Students in Cookbooks and History (MET ML 630), directed by Dr. Karen Metheny, researched and recreated a historical recipe to bring in to class. They were instructed to note the challenges they faced, as well as define why they selected their recipe and why it appealed to them. Here is the sixth essay in this series, written by Sarah Critchley.
My historical recipe comes from Mrs. Hattie A Burr’s The Woman Suffrage Cook Book, Containing Thoroughly Tested and Reliable Recipes for Cooking, Directions for the Care of the Sick, and Practical Suggestions, Contributed Especially for This Work, published in Boston in 1886. We were doing community cookbooks as a topic for this week’s class, and I loved the idea of using this local Suffragette cookbook for my source.
After flipping through the book, I landed on Mrs. Alice A Geddes’ recipe for something called “Apple Truffles” (1886 67). She included a list of readily-accessible ingredients at the beginning of the recipe, and called for relatively straight forward actions, and since the whole thing was cooked on a stove it didn’t require me to make a guess about an oven temperature. Her recipe was just vague enough to allow me to put my own cooking knowledge to use, and the fact that I had never heard of this dessert made the whole thing an entertaining challenge. Plus, I live in Cambridge and Mrs. Alice A Geddes also lived in Cambridge, so I thought I would pay honor to a fellow Cantabrigian.
Shopping for the ingredients posed no problem and I was able to buy everything from the grocery store around the corner from my apartment. For apples, I chose a mix of Macouns and Cortlands, and I used organic milk and cream. Some of the equipment she calls for I wasn’t able to use – I’m not sure if anyone these days has a glass jar that is large enough to fit a dozen sliced apples. Instead, I assumed that she just wanted the apples to cook gently in their own juices, so I put them in a dutch oven with a parchment lid on top and stirred regularly to make sure they didn’t color. I essentially ended up with applesauce after mashing them up, and I put that in a dish to cool. She stresses the importance of the apples being cold before proceeding, so I put the whole dish in the refrigerator.
I ran into trouble in the next step, which was making the custard. Since I was unfamiliar with this dessert, I wasn’t sure what kind of consistency she was looking for in the final product other than “thickened.” With a whole quart of milk and four large eggs, I would have expected some kind of cornstarch or flour to act as a thickener that would give a consistency similar to a pastry cream. Instead, forty minutes of gently stirring over a double boiler eventually frustrated me and I took two actions to make sure I would have a transportable dish to bring to class instead of applesauce with a quart of creme anglaise poured on top. I made a cornstarch slurry with one tablespoon of cornstarch to thicken it a little, and I ditched the double-boiler to just put it on medium-low direct heat. Although I’m still not exactly sure how thick she wanted the custard, my actions proved moderately successful and my custard set overnight, but it was a little overcooked. Mrs. Geddes’ directions continue directly into topping the dessert with whipped cream after the custard step, but I knew that the whipped cream would just melt into the still-warm custard, so I topped my dessert the next day with no problems.
Overall, she gave just enough guidance for me to feel confident in attempting her recipe, but she really lost me with the custard. If I had been more familiar with Apple Truffles I think it would have been easier for me to produce a closer result to what was intended. This was definitely an exercise in using my own cooking instincts, but I’m still not sure if they guided me toward the correct final product or not.
Burr, Hattie A. The Woman Suffrage Cook Book, Containing Thoroughly Tested and Reliable Recipes for Cooking, Directions for the Care of the Sick, and Practical Suggestions, Contributed Especially for This Work. Boston: Hattie A Burr, 1886.