Monthly Archive for June, 2009

History Dish Mondays: Deviled Egg Salad

Recently, my Mom read that passing down cookbooks from mother to daughter is a way of preserving a family’s history. So in that vein, she gifted me with two cookbooks that my grandmother received as wedding presents in the 1940s: The Settlement Cookbook and the Watkins Salad Book.

My mother tapped the books. “Every time we made peanut butter cookies, it was always from The Settlement Cookbook.” she said. “Every time we made deviled eggs, it was always, always from the Watkins Salad Book.”
True to her word, when I paged through the Watkin’s Salad Book back in NYC, I found a permanent bookmark glued to the page for “Deviled Egg Salad.”
Deviled eggs are a food I always associate with summer cookouts. So with the Fourth of July right around the corner, I thought I’d share with you my family’s recipe.
Deviled Egg Salad
From the Watkins Salad Book (1946) by Elaine Allen
6 hard boiled eggs
1/4 tsp Powdered Mustard
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp melted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1-2 tablespoons Diced sweet pickles (optional)
I hard-boil my eggs according to Martha Stewart’s instructions, which I’ve found to be the best.
1. Slice the eggs in half and scoop out the yolks. Place the yolks in a bowl.
2. Mash up the yolks with seasonings, vinegar, butter and just enough mayonnaise to moisten. Season to taste–I did not have ground red pepper, so I used Cayenne pepper, which was equally as good. Mix in diced sweet pickles.
3. Refill egg whites using a spoon or pastry bag. Sprinkle with paprika and chill.
Serve and enjoy!
For more on deviled eggs, including history and recipes, visit The Deviled Egg Gourmet.

Organic Food: Luxury or Necessity?

Ever since my tenement project, I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions about eating well on a very tight budget. Recently, my friend Ben forwarded me this article about eating “ethically” on a food stamp budget:
“A recent National Review column argued that organic food was, in fact, “an expensive luxury item, something bought by those who have the resources…When Alice Waters told Americans that they could dine better by forgoing “the cellphone or the third pair of Nike shoes,” my monthly cellphone bill totaled zero and I owned just one pair of sneakers. When Michael Pollan urged citizens to plant a garden, I was living on the 10th floor of an urban apartment building.”
The author attempts to feed her and her husband organically on $250 a month. She ends up turning to some historic sources to learn how to craft delicious meals with limited funds. Overall, an interesting read.

Cooking American Cookery: Wine Cake Revolution

Amelia Simmon’s “Rich Cake.”

One of my favorite historic American cookbooks is the first American cookbook: American Cookery, published in 1796 by Amelia Simmons, an “American orphan.” Her cookbook contains some of the first truly American recipes, featuring corn and maple syrup, pumpkins and squash, and “Cookies,” an American word derived from the Dutch. When I flip through the pages of Simmon’s thin volume, I often feel inspired by her combinations of seasonings and ingredients; especially when it comes to her baked goods. I’ve decided to cook my way through American Cookery, and I hope some of Simmon’s recipe inspire your own cooking as well.

A wonderful article on American Cookery, and why it is important, can be found here: Of Pearlash, Epmtins and Tree Sweetnin’ (American Heritage)

First up, a recipe Simmons calls simply “a rich cake.”
I was intrigued by this recipe’s use of wine as a leavening and a flavoring. I had never seen anything like it, and thought it had the potential to be really delicious. “Emptins” are a type of home-made yeast, and after it is added to the dough, it’s left to rise overnight. The result was wonderful–not too sweet, almost bread-like, and the combination of wine, cinnamon and rosewater gives it a complex and crave-worth flavor. I took it to a party and it was devoured. I’ve been requested to bake two more loaves. It’s a real re-discovery, and I encourage you to try it in your kitchen.
Amelia Simmons’ Rich Cake
From American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons (1796)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups flour
3 eggs
1/2 cup wine – I used a red; white would have a different, put probably equally delicious taste.
pinch salt
1 packet active dry yeast dissolved in about 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp rosewater
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup – 1 cup raisins soaked 1/2 hour in brandy (optional)
1. Using your hands, take the butter, which should be slightly below room temperature, and rub it in to the flour until combined.
2. Add eggs, wine, salt, and yeast. Mix well, then cover with a towel and leave in a warm place to rise overnight.
3. The next morning, add sugar, rosewater, cinnamon, and raisins. Mix gently until just combined. Don’t overwork the batter; if there are a few swirls of unmixed cinnamon, that’s ok.
4. Pour into a greased or non-stick loaf pan, sprinkle the top with sugar. Bake at 325 degrees for about an hour. It is done when a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in pan for 30 minutes, the tip out and let continue to cool.
Serve warm with butter; but I think it tastes even better cold or toasted the next day.
Left: batter at night. Right: The next morning.
The first time I made the recipe, I did it without raisins. It’s not because of my ongoing hatred of the things, I simply didn’t have any around the kitchen. However, even I think raisins would be a great improvement to the cake’s flavor, but it was also great without. Rosewater can be found in most grocery stores in the baking department, or in Middle Eastern specialty store. Or, you can make it yourself.

