February 20, 2012

Texas Pecans

Lately, I've been wanting to make a German Chocolate cake, which is our favorite cake around here. I missed a January birthday and I missed Valentine's Day. Easter's coming up quickly. I decided I needed to make more of an effort to get this done.

To make the traditional coconut-pecan frosting for the German Chocolate cake, one needs to have some nice pecans.

After a cold and rainy Friday and Saturday, the Sunday skies were blue and clear. The cool, crisp weather invited one to venture outdoors to take advantage of the day, so I chose this day to take a short roadtrip that's been on my To Do list for a while.

I've not had good luck in the past couple of years in buying pecans from the grocery. It doesn't matter which store, or which brand; they all seem to taste a bit rancid. I've checked the best-used-by dates before my purchases, I've returned them to the store, I've written emails to the companies, I've gotten my money back, numerous times. It's hit or miss, usually miss, and it wastes a lot of my time when they're not right.

I finally gave up buying them from the grocery store and when the need arises for pecans, I just go to a place called Potter's, which is not too far away (if you live in Texas and are used to driving long distances to get anywhere). Potter's is kind of a tourist place, the kind of place located in a small town along the highway, where you might exit to buy gas or pick up something to drink. To get more value from the trip, we stopped for Sunday lunch at Schobels, where the baked ham, fried chicken and fresh vegetables tasted almost like what you'd get at Grandma's house on Sunday afternoons in the past (and there are no dishes to wash).

I was too stuffed after the delicious meal to accept any of the samples of roasted caramel or cinnamon pecans that the sales assistants were passing around. My goal was the 3-lb. container of the fresh shelled pecan halves. They were grown right there in Schulenburg, and they tasted so fresh and full of pecan goodness.

But they were dear. I brushed aside the thought that paying $45.00 for pecans was completely ridiculous, and did I really need pecans so badly that I just couldn't get a $6.00 bag at the Wal-Mart down the street from me? It was a fleeting thought, however, because these will last awhile--several cakes and chocolate chip cookie batches' worth and the quality is just so much better.

They also sell bags of Pecan Meal, which I've purchased in the past, that I use in breadings for fish and such. I've noticed that Texans seem to prefer pecans over other nuts and I'm no different. I add them to everything I can. They are great for sprinkling over green salads too.

There were recipe brochures available on the counter and you know I took one. Nutritious and Delicious Texas Pecans (not dated) was published by the Texas Pecan Growers Association and is just a small fold-out single page. There are four recipes (Savory Pecan Cheese Balls, Pecan Cupcake Brownies, Helen's Coconut Cake and Sauteed Trout with Pecans) along with the nutrients found in shelled pecans listed on the back. Pecans are another heart healthy food with no sodium, trans fat or cholesterol. Never mind (again) that I will mix them up with sugar and butter which may not be quite so heart healthy. I consider the brochure an added bonus, to slightly offset the price of the pecans. (Another added bonus were the two give-away ball point pens that just happen to be my favorite style of gimme pen. The bank won't let me have any more so I get them when I can.)

The cookbook that I use for my frosting recipe is the Baker's Book of Chocolate Riches (1983, 96 pp). It's a spiral bound hardcover that I remember sending away for in the mail back in the early 80s. Although I have made the cake from scratch using the recipe inside, I must confess that most often I use a Duncan Hines German Chocolate cake mix, which usually tastes better than mine anyway. (I'm not too fussy about cake mixes. A homemade cake that's made with a cake mix is still far superior to a cake that you buy from the store (excluding some of the fancy-dancy bakeries.) I do, however, use the recipe for the Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting. The recipe says that you can use either heavy cream or evaporated milk to make the frosting, and I always use the evaporated milk because I think that's part of what makes it taste so good. That, and the fresh pecans. (I always use real butter too.)

Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting: Combine 1 cup evaporated milk or heavy cream, 1 cup sugar, 3 slightly beaten egg yolks, 1/2 cup butter or margarine and 1 teaspoon vanilla in saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture thickens, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1-1/2 cups (about) Baker's Angel Flake coconut and 1 cup chopped pecans. Cool until of spreading consistency, beating occasionally. Makes 2-1/2 cups.

I don't go to a lot of trouble making a layer cake because it doesn't last long enough to take the extra time. I use a 9x13 pan and just slather the frosting over the top.

It may be that the frosting is the main attraction of this cake in the first place since I obsess over the ingredients so much.

February 17, 2012

Artichokes Anyone?

