Did you hunker down? Shelter in place? Self-quarantine? Or simply hang out at home, waiting for COVID-19 to become history? Regardless of the terminology used, cabin fever is an expected consequence. For many of us, the kitchen becomes our refuge.
Through my work with historical foodways, I find many traditional recipes that focus on staples meant to be stored; foods that would keep. These culinary relics generally required few ingredients and straightforward preparation.
Perhaps the long hours spent in homebound isolation offer the perfect opportunity to investigate something traditionally American, like a sweet potato pie?
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 large eggs
1/4 pound butter
1/2 cup dark sugar
Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste
Puff Pastry sheet
Salt to taste
Bake the sweet potatoes until soft. Split in half lengthwise, and scoop out the insides. Place in a bowl and thoroughly mix in the butter, then eggs, then sugar. Season with cinnamon and nutmeg. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a pie pan with the pastry sheet. Pour the mix into the pastry-lined pie pan. Place a few twists of pastry on top of the mix, and bake until they turn golden brown.
Hoppin’ John is another traditional dish, crafted largely with staples or ingredients that could be preserved. This hearty dish was — and still is for many people — popular around New Years.
1/4 pound bacon
1 large onion, coarse chopped
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup cooked black eyed-peas
1/2 cup chicken broth
Salt and black pepper to taste
Hot pepper sauce (optional)
Collard greens (optional)
Chop the bacon and fry until fat begins running liquid; add the onions. Cook until onions begin to darken. Add cooked peas, rice and broth; bring just to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add collards and hot pepper.
In March, I ate the last of the squash that I stored away last October. It was still firm and sweet and ideal for stuffing. There is no fixed recipe for stuffed squash. Use creativity and whatever stuffing ingredients that you have on hand.
1 squash (acorn, Hubbard, etc.)
1 pound sausage meat
4 ounces raisins
Cut a piece off the top of the squash, remove all seeds, wash and wipe the cavity and fill the hollow with the sausage and raisins. Put the top on and set the pumpkin in a Dutch oven (or deep pan) to protect the sides; bake it in a moderate oven. Serve by scooping out the squash’s meat and stuffing.
Maybe, in the rush to provision your larder, you bought way too many bananas, and now they are getting brown and overripe. Homemade banana bread is an ideal breakfast or snack, easy to make and takes advantage of leftover bananas and too much time on your hands.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 1/3 cups)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Combine flour, soda and salt; add to batter, and mix just to combine. Add bananas, mixing well. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil during last 15 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Cool in pan on a wire rack; then remove from pan and cool again before slicing
When stocking up for hunkering down, I included blanched, peeled almonds on my list of essentials. Making almond nut paste — a no-cooking-needed marzipan — can ease stress and result in a tasty confection.
6 ounces blanched, peeled, ground almonds
6 ounces confectioners’ sugar
2 lightly beaten eggs
Flavoring: orange, vanilla, or others
In a large bowl, mix the sugar and ground nuts. Stirring constantly, gradually add the eggs until the mix sticks together in a ball. With your hands, knead the ball until it is smooth. Place the ball on a cool tabletop or large baking sheet dusted with more confectioners’ sugar. Add 3 or 4 drops of flavoring and knead the mix. If needed, add more flavoring, drop by drop. If the mix gets too dry, add more egg; too wet, add more sugar. After the marzipan is thoroughly flavored, roll it flat and cut into pieces.
Get into your kitchen, while hunkering, and take advantage of the opportunity to try cooking something new for you. And, may boredom be the worst challenge that you face.
Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Maryland. E-mail your questions and comments to RHWay2Go@gmail.com.