Category: Food

For The Love of Candy

 

Save the Earth; it’s the only planet with chocolate

I’ve got candy on my mind this month and it’s not even Valentine’s.  There are two reasons why I’m thinking of all things sweet and it has nothing to do with the empty box of chocolates on my desk; January is national candy month and the heroine of my current work in progress owns a candy shop.  

While doing the research for my book, I turned up some fun and interesting facts.  For example, we can blame our sweet tooth on our cavemen ancestors and their fondness for honey.  But the most surprising thing I discovered was that marshmallows grow on trees—or at least used to.  That was before the French came up with a way to replace the sweet sap from the mallow tree with gelatin.   

I also learned that during the middle ages, the price of sugar was so high that only the rich could afford a sweet treat.  In fact, candy was such a rarity that the most children could expect was an occasional sugar plum at Christmas.  (BTW: there are no plums in sugar plums.  Plum is another word for good).

This changed during the early nineteenth century with the discovery of sugar-beet juice and mechanical candy-making machines.   

Soon jars of colorful penny candy could be found in every trading post and general store in the country. It took almost four hundred candy manufacturing companies to keep up with the demand. 

This changed the market considerably. Children as young as four or five were now able to make purchases independent of their parents. (Had youngsters known that vegetables including spinach was used to color candy, they might not have wasted their money.)

Children weren’t the only ones enjoying the availability of cheap candy. Civil War soldiers favored gumdrops, jelly beans, hard candy and, hub wafers (now known as Necco wafers).     

Never one to miss a trend, John Arbuckle, noted the sugar craze that had swept the country and decided to use it as marketing tool.  He included a peppermint stick in each pound bag of Arbuckle’s coffee to encourage sales. 

 “Who wants the peppermint?” was a familiar cry around chuck wagons. 

This call to grind the coffee beans got a rash of volunteers.  No rough and tumble cowboy worth his salt would turn down a stick of peppermint candy, especially when out on the trail.

Arbuckle wasn’t the only one to see gold in candy. Outlaw Doc Scurlock, friend of Billy the Kid and a Bloody Lincoln County War participant, retired from crime in 1880. Though he was still a wanted man, he moved to Texas and opened up a candy store.

Cadbury, Mars and Hershey rode herd on the chocolate boom of the late 1800s, early 1900s.  Penny candy still made up eighteen percent of candy sales but, by this time, some merchants had refused to sell it.  Profits were thin and selling such small amounts to children was time-consuming. Chocolate was more profitable. The penny candy market vanished altogether during World War II when sugar was rationed.  Fortunately, no war could do away with chocolate.

Okay, so what’s your favorite candy?  Anyone have a candy memory to share?

LeftattheAltarfinalcover

 

Who knew being Left at the Altar could be such

sweet, clean, madcap fun?

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Updated: January 23, 2017 — 5:05 pm

Sourdough–My New Project

I have a new project: sourdough bread. [the pic on the left is from King Arthur Flour–not me!] I say project because this isn’t pick up a loaf at the store, or even wake up early on Saturday and decide I’m going to bake a loaf of bread. No, to make sourdough you have to plan ahead.

Okay, I thought, I’m a planner. I can do this. Truthfully, I’m a haphazard baker at best, but, since we’re trying to eat less pre-packaged foods—read foods with less ingredients I can’t pronounce—I decided to start making my own sourdough bread. It’s a simple bread, using only flour, water and time. But sourdough has to be tended, culled, and fed.

Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. Translation: this stuff is ALIVE!

Or, lordy, what have I gotten myself into.

“The origins of bread-making are so ancient that everything said about them must be pure speculation. One of the oldest sourdough breads dates from 3700 BCE and was excavated in Switzerland, but the origin of sourdough fermentation likely relates to the origin of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent several thousand years earlier… Bread production relied on the use of sourdough as a leavening agent for most of human history; the use of baker’s yeast as a leavening agent dates back less than 150 years.” (Michael Gaenzle, Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology)

Bread is older than metal; even before the bronze age, our ancestors were eating and baking flat breads. Until the time of the development of commercial yeasts, like brewers yeast, all leavened bread was sourdough, with it’s slower raise. One reason given for the importance of unleavened bread in the Jewish faith is that at the time of the exodus from Egypt, there wasn’t time to let the dough rise overnight.

Sourdough became a staple in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush of 1849. And the sourdough tradition was carried into Alaska and the western Canadian territories during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Other leavening agents such as yeast and baking soda were much less reliable in the conditions faced by the prospectors. Experienced miners and other settlers frequently carried a pouch of starter either around their neck or on a belt; these were fiercely guarded to keep from freezing—even though freezing does not kill a sourdough starter; excessive heat does.

Sourdough had to have crossed the American west to get to California. Cookies certainly couldn’t take the time to allow a yeast bread to rise—all that bouncing in the wagon…

Even with it’s dislike of heat, it stands to reason sourdough would have appeared in the American West, maybe in leather pouches tucked into saddlebags, or beside the water jugs or barrels. A traveler wouldn’t always need a large loaf of bread, and to make a sourdough loaf you only need an amount in proportion to the size of the final product.

I’ll keep researching to see if cowboys and settlers took sourdough along on their journeys. For the moment, though, I’ve got to go feed the newest member of my family—SOURDOUGH!

The 19th Century Table: Parker House Rolls (including recipe)

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Harvey D. Parker, father of Parker House Rolls

Harvey D. Parker (sculptor John D. Perry, 1874), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

When 20-year-old Harvey D. Parker arrived in Boston on a packet from Maine, the young man had only $1 in his pocket. Even in 1825, $1 wasn’t enough to sustain him for more than a day, so Parker took the first job he could find: caring for a horse and a cow at a salary of $8 per month. A series of other subsistence jobs followed, until he found one that set him on a career path from which he’d earn a fortune.

