Sunday, May 29, 2011

Two Apple Cakes

Will and Minnie 1912
Minnie’s future husband William emigrated from Germany in the last decade of the 19th century. As a young teenager, he would almost certainly have been conscripted into Kaiser Wilhelm’s army if he had stayed in Germany.

William traveled to America with his elder sister Louisa; they already had other relatives living in the Mohawk Valley, so they planned to join them there. According to family lore, someone stole Louisa’s shoes on board the ship, so she stepped onto American soil for the first time in her bedroom slippers.

The two siblings knew only a few words of English, most notably “apple pie.” In tribute to this most American delicacy, we present here two versions of not pie, but apple cake.

Perhaps Minnie prepared this cake for William and her growing family:

Here are the steps in the order I followed them:

Grease an 8” x 8” baking dish. Preheat oven to 350 F, 325 F if using a glass pan.

Pare and slice the apples. Spread the apple slices in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle half the cinnamon on the apples.

Sift dry ingredients. Cream the butter or margarine; add the beaten egg and vanilla.

Stir in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk. Spread the batter over the apples and sprinkle on the rest of the cinnamon.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown on top. 

This is similar to the pineapple upside-down cake my Mom used to make, but this one has apples instead. Don't over-bake it or it will be a bit too dry. 

Apple Upside Down Cake

My Mom had a recipe for a Dutch apple cake, which was not from Grandma VandenBergh's cookbook, but perhaps from another Dutch friend or relative. When I was living overseas, Mom wrote out the recipe on one of her colorful recipe cards and sent it to me so that I could have a taste of home:

Mom's Handwritten Dutch Apple Cake Recipe

Sometimes Mom would make this in a square pan like the upside-down cake, but most often in a pizza pan, as she has noted. When prepared this way, it makes a nice breakfast pizza:

Dutch Apple Cake

Whether you like your apple cake upside down or right side up, you can't go wrong with the aroma of apples and cinnamon. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"I Have a Photograph"

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph -
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.

I often think of these lines from the Simon and Garfunkel tune “Old Friends” when I muse over old family photos.  Whether snapshots or daguerreotypes, they are indeed a priceless witness to the past, giving us a glimpse of our forebears in their own time and place. The photo at the right, taken around 1915, shows four generations of Mohawk Valley women, with Minnie in the middle. Who are the others peering out at us from the grainy past?


At the top right is Minnie’s mother, Kittie Van Slyke, born February 10, 1868; she married my great-grandfather Fred Fineour 127 years ago this week, in May 1884. When I reach back into my childhood memories, I can still remember Kittie quite clearly; we called her “Grandma Nan.” Kittie was 47 years old at the time the photo was taken.

At the left is Kittie’s mother, Margaret Colson, born December 14, 1840; she married my great-great-grandfather Jonas Van Slyke in June 1864. Margaret is 75 years old in the photo.

On Minnie’s lap is her first child, Margaret, who appears to be a year or less old, allowing us to date the photo around 1915. Minnie herself was about 25 years old. 

The setting appears to be the yard of the family home, purchased by great-grandfather Fred Fineour in 1908. Minnie had been married for three years at this time; this was probably around the time she began collecting the recipes she wrote down in her notebook. Let's try an old Mohawk Valley recipe for corn pudding today:

This is an easy one, although if you serve it as a vegetable, you may want to omit the sugar. I have used the technique of baking a dish similar to this, usually a souffle, in a pan of water in the oven, which helps it solidify into a pudding-like (or souffle-like) consistency. I baked this for about 20 minutes in the pan of water at 350 F. degrees, and then an additional 10 minutes in the oven alone without the pan of water, which made it turn out a nice golden brown:

Corn Pudding Fresh From the Oven

This dish is not so different from a traditional corn porridge made by the Native American residents of the Mohawk Valley (for whom the valley was named) hundreds of years ago. Early Dutch settlers learned to make a similar corn mush, called sappaen, from their Mohawk neighbors. Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, who traveled west from Fort Orange (near what is now Albany, New York) in 1634 with two Dutch companions and five Mohawk guides, describes cooking sappaen over a large fire during their arduous winter journey. If their hunting excursions were successful, they supplemented their porridge with beaver, bear, or venison, or with dried salmon traded from the Mohawk villagers.

