Monthly Archive for July, 2011

Cocktail Hour: Cocktails from Captain Alexander

Today I came across an interesting bit of literature while researching the class I’m teaching tonight at the Brooklyn Brainery, What Dickens Drank: Historic Summer Cocktails. It’s a passage from Transatlantic Travels, by Captain J. E. Alexander, an English tourist in America in 1833.  Writing about travels in America became quite popular in the 1840s, and several books (including Dickens’ American Notes) originated in this time period.  Often these books are invaluable because they record specifics of daily American life that no one else thought to write down.

In this case, Alexander stops by a very famous bar in New York, the City Hotel, which featured America’s first celebrity bartender, a “Mr. Willard.”  We don’t know much about Willard, because unlike like Jerry Thomas, he didn’t write down his famous cocktail concoctions.  But since the cocktail was considered a very American drink,  Alexander took the time to record three recipes in his travel book; these  are some of the earliest cocktail recipes on record.

Modernized recipes for the Cocktail, Mint Julep, and Apple Toddy.

Taste History Today: America Eats Tavern

I was in Washington DC last weekend and toured the What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? exhibit on now through January at the National Archives.  It’s focus is on how the government has affected what we eat.  Overall, pretty interesting.  Here were a few of my favorite facts:

BRED-SPREAD: Despite the 1906 Pure Food Law, “…unscrupulous practices continued. A photo collection features products such as Bred-Spread, a mixture of pectin, coal tar and grass seed marketed during the Depression. (source)”  Bred-spread!

THE CIVIL WAR popularized mass-produced, canned food.  Among 1860s soldier’s meals were some brands still around today: Vancamp Pork & Beans; Underwood Deviled Ham; and Borden’s Condensed Milk.  Sounds like I need to have a “eat like a civil war soldier” week.

MARTIN VAN BUREN, a lover of French food, lost his reelection campaign to William Henry Harrison, who, according to his campaign, lived on a diet of “raw beef and salt.”

DIGESTION STUDY, a photo I was not allowed to take a photo of depicted three, well-dressed, Victorian gentleman sitting around a table, rubbing their tummies.  It was simply titled “Digestion Study.”

***

Afterwards, my beau and I headed over to the America Eats Tavern a “pop-up” restaurant dedicated to the exhibit  “…featuring traditional American classics, celebrating native ingredients and spotlighting long forgotten dishes…” It’s created by James Beard Award-winning chef  José Andrés and his ThinkFoodGroup.

Here’s what my beau got to eat:

Mmmmm.

“Vermicelli Prepared Like Pudding, Philadelphia, 1802.  The grandfather of today’s mac ‘n’ cheese was first written down by Louis Fresnaye, a refugee from the French Revolution.  One of America’s first commercial pasta-makers, Fresnaye handed out this recipe with the coiled pasta he sold. (source)” View the original 1802 recipe here.

This dish did exactly what this restaurant is supposed to do: it presented a classic dish that we’re familiar with, and showed it in its original, yet unfamiliar form.  Then, Andrés elaborated on it, while still strongly referencing the original recipe.  It was bursting with flavor: onions, cheesy, mushroomy.  Really amazing, a real success.

Here’s what I got:

Hworf.

“Eggs a la Benedick. Charles Ranhofer, New York, 1894.  Chef Ranhofer is thought to have developed this classic at his legendary Delmonico’s restuarant for a patron, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, who wanted something new for lunch.  Ranhofer included this dish in his book The Epicurean in 1894. (source)” View the original recipe here.

What’s that on top?  That’s fancy foam hollondaise.  I don’t like to condescend to modern cuisine, but my cat coughed up something similar when she drank too much milk.

This dish is a great example of where I think the restaurant is failing.

Ok, first off, why did I choose this dish?  Well, unfortunately for me, many of the dishes on the menu were seafood based; I don’t eat seafood, and that’s my fault.  But I do have to hand it to Andrés for including oysters prepared multiple ways, including the hangtown fry.  Very old-timey.

