Until last week I had never heard of such a thing as a pandowdy; it is what it seems, apparently, something that looks dowdy in the pan. Hardly inspiring on the face of it but oddly intriguing to one who has a small fetish for American food, particularly sweet food and food with a good name.
Now when I say ‘fetish’, I don’t mean all American food, obviously. We in the U of K are practically brought up believing that Americans eat unlikely food out of packets (mac'n'cheese, Betty Crocker cakes, pie filling, egg whites, pancakes), that they eat over-large portions, that there is too much sugar in much of their food, that they make strange liaisons (Jello and mayonnaise, jam and peanut butter) and these things are both confusing and a little off putting to those of us who have no depth of experience in what it is to eat American. I am, of course, generalising and basing judgment on not knowing very much about what I speak, but American 'otherness’, while it continues to entice and fascinate, sometimes is just plain baffling.
Nevertheless and in spite of my, up to this point unmentioned, loathing of tablespoons and cup measures as a way of being precise with dry goods and butter(!) back to my 'fetishising’. I love the mystique that shrouds the all American dishes that I know by name if not by actual acquaintance with the real McCoy. Succotash (sufferin’ or otherwise), Gumbo, Brown Betty, Buffalo Wings, Chowder, Chilli, Corn dogs and S'mores; I could go on.
We are so familiar with it that American food culture has almost become a part of our heritage too. A hotdog sings off-screen in a cinema ad in a well known Nora Ephron film and everyone knows of its cultural signifcance (and, conversley, of the unimportance of listening to its sung message in a cinema) and exactly what that might look like. I am, for the record, not a fan of the hotdog - anyone who has read George Orwell’s description in 'Coming up For Air’ will understand my aversion, although I have heard that Bubbledogs in the heart of London is doing its bit to 'upmarketise’ them, if you will permit me a little Billy Wilderesque Americanese of my own. I am a sucker for the tales of community and history that sit alongside much of American culinary development and was thrilled to come across something new.
How did I come across the pandowdy? While researching an article on good old apple pie. I liked the name (and prefer it as one word) and yet, as often happens, the pictures on Google and the recipes that I found failed to inspire - there was broken-pie dough, above and below in some, and they looked flat and, well, dowdy (can’t really complain that I wasn’t warned). But looking again on my own book-shelves, I found a version from Larry Forgione, of An American Place restaurant - now sadly closed - that I liked the sound of (no pictures so I could only guess at the look). Larry had been chatting with Jim Beard (and don’t try and type that name into Google while you look for Jim’s version of events - you will be quietly chastised and asked if you meant James Beard, an establishment figure commanding hushed reverence now that he is dead, it seems) and between them, their research pointed to the fact that the pandowdy would have originally likely often been made out of stale bread. This sounded much more interesting. A dessert with the name pandowdy shouldn’t involve too much work - you can imagine it cooked in a skillet over a fire in a settlers cabin and needing no more than apples, stale bread, some fat, a little sweetener and some spice.
So off I went, without a skillet but with some teeny weeny ramekins (not sure where my others have gone) as, sort of, recommended by Laurence (not sure Google will allow me to familiarise myself with him as Larry given that he is considered by some the godfather of American cooking) and here is my version of his version of the pandowdy. They were great. They were super easy, and they have added a little more to my American repertoire. Shoo Fly Pie might even be next.
thin slices of firm (stale) white bread,
3 large cooking apples peeled, cored, and sliced Method: “Once I figure out how something was made, I can start figuring out how I think it should be made.” ~ Larry Forgione
unsalted butter at room temperature,
granulated sugar for sprinkling,
2 tablespoons black strap molasses or black treacle,
80 g light soft brown sugar,
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon,
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg,
¼ teaspoon ground cloves,
2 tablespoons dark rum>,
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice>,
1 tablespoon vanilla extract,
60g butter (melted),
3 large cooking apples peeled, cored, and sliced
“Once I figure out how something was made, I can start figuring out how I think it should be made.” ~ Larry Forgione