Saturday, January 18, 2014

What I'm reading...

... A day in the life of a Missouri winery -- they are growing Seyval blanc and traminette there, and winning awards, too. They don't update their blog too often, but perhaps it's because everyone is too busy making good wine and winning awards. Go to Sainte Genevieve Winery for a virtual visit.

... Alder Yarrow's travelogue of his half-week at the winemaking island of Santorini in the Mediterranean. Remote antiquity knew this shattered remnant of rock as the lovely island Thera (but how do we moderns know the ancients called it Thera? -- the man to consult about it, it seems, is the great English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, or if you are in a hurry you may simply cheat and glance into Norman Davies' Europe) until it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the year 1628 B.C. On the barren, windswept pumice, Santorini's farmers grow grapes to produce a vinsanto, a sweet white dessert wine, which is not to be confused with Italy's better known Vin Santo, a sweet white (usually) dessert wine. Speaking of which, I'm reading --

Lost Desserts: Delicious Indulgences of the Past by Gail Monaghan. Here you will slaver over pictures of and instructions for making Marbled Rose and Raspberry Fool, Pruneaux au Pichet (prunes in a pitcher), and Pear and Ginger Crumble with Lemon Curd Ice Cream. Unfortunately the very first treat in the book, Auguste Escoffier's "Mont Blanc," is accompanied by a positively disgusting photograph that will make you shudder at offers of chestnut purée and whipped cream for life (p. 18). Luckily the publishers saved the splendid picture of Red Wine Jelly for the book's cover.

... And finally, Paula Peck's Art of Good Cooking (1966). I found it in a thrift shop and seized it instantly. Why does the name Paula Peck seem to ring faint bells of memory? Could she have been a celebrity chef of the era? Heaven knows where this copy of the book, inscribed "Property of the Waltons," has been kept for forty years -- in the Waltons' chicken coop, by the smell of it -- but when I hold my nose and read from a height, I find Miss Peck's recipes are interesting and adventurous. Squid in its ink, Indian scramble made with moong beans. And this, from the chapter "Homemade Foods in Reserve."

Paula Peck's Middle East cheese bits

1 pint sour cream
1 pint yogurt
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp caraway seeds
olive oil

Line a strainer with cheesecloth, and place over a  bowl. Mix sour cream and yogurt together, and pour into strainer. Place in refrigerator for at least 36 hours, or until the mixture is very firm and a good deal of the liquid has drained into the bowl.

Discard the liquid and place the firm mixture into a bowl.Stir in salt, pepper, and caraway seeds. Return to a cloth lined strainer and allow to drain 12 more hours (in the refrigerator again, I presume).  

Place the contents of the strainer in a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tube. Cover a baking sheet with a clean towel or three layers of cheesecloth, and pipe rounds of cheese onto it, no bigger than 2/3 inch in diameter. (You can also shape the cheese into balls with two teaspoons.)

Cover the cheese balls with another clean cloth and allow to stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours, until they are firm enough to pick up with the fingers.(Problem: keeping these delicacies safe from curious insects for 24 hours when the windows are open in glorious midsummer.)

Pack the balls into a clean pint sized jar, and add enough good olive oil to cover them completely. Close the jar tightly and store in the refrigerator ("for months") until needed. 

Miss Peck says, "They make a most satisfying first course plate served with crisp greens, a slice of salami and a few black olives or capers." I'm sure they do, but I may wait to try them until a season when insect life is less curious.

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