I’m primarily an ice cream person, but occasionally my thoughts turn to pastry.
The women in my family (my mother and both grandmothers) were accomplished pie makers. My Manx grandmother baked with lard. As unhealthy as it is, folks went crazy for her creations, sweet pies and pastries as well as steak and kidney pie—a dish I never tasted as I lack the ability to digest meat. My personal favorite was Manx shortbread. Though I now possess two notebooks with recipes in her handwriting, as well as an ancient cookbook of hers, I found no recipe for Manx shortbread. The cookbook I inherited from her is “The Rumford Complete Cook Book.” It was originally published in 1908 and dedicated to Count Rumford who was “ennobled by the courts of Europe because of his pioneer discoveries in cooking” (in 1790 according to the book). The publisher of the book, Rumford Chemical Works, manufactured baking powder (since 1859) which is enthusiastically utilized in a many of the recipes in the book. A short introduction touts the importance of calcium and phosphates found in baking powder.
There’s a recipe for Scotch shortbread in Rumford but I didn’t remember grandmother’s having almonds in hers. The closest I’ve come to duplicating her shortbread is with another Scottish recipe. The directions call for a lot of butter (I use Irish), and entails kneading. Kneading for a period of ten minutes is more labor-intensive than it sounds. It’s best employed in resolving residual anger. Grandmother would be annoyed to learn that her shortbread was tainted by directions and ingredients taken from the Scots and Irish, cultures she considered inferior to the Manx.
I’m more openminded, not only in terms of pastry.
My other grandmother’s ancestors had been Americanized for generations. She was fond of apples. She baked with Crisco (also unhealthy). I favored her apple dumplings. She made them for me every time I saw her, and I ate them relentlessly.
I never saw a cookbook in her house.
This is my pastry confession: these days, as in childhood, I do not like the finished pastries as much as the uncooked dough. In fact, when I bake, I save dough in the freezer to eat at my leisure. I don’t use lard or Crisco, but the consumption of raw eggs in dough is hazardous, so they say. My mother was horrified when I stole dough to eat raw. It frightened her more than the possibility of putting an eye out, making faces that might freeze on my face, or having an accident while wearing ragged underwear.
I’m not generally one to court danger, but we have to give in to some temptations. What’s life without taking a chance now and again. I try to keep my consumption of raw dough outside the margin of stomach distress. Moderation is key, a harmless way of rolling the dice.
It hasn’t killed me yet.