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Our Readers Write

Let's Eat! From Hush Puppies to Ginger Tea

September 30, 2014 Table With a View

The days are much shorter now than they were when "Our Readers Write" last appeared, and the nights are colder. At least they are in Canoe Country, and no matter where you happen to live and work, it's a pretty safe bet that if you're reading this, Canoe Country is where your heart is.

Of course, there will still be plenty of opportunities to get out in a boat before ice imprisons the rivers and ponds, but you'll need to dress for the weather. You'll have to keep your internal fires burning, too. And that means eating well. Which is why this "Readers Write" is all about food. It's been no trouble to compile. Tamia's cooking columns are perennial favorites, and they elicit a lot of mail. So we're never short of letters to fill the space. Choosing among them, though — that's the hard part.

But we've done our best. And if you have something to add, don't be shy. A favorite recipe, a neglected topic, or any errors (whether of commission or omission)… They're all fair game. Just let us know. It's every reader's right, after all.

And now that you've had the appetizer, it's time for the main course. Bon appétit!

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat



How Do You Like Them Onions?

Tamia's article on the versatile onion inspired many camp cooks to describe their favorite ways to use these aromatic bulbs. Here's one suggestion:

Dear Tamia,

I don't know if you have tried this or not, but you can peel an onion, cut off the bottom, make a "core" hole in the bulb and put a beef bouillon cube in the hole. Wrap in foil or place in a covered pan and cook on the fire. Takes 20–30 minutes or so, but the onions are yummy.

Saw another suggestion recently: Thinly slice onions and potatoes, then sprinkle with chopped bacon. Wrap in foil and cook the package in the fire. I haven't tried this one, but it sounds really good. You could take a small measure of real bacon bits because they will hold for several days.

Gail S. Sartain, R.N., B.S.N.

Tamia replies:

What can I say, Gail? You sure know your onions. And no, I hadn't tried bouillon cube "stuffing" with onions. Until now, that is. Delicious!


Is Your Stomach Growling? Then Think Hush Puppies!

Now let's take a look at a family recipe from a longtime reader and frequent contributor to these columns:

Dear Tamia,

I especially like sautéed sliced or diced onions added to freshly cooked or leftover oatmeal. That is sort of a takeoff on scrapple, where you would fry slices of the onion‑oatmeal mix.

Onions are also a main ingredient of hush puppies, and you can add any other leftovers to the cornmeal batter before frying the "dogs." Here's a recipe from my unpublished family cook book:

Hush Puppies
Yield: 2 to 3 Servings

Mix in a bowl with a fork:

  • 1 cup fine‑ground cornmeal
  • ½ cup fine whole‑wheat flour
  • ¼ cup nonfat dry milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons double‑acting baking powder

Stir in:

  • 1 to 3 small onions, chopped
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • A small amount of any leftovers you want to get rid of
  • Up to 23 cup water

Drop dough by tablespoons into ¼ inch of hot oil (heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, or until the oil sizzles audibly when a pea‑sized ball of dough is dropped in). Cover. Turn when brown on bottom. Cover again. Drain. Serve hot with gravy, mayonnaise, jam, peanut butter, cranberry sauce, or whatever.

Traditional variation: Use less water and shape dough into cylinders about one inch in diameter and three–four inches long. Fry in oil that has had fish fried in it.

Also, …

Scrapple From Wheat (this recipe works with leftover oatmeal, too):

Pack leftover cracked wheat cereal into a loaf pan or square pint containers and chill overnight. [You'd use the refrigerator at home, but you can probably rely on nature's icebox once the autumnal equinox is past, at least in the northern parts of Canoe Country. – Editor]

Optional: Mix in chopped, cooked onions and/or soy sausage, along with sage and thyme, before forming and chilling.

Now slice, salt, and fry at 325–350 degrees Fahrenheit (a medium‑high flame on a camp stove). Serve with molasses.

Traditional Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple used cornmeal mush, chopped pork or sausage, and browned chopped onions.

Cal Lamoreaux

Tamia replies:

Thanks, Cal. The hush puppies and soy sausage scrapple sound like ideal cold‑season fare. Your family is indeed lucky to have a cook like you.

A Pressing Matter

All cooks have favorite tools. That was the idea behind "Little Things That Mean a Lot," a column which showcased (among many other things) a reader's water bottle-cum-rolling pin. This encouraged Dallen Bounds to pass on a tip of his own:

Dear Tamia,

I carry two 10‑inch nonstick metal pie plates and two spring clamps (binder clamps) to hold them together when I am using them to cook or bake in. To use them as a "rolling pin," I mix up a batch of dough and place it inside of one of the pie plates and nest the second plate on top of the dough. Then I squeeze the plates together, and in two seconds the dough is pressed flat between the plates. I can now either make bannock bread or bake a pizza by using a heat diffuser under the bottom plate after turning the top plate upside down on the bottom one and clamping them together. I have used this same set of utensils in our kitchen.

I carry chopsticks, too. They are handy.

Dallen Bounds

Tamia replies:

Your "rolling pin" is simple, elegant, and effective, Dallen. What's not to like?

All at Sea Over Ginger

Tamia's article on ginger ("It's Mal de Marvelous!") alluded to "testimonials" from paddlers who use ginger in one form or another to allay the symptoms of motion sickness. And that elicited this cautionary word from a real expert:

Hi, Tamia!

First, let me say I love your column and look forward to reading it. Although I do not suffer from seasickness myself (which is good because I am an avid sailor and kayaker), I have had people get sick on my boat, so it is a timely topic.

