Friday, March 20, 2015

Pie Day

    Last Saturday, 3/14/15, was officially Pi Day (in addition to the last day of National Chocolate Chip Cookie Week). We didn't start celebrating Pi Day until fairly recently. I don't know how I ever missed this wonderful opportunity to celebrate something by baking pies.  Some of our wonderfully nerdy grandchildren have help convert us to the joy of Pi Day.  This year the prize for most enthusiastic celebration of Pi Day in our family goes to my grand daughter, Luna Arnett, who memorized Pi to sixty digits.  I consider that a celebration of epic proportions that will be legendary in the Tunnell family history.  My personal celebration consisted of baking two pies; one blackcap raspberry and the other pumpkin-coconut.

BlackCap Raspberry Pi Pie

National Chocolate Chip Cookie Week

    This past week was National Chocolate Cookie Week. I would have been oblivious to this wonderful event but for the fact of having recently visited the King Arthur Flour website.  Now I have not done much cookie baking in my life. That is Linda's special area of expertise. There hasn't been much need for me to bake cookies, being married to one of the best cookie bakers on the planet. I have made shortbread cookies a time or two.  Other than that, my involvement in cookie baking has been limited to an occasional request by my sweetie for me to take the cookies out of the oven when she was briefly otherwise engaged.  However, over the course of 40 years of marriage I have learned a few things from Linda about baking cookies.

     The most important thing I learned that it is very important not to over bake cookies. I frequently marveled how Linda achieved the perfect combination of chewiness and crispness.  Other people's cookies were often too hard and not chewy at all.  Linda has told me on several occasions how important it was to remove the cookies from the oven before it seemed like they were completely done. That way the cookies would still be chewy after they had cooled.  I also learned that cookies have to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes after they are removed from the oven before they are removed from the cookie sheet. Armed with this little bit of information I set out to make my very first batch of chocolate chip cookies.

   There are several blogs associated with the King Arthur Flour website.  It was on one of these blogs that I found a recipe for Joy's Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Pecans. Linda's middle name is Joye, spelled with an "e".  It seemed that I had found a recipe worthy of the occasion. I set out to make the cookies this past Saturday, the last day of National Chocolate chip cookie Week.

    I made a special trip to the store to buy a new bag of good quality chocolate chips. Linda had advised me that she thought our supply of chocolate chips were tasting a bit stale.  Who am I to argue with the best cookie baker on the planet about any thing related to cookies. I would have bought pecans at the same time, but for the fact that I thought we already had a bag of pecans at home. As it turned out, when I got to the part of the recipe requiring the addition of coarsely chopped pecans I discovered that we had no pecans.  Rather than make a second trip to the store, I decided to substitute chopped hazelnuts. We have a serious stash of hazelnuts and they are one of my favorite nuts.  There was a quart jar of hazelnuts in the pantry that I had roasted just a week ago. Another substitution was that I had inadvertently bought semi-sweet chocolate chips when the recipe called for bittersweet chocolate chips.  I wasn't going to make a second trip to the store so I just used what I had bought. I also forgot to sprinkle the sea salt on top of the balls of cookie dough just before baking.

Life is better with a tangerine Kitchen Aid
    The process of browning the butter made the recipe a little more complicated than most chocolate chip cookie recipes.  I used my new tangerine Kitchen Aid to blend the ingredients. I carefully followed the instructions as to the order the ingredients were to be added. I am certain that the Kitchen Aid did a much better job blending the ingredients than I probably would have done with a hand mixer.  I was very careful to avoid over baking the cookies.  I let them cool for a few minutes after removing them from the oven, then took a cookie to Linda to get her opinion.  She said that it was one of the best chocolate chip cookies she had ever eaten and that it was the perfect combination of chewy while still crisp on the outside. She even went so far as to call them "dangerously good". I felt I had done justice to National Chocolate Chip Cookie Week. I was even sufficiently motivated to return to the King Arthur Flour Website and rate the recipe as 5 stars.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Perfection
     So now comes the important part, the recipe. I will type in the instructions in their entirety as I am not sufficiently schooled in cookie baking to risk paraphrasing or abbreviating. This recipe is so wonderful that King Arthur Flour richly deserves to have their product promoted.

   1 cup unsalted butter (16 tablespoons), softened to room temperature
   1 cup light brown sugar, packed
   2 tablespoons vanilla extract
   1 teaspoon molasses
   1/2 cup granulated sugar
   1 large egg
   1 egg yolk
   2 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
   1 teaspoon salt
   1 teaspoon baking soda
   1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
   1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
   coarse sea salt to sprinkle on top


   1. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

   2. Place half the butter (8 tablespoons) in a medium skillet. Melt the butter over medium heat, swirling it in the pan occasionally.  It'll foam and froth as it cooks, and start to crackle and pop. Once the crackling stops, keep a close eye on the melted butter, continuing to swirl the pan at intervals. The butter will become fragrant and brown bits will form in the bottom. Once the bits are amber brown (about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes or so after the sizzling stops), remove the butter from the burner and pour it into a small bowl, bits and all. Allow it to cool for twenty minutes.

