Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Baking Cornbread in a Wood Cookstove

When I was growing up, I could take or leave cornbread.  My mom used the same recipe that her mother Grandma Marian used.  Maybe the recipe was even Grandma Gladys's or from further back in our family than that.  I don't know.  While it was just fine, it wasn't my favorite recipe for cornbread.

I remember enjoying the cornbread that was served in school lunch, though, and I mentioned that to Phyllis, a family friend and now one of the ladies who comes in to help with the Monday Market baking here in the summer.  Years ago, Phyllis invited me over for supper on a night when she was serving her family cornbread, and her recipe was just what I was looking for!

Phyllis has graduated to a cornbread recipe that she says is even better than this one, but I'm sticking with this version--which I've changed a little from the original version.  Here is what I do:

In a medium-sized bowl, place 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 cup cornmeal, 1/3 cup sugar, 4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 tsp. salt.

Whisk all of these dry ingredients together.

Into a glass measuring cup, put 1 and 1/4 cups buttermilk, 1/3 cup salad oil, and 1 egg.

Beat these wet ingredients together until well blended.

Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredient mixture and stir only until well combines.  You don't want to over mix at this step because that will make your cornbread tough.  Pour all into a greased 8" x 8" dark square pan.  

Bake in a moderately hot oven (400ºF) until edges are slightly brown and have begun to pull away from the pan and the center tests done when a toothpick comes out clean.

I find that pulling a pan of cornbread out of the oven of a woodburning cookstove feels somehow--what is the word? "nostalgic" maybe?--since we know that this was a staple on the supper tables of history.  I notice that our local Fareway sells cornbread alongside the other bakery goods, but I haven't dared try it.  For one thing, I know that homemade cornbread does not keep well at all, so I figure there must be all manner of preservatives in what they sell at the grocery store.  Besides, this is not a difficult recipe, and I don't think anything could come close to the flavor of it fresh out of the oven.  

When I was growing up, cornbread was served with white corn syrup or molasses.  This is not my preferred method of serving it, however.  Stay tuned for the next post to see how I like to eat mine!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Cherry Bars Baked in the Hayes-Custer

In my last post, I said that I would be bringing a series of posts to you about cooking out in the summer kitchen.  I've started those, but this isn't one of them.  

We have five sour cherry trees here on our farm.  Three are courtesy of my grandparents, and the other two are volunteer children of our venerated Montmorency cherry tree.  The Montmorency cherries are my favorite, but they aren't quite ready yet.  Nancy and I did pick from the other two dwarf cherry trees yesterday, though, and as she is not a pie lover, I made cherry bars.  I've seen this recipe in several places, but we first had these in the early 80s after my aunt Rhonda Jo made them.  Now, they are a recipe that I will forever associate with her.

I think Rhonda Jo probably made them with canned cherry pie filling, but since we are starting with fresh fruit, the first thing we had to do is convert the cherries into pie filling.  To do that we use an old Kitchen Klatter recipe that my Great-Grandma Ruth very likely copied down as she was listening to the radio.  

For one batch of cherry pie filling, you need the following:

4 cups of fresh cherries

1 to 1 1/2 cups cherry juice (the juice from the cherries should be sufficient)

1 cup sugar

3 to 4 Tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

This avocado green plastic colander belonged to Granny,
my paternal grandmother, and I've been picking cherries
into it for almost forty years.

Of course, you first have to pit the cherries, saving as much of the juice as you can.  The process of pitting cherries by hand is messy and not an appropriate place for a camera, so there are no pictures of that step.  Sorry.  

Both of my grandmothers, Meme, and my mom were all very thrifty cooks, and very little of the produce that we grew here at home went to waste.  I grew up watching this team of women work for hours over dishpans of wormy apples just to save whatever they could for human consumption.  Hence, Granny always made us save the pits as we processed cherries.  She would then put just the tiniest bit of water on them in a saucepan and bring them to a boil on the stove to get as much of the cherry juice as possible.  I don't know whether this is necessary or not, but this is what she always did, so I continue the tradition.
The cherry pits and a splash of water coming to
a boil over a freshly started fire in the Hayes-Custer
in the summer kitchen.

The boiling cherry pits.

Once you have all of the juice drained off the pits, place the four cups of cherries, the juice, one cup of sugar and 3 to 4 Tablespoons of cornstarch in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  

Start cooking this mixture directly over the firebox, but when it begins to thicken, move it to the middle of the cooktop to continue cooking until the desired thickness is reached.

Hint: This step can be a bit tricky.  Sometimes (often), this has not wanted to thicken for me.  I discovered that if you strain the cherries from the juice and cook just the juice, sugar, and cornstarch directly over the fire, once it reaches a good boil, it will thicken when you add the cherries back into the hot mixture.

It has been extremely dry around here this spring, though, and we had a hard time getting much juice to come out of the cherries at all.  Thus, yesterday, I actually had to add a little boiling water from the teakettle in order to thin the mixture to an appropriate consistency.  You just have to watch and be careful!

Remove the cherry mixture from the stove and stir in a 1/2 tsp. almond flavoring.  Set aside.

For the batter, you will need 1 cup of very soft butter (no substitutes) and 1 3/4 cups of sugar.  

Please pardon my avocado green Sunbeam Mixmaster.
It is uglier than sin.  It belonged to Granny, and when I 
inherited it 26 years ago, I thought I would just use it
until it died.  The thing has to be near to fifty years old now
and shows no sign of dying anytime soon.  How I wish she'd
bought a white one!

Cream the butter and the sugar together until smooth.

