A brief history told in food

Today the topic should have been prunes. I was going to wax poetic about inulin and be cranky about marketers subverting our minds by renaming food products with kinder gentler names (prunes became dried plums) to make us buy their products. There would have been an off color joke or two as well, I’m sure.

Instead, I found myself holding a very special book. I have made it no secret that I own way too many cookbooks, but time and time again, I go reaching for one book. This book. Battered and worn, it started life a blank waiting to be filled. Not a conventional cookbook. This book is magic. It holds a history of food we have made and loved. This book is about me as much as it is about recipes. The truth is, the book is three volumes. The volume we’ll talk about today was written between 1990 to 1995. Book two of the set was written in 1995 to 2004. The third book was never completed because of a little thing called a blog. (So in a way, Delectable Tidbits is volume four).

Some people have recipe cards. Some people keep clippings in a scrapbook. I hand wrote recipes into a composition book. It is now tattered and worn from years of use. Spattered from the days before I owned a cookbook stand with a protective shield. It’s hard to believe twenty years have gone by since I first set a pen to its pages.

In case you can’t read the label on the previous picture, here it is up close. My sense of humor hasn’t changed much, has it?

I wrote the recipes by hand. Making illustrations in the corner of each page. Notes were scribbled at the bottom of the pages as I became a more inventive cook and customized the recipes to my taste. The recipes were taken from magazines or cookbooks, borrowed from friends or the library. My only regret is not writing down the source of the recipes. Now I don’t know where they came from!

The book did not originally come with an index. I had an “index” in my brain that was a combination of remembering when in time I made the recipe and a drawing in the corner of each page that would remind me of what the recipe was as I flipped through the pages. My boyfriend, a more left brained creature than I am, could not understand my inefficient efficiency and insisted on creating an index on the computer for me. I still laugh whenever I see that “beans’ was the first section of my cookbook. I love him so much even though his brain works so differently than mine.

Let’s look at some highlights of the pictograms from the corners of the book:

Page 34 is Cranberry-Prune squares. The picture is a bunch of prunes and dried cranberries dancing. (Square dancing, get it??). I haven’t looked at this recipe in years and I was surprised to see that it fit exactly into the clean eating regimen that we are sticking to now. Just honey for sweetener and whole wheat flour. Stick with me until the end of this post – these are delicious and you’ll want to bake them!

Page 67 was Jolof Rice. I was trying to get back to eating less meat and found this recipe in Vegetarian Times. It was delicious but between the ginger, TWO jalapenos and TWO tsp of cayenne, it nearly burnt us from tongue to tail. I meant to make this again with less spices but never did. Maybe I will now. The pictogram is of an African basket (this was an African inspired dish) and the chilies and eggplant featured in the dish.

Page 77: Strawberry shortcakes, va-va-va-voom!

Page 9: Baked orange roughy with leeks and shitake. Remember when orange roughy was the “in” fish? Now it is endangered. I remember this recipe as being good, but I’ll use some other fish in the future. Do you like the fishy swimming towards the leeks and mushroom?

Page 98: Why a parakeet for Chicken, potato and green bean salad? I had a green and yellow parakeet named green bean. Why else?

Page 16: The recipe was for my boyfriend’s tamari and snow pea omelet tacos. We made these at a time when we could get snow peas every week at what was then a fledgling farmer’s market. We got them from an old lady who we affectionately dubbed “snow pea lady” because that was all she sold.

My boyfriend is going to kill me for including this one. He is way more handsome than that. This was a picture of him first thing in the morning. His hair was cut way too short at the time. It is a rendering of what he looked like first thing out of bed, hair messy, glasses instead of contacts, half asleep, clutching a breakfast taco. If I remember correctly, his reaction to being immortalized that way was “very funny!”.

Page 85: The recipe is Mimi’s enchiladas. Does this look familiar? I’m sporting a funny little sombrero, but I still look pretty much the same, don’t I?

That was fun! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Now back to what we are all here for:  yummy food. These Prune and Cranberry bars are wholesome yet delicious. They have the texture of dense little cakes and are saturated with spices. One change I made to the original recipe is to use dried cranberries which are so much more available year round than fresh or frozen. I simmer them in dessert wine to plump them back up and give them flavor but apple juice would work as well. Enjoy!

Cranberry – Prune Squares

Adapted from a recipe I think I got from Sunset magazine years ago

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup dessert wine or apple juice

2 large eggs

¾ cup honey

¼ cup salted butter, melted

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp baking powder

1 cup roasted almonds, chopped

1 cup pitted prunes, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, F.

Butter an 8” square baking pan.

In a small sauce pan, simmer dried cranberries in dessert wine or apple juice for 5 to 10 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Let cool.

Beat together eggs, honey and melted butter. Combine flour, spices and baking powder. Beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture until well combined. Stir in almonds, prunes and cranberries. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. At about 35 minutes into baking, check to see if the bars are getting too brown. Honey tends to burn in baked goods. If the bars look like they will burn, cover the bars loosely with aluminum foil. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Mine were done at 40 minutes today.