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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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_PICNIC_AP_005

If my life is indeed a picnic, like the cliche says, I’d argue that it’s specifically a late-1800s picnic – stressful, frequently overpacked, and requiring me to wake up a lot earlier than I’d like.

At least, that’s how these “relaxing” Victorian outings often were for the women stuck with food preparation. 1883’s Practical Housekeeping demands that, when picnicking, women “be up ‘at five o’clock in the morning’ to have the chicken, biscuits, etc., freshly baked.” Mrs. Owens’ Complete Cookbook and New Household Manual, meanwhile, lists several types of foods that should be brought, from baked beans to canned deviled ham – and she also notes that “Bouillon tablets are just the thing, provided there is hot water.” Because one thing that is totally not a pain in the butt to eat at a picnic is soup broth. And oh, we haven’t even gotten to the other picnic accoutrements women needed to pack yet. 1882’s The Successful Housekeeper says, “Forget not the napkins, forks, spoons, and luncheon-cloth. Also carry tumblers, plates, salt, pepper, sugar, and a bottle of cream or a can of condensed milk. Cups with handles, but no saucers, are desirable for tea and coffee.” And here I was about to say that that was a ridiculous amount of stuff to pack, but thank goodness – picnickers can leave their saucers at home.*
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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_ENTRE_FI_001

For me, entremets are the food history equivalent of Gozer the Gozerian. You know, Gozer – the lace-body-suit demon lady from Ghostbusters? Venkman tells everyone not to think of a form for it to take, and Ray immediately thinks of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. It’s that classic brain gaffe – if someone tells you to not think of something, you can’t stop thinking about it.

That’s what happened to me when I looked up entremets in one of my favorite books, Alan Davidson’s wonderfully comprehensive Oxford Companion to Food. If you will forgive me the fifth-grade-essay transgression of beginning a piece with a definition quote, here is Davidson’s entry on entremets in its entirety:

entree, entremets a couple of French terms which no doubt retain interest for persons attending hotel and restaurant courses conducted under the show of French classical traditions, but have ceased to have any real use, partly because most people cannot remember what they mean and partly because their meanings have changed over time and vary from one part of the world to another. Forget them.

Forget them? Davidson, my man, come on – when almost everyone else has forgotten about something, that’s the time when you should remember it. Those almost-forgotten things are where fantastic weirdness usually hides. In the case of entremets, that fantastic weirdness is young boys singing duets with deer and roast pig heads vomiting fire like drunk dragons. But more on that in a moment.
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Contrarian TM_FC_SIDEWLK_FI_002

Ah, spring is here and sidewalk cafés are again blooming across America! Some of my friends are thrilled at this seasonal turn. I am not.

My memories of outdoor dining skew toward the mildly traumatic. Such excursions often begin with companions who all but squeal “Let’s sit outside!” Confronted with such enthusiasm, it’s hard to argue for an indoor seat, and if I do I’m accused of being a troglodyte and killjoy. Enduring a long, silent, and pouty indoor meal is never fun, so I usually capitulate and go outside. Thus I leave the comfort of civilized shade and air-conditioning, and take my seat in the petting zoo set aside for masticating humans.

And here I sit — next to an overflowing dumpster screened partially from view but not in the least from aroma by cheap latticework from Home Depot. Or I’m curbside on a city street where every few minutes a bus passes and emits a great sooty plume of diesel exhaust, which gently alights upon my meal like finely ground pepper. Or, perhaps in the saddest tableaux of all, I’m sitting outside in front of a strip mall, corralled by some cagelike ironwork posted with stern wording against seating yourself, and overlooking an asphalt lagoon consisting of thousands of car windshields each reflecting the sun’s rays directly at me, as if I’m part of an experiment involving thresholds for scorched retinas. I once had to wear two pairs of sunglasses to make it through a lunch.
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Bookshelf TM_BK_KNISH_FI_001_1

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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The Brew TM_BR_TRAPPIST_FI_005_1

