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Filtering by Tag: Secret Ingredient

Butter Tart • Kari Macknight Dearborn

Brett Rawson

A Note from Curator Rozanne Gold: This fascinating article by Kari Macknight Dearborn comes just in time for Canada’s huge 150th birthday party celebration on July 1st.  Canada Day festivities take place throughout the country and wherever Canadians live abroad.  Here, Kari shares her own glorious family history, and that of Canada’s edible icon.  Her step-by-step photos for making the country's beloved butter tarts are at once mouthwatering and instructive. Kari, a senior producer at the Toronto advertising firm, Zulu Alpha Kilo, Inc., is a board member of Slow Food Canada and is currently studying  for her WSET Diploma.  She lives in Ontario with her husband, Paul, and two Hungarian Puli dogs, Luna and Tisza. Many thanks to Allison Radecki for securing Kari’s memories for us...and just in time for the party!  Happy Birthday, Canada.

Click to enlarge

BUTTER TARTS BY KARI MACKNIGHT DEARBORN

As so many of my fellow Canucks count down to July 1st, and to what probably will be the largest national party of my lifetime — Canada’s sesquicentennial celebration of Confederation — we are daily bombarded, and in every conceivable medium, with Canadiana.

This fervor has never been seen in our land of quiet pride and polite patriotism, and it’s odd and awesome at the same time.   Images of beavers and moose, maple leaves, hockey, and all other symbols of my native land, are everywhere this year.  The entire country is red, white, and bleeding nostalgia.

Canada officially came into being July 1, 1867, in case you were wondering what the fuss is about, by being granted a confusing level of freedom from the British Empire. It’s complicated.   Americans went about it slightly differently, I know.  Canada’s separation from Britain was a lot less bloody, and our connection to the ‘Empire’ is still strong today as a result.

We remain a country with very British and French influences because these countries created Canada.  We have two official languages and we’ve raised a bunch of the funny and talented famous people you love.  But my story is not exactly meant to be a lesson in Canadian history.

Instead it is a story about a singular confection; a quintessential Canadian dessert, made with basic pantry staples — the butter tart.  How it came to be such a part of Canada’s cultural identity, and my own, is at the heart of my handwritten recipe.

I was raised in Northern Ontario on the North Shore of Lake Huron, as a consequence of my father’s employ in the mining industry.  My grandmother was an English war bride who married my Canadian soldier grandfather and came to Canada shortly after the end of the Second World War. They settled very close to what would become my hometown of Elliot Lake.

My mother comes from hard-working Scottish Hebridean farmers of the Presbyterian persuasion, many of whom were displaced by the Highland Clearances. They ultimately settled in the rich agricultural areas north of Toronto that resemble, topographically at least, their ancestral homeland, minus the blasting winds from the North Atlantic.

It was in these enclaves of fellow immigrant Scots, and other erstwhile Brits, where these folks baked for weddings, picnics, and church events with the humble ingredients they could most easily procure.

Canadian food historians claim the butter tart’s certain influences from the Scottish Ecclefechan tart and early Québecois pie recipes made with maple syrup and maple sugar, as well as Southern recipes for pecan pie.  These reasons all make sense given our country’s history and the oral tradition of sharing recipes.  The main difference with the butter tart seems to be the individual serving size.  Additionally, butter tarts are runnier than pecan pie given the lack of cornstarch.

The earliest published recipe for the butter tart is from Barrie, Ontario, from 1900 in the Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook, attributed to one Mrs. Malcolm (Mary) MacLeod.  Since my mother’s Aunt Marion was part of the auxiliary in Barrie in the post-war era, the written recipe here, in my mother’s hand, naturally resembles it.

These tarts were a precious part of my childhood at family gatherings but contained many (to me) vile raisins that I would meticulously remove one by one, wiping my hands on my clothes.  For my wedding in 2008, since I am not fond of cake and my husband adores my mother’s version, I asked my mother to make dozens of mini butter tarts for my guests.  Some of the tarts were even made sans raisins just for me, making it easier to keep my dress free of the gooey filling.  My stance on raisins has since softened.  And if the trend of butter tart wedding cakes ever takes off, you know where it began.

This recipe is classic, unfussy, and consistent but with a slightly loopy script. It’s sweet, and it has that nothing-extraneous Scottishness about it that I rely on.  It’s my mum in pastry form.

My mum, a retired nurse, mailed me the original recipe to use for this piece, but I also have the email she sent me years ago when she transcribed it.  Her recipe for the pastry dough (pate brisee) isn’t written down because it’s burned into her memory, and is also used for her amazing apple pies and much-beloved tourtière.   

Butter tarts have become big tourist draws.  We have a Butter Tart Tour in the Kawarthas area near where my mum grew up, and a Butter Tart Trail near the city of Guelph.  Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival and Contest is held in Midland, Ontario, annually.  Whether you add raisins or not, walnuts or pecans, nobody can really agree.  Maple bacon versions and some containing coconut are popular variations on the traditional.  Since I am a purist, I prefer mine with walnuts since pecans are not native to Canada, and would not have been cheap or easy to find here 100 years ago. 

Happy Canada Day!

Butter Tarts (yields 12 tarts)

Note:  You can use your own pastry dough recipe or purchase pie crusts.

 Ingredients

Pastry for 2 pie crusts
2 eggs
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp white vinegar
½ cup melted butter
¾ cup raisins
¾ cup chopped walnuts

Directions

1. Set oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Grease 12 – 3” pie pans (muffin tins)
3. Roll pastry and place in pans
4. In a large bowl, beat eggs. Beat in brown sugar. Stir in vanilla and vinegar. Mix well and stir in melted butter. Fold in raisins and walnuts.
5. Spoon mixture into pans. Place pan on cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 10 minutes then reduce to 350 and bake for another 25-30 minutes. Let cool.