   3. Beat the remaining 1/2 cup butter with the brown sugar for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth.

   4. Beat in the vanilla and molasses.

   5. Pour the cooled brown butter into the bowl, along with the granulated sugar. Beat for 2 minutes, until smooth; the mixture will lighten in color and become fluffy.

   6. Add the egg and egg yolk, and beat for another minute.

   7. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda, beating at low speed just until everything is incorporated.

   8. Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate chips and pecans.

   9. Scoop the dough onto a piece of parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap. Flatten it slightly into a thick disk, and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. About 15 minutes before you are ready to begin baking, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, with the racks in t he center/upper third.

  10. Scoop the dough in 2 tablespoon-sized balls onto the prepared baking sheets. Each will weigh about 1 ounce (28 grams). Leave about 2" between the cookies. They'll spread as they bake.

  11. Sprinkle the cookies with sea salt to taste - as much or as little as you like.

  12. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to rest on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before moving them.

  13. Serve warm, or cool completely, and store at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, wrap well and freeze.

Yield:  about 24 large (3") cookies

Monday, March 16, 2015

Catherine Guckian and County Leitrim

     My daughter Sarah recently challenged me to find the Irish roots of Catherine Guckian, my third great grandmother. The only leads  I have are the numerous references in the census to her birthplace as Ireland and two obituaries from the Medina County Gazette.  Sarah found the obituary posted on Find A Grave.  Catherine is buried in the Chatham Township Cemetery in Medina county, Ohio. The cemetery headstone lists her date of birth as November 10, 1821 and her date of death as May 17, 1895.  The first obituary, originally published on May 23, 1895 is as follows:

     "Mrs John Maytham, one of the older residents of this county, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. J. W. Home, in Lafayette township on Friday of last week. Her husband died about eight years ago."

     A second obituary was published in the same newspaper on June 13, 1985.  The second obituary provides a different date of birth (March 10, 1821) as well as more details as to her birthplace and the circumstances of her arrival in the United States. I quote it as follows:

     " Mrs Catherine Maytham, wife of J. Maytham deceased, notice of whose death was given in the Gazette of May 23, was born in County Lathram, Ireland, March 10, 1821. In 1834, when 13 years old, she landed in Cleveland, but a small hamlet then, on the shores of Lake Erie. Jan 1 '37, she was married to John Maytham, and the spring following they moved onto the farm now known as the Maytham farm on Short street in Lafayette, where they lived happily for more than half a century, and where on Jan 1, 1887, after having traveled life's uneven journey together of 50 years, through sunshine and shadow and reared a large family of sturdy intelligent boys and girls, and by thrift and economy had secured for themselves a pleasant home, they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with their children, grand children, and hosts of invited friends and neighbors."

    This obituary has a couple of gems to go with the incredibly long run-on sentence. First, it gives us a specific county in Ireland for her birthplace as well as an additional date of birth.  It also gives a date of her marriage to John Maytham  on January 1, 1837 (at the age of 15) and that she arrived in Cleveland, Ohio in 1834.  If that marriage date was accurate Catherine was either barely 15, if born on November 10, 1821, or she was almost 16 if she was born on March 10, 1821.  However, I was happy to see that my daughter Sarah had found a photo of Catherine's marriage record on  According to that record Catherine's marriage to John Maythem took place on  September 6, 1838 in Medina County, Ohio.  Catherine's age at the time of her marriage to John Maytham was therefore either 16, just a few months shy of being 17 or 17 and a half.

    I'm hopeful I can find some other Guckians living in Ohio on the 1840 and 1850 censuses. I suspect Catherine probably didn't travel to America by herself as a 13 year old. The major problem is with the name Guckian. There are apparently numerous variations of the spelling.  I was also glad to learn that Catherine was married in Medina County, Ohio as that increases the likelihood of other Guckian relatives in the immediate vicinity.

    I decided I would start with a little background research about Lathram County in Ireland.  The first thing I discovered is that the name is spelled Leitrim. This county is located in the Republic of Ireland bordering on Northern Ireland and the counties of Donegal, Sligo, Cavan, Longford, and Roscommon. County Leitrim is currently one of the least populated counties in Ireland, having less population now than it did at the time of Catherine Guckian's birth in 1821.  I found some wonderful information about County Leitrim that had been lifted from Samuel Lewis' Topographical dictionary of Ireland, published in 1837.  This 5 page excerpt is a fairly detailed description of the geography, topography, agriculture, economy, etc of the county of Catherine's birth, published just a few years after she left Ireland.  It includes descriptions of the houses (often combined with the barn), fences, breeds of livestock raised, and what the soil was like.  It even provided some details as to how they planted potatoes and what sort of crop rotation was generally done.

