Once upon a time in history long, long ago there was a cake that fed the whole entire town on Election Day. Called simply, Election Cake, it was an active participant in the voting scene of early America. But while the recipe’s origins are as old as the United States itself, the exact history is a little bit varied depending on which source in which state is telling the tale.
Essentially though, everyone pretty much agrees that it boils down to the early days of New England (some say Connecticut, some say Massachusetts) when Election Day was celebrated in the Spring and considered one of the biggest party days of the year. Enjoyed with the same amount of zeal as our modern St. Patrick’s Day festivities, Election Day in 1700’s America was a boozy holiday full of ale and camaraderie and community support. Only people weren’t celebrating one particular heritage like we do the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. They were celebrating everyone’s heritage, as Americans, on Election Day. The fervor was for freedom. And the cake was needed to sop up everyone’s spirits (the ale especially). It also provided a little motivation to actively vote for the political candidates of the day, because even in 1700’s America, people (and politicians!) were aware of the powerfully compelling nature of cake and its ability’s to attract favor.
Being such a big festivity in the lives of Colonial America, with people traveling from miles around to attend special gatherings, it made sense to local residents, at the time, to bake one enormous cake to serve all who showed up. So out of thirty quarts of flour and fourteen pounds of sugar and ten pounds of butter, Election Cake was born from the loving hands and hearts of local women who couldn’t vote themselves but could at the very least feed the men who were voting for them. Some historians say that this proves that women were important members of the political spectrum even back then when they had no vocal authority. I don’t know about that, they may have just looked at the voting day in a practical feed-the-masses way, but it is fun to think that while they were baking, they were also discussing political topics among themselves. Even if they were just hushed whispers while they were mixing batter and melting butter, I like to think they were formulating their own ideas about what should and could happen in the future shaping of America.
The interesting thing about Election Cake though is that it is not really cake. Since its inception it has really been more of a fruit and spice studded bread than a traditional cake. And in true American spirit it has been revised and enhanced and reworked over the centuries into numerous different versions like breakfast buns, frosted bundt cakes and drunken fruit cakes. The core of the recipe remains the same though – flour, butter and sugar – but over the years different variations have been included and excluded that involve milk, eggs, raisins, currents, citrus fruits, whiskey, rum, brandy, wine, confectioner’s sugar, etc. Baking equipment differs too. Originally, back in the day when one giant cake was made, it was too big to fit into any bakeware so it just baked free-form on the oven floor. Next came bread loaf pans, a smart decision that produced numerous easy-to-handle loaves that could be made by numerous hands. Then there was the bundt cake method, the cast iron skillet method, the baking dish method, etc.
For this post, I’m making the Fannie Farmer version from her 1965 Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which was first published in 1898. True to form, this recipe has changed a bit over the Fannie Farmer years too. The 1960’s version involves raisins, whiskey and loaf pans. Her original recipe from 1898 called for figs, sour milk and bread dough starter.
A nine hour baking project from start to finish, this is a kitchen adventure that will unfold over two days and two blog posts. Tonight, we discussed the history behind the recipe, and tomorrow we’ll discuss the actual recipe and how it all turned out. Will it indeed be more like a raisin bread rather than a fruit cake, as it is listed in Fannie’s cookbook? Will our modern palettes fall in love with this old fashioned recipe enough to resurrect it and recommend it in the Vintage Kitchen? Will it become a repeat labor of love on future days of election or will it be a one hit-not-so-wonderful? Only time will tell in this case. Tune in tomorrow for the 2018 Election Day results, vintage kitchen style…
This week’s post has us traveling all the way back to a cosmopolitan city in exotic 1940’s North Africa thanks to a lovely invitation from the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. This weekend, October 13th – 15th marks the date of the Great Breening Blogathon featuring Joseph Breen, an influential, but seldom remembered figure in filmmaking during the glamorous days of old Hollywood.
Joseph was the enforcer behind the Production Code Administration, set up during the 1930’s, which acted as a morality censor for all film scripts, scenes, and storylines in the motion picture industry. Bolstered by his own Catholic beliefs and the bishops who originally wrote the code, Joseph was not interested in seeing sexy, sensual imagery on the big screen and the PCA wasn’t interested in exposing such immorality to the American movie-going public. The thought of being subjected to plotlines involving extra-marital affairs, obscene language, excessive violence or varying degrees of nudity were offensive. Family friendly, American made films were not the place for such suggestive behavior according to Joseph and the PCA.
