Thursday, December 31, 2020

An Egg Coddling Party around the Wood Cookstove

When my parents were married back in 1971, they were given a pair of egg coddlers for a wedding gift.  I only remember one or two times that Mom and Dad made coddled eggs while the three of us kids were at home, but that is understandable since they only had two egg coddlers.

My brother Kevin and I have taken to buying these little beauties whenever we see them, so between the two of us, we have now amassed enough of a fleet that we could have an egg coddling party.

Thus, last night my sister and her family, my brother and his family, my parents, and my aunt all came to our house and we coddled eggs and made Aebleskiver.

In the photo below, I'm beginning to fry Aebleskiver while Janet and Kevin work on preparing the accessories to the coddled eggs.  Mom commented that it was rare to see all three of us working over the same stove, but I think that has only never happened because no other stove besides a woodburning range would be big enough to accommodate all of us.  I will write a whole post about making Aebleskiver later, I promise.

The egg coddlers are little porcelain jars with stainless steel screw-top lids.  They are made by Royal Worcester and come with the following instructions:

"Lightly butter the inside of the cup.  Break egg into it.  Add butter, salt and pepper for flavor.  Screw on lid.  Cook six minutes in enough boiling water to cover coddler.  Lift cup from water by metal ring.  When you unscrew the top, grasp the whole cover.  If the egg is not cooked enough, replace the lid and return the coddler to the boiling water.

For variety, add flaked fish, cheese, herbs, chopped ham, mushrooms, etc. to the egg.  Coddlers are also ideal for heating baby foods."

What Kevin and Janet were working on in the picture above was sautéing mushrooms and cooking two different kinds of sausage as well as warming some diced ham.  We also had some chopped bell peppers and onions.

We beat a bunch of eggs together, poured a little into each coddler,  and mixed whatever other things we wanted into them and basically cooked our own individual egg casseroles.  My brother and brother-in-law wish that we had left the eggs whole, but we'll have to wait until next time to do it that way again.

The next picture is actually from the last egg coddling party that we had a couple of years ago.  You can see both the green enamel sweet corn kettle that we used again last night and my five-quart Magnalite Dutch oven.  The Dutch oven was nice because it was more shallow and therefore made it easier to retrieve the coddlers from the boiling water.

This time, we only used the green sweet corn kettle because I wanted to be able to remove the lid of the cookstove beneath it in order to facilitate the fastest boil possible.  This made it difficult to get the egg coddlers out of the water, though.  Thus, Kevin and Jason created a new kitchen tool out of a wire clothes hanger:

It worked like a charm, and I have been instructed to save it until the next egg coddling party.

We've found that six minutes is not quite long enough to suit our general taste, especially since we put so many coddlers down into the water at once, thereby reducing the water temperature below the boiling point for a while.  You can also see from the picture above that we have some coddlers that are larger than others; they naturally need some more time.  In general, we were cooking them for ten to twelve minutes.

Once the time has elapsed, unscrewing the lids is a process that needs caution and two hot pads.

When the eggs are cooked, they come out in little bell shapes.

Coddling eggs is a very labor-intensive and time-consuming way to prepare them for large groups of people, but getting together was the main point of last night's gathering.  Though we all live within an eleven mile radius, because of Covid-19, we have only been together twice since March: once on Mothers' Day and then again on Christmas.  We figured since we were already exposed to each other on Christmas, we might as well get together once more, and I really enjoyed having Janet and Kevin and their families back here with me in the house where we grew up.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Granny's Texas Pralines

Marjorie the Margin Gem and I have been very busy the last couple of days.  Yesterday we made Chex mix, Christmas Crack, and what we call "Angel Poop."  Today, in the middle of a powerful winter storm, the real cooking commenced with Meme's fudge, Meme's divinity, Meme's penuche, and Granny's Texas pralines.  "Granny" was what we called my grandmother on my dad's side.  She and Gramps lived next door for the first nineteen years of my life--first in the home where Nancy and I live now, later in the little house just to the west where my folks lived when I was born.

