Monthly Archive for December, 2009

Cocktail Hour: Green Tea Punch for your New Year’s Party

It tastes like the best cup of tea you’ve ever had.

New Year’s is one of my favorite holidays, primarily because of the level of drunken debauchery it allowed in 19th century New York. According to Lights and Shadows of New York Life by James Dabney McCabe, published 1873:

“”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 remained at 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…”

So in the spirit of this great day, I present to you Jerry Thomas’ recipe for Green Tea Punch; a cold weather favorite that’s sure to please at your New Year’s Eve get together, or your New Year’s Day visiting hours.

Tea Punch
From How to Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas, 1862

“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.”

1 lemon
1/2 cup super fine sugar
1 quart boiling water
1 ounce loose leaf green tea
1 pint brandy
1 pint rum

1. Add the sugar to a large punch bowl, rub the sugar on the rind of the lemon.
2. Remove the lemon, slice in half, and juice.  Add lemon juice to the punch bowl.
3. Wrap one ounce of loose leaf green tea in cheese cloth (or other method of infusing), and brew in boiling water for at least three minutes or to taste.
3.  Add brewed tea to the punch bowl; stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
4. Add brandy and rum, stir to combine.  Serve hot.

This is the way that I make it; Thomas’ recipe actually calls for a bit more flair.  Follow steps 1-3, above.  Add alcohol, then “Set these a light, and pour in the tea gradually mixing it from time to time with a ladle; it will remain burning for some time and is to be poured in that state into the glasses.”  I’ve never attempted this method before, but perhaps this is the year.

Taste History Today: Clear Toys and Cleveland’s Early Ethnic Groups

I wanted to share with you two interesting, culinary history Christmas presents I received this year. My mom tucked a pair of “clear toys” into my stocking; made by Timberlake Candies, these little treast were popular gifts in the Victorian era:

Twisted sticks of Barley Sugar were originally made in the 17th century by boiling down refined cane sugar (a new product at that time) with barley water, cream of tartar, and water. During the 18th century metal molds were used to create the wonderful variety of shapes known as Barley Sugar Clear Toys. These became a popular Victorian Christmas treat.

“Clear Toy Candy” refers to the molding of hard candy into various three dimensional shapes without sticks (not a lollypop). The term does not imply the use of Barley Candy, though traditionally Barley Sugar and Barley Candy were used to make clear toy candy.

Timberlake Candy has hundreds of antique molds appropriate for any holiday or season, but they only make the traditional barley candy for a few weeks around Christmas. Buy barley sugar candy here.
My aunt gave me a tin of spices from The Olive and The Grape , a local business in Cleveland.  The tin contains a collection of seasonings “…Reflecting the history and foods of the ten major ethnic groups who were first to settle Cleveland–African-Americans, Chinese, Czech, German, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Polish, Slovenian and Ukrainian.”  I’ll have to cook a traditional Cleveland area dish appropriate to each of these ethnic groups!

Events: The Cleveland Pre-Prohibition Pub Crawl

“This wall is over 100 years old.” Inside Cleveland’s oldest continually operating bar, the Harbor Inn.

I’m in my hometown of Cleveland for the holidays, a city I love very much. My heart breaks to see it looking so threadbare in this recession. My friends and I decided to celebrate our city via a journey into Cleveland history: a crawl of Cleveland’s oldest pubs and bars that tip their hats to a bygone era.

Our first stop was Edison’s Pub, a local bar that pays tribute to Thomas Edison.  We started there mostly because it was a convenient meeting spot for the attendees, but the $2.50 happy hour drink special wasn’t bad either.  Cleveland, you truly are the land of plenty!

Next up was the Prosperity Social Club.  Although it resides in what was a 1938 ballroom, the atmosphere was more 1950s VFW hall.  However, as someone pointed out, it was very traditional, old-school Cleveland.  We dug it.  It was easy to picture iron workers coming in from the cold for a drink, and the bar is still warmed by a vintage wood-burning stove.  I drank a hot whiskey, a comforting combination of Jameson, honey, lemon and clove.  Good for what ails ‘ya.  I recommend it, as well as the pierogies, the next time you’re there.

