Easy Twice Baked Potatoes

Spuds, taters, tubers… whatever name you call them by, a potato is a potato is a potato. And to misquote Shakespeare, “a potato by any other name would taste as great”! (Actually, he said… “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but I think he should have made Juliet speak about the potato rather than the rose! 🙂

Think about the innumerable ways in which potatoes can be cooked… you can roast, fry, or boil them… bake, stuff or sauté them… They gel well with any meat or fish… or they can stand on their own. They are good spiced up or plain; they can be the main dish or a side. And whatever you do with them, they taste sooo awesomely good!

Can you tell I’m a major fan of the potato? Yes, I love, love, love them! Not only for their great taste, but for their versatility and adaptability to whatever I want to do with them… I can trust the potato not only to rise to the occasion in any dish, but shine like the brilliant star it is!

All kidding aside, I do find the potato my go-to food in a hunger emergency. Also, many of my comfort foods are potato based. And the addition of a potato or two can improve most dishes, I do believe. What is more, I am sure that most of the world would agree with me on this. After all, potatoes are the world’s fourth largest food crop!


A baked potato is one of the most basic form of potato that you can think of. But a twice baked potato can be simple or complex, as you desire. And that is its charm too.

The principle is simple… you bake the potato…


Cut off the tops and scoop out the flesh, leaving a thick skin all around.


And use various stuff to flavour the scooped out flesh. Here you can let your imagination run wild, as most of the spices we commonly use will go well with potatoes.


Pile up everything back into the potato skin and place in the oven for the second round of baking.


When almost done, sprinkle some cheese on top and brown again.


All done! A few scallions for decoration is all the finishing touch needed.


This can be served as a meal when paired with a hearty salad, or can be a side to a meat dish.





Easy Twice Baked Potatoes
Recipe type: Snack/ Lunch
  • 2 large potato
  • 1 tsp of vegetable oil
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ¾ cup white cheddar cheese, separated
  • 1 scallion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degree farenheit.
  2. Choose 2 large potatoes of same size.
  3. Scrub and wash them thoroughly.
  4. Dry the potatoes with a paper towel and prick them all over with a skewer.
  5. Smear vegetable oil all over the potatoes.
  6. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
  7. Check doneness by inserting a skewer into the centre of a poatato
  8. When done, take out of the oven and allow to cool.
  9. Cut off the top on the long side.
  10. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh, leaving a thick wall all around.
  11. Mix the scooped out poatato with ½ cup of sour cream and ½ cup of shredded cheddar cheese.
  12. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  13. Fill the ixture in the potato skins.
  14. Place in the oven and bake till the top starts to brown, about 15 minutes.
  15. Sprikle the reamining ¼ cup of cheese over the top and return to the oven.
  16. When the cheese starts to brown, take out from the oven and cool on a rack.
  17. Sprinkle the top with thinly slices scallion.
  18. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

A Tabouli Salad with a Difference

Tabouli is one of the dishes that is a definite hit or miss with me. (Is that statement an oxymoron?) I know that tabouli is a parsley-intense dish. Though not a major fan of parsley, I am okay with it… up to a limit. Sometimes the parsley in the tabouli sooo overwhelms everything else that it tastes of nothing else. In such cases, yeah, that polite one spoon is all that I can deal with.


But then, this friend of mine – she is from Turkey, where tabouli is a staple – made this amazing version, with cilantro instead of parsley. And boy, did it change everything! Never have I made a tabouli again with parsley. The main difference I feel, is in the texture. Cilantro has this delicate texture whereas parsley tends to be a bit coarse. Even when you manage to avoid even the tiniest stems and use only the leaves.


Another standard ingredient of tabouli is bulghar wheat or cracked wheat. The variety that gets cooked with just hot water poured over it. Recently, I tried using quinoa instead of the wheat. And, found it far superior.




Of course, you can spice up a tabouli too. And you can do that in many ways to suit your perfect tastes. A pinch of allspice powder or eastern eight spice will work very well. Or to keep it simple, teaspoon of pickled jalapenos would really add some heat too.
I start by chopping cilantro.


Then some tomatoes…


And finally chop some cucumber as well.


Plenty of lemon juice and here I used a pinch of eastern eight spice powder.


The quinoa is prepared the usual way (see recipe below for details).


Then you just keep adding the chopped stuff one by one. There is no particular order; I added tomatoes first…


Cilantro next…


And the chopped cucumbers last.


