Hungry for Hungary: The Red Carpet That Leads to A Recipe

Today in the Vintage Kitchen we are rolling out the red carpet. Award season starts in three days with the kick-off of the Golden Globes on Sunday (Feb 28th) and from then until the end of April, there is an awards show practically every week in the entertainment industry. The schedule looks like this…

the Critics Choice Awards (March 7th), the Grammy Awards (March 14th), the Screen Actors Guild Awards (April 4th), the BAFTA Awards (April 11th), the Independent Spirit Awards (April 22nd) and the Academy Awards (April 25th) not to mention a smattering more of lesser-known but equally important events that acknowledge artistic contributions made to the performing arts this past year.

Jennifer Lawrence at the 2013 Academy Awards. Credit…Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Known throughout history as a universal sign of welcome and special treatment, red carpets today are mostly associated with fancy galas and luxury experiences. But here in the Vintage Kitchen, we have our own version of red carpet festivities.  Just like those eye-catching ceremonies full of famous people and fancy dresses, the red carpet in the Kitchen this week is a source of inspiration, creativity, style and visual pizzaz. But unlike star-studded versions made for the entertainment industry, our red carpet is not made with yards of thread and fabric. It doesn’t spotlight a zillion famous faces or fancy dresses. Nor is it something that can easily be rolled out, rolled up or walked onto.  Instead, our red carpet looks like this..

Grown under the hot summer sun, picked and then pulverized to a fine powder, the red carpet that is unfurling itself this week in the Kitchen is one made of spice. The star of today’s post is paprika and the exciting event we are celebrating in such a colorful way is the kick-off of Part Two of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2021.

 

If you are new to the blog, catch up here on the previous 20 countries we visited last year, by way of the kitchen.  If you have been following along from the beginning of the Tour, then welcome to Week 21 and to 2021. Throughout this year, we will be covering recipes from the remaining 24 countries featured in the 1971 edition of the New York Times International Cook Book.  This recipe tour brought so much unexpected joy last year, I’m excited to dive right in!

We begin the second half of this around-the-world culinary adventure with a country that tempts your taste buds straight away just with the letters in its name…

The red carpets of Hungary may not be star-studded, glamourous, paparazzi-loving experiences like the events are in Hollywood but they are full of celebrity in their own right. The Capsicum annuum fields and the paprika they produce have long been iconic stars of the country, culture, and cuisine for centuries.

Photo by Mark Stebnicki

You might be surprised to learn that paprika isn’t made from one particular plant, yet instead is made from all types of red peppers. Ranging from sweet to spicy depending on the variety and the region in which it’s grown, different levels of heat can be produced by using different types of peppers. Bell peppers produce sweet paprika, cayenne peppers produce spicy paprika.

Members of the capsicum annum family include all types and sizes of red peppers, although thin-walled peppers make the most ideal candidates for paprika. Illustrations by Marilena Pistoia from The Complete Book of Fruits & Vegetables circa 1976

Originally cultivated in Mexico, pepper plants were first introduced to Spain in the 1500s and then brought to Hungary in 1569 during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Due to difficulties in importing spicy black pepper, Hungary’s search for an alternative brought red pepper plants into the spotlight and popularized paprika, quickly deeming it an essential spice that was both affordable and easy to grow. To say that a country fell in love would be an understatement. By the 19th century, paprika became synonymous with Hungarian cuisine and agriculture. Today, they export over 5500 tons of the spice each year.

Grow your own with seeds grown from the gourmet source at hungarianpaprika.net

Thanks to the idyllic Hungarian climate with its hot, dry, summer weather, plants mature over the course of a season. The peppers are picked in September when they reach a robust shade of red, and then are dried in the open air before being ground into a fine powder that is then packaged and sent out to cooks and kitchens all over the world.

Air-dried red peppers in Hungary circa 1968. Photo via pinterest.

Throughout this process the peppers retain their orangy-red hues, making paprika an ideal color enhancer for various foods as well as a semi-permanent natural dye for fabrics. Like curry, paprika takes on different flavor notes according to where it is cultivated in the world.  Mexico is known for spicier paprika and Spain for smoked paprika but Hungarian paprika is the most sought after for its sweetness.

Most Hungarian foods that contain this colorful spice proudly announce it in their names… Chicken Paprikash, Paprika Pork,  Paprikas Szalonna, Stuffed Cabbage with Paprika, Meat Ball Paprikash, Punjena Paprika… but there are other famous beloved heritage dishes like Goulash, Lipatauer Cheese, Fisherman’s Soup and Hungarian Stuffed Crepes that use the spice by the tablespoonfuls too.

Today in the kitchen, we are sticking to the literal side of things and featuring Paprika Shrimp with Sour Cream.  I first made this dish last September with the intention of sharing its ideal attribute of being one of those fantastic in-between-seasons recipes that blends so nicely with warm days and cool nights.

Light, thanks to the shrimp, but creamy and comforting thanks to the pretty paprika-colored sauce, I’m reminded again how this recipe now, six months later, is still an ideal candidate for this new time between seasons as we start to transition from winter to spring.  Serving it over a bed of steaming rice makes it satisfying for days that may still contain traces of snow and sleet yet the vibrant color of the whole dish brings a burst of bright pastels to the table – a nice change from all the earthy-hued stews and soups we customarily consume over the winter months.

Many Hungarian dishes are prized Sunday dinner-type foods since they often require lengthy amounts of steeping and simmering, but this recipe is quick and easy to make. It requires just a handful of ingredients, pairs nicely with a glass or two of wine, and can be accompanied by a salad for simplicity or a green vegetable for another pop of color. Traditional serving companions in Hungary would include sides of bread and potatoes.

Like any Hungarian cook would tell you – the secret to this recipe is seeking out the best sweet paprika you can find. Then you’ll truly understand and appreciate the impact this unique spice can have on such a simple dish.

Paprika Shrimp with Sour Cream

Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter

24 medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Freshly ground salt & pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1/3 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/3 cup sour cream

2-3 cups white rice, cooked

A few extra sprinkles of paprika and finely chopped chives, parsley or scallions for garnish

Prepare your rice, then set aside and keep warm. Next, heat the butter in a large skillet. When it is hot add the shrimp. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (to taste), cayenne pepper and paprika.

Stir and cook just until the shrimp turn pink, then flip each shrimp once to cook the other side. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp.

Sprinkle with the shallots and add the heavy cream. Stir the mustard into the sauce and remove the skillet from the heat.

Stir in sour cream and heat thoroughly without boiling.

Serve over a bed of warm rice. Garnish with an extra sprinkle of paprika and top with whole parsley leaves or finely chopped chives or scallions.

Warm, sweet, and satisfying this dish is full of subtle yet layered flavors.  Hungarian cuisine with all its enjoyment of cream and butter and starch will never be considered diet food, but this recipe spread over 4 servings will hardly cause concern for any health-conscious eater.  And that’s not the point of it anyway. The Canadian writer Joanne Sasvari wrote in her 2005 memoir, Paprika, that “Hungary is a country where the past always sits down at the dinner table with the present.”  I love that sentiment. When you prepare a dish like Paprika Shrimp, you are not only enjoying a flavorful meal but you are also enjoying the historic journey of a spice – one that was ground from a pepper that was grown on a plant that was part of a collection in a field that stretched for miles and years and centuries ultimately coming to define a country’s heritage and its cuisine.

“When a Hungarian cook puts a steaming bowl of food in front of you, they are not only offering nourishment but also comfort, affection, and a safe refuge from the harsh realities of life,” shares Joanne.  In other words, they are offering you the red carpet experience. Signs of welcome and special treatment. Signs of dreamy decadence and luxurious dining shared with friends and family.  And signs of love and sweetness too. That’s the glamour of a Hungarian kitchen, as it has been in the past and as it will, comfortingly, continue to be in the future.

Cheers to paprika for not only coloring the landscape but also our plates. And cheers to Hungary for giving all eaters the red carpet treatment with each and every meal. Join us next time as we embark on Week 22 of the Recipe Tour with a trip to India via the kitchen and a special giveaway contest that will bring a dose of extra joy to one lucky reader’s kitchen space.

 

Hello and Happy New Year’s Eve and Thank You for Bringing the Joy in 2020

Hello, dear kitcheners. Hope everyone is having a cozy holiday and enjoying something delicious. I wanted to send out a little Merry Christmas post last Friday with well-wishes for the holiday and a photo of the outdoor Christmas tree we made for the city birds this year, but the December 25th bomb explosion in our city waylayed those plans. The explosion happened just a half-mile away from where my husband and I live. Fortunately, everyone we know is safe and fine, but the whole event was pretty nerve-wracking.  We lost internet service for three days, so that’s what stalled the happy holidays post, but that time offline gave me a chance to think about this post and all things that brought real joy to a year that can only be off-handly described as challenging.

The Nashville skyline as seen from mid-town. September 2018

To everyone who checked in on us over the holiday, I just wanted to say a special thank you. I don’t often write about our local home base of Nashville here on the blog, because I always like to think of the Vintage Kitchen as a universal place that defies roots in a specific city, state, or country. But on certain occasions, local events and local situations do affect the workings of the Kitchen and therefore require some recognition. Like the highs and lows that punctuated every week in this calendar year, the holiday started off lovely with a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. How rare and enchanting! Then in the morning, there was a bomb and the city was changed.

 In other years, other Christmases, this is what 2nd Avenue looked like during the holiday season…

Photo by Chris Wage. 2012

I’ve walked this street a million times on my way to the French bakery for baguettes, on my way to the library for research, on my way to dinner at some favorite downtown restaurants. With its sparkly trees and century-old brick buildings, the atmosphere on 2nd Avenue during November and December is usually a reliable guarantee.  It always hums with cocktail fueled celebrations, Christmas music pouring out of the bars, and a sense of bustling adventure as merrymakers drift from one entertaining music venue to the next.

Renowned in town as the section of the city that contains the most concentrated collection of Victorian and early 20th-century commercial warehouses, it has an enchanting aesthetic that blends the contemporary with the historic. Horse and buggy carriage rides line the street as country bands croon and tourists from all over the world traipse up and down, in and out, and all around the brick structures that have lorded over this side of the city since the 1860s. 

Unfortunately, that environment is no longer a guarantee anymore. This is what 2nd Avenue looked like this Christmas…

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

On the National Register of Historic Places since the 1970s, the buildings of 2nd avenue for the past 170 years have told stories of Southern history that date back to the steamboat days of the Victorian era. Located just one block from the riverfront, they are especially significant in regards to the role they played in the commercial trade occurring along the vital Cumberland River during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

With loading docks on the riverside and retail sales space on the 2nd avenue side, these tall, elegant and imposing warehouses were all-encompassing,  enabling entrepreneurs to handle all sides of their business including shipping, receiving, distribution, and retail sales all in one place, all in one space.

