All Around Austria via Food and Festivity: An Interview and a Recipe

From the land of Johann Strauss, Mozart, Gustav Klimt, and my lovely friend, Viktoria, comes the latest escapade in our around-the-world culinary adventure. Welcome to Week Three of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

Last week, we were in Australia dissecting the history of a favorite Aussie cake that turned out to be inspired by a famous woman from England. This week, we are heading here…

… to the picturesque Austria… a country known for its gorgeous snow capped mountains, stunning cityscapes and panoramic vistas. On the menu is Viennese Chicken – a saucy vegetable-laden vintage recipe that is perfect fare for cold winter weather.

Viennese Chicken

In this post, we will not only be cooking something warm and hearty, but we will also be getting to know the warm-spirited Viktoria, an Austrian native who has been living and working in the U.S. for the past year and a half. She’s about to head back home to Europe, but before she bids Nashville goodbye, I caught up with her to discuss the food culture in her native country, how it compares and contrasts with ours here in America, and to see what she knows about the mysterious Austrian recipe that’s the focus of our international menu this week. She also recommends a list of the most interesting things to see (and eat!) in Austria, reflects on which aspects of her U.S. adventure she will miss most and shares how one particular type of American restaurant stole her heart.

Photo courtesy of Drew Beamer.

Our recipe this week is an easy one to make, so before we get to cooking, grab a glass of Riesling or an Austrian beer and get to know a beautiful part of the globe through the eyes of a local. I’m so pleased to introduce to you to Viktoria, art director by day, intrepid explorer by night (and on the weekends!)…

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little about the city in Austria in which you are from…

Viktoria: Well, first and foremost I cannot call it a city ha – I grew up in a very small town, called Stans, with only around 2000 people. It’s one of those charming little places with one tiny grocery store, one butcher, one bakery, one bank and so on… but hey, that’s everything you basically need, right? 

Stans im Karwendel

Stans is a town within the state of the Tyrol – one of 9 states within Austria. It’s in the western part of Austria, surrounded by the Alps, yet only 1h away from the German border in the north and the Italian border in the south. (Yes, dimension in Europe are a little bit different.)

What are some things you missed most about Austria while living in the United States?

The 4 F’s: Family, Food, Fall Fest and Fasching!

1) Family: The thing I missed the most is definitely my family. Just to be clear, I was never homesick, from the second I stepped out of the airplane at BNA airport I immediately knew I found my second home away from home, but my family and I are very close so it was definitely a big change for me to not see or spend time with them every other day.

2) Food: I am not a picky person at all, I have no allergies or intolerances and I definitely have what Americans would call a “goat stomach.” Having said that, it is not hard for me to adjust to a country’s culinary culture. Besides that Austria and America have lots of similarities in food, so from the very beginning I was sure I would not starve overseas. Yet, nothing is as good as granny’s Schweinebraten or my sister’s chocolate mousse cake. People who know me, know that I am not a big fan of sweets, but man, let me tell you what, I just can’t resist it!

The fancy cows of Fall Fest!

3) Fall Fest: I’m sure people are familiar with the Octoberfest in Munich. Our fall fest is similar to that, beside the fact that we also have a cattle drive. Farmers drive their cows down from the mountain meadows into the valley where they spend the winter months. People from Italy, Germany and France come to see this spectacle, which happens every year during the last two weeks of September. The cows wear bells and flower arrangements; it’s almost like a fashion show for cows if you want to put it that way ha. There is a farmers market, souvenir booths, food courts, live music, and, most importantly, the men and women dress in snazzy Lederhosen and beautiful Dirndls.

The colorful and creative world known as Fasching. Photo courtesy of austria-forum.org

4) Fasching: It’s the Austrian word for carnival. Fasching season starts on the 6th of January and ends on the day of Ash Wednesday, which is February 26th this year. Within this period we have days like Fasching Tuesday or Silly Thursday. People dress up in conspicuous costumes and we have parades with floats and wild colorful parties. This time of the year even has its very own pastry, specifically dedicated to Fasching– The “Faschings-Krapfen”.

Faschings Krapfen! Photo via pinterest.

How is daily life different in the U.S. vs Austria?

There’s actually not a big difference. You go to work, run your errands, and meet up with friends – the basics. I think the biggest difference for me personally is that back in Austria I had to get up at 6AM at the latest to drive to the railway station, catch my train to Innsbruck (the capital and biggest city of the Tyrol) where I had to catch a bus in order to get to work.

The beautiful cityscape of Innsbruck, Austria

We Austrians love out public transportation system ha! Here in Nashville I only have to hop into my car and I’m at work 10 minutes later. So yes, I’m definitely super spoiled when it comes to sleeping late in the morning now! But besides that I think Americans and Austrians have a pretty similar everyday life.

Since 2018, Viktoria’s U.S. home base has been the city of Nashville. Photo courtesy of Tanner Boriack.

What are some things you’ll miss most about America once you return home?

Just circle back to question 3 and you will have your answer ha! No, to be serious, I had a great time here in the U.S.: I worked a job that I loved, I was part of a culture that I enjoyed inhaling and most importantly, I was surrounded by so many loving and caring people. It’s almost unbelievable what great personalities I met and the close friends I made on this journey.

Oh, and brisket! I love brisket; unfortunately that’s not a thing in Austria.

What is your most favorite Austrian food? And what is your most favorite American food?

I wish I could give you a definite answer for this questions but I cannot. And I love that fact! There is way too much good food out there and it would be a waste to focus myself on only one most favorite thing. That’s why I’ll give you my top 3:
Viktoria’s favorite Austrian foods -Clockwise from top: Kaiserschmarn, Schweinebraten and Cheese and Spinach Dumplings
For Austria it is definitely Schweinebraten. The one they have at the Bavarian Beerhouse here is not bad at all but in no way comparable to the Austrian original. Schweinebraten is followed by cheese and spinach dumplings. Unlike what Americans call dumplings, these are more like balls of batter that contains a lot of different ingredients and gets boiled and served with lots of melted butter. We even have a festival to celebrate our love for dumplings in the Tyrol. And last but not least the – the“Kaiserschmarn.” I looked up the translation and the dictionary suggested “sweet cut-up pancake with raisins.” We serve it with powdered sugar and apple mousse. It’s a main dish as well as a desert – a dish that deserves to be among my top 3.

