Honest to Goodness

I’m from western Pennsylvania, where we like to pile french fries and cole slaw on our steak sandwiches, a trend that originated in the 1930s with the Primanti Brothers sandwich shop in the Pittsburgh Strip District.  However, we were certainly not the first, nor the last people to do so.  The horseshoe sandwich, invented in Springfield, Illinois, has us beat by at least a few years.

According to the Junior League of Springfield’s Honest to Goodness,

The head chef at the old Leland Hotel is generally credited with inventing Springfield’s famous horseshoe sandwich in 1928.  The recipe has had endless variations over the years – everything from shrimp to turkey has been added and beer is a hotly contested ingredient.  But the original recipe called for ham and a fried egg.  The shape of the ham prompted the ‘horseshoe’ name, with the fries representing the nails and the heated steak platter an anvil.

Understandably, I was drawn to the concept.


Technically a 'Ponyshoe'

Technically a 'Ponyshoe'

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups light cream or half and half
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Melt butter in saucepan. Blend in flour and cook over low heat until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat; stir in salt, pepper, cream, cayenne, and cheese. Return to heat, stirring constantly to make a smooth thick sauce. Keep warm until sandwiches are assembled.

8 slices bread, toasted
Sliced or shaved ham, chicken, or turkey, or cooked ground beef patty
Cooked French fries

Place 2 slices of toast on serving plate, top with meat of your choice and cover with cheese sauce. Mound French fries on top. Serve immediately. A smaller sandwich, using only 1 slice of toast is a Ponyshoe.

I don’t need to tell you that the Horseshoes were tasty.  I mean, just look at them.  Of course they were tasty, albeit in that greasy, sit in your stomach like a brick way that is especially satisfying when it’s midnight and you’ve had a couple of beers.

I used to make my own French fries all the time (sometimes at midnight after I’d had a couple of beers), but over the years, gradually switched over to the packs of frozen ones just to avoid having to deal with disposal of the oil.  But making your own fries is quick and easy, and really fun.

french fries

The next recipe is quite possibly the best baked beans dish I’ve ever tasted.  If you took a casserole of them to a potluck, you would be everybody’s favorite, except maybe the vegetarians, who would be mad that you brought something they thought they could eat, but instead, you decided to load it up with bacon.

Don’t let that stop you from loading it up with bacon.

Prairie Schooner Baked Beans

Prairie Schooner Baked Beans

Prairie Schooner Baked Beans

12 to 16 servings

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound uncooked bacon, diced
2 medium yellow onions, sliced in rings
1 16-ounce can lima beans, drained
1 16-ounce can red kidney beans, drained
1 16-ounce can giant butter beans, drained
2 16-ounce cans baked beans in molasses

Simmer brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, and garlic powder in saucepan over low heat for 20 minutes. Fry bacon until crisp; remove from pan. Saute onions in bacon grease until soft, but not browned. Remove from pan. Combine all beans, onions, and bacon in a 3-quart casserole. Pour sauce over and mix well. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Man, oh man, these are so good.  I wish I hadn’t halved the recipe.

And finally, for dessert we had Lizzie Cake, which the authors of Honest to Goodness describe saying, “This unusual cake will disappear quickly.”

Lizzie Cake

Lizzie Cake

Lizzie Cake

1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 cup blueberries
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

Cream butter, add sugar and beat. Add eggs and egg yolk. Mix well. Add four and lemon peel; mix. Pour batter into greased and floured 8-inch square pan. Sprinkle blueberries on top. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan and finish cooling on rack with blueberries on top. Melt chocolate. Invert cake. Spread with chocolate. Let cool and harden. Invert again so blueberries are on top. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Sadly, our Lizzie Cake did not have a chance to disappear quickly, as it was set upon by a vicious colony of ants as it sat on the counter overnight.  Though people say we don’t have seasons in Southern California, I find it fairly easy to tell the difference based on which critter is trying to infest our home.  Spiders in fall and winter, moths in spring, and ants in summertime.  I thought I had a few weeks to go before the annual onslaught, but the ants had other ideas, and easily infiltrated the aluminum foil I’d placed over the cake.  Little bastards.

That said, the piece of Lizzie Cake I did get to eat was indeed unusual, and not in a bad way.  It’s very moist, and the lemon and blueberries taste heavenly together.  The chocolate, less so.  If I was to make this cake again, I’d probably leave out the chocolate and whipped cream, triple the lemon zest, and serve it as a coffee cake for brunch.  It would make some fine brunch.

And so we leave the Midwest for the time being.  Next week, I’ll be heading to one of the regions of the country I’ve neglected thus far, the Southwest.  Though the Junior League of Albuquerque’s cookbook was tempting, El Paso’s won my heart.  I picked so many recipes to make that I will have to split it up over two meals, especially since one of them is mole, which looks time-consuming, hard, and potentially disastrous.  We shall see.

honest to goodnessAs you might expect, the Junior League of Springfield, Illinois‘s cookbook, Honest to Goodness, makes much its most famous historical resident (it was the only place the Lincolns ever owned a home), even including as its cover image a rendering of the great President in foodstuffs.

