Saturday, December 05, 2009

Collecting Recipe Cards While You Travel

As you travel, you may find interesting postcards and note paper with recipes. These are fun to send to friends and relatives who enjoy cooking and collecting recipes. You also may want to accumulate them yourself.

When I tour various areas of the country, I often look for post cards with regional recipes on them. Some are tasty and others are "far out." Some cards I add to my collection; others I send to friends who want to try new recipes.

Auntie's Note Cards

My aunt, who loved cooking and
recipe collecting, often seemed to find stationery and note paper with recipes and pictures of food. Years ago, when my husband was an Air Force pilot and we lived far from the area where I'd grown up, my aunt wrote me frequently.

So many of her notes contained these pictures of food, cooking utensils, and recipes. "I've tried this one, " she might add. "It's good." These were just like the notes I later found in the margins of her cooking notebook I acquired.

Recipes and Booklets, Too

In addition to cards and note paper, you may find yourself looking for regional cookbooks, with recipes typical of that area. I often discover these and add to my collection or give as gifts to those who enjoy such items.

Each area of the country has its unique foods and cultural customs. As you travel, check out the postcards with regional foods and recipes or note cards and stationery with a culinary theme. Sometimes by combining these with a jar of jelly, cookie cutter, or special tea cup you'll create a thoughtful gift for someone in your life.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Try Tempting Teasers from the Food Bloggers

Try some of these tempting teasers from the group of writers called the Food Bloggers:

Ironstone - Dinnerware with Memories Mary Emma, at Country Kitchen, relates the memories connected with the ironstone platters her mother used for serving family meals. You, too, can write down your family memories associated with dinnerware past and present.

Looks like Playing with Polymer Clay to Eileen Eileen challenges you to watch this great YouTube video by “fondant artist”, Robin Hassett, and tell her if it doesn’t look like playing with clay to you. Food can be art too!

Real Food Fast! Once you've tried risotto, it's hard to go back to plain rice!

Reuben Casserole A new twist on an old favorite.
What's your favorite?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ironstone - Dinnerware with Memories

“Here are the old white dinner platters Mother served roasts, stews, apple dumplings and roast chicken on,” I remarked, when I discovered them in a pantry closet. I was sorting belongings in the home where I’d spent my childhood.

My mom had developed Alzheimer’s, so we found it necessary to move her to our home 275 miles away. Finding these three large oval white ironstone platters, two chipped and well used, the other, a rectangular one with narrow brown border in better condition, brought back memories of foods served on them and the occasions Mother used them.

Ironstone has always interested me because I thought Mother’s large platters and a few other items she had were attractive. These were heavy and durable, and just right for serving a large family. There were seven or eight of us at meals, unless friends or relatives stopped by to add to the crowd.

History of Ironstone

This type of dinnerware, opaque earthenware, first was produced in the early 1800s. It originally substituted for costly Chinese porcelain and bone china. Ironstone, a utilitarian ware, was very durable and not easily chipped.

Much ironstone was undecorated and designed in angular and octagonal shapes popular between 1840 and 1860. Potters began making American ironstone in quantity in the 1860s.

Usually ironstone carried the name of the maker and often had the word Ironstone, Opaque china, Stone china, or Granite imprinted on the back. There is nothing on Mother’s platters. Therefore, hers must have been very ordinary ironstone.

I don’t know where Mother acquired them. Were they wedding gifts? Or were they platters Grandma once used and handed on.?

Foods Served on Mother’s Ironstone

However, I recall some of the meals Mother served on these ironstone platters. These included pot roast, beef stew, chicken and dumplings, roast chicken, apple dumplings, baked ham and other foods.

Mother cooked these meals in the oven of the wood stove or on top. Some, such as stew, simmered in the black iron pot.

As I recall these meals, I also picture in my mind, our family sitting around the kitchen table…Father, Mother, four children, the hired man, and after World War II, my uncle who boarded with us. If a friend stopped by at meal time, there always was room for an extra plate.


Brown 1 pound ground beef and ½ to 1 diced onion. Add 1 can cream of mushroom soup (low salt and low fat if you’re watching these items in your diet). Simmer at least 10 minutes. Just before serving, stir in ¾ cup sour cream and heat until warm.

