Monthly Archive for September, 2012

Cheese Stuffed Frankfurters in Hot Aunt Jemima Pancakes

Welcome to the Griddle Picnic.  In the Antebellum days, river showboats would pull up to Aunt Jemima’s plantation, and she would serve them hamburger and fankfurter pancakes.  That all makes perfect sense.

I found this image here!

Just Heat It ‘n’ Eat It!: Convenience Foods of the ’40s-’60s

Make Love and Get Arrested

Charles Bergengren accepts the Viktor Shreckengost Teaching Award at CIA’s 2012 Commencement. Skip to 2:20 for the start of Charlie’s speech.

That’s the advice professor Charles Bergengren gave students on commencement day 2012 at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

That’s my alma mater, and Charlie is my old professor.  He passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly just two months after giving this speech. In the void of his absence, I realized just how much he has influenced me as an artist.  As an expert in folklore and vernacular art, he’s the one that made me think of food as art for the first time.  I did my first piece of culinary historical writing for him.  He advised my thesis work and inspired me to walk 500 miles across Spain after I graduated.

I miss him.

Watch this video (skip to minute 2:20 for the start of Charlie’s speech).  In five minutes, he’ll make you a better researcher.  And he may even inspire you to do something radical.


Events: MSG is Tuesday!

The Master of Social Gastronomy Get Shelved: Preservatives and Convenience Food
Tuesday, September 25th, 7pm
@ Public Assembly, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
FREE (but please RSVP here!)

MSG is our FREE monthly food science and history lecture, and this time we’re talking all about convenience food!

It’s evil, right?

Well, you may change your tune after Sarah’s Ode to Convenience Food in Three Parts: How Convenience Food Won the Civil War; How Convenience Food Almost Killed Us at the Turn of the Century; and How Convenience Food Liberated the Modern Woman.

Sarah is fairly certain modern society was built on the back of Borden’s Sweetened Condensed Milk, and at MSG, you’ll find out why.

Why does your bacon clamor about its lack of nitrites, but your soda keeps quiet about sodium benzoate? Soma will unwrap our love/hate relationship with modern preservatives, and how keeping our food safe may or may not kill us in the end. Learn to read the small print of food labeling with terrifying ease!

Please RSVP here, so we know how many free samples to bring!

Gathering up the Fragments: Recipe Poems by Emily Dickinson

Recipe or poem? Emily Dickinson’s recipe for “Cocoa Nut” cake. 445B: courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections by permission of the Trustees of Amherst College.

We’ve got a guest post this week from Aife Murray, author of  Maid as Muse: how servants changed Emily Dickinson’s life and language— and I want to let you jump right into it.  Read on for a story about Dickinson the poet/cook who would give you the recipe to make a prairie just as soon as she would her recipe for cocoanut cake.  

Aife recently spoke about Dickinson at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  The video of this event is here.  

“Waste not, want not” was a maxim in Emily Dickinson’s kitchen. Her family’s well-thumbed housekeeping manual, The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child, from 1844, begins this way: “The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments so that nothing be lost. I mean fragments of time as well as materials.”

Emily Dickinson grabbed every conceivable scrap of paper for her stationary. She wrote poems on the backs of party invitations, bills, recipes, shopping lists, food wrappers(think the chocolate bar wrapper made famous by Joseph Cornell) — the kinds of paper that seem to

“grow” on any kitchen counter. She’d use these scraps to capture a poetic idea that had skidded into the imagination. When my hands are busy grating nutmeg or scrubbing the stove my mind roams broadly and I receive what feel like “gifts” of ideas (Buddhists would call that “naturally occurring wisdom”). In Emily’s case, what rose up might be a great poem. So she gathered up even those fragments of ideas for poems and jotted them on the backs of those fragments of paper collecting by her pantry board.

Emily Dickinson (source)

Another frugal idea, adopted by prize-winning baker Emily Dickinson, came from the sewing room. In order to keep her kitchen-writing life in place she pinned recipes into her cookbook. I’m a tactile learner too. Among the cookbooks on my bookshelf I tuck recipes I’ve torn from magazines or jotted on the back of an envelope when talking food with a friend. Of course those papers are at risk every time I grab a cookbook (but they remind me, as I pick them up, about a dish to try). Perhaps Emily Dickinson had a better idea. She used a simple straight pin to hold these various slips of paper into her family cookbook. She not only pinned recipes but she pinned her poems together.

