Witches, Bread and LSD: The Story of Ergot

ergotIllustration by Lisk Feng.

Some anthropologists theorize that the murderous mania of the Salem Witch Trials wasn’t caused by religious panic or hectic politics. They blame ergot, a grain fungus that causes paranoia, hallucinations and convulsions—the same symptoms that were thought to be caused by “bewitchment.”

Read the whole story–an interview with me!–on Hopes and Fears HERE.

Fall Events: Candy, Chocolate and Gin!

There are so many Four Pounds Flour events this Fall! Full list below, and always check my events page for updates.


71cb9722-ceeb-478f-b91b-fcf985b2cfaf_blogMasters of Social Gastronomy: Foods that go Bump in the Night

Tuesday, October 20th. Doors at 7:30pm, talks start at 8pm
Littlefield, 622 Degraw Street in Gowanus

Learn all about the fascinating connection between monster myths and culinary history, a rye fungus that caused mass hallucinations (and may have led to the Salem Witch Trials!), and famous cannibals from around the world. Get your ticket here!


Gin-e1444744264369Gin History at LIM Alive @Five
Friday, October 23rd, 5pm
$15 at the door
The Long Island Museum, 1200 NY-25A, Stony Brook, NY

Experience the LIM after hours.  Join us for drinks, light refreshments, and a special program.  Admission is $15; $10 for members at the door.

Join historic gastronomist Sarah Lohman as she explores the history of gin and why it was the alcohol of choice during prohibition. Ms. Lohman will discuss gin’s current day revival and enjoy an opportunity to see and smell the botanicals that create gin’s distinctive flavor profile.  With cocktails!


candy_corn_blog_bioCandy: From Early History to Halloween
Thursday, October 29th,  6:30-8pm
$14 Tickets Available Here!
Brooklyn Brainery, 190 Underhill Ave. Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Isn’t it weird that one day a year it’s appropriate to threaten people into giving you candy? Where did the Halloween tradition come from? And actually, how did we come up with candy in the first place?

In this class, we’ll cover a brief world history of candy, from the botanic roots ofsugarcane, to the first processed confections from the Middle East, to the magical candy medicines of medieval Europe. Then, we’ll sort out the origins of Halloween, along with modern myths like the “razor blade in the apple.”

And, what would a talk on candy be without lots and lots of CANDY: historic candy samples will abound to help you learn. Get you tickets here!


Food of the Dead: A Culinary History of the Funeral
Thursday, October 29th, 8pm
$16 Get your tickets here!
Brooklyn Brainery, 190 Underhill Ave. Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

At the end of an early American funeral, participants were given a cookie: spiced with caraway, and stamped with a special design, they were often kept for years as a memento of the departed.

Although mourning traditions have changed over time, and vary from place to place, what they have in common is food and drink.  In this talk we’ll look at the culinary traditions surrounding funerals throughout American history, and we’ll taste beer from Midas’s tomb, funeral cakes, and Mormon funeral potatoes. Get your tickets here!


pumpkin_recipe2Brooklyn Bounty
Tuesday, November 10th 7pm
26 Bridge, DUMBO

This year’s Brooklyn Bounty will feature curated tastings of a nineteenth century Dutch-American meal with a modern twist. Recipes will be inspired by one of BHS’s prized artifacts, Mrs. Lefferts’ Book. This handwritten recipe book, compiled by Maria Lott Lefferts (1786-1865) and her daughter Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt (1824-1902), showcases traditional Dutch dishes. The menu is curated by Historic Gastronomist Sarah Lohman and executed by some of Brooklyn’s best restaurants. Our festive special evening will include a live auction, music and more fun surprises! Cocktail attire encouraged.


Edible Tours of the Tropical Pavilion
Saturday, December 5th, at 10:30, 12:30 or 2:30
$18, Tickets here!
The Brooklyn Botanical Garden,  990 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Enjoy the warmth of our Tropical Pavilion on this edible greenhouse tour! We’ll explore the flavors used in holiday cooking and baking-like vanilla, black pepper, and chocolate-as well as coffee and kola. We’ll use sight, smell, and taste to experience these ingredients in their natural form and learn all about their history and usage.


cacao2Cocoa in the City: NYC Chocolate Makers
Thursday, Dec 10, 7 pm
$12/$8 for BHS and G-W members Reserve Tickets
Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Historic gastronomist Sarah Lohman returns to BHS, this time to explore the history and intricate production process behind everyone’s favorite treat: chocolate. With a panel of chocolate makers, from bean to bar producers to confectioners of fine chocolates, discover the origin story behind some of your favorite chocolate bars and mouth-watering truffles. Tastings included!