The creative team executed the portrait using brown rice and red lentils for the skin (admitting that without the latter, Lincoln looked “quite anemic”), plum slices sprinkled with paprika for his mouth, apple, black olive, and paella rice for the eye, black beans and coffee beans for the coat and hat, and a tasteful Chinese cabbage leaf collar with leek ascot.

The cookbook also includes photos of artifacts from the Illinois State Historical Society used by the Lincolns, as well as by other historic Springfield residents.

Mary Lincoln's Teapot (from Honest to Goodness)

Mary Lincoln's Teapot (from Honest to Goodness)

The Junior League of Springfield’s thoughtful dedication to local history is matched only by their thoughtful dedication to local food.  Food styling and photographs aside, this is simply one of the best Junior League cookbooks I’ve encountered when it comes to great recipes.  Usually, when I’m trying to figure out what to cook each week, a likely menu almost presents itself.  With Honest to Goodness, I came up with about half a dozen combinations of local fare that both represented the region, and sounded delicious.

But back to Lincoln for a moment (as I’ve decided that my menu this week will have nothing to do with him since the man didn’t even really like food).

It probably comes as no surprise that I celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama this year by preparing a dish served at his Inaugural Luncheon, Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes (all the recipes from the luncheon are handily available here).

As far as sweet potatoes go, I’ve had better (if you’re trying this at home, I’ll just say, go easy on the cumin).  But I was rather surprised to learn that Obama’s luncheon menu was inspired by Lincoln’s.  As inspirations go, this one is a little bit of a stretch.

While the Obamas and their guests dined on seafood stew, duck breast with cherry chutney, herb-roasted pheasant with wild rice stuffing, molasses whipped sweet potatoes, winter vegetables, and cinnamon apple sponge cake, the Lincoln luncheon was decidedly more austere (and reportedly planned by Lincoln himself):

inaugural luncheon

While Lincoln might have preferred seafood stew and a “brace of American birds,” the times called for frugality (a few months later, Mary Todd Lincoln’s $26,000 revamp of the White House would ignite the people’s ire).

As for the Mock Turtle Soup, The Old Foodie writes,

Turtle, particularly in the form of soup, became an indispensable and inevitable part of every important dinner – public or private or state – by the nineteenth century.  So unthinkable was it to have a dinner without it, that it was preferable (and quite proper) to have Mock Turtle Soup rather than No Turtle Soup.  As turtle became more scarce, the substitute became more common, accumulating status in its own right until it became the norm.

And as for food, well, Lincoln didn’t care much about it.  William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, said that Lincoln “filled up and that is all.”

He was, however, a fan of Mary Todd’s White Cake.  The recipe was created by a Lexington, Kentucky confectioner to celebrate a visit by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825, and shared with the Todd family.  According to Honest to Goodness, the cake was served for special occasions in Springfield and at the White House, and that every time he ate it, Lincoln always remarked, “Mary’s White Cake is the best I have ever eaten.”

Mrs. Lincoln’s White Cake

The Lincoln's Springfield Kitchen

The Lincoln's Springfield Kitchen

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup chopped blanched almonds
6 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift together flour and baking powder; remove 2 tablespoons and set aside. Add sifted ingredients, alternating with milk, to creamed mixture. Stir in vanilla and almond extract. Combine almonds with reserved flour and add to batter.

Beat egg whites until stiff; add in salt. Fold into batter. Pour into 3 greased and floured 8- or 9-inch cake pans. Bake at 350 until cake tester comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 5 to 10 minutes; remove from pans and cool on racks.

(Though Honest to Goodness does include a recipe for an accompanying frosting, they admit that Lincoln historians agree the cake was always served without).

There’s a wonderful article on the Washington Post‘s food blog, A Mighty Appetite, about the cake’s history.  Here, Janis Cooke Newman, author of Mary, a historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln, says, “I wrote the book in the first person, so I could better understand what she  was thinking and feeling. She was a shopaholic, her son committed her to a lunatic asylum. I wanted to know what was going through this woman’s mind. So as a way to channel her, I’d say, ‘I’m gonna go make this cake.’ Baking the same thing that she would that would create the same smells in the house allowed me to be in touch with her.”

On her reading tour for the book, Newman served Mary’s cake to her audiences so “that readers would better understand Mary’s story, with their mouths filled with the sweetness of her cake.”

When I lived in Wisconsin, I noticed something of a malicious rivalry between the Sconnies and the Illinoisians, who were often referred to simply as “FIBs,” an acronym too vulgar to reveal here.  And though I’m not really a fan of the non-Chicago parts of the state, I do rather like their recipes.  The menu this week is yummy, very bad for you, and features what is quite possibly the best baked beans recipe I have ever tasted.  You’ll love it.