   People generally don't leave the place of their birth and immigrate to a far country if they are living comfortably in their native land.  There is usually some sort of political or economic upheaval that induces people to seek a better life somewhere else.  I am curious to determine what might have caused the Guckian family to leave Ireland to move to America.  The bulk of Irish migration to America was caused by the potato famine. This horrific disaster occurred from about1845 to 1852 and resulted in the starvation of about a million people. Catherine's family left Ireland over a decade before the potato famine so that obviously was not the cause of their immigration to America.  I learned that there was a significant reduction in the flax industry in county Leitrim in the decade preceding 1837.  It is possible Catherine's family was involved in raising or processing flax and were "downsized" as land was converted to other uses. The bulk of the land was owned by absentee English nobles. The landlord's property was administered by local "Proctors", often not very nice people. The law was "tenancy at will" meaning the tenants had no rights at all and could be dispossessed any time the landlord wished.  At that time much Irish land was being converted from farming to raising beef. This resulted in a good many dispossessed tenant farmers.

    I also found some interesting information about the history of County Leitrim on the village of Mohill's website. It seems that County Leitrim was as troubled as the rest of Ireland, particularly a few decades prior to Catherine's birth.  There were Catholic Defender uprisings in 1793 and 1795. These were Catholic peasants who gathered together as a poorly armed rabble to fight against their oppressors. They were invariably thrashed by the well armed and well trained military in spite of their numerical superiority.   Some of the captured defenders were hung while others were given the option of serving in the British fleet, the equivalent of hard labor in prison. A French army also briefly invaded Ireland in 1798 and marched through County Leitrim before their defeat by the British in the neighboring County Longford.  The time of Catherine's birth was more peaceful than the preceding decades, but they were still pretty difficult times economically.

    I did a bit of a survey as to what sort of records are available in County Leitrim in the 1820s and earlier. The short answer is not very much. There are some cemetery records but I learned that only one percent of the graves had a headstone. There are no records for the overwhelming majority of the burials from Catherine's time in Ireland. There is also very little in the way of church records from that time period. We don't know yet whether Catherine's family was Catholic or Presbyterian. I'm thinking its more likely that they were Presbyterians of Scottish ancestry as she married an Englishman a few years after her arrival in America.  Most of the Catholic Parishes in County Leitrim didn't start to keep records of births and marriages until the 1820s. Most of the records of Presbyterian churches in County Leitrim haven't been preserved. Census records aren't available until much later as the earlier Irish census records were destroyed in a fire in Dublin. I have confirmed that there were Guckians living in County Leitrim as I have found several variations of that name on a County Leitrim Surname List,  I think email contact with others who are also researching that surname may be my best chance.  I haven't given up, but I am not very optimistic about my chances.

    On the other hand, it has been very interesting to learn about the area of Catherine Guckian's birth. It seems like it was a beautiful place where it was very difficult to make a living.  I may never find the names of Catherine's parents and siblings.  However, I have gained have a better appreciation for the sacrifices made by my ancestors and the difficult circumstances they overcame. In particular, I'm very grateful they had the good sense to leave Ireland and make their way to America.    


Monday, March 9, 2015

Coconut-Pumpkin Pie

5 Oregon Sweet Meat and 14 Red Kuri 
    This past fall I set a goal that none of our bounteous winter squash harvest would go to waste. I found new homes for a number of them, but I was also determined to find ways to incorporate more squash into our diet.  The big problem with that goal is that my sweetheart is less enthused about winter squash than I am.  I couldn't merely have baked squash a few times a week. My quest for "Linda friendly" squash recipes was made a little easier with the purchase of a new cookbook, "Recipes from the Root Cellar", by Andrea Chesman.  I found several squash recipes in the book which Linda liked.  These included "Whipped Winter Squash" and "Apple-Squash Bisque".  So here we are in earIy March and I only have two winter squash left in my inventory.  The problem was that one of them was a huge Oregon Sweet Meat, weighing about fifteen pounds. I decided to take advantage of Linda's temporary absence to cook the big squash. I figured I could get part of it eaten while she was gone and not have quite as much to work through when she got home. For those curious about Linda's whereabouts, she had made a trip to Eastern Washington to visit her sister Liz, and to do a little family history in Dayton, Washington, followed by a stop in Oregon to see grand children.