Right: Hot Whiskey at the Prosperity Social Club

We jumped in a cab and headed north, stopping at Cleveland’s new mixology sensation, the Velvet Tango Room.  From their website:
At the Tango Room, we believe in craft. We believe that the right combination of ingredients can take you back in time, to a porch in Key West, a beach in Bermuda, a shadowy speakeasy in New York, or a glittering bar in Paris. When you sit at our bar, we want you to connect to those places and that history, so we carefully research old cocktail recipes, lovingly resurrecting classic drinks with historically accurate ingredients.”
Sounds right up my alley, doesn’t it?  It’s pricier than most Cleveland bars, at $15 a drink, but it’s worth it.  The cocktails taste like a sip of history, respectfully revived and celebrated.  I had a pisco sour (Peru’s national drink!) and I plan on returning soon for one of their carefully crafted Manhattans.
This bar is incredibly popular in Cleveland: five years ago, when I was working on my thesis, everyone said a venue like this could never survive locally.  As it turns out, perhaps a historically innovative place like the Tango Room is exactly what Cleveland needs.

Next we walked a few blocks past the Westside Market, and into the Great Lakes Brewery.  GLB is know for its beers named after famous Clevelanders and events from the city’s history.  It’s  housed in what was once the Market Tavern, est. 1865.

“Its most famous patron was Eliot Ness, the man credited with taking down Al Capone’s gang. The Taproom retains much of the charm and mystique from the 1930s era in its grand Tiger Mahogany bar (Cleveland’s oldest) and intriguing bullet holes said to have come from Eliot Ness himself.”

The bar in the Taproom at the Great Lakes Brewery.  There is a pen sticking out of a bullet hole put in the bar in the 1930s.

Ness’ time in Cleveland is a fascinating one, marked by his fruitless search for a serial killer known as the Torso Murderer that stalked the city streets.  The killer would dismember his victims and leave their remains on the banks of the Cuyahoga.  The case was never solved.

We cabbed it again, heading for the lake front and the Harbor Inn, Cleveland’s oldest continually operating bar, est. 1895.  We were apprehensive about this joint, having heard it was both a dive and a college bar.  But upon arrival, it was exactly the kind of place I’m comfortable in: a little worse for the wear, but roomy and convivial.  We had a great time playing on the vintage bowling machine and downing $2 PBR tall boys.
Last, we crossed the river and entered the Flat Iron Cafe.  Established in 1910, it’s Cleveland’s oldest Irish Bar:

“The building, which was formally a four story hotel, had a fire in the late 1800’s in which the top two floors were destroyed…The first floor was used as a blacksmith’s shop and the rooms on the second floor were used as lodging over the years by the sailors and longshoremen working on the lakes.”

Exterior: Flat Iron Cafe

I don’t remember much at this point…someone was solving a mystery.  I ate a gyro from a street cart. Somebody else may have gotten married.  At any rate, a good time was had by all.  I’m certainly thankful for my Cleveland friends who joined me on my historic antics.  And I’m thankful to have grown up in such great town with a fascinating history.  I love you, Cleveland!
Check out our route here.
And see more photos below!

In The News: Historic Gastronomy ‘Round the World

From December 27th – January 3rd, the Hampton Court Palace kitchens in London will be open to the public and cooking up historic Tudor cuisine:

“The Tudor kitchens at Hampton Court Palace are famous throughout the world for being those of King Henry VIII.

In fact they continued to be used as Royal Court kitchens for a further two hundred years, feeding the tables of Tudor, Stuart and Georgian monarchs and their many courtiers…For the last five years, they have been home to a fascinating research project run by Historia food archaeologists who regularly bring the kitchens to life experimenting with traditional recipes, ingredients and cooking methods to prepare feasts fit for a king!”

The New York Times follows in the footsteps of famous French gourmand Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de la Reynière, and takes us on a culinary journey through 19th century Paris

“Starting in 1803, Grimod, whose family fortune had largely been lost during the Revolution, financed his voracious appetite by writing a series of best-selling guidebooks to the culinary wonders of Paris — its famous delicatessens, pâtissiers and chocolatiers — including the first reviews of an alluring new institution called le restaurant…One of the most exciting things about the Almanachs is that they include detailed gastronomic walking tours of Paris, called “nutritional itineraries” — each one a vivid window onto the past.”

