Friday, 29 February 2008

The Footed Pot

Well, I went off and scrabbled around through some of my books. Of course, they're not sorted with an eye to identifying cookware, so this is what I could find quickly.

This is a picture from Food by Audrey Noel Hume, from the Colonial Williamsburg Archaeological Series. #9. The two large pots are from before 1797, when the house they were excavated from, burned down in Williamsburg.

The second picture is from Cooking at Jamestown Settlement, which oddly lists no author at all. The pot in the picture is being used in the living history interpretive section of the museum, the reconstructed settlement, so I imagine it is a reproduction, but much closer to the source, and likely to be reasonably accurate. (Somewhere we have more info on Jamestown. I'll have to figure out which library it's in.) Jamestown Settlement dates from 1607 to the mid-1620's.

The third picture is from A Taste of History, The Origins of Quebec's Gastronomy by Marc Lafrance and Yvon Desloges. Unfortunately they give no more specific credit for any of the photos than what's included with the picture. I'm assuming there's a good chance that this pot is part of the Louisbourg artefact collection. (Again, somewhere we have lots more photos from Louisbourg, but I'll have to hunt them down.)
The caption with this photo merely describes it as a pot style used in the 18th century. It is definitely a much more elegant casting than my reproduction. Thinner, not as rough.

I also have bookmarked, an interesting article on the history of cauldrons and cast iron:
And the author includes a picture of a similar kettle from his own collection as the last image:

Interestingly to me, this shape of metal pot seems to follow the shape of earlier earthenware pots. Maybe I'll try ferreting out some pictures of those next....


Sunday, 24 February 2008

A Valentine's Gift

I realize this blog is looking awfully text-heavy, so...
This is a picture of a nice little reproduction footed pot that my husband gave me for Valentine's Day.
It's a modern repro, and a bit of a rough casting, so might end up only being good for boiling water or soups, not something too sticky for cleaning. And historically it will only work for so far back, but still, a sweet little pot. I'll root out more info on the style for a follow-up post.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Adventures in Skyr, part 2

Carrying on with the skyr saga…

Two of the recipes I had on hand were pretty much word for word the same:
Take 4 quarts of milk. Bring to the boiling point. Cool until lukewarm.
Stir 2 tbsp. Skyr into ½ cup milk. (or use recipe for starter) Stir into lukewarm milk.
Add 12 drops of liquid rennet, stir well. Set aside in warm place for about 24 hours.
Drain off liquid through cheesecloth. Remove cloth, put in bowl, beat well. Chill. Serve with cream and sugar if desired.

So, definitely I was going to try this recipe, since it had cropped up twice. But…. 4 quarts of milk? That’s a lot of milk for a highly speculative venture. (Note my lack of confidence in the whole procedure! Perhaps it harks back to my adventures in brewing. You never know till it’s done if it will be what you want, so you never want to make five gallons. Of course, then it turns out perfectly, and you only made a small bottle!)

I decided I was up for playing with one litre of milk. (And of course, now we not only get to have fun with scaling recipes, I run into that wonderful dark zone of differing rules of measurement. Sigh.) And these two recipes did not make any comment about ‘type’ of milk. No mention of milk fat at all. It had only been from poking around on the web that I’d found mention of low fat at all. Hmmm…. Since both my husband and I have a strong aversion to skim milk, even on principle… (Maybe if it actually cost significantly less than 2% or whole milk?) I opted for 1%. (There’s something about the ‘blue’ quality of skim milk that just gives me shudders.)
And I had no rennet. (This was a sudden experimentation, brought about when Neil had sent me home after a visit, with a small container of leftover skyr from Manitoba.)

Now, you’re supposed to be able to make rennetless cheese by using an acid to curdle the milk. And this is a soft and creamy final product, not a firm cheese. So, would it be possible?

I divided my one litre of milk into two portions, one to try with vinegar, and one to try with lemon juice. I followed the instructions, and waited. And waited. Neither batch was giving me any sort of coagulation at all. I waited. Maybe the kitchen was too cold? Or the entire house? (This was winter in Ontario, in the Snow Belt, with wretched electric baseboard heaters and a programmable thermostat and a thrifty husband, after all!)

The recipe had said to leave it sit for 24 hours. I left it for 36. And a bit longer. Never the slightest hint that my milk had ever heard of the concept of curds. And then it started to smell a bit squiffy, so I cried ‘uncle’. (And when all four of the cats said ‘thanks, but no’, cats who will normally knock you down in a rush to get at anything that even looks like it might be a milk carton, I knew I did NOT have a winner!
Not only were there no curds, in either batch, there wasn’t even the suggestion of thickening. Instead I just had to lots of thin smelly milk to offer up to the septic system gods.

Disappointed, but not vanquished, I turned again to the collected recipes. The Culinary Saga of New Iceland had three different recipes. The second one didn’t even require rennet. So I thought I’d give it a try.
This one, Lyla Thorarinson’s Skyr (An Alternative Method) only wanted 1 quart of buttermilk. It didn’t even ask for a dollop of skyr.