Lemon Pound Cake • Kelly Spivey

Brett Rawson

A note from Curator Rozanne Gold: In this beautiful story about a memorable lemon cake (and Brunswick stew), Kelly shares her experience as both a pastry chef and as a devoted member of a tight-knit family.  Kelly’s love of food led her to drop out of graduate school where she was pursuing a Master of Fine Arts to study baking (a girl after my own heart, I also dropped out of grad school long ago to pursue a career in New York’s food world.  I later went back to get an MFA — who knows — so might Kelly). After ten years as pastry chef, Kelly now works at a specialty coffee roaster and coffee bar in Memphis, Tennessee, while she researches and writes about the history of baking and pastry in the south. Southern food ways are so in vogue that I await her gorgeous prose.

In the South, our relatives are our people.

My people come from North Carolina. They were farmers and owners of a general store. They lived in Northampton County, almost at the border of Virginia, where the pine trees were just as much a commodity as the peanuts and cotton. 

My grandmother, Elizabeth Braswell Spivey, was born in Northampton County in 1925.  She lived on a farm very far out in the country.

On the property was a long, rectangular cook-house and an adjoining family room with a fireplace, couches, and games. The cook-house had a large wood-fired brick oven that housed two large cast iron pots, and a cast iron, gas-fueled fryer that only was used for cornbread.    

Starting somewhere in the ‘30s or ‘40s, my family has held a Brunswick Stew every year in the Fall.  We would wake up early for an hour drive to my grandparents’ house, usually arriving around seven. The men hauled firewood to the brick oven and lit the fire. The women gathered in the cookhouse family room to peel pounds and pounds potatoes, and to empty huge cans of tomatoes into the cast iron pots.  

Generally, the men did all the stirring with wooden paddles the size of boat oars, but as a defiant teenage girl, I refused to peel potatoes and insisted on stirring instead. I would sit on top of the warm bricks, next to the cast iron pots, and stir for hours. After three hours it was time to “take up the stew” and fry the cornbread.

I loved how we all came together and took hands as we gathered in a large circle. The head of the family (my grandfather and after he passed, my father), would lead us in giving thanks and each joined hand would gently squeeze the other before letting go.

Finally, we could reap the rewards for our work. Plates were filled with Brunswick stew, pulled pork, slaw, and fried cornbread. Then they filled again with brownies, pig pickin' cake, lemon pound cake, thick slices of pie, and occasionally, ice cream.

We made between 200 - 250 quarts of stew each year, to be shared with family and friends. It was kept in the freezer and sustained us all winter.   

After my grandmother's death in 2013, I received boxes of her cookbooks and recipes jotted down on envelopes or advertisements for fertilizer. Some were just newspaper clippings. I received all of this during a time when, as a pastry chef, I was beginning to delve into my own history and re-create the desserts of my people. 

The earlier recipes are written in cursive so neat you can almost see the lines of the grade school primer it was practiced in. The later recipes become smaller, cramped, and more hurried, making them illegible to the untrained eye. Sometimes there were just notes denoting "good" recipes.

As I worked my way through the scraps of paper and fragile books, I put the ingredients together in my head, tasting every dessert on the sideboard at Christmas and every contribution from my aunts at the annual Brunswick stew.  But it was my grandmother’s lemon pound cake that was in evidence at every gathering.  

The first bite was so good — the tart-sugary glaze on the pillowy, yellow-tasting cake.  The second bite was to make sure that yes, you can taste yellow. To this day, it is the only cake my brother will eat.

My assumption that this cake was a made-from-scratch triumph was quickly shattered when I asked my mother for her copy of the recipe and saw that a box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix and instant yellow pudding were two of the key ingredients.  I wanted to make the legendary cake for my brother's birthday.  This was years before my grandmother had passed and I was at the very beginning of my pastry career.  (I’m now 33). 

I tried to reverse-engineer it — omitting the instant pudding and cake mix (the horror!) and adding in real lemon zest and juice — but the results were never as good.  Some things are best left alone.  My grandmother understood, after all, that a cake is just a reason to gather together.

Lemon Pound Cake

Note:  Kelly says that she often uses a Kitchen Aid with the paddle attachment and beats the batter for 8 minutes.  Her grandmother did it by hand for 10.  Pour the batter into a large loaf pan that has been brushed with oil and lightly floured.  Although the handwritten recipe does not include instructions for icing, Kelly prepares a thin glaze made from 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar and 2 to 4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.    

INGREDIENTS: 

1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 box instant lemon pudding
2/3 cups water
1/2 cup Mazola oil
4 eggs
Lemon flavoring to taste

DIRECTIONS:
Put in mixing bowl and beat for 10 min.
Preheat oven at 325. Cook for 1 hour
Does better if you do not open the oven door until the hour is up.
Makes 1 cake

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Kelly Spivey (left) and her grandmother, Elizabeth Braswell Spivey (above)

Pasta alla Norma • Allison Radecki

Brett Rawson

A Note from Curator Rozanne Gold: This dreamy essay comes from food writer and fabulous home cook, Allison Radecki, who describes her recent trip to Sicily in such a way that we experience an intimacy with her.  Through her eyes we taste the pleasures of food and friendship, and get an up-close view of one of the world’s largest religious processions, La Festa di Sant’Agata, celebrated annually in Catania (Sicily’s second largest city) from Feb. 3rd-5th with the heart and soul of an entire community.  Sant’Agata, the city’s patron saint, is also lovingly known as “La Santuzza” — the little saint — in the local Catanese dialect.  Allison’s beloved friend, Mario, whose family home is in the Canalicchio neighborhood, teaches cooking at Catania’s“Piazza dei Mestieri,” preparing high school students to enter the restaurant world.  They met while attending The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy’s Piedmont region, years ago.  Pasta alla Norma, Sicily’s quintessential dish is something Mario and Allison make every time they are together — a ritual they share whether in New Jersey or in Italy.  I, too, remember eating Pasta alla Norma every day when my husband and I travelled to Sicily — an island of volcanic pleasures.  Grazie mille to Allison for her beautiful handwritten recipe, and for the joy that accompanies it.  

BY ALLISON RADECKI

All you needed to see were the words “Flash sale to Europe” in your e-mail inbox, and you started to daydream. In a swirl of logistics and calculations you manage to free up a few days of freedom and click on two words that always forecast adventure:  BUY TICKET.  

And you’re off.  

