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Party Time Reenactor: Mad Men Fondue

IMG_8877A 1960s cheese fondue. You want it.

The end of an era is coming, both for the characters of Mad Men and for those of us who have followed the show. If you’re planning a last episode party, may I suggest fondue, from a cookbook owned by Betty Draper herself.

The History

Back in the early seasons, when Betty was still Mrs. Draper, I noticed a cookbook on her counter:

You can see this set right now at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, btw.


IMG_8847Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook.

Much like Betty Draper, Betty Crocker is fictional, a creation of the Washburn Crosby Company, which would eventually become General Mills. “She” answered letters written to the company by housewives with baking questions. The first cookbook under her name was published in 1950, and was so popular “…sales rivaled those of the Bible.” (source)

Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook offered “A Wealth of Ideas for Today’s Entertaining.” Paging through the book, I came across a menu for a fondue party, entitled “Swiss Treat.”

“The menu couldn’t be simpler,” Ms. Crocker enthuses. “A cheese fondue, a marvelous tart-crisp salad, and a quick version of a classic continental dessert (pears au chocolat) are the only ingredients…It’s also possible for a wife with a job to start supper after work and have it on the table by seven thirty.” How progressive–even Joan could whip this one up!

According to David Sax, author of The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, fondue started in late 19th century Switzerland as a cheap and filling meal of melted cheese and stale bread. It became a staple of tavern culture, and was most well-known in Neuchâtel, where fondue was a mixture of emmenthal and gruyere cheese, garlic, pepper, nutmeg, white wine and kirsch. It was popular among groups of young people, and games were invented: if a girl lost their bread in the pot, they had to kiss the first boy to their left. Fondue came stateside when it was served at the Chalet Swiss restaurant in New York, becoming particularly popular by the 1950s.

By the 1960s, fondue is suggested for entertaining in the home in books like Betty Crocker’s. Fondue sets were popular wedding gifts,and a fondue party considered a convivial gathering. Sax makes the interesting connection between these communal eating parties and the sexual liberation of the 1960s:

“It is no coincidence that the fondue trend rose in concert with the budding sexual revolution in North America. The hotpot gatherings involved inherent physical and social contact, even in their most G-rated form…Fondue could not work with inhibitions–there were not individual portions, no fondue for one–it was a meal of forced intimacy…With enough wine and kirsch, a fondue party was the perfect setting to really get to know the Franklins from down the block, if you know what I mean.”

The Recipes

Click for larger images.

I prepared the salad and dressing in advance. The composition of the salad really delighted me: whereas I was expecting just iceberg lettuce, I got a colorful and flavorful mix of leaf lettuce, endive (I substituted radicchio because my store didn’t have endive!) and spinach. I laughed that the “Classic French Dressing” included a 1/4 teaspoon of MSG, which I absolutely added, along with 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 crushed clove garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper.

I assembled the pears next: they were simply chilled canned pears with chocolate frosting gobbed in the middle and melted over top. They were the most disappointing dish of the evening.

IMG_8885Pears au Chocolat, just before serving.

And last the cheese: I borrowed a fondue kit from a friend. Ask around! I’m sure you know someone that has one and vintage versions can be got for cheap in every second hand store in the country. I lit a sterno can under the vat and added a bottle of a hoppy IPA. As the beer heated, I slowly stirred in grated cheese, a handful at a time. In about 20 minutes, the cheese was steamy, smooth and ready to be eaten with torn chunks of baguette and pumpernickel rye.

The Results


While we waited for the cheese to heat, I served salads. The dressing was phenomenal, thanks to the satisfying umami of the added MSG. It had a nice garlic flavor, too, despite only having one crushed clove of garlic. Salad, over all, got nods of approval and a solid A+.

I was skeptical of the cheese because of the recipe’s simplicity: mostly beer and cheese. But it turned out tangy and hoppy; rich, but not overwhelming. Some thought the flavor paired best with the pumpernickel, but I liked it on the baguette. Underplates were a must to catch dripping strings of luscious cheese. The fondue recipe was just enough to feed four hungry people.

Hoisting a giant, cheese-soaked hunk of bread in the air, a party guest declared: “If someone put that in their mouth, it would be like the most sexual thing ever!”

After dinner, we didn’t serve coffee or tea, but lots of wine and eventually whiskey. Although the conversation got interesting, no one “got to know the Franklins,” if you know what I mean.

At the end of the night, we were stuffed with hot cheese and satisfied. My guests shared recipes their families made from the Betty Crocker cookbooks. Preparing this menu, I expected lackluster mid-century food; but on the contrary, it seems that Crocker’s cookbooks were popular because the recipes were basic but delicious.


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

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

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

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

The History

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

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

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

Prepping for a Medieval Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

14th Century Dinner Party

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

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

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

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

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



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

Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms and Leeks

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

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

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


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

Spicy Apple Pudding

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

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

Party Time Reenactor: How to Drink Like an Ancient Greek

greek5A slave helps a drinker to vomit. (National Museum of Cophenaghen)

The Ancient Greeks loved to drink.  They called wine “The mirror of the mind” and believed the way you behaved when you drank was revealing of your innermost nature.  As a result, the Ancient Greeks invented a celebration of wine: a male drinking party called a Symposium.

I first read about Syposia in Tom Standage’s book A History of the World in 6 Glasses; classically, the event was written about by Plato.  In Standage’s chapter on wine, he describes the symposium: an evening of food and wine that included games, philosophical debate, and tended to end in a riot or an orgy.  Sounds like a party worthy of reenactment.

