Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Cowcumbers!

Who would think that there would be a link between the British colonization of India and cucumber tea sandwiches? There is!
Cucumbers will cool you off … especially if you sprinkle a little salt on them. When the folks from England started settling in India, they couldn’t stand the heat! They quickly learned that eating cucumbers helped!

Cucumbers are mentioned in the Bible. Food historians believe they originated in India. Historians also believe that cucumbers arrived in Britain in the 1300s, but it was not until the Victorian Era that they became popular as a sandwich ingredient for teatime!

Let’s go back a bit! During the time of Christ, Emperor Tiberius had cucumbers on his table every day all year long. According to documents from the time, the Romans had greenhouse systems that allowed year-round growing. How cool is this?

"Indeed, he was never without it; for he had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the cucumbers were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirrorstone."
— Pliny the Elder 

In 16th Century America, explorers and trappers traded with Native Americans for food. These tribes had learned long before how to grow cucumbers from the Spanish, so cucumbers were a part of the traded harvest.

In 1630, Reverend Francis Higgenson with the Massachusetts Bay Company, wrote in his book New England’s Plantation about the Governor’s garden and that there was more produce than they grew in England … and that it was sweeter and bigger … including the ‘cowcumbers’!

By the end of the 1700s, the cucumber hit the bottom of the popularity list! In England and in America, it was deemed only appropriate as cow food. We don’t know which came first … the word ‘cowcumber’ or the notion that is was only good for cows.

At the same time cucumbers were going out of grace, taking tea was becoming a Royal custom. Britain’s Queen Charlotte created what we know as afternoon tea because she started feeling faint in the afternoons and needed sustenance.

Thank you, Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford for (in 1840) broadening the popularity of teatime to the Victorian Era! The Duchess was Lady of the Bedchamber for Queen Victoria started having afternoon tea served to the Queen and it became popular with the Royals. Even the common folk enjoyed afternoon tea, but they drank theirs from mugs and they ate heartier foods than tiny cakes and petite sandwiches!

As long as I can remember, tea parties have been popular. In my favorite vintage period, the 1950s and 60s, it was popular to have just one ‘something sweet’ like a sponge cake or angel food cake served with hot tea. The notions of what to serve comes and goes! Now we love to have towering trays of lots of things … sweet and savory.

I have to admit, the only tea part ever held in my childhood home was when I spread my little girl china out on the basement floor and entertained whatever cat lived with us at the time. My favorite Aunt Evelyn, however, taught me just how to have a real tea party on summer afternoons! We’d go from having a cup of hot tea in a pretty china cup with a slice of something very sweet … to shifting gears the next day and consuming an iced cold Coke in a big green bottle. Both were treats I didn’t have at home and both little parties were held on her screened in big back porch that had a swing in it! I carried these traditions to my own family and taught my daughter the true graces of tea … and we’ve taught my granddaughter the same thing. I believe both of them could take tea with the Queen of England and feel very comfortable! We’ve studied teatime culture. In fact, when we attend teas that are poorly set or poorly coordinated, we go away feeling cheated!


My Aunt Evelyn was a master and making something really special out of not very much! I inherited those genes and I’m glad I did. We called her ‘Sissy’ because she was my daddy’s baby sister and that is what he called her. She lived in a tiny little house and she and Uncle Earl raised two children They worked hard. There was nothing wealthy about her, but she could create ‘fancy’ things! Cucumber sandwiches at her house were often served for lunch. She would cut the crusts from the bread, mix mayonnaise and cream cheese and a little sugar together for the spread … then layer very thin slices of cucumbers over it all. We’d eat those open faced and they were so very special. I’m sure she saw this in a magazine because her mother (who might have taught her such things) died when she was so young that she hardly remembered her. I’m sure my daddy provided the cucumbers from his massive garden that he shared with many families! We thought we were royal! We were usually eating those sandwiches off a piece of her vast collection of Depression Glass. That is another gene I inherited!

