Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas Pudding, Stirred-Up on Sunday

The time? Just a few days ago. The occasion? Stir-Up Sunday, the date on which households around the world, for eons upon eons, have prepared their holiday plum pudding.

What do you mean, you forgot to celebrate Stir-Up Sunday?

Until just one year ago, I too, was a plum pudding novice. That was until Jill from Ottawa and I initiated our cross-continental celebration of Stir Up Sunday and the traditional lighting of the Christmas Pudding.

For those of you who just joined us, Jill and I met while pounding veal into paper-thin cutlets at La Varenne cooking school in Burgundy in September 2006. Since she lives about 400 miles away, we will periodically cook together virtually, although on occasion, we have actually cooked together in person. See “The Tale of Two Puddings” for last year’s holiday culinary collaboration, “The American-Canadian Cooking Project” and “A Locally Grown Canadian Feast.”

Stir-Up Sunday is known in England as the Sunday before the first day of Advent, but it is also the day to prepare Christmas Pudding, a steamed dessert of dried fruit, spices, and butter or suet. Family members each get a chance to stir ingredients into the batter and tradition allows them to make a wish with each stir. The steaming technique gently cooks the fat in the batter, and allows the pudding to slowly expand over several hours.

Last year, we gave scrupulous attention to our Christmas Pudding project. We researched the history of this yuletide dessert, we investigated the benefits of ceramic and tin pudding molds, and we debated over just the right recipe. We checked in on each other’s progress by the hour, praised the virtues of hard sauce, and made a big fuss over the ceremonial flaming of the pudding.

This year, it’s been more like “Fa la la la la, la la la la!”

Jill was feeling under the weather last week, so she decided to go with last year’s recipe for the sake of expediency. I am a chronic experimenter, and wanted to try something new. Yet I am also starved for free time. I’m also not sure I want to go the beef suet route this year. Jill had used a recipe with butter which looked quite nice. So I dip into the classic “The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas” where I find a festive recipe for Steamed Date Pudding with Whiskey Sauce. Once the ingredients are combined and steaming in the pot, it is a mere two hours to completion. That gives me plenty of time to catch up on back-logged episodes of the Bionic Woman.

The Frugal Gourmet being, well, frugal, means that the recipe is a little low on alcohol. There is a whipped whiskey sauce that can accompany the dish, but I want my Christmas Pudding to be boozy, completely drenched in liquor. I locate a bottle of 80 proof Irish whiskey that has been aging (or perhaps neglected) in the cellar for nearly 20 years and go to work. I submerge the dates in whisky overnight, and I plan to soak the cheese cloth, that I will use to wrap the completed pudding before storing it for up to four weeks. With the really important ingredients accounted for, Sunday morning arrives and I realize that the recent Robert E. Lee Cake has completely depleted my cache of butter, so I must run out to the market at the last minute to pick up a fresh supply.

So much for making that list and checking it twice.

While at the grocery store, I suddenly experience a carnivorous craving and also purchase all the ingredients for a slow cooker dinner of polish sausage, apples and sauerkraut. At least I’m keeping consistent with the cooking techniques of the day, but clearly, the omission of beef suet from the pudding recipe has left me feeling deprived.

Meanwhile, up in Canada, Jill has invited several friends with their toddlers to help assemble the pudding and make wishes. Kitchen helpers! Why didn’t I think of that? In addition to assembling plum pudding, she is serving apple cider-cheddar soup for lunch, which frankly, I find incredibly ambitious. Her lunch guests have gotten into the holiday spirit and bring her a gift of a "spurtle" to use for stirring the pudding. I can’t quite decide if it looks like a culinary tool or a blunt instrument from an Agatha Christie mystery. Jill writes: “I'd never heard of or seen a spurtle before, but a little research informs me that it is a traditional Scottish tool for stirring porridge. I'm not sure that it's a traditional tool for stirring plum pudding, but it did the trick.”

I just use one of those space-age silicon spatulas. No sense of tradition, whatsoever.

Jill is matter-of-fact about her Christmas Pudding results: “It looks...well... just like last year's.”

Back in the States, I am deep into preparation. In addition to dates, the recipe contains butter, honey, lemon zest and chopped pecans. I toast the pecans for a special touch. The batter mixes up quickly with my KitchenAid, which I’m certain Mrs. Crachit never had access to in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” I snap the lid of my tin mold shut, place it in the steamer, and position myself in front of the television for the next several hours. I don’t smell much in the way of spices, but the sauerkraut and beer is really tempting the old nostrils.

