Illuminations’ Forthcoming Transformation: January 25th

A new year means new beginnings. This month, Special Collections & Archives will be unveiling the new Illuminations blog.

The new blog features thematic organization, a comprehensive navigation menu, and a new overall look.

Check back here on January 25th for the big unveiling!

Happy Holidays from FSU Special Collections & Archives

With the library closing for winter break beginning this Saturday, December 19th we wanted to take the opportunity to wish you a safe and happy holiday season. Below is an animated card created by FSU Libraries using illustrations from one of our very own herbals!

While a lemon tree might seem like an odd choice for a holiday card, winter is citrus season here in Florida. The lemon tree illustration itself comes from Culpeper’s English physician and complete herbal, published in 1798 by Nicholas Culpeper. This work has been fully digitized so all the beautiful illustrations are available to view online.

The FSU Libraries will reopen January 4, please check the library website for updated operating hours. Upon reopening in January, FSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center will continue to operate remotely until further notice. More information can be found on our remote services webpage.

Want to add your pandemic story to the Archives?

Making Hand Sanitizer at home, one of many items in the FSU COVID-19 Community Archive [http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_HUA_2020_016_002]

Heritage & University Archives is still collecting materials for its campus-wide project encouraging FSU students, staff, and faculty to document their personal experiences during the coronavirus outbreak and contribute them to the University Archives. In accordance with FSU’s University Archives Policy, the University Archive is already collecting records related to FSU’s official response. But, we want to ensure that our community’s personal experiences and reactions to this challenging and historic situation are included in FSU’s permanent archives as well. All members of the campus community are invited and encouraged to participate and contribute their experiences to the archives.

It’s super easy to contribute materials online – no car ride or stamp needed! Visit our project’s page on the FSU Libraries webpage, read the guidelines and then visit our Google form. A few answers, upload your file and then you’re done! What you submit will be processed and available in the FSU Digital Library in the near future. You can even choose to remain anonymous online if you prefer. We’ve had students submit pandemic-related class assignments, FSU employees sent pictures of working remotely, and community members sent pictures and writing about their experience in Tallahassee throughout this year.

Excerpt from Life In Quarantine by Aleya Howard. [http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_HUA_2020_016_015]

If you aren’t sure what to share, or need inspiration, take a look at what other members of the FSU community have already added to the archives beyond the few examples shared here by visiting our FSU COVID-19 Community Experience Project collection in the Digital Library.

We look forward to reading about your experiences of this historic time and sharing them with researchers for many years to come.

The Great Rare Books Bake Off Finale

As November comes to a close so does the FSU Special Collections & Archives Great Rare Books Bake Off. We have had a month full of mixing, baking, cooking, and exploring; our recipes ranged from cakes, cookies, meat pie, hot punch, soup, fish, mushrooms, and much more! Diving into the stacks, our contributors learned about the historic origins of several different recipes, and navigated the difficulties of how measurements and oven temperatures have evolved over time.

Cocktail/Mocktail Week

Hot Punch by Rachel Duke

Appetizer Week

Aspic Mould with Vegetables by Kristin Hagaman

Winter Squash Soup by Christianne Beekman

Cheese Biscuits by Rachel Duke

Main Course and Sides

Yorkshire Pudding by Kristin Hagaman

Stewed Mushrooms by Matt Hunter

Neates-Tongue by Matthew Burrell

“Venison” Pasty by Krystal Thomas


Snow Cake by Kristin Hagaman

Bizcochos de Chocolate by Tanya Peres

Molasses Cookies by Emily McClellan

Hot Milk Sponge Cake by Denise Wetzel

We appreciate all of the effort put forth by the contributors to the FSU Special Collections & Archives Great Rare Books Bake Off!

As for the winner of this month’s bake off….it is everyone! Truly, every participant demonstrated extraordinary commitment and skills in recreating historical recipes and it was so much fun watching this unfold. Comment below to tell us about your family’s traditional recipes or how you have reworked old recipes to make more sense in the 21st century. Should the Great Rare Books Bake Off become a yearly event? Let us know!

Everyone loves a savory meat jelly, right?

Hot Milk Sponge Cake

This is a guest post to Illuminations for the Great Rare Books Bake Off, by Denise Wetzel, STEM Research & Learning Librarian.

