Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mystery Object Revealed

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I was surprised at the fact that I stumped two of my faithful readers, the ones I was positive would come up with the name of the mystery utensil in the last post.  It was no surprise to see one of my Cuban friends, and former bridge partner, get it right.  I am sure there was a beautiful sterling set in his family, very similar to the one in the photo above.  What I would love to know is how Donna got it right, Please tell us, for they are very rare these days and not many people have ever used one, least of all, seen one.

I am sure that by now you have scrolled down (and cheated) and found out that the mystery object is.....A MANGO FORK!




The reason my friend Val and I are familiar with them is our Cuban heritage.  Mango forks, of the style pictured above, were made and used in Cuba as early as 1900.  If you were wealthy, you probably owned a sterling or Mexican silver set for use at the table when fresh mangoes were served for dessert.

Although I found out that a US plate manufacturer made them as early as 1924 (Washington Post article, June 26, 1924) I don't think many people in this country used them.   In the early 1900's mangoes were considered by some to be "unsafe" and were rarely imported.  When they were, the fruit was of poor quality. (The Literary Digest August 22, 1903).

It seems mango forks were a Victorian dining implement that was created for a delicacy that only the wealthy could afford at the time, or were thought to appreciate. Victorians were known for their one-upmanship at the dining table. The wealthier they were, the more exotic the food being served. The more silver they had for the exotic foods, the more light was reflected in the room.- Cooking Down Under

I couldn't find much else written about the mango fork or where they were first invented.  But I did come across the copy of a British patent in 1884 in a silver forum. Notice the fork is very similar to the utilitarian form used in Cuba and Victorian England





Antique mango forks, are very hard to come by these days, mainly because when they do show up for sale, they are usually classified as something else,  Maura Graber  has been hunting them for years and found many old ones in Amsterdam described as a cake fork or prikker.  She wrote a self published book, Let Them Eat Cake: …the Strange Saga of the Mango Fork & The Unique Dining Habits of the DutchIt makes sense to find mango forks in Holland, given the Dutch history in the East and West Indies.



Maura Graber's collection of Dutch mango forks via Cooking Down Under


While  mango forks were also made in Germany, Spain, France, Russia, Austria, Mexico, Cuba and the US, they tended to be fairly utilitarian looking. The Dutch forks, however, were highly decorative. Some feature windmills or have very ornate handles. Some include detailed embossed picture above the tines.



Maura Graber Collection via Cooking Down Under  

Notice the mango forks in the middle of the picture.  They are French, made by Cristofle.

As you can see, the ones I bought on E Bay are the more utilitarian looking forks, similar to the French seen on the photo above.  They were described as Victorian  and silver plate.  They came from a dealer in Texas, which probably means they were owned by someone in Mexico, where they have always been popular.  As a matter of fact, most of the old ones that come to market as sterling are usually Mexican silver (top photo).  Mine are signed BOKER, a German manufacturer and they are old, but definitely not silver.  They were probably plated but the silver is long gone.


Photo on E Bay of the Boker forks I purchased






A little shine but not much else.





The Mango Fork.

From The Washington Post of June 26, 1924, via The Old Foodie


THE MANGO FORK

In “Fruit Recipes” published nearly twenty years ago, one of the things said about the mango is this: “The fruit is truly exceedingly juicy ….but where the mango grows in the greatest luxuriance and it is properly understood and used one may procure the regular mango fork, a three pronged affair of which the middle prong is long and projected, so that the fruit will not slip.”

This was the kind of fork on which the first mango I had in Havana, Cuba, some weeks ago, was served, at a place where they ate and drank fruit, and forthwith I went hunting for some of those forks. The first I found were made by one of the leading makers of plate in the United States, but I kept up my quest to get the Cuban make and succeeded.

The Spanish buccaneers probably ate mangoes. In a 100-year old book on the West Indies, written by a woman, which I read some years ago to learn about the foods there, it speaks of the great variety of fruits and says of the mango: “It is certainly the most abundant. This fruit hangs in such thick clusters that the fruit of one tree is immense. There are many varieties, but the small ones are the best.” A small, delicate yellow one is mentioned, a coarse green one, etc.

Outside the tropics the mango is now mostly eaten by epicures, and two budded varieties, mulgobaa and Haden, are spoken of as the aristocrats of the family. “To the connoisseur these two varieties combine all the delicious flavors and aromas of the peach, apple, pear, cantaloupe, and pineapple, and, in addition, a delightfully spicy flavor all their own.


Mango fork from Rubylane.com origin unknown


HOW TO USE A MANGO FORK:

Insert fork into stem end.