About 120 minutes later, I return to the steamer and the results are heavenly. The lofty pudding is a golden-honey color and it slips easily out of the mold. It has the subtle aroma of warm spices, conjuring up mental images of gingerbread and visions of sugar plums. I wrap the finished pudding in gauzy cheese cloth, drenched in Irish whiskey, and tuck it into the back of the refrigerator for a long winter’s nap.

It all takes about as long as an episode of Iron Chef. Which means I now have plenty of time to focus on the real joys of the holiday season – like online shopping! (I’m just kidding, Dad!)

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 23, 2007

General Robert E. Lee Cake from 1879

Annabelle stood beneath the portico of the manor house at Davenport Hall Plantation and surveyed the estate. The warm breeze off the James River ruffled her petticoats and the afternoon sunlight danced across the shimmering fields of cotton. The seemingly-endless view of low-lying shrubs were now unkempt and unruly but that iridescent silvery haze that magically embraced the surrounding countryside each day never failed to dazzle her.

Annabelle’s people were deeply rooted in this territory. The Davenport family had secured a land grant in 1650, and many generations had managed the Virginia estate, building a prosperous agricultural enterprise. She was the last of the Davenports and the guardian of their legacy.

She took a deep breath, turned and entered the main hall. She walked past the parlor and made her way to the kitchen. The wallpaper in the entry hall was peeling and the curtains in the parlor hung askew. The North wall was damaged by canon fire from the Union Army. The gilded mirror had become cloudy and there were hairline cracks in the glass. Upkeep was difficult, but Annabelle remained optimistic. Today was a special day. It was his birthday. She would be reunited once again with the handsome and gallant Major Grant Finchley.

Annabelle fondly pictured Major Finchley in her mind. He was tall, with a broad chest, powerful shoulders and glossy ebony hair. Standing six-foot-two, he cut an imposing figure in his pewter gray Confederate uniform. Major Finchley was an exemplary soldier. Indeed, he was commended for his bravery at the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek.

Caterina was in the pantry, putting the finishing touches on the birthday cake. At one time, hundreds of slaves had worked the Davenport Hall Plantation. Caterina was an enslaved African who had been freed when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, but she’d stayed on at Davenport Hall. It was the only home she’d ever known, and she’d been Annabelle’s constant companion for years.

Annabelle inspected Caterina’s work. It was a grand, impressive cake – four layers tall, filled with a golden lemon-jelly filling and adorned with beautiful dollops of fluffy frosting. She could smell the delightful essence of orange and lemon. “How lovely, Caterina,” commended Annabelle. “Major Finchley will be so pleased.”

Annabelle glanced down on the work table. The hand-written receipt with directions for preparing the cake was in a diminutive penmanship. She’d gotten it from her mother who had died earlier that year. “A favorite of General Lee,” Mother Davenport had written at the bottom of the receipt.

This was the perfect cake to celebrate Grant’s return. Major Finchley worshiped General Lee, as had so many of her friends and neighbors. Annabelle recalled when General Lee had died in October of 1870. Thousands of mourners came out to witness the funeral procession.

The clock chimed in the entry hall. “It’s time, Caterina,” said Annabelle. “Major Finchley will be arriving momentarily.”

“Yes, Miss Annabelle.” Caterina carefully carried the cake to the parlor and Annabelle followed. She placed the cake at the center of the tea table. On the settee, a gray military uniform was neatly laid out next to an officer’s sword and a folded Confederate flag. Annabelle took a seat at the tea table and Caterina quietly backed out of the room.

Her grandson Billy had crept into the entry hall and was peering into the parlor, watching with curiousity.

“Why is Miss Annabelle sitting alone in the parlor?” Billy whispered.

“She’s waiting for Major Finchley. She does it every year on his birthday.”

“Major Finchley?”

Caterina nodded with some sadness. “He was an officer in the Confederate Army and he was her beau. He and Miss Annabelle were to be married, but he died a hero in 1862 at the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek.”

Billy’s eye’s widened. “Miss Annabelle is waiting for a ghost?"
"Perhaps,” replied Caterina. “But, I think Major Finchley is still very real to Miss Annabelle, even after all these years. We should leave her alone.” Caterina pulled Billy back and silently shut the parlor door.

