Monthly Archive for September, 2013

History Dish: Martha Washington’s Ale and Apple Fritters

fritter1One little fritter.

Fried. Apples. Beer. This recipe appealed to me for obvious reasons. But, interestingly, it also goes along with the medieval theme of my last dinner party. Read on for Mrs. Washington’s link to Queen Elizabeth.

The History

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, the source for this recipe, is not a collection of Martha’s own recipes: they were transcribed by an unknown person in the 17th century and were given to her during her first marriage to Daniel Custis in 1749, perhaps as a wedding present.  Widowed at 25, she was Martha Custis until she met George, and together they raised Martha’s two children from her previous marriage; and later, two orphaned grand-children. Interestingly, Martha gave birth to no more children during her marriage to George.

The cookbook was passed down to one of the Custis grandchildren and the recipes themselves had likely been a family heirloom for generations before. Food historian Karen Hess writes “Many of the recipes must have seemed old-fashioned to Martha…the cuisine of the manuscript is that of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.” That’s the 1550s-1620s, which means many of these recipes are considered to be part of a late-medieval mode of cooking.

Put yourself in Martha’s shoes and imagine trying to make dinner from a 200-year-old cookbook. So who can say if Mrs. Washington ever cooked any of the recipes in this manuscript, but some of them definitely seem a bit more modern than others.  Take, for example, the two recipes for apple fritters: one combines nutmeg, clove, ginger, mace, cinnamon, saffron and rosewater–a startling amount of spices much more reminiscent of the Forme of Cury than a modern recipe.  But the other fritter only calls for nutmeg, cloves, and mace–and a little cinnamon sugar strewn on top. Simpler, its likely a later addition to the recipe collection.

The more modern fritter recipe also contains ale, probably added to make the batter light with yeast and carbonation. A beer-battered, fried apple sounded pretty fucking good to me, so I decided to give this recipe a shot.

fritters2Cut yr apples about yay big.

The Recipe

To Make Fritters

Take a pint of very strong ale, put into it a little sack & warm it in a little scillet; then take 8 youlks of eggs & but 2 whites, beat them very well; yn put to them a little flowre & beat them together, yn put in yr warme ale; you must put noe more flowre to ye eggs after ye ale is in. Yr batter must be noe thicker then will just hang on ye apples. Season batter with ye powder of nutmegg, cloves, and mace; then cut your apple into little bits & put them into ye batter; yn set on ye fire a good quantity of tryed suet or hoggs lard, & when it is very hot drop in yr apples one by one with yr fingers as fast as you can. When they are fryde, lay ym on a cleane cloth put over a cullender, yn lay ym on trencher plates, & strow on ym sugar & cinnamon.

Ale & Apple Fritters
Adapted From Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats

1 large egg + 2 yolks
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ale (I used Guinness, it’s what I had on hand)
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mace
1/8 tsp clove
4 med-large cooking apples
Oil for frying

In the microwave, warm beer one minute on high. With a fork, whisk together eggs, flour and salt. Add beer and brandy, and mix until blended. Add spices. Set aside in a warm place from 30-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and pair the apples, slicing them into one-inch chunks. Heat oil for frying: you can use lard in a cast iron pan, like the original recipe suggests, or vegetable oil in a FryDaddy, like I did.

Put apple pieces into the batter, mixing them to coat. Drop into hot oil using your fingers or a spoon. Fry until golden brown, turning once. Remove into a colander lined with paper towels, over a plate. Allow to cool slightly, then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Toss fritters in the colander to coat, then serve.

fritters3Strown with cinnamon and sugar!

The Results

The results were unexceptional. Technically, the recipe came out well: the apples slices were cooked, the coating thin but crispy. But the fritter batter was almost flavorless, and there was no satisfying contrast between the apples and the coating.  There was nothing interesting going on with the taste or the texture. Perhaps I should have fried them in lard.

I’m disappointed since it seemed like this recipe had a lot of potential.  What do you all think? How can this fritter recipe be improved?

Etsy Kitchen Histories: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

pbj2An original recipe PB & J, made with crab apple jelly.

I love uncovering the origins of our everyday American favorites. Over on the Etsy blog this month, I trace the history of the PB&J, and cook up the original recipe.

The original peanut butter was more like the fresh ground stuff you can get at specialty stores today: thick, sometimes salty, but seldom sweet. It was used in savory combinations as commonly as sweet: with pimentos or watercress in fancy New York City tea rooms, or blended with sweetened condensed milk for better spreadability in the home. The peanut butter and hot sauce sandwich was popular through World War II (it’s making a comeback using Sriracha).

Read more here!