“Ye Olde Baking Adventure” began by looking through various cookbooks from my family’s home in Schuylkill (pronounced SKOOL-kill) County, Pennsylvania. Even though I now live in Florida, and have been pretty much in the South for about the last 12 years, I love recipes that harken back to my parents, grandparents, and beyond. After perusing through my cookbook and recipe collections, I settled on using a cookbook my mother received when she married in 1977. 

St. Mark’s (Brown’s) Church is a tiny church out in the country, and while the cookbook is full of interesting cleaning advice, diet tips, and home recipes, she pointed out a recipe she remembered her mother and grandmother making every Saturday morning. Remembering baking in the kitchen in Pine Grove just was too much to pass up. Since so many memories tend to be tied to smells and tastes, I just had to try it out myself. So without further ado, I submit for the Great Rare Books Bakeoff blog post for the Hot Milk Sponge Cake as shared by Mrs. Alice Rumpf in 1968.

While the Hot Milk Sponge Cake may seem simple, at first glance, the ease and adaptability of the cake seems to be its genius. This cake was popular during the 1950’s and 60’s, and seems like a staple sponge, though more on the pound cake side of baking. A quick look into the history shows there is even a Wikipedia page dedicated to this tasty treat. 

I did make a few adjustments to the recipe as I baked based on my own knowledge and to meet a dietary requirement. First, I let the eggs come to room temperature before baking as this is a standard procedure for most recipes. This is not mentioned but may be an inferred step by many bakers. I also lined my pan with parchment so that it would pop out of the pan with ease. Finally, I switched out the flour for a Gluten Free Baking Mix I use in place of regular cake flour. This led to a more dense cake which would not be an issue for bakers that don’t need to keep their kitchens gluten free. 

Pouring hot milk into my batter while taking a picture was a little challenging, and I was afraid it would end up all over the floor, but I was successful and needed no do-over. No binned cake for this round. Overall it was a super easy and I had the cake in the oven in no time at all. 

After baking for 30 minutes, I let the cake cool in the pan before flipping it onto a cooling rack. That evening my mother and I settled down for a nice slice of Hot Milk Sponge Cake with two mugs of hot cocoa. It had been a long day of baking and holiday decorating, so it capped off the perfect evening. We even dunked our cake in the cocoa, just like she did as a child!

McClellan Family Molasses Cookies

This is a guest post to Illuminations for the Great Rare Books Bake Off by Emily McClellan.

The cane mill

For five generations, my family has spent Thanksgiving at our family farm, making 100% cane syrup in our cane mill. It’s a fact I’ve hung my hat on my entire life, one that every single one of my cousins has done a project on at some point in our lives, and a source of pride and tradition within my dad’s side of the family. Every year of my life, my dad’s entire life, my grandpa’s entire life, and two generations before THAT, have repeated the same process every year to create the end product that is 100% pure cane syrup. There is nothing like a warm biscuit covered in hot, fresh, golden syrup. Of course, Coronavirus has thrown a wrench in our plans for this year. We’ll be doing 2 cookings of cane syrup, as opposed to our average of 4-5, and replanting as much as we can for next year. 

And this is what we call trash ^^^^

I won’t go into the entire process, but as a bit of background on how the sauce syrup is made, you start by planting your cane. Then you strip the cane of its leaves. You then cut the tops of the cane off. Just when it’s time to start making the syrup, you cut the cane from the base of the plant. Once you have all of the cane compiled (approximately 1 trailer = 1 cooking), you start the juicing process. The cane is juiced and stored in a holding container. Once all cane is juiced, it’s sent via pipes to the kettles to cook for 6-8 hours. It must be constantly skimmed to remove dirt and impurities. The syrup must reach a certain density that is taken by a hydrometer. Once it’s ready, it will be scooped into the trough, strained, and put in a warming container. Once in the warming container, the syrup is sent via a pipe system to a control that lets us fill each glass bottle of syrup by hand.

Now to the cookies themselves. This recipe comes courtesy of my Great Aunt Norma McClellan Starling. My dad is very good at making these cookies. I had actually never made them completely by myself before! 

