Thursday, January 28, 2021

Aebleskiver on the Wood Cookstove

Granny, my grandmother on my dad's side, was 100% Danish, but I don't think she ever made Aebleskiver (or Ebelskiver), and I'd be willing to bet that her mother never made them either.  You see, my great-grandmother had ten children who lived to adulthood, and I'm sure there was no way she would have been able to make enough Aebleskiver at one shot to stave off their hunger.  I've never heard anyone say that Granny ever made Aebleskiver either, and that would be because she did everything in a hurry, and you just can't hurry these.

Literally translated, "Aebleskiver" means "apple slice," and I suppose that one could make these little things with an apple slice in the middle, but that is not very common anymore so far as I know.  What we southwestern Iowans call Aebleskiver is really more of a pancake or waffle that is shaped like a ball.  In order to make them, an Aebleskiver pan is required.  These are almost always made of cast iron with seven half-sphere wells in them.

A little anecdote about my pan: I bought this several years ago from an antiques vendor at Carstens Farm.  They had it priced at just over half the amount I had recently seen on one at an antique store, and the label called it an "egg cooker."  I happily plunked down the money for this heavy "egg cooker," but then had to carry it around the rest of the evening.  While Nancy and I were in line for Staley's chicken, someone came up to us and asked why I was carrying around an Aebleskiver pan.  I explained that I had just purchased it, that it had been labeled as an egg cooker, and disclosed the price I paid.  His eyes got big, and he said, "You stole it!"  'Fraid so, folks, and I have to confess that I don't feel guilty about it either.

Special note for wood cookstove cooks: New style Aebleskiver pans are constructed slightly differently than this vintage one.  In later pictures, you will be able to see that this pan has an apron around the outside which traps heat and fixes it so that the bottoms of the wells don't actually rest on the stovetop but are lifted ever so slightly above it.  For cooking on a wood cookstove, this is the style of pan that I feel is preferable.  The reason is that I often have removed a lid from over the firebox and placed the pan directly over the fire.  The apron around the edge of the pan prevents smoke from entering the room and also prevents cold room air from being sucked into the stove around the pan, creating very unevenly heated wells.  

1. The Aebleskiver pan needs to be very hot, so I start the process of making Aebleskiver by building a hot fire and putting the pan on the stove directly over the fire.

2. Even if you are lucky enough to have a well-seasoned pan, you are going to have to grease it between each set of Aebleskiver that you bake.  A very experienced Aebleskiver baker from a neighboring town told me that when her church has their annual Aebleskiver supper (a humongous fundraiser and social event there), they grease their Aebleskiver pans with a mixture of half lard and half white Crisco.  This really is important because the type of grease used definitely affects the flavor of these.  Hence, I put equal parts of the two fats in a dish up in the warming oven to melt.  If they are melted together, it makes it very easy to spoon some into each well.

(At this point, astute readers are saying to themselves, "Wait a minute, you just said that these took a lot of time and that it was impossible to make them for a crowd.  How can a church have an Aebleskiver supper?"  Well, I've only been present once many years ago, but let me tell you, these women have this thing down to a science!  They pull the electric stoves out of their slots in the kitchen cupboards and station a lady on each side so that each person is taking care of two Aebleskiver pans.  If I remember correctly, they have three stoves, so they are cooking twelve pans at once with six ladies dedicated to just turning Aebleskiver.  Others are engaged in providing the batter, etc.  It is an undertaking of epic proportions.)

Now, I'm going to share two different Aebleskiver recipes.  The first one comes from Bessie Ford, who was a cousin of my great-grandpa Doc.  By the time I met her, she was a quaint old lady who lived in an even quainter one-story house on the edge of Missouri Valley, Iowa.  She had no children of her own, but she had a nephew who lived somewhere fairly close, and she would have him and his family come down for Aebleskiver suppers.  This is the recipe that she used:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

3 egg yolks

2 tsp. sugar

2 cups buttermilk

3 egg whites

Bessie's recipe makes very good Aebleskivers that are as light as feathers.  The internet is full of Aebleskiver recipes that are very similar, if not identical, to this one.

However, the next Aebleskiver recipe is my favorite.  It is the one used at the aforementioned local church supper, and--try as I might--I've never found a similar recipe anywhere.

5 cups flour

4 1/2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. salt

6 egg yolks

2 TBLSP. sugar

1 cup heavy whipping cream

4 cups rich milk

6 egg whites

No matter which recipe you decide you wish to try, the method is the same.

3. Mix your flour, leavening, and salt together.

4. Separate your eggs and beat the whites to stiff peaks.

5. Beat the sugar into the yolks.

6. Beat the liquids into the egg yolk mixture.

7. Combine the egg and dairy mixture with the dry ingredients.

8. Fold the stiffly beaten egg whites in last.

9. By now, your Aebleskiver pan should be hot.  I put about a half teaspoon of the melted shortening in each well.  I find it works best if the oil is so hot that it is just about to smoke.