While working as a coachman for a wealthy socialite, Parker frequently ate his noon meal in a dingy basement tavern. In 1832, he bought the tavern for $432 and renamed it Parker’s Restaurant. Excellent food served by an attentive staff soon made the place a popular dining spot for the city’s newspapermen, lawyers, and businessmen. By 1847, the restaurant was one of the busiest and most well-regarded in the city.

In 1854, Parker and a partner bought a boarding house that once had been a grand mansion. They razed the structure and built an ornate, five-story brick-and-stone hotel on the site. The elegant hotel, named simply Parker’s, opened with great fanfare on April 22, 1854, and quickly became the establishment for upper-crust travelers. Notable guests included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and Charles Dickens. John Wilkes Booth stayed at Parker’s only days before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Parker's hotel, where Parker House Rolls were born.

Parker’s (19th century photo by Leander Baker)

At the time, the few existing hotels (most travelers took lodging in taverns or boarding houses) operated on “the European plan,” which included meals in the cost of a room. Meals were served family-style at given hours; if a lodger missed the hour, he went without food.

Parker’s hotel introduced a new concept: Rooms and meals were priced separately. Guests were offered menus appropriate to the time of day and ate virtually anytime they pleased. The upscale food was prepared by a kitchen staff and served in a grand dining room, where members of the public were invited to dine at their convenience, too.

The restaurant introduced dishes that remain popular today, including Parker House rolls and Massachusetts’s state dessert, Boston cream pie. According to legend, the rolls resulted when an angry chef tossed unfinished dough into the oven, accidentally creating a bread diners demanded ever after.

Parker's dining room, where diners demanded Parker House Rolls

Parker’s dining room, ca. 1910

Today, the Parker House is part of the Omni Hotels chain of high-end lodging establishments. Omni chose to maintain the original property’s lux décor, for the most part. The walls remain burnished American oak; lobbies, bars, and the restaurant resonate with the deep colors of yesteryear; massive crystal chandeliers sparkle in the public areas, and elevator doors are overlaid with a patina of burnished bronze.

Recipes for the hotel’s signature dishes reportedly remain unchanged, as well. Understandably, Omni Parker House doesn’t reveal its culinary secrets, but intrepid cooks and bakers take that as a challenge. Recipes for Parker House rolls began appearing in cookbooks in the 1880s. Fanny Farmer revealed what she claimed to be the original in her 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

Here it is, with baking instructions for modern kitchens.

Parker House Rolls

Parker House Rolls

Parker House rolls, courtesy King Arthur Flour

1¾ cup scalded milk

¼ cup lukewarm water

2 Tbsps. active dry yeast

1 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 large egg

6 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

1. Dissolve yeast in water.

2. In large bowl, combine 1/2 cup butter, sugar, and salt.

3. Stir in water/yeast mixture, milk, and egg.

4. Add 3 cups flour and beat thoroughly. The mixture should resemble a thick batter. Cover and let rise until at least double.

5. Stir down sponge, then stir in enough flour to make a soft dough (about another 2½ cups).

6. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, working in more flour (about ½ cup) while kneading.

7. Shape dough into a ball and place in large, lightly greased bowl, turning so that top of dough is greased. Cover with towel; let rise in warm place (80 to 85 degrees F.) until doubled, about 1½ hours. (Dough is doubled when 2 fingers pressed into dough leave a dent.)

8. Punch down dough by pushing the center of dough with fist, then pushing edges of dough into center. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead lightly to make smooth ball, cover with bowl for 15 minutes to let dough rest.

9. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

10. In 17¼-inch by 11½-inch roasting pan, melt remaining ½ cup butter over low heat; tilt pan so melted butter coats entire bottom.

11. On lightly floured surface with floured rolling pin, roll dough ½ inch thick.

12. Cut dough into circles with floured 2¾-inch round cutter. (Note: The dough may be cut into rectangles instead of circles.) Holding dough circle by the edge, dip both sides into melted butter pan; fold in half.

13. Arrange folded dough in rows in pan used to melt the butter. Each roll should nearly touch its neighbors. Cover pan with towel; let dough rise in warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

14. Bake rolls for 15 to 18 minutes until browned.

 

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Ice Cream Parlors of Yesteryear

WG Logo 2015-04

Hi, Winnie Griggs here. In one of my upcoming books my characters will be travelling ‘back east’ to visit some folks in New York. One of the things I wanted them to do was stop in at an ice cream parlor but I had to do some research to see what they would find in such an establishment.  I thought that I would share a few fun facts from my research with you today.

parlor2

In the late 19th century the establishments were called various names, depending on locale and period. They were called Ice cream saloons (this surprised me but then I learned that during that period a saloon merely indicated a generously-sized room) They were also called ice cream parlors and Ladies’ Cafes.

Ice cream parlors were in existence here in America much longer than I’d thought. According to one source I read, they were around as early as the 1770s.  In fact, there’s record of advertisements in 1774 sponsored by an establishment owned by a Philip Lenzi announcing the sale of iced creams and other popular sweets. As for elsewhere in the world, they date even earlier. There is record of an establishment in France that sold gelatos in 1686!

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Ice cream soda, otherwise known as an ice cream float, was invented by Robert Green, almost by accident, in the late 19th century. Green operated a parlor in Philadelphia and used syrups, carbonated water, and cream to make his sodas. Legend has it, one day Green ran out of cream and decided to substitute ice cream. It proved quite popular, so much so that soon his earnings grew from $6 to $600 a day.

