SOUR CREAM PECAN BUNDT CAKE

Call me a baking geek or just a home-body …. but, much like an avid fisherman who can’t wait for that new fishing lure, I LOVE getting a cool,  new baking gadget or pan.  I can be found some days trolling the aisles in Williams Sonoma or Sur le Table, even the restaurant supply warehouse, like someone who’s staking out the place for a heist.  When I see something new or unusual, I must have it.  Without even thinking, I pounce like a leopard and whip out my credit card.  The phrase “do I really need it?” never enters my mind.

My newest addition is Nordic Ware’s Crown Bundt pan.  If nothing else, it’s absolutely gorgeous!  This heavy, 10-cup mold is going to be perfect for so many different recipes … from my traditional (yet hardly ever eaten) Thanksgiving Jell-o mold (a story for another time) to quick breads and cakes to meatloaf … why not?  I think it will make anything look spectacular.

This recipe actually came with the pan (but, of course, I made a couple of changes).  I love a good rich, sour cream coffee cake.  Doesn’t everyone?  This one sounds delicious, and, as they say in England, ‘let’s give it a go!’

SOUR CREAM PECAN COFFEE CAKE
Bake  350° for 50 to 60 minutes (or more). Makes 10-12 servings.

BATTER
3 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
grated zest from lemon
2 cups sour cream

FILLING
1 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
6 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

GLAZE
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tablespoon milk (or more, if needed)

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease and flour your bundt pan, tube pan or mold.  I use a baking spray that contains flour.  It’s so easy!

Prepare the filling by mixing together the toasted, chopped pecans with the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Set aside while you make the batter.

Using a stand or hand mixer, cream the butter, oil and sugar together until very light and fluffy.  In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

To the light and fluffy butter/sugar mixer, add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Then add the vanilla and lemon zest.

At this point, I stopped using the stand mixer and beat in the flour and sour cream by hand.  Starting and ending with the flour.  Using a stand mixer can sometimes result in the batter being overbeaten and becoming heavy.  I don’t like to take that chance.  Mix all together until the batter is thick and well blended.

Spoon 1/3 of the batter in the bottom of your prepared pan.  Sprinkle half the pecan filling evenly over the batter.  Spoon another 1/3 of the batter on top of the filling and then the rest of the filling on top of that.  Finish with the rest of the batter.

To my surprise this recipe made more than the pan could comfortably hold.  There should be at least an inch of room to the top of the pan.  (We’ll see what happens when I bake it.)  Be sure to tap the pan onto the counter to ensure there are no air pockets.  Bake for at least 50 to 60 minutes (depending upon the size and depth of the pan).

Lordy, lordy, lordy … look at that monster!  I guess I was right … too much batter!  As Emeril Lagasse used to say on his tv program, “this is real cooking, folks!”

When done, it should be lightly browned, spring back when touched.  Let it cool for 10 minutes in the pan.  Remove and cool on a rack.

When ready mix together the glaze and pour over the top.  Or, just sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.  (Or both.)

Well, here’s my take on this recipe:  I was quite surprised that the recipe actually made more than could fit into the mold.  Next time, I’ll make a little less.  The shape of the mold certainly gives the cake a very impressive appearance.   But this deliciously-moist, rich cake with its sweet, streusel-like filling could be baked in any type pan and still be absolutely yummy!

Although it is called a coffee cake, it sure goes well with a hot cuppa!  Perfect for any time of the day!  Enjoy!!

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CAFFEINE

This site is about ‘tea‘, as well as ‘toast‘ and ‘travel‘.  But, it seems lately I haven’t posted much about the actual beverage ‘tea‘.  Many people think this is a site about food only.  Actually, it was my love for ‘tea‘ and the closing of my tea business which prompted me to start this blog.  I think I still had much more to say on the subject but my audience was gone.  Well, I haven’t stopped talking about ‘tea‘ yet.

I do realize that I still live in that ‘tea world’, a world in which most people do not live.  So when I overhear someone saying ‘yeah, I can’t drink tea because it has too much caffeine‘, or ‘did you know tea has more caffeine than coffee?‘ I have to step away from the conversation, because it still makes me a little crazy.  I feel compelled to set the record straight once more … TEA does not have more caffeine than coffee.  In the most simplistic of terms … ” A cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

Not enough information for you?  Okay, then here’s my CAFFEINE 101.

Camellia Sinensis plant

Where does caffeine come from?  Well, Mother Nature is responsible for caffeine.  She came up with a natural way to protect over 60 plants from destructive leaf, nut and seed-eating predators.  When these hungry, little insects try to eat these plants they get a mouthful of this bitter organic compound.  For the most part, these plants originated from Asia, Africa and South America, which, of course, is where the trees which give us coffee, cocoa and tea originated.  At this point, I am assuming everyone knows tea (not herbal beverages like chamomile, mint, rooibos, hibiscus, etc.) comes from the camellia sinensis plant, which originated in Asia.

