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Book review: 'At Home on the Range' by Margaret Yardley Potter

May 11, 2012 |  2:29 pm

ElizabethgilbertYou've probably never seen the fine art of bread-making broken down quite like this in a recipe: "Now relax. Sit down, light a cigarette, write a letter or make your own plans for the next fifteen minutes while the dough 'tightens up' as we bakers say.

"Is your cigarette finished? Let's go. This is fun."

So writes Margaret Yardley Potter in her cookbook "At Home on the Range." Never heard of Potter? You're not alone. Potter was a one-time food columnist for the Wilmington Star in Wilmington, Del., whose cookbook, published in 1947, went through exactly one edition. Until now.

Potter's more well-known descendant, writer Elizabeth Gilbert ("Eat Pray Love" and "Committed"), reintroduces her great-grandmother to readers in a forward to this new release. At once  humorous and insightful, "At Home on the Range" is written both for — and ahead of — its time. Recipes aren't rigidly structured, but flow like a casual kitchen conversation between close friends, various dishes woven together with stories and motherly advice, relayed with a wit that apparently runs in the family.

The recipes might be a bit dated in places, but the wit, humor and practical advice are as current and relevant as ever. Read the full book review here. And continue reading below for a couple recipes I tried from the selected recipes Gilbert has notated at the end of the book. One is for wonderfully tangy and fluffy Sour Milk Muffins, and another is her old-fashioned Quick Tea Cookies.

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Image credit: Author Elizabeth Gilbert (Shea Hembrey / May 3, 2012)

Sour Milk Muffins

Servings: Makes 12 regular-sized muffins, or 24 minis

Note: From “At Home on the Range” by Margaret Yardley Potter with a forward by her great-granddaughter Elizabeth Gilbert. How to make sour milk: either leave 1 cup of milk out overnight to sour, or add 1 tbsp of white vinegar or lemon juice to slightly less than 1 cup of milk – so that the final measure is 1 cup of liquid – mix together and let stand for about 10 minutes to thicken. The muffins will have very little color on top when finished – do not be alarmed!

1 egg, yolk and white separated

1 cup sour milk

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp oil or melted butter, plus more for greasing the tins

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease the muffin tins.

2. Beat the egg yolk, and add the sour milk. Together, sift the flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Stir this into the egg yolk/milk mixture.

3. Beat the egg white to a soft peak, and gently fold that into the mixture, along with the oil or melted butter. Do not add the oil/butter directly to the egg white, as this will cause your whites to deflate immediately.

4. Pour into greased muffin tins and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes for small muffins, or 15 minutes for standard muffins.

Quick Tea Cookies

Servings: Makes 8 – 12 small cookies

Note: From “At Home on the Range” by Margaret Yardley Potter with a forward by her great-granddaughter Elizabeth Gilbert. These aren’t what you’d typically think of as cookies today. They’re more like tiny cakes, best enjoyed immediately after they’re baked

2 tbsp brown sugar (and a few more pinches for step 2)

2 tbsp butter, softened

1 egg, well-beaten

1/2 cup flour, sifted

1 pinch of salt

1 pinch cinnamon

2 pinches of nutmeg

1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)

1. Cream the brown sugar and butter. Add the egg, sifted flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; beat well.

1a. This is when Gima (Gilbert’s name for her great-grandmother) says you can add 1 tsp of caraway seeds to the batter “if you like the old-fashioned flavor.”

2. Drop by small flattened spoonfuls, well apart, on a greased cookie (or “cooky”!) sheet. Put a pinch of brown sugar on the top of each cookie and bake 8 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

2a. You can also add a half-walnut or a sliced, blanched almond on top of each cookie before baking.

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