Monthly Archive for October, 2012

CANCELLED Events: MSG Takes on Taboo Foods! (Tuesday, Oct 30th)

MSG is CANCELLED due to Hurricane Sandy!  Stay safe everyone!

The Masters of Social Gastronomy take on Taboo Foods!
Tuesday, October 30th, 7pm
@ Public Assembly, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
FREE (but please RSVP here!)

MSG is our monthly lecture series all about the history and science of some of your favorite edibles. This month? Taboo foods, just in time for Halloween.

What culture is forbidden to eat pork? Who was denied access to bananas? What is the most adorable animal the Aztecs ate? What’s worse than eating people?

All these questions answered, and more, when Sarah looks at a worldwide history of taboo foods.

Meanwhile, Soma will unravel the sinfulness of garlic, the pros and cons of eating your enemy’s brains, and a breakdown of what awaits those who break the rules in all your favorite myths. Don’t eat a slice if you can’t pay the price!

As if all that education’s not enough, we’ll be having our first annual MSG COSTUME CONTEST. Best costume wins a $50 bar tab furnished by the awesome Public Assembly, and you’ll get an automatic prize if you come dressed as your favorite taboo food!

RSVP  so we have enough samples!

Distilling in Brooklyn, 1850 vs. 2012

This post represents a collaboration between myself and my Very Good Friends, the Brooklyn Brainery.  They took my research about distilling in Brooklyn in the middle of the 19th century, and compared it to the growing population of distilleries in the area today.  Take a look at their post below, and be sure to check out all their fascinating and fact-filled posts on their blog here.


A couple weeks back, Sarah Lohman, author of Four Pounds Flour and Very Good Friend of the Brainery tweeted the awesome little map below, Distilleries in Brooklyn in 1851. Sarah’s map focuses on Central Brooklyn, and I love how you can see how concentrated they were in this relatively small area.

Open Distilleries in Brooklyn 1851 in a new window (FPF Note: Click through to the full screen map for more information on each of the distilleries.)

I wanted to see how the past compared to the recent explosion in distilleries as a result of New York State introducing affordable distiller’s licenses for small producers. I spent a little time digging around on the State Liquor Authority’s website and put together the map below; it includes anyone in Brooklyn with an active distillery license. You can click on each point to get a little info about the distillery itself.

Open Distilling in Brooklyn – 2012 in a new window

There’s a book or two to be written about all this, so I’ll just mention a couple things that seemed interesting.

You’ll see there aren’t any distilleries in DUMBO these days, whereas there used to be a ton. Of course, in DUMBO today, many of the warehouses large enough to accomodate industrial activities have been rezoned as residential buildings, and the neighborhood has transitioned far away from its industrial roots, leaving today’s distilliers to locate in cheaper, still-industrial areas like Sunset Park and Red Hook.

There’s also a huge difference in the scale of alcohol produced between now and then. Blair, Bates & Co., a distillery located at the corner of Flatbush and Pacific in the 1851 map, produced 751,000 gallons of whiskey each year, while the boutique licenses most contemporary Brooklyn distilleries have today allow them to produce only 35,000 gallons each year. It’s still a lot of booze, but just 5% of what a large urban distilliery in 1851 was cranking out.

A couple more notes. You’ll notice, on the 2012 map, a license issued to a business right on the corner of 1st Avenue and 41st Street. Turns out it’s the home of Kings Wines, which produces all sorts of Chinese rice wines and spirits, and their site says they’re the only Chinese-owned distillery in the country.

There’s also a license issued to Brooklyn Spirits, the folks that produce Brooklyn Republic Vodka. While they have a distillery license to operate a rectifying plant, it appears they only blend and purify the final product in Brooklyn and don’t do any of the actual distilling here.

Finally, if you like messing around with maps and liquor licenses, you will have a ball with the New York State Liquor Authority’s mapping project. And for a peek into what distilleries were like in the 19th century (hint: fiery + explosive), check out this post from the Brooklyn Public Library.

Podcast: GET TIPSY Alcohol and Drinking Games

The latest Masters of Social Gastronomy podcast! Jonathan Soma of the Brooklyn Brainery will unravel the science behind inebriation, from the moment it hits your lips to your next-day regrets. Sarah Lohman, author of Four Pounds Flour, will unveil the history of drinking games, from Geisha Games to ancient Rock, Paper, Scissors.