The shadows of late afternoon had enveloped the parlor. Twilight was approaching. Annabelle cut two slices of the exquisite layer cake. She placed one golden slice at the place setting across the table, and one slice in front of her.

She took a ladylike taste of the cake, the crisp citrus flavors melting on her tongue. Major Finchley was still alive to her. She could feel Grant in the room again, strong, dashing and heroic. He would always be with her.

Life would change. Institutions would crumble. Some people would prosper, some would struggle, and some would die. But tradition and heroism would always survive.

Author’s Note: Several months back, The Old Foodie sent me some recipes and historical background on the Robert E. Lee Cake for our Retro Cakes project. This cake is representative of regional confections named after revered political and historic figures. Many cakes commemorated Northern and Southern heroes after the American Civil War (1861-1865). One can find recipes for a loaf cake served with butter or jam called the Lincoln Cake, which honored President Abraham Lincoln, a style of cookie called Davis Jumbles, named for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States, or General Gordon Cake, a cornstarch cake named for a controversial Confederate officer from Georgia.

The Robert E. Lee Cake – an orange and lemon layer cake – was traditionally believed to be a favorite of the Civil War general who led the confederate troops in the “War between the States,” although this is difficult to confirm. Most sources date the first written version of Robert E. Lee Cake to 1879 and General Lee died in 1870.

A reference in the book “The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book” (1997) by Anne Carter Zimmer suggests that a recipe for citrus layer cake was well-known in the Lee family but never written down. She does include a recipe for a version called “Mrs. Lee’s Cake.” The early variations are complicated and time-consuming and produce very large cakes. The term "receipt" was used to describe recipes transcribed by hand and passed from mother to daughter, a practice that occurred well before the proliferation of cookbooks, cooking shows and food blogs available today. Subtle variations on a recipe would often occur between generations, and there are many versions of Robert E. Lee Cake. I used a recipe that evokes the flavors and style of the earliest versions, but employs more modern baking techniques. It is still a complex baking project requiring many techniques and lots of patience. This is a very sweet celebration cake, and the first bite of lemon curd filling packs a tart punch, much like the filling in lemon meringue pie.

The fictional story of Annabelle Davenport’s longing for the return of her lover, the war hero Grant Finchley, evokes the sensibilities behind the Robert E. Lee Cake -- that of deeply-rooted pride in the history and traditions of the Old South, despite the passage of time. Today, one can still visit a number of majestic plantations along the banks of the James River in Virginia, and be transported to another time and place.

I baked the Robert E. Lee Cake for the 50th birthday celebration of my brother Ken, a Civil War enthusiast who has long harbored an impish fascination with unsuspecting frosted layer cakes. I dedicate this post to Ken. Many thanks to Veronica, the proprietor of the blogosphere’s top Test Kitchen, for graciously providing the photos of the impressive statue that stands in Richmond, Virginia as a memorial to General Robert E. Lee.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks at Breakfast

I’ve never met Plymouth, Massachusetts native Marjorie Cronin. I don’t even know if she’s still alive. But for the past several years, Mrs. Cronin and I have shared a Thanksgiving morning tradition. We both make her Cranberry Cornbread for breakfast on Thanksgiving Day.

I first encountered Marjorie Cronin’s story in an article by Joan Nathan in the New York Times Food Section, published on November 19, 2003, called “Practically a Pilgrim, Celebrating the Old Way.”

The story describes how Marjorie Cronin, who was born in Plymouth (home of “The First Thanksgiving”), has been a Thanksgiving enthusiast her entire life. She and her family participated in the annual Plymouth community celebrations, and in recent years, she and her sisters spent days preparing pies and side dishes in the kitchen of her converted 18th century tavern house located in Kingston, Massachusetts.

Mrs. Cronin’s traditional Thanksgiving breakfast consists of Cranberry Cornbread. She picks the cranberries by hand at the local Bog Hollow Farm, and cuts each berry in half before folding them into the sweet, rich batter of stone ground corn meal. The slicing of each lipstick-red cranberry becomes a thoughtful, rhythmic, meditative action.

For me, Cranberry Cornbread is at the center of my quiet time on Thanksgiving morning. It’s a moment to watch the autumn leaves blow across the deck, drink coffee, listen to music, watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, count my blessings, and anticipate feasting with family in the afternoon.