At the Kid’s Table: Cornelia’s Kitchen
Saturday, December 12th, 2-4
$16 RSVP required to familyprograms@nyhistory.org
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY
Family Program

Dutch families in New Amsterdam were known for their delicious holiday confections—can you imagine all the good smells that would have come out of their kitchens?

During this program, participants will take the place of Cornelia van Varick in her seventeenth-century kitchen as she prepares traditional food for the New Year. We’ll handle objects and ingredients that Cornelia would have had, such as sugar cones and nippers, Dutch ovens, and mortar and pestles. Then we’ll use them to make two Dutch holiday treats, orange caraway cookies and fried doughnuts, that participants can taste and take home.


Video: Distilling Brooklyn

If you missed the panel I led in May about Brooklyn distillers, it’s now online! See below! We explore the rich past of distilling in Brooklyn, as well as how New York paved the way for craft distillers in the present day. The NY Distilling Co., Kings County Distillery, Brooklyn Gin, and Van Brunt Stillhouse tell their personal stories of how they came to the craft, and talk about the challenges of craft distilling.

Distilling Brooklyn from Brooklyn Historical Society on Vimeo.

Podcast: Gastropod and Ice Cream!

I’m featured in the latest Gastropod podcast, and it’s all about ICE CREAM!

It’s one of the most complex food products you’ll ever consume: a thermodynamic miracle that contains all three states of matter—solid, liquid, and gas—at the same time. And yet no birthday party, beach trip, or Fourth of July celebration is complete without a scoop or two.

Contrary to popular myth, ice cream was not brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo, and then introduced to France by Catherine de Medici. In fact, it is a delicious love-child, born of the union between a culinary tradition of custards and burnt creams in medieval Northern Europe, and the fruity, floral, sherbets (sharbat in Persian) that were typically served over ice as a refreshing drink in the Middle East.

This episode of Gastropod serves up a big bowl of delicious ice cream, topped with the hot fudge sauce of history and a sprinkling of science. Grab your spoons and join us as we bust ice-cream origin myths, dig into the science behind brain freeze, and track down a chunk of pricey whale poo in order to recreate the earliest ice cream recipe written in English

Listen here to learn more!

Tales of the Cocktail Day 4: Prehistoric Cocktails and Dale DeGroff

10:28 am : I went to bed relatively early last night (midnight). Down side is I turned down entrance to a VIP party (should I have gone??) upside is I didn’t sleep through my morning seminar, like yesterday.

I was on site early for a booze free ginger smoothie to settle my digestion, and for a turn through Cocktail Kingdom’s shop. I bought a copy of The South American Gentleman’s companion, from 1939, which has been on my wish list for a long time. CK’s bar ware is also the most lovely I have ever seen.

I’m at the Prehistoric Cocktail Technology Demo (really it was more 19th century techniques useful today) presented by Alcademics.com. A few fun facts:

  • Milk Clarifying:  used in 19th century punches.  Adds proteins that makes the alcohol frothy when it’s shaken- he called it a “frothy bonus!” but also I’ve notified changes the mouth feel. It’s full and soft. Creamy. Just pour milk in your sprit and wait; it cuddles, then you filter it through a coffee filter. Recommended as a way to filter out tannins in a tea infusion.
  • Ammonium nitrate – cooles water by 30 degrees. Used today for instant cool packs for injuries, Used before ice was readily available. Even when there was ice, it was often impure and not fit to mix in drinks. 18th c punch bowls had pockets to pour ice that would cool, but not touch the drink.
  • Tasted Baked agave- tastes like something from thanksgiving
  • Rye straws: original 19th c straw I’ve been obsessed with for awhile. Apparently there was a kickstarter to start remaking them! Let me product test for you, straw straws!

And he had some interesting slides, so here they are!



Demo on how to inpregnate water with air–carbonating.