The plane goes up and down and up and down again until you land at Catania-Fontanarossa Airport.  And there he is, your brother from another mother, who just happened to be born in the shadow of Europe’s largest volcano, beside the sea.  You stare at each other, in disbelief; with excitement; with love. After all, you have just made the seemingly impossible possible (at this particular moment in your life) and have three of the world’s greatest gifts before you: Friendship.  Time.  Sicilian food.  

You are really here, on this island kicked into the Mediterranean by the toe of Italy’s boot.  Mario’s car winds through the port, past freighters and petrol tanks. Soon, you are offered a taste of this new place, at a kiosk that overlooks a bobbing fleet of docked boats.  With a press, a squirt, and a stir, you sip your first glass of “selz, limone e sale.” It tickles your lips and tastes like the marriage of a lemon grove and the salt water before you.      

At home in New Jersey, you wrapped your neck in a heavy scarf and scattered salt on your steps to stop from sliding on the ice.  But here, the sun is strong.   You sit and sip espresso together in the shadow of stone buildings as Mario attempts to explain what you are about to experience.  You contemplate what this street will look like for the next three days as the city stops to honors its patron saint, whose bones will be pulled on a silver carriage — up hills and down thoroughfares — drawn by an endless ribbon of white-clad devotees, as it happens every year.  That very night, you twirl your fork in a bowl of spaghetti, cooked al dente, in an attempt to catch every creamy bit of sea urchin that remains in your bowl.  

The next day is electric.  Brass bands chase towering candelabras through crowds.  Velvet curtains hang from high balconies. The saint’s face is visible everywhere, on street corner magnet stands and balloons that fly overhead.  Amidst the call of trumpets and the shouts of candle sellers, you duck into a crowded bar and are handed “la raviola,” fried half-moons filled with sweetened ricotta.  Powdered sugar snows down on your shirt and sleeves and you laugh.  

The following morning begins at 4 a.m. with a long walk to the Piazza Duomo (parking during the Festa di Sant’Agata is — as you can imagine — a holy mess).  And though the city is still in darkness, the streets are alive with footsteps, voices, and the whirr of the milk frothing for cappuccinos to be sipped by men and women dressed in white.   At the mass at dawn, handkerchiefs wave and a city sings out to welcome its protector.  That afternoon, you watch from a high perch, surrounded by Mario’s family and friends — Giogió, Saro, Claudia, Daniele, Daria — and nibble fat, golden arrancini, as the saint sails past on the street below.  

That night, at his family table, Mario, an exemplary teacher, cooks “La Norma," the pasta dish of his city, named after the operatic masterpiece of Bellini, another jewel in Catania’s crown.  And, even though he regrets that it is not eggplant season, (“when they will be sweeter and more delicious”) you try to memorize the way in which the slices are bathed in salty water to release their bitterness, and how he unites the pasta, tomato sauce, basil, fried eggplant and shavings of ricotta salata, so that the result seems to echo Mt. Etna, which smokes in the distance.  

After a night where massive candles, like tree trunks, line the sidewalks of the city, the saint says her final farewell.  That is, until next year, when it will all begin again.  And soon, with a final coffee and a bear hug of an embrace, you board the plane to return home.  

Domani.  You wake up to a snowstorm which cancels work and offers you an unexpected day of rest.  You are thankful.  And, though you can hear the scrape of shovels on sidewalks as you slowly acclimate to the new time and your old life, you dream of eggplants and basil and start to think about dinner.

PASTA ALLA NORMA
Adapted from a recipe by J. Kenji López Alt

Note:  The ricotta salata sold in the USA is not aged anywhere enough for the true flavor of this dish. Seek out an imported ricotta salata from Italy at a specialty market or combine equal parts sheep’s milk feta with grated Pecorino Romano cheese. 

INGREDIENTS

• Extra-virgin olive oil, for frying and more for drizzling
• 2-3 small Italian or Japanese eggplants, the skins roughly peeled, tops and bottoms trimmed, cut lengthwise into ½ inch thick slices
• Kosher salt
• 3 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly crushed with the side of a large knife
• 1 (25 oz.) jar passata (tomato puree)
• 1 pound dry rigatoni or penne rigate
• A large handful of fresh basil leaves (for the sauce), as well as another handful of roughly torn large leaves for garnishing.
• Aged ricotta salata, finely grated

DIRECTIONS

1. Place eggplant slices in a large bowl and fill with cold water.  Add enough salt to the water and swirl with your hands so that the water tastes like the sea.  Allow the eggplant to soak in the salted water for half and hour.  This will both flavor the slices and allow the eggplant’s bitter flavors to drain out into the salted water.  Drain the slices and pat dry with paper towels.

2. Heat a thumb’s thickness of olive oil in a 12-inch non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Add as much eggplant as fits in a single layer without overlapping.  Cook until the eggplant is browned on both sides (but not dark brown or   burnt).  Transfer eggplant to a plate and set aside. Repeat with remaining eggplant, adding olive oil as necessary, until all eggplant is browned.

3. Heat remaining oil until it shimmers. Add garlic cloves to the oil and cook, until fragrant, but not browned.  Remove cloves from the oil and discard. 

4. Add the tomato puree to the oil and cook, stirring constantly until evenly incorporated. Bring to a boil, and add a large handful of basil (stems and all) to cook into the sauce.

5. Reduce to a bare simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is thickened into a sauce-like consistency, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt.  When no one is looking, add a tsp. of sugar to add sweetness, if necessary.  Remove the cooked basil from the sauce and discard.

6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the ‘al dente’ package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Return pasta to the pot.

7. Add the sauce to pasta and toss to coat, adding reserved pasta water if necessary to thin sauce to desired consistency. Add eggplant slices and toss to combine.

