Archive for the 'baking' Category

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.

The History Dish: Washington’s Birthday

washingtoncakeWashington Cake: Dense, moist, and chock full of raisins.

Today we have a guest post from my intern, J.C. Paradiso! She’s a trained chef with her masters in Food Studies from NYU, and this “semester”, we’re working towards launching her own blog under the handle The Savage and the Sage. Look for it soon!

Presidents’ Day has never really resonated for me. If you are like me, a holiday just isn’t a holiday unless there is some kind of food involved. No food memories, no holiday.

I did some digging and realized that there is no holiday called Presidents’ Day. The holiday we celebrate is officially called Washington’s Birthday. 

At the time of his death in 1799, George Washington was largely considered the most important figure in American History. He was eulogized by Congressman and Revolutionary War General, Henry Lee, with the beautiful sentiment: “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen…”  Washington was a towering figure in the relatively newly minted American psyche; he was Pater Patriae, the Father of our Country. In the wake of his death, his birthday became an important celebration, including speechifying, fireworks, and “…taverns across the country filled with revelers celebrating the birth of the nation’s hero…” (source)

Washington’s birthday became an official holiday in 1879. In 1968 Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.” The official celebration was moved to the third Monday in February, nestled between Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays. By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the nation.”

While there may not be food associated with Presidents’ Day today, historically there are food traditions associated with celebrating George Washington.  Perhaps the most well known story about George Washington is that of Washington chopping down the cherry tree, which is now regarded as having been fabricated by his biographer, Parson Weems. That being said, according to The Presidents’ Cookbook: Practical Recipes from George Washington to the Present, George Washington apparently loved cherries, and all things cherry continue to have an association with Washington, like marzipan cherries and a chopped-cherry Washington salad.

By the early 19th century, there are recipes in cookbooks and memoirs of various versions of “Washington Cake.”  The origin of this patriotic baked good may have been an American imitation of a British practice to celebrate a nobleman’s birthday with a special cake.  According to The Market Book by Thomas F. De Voe, in the early 1800s, a woman named Mary Simpson, who claimed to have been a former slave of Washington’s, took in laundry “for several bachelor gentlemen” in a basement storefront on the corner of Cliff and John Streets in Manhattan. She would also sell homemade baked goods, eggs and dairy.  According to De Voe, “She never forgot her old master’s birthday…and she kept it most faithfully by preparing a very large cake which she called “Washington Cake,” (once a favorite of Washington,) a large quantity of punch, then a fashionable drink, and hot coffee…” She arranged these treats under a portrait of her old master, and was called upon by prominent members of the community who would “..praise her old master’s portrait and his many noble and heroic deeds…She said she ‘was fearful that if she did not keep up the day by her display, Washington would be soon forgotten.” (ED Note: JC and I both agreed this story dealt with some uncomfortable, yet fascinating, stuff. It’s an interesting perspective on slavery, written by a man living in a free state in the midst of the Civil War. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.)

So, what exactly is Washington Cake? While there are a few variations, the first published recipe for Washington Cake that I could find appeared in 1831 in The Cook Not Mad or Rational Cookery, A Frontier Cookbook. It called for “One pound of sugar, one of flour, half pound butter, four eggs, one pound raisins, one of currants, one gill of brandy, tea cup of cream, spice to your taste.” As was typical of the time, it contained no chemical leavening.

And you know what? The Cook Not Mad recipe for Washington Cake is pretty delicious–how could it not be with all that fat and all that sugar? The one caveat is that you really do have to like raisins, because this cake is FULL of them. 

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Washington Cake
Adapted from The Cook Not Mad, 1831.

2 cups sugar
2 cups flour, sifted
2 sticks butter, plus 1 TBSP for greasing
4 eggs
3 cups raisins (or 1 1/2 cup raisins and 1 1/2 cups currants)
¼ cup brandy
½  cup cream
¼ tsp each: cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg (all finely ground)

1.Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan and set aside.

2.Cream together butter and sugar until mixture is light and fluffy and the color is light yellow, about 3 minutes on medium high speed.

3.Continue to beat mixture on medium high speed, adding in eggs 1 at a time. Add in remaining wet ingredients (brandy and cream).

4.Fold flour, by hand, into cake batter in three batches.  Add in spices. Add in raisins and mix well to fully incorporate all ingredients.

5.Transfer batter to loaf pan and cook for about 80 minutes, or until a cake tester (or knife) inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

6. Let cake sit for 15 minutes before removing it from pan.

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.”