Evolving with the times for different needs and uses, most of the buildings along the waterfront have been able to retain the unique architectural details that hint at what wharf life was like in the 1800s.  Rounded doorways, intricate moldings, barely visible painted signs peek out from their facades.  Side doors, basement entrances, industrial windows, weathered wood, hand-forged hardware, rooftop terraces, even a secret garden in one stretch hint at activities that once occurred. It’s not hard to imagine different days and different eras. In a city that is constantly growing and changing, this set of buildings adds a comforting sense, a grounding blanket, to an urban landscape that grows taller, newer, every week. 

Downtown Nashville Waterfront Photo Credit: Austin Wills

But now the bombing has marked these buildings and left the fate of them hanging in a precarious state. All the damage has yet to be completely accessed, but it looks grim for several of the historic structures on 2nd Avenue.

Photo Credit: News Channel 5

It’s impossible to try and sort out the reasoning behind the whole bombing ordeal when information is still being gathered and one man’s mental state is still up to interpretation. Right now all I can do is chalk it up to a really terrible event in a year plagued with really terrible events.

It would be easy to slide into despair about everything that has gone wrong in these past 365 days, especially here in my city, but on January 1st, 2020 I wholeheartedly declared that this was going to be the year of joy and I’m determined, as the title of this blog post states, to wrap up these past 12 months by highlighting the things that did bring joy this year, no matter how big or small.  So here it goes, pandemic and bomb explosions and race riots and tornadoes aside, here are the best moments of joy that occurred in the Vintage Kitchen this year…

If you are in a hurry and you need a nutshell, the year of 2020 goes something like this – we cooked, we read, we watched fun things. We donated, we crafted, we communicated. We treasured nature. We treasured life.  We treasured any thing that grew in a positive direction. We laughed, we celebrated. We zoomed. We wrote about other times and other places. We researched. We discovered.  We cherished anything that birthed a smile or spawned a good time, no matter how silly or fleeting. And we grew. This was the year for patience and appreciation. For understanding and for finding more meaning. This was the year for the Kitchen and for the comfort it brought. 

If you have some time to spend over this holiday weekend, here’s a little bit more of an in-depth look at what made the land of the Vintage Kitchen most joyful this past year. 

Kangaroo Island 

When the wildfires broke out in Australia in January, we were on Week Two of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Featuring a cake recipe popular in the land down under, we hosted our first-ever donation drive with a percentage of shop sales for the week going to the rescue efforts at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park via their GoFundMe page.   I’m so happy to say that the Vintage Kitchen raised over $100 for the cause. As a thank you on behalf of any and all donations, the Park  sends out regular updates on how the animals are doing and the progress that they are making to get everyone back on their feet again.  Every one of you who purchased a shop item during our drive in January, aided in this rescue effort, so I wanted to share two updates with you that really made me stop and smile this year. The first is this photo featuring a recovering koala that had been burned in the fires. 

Weigh Day! April 2020. photo courtesy of Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park

The photo was taken on weigh day in April, which is an exciting progress report both for the koalas themselves and the rescue team. I just love that the koalas get weighed on a tree pole. So cute! And this one looks so happy and ready to be back on the road to healthy.

In July, the park sent out this 2-minute video. Koalas are not bears, but when they all sit together on their tree branches they look as cuddly as a favorite teddy:) 

 

A Press Feature 

In November 2020, our very first International Vintage Recipe Tour dish (Week One: Armenian Stuffed Meatballs) was featured both in print and online with the readers of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, a weekly newspaper based in Massachusetts. Especially exciting because the newspaper reports on all things Armenia from around the globe including news, arts, culture and cooking, the feature introduced a whole new community of home cooks to the Vintage Kitchen and helped promote not only our love of heirloom recipes but also our love of traditional heritage foods. 

Messages From You 

One of the most consistent things that helped fuel the Kitchen this year were messages from you. Feedback from shop sales, inquiries about vintage kitchenware and chats about blog posts and recipes peppered email and social media conversations throughout 2020. Here are a few fun snippets shared from within our culinary community that brought an extra dose of joy to the year…

Melissa wrote into the shop with a question about the age of her grandmother’s nut chopper, which resulted in a lovely conversation about family heirlooms. She also shared a photo of her 5-year-old kitchen helper, who is now the fourth generation family member to use (and love) this vintage grinder. How wonderful!

Viktoria, who you may recall from the Recipe Tour’s  Austrian interview, sent a note and photo to say that she finally made it to the top of the Stanser Joch mountain this year. In her interview published in late January, when asked about goals for the year she admitted that it was hard to plan given these uncertain times.  But one thing she hoped to accomplish was climbing to the top of Stanser Joch. In the fall of 2020 she sent this photo and crossed that goal off her list. How exciting! She joked that it was pretty much the only goal she was able to count on accomplishing this year, but in my book that makes it her best goal. Cheers to Viktoria! 

Photo credit: Viktoria Reiter

Blog reader Gwen, wrote in to say that she braved the flambe and made Bananas Au Rhum (featured in this Haitian post) and not only enjoyed the recipe but also was impressed by the fact that she did not burn her kitchen down in the process! Cheers to you and your bravery Gwen! 

Fellow blog reader and Vintage Kitchen shopper, Marianne, purchased the 1965 edition of Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook and then got to baking in her kitchen. She shared this photo of her first vintage Farm Journal foray… Country Apple Pie. It’s a vintage recipe that contains two unusual ingredients – heavy cream and tapioca. She wrote “It was good! You wouldn’t really think there was cream in there if you didn’t know. It makes the juices from the pie into a silky sauce.” Sounds delish! And cheers to a beautiful dessert! 

Photo credit: mariedge2033

Laura wrote into the Kitchen this month with a longshot request regarding the possibility of finding a very specific lost holiday cookie recipe that was a favorite of her 83-year-old mom. This humble inquiry opened up a world of wonder around the Vintage Kitchen for days, instigated a deep dive into vintage recipe archives, yielded two blog posts (here and here) and provoked a nationwide recipe search that connected a handful of people across a wave of different social media platforms. This 2020 search for the 1970s Date Accordions goes down as the most quickly solved (and most satisfyingly resolved) mystery of the year!  Read more about it here.

The International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 

As you can see from some of the mentions above, the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 influenced and instigated many of the joyful moments of this year. The goal set out in January was to cook our way through the cuisines of 45 countries over a 12 month period with recipes that were featured in the 1971 edition of the New York Times International Cook Book.  We didn’t make it all the way through the Recipe Tour this year, but I am pleased to say that we at least made it halfway.  21 countries to be exact! Not so bad considering the momentous sandwich of a year that began with a tornado, ended with a bombing and was stuffed with a global pandemic in between.

Highlights from the Recipe Tour!

I am happy to announce that the Tour will be carrying over into 2021, so that we can continue the fun of exploring heirloom foods from far off places.  The second-half of the tour will be handled a little bit differently in the new year – it will no longer be the only focus of the blog like it was primarily this year. Instead, the recipes will get peppered in with other kitchen posts throughout the next twelve months. It was a pretty enthusiastic schedule laid out for 2020, with a new country and new recipe featured every week. While those plans were industrious, they left very little room (and time!) to write about anything other than the Recipe Tour adventures.  So in 2021, I hope to open up the blog to more posts about a wider variety of subjects and recipes, most particularly bringing back some seasonality to the blog and highlighting holidays once again. 

 In January we will be kicking off the new year, and the new half of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, with a hunger for Hungary (pun intended!). So stay tuned for more adventures in the kitchen as we continue to cook our way around the globe. In the meantime, catch up on previous International Vintage Recipe Tour posts here.

The Kitchen Garden

Quirky gardening ruled the roost around here this year, thanks to the help of a flourishing experimental garden that included papayas, coconuts, avocados, grapefruit and a Liz lemon tree. Finding new things to grow, new ways to grow them, and new garden subjects to learn about meant a continuous stream of curious growing in 2020.  Getting hands in the dirt, clipping, pruning, shaping and fertilizing every week, indoors and out, added a sense of hope and purpose to the pandemic, as well as reaffirming the fact that life continues to grow and thrive regardless.

The succulent garden in particular really grew by leaps and bounds this year, and had to be re-homed to larger containers a number of different times. Two of the homes included repurposed containers – a hollowed-out half coconut shell and a broken vintage Japanese sugar  bowl. The coconut was a leftover cooking component of the  Ceylon blog post. The sugar bowl was destined for the shop but suffered an unfortunate fall before it ever got there.  Now they are both quirky containers that bring joy to the kitchen each day along with reminders that life isn’t perfect and home is what you make it.

The Wormholes of History

The reliable saving grace of 2020 was the research. Whether we were traveling down the wormholes of history for the Recipe Tour, learning about the backstory of shop items or discovering the biographies of true adventurers from the past, it was these curious moments that lent an air of much-needed escapism when the pandemic loomed too large or the political world seemed too crazy. This year I was totally enthralled with these past lives…

Clockwise from top left: Pamela Harlech, Harriet Risley Foote , Adelle Davis and Charlotte Bartholdi

and these old objects…

Clockwise from top left: The work of novelist Rumer Godden, the art of French painter Maurice Utrillo, demitasse spoons from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and a vintage Portmeirion fruit strainer.

The Bird Seed Christmas Tree

Julia and Paul, our resident city mourning doves visited the balcony every day throughout 2020 offering their consistent, reassuring, and calming presence in exchange for a seed tray and a lump of suet or two.

They turned out to be quite the ambassadors for the neighborhood, inviting a host of other feathered friends to dine with them as well. Throughout each day of 2020, we had visits from chickadees, wrens, cardinals, cowbirds, titmice, blackbirds, mockingbirds and an occasional brown thrasher. We loved all these visitors so much that my husband and I  made them an outdoor Christmas tree for them on the balcony, complete with white fairy lights, homemade birdseed ornaments, orange slices, dried fruit cups and cranberry swags.

The ornaments were fun to make – requiring nothing more than birdseed, unflavored gelatin and some cookie cutters. I wasn’t sure if the birds who had been used to a full seed tray every day would be interested in these ornaments at all. If this year taught me anything it was to keep my expectations low. But to my surprise, after day two of the decorated tree, Julia and Paul got to pecking away at the ornaments and encouraged the other birds to do so too. 

This whole birdseed ornament Christmas tree project was an unexpected reassuring wrap-up to a climatic year. Once you mix the birdseed with a mixture of gelatin and water it sets over the course of a few hours and eventually, the ornaments harden – petrifying into whatever shape they form to. This process kind of reminded me of the year of joy. In the beginning of 2020, I was determined to focus on joy, find the joy, feel the joy. Then one catastrophe after another happened and joy felt harder to proclaim. Harder to find. Somehow though joy found its way. Present in the little nooks and crannies that formed the year. Luckily, those moments, like the birdseed ornaments, petrified and have turned hard and lasting in my memory of 2020.  For that I’m grateful. For the joy I’m grateful. And for you and the Vintage Kitchen,  in this weird and wonky year, I am grateful. For anyone who bought a teacup or a towel from the shop, shared a story or a recipe, left a note of kindness or support on a post or a story I’m grateful. In the nicest way, you are the glue of joy that stuck this year together.

