Podcast: Thanksgiving!

Something to put on while you’re doing the cookin’.

Sarah tells you the real history of Thanksgiving, with historic recipes and the stories behind your favorite side dishes! Soma’s gonna help you cook your turkey right! Plus: why you should serve eels this year, and what’s spatchcock?

Drink Like A Pilgrim: Spruce Beer

spruce4Two bottles of beer brewed with real spruce limbs.

Liquor.com asked me to find out what it was like to Drink like a Pilgrim; and as it turns out, The Puritans were pretty heavy drinkers. Suprised? Although drinking was acceptable in 17th century New England, drunkenness was not. Massachusetts had extensive anti-drunkenness laws.

The rules:

  • At one time, beer brewed in the home could only be drunk by family members—not by friends.
  • If you went out for a drink, you could only stay at the tavern for half an hour.
  • As higher-proof spirits like rum became available, laws made them prohibitively expensive to buy.
  • You could never, ever drink on Sunday. (Massachusetts still has famously restrictive “blue laws.”)

This Thanksgiving I made a homebrew to accompany my meal. I based my recipe on an early American drink called Spruce Beer, brewed with real spruce branches, hops, dark maple syrup and no grain. Effervescent and yeasty, it’s dramatically different from modern beer. The Puritans would have downed an impressive two to three quarts of this concoction a day.

If you want to know how my beer turned out–and how I felt after drinking three quarts of it–you can read the full article here!

 

History Dish: Lima Beans and Bacon with Marshmallows

limas5Lima beans, bacon and marshmallow casserole. Photo by Jess Tsang.

Coming to a holiday table near you: Lima bean and bacon casserole, topped with marshmallows! Ok…maybe not. This recipe comes from a handwritten booklet my Mom sent me. She said she “took a chance!” and bought it on Ebay, and when I flipped through the thin and faded notebook, this recipe caught my eye for obvious reasons. With such an odd combination of ingredients, I had to give it a shot.

The History

limas1The handwritten recipe booklet that contains the recipe. Photo by Jess Tsang.

The notebook isn’t dated, it simply contains pages of recipes jotted down for safe keeping, including Ham Rolls and a ground beef dish called Hiker’s Hastener. Sometimes, a unique recipe like Limas with Marshmallows can help date a recipe book like this one. After searching Google Books, I discovered the recipe had been potentially been copied out of A Book of Practical Recipes for the Housewife, published in 1900.

One of the reasons this recipe caught my attention is because last Thanksgiving I looked into the history of Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows. Marshmallows became a popular convenience food at the turn of the 20th century because new machines were invented that produced them cheaply and easily. Previously a delicate confection, marshmallows were now available for the masses. Recipe books pushed housewives to use them as substitutes for more labor intensive toppings like meringue and whipped cream.

The frist recipe for sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows appeared in 1917 or 1918 (read more here). But this recipe for lima beans topped with marshmallows appeared in 1900, which means there was a precedent for topping vegetables with marshmallows before they were plopped on sweet potatoes.

Are there other recipes for vegetables topped with marshmallows? Broccoli? Brussel sprouts? I’m not sure. I haven’t found them yet. But clearly this was a thing

The Recipe

limas2Baked Limas with Marshmallows, c. 1900. Photo by Jess Tsang.

limas6

The only adjustment I made to the original 1900 recipe is that I used frozen lima beans. I just tossed them in the casserole with the ingredients, no pre-cooking necessary.

The Results

limas3Ready for the oven! Photo by Jess Tsang.

I have some good news and I have some bad news.

The good news: Lima beans, butter, brown sugar, and bacon is a GOOD THING. It is sweet, salty, and rich. The limas have a satisfying snap in your mouth, a salty smokiness from the bacon, and a mouth-covering fatty sweetness. My only advice: cook the bacon separately and mix it in just before serving. Cooking it on top of the casserole, as the recipe suggests, results in flimsy, flaccid bacons. If the bacon has been perfectly crispy little squares, crunching around in there with the butter and the beans…oh…it would have been heaven.

The bad news: Holy shit did those marshmallows just ruin everything. Basically, this recipe took a wonderful casserole and put marshmallows all over the top of it. The overwhelming sweetness, the sticky gelatinous texture…the entire taste and horrific mouth-feel was so shockingly unappealing it’s difficult to put into words. Just imagine how bad you think this recipe would taste, and then understand that’s actually how bad it does taste, and then don’t put marshmallows on any vegetables this holiday season.

limas4So beautiful yet so horrible. Photo by Jess Tsang.

This blog post was put together with a boatload of help from intern Jess Tsang. Thanks, Jess!

Masters of Social Gastronomy: All-American Pie!