Generous squeeze of lemon, the spice powder and salt and pepper. And a squiggle of olive oil to top it all. Tabouli salad is ready to serve!


I like it served with a piece of buttered crusty warm bread. The salad tastes so refreshing, especially on a hot summer day!




A Tabouli Salad with a Difference
Recipe type: Salad
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 large fleshy tomato
  • 1 seedless cucumber
  • 1 large lemon
  • 1 tsp eastern eight spice powder
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Wash quinoa thoroughly, multiple times, till the water runs very clear. Drain and keep aside.
  2. Boil 2 cups of water, adding a pinch of salt.
  3. Add the drained quinoa to the boiling water.
  4. Reduce heat and let cook simmering for 12 to 15 minutes.
  5. Switch off the heat and allow to cool.
  6. Finely chop the cilantro, tomato and cucumber.
  7. When the cooked quinoa has cooled down, add the chopped ingredients one by one and gently mix together.
  8. Squeeze the juice and add it to the quinoa, along with the spice powder.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Add olive oil to the prepared quinoa, going twice around the bowl.
  11. Mix together and allow to chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.

The Day of the Grill

July 4th… if you grill one day in the year, this will be that day! It has become so much a part of the tradition. The weather, the food, the whole atmosphere calls for it. And that is exactly what we did for our dinner on July 4th.


The menu was quite simple. To start with, the basic of basics, grilled chicken. A simple marinade of sour cream and tandoori spice mix. Marinated in the fridge for two hours and straight to the grill. As simple as that.


The next item was a bit more complex. Spicy kababs! Cilantro and mint leaves, garlic and onion, and jalapenos, to add that requisite heat.


Mince all of them finely and add to the chopped meat. However, there is a secret ingredient that gels it all together and makes the meat hold together… baking soda! But you have to be very careful not to overdo it. Just ½ tsp will do for two pounds of chopped meat. Knead the soda well into the meat along with the minced spices. Form into kabab shapes, with or without a skewer, and lay on the grill. Not too much work, but awesome results.


What is a summer grill without a potato salad! But this potato salad has something special about it… it is made with grilled potatoes! Boil the potatoes till they are just about done, and then lay them on the grill.


They should get a nice char and good grill marks.


Mince some red onion. In a bowl, mix together mayonnaise, minced onions, and a spoon of madras curry powder, available in any Indian grocery.


Cut the grilled potatoes into bite size pieces and add to the mayo mix. Mix thoroughly and delicious potato salad is ready!


Something green… no dinner is complete without something green. Tender cucumbers cut into small pieces and dressed with sesame oil and mirin (available in Asian groceries) was the perfect accompaniment to the spicy meats.


Grilled sweet corn and rolls rounded up the food part. A fresh crisp white wine with a hint of fruit made it all come together excellently.


And dessert… we decided against a heavy baked item instead opting for a light fruit salad with ice cream. Especially as this was a dinner being enjoyed outside. Boy, did it look pretty!


Mangoes and strawberries cut into pieces, with a splash of lemon juice… and a sprinkling of brown sugar. Do not stir; just keep it in the refrigerator till time to serve. To serve, mix together gently and top with vanilla ice cream in individual dishes.

If you would like detailed instructions for making the items in this meal, including a shopping list for ingredients, do write to ria (at) pepperroute (dot) com.

Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!



Roasted Peach Cobbler

I could smell the peaches even before I entered the market stall. This was a local farmers’ market that was held one every week, during the warm weather months. What is great about it is that most of the stuff there has been picked the same morning. And it is so close to home that I make it habit to go there every week.


And the peaches were superb. Ripened on the tree, picked the same morning, bursting with fragrance and flavour. So I got a bunch of them. Would be perfect for a cobbler.


And peaches in a cobbler are at their best when they are roasted. Roasting brings out their sweetness makes them kind of soft. All you need to do is, toss the wedges of peaches with a bit of brown sugar and place them on a baking tray, under the broiler for 15 minutes. They become glazed and so glossy.


Isn’t the best part of a cobbler the crumbly top? And I decided to add a bit of interest to the crumb by adding some almond meal to the mix. It turned out a good idea indeed.


Roasted peaches in a baking dish with a splash of vanilla and lemon juice…


Top it with a generous amount of crumb mix and pop it in the oven.