Now, with just hours left in 2020, I would like to say cheers to this New Year’s Eve. Cheers to the strength that made this year liveable, to the micro-moments of joy and happiness that carried us through from January to December. Cheers to a more calm, peaceful year ahead. Thank you for being a part of the Vintage Kitchen.  Onwards and upwards in 2021.  

 

How A Lost Recipe Gets Found: The Search for the Date Accordion {Part Two}

{This is a follow-up post from The Search for the Date Accordion. If you missed that post, catch up here}.

In our last post, we left off with a plea for help in finding a lost cookie recipe for a woman named Laura and her 83-year-old mom, Betty. To quickly recap, the challenge was in finding a specific recipe called Date Accordions that was thought to have originated in a 1950s/1960s era women’s magazine. In her inquiry, Laura provided some details. The cookies contained a date and nut filling and a frosted top. They were baked in a long rectangular dish, cut on a diagonal, and enhanced with a decorative green gel.

Laura knew this whole cookie-finding endeavor was a long-shot. Betty was heartbroken over the fact that her recipe was accidentally thrown out last year, as it was a family favorite. One that they especially enjoyed during the holiday season. But the moment I read Laura’s initial email request, I was hopeful that we would be able to reunite Betty with her baking bliss.

If you do a general search for cookie recipes online, Google will return over 1 trillion of them in less than a second. Narrow down the search to 1950s cookies and Google provides over 2 billion options. Narrow that down again to 1950s date cookies and there are just under 3 million recipes to sort through. Match that with the vast number of cookbooks that have been written over the past century, and all the recipes that have been printed in a newspaper, magazine, circular, pamphlet, or advertisement since the 1950s and you can see how daunting this finding mission could easily become.

Searching through online resources and in my archive of recipes, I came up empty-handed, so the challenge was opened up here on the blog and on social media last week. Could the vintage kitchen community help find this recipe and make Betty’s  Christmas wish come true?

Well, dear readers, I have a surprise for you. Of all the recipes in all the world and all the ways to discover them, I am so amazed and so happy to share with you the news that in less than 36 hours of the call going out for help, the recipe for the cherished Date Accordions was sought, found and confirmed.  What a true feat of seemingly impossible proportions. Like a grand dollop of holiday magic delivered just days before the Christmas of this horrendously difficult year, the tracking down of this elusive cookie recipe was made possible (effortlessly it seemed!) by two very special people.

 

I’m a big believer in Christmas angels. I always like to credit them when something extraordinary happens during the month of December. And I love the whimsical ways in which they work. Mostly around for fun stuff, for things that make you feel merry and bright, I have found that Christmas angels tend to revel in mystery and prefer to work in ways that can never be predicted, anticipated, or even expected. Of course in this pandemic year, everything has been wonky and nothing has gone the way anybody thought it would. I think it must have been unusual for the angels too. This year, they visited the land of the Vintage Kitchen in a much more apparent way. This Christmastime, the angels came with names, Ken and Cindy, and they came with real-life identities.

Ken, who runs the Instagram account @housestories_ is a fellow researcher at heart. He was the one who found the initial lead via a brief mention in a Google books snippet. He sent this image to me over Instagram…

 

As you can see in the page 7 block – there is a mention of a recipe called Date Accordions. How exciting! This was the first reference that displayed both the word “date” and the word “accordion” side by side. This image also cited a source –  Family Circle and the year 1972.

The Family Circle Thanksgiving Issue – 1935

Family Circle was a very popular women’s magazine that was published between 1932 and 2019. Originally offered for free at Piggly Wiggly grocery stores in the 1930s, the magazine grew to a readership of millions and was delivered to stores and mailboxes across the country for more than seven decades. One of the most favored parts of the magazine was always the recipe section which kept up with food trends, meal planning, evolving kitchen equipment, and festive holiday treats.

Ideas for Easter – a Family Circle article from the April 1st, 1938 issue

In 1972, Family Circle magazine published a 16 volume series called the Family Circle Illustrated Library of Cooking. This expansive set of cookbooks was intended as a ready reference guide on all things food, containing recipes that had been featured in past issues of Family Circle magazine as well as ones shared by readers from all parts of the United States.

I researched every angle online pertaining to this specific cookbook series and the Date Accordions, but nothing popped up that would yield the complete recipe. The next best thing was to track down the physical books themselves. Fortunately, I found this set on Etsy…

Available at OftenForgotten

This is where I met Cindy. The entire FC Illustrated Library of Cooking was available in her shop, OftenForgotten. So I sent her a message explaining the situation including the personal mission we were on for Laura and Betty, and the speculation that the recipe might be found inside her book series.

More than happy to help, Cindy sent this photo less than an hour later…

And there it was. The Date Accordions. Green decorating gel and all! So excited to have an actual recipe to send, off it went to Laura with fingers crossed in hopes that indeed this was the one Betty remembered. Meanwhile, the blog post was making its rounds.  Readers were sending in recipes featuring all sorts of date-related possibilities. So many of them were close to what Laura initially described but none of them were exact, and none mentioned the lynchpin – the green gel.

On Saturday afternoon, Laura emailed back…

OMG!!! Katherine!!

I just spoke with my mother and that’s it!!!!  She is in tears! She wants me to tell you thank you from the bottom of her heart.

She wants you to know how grateful she is for all the hard work you did and to all your readers out there that helped in this effort!
I also, would like to thank you and all the people who helped with this.  Our moms are so special, they sacrifice so much for their family throughout the years. Now being able to make my mother this recipe for Christmas is a small thing I can do for her thanks to you and your site.
Thank you for making our Christmas Miracle come true!

And that my dear readers, is how the Christmas angels work their magic. Or in this case how our Christmas kitchen angels, Ken and Cindy, brought surprise, delight and holiday cheer to an 83-year-old woman named Betty and her family this December.

This has been a rough year for the entire world, full of all sorts of terrible tragedies and sadness and seemingly endless feelings of being stunted, confined, and immobile. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are not curing Covid, eradicating hate, or righting all the world’s wrongs, but we did find a lost cookie, which instigated joy. Somehow that feels like a small step forward in the right direction towards a sweeter year ahead.

Cheers to happy endings, to Ken and Cindy who couldn’t have made this post happen without their selfless contributions,  and to the rest of the kind-hearted gang (Diane, Corine, Mitchell, Agba, Flo, Marianne, Jorge, Jett, Sofia, Bradley, Pane, Karen, Constantine, Viv and Amy) for your all your efforts in helping to get this lost recipe found.

Most sincerely too, a very special cheers goes out to Betty and Laura and their family. Thank you for making us a part of your holiday season.  Hope your date accordions turn out just as you remembered!

 

The Search for the Date Accordion: We Need Your Help!

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes shuttle around the Vintage Kitchen like a snowstorm. I know the holidays are approaching when I start receiving messages from home cooks on the search for something particular.  Most often, people are looking for recipes. For family favorites that have been lost or misplaced, recalled but not written down, remembered but also forgotten. Sometimes too, people write in because they are in the mood for an experiment and want to try to recreate something – a dish or a dessert that they knew from their past.  Or they are looking for a theme recommendation – a tropical cocktail for their tiki party or an authentic eggnog recipe for a holiday breakfast.  I love all these inquiries and the conversations that follow. Laced with stories and snapshots of family and of life and of love ignited in the heart of the house, for me here in the land of the Vintage Kitchen, communicating with all these culinary aficionados, is the joy of the season and the joy of cooking all rolled into one.

On more than one occasion these inquiries have led to stories about cookbooks misplaced, recipes accidentally thrown away or a list of ingredients and instructions just mysteriously disappeared like a sock that never returns from the dryer. They were there one holiday and gone the next.

Sometimes people write in with an urgency bordering on panic… I’ve headed home for the holidays and forgotten my cookbook. Or they contain stories of tragedy… my boat capsized and I lost my favorite recipes to the sea. Sometimes they contain stories of silly blunders… like the brother who accidentally ground up (in the garbage disposal) his sister’s prized bread recipe from the 1970s. And sometimes, they contain notes of longing. Of people wanting to rekindle a memory of a certain place or a person. But whatever prompts them to reach out to the Vintage Kitchen, everyone always signs off on their correspondence with these words… I hope you can help.

Most of the time I’m happy to say, we have been pretty lucky in finding just the right recipe that was needed. The holiday traveler who forgot her cookbook received a photo on Thanksgiving Day of the vintage chocolate pie recipe she needed. The capsized boater found a replacement cookbook in the shop. The brother who garbage disposal-ed his sister’s bread recipe was emailed a copy so that he’d have a permanent backup should he ever encounter another mishap in the future. These are small but big victories in the ultimate goal of the Vintage Kitchen, which is to build a community of modern-day cooks who have stories to share about heirloom kitchen items, traditional foods and special memories. That’s the stuff we like to celebrate around here. As Paul Child was fond of saying about his beloved Julia, that is the butter to our bread.

But the latest inquiry into the Kitchen has been more of a challenge. I’ve searched for a solution online for days. I’ve searched through all my cookbooks, all my recipes, all my options.  In non-pandemic times, I’d have a beautifully large and expansive library to visit and stacks of books to scour through in order to find what Laura seeks, but our library has been closed to researchers for most of the year, so I’m putting her request out here on the blog in hopes that you can help.

Laura writes…

Today I need help finding a recipe that my 83 year old mother said she saw in a magazine (late 1950’s – early 1960’s ?). Ladies Home Journal or one of them at that time. The recipe was for a type of date and nut bar, that had a liquid like consistency that you put into a 9 x 13 pan, then cut into small rectangular bars, roll in table sugar, frost with white frosting, then zig zag some green gel on top. They were called “Date Accordions.” I have searched everywhere and cannot find anything close. We have been making these for years and last year my brother accidentally thru out her copy of the recipe. She is heartbroken!

A challenge indeed! The closest recipe I could find to Laura’s request was this one…

Slice ‘N Serve Cookies, which appeared in Pillsbury’s Grand National Prize-Winning Recipes booklet published in 1954, contain a date and nut filling, a rectangular baking dish, a sprinkling of powdered sugar, and a frosted top.

