DISHES & BEVERAGES OF THE OLD SOUTH
Author of "Field Farings," "Two of a Trade," "Milre," "Next to the Ground," etc.
Decorations by Russel Crofoot
New York McBride Nast & Company 1913
Copyright, 1913, by Mcbride, Nast & Co.
Published, October, 1913
GRACE BEFORE MEAT 9
THE STAFF OF LIFE 26
SAVING YOUR BACON 39
HAMS AND OTHER HAMS 59
FOR THIRSTY SOULS 72
PASTE, PIES, PUDDINGS 90
CREOLE COOKERY 118
CAKES, GREAT AND SMALL 136
MEAT, POULTRY, GAME, EGGS 158
SOUPS, SALADS, RELISHES 185
VEGETABLES, FRUIT DESSERTS, SANDWICHES 202
PICKLES, PRESERVES, COFFEE, TEA, CHOCOLATE 220
WHEN THE ORCHARDS "HIT" 239
UPON OCCASIONS 257
SOAP AND CANDLES 292
Dishes & Beverages
"Let me cook the dinners of a nation, and I shall not care who makes its laws." Women, if they did but know it, might well thus paraphrase a famous saying. Proper dinners mean so much—good blood, good health, good judgment, good conduct. The fact makes tragic a truth too little regarded; namely, that while bad cooking can ruin the very best of raw foodstuffs, all the arts of all the cooks in the world can do no more than palliate things stale, flat and unprofitable. To buy such things is waste, instead of economy. Food must satisfy the palate else it will never truly satisfy the stomach. An unsatisfied stomach, or one overworked by having to wrestle with food which has bulk out of all proportion to flavor, too often makes its vengeful protest in dyspepsia. It is said underdone mutton cost Napoleon the battle of Leipsic, and eventually his crown. I wonder, now and then, if the prevalence of divorce has any connection with the decline of home cooking?
A far cry, and heretical, do you say, gentle reader? Not so far after all—these be sociologic days. I am but leading up to the theory with facts behind it, that it was through being the best fed people in the world, we of the South Country were able to put up the best fight in history, and after the ravages and ruin of civil war, come again to our own. We might have been utterly crushed but for our proud and pampered stomachs, which in turn gave the bone, brain and brawn for the conquests of peace. So here's to our Mammys—God bless them! God rest them! This imperfect chronicle of the nurture wherewith they fed us is inscribed with love to their memory.
Almost my earliest memory is of Mammy's kitchen. Permission to loiter there was a Reward of Merit—a sort of domestic Victoria Cross. If, when company came to spend the day, I made my manners prettily, I might see all the delightful hurley-burley of dinner-cooking. My seat was the biscuit block, a section of tree-trunk at least three feet across, and waist-high. Mammy set me upon it, but first covered it with her clean apron—it was almost the only use she ever made of the apron. The block stood well out of the way—next the meal barrel in the corner behind the door, and hard by the Short Shelf, sacred to cake and piemaking, as the Long Shelf beneath the window was given over to the three water buckets—cedar with brass hoops always shining like gold—the piggin, also of cedar, the corn-bread tray, and the cup-noggin. Above, the log wall bristled with knives of varying edge, stuck in the cracks; with nails whereon hung flesh-forks, spoons, ladles, skimmers. These were for the most part hand-wrought, by the local blacksmith. The forks in particular were of a classic grace—so much so that when, in looking through my big sister's mythology I came upon a picture of Neptune with his trident, I called it his flesh-fork, and asked if he were about to take up meat with it, from the waves boiling about his feet.
The kitchen proper would give Domestic Science heart failure, yet it must have been altogether sanitary. Nothing about it was tight enough to harbor a self-respecting germ. It was the rise of twenty feet square, built stoutly of hewn logs, with a sharply pitched board roof, a movable loft, a plank floor boasting inch-wide cracks, a door, two windows and a fireplace that took up a full half of one end. In front of the fireplace stretched a rough stone hearth, a yard in depth. Sundry and several cranes swung against the chimney-breast. When fully in commission they held pots enough to cook for a regiment. The pots themselves, of cast iron, with close-fitting tops, ran from two to ten gallons in capacity, had rounded bottoms with three pertly outstanding legs, and ears either side for the iron pot-hooks, which varied in size even as did the pots themselves.
Additionally there were ovens, deep and shallow, spiders, skillets, a couple of tea-kettles, a stew kettle, a broiler with a long spider-legged trivet to rest on, a hoe-baker, a biscuit-baker, and waffle-irons with legs like tongs. Each piece of hollow ware had its lid, with eye on top for lifting off with the hooks. Live coals, spread on hearth and lids, did the cooking. To furnish them there was a wrought iron shovel, so big and heavy nobody but Mammy herself could wield it properly. Emptied vessels were turned upside down on the floor under the Long Shelf—grease kept away rust. But before one was used it had to be scoured with soap and sand rock, rinsed and scalded. Periodically every piece was burned out—turned upside down over a roaring fire and left there until red hot, then slowly cooled. This burning out left a fine smooth surface after scouring. Cast iron, being in a degree porous, necessarily took up traces of food when it had been used for cooking a month or so.
Ah me! What savors, what flavors came out of the pots! Years on years I was laughed at for maintaining that no range ever turned out things to equal open-hearth cookery. But it took paper bags to prove beyond cavil the truth of my contention. Even paper-bagging does not quite match the open-hearth process, though there is the same secret of superiority, namely, cooking things in their own essence by the agency of hot air. The sealed and loaded bag needs must be laid on a grate-shelf in a hot oven—touch of solid hot iron is fatal to it.
Iron vessels set above smoothly spread coals got hot, but not red-hot—red heat belonged to the lids. They were swung over the fire and heated before setting them in place—then the blanket of coals and embers held in heat which, radiating downward, made the cooking even. Scorching of course was possible unless the cook knew her business, and minded it well. Our Mammys not only knew their business but loved it—often with a devotion that raised it to the rank of Art. Add the palate of a gourmet born, a free hand at the fat, the sweet, strong waters and high flavors—what wonder it is to envy those of us they fed!
My individual Mammy was in figure an oblate spheroid—she stood five feet, one inch high, weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, had a head so flat buckets sat on it as of right, was as light on her feet, in number twelve shoes, as the slimmest of her children and foster children, could shame the best man on the place at lifting with the hand-stick, or chop him to a standstill—if her axe exactly suited her. She loved her work, her mistress, her children black and white—even me, though I was something of a trial—her garden and her God. All these she served fondly, faithfully, with rare good humor and the nicest judgment. Fall soft upon her, rain and snow! Sunshine and green grass, make happy always the slope where she rests!
She put on a clean white frock every morning—by breakfast time it was a sickly gray along the front—the thick of the dinner-battle was writ large on it in black smudges. She herself explained: "I ain't sech er dirty 'ooman—hit's dest I'se so big, dirt ketches me comin' and gwine." Air and more air she would have, regardless of weather. The big board-window had its shutter up all day long—the glass window was a vexation, since it opened only halfway. By way of evening things, daubing and chinking got knocked out of at least half the cracks between the wall logs as sure as Easter came—not to be replaced until the week before Christmas. I doubt if they would have been put back even then, but that Mammy dreaded criticism, from maids and carriage drivers visiting kinfolk brought with them. Big yawning cracks in cold weather were in a way the hall-mark of poor-white cabins. It would have half broken Mammy's heart to give anybody room to say she belonged to less than real quality.
She was autocratic; a benevolent despot; withal severe. If I displeased her by meddling, putting small grimy fingers into pies they should not touch, she set me to shelling black-eyed peas—a task my soul loathed, likewise the meddlesome fingers—still I knew better than to sulk or whine over it. For that I would have been sent back into the house. The kitchen stood thirty yards away from the back door, with a branchy oak in front of it, and another, even branchier, shading the log foot-way between. The house offered only grown-up talk, which rarely interested me. In the kitchen I caught scraps of Brer Rabbit's history, pithily applied, other scraps of song—Mammy always "gave out" the words to herself before singing them—proverbs and sayings such as "Cow want her tail agin in fly-time" applied to an ingrate, or: "Dat's er high kick fer er low horse," by way of setting properly in place a pretender.
Best of all, I got the latest news of the countryside for ten miles around. Wireless has little on the way things ran about among the plantations. It was a point of honor among the black men to have wives or sweethearts away from home. This meant running about nightly—consequently cross-currents of gossip lively enough to make the yellowest journal turn green with envy. Mammy was a trifle apologetic over having a husband no further off than the next neighbor's. To make up for it, however, the husbands who came to his house lived from three to five miles away—and one of them worked at the mill, hence was a veritable human chronicle. Thus Mammy was able to hold her head up with Susan, her sister, who milked and washed.
