Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I think what I really like best about Thanksgiving is just being at home with my family. A couple years ago someone coined the term, cocooning to describe what they saw as the "trend that sees individuals socializing less and retreating into their home more."

But this is hardly a new phenomenon - in fact, it's actually a Victorian ideal. I'm usually reading a dozen or so books at any one time and currently the list includes, Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders.

It was during the Victorian era that advances in technology and transportation made it possible (and even desirable) for people to work someplace other than the home. We take it for granted now, but 150 years ago you had to live where you worked. Think about it: the farmer (obviously) lived on his farm; the shopkeeper above his store. If you were in the lower classes, work often consisted of piecework, assembled in the home. With the rise of an increasingly affluent middle-class, it was now possible to remove your family from the dirt, crowds and crime of the city to the more bucolic environs of the country or suburbs. And we've been doing it ever since.

As I said, we take this for granted today - but in the Victorian era it was a new concept and became something of a mania for all but the poorest in the population. The separation of the public life from private living was described by Dickens' (Quoted in Inside the Victorian Home, pg 7):

The office is one thing, and private life is another. When I go into the office, I leave the Castle [his house in the suburbs] behind me, and when I come into the Castle, I leave the office behind me... "
On page 8:

Oh, how dull and dreary is the best society I fall into compared with the circle of my own Fire Side with my Love sitting opposite irradiating all around her, and my most extraordinary boy!
I think that describes my feelings pretty well. For how many of us is home and family a bulwark against all the pressures of work and the outside world? It's an incredible blessing and not everyone is lucky enough to have it.

So, on this Thanksgiving, that's what I'm thankful for.

Inside the Victorian Home is a fascinating look at the daily lives of middle-class Victorians and I highly recommend it. Once I've finished the book, I'll put a review up on Amazon; I can already tell you that it's earned five stars.

And now - some recipes:

Ricotta-Pineapple pie.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 15 oz. of Ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

  • 20 oz. of crushed pineapple
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.
This is a traditional Italian dessert. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir together sugar, cornstarch, ricotta, eggs, cream, lemon zest, and vanilla, mixing until you've got a smooth, creamy concoction. If you're a better cook than I am, you can make a graham cracker cookie crust, but I just buy one of the pre-made ones you can get anywhere.

Pour the your mixture into the prepared pie-crust and bake for 50 minutes or until the edges are starting to brown. Set to cool for at least an hour before putting on the topping.

To make the topping, completely drain the pineapple, saving a 1/2 cup of the juice. Stir together sugar, cornstarch, pineapple, and the pineapple and lemon juice. Stir over medium heat until it thickens, then spread over the pie. I'm just about the only person in my house that's likes pineapple, so this year I just topped with maraschino cherries. Whaddaya think, Court?

Chill at least one hour in the refrigerator before serving.

Pumpkin-Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Filling

  • 1 cup cooked pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten until frothy
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

Combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a medium bowl; set aside.

Pecan Syrup

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 2 small eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup pecan pieces

Combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a medium bowl; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spoon the Pumpkin Filling into the pie shell, spreading evenly to distribute. Gently pour the Pecan Syrup on top. Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Apple Crumb Pie

  • 9-inch pastry shell, unbaked, chilled
  • 1 cup sifted flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup soft butter
  • 6 cups peeled, sliced cooking apples
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine flour, brown sugar, salt, and butter; blend until crumbly then set aside. Combine apples, granulated sugar, and cinnamon; mix gently to coat apple slices. Pack apple mixture into chilled crust. Sprinkle crumb topping over apples. Bake in 375° oven until apples are tender, about 50 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup evaporated milk, undiluted
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 9-inch pie crust, unbaked

In mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and flour. Add eggs; mix well. Add evaporated milk, water and vanilla; mix well. Pour pumpkin pie mixture into a 9-inch pastry lined pie pan. Preheat oven to 425°. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake pumpkin pie for about 35 minutes longer, until pumpkin pie is set.

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