Gastronomy student Laura Kitchings reports on her initial processing of John Mariani's recent gift of a collection of 20th Century menus. The finding aid she has prepared for the collection is available here.
I am always excited when my archival career intersects with my studies in the Gastronomy Program. This past month I was able to initially process a gift of approximately 300 menus, given to the program by influential food writer John Mariani, and create a finding aid using the Society of American Archivists’ content standards. More information about John Mariani and his extensive career can be found at http://johnmariani.com/.
While organizing the menus and checking the items for immediate preservation needs, I was amazed at the variety of institutions and events represented in the collection. I would see a menu for a restaurant with Michelin stars and then a menu for a restaurant serving delicious sounding barbecue a lower price point.
The menus often contain notations from John Mariani that include the dates he visited the restaurant and what he ate at the restaurant. While I was not able to spend a significant amount of time with each menu, I did find myself considering the variety of Gastronomy courses that could make use of the collection. The Food and Gender class could consider how images of women are used as restaurant advertising on the menu covers and the Food and Visual Culture class could consider how the colors used on menus have changed over time.
Some of the menus were for one-time events and show connections between restaurants while others provide a unique view of a chef at a distinct time in their career.
There are also menus for the same restaurant collected several years apart. This will allow students in the Gastronomy program a unique look into the evolution of these restaurants and consider generalized changes in the restaurant industry. This unique menu collection provides a multitude of potential research topics for both current and future Gastronomy students.
John Mariani will speak at BU on "How Italian Food Conquered the World" on Thursday, February 20 at 6 pm in Fuller 131. Selections from the menu collection will be on display. Please see full event details here.
We hope you will enjoy getting to know some of the new students who are joining the Gastronomy and Food Studies program this spring.
Amy Johnson's childhood can best be defined by Lunchables, Pop Tarts and Velveeta Cheese. It was only after she was accepted to the BU Gastronomy Program that she would learn she's the daughter of a member of The Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, an internationally-recognized Food & Wine Gastronomic Society (she now likes to joke that she joined the family business).
In addition to her love of food, Amy's passions lie in intellectual storytellings of history and culture. This interest would be the driving force for her pursuits in college, completing dual degrees in Journalism and Anthropology at the University of Arizona. Never considering food as academic exploration until she spent a year in France, Amy discovered how important food studies is in understanding the complexities of culture. Upon her return to the States, a series of very fortunate events would lead her to designate food as her main focus. Living in Tucson, a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, proposed additional courses in food anthropology that she could pursue. A position as a food writer and photographer for a local publication allowed her to connect with the Mexican-American and Native American communities that surrounded her.
Knowing culture isn't just reserved to food, Amy also hopes to receive designations through the Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center.
Amy lays claim to six cities, four states, and two countries, but is finally ready to plant her roots in the city of Boston. She has been eyeing the BU Gastronomy program for the past six years, and is thrilled to now be part of this captivating community of food enthusiasts.
Kris Kaktins obtained a BS in criminal justice at the University of Delaware and a MS in criminal justice at Northeastern University, selecting the field simply because she enjoyed learning about it. She then stumbled into a career within the financial services industry where she remains sixteen years later. Never having a “dream” occupation and facing serious burnout in her current work, in 2018 she engaged a career coach. While the endeavor did not translate into to a new career (as of yet), a confession to the coach about her love of cheese led her to Boston University’s Cheese Studies Certificate. Cooking food, eating food, shopping for food, and reading about food, recipes, and cookbooks have always brought Kris excitement, but this course quite possibly re-engineered her brain’s definition of bliss. The next exploration was Wine Studies Level 1. At the end of 2019 she applied to BU’s Certificate in Food Studies. Kris hopes to make this study of food an opportunity that revitalizes her and perhaps even births a new journey. Kris lives in the suburbs of Massachusetts with her husband, four-year-old son, and slightly neurotic dog. They garden, tend to a variety of fruit trees, and in the spring are foraying into beekeeping.
We hope you will enjoy getting to know some of the new students who are joining the Gastronomy and Food Studies program this spring.
Fascinated by food systems, Dana Ferrante has worked in kitchens, volunteered on farms, pulled espresso shots, and staged with chefs at home and abroad. A native of Massachusetts, Dana graduated from Harvard College with a degree in Italian History and Literature. Her thesis research brought her to the Italian State Archives in Naples, where she tracked down biographical information on 19th century cookbook author, Ippolito Cavalcanti. In addition to conducting food history research, Dana spent her undergraduate years promoting food literacy, tending to on-campus beehives, editing a student-run food blog, and organizing cheese pairings for a student-run wine society. From an organic macadamia nut farm in Hawaii to a Blue Zone island in Greece, a small goat farm in Sardegna to a bustling restaurant in Crete, Dana is an avid traveler with a strong interest in Mediterranean cuisines, agriculture, global foodways, and sustainability.
