Sunday, February 28, 2021

Grandma Marian's Rice Pudding

Both Meme and Grandma Marian were of the school of thought that rice should be cooked forever in the top of a double boiler.  I know Meme's mother (my great-great-grandmother) cooked it in the same manner, and it was always served on Saturday night for supper.  Thus, I almost laughed aloud when I read the following bit from page 50 of my reprint of the 1933 Home Comfort Cookbook:

"Rice should not be put into a double boiler and cooked slowly into a pasty mass."

That is EXACTLY what they both did, and I ate it happily every time!

If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that Grandma only made rice once per month.  It was served instead of the ever-present potato with a sprinkling of sugar and a dash of cinnamon once it was on our plates.  Other than that, it was completely unseasoned.  (I had never even heard of salting rice until I was in college, and I had never had Chinese food either.)  If any rice was leftover, she would make it into rice pudding for dessert a day or two later.  Since she didn't ever know how much rice she would have (she was constantly cooking for large groups of family and hired men), there was never any recipe for her rice pudding.  Furthermore, sometimes it all fit into a small custard cup, and sometimes it needed an 8" x 10" Pyrex dish.  Obviously, this dish is very flexible.

Also, I should give fair warning that though Grandma always called this "rice pudding," it is really more of a baked custard with rice in it.  Thus, if you are looking for a rice pudding that is more similar to a cornstarch pudding, this isn't going to fit that bill.

To start with, you need leftover cooked rice, eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla.  You can see in the picture below that I had two different containers of leftover rice, and I would estimate that they amounted to about 2 1/2 cups altogether.

To this amount of rice, I added three eggs and some milk, a splash of vanilla, and perhaps a quarter cup of sugar.  I could have put more sugar in--Grandma certainly would have--but I like this best served with ice cream, so I didn't want it to be all that sweet.

Three eggs didn't seem to be sufficient, so I added a fourth and a dab more milk.  That's the thing with this sort of "recipe": you have to carefully observe what things look like so that you know how to adjust your proportions.  In this case, you want there to be enough egg and milk mixture to cover the rice completely.  You can see that things looked better after I added these extras.

Finally, add whatever amount of raisins you would like.  I think I put in a heaping half cup into this batch.  

Lightly sprinkle cinnamon on the top of the pudding once you put it in whatever dish you are going to bake it in.

This is a particularly good recipe to bake in a wood cookstove because you don't have to have a certain oven temperature.  I imagine Grandma baked it at 325ºF, but you just have to have a slow to moderate oven.

Watch the pudding carefully, baking it until it is firm in the middle.  Depending on the size of your pudding, this can take quite a while.  Again, just watch it carefully and don't let your fire get too hot!

I like this rice pudding best when served warm.  Grandma always served it with Cool Whip, milk, half & half, or ice cream.  My favorite is ice cream.

We have some family friends who make a very similar dish that they just call "Baked Rice."  Theirs is less sweet, has a bit of salt added to it, and is served as a starchy side dish for the main meal rather than a dessert, but it is the same basic idea.  Both their family and Grandma's has a lot of German influence, so I wonder if this is a German dish.

Please fill up the comments with information about whether you or your family make something similar, and let us all know how your method differs.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Enterprise Stoves from the Phillips & Buttorff Corporation of Nashville, Tennessee

I thought I'd share one of my 2020 Christmas present with all of you.  This stove catalog is from the Phillips & Buttorff Corporation of Nashville, Tennessee, and lists all of their coal and wood ranges, stoves, and heaters.

It has been very difficult to find information about the Phillips and Buttorff Corporation anywhere on the internet.  What little I've found says that when Henry W. Buttorff, who was born in 1837, came of working age, he started as a sheet metal apprentice and worked his way into being a leading businessman in the state of Tennessee.  The Phillips & Buttorff Manufacturing Corporation was incorporated in 1881 but had been in business as Phillips, Buttorff & Company for several years before that.   