Wednesday, November 19th

FREE FREE FREE, 21+ RSVP
Doors at 7:30pm, talks start at 8pm
Littlefield, 622 Degraw Street in Gowanus

Each month, Masters of Social Gastronomy takes on a curious food topic and break down the history, science, and stories behind it. This time we’re tackling the twin pillars of the American pie kingdom: the gentle apple pie and its heavily-spiced cousin, pumpkin pie. Stop on by if you want to learn how to bake the best apple pie and the origin story behind the pumpkin spice craze. Please RSVP SO I HOW MANY FREE PIE SAMPLES TO BRING.

If you need some pie recipes to keep you satisfied in the meantime, try this recipe from 1763 for pumpkin-apple pie, or this mid-20th century pumpkin pie that uses sweetened condensed milk!

Etsy: A History of Homebrew

beer2A home-brewed ginger beer.

If you love beer and have ever toyed with the idea of brewing it yourself, head on over to Etsy! I’ve written up a brief history of homebrew, from colonial America to the craft beer trend, and I’ve dug up some of the best beginner’s brewers kits Etsy has to offer. Read it here!

Although I have dabbled in homebrew myself, I have to admit, I’m personally a much bigger fan of consumption than creation.

I want to give a shout out to two great resources I used while researching this post: The Oxford Companion to Beer, an excellent encyclopedic beer reference, and Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer an incredibly well-researched (and fun) investigation of the history of American beer. I highly recommend them both!

Podcast: The Rise of Chocolate

Just in time for Halloween, a Masters of Social Gastronomy podcast all about chocolate!

We’ll track the history of chocolate from its roots as an ancient Mesoamerican beverage to its current world-championship status. You’ll learn how a yellow, football-shaped tropical fruit transforms into high-end dark chocolate and what “Mexican Hot Chocolate” actually has in common with what Montezuma drank. Burning questions of modern confectionery will be answered: What’s better, milk or dark? Why does Hershey’s have its own theme park? Is imported European chocolate worth the price? Why does white chocolate suck?

What to do With That Leftover Etrog

citron1This fruit is a etrog. This fruit is a citron.

Last week was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a harvest festival that also commemorates the 40 years the Jews spent wandering in the desert. The festival centers around the sukkah, a temporary structure that the family “dwells” in over the week of the celebration –primarily eating and sleeping there. As part of this festival, you need “four species” to bless your sukkah: palm, myrtle and willow branches as well as an etrog.

One day, I wanted to figure out what the hell an etrog was. So I googled it, and found this charming article about the “etrog man,” a non-Jewish farmer who grows them in California. To my surprise, I found out that etrog is the Hebrew word for citron.

Ok, what’s a citron? A citron is a member of the citrus family. Instead of eating the pulp, you eat the rind and the pith. It has a lovely scent, distinctly different from any other citrus. Today, it appears in the candy fruit mix for fruit cake and panettone. In 18th and 19th century America, candied citron was folded into all kinds of fancy cakes– we even made a substitute from watermelon rind. And in medieval Middle Eastern cooking, it was used fresh, like in this recipe for Bazmaawurd: chicken, walnuts, fresh herbs and citron rolled up in a lavash.

citron2Dice it up!

So when Sukkot was over, I put out a call for leftover etrogs. The etrog/citrons used ritually are quite expensive–since they have to look perfect and be holy. But much like a Christmas tree, they just get chucked in the garbage when the holiday is done. My boss handed me her used etrog and I took it over to Jill’s – author of The Savage and the Sage–who candies her own citron for homemade panettone. Sweet and tart, my candied citron will simply return to work as a treat for my colleagues.

citron3Citron, candied.

***
Candied Citron

Adapted from Ehow.com by Jill Paradiso

1. Slice citron in half and remove pulp (if it has any). Dice or slice into evenly sized pieces.
2. Add to a medium sized saucepan. Cover citron with water. Bring to boil, lower to simmer and cook 30 minutes.
3. Drain.  To saucepan, add citron, 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water. Cook 30 minutes on medium-low heat.
4. Turn off heat and let citron steep in sugar solution for 1 hour.
5. Drain (reserve sugar solution for other uses). Spread citron on drying rack with baking sheet covered in parchment underneath. Dry 12 hours.
6. Toss in sugar, if desired.

Podcast: Cocktails! The Blue Blazer, Shaken not Stirred, and More!

It’s our off month for our live Masters of Social Gastronomy event, so I bring you our latest podcast! It’s all about the history and science of cocktails, and listening to it will make you a better cocktailer: whether you like making ‘em, or simply enjoy drinking ‘em.

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.

***

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.

***

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.