Happy Valentine’s Day! As you start your romantic (or not so romantic) evening, why not kick it off with this vintage cocktail, the Honeymoons? Definitely a cocktail- made of gin, lemon, mint, sugar, and plenty of ice; and vintage in my eyes, as this recipe was written in my grandmother’s hand and passed to my mother probably in the 1960s or 70s. I don’t know where my grandmother got the recipe or the name. Did she invent it? I wish I knew… a Google search revealed that there is a vintage cocktail known as a “Honeymoon” but it is nothing like this recipe. This drink is very refreshing! Tart, crisp, and bright with a touch of sweetness. Have you ever had a Tom Collins? The Honeymoons reminds me of a Tom Collins, but without the splash of soda water. I made it exactly as my grandmother directed, with a teaspoon of fine sugar. I love tart and sour drinks, but next time I’ll make a sugar syrup to ever so slightly better mellow the tartness. It would be the perfect cocktail to hand to your guests on a hot summer night, not exactly Valentine’s Day weather in the Northern Hemisphere, but with a name like Honeymoons I think an exception can be made. Enjoy!
As some of you may know, my mom’s parents were from Ireland. Nanny was a wonderful home cook, bringing her Irish food traditions from Belfast to Brooklyn where her Italian, German, and Jewish neighbors influenced her cooking in America.
But Nanny wasn’t the only one to bring Irish food traditions, my grandfather ruled the kitchen on weekend mornings. According to my mom, Saturday mornings would be met with plenty of hot tea, eggs, bacon (or ham or sausages), potato farls, and soda bread. My grandfather would fry bacon, set it aside, then in the same pan, immediately fry the eggs in the bacon fat. From there, in went slices of plain soda bread, fried quickly on both sides until lightly brown. Can you imagine? Heaven!!! Unfortunately, my grandfather died before I was born, but I still grew up enjoying his Irish Soda Bread, first made by my mother, and now my dad.
My father has tweaked the recipe over the years, as I’m sure my grandfather had tweaked his own recipe. My guess is that if you ask 10 different people how they make Irish soda bread you will get 10 different recipes. What is generally accepted throughout is a combination of flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. The baking soda and buttermilk give this quick bread its rise. Another common practice is cutting a cross deep on top. Tradition states that the cross is to let the devil out and ward off evil. Practically speaking, it also helps the heat penetrate the center of the loaf as well as providing the guidelines to break the bread up beautifully when served. My mom recalls my grandfather usually making plain soda bread, and only occasionally making a sweeter version with raisins. This makes sense as years ago the addition of sugar, dried fruits, or eggs would have been a treat and only done on special occasions.
The recipe below is my version of my dad’s recipe, slightly sweet and full of raisins. This loaf is perfect for breakfast, snacking, in lunch boxes, and definitely with a cup of tea or two. I do make other soda breads, a hearty Brown Soda Bread (made with whole wheat flour) and plain White Soda Bread that is unsweetened and wonderful with soups and stews- or fried eggs and bacon. Those recipes will show up here, but first I’d like to introduce this lovely raisin studded Irish Soda Bread.
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins or currants (my dad loads his with raisins and uses up to 2 cups)
1¼ -1¾ cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450°F.
In a large bowl use a pastry blender to cut butter into flour.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in sugar, salt, and baking soda. Add the raisins or currants and mix well.
Pour in 1¼ cups buttermilk and mix, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be soft, slightly sticky, but not too wet. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead it just enough to completely bring it together. Shape into a round about 1½ -inches deep. Transfer to cast iron skillet or lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper cut a cross on it, deep- but not completely through.
Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400°F and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes. The bread is done when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Plum Pudding is a traditional Christmas dessert and very common in England and Ireland. For Americans, the name itself is rather confusing as this dessert contains neither plums nor is it a pudding in the Jell-O sense of the word. The “plums” are actually a pre-Victorian term for raisins and pudding is a reference to dessert in general. Some compare plum pudding to fruit cake, but I respectfully disagree. My family’s plum pudding is not heavy and dense like a fruitcake. It is light in texture, but very rich in flavor; heady with cinnamon, cloves, mace, and brandy. Served with a dollop of chilled hard sauce which begins melting as soon as it hits the warm pudding… it’s like tasting Christmas.
As I discovered during research, plum pudding has a lot of history. Dating back to medieval times, it is a steamed or boiled cake traditionally made on the Sunday before Advent begins. This generous lead time (and a bit of brandy) allows the cake to “ripen” during the weeks before Christmas. In addition to raisins, the cake contains nuts, breadcrumbs, sugar, suet, eggs, milk, brandy, and spices. The highlight of Christmas dinner, the pudding is steamed again to warm through, doused with more brandy, topped with a sprig of holly and set ablaze just as it’s presented to guests.