When it comes to American cuisine it’s the brisket that would probably make it on the winner’s rostrum. I am a meat lover and since I didn’t know what brisket was before I moved to the States I immediately fell in love with this dark smoked delicacy. Another thing that I am hardly able to resist is a Nashville specialty: Hot Chicken! Wings, thighs, breasts, battered and fried or grilled – I don’t care, I love them all, as long as they come with a hot and spicy Buffalo sauce.

Are you familiar with Viennese Chicken? If so, do you have any stories that relate to it in some way? Maybe you’ve made a version yourself or this was something you mom made?

Unfortunately I’m not familiar with this specific recipe. It reminds me a little bit of “Jäger Schnitzel” (“hunters-schnitzel”). It’s either a pork or chicken schnitzel, served with spaetzle and creamy mushroom sauce.

Jager Schnitzel

Also, cheese speatzle is a very famous Austrian dish. Speatzle are little pasta dough twirlings, mixed with melted cheese, garnished with cheese and topped with fried onions, usually served in a traditional cast iron pan. Super filling but super yummy!

If someone was traveling to Austria for the first time, which top five places would you recommend they visit first?

First and foremost is definitely Vienna. Yes, there are thousands of tourists but there is a good reason for that. Vienna offers so many things to see and do: outstanding architecture, fascinating history, open minded and hospitable locals, a wide culinary palette, from traditional Austrian dishes to food inspired by different countries from all over the world, to the newest food trends; you will find it all in Vienna.

When you come to Austria you should also pay Carinthia, our most southern state, a visit. Carinthia’s biggest lake, the Worthersee lake is one of Austria’s most famous summer destinations. It appeals not only to those who want to canoe across the lake, but also spelunkers who will want to check out several caves, including Griffen Stalactite Cave, which is considered Austria’s most colorful cave. Those who are vintage car enthusiasts may enjoy a visit to Gmund, birthplace of the Porsche, or to the large Villach Automotive Museum with its collection of cars, motorcycles and more.

I studied and worked in Innsbruck for 4 years. It’s this great historical jewel surrounded by stunning scenery. Rumor has it that Innsbruck replaced Vienna as the most expensive city to live in. Innsbruck, with a name that translates as “bridge over the inn,” (Inn is the name of the river that runs through Innsbruck) is an all-season tourist destination.

It is internationally known for its winter sports, having hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976. But this Tyrolean city offers more than just great skiing. It offers a good mix of cathedrals, such as Hofkirche, which houses the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I; the Schloss Ambras, which has a collection of paintings and armor; and the Bell Museum, a nod to 400 years of bell-making.

The gorgeous town of Halstatt

More beautiful scenery can be found in the Salzkammergut. It is a beautiful resort area that starts with Salzburg and heads east into a land of lakes. Sparkling clean lakes, green hills, wonderful mountains, romantic towns like St.Wolfgang and Hallstatt make up this region. Travelers who have seen the movie The Sound Of Music will know what this lake region looks like, because that movie was filmed in and around the city of Salzburg and the neighboring Salzkammergut region. For those who enjoy classical music, a visit of the city Salzburg, the home of the Mozartkugel and birth house of Mozart is worthwhile.

Mozart’s Birthplace in Salzburg, Austria

And last but not least St Anton am Arlberg. It is a must visit for all winter sport enthusiasts. This town is widely regarded as the leading ski resort destination in Austria. Located in the Tyrol, this village offers serious, legendary ski terrain that caters to a mixed level of abilities. Often attracting adventurous youths, St Anton is notorious for living up to the saying “work hard, play hard”. The vast landscape welcomes its loyal winter crowd, as well as its summer mountaineers, who come to trek the landscape each year.

Here’s a very accurate video about the best places in Austria that I can highly recommend watching. It even taught me things I didn’t know about:

Have you been to Vienna before? If so what is your impression of it?

Yes, in fact I studied and lived there for over a year when I was working for McCann Erickson. Vienna is the capital of Austria and such a multifaceted city. Vienna is not only famous for its architecture and history but also for its worldly and cosmopolitan vibe. I loved grabbing my laptop and just hanging out in one of many cozy coffee houses and watch people strolling by. Vienna is a very lively city and there is always something going on for everyone.

Every aspect of Vienna looks like a perfect picture postcard!

Also, since everything here is kind of food related, I want to use this opportunity to resolve one of the most misconstrued stories of the culinary world – the story of the croissant!
The earliest known occurrence of the croissant dates all the way back to 1683 Vienna, Austria. The legend takes place during the Ottoman Turk siege of the city; a baker apparently heard the Turks tunneling under the walls of the city as he lit his ovens to bake the morning bread. He quickly sounded an alarm, and the military collapsed the tunnel, saving the city. To celebrate, the baker baked a crescent-shaped bread, in the shape of the crescent moon of the Turkish flag.

And for whom this is not enough, the Vienna Kipferl pastry actually dates back to the 13th century. Ergo, Austria invented the ‘croissant’. It is a sore topic for this Austrian, so thanks for letting me vent publicly – ha!

Who taught you how to cook?

It was definitely my school education, maybe combined with me having always been a connoisseur of delicious food and being curious about new recipes. Many people don’t know that I went to Tourism College for 5 years between the age of 14 and 19. Besides majoring in tourism management and marketing I also had to complete a 4 year apprenticeship where I was thought how to cook as well as learn to fold at least 40 different shapes of napkins. But let’s be serious for a second – the Tirol is one of the top tourism regions in Austria and skilled professionals within this sector are highly in demand. My interest in tourism wasn’t the main reason why I went to Tourism College though – it was because of the language studies they offered. I studied German, English, Italian, French and Russian. Languages always fascinated me. Long story short, this is how I learned cooking. If you are trained on how to cook a 5-course meal for 10 people all by yourself, you can also cook a box of pasta just for you.

What are some of your favorite things to cook?

Speaking of pasta! I love love love pasta in all variations with all sauces possible. Pasta creations are my favorite! Pasta might sound boring to some people but you can create so many creative delicious variations with all kinds of ingredients. I am definitely always looking for new adventurous and interesting recipes out there; I like trying new things.

Viktoria with her mom, sister and niece

When it comes to traditional food though, I would never even try to compete with my sister. You would think making the perfect Schweinebraten takes decades of experience and at least 2 cut off fingers, but at the young age of only 32 she has already perfected the recipe for a sublime Schweinebraten with Sauerkraut, potatoes and breaded dumplings.

When you return home to Austria, what is the first thing you will eat?

I will most like have a Kaiser Roll with smoked bacon and a bottle of ice-cold Zipfer beer (it is a local beer and my most favorite).

You might want to ask why I am so sure about this. The answer is simply: because whenever I go back home my family picks me up from the airport and brings exactly these two things with them! What a lovely tradition it has become.

