I am reading The White House Cook Book (the 1889 edition) as research for a novel I’m writing. It’s a fascinating look into cooking and baking with a wood stove. Some recipes uncommon today make me smile. For instance, when making squirrel soup, you must strain the finished soup through a course colander, “so as to get rid of the squirrels’ troublesome little bones.”
I worked my way to the desserts. There I found a recipe for apple custard pie with brandy, which I’ve never sampled, have never seen on a restaurant menu, and appears not to be a staple of the modern cookbook. I suggested to Jay, my gourmet cook husband, that he give it a try. I wanted him to duplicate the recipe, but his being a diabetic made that impossible from the get-go. Besides, he immediately balked at grating the three large pared apples by hand, opting to put them in his Cuisinart and chopping them in short bursts. I compared his result with a bit of apple I had grated, and the consistency was pretty close. The recipe read “to every teacupful of the apple add two eggs well beaten, two tablespoonfuls of fine sugar, one of melted butter, the grated rind and half the juice of one lemon . . .” What in today’s measurement is a “teacupful”? Well, look it up on the Internet and the answer is “six oz.” Those three large apples added up to four teacups or 24 oz. of apple. Jay substituted Splenda for sugar and bottled grated lemon peel. But when it came to adding “half a wine-glass of brandy” for every teacupful of apple, he simply reached into the cupboard and grabbed a red wine glass. But has the red wine glass changed size during the ensuring years? There was no time for more research. Jay was on a roll. He measured a half wine glass of brandy per teacupful of apple — the result was that he added three mini-bottles of Christian Brothers brandy. The last ingredient was a teacupful of milk per teacupful of apple. Again we came up short. We use skim milk and I was certain the author expected that rich milk would be used. I took a can of whipped cream from the refrigerator, sprayed it into a measuring cup and added skim milk, then mixed them together. Pretty rich. “Pour into a deep dish lined with paste and bake 30 minutes.” Jay had enough for two pies. He poured the thick batter into a prepared Pillsbury crust (he has learned to coat it with egg white so it won’t get soggy, just as the author suggested so many years ago) and the remainder into a graham cracker pie crust shell we happened to have on hand. They looked tasty already.
“So, what temperature should I set the oven at?” he asked. “They didn’t go by temperature settings,” I replied. “At the beginning of the baked goods section, the author says that if you can leave your hand and arm in the oven counting slowly to 20 without being burned, then it’s right for baking.” He gave me an intense blue look behind his glasses as he absorbed this last bit. “I’ll set it at 350 degrees,” he decided. We were advised to check the pies with a broom straw to make certain they’d set, but I used a table knife instead. We did leave them in an extra 15 minutes and they looked great when they came out of the oven. “Now let those cool,” Jay admonished, “while I mow the lawn.” It was hard to wait. I like warm pie. When Jay came in, I’d already put pieces on plates, replete with whipping cream. They were wonderful, though Jay said he thought the brandy flavor overwhelmed the apple and custard flavors. But I think the ladies in my novel will love every brandy-flavored bite.