Place steamed rice on the ironstone platter, which has been warmed. Then pour the stroganoff over this. You also can use noodles or mashed potatoes.

©2006 Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen researches and writes about foods and food history from her home in New Hampshire, USA or while traveling.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spring Ideas from The Food Bloggers

20 Last Minute Spring and Easter Party Treat Ideas Check these out, they're not just for Easter several will work for a Spring celebration.

Nighttime Noshing: Success of Sorts Jean hasn't lost any more of those ugly extra pounds, but she has some major good news to share from the "battle of the bulge" battlefront.

Real Food Fast! What's in season now?

The Joys of Keeping a "Mom's" Journal Mary Emma, here at Country Kitchen, tells of her enjoyment when journaling about her experiences as a mom.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Joys of Keeping a "Mom's" Journal

“Keeping a journal about our children is one of the best gifts we can give them,” one mother remarked. She said she was trying to preserve her family’s experiences.

Many of us have good intentions of keeping a journal about the joys and challenges of raising our children. With the first child, we often begin a baby book, then with more children, or as the years go by, we do less and less.

The same happens with a journal. I began writing about our daughter in detail, then found that life became busier, and my writing often tapered off. I got caught up in a quiltmaking business, writing assignments, helping my husband with his business, caring for ailing parents.

However, I did squeeze in some writing time…jottings in notebooks, letters to my mom (which she thankfully saved), and incidents related in my newspaper columns or travel articles. As I look back, I’m so glad I did find time to write something down.

Scrapbooking Journal

Along with jotting memories in a journal, you can incorporate this into a scrapbook with photos of memorable times and experiences. You also can add sketches to your journal and scrapbook pages.

One way I’m trying to keep a record of yearly memories is by building a scrapbook around the annual Christmas letters I write to friends and family. Some people add photos to these letters (so much easier in these days of digital cameras and computers).

This Christmas letter gives a recap of the year gone by and you can add to it as you have time. I also like to keep the letters and photos sent to me by family members and include them in the scrapbook.

Adding Recipes

You may want to incorporate recipes of favorite foods into your journal. I often collect recipes as I travel.

NAVAJO TACOS – On a business trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we were introduced to this dish. Instead of using traditional tacos, friends prepared “fry bread,” then added taco ingredients of ground beef and beans, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, diced onions and green pepper, and shredded cheese.

Mix together 2 cups flour, ½ cup instant dry milk, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder. Cut in 2 tablespoons shortening until coarse crumbs appear. Then stir in ¼ cup water and mix until the dough forms a ball.

Put the dough on a floured board and knead 2 to 3 minutes. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. Shape each portion into a ball and pat out until it’s about 6-inches round. Cover with plastic as you wait to fry.

Heat salad oil to 375 degrees F. in a pan at least 9-inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. Oil should be about ¾ inch deep. Cook each round of dough in this, turning once, until puffy and browned. Place cooked dough on paper towel lined cookie sheets and keep warm in 200 degree F. oven until ready to serve. (You can make these ahead, chill in air tight package, then heat on baking sheet at 375 degrees F. about 5 minutes.)

©2005 Mary Emma Allen

Friday, April 03, 2009

Help for Your Cooking Blog Just a Book Away

Do you want to write a cooking blog? However, you feel you need more guidance in doing this. Or you may want to enhance the blog you already have.

Check out Susan Gunelius's Google Blogger for Dummies. Here you'll find helpful instructions for setting up your Blogger blog, as well for enhancing blogs you already have. Learn about monetizing your blogs, too.

Read more about Google Blogger for Dummies in my review at Blisstree.

Since blogging is the wave of the present and future, you'll join in the excitement by establishing a blog of your own...with Susan's assistance.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Growing Your Victory Garden

I recently read that the term "victory" garden (used during World War II) is so outdated. Instead, we need to refer to our gardens this year as "recession" gardens as we try to recession proof our food budgets by growing foods.

I still like to use the term "victory." We are going to be victorious. Our gardens will help our budgets and aid us on the way to victory.

If we continue to program our minds with "recession, recession, recession," we have no chance of getting out of the present economic downturn. So by continually referring to our gardens as "recession" ones, we'll only dig ourselves deeper into a hole.

