February is a month that always seems longer than its 28 days. It has not helped that this year we have had bright, sunny, and warm days that lull us into believing that spring is just around the corner, only to be awakened by another Sunday snowstorm. It is a good time to browse old cookbooks for recipes less familiar and sometimes overlooked or forgotten.
One of my favorites still is Meta Givens’ 1947 “Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking,” which has its origins in the Ozarks. Marjorie Moser published her “Good Maine Food” also in 1947, and I have the original edition, thanks to my younger son. What started as a simple check on Welsh rarebit (rabbit) and curiosity about kedgeree, often mentioned as breakfast food in 19th century novels set in Britain, turned into a delightful and often humorous afternoon.
The casual perusal revealed not only the predictable Ozark recipes for baked possum and racoon casserole, but it also had a detailed recipe for frog legs. Moser and Kenneth Roberts were equally prodigious in their presentations of wildlife recipes. There are recipes for woodcock and porcupine livers. Though Roberts cites an Old English method of woodcock preparation that has the killed woodcock hang on an outside peg until it is gone and then cook the peg!
It also did not make me regret finding these recipes a couple of years ago when our pear trees were attacked by a band of porcupines.
If you were ever sent on a “snipe hunt” in your younger years at camp, you may be interested to know that Maine actually has snipes. They are real birds with brown plumage that wade in marshy areas. The recipes for snipe (as for porcupine) advises roasting the snipe in clay, then break the clay with a hammer, with the clay retaining the feathers (quills). Definitely a timesaver!
What delightful reading, but here are some more accessible recipes:
Welsh rarebit is one simple but tasty preparation one could find in a pub or prepare at home for a warm lunch or light supper. It basically consists of a slightly tangy cheese sauce on toast. What could be simpler? But like most recipes, it has evolved with time from a simple sauce of milk, cheese. and an egg to a beer-and-porter-containing sauce with more complex flavors.
Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a pan over low heat and stir in 2 tbsp. flour to make a roux. Slowly stir in ½ cup whole milk followed by ½ cup ale until smooth. Add 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese and stir until melted, but do not allow to boil. Remove from heat and stir in 1 well beaten egg until mixture is smooth and thick. Serve on thick slices of toasted bread.
Bubble and squeak
This is another dish from pub fare, but can easily be adapted to the home kitchen and has the benefit for utilizing leftovers in a delicious meal. In a large pan, melt 4 tbsp. butter with 1 tbsp. olive oil and saute 1 chopped medium onion for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 ½ cups shredded cabbage, cook for 1 minute, and then stir in 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes. When mixture is heated through, stir in a cup of leftover cooked peas or carrots. Continue to fry on medium heat 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Serve hot with a fried egg on top.
Kedgeree with smoked trout
Kedgeree was an import to Britain at the time when the East India Company flourished in India under the British Raj. It became a breakfast food that featured smoked fish, rice and curry. Moser’s recipes feature unsmoked Maine seafood, but this version with smoked fish provides more depth to this dish.
Heat, but do not boil, 1 cup milk with 1 tbsp. butter, 1 tsp. onion powder, and 1 tsp. Dijon mustard each. Stir in 2 tsp. mild curry powder, 2 cups cooked rice, ¼ cup sherry (optional), 1 tsp. salt, and pepper to taste. Stir in 1 cup flaked smoked trout. Heat and serve with quartered hard-boiled egg on top.
Culinary explorations can be delightful, edifying, and delicious.
(I. Winicov Harrington lives in Waldoboro. She is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)