Friday 18 July 2014

HFF #4: Foreign Foods - "The Moor of Venice" (a poppy seed cake)

When I came across a cake called "Mouřenín benátský" - "The Moor of Venice" in Rettigová's cookbook, and when I saw it was a poppy seed cake with lemon zest, I knew I had to try it. It has a somewhat funny name (and politically incorrect from a modern perspective, but); it definitely qualifies for Challenge #4; it clearly has a Shakespeare connection (pity the Literature challenge was not meant like that...); and it's a poppy seed cake, which I'd wanted to try my hand at for a while.

The Recipe:
Mouřenín benátský
Utři hodně na míse čtvrt libry čerstvého a čtvrt libry přepouštěného másla, vmíchej do něho 4 celé vejce a 4 žloutky jedno po druhém, dej k tomu 3 lžíce hustých kvasnic a 3 lžíce smetany, a zadělej všecko s jedním žejdlíkem mouky, aby z toho bylo tak lehké těsto jako na třenou buchtu; pak utluč žejdlík máku a zamíchej ho do toho těsta s půl librou tlučeného cukru a s rozkrájenou kůrou s půl citronu, malinko to osol a dej to do dortové formy.

Venetian Moor
In a bowl, rub thoroughly half a pound of fresh butter with half a pound clarified butter, mix in 4 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks, one at a time, add 3 spoons of thick yeast and 3 spoons of cream, and make a dough with a pint of flour, so that it's as light a dough as for a rubbed buchta; then pound a pint of poppy seeds and mix it into the dough with half a pound of pound (um...) sugar and with cut up rind from half a lemon, salt it a little and put it into a cake / torte mold.
Right. That's quite straightforward, as old recipes go, except that as before, the yeast part is not quite clear, and it does not say a word about how to bake it.
The latter, though, is probably because the recipe right above it does. (It's also the recipe for the aforementioned "rubbed buchta".) It says to leave at least "two fingers" empty in the mold, and let it rise to fill the mold. Then not to shake it too much when putting it into the oven, and let it bake slowly for at least an hour.

So that's the recipe!

Sunday 13 July 2014

Cleaning up my space + HSF #13: Under $10 - The light entry (and a half)

I am slowly but surely cleaning and organising my room. (I've cleaned out a table for my sewing machine, and now it no longer has to sit on the dining table, yay! More room to cut fabric. :D) There were all these beads and components that I've been holding onto for years, with vague ideas of what I wanted to make, but it was all just catching dust. Pah.

So I went ahead and started making things instead. The idea here is, when the beads are unused, they sit in boxes and jars, using up flat horizontal space, while when they are made up into necklaces, they use up only vertical space on the outer side of the bunk bed (where nobody sleeps anymore):

It's a storage solution that I'm very proud of. :-) A combination of something I saw in an Ikea catalogue (with the hanger and sunglasses) and what I saw on Pinterest - it's here. The original poster used purchased hooks and towel rod, I settled for what I already had and am making my hooks from a (probably aluminum) wire I've found in my father's storage. He said he did not need it. I did. Perfect.

Now only if that stupid old sticker could be scraped off so easily.

* * *

My entry for the challenge was actually made from new beads, which, in their similarity to beads I already had, inspired me to do something about it. One of them - you can sort of see one at the closure that's a slightly different colour - I already had, the memory of which was what prompted me to buy the others. It's a somewhat skewed idea of using what you already have, but it did also prompt me to start using the other colours. ;-)

This is my light entry for the challenge. One that's not strictly historical, but it will serve me well with my historical things. (I have another entry, but it needs to be washed first, because I already managed to squirt cherry juice on it. Just by eating the cherries.)

The Challenge: #13 Under $10
Fabric: none
Pattern: none
Year: non-specific and variable; the idea was something to wear with my Regency clothes, though

Notions: glass beads, spring closure + ring, thin plastic-encased jewellery wire
How historically accurate is it? About 30%, I suppose. The "wire" is very much not and the closure is probably not accurate for Regency. I was using what I had on hand. Simple glass beads, on the other hand, are very historical and will cover me for many decades!
Hours to complete: under an hour
First worn: yesterday
Total cost: The packet of beads was 20 CZK, the wire (of which I used only a part) was 5 CZK. The closure was bought in a packet and I don't remember the cost, but since I only used part of the wire, I think 25 CZK is just about right.

The light blue / aqua of the beads is such a lovely, striking colour that the simplicity of it only enhances it. It's quite short, sitting close to the neck, which is a style you often see with pearls and beads (of whatever material) in the portraits of the era. While the colour may not be what you see often, you also don't often see portraits of more "ordinary" people, so who's to say a girl from a small Bohemian town would not have chosen them?
I'm still hoping for the pearl variety one day, but for the time being, my beloved shade of light blue is more than enough. :-)

* * *

The half:

One of those aforementioned colours of glass beads I already had was this very, very red. I had, years ago, got the idea that they looked like rowanberries, and purchased some components to make them into a rowanberry-inspired tiara or earings or something, when I figure out how.