Clearly, this isn’t the right one just based on its jelly roll presentation alone, but it was the only one in my vintage collection that made mention of frosting on top of a date bar filling.

slice-n-serve-cookie-recipe-1950s

Incidentally, date bar cookies are no stranger to home bakers. Thought to have originated in Canada, they have made a regular appearance in cookbooks since the 1930s. Almost all recipes I found in my search presented them in bar fashion – a testament to their delicious simplicity.  I can imagine that by the time the 1950s/1960s era rolled around, when home bakers were really experimenting with unique visual presentation,  that Laura’s mom’s recipe came into its heydey. The use of colored gels and a zig-zag design definitely speak of creative trends that bloomed during that era.

So here is where we need your help. If anyone knows of this particular date bar that Laura speaks of, it would be wonderful to surprise her mom, Betty, with the recipe for the holidays. If you have a vintage cookbook or recipe collection, I’d so appreciate it if you could take a minute and flip through your sources to see if a recipe for Date Accordions pops up. How wonderful would it be to bring some holiday cheer to Laura and her 83-year-old cookie loving mom this Christmas?!

I understand that some readers are hesitant about commenting publicly, so I’ve included a private and secure contact form below. If you do run across the recipe, please submit it to the Vintage Kitchen using this form, and don’t forget to include the source in which you found it. I’d also greatly appreciate it if you could forward this post to any other bakers you know who might be able to help us track down this vintage treat.

Thank you in advance for your help! Cheers to a successful recipe search. Hope your holiday season has been full of all things sweet and delicious.

 

 

 

40% Off Shop Sale Ends Tonight!

Hello vintage kitcheners! Just wanted to pop in to remind you that the 40% off shop sale is underway and ends at midnight tonight. 

 There are lots of fun ways to poke around the land of vintage kitchenwares, so if you haven’t already, I hope you get a chance to go exploring. The newest items listed in the shop appear first in each category, but by using the search bar you can also find heirloom pieces in more precise and creative ways. For example, you can search by aesthetic…

by color…

by holiday…

by country… 

by subject…

by specific flower…

 by decade…

Those are just a few suggestions and some examples of what you’ll find if you are new to the kitchen shop. Whether you are looking for something very specific or just want to meander about, I hope you find the perfect item that speaks to your spirit. Happy shopping! And cheers – it’s All Souls Day!

 

The Life & Times of Avi the Avocado and the Annual Indoor Orchard Update!

Last week we got our first taste of the 2020 jungle. The first frost warning of the season arrived early in the week with a chilly 37-degree night. Since that is too cold for all the orchard plants that have been happily sunning themselves outdoors on the balcony all summer long, this change in temperature meant a mass migration of all potted plants from the outside in. It was time for the annual interior decision of where to set up wintertime living arrangements and how best to fit everyone in.

I love this yearly transition ritual with the plants. It not only signals a new season but also it’s close to Avi the Avocado’s birthday (he’ll be 4 in November!) which means Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Also, it’s a great time to check the growth process of the fruit trees. The last time I posted a garden update was November 18th, 2019. It was a different world back then. Not only for us humans but for these city plants too. Last year our orchard round-up consisted of potted avocado, lemon, grapefruit and date palm trees, each grown from seed (except the lemon which was a grafted gift several years ago).

Fitting for the times, just like our traumatic 2020 pandemic year, the orchard plants have also experienced their own turbulent events over the past 344 days. I’d like to say that everyone flourished and that the garden bloomed and blossomed under the extra care from all the stay-at-home attention that quarantining invited. But nature is never that predictable. With every success I celebrated in the potted orchard experiment this year, there was an equal amount of setbacks.

The 20th-century British writer, Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941)  once said, “every gardening failure must be used as a stepping stone to something better.” And so we step. The life and times of the indoor orchard continue, for plants and human,  as we learn and grow together into year 4.  Failures and setbacks aside, there is much to report. Let’s look…

Avi The Avocado

We’ll start with Avi first since he’s the one celebrating his fourth birthday three weeks from now. Last year Avi looked like this…

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

He had made real strides in the growth department and was busily filling out his canopy of leaves – especially up top. As of last posting in November 2019, he was 4′ 7″ inches tall and destined for a bigger container that would allow him plenty of room to continue his sky-high stretch.

This is what Avi looks like today…

 

The good news is that he’s almost too tall to fit in the whole photograph. Cheers for growth! The bad news is that’s he’s stooped over, weary and a little bedraggled-looking. Unlike the other plants, Avi has remained indoors all year long, preferring this environment much more than the heat, humidity, and direct sunlight on the balcony. This is odd for an avocado tree. Normally they revel in such tropical conditions. But from the very beginning, when he was just a small sprouting pit…

The start of Avi – November 2016.

Avi has lived indoors and decidedly said he preferred that much more (see previous posts about this behavior here). As of late, he’s been looking so unfortunate I’ve deemed him the family H.S.P. (highly sensitive plant) and can’t help but think he’s feeling everyone’s emotions in the world these days.

 

Despite this woebegone appearance, there have been several successes for Avi this year. He now measures 5′ feet tall (a growth spurt of 5″ inches since last November!), he lives in a new larger container to accommodate his larger size, and he’s completely 100% rid of the pesky scale bugs that plagued him for over two years. I suspect that his current beleaguered state might be due to a nutrient deficiency. Even though he receives a regular sprinkle of organic avocado fertilizer, he hasn’t made any new leaves in months – an unusual circumstance for the once gusto grower.  His latest troubles are an issue affecting some of the tips…

This weekend, I’m going to take him to our local garden center for some advice from the experts on how to get those leaves back up in the air instead of drooping down around his trunk. In the meantime, if any avocado enthusiasts out there have some helpful advice, both I and Avi would greatly appreciate it!

Grace the Grapefruit

As if she was trying to make up for Avi’s struggle or at least encourage him to keep growing, Grace, the grapefruit tree, has done nothing but flourish this year. When I last documented her height a year ago, she was 3′ 2″ inches tall.

how-to-grow-a-grapefruit-tree-2019
Grace in November 2019

Like Avi, she is another one insisting on growing outside the frame. This is Grace now …

At first you might say, she doesn’t look that different.  But she’s not done showing off her portrait yet. This is her too, still going…

And then this is her again – still going and growing some more…

All the way up to the ceiling in fact! To give you some perspective… that’s the tip of a ceiling fan paddle in the top left corner. Grace, I am happy and amazed to say, now stands 6′ 2″ inches! In just two and a half years she has grown to the size of a very tall person!

Initially, I attributed this doubling in size to an energetic offshoot that citrus plants sometimes get. It’s where they grow a random branch in a quick minute, one that gets much longer than the others and gives the whole tree a wonky, wild look. But upon closer inspection, that’s not the case with Grace. This long stem waving above her rounder section of leafy greens is the central trunk growing taller. It’s her way of saying she’s ready for a bigger container (her fifth one so far since she first sprouted in March 2018!) As it turns out, Grace is well on her way to fulfilling her ultimate goal of being a few dozen feet tall. Oh my. Bigger pots await!

The mighty evolution of Grace the Grapefruit from seed to tree!

Liz Lemon- The Lemon Tree

While Grace and Avi were determined to grow higher, Liz in 2020 was determined to grow wider. As of last November, Liz looked like this…

 

Liz showing off a bright yellow lemon in November 2019.
She measured 2′ 4″ inches tall and was being pruned into a nice round shape. This year, Liz sustained some wind damage when we went through the terrible tornado in March. Unfortunately, the night the tornado happened, it was also the first night of the season that Liz was moved out to the balcony.  The storm blew through town and loped off all her top leaves like an unwanted haircut. Because of that shock to her system, I didn’t want to prune her at all this year. She needed time to recover from the storm damage, which left her, not only with missing foliage but also with a loose main branch at the base of the trunk. Before the storm, this branch was very strong and firmly rooted. After the storm, it was barely attached at the soil line.  She was ragged and wind-beaten (two things lemon trees do no like at all). But with great aplomb, and a summer of steady heat and sun, Liz went about repairing herself. She now looks like this…

Despite the traumatic storm and the unfortunate haircut, Liz managed to grow an extra inch in height, making her 29″ inches tall now. What she lacks vertically she more than makes up for horizontally. She is twice as wide as last year. I wish I had measured her width back then – but you can see in the photos from last year to this year, in relation to the tabletop, that there is a definite dramatic increase. Her width as of yesterday was 3′ feet across branch tip to branch tip. She is also sporting three almost ripe lemons…

 

 

and a brand new cluster of flowers…

It will be fun to see if these flowers make it all the way to the adult lemon stage over the winter. Typically that is her dormant time, where she hibernates her way through the cold months, so we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed!

Jools – The Medjool Date Palm

Jools, last November 2019.

Jools was a real grower all winter, but sadly, we lost her in the spring. I don’t know what happened to her. One week she was doing fine outdoors in the sun, fanning out her leaves, growing tall, and long, and then mysteriously, the next week she just shriveled up and dried out. Poor thing. I tried to revive her with all sorts of attention, but nothing brought her back. In a final last-ditch effort, I cut off all her palm shoots above the soil line hoping that would refresh her roots and encourage new growth, but that didn’t work either. So it’s back to the drawing board on the date palm front. This winter I’ll try seed starting again and hopefully, I’ll have a new Jools in the orchard to write about next year.

And introducing our newest arrival…

Even though it was disappointing to lose Jools, I am excited to announce that there is a new plant in the orchard to fill her spot. Meet Pappy…

the papaya who was grown from the seeds of a grocery store specimen. 

Pappy was in there somewhere just waiting to grow!

In April 2020, Pappy poked his head above the ground along with a couple of his brothers and sisters…

In May, Pappy proudly declared that he was embarking on this journey of life accompanied by not two, not four, but eight siblings…

And by June, the family portrait looked like this…

Four months later, here’s Pappy now…

Too big to be grown together, at the end of June each of the papayas were separated and transplanted into bigger containers. As you can see Pappy didn’t mind the move at all. Some papayas can be temperamental about transplant, but I’m happy to say that the whole gang – all nine of them did great with the move. 

There are three more members of Pappy’s family tucked inside this photo. Can you spot each one?

As of this weekend, Pappy has leaves as big as my hand, a trunk as thick as a sausage and a stature of impressive height. Measuring exactly 3′ feet tall, he’s already about  1/5 of his natural height. I’m not anticipating that Pappy will get over 15′ feet tall due to container restraints, but I am hoping for at least 10 feet. That multiplied by his eight brothers and sisters and the inclusion of  Liz, Grace and Avi will make a full jungle out of the indoor orchard this winter if everyone keeps growing like they have been.