Caffeine Structure

Now we’ve established that caffeine is natural.  It can, however, be ‘manipulated’ and it can also be ‘harvested’.  In the beverage we love so much, there are several factors which determine tea’s caffeine content.  In today’s modern world, it begins with the propagation of the bush.  Plants grown from clones can produce twice as much caffeine as bushes from seeds.  Nitrogen fertilizer can also add another 10% to the normal caffeine level.  From there, the caffeine content in the plant can vary according to the picking season. Teas plucked in cooler weather might produce less caffeine than those plucked in the fast growing hot months. Also, things as subtle as the location of the leaf on the stem, or whether its an unfurled bud, can also affect the level of caffeine.  And let’s not forget that the longer the infusion (the longer the leaves sit in the water), the greater the caffeine content.  Did you know that tea bags, which contain broken leaves, fannings and dust, produce an infusion with far more caffeine than loose leaf tea?

Uber-smart Nigel Melican, research scientist and founder of Teacraft, Ltd., says it best Caffeine varies in the fresh green leaf depending on fineness of pluck. For any tea, be it black, green or white, the caffeine is highest in the bud. Silver needle (white tea) is 100% bud and has the highest caffeine content.  If your white tea is 100% bud then it’s going to be one-third higher in caffeine content than green tea made from two leaves and a bud.”

Learning how to properly pluck tea in China.

Please understand we’re not talking about astronomically high amounts of caffeine … perhaps a variance of 8-10% (which might be just enough to keep some people up at night).  The average tea drinker consumes about 180 mg of caffeine per day as compared to the average coffee drinker’s 330 mg per day (far more if they drink robust coffee such as Starbucks).

Upon drinking this naturally-occurring substance, it is absorbed into the small intestine and within 45 minutes is distributed throughout your body.  Yes, it is a stimulant .  And, yes, it has been shown to increase alertness and concentration, quell headaches (which is why some pharmaceutical companies ‘harvest’ caffeine) and it does speed reaction time.  It also increases digestive juices in the stomach (always served after a meal in Asia).  Although it does not dehydrate the body, it does stimulate the kidneys, which helps the body eliminate toxins.  If caffeine keeps you up at night, avoid drinking it four to five hours before bed (which is the amount of time it takes for the caffeine to work its way out of your system).

For most of us, caffeine really shouldn’t be a concern.  High amounts of caffeine, however, can absolutely have a negative affect on some people.  If you are on medication which is affected by caffeine, or if your doctor is asking you to cut caffeine out of your diet, switch to a decaffeinated tea or a caffeine-free herbal.  (Remember, caffeine is not present in herbals unless they are blended with tea leaves.)  Always consult with your doctor if you have any questions about caffeine’s effects upon your health.

There is much more to say on the subject of caffeine, but I think I’ve gone on enough for the average person.  The next time someone tells me ‘tea has more caffeine than coffee’, I hope you’ll realize that, at that moment, I will be doing everything in my power not to go on a rant … as I’ve done here!  And, for everyone who may still be confused … ” a cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

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References:  Cha DaoCoffee and Health, Wikipedia, Villanova University,

‘GROWNUP’ CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

I recently visited a bakery.  A brand-new, just-opened, homey, woman-owned and operated bakery right in the center of town.  Everything should have worked.  Was there a part of me that was just a wee bit envious?  Absolutely.  I won’t deny that.  So what did I do?  I ordered one of everything.  Yup!  One frosted brownie, one macaron of each flavor, one cupcake of each flavor, one chocolate chip cookie, one sandwich cookie … on and on.  Looking for inspiration, unique flavor combinations, whatever, I justified this outrageous purchase as “research”.

My partner-in-crime and I (no, I wasn’t going to eat all of this myself) took our treasure trove of goodies outside to the nearest bench and dove in head first.  What???  Everything was terrible.  For the first time in my life, I have to say I’ve never had bad bakery goodies …. ever!!  Until today!  (No, I’m not going to tell you the name of the bakery.)  I was sooooooo disappointed.  What should have been a belt-loosening, belly groaning sugar high, was just a grimace and a groan.

What just happened?  And, now what do I do?  Do I go back and tell the bakery staff their stuff is sickly sweet, flavorless and has the mouth feel of cold vegetable shortening?   Or do I just toss everything into the bin and say nothing.  Part of me says the owner/baker should know.  If it were my bakery, I’d want to know.  But I didn’t.  What I did do was to come home and bake a batch of “good” chocolate chip cookies.  I hope you like them.  And, if you don’t, PLEASE let me know!!!

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GROWNUP CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Why do I call them”grownup?  Because they are very rich, but aren’t overly sweet.  I use bittersweet, high cacao content chips, not semi-sweet or milk.  You can certainly use whichever you prefer.

Bake 350° for 10 to 13 minutes.  Don’t overbake!  Makes as many cookies as you want, depending upon the size.

1 cup(2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 10 oz. pkg. 60% cacao chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Using a stand mixer (or hand mixer), beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Then add the vanilla and beaten eggs.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, oats, baking soda and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  You can use a big wooden spoon, or, if you are like me, you just switched out the paddle on your stand mixer to the bread one.

Add the chocolate chips and the walnuts to the batter.  Mixing well.  If you don’t like nuts, leave them out, and add more chocolate chips.  They’re your cookies.