Grimod’s favorite chocolate, Debauve & Gallais, can be acquired this side of the Atlantic at their shop in New York City.

Cooking with the Caliphs analyzes a medieval cookbook from “the court of 9th century Baghdad”:

“A little over a thousand years ago, an Arab scribe wrote a book he titled Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Recipes)… The book has come down to our time in three manuscripts and fragments of a fourth—and what a treasure it is. These are the dishes actually eaten by the connoisseurs of Baghdad when it was the richest city in the world.”

The recipes in the article sound amazing. They’re fascinating because they use ingredients common to 19th century American cooking, like citron and rosewater. I think I’m going to have an ancient Middle Eastern dinner party before too long.

History Dish Mondays: The Original Christmas Cookie

cookies_1The original Christmas Cookie, flavored with coriander.

This recipe comes from Amelia Simmons’ book American Cookery, the first cookbook of American authorship, published in 1796.  It’s one of the earliest printed uses of the word cookie or “cookey,” an Americanism derived from the Dutch word koekje, a little cake that was offered as a treat to New Year’s day visitors in New York City.

It was published at a time when Christmas was not uniformly celebrated.  Santa Claus wasn’t invented for another thirty years, and the domestic, gift giving Christmas we’re familiar with today did not exist.  There was a great debate as to whether Christmas should be celebrated piously, in quiet prayer and devotion; or in a more traditional Solstice celebration, with a focus on drinking and mischief.  “The Antics” were roaming the streets of Boston, a rowdy gang who burst into the houses of the wealthy, and acted out bawdy plays for a reward of money or alcohol.  “Callathumpian bands” paraded around the streets of New York, their purpose to make as much noise and cause as much chaos as possible.

For more on the origins of modern Christmas, read Stephen Nissenbaum’s amazing book, The Battle for Christmas.  I don’t know more about this recipe in particular, but I was intrigued to taste the earliest American Christmas cookie recipe that I know of.

This recipe is essentially a sugar cookie flavored with coriander, which is the dried seeds of cilantro (and technically, cilantro is fresh coriander). Simmons’ receipt is vague, so I searched for a modern recipe I could retronovate, and found the perfect solution in Martha Stewart’s Old Fashioned Sugar Cookie.  This recipe appealed to me because it uses an interesting modern technique of applying a double layer of sanding sugar, which gives the cookie a sweet glaze.  I altered the batter so it would be closer to Simmons’ original recipe.  For a slightly more authentic Christmas Cookey, I recommend using a recipe for Springerle cookies, a traditional Dutch treat, and replace the anise flavor with 1-2 tsp. of ground coriander.

Christmas Cookeys

From American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796).
Modern recipe derived from Martha Stewart’s Cookies: The Very Best Treats to Bake and to Share.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tsp ground coriander
Zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, (2 sticks), softened
2 large eggs
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

1. Whisk flour, baking soda, coriander and salt into a bowl; set aside.

2. Using an electric mixer, beat sugars, lemon zest and butter at a medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then lemon juice, mixing between each addition. Scrape down bowl with a rubber spatula.

3. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture. Mix until just combined.

4. Scoop dough into a ziploc bag or sheet of plastic wrap. Form into a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break off a 1/4 of the dough ball. On a generously floured surface, roll out dough until it is 1/4 inch thick. “Cut or stamp in shape and size you please (Simmons),” and place on a baking sheet. “Sprinkle tops with sanding sugar, then lightly brush with a wet pastry brush; sprinkle with more sanding sugar (Stewart).”

6. Bake for 7 minutes, turning half way through.

I really like these cookies; they’re a simple sugar cookie, with a kick of fresh citrusy flavor form the coriander. I’ve boxed them up with some Chocolet Puffs and Cayenne Gingerbread, and they’ll make a lovely Christmas gift.

The Gallery: What if Your Fruit Was Large and Terrifying

Eva has provided me with further evidence that Victorians had too much time on their hands.  She directed me towards this bookFruit Figures, and How to Make Them.

