My sister Carol, who lives in Missouri, sometimes helps me reconstruct old recipes from our childhood for me to use in my books, especially dishes that our mother made regularly but neither of us use, anymore, since we care about our families’ arteries. Since my husband and I keep a meatless house, last winter Carol agreed to test on her brave family a recipe for beef tenderloin with natural gravy, surrounded by vegetables and tiny fried meatballs, that I want to use for my latest book, The Sky Took Him, which will be out in January of 2009. She did so, and the letter she sent me outlining the results was so wonderful that I copied it and am reproducing it in this post. My comments are in italics. This is a fabulous example of how I am graced with such support and help in attaining authenticity in my writing.And by the way, if you’re in the mood for a treat, be my guest and try the dish yourself. Carol would be delighted, I’m sure.
Here it is:
Donis,I finally cooked the meat I bought to try your recipe. We have a ton of left-overs because there were only 3 of us at dinner. We all concluded that … them old farm wives knew what they was a doin’ !
As I told you way back when, beef tenderloin is expensive and more of a holiday treat apparently…hard to find. I finally bought a cheaper cut of meat (eye of round roast?) that was shaped like a tenderloin. I decided to go for the hotter oven and shorter cooking time because Chris [her husband] and Abby [her daughter] like their beef less well done and that would give a nice outside color with some pink in the middle. I didn’t have any other lean meat and the roast was fairly large so I cut the end off and boiled that for the meatballs (it wasn’t very fatty at all). About two minutes after I put the meat in the hot oven, we lost power because of an ice storm. The oven is gas so I hoped it would still cook since it was lit before the power went out…but no such luck. We had no power for 2 hours, but I had started it so early that we decided to "go for it" after the lights were restored. I’m pretty sure that skewed the cooking time somewhat!
As near as I can tell, though, even with the oven at the hotter setting, it took more than an hour -15-20 minutes- to get it to medium-rare (meat keeps getting hotter after you remove it).
A tip from the "food network" is to let the meat "rest" for 10 minutes to redistribute the juices or when you cut it, the juice runs out and the meat is dry (who knew?). Abby was filling out an insurance form when the meat came out of the oven, so it really did sit for about 10 minutes. The meat that was in the oven was probably right at 4 lbs, and even tho Chris ate a gargantuan piece, we still have about half of it left. The carrots, celery, and potatoes (didn’t have a turnip…forgot to get one so I substituted another potato), were yummy but not nearly enough for the quantity of meat I cooked.
I followed the recipe and put 2 c water, the meat and the veggies in a 13×9 pan (all I had) and cooked it uncovered. The top of the meat was red enough I wondered if it was really cooked, but it was really really good! I guesstimated when to put the allspice and butter,and ended up cooking the whole thing about 30 extra minutes, and the "gravy" was very good.
I chopped the boiled meat about as fine as I could get it and chopped about 1/4 onion to about a pound (?) of meat with a 3 or 4 shakes of salt and 7 or 8 shakes of pepper (which we love) and no matter how much I squeezed, I could NOT get the meat concoction to stay in balls of any kind. I ended up adding about half a beaten egg to the mix since it was awaiting the "wash" process. It was still pretty dry, but did hold together enough to get it covered with the egg and dipped into cracker crumbs I crushed with the back of a spoon (they didn’t have food processors!) I fried them til dark brown in a bit of oil, even tho Alafair [my main character] probably would’ve used lard of some description. I added a bit more egg to the last quarter of the meat and had trouble getting those meatballs to stay together because they were too wet. If I got them to fry enough on the first side I could kind of roll them over and get them to cook without falling apart, but the best were the ones with a little bit of egg in with the meat.
David [her son, who lives with his wife in the basement apartment. Still likes his ma’s cooking, I see] came in and had a bite of each part and thought it was one of the best meats he’d tasted, so it was a success. We also loved the flavor of the meatballs. I will admit that I used a meat thermometer when I first took the pan out of the oven because I thought it was raw. That’s when I ended up cooking it for another 10-15 minutes. I’m sure I will try the roast again, but know also that you’ve waited a long time to hear how it went! The veggies were cooked "just right" when the meat was done, so that may be a fair way to judge. The celery wasn’t mushy but the carrots were done - I cut them into chunks almost an inch long and the potatoes were in bite sized pieces.
There you have it…at least the inital diagnosis. If I do it again before your book is published, I will let you know!
Love you lots,Carol
I love you, too. Donis