Second, the two dishes I really wanted to try weren’t avaialable the day I went: one was Mock Turtle Soup, from Amelia Simmon’s 1796 cookbook.  It would have been so cool to try the 1796 recipe and mock turtle soup is a popular historic dish I have never seen on a menu or tasted before.  But it was only available on Tuesdays & Wednesdays.  The other dish, Kentucky Burgoo, was some sort of stew made from wild meats like squirrel.  Also only avialable on Wednesdays.

So my choices were limited.  But I feel my Eggs a la Benedick is a prime example of the restaurant’s main focus: Andrés found a historic reference for the origin of a dish, wrote an interesting tidbit about it on the menu, then went ahead and created whatever version of the dish he wanted to.  My eggs did not resemble the original recipe, nor were they an interesting riff on the original.  They were just eggs how Andrés felt like making them.

The dessert menu illustrates my point:

Lackluster, unsurprising, familiar dishes with no unfamiliar twist.  Reading the menu is interesting, yes.  But I want to learn my history through flavor.

Andrés is clearly a skilled chef, but I wish he had used his talent to create a concept that was more precise: the restaurant, and its message, felt all over the place.  The dishes on his menu were designed to be a survey of regional, traditional American cooking; but the exhibit was specifically about  how the government has affected what we eat.  The America Eats Tavern failed to connect me to the exhibit, when it could have provided another layer of depth.   As one critic pointed out, “…just imagine what the guy who pioneered the dragon’s breath popcorn might do with the concept of the ‘vitamin donut‘.”  Or bred-spread, for that matter.

Snapshot: The Common Ale

This is a snapshot from waaaay back, over Memorial Day weekend.  Cleveland friend Pete brewed some beer from the 19th century called Common Ale.  He wrote an article about it awhile back, which you can read here, but May was the first time I got to taste it for myself.

A few evenings previous to sipping this beer, I had Ukranian food with The Alaskans, who have been been getting into beer drinking and brewing.  Alaska Chris explained to me all the vocabulary used to describe the flavors of beer, things like biscuity and grapefruity.  These flavors are generally created through various combinations of hops.  But I imagned these terms to mean things like “grapfruit-like,” something with citrus notes, as opposed to actually like a grapefruit.

And then I tasted the common ale. It tasted just like grapfruit.  Not in an extremely strong why, like straight up grapefruit juice.  Not like some girly beer with grapefruit juice.  But like grapefruit beer.  It was amazing, delicious, and refreshing.  I could never imagine that a combination of hops could deliver a flavor so close to an actual grapefruit..

If you’re a home brewer, I recommend taking a look at Pete’s recipe.  The common ale is a great summertime beer: light and infinitely drinkable.  It takes less than a month to brew, so you can sip it before summer’s end!

Update: Notes on the ingredients from Pete!

7lbs. American 2-Row Malt (Organic if you can afford it) If you’re an extract brewer, 4.5# of light dry malt extract would work just fine.
3lbs. Flaked Maize.
3oz. Liberty Hops.
California Common Lager Yeast — Wyeasts’ number is 2112 and ferments cleaner than White Labs’ yeast.

Cocktail Hour: A Gaggle of Gins

Ilana Kohn snapped this photo at my Gin in June event last month, showing our steady progession through the history of gin.

We started with Genever, the Dutch alcohol that gave birth to modern gin, in one of the most primitive cocktails: the gin sling.  Next we moved through time to a gin popular in the late 19th century, Old Tom.  It’s slightly sweet and less herbal than a Genever, but more so that a London Dry–the evolutionary link between the two.  We sampled it in a Martinez cocktail (the predecessor of the modern Martini), which is also where the Boker’s bitters went. Then, we moved to a locally produced dry gin, Breucklen, in a cocktail from another burough, the Bronx.

Last, we sampled an old style gin that’s only recently come on the market in America, thanks to the crafty distillers of DH Krahn:  Averell Damson Gin, a herbaceous gin infused with tart plum juice.  The cocktail was served was of my own creation, inspired by an 1832 recipe for a Sloe Gin Fizz.  To get the recipe for the Damson Fizz Punch, go here.  I did a guest post on it for Cocktail Virgin Slut because the drink is so perfect for summer.

Cocktail Hour: Temperance Drinks

The Strawberry-Lemon Froth, made with not a drop of alcohol!

