Lapham’s Quarterly: My Secret Life in 1848

hale_farmThe author, c. 2001, working at a living history museum. Photo by Rev. Brett R. Schutzman.

For five years as a historic reenactor, I could never escape the year 1848. I’ve got a piece up on the Lapham’s Quarterly blog about my past in a living history museum and the strange experience of living life in two timelines.

Our year was 1848. Several historic houses had been moved from northeast Ohio and arranged around a village green: this was our fake town. Visitors were free to roam the site, spending as little or as much time as they choose interacting with its townspeople. A family was cast in each house, and I “lived” with an older brother and sister, an Irish maid, and my mother—in this case played by my actual mother, one of the museum’s middle managers, who had decided when I turned seventeen that I was too old to sit on my ass over summer vacation. From June through August I spent more waking hours of my life in the nineteenth century than I did in the modern day.

Read more here.

Podcast: Chinese Take-Out!

Somethin’ to put on while you deck the halls, or before you go out for Chinese food.

Sarah covers the history of Chinese take out, whisking you away on a tour of Chinatown a century ago, where chop suey houses served entrees considered exotic by droves of hungry New Yorkers. Soma reveals the stories behind our modern American Chinese food experience, from the man behind General Tso’s to who put the magic in your fortune cookie.

Etsy Kitchen Histories: The Gingerbread House

gingerbread3Building my gingerbread house.

I’ve got a post up on Etsy on the bizarre and surprising history of the Christmas tradition of the gingerbread house. Go read it here, and then come back, because I’ve got some unanswered questions I need help with.

Ok, have you read it? You’re back? Here’s what I want to know:

1. Why was Hansel and Gretel associated with Christmas? The story has had a strong Christmas association since the 19th century that continues to this very day–the opera is currently playing in New York City. My guess is because it’s a story that warns against holiday over indulgence, but still has a happy ending, so it’s not too much of a bummer.

2. Why did gingerbread house making get so popular in America in the mid-20th century? Seriously, mentions of gingerbread houses explode in newspaper and magazines, and that’s when all the ephemera and gingerbread kits date from. Four Pounds Flour superfan Tammy suggested that perhaps it’s because of color photography: all those women’s magazine could now publish inspiring color photo spreads of gingerbread houses. From researching similar trends, I’. leaning towards a single celebrity, event, or important article that sparked the craze, but I haven’t tracked down this significant occasion. My mom built her gingerbread house in the early 1970s, and only rememebers doing it because every else was.

So what do you think? I’d love your thoughts.

Oh! And if anyone out there reads Fraktur, old-school German script, I also came across Das Lebkuchenhaus, a German history of gingerbread houses, written in 1872 just after German unification. I don’t read German, so I’d love more information about this book, but from friends who read modern German, they’ve gleaned it’s very nationalistic and fantastical. You can read it here, if you’re able and interested.

And if you enjoyed this post, you can check out the rest of my Kitchen History posts, on all kinds of interesting objects, here!

Podcast: Thanksgiving!

Something to put on while you’re doing the cookin’.

Sarah tells you the real history of Thanksgiving, with historic recipes and the stories behind your favorite side dishes! Soma’s gonna help you cook your turkey right! Plus: why you should serve eels this year, and what’s spatchcock?

Drink Like A Pilgrim: Spruce Beer

spruce4Two bottles of beer brewed with real spruce limbs.

Liquor.com asked me to find out what it was like to Drink like a Pilgrim; and as it turns out, The Puritans were pretty heavy drinkers. Suprised? Although drinking was acceptable in 17th century New England, drunkenness was not. Massachusetts had extensive anti-drunkenness laws.

The rules:

  • At one time, beer brewed in the home could only be drunk by family members—not by friends.
  • If you went out for a drink, you could only stay at the tavern for half an hour.
  • As higher-proof spirits like rum became available, laws made them prohibitively expensive to buy.
  • You could never, ever drink on Sunday. (Massachusetts still has famously restrictive “blue laws.”)

