We are very excited to announce that we have a winner for the floral fridge magnet giveaway! Congratulations to… theZoebird who submitted a guess over on Instagram. Our winner thought they might be pieces from… More
Can a painting inspire dinner? Absolutely! That’s exactly what happened when I found this tropical painting while out curating items for the shop. It’s a petite folk art landscape scene from Haiti with a handmade wooden frame and stretched cotton cloth instead of canvas. The colors are so vibrant…
and the brush strokes so full of energy. The whole scene sings with the colorful island vibes that the Caribbean is known for. Immediately it made me think of the 1960’s cookbook in the shop – The Art of Caribbean Cookery – another midcentury treasure that also sings songs of colorful island life.
The painting hails from Haiti, just one of the 28 islands that make up the Caribbean, but the cookbook, written by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, includes all the cultural influences of all the islands… Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, etc. Carmen is Puerto Rican herself and grew up in a traditional island household of the 1920’s, a world where servants cooked and children were not encouraged to help.
As Carmen explains in the introduction of her cookbook, it was deemed improper for well-brought-up young ladies to perform menial household chores, cooking included. “Only occasionally was I ever allowed to enter the vast room where food was actually prepared, and how I regretted that.”
But things changed once she met her husband, Luis, in the late 1930’s. Luis was an unashamed food zealot – an eater, a cooker, and a recipe collector. He had a day job in engineering but on nights and weekends, he and Carmen crafted their time together around the glorious subject of food. Bolstered by one another’s support and enthusiasm, the two indulged their culinary interests in a fun and curious way, which turned out to be the only encouragement Carmen needed to realize her life-long passion for cooking. What used to be forbidden was now a freedom.
Carmen took on this new interest with gusto. She and Luis dined their way through the islands, exploring offerings at family tables, fancy restaurants and everything in between. They traipsed around sugar plantations and farms and fruit groves. They listened and questioned and learned from everyone they encountered about cooking methods and techniques, about family stories and recipes passed down through generations. After each escapade, they’d return home to their own kitchen in Puerto Rico ready to dissect what they had discovered. As Carmen learned first hand, cooking in the Caribbean was a vast wonderland of food, flavor, and influence from other countries far from the tropics.
Floating between the Gulf Of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, with the United States, Mexico and South America acting as surrounding neighbors, the Caribbean is made up of an incredibly diverse population – an exotic tribe of people from Europe, Africa, Mexico, the Mediterranean coast, the United States and the U.K.
Originally there were the first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, but then came the British, French, Dutch, Danish, and Spanish settlers along with slaves from Africa who worked the sugar plantations and ex-pats from America looking for escapism. All these cultural influences grew diversity on the islands and greatly layered the cuisine of the Caribbean, making it not just one type of food, but a blend of many nationalities.
In the painting, there is no sign of food, but its very essence pulls your imagination towards sandy beaches, tropical drinks, coconuts, rum, pineapple, papayas. Carmen is quick to explain that cooking in the Caribbean is not all “roast pig and ritual,” that food varies from island to island, built upon six centuries of history and the cohabitation of many cultures. It was with that in mind that I chose, a recipe from Carmen’s cookbook that is an authentic Carribean dish marinated in generations of foreign influence. For today’s post, we are making a recipe that combines elements of Spain with two Caribbean staples – olives and capers. The dish is called Pescado Dorado or Golden Fish and it is a lovely meal to wrap up the end of summer with since it shines best with garden tomatoes fresh off the vine.
Carmen’s recipe recommended using a whole fish but I used cod filets instead since I couldn’t find a whole tropical-looking fish at our neighborhood market. The recipe serves 8 but if you don’t want to make a big dinner out of it, simply cut all the ingredient measurements in half and you’ll wind up with a smaller serving for four.
PESCADO DORADO – GOLDEN FISH
1 fish weighing 4 lbs, cleaned (or 4lbs of fish filets – I used cod)
2 large limes
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
12 green olives
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon liquid from jar of capers
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
1 1/4 pounds tomatoes
2 canned pimientos
If using a whole fish, wash it inside and out. Ignore this step if using fish filets. Cut 2 slight gashes on both sides of the fish or filets. Place the fish in a baking dish. Squeeze the juice of the limes over the fish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Arrange the rest of the ingredients from the onions to the tomatoes on top and around the sides of the fish.
