Archive for the '18th century' Category

The Soda Fountain: The Founding Father of Seltzer & A Brooklyn Egg Cream

seltzerMany flavored egg creams from the Brooklyn Farmacy. Recipe below.
Photograph (c) 2014 by Michael Harlan Turkell.

Today we have a guest post from Elizabeth Kiem, a writer who helped research The Soda Fountain: Floats, Sundaes, Egg Creams & More–Stories and Flavors of an American Original by Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain founders Gia Giasullo and Peter Freeman. The book contains over 70 recipes for updated soda fountain classics like egg creams and milkshakes using seasonal ingredients. There’s also a hearty helping of  the history and the stories behind the drinks–like the nugget below!

downloadJoseph Priestley is the founding father you never heard of. A chemist, educator, linguist and philosopher, Priestly was a real poster child of 18th Enlightenment. But he was also the proud papa of 18th century Effervescence.

That’s right. Joseph Priestley, a dead white guy who’s right at home among the stocking-legged, powder-haired, long-nosed Constitution signers, is a true Founding Father … of the American soda fountain.

You’d have to call him an immigrant since he didn’t cross the pond until 1791, but when he did, it was in classic fashion: he was fleeing persecution back in England where his small-minded neighbors had ransacked and burned his home and laboratory.

His sins?

Well, Priestley criticized the church, fraternized with revolutionaries (Jefferson wrote regularly; Ben Franklin called him “an honest heretic”) and had been impregnating water for years. If that sounds mildly ludicrous today, in the 18th century it was wildly reckless. Priestley, after all, discovered “dephlogisticated air,” a.k.a oxygen. And that’s a dangerous thing to throw on the fire. But “impregnate” water with it and voila, you have carbonated water.

The attack on Priestley’s home! (source)

The first thirty souls to enjoy the fruits of Priestley’s impregnations was the crew of Captain James Cook. The self-taught scientist had hoped to join the famous explorer’s second voyage to the South Seas as the resident astronomer. That didn’t pan out, but Cook took barrels of Priestley’s impregnated water on the HMS Resolution when it sailed in 1773. Refreshing stuff – soda water in the South Seas –even if it doesn’t (as Priestley had boasted) prevent scurvy.

So here’s to the founding father you never knew. Joseph Priestly, the discoverer of oxygen and creator of soda water. We owe a great debt to his rational politics, his scientific reason, his theological dissent … and his bubbles.

Now let’s put that impregnated water to use.


From The Soda Fountain: Floats, Sundaes, Egg Creams & More–Stories and Flavors of an American Original

1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold whole milk
3⁄4 cup (6 ounces) plain cold seltzer
3 tablespoons (11⁄2 ounces) Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup

Pour the milk into an egg cream glass and add seltzer until froth comes up to the top of the glass. Pour the syrup into the center of the glass and then gently push the back of a spoon into the center of the drink. Rock the spoon back and forth, keeping most of the action at the bottom of the glass, to incorporate the syrup without wrecking the froth. Serve immediately.

Reprinted with permission from The Soda Fountain by Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain, Inc. copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.


For more history, read about the egg cream adventure Elizabeth, Gia and I went on last year. The Soda Fountain: Floats, Sundaes, Egg Creams & More–Stories and Flavors of an American Original goes on sale TODAY! To buy a copy, go here!

Etsy Kitchen Histories: Easy-as-Pie Apple Peeler

apple1Get this for your kitchen.

My latest on Etsy is about the 19th century invention that has innovated my kitchen: the mechanical apple peeler.

I’ve never minded paring apples by hand, but it is time consuming. As opposed to fiddlin’ or courtin’, I usually binge watch TV shows or catch up on NPR while spraying the counter and floor in a sticky snowfall of peels and seeds. But this holiday season, I’ve added a tool to my kitchen arsenal that will make my share of the pie baking so much easier: a mechanical apple peeler-slicer-corer. When I sent my first fruit through the cranks and blades of my cast-iron peeler, it blew my mind.

I use the apple peeler to recreate a 1763 recipe for apple and pumpkin pie, which I think is one of the best recipes I have ever made while writing Four Pounds Flour. It is simple. It is sooo delicious. It is the new/old pie that is going to rock your Thanksgiving table.

pie31763 Apple & Pumpkin Pie – a recipe well worth making.

The finished pie had all kinds of caramelized sugar and molasses qualities as a result, giving it a taste somewhere between sweet potato casserole and apple crisp. It’s an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving feast as is, but there is also room for adventurous bakers to play with texture and flavor.

Make it. Read it. Do it.

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?

Events: I’m Judging a Pie Contest!

Saturday, August 24th, 5-9PM
@ the Old Stone House
$12 for the Fare or $10 to enter the Contest. Get Tickets Here!

Sign up HERE for $100 grand prize, and a “Judge’s Pick” prize (for the best historic pie!) of a basket of historic goodies.

Additionally: Cider, Mutton, and Revolutionary goodness for all!

Etsy Kitchen Histories: Parmesan Ice Cream

icecream2A dish of parmesan ice cream.

