Forgotten Foods TM_FF_LOCBKS_FI_002

Like many of the pieces I write for Forgotten Foods, this is a combined story of love and revulsion.* But unlike those pieces, this doesn’t reach back into history to pluck out Victorian funeral cookies or pre-microwave bachelor foods. No, this month I’m writing about recipes that are much more recent, but still forgotten – the recipes that fill locally produced cookbooks of the 70s and 80s.

I own a small collection of these cookbooks; I purposefully keep it small, because for every good recipe I find in them, there are usually three more that simply amount to mixing a canned soup with something else from a can and putting cheese on top. You’ve probably seen the cookbooks I’m talking about – you might even own one. Produced as fundraising projects or to celebrate a particular town’s “cuisine,” these typewritten or dot-matrix printed, spiral-bound collections have traditionally served as a great way to discover that your neighbors have terrible taste in food.

Or, at least, many of mine did. Two of the cookbooks in my collection are specific to Northern New Hampshire – the Shelburne Sampler II and Our Favorite Recipes: North Country Senior Meals. Well, the infractions in the Shelburne Sampler are relatively benign (except for the off-color drawing associated with the “Ethnic” recipe section), but the fine folks who submitted recipes to North Country Senior Meals provided some absolutely baffling entries.
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The Turkish delight was, in retrospect, a pretty big mistake. We were browsing a Middle Eastern market near our home in upstate New York, a festive, mom-and-pop place where I tend to buy way more than I need. It was winter — cars plowing down Genesee Street beyond the front window throwing plumes of brown slurry — and I needed a pick-me-up in the worst way. When I saw that box of candy, I was basically powerless to resist. It was obscenely large, the size of a cookie sheet or a generous end table, and it was on sale. For reasons that seem a little sad to me now, that candy felt like an opportunity.

My husband looked anxious when I approached the checkout line, box tucked up under my arm like a surfboard. Over the years, Rog has watched me eat a lot of things saner adults revile — like circus peanuts, or those pumpkin “mellocreme” things that taste like candy corn but are somehow worse. I’ve eaten marshmallows so old they’ve fused together in the bag and become indistinguishable. I’ve eaten gummi worms and gummi sharks and ancient, ossified Jujyfruits that threatened to yank the fillings from my head. My lust for sugar is disabling, literally self-destructive.

“I’m not helping you with that,” Rog pointed out. “You’re on your own here.”

“Did I say I needed your help? I’m perfectly capable, thanks,” I smiled.

I was already feeling better about my day.
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“So you’re making dessert? On the grill?” my dad asked, with a somewhat concerned look on his face.

“Yeah, I thought I’d give it a go,” I say.

“You remember all those desserts you used to make up when you were a kid, right? Those were awful,” he says. He’s right – I didn’t have the best track record of culinary experimentation. In elementary school, I’d concoct truly awful desserts, which often consisted of canned pears, crushed stale graham crackers, chocolate syrup, and marshmallows, all heated up in the microwave and served in my favorite Winnie the Pooh bowls.

“It’s not like that!” I retort. “These recipes are from a cookbook!”

“Okay, well as long as they’re from people who know what they’re doing…”
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Features TM_BK_NOAUTH_FI_003

I recently picked up a copy of Mediterranean Cooking. It’s an attractive book, with a pretty plate of pesto pasta on its cover and recipes that seem solid inside — each with their own full-sized photo. As I flipped through it, I thought about how it was the kind of cookbook I’d maybe like to cook with. Upon taking a closer look, I found the book was missing something major: an author.

At first, I didn’t believe such a nice-looking cookbook could be authorless. I looked even closer at the cover, searched for a name on the title page, and then flipped to find author information on the back dust jacket. No author name in sight. Just an anonymous cookbook packed full of creditless recipes. I wondered: Who wrote the introduction? Who created these recipes? Who gets credit for the cookbook’s success?

It’s certainly not a party of one in the Authorless Cookbook Club. I’ve noticed more and more authorless cookbooks cropping up. They usually deal with a trending food issue or ingredient. In fact, the market is now flooded with such titles: The Clean Eating Cookbook & Diet, Allergy-free Cooking for Kids, The Candida Free Cookbook, and all sorts of “Fill-in-the-blank for Beginners” books about canning and preserving, fermentation, juicing, the paleo diet, green smoothies, and edible wild plants.
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Booze

The Fruit Wars

The battle over fruit in Old-Fashioneds started right after Prohibition — and it still isn't over.