To be completely honest, I thought this whole process was going to be way more complicated than it actually was. I will say, my parent’s kitchenaid mixer helped A LOT. In fact, these cookies can’t really be made by hand. They also can’t be made without Crisco. Okay technically they can be made with butter. But sometimes you really do have to use Crisco, and that’s okay. 

After mixing the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately, I mixed the two together. I did not let them chill for an entire hour (due to time restrictions), and instead only let them chill for about 20 minutes. I then took them out and used a small scoop, formed them into balls and rolled them in sugar.  

The resulting cookies were SO GOOD. They were warm, soft, delicious and made the house smell like Fall. They were given 5/5 stars by my dad – high praise!

The last little piece that I wanted to add were photos from our family archive. In the middle of the map, to the right of “Oak Ridge Pecan Orchards”, you’ll see “McClellan’s Store” – where we still sell syrup when we can.

Tasting History: A Modernized Recipe for Bizcochos de Chocolate

This is a guest post to Illuminations for the Great Rare Books Bake Off, by Dr. Tanya M. Peres, Associate Professor of Anthropology.

Do you put together a cookie tray for the holidays? The first time I did was in 2003 with my good friend Kristin when I lived in Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve been making them every year since to share with family, neighbors, and co-workers. Not sure what a cookie tray is? The way I understand them is that they are actual platters (often decorative) on which you place an assortment of homemade cookies and other treats (candies, popcorn, muffins, etc.). These are then given out to friends, family, co-workers, or brought to potluck holiday parties. I really enjoy them because you get to make a variety of treats – all the favorites and often some new ones. Kristin and I made at least 8 different recipes that year and it was a lot of fun (though her glass top stove suffered a major crack!).

When I signed up for the Great Rare Books Bake Off I knew I wanted to try something that was suitable for a cookie tray. Since we are all crunched for time and trying to limit trips to the grocery store, the recipe could not contain hard-to-source ingredients. It had to be something that my kids would eat. I also wanted something that tied into one of my research interests – namely foods and foodways of the Spanish Colonial period. The first book I turned to was Nuevo Arte de Cocina, sacado de la Escuela de la Experiencia Economica, written by Fransican Friar Juan Altamiras of Aragon. Much to my disappointment, the sweet recipes for Feast days consisted of apples and red wine ragout or creamed rice with almond milk (at least in the translated and edited version published by Vicky Hayward in 2017). The ingredients for these recipes were easy enough, but neither was suitable for a cookie tray and in the matter of my kids liking them? It was a toss-up.

I decided to reach out to my colleague, Dr. John Worth, a historical archaeologist at the University of West Florida who specializes in the Spanish Colonial period. He has translated numerous 15th, 16th, and 17th century Spanish documents for research purposes (and I think out of his own curiosity). If anyone had a secret stash of appropriate dessert recipes, it would be Dr. Worth! My major requirement was that it contain at least one ingredient native to the Americas. 

Dr. Worth consulted the 1755 Arte de Repostería, en que se contiene todo genero de hacer dulces secos, y en liquido, vizcochos, turrones, y natas: bebidas heladas de todos generos, rosolis, mistelas, &c. con una breve instruccion para conocer las frutas, y servirlas crudas. Y diez mesas, con su explicacion, written by Juan de la Mata. You can find a digital copy here. 

(Image: Front page of Arte de Repostería, en que se contiene todo genero de hacer dulces secos, y en liquido, vizcochos, turrones, y natas: bebidas heladas de todos generos, rosolis, mistelas, &c. con una breve instruccion para conocer las frutas, y servirlas crudas. Y diez mesas, con su explicacion, written by Juan de la Mata. Text is written in difernt size and style of fonts.)

He quickly translated the recipe for little cakes called Vizcochos de Saboya (Mata pp. 94-95):

