Monthly Archive for October, 2010

The History Dish: Apple and Pickle Salad

And finally, recipes from Lower East Side Pickle Day. LESPD is a BFD–tons of people and vendors turn out to nosh and pretty much the entire Lower East Side smells like brine.  I represented the Tenement Museum and passed out some free samples of Apple and Pickle Salad from a 1905 recipe.  It tastes as bizarre as it sounds; at least I think so.  But the people loved it and wanted to buy it by the pint; they were devastated when I told them it was not for sale (ladies, if you’re out there, I’ll still make it for you! email me!)

So, here’s the recipe instead.  Make it for your next potluck and shock your friends.  I’ve also included a few cool pickling recipes from the first Kosher cookbook to be published in America, Jewish Cookery Book (1871).  If anyone gives those a try, I’d love to hear about it.  The pickled peaches sound delish.

Cocktail Hour: Drink What Dickens Drank

Oh, Dickens! Always boozing. Illustration by Peter Van Hyning.

When Charles Dickens made his first trip to America in 1842 (recorded in American Notes for General Circulation), he made certain to partake of one of the greatest American inventions: the cocktail.  While visiting Boston, he said “the bar is a large room with a stone floor, and there people stand and smoke, and lounge about, all the evening dropping in and out as the humor takes them.  There too the stranger is initiated into the mysteries of Gin-sling, Cocktail, Sangaree, Mint Julep, Sherry-cobbler, Timber Doodle, and other rare drinks.”

Dickens didn’t write down any recipes for these “rare drinks”, but fortunately some of his contemporaries did.  Captain Alexander, who toured America in 1833, recorded the directions for making The Cock Tail, along with four other drinks he had at the City Hotel in New York, prepared by a celebrity bartender named Willard.  Another English tourist, Captain Marryat, recorded his experiences with Mint Juleps after he made a trip to America in 1837.   He said: “I once overheard two ladies talking in the next room to me, and one of them said, ‘Well if I have a weakness for any one thing, it is for a mint julep!’–a very amiable weakness, and proving her good sense and good taste. They are, in fact, like the American ladies, irresistible.”  I think that quote is like the best thing ever.

Much of what we know about Victorian cocktails comes from How to Mix Drinks; or, the Bon-Vivants Companion by Prof. Jerry Thomas, published in 1862. Which, thanks to Google, is now online.

Couldn’t make it out to What Dickens Drank at apex art last week?  No worries; below, all the recipes you need to mix an 1840s cocktail at home.  Photos from the event, and more, can be found here.

Retronovated Recipes: Crockpot Beef Tongue

Look at it.  Licking the side of the Crock-pot.

Old Stone House of Brooklyn hosted an 1864 baseball game; naturally, they wanted some 1864 ballpark treats to go along with it.  So we did some research and after looking into Victorian street fair food and picnic pickings, we decided on a menu of popcorn balls (maple, molasses, and rosewater), lemonade, and ham on cornbread.  But there was one Victorian dish that came up again and again as an all-time, picnic in the park favorite: Tongue.

We decided to go for it.  We’d strive for historic accuracy and allow tongue sandwiches to grace our menu. We were serving in Brooklyn, after all, and I trusted this borough to have some adventurous eaters. However, I had never actually cooked a tongue before.  It was time to embark on another Offal Adventure.

A cow tongue is shockingly large and floppity.  I acquired mine at Jeffrey’s Meat Market, which has been located in Essex Street Market since Essex Street had a market.  I brought it home and prepped it, and as I moved it around the kitchen, I imagined it making some kind of animate tongue sounds (mostly pppplhhhlhlllh!). I began cruising for recipes: the Victorians demanded it be “…so tender that a straw would go through it.”  Now that’s tender.  So how to get it so perfectly tender, while at the same time infusing it with all kinds of mid-century spicy flavors?  I knew what I had to do: I busted out my trusty Crock-pot.

Yes, ok, OBVIOUSLY they didn’t have Crock-pots in 1864.  But that’s not what we do on this blog; I don’t have a hearth installed in my four-story walkup.  And I love my Crock-pot; no matter what shit I throw in there, it always comes out perfectly cooked and flavorful.  I trusted it with my tongue.  So I decided to retronovate a recipe:  I used this Spiced Beef Tongue Crockpot recipe for cooking instructions, but used the spices  listed in this 1845 recipe from The New England Economical Housekeeper.

1864-style Slow Cooked Tongue

Adapted from The New England Economical Housekeeper by Esther Allen Howland, 1845; and, Spiced Beef Tongue from

3 pounds Beef tongue (phhhhffffll!)
2 quarts Water
1/4 cup brown sugar
6 whole cloves
6 black peppercorns
6 whole allspice
6 flakes mace
2 teaspoons Salt

Ground spices would be fine, too.

Combine all ingredients in a slow-cooker.  Cook on low 10 hours.


I pulled the tongue from the Crock-pot and it went into the fridge to chill overnight.  The next day I served it toasted on slices of molasses-sweetened cornbread.  It was indeed perfectly tender and flavorful.  And did Brooklyn live up to my expectations of being adventurous eaters?  By the end of the day, we had sold out of tongue sandwiches.