Pour buttermilk into baking dish. Cover and place in a preheated 325-degree oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Shut oven off.
Leave dish in oven overnight, for at least 12 hours, after which the whey should be visibly separated from the curd. Separate the curd from the whey as much as possible and drain curd for about 4 hours or until fairly firm. Put curd into bowl and beat until smooth. Add sugar to taste and serve with cream and/or fruit.

I DID add a bit of the skyr to this, since I wanted to encourage the correct flavour development.

Now this experiment did actually go somewhere. I don’t think it was towards skyr, though. I did develop curds. I was able to separate the whey and the surds and put the curds to drain. However, my suspicion is that I was too successful. My cheesemaking book includes a recipe for buttermilk cheese. For a dry buttermilk cheese, you go through exactly the motions I’d gone through, heating the buttermilk and then draining the curds. And what I’d ended up with was a fairly dry curd. No way did it resemble skyr. And it wasn’t just a case of whisking it up to creamy…
(Mind you, as a dry crumbly cheese product, it wasn’t totally awful. I added some herbs, and used it on some foccaccia, and with some pasta, and eventually my husband blended it with some sour cream and finished it off in a sandwich. But it wasn’t skyr.)

The cheese book suggests that you can achieve a wet curd buttermilk cheese without heat, and I may look into that.

I did eventually have some rennet, thanks to another friend, though it’s a vegetarian version, and I’m not sure how that changes the process. And there was another, even weirder recipe to try from the New Icelandic cookbook.
So stay tuned.


Thursday, 21 February 2008

Adventures in Skyr

Ah, so what is “skyr” you are asking? Well, now, that’s a very good question, and so far I haven’t found an answer of only a few words. It’s kind of like cheese, or yoghurt, or cottage cheese, or sour cream, or maybe Quark (having never yet met Quark face to face, I’m not sure.)
It’s supposedly a traditional and well-loved foodstuff of the Norse. Dating back, at least, to the Viking Age. Still favoured (and modernized) today in Scandinavian countries, and now being imported into select areas of North America.

It’s one of those things I’ve known about for ages, but never really thought about. It wasn’t till recently that I’ve actually tried to find out some more concrete info, and realized just how hard it is to define.

So, let’s turn to some references. I’ll start with the old-fashioned kind: books.

From The Cooking of Scandinavia, one of the Time-Life Foods of the World series:

“If fermentation sounds like an exotic way to preserve food, bear in mind that the same process also yields wine, cheese, anchovies, olives, sour cream, yoghurt and buttermilk. Without the blessing of fermentation, the Scandinavians would never have been able to turn the greater part of their spring and summer milk supplies into storable dairy products. Nor would they have become the important cheese and butter makers they are today.
“Some milk had to be kept on hand to drink, and inevitably it soured. A virtue was made of this, and in Viking times, as later, it was considered fit food to offer company. One of the sagas tells of a man called Bard who served his guests bread and butter and ‘large bowls filled with curds.’ As they were very thirsty, they swallowed the curds in large draughts; ‘then Bard had buttermilk brought in, and they drank it.’
“What those curds may have been is not certain. Perhaps they were nothing more than skyr, or curdled milk, which used to be a common food of Scandinavia. Today skyr is found under that name only in Iceland, and there it is eaten fresh, as a kind of yoghurt.”

[Actually, this article goes on to talk about a whole bunch of weird dairy products that may also bear some investigating and experimentation…]

Another book, The Culinary Saga of New Iceland [thanks, Karen] by Kristen Olafson-Jenkyns, says of skyr:

“The seafaring Vikings brought this ancient dish with them when they settled in Iceland. Skyr is a smooth curd with a creamy texture and is classified as a cheese. It is made from 2% or skim milk and is very low in butterfat content. Protein rich, skyr was for centuries one of Iceland’s most important staple foods and in earlier days was made from sheep’s milk and preserved all winter in casks.
“The traditional way to eat skyr is with milk or cream and a little sugar. It is also delicious with fresh fruit. On farms in Iceland, it was also served mixed with porridge, which is called ‘Hraeringur’. It was served with milk and accompanied by the traditional ‘black pudding’ and ‘liver pudding’ which were made at the slaughtering time in autumn.”

Okay, then. Some kind of thickened milk product. Dare I say, “curdled”? Our connotations of the word ‘curdled’ aren’t great, although by definition it merely means ‘form into curds’ or ‘thicken’, which doesn’t sound so bad. Cheese is made up of the curds of milk. Cheese curds themselves are a great thing, and poutine wouldn’t be poutine without them!

Googling, good ol’ Wikipedia, imperfect though it may be, says:

“Skyr is an Icelandic cultured dairy product, a type of fresh cheese that has been strained, not unlike Greek yoghurt. It is said to have originally come from Norway, brought to Iceland by the Norwegian Vikings, but is currently unique to Icelandic cuisine.
“Traditionally, skyr is made with pasteurized skimmed milk and live active cultures such as Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Then, "skyr condenser" — good skyr, used to ignite bacteria growth, and rennet was added, and the milk was left to coagulate. The skyr was then strained through fabric to remove the whey, called "mysa" in Icelandic, a by-product that Icelanders used as a thirst-quenching drink. Today it is made from non-fat milk.”


