One of the best things about my job is the way it lets me see new places in New England with not just ease, but encouragement. Earlier this summer, I journeyed the Maine mid-coast for some story research and blogging opportunities, and was lucky enough to spend the night in lovely, historic Castine, Maine.
I am always on the hunt for old regional cookbooks, and naturally, I keep my eyes extra peeled for books celebrating the hearty and molasses-laden foods of my beloved New England.
When I find them, they usually aren’t in any shape to be used in the manner in which they were intended. Measurements are clunky (a teacup of butter), ingredients are dated (one yeast cake), and sometimes the amount of lard called for makes me shudder, but I still buy them.
Then sometime I get lucky and come across a book like this one, “New England Cookbook” by Eleanor Early, a 1954 gem that is old enough to be vintage, but new enough to be relevant. Better than its functionality, however, is its authoress. Eleanor writes with chatty charm that makes you want to lean in close. Each of the chapters has a fact-filled, amusing, and entertaining introduction, and nearly all of the recipes that follow have an anecdotal preface — something I love in a cookbook. Recipes are supposed to have a heartbeat and tell a story.
For example, before giving a recipe for Chicken Soup, Eleanor recounts the following tale:
I had a letter the other day from a friend in a reminiscent mood. The first paragraph was startling:
“So you’re going to do a cookbook…I remember the day you showed me how to make a lamb stew out of a bone I was going to give to Mrs. Harris’ dog, and the night you salvaged some chicken carcasses at Marie’s dinner party. With your New England thrift, I bet it will be a mighty economical book…”
The day I cheated Mrs. Harris’ dog has slipped my mind, but I do remember the chicken carcasses. Those chickens had not been picked at all. It would have been a sin and a shame to throw them away, and I took them home to make a lovely soup. Later I heard that some of the guests thought I was a little queer, although anybody who has ever made a good chicken soup knows that the richest stock comes from a meaty carcass.
You tell ’em Eleanor. I want to meet her for lunch, pull off my gloves by the fingertips, and have a serious discussion about how many potatoes are too many when it comes to chowder.
As usual, I started a list to tuck into the front cover.
I could have opened up the book anywhere (well, anywhere but the chapter titled “Meat as the Yankees Cook It”) but I chose to start with Harwich Hermits. I love the spicy, molasses flavor of hermit cookies — a popular seafaring New England cookie noted for its ability to last on long voyages — but had never made them myself. This recipe, named after the town of Harwich on Cape Cod, seemed like as good a place as any to start.
Don’t mind my unruly parchment.
The finished cookies (which are actually more like brownies in texture) were chewy, spicy, and packed with old-fashioned molasses and raisins flavor. A perfect treat with a mug of coffee or glass of milk. Vintage cookbook success!
I am already looking forward to my next culinary date with Eleanor!
Adapted from “New England Cookbook” by Eleanor Early (1954)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup raisins, chopped
1/2 cup currants, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease or line a 9″ baking pan with parchment.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and spices. Place the raisins and currants in a small bowl and toss with a tablespoon (or as needed) of the flour mixture until the fruits are lightly coated. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and molasses and continue to beat.
- Add the flour mixture gradually until just combined. Fold in the raisins, currants, and nuts.
- Spread the mixture evenly into the pan and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until deep golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cut into squares or bars while still warm.
One of the many reasons I love working for Yankee Magazine is the ever-present excuse I have to browse antique shops throughout the region – all in the name of knowledge and research.
I browse with equal enthusiasm for art, books, jewelry, knick-knacks…but I confess the first objects my eyes dart around the room for are the kitchen objects. Ovenex muffin tins made in the USA, flatware with smooth Bakelite handles, pastry blenders with worn red paint, cheery blue enameled roasting pans, granny square oven mitts, and mismatched flowered china. They call to me like sirens.
New England food comes in many forms, and Brooke Dojny has included them all in the newly revised edition of “New England Home Cooking.” The book is a true pleasure to peruse – not just for its wealth of over 350 recipes, but the back story and detail given to each dish. I am always interested in the story behind the recipe, and clearly, so is Dojny.
In addition to the “classic” New England dishes like Rhode Island Red Chowder, Maple Baked Beans, and Steamed Boston Brown Bread, special attention is paid to the regional ethnic dishes that cover New England like a delicious patchwork quilt. Dishes like Portuguese Sweet Bread in Martha’s Vineyard, Hungarian Egg Dumplings in Fairfield, Connecticut, and the recipe I chose to make for my Saturday morning breakfast this weekend – Scottish Oat Waffles. Thanks to my 6-month stint in Edinburgh in 2004, I am sentimentally partial to anything Scottish (even haggis), so I was delighted to learn that there is a large and thriving Scottish population in northern Vermont. The area around Barre attracted Scottish immigrants with work in its granite quarries, and they brought with them the Scottish love for all things oatmeal.