The first is a giant, disembodied hand, made up to resemble an old woman.

However, these images do seem to be the inspiration for some contemporary artists.

The Historic Gastronomist’s Gift Guide

Curious where to find the best Christmas gifts for the culinary history enthusiast in your life?  Look no further: I’ve put together this list of gifts for the antiquated cook and contemporary gastronome alike..

Vintage and Historic Cook Books:

Kitchen Arts & Letters
1435 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10128
(212) 876-5550

“Nach Waxman is owner of one of the largest food bookstores in the country, Kitchen Arts & Letters, in Manhattan. From his perch behind the counter, he sees customers—famous chefs, not-famous line cooks, and civilians alike—streaming in to peruse his bountiful, unusual collection. Waxman shows us the basement, where he’s got some truly rare books. (”

Joanna Hendricks Cookbooks

488 Grennwich Street, New York NY
tel. 212-226-5731

“Located downtown, on Manhattan’s far west side, the tiny unique shop is filled with a variety of vintage cookbooks, menus, photographs and tableware. There isn’t a lot of foot traffic on this part of Greenwich Street and it’s easy to miss the store. Look for a small copper plaque that reads cookbooks, affixed to a very old and heavy wooden door. (”



Measuring Spoons

Cast Iron Cookware from Lodge Cast Iron
$10 and Up

“Nestled alongside the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachian Mountains is the town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee (population 3,300). Yet out of this tiny community comes the finest cast iron cookware in the world. Lodge Cast Iron began making cookware during the first presidential term of William McKinley. Amazingly, some of the first cast iron skillets,griddles and dutch ovens made over 100 years ago are still being put to good use.”


Economy Candy
108 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002
(800) 352-4544
order online:
photo: petervh

This mega candy store on New York’s lower east side carries a plethora of hard-to-find historic cooking ingredients such as preserved citron peel, dried currants, and almond paste. Additionally, they carry “Old Time Favorites,” vintage candy bars like the Cherry Mash.

Deborah’s Pantry
327 Sumneytown Pike
Harleysville, PA 19438
order online:

Deborah’s Pantry specializes in obscure 18th century cooing ingredients and apparatus, including isinglass and pearlash.  The 18th Century Tea Sampler ($16) makes a great gift for the casual enthusiastic.

Cheese of the Month Club
Murray’s Cheese
254 Bleecker St.
New York, NY 10014

The Cheese of the Month club is on everyone’s wish list: “Murray’s Cheese of the Month is a 1½ pound selection of 3 varied and delicious cheeses, sent to your door for 4, 6 or 12 consecutive months. Each selection includes a variety of milk types, textures and flavor profiles, with a special focus on seasonal cheeses.”

Menus: St. Nicholas Society Anniversary Dinner, Dec. 6th 1851

The St. Nicholas Society of New York was founded by a man named John Pintard.  Pintard was largely responsible for the invention of our modern Christmas traditions, along with society members Washington Irving and Clement Clark Moore. These men were obsessed with the Dutch history of New York, and they appropriated St. Nick as New York City’s patron saint.

I’m reading a fascinating book on Christmas traditions,  The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum.  It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and is a wonderful read this time of year.  Nissembaum outlines the transition of the Christmas holidays from a time of gluttony and drunkenness to a celebration of domesticity.  On the St. Nicholas Society and its members, Nissenbaum has this to say:

…It was John Pintard who brought St. Nicholas to America, in an effort to make that figure both the icon of the New York Historical Society and the patron saint of New York City….In the 1810s, Pintard organized and led elaborate St. Nicholas’ Day banquets for his fellow members of the New York Historical Society…

In Holland, St. Nicholas brings toys to children on his saint’s day, Dec. 6th.  Historically, this tradition was observed by upper class Dutch families.   The working class Dutch that immigrated to New Amsterdam did not bring this tradition with them.