With line by line lists of cant-do’s and won’t-permits attached to each script that the PCA reviewed, screenwriters and directors were challenged with creative ways to express character’s motives and actions while also keeping their plots plausible and compelling. How do you portray magnetic chemistry without showing a steamy, passionate kiss? How do you elude to compromising situations without showing corrupt scandals? How do you make your central location not look or sound like the most unethical, debaucherous place in the world yet still convey to watchers that shady dealings are happening right and left? And ultimately, how do you tell one of the most romantic and dramatic love stories of all time without showing anyone caught up in the physical throes of passion?
The answer is Casablanca.
Many noteworthy movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood were questioned by Joseph and the PCA. The Outlaw (Howard’s Hughes 1943 western) showed too much of Jane Russell’s cleavage; the “damn” in Rhett Butler’s famous “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” line in Gone With the Wind was flagged for unnecessary profanity; and the fact that Casablanca’s Ilsa was married at the time she first met Rick was altogether too salacious for the PCA to greenlight. All three movies managed to overcome these sticky spots eventually, but not without some major behind-the-scenes defense tactics for creative license.
The PCA and Joseph’s staunch deployment of it was frustrating but important to movie studios because it balanced political correctness with the expectations of what movie audiences wanted to see. What was considered entertaining and appropriate to movie-goers in mainstream America in the 1930’s and 1940’s was laughter, light-hearted romance, and noble sentiment. So if movie studios wanted to sell tickets, they had to comply with what watchers wanted to see. And the PCA was there to make sure that decorum and good manners reigned supreme as far as what was being showcased on the big screen.
On the morality level, Casablanca in particular, seemed like it was doomed from the beginning. It was set primarily in a bar, Rick’s Cafe Americain, where alcohol continuously flowed. It was fueled by desperation with characters willing to do anything and everything to garner exit visas to leave the country. It contained a smoldering, forbidden romance, murder and contempt for government officials. All major issues when it came to the Production Code Administration.
By the time the script came back from the PCA review office, it contained several red flags and numerous notations from Joseph Breen. No bed was ever to be shown in Rick’s apartment, (such an object would have signaled an intimate encounter with Ilsa). The dubious character of Captain Renault (who was in charge of granting exit visas from Casablanca) was not allowed to verbally suggest or show that he was granting visas to women only in exchange for sex. And Rick and Ilsa’s fated love affair? Joseph found it highly immoral that Ilsa met and fell in love with Rick years before in Paris while she was married to her husband Victor Lazlo. This long-simmering love business between Ilsa and Rick had to be cleaned up in order for the movie to go on. Even though sex does sell, in conservative 1940’s America these scandelous situations were considered way too over-the-top for the eyes and minds of mainstream movie-going audiences.
So how did Casablanca’s production team manage to get around such roadblocks and ultimately propel the film towards three Academy Award wins and iconic movie status? Through good writing and good direction and good acting. So much of the storyline that seemed PCA in-appropriate – the excessive drinking, seduction, womanizing and volatile emotions were so expertly staged and nuanced that the script eventually passed approval with Joseph Breen. Once Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa) and Claude Rains (Captain Renault) delivered their performances there was no mistaking the precarious situations that the scriptwriters originally intended. Movie audiences still got the idea loud and clear even if wasn’t visually or audibly spelled out.
In today’s depict-anything-you-want movie plot experience, it seems so foreign to have such a morality cloud like Joseph Breen hovering over a film production. But I wonder if the beauty and ultimate success of Casablanca came in the act of being challenged to subtly hint at each impropriety. Perhaps that is what makes it timeless and still translatable in today’s cinematic scope. It leaves room for our own imaginations to sort out and further dissect the specifics of the relationships between characters.
I’m not a big fan of censoring art in any way. I think you lose the point of it then. I once lived in a town where plays were censored for language or risque content and it felt very limiting. Art is intended to provoke reaction and expand horizons so I’m not sure if Joseph Breen and I would have been on the same page in the philosophy department, but his impact on Casablanca was influential, so maybe his enforcement of the Production Code Administration ultimately helped the movie in the long-run.
