Thankfully Yours, This Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello lovely vintage kitcheners! I just wanted to pop in to wish you a happy Thanksgiving from the wee small hours post-celebration. Hope your day was filled to the brim with all the delicious components that make up this wonderful holiday. Not only the food, but the friends and the family and the intimate moments that make the day extra special.

This year my turkey was decorated with a lemon. This wasn’t just any old lemon that was picked up at the grocery or plucked from a stall at the market. This lemon was made by Liz –  the indoor orchard tree that has been growing in the Kitchen for over three years now. As the one, the only lemon that Liz produced in the past 365 days, it was a celebratory event when it finally turned the color of the sun and ripened soft and plump just in time for turkey day.  As I clipped it from its limb, I realized what a symbol this lemon was for all the gratefulness I felt this year.

It takes a long time to grow a lemon from a fragrant flower to a final edible fruit (six months in this case!), just like it takes a long time to write a blog post (days!) and to build a community (years!). In both situations, there is fret and worry and planning and cultivating. There is trimming and feeding and caring and tending to. There is a chance that the lemon won’t grow. And there is a chance that that blog won’t resonate.

But then some little wonderfuls happen. The lemon gets bigger. It blushes from green to yellow. A kind comment comes in from a blog reader. A note of joyful glee is expressed by a shop customer. These are the marvelously sweet, rewarding moments of the Vintage Kitchen.  The signifiers that things are happening. The tree is growing, the blog is blooming, the shop is finding its way.

This year I’m most grateful for gifts that take time. I’m so thankful for each and every one of you who champion and participate in the world of the Vintage Kitchen. Your encouragement is a reward that fuels more work, more joy, more long-term commitment and contentment. Thank you for being prized lemons in my orchard of life.

Cheers to you and to time. Cheers to the delicious holiday and a delicious way of life. I can’t wait to grow into a whole new year with you!

A Happy Holidays Shop Sale – 25% Off Now Thru Dec. 25

So excited to announce a very merry holiday sale in the shop! From now thru December 25th, enjoy 25% off store-wide. For the first time ever, you don’t need a coupon code as the discount will be automatically applied at checkout. Cheers to uncomplicated shopping!

If you are new to the blog or haven’t visited the shop in awhile, you’ll discover a new batch of vintage and antique treasures that will add a little one of a kind personality to your holiday kitchen this year. Some of my most favorites include these…

A very rare 1930’s carving platter made by Harker Pottery…

An antique 1800’s apothecary bottle that once held herbal remedies from the Aster family of flowers…

A rare antique vegetable cookbook published in 1892 by Burpee Seed Company and written by Sarah Tyson Rorer (1849-1937) of the Philadelphia Cooking School. Sarah was also known as America’s first dietitian…

A 1936 floral kitchen bowl made by Paden City Pottery which was granted the seal of approval by the Good Housekeeping Institute…

A very rare 1920’s era Nippon porcelain Japanese sugar bowl featuring a black dragon pattern that also comes with a photograph and story of the original owner…

A vintage French pottery soup tureen in the prettiest shade of green…

A collection of various 1950’s state souvenir serving trays that add an extra dose of happy to happy hour…

{A little note:  The following states are available: Georgia, Maine, Utah, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Oregon, Nebraska, New Mexico, Vermont/New Hampshire and Louisiana. These trays are still being added to the shop so if you are smitten with a particular state but don’t see it listed in the shop, please send a message and I’ll be happy to reserve it for you.}

A 1950 first edition of the one of America’s most iconic and beloved cookbooks – Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook which includes a menagerie of scrapbook-style clipped recipes incorporated within its pages by a previous owner…

A set of four vintage embroidered grape applique linen cocktail napkins…

A beautifully detailed nickel plated vintage brass reindeer that handsomely sets the scene for snowy Christmas mantles, festive holiday tables and shiny holiday decor…

And a stunning antique hot chocolate pot set with matching cups. This set was made between 1911 and 1920…

That was just a little sampling of some of the items you’ll find in the shop. To explore more, please visit here.

Whether you are buying a little treat for yourself or gifting a piece of history to someone else, your package will arrive gift-wrapped in seasonal paper so that it can be removed from the mailing box upon receipt and head straight for a spot underneath the Christmas tree. Hope you find some treasures that make your heart sing with joy.

Happy weekend and happy shopping!

The Indoor Urban Orchard: What’s Growing Now?

This time of year recipe ideas start floating around the kitchen and vegetables start piling up on the counters. Pie pumpkins and sweet potatoes, herb bouquets and onions, lemons, limes, mushrooms, pomegranates, garlic, apples, cranberries, carrots, celery and what seems like all the nuts in all the world spill out from bowls and plates and baskets as we get ready for Thanksgiving Day. Nestled among all that Autumn bounty is an avocado. Not exactly the first food you think of when talking turkey day fare, but around here the avocado is king of the Kitchen, especially in November, when it comes to a certain someone’s birthday. I’m not talking about the kind of avocado that is small, round and rumply skinned though. Here in the kitchen, the king I’m referring to looks like this…

indoor-avocado-plant-1-avi (1)

It’s Avi the Avocado! On November 22nd, he’ll celebrate his third birthday.  If you have been reading the blog for a few years, you’ll remember that Avi started out as a seed experiment in November 2016. The kind of experiment where you pierce a regular avocado seed with toothpicks and set it in a glass of water and then wait and watch for it to grow into something green like this…

…which he did with aplomb! Months into the experiment Avi sprouted, gained a name and grew taller as each day passed. Three years into life now, he’s survived a move, a very fretful, almost fatal batch of scale, a fall off the kitchen counter and numerous jockeys around the house as he grew, and then subsequently outgrew, each and every perch. In that time, he’s also developed quite the personality – clearly communicating his loathing for the city patio, the wet blanket heat that is a Southern summer, and the blustery winds off the river that perpetually zip and zoom around the city skyline. Instead, in a very unusual flight of fancy for his kind, Avi decided that he preferred the air conditioning, the bright yet indirect light of the indoors and the resting spots that always seem to be in closest proximity to the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Perhaps he’s a gourmand at heart:)  Long story short, Avi began and became the inspiration for an indoor orchard of fruit plants all started from seed.