Susan might have been called a widow of degrees—she had had three husbands, but only two were living. The last parting was always threatening to end in meeting over again—still that did not hinder her cabin from being the rendezvous of all the likeliest fellows within easy walking range. Naturally she had things to tell—worth hearing whether or no they were true. So also had Phoebe, who was a sort of scullion, fetching in wood and water, gathering vegetables, picking chickens, scouring all things from the big pot to the floor. Shelves were scoured daily, the floor three times a week. This had to be a matter of faith after an hour or so—it certainly did not look it. Sweeping, done three times a day, was largely a matter of form. Phoebe went conscientiously over the uncluttered spaces, and even reached the nose of her broom between pots and ovens, but only coarse trash gathered before the broom—all the rest went through the cracks.
Mammy said Phoebe's news could be believed. "De gal don't know no mo'n ter tell dest whut she done heard." She truly was slow-witted and slow-spoken, but Isham, her step-father, was cook to the Gresham brothers, the beaux of the neighborhood, who kept bachelor's hall. His mother had been their Mammy—hence his inherited privilege of knowing rather more about his young masters than they knew themselves.
Little pitchers have big ears. Set it to the credit of the black folk, they always had regard for the innocence of childhood. Scandal was merely breathed—not even so hinted as to arouse curiosity. Foul speech I never heard from them nor a trace of profanity. What I did hear was a liberal education in the humanities—as time passes I rate more and more highly the sense of values it fixed in a plastic mind. I think it must have been because our Mammys saw all things from the elemental angle, they were critics so illuminating of manners and morals.
Here ends reminiscence, set down in hope it may breed understanding. All I actually learned from Mammy and her cooking was—how things ought to taste. The which is essential. It has been the pole-star of my career as a cook. Followed faithfully along the Way of Many Failures, through a Country of Tribulations, it has brought me into the haven of knowledge absolute. If the testimony of empty plates and smiling guests can establish a fact, then I am a good cook—though limited. I profess only to cook the things I care to cook well. Hence I have set my hand to this, a real cook's book. Most cook books are written by folk who cook by hearsay—it is the fewest number of real cooks who can write so as not to bewilder the common or garden variety of mind. The bulk of what follows has an old-time Southern foundation, with such frillings as experience approves. To it there will be added somewhat of Creole cookery, learned and proved here in New York town by grace of Milly, the very queen of New Orleans cooks, temporarily transplanted. Also sundry and several delectable dishes of alien origins—some as made in France or Germany, some from the far Philippines, but all proved before record. In each case the source is indicated in the title. Things my very own, evolved from my inner consciousness, my outer opportunity and environment, I shall likewise mark personal.
Lastly, but far from leastly, let me make protest against over-elaboration, alike in food and the serving thereof. The very best decoration for a table is something good in the plates. This is not saying one should not plan to please the eye no less than the palate. But ribbon on sandwiches is an anachronism—so is all the flummery of silk and laces, doilies and doo-dads that so often bewilder us. They are unfair to the food—as hard to live up to as anybody's blue china. I smile even yet, remembering my husband's chuckles, after we had come home from eating delicatessen chicken off ten-dollar plates, by help of antique silver. Somehow the viands and the service seemed "out of drawing."
Quoth Heine the cynic: "Woman, woman! Much must be forgiven thee! Thou hast loved much—and many." Edibly I love much rather than many. Enough of one thoroughly good thing, with proper accessories, is more satisfying than seven courses—each worse than the last. Also cheaper, also much less trouble. If time has any value, the economy of it in dishwashing alone is worth considering. In these piping days of rising prices, economy sounds good, even in the abstract. Add the concrete fact that you save money as well as trouble, and the world of cooks may well sit up and take notice.
The one-piece dinner is as convenient and comfortable as the one-piece frock. There are, of course, occasions to which it is unsuited. One-piece must be understood to mean the piece de resistance—the backbone of subsistence as it were. A bowl of rich soup or chowder, with crackers on the side, a generous helping of well-cooked meat, with bread or potatoes, and the simplest relishes, or a royally fat pudding overrun with brandy sauce; each or either can put it all over a splash of this, a dab of that, a slab of something else, set lonesomely on a separate plate and reckoned a meal—in courses. Courses are all well enough—they have my warm heart when they come "in the picture." But when they are mostly "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," then I would trade them, and gladly, for as much good bread and butter as appetite called for.
By way of postscript: being a strict and ardent advocate of temperance, I refused to consider writing this book unless I had full liberty to advise the use of wine, brandy, cordials, liquors, where good cooking demands them. Any earthly thing can be abused—to teach right use is the best preventive of abuse. Liquors, like everything else, must be good. "Cooking sherry" is as much an abomination as "cooking butter," or "cooking apples." You will never get out of pot or pan anything fundamentally better than what went into it. Cooking is not alchemy; there is no magic in the pot. The whole art and mystery of it is to apply heat and seasoning in such fashion as to make the best, and the most, of such food supplies as your purse permits. Tough meat cannot be cooked tender; tainted meat cannot be cooked sound. It is the same with stale fish, specked or soured fruit, withered vegetables. It pays to educate tradesfolk into understanding that you want the best and only the best of what you buy. If the thing you want, in perfect condition, is beyond your means, take, instead of a lower grade of it, the highest grade of something cheaper. So shall you escape waste of time, effort and substance. Never mind sneers at your simple fare. Remember it was Solomon the Wise who wrote: "Better a dinner of herbs and contentment than a stalled ox, and contention therewith." Paraphrase the last clause into "spoiled ox and ptomaines therewith," and you may keep not only self-respect, but that of the neighbors.
Bread, more than almost any other foodstuff, can not be better than what it is made of. Here as elsewhere a bungler can ruin the very best of flour or meal. But the queen of cooks can not make good a fundamental deficiency.
Hence in buying flour look for these things: a slightly creamy cast—dazzling whiteness shows bleaching, as a gray-white, or black specks mean grinding from spoiled grain. The feel should be velvety, with no trace of roughness—roughness means, commonly, mixture with corn. A handful tightly gripped should keep the shape of the hand, and show to a degree the markings of the palm. A pinch wet rather stiff, and stretched between thumb and finger, will show by the length of the thread it spins richness or poverty in gluten—one of the most valuable food elements.
The cornmeal of commerce will not be satisfactory in any receipt here given. It has been bolted and kiln-dried out of all natural flavor. Take the trouble to get meal water-ground, from white flint corn, and fresh from the mill. Then you will have something worth spending time and effort upon—spending them hopefully. Why, the wisest man can not tell—but steam-ground meal is of a flavor wholly unlike that water-ground. The grinding should be neither too fine nor too coarse. Bran left in, and sifted out as needed, helps to save from musting, and to preserve the delicate natural flavor. Fresh meal, in clean bright tin or glass, or in a stout paper sack, where it is dry, cool and airy will keep two months. Hence buy it judiciously, in proportion to your family's corn-cake appetite.
It is impossible to give exactly the amount of liquid for any sort of bread-making because the condition of flour and meal varies with weather and keeping. This applies also to sugar—hence the need for intelligence in the use of receipts. In damp muggy weather moisture is absorbed from the atmosphere. Upon a dry day especially if there is much wind, drying out is inevitable. Anything that feels clammy, or that clots, should be dried in a warm, not hot, oven. Heating flour before mixing it, taking care not to scorch it in the least, is one small secret of light bread, biscuit and cake. Flour in a bag may be laid in the sun with advantage. Use judgment in mixing. Note the appearance of what you are making closely—when it turns out extra good, set up that first condition as a standard.
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Beaten Biscuit: (Old Style.) Sift a quart of flour into a bowl or tray, add half a teaspoon salt, then cut small into it a teacup of very cold lard. Wet with cold water—ice water is best—into a very stiff dough. Lay on a floured block, or marble slab, and give one hundred strokes with a mallet or rolling pin. Fold afresh as the dough beats thin, dredging in flour if it begins to stick. The end of beating is to distribute air well through the mass, which, expanding by the heat of baking, makes the biscuit light. The dough should be firm, but smooth and very elastic. Roll to half-inch thickness, cut out with a small round cutter, prick lightly all over the top, and bake in steady heat to a delicate brown. Too hot an oven will scorch and blister, too cold an one make the biscuit hard and clammy. Aim for the Irishman's "middle exthrame."
There are sundry machines which do away with beating. It is possible also to avoid it by running the dough, after mixing, several times through a food-chopper. Also beaten biscuit can be closely imitated by making good puff paste, rolling, cutting out, pricking and baking—but rather more quickly than the real thing. All these are expedients for those who live in apartments, where the noise of beating might be held against good neighborhood. Householders, and especially suburban ones, should indulge in the luxury of a block or stone or marble slab—and live happy ever after, if they can but get cooks able and willing to make proper use of it.
Soda Biscuit: (Old Style.) Sift a quart of flour with a heaping teaspoonful of baking soda. Add a good pinch of salt, rub well through lard or butter the size of the fist, then wet with sour milk to a moderately soft dough, roll out, working quickly, cut with small round cutter, set in hot pans, leaving room to swell, and bake in a quick oven just below scorching heat. Handle as lightly as possible all through—this makes flaky biscuit.
