Egg-streme Asparagus with Eggs Fail

Happy day-that-is-less-hot-than yesterday and possibly-more-hot-than tomorrow! (Unless you’re in the Midwest, then sorry to brag (?) while you’re sitting there in the dreary rain that sat over Boston for two weeks straight.) So a big part of this project is taking antique recipes and tweaking them so that the methods, quantities and ingredients reflect what we have available today. Lately, we’ve been flying much more loosely with these recipes and just taking inspiration from them. Soon, we’ll start adhering more fully to the formula, but then again, that whole rules thing… We prefer to be spontaneous.

A smaller part of The Vintage Eats Project is following those recipes exactly, then posting the messed up results and giving some insight into why they didn’t work the way they were supposed to. The following recipe solicited a funny, a totally appropriate response from our friend Linda Hein, the owner and artist behind the chocolate tarte on Highland Ave. in Somerville. Upon being presented with a quite beautiful, but quite failed egg concoction, she exclaimed, “well, with a recipe like that, it wouldn’t be surprising if a woman thought she couldn’t cook”. True story.

From The 1896 Household Encyclopedia: Asparagus With Eggs

Recipe – “Boil a bunch of asparagus twenty minutes; cut off the tender tops and lay them in a deep pie plate, buttering, salting and peppering well. Beat up four eggs, the yolks and whites separately, to a stiff froth; add two tablespoonfuls of milk or cream, a tablespoonful of warm butter, pepper and salt to taste. Pour evenly over the asparagus mixture. Bake eight minutes or until the eggs are set. Very good.”

Jen – Very good, indeed, Household Manual, if you like an eggy sponge that sticks to the bottom of the pan and doesn’t particularly taste like anything. First of all, boiling asparagus is never the way to go. I prefer to cook it for a split second, and in fact, just eat it raw most of the time. When asparagus spears need to be cooked, you can steam them but for hardly any time at all – 3 minutes, tops. For this recipe, I’d want the bunch of asparagus to be evenly distributed throughout, so I’d cut the pieces on the diagonal and scatter them. I wouldn’t pre-cook them at all. Speaking of asparagus, we’re expecting a shipment of Hadley Grass to be delivered by our friends at Cuisine en Locale any moment now..

The deep pie plate needs to be well-greased so that the eggs don’t just stick to the bottom, or better yet, just covered with a bottom crust. Beating the eggs was a bitch, as I decided to go full-on 1890s mode and do it by hand. Ten minutes later, forearms screaming in pain… At any rate, beating the yolks and eggs separately into a stiff froth is what turned this whole mess into a sponge. We incorporated too much air, which gave the finished product an Angel food cake mouthfeel – definitely not what you’re looking to bite into when something looks as substantial and savory as the above.

After scraping the egg off of the bottom of the pan, I came to the realization that what I really wanted this to be was a quiche. The filling for a quiche is the opposite of spongy. It’s custardy, which means as opposed to the two tablespoons of dairy, you add 1/2 cup milk or cream to every egg in the mix. Use three eggs and 1 1/2 cups of dairy. The eggs and dairy get beaten together, but not to anything you could call a stiff froth. You just incorporate them enough that there are no more bright orange yolk-y streaks in the bowl. Sprinkle in a teaspoon of salt. Refer to my earlier piece over at Fair Food Fight for a really foolproof bottom crust. Pour the previously mentioned egg mixture over the bunch of asparagus you cut on the diagonal and scattered across the greased pan. Add grated cheese (any kind you like – gruyere to go French, fresh parmesan for Italian, cheddar for Wisconsonian). Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or so, til you see that the middle has almost set.

Tomorrow we’re headed over to the Charles Square Farmer’s Market to source more Springtime ingredients for further vintage eating. We’ll also have some fun with aspic and the chicken we bought last weekend from Westminster Meats. Stay tuned, and while you’re at it, please give us a “like” on Facebook and a follow on Twitter! Happy Saturday!

Published in: on 28 May, 2011 at 12:34  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. We learn from our mistakes, and that which doesn’t kill us, etc. etc etc.

    Looking through a number of my cookbooks, I only found that recipe in one of them, “The Original White House Cookbook” as reprinted from 1887. Could be that a lot of people even then didn’t like the texture. /shrug/ Who knows?

    I found something similar, but not, in “The Congressional Cook Book” c. 1933 ~ Asparagus Souffle.

    submitted by Mrs. W.C. Salmon, widow of the late Congressman Salmon (Tennessee)

    1 small can asparagus
    1 cupful milk
    1 heaping teaspoonful butter
    1 dessertspoonful flour
    1/2 cupful grated cheese
    4 eggs
    Salt to taste

    Cut asparagus in small pieces; make cream sauce; when done, stir in cheese; stir in cheese; stir this into asparagus and let cool; separate yolks and whites, beating each separate; stir in yolks and fold in whites last; put in greased baking dish; sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake 25 minutes. *
    *I copied exactly – don’t blame me for the over use of the semi-colon.

    Other than using canned asparagus (Yech!) this sounds better than what the other turned into. But, it might be a mess too.

  2. After posting, I realized that I should have clarified the first comment with the statement that I was trying to channel my inner King of Siam from “The King and I”.

    And the recipe I did post, shows why your blog is so cool. The recipe assumes that the cook will know many things:
    1. How much asparagus is in a ‘small can’.
    2. How to make a cream sauce.
    3. What size spoon is a dessert spoon.
    4. What types of cheese go well with asparagus.
    5. When to add the salt.
    6. How hot the oven should be for a souffle.
    7. That not all ingredients will be listed in the ingredients list, such as the bread crumbs mentioned at the end.

    Enjoy your shopping tomorrow, and I hope that you are having a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

  3. Oh, dear. Frothy, spongy eggs and overcooked asparagus don’t sound appealing to this maven – I much prefer your custardy, cheesy rewrite, Jen! I wonder if the asparagus was supposed to carry the dish? So many foods we now take for granted were novel, exotic or very regional just a hundred years ago (avocados and artichokes come to mind). Enjoy the farmers’ market!

  4. […] SoWa Open Market and roasted it the night we made mizuna salad, radish tea sandwiches and had the awful egg with asparagus […]

  5. I’m not sure.. but boiling asparagus that hard would make it collapsed under the weight of any dish :/ I couldn’t bring myself to cook it that much.. poor overcooked veggies.

  6. Yes. Love. I just wrote a post about aspic on the assumption that people know how to roast a chicken. It’s interesting to consider what was common knowledge then, which has become totally unintuitive now. How’s your weekend?

  7. I imagine that this one would be more dense, since the ratio of milk to eggs is less than in a custard. But it does sound delicious, and if cooks can sub fresh asparagus, it looks like it could be wonderful! Thanks for posting this :-) But why beat the eggs separately, I wonder?

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