Granny was an excellent cook, but by the time I came along, her candy and cookie making days had given way to store-bought treats.  Older members of the family remember her filling the north porch at Christmas time with all manner of homemade confections, but my food memories of her center around the wonderful Midwestern dinners she made.  As was always the tradition with farm families around here, dinner was the noon meal, and supper was a lighter, less labor intensive affair.  Granny's dinners were known for the creamiest mashed potatoes, homegrown vegetables, and some of the best meats I've ever tasted.

During Christmas break of either my freshman or sophomore years of college, I went up to Gramps and Gran's and rifled through Granny's recipe box, copying whatever struck my fancy.  Unfortunately, the foods that I remembered the most fondly were the results of Granny's instincts, not written recipes.  (Her meatloaf was to die for, and I later discovered that it was the result of her Danish heritage, but I have yet to find a recipe that is close.)  

I did copy her recipe for Texas pralines, though I didn't really know what they were.  When I brought the recipe home, I showed it to my mom, who remembered it right away.

"Oh, those are SO good!" Mom said.  

Well, once again Mom was right: this is an outstanding candy recipe that I enjoy more and more each year.  Here is what you'll need:

2 c. granulated sugar

1 c. cultured buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 T. butter

1 tsp. vanilla

pecan pieces or halves

Here is what you do:

1. In a 3- or 4-quart heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, buttermilk, and soda.  The buttermilk and soda will react and become quite foamy, which is why you need the large pan.  Bring these to a boil directly over the firebox, stirring constantly.

2. Once the mixture has come to a full boil, continue stirring constantly and move the pan to a cooler part of the stove to keep boiling gently.  Boil until it reaches the soft ball stage.  (I test in cold water, but you can use a candy thermometer if you prefer.) 

You can see from these photos that the mixture turns brown and its foaminess reduces as it cooks.

3. When the soft ball stage has been reached, remove from the fire and add the tablespoon of butter and teaspoon of vanilla.  Beat for awhile until it begins to thicken and looks like the picture below.

4. Add the pecans at this point.  There was no measure given in the recipe, so just add enough for it to look right as a dropped candy.  Continue beating until the candy thickens and loses most of its glossiness.

5. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper.  Let cool completely and store in an airtight container.

If cooked according to these directions, this candy should be a very smooth coating to the pecans.

A northwest wind has howled all day long here with gusts so strong at times that it sounds like a semi-truck is approaching.  When I got up this morning at a little after six, the temperature was 43ºF.  It has dropped all day, and the snow started to blow this afternoon.  It was a perfect time to make this candy because standing and stirring constantly at the wood cookstove was a pleasure!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Vintage Recipe: Auntie Freda Sieck's Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

This post was requested by one of The Ivers Girls.  The Ivers Girls grew up as neighbors to my maternal grandparents, but to call them simply neighbors or family friends doesn't begin to describe the relationship that our two families share.  For well over fifty years, our lives have intertwined in so many ways that I'm not even able to number them all.  Over that half century, many, many recipes have been exchanged between the two families, so when the youngest of The Ivers Girls mentioned to me earlier this fall that she wished she had my grandma Marian's sugar cookie recipe, I was surprised.

"You mean Grandma never gave that to you?" I asked.

"Whenever I asked about it, all Marian would say was that there was 'nothing special in it,'" she responded.

This is very surprising to me because my Grandma was not one to keep any recipe a secret, especially one like this that she used so frequently.  When I was young, these cookies would show up about once per month from October to April.  In October, they were cut in the shapes of pumpkins and leaves and were frosted with orange tinted icing.  Come November, they appeared in the shapes of turkeys with orange or brown frosting.  Of course, in December they were cut in all sorts of Christmas shapes, and the frosting would be white, pink, and pastel green.  (Grandma didn't believe in darkly colored frosting; she said that you shouldn't have to taste the color.)  In late December, Grandma would make another batch and cut them all into bells to "ring in the new year."  These always had white frosting and usually a cinnamon candy for the clapper.  In February, they appeared as pink frosted hearts; in March, green-frosted shamrocks.  Finally, in April dozens of eggs, crosses, and churches would be cut out.