In today’s post we are checking up on the state of the garden and the four inhabitants that now comprise the indoor orchard. It’s been 15 months, since I last posted about their progress and because Avi turns 3 on November 22nd, this seemed like a perfect time to check-in and check up to see how this indoor garden experiment is faring. Let’s take a peek…

Avi the Avocado:

The last time we checked up on Avi’s growth here on the blog it was mid-summer 2018. Outside the temperatures were hot and humid, but indoors everything was as cool as a cucumber. At that point, Avi measured 3′ 5″ inches tall and had just turned a hopeful corner of recovery from the terrible scale outbreak. When this photo was taken, Avi was just returning to his more handsome, happy, healthy state…

July 31, 2018

Today, I’m happy to share that Avi is still at it. Growing by leaps and bounds, he now measures 4′ 7″ inches tall and his leaves are widening out into a broad canopy…

indoor-avocado-plant-1-avi (1)

In just 15 months he grew 1′ 3″ inches. That’s an impressive inch a month! You can see the dramatic difference in this side by side picture if you use the black framed wall art on the left as a reference point…

avocado-tree-growing-stages

If he keeps growing at this rate, by next Thanksgiving Avi will be as tall as me:) Most thankfully, the scale is almost all gone. Soon he’ll transfer to a bigger pot where he’ll stay for a couple of years while he fills out leaf -wise. One thing I learned recently about transplanting flowers and plants is that you should only go to a slightly bigger pot than what you are already using – otherwise the plant spends all its energy below expanding its roots instead of growing taller above the soil line. The next pot size for Avi will be 12″ inches in diameter which should give him enough room to grow up and out for at least the next year and a half. Like a little kid graduating from crib to bed, Avi will be a true floor plant at that point, not longer able to be carried from perch to perch, an exciting milestone!

Grace the Grapefruit:

Not be outdone by Avi, a little friendly competition ensued between fruit trees. In this past year, Grace also also hit a spectacular growth spurt. She went from this in March 2018…

Grace the grapefruit almost 1″ inch tall in March 2018

to this in July 2018…

Five months later ( July 30th, 2018)

to this in November 2019…

how-to-grow-a-grapefruit-tree-2019

Just over 3′ 2″ inches tall now, Grace grew so fast that she’s been re-potted four times already. I’d like to say that all this robust enthusiasm caused her to literally break out of her planter,  but her current abode was a cracked-then-repaired pot meant as a temporary holder for her. But she’s so happy in her blue space, there she’ll stay until she outgrows it. Meanwhile she’s very busy growing extra everything – skyscraper limbs, big green leaves and sharp thorns, especially on her trunk…

grapefruit-tree-thorns

This is lovely to see, because just like Avi, Grace also succumbed to scale when I was away for a month taking care of my sick dad last January. When I got home, she had lost 70% of her leaves and had so much scale that the local garden center (where I took her for emergency help) declared it the worst case of scale outbreak that they’d ever seen. They also gave her a doomed prognosis, saying she probably wouldn’t make it. If you’ve never experienced scale before, this is what it looks like…(on overdrive as in Grace’s case)…

A series of flesh or clear sticky, jelly-like insects, scale wind up sucking the life out of plants. They are pretty gross looking and can be difficult to both see and eradicate but determined, I loaded up on Neem oil and bottles of rubbing alcohol (a trick I learned at the garden center) and then got to work every few days wiping down each of the leaves and the trunk. The rubbing alcohol kills the scale, and the Neem oil protects the plant from re-infestation. As it turns out, that was exactly what she needed and thankfully, Grace made a full recovery in just a few weeks. Now she’s racing to catch up with Avi!

Liz Lemon – The Lemon Tree

If we were giving out awards for the least amount of drama this year, the award would definitely go to Liz Lemon. By far the most low maintenance plant of the bunch, she just carried on over the past year the way all good lemon trees should – growing flowers, making lemons, filling out. Here she was in July 2018, a sprig of sharp angles…

Now she’s a more stately, shapely tree thanks to some careful pruning and lots of sunshine…

Not as fast a grower as Grace or Avi in the height department, Liz spent her past 15 months growing out instead of up. Coming in at 2′ 4″ inches tall she is the smallest of the household orchard trees but she supplied the most color of the bunch with her bright yellow lemons and her pretty perfume-scented flowers.

Just the other day, she started growing a new batch of tiny little lemons so I’m hoping our yield this year will be greater than last year’s, which produced a total of two lemons. Fingers crossed:)

Jools – The Medjool Date Palm

Finally, the baby of the group, born from seed in July 2018, was the Medjool date palm, who was so tiny it didn’t even have a name yet…

The spike is the date palm!

