Monthly Archive for August, 2009

Cocktail Hour: Peach Brandy

Ok, I have to say upfront that I was underwhelmed, and a little disappointed, by the results of my Peach Brandy experiment.

Upon my return from the 49th state, I took my mason jar filled with mashed peaches and brandy out of the fridge. Things look good, so I strained it: first through a colander, then through a double layer of cheesecloth. I began straining it through a coffee filter, but eventually lost patience, and decided what little sediment was left could remain in the brew without an adverse affect.
At this point, the brandy was surprisingly thick and syrupy, and did have a slightly sweet, slightly peachy taste. Master bartender Jerry Thomas’ recipe recommends sweetening the infusion with simple syrup, but I decided against it. The cocktails I planned to mix already included a sweetener, and I’ve heard before (from IMBIBE! author David Wondrich) that Victorians liked their drinks very, very sweet. So I left it.
I capped my mason jar and slipped it in my purse, heading off to meet my test audience at a gathering at my boyfriend’s house. I mixed two cocktails, both from Thomas’ book: The Original Georgia Mint Julep, which I mixed using two parts Kentucky bourbon and one part peach brandy; and the Peach and Honey.
I had suspected the flavor of the peach brandy would come alive with a bit of sweetness, so I was really looking forward to the Peach and Honey. I dissolved the honey in a bit of water at the bottom of a rocks glass, added ice cubes, and poured the brandy over top. I tasted it–and I really wasn’t thrilled. It was ok, but I felt the taste of the honey was overwhelming, not complimentary.
And tragically, the peach flavor was almost undetectable in the Julep. The brandy was served best simply over ice, where the gentle peach flavors could be fully appreciated. But even then…I’m not yet certain why the liqour was a let down for me. I think I would try this project again with bourbon instead of brandy.

The Great Alaskan Meat-Off

I just came back from a two week trip to Alaska, where I staid with my friends Chris and Kristina in Girdwood, a suburb of Anchorage. I wanted to share with you some of the food I consumed.

Because of my continuing obsession with sourdough bread, Kristina took me to the local bakery, The Bake Shop. As we arrived, so did a busload of tourists: The Shop seems to be the go-to breakfast stop for locals and tourists alike. I purchased a loaf of sourdough bread, which was surprisingly mild and delicious. Sourdough is associated with gold mining regions, like Alaska and San Francisco, because the miners could make it without taking a “sponge,” or yeast culture, with them. It could be created from yeast spores in the air.

Kristina gifted me with a bag of locally-made sourdough starter, which gets going after you add a can of beer. I’m excited to try it, but I still want to try to create a starter from air-borne yeast.

I also had “Sweet Roll with a Side of Butter,” also made of sourdough, and also delicious. It had cinnamon and almonds, but also mysterious notes of brandy and anise. I had two over the extent of my stay.

Kristina, who was a vegetarian when I knew her in college, took me on a shopping trip to Indian Valley Meats. Another local vendor, they specialize in breaking down and preparing carcasses for local hunters, and sell a variety of locally raised game meats. Kristina selected and prepared a menagerie of local animals for me to ingest:

Clockwise, from left to right: Moose, Buffalo, Caribou, Elk, and Reindeer. Caribou and Reindeer are actually the same thing, the latter being wild and the former being farmed.
I also ate wild boar jerky, which was covered in some sort of garlic glaze I wasn’t too keen on, and salmon that Chris had pulled from the river days earlier. This fish was delicious–and I hate fish.

In my second week, while on our way to Denali National Park, I finally acquired the object of my true desire: The Mc Kinley Mac. I had seen a poster for it as soon as I stepped off the plane, and had fantasized about it since. The Number 12 on the menu, this double-stacked McKinley Mac is only available in this state. Which is ok, because as I excited as I was to sample it, it just turned out to be a big gross burger.

The McKinley Mac and I zoom towards Mt. McKinley, on our way to Denali national Park.
On the way back from Denali, we stopped at a Burger King in Wasilla. The BK menu included a Sourdough Whopper, but after a week in the wild, I wasn’t in the mood to take a risk.

Lastly, I made up a batch of Spruce Tea, after harvesting a few limbs from Alaska’s State Tree. It did not just taste like pine needles, but had a richer, spiced flavour. The batch I brewed was fairly weak, and I wanted to make a proper pot of tea when I returned to New York, but I forgot my bag branches in Girdwood. Perhaps Kristina will be kind enough to ship a few stateside–I’m curious to pass some along to my beer brewing friends, so they can make an authentic Spruce Beer.

At every restaurant we went to (three in the small town of Girdwood alone) the food was excellent, something I definitely didn’t expect when coming to Alaska. Additionally, there were very few chain restaurants; the ones that were there hadn’t even popped up until the last decade. Alaska’s relative isolation seems to have resulted in a bevy of independently owned restaurants with excellent food.

If you’re interested in my non-culinary Alaskan adventures, you should look at my photos here.

