Last week I drove home to Ohio: twelve hours from Boston to Columbus, snow covered New England trees giving way to long stretches of farmland and grain elevators. I never thought I would be homesick for Ohio until I left it. For years I vowed to get out, convinced that some life affirming epiphany would take place if I finally managed to escape the Midwest.
But the truth is: I love Columbus. The familiarity and the people and the food (GOD the food.) While I was back home I stopped into Schmidt’s Sausage Haus to pick up the best sausages in the world for this project: bahama mamas. Savory and spicy and amazing. (I also may have indulged in their famous cream puffs…and by indulged I mean inhaled.)
Little Women focuses primarily on the importance of home and family (though it also offers preachy, old-fashioned lessons on embracing womanly virtues and modesty so that I wish Jo’s reluctance to marry had stuck.) Underneath all that moral pomp, however, the message remains true. We follow the lives of Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy from childhood to adulthood in the mid-nineteenth century as they grow up from girls to women. I remember being charmed by the story of their foibles and sisterly bonds, before my years of cynicism set in. And like every other girl with writing aspirations I longed to be Jo (though I suspect I was more of a Beth.)
One such exploit has the March girls selflessly give up their breakfast to the poor Hummel children on Christmas morning, and although the food is not heavily described in the book (it alludes to buckwheat, muffins and cream) I always pictured something mealy and festive. I decided to do my own take on a Victorian breakfast with sausages, baked potatoes, biscuits, eggs in cream, an assortment of fruit and a Christmas pudding. Most of the dishes are pretty easy (the eggs are simply baked with chopped spinach and cream) so the recipe I’m including here is for the toffee pudding.
“That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn’t get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.”
Ingredients for cake: 1 cup chopped, pitted dates, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 stick of butter, 1 cup brown sugar, 2 eggs
1. Heat oven to 350°F and grease ramekins with butter or oil.
2. Mix dates, baking soda, water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl whisk flour and salt. Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer. Set aside.
4. Combine butter and brown sugar in a bowl and use an electric mixer to beat for 5 minutes. Add vanilla extract and eggs. Use spoon to stir in date mixture and flour mixture (don’t overmix.)
5. Pour batter in ramekins and place them in a baking dish. Pour simmering water into the bottom of the dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 60 minutes.
Ingredients for toffee sauce: 3/4 stick of butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1. Melt butter in a medium sauce pan, add brown sugar and vanilla extract. Heat for 5 minutes.
2. Add cream while stirring, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Pour over cooled cakes and sift powdered sugar on top.