If, like ours, your house does not feature central air conditioning, you probably noticed that we had a few hot days recently. We have one small window air conditioner which keeps our bedroom comfortable, and the house, which was built more than sixty years before home air conditioners were available, does a pretty good job of handling heat waves.
Air conditioning has a long history. The ancient Egyptians, Romans and Chinese all developed various ways to cool the air. The Egyptians made evaporative coolers by trickling water down reeds hung in windows and the Romans piped cold water through building walls. Nearly 2,000 years ago a Chinese inventor, Ding Huan, invented a large rotary fan powered by servants to cool the air for the emperors of the Han dynasty.
But lacking servants and having only one small window air conditioner and a couple of fans, Jerri has devised a fairly effective energy management routine. As the temperature drops at night we open windows and use a fan to pull nice cool air into the house. When the temperature rises next morning we close the windows and use the fan to circulate the air. During beastly hot spells like we just endured we keep the bedroom air conditioner running in hopes that some cooler air will fall down the stairs to the main floor.
When I start gasping and complaining, Jerri suggests that I man up, that her mother used to remind her that “Grandma Goering lived 90 some summers without a fan.” Kansas farm women were tough back then. Tougher than most of us, I suspect.
One thing you don’t do on hot days if your home lacks central air conditioning is heat the oven unnecessarily. We bake breads, cakes and pies in the evenings or on cooler days. Even if you have central air you may want to hold down the electric bill or simply not waste energy. Generating the electricity we use to cool our homes contributes to climate change that is partially responsible for those long hot spells. Using less electricity can help reduce the need for air conditioning a little bit, which as we all know is better than doing nothing.
Another thing you can do is bake breads that don’t require heating the oven. Crumpets are an excellent example. You just bake them like pancakes on a hot griddle. Once mainly a bread eaten with butter and jam at teatime in Great Britain, crumpets are now enjoyed by people from New Zealand to Wisconsin. You don’t even need to like tea. Try a crumpet instead of toast with eggs and bacon for breakfast or a nice toasted crumpet dripping with butter and honey for dessert.
Wonderful things, crumpets, and they are easy to make. Stir up the batter, let it sit, then spoon it into rings sitting on a hot frying pan. Empty tuna cans used to make perfect crumpet rings, but the extruded kind now used for tuna don’t work. You can make do with water chestnut or bamboo shoot cans, or you can buy crumpet rings in many kitchen supply stores or online at reasonable prices.
I have used James Beard’s recipe for crumpets for over thirty years with never a failure, which is something I can’t say for a lot of recipes I have tried.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup boiling water
2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 1 T hot water
8 to 10 crumpet rings or tuna cans with the tops and bottoms removed
Put a half cup of milk into a large bowl and stir in a half cup of boiling water.
When the milk mixture is lukewarm, stir in the yeast and sugar. Let it sit for 5 minutes to proof. When the liquid gets bubbly, mix the salt with the flour, and add it to the yeast mixture. Beat the batter with a spoon for several minutes, then let the batter rise until it has doubled in bulk and is slightly bubbly.
Dissolve the soda into a tablespoon of hot water and beat it into the batter. Let it rise again until it has again doubled in bulk.
Heat a griddle or large frying pan over medium-hot heat. Grease the rings and pan. Place the rings in the pan and spoon batter into the rings to a depth of about a half inch. Cook until dry and bubbly on top.
Use a table knife to loosen the crumpets and remove them from the rings. Turn the crumpets and brown them lightly on the other side.
Transfer them to a rack to cool. Serve them warm from the rack, or toast and serve them later with plenty of butter, jelly, jam or honey.
NOTES: If you can make pancakes, you can make crumpets. Crumpet batter is like a thick pancake batter that you spoon into the rings rather than just pour onto a griddle.
The problem with the water chestnut cans is that they are about an inch and a half high, which makes it a bit awkward to loosen the crumpets. A pair of tongs or pliers make it easy to remove the rings.
I like to use an electric griddle to bake crumpets because I can set the thermostat for about 325 degrees, which results in a nice brown crust when the top is nearly dry. A cast iron skillet over medium high heat works okay too. You can check how the crumpets are browning by lifting them with a turner. A properly done crumpet will be moist but not sticky.