Tuesday, June 17, 2008

comparative recipes

I like to bake cookies and squares. I'm not terribly adventurous or elegant, favouring the old standards like oatmeal cookies, peanut butter cookies, shortbread, and rolled cookies for Christmas. I have a small collection of cookie cookbooks, and occasionally add something from them to the repertoire.
Many years ago (thirty?) while in search of a recipe for butter tarts...

Pause to provide butter tart recipe:
-Melt 1/3 cup butter, remove from heat
-stir in 1/2 cup brown sugar,
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup or more raisins
-fill tart shells about half full, bake at 400 until brown and bubbling.

I found a little book called Chocolate Cake and Onions (Horizon House 1976). Also in this book was a recipe for
Economy Oatmeal Squares:
-Melt 1/2 cup margarine
-stir in 1 cup brown sugar,
2 cups oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- press into ungreased pan to about 1/4 inch thickness, bake until brown. It will harden as it cools.

Despite the vague baking directions, which I eventually worked out to 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, this became a favourite. (I'll point out that when something consists largely of brown sugar, 'until brown' is not a useful marker.)
The thing that puzzled me, over time, was the purpose of the 1/2 tsp baking powder. There's no flour, so what is it leavening? Also, while I'm no kitchen chemist, didn't baking powder require moisture to work? Most cookie recipes used baking soda, except for oatmeal cookies, which had a tablespoon of milk in the recipe as well as baking powder. I wondered whether Marilynne Foster had left out part of the recipe, or copied it incorrectly.

My mum's cookbooks were among the things (like Christmas decorations) that weren't kept in the move, and which I regretted mightily. When I was able to buy a copy of The Canadian Cook Book (Ryerson 1953) I was quite excited, even though it naturally wouldn't have all the pasted-in soup-tin recipes and so on that my mum's copy had.
I got all nostalgic over the photographs, and 'oh, there's the cake recipe that always turned out kind of chewy because I dawdled over the mixing' 'there's the crepes recipe, mmm'. Then I found
Oatmeal Butter Squares:
-Mix 3 cups rolled oats,
1 cup brown sugar,
1 teaspoon baking powder,
dash of salt.
-pour over 7/8 cup melted butter, mix thoroughly
-pat into ungreased 8x12-inch cake pan
-bake at 275-300 until golden brown, cut into squares while hot.

There it is, recognisably the same in kind, in a for-real published by a major company cookbook, and still with the baking powder and no flour and no milk. Oh, and again the vague baking instructions, though this time with a temperature.
Well, maybe it was a Canadian regional treat, like butter tarts and Nanaimo bars. Maybe Marilynne (or her mother) got her recipe from The Canadian Cook Book and altered the quantities.

But there's the undeniably American Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Cookies Cook Book (Meredith 1976), and its recipe for
Scotch Teas:
-Melt together 1 cup packed brown sugar,
1/2 cup butter or margarine
-stir in 2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats,
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/1 teaspoon salt
-turn into 8x8x2 inch greased baking pan
-bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, cookies will harden upon cooling. Cut into bars.

I will mention that my dad's family was Scots, and I'd never heard of 'Scotch Teas' (insert joke about drinking tea with Scotch here). Anyway, here it was again, in another for-real, major-publishing book, with baking powder and no flour.

Another Scotch Teas recipe, slightly different proportions but same ingredients, was reportedly a prize winning recipe at the 1976 Texas State Fair. Googling brings up another from the C&H Sugar Kitchen, requiring you to use C&H Brown Sugar, and of course, baking powder (brand left to your discretion). Doubtless there are more, perhaps under different names. But all that I've found have no flour and no moisture (unless melted fat counts as moisture?) but do have the baking powder of no apparent function.
Is it totemic? Apotropaic? The remnants of a long-forgotten ritual to hold back chaos?
If I leave it out, the next time I bake ... what will become of us all?

14 comments:

avo said...

If only we lived in the alternate universe where H. P. Lovecraft and Alton Brown co-hosted a program on the Food Network.

(I actually laughed out loud when I got to "totemic." Well played.)

Also, Chocolate Cake And Onions? What's the relationship there?

>> Well, maybe it was a Canadian regional treat, like butter tarts and Nanaimo bars.

I'm blanking on what someone else from Canada or the rest of the U. S. might consider a "regional treat" from the Southern U. S. Probably desserts with a lot of coconut (e.g., your standard sopping wet sour cream coconut cake), a lot of pecans (e.g., pecan pie), or both (German chocolate cake with the canonical coconut pecan caramel icing). Or are those now mainstream within the U. S. and Canada? Chess pie is sufficiently Southern, but it doesn't seem to be a big deal in my part of the South. How about divinity candy (aka divinity fudge) around Christmas?

batgirl said...

Would divinity candy repel the Elder Gods, or only Christian-based evil?
Let's see, what baked goods have the tinge of the exotic south to me?
Chess pie is unfamiliar, but pecan is fairly mainstream now (less so in my childhood), and I have never eaten, or seen on a menu, key lime pie. For all I know, key lime pie exists only as a metaphor for short story construction.
Coconut in my youth was sprinkled on icing (aka frosting) or mixed into macaroons, and that was it.