Beat eight egg whites very well, until they are very foamy, and when they are in this state, mix in just as many egg yolks, beating them in the same manner, so that everything blends, adding on top of everything a pound of sugar passed through the sieve, and dried in the drying rack [estufa], beating everything a third time very well, to which are added three cuarterones [9 Spanish ounces, or 0.25881 kg] of very dry flour, mixing it by means of the spoon with the preceding composition [boxwood], with which it should be beaten, as is stated.  And if you wish to give it an agreeable flavor, a grating from the peel of a lemon can be added.  And it should be distributed on molds of tin plate, or playing cards, all of which should be covered with a little pork lard, although not in the manner that greases them, but just sufficient to contain the pasta so that it doesn’t stick.  And if you wish to make them small, like eight-real coins, they should be placed on paper with the spoon in small portions, round, and somewhat heaping, sprinkled with sugar, blowing them curiously on one side so that it is disproportionate, with which they should be cooked in a breadmaker’s oven (horno de Panadero) at medium heat.  And in order to know when the bizcochos are cooked, and somewhat consumed, that is to say, lighter, take one out, trying it, and if it is ready, take the rest out hot, in conformity to whether they are large, from the molds, or if they are small, from the paper, with the point of a knife underneath, and they can be served or kept in a little box.

(Image: Screenshot of the original recipe for Vizcochos de Saboya written in Spanish.)

Since I wanted a recipe with an ingredient native to the Americas, he also sent the chocolate variation of vizcochos. 

Vizcochos de Chocolate … Another way (Mata pp. 97):

Take six fresh eggs, and having separated the whites, beat them vigorously until they have made lots of foam, adding six egg yolks, and beating everything together again while it dissolves, next adding twelve ounces of powdered sugar, seven of flour, and one and a half of chocolate, all passed through the sieve, beating it well for the space of a quarter hour so that it mixes.  And finally, it should be distributed, like the rest, upon sheets of paper, drying the already formed bizcocho in the same manner that was stated for those of Saboya.

(Image: Screenshot of the original recipe for Vizcochos de Chocolate written in Spanish.)

In reading over the ingredient lists and instructions, I realized that I did not have enough eggs at home (we have chickens and the weather change is slowing down their egg production + my son used a bunch this week for his science fair experiment). 

(Image: My son’s science experiment consisting of glass jars of vinegar and eggs.)

I liked the idea of making little cakes, just not enough to feed a banquet hall – at least not in 2020! 

I did what all modern cooks do – I went online and searched for Chocolate Bizcocho. Bizcocho is a general term Spanish for desserts and depending on where you are in the Spanish-speaking world will determine what you are served if you order them. For instance, in Uruguay, bizcochos may be a croissant or a cookie. In Spain, bizcocho is a single layer sponge cake. Closer to home in the Southwestern US, bizcochitos are cinnamon-anise cookies. They are so popular they were named the New Mexico State Cookie! 

I wanted something more cake than cookie and that included chocolate (because it is native to the Americas and well, why not?). I found a modern recipe that met this requirements and was scaled down for the home cook looking to feed a modest family of four. 

I further modified and updated the recipe to fit what I had available in my kitchen (no trips to the grocery store!) and modern dietary trends. I’ve named it Chocolate Bizcocho de Tallahassee.

Chocolate Bizcocho de Tallahassee (by Tanya Peres)


  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter (soften to room temp) (coconut oil would work well, too)
  • ¾ cup sugar 
  • 2 eggs (fresh from our backyard!)
  • ½ cup non-dairy milk
  • ¼ tsp almond extract
  • ¼ tsp orange extract
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (could use a gluten-free mix)
  • ¾ cup almond flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder (use a good one – it is the star of the recipe!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips (sweetened with Stevia)
(Image: Ingredients include sugar, almond meal, cocoa powser, baking powder, soy milk, eggs, dark chocolate baking chips, and butter. All-purpose flour and spices not pictured.)
 - Preheat oven to 350F.
 - Mix the softened butter and sugar until creamy.
 - Add the eggs. Mix well,
 - Add the milk, stir until combined.
 - Stir in the cocoa powder and baking powder (use a low speed or you will have cocoa powder everywhere).
 - Stir in the flours (also using a low speed).
 - Stir in the chocolate chips.
 - Spray a ceramic loaf pan with cooking/baking spray (or grease with butter).
 - Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well in between.
 - Add the milk and stir until combined.
 - Add the orange and almond extracts.
 - Stir in the cocoa powder and baking powder (use a low speed or you will have cocoa powder everywhere).
 - Add in the cinnamon, stirring to just combined.
 - Slowly stir in the flours (also using a low speed) until combined.
 - Stir in the chocolate chips.
 - Pour the batter into the pan, spreading evenly with a rubber spatula.
 - Bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes. Mine took 55 minutes in a thick ceramic loaf pan. I recommend that you start checking at 35 minutes. It really does depend on the individual oven and the choice of pan (thin aluminum, glass, ceramic).
 - Check doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf. If it is comes out clean, the loaf is done cooking.
 - Cool for 10 minutes in pan, then invert on a wire rack to cool completely. 
- When completely cooled, slice into ½” thick slices. Check doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf. If it is comes out clean, the loaf is done cooking.