On parchment-lined baking sheets, drop spoonfuls of dough (or with an ice cream scoop).  The size is up to you.  Larger ones will take another minute or two to bake, but PUHLEEZE don’t overbake these cookies.  They need to be a bit soft in the middle and gooey!

After spooning the dough onto the baking trays, dip the bottom of a drinking glass into flour and press onto each ball of dough.  You want to flatten them slightly.  If you are making these ahead, you can chill the trays at this point, if you like, up to four hours.

Bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes … again, depending upon the size.  If you want small, “adult-sized” so that you can eat three or four and not feel guilty, fine.  And, if you want one big “two hander”, go for it!  Just remember …. underdone is best!


These ultra-rich, dense, gooey chocolaty nutty cookies should make you smile.  If they don’t, please contact me.

Your welcome!
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PIT BROW LASSES

If you read my post on THE COURTING CAKE you might remember where I mentioned how the coal mines in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution were staffed by, not only men, but women too.  Today is National Women’s Day and, I feel, it’s the perfect day to shine a little light on these brave, incredibly hard-working women who never received the attention they so rightly deserved … Pit Brow Lasses.

Because of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain in the 19th century, coal production increased dramatically.  Not only was coal used for fueling the steam engines, it was also used for heating and lighting.   In the coal mining areas, from Yorkshire County to Wales, it was very common for whole families to work in the mines.  “Pitwork” in these areas, was usually the only work to be found.

Prior to the passage of “The Mines and Collieries Act of 1842” when it became illegal to employ women and children to work underground, it was commonplace for women, young and old, and their children to work in the mine shafts, alongside their husbands, fathers and brothers, with pick axes and shovels, hauling coal and moving stones.  Children as young as five often worked underground alongside other members of their family.  From 6am to 6pm, six days a week, the work was dirty, brutal and incredibly dangerous.  And for a mere six to eight shillings per week,  depending upon which owner you worked for, was just enough to keep them out of the workhouse.  The women and children, of course, worked for less than half what the men received.

The shafts were dimly lit, hot, cramped, with no ventilation.  Most often the children worked either as ‘trappers’, opening and closing ventilation doors, or as ‘hurriers’, pushing tubs of coal.  And with baskets strapped to their backs, or chains wrapped around their chests, armed with picks and shovels, the women worked right alongside the men, in the shafts, hauling coal.

Sweating profusely and stripped to the waist, if they weren’t completely naked, the women would wear trousers.  But they had very few choices.  It was extremely hot in the shafts, but if they wore lightweight, flimsy clothing, it would be seen as inviting promiscuity.  The trousers were practical, but often led to large holes wearing through, and provided no protection after all.  Needless to say, Victorian England was outraged.  No, not about the dangers of working in the mines, but about the clothing or ‘lack of’ which these women miners did or did not wear.  The mining women were then branded as “unsuitable for marriage and unfit to be mothers.”

Devastating accidents occurred more frequently than not … fires and explosions were commonplace, but it was a flash flood in 1838 in a Yorkshire mine, which caused the deaths of 26 children, all of whom died trying to escape the pit … 11 girls aged from 8 to 16 and 15 boys between 9 and 12 years.

This disaster led to a public outcry and finally came to the attention of Queen Victoria who ordered an inquiry.  Commissioners began to investigate the working conditions in the mines and seeing for themselves, they were appalled by what they found. The working conditions were horrific.  This resulted in the passing of the Mines Act  which prohibited the employment of women and children under the age of 10 to work underground in the mines.  But for many mining families who were dependent upon this income, it was a devastating blow.  These women were not afraid of hard work and needed their wages.

After the passage of the Act, some women, knowing there were few inspectors around, and that the employers (who paid the women half of what the men earned) would turn a blind eye, continued to work underground in the pits.  Others continued to work at the mines, but above ground, sorting the coal.   Slowly, however, these strong, hard-working women began to accept the inevitable fact that they had to work above the pits, and not in them.  These women and children were eventually replaced with pit ponies, horses who were bred to be miniature in stature, whose size and strength was perfect for pulling the coal barges in the mine shafts.

Above ground the work was still rough, cold, dirty and physical.  But now the women chose practical clothing and dressed more as men than as women.  They wore thick boots to protect their feet, trousers under heavy, rough skirts to protect their legs, and kerchiefs tied tightly around their heads to keep out the coal dust.  These hard-working coal mining women quickly became known as ‘Pit Brow Lasses’.

 

Victorian society now feared these “Pit Brow Lasses” who dressed and acted like men, but somehow they became a sort of fascination for social commentators of that time.  Some social commentators had a fascination for not only mining women, but any woman who worked outside the home, from servants to factory workers.  But it wasn’t the fact that these women worked at the mines that caused the stir, it was only the fact that they wore trousers.

Photographers came from around the country just to photograph them.  Most of the “Pit Brow Lasses” saw this as an opportunity to make a little extra cash and began charging to have their photo taken.  Now many of these extraordinary images are on display in mining galleries in and around Yorkshire County.  As with most women, though, these Pit Brow Lasses didn’t think they were doing anything out of the ordinary.  They did what all women around the world do.  They had a job to do, a family to support, and they did it!