The ice cream sundae was also invented in the late 19th century. There are a number of different claims as to its origins however. One story has it invented in Evanston, IL around 1890. The story goes that the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of soda water on Sundays. In response the ice cream parlors removed the soda water from their ice cream sodas sold on that day, leaving only the ice cream and syrup. A second claim has it originating in Two Rivers, WI in 1881 when a customer requested a dish of ice cream with soda syrup poured on top. Yet a third claim places its origins in Ithaca, NY in 1893. It is said the proprietor of Platt & Colt’s drugstore, presented a local reverend with a bowl of ice cream that had been elevated with both cherry syrup and a candied cherry on top. Regardless of its true origins, for the purpose of my story set in 1895 it would definitely have been around!

Sundae

As for myself, I have wonderful memories from my childhood of sitting at the soda fountain counter in the Woolworth store and enjoying an ice cream float. I know, I’m dating myself.

So what about you? Did anything in today’s post surprise or intrigue you? And what is your favorite frozen treat?

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And in honor of my new book, Texas Cinderella, which hits the shelves next month, I’d like to give away an advanced copy to one person who leaves a comment before noon CST tomorrow.

TEXAS CINDERELLA

22 TC- small

In Search of a Groom 

After a life of drudgery on her family’s farm, Cassie Lynn Vickers relishes her new-found freedom working in town as a paid companion and planning to open a bakery of her very own. When her father suddenly demands she come home, however, she decides her only way out is to find a husband.

Riley is on the run. He’s desperate to keep his niece and nephew safe from his crooked half brother. But a stopover and unexpected delay in Turnabout, Texas, shows him everything he didn’t know he was missing: home, family—and Cassie Lynn. Can he find a way to become her Prince Charming…and build a real family with the children and Cassie Lynn?

(click on cover to read an excerpt)

 

 

The Capitals of Texas

Kathleen Rice Adams, author

I spend a lot of time talking and writing about Texas history—all the people, places, and things that have made Texas a larger-than-life state. Every once in a while it’s interesting to reflect on what modern-day Texans have done with the legacy of ancestors who sacrificed, struggled, and bled .

Texas FlagIt’s true what they say, you know: “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” Texans take a great deal of pride in that statement, having been devoted to “big” since the state was an independent republic. From its admission to the Union in 1845 until someone exhibited extremely poor judgment and granted statehood to Alaska in 1959, Texas was the biggest U.S. state by far. Ever since that unfortunate dethroning, Texans have felt compelled to prove we can out-big the best of ’em by conspicuously displaying big houses, big vehicles, big fortunes, and big hair.

Sometimes, though, even Texans think this “big” thing has gotten out of hand. Take, for example, the list of Official State Capital Designations. Who in their right mind thinks any state needs sixty-nine official state capitals? Texas has seventy, actually, if one counts Austin.

Texas Bluebonnets

Texas Bluebonnets outside Ennis. (photo by Jeffrey Pang)

Austin, as it turns out, lies at the heart of the ridiculously big list. In 1981, probably in an effort to head off a county-line war, the legislature passed a joint resolution naming Burnet County and Llano County the Bluebonnet Co-capitals of Texas. The Bluebonnet City is Ennis, which is in neither county but probably got its feelings hurt because it does put on quite a show during bluebonnet season.

From there, the legislature got the bit in its teeth and went hog wild. The official representatives in the official Official State Capital in Austin went on a designating binge from which the state has yet to emerge.

Texas crape myrtle

Yes, crape myrtles are pretty. Evidently, they’re pretty enough to fight over in Texas. (photo by Atamari)

Evidently another botanical fight erupted in 1997, this one over crape myrtles. Waxahachie, Paris, and Lamar County all got a part of that designation, as Crape Myrtle Capital, Crape Myrtle City, and Crape Myrtle County, respectively. It should be noted that the Crape Myrtle City is in the Crape Myrtle County, about as far north and east as one can go in Texas. Why Waxahachie, which is south of Dallas, insisted on a piece of the action is anybody’s guess.

Wildflowers evidently caused yet another set-to, because the legislature named both the City of Temple and DeWitt County, about 162 miles apart, the Official Wildflower Capital of Texas. Both probably remain dismayed they have to share the honor.

Resistol Hat

“King George” Strait is a Resistol fan.

The legislature named Garland the Cowboy Hat Capital of Texas in 2013, which makes sense because that’s where Resistol Hats got their start. The designation Dinosaur Capital of Texas also makes sense for Glen Rose, since a plethora of dinosaur tracks—including some that had never been seen before—were discovered in the area at the turn of the 20th Century. But the Hippo Capital of Texas (Hutto)? The Jackrabbit-Roping Capital of Texas (Odessa)? Even Texans wonder who had gotten into the mescal when those ideas were trotted out.

Texas horned lizard

A Texas horny toad. Cute li’l feller, ain’t he? (photo by Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Since the Official Texas State Reptile is the horned lizard—horny toad to Texans, and found only in our state—it’s only right the little critter have its own capital. The legislature went wild on this one, in 2001 designating Kenedy the Texas Horned Lizard Capital of the World. That may be justified, though, because Kenedy’s human population of about 3,000 is probably outnumbered by the reptiles.

Caldwell is the Kolache Capital of Texas, but the Official Kolache of the Texas Legislature resides 100 miles away in West. Yep—must’ve been another fight.

Quite a few of Texas’s Official Capitals are associated with food:

  • Texas crawfish

    In Texas, we call crawfish “crawdads.” They look like miniature lobsters, and they’re the only thing in Texas that looks miniature. (photo by Jon Sullivan)

    Elgin is the Sausage Capital.