There is no date anywhere in this catalog, but my best guess is that it dates from 1946 - 1950.  I base this on the following evidence:

a) The style of stoves shown in the catalog.
b) The font styles used for the text.
c) Page 1 identifies this as catalog "T."

My research uncovered that Catalog "H" came out in 1932.  If a single catalog were published each year, Catalog "T" should have come out in 1944.  However, we all know that World War II stopped stove production in the U.S. since all foundries were retooled to produce munitions or other products needed for the war.  

The catalog does say that Phillips & Buttorff also produced a complete line of electric and gas stoves at the time it was published.  During my research, I found several pictures of Enterprise gas stoves from this company, some of which looked as though they were produced in the 1960s.  I was not able to find any information about the company's end, though.

Before you take a look at the pictures below, let me say that I was initially confused about this catalog because I expected it to depict the Enterprise stoves which were manufactured in Canada.  I now know that the Canadian Enterprise stove line was manufactured by Enterprise Fawcett in Sackville, New Brunswick, and had no connection that I can find to the Tennessee company using the same branding.

Enough comments, Jim.  Let the pictures speak for themselves!

The ten-page gap here is because the omitted pages all had to do with their heating stoves.

The page above, my friends, is the type of thing that caused me to start this blog.  Notice how scant the directions really are.

If any of my readers has a Phillips & Buttorff Enterprise stove, please comment below about your experiences with it.  Also, if anyone who reads this knows more about the Phillips & Buttorff Corporation, by all means, utilize the comments to let us all know more about this company!  

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Product Review: An Ash Vacuum

I used some of my Christmas money this year to buy an ash vacuum from Tractor Supply Company.  Anyone who has a woodburning stove knows that ashes have a habit of landing in places that you don't want them, and a vacuum is the easiest, quickest, and most thorough method of cleaning them up.  

We've got quite a history with vacuums used for ash removal in this house.  When we first moved in when I was six years old, we exchanged houses with my grandparents who lived next door here on the farm.  My grandmother left her Hoover 2201 here, and we used it to vacuum up ashes around the Washington Stoveworks parlor stove that was in the enclosed south porch.  

A Hoover 2201 identical to the one Granny
left here in 1981.  Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

We used this vacuum for perhaps two or three years until I accidentally sucked up a live ember.  The air rushing through the vacuum cleaner's system quickly fanned the ember into flames, and the machine was ruined. 

After that, we brought up the Airway Sanitizer Vacuum that had been our basement vacuum cleaner even when we lived in the little house.  I think this one belonged to my great-grandparents on my dad's side.  It was just like the one in the picture below, only we still had the original cloth hose.

An old Airway Sanitizer Vacuum like 
the one we had.  Photo from Pinterest.

I'm not sure what happened to end this vacuum cleaner's career.  I suspicion that in the days before the almighty internet, we were no longer able to find bags for it.  I cannot say for sure, though.  At any rate, it served as the vacuum for the heating stove in the south porch for at least a decade, which coincided with the time that we had an Englander heating stove.

The next vacuum that was used regularly was my Kirby Generation 3.  Around the time that Nancy and I started dating, however, I vacuumed up a wood chip that ruined the fan.  Thus, on one of Nancy's and my earliest dates, we had to deliver my vacuum cleaner to the Kirby repairman in Council Bluffs.

We hadn't been married long when we went to an auction in rural Shelby County, Iowa.  At that auction, Nancy was excited to find a Eureka Mighty Mite just like the one her mother has.  We purchased it for a whopping $7.00 and have considered it a blessing ever since.  Its arrival occurred near the time we replaced the Englander with a Jøtul.

The Mighty Mite was doing a fantastic job of ash removal for us, but its bags are quite small, and with some recent store closures in our area, we are only able to purchase the bags online.  Cleaning up ashes seems to fill vacuum bags more quickly than plain dirt removal.  Further, the memory of what happened to the Hoover 2201 is still strong in my mind, and I don't want a repeat performance!  Thus, I've been looking at ash vacuums half-heartedly for a while and finally decided to take the plunge and buy one.