“A Pit Brow Wench For Me”

Anonymous

“I am an Aspull collier, I like a bit of fun
To have a go at football or in the sports to run
So goodbye old companions, adieu to jolity,
For I have found a sweetheart, and she’s all the world to me.

Could you but see my Nancy, among the tubs of coal,
In tucked up skirt and breeches, she looks exceedingly droll,
Her face besmear’d with coal dust, as black as black can be,
She is a pit brow lassie but she’s all the world to me.”

 

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References:  Balmaiden, History, Atlas Obscura, Daily Mail, Wikipedia, History Extra
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LEMON LAVENDER SCONES

It’s another wintry day and, as with most everyone, I’m ready for spring.  Not, of course, that we’ve had a bad winter, but … I’m still ready for spring.  So, to brighten my mood, I am going to buy some bright, cheerful flowers and then make scones.  Not everyday scones, but fresh, fragrant Lemon Lavender Scones … and, I’m going to serve them with an indulgent honey butter.  A springtime treat!

These scones are not difficult to make at all.  Assemble all your ingredients and give them a go.

LEMON LAVENDER SCONES
Bake 400° .  Makes 8 to 12.  Bake for 15-20 minutes depending upon size.

2 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons dried lavender, food grade
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream, cold
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large egg, beaten for egg wash
Confectioners’ Sugar Glaze (optional):
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon milk

In a large bowl or food processor (which I prefer), mix or pulse together all dried ingredients:  flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, lemon zest and lavender.

Using your fingers or a fork, work butter into dry ingredients until just crumbly.  If using a food processor, pulse 8 or 9 times.

Whisk together egg, lemon juice and heavy cream and add it to the mixture.  With a fork, bring  together quickly.  Do not overmix or scones will be heavy.

Dump the mixture onto a lightly floured board.  It will be a bit crumbly.  Knead two or three times to bring the dough together.  Again, do not overwork the dough.

Shape into a round about 1/2″ thick.  Cut the desired number of scones you’d like … in the shapes you’d like.  Round.  Triangular.  Square.  It’s up to you.  I decided to be creative and cut mine  to resemble a flower.

Place the scones onto a parchment lined baking sheet.   Brush the tops lightly with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.  Refrigerate the scones for at least 1/2 hour.  This will ensure the butter gets cold and your scones will be light.  While the scones are refrigerated, preheat the oven to 400°.  Depending upon the size and thickness, bake anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes until baked through and lightly golden brown.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.  (Unfortunately, the angle of the photo doesn’t show how much they’ve risen.)  For confectioners’ glaze, mix together four tablespoons confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon milk.  When the scones are cool, drizzle with confectioners’ glaze.
How do you like my scone flower?

I mixed up some honey butter*, but you can serve these light, fragrant and delicious scones with absolutely anything … from strawberry jam to lemon curd to clotted cream.

Be sure to put the kettle on and have your cuppa ready because you’re going to want to dive right into these … well, at least, I did!

*Honey Butter
Mix together one stick softened butter with two to three tablespoons honey.
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THE COURTING CAKE

Today you might think it a very thoughtful gesture to ‘bake a cake’ for your loved one … especially for Valentine’s Day.  But there was a time, in northern Britain, when baking a cake to show your love was exactly what you did.

Lancashire County, north of Cheshire and west of Yorkshire, was a very working-class area.  Although the low lands were and are important agricultural areas, the predominant industries were coal mining and textile mills. The Industrial Revolution actually started in this county with the invention of steam power, fueled by coal, and the resulting creation of the factory system.  The coal mines were staffed by men (women were forbidden to work underground in the mines … but that’s a story for another day), and the textile mills were staffed by women.  The work was hard, usually six days a week, with little time and few places for socializing.  But these young, hard-working men and women found a way.

Each Saturday and/or Sunday, eager-to-meet-the-opposite-sex, young men and women would dress in their finery, and along a designated area of the town square … women friends together on one side of the street … men on the other … each group would stroll or “promenade” up and down the streets. Hopefully, you might catch the eye of the opposite sex and, if you liked what you saw, you would accidentally meet at the local tea shop.  Different towns had different designated “promenades” and “accidental meeting spots”.  In some towns the “sorting” process was even more segregated.  In one part of town the promenade would be comprised of only factory workers, while across town, would be those who worked in offices.  The end result, however, was the same … to find true love.

We’re all familiar with the old saying “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, well this is where the “courting cake” makes its appearance.  Should the connection be made and true love was found, the young woman would bake her betrothed a cake … a “courting cake“.  Was this to impress the young man or perhaps the potential mother-in-law, we’ll never know, but the cake was always the same … a shortbread base, filled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  How can you go wrong with that classic combination?

This tradition didn’t just exist in England.  It actually crossed the Atlantic into America, as so many traditions did.  The future “first lady of the United States”, Mary Todd, made this cake for her betrothed, Abraham Lincoln.  Upon tasting it, Lincoln proclaimed, “it was the best cake he had ever had”.  This recipe eventually became a tradition in the Lincoln home and is printed in Mary Todd’s cookbook.