    I cut up the big squash this past Friday evening. It was actually a bit of a chore. Oregon Sweet Meat is a "Maxima" type of squash, just like the hubbards. Like all good winter keepers, it had a very tough rind.  Since we were into March there were a few bad spots I had to cut out. I cut about half of the squash into reasonable size pieces and baked them on my big Costco cookie sheet.  I guess that would make it "half-baked". The rest of the squash I cubed and boiled. I ended up with over ten pounds of cooked squash.  I used part of the boiled squash to make a squash soup which I served to the missionaries on Saturday evening. I didn't use apples this time. I just sautéed onions, added chicken broth, salt and pepper, and the cooked squash. Then I pureed the soup in the blender and added a few cups of heavy cream. I was pleased with the results.  The missionaries both finished their bowls and one even had seconds.
Half I boiled

Half I baked

     While browsing through the "Recipes from the Root Cellar" I found they had a dessert section. It was there that I stumbled upon the "Coconut-Pumpkin Pie" recipe.  This seemed like a worthy use of the squash.  I made my usual Emeril Lagasse pie crust recipe which uses half lard and half butter. The ingredients for the filling for a nine inch pie are as follows:

2 cups pureed pumpkin or winter squash
2 eggs
1 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I used ground nutmeg because that was what I had on hand)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut ( I used sweetened because I didn't notice that the recipe called    for unsweetened until just now)

     Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and prepare the pie crust.

     Put all of the ingredients except for the flaked coconut into the blender and blend it until it is smooth.  Then add one cup of the flaked coconut and pulse the blender just long enough to mix it in.

     Add the filling to the pie crust and bake it at 425 degrees for ten minutes.

     Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 40 minutes longer, until the filling is partially set.

     Sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 cup of flaked coconut and continue baking for another ten minutes, until the filling is mostly set (the center will still be wobbly) and the coconut is toasted.

     Chill well before serving.

    I made two of these pies on Friday evening.  I kept them in the fridge until Sunday afternoon as it was my turn to bring the post choir practice treats.  I think this recipe is a serious keeper.  The pumpkin and coconut flavors seemed to go very well together.  The only complication with this pie recipe is the necessity of watching for the right stage of doneness before adding the flaked coconut to the top of the filling.  I'm assuming the coconut wouldn't stay on top of the filling if it were added prematurely. For those who suffer from lactose intolerance the filling is dairy free. My pies weren't dairy free because I use butter in my crust recipe.

Two Coconut-Pumpkin and one Heavenly Hazelnut



Monday, March 2, 2015

Happiness is freshly baked bread (among other things)

     I used my new tangerine Kitchen Aid to mix bread dough this morning.  The recipes from "The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" don't really require a mixer with a dough hook as there is no kneading. However, I just wanted to try it out.  It worked very nicely of course. It did require a few minutes to clean up the Kitchen Aid, a step I can skip when I just mix up the dough right in the container.  In the future I will probably save the kitchen aid for occasions when I want to try out a conventional bread recipe.

Pretty enough to be left out on the counter
     I baked two loaves this morning, one for me and one for Liz, my sister-in-law.  They both baked up nicely, but I made minor mistake on the batard loaf.  I forgot to flour the top of the loaf before I made the slices in the top. As a consequence the cuts didn't turn out right and I had a little volcanic bump form in the middle of the loaf.  The boule loaf turned out wonderful. I used the banneton (proofing basket) and it turned out lovely.  I heavily flour the banneton prior to placing the shaped loaf in it to rise so the loaf will come easily out of the banneton onto the baking sheet.  Since the loaf is already heavily floured from that, those cuts worked very well and I ended up with a nicely shaped boule loaf. I baked them for one half hour in a 450 degree oven.  The banneton that Rachel gave me is about 9 1/2 inches across.  I found some smaller 7 1/2 inch bannetons on line. They should be just  the right size for sour dough bread bowls, the perfect containers for Linda's Hungarian mushroom soup or a good clam  chowder.  I also love the spiral pattern the rattan proofing baskets leave on the surface of the loaf.
A lovely little boule loaf

A cross section of the batard loaf, showing a nicely formed crumb

     Linda is leaving in an hour or so on a family history foray to Dayton, Washington. I don't think I will have much time to be lonely while she is gone as I have beekeeping classes three nights a week right now. I enjoy teaching the classes but three nights a week can get to be a bit of a grind. The two classes I teach at the Beez Neez will finish next week. Then it will be just a Monday night class for Snohomish County Extension for a few more weeks. I will also enjoy when the classes are over and I can spend an evening at home once in a while.  That will give me more time for family history research and will also be just in time for the start of baseball season. I'm very much looking forward to the Mariners having a competitive team this year.