Monthly Archive for March, 2013

Etsy Kitchen Histories: Maple Sugaring

maple_syrupA golden jar of my parent’s homemade maple syrup.

“It’s sugaring time, it’s sugaring time!’ My mom chriped.  “My heart always gets glad this time of year.  I think it don’t want to do it ‘it’s cold, it’s muddy’ but then I head out there and the sun is shining and the birds are singing fee-bee feeb-bee!”  That was the start of the most recent phone conversation I had with my mom.  Yeah, she’s pretty cute.

My latest post for Etsy is all about the maple sugaring season–an annual event that might be entirely foreign to you if you’re not from New England, the Midwest or Canada, where sugar maples grow.  My parents tap their backyard maples on their four acres in semi-rural Ohio.  You can read all about it here.

The cold, snowy spring has been ideal for sugaring–my parents have collected almost 100 gallons of sap this year already. But some interesting research has recently been done into historic “sugaring seasons.”  Here’s a bit of food for though that comes via The Farm at Miller’s Crossing:

I recently read an article by Tim Wilmot, a specialist with the University of Vermont Extension and Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill VT, which put this discussion into some perspective.

The entire maple syrup industry depends on temperatures. Maple syrup producers can only harvest when the mercury goes below freezing at night, then above freezing during the day. This freeze/thaw event forces the sap in the trees to run, which can then be harvested by the taps drilled into the trees.

Recent discoveries of old records indicate that in 1870 a normal tapping in central Vermont season began on April 1, and ended on May 7.
Fast forward 60 years, and the average start date in 1930 was March 13, with an April 15 finish date.

Fast forward again to the spring of 2012, and most serious maple producers were tapping in early January and finishing in February or early March!  Last year we actually were in the high 80’s in March.

Read more about Maple Sugaring on Etsy.

Events: Learn the History of Vanilla!

Vanilla: A History

Thursday, 28th @ 6:30 or 8:30

At the Brooklyn Brainery, 190 Underhill Ave. Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

$15 – Buy Tickets Here

America’s most popular ice cream flavor has only been in use for thelast 200 years. Where did vanilla come from, and what came before it? Let’s learn and taste our way through its history.

In this class:

-Learn the history of vanilla and its culinary uses
-See how vanilla is farmed and processed
-Taste three different regional vanillas and one “pre-vanilla”flavor.

All in all, you’ll be filled with facts you can bust out at your next dinner party and dazzle your friends, as well as make better informed choices when using vanilla in your kitchen.

(Class size: 15, lecture + discussion w/ samples)

Etsy Kitchen Histories: The Bimuelo Pan

familyAt the Lower East Side Tenement Museum with a photo of the historic character I portray (far right). Photo by Will Heath.

Happy Passover, everyone!  Tonight, millions of Jews are sitting down to a sumptuous meal of religious significance–and then a week of yeast-free food.

Even if you’re not Jewish, you’ll enjoy my most recent Etsy article about Bimuelos, a Pesach-friendly dessert made by Sephardic Jews, who are descended from Jews of Spain.  You’ll also get a behind the scenes look at my life as an educator at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum playing a Sephardic Jewish character. Read all about it here.

And if you are Jewish, you’re probably going to be sick of matzo by Thursday or Friday.  So allow me to recommend Manishevitts’ 1944 cookbook,
Ba’ṭam’ṭe Yidishe maykholim (Tempting Kosher Dishes).  Don’t worry, it’s in Yiddish AND English.  Need to liven up your matzo meal regime this week?  Try Pumpkin PancakesMatzo Meal Polenta, or Boston Pie.

Podcast: Monosodium Glutamate

To celebrate its one year anniversary, this month’s Masters of Social Gastronomy Podcast takes on its namesake: monosodium glutamate (MSG)! Savory spice or fatal flavor?

Sarah Lohman of Four Pounds Flour will track MSG back to its source in traditional Japanese food, showing how time and money can turned an innocuous plant into the darling of mass production

Soma will take on modern-day interpretations of MSG, from its role in “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” to its many relatives hiding in everyday foods. Science fact will be separated from science fiction as myths are deflated and truths laid bare.

BONUS TRACK! “Storytime” from the Monosodium Glutamate lecture. Soma and Sarah toast to one year of MSG talks with fish sauce diluted to the color of “honey wine.” Sarah bitches about the deception propagated by chic kitchen product “Umami Paste #5.”