History Dish Mondays: American Citron

A sweet preparation of American citron.

There’s a recipe I come across again and again in 19th century cookbooks: Citron, or American Citron. The earliest recipe appears in the first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons:

Citron, I’ve discovered, is a cirrus fruit native to southern Asia. The pulp is inedible; instead, the rind is cut up and preserved. I supposed it was generally unavailable in early America, so watermelon rind was used as a substitute.
I found a few recipe in later 19th c cookbook that suggest brining citron, like a pickle. So I decided to make two batches, a sweet preparation and a savory.
American Citron (sweet)
From American Cookery (1796) by Amelia Simmons.
1 quarter watermelon, fruit and skin removed, sliced into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup sugar.
Place watermelon rind slices and sugar into a pot, cover with water, and bring to a slow boil. Boil for about two hours, or until tender. Pour into a canning jar and seal, cool in refrigerator for at least two hours.
American Citron (savory)
Based on a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp mace
Bring ingredients to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Arrange rind slices in a jar. Pour hot brine into a jar until rind is completely covered and seal jar. Refrigerate until cool, about two hours (or up to 1 week).

For canning, I used an old spaghetti sauce jar and a canning jar that some face cream came in (I washed it). When I opened up the jars the next day, I was surprised to find that the steam had created a tight seal on both jars, including resealing the spaghetti sauce jar. I’ve never canned before, so these things amaze me. I sampled both citron preparations: the preserved citron was soft and almost completely transparent. It tasted like sugar melon and feet. The pickled citron was crunchier, but also a little slimy. I remembered reading some 19th c recipes that warned against the slime, and recommended soaking it in a brine, rinsing it, and brining it again to get rid of it. My bad.

The odd part about citron is that there are many more recipes for preserving it than how to eat it, or what to eat it with. Now that I’ve successfully made citron, I have to figure out what the hell to do with it.

American citron, brined.

Dogfish Brewery Releases Three New Old Beers

From Scientific American:

This summer, how would you like to lean back in your lawn chair and toss back a brew made from what may be the world’s oldest recipe for beer? Called Chateau Jiahu, this blend of rice, honey and fruit was intoxicating Chinese villagers 9,000 years ago—long before grape wine had its start in Mesopotamia. University of Pennsylvania molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern first described the beverage in 2005…based on chemical traces from pottery in the Neolithic village of Jiahu in Northern China.”

Dogfish Brewery is also bottling two other ancient brews this summer: a 9th century Finnish recipe made with berries and a blend on spices, and a 3,200 hundred year old cocoa based drink.

The Gallery: Canning FAIL

Ok, I know what’s on your mind: Why is there a swastika floating in those lemons?

This is a pamphlet of tips for perfect canned goods. The reverse swastika is a symbol of good fortune; therefore, it is the logo of the “Good Luck” canning company. The copyright date is 1917–I wonder how well this company did after the war?

Don’t forget to label all your canned goods!
And my favorite…

Introducing The Gallery!

I’m launching a new feature this week: The Gallery! I’ll be featuring images from vintage and historic cookbooks for your enjoyment. Look for it soon!

Continuing to Try to Make Yeast Appear from Thin Air

While I was vacationing at my summer home in Cleveland (I staid with my parents), my mom and I decided to try to grow a yeast culture.  We were inspired by a book my friend Kristina sent me from Alaska: a little pamphlet about the history of sourdough bread.  It carried these instructions on making your own starter:

Traditional Sourdough Starter
From Simply Sourdough — The Alaskan Way– by Kathy Doogan
2 cups Warm Water
2 cups Flour

Place ingredients in a glass bowl and blend well with a wooden or plastic spoon.  Cover loosely with a clean towel (this allows air to enter the bowl so your starter can pick up wild yeasts from the environment) and place it in a warm spot.  Once a day, remove half the starter and throw it away.  To the remaining starter, add 1 cup flour and 1 cup warm water; stir in well until lumps are gone.  After 3 or 4 days of replenishing the starter it should be bubbly and have a pleasant sour smell.  It is then ready to be used immediately or it can be placed in a clean container with a loose cover and refrigerated for later use.


