Tag Archives: Robertson

Day 343: Baked Onions

Tonight I thought I’d make one of the recipes in the 1898 New Galt Cook Book that takes more time, a contrast to last night’s quick recipe. Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock’s recipe for Baked Onions requires several hours of periodic attention.

I picked out 2 onions, washed them and put them in some salted hot water. I left them to boil for a 1/2 hour and then drained and added more salted water. Again I left them to boil for a 1/2 hour. They were tender so I removed the pot from the heat. I guess I was supposed to change the water once more. Instead I drained them and placed the boiled onions on a towel while I prepared the tissue paper. I waited to make this recipe until it was the season for wrapping gifts so that I had easy access to tissue paper. I took two layers of tissue paper and buttered the inside. I wrapped an onion and twisted the top. Then did the same with more tissue paper and the other onion. I placed the wrapped on a baking sheet and baked them for an hour at 300 F. Then I took them out of the tissue and tried to peel them. They are challenging to peel since they are very soft and very hot but I managed. I got them into a frying pan and started browning them in a bit of butter. I didn’t bother serving them with melted butter since they were already very buttery. Once they were browned I took them out of the frying pan and was ready to taste.

Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock Ontario shared quite a few recipes so I’ve talked about her several times over this year and yet I’m not sure about her identity.

Baked Onions take several hours to prepare and its debatable whether it is worth boiling, baking, and frying the same onions but it is certainly unique. They come out very soft and mild but I kind of miss the onion flavour. I think the browning in the frying pan could be skipped. They were nice fresh from the oven since they were already a bit caramelized. The smell was wonderful and they reminded me a bit of roasted garlic (except for the flavour). The long slow baking in the oven transforms the onions in the same way that garlic is transformed. Today it is a bit expensive to prepare onions this way as it uses a lot of electricity. However, in the days of cook stoves used for heating the home, this would be a good way to prepare onions in the winter. The stove is on anyway and onions are a cheap and plentiful winter vegetable that must have become boring by the middle of the winter so this technique makes sense in that context. The flavour grew on me and I ended up eating both onions! Can you imagine eating two onions? You’ll have to use your own judgement as to whether this recipe times travels to 2014. It works but might not fit a modern lifestyle. Try it if you are curious and have the time to boil, bake, and fry over more than two hours.

Mrs. Robertson, Woodstock

Wash but do not peel the onions, boil one hour in boiling water, slightly salt, changing the water twice in the time. When tender drain on a cloth and roll each in buttered tissue paper twisted at the top, and bake and hour in a slow oven. Peel and brown them. Serve with melted butter.


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Day 328: Hashed Potatoes

I made myself a nice long simmering round steak with potatoes and other things. Opening a fresh bag of potatoes inspired me to make the Hashed Potatoes recipe in the 1898 New Galt Cook Book since I wanted to have some potatoes for supper. The recipe was contributed by Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock.

I boiled 6 potatoes but decided just to use 3 for this recipe. I had peeled them before I boiled the potatoes in salted water. I chopped them very small and added some salt and pepper. I used a bit of beef stock left from preparing the steak. I added some finely chopped onion as well. I mixed everything together and then melted some butter in a frying pan on top of the stove. When it was nice and hot I poured in the potato mixture and patted it flat in the pan. I assumed that the recipe meant the potatoes shouldn’t cook too fast so I kept the heat on medium. I didn’t have any idea how long it would take for the potatoes to brown on the bottom so I kept peeking. It took much longer than I expected and in the end I didn’t exactly have one solid mass of browned potatoes. Instead my peeking meant I’d broken up the potatoes quite a bit. In the end I had something resembling hashed brown potatoes. It was time to taste.

One of the best recipes I’ve made so far was contributed by Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock. I made her wonderful chocolate pie about a month ago on day 295 but I’m still not certain about her identity. She could be Jessie Fisher, a woman who was married to storekeeper George E. Robertson. However, there are several Mrs. Robertson’s in Woodstock in the 1890s.

Potato varieties in the Peter Henderson seed catalogue 1898.

Potato varieties in the Peter Henderson seed catalogue 1898.

There were many different varieties of potatoes available to the home gardener in 1898. It can be challenging today to find seed potatoes to grow and the potato varieties available at the grocery store are limited to white, red and Yukon gold (a newer type that didn’t exist in the 1890s). I buy white or Russets when I can find them both for my personal use and when I try historic recipes. It’s great when I get a chance to cook with heritage varieties but that opportunity doesn’t come along very often.

Hashed Potatoes are good even though I wasn’t able to make them exactly as described in the recipe. I really liked the addition of onion and the crispy bits of fried potatoes are one of my favourite tastes. The beef stock enhances the potatoes and makes them just a bit different from the usual fried potatoes.I’ll try making this again and I’ll try to be patient so that it cooks in a more solid piece.



Mrs. Robertson, Woodstock

Take six cold boiled new potatoes, mince them and season them with salt and pepper, adding a little milk, or a little stock, as you prefer. A scant half cupful of liquid is generally sufficient. Melt a tablespoonful of butter in an omelet pan and when the pan is very hot pour in the potatoes. Spread them evenly, and set them a little back on the stove or in the oven, well covered, to brown. When they are a golden brown on the bottom, fold them over like an omelet and serve. The addition of a little parsley minced or a teaspoonful of onion, gives a new zest to this dish.

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Day 295: Chocolate Pie

I’ve been struggling with what recipe to make tonight on a day when both Canada and my family are facing unexpected news. And yet, I actually find history comforting knowing that ordinary people have faced challenges of all kinds in the past and survived. The women I write about here lived in a world I can never truly experience no matter how many recipes I prepare from The New Galt Cook Book (1898). But we share the common need to feed ourselves and others. So, tonight I’m sharing a recipe for Chocolate Pie contributed by Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock. Chocolate anything is one of my comfort foods.

A coffeecupful is just under a cup so I grabbed the carton of milk from the fridge only to discover that most of it was frozen. I took the carton next to it which turned out to be cream. I used it anyway but I have to imagine I’m using very creamy milk to consider it a proper test of this historic recipe. The creamy milk went into a saucepan and I started heating it. Next I grated the chocolate using one square of Bakers chocolate and added it too. As it heated I separated 3 eggs and beat them into 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar. I slowly stirred the sugar and egg mixture into the hot chocolate milk. It quickly started to thicken so I removed it from the heat and poured it into a prepared pie crust. I’m a disaster when it comes to making pastry so I’m using the crust prepared by my ‘servant’ (the grocery store). I baked the chocolate pie for 30 minutes at 350 F. I skipped adding the egg white topping since I never seem to like them. Instead I removed the pie from the oven and tried to wait for it to cool but it looked and smelled so good. I ended up cutting and eating a warm piece of chocolate pie.

Mrs.  Robertson of Woodstock is elusive since there are several possible women married to men with the surname Robertson. She contributed a lot of recipes and when I’ve made her recipes earlier in the year I speculated that she might be Jessie Fisher, wife of George E. Robertson. She was born in 1841 in Scotland and came with her parents Alexander and Georgina to Canada around 1853. A few years later in 1860 Jessie married George E. Robertson. They lived in Blenheim Ontario and then moved to Woodstock where George had a store.

Mrs. Robertson’s Chocolate Pie is wonderful! I tasted the filling while it was cooking and it was basically a good chocolate pudding. I wasn’t sure if baking it in a pie would make any difference. It turned out to be an improvement. The top had a touch of crispness a bit like meringue and then the inside is creamy and soft and oh so good. This is a chocolate pie that tastes like chocolate. It is very sweet so it might be best to use a bitter chocolate. The cream of course gave it extra richness but I think it would still be great with milk. If you love chocolate this just might be a quick and easy way to get a hit of your favourite comfort food. A tiny slice is satisfying so this might make a great company dessert especially if you use a special pie crust. This is one recipe that time travels well. Perhaps George Robertson kept a good stock of chocolate in his store so that Jessie could make this recipe any time.

Mrs. Robertson, Woodstock

One coffeecupful milk, two tablespoonfuls grated chocolate. Heat chocolate and milk together, add three-quarters cupful sugar and the yelks of three eggs beaten to a cream; flavor with vanilla. Bake with under crust. Spread beaten whites on top.

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Day 232: Almond Icing

I made a cake last night and thought it would be a good idea to try icing it tonight. The cake has almonds in it so I think Almond Icing would be a good complement. A woman in Woodstock Ontario named Mrs. Robertson contributed the recipe for the 1898 New Galt Cook Book.