Do you have a favorite restaurant back in Austria? If so, what about it did you like? 

There definitely is. Let me mention one thing first: If you are looking for a place to eat in the Tirol region and you find places which names include “Gasthaus” or “Gasthof” you can’t go wrong. These are local restaurants with local food and local specialties.
And when it comes to Tyrolean delicious dishes I definitely have a favorite restaurant.

It is called “Gasthof Herrnhaus” (see “Gasthof, you can’t go wrong). I not only really like this place because I once did an internship in their kitchen but moreover because they serve great local food for a moderate price. Don’t get me wrong, I know that good food and especially good quality has its price but at Gasthof Herrnhaus you really get something for your money, and that is one thing that Tyrolean hospitality is about.

Interior of Gasthof Herrnhaus

How is food and/or the culture surrounding food different in the US than in Austria?

I have two approaches to this question.

One word: barfood.

Unlike America, in Austria we either have a bar where you can get something to drink, or a restaurant where you can get something to eat. If I think about trying to find a place in Austria where I can just hangout, watch my favorite sports team, eat my delicious chicken wings and drink a beer, I will probably not be able to come up with a single place. I am very simple as you can see ha.

Downton Nashville Bar Scene. Photo courtesy of Drew Hays

There are great restaurants in both, America and Austria, of course, but when it comes to the barfood culture as I call it, there is definitely a big difference and something I would love to have in Austria as well.

Before food is served on our plates it has to be bought. And I think this is a big difference between America and Austria. My first grocery-shopping-trip to Kroger took me a striking two hours! Can you believe this ha. By now I have become a total pro as to knowing in what aisle the items are that I need, but when I first moved here I was totally lost. The overwhelming amount of goods and different products completely over stimulated me. And please don’t get me started on my first experience with a self check-out counter ha.

One event that I consider myself lucky of having been able to be a part of is Thanksgiving. In Austria we have something that’s called “Ernte Dank” which means being thankful for this falls crops, but it is neither a very special nor a family get together kind of event. I was invited twice to my landlady’s nephew’s house for Thanksgiving and I always had a great time there. People getting together for good (and way too much) food, quality time, maybe some football and pumpkin shooting is a wonderful occasion. I am very happy and thankful for having been invited to this annually family event.

When you are not busy designing beautiful things for work, what do you like to do with your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

Funny enough, I would say my hobby is looking for new hobbies. I mean I like to work out, cook, paint, go for a walk, and be in nature but I always try to find new interesting activities. Recently I have been into axe throwing and it turns out I am actually quite good at it. It is a lot of fun and will definitely help you forget some of the everyday stress. When it comes to watching sports, I definitely count soccer and ice hockey to my most favorite kinds of sport. When I have to think about an activity that satisfies me the most though, I have to say it is definitely meeting up with friends, having a beer and simply spending a good time together with the people I love.

 

What are three places in Austria that most inspire you and why? 

1) Wolfsklamm Gorge, Tirol:

The Wolfsklamm Gorge impresses nature lovers with thundering waterfalls and emerald green pools. The location of this trail is very convenient for me because I can start the hike right from my doorstep. I used to go there a lot with my dad when I was a kid.

Walking through the Wolfsklamm Canyon in the Karwendel Alps, Stans in Tyrol, Alps, Tyrol, Austria, Europe

The beautiful waterfalls, timber bridges and the galleries carved into the rock have always fascinated me- it seems so magical. Its 354 steps, to be precise, that lead upwards to the pilgrimage monastery of St. Georgenberg, where we always used to rest and stop for a bite to eat because they have a great restaurant up there. It’s a picturesque and magical hike that makes you feel like you are in a different world.

Kloster St. Georgenberg in Tirol

2) Millstätter Lake, Carinthia:

My stepdad is from this region of Austria where my grandparents still run a farm up on a mountain. Whenever I go there to visit them I can’t get enough of the spectacular view on the lake…

especially on a summer day when the setting sun is reflecting in the waters surface and makes the entire like sparkle. It’s a beautiful place where the time seems to stop whenever you soak up this stunning view. I love to go there to recharge my batteries.

3) My grandma’s attic:

A place you will not find in a tourist guide – my grandma’s attic. My grandma is Italian (that might explain my love for Italian food) and she used to run a souvenir shop. After the shop closed she kept a lot of the stuff, my grandma likes keeping stuff in general, she wouldn’t even throw away an old and broken picture frame. I loved to play in my grandma’s attic when I was a kid because I always found new ancient items and made up stories for them. It’s for sure a so repository for inspiration!

Who or what inspires your cooking? 

I think I am a typical millennial when it comes to answering this question. Most of the time it simply happens that a recipe, of one of the social media food channels that I follow, pops up in my feed. I save it for later and whenever I feel like trying something new I recall it and it tells me what ingredients I need and how to cook it – super convenient.

One time it happened though, that I found an old cookbook that my grandma used to use. You know, one of those with a handwritten font and no photos ha. What an adventure it was to cook a recipe from this book, completely without any pictures to show how the outcome would look. Now that I remember how much fun this was, I think I should do it more often. Maybe not for family gatherings, at least not without doing a test run first. I love to cook for my family. The feedback has always been good so far, at least they keep asking me to cook for them ha.

If you could invite any five famous people (living or dead) to dinner who would you choose and why?  

That is a tough question but considering my current mood and time here are the 5 people I would invite right now and right away:

Four of five ideal guests at Viktoria’s dinner party. Clockwise from top left: Hermione Granger, Anthony Bourdain, Kurt Cobain, Nick Offerman

Hermione Granger: I hope movie characters count as well. I always wanted to meet her. Hermione was literally my role model when I was kid: she is brave, smart, modest and a very loyal friend. Maybe she would teach me a thing or two about magic. I love magic; I think everyone should have some magic in their lives. Wingardium Leviosa ha!

Kurt Cobain: I read his biography when I was 12 (yep, I was a weird kid) but there has always been something that fascinated me about this guy. He always conveyed the image of this very anguished and beyond his time creative person. I would have a lot of questions for that dude. Also, I am curious to see how he would act at a dinner party in 2020.

Nick Offerman: He is super interesting, entertaining and also kind of a genius. He definitely has an appreciation for some of the finer things in life and I think 5 minutes with him would leave an impression, so a dinner party can only be fantastic. Also he can probably treat a steak better than I, so he’s on grill duty.

