Monday, March 28, 2016

Lunedi di Pasqua (Easter Monday) - Torta Ricotta senza glutine

Torta Ricotta senza glutine by Crafting in Yoohooville

I often find myself reading Italian heritage recipes online and realizing that they probably do not hold true for my northern Italian family. Foods that are native to Sicily or Rome are not the same as what the Vittoriese would have eaten.

I also did not have the blessing of spending time with Nonni at Easter, so I don't know for sure if they had the same tradition of making Easter pie as Rome or Florence, but I can guess at what they would do.

Easter Monday is a strange holiday to Americans, but in my great-grandparents part of Italy it would have been celebrated with zeal (and still is!). Since they are so close to Austria and Hungary our area of Italy sometimes incorporates customs from there - like the dowsing of holy water in the morning to have your family wake up blessed on Easter Monday.

But amongst the more pleasant traditions of Easter Monday is the making of the Easter Pie, known as a torta ricotta. Here's another of those interesting cases where depending on where you are in Italy, the more changes to the torta occur. Some have lemon, some do not. Some have a top, some do not. Some have lattice work on top, some do not. Even the sweet nature of the torta is changed in Sicily to a savory pie.

Amalfi - limoni e peperoncini - "lemons and red dried pepppers"
Amalfitano Lemons
Lipari-Citrons (1)
Sicilian Lemons
 The blessing of living just an hour's train ride from Venice meant to Serravalle, the village my great grandparents were from, had the benefit of expanded trade in foods. So getting a hold of a true Sicilian lemon (less acidic than Meyer lemons, more floral tasting) was not as big of a deal as say, a village up in the mountains far from transit. Truly rich people could also get Amalfitanos, lemons from the Amalfi coast that are sweeter and less acidic than Meyer lemons, but my family was not among that bunch of wealthy residents in town. My family also had the benefit of stone pine trees producing pine nuts (if they didn't have a tree of their own, Serravalle could easily import them from Pisa), and would cure raisins each year with leftover grapes from the wine harvest. I actually do know from interviews with my great-aunt and my dad that Nonni used to make her own wine, so this is not a stretch to believe that she could also produce raisins.  A local mill produced flour of different types, a few chickens to have eggs, and a cow to produce milk and you've got pretty much all the ingredients you need to make a pie.

With having celiac disease, making a torta with the original ingredients is impossible, because of the flour. However, Italians have great respect for those who have to do a diet "senza glutine" (gluten-free), producing pastas and flours galore to serve the needs of the celiac population across the world. So I made this pie gluten-free and feel it honors my ancestors well on this blessed holiday. The crust turned out like a beautiful sugar cookie to the light and lemony ricotta, so I am very pleased with it.

Torta Ricotta e uvetta e pinoli senza glutine by Crafting in Yoohooville

Torta Ricotta e uvetta e pinoli senza glutine (Gluten Free Ricotta Pie with pine nuts and raisins)
-300 grams of King Arthur gluten free flour***
-250 grams of granulated sugar, split into 100 gram and 150 gram portions
-113 grams of softened unsalted butter (note: for Americans, this is 1 stick)
-300 grams of ricotta (If you get fresh, make sure to let it drain for at least 2 hours before using)
-1 lemon (note: a small lemon is ok as you're only going to be grating the peel)
-50 grams of raisins
-25 grams of pine nuts
-5 separated eggs (2 yolks in one container, 3 yolks in another container, and the whites in the last container)
-Powdered sugar/icing sugar (optional)
-Nonstick cooking spray

-Put the flour, the 100 gram portion of sugar, the butter, and the 2 egg yolks into a bowl and mix. The dough will become a sturdy dough ball that's soft to the touch. If you find it a little too hard, add some cold water to it.
-Cover this bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
-While the dough is chilling, mix the ricotta with the 150 gram portion of sugar, the 3 yolk portion of eggs, and a dash of cinnamon. Add the raisins and pine nuts. You should also add the grated lemon peel here. I like lemon flavoring, so I added the grated peel of an entire lemon, but you can adjust to your taste preferences. A little will brighten the mixture, a lot will give lemon flavor.
-Beat your egg whites firmly to produce peaks. Depending on how well you beat them will produce the height of your pie.
-Add the egg whites to the ricotta mixture gently.
-Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C / Gas setting 6).