Preheat oven temperature to 550 degrees.* Bake fish for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 25 minutes longer, basting fish occasionally.
Heat pimientos and serve as a garnish on top of fish.
*A note on cooking time and temp – In 1963, Carmen’s oven reached 550 degrees. In 2018, the hottest my oven gets is 525 degrees. I cooked the fish at 525 degrees for the first 15 minutes and then reduced it to 425 degrees and cooked it for the remaining time with no problems.
What emerged from the oven, after it was done baking, was a flaky cloud of codfish that was swimming in a salty citrus sea. To say that this dish was anything but delicious would be an understatement. Sometimes fish dishes are very light and leave you still feeling hungry, but this one is robust in flavor and is filling enough on its own. I paired this fish dish with a handful of sauteed spinach and garlic but rice would also work or a side salad. Dessert was kept equally simple with a fresh fruit board that included pineapple, mango, papaya and fresh coconut.
We also had a little musical accompaniment during dinner from Harry Belafonte, one of the most iconic singers of Caribbean folk songs in the world. About a month ago, I heard the song Cocoanut Woman for the first time…
and instantly loved it. Further discovery led to his Calypso album, a bestseller full of Caribbean folk songs that was released in 1956. In its first year, this album sold a million copies landing Harry on top music charts and making him an international superstar. If you are unfamiliar with his work, the link below is the full album of his 1976 record The King of Calypso, which packs all of his most famous hits in one album including the Jamician folk song Day-O about dock workers loading banana boats and the island love song, Jamaica Farewell.
Between the three – painting, music, and food – this dinner felt like a mini island vacation all in itself. If you find that your summer has come and gone and left you without the chance to relax as much as you wished, try spending the evening with Carmen and Harry and Emmanuel (the painter) and see if your spirit can’t be soothed by a little slice of creative paradise. A glass of rum helps spread the cheer too.
Incidentally, I tried to find out more about my muse for this post, the artist named Emmanuel who painted the Haitian landscape that started all this to begin with. But he was elusive. As it turns out, there are LOTS of painters named Emmanuel in the Caribbean. That’s okay, though, it doesn’t matter that he can’t be tracked down further. Muses aren’t exactly known for their easy accessibility. Bob Dylan believed that the highest purpose of art was to inspire. In that case, Emmanuel certainly fulfilled his role, at least during dinner time in the Vintage Kitchen. As for Carmen, she went on to become an expert, the expert, of Caribbean cuisine, publishing several cookbooks throughout her life. Even though she died in 2005, she is still regarded as the classic authority on Caribbean island cuisine.
So as you can see, a painting can indeed inspire dinner and also a little more. Hope this post inspires you just as much. Cheers to soaking up the essence of the islands without ever leaving home.
Some time ago, in a dusty section of an old antique shop, I found a broken down book full of beautiful portrait prints. The book was getting ready to be heaved into a rolling bin headed for the recycling center, along with many other books that had been damaged by a recent leak in the shop. Still on the shelf, but tagged for recycling, the fate of the bird book didn’t look good. On the outside, it didn’t have much going for it. The spine was shredded, the cover splotchy with water stains, the dust jacket missing. But on closer inspection, with a flip through its interior pages, a little miracle had occurred. The bird bookplates inside had somehow escaped the water leaks. The images were bright and colorful and perfectly preserved. The birds fluttering among the pages, each depicted in their own natural setting with their mates and their foliage, were too beautiful to be tossed away.
Illustrated by Southern botanical artist Athos Menaboni in the 1950’s, these bookplate prints featured a whole aviary of birds. Many were familiar… geese, hawks, doves…but some were new like this handsome duo…
I liked their spiky head feathers immediately and thought they might be part of the woodpecker family. But I was wrong. Do you know what kind of birds they are? Here are a few hints…
- They LOVE to fish.
- They come from one of the few bird species where females are more colorful than males
- A grouping of them is called is called a crown.
- They have big heads and even bigger hairdos, not for vanity, but to accentuate their superior skills when diving for dinner.
Could you guess? Do You know it?! If you said the Eastern Belted Kingfisher then you are correct (and a wonderful birder). The kingfishers capabilities at mealtime know no equal. They are one of the best fishermen on the planet and can gather up enough aquatic life to get a fish fry started in a jiffy. Industrious, talented and always ready to get to work on planning the possibilities of their next meal, kingfishers are wonderful kitchen role models, happiest when engaged in the food options around them. See their expressive personality in this fun two-minute video…
Ever since I learned about these remarkable little birds I have been on the lookout for more of their images and information. Serendipity came calling the other day when I found a vintage 1970’s paper bird model of a kingfisher that had never been assembled.