Our local Tractor Supply store carries a brand called REDºStone, which is priced at less than $50.  Designed to be similar to a shop vac, it has no bag.  Instead, whatever is vacuumed up travels through a flexible aluminum hose to a metal base.  The motor and filter assembly clamp to the top of the metal base.  While the instructions caution the operator not to vacuum up live coals, with both a metal hose and metal dust bin if a burning ember does inadvertently make it into the machine, the risk of fire is greatly reduced.

The Margin Gem is equipped with small shelves to catch ashes when you open the front firebox door and the ash removal door.  They do their job very well until they are full, and then the ashes fall on the floor.  

The ash vacuum is the perfect tool to clean up all of this.

The suction that this machine has is really quite impressive--much stronger than what I think is usual for a regular household vacuum cleaner.

The feature of this vacuum that most surprised and pleased me has to do with the air filter.  First, when I unboxed it, I found that each vacuum is shipped with an extra air filter.  Secondly, the air filters are washable!  I consider this a fantastic feature.  In the picture below, I'm flushing the air filter clean under running water according to the directions provided.

You can see in the picture below that it cleaned up very well.  Twenty-four hours later, it had dried completely.  A quick turn of a wing-nut reattached it to the motor housing, and the vacuum was working as good as new.

Overall, I'm very pleased with this ash vacuum, and I would recommend the purchase of one to any serious woodburner.  

And now, just for record keeping purposes, I want to attach pictures of our outdoor thermometers this morning.  As you can see, it was a bit nippy in southwestern Iowa!

Through a frost, dirty porch window,
you can see that this thermometer read

Our digital thermometer, whose outdoor sensor is
on the north side of the summer kitchen, always 
registers slightly warmer than the other.  Either
way, it was COLD here this morning.

So very glad to have a woodburning cookstove on mornings like this!

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Vintage Recipe: Chocolate Drop Cookies

Valentine's Day was one of Meme's (pronounced with long "e" sounds) favorite holidays.  I mention her in the biographical information on the left because she was largely responsible for my early fascination with woodburning cookstoves.  Meme was a great-great-aunt on my mother's side, and as she had no children of her own, she was very close to our family.  She and I spent a lot of time together--much of it baking--and she would continually reminisce about cooking on a woodburning cookstove.

The 1920s Monarch range which had been her family's second wood cookstove rested in the washhouse on the farm where my cousin makes his home now.  Fortunately, it had been removed from the beautiful farmhouse in 1948 because the house burned to the ground in 1962.  As that farmstead with the gaping basements used to be a favorite picnic spot for us, I would always go into the washhouse and take a look at that beautiful stove.  I can remember one time when all of my mother's family, including Meme, had a cleanup day at the "other place," and my uncle convinced Meme to give us a little tutorial about how she used to cook on that great range.

On our farm a row of cedar trees used to separate the two houses, the southernmost four standing in a perfect square, and I can remember that when I was five, I drew plans in red crayon for a summer kitchen to be built using those four cedars as the corners.  My idea was that the Monarch range could be moved to our place.  I can remember pitching the idea to Granny, who listened with amusement but obviously had no intention of making these dreams a reality.  

So, during those early years I had to be content just pretending to cook on a woodburning cookstove while playing with the toy cookstove that Meme had in the spare bedroom of her apartment.  You can see an identical toy at this post: The Stove That Started It All.  I suppose that I was in junior high or early high school when Meme began to realize that my desire to cook on a real woodburning cookstove was more than just a passing fancy.  I remember that we were in her apartment kitchen watching a pot on the back burner of her Hotpoint electric stove when she started back-pedaling on her romanticism of the woodburning range.

"Oh, you don't really want an old cookstove," I recall her saying.  I protested, and she said, "You have to haul all the fuel in and the ashes out, and then there are some days where maybe it rains and then you can't get the fire to go at all." (My grandfather later explained the set up of the kitchen chimney in the house that burned, and I'm not at all surprised that they had trouble getting a fire lit on rainy days.  I've never had such a problem.)  However, her years of waxing poetic about the woodburning cookstove had made their mark.