Here's where you can make another decision. My version pictured is the no top crust version.
-No Top Crust instructions: grease a pie dish with nonstick cooking spray and place on a cookie sheet. Place the dough ball in the middle of the dish and gently pat out out to the sides and upward until you have a nice ridge on the dough above the dish. Pour the mixture into the pie dish. Cook between 35-40 minutes or until the filling shows it is firm.
-Top crust instructions: divide the dough from the refrigerator into two parts. Grease a pie dish with non-stick cooking spray, and place one half of the dough at the bottom of the dish and pat out to the sides and upward until the just above the edge of the dish. Pour the mixture into the dish, and roll out the second ball of dough into a flat layer that can rest on top of your dish. Seal the edges with your preferred method (I like crimping) so that the filling won't leak out of your pie during cooking. Cook for 30-35 minutes until the dough is golden and the pie feels firm.

Last step, cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar or icing sugar if you wish. Makes a pie big enough for 8 good sized slices.

* = For those of you who aren't gluten free, you can use 300 grams of all purpose flour and increase the amount of butter to 150 grams.
**= For those of you that are gluten free, King Arthur's flour I find best for sweet goods as it is fine in nature and performs well as a drier pastry. For those of you that want to make your own flour blends, Gluten Free on a Shoestring has a mock Better Batter (and mock Cup4Cup flour) that would also work amazingly well in this recipe. If you are dairy free as well you can use her recipe as well for pastry flour and it should work just fine. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Genealogy Charting: Spreading like wildfire... (aka a genealogist's ode to Kaffe Fassett)

Facebook is full today of folks trying out J Paul Hawthorne's nifty new tool to map out where your ancestors were born (or died, or really whatever you want in common with them...).

I used the slightly different file from Mary Kircher Roddy to develop my image, and then I started to tweak it to use one color per state or country. (I have to admit, I like the way she identified all of the ancestors in short form so that you could tell where you are in the chart - otherwise I might have gotten lost!)

What comes out is a fun visualization of where your ancestors were from. Yes, I know my maternal grandmother's ancestors were all English, but it was fun to put a color behind them and identify them so clearly as such. 

Interestingly, it didn't immediately make me think that my ancestors had diverse background. What it actually made me think of was a color chart for knitting designs, specifically, of Kaffe Fassett. 

I would have never thought those colors worked together, and yet somehow, they do. Its the mosaic of me!

I can see them now, in mitered squares and abstract blocks, winding around a beautifully felted bag. My ancestors were a little rough around the edges, so felting makes a good way to represent them, sturdy and tough with a little wear and fuzz showing fragility. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Genealogy offline: A question of access, investment, and wayfinding

It comes to me very often that the problem of genealogy is that the instructions are all together too prescriptive. If this, do this. If that, do that. 

One of the most common tropes that I see in blogs is that "it's not all online", and then proceeds to talk about records that exist as if they are the same for everyone in every state and every country.

I think the biggest thing I learned in 2015 is that there really aren't standard records available everywhere for everyone from every time period. Sounds easy, right? I mean, NY is not the same as IL or MI. But I think genealogy can fool you into thinking this is the case, because so much of our training is about making lists. 

For example:
-Found an ancestor who lived 1800-1890. the US censuses for 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880.
2. then research helpers suggest finding state censuses for the 5 year marks in between (1855, 1865, etc.). 
3. then they suggest looking for newspaper articles to fill in
4. then they suggest looking for vital records to fill in
5. then they suggest looking for land records to fill in
6. then they suggest looking for military records to fill in.
7. then you get into the land of offline records: schools, letters, books, etc. 

