Quick breads are peculiarly, deliciously, American. So much a part of tradition is baking powder thatthat it ranks with the national flag, according to a Southern friend of mine. After World War I, His Confederate Aunt Lucy declared, Three things I thought I would never do: pay income tax, stand when they play 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' and change from Royal baking powder to a cheaper brand."
The first mention anywhere of "pearl ash," a wood ash that was the forerunner of baking soda, comes in "American Cookery" by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796. Back in Europe, chemical raising agents were not common until mid-19th century, when they were adopted for convenience in recipes like this singing hinnie from northern England.
Singing hinnie is shaped like a flat loaf, flavored with raisins and candied orange peel, and for serving it is usually sliced and buttered. I've adapted the recipe for the oven, though the bread used to be cooked on a griddle over the open fire. Hinnie means darling and the little darling sang to the cook as it sizzled.
The other two recipes, blueberry orange bread and applesauce muffins, exemplify modern American quick breads at their best. Fruit keeps both mixtures moist and both take advantage of the dry, high-gluten American flour. (With European flour, such quick breads are literally a dismal flop.)
Excellent with coffee, these quick breads could be served for breakfast, as a mid-morning snack, or at an evening gathering with a glass of sweet white wine. Timetable
Preparation for this party couldn't be simpler. Most of the baking is done days or weeks ahead, so that an hour amply suffices to brew coffee and set the table.
Up to 4 days ahead: Bake blueberry orange bread and store in airtight container.
Up to 2 days ahead: Bake singing hinnie and store in airtight container. Make apple muffins and keep in airtight container.
Thirty minutes before serving: Set the table. Slice singing hinnie, spread with butter, and arrange on plate for the table. Slice the blueberry orange bread, arrange on a plate and set on the table.
Ten minutes before serving: Make the coffee. SINGING HINNIE
(Makes one 8-inch-round loaf)
Simplicity itself, singing hinnie is one of the earliest instant recipes. The most time-consuming step is chopping the candied orange peel.
3 cups flour plus extra for kneading
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup lard or shortening plus extra for sheet
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup mixed chopped candied orange peel
1 cup milk, more if needed
Sift flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar into a bowl. Rub in lard or shortening with your fingertips until mixture resembles crumbs. Stir in raisins and candied peel. Stir in milk, adding more if necessary to make a soft, slightly sticky dough.
Turn dough onto a floured board and shape into a round loaf about 2 inches thick. Note: Work dough lightly or it will be tough.
Turn loaf floured side up and set on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in a 400-degree oven until browned and a skewer inserted in center of bread comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer bread to a rack to cool.
Singing hinnie is best eaten fresh from the oven, but it can be baked up to 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container. Just before serving, slice it and spread slices with butter.
Tip: Lard gives more flavor, but shortening makes a lighter bread. BLUEBERRY ORANGE BREAD (Makes 1 large loaf)
In winter, substitute cranberries for the blueberries.
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter plus extra for pan
1 cup sugar
Grated rind and juice of 1 large orange
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup wheat germ
Sift flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cream butter, beat in sugar, egg and orange rind and continue beating until light. Stir orange juice into butter mixture in three portions, alternately with flour. Stir in blueberries and wheat germ.
Spoon batter into a greased 1 1/2-quart loaf pan and bake in a 350-degree oven until a skewer inserted in center of bread comes out clean, about 1 hour. Turn loaf out on a rack to cool.
Blueberry orange bread can be kept in an airtight container up to 4 days, or it can be frozen. APPLESAUCE MUFFINS
(Makes 12 muffins)
For a crunchy texture, add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts to the batter.
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening, melted plus extra for tins
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
In a bowl mix applesauce, brown sugar and melted shortening. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves into a bowl and make a well in the center. Add applesauce mixture and stir to mix, folding as lightly as possible.
Spoon mixture into greased muffin tins and bake in a 375-degree oven until muffins are browned and a skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Applesauce muffins can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in an airtight container.