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Dr Chase’s Squash Pie (more or less!)

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For this Curiously Creatively post, I am back in the realm of old recipes (or receipts as they were called back in ye olden times). If you remember we have previously featured vintage recipes from writer Juliet Greenwood and The Llangollen Ladies, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby. This time I have ventured across the Atlantic with a small book containing a collection of recipes by Dr Alvin Wood Chase, Buffalo Cake and Indian Pudding, (Penguin Great Food, 2010). This series from Penguin comprises several tempting titles, containing extracts from the work of Eliza Action, Alexis Soyer and Alice Waters to name but a few. This looks like a good series to introduce new readers to classic food writers, so I am only sorry that it has taken me a while to discover it. I now need to check whether any of the other titles are still available.

But who was the good Dr Chase (1817-1885) I hear you enquire. I have to admit to never having heard of him either until I chanced upon this small volume recently. The book offers some biographical information from the publishers as well as containing a fond memorial piece from a Rev L Davis, dated 28 November 1886. Alvin Wood Chase was born in Cayuga County, New York and eventually married and settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was a collector of folk remedies and recipes as well as being a travelling physician. According to the ‘In Memoriam’ piece, Chase didn’t begin his medical studies until 1856, studying in Michigan and Ohio. As he travelled dispensing medicines, he collected recipes along with folk remedies. All this valuable information formed the basis of his publications, which apparently were welcomed by pioneers and settlers who were keen to have a ‘multi-purpose how-to-guide to assist them in everyday life’.

Chase published his first book, A Guide to Wealth! Over One Hundred Valuable Recipes for Saloons, Inn-Keepers, Grocers, Druggists, Merchants and Families Generally (1858). By the 1863 edition, Chase’s handy guide contained over 800 recipes. Hs final book came out posthumously in 1887, entitled, Dr Chase’s Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book. Dr Chase seems to have been well respected by the citizens of Ann Arbor where he worked for many years for the good of the townspeople. Rev Davis says that Chase’s ‘real and ever-enduring monument is seen in his life, devotion and usefulness to his fellow man’.

The upshot is that I couldn’t resist trying out one of the recipes from the good doctor’s collection. As I have been threatening to have a go at a pumpkin or a squash pie for years, this was as good an opportunity as any that I could find. In the pie chapter, I found two possible alternative versions to try. In addition, I discovered the useful tip (quoted from Ruth H Armstrong of the Housekeeper) that it is better to bake your fruit first, rather than boiling to avoid the problem of having watery pumpkin/squash. I chose the following version to attempt to bake:

The ingredients

Squash Pie, Very Rich – Stew a medium sized crook-necked (or other equally rich) squash, and rub the soft part through a colander; butter, ½ lb; cream and milk, each 1 pt., or milk with the cream stirred in, 1qt.; sugar, 2 cups; 1 dozen eggs well beaten; salt, mace, nutmeg and cinnamon, 1 teaspoonful each, or to taste.

The directions follow along similar lines to Chase’s previously noted recipe for Pumpkin Pie. After rubbing your squash through a colander, add, ‘the butter, sugar and spices, and make hot, then the beaten eggs’. The squash recipe contains milk, so you’d add that next (it’s flour in the pumpkin version). The directions continue, ‘mix smoothly together, and while hot put into the dish, having a thick crust to receive it, and bake in a moderate oven’. Henry Crane, Frost House, Eaton Rapids, Mich.

Dr Chase recommends baking the pastry before adding the filling, if the cook is ‘fearful of a soggy crust’. He also goes on to note, ‘I think good squash makes a richer pie than pumpkin, while some persons claim the reverse’. He also mentions two different varieties of squash, the crookneck and the Hubbard; as Lidl could only supply butternut squash I made my first tweak to the recipe. I had to resort to Google to determine the appearance and qualities of the first two varieties, as they were unfamiliar to me. I can only assume that they are not readily available in either Ireland’s or Britain’s supermarkets, but maybe in specialist food shops.

My second recipe tweak was to scale the quantities down, since I am neither a saloon owner nor an innkeeper. I decided to make a quarter of the amount but despite this, I still had some filling left over after filing my 9” ceramic flan dish. My major recipe alteration was to cheat and buy some readymade pastry so that I could focus on dealing with the squash filling mixture. As Chase recommends a pastry with a light and flaky crust for all types of pie, I bought flaky pastry (Tesco brand).

