501 Life Magazine | The historic harvest table
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The historic harvest table

by Don Bingham

The food history and the wide array of culinary offerings of the fall harvest dates back to the days when cooking was done on an open hearth. Many of the recipes had a hearty, satisfying quality that survived the test of time. The early cooks drew the best from America’s great bounty and gave us a rich food heritage — including cornbread dressing, hash, hot cider with stick cinnamon stirrers, molasses cookies and country-style ham.

Among the harvest and fall flavors and aromas are the delightful nutmegs, cinnamons, cloves and caramelized sugars.

The rice industry of the South has its beginnings in 1680 when a sea captain forced to stop in Charleston repaid the town’s kindnesses with a gift of some of his cargo of rice. It grew so well in the Carolina climate that swampy riverbanks were cleared for rice plantations. During the 1700s, rice was called Carolina gold and used as currency.

The harvest season is a grand time for hospitality with a rice-based dish, one of Arkansas’s leading products. It’s a perfect way to enhance one’s harvest feast!

Southern hospitality seems to blossom in the fall and early days of the approaching holidays! 

One of my favorite stories is when Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, wrote in 1797, “Today will be the fifth great dinner I have had, about 36 gentlemen today, as many more next week and shall have got through the whole of Congress and their appendages. After this, all the Gentlemen of the city, the Governor and officers and all of whom the late President used to treat with cake, punch and wine. What the house would not hold will be placed at long tables in the yard. As we are here we cannot avoid the trouble or expense . . . I hope the day will not be hot. I am like to be favoured with a cool one today at which I rejoice, for it is no small task to be sit at table with 30 gentlemen.”

We southerners love to entertain, and a fall weekend, with its sports activities and outdoor parties, presents the perfect time for cooking, dining and fellowship. 

The Stack Cake was a traditional pioneer wedding cake made right at the wedding celebration. Each guest brought a layer of cake. Applesauce made with fresh or dried apples was spread on each cake layer, and the layers were stacked. 

The bride’s popularity could be measured by the number of layers in each stack. Because guests were apt to bring different types of cake, the stacks were often full of different colors and flavors. The recipe included below is for six layers of simple molasses cake, typical of pioneer times.

Whatever your particular choices may be, October and November present us with the perfect time to get in the kitchen, spend time with the timeless favorite recipes that showcase the fall flavors and colors and enjoy the good things of life at the harvest table!

Pumpkin-Corned Beef Dinner

In a 7-1/2 quart Dutch oven barely cover one three- to four-pound corned beef brisket with water. Add half a cup of chopped onion, two cloves garlic, minced; two bay leaves; half a teaspoon dried thyme, crushed; and half a teaspoon whole black pepper. 

Simmer, covered, until meat is almost tender, about two and a half hours. Skim off fat. 

Add six medium potatoes, peeled, and two pounds pumpkin or squash, cut into six portions. Cover; cook till vegetables are tender, 30-35 minutes. 

Remove meat and vegetables to platter; keep warm. Strain liquid, reserving 1-1/2 cups. Blend half a cup of cold water slowly into half a cup of all-purpose flour. Add to cooking liquid. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Serve over meat and vegetables. Serves six.

Orange-Raisin Cake

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Peel of 1 medium orange, with white membrane
       removed

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups sifted cake flour 

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup orange juice

Combine the raisins, nuts and orange peel. Put mixture through a food grinder, set aside. Cream together one cup of sugar and the butter. Add eggs and vanilla, beating till fluffy. Stir in the ground orange peel/raisin mixture. Sift together the cake flour, baking soda and salt. 

Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating well after each addition. Turn batter into a greased 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees until wooden pick comes out clean, about 45 minutes

In a small saucepan, heat together one cup of sugar and the orange juice until sugar dissolves.

Prick top of cake all over with a fork. Spoon sugar-orange juice mixture over warm cake.

Coleslaw

1/2 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

4 cups shredded cabbage.

Combine cream, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Toss with cabbage to coat thoroughly. Serve immediately. Makes six servings.

Raisin-Almond Pound Cake

1 cup sugar 

3/4 cup butter 

4 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup finely chopped candied orange peel

1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

In large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Sift together flour, nutmeg, salt and soda. 

Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, mixing well after each addition. Fold in raisins, orange peel and almonds. Pour the batter into greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 70 minutes. Cool in pan. Wrap and store overnight, if desired.

Stack Cake

1 cup butter or margarine

1 cup sugar

1 cup molasses

3 eggs

4 cups all-purpose flour 

1 teaspoon baking soda 

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

2 16.5 ounce jars chuck-style spiced applesauce

Whipped cream

Chopped nuts

Cream together butter and sugar until light. Stir in molasses; add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. 

Stir together flour, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating after each addition. 

Grease and flour three 8 X 1 1/2  inch round baking pans. Pour 1-1/3 cups batter into each pan. Bake at 375 degrees until done, about 15 minutes. Cool five minutes; remove from pans and cool on rack. Wash pans and repeat process with remaining batter. Spread applesauce between layers. Spread whipped cream atop, sprinkle with nuts.