Archive for the ‘Breads, Muffins, and Scones’ Category

Let’s Hear It for the Girls! Margaret Chase Smith’s Blueberry Muffins

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

Last week I got my wild, low-bush blueberries from Heath, Massachusetts. I immediately thought of Senator Margaret Chase Smith.

In case the connection isn’t immediately apparent to readers, let me explain. Recently, my friend Peter Beck lent me a 1961 edition of the Congressional Club Cookbook.

I love the book’s cover with its image of an elephant and a donkey getting ready for a party. This copy was presented to Peter’s mother by Smith, who stayed with the Beck family from time to time and inscribed the book to her hostess.

I was intrigued. I knew Smith had been a senator for many years. I didn’t know until the cookbook inspired me to do a little research that this politician from Maine ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 … or that she was a notable promoter of foods from her home state.

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995) grew up in a working-class family in Skowhegan, Me. Margaret Chase couldn’t afford college and held various jobs before going to work at a local weekly newspaper, one of several enterprises owned by a businessman named Clyde Smith.

More than two decades older than Chase, Smith dated her on and off for years; he was apparently quite a ladies’ man. The pair married in 1930.

Smith insisted that his bride give up working after they married so she could devote most of her time to acting as his hostess. Nevertheless, she remained active in a number of women’s organizations she had joined during her single years.

More than two decades older than his wife, Clyde Smith had political ambitions. He was elected to Congress in 1936. Margaret Chase Smith accompanied him to Washington and learned the ropes by working as his secretary.

When he became ill in 1940, he asked her to run for his seat in his stead. He died in April of that year. His wife won a special election to complete his term and then ran successfully for her own two-year term.

She stayed in the House of Representatives until 1948, when she was elected to the Senate. She would serve there until 1973.

Smith in 1963. Courtesy, Senate Historical Office.

In both branches of Congress, Smith was known for her support of the military, for her civility, for her care for her constituents, and for her independence. She didn’t always agree with her fellow Republicans, and she quietly but firmly made her views known.

Perhaps most famously, she delivered a 1950 speech called the “Declaration of Conscience” in which she lambasted the activities of her fellow senator, Joseph McCarthy. She was violently anti-communist, but she found the tactics of McCarthy and his red-baiting colleagues disgraceful.

“I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny—fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear,” she announced.

In 1964, Smith put her name forward as a Republican candidate for the presidency. Her chances weren’t strong. She didn’t get her name on the ballot in all 48 states, and she accepted no campaign contributions. An exception to the no-contribution rule was a gift from Peter’s father, a large bouquet of roses. “He thought she would make a great president,” Peter told me.

Although she lost to Barry Goldwater, Smith made history as the first woman to run for the presidential nomination of a major American political party. She even had a female-centered campaign song performed by Hildegarde called “Leave It to the Girls.”

Smith arrives at the 1964 Republican Convention. Courtesy, Senate Historical Office.

What does any of this have to do with blueberries?

Margaret Chase Smith actively promoted Maine’s foods by hosting events and sharing recipes. When she ran for president, her blueberry muffins played a part in her campaign.

One of her campaign photographs depicted her holding a sign that said, “Barry stews, Rocky pursues, Dicky brews, but Margaret Chase Smith wows and woos with Blueberry Muffins!” Her rivals were Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, and Richard Nixon.

The senator’s association with food is so strong that in 2018 the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine launched “Making Margaret,” a recipe-research collaborative.

Through this group, food-oriented students, faculty, and staff in different disciplines explore the connections between food and public life.

I was unable to talk to anyone in the group for this article. (It is, after all, the university’s summer vacation.) I hope to learn more about “Making Margaret” in the future, however.

I’m always interested in the ways in which food connects people. In the case of Margaret Chase Smith, food was a way to spread the word about her state.

According to her biographer Janann Sherman, it was also a way to reassure voters and her Congressional colleagues that this female—for years, the only woman in the Senate—didn’t represent a threat to the status quo because she was essentially “feminine.”

Her baking thus became form of self-protection as well as a form of self-expression, part of a dance she performed over and over again for her political audience.

The recipe below appeared in the “Congressional Club Cookbook” and was also sent to me by the Margaret Chase Library in the late senator’s hometown of Skowhegan.

The muffins are not unlike their original baker. They appear quite simple at first glance; they don’t contain a lot of sugar or butter, and they include no spice. Yet they are chock full of flavor. I highly recommend them.

