Monthly Archive for March, 2010

History Dish Mondays: Port Wine Jelly

This is the first of my experiments with a few 18th/early 19th century chemical additives.  Today, one of President Jefferson’s favorite desserts, Wine Jelly, made with the aid of Isinglass and Gum Arabic.
Port Wine Jelly
From Directions For Cookery, In Its Various Branches. By Miss Leslie, 1840
1 cup of water
1 oz isinglass
1 oz gum arabic
2 cups port wine
2 ounces rock candy, or 3 tablespoons sugar
½ nutmeg, grated

1. In a medium saucepan, heat water and isinglass, stirring constantly until isinglass has dissolved.  The resulting liquid with be thick and tapioca like

2.  Add wine, gum Arabic, sugar and nutmeg.  Bring to a boil, and boil for ten minutes.  Stir constantly, because things get stuck to the bottom, boil over, or burn.

3. Strain through a cloth, like muslin or several layers of cheesecloth.  Pour into a mold (I used four ramekins).  Set aside until it comes to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight.


When I was cooking the isinglass, it had a distinct ocean smell.  Like salty sea air.  I guess that’s because it comes from inside a fish.  The gum arabic also had a distinct smell–like an old jewelry box.  When I cooked everything together, it had the consistency of simple syrup.

After I poured the concoction in a mold and let it set, I popped it out of the ramekins and cut a slice to sample.  I was already surprised– the texture was not at all how I thought it would be.  I was expecting something like a jello; in reality it was more like fruit leather or Turkish delight.  Very dense.

It didn’t taste very good—it made me make an unhappy face.  The flavor of the chemical ingredients was stronger than that of the port wine.  It might have been enjoyable if consumed in a time when their weren’t a lot of sweets available, like in the early 19th century, but  in the 21st century it’s really pretty blah.

BUT–I was thrilled that it came together chemically.  I mixed together strange bags of suspicious looking substances, and the final product set just how it should.  Who figured this stuff out in the first place?  Like “Let’s make a fancy dessert out of these crispy strings I found in a sturgeon!”

It makes me brave to try my next isinglass experiment, a “Very Fine Charlotte Russe.”

Taste History Today: Chipotle’s Corn Tortillas

On Thursday, after doing some research at the New York Public Library, I headed over to the Chipotle on 42nd st for dinner.  While standing in line, I noticed a sign tacked up near the tortilla press that said “We are trying a ‘new’ soft corn tortilla based on a 3,500-year-old recipe.  Give them a spin with your favorite combination and let us know what you think.”  3,500 year old tortillas? Sold!

The verdict?  The tortillas were moist and delicate, with a rich corn flavor.  But they tended to tear from the weight of the goodies inside.  Chipotle’s soft tacos are usually made with flour tortillas, which are generally more durable.

I was curious just how much tortilla recipes have changed over the past 3,500 years;  Edible Queens obliged my curiosity by publishing an article in their spring issue about Tortilleria Nixtamal, a taco joint that’s revolutionizing food by making their tortillas the old fashioned way (read the article here).  Pick up a copy of the magazine to learn more about different types of tortillas, how much they have changed over the years, and why tortillas in mexico taste the best.  And keep an eye out for new corn tortillas in your local Chipotle.

Events: The Boston 19th C. Pub Crawl

Hey, Bostonites! (Bostonians?)  Come join us for a night of nineteenth-century debauchery at Boston’s oldest bars and most notorious dens of vice!
We will meet promptly at 5:30 PM at Eastern Standard (528 Commonwealth Avenue) for classic cocktails and complimentary appetizers.  We will then proceed to Red Hat Café; Union Oyster House; Bell in Hand Tavern; and, should we still possess the fortitude and sobriety, Drink.
The crawl is FREE to join.  Appropriate nineteenth century attire is encouraged, but by no means required.
Go to for more information.  Or, rsvp via Facebook here.
Brought to you by The Nineteenth Century Society and Four Pounds Flour.
See you there!

Snapshot: A Few 18th c. Treats

Right: Cooking ingredients from Deborah’s Pantry; I love the packaging.