Four hundred and fifty six days later, the date palm looks like this. Meet Jools…

Standing at just over 16″ inches tall, Jools put forth a new leaf every few months last year. She lost a couple  of green shoots to wind damage over the summer, but apparently that’s not really fazing her, as she just grows another one in its place. Low maintenance like Liz, Jools just requires a sunny window sill and a good dose of water every few days.  When I look at her I can’t help but imagine those grand date palms that grow in India and Egypt – the ones that are big and lush and beautiful and radiate notions of exotic locales and foreign flavors. It will be exciting to see how big she grows over the winter now that she has taken up residence indoors and is out of the wind tunnel on the patio altogether.

Of all the orchard plants, Jools is the one I’ve researched least. There is an air of spontaneity in just watching her grow and imagining what might happen next. The container of dates that she came from was purchased at a fantastic international shop in the farmers market that unfortunately is no longer there. So not only is this date palm named Jools a fun growing experiment, but she’s also a good little memory of a place I loved, but can no longer visit. That’s the cool thing about plants isn’t it? How active they are in our lives… as decoration, as curious living creatures, and as memory holders. Each one is like a quirky little (or in some cases big!) character sharing our space, making it feel natural and welcoming, just like home.

Not every experiment I try turns out to be a successful one. This year I attempted apples (success up to month 5!) and papayas but neither lasted long enough to see the sprouts that start the story. Gardening is a game of chance after all. Somehow that makes the ones that do grow into a Grace or an Avi or a Jools all the more significant. While you are peeling and chopping and cutting stuff up this holiday season in your kitchen, keep your eye out for the seeds, and all the potential and possibility that is contained in those small packages tucked inside your favorite fruits and vegetables.  Worlds of adventure stir inside our kitchens everyday, none more dramatic or miraculous than the lives that feed our lives.

If anyone has started their indoor gardens from seed, please comment on this post and share with us what you are growing and how it is going. One of our blog readers, Gloria, recently shared photos of her avocado tree in Florida, which she started from seed around the same time as Avi began. She planted hers outside, a smart decision thanks to Florida’s ideal growing climate. Three years in, her avocado seed now looks like this…

Wow! An absolute beauty towering over the garden at a majestic 7″ feet tall! Well on its way to being a proper shade tree in her yard, Gloria is hoping that by next year, she’ll be able to eliminate avocados from her market shopping list and instead just pick them right off her own tree. What an exciting thought! Our fingers are crossed that she is flush with avocado by this time next year:)

If you need a little more inspiration when it comes to building your own plant paradise, consider these colorful and beautifully illustrated  mid-century books in the shop. They are packed full of helpful advice regarding citrus trees, orchards, edible plantings and indoor gardening…

They make fun gifts for yourself or your fellow garden lover, and unlike the internet, lay everything out before you all at once, instead of hunting and pecking your way through endless garden sites plant by plant.

If you missed the previous posts about the start of the indoor orchard, catch up here.

In the meantime, cheers and happy birthday to Avi, to all the seedlings out there who grow big with just a little extra dose of love and attention, and to Gloria for sharing her own personal gardening adventure with us:)

Discovering the Legendary Family Babka

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Julianna. She was born in Poland in the mid-1800’s but immigrated to upstate New York around 1900. There, she married a man named Marcin, and had a baby named Martha. Occasionally Julianna, Marcin and the baby would travel to Chicago to visit with relatives. It was there in the Windy City, in a busy house, that Julianna met a little boy named Allen.

The first time Allen met Julianna he was scared to death of her. To him Julianna seemed very old and very gruff.  But Julianna, who was well-intentioned at heart, just settled in her old Polish ways, possessed a special skill. A skill so special that it could charm anyone, even a scared little boy named Allen.

Juliana’s special talent was baking and her most charming confection was a twisted bread called babka. Everyone in the busy house in the Windy City loved Julianna’s babka. The best in all the land, boasted her proud husband Marcin, who had a belly as round as Santa’s. Everyone agreed.  Even the little boy named Allen, for as soon as he took his first bite of the cinnamon flavored treat he watched all his fears of this old woman fly right out of his head.  It tastes like Christmas, he proclaimed! From that point forward, Julianna  no longer seemed quite so scary. She returned again and again to visit and quickly became little Allen’s most anticipated house guest. As long as she brought the babka, that is:)

That’s a true story from the family archives. Julianna was the second wife of my great, great grandfather, Marcin who hailed from the pretty pastel city of Poznan, Poland in the 1800’s. The little boy named Allen was my dad who was born in Chicago in the 1940’s.

Dad playing with a batch of kittens circa 1946

This information all came courtesy of a notebook of memories my dad filled out about a decade ago. Somehow this information of the famous babka got overlooked in the curiosity department and I never got the chance to ask my dad more about Julianna, Marcin and the famous yet mysterious family bread. A few days after my dad died, I came across the notebook of memories again and was reintroduced to the story of the babka.

Even though Marcin and Julianna shared 10 kids between them, there is no known recipe that’s been passed down through the family. Marcin’s daughter Jozefa, (my great grandmother) died from burns sustained in a kitchen fire when she was just 37, leaving eight children behind. That terrible family tragedy left little opportunity for conversation about lineage, ancestors and recollections when it came to Marcin and Julianna.  No one wanted to dredge up the sad circumstances surrounding Jozefa’s death in order to understand the family that came before her. So a silence fell on that side of history. For a long, long time distant relatives became just a blur of hazy facts and faces. I’m on a mission now though to learn more about my great great grandparents and about that beautiful pastel city where they came from…

Poznan, Poland

It will be a tricky endeavor since I’m dealing with foreign languages and far-off places, but they deserve the effort and it will be fun to see what gets discovered. In the meantime, this one little snippet of a food remembrance from my dad is a cherished link to knowing more about the lives of family members who lived over a century ago.