 12pm I went to Lucullus Culinary Antiques. Mind blowing- and expensive! Because they have the best examples of what’s out there.


Afternoon: I had a few hours of chill out time, so I went to Cane and Table, which is describe as upscale tiki. I wanted something with their house made orgeat, and I’m not sue what in got, but it was crest and delicious. Also, fresh puffed pork rinds and three bean hummus with chips! Salty. Helpful.

  My last seminar was with cocktail legend Dale DeGroff, who talked is through bitters and how they can change the taste of a classic Manhattan. My phone died, so I have but the one photo.

And now I’m at the airport. The last four days have been a whirlwind, and I’m not sure if I’m sad or relieved to leave. I would do it again. Next year? Ever other year? I’m not sure. But when I come back, I want to see more, do more, flirt more, drink more.

Tales of the Cocktail Day 3: Rum and Pig


3:30 PM you may have noticed this is my first update of the day. Let’s just say it was a long night and a rough morning. I just got up. And I’m in line for my first seminar, a history of rum. These are all the rums I have to taste. Oh well, hair of the dog.

5pm a few quotes from the talk:

“Old is not always good. They made a lot of deadly shit back then.”

“But what’s missing (from alcohol) today are those lovely, tasty poisons!” panelists on 19th and early 20th c alcohol

“How can we evoke the past without recreating the past?” -David Wondrich

And I tasted a fantastic, historic pineapple rum.
 The pineapple rum is from a recipe in an old patent; both the rind and the fruit are infused in separate rums and blended. It’s a collaboration between Wondrich and Plantation Rum.

6pm I was just at an orange is the new black pool party? This drink was awful.


7pm dinner at Cochon– best meal I’ve had in NOLA


Then more drinks and drinks and drinks.

Tales of the Cocktail Day 2: The Last Word and Old Bars of New York

I’m fresh as a daisy but my colleagues are not. Breakfast at Slim Goodies Diner will fix them up–all the food in NOLS is salty and spicy. It helps you deal with the weather. And your hangover. I highly recommend the diner.

NOLA smells like puke in the morning, which is different than NYC, which smells like all he body fluids.
Also I want to move into every building in New Orleans.

10:30 am I’m at my first seminar, the stories behind the Harvey Wallbanger, The Last Word, and the Sazerac.

The Wallbanger was invented in LA in the 1950s and became popular when Galliano adapted it as to promote their liquor in America.
10:30 am I’m at my first seminar, the stories behind the Harvey Wallbanger, The Last Word, and the Sazerac.

The Wallbanger was invented in LA in the 1950s and became popular when Galliano adapted it as to promote their liquor in America.

 Can we talk about how perfect this orange peel is from my sample cocktail? They’re made by legions of cocktail apprentices, relative bartenders, who do this shit for free.
the story of the Last Word was told by the always charming St. John Frizell of Ft. Defiance in Red Hook Brooklyn. The last word, Frizell said, was like a secret handshake amongst bartenders, you kept it in your back pocket and pulled it out or when you needed it. It Personified the craft cocktail movement c 2005, because it was a drink from an old obscure source
Invented in Prohibition, it’s Tart and sparkly but also marschino and chartreuse–if you had these things behind your bar it said you were a serious mixologis (a decade ago).
Recipes for you!

 And cocktail historian Wondrich talked on the sazerac. It used to be made with cognac, but switched to rye whiskey both at NOLA became less French and more American, but also because of a fungus that killed a lot of French grapevines in the 19thc.
An 1843 article calls it “Un coup de canticlaire” or called by the vulgar name a cocktail.

An 1842 source says you can make it from Gin and sugar, rum and lemon, or peach brandy and honey.

 12:30 pm I went to a rating of “indie spirits.” Not only were their cocktails, and I had the best caprinha I’ve ever had, but at the bar you could literally point to what you wanted to try and they would pour it.

12:30 I’m at my second talk of the day, on nyc drinking history. David Wondrich mentions some of my fav NYC 19th c personalities.

10:31 PM I think I’ve really hit my stride.

Tales of the Cocktail Live Blog Day 1

It’s 7:00 AM and I’m at Newark airport. I’ve been up since 3:45. Even I am asking why I would subject myself to Newark this early.