And the most awesome peach cobbler will come out in about 20 minutes. Not really. Actually, you have to open the oven and take it out yourself. 🙂


Enjoy with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


Roasted Peach Cobbler
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 8 peaches
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tbsp cold butter
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Cut the peaches into ½ inch wedges.
  3. In a bowl, toss the fruit with the brown sugar.
  4. Place in a single layer on a baking tray and place on the top rack of the oven.
  5. Let it roast for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  8. In a bowl, mix together the flour, almond meal and granulated sugar.
  9. Cut the cold butter into pieces and drop into the flour mix.
  10. With your fingers, blend the butter into the mix till the whole thing resembles large crumbs.
  11. Mix the roasted fruit with vanilla essence and lemon juice.
  12. Evenly place in a pie pan or square baking dish.
  13. Sprinkle the prepared crumb on top of the fruit.
  14. Place in the middle rack of the pre-heated oven.
  15. Bake for 20 minutes. Check whether the top is showing golden brown spots. If not, continue baking for another 5 minutes.
  16. Serve with vanilla ice cream. A streak of peach nectar will be good too, strictly optional.



Asparagus Potato Chowder for a Mid-summer Dinner

A friend of mine is planning a trip to New England over the July 4th weekend, and asked me for some pointers, as I had been there three years back, during the same weekend. While talking to him, one memory that kept coming up again and again was of the awesome clam chowder I had at Bailey Island! It was not at all thick – in fact, quite watery! – but the flavour in it! Each spoonful served only to increase the greed for more… and wiping up a huge bowl was a few minutes’ job. Since, I have experimented with various combinations of milk and cream, and by now I believe I have the perfect recipe for a thin yet flavourful chowder.


And what is best, this chowder tastes equally good when made as a vegetarian option. I’m not even sure which version I prefer… the veggie version or the original clam one.

The only condition for a good chowder is that you should not mention the words ‘corn starch’ or ‘corn flour’ at all. Let alone say the words, you should not even think of them. Or any other thickening agent. The consistency has to be managed with milk, cream and cheese. And it is not difficult at all.


Feelings run strong among the fans of the different varieties of chowder. The original stuff known as New England chowder has potatoes and onions and clam, fish or corn as the main ingredients. Whereas the Manhattan chowder, its nearest rival has tomatoes in it! The true aficionados view this version with horror. In fact, in 1939, a bill was introduced in the Maine legislature making tomatoes in clam chowder illegal! 🙂
Also, there are varieties locally popularised in the names of most of the north eat states like Rhode Island, New Jersey and Delaware. And in San Francisco, it is common practice to serve chowders in a sour dough bread bowl.
So yesterday, I decided make an asparagus potato chowder. And it turned out sooo good! Isn’t it true that mascarpone cheese and heavy cream can do wonders to a dish? And I also mash some of the potato pieces to give the dish a bit of thickness without any stickiness.


And I use the bottom woody part of the asparagus to make a broth that adds to the lovely flavours of the dish.


Though traditionally chowders are served with oyster crackers, I prefer to pair it with some fresh bread as it serves as the main meal for me.


Next time I make a chowder, I’m going to be a bit more experimental, adding some celery and green peas and carrots to the mix. Though not a big fan of cooked carrots, I think the added colour could be good. Maybe just a little bit…




Asparagus Potato Chowder for a Mid-summer Dinner
Recipe type: Lunch
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 1 large potato
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. To make the broth, cut one onion into thick wedges.
  2. Break off the woody hard bottom part of the asparagus and place in a pan along with the onion wedges.
  3. Pour six cups of water in the pan, and bring to a boil.
  4. Simmer for 30 minutes. Pass the broth through a fine sieve and keep aside.
  5. Cut the asparagus into 1 inch pieces.
  6. Peel and cut the potato into ½ inch cubes.
  7. Chop the remaining onion into small pieces.
  8. Mince the garlic.
  9. Heat a saucepan and add the butter.
  10. Add the chopped onion and fry till the ends begin to brown.
  11. Add the garlic and mustard and fry for a minute.
  12. Add the white wine and stir till most of it has evaporated.
  13. Pour the broth into the saucepan. Drop in the potato cubes.
  14. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  15. Bring to a boil and simmer to cook covered.
  16. When the potato is cooked, mix in the mascarpone cheese.
  17. Mash some of the potato pieces into the broth.
  18. Add the heavy cream and remove from the fire.
  19. Garnish with dill fronds and serve hot with fresh baked bread.

