Monthly Archive for November, 2010


Newtown Pippins, Jefferson’s favorite apple.

So back in September, you went on a romantic, fun-filled, country adventure to an apple picking orchard.   Overcome will the jubilation a perfect fall day brings, you picked far too many apples.  Now, two months later, the fruits of your labor are still cluttering up your crisper.

The week, we’ll take care of you problem, with a selection of apple recipes.  Start with the Huguenot Torte, or a few pies, then follow along for more solutions to your apple issues.

Events: Out of the Bathtub, a Repeal Day Cocktail Party

On December 5th, from 6-8pm, celebrate your right to imbibe at a Repeal Day Cocktail Party! Hosted in the elegant Peacock Alley at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, the night will include four different cocktails crafted by Frank Caiafa, cocktail expert and head of Peacock Alley’s beverage program. The drink list will be exclusive to this event and include recreations of classic cocktails downed in backdoor speakeasys, as well as modern concoctions inspired by their Prohibition predecessors. Light appetizers will be provided by the Waldorf-Astoria kitchens.

Caiafa will also be on hand to speak about Peacock Alley’s unique history, and the Waldorf-Astoria’s link to the Prohibition era. Scotch Whisky expert Kristina Sutter will discuss the history of Prohibition and how it came to a close.

So come tip your glass to the end of Prohibition and join us for historic cocktails in an incomparable location. Appropriate cocktail attire is required.

Tickets are $45 at the door. Space is limited, RSVP to

The History Dish: Pear Ice

Three frozen baby food blobs of pear ice.

If you love eating things that are slimy and gross, you’ll love Pear Ice.

This recipe is the last in the triumvirate of pear creations selected on We Dig Plants.  This one was my pick; I loved it because it was so simple.  From Buckeye Cookery, published in 1877, the recipe read: “Grate, sweeten and freeze well flavored apples, pears, peaches or quinces.”  Easy.  And it sounds like a wonderful way to enjoy pure pear taste.

But at the same time, it doesn’t make sense that I picked this recipe.  I hate grating.  I hate trying to hold on to slippery things while grating them.  I hate trying to grate that last tiny nub and grating bits of my finger in the process.  Grating is tedious and boring and I hate it.

I pared and cored good-sized bartlett pears and grated them.  It gave me about two cups of baby food-esque pear squish.  To that, I added 1/2 cup of white sugar, which ended up being a little sweet.  1/4 cup is advisable.  Then I threw the goop into my ice cream maker and let it do its thing.

It was frozen in less than 30 minutes and I dipped my spoon in to get a taste.  The flavor was good, sweet and peary. But the texture was appalling.  Simultaneously slimy and gritty, I make a “blech” face every time I swallowed a spoonful.

My roommate/guinea pig Jeff didn’t mind it; in fact, he liked it and ate a whole bowl.  Go figure.  Perhaps it’s a better recipe for apples or peaches.

Retronovated Recipes: Whiskey Pears

Pears cooked in sugar, spice and whiskey.

The second recipe we picked on-air at We Dig Plants was Carmen’s selection: Brandied Pears.  This recipe come from one of the earliest American kosher cookbooks, Aunt Babette’s Cookbook, published in 1889.  The recipe is rather long, so if you’d like to see the original go here.

Aunt Babette is a charming writer.  She asks you to poach the pears in sugar water until the pears are “so tender they can be pierced by a straw.”  The end of her recipe really caught my attention: “Allow a pint of brandy to every four pounds of fruit.  Use none but the best.  If you can not afford brandied fruit it is no disgrace, but don’t try and put up fruit in whisky or some other cheap stuff.”

Whiskey pears?  Now there’s an idea.

Cute little Seckel Pears.

Whiskey Pears

Inspired by “Brandied Pears” from Aunt Babbette’s Cook Book by “Aunt Babbette,” 1889.

1 pound pears (I choose six seckel pairs for their dainty size and shape)
Enough water to cover the pears: about one cup
1 pound white sugar
3 whole cloves
2 whole allspice
3 flakes of mace or one whole nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup Bourbon (I used Evan Williams)

1. Pare the fruit: remove the skin but leave whole with the stem on.  Add to a medium saucepan and cover with water.  Add sugar.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and continue to boil until pairs are tender: 5 minutes for small pears, longer for large pears.  Test with a fork for tenderness.   Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3.  Turn heat to high.  Add spices to sugar syrup.  Boil 8 more minutes.

4. Put pears in a canning jar and add whiskey; pour in hot sugar syrup.  Depending on the size of your jar, you may have to add a little more hot water so that the liquid reaches the top.  Cover, seal, and let cool.  Store in refrigerator for up to one week.


I let the concoction sit in the fridge for four days; when I finally opened the lid, I was apprehensive.  It smelled astringent.  I speared a delicate little pear and took a nibble.  The result: extraordinarily.   The whiskey flavor blended perfectly with the spices, and the soft sweetness of the pears offset any alcoholic bite.  They are just delicious.

I dub this recipe a winner, but I don’t know what to use them for — decorations?  desserts?  Does anyone have any suggestions?

The History Dish: Buttermilk Soup or “Pop”

Baked pears, thickened buttermilk, and fried bread.

