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Adventures in food reporting: Old recipes, new challenges
She had photocopies ready for two of her favorite family recipes, one for banana pudding and one for teacakes. But I didn’t see any copies on Stella Bolin’s kitchen table that seemed to be about that deep-south dirty rice dish, the one that first piqued my interest when I called her for my “Edible heirlooms” story in today’s Journal-World.
Turns out, like so many old-fashioned specialties, Stella’s dirty rice recipe was in the same place her mother and grandmother kept it — her head.
Of course, that wasn’t going to work for my story, where the goal was sharing recipes so other readers might make them. So, we set about getting it on paper.
She cupped her hand to show how much beef she used, and we referenced a cookbook with a similar recipe to compare notes on some ingredient measurements. To demonstrate her method for ensuring every grain of rice got coated with slow-simmered goodness, Stella pulled out a roasting pan and churned an imaginary spoon in tiny circles, scraping imaginary flecks of sautéed meat into imaginary rice bit by bit, starting at one end of the pan and finishing at the other. She promised that when it comes to dirty rice, improvisation is OK. Add or take away anything to make it just the way you want.
Another challenge with old-fashioned recipes? Some require old-fashioned ingredients — we’re talking so old-fashioned they don’t exist anymore, at least in mainstream stores. Phil Minkin’s grandmother’s flodin, written on a scrap of paper and translated for today’s story, called for “cake yeast” and “dry cheese.”
Phil’s memory and Google came to the rescue. Cake, or fresh, yeast and its short shelf-life started losing popularity around World War II, when dry yeast was developed, according to the Fleischmann’s Yeast website, breadworld.com. “Dry cheese,” Phil said, means dry curd cottage cheese. Cooks on online forums seemed unable to find it, save at a few Jewish specialty stores.
Untrusting, I tried that recipe at home before publishing it, substituting dry yeast and, at Phil’s suggestion, rinsed and drained cottage cheese.
I’m not sure mine turned out like Grandma Kain’s. But my dough rose (huzzah!), the bread browned, and the result was a warm, gooey, sour-cheesy delight, just like Phil promised. My co-workers ate a whole loaf, plain. At home, I ate some fresh out of the oven and, the next day, topped with raspberry preserves. On both accounts, yum.