A Cool Salad with Lemon-Maple Syrup Dressing

Summer is truly here… and the mercury goes up delighting the hearts of all those who have been waiting for just that. That is exactly how the day started yesterday. But by around 10 am, it was evident that the humidity was going up and the day was turning muggy. And my plans for lunch changed suddenly to reflect that reality.


Don’t get me wrong… I’m not complaining about the weather. I don’t mind at all if the weather is muggy on a weekday, when anyway I have to stay chained to my laptop. The weekends, that is what matters. And the weekends have been glorious so far! Here is hoping that they keep that trend going till the end of the season. Don’t I have a thousand plans for the rest of the summer? 🙂


Sooo lunch… yes, a salad for lunch; I needed to make a salad for lunch. Not any salad, but a light salad, that feels like a cool breeze. At the same time, it had to have some bulk. Watermelon! One of the fruits that symbolises summer for me. Lightly sweet, taking care of hunger and thirst at the same time. Yes, that will be the base of the salad.


And some arugula, to counteract the sweetness of the watermelon. The slightly peppery taste of the arugula balances very well with the watermelon. Sliced black olives for an added bit of flavour and thinly sliced white mushrooms to take up the juice. Perfect combo, in flavours as well as colours!


For the dressing, no oil. A squeeze of lemon, of course. I was about to go with a splash of honey to cut the tanginess of the lemon juice, but then remembered I had an unopened bottle of maple syrup sitting by. It was a present from a friend from Toronto, last time she visited me. Lemon juice and a splash of maple syrup, shaken up together, worked just right!


In case… just in case you would like a bit of heat to add to the fun, include a finely minced pickled jalapeno to the dressing. Adds a good kick, but it is strictly optional.


A salad that is a feast to satisfy all your senses!




A Cool Salad with Lemon-Maple Syrup Dressing
Recipe type: Salad
  • 2 cups watermelon pieces
  • 1 cup arugula baby leaves
  • 12 black olives, sliced crosswise
  • 2 white mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • Juice from ½ a lemon
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 pickled jalapeno to add some heat, strictly optional
  • Salt to taste
  1. In a large dish, toss together watermelon pieces, arugula, sliced olives and mushrooms.
  2. Sprinkle with salt to taste.
  3. Transfer to a serving dish and chill in the refrigerator.
  4. Thoroughly shake together the lemon juice and maple syrup (and finely minced jalapeno, if using) to make the dressing.
  5. When ready to serve, pour the dressing over the salad and serve right away.

Sardines in Roasted Coconut Gravy

The phrase that comes to mind at the mention of sardines is, ‘packed like sardines’, the phrase originating from the way sardines are packed in a can. Never been a fan of canned sardines, though I have eaten some awesome pasta made with sardines from a can and a pesto sauce. Instead, I like to think of sardines as these beautiful schools of fish freely swimming in the vast oceans. Indeed, the sardines are gorgeous looking… slim and silvery, with bluish-greyish backs. And they are equally tasty – sorry, it seems very unfriendly to talk about the sardines being pretty and tasty in the same para! But then, I learned to appreciate their taste way before I learned to appreciate their beauty! 🙂


This is a curry made with sardines and roasted coconut. A staple in the state of Kerala, the spice combination can vary based on the region. This one uses fenugreek seeds as an ingredient along with the roasted coconut, which gives an extra depth to the flavours.


Another interesting ingredient is the bilimbi, the very sour fruit, often used in place of tamarind or tomatoes to provide tanginess.


The bilimbi fruits are a pale green colour, about two inches long, and grow abundantly in warm weather.


Cleaning the sardines is an art in itself… especially removing the scales, but nothing that cannot be accomplished with a bit of patience.


Along with the coconut, most of the other ingredients are roasted. And finely ground into a thick paste. The sardines are cooked in this paste so that the flavours thoroughly get into them.


And if you can manage to get an earthenware pan to cook this dish, nothing like it. The unique flavour imparted by the earthenware cannot be replicated any other way. Try it… 🙂