Back in Boston, Dana has worked as a pasta maker and prep cook, created content for a sustainably-minded startup, worked as a barista at a local coffee shop/brewery, and interned for culture: the word on cheese magazine. In her free time, she enjoys perusing vegetables at the Somerville farmers’ market, making pasta from scratch, climbing rocks, and exploring the newest cafes, restaurants, and bars in the Boston area. Dana is excited to join BU’s Gastronomy program and continue writing, researching, cooking, and of course, daydreaming about food as much as she can.
Growing up in rural New Hampshire, Carrie Holt eagerly anticipated the day when the sweet corn came in from the farm down the road. When her family moved to coastal California, the road between home and high school took them through field after field of Brussels sprouts, lettuces, and strawberries. Carrie was struck by the differences between small-scale New England farms and large-scale California agricultural operations in terms of labor practices, land stewardship, and product distribution. While in college in Ohio, she became intrigued by the issues and implications of food access through research on so-called food deserts in the U.S. and on the precipitating events of the Arab Spring.
After graduation, Carrie (a lifelong vegetarian) turned to cooking as a way to ground herself in the present, and sought an environment where she could immerse herself in food and contemplation. Working in the kitchen of a remote Zen Buddhist monastery in Central California provided her with both knife skills and the space to consider interdependence in the context of food systems. Her ruminations on interdependence and the power of community led her next to a food cooperative in Southern California, where observing the gaps between the co-op’s stated ends and actual policy in terms of food access and responsible sourcing became part of her job.
Carrie hopes to learn how to help restructure our food systems by better understanding their current functions and failings, especially as climate change’s impact continues to be felt, and she looks forward to conducting the research that must undergird systemic change. As there are few viable ways to opt out of our current food systems as a living, breathing, eating human, Carrie wants to participate as an informed actor working towards systemic change and creating spaces for more people to do the same.
Mara Sassoon grew up in sunny South Florida, where she learned the joys of eating guava pastries in the morning and of shopping at Publix (inarguably the best grocery store). She came to the Boston area to finally experience seasons and attend Brandeis University, where she studied creative writing, English, and art. She then attended the Columbia Publishing Course at Columbia University, an intensive summer graduate program on book, magazine, and digital publishing, before moving back to Boston.
Mara works for Boston University’s Office of Marketing & Communications as a writer and editor, crafting substantive and in-depth stories about BU, its programs, faculty, students, and alumni for various University publications. She loves writing about food as much as eating it and enjoys challenging herself with different baking projects most weekends. She is eager to approach food studies from more historical, cultural, and social perspectives that she has not yet explored before so that she becomes a better-informed cook, diner, and writer.
A decade ago as a young teen, Grace Setio moved abroad from her hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia. Ever since, she has been traveling from continent to continent, following her curiosity for unfamiliar territories and exciting food cultures, given that there was not a lot of diversity within her own community. She was influenced by her mother who is an amazing cook and grandmother who is an amazing baker. So she packed up and moved to Australia to pursue a career as a professional cook. Three years and an armful of kitchen burns later, she went to Europe to study International Business in Culinary Arts. She learned how to manage restaurants from her lecturers, how to pair food and wine from the locals she met, and how to fuse Swedish with Korean food from her peers. She then developed a love for regional ethnic foods and the interdisciplinary approach of food studies, which led her to an interest in pursuing a higher education within this field. She wishes to bring better food education to her home country and promotes her native cuisine to wherever she wanders off to. After spending a year in a Michelin starred Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco, Grace is very excited to explore the East Coast and being a part of the gastronomy community at BU.
Got Food? Got History? Go Public.
Food and Public History (ML623), Spring 2020
In Food and Public History (4 cr), we will examine interpretive foodways programs from museums, living history museums, folklore/folklife programs, as well as culinary tourism offerings, "historical" food festivals, and food tours. Our goal is to compare different approaches to teaching the public about history or cultural heritage using food. How do we best engage the public? How do we demonstrate the relevance of food as both a historical subject and as a topic of interest today? Through different approaches to public history, can we connect our audience to issues that are so critical today—the future of food movements, for example, or the preservation and understanding of cultural difference? How can we successfully engage the public, whether through displays, tours, or interactive/sensorial experience?