So grow yourself a garden to victory!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Add Variety to Your Pie Crusts

Crumb, nut, and coconut pie crusts are popular variations to try with your family and friends when you tire of eating the familiar pastry made with flour, shortening, salt, and water. Many of these crust variations are baked first and used as a shell; others you fill and bake. Often these non-traditional pie crusts are used for fancy party type desserts. However, they can add a festive touch to an ordinary meal as well.

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUSTS are a more familiar type, made with crushed graham crackers, butter or other shortening, perhaps a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg and nutmeats. As far back as the 1800s, when the Shakers practiced their culinary arts, graham crusts were used. Vanilla or chocolate wafers or ginger snaps are substituted by some cooks for graham crackers in these fancy pie crust recipes.

GRAHAM CRACKER/WALNUT CRUST is one variation. Mix together 2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs and 2/3 cup chopped walnut meats (pecans can be substituted). Mix in 1/8 cup melted butter or margarine and 1 unbeaten egg white. Press into bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350degrees F. for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool before filling.

CEREAL CRUSTS also are popular. Frequently CORN FLAKES are used for these. Measure 1 cup crushed corn flakes, 1/3 cup margarine, and 2 tablespoons sugar into 9-inch pie pan. Place in 350 degree F. oven for 5 minutes. Remove and mix thoroughly; then press against sides and bottom of pan; chill before filling.

COOKIE CRUST - For a festive crust, use rolled refrigerator cookies,either ones you purchase or those you've made and rolled yourself. Sugar cookies are the ones most commonly used. However chocolate and chocolate chip cookies go well with some fillings, depending on your taste.

Grease lightly and sprinkle with sugar the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Using a roll of refrigerated cookie dough, cut cookies into1/8-inch slices. Overlap slices around sides of pan to form a scalloped edge; line bottom with more slices. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown. Any puffiness should flatten as crust cools.

WHEAT GERM CRUST - This may be a nutritious crust you'd like to try. Mix together 1 cup wheat germ, 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 cup softened butter or margarine. Press the mixture evenly on bottom and sides of 9-inch pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes until set. Cool before adding afavorite filling. Vanilla or banana cream is especially good.

COCONUT CRUSTS are tasty with cream and chiffon fillings. Spread 2 tablespoons softened butter or margarine evenly on bottom and sides of 9-inch pie pan. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut into pan and press evenly into the butter. Bake slowly at 300 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes, until crust is lightly browned. Cool before filling.

(c)2004 Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen searches for old and new recipes to share with her readers. She also writes children’s stories and cooks with her grandchildren.)________________________________________________________________

Friday, March 06, 2009

Food Blogger Delights for You to Try

Take a look at these delights contributed by the Food Bloggers. There also are some cooking gadget ideas.

Chicken in Red Curry An easy, delicious curry with chicken and vegetables, served with rice.

Cooking Gadgets Would you like to get your pressure cooker out of the box? Sign up with Cooking Gadgets to win a free DVD!

Finding Food Memories in Community Cookbooks Mary Emma at Country Kitchen reminisces about food memories she finds in cookbooks of earlier days.

Nighttime Noshing: Getting Back on Track Jean had her first slip in the battle to lose the six ugly extra pounds she put on last year. And it was a biggie!

Plan Now For Summer Grilling With the proper planning your garden can be a great source for delicious summer grilling.

White Chocolate Chip Cranberry Cookies Delicious, easy cookies with white chocolate chips,cranberries and pecans


Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Often we're asked to participate in cookbook projects organized by our church, a community organization, a nursing home, a literacy association,or some other group as a fund raising project. When you participate in these endeavors, you'll help your organization or cause, see your name and recipe in print, and leave memories for your family.

I realized I have food memories in several community cookbooks in my collection. These books include recipes contributed by my mom, my mother-in-law, my aunt and myself, along with friends of my childhood.It was enjoyable to see our names and recipes in print when the cookbooks were produced. However, now that my mom, aunt, and mother-in-law are no longer living, I appreciate these cookbooks for the memories they evoke.

Mother’s Church Cookbook

I remember my mom’s excitement when she asked me for contributions to the 1974 Poughquag Cookbook, compiled by members and friends of the church she attended. I was living halfway across the country but responded to her request with a recipe for Apple Cake.