Mrs. Cronin would be 79 this year, and I hope she’s celebrating with the same kind of joy and thanksgiving that she’s had for nearly eight decades. I’ll be thinking of her, as I slice my Cranberry Cornbread.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Old-Time Maple Gingerbread in a Snap

My schedule becomes a nightmare around the holidays. Every year, I can see it coming like a turkey waddling across the barn yard. It may look like a clear shot to Thanksgiving, but suddenly my calendar is choked with out-of-town assignments. Last year, I dozed off three times during Thanksgiving dinner, having just arrived home from Europe the night before.

And, now as another festive season approaches, instead of spending time preparing in the kitchen, I’m on the security line at the airport.

I’ve learned to cope with the travel. I got rid of my lace-up shoes years ago, and I have a whole selection of microfiber clothing that crunches into any suitcase and comes out wrinkle-free. I listen to seasonal music on-the-go on my Ipod, and I dream up holiday menus while reclining in the emergency exit row.

It helps to have a selection of recipes at hand that are short on preparation and big on those traditional autumnal Thanksgiving flavors.

Quick breads are a welcomed addition to any road-warrior’s culinary portfolio, and easily prepared and frozen in advance of the holiday feast.

Old-Time Maple Gingerbread takes only minutes to prepare and can be squeezed in between a flight to the Windy City, a trek to Denver, or an Amtrak trip to our nation’s capital. It’s a great way to use the gallons of maple syrup I purchased in Vermont, and it’s a snappy alternative to the usual options of pumpkin or corn bread on the Thanksgiving table. The loaf emerges from the oven a lustrous amber-color and each sweet, tender slice has hints of ginger, toffee and caramel.

And, if you happen to see a guy trying to get a 20-pound turkey through the metal detector at LaGuardia Airport this holiday season, be sure and say “Hi!” It’s probably me.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tackling Tagine

The Halloween-orange clay pot and cover -- shaped suspiciously like a pointed witches hat -- had been hoisting a guilt trip on me since last summer. Not to mention, collecting a thin layer of dust.

I’d purchased the tagine at Sur La Table in New York, when Veronica and I were browsing between classes at the Harold McGee Lecture Series. Immediately, I thought of John and Ramiza, my brother and sister-in-law who live in Morocco. Ramiza is an excellent cook and is particularly skilled at Middle Eastern, Indian and Moroccan dishes. She’s inspired me to venture outside my culinary box, and creating an authentic Moroccan dish would be a nice way to evoke their presence, even though they now live thousands of miles away.

That was July. Now, here we are approaching the end of the year and my little personal-sized tagine is feeling decidedly unloved.

Enter Lydia of the Perfect Pantry. Recently she wrote about a tagine she had designed with an artist friend, and offered a recipe for Chicken with Prunes and Almonds, a dish traditionally served at Ramadan. The list of ingredients set my mouth a-watering and I knew it was time to take the plunge and tackle tagine.

I choose a Sunday night for the big event, but quickly realize that I’ll need to plan ahead. The sticker on the glazed terra cotta tagine strongly recommends that it be submerged in water for 12 hours before its first use. Ah, well. Saturday night is “bath night,” after all.

On Sunday the tagine is removed from its long soaking and wiped dry with a dish towel. I spend the afternoon at a chamber music concert and return home confident that I’ll have dinner on the table in about an hour, according to the recipe. I halve the recipe, since my tagine is smaller, and quickly combine boneless chicken thighs, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, almonds and prunes. I top the concoction with the witch’s hat and place it on the electric cook top set on low heat.

That’s when the paranoia sets in. Instead of kicking up my feet and enjoying a cocktail, I keep returning to the kitchen to make sure the clay pot doesn’t explode. I’ve never put a casserole directly on the cook top. However, the old adage, “a watched pot never boils” can be applied to the tagine -- “a watched tagine never explodes.” That’s fortunate.

However, it does start to sweat, and a hint of steam begins to rise.

Dutifully, I stir the mixture from time to time. I am somewhat concerned about regulating the heat on the stove, which I find is a chronic problem with electric ranges. In her directions, Lydia says “be patient” and the watery liquid will eventually become a thick, mahogany sauce. It is beginning to simmer, but I’ve already passed the one hour mark, and the chicken is still somewhat raw (note previous remarks about temperature regulation of electric ranges). It is at this point that I go for the cocktail.

