Category Archives: food and health

Four recipes

20141119_104353There was so much interest last week when I mentioned the recipes that have resonated with me for decades that I thought I would post them for the convenience of readers. Below are the recipes for my mother’s Pennsylvania Dutch apple pie that used to lure commuters to drive out of their way each week to taste; also the recipe for persimmon pudding, which was not listed in the text but which surely ranks up there with the best; how to make your own vanilla extract for a fraction of the cost of the commercial equivalent; and finally: tapioca pudding, Carrol-style.


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Okay, this one is blueberry, not apple, but I didn’t happen to have a photo of the apple pie. It demonstrates the steam vents and the crimping at the edges (complete with soaring bird).

Apple Pie (apparently the addition of molasses and raisins make this variety Pennsylvania Dutch-style)


5 – 8 apples (enough to fill a 9 inch pie dish with sliced apples)

1/3 cup white sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons flour (or your preferred thickener)

1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Modest handful black raisins

2 tablespoons molasses

Peel and cut apples into slices, put into a large bowl with all other ingredients on top. Stir until juice appears in the bottom of the bowl. Set aside, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and make crust.


2 2/3 cup flour (use all-purpose flour, not hard pasta-type flour)

1 cup shortening

7 tablespoons water

In a medium bowl cut the shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter, or use your favorite food processor instead. When the consistency resembles many little lumps (think baby-pea size) it’s ready. Add the 7 tablespoons water and knead, then divide in half. On a floured table, counter top or wooden board, roll half the dough. Starting from the center roll the dough towards the edges in all directions. When dough is rolled out to fit, place in the bottom of the pie dish (press with fingers to fit perfectly). Pour the apple slice filling into the crust (filling should be gently rounded above the top of the pie dish, and packed tightly). If you have too much to fit, reserve for making a small apple tart (or just eat it, yum!). Roll out the second half of dough. With your finger, moisten the top of the outer rim of the lower crust (this will help seal the top and bottom crusts together). Carefully lift and place the top crust on top of filling. Using your thumb or a knife, remove any excess dough from top crust so that the edges of the top crust and bottom crust are lined up. Press the edges of the top and bottom crust together and use your fingers or a fork to flute the edges into a pleasing form. Cut vent holes in the top crust to allow steam to escape (you can get creative with design here if you want). Place pie in oven and bake for 10 – 12 minutes at 400 degrees, then lower heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for about 45 minutes or until the filling is bubbling out of the vent holes and the crust is a lovely golden brown. Remove pie from oven and let cool on a cooling rack.  (Note: you might want to place aluminum foil beneath the pie to catch the drippings.)


Persimmon Pudding

Pre-packaged persimmon pulp from native trees (NOT from the sweet Oriental variety) is widely available in southern Indiana. Those who live outside the persimmon zone should check online to find Internet purveyors.

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Blend well the following ingredients in a bowl:

2 cups persimmon pulp

3 eggs

¾ cup white or light brown sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon double acting baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ stick melted butter

2 ½ cups light cream

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup raisins (optional)

Pour batter into a greased 9×9-inch baking dish and bake at 325 degrees for approximately one hour or until the edges turn a rich dark brown. Can be served with cream, ice cream, hard sauce or eaten plain.


Vanilla extract.

If you do any pastry baking at all, you will need vanilla extract for all those pies, cookies, puddings (especially the tapioca pudding, coming up next) and cakes. Some enjoy a shot of vanilla in their coffee, or splashed across their ice cream.

You might ask, “why bother to make vanilla? It’s sold at every supermarket.” When you make it yourself, the prep is fun, AND the taste is far superior. If your household is one that uses a lot of vanilla, opt for homemade, just for an experiment. The longer it sits on your shelf, the darker and richer with flavor it becomes.