The disciplined lifestyle of a Cistercian monk is structured by a steadfast routine. The first prayer starts well before sunrise. A simple breakfast follows, maybe toast and jam, before the next prayer begins. Afterwards, solitary scripture reading occupies the time leading up to the main prayer of the day. By 10 AM or so, it’s time to do some chores. Maybe you’d have a shift doing laundry for the other brothers or performing some repairs around the monastery. Or perhaps, if you resided at one of a select few abbeys of the Trappist sub-group, you’d fill the time between Mass and dinner dumping malted barley into a mash tun full of what will soon become some of the world’s most highly regarded beer. For hundreds of years monks have sustained their way of life financially through the sale of handmade goods, beer included. Unchanged for many years, the Trappist brewing community was content with brewing a select few beers and brewing them well. Through a recent flurry of activity, however, they have made their high-quality ales more relevant than ever before.
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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_DEATHFOOD_FI_001

Oh, how many of us yearn for a simpler time and place? A time before cell phones, when people couldn’t always reach us. A time before the Internet, when we didn’t accidentally read Game of Thrones spoilers on our Twitter feeds (I’m still bitter about the Red Wedding). A time before Nicki Minaj, when all of the beez were free.

You know that wholesome time I’m talking about – that time when little children would sit around, eagerly waiting for someone to die so they could eat funeral cookies.

Lest you think I’m romanticizing the past, allow me to offer this selection from an article entitled “Scotch Funerals,” published in 1883’s The Living Age:

My grandfather…always had one or two of his grandchildren awaiting his return from any burial he attended, who were often not disappointed in seeing the coveted morsel produced from his pocket and having it shared among them.

If only today’s children knew what treats they were missing out on, they might do like children of yesteryear and eagerly await the death of others!
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Culinaria TM_CU_FUTUR_FI_002

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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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_CHOCO_FI_001

Any women’s health magazine worth its low-sodium salt substitute can tell you about three things: How to flatten your abs, how to please your man (yoga helps, ladies!!!!!!), and how to scientifically justify eating chocolate.

Fitness Magazine lists “Four Reasons to Eat Chocolate on a Diet,” citing chocolate’s cough-fighting and tooth-strengthening theobromine, anti-diarrheal antioxidants, and skin-protecting flavanols. Women’s Health mentions a study from Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism noting that chocolate milk worked just as well as “recovery drinks” in helping negate post-work soreness. Even sugar-phobic clean-eating magazine Oxygen says that dark chocolate’s catechins may aid in weight loss.

Of course, many of these studies are funded by, well, chocolate companies. And it’s not as if these studies are lies – the cocoa plant does contain all of these good things. But most adults also have the good sense to know that just because there are flavanols hiding somewhere in our chocolate bars doesn’t mean we should nosh on those sugar-filled treats multiple times a day. (Although a study funded by the US National Confectioners Association showed that “there is no link between the number of candy-eating occasions” and obesity. Not that candy doesn’t cause obesity, just that there isn’t a link between obesity and how many times you break off a piece of your Kit-Kat bar.)
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The Brew TM_BR_BRARCH_FI_001

Sometime between 7,000 and 5,600 BC, along the banks of the Yellow River, an early inhabitant of modern-day China left behind a jug that was once filled with the earliest known example of a fermented grain beverage. With no written recipe or recorded history of the Neolithic concoction, the contents of the vessel were left to evaporate and decay during its long burial, fading into the past. Today, however, roughly 9,000 years later, you can go to your local beer store and walk out with an alcoholic concoction brewed to that seemingly lost ancient recipe. How is that possible? Through the unlikely union of traditional archaeology, modern chemical analysis technology, and the adventurous craft-brewing industry, tasting a 9,000-year-old beer has become as easy as picking it up off the shelf.
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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_DIETS_FI_002

It’s January, which means that all across America, people are resolving to eat better. And that means that they’re also resolving to smugly tell you about it. But the next time your newly gluten-free, sugar-free, and dairy-free co-worker insists that you need to jump on the kale-acai smoothie express, just be thankful that this isn’t the turn of the century. Because back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, diet adherents really knew how to twist the guilt knife.
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First Person, Thanksgiving TM_TK_HOTLINE_FI_001

I was just about to roll out my homemade pie crust when I encountered my first problem. As I reached for a rolling pin from my cabinet, I realized I didn’t own one.