I’ve recently become interested in the chemistry of cooking and how it has changed over time.  How did we gel things before gelatin?  How did cakes rise before baking powder?

With this idea in mind, I ordered a bundle of 18th century ingredients from Deborah’s Pantry: Pearlash, the first form of chemical leavening for baked goods; gum arabic, a hardening agent used in confectionery; and isinglass, a jellying agent extracted from the swim bladders of sturgeon.  Stay tuned as I attempt to turn these items into food…

Gum Arabic.

Cocktail Hour: Cornelius Applejack

I had this Applejack recommended to me by one of the cocktail experts at Astor Wine & Spirits, a store that is an incredible resource for all things drinkable.

Applejack is one of our nation’s oldest alcoholic beverages: Laird’s, the oldest producer of apple jack, is also the nation’s oldest legal distillery.  It received the first American distillery license issued in 1780.  George Washington was producing applejack at his homestead as early as 1760 using the Laird family recipe.  Read some more interesting historical facts about Laird’s here.

Like most things that are old and delicious, there has been an revival of applejack production, particularly in the tri-state area.  New York has always been known for its apples,   and each bottle  of Cornelius Applejack is made from over 60 lbs of apples grown in the Hudson Valley.  It’s made in small batches, and each bottle is carefully hand labled with the batch and bottle number.  It’s a beautiful product, from the shape of the bottle to the intoxicating golden color of the drink itself.

The liqour smells sweet, with a hint of vanilla.  It’s got a hell of a kick to it, but you can taste all the complexity of the apple flavors as it washes over your tongue.  I was told there is someone in NYC who is drinking through all of the artisinal applejacks coming on to the market (are you out there?), and apparently this one is the best.  At Astor Wine & Spirits, they recommended drinking it neat to enjoy the full flavor of the spirit.  But I’ve discovered having it on the rocks with a teaspoon of simple syrup doesn’t hurt a thing.  Neither does a couple muddled mint leaves, or a dash of Angostura bitters.

History Dish Mondays: Roast Bear

Roast bear with mushrooms and a hot apple toddy; film still from an upcoming episode of New York Wave.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been shooting a short documentary about my work for PBS Japan, for a show called New York Wave.  They wanted me to prepare dinner for the show’s host and asked if there was anything unusual that I have been aching to cook up.

It came to me like a flash:  Roast Bear.

A few months previous, I had been digging through the massive menu collection at the New York Public Library.  One of their earliest menus, from 1842, was a dinner thrown in New York in honor of Charles Dickens.  Over 3,000 guests attended, and  the menu was extensive (See the original menu here.)

Roast Bear was served that evening.  I thought it was so unusual and fascinating–I had never seen bear included on a menu, let alone in New York city.  After doing a little more reading (in the very handy Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America) I found out that bear was commonly hunted and eaten in early America; in the 19th century, it was still sold in markets in New York.  Until the end of the century, roast leg of bear was served as a delicacy in New York restaurants.

It was decided: we would eat bear for dinner.  So where does one come across bear meat in this day and age?  You cannot sell hunted game meat in America–game sold in markets today is farmed.  The best way to get it is to make a few friends in Alaska, which I happen to have.  It’s legal to hunt bear there, and if you ask really nice, someone will know someone who would be willing to ship you a roast or two.  And if you’re really lucky, about six pounds of black bear rump meat and tenderloin will arrive via airmail to your Queens apartment.

The next challenge was figuring out how to cook the meat.   I consulted Feeding America to see if any recipes for bear had appeared in American cookbooks.  I came up with one hit, from Miss Corson’s Practical American Cookery (1886):

I consulted Miss Corson’s recipe for roast beef; and she recommends searing it, roasting it, and then preparing a simple gravy from the pan drippings.  This method sounded about right; I wanted to prepare the meat simply to get the full effect of its flavor.

How to Roast a Bear

Eating omnivores, like bear,  can give you all kinds of parasites.  It’s best to cook it well done; I used the same temperature guidelines recommended for cooking pork. I cooked a rump roast, but this recipe should work well for any smaller cut of bear.

