The Guardian: The farmers restoring Hawaii’s ancient food forests that once fed an island | Hawaii. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/17/hawaii-traditional-farming-methods-ancient-food-forests
Well, this doesn’t bode well I think upon seeing the entrance to Castillo de La Mota blocked by women archers dressed in long skirts under magenta jumpers each stitched with the insignia of a yellow bird with spiky feathers. But what is most daunting about the scene is that their bows are raised, arrows notched, and the strings pulled back. If they let go, we’ll be hit with a barrage of arrows.
A man behind me grouses to his wife “another day, another castle” but then stops as he sees what is in front of us. It certainly may be another castle here in Spain but it’s not a typical day. I mean, when was the last time you were threatened by Medieval female warriors?
“Password,” shouts the tall woman who looks like she’s in charge.
“Isabelle,” I call back without thinking.
“Isabella,” she responds.
But it’s good enough. The archers lower their bows and part, allowing us to cross the drawbridge into the fortified castle, one of many that belonged to Queen Isabella of Spain.
We are in Medina del Campo, a town known since the 15th century for its fabulous fairs and markets as well as being one of the places Queen Isabella of Spain called home. And though it’s the 21st century, once inside the castle keep it well could be seven centuries ago.
We are not only in Isabella’s castle, we’re also in her time. Men, women, and children are dressed in the everyday garb of 15th century Spain, soldiers wear bright red doublet cut with yellow inserts, red pantaloons that stop above the knee, white stockings and leather shoes ranging in colors like blue, red, and beige.
I don’t know much about 15th century weaponry beyond bow and arrows and swords–and even that is very limited. But here the soldiers not only carry broad swords and rapiers, but also pikes and spears. Silver helmets top their heads and somewhere metal collars, part of a suit of armor.
La Mota isn’t a fairy tale castle, it was a large strong fortress that the townspeople as well as the King and Queen could go for refuge. She and her husband Ferdinand II lived in a royal palace in the town’s major plaza though Isabella wrote her will and took Last Rites at age 53 at La Mota. Dating back to the 11th century, it grew through the centuries becoming the largest castle in Castile.
Called La Mota because it is on a small hill rising above the town, it has turrets (2), towers (4), thick walls and a courtyard. Unguided tours are available as are guided tours which can be booked here
In her day, Isabella, one of the few women rulers at the time, would have dined on rabbit, deer, bear, lamb, and bread. She would have enjoyed leeks but little else in the way of vegetables. Juan Alejandro Forrest de Sloper whose blog Book of Days combines his passions for world cuisine and as an anthropologist with a focus on rituals and celebrations. De Sloper was a professor of anthropology at Purchase College, S.U.N.Y for 32 years but he also spent time living throughout the world and learning to cook in all sorts of kitchens.
In his post on Isabella he shares a dish from Libre Del Coch, a Catalan cookbook—the first written cookbook–written by Robert de Nola who went by the pseudonym Mestre Robert who was the chef to King Ferdinand I of Naples. The Catalan version was published in 1520 in Barcelona and translated to Castilian Spanish five years later. Parts of the cookbook are based on a famous medieval cookbook titled Llibre de Sent Soví.
The cookbook includes classic dishes that were popular with the wealthy (and Isabella was surely that) during the 1400s. Casola de Carn or Meat Casserole is like many recipes or receipts as they were called then, there’s no list of ingredients or amounts. It’s all a little murky for 21st century cooks, and phrases like “all the fine flavorings” are a little—no make that a lot baffling. There are also ingredients such as aggrestal (spelled in the recipe as agressta) means wild plant which can sure cover a lot of ground.
Casola de Carn
Cut the meat into pieces the size of a nut and fry it in pork fat. When it is well fried put in some good broth and set it to cook in a casserole. Add all the fine flavorings and saffron and a little orange juice or agresta and cook well until the meat begins to fall apart and only a small amount of broth remains. Add three or four eggs beaten with orange juice or agresta. When your master is ready at table, turn the meat four or five times to let the sauce thicken. When it is thick, take it from the fire and serve it in bowls, sprinkled with a little cinnamon on each.