The pencil is here to illustrate how thick Pappy’s trunk is already! He’s such a hearty grower:)

Even though it will be tricky trying to figure out where everyone will fit, I have my eye on one more little project to complete the green dream team. Over the summer, I discovered a very inspiring book…

that is fueling my next experiment this winter. Indoor tomatoes! The volunteer tomato seed planted by the birds (or maybe the breeze) on the balcony this summer…

continues to grow and bloom even though the typical tomato season is over now. I’m excited to see if I can keep some re-rooted sprouts going indoors for the next five months. It requires no special equipment except for a sunny windowsill and a little extra love and attention. It’s an attempt that Elizabeth, in her book, said was a bit difficult but was definitely do-able, so the challenge is officially on. We’ll see what happens! 

In the meantime, while we wait and watch the orchard and see what sort of tomato tales will spring from this latest garden experiment, if you’d like to read more about the past growing adventures of Avi, Liz, Grace, and Jools visit this post, this post and this post. If you’d like to grow your own Pappy, all you need to do is scoop out the seeds from a grocery store papaya, rinse them in cold water and let them dry on a paper towel for up to a week until they resemble whole dried peppercorns. Then plant them in some potting soil, keep them evenly moist with warm water and watch them sprout sometime between a week to a month later. Keep them in the warmest sunniest place you can find and watch them grow grow grow. And then send me a photo so we can marvel at Pappy’s relatives too.

Last year, blog reader Gloria, shared a photo of her avocado tree that she planted in her Florida garden about the same time that Avi sprouted. As of November 2019, her avocado was  7′ feet tall…

Now it’s up to 8′ feet and just got a recent trim…

It is not bearing avocados yet, but maybe there will be some for her in 2021!

That’s the lovely thing about gardening, isn’t it? You just never know what might happen exactly or even when, but you always have your fingers crossed that it’s all going to work out for the best.  Audrey Hepburn said it most eloquently… “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” I love that. These plants don’t always make life look easy or foolproof but they do always make it look rewarding and hopeful.  

Cheers to gardens big and small, indoors and out. And cheers to Audrey and Elizabeth and the indoor orchard gang for the continual motivation and inspiration.

Now… onto those tomatoes;) 

So Timely: All About Wishlists, Quick Cooking and the Biggest Sale of the Year…

It seems like a bit of a rush to talk about the holidays already. Autumn has just arrived and it’s not even Halloween yet. But time flies faster this last quarter of the year, and I didn’t want it all to blaze by without sharing some fun things that have been brewing in the Vintage Kitchen recently. Especially since they might be of help when it comes to celebrating the holidays this year.

Add to Wishlist

It’s here! It’s here! Your very own Vintage Kitchen wishlist is here! Launched just last month, you’ll notice a heartshaped icon on all product pages in the shop, both in the upper right corner and underneath every specific item’s title on each product page. If clicked, the item will be saved to your own personal wishlist where it will sit until you decide to remove it. Whether you are deciding about a vintage or antique piece for yourself, or you want to share your favorite gift ideas with friends or family, this will keep everything you love all in one organized place.

 

Shop Sale – November 2

Our BIG shop sale day is just three weeks away! Enjoy 40% off site-wide on Monday, November 2nd during our annual one-day-only All Souls Day sale! This is the only sale in the shop all year, so if you have your eye on something special, November 2nd is the day to capture deep discounts and get a head start on your holiday shopping. Discounts will automatically be applied upon checkout which means no coupon codes are needed. The sale begins at 12:00am, November 2nd and ends at 12:00am, November 3rd. Hope you find something that speaks to your soul or reminds you of a dearly departed loved one from days gone by:)

 

The Quick Cooking Chronicles

For all the busy cooks out there who are short on time these days, but still long for interesting, home-cooked foods, I’m excited to announce a new series of fast-acting heirloom recipes – The Quick Cooking Chronicles.

Not every fantastic vintage recipe I make in the kitchen actually makes it to the blog. This is a true travesty and something I have been trying to figure out a way to remedy for over a year now. So many marvelous heirloom recipes get left behind just because there is not enough time to research and write about their history in a thoughtful manner.

In an effort to continuously share good food, especially during hectic times, these not-enough-time recipes will now have a new home on the Vintage Kitchen Pinterest board, aptly called The Quick Cooking Chronicles. All the vintage recipes featured here are made with simple ingredients and simple steps. They are heirlooms that have been around for decades and have been sourced from old cookbooks, or passed down from family members, or shared between readers here on the blog. They are the good foods, the new (old) favorites, the time savers, the uncomplicateds. All made with just a handful of everyday ingredients yet arranged in interesting, unexpected ways. Super helpful, they are foods made for days filled full with gift wrapping and snow shoveling and turkey prep and hanging lights and decorating trees and clinking glasses and celebrating life. It’s a continual work-in-progress so check back often here if you are in the search for some quick, good recipes. I hope they will help bring ease to your kitchen and keep you fed and fueled! Here’s an example of such a meal… the recipe that instigated it all…

 

And finally,

The algorithms have been changing again on Instagram, which means that the Vintage Kitchen content is getting covered over. I have no interest in being a slave to these constantly ever-changing metrics with their unpredictable highs and lows and their peaks and valleys. I just want to bring good stories and good food to you:) The best way to help shed light on vintage kitchen history is to comment and to share posts if you feel so inclined or generally like the content. This will help our community of cooks and readers grow more vibrant each and every day and for that I’m so grateful! There are a couple of VERY EXCITING things in store for the Vintage Kitchen, all which will be unveiled soon. I can’t wait to share the news! In the meantime, cheers to Autumn and to appetites and to schedules that keep us on our toes 🙂

 

The Historic Side of Haiti in Houses and Dessert

 

Warm and bloomy. That’s been the theme of our September days around here. The nighttimes though, they are a different story. Cool, breezy, decidedly leaning towards Fall, change is definitely amiss once the sun goes down and the stars come out. Literally caught between two seasons, where it is hot during the day but chilly at night, eating during this time of year, when the temperatures are flip-flopping back and forth can tend to be a bit tricky for everybody no matter what part of the country you live in.

Since the start of this global culinary adventure back in January, not all of the foods on the Recipe Tour have matched up ideally with the time of year in which they were prepared. But I am excited to say that this stop in Haiti for Week 20 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, has lined up perfectly with the current season. This week, we are making a dessert that is quick, and easy, and a bit out of the ordinary. It involves a handful of simple ingredients, the oven, some bravery and a taste for two seasons.  It has a lighter than air consistency like the best of summer eating yet also happens to be blanketed in layers of cozy Fall flavors.  And there is a special way to present it. That brings its own sense of magic too. In the form of a little flourish of fire at the end of the production, it both has the ability to dazzle your senses and delight your spirit. Like that familiar friend named nostalgia- just returned from last year, this sweet treat immediately welcomes the idea of logs and kindling and wood smoke and sweaters. It’s a dessert for the in-between times when your world isn’t quite what it used to be but also isn’t quite yet what it’s going to be. Yes indeed, this is the best time of year for this type of dessert.

On the menu today we are making Bananas Au Rhum, a Caribbean flambe that has influences in French, American and Haitian culture. But before we dive into the recipe and the making of it, I just wanted to acknowledge that this post has been on hold for most of the month due to the West Coast wildfires.  It didn’t seem like an appropriate time to feature a recipe that involved a voluntary fire in one kitchen while part of the country was battling involuntary fires in many numbers of neighborhoods. Having said that, for any readers who are sensitive to open flames at the moment, you may want to skip this post and join us again next week when we travel to a new (non-fire related) international destination that specializes in hearty foods for hungry appetites.

If you are sticking with us today, then hello, hello! Welcome to Haiti! Sharing the island of Hispaniola with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, Haiti is a world all onto itself.

To learn about the history of this island nation means to learn about a country that has been battling ill-intentioned governments, poverty, corruption, slavery, and natural disasters pretty much since it was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century.

As one of the poorest nations in the world, much of the news that gets relayed and recorded about this country, both in the past and the present, has mostly focused on Haiti’s challenges.  This, of course, is ideal when change needs to be made or special aid is required for situations like hurricane cleanup and economic assistance, but those types of immediate crises can tend to easily overshadow the elements that make Haiti unique, vibrant, and culturally important.  In today’s post, we are setting tragedies aside and drawing inspiration from the sweet side of Haiti’s history in the form of food, drink, architecture, and design aesthetics, all of which were shaped by French, Spanish, African, and indigenous influences. Like this vintage travel poster declares, there is plenty of joie de vivre to be found in Haiti. Today, we are here to highlight it!

Nicknamed the Pearl of the Antilles, Haiti’s most celebrated attribute is its natural beauty. There the sea shines clear and turquoise, beaches are powdery white like sugar, and palm trees, tall and regal, ruffle out the landscape.

In the historic districts, Haiti is home to the Gingerbread house, a colorful style of architecture that has defined the island and defied almost every single weather event since inception. First introduced by three architects over a century ago, this specific style of colorful house with its exquisitely detailed trim work, tall windows, and airy interiors may look delicate among the more solid buildings of the Haitian landscape, but their strength and ability to withstand storm after storm has landed them on the preservation and conversation list of the World Monuments Fund where they are being renovated, rehabilitated, and appreciated for their craftsmanship and their historical significance.

Like the old cars and weathered residences of Havana, the gingerbread houses of Haiti create a cinematic aesthetic. With about 300,000 of them scattered throughout the island, they offer a peek inside the past to a time when Haiti’s wealthy built breezy beauties to defy island heat and humidity. Inspired by French architecture and New Orleans ornamentation, these houses were made primarily of wood, swathed in shutters, painted bright colors, and dotted with symbolism to reflect the mysteries and curiosities of a unique heritage not often discussed.

Outside, gingerbread houses feature gabled roofs, interesting angles, and strategically placed porches that offer picturesque views of the garden, the city or the sea. Inside, they are a menagerie of doorways and tile floors, louvres and alcoves,  with sky-high ceilings and arched doorframes all creatively arranged to encourage the heat to rise and the humidity to stay outside. Detailed interior trims and mouldings include ornamental designs of local patterns, emblems and shapes including voodoo symbols, all of which reflect the artistic creativity and spirituality of Haitian culture.