In what parts of the States is butter the standard addition to cooked oatmeal (known to me as porridge)? I encountered this about 20 years ago, when we drove down to Texas, but the individual states went by so quickly that I usually had only a vague idea of location. I know it was southerly.
-Barbara

batgirl said...

Oh, and the full title is Chocolate Cake and Onions ... with Love. There's an essay and scattered epigrams about balancing your life with both indulgence and necessity (cake & onions) and the importance of love and expressing love. A bit on the glurgey side, but hey, butter tarts!

Lulu said...

Oh, I can assure you that key lime pie exists and is very yummy. It can be found on the menu of a wonderful Cajun restaurant here in Edmonton called Dad-E-O's, which has the added appeal of not allowing anyone under 18 in the joint.

Next time you're in town, we will nosh.

batgirl said...

That sounds great! By the way, I'll be in Calgary in October, for the World Fantasy Convention, but probably flying out, so chances of getting to Edmonton while there are not so much.
-Barbara

Lulu said...

Well, shit.

avo said...

>> Would divinity candy repel the Elder Gods, or only Christian-based evil?

That might depend on whose recipe you're using.

>> I have never eaten, or seen on a menu, key lime pie. For all I know, key lime pie exists only as a metaphor for short story construction.

I know an Arkansas lady of a certain age who considers it one of her signature dishes, and I've seen it made otherwise as well. From my experience, though, lemon icebox pie is more common in the South than key lime pie. They're similar, but not usually the same basic recipe, lemon and lime aside. You also get lemon meringue pie in some places, where it's a point of pride to make a meringue that doesn't weep, either by being soggy below the meringue or by having beads of oil form on the top. Lemon icebox or key lime pie might occasionally be made in a quick version with something like Cool Whip, but one wouldn't try passing off a lemon meringue pie with a fake Cool Whip meringue. It just isn't done, you know.

>> In what parts of the States is butter the standard addition to cooked oatmeal (known to me as porridge)?

I'm afraid I can only offer one data point. My father says, yes, he and his family always put butter in their oatmeal when he was a child in rural Arkansas. I'll try to ask my mother, but I don't know how keen she was on oatmeal. I'm sure neither of them would call it porridge. Porridge, to me, is something exotic but unappetizing that characters eat for breakfast in fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

avo said...

>> A bit on the glurgey side, but hey, butter tarts!

I understand. One can tolerate quite a lot for a good bit of butter tart, butter cookie, butter brickle, butter tablet, etc.

Rochelle R. said...

I recently came across a recipe for flourless oatcakes.
The recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. After the recipe there was a note that said: "If necessary baking powder can be omitted; oatcakes will be hard rather than flaky or crumbly.

batgirl said...

Cool! Thank you, Rochelle - now I'll have to make a batch with and another without, and see if I can tell the difference. Do you have a guess at the chemistry behind it?
-Barbara

batgirl said...

Hmm, my mother made lemon meringue pie, and while she told me it wasn't supposed to have the little golden beads on the meringue, I liked them, and would sneakily scoop them up to eat.
I've heard of icebox pies - do they have to be kept in the fridge?

It sounds as if porridge is for you in the same mental category that I keep 'gruel'.
-Barbara

avo said...

Follow-up: I've asked a couple more southerners, and they reacted like I was crazy *not* to expect butter.

Other additions: brown sugar with cinnamon, white sugar with cinnamon, maple syrup.

As to saying which states you'll find that in, though, I'm still a long way from having an answer.

avo said...

>> Hmm, my mother made lemon meringue pie, and while she told me it wasn't supposed to have the little golden beads on the meringue, I liked them, and would sneakily scoop them up to eat.

I always liked those beads too. I still think they're sort of like wildflowers that someone else considers weeds -- under different circumstances, people would go to a lot of trouble to *make* them happen.

>> I've heard of icebox pies - do they have to be kept in the fridge?

Yes, the ones I know of are just some sort of cold filling (possibly cooked on the stovetop, but not baked) poured into a pie shell. If you didn't keep them cold, they would melt back to a liquid.

The Jell-O no-bake desserts you can buy as mixes (Oreo pie, Reese's peanut butter pie, and the notorious Jell-O cheesecake) seem like they work on the same principle, but with more artificial thickener. They might be first cousins to the icebox pies, actually. They probably belong to the family of refrigerated desserts with a filling made by adding one or more ingredients to Cool Whip non-dairy topping or something similar.

We might need to talk some time about the relationship between processed foods and class differences.

>> It sounds as if porridge is for you in the same mental category that I keep 'gruel'.

Exactly.

batgirl said...

For whatever help it might be, my encounter with buttered oatmeal was while driving to Texas from BC, 1986ish. I recall being quite put out on our return when we crossed the invisible line once more and my oatmeal arrived without a little pat of butter. Harrumph.
I've tested my Scottish heritage once or twice by adding salt to my porridge.It's okay, but I prefer brown sugar and milk.