How exciting! A new craft project – our very own paper kingfisher for the kitchen. Last Sunday, Bradley, the Vintage Kitchen’s resident builder of all things fun and functional, got to work assembling the new paper bird. The whole thing took 4 hours to come to life, but we shortened all that time down to just a 27-second video so that you could see how it all came together too…
Now the Vintage Kitchen has its own little symbol of industry, talent and enthusiasm flying around the kitchen and watching over all our cooking endeavors.
Usually, the birds most symbolic of the kitchen are chickens, roosters, turkeys and pheasants but I recommend the kingfisher any day. Aesop once said it is not only fine feathers that make fine birds. The effervescent kingfisher proves just that. Even though they are beautiful their abilities are even more so.
May your next cooking endeavor be as joyful and as enthusiastic as any kingfisher’s catch. Cheers to the birds who make our culinary spirits fly!
It’s National Avocado Day and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to write a post featuring the Vintage Kitchen’s favorite green guy – Avi the Avocado! When I last posted about Avi, it was February. The days were cold, somewhat scattered with snow flurries and spring was struggling to get its foot in the door. Avi was recovering from an almost fatal bout of too much tap water and too much sun. Here he was in February…
Now we are barreling through mid-summer. The temperatures outside are hot, humid and oven-like from morning to night. But not for Avi. He’s inside in the air conditioning, living a healthy, happy existence and growing like gangbusters. In fact, he’s growing so much that he outgrew his winter space and had to be transferred to a new perch…
Now measuring 3’5″ inches tall, Avi grew a total of three inches in the past six months in his indoor environment. If he continues to grow at such a pace, he should be close to 4′ feet tall by his second birthday near Thanksgiving. Isn’t it incredible to think that he was just this small seed a year and a half ago…
and now he towers over Deer Hudson like a magic bean stalk…
Still a character, Avi detests the outdoor heat and the all-day sunshine, something most avocado plants adore. But not our guy. He immediately sags and shrivels if he’s left out on the balcony even for just a few minutes. Instead, he much prefers the bright ambient light inside, the cooler temperature and the clamor of the Kitchen activity.
You can see from the above photo with Hudson that he hasn’t completely recovered from all his ailments yet as there are still a few minor spotting issues on some leaves, but for the most part, he’s back in good shape. After doing some experiments, testing the effects of sun strength and watering frequency, it looks like the thing that causes Avi the most trouble is the salt in the tap water. I’ll be back to using distilled water again this weekend to see if those remaining brown spots can’t be corrected yet.
I thought Avi would be the winner in the growth spurt department as far as the other urban jungle garden plants go, but Grace the Grapefruit has been the real surprise champion of the summer season. If you have been following her progress on Instagram, you’ll know that she looked like this on March 15, 2018…
Today she looks this…
In five months she grew 9″ inches! I’d like to say that Avi was an encourager in that department but he’s inside and she’s outside so clearly she’s a grower all on her accord.
And then there is Liz Lemon, whom I had forgotten to measure when she first joined the family back in June…
But she now she stands a few inches taller herself these days…
The funny thing about lemon trees is that when their new leaves emerge they are very weak. Emerging utterly exhausted, they are limpy, fragile to the touch and so droopy they look like they are in desperate need of everything – light, water, heat, shade, cool air. But after a few days of this behaviour, they firm right up, turn shades darker and develop a more rigid support system. You can see their first instincts in Liz Lemon’s tallest section of leaves in the above photograph. But in a few days, they’ll look more like this…
All this confidence in the plant growth department has been a real source of inspiration lately. Every time I chop a vegetable or peel a fruit now, I think about all the plant possibilities. My latest batch of recent seed-starting experiments involved apricots and dates. The apricots weren’t successful – they turned moldy before having a chance to do anything exciting. But the dates, now they were a different story. I’m pleased to announce just this week our newest member of the garden emerged…
A Medjool date palm seedling! And she brought along a flower friend to join her (the green spike is the date palm).