I don’t have any pictures of Julianna or Marcin yet but I do have a few photos of Jozefa, like this one taken on her wedding day in 1902. Sixteen years later she would die from the fire.

Because I’d never seen, or even heard about babka before it was referenced in the notebook, a new baking adventure was definitely in order. I scoured my vintage cookbooks but found absolutely no mention of it. Luckily, a great recipe was discovered online and the babka came into being in October. Two weeks ago, I posted it on Instagram and shared the story about Julianna.

It turned out to be a really fun and interesting baking project. If you are as unfamiliar with babka as I was, it is one of those cinnamon based desserts that is like a little slice of heaven for the season. Buttery, warm and full of aromatic spice, it tastes like a cross between a cinnamon role and a coffee cake.  Fittingly, (for this story anyway!) the word babka means grandmother in Polish and is a traditional heritage food of both Poland and the Ukraine. Historians suspect that it may date all the way back to the 16th century.

Babka comes in two classic variations – chocolate and cinnamon – and can be augmented with a variety of toppings including streusel, nuts, raisins, spices and dried fruit. Usually it comes in two shapes as well – either round or loaf style.  I chose to make the cinnamon version and baked it both ways – in loaves and rounds. The round version turned out to be a little fancier looking but the loaves are a bit easier to slice, so it comes down to your preference. Either way, it’s a winner of a recipe that tastes great at all times of the day, and is equally enjoyable at breakfast, during a mid-day snack or a late night nibble.

The key to an ultra flavorful babka lies in the freshness of the cinnamon. So if you can, try to find a spice shop in your neck of the woods that offers it freshly ground which would be most ideal. Luckily, as if Julianna was supporting my endeavor, a lovely new spice shop just opened up in my city, so I used Supreme Saigon cinnamon in my recipe. If you don’t have a good spice shop in your area, no worries, you can always order some online or buy a brand new container from your grocery so that you can experience the full bouquet of flavor.

New spice shop in the city!

Making babka from scratch is a three step process, but don’t let that intimidate you, as this is a very easy dessert to make. The only downside to homemade babka is the amount of time (about six hours) it takes to make from start to finish.  That’s because it is a yeast bread and requires time to rise twice. It is well worth the wait though. It also freezes well, so if you were feeling extra ambitious you could double or triple the recipe and stack the babka up in the freezer for homemade goodness all winter long!

Cinnamon Babka

{This recipe was sourced from family-friends-food.com and the Modern Jewish Baker Cookbook by Shannon Sarna}

For the dough:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1/3 cup + 1/2/ teaspoon cane sugar

1/2 cup lukewarm water

4 1/2 cups organic all purpose flour

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup whole milk

3/4 cup butter (melted)

2 eggs

 

For the Sugar Syrup:

2/3 cup water

1 cup cane sugar

1 tsp vanilla

 

For the Filling:

3/4 cup butter, melted

1/1/2 cups cane sugar

2 tablespoons cinnamon

pinch of salt

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, 1/2 tsp sugar and the lukewarm water. Stir to combine and then set aside for about 10 minutes so that the yeast can foam.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla, mixing until everything is blended together. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, scald the milk and then remove the pan from the heat and let it rest for 1 minute.
Using a hand mixer, combine the water/yeast mixture, the milk, and the melted butter to the flour mixture and blend to incorporate. Then mix in the eggs, one at a time.
Continue mixing on a low to medium speed for 7 full minutes until the dough is shiny, elastic and smooth.
Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a warm damp towel. Allow to rise 1 to 2 hours.
While the dough is rising make the simple syrup by combining the water, sugar, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Next make the filling by combining all ingredients in a medium bowl and mixing thoroughly. Set aside.
When the dough has risen, cut it into two equal halves. Roll out one half on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1/4″ inch thick. Try to roll the dough in as rectangular shape as possible.
With a sharp knife trim the rounder edges of the dough so that they form straight lines, which makes the babka braids look more tidy down the road.
Next spread half of the filling evenly all over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch rim around the edge.  Ideal tools for this are a frosting knife, a spatula, the back of a spoon or even your fingers.
Then starting at the bottom edge, tightly roll up the dough (jelly roll style) to the very top edge.
Once your dough is all rolled up and resembles a log shape, trim each end with a sharp knife and then cut the log length-wise down the middle to expose the filling inside.
Now that you have to halves of one log, braid the two halves together, alternating one section on top of the other so that it looks like this…
Place the braid in a greased springform cake pan.
Repeat the above steps with the other half of the dough. And then curl the second braid inside the first braid and smoosh the two braids together lightly (like you are squeezing a basketball between your hands) so that it creates some space between the sides of the pan and the dough.
Finally, drape a moist kitchen towel over the pan and set aside to rise for 30 more minutes.
While the dough is rising again , preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the babka in the oven for 40 minutes, then take it out and brush the top of the bread with two light layers of the sugar syrup. Return it to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes.
When it is ready, the babka will be a golden brown on top and the internal temperature will be 185 degrees. Place the pan on a cooling rack and brush the top with three more light layers of the sugar syrup. Let it cool for 10-15 minutes before removing the babka from the pan. The sides will be be rippled with ribbons of dough…
Slice and serve either warm or at room temperature. The babka pairs really well with a cup of strong coffee, tea or espresso.