By way of variety, roll out thin—less than a half-inch, cut with three-inch cutter, grease lightly on top, and fold along the middle. Let rise on top a hot stove several minutes before putting to bake. By adding an egg, beaten light, with a heaping tablespoonful of sugar to the dough in mixing, these doubled biscuit will be quite unlike the usual sort.
Salt Rising Bread: (As Mammy Made It.) Scald a tablespoonful of sifted cornmeal, and a teaspoonful—heaped—of salt with a pint of boiling water, let stand ten minutes, then stir in, taking care to mix smooth, enough dried and sifted flour to make a thick batter. Damp flour will not rise. The batter should be almost thick enough to hold the mixing spoon upright—but not quite thick enough. Set the mixture in warm water—just as hot as you can bear your hand in. Keep up the heat steadily, but never make too hot—scalding ruins everything. Keep lightly covered, and away from draughts. Look in after an hour—if water has risen on top, stir in more flour. Watch close—in six hours the yeast should be foamy-light. Have ready three quarts of dry sifted flour, make a hole in the center of it, pour in the yeast, add a trifle more salt, a tablespoonful sugar, and half a cup of lard. Work all together to a smooth dough, rinsing out the vessel that has held the yeast, with warm not hot water to finish the mixing. Divide into loaves, put in greased pans, grease lightly over the top, and set to rise, in gentle heat. When risen bake with steady quick heat. Take from pans hot, and cool between folds of clean cloth, spread upon a rack, or else turn the loaves edgewise upon a clean board, and cover with cheese cloth.
To make supper-rolls, shape some of the dough into balls, brush over with melted butter, set in a deep pan, just so they do not touch, raise and bake the same as bread. Dough can be saved over for breakfast rolls, by keeping it very cold, and working in at morning, a tiny pinch of soda before shaping the balls.
Sweet Potato Biscuit: (Old Style.) Boil soft two large or four small sweet potatoes, mash smooth while very hot, free of strings and eyes, add a pinch of salt, then rub well through three cups of sifted flour. Rub in also a generous handful of shortening, then wet up soft with two eggs beaten very light, and sweet milk. A little sugar also if you have a sweet tooth—but only a little. Roll to half-inch thickness, cut out with small cutter, lay in warm pan, and bake brown in a quick oven. Soda and buttermilk can take the place of eggs and sweet milk—in which case the sugar is advisable. Mix the soda with the milk—enough to make it foamy, but no more.
Waffles: (Mammy's.) Separate three eggs. Beat yolks and whites very light. Add to the yolks alternately a pint of very rich sweet milk, and handfuls of sifted flour. Enough to make a batter rather thicker than cream. Put in also half a teaspoon—scant—of salt, and half a cup of lard, or lard and butter, melted so it will barely run. Mix well, then add the beaten whites of egg. Have the waffle irons hot but not scorching—grease well with melted lard—the salt in butter will make the batter stick. Cook quickly but take care not to burn. Lay on hot plate—have a pitcher of melted butter to pour on. Lay the second waffle upon the first, butter, and keep hot. It is not safe to begin serving without at least six waffles in plate. This, of course, provided you have several eaters with genuine appetites. Syrup can be passed with the waffles—but it is profanation to drench them with it—strong clear coffee, and broiled chicken are the proper accompaniments at breakfast.
Plain Corn Bread: (The Best.) Sift sound fresh white cornmeal, wet with cold water to a fairly soft dough, shape it by tossing from hand to hand into small pones, and lay them as made into a hot pan well sprinkled with dry meal. The pan should be hot enough to brown the meal without burning it. Make the pones about an inch thick, four inches long, and two and a half broad. Bake quickly, taking care not to scorch, until there is a brown crust top and bottom. For hoe-cakes make the dough a trifle softer, lay it by handfuls upon a hot-meal-sprinkled griddle, taking care the handfuls do not touch. Flatten to half an inch, let brown underneath, then turn, press down and brown the upper side. Do not let yourself be seduced into adding salt—the delight of plain corn-bread is its affinity for fresh butter. It should be eaten drenched with butter of its own melting—the butter laid in the heart of it after splitting pone or hoe-cake. Salt destroys this fine affinity. It however savors somewhat bread to be eaten butterless. Therefore Mammy always said: "Salt in corn-bread hit does taste so po' white-folks'y." She had little patience with those neighbors of ours who perforce had no butter to their bread.
Egg Bread: (Mammy's.) Beat two eggs very light with a pinch of salt, add two cups sifted cornmeal, then wet with a pint of buttermilk in which a teaspoonful of soda has been dissolved. Stir in a spoonful of shortening, barely melted, mix well, and pour into well greased pans or skillets, cook quickly, till the crust is a good brown, and serve immediately. Or bake in muffin moulds. For delicate stomachs the shortening can be left out, but pans or moulds must be greased extra well. If milk is very sour, make it one-third water—this is better than putting in more soda.
Batter Cakes: (Old Style.) Sift together half-cup flour, cup and a half meal, add pinch of salt, scald with boiling water, stir smooth, then add two eggs well beaten, and thin with sweet milk—it will take about half a pint. Bake by spoonfuls on a hot, well-greased griddle—the batter must run very freely. Serve very hot with fresh sausage, or fried pigs' feet if you would know just how good batter cakes can be.
Ash Cake: (Pioneer.) This is possible only with wood fires—to campers or millionaires. Make dough as for plain bread, but add the least trifle of salt, sweep the hot hearth very clean, pile the dough on it in a flattish mound, cover with big leaves—cabbage leaves will do at a pinch, or even thick clean paper, then pile on embers with coals over them and leave for an hour or more, according to size. Take up, brush off ashes, and break away any cindery bits. Serve with new butter and fresh buttermilk. This was sometimes the sole summer supper of very great families in the old time. Beyond a doubt, ash cake properly cooked has a savory sweetness possible to no other sort of corn bread.
Mush Bread: (Overton Receipt.) To a quart of very thick mush, well salted, add three fresh eggs, breaking them in one after the other, and beating hard between. When smooth add half a cup of rich milk, and half a cup melted butter. Stir hard, then add one teaspoonful baking powder, and bake quickly. Bake in the serving dish as it is too soft for turning out, requiring to be dipped on the plates with a spoon. Hence the name in some mouths: "Spoon bread."
Cracklin' Bread: (Pioneer.) Sift a pint of meal, add a pinch of salt, then mix well through a teacup of cracklings—left from rendering lard. Wet up with boiling water, make into small pones, and bake brown in a quick but not scorching oven.
Pumpkin Bread: (Pioneer.) Sift a pint of meal, add salt to season fully, then rub through a large cupful of stewed pumpkin, made very smooth. Add half a cup melted lard, then mix with sweet milk to a fairly stiff dough, make pones, and bake crisp. Mashed sweet potato can be used instead of pumpkin, and cracklings, rubbed very fine in place of lard. Folks curious as to older cookery, can even make persimmon bread, using the pulp of ripe persimmons to mix with the meal—but they will need the patience of Job to free the pulp properly from skin and seed.
Mush Batter Cakes: (For Invalids.) Bring half a pint of water to a bubbling boil in something open, add to it a pinch of salt, then by littles, strew in a cup of sifted meal, stirring it well to avoid lumps. Let cool partly, then cook by small spoonfuls on a hot griddle very lightly greased. Make the spoonfuls brown on both sides, and serve very hot.
Wafers: (For Invalids or Parties.) Rub a cup of lard or butter, through a quart of sifted flour. Butter will give enough salt—with lard add a pinch. Mix with sweet milk, the richer the better, to a smooth dough, not stiff nor soft. Shape into balls the size of a small egg, roll out very thin, prick lightly all over, and bake brown—it will take about five minutes in a quick oven. Cool on cloth and keep dry. Handle delicately—if the wafers are what they should be; they break and crumble at any rough touch.
Plenty in the smokehouse was the cornerstone of the old time southern cookery. Hence hog-killing was a festival as joyous as Christmas—and little less sacred. There was keen rivalry amongst plantations as to which should show the finest pen of fattening hogs. Though the plantation force was commonly amply sufficient for the work of slaughter, owners indulged their slaves by asking help of each other—of course returning the favor at need.
A far cry from a cook book, common or garden variety. Here, it is worth its space, as explaining in a measure what follows. Namely full direction for choosing your fatted pig, cutting him up, and making the most of the ultimate results. Choose carcasses between a hundred and seventy-five and a hundred and fifty pounds in weight, of a fresh pinky white hue, free of cuts, scratches, or bruises, the skin scraped clean, and firm, not slimy, to touch, the fat firm and white, the lean a lively purplish pink. Two inches of clear fat over the backbone, and the thick of the ribs should be the limit. Anything more is wasteful—unless there is a great need of lard in the kitchen. The pig should be chilled throughout, but not frozen—freezing injures flavor and texture somewhat, besides preventing the proper quick striking in of salt.
