Sheared Bliss

A dinner date with history
December 31, 2013, 1:55 pm
Filed under: Colorado, Food, History, Museum | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Looking for something fun, educational, entertaining, and delicious to do in the new year?  Have you ever wanted to step back in time and taste history?  This is your chance.  The Littleton Museum will be hosting Mastering the Art of Frontier Cooking with Miss Beecher early next year.

Enjoy the 1860s farm in a unique way! Prepare a meal using “receipts” from cookbooks published in the 1800s. With assistance from the interpreters, you will churn, roast, bake, and boil a delicious feast. Once the food is prepared, you will dine by lamplight in the cozy cabin.

This is one of my very most favorite events to do at the museum.  If you would like to join us for this truly unique experience, call the Littleton Museum at 303-795-3950 to register for the January 11th, February 8th, or March 8th dinner.


February 21, 2011, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Food, History, Museum | Tags: , , , ,

A conversation with any coworker last week:

Coworker: Hey ShearedBliss, have any plans for the weekend?

Me: Oh yeah, I’m smoking –

Coworker: Heh heh

Me: Meat!  I’m smoking meat!

Coworker: *wink wink, nudge nudge*

Me: *sigh*

Smoking may be a filthy habit, but it does yield some tasty goodness.  The museum used to have an actual smokehouse, but it sadly burned down several years ago.  Now they have a smoke barrel which works pretty well.

The barrel in the foreground is the smoker.  There’s a brick lined pit underneath it (you can sort of see it to the left of the bottom of the barrel) where you build a hardwood fire.  The barrel can be moved on or off the pit for more or less heat and the bucket to the far left of the picture has wood chips soaking in water that can be added to the fire to make more smoke.

We smoked chickens this weekend.

They turned out great (despite the fact that one chicken took a bit of a tumble into the fire pit)  and went home with some lucky pioneers.

We also smoked several racks of lamb (which I apparently failed to get a picture of) for our midday meal which also included biscuits, plum butter, brandied peaches, mashed parsnips, beans, and cherry and vanilla custard parfaits for dessert.

Homestead Holiday

Pioneer Celery decorating the tree and looking festive in the bumblebee wrapper

Pioneer J turning out the boiled pudding

The Christmas feast of pork roast, roasted potatoes, preserves, and pork cake

Merry Christmas from the 1860s!

Tub o’ Lard
November 15, 2010, 11:44 pm
Filed under: Food, History, Museum | Tags: , , , , , , ,

No, really.  See?

The museum had 150 pounds of pork fat from the pigs that were butchered earlier this year.

PioneerA and I spent last Friday rendering some of it into lard and managed to get through an entire box – about 50 pounds.

First we ground the fat – with the help of about 100 school children who were at the museum for a field trip.  All together now, “EEEWWWW, pig fat!!!”

Insert soundtrack of Sweeney Todd here.

Then we cooked it slowly, stirring frequently while the fat melted off of all of the bits of skin and meat.

If we had more time, we would have cooked it until all of the fat was melted and the cracklings were crispy.  As it was, we cooked it all day and strained off everything that had rendered by quitting time.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.  This year’s pigs were allowed to get a little older and fatter before butchering than last year’s pigs so we had better luck making lard this time than we did at Pork and Beans Day back in January.

I Scream, You Scream
April 1, 2010, 11:04 pm
Filed under: Food, History, Museum | Tags: , , , , , , ,

As promised – ice cream!

Different cultures have been making a variety of chilled and frozen desserts for hundreds of years.  Everyone from the Chinese to the Romans to the Persians have been credited with inventing ice cream, but their concoctions were not the same as modern ice cream.  No one has pinpointed when true ice cream came about, but the first documented advertisement for ice cream appeared in 1744 and a recipe that would result in something very similar to modern ice cream was printed in 1751.    Several of America’s founding fathers including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were ice cream fanatics.