I baked my squash, as recommended, by cutting it in half lengthways and laying the pieces cut side down on the baking sheet. I also baked the seeds in a separate dish at the same time since they make a great lunch box ingredient. When the squash was nice and soft, I left it to cool slightly before scooping out the interior. My estimation was that the small sized Butternut would produce about the correct quantity of flesh for my scaled down recipe. I mashed the tender flesh into a very smooth pulp with a potato masher so I decided that it didn’t need pushing though a colander as given in the recipe.

One inescapable fact of recipes of this vintage is that directions, cooking times and temperatures are rarely precise. For instance, the instruction to ‘make hot’ is vague to say the least. I took it to mean that you should heat up the squash mixture to a moderate temperature, but not to boil it. Similarly, the recipe has no oven temperature save ‘moderate’ so I baked the pie at 180c (gas mark 5) which seemed reasonable. I did bake my pastry case blind, following Dr Chase’s advice, to avoid a soggy bottom (so to speak).

The verdict

I was quite pleased with my first attempt at a squash pie and the rest of the household seemed to agree with that verdict. I served slices with plain Greek yogurt (we sampled the pie both warm and chilled on separate occasions) which worked very well, though cream or ice-cream would work equally well I think. I enjoy tackling vintage recipes, so look out for some more samples to appear on the blog in the future.

Has anyone else got any hits and tips on pumpkin or squash pies? I would love to hear them!

Picture credits: Curiously Creatively

Recipes from the Ladies of Llangollen

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Ladies of Llangollen

My slightly battered library copy!

As some readers may already know, I also run a book blog based on my never ending TBR Pile, and one of my recent reads was a book about the Ladies of Llangollen, Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831) by Mary Gordon. I was curious to learn more about the Ladies so I requested a book from the library called A Year with the Ladies of Llangollen edited by Elizabeth Mavor (Penguin, 1986). This comprises a selection of journal entries taken from Eleanor Butler’s journal, arranged from January to December to give a good idea of their seasonal activities from year to year.

In amongst the journal entries, written mainly by Eleanor Butler are extracts from the accounts kept by Sarah Ponsonby. The accounts give an indication of the practical housekeeping aspects of the Ladies’ lives, as also do the recipes that were included within the original journal. The women had servants, as befitted their social class, but I assume that they kept a close eye on what went on the kitchen to ensure that everything ran smoothly. I just want to mention a couple of the recipes here. I have been thinking that when I have time, I might play around and adapt some for a twenty-first century kitchen. If you remember, that is what Juliet Greenwood did as part of her research for her World War I novel We That Are Left (Honno Press). I made her version of seed cake from the recipe she adapted from that era. Very tasty it was too!

Journal Excerpt

January events…

Some of the recipes from the Ladies’ book strongly tempt my creative juices, though not perhaps anything involving a sheep’s head, neat’s tongue or sausage making. Some of the recipes are too robust for modern tastes I fear (well, mine anyway). Some dishes, such as stewed cucumber sound quite strange and not particularly palatable. Having said that, I am willing to give it a whirl, as it does not involve brains or eyes. Naturally, the recipes for cakes and biscuits have most interest for me, with the bonus that they are potentially adaptable to modern ovens and ingredients. I have picked out two recipes to give you an idea, quoting them exactly as Elizabeth Mavor has done, with the erratic punctuation and capitalisation.

The first recipe (or receipt) comes from a March 1794 entry (p65); the ingredients are all that the writer gives, so I assume that the method, baking times and temperature must have been so well known as not to require mention. It does remind me of some of the cryptic notes I find in my own recipe folder; I know what I mean, so it does not occur to me to expand on the basics for anyone else’s benefit.

Almond Cakes

Eight Eggs and two Whites, three quarter of a pound of Sugar a quarter of a pound of sweet Almonds half an Ounce of Butter. half a pound of Flour. Bake them in little Earthen pans.

I am guessing that the method would be to whisk the eggs up with the sugar, then to fold in almonds (ground?) and flour followed by the ounce of butter (melted). For practical reasons I think it would make sense to scale down the recipe to half the quantity to try it out for the first time. The recipe does not say whether the almonds should be roasted or how finely prepared, but again I suppose the Ladies knew that detail and didn’t consider it necessary to write it down.