It's not often that I find a perfect food for me, but artichokes are one of the vegetables that fit the bill. I try to keep an eye on my magnesium and potassium intake and artichokes are high in both. Keeping those levels up seems to help in keeping my random tachycardia episodes at bay. They're also high in vitamin C, which I always need more of, since keeping my immune system in good shape goes a long way towards fighting off upper respiratory infections that are a result of Houston's ever-changing yo-yo weather and the constant high humidity. That they have no fat, cholesterol or trans fat is just an added bonus.

A few days ago, I received several recipe booklets from Ocean Mist Farms, who is the largest grower of fresh artichokes in the United States.

The four booklets are:

Grilling: Year-Round Vegetable Grilling

Soups and Salads: Year-Round Vegetable Cooking

Appetizers for Entertaining: Creative Ways to Use and Serve Artichokes

Slow Cooking: Year-Round Vegetable Cooking

Each booklet gives several valuable tips for cooking with artichokes, which is particularly useful if one isn't used to serving them on a regular basis. Did you know that besides steaming, you can also bake, microwave or grill them? There are nice detailed instructions with illustrations that help you understand how to prepare them for cooking.

Browsing through the recipe booklets upon their arrival certainly made me hungry... for artichokes! Since Ocean Mist also grows many other vegetables, there are a few non-artichoke recipes included as well. Creamy Crock Pot Baby Artichoke Soup. Easy Grilled Artichokes. Artichoke Hummus. Fennel Tangerine & Spinach Salad. Mmmm. All accompanied by beautiful, mouth-watering photographs.

It's a cool, damp and dreary day here, with more rain in the forecast, so I found the following recipe for Artichoke Sourdough Bisque to be especially appealing. A trip to the grocery may be in order. Ocean Mist grows artichokes year round so I'm not too worried that I won't be able to find any at the grocery. One of the benefits of living in Houston is that you can usually find anything you need somewhere around town.

I also liked this page from the Appetizers booklet, 5 Ways to Spice up Mayonnaise for Artichoke Petal Dipping. The Chipotle Lime Mayonnaise sounds like a good thing to dip any vegetable into (or maybe just to eat with a spoon!).
Don't take my word for it that these are very nice booklets with some potentially great recipes. You can go right now to the Ocean Mist website and download your own copies, as they have made them available in PDF format. For free. That's always a good price in my book.

February 03, 2012

18 Secrets to Baking a Cake

The little recipe booklet, Cake Baking Secrets (1932, 16 pp.), published by the Furst-McNess Company of Freeport, Illinois, has an interesting aspect to it, in that it uses a first person narrative to persuade you to try their products.

The advice is dispensed by a Mrs. Edith Moore and it feels like she is talking directly to you, sharing her personal experiences and the wisdom she has gained after fourteen years of entering baking competitions at state and county fairs, shows and exhibitions all over the U.S. She is described in the booklet as a Champion Cake Baker, and mentions, several times, the prizes her cakes have won.  She attibutes her success to the F.W. McNess brand of products that she uses in her baking.

Furst-McNess was a partnership that began in 1908 between Frank E. Furst and Frederick William McNess, a chemist. They were a direct sales company who sold medicines, flavorings and spices from horse drawn wagons in the Midwest and upper Midwestern states. Other direct sales companies with similar product lines who were active at that time were W. T. Rawleigh and Watkins.

There's a picture of Mrs. Moore on the front cover of the booklet. It appears to be a realistic photo, rather than a colored illustration such as those used for the infamous Betty Crocker, but given the intracacies of print advertising, I suppose you never can tell for sure.

The products mentioned in this particular recipe booklet were sold under the J. W. McNess label: Champion Brand Flavoring Extract (Vanilla), Baking Powder, and Breakfast Cocoa. The rear cover of the booklet also mentions Champion Lemon Extract.

Mrs. Moore advises about the importance of the quality of ingredients one needs in order to achieve a successful cake: super-fine sugar, fresh butter, fresh milk or cream, very sour milk when called for, cake flour, a high quality flavoring agent and baking powder (she makes no bones about the fact that, in her opinion, the McNess brand is the best and the only one that should be used).