Students will have the opportunity to hear from several experts in historical interpretation, public history, and food history programs. We also will be taking field trips to area museums and food history walking tours in Boston. Last year students took a walking tour of Jewish historical sites in Chelsea, went on the Bites of Boston tour of Chinatown, and had behind-the-scenes tours of Plimoth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village. These visits served as case studies, allowing students will examine the process of creating mission statements, interpretive goals, and entrepreneurial offerings, as well as different methods of communicating with the public. Students will have similar opportunities this spring.
This is a project-based course involving experiential and hands-on learning opportunities. Student projects will include creatinug proposals for food history tours in the North End, for example. Student also will participate in a semester-long group project, entitled Home Cooks in the Merrimack Valley. The project will involve background research, updating the project proposal, resubmitting a script and proposal for the Boston University Institutional Review Board (IRB), and fieldwork (interviewing home cooks from a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds), transcribing those interviews, and then creating or adding to an online exhibit.
Hope you will join us!
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
MET ML623, Food and Public History, will meet on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8:45 PM, starting on January 22. Non-degree students who would like to take the class may register here.
This guest post is part of a continuing series written by students from Karen Metheny's Cookbooks and History course. Kate Watson documents her recreation of a recipe for 19th century cream candy.
I’ve never tried to follow a pre-1900 recipe before, but for my Cookbooks and History class in the BU Gastronomy program, I chose to recreate a recipe for Cream Candy featured in La Cuisine Creole, an 1885 collection of New Orleans recipes collected by Lafcadio Hearn.
Although it was very hard to decide on just one recipe to recreate, I settled on this Creole recipe for Cream Candy. I chose this because I enjoy candy making— I’ve been gifting my special English Toffee to family and friends every year at Christmas for the past decade, and I enjoy experimenting with new candy types. I also love creamy flavored candies, so I imagined that this recipe would fit the bill.
I assembled my ingredients. Luckily, the measurements were relatively standardized:
2 pounds light brown sugar (I actually used dark brown)
1 “teacup” of water (I used a mug- when I measured, it was ~1 cup)
2 “tablespoonfuls” of butter (I used salted Kerrygold)
1 tablespoon vinegar (I used plain distilled white vinegar)
2 tablespoons flavoring extract (I used Nielsen Massey Bourbon Vanilla Extract)
I added all the ingredients to my enameled cast iron pot and turned on the heat. Adding everything at once felt strange, as I would usually add vanilla last, but maybe that’s why there’s so much extract?
The recipe specifically said not to stir, so I knew I was working with a traditional caramel (something I’d never made before- I’ve always “cheated’ and used recipes that call for a bit of corn syrup). I decided to use a technique to prevent crystallization, even though it wasn’t specifically mentioned in the recipe: a brush to wash down the sides of the pot as the caramel cooked. It was really hard not to stir the ingredients! I was nervous about something burning as it was so dark.
When it came to a boil, I set the timer for 20 minutes and readied a jar of ice water, to test the doneness of the candy.
After 20 minutes, my house was filled with the rich smell of vanilla, butter, and cooking brown sugar.
At this point, it was at very soft ball stage. The recipe said that it would be ready when the candy is “cooked enough to pull” but I didn’t really know when that would be. I decided to cook it for a couple more minutes. I usually judge “doneness” of a caramel by color, but since this recipe used brown sugar, it was already so dark that it was impossible for me to judge. At about 22 minutes it had reached medium-hard ball stage, and I decided it was ready.
I poured the candy out onto a buttered rimmed baking pan. It was quite beautifully colored and smelled rich and delicious.
It was also scalding hot!
It quickly developed a skin, and after around 5 minutes had cooled enough for me to move it around with my finger.
I took a small piece off the edge and began to experiment.
The candy began to lighten as I pulled. It was actually pretty hard to pull- my hands and arms were tired after a little while. It was very hot at first, but cooled after around 5 minutes of pulling, and the strands started to break. I decided to twist it and cut it into pieces with kitchen shears. It never became light as cream, but it did reach a nice café au lait color.
I still had the rest of the rapidly cooling candy to pull- it would definitely have been easier with a houseful of children to help me! I decided to pull the rest of the candy, all at once, before it cooled too much to work with.
Although it was difficult, it was also pleasurably tactile to pull the warm candy. The repetitive motion reminded me of the repetition of kneading bread. As I pulled, the strands became beautifully pearlescent. The colors progressed from the very dark brown of cooked sugar to a rich mahogany color and looked almost like wood grain as I continued to pull.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t fully pull all of the candy before it cooled to the point where strands began to snap, but I had plenty for my family and classmates to sample. I snipped strands into small pieces and wrapped them in waxed paper for my class.