Now as I browse through Mother’s copy, well-used with stains and drops of batter, I come across names of friends from the town (Poughquag, NY) of my youth. A best friend’s mother contributed recipes. She was a great cook and meals at her home were fun times.

I see a recipe of my aunt’s which brings back memories of visits to her home and the family get-togethers we enjoyed there. Another lady was one of my Sunday School teachers. Her Poppy Seed Cake topped the list of my favorites at community suppers.

Parish Potpourri

My mother-in-law was thrilled when her favorite recipes appeared in the cookbook compiled by her church called Parish Potpourri. She knew of my interest in food and cooking so gave me a copy as a Christmas gift that year.

This, too, is a treasure because of Mum’s recipes. Browsing through the cookbook evokes memories of Mum’s excitement at being published, stories of her friends who contributed, and new recipes she tried from the cookbook when we visited.

Nursing Home Collection

Family Favorites Cookbook brings back memories of my mom’s days at the nursing home. Although this could have been a sad time in our lives as she journeyed through Alzheimer’s, I have fond recollections of visits with my grandchildren to bring my mother happiness.

For this cookbook, recipes were collected from residents, their families,and the staff. Contributors’ favorites and the stories accompanying them leave a legacy for friends and future generations of family.

I felt honored when asked to write the introduction for this cookbook. If you have community cookbooks in which family members have contributed recipes, stop a moment and write down the memories connected with them. Save the cookbooks as part of your family heritage.

Try this SAUSAGE/MACARONI CASSEROLE - Cook one 8-oz. package elbow macaroni in salted water about 8 minutes; drain well. Brown 1 pound bulk sausage and drain off excess fat.

Sauté 1/2 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup green pepper strips in 2 tablespoons sausage fat. (Or spray frying pan with spray butter.) Stir in 3 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly add 2 cups milk; cook over low heat, stirring until mixture has thickened. Add 1/2 the sausage and 11/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese. Combine this with the macaroni.

Pour into a greased casserole. Top with remaining sausage and 1/2 cup cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 25 minutes, until heated through and top has browned.

(c)2004 Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen enjoys researching food history and collecting family recipes. She also has compiled a family cookbook and is writing an instructional manual on how others can do this. If you're interested leave a message in the comments below.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Country Kitchen Blogger Published in Anthology

Country Kitchen blogger, Mary Emma Allen has stories featured in the new release, Eternally Yours, an anthology of poetry, light essays, devotions and meditations, edited by Mary Ellen Grisham and published by Xulon Press.

Featuring some of the best Christian writers on the Internet, this book represents work that has appeared in the Eternal Ink E-zine since it’s inception in 1999.

In addition, Mary gives presentations and teaches workshops at schools, libraries, writers’ conferences, and for other groups. Some of her talks include topics such as Alzheimer's and caregiving, quilt history and quiltmaking, New Hampshire history, and writing.

I was pleased when Ms. Grisham selected some of my stories for inclusion in this anthology. It's exciting to encourage and inspire others with my writing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Treats from the Food Bloggers

The Food Bloggers are a group of us who write about food, recipes and related topics. I hope you enjoy our selection this week.

A Homemade Fruit and Yogurt Parfait Use fresh or frozen fruit to make a midwinter healthy treat.

Busy Family Meals The best chocolate cookies Cyndi has ever had. Ever!

Butterfinger Buzz A review of Nestle's new caffeinated candy bar -- a twist on an old favorite!

Cooking Gadgets Cyndi has two Smith's Edge knife sharpeners to give away this weekend!

Mardi Gras Cocktail Recipe A delicious recipe for your Mardi Gras celebration

Quilled Pastry Hearts with Key Lime Curd You can make quilled hearts out of paper or get really creative and make them from frozen puff pastry.

School Lunch Variations Mary Emma at Country Kitchen chats about school lunches past and present and gives you a recipe for Mayonnaise Cake.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day from Country Kitchen

Happy Valentine's Day!

May this be a special day for you.

We have been enjoying Valentine's Day flowers, cards and candy. This was a fun day at school yesterday with the Valentine parties.

Today the children in our household are enjoying it, too.

Have you made anything special for Valentine's Day?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Discovering Stories Behind Culinary Memorabilia

Salt shakers, mixing bowls, egg beaters. refrigerator dishes, rollingpins, spice tins, and juicers may seem rather ordinary kitchen items. However, it’s usually not a monetary value that’s important (althoughthis could be there), but the memories they evoke.

