Feeling the Heritage with Joe Frogger

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On Labor Day, Ernie and I bussed it downtown to see Julie & Julia (and had to walk an extra few blocks due to Oprah’s blocking of Michigan Ave.)  The film, as you probably know, is in part based on Julie Powell’s book, which in turn is based on her blog (and by the way, she has a new one.  Cool.)  Ernie bought the book on CD, which served us well for travels to Detroit this summer. The CD, with Julie herself reading & living in the moment, was a wonderful way of experiencing the book.   And I’ll say here that some of the naysayers on Amazon are just mean.  The film of course is also in part based on the life/biography of Julia Child, who I mostly knew from glimpses on PBS and SNL reruns with Dan Ackroyd , etc.  Didn’t Phil Hartman do her too, or am I making that up?  We both loved the book and the movie, and now we have a steady supply of Rose’s Lime Juice for gimlet cravings (Julie should look into getting a cut of the increased Rose’s revenue, yo.)  After the movie, we had lunch outside at Bistro 110, who all through August definitely worked the Julia Child tie-in.  We were unapologetically dorky about it with our server.  We craved sauces loaded with butter and were not disappointed.

The experience of Julie Powell’s story has naturally lead to discussions of what kind of project can I do? I’m sure I’m not the only writer who has been inspired to commence on a project of a parallel nature, and dreamed of their blog/book/life being made into a film with Ethan Hawke starring as himself.  Right?  While a few ideas ranging from the tongue-in-cheek to the legit have bounced around in our brains, I’ll keep those to myself for now.

In the mean time, I can write an occasional post here detailing a cooking/baking experience that maybe someone out there in WordPress/Facebook/InterWeb Lands may care about.  So Hello.

While my mother did not own a copy of Julia Child’s cookbook, she did have her share, a few of which I’ve acquired since her passing in 2002.  Recently, in a final purge of things in the former family home basement before my brother sold it, I picked up Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book. Originally published in 1963, my copy is the sixteenth printing from 1974, my birth year (while quickly googling the book, I saw it was re-printed/re-published in 2002.)  It’s a beautiful specimen in all its vintage glory. (Did I just call something from the year of my birth vintage??)  The drawings and photography are quite simply–awesome.  The book wasn’t exactly and everyday staple for my mom, but it was handy to have.  As it will be handy for me to have.

Flipping through it, I was amused by the section on “Heritage Cookies.” Maybe “amused” isn’t the right word.  More like fascinated.  The intro blurb conjures images of pioneers harvesting maple and making their own sour cream while also addressing the, um,  modern 1960’s palate.  Made me want to take a trip to Greenfield Village. The first Heritage entry is a recipe for Joe Froggers, rich with Autumnal spices and molasses.  Every year, I set out to get into the kitchen with a couple personal traditions on or around the first day of Fall (High Holy Day!)  I thought some of these Froggers would make a fun addition to the mix.  So I set off….

I admit to not knowing the term Joe Frogger whether in or out of relation to what is a basic molasses ginger snap type cookie.  Call me Cooky Challenged.  So, there’s a person and a story behind the recipe–I like that.  The recipe shares a little info about the cookie’s origins, but I wanted more.  Somewhere between making and baking the dough, I looked up the name and found THIS ARTICLE from Marblehead Magazine. Cool.

Let me pause to say that I was slightly miffed to discover several recipes online include rum, while Betty Crocker’s does not. This makes me wonder if there was some sort of Prohibition type thing going on in the BC world of books.  Rum is not listed anywhere in the index. I smell a conspiracy theory.  Next time I make these, there will be rum.  Oh yes, there will be rum.

I read through the recipe Tuesday morning and realized a couple things: I had to refrigerate the dough.  Okay, no problem, will adjust my plans.  And also, I would need a rolling pin.  Did we even have one?  While talking to Ernie shortly after making this discovery, I was like, Hey is there a rolling pin anywhere in this house?  He thought maybe, but also thought it could’ve disappeared in our recent move and donations to his mother’s summer garage sale.  I know I owned/had access to one a one point–but it could’ve belonged to my old roommate, Sarah.  I looked.  Didn’t find one.  So to my list it was added.

Did a little seasonal shopping for this and other things.  I needed shortening.  Our last, half used and yellowing can of Crisco was pitched in the move. I hit up our local chain supermarket, picked up a few things, but was thwarted by the kitchen aisle: No rolling pin!  Whole Foods was next–it’s a beautiful and dangerous thing to have one in walking distance and so much more rejuvenating than the supermarket.  In the baking aisle, I had a flashback to helping a friend of mine reach for the molasses at the back of the top shelf a few weeks ago.  Whoa.

Following the recipe was a pretty basic experience accompanied by my Folk music mix on my iTunes.  Adding the water to the sugar-shortening-molasses mixture made for some inedible looking soup, though.  The recipe also called for me to “Measure flour by dipping method….”  I was referred to page 5 where I learned that this basically means to just dip the measuring cup into the flour and level off with a knife.  Okay.  But this implies  to me: A larger than life bag of flour; actually keeping the flour in a canister all old school; maybe scaling down to measuring one cup at a time.  With valuable cupboard and counter space at stake, we have a normal sized bag of flour and no canisters.  I used the “Pour the flour right into the measuring cup method”  which totally works for me.  Once everything was mixed together, it all made sense.  I wrapped it, and let it hang out in the refrigerator for the rest of the day and overnight so it could do all its scientific stuff.

I did make a special trip to get a new rolling pin that evening–a focused bus ride down to Bed, Bath & Beyond.  An accomplishment among many.  Rolling out the dough yesterday afternoon definitely took me back to the work days of Christmas cut-out cookies with my mother and her mother.  It’s amazing what rolling out cookie dough can do–and I wasn’t even planning on it.  All that inherent knowledge got me though it for sure as I rolled and cut out with my 3 inch circle cutter (from a set purchased at Whole Foods, bless them.)

Later in the afternoon, while stopping at the supermarket for dinner stuff, the kitchen aisle was full of rolling pins.  I swear they were not there the day before!  Oh well, the one I got is bigger, badder, and can do more damage.

I of course had to try one from the first batch, and it was delightful.  And tasted like our heritage.  In that I mean, from my taste buds, I felt a little stirring of patriotism–in the good sense of the word.  The real patriotism and not the haters twisting the word around and making me feel ashamed.  At the same time, I still had images of watching the highly offensive yet fascinating slavery-era film, Mandingo, bouncing around my head from my Tuesday film night with friends.  The story of Joe Frogger and his wife and the cookies is a story that seems to overcome the gross racial issues from our Revolutionary and Antebellum pasts.  Right…?

Yep, all that in a cookie in my 21st century kitchen in Chicago.

According to BC, “the cookies are as plump and dark as the little frogs that lived in the pond near Joe’s cottage.”   But I gotta say, they fit  more with lily pad comparisons I’ve read.  Good and soft, but not exactly plump.  Except for that last one, where I balled up the last of the dough and just flattened it with my hands. Its lumpy density and not as circular shape gave it the rightful name of Frogger.

They’ve had their time to cool and hang out on our counter.  But now it’s time to get them into the cookie jar. We may not have flour canisters, but we do have a corner reserved for the groovy ’70’s dark green mushroom cookie jar of my youth, and that seems to be a perfect place for them.  Luckily, I won’t have to climb up on a chair to get to them.

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