Curing space permitting, it is wise to cut up several pigs at once. The trouble is hardly increased, and the results, especially in saving, very much greater. The head will have been at least half severed in slaughtering. With a very sharp butcher knife, after the pig is laid on the chopping block, cut deeply through the skin, all round, then with a blow or two of the axe sever the head. Next cut through the skin deeply, either side of the back bone. The cuts should be evenly parallel, and about two inches apart. Now turn the pig on his back, part the legs and with the meat axe chop through the ribs, and joints. After chopping, cut the backbone free with the knife, trim off the strip of fat for the lard pile, chop the backbone itself into pieces three to four inches long, until the chine is reached—the part betwixt the shoulder blades with the high spinal processes. Leave the chine intact for smoking, along with the jowls and sausage.
Pull out the leaf-fat—it grows around and over the kidneys. Also pull out the spare ribs, leaving only one or two in the shoulders. This done, chop off feet, then with the knife cut hams and shoulders free from the sides. Trim after cutting out, saving all trimmings for sausage. Save every bit of pure fat for lard. Also cut away the clear fat at the top of the sides, devoting it to the same use. Make clean cuts on the joints—this means a knife often whetted. Trim the hams rather flat, and shape the hip bone neatly. The commercial fashion of cutting away all the upper half of hams is fatal to perfect flavor. Trim shoulders close, unless they are destined to be made into sausage—in that case put them with the other scraps. Sides can either be cut into strips four to five inches wide the long way, after the manner of commercial "breakfast bacon," or left whole throughout their streaky part, cutting away solid fat along the top for lard. Separate the heads at the jaw, leaving the tongue attached to the jowl, and taking care not to cut it. Cut off the snout two inches above the tip, then lay the upper part of the head, skin down, crack the inner bone with the axe, press the broken bones apart, and take out the brains. Jowls are to be salted and smoked—heads are best either simply corned for boiling with cabbage, peas, beans, etc., or made in conjunction with the feet into headcheese, whose south country name is souse.
Use regular pickling salt—coarse-grained and lively. Spread it an inch thick upon clean wood—a broad shelf, box bottom, or something similar. Rub the meat well over with salt, and then lay it neatly, skin-side down, upon the salt layer, spread more salt on top, and put on another layer of meat. Put sides together, likewise hams and shoulders. Pack as close as possible and fill all crevices with salt. Salt alone will save your bacon, but a teacup of moist sugar well mixed through a water-bucket of salt improves the flavor. Use this on sides, jowls and chines. The joints, hams and shoulders, especially if the shoulders are close-cut, need a trifle more sugar in the salt, also a trifle of saltpeter—say an ounce in fine powder to three gallons of salt. Rub the skin-sides over with plain salt, and lay upon the salt-covered shelf the same as sides. Then take a handful of the mixture and rub it in hard around the bone, then cover the whole cut surface half an inch thick, spread on dry salt for another layer of hams or shoulders, and repeat. Salt the chines lightly—their surface, cut all over, takes up too much salt if permitted. There should be holes or cracks in the bottom to let the dissolved salt drip away; it is best also to have it a foot at least above the floor.
Cover the meat thus in bulk, but not too close, and leave standing a fortnight. The cooler and airier the place it stands in the better—freezing even is not objectionable when the salt begins striking in. But with freezing weather the meat must lie longer in salt. Overhaul it after the first fortnight—that is to say break up the bulk, shake away bloody salt, sweep the bottom clean, and put on fresh salt. But use very little saltpeter on the joints this time—on pain of making them too hard as to their lean. Its use is to give firmness and a handsome clear red color—an overdose of it produces a faintly undesirable flavor. Some famous ham makers, at this second salting, rub the cut sides over lightly with very good molasses, and sprinkle on ground black pepper, before adding new salt. Others rub in a teaspoonful of sugar mixed with pounded red pepper around the bone. But very excellent hams can be made without such excess of painstaking.
Let the meat lie two to four weeks after overhauling, according to the weather. Take up, wipe all over with coarse clean cloth, furnish each piece with a loop of stout twine at least four inches long, and so run through the flesh, tearing out is impossible. Run through the hock of hams, the upper tip of shoulders, the thickest part of sides, the pointed tip of jowls. Jowls may not need to lie so long as bigger pieces, especially if part of their fat has gone to lard. Chines can be hung up in three weeks, and cured with a very light smoking, along with the bags of sausage.
Hang hams highest, shoulders next, then sides, jowls, etc. Leave to drip forty-eight hours unless the weather turns suddenly warm, damp and muggy—in that case start the smoking after a few hours. Smoke from green hickory, sound and bright, is needed for the finest flavor. Lay small logs so they will hug together as they burn, kindle fire along the whole length of them, then smother it with damp, small chips, trash, bark and so on, but take care to have everything sound. Rotten wood, or that which is water-logged or mildewed, makes rank, ill-smelling smoke. Take greater care that the logs never blaze up, also that the meat is high enough to escape fire-heating. Once it gets hot from the fire all your trouble will have been for naught—though it will not be tainted it will have the same taste and smell—the degree marking the extent of the heating.
Old southern smokehouses had for the most part earthen floors, trenched to make the smoke fires safe. Some had puncheon floors, with an earthen hearth in the middle, whereupon was placed a furnace of loose brick—that could be kicked over at need, smothering an outbreaking fire. Still others had big cast iron kettles sunk in a sort of well in the floor—with a handy water bucket for quenching fires. Whatever the floor, eternal vigilance was the price of safe bacon—you looked at the smokehouse fires first thing in the morning and last at night. They were put out at sundown, but had a knack of burning again from some hidden seed of live coal. Morning smoke could not well be too thick, provided it smelled right—keen and clean, reminiscent of sylvan fragrance—a thick, acrid smoke that set you sneezing and coughing, was "most tolerable and not to be endured." It was not well to leave the smoke too thick at night—somehow the chill then condensed it. A thin, blue, hot-scented but cool, vapor was the thing to strive for then. There were folk who suggested furnaces—with smoke pipes leading in—ever so much safer they said, withal much less trouble. Why! even the smoke from a cooking stove might be made to answer. But these progressives were heard coldly—the old timers knew in right of tradition and experience, the need of well ventilated smoke.
It gave this present chronicler a feeling of getting home again, to walk through the curing rooms of perhaps the most famous bacon makers in the world, and find them practicing the wisdom of her childhood. Namely using hickory smoke not delivered from furnace pipes but welling up, up, in beautiful wreathy spirals, to reach row on row of hams and flitches—and to be told, by a kind person who did not know she already knew, that their curing was patterned on the old English model—curing in the smoke of great-throated stone hall chimneys. Yes—they had tried pipes—furnaces likewise—but they gave too much heat, did not distribute smoke evenly, besides being almost impossible of regulation. Hence the smoldering hickory that was like a breath from a far past.
Notwithstanding, the chronicler is of opinion that folk who would like to try their hands at bacon making may do it with a fair hope without building regular smoke houses. To such she would say, get a stout hogshead—a sugar hogshead preferable—nail on a board roof to shed water, then set it upon a stout frame at least seven feet above ground. Nail inside it stout cleats, to hold the cross bars for the meat. Hang the meat upon them—but not until the hogshead is in place. Cut a hole in the bottom as big as the top of a large barrel. Working through this hole, arrange the meat, then put below a headless barrel, the top resting against the hogshead-heading, the bottom upon supports of gas pipe, iron, or even piled bricks. Between the supports set an iron vessel—build your hickory smoke-fires in it, smothering them carefully, and letting the smoke, with a sufficiency of air, well up, through barrel, hogshead, etc. Or one might even rig up a smoking hogshead in an attic, providing the chimney were tall enough to cool smoke properly—and lead smoke out to it through a length of drain pipe.
These are but suggestions—the contriving mind will doubtless invent other and better ones. Smoking must go on for five weeks at least. Six will be better, slacking toward the end. But two may be made to answer by the use of what is called "liquid smoke" whose other name is crude pyroligneous acid. A product of wood distillation, it has been proved harmless in use, but use is nevertheless forbidden to commercial makers. The meat, after breaking bulk, is dipped in it three times at fairly brief intervals, hung up, drained, and smoked. From the liquid smoke it will have acquired as much acid saving-grace, as from four weeks of old fashioned smoking.
A smokehouse needs to be kept dark, dry, and cool, also well ventilated. Use fine screen wire over all openings, and make windows very small, with coarse, sleazy crash in the sash rather than glass inside the screens. Darkness prevents or discourages the maggot-fly. To discourage him still further cover the cut sides of hams and shoulders before hanging up with molasses made very thick with ground black pepper. They will not absolutely require canvassing and dipping in whitewash after if the peppering is thorough. But to be on the safe side—canvas and dip. Make the whitewash with a foundation of thick paste—and be sure it covers every thread of the canvas. Hams perfectly cured and canvassed keep indefinitely in the right sort of smokehouse—but there is not much gain in flavor after they are three years old.
