Fall Events: Rationing, Candy History & Funeral Foods!

I’ve got an event in Long Island this Sunday and a Halloween food double header at the Brooklyn Brainery at the end of October!

ration_book4_insideSorry, No Sugar Today
Sunday, September 28th, 2pm
The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A  Stony Brook, NY 11790
Free with museum admission.

Have you ever wondered what rationing during WWII was really like? Promoted as the ultimate patriotic duty for those on the home front, it also represented one of the real drudgeries of the War. Food historian Sarah Lohman explores the challenges that Americans faced throughout WWII as a result of wartime rationing and recreates some favorite wartime recipes to demonstrate necessary ingredient substitutions. She’ll use real ration books from the time, as well as period newspaper articles to explore the ins and outs of the ration system and explain the reasoning behind it. You’ll get to try two types of cakes, a decadent recipe that would have used several months of ration books, and another, frugal recipe that made many substitutions and used few ration points. You can decide which one is best at this fun, hands-on talk.

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candy_corn_blog_bioCandy: From Early History to Halloween
Wednesday, October 29th,  6:30-8pm
Brooklyn Brainery, 190 Underhill Ave. Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
$16 Tickets Available Here!

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 of sugarcane, 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.

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Food of the Dead: A Culinary History of Funeral Food
Wednesday, October 29th,  8:30-10:00pm
Brooklyn Brainery, 190 Underhill Ave. Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
$16 Tickets Available Here!

At the end of an early American funeral, participants were often 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 often have in common is food and drink. From the home parlour to the funeral parlor; from Irish wakes to sitting Shiva, consumption offers comfort in a time of grief.

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

 

The Surprisingly Modern Advice to Women (And Opinions on Men) of Two 19th Century Writers

Smoochies.

I lived a past life in the year 1848. My love of history began as a “costumed interpreter” in a large, outdoor living history museum in Ohio. We were in character five days a week, eight hours a day, hosting paying visitors in a large house. I had a group of people cast as my family–who are still some of my closest friends–and my experiences working there in my teens changed my life and set me on my career path.

The most surreal part of the experience was that the role of my mother was played by my actual mother.

My mother is an incredible woman. A force of nature. But working with one’s mother at the age of 16 is rough, to say the least. We managed.

One of her “bits” for the visitors was to pull out her copy of The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child; published in 1833, it was one of the most popular recipe and advice books of the early 19th century.

“Open it!” my mother would dramatically command of our guests, “And you will see that my copy falls open to the page on the ‘Education of Daughters.”

Mrs. Child. Also an abolitionist. Awesome lady.

Mom’s copy is now in my possession, and it has in fact been opened so many times that the spine is broken at this section. Whenever Mother would say her line I would roll my eyes, both in character and out. But the other day, I pulled Mrs. Child off the shelf because I had actually never read what she had to say on the education of daughters. One of her first pieces of advice really surprised me:

“The greatest and most universal error is, teaching girls to exaggerate the importance of getting married; and of course to place an undue importance upon the polite attentions of gentlemen…That a mother should wish to see her daughters happily married, is natural and proper; that a lady should be pleased with polite attentions is likewise natural and innocent; but this undue anxiety, this foolish excitement about showing off the attentions of somebody, no matter whom, is attended with consequences seriously injurious. It promotes envy and rivalship; it leads out young girls to spend their time between the public streets, the ball rooms, and the toilet; and worst of all, it leads them to contract engagements, without any knowledge of their own hearts, merely for the sake of being married as soon as their companions.”

I was astounded at how modern this idea was, put down on paper over 180 years ago. It reminded me of the 2013 TEDtalk by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, famously sampled on Beyonce’s album. Adichie says “Because I am a female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Marriage can be… a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?”

Another women writer and contemporary of Mrs. Child tackles courtship and marriage more subversively. Lola Montez is one of my favorite women ever. Born in Ireland with a different name, she became a dancer and toured Europe. I suspect she wasn’t a great technical dancer, but a captivating one. She slept with a lot of hot guys, was involved in a revolution in Bavaria, came to America then toured, lectured, and wrote to support herself. She was smart, sexy and independent in a time when that was very much out of the mainstream.  She’s buried in Green-Wood cemetery, in Brooklyn, and I stop by to say hi sometimes.

Lola Montez, photographed in New York. Also, the first known image of a woman smoking a cigarette. I thought that was so bad-ass when I was 16.