8. Serve pasta immediately, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and garnished with grated ricotta salata and a handful of torn basil leaves.   Serves 6

9. Think of Sicily.

Gramm's Banana Bread • Safiya Oni Brown

Brett Rawson

bananabread1.jpg

A Note from Curator Rozanne Gold: Allison Radecki first met Safiya Oni Brown during a baby-wearing workshop for new moms with wriggly infants in their arms. Allison, with her newborn Tabitha, sat in a circle while Safiya, a holistic health counselor and child whisperer, demonstrated how baby-wearing could calm even the crankiest kid into a happy state. Years later, their paths crossed over a  kombucha drink that Safiya had prepared, and Allison asked for a healthy recipe for the New Year. Gramms’ banana bread was reborn.  Her original is here (prepared and photographed by me), along with Safiya’s update.  I love the verve of Safiya’s powerful penmanship, and of the story told.

BY SAFIYA ONI BROWN

This recipe was given to me by my Gramms, Cecilia Sylvester Jett, who, after my husband, was my favorite person in the world.  Gramms, my mother’s mother, was an amazing cook.  But after becoming a vegetarian, she focused more on health and less on aesthetics, and in later years was known for her nut and celery loaf (a holiday favorite), and her famous banana bread.

Gramms was born in Detroit and enjoyed clipping recipes from the Sunday Detroit Free Press. Because we are a family of foodies, she often invited me to her room to explore a recipe she found in the paper.  I remember going through the Betty Crocker Children’s Cook Book, from which I made every recipe that did not involve meat.

My parents became fascinated with health and nutrition after visiting a Seventh-day Adventist Church in the early 1970s. They switched their diets almost immediately, and when they returned to Michigan, my Mom was glowing with all the knowledge she had accumulated.  It made sense to both of my uncles who were in the medical field, and they became vegetarians, too.

Gramms was beautiful. She carried herself with authority and lent a helping hand to many people, whether they were renters at her different properties or just folks in her neighborhood.  She was a social worker while raising her seven children. She cherished everything involving her grandchildren. Until I was ten, she gathered all thirteen of us to enjoy at least a week together as a family, going on trips and spending holidays at her house.  

For decades, I kept her recipe for banana bread on top of my fridge, hidden, so that it didn’t get lost. The original recipe, from the Detroit Free Press, is scribbled in my own writing.  I took it down during a phone call to Gramms before one of the many dinner parties I loved to throw in high school and college.  

This banana bread was the spark-plug for a small business idea that generated extra money after college. I also used her recipe as a base for zucchini-and-carrot spice bread that became a great seller as part of a line of all natural, organic sweet breads. I sold them to juice bars, cafes, and all-natural eateries. Eventually I gave this up because it was lots of work and barely profitable, but it was fun, and certainly a wonderful connection to my grandmother.  It spurred me to study at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  

In addition to the intoxicating perfume of the wonderful banana bread that would waft from her kitchen, I am reminded of another favorite fragrance as I write this: that of sun-warmed tomatoes, straight from her garden.  We would eat them sliced in sandwiches, lightly salted and peppered, with a farm-fresh egg on Ezekiel bread. No doubt, these vivid memories informed my career choice later on — linking food and well-being.  

Gramms died when my son, who is now 8, was just six months old. She was on her deathbed when I got a frantic call from my mom.  She feared Gramms would die before I could see her. That night we drove nine and a half hours to Detroit to share her last moments.  As I gently performed reiki on her frail body, I could feel all of the hurt and gnarled memories evaporate.  She died in peace seven minutes later.

I now make Gramms’ banana bread during winter holidays but also whenever I want to bring an edible gift somewhere.  The reaction is the same every time: “OMG this is so good, can I please have the recipe?”  

Here it is. And, Happy New Year. 

bananabreadrecipe.jpg

Safiya’s Banana Bread

Ingredients:

½ cup whole wheat flour or spelt flour
½ cup flax meal
½ cup oat bran
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup organic butter (at room temperature)
8 tablespoons date sugar
1 egg
1-¼ cup mashed bananas
¼ cup organic yogurt
8 tablespoons date sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In one bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together first five ingredients.  In another bowl blend together the butter, date sugar, and egg.  Mash bananas, measure yogurt and set aside.  Alternate mixing the creamed sugar mixture, mashed bananas, and the yogurt into the flour mixture until the batter is incorporated. Pour mixture into an ungreased 9 x 5 x 3 in. loaf pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes.  For muffins, bake 30 minutes.  

Suggestions: Add 1 cup of crushed walnuts. When bananas become too bruised, throw them in the freezer for your next batch of banana bread.  

Safiya Oni Brown is a Quantum Healer, Whole Food Family Counselor, Child Whisperer, Universal Life Minister, Baby-Wearing Aficionado, Fermentation Expert, Holistic Health Counselor and the Co-Owner of Quantum Kombucha & Dr. Brown’s Healing Water. She specializes in stress reduction, illness recovery, and natural family rearing through whole food preparation, fermentation, and Quantum healing.  For more information on Safiya visit www.radiantalchemy.org  

The Declaration of Dessert • Allison Radecki

Brett Rawson

Note from curator Rozanne Gold: Election Day cake (once known as Muster Cake) has gone viral.  Although this remarkable story, researched and recounted by food writer Allison Radecki, is geared for Election Day 2016, it ties together the history of food and politics better than anything could. Surely it will carry us into future elections.  This particular journey begins in Asheville and snakes its way to Montclair, New Jersey.  Feel free to adapt the recipe given here (courtesy of Susannah Gebhart for O.W.L. Bakery in Asheville, NC) to reflect your own tastes, family food culture, place, or historical curiosity.  For more information on Election Cake and The Montclair Bread Company, visit: http://www.owlbakery.com/electioncake/ and http://www.montclairbread.com.  A major salute to Ms. Radecki for bringing #makeamericacakeagain — a great culinary campaign — to our attention.  (photos: by A. Radecki).

Election Cake and Election Doughnuts 2016 by Allison Radecki

America, we’re going to the polls.  

For some, Election Day may spark a memory of winding lines of waiting voters or the distinctive swish of the privacy curtain that separates personal choice from the hum of activity outside. But to me, Election Day once meant meat pies; specifically, Jamaican patties butternut-hued, half-moon pockets, filled with ground beef and a wallop of spice.   