In rendering lard try out leaf fat to itself—it yields the very finest. Cut out the kidneys carefully, and remove any bit of lean, then pull off the thin inner skin, and cut up the leaves—into bits about two inches wide and four long. Wash these quickly in tepid water, drain on a sieve, and put over a slow fire in an iron vessel rather thick bottomed. Add a little cold water—a cupful to a gallon of cut up fat, and let cook gently until the lumps of fat color faintly. Increase heat till there is a mild bubbling—keep the bubbling steady, stirring often to make sure no lump of fat sticks to the pot and scorches, until all the lumps are crisp brown cracklings. Bright brown, not dark—if dark the lard will be slightly colored. Scorching taints and ruins the whole mass. Strain through a sieve into a clean tin vessel, newly scalded and wiped dry. Put the cracklings into a bag of stout crash, and press hard between two clean boards, till no more fat runs from them. A jelly press comes in handy, but is not essential. If weak, clear lye, made of green wood ashes, is put in with the fat instead of water at the beginning, the fat-yield will be greater, and the bulk of cracklings less, also more nearly disintegrated.
Other fat is tried out in the same way, taking care to remove all skin and cut away streaks of lean. Bits with much lean in them had better go to the sausage mill—the right proportion there is two pounds of fat to three and a half of lean. Mix well in grinding, and remove all strings, gristle, etc. Seasoning is so much a matter of taste, do it very lightly at first—then fry a tiny cake, test it, and add whatever it seems to lack or need. Be rather sparing of salt—eaters can put it in but can not take it out, and excess of it makes even new sausage taste old. A good combination of flavors, one approved by experience, is a cupful of powdered and sifted sage, an ounce of black pepper newly ground, and very fine, a tablespoonful of powdered red pepper, a teaspoonful of cayenne, a pinch of thyme in fine powder, a dozen cloves, as many grains of alspice, beaten fine, a teaspoonful of moist sugar, and a blade of mace in fine powder. Omit the mace, cloves, etc. if the flavor repels. Mix all well together, then work evenly through the meat. This seasoning should suffice for five pounds of ground meat lightly salted. More can be used by those who like high and pronounced flavors.
Scrape feet very clean, and take off hoofs by either dipping in scalding hot lye, or hot wet wood ashes. Wash very clean after scraping, throw in cold water, soak an hour, then put in a clean pot with plenty of cold water, and boil gently until very tender. If boiling for souse cook till the meat and gristle fall from the bones. If for frying, take up the feet as soon as they are tender, keeping them in shape. Boil heads the same way, taking out eyes, cutting off ears and cleaning them carefully inside. Pick the meat from the bones, mix it with the feet also picked up, work seasoning well through it—salt, black and red pepper, herbs if approved, likewise a trifle of onion juice, then pack in deep molds, pour over a little of the boiling liquor—barely enough to moisten—and set to cool uncovered.
Let the boiling liquor stand until cold, covered only with a cloth. Skim off the oil—hog's foot oil is a fine dressing for any sort of leather—then dip off carefully the jelly underneath. Do not disturb the sediment—take only the clear jelly. Melted, clarified with white of egg, seasoned with wine, lemon juice, or grape juice, and sufficiently sugared, the result puts all gelatines of commerce clean out of court. Indeed any receipt for gelatine desserts can be used with the hog's foot jelly. A small salvage perhaps—but worth while.
Everybody knows brains can be fried—just as all know they can be addled. We of the old south pickled ours. Go and do likewise if you want an experience. Begin by scalding the brains—putting them on in cold water very slightly salted, then letting them barely strike a boil. Skim out, drop in cold water, take off the skin, keeping the lobes as whole as possible, lay in a porcelain kettle, spice liberally with black and red pepper, cloves, nutmeg and allspice, cover with strong vinegar, bring to a boil, cook five minutes, then put in a jar, cool uncovered, tie down and let stand a week before using. Thus treated brains will keep for six weeks, provided they are kept cool.
We also pickled our souse—cutting it in thin slices, and laying them in strong vinegar an hour before serving. Another way was to melt the souse into a sort of rich hash—beaten eggs were occasionally added, and the result served on hot toast. At a pinch it answered for the foundation of a meat pie, putting in with it in layers, sliced hard boiled eggs, sliced cucumber pickle, plenty of seasoning, a good lump of butter, and a little water. The pie was baked quickly—and made a very good supper dish if unexpected company overran the supply of sausage or chicken for frying.
But fried hog's feet were nearly the best of hog killing. After boiling tender, the feet were split lengthwise in half, rolled in sifted cornmeal, salted and peppered, and fried crisp in plenty of boiling hot fat. Served with hot biscuit, and stewed sun-dried peaches, along with strong coffee, brown and fragrant, they made a supper or breakfast one could rejoice in.
Backbone stewed, and served with sweet potatoes, hot corn bread, and sparkling cider, was certainly not to be despised. The stewing was gentle, the seasoning well blended—enough salt but not too much, red and black pepper, and the merest dash of pepper vinegar. Many cooks left the vinegar to be added in the plates. There was little water at the beginning, and next to none at the end—the kettle was kept well covered, and not allowed to boil over. Backbone pie held its own with chicken pie—indeed there were those who preferred it. It was made the same way—in a skillet or deep pan lined with rich crust, then filled with cooked meat, adding strips of bacon, and bits of butter rolled in flour, as well as strips of crust. Then the stewing liquor went into the crevices—there might also be a few very tiny crisp brown sausages—cakes no bigger than a lady's watch. Over all came a thick, rich crust, with a cross-cut in the middle, and corners turned deftly back. When the crust was brown the pie was done.
No doubt we were foolish—but somehow the regular "cases" made our sausages unappetizing if we put it into them for keeping. Further the "Tom Thumbs" were in great request for chitterlings—I never saw them served to white folks but have smelled their savoriness in the cabins. That is, however, beside the mark. We saved our sausage against the spring scarcity in several ways. One was to fry it in quantity, pack the cakes as fried in crocks, pour over them the gravy, and when the jar was almost full, cover the top an inch deep with melted lard. Kept cool and dark the cakes came out as good as they went in. Still there were palates that craved smoked sausage. To satisfy them, some folk tied up the meat in links of clean corn husks, and hung them at the side where the smoke barely touched them. Another way was to make small bags of stout unbleached muslin, fill, tie close, dip the bag in melted grease, cool and smoke. The dipping was not really essential—still it kept the sausage a little fresher. Latterly I have been wondering if paraffin had been known then whether or not it would have served better than grease.
The proper boiling of a proper ham reaches the level of high art. Proper boiling makes any sound ham tolerable eating; conversely a crass and hasty cook can spoil utterly this crowning mercy of the smokehouse. Yet proper cooking is not a recondite process, nor one beyond the simplest intelligence. It means first and most, pains and patience, with somewhat of foresight, and something more of judgment.
Cut off the hock, but not too high—barely the slender shankbone. Then go all over the ham with a dull knife, scraping off every bit of removable grease or soilure. Wipe afterward with a coarse, damp cloth, then lay in a dishpan and cover an inch deep with cold water. If the water is very hard soften by adding a tiny pinch of baking soda. Leave in soak all night. In the morning wash well all over, using your coarse cloth, and a little scouring soap, then rinse well in tepid water, followed by a second rinsing in cold water, drain, and wipe dry. A flat-bottomed boiler is best—with one rounding, there is greater risk of scorching. Set a rack on the bottom else an old dish or earthen pieplate, pour in an inch of water, set over the fire, lay the ham upon the rack, skin side down, and fill up with cold water till it stands two inches above the meat. Take care in adding the water not to dislodge the ham from the rack. Bring the water to a boil, throw in a pint of cold water and skim the boiler very clean, going over it twice or three times. After the last skimming add half a dozen whole cloves, a dozen whole alspice, a pod of red pepper, a few whole grains of black pepper, and if you like, a young onion or a stalk of celery. Personally I do not like either onion or celery—moreover they taint the fat one may save from the pot. Let the water boil hard for half a minute, no longer, then slack heat till it barely simmers. Keep it simmering, filling up the pot as the water in it boils away, until the ham is tender throughout. The time depends on several things—the hardness and age of the ham, weight, curing. Fifteen minutes to the pound, reckoned from the beginning of simmering, is the standard allowance. I have no hard and fast rule—my hams boil always until the fork pierces them readily, and the hip-bone stands clear of flesh.
A big ham, fifteen to twenty pounds weight, had better be left in the water overnight. A smaller one, say of ten pounds weight, should remain only until thoroughly cold. Take up carefully when cold, let drain twenty minutes, lying flesh side up in a flat dish, then trim off the under side and edges neatly, removing rusty fat, strings, etc., and cutting through the skin at the hock end. Turn over and remove the skin—taking care not to tear away too much fat with it. Remove the ham to a clean, deep dish, or bowl—the closer fitting the better, then pour around it either sound claret, or sweet cider, till it stands half way up the sides. Add a little tabasco or Worcester to the liquor, if high flavors are approved. Then stick whole cloves in a lozenge pattern all over the fat, sprinkle on thickly red and black pepper, and last of all, sugar—brown sugar if to be had, but white will do.