A few weeks ago, when we gathered for Sunday Dinner, I took something unusual. I made cucumber open face sandwiches using a loaf of bread I had made and a cream cheese foundation that I made using lots of fresh herbs. I’m never sure what my granddaughter or son-in-law will eat in the vegetable line … but yahoo! They loved them.




Cream Cheese Herb Spread 

8 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature
2 Tablespoons soft butter
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 cup of chopped fresh herbs
½ teaspoon garlic powder

To assemble these sandwiches, use a multi-grain or rye bread. That kind of bread will hold up under the spread and weight of the cucumbers. Put all the spread ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth. The choice of herbs is up to you, but we enjoy basil, sage, thyme and rosemary. Another good combination is sage and mint. A third combination is basil, oregano and Mexican tarragon. You can also add chopped nuts or seeds to add a little crunch. Make it your way! There really isn’t a recipe!

The proper way to prepare the cucumbers is to peel and slice them. Place the slices on a sheet pan lined with paper towel. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the cucumber slices and let them release moisture. Blot the tops with paper towels and then layer them on top of the cream cheese spread on the bread slices. Garnish with any kind of fresh herbs.




This post is part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetable Project. If you’d like to see similar posts just click the menu tab. I’m also sharing with a couple blog parties, so check the list on my sidebar.

Old Cuba Cabbage & Pork


Cabbage is one of those world-wide vegetables. It is a part of the ethnic cuisine of most countries. I typically think of Germany, when I research cabbage, but as I’ve written before, food historians link cabbage to the Celts. Because the Celts invaded Mediterranean lands from 600 B.C. through the time of Christ, it is likely that the cabbage originated in that area and was carried by the invaders. It eventually found its journey taking it through Europe and Asia.

How did cabbage find its way to Cuba? My focus for this post is Cuba and the recipe I am sharing is from an incredibly special cookbook. The Spanish and Portuguese introduced cabbage to Cuba as early as when the first explorer hit her shores … Columbus in 1492. The Spanish colonization began and the natives who had lived well eating corn and sweet potatoes were taught to grow new vegetables including cabbage. I’m fascinated by the foods of Cuba because of the vast mixture of ethnic cultures.

When I was planning my 2020 Vintage Vegetable project, I knew that I wanted to add the foods from other countries in my focus. I’ve traveled so much, met many wonderful cooks along the way, and I’ve eaten wonderful foods with ethic roots that stretch many different directions! I began looking for a few cookbooks that are all about those many ‘directions’ and luckily found A Taste of Old Cuba. The author, Maria Josefa Lluria de O'Higgins's, grew up in Cuba in the 1920s and 30s. The foods she writes about were her grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s recipes prepared by family members and a special household cook. Lluria left Cuba as a teenager and attended a boarding school in the United States. She then traveled the word and at the time of writing this book, lived with her family in Miami. Her memories and the recipes she shares are wonderful. I think it is great that someone with the surname Lluria from Cuba married an O’Higgins!

Without detailing politics in Cuba, the United States welcomed a mass of Cuban immigrants during my favorite vintage food period … the 1950s and 1960s. Cuban food became Miami food, so American tourists visiting the extremely popular travel destination (Miami) frequently returned to their homes with recipes and ingredients that would influence cuisine all over the nation. Then the ‘fusion’ began! Imagine combining foods from a German heritage, an Asian heritage or an Irish heritage … with Cuban foods! It worked!


Today, I’m sharing a simple cabbage recipe with readers. The tomato sauce is my own homemade and I’ll quickly tell you how I make it. I peel and chop enough red tomatoes to fill my crockpot. I add 3 stalks of celery, an onion and a green pepper … all chopped. Add 2 Tablespoons of mustard seed and 1 Tablespoon of celery seed. Let the tomatoes cook on high for about 4-5 hours. The tomatoes will cook down to a nice chunky sauce. When the sauce is done, I add a Tablespoon of sugar to cut the acidity. I freeze this sauce and it is good for a year.