Sometimes you'll come across these items in an antique shop, auction, ora book on collectibles. Or you may be cleaning out a home when a parent must move to a smaller abode. Immediately they'll bring back memories of family occasions....dining,cooking, gift giving....which can be humorous, nostalgic, or bittersweet.

Green Jadite

When I came across a green Jadite salt shaker my mom had saved, I recalled this set we'd used throughout my childhood. These were round, about five inches high with an metal screw top. Raised ridges decorated the lower half of each shaker. The glass was an opaque milky green.

We used them every day and didn't value them as we did the gold coloredglass ones my grandparents received as a 50th Wedding Anniversary gift .Those were kept for "company."

However, when I saw the Jadite shaker it brought back memories of meals around the farmhouse kitchen table. I wondered where to find a matching pepper shaker and discovered one in an antique shop. Then I became curious to learn more about these items and found they probably were made by the Jeannette Glass Company.

I also discovered there were many other Jadite items for kitchen use...other shapes of shakers, canisters, juicers, butter dishes, refrigerator dishes, mixing bowls, match holders, and pitchers. The same designs were made in other colors. While attractive, they don't evoke the memories the Jadite does.

Green Mixing Bowls

I received a set of Fire-King green ribbed mixing bowls as a wedding shower gift 49 years ago. Although actually rather plain to look at, they served in our kitchen for years.

One by one, they got broken and now we're using more modern ware. However, when I see these bowls in shops or books of collectibles, I recall that wedding shower of kitchen gifts my aunt and future mother-in-law planned. They took me completely by surprise.

Collecting Memories

As I look through antique shops (a pasttime my daughter and I enjoy) and books on collectibles, I come across other items we used in our home orthose of friends. Some of these I collect for our home today as part of our culinary heritage. Others I include in my memory writing and scrapbooking.

Not that we're going to live in the past, but pull from it joys and lessons learned we can pass along to future generations.

Memories Among the Recipes

CHICKEN DIVAN is a dish my family enjoys. My daughter mentioned not long ago that someone had asked her for the recipe.

Cook 2 small or one large package broccoli spears until just tender.Either cook 4 whole chicken breasts or use the equivalent of leftover cooked chicken cut into pieces. Lay broccoli in a 9 x 13-inch bakingdish. Lay chicken over broccoli.

Mix together 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1 can cream of chicken soup,1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 small can mushroom pieces. Pour over chicken and broccoli.

Bake at 350 degrees F. about 45 minutes, until heated through and bubbly.(For lower calorie meal, use low fat soups, cheese, and sour cream.)

(c)2004 Mary Emma Allen

(I encourage my readers to record their memories for their family heritage. I also teach classes in "Writing Your Family Stories" and "Scrapbooking.")

Will Obama Popularize Tea?

Apparently Obama prefers tea, hot and cold, to other beverages. Will this increase tea drinking and tea sales?

According to the Bigelow Tea blog, President Obama Favors Organic Tea, especially chilled Berry Teas. So they and other tea companies apparently are introducing new organics.

Now I have questions...How are organic teas different? What's so special? Where are they raised? How are they processed?

If you have answers, let me know.

Monday, February 09, 2009

School Lunch Variations

“We took hot potatoes for lunch in the winter and cold ones the rest of the year,” my mom related about school lunches in the early 1900s. “We held the potatoes in our pockets. This kept our hands warm as we walked to school,” she continued.

(They walked three miles each way to school and back home. Yes, up hill and down, because I’ve traveled the route, but in a car, when I visited Mother’s girlhood home.)

Then in the warmer months, Mother, her sister and two brothers carried cold potatoes, sliced and spread with butter. Sometimes they took a sandwich made from homemade bread and meat or cheese. If there was no meat or cheese, Mother, her sister and brothers had simply bread and butter.

There were no hot lunches served in the one-room schools of the early 1900s. There were none in the one-room school I attended during my first through fourth grades.).

No, my sister, brothers and I didn’t eat boiled potatoes for our lunches. Instead we had sandwiches, milk or water in a thermos, and cookies. If apples or oranges were in season, Mother might include these. More likely it was an apple because my dad had an orchard, along with dairy farm. Oranges were treats around Christmas time.