The resulting loaf was dense, flavorful, and not overly sweet. I got distracted with kids and overcooked it a smidge and we still really liked it.

This is something I would serve to guests at brunch (if we could have guests right now). My youngest child really liked it, the older one liked it but thought it was not sweet enough, though it can’t be terrible – there is very little left (24 hours after making it). I will continue to experiment with this recipe (maybe double it for a bundt pan or completely veganize it) and I will for sure try out the bizcochitos recipe from New Mexico. I might even try to convince my husband to build a traditional horno in the backyard! Either way – the bizcocho recipe, originally published in 1775 (though likely was around as part of a cook’s mental recipe book for a lot longer), let’s us taste history, which is what the Great Rare Books Bake-Off is all about.  Happy Baking Season 2020!

FSU Special Collections & Archives Presents: The Great Rare Books Bake Off Dessert Week

Welcome to the final week of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Great Rare Books Bake Off! We saved the best for last, this week we will be sharing and attempting dessert recipes from our collection. Please visit our introduction post to find out how you can participate.

An excellent source of inspiration for desserts and other sweet is Luncheon & dinner sweets: including the art of ice making by Charles Herman Senn (1920’s) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX773S461920z

This book, once a part of the FSU Hospitality program reference library, features a variety of recipes for sweets and specialty ice desserts.

Another excellent resource for archival dessert recipes outside of FSU Special Collections & Archives is Cooking in the Archives, a blog that shares historic recipes that have been updated with modern measurements and baking instructions.

All about cookery: a collection of practical recipes arranged in alphabetical order By Isabella Beeton (1890) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX717B421890

Pumpkin Pie: To every quart of strained pumpkin allow 6 eggs, 1/4 lb butter, 1/2 pint of sweet milk, 3/4 lb of white sugar, 1 Tbsp brandy, 1 gill (1 cup) sherry or madeira. To every quart of pumpkin add the ingredients listed above, beating the eggs til thick and light, and stirring the butter and sugar to a cream, when well mixed bake in a puff-paste 1 1/2 hour.

Snow Cake (a genuine Scotch recipe): 1lb arrowroot, 1/2 lb of pounded white sugar, 1/2 pound of butter, the whites of 6 eggs, flavoring to taste of essence of almond, vanilla, or lemon. Beat the butter to a cream, stir in the sugar and arrowroot gradually, at the same time beating the mixture. Whisk the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, add them to the other ingredients, and beat well for 20 minutes. Put in flavoring; pour the cake into a buttered mold or tin and bake in a moderate oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

The queen-like closet, or, Rich cabinet By Hannah Wooley (1675) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX705W61675

Sugar Cakes: Take a pound of sugar with 4 ounces of flour, mix well with one pound of butter that has been washed in rosewater; beat 4 egg yolks with 4 spoonfuls of rosewater steeped with nutmeg and cinnamon; then add enough cream to make a stiff paste; knead and roll into thin cakes, prick them and bake on baking sheets, there is no need to butter the sheets.

Recipe for “A Premium Fruit Cake” by Mrs. Sarah Hopkins, May 18, 1874; November 1903, Box: 2, Folder: 09. Pine Hill Plantation Papers, 01-MSS 0-204. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS0204_B02_F09_01

“Premium” Fruit Cake: 1 lb flour, 1 lb brown sugar, 14 oz butter, 10 eggs, 3 (Tbsp/ounce/lb unsure) seeded raisins, 3 (Tbsp/ounce/lb unsure) currants, 1 (Tbsp/ounce/lb unsure) citron, 1 wineglassful of brandy, 1 wineglassful of wine, 1 wineglassful of sweet milk, 1 tsp of soda, 1 Tbsp molasses, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg. Brown the flour; dissolve the soda in the milk, add the brandy and wine to it in order to make it curdle; beat the yolks and sugar together, then the butter, then the egg whites, add the flour, then the milk brandy and molasses; flour the raisins and add a handful of fruit from each plate at a time; butter your pan and bake 3 hours or longer in a slow oven. This makes 1 large cake or 2 small ones.