Mrs. Moore's Secrets to Prize-Winning Cakes:

  • Use good quality butter, sugar, flour and milk

  • Always use cake flour

  • Use F.W. McNess Champion Brand Flavoring Extract instead of regular vanilla

  • Use F.W. McNess Baking Powder instead of other brands

  • Use F.W. McNess Breakfast Cocoa for chocolate cakes

  • Make sure all measurements are level

  • Mix your ingredients correctly by using the proper methods of stirring, beating and cutting or folding

  • Let your egg whites stand a few minutes before using

  • Cream butter and sugar first

  • Sift your flour and baking powder five or six times before measuring

  • Add flour and milk alternately

  • Add baking powder and salt to the last cut of flour for best effect

  • Fold in eggs, don't beat

  • Fill the pans 2/3 full, 1/2 full if cupcakes

  • Do not move the cake in oven after it begins to rise until it is fully risen and slightly set

  • For chocolate or mahogany cakes, prepare the chocolate mixture first so that it has a chance to cool properly

  • Before adding chocolate mixture to the sugar, butter and eggs, add a half cup of flour to prevent curdling

  • Don't be tempted to add extra flour to the chocolate batter; the cocoa custard is thickening enough

This booklet is a brilliant little sales tool, which is evident by the fact that the Introduction from the company inside the front cover tells of the thousands and thousands of women who have already learned the secrets of cake baking from this very booklet.

It looks like the secrets to successful cake baking are about the same in 2012 as they were in 1932. Of course, each person, just like Mrs. Moore, has their own preferences for brands of baking powder and vanilla extracts. Other than the lack of directions for an electric mixer, this booklet could have been written yesterday.

On the other hand, today the big secret to a prize-winning cake might be to bake your cake from scratch rather than starting out with a cake mix.

After reading the booklet, I was left to wonder whether or not Edith Moore was a real person or just a ficticious personna created by the advertising department of Furst-McNess.  According to a communication from the McNess firm, it turns out that she was indeed real, thought to be from Kansas and that "she communicated with former company president, Charles Furst concerning her use and love of the Furst-McNess line of products."

Would love to hear from anyone who knows more about the real Mrs. Edith Moore; please leave a comment if you do.

If you want to see if Mrs. Moore's advice holds water, then you are in luck, as many of the Furst-McNess extract products are still available today.

January 24, 2012

Premier Malt Products Company

By now, you all know of my fondness for the photos and renditions of the various manufacturing plants that are sometimes shown in the vintage advertising cookbooks.

The one shown today is from the booklet Tested Recipes with Blue Ribbon Malt Extract (1928, 32 pp.). This prohibition era recipe booklet is filled with recipes for cakes and pies and puddings and vegetables, and so on and so forth. It's illustrated with lovely color illustrations of the prepared recipes.

No recipe or mention is made of home-brewed beer, which was a primary use for the product back in those days.

There's a two page spread near the center of the book that shows "a composite view of the four immense plants of the Premier Malt Products Company, devoted exclusively to the manufacture of malt extract." It's called "The Home of Blue Ribbon Malt, America's Biggest Seller."

It's not quite clear to me exactly where this plant was located--Milwaulkee? Peoria Heights? Somewhere else? If anyone knows, please comment.

Inside the front cover is the Guaranteee for Blue Ribbon Malt Extract, signed by the President of the company, Harris Perlstein. It guarantees that "Blue Ribbon factories are spotlessly clean and kept so by a rigid system of sanitation." It also guarantees "Blue Ribbon Malt Extract always to be uniform in quality, pasteurized and packed in modern sanitary cans in order that it may reach you in perfect condition."

The beautiful color illustration on the rear cover is of their 3-lb. "sanitary" can. I love this. The colors are so bright and cheerful and they are sharp and crisp in the illustration.

Throughout the booklet, small black and white illustrations of the interior of the factory are used to gain the confidence of the consumer in regards to the clean and modern facilities in which the product is manufactured.

Our house had a kitchen sink like the one shown in the Testing Kitchen below, although it was sitting on top of a cabinet. I still have it around somewhere (of course), waiting to be put into a garden shed or something of a similar nature.

This illustration shows men working in front of a Group of Evaporators:

A section of their Big Laboratory is shown below. Doesn't it appear to be clean and modern, just like their Guarantee?

The Canning Department:

This concludes today's factory tour. Hope you enjoyed it!

January 19, 2012

Old Cookbooks from Great Britain

I didn't make any New Year resolutions, but I have promised myself that from now on I will religiously back up my computer on a regular basis. It was done somewhat haphazardly in the past and I've been extremely fortunate in that I've never lost anything important. It was a close call this time and I had to pay someone to retrieve the information I thought was lost.

The computer itself was pretty much toast, however, and I had to get another one. My computer collection is beginning to rival my cookbook collection in that there are too many. I tend to save the old ones because there's always some program or peripheral that I use sometimes that won't work on the newer ones. I've been especially slow to warm up to Windows 7, hence my foot dragging in getting my printers and scanners and assorted software all straight on the one I'm using now. At least my scanner is finally hooked up and I've found some new photo editing software that I'm satisfied with.

Hopefully I'll be posting again on a regular basis. I just like to do my work, not have to mess with all of the devices and programs that help me get it done.