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TM_BZ_OLDFASH_AP_001As the spirits columnist for the New York Times, Robert Simonson is one of the leading chroniclers of the cocktail renaissance. In his new book, The Old-Fashioned, he explores the history of the drink as the “ur-cocktail,” from creation to ascension to corruption to its revival as the star of the contemporary cocktail movement. The Old-Fashioned will be available on May 13th from Ten Speed Press, but we’ve got a sneak peek with 3 recipes below – just in time to change up your Derby Day whiskey routine. Pre-order it today from Amazon or Ten Speed Press.

The post-WWII surge in the Old-Fashioned’s popularity among a new demographic of drinkers rubbed certain people — particularly ancient tipplers who could remember the before-times — the wrong way. By their account, there had been a falling off in quality. As cultural critic Gilbert Seldes put it, “Prohibition has created a nation of men and women who do not know what to do with the liquor they so hardly come by.”

“Consider, for instance, the old-fashioned cocktail,” began an ominous 1936 letter to the editor at the New York Times. “Nowadays the modern or ex-speakeasy bartender drops a spoonful of powdered sugar into a glass, adds a squirt of carbonic to aid dissolution, adds to that a dash or two of some kind of alleged bitters and a lump of ice, regardless of size. Then he proceeds to build up a fruit compote of orange, lemon, pineapple, and cherry, and himself pours in a carefully measured ounce and a half of bar whiskey, usually a blend, and gives one a glass rod to stir it with. Price, 35 to 50 cents. Profanation and extortion.”
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Laura Silver is a woman on a mission. When her favorite knish bakery, Mrs. Stahl’s, closed, she embarked on a round-the-world quest for the origins and modern-day manifestations of the knish that would take her from Brighton Beach to Jersey and across three continents. Her forthcoming book about her journey, Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food, will be available from Brandeis University Press on May 6, 2014. In this excerpt, we meet, and lose, Mrs. Stahl’s and Fritzie Silver, the author’s grandmother.

The knish situation in Brooklyn is not what it once was. I can say that because I’m third-generation Brooklyn, once removed. Queens, where I was born, had knishes, too, tons of them. I took them for granted, then they were gone.

More than latkes, matzoh, or the apple-and-walnut charoset that crowned the seder plate, knishes were my family’s religion. For knishes, we went on pilgrimages. For knishes, we traversed Long Island, top to bottom, from northern Queens to southern Brooklyn. For knishes, we drove Northern Boulevard to the Grand Central, past LaGuardia to the BQE, through to the Prospect Expressway, which deposited us on Ocean Parkway amid old trees and religious Jews, a straight shot to Mrs. Stahl’s.

A knish is a pillow of filling tucked into a skin of dough. The ones at Mrs. Stahl’s were baked round mounds, each plump with a stuffing, savory or sweet. Each piece — the size of a fist or just bigger — revealed a hint of filling on the top, a bald spot, as if for a yarmulke. But the real secret to the construction of a Mrs. Stahl’s knish remained hidden: Yet if you cut the knish in half, the cross-section revealed a membrane of dough that split the innards into chambers, like those of the human heart.
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Brys Stephens’  The New Southern Table explores classic Southern ingredients such as okra, lima beans, peaches, and pecans through recipes inspired by cuisines from around the world. In this excerpt, he tackles collard greens with recipes that go well beyond the “mess o’ greens”. The book is available now on QBookshopAmazon and at your local bookstore.

As a child, I mostly knew collards as that wet mess of overcooked greens in a small bowl alongside chicken or pork chops in a countrystyle meat-and-three (a casual, country-style restaurant common in the South, usually serving a choice of one meat dish and a choice of three vegetable dishes). At home, we always seemed to prefer spinach and cabbage. Traveling in France, Italy, and the Middle East years later and seeing how folks cooked with chard and kale, I realized collards could be incorporated into all kinds of dishes in the same quick-cook way as those greens.

Since moving to the Lowcountry, where collards grow year-round in the moderate climate and sandy soils of the sea islands (including in my garden on Sullivan’s Island), I’ve made collards one of my staple greens. They do well in both the heat and the cold, unlike other greens with more delicate leaves. They tend to be sweeter in the colder months after they’ve gone through a frost, and they are usually less bitter than mustard greens, turnip greens, and broccoli rabe, though more so than chard and kale. They usually take a little longer to cook than those greens because their leaves are sturdier, and younger collards with smaller leaves cook pretty quickly.
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Bookshelf

Spring by the Pint

Preserving the taste of spring, one small batch at a time

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TM_BK_PRESPINT_AP_001Table Matters readers will recognize Marisa McClellan from her columns here – The Larder and The Whole Chicken Project – and from her much-loved blog about canning and more, Food in Jars. Her latest book, Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces focuses on canning, not bushels of vegetables, but pounds and pints – amounts we can all get at the farmers’ market. Preserving by the Pint is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