If Meme were alive today, she would shake her head and be a little embarrassed to think that she had anything to do with my affinity for wood cookstoves.  But the reality is that her influence on me was and is far greater than just that.  I won't take the time and space to talk further about all of that here, but I will say that one of the areas of influence Meme had was on my chocolate preferences.  Meme was a chocolate aficionado, even though I'm sure she'd never heard the word.  Meme loved chocolate.  Her favorite gifts at Valentine's Day were roses and a box of Russell Stover candies.  Among her meager belongings at the end of her life were further evidence of her love affair with chocolate.  She had used large See's chocolate boxes for storage of various articles, and at the end of this post you will see a vintage Mrs. Steven's candy tin that she used as a cookie can for decades.

Meme was funny about her chocolate, though.  While I never knew her to discriminate between dark or milk chocolate when it came to those many boxes of Russell Stover's, in her own cooking she halved the chocolate in her recipes.  Perhaps this was from motives of economy, I don't know.  Whatever the reason, after a steady diet of lightly chocolated sweets all through my youth, I'm not a fan of dark chocolate, and I prefer baked goods that have had their chocolate content reduced too.  As I write this, it just now dawns on me that perhaps this is the reason I'm not a chocolate cake fan.

The recipe that I'll eventually get around to sharing with you in this post is one of those where Meme always reduced the chocolate.  Sometime in the 1920s, Meme left the farm to attend Iowa State College (later renamed Iowa State University) in Ames, Iowa.  She was nearly thirty years old at the time, and I imagine that after the great romance of her life had dissolved due to religious differences, she thought she ought to be prepared to support herself with a career.  Meme spent only a year at Iowa State and then transferred to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she completed her Bachelors in dietetics.  

During my own time at ISU, I had an American history class in the auditorium in MacKay Hall, which is the headquarters of the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and I often wondered which rooms Meme would have spent most of her time in seventy years before I got there.  I could imagine her as one of the women in the historic pictures of cooking classes in that building, standing in stiffly starched aprons over ancient gas hotplates.  I knew about her time at Iowa State because in her kitchen she still had two stacks of recipes that bore the Iowa State College labels.  These stacks were bound by elastic bands from panty hose, but one of the recipes was never with the rest; it was the recipe for Chocolate Drop Cookies.  I have Meme's box of recipes now, so you can see the card in the picture below.  It is hard for me to believe that it is nearly 100 years old today.  Don't try to read the recipe the way it's written because she never followed this, even though you can see that she looked at the recipe many times!

Meme completed the four-year dietetics course in three years, and due to the stress of doing so she suffered what was then called a "nervous breakdown."  She returned to the farm to recover, and events conspired to keep her there until 1947 when she left to make room for my newlywed maternal grandparents.  I'd be willing to bet that several batches of these cookies were baked in that old Monarch wood cookstove in the twenty years between her return from college and her move to Council Bluffs.  I KNOW that oceans of these cookies came out of the oven on the bright new General Electric Airliner range that she had for the thirty years that she lived on Grace Street in the Bluffs, and another large number of them were baked in the aforementioned Hotpoint in her subsequent apartment.  These were truly one of her favorites.

Honestly, they're one of mine too, but I discovered that I hadn't made them since before Nancy and I were married, so it was high time that I introduce her to them!  One last note before we get to the directions: when I spent my two years at Iowa State University in the mid-1990s, I lived in the dorms, and these cookies were still on the menu of the food service system.  You can't imagine how excited I was to see them.  They were served two on a plate, and I knew immediately what they were and was surprised that seventy years later ISU was still using their recipe.  However, when I took my first bite, I was so disappointed.  They didn't taste anything like Meme's because they followed the recipe and used the full amount of chocolate.  They bordered on bitter, in my opinion, but I ate them anyway.