Since then, I've figured out that with my limited jewellery making skills and the limitations of components you can find in shops, it's not likely to happen. Instead, I've turned to a style that I still don't quite know how to make either, but have some less vague ideas for:

Portrait of a Woman by Henri Francois Mulard, c. 1810, detail

Coral tiaras seem to have been very, very popular - you run across extant pieces often (just google "coral tiara" and see what happens...). They tend to be this exact shade of red, too. Gold components to thread something through are much more common than rowan-shaped ones, so I think sooner or later, I'll chance upon something that I can stick those pre-made parts into. The tiara part is still a little bit unclear, but you do find headbands as well, so I think it's that and glue / wire to the rescue. And I can still pretend they're rowanberries if I want to.

There are also some loose "beads" in the same colour; some larger and some smaller than these. I wrote "beads" in quotation marks, because they have no threading holes. They're just little glass balls.

I've found these for basically all of the colours in the original mix. I guess they're some faulty specimens; but their different sizes could come in useful in a design and I really want to figure out a way to incorporate them...

Thursday 10 July 2014

HFF #2: Soups and Sauces - Why Czechs don't eat celery sauce anymore

I love celery and I was hoping this could be another celery staple. But it did not turn out so well, so I'll have to keep looking.

I mean, it turned out okay in the end and the taste was quite good, but it was too much work and confusion for a meal that was way too simple and not-so-filling for all that work.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it already started with the fact that the recipe was quite confusing.

Half a large, cleaned-up celery we grate on a rough grater and let it boil in water mixed with soup until it is like a mash. (We use so much water, how much sauce we need, about 1/2-3/4 liter. We add then 3 spoons of sour cream, a spoon of flour, thicken the sauce with it, spice with a pinch of mace (if we do not have cream, we put in regular roux), let boil, so that the sauce is appropriately thick, we sieve it and serve with potatoes. We taste it, maybe add salt, or if we want to have it more savoury, we mix a teaspoon of Zátek's mustard into it.

Translation as close as possible. Including the one missing bracket.

Points of contention, as they came up during my preparation and cooking:

  1. How large is a large celery? We operated under the impression that vegetables were not too large back then (I used two small celeries, because that's what I had). But now I have my doubts.
  2. What is the rough grater? I mean, I do have two sizes of holes on my grater, and it follows obviously that it's the larger ones. But, as I found out during the cooking, even when I grated it on the smaller holes (because it was much easier and faster; the large holes kept just tearing the celery unevenly), it did not really cook into a mash even though I cooked it for quite a time. So I dread to think what it would have been like / how long it would have taken if I had used the larger holes!
  3. Soup: You have to realise (which involves reading the preface to the cookbook) that it means "stock".
  4. How much water and how much stock?
  5. If I add too much water to the amount of celery I used, I have to cook it longer. Presumably. Because if not enough water evaporates, it's not mashy enough. So why did I use so much water to begin with?
  6. Do you mix the flour into the cream, as I did, or add the cream first and then the flour?
  7. Sieving. When I sieve it, do I use what comes out below, or what remains in the sieve? Logic says the former. But even though I cooked it for a long time, there was much, much more remaining in the sieve and what came out below was basically coloured water, not a sauce. So I gave up on sieving and used all of it.
  8. Aaand... we are told to serve it, and then we are told to taste it and add flavour. Yeah, really smooth, Mrs Kejřová. You're not that scatterbrained normally, what happened here?
  9. Speaking of which, no mention of salt before. Is there salt in the "soup"? If not, then this whole thing is definitely not savoury enough.
  10. Obviously, brands are always tricky in old recipes. (I used Dijon mustard, which is almost certainly not what the original was, but at that point, I really did not care anymore.)

So it came to ten points, and a list much longer than the recipe itself. A bit Not Good.

And there are even more points of contention for inexperienced cooks in the original that do not quite come across in the translation. Namely, the word for mace that is used is "květ" - "bloom", because the full Czech name for mace is "muškátový květ" (I won't try to translate that). It's a spice that is almost never used nowadays. My sister had no idea what it meant. I only did because I've been immersed in old cookbooks longer.
Plus, the word for "pinch" used is also no longer used nowadays. More confusion for my sister.

The celeries came with leaves, so I added some to the stock.
I did salt the sauce to begin with, I think, and definitely tasted it before serving.