There are some people who do not add eggs, or spices except cinnamon and cloves. The meat is cooked as stated above.
They add vinegar, for the flavor. It appears that many people do it in the following manner: the meat is left whole stuffed with cinnamon and cloves, and with the other spices in the broth. The meat must be turned from time to time so that it doesn’t cook more in one part than in any other. You can leave out the cloves and cinnamon if you follow the other directions correctly.
As wonderful as Isabella’s meal might have been, our luncheon at El Motero in Medina del Campo probably was equally good. Because Medina del Campo is a stop on the wonderful Rueda Wine Route, we indulged in the local wines and dined on fish, baby lamb, and a variety of whimsical dishes such as canelón de mango relleno de frutos de mar y gelatina de gazpacho (Mango cannellon stuffed with sea fruit and gazpacho jelly), tartar de tomate, aguacate,salmón marinado ,wakame sobre pan de Cerdeña (Tomato Tartar, Avocado, Marinated Salmon, Wakame on Sardinian bread)and Mini san Jacobo de lomo asado y salsa de piña (Mini San Jacobo roasted loin and pineapple sauce).
I did indeed dine like queen.
When Prince-Elector Friedrich V married Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of King James I in 1613, it was–like the majority of royal marriages—based on political alliances and gains. Love had nothing to do with it.
But sometimes it worked out differently and so it was between Friedrich and Elizabeth who fell in love. Heidelberg Castle, where they lived, was already old, dating back to 1200s and the Prince-Elector wanting Elizabeth to love her new home added an English Palace and an elaborate Baroque garden.
But theirs was to be a tragic love story. There were battles, a throne lost, regained, and then lost forever. During all that, Elizabeth bore 13 children before Fredrich died and she sought life in exile.
The castle, a romantic ruin of seemingly endless staircases and corridors taking you here, there, and sometimes nowhere, stands 330-feet above the Alstadt, Heidelberg’s wonderful old town. Towers and battlements protect stone facades, their decorative features still intact though the rooms behind them are gone. Views into the multitude of windows reveals not an interior but woods and the Neckar River below.
“Deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful,” is how Mark Twain described the Gothic-Renaissance castle. He was one of many poets and writers who spent time in what they considered the most romantic city in the world.
The castle is also home to the Heidelberg Tun, a 58, 124 gallon wine barrel said to be the largest in the world. It was built in 1751 on orders from Prince Elector Karl Theodor to store the wine paid in taxes by the region’s wine growers. We should all be so lucky to have too much wine.
Brews and Pork Knuckles
Taking the funicular down to the old town, I meet friends at Vetter’s Alt Heidelberger Brauhaus on Steingasse, Europe’s longest carless street. It’s one of those baronial style Germanic places with high ceilings, large wood beams, long tables and a lot of dark highly polished wood.
Famed for their Vetter’s 33, which they say is the strongest beer in the world, its alcohol content is—you guessed it—33%. But it isn’t all beer her, they’re famed for their traditional German food and so I decide to go full German, ordering the pork knuckle, sauerkraut and dumpling with gravy. Skipping the 33, I opt for the Hubier—a mix of the lager and elderberry syrup.
History, Luxury and a Family Touch
My love affair with the city began several years before when I checked into the five-star Hotel Europäischer Hof Heidelberg. The hotel, one of the few five-star family run hotels in Europe, opened in 1865 and has been owned by von Kretschmann family since around the turn of the last century.
I’d heard that Sylvia von Kretschmann, who with her husband Ernst-Friedrich, ran the hotel for a half-century before their daughter Dr. Caroline von Kretschmann took over, regularly did the hotel’s large floral arrangements. So it was no surprise when I ran into this very elegant woman doing just that in Die Kurfürstenstube, the hotel’s opulent dining room that opened in 1866. Such a romantic place and romantic tradition—how could I not fall in love?