Normally, I’d just grab my shiny laptop and search for how to solve my cooking conundrum online. But the countertops in my kitchen were buried beneath a bed of flour and my fingers were heavily caked with sticky dough. It was not a very laptop-friendly environment. So instead of darting off to Google or shouting out to the social media universe for an answer, I went old-school and reached for my phone. With my cleanest knuckle, I swiped the screen to unlock it, then tapped to re-dial my most recent call: 1-877-367-7538, the Crisco Pie Hotline.

Yes, in a digital world full of Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, and email inquiries, I chose to call a hotline and speak to an actual human for baking advice. And instead of listening to a recorded message with answers to frequently asked questions, I was connected with a cooking expert that gave me the personal attention I needed to deal with my crisis.
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Thanksgiving TM_FF_ANTIPMPK_FI_002

Rallying against the overabundance of “pumpkin” flavored and scented items that fill our coffee-shop menus and store shelves is like worrying about Miley Cyrus’s future or whether you left the oven on when you’re on vacation: it might feel important, but you can’t do anything about it. By now, we all know that many of the “pumpkin” treats marketed at us don’t have any actual pumpkin in them, right? Rather, “pumpkin” has become shorthand for a comforting combination of seasonal spices. I get it. Saying “pumpkin” or “pumpkin spice” is easier than “cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and maybe some allspice latte.”

So, if telling you that there’s no pumpkin in a lot of pumpkin-spice stuff is akin to telling you there’s no Santa Claus, is informing you that there was no actual pumpkin pie at the first Thanksgiving like telling you that the Easter Bunny is fake too? While the pumpkin is indigenous to North America and they likely had a pumpkin dish at the first Thanksgiving, they didn’t have the wheat to make the crusts at the time.

Rather, the pumpkin and the pumpkin pie are American nostalgia foods – and they’ve been that for a long time. MORE

Thanksgiving TM_CU_TURKEY_FI_002

Pity the turkey. Capons are sauced, cranes are lifted, partridges are allayed, geese are reared. Turkeys are, to use the proper historical carving vocabulary, simply cut up. The ritual carving of the turkey is one of the few vestiges of a past, glorious tradition that once wowed diners at spectacular feasts, and yet, the prosaic words for slicing up the turkey do not seem to match the grandeur of the deed.

Once, carving was held in high esteem. It was less about serving base bodily needs for nourishment and more concerned with spectacle and performance. Those who carved (and those who had carving done for them) were not concerned with where their next meal was coming from. It was a demonstration of power: the ability to muster a bountiful feast and an exhibition of control of the body (both that of the carver and of the animal carcass to be consumed). In full view of the diners assembled at the table, the carver hoisted the bird aloft with one hand, while wielding a razor-sharp knife in the other. Slices from the cooked carcass floated down to the plate. MORE

Bookshelf Box grater

In this excerpt from Kitchen Things: An Album of Vintage Utensils and Farm-Kitchen Recipes, Richard Snodgrass explores the stories our kitchen tools tell through photography and text. The book is available now from Skyhorse Publishing in stores and on Amazon.

Box Grater

The truth is we can learn from things. They have experiences, stories to tell. The photographer Oliver Gagliani used to say a thing has a life of its own, a life-cycle just like that of a person: it has a birth, a youth when it’s new and fresh and untried; then it matures to adulthood, the height of its powers and use; finally it decays and becomes broken and old.

Then there’s this guy, who I nickname The Jolly Grater. (When I ask him if I may take his image, he appears to give me a grin.) The reference books and Wikipedia tell me that graters were invented by Francois Boullier in the 1540s so hard cheeses could still be used. They also say that this basic design dates back two hundred years, and who am I to argue? The advantage of this design is that it gives you as many as four graters in one; one side of this particular fellow is devoted to openings for slicing vegetables, which is why he’s smiling. The disadvantages of the design are well known to anyone who has tried to clean the inside of one, where the shredding can involve fingertips and dishcloths.
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