With Valentine’s Day a few days away, these delicious meringue cookies are a sweetly tart treat, made with no oils or shortening, but with the very finest local eggs, whose whites are whipped, sweetened and flavored. Michael Pollan [http://michaelpollan.com/] in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (The Penguin Press, New York, New York, 2006), praises the organic ideal for agriculture “modeled on nature that requires not only no synthetic chemicals but also . . . returns as much to the soil as it removes,” and voices a passionate and sobering concern about the way eggs are produced by industrial agriculture for the American consumer market:
“Egg operations are the worst, from everything I’ve read; I haven’t managed to actually get into one of these places since journalists are unwelcome there. Beef cattle in America at least still live outdoors, albeit standing ankle-deep in their own waste eating a diet that makes them sick. And broiler chicken, although they get their beaks snipped off with a hot knife to keep them from cannibalizing one another under the stress of their confinement, at least don’t spend their lives in cages too small to ever stretch a wing.
That fate is reserved for the American laying hen, who spends her brief span of days piled together with a half-dozen other hens in a wire cage the floor of which four pages of this book could carpet wall to wall. Every natural instinct of this hen is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral ‘vices’ that can include cannibalizing her cage mates and rubbing her breast against the wire mesh until it is completely bald and bleeding. (This is the chief reason broilers get a pass on caged life; to scar so much high-value breast meat would be bad business.) Pain? Suffering? Madness? . . . But whatever you want to call what goes on in those cages, the 10 percent or so of hens that can’t endure it and simply die is built into the cost of production . . . And when the output of the survivors begins to ebb, the hens will be ‘force-molted’–starved of food and water and light for several days in order to stimulate a final bout of egg laying before their life’s work is done.
…..And what you see when you look is the cruelty –and the blindness to cruelty–required to produce eggs that can be sold for seventy-nine cents a dozen. . . It all sounds very much like our worst nightmares of confinement and torture, and it is that, but it is also real life for the billions of animals unlucky enough to have been born beneath those grim sheet-metal roofs into the brief, pitiless life of a production unit… [pp 317-319, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (The Penguin Press, New York, New York, 2006)].”
Mr. Pollan’s words are cited at some length because 4 large eggs are the basic ingredient for these meringue treats, and this recipe requires that the very finest local eggs available in the baker’s community are sought out, not only for their freshness, taste and quality but also to support the small-scale local farmers who treat their laying hens with care and yes, even sometimes with love. For this baker, it means buying my eggs at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in my hometown of Albany, New York [www.hwfc.com].
At my local food co-op, there is always a choice of organic eggs from a variety of small farms. For this recipe, I used 4 eggs from Eight Mile Creek Farm [http://eightmilecreekfarm.com/] in Westerlo (Albany County, NY). These eggs were the most expensive at $6.99 for a dozen, but well-worth the expense. Here’s the small farm’s description of its eggs on the carton:
“Free to roam in the mountain air, the chickens of Eight Mile Creek are fed a lot of culled organic veggies from the farm supplemented by organic feed and flax meal. Enjoy knowing you’re eating the highest quality local organic eggs.”
The Honest Weight Food Co-op had other less expensive eggs from small farms available. A dozen “fresh and certified organic eggs” from Hidden Camp Farm in Canajoharie (Montgomery County, NY) were priced at $5.00. Hidden Camp Farm describes its eggs as follows:
“Can-Am poultry farm and Hidden Camp Farm have teamed up to bring you certified organic fresh eggs. Oliver, Shauna and John are hard working folks who are looking to supply you with the best eggs possible. The are long time dairy farmers supplying milk to Organic Valley and are NOFA [Northeast Organic Farming Association, www.nofany.org]/PCO [Pennsylvania Certified organic, www.paorganic.org] certified.”
AND for a very reasonable $4.00 per dozen, Bluebird Hill Farm of North Greenbush (Rensselaer County, NY) offers:
“These multi-colored eggs include guinea eggs from North Greenbush, NY. Raised on pasture and free to roam, Bluebird Hill has only happy chickens. And if you believe in learning by diffusion these chickens might be over the bell curve since they live next to the Rob Parker School. Enjoy good eggs.”
The Joy of Cooking [http://catalog.simonandschuster.com/] by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker (New York, NY: Scribner, 1997), a handy and reliable resource for the kitchen, notes that “In the broadest sense, the term meringue refers to any baked or unbaked mixture of beaten egg whites with sugar (pg. 955).” This helpful cookbook notes that “Meringues are crisp or soft depending upon the ratio of sugar to egg whites and the temperature at which the meringue is baked” (pg. 955). A higher ratio of sugar to egg whites makes for a crisper meringue and using a mixture of granular sugar and powdered sugar “consistently produces a light, tender meringue” (pg. 955). Once again, the Honest Weight Food Coop, my local food co-op, was an excellent source for quality sugars. The co-op sells organic fair trade sugar ($2.69 per pound) in the bulk foods section of the store, made from certified organic sugar cane grown in South America: “The cane juice, rich in molasses, vitamins and minerals is extracted, clarified, evaporated and crystalized. The result is a blond-colored, natural organic sugar.” Also available at the Honest Weight Food Co-op is organic powdered sugar ($2.29 per pound) distributed by Wholesome Sweeteners [www.wholesomesweeteners.com/]. Based in Sugar Land, Texas, this company “pioneered the certification process for fair trade sugar and honey” according to its website.
Before beginning this recipe for meringue cookies, the description of “How To Beat Egg Whites” from The Joy of Cooking is worth reviewing:
“When working with a hand-held mixer, push the beaters around the bowl, moving them up and through the whites to incorporate more air and similarly starting on low speed and progressing to high. The key to a successful egg foam is to stop beating when the eggs are stiff but not dry. Overbeating causes the whites to turn grainy and brittle…the foam should be just stiff enough to stand up in well-defined, unwavering peaks. . . sugar is beaten into the egg whites when they reached the soft-peak stage. Add the sugar gradually to ensure that it will dissolve. Although sugar reduces volume slightly, it produces a sturdier foam.
Beaten egg whites do not hold up well, so start beating only when all other ingredients are mixed and ready. If the beaten egg whites are headed for the oven, have the oven preheated (pp. 929).”
The cherries used in the recipe are organic, freeze-dried tart cherries ( $41.99/lb) from the distributor Just Tomatoes [www.justtomatoes.com], which also provides freeze-dried raspberries ($47.49/lb) to my local food co-op. Although the price per pound is eye-opening, a jelly jar-full cost little more than $2.00, since the freeze-dried fruit is nearly weightless. Tierra Farm [www.tierrafarm.com/] is the source of the roasted and dried organic coconut chips ( $5.55/lb) and organic shredded coconut ($4.49/lb); both sold in the bulk foods section of the Honest Weight Food Co-op.
Coconuts, which grow on palms, “is perhaps the world’s most useful plant” (page 311, Edible, An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2008, www.nationalgeographic.com/books). Edible cites “an Indonesian saying that there are as many uses for coconut as there are days in the year; and in many cultures the coconut is considered the tree of life.” This recipe uses shredded and chipped coconut from the interior of the nut to create a deliciously flavored meringue cookie.
Cherry Coconut Meringue Kisses
Makes 2 dozen cookies
4 large eggs
1/3 cup granular sugar
1/3 cup powder sugar
40 freeze dried tart cherries
3 tablespoons chopped coconut chips
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
Optional: 25 cranberries & 1/2 cup water to prepare a cranberry jammy syrup for coloring
Boil 25 cranberries or so in a 1/2 cup of water for 5-6 minutes, stirring until syrupy, to create a jammy syrup to use for coloring if so desired. Set aside and let cool. (I use organic cranberries produced by Cape Cod’s Jonathan’s Organic [www.jonathansorganic.com]. They add a modest blush to the meringue kisses.)
Heat oven to 225 degrees. Line two baking pans with parchment paper.
Separate the egg whites from 4 large eggs.
With an electric hand-held beater follow directions above to beat the egg whites until they reach the soft-peak stage. Add the optional cranberry syrupy/jammy mixture for color and continue beating.
Add the granular and powdered sugars gradually to ensure that they dissolve.
With a rubber spatula, fold in the freeze-dried tart cherries and coconut chips and shredded coconuts.
Drop by rounded tablespoons on to prepared baking pans, spacing close together since they do not spread as they bake.
Bake for 1 hour, then turn off heat and allow to cool in the oven overnight or for at least 5 hours.
Remove cookie kisses from pans and store in airtight containers.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
[FW Barrie, 2/4/12]