We followed the recipe, and place the bowl of flour and water out on the driveway to warm up.  If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that last time I tried growing yeast in New York, I ended up with something that smelled like cat puke and looked worse.  I hid it in the back of my refrigerator and eventually threw it away, too scared to make anything from it.  This time wasn’t much better.  Although the starter looked like a starter should, it again smelled exactly like cat puke.  The stink of it made a friend dry heave.

However, having now attempted this operation twice with the same results, I was willing to try to make some cat puke bread.  Mom, after listening to my father going on about some kind of deadly yeast, decided to throw it out.  The decision was made for us when, after forgetting to bring the bowl in at night, some creature came along and ate it.  I imagine the creature looked like this:

Simply Sourdough comes with a packet of yeast starter; I think I might try to make it and compare smells.

Retronovated Recipes: Soup Meagre

Soup Meagre is a great spring recipe from about 1723.  It’s a sort of catch-all meal made of all types of early season vegetables: onions, peas, and leafy greens.  

The original recipe can be found in the American History Cookbook;  in the original, you add a hunk of stale bread and cream the soup together into something I can only imagine resembles baby food.  In my modernized version, I leave this final step out, and let the vegetables maintain their integrity in the broth.

I made this soup recently at my friend Mark’s house: I had gathered some wild onions from a farmer’s field and brought them over as a gift.  He pointed out some wild greens in his front yard, and we decided to make a batch of soup meagre.

The original recipe features sorrel, a leafy green that is ready in May when it’s cultivated, and June if it’s found wild.  It’s flavor is tart and distinctly lemony.  When choosing greens for this soup, I recommend using a combination of mild and tart flavors.  I also enjoy making this soup heartier with the addition of a hard boiled egg for garnish.  This recipe can be made your own with the additions of any ingredients you have on hand: mushrooms, white beans, ham;  be creative.  We didn’t have cloves, so we used cinnamon and red pepper flakes.  This recipe can also easily be made vegetarian by using a vegetable broth instead of chicken.  

The point is: feel free to diverge from this recipe in ingredients and proportions.  It’s very hard to go wrong.

Soup Meagre
Inspired by a recipe from a 1723 manuscript as it appears in The American History Cookbook by Mark H. Zanger.
3 bunches leafy greens, including any combination of spinach, parsley, kale, sorrel, lamb’s quarter, or dandelion; washed well.
1 medium onion
2 cloves
1/2 stick salted butter
2 cups peas
3-6 cups Chicken stock
Salt and Pepper to taste
Hard boiled eggs for garnish
1. Melt butter in bottom of pot. Add onions and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until transparent.

2. Add chicken stock, cloves, and peas.  Bring to a boil.  Test peas for doneness (they want to be a little under done at this point). Taste and re-season broth, if necessary.

3. Add greens and cook five more minutes, or until greens are just wilted.

4.  Garnish with hard boiled eggs and serve.

Note: this soup is not good the next day; the greens tend to get slimy  So only make as much as you will eat in one meal.

The Premiere of Food Party!

Although not historical, I wanted to make everyone aware of the premiere of Food Party, created by my food friends and colleagues Thu Tran and Zachariah Durr. Food Party’s first season on IFC debuts Tuesday, June 9 11:15pm ET/PT.

From the official press release:

“Food Party is a fantastical, food-centric series created and hosted by Brooklyn fringe artist, Thu Tran, and a motley mix of unruly puppets who serve as her culinary crew. Maybe best described as a psychedelic melding of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and The Rachael Ray Show with a dash of J-Horror vibe, FOOD PARTY is shot on location in a technicolor handmade, cardboard kitchen. Each episode is a new gastronomical adventure as Thu interacts with a cavalcade of puppets, humans, baked goods, vegetables, and other critters, and embarks on journeys to bizarre, unexpected lands. “

Be sure to check it out! And in the meantime, cruise by the official website.