With knife, slit skin from top to bottom, then peel skin like a banana.





Slice the fruit from the skin. or eat it like a popsicle  The latter is definitely not done at the dinner table!!





I must say that although I came up pretty much empty handed,  this is one of the most interesting subjects I have ever researched and it brought fond memories of my grandmother and her mango forks.  If I remember well, she used to salt the mango before eating it, something I found extremely odd.

There isn't much on the Internet about mango forks, but I have ordered a couple of books that hopefully will enlighten me further on the subject.  If you have any knowledge about their history, please share it with us.

Even though I wasn't expecting much from my purchase via E Bay, I did get the pleasure of watching Madame Mere use her mango fork with dexterity after lunch.  A real pro! Nothing stumps this lady. By the way, I only paid $25 for the forks and consider it money well spent, silver plate or not.

Stay tuned for the recipe that sent me in search of the mango fork.




Images 1 and 3 EBAY
2, 4 and 5 Lindaraxa
6, 7, 8 mangofoirk.com

Sunday, May 24, 2015

What's My Line?

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Last week, while putting together what will be the next post on the blog, I came upon a set of these on E Bay. On a whim, I bought them.  They were worth the smile on Madame Mere's face.

Can you guess what they are?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stuffed Red Bell Peppers With Salmon And Yellow Rice

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Stuffed red bell peppers are one of my favorite comfort meals.  There are many variations but the one we usually think of has beef, cheese or a combination of both with rice.  They are delicious but can be a bit heavy for lunch or on a warm summer night.  Last week I made them using leftover baked salmon and saffron rice.  If you can believe, they were the leftovers of leftovers.

Costco sells a  ready to bake salmon with basil pesto that comes in handy when you are pressed for time.   The first night we had it with boiled potatoes and asparagus with Parmesan cheese.  Nice and healthy.  The second night we had the leftovers cold with yellow rice and asparagus vinaigrette.  I mixed dill and chives with mayonnaise to go with the salmon.  And on the third night, I stuffed three of the six red peppers I had also bought at Costco.  Talk about averaging down on the price of a meal...

I have always splurged on food (and shoes) but these days, with the price of meat and seafood in the stratosphere, I have become an artiste in the kitchen.  We all need to start thinking this way for it's only going to get worse.

I will probably repeat this exercise very soon but next time, I will save the stuffed peppers for a lady's lunch.  A cold soup and a light dessert is all you need for a delightful ladies lunch.

I strongly recommend that you make the salmon the night before and enjoy it with the yellow rice for dinner.  If you want to make the stuffed peppers from scratch, here's the recipe.  I would still make the yellow rice the day before and keep it in the refrigerator.





Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked yellow rice from about 1 cup raw white rice*
4 large red bell peppers
1 1/4 lbs salmon
6 large basil leaves
2 TB butter softened
olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 TB mayonnaise
1 tsp dill
Parmesan cheese


For the rice:

1 TB butter
2 TB chopped scallions
2TB chopped red pepper
1 cup white rice
1 3/4 Chicken broth
pinch of saffron or use turmeric to color the rice

Procedure

If you haven't made the rice do it now so it can cool..Saute the scallion and pepper in the butter.  Add the rice and combine.  Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until rice is done, about 20 minutes.  If the rice is not done you can always add more broth, cover and continue cooking. Set aside to cool.




Now bake the salmon. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the chopped basil leaves with the softened butter and place on top of the salmon.  Bake the salmon for 30 minutes or until done.  Do not overcook. When the salmon is done, take it out of the pan and let cool.







Cut the top off the peppers.  Remove and discard the stem and seeds.  Cut a small slice off the bottoms of the peppers so they sit level in the pan.




Oil the peppers all over with olive oil and set on an oven proof Pyrex or baking pan.  Cook at 375 for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

 Flake the salmon before adding to rice.




Combine the rice and salmon in a bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix the dill and the mayonnaise and add to the rice and salmon.  Check again for salt and pepper.




With a dessert spoon gently stuff the peppers.  Top with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Replace the top of the peppers and drizzle olive oil over the stuffed peppers, along the outside of the peppers, and into the pan.   Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until the peppers are cooked but slightly firm.  They should look like this.




Serve them hot or room temperature if serving them as part of a buffet.



Friday, May 8, 2015

The Garden On Mother's Day

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It's been a long time since I last posted, probably the longest since I started this blog six years ago.  A new Sous Chef named Madison has taken more of my time and energy than I remember a new puppy required,  Add to that the fact that this house then decided it also needed some TLC.