My romance continued at Chocolaterie Knosel where owner Liselotte Knosel talked about studentenkussor or student kiss, a chocolate covered nougat created by her great grandfather Fridolin Knosel in 1863. His Café Knosel was frequented by male university students who admired women from a local finishing school who were, alas, chaperoned by their governesses. A gift of student kisses was a sly way to start a flirtation.
We don’t know how well it turned out for the students but these confections, still hand crafted, remain best sellers more than 150 years later. Café Knosel—the city’s oldest café—is my go to spot for coffee and a pastry at one of their outdoor tables overlooking the church on Marktplatz.
At dusk, on my last night, I boarded Patria, a 1930s ship for dining and a cruise along the Neckar River. Watching the city lights sparkle in the calm water, I knew that though my visit was ending, the romance was just beginning. I would be back.
For more information, visit www.heidelberg-marketing.de
Louisa May Alcott published Little Women, her bestselling novel about the four March sisters and how they overcame adversity, back in the late 1860s. The first printing—some 2000 books—sold out in two weeks and had never been out of print since. Translated into more than 50 languages, sales figures indicate that it is still the second most popular book among Japanese girls.
Women readers in particular like being whisked back 150 years ago to read about the girls as they mature into women, their father serving as a chaplain during the Civil War and the family mired in a genteel poverty–which is basically the kind where you don’t consider working because of your social standing, but really should.
Both Jenne Bergstrom and Miko Osada love to eat, love to read, attended the same college (Oberlin) albeit nine years apart and work at the same library. Because they always wondered what the foods in the childhood books they read would taste like, they started the blog 36eggs. The name, they tell me, came about because they both pondered, when young, what the pound cake in the book Anne of Windy Poplars tasted like. The recipe called for 36 eggs.
So it was a natural fit when Ulysses Press asked the two to write a cookbook to coincide with the release of the Little Women movie last December. The result, The Little Women Cookbook: Novel Takes on Classic Recipes from Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Friends, is a charming look at the way the characters of the book would have eaten back then.
“We actually had made Little Women recipes before,” says Bergstrom, in a joint phone call with Osada. “All the things in the book are what people would have eaten during that time. Having historically accurate food is almost a way to time travel.”
It was a division of labor undertaken with a huge deadline with the movie’s release. It didn’t help that the two still had full-time jobs. It meant researching and cooking all weekend long and having Friday night dinners to test what they made on friends.
“I’m kind of the researcher and Jenney’s more the chef,” says Osada. “As soon as we got the deal, I wrote down every single food that’s mentioned in the book and made a food and drink index. To make sure I had everything, I read the book twice. That added up to a lot of Excel sheets. I’d done this before for our Harry Potter book and the Anne of Green Gables books.”
Not surprisingly, many of the foods eaten 160 years ago were seasonal.
“They had great instructions such as gather cucumbers while there’s still dew on them and soak them in cold water,” says Bergstrom. “I think a lot of the preparations were simple and really did showcase the food such as yellow squash. We have a recipe in there that’s very simple and really brings out the flavor.”
Using seasonal as a guide when recipes were vague (as they tended to be in old cookbooks) helped in deciding what ingredients would have been use.
“Strawberries wouldn’t have been in season when Amy had her midsummer party,” says Osada. “But raspberries would have been so that’s what we used for the Elegant Raspberry Ice Cream recipe.”
If they could go back in time and eat any of those meals, which one?
“Amy and Laurie attend supper in a hotel in France and I enlisted the help of culinarian historians there about what they would have eaten,” says Bergstrom about chapter on Amy’s “Christmas Ball Supper in Nice.” “The food was very complicated with recipes saying takes as many truffles as you can and it meant making basic sauces that were the building blocks of other sauces, so we had to make sauces within sauces. It would be amazing to go to that hotel supper.”
The book is divided into chapters named after the characters and then sub-divided into their activities and events that included food. For Jo’s chapter we get recipes for “Mrs. Kirk’s Five O’Clock Dinner” and “Jo’s Standing Joke of a Dinner.” We celebrate “Amy’s Little Artistic Fete,” Laurie’s “Jolly Picnic Lunch at Camp Laurence” and the “March Family’s Happy Surprise Tea” and “Apple-Picking Holiday.” The cookbook is illustrated with delicate line drawings and photos of many of the dishes.