As a symbol of love and in keeping with the Lancashire tradition, in the last public appearance before they were married, Kate Middleton and Prince William were presented with a courting cake.  The shortbread-based, two-layer cake was baked was in the shape of a heart with the couple’s names on the top.

I’m all about keeping traditions alive and with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I think my day is going to be spent making a “courting cake” to show my love for my special guy.

COURTING CAKE
Bake 350°F.  25-30 mins.  Makes one two-layer cake.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup milk
2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups strawberries
1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Butter and flour two (or three) round cake pans.  In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy … about 6 to 8 mins.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Add vanilla.  In a separate bowl, thoroughly sift together dry ingredients.  Fold the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture.  Slowly add the milk.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake between 20 to 30 mins (a little less if using three pans).  The top should be lightly browned and firm to the touch.  Remove and cool thoroughly.

Meanwhile, slice the strawberries and whip the heavy cream.  I like a touch of vanilla and tablespoon or two of confectioners sugar in my whipped cream.

To assemble, place one layer on the plate, top with half the whipped cream (or 1/3 if making three layers) and half the strawberries.  Place the top layer on and repeat.  Be sure to arrange the berries in a decorative pattern.  Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and enjoy.

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References:  Downton Abbey Cooks, New Opinions, Lancashire Life, Curious Taste Bud
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GUINNESS

Do I drink Guinness? No.  I’ve tried Guinness … but just don’t like it.  I am, however, in the minority.  Guinness is one of the most popular beers in the world.  So why am I blogging about something I don’t care for?  Because I find their story fascinating.  With so many breweries, not only in Great Britain, but around the world, how did this small Irish company become such a favorite?
During the middle ages, beer and ale were the most common drinks in Britain.  Because many of the rivers and waterways in the cities were polluted, water, at that time was not always safe to drink.  Beer (a much less alcoholic version than we know today) was drunk with every meal, by everyone, every day.  Providing the bulk of the caloric intake, beer was also believed to be nutritionally good for you.

Brewing beer at home was quite common and the Guinness family did as well. I’m sure one of Arthur Guinness’s jobs growing up was to help his father with the brewing.  Although many families brewed their own beer, it was also commercially available.  At inns and taverns, alewives would put out an ale-wand to show when their beer or ale was ready.  Gradually brewers began organizing themselves into guilds and as brewing became more reliable, many inns and taverns then stopped brewing and began to buy beer from these early commercial breweries.

Arthur Guinness

When Guinness was 27, his godfather died and left him £100 (over £5,000 today).  Having an entrepreneurial spirit, in 1755 Guinness purchased a floundering brewery not far from Dublin.  He began brewing ale … an “unhopped” brew.  After four years, Arthur put his brother in charge and then purchased another brewery, about 20 miles away at St. James’s Gate in Dublin.  The brewery industry was beginning to fail, but it didn’t deter young Guinness who took out a 9,000-year lease on a 4-acre, run-down brewery … for a cost of £45 per year.  And just ten years later, Arthur Guinness began exporting his brew.  It may only have been six barrels to England, but it was ground breaking at that time.

In 1761 Arthur married Olivia Whitmore, who bore him 21 children – 10 of which lived into adulthood.  Three of his sons eventually joined him to work at the brewery, with Arthur Jr., his second son, eventually becoming senior partner.

Meanwhile, Londoners were enjoying a new style of dark beer, called Porter or “stout”, named after the river porters who worked in London.  Although his brewery was doing well, Arthur made the decision to stop brewing ales and concentrate on perfecting this bold, black beer.  In 1778 Guinness started selling only Porter.  By his death in 1803, the annual output at the brewery was over 20,000 barrels.  With Arthur Jr. now at the helm, exporting became his focus and sales continued to soar … from 350,000 barrels in 1868 (now with Arthur Jr.’s son in charge) to 779,000 barrels in 1876 to over one million barrels ten years later.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth’s husband, the beloved Prince Albert in 1871, a local pub owner decides to create a drink in his honor.  By combining Guinness’ Stout with champagne, he created the Black Velvet, a drink that is still very popular today.

The Guinness brewery grew by leaps and bounds and remained in the family for four generations.  The original 4-1/2 acre property grew to where it boasted its own medical facility, fire department, railway system and canteens; and it took very good care of its workers.  By the 1900s the brewery provided unparalleled benefits for its 5,000 employees, costing the brewery one-fifth of its total wages.

By 1914, Guinness was producing 2,652,000 barrels of beer a year, more than double that of its nearest competitor Bass, and was supplying more than 10% of the total UK market.  In the 1930s, Guinness became the seventh largest company in the world.

