Saturday, December 22, 2012

Popcorn Strings....

My most memorable encounter with a visitor this Christmas at Old World Wisconsin was in St. Peter's Church. The small church was decorated in Victorian fashion was filled with visitors. Many gathered around the tree near the alter.

A woman moved through the crowd towards me. She was tall, slender, blonde, about my age in her early 40s and wearing a lovely knit wool cap.   Her eyes just sparkled with wonderment. "Excuse me, may I ask you a question?" she asked in a beautiful accent. I smiled, "Yes, of course." She proceeded, "Did they really decorate the tree with popcorn? Is it really a tradition?" I followed with, "Yes, it was quite common among Americans." She smiled more brightly, "I am from Russia. We did not have popcorn until after the Soviet Union fell. It was a special treat."

The first thought was simply "Wow". Choosing my words carefully.  "Popcorn has been a common, inexpensive treat for in North America for quite some time. A string of popcorn is a very inexpensive and an easy decoration that anyone can make. I imagine it was not allowed in the Soviet Union because it is very American."

"This is true", she smiled. "These are the things we discovered after... It is sooo beautiful. I cannot imagine they had so much. I must do this at Christmas. Thank You."  With that, she quickly moved back through the crowd to gaze at the tree for a second time.

The exchange was so brief  and yet, so meaningful. I am not sure that I am able to capture the wonder and excitement that was present in her voice or on her face over a simple string of popcorn.

We do not always take the opportunity to see our world through someone else's eyes. In the moments that we do take the time, we are often reminded....One person's mundane is another's magic.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Orange Cake...


Ladies, it has been some time since I last addressed you directly.  You have surely made note that Christmas is approaching quite quickly...











Soon, it will be time for your family’s Christmas dinner or the Christmas gathering your neighbor has graciously chosen to host.  I know many of you have been considering these challenges for some time and may still be searching for a new receipt.  You have wisely set aside a precious collection of favorite seasonal fruits tenderly preserved for this festive time of  year.  Dried currants, strawberries preserved in syrup and citron candied to perfection may indeed have been stored safely for this special occasion.

For those of you having made ample plans, a beautiful jelly will complete the Christmas table.  Sparkling in the evening light, guests will find it difficult to wait the serving of this special delight.  Sadly, you may be finding yourselves to be ill-prepared or hesitant to embark on this most grand gesture.  Fortunately, I have in my possession a simple receipt for a special cake that is both delicious and makes a lovely presentation on any table.  This receipt uses this season’s oranges and is simple enough for a child to make.  It is noteworthy to mention, with only a single adjustment this receipt can be used throughout the year.  When no longer in season, you may simply exchange the orange with another favorite seasonal fruit.

ORANGE CAKE

From: Nettie Horton Rodgers Diary (New Englander who moved to Fort Atkinson, WI in the 1860’s)

1-1/2 Cups Sugar                          
1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 Cup Butter                                 
½ teaspoon Soda
1 Cup Milk                                    
3 Cups Flour
2 Eggs                                      
1 Orange
Pulverized Sugar
                                                      
Grate rind of 1 orange.  Squeeze juice of 1 orange. Grease and flour cake tin. Cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs. Dissolve baking soda in. Add to above ingredients alternately with flour, cream of tartar, and orange rind. Bake in a medium oven.
To make the glaze, put the orange juice into a small bowl.  Stir in pulverized sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, until a glaze consistency is reached. 

Orange Cake made as a layer cake
Now Gentlemen, this receipt does not exclude you from the limited competency you may possess in your wife’s kitchen.  Not only is it simple enough for any child to bake, you sirs, are also quite capable of success.  It may do well to note that her lack of preparation for a jelly may indeed be due to her desire to tend your comforts and needs.  Now having made this realization you may want to make a short trip to the neighboring store for an extra orange and don an apron for an afternoon.

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Modern Notes: This is an easy, fool, proof recipe that has long been used at Old World Wisconsin. 

For an easy glaze, replace pulverized sugar with modern powdered sugar. You may want to add about a 1/4 cup at a time. Depending on the size of the orange you may need quite a bit of powdered sugar to obtain the consistency you desire.

Medium oven = Approximately 350 Degrees Fahrenheit.  (I bake in a modern kitchen the same as I do using a wood-burning cook stove. Meaning, I "bake until done". The length of time needed to bake this cake varies slightly depending on the pan(s) used. I would set aside 30-40 min for bake time. Check with a toothpick. ...12/18/12 Tonight, I used both stoneware mini-loaf pans and c. 1940s glass bundt pan. Both took about 30 minutes to bake.