7:00 Sunday morning -- I peeled off the crust and found this:
I mixed it with flour and water to make "a stiff (but sticky!) dough," and had to move it to a bigger bowl. This ball is about the size of a navel orange:
I was supposed to add twice as much flour as the original started with, but now that I think about it, I may have only added 1/3 cup instead of 2/3. It was early. What can I say? But anyway. At 5:30 Sunday evening, here's what how much it changed:
No, I remember now -- I added 2/3 cup of flour, and 1/3 cup water, and then had to add a bit more flour. I may be able to set my sponge tomorrow morning!
They talked about spareribs, and turkey with dressing, and baked beans, and other good things. But Almanzo said that what he liked most in the world was fried apples'n'onions.
When, at last, they went in to dinner, there on the table was a big dish of them! Mother knew what he liked best, and she had cooked it for him.
~ Farmer Boy
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Last year, during my annual reading of Laura's "Little House" series, I became obsessed with the food that was cooked in those times... I was especially obsessed with the idea of "fried apples'n'onions." I love apples. I love onions. How could I not love them fried together? I got so obsessed that I bought "The Little House Cookbook" by Barbara M. Walker, hoping the recipe would be there. It is. And what a great book! If you're into Laura's stories, and into food, like I am, it's really some fascinating reading. But I'll write more about the book in general another time.
It's apple season here. I bought some early Paula Reds at the grocery store the other day, and realized that it was time to finally try this recipe.
This is a "country" dish, seldom mentioned in cookbooks but recalled by many oldtimers. Some feel the sugar essential; others call it "a sin." If you share Almanzo's enthusiasm you might also like to try fried apples'n'onions with fried potatoes for breakfast sometime.
For six servings you will need:
bacon or salt pork, 1/2 pound, sliced
yellow onions, 6 (2 pounds)
tart apples, 6 (2 pounds)
brown sugar, 2 tablespoons
skillet, 12-inch, with cover; apple corer
Fry bacon or salt pork slices in the skillet until brown and crisp. Set them aside on a warm serving platter.
While the meat is frying, peel the onions, leaving the stems to hold for slicing. To prevent eyes from watering hold a slice of bread in your teeth while you slice the onions as thin as possible. Discard stems.
Core the apples and cut them crosswise in circles about 1/4 inch thick. Apple skins help the slices keep their shape and add color to the dish, so don't peel unless skins are tough or scarred.
Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet, then add the onion slices. Cook them over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Cover with apple slices in an even layer. Sprinkle brown sugar over all, cover the skillet, and cook until tender, a few minutes more. Stir only to prevent scorching. Remove to the warm plate with bacon or salt pork slices.
Now, since I'm a vegetarian and all, I don't have a lot of bacon or salt pork hanging around the house. I just melted a little butter in the pan before I put in the onions. And I opted to use sugar on the apples, since these early ones are pretty tart.
Look at how much it grew overnight! And yes, that's a nice crusty crust on the top. If you look back at yesterday's picture, I think you'll notice how much it's risen, and how much more dry it looks today. And it certainly had developed an interesting smell. I'll leave it alone through tonight, which will make for a total of about 60 hours, and then I'll peel off the crust in the morning, feed it, and let it ferment for another couple of days. This is getting so exciting!
For as long as I can remember, my mother has been famous in certain circles for her biscuits. When I was pretty young, she was famous within the immediate family for making what we so affectionately called "hockey pucks." They were usually served with her homemade baked beans, aka "bullets" (sorry, Mom!).
Seriously, though -- my mom used to cook some really great things when I was a kid, and she did figure out the beans eventually. As for the biscuits, the secret unfolded when she discovered Bakewell Cream -- "a leavening agent for better baking!" Bakewell Cream was invented right here, in Bangor, Maine, in the 1940s. You can read a little more about its history here. And check out this article from a recent issue of our local paper! "Apple Ledge Company of East Holden" (referred to in the article) was actually comprised of a couple my parents have been friends with for decades.
Anyway, once she learned about this "secret" ingredient, Mom perfected the biscuit making process. No more bullets and hockey pucks on Saturday nights! She eventually became the designated biscuit maker for the monthly bean dinners at her church. People couldn't get enough of her Bakewell Cream biscuits.
Here in northern New England, it's been cool, windy, and rainy for a couple of days, thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Frances. I'm not complaining -- it's just a little rain. No death or destruction, thankfully. But this weather makes me want something comforting and homey. For some reason, tonight was just screaming "biscuits, biscuits!" Would you believe that after growing up eating so many of them, I've only actually made them once? And the ones I made weren't even "Bakewells?" Shocking, I know. That all changed this evening.
Bakewell Cream Biscuits (recipe from the Bakewell Cream can!)
4 cups flour
4 tsp Bakewell Cream
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups cold milk
Mix and sift dry ingredients.
Add shortening and mix with pastry blender.
Add milk all at once, and stir quickly with a fork. (some flours may require a little more liquid to make a nice soft dough)
Turn out on floured board and knead 5 or 6 times. Roll or pat to 1/2" to 3/4" thick. Cut with biscuit cutter.
Bake at 475 for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and leave in oven for 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown.
These biscuits are extra high and light.
I consulted Mom before diving into this project. She said she uses a little more shortening and milk than the recipe calls for, because she likes the dough to be good and soft and sticky. She also sounded surprised when I read the part about baking the biscuits at 475 for 5 minutes, then turning off the oven. She just bakes them at 500 until they are done. I decided to follow the recipe closely for my first try. I measured the dry ingredients and shortening as I talked to Mom on the phone. When I hung up, I set to cutting the shortening into the flour. I don't make a lot of biscuits or pie dough, but I know enough to know that once the shortening is mixed in, the flour should have a texture more like cornmeal (mmm... cornmeal!) than flour. Mine looked a lot like flour. As I replayed the measuring sequence in my head, I realized I had only put in 1/4 cup of shortening. I remedied that situation, and continued on. I decided the dough was sticky enough for my taste with the ingredients called for. I dumped the mixture out onto a kneading mat and mushed it all together, patted it out, and cut with my biscuit cutter. Actually, I think it was a cookie cutter. It has scalloped edges. I was afraid that would affect the rising of my biscuits, but didn't really have any other choice. As you can see above, the effect was minimal. They came out really good, I think, for a first attempt! They are everything a good baking powder biscuit should be -- light and fluffy on the inside and cripsy on the outside. They are especially good split, buttered, and slathered with your favorite jam (plum for me right now!). They'll also be really good for breakfast tomorrow, toasted, buttered, and jammed.
Speaking of the phrase "baking powder biscuits," is that something you're familiar with? Or is it just a New England thing? We don't use a lot of buttermilk here, which I know is popular in southern biscuit recipes. And those biscuits from a can, you know the ones, are NOTHING like the ones we make around here. Just curious. What are biscuits like in your part of the world?