To make these the way Meme did, here is what you'll need:

1 oz. Bakers' unsweetened chocolate
1 cup light brown sugar (the lighter the better)
1/2 cup butter, very soft but not melted
1 egg
1/2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp. sifted flour

Here is what you do:

1.  Build your fire so that you will have a moderate oven.

2. Over the coolest part of the cooktop, melt the ounce of unsweetened chocolate.  (Does anyone else miss the individually wrapped one-ounce squares as much as I do?  I have a terrible time getting the new solid bars to break right along the lines.)

The chocolate melting in Meme's old Mirro saucepan
on the far right side of the Margin Gem.

3. While the chocolate is melting, cream the brown sugar and butter.
The soft butter and the light brown sugar
being creamed by Meme's 1950 Sunbeam
Mixmaster.  You can tell already that this
recipe doesn't make a large number of cookies.

4. Add the melted chocolate to the sugar and butter mixture.

5. Beat in the egg.  You'll have to scrape the bowl carefully to make sure that any chocolate that stuck to the bottom of the bowl is thoroughly incorporated.

6. Add the baking soda, baking powder, and vanilla.

The measuring spoon you see here was
also Meme's.

7. Add the flour and the milk alternately.

The two measuring cups and the plate
in this picture belonged to Meme.  The
plate is part of a set of Homer Laughlin
Eggshell Theme from the 1940s.

8. Mix all just until well blended.  The dough will feel much more like thick cake batter than cookie dough.

9. Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Make sure the cookie sheet is only lightly greased.  You can see in the first picture below that I was too generous with the Crisco.  That is why in the second picture two of the cookies have slid into their neighbors once they were exposed to the heat of the oven.

This is Meme's cookie sheet.  She'd be
so embarrassed if she knew how
"seasoned" I've let it become.

Photographing fire is so difficult!  I wish you could
really see what kind of a fire it takes to keep a
moderate oven.

10. Now, baking these is a little tricky because you can't tell by looking at a chocolate cookie just how brown it is becoming.  Instead, you've got to poke these with your finger.  They are done when they have spread out flat and feel like they have just begun to form a slight crust on the top.  They are overbaked if they feel like they will be crispy.  This should take anywhere from 8-12 minutes depending on how hot your oven is running.  Remember that the end product here is more like a little flat cake than what we usually think of when we think of a chewy or crispy cookie.

11. Remove the cookies from the pan and put them on paper toweling on the countertop to cool.  You'll ruin them if you put them on a cooling rack.  Trust me on this one!

12. Once the cookies are baked, it is time to make the frosting.  If you looked at the recipe above, you know that it came with a frosting recipe, but that was never what Meme did.  Instead, in a small bowl, she would put about three tablespoons of butter, a teaspoon of vanilla, and perhaps a tablespoon or so of Hershey's cocoa.  Add two or three tablespoons of water and stir.

A little more cocoa than I wanted jumped out of
the jar when I poured it in, so my frosting was a
little darker than Meme's.  Oh, and you guessed
it: this is Meme's bowl too.

13. Beat in sufficient powdered sugar to make a thick but spreadable frosting.  Frost the top of each cookie, and don't be too stingy.

Now, you could eat these at this point, but try not to.  Yes, I know that is much easier for me to say than it will be to do!

14. Pack the cookies into an airtight container, using waxed paper to separate the layers so that the frosting doesn't glue them all together.  Let these sit with the lid on overnight.  The next day they will be at their peak, and what a peak it is!

This is the vintage Mrs. Stevens' Candies tin that
Meme always put these cookies in.  It was her widest
tin, so the cookies didn't have to be stacked high,
which would mash them.

Grandma Marian told me once that Meme used to get the lightest brown sugar that she could, and these cookies would have a reddish cast when you bit into them.  I didn't have very light brown sugar, but the batch that you see here did have a slight reddish cast inside them.  If someone can explain that to me, I'd appreciate it.

These were a huge hit with my resident picky eater, and they really aren't difficult to make.  I don't know why it has taken me over seventeen years to make these for Nancy, but I'm not planning on waiting that long again!