At the Boston 19th Century Pub Crawl last month, I got the chance to meet Frederic, one of the esteemed authors of Boston cocktail blog Cocktail Virgin Slut. After chatting over old-timey drinks, I invited him to do a guest post on FPF.  His response: “I have this great temperance book I’ve been meaning to try out!”

Not  the reaction you’d normally expect from a cocktail blogger.  But his article (below) carries a very lovely sentiment:  Sometimes you can’t drink. Sometimes you don’t want to drink. Sometimes, your guests feel the same way.  Why should a non-alcholic drink feel any less special than a cocktail; and more than that, as a good host you should go the extra mile to make your guests feel special.

Read more below.

***

When Prohibition rolled around in 1919, the growing art of American drink making that had gained steam in the mid 19th century came to a screeching halt. Alcohol was banned which did not stop its consumption, but the true craftsmen of the trade either fled the country to pursue their livelihood elsewhere or they changed fields entirely. The quality of alcohol dropped and the drinks made from it were less artful in their design and became more a crafty way to cover over harsh off flavors and stings. Well, it should be said that the growing art in alcoholic drink making in American came to a stop, but those in the Temperance movement seized the opportunity to provide guidance to hosts and hostesses on how to entertain. One of these individuals was Bertha E. L. Stockbridge. Her seminal 1920 book, What to Drink: The Blue Book of Beverages; Recipes and Directions for Making and Serving Non-alcoholic Drinks for all Occasions turned out to be just as valuable and intricate as the liquor-soaked ones of Jerry Thomas and Harry Johnson.

Bertha’s first book, the 1918 treatise The Liberty Cook Book: A Guide to Good Living Combined with Economy, with a Comprehensive Section on Up-to-date Canning, Preserving, Pickling, Jelly Making and Drying, showcased her culinary strengths from making breakfast cereals to cooking organ meats. While the section on non-alcoholic beverages in the book was rather short, her cookbook did provide the basis for her drink book by working out how to make a variety of flavored and fruit syrups that would become the key components in What to Drink. When Prohibition rolled around a year later, she soon saw the necessity to expound on this topic.

Bertha explained, “The hostess of to-day will be called upon to serve drinks in her home more than formerly, I imagine, and it were well to go back to the habits and customs of our grandmothers and be prepared to serve a refreshing drink in an attractive manner at a moment’s notice.” To prepare for guests, Bertha recommended having a stock of homemade or commercial syrups and vinegar-based shrubs ready to create satisfying beverages for guests. Since making these ingredients can be time consuming, Bertha offered up recipes to make all of that labor worth the while. One of the great differences between the alcoholic cocktail and the Temperance drink is that the latter often requires more effort to prepare, and time in the kitchen was almost a necessity. If the hostess is entertaining in a Dry way, Bertha offered advice on how to be popular despite eschewing spirits, and these pointers are reminiscent of Harry Johnson’s tips in his Bartender’s Manual on how to run a bar. On a more spiritual side, the book’s forward presented a parody of the Persian poet Omar Khayyám that read, “A Box of Chocolate underneath a bough,/An Ice Cream Cone, some Lemonade and Thou/Beside me singing in the Wilderness/Make Prohibition Paradise enow.” With a bit of time and effort, non-alcoholic drinks could perhaps be part of even a modern day Paradise, too.

In this day and age when alcohol is allowed again, nonalcoholic drinks still play a large role in entertaining guests. Between designated drivers, religious abstainers, pregnant women, people on medication, recovering alcoholics, and children, there are numerous reasons to prepare this sort of drink even at a Wet party. A good host or hostess should respect these guests and try to provide something more than a bottle of soda as the rest are served intricate and exotic alcohol-laden beverages. After my first dabbling with Bertha’s recipes in making the Tea Julep I was intrigued at the craftsmanship of the recipes and how well the flavor combinations held up today. While some of the recipes are quick to prepare, others require longer periods of steeping and infusing not to mention a variety of pre-made syrups; however, the efforts are worth it. Here are two more drinks from Bertha Stockbridge’s What to Drink:

The Georgia Mint Julep

***
Georgia Mint Julep
• 1 tsp Lemon Juice
• 1 tsp Powdered Sugar
• 1/4 cup Peach Syrup (*)
• 3/4 cup White Grape Juice
• 3 sprays Mint
In a tall goblet, crush a spray of mint at the bottom of the glass. Add sugar, a
little water, and lemon juice; stir until sugar is dissolved. Add peach syrup and
grape juice, and stir. Fill with crushed ice and garnish with the rest of the mint
sprays. Note: we made this drink 3/4 scale to fit our Julep cups.
(*) Peach syrup: While Bertha Stockbridge provided a more complicated peach
syrup recipe, I followed my old standby. I used one package of frozen (10 oz)
peach slices and added it to 8 oz water and 8 oz sugar in a pot. Bring to a boil
with stirring. Cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool
(overnight is fine), and squeeze and strain through a tea towel. The syrup will
keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator. Fresh peaches can be used, but once
you simmer them, the extra value in this freshness is lost.

While the traditional Georgia Mint Julep was Bourbon based with muddled
peach and sugar syrup, Bertha’s Temperance version captures the essence of
it save for some of the Bourbon notes. The grape and peach make a nice flavor
combination that works rather well with the mint. Unlike the alcoholic version,

this Julep cup was not able to acquire the beautiful frost on the outside of our
silver Julep cups. What is lost in the strength of the spirit in terms of drinking
satisfaction is gained in the larger volume of this sweet drink.

***
Strawberry-Lemon Froth
• 1 Egg White
• Juice 1/2 Lemon (1 oz)
• 3/4 cup Water
• 2 tsp Sugar
• 1/2 dozen Strawberries
Muddle all the strawberries (save for one) with sugar in the bottom of a cocktail
shaker. Add lemon juice, water, and ice, shake, and double strain (use a fine
strainer) into a tall glass. Separately, beat an egg white into a meringue and stir
stiffly into the drink. Garnish with a strawberry. Note: strawberries back in the
1920’s were a lot smaller than the large ones commonly found today; therefore, I
muddled 3 medium-large strawberries instead of 5.

***

I am not sure what precise drink recipe Bertha was trying to replicate, but there were gin and egg white-based Froth (or Froth Blower) drinks in the cocktail literature and a number of other drinks with strawberry and lemon juice. While the egg white might seem a little scary, it produces a light, creamy topping that can be stirred into the body of the drink. My egg whites were rather stiffly beaten which made it difficult to stir in especially with our glasses being rather full. Regardless, the drink started with a delightful strawberry aroma. The creamy meringue gave way to a slightly tart lemon sip and a strawberry swallow. Over successive sips, the strawberry notes increased in intensity. The only change I would make would be to drop the water to 3-4 ounces for the drink seemed a little thin; perhaps, this is my bias toward more potent and shorter alcohol based
drinks.

The value of Bertha Stockbridge’s recipes, even in these days post-Prohibition, is that there will always be people who do not drink alcohol. Moreover, these guests deserve to be pampered just as much as the drinkers in the group do. True, many of Bertha’s recipes in What to Drink are rather labor intensive, but many of them scale up rather well, and the extra effort will definitely be appreciated. Lastly, even if you are in the mood for a stiffer drink, these recipes can be useful. The back cover of our book reads, “However, if one were to add a drop or two of Bathtub Gin to these already tasty drinks, they would only be that much more ‘authentic’ to the period. Wouldn’t you agree?” Cheers!

What to Drink can be bought through Amazon or read online on Archive.org.

The History Dish: Reuben’s Apple Pancake

The Apple Pancake: Apples fried in a sweet batter, covered in a buttery, caramel crust.

In June, the Lower East Side Tenement museum held its annual benefit, themed around the multi-cultural food of the New York.  It featured vendors and restaurateurs cooking up some of the best food in five boroughs:  Tortilleria Nixtamel; Orwasher’s Bakery; Ma Peche; Murray’s Cheese; The Brooklyn Brewery and many more.  I was invited to do a little food demo, so I wanted to do something flashy: I decided on Reuben’s Apple Pancake.

