29 March 2009

"Pratties and Point": A Day at the Museum

I spent a good chunk of yesterday at a local historic house/museum, taking part in a "storytelling experience" and hearth-cooking workshop. The story told was a first-person performance of the re-imagined life of Catherine Flinn, Irish servant girl at said historic house. It was really well done--our storyteller, Adrianna, is a fine actress and made the story real.

The hearth cooking was a lot of fun. Although we weren't actually let too near the hearth (safety issues--pff) I feel confident that I could now cook a full meal the old-fashioned way, should the opportunity ever arise. It was worth smelling like a campfire for the rest of the day!

A few photos and then on to the recipes:

Maggie--our hearth-cooking instructor.


The bake oven before the embers were cleared out.


Unfortunately some of the embers ended up in our potato cakes! A hazard of hearth cooking.


Ready to bake the Irish Curd Cakes.


Some of the pretty pottery in the kitchen. The wooden box on the wall directly next to Maggie (just by her shoulder) contained the salt. Back in the day salt would clump at the first sign of humidity, so keeping it near the hearth helped keep it dry.


Potato Cakes, ready to go! The ember-flecked ones were discarded but I still think they'd be okay to eat.



Some of the ingredients and equipment used (all historically accurate for the 1850s). You can see the soda bread dough in the baking dish (behind the butter, to the left). The lemons went into the curd cake. The butter went into everything.


The recipes we made were all Irish favourites. Here are a few of the ones we used:

Potato Cakes

This is the exact "recipe" we were given to work with! But they turned out great, so they really are easy to make.

From The Canadian Settler's Guide by Catharine Parr Traill, 1855

A very favourite cake with the Irish. They are simply made with potatoes boiled very soft, and kneaded with flour and a little salt, rolled thin; cut in squares, and baked quickly. The goodness of this cake depends on the making and baking: some persons use twice as much flour in making them as others. A nicer potato-cake is made by adding a little cream to moisten the potatoes and flour, making the dough stiff and rolling it thin, and working a piece of butter in as in making pastry; bake it lightly in the oven, or fry, and sift over them a little fine sugar. All potato-cakes are best eaten hot.
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A few tips:

* We made ours just with potatoes, flour, and a tiny bit of salt and they turned out just fine--no cream or sugar necessary.
* Ours were fried in butter and, according to Maggie, our cooking instructor, frying makes a tastier cake than baking.
* Maggie also told us that Russet/baking potatoes should be used. Waxy/yellow potatoes just turn gluey.
* Before rolling out the dough, flour the rolling surface well!
* We rolled our dough out to about 1/4" (about 1/2 cm).
* Cook until browned on both sides.
* Everyone agreed these were perfect for experimenting with. They would be fantastic with finely chopped herbs (garlic, chives, rosemary...) added to the dough.
* These would be great served at brunch instead of homefries.


Soda Bread

From The Genesse Farmer, 1838

Put a pound and a half of good wheaten meal [whole wheat flour] into a large bowl, mix it with two teaspoonfuls of finely powdered salt, then take a large teaspoonful of super-carbonate of soda [baking soda], dissolve it in half a teacupful of cold water, and add it to the meal [flour mixture]; rub up all intimately together [use your hands or a wooden spoon to mix until blended], then pour into the bowl as much very sour buttermilk [you can use regular buttermilk] as will make the whole into soft dough (it should be as soft as could possibly be handled, and the softer the better) form it into a cake of about an inch thickness, and put it into a flat Dutch oven or frying pan, with some metallic cover, such as an oven lid or griddle, apply a moderate heat underneath for twenty minutes, then lay some clear coals upon the lid, and keep it so for half an hour longer (the under heat being allowed to fall off gradually for the last fifteen minutes) taking the cover off occasionally to see that it does not burn. [You may need to experiment to bake this on a modern stove/in the oven! I would try putting the dough in a metal dish, putting that in a Dutch oven, and placing over medium heat on the stove. Because there's no top heat, you might need to flip the bread halfway through cooking. You can also try baking it at 350F for about 40 minutes, with or without the Dutch oven. The bread is ready when it sounds hollow when tapped. Serve with unsalted butter.]

Colcannon

From A Taste of Ireland by Theodora FitzGibbon, 1968

1 lb of kale or cabbage
1 lb potatoes, cooked separately
2 small leeks or green onion tops
1 cup milk or cream
4 oz (1/2 cup) approx butter
salt
pepper
a pinch of mace

Have the kale or cabbage cooked, warm and well chopped up while the potatoes are cooking. Chop up the leeks or onion tops, green as well as white, and simmer them in milk or cream to just cover, until they are soft. Drain the potatoes, season and beat them well: then add the cooked leeks and milk.

Finally blend in the kale, beating until it is a pale green fluff. Do this over a low flame and pile it into a deep warmed dish. Make a well in the centre and pour in enough melted butter to fill up the cavity. The vegetables are served with spoonfuls of the melted butter. Any leftovers can be fried in hot bacon fat until crisp and brown on both sides.

Gibson House Museum

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