Archive for the 'The South' 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.

Cheese Stuffed Frankfurters in Hot Aunt Jemima Pancakes

Welcome to the Griddle Picnic.  In the Antebellum days, river showboats would pull up to Aunt Jemima’s plantation, and she would serve them hamburger and fankfurter pancakes.  That all makes perfect sense.

I found this image here!

Just Heat It ‘n’ Eat It!: Convenience Foods of the ’40s-’60s

Travelogue: Four Hours in New Orleans

Bacon Bloody Mary at Bar Tonique. Mmm.

Just before Christmas, I got the unique opportunity to travel to the South. Although much of Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama passed by the car windows at 75 mph, I got to spend some leisure time catfishin’ in Mississippi and I spent about four hours in New Orleans.

I asked my friends what I should see on my first visit, and turned to Cocktail Virgin Slut for boozing advice. Here’s where my adventures led me!


This is Bar Tonique, an exceptional cocktail experience. It’s not too far from the main tourist drags of the city, but a world apart. Quiet, calm and friendly, it was an ideal drinking spot in the late afternoon.


The menu at Bar Tonique. Their specialities are classic and historic cocktails; on the menu, they include the date the cocktail was created (if known). Notice the hot Tom & Jerry! You can see their full cocktail menu here.


I settled on the hot buttered rum, mixed fast and fresh by our cheery, tattooed bartender. The fat floated on top until you stirred it with the rum and hot water, creating a whirlpool of wintry spices. Every sip was smooth and silken, warming all the way down to the pit of your stomach and the cockles of your heart. It kept out the chill on a cool NOLA evening.


After cocktail hour, we headed over to Cafe Du Monde, a coffee ‘stand’ which was established in 1862. The stand is now a giant, open-air restaurant that primarily serves two things: coffee and beignets, the New Orleans-style deep-fried donut. Each order of beignets is accompanied by a snow drift of powdered sugar.

Cafe du Monde has a unique operating system: each server is essentially an independent business. They take orders at the tables and then head inside the cafe, picking up the food from a cafeteria-style line.


Then, each server pays for his order. It gives the impression that anyone from the street could walk in and start serving at du Monde, which is probably true: the service is severely lacking. The restaurant was very crowded and the lack of managerial organization showed. After being seated, we waited 30-45 minutes to get served. We flagged down several servers, but no one would claim our section, or help us to get a server that would server us. It was shenanigans.


The beignets, on the other hand, lacked nothing. Fried dough and powdered sugar; I thought I been there before. But nothing could beat the lightness and perfections of a beignets in a place that only cooks one thing: beignets. Worth the wait!


What should I do the next time I’m in New Orleans??