The following cheese recipe [From January 1815, p37] might also be a good one to try. At first, I had visions of the Ladies having a 1970s style fondue party, but what they call a fondue is a sort of baked cheese soufflé. Again, the details are sketchy, as the cook gives no quantity for the cheese, so I suppose you would put grated cheese in to your taste depending on its vintage.

Fondue of Cheese

Rasp some Old rich Cheese and some common cheese equal quantities of each. boil half a Pint of good Cream and let it cool, beat up the whites of four eggs. Mix all together lightly, put them in little paper Cases and Bake them in a Gentle Oven.

Literally plenty of food for thought, and I have only browsed as far as March. I shall be truly sorry to have to return the Ladies to the library. Elizabeth Mavor’s book will be one to hunt down and buy I think. I would love to hear from anyone else that has tried out old recipes and to hear about the results.

UPDATE: September 2016

I have finally got around to ordering a copy of a Year with the Ladies of Llangollen and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. However, I don’t know how long it will be before I manage to try out any of the ladies’ recipes. I will keep you posted!

WWI Seed Cake Recipe from Juliet Greenwood

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After months and months of promising to do it, I finally got around to baking Juliet Greenwood’s Seed Cake. Anyone who follows Juliet’s blog, has read her WWI novel We That Are Left (Honno Press) or who has read the guest blog post that Juliet wrote for my book blog, will know exactly what cake I am talking about. For those who are unfamiliar with the culinary background, I will explain…

In Juliet Greenwood’s novel, which was set in Cornwall during the First World War, the growing of food and creating nutritious dishes with whatever was available, played a central part in the drama. As Juliet explained:

Among the many roles of women at home was ensuring that there was enough food at home for the population to both survive and be strong enough to continue, as well as sending supplies to the soldiers at the front. Like today, much of Britain’s food was imported, and fashionable and convenient new foods, like tinned fruit, had begun to replace the traditional ways of cooking.

It wasn’t just food, but medicines too. So women, especially those in the countryside returned to the old ways of their grandmothers. They grew and preserved as much as they could and foraged for things like blackberries and rosehips, which are an excellent source of vitamin C and wonderful home remedies for coughs and colds. As well as women working the land, schoolchildren were drafted in to help, growing food wherever there was space.

Juliet had researched recipes from the era and had included a few at the back of her book. Thankfully, she had adapted the original recipes into versions more suitable for twenty-first century baking. For example, the WWI Seed Cake recipe was made with 2.5 lb of flour and 12oz of seeds until Juliet scaled it down to manageable proportions.

Here is the recipe as adapted by Juliet: (you can find the original via the above link to Juliet’s website).

baked poppy cake

Just out of the tin and cooling down…

8oz     230g   Butter or Margarine
8oz     230g   Sugar
2oz   60g     Caraway or Poppy Seeds
8oz     230g   SR Flour
2oz      60g     Candied Peel
Rind and juice of 1 Orange
Rind and juice of 1 Lemon
3 Eggs [I used large eggs]

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time with flour alternately, then add juice of one orange, caraway/poppy seeds, candied peel. Spoon into a greased 7inch/ 18cm tin and bake in oven at 180 degrees (160 for fan assisted)/ Gas Mark 4 for one hour or until a knife comes out clean. When cool cover with butter icing (Vanilla or lemon both worth well).

I used poppy seeds this time, though I plan to try caraway next time. I made a couple of unintentional tweaks to the recipe as I forgot to add the candied peel and instead of an orange, I used the juice and rind of two mandarins since that was what I had in at the time. The impetus for making the cake was that I had been asked to make something for a post-grad coffee morning, so I baked the mixture in my smaller roasting tray instead of a 7inch tin so I could cut it into slices more easily.

Iced Poppy Cake

All ready to cut and sample…

After the cake had cooled, I spread some lemon glace icing on the top, which I left to set a little before cutting the cake into squares. We did get to try a piece before packing the cake for the coffee morning and voted the poppy seed version a success (even without the candied peel). The orange and lemon juice adds a lovely flavour to the cake. I’ll use caraway seeds next time, though I do have a lot of cardamom in at the moment and I wonder how that would work in a cake. Any thoughts from the bakers out there?

 

If you want to follow up the First World War theme, then check out the Facebook page for We That Are Left for lots of interesting posts. I have baked a few other treats for coffee mornings this semester, so I will post up soon about some of the recipes I have used.

Happy baking!

 

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