Archive for the '19th century' Category

The History Dish: Maple Syrup Brittle

maplebrittleA glass-like maple brittle.

The warming weather means the end of maple sugaring season. It’s not a sad thing, it just means it’s time to enjoy the spoils!

I’m experimenting with a recipe for Maple Sugar Brittle for an upcoming family event at the New-York Historical Society. Now through August 2014 they have an exhibit up called Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War. The primary focus is on 19th century quilts, but it looks at larger material culture with items like a pattern for a homemade mitten–with the index finger separated for a trigger finger.

Trigger finger mittens.

Free labor dress: noble, if a little dowdy.

One item I found particularly interesting is the “Free Labor Dress,” a dress made from cloth not produced by slave labor. Before and during the Civil War, advocates in the North were choosing clothing made from wool, silk, linen in an effort to not support slavery. Cotton was only used when it was certified from a free labor source.

There’s a parallel to this idea in food: many people encouraged the use of maple sugar instead of cane sugar. Cane sugar was also produced on plantations using slave labor, while maple sugar was made in the North by “…only the labour of children, for that which it is said renders the slavery of the blacks necessary,” as Thomas Jefferson put it. Yep, it only took underage farm children hours of collecting sap and boiling it down to make maple syrup.

With this idea in mind, I uncovered a recipe for Molasses Candy by Catherine Beecher. Catherine, a famous cookbook writer in the 19th century, was the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, was also an fervent abolitionist. And although not as outspoken on abolition as her siblings, Catherine does suggest the use of maple syrup instead of cane molasses in her candy recipe.

Molasses Candy, from Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-book, 1871.

I’m working on a fussier interpretation of this recipe, but in the meantime, I stumbled upon a process that’s quite simple and exceedingly delicious.

To make my maple sugar candy, I boiled maple syrup on high heat until it began to darken. While the sugar was boiling, I greased a rimmed baking sheet with spray Mazola oil, and spread roasted, salted nuts in an even layer. Catherine suggests roasted corn–we know it better as “corn nuts“–which I think would make an awesome brittle.

I poured the maple sugar over top of the nuts and then used a fork to press and then gently pull the sugar and nuts into a thin layer. The sugar is very stretchy after just a moment of cooling and gives you plenty of flexibility before it gets too brittle.

After the sugar was cool to the touch, I broke it into pieces with my hands. Done. Super simple, super beautiful, and incredibly delicious.

From the Piggly Wiggly to King Kullen: How We Got to Grocery Shop

Interior of a grocery store, 1936. Source: The New York Public Library.

We’ve got one more guest post this week from Carly Robins, an actress, writer, producer, and voice over artist. She is also a lover of food and creator of  Grocery Tales (coming soon to a TV near you).

I love grocery shopping! There. I said it! What most people think of as a chore, I relish. Even when I travel, I love to stop at the local grocery store because I find it is the only way to truly feel and understand the local culture.

Dutch Grocery on Broad St., 1859. NYPL.

Many years ago when my husband and I were in Laos we had the most amazing crème brulee with this sugared topping that I had never tasted before. I couldn’t stop dreaming about it all night and the following day, through lots of hand gestures and pointing to the menu, the waiter came back with a package, written in Thai, and gave us directions to the local grocery store. I discovered it was coconut palm sugar, and I was mesmerized by it. This experience confirmed not only my obsession with grocery stores, but where our food comes from, what foods we are exposed to, and how the grocery store experience has evolved.

In 1859, George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman founded The Great American Tea Company, which later became Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company or A&P. It was a storefront on Vesey Street in New York City that also had a mail order business. In the beginning, they sold mostly coffee, tea, spices and other dry goods. However, by the 1880s, they were operating a hundred stores across the USA,becoming the first grocery store chain. They stocked their shelves with the help of their own invention, the first refrigerated rail cars.

A&P, 1936. Source: New York Public Library.

The next big advancement came when Clarence Saunders invented the first ever “self-service” grocery store in 1916, and called it The Piggly Wiggly.  Saunders noticed how much time and money was wasted by having clerks wait on each customer individually, fill orders, and often deliver groceries to the customer’s home. The Piggly Wiggly allowed customers to self-select the items they would like to purchase and then, in what was also a new innovation, have a cashier ring them up. These items were individually price-marked and displayed into categories, birthing the need for branding and packaging to grab the attention of the shopper.

