Sunday, May 29, 2016

Oblong hush puppies? Apparently

Recipe on postcard is shown inside a cookbook
This recipe was found on a postcard tucked inside a vintage
cookbook from the 1920s. (Photo: Gerri Bauer)
The summer grilling season has officially started, so of course I'm thinking about food. More than usual, I mean. In Florida, grilling season runs from January to December.

Floridians have been cooking outdoors forever. In pioneer days, outdoor cooking was done to keep heat out of the house and lessen the risk of fire. Kitchens were often in detached buildings, for the same reasons.

But whether one cooked indoors or out, over a wood stove or a fire pit, certain traditional foods often showed up on the menu. One such food is the hush puppy, a corn-based fritter flavored with onion and deep-fried. I long assumed hush puppies of yore resembled hush puppies of today - small rounds about the size of golf balls. A hand-written heirloom recipe I found tucked inside an antique cookbook reminds me never to assume.

The recipe for Tallahassee Hush Puppies is on a postcard mailed in 1949 to a Mrs. Edwin Haynes of Canton, N.C., from someone named Edna, obviously a relative or friend on first-name basis. The ingredients are familiar: cornmeal, baking power, chopped onion, milk, salt. The shocker is that Edna instructs the cook to hand mold her dough into oblong pones. She even gives specific dimensions.

I realize I'm a Yankee, but I've lived in Florida for many, many years. I have never seen an oblong hush puppy. Edna notes that she found her recipe in a book of old Southern recipes. Makes me wonder what the original source is. I'd love to know.

The recipe is below, if you want to try it out. First, can I just say that finding such a handwritten note tucked inside a vintage cookbook I bought at a flea market is like finding buried treasure.  And it wasn't the only surprise I found in The Rumford Complete Cook Book, by Lily Haxworth Wallace, "lecturer, teacher, and writer on domestic science."

Numerous penciled recipes cover blank pages in just about every chapter. They're all written in cursive, too. There's even a ration card used as a bookmark.

I'm not sure which previous owner left their mark for later generations to find. First published by the Rumford Company in 1908, the cookbook was popular enough to go into second and third printings. My version is from 1928 and bears signatures of four owners, including me. I'm guessing "Thos. E. Haynes" was the first owner, as his name is written splashily, on an angle, across half the inside cover. The rest of us share part of the opposite page.

I still haven't read through all the additional recipes that someone - possibly Mrs. Haynes - penciled throughout the book. She also jotted notes here and there. One of my favorites is on page 118. "Good try this" is written next to the recipe for French Rolls, with an arrow drawn to the recipe name for added emphasis. Good recipes know no eras. I think I'll give those rolls a try. But first, the hush puppies. Thanks, Edna.

2 cups corn meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups sweet milk
1/2 cup water
1 large onion chopped fine

Sift the dry ingredients together & add milk & water. Stir in chopped onion. Add more milk or meal as may be necessary to form a soft but workable dough. With the hands mold pieces of the dough in pones (oblong cakes about 5" long & 3" wide, & 3/4 thick). Fry in deep hot fat until well browned. Found this in book of old Southern recipes. - Edna

Monday, May 16, 2016

Smell the salt air, feel the ocean breeze

19th century scene showing the seawall, street, and houses in St. Augustine, Florida
Walking along the seawall, pictured here, is one of the ways
people passed the time in St. Augustine in the 19th century.
(Photo credit: Library of Congress)
Part 2 of 2

Today I revisit 19th century author and travel writer Constance Fenimore Woolson to share excerpts from some of her letters. Specifically, to share snippets from letters in which she talks about frontier Florida. She wintered in Florida in the mid-1870s. For more on Woolson herself and her contributions to the literary canon, see Part 1 of this post.

There are so many things to share, I'm going to save some for future use. Woolson's observations are wonderful windows into an earlier time. Granted, she was writing from a privileged perspective. But her sensitivity to people and place make it easy for the modern reader to step back into the past ... from air-conditioned comfort. This is Florida.

All the following excerpts are from The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson, edited by Sharon L. Dean (University Press of Florida, 2012). They reference St. Augustine except where noted.

Dec. 4, 1874 (estimate): "Then we came by cars to Jacksonville, and thence by boat to our landing, Tocoi, where an important little locomotive was 'tooting' on the dock. Think of it - a railroad to the 'ancient city'! It will soon be 'ancient' no longer."

Dec. 4, 1874 (estimate): "In the mornings she [Woolson's mother] walks on the sea wall; then she embroiders, then dinner and a nap, then the piazza, a little reading, then tea, the mail. Bezique and bed. When Clara [Woolson's sister] arrives, Bezique will be varied by cribbage."

April 17, 1876: "I am glad you liked the St. Augustine oranges. ... I myself am very fond of oranges, and you would be astonished to see how many we eat ... among the groves."

Feb. 24, 1878: "I have a row boat and row daily on the broad, still, chocolate-colored river." [St. Johns River in Hibernia]

Dec. 4, 1874 (estimate): "To day, for instance, we are sitting with open windows, there is a lovely breeze blowing in from the ocean, and the soft Florida sky is as blue as June in Ohio."

[No month] 1876: "It has been very warm here - too warm to exercise much; foggy, but I like the sea fog. It seemed so pleasant to catch the smell of salt marshes as the [railroad?] cars neared the city. Two long winters in St. Augustine have given me a great liking for salt air."

Dec. 12, 1876: "The inlet is just as blue as ever and the pine-barrens as green."

Feb. 24, 1878:  "... this [Hibernia] is an island in the St. John[s] river, a quiet pleasant place, neither so gay nor so delightful as St. Augustine, but still an epitome of peace."

May 5, 1878: "Hundreds of snakes here [Hibernia]. I saw last Thursday one, just killed in the road, 5 feet 5 inches long, 13 rattles! Moccasin snakes numerous."

Woolson bonded with Florida, in particular with St. Augustine. She retained a fondness for the area for the rest of her life. In an 1883 letter written from Venice, Italy, where she lived at the time, Woolson noted: "If I could have a little coquina cottage by the southern sea at St. Augustine, I would come home & stay forever."

Wouldn't we all.