These candies, to me, did not taste like what I would expect a “cream candy” to taste, though they were delicious. They mostly tasted like the rich tangy flavor of caramelized brown sugar, with some smooth dairy mouthfeel from the butter. The vanilla was only slightly detectable, but it did add a slight aroma. I couldn’t taste the vinegar at all, and I’m not sure why it was part of the recipe, although I’m sure that acid was needed for some scientific reason.
The texture of these candies was unique and interesting. They were very hard when fully cooled- hard enough to shatter. However, when you put them into your mouth, they softened and became smooth and chewy (dangerous-to-dental-work level chewy, I wouldn’t give these to my grandmother without a warning!). The closest thing I’ve had before is the texture of a See’s candy lollipop- quite hard, so you can bite off a piece, but then also chewy inside your mouth.
If I were to make this recipe again, I’d try it with different types of sugar- both light brown and white. I would also try to take it off the heat at a softer ball stage, to see if that would change the texture. I would add the vanilla after it was taken off the heat, as I usually do, though probably not 2 full tablespoons of vanilla.
Creating a historical recipe made me appreciate the tremendous knowledge cooks of the time must have possessed. Although this recipe was “easy” and used few, simple ingredients, I did need to call upon my knowledge of candy making techniques to understand when it was ready. As I’d never made pulled candy, I was definitely guessing. I wasn’t able to fully process the candy before it cooled- it would have been much easier with a large family full of children to assist me with the pulling process!
Hearn, Lafcadio. 1885. La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine. New Orleans: F.F. Hansell & Bro., Ltd. https://d.lib.msu.edu/fa/19#page/247/mode/2up
Accessed November 10, 2019
Current student Neema Syovata describes the research process for her Introduction to Gastronomy final project.
THE HICKORY NUT ADVENTURES
This all began with a simple question – why aren’t there more opportunities to experience Native American food? And so, for my introduction to gastronomy final project, I opted to create a menu of contemporary Native American cuisine. My research would require me to understand what was happening with Indigenous foodways pre and post contact.
The Institute of American Indian Studies in Washington, CT has a research department complete with an extensive library. On my first visit, I explained my project and was delighted to find several shelves containing culinary materials. Furthermore, everyone I encountered there was extremely helpful in offering their perspective or pointing me towards a resource that would be useful. Should you ever run into the research director Lucianne Lavin, you are in for a treat! She is captivating and an archeological authority. I quite literally conversed with her for 3 HOURS… All I can say, is that it was time well spent because it provided me with a good historical background on Native Americans.
In my research, I read about hickory nuts, and wondered where I might find some and why they were not commercially available. By the time I was discovering this information, we were late in the season for picking hickory nuts. In a rather serendipitous moment, I discovered that my neighbor had hickory trees, shagbarks to be specific (which are the ones you want to eat). I was beside myself with joy but it was short-lived. You see the reason that hickory nuts don’t exist commercially is because they are labor intensive. LABOR INTENSIVE (that is definitely me shouting)!
I spent a whole day engaged in labor in what would have been a communal activity in Indigenous communities. Neema party of one vs the hickory nuts. The first step was shelling the nuts from their green exterior, that took a “minute.” Then came the sorting and the third step was a rather ingenious one (not on my part). Native Americans would soak the nuts for two reasons, the first to be rid of all the hickory nuts that rose to the top (these were no good, I tested this theory and found some critter living inside one, gag), and the second was to soften the nuts to make it easier to crack them. I did not do the long soak because I put them in the oven to dry them first, and then roast them. What followed was a therapeutic session with a mallet and a kitchen towel which resulted in a handful of nuts, or said another way enough for 2 servings. (Click link to see the process) I went to sleep off my disappointment.
The next day, I woke up thinking of the many ways I could use hickory nuts and perhaps if I could find a better way to crack the nuts so they could maintain their shape – maybe next season (late summer, early autumn I’m told). I then used the “handful” of hickory nuts to create a cream sauce to go with salmon, topped with a scoop of mashed potatoes, garnished with fried sage and cremini crisps. All are ingredients that indigenous people would have eaten, but with a modern twist.
This guest post comes from current student and president of the Gastronomy Student Association Payal Parikh. Are you curious about what Gastronomy students like to do in their day off? Looking for Gastronaut-approved activities in Boston? Read on!
A few weeks ago, fellow Gastronauts, Sarah Critchley, Sarah Hartwig, Neema Syovata, and I set out on a day of fun in Boston. As new-ish Bostonians we thought it would be nice to explore our town. If you ever need a fun, yet educational day of fun in Boston, here is your path, feel free to mix and match as you may see fit.