Anyway…. What happened is that a friend discovered a supplier of skyr in Manitoba, and managed to mail order some. He’d tasted it several years back on a trip to Iceland, and had been searching for a North American source ever since. Gimli, Manitoba is a major Icelandic community, and a logical direction to be looking for Icelandic delicacies.
But this means that suddenly we have some skyr on hand, and I now have some first hand experience with “what is skyr?” (Though Neil says it seems different tasting than he recalls.) And because making skyr seems to require some skyr to make more skyr, along the lines of making sourdough, I’m now in a scramble to figure out how to make it.

A number of the bits and pieces I could find out there on the interweb, remarked on how ‘skyr keeps forever’. Hmmm…. Not my experience. Mind you, there seem to be a multitude of different descriptions of what sky is actually like out there, so perhaps there’s also a wide range of opinions on how it keeps. It is a dairy product, so I’ve got it in the refrigerator, but I’m still thinking there’s a time limit on these experiments.

I started my experiments by tracking down recipes. Neil had one, given to him by a friend from Gimli, that was supposedly what her mother made. The Culinary Saga of New Iceland cookbook has several, one of which seems word for word like the Neil gave me. And I googled up several others.

Some mentioned that you use low fat milk.
Stephanie Zonis, of Whey to Go! wrote, in an article from July 2006:
“From everything I’ve read, skyr, by tradition, was a product low in fat. I found it strange that a traditional farmstead cheese (“farmstead” means a cheese is made from the milk of animals raised on the same farm where the cheese is produced) would be low in fat. However, it was explained to me that the Icelandic word for skim milk is “undanrenna,” literally “running from underneath.” Milk from cows or sheep would be placed into a container and allowed to stand for a day, sometimes on ice (the separation process was dependent on the milk’s temperature; colder milk meant faster and better separation). The next day, the milk was separated from the cream via a bowl with a hole in the bottom, out of which ran the skim milk. Milk separated in this fashion would retain a slightly higher percentage of fat than milk separated by more modern methods, but evidently skyr has been low fat for centuries. This isn’t just a modern fad we’re talking about, after all!”

This, at least, gives some logic for the lower fat. Not all the recipes I found specified a lower fat milk. Because I think of this as a ‘cheese’ of sorts, it confuses me a little to be thinking of low or no fat. I mean something has to turn into curds, right? The milk solids. And I guess I’ve assumed that milk solids are synonymous with milk fats.

Checking my book on cheesemaking, I see that milk is about seven-eighths water, and the rest of it is made up of proteins, minerals, milk sugar (lactose), milk fat, vitamins, and trace elements. Those are the milk solids.
It is casein, the protein part of the milk solid that forms curds. “When milk is converted to cheese, most of the fat remains in the curd, with very little going off in the whey. Homogenizing breaks up the fat globules into very small particles, and then distributes them throughout the milk, so they do not rise the top as cream. It is more difficult to make a cheese from homogenized milk because it forms a curd less firm than one made from whole milk.”

Hmmmm… In today’s world, it’s getting much harder to buy unprocessed milk. And of course, I started this whole adventure in the middle of winter in Ontario, when tracking down accessible sources of anything is difficult. While in summer, I might be interested in hying myself off to a farmer’s market for non-grocery store milk, or down to a local cheese maker for ingredients, in winter I tend to stick close to home.

Anyway, before I bore everyone to tears, let’s recap what’s happened thus far with this whole project.
I had some skyr to use as starter. (Apparently the starter works as the bacterial culture to tell your dairy experiment which flavour-way it wants to go.) I had some recipes. What I didn’t have, at that point, was any rennet. Excitingly, I did now have thermometers, too! New-fangled stuff in my kitchen. Whee!

Anyway, to make a long blog short, here’s the preamble. Next installment is the first round of experimentation.

Please Do Not Adjust Your Set...

Yes, I'm off to a slow start with this one! Sorry.
Perhaps it wouldn't or shouldn't be quite so difficult, and maybe it all just hinges on my perceptions (or possible misconceptions) of what you should write on a "public" blog on a specific topic, and how it should be framed and referenced.

My other blog had no illusions of being literarily or politically or grammatically, (or any of several other 'ally's) correct. It's just thoughts strung together. Stuff about the theatre I'm working with, pictures of critters, mutterings of hobbies.... basic random thoughts.

But here I'm finding that even a random thought feels like it should have a lot more behind it. More research. More basic explanation of what I was trying to accomplish. Some background to the whole experiment. And of course, that slows me down.

I'm sure at some point I'll find a balance, and it will be easier to decide what to post, and how to frame it, and to make it happen. After all, the whole point of this was to find somewhere to jot down some thoughts, let them out before my brain explodes. (Such a messy thing!)
There's no way at all I can wait until I suddenly achieve some kind of intellectual greatness; ain't going to happen, no point in waiting. Godot will get here quicker!

So, as long as you, my unknown, and probably lean, audience are willing to roll with the stylistic punches, we may be almost in business.