The Invitation

An ideal symposium was thought to have between 12-24 drinkers; 16 being ideal.  Originally all the drinkers would be men, with women only present as entertainers:  musicians, dancers, and high-end prostitutes.  Since sticking to this rule would exclude my own presence, I decided to open up the party to men and women alike.  The Facebook invitation went out with great fanfare.

You know I love a good theme party. So Brian and I are hosting a Symposium: An Ancient Greek Drinking party! The evening will include:- drinking wine (everyone please bring a bottle, red or white)
– ancient Greek snacks
– a “symposiarch”, chosen at random, who is responsible for deciding how drunk the party will get.
– games!
– “entertainments”
– serious discussion of philosophy or not.That’s all I got. Just come over, drink, and indulge my nerdiness

The Food

greek1Two types of bread were served: flatbread for scooping up food and small, yeasty rolls. There was also olive oil for dipping and olives for snacking.

We known a lot more about Ancient Roman cooking than we do about the Ancient Greeks.  Much of what we do know comes from Archestratus’ The Life of Luxury, a poem written sometime in the mid-4th century BC.  In essence, it’s a guide book on where to find, and prepare, the best food in Greece.  You can read it here, and read a great article about it here.

The symposium was preceded by a meal, full of foods that laid down a good base for a night of drinking.  From various sources, I assembled this menu:

First Course: Fish and Lentils – The Ancient Greeks ate very little meat; their diet was based largely on fish, legumes and grains   Lentils were a staple of everyone’s diet–I slow-cooked mine with salt, vinegar and coriander.  For the fish, I prepared salmon–not a fish that I know would have been available to the Greeks, but my friends in Alaska had sent me a package of beautiful, fresh caught, wild salmon fillets.  So I had good fish, so I was gonna cook it.  I prepared it the way Archestratus suggests, with a little olive oil and a dusting of salt and cumin.  I broiled it for a few minutes and it came out flaky, flavorful, and perfect.  The cumin matched the fish wonderfully.  It was the best fish I’ve ever cooked.

Each course was served with bread: the Ancient Greeks ate primarily two types, a soft and fluffy roll and flatbread for scooping up food.  They did not use silverware–only bread and their hands. I also set olives on the table, for snacking.

greek2Later in the evening, I lost my ability to take decent photos. I should delegate.  But you get the idea. Clockwise from top: pistachios, a bowl of lentils, olives, grapes, a pitcher of water (the traditional accompaniment to dinner), broiled salmon with cumin, figs, dates, almonds drizzled with honey, bread, feta drizzled with honey.

Second Course: Cheese, Fruits, and Nuts – I served feta, the most commonly available Greek cheese in the States, and very similar to the sheeps’ milk cheese the Ancient Greeks would have consumed. Almonds, pistachios and grapes were grown in Ancient Greece, and dried dates and figs were imported from the Middle East.  The entire platter was drizzled with Greek honey.

greek3Olive oil cake with grapes baked into the top.

Third Course: Olive Oil Cake – Although the Ancient Greeks did not cultivate sugar, they were fond of sweets, and made many types of honey cakes.  Although I found many mentions of cakes made of barley or wheat ending a meal, I could not find any historic recipes.  So I used this modern recipe, and used only ingredients the Greeks would have had available to them: wheat, yogurt, olive oil, and honey.

The Drinking

greek4The Symposiarch.

In a traditional symposium, the guests don’t start drinking until after the meal.  But as people started to trickle in, I realized there was no way to convince anyone to stick to that rule.  Additionally, the Greeks always drank their wine mixed with water–they saw drinking it straight as both barbaric, and only fit for the gods.  Only Dionysus, god of wine, was strong enough to drink wine unmixed.  Mere mortal man could go mad.

Wine and water would be mixed at varying proportions in a special bowl called a krater.  When one krater of wine was finished, it was the Symposiarch who decided when another would be mixed.  The Symposiarch was the leader of the party–elected either by votes or by chance–who decided the topics that should be debated as well as the level of drunkenness the party would attain.  The ideal was to keep people tipsy and loose lipped without having the party descend into drunken chaos. One symposiarch said that three kraters of wine was just enough–and after the third one is drained “…wise men go home.”  Drinking after that point leads to fights, breaking of the furniture, depression, and ultimately madness.

Our symposiarch was unanimously elected: old Roommate Jeff, who has been a part of this blog from the beginning.  He donned a toga and took to his duty, doling out wine (“When this bottle comes back to me, it better be empty!”) and suggesting topics of discussion (“What happens after you die? Discuss.”)

The Party

More togas were donned, wine was imbibed, food was consumed, and our true personalities began to shine through.  Traditionally, drinking games like kottabos could be played: the dregs of your wine were hurled at a target. I wisely didn’t tell my guests the Ancient Greeks hurled wine around their homes, thus saving the carpet.

There was talking, belly aching laughter, and a few card games as well.  We celebrated a birthday. We toasted the symposiarch, the Ancient Greeks, wine itself. Sometime in the night– 3am? 4? – -the drinkers trickled out, praising the symposiarch for his good judgement, and ending the night in whichever Ancient Greek themed way they saw fit. In Plato’s symposium, Alcibiades showed up drunk and mostly naked.

The Results

I have never participated in a classier excuse to binge drink.  Like a grown-up toga party, the Symposium combined an appreciation for the effects of alcohol with an easily enjoyable theme.  We all celebrated, learned, and ended the night happy.

But this party got me thinking: when did the college-style Toga Party originate? That’s the subject of my next post.