You can listen to all of our podcasts here, or you can subscribe in Itunes here!

Event: The Masters of Social Gastronomy DO DRUGS

image courtesy 

At this month’s Masters of Social Gastronomy, we’ll look at the culinary world’s experiments with illicit substances. 

Let’s get high with the Victorians! From patent medicines to absinthe, Coca-Cola to laughing gas, we’ll look at all the forms of socially acceptable substance abuse during the 19th century.

Later, we’ll fast-forward to modern-day America, where quasi-legal marijuana has spawned an industry of cannabis edibles. We’ll survey the range of altered-state culinary concoctions and see what both science and chefs have to say about epicurean euphoria.

For Storytime, we’ll explore the 1971 cookbook “Supermother’s Cooking with Grass,” and this mama’s not using lawn clippings. For those preferring to stay on the good side of the law, we’ll also see if vodka sauce can make some seriously drunken noodles.

All the details:
Masters of Social Gastronomy
Tuesday, March 26, doors at 7pm
Public Assembly (70 North 6th Street)
Free, but PLEASE RSVP recommended  So we can bring enough samples!

The History Dish: 1001 Sandwiches


Welcome to the world of early 20th century sandwich making, when the advent of sliced bread gave birth to a booming sandwich culture.  The first bread-slicing machine was installed in a factory in 1928; within two years, 90% of store-bought bread was factory sliced. Standardized and convenient, housewives focused their creative energies on what went in between the bread.

1001 Sandwiches, published in 1936, is the expanded edition of 700 Sandwiches written about a decade previous. To give you a sense of common of ingredients in a 1930s sandwich, here are the “ sandwich ‘makings’” author Florence Cowles advises you to keep on your emergency “sandwich shelf”:

Peanut butter, packaged cheese, potted and deviled ham, corned beef, chicken, tongue, dates, sardines, lobster, salmon, pimientos, pickles, olives, salted nuts, jams and marmalades, honey, horse-radish, mustard, bouillon cubes, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, mayonnaise and crackers.  With a good selection of these ingredients you can calmly meet any sandwich emergency which may arise.

I taste-tested four sandwich creations from this book, choosing recipes that sounded bizarre but potentially tasty.  I also subjected Jonathan Soma, co-founder of the Brooklyn Brainery, to my sandwich antics.  The recipes, and the results, are below.

Cheese and Cornflake Sandwich




This was a crunchy sandwich; definitely very auditory.  And scratchy–it really tears up the roof of your mouth.  Soma is crazy for cream cheese, so he said he would make it and eat it–he votes yaaay! I vote boo!

Potato Chip and Olive Sandwich



 I was out of mayonnaise when I assembled this sandwich, so I substituted tartar sauce.  Soma thought it looked like Thai food and tasted “like all of its ingredients individually.”  Very non-harmonious.

I liked it–it was super salty! It would fix a hangover in no-time flat.  I vote yaaay! This was my favorite overall. Soma votes boo.

Bacon and Prune Sandwich



 Soma informed me that prunes are no longer called prunes.  They’re now “dried plums.”  So this is a Bacon and Dried Plum sandwich, which sounds very sophisticated. We both agreed this was not bad–although I wouldn’t eat it willingly.  This was Soma’s favorite hands-down

Ham and Banana Sandwich



This sandwich was promptly re-named the Hamana Sandwich.

We tested these sandwiches in front of a live studio audience, and someone screamed out “It looks like someone already ate it!”

The weird part is really expected this one to be good.  It was instantly repulsive.  Soma described it as “Not the worst thing I could of had.”  I was nauseous. Horrific. Horrendous.

Etsy Kitchen Histories: The Mortar and the Pestle

In my latest for Etsy, I hand-grind curry powder for the oldest curry recipe written in the English language.  A brief history of curry, stretching back to the prehistoric ere, and more! Read it here.

The Gallery: MUFFINS! HOT MUFFINS! – City Street Vendors of the 19th Century


Every stranger from the country, who comes to the city, is astonished at the variety of noises which assail his ears on every side. Instead of the more quiet scenes which he is accustomed to, he now hears the constant rumbling of heavy drays, carts, and carriages over the pavement, and the bawling cries of all sorts of petty traders, and jobbers crying their commodities, or offering their services in the streets… These noisy people all perform important uses in society. They supply wants of the citizens, and earn an honest penny by the exercise of a very humble craft.