Emily’s original of the coconut cake recipe, below, has two small pin holes in it. On the reverse of the recipe she began writing the poem “The things that never can come back” but then the poem got longer and she grabbed another sheet of paper to finish it. And so, as she might pin a recipe together in her “receipt book,” she took a straight pin to keep the pieces of the poem together. Look at the dashes in this recipe – she’s famous for using dashes (which came first? The recipe dash or the poem dash?):

1 Pound Sugar –
½ Pound Butter –
½ Pound Flour –
6  –  Eggs –
1  grated Cocoa Nut –

It turns out inspired writing is a lot like inspired cooking. And Emily Dickinson easily adapted kitchen practices to her writing. Recipes — a simple list with proportions — are as concise as poetry. I think recipes were a suggestive form for Emily Dickinson, just as much as sonnets or haiku. Doesn’t her coconut cake recipe look an awful lot like this “recipe” for mixing up a prairie?

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

©Aífe Murray, San Francisco, September 2-10, 2012

Read More!


Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language (Revisiting New England) 

The American Frugal Housewife



Events: Three Martini Class

Monday, September 17th, 6:30 PM
Where:  Brooklyn Brainery, 515 Court St., Brooklyn, NY.
Tickets: $45, Get ‘em Here

‘I’m not talking a cup of cheap gin splashed over ice cubes. I’m talking satin, fire and ice. Fred Astaire in a glass. Surgical cleanliness. Insight and comfort. Redemption and absolution. I’m talking a martini.” -Anonymous

In essence, that is what this class is all about. Looking at both vermouth and the martini we will track the interlocking history of both beverages in this three hour master class. We’ll start with a vermouth tasting, and talk about vermouth’s origins in 1,000 BC to the invention of the Martinez in the late 1800’s (the Martini’s predecessor).

In addition to history, we will discuss different grapes and botanicals used in vermouth, why that bottle of vermouth you’ve been holding onto for a year tastes horrible, and how Churchill drank his martinis.

Then, we’ll mix three different versions of the Martini.  You’ll learn the steps to make a perfect drink, sampling three different adaptations from three different eras.  Through a bit of tasting, you’ll see how the recipes have changed over time, and be able to adopt your own James Bond-like preferences.

Sign up here!

Events: TONIGHT! Chop Suey!

I’m demoing a turn-of-the century recipe for Chop Suey tonight, as well as talking about Chinese-American cuisine and the history of New York’s Chinatown.  It’s all FREE.  Come by tonight, or catch this talk on the Lower East Side November 3rd.

Chinatown and Chop Suey – in part with the NYPL’s Lunch Hour NYC
Thursday, September 13, 5:30 p.m.
Morningside Heights Library – Community Room
2900 Broadway, NY NY


Saturday, November 3, 10:30 AM
Seward Park Library
192 East Broadway, NY NY


Chinatown and its cuisine have always been a lunchtime favorite. In this talk, we’ll chat dim sum and tea houses, the Jewish connection to Chinese food, and the history of Chinatown as a cheap lunch destination.  Live demo (and tasting!) of a 19th century recipe for the “original” Chop Suey, featuring chicken livers and gizzards.

The Whisk and the Witch’s Broom

A witch’s broom re-purposed as a whisk.

I’ve launched a new collaboration with Etsy this week: I’ll be blogging twice a month about making, doing and consuming  in the kitchen.  Look forward to history and adventures, all based on the treasures you can find on Etsy.

My first post was a whisk history–a humble kitchen tool that has changed design over the centuries, striving to make a laborious task, like beating eggs, simple and succinct.  Read The Magic Whisk here here to follow me whisking up meringue by hand.

A birch whisk from Deborah Peterson’s Pantry.

But before wire whisks were introduced in the 19th century,  cooks made whisks from bundles of sticks. You can still buy modern whisks made with birch twigs, but they are fairly expensive: $20-$30.  I was really curious to try one out, and test it against a modern whisk, but I had difficulty convincing myself to drop three tensies on sticks.  Reading this, you probably think I’m nuts:  “Go outside, get some sticks!” you’re thinking.  Well, I live in New York and things aren’t so simple.  In my neighborhood, I can get food from 30 different nationalities;  But sticks we don’t got.

Recently, I had a chance to handle one of these birch whisks in person.  I carefully turned it over in my hands, committing to memory the length and the weight of it, the texture and the stiffness of the straw-like twigs.  Then I went to my local craft store to see if I could find something to replicate it.  I noticed the store already had its “seasonal items” out  and immediately thought “witch’s broom!”  I scored one for $6.  To make my reproduction whisk, I sliced off the tape that held bushy twigs them to the broom handle, rebundled them with kitchen twine, and trimmed the ends to an even length. It looked almost exactly like the authentic $30 whisk, and seemed to be a pretty good recreation of a pre-industrial whisk.