My uncle Michael: He was my mom’s younger brother and my godfather. I was born in November 1993; he passed away from cancer shortly after my baptism in 94 at the age of 30. I never had the change to meet him. According to my mom I apparently inherited his assertiveness and my love for motorcycles. On his tombstone they engraved the swallow tattoo that he had. I got the same tattoo on my lower leg.

Anthony Bourdain: His love of great adventures, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the not only culinary world made him a unique storyteller that I would love to meet. Also, I need someone to watch the food and the kitchen while I hang and practice my magic tricks with Hermione. 😉

I think we would be a fun round: Good food, great music, fun entertainment, some magic and family, sounds like a good combination to me.

What is one goal that you hope to accomplish in 2020?

2020 is going to be a very interesting year for me I would say. There are lots of uncertainties. People who know me will tell you that I am a person who always has a plan A, B and at least C. My plan A for 2020 is to go back home to Austria, since my visa expires, and apply for a new one in March. I have made the decision for myself that I will not have a precise plan B or C this time. Simply because it will take me some time to process a possible failure of plan A. So even if I do not know what is going to happen, I am still very excited about seeing what this year has in store for me.

Karwendel wandern Stanser Joch

There is one very specific goal that I have for 2020 though: I want to scale the “Stanser Joch”. My dad keeps telling me: “You are not a genuine local (Stanser) if you haven’t been at the summit cross and written down your name in the book of Stanser Joch.” Sounds like ancient mythology, but it’s not, simply something my dad will keep rubbing under my nose until the end of days if I won’t eventually hike up there with him ha.

Do you think you’ll ever come back to live and work in the U.S. again? (Secretly, I hope so!) 

Thank you for saying that haha. I do hope so too. When I moved to the US in 2018, if you had told me where I would be today, I would not have believed it! I have enjoyed my time and have loved living in Nashville. I definitely widened my horizons, professionally as well as personally. Every place you go and every person you meet is a part of your storybook. My time here was one of the most enriching experiences of my -still very young I should say- life. So yes, I really hope there will be another U.S. chapter in my storybook. 🙂

Now that we are all experts on the festive foods and vibrant landscape of Austria, thanks to Viktoria, we can get to work on making Viennese Chicken. So far, the easiest recipe of the Tour to make, it is also the most obscure when it comes to its origin story. It even managed to stump our interviewee, who likened it to something along the lines of a somewhat more familiar Austrian favorite – schnitzel.

Viennese Chicken made from a 1971 recipe

Close but not exactly, the difference between Viennese Chicken and Vienna Schnitzel lies in bread crumbs. The latter has them, the former does not. Similar also to Italian and French recipes for Chicken Cacciatore or Hungarian Parikahendl, it seems that Viennese Chicken (at least in the way that we are making it here) has fallen into obscurity. Fantastic!

This is exactly the kind of recipe we were hoping to uncover this year during the Tour – something that is delicious but barely known about. At least when it comes to recipe searches online. The only recipe that I could find that was almost exact (but again not totally) was a reference to a Boston Cooking School recipe that was posted on a cooking website back in 1996. The Boston Cooking School operated from the 1870’s to the 1950’s, which means this recipe could have first emerged during that early time period, then resurfaced in the 1970’s (when this recipe was published) and then fell out of favor sometime after the 1990’s.

The only spices in Viennese Chicken are simple ones – paprika, salt and pepper

Whatever the case may be, I’m glad to be drawing attention to it again. A healthier alternative to pounded, pan fried and breaded schnitzel, Viennese Chicken is much more similar to a hearty beef pot roast or a winter stew. Ready in under an hour, including prep time and cooking, it requires only one big pan and one big spice – paprika. The chicken gently cooks in its own juices with the help of a homemade chicken stock and a few stew-happy vegetables, so it’s a breeze to make and only gets more flavorful the next day and the day after that.

I followed the recipe exactly, except that I wound up using smoked paprika (a personal preference) instead of regular paprika and I wound up adding another 1/2 teaspoon of salt and about 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the sauce at the very end. I’ll include those extras in the ingredient list as well, but before adding those two last minute additions though, you might want to test the sauce yourself to see what you think.

Also, making homemade chicken stock, as recommended in the recipe, is an easy and fulfilling task that really brings out a round bouquet of flavors in this dish. That recipe is included here too. The stock simmers on the stove for an hour and a half, but if you are running short on time, you could substitute pre-packaged stock from the grocery. {One side note: I like to use chicken legs in my stock recipe in place of wings and backbones. Once the chicken has thoroughly cooked in the broth I cut the meat from the bones for use in Indie’s dog food. It’s a time saver step for me but not a necessary one for you.}

Homemade Chicken Stock

(makes 1 3/4 quarts)

3 pounds chicken necks, wings, and backs (or legs!)

10 cups water

1 onion, peeled

2 ribs celery

2 sprigs parsley

salt to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon Kosher sea salt)

10 peppercorns

Place all the ingredients in a large kettle and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for an hour and a half, skimming the surface as necessary. Strain through cheesecloth and boil rapidly, uncovered to reduce the stock to about 7 cups. Skim off all the fat and chill.

Viennese Chicken

Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, finely chopped

1 chicken (2 to 3 pounds), cut into serving pieces

1 green pepper, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

6 mushrooms, sliced

1 tomato, skinned and diced

1 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon paprika ( I used smoked paprika)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sour cream

Additional – 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan. Add the onion and saute until tender but not browned. Add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides.

Add the green pepper, carrots, mushrooms, tomato, stock, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer twenty five to thirty five minutes, until the chicken is tender.

{A little tip:  My big heavy duty saucepan never came with a lid, so when a recipe calls for a cover I just use tin foil and seal it really tight around the edges. This works perfectly in place of a conventional lid, but this does remind me for this year-long cooking project, I should really invest in some new pots and pans!}

Remove the lid…

In a separate bowl, blend the sour cream and flour together and then stir it into the pan. {Note: It’s a little awkward to smoothly stir the sour cream mixture into the saucepan because of the chicken, so I suggest removing about a cup of liquid from the pan and stirring that into the sour cream bowl, blending it thoroughly, and then incorporate that mixture back into the pan.}

Toss everything to coat…

At this stage, taste the sauce and determine whether you want to add an additional 1/2 teaspoon salt and the lemon juice. Once seasoned to your preference, transfer the chicken to a warm platter, and spoon the sauce over the top. Garnish the dish with lemon slices and fresh parsley and serve.

Good companion foods with Viennese Chicken would be anything in the potato family (mashed, baked, boiled, sauteed), any kind of rustic bread or baguette, any vegetable that is bulky yet light like peas or cauliflower or just a simple dish of rice or pasta.