These stores were hugely successful and franchises were sold nationwide to hundreds of grocery retailers. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, an explosion of family chain stores like Ralph’s, Safeway, and Kroger opened, mimicking the Piggly Wiggly model. There were all kinds of buying and selling and merging of stores, along with anti-trust problems and other legal battles, that made for a little bit of chaos, but there were also opportunities for great wealth. Within this explosion, stores started including different sections such as dairy, meat, and produce, offering their patrons the convenience of going to one store for all their shopping needs. A juicy little tidbit: Saunders, the Piggly Wiggly founder, eventually ran into some financial trouble trying to manipulate stock prices and lost control of his company. Is that an American story or what?

The next innovation came from a former employee of a Kroger Grocery Store: Michael Cullen opened his first King Kullen Grocery in Queens, August of 1930. His business model focused on high volume at low profit margins. It was a smashing success; specialty groceries couldn’t compete with massive stores, large volume, and low low pricing. And according to the Smithsonian Institute, King Kullen is considered America’s first ‘supermarket’.

Living in New York City affords me the luxury of many grocery stores, whether specialty or otherwise. Just like on that trip to Laos, my eyes are now open to the global possibilities that ingredients provide and how we can incorporate those ingredients into our daily lives. It’s all about the ingredients and where to find them! Speaking of, I have a fantastic Gluten Free Banana Bread that is moist and delicious. I am able to buy most of the ingredients at one of my favorite specialty stores, Sahadi’s Importing Company. It’s a Middle Eastern grocery store founded in 1898 in Manhattan until it got displaced because of construction for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Sahadi’s is now located on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights and is known for their bulk section options, including various alternative flours.

Gluten Free Banana Bread

½ Cup Dark Chocolate Chips
2 Eggs
2 ripe Bananas, mashed
1/2 cup Coconut Nectar
1/2 Stick or Less of Butter
1 tsp. Real Vanilla Extract
3/4 cup Brown Rice Flour
1/4 cup Coconut Flour
1/4 cup Almond Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/3 cup Melted Coconut Oil

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a bread loaf pan with parchment paper over sides to easily lift and add the chocolate chips to the bottom of the pan. (You can always incorporate the chocolate chips into the batter after all ingredients have been combined BUT…chocolate chips that have been melted and baked at the bottom of the pan are a delight to behold. I learned this trick because apparently my mother in-law, who had a lot of tasty cooking accidents, did this in error while cooking a bundt cake and my husband swears it was the best thing he has ever eaten. It also allows you to use less chocolate if you want since it is concentrated in one area only. You can use this method on any sweet bread.)
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs lightly. Add mashed bananas, butter, nectar and vanilla and mix thoroughly.
  3. Add melted coconut oil, then add Rice flour, Coconut flour, Almond Flour, baking soda. Mix until all ingredients are moist.
  4. Pour batter into loaf pan. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes or until bread is no longer wet in the middle.

150 Years of Thanksgiving

thanksgiving2
“Thanksgiving day Among the Puritan Fathers in New England” Harper’s Weekly, 1870. Courtesy the New York Historical Society.

Did you know that 2013 is the 150th anniversary of Thanksgiving?

I know what you’re thinking. What about the Pilgrims? Plymouth? 1621? Duh!

We all know the story–or at least, some version of it. After a difficult first year of settlement, the Puritans of Plymouth celebrated a successful harvest. They were joined by the nearby Wampanoag Indians, in recognition of their tenuous (and temporary) alliance. Here’s a primary source account of what happened on that day, from original settler Edward Winslow, written December 1621:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” (source)

For three days, the two groups partied together: playing games, firing guns, and eating. And what was on the table? We know there was venison, brought by sachem Massasoit and his men; we know there was wild fowl like turkey, shot by the Puritans. There was corn, too, from the harvest, probably prepared as a “pottage,” a thick soup. And since they were near the ocean, it’s likely they would have had an assortment of edibles from the water, like oysters, lobsters and (everyone’s favorite) eels.