Some very creative advertising and marketing campaigns were begun at this time.
The first advertisement featured the slogan ‘Guinness is Good for You’.
Following this success came ‘My Goodness, My Guinness,’ which featured the now famous Guinness toucan.
When World War II broke out, all British Troops in France receive a bottle of Guinness to accompany their Christmas dinner.
And let’s not forget the Guinness Book of World Records, which came about in 1954 when the Managing Director had the idea for a promotion based upon settling pub arguments.  Little did he know that this book would go on to become an all-time best seller, and spawned an entire culture of its own.
To celebrate their 200 anniversary in 1958, Guinness dropped 150,000 bottles into the Atlantic Ocean, from different points, over six weeks.  Should one of those bottles reach shore, inside you may have found a certificate from ‘the Office of King Neptune’, or a booklet telling the story of Guinness.  Others may have had instructions on how to turn the bottle into a lamp.

Guinness Book of World Records – Longest Bicycle

In 2000 Guinness transformed the former fermentation plant at the St. James’s Gate Brewery into a magnificent seven-story experience, now the biggest tourist attraction in Dublin.  The story of Guinness is brought to life from its humble beginnings through to its modern-day successes.

Today Guinness is brewed and enjoyed all over the world.  It may not be a favorite of mine, but obviously I am in the minority.   As Irish actor Peter O’Toole once said, “My favorite food from my homeland is Guinness. My second choice is Guinness. My third choice … would have to be Guinness.” 

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References:  Ranker.com, Guinness, Wikipedia, World Records
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CHICKEN “POT” PIE WITH ROASTED VEG

I wonder why Americans add “pot” in the name of a meat pie. In the U.K. this is a “chicken pie with roasted veg”, but here in the states, it is a “chicken pot pie”. It doesn’t really matter to me what it is called, as long as its delicious … which this pie is!

Pot pies or pies in a pastry crust seem to have gone out of fashion. You can’t beat them, however, when the weather is as cold and gloomy as it has been and you need something hearty and comforting. They’re also a great way to use up whatever leftovers you may have in the frig. If you want a real time saver, you can buy pre-made pie dough at the grocery store, and along with a rotisserie chicken and a package of frozen vegetables (all of which I’ve done before), just assemble and bake.

Not today though. The chicken is going to be marinated and the vegetables are going to be roasted, which gives this pie a whole new dimension and depth of flavor. Although this is a ‘from scratch’ recipe, all of it can be done ahead of time … make the dough one day (up to three days in advance) … the vegetables another … and the chicken another. But it’s a very wintry day, and I’m in the mood to bake.

CHICKEN AND ROASTED VEG PIE
Preheated oven – 400°F. Roasting time – 20 to 30 mins. Baking time – 30 mins.

2 to 3 lbs. skinless chicken (breast, leg, thigh or combination)
Pie Crust for 2 9” pies
Marinade:
1/4 cup white wine or chicken broth
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped  
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
Stock:
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine or water
2 teaspoons cornstarch + 2 tablespoons water = slurry
1/2 cup cream
Vegetables:
6 cups vegetables – cut in chunky pieces
– carrots
– sweet potatoes
– onions
– bell peppers, red and/or green
– mushrooms
(or any combination – Brussel sprouts, parsnips, cauliflower, etc)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 egg

Early in the day (or the day before) prepare the marinade.  Mix all in a bowl and set aside. Cut the chicken into cubes, about 2”.  Pour the marinade over the chicken, cover and refrigerate … at least two hours. When you are ready to assemble, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Peel and cut the vegetables into chunky pieces. Put them into a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Spread the veg on a roasting pan and roast for about 30 to 40 minutes until tender and browned. After they are beautifully charred, let them cool and, if too big, cut into bite-sized pieces.

While the vegetables are roasting, heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade with a slotted spoon and brown in the hot pan. Don’t fuss with them, let them brown – 3 to 4 minutes. Then add the chicken stock, the remaining marinade and bring to a boil. Meanwhile make a slurry with the cornstarch and water.  After the chicken mixture has reached a boil, add the cornstarch slurry to thicken and make a gravy.  When it has thickened, take it off the heat and add the cream.  (I said this was hearty …  not lo-cal.) Taste for seasoning.

Add the vegetables to the chicken mixture and stir to combine.  Again, check for seasoning. The liquid may have thinned. If it’s too runny, add more of the slurry to thicken it.

Spoon the chicken and vegetable filling into pie plates … one very large pie plate or casserole, two 8″ pie plates, or many individual ones.

Roll out the pastry dough. Not too thin. Cover the mixture with the pie crust. Press down slightly and seal the edges. Brush with a beaten egg and then cut little slits in the crust for the steam to escape. It’s always fun to decorate with the scraps of pie dough (which, you can see, I did.)

I made one large 9″ and two smaller, single serving pies, which are going into the freezer to be baked and enjoyed another day. Bake in a preheated oven at 375°F for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown and the filling is piping hot.

Serve immediately with a nice crisp salad and glass of wine. So delicious. So comforting. So good!

I hope you enjoy this comforting meal as much as we did.
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DONUT DOLLIES

Who doesn’t love donuts. The puffy little mounds of fried deliciousness can be found in countries all over the world. They may or may not have a hole in the middle and they may be called by another name … beignets, bombaloni, bismarks, sfenj, lokma, badusha and more; but we all know what these deep-fried sweet yeasty balls of tenderness dipped in a sugary substance are … and we love them.