I think that pretty much covers "how I made it". It was okay-ish, but after this one attempt, I was really, really fed up with this recipe (so much so that I could not bring myself to finish the remaining sauce and write it up). All that trouble for something that just goes on top of potatoes; for that, I can easily just use quark/curds as usual. Add cream if I want a more saucy texture. Mix it with something if I want a more interesting taste. Much easier, and still more filling, too.
And now I understand why you'll never, ever see celery sauce cooked in the Czech Republic nowadays. It's clearly a recipe that could not and did not catch on.

The Challenge: #2 Soups and Sauces

The Recipe: From Úsporná kuchařka ("Frugal Cookbook") by Anuše Kejřová (a 1990 reprint of a 1924 edition), see above

The Date/Year and Region: 1920s Czechoslovakia

How Did You Make It: see above

Time to Complete: I did not really keep track (I never do, even when I try), but it was definitely in the realm of hours. And definitely more than two. It was meant to be lunch and turned into supper. You have to make the stock first, and then it took forever to cook it into an acceptable mash.

Total Cost: I don't remember anymore, but I think the fairly low cost (and using the rest of the stock for actual soup) was about the only good thing about it. Neither chicken bones for stock nor celery are too expensive - the bones were 16 CZK, if I remember correctly.

How Successful Was It?: Blah. Taste okay, the rest not okay. Never again.
How Accurate Is It?: I can't really tell because I have no idea what it was supposed to be like. I followed the recipe as closely as I could (except for the grating and sieving). So I suppose it's accurate in not being successful...

Saturday 5 July 2014

HFF #3: This Day in History - T.G. Masaryk's breakfast and supper

Americans have independence, and so do Czechs.

Of course, our actual Independence Days are January 1st (for the Czech Republic, and no one really celebrates it because of the historical circumstances and the fact that everyone celebrates the night before), and October 28th (for Czechoslovakia, and the Independence Day we still respect more, and it is celebrated much less and by much less people than the American Independence Day. That's Czechs for you.)

But as I looked into July events in Czech history, I came across the fact that July 4th 1915 was the day T.G. Masaryk made public his concept of Czechoslovakia and breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I thought it was a funny Independence-related coincidence, what with the Americans in the Historical Food Fortnightly mentioning Fourth of July foods. And then I remembered that Masaryk had told Karel Čapek about his eating habits for Hovory. So there it was, waiting to happen!

(Of course, there are some important July historical events that actually rate for national holidays tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. But I'll be busy and away from home and it would require lots of research that I have no idea where to start with. So while it could be interesting, it would defeat me and my personal purpose in doing this, which is simply to broaden my cooking skills.)

* * *

Masaryk's eating habits (Karel Čapek: Hovory s T.G. Masarykem, Československý spisovatel, Praha 1969, p. 159):

"Above all, then, temperance; to eat and to drink much less than people usually eat and drink. If you want to know, I eat three times a day: for breakfast, first some fruit, a bit of butter and jam on a toast, sometimes a piece of fried bacon and about half a cup (or mug) of unsweetened tea; I used to eat a soft-boiled egg sometimes, but I am told it is not very healthy. For lunch (/dinner), several spoons of white soup, a small piece of meat, more vegetables, a piece of dessert, fruit and black coffee. For supper I am used to having a small plate of porridge or a piece of buchta*, with milk coloured with a drop of coffee. That's enough. ... Between those three meals, I don't take anything else, except maybe some plain tea around five o'clock if there is company."
* that is, something cake-like, most likely

So having that to go by, I thought for a moment, hey, I can do the whole day like that. But I didn't in the end, because
a) while I don't eat so much myself, I drink a lot, and in the summer heat, I don't think I could switch to almost no drink (and all caffeine / theine at that!) all of a sudden without repercussions;
b) I'd probably spend most of the day cooking and looking up recipes and buying the things I did not have at home (meat for the soup and... meat, and vegetables other than potatoes and onion...) - and I wanted to sew and do other things.

So I went for the very, very simple and basic things: toast with jam and semolina porridge (because semolina is what I had at hand). Which feels a little bit like cheating the purpose of the Historical Food Fortnightly. But it's actually not, because while it's very, very simple things I can make even without a recipe, I usually make them utilising some more modern tools, like a toaster and a special double-boiler. I wanted to see how they would have been made in Masaryk's time.

And then there was fruit, of course, and this is a good time of year for that.

For the toast and porridge, I opened Anuše Kejřová's cookbook again. It's spot on for the era.

Thursday 3 July 2014

HSF #12: Shape and Support - My Regency stays

After some four years or so, they are finished - well, unless I decide I want to do some alterations to the cording or something...

Finished, wearable, very much so. Wearing them right now. I'm getting used to the busk - the fact that I cannot just bend like I'm used to is... weird. But other than that, I like the fit, and would wear them out just because.