To capture this unique island aesthetic of the gingerbreads, which is at once, elegant, quirky, artistic and visually engaging, several unifying hallmarks help create a replicable effect…

  • Handmade Baskets: It is the ladies who do all do the selling at the market in Haiti. They tend to transport most of their offerings balanced on their head in large baskets, which have come to represent bounty and entrepreneurial spirit.
  • French Details: The French government ruled Haiti for 300 years, ending in 1803. Even though two hundred years have passed since then, French culture is still very much present around the country, particularly when it comes to design, language, food and antique style housewares.
  • Wood Shutters: A house in Haiti without air conditioning depends on wooden shutters to help cool interior spaces. Tall and elegant, these shutters take the place of drapes and bring a little bit of the outdoors in.
  • Folk Art: One of the most vibrant art forms on the island besides music, is folk art paintings which capture the passion, spirit and history of Haiti in vibrant colors. Some newly discovered favorite artists include Hector Hyppolite (1894-1948)  Andrew LaMar HopkinsJean Yvone Casenueve, and this one in the shop.
  • Unique Flooring: Many floors in the houses of Haiti’s historic districts are painted with patterns or contain geometric tiles that help keep the interior spaces cool and also looking beautiful.
  • Gingerbread Details: Gingerbread trim, victorian millwork and scroll saw designs are staples both indoors and out and can be seen all over Haiti, but most predominately in the historic districts. Unique architectural elements reflect the island vibe.
  • Tropical Plants: Haiti is home to over 25,00 different species of native flora and fauna. Nothing adds an instant dose of the exotic quite like growing a tropical plant indoors or out.
  • Voodoo Symbolism – With ties to the country’s African roots and the Roman Catholic religion, the practice of voodoo in Haiti offers a connection to the spirit world through many different manifestations including connections with patron saints and ancestral spirits . This symbol represents Papa Legba who acts as the mediator between the spirit world and the living world.
  • Vibrant Colors – The colors of the national flag of Haiti are blue, red and white but the country as a whole is awash in vibrant hues.  Inspiration can be found all over the country from the beautiful beaches to brightly painted buildings, textiles, handicrafts, art and even the famous tap tap buses. The gingerbread houses seem to reflect them all!

A gingerbread house in Port-au-Prince. Photo courtesy of Experience Haiti.

A few decades before the gingerbread bread houses started popping up around the island, a  man named Dupre came from France to Port-au-Prince in the 1860s. He started a rum distillery and gave it his family’s name – Barbancourt. One hundred and fifty years later, Barbancourt is recognized as one of the best rum brands in the world and is still operating as a family run business, now in its 5th generation.

The grounds of Barbencourt Distillery located in Port-Au Prince

By utilizing pure sugar cane juice instead of the more common molasses,  Barbancourt’s method of distilling rum has won awards around the world and is by far the best known and best-loved rum in Haiti. Ideally, we would have been using Barbancourt in our recipe today too, but after a lengthy discussion with a spirits expert at my local liquor store, it was decided that a 151 blend of rum would be the most appropriate in order to ensure that the bananas would catch fire and truly become a flambe. Several companies make a version of 151, which is essentially just rum with a really high alcohol content (75% by volume) but sadly, Barbancourt does not. Their highest alcohol content is 43%. So  I went with Goslings for this recipe. Goslings, like Barbancourt, has been around since the 1800s, and since it is made in Bermuda, it still lends an island vibe to this week’s cooking endeavor.

I should also note that the recipe never specified how high of an alcohol content was needed, but 151 is the standard go-to in the flambe world, so it’s a safe bet to rely upon, if this is your first time lighting foods on fire, like it was mine.

Grandpa Herbert’s 1960s Anchor Hocking casserole dish – protector of all fire-related cooking endeavors.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous about this step myself.  Before I bit the bullet and lit the match, I made sure to have our under-the-sink fire extinguisher out on the counter along with a dry towel for tamping, just in case the flames got a little too overzealous. I also used a special baking dish that has magical protective powers. My grandpa Herbert’s 1960s Anchor Hocking Fire King casserole dish. If you recall from previous posts, Herbert was a fireman in Chicago for forty years and I like to think that his baking dish holds special powers and would protect anyone who cooks with it from any unwanted fiery encounters.

Thanks to Grandpa, the dish, and the careful precautions, I’m happy to say that the kitchen is still intact, no one suffered singed eyebrows or burnt hair and the counter didn’t catch on fire. The flames, about 5 inches in height, lasted for about a minute before dying out. It was fun to watch them dance around the dish in that same mesmerizing way as lighting sparklers on the Fourth of July, or staring at a bonfire on the beach.  All in all, this was a recipe that was exciting to make and delicious to taste.

If you are new to the world of flambeed desserts, which have been around since the 1800s, than you are in for a treat. Lots of foods can be doused with alcohol and set aflame including crepes, oranges, pears, puddings, cakes, and cocktails but bananas are one of the most favorite.  In the oven, the bananas briefly swim in a sea of hot butter, sugar, and rum until the point where they all join together and start to turn brown and sticky. Once the caramelization begins to happen, then the dish gets doused in rum, the match gets lit and the rum catches fire creating a rich, warm flavor and an entertaining spectacle. Forget dinner and a show. With this recipe, we are going straight to dessert. And a show.

Bananas au Rhum

serves 4

4 firm ripe bananas

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

lemon juice

1/2 cup rum

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel the bananas and cut them in half lengthwise.

Melt the butter in an ovenproof baking dish and add the banana halves.

Sprinkle with sugar…

and bake for about 10 minutes or until the bananas are thoroughly hot and the sugar is melted. (Note: At this stage, they will look a little bit like half-cooked sausages.) Sprinkle with lemon juice and baste briefly. Return to the oven for two minutes.

Warm the rum ( I put mine in a cup in the microwave for 15 seconds) and pour it over the bananas. Ignite the rum…

and when the flame dies, serve immediately.

Besides the fire component, what makes this dessert especially interesting is that the bananas retain their shape. It sort of turns into a little game with your brain, because you’d think upon initial appearance – post oven – that the first bite would be relatively firm like a brownie or a soft-boiled egg but in actuality, the bananas have the consistency of something more like mousse or a marshmallow or even whipped cream. The first bite is an unexpected yet delightfully delicious surprise. In actuality, these cooked bananas are not unlike the gingerbread houses of Haiti – their looks are a little deceiving when it comes to the integrity of their composition.

 

Serve this dessert outdoors with a cup of coffee and you have the makings of a magical early Autumn night that is just right for this time of year. Since Bananas au Rhum is not one of those desserts that likes to hang around, go ahead and enjoy the whole dish right to the very last bite. You won’t regret it in the least!

Cheers to deliciously dramatic bananas, to the happy side of Haiti and their beautiful historic gingerbreads, and cheers to our brand new season. I hope you fall in love with each and all:)

Join us next time for Week 21 as we head to Hungary for colorful comfort food and officially mark the halfway point in the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Until then, happy cooking!

Corfu For You: A Taste of Greece in Sights, Sounds and Grape Leaves

If you sat down and had a glass of wine with him during these last summer weeks of  August,  he’d tell you a story. It would be slim but impactful – a snippet of colorful life that was mostly true and partially painted with imagination. He’d tell you about his pet pelican, about his distaste for rules, about the lunchtime hospitality of his toothless neighbor. He’d tell you about a splendidly shabby house that overlooks the sea, and about the sounds of an orchard buzzing with bees. He’d tell you about a turtle and a magpie and his devoted dearheart Roger – the scrappy canine co-conspirator that was twin in both spirit and scouting.  He’d share stories about his sister Margo, vain and funny, about his brothers Larry and Leslie, who were the hunters of words and birds, and he’d tell you about his mother, Louisa, after his father died.  There would be mention of the houseguests that came to stay, the disapproving aunt that refused to leave, and the naturalist that taught him to care above all for every creature great and small. He’d tell you about the heat-haze, the green sea, the drunken olives, the magic garden, the flower-scented air. He’d tell you how he fell in love. How he came to know himself. If you sat down and had a  glass of wine with him he’d tell you his name was Gerald, and then he would tell you a captivating story. He’d tell you about Corfu.

Situated in the Ionian Sea, the small Greek island of Corfu shimmers like an emerald gem.

Welcome to the Vacation Edition of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Whose ready for an international adventure that involves a relaxing getaway, a Greek island, and all the stuffed grape leaves you can eat? Pull out your market bags dear kitcheners, this week we are taking a restorative trip to the Greek island of Corfu courtesy of Gerald Durrell and his entertaining, enigmatic English family.

Here we are in mid-August, just five weeks away from the first day of Autumn. This summer our passports aren’t stamped. Our road trips aren’t long. Our hotel rooms aren’t booked.  We may not be filling up our suitcases and hopping on airplanes this pandemic year but that doesn’t mean that we can’t explore the world in other ways that are equally engaging, and equally satisfying. Through a book, a television show and a cooking adventure, this post highlights a travel trip to an exotic destination that can be enjoyed without ever leaving home. Thanks to the captivating real-life story of Gerald Durrell who lived with his family on the Greek island of Corfu from 1935-1939, we are traveling to a beautiful location fit for summer fun. Like any good vacation, this story contains all the great hallmarks of an exciting new experience. There’s an exotic destination, a foreign language, a bevy of interesting people, a sense of escapism and authentic traditional food. It may not be an actual real-life trip to Greece but this experience offers the next best thing – a true mental break from the state of our current affairs.

Before Gerald became an influential 20th-century British conservationist, naturalist, author and zookeeper he was a small boy called Gerry, living on a remote island in the Ionian Sea with his mother, sister and two brothers. Having, on a whim, moved from England to escape a dreary, uninspired existence following the death of his father, Gerry and his family entered into a colorful world where the sea shines turquoise, the landscape is kissed by the sun and the air is clean, clear and curious. There his family discovers life, love and importance.

Gerald Durrell (1925-1995)

A Robinson Crusoe type experience, life on Corfu was rudimentary, wild, and sensational. Seducing the entire family, the spell of the island during those five years, comes to profoundly affect and mean something different to each member. To Gerald its the start of his wildlife career and it is through his eyes that we discover the magic of an island. In 1956, Gerald chose to publish his account of that pivotal time in a book titled My Family and Other Animals. In 2016, PBS released a televised version of the book called the Durrells in Corfu. The show aired for four seasons, finishing in May of 2019 and now all the episodes are available on Amazon Prime and PBS Masterpiece. Here’s a trailer from Season 1…

This show happened to not only be my introduction to the Durrell family but also to the island of Corfu. Located just off the west coast of Greece, Corfu sits close to the mainland in the Ionian Sea. It is nicknamed the Emerald Island because it has a large amount of green olive trees and lush vegetation. It is also home to the an array of interesting architecture. In the very first episode, I fell in love with the Durrells new (old) house…

which is perched on top of a ledge overlooking the sea.  I won’t share any details here about the storyline, so as not to spoil the characters and their adventures. But I will say the entire series is so beautifully produced and whimsically told that it is truly a vacation on its own. Pair it with the book and then an authentic Greek recipe and this becomes a break from the modern-day world that truly feels like a trip away.

The definition of the word vacation means a period of time spent in leisure and recreation, a temporary vacating of one’s mind and familiar surroundings. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pack a bag, physically go somewhere else and stay away from your familiar comforts.  Each episode of the Durrells in Corfu is roughly 45 minutes long. With four seasons and 26 episodes in the entire series, that translates to roughly 20 hours of visual splendor set in Greece. If you were committed you could watch it all in a weekend. If you paired it with the book, which is 275 pages long, then you could stretch this Greek affair into an entire week. Add the recipe and you’d have a 10-day sojourn into Corfu life lived long ago and far away. Altogether this time spent with the Durrells is a trifecta  – a perfect cacophony – for a vacation state of mind.

