Thursday, January 28, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly #2: Cherry Trifle

I consider myself an adequate cook. I can make good wholesome meals with ease, my bread is light, and my desserts are toothsome. But one area I am sorely lacking is Making Food Pretty. Or presentation as they say these days.

So while I enjoyed eating this challenge, I am the first to admit that the looks are... pretty sloppy. Judge for yourself.

The Challenge: 2. Culinary Vices (January 15 - January 28) Some foods are really, really naughty. Globs of butter, lashings of sugar and syrup, decadent chocolate and wine. Bring out your naughty, indecorous side with foods associated with all the bad things, in the best ways.

I am no stranger to trifle; I have been in love with them ever since Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess came out. And the concept is pretty simple: take some old cake, soak it in booze, top with jam or fruit, and add custard and whipped cream.

What could be more vice-ridden than combining cream, sugar, and alcohol?

The Recipe: I used three separate recipes, one for the trifle itself, one for the custard, and one for the cake. The first two are from Mrs. Beeton's and the cake is from National Cookery.

The Date/Year and Region: mid-late 19th century, England/America

How Did You Make It: I admit I played fast and loose with the trifle recipe. For one thing, I didn't have any macaroons or ratafias (whatever they are) and for another I didn't particularly like the idea of mixing raw egg whites into my whipped cream. Plus I hate sweet sherry, so instead I used a fruit-flavored liqueur.

For the other two I followed as written, but for the custard I used 5 whole eggs plus 4 yolks, and half milk/half cream.

Baked my cream sponge cake.

Made my custard in the double boiler. Usually I just make it in a pot and the double boiler took FOREVER.

I wish I had had more time to let my cake stale. Alas.

Lined two bowls with cake. I made a separate, non-alcoholic version for my young daughter.

Cherry booze and cherry jam!

Cakes soaked and sprinkled with lemon zest.

Jammed it and sprinkled almonds.

And finally, whipped cream and more almonds.

Oh, trifle, you are not pretty, but I wanna eat you anyway!

Time to Complete: Two days overall, about 2 hours actual work time.

Total Cost: Two pint of cream at $4-ish, a jar of jam, eggs, sugar, flour, liqueur. . . maybe $20.

How Successful Was It?: It looked. . . homely. It tasted amazing. The alcohol-soaked cake was soft and strong, the custard creamy and sweet, the jam full of big fruity chunks.

 How Accurate Is It?: I improvised a lot. Cherry liqueur instead of sherry, cherry jam in place of strawberry, and normal whipped cream (made with the electric mixer!) in place of that with eggwhites added. I also omitted the macaroons and ratafias. However, all the ingredients were available at the time, and I don't think anything I did sticks out like a sore thumb.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Victorian-ish Coat for Ice Skating

Our local group had a Victorian Ice Skating event last weekend, and while my daughter had a perfectly good dress from last year that still fit, I wanted to make sure she kept warm in period fashion. Which means she needed a coat.

I used a heavily modified modern sewing pattern for this. I suppose I could have drafted something from scratch based on period diagrams, but I went the shortcut route, mostly because drafting collars is a pain. I eliminated the pattern's waist seam, added a lot of width and flare to the coat's lower section, and fiddled with the sleeves a bit. The collar is pretty much the only thing left un-altered from the original pattern. 

I call it "Victorian-ish" because it's not strictly period, but it has a historic enough look. I wanted something that wasn't too costumey and would work as her modern good coat for a couple years. Coats haven't changed much and Victorian ones aren't that different from dressy modern ones anyway.

We had a lovely time skating!

The fabric is brown wool Harris tweed (yup, the real Harris tweed from Scotland, yum) that I bought at Treadle. She chose this from a group of swatches I brought home. I underlined the bodice portion only with cotton flannel for extra warmth, and lined the coat with a remnant of cream-color silk shantung I found in the stash. I sewed it all on the machine, except the hem. I used horsehair canvas in the collar and linen to interface the front facing.

The fabric was dreamy to sew with; soft and very lightweight. The finished coat was very light, but she reported that it felt very warm. The wool was also super easy to ease at the sleeve cap. 

Every coat I make is a learning experience, this one included! There are always a few little things I have to learn over again. The lining could definitely have used more ease in the length; it is perilously close to hanging up the coat fabric in a couple places. And the collar does this flippy thing on one side I haven't figured out. But overall, I was very pleased with it. So was she!

To go with her coat, I made a super quick faux fur muff. I just ran a length of ribbon through it to wear around the neck.

She also had a hood from last year, made of white wool with an attached scarf and tassels.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly #1: Potatoes and Cabbage With Cheese Sauce

The Challenge: 1. Meat-and-Potatoes (January 1 - January 14) They’re a staple for the tables in the most rustic cottages as well as the fanciest banquet tables - and it’s also an idiom meaning a staple or the most basic parts of something. Make a historic “meat-and-potatoes” recipe - however you interpret it. 

My household is mainly vegetarian, so I had to kind of work around this challenge. Taking “meat-and-potatoes” as an idiom steered me toward basic, wholesome foods, and of course I took the "and potatoes" part literally. I couldn't resist this great little book from 1941, 250 Ways of Serving Potatoes.

 The Recipe: Potatoes and Cabbage With Cheese Sauce


3 cups diced potatoes 
1 quart chopped cabbage 
1 pint boiling water 
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup grated cheese

The Date/Year and Region: 1941, USA 

How Did You Make It: Following the recipe's directions, the potatoes and cabbage were boiled in shallow salted water.

The cheese sauce was made in a separate pan. First the evaporated milk was scalded. I don't use evaporated milk much and it looked awful brown to me!

Grated cheddar to add.

Done! Still looks kinda weird and brown.

The vegetables were arranged in a dish and the cheese sauce poured over.

The sauce was thin and they nearly drowned!


 Time to Complete: About 30 minutes.

 Total Cost: About $7.

 How Successful Was It?: This was delicious, as I would expect potatoes in cheese to naturally be. The sauce was a little thin, but very cheesy and the dish had a nice amount of salt. I was skeptical about the evaporated milk but the overwhelming flavor was the cheese.

Overall, it was a basic, hearty dish. Very "meat-and-potatoes!"

 How Accurate Is It?: I am not sure what kind of cheese would have been used; the recipe doesn't specify. But otherwise I followed as closely as possible. A mid-20th century recipe is pretty easy to duplicate with 21st century techniques.