Thanks to its bountiful size and rich texture, it makes an ideal holiday food since it can serve a lot of people, transports well and can be frozen for months ahead of time.
When I first posted the babka story on Instagram, several people sent messages requesting the recipe, so I’m pleased to be sharing it here on the blog today. I loved this bread so much that it is now going to be a new annual holiday baking tradition in my house. And I hope it becomes one of yours too. When my dad first met Julianna, she was in her 90’s. I love that she was still baking for her family at that age and still possessed the ability and desire to convince a small little boy that sweetness can be found even behind a sometimes gruff exterior.
Cheers to Julianna, Jozefa and my dad for providing glimpses into past family lives, to Helen and Shannon for providing the recipe and to Savory Spice for opening up shop just in time for this cinnamon-filled baking adventure. Hope you guys will be just as smitten with babka as I am.

 

Big, Bold and Blandings: The Dreamiest House of 1948

Last week I went in search of Mr. Blandings. More specifically I went in search of Mr. Blandings’ dream house. A challenging feat on both fronts since Mr. Blandings is a fictional character and his real life dream house no longer exists. This adventure of the seemingly impossible was all sparked by a little snippet of information about a clever marketing campaign produced by Hollywood in 1948. The movie company was promoting this film…

a romantic comedy starring one of the most beloved actors of the twentieth century. But before we get into the story of searching for a nonexistent man in modern day,  we must first travel back in time to the 1940’s,  an era when creativity flourished, outside of the box thinking was encouraged and unusual situations were captivating the country. The first half of the decade was spent in World War II. On the home front that meant conservation, frugality, victory gardens, rations, fundraisers and bond drives. It was a test in patience, positivity, confidence and emotional endurance as people lived day to day waiting to hear the fates of their loved ones away at war.  In those first five years of the 40’s people got used to making do, going without and utilizing every last bit of everything. Thankfully, in 1945 the war ended and Americans adjusted once again to a new normal as they recovered from years of uncertainty. By 1948, two and half years after World War II ended, America was ready for some fresh air and some new perspectives. A glance at that year’s pop culture highlights tells all about the country’s enthusiastic push for progress and for ideas that were new and stimulating and fun.  Post war, post trauma, post sacrifice, 1948 embraced some big ideas that were remarkably different, refreshingly new  and spectacularly exciting. Let’s look…

It was the year that Land Rover debuted, bucking tradition with their new all-terrain vehicles complete with a steering wheel that was located in an unusual spot – the middle of the front console. Tailfins showed up on Cadillacs, a nod towards sleek aviation design and a feeling that your car could take you anywhere. Monkeys were welcomed into NASA’s elite as they became astronauts bravely rocketing into space in order to test conditions so that men could make it there themselves a few years later. America’s affable laughable cartoon bird, Woody Woodpecker had a top 40 hit song on the radio, sharing the same spotlight with singing legends Doris Day, Perry Como and Ella Fitzgerald. Brand new air ferries started shuttling around the sky, transporting people and their cars from one city to the next. And most exciting of all, on the kitchen front at least, was a man named Blandings who built his dream house.  And then he built seventy three more.

While all of these interesting pop-culture tidbits of 1948 are worthy of their own individual blog feature, it is Mr. Blandings who is the topic of our post and our road trip through history today. He created a sensation that took up the last four years of the 1940’s, filling people’s heads with dreams of possibility on the home front. It all starts in 1946, when he was the subject of the runaway bestseller called Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a fictional account of a real-life adventure  experienced by the author Eric Hodgins. In the book, Mr. Blandings embarks on the ultimate quest  – the American dream of the 20th century – buying a house for his wife and family.

To Mr. Blandings of 1946, a dream home meant extra closets, a private bath in each bedroom,  a game room for him, a sewing room for her and plenty of outdoor space for the kids. It meant everything that his cramped Upper East Side New York City apartment lacked – peace, security, space and a good dose of nature.  One day, when he just can’t stand the close city quarters a minute longer, he adventures out to the country to have a look around. One thing leads to another and a new domestic life comes into sight. In the book, it looks something like this, thanks to illustrator William Steig…

The Blandings choose the Connecticut countryside as their ideal homestead, and a historic house that was loved for both its shabby, need-of-repair appearance and its supposed storied place in American history. What develops as the family starts planning a move from NYC to Connecticut (just a train ride away!) involves a series of new house woes that they never expected including demolition and reconstruction.

Throughout the story, mishaps and unexpected scenarios test the metal of all that makes up Mr. Blandings, the man and the mission. At every corner, he and his wife are met with a new challenge. Nothing goes quite according to plan. There are time delays, contractor issues, escalating costs, tricky neighbors and all sorts of digging, drilling and hammering surprises.  An everyman story, a timeless tale, an homage to hope, optimism and the struggle to succeed, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House resonated strongly with the heads and hearts of the American public of the mid-20th century, many of whom were experiencing their own construction trials and tribulations  as the building industry boomed during the post-war years. The book was such a hit that two years after its debut, Hollywood made a movie out of it starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.

Just as entertaining as Eric Hodgin’s story, the movie was also an incredible success. Practically all of America fell in love (again!) with the Blandings and the predicaments they encountered. In addition to dealing with the baffling world of home construction, Mr. Blandings also frets over a relationship between his wife and a long-time family friend while simultaneously juggling a deadline for an advertising campaign at work. The trailer doesn’t really do the film much justice, but it does give you a glimpse of the humor that peppers both the book and the movie…

We never really get a good sense of the house the Blandings wind up building until the very end of the movie when the finished product is revealed. It turns out to be a beautiful colonial-style farmhouse set on a few dozen acres of rolling countryside…

The  real-life house that Eric Hodgin’s book was based on was built in Connecticut in the late 1930’s. The real-life house featured in the movie was built on pastoral studio-owned property in Malibu, CA in 1947. That makes two real-life houses built for the telling of one story. But by 1948, an astounding 73 more houses are added to that real-life list.  These houses are built in 60 different cities across the country thanks to a very clever and very generous marketing campaign put together to promote the film.  RKO Pictures and SRO Distribution Company teamed up with contractors, construction crews, designers, utility conglomerates and furniture companies all over the U.S. to build not one… not two… not three… but seventy three (73!) Blandings Dream Houses that were then raffled off in local contests. Not only was it epic promotion for the movie and the time period, but it was also an exciting opportunity for advertisers to showcase new products and cutting edge technology for the modern home.