Events: Barbecues and Funeral Food


Image by goodiesfirst

The Masters of Social Gastronomy Get Barbecued

Tuesday, September 24th, 6:30-8:30pm
@ the Brooklyn Kitchen
Get tickets here!

Every month, our MSG lectures take on the history and science behind some of your favorite foods. Up this month: barbecue.

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of slow cooking generous hunks of fatty meat came from? From its roots in Spanish barbacoa, to massive Southern meat pits and the modern day backyard cook out, we’ll track the barbecue’s history.

Then, Soma will tackle the fiercely regional world of barbecue, from the sauces of the Carolinas to Austin’s brisket battles. We’ll look at some of the most fiery fights of the day: pork versus beef, spicy versus sweet, and the blasphemy of the Texas crutch, sharing DIY tips along the way.

Food of the Dead: A Culinary History of the Funeral

Thursday, October 17th, 6:30-8pm or 8:30-10pm
@ the Brooklyn Brainery
Sign up here!

At the end of an early American funeral, participants were 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 have in common is food and drink.  In this talk we’ll look at the culinary traditions surrounding funerals throughout American history, and we’ll taste beer from Midas’s tomb, funeral cakes, and Mormon funeral potatoes.

Party Time Reenactor: A 14th Century Feast for Your 21st Century Table

14thc_1Dishes from the Forme of Cury, the oldest English cookbook. Photo by Will Heath.

Furmente wyth Porpays,” is a wheat and milk gruel/drink mixed with slivers of porpoise. Why would you want to eat Furmente wyth Porpays? Well, you’re rich, and its a fast day, and it happens to be 14th century England.

This recipe comes from the oldest cookbook written in English, The Forme of Cury–“cury” being a Middle English word for cooking.  The document is believed to be compiled in 1390 by the master cooks of King Richard the II; one of the oldest and best copies of this extraordinarily rare manuscript is on display RIGHT NOW at the Morgan Library & Museum. I stopped by the Morgan because I was determined to revive 14th century recipes that could be served, and enjoyed, at a 21st century dinner party.

The History

Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, Roger Wieck, took me into the library where the manuscript is on display. He casually pointed out the document was on display across from “…One of our Gutenberg bibles.” The collection has several. The Gutenberg was printed about the same time the Morgan’s copy of the Forme of Cury was written; one book to feed to the spirit, the other to feed the body.

The cooking manuscript is written in navy blue ink on animal-skin vellum, which looks soft and semi-translucent.  It’s rolled in a way that reminds me of a Torah, the top and bottom having to be coiled and adjusted to reach each recipe. Wieck choose to display a recipe for coneys–or rabbits, the origin of the name of Coney Island–and another for Blanc Mange, a tribute to his love of Monty Python.

Middle English, on first glance, looks closer to Klingon than English. Luckily, the University of Manchester Library, has not only digitized their version, but offers a transcription of each page, which I referenced to plan my 14th Century Dinner Party.

Prepping for a Medieval Dinner

The manuscript contains about 200 recipes, many of them fascinating in more subtle ways than sea mammal stew.  One dessert is delicately flavored with hawthorn flowers, a blossom I wasn’t aware was edible–I’ll have to give it a try in the spring.  Another is made with cherries, and uses ground cherry pits for flavor, a technique that would have delivered a gentle almond flavor, as well as a gentle dose of arsenic.

I emailed a few friends, inviting them to a “14th Century Dinner Party,” and set about selecting a few recipes that were within my abilities to prepare. I skipped the arsenic and the dolphins and decided to start with Appulmoy, an applesauce-based pudding.  Pared and cored cooking apples went into a pot with a bit of water and were cooked until soft.  The original recipe says to push them through a strainer, but I took a 2013 shortcut and used an immersion blender. To the hot apple mush, I added one cup each rice flour, honey, and almond milk as well as 1 tsp salt and 2 tsp “powder fort,” or strong spice.

Strong Spice is a medieval spice blend that may have been sold pre-mixed; there are very few recipes on how to make it. A 14th century Italian cooking manuscript, Libro di cucinarecommends a blend of black pepper (I used half “smoked black peppercorns” to try to emulate some of the flavor of cooking fires), long pepper (and Indian spice that fell out of favor in Europe after the American chili pepper was introduced), cloves and nutmeg.  I put the first three ingredients in my pepper grinder and cracked them into the Applemoy, and then grated half a nutmeg into the dish.

One of the most significant aspects of this cooking manuscript is the lack of herbs and the prominence of spices. Spices screamed wealth, as they were extremely expensive to import, and the rich covered everything with copious amounts of spice.  One of my guests would comment on the strength of the flavors in the food, when one would might expect bland cooking from the medieval era.