Sardines in Roasted Coconut Gravy
Recipe type: Seafood
  • 12 sardines, fresh
  • ½ a coconut, grated
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 12 shallots
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 3 green chillies
  • ½ inch piece ginger
  • 6 to 8 bilimbi fruit
  • 1 tbsp and 1 tsp cooking oil
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves
  • Salt to taste
  1. Clean the sardines and wash thoroughly. Cut each sardine into two pieces if you like it so.
  2. Slice 6 of the shallots.
  3. Split the green chillies into two lengthwise.
  4. Cut the ginger into juliennes.
  5. Cut each bilimbi into six pieces lengthwise.
  6. Heat a largish pan, add a teaspoon of cooking oil, and when the oil is hot, add the grated coconut, garlic, 6 remaining shallots, and fenugreek seeds.
  7. Roast the till dark brown. Then add the coriander powder, chilli powder and turmeric powder and fry for another minute.
  8. Cool the roasted mixture and grind to a fine paste and place in a cooking pan.
  9. Add the sardines, green chillies, ginger and bilimbi pieces to the ground mix.
  10. Add salt to taste.
  11. Cook on a medium flame, stirring every now and then.
  12. When the sardines are done, remove from the heat. Add the springs of curry leaves.
  13. In a small frying pan, heat 1 tbsp oil.
  14. Add the sliced shallots and fry.
  15. When the shallots turn golden brown, add to the sardines along with the oil they were fried in.
  16. Mix together and enjoy with steamed rice.

Boatman’s Crab Curry

There is nothing sophisticated about this dish… It is as rustic as can be. Prepared in a hurry, with ingredients that are easily available, by people who are definitely not accomplished chefs. But boy, is it yummy! Once you have tasted it, you will never forget it, I guarantee. And of course, as can be guessed, the secret behind the goodness of this dish is the freshness of its ingredients.


The backwaters of Kerala, the small state on the south western coast of India, are well known for their natural beauty. However, something that is not so well known is the fact that the same backwaters are major channels of commerce. Boats plying on them ferry commodities and people, village to village.

To the boatmen who guide these boats through the network of waterways, the boats are their homes, especially as they are away from their villages for weeks at a time. At the end of a day, they moor their boats and settle down for the night, maybe after a visit to the shop on the banks for some daily necessities. Then it is time to prepare a quick meal in the light of the hurricane lamp. And is there anything better to cook than what can be harvested out of the water, then and there? But they have no time or patience for elaborate preparations. A chop of this, a handful of that… stir together and the boatmen’s fish or crab curry is ready… hot and spicy, enticing!
The ingredients are very basic… chopped onions, tomatoes, crushed ginger and garlic. And a bit of crushed cloves and cardamom. And a mix of coriander, chilli and turmeric powders.


The only change I have made to the original recipe – picked up from watching it being made – is that it has been mellowed down a bit, by the addition of coconut milk.
And of course, the key to the awesomeness of this dish is fresh crabs… I mean, really fresh ones.


Sauté the onions, add the powdered spices, stir in the tomatoes… toss in the crab pieces and stir together.


Add the coconut milk and cook covered for 10 minutes. A sprinkle of curry leaves makes it complete.


Serve with hot boiled rice and you will hear the lilting songs of the boatmen echo on the silvery waters on a still night.




Breadfruit… the Vegetable with a Past!

In the 18th century, the British were looking for cheap, but high energy food sources to sustain the empire’s slaves in the Caribbean. As early as 1769, they had recognized the qualities of breadfruit as a suitable crop for this purpose. Accordingly, in 1787, a British Naval expedition was sent to Tahiti on the ship HMS Bounty, to procure breadfruit saplings for planting in the Caribbean. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Bounty sailed from Tahiti after a stay of five months, with a thousand and fifteen breadfruit trees. Meanwhile, some of the crew members had got accustomed to the life in Tahiti and also had formed relationships with local women. They did not want to leave and mutinied. They imprisoned the captain and set him afloat in the ship’s launch, along with 18 of the crew members who were loyal to him. The mutineers sailed the Bounty back to Tahiti and further to Pitcairn Island where they remained, till many died and some were captured by the British Navy and prosecuted. The captain managed to navigate to Dutch East Indies, a trip that took 47 days, with only a quadrant and a pocket watch!
The incidents related to the Bounty’s expedition to procure breadfruit trees captured the world’s imagination in a big way. Several authors, including Lord Byron, Sir John Barrow, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and Orson Wells, have written about them. A number of movies have also been made based on these incidents. One of them, Mutiny on the Bounty made in 1935, won the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Even an episode of The Simpsons was based on the mutiny!
Interestingly, though the trees were planted successfully in the Caribbean, the slaves refused to eat the breadfruits!

I have always loved the breadfruit’s starchy potatoey consistency. And the smooth creaminess it attains when it is fully grown, but not ripened. So when I saw a plump specimen in the vegetable shop, it was an instant decision to grab it.