For almost twenty years, I've attended a local auction that brings over containers of English antiques. I'm not sure how the auctioneer chooses what's in the containers, but it's usually furniture and smalls and not much paper. Occasionally there are books, but they're always musty and not in the best of condition. Finally, after all these years, there was a small batch of advertising cookbooks from England, and to top it off, they were in fairly decent condition. They didn't even smell like they had crossed the ocean stored away in a wet, moldy trunk!

I've enjoyed looking through them because although they're the same as the ones from the U.S., they're for different product brands and, of course, some of the recipes are quite different from the recipes for the things we eat here.

Be-Ro Home Recipes (Thomas Bell & Son Ltd., 60 pp.) is one of the older booklets in the lot. I've noticed that not very many of them have the publishing dates stated in the publishing information. That leaves it to guesswork.

Be-Ro is a brand of self-raising flour. The booklet also shows some of their other products such as Be-Ro Snow Cake mixture and Be-Ro Ground Rice. I'm not sure exactly what a Snow Cake is and haven't the time to look it up right now. Perhaps one day....

You can see an earlier edition of this booklet in its entirety at the Duke University Digital Collection of cookbooks. The recipes below are for scones.

This page shows an illustration of the one-pound, three-pound and six-pound paper packages. The Be-Roy website shows illustrations of some of the older editions of their cookbooks and also tells how you can order a copy of the newest (40th) edition. Historically, the Be-Ro brand of flour appears to be as popular as our Gold Medal and Pillsbury flours.

Tough Guy Grub (Atora, 60 pp.) is a relatively modern recipe booklet that's promoting Hugon's Atora Shredded Beef Suet. No publishing date on this one either. Suet is the raw, hard fat found near the loins and kidneys of beef and mutton. It's traditionally used in British puddings and pastries.

This booklet has a plethora of recipes for dumplings, both cold and hot puddings (baked and steamed) as well as recipes for other savory dishes and sauces. In the U.S. puddings are primarily dairy-based desserts, while in the United Kingdom, the term also includes savory dishes.

The Atora website has an interesting history of their company as well as an offer to get a new recipe booklet.

Trex Cookery Book for Better Cooking (J. Bibby & Sons, Ltd., not dated, 86 pp.) is a recipe book for a popular brand of vegetable shortening used in the U.K. This old cookbook has the lovely color illustrations like the ones found in the 1920s and 1930s cookbooks here in the U.S.

According to the Trex website, this product was introduced in the 1930s as a "dairy-free alternative for baking."
The recipes in this booklet tell how to bake cakes, pastries and how to use Trex for frying. At the time of publication it was a relatively new product and emphasized how much better was is to use instead of margarine, lard or butter. The two recipes below are for Cornish Pasties and Fish Cakes.

The Best of Scott's Cookery (R.H.M. Foods Ltd., not dated, 16 pp.) is a fairly modern recipe book for the Scott's brand of Porage Oats. The booklet contains recipes for soups and broths, main courses, puddings, cakes and breads. Not all of the recipes contain the oats.

Some of the recipe names are quite unusual sounding to the American ear: Cock-a-Leekie, Potted Hough, Haggis, Bashed Neeps, Rumbledethumps, Forfar Bridies, Minced Collops, Stovies, Cloutie Dumpling, Chocolate Cabers, Selkirk Bannock, Broonie. Others have names that are more similar to the ones we are used to hearing: Scotch Bun, Oatmeal Soup, Highland Chicken, Oatmeal Stuffing, Potato Scones.

The recipes below are for Angus Haddock and Tattie Supper, Oatmeal Stuffing and Stovies:

You can find more recipes for Porage Oats on the Scott's website.

The last cookbook today, The Best of British Bacon Recipes (British Bacon, 1979, 96 pp.) by Mary Norwak, is a traditional paperback book, printed with black and white line drawings as the illustrations. I believe the Harris that is referred to on the cover is but one of the different brands of bacon available in the U.K.

The bacon in the U.K. is a bit different than that we eat here in the U.S. and I think this post explains it rather well (plus, I like his illustrations). There are several pages in this cookbook that tell about the different kinds of British bacon.

I'm a big fan of bacon sandwiches, but the thought of partaking in this recipe for Fried Bacon Sandwiches that's also dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and then fried would make me feel guiltier than I already do for eating them in the first place.

I've had to restrain my self from thinking about ordering the newest cookbooks that were mentioned on the websites of the first couple of booklets. All I need to do is start amassing large numbers of cookbooks from another country. I still have enough of the American variety to last me a lifetime!