My earliest voting memories involved standing, waist-level by my mother’s side, in the confines of a tiny booth, and then purchasing patties from the polling station food table after her vote was cast.  Flakes of the buttery, curry-tinged dough always accompanied us home; sometimes within the brown paper bags in which they were wrapped, or else scattered on our shirts if we just couldn’t wait to take a post-ballot bite.

I have been thinking a lot about those Jamaican patties lately as I listen to the news, perhaps because I want to reach for anything that might mollify the taste of such a bitterly fought presidential campaign. 

I am not the only one with this desire.  

As a way to celebrate American culinary history, shine a light on voter rights and access, and link a scattered village of professional and home bakers, Susannah Gebhart and Maia Surdam, proprietors of Old World Levain (O.W.L.) Bakery in Asheville, North Carolina, are calling on their country to “Make America Cake Again.”

This project focuses upon historical Election Cakes, whose boozy, fruit-and-spice-filled recipe dates back to the early days of the 13 Colonies and the first baby steps of American Independence.  

These New England-based confections, originally named Muster Cakes, were made by Colonial women for the men called upon for military training or “mustered’ by order of the English Crown. A close relation to the great cakes of England, these monstrously huge sweets were made to feed the masses of people gathered (and encourage turnout) at important civic events.  Revelers would tear off a bit of the enormous cake to sustain them as they trained, debated, and congregated.

After the American Revolution, Muster Cakes became known as Election Cakes, and played a central role in the rowdy gatherings at the polls.  Unlike today, the original American election days were national holidays marked by festive community celebrations that served plenty of food, wine, and spirits. 

Within the first known cookbook written by an American, Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (published in 1796), the Election Cake recipe calls for “thirty quarts flour, ten pounds butter, fourteen pounds sugar, twelve pounds raisins, three dozen eggs, one pint wine, one quart brandy…” along with loads of spices such as cinnamon and allspice. We’re definitely not talking about a puny pan here.

Long before American women were granted the right to vote, they would meet at community ovens across the colonies to bake these gigantic cakes as a way to participate in the democratic process.  

In the spirit of highlighting the community aspect of this tradition and to encourage debate on today’s issues, the owners of O.W.L. Bakery have asked bakers across the country to riff on this old recipe and post their locally flavored results to social media using the hashtags #makeamericacakeagain and #electioncake.  

A few participating bakeries will have their own interpretations of election cake for sale on November 8th, 2016.  A percentage of proceeds from these sales will be donated to the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to fair voting access, education, and policy. 

Though my beloved Jamaican patties may be but a spicy memory, I am blessed on voting day, once again.  My local bakery, the Montclair Bread Company, in Montclair, New Jersey, is a creative participant in the Election Cake project. 

Rachel Crampsey, head baker and owner of the Montclair Bread Co., met O.W.L. bakery’s Susannah Gebhart this past summer at a ‘honey summit’ for professional bakers.  Along with a group of other historical recipe fans, the gathered bakers found themselves discussing Muster Cake and the idea for the Election Cake project took flight. 

Working from a base recipe, researched and adapted by Richard Miscovich of Johnson and Wales University, Susannah asked Rachel if she would be interested in baking for November 8th.  She eagerly signed on.  

Rachel’s twist?  She’s doing it in doughnut form.

“I like old recipes,” said Rachel, as she lowered a pan of speckled and glazed election doughnuts from a nearby cooling rack to the table before me. She sees this project as “a way to connect with fellow bakers and crafters.  It might be obvious but we don’t get to spend much time together.”  Along with civic involvement and sparking conversation, this crowd-sourced project is also a way to unite artisans who usually work alone amidst clanging pans and whirring mixers. 

Montclair residents are familiar with Rachel’s decadent creations; maple bacon and Tres Leches donuts are two of my favorites, along with the summertime Margarita special, which contains tequila and features a salted rim.  Her doughnuts have a cult following, with snaking lines that extend down the block on holidays and farmers market mornings. 

To adapt the historic recipe into an Election Cake Doughnut, Rachel took inspiration from a family recipe for Barnbrack (báirín breac), a traditional Irish bread/cake, dotted with raisins.  The resulting doughnut, whose dough is completely different than Montclair Bread Co.’s signature brioche, contains whiskey, currants, candied oranges and lemons. The fruit is soaked in black tea before being mixed in.  Dense, glazed, and dunkable, I enjoy it most with a cup of milky tea.  

The Election Cake doughnut will only be available at the Montclair Bread Company on November 8th, 2016, along with a range of other patriotically clad brioche doughnuts.  

“Food, in general, is a way to unite people,” reflected Rachel, as we chatted about the the role of bakers and connecting the community.  “It is no surprise that, for centuries, there was a village baker and community ovens where everybody brought their raw dough. In a way, baking was a civic duty.  As a business owner, I try to abstain from expressing political views. But, this (non-partisan) project allows me to be involved, so that every member of the community can participate.”  

Rachel, an accomplished runner, is no stranger to community building.  Between founding the local Welcome to Walnut Street street fair, celebrating National Doughnut Day (with doughnut story time and donut decorating for local children) and launching the Fueled by Doughnuts Running Club (“a running club with a doughnut addiction”), she is constantly bringing people together.

Now, please, get out and vote! Bake a cake. And, maybe, eat a doughnut, too.

 

Election Cake Recipe & Directions:

Day 1 (Prepare Preferment):

Using Sourdough Starter:
240 ml whole milk ~70º F (280 g)
¼ cup active starter — 100% hydrated (75 g)
2 ¼ cups All Purpose or whole wheat pastry flour (280 g)

OR

Using Instant Yeast:
275 ml milk ~70º F (320 g)
¼ tsp instant yeast (1 g)
2 ¼ cups plus 2 Tbsp All Purpose or whole wheat pastry flour (320 g)

Combine milk and sourdough starter or yeast and mix thoroughly until starter or yeast is well dispersed in the milk mixture. Add flour and mix vigorously until the starter is consistent and smooth. Scrape the sides of your bowl and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Allow your starter to ferment for 8-12 hours at room temperature. When ready to use, your preferment will have bubbles covering the surface.