My family’s plum pudding recipe dates back over 100 years. Aunt Annie, born in the 1880s, was my grandmother’s aunt. Though I don’t know where she got the recipe, I do know that my grandmother made it throughout my father’s childhood, and then passed the recipe on to my mother, who continues to make it to this day. The handwritten recipe from my grandmother refers to the pudding as “Aunt Annie’s Plum Duff.” It seems that centuries ago, the pudding would have been steamed or boiled in cloth, but during the Victorian era the cloth was replace by pudding molds. That said, modern recipes for “duff” do exist and usually instruct the reader to boil the pudding in cloth rather than “pudding” recipes that use a mold. Perhaps my great great aunt originally boiled her pudding in cloth? Unfortunately, I’ll never know. What I do know is that my grandmother steamed her puddings in coffee cans lined with buttered wax paper. And today, I use pudding molds.
This year, the pudding almost didn’t happen. It is getting tougher and tougher to find suet (NOT the kind you get at the garden store to feed the birds). I actually stumbled across some quite by chance at a butcher shop in Boston just a couple of weeks ago. The other ingredients are pretty standard pantry items, and though it’s a two day process, most of the time is hands-off and the technique is very easy. Once the mixture is in the molds, they are steamed for a couple of hours and cooled. After cooling, they are removed from the molds. The molds are washed, the puddings rewrapped in clean parchment, returned to the molds, splashed with more brandy, and tucked away in the fridge until Christmas Day. Before serving, the pudding is steamed again to warm through. Hard Sauce is passed along with it… a creamy combination of butter, confectioners sugar, and- you guessed it, more brandy!
What does it say about me as a child that even then I loved Aunt Annie’s Plum Duff? I knew that this was no ordinary dessert… a generations old recipe, a “cake” steamed in coffee cans on the stove, then steamed again and served with a boozy butter + sugar concoction, plus the whole operation completed a month in advance. This was definitely not happening at my friends’ houses.
I am so grateful for this splattered and tattered heirloom recipe, a direct connection to my past, written in my grandmother’s hand. If you are up for an old fashioned dessert, do try this. You don’t even need to light it on fire… but if you do, please have a fire extinguisher nearby. Safety first!
2½ cups of raisins
1 cup finely chopped fresh white beef suet (pick apart and remove membrane, then chop)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1½ jiggers brandy (4½ Tablespoons)
4 cups lightly packed breadcrumbs (large loaf of day old bread, crusts removed, and pulled apart)
2 cups milk to which 2 teaspoons baking soda has been added
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup packed brown sugar
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground cloves
¼ teaspoon mace
Combine raisins, suet, walnuts, and brandy. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day-
Butter molds and line with parchment paper.
Combine breadcrumbs, raisin-walnut mixture, milk, eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and mace. Mix well.
Carefully spoon pudding mixture into lined molds, filling 2/3 full. Top each with another piece of parchment, then covered with lids. If you have extra pudding, it can be steamed in a buttered mason jar.
Steam in gently simmering water for 2 hours. Maintain water level so that it comes halfway up the sides of the molds.
Serve warm with hard sauce or soft custard sauce.
The pudding can be eaten the same day, but traditionally it is allowed to “ripen” for at least a week, or as long as a year. If you aren’t serving it right away, remove molds from water and allow to cool. Carefully remove puddings from molds, peeling away parchment. Thoroughly wash and dry and molds, then reline with parchment and return puddings to molds. Drizzle a splash of brandy on top of each, cover with additional piece of parchment and place lids on top. Refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving, steam puddings again for 2-3 hours. Serve with hard sauce* or soft custard sauce.
Heirloom recipes, tattered and splattered notes scrawled in cookbooks, on index cards, and handwritten on scraps of paper are gifts from our individual pasts as well as time capsules for us collectively. Holiday dinners celebrated around the world, of all traditions and faiths, are windows into our kitchens, our mothers’ and grandmothers’ kitchens, and all the cooks who went before them.
My family’s chestnut and sausage stuffing recipe has been on our Thanksgiving table since before I was born. My grandfather was the head tennis pro at a club for over 30 years. The chef at the Club made this dressing for their Thanksgiving dinners and at some point shared the recipe with my mother. As a child I remember going to the Club and visiting “Chef” in the hot humid kitchen, delicious smells enveloping me while the sounds of banging pots and pans filled the air. My little girl self recalls the Chef as a big man with a Scandinavian accent, always gifting me with an ice-cream cone- my choice of any flavor, before heading back to the tennis courts with Pop-Pop.
This is Chef’s own recipe; I am forever grateful that he shared it with my mother, and though he couldn’t have known it at the time, he now shares it with me. My childhood is full of taste memories, and every Thanksgiving, as I step into the kitchen with my own children to help, this delicious stuffing serves as a direct connection to not only my past, but theirs, the fourth generation to have it on their table each November.