We started out the day with bagels from the new and popular Medford spot, Goldilox Bagels. The bagels are definitely in the running for best bagels in the area. We enjoyed them on the steps of the Museum of Fine Art, or the “MFA,” as the locals call it. Boston University students get in for free so it was nice to go in and see as much as we wanted without the pressure of seeing the whole museum in a day, and one could easily spend the whole day there if given the opportunity.
We started with the new exhibit about Ancient Nubia and played a fun game to see who could find the first piece of “gastronomy” related art, there was a toss-up between an ancient dining room set and a watermelon necklace, but in the end, we decided no winner was to be had and continued the search. We then wandered over to the Women and Art exhibit where we were greeted with a stumper of a question – could we name five women artists…it took a bit but the collective group was able to do it! We were all a little embarrassed with the time it took to do so. It was in this exhibit that we came across a wonderful painting of cabbages, that was the clear gastronomical winner!
It was at that point we decided it was time for lunch, we walked from the Fenway/Kenmore section over to Back Bay with our eyes on Saltie Girl. The seafood restaurant known for its large selection of tinned fish was at an hour wait for our party so we put our name in and decided to move on. Sticking with the newly decided theme, we walked over to The Salty Pig, which we were able to sit at right away. We shared some pizza and salads while taking in the neighborhood sites, as it is situated on the corner of a little shopping plaza. During this time, we also received a call back from Saltie Girl saying our table was ready. Even though half the group had to leave to go back to their regularly scheduled day, Sarah C and I soldiered on and decided to have a second lunch. Walking through Back Bay was very enjoyable at that time of day and we soon arrived back at the bar at Saltie Girl. We ordered a couple of small, delicious plates and I also had a daytime glass of wine (it was a mini-vacation after all). The wine was good and reasonably priced but the real excitement came from the glass it was served in, a small tumbler, which was out of character for a $$$ restaurant, instead of a seafood shack.
After closing out, Sarah had to head to work and I was on my own for an hour. I walked over to the Boston Public Library to check it out as I had never successfully been inside of it. It was as beautiful as all the pictures I had seen. It was surprisingly busy with tourists taking pictures instead of people looking for reading material. I had an enjoyable time perusing the shelves and walking through the courtyard in the slightly chilly October day.
For the evening, fellow Gastronaut Kate Cherven met up with me at Eataly for some Italian food perusing. After a riveting discussion of canned truffles and a self-directed dried fruit tasting with an employee, we sat down for some much-needed espresso and planned our next move. Kate’s husband Stefan met up with us and we went over to a nearby bar that had been on a dive bar list of the area. The original Bukowski’s Tavern, inspired by Charles himself, where they don’t serve Bud Light and the chalkboard is full of funny quotes from Yelp! reviews. After finding out we missed trivia, we hung around for a bit, had some beverages, and snacks and decided more future visits were in order. We ended the night at a little Vietnamese place nearby, the name was forgettable but the soup was good and we all made it home before the rain came down. It was a wonderful Back Bay day indeed.
This guest post is part of a series written by students from Karen Metheny's Cookbooks and History course. Jie Liu shares her thoughts on recreating this historical recipe for pound cake, and includes a video of her process.
Recreating a Historical Recipe: American Cookery – Pound Cake
In the Cookbooks and History class, we’ve analyzed many old cookbooks. One of the old cookbooks that I am really interested in is American Cookery from Amelia Simmons, the first American cookbook, which was published in 1796. This book became the first choice for me to choose the recipe to do my “Recreating a Historical Recipe” assignment. Fortunately, Simmons’s recipes are based on very simple ingredients, nothing too exotic. But most of Simmons’s recipes are lack of detailed procedures. Pound Cake is one of the shortest recipes in the book. As you can see in the recipe, it only calls for sugar, butter, flour, eggs, rose water and spices. The pound cake was favored in old time because its ingredients are so simple to remember. The original pound cake, without other ingredient, only contained one pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. But in Simmons’s recipe, she adds rose water and spices to enrich the flavor of the cake.
In American Cookery, the majority of the sweet recipes used rose water, but I’ve never had a bottle of rose water in my kitchen. So, I went to one of the biggest supermarkets near my house and asked two market mangers to help me find rose water. They were both surprised that I was looking for rose water for baking purposes. One of the mangers said, “I’ve never heard of that—using rose water in baking.” It seems rose water is no longer a common ingredient in the American kitchen. Finally, I decided to use vanilla extract instead of rose water. Besides, in Simmons’s pound cake recipe, she doesn’t mention what kind of spice should be used. In my testing, I used allspice, which combines the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, as a substitution. Additionally, I chose all-purpose flour rather than cake flour, a finely milled flour with a low protein content, which is more commonly used in cakes in modern time.