And now all the podcasts have a home on the MSG Podcast Page here! You can also subscribe via Itunes here!

Etsy Blog Posts: Cassia, Mace, and Chow Mein Casserole

I’m now blogging for Etsy twice a month on all kinds of kitchen finds and histories! My first three blog posts are linked below, and from now on you can find them on the Etsy Kitchen History page here.

Kitchen Klatter and a Mysterious Recipe Box

Unearthing the shame and success of a mid-century kitchen. Read it here.


The Historic Spice Cupboard

The tell all tale of Mace and Cassia. Read it here.


The Magic Whisk

Has technology made kitchen work easier–or more complicated? Read it here.

Events: Soda Fountain Favorites (Saturday, Oct. 12 & 20th)


Soda Fountain Favorites – in part with the NYPL’s Lunch Hour NYC
Saturday, October 13th at 1 PM
Inwood Library
4790 Broadway, NY NY
Saturday, October 20th at 2 PM
67th st Library
328 East 67 St. NY NY

The stories behind three fountain favorites: the egg cream, Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda, and the Lime Rickey.  Will include a demo of how to mix each drink, as well as a tasting! This program is for families–bring the kids and learn together!

Events: Brooklyn Boozehounds (Thurs, Oct 11)

Brooklyn Boozehounds:  A History of Distilling in Kings County
Thursday, October 11th, 7pm
The Brooklyn Historical Society 128 Pierrepont Street  Brooklyn, NY
Tickets are $10/ Free for BHS members.
Whiskey Wars, Swill Milk, and Illicit Booze– the production of alcohol has long been tied to Brooklyn’s history, through commerce and controversy.  In this talk, we’ll wade our way through Brooklyn booze-soaked past, from the earliest applejack producers to the end of distilling during Prohibition.  But the story of liquor in King’s County has a happy ending, through a change in legislature, distilling has returned to Brooklyn.  Whiskey, gin, and vodka are all being bottled in the borough, and we’ll be talking about this new wave of distillers who have picked up the torch.  With samples from Kings County Distillery, Brooklyn Gin, and Van Brunt Stillhouse as well as a “free lunch” of farm fresh butter from Saxelby Cheese and bread, cheese, and cold cuts from Sahadi’s.  And tickets are only $10! Get you tickets here!

Events: Eating our Emotions (Sunday, Oct 7)

A “Funeral Card,” given to guests of a 19th c wake.

Eating our Emotions: The History of Food in Funeral Traditions
Sunday, October 7th, 2:30 pm
The Queens Historical Society
Free (but please RSVP here so I know how much food to bring!)

At the end of an early American funeral, participants were often given a cookie: spiced with caraway, and stamped with a special design, they were often kept for years as a memento of the departed.  Although mourning traditions have changed over time, and vary from place to place, what they often have in common is food and drink.  From the home parlour to the funeral parlor; from Irish wakes to sitting Shiva, consumption offers comfort in a time of grief. In this talk we’ll look at the culinary traditions surrounding funerals throughout American history, and we’ll taste beer from Midas’ tomb, funeral cakes, and Mormon funeral potatoes. RSVP here!

A Coffin Filled with Pepper

This is what black pepper looks like just after it’s harvested. Who knew?

There is the gradeschool myth that Far East spices, including pepper, were used to cover the taste of rotting meat. But recent scholarship suggests that if a family could afford spices from the Far East, they could also afford freshly slaughtered meat–which logically, makes sense.

However, the old legend may not have been entirely wrong, just misinterpreted. A 1998 study by Cornell showed that black pepper, as well as many other spices, have antimicrobial qualities. Ground white and black pepper kill up 25% of bacteria they come in contact with, although pepper doesn’t hold a candle to garlic, onion, allspice and oregano, which kill 100% of bacteria. So, perhaps meats of the Middle Ages weren’t highly spiced to hide the flavor of rotten meat, but to actually stop the meat from rotting.

Pepper, therefore, acts as a preservative by keeping microorganisms at bay. Early Americans seemed to be aware of pepper’s preservative properties. There’s a bizarre story recounted in the 1949 book Pepper and Pirates of a seafaring man who died far from home in the early 19th century, and he “was shipped back to Salem in a coffin filled with pepper.” Apparently, his body made it back little worse for the wear.