Leave standing several hours, basting once or twice with the liquor in the bowl. Take out, set on a rack in an agate pan, pour the liquor underneath, and bake slowly one to two hours, according to size. Baste every fifteen minutes, adding water as the liquor cooks away. Beware scorching—the ham should be a beautiful speckly dark brown all over. Let cool uncovered, and keep cool, but not on ice until eaten.
Drop a lump of ice in the boiling liquor unless the weather is cold—then set it outside. As soon as the fat on top hardens take it off, boil it fifteen minutes in clear water, chill, skim off, and clarify by frying slices of raw potato in it. The spices will have sunk to the bottom, and there will be no trace of their flavor in the fat. Any boiling vegetable—cabbage, string beans, navy beans, greens in general—may be cooked to advantage in the liquor. It also serves as an excellent foundation for pea soup. Drain it off from the sediment, reduce a trifle by quick boiling, then add the other things. Dumplings of sound cornmeal, wet up stiff, shaped the size of an egg, and dropped in the boiling liquor, furnish a luncheon dish cheap and appetizing.
Fried ham as Mammy made it is mostly a fragrant memory—only plutocrats dare indulge in it these days. She cut thin slices from the juicy, thick part of the ham, using a very sharp, clean knife. Then she trimmed away the skin, and laid the slices in a clean, hot skillet—but not too hot. In about a minute she flipped them over delicately, so as to sear the other side. When enough fat had been tried out to bubble a bit, she turned them again, then set the skillet off, deadened the coals beneath it a little—put it back, and let the ham cook until tender through and through. She never washed the slices nor even wiped them with damp cloths. There was no need—her hands and knife were as clean as could be. Washing and wiping spoiled the flavor, she said. I agree with her. After the ham was taken up, she poured in milk, half cream, shook it well about in the hissing hot fat until it had taken up all the delicious brown essence caked on the skillet bottom. This milk gravy was poured over the slices in the platter. A practice I have never followed—my gravy is made with water rather than milk, and served separately.
Invalids and gourmets may be indulged with boiled ham, broiled over live coals. Slice very thin, lay for half a minute upon a shovel of glowing fresh coals, take up in a very hot dish, butter liberally, dust with pepper and serve very hot. To frizzle ham slice as thin as possible in tiny bits, and toss the bits till curly-crisp in blazing hot butter. Excellent as an appetizer or to raise a thirst.
For ham and eggs slice and fry as directed, take up, break fresh eggs separately each in a saucer, and slip them into the fat when it is bubbling hot. Dip hot fat over them to cook the upper side—take up with a cake turner, and arrange prettily as a border around the ham. Sprigs of watercress outside add to the appetizing effect. Serve with hot biscuit, or waffles or muffins, and strong, clear coffee.
Tart apples cored but not peeled sliced in rings and fried in hot fat, drained out and sprinkled lightly with sugar, add to the charm of even the finest ham. So does hominy, the full-grained sort, boiled tender beforehand, and fried till there is a thick, brown crust all over the skillet bottom. The secret of these as of all other fryings, is to have grease enough, make it hot enough to crisp whatever goes into it instantly, then to watch so there shall be no scorching, and take out what is fried as soon as done, draining well. Among the paradoxes of cookery is this—frying with scant grease makes greasy eating, whereas frying in deep fat, sufficiently hot, makes the reverse.
Sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced, deserve frying in ham fat. Well drained, dusted with salt, pepper, and sugar, they are delicious, also most digestible. Frying is indeed the method of cookery most misprised through its abuse. In capable hands it achieves results no-otherwise attainable.
A perfect mutton ham is a matter of grace no less premeditation. It must be cut from a wether at least four years old, grass fed, grain finished, neither too fat, nor too lean, scientifically butchered in clear, frosty, but not freezing weather, and hung unsalted in clean, cold air for a matter of three days. Saw off shank and hip bones neatly, and cut the meat smooth, removing any tags and jags, then pack down in an agate or clean wooden vessel that has been scalded, then chilled. Half cover with a marinade thus proportioned. One pint pickling salt to one gallon cold water, boil and skim clean, then add one pint vinegar, a dozen each of whole cloves, allspice and pepper corns, a pod of red pepper, a teaspoon of powdered saltpeter, and a small cup of oil. Simmer for half an hour, and cool before pouring on the meat. Let it lie in the liquor a week, turning it twice daily. Take from marinade, wipe, and lay in air, return the marinade to the fire, boil up, skim well, then add enough plain brine to fully cover the hams, skim again, cool and pour over, first scalding out the containing vessel. Let stand a week longer, then drain well, wipe with a damp cloth, rub over outside with a mixture of salt, moist sugar, and ground black pepper, and hang in a cool, airy place where the hams can be lightly smoked for a fortnight. Winter-curing, or late fall, alone is possible to the average householder. After smoking, wrap in waxed paper, and canvas the same as other hams.
Cook the same as venison, which mutton thus cured much resembles. Slice and broil, serving with butter and very sour jelly, else boil whole in very little water until tender, glazing with tart jelly, and crisping in the oven after draining and cooling. Or soak two hours in cold water, then cover completely with an inch-thick crust of flour and water mixed stiff, and bake in a slow oven four to five hours. Serve always with very piquant sauce, and sharp pickle, or highly spiced catsups. Make jelly from wild grapes, wild plums, green grapes, green gooseberries or crab apples, using half the usual amount of sugar, especially for such meat.
Melt half a glass of such jelly with a tablespoon of boiling water. Add black pepper, paprika, a dash of tabasco, and the strained juice of a lemon, add gradually a teaspoon of dry mustard. Cook over hot water until well mixed and smooth, and keep hot until served.
Beef hams are troublesome—but worth the trouble. Take them from small but well fatted animals, cut off the shank, also part of the top round. Rub over very scantly with powdered saltpeter, mixed well through moist sugar, then lay down in salt for a fortnight, else cover with brine made thus. Pint pickling salt to the gallon of cold water, teaspoon sugar, and pinch of whole cloves. Boil and skim. Pour cold over the hams in a clean barrel. Let stand a fortnight, take out, drain and wipe, rub over with dry salt, and hang high in cold air. Smoke lightly after three days. Keep smoking, but not too much, for a month. Cover all over with ground black pepper, mixed to a paste with molasses, canvas and leave hanging.
Slice and broil, else chip and serve raw. Frizzling is possible but a waste of God's good mercies. Properly cured meat is salt but not too salt, of a deep blackish-red, and when sliced thin, partly translucent, also of an indescribable savoriness. Cut as nearly as possible, across the grain. Do not undertake to make beef hams save in the late fall, so there may be cold weather for the curing. The meat must be chilled through before salt touches it, but freezing is very detrimental. Frozen meat does not absorb the salt, sugar, etc., essential to proper curing. By time it thaws so absorption becomes possible, there may have been changes such as take place in cold storage, unfitting it for food. If the beef ham is thick it may need to lie a month in salt or in brine. Here as elsewhere, the element of judgment comes into play.
If rabbits are very plenty and very fat, put down a jar of hindquarters in marinade for three days, then wipe, and hang in a cold, dry place. A rabbit ought to be dressed before it is cold—thus it escapes the strong flavor which makes market rabbits often unendurable. Chill but do not freeze after dressing. A light smoking does not hurt the quarters, which should be left double, with the thick loin between. Soak two hours before cooking, and smother with plenty of butter, black and red pepper and a dash of pepper vinegar. An excellent breakfast or luncheon relish.
To cook a fresh ham properly, choose one weighing ten pounds or less, scrape and wash clean, score the skin, all over, then season well with salt, sugar, black and red pepper, and dot with tabasco on top. Set on a rack in a deep pan, pour boiling water underneath to barely touch the meat, cover close, and bake in a hot oven for two hours, filling up the water in the pan as it bakes away. Uncover, and cook for half an hour longer, slacking heat one half, and basting the meat with the liquor in the pan. If approved add a cup of cider or sound claret to the basting liquor. Leave unbasted for ten minutes before taking up, so the skin may be properly crisp.
Grandmother's Cherry Bounce: Rinse a clean, empty whiskey barrel well with cold water, drain, and fill with very ripe Morello cherries, mixed with black wild cherries. One gallon wild cherries to five of Morellos is about the proper proportion. Strew scantly through the cherries, blade mace, whole cloves, allspice, a very little bruised ginger, and grated nutmeg. Add to a full barrel of fruit twenty pounds of sugar—or in the proportion of half a pound to the gallon of fruit. Cover the fruit an inch deep with good corn whiskey, the older and milder the better. Leave out the bung but cover the opening with lawn. Let stand six months undisturbed in a dry, airy place, rather warm. Rack off into a clean barrel, let stand six months longer, then bottle or put in demijohns. This improves greatly with age up to the fifth year—after that the change is unappreciable.
