Whenever the foreign service crowd gathers to reminisce about New Delhi in the early 1960s, someone always asks, "Is Maggie Stephenson still making bread?" In the foreign service, you try to serve up memories as part of the menu and Maggie Stephenson baked loaf on loaf of memorable breads in those days.
Formerly a magazine editor and writer for the United States Information Service, she lives more quietly now at her home in Falls Church.
The 1960s were exciting times in India. The U.S. was pouring in millions of dollars in aid to help lift Indians out of abject poverty; the Russians were building hydroelectric dams. India invaded tiny Portugese Goa, and itself was invaded by the Chinese at the northern border. And Mrs. John F. Kennedy paid a much-publicized visit to New Delhi.
For those who lived there, it was a team effort to preserve links to the world left behind.
For Stephenson, a 10th generation Southerner, it meant making homemade bread for any party, even making hamburger buns for the Fourth of July. She served Southern fried chicken using jungle waterfowl, hoarded chicken livers one at a time to make pate, and pretended a peacock was a turkey at Thanksgiving.
For Ann Rosenthal, the wife of a N.Y. Times correspondent Abe Rosenthal (now executive editor), it was very difficult to find all the ingredients to produce the nearest thing that could be found in India to a kosher dill pickle.
"We weren't trying to stand apart and say, 'Hey, we're Americans,'" Stephenson explained recently. "We were all trying to reestablish our identity. We needed it, and we wanted it for the children, particularly when you had been out for a long time."
Back in Falls Church, the situation is reversed. Old India hands who gather attheir table now get a different jolt of nostalgia -- the best Punjabi curry to be found this side of the Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi.
"Maggie was quite amazing," remembers Ruth Hopper, a friend then and now. "Very few of us were involved in our kitchens the way she was. In the process, she became far more knowledgeable about local foods. Her Indian food was better than the Indians.'"
Stephenson says she loved India, and the Indian people, from the moment she arrived. She was astonished to discover the same trees, the same tropical fruits she had left behind in Florida. "I knew any place with jacaranda trees couldn't be all bad." And she assumed if she could find green papayas, she could tenderize almost anything.
She liked doing the impossible. In India, pizza was nearly impossible. But one day she found some tinned Australian cheese. It wasn't mozzarella but she thought she could fake a pizza.
When the American crowd wandered back to the Stephenson's after an evening "showing the flag" on the social circuit, Stephenson sprang the pizza on them. "I thought they were going to cry. It wasn't the greatest pizza in the world, but it transported them back to neighborhoods they remembered."
Meat came in only one form -- chunks, chopped with a cleaver. Stephenson decided, for variety and nostalgia's sake, to serve fillet -- of water buffalo.
To get the fillet, she went down on hands and knees in her courtyard to demonstrate what she wanted to a butcher who had bought a whole side of buffalo. She had been raised in a family with three brothers who were hunters: "That buffalo looked just like a deer to me," she explained.
But she had another problem to overcome before she could serve a decent steak. Back home in Winter Haven, Fla. ("when Florida was still a wilderness") she had watched her father tenderize turtle steaks using slabs of green papaya. If it worked for turtles, she reasoned, it couldn't hurt a buffalo.
In a large glass bowl, she layered buffalo steaks with slices of green papaya, covered it, and let the papain enzymes do their job for the next four hours.
"This is a fillet! Where did you get it?" asked her stunned dinner guests that night. After that, Maggie Stephenson became the meat broker for about 20 families.
(10 to 12 servings) 1 cup hot water 1 packet (1 ounce) unflavored gelatin 1 cup tomato juice 2 cups beef houillon 3 or 4 ounce jar of red caviar (lumpfish or salmon)
Dissolve gelatin in hot water. Add to tomato juice and bouillon. Cool. Add caviar and pour into demitasse cups. Chill. When thickened, stir with fork to turn up caviar. Serve cups on saucers with demitasse spoons.
SAUERKRAUT SOUP 1 pound sauerkraut 2 quarts water 2 tablespoons bacon fat (or oil) 2 tablespoons flour 1 small onion, chopped 1 tablespoon sweet paprika 1 cup cold water 1/2 pound mild Italian sausage 3 tablespoons sour cream Vinegar and salt
Squeeze sauerkraut, reserving juice. Cook drained kraut in 2 quarts water over medium heat until it softens. Heat bacon fat in skillet. Add flour, stir until light brown. Add onions and cook 5 minutes. Stir in paprika. Gradually add 1 cup cold water, beating with wire whisk to remove lumps.In a soup pot, place reserved kraut juice, flour mixture, sliced sausage and sauer-kraut-water mixture. Cook 15 minutes. Stir sour cream into soup just before serving. Add vinegar and salt to taste.
(Makes 1 dozen) 2 packages dry yeast 2 cups warm milk (105 to 115 degrees) 5 to 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 3/2 cup unsalted butter, softened 1 tablespoon salt 1 egg 1 teaspoon water 2 to 3 tablespoons sesame or poppy seeds
Dissolve yeast in lukewarm milk in large bowl. Stir in 2 cups flour until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm spot until bubbly and tripled, 6 hours or overnight. Add butter, salt, egg, and 1 cup flour. Stir vigorously until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough that can be handled. Turn out on floured surface and knead until smooth, about 12 minutes, adding additional sprinkles of flour to control stickiness. When smooth and elastic, put in greased bowl, then turn up greased side of dough. Cover.Let rise until tripled, about 2 1/2 hours. Don't rush it.Shape each into a ball, then flatten pressing hard by hand to blend all surfaces. Place six on greased baking sheet at least an inch apart. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush buns with water and sprinkle with seeds. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
CASSEROLE RYE BATTER BREAD
(Makes 1 round loaf) 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons milk. 3 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon salt 1 1/2 tablespoons shortening 1 cup warm water (110 degrees) 3 packages dry yeast 1 teaspoon caraway seeds 3 cups unbleached flour, sifted 1 1/2 cups rye flour, unsifted
Scald 1 cup of milk, add sugar salt and shortening. Cool until lukewarm in large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast on warm water and stir to dissolve. Add to lukewarm milk mixture. Add caraway seeds, white and rye flours to milk mixture and stir until well blended. Cover bowl with damp cloth, place in warm spot and let rise until doubled in size (about 50 minutes). Stir soft dough down and then stir vigorously about 30 seconds. Turn into well-greased 1 1/2-quart ovenware casserole dish. Brush top with milk, sprinkle with more caraway seeds, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Turn loaf on side on rack to cool.
CHEESE SOUFFLE BREAD
(Makes 1 round loaf) 1 cup milk, scalded 2 tablespoons sugar 2 teaspoons salt 1 tablespoon butter 6 or 7 cups unbleached flour 1/2 pound very sharp cheddar cheese, grated coarsely 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees) 3 packages dry yeast 1 cup lukewarm water
Scald milk, stir in sugar, salt and butter. Cool until lukewarm. Add 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Add grated cheese, stirring gently. Stir yeast until dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water. Add to flour mixture. Add 1 cup lukewarm water. Mix well. Add 4 cups flour, all at once Beat dough and knead, pulling in flour, until dough is smooth and satiny (about 15 to 20 minutes). Place dough in large ceramic bowl, cover with damp cloth and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down dough and knead in bowl until large air bubbles are gone. Shape and place -- seam side down -- in greased 2-quart souffle dish. Bake 50 minutes at 400 degrees. Turn bread on its side on rack to cool.