Reuben’s Restaurant was one of the iconic eateries that haunted midtown from the turn of the century until 1966, when it shut its doors (debatable–it survived at a different location with a different owner until 2001).  A kosher-style deli, it was the type of place that the children and grandchildren of Ashkenazic Jewish immigrants would eat alongside stars of stage and screen; sometimes, the two were one in the same.  It was most well know for its sandwiches named for celebrities–yes, it was that kind of place, one of the ones from which all other celebrity themed sandwich shops descended.  Most notably, “The Reuben.”  Concocted by the restaurant’s owner for some hungry young starlet, it was a mighty stack of multiple meats, cheese and french dressing, that is arguably the grandfather of the Reuben we know today.

In the 1960s, New York was barreling towards bankruptcy, an economic inevitability that took many of New York’s most notable restaurants with it.  The same decade saw the decline and shuttering of Reuben’s,  Horn & Hardart’s Automat, Schrafft’s, and more.  After closing, Reuben’s still sold their famous cheesecakes via mail order.  But the restaurant was famous for another dessert that could not be purchased over phone lines: The Apple Pancake.

The apple pancakes had to be made fresh, by guys in the kitchen who had been doing it for thirty years and had built huge biceps from flipping endless steel skillets.  The pancake was a mixture of apples and cinnamon, cooked in a batter.  What made it exceptional was the process by which it was cooked:  the pancake was flipped in its skillet five or six times.  Before each flip, butter was scooped into the skillet and the topside of the pancake sprinkled with sugar.  When the pancake was fliped, the sugar and the butter worked together to create a caramel curst that was simultaneosly crispy and gooey.

After giving this recipe a try in my own kitchen, I discovered the result to be something between a funnel cake, an apple dumpling and creme brulee.  It was promptly declared “stoner food” by those who sampled my recreation (and meant in the best possible way).

An apple pancake dripping with butter and caramel is not something that could be shipped through the mail.  So when Reuben’s shuttered, it remained only in the hearts and minds of the New Yorkers who loved it.  And then slowly, over time, it was forgotten.

It is now my mission to bring it back.  MAKE THIS RECIPE.  Below, a video of me cooking one up at the Tenement Benefit.  It features two, mediocre pancake flips, but it will give you an idea of the technique.

Reuben’s Apple Pancake from Sarah Lohman on Vimeo.

Cooked by Sarah Lohman; video and narration by Eleanor Berke

Cooked by Sarah Lohman; video and narration by Eleanor Berke

The flip is important to the end result, but don’t let it intimidate you: with a little practice, anyone can flip pancakes like a pro.  Practice with dry beans in a skillet to get a sense of the flick of the wrist.  Then, when it comes time to hurl your apple pancake through the air, FLIP WITH CONFIDENCE.

Above all, make this recipe!  It may be the most delicious thing on the earth.

 

 

***
Reuben’s Apple Pancake
From The New York Times, 1971: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F40C14FD3A55127B93C3A91789D85F458785F9
And NYTimes, 1986: http://www.nytimes.com/1986/01/11/style/de-gustibus-re-creating-reuben-s-legendary-apple-pancake.html?scp=1&sq=reuben’s+special&st=nyt

1 large cooking apple
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
⅔ cup milk
½ cup flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoon clarified butter

1. Peel, core, and slice apple into 1/4-inch thick, quarter-moon-shaped slices. Place in bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon. Mix well; cover and allow to marinate for at least 24 hours; longer if possible. Stir occasionally.

2. Beat egg with milk; combine flour and salt, then add wet ingredients.  Mix until batter is smooth.

3. In a non-stick, 9-inch skillet: heat 2 tablespoons butter until it sizzles. Add drained apples and cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until apples soften.

4. Add another 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour in batter evenly and cook over medium-high heat, pulling sides of pancake away from edges and allowing batter to flow under and cook. Keep lifting with spatula to prevent sticking. When pancake begins to firm up, sprinkle 1/4 the sugar evenly over the top.

5. Add another two tablespoons of butter, slipping it underneath the pancake. Then flip the pancake and cook, allowing the sugar to caramelize. When it begins to brown, sprinkle top with another 1/4 of sugar. Add more butter if needed. Flip pancake again and allow sugar to caramelize on the bottom.

6. Sprinkle 1/4 of sugar on top. Add more butter to pan if needed. Flip pancake once again and continue caramelizing.

7. Sprinkle top lightly with sugar and place in 400 degree oven for 15 – 20 minutes, to caramelize further.