Originally, before I began actually cooking this recipe I thought it was going to be very light and creamy in color and texture. But as the onions caramelized while the chicken was browning on each side, they built a foundation of flavor that turned the broth a dark brown like the color of soy sauce. When the sour cream and flour were added at the end, it brightened the whole dish up a bit but left all that slow roasted, caramel-like flavor. If you aren’t a red meat eater, but long for hearty, comforting foods like pot roast or beef stew, especially on these cold winter days,  than this just might become your new favorite. I hope you guys love this recipe so much that you help it become a trend again. It is definitely worthy of  some new time in the spotlight!

Cheers to Viktoria for sharing her Austria with us, and cheers to new (old) recipes coming out of the dark recesses of history once again! If you try this recipe, please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. If you ever get a chance to visit Austria – stop by Stans and say hi to Viktoria. She’ll be the one in the beautiful dirndl that’s ready to greet you in five languages.

Join us next Wednesday, Week Four of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020, as we island hop our way over to Barbados, where will be livening up the night with a little party atmosphere. Stay tuned!

A Celebration for Australia: Queen Mother’s Cake & The Royal Lady Who Inspired It

Hello and welcome to Week Two of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020! This week’s cooking adventure takes us 7,200 miles away from the lamb-stuffed food of Armenia to the beautiful land of Australia, the only stop on our Recipe Tour this year, that is both a country and a continent.

As you all know, Australia has been in the news quite a bit these days due to the devastating wildfires burning throughout the country. In an effort to help the recovery process and because this is our featured destination of the week, 50% of all Vintage Kitchen shop sales made between January 15th-January 22nd will be donated to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. There people are working tirelessly to save the koalas, kangaroos and other wildlife harmed by the fires that burnt a large portion of their natural habitat. This donation will help feed, shelter and supply the island’s animals with much-needed medical care and attention. I selected Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park because they specifically addressed through social media, the need for food supplies for the animals, all of whom are national icons and unique treasures of the country.  If you wish to donate to Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park directly, please visit their donation page here.

A koala undergoing care at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park

Because we are visiting countries alphabetically via the kitchen on this Recipe Tour, (a decision made last summer when the whole international idea first came about), it just so happened that we landed on Australia during an environmental crisis.  At times like this, when an area of the world is going through a major upset, it seems trivial and unnecessarily indulgent to draw attention to something like dessert.

But one thing I learned after experiencing 9/11 while living in New York City, is the significance of small pleasures. Familiar experiences like watching a favorite tv show or listening to music or eating a favorite food during a time of disaster can bring a much-needed sense of comfort and temporary joy. Even if it’s just a mild distraction in a day full of struggle. Our featured recipe this week is a homemade cake. Usually cake is most defined as a celebratory food – one that draws people together, raises spirits and commemorates life, new beginnings or accomplishments. It is one of the most optimistic and joyful foods we eat. One of the few that can automatically bring people together and instantly raise spirits. So it is with that in mind, that I focus this post. For the days and weeks and months ahead for Australia, I wish endless amounts of cake and all the symbolism that such a sweet treat stands for… love, support, community, optimism and comfort.

In this week’s post, we’ll be making an Australian favorite – Queen Mother’s Cake, a flourless chocolate cake that reflects a cosmopolitan cross-cultural heritage. We’ll also learn more about the vivacious English woman behind the recipe’s name, including her special connection to the Land Down Under.

Do you recognize her? Long before Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle captured headlines, this famous royal woman dazzled the world with her vivacious spirit and warm personality. If you guessed that she was a lady, a duchess or a queen you’d be right on all three fronts. She is Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, also known as the Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother. If you were intimately involved with the royals during her lifetime, you’d know her by one more moniker too – her family nickname “Cake” which was earned because of her sheer delight and interest in anything resembling a cake-like dessert. This was Elizabeth on her wedding day, the start of her journey towards eventually becoming Queen Mother…

Elizabeth on wedding day in April 1923.

and this was her elaborate wedding cake…

Photo courtesy of royal.uk

On the Netflix show, The Crown, you’ll see Elizabeth portrayed by Victoria Hamilton on screen, a supporting character to Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth II …

Victoria Hamilton as Queen Elizabeth L in the Netflix show, The Crown

but in real life, for much of her life, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was the star of her own spectacular show. A glittering jewel in the Royal Family, she was beloved for her warm demeanor, her cheerful personality and her ability to relate to people, most especially working-class women.

A world traveler throughout her life, she loved trying new things and surprising people with her authenticity, integrity, capability and willingness to be involved. If she went camping, she would set up her own tent. If she went fishing, she would catch her own dinner. If she wanted a new dress, she’d work out the initial designs herself. Witty, stylish, observational and fun to be around, Elizabeth was one of the most popular members of the Royal family from the time she stepped into the limelight as the bride of King George VI to the time of her death at the age of 101.

She visited Australia several times throughout her life, but her first impression of it in the 1920’s sealed her fondness for it for the rest of her life. In a letter home to her mother, in 1927 she wrote…

“It is most lovely country… The climate is marvellous – very hot sun and cool breezes, and we have both enjoyed ourselves up here in Queensland. The people are so nice & friendly, & the distances are so vast that it keeps them simple.”

Queen Elizabeth _ Canberra, Queensland Australia 1927. Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Australia

As the previous constitutional monarch of Australia (up until 1952), it’s easy to understand how Queen Mother’s Cake could be linked to Aussie history. But the origin story of this confectionary creation doesn’t start or stop there. Legend states that the cake was introduced to the Queen via a Polish pianist named Jan Smeterlin (1892-1967)…

who had first tasted the cake in Austria. Jan, in addition to being a talented piano player, was also a talented cook. It is unclear whether he brought the Austrian recipe home with him or if he created it from memory in his own kitchen, but either way , the story goes that he made the cake for the Queen one day while she was visiting him in the early 1950’s.  So in love with it did she fall that Queen Elizabeth requested a copy of the recipe from Jan and started baking it herself at the palace. Taking on new significance and a new name – Queen Mother’s Cake – it became the favorite cake that Elizabeth liked to offer to guests and it was the only cake that she insisted on making herself each time an occasion called for it.

With its glossy chocolate frosting, simple ingredients and fluffy, moist consistency, it is easy to see why this cake became a favorite, not only with the Queen and Jan Smeterlin, but also with all of England and Australia too.

