At last the summer monsoons (Yes, that’s what they are called.) have come to Santa Fé. Clouds build over the mountains in the early afternoon and develop into towering thunderheads. By late afternoon the clouds darken and horsetails of rain begin to stream in patches over the valleys and mesas. Sometimes you get a shower. Sometimes you don’t. We have been suffering from a severe drought for the past three years, so the rains have been a welcome relief. Even though the drought has not been broken, the new moisture has helped the grasses to green and ripen, and the flowers have been encouraged to bloom. The white clouds and blue skies are an important part of the New Mexico landscape, They are among the things that have attracted so many artists over the years. Georgia O’Keeffe clearly loved the clouds, and that love is captured in her famous series of paintings, Sky Over Clouds. One of the series, Sky Over Clouds IV, has a prominent place in the Art Institute of Chicago, while others hang in museums all over the world.
The rains have brought water to the dry arroyo in our back yard, and the water, lightning, and thunder have encouraged the spade-foot toads from their long sleep in the mud at the bottom of the pond to serenade us all night long.
My digression on monsoons has led me far away from the food topic of this entry, but I wanted to share the good news of moisture at last. Now on to crackers.
One of the food blogs I like to follow is Dinner of Herbs. The author has been trying out a lot of different recipes for crackers lately, so I decided to look through my collection of cracker recipes. I came across an old favorite that I got from Bernard Clayton’s classic, New Complete Book of Breads, (Simon and Schuster, 1987) I’m not sure if the recipe is in the original edition, published in 1973. Marion Cunningham has also been credited with first publishing the recipe. That has some importance because there are a lot of entries on the Internet describing this or that as the “original” version. In any event, Clayton says that he got the recipe from Lillian Marshall, a noted cook and author from Kentucky, hence the name, “Lil’s Ice Water Crackers”. I have made some changes and suggestions about the recipe that you can read in the “Comments” section after the recipe.
Actually, the recipe is NOT for crackers, but instead how to turn plain saltines into something tastier and fit for company. When you read the recipe you will ask yourself how can this turn out to be anything but a pile of glop?
Trust me, you will love the results.
Lil’s Ice Water Crackers
- 24 single saltine crackers (a sleeve of crackers contains about 36)
- 1 quart ice water
- 1 stick butter, melted
- Arrange the crackers in a single layer in a 11 x 17 inch jelly roll pan with a turned up edge
- Pour the ice water over the crackers and let them stand for 3 minutes.
- Carefully remove the crackers with a spatula or slotted spoon and place them on a towel covered layers of paper towels. The crackers will be soggy and fragile so take extra care with this step.
- While the crackers are draining, wash and dry the jelly roll pan.
- Pour half of the melted butter into the pan and spread with a spatula or your fingers so that the bottom of the pan is completely coated.
- Arrange the crackers in the pan and drizzle the remaining butter over them.
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 475°F for 15 to 20 minutes, checking frequently to make sure that they don’t burn
- Serve immediately while still hot.
- A sleeve of saltines contains about 36 crackers, but some of them will probably be broken. Also, 36 crackers may be too many to work with at one time, especially if you are just trying out this recipe. Some of the crackers might begin to disintegrate before you can transfer them. As well, if they are too close to one another, they tend to stick together.
- The original recipe called for 2 quarts of ice water, You don’t need that much to moisten the crackers, and the amount is a bit unwieldy.
- Three minutes is tops for the crackers to soak. Some recipes say 10 minutes, but that is too long. The crackers need to swell up, but they will start to disintegrate with long soaking.
- Wet crackers may stick to a wet paper towel, so be sure to have enough layers of towelling to absorb all of the excess moisture.
- Allow plenty of space between the crackers so they don’t stick together.
- If some of the crackers do stick together, don’t worry. They may take longer to crisp than the single crackers, but the way to deal with that is to remove crackers when they are golden and crisp and return the unfinished crackers to the oven until they are fully baked.