But it’s a very special day. At the other end of my flight is New Orleans and Tales of the Cocktail, the annual gathering of industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts. It’s my first year and I don’t really know what the expect.

Which is why I’m sharing it all with you. I’m going to be live blogging all weekend, sharing with you every historic factoid, adventure, and drink enough stumble the next few days bring. I’m kicking off with a seminar by David Wondrich and Jeff Berry about WWII drinking, and later on the weekend I’m attending a demo on prehistoric cocktail making techniques. Whatever that means.

Check back, stay tuned, and I’ll see you in NOLA!

10:15 AM I have been on site 15 minutes, and I’ve already been handed a drink. Its a Singapore Sling– cherry herring, Benedictine, lime uice and some other stuff. It’s spicy, like a fruit Bloody Mary.

“You can’t make a good speech on iced water.” -Churchill. You got that right, sir.

4:05 PM and I just woke up from a much needed nap. I’ve already been drunk and sober once–the morning lecture fed us 4 (half) cocktails total, and while I noticed the folks around me were pacing themselves by not finishing their drinks, the concoctions were too good and I am too frugal to let them go to waste. That combined with my early flight and the searing heat (which I kinda like)…well, I think part of being an adult is realizing when you’re fussy and need to be put down for a nap. I feel like a new person.

A few words on NOLA: there’s something so eerie and foreign about this place. The pulsating green overgrowth, the unreal above ground cemeteries, the accent like no other I’ve ever heard. Even the clouds are different here–pudgier and puffy. I though I was nuts but my brother (who is here too) noticed the same thing.

The conference itself is a madhouse, bedlam that I haven’t quite figured out. The Hotel Monteleone, where it’s hosted, is not a huge convention center, but an old labyrinthine hotel. I’m not sure where to be, or how to take advantage of the system. It feels a bit like the first day of summer camp, like I’m an outsider not making the friendship bracelets. Yet.

I’ll take some photos of the craziness later.

In my morning talk about WWII I learned:

  • All the drinks seemed to have cherry herring in them. But more importantly it “wasn’t just prohibition” that ruined the American cocktail scene, it was also the unavailability of most liquors during the war. We became vodka drinkers, and most alcohols were produced locally–including Dubonnet, which is still made in the states.
  • Dirty Helen
  • Three dots and a dash

In addition the the Singapore sling, I so had a MacArthur punch and a PB2Y. And a potent martini.

And the event has an official scent? It smells like grapefruit and shrimp.

10:15 PM despite the fact that it’s a toddler’s bedtime back home, I am ready to turn in. Here are my notes, exactly as written, from this evening:

  • Workers with drinks on the st
  • Everyone is drunk and stepping on me
  • No chill out space
  • Bedlam
  • Dudes
  • Forcible removal (not me)
  • Drink responsibly wink wink
  • There is no shame here
  • I am so sweaty I have to throw away my dress at the end of day

I realize it doesn’t sound like I had a good time, but at the pools party at the end of the day, I did! I went out to dinner later at Purloo, which focuses on regional Southern cuisine, then had  a St. Germaine cobbler at Belloqc.Here are my photos from the evening:

And with that a good night.

Etsy: How to Make Gin


I’ve got a new, summer-fresh post up on Etsy all about the history of gin! Such a refreshing drink for the hot weather.

Gin’s most famous role came in the early 20th century, when Prohibition prevented the sale of alcohol. It was particularly easy to produce “bathtub gin” in those trying, dry times. Gin is commercially made by distillation — steaming the alcohol through a basket of spices — but it can be made by infusion. Any plain spirit, like industrial-grade alcohol, could be transformed into “gin” by infusing it with strongly-scented spices, which would hide any bad flavors from the sub-par spirits. Calling the homemade hooch delicious would likely have been a stretch.

Read more about gin history & how-to here!

And if you live in the NYC area, I’m doing a tour and cocktail hour at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden all about the ingredients that go into gin. You can get tickets here!

The Gallery: Campfire Cooking Beyond Hotdogs

Photographer extraordinaire Jess Tsang took some snaps at my most recent fire cooking class in Brooklyn, so I thought I’d share! If you’re interested in this class, and live in the New York City area, you should get on the Brooklyn Brainery’s mailing list. I repeat the class each spring.

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