While living in New York in 1858, Montez published The Arts and Secrets of Beauty, a book that’s a bit like a wittier Cosmo magazine. In one passage, she quotes a “classical synopsis” of the ideal female beauty: a well rounded head, white skin, fine fingers, wide hips and many more rigid guidelines. She then adds, with mirth, “It is very fortunate, however, for the human race that all men do not have exactly a correct taste in the matter of female beauty.”

The back of the book is the best part, however: “Hints to Gentleman on the Art of Fascinating.” She introduces this section as a guide to men on how to win the hearts of women. But it’s done with a wink, because what follows is a description of men on their worst behavior. Anyone who has ever been on a date can relate and commiserate, even 160 years later. A few of her “rules,” below:

RULE THE SECOND You will make an immense hit with the ladies by pretending to be no admirer of any particular woman, but a professed adorer and slave of the whole sex; a thing which you can easily show by staring insultingly at every pretty woman you meet.

RULE THE SIXTH Women like men of courage, therefore you should entertain the lady you would win with a narration of the number of men you have knocked down, at balls and bar-rooms, who had the temerity to cross your path. Be sure that you always make yourself the hero of some scrape.

RULE THE SEVENTH Let your compliments be so marked a character that there can be no mistaking them. For instance, you may ask her if she is always particular to shut her eyes on retiring to bed? She will ask why? And you will answer, Because if you do not, I fear the the brightness of your eyes will burn holes in the blankets, or set the house afire!

Pick up lines. In 1858. That’s fucking hilarious. They only get funnier, and I wish I could reproduce everything single one here. But the whole book is online here. Get on over and read all 50 rules, you won’t regret it.

Ok, one more here:

RULE THE FIFTEENTH  One of the most direct and sure ways to fascinate a lady, is to excite in her heart a spirit of rivalry, through jealousy. A common way of doing this is to get the daguerreotypes of your father’s cook and chambermaid and take them to your lady-love, and tell her that they are the likeness of two very rich and highly respectable ladies who have for a long time persecuted you with their affections, and at last have the indelicacy to send you their pictures, without any solicitations on your part whatsoever…It will  certainly convince any lady that you are a prize worth having, especially if she foresees that she would have the pleasure of having her home filled with a cabinet of strange women’s faces, which she could exhibit as the proud savage does the scalps her husband has taken from the heads of his enemies.

Living History: Dream of the Rarebit Fiend

Welsh RarebitWelsh rarebit: cheese sauce on toast; all ready for my bedtime snack.

What do you get when you combine a Victorian preoccupation with bad digestion and one illustrator’s imaginative fantasy landscapes? Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, a comic strip created by Winsor McCay that ran from 1904-1912. McCay would later go on to create the better known strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, but his earlier, more grown-up strip was just as fantastic. In every strip, a cheese-on-toast dish known as “welsh rarebit” was consumed before bedtime, and then faulted for a night of  alarming dreams. The illustrated dreamscapes the McCay created would go on to inspire scenes in King KongDumboMary Poppins, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Read the comic here.

After reading a book of McCay’s work, I wanted to know: would the dreaded rarebit give me bad dreams, too?

The History

In the final panel, the dreamer always awakens and curses the cheese.

In the early 20th century and before, we were preoccupied with bad digestion. Eating the wrong foods at the wrong times was blamed for a range of maladies, including troubled dreams. From The Psychology of Dreams, 1920:

“As is well known, dreams may be influenced by physical discomforts. Many individuals can, almost with certainty, bring on distressing dreams by eating at supper or near bedtime, certain combinations of food, as peas and salmon, Welsh rarebit, ice cream and oysters.”

That shit is well known. The general medical consensus was that those prone to bad digestion were prone to nightmares, and heavy foods like a rarebit made you prone to bad digestion. Case closed.

The Recipe


A silent film inspired by McCay’s comics. I enjoy the first few minute of this film; he is really chowing down on a welsh rarebit. Really shoving it in there.

So what is this wicked rarebit? A welsh rarebit is perfect comfort food, which is why nobody wanted to give the damn things up, despite the advice of their doctors. Invented sometime in the 18th century, it can be as simple as a few slices of melted cheese on toast, the preference being for cheddar or Gloucestershire cheese.  By the early 20th century, it was more common to make a sauce of American cheese, milk or cream, egg yolks, butter, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, a dash of red pepper–the recipes varied, and could be more simple or more complicated depending on what you had on hand. You can read a full history of this dish, along with theories about the origin of its name, on the incomparable Food Timeline here.