Cocktail Hour: Beef Beer

The short story: I was doing research amongst the stacks at the New York Public library.  In the appendix of a large volume called Virginia Taverns, I found a recipe for a “American Strong Beer,” dated 1815.  I read on to discover this beer was made with mustard, rice and beef.  Interesting.

While planning for Bread & Beer, I sent this recipe to the brewers at Brouwerij Lane as a novelty; the next thing I know, they’re making it.  And it was my favorite beer of the evening.  Joshua Berstein of the New York Press just wrote about it:

But I could definitely get pie-eyed from the second beer. It was a circa-1815 American strong ale fashioned with wheat, barley, rice, dry mustard and lean beef. Yes, beef. “You use it to make a sort of broth,” Olsen explained of the cow flesh, whose proteins aid the Belgian yeast. Instead of being overwhelmingly meaty, the beer drinks dry and slightly fruity, with gentle notes of hamburger.

You can read Berstein’s full article on the Bread & Beer event here.

Brewers: give this recipe a shot.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

They brewed this beer in two incarnations, one of which was infused with caraway.  Below, the full menu and tasting notes for the event.

Taste History Today: Heritage Pork Belly

You know your meat’s fresh when it still looks like an animal.  This belly’s got nipples.

Last month, I was a presenter in a very special tour of Central Park: a walk-through of the lives of the residents of Seneca Village.  Seneca Village was a rural suburb of New York until 1858, when the property owners were forced off their land in the city’s first use of Eminent Domain.  The property, which was owned largely by Irish and German immigrants and free African-Americans, was seized to build Central Park, and the town disappeared from New York City’s landscape and our collective memory. Only recently has scholarship surfaced exploring the lives of the residents of Seneca Village, and Imagining Seneca Village presented some of what we know.

The residents of Seneca Village had a huge advantage over their southern Manhattan neighbors: they could self-produce food.  Although many immigrants were coming from rural areas, once they arrived to the tenements of the Lower East Side, there was little room to grow a garden.  But according to the New York Tribune, “(Seneca Village contained homes)…of varying degrees of excellence…a number of these have fine kitchen gardens, and some of the side-hill slopes are adorned with cabbage, and melon-patches, with hills of corn and cucumbers, and beds of beets, parsnips and other garden delicacies. (1857)”

Not only gardens, but livestock as well: geese, chickens, goats and swine.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists seven American pig breeds as critically endangered; these are pigs that have been bred in the States for a hundred years or more, and are often close descendants of 17th and 18th century pig breeds.  They’re breeds that are known for their foraging skills and their mothering skills.  A mother and her brood can be released into the fields to fend for themselves with very little care.  For residents of Seneca Village, pigs represented and immense amount of food that came at very little cost: a pig’s foraging diet would have been supplemented with kitchen scraps and food waste; by fall, they would be plump enough for slaughter.  These foraging breeds also acted like early garbage disposals on the crowded city streets of New York, before public sanitation and garbage pick-up existed.  Dickens, on his 1842 trip to America, mentions the handsome pigs rooting around the streets for discarded cabbage leaves and offal.

But after WWII, pig breed preferences turned toward those who did well for mass production.  These foraging breeds did not have a high survival rate in a pen and people stopped breeding them.  But thanks to a return to all things delicious, small farms have focused on preserving these breeds; and, by creating a demand for their pork, we’re helping them survive as well.

So, at Imagining Seneca Village, I prepared a pork belly I obtained from Flying Pigs Farms, a ranch outside of New York that breeds Large Blacks, Gloucestershire Old Spots, and Tamworth pigs.  When I served it, everyone demanded the recipe.  I admit, it was crispy, salty, meaty, and just awesome.  But I can’t give credit to my cooking skills — I owe it all to the meat itself.  Covered with a thick layer of fat that kept it moist while roasting, the belly’s meat was rich with the flavors of a well-exercised pig who had grown fat on fall acorns.

To make your own pork belly, start with a slab of heritage pork.  If you’re in New York, Flying Pigs is at the Union Square Greenmarket Fridays & Saturdays.  They also sell online, as do several other heritage pork purveyors around the country, like Caw Caw Creek in South Carolina.  Then, I followed Jamie Oliver’s simple recipe available here.  I didn’t even bother with the gravy, and it came out divine.

All the Recipes I Promised to Give to Everyone

As you know, I’ve just finished two months full of public events. At these events, I promised all kinds of people I’d give them all kinds of recipes. Well, in the next few days I plan to make good on these promises.   If you were at an event, and want to request a recipe; or if you’re in another part of the country, and are curious about something I cooked, then speak up! Leave me a request in the comments.  Over the next few days, do it yourself recipes for everything from pork bellies to beef beer.

Press: The Historic Gastronomist on Culinate

I appeared on earlier this month, in conversation with the marvelous Leah Koenig (who also selflessly volunteered at the Silver and Ash event.)  The Culinate Interview talks with people who are  “doing influential, important, or just plain unusual work in food.”  I’m in good company, snuggled between interviews with Mark Bittman and Frank Bruni.  Holy moly!