Most of the modern Thanksgiving legend was developed during a surge of Americana nostalgia after the Revolutionary War. The “pilgrims,” by the way, referred to themselves as Puritans. The use of the word Pilgrim to describe the early colonists seems to have evolved out of  Forefather’s Day, a sort of proto-thanksgiving celebrated in December. A line from Plymouth colony governor William Bradford was quoted during the 1798 speechifying – “…they knew they were pilgrimes…” and a song was composed using the same word. The term caught on afterwards. (thanks, wikipedia!)

Additionally, the Puritans did not think of the 1621 feast as a day of “Thanksgiving,” which was a specific holy day declared during events of God’s divine intervention (end to droughts, etc). In an 1841 books called Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth, scholar Alexander Young footnotes Winslow’s letter by calling it “the first Thanksgiving,” which is the first reference found referring to the event of 1621 by that name.

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Thanksgiving at a New England Farm House, Harper’s Weekly, 1871. Courtesy The New York Historical Society. On the table, they’re cutting into an immense chicken pie. Also, take note of the celery holder.

Thanksgiving, and food that accompanies it, did not evolve into the holiday we know today until the mid-19th century.  Over the years, Forefather’s Day sort of merged with annual harvest festival traditions and became a modern Thanksgiving.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday. It was a popular writer of the time, Sarah Hale, who edited an even more popular women’s magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, who petitioned Lincoln to make the holiday official. “Would the next Thanksgiving might be observed in all the states on the same day,” Hale said in an editorial, “Then, though the members of the same family be too far separated to meet around one festive board, they would have the gratification of knowing, that all were enjoying the blessings of the day.”

A lovely sentiment, when you consider that our country was divided by war.

It was Hale’s magazine that also released an avalanche of holiday recipes every year, instructing housewives on how to make a proper Thanksgiving dinner. As though making up for our Puritanical forefathers, a Victorian holiday could include: Oyster soup, Turkey with Savory Stuffing, a Sirloin of Beef, a leg of Pork, a loin of Mutton, Gravy, celery, a goose, two ducks, Chicken Pie, cranberry sauce, pickles: sweet, mangoes (stuffed and pickled young melons), chow-chow, bell peppers, peaches, or cucumbers; mashed potatoes and turnips, cabbage, canned tomatoes and corn, baked sweet potatoes, boiled onions, fruit preserves (like grape jelly or stewed peaches), butter, wheat bread, plum pudding, mincemeat pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie, custards, rich cakes (with yeast, fruits, and many eggs), Indian pudding, fresh fruits and sweetmeats (candies), cheese. (source and source)

Today, I think the true beauty of the Thanksgiving feast lies in the side dishes. The turkey in omnipresent, but what is served alongside it makes every family’s celebration individual. So what’s you’re Thanksgiving like? Is it traditional New England fare, or does it reflect your own regionalism or ethnicity? And if you were going to jazz up your holiday table with a 19th Century side dish from the menu above, which one would it be?

 

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.

Origin of a Dish: Candy Corn

candy_corn_blogA handmade candy corn.

I was recently charged with the task of coming up with a hands-on food activity for the New York Historical Society’s Halloween bash, so I’ve been thinking a lot on the origins of Halloween candy.  One of the first treats to spring to my mind is also the first candy to be associated with the holiday, the much maligned Candy Corn.

The celebration Halloween became popular right at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th.  Theme parties were all the rage, so you could expect to head over to a friend’s (with the kids or not) for spooky decorations and refreshments.  The Book of Hallowe’en, published in 1919, gives us a sense of what these parties were like:

For the centerpiece of the table there may be a hollowed pumpkin, filled with apples and nuts and other fruits of harvest, or a pumpkin-chariot drawn by field-mice… Jack-o’-lanterns, with which the room is lighted, are hollowed pumpkins with candles inside… Corn-stalks from the garden stand in clumps about the room. A frieze of witches on broomsticks, with cats, bats, and owls surmounts the fireplace, perhaps…The prevailing colors are yellow and black: a deep yellow is the color of most ripe grain and fruit; black stands for black magic and demoniac influence.