Unfortunately, I have to be a wet blanket here and tell you that neither ginger, nor any other carminative (a substance which settles the stomach) is likely to truly work in sea sickness. The reason is that sea sickness is a central (brain) malady, which is only felt in the stomach. Thus, only drugs like scopolamine and others which get into the central nervous system are likely to be effective consistently.

I do not dispute that your husband may feel he felt better. I can only say that, after more than 20 years doing clinical drug research, the placebo effect is alive and well.

By the way, I LOVE candied ginger and can't wait to try your recipe. I will continue to recommend scopolamine for seasickness, though.

Michael J. Fossler, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Tamia replies:

Many thanks, Michael. It's very helpful to have expert opinion on medical matters. It would seem that ginger's (putative) therapeutic value as a palliative for motion sickness has indeed attracted a fair bit of research interest, though my hurried trawl through the published results yielded a rather mixed picture, with one trial reporting that ginger reduces vomiting but not nausea, another suggesting that it delays the onset of nausea and reduces its intensity, and a third concluding — as you suggest, and as the American Family Physician affirms in a recent review article — that it is of no value whatsoever.

My own (tentative and inexpert) conclusion? Ginger works only for them as thinks it does. Which is exactly what's meant by the placebo effect, I suppose.

Ginger as Panacea?

And here's a case in point, an endorsement of ginger's therapeutic potential grounded in personal experience rather than clinical trials:

Dear Tamia,

It made me happy to see your article about ginger. Ginger is really super good for people with any inflammatory disease, too. I used to laugh at the "old people" who chewed on a piece of ginger root. Now I make ginger root tea, especially in the colder months, sweetened with a couple of spoonfuls of local honey. Anyone with arthritis pain may be surprised at how much it would help them.

As you stated in your article, ask your doctor first. But if the doc says OK, by all means try it. I peel my ginger, about an inch of root sliced into super thin slices. Boil two cups of water and dunk the ginger slices. Let it cool, strain out the ginger (I chew on the pieces later), and add honey and a little lemon if you wish. A warning: Too much and it will let you know. Though ginger can make a sick stomach feel better, too much will cause a sick stomach! But, as the old people knew, it does work, and you don't need the government's "stamp of approval" to use it. Yet.


Tamia replies:

That's very interesting, Kent. And now that I come to think of it, my grandfather sometimes drank ginger tea to combat the pain in his arthritic joints. The relief he felt may have owed more to the generous tot of bourbon he added to the tea than it did to the ginger, however!

On a more serious note, I'm duty‑bound to caution that one person's happy experience with any nostrum, pill, or potion must not be taken as a blanket recommendation to all. So if anyone else is interested in giving the "ginger cure" a try — whether for motion sickness or arthritis or just a turbulent tum — she should discuss it with her physician first.

And Now, Some Practical Advice on Preserving Fresh Ginger,
Plus the Results of a Reader's Test Kitchen Trial

Dear Tamia,

Thanks so much for this recipe [for candied ginger]! I can't wait to try it. In regards to keeping ginger fresh, try this: Ginger root will keep almost forever by placing the unpeeled root in a jar, covering it with cheap dry sherry, and capping with a tight lid. I keep it in the refrigerator, but you might not have to. The sherry does not change the taste of the ginger.


~ ~ ~

Later, after trying her hand at making a batch of crystalized ginger, Michele wrote again:

Hi, Tamia!

I had a go at the candied ginger recipe and thought I'd give you a report.

It took a lot longer than expected, about 40 minutes to cook the slices the first time. But then, maybe I added too much water to the sugar when infusing the ginger — that step took about 30 minutes. I ended up with about one cup of very spicy candied ginger. Fortunately, I like "hot." I did dry it for about 45 minutes in my countertop convection oven. Then I put it in the freezer.

Well, it's certainly more work than plunking down the cash for commercial candied ginger, but I have not found it in stores in my semi‑rural area, and I do enjoy doing it myself. And I have about one cup of crunchy sugar left over that I will use some of in my next granola batch.

Thanks again for the recipe!

Tamia replies:

I'm in your debt, Michele. It's always good to have someone else test a recipe. I've found that the amount of time it takes to process a batch of ginger varies with the character of the ginger root itself — how fibrous it is, for instance, and what the water content is — along with such things as the thickness of the slices, the vigor of the simmer, and even the relative humidity. So I only cook up a batch when I have to be in the kitchen for another reason. That way I can keep an eye on the process while getting other work done, too. This is about as close as I ever get to multitasking.

The flavor varies from batch to batch, as well. Some batches are "hot," some are not — or at least they're less hot. I deal with this by slicing the ginger thin, thereby limiting the size of the "dose," and I also sample each batch to make sure the gingery tang falls within bounds. I haven't had to reject any batch yet, but some have indeed tested the limits of my tolerance. If I ever get a batch that I can't eat out of hand, however, I'll simply mince it and use small amounts as a condiment or garnish. As for hot, spicy ginger tea, that's easily dealt with: Just add water (or juice, or green tea) to taste.

Soup's On!


Michele's letter brings this edition of "Our Readers Write" to a tangy close. As ever, our heartfelt thanks go out to each reader whose letter we've reprinted, and to all the others who've written to us over the years. "Our Readers Write" will return in December, by which time most Canoe Country waters will muffled by ice and snow, and the world will be on the cusp of a new year. Meanwhile, if you have something on your mind — be it question, comment, or criticism — don't hesitate to get in touch. We can't do this without you!


Referenced Articles From In the Same Boat
Plus the mother lode:


And if you want to know more about what's been on other paddlers' minds in seasons past, be sure to check out the "Our Readers Write" Archive, a index with links to all 55 earlier editions of this quarterly feature from In the Same Boat.


A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, we'll assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter. That's all it takes.) We'll never put your e‑mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however. We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.

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