The book follows a similar trajectory of the show, but there are descriptions that Gerry writes about that a camera could never convey with the same amount of vivacity…

“The goats poured out among the olives, uttering stammering cries to each other, the leader’s bell clonking rhythmically. The chaffinches tinkled excitedly. A robin puffed out his chest like a tangerine among the myrtles and gave a trickle of song. The island was drenched with dew, radiant with early morning sun, full of stirring life. Be happy. How could one be anything else in such a season.”

I can’t even begin to describe what it meant to read words like this during our unusual pandemic summer. In Corfu, it’s the 1930s, and there are no mentions of viruses or masks or political upset. There is no terrible, tragic news, no copious deaths, no bleak day to day uncertainty to digest. Instead, there is light, hope, optimism. There is a rambunctious family, a humble island, a wild world, all appreciated. Spending time with Gerald, in his childhood state, with his expressive descriptions and his curious words,  felt indeed like a true vacation. A flight of fancy flown far away from the state of struggles that currently enshrouds the world.

Food features quite a bit in the book and the show, with both Louisa showcasing her cooking skills and Gerry always searching to satisfy his belly. Seeing and reading about both the culture and the landscape of the area really offered up a unique appreciation when it came to the preparation of this week’s recipe.  On the menu we are making stuffed grape leaves also known as dolmadakias, a traditional lemon, onion and herb-infused rice wrapped inside a simmered grape leaf.

I struggled with scouting the main ingredient – the grape leaves – for close to a month.  I searched as far away as Sparta, Greece where the lovely Jehny of The Spartan Table, relayed the unfortunate improbability of getting fresh Greek grape leaves to the US in a timely fashion. I searched locally through two different friends that have vineyards in two different states, but the time of the year here (high summer) makes for a tougher, less tender leaf (FYI: spring is the ideal season for cooking leaves like this). I searched the grocery stores (four in my city) for a brined version that the recipe recommended. My only luck were tins, in the international aisles, of already made and stuffed grape leaves – the finished end result of this homecooked project. My last resort was to order them on Amazon where they were always available but never with an interesting story.  Luckily just before resigning to a mail-order shipment, I discovered a Greek market that was just a thirty minute drive away.  Here I found the prized treasure! Grape leaves, sitting pretty on shelves – all brined in a line in jars of mass consumption. Success at last!

Like both the book and the movie, shopping at the Greek grocer was a bit of an adventure. Most of the packaging was in other languages – Arabic, Greek, Turkish. There was an entire aisle devoted to rice, goat heads in the freezer, big blocks of feta cheese in the fridge, bulk quantities of spices, an array of dried citrus, and towards the back of the store, there were bags of homemade bread still warm and soft from the oven. I came home with bread, a box of chocolate cream-filled cookies (made in Croatia!), a jar of olives brined in olive oil,  and the prized grape leaves. Next time, I’ll shop for coffee, spices and rice.

In Corfu, the Durrells remark often about the languid air and the slower, more sleepy pace. This recipe felt very much the same. Nothing is rushed in preparation. The hands-on wrapping of the grape leaves can be done at whatever pace you choose. It also makes enough for a feast. But it’s one of those dishes that you don’t have to devour all in one sitting, as it can last for days in the fridge. I’m including the exact recipe here as it appeared in the New York Times International Cook Book, but I will forwarn you – this makes ALOT of grape leaves. I had half of the rice mixture leftover (which I wound up adding to a chicken soup later on) so you could still make two dozen grape leaves, as the recipe states, while cutting the rice mixture in half. Other than that, everything came together easily and with a sense of fun.

When the brine gets rinsed off the leaves once they are removed from the jar, they become cool and slippery to the touch yielding a fun tactile experience of folding, and rolling and wrapping. Over on Instagram, I demonstrate in a featured stories video how to wrap a grape leave, so if this is your first time too, visit this link (it will be the clip all the way at the end – Week 19!).

how to make homemade stuffed grape leaves dolmadakia

Dolmadakia (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup olive oil

3 large onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup uncooked rice

2 tablespoons fresh snipped dill

1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons pignoli (pine nuts)

6 green onions, finely chopped

1 cup lemon juice

3 cups water

1 8oz jar grape leaves in brine

Parsley and lemon wedges for garnish

Heat 1/2 cup oil in  a skillet and saute the onions and garlic until tender but not browned. Add the salt, pepper, and rice and cook slowly for 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add the dill, parsley, nuts, green onions, 1/2 cup of the lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of the water.

Stir to mix, cover and simmer gently until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Rinse the grape leaves under running water, separate and place shiny side down (aka backside of the leaf up) on a board. If the leaves are small, put two together. (Note: It’s easier to roll and wrap the leaves if they are wet. They’ll dry out fairly quickly, so if you want to go about this project leisurely I recommend stacking the leaves one on top of each other to keep them moist.) 

Place one teaspoon of the rice filling near the stem end of the leaves and roll up jelly-roll fashion, toward the tip, tucking in the edges to make a neat roll.

Place the remaining oil, lemon juice and one cup of water in a large skillet. Arrange the rolls in the pan.

Place a heavy plate or weight (I used the lid of my dutch oven) on top and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add the remaining water and cook about 10 minutes longer or until the rice is tender.

Cool and serve at room temperature with lemon wedges.

Tender, lemony and bright these stuffed grape leaves are like little gifts from the Greek gods. Delicious and surprisingly filling, they are light yet full of flavor, hitting all the taste bud notes between sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. It is a refreshing, well-balanced dish that is ideally paired for this time of year. Traditionally, dolmadakias would be served with a whole table full of other Greek dishes, but I think it makes a lovely choice for a late afternoon snack with a glass of chilled white wine.

In the show, there’s a great tradition that the Durrells start in the heat of the summer. They carry their dining room table out into the shallow water of the sea and set up their mealtimes – a la ocean – with their feet swirling around in the water. I love this idea! If you don’t have access to a waterway like them, then perhaps you’ll enjoy these stuffed grape leaves with Gerry’s book as a companion or the show as your meal mate. All three options are festive and support the ideal vacation state of mind. After being immersed in Corfu for a few weeks, I came away from the whole experience feeling rested, relaxed and inspired by the aesthetic of Corfu and the interesting experiences of this fascinating family. If you are struggling with your summer vacation plans (or lack thereof ) too then I hope this post and its recommended activities cast a little spell over you as well.

Cheers to the Durrells, to Corfu and to the Greek grocery for making this staycation feel like an actual vacation. Fingers crossed, that by next year, the pandemic will be behind us and we’ll be able to hop that plane to Corfu where we can experience first-hand the heat-haze of summer, the drunken olives, the sunbleached landscape and that magnificent beauty of a turquoise sea.

In the meantime, catch up next time for Week 20 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour when we head to Haiti, via the kitchen, to make an attention-grabbing dessert and to discuss kitchen designs in the tropics. See you then!

Fourth of July Baking: A German Dessert of American Symbolism and Celebrity

In 1986, there was a recipe. In 1956, there was a woman related to the recipe. In 1886, there was a statue related to the woman who was related to the recipe. In 1870, there was a model related to the statue who was related to the woman and the recipe. In 1865, there was a sculptor who was related to the model who was related to the statue who was related to the woman who was related to the recipe.  And so begins the story of Week 18 in the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020.  Herzlich Willkommen! Welcome to Germany!

This week there is a little cooking surprise. In today’s post, we are diverting slightly from the original Tour plan and preparing a recipe, not from the New York Times International Cook Book, which we have been following since January, but from another vintage kitchen book altogether. This guest cookbook, Celebrity Desserts, was published in 1986 for a very particular reason and hails from the great state of New York just like our treasured International Tour cookbook. It also happens to fall right in line with this week’s featured destination of Germany and  the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

All that being said we are off on quite a fun adventure today! It is a journey that involves not only German history, but also French and American history too. It involves family cooking, patriotic holidays, and international icons of hope, opportunity and hospitality -three things my family and I like to celebrate on the 4th of July. And then there’s the actual recipe itself. One that is luxurious without being fussy, a cool treat in hot weather, and so popular around the world that almost every country on the planet has their own particular version of it.

Originally, this trip to Germany via the kitchen was going to fill Week 18’s post with sights and stories of Sauerbraten,  an heirloom beef recipe that takes three days to prepare.  Excited to explore a very traditional method of making a famous German food, I hinted at things to come at the end of the Paris post. Unfortunately, I ran into some roadblocks.

In our unpredictable time of pandemic cooking, it seems that sourcing a grass-fed beef bottom roast that cost anything less than $50.00 and that was anything under 5lbs in size turned out to be a feat of great impossibilities.  Since the recipe only called for 3lbs of beef, both the size and the price suggested that maybe this lovely, long cooking project of authentic, homemade Sauerbraten might just be a bit too much to tackle at the moment. In an effort to remain flexible these days and simply go with the flow of what is available at the grocery and the market, the heirloom Sauerbraten will be rain checked for a later date. Hopefully we can revisit this recipe again at some point further on in the year. By that time (fingers crossed) beef may be more plentiful and a bit more economical.

In the meantime, Celebrity Desserts called from the cookbook shelf.  Saving the day and the country fare by offering a wonderfully, delicious creation of German heritage, the dessert we are making today, thanks to our guest cookbook, comes along with its own very unique history. One that embraces German, Italian, French and American ancestry as well as celebrates a special lady we all know and love.  I’m so pleased to present our featured German dessert this week, Bavarian Cheesecake.

Cheesecake is a dessert uniquely prepared in a variety of ways depending on what part of the globe you call home. It is one of the few cakes that can be served baked or unbaked. It can be frozen, refrigerated or served at room temperature. It can be made entirely of ricotta cheese or entirely of cream cheese. It can be slathered in sauce, dolloped with fruit, drizzled with chocolate or dotted with nuts. It can be stuffed with spices, herbs, vegetables or just about anything under the sun. And it runs the gamut as far as taste from sweet to savory to something in between. With such opportunity for culinary creativity,  there’s no shortage of recipes when it comes to cheesecake. In just under .6 seconds Google will deliver over 215,000,000 cheesecake related results. Narrow it down by specific ingredient and the field gets smaller but still contains hundreds of thousands of options. But the recipe we are making today stands out from all these others. This one has a very unique lineage that sets it apart from all the other cheesecakes and all the other variations.

As the cookbook title denotes, it involves a celebrity. But not one that you might suspect. This famous figure has never had her own cooking show, nor written a book, nor sang a song. She’s not the ruler of a country or a corporation (though her values would certainly be welcomed!). She didn’t invent a cure for a disease nor end world hunger nor paint a masterpiece. She wasn’t a dancer or a designer or a technology wizard. But she has been featured in her share of movies and she has been the subject of photographers for decades.  In order to get to the heart of this mystery woman’s famous roots, let’s begin at the ending, by tracing the recipe backwards.

