Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fruit Soups

"Fruit soups can be served either at the beginning of a meal as a first course, or they can serve as a dessert. In the first case, they would always be served warm; in the second, warm or cold.

"Granny Smith Apples"
Either fresh or dried fruits can be used to make these dishes, as long as they are ripe. If using dried fruits, you will only need to use one-fourth of the quantity indicated for fresh fruits."

Thus begins the description in Grandma VandenBergh's Dutch cookbook of a series of recipes for something that I would never have thought of  --  soups prepared from various kinds of fruits, including apples, pears, cherries, apricots and peaches.

There are almost identical recipes for apple soup and pear soup. Each calls for:

- 1 liter (4 1/4 cups) water
- 400 grams (2 1/4 cups) sour apples (or ripe pears)
- 50 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
- a piece of lemon rind
- about 10 grams (1 teaspoons) sago*

"Peel the apples, cut them in quarters and remove the cores. Set the fruit in boiling water with the lemon rind and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes. Stir in the sugar, remove lemon rind and thicken the soup. Optional  --  pass the soup through a horsehair sieve and serve in a soup tureen."

Apple soup on the stove

The pear recipe is similar, except that the cook is instructed to cut the pears into small pieces and simmer for about an hour. "If the pears are too bland, you may wish to add a bit of lemon juice or black currant juice when cooking. As for the apple soup recipe, you may wish to pass the soup through a horsehair sieve."

A horsehair sieve is obviously a relic of the past. Today's modern cook would use a food processor or a blender for the same purpose. I left my soup as is, with chunks of apple of various sizes floating in the juice, for a more interesting texture.

Apple Soup
For added interest, I sprinkled on a bit of cinnamon. The flavor of this dish was not so different from applesauce, but the texture was quite different. It makes a refreshing and somewhat unusual summer dessert.

*Sago is a starchy product that comes from the pith of certain species of palm trees; you can substitute cornstarch in this recipe and no one will know the difference.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fruit Compote

When they built their house on Beacon Avenue in Albany, Grandma and Grandpa VandenBergh planted a fruit orchard in the additional lot next to the house. They had a grape arbor with Concord grapes, three varieties of pears, two of apples, and two kinds of plums. Grandma often made stewed pears, using the recipe from her Dutch cookbook.

VandenBergh Family in the "Lower Lot" orchard 1937

With the variety of fruits available from their own fruit trees, perhaps she also made an assorted fruit compote like the one described on pages 168 and 169 of her cookbook, "Simple Hearty Fare."

Assorted Fruit Compote

- 100 grams (2/3 cup) dried plums (or 50 grams plums and 50 grams blue raisins)
- 100 grams (2/3 cup) dried apricots or prunes
- 100 grams yellow California pears or peaches (1 pear or peach)
- 50 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
- 5 grams (1 1/2 teaspoon) cornstarch (or other thickening agent)

Compote ingredients
As I had used up my pears in the last two recipes, I substituted an apple for the pear indicated in the book. I also tossed in a handful of dried currants left over from a previous culinary experiment.

The recipe instructs the cook to wash the various fruits in warm water and cut the pears and peaches in quarters. Set all the fruits in a pan with enough water to cover them. Simmer at low heat until done (about one hour). Sprinkle with sugar and thicken the juice with the cornstarch.

Simmer for about an hour

The recipe also suggests, "In place of the various assorted fruits purchased separately, one can also use 300 grams of 'tutti-frutti mixture' currently available in shops." You can probably find assorted dried fruits in today's supermarket as well.

I soaked the dried fruits in water for about an hour before cooking them. But I found that at least for the prunes, this was unnecessary, because they began to come apart and become too mushy after simmering for an additional hour. I also found that reducing the quantity of prunes would have improved the dish, as they tended to overpower the other more subtly flavored fruits. And it was unnecessary to add any sugar, as the dried fruits are already much sweeter than their fresh counterparts. Adding cornstarch or another thickening agent was also unnecessary, as the stewed fruits made their own syrup.

