Mousse For Valentine or Washington’s Birthday
A couple of years ago I was at a food history conference (they DO happen!) and one of the attendants gave me a neat little stack of papers, sandwiched between two layers of cardboard and held together by a rubber band.
Inside was a note addressed to the lady who gave it to me that said
This little trove of recipes turned up many years ago in a box of auction stuff from Eddington, Maine, and has just resurfaced. We’ve enjoyed combing through the sundry bits and pieces and thought you might like to do the same. Keep, toss, pass along as you please.
All best wishes,
This, readers, is a food historian’s jackpot. And that is how I came to own a stack of recipes from the turn and early part of the 20th century. Some are typed, some are handwritten, some are newspaper clippings, and many are annotated.
Among the recipes are several typed documents detailing cooking demonstrations at the Providence Plantation Club, about which I can find next to nothing online.
The recipe I am writing about today appears in the cooking demonstration handout for February 12th, 1934, and it is part of menu #6.
What first attracted me to the recipe while reading the document was the name: Mousse for Valentine or Washington’s Birthday. It seemed to be a bit all over the place but then it clicked. The Valentine part, I figured, was because the cherries would make the mouse pink. The Washington’s Birthday part was, I am certain, a reference to apocryphal cherry tree story.
If you are not American and thus have not been exposed to the cherry tree tale, there is a story – a myth – that depicts a snippet of George Washington’s childhood. He damaged a cherry tree with a hatched he had just received and his father confronted him angrily. Rather than fib to cover it up, the story says, Washington told his father “I cannot tell a lie … I did cut it down with my hatchet.” Washington’s birthday is February 22nd, thus the connection.
The writer of the recipe intended for it to be served at very specific days, which inspired me to make it and share in time for Valentine’s Day, which is coming up in less than two weeks. Or, you know, Washington’s Birthday. I do wonder if this was a bonafide celebration in the 1930s
The recipe is very simple, and I was intrigued. Here it is as it appears on the document:
“Mousse for Valentine or Washington’s Birthday
1 pt cream whipped
3/4 c sugar
2 egg whites, beaten stiff
1 c cherries, cut
2 Tbs rum
Add sugar and vanilla to cream. Fold in egg whites and cherries and rum. Pack in refrigerator or ice and salt. Freeze 4 hours.”
It is pretty straightforward and precise, but there is an error. Can you spot it?
OK, I will tell you.
The recipe calls for vanilla in the instructions but there is no vanilla in the ingredient list.
As far as errors go, it could be worse.
I am sure that many Americans ( I cannot speak for other nationalities) would look at this recipe and balk at the use of raw egg whites in an uncooked dish. I am not saying it is 100% safe to do so, but I also think we sometimes blow the risk out of proportion.
Again, just because I did it does not mean there is no risk but I – and my parents, and my grandparents, and so on – grew up eating raw eggs. We’d have the yolks with sugar as snacks, and the whites whipped with sugar and slightly browned on the fire. This was not just a thing my family did, it was, or is, a Cuban thing; it was widespread.
If you are concerned, you can buy pasteurized eggs, which the FDA says are safe to eat raw.
Here is the recipe as I made it (added the vanilla). The process is pretty self explanatory in the original, but I have expanded it a bit be more in line with 21st century recipes.
Mousse for Valentine or Washington’s Birthday
1 pint of heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1 cup of stoned and quartered sweet cherries
2 tbsp rum
If a large bowl, whip the cream with the vanilla until medium peaks form. Add the sugar slowly and continue whipping to stiff peaks.
In a another bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Fold the whipped egg whites into the whipped cream. Add the cherries and the rum, and fold in well.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate or freeze until solid.
Can I just tell you how good this is? My first taste was licking the spatula, then I decided I could not wait for it to be frozen before eating so I left a bit out and ate it while typing this.
The reason why it tastes so good is probably because it is pretty much whipped cream on steroids. It looks like whipped cream, it tastes like whipped cream, and when it is frozen, it has the consistency of ice cream.
Although the recipe does call for the mousse to be frozen, when it is frozen it is not really much of a mousse. I prefer the consistency of the mousse just refrigerated. Plus this way the cherries are not frozen solid when you try to eat them.
Also, as you can see, it is not at all pink. I thought it would be pink, but it is not. I am a bit bummed about that since this is a Valentine’s Day post! I think if you crush the cherries, rather than cut them, more juice will ooze and maybe that will turn the mousse pink.
The only thing I would change (aside from halving it because who really needs to eat all that whipped cream?) would be to add more cherries. It can use more cherries.
That said, it is so good!
And with that, I wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day, or, if that is not your thing, a happy Washington’s Birthday!