Having marched to the dining-room to the time of a dirge, the guests find before them plain, hearty fare; doughnuts, gingerbread, cider, popcorn, apples, and nuts honored by time. The Hallowe’en cake has held the place of honor since the beginning here in America. A ring, key, thimble, penny, and button baked in it foretell respectively speedy marriage, a journey, spinsterhood, wealth, and bachelorhood.

Along side the bowls of party nuts, you were also likely to find a dish of candy corn. Created around 1880, candy corn was not considered a seasonal sweet.  Better known at the time as “chicken feed,” which I think is a very cute name, it was  manufactured year round and was especially popular for the Fourth of July and in Easter baskets. But with its harvest-festival colors of yellow, orange and red it also seemed a natural fit for fall celebrations, and was slowly integrated into Halloween parties. From The Atlantic:

Candy-making oral tradition credits the invention of candy corn to George Renninger, a candy maker at the Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia…At that time, many candy makers were producing “butter cream” candies molded into all kinds of natural or plant-inspired shapes, including chestnuts, turnips, and clover leaves. The real innovation in candy corn was the layering of three colors. This made it taxing to produce (all those colors had to be layered by hand in those days). But the bright, layered colors also made the candy novel and visually exciting.

At the turn of the century, despite the fact there was themed candy for every other holiday (including marzipan cherries for Washington’s birthday), candy companies didn’t see Halloween as a candy-oriented holiday.  Desperate for a way to boost fall candy sales, “Candy Day” was invented, a day where you…buy candy. Later to be known as “Sweetest Day,” it’s the second Saturday of October and still celebrated in some areas, like my hometown of Cleveland.

It seems ridiculous that a candy-consuming holiday was invented when Halloween is RIGHT THERE, but it wasn’t really until after WWII, when sugar rationing was lifted, that candy companies finally caught on to the appeal, and started manufacturing Halloween themed candy in appropriate Jack-o-Lantern shapes, fall colors, and fun sizes. Conversely, Brach’s, established in 1904, is now doing its best to detach candy corn from its Halloween-only image, by producing new flavors like “Milk Maid Caramel Candy Corn” and manufacturing different seasonal colors like red & green.

candy_corn_blog2Slicing up the candy corns with my Velveeta Cheese Slicer. Handy!

I’ve never liked candy corn, but I decided to give them a second chance after I stumbled across Alton Brown’s recipe for “chicken feed” from scratch. It blends butter and powdered milk (I used Bob’s Red Mill Non-Fat Dry Milk Powder; is it weird that I love the way powdered milk tastes?) with boiled sugar. There is a bit of a learning curve with this recipe: the first time I made it, the dough turned out unusable, flaky, and weird. The second time, I was more precise: I measure my ingredients by weight instead of volume and boiled the sugar at a lower temperature. Round two was much better, and although my candy corns (pictured above) turned out looking very handmade, I find them endearing. And they taste waaay better than store-bought: they have a creaminess and tartness, a sweet and saltyness, an overall complexity of flavor that can only come from handmade.

The History Dish: 19th Century Wedding Cake

weddinga_cake1Historic wedding cake, passed out as a wedding favor.

After I got engaged, one of the first questions I was asked was “Are you going to have historic wedding cake?”

No. I was not. Why? Because historic wedding cake is disgusting.

Ok, maybe that’s not fair to say.  It’s just not to MY taste.  Our actual wedding cake was a spice cake with pecan, salt and dulce de leche filling and cream cheese frosting, baked from scratch by my mother, an award winning baker.  That’s my kind of cake.

But I did decide it would be a sweet and meaningful wedding “favor” to send everyone home with a slice of 19th century wedding cake.

I didn’t end up using the wedding cake recipe that inspired the name of this blog; I followed the recipe for “Ohio Wedding Cake” from Buckeye Cookery, published in 1877.  Since my husband and I both grew up in Ohio, and that’s where we got married, it was eerily appropriate.  Additionally, it used almost the exact same ingredients and proportions as Lydia maria Child’s 1830s recipe, but gave better instructions.  They were more clear, and revealed some of the specifics of 19th century baking any good Victorian housewife would have known, but I did not.

wedding_recipe

This was a quick recipe to put together; I baked and frosted three recipes (three large sheet pans) in a day.  I used mixed fruits from King Arthur Flour as well as raisins, brandy, red wine, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace and cloves to flavor the recipe. It was baked at 350 degrees for about an hour. It would have had a meringue frosting, but egg based frostings are not durable in the summer heat. I made a glaze from powdered sugar and water instead.

