03 June, 2007

ACofCB Part VI: Yankee Hill-Country Cooking

Have you ever noticed that second-hand bookshops usually have very poor cookery sections? My theory is that people rarely give away their good cookery books and of course that the well-used cookery book is often spattered so not likely to sell to the next user. Somehow although your own clumsiness in evidence on the page is endearing and shows a well-loved book, finding someone else's crumbs and grease is gruesome.

Where is this going? I just returned from a week in Northumberland and a couple of visits to Barter Books in Alnwick. This is an enormous second-hand bookshop in the old railway station and has a large, though as usual not hugely inspiring, cookery section. I did find Yankee Hill-Country Cooking: Heirloom Recipes from Rural Kitchens adapted for modern kitchens by Beatrice Vaughan. This is a small hardback American book of very home country recipes with an excellent section on cookies and baking. I got excited when I found it as it has a recipe for salt-rising bread which I once heard about on Radio 4's Food Programme. I like these old-style collections of recipes though some of the meat recipes sound ghastly (Meat Souffle?!?), and the fish often comes out of a can. American baking is excellent though and the pies sound good.

One slight hitch of course is that being a European I am used to weights not measures and have always found the cup system somewhat baffling. How big is it? How can you measure lumpy things like prunes or nuts by the cup and know you have the right amount? What about butter - do you have to squish it into the cup to get it right? Perhaps I'm just being pernickety and it doesn't really matter. Anyway, inspired by cottage cheese cookies, buttermilk pancakes and sour-cream pie, I found some American cup measures in a shop in Alnwick and am going to have a go this week.

Next problem: how to locate the seemingly enormous quantities of maple syrup that get used in some of these recipes (there is an entire chapter on maple syrup and maple sugar).

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