Monthly Archive for December, 2008

The Fruit Drop Cake Debate

Photo by Sarah T.

me: Friday i’m going to bake christmas cookies with Kyle.

Sarah T: that’ll be fun…period appropriate or modern?

me: modern; but what a delightful question. I hate period appropriate cookies.
they’ve all got crap in them. ugh.

Sarah T: I lOVE them. In fact I just made a batch of fruit drop cakes not too long ago. mmmm currents.

me: uuuuuuuulllgh
i actually made that noise out loud, here in new york

Sarah T: I want to give fruit drop cakes a fighting chance, and exhibit their true deliciousness.

FRUIT DROP CAKES (photos pending)
from Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, 1846 (click here for the original recipe)

1 batch yields about 36 cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp lemon abstract
1 tbsp brandy (or peach brandy)
4 cups flour
1 cup dried currents (or you can play it safe with raisins, or be adventuress with any other variety of dried fruit)

This recipe can be made in an electric mixer, or by hand.

Preheat oven to 375. Cream together butter and sugar. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Add eggs to butter and sugar and mix until combined. Add brandy and lemon extract. Gradually add flour, with the mixer on a low speed, and mix until combined. Stir in currants. Drop by the spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet and sprinkle a little sugar on top. bake about 10 minutes, checking halfway through.

Eggnog Goes Better With Booze

From Jeff via NPR: Many old cocktail recipes contain raw eggs, including this recipe for Egg Nogg. It’s a practice that died out probably around the time salmonella came into the picture. But never fear! NPR shows us that the alcoholic content of, in this case, Eggnog is enough to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.

Video: More Evidence That Eggnog Goes Better With Booze (NPR)

And for further old-timey cocktail reading (via Graham): Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails

Their cocktails.

“This site is dedicated to the Gin Fizz, the Widow’s Kiss, and the Singapore Sling – the drinks our mothers and grandmothers drank, the drinks we strive to save from extinction as a small measure of remembering those great women and their great cocktail parties.”

The Grand Secret of Punch

(illustration: Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks)
I recently read an 1873 article on the celebration of New Year’s Day in New York. Punch was a major player in the day’s celebrations. So popular was the drink, that Professional Punch-Makers traveled house to house, mixing the brew:

“Punch is seen in all its glory on this day, and each household strives to have the best of this article. There are regular punch-makers in the city, who reap a harvest at this time. Their services are engaged long before-hand, and they are kept busy all morning going from house to house, to make this beverage, which is no-where so palatable as in this city.”

During the course of the day, ladies staid home to receive guests, and gentleman went from house to house visiting friends and, apparently, sampling the punch:

“Towards the close of the day, everything is in confusion–the door-bell is never silent. Crowds of young men, in various stages of intoxication, rush into the lighted parlors, leer at the hostess in a vain effort to offer their respects, call for liquor, drink it, and stagger out, to repeat the same scene at some other house…Strange as it may seem, it is no disgrace to get drunk on New Year’s Day. The next day one half of New York has a headache…”

Punch was so important to Victorian Americans that it occupies the first chapter of Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks, the first bartending guide ever published. He offers these pieces of advice on the preparation of punch:

“To make punch of any sort of perfection, the ambrosial essence of lemon must be extracted by rubbing lumps of sugar on the rind, which breaks the delicate little vessels that contain the essence, and at the same time absorb it. This, and making the mixture sweet and strong, using tea instead of water, and thoroughly amalgamating all the compounds….is the grand secret, only to be acquired by practice.”

Here are a few of Thomas’ recipes; he has 86 in his book, so if you don’t like these, feel free to choose some of your own. If you choose to add some punch to your New Year’s celebration, please send me some photos and notes. I’m especially interested in seeing the sugar-rubbed-lemon technique and punches made with tea vs. water.

All notes in parenthesis are my own.

Hot Brandy and Rum Punch
For a party of 15.

1 quart of Jamaica Rum
1 quart Cognac Brandy
1 lb. of white loaf-sugar (regular white granulated sugar should be used here)
4 lemons
3 quarts boiling water
1 teaspoonful of nutmeg (freshly grated)

Rub the sugar over the lemons until it had absorbed all the yellow part of the skins, then put the sugar into a punch-bowl; add the ingredients well together, pour over them the boiling water, stir well together; add the rum, brandy and nutmeg; mix thoroughly, and the punch will be ready to serve.

The 69th Regement Punch

1/2 wine-glass of Irish whiskey (1/2 wine glass = 2 oz.)
1/2 wine-glass Scotch whiskey
1 tea-spoonful of sugar
1 piece of lemon
2 wine-glasses hot water

This is a capital punch for a cold night.
Pine-Apple Punch
For a party of ten.

