Elizabeth Moxin

10 Apr

Ok, so I’m going to try this again, this is for the person that insists that I can do it, you know who you are

Recently, I attended a conference hosted by the Women’s History Network; there were only two of us in the room who didn’t hold a Ph.D. and that’s only because the other person hadn’t finished her dissertation yet, I felt the uncomfortable from the frying pan. yet curiously, I got what they were talking about, because the subject of food, food ways, customs and traditions are things that I have been thinking about for most of my professional career, and even before as my Holly Hobbie grade school recipe collection can attest to.

The question is, why now? As a society (in decline?) there is great insecurity and anxiety in the world, but especially when the topic of food comes up; diets, nutrition. supply, organic, GMO’s, hunger, trends, on and on, it’s what we talk about, how we judge people, our access to and what we eat shapes our lives. Look into someone’s cart at the grocery store,and you’ll find a short story of their life at that moment in time; divorce, widowed, babies, family on the go.. Historians pick up on social anxiety, they don’t create trends, but they like to write about them, and this literature now legitimizes food culture, food memories and food history.

This is where I’ve decided to spend my time. I’ve always felt as if I’d been born at least a hundred years too late, I’m more comfortable with the past, I don’t idealize it as I know that it was hard work, especially if you were a female and were responsible for meal preparation.Alison Norman in an essay Culinary Colonialism writes, “Next to childcare, preparing and cooking meals was one of the most important and time consuming responsibilities of colonial wives.”  I don’t necessarily want to trade places with those who came before me in the kitchen, perhaps, I’d like to visit? But until I am able to solve the time trial problem, I’ll read, think and write about it. It’s a start, I may not have a Ph D. but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have anything to say.

On a more practical note, while at the conference, I was introduced by way of Elizabeth Baird an amazing Canadian cookbook author who wrote Canadian recipes using local and seasonal ingredients before they became all the rage, a pastry recipe from a cookbook written by a women named Elizabeth Moxin, date of publication, 1743. Elizabeth is now a volunteer cook at Fort York, a national historic site that has been almost swallowed up by roads and condos in downtown Toronto. She told me that this recipe is one that the interpreter cooks use in the kitchen at the fort. It has a high ratio of fat to flour so it is very forgiving and can be re-rolled many times before getting tough (that is before the gluten makes the pastry unworkable). We sampled fruit tarts made with this pastry recipe and filled with jam that had also been made with jam produced in the Fort York kitchen. The tarts were delicious, I think I ate six, (but they were tiny). I was determined to try this recipe, the pastry was rich, buttery with a crisp texture.  After the conference ended I came home to make it, with Elizabeth Baird’s instructions still fresh in my mind; she clarified some of the measurements and offered a substitution for the flavouring, the original recipe calls rosewater, I used my homemade vanilla extract (which would have been unavailable in colonial Canada). The recipe works well, and make enough for six dozen mini tarts, which if you happen to be feeding an army at Fort York is a good thing, but I couldn’t see myself feeding an army anytime soon, so I froze most of it, which worked well too.

Elizabeth Moxin “tarte paste” recipe.

I pound all purpose flour

12 ounces unsalted butter

1/4 cup sugar

yolks from 4 medium eggs (this was E.B.’s suggestion) Beaten in a small bowl

2 tsp. flavouring, rosewater (this is from the original recipe) or pure vanilla extract.

In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour with either your finger tips or a pastry blender.  Rub it until it resembles coarse oatmeal. At his point, make a well in the center of the flour mix, and add the egg yolks and the flavoring, work with your hands until the dough comes together, it doesn’t take too long.  Divide dough into two pieces, and then roll on a lightly floured surface for tarts. It’s easier to roll when divided into the two pieces. Cut using a floured biscuit cutter, Prick with a fork to blind bake if making jam tarts.

Food history, and food memories, I’ve decided to spend my history thinking about the past. It’s a good place for me to be.

This picture doesn’t have anything to do with my post, but I like it, Jeff Robinson, Shane Norrie and me at the Monforte Restaurant opening party.



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