Heritage Recipes

20 Oct

I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff come across my desk lately about “heritage recipes,” which are basically old recipes that have been recently rediscovered and updated for a new generation of at-home cooks. You already know this is right up my alley. This is the first of a few planned posts that I’ll write about c0okbooks featuring heritage recipes.

From our Grandmother’s Kitchens: a Treasury of Lost Recipes too Good to Forget came last week. It’s from the editors of Cook’s Country Magazine (which I have never read) which is run by America’s Test Kitchen (I have read and enjoyed the Test Kitchen’s other books.) The recipes in the book were submitted by actual readers, and then updated based on modern standards. When the Test Kitchen modified a recipe, it included a note outlining the changes with respect to the original.

Purists sometimes don’t like the modifications to vintage recipes, but I actually prefer it. I’ve tried to knit a hat using a vintage pattern before, and it was a struggle. The same goes with cooking, at least in my limited experience.

There are lots of good, old-school recipes in this book, but what I really like about is that before each recipe, there’s a story. A tomato butter recipe, near the back of the book, immediately intrigued me.  I wish I’d known how to make it this summer. It would have been a perfect use for the dozen or so tomatoes I was bringing in each day.

It comes from Susan Simonovich, who lives in North Wells, Penn. She says of the recipe:

Tomato Butter has been a staple in Pennsylvania Dutch pantries for generations, usually served as a condiment with roast pork and beef. You can sometimes find it for sale at farm stands in the Amish country near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This particular recipe (there are many) was handed down from my great-grandmother and has been made faithfully by each generation. My siblings and I continue the tradition, making several batches in early September when tomatoes are $5 a peck at local farm markets. Many of our friends have become addicted to the stuff over the years and some make their own. Those who don’t, wait anxiously for that special Christmas gift every year! It’s the perfect accompaniment to roast meats, especially pork. We also use it as a glaze for meatloaf and to give that je ne sais quoi to canned baked beans (along with ketchup and mustard) and stews. My sister is famous for her cheesesteaks (a Philly staple) because of her ‘secret’ sauce—equal parts ketchup and Tomato Butter!

Pork aside, I think it looks pretty great spread on that bread with some chevre.

Another recipe I thought looked great was one called Gnocchi alla Romana. I still wanted to eat it even though it didn’t look anything like any gnocchi I’d ever seen before.

It comes from Lily Julow, in Gainesville, Florida.

When most of us think of gnocchi, we think of the classic little dumplings made from potatoes. That’s why Lily’s recipe, made by shaping cooked grits into squares, shingling them in a gratin dish, and sprinkling them with cheese and baking, is such a revelation. “I brought the idea for this memorable dish back from a trip to Rome forty years ago, in the 1970s. Without a specific recipe to go on, I experimented until I came up with this close approximation. I always thought that gnocchi was the potato dumpling kind, but this was made of a grain similar to our grits.” The making of gnocchi in Italy goes back at least to the mid 1850s, and gnocchi was made not just from potatoes but from a variety of ingredients, including ricotta, bread, winter squash, and corn semolina (cornmeal), clearly what Lily had tried in Rome. Says Lily of her version: “It worked out so well, it’s passed along as a family treasured recipe.” This cheesy, starchy side dish would be perfect served with ham.

I don’t think I’d serve this with ham, but I do think it’s going to be a dish that I bring to a future Sunday Pot Luck.

Below, find the recipes for both dishes featured in this post. Enjoy!

Tomato Butter

Makes twelve 1‑cup jars

14        pounds tomatoes, washed and cored
9          cups sugar (4 pounds)
2          cups cider vinegar
1          tablespoon ground cinnamon
1          teaspoon ground cloves

1. Peel tomatoes, then remove seeds  and coarsely chop.

2. Bring tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, and cloves to boil in large Dutch oven, stirring occasionally. Reduce to simmer and cook, stirring often, until tomatoes break down and mixture thickens to jamlike consistency, about 4 hours.

3. Tomato butter can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 1 month, or canned following Canning 101 steps on page 195. If canning, transfer hot tomato butter to 12 hot, sterilized 1‑cup jars and process. Processing times depend on your altitude: 5 minutes for up to 1,000 feet, 10 minutes for 1,001 to 6,000 feet, and 15 minutes for above 6,000 feet.

Notes from the Test Kitchen: Tasters discovered that this sweet, nicely spiced jam was fantastic in countless roles, from being a great match to both hard and soft cheeses (try ricotta or goat cheese) to serving as the “T” in BLTs. Susan’s recipe called for 12 to 14 pounds of tomatoes; we found we needed the full amount.

Gnocchi alla Romana

Serves 8 to 10

4          cups whole milk
2          tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for baking dish
1          cup old-fashioned white grits
1          teaspoon salt
1/4      teaspoon white pepper
2          ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded (1/2 cup)
1          ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)

1. Line 13 by 9‑inch baking dish with foil lengthwise and widthwise, letting excess foil hang over edges. Grease foil.

2. Bring milk and butter to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to melt butter. Slowly pour grits into milk mixture, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture has thickened and all liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper.

2. Transfer grits to large bowl and beat with electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Pour grits mixture into prepared baking dish and spread into even layer. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled and set, at least 4 hours or up to 1 day.

3. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove cooled grits from baking dish using foil sling and cut into 18 rectangles. Grease baking dish with butter.

4. Shingle grits rectangles into prepared baking dish, then sprinkle with Gruyère and Parmesan. Bake until grits are heated through and cheese is melted and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipes and photos reprinted with permission.

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2 Responses to “Heritage Recipes”

  1. lindsey October 20, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    a) i want to east these. b) i wish i could get tomatoes for $5 a peck. c) this theme reminds me of the taste of home’s old “does anyone have…?” letters. i bet all those lost recipes were ones just like these.

  2. sarahbakerhansen October 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    I know! I love those old taste of home letters. I have thought about those a lot. I think they still have that feature, it’s just online now. I’ll check it out.

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