I wrapped little rectangles of cake in self-sealing bags, with a copy of the recipe behind it. The cake was a huge hit. My mom loved it. Most people liked it. And those that didn’t, appreciated the experience. And although the cake was of the dense and heavy fruitcake variety, it was actually better than I expected.

DSCF6096Wedding cake: wrapped with a recipe.

For more on the history of the wedding cake, check out this fantastic Gastronomica article “Wedding Cake: A Slice of History.”

The History Dish: To Make Hot Buttered Toast

toastHow to Make Hot Buttered Toast!

Bill Bryson, author of the awesome domestic history compendium At Home: A Short History of Private Life, doesn’t have a high opinion of Isabella Beeton.  Mrs. Beeton published Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management in the mid-19th century; it included thousands of recipes, instructions for house servants, cleaning tips, medical advice and more.  It is probably the most influential English cookbook of all time.  Bryson calls it “…done in carelessness and haste” “plagiarized” and “…An instruction manual that could be followed religiously and that was exactly what people wanted.”

Ok. Maybe her book is a little over the top.  Perhaps one of the best examples of the tediousness of her recipes can be found in her “precise steps how to make hot buttered toast.”

TO MAKE HOT BUTTERED TOAST.

A loaf of household bread about two days old answers for making toast better than cottage bread, the latter not being a good shape, and too crusty for the purpose. Cut as many nice even slices as may be required, rather more than 1 inch in thickness, and toast them before a very bright fire, without allowing tho bread to blacken, which spoils the appearance and flavour of all toast. When of a nice colour on both sides, put it on a hot plate; divide some good butter into small pieces, place them on the toast, set this before the fire, and when the butter is just beginning to melt, spread it lightly over the toast. Trim off the crust and ragged edges, divide each round into 4 pieces, and send the toast quickly to table. Some persons cut the slices of toast across from corner to corner, so making the pieces of a three-cornered shape. Soyer recommends that each slice should be cut into pieces as soon as it is buttered, and when all are ready, that they should be piled lightly on the dish they are intended to be served on. He says that by cutting through 4 or 5 slices at a time, all the butter is squeezed out of the upper ones, while the bottom one is swimming in fat liquid. It is highly essential to use good butter for making this dish.

But I tried her recipe, and I have to admit: it was a great system of toast making. I didn’t use the best butter–just Land o’ Lakes from the fridge.  And no open fire: I have a combo pop-up toaster and toaster oven, and used both features to execute this recipe: first to toast the bread, then to melt the butter. But with the double-toasting method she suggests, the butter was evenly distributed and saturated into the surface. The salty fat squeezed out with each bite and oozed over the tongue.  The soft squares of toast looked ridiculously small on the plate, but the mouth-feel was  almost decadent without the tough and scratchy crusts.

Maybe I just have a soft spot for Isabella. She was writing in a time when women weren’t. She was trying to write more specific  better organized recipes when recipes were about clear as mud. And she loved her publisher husband fiercely–who also seemed to love her back, but also gave her syphilis (probably).

At least she had a handle on toast.

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

front

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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ROCK-FISH! BUY ANY ROCK-FISH?

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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.

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MUFFINS! HOT MUFFINS!

” 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:—

“Pepper-pot!
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.

Kitchen Histories: The Measuring Spoon

spoons2

My latest Kitchen History for Etsy focuses on the history of recipes–you can read it here. By the time these little spoons were manufactured c. 1900, recipes were orderly and measurements were exact–they look much like a recipe does today.  But that wasn’t always the case.

Take a look at the recipe below for Common Gingerbread from Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches by Eliza Leslie, 1844.  It’s such a wonderful window into life in the 1840s–dropping hints on everything to how to process sugar to how professional bakers made gingerbread.  It’s almost a novel in the life of a gingerbread. 