Due to its large portion, I reduced the recipe by half. To begin with, I measured half pound of sugar, half pound of butter, five eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a teaspoon of allspice. Although, it seems that you only need to mix everything together, I still have no idea of how to do it. Based on my previous baking experience, I first cut the butter into small cubes and mixed them well with sugar. When I got a relatively smooth mixture, I added eggs one by one until the paste was creamy. I have to admit that it is laborious work, even I reduced the recipe by half. That’s why I used my modern KitchenAid Stand Mixer, rather than mixing by hand. I put the vanilla extract in before adding the dry ingredients, a mixture of flour and allspice, into the paste. After the last step of blending, I got a bowl of thick and dense batter.
Before I put the batter into the oven, I wondered if I would get a perfect result. In Simmons’s recipe, she writes “watch it well, it will bake in a slow oven in 15 minutes.” First of all, she doesn’t mention which pan would be suitable. Moreover, I don’t know what the correct temperature is for a “slow oven.” Third, I’m pretty sure that the “15 minutes” baking time is absolutely impossible. Therefore, I transferred the batter into an aluminum foil loaf pan, a 2-pound standard size bread tin, and put it into a 350°F preheated oven. In the first 30 minutes, the cake barely puffed up and its color was pale white. After the next 30 minutes, the cake developed an even, nice golden color. To make sure the cake was done, I inserted a thin bamboo skewer into the center of the cake, and it came out clean. Then I checked the cake with a digital thermometer which showed the inner temperature was 200°F.
Fortunately, the result was far beyond my expectation. The cake not only looked appealing but was delicious to taste. The cake has a soft, buttery crumb that’s nearly perfect, and the cake was not too dense. While recreating this old pound cake, I was surprised by the generous usage of rose water in the recipe. Simmons’s pound cake calls for one gill of rose water, which equals to 24 teaspoons. Then, I’m so thankful for the modern kitchen equipment for helping me save my time and energy. I highly admire the housewives and the cooks, who used to work in the kitchen, and could only rely on heavy manual work and skilled technique in the past. The cake produced by this recipe notes the vague use of spices and plenty of rose water, but it still turned out well in the modern kitchen. The spicy taste and dense texture evoke a sense of an old, busy American kitchen. The recipe is centuries old, but the pleasure of eating is timeless.
Simmons, Amelia. 1796. American Cookery. Hartford: Hudson & Goodwin.
Pound Cake. Date of Access. 14th Nov. 2019. http://www.poundcake.net/
This guest post is part of a continuing series written by students from Karen Metheny's Cookbooks and History course. Ilana Hardesty details the challenge of making a historical recipe for boiled rice dumplings in a modern kitchen.
19th Century Cooking in a 21st Century Kitchen
Let’s be honest: there’s only so far I can go in simulating 19th century cookery. I have a 21st century kitchen (literally; it was gutted and renovated, painfully, in 2017). I live in a city, so I can’t build myself a wood-burning fireplace in which I can set things to the fire; I’ve got a Bosch dual-fuel range. I won’t be terribly successful with “pounding” my spices, as I don’t own a mortar and pestle, and can’t at the moment justify purchasing one for the purpose.
On the other hand, in terms of other responsibilities, I’m pretty well equipped. At the moment I’m nursing a husband with pneumonia, and fighting illness myself. I’m doing laundry (granted, in my modern washer and dryer), cleaning, trying to keep ahead of the falling leaves in the yard, and thinking about the 15 people due at my house for Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks. Perhaps I should be making items from the ‘caring for invalids’ chapters so often found in historical cookbooks. I could use a strong cup of beef tea right about now.
Instead, I’m trying Juliet Corson’s “Boiled Rice-Dumplings” (Corson 1885, 463-464). I wanted to make a boiled pudding, thinking that would be a better simulation than something in my electric oven. And these dumplings seemed a bit out of the ordinary. Essentially, they’re baked apples, except boiled, and with a rice “crust” rather than pastry (sort of an early, sweet, boiled arancini?). I wanted to stay away from a pastry because I’m terrible at making pastry even in 2019. I would surely fail an 1885 puff “paste!”
The recipe calls for six apples to be cored and peeled, and flavored by adding “sugar and spices” or “any good jelly or marmalade” into the tunnel left by the core. The apples are then wrapped in a layer of cooked rice, tied up in a “pudding-cloth,” and boiled for an hour.