Snow Cake Recipe Attempt

I tried the recipe for Snow Cake from All about cookery: a collection of practical recipes arranged in alphabetical order by Isabella Beeton (1890). I was curious because this cake recipe uses arrowroot instead of flour so it is gluten free. I followed the recipe with just a few modifications for a modern kitchen. I used a stand mixer to mix all the ingredients and therefore didn’t need to mix for nearly as long as suggested in the recipe. The batter was very thick and had more of an icing-like consistency. I had to put it in dollops in the pan and then spread them out. I baked my cake in a moderate 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes.

Once the cake had cooled a bit I inverted it onto a plate. The whole cake had a golden brown color but a bit stuck to the bottom of the pan. There were no serving suggestions so I tried the cake as-is.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I found the cake to be very dense but it could be improved with icing or the addition of fruit -Kristin Hagaman

Join us for a wrap up post for the Great Rare Books Bake Off on November 30th!

Les Poissons & Louisiana Lagniappe

This is a guest contribution to Illuminations for The Great Rare Books Bake Off by Adam Beauchamp, Humanities Librarian at FSU Libraries. 

I love seafood. If it lives beneath the waves, I’m willing to fry it and try it. I grew up on the Great Lakes and then spent most of my adult life in Louisiana, so I’ve never been more than a few city blocks from major bodies of water. Naturally, then, when it came to my entry into the Great Rare Books Bake Off, I gravitated to the many preparations for fish. For an added challenge, I decided to dive into classic French cooking and test my translation skills with La grande cuisine illustrée: sélection raisonnée de 1500 recettes de cuisine transcendante by Prosper Salles and Prosper Montagné. 

Published in 1902 in Monaco, La grande cuisine illustrée is emblematic of the French haute cuisine that emerged in nineteenth century France in the ritzy hotels and restaurants of the Belle Époque. These dishes scaled down the heavy sauces and ornate garnishes of the pre-revolutionary aristocracy in favor of lighter sauces that enhanced rather than masked the flavors of their expensive ingredients.

Instead of trying to make one of the many dishes that call for one or two spoonfuls of eight different sauces–I don’t think I own enough sauce pans for that!–I went with simple preparations for trout and asparagus that would let me focus on technique: Truite à la Meunière (p.214) with a side of Pointes d’Asperges à la Chantilly (p. 627). 

Challenge number one was translating unfamiliar culinary terms from French to English. The online Dictionnaire de l’Academie Française, along with my pocket-sized French-English dictionary, were key to decoding words like ebarber (take off the fins) and ciseler (score the skin). The fishmonger at Whole Foods was kind enough to scale and ebarber my fish, so I only needed to score it before seasoning inside and out with kosher salt and pepper.

Wait, that’s not a trout! Correct, mon ami, that is a red snapper, fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. There were no trout available when I made groceries. Red snapper is both a close substitute for trout and a delicious local option. When you live this close to excellent fisheries of the Gulf, why would you eat anything else? 

Also, unlike Chef Louis in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, resist the urge to cut off the head. There’s a lot of flavor in the head and bones, so cook your fresh fish whole if you can.

With my fish scored and seasoned, it was time to bring on the butter! As described in La grande cuisine illustrée, à la Meunière is a preparation of few ingredients, essentially referring to any fish prepared in melted butter. Chefs Salles and Montagné suggest using une poêle, ovale de préférence. Poêle has several meanings. Un poêle, the masculine noun, is a stove, as in a wood-burning stove. It can also mean a black cloth used to cover a coffin during funeral services. My fish was certainly dead, but I don’t think the recipe called for a funeral. The feminine noun, une poêle, refers to a frying pan. I don’t have an oval pan as recommended, so I heated up my trusty cast iron skillet and added about two tablespoons of butter. When the butter started to bubble, I gave the fish a quick roll in flour and laid it in the pan, whole. 