There is a year-round farmers’ market just a couple of blocks from my apartment. I go to it nearly every Saturday morning to pick up eggs, honey, and whatever local, seasonal produce is available. In the summer and fall, the bounty is downright flamboyant, with tables piled high to overflowing with lettuces, zucchini, and peaches. Winter means pears, Brussels sprouts, and sturdy orange squash. The most meager time of year is very early spring. The storage apples are sad and good only for baking, and there are still weeks to go before the first stalks of asparagus arrive. It can be a challenge to keep up the weekly market visit when so little is new and truly fresh.
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Max Watman’s new memoir Harvest: Field Notes from a Far-Flung Pursuit of Real Food, depicts the author’s quest for real food and real farm life – minus the farm. This excerpt is his cautionary tale of raising chickens – “The Girls” – in his Hudson Valley backyard. Harvest is available now from W.W. Norton and Company, on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

We named our chickens Goldie, Pepper, Karen, and Penguin. Goldie was a Buff Orpington hen, the biggest of the girls and the leader — the top of the pecking order. She was a very good-looking bird, with soft feathers the color of straw — so good looking, in fact, that when I lent her to a neighbor girl who entered her in a country fair, she won a blue ribbon as a perfect example of her breed. I liked to pretend that she lorded this victory over her coop mates. Goldie had been out there in the world. She’d seen things, and she’d taken her prize. She was the most cosmopolitan of the chickens.

Pepper and Penguin were Blue (a color more like slate, really) Ameraucanas, with little pea combs and muffs around their faces; the eggs they laid had pale blue-green shells. Penguin was not much by way of personality, but Pepper was the smartest and most daring of the chickens. She was the one who would hop up onto people’s shoulders and was always out of the coop first when I opened the gate to let them run around in the yard. Karen was a Golden Laced Wyandotte. She was lovely to look at but slightly dumber than the rest: she was easily confused by obstacles — she would stand in front of a twig, unable to go around or over it, or she would doubt her ability to squeeze through a door that wasn’t open all the way. She liked cozy spaces and seemed to find comfort in a slot between a dense bush and the fence. She was very easy to catch. One got the feeling that Karen was a sweetheart.

Penguin died early, before she was two years old, of what I termed sudden chicken death syndrome — she simply dropped. I walked out to the coop and she was lying in a heap by the watering fount. It was a sad, mysterious moment but very much the sort of thing to which one must be inured. To care for chickens is to carry their corpses. They are vulnerable birds. Insects can beat a chicken in a fair fight if they get themselves organized. The birds are susceptible to all sorts of maladies and mishaps. Most of all, everything likes to eat chickens.
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If the Marx brothers had ever taken to food writing, they might have produced something very like F.T. Marinetti’s marvelously slapstick work, The Futurist Cookbook. The provocative (and regrettably Mussolini-approved) Italian artist Marinetti was infatuated by all things sleek, sharp, electronic, and shiny, but he was also an avowed enemy of pasta, which he denounced as a pathetic Italian addiction to nostalgia and tradition. Instead, he preferred his Futurist meals to combine the radical use of color, shape, music, lighting, and ideas, leaving taste and nutrition off the list entirely. In fact, the modern vitamin supplement industry should make Marinetti a patron saint: He argued that all sustenance should come from pills, freeing up food to be the raw material of art, preferably to be consumed while listening to the soothing hum of an airplane engine.

His oddball cuisine debuted in the first (and only) Futurist restaurant, in 1929 Turin — an angular, alumina-plated interior called La Taverna del Santopalato, or Tavern of the Holy Palate. It was an event Marinetti considered on a par with the discovery of America and the fall of the Bastille (“the first human way of eating is born!”) His cuisine was then replicated at various Futurist events across Europe, to the horror of many pasta-lovers, and his 1932 cookbook has both delighted and mystified gastronomists ever since.
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Bookshelf

In the Mezze

A Middle Eastern bounty of shared small plates, mezze is more mood than menu

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TM_BK_OLIVLEM_AP_001In Olives, Lemons & Za’atar, Rawia Bishara takes you on a culinary journey from Nazareth to New York, with dishes that honor and expand on her mother’s unique approach to Middle Eastern home cooking. In this excerpt, Rawia discusses mezze, the assortment of nibbles and drinks that lead off a large Middle Eastern meal. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore from Kyle Books.