I can now understand how Luther Burbank kept going and growing year after year. Nature is fascinating if you take some time to really study it and see it. In November, when Avi turns two, I’ll share another update on the whole garden gang to see what sort of progress has been made. By then we’ll have a name picked out for the date palm too. In the meantime, if you are celebrating the day with guacamole or avocado toast, stuffed shells or just simple slices in a summer salad, I hope you enjoy all the lovely attributes of your avocado. Luther believed that flowers and plants made people better, happier and more helpful. “They are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul,” he believed. Exactly. Well said Luther!
Cheers to seeds that turn into food that turn into gardens all over again!
This weekend, there’s a big 35% off summer whites sale going on in the shop. Any item that contains the color white is automatically eligible for the discount, which means almost everything is on sale! From linens…
to wall art…
and everything in between, including these…
and much more! There will only be two big shop sales like this a year, so if you have a treasure you’ve been eyeing now’s your chance to treat yourself to a little piece of history. The sale runs through tomorrow night (Sunday, July 29th). Use coupon code: SUMMERSALE18 upon checkout to receive 35% off your order.
They come with names that sound like 1970’s rock bands… Bodega Red, Arran Victory, British Queen, Golden Wonder, Bellarosa. Or like types of prize-winning chickens… German Butterball, Champion, Adirondack Red, Tyson. Some even sound like certain breeds of dairy cows… Shetland Black, Royal Jersey, Blue Bell, Annabelle, Cream of the Crop.
But today we are not talking about chickens or cows or headliner music. Instead, today we are talking about potatoes. All those names previously discussed are specific types of one of the most consumed foods on the planet- the noble and nourishing potato. With more than 5,000 varieties in the world, you might think that it would be hard for one lone potato type to stand out in his vast tuber family of brown, round, knobby eyed dirt dwellers. But there is actually one big-time celebrity in the batch – a spotlight stealer known around the world – a superstar of the food and restaurant scene that represents the most frequently consumed potato on the planet.
It is my pleasure to present the story of the wondersously addictive potato variety known as the Burbank Russet. Haven’t heard of it, you say? Ah, but just you wait…you’ll know it. Maybe not by backstory but definitely by bite.
On Friday, it was National French Fry Day and we celebrated with a homemade batch of Russet potato french fries in honor of the guy who created them. Meet Luther Burbank, 19th-century American botanist extraordinaire…
Luther grew up in Massachusetts in the 1850’s playing with seed balls in his mother’s garden instead of playing with sports balls in his farm neighborhood. His interest in botany from the time he was a youngster fueled his curiosity for plant cultivation, a field of study that would eventually turn into a lifelong career. Throughout his childhood and into early adulthood, Luther tinkered around with seed starting and plant breeding. Although it was a laboriously slow process, most often times ending up in disappointment, Luther came by this area of study naturally. His mother also shared his interest in gardening and the two of them would happily spend hours working in the garden, talking about the life stages of various plants.
The plant world was a playground to Luther, something that represented creativity and freedom from set rules and rigid disciplines. He had aspirations to one day have his own farm in California where he would grow vegetables and flowers for the retail market and try his hand at growing new breeds of plant life. In his early 20’s, he started experimenting with potatoes. But developing a new variety wasn’t as easy as you might think. Potatoes are peculiar things. They can be regenerated in two ways – through seeds or eyes. Either method produces similar results or slightly different results in the form of mutations or sports each time off-spring are generated. It is difficult to determine at the onslaught of a growing project how the potatoes will turn out at the end of the project. More often than not the experimentation stage for Luther in trying to cultivate a new variety was long and finicky.
But in 1873 gratification came, finally, to Luther’s ruddy, soil-covered hands. One day in his 24th year, Luther went out into the field to dig his latest sample crop, half expecting to uncover the same old story of growing the exact same plant he started out trying not to grow. But this time, something was different. Instead of digging up an ordinary round potato, Luther pulled a tuber out of the ground that was twice as big and twice as long. It was reddish-brown in color and hefty in weight. A totally different specimen than the parent potatoes he had started this most recent batch with. Success at last! His first genuinely original new potato had emerged.
He christened this new masterpiece the Burbank Russet and immediately sold it for $125. Was that enough money for Luther to retire early to his California dream farmhouse and garden? Not quite yet, but that’s not important to this story. Money never mattered to Luther, only the science that stood behind it. He made a new potato and that was pretty motivating stuff to keep his heart in the game and his hands in the soil.
