Of Farms and Fables combines the efforts of professional and non-professional artists by engaging artists in farm work and farm workers in storytelling and acting. The result will be an original performance in October of 2011 which will engage performers and audience in dialogue about local agriculture, farming, and the future of small family farms in Maine.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Report from the Farms and Fables Test Kitchen (Claire)

Not ago I was in the library and stumbled onto Fish, Flesh and Foul, Foul, Flesh and Fish, Each Served Up In a Separate Dish". This charming little leather bound cookbook was written in 1877 by the Ladies of the State St. Parish in Portland ME .
Here is how it was broken up:
  • Breads: ("Eggy Pop-Overs: Three cups flower, three cups milk, three eggs. Beat eggs twenty minutes, add milk and flour. Bake in a quick oven.")
  • Meats, Etc. (recipes for Salt Cod, Potted Shad, Beef Tea, Green Corn Oysters)
  • Pies, Puddings, Etc. (Best Indian Pudding, Imitation Mince Pie- a long section)
  • Cakes (A much longer section)
  • Fancy (Almond tarts! Meringues!)
  • Salads, Pickles, Etc. (Grape Pickles, Brine For Frying Pork)
  • Miscellaneous ( Cures for Boils, Dysentary, Poisoning, Small Pox, and Warts also- How To Choose Meat and Cook a Steak)
In our discussions about the project, we've been interested to learn more about how farming (and by extension, eating) has evolved in Maine over the years. Its hard to beat cookbooks for information about what was available to use and what recipes people were excited to share.

For example, the meat section is dominated by recipes featuring ingredients that would be unfamiliar to most modern kitchens: salt fish, baked whole cod, soups made with animal bones and innards, and ways to use green corn. (grate it and fry it in to pancakes! make it into soup!) Cooks learning to propagate their own yeast are instructed to use 1 gill of yeast to a quart of water per batch (a gill is aprox. 8 tablespoons). Ovens aren't heated to temperature- they are simply described as "quick" or "slow". Who needs more than that?

In another volume from around the same time, I found this footnote attached to a recipe; "This mixture, if freely used in the haying season, is thought by Maine Farmers to get hay into a barn in 3/4 the time that would otherwise be consumed."
I had to try it.
Without further ado, I give you:

The Haymakers Switchel

1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ginger
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup vinegar
1 quart water

mix all ingredients and chill with ice.

So I did just that.
What a mixture! It's a little thicker than you might imagine, smells pretty overwhelmingly like a gingersnaps and vinegar. My test subjects (read: roommates) and I were not quite up to trying it out as soon as the batch was mixed, so we popped in the fridge for a while and came back to it when it was well chilled, put an ample amount of ice in some cups and got ready to be supercharged.

(Bottoms up! Will we get our dishes done in half the time? )

The closest comparison we could figure out was something close to coke made out of a root
beer flavored hard candy and a sourpatch kid combined. It wasn't carbonated, but the vinegar
gave it a slightly fizzy quality which also made it seem a little alcoholic (even though it isn't).
We fooled around with diluting it with a little more water to tone down the syrupy aspects, but
it just made us taste the vinegar more and molasses and sugar less. Yuk.
Honestly, the switchel didn't seem like the sort of thing I would look for on a really hot
dry day and covered in hay dust, when I'm in the middle of haying, but I did feel pretty peppy
for the rest of the day. I've still got a whole lot left in the fridge....
I'm thinking of taking it along to the next haying I attend to test it in the field.
I'll keep you posted!