Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Historic Kentucky Kitchen

Handwritten recipe for Logan English's Zucchini and Eggs* 

The event Monday night with Deidre A. Scaggs, author of The Historic Kentucky Kitchen:Traditional Recipes for Today's Cook was quite entertaining...and delicious. Ms. Scaggs began by telling the 100 or so people in attendance that she had fond memories of growing up in a small Kentucky town and eating her grandmother's cooking. She inherited her grandmother's cast iron skillet and uses it today. Her father was the other cook in her life and he still fixes her breakfast when she visits him. He is the 'egg sandwich expert' mentioned in the book's dedication.

She had some funny stories about trying to modernize the handwritten recipes that she discovered in the archives of the University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections where she serves as associate dean. Many times she had to figure out that the measurement for 'butter the size of a hen's egg' equaled 3 to 4 tablespoons and that '1 tumbler full' and '1 coffee cup full' each equal about 8 fluid ounces.

When it came time to try out Mary M. Peter's Hickory Nut Cake (1889), she discovered that hickories were a hard nut to crack. She ordered them and was frustrated when they arrived in their shells. No amount of pounding would crack the shells until she finally wrapped them in a tea towel and beat them with her grandmother's iron skillet. Then she had to spend time separating the nutmeats from the shell pieces and barely had the one cup of nuts that the recipe called for. 

Lesson learned: when ordering hickory nuts be sure to specify 'shelled'. 

One of her failures involved the White Mountain Cake. Ms. Scaggs tried all sorts of ways to make and bake this vintage dessert - to no avail. Therefore, it never made it into the book. I found a recipe for the cake in one of my mother's cookbooks from the 1940s and I will send it to Ms. Scaggs. Perhaps it will help.

Out of two hundred recipes that were discovered, adapted to today's measurements and oven temperatures, and taste-tested only 100 of them made it into the book. 

The cookbook also contains biographical sketches of the Kentucky women and their families whose recipes were discovered and converted which makes it part cookbook, part history book, and part collection of Southern classics - fried chicken, pound cake, mayonnaise, egg nog, and mint tea. 

Ms. Scaggs thoughtfully brought her own refreshments, the recipes for which were taken from the cookbook. There was Frances Jewell McVey's Spiced Tea (1920s) which I did not imbibe and Seaton Family's Buttermilk Cake (1880s) which of course, as I love cake,  I had to eat. It was heavenly.

It was a fun evening and now I am ready to tie on my apron and try out some of these recipes.

*There was a note in the book that this zucchini and egg recipe was difficult to decipher as it didn't specify how to cook the eggs - poached or hard-boiled?. She decided to poach the eggs and the rest of the ingredients were treated as a salad to sit under them. I could do without the anchovies!

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