Trial 1 (Monday)
I assembled my ingredients, all purchased at the Watertown Stop & Shop. I did not need to pick over or wash my River® Rice, of course. Without a grain length specified, I went with medium grain rather than long grain (figuring medium grain would stick together better). The apples are locally grown. They are Cortlands – the smallest I could find; do they give apples growth hormones these days? – as a substitute for Pippins. I used cheesecloth as an approximation of “pudding-cloth.” I suspect I’d have been better off sourcing muslin or sacrificing one of my kitchen towels to the cause. In this round, I went with the “sugar and spices” option, and mixed up a bowl of white granulated sugar with pre-ground nutmeg and cloves (none of the recipes I looked at for any puddings called for cinnamon, but many called for nutmeg and cloves).
I set the rice to “boil fast for twenty minutes,” then drained it “on a sieve” (well, through a sieve, actually).
As that was happening I peeled and cored the apples. Did I take refuge in my OXO peeler and corer? Yes I did!!
Then came the tricky part, where I was instructed to cover each apple with a half-inch thick layer of the cooked rice, somehow AFTER I’d filled the core with sugar! Now I think of it, perhaps I was meant to have left the bottom of the apple intact. Instead, I devised an assembly that appeared would work, until it didn’t. I spread a layer of rice on my cheesecloth, wide enough in diameter, I figured, to be pulled up around the apple when I cinched the cloth. Then I put the apple in the center of the rice, spooned in the sugar mixture, topped with more rice, and pulled together the corners of the cloth, to tie them tight around the rice-covered apple.
Unfortunately, I ended up with only enough rice to make four, not six, apples. Did I use too much rice on each apple? It didn’t seem that way. Are today’s “small” apples even too big for the recipe (which actually calls for medium apples)?
Here they are, just after being put into the pot of boiling water. They float!
There was no indication of what to do when they came out of the boiling water, so I set them on a rack to drain for a few minutes, and then gingerly opened one packet.
Amazingly, they held together!
And the verdict? They’re odd. Not inedible, but not delicious. Perhaps I was expecting/wanting something much more sweet and dessert-like. The rice got more gluey, and so held together. And, while I haven’t investigated the science, I suspect the pectin in the apple helped it keep its shape during cooking as well, as happens with a regular baked apple. The texture is almost doughy, and the apple sort of melds with the rice.
Next time, I may try (and I know I’m changing too many variables):
- Corson suggests adding an egg to the rice as a variant. This would also, I think, help the rice adhere to the apple and hold together. I might consider this.
- She also says to “use any good pudding-sauce with them.” She has a variety of sauces in her Puddings chapter, any one of which would make the dumplings taste better. I will plan on making a sauce.
- Try to spread the rice a bit thinner
- Use something a bit less open-weave than the cheesecloth I have
- Try a jelly or marmalade instead of the sugar and spices
Trial 2 (Wednesday)
The cooking gods are evidently after verisimilitude. This morning, the coldest day since last winter, the furnace blew. So, no heat and a pneumonia-sufferer to keep warm. And also cooking to do.
This round was easier, since I’d done it once, but no less fiddly. Who had the time to surround these apples in rice and wrap them in muslin?? I made the recipe as written, and did not add the suggested egg. I used smaller apples, so managed to get five made this time around. Still not the six the recipe says I’ll get, but closer. Also, after perusing modern recipes for baked apples, I did not use the apple corer this time. Instead, I used a paring knife to cut around the stem end, then used a small spoon to scrape out the core and seeds, while leaving the bottom of the apple intact.
I cut up a cotton kitchen towel to use instead of cheesecloth, and that was easier to manipulate. I developed a process where I just mounded rice around the apple, and manipulated it into place as I pulled up the cloth around the apple. This time I tried a jelly – a homemade cranberry-apple sauce made with the leftover apples from Monday, sweetened with a bit of sugar and flavored with spiced boiled cider. I will not manage a pudding-sauce, though I know a good sauce makes anything taste better.
These were not, somehow, as aesthetically pleasing (perhaps the color of the cranberry sauce was to, um, visceral?). Also, the apples disintegrated a bit more this time. Though they apples were picked from the same bin, perhaps some other varieties ended up in the mix, and these did not hold their shape as well.
The verdict this time, from the class, was positive! We all agreed that this is not necessarily a dessert, but might be a nice sweet accompaniment to, for example, a roast pork dish, with a fruit-based sauce. There is work to be done in getting them out of their pudding-cloths intact, but it may be that the problems I had with that were because they had been cooled and then reheated. Perhaps the rice had a chance to fuse to the cloth more than if I’d served them straight from the boiling pot.
Overall, this was a fascinating experience. I was hyper-aware of the conveniences that I have that Juliet Corson and her readers did not. But I was also hyper-aware of the cooking knowledge I have, and of my ability to infer and adapt with very little recipe detail. I look forward to taking on this challenge again with other recipes, for myself!
Corson, Juliet. 1885. Practical American Cookery and Household Management. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company.