Assume a basic ratio of three to six vanilla beans to approximately eight ounces of neutral-flavored hard liquor of any variety. (That said, I have achieved great results using 3 vanilla beans in a 25 ounce (750 ml) bottle of brandy). Most people use vodka, bourbon or brandy. With a sharp knife, cut the beans down the center line and scrape the seedy core into the liquor bottle, include the little stem at the top of the bean, and write the date on the label. Now cut the remaining slivers of bean crosswise into thirds and drop all those pieces into the mixture as well, making sure they’re all submerged. Some people begin using their vanilla tincture almost at once, after a week or two, but in my household we always wait six months. As the level of vanilla extract in the bottle begins to dip, you can do one of two things.  (1) You can start up a new bottle and write the date on it. (2) Fish out all the bean bits and add them to a brand-new bottle, along with about two new beans, because vanilla beans work much the same way as a tea bag: you can use them several times.


Tapioca Pudding

Tapioca is one of the quintessential comfort foods, especially when eaten warm right out of the pot.


2 ¾ cup milk

1 very large egg (use a farm egg if you have it, because the orange yolk will turn the pudding a lovely pale-gold color)

3 gently rounded tablespoons of quick-cooking tapioca granules

Scant ¼ cup white sugar

1 teaspoon homemade vanilla (I always use a generous splash without measuring)


Combine the tapioca and sugar in the bottom of a dry saucepan. Break the egg on top of the dry ingredients and stir together until well combined. Now stir in the milk and begin to heat on medium-high, stirring often. When mixture begins to gently boil, turn off burner and remove pot from heat. When pudding has cooled for about a minute, stir in the vanilla. As the pudding cools, the egg will “set” the pudding. Pudding may be eaten whenever it has firmed up. Whether you prefer it warm or cold is your option.


Food? or vile glop?

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Last week I was having problems with my digestion, so I stopped eating for a few days. The kind folks at Hospice were alarmed, and sent over a sack filled with different kinds of nutritional “foods” that are designed to keep the life-force strong. Hospice had the very best of intentions, and I am grateful for their concern. Although I do not wish to malign them in any way, the stuff they sent over was not real FOOD. In fact, I’m outraged at the idea that they feed this stuff to dying people.

The first three ingredients in the so-called “pudding” are water, sugar, and corn maltodextrin (a heavily processed starch with a high glycemic index). Yum, yum. Moving on to the ersatz “shake,” the first three ingredients are water, corn maltodextrin (again) and sugar. And as for the alleged nutritional apple-flavored “juice” (which bears the warning “Contains no apple juice”), the main ingredients are water, sugar, and corn syrup solids. For the sake of comparison, a Milky Way candy bar contains 37 grams of total carbohydrate. The fake “juice” contains 43 grams of total carb, which makes it significantly sweeter than the candy bar. But wait: the “shake” contains a whopping 52 grams. The “pudding” wins the carb battle with a moderate 30 grams, which is approximately the carb equivalent of three-and-a-half Oreo cookies.

What the hell is going on here? Why is this stuff being pawned off on the ill and elderly? For that matter, why is the worst food in town found at the hospital, where they dole out high-sodium, high-carb, high-junk-ingredient glop to patients and guests?

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I understand that our local city hospital is now part of a corporate empire, which by appearances is so concerned with making a profit that the emergency room is now completely devoid of old magazines to page through while waiting. I understand profit and loss. And yet, why is a place that’s supposedly dedicated to saving people’s lives, and restoring health, apparently in partnership with the sugary-fake-foodstuff manufacturers?

It takes very little money to make the best therapeutic comfort-food possible, the same food that has nourished sick people for thousands of years, a nutritious foodstuff that lacks known allergens and causes no sensitivities. I’m talking about chicken broth, which is as easy to make as a salad (just more time-intensive). Instead of pushing these egregious false “foods” upon ill people, the hospital would be well advised to have someone come in two or three times a week and simmer 30 gallons or so of chicken broth. (And a pot of veggie broth too, for our vegetarian/vegan friends.) I make broth at home all the time. And despite feeling wobbly, I even made some three days ago when my own supply of frozen two-cup servings ran low.

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Soup is good food. Pudding can be good food too, if it has real milk and egg in it. Shakes can even be good (ice cream is, after all, quite nutritious.) And juice is good, assuming that it actually contains real juice. But this swill (I don’t know what other word to call it) from Hospice is completely vile. It’s not real food, only a collection of starches, sugars, artificial flavors and nutritional powders all mixed into water. Maybe someone who spends their life eating at fast-food joints wouldn’t object to eating Ensure products, but I do, because I know the difference between real food and fake food.