General Electric was a big national sponsor advertising all their latest products including  wiring, appliances, air conditioning and even electric blankets. Many of their innovations greatly affected the kitchen and laundry areas, turning those rooms into two of the most technologically-advanced places in the entire house.

Imagine how exciting and inspiring this campaign must have been back in post-WWII  days when everyone was trying to get back on their feet and recreate their own semblance of home and shelter. The average house price in 1940 was about $3,000.00  (equivalent to $32,000.00 today) and the median household income was $956.00 a year (equivalent to about $17,000.00 today), not totally unaffordable by modern comparisons (the national median income today is $59,000 and the average U.S. home price is $230,000) but the Blandings dream houses in 1948 all came equipped with the most modern features, stylish interiors and the latest innovations which greatly extended their value.

For people who loved to cook, the idea of winning such a modern home would have been fantastically exciting, as the Blandings Dream Kitchen was one of the most modern and efficient rooms in the house.

In the 1930’s and early 1940’s most American kitchens looked something like this…

… a collection of precariously placed appliances and furniture of all styles that mingled with exposed heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing fixtures.  While these 1930’s kitchens were perfectly functional they weren’t necessarily set up for ideal ease, comfort or organization.  By the time the Blandings declared their dreams in the 1940’s, kitchens were becoming much more aesthetically pleasing and helpful. Built-in cabinets, long counter tops, hidden utilities, ventilation hoods, picturesque windows, bright colors and designated dining nooks made cooking more efficient, enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing. You’ll notice that these 1940’s kitchens below also utilized corners, shelving and seating to maximize floor space.

When the movie first premiered in New York in March of 1948, ad campaigns began rolling out across the country announcing the Dream House Build-Up, so that by June when the Blandings were in theaters nationwide, the excitement and anticipation was at a fever pitch.

The Skokie. Illinois Dream House

Each of the cities that participated in the big build invited the local public in to view their custom version of a modern dream house.  What was especially intriguing about this promotional campaign is that not all of the houses built in each city were an exact replica of the Blandings dream house or its colonial style. Some cities chose to build houses that were more suited to their own local climate or aesthetic. The one built in Knoxville, TN was a one story rambler…

This one in Milwaukee was a smaller cape-style  cottage…

In Oregon, the dream house contained elements of brick and siding…

Read more about the Portland version of Mr. Blandings’ Dream House here.

Most of the Blandings promotional houses were built in suburbs  – the big city shadows where land, space and freedom offered opportunity for the American dream to grow and spread. From Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle, Washington; from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the Pacific Coast of California; from the top of Minnesota to the bottom of Texas fictional dreams were determining real-life destinies. Which brings us back to the modern day road trip that I embarked on last week.

This is the complete list of all the cities that participated. Is there one in your town?

Excited to see that Nashville was listed as one of the “Dream” cities, I went in search of Blandings in my own neck of the woods. This is what the Nashville dream house looked like in 1948…

Unlike the one built in Knoxville, the Nashville house was built in the exact same style as the one in the movie. Located in a very pretty section of town, noted for its gorgeous old growth landscaping and stately historic homes, I was excited to see what the Blandings dream house would look like now. Here is what I found…

Pretty! But not exactly the same house as the one pictured in the newspaper advertisement…

As it turns out the original Blandings house was torn down in the 1970’s. This new house occupying the spot now was built in 2016 and sold for $1.6 million. A little more expensive then 1940’s home prices:)  Although it’s not a historical design, it is fun to see that the roof line, dormer window and landscaping are quite similar and complimentary to the original Blandings style. Perhaps this house designer was a 1940’s fan himself!

As I was about to drive away, an old man came out from a garage across the street.  A much more modest house in size and scope, this old gentleman was shuffling down his driveway with the help of his cane, wearing a wool sweater, pajamas, bedroom slippers and a determined look.  I suspected that he was headed towards his mailbox. Immediately I thought of Blandings himself and I waved to him. But he didn’t wave back.  Obviously he wasn’t our hero of book and screen, but in that moment I imagined that this stooped over grey-haired guy, trembly and slow was once was a young man with a wife and two kids. I imagined that he used to live in a small apartment in a big city and that one day, he too got fed up and set out to build his own dream house – the sprawling brick ranch that he still lives in now.  Obviously he wasn’t Mr. Blandings. But then again… maybe he was.

Cheers to dreamers and to real-life houses that inspire books that then inspire movies that then inspire more dreamers and more houses! And cheers to Mr. Blandings, who is not real, but feels very much so.

If you are interested in reading the book that sparked this nationwide love affair seventy years ago, find it in the shop here. If you live in one of the dream cities that built a Blandings house please comment below and tell us all about your famous local icon. We’d love to hear more about it!

Turning Servers into Succulents: A Vintage Re-Invention

 

Eight. That’s how many days there are to go. It’s almost here! Then one thing turns into another. We end and we begin. We change and we grow.  This year, the day falls on a Monday. The exact date – September 23rd.  Then it’s official. The first day of Autumn arrives. How exciting! To celebrate the season, I have a fun new gardening project for all you do-it-yourself-ers out there who like to keep your hands busy in the dirt in the off-season when summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter and the outdoor garden is at rest. It doesn’t require much effort, time or expense but it does call for a little imagination. It will last forever if you want it to and it will make you look at things in your cupboards in a whole new way. Most importantly, it gives new purpose to old items that sometimes get left behind on a shelf or forgotten about in storage.