  • Floydada is the Pumpkin Capital.
  • Friona is the Cheeseburger Capital.
  • Hawkins is the Pancake Capital.
  • Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital.
  • Madisonville is the Mushroom Capital.
  • Mansfield is the Pickle Capital.
  • Mauriceville is the Crawfish Capital.
  • Parker County is the Peach Capital.
  • Weslaco is the Citrus Capital.
  • West Tawakoni is the Catfish Capital.
  • Knox City is the Seedless Watermelon Capital. (There appears to be no Seeded Watermelon Capital, but I’m sure the legislature will remedy that oversight soon.)

In case anyone isn’t completely fed up by now with Texas’s determination to out-big everyone else (Sixty-nine official state capitals? Seriously?), the complete list of Texas Official State Capital Designations is here.

 

Taming the West One Meal at a Time

MargaretBrownley-header

Nothing changed America as much as the iron horse. People were finally able to travel across country in relative comfort and not have to worry about the weather, Indians, or some of the other mishaps that plagued early travelers. A train passenger’s greatest fear was food poisoning. That’s how bad meals were along the rails.

It took one efrednterprising Englishman to change the way travelers ate. His name was Fred Harvey and his Harvey House restaurants eventually stretched along the Santa Fe railroad tracks from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles and San Francisco—one every hundred miles.

Hear That Whistle Blow

Fred Harvey invented the “fast-food” concept long before Ray Kroc. Passengers were allowed only thirty minutes to get off the train, eat and board again, so time was of the essence. He devised a system in which train conductors would telegraph passenger food orders to the restaurant in advance. This allowed the restaurant staff to prepare the food before the train pulled into the station.

From Dishwasher to Household Name

Harvey learned the business the hard way. After traveling to America at the age of seventeen, he landed a job as a dishwasher at a famed New York restaurant, working his way through the ranks from dishwasher to line-cook. He eventually landed in St. Louis where he took over the Merchants Dining Room Saloon. His success lasted only a short time. The winds of war could not be ignored and after his partner joined the secessionist army, taking all the money the two men had saved, Harvey’s restaurant was doomed.

After a series of jobs and personal losses, he eventually took over an eating house at the Santa Fe depot in Topeka. He arranged for fresh fruit and meat to be railed in from Chicago and other states. His food was so good that railroad officials worried that no one would want to travel past Topeka.

First Female Workforce

As the number of his depot restaurants increased, so did his troubles. Black men were hired as waiters, but this often created conflict with cowboys. After one unpleasant midnight brawl at the Raton Harvey eating house, Harvey’s friend Tom Gables suggested a radical idea; why not replace black male waiters with women? Harvey decided to give Tom’s idea a try.

Harvey ran ads in newspapers for “young women of good character, attractive and intelligent, 18 to 30, to work in the Harvey Eating Houses.” He offered a salary of $17.50 a month, a tidy sum for a young woman. Soon he had all the help he needed.

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This Harvey House is in Barstow, CA. It’s now a museum. I used it as a model for my story.

The women lived in dormitories above the restaurants under the watchful eye of a house mother. Their uniforms consisted of a black dress, black shoes and stockings, and a crisp white apron. The women had to adhere to strict rules and were not allowed to marry for six months.

His new female staff was a great success and helped ease racial tensions. Even the roughest of cowboys and railroad workers were willing to don the required (and dreaded) dinner jacket just for the pleasure of being served a good steak by a pretty girl.

He Kept the West in Food—and Wives

That quote from Will Rogers says it all; Among his other talents, Fred Harvey not only “civilized the west” he was indirectly responsible for more than 5000 marriages. That’s enough to make you want to forgive him for inventing fast-food. Almost….  

What’s the best or worse meal you had while traveling?

                   

 

Calico SpySomeone is killing off the Harvey Girls. Undercover Pinkerton detective Katie Madison hopes to find the killer before the killer finds her—or before she burns down the restaurant trying.

 

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Updated: January 28, 2016 — 1:36 pm

Black-eyed Peas: Harbingers of Doom (plus recipes)

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Did everyone have a merry Christmas? Good, because a new year is on the horizon. No red-blooded southerner can let New Year’s Day pass without complaining about honoring one of the most reviled respected traditions of the day.

So let’s get it over with.

No one in the American South escapes childhood without becoming painfully aware black-eyed peas are a mandatory part of the New Year’s Day meal. I say “painfully” because I would rather eat dirt than the black-eyed peas grown in it — and I’m not alone in that sentiment. Nevertheless, no matter what else is on the New Year’s Day menu, the cook had better sneak black-eyed peas into the mix somewhere or the whole year will head straight for hell on the handbasket express.

black-eyed peas

Notice the pure evil in those little black eyes.

Native to Africa, black-eyed peas reportedly migrated to Virginia in the late seventeenth century. Not until after the American Revolution did anyone take them seriously, but that didn’t stop the little connivers from worming their way southward and westward with settlers. The scoundrels proved incredibly hardy, darn them, and soon were well entrenched in fields hither and yon, biding their time until the moment was right to spring onto some unsuspecting family’s table.

According to legend, that moment occurred in early 1864 as General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union troops ran roughshod over every square inch of ground from Atlanta to the sea. As if the situation weren’t dire enough for the Confederacy, the Yankees “confiscated” (read “stole”) every edible scrap they could get their hands on, leaving behind only things they considered livestock feed: black-eyed peas, greens, and corn. For Lord only knows what reason, they also left the salt pork, although they made off with every other kind of meat they could scavenge.