I slowly simmered the thickening Applemoys. Dense and gluey, it popped and bubbled like a witch’s cauldron, and tasted only of the heat of black pepper. I stirred in a pinch of saffron and put it in the refrigerator, hoping the flavors would mellow by the next day.

I decided my main dish would be Cormarye, a roast pork loin, so I washed and pricked two pork tenderloins and rubbed them in two tablespoons of the powder fort mixture, with the addition of a tablespoon each coriander, caraway, and garlic powder.  I placed them in a plastic bag and added a quarter bottle of wine, and set them away to marinate overnight.

14th Century Dinner Party

Although no one arrived in costume, I’m sure they would have if I had given them more time.  Wine was uncorked and my guests chatted as I finished cooking the meal. After being removed from their overnight stay in the fridge, the applemoy was golden from the saffron and the pork was purple from the wine–Medieval cooks loved to play with color. I reheated the applemoy and consulted a modern recipe to finish the tenderloin.  I seared it in olive oil (the Form of Cury is the first English cooking document to mention it), then added the marinade as well as chopped mushrooms and leeks before placing it in a 450 degree oven.

Another remarkable aspect of the manuscript is the quantity of vegetable recipes. The inspiration to add mushrooms and leeks to the pork was taken from a recipe for “Funges.” Another, called “Salat,” describes a fresh dish made from garlic, onions, fennel, sage, mint, borage and other leafy herbs. One recipe, titled “Aquapates,” is for boiled garlic colored with saffron.  The English, contrary to most Europeans at the time, liked the taste of garlic, and it appears fairly frequently in the manuscript. However, it was likely also served with regard to its medicinal abilities.

The food hit the plates steaming hot, and was DEVOURED. I selected recipes I thought would go well together, but the results were above and beyond my expectations. Strongly flavored, but not overly seasoned, the intense sweet and savory sensations seemed different, but not foreign, and wholly modern. Earthy, rich, salty and spicy, even the appulmoy had magicked into a tart and sweet polenta-like starch. It was sincerely enjoyed by all.

Who knew a medieval document could provide food suitable for a typical Sunday dinner? Recipes from my party are below, but I encourage the adventurous among you to explore the Forme of Cury online to seek out more dishes. Catch the manuscript in person at the Morgan Library & Museum, on display through October 7th.

14thc_2Appulmoy, Cormarye, and Funges. Photo by Will Health.

Recipes

Cormarye

Tak colyanndre. careaway smal gro(u)nden. poudo(ur) of pep(er) & gar-lek y gro(u)nde & rede wyne. medle alle þes to gider and salt hit. tak loynes of pork rawe & fle of þe skyn and pryk it wel wiþ a knyf & lay it i(n) þe [sew] sause. rost þer of what þou wolt & kepe þat þat falliþ þ(er) fro i(n) þe rostyng& seeþ it i(n) a possynet wiþ fayr(e) broth & s(er)ue it forth w(i)t(h) þe rost ano(n).

Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms and Leeks

1 Pork Tenderloin
Spice Rub: 1 tablespoon each cracked whole coriander, cracked caraway seeds, cracked black pepper, garlic powder and salt.
8 oz red wine
2 cups each sliced mushrooms and leeks
1 cups chicken or vegetable stock

The night before: rinse and dry tenderloin; prick the surface all over with a fork. Rub with spice blend, seal in a ziplock bag. Place in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours, turning over once.

Remove pork from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat 2 tb olive oil in a cast iron or steel skillet over high heat; sear tenderloin on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Add marinade, mushrooms, leeks, and stock; place in oven for twenty minutes or until a thermometer stuck in the thickest part reaches 137 degrees. Remove from oven and set meat aside; place skillet back on stove top and bring to a boil. Boil until sauce reaches desired thickness. Slice meat and serve with sauce and vegetables.

Appulmoy

Tak applen & seeþ he(m) i(n) wat(er). drawe he(m) þorow a strayno(ur). tak alma(u)nd mylke & hony & flo(ur) of rys. safro(u)n & poudourfort & salt. & seeþ it stondy(n)g.

Spicy Apple Pudding

6-8 cooking apples (I like to mix several varieties)
1 cup honey
1 cup rice flour
1 cup almond milk
2 tsp Spice Blend: 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon each cracked black peppercorns, ground long pepper, and grated nutmeg
1 tsp salt
Pinch saffron

Pare, core and slice apples; add to a large pot with 1/2 cup water.  Cook over medium-high heat until extremely soft. Puree. Ad remaining ingredients and cook over low heat, stirring reguarly, until it thickens, about 15-25 minutes. Serve hot, or refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to matures, before reheating.