I’m so excited to introduce the succulent set…

vintage-serving-dish-succulent-planters

…real plants growing out of old china serving pieces. If you’ve inherited pieces of your family’s china and are not quite sure what to do with them or how to incorporate them into your daily life, or if you just want a planter with a little bit of one-of a-kind personality then designating a vintage sugar bowl or a creamer or a serving dish as your new garden vessel is a fun way to go. Let’s look…

This Japanese Majolica creamer is from the 1940’s. Due to some cracks on the bottom it no longer holds water (or cream!) so it makes an ideal container for varieties of succulents that prefer well draining soil. All it needs is a little water once a week and it’s ready to grow. Keep it in the sink for a few minutes and the water drips out through the cracks, then it is good to go until its next watering seven days later.

Vintage sugar bowls like this one above, made in England, fit perfectly into shelves or small spaces. Your very own unexpected mini garden greenspace place!

This vintage coffeepot from the 1940s lost its lid somewhere along its 75 years of travels. That makes it no longer the most suitable vessel for hot coffee but it certainly makes a pretty container for eye-catching flower power in the form of a petal shaped succulent.

With their long shape and roomy width, gravy boats make great table centerpieces. They can usually accommodate more than a couple of mini plants depending on size. For wedding reception decorations, they offer the symbolism and sentimentality of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”

Ideal plants for this type of pairing project, many succulents don’t require a lot of watering and come in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes. As they grow, the plants can be transferred to larger and larger containers like this one – a two-handled vegetable dish from Salem Pottery’s Commodore pattern which debuted in the 1940’s. Because of its larger size it can accommodate up to seven 2.5″ inch succulents or just a few bigger individuals that have outgrown their smaller holders…

vintage-mini-succulent-garden

Authentic crazing, staining and chippy details add interesting, quirky personality to your space that you can’t find in modern day planters. They also easily fit on window sills, ledges, mantles and counter top nooks. Choose one that matches your interior aesthetic, or the colors of your kitchen, or reminds you of a good memory and you’ll instantly add a bit of happy energy to your space. Old dishes love to remain useful helpers. Matching the old with the new creates balance and harmony and reminds us that imperfections are the stuff of life. Beautiful! This antique gravy boat below is over 100 years old but still looks as fresh and pretty as ever thanks to its classic shape.

The trio below have no cracks to worry about so they are ideal holders for succulents and cactus that prefer to be spritzed with water, rather than doused, every now and again. Add some some pea gravel to the bottom of each vessel before adding dirt and certain succulents will be happy with just a tiny bit of water every now and again.

Another possibility is to gather them all up and make a hanging wall display with the help of a crate…

vintage-serving-dish-succulent-planters

That makes an instant collection and an engaging garden that you can cultivate and tend to all year round. Usually all that is required for succulents is bright natural light, a sunny alcove or close proximity to a window.

With all their color choices which range from light gray to soft pink, bright green to dusty blue there is great fun in matching plant to planter and then watching them grow and sprout new additions.

If you need a vintage serving piece to start your garden you can find the ones above in the garden section of the shop. Succulents are available at most garden centers, nurseries, farmers markets or sometimes even the floral section of the grocery store. I recommend getting your planter first, then your succulent second, so that you can determine the appropriate drainage condition, color and shape for plant and planter.

Hope this brings a little fun your way on our second to last Sunday of summer. Cheers to new gardens, old dishes and the joy they both provide:)

 

Blackberry Baking with the Legendary Sally or Solange or Whatever She Once Was Called

In the historic baking world there’s a legend that springs from a yeast bread.  Depending on the sources and the provenance of specific recipes, facts about this legend vary widely and wildly. In some tales she’s a 17th century girl, in others an 18th century woman.  She was French. She was English. She was colonial American. She was an ordinary teenager, she was a famous baker, she was a lowly domestic servant. She had a name that was either Sally or Solange or Madame or Marie. She was a real human being but she then again she was a fake and then yet again someone else’s flight of fancy. For three centuries, this baking icon has tumbled through time on the flimsiest of resumes. This is the story of Sally Lunn and a cake (or it might have been a bread) that made her famous.

This weekend, after coming home from the market with a batch of blackberries that were so deliciously ripe they smelled like wine, I discovered a vintage recipe that is as difficult to describe as the lady it was named after. Called Fresh Blackberry Sally Lunn, it came from Meta Given’s 1957 Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking.  Surprisingly, out of a stack of forty different vintage cookbooks spanning the early 1900’s to the early 1980’s, Meta’s book was one of just a few that contained any recipes for fresh blackberries at all. Homemade jam and blackberry pie unified the books that did include the fruit, but Meta’s was the only cookbook that combined blackberries with a cake in the name of Sally Lunn. I love any recipe that is unique and stands out. The name Sally Lunn sounded curious and since I’d never heard of her before I had a feeling this might be fun to share with you too.