Little did Sherman and his men know that by abandoning the black-eyed peas, they abandoned an excellent source of calcium, folate, protein, fiber, and vitamin A, among other nutrients. (That is the only nice thing I will ever say about the vile vegetable.)

cornbread

Here — look at the pretty picture of cornbread. It’ll settle your stomach.

Thankful the Yankees left anything in their wake, white southerners learned to consume food slaves and po’ folks had eaten for generations: black-eyed peas, greens, salt pork, and cornbread. Those staples helped southerners survive the winter. When New Year’s Day 1865 rolled around, they were delighted to find themselves still alive. The same could not be said for their palates, if the black-eyed pea custom is any indication.

Thus, a tradition was born, dang it.

According to southern lore, black-eyed peas, greens, pork, and cornbread each symbolize a hope for the future (or a reminder of the “just shut up and eat it” principle):

  • Black-eyed peas are for prosperity, because they swell when cooked. Some also say the peas represent coins. Folks who want to get technical about their prosperity eat one pea for each day of the coming year, although for the life of me I can’t figure out who has the patience to count out 365 black-eyed peas per serving.
  • Greens (collard, turnip, or mustard) bring money, because they’re the color of dollar bills. In addition to eating cooked greens, some folks hang uncooked stalks from the ceiling in order to attract prosperity. To my way of thinking, that habit just means one more thing to dust.
  • Pork symbolizes forward progress, because pigs root forward when they forage.
  • Cornbread symbolizes gold. It also does an excellent job of soaking up pot likker — the liquid left after greens are cooked — which is considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. In addition, if you crumble enough cornbread into a serving of black-eyed peas, you’ll never know the peas are there.

There’s a trick an art to preparing inedible irresistible black-eyed peas: Disguise their flavor and texture with a whole mess of other ingredients. If you feel compelled to adopt or continue a tradition passed down to today’s southerners by ancestors with a sadistic streak, my recipe is below. (A word to the wise: I cook by taste, not necessarily by recipe. The one dish I don’t taste while it cooks? Black-eyed peas. I prefer to conserve my appetite for dinner, in the fervent hope the disgusting delicious peas will have been devoured — or mysteriously disappeared — by the time I get to the table.)

 

A Pot of Good Stuff with a Couple of Black-eyed Peas Thrown in So I’m Not Singlehandedly Responsible for the End of Civilization as We Know it

Black-eyedPeas4 or 5 slices of bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups fresh or frozen black-eyed peas
3 lbs. smoked ham hock, a large, meaty ham bone, or an enormous slab of ham (The more meat, the less chance a black-eyed pea will creep into your portion, so go…ahem…hog wild.)
½ tsp. kosher or sea salt (or to taste)
Ground black pepper to taste
¼ tsp. allspice
1 Tbsp. Tabasco or other hot-pepper sauce (use more or less, to taste — I use about half a bottle)
4 cups chicken stock
Additional chicken stock or water, as necessary

In a large stock pot, fry bacon until crisp. Remove and set aside.

Sauté onion, celery, and garlic in bacon drippings until tender.

Add remainder of ingredients, plus crumbled bacon, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 30 mins. to 1 hour, adding liquid as necessary to keep peas covered, until tender. (There’s a fine line between tender and mushy. For me, that line is before the peas are in the pot. You’ll have to determine the texture you prefer on your own.)

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No one has to force me to eat collard or turnip greens on New Year’s Day. I’ve always enjoyed them. (Psst: The secret to great greens is vinegar, but you didn’t hear that from me.)

Always serve greens with black-eyed peas. Always, because this is where finesse comes into play: If you ladle greens on top of the black-eyed peas, you can eat your fill of greens and then push away from the table, pat your stomach, and announce “I can’t eat another bite!” before you’ve reached the detestable delectable peas hidden underneath.

 

Collard, Turnip, or Mustard Greens with Salt Pork

CollardGreens2 pounds (about two large bunches) fresh greens
4 or 5 slices of bacon
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped
5 cups water
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 piece salt pork, sliced, or 2 meaty ham hocks (or both)
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and ground black pepper to taste

Thoroughly wash leaves and remove any woody stalks and center veins. (Small stems and veins are okay.) Tear leaves into large pieces or cut into strips.

In a large stock pot, fry bacon until crisp. Remove and set aside.

Sauté onion and garlic in bacon drippings until tender.

Add tomatoes and meat, plus the crumbled bacon. Pour in water and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Add greens, tamping them down so the water covers them.

Cover and simmer until tender — about 1½ to 3 hours, depending on type of greens. Turnip and collard greens require 1½ to 2 hours; mustard greens may take as long as three hours.

Do you celebrate New Year’s Day with any traditions? I’d love to hear about them. If nothing else, I’d find it comforting to know people in other parts of the world don’t start each new year dreading dinner.

Here’s to a fantastic 2016, y’all! May all of us enjoy health, happiness, and prosperity whether or not we eat black-eyed peas.  🙂

Bread Pudding: From Frugal to Fancy (and a recipe)

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Many dishes that are prides of the American table today once were ways to avoid wasting food. Shipping of all but basic staples didn’t begin until the latter half of the 19th century; perishables weren’t shipped at all until refrigerated containers, or “reefers,” were invented in 1869. Even then, perishable cargo could be carried only a few miles before the ice melted.

The first successful long-distance reefer transport occurred in the early 1880s. The first grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, opened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1916.

Happy Cowboy ChristmasConsequently, settlers on the American frontier and American Indians used every part of the animals and plants they grew or gathered in order to avoid starvation. Frontier and farming families stewed poultry necks, tails, and wings because the meat and bones offered precious protein. Slaves in the American south prepared animal innards like chitterlings (intestines) and vegetable leavings like potato skins in a variety of ways because their masters considered those things offal. Anyone who has visited a restaurant in the past twenty years recognizes chicken wings and potato skins as trendy appetizers. At “soul food” eateries, chitlins are standard fare. (Yes, I have eaten them. No, I won’t do so again.)