Kitchen Histories: Buche de Noel

bucheBuch de Noel from a tree trunk cake mold.

To celebrate Christmas Eve Eve (Festivus, to some) I present the story of Buche de Noel, or Christmas Log, a delicious cake that hails from France.

Get all festive by reading it here.

The History Dish: Pepper Cakes, Aged Six Months


I love eating food that’s been sitting around half a year.

I’ve written before about the preservative power of black pepper–you can read it here.  Pepper’s antimicrobial properties might explain this recipe called “To Make Pepper Cakes That Will Keep Good In Ye House For a Quarter or Halfe a Year” from Martha Washington’s, “A Booke of Cookery,” which was given to her by her husband’s family on the occasion of her first marriage in 1749. It is believed that the text was transcribed in Virginia, sometime in the latter half of the 17th century.

Take treakle 4 pound, fine wheat flowre halfe a peck, beat ginger 2 ounces, corriander seeds 2 ounces, carraway & annyseeds of each an ounce, suckets slyced in small pieces a pritty quantity, powder of orring pills one ounce. worked all these into a paste, and let it ly 2 or 3 hours. after, make it up into what fashions you please in pritty large cakes about an intch and halfe thick at moste, or rather an intch will be thick enough. wash your cakes over with a little oyle and treacle mixt together before you set them into ye oven, then set them in after household bread. & thought they be hard baked, they will give againe, when you have occasion to use it slyce it & serve it up.

Allow me to offer some quick, 18th century translation services: Treakle is molasses and suckets are candied fruits: lemon or orange peels, or citron, another citrus fruit.  Culinary historian Karen Hess points out that this recipe is in fact for gingerbread, and reflects a holdover from the Middle Ages: a time when pepper was used the same as any other spice, in the sweet as well as the savory. Although this recipe doesn’t list pepper in the ingredients, Hess argues it may have been omitted accidentally.

I was curious if these “Pepper Cakes” really did taste better after six months.  This recipe is like a proto-fruitcake or lebkuchen.

I decided to add a quantity of pepper equal to the ginger. When working from historic recipes, it’s always helpful to translate the ingredients, scaling down the proportions to make a smaller recipe. I call this step “Make a plan!”:

1 pound (about 2 cups) Molasses
4 cups Flour
1/2 ounce (3 tablespoons) Pepper
1/2 ounce (3 tablespoons) Ginger
1/2 ounce (3 tablespoons) Coriander
1/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) Caraway
1/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) Anise Seed
1/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) Dried Orange Peel
1 cup candied fruit

To recreate this recipe, I used Hecker’s Unbleached Flour, which has been in production since 1843.  There are stone ground, 18th century flours available on-line, but I decided this was a decent substitute for my purposes.  To four cups of flour, I added my spices, starting with ½ ounce course ground Lampung pepper, the variety I suspect would have been available when this recipe was written.   ½ ounce is a surprisingly large amount of spice–about three tablespoons.  Ginger and coriander went in next, followed by caraway–I used both ground and whole caraway seeds to add texture.  I was unable to find anise seeds, so I substituted the similarly licorice-tasting fennel seeds, which I pounded with the dried orange peel in a makeshift mortar and pestle: a muddler and a measuring cup.

After the dry ingredients, I added the molasses, and stirred the bowl into a deep brown goo.  Only then did I realize I forgot the suckets. “Oh fuck it! The suckets!” I declared, to no one at all.  I had picked up a contained full of “fruit cake” type fruits; the typical holiday blends includes the 18th century favorites lemon peel, orange peel, and citron.  Fruitcake  is probably the only time we use citron in modern cooking; not many people even know it’s in there. Now you do.

I folded in a cup of suckets, realizing that this wasn’t the most accurate historic food recreation I had ever rendered. True culinary historians are probably reading this and gritting their teeth.   I covered the dough with a towel, and set it aside for a few hours, as the original recipe recommends.

When I returned, it had formed into a sticky, solid mass.  Here is where the original recipes gets vague.  The authoress says: “make it up into what fashions you please in pritty large cakes about an intch and halfe thick at moste, or rather an intch will be thick enough.”  Pritty large cakes?  How large is “pritty large”?  And in comparison to what?  Or “pritty” like lovely? Lovely cakes?

I floured a board, and rolled the dough to about an inch thick.  I cut out some preeeeeetty large cakes, about 4 ½ inches in diameter.  That’s preeeeetty large, right?  The cut cookies went on to a parchment lined baking sheet, and I brushed the top of each one with a mixture of a little molasses and almond oil.