Hot Lunches of Mid-Century

When I began attending the distant, larger school, in 5th grade, I enjoyed hot lunches. However, since there was no reduced price or free lunch program, I took cold lunches when my parents couldn’t afford the school lunch for us four.

We never thought we were deprived. It was the accepted practice, even when we might have only bread and butter, or bread and mayonnaise. My brothers liked bread and catsup when other sandwich fillings were scarce. Mother generally had homemade cookies on hand. Those from the store were a great treat.

Today’s Lunches

Now when I see children with all types of snacks and goodies from the store, pre-packaged items to heat in the lunchroom microwave, and bottles of juice, I marvel that we survived. Somehow most of us were healthy, worked hard on the farms, and generally did well in school.

We would have thought we were in “lunch heaven” if we’d had the convenience foods youngsters have in their lunch boxes today…and then throw away. (I know because I often have lunchroom duty when I’m substitute teaching.)

MAYONNAISE CAKE – Mother, and later I, often made this cake to eat at home and for our lunches. Frequently we didn’t frost it.

Sift 2 cups flour sifted with 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda, and 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder. Mix together with 4 tablespoons powdered chocolate, 1 cup sugar. Add 1 cup cold water, 1 cup mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix well.

Pour into greased and floured tube pan or two 8 or 9-inch cake pans (if you’re going to frost cake) or large sheet pan. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. for layer or sheet pans, longer for tube pan, until inserted pick comes out clean.

When cool, ice or sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
(c)2009 Mary Emma Allen

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Valentine's Day Parties & Celebrations

What are you doing for Valentine's Day? Are you planning any parties? Do you have memories of parties and tea parties of your childhood?

This was an exciting time when I was a youngster, with parties at school and at home. My mom made this an occasion for us four children, even though she was busy with farm work and housework.

The schools still have Valentine parties. Where I substitute teach, the youngsters in grades K-5 are looking forward to a special afternoon on the day before Valentine's Day because they won't be in school on the 14th. They also are planning a Valentine's Day tea for parents and youngsters after school on the 13th.

Adults often celebrate with a special dinner for two, giving flowers and gifts. A friend, who works in a florist shop, says this is the busiest day of the year for them. They start preparing and taking orders two weeks ahead.

Senior centers and nursing homes usually have Valentine's Day events. Sometimes this is introduced by card making, followed up by card exchanges. Perhaps there's a party with family and friends invited. Here there may be tea and punch and goodies in red and white and silver made into heart shapes.

What are you doing for Valentine's Day in your family and your life?

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Fascination of Tea Infusers and Tea Flowers

I like to try different types of tea and collect tea accessories. Whenever I’ve written of tea and tea customs, I often received responses from readers who tell me about their favorite teas, tea time rituals and whether they collect items associated with tea making.

My daughter gave me a glass mug with tea infuser. I’d seen one of these…a glass tea pot with infuser when Jim and I had dinner with friends. But I hadn’t realized they came as individual tea makers.

Tea Flowers

The package also included a “tea flower” consisting of green tea scented with jasmine flowers. This made delicious tea, actually cup after cup to keep me going the whole afternoon.

In checking out information about tea flowers, I discovered they’re tea leaves hand sewn together in various bud shapes using different types of tea. When these flowers are steeped in hot water, they unfurl into attractive leafy arrangements. If you use glass tea pots or cups, you can watch the flowers take shape.

Tea Infusers

Tea infusers actually consist of almost any container that holds loose tea you can immerse in boiling water. Some of ehe more recent ones consist of glass or plastic inserts that fit into the glass, rather than metal. The one Beth gave me has small slits in the bottom for the water to seep through.

I’ve been experimenting with tea bags and loose tea, trying to decide what works best. I’ve enjoyed using some Earl Grey loose tea I had on hand.

Infuser Facts & Suggestions

In my research, I found a few facts about tea infusers.

*Infusers come in many sizes. Some fit tea pots and others are made for individual cups.
*Infusers are made in many materials.
*Infusers should be fairly large for your teapot or cup.
*To make good tea, the tea needs to have space to “swim” and the water to circulate.
*Tiny infusers made in novelty shapes will crowd your tea so the water doesn’t circulate through the tea leaves well.
*You should have at least twice as much space as utilized by a heaping teaspoon of dry loose tea leaves.