You Have Scurvy!

I just learned about 826 National, a non-profit tutoring center founded, in part, by Dave Eggers. The first center opened in San Francisco:

When they looked into the building they wanted to use at 826 Valencia Street, the landlord was open to the idea of a tutoring center, but he told Dave that the address was zoned for retail. They had no choice, the landlord said: at the front of the building, they had to sell something. (”

Their solution? Open a (beautifully designed) nonsense store.

To raise funds, inspire creativity, and advertise our programs to the local community, most of our centers include a street-front retail store filled with unusual products, entertaining signage, and, of course, our books for sale. San Francisco’s pirate supply store sells glass eyes and one-of-a-kind peglegs, 826NYC’s Superhero Supply Company offers custom-fit capes, Seattle’s Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company sells all your space commuting appurtenances, 826michigan’s Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair Shop specializes in must-have mechanical conveniences, while 826LA features a time travel store, there’s a secret agent supply store in Chicago, and the Cryptozoology shop in Boston is now open! (826 National)”

Below, some of the products sold at The Pirate Supply Store in San Fran, via I think my favorite is the pine needle tea because of its obscurity, and that it is a factual 19th century remedy for scurvy. Pine needles, especially white pine, are high in vitamin C.
I plan on visiting the Cryptzoology store in Boston this fall.
(Thanks for the tip, Doan!)

The Gallery: Gilded Fruit Centerpiece; Hawaiin Sunset Supper

Another wonderful collection of images thanks to Betty Crocker. “Hawaiian Sunset Supper,” from Betty Crocker’s Party Book: More than 500 recipes, menus, and how-to-do-it tips for festive occasions the year ’round, 1960. I’m pretty sure this is the ancestor of Amy Sedaris’ I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence.

A spread for a bridal shower.
Some sort of fish theme for Father’s Day.
And my favorite: Thanksgiving Gilded Fruit Centerpiece. I fucking love that gold pineapple.

Cocktail Hour: Jerry Thomas’ Own Bitters

I would say that there are two schools of cocktail mixing in New York right now: those who create the cocktails of tomorrow, and those who strive to recreate the imbibements of the past.

I was at an event a few days ago, where a bartender mixed a drink in which he used “Jerry Thomas’ own recipe bitters.” I’ve dug up the recipe, and I invite the more adventurous among you to give this tincture a try. Thomas suggests serving his bitters as a sort of infused rum; if you’d like to use this recipe in mixed drinks, I would recommend infusing a higher proof alcohol like Everclear. For more on the logistics of preparing bitters, refer to this excellent article.
“Jerry Thomas'” own Decanter Bitters

From How To Mix Drinks, by Jerry Thomas (1862)

1 Ib of raisins
2 ounces of cinnamon
1 ounce snake root
1 lemon and 1 orange cut in slices
1 ounce of cloves
1 ounce allspice

Fill decanter with Santa Cruz rum. Bottle and serve out in pony glasses. As fast as the bitters is used fill up again with rum.


*The one problem with the recipe is that snakeroot is highly poisonous; in the 19th century, cows who grazed in wooded areas would eat this toxic plant, and their milk would in turn become toxic. The farmers and their families who drank it came down with “milk sickness,” and were stricken with vomiting and diarrhea. The affliction claimed thousands of lives, most notable Abraham Lincoln’s mother. However, I suspect the death rate was not so much result of the poisoning itself, but because the medical world was yet unaware of the importance of replacing a lost fluids. It was not uncommon for sickly babies to poop themselves to death.
Perhaps snakeroot is safer in smaller concentrations, I don’t know. But please, for the sake of my conscience, don’t mess around with it.

Taste History Today: Ossabaw Pork

From the ossabaw tasting dinner at Boqueria

New York chefs have been going ga-ga about a new type of upscale pork, that is actually from a very old breed: The Ossabaw.

The Ossabaw breed is descended from some of the 700 animals left along the Southeast coast by Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto in 1539. The idea was that the hogs would give future colonists a ready supply of meat.

The swine left behind were Ibericos, which Spaniards let graze on acorns and then cured into their famous Jámon Iberico, a flavorful pink ham with droplets of fat that makes pork lovers swoon…Although many of the Ibericos in America eventually died out or assimilated with dominant barnyard breeds over the years, some Ibericos remained genetically pure. These are the Ossabaws, whose name comes from the remote Georgia barrier island where the breed thrived in the wild for centuries. (The News and Observer: High on this Hog)”

There has been a recent movement to save the pig, by breeding it and marketing it’s meat to upscale restaurants, mostly in New York. “It’s oxymoronic to think that eating a rare breed is actually saving it, but it’s true,” said Chuck Bassett of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy of Pittsboro. I’ve never tasted it, but the meat is supposed to be exquisite.