In this month’s Etsy Kitchen History, I explore historic flavors of ice cream (musk!), ice cream molds (roast chicken!), and attempt a fascinating 18th century recipes for Parmesan ice cream.

In the 1780s, King Ferdinand IV of Naples and his wife arrived at the San Gregorio Convent to find “…a table covered, and every appearance of a most plentiful cold repast, consisting of several joints of meat, hams, fowl, fish and various other dishes.” The King and his entourage were bummed, however, because they had just eaten. But not wanting to seem impolite, they sat down, and Queen Maria Carolina “…choose a slice of cold turkey, which, on being cut up, turned out a large piece of lemon ice. All the other dishes were ices of various kinds, disguised under the forms of joints of meat, fish and fowl.” The King and the nuns alike had a hearty laugh at the joke.

Read more on Etsy here! And on Four Pounds Flour this week, I’ll be posting about two more unique historic flavors: ambergris and lapsang souchong.

Taste History Today: The Sugar Loaf Baking Company

sugar_loafI celebrated my birthday this week, so for the next few days, I present a few posts on cake!

I first want to write a few lines about an amazing man I met way back in August, at Deborah Peterson’s Pantry Foodways Symposium–a gathering of 18th century food enthusiasts (because that’s how I roll).  Niel V. De Marino had a vendor’s booth set up displaying the most gorgeous cakes I had ever seen–all from 18th century recipes.

I tried to convince Neil to open a stand at the Brooklyn Flea, but he seemed unconvinced there was a market for 200 year old cake in  New York City.  I disagree.  He has no website, so the only way to contact (and commission) him is by phone. His info is at left.

I sampled some of his cakes on site, and snapped a few photos–bear with me on the quality of the images, they’re cell phone pics.


IMG_20120818_105241These were filled with some sort of rose petal jam.

IMG_20120818_105206I think this one was called a “Queen’s Cake” – almondy, sweet, and moist.  My favorite.

I don’t remember what these were called; they had dried fruit in them and were soaked in brandy and aged much like a fruit cake.


IMG_20120818_105134An incredibly rich and complex gingerbread cake, filled with spices and chunks of candied ginger.

IMG_20120818_105109Cookies–I think they were anise flavored?  They were made with cookie stamps, and had the clearest impressions I had ever seen achieved.

IMG_20120818_105043Seed cake–flavored with caraway seeds.


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.

Origin of a Dish: Chocolate Ice Cream

Ice cream made with 18th century chocolate!

There are only a few more official days of summer left, so I’m going to use them to their best advantage by devouring as much ice cream as possible.   But chocolate or vanilla?  A very important question.  According to the International Ice Cream Association, 30% of ice cream eaters prefer vanilla, while a mere 10% prefer chocolate.

But more important important to me is the question: which flavor came first, chocolate or vanilla?

Some of the earliest frozen desserts were scoops of snow or shaved ice topped with flavored sugar syrups;  sometimes, these were made into icy drinks.  In the Middle East they were known as sharbates or serbets–the origin of the words sorbet and sherbet.

Drinking Chocolate making tools: a pot and mixing device. From Lady Anne Fanshawe’s journal, c. 1665.

Because of the precedent of frozen drinks, some of the earliest ice cream flavors were drinks, like coffee and tea. Which is why chocolate ice cream was invented long before vanilla.   The first frozen chocolate recipe was published in Naples, Italy in 1692 in the book The Modern Steward.   “Chocolate” was popular hot drink in 17th century Europe, and was  commonly mixed with spices like cinnamon, chili peppers, anise, almonds or musk (glandular extracts from the musk deer (eww)).  Today’s “Mexican Chocolate”  is actually a descendant of how chocolate was served in the Spanish court, not how it was served by the ancient peoples of Mexico.

The Historic Division of Mars make a historic chocolate based of an authentic 18th century recipe.   It looks like a chocolate crayon, and is blended with anise, red pepper, nutmeg, orange zest, and cinnamon.

I decided to make a version of the original chocolate using a basic ice cream recipe and half a cup of grated historic chocolate.  Before the 19th century, ice cream was made using only cream, but I think that gives it a borderline buttery texture.  I like a 2:1 ratio of cream and whole milk.

As the cream and chocolate froze in my modern ice cream maker, the rotated action of the dasher release the oils of the ground spices, and made my kitchen extremely fragrant.  Homemade ice cream is supposed to freeze once in the ice cream maker, and then it should go into the freezer, to become hard-packed ice cream.

I stole my first taste of historic chocolate ice cream off the dasher as it came out of the ice cream maker:  it tasted just like a Mc Donald’s chocolate milkshake, which was super weird.  Or at least how I remember them tasting–I haven’t had one since middle school, when my mom would always buy me one as a treat after visits to the orthodontist.  I tasted the ice cream after it was fully frozen a few hours later: the chocolate wasn’t the prominent taste.  Instead, all the warm spices the chocolate was blended with where in the forefront.  Anise was the most pronounced, but without leaving a  liquorice aftertaste.

If you’re interesting in trying this recipe out, you can buy historic chocolate here.  It’s also great hot with lots of cream and sugar.

Next up: Vanilla!  How America’s favorite ice cream came to be.