Over time this corn dish became an integral part of the Dutch settlers' diet. In 1888, Rufus Grider, a teacher and artist of the Mohawk Valley, described in his illustrated notebooks a "Mush and Milk" dish that is very similar to Minnie's recipe. It is also well documented by Dutch-American food historian Peter G. Rose in Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch, where the author describes a menu for a St. Nicholas Day supper at the American Hotel in Albany, on December 6, 1830 that included Sappaen en Melk - Cornmeal Mush and Milk.

We began this post with a photo of four generations, and will end it with another family photo of four generations, taken 45 years after the first, on the side porch of the family home.

August 1960
Kittie (now age 92) and Minnie (age 70) are in the top row. Two of Minnie's daughters, Charlotte and Doris, sit directly below them; and Minnie's son Bill (my Dad) sits in front with his son, also Bill. In the middle row at left is Bill's wife Grace (my Mom), daughter Betsy, and who is right in the middle? Why it's the Two Cookbook Cook herself! Who let her out of the kitchen?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wedding Bells

Announcement of intention to marry

A hundred years ago this week, wedding bells rang for Barend van den Bergh and Elisabeth Daams. According to Dutch custom and law, it was necessary to formally register their intention to marry ahead of time. That is what the document above indicates. Ondertrouw is the Dutch word for this process, which is analogous to applying for a marriage license in many other jurisdictions. Inside the booklet are inscribed the names of the bride and groom, their hometowns, and the date that the wedding will take place:

Wedding Announcement 

The Dutch word Huwelijksvoltrekking (pronounce it if you can!) means "wedding ceremony." Dutch marriage law requires a civil ceremony, performed by an official known as a registrar of marriages. Couples who wish to do so may also have their marriage solemnized in a religious ceremony. We don't know the details of who attended the wedding ceremony, or whether the couple had a reception or a honeymoon. But we do know the ages of the bride and groom; Elisabeth was 25 years old, and if the genealogy prepared by my sister Margriet is correct, the wedding took place on Barend's twenty-third birthday.

As far as I know, we don't have a wedding picture in the family archives either, but we do have a photograph from the following year, after the couple's first child was born:

Elisabeth and Barend with Baby Jacob 1912

I need to do a bit more research, perhaps on to try to find out when the couple left the Netherlands and on what ship. (If any of the relatives reading this have any other information, please let me know!) In the meantime, let's try a typical Dutch recipe from Elisabeth's cookbook.

Martine Wittop Loning devotes an entire chapter to hutspot or stamppot, a sort of hodge podge of mashed potatoes, vegetables, and sometimes meat. The meat is typically beef, but occasionally mutton, although mutton was more commonly consumed in England than in the Netherlands.

Hutspot met klapstuk (hutspot with beef rib):

- 3 lbs. winter carrots (about 6 large carrots)
- 3 lbs. potatoes
- 2 or 3 small onions
- 1 lb. beef rib
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 3 cups water
- 1 tbsp. salt (I used only a teaspoon.)

Hutspot Ingredients

Wash the meat, and let it cook in the salted water for 2 1/2 hours, until tender. In the meantime, scrape the carrots, wash them, cut them up, and add them to the cooking pot. Do the same with the potatoes and onions. (I also added some fresh garlic.) Let the mixture cook together for another 20 to 30 minutes until the vegetables are done.

Drain off the water and remove the meat from the pot. Mash the vegetables, taking care to leave some whole chunks of potato and carrot. Serve the meat alongside the mashed potato mixture.

Mash the potatoes and carrots

I used stew beef instead of a slab of beef rib, so I didn't need to cook the meat as long as the recipe called for. I could not imagine having to cook a slab of meat for two and a half hours, but then I pictured the kind of meat that must have been available a hundred years ago; certainly not our industrial hormone-laden steer. Probably either a cow that the farmer had slaughtered himself, or a hunk of meat fresh from the village butcher shop. Even today, stew beef is most tender if cooked a low heat (simmered  -  remember pruttelen?) - in its own juices for a relatively long time.