Ice cream aficionados rejoiced in the 1840s when Nancy Johnson patented the first mechanical ice cream churn.  Prior to her invention, ice cream was made by placing the ingredients in a small bowl, placing the small bowl in a larger bowl full of ice and salt, and stirring the ingredients by hand until they froze.  Johnson’s freezer still required a fair amount of elbow grease, but it did simplify the process.

To make ice cream you’ll need an ice cream base.  There are lots of recipes out there and you can use whichever one you like, but they all consist of some combination of dairy (milk, cream, and/or half and half), sugar, and flavoring (we made both lemon and vanilla ice cream at Dairy Day).  None of them contain eggs.  If you put eggs in your base, you’re making frozen custard not ice cream, just so we’re clear.

You will also need an ice cream churn (or two bowls, one slightly smaller than the other, and a big spoon, if you’re feeling brave), ice, and rock salt.  Oh yeah, and three pioneers.  Why three?

NurseK, PioneerV, and me making ice cream.

One to churn, one to sit on the churn, and one to sit on the one sitting on the churn.  Obviously.

Put your ice cream base in the canister of the churn, pack the churn with ice and rock salt, and turn the crank.  Churn constantly but slowly or you’ll make whipped cream or even butter instead of ice cream.  Yes, this really can happen, we got butter chunks in several of our batches of ice cream from too-enthusiastic churning.  Do not stop churning or it will freeze solid and you’ll have made a giant milk ice cube instead of ice cream.  As the ice cream begins to freeze, it will become harder and harder to turn the crank.  Add one pioneer to the top of the churn and keep cranking.  It will get even harder to crank.  Add the second pioneer on top of the first pioneer and keep cranking.  Eventually the churn will go from very difficult to crank to very easy.  This indicates that the ice cream has solidified around the dasher in the center of the canister and pulled away from the sides of the canister.  Open the churn.

If the ice cream is as hard as you want it, serve it up.  If you would like it more solidly frozen, you can either keep churning it while it hardens further or transfer it to another container, cover it, and put it in the freezer until it reaches your desired consistency.

Mmmm . . . ice cream . . .

Come, Butter, Come!
March 31, 2010, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Food, History, Museum | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The cheese recipe we used actually calls for aging the farmhouse cheddar for a minimum of a month, but it was pretty good after just two weeks.  On Dairy Day we served samples of the farmhouse cheddar as well as a variety of quick cheeses.

Clockwise from top - Sage Farmhouse Cheddar, Farmhouse Cheddar, Buttermilk Cheese, Lemon Cheese, and Yoghurt Cheese (center).

In addition to the cheese samples we also made and served samples of butter and ice cream.

I didn’t get any pictures of the butter being churned.  I blame the fact that I’ve churned so much butter that I can do it in my sleep and it is therefore no longer exciting to me.

To make butter you need cream.  Historically cows were milked twice a day.  The amount of milk you got at each milking and the fat content of the milk varied by the type of cow, the season, and the cow’s diet.  After milking, the milk would be set aside to separate.  The cream would float up to the top and be skimmed off.  The skimmed milk could be used as a beverage, in baking, or to make cheese.  The cream would be saved up until there was enough to churn.  It was typical to churn once a week.  If you don’t have your own dairy cow, you can buy cream at the grocery store.  You’ll want heavy whipping cream – a quart will yield just under a pound of butter.

Put the cream in your butter churn.  What?  You don’t have a butter churn?  Ok, fine, you can also use a food processor with an s-blade, a stand mixer with a paddle or whisk attachment, a mixing bowl and hand mixer, a jar with a few clean marbles in it, or just about any other contraption that can contain the cream while it’s being beat silly.  Churn (food process, mix, shake, whatever) the cream like crazy.

While you churn, it’s helpful to recite the butter chant:

“Come, butter, come!

Come, butter, come!

Johnny’s at the garden gate,

waiting for a butter cake.

Come, butter, come!”

It should take about twenty minutes to go from cream to butter, but it will depend on the temperature of the cream which should ideally be somewhere around 60º.  As you agitate the cream, the fat molecules will begin to stick together.  The cream will turn from liquid into increasingly stiff whipped cream.  Eventually the fat molecules will stick together so tightly that they will begin to squeeze out the water portion of the cream.  The end result will be lumps of butter floating in buttermilk.