So delicious, so easy to make and so fast to assemble, Queen Mother’s Cake tastes like a fudge frosted brownie but without the heft and density normally associated with a traditional flour-filled brownie. A dash of powdered instant coffee in the frosting gives a slight tangy contrast to the sweet cake and a dollop of freshly whipped cream perfectly unites all the flavors.

I’m always a fan of a cake that allows you a little creativity in the decorating department. Apparently many Australian bakers from earlier generations learned their pastry and confectionery skills from English artisans during the Victorian era which focused heavily on beautifully presented cakes and exquisite designs.  This stylized influence and interest in gorgeously crafted cakes has remained within the country over the past century, making Australians some of the most highly skilled cake decorators in the world.

The Queen Mother’s Cake is sort of a blank canvas of creativity though when it comes to the presentation department. Like the woman it was named after it is very amenable and open to all sorts of different design interpretations and embellishments.  This recipe just calls for a simple, smoothly frosted cake with no particular adornment though. In wanting to stay authentic to the recipe, I left my cake unadorned as well, but I couldn’t help adding some whip cream and a sprinkle of sliced almonds on each slice. There is something to be said about a good simple cake that requires minimal effort, but next time, it might be fun to experiment with a little extra design on top too.

Queen Mother’s Cake

(serves 12)

For the cake:

Fine bread crumbs

6 oz. fine quality sweet chocolate ( I used German baking chocolate that contained 48% cocoa)

3/4 cup sweet butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

6 eggs, seperated

6 oz. finely grated almonds

Pinch of salt

Icing

For the icing:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 rounded teaspoon decaffeinated instant coffee (I used Starbucks Via)

8 oz. fine-quality sweet chocolate, broken into pieces ( I used German baking chocolate that contained 48% cocoa)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter a 9″ inch spring-form pan. Line the butter with waxed paper (parchment paper) and butter the paper. Dust the sides and bottom with fine bread crumbs. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double-boiler. Remove the heat and cool.

Cream the butter and sugar very well. Add the egg yolks one at a time, and beat until smooth. Stir in the cooled chocolate and almonds.

Beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff but not dry. Adding one-third of the egg-whites at a time, fold carefully into the chocolate mixture.

Pour into the prepared pan…

and bake twenty minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 45 minutes longer . Remove from the oven, place on a wet towel, and cool.

When cool, remove the cake from the pan. If the top is uneven, level it with a thin sharp knife. Place the cake on waxed paper (or parchment)…

Next make the icing. Heat the cream in a heavy saucepan until it just barely begins to boil. Add the instant coffee and stir to dissolve…

then add the chocolate. After a minute or two, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir constantly until the chocolate is completely melted.

Let cool a few minutes until just barely tepid. Poor icing over the top of cake.  Using a spatula, completely cover the top and sides.

Let stand at room temperature until the icing sets, then transfer to a cake platter. Gather up all your friends and your family, your co-workers, your neighbors, your party-goers, your joy-seekers. Then, get to celebrating. Raise a fork to Australia and to all that they have managed to achieve in the face of adversity. Raise a fork to optimism and to courage, to comfort and support. To cake. And to carrying on towards a brighter day.

Join us next Wednesday, Week Three of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020, as we head out on our next epicurean adventure… Austria, where we will be making a saucy recipe and discussing all things food and travel with a modern-day local. Stay tuned!

Thankfully Yours, This Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy weekend and happy shopping!

Discovering the Legendary Family Babka

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

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

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

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

Dad playing with a batch of kittens circa 1946

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

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

Poznan, Poland

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

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

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

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

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

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

New spice shop in the city!

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

Cinnamon Babka

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

For the dough:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

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

1/2 cup lukewarm water

4 1/2 cups organic all purpose flour

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup whole milk

3/4 cup butter (melted)

2 eggs

 

For the Sugar Syrup:

2/3 cup water

1 cup cane sugar

1 tsp vanilla

 

For the Filling:

3/4 cup butter, melted

1/1/2 cups cane sugar

2 tablespoons cinnamon

pinch of salt

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House in Bath, England

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

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

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

Meta Given’s Fresh Blackberry Sally Lunn Cake

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

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons salted butter, softened

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

1 large egg

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup sour cream*

1/2 cup whole milk*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of the Vintage Picnic

Happy August! As promised in the last post, here is the article written for Artisans List that highlights the beauty and joy of a vintage style picnic. We’ve got just six weeks left before Autumn officially starts, but rest assured that doesn’t mean that picnic season, as we most traditionally know it, is over. There are plenty of Fall foliage opportunities for all you Northerners intent on a day trip and a dine out in nature. If you happen to live in the Southern half of the hemisphere than lucky you – everyday is a good day for a picnic no matter what time of year. When we settle into the cooler months, I’ll also be featuring two outside of the box picnic ideas – the carpet picnic and the car picnic  – both which promise to hold as much fun as their summertime counterpart. So stayed tuned on that front. In the meantime, six full weeks of summer still await. From somewhere I can hear a basket calling your name…

Twentieth century foodie, gourmand and all around good cook, James Beard declared that “picnicking is one of the supreme pleasures of outdoor life.” Indeed. No other dining experience seems quite so decadent. The fresh air, the natural setting, the creative food choices, the deliciously idle intentions. Picnics have a wonderful way of engaging all of our senses in such a fantastic way. It’s almost overwhelming.

Those first few moments at picnic’s start – when you are dizzy with the view and the weather and the notion of doing nothing but relaxing and reveling in food and friends – is satisfaction enough. But then a truckload of simple delights follow one right after another. There is that liberating sensation of kicking off shoes and wiggling bare toes in soft grass.  The crisp, snapping action of the picnic blanket as it unfurls from containment, joyfully sailing on the breeze before floating to the ground. There is the laying out of the carefully wrapped food parcels and the first sip of a celebratory toast. The giddy laughter, the bird songs, the sound of leafy trees dancing on the breeze… suddenly you are aware of the musical vitality of nature and yourself in it.

On a picnic, the world shines newly bright with details mostly overlooked in the hustle bustle routine of everyday life. It is an activity that encourages you to stop and to breathe and to melt – into your surroundings, into your friends, into the food that makes up your lunch or your dinner or your breakfast time snack. Yes, picnics are a triumphant and pleasurable experience. And there’s no better season for them then right now. In today’s post, we will be discussing the art of of the vintage picnic – how it came to be, how it shaped us, and why we still need to celebrate it now. Highlighting a handful of old, but still very relevant recipes, this post also offers suggestions on how to build your own vintage picnic experience so that you too can succumb to the relaxing style of outdoor eating that our ancestors favored so long ago. It’s history in a most delicious form, unveiled, just as we are about to round the corner towards the 4th of July, the most popular picnic holiday of the year.

