Sunday, May 23, 2010

What do you have cooking in your log cabin?

I admit, I am not so much a history buff than a history reader.  I do enjoy reading history and learning about things of the past.  I even enjoy reading about what ancient peoples ate and how they prepared their food.  Corresponding with that notion is an interesting book called Log Cabin Cooking, from Barbara Swell.

My mother took a trip to Springfield, Illinois, where thanks to our 16th President and his modest life, the idea of living in a log cabin has been pushed to the brink of Romanticism and given a feeling of adventure, when for those who were actually dealing with the life, it was nothing fun at all. My mother picked up this cookbook, which tells a little about how people in the 1830's cooked and did their basic food stuffs, without the use of fancy gadgets, like: thermometers, microwaves or refrigerators.

While some of the ideas and generally accepted principles were good enough to get food on the table, in most cases, it wasn't goo enough to make things tasty.  Even so, many of the frontier people survived because they did a few things that would help them.  How they survived with little to no fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products is beyond me as I can't make it through the day without a big glass of chocolate milk.

Out of necessity came simple recipes that needed little wet ingredients: baked items, like breads and muffins.  Out of this book, I tried my hands at the cornbread, which likely came from a 1835 recipe.  Unlike the original peoples, I had an easy time at this, as my oven has a thermometer built into it so I set the temperature I wish and simply wait.  The book suggests that you get your wood oven hot and then place your hand inside of it so you can check the temperature.  Like a grill, the temperature is based upon how long you can have your hand near the fire without having it burn off.  Using their simple recipe, of mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet ones and combine them together, I was able to pour the batter into my Pyrex cooking pan, instead of my cast iron pan.
Now, again, I had it easy as I was able to play some video games while this was cooking, compared to those living in the wilderness, but in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes, a nice tasting, but a tad dry cornbread came out of the oven.
Now since I have never seen anyone server cornbread dry, I know that it is okay.  You always serve cornbread with a soup, because its dryness sucks up the broth.  You also almost always slather a thick coating of butter on it and either fix certainly made this a very tasty cornbread.  So, give one point to the housewives in the 1830's.

Along with this, you have to wonder how they did their everyday work and still make food for the table.  There was a lot of breads or muffins, a lot of soups and stews and a low of preserved things.  House chores would be so much more difficult as you would have to go outside to wash the clothes and the dishes. However, overall, some of the great things we have today as American dishes, came from things that were prepared during this time period or the time in the West.

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