The baking instructions read: “set them in after household bread.”  Bread bakes at around 450 degrees; so I preheated my oven to 450, and let the pepper cakes bake for 20 minutes.  Then, in an effort to simulate a wood-burning oven cooling as the fire goes out, I turned the oven off and left the cookies inside.

About an hour later the oven was completely cool, and I pulled the cookies out, glossy from their caramelized molasses top coat.  I nibbled on one, still slightly warm, and the flavor was so strong it was like a punch in the face.  It was, in essence, pure spices held together by a little flour and molasses.  I suspected that like a modern fruitcake (or their closer relation, lebkuchen), these cookies might taste better with age.  So I took the recipe title’s recommendation, and locked the cakes away in a tin, to be tasted in six months.

I first baked this recipe at the end of July, so the time has come.  I had to save the cookies from being thrown away TWICE by well-meaning roommates.  After being entombed for so long, the cookies looked and tasted like the 17th century: dark and spicy.  They weren’t revolting like they were in August, they were revolting in an entirely new way.  Chewy and stale, the candied fruits were unappealing.  The explosive flavors of the spices were interesting, and widely varied as I slowly chewed the cake.  But if this was good eating 300 years ago, I feel sad for the 1700s.

Gathering up the Fragments: Recipe Poems by Emily Dickinson

Recipe or poem? Emily Dickinson’s recipe for “Cocoa Nut” cake. 445B: courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections by permission of the Trustees of Amherst College.

We’ve got a guest post this week from Aife Murray, author of  Maid as Muse: how servants changed Emily Dickinson’s life and language– and I want to let you jump right into it.  Read on for a story about Dickinson the poet/cook who would give you the recipe to make a prairie just as soon as she would her recipe for cocoanut cake.  

Aife recently spoke about Dickinson at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  The video of this event is here.  

“Waste not, want not” was a maxim in Emily Dickinson’s kitchen. Her family’s well-thumbed housekeeping manual, The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child, from 1844, begins this way: “The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments so that nothing be lost. I mean fragments of time as well as materials.”

Emily Dickinson grabbed every conceivable scrap of paper for her stationary. She wrote poems on the backs of party invitations, bills, recipes, shopping lists, food wrappers(think the chocolate bar wrapper made famous by Joseph Cornell) — the kinds of paper that seem to

“grow” on any kitchen counter. She’d use these scraps to capture a poetic idea that had skidded into the imagination. When my hands are busy grating nutmeg or scrubbing the stove my mind roams broadly and I receive what feel like “gifts” of ideas (Buddhists would call that “naturally occurring wisdom”). In Emily’s case, what rose up might be a great poem. So she gathered up even those fragments of ideas for poems and jotted them on the backs of those fragments of paper collecting by her pantry board.

Emily Dickinson (source)

Another frugal idea, adopted by prize-winning baker Emily Dickinson, came from the sewing room. In order to keep her kitchen-writing life in place she pinned recipes into her cookbook. I’m a tactile learner too. Among the cookbooks on my bookshelf I tuck recipes I’ve torn from magazines or jotted on the back of an envelope when talking food with a friend. Of course those papers are at risk every time I grab a cookbook (but they remind me, as I pick them up, about a dish to try). Perhaps Emily Dickinson had a better idea. She used a simple straight pin to hold these various slips of paper into her family cookbook. She not only pinned recipes but she pinned her poems together.

Emily’s original of the coconut cake recipe, below, has two small pin holes in it. On the reverse of the recipe she began writing the poem “The things that never can come back” but then the poem got longer and she grabbed another sheet of paper to finish it. And so, as she might pin a recipe together in her “receipt book,” she took a straight pin to keep the pieces of the poem together. Look at the dashes in this recipe – she’s famous for using dashes (which came first? The recipe dash or the poem dash?):

1 Pound Sugar –
½ Pound Butter –
½ Pound Flour –
6  –  Eggs –
1  grated Cocoa Nut -

It turns out inspired writing is a lot like inspired cooking. And Emily Dickinson easily adapted kitchen practices to her writing. Recipes — a simple list with proportions — are as concise as poetry. I think recipes were a suggestive form for Emily Dickinson, just as much as sonnets or haiku. Doesn’t her coconut cake recipe look an awful lot like this “recipe” for mixing up a prairie?

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

©Aífe Murray, San Francisco, September 2-10, 2012

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Read More!