Soak Dried Fruits:

If you plan to use dried fruits in your cake, we recommend soaking them overnight, or for several days beforehand. Measure out your dried fruit and cover with your liquor or liquid of choice (for non-alcoholic options, try apple cider/juice, other fruit juices, or steeped teas) in a small sauce pot. Warm over low heat for a few minutes, remove from the heat, and allow to soak, covered, overnight or for several hours. 

Before incorporating into your cake, strain the liquid off of the fruit. Use this fruit flavored liquid as a cordial or to make a simple glaze after the cake is baked.

Day 2 (Prepare Final Dough, Proof, and Bake):
           
1 cup unsalted butter (226 g)
¾ cup unrefined sugar (155 g)
2 eggs (100 g)
1/3 cup whole-milk yogurt  (85 g)
¼ cup sorghum or honey (60 g)
Preferment (560 / 635 g)

2 ¼ cups All Purpose or whole wheat pastry flour* (280 g)
2 Tbsp spice blend** (12 g)
¼ tsp ground coriander (1 g)
¼ tsp ground black pepper (1 g)
2 tsp salt (12 g)
2 Tbsp sherry or another  - optional (30 g)
2 cups rehydrated fruit (300 g)

1. With a paddle attachment in a stand mixer, cream the butter very well, then add sugar, mixing until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time on medium speed. Mix in the sorghum/honey and yogurt.

2. Exchange the paddle with a dough hook. Add the preferment (starter or sponge) and mix until just incorporated. Combine all of the dry ingredients before adding them to liquid ingredients and mix until just incorporated, being careful not to over-mix. Gently fold in the sherry (optional) and rehydrated fruit. 

3. Divide evenly into a bundt pan or cake rounds that have been buttered and lightly floured. OWL Bakery uses mini bundt pans, which yields 8-10 cakes. Proof for 2-4 hours, until the cake has risen by about ⅓ of its volume. 

4. Bake at 375° F (190° C) for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F (177° C) and continue baking for about 25-30 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting and eating. You may enjoy this cake plain or topped with a simple glaze. 

Notes:

* Choose high extraction flour if possible
* Create a spice mixture with warm spices like ground cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, star anise, or mace. OWL Bakery’s house spice blend is a combination of 8 spices.
* Adapted by Susannah Gebhart for O.W.L. Bakery from Richard Miscovich’s formula. Note: OWL Bakery’s version of election cake reflects their place in the southern Appalachian Mountains. They use flour that has been grown and stone-milled locally by Carolina Ground and local, grass-fed milk. Additional ingredients are sourced close to home as well — bourbon, dried apples, and sorghum molasses — flavors that evoke   the bounty of the food landscape of their region.
 Feel free to adapt this version to reflect your own tastes, family food culture, place, or historical curiosity! 

 

The Talloczy Family’s Hungarian Stuffed Peppers • Allison Radecki

Brett Rawson

Note from curator Rozanne Gold: This week’s recipe comes to us via New York City caterer, professional chef, and former restaurateur Irene Khin Wong. It is an old Hungarian recipe, inherited without modifications, from the family of her Hungarian partner, Zsolt Talloczy. Three generations of Hungarian women have embraced this recipe, beginning with Zsolt’s great grandmother, Franciska, his grandmother, Anna, and his mother Agnes Zatonyi Talloczy. It is lovingly fastened to Zsolt and Irene’s refrigerator door. With that, a fourth generation now makes the treasured recipe in late spring and early summer, when tomatoes and wax peppers are freshly available. I especially love the grace and styling of Agnes’ European handwriting. With thanks to Irene and Zsolt for sharing this recipe — one that reminds me of my own childhood with my own beautiful Hungarian mother.

The Talloczy Family's Hungarian Stuffed Peppers By Allison Radecki

These lusty stuffed peppers remind Zsolt Talloczy of a cherished childhood and memories of his mother and grandmother. When he prepares them, he wistfully said, “It smells like spring and lazy sunny afternoons in Budapest.” Whiffs of the dish also dish trigger thoughts of his wife Irene’s first trip with him to Budapest and his parents’ home nearly 10 years ago.

Irene and Zsolt first made each other’s acquaintance while waiting to pick up tennis permits within a sporting goods store off of New York City’s Union Square. Zsolt, a trained scientist who now works in microbiology, was studying at Columbia University at the time. 

“I wearing pajamas on a Saturday afternoon,” remembers Irene. “I had worked a late night, until 3 am, and just threw on a long jacket to accompany my eager friend to fill out the permit forms. ‘Who cares if you’re wearing pajamas,’ said my friend. WHO is going to see you?’”

A quick chat about tennis skills led Zsolt to offer Irene his e-mail address (“he didn’t even have a cell phone”). After a few e-mail exchanges, they met up to play. Irene then proposed that they meet up another day at the iconic Jewish appetizing store, Russ and Daughters, before trying out courts on the Lower East side.  

“I figured that everyone in New York knew Russ and Daughters,” said Irene, who originally hails from Burma, “but Zsolt never arrived. I couldn’t call him, he had no cell phone, so I waited.  Sitting in front, while eating my bagel and whitefish, I saw him running by. I almost missed him. I think I gave him the wrong address.”  After an extended trip to Asia together (“four countries in six weeks and we never had an argument”) the couple realized that they had found a rare match, indeed. 

A trip to Budapest was next on the horizon. “I remember thinking how Budapest was almost like Paris—but in the 1960s. Zsolt’s father, Imre, would buy trays and trays of different types of pastries—the most incredible pastries — it was like something you would get in Paris or Vienna.” 

Zsolt’s mother, Àgnes, made these stuffed peppers for Irene to welcome her to Budapest. “Zsolt knows that I can eat spicy. They were so flavorful. It reminded me of home.”

The prototype for this family dish originated in Hungary and is based on a traditional recipe with some German-Hungarian influence from Budapest’s ninth district, Ferencvaros/Franzstadt. This zone was considered the ‘stomach of Budapest’ with a multitude of blooming family businesses, restaurants, butcher shops, and bakeries. It was the neighborhood where Budapest’s first chocolate factory, and famous brandy factory (Zwack Liqueur, maker of the beloved national digestive herbal drink, Unicum) were located, as well as the capital’s central slaughter house. 
 
