Friday, August 29, 2014

Frugal Pancakes and Social Commentary

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I love antique and vintage cookbooks.  Not only are the recipes unfamiliar to the modern palate, but the preparations are generally simpler and use fewer ingredients.  Cooks of previous generations kept an eye on expense and efficiency in a way rarely promoted by modern cookbooks.  They were less able to prevent leftovers from spoiling, too, so the abilities to use small amounts of food or reinvent leftovers were important.

While we might think of pancakes as a special or luxurious breakfast food today, they were historically an invaluable tool in the homecook’s repertoire for producing nutritious, filling foods out of leftovers that would otherwise have gone to waste and an effective way to use soured milk.  Here are two such recipes:

Rice Griddle Cakes
Adapted from
The Royal Guide to Meal Planning (1929)

1 c boiled rice (white or brown)
1 c milk, sweet or sour
1 T butter or shortening
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 c flour

if using sour milk, you will also need

1/3 tsp baking soda
1 T sugar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Drop by ladle-fulls onto a hot, greased skillet, and allow to cook like regular pancakes.
Makes 12 small pancakes.


Crumb Griddle Cakes
Adapted from
Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus (1911)

1 pint breadcrumbs
1 pint sour milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 c sweet milk
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp salt
1 T sugar
flour

Combine the breadcrumbs and the sour milk.  Allow to sit for one hour.  At the end of the hour, dissolve the baking soda in the sweet milk.  Pour the sweet milk mixture into the crumb mixture, and add in the remaining measured ingredients.  Add in flour a little at a time to achieve the normal thickness for pancake batter.  Cook by ladle-fulls on a moderate skillet.

Makes about 2 dozen pancakes.

Notes: 
  • If you are out of sweet milk, you may use another cup of sour milk instead along with an additional ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.
  • When adding in the flour, you have control over the finished product.  Adding in 2/3 c of flour will result in pancakes that are similar to crepes.  More flour will yield pancakes that are more similar to traditional pancakes.
  • If the stove is too hot, the exterior of the cakes will cook before the interior. 


Both recipes would be delicious with homemade jelly or pumpkin syrup, both very frugal options.

The latter recipe is especially noteworthy for its origin.  Rufus was a Pullman car chef (and ex-slave), and at the urging of his friends and clients, he published the recipes he used.  Over his years in the railroad, his clients included two American presidents, celebrities, and European royalty.  His book is filled with creative and efficient uses for canned goods and leftover foods, to say nothing of organ meats.   

Rufus' crumb griddle cakes feature two main ingredients that would normally be considered garbage in the modern kitchen—sour milk and bread crumbs—yet this was the kind of fare he presented to some of the most pampered palates in the world just a century ago.  Not only did he feed these foods to them, but Rufus’ clients enjoyed them so much that Rufus became famous and was encouraged to publish a book of his recipes.  That we would throw the ingredients of such foods away is a testament to the luxurious nature of modern life.  Do not think of these kinds of recipes as “poor people food.”  At the turn of the last century, they were the components of food "fit for kings," and we would be wise not to forget it.

This post has been linked to Busy Monday and MYHSM.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mystery Jelly (Using Fruit Scraps, Part 3)

In theory, the use of fruit scraps to make juice is a wonderful one.  The product is mildly sweet, fruity, and cloudy like unfiltered apple juice.  The problem with the theory, though, is that the juice is not subjected to the same processes as commercial juice and spoils quickly.

If you and your family done consume the juice quickly, it will turn into vinegar.  Now that is certainly a process that can be harnessed and put to good use, but I only rarely use vinegar.  I need other things to do with the juice I make to keep it from going to waste.



This week, I made a pint and a half of mystery jelly.  The vast majority of the fruits we eat are apples.  In this case, my bag of parings contained apple cores (probably a quart or so of them) and the parings from one honeydew melon.  After I made juice, I strained it through a kitchen towel, put it back in the pot, and reduced it a little ways.  I measured the result, and followed a recipe for apple jelly.  I needed to use a little extra pectin, since my juice was made from cores and did not include skins, but it turned out fine.  And since my juice was less concentrated than it could have been, I also added some ground cloves for a nicer flavor.

Since the acidity of mystery jelly can't be guaranteed, I assume that my product is not as shelf stable as other jellies and am storing my jars in the fridge.  We go through fruit spreads pretty quickly in our home.  I don't expect it to be a problem.  If I had a larger batch or knew I wouldn't use it quickly, I would have used a recipe for freezer jelly.

With my next batch of juice, I'm going to make syrup.  We have pancakes, French toast, and bread pudding frequently, so getting syrup for the cost of the sugar involved would be nice.  And apple syrup will be a nice change until I'm able to make my next round of pumpkin syrup.