I’m also sharing an easy pork recipe. I cook for one these days, so I really enjoy using a single pork loin boneless chop for a meal. I usually buy the whole boneless loin and cut them myself, so I cut them about 1 ½ inches thick. One of them is plenty to make this simple recipe (ingredients cut down) but please make a big batch for your family!


Fried Little Pork Strips

(Adapted from A Taste of Old Cuba)


2 pounds pork loin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh Mexican tarragon
1 cup fresh orange juice
Canola oil for frying

If there is any fat on the loin, trim it off. Cut the loin in small strips of 1 inch chunks. Make a dry marinade by combining the garlic powder, salt, pepper and oregano. Rub it into the meat and let it sit for at least 2 hours before cooking. You can do this the night before cooking and refrigerate it for 24 hours.

Gently fry the meat in a little canola oil until it is browned. Add the orange juice and chopped Mexican tarragon to the pan. Cover it with foil and finish it in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. The meat will absorb the orange juice and be tender and flavorful.


Spanish Cabbage
(Adapted from A Taste of Old Cuba)

Maria Josefa Lluria de O'Higgins wrote that this recipe was a favorite of their housemaid and cook, Augustina. She said Augustina was the only help they could afford when they were poor. Augustina loved this recipe and said it was from colonial times. That makes me like it even more!

1 small cabbage
2 cups of fresh tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
½ cup dry plain breadcrumbs

Cut the cabbage into six wedges. Steam the cabbage wedges over boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes until the core is tender. Remove the cabbage to a baking dish. Sprinkle the cabbage with salt and pepper. Pour the fresh tomato sauce over the wedges. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover. Combine the cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the cabbage wedges. Return to the oven, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts and the crumbs turn brown. Let the cabbage cool for ten minutes before plating it. Garnish it with parsley, cilantro or Mexican tarragon … or all three!

This post is a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project. If you'd like to see more, click the menu button!

I'm also sharing with a couple blog parties, so check out the list on my sidebar.


































Colonial Squash


Pattypan squash was named by the French, pâtisson. The name comes from a cake pan with a scalloped edge. Historians believe that all squash are native to Central America and was introduced to Europe around 1700. It was, however, grown by Native Americans in the Northeast for hundreds of years before that and was introduced to American pioneers. It was called the White Scallop Squash long before it acquired the name Pattypan.
Today, while the white variety is most beautiful in my opinion, it is also found in yellow and light green. There are more recent varieties that are deep yellow and speckled green. I’m happy with any color because what is most important is the mild creamy inside! Delicious. 

Don’t look for Pattypan in the late fall or winter. While it looks like a winter squash, it is a summer variety. It is delicious sautéed in butter, breaded and fried, pickled and made into both cold and warm soups. Pattypan are wonderful sliced and roasted and sliced into an au gratin. I enjoy using the smallest Pattypan as an appetizer. All you have to do is cut off the stem end for a little lid; scoop out a little flesh; chop the flesh and add breadcrumbs and cheese and return it to the squash. Bake them for about 30 – 40 minutes depending upon the size and serve them warm or at room temperature. I also enjoy stuffing the larger sizes and will share a recipe for that today.

We know that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew White Scalloped Squash in their gardens. Recipes from Colonial times are mostly for stewed squash and I have one for creamed squash, which I have made a few times. This squash was highly prized and often used in Colonial America. The Greenwich Historical Society posts a recipe for soup that is flavored with garlic, cayenne pepper, coriander, turmeric, mustard and cinnamon. Doesn’t that sound good? I make that and share it in a few weeks in column on ‘old soups’! If you’d like to learn more about this great historical society, visit https://greenwichhistory.org/visit/

Cookbooks from my favorite vintage time, the 1950s and 1960s, don’t have many squash recipes in them that call specifically for Pattypan, but my own memories include a wonderful combination of thinly sliced squash with fresh corn creamed together. My Aunt Evelyn made that for summertime suppers and served it over toast. My recipe is a little bit like my aunt’s suppertime treat.