The typical pepper used in its preparation is the Hungarian Hot Wax Pepper variety, which is fragrant, smooth and ripens like the sunset from yellow to orange to red. This pepper, or paprika, as it is called in Hungarian, is usually harvested before maturity when its skin exhibits a yellow-greenish hue. It is easy to stuff and peel and produces fruits whose ends taper to a rounded point. Alternatively, you can make it with green bell peppers. 
 
As anyone who has visited Hungary knows, you can hardly walk ten feet without encountering this pepper — whether it is threaded onto strings and hung from balconies to dry in its reddest, most mature state, piled high in a fragrant yellow tower in a food market, or taking its traditional place, in its red, pulverized version (as the ground spice, paprika) alongside the salt and pepper shaker on most Hungarian tabletops.

Zsolt is the chef when it comes to this family stuffed pepper dish which he cooks for Irene, so they both can remember their flavors of home. A yearly import of two kilos of Hungarian paprika, which his parents buy directly from a small producer in the nation’s Szeged region (and Zsolt carries back to New York on the plane) allows him to truly capture those authentic flavors. Zsolt also regularly imports frozen portions of his mother’s home-cooked stuffed peppers for his wife when she can not accompany him back to Budapest for his yearly visit  “Àgnes freezes the peppers in a container, which she then wraps in three or four Ziploc bags,” describes Irene. “The dish is still cold by the time the plane lands.” Talk about take away.

As the famous Hungarian restaurateur and restaurant consultant, George Lang, wrote in his book, The Cuisine of Hungary, "Paprika is to the Hungarian cuisine as wit is to conversation- not just a superficial garnish, but an integral element…the marriage of paprika and Hungarian cooking was almost predestined." Considering that the wax pepper originated in the New World and made its way into to Hungary by way of the Turkish invasion in the 1500s, it covered a lot of ground before reaching its most famous culinary destination.

 

Hungarian Stuffed Peppers 

For the Stuffing (to be prepared first):

1-3/4 pounds ground pork   
Scant ½ cup raw rice      
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 hot pepper (jalapeño will do), finely chopped   
2 tablespoons smoked bacon, chopped      
1 teaspoon of Hungarian hot paprika
A pinch of dried marjoram
A pinch of ground cumin
1 whole egg, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste

For the peppers and cooking liquid:

6 tablespoons flour  
Pork lard or oil
4 cloves of garlic
¼ cup Hungarian paprika powder (sweet or hot)
2 liters of tomato juice
8-10 Hungarian wax peppers (with seeds and stems removed)

1. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients for the stuffing and set aside. 

2. Brown flour in melted lard or oil until it turns light brown in the pot. Add chopped garlic and cook several minutes until soft (but not brown.)  Add ¼ cup paprika to begin (add as much as you like according to taste – a mixture of sweet and hot paprika) and immediately remove pot from flame to avoid burning the paprika. 
 
3. Pour in 2 liters of tomato juice and break up any clumps of flour by stirring. Simmer on low heat for 5 minutes to concentrate
 
4. Cut the Hungarian waxed peppers (8-10) around at the stem and pull out the seeds. 

5. Fill the peppers with the stuffing. Any leftover stuffing can be rolled into meat balls. Add stuffed peppers to a separate pot from the tomato liquid, add any ‘naked,’ leftover meat balls a bit later to the pot. Fill the pot with water to cover all peppers.  Salt and simmer for 30-40 minutes
 
6. When the stuffing in the peppers is cooked through the middle (cut and test to see when ready), transfer them to the tomato liquid pot and fill up with some chicken or beef broth as needed. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes while constantly stirring to finish.

 

Sue Inoff's Double Crust Lemon Pie • Dale Bellisfield

Brett Rawson

From curator Rozanne Gold:  This scrumptious recipe was submitted to Handwritten by Dale Bellisfield. From a fabulous career as one of New York’s premier graphic designers, she transformed herself into a clinical herbalist (and holistic nurse) who now makes her home in Pine, Arizona. Dale has a practice in integrative medicine and, like Hippocrates, thinks of food as medicine. She is a wonderful cook who once created a dish of black rice with gorgonzola, porcini and espresso for me. I am so grateful to have her wonderful mother’s handwritten recipe, and to share Dale’s memories. www.herbaldale.com    

Sue Inoff's Double Crust Lemon Pie by Dale Bellisfield

I just dug this out of my overstuffed, seven-inch-thick file, a jumble of recipes I've been gathering over the past two years as inspirations for a “breast health” cookbook I’m working on.  It fell out of the file so easily, it was like my Mom was saying hello. This copy of the recipe was meant for my two sisters, Joanne and Sally, and me. And it is one I will happily share with my daughter Samantha, and now with all of you!     

My mother’s Double Crust Lemon Pie was her signature, and our favorite among many of her delicious home-made dishes.  She was an adventurous and excellent cook, and a foodie before there was even such a designation. Much to my Dad's anxiety, though, she loved to experiment with new recipes whenever they hosted an event — be it birthday party, July 4th gathering, Thanksgiving dinner, family home-coming, baby shower, whatever. Although I never caught a whiff of any failures, this one was an experimental blockbuster-turned-mainstream, with many repeated command performances. And it never made Dad anxious.

Only Mom complained about it. She would rail about how time-consuming it was to slice those lemons "paper thin" after having grated and peeled them. And about the effort of making the two crusts it needed. But we didn't really care. We were only consumed with selfish greed about devouring that pie sometime in the very near future. Please, Mom??

This particular dessert was most often associated with our annual "crab fest" dinner, held in the hot Maryland summer at my folks' house. It was a big gathering of friends, neighbors and family that filled our entire basement. And it celebrated the peak of  Maryland’s blue crab season. Every year we looked forward to the slimy, messy ritual of cracking open those bright red, steaming-hot, juicy crabs onto tables covered with layers of newspaper to absorb the excitement and the entrails. No plates. 

There was a certain skill to separating the sweet, briny crabmeat from their tenacious salt and spice-encrusted shells. And as you cracked open the claws, and then sucked out the shell fragments to catch whatever fleshy morsels might still remain, your mouth/eyes/sinuses all dripped from the inescapable fiery spices caked on the shells, on your fingers, on your napkin and on your beer. But we knew relief was coming.

