In my essay “Kitchen People,” I wrote about an old cookbook I discovered in the summer kitchen at our family’s antique family farmhouse in New Hampshire. Imogene Wolcott’s The Yankee Cookbook (1939, Coward-McCann, Inc.) proved to be as humorous as it was inspirational. Using some of her challenge questions I embedded an ersatz quiz for my readers to determine the extent of their culinary Yankee-ness. I kept Wolcott’s title “R U A Yankee Cook?” To my delight, one reader actually expressed a desire for the answers to the quiz…so here they are with a few bonus bits.
From the essay: “Finally, and laughably, given the propensity of Facebook quizzes people so enjoy taking today, each chapter includes a quiz entitled, “R U A Yankee Cook?” Well now, are you? Can you identify the foods crackling, huff juffs, menhaden, or slip-gut? Do you know how to prepare souse, bloaters, bean swagger, and bean-hole beans? Can you describe the purpose of a trencher, piggin, skeel, losset, keeler, and noggin? Can you sing the verse in Yankee Doodle that mentions Hasty Pudding? Can you explain the expressions, “He has too many shingles to the weather,” or “Give her honest measure, but don’t kick the salt?” If this 62-question quiz had been on Facebook, I would likely have been dubbed a “Yankee Cook Imposter” despite my ability to make things like molasses cookies, Indian pudding, and a damned good clam chowdah.”
And the answers are…
Crackling is the crisp skin of roast turkey, chicken, goose, or other fowl; also the crisp bits left when the lard is fried out of the pork.Huff juffs are small balls of raised bread-dough fried in deep fat and eaten with butter. Menhaden is a fish used for making oil, fertilizer, and bait. Slip-gut is an old-time pudding made of boiled milk and flour and usually served with Molasses sauce.
Souse is also called Hog’s Head Cheese. Pork scraps (ears, feet, nose, or head) and beef neck are boiled, then the bones removed and meat chopped. After seasonings and broth are added, the mixture is packed in bread tins or milk pans in a cool place overnight. The fat is skimmed off and the loaf is sliced and served with Baldwin apples and baked potato. Any broth remaining after making the “cheese” can be thickened with cornmeal, made into a mush, then sliced, browned in hot fat, and served for breakfast. Yankees call this Panhas. Bloaters are large herring, cured by being salted, smoked, and half-dried. Bean swagger requires you to stew dried beans and flavor them with salt-pork. Bean-Hole Beans are beans baked for 24 hours in a beanpot placed in a hole lined with hot coals then covered with earth.
A trencher is a wooden plate or platter with slightly raised edges. A piggin is a small wooden pail or tub with an upright stave for a handle. A skeel is a shallow wooden vessel used to “set” milk until the cream gathers. a losset is a wooden container for holding milk, and a keeler is similar to a losset. A noggin is a small bowl or mug with a short, heavy handle whittled at the side.
The Yankee Doodle verse that mentions Hasty Pudding goes like this:
But Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Goodwin,
And there we saw the men and boys,
As thick as Hasty Pudding.
BONUS: The full version of Yankee Doodle with its history can be found here. By the way…the recipe for Hasty Pudding is NOT to go to Harvard University and join their well-known Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770 or attend their well-known theatrical performances, but rather this: Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a double-boiler; add 1 teaspoon of salt. Slowly sift in 1 cup of yellow cornmeal stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and boils. Set over hot water and steam for 30 minutes or longer. Serve hot with molasses or milk, or sugar and butter with nutmeg. The pudding “Gap and Swallow” is similar. It’s surprisingly quite delicious in an odd sort of way.
And my favorites…
The idiom, “He has too many shingles to the weather” refers to a person who is trying to do too many things at the same time and is not doing any of them well. Clearly I live my own life with too many shingles to the weather!
The idiom, “Give her honest measure, but don’t kick the salt” is advice or admonishment given to someone who wants too much for what they have offered. It comes from the time when people purchased many dry goods by the pound, often out of barrels. Because salt settles when the container is kicked, the purchaser would end up getting too much for his money.
BONUS: The idiom, “Mighty small potatoes and few in a hill” refers to something of little consequence. Consider using this phrase to spice up the one we hear all too often, “No big deal.”
And finally, two bonus bits of useless information that might provide some conversational entertainment.
- Do you know how when you slice into a pie, there are cuts and designs on top? If you’re a baker, you know these are necessary to allow the steam to escape from the baking pie so that the crust doesn’t explode. In “Yankee,” a slice like this is called a dido. I have no idea whether this name bears some peripheral relation to Dido of Greek Mythology, or has any relation to it’s dictionary definition, a noun that means a mischievous deed or trick, or something frivolous or showy. I’d have to go page through the voluminous Oxford English Dictionary (the full version that gives every known usage of a word from its beginnings in the language), but alas I don’t have the access to it!
- I know lots of Lowells and Cabots, living on the North Shore of Boston as I do. I laughed when I saw this quiz question in Wolcott’s book because I grew up hearing my Boston-bred grandparents chant it. Yet I could never remember the whole rhyme. Can you complete it?“And this is good old Boston, The home of ….
And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.”
So…R U A Yankee Cook?