It started with the new roof last summer together with some renovations in the kitchen, a new water heater, plus a new garage door opener.  All this happening while building a new apartment worthy of Madame Mere which, as you know, was a nightmare..  Then we had the two frozen pipes in the winter resulting in extensive repairs to the newly finished apartment.  The death of our beloved Sous Chef, Lucy, took a big toll on the family.  It was the worst experience I have ever gone through, but getting a new puppy right away was the best cure for our broken hearts.  She arrived  two months to the day that Lucy passed away.




Spring surprised us with the need to replace two of the three air conditioning units.  As if that weren't enough, when we turned on the sprinkler system in the garden, guess what?! No dice.  Probably as a result of having to move the pipes on the side of the house due to the rock path we had to build to backstop the water  from the heavy rains we got this Spring.  The maintenance and upkeep of an older house is never ending.

The garden suffered quite a bit this past winter due to the cold weather.  Some of our most beautiful southern plants don't do frost very well,   That includes the Confederate jasmine, gardenias and the hydrangeas macrophylla which bloom on last year's growth.  The poor gardenias which made such a great show a couple of summers ago and were toast last year are now toast crumbs.  They will need to be replaced.  My pride and joy, the Moonlight hydrangea came back and then got hit by the late frost as well.  I am holding my breath and hoping for the best but I seriously don't think it will bloom this year.  I was really looking forward to showing it off to MM.

Every year I swear I will not buy another plant.  Every year I break that promise and buy more than I can chew  For me, plants are the new shoes.

I could not resist the hydrangeas  Mathilda Gutges when I saw them at the garden center. This compact shrub bears attractive deep green leaves and large, rounded flower heads of deep pink in neutral soil, and intense violet-blue in acidic soil.  Our soil is acidic so in order to keep the beautiful lavender color, we decided to plant the pink in the whiskey barrel out back and the deep blues under the trees. 










The clematis put on quite a show and I am proud to say I now have a stress free garden around the mailbox. It's called KISS.(Keep it Simple Stupid) No more hauling a bucket of water up the hill in the middle of the summer sounds like a good idea to me.  It only took me three years to figure that one out.











We have many azaleas out back and they also put on quite a show in April.  This one, though, is my pride and joy although the photo doesn't do it justice.  It was a pitiful shrub when we bought the house but with some pruning and fertilizing  over the last three years it finally decided to join the parade.





The first of the David Austin roses, Winchester Cathedral.




The first of the David Austin Heritage rose.





I can't remember the name of this peony.  I planted it last Fall and it only gave us one bloom...but what a bloom!





The rest of the peonies are ready to burst out, right in Madame Mere's little garden.  Her apartment is to the right with a spectacular view of the garden.




And here they are the next day!




The tried and true, Sarah Bernhard.  She never fails me.




Bowl Of Beauty.





This little fellow was in the rose garden of my home in Connecticut.  When I moved to New York City.  I gave it to MM and it sat for years in the courtyard of her townhouse in Florida.  Who would have thought the three of us would reunite in a small town in Georgia!










Angelonia in front of MM's big window.





The dahlia garden (work in process!)



Geraniums for the deck.



Pots of fresh herbs on the deck.




The obligatory ferns by the front door of a true Southern home!





Winchester Cathedral bushes in the front garden




My feeble attempt at container gardening












Another new addition, the fox tail fern






But none of this would have been possible without the help of my garden crew, always by my side.













 Some of us work a little harder than others....





Keeping up a big garden like this is a lot of work, but I will have to say I rather enjoy it.  It beats getting up on a treadmill and lifting weights. It's funny,  people nowadays pay to exercise and pay again to have some one else do their yard work. Go figure.  Never mind the expense of buying the right shoes and the proper attire to get smelly and sweaty. I remember when I was young and only the very wealthy in this country could afford a full time gardener.  My father cut the grass, albeit in a small tractor, and he and my mother did all the weeding, planting and maintenance of our garden in Connecticut.  There was no Roundup in those days and a weed free lawn or flower bed meant you had to get on your hands and knees and pull.  If you had kids living at home between the ages of eight and sixteen, you had extra help for cheap.  It was called an allowance.  It paid for ice cream and movies. Extra work paid for dates.  Come Fall, you would hire a couple of kids from the neighborhood to help with the leaves.  People were thinner in those days and life was good.   We did not have a drug or a fat problem in this country like the one we have today. 

  Now that the garden is back in shape and I am a few pounds lighter, I will have more time to concentrate on cooking.  That is, unless something else falls apart...AGAIN.

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