We are now nearing the second hour of the great tagine test. The terra cotta has not exploded, and I hear some sizzling happening inside that supernatural witch’s hat. At this point, it is almost time for “Brothers and Sisters” and I would very likely be borderline cranky, if not for the cocktail, but I am determined to see this experiment through. I open the pot for one more stir and witness a transformation. Before my eyes are succulent tender chunks of chicken covered in a rich glossy sauce. The taste is sweet and savory, infused with honey, warm exotic spices and melt-in-your-mouth almonds.

I nearly squeal with delight. It is that good. The witch’s hat has performed its magic. John and Ramiza would be proud.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Cranberries Down Under

No, this is not a post about perky red fruit found below the Equator. But, for those of you who have a driving desire to turn Thanksgiving upside-down this year, this tempting cake is a fine option.

There have certainly been many attempts to turn our national day of Thanksgiving topsy-turvy. Sweet Potato Casserole with Mini Marshmallows, and Turducken immediately come to mind. Then, there are the annual "new-and-improved" turkey techniques we have to master for one meal out of the year, be it brining, or backyard grilling. Has anyone tried beer can turkey? (I'm not joking!)

In many respects, Thankgiving is really about culinary individualism. When my nephew Doug was just a young tike, he made the ultimate culinary statement on Thanksgiving Day when he skipped the turkey, gravy and stuffing and had a banana instead, because "it's the only thing I like here."

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake isn't about a radical reinvention of the holiday menu. It's a nice blend of elegance, tradition and suburban kitsch. Cranberries are high in Vitamin C, were cultivated by the Native Americans before the early settlers arrived, and were grown for commercial purposes beginning in the early 19th century in Cape Cod, Masssachusetts. The first American cookbook, American Cookery, written by Amelia Simmons in 1796 recommends that turkey be served with cranberries. More than a decade ago, during an autumn visit to Cape Cod, I was lucky enought to visit a cranberry bog during harvest season. The bog was flooded with water and looked like a crimson lake. Over the years, creative food marketers have come up with thousands of formulas for cranberry relish, and even a recipe for Mock Cherry Pie, made with cranberries.

The process is exactly the same as pineapple upside-down cake. Butter and spices coat the bottom of the cake pan, followed by a layer of fresh cranberries and a thick batter. Once baked and inverted, the glistening top is thick, jammy and studded with jewel-like ruby-colored fruit. You immediately note a tart scent of warm spices which evokes a memory of cinnamon "Red Hots." The recipe is simple, takes just under an hour to prepare and can be found here. Try it this Thanksgiving. It might inspire you to do a headstand in the kitchen. Just be careful not to hurt yourself.

I made Cranberry Upside-Down Cake for the farewell party for our intrepid associate, "Babs Gordon," who is leaving us and moving on to new adventures. For the past two-and-a-half years, Babs has graced us with her razor-sharp insight, keen intelligence and gracious humor. No doubt her new employer will be head-over-heals for her as well!

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Drop In & Decorate: Cookies for Donation

Cookies and love go hand-in-hand. I learned that from my grandmothers who would bake us luscious sand cookies pressed into fluted molds, rich holiday butter cookies and chewy oatmeal raisin cookies from a recipe invented by fitness expert Jack La Lanne. The action of preparing and bringing us the gift of cookies was an expression of love. I learned it from my mom, as well, who patiently taught me to make Peanut Butter Cookies and Chocolate Coconut Drops, from Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cook Book, that our family would share.

My friend, Lydia – one of the nicest people in the entire blogosphere and the proprietor of the Internet’s best-stocked pantry – also knows that love is the primary ingredient in homemade cookies. Lydia is once again leading a program she created five years ago called “Drop In & Decorate: Cookies for Donation.” She’s asked her blog friends to spread the word. The concept is simple, and a great way to share confections and love throughout the community: bake some cookies, invite family, friends or co-workers to help decorate and then donate the cookies to a local shelter, food pantry, lunch program or senior center.

It’s amazing the happiness that has been generated by some sugar, flour, icing and a little love. Last year, Lydia herself hosted 62 adults and teens who decorated 800 cookies for delivery to six shelters in Rhode Island. But even a single batch of cookies is sure to inspire an afternoon of fun and put a smile on the face of someone less fortunate. Would you give it a try? Lydia offers a well-stocked pantry of resources that can help you get started at her Ninecooks web site.

