Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Root Cellars and Ye Olde Yankee Stores

There are two things in life that tug at my curiosity to harken back to the past, old country stores and root cellars, with each related to one another.

My son in the middle of my families early 19th century root cellar.

Old country stores, in particular, Ye Olde Yankee general stores were always filled with hogshead barrels of crackers, meat, codfish and pickles. There would always be a wheel of true, aged Cheddar cheese ready for the store keeper to cut a wedge for the customer whose hands were full of crackers and pickles just plucked from the wooden barrels before him.

Of course what would a country store be without that barrel of soft and hard cider laying on its side to draw from and quench with.

Then there were the old root cellars that every single household had, whether you were well-to-do or not. Cider, meat, vegetables, fruit, pickles and cheeses were kept in this cool dungeon of a room.

Here in New England, these root cellars were more often(at least in the countryside) merely a cellar underneath your home that was lined with large rocks and boulders that were removed from the original plowing of the fields. When homesteading, the flat rocks were used for rock walls, to show as boundary lines for your property. The small and medium sized rocks were used to line your water well.

My son clearing debris from a rock lined water well, dating from 1838

Once you hand dug the cellar hole according to the size of your home, you would line it with large boulders so that it would be strong enough to hold the house up without shifting or sinking. Once the floor was layed, with a trapdoor leading down into the earthy dungeon, then the rest of the home was built.

My son standing inside our Bailey family root cellar in Maine, constructed ca. 1786
During the fall season, all sorts of things were put into the cellar hole, as mentioned, because the temperature remained constant throughout most of the year. Here are some articles and references regarding cellar holes of old.

In the May 30, 1715 Boston News-Letter, a certain man was ready to sell his "fine, bottl'd Sydar from his Sydar Cellar" for 3d per quart.

On April 6, 1784, the New Brunswick, New Jersey Political Intelligencer offered a farm for sale that contained "a very excellent garden, well paled in, with a root cellar at the bottom."

Ben Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanac during the mid-18th century about using cellars to store wine:

"Begin to gather Grapes from the 10th of September(the ripest first) to the last of October, and having clear'd them of Spider webs, and dead Leaves, put them in a large Molasses-or Rum-Hogshead; after having washed it well, and knock'd one Head out, fix it upon the other Blocks, on a Stand or in the Cellar."

A method of perserving "winter apples" was offered by Samuel Dean in the 1790s as:

" I gather them about noon, on the day of the full of the moon which happens in the latter part of September, or beginning of October. Then spread them in a chamber or a garret, where they lie till about the last of November. then, at a time, when the weather is dry, remove them into casks, or boxes, to the cellar, out of the way of the frosts; but I prefer a cool part of the cellar. With this management, I find I can keep them to the last of May, so well that not one in fifty will rot...In the Autumn of 1793, I packed apples in the shaving of pine, so that they scaresely touched on another. They kept well till some time in May following; though they were a sort which are mellow for eating in December. Dry sawdust might perhaps answer the end as well. Some barrel them up, and keep them through the winter in upper rooms, covering them with blankets or mats, to pervent freezing. Dry places are best for them."

As mentioned, meat of all types was stored in barrels and placed in root cellars. Found in the New System of American Cookery Found Upon The Principles of Economy, 1807-By A Lady:

"Chop fat and lean pork and season it with sage, black pepper and salt, you may add two or three pimentos. Half fill hogs guts that have been soaking and made extremely clean; or the meat may be kept in a very small closely covered pan, and so rolled and dusted with a very little flour before they are fried. Fowls, including pigeons, are trussed, plucked, gutted and either roasted or boiled. It was then cooled and put into a barrel, covered with melted fat and a lid in the root cellar. "

Here is an old recipe for pickling cucumbers.

"Use small cucumbers and place in a pan with salt and water, strong enough to bear an egg. Pickle them for a day, drain and place back into a pot with vinegar, mace, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns, races of ginger and long peppers. Simmer, without boiling, until green all the way through. Cool and tightly cover, storing in the root cellar.

To Collar beef. Soak beef in ham brine for a couple days then dry it. Roll it into a hard collar with salt and ppepper, tie it tightly and soak in fat or wine before handing it down into the cellar."

My, how times have changed! My children now would never eat the way our forefathers did. Their favorite item on the fast food restaurants menu? The pickles! I can't even buy store bought pickles anymore because they love these sour circles.


Thin Sour Dill Pickle Slices

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 pounds pickling cukes *
2 teaspoons dill seed
1 tablespoon peppercorns

In a saucepan, add water, vinegar, salt, sugar and garlic powder. Bring to scalding, whisking well. over medium heat. When spices have dissolved, remove from heat to cool to room temperature.

Slice the cucumbers as thinly as possible, I used a mandolin to mimic the fast food pickles, only because that is what my children wanted.

Place the dill seeds and peppercorns in a large bowl, followed by the sliced cucumbers. Pour the pickling juice over the top. Make sure you have enough to cover. Grab a couple heavy, large plates that is able to fit inside the bowl yet cover as much of the pickles as possible. This will keep the pickles submerged. Place a kitchen towel over the bowl, making sure it doesn't touch the liquid, and set aside. Let cucumbers sit in the brine for 8-9 days, tasting after 7 to halt the brining process at your preferred taste level.

Skim any foam that may rise on a daily basis. The liquid will become cloudy, but that is what you want. When ready, transfer pickles to jars with lids and there you have it.

* Or the same weight in a long, thin English cucumber.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Food From The Waltons

I well remember The Waltons and luckily, our children can enjoy this wholesome series because of the reruns broadcast on various television channels. There were many attributes that stood out on this series, inviting me to sit down every single week and watch it reverently.

The biggest draw for me was John Boy(Well, if you don't count on my love affair with Erin only in my mind), and his fervor to become a writer. Even though I was only 9 or 10 years old when the first episode aired, I was enamored with his character and the written word.

My father instilled three words to me every single time I asked jim a question... "Look it up!". I was constantly looking up words in an old, tattered dictionary I found in a dump site as a child, and I still have that same dictionary!

Anyway, as I got older and started working for my Dad and Mom in their restaurants, I continued watching this series up until the end, and even the reruns into my 20s, and ultimately today. As the show and cast changed, so did my reason for watching it.

I began to realize that the acting was phenomenal. And part of the reason was the realism, right down to the supper table.

I know, I know! Mother Walton(Olivia)apparently never actually ate anything(although I could swear I once saw her put a fork of something in her mouth at the table) but everyone else acted as though the food was hot, great tasting and edible.

I think one of my favorite food related scenes was when John Boy ate one of Martha Corin's sausage patties that had a good, extra 'bite' of pepper, much to the chagrin of Grandma. I could almost, actually taste it myself!

I also remember one episode where Grampa Walton(Zeb) was doing his usual schtick with Ike Godsey at the store when he took the cover off a gallon jug of pickled eggs and reached in to grab one.

I know that there have been two Walton's-themed cookbooks printed and I don't know how accurately they depict either Virginia cooking, or what the families such as the Waltons(or Hamners)enjoyed during the particular era the Walton's was based, but I would like to add my take on that jar of pickled eggs on Ike's counter.

And speaking of books, I read my friend Mary McDonough's book, Lessons From the Mountain, and believe it or not, I loved it. As many of you know, I am kind of a nerd and exclusively read nonfiction, historical books, but Mary's book IS a nonfiction and it was directly related to someone who I thought was so cute as a child. So I ordered it and was quite enamored with Mary's writing ability and openness in this autobiography. She has a new book out now, entitled One Year. Although it is a fiction, if her writing is equal to that of her first book(and the cover is enticing and beautiful by the way), I just may grab that as well.

In the meantime, enjoy these recipes as a spin on the classic, and timeless, pickled eggs from Ike Godsey's General Mercantile Store.

"Virginny" Pickled Eggs

(Yes, I know! Sounds like something Granny from Beverly Hillbillies would say, not 'Grampa' or Grandma Walton). Virginians cook simply, comfortingly(is there even such a word?) and with family traditions brought to the table. I adore this simple preparation that truly bursts with flavor and with so few ingredients. Many people may prefer using white vinegar in their pickling sauce, and by all means substitute it. But because I am a Yankee through and through(that just may have some Virginians swearing now), I much prefer the flavor of apple cider vinegar in every bite.

2(15-ounce)cans sliced beets in juice
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon each dried ginger, allspice and cinnamon
10 hard boiled eggs, peeled

Add everything, except eggs, in a large saucepan over high heat until boiling. stirring often so sugar dissolves. Remove from heat to cool slightly. Meanwhile, add your eggs in 2 or more mason jars, or appropriate container, leaving a couple inches head-room on top. Evenly divide pickling juice to each container, making sure eggs are completely covered. Continue cooling an additional 60 minutes. Put a lid on each container, remove to refrigerator and cool completely. Let steep for at least one day before enjoying but I strongly recommend at least 3 days for the flavor and color to penetrate even deeper into the egg, These will last between 3-4 weeks chilled.


Yellow Mustard Pickled Eggs 

Although these eggs will come out yellow, you can enhance the color by adding 1/2-1 teaspoon turmeric along with the spices if you have it handy. If not, the flavor is perfectly spot on. Enjoy these eggs with cooked, spicy sausages, some baked ham or they go great sliced and sitting on top of roast pork. For a colorful appetizer dish, make these with 'Virginny' Pickled Eggs, sliced and served side by side. Some cubed ham and sharp Cheddar cheese rounds this finger platter off nicely.

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup prepared mustard
1/2 cup apple juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon salt
1 small onion, diced
10 hard boiled eggs, peeled

Add everything, except eggs and onions, in a large saucepan over high heat until boiling. stirring often so sugar dissolves. Remove from heat to cool slightly. Meanwhile, add your eggs and onions evenly in 2 or more mason jars, or appropriate container, leaving a couple inches head-room on top. Evenly divide pickling juice to each container, making sure eggs are completely covered. Continue cooling an additional 60 minutes. Put a lid on each container, remove to refrigerator and cool completely. Let steep for at least one day before enjoying, These will last between 3-4 weeks chilled.


Spicy New England Pickled Eggs 

These eggs most remind me of Ike's. Although not seen on the show, most of the stores in Virginia as all of the East Coast would carry pickled pigs feet and a jar of pickled sausages as well, next to those. These have also been a staple in Ye Old Country Stores throughout New England for generations and I am happy to bring you a recipe that will remind you of that 'biting' first taste of the general store pickled eggs from days gone by.

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons pickling spice
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons minced garlic in oil
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced
1 sliced red bell pepper
10 hard boiled eggs
1/2 small onion, diced

Add everything, except eggs and onions, in a large saucepan over high heat until boiling. stirring often so sugar dissolves. Remove from heat to cool slightly. Meanwhile, add your eggs and onions evenly in 2 or more mason jars, or appropriate container, leaving a couple inches head-room on top. Evenly divide pickling juice to each container, making sure eggs are completely covered. Continue cooling an additional 60 minutes. Put a lid on each container, remove to refrigerator and cool completely. Let steep for at least one day before enjoying, These will last between 3-4 weeks chilled.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Summer Sausage...sigh.........

I don't think there is a year that goes by without someone giving me a big ol' log of summer sausage. Although sort of greasy feeling on the tongue, I do enjoy the flavor however. It is just you can only slice off so many rounds of it to eat with cheese and crackers. So let's take this meat and use it in a recipe that will do it, and the recipe, justice. But first, let's take a second and see exactly what is this sausage that is just as stable on your pantry or cupboard shelf, as it is in the refrigerator.

Summer sausage, regardless of the brand, is high shelf stable because of its cured, fermented meat. This results in a lower pH level, which does not allow for much bacterial growth, much the same as chorizo.

It differs from chorizo and salami, though, because it is considered semi-dry, with the latter being dry. Semi means that it loses about 15% of its original moisture(with salami and chorizo losing about 25%).

And yes, you can freeze this sausage if you can't use it all up in short manner. Simply wrap tightly and freeze for months on end.

You can also find a lower fat version with Turkey Summer Sausage.

Either way, use it as you would any smoked or dry cured pork and/or beef meats.

Here is my favorite way of really bringing out the flavor of this timeless "meat roll".


Summer Sausage Jambalaya

2-3 ounces fresh green beans, snipped
6 ounces ground turkey
2 teaspoons minced garlic in oil
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 rib celery, rinsed and diced
6 ounces summer sausage, casing removed and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups cooked white rice
1(15-ounce) can tomato puree or sauce
1 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed, dried thyme
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and cracked(or ground)black pepper to taste

Cut green beans into 1-inch segments; set aside. In a large saucepan, add turkey and garlic, breaking up with a spatula or wooden spoon. Cook over medium heat until done throughout. Add onion, pepper, celery and green beans. Stir to combine and cook until the green beans are just barely starting to soften, about 8-10 minutes. Add sausage, rice, tomato puree, broth and seasonings. Mix well, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Yup, Going Against The Grain.....(or hops).....

I have, for years, pushed to keep liquor out of cooking because my pleasure in life is for everyone to enjoy each and every meal prepared. But, of course, their comes a time when an adult pleasure is warranted, especially in cooking during the colder months here in New England. Heck, even Benjamin Franklin said "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Not to mention that the original beer brewers were us Yankees.

Find, below, a useful guide to popular types of beer and at the end, enjoy a winter dish I think you will find extraordinarily perfect using beer.

Because of the craft brewing explosion in the past couple of decades, we are inundated with beer styles in liquor stores and neighborhood specialty shops. Today, the wide array of flavors run from the crisp and slightly hoppy pale pilsners to the creamy, sweet malt-flavors of English style brown ale. I truly remember the days when the only beer you could find was the monotonous American lager, so our choices were few and far between.

Now, not only are we poised to make a decision of what to drink, but which one to eat. Let me explain.

As the variety of beer flavors and styles mushroom, so have our options for pairing them with food, as well as adding these hoppy spirits to a variety of recipes.

Chefs everywhere are even expanding their menus and offering pilsners with truffles and caviar, a sweet stout with raw seafood, pale ales with stout, red meat and throwing out that cliche aperitif in lieu of porter ale to accompany desserts.

Here is a chart to help you identify the flavor components of some of the most widely brewed beer styles, example of which can be paired and cooked with any meal these days.

When choosing what beer to either drink or cook with, keep in mind the varieties of flavor, some subtle while some outstanding. For example, if you want a good stout beer but don't mind that "heaviness" that often accompanies it, drink cream or milk stouts, But if you enjoy stout but don't want to "fill up", try a bitter, less sweet stout. My favorites of each are listed both on the chart and below that accompanies the chart. I think you will find it quite usefull the next time you take that trip to the beer store.

1. Boulder Stout, Mackeson's Milk, Left Hand Milk and Sam Adams Cream Stout

2. Willoughby Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter, Hill Farmstead Everet, Night Watchman and Double Decker

3. Southern Pecan, Red Hydrant Ale, Turbodog and Newcastle Brown Ale.

4. Bigfoot, Old Foghorn and Old Backus Barleywine

5. Check out for the best, and the only brewery in the US that is allowed to make this great alcohol. Certainly there are other, original and imported trappist beers, but don't bother!

6. Allagash White, Big Bison Ale, Russian River and New Belgium Abbey Belgian-Style Ale

7. Allagash White, Hop Sun, Pyramid Crystal Wheat Ale and Circus Boy

8. Goat Rancher, Andy Gator and Anchor Bock

9. Sun King, Hanger 24 and Sam Adams Pumpkin Oktoberfest

10. Sam Adams Double Bock, St. Victorius and Autumnal Fire

11. Gulden Draak

12. Scaldish

13. Dogfish Head Raison d'Etre

14. EKU 28

15. Black Sun and Portsmouth Black Cat Stout

16. Bitter Esters Dry Stout

17. Guiness Extra Stout

18. Palo Santo Marron, Coffee Bender and No Crust

19. Firestone, Sweetwater 420 and Stone Pale Ale

20. Maine Beer MO

21. Three Floyds Zombie Dust

22. El Toro, Camerons Cream Ale and Old Atyle(pabst)

23. Jack's Abbey Leisure Time Lager, Ballast Point Fathom IPL and Mama's Little Yella Pils

24. Abita Amber

25. Baba Black Lager

26. Samuel Adams Black Lager

27. Guiness Black Lager

28. Litovel Schwarzbier Premium Dark

29. Three Philosophers

30. Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock

31. Scaldia

Winter Stout Roasted Roots

Not only are you going to become enamored with the flavor of potato and cauliflower together in an awesome recipe, but one bite of carrots and parsnips roasted in stout will keep you wanting more. My favorite vegetable dish of all time, and I am sure you will love it as well. If stout isn't your thing, look at the chart to determine what beer best piques your interest.

1 pound each parsnips or rutabagas
1 pound turnip
1 cup cream stout *
1 teaspoon crushed, dried thyme leaves
8 cups vegetable broth or water
2 pounds potatoes
3 cups cauliflower florets, uncooked
6 ounces(about 2 cups)baby carrots
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Salt and black pepper to taste
Nonstick cooking spray

Peel and cube potatoes, place in a medium saucepan along with cauliflower florets. Cover with broth and cook, on medium, until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Drain well and mash with butter, salt and pepper: set aside.
Meanwhile, peel parsnip and turnip, placing in another saucepan with carrots and remainder of broth, adding water if needed to cover. Boil over medium-high heat until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Toss vegetables with beer, thyme and salt and black pepper.
Preheat oven to 375-degrees F. Spray a 2-3 quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides with mashed potato mixture. Add cooked turnip mixture in the center and bake 35-45 minutes, or until the top is starting to brown. Remove from oven to serve immediately.

NOTE: This recipe is great done a day ahead of time as well. Simply line the casserole dish with potatoes, cover and keep in refrigerator. Keep remainder of cooked vegetables with beer and seasonings in the bowl and cover to refrigerate. When ready to roast, toss the turnip mixture well and "dump" into the center of the potato mixture. Add an additional 15 minutes to the cooking time.

* Or substitute 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup apple juice, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, whisked well.