Monthly Archive for March, 2012

The History Dish: Lebkuchen with How-to Video!

I’ve got a talk coming up on Tuesday, April 2nd at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  It’s FREE and there will be cookies–Lebkuchen, to be precise. (rsvp HERE)

Lebkuchen are tradition German spice cookies and I made them because the talk on Tuesday will focus on the Tenement Museum’s new tour Shop Life, which features a recreation of an 1860s German beer hall and the tenement kitchen of the family who ran it.

If you would like to find out more about the talk, and see how lebkuchen are made (hint: kirschwasser, candied citron, 2 oz of cinnamon…and more) watch the video belo!  The video is introduced by Dr. Annie Polland, VP of Education at the Museum, and my bit starts at two minutes in.


From The Practical Cook Book by Henriette Davidis, 1897 (American Edition. Original German version was printed in the 1840s)

2 cups honey
1 1/3 pounds brown sugar
1/2 pound slivered almonds
1/2 pound candied citron (or candied lemon)
1/2 pound candied orange peel
Zest of two lemons
2 ounces ground cinnamon
1/4 ounce ground  cloves
2 teaspoons ground mace
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup kirschwasser
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 3/4 lbs flour

1. In a large saucepan, combine honey and brown sugar.  Heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until it begins to bubble and rise to the top of the pan.  Add almonds and allow to cook for five minutes.

2. Remove from heat.  Add candied fruits, lemon zest and spices, stirring to combine after each addition.  Add kirschwasser, then baking powder, and mix to combine thoroughly.  Gradually add flour until the dough is thick but not crumbly.  You won’t use all of the flour.

3.  At this stage, the dough should still be slightly warm.  Either press dough into a shallow baking pan, or roll out on a heavily floured board 1/4 inch think.  Cut into long strips, about as wide as a biscotti, and place on a baking sheet.  Allow to sit out overnight.

4.  If you are baking the lebkuchen in a pan, bake for one hour at 350 degrees.  If you have rolled them thin, then 30 minutes at the same temperature will do.  Cut into sqaures immediately after they are removed from the oven.


Good lebkuchen are supposed to sit around for a couple months after you make them.  Even in modern recipes, there are often family traditions of letting them get stale before consumption.  These lebkuchen are not only great fresh, but perfect with a cup of coffee.

Events: Masters of Social Gastronomy: The Flavor Battles!

Masters of Social Gastronomy: The Flavor Battles!
Public Assembly, 70 North 6th Street in Williamsburg
When: TOMORROW Tuesday, March 27th.  Doors at 7
RSVP now!

Our next MSG lecture is on Tuesday, March 27, and it’s going to be themost epic yet, as we take on the history and science of imitation ingredients. There’ll even be a sample-heavy showdown where you get to definitively decide if there’s any difference between artifical and natural flavorings.

As for the lectures, Sarah will explore the history of artificial food, starting with medieval feasts obsessed with disgusting foods like “meat pitchers.” After a trip to the 19th century to explore theearliest artificial flavorings, we’ll visit the “Poison Squad,” a team of early 20th-century chemists who tested the safety of food additives by ingesting them in large quantities.

Soma will open up the science behind artificial flavorings, tracking the back-room work of flavor chemists. Find out what notebook paper has in common with vanilla ice cream, and uncover the secrets of Juicy Fruit gum. We’ll bring it all back home by examining the NYC’s very own maple-syrup-scent mystery, and Soma’s attempts to recreate it in his kitchen.

Then, during the Storytime interlude, natural and artificial flavors will square off.  Sarah and Soma will state the case for two sets of flavorings, and the audience will do a blind taste test to decide which ones reign supreme.

You have to be there.  RSVPing helps us know how many free samples to bring.  RSVP HERE.

When Betty Draper Ate at Schrafft’s

Note the Schrafft’s bag in her hands.

What to Serve at Your Madmen Watching Party

In anticipation of the premiere of Mad Men on Sunday, I’ve been re-watching the series from the beginning.  Mad Men is full of delightful details of day-to-day life in the 1960s.  One of these period touches caught my eye in the season two finale: Betty Draper clutched a bag from Schrafft’s.

Schrafft’s was probably the most popular chain restaurant in mid-20th century New York.  Geared towards women, it offered a space where it was considered appropriate and acceptable for ladies to dine together without the company of men.  It offered luscious desserts and boxes of chocolates (I bet Betty’s got some sweets in her bag), as well as waist-conscious salads and practical sandwiches.

Digression: For a deeper level of food nerdery, I noticed that one of the production managers for the show is named Dwayne Shattuck.  Frank Shattuck was the founder of Schrafft’s.  It’s not a common name, so I wonder if they’re related, and the careful placement of that Scrafft’s bag was a nod to Dwayne’s heritage?  Dwayne, if you’re out there, tell me if I’m right!

If you’re planning on serving a little gnosh at your Madmen watching party, why not serve some treats from Schrafft’s?  There is a great recipe book called When Everybody Ate at Schrafft’s.  It’s chocked full of tasty dishes from the iconic restaurant.   But the best Schrafft’s recipe I know is for their famous Cheese Bread, which was originally served stacked with slices of grilled ham.  I’m not a bread expert, but I’ve had great luck with the recipe and it is well worth making.  It’s warm, satisfyingly cheesey, and great in sandwiches or simply slathered in butter.  Get the cheese bread recipe here.

