Greens are springing up at area farms, and have arrived in abundance in our weekly CSA box, among them the youngest and most tender spinach. I reserve these young bunches of greens for one of my favorite recipes for spring: Buttered Spinach. While it may sound terribly uninteresting, it offers a story.
Recipes from an 1840s Journal
As I researched and wrote The Nourished Kitchen, I thumbed my way through old cookbooks in search of heritage recipes and old-world techniques that wanted revival. Among those books stacked high on my desk was an old journal, bound in red leather and gilded. A gift from a family friend who, like me, collects old things. I opened its pages, read them tenderly and thoroughly. The diary, dating to the 1840s and now worn, belonged a southern farmwife who journaled poems, household tips and recipes.
The recipes read like notes: no quantities, and no times, just a smattering of thoughts paired together into a paragraph of sweeping cursive. Among my favorite of her recipes was one simply titled Spinach. Others include Blackberry Jam, and Cake. After adjusting quantities, and times, and making other adaptations, I thought to share it in my cookbook The Nourished Kitchen which focuses on wholesome, traditional foods and old world culinary techniques.
Old-Fashioned Buttered Spinach
Preparing buttered spinach begins first by selecting tender, young spinach and washing them thoroughly to remove any sand and grit that can adhere to their green leaves and pink-tinged stems. Tossed into a pot, covered with a tight-fitting lid, and set over a low flame, the spinach releases its juice and wilts until tender, even without the addition of stock or water. Later, you press the cooked spinach to remove its juices, return to the pan and stir it with butter, salt, pepper and another springtime favorite – hardboiled eggs.
There’s a natural beauty to this pairing of butter and egg with spinach. Not only are both eggs and spinach foods of springtime, but melting butter into the utterly tender greens helps to make the antioxidants within spinach more bioavailable. That is, pairing fat (like that found in egg yolk and butter) with antioxidant-rich vegetables like spinach helps to better absorb the nutrients in the greens.
The Nourished Kitchen
Last week, my first cookbook The Nourished Kitchen came out, and it featured this recipe for Buttered Spinach as well as many other wholesome, traditional recipes with a bit of history behind them like Slip (a sweet clabbered milk), Portugal Cake (a dense sweet almond cake studded with currants and spiked with sherry). You can order The Nourished Kitchen here, and you would positively make my day.
I first came across this recipe scrawled in the pages of an old journal given to me by a close friend. Dated 1846 and yellowed with time, its fragile pages describe farm chores coupled with the details of household management, favorite poems, and recipes like the one below, which specifies the use of young spinach, freshly picked, and, like most old recipes, provides few details on quantity. I’ve adapted the recipe, substituting white pepper for black. I make it often in the spring, when tender baby spinach arrives in our CSA box weekly, until the weather grows too hot and stifles the tender greens.
This recipe comes from my first cookbook The Nourished Kitchen, released just last week.
- 2 large bunches young spinach (about 1 1/4 pounds)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground unrefined sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and minced
- Trim the spinach of any tough stems or veins, then coarsely chop the spinach leaves. Toss the spinach into a large, heavy stockpot. Set it on the stove over medium-low heat, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until completely tender.
- Drain the wilted spinach in a colander, pressing it down to remove any excess liquid. Return the pot to the stove, add the butter, and melt over low heat. Toss in the spinach. Stir in the salt, white pepper, and minced egg, then serve.
Reprinted with permission from The Nourished Kitchen written and photographed by Jennifer McGruther (Ten Speed Press, © 2014).