Pattypan Stuffed with Cheesy Corn 

6 small Pattypan squash 
2 ears of fresh corn 
1 teaspoon dried minced onion 
2 Tablespoons of butter 
¼ cup dry bread crumbs 
½ cup of shredded Havarti cheese 
2 Tablespoons cream or whole milk 
1 egg 
A dash of salt and pepper 
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 

Cut the tops off the squash and scoop the raw flesh out. Leave a sturdy shell. Cut the corn off the cob. Sauté the squash, corn and minced onion in the butter until the squash is soft. Let it cool slightly, then mix the breadcrumbs, egg, cream and cheese together. Add salt, pepper and thyme. Stuff each little squash and place them in a baking dish. Add a little bit of water to the dish so the squash will steam a little in the onion. Bake the squash at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, then lay the ‘lids’ in the baking dish and continue to bake for ten minutes so they get done.
The size of the squash determines the amount of time for baking. Just make sure you put the lids in the dish for the last ten minutes. It may only take a total of 30 minutes if the squash are tiny.

This is a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetable project. If you’d like to see past posts, just click the menu button. I’m also posting with a couple blog parties, so check my sidebar list. Enjoy!



German Potato Dumplings


August18th is National Potato Day, so I’m sharing some potato news today so you can celebrate next week! Phoebe and I will celebrate because this grandma believes in celebrating anything that encourages a kid to eat! If you’d like more information about Potato Day, check this out https://nationaltoday.com/national-potato-day

A couple years ago I met a delightful elderly lady who had a deep German accent. She lived in a part of Southeast Missouri that is filled will families with German roots. Her parents had been born in Germany and came to the United States just a couple years before she was born. She had grown up speaking German in her home. When I told her that my family names were Schuster and Mueller, she started singing a song about Schuster … I think it was kind of a ‘bar song’ … a little bit naughty!

I talked at length with her about German cooking and I asked her how she made chicken and dumplings. She told me all about the ways she prepares the chicken. She even told me about raising (and killing) chickens when she was a young wife. I asked her how she prepares the actual dumpling. I was specifically interested in whether she rolled her dumpling dough or dropped her dough into the broth. She looked at me, waved her hands … and admitted that she buys her dumplings frozen … at Walmart! We got a good laugh out of that!

Dumplings in my childhood home were delicious! When I was really young, we raised chickens and we had a dog named Ringer that would catch a chicken for my mother. She’d tell him to ‘get one’ and he’d quickly retrieve a chicken and bring it right to Mother! I’ll leave the rest of the story to your imagination, but it wasn’t long before she had that fat chicken plucked of its feathers and in a pot of simmering water!

I can humbly say that my chicken and dumplings are as good as my mother’s! I think they are even better because I add a little saffron to the broth and Mama certainly never afforded saffron! Today, I’m going to share a recipe for something much different, though. I saw a Facebook post a few weeks ago about a German potato dumpling. I’d never seen them before … not in my German grandmother’s kitchen or even on a German restaurant menu. I was so intrigued, I had to make them. I’m so glad I did! They will become a family Sunday dinner favorite, I’m sure. Hoorische Knepp are elongated potato dumplings that are delicious served as a side with roasted meat or served as a main dish with a delicious sauce. They can also be made to sauce with fruit.

When the potato finally found its way to Germany, cooks quickly incorporated it into recipes where the potato could replace some of the wheat products.

I’ve described the route of the potato in past columns, but let’s be reminded that the Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes and that began in about 8,000 BC. In 1536 Spanish Conquistadors discovered the flavors of the potato and carried them back to Europe. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589. By the late 1500s, the potato was grown in Germany, but they were used as food for livestock!