Although the donut appears to be such a true symbol of America, I wonder how many know that the donut was not invented here. I wonder, also, how many people know how important the donut became during a time of crisis?

A fried ball of dough can be traced as far back as prehistoric times, but historians believe that the sweetened version of fried dough we’ve all come to love originated in the Netherlands, and were (and still are) known as ‘olykoeks’ or oily cakes. From Amsterdam the donuts or oily cakes came to New Amsterdam (or, as we know it today, New York City) in the late 1700s. But as popular as they are today, donuts really didn’t come into their own until World War I. Women volunteers from the U.S. and England served up donuts daily to home-sick American boys. These brave, selfless women earned the name “donut dollies“, a name that is still being used today.

It began in 1917 when the Salvation Army sent 250 women volunteers to the trenches of eastern France in order to boost morale by providing some of the same comforting touches the soldiers would have enjoyed at home. One of the more specific requests from the men was for a taste of something sweet, like pies or cookies. But baking in the battlefields was absolutely impossible, never mind trying to get supplies.

Two of the women, Margaret Sheldon and Helen Purviance came up with the idea for making donuts. They collected surplus rations for the dough and used wine bottles and shell casings for rolling pins. They then filled a soldier’s helmet with lard for frying. The Boston Daily Globe reprinted a letter from Sgt. Edgar S. Chase of Haverhill, Massachusetts, who wrote from the battlefield, “Can you imagine hot doughnuts, and pie and all that sort of stuff? Served by mighty good looking girls, too.”

Archival footage courtesy of the Salvation Army

These brave women became lovingly known as “donut dollies” and were just one small part of a larger female war effort. John T. Edge in Donuts: An American Passion cites that these treats were an immediate hit, and cemented the Armed Forces’ relationship with donuts, and the women who served them. “By the close of World War I, the Salvation Army was among the strongest charitable forces in America – and their chosen totem, the doughnut, was an ingrained symbol of home.”

When World War II began, the Red Cross immediately began recruiting young women to serve as “donut dollies.” The women had to be at least 25 years of age, with a college education, pass a physical exam, and have a pleasing personality. They needed to be intelligent, charming and sensible. They were expected to be “the girl next door” … nothing more. From the many volunteers, only one woman out of six passed.

The Red Cross then began retrofitting English Army buses to serve as “Clubmobiles” supplying not just coffee and donuts to the troops but outfitted with a small lounge where the men could sit for a few moments. With freshly made donuts, hot coffee, a record player, gum, cigarettes, magazines, newspapers and a friendly face these Clubmobiles provided the morale boost the soldiers desperately needed. The first clubmobile arrived in France just days after the D-day invasion, staffed with three women volunteers. By July 1944 there were well over 100 clubmobiles in action.

“We were standing in the village street in a row serving our coffee and donuts and I was at the end of the line with the coffee dipper. And a G.I. came up to me, a very young guy, a 19-year-old, like a lot of them were, and he said his name was Jerry and he just needed to talk to me,” said Barbara Pathe, a Clubmobile worker with the troops in Germany. “And so he stood there and talked to me the whole time we were serving. Listening was the biggest thing we did. Nothing else, just listening.”

With volunteers from every walk of life, women played an important role in the American war effort, risking, and some losing, their lives to do so. The Donut Dollies continued their service throughout France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany until 1945 when WW II was won, but they did not stop there. They continued to operate during not only the Korean War, but the Vietnam War as well.

The Vietnam War was a divisive and highly controversial war. Morale within the troops was at an all-time low. In 1965, Defense Department officials asked the Red Cross to establish a program in Vietnam and the “Donut Dollies” were put into service once again. From 1965 through 1972, nearly 630 brave, young women served in Vietnam through this program.

In 2014 filmmaker Norm Anderson made a documentary about two women who served as “Donut Dollies” in Vietnam as they attempted to retrace their steps during this tumultuous era. One of the donut dollies was Norm’s mother. The other, her best friend. If you are interested in learning more, please click on this link …
The Donut Dollies an untold story about American women in Vietnam.

Donut Dollies in service to the Red Cross in Vietnam. Credit Larry Ray/American Red Cross

From World War I to the Vietnam War “Donut Dollies” were not shielded from the horrors of war. Not only did they drive the buses and fix them when they broke down, the Donut Dollies risked their lives every day as they tried to fulfill their mission to cheer up the troops. They saw death all around them, and some women lost their lives, but each day they had to compartmentalize their own fear and sadness, and provide that glimmer of hope and kindness which was so appreciated. 

We can all sit back and debate the merits of Dunkin’ Donuts vs Krispy Kreme vs the local donut shop, but one thing we can all agree on is that “we love donuts and we love the “Donut Dollies“.

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References: Smithsonian, All Good Found, NY Times, Easy Science, War Veterans, My Recipes,
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Peek Freans

How about “a nice-cuppa-tea-and-a-sit-down”?  It’s the perfect way to recharge when out for a day of sightseeing, or shopping, or just running errands.  The afternoon is winding down and you need to relax for a few moments, over a hot cuppa.  And, what do you need when you’re having that “sit-down”?  A biscuit or two, of course.