Hutspot ready to eat

The chunks of carrot add some color to the mashed potatoes. And the meat, vegetable, and potato make it a balanced meal.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bake, Bottle, and Boil -- Dutch Cooking Terms

As any linguist will tell you, there is not always a one-to-one correspondence between lexemes in any two languages. I found this to be true when translating some of the Dutch recipes in Grandma VandenBergh’s cookbook.

As you might easily guess, bakken means to bake, and koken means to cook, or to boil. But bakken can also be translated as to fry, while for English speakers, baking and frying are two very different processes. The first is done in the oven, while the second involves cooking in hot oil on top of the stove. 

And what of to steam  --  stomen, and to stew  --  stoven? Interesting to note that the consonants are the same in both languages, but the vowels have shifted.

The Dutch word roosteren (double o in Dutch is pronounced like the long o in "oh" in English) closely resembles our English word roast. But it can also be translated as to grill or to broil. And the English word roast can also be translated as braden in Dutch.

Wittop Koning’s Simple Hearty Fare includes a whole chapter on home canning and bottling, which bears the heading Inmaak in flesschen  --  “putting into bottles or jars.” Home canning is a project that I have not yet attempted, but may be the subject of a future post. 

Glass canning jars

 The evolution of cooking terms is of course closely linked to the development of food preparation methods. In colonial-era houses in Upstate New York, such as the Cherry Hill or Schuyler Mansions in Albany, or Howard Hall Farm in Athens, New York, one can still see the Dutch style of open-hearth fireplace where cooking was done in a large iron pot hung over the fire, and baking was done in an oven embedded in the wall of the hearth, or in a “Dutch oven” placed in or near the fire. Perhaps the cooking terms only became more specialized as the equipment itself evolved into more modern forms. 

My all-time favorite Dutch cooking term is pruttelen  -- to simmer. Many a time I remember my mother letting a dish “pruttle” on the stove, whether a pot of homemade soup or a slab of corned beef. Here is a recipe from Grandma VandenBergh’s cookbook for a bean soup that must pruttle on the stove for several hours:
White beans
Simple White Bean Soup
- 1 ½ cups white beans
- 2 qt. water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 leeks
- 1 small bunch of celery (or about 2 stalks)
- 2 ½ tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1 bouillon cube  (The original recipe calls for 2 tsp. ArĂ´me Maggi, but if this is not available, you can substitute a bouillon cube.)

Wash the beans and let them soak overnight.

Bring to a boil in the same water. After one hour, add the cut-up leeks, chopped celery, salt, and bouillon cube. Continue simmering [here, doorkoken, meaning to cook thoroughly] for one or two more hours, stirring occasionally, until the soup thickens.

Serve with croutons. 

Eenvoudige witte boonensoep

Or with whole wheat bread:

Thank you to Margriet W. for preparing this soup. 

Het was lekker!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Minnie's Garden

Periwinkle or myrtle
In the back yard, there is an underground spring that nourishes the periwinkle that grows on the hill behind the house. There is a winding path between the blue spruce and the grove of buckeye trees. The seeds for the buckeye trees came from Buck's county, Pennsylvania, where Minnie's eldest daughter lived for many years.

There is a patch of Jacob's Coats, which bloom in shades of pink, purple, and blue. Minnie got those from the garden of her cousin Beulah at Indian Castle. There is a stand of blueberry bushes, which bear tart fruit for making pies or jam.

In years gone by, a pipe poured water from the spring into a large barrel under the grape arbor, where two tangerine-colored coy fish twirled in the cool water. An enamel cup hung from a hook over the barrel, so that you could let the fresh water drip into the cup with a ringing sound and quench your thirst while watching songbirds dart around the bird feeder.

Jacob's Coat

During the Depression, hobos who rode the rails through the Mohawk Valley often came up the walk to the back yard to drink from the clear spring water. Sometimes Minnie or her mother would give them a plate of food to eat out under the grape arbor. One left a note scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk, letting the next visitor know: "Nice lady, good food."

Perhaps she had given him a piece of her coffee cake:

Minnie's coffee cake

 It actually has coffee in it. Here's the recipe:

I usually reduce the amount of sugar in any cake recipe I use, and I found that that was a good idea here, considering that the molasses was sweet as well. I used half the sugar, half the molasses, and two eggs instead of three, which also cut down on the cholesterol. The cake was plenty moist with two eggs. I  baked it at 350 F. until a toothpick came out clean.