“Being nerd paid off, making lists and having these super specific hobbies,” says Osada. “When we were making all these dinners, we didn’t know there would be a huge blockbuster of a movie.”
The following recipes are courtesy of The Little Women Cookbook.
Makes 6 servings
2 pounds butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
½ teaspoon nutmeg, plus a pinch more
30 crumbled saltine crackers (about 1½ cups crumbs), divided
Boil the squash with the salt in a large pot of water until soft, 15 to 20 minutes.
Drain the water and mash the squash with 2 tablespoons of the butter.
Preheat the oven to 375°F and butter a heatproof dish that holds at least 2 quarts.
Whisk the milk and eggs together in a medium bowl and add to the squash.
Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, 1 cup cracker crumbs, and more salt if needed.
Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and mix in a small bowl with the remaining cracker crumbs, sugar, and nutmeg.
Put the squash in the prepared dish and sprinkle the top with the crumb mixture.
Bake until heated through and browned on top, 30 to 45 minutes. It should be puffed and slightly set in the middle.
Proper Roast Chicken
Makes 3 to 4 servings
1 whole roasting chicken, skin on, about 4 pounds
1½ teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons pepper, plus about 1 teaspoon more for the butter
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter, divided
⅓ cup flour, sifted
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Sprinkle the chicken all over, inside and out, with the salt and pepper, rubbing it into the skin.
Take 2 tablespoons of butter, coat it in about 1 teaspoon of pepper, and put it in the chicken cavity.
Dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off any extra.
Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Use it to butter the roasting pan a little, then baste the chicken all over with a basting brush.
Place the chicken in the pan, breast-up, and put it in the oven.
Have the melted butter on hand. Every 20 minutes, take out the chicken, close the oven door, and baste the meat all over with melted butter. Return the chicken to the oven as quickly as possible.
Roast 20 minutes for every pound of chicken. Check the internal temperature after an hour of roasting by inserting a meat thermometer through the thickest part of the thigh, avoiding the bone, and check the temperature gauge after 10 seconds. The internal temperature of the thigh should be 165°F.
Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes while you make the drawn butter sauce.
Carve and serve.
Makes 8 servings
For the ladyfingers (note you can also use store bought ladyfingers:
3 large eggs
⅔ cup white sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
powdered sugar, for dusting
For the Bavarian cream:
1 cup fruit purée (strawberry, raspberry, peach, anything you like—the more exotic, the better!)
¼ to 1 cup sugar (adjust depending on the sweetness of the fruit—only something very tart like passionfruit would need the full amount)
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional; use this if your fruit isn’t very tart, or has a dull flavor)
1 (¼-ounce) envelope plain powdered gelatin
3 cups heavy whipping cream
fresh fruit, for garnishing
Prepare the ladyfingers:
Put about 2 inches of water in a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a heatproof bowl (the bowl of your stand mixer is perfect if you’re using one), combine the eggs, sugar, and salt. Set in the top of the pan with the boiling water. The bottom of the bowl should not be in the water—if it is, take some water out, or make a ring of aluminum foil to boost it up.
Heat while stirring until the mixture is quite warm, but not bubbling, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and whip on high speed with the whisk attachment for 5 to 10 minutes until it is very
light and foamy yellow. It will nearly quadruple in volume and should hold soft peaks.
Meanwhile, line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
Sift the flour and cornstarch over the egg mixture, and gently fold it in with a spatula, only stirring until the flour is just combined.
Spoon the batter into a piping bag fitted with a ½-inch tip (or a sandwich bag with a corner cut off) and pipe 3-inch-long strips onto the baking sheets. They should be about 1 inch wide.
Sift a generous amount of powdered sugar over the piped batter.
Bake one pan at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, until puffed and set. Allow to cool on the baking sheets.
If you are making the ladyfingers ahead, store them in an airtight container so they don’t soften.
Prepare the Bavarian cream:
While the ladyfingers are cooling: In a small saucepan, combine the fruit purée and sugar to taste, and lemon juice if using. Add the gelatin and and heat until the gelatin is dissolved. Allow to cool.