This idea of eating outdoors from a basket on a blanket is no trend. It has been around for centuries and has taken eaters on a plethora of picturesque adventures. But it wasn’t always a simple act. At first, outdoor dining began in grand style. Lavish entertaining in lavish settings. In the 1700’s, there were the hunting after-parties which made glorious outdoor feasts of animals bagged from the day’s sport. Garden gatherings in the 1800’s involved fine china, silverware and fancy dress. Plein air luncheons in the early 1900’s focused on seasonal foods, artistic creativity and exquisite manners. Today, picnics involve technology fueled cooling mechanisms, compartmentalized backpacks and fitted amenities made for details and devices. Needless to say, the desire to picnic has never been lost, but the way we eat outdoors has evolved quite a bit over time.

Nowadays, anything goes when it comes to picnic style and presentation.  An impromptu paper bag lunch for two in a city park can be just as engaging as a thoughtfully prepared country basket for six. But just like any activity worth doing, there is a certain art form to a well produced picnic that makes for a more pleasurable experience. The vintage-style picnic favors china plates and real glassware, classic cocktails and linen napkins, and most importantly, homemade food. It is the sort of affair that wraps you up in a long, restful lazy day adventure fueled with time-honored tradition and attention to detail. It discourages anything fast or obtuse- like technology and frenzied time schedules and plastic utensils. It champions a slower, simpler and more relaxing rhythm. The type of experience that not only feeds your appetite but also your senses, your spirit and your sanity. Basically, a vintage-style picnic is a big, long break in your day meant for resting, relaxing and restoring through small details… the time-worn touch of an old plate, the taste of an heirloom recipe, the time-out of technology, and the tune in to your natural surroundings.

Legend loosely states that the word picnic stemmed from the French pique-nique which derives from the action of picking and selecting small spots or things. Originally, pique-niques were more like potlucks, in that all invited guests were asked to contribute a little food or drink for the group to share together. But it was England, in the 19th century, not France who created the picnic in the modern sense that we know it as today. Both a mealtime and a leisure activity, the English made picnicking a deliciously long-term and lengthy event that could last all day and well into the night if done right. They played games, read books, plucked instruments, talked, sang, painted, swam, flew kites, played sports and generally just all around enjoyed themselves while snacking on small plates of assorted foods from wicker hampers and baskets.

Monet’s painting, Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe (Dinner on the Grass) was painted between 1865 and 1866.

In America, prior to the Civil War, there were no lackadaisical, carefree picnic outings. If any outdoor eating occurred before that time period, it was eating en masse – generally a large sociable event where whole communities of people turned out to enjoy a barbecue or a church social or a political rally. The Victorians ushered in more intimate, family-style picnic parties, rambling in close proximity to home, as their appreciation of nature and outdoor enthusiasm bloomed in the late 1800’s.  But the rise of the automobile, the building of the U.S. highway system, and the introduction of drive-up motor lodges and nationals parks all encouraged a whole new independence when it came to on-the-go eating as the 20th century began. Suddenly, the English style picnic took hold as Americans began exploring their more easy-to-navigate country. Economical, spontaneous and available to everyone, picnics naturally turned destinations into dining opportunities. All you needed was a basket, a blanket, a small collection of foodstuffs and an adventurous spirit. Outdoor eating euphoria had arrived!

A group of picnickers photographed in 1914 by Albert M. Price. Photo credit: Library of Congress

Back in earlier centuries, outdoor eating meant bountiful quantities and dramatic fare. Whole animals roasted over fire pits, multiple courses served by domestic staff, exotic ingredients, rich foods, elaborate presentation. But as outdoor dining began to evolve over time into smaller parties and simpler affairs, the food that accompanied it changed also. As serving staffs diminished and people became more independent, picnics and the baskets they represented, became simpler – filled with foods that could be easily made, easily transported and easily unpacked. By the time the mid-20th century rolled around, there was a definite type of picnic fare anticipated and defined by the activity. Fried chicken, salads and deviled eggs topped the favorites list, along with hot dogs, sandwiches, pies, cakes, bread and fruit.

The picnic basket spread out before you in this post highlights vintage recipes that capture that same essence of familiarity and practicality, while also providing a well-rounded balance of flavors and tastes. Vintage recipes include Sicilian-Style Marinated Olives, Oven-Fried Chicken, Deviled Eggs, Cheese Straws and Blueberry Tart. Americanos join the party as a refreshing aperitif to toast the season and the stars. 

Ranging from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, these recipes came from a handful of treasured vintage cookbooks. They pair gourmet creations from famous chefs like James Beard with regional favorites from lesser-known sources, like the ladies of the Junior League of Huntsville, Alabama. Covering all matters of taste from sweet to salty, savory to sour, they are considered traditional picnic foods, but each contains an unusual twist in the form of a cooking method or an ingredient pairing that makes them both interesting and innovative. Whether you make all of these recipes at once for your next outing or just focus on a dish or two to sample and try, you’ll discover that all of these options listed here are steeped in simplicity. Almost all of them can be made a day or two ahead of time, so that your restful day of picnicking doesn’t include you running around the kitchen like a crazed cook.  

And, just one more note before we get to the recipes. While food is obviously the main attraction in a picnic, the vintage-style picnic places just as much importance on the accessories that go along with it as well – a.k.a. the servingware.  While it is true that we may no longer entertain as formally as we did in centuries past, there is something lovely about incorporating some little niceties into your basket in the form of linen napkins, china plates and glass drinkware. These details add an elevated aesthetic to your picnic that reflects the elegant English versions of yesteryear, and really just makes for a nicer overall dining experience.  A cocktail enjoyed from a plastic cup or a homemade dessert pierced with a plastic fork is never quite the same experience as using real glass and real flatware. Even James Beard agreed about that point. “Skimp on all the other dishware if you have too – but never on the glassware for your cocktail,” he advised.

A few vintage items featured in this post are a handwoven picnic basket from the 1930’s, a matching set of W.H. Grindley hotelware salad plates made in England (also in the 1930’s) and a handful of embroidered vintage linens in various shapes and sizes. Vintage restaurantware dishes in general are a great choice for picnics because they are heavy duty and aren’t quite as fragile as delicate ceramic or porcelain dishes. Salad plates or bread and butter plates are also the perfect size for your small snack needs and aren’t as bulky to pack as dinner sized equivalents. Likewise, vintage tablecloths make ideal picnic blankets thanks to their soft fabrics (decades of washing and drying!), variety of sizes and nostalgic designs. As you build your vintage accessories collection, you’ll also notice that these elements have a fun way of engaging people in conversation too.  Each item in your basket expresses its own unique story.  When packing all these elements up I like to designate the sturdy picnic basket for fragile foods, a separate tote bag for the servingware and linens and an additional tote for drinks and ice. That way everything remains intact from the moment you leave your kitchen to the moment you arrive at your destination.

