Old-Fashioned Cooking – Hasty Pudding

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In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. Just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

Although American colonists grew wheat, most of it was exported to England. Corn was the grain most likely to be found on the colonists’ tables, in corn bread, corn dodgers, corn mush and hasty pudding. You may remember this dish from the lines of the old song “Yankee Doodle:”

“Father and I went down to camp

Along with Captain Gooding

And there we saw the men and boys

As thick as hasty pudding.”

Hasty pudding was originally a mush that was slowly simmered over the open fire and topped with butter and whatever sweetener was available, such as honey, maple or sorghum syrup. This version is baked, more of a fancy dessert, and has some additions that are not strictly traditional.

Hasty Pudding

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

 

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Lightly grease a 6- or 8-cup soufflé or baking dish with butter. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat, scald the milk. While the milk is heating, pour the cream into a medium to large bowl, add the cornmeal, sugar, molasses, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Add this cream/corn meal/spice mixture to the scalded milk. Cook, whisking constantly, over medium-low heat until the pudding has thickened to the consistency of syrup (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat. In a bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Temper the eggs by slowly adding 1/2 cup of the hot cornmeal mixture to the eggs while whisking rapidly. Vigorously whisk the egg mixture into the remaining cornmeal mixture. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring until melted. Pour mixture into the prepared soufflé dish, and place dish on a shallow baking pan on the center oven rack. Pour enough HOT water into the shallow baking pan to come 2/3 of the way up the outsides of the soufflé or baking dish. Bake until pudding is set and a tester inserted close to (but not in) the center comes out clean, usually about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and remove from the water bath and let cool slightly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream or heavy cream.

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What’s in a Jar?

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Sometimes it’s fun to take a mundane object and dig a little deeper. In this case, I’m speaking of canning jars. My jars come from multiple sources: yard and garage sales, my mother’s cellar, my son-in-law’s grandmother’s garage and a few bought new. I have some we found during the process of cleaning up the old buildings here on the ranch and some that other people have given me with jellies, jams or pickles. In addition to the jars made specifically for canning, I have old glass jars that probably contained mayonnaise, pickles or any of the other foods once processed in glass jars that are now processed in plastic (which is one of the reasons I can my own — plastic leaches).

You might not know that we have Napoléon Bonaparte to thank for the canning process. He wanted a better way to store and transport food for his armies, so he (or at least the French military under his regime) sponsored a contest. A gentleman named Nicholas Appert developed canning, which was perfected in 1806. John Mason invented the grooved canning jar lid in 1858, which made the process much easier. In 1882, William Putnam invented the jars with a glass lid and metal bale that held it closed on top of a rubber gasket. Called Lightning Jars because they were easy to get into and reclose, this style was still being used in the 1960s and can sometimes be found in flea markets or garage sales. Alexander Kerr invented the first wide-mouth jar around 1903 and first used the metal lid with permanently attached rubber gasket and a separate screw-on ring.

If you take a close look at a canning jar — even from the same manufacturer — you’ll often see a distinct difference in the thickness of the glass, with older jars being thicker. Some of the older jars are also slightly tinted rather than completely clear. Antique jars were often made of colored glass. The embossed writing and logos also differ according to the age of the jar. If you have a Ball jar with the name in script, and a loop in the final “L” that reverses to make a line under the name, the jar could be over 100 years old, as that logo was used from 1900 to 1910. I have a jar that indicates it was manufactured for the Table Products Inc. Company in Los Angeles. The heavy weight makes me suspect this is an oldie — probably a mayonnaise or pickle jar — and my research indicates it was probably used by the General Foods Company in the 1930s-1940s.

 

Just think of all the hands these jars have gone through and the families they kept fed. A little bit of history on your pantry shelf.

 

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Horse and Cow Patoots

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In the ranch business, you spend a lot of time looking at animals’ rear ends or the products thereof. You’d be surprised what you can learn through a perusal of an animal’s nether quarters.

In a female, the condition of her bag is an indicator of several things. When you’re looking for signs that she is getting ready to calve, foal or lamb, you watch her bag for the swelling that indicates she is beginning to produce milk — called bagging up. Many cows, horses and sheep will also develop swelling in their teats and may even leak a little milk when they get really close to birthing. If she has a baby, you’re looking to see that the calf is sucking all teats (two in horses and sheep, four in cows). You want the skin on the teats to be smooth or slightly crinkled, but not chapped or scabbed. Flies often congregate in areas such as the folds of skin on the udder and can cause skin sores, which you’ll want to cover with ointment.

When you stand behind an animal, you can get a good idea of nutritional status and the progression of pregnancy. A healthy, well-nourished horse might show a slight curve of abdomen beyond the rump. An overweight horse will have a belly that protrudes on both sides. An animal in the middle of pregnancy will be fairly round, but as they get closer to delivery, the bottom sides of the belly will sag, looking a little bit like an upside-down heart. The vulva — opening to the birth canal — becomes looser and sags downward. Within 48 hours of delivery, the animal will often develop a dip over the loins just in front of the hipbones as the baby shifts downward into the pelvis.

Last but certainly not least — manure. An animal’s manure is a good indicator of health. In ruminants such as cows, it can tell you if they need more or less green feed, for example. Runny manure can mean an overload of fresh green stuff. Diarrhea — more watery than manure that is just a little runny — could signal an infection or intestinal problem. Cows that feel sick or ate something that disagreed with them are likely to drink lots more water to flush themselves out. Healthy cows have very little manure on their backsides, as the oil in their coats helps it slide off quickly, especially once it dries. A sick cow is more likely to be dirty, with manure on her tail and hind legs.

Manure from animals of the same species should look similar if they are all being fed the same or running on the same pasture. A cow pat (the official term for it) should be about the consistency of canned pumpkin. It should be roughly circular, although the shape depends on whether the animal was moving or standing still at the time she dropped a pat. Animals that are healthy and not stressed tend to defecate while standing still. It should be thick and substantial enough to be about 2-3 inches in height and roughly 12-18 inches in diameter (cows eat a LOT of grass!). Sheep, on the other hand, produce small pellets and horses produce a pile of manure balls.

 

So yes, I spend a fair amount of time checking my critters’ behinds and what comes out of them — it’s all part of the normal day on a ranch. Besides, if you’re looking at the stuff on the ground, you’re less likely to step in it!

 

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