A thick oatmeal is generously buttered and added to a batter enhanced with the tang of buttermilk. I picked up my tiny waffle iron for $2.98 on the clearance shelf at Target. I think it was part of the avalanche of “dorm essentials” they try to get rid of at the end of September.
After a few minutes in the waffle iron they come out crispy, hot, and ready for butter and syrup.
Lots and lots of butter and syrup.
Because I wanted to use up all of the batter before eating, I put the waffles on a wire rack after they came off the iron. That way they didn’t get soggy from the steam. When it was time to eat, I just popped a few in the toaster for a minute to heat them up and add a touch of crispness.
Then it was time to get serious.
Homemade waffles feel like an extra treat, because you need to invest in that bonus step of a waffle iron to have them at home, but you’re rewarded with pooling squares of pure maple syrup and melted butter.
These waffles were very tasty. The oats lended a hearty texture just right for a morning meal. I only wish I had thought to put some fruit on top.
This recipe, and many others, are overflowing in “New England Home Cooking” – I know I will be referring to it again for both inspiration and instruction.
Thank you to the fine folks over at the Harvard Common Press for sending me a copy to enjoy! The book was complimentary, but of course, my opinions are my own.
Scottish Oat Waffles
Adapted from “New England Home Cooking” by Brooke Dojny
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/4 cups water
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
- Combine the oats and water in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes, whisking often. Oatmeal will be very thick.
- Remove from heat and add the butter, whisking until the butter melts. Set aside.
- Preheat your waffle iron.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs, then whisk the egg mixture into the oatmeal mixture.
- Add the oatmeal mixture to the flour mixture, and stir until just combined.
- Spray the pre-heated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray, then spoon the waffle batter into the center of the waffle iron, smoothing to almost the edge with the spoon. Close the lid and cook until steam stops rising or a light indicates doneness. For me this took around 5 minutes.
- Repeat with the remaining batter, then serve waffles hot with plenty of pure maple syrup.
Makes 8 4-inch waffles.
During my time in Edinburgh I learned about many new-to-me foods. The cafe I worked at got in a fair amount of them, like Irn-Bru, florentines, flapjacks, the ploughman’s sandwich, and three bean salad.
It was also where I saw my first carrot and raisin salad, but you will never see me revisiting that particular dish. I truly don’t think anything tastes as bad as raw carrots. Especially when they are shredded and mixed with mayonnaise and raisins.
The three bean salad was one of my favorites. The cafe version was probably just a mixture of black, kidney, and garbanzo (chickpeas) beans tossed in a vinaigrette with diced peppers and red onions, but it was a cold, crunchy companion to my cheese toastie at lunch, and I loved it.
You may recall that last summer I spent a weekend in Vermont with my mom and sister, the highlight of which (for me) was a trip to the King Arthur Flour bakery and store. The KAF Bakers’ Banter blog was one of the first food blogs I fell in love with, for both its superior knowledge of the subject and friendly, easy-to-follow style.
Here I am posing in front of the sign with my sister Courtney in June 2010.
While browsing in the store with my mom and sister, it was exciting to know that somewhere very close by KAF baking bloggers PJ, MJ, and Susan were making something delicious. I wanted to find them, shake their hands, and tell them how much fun it was for those of us following along at home.
Now imagine my delight when one year later I found myself back at King Arthur doing just that!
I love weddings, I love the holidays, and I love classic New England…so this past weekend in the White Mountains for Greg and Courtney’s wedding was a total home run.
It started with the three plus hour drive up to Jackson, New Hampshire. We knew we were getting close when the view outside started to look more like this:
The Wildcat Inn and Tavern couldn’t have been more cozy and charming, and everyone was in such high spirits because we were there to celebrate something so joyful. There was snow, lights, trees, and wreaths everywhere.
I started to feel that happy, glowing feeling inside.
Every year for the past 7 years I have put the Keene Pumpkin Festival in New Hampshire on my list of “Fall Things To Do” – but every year I missed it. Pathetic.
This year (the 20th anniversary of the KPF) I knew I needed to man up, so I marked the day on the calendar well in advance. My little sister Melanie is in her second year at Keene State, and the opportunity to visit her while also checking out the festival was too good to pass up. Especially when I learned she needed help re-stocking her candy jar. I have fond memories of my own candy jar in college.
Actually, it was a candy drawer.
Because I don’t have a car, I took the bus from Boston to Concord Saturday morning, and was picked up by my Dad, Vicki, and Lindsay. We stopped in for a visit with Nana in Hopkinton, and then it was off to Keene!
The foliage was in glorious full swing…
and the downtown area was chock full of thousands of carved pumpkins.
Some were unusual…
and some were sweet (aw, she said yes!).
Pumpkin hats and crazy costumes were also plentiful.
Yes, I went in the kitchen store and it was heaven.
I also saw the amazing sight of a woman hoisting a dog into a stroller. A stroller that already contained a child.
