Monday, August 31, 2009

Listen To Your Big Sister: Kentucky Jam Cake

I take my cues from my big sister. Really, little sisters are advised to do that whenever possible -- big sisters being notoriously nasty and wicked things. In this case, however, I think the nasty wicked Kelly can be forgiven, because she said "Southern" and "Dessert" for today's post. So come along to Marion County Country Ham Days in Lebanon, Kentucky! For two days in late September, you can celebrate the local products, including, of course, ham, ham, and more ham. The County Fair Cookbook kicks off it's coverage with Mrs. Moraja's Country Ham Stuffed With Greens, which sounds delicious but doesn't suit my big sister's request. Let me know if you need to know how to stuff a country ham like Mrs. Moraja, and we could get a bonus post up. Until then, "Southern!" "Dessert!"
Kentucky Jam Cake
Jam cakes are a Kentucky tradition. Obviously, this is a grand cake for a special occasion.

Makes 1 large (4-layer) cake

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup blackberry jam
1 cup strawberry jam
1 cup peach preserves
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2/3 cup seedless raisins
1 cup chopped pecans
6 egg whites
Caramel icing (opposite page)

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1. Prepare four 8-inch cake pans: cut 4 rounds of parchment paper to fit the bottoms of the pans. Butter the pans liberally and position the parchment liners.
2. Sift together the flour, salt, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Set aside. Push the blackberry and strawberry jams and peach preserves through a sieve into a bowl. Set aside.
3. In the large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and combine well.
4. Put the buttermilk in a 2-cup measure and stir in the baking soda.
5. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Beat until batter is smooth. Stir in the jams, raisins and nuts.
6. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff, unwavering peaks. Scoop the whites over the batter and gently fold them in with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the baking pans, dividing it evenly and smoothing the tops with a spatula.
7. Bake in the middle of the oven 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes on wire racks, then turn out on racks to cool completely. When completely cool, frost the cake with caramel icing.
Really, when I saw a recipe for a 4-layer cake, with three different kinds of jam, I was sure there'd be a different jam between each layer. Color me completely wrong! I was also going to wax lyrical about the absolute best blackberry jam in the world, and how you should use only that (but you can't, because my mom used to make it, and doesn't anymore), but then I grew to understand that all the jams are being combined.

Now, I like mixed fruit jams and jellies. (This is where I'd include a reference to being too tired and punchy in the Tastee Diner during college, and really raunchy things we used to say about mixed fruit jelly were I not so very, very tasteful.) I do. But I'm not taking the very best homemade anything and mixing it up willy nilly. So, use that which you have, as long as it passes muster when you eat it plain.

The caramel icing in question is a seven-minute frosting with light brown sugar, white sugar, cream of tartar, salt, and egg whites. If you're lacking a recipe and want this one, shout out and I'll post, or you could pick up a copy of The County Fair Cookbook and turn to page 101. If you do, then be sure and flip the page to read about "The Varmit Roast," and "How To Judge a Country Ham." Hint: Aroma is worth thirty points -- more than any other attribute!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Great Raisin Divide: Creamy Rice Pudding

My sister suggested that I hit a different region for each recipe this week, and so today, we'll go to New England. The County Fair Cookbook highlights the Fryeburg Fair, in Fryeburg, Maine. It's held the first week in October containing the first Wednesday in October (wrap your head around that one), and runs for 8 days. It's on Route 5, in western Maine, near the New Hampshire border. October in New England? Go for the foliage, stay for the fair. Evidently, they have the biggest set up for campers after Disney World, so if you feel a need to camp, you're all set.

When I think of "pudding," I tend to think of instant Jell-o pudding. Take powder (chocolate or butterscotch, in my head), take cold milk, beat or shake for two minutes, eat. I have some bad memories of other puddings in hospital cafeterias...tapioca, bread, rice... Thankfully, all of these have been redeemed by eating them, you know, not in hospital cafeterias.
My Grandmother's Creamy Rice Pudding

Rose Robinson, Loretta [Greene]'s grandmother, lived on a small farm in South Paris, Maine. "This is the version as it's been passed down," says Loretta.

Serves 4

1 cup white rice
1 cup cold water
4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Few drops lemon extract

1. Boil the rice and water until the water is absorbed.
2. Add the milk, sugar and salt, and the optional raisins. Simmer uncovered over low heat (or on the back of a wood-burning stove) until most of the milk is absorbed and the rice is tender. Stir in the lemon extract.
First of all, the salt is not optional. Salt makes things taste better, folks, and a small amount of salt in your dessert is going to make it taste lovely. It won't taste like a salt lick. It's half a teaspoon, for pity's sake. Use the salt.