4 bottles of champagne
1 pint Jamaica Rum
1 pint brandy
1 gill of Curacao (5 ounces)
Juice of 4 lemons
4 pine-apples sliced (I think pineapples would be smaller. 2-3 should do you.)
Sweeten to taste with pulverized white sugar (confectioner’s sugar)

Put the pine-apple with one pound of sugar in a glass bowl, and let them stand until the sugar is well soaked in the pine-apple, then add all other ingredients, except the champagne. Let this mixture stand in ice for about an hour, then add the champagne. Place a large block of ice in the center of the bowl, and ornament it with loaf sugar, sliced orange, and other fruits of the season.

Egg Nogg
Use a large bar glass.

1 table-spoonful of fine sugar, dissolved with
1 table-spoonful cold water and
1 egg.
1 wine-glass of Cognac brandy
1/2 wine-glass Santa Cruz rum
1/3 tumblerful of milk

Fill the tumbler 1/4 full with shaved ice, shake the ingredients until they are thoroughly mixed together, and grate a little nutmeg on top. Hot Egg Nogg…is very popular in California, and is made in precisely the same manner as the cold egg nogg…except that you must use boiling water instead of ice.

Regent’s Punch
For a party of twenty.

The ingredients for this renowed (sic) punch are: —
3 bottles champagne
1 bottle Hockheimer ((sic) this could be replaced with another Riesling)
1 bottle Curacoa (sic)
1 bottle Cognac
1 bottle Jamaica Rum
2 bottles Madeira
2 bottles Seltzer
4 lbs bloom raisins (I have no idea what a “bloom” raisin is compared to a regular raisin)

To which add oranges, lemons, rock candy, and instead of water, green tea to taste. Refrigerate with all the icy power of the Arctic.

Further reading: Dip Into the Past: Rediscovering The Pleasures Of Punch (New York Times)

Meatless Loaf and other "Great" Depression Era Recipes

When I pick an historic era to recreate in recipes, I don’t usually pick a time when people are starving to death. So I was surprised to stumble upon several Great Depression cooking shows on You Tube. The most notable is Great Depression Cooking with Clara, a 92 year old grandmother who cooks recipes from her youth. The show mostly involves potatoes and stories about how awful the Depression was. With the economy the way it is, maybe this is good information to know.

Egg Drop Soup

Poor Man’s Meal (This one seems pretty delicous. Fried potatoes and hot dogs? Hell yeah.)

These two boys are making “Meatless Loaf” for a class project. It’s a concoction inspired by The Grapes of Wrath that involves peanuts, rice, and cottage cheese.

Flavoring as a Cause of Death

(Illustration: Zachariah Durr; Photo: The Daily Telegraph)

I’ve long been fascinated with a tiny, European bird called the Ortolan. One of the many interesting things about the preparation and ingestion of this bird is the manner is which it is killed: it is drowned in brandy. As the liquor fills the bird’s lungs, it flavors the bird in preparation for roasting.
That’s intense. Flavoring an animal before it’s even deceased? This video pretty much covers it all, from preparation to the peculiar way in which the bird is devoured whole. Be warned: it’s a bit gruesome.
An argument could be made that in current society we take certain steps to flavor our animals before we slaughter them. With beef, for instance, cattle are bred, genetically modified, and are fed different diets to produce an ideal flavor and fattiness to the meat. But only in historic cuisine, like with the Ortolan, have I found a reference to seasoning an animal before it’s slaughtered. I also came across this recipe for turkey in Statesman’s Dishes and How to Cook Them by Mrs. Stephen J. Field, 1890. She says:

“Three days before it’s slaughtered, it should have an English walnut forced down its throat three times a day, and a glass of sherry once a day. The meat will be deliciously tender, and have a fine nutty flavor.”

All of this boozing of poultry strikes one as a little obscene. I can only imagine that cuisine has moved away from ‘pre-seasoning’ because it could be perceived as an act of animal cruelty. But perhaps that shows a bit of our naivete, and how far removed we’ve become from our food in the last 100 years. In 1890, people were hanging out with their turkeys before Thanksgiving. I bet that careful care from life to death gave the turkey a spectacular flavor that is a world apart from our freezed meats; not to mention the sense of pride the owner would have, roasting the bird and placing it on the holiday table.

After all, it’s just food. Right?

And on that note, I encourage you to take the time to listen to this episode of This American Life. It’s a Thanksgiving show from a few years ago, and it deals with the sticky subject of where to draw the line “between friend and food.” It includes a segment on our friend, the Ortolan.

This American Life: Poultry Slam