The marketing genius who decided that tea and biscuits should go together was James Peek.  Perhaps you’ve heard of the Peek Freans Company, once one of the biggest biscuit (cookie) companies in the world.  How did it start?  With ‘tea’, of course!

William Peek was born into a wealthy family from Devon.  In 1818 William decided to move to London and start a tea importing business, W. Peek and Company.  It became quite successful and within two years William’s two brothers, Richard and James, decided to join the firm.  The name of the company then became, Peek Brothers and Company.

Peek Bros Trademark — Camel Caravan. 1884. Peek House, 20 Eastcheap, London. These premises were the headquarters of Peek Bros & Co., dealers in tea, coffee and spices, built 1883 – 1885. (Ward-Jackson)

In 1824, James Peek married Elizabeth Masters and had 8 children.  As most fathers, James wanted his sons to join him in the family tea business.  But his two eldest sons were not at all interested in tea.  Ever-creative James, realized that a business which would complement “tea” might be perfect for them.  He suggested a biscuit business.  Of course, his sons were still just teenagers at this point, so now James needed someone to run his new biscuit business.

3rd U.S. Infantry eating hard tack.

James’ niece, Hanna, had recently married George Frean.  George was a miller and baker of “ship biscuits” or what was commonly called “hard tack”.  Hard tack is a simple, tasteless cracker made from flour, water and salt.  It is very inexpensive to make and can last for long periods of time, making it commonly used by the military.  James wrote to George, saying that he had set up a biscuit business for his sons, but because he was still managing the tea business, he wanted to know if George would manage the new biscuit business.  George agreed.  The business was set up with James and George as partners, and the factory opened in London in 1857.   The new partners registered their company as the Peek Frean Company.  Just as James had predicted, the business took off, but after three years, the sons wanted nothing more to do with it.

Now George needed help.  George wrote to his long-time school mate, John Carr of the Scottish biscuit company (perhaps you’ve heard of Carr Crackers and Biscuits).  Carr accepted the offer and came down from Scotland to join the company in 1860.  Throughout this time the Peek Frean Company was just producing those tasteless “ship biscuits”, but Carr was working on new ideas and new products.  In 1861, they introduced the Garibaldi biscuit, a thin oblong of biscuit dough with a filling of dried currants.  It’s still very popular in the U.K. as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Now it was time for a softer, sweeter biscuit with no “docker holes” (which kept the biscuit from rising during baking).  Carr named this new soft and crumbling, yet crisp biscuit, the Pearl Biscuit.  The Pearl Biscuit was revolutionary.  Everyone loved them.   In the meantime, an order from the French government came in for 460 tons of “hard tack” which was needed to help feed the armies during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.  Business was booming!

After the “Pearl”, came the “Marie”, then the “Chocolate Table”, “Pat-a-Cake”, the “Golden Puff” and then in 1910, the company introduced the first cream sandwich biscuit, now known as the “Bourbon” biscuit , a chocolate sandwich with a chocolate cream filling.  But did Peek Frean invent this biscuit?

Credit for the “Bourbon” biscuit, the “Custard Creme” and “Nice” biscuits go to Harold Trixie, not an employee of Peek Frean, but housemaster at the King Edward VI Boarding School in Nottinghamshire.  Harold’s father was a baker,  and created the “two biscuits sandwiched together with a creamy filling”.   Boarding schools at that time were notorious for underfeeding their students.  Remembering the French-inspired baked goods his father would make, Trixie used the same method, a soft filling between a harder outer shell, to make biscuits for his young male students.  Disguised as a demonstration of good etiquette, Trixie began hosting informal ‘afternoon tea’ sessions at the boy’s school, bringing in his own baked goods and biscuits.   Because of the extra sugar and fat provided by the biscuits, it was noticed that Harold Trixie’s students had begun to outperform their peers.  His chocolate creation was named the ‘Bourbon’ after the French noblemen’s House of Bourbon.

The Peek Frean Company began hearing about these unusual two-piece with a creamy filling cocoa biscuits.  They contacted the school to ask whether they could reproduce these interesting biscuits, for which they were willing to pay a fee.  When put in touch with Harold Trixie, they were told that the biscuits were free to whoever cared to bake them.  Peek Frean began producing Bourbons, crediting Trixie with his creation, and they became an immediate success.

Peek Frean’s mission was that their workforce should be healthy, comfortable and contented.  For over a hundred years Peek Frean’s focus was the community, with free medical and dental care for their over 4,000 workers.  In addition to its own fire brigade and post office, they founded a cricket club in 1868 and later musical and dramatic societies were set up. In 1918, they cut back worker’s hours, introduced a week’s paid holiday for everyone, a pension fund, and daily tea breaks.  This was a true family-run business which employed generations of families.  Sadly, the biscuit factory closed in 1989, but there’s hardly a Brit who doesn’t lovingly remember them.

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References:  Brighton Toy Museum, Cook’s Info, Wikipedia, Exploring Southwark, Rousdon Estate, Quora,