1 bear roast; 1-4 lbs
Salt and Pepper
1-2 cups mushrooms (or squash, parsnips, etc.  Something earthy and nice)
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Rinse bear meat and part dry.  Cover generously with salt and pepper.
2.  Clarify the butter: heat it in a microwave until it melts, then gently skim off the fatty solids that have separated to the top.  Pour butter into a cast iron skillet, being careful not to disturb any sediment that may have sunk to the bottom.
3.  Heat skillet over high heat.  Place bear in skillet and sear on all sides until browned.  Add mushrooms to the skillet–it’s ok if the bear is buried in shrooms.  They’ll cook down.
4. Move bear directly from stovetop into oven; roast 10 minutes per pound, until a meat thermometer in the center reads 145 degrees.  Remove from oven and allow to rest before carving.
5. In the meantime, make the sauce.  Pour bear drippings from the skillet into a saucepan and add flour.  Cook over medium heat until the flour is browned, then add water while whisking constantly.  Let the sauce cook until it thickens to your desired consistency–anything from a thin sauce to a thick gravy is fine.
6.  Carve meat into one-inch thick slices.  Serve, topped with mushrooms and sauce.


The gravy is a must because the meat is a little dry; and because the sauce is made with pure bear goodness, it doesn’t detract from the flavor, but enriches it.

After my first bite of bear, if someone had told me it was beef, I would have believed them.  There is a darker, gamier note, but not the stringy, gamey meat I expected.  It was more than edible–its was good.  I ate my whole plate.

Please Enjoy the Redesigned Four Pounds Flour

Welcome to the brand new  Stay tuned as this blog continues to change and grow in the future.

The blog was redesigned by Ben Kinsley ( with illustrations by Peter Van Hyning (  If you like the new look , check out more of their work!

Please make liberal use of the comments section, and let me know what you like or hate concerning the site’s new look, usability, content, etc.  And let me know what you would like to see in the future in terms of new features, resources, and content.

Thank you!

Snaphot: Pinons

Pine nuts.

My friend Cecile is visiting from Belgium, and she brought me a little gift: pine nuts, collected during a hike in the south of France.  I’ve never even seen a pine nut in it’s shell before!  I’m going to make something really special with these; perhaps some Pignoli Cookies.

Travelogue: Chickens Cooked in Bladders

Left: My teacher proudly displays a chicken stuffed into a bladder.

The weekend before Pancakes Aplenty, I took a trip down to Pennsbury Manor, the recreated historic homestead of William Penn.  I attended a hearth cooking workshop by Past Masters in Early American Domestic Arts to brush up on my skillz.

The featured recipe we recreated was from an 18th century source, “Chickens in Bladders.”  You essentially take two small chickens, stuff them with a bread crumb and oyster dressing, then tuck meatballs under the skin, then shove the whole thing in a cow’s bladder.  Our teacher, Clarissa, stretched out the cow’s bladders by cutting off one end and forcing her hands inside, in procedure that looked either like a reverse birth or an old timey freak show.  The chickens were then coerced inside and the whole thing was boiled for about two hours.  When they came out, they looked like human balloons.

Forcing a chicken into a cow bladder. Photo by Carolina Capehart.

The finished chicken.  The bladders were cut open, the chicken removed and carved.

The bladders acted like a sausage casing, keeping all the stuffing in place.  The chicken meat was very tender, and flavorful, but the flavor was predominantly of oysters (not my favorite food).  It was served atop a “Coolio,” and I was so distracted thinking about the rapper, that I think I may have missed what it actually was.  The full recipe, for your enjoyment, is below.  You can see more photos from the class here.