I made my rarebit with grated cheddar cheese, cream, good mustard, Worcestershire, and cayenne. I melted it slowly on my stove top before pouring it over a slice of whole wheat toast. It was nice and spicy and I immediately wanted another. Then I climbed into bed and got ready for dreamland.

The Results

Although I felt sleepy immediately after eating the rarebit, it took me a lot longer to fall asleep than normal. It was a light sleep, shifting in between consciousness and dreaming. I didn’t have any long, lucid dreams. I had watched the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown episode about Israel/Palestine before going to bed, so mostly I was dreaming about eating delicious Palestinian food, particularly this one interesting-looking roast watermelon salad. At another point I was at a BBQ pouring hot sauce all over roasted meat. These are the scenarios my brain is pondering constantly, and in my agitated sleep state, I was just dipping in and out of them. If you were wondering what it’s like to peer into my psyche, there you go.

But I don’t think the rarebit was to blame for my dreams. Feeding a rarebit to my husband before bed was one of the greatest mistakes I have ever made. He came home from school late and hungry, so I offered him one; he said he didn’t like it because it tasted “unhealthy.” He spent the night thrashing around in bed, kicking and punching me in his sleep. He actually woke up several times to exclaim “It was the cheese!” Finally, he started crying because he dreamed his undead grandfather shot his brother.

According to the Sleep Disorders Center at the Cleveland Clinic, eating too close to bedtime can lead to “heightened metabolism and temperature,” which in turn “…can lead to more brain activity, prompting more action during rapid eye movement sleep, or REM.” Which means more dreams. It is inadvisable to eat “heavy or spicy foods” two to three hours before bedtime.

However, cheese also contains tryptophan, an amino acid “used by the human body to make serotonin.” It can actually relax us and help us sleep, which may be why it is often served as the last course of meals. Additionally, fat and carbs can make us sleepy, according to Scientific American. So it may be safe to say that everyone reacts differently to a welsh rarebit.

As for Brian’s undead grandpa: unlike Nemo‘s freeing fantasy landscapes, Fiend often dealt with the repressed anxietys of daily adulthood.

Events: Masters of Social Gastronomy, The Soda of a Nation

8502124Masters of Social Gastronomy: Caffeine, Cocaine, and the Soda of a Nation
Tuesday, August 26
FREE FREE FREE, 21+ RSVP
Doors at 7:30pm, talks start at 8pm
Littlefield, 622 Degraw Street in Gowanus

Each month, our Masters of Social Gastronomy lectures bring you the history and science behind your favorite foods. Up this month: soda

We’ll dissect Coca-Cola’s namesakes, exploring the now-illicit ‘Coca’ and the Africa-sourced ‘Cola’. I’ll have samples of Kola nuts, Celery flavored soda, and I’ll tell you what happened when I tried coca for myself.

But don’t forget the runners-up – second-tier drinks, represent! Learn the strange journey of sarsaparilla, and how the drink of choice for archetypal Western cowboys found a second life halfway across the world. Discover the government plot to steal root beer away from Americans, and the corporate conspiracies that swirl around the failure of New Coke.

And this month, we have a special guest, Elizabeth Kiem, co-author of The Brooklyn Farmacy’s new book The Soda Fountain. She’ll be spinning a special yarn about Brooklyn soda history, as well as raffling off a copy of the book!

Extra bonus fun: This American Life released a podcast some years ago all about Coca Cola’s secret formula. It’s super fun and you should listen to it (below)!

I’m Looking for a Fall Intern!

I am looking for an intern for the fall! Read on!

The Basics: This is a partially paid internship: if you work an event with me where I get paid, you will also get paid. I’m also happy to fill out any paper work for you to get college credit for this internship (although you do not have to be in college to apply). Additionally, you get free admission to any Four Pounds Four events and classes. Our main goal will be to tailor this internship so you learn new skills specific to your career goals. I hope to cram your head with as much knowledge as possible. If it is of interest to you, we can complete a project over our time together keeping those goals in mind. However, a lot of of that is going to be on you: I’m here to help, teach and train, and to give you guidelines and assignments. But I also can’t force you to complete those goals: you’ll get out of it what you decide to put in.

 
Your Responsibilities: The time commitment would be no more than 8 hours a week, with one hour spent focusing on your questions and interests. I need someone who is available once a week on a weekday, but would be willing to occasionally help out on a weekend. Half the time would be spent either working from my home office or at an event, the other half doing research projects that can be done from anywhere. General responsibilities include:

-Small research projects and fact checking.

-Help out recipe testing by shopping, doing kitchen prep, and clean up.

-Assisting at Four Pounds Flour classes and events.