Now I wonder about those cute little tea infusers (sometimes called “tea balls”) I’ve been collecting. Some are no larger than a teaspoon of loose tea. One that I have is shaped like a teaspoon with a snap over top and will only hold a teaspoonful of tea.

Tea Time Accompaniments

CRANBERRY NUT BREAD - Grate rind of 1 orange and squeeze out all the juice into a measuring cup; add enough boiling water to make ¾ cup. Add the orange rind and 2 tablespoons butter, stirring to melt the butter.

Beat 1 egg in another bowl and gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating well. Add dry ingredients (2 cups white flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda), 1 cup chopped raw cranberries, ½ cup chopped walnuts, and the orange mixture; blend well.

Spoon into a greased, floured loaf pan or 8 x 8 x 2-inch pan. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees for loaf pan and 30-40 minutes for other pan, or until bread tests done. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

©2007 Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen writes from her multi-generational home in NH. )

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pioneer Foods Inspired by Sarah Jane's Story

As I develop one of my favorite stories, “Sarah Jane’s Daring Deed,” into a picture book, I consider recipes this 10-year old girl and her family might have prepared in their log cabin in the woods. This would be a good activity to accompany the story when youngsters are reading it, either in picture book format or the longer version in the anthology, Tales of Adventure & Discovery.

I wrote this story, which has appeared in four children’s magazines and the anthology, after researching the history of the Plymouth, NH region for a series on New Hampshire history. It’s also a favorite story with children when I give presentations in schools and libraries.

As I read about the early pioneers while doing research for the history columns, I wondered what life would be like for youngsters in those days. Thus, Sarah Jane’s story evolved.

What Would Her Mother Prepare?

So, what would Mother have prepared over the fireplace? They had to raise most of their food, bringing items like sugar and coffee and tea from stores in Concord (45 miles away) or even Boston (more than 100 miles).

Their flour probably was ground at a local mill from grain they grew themselves. The girls and Mother gathered and dried berries for winter use. Sarah Jane was engaged in picking berries when the story opens. (I was familiar with picking berries from prickly bushes in the hot sun during my childhood on a farm. Although not in the 1770s!)

The family’s meat would consist from what Father and brother Steven caught or shot in the surrounding forest. This might include deer, bear, moose, rabbit and raccoon. The family also would make clothing and blankets from the fur and skins. Fish from nearby streams or river could expand the diet.

Drying Berries – In those days, before canning and freezing, pioneers dried berries and fruit to use during the winter months. Sarah Jane picks and dries berries during the story.

When cooking, Mother simply might stir the dried berries into her recipes. Or she could soak them in water to plump them before use.

Corn Meal – In early pioneer days, the settlers took corn and wheat to the local mills to be ground. The mill was one of the first businesses established in a settlement. From the ground corn, Mother might make corn bread, corn mush and corn cakes. Find your favorite Corn Bread recipe for your pioneer meal. (However, you can bake yours in the oven or in a skillet unless you want to try it over a fireplace.)

Dried Corn – The pioneers also dried corn kernels, on the cob or shelled, to save for winter food. To use, Sarah Jane’s mother would soak the kernels and boil them until they were tender. Then add cream or butter and milk of desired amount, salt and pepper to taste (if she had them).

Corn Potato Soup – To make a soup, she might add cubed, cooked potatoes to the creamed corn mixture. (Or cube raw potatoes and cook them with the corn.) Then stir in more milk until soup consistency.

Succotash – In summertime, Mother might make succotash by cutting fresh corn from the cob and cooking it with lima beans from the garden. Add some butter and small amount of milk to this. Some cooks only add butter.

©2009 Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen researches and writes from her multi-generational home in Plymouth when she isn’t traveling. Visit her heritage quilting site at:; also: . )

Monday, January 26, 2009

Soups & Stews & Winter Foods

With the weather below zero the past few days in our part of New Hampshire, thoughts turn to warm, easy to prepare meals. Soups and stews long have been a winter tradition in my family. They’re filling, easy to prepare, a good way to use up leftovers and a method of stretching the budget.