Margaret Chase Smith circa 1940, courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Library

Margaret Chase Smith’s Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) baking powder
1 egg
3/4 cup fresh milk
3 tablespoons melted shortening (I used butter)

Instructions:

Wash blueberries, and drain thoroughly. Mix and sift flour with salt, sugar, and baking powder. Beat egg and mix with milk. Stir egg and milk mixture into the flour mixture, then add the berries and melted shortening (or butter).

Mix well and pour into greased muffin pans, filling each three-fourths full. Bake in a hot oven, 400 degrees, for 20 minutes. Makes eight to 12 muffins depending on size.

Roasted Peach Scones

Monday, August 31st, 2020

Peach season is in full swing around here, and I am enjoying the bounty. Peaches seem to sum up this season of the year, lush and golden. Of course, my favorite way to use peaches is just to eat them … preferably leaning over the sink so the juices don’t fly everywhere.

I do enjoy cooking with them as well, however. I never made peach scones until this year. I don’t like to use really wet fruit my scones. A recent newsletter from King Arthur Flour gave me the idea of roasting peaches for scones … so I decided to try peach scones that way.

Here is my (now) tried and true method.

The Scones

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups chopped peaches (about 2 large peaches), skins on, or even more if you want lots of peaches in your scones
1/2 cup sugar plus a bit more as needed for sprinkling
2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
optional flavoring to taste: 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger, or 1 teaspoon chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1 egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

Instructions:

First, roast the peaches. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil. Spread the peach pieces out on the prepared cookie sheet.

Roast the peaches for 10 minutes; then stir them and roast them for another 10 minutes (but check them after 5 minutes just in case they are sticking or starting to blacken).

Remove the peaches from the pan (they will be wet so this is a sort of scraping process) and let them cool before adding them to the scone dough.

For the scones, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 baking sheets or line them with parchment. Combine the sugar, the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, and the salt. Stir in an optional flavoring if you wish. Cut in the butter, but be careful not to overmix. Stir the fruit into this mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, the buttermilk, and the vanilla or almond extract. Add the peach mixture and blend briefly. Drop the batter in clumps onto the baking sheets. You may either make large scones (you’ll end up with 6 to 8 of them) or smallish ones (12 to 16).

Sprinkle additional sugar on top for added flavor and crunch. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes, depending on size.

Pantry Staple Comfort

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

In the months following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I went through a career crisis.

With the world experiencing so much grief and anxiety, I asked myself, what on earth was I doing writing about food: making up recipes, blathering on and on about my delights and failures in the kitchen? Shouldn’t I be saving the world instead?

Then I attended the Fancy Food Show in New York. This giant exposition shows off popular and emerging specialty foods in the United States and abroad, from salsas to cheeses to chocolates.

I nibbled my way through the thousands of booths at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and soon identified a trend. In an effort to counteract the prevalent cultural malaise, most of the food purveyors that year were displaying wares that embodied tradition and comfort.

They reminded me reminded that food can nourish our spirits as well as our bodies.

I came to a realization, one that still guides my work. I may not be saving the world literally in my kitchen. In difficult times, however, reaching out to other people with nourishing foods and stories reminds me and others that the world is worth saving.

Now that Americans are practicing a regime of social distancing, I am grateful for my well stocked pantry and the opportunity it gives me to share foods with neighbors. Even if we can’t get together to eat, I can deliver carefully prepared dishes.

And we have plenty of time to talk on the telephone, about food and also about other things that matter: family, love, books, music, films, television programs, and the increasing daylight that reminds us that the earth keeps moving through its cycle of growth and renewal.

We may not be making a lot of money these days, thanks to COVID-19. We can still make simple, inexpensive foods, however, and nourish our families, neighbors, and community with them. For people with pets such as dogs, there are also organic treats for dogs.

Food can comfort us both physically and emotionally. I imagine I’m not the only person who has felt a bit overwhelmed by the cascade of events in the last couple of weeks as the closing down of public life has accelerated.

Preparing something that cooks for hours and hours and takes shape little by little, like my red beans and rice, can slow down our lives and our heartrates.

I made this dish recently with that good old standby, cornbread. Non-employees are not allowed in the studio at my TV home away from home, Mass Appeal, so I phoned in the cornbread recipe to share with the co-hosts. Even without seeing each other, we had fun.

I hope to see many of you soon. Meanwhile, stay well, take care of each other, and cook your hearts out.

