The Becker family, several generations of whom figure in the Adelsverein Trilogy, and Daughter of Texas/Deep in the Heart did not come straight from Germany to the Texas frontier. Before coming to Texas in 1825, the families of Alois Becker and Maria Bloch Becker had been settled for some time in Pennsylvania, the Blochs from the very earliest times, and the Beckers from the late 18th century. (Heinrich Becker, the grandfather of Margaret, Rudi and Carl was a deserter from a Hessian regiment during the American Revolution.) Once in Pennsylvania, the Blochs and the Beckers and the rest were part of a very distinct American-German culture from which evolved the present day Amish and Mennonite communities – the Pennsylvania Dutch. One of those traditions is that of serving up seven sweet and seven sour dishes as part of the meal: seven different kinds of sweet condiments, jams, spreads or preserves, and seven different kinds of pickles, chow-chow or whole spiced vegetables. In Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart, Margaret Becker Vining takes a great deal of pride in the table that she sets in her Austin boarding-house … and that she carries on the tradition of setting a table with the traditional seven sweets and seven sours.
On this page are a number of recipes which might have been served at Margaret’s table, and which are favorites of my own family. New recipes will be added, as I find them!
Pepper Corn Relish
This is a recipe for a pepper and corn relish which I copied out of a Thanksgiving issue of Gourmet Magazine, lo these many years ago.
Combine and simmer for half an hour: 5 ½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 finely chopped red bell pepper, 1 finely chopped green bell pepper, one medium onion, 2 carrots, also finely chopped, 1 ½ cup sugar, 1 teasp dry mustard, ½ teasp celery, ¼ teasp turmeric and 1 ½ cup vinegar. This relish which can be eaten fresh, or processed in the canning kettle for fifteen minutes. It makes about 5 pint jars.
Honey Pear Conserve
This recipe also came out of the same issue of Gourmet Magazine.
Combine in a large saucepan: 4 lbs Anjou pears, peeled, cored and cut unto chunks, ¾ cup lemon juice, 1 cup honey, ½ tsp cloves, 2 tsp cinnamon and ½ cup dried currents.
Simmer until thickened and pears are cooked through.
This is probably something that Margaret could not have accomplished at her table – not having a source for cranberries – but I always liked it. It came from the same issue of Gourmet as the first two recipes. Perhaps a creative cook might have worked up an approximation with the fruit available at the time in Texas.
Combine in a large saucepan: ½ cup cider vinegar, 2 ¼ cup brown sugar, ¾ tsp curry powder, ½ tsp ginger, ¼ tsp cloves, ¼ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp ginger, ¼ tsp cinnamon, and 1 ½ cups water.
Bring to a boil, then while stirring simmering mixture, add: 2 lemons, rind grated finely, pith discarded and lemon sectioned and chopped, 2 oranges, (ditto), 1 apple finely chopped, 3 cups cranberries, ½ cup golden raisins, and ½ cup chopped dried apricots. Simmer gently for 40 minutes, until mixture is thickened.
Add: 2 additional cups cranberries and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add: 1 cup cranberries and ½ cup chopped walnuts, stirring until the last cup of cranberries are just cooked. The variously cooked cranberries give it a lot of cranberry texture, and a very fresh flavor.
Consider the Okra of the Fields
There is one huge okra plant in my garden and another two or three smaller, they just don’t produce enough of them at a time to make a decent-sized batch of okra pickles, unless I cheat and go buy two pounds at the market and add to it whatever I have gleaned from my plants, to make a batch of spicy okra pickles. Curiously enougn, we like okra as pickles, in gumbo and even breaded and deep-fried, in which format it is as addictive as popcorn although somewhat more fattening … but okra on it’s own … that is a vegetable that needs work.
Basically, make a pickling brine from 2 ⅔ cup cider vinegar and 1 ½ cup water, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and when it comes to a simmer, either add to it, or steep in a tea-ball, 2 Tbsp. pickling spices. I used another net-recipe for pickling spice, which called for 2 Tbsp. mustard seeds, 2 Tbsp. whole allspice, 2 teasp coriander seeds, the same of cloves, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger and the same of dried red pepper flakes, a crumbled bay leaf and a two-inch length of cinnamon stick. This makes more than needed for a single batch, so save the remainder for the next batch.
Meanwhile, pack the raw okra into 2 hot and sterilized 1-quart jars, and tuck in among the packed okra in each jar, 2-3 peeled and lightly crushed garlic cloves, 2-3 dried chili pods (I used ripe red jalapeno and paprika pods from my garden) and two or three small bay leaves … I have a small bay tree in the garden, so again … from my garden. It helps to pack the first layer of okra in the jar with the wide end down, and then wedge the next layer into it pointy end down, and distribute the garlic cloves, the pepper pods and the bay leaves as they fit. Fill the jars with okra and all until just below the point on the jar where the threaded rim begins, then pour in the hot brine and process at least 20 minutes in boiling water, as per the usual canning instructions.
Scrumptious – and yet another sour to set on the table, among the traditional seven sweets and seven sours. How many have I to go, now?