The above comes from City Cries, or, A Peep at Scenes in Town by an Observer.  When it was released in 1850, it was designed as a book for juvenile readers, beautiful illustrations combined with short chunks of text, explaining the various city street vendors to someone visiting from the countryside.  Today, this book is an invaluable peep into the past at all the foods and services available in city in the mid-19th century.  Below are just a selection of some of my favorites; all text comes from the original book.  You can read the whole book here.

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The shad season commences in the latter part of the month of March. The first supply comes from the south, and is sold at a pretty high rate. But not many days elapse before these fishes make their appearance in our rivers, and then the shad women commence their perambulations and cries in the streets.

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Here is the old Crab-man, with his wheelbarrow, calling out with might and main, ” Crabs! Crabs alive ! Buy any Crabs ? Here dey are, all alive! Werry nice and fresh!”

But see ! there is a young gentleman who has caught a crab, by just putting his hand among the live contents of Cudjoe’s wheelbarrow; or rather, to speak more accurately, the crab has caught him. See how he “jumps about, and wheels about, and cries Oh ! Oh!”

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” This, sonny,” she says to a little goldenhaired school-boy, ” this is the real sugar corn; the best in the world: so tender and so sweet; an ear of it is better than the best ice cream you can buy.” So thinks the urchin; and he hands over his pocket-money with the most perfect satisfaction.

Hot-corn, however, we are bound to tell our juvenile readers, is Sometimes rather a dangerous luxury. It is sold in the streets and marketplaces at a season of the year when children are liable to be made sick by the most trifling imprudence in diet. We would, therefore, counsel all our juvenile friends to abstain from dealing with the hot-corn woman at all. Indeed we think that children should do all their eating at home, and at the regular meal-times. Otherwise they are constantly running the risk of severe sickness.

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Who has not heard the song of the Hominyman ? Who can tell what are its words ? There is but one verse. It is gabbled over with great rapidity, and the words “Hominy! beautiful Hominy!” occur more than once; but the remaining words are all Greek to the greater part of his hearers.



” Hark ! there is the muffin-man’s bell! There he comes! I hear his feet pattering on the pavement. Run to the door, Jenny, and buy a dozen muffins to have with our tea, this evening. Here is the money.”

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The Pepper-pot woman is not quite so noisy now as she was some twenty years since, when her song might be heard at any hour of the evening, in almost any part of the city:—

All hot! all hot!
Makee back strong!
Makee live long!
Come buy my Pepper-pot!”

Persons who are curious in gastronomical science, have assured us that it is a horribly hot mixture of tripe and black pepper, with certain other very pungent spices; and that a single spoonful will excoriate the mouth and throat to such a degree as to take away all power of tasting anything else for a month afterwards.

Taste History Today: Ray’s Candy Store Egg Creams

eggcreamsLemon-lime, mango, coffee, and strawberry egg creams.

I went on an egg cream tasting rampage with some friends from the Brooklyn Farmacy. Egg Creams are  a classic New York drink, invented somewhere on the Lower East Side  (although it’s debatable where).  The drink is made from seltzer, milk, and Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate, Vanilla or Strawberry Syrup (made in Brooklyn).  It’s best crafted at a soda fountain because the pressurized seltzer gives the drink a creamy, foamy head.  It’s sweet and refreshing and great when it’s hot (or chilly and rainy, like the day we had them).

Purists say there’s only one way to make an egg cream, but I’ve got a problem with purists.  I believe recipes are meant to change and evolve; so while an egg cream made with Fox’s Syrup is traditional, Ray’s Candy Store in the East Village changed up the old recipe by offering mango, tamarind,  lemon-lime, coffee, and strawberry egg creams, to name a few.  I liked the strawberry the best, because it reminded me of Frankenberry cereal.  I’m classy.

I’ve also made egg creams with the addition of rum or vodka, which was great.  And if you keep a careful eye on the Farmacy’s menu, you may one day see nouveau flavored egg creams pop up there, too.

UPDATE: I’ve heard many stories about where the egg cream came from, and how it got its name–what have you heard? What are you memories?  Please share in the comment below.

Video: Bourbon Now Made in Brooklyn

I was quoted as an expert in this recent CNN story about the revival of distilleries in Brooklyn.  Looser liquor laws are catching on nationwide, so be one the lookout for a craft distiller opening near you.

I’ve got a teensy segment in this video–don’t blink or you’ll miss me–but featured far more prominently is my buddy Colin down at King’s Country Distillery, making fine whiskeys in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.