What does history taste like? For Sarah Lohman, a New York City resident and self-described “historic gastronomist,” that question is key to understanding the past.

With Culinate, Lohman talked about the importance of making history personal, her weeklong adventures with Jell-O, and which contemporary cookbooks she thinks will stand the test of time.

Read more here.

Events: What Dickens Drank

Wednesday, October 20th, 6pm-8pm

What Dickens Drank
Part of You can’t get there from here but you can get here from there
apexart, 291 Church Street, New York, NY

Like any good tourist, when Charles Dickens visited America in 1842, he sampled the local food and drink.  Of American bars, he said:  “…The stranger is intiaited into the mysteries of Gin-sling, Cocktail, Sangaree, Mint Julep, Sherry-cobbler, Timber Doodle and other rare drinks.”
So what did a Cocktail taste like in 1842?  For one evening, we will be tourists in time and mix up these antique potations.  During this history lesson in flavor, guests will not only sip early American cocktails, but also learn how to make them.  Join us as we bring these drinks to life from the pages of Dicken’s book and from the archives historic gastronomy. Free.

Events: Tasting the Beer for “Bread and Beer”!

From left to right: American Strong Ale; American Strong Ale with Caraway infusion; Ginger Beer; Jumble Beer; and Spruce Beer.

This Thursday is Bread and Beer at the Old Stone House, so buy your tickets today (we are selling out fast)!  On Friday, I was lucky enough to taste the beers we’re presenting; actual recreations of 18th and early 19th century beers!  This is so exciting for me because it’s outside my realm of expertise (and there’s no room in my Queens apartment to home brew).  So it was a thrilling experience to consult with the guys at Brouwerij Lane to create these beers.

This an “American Strong Ale,” from an 1815 recipe.  It’s brewed with beef, mustard and rice–and is amazingly drinkable and delicious.  I think beef beer might be my new favorite.

This is ginger beer: ginger, molasses, and lemons.  Bright, sweet, refreshing; it made me mourn for summer days and look forward to sipping this brew alongside a mint julep next year.

All this, and so much more: I’ve got a lot of orangey caraway cookies and spicy deventer cake to bake today! See you there!

How to Cook a Wolf Week, Day 5: Cook for the Carnivorous

The perfect flank steak.

Breakfast was oatmeal with maple syrup and butter; a combo that had never occurred to me before Fisher, and one I will make again.  Lunch was a smidge of leftover polenta.  Dinner was the best dinner I’ve had in a long time.

This recipe is not really a recipe in Wolf, but more of a note between paragraphs.  It’s in the revised addition, written twelve years after the original, when Fisher slips in a few more decadent recipes:

When I am cook for the carnivorous, my true salute to them is a beef fillet, of about four pounds.  I turn it for at least three hours in a garlicky marinade, half olive oil, half soy sauce.  I roast it on a rack for one half hour in a very hot oven.  I slice it one inch thick, slip generous wedges of maitre d’hotel butter between each slice, pour a good cup of red wine over the whole, and serve it in its various hot juices.

This was not a meal to be enjoyed alone.  I called up friends with a dinner invite and then set off to the grocery store to select my meat.  I ended up with a flank steak of about four pounds.  I didn’t read the read the recipe carefully enough and forgot to make the marinade until 30 minutes before I needed to cook it.  In the marinade, I put lots of freshly minced garlic, and half and half oil and soy sauce.  That’s it.

I cranked my oven to broil, and nestled the steak into a cast iron pan, then set it in the oven for 10 minutes, flipping it half way (cook for less time if you like your steaks on the rare side). I let it rest ten minutes, sliced it, and adorned it with butter.  No wine, as Fisher suggests.  I’m not a teetotaller, just an impoverished artist, so there is seldom a spare bottle of wine sitting around.

The steak was served with a side of sauteed swiss chard, and buttered bread with Parmesan cheese.  It. Was. Heavenly.  The short marinade time didn’t seem to matter.  It was perfectly salty, perfectly flavorful.  It was perfect.  It was beyond perfect–this may be one of the best things I have ever cooked.

And for dessert? “…Thick slices of fresh pineapple, soaked for several hours in an Alsatian kirschwasser, and then topped with a sherbet made with lime juice.”  The pineapple I got fresh from the grocer, the kirsch was sitting in the back of the liquor cabinet.  I soaked the pineapple slices overnight, then made a quick sorbet using bottled Key Lime Juice (the good stuff they sell for key lime pie) and this recipe.  I own an ice cream maker and it’s  brought me so much joy.

We ate every bite of this boozy dessert, slurping up the melted sorbet and kirschy pineapple juice at the bottom of our bowls.  We were drunk, fat, and happy.

Ms. Fisher writes a lot about keeping the Wolf at bay.  The Wolf is not just a metaphor for hunger; it represents despair and defeat.   Fisher’s dishes are good food made quickly and easily from the simplest ingredients.  While cooking them, I felt alive and accomplished; I felt hopeful and unbeatable; I felt that if I could feed myself this well, this cheap, then I could stop the Wolf from sniffing at my door.