Whip the cream to stiff peaks, then gently fold in the fruit purée.
Assemble the charlotte russe:
Lightly oil an 8- or 9-inch springform pan, then line the edges with the most attractive of the ladyfingers, bottom sides pointing in. Use the less attractive ones to line the bottom—you may have to break them up a bit to get good coverage.
Spoon half of the Bavarian cream into the pan, and smooth it out nicely.
Add another layer of ladyfingers, if you have some left. You can also add a layer of chopped fruit if it’s not too juicy.
Add the rest of the Bavarian cream, and smooth it out.
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It’s not pleasant to imagine what the world might have been like if Winston Churchill hadn’t been able to persuade his chef, Georgina Landemare to leave the kitchen where she was making a pudding and head down to the basement bomb shelter with him. The date was October 14, 1940 and the Germans were doing one of their nightly blitzes over London. This time a lucky strike by Luftwaffe bomb destroyed the kitchen—and most of the building–where they had been standing just moments before. Fortunately, both Churchill and Landemare survived.
Always a fan of Churchill and always interested in the history of food, I am delighted to have a copy of Churchill’s Cookbook, a release of Landemare’s 1958 cookbook originally published as “Recipes from No. 10.” Churchill, famed not only for leading Britain to victory during World War II but also for his love of a good cigar, fine spirits and great food, once said “It is well to remember that the stomach governs the world.”
Besides Landemare’s recipes–short, easy to make, mostly French but with little in the way of detailed instructions—her book also has vintage photographs from the 15 years she cooked for the Churchills. An introduction by Phi Reed, director of the Churchill War Rooms which I visited on my one and only and very short trip to London, also gives historical perspective. The War Rooms are an underground warren of rooms that tunnel under the city of London where Churchill and his cabinet would meet and some of the work of the war would be done. “This is the room from which I will direct the war” Churchill announced after being elected Prime Minister in 1940 and visiting his underground office.
The rooms are now a museum and houses some of the recipes from this book. Landemare, who started life in the “service” at age 14 as a scullery maid, was the widow of Paul Landemare, a distinguished French chef at the famed Ritz Hotel and most likely learned to cook from him. She made Churchill breakfast in the morning and stayed in his service until he finished his last whiskey of the night (and one can assume there were plenty of whiskeys in between). She was such a necessity that, as Reed writes in his introduction, “Georgina Landemare’s importance to Churchill was nicely and neatly illustrated on VE Day, when after giving his rousing speech to the massed crowds in Whitehall, he made a point of turning to his faithful chef and thanking her ‘most cordially’, saying he could not have managed all the way through the war without her.”
As an aside, here is a fun anecdote showcasing Churchill’s sense of humor and his love of food.
Invited to a buffet luncheon while visiting the United States, Winston Churchill asked for a second helping of fried chicken by saying “May I have some breast” to which the hostess reportedly replied “Mr. Churchill, in this country we ask for white meat or dark meat.” The Prime Minister abjectly apologized and sent the hostess a beautiful orchid the next morning along with a note reading “I would be most obliged if you would pin this on your white meat.”
Winston Churchill’s Favorite Fruit Cake
10 ounces plain flour
8 ounces butter
6 ounces sugar
10 ounces mixed dried fruit
4 ounces glacé cherries (cut in half)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little flour to prevent the mixture curdling.
Sift the remainder of the flour with the baking powder and salt and add this to the creamed mixture. Add the dried fruit and beat the mixture well.
Spoon into a greased and lined round cake tin.
Bake for 2 hours in a moderate oven.
Boodles Orange Fool
6 sponge cakes
¾ pint cream
Sugar to taste
Cut up sponge cake lengthwise in slices and place in glass dish.
Put in a basin the grated rind of a lemon and 2 oranges and the juice of all the fruit. Mix well with the cream and sugar to taste.
Pour all over the sponge cakes and allow to stand for six hours before serving.
The above recipes are from “Churchill’s Cookbook.”