Grape Cider: Fill a clean, tight, well-scalded barrel with ripe wild grapes picked from their stems. Add spices if you like, but they can be left out. Fill the vessel with new cider, the sweeter the better. There should be room left to ferment. Cover the bung-hole with thin cloth and let stand in dry air four to six months. Rack off and bottle. This also improves with age. It is a drink to be used with caution—mild as May in the mouth, but heady, and overcoming, especially to those unused to its seductions.
Persimmon Beer: The poor relation of champagne—with the advantage that nobody is ever the worse for drinking it. To make it, take full-ripe persimmons, the juicier the better, free them of stalks and calyxes, then mash thoroughly, and add enough wheat bran or middlings to make a stiffish dough. Form the dough into thin, flat cakes, which bake crisp in a slow oven. When cold break them up in a clean barrel, and fill it with filtered rainwater. A bushel of persimmons before mashing will make a barrel of beer. Set the barrel upright, covered with a thin cloth, in a warm, dry place, free of taints. Let stand until the beer works—the persimmon cakes will rise and stand in a foamy mass on top. After three to four weeks, either move the barrel to a cold place, or rack off the beer into bottles or demijohns, tieing down the corks, and keeping the bottled stuff very cool. The more meaty and flavorous the persimmons, the richer will be the beer. Beware of putting in fruit that has not felt the touch of frost, so retains a rough tang. A very little of it will spoil a whole brewing of beer. If the beer is left standing in the barrel a wooden cover should be laid over the cloth, after it is done working. Fermentation can be hastened by putting in with the persimmon cakes a slice of toast dipped in quick yeast. But if the temperature is right, the beer will ferment itself.
Egg Nogg: Have all ingredients, eggs, sugar, brandy, and whiskey, thoroughly chilled before beginning, and work very, very quickly. Beat the yolks of eighteen eggs very light with six cups of granulated sugar, added a cup at a time. When frothy and pale yellow, beat in gradually and alternately a glassful at a time, a quart of mellow old whiskey, and a quart of real French brandy. Whip hard, then add the whites of the eggs beaten till they stick to the dish. Grate nutmeg over the top, and rub the rims of the serving glasses with lemon or orange rind cut into the fruit. The glasses should be ice-cold, also the spoons. Fill carefully so as not to slop the sides, and serve at once.
If wanted for an early morning Christmas celebration, beat up yolks and sugar the night before, stand on ice along with the liquor, and keep the unbeaten whites likewise very cold. At morning freshen the yolks a little, then add the liquor, and at last the whites newly frothed. This is the only simon-pure Christmas egg nogg. Those who put into it milk, cream, what not, especially rum, defile one of the finest among Christmas delights.
White Egg Nogg: For invalids, especially fever patients. Whip the white of a new laid egg as stiff as possible with the least suspicion of salt. Add to it three heaping spoonfuls of sterilized cream whipped light, beat in two tablespoonfuls of powdered sugar, then add a gill of the best French brandy. A variant is to omit the sugar and mix with the frothed egg and cream more than a gill of vermouth, using French or Italian, according to taste.
Apple Toddy: Wash and core, but do not peel, six large, fair apples, bake, covered, until tender through and through, put into an earthen bowl and strew with cloves, mace, and bruised ginger, also six lumps of Domino sugar for each apple. Pour over a quart of full-boiling water, let stand covered fifteen minutes in a warm place. Then add a quart of mellow whiskey, leave standing ten minutes longer, and keep warm. Serve in big deep goblets, putting an apple or half of one in the bottom of each, and filling with the liquor. Grate nutmeg on top just at the minute of serving.
Hail Storm: Mix equal quantities of clear ice, broken small, and the best lump sugar. Cover the mixture fully with good brandy, put in a shaker, shake hard five minutes, then pour into glasses, and serve with a fresh mint leaf floating on top.
Mint Julep: This requires the best of everything if you would have it in perfection. Especially the mint and the whiskey or brandy. Choose tender, quick-grown mint, leafy, not long-stalked and coarse, wash it very clean, taking care not to bruise it in the least, and lay in a clean cloth upon ice. Chill the spirits likewise. Put the sugar and water in a clean fruit jar, and set on ice. Do this at least six hours before serving so the sugar shall be fully dissolved. Four lumps to the large goblet is about right—with half a gobletful of fresh cold water. At serving time, rub a zest of lemon around the rim of each goblet—the goblets must be well chilled—then half fill with the dissolved sugar, add a tablespoonful of cracked ice, and stand sprigs of mint thickly all around the rim. Set the goblets in the tray, then fill up with whiskey or brandy or both, mixed—the mixture is best with brands that blend smoothly. Drop in the middle a fresh ripe strawberry, or cherry, or slice of red peach, and serve at once. Fruit can be left out without harm to flavor—it is mainly for the satisfaction of the eye. But never by any chance bruise the mint—it will give an acrid flavor "most tolerable and not to be endured." To get the real old-time effect, serve with spoons in the goblets rather than straws. In dipping and sipping more of the mint-essence comes out—beside the clinking of the spoons is nearly as refreshing as the tinkle of the ice.
Lemon Punch: Bring a gallon of fresh water to a bubbling boil in a wide kettle, and as it strikes full boil throw into it a tablespoonful of tea—whatever brand you like best. Let boil one minute—no more, no less, then strain, boiling hot, upon the juice and thin yellow peel of twelve large or eighteen small lemons, along with two pounds of lump sugar. Stir hard until the sugar is dissolved, then add a pint of rum. Stand on ice twelve to twenty-four hours to blend and ripen. Put a small block of clear ice in the punch bowl, pour in the punch, then add to it either Maraschino cherries, or hulled small ripe strawberries, or pineapple or bananas, peeled and cut in tiny dice—or a mixture of all these. Serve in chilled punch cups, with after-dinner coffee spoons for the fruit. The fruit can be left out, and the punch served with sandwiches the same as iced tea. A wineglass of yellow chartreuse, added just after the rum, is to many palates an improvement. So is a very little peach or apricot brandy.
Punch a la Ruffle Shirts: This recipe comes down from the epoch of knee buckles and ruffled shirts, and is warranted to more than hold its own with any other—even the so-famous "Artillery punch," beloved of army and navy. To make it, scrub clean and pare thinly the yellow peel of two dozen oranges and one dozen lemons. Put the pared peel in a deep glass pitcher and cover it with one quart of brandy, one quart of old whiskey, one generous pint of Jamaica rum, one tumbler of cherry bounce, one tumbler of peach liqueur, or else a tumbler of "peach and honey," Cover with cloth and let stand three days off ice to blend and ripen. Meantime squeeze and strain the juice of the oranges and lemons upon four pounds of best lump sugar, shred a large, very ripe pineapple fine and put it with another pound of sugar in a separate vessel. Hull half a gallon of ripe strawberries, cover them liberally with sugar and let stand to extract the juice. Lacking strawberries, use ripe peaches, or blackberries or even seeded cherries. Keep the fruit and sugar cool, but not too cold—just so it will not sour. Upon the third morning strain the juice of all fruits together, and mix thoroughly. Next make a gallon of weak green tea, strain it boiling hot upon the liquor and the yellow peel, stir well, then mix in the fruit juices and sugar, and let stand uncovered until cool. Chill thoroughly, also chill the wine. Use whatever sort you prefer—claret, sound and fruity, is good, so is almost any homemade wine of the first class. American champagne pleases some palates. But I advise rather claret, or good homemade grape wine. Put into the punch bowl a block of clear ice, add equal measures of the mixture and the wine. Let stand half an hour before serving. Put in at the very last vichy, ice-cold. Thin strips of fresh cucumber peel add a trifle to flavor and more to looks.
The wine and mixture can be poured together into demijohns and kept for months, provided they are kept cool. Since the making is rather troublesome it is worth while to make the full quantity at once and keep it on hand for emergencies. Commercial liqueurs can take the place of the homemade ones here set forth. The result may not be quite so distinctive, but will not be disappointing. Dry sherry is a good substitute for cherry bounce, likewise apricot brandy, while vermouth or chartreuse will answer for peach liqueur, which is unlikely to be in hand unless you are a very old-fashioned housekeeper.
Peach Liqueur: Peel a peck of very ripe, very juicy peaches, cut from the seed, weigh, and pack down in earthen or agate ware with their own weight in granulated sugar. Crack the seeds, take out the kernels, blanche the same as almonds, and put to soak in a quart of brandy. Let stand in sunshine to extract the flavor, a full day. Let the fruit and sugar stand twenty-four hours, then put over fire in a preserving kettle and simmer very slowly until the fruit is in rags, adding now and then enough boiling water to make up for what cooks out. If spices are approved, simmer with the fruit, a pinch of blade mace, some whole cloves and half a dozen black pepper corns. This is optional. Strain without pressing to avoid cloudiness, and mix the juice while still very hot with the brandy and soaked kernels. Add brandy and kernels, also a quart of whiskey—there should be a gallon of the fruit juice. Stir hard so as to blend well. Let cool, and bottle or put in demijohns, taking care to apportion the kernels equally. They will sink to the bottom, but the liqueur will fatten on them, getting thereby a delicate almond fragrance and flavor.