Is it better, or worse, than a modern recipe?  What do you think?

COMMON GINGERBREAD Cut up a pound of butter in a quart of West India molasses, which must be perfectly sweet; sugar house molasses will make it hard and heavy. Warm it slightly, just enough to melt the butter. Crush with the rolling pin, on the paste board, half a pound of brown sugar, and add it by degrees to the molasses and butter; then stir in a tea cup full of powdered ginger, a large tea spoonful of powdered cloves, and a table spoonful of powdered cinnamon. Add gradually sufficient flour to make a dough stiff enough to roll out easily; and lastly, a small tea spoonful of pearl ash melted in a little sour milk Mix and stir the dough very hard with a spaddle, or a wooden spoon; but do not knead it. Then divide it with a knife into equal portions; and, having floured your hands, roll it out on the paste board into long even strips. Place them in shallow tin pans that have been buttered; either laying the strips side by side in straight round sticks, (uniting them at both ends,) or coil them into rings one within another, as you see them at the cake shops. Bake them in a brisk oven taking care that they do not burn gingerbread; scorching sooner than any other cake.

To save time and trouble, you may roll out the dough into a sheet near an inch thick, and cut it into round flat cake with a tin cutter, or with the edge of a tumbler.

Ground ginger loses much of its strength by keeping. Therefore it will be frequently found necessary to put in more than the quantity given in the receipt.

See the original recipe here.

The History Dish: Coffee Pretzels

 coffee_pretzelA coffee-cookie-pretzel.

The History

This is the last recipe I’ll be featuring from The Practical Cookbook; it’s a for a German staple with a “twist”: coffee pretzels.

The origin of pretzels are shrouded in myth.  Scholars believe that they were first baked around 610 AD in a monastery in Northern Italy or Southern France.  Their creation may have been associated with Lent; at the very least, there has long been a Christian association with them.  The classic pretzel shape has been said to represent arms crossed in prayer and the Holy Trinity.

Pretzels have long been considered an inseparable companion to beer in German tradition.  Pretzel making in Germany was, historically, very regional, featuring a variety of flavors, textures, and shapes.  In Bavaria, starting in the mid-19th century, pretzels were dipped in a lye and water bath before baking, which gave them a deep brown color and distinctive taste.  These Bavarian-style pretzels are the ones we’re most familair with in the United States, known simply as “soft pretzels.”  Swabian pretzels have thin arms and a fat belly; pretzels from Fanconia could be flavored with anise; while pretzels from other areas could be sprinkled with caraway, sesame, or poppy seeds

I decided to try this particular pretzel recipe because, honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it before.

The Recipe

 

cofee_pretzels_recipe

 

Coffee Pretzels
adapted from From The Practical Cook Book by Henriette Davidis, 1897 (English Version)

I busted out my kitchen scale for this one.

8 ounces flour
1 ounce finely ground coffee
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
5 ounces white sugar
Zest of one lemon
2 eggs
2 egg yolks and 2 egg whites, separated

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, coffee, salt, and baking powder.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together sugar, lemon zest, and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, mixing after each addition.  With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients.  Scrape bowl and mix until evenly combined.

Flour a work surface (parchment, cutting board, non-stick mat).  Take dough about 1/2 cupful at a time, rolling it first in the flour, then gently rolling dough into long “snakes.”  Using fingers to apply pressure to dough, roll back and forth, and gently stretching it side to side.  When dough is about 1/2 in thick, cut into 4-5 inch length and fold into a traditional pretzel shape.  Place on a cookie sheet.

Wash pretzels with egg whites and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.

The Results

These turned out more like a coffee shortbread than a pretzel.  However, I am a poor judge of their flavor, because I hate coffee.  Tomorrow, I’ll distribute to my coworkers, and we’ll see what the verdict is.

Update (1/29): The results are in! The texture of these little cookies was generally praised, as was the sprinkled-sugar topping.  But opinions on the flavors were extremely divided: either tasters loved the strong coffee flavor, especially for dipping IN their morning coffees; other thought it was the most terrible taste they’d ever had, like chewing on coffee grounds.