Sunday, November 1, 2015
Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Hallowell, Maine
Prior to the European invasion, the land around Hallowell was home to the Penobscot, or Panawahpskek, tribe. Hallowell was named for Benjamin Hallowell, a merchant from Boston. It was originally part of the city of Augusta, but it became its own town when Augusta broke off from it in 1797. The entire area was a part of the state of Massachusetts to begin with, but in 1820, Maine seceded from Massachusetts, and became its own state.
From 1815 to 1908, granite was the major industry for Hallowell. Ice was also a large part of their economy. Today, though, the city is known for its antique shops and pubs. For the most part, Hallowell has been a town relatively untouched by the major events of American history, though they did send many men to fight for the Union during the Civil War. The city today leans more liberal, in terms of politics, as it did then. Many people joined the war in order to help abolish slavery.
Why Hallowell? Because it's Halloween, of course! What a perfectly named city for this holiday!
The Food: A Duo of Desserts
I haven't done an all dessert post since Washington state's trio of apple desserts. Maine has a lot of seafood dishes it's known for, but as with last week with Maryland, there are so many kinds of seafood I don't eat that it wasn't very practical for me to feature them. This meant I had to get a bit more creative. With the fact that I would be doing this on Halloween, I decided to go in the dessert direction. Maine is also known for blueberries, and I opted for a recipe that heavily featured blueberries in their honor. Further research revealed a dish I have heard of, but never tried. I knew this was the time to try it!
First up is a recipe I found in my own collection. It comes from the Taste of Home magazine, unknown date.
Blueberry Oat Cake
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup packed brown sugar(I used 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce and I think it turned out just fine)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups quick-cooking oats
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, unthawed
1 cup chopped walnuts(I used pecans because they are naturally sweeter in taste than walnuts), optional
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, buttermilk, brown sugar(and applesauce, if using) and egg. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; add to batter. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes(or by hand, which is what I did). Fold in oats, blueberries and walnuts(or pecans), if desired.
Makes 12-16 servings
Next up, a New England staple called Indian Pudding. I don't know about you, but I am not necessarily comfortable eating a dish with the word "Indian" in it, when it isn't actually Indian food. This dish has an interesting history. In England, it is made with wheat and is known as Hasty Pudding. You may have heard of this. It's pretty well-known, and even has its own club. When people started traveling to the New World, they discovered new ingredients, such as corn, that when dried and ground, was a grain that could be used in a variety of ways. The Europeans referred to it as "Indian meal," and from there comes the name of this dish.
I would argue that Indian Pudding is one of the first, if not the first Americanized recipe. Or to be even more historically-accurate, the first New Englandized recipe. America, of course, wouldn't be in existence for a little while longer. Taking a well-known recipe from England and substituting ingredients available in the New World, though in a very simple and humble dish, was the beginning of what would become American food culture.
If I was to rename this dish, I would propose calling it "Yankee Pudding," because it refers to the region in which it was invented, and acknowledges its American-ness. Though we were introduced to corn from the Native Americans, they never ate it in this form.
The recipe I used is from the internet, but I will type it out here, along with any changes or notes of my own.
Maine Indian Pudding
2 cups milk
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup milk, cold(Note, the website lists this as 1/4 cup, but the instructions say 1/2 cup. I used 1/2 cup, so I changed the quantity in this section to match because it was confusing otherwise.)
1/2 cup dark molasses, not blackstrap(I am not the biggest fan of molasses. I cut this down to 1/4 cup and did 1/4 cup of raisins to give it additional sweetness. I still found it to be overwhelmingly sweet and if I was to do this again, I would probably have cut it down to 1/8 cup, which is 2 Tablespoons of molasses and the rest raisins. With molasses, a little really does go a long way.)
1 tsp. salt(Because I did cut down on the amount of molasses, the salt came through a bit more than it should have. If you reduce the quantity of molasses, I would cut the amount of salt in half.)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 Tbsp. butter
1 3/4 cups milk, cold
*Scald 2 cups of milk in a double boiler.
*Mix the cornmeal and 1/2 cup cold milk until smooth. Stir into the hot milk and cook over the hot water for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.(When you do this, you will be wondering what, if anything, is happening with your mixture. The milk will get frothy as you stir it but not much will change until about the last 5 minutes when it starts to thicken. Just keep faith in what you're doing and know that it will turn out ok in the end.)
*Add the molasses, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and butter; mix well.
*Pour into a buttered dish.
*Bake at 250 degrees for three hours(I started this about 4.5 hours before I wanted to serve it. The dish is based on something called Hasty Pudding, which is ironic, because it takes hours to prepare. Go figure!) Remove from oven and let sit for 30 minutes. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.
Makes 4-6 servings.
As you can see, the cake was better-looking once I dug the top half out of the pan. It's just a facade though, it's definitely a chunky cake. The pudding is really interesting. The milk poured on the top sort of soaks into the pudding and also evaporates and creates a skin. Normally I don't like skin on pudding, but this was different. Because of the sugar and molasses, it was almost like the top of a burnt creme where you have to break through the caramelized sugar topping. It provided the majority of the texture. The rest of the pudding is very soft, but that gave you something to bite into and chew. The raisins also were really good in this. And not only is this something that doesn't call for a lot of cornmeal, which means your cornmeal goes a long way, it's also properly gluten free! So, all you gluten free eaters can partake of this and not worry about it! I cannot vouch for using an alternate non-dairy milk. It may or may not turn out the same. Try that out at your own risk, but do let me know if it works for you!
I really liked both of these desserts. Even though the pudding was a bit too molasses-ey for my tastes, it was still tasty. It was cool to use cornmeal in a completely different way too. I have used cornmeal a lot in this project. It's a New World ingredient after all, so it should feature highly in a project about American cuisine. For some reason, the pudding evoked images of the past. You can feel the history in it. The cake was delicious as well, but a much more straight-forward dessert. Both of these also make a lot. These would be good for groups. I had enough for tasting tonight, and to try tomorrow, and still had enough to share with my parents, my grandparents, and still have enough of the blueberry cake to take to work on Monday to share with my coworkers! You should definitely give these recipes a try!
Indian Pudding Recipe
Indian Pudding History