 

Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language (Revisiting New England) 

The American Frugal Housewife

 

 

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.

Events: Bake for a Good Cause?

The City Reliquary, a charming little museum in Brooklyn, is hosting a bake sale benefit.  Care to bake and donate some love?  It’s worth it; I donated historic baked goodies two years ago, and it literally launched my career.  This author of this blog post and the director of this video both encountered my treats for the first time at this bake sale.  Countless other connections have been made, just because I delivered a few cookies to help a great museum.

Details below.

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I wanted to let all of you know about a really fun event to benefit the City Reliquary Museum.

It’s called the Havemeyer Sugar Sweets Festival, a bake sale, baking competition and celebration of baked goods.

When? Saturday, Oct 15 from 10am to 4pm
Where? The City Reliquary, located at 370 Metropolitan Avenue (between Havemeyer and Roebling)

Um, What? The City Reliquary is an all-volunteer museum that celebrates everyday New Yorkers and everyday New York history.  The Reliquary hosts rotating exhibitions by local artists, historians and schoolkids; weekly events; education programs; and annual block parties. The Reliquary also collects utterly unique bits of New York history. http://www.cityreliquary.org/

How Can I Help?

1. Donate Baked Goods!

We are looking for bakers and sweets-makers (you!) to donate their fresh-baked yummies to the Festival.

Cookies, cupcakes, brownies, bars, tarts, quick breads…any fresh baked treat is welcome.  All proceeds will go toward the City Reliquary.
2. Enter The Best Baked Goods competition!

Are you the city’s best home baker? Strut your stuff!  We will be determining the:

  • Best Cookie
  • Best Brownie/bar
  • Best Cupcake
  • Most New York baked good

A team of professional bakers will judge your treats. We will award great prizes to all winners. Please be sure to bring enough treats to enter the competition and to sell.

 

3. Come and pig out!.  There will be plenty of treats to try!

Questions? Please contact Jeff Tancil at jtancil@yahoo.com

 

History Dinner: Poor Man’s Potage and Tomato Soup Cake

Tomato Soup Cake.  You’d never guess the secret ingredient. (it’s love!)

Last summer, I spent a week dining on recipes from MFK Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf. After I finished the project, there were two recipes I still wanted to try: Quick Potato Soup and Tomato Soup cake.  So I invited over a few friends and we dined.

Soup was first, served with buttered, fresh-baked bread:

Modern technology has made this recipe easier: instead of hand-grating a million potatoes, I used an immersion blender.  I softened then onions first, simmering them slowly in a whole stick of butter.  Delicious.  Then I added the potatoes, cubed but unpeeled, and about a quart of water.  I brought them to a boil and cooked the mixture until the potatoes were fork tender.  I heated a quart of whole milk on the stove while I used my blender to puree the soup.  I left it a little chunky, ’cause that’s how I roll.  I tasted the soup and added a generous quantity of salt and some pepper.

I used about 3/4 the amount of liquid that Fisher recommends; when I initially added the milk, the soup looked too thin.  But I let it bubble away on a low heat for about 30 minutes and it thickened up to a pleasant consistency.  This morning, the leftovers were souper thick, which is how I like it.

I served the soup topped with what I thought was flat leaf parsley, but was actually cilantro.  It didn’t matter, it was really tasty.  I also sprinkled parmesan cheese over top, which put a nice finish on the soup.  Simple ingredients, simple preparation, and simply delicious: the qualities that Fisher’s recipes are known for.

Potato and Onion Soup– one of the most perfect foods.

Dessert was Tomato Soup Cake:

The “soda” is baking soda and can be whisked in with the flour and spices.  I left out the clove, which I find to be an overpowering flavor, and used a very satisfactory blend of 1 tsp cinnamon, and a 1/2 tsp each nutmeg and ginger.  My “what you will” was one fuji apple and 3/4 cup chopped walnuts.  And yes: I added one can of Campbell’s “Soup at Hand” Classic Tomato Soup.

I didn’t make the frosting of “cream cheese and powdered sugar and a little rum” that Fisher recommends, although it sounds awesome.  I made a glaze with confectioner’s sugar and the juice and zest of a lemon.  Although the cake is great without frosting, too.

“This is a pleasant cake,” Fisher says, “which keeps well and puzzles people who ask what kind it is.”  I let my guests venture guesses as to the surprise ingredient.  They were nearly finished with their cake slices when someone finally said “Tomatoes?”  Initially, everyone dropped their cake in horror.  Then they found peace with the idea and wolfed the remainder down.