Just as I cut back on the cake recipe, I’m going to reduce this recipe too. I’m cutting it to 1/3rd. I separated 1 egg and whisked it until it was very light. Then I whisked in 3 1/3 tablespoons of fine white sugar. Once those were well blended I added the 1/3 cup of ground almonds along with a drop of bitter almond. I stirred it and then started to spread on the cake. I cut a piece to sample.

Mrs. Robertson might be Jessie Fisher. She was born in Scotland in 1841 and was about 12 when the family emigrated to Scotland. They settled in Galt and it was there that Jessie married Duncan Robertson. They went to Woodstock. An 1894 city directory shows that Jessie is widowed and living at 514 Canterbury. I had a look at it via Google map and it looks like the house is still there. I have a friend who works in Woodstock so I’m hoping she can go and check it out. Jessie died in 1920.

As I took my first bite of iced cake I started to wonder if this was an icing that was supposed to be browned in the oven. I didn’t think it was a cooked icing but perhaps it is like a meringue and needs to be broiled. I decided to taste it “raw” and then judge. It is fine as is but could be interesting if it was toasted. It certainly enhances the almonds in the cake and I actually like it. Of course these days we don’t trust anything with raw eggs. Perhaps it could be made with pasteurized egg whites? I used ground almonds but chopped almonds would be better. Bitter almond can be hard to find. I get it in a little tiny bottle at a baking supply store that specializes in cake decorating.

Mrs. Robertson, Woodstock

Three eggs, whites, beaten light, one cupful blanched almonds, chopped fine, ten tablespoonfuls pulverized sugar; flavor with a little bitter almond.

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Day 211: Panned Eggs

I’m making Panned Eggs tonight because I needed to clean out a room to prepare for a tenant of the human variety rather than the feline. The recipe was contributed to The New Galt Cook Book (1898) by Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock.

Ad for Capers in The Canadian Grocer 1898

Ad for Capers in The Canadian Grocer 1898

I don’t exactly have a porcelain pie plate but I do have a small glass one so I’m going to use it. I buttered the pie plate and poured in some whipping cream. I hate eggs and didn’t want to waste them so I’m just cracking a couple of eggs in on top of the cream. I put some capers on each of the yolks and sprinkled some parsley on top. Finally I added some bread crumbs and bits of butter. I baked them in the oven at 375 F. for 15 minutes. The time and temperature are based on my previous less than successful experience making baked eggs on day 18. Once the eggs were brown on top and firm I removed the plate from the oven. Time to be brave and taste.

Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock remains a mystery because there are several possibilities. One of the more likely is Jessie Fisher, wife of George Robertson because her parents are Alexander Fisher and Georgiana Fyfe. One of her sisters is another contributor to the cook book.

Well panned eggs haven’t convinced me to like eggs but if you already enjoy this great food than panned eggs might be an interesting way to prepare them. They still taste like eggs but I do like the capers and the toastiness of the bread crumb topping. The capers go well with eggs and bread crumbs, butter and parsley are typical additions. I was surprised to see capers as an ingredient but based on ads and information in The Canadian Grocer magazines in the summer of 1898, capers were being imported just like olives and other sorts of pickled foods.

Mrs. Robertson, Woodstock

For “panned eggs” take a porcelain pie-plate, butter it, pour in thick cream enough to fill it half full, drop in some eggs (four or five) side by side; place on each yelk a few capers; dust over them some minced parsley and some fine bread crumbs, and put flakes of butter here and there. Place in the oven, and let the eggs get firm and slightly brown on top.

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Day 175: Preserved Strawberries

I worked today and had a speaking engagement tonight so now I’m trying to figure out which recipe to select from the 1898 New Galt Cook Book. I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and they finally have local strawberries so I bought some and have decided to make Preserved Strawberries. The recipe was contributed by Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock.

I decided not to make very much of this recipe in case it didn’t work well. I hulled some strawberries filling a cup. I kept the strawberries whole and weighed them. I had 6 ounces of strawberries so I needed 6 ounces of sugar. Both went in a small saucepan on low heat. It is amazing to watch sugar melt. The berries leached out some liquid too. Once the sugar was liquid I turned the heat up higher and it started boiling so I began timing it. The strawberry smell was wonderful. I cut the time short when the liquid began to thicken a lot. I spooned the strawberries into a jar and kept boiling the rest of the liquid for a few minutes. I skimmed off the foam and then poured the liquid into the jar. I took a sample before sealing the jar.

Mrs. Robertson is still a mystery since there are a number of possible married woman in Woodstock with the surname of Robertson.

Reproduction cans of strawberries displayed in the Dry Goods and Grocery Store at Doon Heritage Village.

Reproduction cans of strawberries displayed in the Dry Goods and Grocery Store at Doon Heritage Village.

This is a classic preserve. People have been making this whole fruit style of preserving for a very long time. It is hard today to imagine how important these preserved strawberries were in a time without frozen or year round availability of this special fruit. By 1898 they were being preserved commercially in cans and jars but home canning would continue for many years. I’m not sure this recipe meets today’s safety standards so you can make a small amount and store it in the fridge.

Mrs. Robertson, Woodstock

Allow pound for pound sugar and fruit, put in a preserving kettle together over the fire till the sugar melts. Boil twenty-five minutes, fast. Take out the fruit in a perforated skimmer and fill your jars three quarters full. Boil and skim the syrup five minutes more, pour it over the fruit, filling the jars. Seal up hot.

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Day 59: Milk Oatmeal Porridge

Today is the day I’m finally facing up to the various oatmeal recipes in The New Galt Cook Book (1898). It has an entire chapter dedicated to this grain. I like oatmeal porridge but some of the recipes do not sound appetizing particularly when they talk about gruel and I’m not entirely certain what sort of oatmeal is needed for each recipe. Some do specify rolled oats while others talk about coarse oatmeal. I visited Scotland many years ago and discovered they take oatmeal porridge very seriously. I decided to start with Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock’s recipe for Milk Oatmeal Porridge partly because a friend works in that city and drops me off at work each morning. I woke this morning to temperatures in the -20 C range so it seems like a good day for hot oatmeal porridge.

I wasn’t sure how much milk to use but decided to start with 1 cup of milk. Once it was boiling I added a few shakes of salt and 1/2 tablespoon butter. I had steel-cut oats and decided to try them with this recipe. I’ve never used them so I measured out 1 cup of oatmeal and started adding it by handfuls. I waited until the milk came to a boil again before adding each handful. I’ve made cornmeal porridge this way over an open-hearth and found that waiting for the liquid to return to the boil was the best technique. I also stirred with each addition to avoid lumps. There is a special wooden stick called a spurtle that is used for stirring oatmeal. I don’t know if it was common in Galt households in 1898. In the end I only needed a small amount of oatmeal for the amount of milk. I used almost 1/2 cup of oatmeal and soon realized that this was too much. I added a little more milk and left if to simmer with the lid on the sauce pan. I stirred occasionally. After 15 minutes I removed the oatmeal from the heat and it was ready to eat.

Mrs. Robertson could be one of at least three women in Woodstock. Jessie and George E. Robertson and Scottish born Peter and Ruth Robertson are the older couples. Kattie and John Robertson are slightly younger. All three couples have a number of children. So far I haven’t found the Galt connection for any of the Robertsons. Peter was a wood-carver, George worked in a dry goods store and John was a cabinet finisher.

Milk Oatmeal Porridge

Milk Oatmeal Porridge

My oatmeal was chewy. I don’t mind that texture but I should have let it cook for the full 20 minutes. I also checked the proportions given on the package of steel-cut oats and discovered it says 1 1/2 cups water or milk to 1/4 cup of oatmeal. The cooking time is 2o to 30 minutes depending on the preferred texture. I expected to dislike oatmeal made with milk but it was fine. If you can use the calories and can consume dairy then this makes a very nourishing stick to the ribs breakfast. My oatmeal was thicker than gruel (at least the way I imagine gruel) so reducing the amount of oatmeal would help. Although I might not make Mrs. Robertson’s version of oatmeal I am certainly going to try making my own from scratch oatmeal instead of instant packets all the time. It is easy, doesn’t take nearly as long as I expected, and I like the opportunity to make it to suit my taste and preferred texture and thickness. March is predicted to be colder than usual in Ontario so it is the perfect time to try homemade oatmeal and experience a little of life in 1898.

Mrs. Robertson, Woodstock

Bring milk to a boil, add salt and a little butter, put in your oatmeal by handfuls gradually, and enough meal to make of the consistency of gruel. Boil fifteen or twenty minutes. Serve hot. Flour instead of oatmeal makes a very nice dish. Nice for invalids.

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