Like the age old conundrum of who came first – the chicken or the egg – there are two different variations of a baked good that purportedly  made Sally Lunn famous. One was a yeasted savory bread that looks like a cross between a bundt cake and a hamburger bun…

The yeasted bread version from the Williamsburg Cookbook, 1981 edition
Another version – not quite as bun-like on the bottom. Photo also from the Williamsburg Cookbook, 1981 edition.

and the other is a sweetened tea cake that looks like something between a blueberry pancake and a cobbler…

You wouldn’t be wrong to call either variation a Sally Lunn, even though they are two completely different types of food. Because of that, her name has popped up in recipe titles in a myriad of ways. There’s the Sally Lunn Bun, Virginia Sally Lunn, Sally Lunn Bread, Sally Lunn Cake, Sweet Sally Lunn and just plain old Sally Lunn among others.  Likewise, in indexes, you’ll find her popping up under L for Lunn, S for Sally or more specifically under category sections that include Cakes, Breads, Desserts, Baked Goods, Tea Cakes, Yeast Breads, Coffee Cakes, Coffee Breads, etc. So how could one possibly mythical person be identified with two types of very different yet specific baked goods over the course of hundreds of years?

As it turns out no one knows. And thus far it has been impossible to authentically identify any true source that leads to Sally and the bread and cake that share her name. Lots of ideas about her float around.  She was a teenage maid servant named Sally Lunn who delivered a newly invented bread to her master of the house, who in turn delightfully named it for her. She was a talented French baker named Solange, who escaped to a bakery in England where she began to make a popular brioche-style confection that looked like the rising of the sun. She was a working class woman in 18th century England crying out her name in the streets as a sales tool for the bread that became her trademark. There’s even a historic eating house in England that speculates they might have been the site of Sally’s original bakery in the late 1600’s.

Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House in Bath, England

I like to believe the theory that Sally Lunn was an actual baker living in 1700’s England. The story details how she invented a sweet yeast bread that became very popular at first locally, then regionally, then across the sea. With this theory, it makes sense then that references to Sally Lunn would have shown up in early American cookbooks, a favored recipe brought over by the English as they colonized America. Possibly, at some point in history, when yeast either became too expensive, or there was a shortage, a non-yeast cake version was invented by some other creative and clever baker in the 1800’s who used all the same ingredients of Sally Lunn bread minus the yeast. Thereby keeping the name Sally Lunn in the recipe title. By the time, the 1950’s rolled around perhaps Meta made her own creative choice by marrying blackberries into the non-yeast version Sally Lunn cake. Whether this is an accurate assumption or not, no one will ever know for certain unless some of Sally’s baking notes happen to show up. But with all this mysteriousness that surrounds Sally and her two contributions to the baking industry, I think she’d be happy knowing that at least her name stayed attached even though the origin story didn’t. It is after all, the ultimate branding success story, 1700’s style!

Meta Given’s two volume Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking of Cooking from the 1950’s

Meta Given was a legend in the culinary world in her own right. A nutritionist at heart, she set out to write some of the most comprehensive cookbooks of the 1950’s that included recipes for people across the entire economic spectrum. Her books featured everything from thrifty staples like squirrel stew to elegant French dishes with layered sauces and nuanced flavors. Her mission was to make cooking fun, enjoyable and accessible for everyone while also making it nutritious and creative.  I’m so pleased to present her lovely sweet treat of a dessert that highlights the juicy, sun ripened flavors of blackberries nearing summer’s end. What I love about this cake in particular is that it is pretty healthy – using small amounts of sugar, butter and flour. The blackberries really keep the cake moist and add a familiar sweet tart flavor similar to cobbler but with a velvety more dense consistency like a blueberry pancake.  If you wanted to add an extra dash of sweetness you could drizzle the whole cake with honey or follow Meta’s suggestion of adding a lemon sugar glaze once the cake is out of the oven, but I loved it just as it was… simple and summer-y.

Meta Given’s Fresh Blackberry Sally Lunn Cake

1 pint box of freshly picked blackberries (enough for 2 1/2 cups)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons salted butter, softened

2/3rds cup sugar ( I used raw cane sugar)

1 large egg

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup sour cream*

1/2 cup whole milk*

(*Note – The milk measurement was left out of the original recipe, but was included in a revised edition in 1959. I used the sour cream/milk combination but you can also substitute those two ingredients for 1 cup of buttermilk).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter well an 8 1/2″ inch springform cake pan.

Drop berries into a bowl of cold water to rinse and remove any stems or leaf debris. Swish berries gently and then by by hand remove them to a colander to drain. Once the berries have drained in the colander transfer them to a medium size bowl and gently toss them with 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.

In another bowl, whip the butter, sugar and egg together until creamy. Stir in lemon juice using  a wooden spoon and then add the flour, sour cream and milk, blending until smooth.

Gently fold in the blackberries until just well distributed. Turn batter into prepared pan.

Bake until golden brown (about 40-55 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Once ready to remove from oven, let cake cool slightly in pan on a cooling rack before serving either lukewarm or at room temperature.

In addition to enjoying the end-of-season fruit harvest this month, Fresh Blackberry Sally Lunn cake also freezes well. So if you choose that storage method you’ll still be able to taste the warm days of summer even on the coldest winter nights. And because it does have a pancake-esque quality to it, it wouldn’t be terrible to serve it for breakfast or even alongside a summer salad for brunch or lunch. This Fall, I’ll share the other version of Sally Lunn as we dive into bread baking season to see how these two, and if these two compare in any way other than by name.

In the meantime, cheers to Sally and to Meta for baking delicious food that withstands not only multiple decades but multiple centuries too!  If you are interested in learning more about Meta and her cookbooks, find a few in the shop here. The Williamsburg Cookbook will also be heading to the shop shortly as well, in case you want to catch up on your colonial fare before heading into the holiday season. Find that one coming to the cookbook section shortly. And finally, this cake was styled using the lovely vintage 1960’s Italian cut glass cake stand which you can find in the shop here.