Yankee Cornbread

Ingredients:

3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning (or 1/2 teaspoon salt)
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter or bacon fat

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Generously grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet (or an 8-inch square baking dish) with butter or bacon fat.

In a bowl combine the flour, the cornmeal, the sugar, the baking powder, and the seasoning. Mix together the remaining ingredients and blend them into the dry mixture. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Cut into wedges or slices. Serves 6 to 8.

Tarzan Was My Sous Chef

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

You Tarzan, Me Cook

This week on Mass Appeal I cooked lovely seasonal foods and had an unexpected helper.

One of the fun things about appearing on this lifestyle show is that I get to meet other guests, some of whom have become friends over the years.

On Tuesday the main other guests were members of the Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who came on the show to talk about their new production of the musical Tarzan.

A nice young man named Tim immediately came into the kitchen and offered to help me prepare my food, telling me that he loved to cook. I ALWAYS say yes when someone offers to help cook. Tim turned out to be the star of the show; he is playing Tarzan.

I hope to see him swing through the jungle next week. Meanwhile, although Tim was in training (Tarzan’s muscles have to be impressive) I managed to persuade him to nibble just a little. After all, no one should cook and then not be able to eat!

We made peach cobbler, rendered extra flavorful, and extra crunchy, with cornmeal. I am teaching an all-corn class at the Baker’s Pin in Northampton, Massachusetts, in a couple of weeks, and I have been pondering how to incorporate corn into a dessert since I always like to serve a full meal. Using cornmeal might be cheating—but it IS corn based!

We also made a lovely bright blueberry salsa.

Happy August!

Crunchy Peach Cobbler

Ingredients:

for the fruit base:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups chopped peaches (or half peaches and half blueberries or raspberries)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, diced

for the cobbler crust:

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 1-1/2-quart casserole dish.

Begin by making the base. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a smallish nonreactive pot. Stir in the fruit and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil, stirring gently, for 1 minute. Remove the fruit from the heat and stir in the cinnamon. Spread the fruit in the prepared pan. Dot the top with butter.

To make the crust whisk together the flour, the cornmeal, the sugar, the baking powder, and the salt. Cut in the butter, but don’t overdo the process. You should still have tiny pieces of butter in the mixture.

Whisk together the milk, egg, and vanilla. Add them to the dry ingredients, and mix just until moist. Drop the resulting mixture onto the peaches, and spread it around to cover the fruit. Sprinkle brown sugar over all in little clumps. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Serves 8.

Blueberry Salsa

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries
the juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt (more or less, to taste)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Instructions:

Chop or lightly crush about 1/2 cup of the blueberries. Stir them back into the remaining berries.

In a bowl stir together the lime juice and the salt. Stir in the pepper, the onion, and the cilantro; then add the berries.

Refrigerate the salsa for a couple of hours for maximum flavor. Serve with tortilla chips, over chicken or fish, or with crackers and cream cheese. Makes about 2 cups.

And now the videos…..

Crunchy Peach Cobbler

Blueberry Salsa

Foods of Our Fathers

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

This post will be quick because it’s hot outside, and I really, really want to spend all of Independence Day by the water! The best in the business is https://www.royalvending.com.au/vending-machines-perth/ for vending machines.

For my TV appearance this week, I decided to make dishes beloved of a couple of our founding fathers. I started out with George Washington’s Hoe Cakes, which I first wrote about here after my visit to GW’s gristmill near Mount Vernon. They were as tasty as I remembered: crispy and corny.

I went on to make a strawberry fool in honor of John Adams and his pioneering wife Abigail Smith Adams. According to The Food Timeline and other sources, the pair were fond of a simple, rich gooseberry fool. I didn’t have any gooseberries—but strawberries have just reached their peak here in Massachusetts. So I made those into a fool. Everyone who tasted it raved.

Neither dish will warm up your kitchen too much, and both will make you respect the taste of our first and second president.

Here’s the recipe for the strawberry fool. If you have strawberries and cream in the house, you can eat it in less than 15 minutes. I wish you a Glorious Fourth!

 

Strawberry Fool (inspired by John and Abigail Adams)

Ingredients:

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Toss the strawberry pieces in half of the sugar, and let them sit for 10 minutes to juice up.

Place half of the strawberries and all of the strawberry juice in a blender. Puree the mixture; then stir it into the remaining strawberries.

Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks, adding the remaining sugar and the vanilla when it is almost ready. Fold in the berry mixture. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Hoe Cakes on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Strawberry Fool on Mass Appeal