Monday, August 31, 2020

Round Oak Stove Brochure

Honestly, I don't remember where I got this brochure, and to tell the truth, there is not a lot of information in it, but it is a neat little bit of history.

Mr. Philo D. Beckwith founded the Round Oak Stove Company in 1871 after about four years of building cast iron heating stoves.  Located in Dowagiac, Michigan, the company added cookstoves to its repertoire around 1900, reaching its peak ten years later.

No dates are present anywhere in this brochure, but from the fonts, the illustrations, and the stove styles, my guess is that the brochure dates from about 1910 - 1915.  It is written in the style of an advertising circular with the end of each stove description urging the reader to write the company and request their full catalog.  These little endings are unique examples of creative writing since they are all slightly different ways of saying the same thing.

"May we send you the large, illustrated Range Book?  It's free for the asking."
"May we send you the large, illustrated book?  It's free."
"The subject demands detailed proof.  May we supply it?  Sent free on your request."

Another interesting feature is that the front and back covers are equipped with pictures of animals with a sheet of tracing paper over them, and some aspiring artist in history has tried his hand at tracing them.  The ones in the front of the book are shown in the first scan below.

After a string of heating stove advertisements, the first picture of a range is shown below.  Each advertisement features a bit of heating stove history with an engraving and a blurb at the top.

I think the rectangular motif in the top corners, on the teapot shelves, and on the front of the firebox and reservoir give these stoves a very durable appearance.  They look like they were built to be workhorses, don't they?

The Round Oak Stove Company (also known as the Estate of P. D. Beckwith, Inc.) closed its doors in 1946, but several of their stoves are still in service today. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Vintage Recipe: Prune Soup

This recipe is...well...this recipe is...different.  But I really like it!  Don't let the name fool you; this is a "dessert soup" and a rare gem indeed.

I copied this recipe from the Anita, Iowa, Centennial Cookbook over a year ago and finally got around to trying it last week.  The recipe caught my eye because I love raisins--a point I've mentioned before.  I even like raisins in gravy!  And prunes?  Hmmm.  Prunes are just overgrown, slimy raisins, right?  That's what I tell myself, at least.

I'm game to try anything that I think might be good once, so I made this after our Sunday dinner a couple weekends ago.  I found it in the section of the cookbook dedicated to historic recipes, and it was labeled as a Swedish dish.  The recipe was contributed by Mrs. Nolan Stockham who put the following note with it. 

"Anyone whoever ate a meal in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Osen was probably offered this dish.  Mrs. Osen kept it on hand constantly."

I don't have a drop of Swedish blood in me, but if prune soup and their meatballs are representative examples of traditional Swedish cooking, I'm interested in learning more!

Here is what you'll need:

1/3 cup large pearl tapioca
1 lb. prunes
1 lb. seedless raisins
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
dash salt
1 tsp. vanilla

First, soak the pearl tapioca in water overnight.  My personal practice when a recipe calls for soaking pearl tapioca overnight is to actually soak it longer than that.  I have a strong dislike of tapioca pearls that are crunchy in the center.  I put the pearls in a quart jar and filled it nearly to the top with water.

The pearl tapioca after it had soaked in water for over 12 hours.

The next day, cover the prunes and raisins with water and cook until soft.  The fire from cooking our noon dinner out on the Hayes-Custer in the summer kitchen had nearly died, so I added a couple of small split pieces of wood and put the kettle of prunes, raisins, and water directly over the firebox.  In this picture, I tried to capture the flames, but I find it very difficult to photograph fire.

Astute observers will note that the front lid over the firebox was not a part of the original photos of the Hayes-Custer in this post.  It is one of those that has three concentric lids all in one and was purchased at the antique store in Corley, Iowa.  It fits both the Qualified Range and the Hayes-Custer, so I'm excited to have it.

After the prunes and raisins have had time to simmer and plump up--which only takes a few minutes-- the next step is to add the soaked tapioca, sugar, vinegar or lemon juice, salt and vanilla.  Because I was cooking this out in the summer kitchen, I combined them all in a bowl in the pantry first.  Also, I used lemon juice rather than vinegar because I don't like the combination of vinegar and raisins.

All of the ingredients now mixed together in the pot on the stove.

Cook, stirring frequently, until tapioca is done.  It will begin to look mostly transparent, and the soup itself will have begun to thicken.  It took about fifteen minutes over a low fire.

The prune soup simmering nicely over a low fire right over the firebox.

Remove from the fire.

The freshly-made prune soup cooling on the counter in the summer kitchen.

Cool and serve with whipped cream.

A sauce dish of the finished prune soup.  It's oh-so-GOOD!

Some notes:

This soup is very sweet.  I did not sweeten the whipped cream, and I was very glad that I had not.  I am going to reduce the sugar next time by at least a fourth cup and see what happens.

My preference would be to make this with two pounds of raisins and omit the prunes altogether.  I'll have to rename it, of course.