Finally Linds, Melanie and I reached the giant tower of pumpkins!
And nearby I found some hot, homemade apple turnovers courtesy of the Animaterra Women’s Chorus…a perfect treat for a chilly day.
Lindsay was on a mission to find a caramel apple…and was very excited to find one. This picture of her cracks me up. What a goofball!
At last it was time to light the pumpkins.
5, 4, 3, 2….
Can you spot the proposal?
In the end there were nearly 23 thousand lit pumpkins!
I had a great day with my family in the most beautiful part of the country during the most beautiful season. I cannot believe sometimes that Melanie is in college, since I look at her and see the toddler that couldn’t say my name right…but I am so proud of her!
Have you carved your Halloween pumpkin yet this year? I waited until the last second last year and had a very sad dud of a pumpkin, so I am thinking I will try to get to mine this weekend.
One hand scooping out the pumpkin guts, one hand in the bowl of candy corn. Sounds like a plan!
In the past year I have become a voyeur of several baking blogs. As a non-adventurous vegetarian, I find it easier to get interested and excited about baking, because the results can (usually) be enjoyed by both meat-eaters and veggies alike. I also appreciate and respect the science of baking, and the artistry of the results. Ingredients must be measured carefully. Oven temperatures must be confirmed. Butter must be cold. Water must be warm. Eggs must be room temperature. Peaks must be whipped stiff. Toothpicks inserted must come out clean. Sometimes the opposite of these are true…but don’t mess it up!
One of my favorite blogs has been Baking Banter on the King Arthur Flour website. The contributors are members of the personable, reliable and capable test kitchen staff, and every few days they offer up a new recipe with step by step photo instructions and clear text. They even read and reply to comments in the comments section – which is usually my favorite part, because it really shows their knowledge and ability to offer advice and encouragement to home bakers.
King Arthur Flour is America’s oldest flour company, started in Boston in 1790 before moving to Vermont. It was family-owned and operated for five generations before switching to 100 percent employee-owned. In addition to their wonderful line of flours, they also offer hundreds of other ingredients, baking tools, mixes, and have published several award-winning cookbooks – one of which is exclusively about whole grain baking. Their whole operation, which you can truly get a feel for by visiting their website or their retail store and baking center, just makes you feel good. They want people, seasoned bakers and novices alike, to get their hands dirty and learn how to make wholesome, delicious things in their own kitchens.
I live in Boston and I spent a few days in Vermont this past weekend with my sister Courtney and my mom. We all spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen, and it wasn’t difficult at all to infect them with my excitement to include a stop at the King Arthur Flour store and bakery in Norwich. It was heaven! I had given myself a budget of $50, so I had to make some tough choices, but in the end I settled on a collection of mostly ingredients like pizza dough flavor enhancer, dutch cocoa, and espresso powder.
I don’t feel quite brave enough yet to make BREAD, so I made pizza dough using pizza yeast and the pizza dough flavor I purchased at the KAF store.
The results were good. VERY good.
Perhaps its the proud fellow New Englander in me, but KAF ranks among my favorite baking blogs and baking supply retailers, and I know I am already planning my shopping list for my next visit to the KAF store.
Total dork, I know…
Marshmallow Fluff…the classic New England sweet staple that seems (comfortingly) resistant to the passage of time. The logo, packaging, and ingredients have barely changed over the years, and its spreadable marshmallow-y goodness still tastes terrific on bread with peanut butter (aka the Fluffernutter) and as the main ingredient in many classic recipes for fudge, pies, cakes, and that other New England classic…whoopie pies.
I am proud to have just moved to Somerville, MA – the birthplace of Marshmallow Fluff. It was here in 1917 that Archibald Query began making it in his kitchen and selling it door to door, until rationing during WWI forced him to stop. When the war ended, he sold his formula to candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower of Lynn, MA for five hundred dollars, and they took it from there. Fluff is as simple as it gets with just 4 ingredients (corn syrup, sugar syrup, dried egg whites, and vanillin) and no artificial preservatives, stabilizers or emulsifiers. It is gluten-free. It is kosher. It is a great substitute for whipped cream in your hot chocolate when you realize you have no whipped cream.
Today you can get your Fluff in a tub or in a jar, and the more adventurous palate can also try it in strawberry or raspberry flavors. Somerville has a lot of Fluff pride, and hosts the annual Fluff Fest (aka What the Fluff?) each September to pay tribute. You can be sure I will attend this year.
I used Marshmallow Fluff this weekend as a last-minute addition to the buttercream frosting I was making for my Memorial Day cake. I didn’t have enough powdered sugar, and I knew what was in the bowl wouldn’t be enough. Fluff to the rescue.
The Fluff and the red, white, and blue jimmies did a great job filling in the crack I made in the cake when I picked it up before it was ready because I needed the cooling rack for pizza. Whoops!