Much of the research for this article came from Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making.  Learn more about this book here!  For a history of drinking chocolate, check out A History of the World in Six Glasses here.


The History Dish: Pearlash, The First Chemical Leavening

Pearlash is powdery and slightly moist.

The History

If you were to scoop the ashes out of your fireplace and soak them in water, the resulting liquid would be full of lye.  Lye can be used to make three things: soap, gun powder, or chemical leavener.

A “leavener” is a substance that gives baked goods their lightness.  Today, we think nothing of adding a teaspoon of baking soda or baking powder to our cakes and cookies.  But using chemicals to produce the carbon dioxide necessary to raise a cupcake is a relatively new idea.

Before chemicals, cooks would use yeast.  Not just in bread, but yeast was often added into cake batter, along with a helpful dose of beer dregs or wine.  The alternative was whipping eggs to add lightness, like in a sponge cake, although that particular recipe didn’t become popular until the end of the 19th century, after mechanized egg beaters were introduce.

Sometime in the 1780s an adventurous woman added potassium carbonate, or pearlash, to her dough.  I’m ignorant as to how pearlash was produced historically, but the idea of using a lye-based chemical  in cooking is an old one: everything from pretzels, to ramen, to hominy is processed with lye.  Pearlash, combined with an acid like sour milk or citrus, produces a chemical reaction with a carbon dioxide by-product.  Used in bakery batter, the result is little pockets of CO2 that makes baked goods textually light.  Pearlash was only in use for a short time period, about 1780-1840.  After that, Saleratus, which is chemically similar to baking soda, was introduced and more frequently used.

I was curious to try this product out and see if it actually worked.  I ordered a couple of ounces from Deborah Peterson’s Pantry, the best place for all your 18th century cooking needs.   I used it during my recent hearth cooking classes in a period appropriate recipe.

The Recipe

The recipe, for orange-caraway New Year’s Cakes, came from the cookbook-manuscript of Maria Lott Lefferts, a member of one of the founding families of Brooklyn.  The use of pearlash, plus a recipe for “Ohio Cake,” serves to date this book to about 1820.  It looks like this:

“New Year Cake

28 lbs of flour 10 lbs of Sugar 5 lbs of Butter

caraway seed and Orange peal”

This recipe doesn’t mention pearlash, but several of the other recipes in this book do.  I checked the first cookbook printed in American, Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery, for an idea of how much pearlash to add.  Here is the recipe I came up with:

New Years Cakes
Based on Marie Lott Leffert’s cookbook, c. 1820

1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 stick salted butter
3 teaspoons pearlash dissolved in 1/2 cup milk
4 cups all purpose flour
Zest and juice of one orange
1 tsp ground caraway and 1 tsp whole caraway

Whisk together flour, zest and caraway.  Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add orange juice and pearlash, then mix.  Slowly add flour; mixing until flour is incorporated.  Put in freezer one hour.  Break off small pieces and roll very thin; cut with a cookie cutter or knife.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Bake until cookies are slightly golden on the bottom, about 10 minutes.


Cookies leavened with pearlash come out of the oven.

The Results

I made the dough in advance and froze it, then dragged it to Brooklyn to be baked in a very period appropriately in a wood fire bake oven.

When the cookies came out of the oven, they had risen!  They gained as much height, and as much textural lightness, as a modern cookie made with baking powder.

But how did they taste?  The first bite contained the loveliness of orange and caraway (for a modern version of this recipe, I highly recommend using this recipe, and replacing the coriander with orange zest and caraway).  But after swallowing, a horrible, alkaline bitterness filled my mouth.  My body reacted accordingly: assuming that I had just been poisoned, I salivated  uncontrollably.

At first, I wondered if I hadn’t used too much pearlash.  But then something dawned on me:  the earliest recipes to use pearlash were gingerbread recipes.  Of the four recipes in Simmon’s cookbook, half of them were for gingerbread.  A highly spiced gingerbread probably did a lot to hide the taste of the bitter base chemical.

And that’s why I like historic gastronomy.  If I hadn’t actually baked with pearlash, and tasted it, I never would have made the gingerbread connection.  There’s something to be said for living history.

The Gallery: Urban Hearth Cooking Photos

Here are some snapshots my students took the past two weekends at my Urban Hearth Cooking class at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn!  If this looks like fun to you, be sure to get in the class when it returns in September.  To be the first to know about future classes, sign up for my mailing list here.

Brandishing the proper sized wood for a good cooking fire. Photo by Russell Karmel.

Directing students on the most effective way to light a fire. Photo by Adriana Stimola.

Working on a stubborn fire in the bake oven. Photo by Adriana Stimola.

A student moves hot coals out of the fire. Arranged in small piles, the coals will be our cooking surface. Photo by Adriana Stimola.





A student prepares dough for rusks, a fried roll. Photo by Russel Karmel.

Rusks frying next to a simmering soup. Photo by Adriana Stimola.

The first course of our fire-cooked meal: rusks and a spring soup. Photo by Adriana Stimola.

Baking cookies in a dutch oven. Photo by Adriana Stimola.

Baking cookies in the bake oven. Photo by Adriana Stimola.