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Old Cookbooks and Ginger Biscuits

Old Cookbooks and Ginger Biscuits

Bitten ginger cookie (photo by T.M.)

Tricia Martin | Chef's Blade

I have rediscovered my cookbooks since moving, and, in particular, one. It’s called Dungeness Crabs and Blackberry Cobblers: The Northwest Heritage Cookbook by Janie Hibler. It is a historical compilation of recipes from all over the northwest, complete with stories, old photos, and the original recipes. Hibler will explain, when necessary, where she tweaked the recipe for today’s standards, but still gives the original by it’s side for your own comparison. There are recipes for Flaming Raspberry Souffle, Moist Prune Cake with Ginger-Cream Frosting, Basque Walnut Pudding, Blackberry Cobblers, Grilled Albacore with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Fresh Rosemary, Roast Chicken with Barley-Mushroom Stuffing in Blackberry Sauce, Focaccia with Smoked Salmon and Basil Mayonnaise, Dungeness Crab and Spinach Raviolis, and September Harvest Chowder, just to name a few. Hungry yet? Yeah, me too. But this book was also an eye opener to the vast bounty of food that really is available in this region. I knew this, of course, but sitting down and flipping through these pages was hard proof and it brought me to my senses! (pun intended.)

I am also fascinated with old recipes. Not only are you tasting pretty much what they tasted, but you are reading what they read, and going through some very similar motions to make that dish. Depending on when and where the recipe came from, it can tell you a lot about the living conditions, the time period, and even the psyche of the people who ate it. There is a general fascination, I’ve found, with people who have their grandmother’s recipes or even great-grandmother’s. Through those recipes we find bits and parts of our selves via their history. These women (mainly) share a lot more with us than just genetics and if you look, taste, smell, and feel closely with their food you make, you might discover some of their secrets.

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Top of the ginger cookie (photo T.M.)

There is an old family recipes from my dad’s side for Apple Kuchen (Apple Cake in German). My grandmother went through a long phase where she had to modify all of her farmhouse cooking training to meet the needs of my diabetic grandfather—butter turned to margarine, she stopped using salt, things like that. But this recipe did not change and she would make the full fat and butter version no matter what. This recipe has not been altered since it came from the old country almost two hundred years ago—so, as I make it, I imagine my great great great grandmother doing the same in Austria, my great great grandmother making it along the Oregon trail out of the back of her covered wagon, my great grandmother making it in her outdoor kitchen beside their sod house and eventually in their wooden clapboard farm home, and finally my grandmother learning to make it as a little girl and teaching me what her mother taught her. The funny thing is is that both of my parents are pretty nonchalant about food, my mother, her mother, and her mother before that all hated to cook and my dad never really took to the kitchen. But I loved it, so I was in there a lot…I still am!

So when I found this recipe for Fort Vancouver Ginger Biscuits in Hibler’s book, I couldn’t resist. She writes, "Imagine a buttery ginger cookie that’s so tender it melts in your mouth, and you’ll know what lies ahead when you make these delightful “biscuits,” a British term for cookies that can be sweet or savory. The recipe comes from Rick Edwards, park ranger at Fort Vancouver, Washington, who developed it from the list of ingredients recorded in the original Hudson’s Bay Company records of the fort." And this cookie seriously does melt in your mouth. I upped the ginger by another teaspoon, and I always throw in a little more cinnamon than what’s called for, but I LOVE spicy ginger cookies. And these are incredible.

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