these in a warm place again to rise and get puffy. *sigh* I know! It's a lot of steps, but it's worth it.

Bake in an oven preheated to 400º F (though I think 375º F would be better) for 15 minutes. Mine turned out too browned. Next time I think I'll try a lower temperature.

Finally, all done! Let cool and enjoy!
These little buns were lovely! They were soft and fragrant and the mace really stood out... until the blackberry kicked in. I really wish I'd had the orange marmalade. I think even sprinkling a bit of powdered sugar or a light glaze drizzled on top would be a nice touch. There's always next time, I suppose! 

I know these require a lot of risings, but I'd really encourage you to give these a try for your next holiday breakfast or gathering! 

Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book - 1945 ed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A New Look

I've always been cautious about changing the look of my blog because I liked it so much as it was, but I thought it needed a change. It's been awhile since I first started the blog and I've been happily surprised to see I've gotten over 11,000 page views! Wow! Thanks to everyone who visits and even if you don't leave comments, it makes me happy to think that I can share the love of history with others even if it's in a small way.

Also, I realized I only have 7 more ration recipes left. Aaaah! Where did the year go? I can't believe the project is almost done. I do have another idea in the works, though I'll go into that at the end of next month. Until then, enjoy the remaining 7 ration recipes!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 45 - Frankfurter Casserole

Whalemeat Steak Casserole!
Now this is one British wartime casserole
I would gladly pass on. Yikes!
Frankfurter Casserole. Yep. It was one of those things that I knew I should probably make, but it scared me. I mean, how good could a frankfurter casserole possibly be? What came to mind was a nightmare casserole born out of the Depression and continued stubbornly into the '50s. But since I pledged to try scary recipes for this ration project I figured I should finally get it out of the way.

We all know that casseroles save time and can feed a lot of people. They're good at using leftovers or hiding less than desirable ingredients. You can also use a lot of inexpensive ingredients for a nice, filling meal. All these reasons are what make casseroles a good ration recipe.

First of all I want to share where I got this recipe.

I realized that I've been neglecting a fabulous source for recipes - women's magazines! The only one I've used for this project was the Campbell's soup ad and that's not even technically a recipe. I gleaned this week's recipe from McCall's May 1942 issue. It was part of a fabulous article entitled "How to Keep A Man Convinced You're Beautiful". (!!!) The entire premise of this article is saying that, sure, you can put on a new dress and he might notice, but put these recipes on the table and he'll think you're the most beautiful woman in the world. Have a look:

click image to enlarge

The beginning is priceless: "A misty veil or a new dress the color of your eyes can go a long way toward persuading a man you're pretty. I'll grant you that. But if you want him to think you're downright beautiful, and to keep on thinking so year after year, never forget that there's nothing on earth more becoming to you than his favorite pie! (Now how's that for a million-dollar beauty secret, offered to you absolutely without extra charge!)" hahaha!

I also just adore the men's quotes before each recipe:
"Honey, you're a picture to take back to camp!"
"None of these young things is a patch on you!"
"Sweetheart, I swear you get better looking every day!"

haha! I just love this stuff. This article says a lot about the attitude towards women and the expectations on them at the time. It also makes an interesting statement about the image of men. Fascinating things to think about!

Let's get on to the recipe. Yes, it's that time. If the thought of making a frankfurter casserole still scares you as much as it did me at first, you needn't let it. This recipe actually took me completely by surprise.

This recipe has quite a few ingredients: 5 cups bread crumbs, onions, butter, poultry seasoning, water, frankfurters, canned tomatoes, more onions, mustard, sugar, whole cloves, and a bay leaf.

Saute the onions in the butter until lightly golden and translucent.

Combine the onions with the bread crumbs, salt, poultry seasoning, and water. Put the bread mixture into a 9x13 casserole dish.

Slice the frankfurters in half, spread each with some mustard.

Lay them down over the bread mixture in the casserole pan. The recipe actually didn't specify which side up, but this made the most sense to me.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350º F for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile heat the canned tomatoes (juice included) with the sugar, whole cloves, the rest of the onions, and bay leaf. Simmer for 15 minutes and serve with the frankfurter casserole. (You're essentially making a very basic and fast ketchup-type topping, but don't expect exact ketchup flavor when you eat it.)
Frankfurter Casserole

This recipe totally redefined what a casserole is for me. When I think casserole I usually think of a meat, a starch like potatoes, rice, or pasta, and cheese as the glue to hold it all together. This had none of those things and I was delighted! You might have suspected it, but the bread mixture was pretty much a very basic stuffing recipe like you'd make at Thanksgiving. It tasted like it too and was quite yummy with the frankfurters. Add some canned cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and green beans and you could call it "Poor Man's Thanksgiving Dinner!" :-) I thought the tomato topping wasn't bad on top. It wasn't my favorite, but it adds a nice flavor contrast to the rest of the casserole.

Did my husband start swooning over my beauty the minute he tasted this casserole? Uh... no. In fact, he said it was "interesting" and scarfed it down before he left for Scouts. I think his tastes tend to run toward spicy, Asian, or Italian. But that's okay. He tells me I'm beautiful every day anyway. :-)

In the end, I'm glad I tried this recipe, even if the thought of it was scary at first. It just goes to show that you can't let your assumptions about a recipe prevent you from giving it a try! So go ahead - give it a try. You just might like it!

Here's the recipe:

Sorry for the less than stellar picture. The recipe continues and says:
"onion, bay leaf, sugar, salt and cloves. Simmer 15 minutes.
Remove bay leaf and cloves. Serve with frankfurter casserole.
Serves 4."