On Sunday, I appeared on the Heritage Radio Network, chatting with Carmen Devito & Alice Marcus Krieg of We Dig Plants. We talked all about PEARS!  If you haven’t heard the show yet, go here and listen for free.   I dug up some pear recipes from the annals of history with the idea that we would pick one to try.  Well, we had a difficult time agreeing, so this week I’m going to cook up three very different 19th century pear recipes.

The first was Alice’s pick:  Buttermilk soup or “Pop.”   This recipe is odd. I’ve never seen a precedent for it: buttermilk is heated, mixed with pears, and poured over fried bread.  Check it out:

I needed some buttermilk education, so I naturally turned to that font of knowledge, Wikipedia.  I knew buttermilk as the bi-product of butter making: when cream is churned, the result is a solid (butter) and a liquid (buttermilk).  I knew that before seperation, fresh milk was often set in a cellar to seperate into milk and cream; what I didn’t realize is that this milk would also ferment because of naturally occuring bacteria.  This fermentation is what gives buttermilk its sour taste, although in modern production facilities we artificially inseminate pastuerized milk with a squirt of lactic acid bacteria.

Although the recipe doesn’t explicitly say to make a roux, I think it implies it.  The roux will thicken the buttermilk.

Buttermilk Soup or Pop

From Practical Sanitary and Economic Cooking by Mary Hinman Abel, 1890.

2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoon butter
pinch salt
2 large pears (I used Bosc)
1/4 cup sugar (brown sugar would be good; maple syrup if you’re feeling adventurous)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (or spice of your choice)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pare, core, and dice pears, then arrange in a baking tray (cake pan, etc).  Sprinkle with sugar and spice.  Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until tender.

2. In a large saucepan over a medium-low heat, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour to make a roux.  Cook until flour begins to brown.  Add buttermilk and salt, turn heat to medium-high.  Bring to a boil while stirring constantly, then turn heat off.  Add baked pears to buttermilk mix, stir to combine.

3.  Melt remaining butter in a small skillet and fry two slices of bread.  Remove to a plate and top with pear/buttermilk mixture.


The original author of the recipe warns that cooking buttermilk “brings out the acid,” but I found the taste of the finished product to be surprisingly mild, either as a result of being cut by the fat of the butter or the sweetness of the pears.  And frankly, I was skeptical of this recipe, and it was not my first pick to make.  But I was delightfully wrong: this is the perfect snack.  It’s like a delicious warm yogurt treat (tastes better than it sounds): the dairy was filling, the pears sweet, and when poured over hot, buttery bread, it’s just the right amount of food.  Highly recommended, four stars, etc. etc.  Try it.

On a completely  unrelated note, I wrote this post jamming to my friend Gregg Gillis’ (Girl Talk) new album All Day, available for download for FREE.  It is really, REALLY good.

More Media Coverage

I am blowing up all over the place this week.  Well–at least here in NYC.

I’m making two appearances this week on the Heritage Radio Network, a wonderful, food-focused, internet radio station based out of New York.  Tomorrow from Noon-12:30, I’ll be chatting with Linda Pelaccio on “A Taste of the Past.”  Listen live at

And I’ll be back on Heritage Radio on Sunday, from 3:30-4:00 on “We Dig Plants” for a special show on pear cultivation, featuring a few recipes from my library.

If you miss the live broadcasts of either of these show, they are archived online.

And I’ll also be on local NYC  TV on “Food Curated” by Liza Deguia : NYC life (Channel 25) Thursday at 9pm; replaying Saturday at 12:30 and next Thursday at 12:30.  This is the televised version of the video I shot with Liza last year.

Menus: A Few Ideas for Your Thanksgiving Table

Left: What a centerpiece! From Betty Crocker’s Party Book, 1960.

Turkey has been and always will be the star of a traditional Thanksgiving menu, but 18th and early 19th century menus commonly featured multiple meats.  Local game, like venison, often made an appearance.  Recipes for mince meat pie and “Thanksgiving Chicken Pie” abound in historic text.  And Sarah Josepha Hale, the Anna Wintour of the 19th century, insisted that turkey be served along side ham or tongue.

This menu, from Buckeye Cookery (1877) shows the true bounty and diversity of what could grace your Thanksgiving table in the 19th century:

But some believed turkey shouldn’t make an appearance on the Thanksgiving table at all.  John Harvey Kellogg, of cornflakes fame, was an ardent vegetarian.  He, like many early veggies, believed that animal flesh could make a man violent and destroy digestion.  Below, two flesh-free menus from his kitchens:

It’s likely he may have also suggested a main course of Roast Protose with Dressing.  Protose, a mysterious, early faux meat, was produced commercially up until the last decade.  It was made from (possibly) some combination of peanut butter and wheat gluten.

And lastly, let’s kitsch it up a bit with a menu from Betty Crocker’s Party Book, published 1960.  Please note the lemon jell-o and horseradish salad.

For historic Thanksgiving recipes interpreted for the modern kitchen, including pumpkin pie, squash, and stuffing, go here!

Tomorrow Morning: Martha Stewart Living Radio!

I’m going to be on Martha Stewart Living Radio Sirius 112/XM 157 tomorrow (Wednesday, 11/10/2010) at 7:30 am. If you don’t have Sirius, you can sign up for a free trial online at

Ill be talking about historic Thanksgiving menus from Sarah Josepha Hale to John Harvey Kellogg.   Stop by here afterwards for recipes and more!