Imagine that you're sitting in a rough-hewn farmhouse in 1840. Hanging in an open fireplace is an iron kettle bubbling with a robust pea soup. The brick oven has been fired and the smell of gingerbread fills the room. The table is set with simple plates and wooden bowls, and a dish of green tomato pickles and a wooden bowl of applesauce is nearby. "American Cookery" by Amelia Simmons, the first American cookbook published (1796), is open to the gingerbread recipe. It might amaze you to discover how good this pea soup and gingerbread taste. This is more than just food to nourish the body.
The following recipes for smoky split pea soup and gingerbread date from the middle of the 19th Century. Along with beans and herbs, ingredients such as the dried peas were harvested in late summer and spread out to dry in the attic. By the end of October, most of the foods to be eaten during the winter had been stored in the attic or cellar, many jars held vegetables and preserves, and meats had been brined or salted.
I have taken the license of baking the gingerbread in a large baking sheet, so that when cut into bread pieces, it would look like slices and emphasize that gingerbread was eaten as bread. It is gratifying to know that a few threads of our culinary heritage have survived and taste quite wonderful today.
SMOKY SPLIT PEA SOUP
2 quarts hot water
1 pound dried split peas
4 or 5 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
Place hot water in large soup pot. Add split peas, bacon, celery and leaves, onion, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Stir and turn heat to high. When soup begins to boil, turn heat down to medium-low so soup boils gently.
Cook 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until peas are tender and mushy. Stir often during cooking process. Add another 1 to 2 cups water if soup becomes too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot. Makes about 6 servings.
Each serving contains about:
375 calories; 1,140 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 48 grams carbohydrates; 21 grams protein; 3.05 grams fiber.
Note : Soup can be pureed in food processor, so it is completely smooth, or use whisk and briskly stir so soup is smoother, but retains little texture.
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup dark molasses
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Sift flour, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together onto sheet of wax paper. Set aside.
In large mixing bowl beat butter until smooth and creamy. Add sugar and molasses. Beat until well blended.
In bowl combine baking soda and boiling water. Add to butter-sugar mixture, beating well. Add flour mixture and beat until batter is smooth, then beat in eggs.
Pour batter onto greased 12x16x1/2-inch baking sheet. Spread evenly with spatula. Bake at 350 degrees about 15 to 18 minutes, or until wood pick comes out clean. Cut into 4x4-inch pieces. Serve warm. Makes 12 pieces.
Each piece contains about:
265 calories; 100 mg sodium; 56 mg cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 43 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.1 gram fiber.
* Glazed French earthenware pottery from Cassis and Co. at Cinzia, Santa Monica.