Add four eggs to the butter and sugar mixture.

To the above, beat in 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder.

Stir in 3 cups of sifted all-purpose flour.  Good luck trying to keep from tasting the batter at this point.  It is SO GOOD!

Spread two-thirds of the batter into the bottom of a greased jelly roll pan.

Spread the cherry filling over the bottom layer of batter, and then dollop the remaining batter on the top.

Bake in a moderate oven for about a half hour until it begins to pull away from the edges and is golden brown.

Doesn't the Hayes-Custer do a nice job
of baking?


If you want to freeze sour cherries for later use in pie filling, pour the cherry juice from cooking the pits, the four cups of cherries, and the cup of sugar into a freezer container and freeze.  When ready for use, thaw, drain the sweetened juice off, add the starch and cook.  Add the cherries once the juice and starch have come to a boil and thickened.

If you were going to make a cherry pie with the filling, I would recommend adding a dash of cinnamon to it along with the almond flavoring.  JUST a dash, though.

These bars can be made with any type of canned pie filling.  Strawberry is one that I've seen fairly frequently.

Some people drizzle a little vanilla icing over these bars.  Now, I love frosting and put it only lots of things, however, I will admit to thinking that these are sweet enough without it.  You do what you want, though.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Cooking on the Hayes-Custer in the Summer Kitchen Again

Nancy has pronounced me crazy.

My insanity is not news, however.  My longtime, loyal readers and certainly those who know me personally had no doubt arrived at this conclusion long ago, so that is not the reason for this blogpost.

The reason for this blogpost and the reason that Nancy has pronounced me crazy are one and the same.  She made her proclamation when she saw me hauling a large skillet of cauliflower out to the summer kitchen a week ago Saturday.  

"You're cooking out there?" she said incredulously.

"Yes," I responded.

She looked at me strangely.

"I've told you how much I don't like cooking on that gas stove," I said, shrugging.

"You're crazy," said she.

Guilty as charged, I guess.  I've said before on this blog that no method of cooking compares to cooking on a woodburning cookstove, and now that I don't have to give it up for the summer, I don't plan to.

I had posted on May 22nd that we had turned our electric water heater back on.  However, we had some cooler weather after that, so I fired the Margin Gem again for a few more days.  We left the electric water heater on, but we used the valves in the basement to alternate using water heated electrically and water heated by the Margin Gem.  Once the first of June rolled around, however, the weather got quite warm again, so I have not had a fire inside the house since then.

I've put a two-burner electric hot plate on the reservoir of the Margin Gem in the house kitchen--something that was done quite frequently in history judging from the pictures I've seen.  I've used this for only very light cooking here and there.  Any serious cooking and baking has been hauled out to the summer kitchen.

I really think this Hayes-Custer is quite fuel efficient.  On just a few sticks, I can do quite a bit of cooking and baking.  Speaking of baking, I think it does a beautiful job of it.  In the picture below, I left the goods in the oven about three minutes too long (my fault entirely), but isn't everything a beautiful, uniform golden brown?  I didn't have to rotate anything during the baking time, either.

Bread and rolls coming out of the oven on the Hayes-Custer.  Notice how 
small a fire was required to keep the oven hot.

Oh, and I wish someone would explain something to me: Why do I like cinnamon rolls that are made out of bread dough so well?  I make very good cinnamon rolls using my own variation of my aunt Meme's recipe.  For Monday Market baking, I mix up 15 batches of those rolls, five batches at a time.  People stand in line to buy them.  But, when I'm baking bread for just Nancy and me, I sometimes make one loaf's worth of the dough into a pan of cinnamon rolls.  That's what I did in the picture above.  And I love them!  They have less fat and less sugar in the dough; they are not nearly so light.  In fact they're downright chewy, and I savor every bite!  But why?

Anyway, the picture below is my first ever attempt at tater-tot casserole.  It was very good, but I'm just not a huge fan of tater-tots.  I would like to try it as the recipe originally said, which was to make it with sliced potatoes.  We'll see.  Didn't the Hayes-Custer do a nice job of browning the tater-tots, though?  Nancy doesn't like vegetables to be in the casserole, so the two saucepans over the firebox have home-grown peas and sweet corn from our freezer in them.

During Covid-19 quarantine time, I learned to make hamburger buns from scratch.  The ones that I made on Tuesday of this week were the best batch ever.  The secret?  I think it was the fact that I used bacon grease in them instead of Crisco or vegetable oil.  I've never done that before.

The buns didn't taste like bacon at all, but they were very tender.  They look a little brown on the top, but they were actually just perfect.  I made them for the barbecued shredded pork that you can see in the smaller saucepan directly above the oven.  I made the shredded pork out of some that I had canned on the Margin Gem back in 2017.  The sandwiches were very delicious.

When I start a fire to do some cooking in the summer, I try to take advantage of the fire as much as possible in order to be more efficient.  The black saucepan on the warming shelf has hardboiled eggs in it that are being timed before their cold water bath.  The saucepan over the firebox was water coming to a boil for cooking pasta for a salad.

The last picture is of yesterday's breakfast--and supper and today's supper actually.  The pancakes and part of the bacon were the breakfast.  The rest of the bacon and the chicken breast hidden inside that small cast iron skillet on the back of the range all went into the aforementioned pasta salad.

Breakfast cooking on the Hayes-Custer wood cookstove.

There has been much more cooking done on the Hayes-Custer already this summer, but not every occasion has warranted a picture.  As you can see, the stove has been busy, and I must say, it's been very cooperative too.

I've got a series of posts using this stove coming up, so stay tuned!