Frederick the Great ruled the Kingdom of Prussia from 1740 until 1786. During that time, he ordered soldiers to guard a field of potatoes. He wanted his precious crop protected. Curiosity caused the local farmers to steal some of the potatoes and start growing them. Potatoes were already in Germany and were successfully cultivated in the mid-1600s, but they were not popular until “Old Fritz” as he was called … issued a famous “potato decree” making farmers to grow potatoes.

To make these wonderful dumplings, we need to use a starchy potato. Russet, Idaho and Yukon gold potatoes are at the top of that list. I think these dumplings are delicious topped with crumbled bacon and I use the remaining grease, too. The recipe calls for a pound of starchy potatoes. Three medium russet potatoes are about a pound and they will make about 3 cups of mashed or riced potatoes. Fried sage leaves are delicious and easy to make. If you don’t have fresh sage, just sprinkle the dumplings with a little rubbed sage.


German Potato Dumplings with Fried Sage

1 pound of starchy potatoes
1 egg
2/3 cups flour
pinch of salt
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
4 strips of bacon  
1 Tablespoon of butter or remaining bacon grease
handful of sage leaves

After washing thee potatoes, cook them in simmering water until they are soft. Leave the peels on the potatoes. When done, let the potatoes cool until you can handle them and remove the peel. Press them through a ricer and spread the potatoes out on a baking sheet. Let the potatoes cool completely. The water left in the flesh will evaporate as they cool. 


When the potatoes are cooled, mix them with the egg and flour. Season with salt and nutmeg. Use your hands and form the elongated dumplings. “Finger shaped” is what you want. 

Cook the dumplings in lightly boiling water or broth. They will float to the top when they are done. Remove them and let the cool. At this point, you can refrigerate the dumplings and use them later or you can continue the preparation.

While the dumplings cook, fry chopped bacon. Remove the bacon when done but reserve the bacon grease. Prepare the fried sage by simply dropping the leaves into the grease and they will become crispy. Remove them before adding the dumplings. Sauté the dumplings in the bacon grease for about 10 minutes until the brown. Serve the immediately. Garnish with bacon and sage leaves.

*If bacon and grease are not on your diet, use butter or your preferred oil. You can also add a sprinkle of garlic powder or paprika to enhance the flavor of the dumplings.




I’m posting this as a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project. If you’d like to see similar posts, just click the menu button. I’m also going to share with a couple blog parties. My favorites are listed in my sidebar, so click on over to meet the party goers!

Old Fashioned Meatballs!




After I had a home of my own, I learned a lot about my father’s food preferences.  Remember how popular “Porcupine” meatballs were in the 1970s?  Mother and Daddy would visit us in our lakeside home.  He and Joe would fish all afternoon, but his request for supper frequently was a big platter of little Porcupines!  I was happy to oblige!  They were easy and everybody loved them, but just like Mama’s meatball meals, I would fry potatoes to go with them!  

Before I mention today’s topic … meatballs … I want to look at the history of preparing Porcupines.  The first mention of preparing one is in The Experienced English Housekeeper, written by Elizabeth Raffald in 1769.   Here recipe in no way resembles what we make today.  She used a thin piece of beef and rolled a variety of things inside it.  She used pieces of cooked tongue, onions, breadcrumbs and pickles.  She rolled it up and wrapped it strips of bacon.  It then turned on a spit until it was done!

The 1884 issue of the Boston Cooking School cookbook includes a recipe for Porcupine Meatballs.  In 1897, Campbell's started canning tomato soup. The 1918 Conservation Recipes compiled by the Mobilized Women's Organization of Berkeley, California features Rice Meatballs.  Finally, in 1936, Irma Rombauer’s
The Joy of Cooking, includes the recipe that most of us still use today.  Rombauer’s recipe calls for uncooked rice.  Today, most recipes call for precooked rice (Minute Rice).  I’ll share my Porcupine recipe at the end of this post!

