Tag Archives: historic recipe

Cooking with a Pinch of History: Mexican Wedding Cookies

by Brittany Avila

After cooking multiple side and entrée dishes, my sweet tooth has finally set in and mandated that I make a dessert for this post. Since we are in the midst of wedding season, I thought what better than to prepare a traditional Mexican wedding dish to go along with this season of many matrimonies.  Mexican wedding cookies were introduced by the Spanish, as they originated in Europe and still exist in many other countries today.  The cookies were prepared at many California rancho weddings in the 1800s. Because this is a simpler recipe than some I’ve done in the past, I thought I would attempt to prepare nearly every ingredient from scratch, and essentially the way early California settlers would have. So you may choose to go the “old school” route with me by preparing your own whole wheat flour and powdered sugar, or use store bought items.

Ingredients

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup pecans, lightly toasted

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, slightly softened but still cool

½ cup powdered sugar

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 ½ cups powdered sugar, for coating

Colored tissue paper, cut into 6-inch squares (optional)

Ingredients for Whole Wheat Flour

1 ½ cup dried white Sonoran wheat grains

Wheat grinder

Ingredients for Powdered Sugar

1 ¾ cup white granulated sugar

¼ cup whole wheat flour

Food processor

Harvesting White Sonoran wheat from the Presidio Heritage gardens. Photo by Michael Imwalle.
Harvesting white Sonoran wheat from the Presidio Heritage gardens. Photo by Michael Imwalle.

If you’re going the old school route and making the whole wheat flour from scratch, you’ll want to begin with this part first as it will take the longest and is an essential ingredient for the rest of the recipe. The white Sonoran wheat I used was harvested from our very own Presidio Heritage Gardens! Assuming you, a friend or kind neighbor have a stock of white Sonoran wheat grains, you will begin with the process of removing the shells from the grain by “winnowing”. Please see a previous blog post on this process here.

 

Once the shells have successfully been removed, you will pull out your handy grinder, pour the grains in and begin what I am doing my best not to call a tedious process. I suggest you put on some good tunes or TV show because this might take a while. Amidst my complaints, it is very rewarding to say you’ve made your own flour!

Preparing to chop pecans. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Preparing to chop pecans. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Now that you have your flour, switch gears to your pecans. You’ll want to chop these up as fine or chunky as you would like them in your cookie. A food processor would make this easier, but if you’re going the old school route you still get the simple luxuries of a knife and cutting board.Pecans are native to North America, and grow primarily in the south-central regions. Although we do not have evidence of them being cultivated in California, we can assume that they may have been brought over from neighboring territories where they were grown.

Toasting the pecans.
Toasting the pecans. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Begin to preheat the oven and allow the nuts to sit in the oven while preheating to lightly toast them.  Their color won’t change dramatically once toasted, just a bit more golden-brown.

Mix the flour and pecans together in a mixing bowl, and being to add your softened butter, working it all with a large spoon. Contemporary appliances like a mixer would make this easier, but if you’re still passionate about doing this early California style you’ll stick with the spoon.

Ingredients for making your own powdered sugar. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Ingredients for making your own powdered sugar. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Before we can add the rest of our ingredients, we must make our own powdered sugar, since pre-made powdered sugar was not available in early California. Don’t worry, this is much simpler than making your own flour. Simply take your white sugar and some whole wheat flour (whether it be extra from your homemade batch, or I just used a store bought one) and mix the two in a food processor, pulsing it. I have a preference towards the highly advertised Magic Bullet, but any will do. Cane sugar was not grown in California, and we do not have evidence that sugar was sold or shipped here already powdered. What we do know though is that in the early 1800s there were two shipments of white sugar shipped to the Santa Barbara Presidio from San Blas, Mexico, and this can be finely ground in combination with flour to make powdered sugar.

Mixing the dough. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Mixing the dough. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Now that you have your powdered sugar, add this and your almond extract to the mixing bowl. Work this dough now with your hands, and then place in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool down. Almonds were brought to the Caribbean colonies and Cortes raised them on his mainland plantations, but they were not cultivated as much in New Spain as orchard fruits. Nonetheless, if they were being cultivated in nearby territories, we can assume they may have been brought to California. Once cool, take the cookies out and begin rolling into walnut sized balls on an UNGREASED pan (put your butter away, these will not stick to the pan!). Place in the oven for 14 minutes. Although they started out brown, take them out only once they have turned golden-brown, and no darker.

Coating the cookies in powdered sugar. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Coating the cookies in powdered sugar. Photo by Brittany Avila.