Fruit Compote
Served chilled, the compote was a refreshing fruity dessert on a warm evening, the first of many summer evenings. It will be fun to experiment with other varieties of fruit as they ripen throughout the season.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ginger Pear

Last week I tried out a recipe for steamed or stewed pears from Grandma VandenBergh's old Dutch cookbook. This week I was curious to know whether my other grandmother had ever prepared a similar fruit concoction. Sure enough, in Minnie's handwritten notebook, there were not one but two recipes for pears cooked in a similar fashion. However, these instructions appeared to be for larger quantities of fruit, which I suspected were intended to be canned and consumed as a sort of pear sauce something like applesauce.

Minnie's pear recipes
This type of dessert must have been a popular one around the early part of the twentieth century, for Minnie to find and copy two variations on pears stewed with ginger. The two recipes are quite similar; each calls for eight pounds of pears and an enormous quantity of sugar, as well as ginger and lemon.

Rather than experiment with an entire eight pounds of pears, I tried out the ginger pear recipe with a smaller amount of fruit, and reduced the quantities as listed below:

Ginger Pear

- 2 ripe pears, peeled and quartered
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- juice of 1/4 lemon
- water to cover the pears halfway
- 1/4 teaspoon (powdered) ginger

I simmered the pears in the water for about an hour, at which point they began to turn pinkish, as in last week's recipe. Serving the pears in the syrup produced by this method of preparation made an attractive dessert, but I didn't like the flavor as much as in the old Dutch recipe. The ginger gave the fruit a sharper taste than in last week's experiment. But either recipe makes a refreshing summer dessert, with or without the ginger, as you prefer.

Ginger Pear

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Hoofdstuk X - Vruchten"

"The nutritional value of fruits is similar to that of vegetables; they are preferably to be consumed raw, but may also be prepared in some manner. Like vegetables, the main value of fruits lies more in the vitamins and minerals they contain than in other (nutritional) components."

Thus begins "Chapter 10  -  Fruits" in Grandma VandenBergh's Dutch cookbook, a chapter that contains a plethora of recipes for preparing fruit compotes, dried fruits, and even fruit soups, which can be served warm or cold as either a first course or a dessert.

The introductory paragraphs go on to tell us that the preferred method for cooking fruits is steaming, so as to prevent the loss of the vitamins they contain. The juice can be thickened into a sauce in which to serve the compote, thus maximizing the preservation of the their nutritional value.

Adding flavor enhancers such as cinnamon, lemon rind, or a berry juice can mask the fruits' natural flavor, and is best used for bland fruits such as sweet apples and some varieties of pears.
This description from the early 1920's sounds surprisingly modern, although the recipes in this chapter, and indeed in the entire volume, were most likely prepared on a coal, wood, or kerosene stove.

Perhaps Grandma VandenBergh used fruits from the family's orchard in "the lower lot" to prepare a dish such as the one described below:

Steamed Pears

- 1 kilo (2 pounds) pears
- 50 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
- cinnamon stick or lemon rind
- 1/2 d.L. (3 tablespoons) black currant juice (optional)
- about 5 grams (1 1/2 tsp.)sago*

Peel the pears, cut them in quarters or halves, and remove the cores. Set the pear pieces in a saucepan so that they are half covered with water; cook on low heat (about 3 - 4 hours), with the cinnamon or lemon rind, until they are a nice red color. Sprinkle the sugar on, or optionally the currant or apple juice; cook a few minutes longer, and thicken the juice with the sago. Remove the cinnamon or lemon rind before serving.

A footnote indicates that there are some varieties of pears that will not turn red even if cooked for a long time. People may add currant juice when the pears are half done.

I found a more modern version of this recipe in a cookbook I bought at the gift shop in the Rijksmuseum last summer, which suggested simmering the pears for two hours. I tried stewing mine for that length of time, and they did begin to turn reddish after the two hours. In place of black currant juice, which I could not find in my local supermarket, I used pomegranate juice, which produced a reddish syrup when thickened with a tablespoon of flour. You could also try substituting red wine or port for the fruit juice, as suggested by Deliciously Dutch.

The stewed pears were tasty and sweet. I served them in fancy antique desert dishes:
Steamed Pears

*Sago is a starchy product that comes from the pith of certain species of palm trees; you can substitute cornstarch in this recipe and no one will know the difference!