The lemon pie. This made it all calm down — the lemony sweetness of the creamy filling, the hit of those paper thin, gloriously tart lemon slices suspended within it, and the cinnamon-y crust. They formed the most exquisite combo of flavors that perfectly balanced the intensity of the spiced crabs and beer. More than 30 years have passed since I last ate that pie. But I can taste it still.  Suddenly it feels like it’s summer.

pie w recipe copy.jpg
 

Sue Inoff's Double Crust Lemon Pie

2-1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
6 eggs (reserve 1 teaspoon egg white for top crust)
3 large lemons
1/2 cup lemon juice
(squeeze from additional lemons)
1/2 cup water
cinnamon-sugar for sprinkling
 

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

2. Roll out bottom crust into pie tin.  

3. In a mixing bowl, add sugar, flour and salt.  Blend in butter and eggs until well mixed.  Grate lemons to get 2 teaspoon zest.  Add to bowl.  

4. Cut rind and white pith from 3 lemons and slice lemons very thin.  Add lemon slices to bowl with lemon juice (squeezed from additional lemons) and water.  Stir well and pour into bottom crust.

5. Cover with top crust, sealing (I dampen bottom crust edge) and fluting edge.  Brush top pie crust with egg white and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  

6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

** Note from RG: Prepare enough pie crust for a deep-dish 9 or 10” pie, top and bottom crust. Place pie on baking sheet. Let cool before serving.

 

Vodka Sauce • Allison Radecki

Brett Rawson

Note from Curator Rozanne Gold: This touching story focuses on the re-kindling of father-daughter memories through the unexpected discovery of a handwritten recipe. It is testament to the emotional power that “chicken scratches” can hold. Told by Allison Radecki, a food writer and culinary tour guide, the poignant tale is as much character study as it is a love story. Allison’s neighborhood-based walks in Brownstone Brooklyn trace the history of immigration and culinary change, with each footstep an invocation of her dad’s love of food and people. This hastily scribbled handwritten note on a random piece of paper acts as a time machine to past meals. Over the years, other family members have added comments and drawings to the recipe’s edges, serving to preserve a multi-generational bond and all the memories it holds. Thank you, Allison. 

Vodka Sauce By Allison Radecki

I always assume that everyone’s kitchen contains a recipe archive; a repository stuffed with newspaper clippings, ripped pages from notebooks and other treasured bits of chicken scratch. My collection lives in a practically un-openable kitchen drawer — a space stuffed so tightly, papers burst out at you like a canister of spring-loaded plastic snakes.   

Sure, it would make more sense to gather these papers into a book, slip them within plastic sleeves for easier organization. Yet, for me, the rummaging is the process: the touching of old newsprint, the disarray, the bits of spiral edges that flutter to the kitchen floor like New Year’s confetti in Times Square. Each archive excavation unearths an unexpected relic that can awaken a vivid memory. This is what happened when I uncovered my father’s scrawled instructions for vodka sauce while rooting around for something completely different.

My father, Joseph Radecki, did not cook. He relied on a few simple dishes — scrambled eggs, plain pizza by the slice, ‘veal parm.’ He adored a good prime rib. “The man needs instructions to boil water,’ was my mother’s classic line. This was technically, not true. The only thing I remember him cooking at the stovetop were boiled ‘tube steaks,’ or hot dogs, as they are known to the rest of the world.  

A former police detective and taxi driver, he stumbled into a post-retirement business of showing people “his NYC.” To his clients he was ‘Joe the Cop’, storyteller, procurer of hard-to-get tickets, scholar of city history. “I could get you a seat at the Last Supper if it happens again in New York,” was part of his spiel. I believed him.  Many did, for good reason, and sent their friends to find him.

This recipe for vodka sauce, served with penne pasta, comes from a small, Manhattan dining room, Da Tommaso, with no more than 20 seats. There, the Albanian chef, raised in Italy, prepares classic, Italian meals and does it well.

My Dad used this restaurant as his second office (his first, being the fax-strewn passenger seat of his Chevy Suburban).  He’d bring clients in to dine and used it as a pick-up location for purchases from ticket scalpers. And it was the site of countless family meals. Long after the post-theater diners had paid their checks, we’d stay late and gossip with the host and waiters as they loosened their white jackets, hearing the list of stars that were glimpsed in the dining room that week. If you spoke the words, “Joe the Cop sent me,” (or were recognized as one of his daughters), you never needed a reservation to get in the door, regardless of the time of day.

When my sister discovered the magic that occurred when tomato, vodka, and cream came together, she would rarely order anything else. After nudging my Dad to see if the chef would share his recipe, he came home with this rough outline. Fittingly, it is written on the back of a printed fax from a couple from Louisville, Kentucky, asking for transportation to the Plaza Hotel and suggestions for “things to see in the Big Apple."

Over the years, this recipe became a family collaboration. My mother, a gold medalist in the sport of highlighting, couldn’t resist illuminating words in fluorescent yellow. Her comments (“guard w/ your life!”) and queries (“sauce,” “1/4 cup?”) are scattered about the page of vague instructions.  My sister’s doodles are the tell-tale sign of her presence. Perhaps she was imagining the meals to come.

I look at this recipe and I can hear my father’s pen. The short, solid motions he made when jotting down flight numbers from his ever-present Dictaphone.  As a “graduate of the school of Hard Knocks,” but never college, he was self-conscious about his writing. Not once did I see him use cursive.  Often, he would ask me or my sister to write the last names of clients on his airport arrival signs. When he discovered word-processing (and stopped fighting with the computer printer), he never looked back. “No one wants to see my boxy letters,” he would say.

I do. It’s been over two years since he died. I miss him terribly. I even miss his scattered papers. How unexpected it was to reconnect with him through his block print and this recipe.

Vodka Sauce

Virgin olive oil
Let oil get hot
Throw a little shallots
Speck of red pepper
Little vodka (1/2 shot)
Tomato
Touch of Cream