My sous-chef, Ophelia, wanted to eat the fish raw rather than assist in its preparation, so she was dismissed from the kitchen. Basting regularly, I cooked one side for about 7 minutes, then flipped it over to cook the other side. The nice thing about fish is that it cooks quickly, so hungry dinner guests won’t have to wait long. Chefs Salles and Montagné advise that the butter should not be too hot in order to cook the fish slowly and avoid frying the fish to a crisp. I failed in that task; my butter got too hot and I ended up with crispy, though delicious, skin. No one was sad about that.

While the fish was frying, I turned my attention to the Pointes d’Asperges à la Chantilly, or asparagus points served with crème fouettée (whipped cream). No, this is not a dessert. The whipped cream is not the sweetened variety that you might dollop on your slice of pecan pie, but rather an unsweetened cream sauce meant to melt over the asparagus. The French are not shy about their use of dairy.

Chefs Salles and Montagné instruct us to prepare the asparagus points in the “ordinary method,” which I took to mean wash them and break off the tough bottom part of the stalks. My asparagus ended up being much longer than “points,” which created some problems later, but they cooked up beautifully. Following the instructions, I blanched them in salted boiling water. 

I learned lots of French culinary vocabulary following the next steps of the recipe: Les égoutter (drain them), rafraîchir (cool), and les mettre à étuver dans une sauteuse (steam them in a sauté pan) with a pat of butter. As if that wasn’t enough dairy, I then added three spoonfuls of crème double (heavy whipping cream) to the sauté, which thickened quickly to coat the asparagus. While the asparagus were steaming, I prepared my crème fouettée, beating a healthy pour of whipping cream in a bowl until I had achieved “soft peaks.” I was ready to serve. 

This was the tricky part. Dresser en timbale, instruct Chefs Salles and Montagné. Build a timpani drum? That can’t be right. In culinary terms, dresser means to plate or arrange, and as best I can tell, a timbale is a round mold or dish. Being fresh out of timbales in my kitchen, I arranged my asparagus in teacups, which were too small for my overly long asparagus points. They hung over the sides as I arranged them around the outside of the cups, leaving a gap in the middle in which to drop une forte cuillerée (a large spoonful) of whipped cream. This seemed like an awfully fussy way to serve asparagus, but it made for a rather fancy presentation.

Overall, the meal was delicious. The fish was hands down the star of the show. A simple preparation is always best for a whole fish; it came out sweet and buttery (indeed!), and the crispy skin added a nice salty crunch. The asparagus were tender and added a nice grassy note to the richness of the fish, but the whipped cream did not add much flavor. The spiral presentation of asparagus in my substitute timbales made the whole spread feel more elegant. My partner and I enjoyed our meal, appropriately, with a French chardonnay, and blue crab beignets for lagniappe.

Louisiana Lagniappe

In Louisiana, lagniappe is a little something extra, either an extra side dish at a restaurant or a small gift with purchase from a shopkeeper. For this blog post, my lagniappe is an additional seafood recipe. Last week I spent some time at the beach on Saint George Island and filled my crab trap with fresh blue crabs from Apalachicola Bay. Crab are highly perishable, so I boiled them up right away, but brought home plenty of leftover crab meat.

My recipe for Blue Crab Beignets (p. 54) comes from Donald Link’s cookbook, Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything. That subtitle is very good advice. Donald Link is an award-winning chef from Louisiana’s Cajun Country. He runs several New Orleans restaurants, including one of my favorites, Pêche. Like Chefs Salles and Montagné, Link’s recipes are simple enough to highlight the quality of the ingredients, but his rustic style and bold Louisiana flavors are a lot more satisfying. 

The beignets recipe is relatively simple. Whisk two eggs with a cup of mayonnaise and two tablespoons of Creole mustard. Stir in one quarter cup each of diced red onion and finely sliced scallions, and season with 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. Fold in one cup of panko bread crumbs, and finally, gently fold in one pound of crab meat, being careful not to break up the crabmeat. Let the batter chill for about an hour to firm up.

Using two large spoons, shape the loose batter into coherent little footballs, or what the French would call quenelles. Fry the beignets in a neutral oil at 350°F until golden brown, then remove to a plate covered with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

These rich seafood beignets were a great way to showcase the leftover crab meat. We enjoyed them with a white remoulade dipping sauce, which added a tangy note to the fried beignets. These made for a flavorful Gulf Coast addition to our classically prepared French entrée.

Bon apétit!  

%d bloggers like this: