One of my favorite finger foods is cheese straws. I have little self-restraint when I have access to them. Being the “historic” foodie, I’m honor bound to pass on a little knowledge today concerning this basic, but oh so divine, snack. Join me as I stroll down memory lane.
Cookbooks often suggest serving cheese straws with salads or soup, others list them with appetizers, or occasionally served with raw celery. In some instances they were served between the main course and dessert, perhaps with almonds or other nuts. Occasionally one finds instructions for presentation such as, “When served, the cheese straws should be piled log fashion on a plate.” Notice the 1930 recipe below in which the cook is told to cut some in rings and some in straw-shape. To serve those the straws were inserted through the ring as noted in the photo.
Cheese Crackers were the lazy housewife’s alternative to delicate cheese straws. Butter, cayenne, salt, sometimes dry mustard, and cheese were spread on crackers, often thicker and harder than today’s saltine, and baked to a nice brown to melt the cheese. Thick crackers were often split in half prior to spreading on the cheese mixture.
By the turn of the 20th century commercial products were available including Huntley & Palmer’s Cheese Straws Biscuits, Sunshine Cheese Sticks, Sunshine Cheese Wafers, and National Biscuit Company’s Al Fresco Cheese Wafers. The price and quality varied widely with the quality and amount of cheese used. A commercially product as good as the real thing baked at home was, and is, as hard to find as the proverbial needle in a haystack.
To study recipes for cheese straws is first realize the same product may go by different names. For example, in 1828, Louis Eustache Ude’s recipe for Ramequins a la Sefton, is cheese straws made from puff paste. “After you have made the pastry for the first and second course, take the remains of the puff-paste, handle it lightly, spread it out on the dresser, and sprinkle over it some rasped Parmesan cheese; then fold the paste in three, spread it again, and sprinkle more cheese over it: give what we call two turns and a half, and sprinkle it each time with the cheese: cut about eighteen ramequins with a plain round cutter, and put them into the oven when you send up the second course; dish them the same as the petits pates, and serve very hot on a napkin”.
1837, repeated in 1847. “The Cook and Housewife’s Manual”. In a menu in this book we find Cheese Biscuits, however, there is no recipe given. “. . . a silver bread-basket in the centre [of the table], in which rusks or cheese biscuits are served on damask or fancy-netted napkin. . .”
In 1864, “Cre-fydd’s Family Fare”, published in London, contained a typical recipe for cheese straws, exact in ingredients and method, but called them Cheese Biscuits. There is no way to know for sure, but there is a good likelihood that the 1837 and 1847 versions were the same.
- “Godey’s Magazine”. October, 1865. This issue of the popular magazine contained three recipes for Cheese Straws. The first was, “half a pound of puff paste, three ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, a little Cayenne, salt, and pepper, roll it very thin, cut it in narrow strips, bake them in a moderate oven, and send it up very hot.
#2, “Take a quarter of a pound of flour, and two ounces of butter broken into the flour with the fingers, and rubbed in till quite smooth, two ounces of good cheese grated on a bread-grater, the yolks of two eggs, and the white of one; season to taste with Cayenne pepper and a small pinch of salt. Mix all together, roll it out to the thickness of rather less than a quarter of an inch (say one-eighth), place it on a well buttered tin, and cut it with a paste-cutter into strips about the width of those used to put across an open tart, and four or five inches in length. They must be removed from the tin with care, so as not to break them, after having been baked in a moderate oven for about five or six minutes. Biscuits can be made of a mixture prepared in the same way by using biscuit tins for cutting instead of a paste cutter.”
- “Dainty Dishes, Receipts.” Pailles au Parmesan, or Cheese Straws. Take six ounces of flour, four of butter, two of cream, three of grated Parmesan cheese, the slightest grating of nutmeg, two grains of cayenne, a little salt and white pepper; mix the whole well together, roll it out, and cut it in strips the size and thickness of a straw. They must be baked in a moderate oven, should be quite crisp, and of a pale colour. Serve very hot in the second course.
- “The Official Handbook for the National Training School for Cookery.” The basic method for most of these recipes is the same and modern recipes are easily found so we will not trouble the reader with inserting it into every entry. Ingredients for this version were 2 oz. butter, 2 oz. of flour, 2 oz. grated Parmesan, 1 oz. of grated Cheddar, 1 egg, salt and cayenne pepper.
- “Everyday Housekeeping”. Their version contained a quarter cup of bread crumbs with the flour, butter, and cheese and white pepper in addition to the cayenne.
- “One Thousand Salads”. This dandy gem of a cookery book contains 27 recipes for Cheese Straws, made in varying ways from strips of puff paste sprinkled with grated cheese and seasonings to mixtures like the 1877 version – flour, grated cheese (Cheddar and/or Parmesan), butter, egg yolk, salt and cayenne. A few also suggest grated nutmeg or paprika.
- “Better Meals for Less Money”. One of the recipes in this book recommends the addition of 1/8 teaspoon [dry] mustard, reminiscent of versions of Welsh Rarebit.
- “Old Southern Receipts”. 2 ounces of flour, 3 ounces of parmesan cheese, yolk of one egg, a little pepper, cayenne, a little salt. Mix the flour, cayenne, salt and cheese together. Moisten with the egg and work into a smooth paste. Roll out on a board one-eighth inch thick, five inches wide, five inches long. Cut some of the paste in small rings—some in small strips one-eighth inch wide. Place both on greased paper and bake ten minutes, or to a light brown. Put the straws in bundles in the rings. [Rings and straws were documented in some of the earlier recipes.]
- By WWII era recipes for Cheese Straws were virtually unchanged.
I leave you, as always, with a fond wish for Blissful Meals and an invitation to visit often. – Victoria Brady, The Historic Foodie.© All Rights Reserved.