If you’d like to make a few more items from Schrafft’s, there are vintage menus available here, and here is a recipe for their butterscotch cookies.

Need a side-dish for your Mad Men feast?  How about Jell-O Vegetable Trio, a “…dazzling, delicious rainbow of fresh vegetables at you dinner table,” from 1962.   And for dessert, try a classic Baked Alaska.

Any ideas for your own 1960s Mad Men dinner?

Origin of a Dish: What Was So Great About Sliced Bread Anyway?

We’ve got a guest blogger on FPF this week: Aaron Bobrow-Strain the author of the new book White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf.  Below, Aaron gives us a little teaser history of sliced bread and the reactions it garnered when it was first released.


When Frank Bench, the owner of a nearly bankrupt bakery, and his friend Otto Rohwedder, an equally down-at-the-heels inventor, successfully ran the world’s first automatic bread slicer in Chillicothe, Missouri, they accomplished something nearly every member of the American baking establishment thought impossible—and utterly stupid.

By July 1928, when Bench and Rohwedder’s surprising product debuted, retail bakers had used machines to slice loaves at the point of sale for years, but few in the industry believed that bread should be automatically sliced as it came off the assembly line. Bread was too unruly. What would hold the sliced loaves together? How would slicing affect the chemistry of taste? What would prevent sliced bread from rapidly molding or staling?

Rohwedder’s designs for the automatic slicer dated back to 1917, but he found no takers for the idea and had almost given up hope. For Bench, installing the machine was a favor to his friend and a last shot in the dark. What did he have to lose?

The results astounded all observers. Sales of sliced bread soared 2000 percent within weeks, and a beaming Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune reporter described housewives’ “thrill of pleasure” upon “first see[ing] a loaf of this bread with each slice the exact counterpart of its fellows…indefinitely better than anyone could possibly slice by hand.” News spread rapidly. Sliced bread took off first in Missouri,Iowa, and Illinois, then spread throughout the Midwest by late summer 1928. By fall 1928, mechanical slicing had hit New York, New Jersey, and the West Coast. By 1930, 90 percent of all store-bought bread in the country was automatically sliced.

Some bakers dismissed sliced bread as a fad, comparing it to other Roaring Twenties crazes like barnstorming and jazz dancing. Nevertheless, as bakers wrote in frantic trade magazine articles, anyone who resisted the new technology would be crushed by the competition.

An automatic bread slicer. source:

While awaiting deliveries of mechanical slicers from hopelessly backordered manufacturers, bakers asked themselves a logical question: What’s so great about sliced bread? “Why does anyone want sliced bread anyway?” one baker wrote. “The housewife is saved one operation in the preparation of a meal. Yet, try as one will,the reasons do not seem valid enough to make demand for the new product.”

He had a point. How much extra work is it really to slice your own bread? And what about housewives’ “thrill of pleasure”? A little saved labor couldn’t explain a reaction like that. Why did so many people care so much about perfectly neat slices? What had sliced bread come to symbolize?


Aaron tracks down the answers to these questions in his new book, and the answers will surprise you.  He says “…It may get you thinking twice about our own confident visions of what counts as ‘good food.'”  Ok, my interest is piqued.

But I want to throw this question out to you, readers: What do you think was/is so great about sliced bread?


Events: Brooklyn Buzzard Day March 18th

Buzzard Sunday
When: Sunday, March 18th, 11 am-4 pm
Where:  Brooklyn Brainery, 515 Court St., Brooklyn, NY.
Tickets: $12, Get ’em Here




We’re having a pancake breakfast! With games and a craft fair and fancy-pants pancakes.You’re all invited to come on down to the Brooklyn Brainery for a good old fashioned craft fair and pancake breakfast. We’ll be cooking up pancakes, all you can eat style, from 11-3pm or so, with plenty of OJ and coffee to wash it all downAdmission includes breakfast, games (and prizes!), and the chance to hang out with some other really nice people.Get your tickets in advance,we likely won’t have any at the door.Why? Buzzards, obviously.

Hinckley, Ohio is a small town with a bizarre holiday: Buzzard Day.

The legend of this festival stretches back nearly 200 years, to the great Hinckley Hunt of 1818. Hinckley was a new settlement and the menfolk decided a massive extermination of any and all nearby predatory animals was necessary for their safety and survival.

Because of a sudden freeze, they were forced to leave behind piles of rotting bear, wolf, and bobcat carcasses all winter. But when those rotting corpses thawed in the spring, magic happened: flocks of turkey vultures descended upon the small town to devour the fetid flesh.

To this day, buzzards still return to Hinckley on March 15th. The following Sunday is affectionately known as “Buzzard Sunday” and draws a crowd of thousands to the local elementary school for all you can eat pancakes, games, and crafts.  I’m cooking historic pumpkin cornmeal pancakes!

The legend of Buzzard Day may not be true, but this festival is the real deal. And this year, we’re starting the tradition of Brooklyn Buzzard Day.

It will be the best.  Get your tickets here.


On a Brief Sabbatical.

Hello all!  I just moved to a beautiful new apartment in Sunnyside, Queens.  I’m not going to have internet access for a little while, so the blog will be on break for the next week.

See you soon!