 
The Perks: You’ll get an inside look at what I do and how I’ve built my career. You’ll have regular exposure to primary source recipes and learn how to interpret them. You’ll learn how to research, and my process for writing. You’ll get free access to all my events, as well as a behind the scenes look at how they run. The application process should be a time when we decide how this internship could best serve your needs. For example, my last intern wanted to break into the field of recipe testing. I helped her launch her own recipe-based food blog, trained her how to use WordPress, gave her the basics of food photography and Photoshop, and walked her through how to use social media to promote her work. We also focused on having her help me recipe test for my book, and she’ll be credited for her work in the published book.

 
Testimonial: Here’s what Former Intern Jill had to say about her experience this past spring (although, she wrote it to me, so I suppose it could be all lies, but I don’t think so):

Working with/for Sarah Lohman has been unquestionably one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career. Sarah is a delight. She clearly communicates expectations and sets very reasonable deadlines. Her energy, her passion and her enthusiasm are contagious. She is generous with her time and her knowledge. Her projects are challenging and stimulating. She is invested in the goals of her interns and works closely with them to create a path towards career advancement.

Interested? Email me ASAP! I’ll be setting up interviews before the end of August. sarah@fourpoundsflour.com

The History Dish: Ice Cream with Tomato, Artichoke, and Peas

veg_creamValentine Cream of Vegetables, a recipe by Agnes Marshall.

Jell-O Molds. As beautiful as they are horrifying, we often associated these epic jiggly affairs with the kitsch mid-20th century. But today’s recipe is from the 19th century: The Valentine Cream of Vegetables, a  Neapolitan-style frozen ice cream gelatin mold, uses savory vegetable purees to flavor each one of its colorful layers. It’s a “…a nice dish for a second course or luncheon, or as a vegetable entree, or for a ball supper,” according to Fancy Ices, where the original recipe can be found.

The History

fancyices1

Fancy Ices was penned in 1894 by the brilliant Agnes Marshall. I’ve written about her before; she arguable wrote about the first use of ice cream cones, and suggested the use “liquid air” to freeze ice cream table side. Her earlier ice cream book, The Book of Ices, is available online or for purchase as a reproduction, and offers recipes that range from almond (or orgeat) to souffles of curry a la ripon. Fancy Ices goes to the next level, showcasing recipes ranging from a coffee strawberry ice cream to a cucumber sorbet to complicated trompe d’oeil molds. It’s a masterpiece that’s thrilling to flip through. If you live in the New York area, Fancy Ices is available by off-site request at the New York Public Library’s main reading room at Bryan Park. It’s a special experience, unwrapping a book like this pulled from the archives, and physically flipping through pages and pages of recipes ranging from the inspired to the bizarre.

The Recipe

creamofFull recipe here.

I heard of this recipe in Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making, and excellent book particularly if you’re looking for inspiration in the way of unique historical flavors. In this recipe, each of the layers is flavored with a different vegetable(s), stock and/or alcohols. You can read the lengthy and complicated original recipe here, but here are the basic ingredients by layer:

Green: Cucumbers, peas, white sauce (flour, butter, pepper), green food coloring, gelatin, chicken gravy, whipped cream.

Red: Tomatoes, shallots, red food coloring, stock, sherry, gelatin, whipped cream.

White: Canned artichoke hearts, chicken gravy, gelatin, white sauce, whipped cream.

The vegetables were boiled with gelatin until soft, and then run through a fine mesh strainer until all that remains is a smooth liquid, which is frozen in a rectangular mold a layer at a time.

veg_cream8Boiling the green vegetables.

 

veg_cream5Creating the puree.

The process was immensely labor intensive and I was fortunate enough to have my Mom in town to help me. When I enlisted her aid, she protested and asked why we couldn’t do the lovely strawberry-lemon ice on the proceeding page of Fancy Ices. But let’s be honest: that’s not what you people want to see. You want to schadenfreude of artichoke-chicken ice cream.

The Results

Lacking a proper Neapolitan mold, we used a loaf pan. We allowed our creation to freeze solid and then carefully submerged to pan in warm water and ran a sharp knife along the side to released the Valentine cream. After some vigorous shaking, it came out PERFECT. Compare ours with the illustration in Fancy Ices:

creamofvegIllustration of Valentine Cream of Vegetables from Fancy Ices.
veg_cream4My finished Valentine Cream of Vegetables.

Success. I feel like we recreated something that looks, smells, and tastes just like Mrs. Marshall intended. It is her vision made real.

But how did it taste?