Luther’s Burbank Russet was an exciting and innovative new addition to the agricultural market for its time because of its size. Almost twice as large as typical potatoes of that era, it also boasted an adaptable consistency (good for baking, mashing and frying) and was more disease resistant to common blights that affected many potato crops around the world. But after it was introduced in the late 1800’s, it took some time for the Burbank Russet to catch on. The US government initially started farming it in Oregon and from there it slowly spread to neighboring states and then the region and then the rest of the country. Eventually, it became the best-loved potato cultivator in the US.
Farmers loved it because it was easy to grow and held up well in both shipping and storage. Once it became a successful and abundant crop, the food industry got on board. Its size, consistency and cooking adaptability made it an ideal food product for both general household consumers as well as commercial food companies and restaurants.
Although the actual cooking process of making French fries – cutting strips of potatoes and frying them in fat – had been around in France and Belgium since the 1700’s, it wasn’t until a valuable American discovery was made in the 1930’s that fries started to take hold as an American food staple. This important discovery was that french fries froze well and could be reheated easily while still maintaining the same shape, taste and texture. In the early days of refrigeration, this was exciting! This mere fact opened up opportunities for the retail, transportation and restaurant industries as french fries could now be shipped around the country in both frozen and fresh forms.
By the time hamburger stands started popping up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, french fries became a main attraction at the drive-in burger stand as well as the family dinner table.
The novelty of enjoying french fries both at home and at restaurants offered plenty of potential in the form of culinary creativity. In mid-century America, the common condiments for them were simple… ketchup (or catsup, however you prefer!) and salt.
But by the 1970’s, these little potato favorites were garnering more international gourmet attention. Common toppings and condiment companions of the disco-era included the following…
…paprika, cracked black pepper, parmesan cheese, malt vinegar, crushed herbs, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, salt and a special mayonnaise/mustard mixed combo variation. In addition to frying, it also became much more commonplace, especially in the latter decades of the 20th century, to oven bake freshly cut fries. This method of cooking was believed to be a “healthier” version since it involved less oil and a tamer cooking experience (no vats of hot fat to contend with!) as opposed to traditional deep-fry methods.
Because a lot of people tend to think it is easier to go to a fast food restaurant and buy a serving or two of fries or grab a box of frozen ones from the grocery store, we made the oven-baked variation for this post to prove how simple, quick and easy it is to take a fresh potato and turn it into a delicious hot french fry in less than 30 minutes. This recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking (1975 edition) cookbook and was a breeze to make. Literally, it took 5 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to bake, which makes it a fast side dish for your summer burgers.
Oven “French-Fried” Potatoes (serves 1-2)
1 large russet potato (scrubbed)
1/8 cup olive oil
A generous sprinkling of sea salt
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice potatoes lengthwise into long 1/4″ sticks (you can do this by hand or by using the julienne setting on your vegetable slicer. Either way try to keep each stick as uniform as possible to ensure even baking. Lay the freshly cut sticks between a couple layers of paper towels and pat dry to remove extra moisture, then spread sticks out on an ungreased baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
Using your hands, toss the potatoes and oil together so that all sticks are coated and spread them back out in the pan as flat as possible.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and flip the fries over and return back to the oven for an additional 8-10 minutes. They should look something like this when they are ready…
Remove fries from the baking pan onto a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (or any of your favorite spices) and serve immediately.
Inspired by the 1970’s list of approved condiments, I kept thinking while writing this post how fun it would be to have a french fry bar party where guests could pick and choose their own toppings from a wide assortment. So many flavors pair well with potatoes, so the possibilities would be endless as far as dips and dredges, sprinkles and submersibles. The one element of homemade french fries that should always remain constant though is the potato – always use russet potatoes. They are the variety of choice in almost every fast food french fry you’ll ever eat – including McDonald’s whose fries are legendary. And besides, you’ll make Luther happy, using his version over any other!
Luther never lived to see the ultimate french fry-loving success of his humble potato breed, although he did live a fulfilling gardening life up until the time of his death in the mid-1920’s. He did acquire that dream farm in California that he always wanted…
And he built a garden where invented new varieties of fruits and flowers and vegetables. We have Luther to thank for cultivating these beauties…
So while he never did see his potatoes bubbling up in oil at the golden arches, he did see his lifelong passion laid out in the golden hour light of each day into night. Satisfaction was never going to be found in fame or fortune when it came to Luther Burbank. He didn’t care about either of those two things. His happiness lived deep within the dirt – a vast canvas of potential fueled by creativity and curiosity that never ceased to inspire him.