It was time to try out my pre-industrial whisk.  I separated an egg, and set aside the yolk.  I let the white warm to room temperature in a deep mixing bowl, and then I grabbed my twig whisk and went to town.  It  took a surprisingly short amount of time to make a stiff meringue–ten minutes, twelve seconds–although my biceps ached after half a minute.   The twig whisk  had a huge downside: as I whipped the eggs, hundreds of shards of whisk broke off into my meringue.  Big sticks and tiny twigs peppered the egg froth.  It’s possible that after you use the twig whisk several times, it would stop shedding its bits and pieces.  But the first time through, it produced a voluminous, but woody, meringue.

A twig whisk and the woody meringue it produced.

I tested four more whisks and pitted them against my modern mixer; to see the results, head over to Etsy.

Podcasts: MSG Gets the Jigglies & Wigglies

The Masters of Social Gastronomy podcast talks the science and history of GELATIN!

Sarah will discuss the origins of gelatinous desserts, starting long ago when jiggly delights were made with drippings from beef stew or extracts from the swimbladders of sturgeon. Then she’ll take on that modern wonder: Jell-O! She’ll explore the greatest atrocities and wildest successes of the 20th century Jell-O mold. From 19th-century “Punch Jelly,” to 20th-century “Jell-O Sea Dream with Shrimps” you will hear about gelatin both beautiful and horrible.

Then, Soma will untangle the science of gelatin and its kin, introducing a few lesser-known relatives along the way. How’d we get the wiggle in those jigglers? Find out where killer bacteria and Jell-O meet on the other side, and dive into the amazing world of edible dishware. Stretch the boundaries of reality through an introduction to counterfeit Chinese eggs and the fancy-pants world of molecular gastronomy.

You can subscribe to the MSG podcast via ITUNES here.

Read More!

JELL-O: A Biography

Hello, Jell-O!: 50+ Inventive Recipes for Gelatin Treats and Jiggly Sweets

Jelly Shot Test Kitchen: Jell-ing Classic Cocktails-One Drink at a Time

Origin of a Dish: The Jell-o Shot


Origin of a Dish: Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream

Liquid Air boiling on a block of ice. “If a kettle containing liquid air be placed on a block of ice, boiling will again take place and the addition of ice to the contents of the kettle will make the boiling proceed more rapidly.”—(Charles Leonard-Stuart, 1911) (source)

In 1987, a microbiologist in Lexington, KY, got the idea to flash freeze ice cream with liquid nitrogen, a chemical he was familiar with from working in his lab.  This was the start of the “ice cream of the future,” Dippin’ Dots, which is frozen by spraying ice cream mix into cyrogenic freezer. You can see a cool video of how it works here.

One would think using liquid nitrogen to freeze ice cream was a modern discovery.   But 86 years before Dippin’ Dots, British cookbook author Agnes Marshall, known as the Queen of Ice Cream, proposed the use of “liquid air” to freeze ice cream.

“Liquid air will do wonderful things, but as a table adjunct its powers are astonishing, and persons scientifically inclined may perhaps like to amuse and instruct their friends as well as feed them when they invite them to the house. By the aid of liquid oxygen, for example, each guest at a dinner party may make his or her ice cream at the table by simply stirring with a spoon the ingredients of ice cream to which a few drops of liquid air has been added by the servant.” –The Table (August 24, 1901)

I haven’t been able to find the primarily source article, but this quote comes from Mrs Marshall, The Greatest Victorian Ice Cream Maker, With a Facsimile of the Book of Ices, 1885 by Robert Weir.

Agnes Marshall, ice cream hottie.

“Liquid air” would be liquid oxygen, and I’m not sure if that’s what she actually proposed using, or if she was confusing it with liquid nitrogen.  The technology required to manufacture liquid air had been pioneered at this time, and there were presentations being done with it around the world.  Some reports say she demonstrated her ice cream freezing technique at the Royal Institution in London in 1904.

The technique went relatively untouched for the next century.  In the mid 1990s, the use of liquid nitrogen in the kitchen was further developed by Herve This, a chemist and cook who is known as the Father of Molecular Gastronomy.  Liquid nitrogen freezes ice cream almost instantly.  The faster ice cream freezes, the smaller the ice crystals; the smaller the ice crystals, the smoother the ice cream.  Ice cream made in this style was popularized by Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal, both considered pioneers of the molecular gastronomy movement.  Today, Top Chef contestants use it every other week.



Mrs Marshall, The Greatest Victorian Ice cream maker, With a Facsimile of the Book of Ices, 1885. By Robert Weir

The Book Of Ices: Including Cream And Water Ices, Sorbets, Mousses, Iced Soufflés, And Various Iced Dishes, With Names In French And English, And Various Coloured Designs For Ices. By Agnes Marshall

Frozen Desserts: The Definitive Guide to Making Ice Creams, Ices, Sorbets, Gelati, and Other Frozen Delights by Robert Weir