Then the question was what to do with it, especially as the breadfruit fares well in a number of preparations. I zeroed in on ‘thoran’, a coconut stir fry. This is a traditional dish of Kerala, the south western state of India.

The breadfruit is cut into thin pieces, and then julienned into matchstick thickness. And stir fried with a basic spice mix of red chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt.

This dish gets its awesome flavour from the coconut coarsely crushed with garlic, cumin and curry leaves. And it should just be heated through after being added to the vegetable. If you cook the coconut thoroughly, the taste of the dish changes.

This dish can be served with a rice dish on the side. Goes especially well with yogurt rice or lemon rice.

Also, you can make this dish with any vegetable that has a firm texture.



Breadfruit... the Vegetable with a Past!
Recipe type: Vegetarian
  • 1 breadfruit
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 cup scraped coconut
  • 6 small cloves of garlic
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 2 stalks curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • Salt to taste
  1. Cut the breadfruit into four quarters and peel the outer green skin.
  2. Cut each quarter into thin slices and cut the slices into matchstick sized juliennes.
  3. Crush together the garlic, cumin, curry leaves and coconut using the pulse function of the blender.
  4. Heat the oil in a pan.
  5. When the oil is hot, drop the mustard seeds into the pan and cover with a splatter screen.
  6. After the mustard seeds have finished spluttering, add the breadfruit pieces, chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt.
  7. Turn the heat down and cover and cook, adding a quarter cup of water if required.
  8. When done, add the crushed coconut mixture and quickly stir to combine.
  9. Immediately, remove from heat. Delicious breadfruit thoran is ready to server.

Before Cooking was a Spectator Sports…

There is nothing easier than finding a dependable recipe these days, however obscure the cuisine. Our trusted friend Google is there to wade through millions of web pages and bring up whatever we ask for. And if you are lucky, you will even find a video of someone preparing the same dish.
But so was not the case, just two or three short decades ago. So what about a time when you are new to a place and are expected to feed your family with whatever you could carry with you from thousands of miles away? And as that cannot last for long, you are compelled to use locally available food stuff. But you know next to nothing about the local stuff, nor is there anyone to consult.
That was the case of the women who emigrated from Europe to the America, the new continent, in the 17th and 18th centuries. Very often, they had to depend on cookery books carried over from the homeland. Even the first English cook books published in America were reprints of the British ones, with hardly any modifications. But as can be expected, these books failed to deal with the special needs of the American housewife.
It is under these circumstances that Amelia Simmons published her cook book, ‘The First American Cookbook’ in 1796, the first to be authored by an American. The book recorded for the first time changes that had occurred in cooking as well as in other spheres of life as it unfolded in America. The American housewife had to deal with ingredients that were unknown to her British counterparts and we can see that this fact was a major influence in the writing of this book.
The First American Cookbook had other claims to fame apart from being the first one on the market… it was the first cookbook to document a novel method of leavening the dough. So far, the required lightness in baked items was achieved by beating in air with eggs. And sometimes bakers had to resort to yeast even for cakes. Pearlash, the refined form of potash, was commonly used in America around this time in gingerbread and cookie dough. And Amelia Simmons includes four recipes using pearlash in her cookbook. And detailed discussions in a London magazine in 1799, about the merits of pearlash in cooking, indicates that this was still a novelty in Britain.
It is noteworthy that Amelia Simmons uses a number of words that are purely American. ‘Molasses’ instead of ‘treacle’, ‘shortning’ in place of the British ‘shortening’, ‘slapjack’ for a cake fried on a griddle, and are examples. These words were in circulation in America, but were recognized by dictionaries much later.
Also, the book uses, for the first time, words borrowed from Dutch. Indeed, I was really surprised to know that our common words like ‘cookie’ and ‘slaw’ had their origin in the Dutch language!
And, Amelia Simmons was the first one to set down a recipe for what we call a traditional Pumpkin Pie today, and I’m eternally grateful to her for that! I’m sure someone else would have stepped up with a recipe for a Pumpkin Pie, if she hadn’t, but it is nice to have that recipe in the first cookbook authored by an American!
In addition to recipes for numerous dishes, the book also contains direction on how to select and prepare ingredients. There is a whole lot of insights into the contemporary life that can be gained from this book. And some of the usages of language might strike us as archaic, but considering the time it was written, it is relevant to a surprising degree even today.
The full title of the book is, ‘American Cookery or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and all Kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake, adapted to This Country and All Grades of Life’. The book is published as a facsimile copy of the original and can be purchased online.