Because carbohydrates offer a quick source of energy, bread, too, was a precious commodity. Many frontier families baked with cornmeal or corn flour. The latter was obtained by repeatedly pouring cornmeal from burlap sack to burlap sack and shaking loose the fine powder left clinging to the bags. Bread made with wheat flour was a treat…even though merchants in frontier towns often “extended” wheat flour by adding plaster dust. Frontier families might make a multi-day journey into town for supplies once or twice a year.

savory bread pudding

savory bread pudding

Since the early 11th century, “po’ folks” have turned stale bread into bread pudding in order to use every last ounce of food they could scrounge. Originally, the concoction was a savory main dish containing bread, water, and suet. Scraps of meat and vegetables might be added if the cook had those on hand.

What we think of as bread pudding today came into its own in New Orleans in the early 1800s. Creative cooks turned the dish into a dessert by combining stale bread with eggs, milk, spices, and a sweetener like molasses, honey, or sugar. Some also included bits of fruit, berries, and/or nuts.

My family and friends talk me into baking bread pudding each Christmas, and sometimes for other special occasions during the rest of the year. They don’t have to do much arm-twisting, because the rich dessert is easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and delicious.

bread pudding dessert

bread pudding dessert

One thing to know about bread pudding: Making it “wrong” is darn nigh impossible. Any kind of bread can be used, including sweet breads like donuts and croissants. Likewise, spices are left to the cook’s imagination, fruits and nuts are optional, and sauces are a matter of “pour something over the top.”

Through years of trial and error, I’ve created a recipe that works for me. Have fun experimenting with the basics (bread, milk, butter, and eggs) until you come up with one that works for you. I prefer mine fairly plain, but you may want to add or top with raisins (a New Orleans classic), chocolate, bananas, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, rum sauce, caramel sauce, powdered-sugar drizzle, or almost anything else you can imagine.

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
(can be doubled for a crowd)

Pudding
(makes 10-12 servings)

3 large eggs
1½ cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
¼ cup bourbon
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
3 cups milk
1 16oz. loaf stale French bread, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes

Heat oven to 325.

Stir together eggs, cream, granulated and brown sugars, bourbon, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla in a large bowl.

Place bread cubes into a lightly buttered 13×9-inch pan.

Heat milk and butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until butter is melted. Do not boil.

Stir ¼ cup of hot milk mixture into egg mixture. When well-combined, slowly add remaining milk mixture, stirring constantly.

Pour egg mixture evenly over bread. For a fluffier pudding, lightly press bread into egg mixture so all bread cubes are coated with the liquid. For a dense pudding, allow the pan to sit for 20 mins. before baking.

Bake for 45-55 mins., until top is browned and no liquid is visible around the edges. (The center will look soft. Don’t bother with the toothpick test—it won’t tell you anything.)

Allow pudding to stand for 20-30 mins. Top with bourbon sauce and serve.

Bourbon Sauce
(This will knock folks across the room, so be careful how much you pour on each pudding serving. 2 tsp. vanilla or other extract may be substituted for bourbon, if desired.)

1 cup heavy cream
½ Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon

In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.

Whisk together corn starch and water, then add the mixture to the cream, whisking constantly.

Bring the mixture to a boil.

Whisk and simmer until thickened, taking care not to scorch the cream on the bottom.

Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add more sugar and/or bourbon to taste.

Ladle sauce over each serving of warm-from-the-oven or room-temperature pudding.

Serve and enjoy!

 

PRPA MAIL ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE WEB.JPG FINALBread pudding wouldn’t be on the menu in the dingy cafe on the wrong side of Fort Worth where the heroine in my latest story works. The job is a big step down from her previous life as a pampered socialite. “A Long Way from St. Louis” appears with stories from seven other authors—including filly sisters Cheryl Pierson and Tanya Hanson—in Prairie Rose Publications’ new holiday anthology, A Mail-Order Christmas Bride.

A Long Way from St. Louis
Cast out by St. Louis society after her husband leaves her for another, Elizabeth Adair goes west to marry a wealthy Texas rancher. Burning with anger when she discovers the deceit of a groom who is neither wealthy nor Texan, she refuses to wed and ends up on the backstreets of Fort Worth.

Ten years after Elizabeth’s father ran him out of St. Louis, Brendan Sheppard’s memory still sizzles with the rich man’s contempt. Riffraff. Alley trash. Son of an Irish drunkard. Yet, desire for a beautiful, unattainable girl continues to blaze in his heart.

When the debutante and the back-alley brawler collide a long way from St. Louis, they’ll either douse an old flame…or forge a new love.

Here’s an excerpt:

If the lazy beast lounging on a bench beside the depot’s doors were any indication, the west was neither wooly nor wild. As a porter took her hand to assist her from the railway car, Elizabeth Adair stared. The cowboy’s worn boots crossed at the ends of denim-clad legs slung way out in front of him. Chin resting on his chest, hat covering his face, the man presented the perfect picture of indolence.

Surely her husband-to-be employed a more industrious type of Texan.

Her gaze fixed on the cowboy’s peculiar hat. A broad brim surrounded a crown with a dent carved down the center. Sweat stains decorated the buff-colored felt. Splotches of drying mud decorated the rest of him.

Lazy and slovenly.

Pellets of ice sprinkled from the gray sky, melting the instant they touched her traveling cloak. Already she shivered. Another few minutes in this horrid weather, and the garment would be soaked through.