So leftover meats (chicken, turkey, beef and pork) go into the brew, along with veggies that may be left from a meal. My soups never taste the same nor follow an exact recipe.
That’s the way my mother made soups and stews…using what she had on hand. Usually they taste delicious except when we try a new ingredient so may not turn out just the way we envision.

Main Meal Pies

I also like to make chicken and beef pies with leftover foods. Usually I simply prepare them with only a top crust. This results in fewer calories and eliminates a soggy bottom crust. (Actually my hubby often makes the crust while I stir up the filling for the deep-dish pie. He’s perfected this phase of cooking!)

I like to serve cole slaw or tossed salad with meat and vegetable pies. For anyone who doesn’t like a meat pie, simply use vegetables and perhaps some tofu.

Soups from Leftovers

Soups provide a good way to use leftovers so they don’t go to waste. One friend keeps a container in her freezer. Into this go leftover vegetables and meats. When the container is full, she thaws the contents to make soup.

By adding chicken or beef stock, some noodles, potatoes or rice, seasonings, and other vegetables if necessary, she had a filling meal for autumn and winter days. You might call this a modern day version of my mom’s black pot into which she stirred leftovers.

Chicken Soup

For my chicken soup, I cut up the leftover chicken breast and added it to four cups of water. Then I stirred in cut up carrots, a diced potato, a diced onion, a handful (about ½ cup) of brown rice and ½ cup frozen green peas. I added seasonings…salt and pepper and a dash of poultry seasoning to taste.

Because the soup seemed too thick as it simmered, I added more water until it was of the desired consistency. Cook until vegetables are tender. This is good made ahead (early afternoon in my case) and set in the refrigerator until supper/dinner time. Then reheat.

This is the type of recipe that you can vary depending on what you have on hand and what ingredients you like to eat. For instance, I simply couldn’t tolerate (I guess, unless I was starving) beets in my soup. Someone else might not like the carrots or onions Jim and I do in our soups.

What are your favorite soups for winter?

©2009 Mary Emma Allen
(Mary Emma Allen writes from her multigenerational home in NH. This morning she’s contemplating warm foods to cook today when the temperature is hovering around zero at mid-day. )

Monday, January 19, 2009

Old Kitchen Woodenware Stirs Memories

As I was sorting through some memorabilia, I came across an oblong wooden bowl, about 18 inches in length and 12 inches in width. As I held it in my hands, this wooden chopping bowl evoked many childhood memories. Scarred from chopping many foods, this bowl had been involved for preparing numerous meals.

My thoughts drifted back to cooking in the farmhouse kitchen with its wood fired stove. Many times, I chopped cabbage, carrots and onions for coleslaw or potatoes and meat for hash, in that bowl.

We couldn’t run to the store for ready-chopped cabbage or cans of hash. Everything was handmade and often mixed in the oblong wooden bowl or a smaller round one Mother had.

Bowls of Great Variety

The wooden bowls of early America were of great variety, ranging from small salt dishes to round and oval bowls for preparing and even serving the main dish at mealtime. Large round and oblong ones, often 20 inches in length were used as chopping and mixing bowls.

Not many of these old bowls exist today. Those that do are considered antiques and collectible. They were made for daily use, so wore out.

However, if you have one from childhood, treasure it, more for its nostalgic value than anything monetary. It probably will have nicks and scratches from the metal chopping tool, but that gives it “character,” as someone once told me of old woodenware and furniture.

The Early Wooden Bowls

The pioneers shaped the earliest bowls with simple tools, such as chisel, knife and plane. Later, especially in the 18th century, as colonial tradesmen began to make woodenware, they used lathes for turning the insides of bowls, cups, and mortars. From this came the name of “turner’s ware” for such items.

Another early name for wooden items was “treenware.” This supposedly came from “tree,” from which they were made. The men who made the wooden items for a living, whether kitchen utensils, boxes, stools, etc. by lathe and hand, were called “coopers.”

HASH BROWN CASSEROLE might be considered a variation of hash, but without the meat. However, you could add chopped corned beef if you had any.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat. Stir in 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese until melted. In bowl, mix together 1 pint sour cream, ½ cup chopped onion, ¼ tsp. pepper. Add to cheese mixture. Lightly stir in 30 oz. frozen hash brown potatoes.

Spread this mixture into a baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes, until potatoes are heated through and top is bubbly.

©2008 Mary Emma Allen