Food historians readily admit that nobody knows when meatballs were first created, and they have no idea where they were created.  The American Swedish Institute (Minneapolis, Minnesota) notes that ‘k’ttbulle’, the word for meatball, first appeared in print in 1754.  They believe that Swedish Meatballs were not originally consumed by common people because of the expense of the meat.  Swedish Meatballs are served with a cream gravy and lingonberry preserves.  Sometimes the gravy is brown and the ingredients for the meatball varies from family to family!  In the 1920s, Swedish Meatballs were served at buffets and smorgasbords in Scandinavia.  In America, Swedish Meatballs became popular at the same time … and then became increasingly popular in my favorite vintage food period of the 1950s and 60s.  Cocktail party fare often included a chafing dish of Swedish Meatballs.  My party fare continues to include them!

In his 1892  Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, Pellegrino Artusi, included a recipe for Italian Meatballs.  American food author Fannie Farmer included a similar recipe at the same time.  In the 1920s, American restaurants started serving meatballs with spaghetti … Italians didn’t do that.  Restauranteurs did it to accommodate the desire of Americans for red meat!

For years, I have made big batches of meatballs so I could add to my freezer inventory.  I make all varieties and last week I made my traditional Italian Meatballs and also made a batch of Asian flavored meatballs.  My Tai Basil is great this year and my Mexican Tarragon is a perfect match for it.  How do you use an Asian flavored meatball?  I stir fry vegetables and add them alongside with a spicy sauce.  I add them to a batch of stir-fried rice.  They are also fantastic standing alone on a dinner buffet that includes egg rolls and other delicious Asian foods.





Moore Family Meatballs

Foundation Ingredients:

1 pound of ground beef
1 pound of ground pork
1 cup dried breadcrumbs (no flavor)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon of dried chopped onion
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt


To make Italian Meatballs add to the foundation ingredients:

2 teaspoons of dried Italian herbs or a handful of chopped fresh herbs including basil, thyme, oregano and Rosemary.
½ cup finely chopped red or green bell pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
1 Tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons of milk

Mix all these ingredients together and form into meatballs.  Bake them in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes until they are nicely browned.  The larger you make the meatballs, the longer it takes for them to get done, so check them.  Let them cool and freeze them or serve them right out of the oven!  This should make 24 to 36 meatballs, depending upon the size you choose.


To make Asian Meatballs add to the foundation ingredients:
2 teaspoons of Five Spice Powder or a handful of chopped fresh herbs including Rosemary, Tai basil, lemon balm or lemon sage, and thyme.
2 Tablespoons of sesame oil
1 Tablespoon of soy sauce
1 Tablespoon of oyster sauce
2 teaspoons of Sriracha

Mix all the ingredients and form into meatballs.  Follow the instructions above.  You can also prepare meatballs in a casserole crock pot.  Cook on high for about 2 hours until they are done.




As promised, I’m including the recipe for Porcupines that I have used since 1975!  I’d hate to try to count the times I’ve made this.  It has always been a family favorite.


Porcupine Meatballs from the Campbell’s Soup Kitchen

1 can (10 3/4 ounces) condensed tomato soup
1 pound ground beef
1 cup packaged Minute Rice
1 egg
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons shortening
1/2 soup can water
1 teaspoon prepared mustard

Mix 1/4 cup soup with beef, rice, egg, onion, and salt. Shape firmly into 16 meatballs. Brown meatballs and garlic in shortening; pour off fat. Blend in remaining soup, water, and mustard. Cover; simmer for 20 minutes or until done. Stir now and then. 4 servings."

---Cooking with Soup, Home Economics Department, [Campbell Soup Company:Camden NJ] revised edition, 1970 (p. 9)


This post is a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetable project!  Meatballs are some of the “other old stuff”!   I’ll also be sharing with a couple blog parties, so make sure you look at my list in the sidebar and click through!











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