This Thanksgiving I made a homebrew to accompany my meal. I based my recipe on an early American drink called Spruce Beer, brewed with real spruce branches, hops, dark maple syrup and no grain. Effervescent and yeasty, it’s dramatically different from modern beer. The Puritans would have downed an impressive two to three quarts of this concoction a day.

If you want to know how my beer turned out–and how I felt after drinking three quarts of it–you can read the full article here!

 

History Dish: Lima Beans and Bacon with Marshmallows

limas5Lima beans, bacon and marshmallow casserole. Photo by Jess Tsang.

Coming to a holiday table near you: Lima bean and bacon casserole, topped with marshmallows! Ok…maybe not. This recipe comes from a handwritten booklet my Mom sent me. She said she “took a chance!” and bought it on Ebay, and when I flipped through the thin and faded notebook, this recipe caught my eye for obvious reasons. With such an odd combination of ingredients, I had to give it a shot.

The History

limas1The handwritten recipe booklet that contains the recipe. Photo by Jess Tsang.

The notebook isn’t dated, it simply contains pages of recipes jotted down for safe keeping, including Ham Rolls and a ground beef dish called Hiker’s Hastener. Sometimes, a unique recipe like Limas with Marshmallows can help date a recipe book like this one. After searching Google Books, I discovered the recipe had been potentially been copied out of A Book of Practical Recipes for the Housewife, published in 1900.

One of the reasons this recipe caught my attention is because last Thanksgiving I looked into the history of Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows. Marshmallows became a popular convenience food at the turn of the 20th century because new machines were invented that produced them cheaply and easily. Previously a delicate confection, marshmallows were now available for the masses. Recipe books pushed housewives to use them as substitutes for more labor intensive toppings like meringue and whipped cream.

The frist recipe for sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows appeared in 1917 or 1918 (read more here). But this recipe for lima beans topped with marshmallows appeared in 1900, which means there was a precedent for topping vegetables with marshmallows before they were plopped on sweet potatoes.

Are there other recipes for vegetables topped with marshmallows? Broccoli? Brussel sprouts? I’m not sure. I haven’t found them yet. But clearly this was a thing

The Recipe

limas2Baked Limas with Marshmallows, c. 1900. Photo by Jess Tsang.

limas6

The only adjustment I made to the original 1900 recipe is that I used frozen lima beans. I just tossed them in the casserole with the ingredients, no pre-cooking necessary.

The Results

limas3Ready for the oven! Photo by Jess Tsang.

I have some good news and I have some bad news.

The good news: Lima beans, butter, brown sugar, and bacon is a GOOD THING. It is sweet, salty, and rich. The limas have a satisfying snap in your mouth, a salty smokiness from the bacon, and a mouth-covering fatty sweetness. My only advice: cook the bacon separately and mix it in just before serving. Cooking it on top of the casserole, as the recipe suggests, results in flimsy, flaccid bacons. If the bacon has been perfectly crispy little squares, crunching around in there with the butter and the beans…oh…it would have been heaven.

The bad news: Holy shit did those marshmallows just ruin everything. Basically, this recipe took a wonderful casserole and put marshmallows all over the top of it. The overwhelming sweetness, the sticky gelatinous texture…the entire taste and horrific mouth-feel was so shockingly unappealing it’s difficult to put into words. Just imagine how bad you think this recipe would taste, and then understand that’s actually how bad it does taste, and then don’t put marshmallows on any vegetables this holiday season.

limas4So beautiful yet so horrible. Photo by Jess Tsang.

This blog post was put together with a boatload of help from intern Jess Tsang. Thanks, Jess!

Masters of Social Gastronomy: All-American Pie!

Wednesday, November 19th

FREE FREE FREE, 21+ RSVP
Doors at 7:30pm, talks start at 8pm
Littlefield, 622 Degraw Street in Gowanus

Each month, Masters of Social Gastronomy takes on a curious food topic and break down the history, science, and stories behind it. This time we’re tackling the twin pillars of the American pie kingdom: the gentle apple pie and its heavily-spiced cousin, pumpkin pie. Stop on by if you want to learn how to bake the best apple pie and the origin story behind the pumpkin spice craze. Please RSVP SO I HOW MANY FREE PIE SAMPLES TO BRING.