The problem with this prescriptive approach is that with the online records available, people are facing an onslaught of information all at once, and get paralyzed at a certain level. Many people stop somewhere in between steps 1-4 and never hit steps 5-7. If they do hit steps 5-7, they get flustered when they can't find what the list says they should be able to find.

The problem with offline records (and even blended offline/online where the database index is online and you have to order for offline delivery) is three parts:
1. Access - generally you have to have access to a physical address to get access to a particular record, or to search when the particular search you started with doesn't work for one reason or another (spelling-ARGH!).
2. Investment - you're going to spend more per record search, consultant hire,or copy fees in terms of dollars. In terms of time, its going to take a lot longer to search offline that it is with a fully indexed record on FamilySearch or Ancestry.
3. Wayfinding - you have to be able to find your way to the proper archive. Sometimes this is easy, if they have a website with clearly listed records that you can plan to find. Other times it takes a series of phone calls, emails, and visits to come to find out if your record is actually at that location OR has been taken elsewhere OR destroyed OR you're in completely the wrong spot entirely. 

Wayfinding is often the hardest part of the problem, because sometimes even the archivists don't know about record availability for a certain time period. I was recently at the NY State Archive, and came back home and found out that what they had told me was false information. Or when I was in Watertown, NY, the local librarian/genealogist/history buff told me information didn't exist any more - which was only partially true, part had been filmed eons ago by the LDS-FamilySearch folks. It wasn't because they didn't like me or didn't want to help me, it was just that they were specialists in their particular part of the archive and not other parts or other archives.

Generally speaking though, you have to know where to go, what you can spend, and how you can get to offline records, and then expect that there is massive variation in what is available. One county might have every state census back to the first immigrants. The one next door might only have a few decades worth. Having the flexibility in-brain to say that this variation is okay and being able to move onto the next part of the search (or hopping off the search path entirely) is a valuable skill that is only honed through practiced off-line research, so its no wonder that people are scared and wondering why they can't find something that they saw online for somewhere else. 

We have to stop prescribing to every genealogy problem a list of steps. We need to encourage people to cast a net, catch all the fish, sort the little fish from the big fish, sort the types of fish, and then figure out which ones to bring home for dinner, and then figure out where to cast the net again, to borrow a metaphor. The net can go many places - offline, online, to a consultant, to a volunteer - but it doesn't need to go in a certain order or the same places every time in order to catch some fish for dinner. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Reinvigorating the Case: Handknit Hose and Daniel Walker (1772-1851)

Hand Knit Hose by Donna Flood Kenton based off of 16th century hose design

Daniel Walker (1772-1851) is a stubborn case of mine. Genealogy-wise, he's one of my most interesting men. On the run from the revolutionists in the US? Check. Heartbreaking story of betrayal by friends and countrymen? Check.

Yet he continues to elude me by not providing any documentation that his son Joshua is the father of MY Daniel Walker (1825-1867). They were in the same area at the same time, named their kids many of the same names, but there's little to no paper trail of the familial relationship. So far investigations into land records and church records have failed, though I have one church left to cover: the Methodists.

I placed Daniel (1772-1851) into a pile of "things to do" and figured it would come back at some point. I have the same pile with my knitting ::grins:: often putting things off because of a commission or on-demand knit with deadlines causes leisurely pursuits to go awry.

Recently though, both "to do" piles have intersected yet again. I was contacted by another cousin who's willing to do the maddening work of discovering the paperless ancestor and go through what could be tangled identities of people with the same name in the same town. That also made me think about knitting socks, as Daniel Walker (1772-1851) was a proud Loyalist who would have worn stout handmade stockings that had been from the same pattern that was produced in England. It was queried of the Loyalist Association what socks could have been worn during the time period and I sent on the reference that Donna Flood Kenton's "Hand Knit Hose" would have been a period correct stocking pattern. Her website has gone away over the years, but through the blessing of the Internet Archive, we can continue to use her pattern to this day.

I have set about cleaning my craft room and found my pair of "socks in progress". I'm determined to make 2016 the year that we find my Daniel Walker and straighten out his family AND finish my pair of socks!