It just keeps snowing. As of yesterday, this part of Massachusetts had 20 inches. By tomorrow, we are likely see over two feet. I am learning to use my new camera, and below, here and there, you'll see my winter wonderland experiments.
It's good weather for thinking about food. Frankly, after a week of baking cookies, I'd rather think about food than prepare it. Last time, on my chicken blog, some of the U.S. readers expressed curiosity about English puddings. I have since had a little time to delve into The New Female Instructor or Young Woman's Guide to Domestic Happiness, first published in 1834. Turns out there are many varieties of puddings. The puddings are cooked in a cloth, which must be scrupulously clean. It is dampened with boiling water and lightly coated with flour, and depending on what kind of pudding you put into it, you tie it either closely or loosely. Everyone clear on that?
Puddings are divided into two categories, Boiled Puddings and Baked Puddings. There are both sweet and savory varieties, but mainly sweet.
One of the Boiled Puddings listed is Marrow Pudding: Grate a small loaf into crumbs, and pour on them a pint of boiling hot cream. Cut a pound of beef marrow very thin, beat up four eggs well, and then add a glass of brandy, with sugar and nutmeg to your taste. Mix them all well together, and boil it three quarters of an hour. Cut two ounces of citron into very thin bits, and when you dish up your pudding, stick them all over it.
My sense is that the beef marrow is used much in the way suet is used in a number of dishes, as the fat element. There's a recipe for Suet Dumplings, among others.
Here's the Potatoe (yes, that's how it's spelled in the book) Pudding, which sounds quite tasty:
Boil half a pound of potatoes till they are soft, then peel them, mash them with the back of a spoon, and rub them through a sieve to have them fine and smooth. Then take half a pound of fresh butter melted, half a pound of fine sugar, and beat them well together till they are quite smooth. Beat up six eggs, whites as well as yolks, and stir them in with a glass of sack or brandy. Pour it into your cloth, tie it up, and about half an hour will do it. When you take it out, melt some butter, put into it a glass of wine sweetened with sugar, and pour it over your pudding.
I loved studying these recipes because they were created before anyone ever heard of cholesterol. This is also the case with Albanian cooking, which always makes me wonder where they got the idea the Mediterranean diet keeps you slim. Or was it just my family that used butter so lavishly?
We have a savory pie called, depending on where you come from, Lakror or Byrek. (the y is pronounced like the German ü.) It's made in large pans, something like the size of a pizza pan. The crust is made of several layers of paper-thin dough, well coated with clarified butter. It can be filled with various mixtures: cottage & cream cheese, ground beef, lamb & onions, leeks & cottage & cream cheese, onions & cottage cheese, scallions & cottage cheese, spinach & the cheeses, squash. One might add or substitute feta cheese to some of these mixtures. My favorite is a version with a slightly different crust, involving more oil & less butter, and filled with a tomato & onion mixture. Like most Albanian dishes (like most delicious food, actually), the pie is labor intensive. But experienced Albanian cooks can make several in a few hours. In the old country, they'd probably take the pie to the local baker & have it baked in a wood-fired oven. IIRC, a great many kitchens did not and still do not have ovens.
Food gets people excited, and we tend to have strong opinions. As I trolled the Internet, looking for recipes & pictures, I came upon this lively discussion.
One of the comments seems to refer to some recipes I found here.
I too found the recipes odd. My family does not put cinnamon in baklava, for instance, and I never heard of anyone putting mint in the meatballs (qoftë). Maybe someone somewhere confused mint with parsley, and the error traveled round the Internet, as often happens.
Of course, everyone expects the food to taste the way Mum or Gram made it or the way it tasted in Korcë or Tirana or Permet or Pogradec or wherever one's family came from. But Albania is very mountainous and used to have vast stretches of swampland. Villages tended to be isolated. Thus, even though it's a small country with a small population, there's tremendous variety in the cuisine and in the way any one dish is prepared. I have a tattered cookbook put together decades ago by the local church. It has three different methods for making the Lakror/Byrek crust–and the various members of my family who make it not only don't make it any of these ways, but do it differently from one another. And equally deliciously in their separate ways, by the way.
If you'd like another fine example of Albanian Heart Punch Execution Cooking, check out perpeq.
I leave you with a dish my mother makes at holidays, a sweet stuffing called Drop (the o is a longish one, like the o in adore). I have clear memories of breaking up the stale bread for my grandmother, who was very particular about the kind of bread and the size pieces it had to be. She never used or wrote a recipe. Neither does my mother. This one comes from a church cookbook, and I think it may be a good starting point:
2 loaves day old bread
1-1/2 cups butter
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
sugar (Mum adds secret sweet ingredients she wonât reveal even to her children)
Break bread into small pieces. Melt butter in large pot. Add bread and cook until golden brown. Add raisins, nuts, and sugar. Serve with turkey or chicken. Note: For more flavor, add two tablespoons of turkey or chicken drippings.
Since I haven't a holiday book to give away, I'll let the winning commenter choose a Loretta Chase book from those I have available.