The cookies are not cooked as long as other cookie recipes in order to retain moisture for the powdered sugar topping to stick. Once they have cooled about 2 minutes, roll each ball in the rest of your powdered sugar and set aside on a plate. I allowed these to cool down on the plate about 15 more minutes until finally testing them on my palate.  Don’t be afraid to completely lather each ball up in with a thick coat of sugar, since some will fall off.

The finished product! Photo by Brittany Avila.
The finished product! Photo by Brittany Avila.

At this point, you have the option of placing each ball onto the center of a square of tissue paper, wrapping each square up and twisting it to make them truly authentic Mexican wedding cookies, and add a little flare to their aesthetics. Unfortunately, even a thin piece of tissue paper was too much of a barrier between the cookie and our staff’s mouths, so I left it out. Needless to say, everyone at SBTHP gave high points to this delectable desert!

Bibliography

Hardwick, Michael. Changes in Landscape: The Beginning of Horticulture in the                                    California Missions.  Orange, CA: Paragon Agency Publishers, 2005: 3-4.

de Packman, Anna BeGue. Early California Hospitality. Glendale, CA: The Arthur H.  Clark Company, 1938.

Perissinotto, Giorgio ed. Documenting Everyday Life in Early Spanish California: TheSanta Barbara Presidio Memorias y Facturas, 1779-1810. Santa Barbara, CA:Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, 1998: p.353-363.

Dunmire, William. Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2004: 143-295.

Brittany Avila is SBTHP’s Office Manager and is enjoying  pursuing her dream to be a maestro de la cocina

New Publication about El Presidio de Santa Barbara in the shop!

birth of a cityWe are pleased to announce the publication of El Presidio de Santa Barbara, Birth of a City, now available at La Tiendita (the shop) at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, and on our website.  At $7.95, it’s a bargain, and it contains a concise overview of the history of the Presidio site not available anywhere else.

We asked longtime SBTHP volunteer and founder of Los Soldados de Cuera, Mike Hardwick, for his thoughts on the new piece, and here’s what he shared with us:

The mini-book timeline, El Presidio de Santa Barbara: Birth of a City, is an excellent and beautifully illustrated publication. It is well researched and provides the reader with a quick historical reference to the major events highlighting the development of the City of Santa Barbara.  Focusing on the nuclear heart of the City where the last Royal Presidio in New Spain was founded in 1782, the timeline quickly moves the reader from prehistory of Santa Barbara to the present day.  The mini book is just thirteen pages and is colorfully illustrated. Each page covers an important historic period.  The timeline starts by describing The First People, moves to Early Development of the Presidio (1782-1784), progresses to The Presidio Neighborhood Transforms (1870-1930), and ends with Rebirth of the Presidio (1959-Present).  A handy reference, this booklet is great value for the money and is a must for any library.

DSC_0783Michael Hardwick is the author of Changes in Landscape, the Beginnings of Horticulture in the California Missions and Timeless Vista, the history of Mission La Purisima

Cooking with a Pinch of History: Lamb Shanks with Claret

by Brittany Avila

I found this particular recipe in California Mission Recipes and decided on it solely for the self-serving purpose that I LOVE lamb. I cut the original recipe I found into a third, as it calls for 6 lamb shanks, and I wasn’t keen on cooking for a large family. Therefore, I began with 2 lamb shanks and cut down the rest of the ingredients accordingly:

Ingredients:

2 lamb shanks

1 tablespoon of dried celery tops (you can find this in the spice isle of the grocery store, or do what I did and simply use fresh celery tops)

1/3 sprig of parsley, chopped

1/8 tsp thyme

1/3 of a bay leaf

½ to 1 cup of boiling water

¼ cup whole wheat flour

½ cup claret wine (any light, dry wine will do; I used a cheap sauvignon blanc)

1/6 cup olive oil (I used Mission Mills olive oil, SBTHP’s newest product in the shop (for sales info contact our shop manager through the link) pressed from olives grown at the historic Santa Inés Mission Mills! You can find more info about our olives here)

Salt and pepper

Parsley was originally imported to Alta California for use as an herb, spice, and vegetable. Its herbal uses ranged from cooking to medicinal purposes, where it was used to treat gastronomical disorders by grinding the root, stem and seeds into a flour that was then eaten. California Bay Laurel (bay leaf) is a native plant used for flavoring in early California. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Parsley was originally imported to Alta California for use as an herb, spice, and vegetable. Its herbal uses ranged from cooking to medicinal purposes, where it was used to treat gastronomical disorders by grinding the root, stem and seeds into a flour that was then eaten. California Bay Laurel (bay leaf) is a native plant used for flavoring in early California. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Place both lamb shanks and herbs together in a kettle. If you are puzzled by what celery tops are, they are exactly what they sound like. Cut off only the top leaves of the celery stalks if you’re going fresh, or make life easy and simply add your pre-dried celery tops.