The History Dish: I Made Ambergris Ice Cream!

ambergris

Ice cream made from whale puke.

I’ve done it! Below you’ll find a reprint of some information from my original post, but then read on for the results!

Food historian Ivan Day has discovered what is believed to be the first recipe for ice cream, written in a manuscript by Lady Anne Fanshawe of England. Dating to c. 1665, she flavors her ice cream with mace, orangeflower water, or ambergris.

Ambergris is an “intestinal slurry,” believed to be a ball of muscus-covered, indigestible squid beaks. This mass is ejected into the oceans by sperm whales, much like a cat disgorging a hairball. A ball of ambergris floats in the sea until it washes ashore and is collected. Throughout the 18th century, it was a prized flavoring for sweets and today it is still valued today as a base for perfumes. Its smell and flavor can range from “earthy to musky to sweet.” At the current Whales: Giants of the Deep exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, you are encourage to sniff a large ball of very valuable whale puke.

needed to known what ambergris ice cream tasted like.  Ambergris is very, very expensive: it will run you about $25 per gram. There are more affordable, essential oils made from it, but often they are labeled “not for consumption.” I searched far and wide and finally found Dewberry’s Herbal, an Etsy shop stocked with handmade essential oils that even lets you choose which oil base you want. I picked the “True Ambergris (Sperm Whale)” with grapeseed oil, the most neutral of oils!

When I opened the bottle, I would describe the first whiff of scent as “Old Man Body and Breath.” Ambergris is a used in perfumes today not necessarily for its own smell, but because it deepens and intensifies other scents, and makes them last longer. I added 1/2 teaspoon to a quart of homemade custard ice cream base, and let my ice cream maker do its thing.

Once frozen, I tasted it: the first thing I noticed was the unbelievable texture. Custard (egg based) ice cream already have a very rich texture, but this ice cream was the smoothest, creamiest ice cream I have ever tasted.  I attribute it to the extra 1/2 teaspoon of grapeseed oil. Ice cream texture has a lot to do with fat content, and apparently, adding a little extra oil at the end is a technique worth playing around with.

The flavor itself began floral, and finished armpit, with a taste that even now still lingers my tongue.  It wasn’t truly repulsive, but after awhile, it did make my stomach start to turn. But I considered that I might be biased; sometimes, I find, that when I’ve prepared a strong-smelling food, I tend not to like the end result because I can still perceive the original foul smell, even if its barely noticeable. This has happened to me once before, while preparing moose face.

So I took it to a test group. 3/6 people genuinely appreciated its floral and musky qualities; they ate it with pleasure. 2/6 liked it until I explained what ambergris was. 1 said he could understand if someone handed this flavor to him and said it was the next big thing, but didn’t like it himself.

In an era when sweets were packed full of orange flower water and rose water, it makes sense that the complex floral flavors of ambergris would have been appreciated.  However, this is what life was like without vanilla, folks. Support you local vanilla farmer.

Video: Visiting a Vanilla Plantation

Vanilla from Sarah Lohman on Vimeo.

While I was honeymooning in Mexico this summer, I dragged my new husband to a remote part of Mexico to visit a vanilla plantation. To be honest, he kinda relished the dangerous drive through the mountains, including the switchbacks and hairpin turns by sheer cliffs.  We went way out of the way because I wanted to see vanilla grown at its point of origin, the state of Veracruz.

For a very long time, Vanilla was transplanted outside of Mexico in vain. The orchid owed its pollination to a small bee native to Veracruz, so transplanted plants blossomed, but never fruited. In 1842, a method for artificially pollinating vanilla was discovered and the industry was born. Ironically, the bee is no where to be found ion Mexican Vanilla plantations today; plantation owner Norma Gaya believes years of pesticide-laced vanilla crops are to blame.  The Gaya plantation, the largest in Mexico, is spreading organic growing practices in hopes this natural pollinator will return

We spent a day at the Gaya plantation, and got a hands on look at how vanilla is grown.  Check out the video to follow along on my adventure!

Oh, and if you’re wondering if my whole honeymoon was trekking through the jungle, fret not. The homeland of vanilla just happens to be closest to one of the most beautiful, undeveloped stretches of beach in Mexico, the Costa Esmerelda. Everybody’s a winner.

IMG_0892Beach time at the Costa Esmerelda.

By the way, the plantation tour was facilitated by Tia Stephanie Tours, who is designing a tour of the State of Veracruz. It’s off the beaten path and well worth it.