Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Uchiki kuri squash

My new favorite squash, the uchiki kuri (also called red kuri), is a Japanese cultivar with a teardrop shape and a beautiful reddish-orange skin. Near as I can figure out, the name uchiki kuri translates as bashful chestnut. Awwww. Not sure why bashful, but I definitely get the chestnut part, because the squash has a nice, mild, nutty flavor.

Not having cooked with it before, I wasn't sure what to do about the skin. But I know from years of writing about phytochemicals that there were certainly some important antioxidants hanging around in that deeply colored shell. I compromised by just taking off some of the skin so it wouldn't be a total loss either way. The peeling exposed the beautiful juxtaposition of green and orange you see in the photo at left. There is a similar greenish tinge in the flesh that holds the seeds in the seed cavity.

Turns out that the skin is perfectly edible, or at least in the exemplar that I roasted. The seeds, on the other hand, were encased in what I imagine dragon skin to be like. I roasted some of them with the squash and they were inedible. I will try some more roasted all by themselves, but I'm not sure the game is worth the candle, as my mother used to say (though I never knew what game she was talking about that involved a candle...was it Colonial kids playing a nighttime game of hide-n-seek?).

In the course of researching the kuri squash, I stumbled across several gardening sites with heirloom squash seeds*. In addition to the uchiki kuri, you can also get seeds for a squash called the potimarron, described as the "famous winter squash from France." The potimarron is in fact the same squash (C. maxima) but by another name. In French, potimarron is a mash-up of the words for pumpkin (potiron) and chestnut (marron). VoilĂ , chestnut squash. But it's not bashful, cuz, you know, it's French.

*Try this website: Seed Savers Exchange.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Frustrating old recipes

Feeling in a old-timey kitchen mood, I decided to find an old-timey recipe for all of my home-dried apples.

I stumbled across one called March Pudding in an 1877 cookbook called Buckeye Cookery, and Practical Housekeeping. The book was conceived as a fund-raiser, with recipes submitted by local housewives in Marysville, Ohio. The book sold for about $1.75, and it raised $2,000 to build a parsonage for the First Congregational Church.

The March Pudding recipe came from a Miss Lizzie March, who (I discovered through a little genealogical sleuthing) was the 20-year-old daughter of the local Presbyterian minister, William Gilmore March.

Here is the recipe as it appeared in the cookbook.

It's astonishing to me that recipes with so little information actually got published back in the day. I guess the recipes were more like sketches than actual blueprints for cooking. Maybe all of the women of the 19th century were so accomplished as cooks that they didn't need annoying little details like How much liquid goes into this batter? What kind of pan does it cook in? How hot is the oven? How long do you bake it? And I defy anyone to follow the exact order of business as described in the recipe. It simply can't work.

However, I did my best to reinterpret the information given. I didn't change any of the quantities, but had to make a complete guess on the soaking liquid for the apples. Since it was called a pudding, I made the assumption that it belonged to a class of desserts that were sort of like plum pudding, so I baked it—with much expectation—in a shaped pudding mold*. The resulting dessert was more cake-y and less dense than plum pudding. And I could NOT get it to unmold, though it was perfectly tasty. I have temporarily given up (I mean really, how many molasses cakes is a person expected to have in the refrigerator?), but I may get back to this one day.

I'm putting this out there now in hopes that someone who stumbles across this says, why of course, Lizzie March said bake but she really meant steam. Or else she baked it in some other kind of container that made the dessert easier to unmold/serve.

* The steamed pudding mold shown above is from Creative Cookware. Search on Plum Pudding Mold; they sell 1.5-quart and 2-quart molds. They also sell nonstick molds.