I’m writing this in the science fiction present – the twenty-first century. The year is 2017, and while we may not have flying cars, personal jetpacks, or portals that instantly pop us out anywhere in the world we want to be, I do have a microwave, digital oven, the world-wide-web on my personal tablet with more memory and processing power than we used to send man to the moon… in my kitchen. I use convenience tools for nearly every step of my cooking these days, but there are still things in my kitchen my great-grandmother and great-great grandmother would have used as young women. Like the cookbooks.
I can say this with assurance, because my grandmother recently presented me with some old cookbooks, and told me that one of them (the one I’m baking from today for this post) belonged to my great-great-grandmother. The books are treasures, indeed, and not only because they once belonged to my ancestresses. In them I have a window to the past, a glimpse of history when it was still happening and called current events.
I have intended for some time to blog about the antique and vintage cookbooks I own, and the addition to my collection of the family books galvanized me into action. I’ll be devoting Sundays to this series, and I have no idea how long I’ll run it – Eat This While You Read That ran for 72 segments – but it’s a great way to have some fun with cooking, highlight a bit of history, and remember fondly the not-so-distant past when slaving over the oven was a very real thing that took significant time out of every woman’s day.
Cooking from antique cookbooks presents a bit of a challenge at times. I have recipes that call for sifting the flour six times, which is not necessary in the modern era due to advances in milling technology. I have smooth, fine flour fit for a king, if you look back in time a couple hundred years. My baking powder books, published when baking powder was a new and exciting innovation, reference amounts that might be too much, because early baking powder was not double-action. Or that might have been an assumption on my part… Some books don’t include much direction on assembling and cooking the final product, assuming that all cooks knew how it was done. I’m looking at a book published in 1928 that includes only the briefest of instructions. In a few cases, none at all! How many of us modern cooks know what a ‘slow’, ‘moderate’, or ‘fast’ oven is? How many of us have had to wrestle with keeping a wood-fired oven properly hot but not too hot and evenly heated throughout a cook time? I have… and it’s not easy. I have huge respect for the women who developed these recipes I’ll be translating into modern techniques. I’m so very grateful I live in their science-fiction future.
It won’t always be easy. I am going to fail and have inedible food at the end of the day, sometimes. I can afford the time and ingredients – she might not have been able to. But I’m also certain I will learn something, as I reflect on what some of these women would have thought of my kitchen will all the mod-cons, and their recipes living on in a legacy to their daily efforts to keep the family fed.
Today I attempted the “Ryzon Western Puffers” from the 1917 book, and my first batch failed badly. Pale hockey pucks are not edible, even if the dog did try one and like it. I changed three variables, tried it again, and then realized that although the recipe is in the book between two recipes for popovers, these are not popovers! They are something between a biscuit and a muffin, and they are very good. We enjoyed them with a bit of butter and jam. The First Reader put cheese, butter, and a dab of jam on his and pronounced it delicious. Of course, that also had the bonus effect of grossing the Ginja Ninja out.
While making this, I preheated the oven to 450 Deg F for the ‘hot oven’, after my first batch failed at 425. I’m not sure the heat helped the failure, but I know when I cranked the heat up, it made me flinch when I opened the oven door, and that’s a good sign of a hot oven!
I did sift my flour and baking powder together. I first tried 2 teaspoons, thinking RYZON was not DA, and mine is. The second batch I did with the full 4 tsp required.
I used my handy-dandy Kitchenaid Stand Mixer for this. Since Hobart started making them in 1919, some of the ladies in these books may have been using one themselves. For the first batch I used the spatula beater my sister introduced me to, for the second I went ahead and used the whisk to introduce more air into the batter. The long beating time recommended activates the gluten nicely and the batter comes off the spoon in smooth ribbons.
The recipe is here in printable format, just click the icon.
I’m also creating an album on Flickr for the photos, since I’m finding I take more than I want to put on the blog posts!