The porter raised his voice over the din of the bustling crowd. “Miss, let’s get you inside before you take a chill. I’ll bring your trunks right away.”

Taking her by the elbow, he hastened toward doors fitted with dozens of glass panes. Ragtag children darted among the passengers hurrying for shelter. Without overcoats, the urchins must be freezing.

She glanced around the platform. Where was her groom? She had assumed a wealthy rancher would meet his fiancée upon her arrival. Perhaps he waited within the depot’s presumed warmth. Her hope for a smattering of sophistication dwindled, but a woman in her circumstances could ill afford to be picky.

A group of ragamuffins gathered around the cowboy. As the porter hustled her past, the Texan reached into his sheepskin jacket and withdrew a handful of peppermint sticks. A whiff of the candy’s scent evoked the memory of a young man she once knew—a ne’er-do-well removed from St. Louis at her father’s insistence, and none too soon.

After depositing her beside a potbellied stove, the porter disappeared into the multitude. The tang of wood smoke drifted around her, so much more pleasant than the oily stench of coal. Peering through the throng, she slipped her hands from her muff and allowed the hand-warmer to settle against her waist on its long chain. She’d best reserve the accessory for special occasions. Judging by the people milling about the room, she doubted she’d find Persian lamb in Fort Worth unless she stooped to ordering from a mail-order catalog.

Mail-order. At least the marriage contract removed her from the whispered speculation, the piteous glances.

The shame heaped upon her by the parents she’d tried so hard to please.

Elizabeth put her back to the frigid gusts that swept in every time the doors opened, extending gloved palms toward the warmth cast by the stove.

Heavy steps tromped up behind her. Peppermint tickled her nose.

“Bets?”

A gasp leapt down her throat, colliding with her heart’s upward surge. Her palm flew to the base of her collar. Bets? Deep and smooth, the voice triggered a ten-year-old memory: If ye were aulder, little girl, I’d teach ye more than how to kiss.

She whirled to find the lazy cowboy, his stained hat dangling from one hand. Her gaze rose to a face weathered by the elements, but the blue eyes, the crooked nose…

Brendan Sheppard.

What’s your favorite holiday dessert? I’ll give an ebook copy of A Mail-Order Christmas Bride to one of today’s commenters who answers that question. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)

Gingerbread History and Fun Facts

WG Logo 2015-04

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. As I mentioned in my post last month, I have a new book out right now, The Holiday Courtship. In one of the scenes in the book, my heroine and several other characters are constructing and decorating gingerbread houses. So for today’s post I thought I’d share a little history and trivia surrounding gingerbread and gingerbread creations.

  • In ancient times, Greeks and Egyptians utilized gingerbread for various ceremonial purposes.
  • Gingerbread is thought to have been brought to Europe from the East in the late 10th century by a monk for medicinal purposes.  He promoted its use to treat indigestion and other stomach ailments. For a time, monks were the only people in Europe who made gingerbread, and they often created them in the shapes of saints and angels.
    medieval
  • Responsibility for the first gingerbread men has been credited to Queen Elizabeth I. In preparation for a state event, she had her bakers shape them to resemble visiting dignitaries and then she  presented the treat to them as gifts.
  • Gingerbread houses became overwhelmingly popular in Germany in the 19th century as a direct result of the Brothers Grimm publishing the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. In fact, it was the early German settlers who brought this tradition to America.house

 

  • The hallmark of a true gingerbread is not only that ginger is the dominant flavor, but it must use either honey or molasses as the sweetener. Other than that, there is no one standard recipe for gingerbread.  In fact, according to one statistic, if you search Google for gingerbread cookie recipe, you will find over a million versions.
  • There is a town in Norway, where every year the citizens create an entire city made from gingerbread houses .
  • The world’s largest gingerbread house was constructed in 2001 and stood approximately 67 feet high. It utilized 1,800 Hershey bars, 1,200 feet of Twizzlers, 100 pounds of tootsie rolls, and thousands of other pieces of candy as decorations. The construction took nine days to complete and it and was housed at the Mall of America in Minnesota.
  • There are a number of superstitions involving gingerbread. Here are just a couple of them:
    • Swedish tradition says that if you put the gingerbread in your palm, make a wish and then break the gingerbread with your other hand, if it breaks into exactly three pieces, then the wish will come true.
    • In England, single women have been known to eat gingerbread “husbands”, hoping it will bring them luck in meeting their future spouse.

man

There you have it, just a little of the history and lore surrounding this yummy treat.

So do you like gingerbread? Do you have any hands-on experience constructing gingerbread houses or making gingerbread men?

Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a copy of my new book or any book from my backlist.

20 THC smallTHE HOLIDAY COURTSHIP

He Wanted A Wife by Christmas… 

As Christmas approaches, Hank Chandler is determined to find a wife to mother his sister’s orphaned children. When schoolteacher Janell Whitman offers to help him with his niece and nephew, she seems to be the perfect match—but she won’t accept his proposal. Instead, she insists she’ll find him another bride before the holidays. 

Janell moved to Turnabout, Texas, to put her past behind her and focus on her future—one that doesn’t include marriage. But while she plays matchmaker and cares for Hank’s children, she loses her heart to the two youngsters…and their adoptive father. If Janell reveals her secrets to Hank, will he still want her to be his Christmas bride?

