Think your life is hard?
Imagine that you had a stroke at the tender age of sixteen that ruined your plans for college, marriage and family, and, after you had learned to walk again, left you with a permanent limp that eventually forced you into a wheelchair. Worse, your finances require that you turn the family home into a boarding house with you gimping about the kitchen doing the cooking.
What do you do? You get a job at a cooking school and, hoping to reverse your fortunes, you write a cookbook.
Now imagine that no one will publish your book so rather than give up, you fund a small printing out of your own pocket. This forces you to take all the risk, but also the reward if it’s successful. Now imagine that your cookbook is a fabulous success that makes you a wealthy woman, and is so popular that 116 years later it’s still in print.
Who are you? You’re Fanny Farmer, author of the Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book, written for the once-famous Boston Cooking School.
Turning on the stove.
Because I see traditional cookery as a guide to modern health, I’m fascinated with old cookbooks. So it was a big deal when the Saturday mail brought me a centennial edition of Farmer’s cookbook. (Offered at a Goodwill Store for twenty-seven cents, plus shipping.) The first thing that caught my eye was a recipe for white sauce, or béchamel. It followed our recent recipe closely, with the exception of replacing one cup of milk with some homemade chicken stock. Actually, mixing stock with milk was one of our experiments so I guess Ms. Farmer would approve.
The next thing I saw was the instruction on how to fire up the stove. It was pretty complicated, starting with cleaning out yesterday’s ashes from the grate while saving the cinders (partly burnt coal). Then you place a combination of paper, soft pine, hardwood, cinders, and 2 scoops of coal in the grate.. I forgot to mention closing the front, back, and oven dampers, and opening the chimney flue. Next you strike a phosphorus-sulphur match, apply it to the paper, and you have a fire. (The match must have been a recent invention.) It’s important to adjust dampers and flue as the fire turns from blue to yellow, to keep heat from escaping up the chimney. Finally, you blacken the stove, polishing as the stove heats, to give the stove a nice look. (Blackening the stove must have been an old practice, as materials weren’t mentioned.) All I can say is that turning on the stove has gotten a lot easier.
This Week’s Menu
- We didn’t have to light a fire in the stove for this meal—we cleaned out the ‘fridge of leftovers from last week and finished off with a green smoothie made with kale—an easy meal topped off with a treat we're trying to add to our dietary.
- Bell peppers stuffed with sausage, mirepoix, and brown rice. I kind of made this up but I really liked it; the beautiful wife suggested spicier sausage.
- Green salad.
- Poached salmon (in the freezer from last week).
- Long grain brown rice with sautéed mushrooms.
- Salad with vegetables.
- Shrimp cocktail (shrimp from the freezer, sauce by Trader Joe).
- Vegetables au gratin (I steamed eggplant, onion, tomato, and squash, added my classic cheese sauce left over from the cooking experiments, made some cheesy breadcrumbs using the heel of some old homemade bread, and produced a delicious casserole. I may elevate this to one of my 52 Breakthrough Recipes; the beautiful wife was impressed.)
- We ate out—pasta, green salad, French bread, chocolate cake—but it was a fundraiser for girl’s summer camp so the wallet took a hit.
Sunday (a lot of work, but it was a family dinner with those darling, above-average grandchildren)
- Pork tenderloin (Costco), baked.
- Skip’s Scalloped Potatoes
- Skip’s Homemade Applesauce
- Asparagus, steamed, with Skip's classic cheese sauce (I added too much salt).
- Cake (you need an occasional treat).
Closing thought: I notice now that we didn't have any legumes this week. It's hard to remember everything. Maybe I'll write a menu form that includes food group goals on the right edge, as a reminder.