Here's where I'll lose some of you, here on the banks of the Great Raisin Divide. The raisins are not optional. Oh, sure, you could substitute some chopped up dried apricots or apples or dates, if you ran out of raisins, but you need the dried fruit in this to make it more than, well, milky rice without raisins. Raisins are nature's candy. Raisins are essential. You will miss it if you don't have the little bit of yielding chewiness.

I know, I know. Some of you hate raisins. I weep for the future, sometimes. But I stand by my beliefs, here on the proper side of the G.R.D. Just as I know the cheese is never optional, the raisins are never optional here at Take One Cookbook.

As for the wood stove reference, evidently Loretta cooks on a wood stove throughout the fair, in a display of old-time farm crafts, and also at home. Yes, by choice.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The County Fair Cookbook, Lyn Stallworth & Rod Kennedy Jr.: Swiss Cabbage Pie

I was a 4Her from early on. It helps that my dad was an Extension agent, and helped get 4H going in our town; my sister is now the secretary for 4H in that same office. I was part of 4H sewing, cooking, forestry, photography, and rabbits...a lot of clubs! I went to 4H camp (which has mixed memories for me, especially as my first-ever high fever was at camp, and so there are some hallucinations wrapped up in my recollections of the senior counselors). The best part of 4H, though, was The Fair.

Come the third week in August, life moved to Canby. Even before we had 4H projects of our own, we'd go and watch Dad judge the photography. Mom would talk about when she made cookies for her county fair, and ate so much dough she was ill. My sister and I showed our rabbits, had our sewing skills evaluated, demonstrated recipes, and once and a while even thought about going to see the rodeo.

To say I love my county fair -- and, yes, though I've been gone for 19 years, I still think of that as my fair -- is an understatement. So, when I got a happy reminder that, yes, I have a cookbook blog, it was easy to pick a seasonal choice: The County Fair Cookbook by Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy, Jr. (Hyperion, 1994). The book is divided up by region, focusing mainly on the United States but including some Canadian fairs. The recipes represent both their region and the homey comfort of county fairs in general, and are accompanied by loving descriptions of the fairs themselves. There's even a page dedicated to my fair, but we'll get to that later on this week. For now, let's go to the Eureka County Fair, in Eureka, Nevada. The fair runs the first or second week of August, for three days. Just take Route 50 out of Reno.
Swiss Cabbage Pie

"When he was a kid on the ranch, my husband's grandmother took this down to the hayfield around two p.m. as an afternoon snack with coffee," says Ethel. "I collect cookbooks, and when we lived on a ranch I'd find a great-sounding recipe and realize I didn't have most of the ingredients called for. We were seventy-five miles from one town, and a hundred and fourteen miles from another. You learn to substitute. I've created a few new recipes out of necessity."

Serves 6 to 8

1 loaf unbaked bread (can use frozen purchased dough)
1 pound bacon
8 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups cream or half-and-half
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese (optional)

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1. Roll out the bread dough about 1/4 inch thick and place it in a 9-inch pie pan. Crimp the edges, as you would a pie.
2. Cut the bacon into small pieces and brown them in a large heavy pot. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the grease. Stir in the shredded cabbage and cook over moderate heat, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Over low heat, add the salt and pepper, eggs, cream and the cheese, if you are using it. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring. Put the mixture in the crust and bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling is set and the edges are golden brown.

Remember, folks, that in my book, cheese is NEVER optional. Cheese is essential. Also, if you got frozen dough for this, please thaw it according to package directions before starting. Do not try to roll out frozen dough.

You could buy your cabbage pre-shredded in a bag, if you're not keen on deconstructing a head of cabbage on your own. But, as Mary Frances over at the Gluten(-)Free Cooking School shows, it's cheaper, tastier, and just more pleasant to do it yourself. Go on over to GFCS, and see how easy it is. Plus, as Mary Frances says, "After a long day, it’s sometime really fun to hack into a large vegetable with a big, long knife."

My copy of The County Fair Cookbook is massively dog-earred, and I've yet to plot out just which recipes will show up on this blog. So, if you have a favorite fair, let me know, and I'll see if we can get up a recipe from there, or at least from nearby.