To all of my prepper readers, in my opinion, this is a great recipe to have on hand for a disaster.  All of the ingredients are extremely shelf stable, and it didn't take much fuel at all to prepare it.  It would also be easy to cut in half or to double without any adverse effects.  I wouldn't necessarily call it economical, however.

Even though Nancy said "Prunes will not cross my lips," this was a hit with my mom and Phyllis, the lady who helps us with our market baking on Mondays, so I'm not the only one who thinks it's good.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

How to Can with Antique Zinc Canning Lids

My upfront disclaimer:

I am NOT recommending that anyone can with zinc lids.  The safest way to can foods at home is to use the flat metal dome lids that have the sealing compound attached to the outer rim.  I find that kind of lid to be extremely convenient and reliable, and the "ping" that you hear as they seal is one of the most rewarding sounds that I know.  They are definitely my favorite canning lids to use.

After I started writing my last post about canning with glass lids, I had to do my Covid-altered grocery run, and Nancy and I made a trip to our closest formerly-Amish stores.  I've talked to a few others too, and the current canning lid shortage is confirmed.  In fact, one of our friends told us that her canning lid supplier--a very fascinating Mennonite store named The Dutchman in Cantril, Iowa--called her and told her that they would not be able to get canning lids until September!  My thinking is, with the way 2020 has gone so far, what's to say they will even be able to get them then?

And so, while I'm not advocating canning with anything other than new dome lids, it seems like knowing how to can using other types of canning lids might be a prudent skill to have right now.  Plus, friends, zinc lids seem to be EVERYWHERE.  You frequently see them at antique stores, second-hand stores, and estate sales; and, if you're like us and living in a farmhouse that has been in the same family for generations, there is likely a stack of these in your basement.  If you can't find them in these places, never fear; Ebay has a ton of them too.

You will also need rubber sealing rings.  These don't seem to be as plentiful as the lids, but that's all right because they are still available new.  I see them in Amish stores, and Lehman Hardware currently carries them, too. You can buy them here:  They also carry wide-mouth ones.  The rubber rings used with zinc lids come in two styles: with a tab and without a tab.  I see the ones with a tab far more often.

The kicker with zinc lids, though, is that you need to have older canning jars.  Whereas nowadays the sealing edge is the top lip of the jar, it used to be down on the shoulder.  The new style canning jars don't have a sufficiently wide shoulder to create a seal.

Two Kerr canning jars.  This is not the best example, but the one on the left is older and has
the wider shoulder.  The jar on the right is newer, and you can see that the shoulder
has been reduced.

Before using zinc lids, inspect them carefully.  Zinc is a pretty malleable metal, so these lids can be a bit susceptible to damage--especially after decades of use.  They should not bulge up in the center, and when you lay them right side up on a flat surface, the bottom edge of the lid should sit flat all the way around.  Also, look on the underside of the lid and make sure that the white piece of milk glass is present.  I don't know how it could fall out, but apparently it happens.

This is an example of a lid that is in good shape.  Notice how the edge sits
on the counter all the way around.

A view showing the milk glass on the inside of a zinc lid.

To prepare zinc lids for canning, both the lids and the rubber rings need to be thoroughly washed and then scalded.  They are to remain in hot water until used.  Some vintage canning books recommend the lids (not the rubber rings) actually be boiled for anywhere between ten and thirty minutes before use, and with this sort of lid, that would be fine, too.

A zinc lid and rubber ring sitting in scalding water on the Margin Gem.  It 
was so cool here a week ago today (Aug. 4) that I fired up the Margin Gem
and did the day's canning in the house.

Once your jars are packed with whatever you are canning, the first step is to stretch a rubber ring over the top of the jar and seat it down on the shoulder.  

Screw the zinc lid down as firmly as you are able; then unscrew the lid a quarter inch.  

Place the jar in the canner and process according to what is required for the food you are canning.

Immediately upon removal from the canner (you shouldn't let jars remain in a pressure canner to cool once the pressure has gone down), tighten the lid down as much as you can.  

Testing to see whether you have a good seal is not all that easy with zinc lids.  This is probably why they fell out of favor.  The top of the lid should have a slightly concave shape.  Once the jar is completely cool, you can also turn the jar upside down or on its side to check for leaks.  If it leaks, you definitely don't have a good seal and need to start the whole canning process over.

I canned a jar of food using zinc lids with my grandma Marian once.  When she had first started canning on her own, these were the lids of choice, so she knew what she was doing.  She reminisced about her own mother using them, saying that Grandma Gladys kept a small hammer in the kitchen and tapped around the edges of the lids once the jars were cool to make sure they had a good seal.  I can't think that this was at all helpful. 

To open the jar when you are ready to eat its contents, you can pull the tab to break the seal and then unscrew the lid, or you can just unscrew the lid.  I would advise listening for that telltale sign of a good, safe vacuum which is the sound of air rushing into the jar when you open it.

Again, I wouldn't advise canning with zinc lids if you don't have to.  But if you have to, it's best to know how to do it properly.