Americano (serves 1)

1 1/2 oz. Campari

1 1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth

3 oz. Club Soda

Ice Cubes

Twist or Slice of lemon or orange for garnish

Add the Campari and vermouth to an old-fashioned glass. Add ice cubes and club soda. Stir to combine. Garnish with a slice or twist of lemon or orange.

Marinated Olives, Sicilian Style (from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, 1985)

1 pound Ligurian, Nicoise or Greek Olives  or a combination, drained

8 cloves garlic, cut lengthwise in half

Zest of 1/2 orange

Zest of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Combine olives, garlic, citrus, fennel and rosemary in a large bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice and oil. Marinate, stirring occasionally at room temperature at least 24 hours.

Deviled Eggs (from James Beard’s Menus for Entertaining Cookbook, 1965)

8 hard boiled eggs, shells removed

1 small tin boneless skinless sardines

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Mayonnaise

Cut the hard-boiled eggs in half and remove the yolks to a small bowl. Mash yolks with sardines, onion and parsley. Blend with mayonnaise until you reach ideal consistency then fill each egg half. Chill in fridge until ready to pack into your picnic basket. These can be made up to 24 hours in advance.  * If you don’t have a portable egg carrier, disposable muffin tins make a great alternative.

Oven-Fried Chicken (adapted from Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book , 1965 Souvenir Edition)

1 lb. chicken cutlets

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 tablespoons Herbes de Provence

1/8 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/3 cup butter, melted but cooled to room temperature

6 cups corn flakes, crushed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the garlic, salt, pepper, herbs, parsley and melted butter in a shallow dish and mix thoroughly. In a separate shallow dish add the crushed cornflakes. Dredge each piece of chicken on both sides in the butter mixture and then coat them on each side in the cornflakes. Place the prepared chicken on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until chicken is golden brown and crispy. *Note: This chicken recipe will loose its crunch factor the longer it sits. So if you are picnicking, this should be the last dish you make before packing the picnic basket and heading out the door. That being said, it’s still wonderful hours later or even the next day, but the corn flake coating will have a more breaded consistency rather than a crispy crunch.

Belle’s Star-Spangled Cheese Straws (from the Huntsville Heritage Cookbook, 1967 Edition)

1 lb. New York State sharp cheese (or any sharp cheddar), grated

3/4 cup butter

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper

smoked paprika for garnish

Leave both the cheese and the butter out overnight on the counter to soften. The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together (except the smoked paprika)  in a medium bowl by hand. Knead the dough until it turns into a consistency like play-doh. Form into a ball shape. On a lightly floured pastry cloth, roll the dough out firmly to 1/4 inch thickness with a wooden rolling pin. By pressing it into the cloth with the rolling pin, you’ll be able to smooth out any crumbly or wrinkly areas as you work. Using a small star shaped cookie cutter, cut out the stars and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until lightly golden in color. Let stars cool on a rack and dust with smoked paprika just before serving.

Homemade Blueberry Tart (recipes adapted from the Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart)

For the tart shell:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

9 tablespoons very cold (or frozen) butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together. Add the chopped butter pieces and blend with with a fork until the mixture resembles small bread crumbs in various sizes. Add the egg and mix until combined. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Butter a 9-inch tart pan (the kind with a removable bottom). Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured pastry cloth and roll out to a size big enough to accommodate an extra 1/2 inch of dough in diameter when placed in the tart pan. Add dough to pan, trim any excess dough beyond the extra 1/2″inch that hangs over the sides. Fold the remaining  1/2″ inch of dough back into the tart pan, so that you are re-enforcing the side walls with an extra layer of dough. Pierce crust all over (bottom and sides) with a fork. Place tart pan in freezer for at least 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove tart pan from freezer and place directly in oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tart shell turns a soft golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

For the blueberry filling:

6 cups fresh blueberries

2/3 cup cane sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of salt

In a medium saucepan, bring 1/4 cup water and 1 1/2 cups blueberries to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and let berries simmer, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes.

In a small bowl mix the flour with 4 tablespoons of water until smooth and then add to the blueberries in the pan. Next, add the lemon juice, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Let the mixture thicken for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in 3 1/2 cups of blueberries. Immediately, add this hot blueberry mixture to the tart shell.

Sprinkle the remaining cup of fresh blueberries across the top of the hot mixture, gently pressing the berries down so that they stick into the hot mixture enough to bind them together. Place the tart in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or at most overnight.

Additional Picnic Companions

One of the joys of picnic fare is the ability to snack and nibble on little bits of food at whim throughout the day. Since the original pique-nique days, small has been the favored size and serving proportion. For that purpose, a wooden cutting board filled with fresh fruit, a sampling of cheeses, cured meats, fresh herbs and bread offer an infinite number of little edibles that can be combined in interesting ways with the food options listed above. From chicken baguette sandwiches to cheese and crackers to deviled egg wrapped prosciutto, variety runs the gamut. The picnic board here included rainier cherries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, goat’s milk Gouda, cave-aged cheddar, blueberry Stilton, herb stuffed salami, thinly sliced prosciutto, Genoa salami, a bouquet of fresh herbs and a French baguette.

Finally, when bellies are full and appetites satisfied, the vintage-style picnic experience celebrates and salutes the pursuit of leisurely activities. There’s no rushing to clean up or clear out once you finish eating.  The whole, blissful idea behind a vintage-style picnic is to stay awhile and relax into yourself and your surroundings. One of my most favorite picnic activities is bird watching and tree scouting. I usually tote along a couple of species guides and a pair of binoculars, so that I can identify what’s flying over and growing up around me. Other fun activity suggestions (depending on your setting) include painting, sketching, walking, kite flying, playing cards, reading, talking, napping, swimming, collecting and just appreciating the people and places that share your afternoon. 

The world is a beautiful place. Time is a priceless gift. Eating is a ceremonial act. The art of the vintage picnic reminds us of that. Just as it has in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Wherever your picnic adventures take you this summer, I hope they are magical and delicious. Cheers to dining out in nature. Hope it is your best meal yet!