The stuffing is so much easier to make these days. I can recall many Wednesdays before Thanksgiving filled with burnt fingers as my mom spent what seemed like hours cutting x’s into fresh chestnuts, boiling and peeling them, only to discover they were rotten. Happily that has not happened to me, as cooked and shelled chestnuts are now readily available in jars! The stuffing is made the day before Thanksgiving, which frees up some oven space on Thursday, and makes you feel like you’ve got a head start on your preparations. It also smells incredible! As soon as the sausage, followed by the onions and celery hit the sauté pan, you are clearly announcing to the world- or at least your household, that delicious things are in store.
*Fun Fact: Dressing vs Stuffing? Dressing and stuffing are one in the same, only dressing does NOT get stuffed into the bird. It is cooked separately in a casserole, while stuffing does go into the bird. However, in the American South, most everyone calls it dressing whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird. This recipe allows for both. The dressing is cooked the day before, and on Thursday you can take a portion of it and stuff the bird. Or, you can do as I do, and use drippings from the turkey or stock to moisten the dressing and then reheat it in the oven before serving.
4 stalks celery, cut fine
3 medium onions, diced
2 lbs sausage
1½ lbs chestnuts (cooked and shelled)
2 lbs day old bread, cubed
2 cups milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning* to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Fry sausage until golden brown. Add celery and onion and cook 5 minutes. Soak bread in milk until moist, then squeeze out any excess. Add to the sausage mixture. Add 2 slightly beaten eggs, melted butter, and season to taste with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.
Transfer to a deep casserole dish and bake for 1 hour. Let cool and refrigerate until next day.
Before reheating or stuffing the turkey, stir in 1½ lbs fresh chestnuts, roughly chopped.
*To make homemade poultry seasoning: combine 1 teaspoon each crumbled dried rosemary, crumbled dried sage, dried thyme, dried marjoram, and celery salt, with 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Crush together in mortar and pestle, mini food processor, or spice grinder (poultry seasoning recipe from Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers).
**Another variation would be to use chopped fresh herbs like parsley, sage, and thyme in place of the dried poultry seasoning blend.
I love this time of year! The weather, color, gatherings with friends and family, and the food! Thanksgiving in the US is just a few weeks out and menu planning at White House Red Door is well underway. Truth be told, the planning is not too difficult, as the menu has pretty much remained unchanged since my childhood. It’s not that my parents, siblings, or my own family don’t like to try new foods, or experiment; Christmas dinners, Easter brunches, and other traditional meals vary from year to year, but Thanksgiving has always remained the same, well at least the main dish and sides. There would be a “coup de cuisine” if candied yams weren’t on the table. That said, desserts are an entirely different story. We are far more flexible in our after dinner fare thinking. Friends often join us for dessert, bringing their favorite treats, creating a beautiful cornucopia of desserts.
One pie that has made appearances off and on through the years is my mom’s Apple Cream Pie. Quite unlike a traditional double crust apple pie, Tarte Tatin, or apple crisp, which have all shown up to the party over the years, this pie features tender slices of apples nestled in a bed of creamy custard. Traditional enough for the purists but outside the box enough for those wanting something new or different. For reasons unknown, this pie has not been in attendance for some time, and I’ve never made it myself. Curious to give it a go, I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered and should be included on the menu this year. Without a doubt, it was and will be.
Conversations with mom revealed that the original recipe came from a long out of print encyclopedia like set of cookbooks from Women’s Day, actually called Encyclopedia of Cookery. My mom still has her set and found an identical set at a tag sale years ago that she gave to me as a gift. It turns out the recipe for this wonderful pie has been sitting in the vintage set of cookbooks, in my own house, for years.
The pie is simply elegant, with few ingredients, quite light and perfect after a heavy meal. I’ve taken the original recipe and updated it somewhat by adding a cinnamon stick, star anise, and cardamom pod to the stewing liquid. These additions infuse the simple syrup, and eventually the cream, with classic flavors and aromas that pair well with the apples. After making the cream pie for dessert this week and receiving all round approval, it will now regularly appear not only on our holiday tables, but throughout the fall and winter.
What desserts will show up on your table this year? Are you a traditionalist serving the same menu each year, or do you like to mix it up?
5 cooking apples, peeled and sliced into eighths
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 anise star
1 cardamom pod
Pastry for one 9” pie crust, unbaked
½ cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Put apples in a saucepan with sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until apples are tender, about 10 minutes. While apples are simmering, line a 9” pie plate with crust, decoratively crimping edges and place in freezer until needed.
When apples are tender, remove and place them in a strainer set over a bowl to catch any juices. Continue to simmer syrup left in saucepan until reduced to approximately ½ cup. To that add any syrup caught from draining apples.
After apples have cooled slightly, place in the pie pan lined with pastry. Beat egg and cream together and stir in reserved syrup. Pour over apples. Transfer to oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until custard is set- the center will be slightly jiggly, but will continue to firm up as it cools. Allow to cool completely before serving.