This year, King Arthur Flour is pitching in and has created a special kit to make it easy to host your own Drop In & Decorate party. If you order a Drop In & Decorate baking kit now through November 15, King Arthur Flour will include a free dough scraper with each order. Add the kit to your shopping cart. On the payment page, enter Promotion Code "Dropin" to the Promotion field and click the Update button. The page will refresh and the dough scraper will be added to your order. The offer is valid through November 15 only, but the kit is on sale until December 26, and would make a great holiday gift.

I love to visit Lydia’s Perfect Pantry and learn the real story behind my favorite ingredients. Lydia is one of my favorite "Culinary Types" and her pantry prose makes me smile every day. And, if you join her Drop In & Decorate party, you will surely spread smiles throughout the community this holiday season!

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The ABC of Casseroles (1954)

I discovered the slender orange-and-brown cookbook in an antique market in Vermont, tucked between stacks of Pyrex in primary colors and translucent green Jadite mixing bowls. The retro-culinary illustrations called out to me and the exuberant celebration of the classic casserole touched my suburban-born soul.

“The ABC of Casseroles” was published by the Peter Pauper Press, Mount Vernon, New York in 1954, and sold for one dollar, a bargain, as it promises “countless ideas for quick one-course dinners as well as imaginative and festive dishes that you will want to set before your most cherished guests.”

A curious preface, signed by an anonymous entity named “The Editor" takes a distinctly mid-fifties view of gender roles and culinary qualifications. "The Editor" writes: “None of the recipes is complicated, or too difficult for the inexperienced cook. We have had her particularly in mind in assembling these recipes, since it is she, and not her older and more experienced sister, who usually holds down a job, and cooks too.”

Given this seemingly parochial viewpoint, one can only imagine what “The Editor” would have thought of Rachael Ray or Emeril Lagasse.

According to “Square Meals” by Jane and Michael Stern (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1985), one-dish meals, or casseroles were the epitome of glamorous convenience in the 1950s. A casserole would usually contain meat, fish or poultry, and vegetable and starch all in one. Casseroles were a time-saver, as they could be prepared in advance and frozen, and were a technique for economizing, as less money would be spent on individual portions when all ingredients were combined in one dish. A colorful range of snappy serving dishes were available to the discerning host or hostess to artfully present the casserole on a buffet table.

“The ABC of Casseroles” appears to be designed for a new bride and revels in its June Cleaver-ness. “The Editor” tells us: “Many of the dishes can be prepared the day before, and baked at the last minute. And many are quickies that can be both prepared and cooked in an hour’s time…A casserole, a tossed green salad, and steaming coffe make an elegant and sophisticated dinner. Add a fancy dessert and you have a feast!”

Each section is adorned with chocolate-brown calligraphy for each letter of the alphabet, and a poetically-inclined copywriter crafted priceless rhymes like, “Brides can’t be bothered to cook all day long so they whip up a casserole and sing a fine song.”

One wonders if “The Editor” managed to kitchen test or time out any of the recipes. No less than six recipes contain oysters (Jenny’s Oysters and Macaroni could cause an international culinary incident), but offer no instruction on how to clean, shuck or prepare the bivalves prior to mixing them into a casserole dish. Then, there’s that mysterious “White Sauce” that keeps showing up page after page. It’s hardly a timesaver, and there are no instructions on how to whip up a successful batch, nor how much time it will take (I suspect “The Editor” might never have set foot in a working kitchen.).

Most of the recipes hearken back to a nostalgic and comforting, pre-packaged and perhaps less healthful culinary era (Noodles and Salami???!!). But, if you’re feeling in a retro 1950s mood, put on that Perry Cuomo LP, and try your hand at this elegant entrée from “The ABC of Casseroles." It can be found under “C” and be advised you’ll have to come up with 1 ½ cups of white sauce, as the recipe appears to start already in progress. The walnuts are obviously added for protein, color and texture. Obviously.

Crab Casserole

½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tablespoons sherry
Salt, pepper
1 ½ cups white sauce
2 cups crabmeat
6 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
½ pound mushrooms, sauted
¾ cup walnut meats, halved

Add grated cheese, sherry, salt and pepper to white sauce and simmer gently. Butter baking dish, arranging crabmeat, eggs, mushrooms and walnuts in alternate layers. Cover with sauce and top with bread crumbs and grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 hour. Serves 6.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved