Sunday, February 28, 2016

Breakfast Pie....A Forgotten Past

That old institution...the New England breakfast! Not nearly what is was in the days of our ancestors, when they sat down at the breakfast table laden with more food than is seen at all meals combined now-a-days. The juicy steaks, pork chops, fried fish, piles of ham and eggs, hash brown potatoes, high stacks of buckwheat pancakes(constantly being replenished by the cook of the house) and maple syrup as fresh as the general store could bring it in.
Heck, I remember fondly of my mother and father serving for breakfast at their restaurants in the mid-1970s:

The Woodsman's Breakfast-2 grilled pork chops, eggs, homefries, toast and coffee

The River Driver Breakfast-Gilled Trout with eggs, homefries, toast and coffee.

Just to name two.

 And amongst all this food in days gone by, could be found that one mainstay of colonial life.... Pie!

"I will thank you to pass the pie, if you please!", Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have remarked to Oliver Wendell Holmes in the early, mid 19th century.

 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would often remark "There's a gazelle in the garden." whenever a flake of pie crust fell into his beard while dining at breakfast with his family at Cambridge.

Now just because pie was universally enjoyed throughout all regions of New England and Canada, this doesn't mean that all breakfasts were the same. More fish, for example, was used along the shoreline than in the hinterland, but even seaside Cape Cod had pie for breakfast. A 19th century historian for the town of Chatham, Massachusetts repeated the following, taken from an 1802 Bill of Fare from this seaside community.

"Food can so easily be procured, either on the shore or in the sea, that, with the profit which arises from their voyages, in which it must be confessed they labor very hard, the people are enabled to cover their tables well with provisions. A breakfast among the inhabitants, and even among those who are called the poorest, for there are none which may be called really poor, consists of tea or coffee, brown bread , generally with butter, sometimes without, salt and fresh fish, fried or broiled. A dinner affords one or more of the following dishes: roots and herbs; salted beef or pork boiled; fresh butcher's meat not more than twelve times a year; wild fowl frequently in the autumn and winter; fresh fish boiled or fried with pork; shell fish; salt fish boiled; Indian pudding; pork baked with beans. tea or coffee also frequently constitutes part of the dinner. A supper consists of tea or coffee, and fish, as at breakfast; cheese, cakes made of flour, gingerbread, and pies of several sorts. This bill of fare will serve, with little variation, for all the fishing towns in the country. In many families there is no difference between breakfast and supper; cheese, cakes, and pies being common at the one as at the other."

In the Pictorial Geography of the World, published in Boston in 1841, Samuel Goodrich, writing about New England, adds:

"The breakfast, which, in the country, is held at an early hour, and often by sunrise, is no evanescent thing. In a farmer's family, it consists of little less than ham, beef, sausages, bread, butter, boiled potatoes, pies, coffee and cider."

Although codfish cakes, browned, crisp and fluffy, were a Sunday morning tradition in most New England families, pie was an everyday 'must have' at the breakfast table.

By the mid-1890s, pie was quickly going out of fashion, along with almost everything else on the morning menu touched on above. This was because more and more Americans were travelling abroad and were noticing that other countries they had visited were eating what were called "Continental breakfasts". And as with clothing styles, fashion(as depicted below from an 18th century advertisement)etiquette and mannerisms, these New England travelers brought those ideas back here to the East coast.

It was quickly becoming fashionable for those returning from abroad to denounce pie as "provincial", and none of these people wanted to be thought of as unsophisticated, now that they visited France or England.

Big breakfasts were out and one must do as they do in Paris, and not Paris, Maine either. So instead of trying to convert our French friends to enjoying pie for breakfast, they surrendered their birthright and permitted themselves to Parisian trends.

But we can't blame these visits abroad for the diminishing and generational big breakfasts. Nope, New Englanders were beginning to rush their lives in the world of society to the point "...when we began to measure our progress by the rate of speed at which we could move and began to think that because we could get around ten or a dozen times faster than our grandfathers, we were that much better than they were, pie as a morning dish was doomed. For nobody had time to eat a decent breakfast."

It used to be said that the absence of pie would have been more noticeable than the scarcity of the Bible.

E.B. White once wrote:

To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To an American, a Yankee is a Northerner.
To a Northerner, a Yankee is an Easterner.
To an Easterner, a Yankee is a New Englander.
To a new Englander, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
And to a Vermonter, a Yankee is someone who eats pie for breakfast.


It isn't hard to understand what would have been the most popular pie for the breakfast either. Considering apple, berry, pumpkin and mince pies were popular at all times of days and seasons, then it is easy to assume that whatever was leftover from the previous day would have been enjoyed the following morning.

Now for that age-old question of whether or not New Englanders are known for cheese with apple pie.

In short, absolutely!

As seen above, cheese was at the table for breakfast and would have been available at all meals as well. There is no need to dig deep into journals, articles, research or published essays for common sense to apply here. New England was known for the best Cheddar cheese in America. New England was known for the best apples and apple bi-products in America. It is a natural affiliation that the two would have been combined many, many times over in just as many ways.

No, Cheddar cheese was NOT melted over an apple pie. Apple pie was always eaten hot from the oven, unless leftovers were had the following morning.

It is funny when I read that some food historian gives the reason why Cheddar and apple pie were eaten together. They go on to say the saltiness of the cheese offsets the sweetness of the apples and crunchiness of the pie crusts. I would much rather tell it like it is, rather than act as though I am a food connessieur with an ego to boost. Simply and plainly, both were in homes of old all the time and it was only natural for BOTH to be consumed together.

About the image of cheese melting over apple pie now. American cheese was not added and melted over apple pie untildu the 1960s and '70s. Although good in its' own right, there is still nothing better than taking a bite of sharp Cheddar, followed by a forkfull of warm apple pie, sans any ice cream...NOT NEEDED!

There probably isn't any rhyme or reason behind this post. I didn't give you any dates that pie was first served at the New England breakfast table, nor any specific person who could be identified as starting it. I gave you no certain pie that graced any identifiable table from any given region in "Yankee-land". Heck, I am not even able to specify any entry that proves only Cheddar cheese was served with apple pies from days gone by.

Sometimes common sense dictates proof. I have scoured every cookbook printed in New England from the first printed to the 1800s from New England. I have hundreds of journals and diary entries from dozens of Yankees since the 17th century. I am a 30 year New England food historian that craves the true beginnings of our "kitchen culture" and am a proud 7th genertion Mainah' and 11th generation Yankee, whose family have been both backwoods families and coastal progeny. And the bottom line is we have enjoyed pies for breakfast since the beginning, but this has all been lost to time and changing, culinary climates.

And Cheddar cheese with apple pie is about as Yankee as you can long as it is not melted over the top.!


A fitting epilogue to this post would be:

Why did New Englanders formerly eat "great pies" for breakfast?

Because they had great things to do!


Friday, February 19, 2016

The 'Maine' Truth Behind Gumbo's.

"Jambalaya, crawfish pie, file gumbo. 'Cause tonight I'm gonna see my ma chere amie o ....." Boy, I hope others remember that song! I am not old enough to remember this Hank Williams tune when it first came out, but I am blessed with reel-to-reel recordings my grandparents made of the country radio stations back in the 50s with this song being sung. I still listen to them today, even though they are now recorded on cd's. But I am wondering off topic.

 There are two basic types of Gumbo, Cajun(country food) and Creole(city food) styles. Many of the Creoles were French(as the Cajuns)but their background and migration saga was from an entirely different part of the Western Hemisphere, but equally as disruptive, cruel, abusive and immoral. As it pertains to their style of cooking, with Gumbo in particular, okra is frequently added. It has also been stated that they used a butter/flour roux as a base for this dish. It was cooked long enough to change color or flavor,  creating a dark-colored thickening agent. Creole Gumbo is also made with a tomato product in order to help thicken this dish, while Cajun Gumbo uses strictly roux.

   Cajun style Gumbo, on the other hand, is generally thickened with a roux made of oil and flour that has been whisked until it is smooth, but not browned, as emphatically believed by many food historians and chefs.

   I completely disagree with both of these roux adherences however. It is totally wrong and makes no logical sense! The French were, and have been, known for cooking with butter for centuries before the introduction of Acadians in Canada and Maine, and ultimately Louisiana. They never, EVER used oil in dishes to thicken, that was an Italian introduction. Much the same as tomatoes in Creole but not Cajun Gumbo.
The portrait of some dispersed Acadians, courtesy of

The Cajun people, mostly in the Southwestern portion of Louisiana, use some type of fowl, as well as sausage and fish frequently. But what they do NOT use is tomatoes, as mentioned. As for file powder? I am not even going to touch that one. Half the experts assert that these ground sassafras leaves are a mainstay in Cajun style Gumbo, while the other half aver Creole Gumbo is not the same without it.

My favorite, well known, age old expression of simply telling the difference between the Cajuns and Creoles is that the Creoles are said to be able to feed 1 family with 3 chickens, while the Cajuns can feed 3 families with 1 chicken. Right away, I knew they were my ancestors.


It began with the Port Royal settlements in upper Maine and lower French Canada during the early 17th century. This area is known as Acadia. My direct ancestor(Pierre Thibodeau)was of the St. John, Canadian French, who were part of this migration to be mentioned.

In order to prevent this post from becoming a history lecture, by the first decade of the 18th century, the French Acadians began to stand up for their moral disciplines against the British, and because of that, they were slowly being pushed back into the wilderness, attacked by the Native Americans and deported to dozens of other colonies in Eastern America.

Then the Grand Derangement(Great Upheaval)began in ernest in the mid-1700s, with a total of more than 13000 being uprooted and thousands of their homes being destroyed.

By 1765, a couple of groups of these French settlers found themselves in Louisiana, under Spanish control at the time, and thus began the introduction of French food to the area.

As for the name Cajun? You can listen to all these so-called linguistic experts give you a litany of meanings, some so outlandish that they are foolish. The correct meaning? Acadian! The words Cajun and Acadian are simply the same word, just skewed somewhat over the generations. A perfect example of this is another term, Injuns. Indians and Injuns are the same word, with the same exact meaning, but similarly skewed.

So to confuse you even more, I have Yanked Gumbo to offer what I believe to be the best of two French dishes. I have taken the liberty of using the so-called Creole roux and cooking it until it darkens, giving it a great nutty characteristic, as my French ancestors did.

I have also taken the Creole tomatoes and added them here. Not for their thickening power, because the roux does that very well, but simply for the flavor.


Cajun Turkey and Sausage Gumbo(Quick or Classic)


Here are two ways of making this "Loosiana" classic. Which ever way you prepare it, always use the Cajun Holy Trinity, which is peppers, onions and celery. This is a true 'fill 'er up' kind of meal, even going so far as using a fork. Here is the quickest method of the two.

2(4-ounce)links hot or sweet Italian sausage
1/2 cup minced onion
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and minced
1 rib celery, sliced thin
2 teaspoons minced garlic in oil
2 cups beef broth
1(15-ounce)can diced tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 cups cooked turkey or chicken, diced
1(6-ounce)can tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups brown rice
1 1/2 cups cooked yams or sweet potatoes, diced

Remove casings from sausage and crumble into a large saucepan. Add onion, green pepper, celery and garlic, Stir to combine and cook over medium high heat until meat is cooked thoroughly and celery is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Drain fat and add broth, tomatoes with juice, turkey, tomato paste and seasoning. Stir well, add yams, reduce heat to low, place cover slightly askew and simmer for at least 10 minutes, or the length of time you are cooking the rice.
Cook rice according to package directions.

To serve, mound a cup of rice in the middle of each of 4 serving bowls and surround with gumbo. Serve immediately.

Or it you want a classic Cajun style gumbo, place 4 tablespoons butter or margarine in a saucepan. Melt over medium high heat. Whisk in 3 tablespoons flour until smooth. Continue cooking and almost constantly stirring for about 6-8 minutes, or until the roux is the color of a copper penny. Immediately add beef broth, whisking until smooth. Add tomatoes, turkey, yams and seasonings. When you have cooked the sausage with the remainder of the vegetables in a separate skillet, per instructions above, transfer to the tomato mixture, stir well and bring up to temperature before serving.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Ultimate Decadense...Bar None!

Even though Chocolate Fondue is only a generation old, it seems that any type of fondue has been all but forgotten. A type of think ganache, chocolate fondue is the perfect Valentine's Day treat for your loved one. And guys, there is absolutely no excuse for having this ready for your gal on this special day because it is super simple to make.


Valentine's Day Fondues

Find, below, two of my all time favorite fondues. There truly is no better "sweetheart" dessert to enjoy WITH your loved one then decadent fondues. When you see the chocolate dripping down her chin or watching her have to lick the chocolate from her fingers......let's just say there is a reason why melted chocolate is perfect on Valentine's Day. And these recipes are foolproof, for that man who would much rather have a wrench in their hand than a whisk.

Mexican Hot Cocoa Fondue

1(12-ounce)can, or 1 1/2 cups, evaporated skim milk
1/4 cup red hot cinnamon candies, optional
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon and chili powder
2 cups dark chocolate chips *
Cake pieces, marshmallows or fruit

Simply heat whisk and heat the first six ingredients in a saucepan over low heat until scalding hot, stirring almost constantly when it is starting to get hot to prevent scorching. Place the chocolate chips in a large bowl. When the milk mixture is scalding, pour over chocolate, stirring once to allow milk to coat chocolate. Let sit for 3 minutes, stir until chocolate is melted and pour into bowl. Serve with skewers and your choice of cake, marshmallows or fruit.

* Use whatever chocolate you desire, as long as it is broked into small pieces to melt. I find that at least 72% cacao chocolate works best for a strong chocolate flavor.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fondue

Your loved one crave peanut butter? Than this is the smoothest. Rich and oh so delicious, go ahead and add a little more milk at the end if you truly want this to drip down her chin!

3/4 cup evaporated skim milk
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread *

Add all ingredients to a saucepan over low heat and stir frequently. When chocolate has melted and fondue is smooth, transfer to a bowl with skewers and dipping items.


* Nutella is great here, but other alternatives(some are better tasting than Nutella)are Hershey's Chocolate Hazelnut spread, Natural Choco-dream, Noccialata or Barefoot and Chocolate