I wouldn’t feed this stuff to a dying animal, let alone a dying human being. If you agree, let the hospital management know. Or snipe at them via social media until they begin to pay attention. I think it’s time for a food fight! 

Is wheat the culprit?

Leavened loaves of bread. "FD 1" by Original uploader was Klaus Höpfner at de.wikipedia(Original text : Helge Höpfner) - Transfered from de.wikipedia(Original text : Fotoarchiv Höpfner). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
Leavened loaves of bread. “FD 1” by Original uploader was Klaus Höpfner at de.wikipedia(Original text : Helge Höpfner) – Transfered from de.wikipedia(Original text : Fotoarchiv Höpfner). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Wheat has a bad reputation right now, and it’s getting worse. Websites like “Wheat Belly” claim that modern wheat is intrinsically a problematic food. Gluten-free products have been embraced by movie stars and are now widely available in markets and restaurants. Having grappled many years with wheat problems, I have a few thoughts on the supposed evils of gluten.

Note: I do not have classic celiac disease, nor does my son. Instead, following our illness ten years ago with human parvovirus B19, we recovered to find the parvo had left us with a wheat sensitivity that caused our muscles and joints to ache painfully within hours of eating wheat. Since both of us have identical symptoms, this probably indicates a shared mystery-gene being activated by the parvo.

1. Claim: ancient heirloom wheats such as einkorn and emmer are supposedly safer than modern hybrid mutant varieties. Not so, in my experience. I sent off for a bag of einkorn flour and made a loaf of bread from it. Terrible body aches followed.  Interestingly, when I interviewed a man who grows his own wheat and bakes his own bread, he sent me home with half a loaf that was freshly milled and baked from the modern grain he grew in his garden. I ate the whole thing without even a twinge.

2. Claim: wheat is intrinsically bad for us. If so, then mankind has been poisoning itself for ten thousand years. Wheat is undoubtedly more wholesome than the majority of GF foods in terms of nutrition. Corn- and tapioca- based GF pastas and breads are almost devoid of nutritional value and are by no means “health food.” Those who seek better health by eating GF products should be aware that many such foods are virtually all starch and contain minimal amounts of vitamins.

3. Claim: wheat sensitivities and celiac are skyrocketing in the population. This is not necessarily the case. I have personally seen an 1835 American cookery book that includes recipes for rice bread intended for infants and “those unable to eat wheat.” Obviously, problems with wheat were already recognized at that early time.

4. Claim: the problem is not the wheat, but the speed at which the yeast rises. Supposedly, old-style slow-rise sourdoughs are better for us than commercially-forced fast yeasts because they lack high amounts of gliaden and vital wheat gluten. That said, for years I baked my own sourdough, and it inflamed my joints anyway.

I’m not a scientist but judging solely from my own experience I offer two hypotheses.

Hypothesis 1: because I was able to eat the freshly-milled loaf that I was given by the man I interviewed, problems with wheat are perhaps caused by not using freshly milled flour at the time of baking. Perhaps flour in the bag oxidizes and/or develops toxic micro-fungi or bacteria as it sits on the shelf waiting to be used. That would explain why my own homemade sourdough bread caused joint pain: I used commercial flour.  Who knows how long that flour had been sitting in its bag? The fact is, the freshly-milled bread did not cause any problem.

Hypothesis 2: The growing number of people who have wheat problems might be not be due to an inherent problem with wheat itself. Instead it might be due to autoimmune problems triggered by an infection, like my own experience with parvovirus. Autoimmune illness forces the body to attack its own tissues, including the digestive tract, and such disorders are increasing in number. Instead of wheat being the causal agent in illness, it could be that autoimmune illness causes the problem with the wheat.

More research is obviously needed for the wellbeing of millions of people. Do any readers have feedback about my two hypotheses (freshness of flour, and/or autoimmune disease)?