The Italians have antipasto, the Spanish tapas, the Americans appetizers, the Chinese dim sum. In the Middle East, there is mezze, small plates of food served all at once, before the main course, to provide a bounty of tastes and textures. That said, one or two plates can comprise a snack, while a few more can add up to a whole meal. Mezze is invariably served with arak, an anise-flavored spirit, to sip in between swipes of creamy dip on Arabic bread, forkfuls of fried or raw kibbeh and bites of spicy meat pies.

The simplest mezzes are made up of whatever is on hand in the garden and the pantry. When I was growing up, this meant makdous, labneh, olives, hummus, Arabic bread, cucumbers and tomatoes.

At its core, though, mezze is a mood. In Arabic, the verb for mezze is, mezmiz, which loosely translated means “eat, talk and drink” — all at once. Imagine friends and family sitting around a table, passing heaping plates of hummus, baba ganouj, falafel and za’atar bread, and laughing, talking — and of course debating heatedly — amid the clang of glasses and plates. Mezze is a ritual about sharing — not just bites of delicious food, but stories, experiences, laughter and opinions.
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Bookshelf

Chocolate Without Compromise

Vegans deserve decadent desserts, too – and a new book is here to help

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TM_BK_VEGCHOC_AP_001When I was in high school, my best friend was a vegan. She subsisted primarily on rice, beans, fruit, and the vegan cookies her mom baked in giant batches every weekend. Any time there was a party, she’d bring a plate of these cookies to share. They were overly sweet, weirdly gummy, and not at all appealing to anyone who wasn’t devoted to a strict plant-based diet.

Happily, things have changed a lot in the world of vegan desserts over the last 20 years, in large part thanks to Fran Costigan. She has been working as a vegan pastry chef and baking instructor for more than two decades and is known for desserts that satisfy in a way that’s better for you and for the planet.

In her recent book, Vegan Chocolate (Running Press, 2013), Costigan serves up a luscious array of vegan truffles, cakes, cookies, pies, puddings, tarts, and drinks. Of the recipes I tried, not one felt like a sacrifice or compromise. They were universally delicious and were a pleasure to make, because I could taste freely throughout the prep process without worrying about raw eggs in the batter. MORE

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Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread lays out author Nicole Hunn’s tried-and-true methods for serious gluten-free bread, from sourdough to bagels to pumpernickel. In this excerpt, you’ll find sandwich breads, hoagie rolls, and a foolproof flour mixture. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

Gluten-free bread dough of yore (and by “yore,” I mean just yesterday) was always heavy and slick with moisture, and almost always enriched with some combination of eggs, fats, sugars, butter, and yogurt. There really wasn’t any sort of gluten-free bread that rightly could be described as “lean,” meaning bread without most of those enrichments. The extra moisture was required because many of the gluten-free flours absorbed extra moisture, and the ever-present enrichments added structure, mouthfeel, taste, and, in some cases, more moisture. If you have ever heard gluten-free bread dough described as being similar to cookie dough, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Can I get an Amen?
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Bookshelf

Nom Nom Paleo

A book to take Paleo from blah to yum

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TM_BK_PALEO_AP_001Nearly everyone I know is taking the arrival of January as an opportunity to reset their eating habits. My mom is cutting out sugar. My husband has returned to his favorite low-carb diet. And it takes both hands to count all the Facebook friends who are doing the Paleo thing these days.

For those folks who are trying out the Paleo diet these days, there’s a new book on the scene that does a really good job of illuminating that particular way of eating while also offering up a goodly number of accessible and downright delicious recipes.

Called Nom Nom Paleo, it was written, photographed and designed by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong. This Bay Area couple writes a blog of the same name and they have developed a reputation over the years for reliable recipes presented in a playful manner that appeals to both kids and adults. Happily, the book maintains that spirit and is both useful and super entertaining. MORE

Bookshelf

Homey, Not Homely

Bringing glamour back to winter baking with Wintersweet

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TM_BK_WSWEET_AP_001_2For those of us who like to bake with the seasons, the winter months often feel less than glamorous. Gone are the berries and stone fruits of summer and instead, we’re left with an assortment of sturdy apples and homely squash. Good for the occasional pie, but not much else, right?

As Tammy Donroe Inman’s new book Wintersweet: Seasonal Desserts to Warm the Home proves, that notion is entirely wrong. This volume shows with style and ease just how varied and delicious winter desserts can be. The photography is beautiful and inspiring, and the writing is personable, fun, and crystal clear. Arranged by main ingredient (Apples, Pears & Quince, Nuts & Chocolate, Citrus, etc.), Wintersweet includes both twists on classics (Ginger Apple Crumb Cake) as well as novel end of meal offerings (Honey-Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese and Walnuts).

As I read my way through the book, I marked more than half the recipes as things I’d like to try and finally settled on three that were perfect for this holiday season.
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