Cocoa Cake from Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes by Miss Parloa and Home Made Candy Recipes by Mrs. Janet McKenzie Hill
This guest post is part of a continuing series written by students from Karen Metheny's Cookbooks and History course. Mara Sassoon shares her experience with recreating a historical recipe for cocoa cake.
When it came to deciding on a historical recipe I wanted to recreate, I knew I wanted to make something chocolatey. What better source for such a recipe than the 1909 cookbook Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes by Miss Parloa and Home Made Candy Recipes by Mrs. Janet McKenzie Hill? The book features recipes from Maria Parloa and Janet McKenzie Hill that utilize Walter Baker & Co. chocolate products.
I decided I wanted to make a cake and settled on Parloa’s recipe for Cocoa Cake (1909, 25) because I already had the ingredients the recipe calls for on hand.
Here is the recipe:
Though Baker’s brand chocolate still exists (the company is today owned by Mondelez International), Baker’s brand cocoa is no longer produced. I wound up using Hershey’s brand cocoa. I also didn’t have pastry or cake flour on hand, so I used all-purpose flour. The recipe was fairly straight forward. I started with very soft, unsalted Cabot butter, creamed it, mixed in the cup of sugar, then added all three eggs at once and beat those in. Typically, the more modern chocolate cake recipes I’ve made call for less eggs and often specify adding the eggs one at a time.
The recipe got a little bit vaguer from there: “Sift together one-half cup of the flour, the cocoa and baking powder; use this flour first, then alternate the milk and remaining flour, using enough to make the mixture stiff enough to drop from the spoon.” All in all, the recipe calls for 1 ½ to 2 cups of sifted flour. I wound up using 1 ½ cups. I whisked together the half cup of flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a separate bowl, then sifted that into the butter/sugar/egg mixture. I decided to interpret “alternate the milk and remaining flour” as pour some milk, mix, sift in some flour, mix, add more milk, mix, add more flour, etc. As mentioned, 1 ½ cups of flour seemed like enough—the batter was very thick.
After mixing in vanilla extract, I scraped the batter into a glass loaf pan that I had greased even though the recipe did not say to grease the pan. I think the cake would have stuck to the baking dish had I not done so. The recipe called for baking the cake in a “moderately hot” oven, which I interpreted to mean 350 degrees, for 35 to 40 minutes. I was excited that I found a historic recipe that specified baking time, however, when I pulled the cake out of the oven at the 35-minute mark, it was slightly soupy in the very middle. I baked the cake for another 10 minutes, but when I stuck a toothpick in the center to test its doneness, there was still a lot of batter on it. I put the cake back in the oven for another 15 minutes, conducted the toothpick test again, and concluded it was baked through.
Parloa actually included three tips for determining if a cake is done with this recipe: “1. It shrinks from the pan; 2. Touching it on top, springs back; 3. No singing sound.” After baking the cake those last 15 minutes, I determined the cake fit the criteria for tips #1 and #2. As for step #3, my cake never sang to me throughout the baking process, but that would have been a welcome surprise!
After baking the cake, I thought, “Why stop there?” I decided I’d make Parloa’s recipe for Cocoa Frosting (1909, 24) to top the Cocoa Cake.
Again, I used Hershey’s cocoa powder instead of Baker’s. This is a very simple frosting recipe, calling for only cocoa, hot and cold water, vanilla, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. I mixed the cocoa and cold water in a saucepan, then added the hot water. The recipe got confusing when it said “cook for one to two minutes.” I decided I’d cook the mixture on medium heat, adding in the vanilla, salt, and sugar as it was cooking.
This was an extremely thin mixture, so I turned the stove temperature down to low and heeded the recipe’s advice: “If not thick enough, add a little sugar.” I wound up having to add more than “a little” more sugar—about another cupful—until I thought it seemed somewhat thicker. I poured the frosting into a glass Pyrex container and refrigerated it overnight; the refrigeration helped it get a little thicker, too.
I poured it on the cake next day, the same day I was to bring the cake into class. After sitting at room temperature all day, the frosting thinned again by the time it came to present the cake in class. But, since it seeped in throughout the day, I think it actually added a little necessary moisture to the cake, which was a little drier and denser than I was expecting (possibly from using all-purpose flour). Perhaps if I had followed Parloa’s recipe to a T, it might have been a bit lighter and fluffier. Nonetheless, the cake turned out quite tasty.
Works Cited: Hill, Janet McKenzie, and Maria Parloa. 1909. Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes by Miss Parloa and Home Made Candy Recipes by Mrs. Janet McKenzie Hill. Dorchester: Walter Baker & Co., Ltd.