The cake was incredibly moist–shockingly most–without being heavy.  The spice blend was perfect.  Maybe you could taste tomatoes, but I’m not sure: I think it just added richness and depth to the other flavors.  And since the soup replaces milk and eggs, the cake is also vegan (as long as you use shortening, not butter).

I would absolutely, without a doubt make this cake again.

The History Dish: My Grandma’s Coconut Cake

Orange and Almond Cake with Meringue Frosting and Fresh Coconut.

I have very few taste memories from my grandmother.  By the time I was born, most of what she cooked came from boxes and cans, and there was an endless supply of Twinkies in the cabinet.  But when my mother was a little girl, my grandmother would cook, and bake, from scratch.

My mother always talks about a cake that her mother made once a year, at Easter.  A coconut cake.  “It was so good,”  my mother said. “It tasted

Boyfriend Brian bangs the nut.

best right after the frosting went on and the coconut was sprinkled on top.  My mother made it from a real coconut.  We had to grate it by hand. It was horrible.

“I think my mom would have used the recipe for yellow cake and white mountain frosting (I think it’s also called 7-minute frosting) from the Settlement Cookbook.  Preparing a coconut is a bitch. I’m sure you’ll find directions on the Food Network website.  Basically, you puncture the eyes with a hammer and nail, and then bake the whole coconut in the oven (I don’t know at what temperature and for how long) until the shell cracks, and then you wrap it in a towel and hit it with a hammer until it breaks in pieces, and then you pry the shell off the pieces, and then you peel the tough outer skin off the coconut meat, and then you grate it.  I would have (roommate) Jeff do all that!

“The coconut goes on while the frosting is wet (she kind of swirled the frosting on). And you have to do it pretty fast because the frosting crusts over quickly.  The cake lasts a long time, but the frosting starts to–I don’t know–dissolve after a couple of days.”

One day, a coconut just appeared on the kitchen table in my apartment.  I asked Roommate Jeff where it came from. “I dunno. I found it.” was his response.

I took it as a sign: coconut cake would happen this Easter.

I started tonight, by attacking the coconut.  Mom was right, directions can be found on the Food Network website here (Thanks, Alton Brown!).  Preparing the coconut was somehow both extremely laborious and not as difficult as I has expected.  It took about three hours and tasted no different that pre-shredded coconut from a bag.

I have my grandmother’s copy of  the Settlement Cookbook (the way to a man’s heart!), and I paged through it, unable to find a yellow cake recipe, unsure if this was the right book at all.  I stumbled upon a recipe for coconut layer cake that suggested using the white cake recipe on page 424.  On 424, I found this:

That’s my grandmother’s handwriting.  I love little notations in the margins of cookbooks–marks of personal preference and improved recipes.  But usually I find these notes amongst the books and recipes of strangers, unearthed at flea markets and garage sales.  Never had I seen such a cherished notation in my grandmother’s hand.

Who did she write it for? Surely she could remember that she preferred orange zest, not lemon.  Did she write it for my mom?  For the future? For me?

I zested an orange.  I beat the egg whites to soft peaks and set them aside, then sifted together Swan Cake Flour (a very old brand, still available) and baking powder, and set it aside, too.  I creamed butter and sugar; then, with the mixer on low, I added the flour and milk, alternating between the two.  I mixed until the batter was smooth, then added the almond flavoring and the orange zest; last, I folded in the egg whites.

My mother distinctly remembers this cake being baked in a plain square pan.  My grandmother would frost it right there in the pan; simple, easy and delicious.  I realized too late that I needed to double the recipe for my square pan; so instead, I baked it in a round, 9-inch pan. 375 degrees, for 20-25 minutes.  It came out of the oven looking perfect, despite the fact that I was tired and forgot to set a timer.

Here’s the frosting:

I made the frosting a little different: I cooked the first four ingredients in a metal mixing bowl over a double boiler until the sugar was dissolved and the liquid was hot to the touch.  Then I removed it from the heat and used my upright mixer to whip it until stiff peaks formed.  I gently mixed in the vanilla last.  After you frost the cake, sprinkle it with coconut immediately, before the frosting firms up.

The cake was a huge hit: despite the bounty of our Easter potluck, everyone managed to find room to cram in a slice of cake.  It was fluffy and not too sweet and the orange and the almond was a great flavor combo.  Guests were eating leftover frosting by the spoonful it was so good. The coconut was fine.  Get it from a bag.