Like us, the Americans have a sweet tooth!

Apple pie
Apple pie

Last week when I was leaving Kansas State University they presented me with a cookbook entitled “Teatime to Tailgates 150 years at the K-State Table” (along with some K-State Wildcats tee-shirts and tops, which I’m wearing all over the show like an old eejit!).

Like us, and unusual for Americans, the Kansans love something sweet with a cup of tea and the book is full of delicious recipes for traditional treats. The author Jane P Marshall finishes off her acknowledgement page by saying “most importantly, thanks to the farmers”, an appreciation we also have in common.

The university here started as an agricultural college, in 1863, in the middle of the pioneer trail. Cowboys and cattle drovers stopped in the university town of Manhattan, Kansas to restock and complained about the lack of fresh apples. They had to rely on dried apples which were often dirty and leathery. They would plead “spit in my ears and tell me lies but give me no more dried apple pies”. In 1871 the agricultural college planted over 2,000 fruit trees and the need for dried apples ceased. One bit of advice in the book still stands true though: “Only a fool argues with a skunk, a mule or a cook!”

Around the same time the university had a thriving Home Economics department. Agriculture and food go hand in hand and the pioneering work done in this educational establishment is now recognised and respected over the world.

It’s fascinating to think that settlers to the new world, many of whom came from here, brought farming practices and cooking techniques to their new home. Apple pie is one of our national treasures here and also in America. It’s deeply embedded in our traditions. If you were to think of a dessert that encapsulated the essence of Northern Irish baking, you’d instantly think of apple pie and it’s exactly the same for America.

Traybakes also run through our DNA in this part of the world. They provide the perfect accompaniment for tea and are an essential food for the celebration of births and marriages. No funeral would be right around here without comforting tea and a fifteen afterwards.

It was heart warming to discover that the same thing happens in another culture and the university’s book is full of recipes some dating back as long as 150 years. I’ve included two recipes from the book this week.

Mrs Henrietta Stewart ran a boarding house for students in the Aggieville area of town and her gingerbread was a great treat given to students after a long hard day of studying. It’s not as dense as our gingerbread but equally delicious.

The second recipe was developed in the university but first published in the American Farmer’s Journal cookbook in 1959. It’s for lemon and coconut squares, and might as well be from a Women’s Institute cookbook from here, as its so similar in style to our traybakes.

American recipes are measured in cups so I cooked the dishes in order to translate to metric recipes here.

At times when I was there doing demonstrations the translation of words got a bit mixed up. For example I mentioned the heel of a loaf, to a room of confused stares. And I wish I’d had a photo of a Lough Neagh Eel because they thought I meant ale!

One thing we have in common, that doesn’t need any explanation, is the love of good baking and cooking, a deep respect for farmers and what they produce, and the nurturing lifeblood of food.