This post has been linked to Busy Monday and MYHSM.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Banana Drop Cookies

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As I’ve discussed before, I do baking on Fridays, and that includes some kind of baked good for us to eat for breakfast on Saturdays.  This last Friday, I had some overripe bananas to use, but had misplaced my banana bread recipe.  Instead, I tried a recipe for banana drop cookies.  The recipe is an inadvertent variation on one I found in a magazine several years ago.  These cookies taste like banana bread, but have a very cake-like texture.  We all enjoyed them, especially the Bat. 

We ate them with apple slices and milk for the boys and tea for me the next morning.  If I were to make them as a dessert, they would go very nicely with cream cheese frosting as whoopee pies.  As a more nutritious option (perhaps as part of a child’s special lunch), they would work very nicely as the bread part of peanut butter sandwiches.

Banana Drop Cookies

Yields about 3 dozen

1c sugar (or a little less)
2/3 c oil or shortening
1 tsp vanilla
1 c mashed bananas (about 3-4 bananas)
2 eggs, beaten
2 ¼ c flour
2T baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 c chopped nuts (optional)
¼ c sugar (optional)
½ tsp cinnamon (optional)

  • Combine all the wet ingredients.   
  • In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients, except for the three optional ones.   
  • Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and then add in the chopped nuts, if using.   
  • Drop batter by spoonfuls, 2 inches apart onto greased cookie sheets, and bake at 400 until the cookies start to turn golden on top—about 8-10 minutes.
  • Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow them to cool entirely before removing them from the sheets.  The cookies are very soft and will break easily otherwise. 
  • If desired, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, and dust the cookies with them after they have been removed from the cookie sheets.

To keep them whole, I stored the cookies vertically in small loaf pans and bagged the pans.  The loaf pans also made an attractive presentation on our breakfast table.

This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool HopMYHSM and Busy Monday.

The Train

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My boys love trains, even the 18-month-old Elephant.  And with three children, I face the difficulty of having more children than hands.  In parking lots, on sidewalks, and in stores, my solution has been to form a “train.”  I am the engine, and the boys, lining up youngest to oldest, are my train cars.  I call "all aboard," and hold the Elephant’s hand, he holds the Eel’s, and the Eel holds the Bat’s.  If dh is with me, then on of us is the engine, and the other is the caboose.  As we start our walk, once we’ve all formed up, the engine makes honking noises, and the boys often chug as they walk.

I’ve seen other families have siblings hold hands, but they usually place the youngest on the outside, and that makes me nervous.  It also usually involves one child on one side of the parent and the other children on the other side.  I prefer having all three children on one side and selling it to them as a “train,” because it encourages them to walk single file.

Making a train works beautifully for keeping us all safe outside and for keeping little hands off of merchandise in stores.  Better yet, pretending to be a train gives them something to think about other than wanting whatever is colorful at their eye level.

This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday and MYHSM.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Alphabetical Language Arts


It's been a while since I've written about our homeschooling adventure.  We homeschool year round, with the school year beginning in the spring (after Passover).  I'm also using a homemade curriculum, in part because my husband and I own books that cover almost all the topics we want or need our boys to learn from K through 12.  The topics we can't cover with our existing collection we can easily cover for free online or at the public library, and I keep a running wish list on Amazon.

My other reason for designing my own curriculum (and for having school year round) is that the Bat is very energetic.  If he were in a classroom environment, he would be in the special education system for ADHD, if not other learning challenges. He benefits from flexibility, routine, plenty of time for play, and short lessons.  He needs lessons that stay on topic and does not enjoy art projects. I need short lessons that teach him the material in a very direct manner and tie the information in with things that are relevant to him.  I do not want a lot of busy work.  I also need lessons that I can use to promote self-direction, do not take me away from the other tasks in my day, and are easy to catch up on if we fall behind. And that's exactly what we have.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays the Bat works on reading and writing.  I read aloud a couple of Aesop's Fables (an antique translation that was one of my great-aunt's school books) and the Bat works on writing letters--capitals on Tuesdays and lowercase on Wednesdays.  We're adding a new letter every week, and he will start doing copy work in the middle of the year, once we've gone through the whole alphabet.

Once he finishes his writing for the day on Tuesdays, we talk about the sounds made by the letter of the week, and I read aloud a short article about something starting with that letter, while the boys eat lunch.  On Wednesdays, the Bat works on his reading skills after he finishes writing.

Most of my read-aloud topics come from The Golden Books of Knowledge, six volumes of a set published in 1961 and previously owned by my father.  While some of the information, especially about countries, is out of date, much of it is still perfectly serviceable.  The article on irrigation, for example, is fine, especially when augmented with conversation on modern techniques, such as drip irrigation.  We will go through the alphabet in this way twice in the course of the year, and I've laid out what we will read about each week.  Some topics are historical (Pythagoras), others technological (steam locomotives), and others scientific (the heart).