10. Fill each well almost to the top with the batter.  I find that the gravy ladle that goes with our everyday silverware set is the perfect size for this task.

Here I am starting to bake the first Aebleskiver.
You can also see a Poffertjes pan on the stove.
We tried making Aebleskiver in it, but it
didn't work out, so we abandoned that idea 
early on and just used the Aebleskiver pan.

11. By the time you have finished filling the seventh well, it is very likely that the batter in the one you filled first will be ready to turn.  Using an ice pick or similar weaponry, gently lift one edge of the half sphere by catching it with the point of the pick and pulling up a little ways.  This will result in some more of the uncooked batter from the middle to pour out and form some more of the edge.

12. Repeat step #11 until you have perfectly round Aebleskivers, letting them cook long enough to be sure that they are not doughy in the middle.

13. Once they are done, they can be immediately served, but you may find yourself wanting to collect a few before sending them to the table so that more than a couple of people can eat at the same time.  This is where the warming oven of the wood cookstove really shines.  I like to put them in this stainless steel Wilton bowl that Nancy and I were given as a wedding gift.  The bowl is designed so that you could boil a vegetable side dish in it on the stovetop and then take it directly to the table to serve.  It is the perfect thing in which to store hot Aebleskiver in the warming oven before taking a bunch of them to the table at once.

Aebleskiver can be served in a number of ways.  Some people roll them in sugar or cinnamon sugar, or they could be dusted with powdered sugar.  My preference is to eat them with syrup.  The ones in the picture below are accompanied by red raspberry syrup made by a family a couple of counties to the east of us.

Don't think that syrup is necessary, however.  When we had all of my family here for an Aebleskiver supper after Christmas, the bowl of leftover Aebleskiver was sitting on the kitchen table waiting for me to bag them up for the freezer while everyone was leaving.  As they went by on their way out the door, my five-year-old twin nephews each grabbed one to-go and ate them plain.  I took that as a high compliment!

Aebleskiver freeze well in a plastic zipper bag, and microwave nicely when you are ready to eat them again.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Canning Pineapple on the Wood Cookstove

First, some news: Nancy and I finally made donuts again, so there are now pictures on that post from April.

Speaking of April, sometime around Easter of last year, one of the grocery stores near us sold pineapples for less than a dollar each with no limits on the number you could buy.  We bought five and I canned at least three of them.  That was the first time I had ever canned pineapple, and when we opened a jar to taste it, we were immediately hooked.  Home-canned pineapple has outstanding flavor!  My personal opinion is that the flavor is so good because it is in glass rather than metal or plastic.

At any rate, pineapple went on sale again at the same store right around Christmas, and I finally got around to canning the ones we bought just last Thursday.

As always when I'm water bath canning on a wood cookstove, I start by putting my canner full of water directly over the firebox.  Because I knew that preparing the pineapple for canning wouldn't take very long, I also put my sugar syrup on to come to a boil.  Pineapple is very sweet on its own, so I made a very light syrup.  Canning manuals say that a light syrup is one cup of sugar to three cups of water.  I made mine a little lighter than that even.

When I'm water bath canning, I always like to have the teakettle near the fire too, in case I've missed my guess and have to add water to the canner.  Using boiling water from the teakettle doesn't cool the canner down when you add it, which is important to keeping your processing time accurate.

The canning lids are in warm water on the cooler part of the stove away from the fire.

The Margin Gem with canner, syrup,
teakettle, and lids heating up.  The
oven door is open because, well, it's
January, you know.

With all of that on the stove, I went to the counter in the pantry to get the pineapple into the jars.  I cut them into pieces that would be larger than commercially canned tidbits but smaller than what are sold as pineapple chunks.  Fill the jars to within a half-inch of the top.

Both times I've canned pineapple, it worked out that you can roughly figure that one pineapple will yield two jars full.

After covering the fruit with the boiling syrup and affixing the lids and bands, all went into the canner.  This time, right after putting in one of the first jars, I heard that telltale "pop" of a jar that just broke.  I tried to lift the suspect jar up to see if that was what happened, but I couldn't tell for sure.  Once I had the rest of the jars in the canner and I lifted the lid to see if the water had reached the rolling boil that tells me when to start counting processing time, look what was floating.

As frustrating as that is, it happens sometimes!  

My most recent Ball Blue Book says that pineapple in pint jars needs to process for 15 minutes in the boiling water bath.

As you can see, the finished product is a beautiful yellow, and it adds a nice bit of color to the fruit room shelves.  Back in April, I pushed the pencil on this, and when pineapple is less than a dollar each and you include the cost of the sugar and the canning lids, you can save quite a bit of money on canned pineapple by putting it up yourself.  Besides that, the flavor is fantastic!