…Nobody has ever found contemporaneous evidence of such a St. Nicholas cult in New York during the colonial period.  Instead, the familiar Santa Claus story appears to have been devised in the early nineteenth century…It was the work of a small group of antiquarian minded New York gentlemen–men who knew one another as members of a distinct social set.  Collectively, those men became known as the Knickerbockers…

In short, the Knickerbockers felt that they belonged to a patrician class whose authority was under siege.  From that angle, their invention of Santa Claus was part of what we can now see as a larger, ultimately quite serious cultural enterprise:  forging a pseudo-Dutch identity for New York, a placid “folk” identity that could provide a cultural counterweight to the commercial bustle and democratic ‘misrule’ of early 19th century New York.

St. Nicholas evolved into Santa Claus with the aid of Clement Clark Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas.

In the above menu, note the special “Knickerbocker” recipes, various traditional Dutch dishes.  Additionally, take note of the “Ornamental Confectionery.”  These would have probably been sculpted out of marzipan.
For another piece of fascinating holiday ephemera, check out Charles Dickens’s original manuscript of A Christmas Carol currently housed at the Morgan Library and Museum.  The New York Times has a high-resolution scan of the full manuscript online, and “The reader who spots the most intriguing textual change will be invited to tea at the Morgan Library and Museum.”
Today is also the one year anniversary of this blog.  Thank you all for your support, encouragement, and enthusiasm.  This year has been so meaningful and wonderful, and I can’t wait to see what the next twelve months will bring!

Events: Emily Dickinson’s Birthday Bash!

You are invited to celebrate Emily Dickinson’s birthday on Thursday, December 10th, at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC.  The event starts at 6pm, and is free!

It’s a particularly special night for me because it is the premiere of Emily: Her True Self, a short film I’m working on with artist Flash Rosenberg and the Lower East Side Girls Club.

And like any good birthday party, there will be CAKE!  Emily Dickinson’s “Black Cake,” a fruitcake recipe found amongst the poet’s papers.  I’m not baking it, but I will be there eating it.

Read more about the event here.  And if you can’t make it down to the Bowery for a night of poetry and premieres, then celebrate at home with a slice of Miss Dickinson’s cake.  It’s a traditional fruitcake, so it’s perfect for the holidays.  A recipe adapted for modern kitchens is printed below; try as I might, I couldn’t track down a copy of Dickinson’s original recipe online (although if anyone out there attends Harvard, you could get your hands on a copy).

Like any good fruitcake, you should let it sit in the back of your fridge for about a month before serving.  And don’t forget the 179 birthday candles.

Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake
From Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as a Cook by the Guides at the Dickinson Homestead.
As reprinted on Down the Rabbit Hole

2 cups sugar
1/2 lb. butter
5 eggs
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp clove
1 tsp mace
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground
1/4-1/2 cup brandy
1 lb. raisins
2/3 cup currants
2/3 lb. citron (buy citron here)
Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom of the oven.  Preheat oven to 225 F. Add sugar gradually to butter;  blend until light and creamy.   Add unbeaten eggs and molasses.  Beat well. Re-sift flour with soda and spices. If you’re using unsalted butter, add 1/2 tsp salt. Beat sifted ingredients into mixture, alternately adding brandy. Stir in raisins, currants, and citron.
Pour batter into two loaf pans lined with waxed paper. Bake at 225F for 3 hours.  Remove pan of water for last 1/2 hour. Let loaves cool before removing from pans. Remove paper and wrap in fresh paper.

In the News: Bring Back Butter!

Through my experiments in historic gastronomy, I have come to appreciate the beauties of butter, particularly when it’s fresh from the churn.

Apparently, I share this dairy fetish with installation artist Tim Eads, who “…Aims to reinvigorate our appetite for the long-standing table staple by crafting a pedal-operated machine that churns butter while simultaneously operating a toaster…”

“About a year ago I was thumbing through a 1905 Sears catalog I found in a used book store. It was humorous to see how everything was so bulky and strange looking and only performed simple tasks. It occurred to me that in 100 years our machines will look silly and inefficient.

…The reason I chose butter was it seemed like one of the most basic ways to connect to people. Because much of our brain activity is dedicated to finding and eating food we all connect with it on some level.”

If you’d like to support Eads in his butter dreams, then stop by his Kickstarter page, where he’s raising funds to make the butter bike a reality.  I wish him all the best.

And on a similar note, a novel gift idea: handmade butter, presented in a decked-out mason jar.  Visit  for the recipe.