Cheers to Luther for inventing one of the most delicious potatoes in the world. And cheers to all the farmers who keep growing the russets. May they continue to add a bit of indulgence to our diets and serve as a basis for inspiration in our culinary endeavors.
If you guys have any favorite toppings or condiments that you prefer on your french fries please post them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!
Happy 4th of July! It has been super quiet around here on the blog since mid-May and I must say, I have missed you all terribly. There was a family tragedy and a family illness that took me unexpectedly far away from the Vintage Kitchen for most of June. But I’m happy to write that I’m back and ready to dive into a plethora of new kitchen stories starting this week.
Exciting things coming up in July include an interview with a creative artist who will make you look at your refrigerator in an absolutely new and enchanting way; we will travel back in time to a hotel in 20th century Minnesota and share a few recipes that made them famous around the world; we’ll learn about a guy who invented one of the most addictive foods ever known to eaters; we’ll celebrate three national food recognition days and we’ll host a giveaway that is guaranteed to add a little sparkle to your life. So stay tuned on that front. July is full of fun!
In the meantime, since it’s a holiday today and you are out and about celebrating with friends and family, we’ll keep this post short – a litle dollap of history pertaining to patriotism and how Americans ate their way through Independence Day in 1902.
In that year, this guy was president…
And patriotic family gatherings looked something like this…
Decorations were simple…bunting, flags, flowers and the natural settings of the great outdoors. There were parades and town concerts and special events planned throughout the day.
Conversations were full of pride, in the general achievements of the country. Unlike today, where the political terrain is quite rocky and American morale is at an all-time low, in 1902, patriotism was a bit more revered. President Roosevelt prepared a speech saying nothing but thank you to the American military for continuing to extend and uphold the open arm ideals of the United States and pledged to continue to promote peace and tolerance throughout the world.
In American households during the early 20th century, the 4th of July was the one day where political affiliations were set aside. What was celebrated in conversation was not that someone was a Democrat or a Republican but instead an American. And topics led more towards incredible examples of what had been achieved in the past as a unified country as opposed to criticisms about the work that still needed to be accomplished individually.
Eating occurred on a large all-day scale with a full breakfast, lunch and dinner… each incorporating the colors of the American flag. Here’s a suggested menu from Woman’s Favorite Cook Book published in 1902…
You’ll notice, even back then, the holiday has always been about cooking and spending time together. The kitchen would have been a hotbed of activity (just like it still is today) preparing all the staples we still enjoy eating on the Fourth – ice cream, salads, garden vegetables, fresh berries, cake. Our national pride might be much more diluted now than it was 116 years ago but our bellies are traditionally still enjoying the same types of food. That is a comfort at least.
Theodore Roosevelt once said…“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”
Teddy would have appreciated all the new voices coming forth this year (no pun intended!) in our fights for democracy and fairness and freedom for every person in America. He would have admired all the political bravery that exists today and marveled at all that we have accomplished so far. Americans of the early 20th century would have lauded our collective efforts too, noting how far we have come on the food scene as far as innovations and improvements and equipment while still managing to keep the culinary traditions of our ancestors alive.
So it is with that in mind that we say cheers to the holiday, to the progress we have made, and to the traditions we still hold dear. However you choose to celebrate the 4th of July – whether you are partying it up at a fish fry, a barbeque, a picnic, a seafood boil or a campfire roast – I hope your holiday is filled with fun, family, and friends. May it be peaceful and light. And may all those fireworks be bright. Cheers to a happy holiday! We’ll see you back in the Kitchen shortly.
It’s been known by names such as The Island of Cod, Vinland, Land of the Fish and Terre Neuve. You’ll know it as Newfoundland. Walter Winfred Chenoweth knew it as the island of the can. Or the canning jar to be specific. That’s where he taught local inhabitants how to preserve harvests from the garden and the sea in glass jars for future consumption.
Walter Chenoweth (1872 -1945) was a professor and department head of Horticultural Manufactures at Massachusetts Agricultural College, now known as the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Born in Grundy County, Missouri in 1872, Walter spent his entire professional career, researching, testing and educating others on agriculture and the science of growing fruit, mostly at MAC where he was a member of the staff from 1912-1941.