Although I didn't make this as fruit cake, I did add a teaspoon of cloves, and found that that was plenty. I also used "fake" butter  --  a butter-flavored shortening, which also reduced the cholesterol content. This fake butter product is something new to me since my early days of baking cakes from scratch. Using real coffee in a coffee cake was another baking technique I had never tried before, but it gave the cake a "kick" of caffeine, not a bad thing if you need a waker-upper.

I was able to bake this cake courtesy of my brand-new oven, which you can see here:

Brand new stove
Bright and shiny, but perhaps not for long, unless I am careful to clean it after each use!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Uncle Frederic Remembers

"When I was a boy, there were no electric lights and hence no electric appliances, no radio, and no one had ever yet dreamed of television. The streets of the villages and cities were mostly dirt, and gas or oil heating for the home was as yet a thing of the future. Horses, buggies, and various types of farm wagons were the major means of transportation, and horsepower and manpower were the major sources of energy on the farm."

Frederic 1912
These are the words of Grandma Minnie's younger brother Frederic, born in 1905, the year the family left the Lock Grocery along the Erie Canal and moved into town. Frederic's words were recorded in 1976, "our bicentennial year"; our family is fortunate to have a copy of this tape, which I have begun to transcribe. In young adulthood, Frederic attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where he was trained as a teacher. He later became an elementary school principal in Springville in the western part of New York State, where he served for many years until his retirement.

But Frederic always had vivid memories of his early childhood in Fort Plain in the early years of the 20th century. He continues:

"Fort Plain was a canal town, one of the myriad villages which sprang up along Clinton's Ditch, and in my early childhood the canal was very active with traffic in both directions. On the north side of the canal, the New York Central Railroad, a four-track line was the equivalent of today's super highway, with two rail lines for westbound traffic and two for east. And on the south shore of the [Mohawk] River was the West Shore Railroad, with one rail line with traffic moving in each direction. With all this traffic, much of the bulky material was still moved by canal boats.

"Where the canal came through Fort Plain, it was about 12 feet deep, and the sides of it were lined for several miles with cut limestone, which probably came from a quarry in the Palatine Bridge-Canajoharie area. The main street of the town was not Main Street at all. Canal Street was the main street, and it paralleled the west side of the canal. It was lined with stores with entrances both facing the street, and even larger entrances facing the canal.

Frederic with his first car, 1926
"The street was not paved when I was very young, and crosswalks were made of brick and arched, so that the rain ran off them after it fell and collected in the mud on either side."

Frederic goes on to describe the blacksmith's shop on Canal Street, where both children and adults liked to pause and look in at the open door as they went by. They liked to hear the sound of his bellows and "to watch the sparks fly that flew like chaff from the the threshing floor. "

Perhaps after watching the blacksmith forge a horseshoe or two, Frederic made his way home to a family meal prepared by his sister (Minnie was about 15 years older than Frederic), or his mother, my great-grandmother "Grandma Nan." Here is Minnie's recipe for a plain and simple old favorite, meatloaf, which she apparently got from another early Mohawk Valley family, the Vroomans:

Minnie's meatloaf recipe

Like many of Minnie's recipes, this one is rather minimal, with a simple list of ingredients and no instructions. Again, an experienced cook would know what to do in order to prepare the meat mixture.

Meatloaf ingredients

Because the recipe is rather plain and somewhat bland, I usually add 1/2 cup chopped green pepper, 1 teaspoon soy or teriyaki sauce, whichever I have on hand, and I often spread a small can of tomato paste over the top of the meat mixture before popping it in the oven.

If you want to get fancy, you could use a mixture of ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard for the topping rather than plain tomato paste.

I was able to bake this in my warning oven, since my larger oven is still door-less. But   --  news flash: I shopped for a brand new oven today, which will be delivered on Friday, so I can branch out to bigger and better baking experiments next week.

In the meantime, I'll be content to bake my tasty meatloaf in a narrow loaf pan in my warming oven:

Meatloaf: ready for oven

Bake at 375 degrees F. for one hour. If you use a glass loaf plan, you should bake it at a lower temperature for a longer time. Here's a piece for you. Enjoy it with classic mashed potatoes and green beans:

Meatloaf: ready to eat!