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.
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
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
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.
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.
“I don’t order IPAs anymore because I never know what I’m going to get.” This sentiment from one newcomer to the craft beer scene is becoming an issue for others in a similar position. Fueled by the American public’s thirst for hoppiness, the classic English style known as India Pale Ale has spawned dozens of variations but very little consistency. Just within the American IPA subcategory, a vast multitude of flavor profiles can be found. To make things even more complicated, dozens of new subdivisions have sprouted up. English, American, Belgian, red, white, black; modern takes on this historical beer have thrown plenty of adjectives before its name. By pushing the boundaries, craft brewers have sent the true historical IPA into extinction. Here’s how it happened.
I can’t figure out where to get a lump of coal in September. In Los Angeles. In 2013. Not activated charcoal, which is sometimes used by present-day hospitals to help suck up ingested poison. But a plain ol’ lump of dirty coal, like you would use in the 1800s to fuel your stove and give your home that lovely soot smell. This is a problem, because according to a woman with too many names — Lady Mary Anne Boode Cust – in her 1853 title The Invalid’s Own Book, boiling a walnut-sized lump of coal in an pint of milk until it gets thick is “a very nutrative* food, and easily obtained.”
Well, at least for me, that second part is a lie. And sweet jeebus – coal milk? As if it didn’t already suck to get sick in the 1800s and early 1900s. MORE
There is a category of foods for adults that I call “stink foods.” These are the foods that people appreciate after they’ve eschewed the plain pasta of their picky eater days and developed a more mature palate. I’m talking about foods like eye-watering onions; soft, blue-veined cheese; and pungent garlic.
Or tiny, oil-packed, smelly little fish. Like the oh-so-humble anchovy.
Americans love a blueberry festival. This year, they’ll celebrate the small fruit in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont, New York, Washington, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Maine. In states red and blue, blueberry fans will pick blueberries, eat blueberry cakes, drink blueberry milkshakes, watch blueberry pie-eating contests, buy blueberry art, and run blueberry 5Ks to celebrate nature’s synchronous gifts of berries and summer. MORE
The title of this column is Forgotten Foods; the idea is that I am showing you recipes that, though wonderful and worthwhile, have become less popular over time — maybe new cooking technology made them obsolete or the ingredients became prohibitively expensive. Maybe tastes just changed. And now, isn’t it wonderful that we can rediscover these foods together?
But there are also the foods from the past that aren’t forgotten as much as willfully shunned. Fermented meats. Tuna-and-potato-chip casseroles. And at the top of that tasteless heap — the gelatin salad.
A marriage may be between two people, but weddings tend to be between the couple and everyone else. Wedding guests called upon to bear witness to the ceremony, and to shower a new couple with verbal and financial blessings, can shape the proceedings and meanings of marital rites as much as the bride and groom do. I’ve played a number of performative roles in the weddings of loved ones — bridesmaid, maid of honor, toast-giver, poetry-reader, choreographer, and stage manager — and from the wings, I’ve observed how often the friends and family of the new couple feel entitled to weigh in on what is and is not done properly. Personally, I lucked out: My own parents’ rules for the ceremonial passage into a hallowed state of matrimony were simple and few.
Rule 1: Don’t get married until you’re 30.
Rule 1b: But you don’t have to get married ever, if you don’t want to.
Rule 2: If you do decide to marry — after age 30, that is — you are entirely free to elope, and save the money for a washing machine or something.
Rule 2b: But you do have to bring your mother a piece of wedding cake.
If you are an inmate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s prison system, and you misuse food items, refuse to return uneaten food items, destroy or throw food items, or use food containers to throw human waste, you may be assigned a Behavior Modified Meal the state calls “Food-Loaf.”
The public recently had a chance to experience Pennsylvania’s Food-Loaf at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. The historic site was the world’s first true penitentiary; with the urging of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, the state opened the site in 1829. It aimed to inspire true penitence through isolation and silence. Eastern State closed in 1971, but in 2013, it was back to serving meals, if only for two days.
I am from New England stock. (I’m tempted to call us “hearty New England stock,” but the truth is that my immediate family skews more to the side of thin, independent, and quiet weirdos. Which is its own New England archetype, I suppose.) But a childhood in New England means that certain things are in my bones: Foliage and crisp apples in the fall, cross-country skiing in the winter, fiddleheads and mud in the spring, and in summer, shell-cracking lobster dinners. To me, lobster isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime rarity or even a particularly high-class food. It’s a treat, certainly, but not the epic, caviar-level foodstuff some people make it out to be.
There is an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying: weeche Waffle sin Dudelarwet ferlore, which means “soft waffles are love’s labor lost.” In the Pennsylvania Dutch universe, there is probably nothing worse than a soft waffle, a bedroom euphemism for male dysfunction. So ingrained are waffles in our culture that less-than-perfect specimens are ready objects of contempt.
My father does not have an illustrious history with cooking. You wouldn’t know that looking at him in the kitchen now – when my grandmother’s health was failing, he studied with her so that he could make her classic desserts, like fluffy cream cake, spiraling jelly rolls, and not-too-sweet apple pies. But before that, I knew my father to have exactly one dish – Welsh rarebit.
America was booming in the Gilded Age, the era after the Civil War when robber barons hammered out vast empires and enormous fortunes were made overnight in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. At the same time out West, American chefs were refining their own contribution to international culture: Fast food.