It all starts with this face…

Do you recognize her? Most likely, probably not. She’s a pretty obscure reference in regards to her famous connection. But maybe this following info will help spark your curiosity or at least ignite the musings of your mind. Her name is Dorothy.  This photo of Dorothy was taken in the 1980’s, part of a follow-up story from the 1950’s when she had first become the topic of newspaper headlines. At the time this photo was taken, Dorothy lived in Boise, Idaho but the event that made her newsworthy in the 1950’s revolved around something that happened in New York City. Any guesses as to who she might be? If not, here’s another clue…

This is Charlotte. She is related to Dorothy. Can you see any resemblance?  Charlotte was born in 1801 in the Alsace region of northern France. She married into a French family with the last name of Bartholdi. Charlotte had a son named Frederic who became an artist. This is Frederic…

Frederic dreamed of designing an enormous statue. He wanted to build it in France, but display it America. The statue was going to require a lot of money to build, so he came to United States in the 1860’s ready to talk up his idea and gather some investors. As it turns out, Frederic’s concept sounded an awful lot like another American statue that was already in the works and slated for display in Plymouth, Massachusetts. That statue would eventually be called the National Monument to the Forefathers, and looked like this…

Undeterred by this similarity, Frederic went back home to France and carried on with his own statue anyway. He raised money in his own country with the help of his mother and the generosity of local French citizens including school children. Eventually Frederic’s dream was realized and his statue came to fruition. Off on a boat, it went to America. This is what he created…

Now back to Dorothy and Charlotte. Charlotte, Frederic’s mother, was the model for the face of the Statue of Liberty. Dorothy is Charlotte’s great-great granddaughter.

When Dorothy was photographed in New York Harbor in the 1950’s in front of the Statue of Liberty, everyone remarked on their  striking similarities…

Dorothy Franks photographed in 1956 with the Statue. The inset photo was taken in 1984. Images courtesy of the Daily News.

Dorothy was related to Charlotte both via direct lineage and also by marriage, as she married her second cousin who was also related to Charlotte by blood. Today’s recipe for Bavarian Cheesecake comes from Dorothy’s kitchen.

The recipe was submitted for inclusion in the Celebrity Desserts Cookbook in 1986 by Dorothy’s granddaughter Linda, who lived in Washington state (oddly enough, in the same small town where my mom grew up). The cookbook was compiled by the Albany NY Council of the Telephone Pioneers of America, a social service organization founded in 1911 that was inspired by Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. The Pioneers produced this cookbook as a fundraiser campaign to raise money for much-needed repairs to the Statue of Liberty. The Council collected favorite recipes from a variety of kitchens all across the country including famous ones (a former First Lady, well known figures in the performing arts, iconic hospitality venues, etc) as well as regular home cooks, Pioneer members and telephone industry employees who had culinary crowd-pleasers to share.  Undoubtedly Linda’s recipe and the provenance from which it came must have been the icing on the cake (no pun intended!) when it came to the whole cookbook. With just five degrees of separation from Linda’s kitchen in Bothell, WA to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, this cheesecake recipe instantly added a whole new dynamic element to the American food scene and to celebratory Fourth of July fare.

The lineage of this recipe doesn’t stop with the ladies though, nor the French nationality. It’s called Bavarian Cheesecake because it hails from Bavaria, the state located inside Germany that is known for its fairy tale castles, picturesque scenery and a handful of typically traditional German foods including beer and sausages.

Charlotte’s family were German protestants in Alsace and Dorothy’s grandfather was born in Italy. So the Bartholdi’s themselves were a multicultural bunch, just like the immigrants who would come to meet Lady Liberty in New York.  Eventually, Dorothy’s grandfather left Italy and immigrated to America in the late 1890’s. When he floated in on the steel grey waves of water in New York Harbor, he passed under the coppery gaze of his grandmother Charlotte. What a surreal experience that must have been. In a Daily News interview published in the 1980’s, Charlotte said the family was very proud of their connection to Lady Liberty and that her dad, when she was a little girl would tell stories about Charlotte and Frederic’s connection to the statue.

Dedication day !o The Statue of Liberty as photographed on October 28, 1886. Image courtesy of nps.org

Alongside Dorothy’s Italian grandfather, came boatloads of German immigrants. Of the 12 million people that came through Ellis Island from the 1890’s – 1950’s, 1/12 of them were German. Because of that large influx from The Land of Poet’s and Thinker’s (that is Germany’s nickname!) one in every four Americans today is connected via German ancestry.

I always think it is fascinating to learn about other people’s immigration stories. It’s so interesting to hear about the situations that brought them to America, and to hear about what they encountered when they arrived, and where their dreams and aspirations took them. In Dorothy’s case, her Bartholdi ancestors immigrated to the U.S.  to work in the gold mines in Colorado and to set up shop as stone masons and funerary art designers. In a nut shell, that’s the story of how the Bartholdi family came to America. And how they made a new life for themselves, and made a family, and then made Dorothy and then Linda. And of course all that time they made the cheesecake.

If I could take poetic license with this recipe, I’d like to rename it  Bartholdi’s Bavarian Cheesecake, so that it never lost the lineage of the ladies and their connection to Liberty. Like the nervous anticipation of the first time immigrants to America this was my first time ever making cheesecake. I must admit I was a little nervous. I had always thought that cheesecake was a very difficult thing to make  – something that took a long time and a lot of effort. Maybe some cheesecake versions are that way, but I’m happy to say that this recipe couldn’t have been easier. It did take a little bit of time – between the chilling of the crust and the two different oven bakes plus the  cooling and the overnight rest in the fridge, but certainly it wasn’t a three day affair like the Sauerbraten would have been, and it wasn’t expensive to make.

Chalk it all up to the fact that it feeds a crowd, looks lovely on a plate and lasts in the fridge for days and days and days, I think this Bavarian Cheesecake might just be the new favorite of the International Vintage Recipe Tour so far.  And that is really saying something. Australia’s Queen Mother’s Cake from Week 2 of the Tour is still receiving accolades by blog readers and eaters all these months later. So I’m especially excited to hear what you think of this latest addition to our culinary book of adventures. When we get to the end of the year and the end of the Tour, it will be fun to vote on the most favorite food made along the way. But for now, we have Bavaria and baking to get to…

Bartholdi’s Bavarian Cheesecake

Makes one 8″ inch cake or 12 Servings

For the crust:

2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafer crumbs

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 cup butter

 

For the filling:

1 1/2 lbs cream cheese (or three 8oz. packages), softened

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

 

For the top layer:

2 cups sour cream

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

For the crust: Combine first five ingredients (wafers, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter) in a bowl. With a pastry blender, cut butter until thoroughly blended until it resembles course crumbs.

Press mixture firmly and evenly against bottom and sides of a lightly greased 8 inch spring form pan. (Note: I used an 8 1/2 inch pan and that worked totally fine too.)

Refrigerate 30 minutes.

For the filling: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream cheese and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Thoroughly blend in the lemon juice, lemon rind and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Pour into chilled crumb crust.

Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Note: The cake will brown a little on the edges, as seen in the photos below, and may even crack a little bit on top. All that is totally fine.)

For the top layer: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Blend together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla. Carefully spread sour cream mixture over cooled cheese filling.

Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Cool.

Then refrigerate overnight before serving.

Once you’ve refrigerated the cheesecake overnight, the top layer will become firm. This makes it a lovely platform for decorating in all sorts of ways. Since this is a patriotic dessert, you might consider adding blueberries, strawberries or raspberries to the top. Or perhaps some lemon rind twists or fresh herbs. I decorated mine very simply with a sprig of mint and a flower (a petal each for Dorothy, for Charlotte and for Lady Liberty!).  I wanted to see how it tasted unadorned, without any other ingredients changing the flavor composition.

As it turns out, it tasted like a dream! I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a really dense chessecake or if it was going to be more light and airy, but when I cut the first slice, the answer revealed itself…

The sour cream top layer had a taste and consistency exactly like the filling of cheese danish pastries. Sweet with a subtle creamy tang. The cream cheese layer had a consistency like very thick whip cream – pillowy but substantial without being hefty.

The crust held everything together so beautifully that each slice cut perfectly smooth and never fell apart when transferred to the individual serving plates.

What a joy this was dessert turned out to be. Subtle and smooth, with hints of vanilla and lemon, it is a really lovely and really delicious dessert for summer. Especially if served cold straight from the fridge. An elegant alternative if you are tired of traditional Fourth of July flag cake, berry pies or fruit parfaits this dessert can be doled out in large slices or small and travels well. It also doesn’t mind hanging out in the fridge for hours while you party the day away.

Unlike a couple previous recipes from the Tour, there is absolutely nothing I would do to alter this recipe. I wouldn’t add anything, decorate it any differently or change the flavor components in any way. It is a true classic in all the best ways and absolutely perfect as is. Just like Lady Liberty herself:)

Cheers to Linda and Dorothy and Charlotte for providing a recipe with a really long family pedigree. And to Frederic for dreaming up a Statue that welcomed the world.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – A portion of the poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus published in 1903 on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The lovely lady Liberty. Image credit: Juan Mayobre

The Statue of Liberty has been a sign of hope, potential and opportunity ever since her dedication on October 28, 1886. Except for the bald eagle, and the American flag she’s the most iconic symbol of our country that stands for everything we aspired to achieve as a nation. She’s artistic (thanks to Frederic), poetic (thanks to Emma Lazarus), strong (thanks to her copper cladding) and welcoming (thanks to Ellis Island). This has been one of the toughest years in American history to date, but I hope at the end of the day we can remember and focus on the qualities that Lady Liberty stands for. That we can shelter and accept and care for, with equal regard, all that come ashore.

Join me next time as our culinary adventures take us to Greece via the kitchen for Week 19 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

UPDATE FROM OUR READERS!

If you find yourself without a springform pan for the cheesecake, rest assured, there are a couple of other pieces of dishware you can use as well, as noted by two of our readers…

Marianne in Seattle used a deep dish pie pan, and served the cheesecake right from the pan. A beauty in all directions!

“It was really good. We all liked it!”  Marianne also substituted lemon wafer cookies from Trader Joe’s in place of the vanilla wafers. “The lemon cookies make a nice crust,” she said.

Marilyn in Arizona used a 9″ inch tart pan and it turned out beautifully. She shared the following… “Going to create a fun game (questions and answers) to play with the blog post. Better than sitting around discussing the virus… you saved the day Katherine!” How nice!

If you discover any helpful hints after making this recipe or would like to share a photo of your decorated dessert, please comment below. A big thank you to Marianne and Marilyn for their helpful tips!