Only a few Mennonite farmers agreed to industry-defying lunacy: raising these pigs in the open, and finishing them on acorns, beech and hickory nuts. The six-week autumn feast lays on an incredible layer of burnished yellow, nutty-tasting fat. At 250 to 300 pounds each, 40 Ossabaws are slaughtered each autumn, and the parts sent off to people ready to accord them due reverence.

The back fat was doled out to a who’s who of four-star and locally focused enclaves. Everyone from Craft and Craftsteak, Aureole, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Gramercy Tavern,Café Boulud, and Four Seasons, to Savoy, A Voce, Tao, Tabla, Morandi and Commerce got their slab. Salumeria Biellese takes the bellies for pancetta, the front legs for coppa(thanks, shoulders) and the trim for cured salami including sopressata and cacciatorini. (Time Our New York: Ossabaw Pig Legs Ready for the Eatin)

The meat is also occasionally available at Murray’s Cheese. You can see the pigs in the flesh at Mt. Vernon, in Washington DC, where they are bred every spring. Ossibaw is also being championed because it is raised organically on wild forage, and it’s fat has healthy properties similar to olive oil. I’ve heard, however, that they can be extremely aggresive, particularly the males.

For more on this heritage breed, read this great article at Rural Intelligence.

The First Stop for All You Historic Baking Needs

Eva forwarded me a link to an amazing site, Deborah’s Pantry. This site is seriously the go-to for all your hard to fine 18th and 19th century culinary needs.

Items I want particularly excited about:
Nutmegs with the mace still on it!! I have been trying to explain to people what this looks like for years.
Loaf Sugar: “Sugar was purchased in tall conical loaves. Pieces were cut from them with special sugar-cutting implements. Well-to-do households bought whole sugar loaves, but smaller quantities could be purchased from the apothecaries (originally sugar was treated as a spice), and later from apothecaries and grocers. Loaf sugar is suitable for use in cooking and baking without being clarified further (boiled to remove scum).”
Seeing these loafs was also great, because it answered my questions about how refined baking sugar was; the answer is very. These loaves are quite white. And the best part? She makes them herself:

“Sugar Loaves may not be available for immediate shipment: Deborah refines the sugar properly and makes the loaves herself using 18th-century techniques, and the curing process is very time-consuming.”

Deborah also carries two types of historic leavening, Saleratus, a 19th Century leavening; and Pearlash, appropriate for the 18th century. When I do my historic baking, I substitute Baking Powder with no adverse side affects, and will probably continue to do so. But it’s nice to know the real stuff is out there.

And she’s having a sale in August!

Deborah Peterson’s Pantry

History Dish Mondays: Peach Brandy

I have long dreamed of making peach brandy from scratch, a key component of my favorite summer-time drink: The Mint Julep. Too long have I made-do with “Mr. Boston.” The time is right for plump, ripe peaches, so I am seizing the day and attempting to infuse my own peach brandy.

I consulted Jerry Thomas for guidance:

I took two large, very ripe peaches, and smushed them up good, skins and all , with the bottom of a rocks glass. I spooned them into a mason jar, and then filled the jar with brandy to the top. I mixed it around a little bit to ensure a happy marriage of brandy and peach. Thomas recommends letting the mixture macerate for 24 hours, which means in the future this mixture could be made on relatively short notice. However, I’m going to Alaska tomorrow morning for two weeks. How could letting it sit a little longer possibly hurt? It could only improve the flavor, right??

So I’ve just covered the jar, and pushed it to the back of the fridge. See you in two weeks, Peach Brandy! When I return, I will strain the liquid, and mix some cocktails.

Save the Date: The 19th Century Pub Crawl

Are you in New York? Do you like history? Do you like alcohol? Then put this on your calendar:

Come join us for a full night of nineteenth-century debauchery at several of New York City’s oldest bars and most notorious dens of vice.

We will meet promptly at 5 PM in front of the Merchant’s House Museum (29 East 4th Street). Our evening will commence at Swift, then proceed to Death & Company; McSorely’s Old Ale House; Pete’s Tavern; Old Town Bar; Keen’s Steakhouse; and, should we still possess the fortitude and sobriety, P.J. Clarke’s.

Stay tuned for more details…

The Best Laid Cookie Plans

I’ve been kicking around the idea of selling baked good inspired by historic recipes, but I yet to find an appropriate venue. In the meantime, I need to test some recipes. Here’s a list of cookies I’m going to attempt:

Almond and Rosewater Macaroons

Mexican Chocolate Macaroons – Based off of the earliest known recipe for chocolate used in baking.
Kisses– Lemon meringue filled with cranberry jelly.
Jumbles – A spiced cookie made with mace and lemon.
Caraway cakes – Flavored with ground caraway seeds.
Cream Short Bread – A rich cookie, good for tea, made with sweet cream
Cayenne Ginger Bread
And if these sell alright, I’ll experiment with more recipes. Keep an eye out for my recipe tests in the coming weeks, and I’ll let you know when and where I’ll be selling my wares!