Thursday, April 16, 2015
I just dusted off Virginia Cookery, a plastic-spiral-bound cookbook I found at Bonnie Slotnick's antique cookbook shop right before she moved to the East Village. Like many great cookbooks of it's kind, this one is a self-published compilation of recipes from (mostly) church-going women. The recipes in these books often vary in quality, but at the very least they make for fun, voyeuristic reading. What was on the table in 1957 Virginia?
Whipped syllabub, turkey pie for 200, and five different types of chess pie, it would appear. (Maybe not all at the same time.) There's also a recipe for sweet potato souffle with sherry and black walnuts that I'm dying to try.
Think I'll pass on the tips for excelling in housewifery.
But here's one odd find: beaten biscuits. Has anyone ever baked with an axe? Here, Virginia Cookery quotes a 1885 tome on Virginian cooking, also called Virginia Cookery, written by Ms. Mary Stuart Smith.
""In the Virginia of the olden time no breakfast or tea-table was thought to be properly furnished without a plate of these indispensable biscuits... Let one spend the night at some gentleman-farmer's home, and the first sound heard in the morning, after the crowing of the cock, was the heavy, regular fall of the cook's axe, as she beat and beat her biscuit dough...Nowadays beaten biscuits are a rarity, found here and there, but soda and modern institutions have caused them to be sadly out of vogue...There are difficulties in the way," Mrs. Smith then goes on to explain that a biscuit block, the trunk of an oak or chestnut tree, sawed off and planed, must be provided near the kitchen."
Mrs. Smith's Beaten Biscuit
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon lard
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Sift flour with salt and work in lard. Have ready a mug filled with equal parts of sweet milk and water. Add it gradually to the other ingredients, kneading all the while, and stopping as soon as the flour will hold together, for the dough should be very stiff. Beat thirty minutes with an axe kept for the purpose. Prick with a fork and bake until a delicate brown.