My mother's favorite story about these cookies is from the Christmas season that was most likely my freshman year of high school.  She had just returned to teaching full-time, and we were extremely busy with activities, too.  Mom had mixed a batch of these and put the dough to chill on our enclosed north porch, which often serves as a walk-in cooler in the winter months.  She always covered the mixer bowl with a luncheon plate, making it easy to access.  As we kids walked in and out of the kitchen door, it was too easy to just lift the plate and grab a bite of cookie dough.  None of that batch of dough actually made it to the oven.  While I would feel terribly irresponsible if I recommended eating cookie dough with raw eggs and flour in it, I will admit that this dough is really good!

My grandma actually sold these cookies for a short time in the 1990s, and while most people associate this recipe with her, she got the recipe from her paternal aunt, and she forever referred to them as Auntie Freda's Sour Cream Cookies--hence the title of this post.  

So, without further ado, here is the big "secret."  Here are the ingredients:

2 cups sugar

1 cup shortening

2 eggs

1 cup sour cream (commercial or country, but not too sour if using country)

1 tsp. soda

2 tsp. vanilla

dash salt

4 1/2 - 5 1/2 cups flour (or more)

And here is the method:

Cream the shortening and sugar.

Beat in the eggs.

Add the sour cream.

Stir in the soda, salt, and vanilla.

Beat well and then begin adding the flour a cup at a time.

Add the flour a cup at a time until you have a dough that 
is not quite stiff enough to roll.  I had just a tad extra sour
cream in this batch because I wanted to finish out the
container, and I had to put in six cups of flour to get the
dough to the right consistency.

Chill the dough for at least two hours; overnight is better.

Now, here is the first real "secret" to getting these to turn out like Grandma Marian's.  When you roll these cookies out, you can choose what you like best.  My mom likes to roll them wafer thin because she likes them thin and crispy.  If you want a really thick cookie, these will work for that too.  However, Grandma always rolled them out to about a quarter of an inch, maybe less.

The next secret to getting them just like Grandma's is in the baking.  These need to be baked in a moderate oven, but here again, the length of time they are baked depends on your personal preference.  Mom likes them best when they are brown all over.  They are good that way, too, but just be aware that the flavor is completely different than if you bake them just until the edges begin to show that they are turning a light brown.  Grandma was adamant about this.  I can still see her standing at her wall oven watching these cookies like a hawk.  As soon as the first hint of brownness began to appear at the edges, she whipped them out of the oven.  Depending on the heat of your oven, eight minutes may even be too long for these cookies to bake.

A word to my fellow wood cookstove users about baking cookies in a woodburning cookstove:

Remember that when you are baking cookies, you'll need to build your fire a little hotter than what you ordinarily would for the desired baking temperature.  Basically, if you need a 350ºF oven, build your fire in whatever way would give you a 375ºF oven.  The reason for this is that with cookie baking, you will be opening the oven door far more frequently than you would if you were baking a pie or a cake, for example, and a wood cookstove oven doesn't recover its heat as quickly as a modern one does.

A sheet of sour cream sugar cookies in the oven of
the Margin Gem cookstove.

Once the cookies have baked, immediately remove them from the cookie sheet to either a cooling rack for crispier cookies or a paper towel-covered countertop for a softer cookie.  You can tell what my preference is by looking below.
Grandma would say that the top and the third cookies
in the stack nearest the bottom of the photograph are baked too long.

The last and biggest secret to getting these cookies to taste exactly like Grandma's is in the frosting.  She would always just mix up a buttercream icing with powdered sugar, butter, water, and vanilla, BUT she would also add just a hint of almond flavoring--not so much that you would be able to immediately identify it, but enough that you can definitely taste it.  This little dab of almond flavoring really sets these cookies off.

Once the frosting has set enough to handle, pack these cookies into airtight containers, putting waxed paper between the layers to prevent the frosting from gluing them all together.  The frosting will soften the cookies over the next few hours, and the end product is deliciously addictive.

I wish I could give you an estimated yield, but I had put this dough out on the aforementioned north porch and did a poor job of resisting the temptation to snitch from it here and there.  Keep in mind, though, that with 5 1/2 cups of flour, this recipe makes a lot of cookies.  Enjoy!