Pour off the butter milk.  You can save it to drink or bake with if you like, but it’s not the same as historic buttermilk or modern, store bought buttermilk.  Since cream was usually saved without the benefit of refrigeration for up to a week before being churned, it was often quite sour by the time it became butter.  Therefore, the buttermilk that resulted from the churning was also sour and contained lactic acid.  This sour buttermilk, when used in baking, would react with the baking soda a recipe to leaven the resulting baked goods.  Modern, store bought buttermilk has been cultured to reproduce this acidic quality.  Your buttermilk made from fresh, store bought cream will not be sour and will need to have an acid (vinegar or lemon juice will do) added to it if you want to use it in a recipe calling for buttermilk.

Ok, while I step off my food-science-geek soapbox, you’ll need to wash your butter.  Yup, wash it.  In cold water please.  Put the butter in a large bowl and pour cold water over it.  Turn and knead the butter with a spoon.  When the water becomes cloudy, pour it off and add more cold water.  The purpose of washing the butter is to remove all of the buttermilk.  Buttermilk goes bad faster than butter so any buttermilk left in your butter would cause it to spoil more quickly.  When the water stays clear, the butter is clean.

After the wash water is poured off, you can salt your butter if you like.  Historically salt was used as a preservative in butter.  We may not need its preservative qualities, but it still tastes good.  Just sprinkle on some salt and mix it in well.  This would also be the time to add in other flavors such as herbs, spices, honey, etc. if you want a compound butter, but that’s another blog post.

Your butter is now ready to store or serve.  For storage, put your butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  To serve, you could of course just plop it in a bowl, but something more decorative would be nice.  Butter molds were used historically to both decorate butter and measure it.  Most butter molds held a pound of butter which was useful both for farm wives making butter for their own use and for people producing butter for sale.  The decorative designs not only looked nice on the table, but also served as a brand to identify the producer of the butter.  If you don’t have a butter mold handy, you can always shape it into a log by rolling it up in waxed paper or make butter balls using a melon baller (or your hands if they’re freakishly cold like mine).

Mmmm . . . buttery goodness.

Stay tuned for ice cream!

Say Cheese!
March 28, 2010, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Food, History, Museum | Tags: , , , ,

This weekend was Dairy Day at the museum, but we started getting ready for it a couple of weeks ago when PioneerA and I made two wheels of farmhouse cheddar – one plain and one with sage.

If you think you’d actually like to make cheese yourself, check out the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company – they have awesome stuff and good information.  If you just want to see pictures of me making cheese, read on!

Cheesemaking is part chemistry, part biology, and part art.  The exact process varies by cheese, but here are the steps in a nutshell.

1. Heat the milk.

2. Add a starter (a mixture of bacteria that “ripen” the milk by converting milk sugars to lactic acid).

3. Keep the milk warm while the starter works.

4. Add rennet (an enzyme, traditionally derived from the lining of a calf’s stomach).

5. Keep the milk warm while the rennet works.

6. Once the rennet has done its job and the milk has set into curd, cut the curd.

7. As the curd is cut, it will separate out into curds (solid) and whey (liquid).

8. Once cut, heat the curds to pull more whey out of them.

9. After heating, pour the curds and whey through cheesecloth.

10. Tie the curds up in the cheesecloth and hang to drain.

11. When they’re thoroughly drained, put the curds in a bowl, break them up, and mix in salt to taste.

12. Line the cheese mold with cheesecloth, fill it with the salted curds, put it in the cheese press, and weight it to press the cheese.

13. After the cheese is pressed, remove it from the mold.

14. Air dry the cheese until a rind forms.

15. Coat the cheese with wax.

16. Age the cheese.

17. Eat the cheese.

Whew!  No wonder it took us nearly a whole day just to get it in the cheese molded and in the press.  Next up, more dairy!