My mom and I cut a slice and decked it out with the horseradish-mustard-mayonnaise Mrs. Marshall recommends. We ate it without complaint. The stocks, chicken gravies, and sherries made it taste like a cold, jellied soup. Not horrific, but not delicious.

This dish felt subtlety out of style, a particularly taste and texture combination that was just slightly unpalatable. Perhaps no one ever really loved the taste and the dish had always been more about status: time consuming and complicated, it required the full attention of two skilled cooks several hours to complete. Only someone wealthy enough to EMPLOY my mother and I would be serving this at their ball.

Although, Mrs. Marshall’s Valentine Cream of Vegetables isn’t so off trend in 2014. This summer, Haagen-Dazs Japan launched two vegetable flavored ice creams, Carrot-Orange and Tomato-Cherry; and new local ice creamy Odd Fellows has offered Edamame, Butternut Squash and Beet-Pistachio flavors.

What do you think? Have you had a vegetable-based ice cream and do you think they could have a place in the world of frozen treats?

 

Podcast: Cooking with Illicit Substances

One more in the podcast bonanza! Whilst Masters of Social Gastronomy is on our summer break (we’ll be back next month with the history & science of soda) I give you ILLICIT SUBSTANCES.

On this week’s Masters of Social Gastronomy podcast, we’ll look at the culinary world’s experiments with illicit substances.

Let’s get high with the Victorians! From patent medicines to absinthe, Coca-Cola to laughing gas, we’ll look at all the forms of socially acceptable substance abuse during the 19th century.

Later, we’ll fast-forward to modern-day America, and explore the little known true history of the pot brownie. We’ll survey the range of altered-state culinary concoctions and see what both science and chefs have to say about creating the most effective epicurean euphoria.

New Blog: The Savage and the Sage

Salt-rising bread: it’s made with botulism!

Since January, I’ve been working with an intern, Jill Paradiso. She has been helping me with my book (recipe testing and research, amongst other projects). I have been helping her launch a food blog–which is now live!

Welcome to The Savage and the Sage! Jill is a divine technical chef; join her as she explores recipes that are bizarre (monkfish liver), complex (puffed beef tendon), and simply delicious (super easy sour cherry jam). And, like me, Jill loves the historical; so be sure to check out her posts on candied angelica, a historic ingredient in European confections, and salt rising bread.

Jill is continuing to work with me even though her formal term as my intern is done. She’ll be getting a huge thank you in my book for all the grunt work she’s done so far, but she’s also going to be one of my official recipe testers moving forward.

If you’d be interested in an internship opportunity at Four Pounds Flour, I’m looking for a new assistant for the fall. They’ll be more details posted here soon, but you can also send me an email for details. 

Podcast: We are SWEET on You: Sugar, HFCS, & Artificial Sweetners

Hey, hey! Another podcast from MSG! While we’re taking a break from our live shows these summer months, we wanted to give you something to tide your over. This week’s podcast is all about sugar & sweeteners! And we spend a bit of time talking about artist Kara Walker’s piece at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. Today is the last day to see it, as well as the factory itself, which is being bulldozed to make way for condos. Get there before it’s gone!

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This time on the Masters of Social Gastronomy podcast, we’re talking about **sugar and artificial sweeteners**

If you’ve ever crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, then you’ve surely noticed the towering structures of the defunct Domino’s Sugar factory. In this month’s MSG we’ll explore Brooklyn in an era when sugar was king, as well as take a behind-the-scenes peek at its modern day inheritor Sweet n’ Low.

But is giving in to our sweet tooth digging our own graves? Let’s break down the science behind the fear of sugar, from carcinogenic artificial sweeteners to the possible perils of that ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup.

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Further Reading: Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York & Sweet and Low: A Family Story.

Podcast: Sriracha, Ghost Peppers, and The History of Heat

This month on the Masters of Social Gastronomy podcast, we break into the secret world of hot peppers to pull back the curtain on everyone’s favorite Rooster-branded hot sauce and the worldwide affection for spicy, spicy food.

Follow Sriracha from its humble baby-food-jar beginnings to its current status as a Tabasco-challenging juggernaut. We’ll take a behind-the-scenes look at its California factory and see how sriracha just might be as American as apple pie.

Once you escape the potatoes-and-cream tyranny of European cuisine, a culinary dedication to heat can be found everywhere. We’ll examine what makes Thai food tick and where Indian vindaloo gets its muscle. From mild jalapeños to record-holders like the Ghost Pepper and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, find out what makes a veggie pack such a powerful punch!