Take Ox-Bladders that are ready dry’d, and put them into warm Water to supple them: Cut off the Necks of the Bladders, to make Room for your Fowl to go in, but be sure to leave Room enough to tie them up close; then let your Fowl be drawn, singed, and truss’d to boil, the Legs* cut off, and truss’d close: Take Oysters, if three Fowls, to each a Quart, to a Chicken a Pint, set them, and beard them; take Lumps of Marrow, Chestnuts blanch’d, or Pistachoe-Nut Kernels; season with Pepper, Salt, and Nutmeg, Thyme and Parsly minc’d, and a little Onion; work this up together with grated Bread, a little Cream, and the Yolks of Eggs, and fill the Bellies full of it, and force under the Skin of the Breast with a little light forc’d meat: Put them in your Bladders, and tie them up fast, leaving Room that the Bladders may not break; boil them well, for they will require as much more boiling as without Bladders; then make a Coolio with a Sweetbread or two, a few Cocks-combs, a few Morelles and Trouffles; do not make it too thick; pout it in the Bottom of your Dish; lay your Fowl on it: You may cut off the Bladders, when they are cut up, the inside Forceing will mix with the Coolio: Garnish with Forc’d- meat and sliced Orange or Lemon, and serve it away hot. (The Complete Practical Cook by Charles Carter; London, 1730)

Events: Pancakes Aplenty! Wrap-up and Recipes

Cooking Apple, Sour Milk & Molasses Pancakes at Old Stone House yesterday.  See more photos from the event here.

I was too immersed in pancake making to know how many people came out to the event yesterday.  Take a look for yourself:

Despite a constant flow of pancakes, the line was this long for an hour and a half.  I was flabberghasted.

I want to thank everyone who was able to make it out yesterday, and thank you for waiting patiently and amicably while I furiously flipped flapjakes.  I simply was not prepared, nor was I expecting, to serve hearth-cooked pancakes for 200 people; I’m so pleased that everyone was able to get a taste, and (hopefully) went home happy.

If you enjoyed yourself, then I encourage you to make these recipes at home!  They work just as well on an electric skillet as they do over an open hearth–and it’s probably a more efficient method of cooking.

Thank you again for the wonderful day; if you were able to attend, please leave your thoughts in the comments.  Enjoy the recipes, and I sincerely hope to see you at another event in the future.


Apple Pancakes
Adapted from The New England Economical Housekeeper by Esther Allen Howland, 1845.
Modern recipe adapted from The Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook, 3rd ed. by Jack Larkin, 2009.

The original recipes instructs the cook to deep fry these pancakes in lard, like a doughnut.  But I find this recipe works just as well fried with butter on a griddle or in a skillet.

2 cups sour milk or 1 1/2 cups fresh milk with 2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 baking apples
3/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour

1. Combine milk and molasses, whisking until emulsified.
2. Pare and core apples, and dice into 1/4 in. cubes.  Add to milk and molasses mixture and set aside.
3. In another bowl, whisk cornmeal, baking soda and flour until combined.  Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour milk mixture into the well, and mix until combined.
4. Fry in a skillet or on a griddle, with a generous amount of butter.  Serve with maple syrup, butter, or a hard sauce.
Clove and Rosewater Pancakes
Adapted from The New England Economical Housekeeper by Esther Allen Howland, 1845

Rosewater can be food in the Indian or Middle Eastern section of your grocery store.

3 tablespoons sugar
½ tsp cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lighten beaten with
½ tsp rosewater
1 cup whole milk

1. Combine sugar, cloves, baking soda, flour and salt in a large bowl.  Whisk until combined; set aside.
2. Whisk the milk into the egg and rosewater mixture.
3. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour milk mixture into the well, and mix until combined.
4. Fry in a skillet or on a griddle, using a generous amount of butter.  Serve with maple syrup, butter, or a hard sauce.

Pumpkin Cornmeal Pancakes

Adapted from Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch by Peter G. Rose, 2009.

“Although (the Dutch) continued their own food ways, they did incorporate native foods into their daily diets. They did so, however, in ways that were familiar to them: for example, when they made pumpkin cornmeal pancakes (cornmeal instead of wheat flour) or pumpkin sweetmeat (instead of quince paste).”

Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch by Peter G. Rose

1 cup flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs, lightly beaten with
1 1/2 cups whole milk

1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, and spices. Set aside.
2.  Whisk together egg and milk mixture with pumpkin puree until throughly amalgamated.
3. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour milk mixture into the well, and mix until combined.
4. Fry in a skillet or on a griddle, with a generous amount of butter.  Serve with maple syrup, butter, or a hard sauce.

1 pound unsalted butter, room tempeature
2 cups sugar
½ cup white wine or brandy
1 tsp nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

Beat in an electric mixer on medium until evenly combined.