Sheep, or borregas, were brought to California to the beautiful frontier during the Portola-Serra expedition. Sheep’s wool was the chief source for clothing and blankets for both Spaniards and neophytes at the missions, but sheep were used secondarily as a meat source. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Sheep, or borregas, were brought to California during the Portola-Serra expedition. Sheep’s wool was the chief source for clothing and blankets for both Spaniards and neophytes at the missions, but sheep were used secondarily as a meat source. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Because this would’ve been a large iron cast kettle hung over an open fire, I improvised with an iron cooking pan over my stove, since I imagine my landlord wouldn’t be too pleased with an open fire on my porch and I didn’t have a large iron kettle laying around, nor would I know where to purchase one.

The modern day stove top we are cooking on would’ve been replaced by a bracero during Early California, which was a ladrillo, or red tile stove top with stow holes and iron grates to place hot coals in. The bottom portion would’ve been built out of adobe, ladrillo or stone. If you’d like to see a reconstructed bracero, stop by the cocina at El Presidio de Santa Barbara, SHP! Photo by Brittany Avila.
The modern day stove top we are cooking on would’ve been replaced by a bracero during Early California, which was a ladrillo, or red tile stove top with stow holes and iron grates to place hot coals in. The bottom portion would’ve been built out of adobe, ladrillo or stone. If you’d like to see a reconstructed bracero, stop by the cocina at El Presidio de Santa Barbara, SHP! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Place the ½ cup of boiling water (boiled in a separate pot) over the lamb shanks and herbs. Let this simmer for one hour. During my cooking venture, I had to add ½ cup more boiling water half way through since most of it had evaporated and I didn’t want the herbs or lamb burning on the pan.

Take lamb shanks off the pan and allow to cool slightly. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper, roll each shank in flour, and sprinkle with salt and pepper again. Because I wasn’t growing and grinding up my own flour as Spanish settlers did (my porch doesn’t make for a good garden), I purchased whole wheat flour to be as close and accurate to the recipe as possible.

Flour was made from Sonoran wheat, which was introduced to California by Spanish missionaries coming from the Sonora region of Mexico. Instead of a factory with specialized heavy machinery, a grinding stone or metate, would’ve been used by early Californians to grind the wheat into flour by hand or por mano. The stone used to grind the wheat against the metate was called a mano! Photo by Brittany Avila.
Flour was made from Sonoran wheat, which was introduced to California by Spanish missionaries coming from the Sonora region of Mexico. Instead of a factory with specialized heavy machinery, a grinding stone or metate, would’ve been used by early Californians to grind the wheat into flour by hand or “por mano.” The stone used to grind the wheat against the metate was called a mano! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and place lamb shanks in a shallow cooking pan. Place in oven for one hour. Instead of an oven, an horno would’ve been used in Early California, which is a dome shaped adobe structure commonly used to bake bread and other foods. This too can be seen in the cocina at El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP.

Mix the olive oil and wine together. Baste the lamb shanks with this mixture every 15 minutes. Do not skimp on the basting; the more basting, the more juicy your meat will come out.

Claret was a type of grape introduced to California by the Spanish. Claret and other wines were made by fermenting all of the sugar from the grape. These wines were popular as a lot could be consumed before intoxication. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Claret was a type of grape introduced to California by the Spanish. Claret and other wines were made by fermenting all of the sugar from the grape. These wines were popular as a lot could be consumed before intoxication. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Take lamb shanks out of the oven after an hour, or when they reach a nice golden brown.

I cut my lamb shanks up and shared with the SBTHP staff, who gave the final product a thumbs up! Lamb mission #1 successfully completed!

The final product! Photo by Brittany Avila.
The final product! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Sources

Sortomme, Jerry. Plants of Spanish, Alta CA 1764-1834. Rep. N.p.: n.p., October 2011.

Cleveland, Bess. California Mission Recipes. Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Company,1965: 50.

Spiller, Monica. “Sonoran Wheat History: Another Look.” mss (2008): 1-2. Presidio Research Center Vertical Files, “Plants.”

Tays, George. Ranch and Mission Industries in California. Berkeley: n.p., 1941.

Mission San Antonio De Padua Herbs: Medical Herbs of Early Days with Ambrisan, Latin, remedial and common index and glossary. 1974. Presidio Research Center Vertical Files, “Plants.”

Brittany Avila is SBTHP’s Office Manager and is enjoying  pursuing her dream to be a maestro de la cocina