I've had the weekend off, which is great, cause of this stinkin' bronchitis. Two days of pretty much not doing anything--and feeling guilty about it. But feeling under the weather, having lousy weather, and hacking up a lung whenever I go outside has kept me on my couch or at the computer. And reading. Lots of reading. Lack of good TV and no boyfriend to watch movies with me (Bud has been a busy man all weekend, and staying away from his sickie girlfriend) has kept my nose in books. A good thing, cause I finally finished a wonderful book about the amazing contributions to American cooking by immigrants. The book is called 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, by Jane Ziegelman.
A book I've had on my bookcase for about a year. Finally dove in and after a few stops and starts, finished it today. I have a whole new appreciation for home cooks, and I will never walk through the grocery store again without gazing at all the wonderful foods we have simply because immigrants came to this country with not much but their gifts of food, and a determination to remain true to their homeland traditions through cooking.
Did you know that at one time, concerned New Yorkers felt that pickles (wildly popular with Jewish immigrants and sold everywhere) were considered addictive to children, much like adults drinking whiskey? Yep. People were concerned that the food Jews preferred--highly spiced, garlicky, vinegary goodness was bad for you--instead milk, some simple veggies, and oatmeal were the way to go to keep you healthy.
How could I live without some fantastic, rustic, earthy bread today? Well Germans loved it, but "native" Americans had too delicate digestive systems, and preferred what we know as Wonderbread. The Germans got it right--their bread was hardy, filling, and could stand up to all the great foods they piled on them for open faced sandwiches.
And who knew Italian food was frowned upon for years and years? It was seen as peasant food, and not very nutritious. The Italian immigrants faced the worst of the name calling and descriptions of laziness, often working the worst jobs with not much pay. What they did eat was low in meat and high in macaroni.
All this reading made me A) Want to try Matzo balls B)Eat a corned beef sandwich, and C) Make something in my own kitchen from what I had on hand.
What was calling to me was something sweet. With my taste buds on the fritz (how frustrating to just kinda "taste" something!!) I am fruitlessly searching my house for something, anything, that I can wrap my taste buds around and actually taste. I wanted oatmeal bars. Not cookies, but bars with fruit in them. I mentally tallied up some leftover stuff I had in my kitchen: frozen cranberries, oatmeal, sugar, butter. I found some chopped pecans in the freezer, and a little bit of blueberries leftover in the fridge. An orange for zest. Now to find a recipe. I found this one on AllRecipes.com. Simple enough. Reading through the comments had me messing with the recipe. I added more cranberries, more sugar, and tossed in my blueberries to make my cranberry filling. I added more butter to the crust, and tossed in those chopped pecans:
Can I just say the finished product weighed about 5 pounds? That's 5 pounds of warm, ooey, gooey, tart-yet-sweet-with-a-hint-of-blueberry goodness on a plate? Holy crap! What I could taste was awesome, and those darn pecans reminded me once again of how much I love nuts, and really should use them more often in my dishes. I ate this while it was still a little warm, but let me tell you--this would be awesome with a side of vanilla ice cream after about a 10 minute cool down.
So thank you, immigrants from around the world. You got this gal to forage in her kitchen, mess with a recipe, and make it my own. You reminded me to appreciate the bounty we have in this country, and that sometimes making do with bits and pieces we have in our kitchen can turn out wonderful dishes. I only wish Bud was here to try them! I fear unless I freeze some bars, there won't be any left. I will definitely be making these again, with my modifications.
And if you have the time, and love to read books on food like I do, read this book. It is just simply fascinating and full of wondrous things :) I will say, I don't like pickles, but I sure do like whiskey.