If you need some pie recipes to keep you satisfied in the meantime, try this recipe from 1763 for pumpkin-apple pie, or this mid-20th century pumpkin pie that uses sweetened condensed milk!

Etsy: A History of Homebrew

beer2A home-brewed ginger beer.

If you love beer and have ever toyed with the idea of brewing it yourself, head on over to Etsy! I’ve written up a brief history of homebrew, from colonial America to the craft beer trend, and I’ve dug up some of the best beginner’s brewers kits Etsy has to offer. Read it here!

Although I have dabbled in homebrew myself, I have to admit, I’m personally a much bigger fan of consumption than creation.

I want to give a shout out to two great resources I used while researching this post: The Oxford Companion to Beer, an excellent encyclopedic beer reference, and Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer an incredibly well-researched (and fun) investigation of the history of American beer. I highly recommend them both!

Podcast: The Rise of Chocolate

Just in time for Halloween, a Masters of Social Gastronomy podcast all about chocolate!

We’ll track the history of chocolate from its roots as an ancient Mesoamerican beverage to its current world-championship status. You’ll learn how a yellow, football-shaped tropical fruit transforms into high-end dark chocolate and what “Mexican Hot Chocolate” actually has in common with what Montezuma drank. Burning questions of modern confectionery will be answered: What’s better, milk or dark? Why does Hershey’s have its own theme park? Is imported European chocolate worth the price? Why does white chocolate suck?

What to do With That Leftover Etrog

citron1This fruit is a etrog. This fruit is a citron.

Last week was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a harvest festival that also commemorates the 40 years the Jews spent wandering in the desert. The festival centers around the sukkah, a temporary structure that the family “dwells” in over the week of the celebration –primarily eating and sleeping there. As part of this festival, you need “four species” to bless your sukkah: palm, myrtle and willow branches as well as an etrog.

One day, I wanted to figure out what the hell an etrog was. So I googled it, and found this charming article about the “etrog man,” a non-Jewish farmer who grows them in California. To my surprise, I found out that etrog is the Hebrew word for citron.

Ok, what’s a citron? A citron is a member of the citrus family. Instead of eating the pulp, you eat the rind and the pith. It has a lovely scent, distinctly different from any other citrus. Today, it appears in the candy fruit mix for fruit cake and panettone. In 18th and 19th century America, candied citron was folded into all kinds of fancy cakes– we even made a substitute from watermelon rind. And in medieval Middle Eastern cooking, it was used fresh, like in this recipe for Bazmaawurd: chicken, walnuts, fresh herbs and citron rolled up in a lavash.

citron2Dice it up!

So when Sukkot was over, I put out a call for leftover etrogs. The etrog/citrons used ritually are quite expensive–since they have to look perfect and be holy. But much like a Christmas tree, they just get chucked in the garbage when the holiday is done. My boss handed me her used etrog and I took it over to Jill’s – author of The Savage and the Sage–who candies her own citron for homemade panettone. Sweet and tart, my candied citron will simply return to work as a treat for my colleagues.

citron3Citron, candied.

***
Candied Citron

Adapted from Ehow.com by Jill Paradiso

1. Slice citron in half and remove pulp (if it has any). Dice or slice into evenly sized pieces.
2. Add to a medium sized saucepan. Cover citron with water. Bring to boil, lower to simmer and cook 30 minutes.
3. Drain.  To saucepan, add citron, 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water. Cook 30 minutes on medium-low heat.
4. Turn off heat and let citron steep in sugar solution for 1 hour.
5. Drain (reserve sugar solution for other uses). Spread citron on drying rack with baking sheet covered in parchment underneath. Dry 12 hours.
6. Toss in sugar, if desired.