Strawberry Liqueur: Wash, hull and mash two gallons of very ripe strawberries, put over the fire, bring to a quick boil, skim clean, and simmer for five minutes. Throw in a pint of boiling water, and strain as for jelly. Measure the juice—for each pint take a pound of sugar, return to the kettle, simmer fifteen minutes, skimming clean the while, then take from the fire, measure, and to each quart add a pint of good whiskey, or whiskey and brandy mixed. Bottle while still hot, and seal. Small bottles are best. By adding spices to taste while the juice is simmering you turn the liqueur into strawberry cordial.
Blackberry Cordial: Pick over, wash and drain well half a bushel of very ripe, but sound berries. Mash, add a very little cold water, and simmer for half an hour, then strain and measure the juice. Put a pound of sugar to each pint, and to each gallon, a teaspoon of cloves, the same of allspice, a race of ginger well bruised, a tiny pod of Cayenne pepper, and a half dozen black pepper corns. Tie the spices loosely in very thin muslin so they may not be skimmed off. Skim away all froth, and cook for an hour, keeping the kettle barely boiling. It should reduce about one-half. Take from the fire and add spirits, either whiskey or brandy, in the proportion of one to two—two pints cordial to one of liquor. Let cool uncovered, bottle and cork tight—sealing is unnecessary. Excellent for convalescents, especially children. To make it almost a specific for bowel troubles, dig up, and wash clean, dewberry roots, cut short, and boil in clear water, making a very strong decoction. Add this to the cordial while still boiling, in proportion of one to four. Then mix in the spirits. A quart of cordial can be thus treated medicinally, and the rest kept for ordinary uses.
Blackberry Wine: Pick, wash, and mash thoroughly, sound ripe berries, pour upon each gallon a gallon of freshly-boiling water, and let stand twenty-four hours. Strain, measure juice, allow three and one-half pounds sugar to each gallon of it. Put into clean cask or jugs, do not fill, but leave room for fermentation. Cover mouth or bung-hole with thin cloth, and let stand in clean warm air for two months. Rack off into clean vessels, throwing away the lees, and cork or cover close. Fit for use in another month. Improves with age up to a year.
Strawberry Wine: Mash thoroughly clean, hulled, very ripe berries, add equal bulk of boiling water, let stand six hours, then strain. Put the strained juice in a preserving kettle with two and a half pounds of sugar to each gallon. Bring to a boil, skim clean, then pour into clean vessels, close mouths with thin cloth, and let stand until fermentation ceases. In a wet season the berries are likely to be so juicy, less water is required—or more sugar necessary.
Gooseberry Wine: Wash and drain dead-ripe gooseberries, mash them thoroughly with a wooden pestle, and add their own bulk of boiling water. Let stand thirty-six hours unless the weather is very warm—then twenty-four will be long enough. Press out all the juice, even though it runs muddy. Measure, and to each gallon add three pounds down-weight, of the best lump sugar. Stir well, repeating every day for a week, then cover with lawn and let stand till fermentation ceases. Cover tight then and leave standing six weeks longer, so the wine may fatten on the lees. Back off carefully, filtering the muddy part at the bottom through several thicknesses of cheese cloth. Put in a clean vessel for two months longer, then bottle and seal. If the bottles are laid on the side, and the wine carefully decanted it will show a bright golden yellow with much the translucence of topaz. It reaches perfection at a year. Being rather heavy it is improved to many palates by adding ice-cold vichy after it is in the glasses.
Grape Wine: Pick from stems, wash, drain, and mash thoroughly, ripe sound grapes. Add measure for measure of full-boiling water, and let stand twelve hours. If very deep color is desired, and the grapes are black, let stand twenty-four. Strain, measure juice, add to each gallon three pounds of sugar, stir till dissolved, then put in a clean vessel, filling it only three-parts, cover the mouth with lawn, and let stand in clean warm air until fermentation ceases. Close tight then, and let stand a month longer, then rack off, filter last runnings through triple cheese cloth, bottle and cork tight. Keep where it is dark and warm, rather than cool, but away from any sort of taints.
Muscadine Wine: Troublesome, but worth the trouble. Wash dead-ripe muscadines, and pop them one by one, out of the skins. Throw away the skins, after squeezing all juice from them—if the pulp stood with them their burning, musky taste would ruin it. Cover it with half its bulk of boiling water. Let stand a day and night, then strain, and add to each gallon of juice three pounds of white rock-candy. Stir every day until the candy dissolves. Cover with cloth until it is through fermenting. Back off, bottle immediately, and seal, or tie down the corks. The wine in perfection is a pale pink, very clear, and of a peculiar but indescribably delicious flavor.
Fruit Vinegars: Any sort of acid fruit—as strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, currants, black or red, affords a refreshing drink. Pick, wash, put over the fire to scald—when it has boiled a minute or two add half as much cold water as fruit, and bring again to a boil. Skim clean, take from fire and let stand till next day. Strain, then measure juice, add two to three pounds sugar to the gallon, according to tartness desired, put over the fire, and simmer for twenty minutes, skimming clean. Boil in it spices most liked, tied up in thin muslin. If it seems watery, boil another twenty minutes till the syrup shows rather rich, then add, after taking from the fire, a quart of cider vinegar for each gallon of syrup, mix well, bottle while still hot in small bottles, cork and seal. Mixed half and half with ice water, or poured over finely broken ice, or as a flavoring to tea, hot or cold, this is refreshing, particularly in hot weather. Use in tea a spoonful to the cup or glass.
Boiled Cider: Reduce new sweet cider one-half by gentle boiling, skimming it clean as it boils, then bottle, putting a clove or two, a grain of alspice and a blade of mace in each bottle. Cork, seal and keep in a cool place. This is especially valuable for use in mincemeat, or for flavoring sauces for nursery puddings. A variant is to add sugar towards the last, enough to make a thinnish syrup, which is of itself a good sauce for simple desserts.
The Philosophy of Pie-Crust: Pie-crust perfection depends on several things—good flour, good fat, good handling, most especially good baking. A hot oven, quick but not scorching, expands the air betwixt layers of paste, and pops open the flour-grains, making them absorb the fat as it melts, thereby growing crisp and relishful instead of hard and tough. The lighter and drier the flour the better—in very damp weather it is best oven-dried, then cooled before mixing. Shortening, whether lard, butter, or clarified drippings, should be very cold—unless your recipe demands that it be softened or melted. Milk or water used in mixing ought to be likewise well chilled, unless the shortening is soft—in that case match its temperature. The regular rule is half-pint ice water to the pound of flour, using chilled shortening. If the fat is semi-fluid the paste must be mixed softer, using say, three parts of a pint to the pound.
Baking powder or soda and cream tartar, or soda alone with sour cream or buttermilk for wetting, makes crust light and short with less butter, therefore is an economy. Genuine puff paste is requisite for the finest tarts, pies, etc., etc., but light short crust answers admirably for most things. Sift flour twice or even thrice for any sort of paste. Sift soda or baking powder well through it, but not salt. Make the salt fine, drop in the bottom of the mixing bowl, before the last sifting, and mix lightly through the flour before adding the shortening. Rub in shortening very lightly, using only the finger-tips—the palms melt or soften it. Add milk or water, a little at a time, mixing it in with a broad-bladed knife rather than the hands. Mix lightly—so the paste barely sticks together. Put in first one-third of the shortening—this, of course, for puff paste. Half a pound of butter or lard to the pound of flour makes a very good paste, but to have it in full richness, use three-quarters of a pound. Wash butter well to remove the salt, and squeeze out water by wringing it in a well-floured cloth. If there is a strong taste, or any trace of rancidity, wash well, kneading through and through, in sweet milk, then rinse out the milk with cold water to which a little borax has been added. Rinse again in clear cold water—this should remove ill-flavor without injury to anybody's stomach. But be very sure the last rinsing is thorough—borax, though wholly harmless, adds nothing to digestibility.
The end of the repeated rollings out and foldings demanded by real puff paste is to enclose between the layers of paste as much air as possible. Hence the chillings between rollings. Hence also the need of pinching edges well together after foldings, and rolling always from you, never back and forth. Roll out paste into a long narrow strip after the first mixing, divide the remaining shortening into three equal portions, keep very cold, and as needed cut into small bits, which spread evenly on top of the rolled paste, which must be lightly dredged with flour. Fold in three evenly, one thickness on another, turn so the folded edges may be to right and left while rolling, pinch the other edges well together and roll again into a long strip, moving the rolling-pin always from you. Repeat until all the butter is used, then set on ice for an hour to harden. In baking beware opening the oven door until the paste has risen fully and becomes slightly crusted over.