Reading from these articles has been a huge hit, often leading to conversations on the topic long after the article has been read.  The article on clouds comes up frequently, as the boys try to identify the type of each cloud they see.  Reading the article on bridges led to days of play dedicated to building various kinds of bridges.  We also read "unassigned" articles as the Bat and Eel show an interest.  Particularly popular have been the articles on lightning (read whenever there is a thunder storm), cats, spiders, and crocodiles.  I especially enjoyed the article on aerial railways.  For Independence Day, we read the article on the early history of the United States (which led to extracurricular study for me about Kosciuszko, who was mentioned in the article but is oddly absent from more modern texts).

In future years, I plan to continue having regular, alphabetical topics.  Ultimately, I hope this habit will lead us to having 26 research topics throughout the year, with each topic provided one week for researching and writing a report and one for preparing and delivering an oral presentation, and the report and any materials from the presentation posted on each child's private blog.  Obviously, all of that is a long way off, but in the mean time, our current routine serves us very well and makes excellent use of our time.

Halfway through the "semester", here are the subjects we've covered:

  • Asia
  • Bridges (types)
  • Clouds
  • Dogs
  • Evergreen Trees
  • Forests
  • Gold
  • The Heart
  • Irrigation (types, purpose, and history)
  • Jungles
  • The Kidneys
  • Early History of Steam Locomotives
  • Muscles

In the coming weeks, we will cover:

  • Inland Navigation
  • Owls
  • Permanent Snow
  • Quince*
  • Plant Roots
  • Steamships
  • Tropical Fruits
  • The United States (the 50 states)
  • The First Vaccinations
  • Whales
  • X-rays
  • Yams*
  • Zebras*
*I'll need to find other sources for these subjects.

At this point, I'm very pleased with the system I've put in place, both because it has encouraged the Bat in his learning and eased the process for him and because it has enriched our family, providing us with a wide range of conversation topics that have been educational and enjoyable for all of us.

This post has been linked to WFMWThe Mommy Club, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday and MYHSM.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Apple Cores and Fruit Parings, Part 2



A few months ago, I wrote about using fruit parings to make mystery juice and using the pulp left over from that process in lieu of apple sauce in baking.  I'm still doing that, but with a slight variation:  I no longer remove the seeds.

My new routine after making juice is to mash the pulp, pick out leaves and stems (and pineapple cores, if applicable), and include everything else in baking.  The apple, pear, and melon seeds give breads and muffins a wonderful texture, much like that of store bought bread that contains sunflower seeds.  Of course, the seeds themselves are nutritionally rich, containing proteins, fats, and minerals not found in other parts of the fruit.

I've especially enjoyed this recipe as a breakfast bread.  Its a variation on one found in Auguste Gay's
New Presentation of Cooking (1924).

Luncheon Bread

2.5 c flour
5tsp baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
1.5 c whole milk
2 tsp sugar
2 T butter or oil

Combine dry ingredients.  Add in wet ingredients.  You should have a stiff batter, if not, add more milk.  Bake in a greased loaf pan (or two small loaf pans) f
or approximately 30 minutes at 375.

I used 1.5 c of fruit pulp (with seeds) and about 1/3 c milk in place of the milk called for in the recipe.  The resulting bread was delicious, if a little crumbly.  It is not a good sandwich bread, but it does quite nicely toasted with butter or eaten cold with cream cheese or peanut butter.  It does not taste at all like fruit.


In other news, I've also been reading about uses for the pits in stone fruits.  Apparently they can be boiled to give the boiling liquid (commonly milk) an almond flavor.  The pits, even once boiled, can also be roasted and cracked open, and the inner kernels (noyaux) can be eaten or used like almonds.  Indeed, I've read that apricots have traditionally been grown in part for their pits.  Only eat noyaux in moderation, though, as they do contain a significantly higher concentration of cyanide than almonds.  That said, they should not be entirely discounted as a food source, as people around the world have consumed them for centuries.

This post has been linked to WFMW, The Mommy Club, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday and MYHSM.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Full Hands and Heavy Hearts

As the mother of three young boys, I've started receiving comments about the size of my family.  Generally, the comments have been good-natured--
  • "Wow, you have your hands full"
  • "You must be busy"
  • "Are you going to try for a girl?"
And others along the same lines.  It's usually pretty obvious that the comments are meant well, but they can be hard to take.  I've lost four pregnancies.  I'm lucky to have the three children I have, but sometimes it's hard to look at those three and not notice the absence of others.  For many other women, family size is restricted by other circumstances:  fertility or health problems, loss or absence of a husband, late marriage, poor decisions earlier in life, or even the loss of a child.  Some circumstances are more traumatic than others, but all are very personal.

Likewise, it must be hard for women who struggle with infertility to overhear comments about the number of children other women have. And comments to young parents can be terribly hurtful, especially for those who work hard to make the best of an unexpected situation under adverse circumstances.  When it comes to comments about a parent's children, you never know when you might be bringing up heartache.

I've seen a lot of lovely platitudes about families coming in all shapes and sizes and about all families being beautiful. Let's keep our comments, especially to strangers along those lines.  I think the world would be a happier, friendlier place if we did.

This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday, and MYHSM.