 

 

Updated: December 7, 2015 — 1:54 am

All Hail Texas Pecans! (and a recipe)

Kathleen Rice Adams headerIn Texas, pecans are a Big Deal. The trees are native to the state, and according the archaeological record, they’ve been here since long before humans arrived. When people did arrive, they glommed onto the nuts right away as an excellent source of essential vitamins (19 of them, in fact), fats, and proteins. Comanches and other American Indians considered the nuts a dietary staple, combining pecans with fruits and other nuts to make a sort of “trail mix.” They also used pecan milk to make an energy drink and thickened stews and soups with the ground meat. Most Indians carried stores of the nuts with them when they traveled long distances, because pecans would sustain them when no other food sources were available.

Pecans

Texas pecans

An individual Texas pecan tree may live for more than 1,000 years. Some grow to more than 100 feet tall.

Pecans have been an important agricultural product in Texas since the mid-1800s. In 1850, 1,525 bushels left the Port of Galveston; just four years later, the number of bushels exceeded 13,000. In 1866, the ports at Galveston, Indianola, and Port Lavaca combined shipped more than 20,000 barrels of pecans.

Nevertheless, as the state’s population exploded, pecan groves dwindled. Trees were cut to clear fields for cotton. Pecan wood was used to make wagon parts and farm implements. One of Texas’s great natural resources was depleted so quickly that in 1904, the legislature considered passing laws to prevent the complete disappearance of the pecan.

Left alone to regenerate for a couple of decades, Texas pecan groves came back bigger than ever. Until 1945, Texas trees produced more 30 percent of the U.S. pecan crop. In 1910, pecan production in the state reached nearly 6 million pounds, and the trees grew in all but eight counties. During the 1920s, Texas exported 500 railcar loads per year, and that was only 75 percent of the state’s crop. The average annual production between 1936 and 1946 was just shy of 27 million pounds; in 1948, a banner year for pecan production, the crop zoomed to 43 million pounds produced by 3,212,633 trees. In 1972, the harvest reached a whopping 75 million pounds.

Texas pecan orchard

Texas pecan orchard

During the Great Depression, the pecan industry provided jobs for many Texans. The nuts had to be harvested and shelled. Shelling employed 12,000 to 15,000 people in San Antonio alone.

The Texas legislature designated the pecan the official state tree in 1919. Between then and now, pecan nuts became Texas’s official state health food (Texas has an official health food?), and pecan pie became the state’s official pie (and my official favorite pie). Pecan wood is used to make baseball bats, hammer handles, furniture, wall paneling, flooring, carvings, and firewood.

Yep. Pecans have always been, and continue to be, a Big Deal in Texas—especially during the holidays. I’d be surprised if any native Texans don’t bake at least one pecan pie for either Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or both.

Texas pecan pie. Do you see how dark and luscious that is? Milk-custard, my hind leg.

Texas pecan pie. Do you see how dark and luscious that is? Milk-custard, my hind leg.

The first known appearance of a pecan pie recipe in print can be found on page 95 in the February 6, 1886, issue of Harper’s Bazaar. I’ll bet Texans were baking the pies long before that, though—and I’ll bet even back then Texas pecan pies weren’t the wimpy little milk-custard-based, meringue-covered things Harper’s recommended. In Texas, we make our pecan pies with brown sugar, molasses or corn syrup, butter, eggs, a whole bunch of pecans, and sometimes bourbon.

Another thing Texans have been making with pecans for a long, long time is cinnamon-pecan cake—another treat lots of folks enjoy around the holidays. My family doesn’t put bourbon in this dessert. Instead, we pour a delicious whiskey sauce over each slice. (It occurs to me that for a passel of Baptists, my family sure cooks with a lot of liquor. See the old family recipe for muscadine wine here.)

On to the cake recipe!

 

PecanCakeCinnamon Pecan Cake

1 cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups sugar
5 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped pecans
Additional chopped pecans or pecan halves for topping, if desired

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.

In large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed 3 to 4 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beating at low speed, add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

At low speed, alternately add milk and flour mixture into sugar mixture, beating just until blended. Fold in pecans. Spread in pans. Sprinkle chopped pecans or arrange pecan halves on top, if desired.

Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove to wire rack and cool completely.

 

VanillaWhiskeySauceWhiskey Sauce

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
½ Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon

In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.

Whisk cornstarch and water together and add to cream while whisking constantly.

Bring to a boil, whisk and simmer until thickened (taking care not to scorch the mixture on the bottom). Remove from heat.

Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add sugar and whiskey to adjust sweetness and flavor, if desired.

 

Folks in Fort Worth in the 1880s would’ve eaten this cake—or something very similar—during the holidays. That’s exactly when and where “A Long Way from St. Louis,” my contribution to Prairie Rose Publications’s Christmas anthology A Mail-Order Christmas Bride, takes place. The book—with stories by fellow fillies Cheryl Pierson and Tanya Hanson—bows November 27, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon.

PRPA MAIL ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE WEB.JPG FINALHere’s a little about “A Long Way from St. Louis”:

Cast out by St. Louis society when her husband leaves her for another, Elizabeth Adair goes west to marry a wealthy Texas rancher. Burning with anger over the deceit of a groom who is neither wealthy nor Texan, she refuses to wed and ends up on the backstreets of Fort Worth.

Ten years after Elizabeth’s father ran him out of St. Louis, Brendan Sheppard’s memory still sizzles with the rich man’s contempt. Riffraff. Alley trash. Son of an Irish drunkard. Yet, desire for a beautiful, unattainable girl continues to blaze in his heart.

When the debutante and the ne’er-do-well collide a long way from St. Louis, they’ll either douse an old flame…or forge a new love.

 

So, readers… What dish—dessert, main course, side, or appetizer—absolutely must be part of your holidays? I’ll give an ebook version of A Mail-Order Christmas Bride to one of today’s commenters who answers that question. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)

 

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