Through years of trial and error, scientific study and hands-on testing, Walter became an expert in the area of food sciences, especially food preservation. In 1929, he went overseas to Newfoundland where he set up canning stations and taught classes to local inhabitants and British colonizers.
At the time of Walter’s trip, Newfoundland was in peril. Suffering drastically from results of the Great Depression and a financially crippled local government, the people of Newfoundland were in a state of crisis. The train line that ran through the province ate up all the government’s resources. Vast holes were poked in the salt cod industry – Newfoundland’s main export- via trade halts due to the Depression and via competition from other countries like Iceland, who were developing more efficient fishing methods. These two factors meant that the local government couldn’t take care of its people financially and the sea couldn’t keep its villages afloat as far as income.
Collaborating with British medical doctor Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940) who was trying to stop the spread of contagious diseases and malnutrition in Newfoundland’s fishing villages, Walter Chenoweth lent aid in the best way he knew how. Through preservation. For a year, Walter worked to make local inhabitants and newcomers more self-sufficient through food storage. By setting up canning station facilities around the island he taught all who were willing to learn how to can fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and poultry so that no food would be wasted or left behind to spoil.
This was an important skill for islanders to master in their subarctic climate. With a slim gardening window of just 2-3 months, planting, growing, harvesting and preserving had to be done quickly and correctly to ensure beneficial results. Handled inappropriately, jarred foods could cause serious illness and even death due to bacteria. Stressing proper sterilization methods and practices to ensure safe food preservation, Walter taught islanders every aspect of canning from equipment to techniques, precautions to recipes.
Vintage Wheaton canning jar available in the shop.
In addition to common jarred items like wild blueberry jam and pickled vegetables, Walter also taught the islanders how to can freshly caught fish, boiled chicken, and roasted meat. These teachings came at a fortuitous time. Two years later, after Walter was back home in Massachusetts, two-thirds of island workers would become unemployed due to the unstable trade markets and the local government’s lack of proper financial planning. Food would become scarce, morale would plummet and families would resort to inventive measures in order to stay alive. Canning skills would become an important component of survival.
During that time of island-wide poverty and hunger, the only formal aid that would be offered by the local government was a meager food dole consisting of molasses, flour, cornmeal, fatback, split peas, and cocoa. This care package provided only half of a person’s daily caloric intake. Preserved food helped bridge the gap between the dole and starvation. Eventually, through fortitude and endurance, the island got back on its feet and money started flowing again into communities thanks to jobs and resources needed for WWII.
When Walter returned back home to Amherst, he compiled fifteen years of hands-on experience into a book called Food Preservation, which he published in 1930…
Part cookbook, part instructional guide and part natural science lesson it contained all aspects of the food canning process beginning with the understanding of how bacteria grew in 1765…
and how that led to the eventual creation of foods kept in sealed shelf-stable jars. In between the anatomy of vegetables, lists of equipment, instructions on canning methods, and advice on troubleshooting, shelving considerations, and cleanliness factors, Walter included a host of recipes explaining how to preserve summer’s bounty for next winter’s nourishment. He explained how to build canning stations, storage rooms and simple farm factories to accommodate production. Everything from cider to syrup, carrots to kerosine, fruits to fermentation were tackled. At the time of publication, Food Preservation was the most concise book ever written on the topic of canning and was so thorough it became the go-to teaching tool in food science classrooms for decades.
A once celebrated, but now forgotten pioneer in his field, Walter’s contributions to the people of Newfoundland has been long overshadowed by the lifetime efforts of Dr. Grenfell. It’s easy to understand how that happened – Grenfell made a HUGE impact on the island by building hospitals and schools and by bringing worldwide attention to the hardships of an isolated community.
Walter’s story in Newfoundland may not have been as lengthy nor as flashy as Grenfell’s but, like the products Walter represented, he gave the gift of long-term sustenance to a sea-island in need of a salve. What’s wonderful about a jar of pickled beets or canned tomatoes from last summer? It’s not just an example of previous effort spent, it’s a symbol of security, an innate assurance that the past is vital to the future. That’s what Walter really gave the people of Newfoundland in their darkest hours – a promise that good things were coming soon.
Cheers to Walter for teaching us how to enjoy our harvests year round and to the people of Newfoundland for never giving up.