For all the spicy current passing between Ilsa and Rick throughout the movie, there is not a lot of spicy food being passed around Rick’s cafe. Originally I thought it would be fun to write a dinner and a movie post and feature some aromatic Moroccan food of the likes that would have been served at Rick’s. But apparently, the main thing on the menu at Cafe Americain, the bestseller of all bestsellers, was a cocktail or two or three or half a bottle. Champagne, bourbon, scotch, gin, whiskey are present in almost every scene. Alcohol swishes and swirls and sits in glasses while Rick broods, Captain Renault schemes and Ilsa seeks courage. So in lieu of a traditional North African dinner, here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are staying true to the spirit of Casablanca by serving up a food accompaniment with this post that pairs best with your favorite cocktail…Sweet Spiced Nuts circa 1967.
This recipe comes from the vintage cookbook, A World of Nut Recipes by Morton Gil Clark and features three ingredients essential to Moroccan cooking: cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This is a super easy recipe to make for cocktail hour, parties or late night snacking. The flavors are subtle, accommodating and interesting and with nut season now in full swing, you have a variety of options to choose from. For this recipe, I used a variety of mixed nuts which included peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts but pecans, pistachios, macademias, etc all would make delicious alternatives as well.
Sweet Spiced Nuts – Makes 1 Cup
1 cup nuts
1/4 cup fine granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8th teaspoon ground allspice
1/8th teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg (egg white part only)
Place the nuts in a small bowl and pour over them the slightly beaten whites of 1 egg. Mix so that all the nuts are evenly coated. In a separate bowl combine the sugar and spices and then toss with the nuts, mixing well again so that all the nuts are evenly coated. Spread seasoned nuts out into a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 25 minutes. If you prefer ultra-crunchy nuts bake them about 10-15 minutes longer, but keep your eye on them so they don’t burn. Once done, let them cool on the baking sheet until ready to serve. Pair with your favorite cocktail and some lively conversation.
Pair with your favorite cocktail and some lively conversation. And while you’re at it, raise a toast to Joseph Breen, who made his mark, for better or worse, on one of the world’s most beloved movies of all times. Here’s look’n at you, Joe!
To learn more about Joe Breen and his influence on old Hollywood, catch up with other blogathon related posts here.
For more dinner and a movie posts from the Vintage Kitchen, pull up a chair here.
And last but not least, find 200 more pages of interesting nut-related recipes in the World of Nut Recipes cookbook available in the shop here.
In 2018, a sunset celebrates its 120th birthday. No, it’s not the anniversary of the blushing pastel sky that shadows overhead just before night (that’s as old as time). And it is not the commemoration of Billy Wilder’s movie Sunset Blvd (that was 1950) nor the anniversary of the actual naming of the boulevard known as Sunset (that was the early 1900’s). Instead, we are talking about the kind of sunset that stacks up on your coffee table – Sunset Magazine – one of the oldest, longest running magazines in American publishing history.
For over a century, this West Coast-centric lifestyle publication has been entertaining readers with outdoor recreation, travel, home design, gardening and food-focused articles steeped in the natural beauty of the United States’ Pacific side. Originally produced in 1898 to dispel myths about wild, wooly California, Sunset magazine was created as a marketing and promotional piece for Southern Pacific Railways. Its goal was to encourage tourists to buy land in California so the railway could profit in transportation, tourism, and land ownership sales. By highlighting the natural beauty of the scenic coastline, the agreeable climate and the sophisticated resort towns of Southern California, in particular, early readers were introduced to the artistic side of the state through nature photography, regional literature, and poetic musings.
The up and down decades of the 20th century brought many changes to the magazine’s content, format, and layout but throughout its long life, Sunset has always inspired readers to get outside and enjoy the natural landscape. The recipe we are featuring today involves just that – a nod towards a relaxed dinner geared for outdoor ease and feast enough for a dozen family members and friends. It is a perfect packer for the picnic basket or a set-it-and-leave-it sort of arrangement that yields plenty of time for firefly watching or sprinkler swimming or whatever your favorite summer pastimes include. It is a cold roast beef, cooked early in the amiable hours of the day, and then put away to chill in the fridge until hungry appetites demand to be fed.
The recipe comes from the 1962 Dinner Party Cook Book compiled by the editorial staff of Sunset Magazine. This very cool collection features a wide assortment of party menu recipes that coincide with big and small occasions throughout the year. Birthday parties, graduations, theme night dinners, and holidays are all tackled with a wealth of ingenuity and imagination in the menu planning department. Our cold roast beef fell under the theme of an Easy Summer Dinner, combining a selection of dishes that were cool to the palate and required little heating (other than baking the roast).
Temperatures have been heat-wavish here in the South reaching 100 degrees for the past week with even higher heat index numbers. This Easy Summer Dinner was just what we needed. The ease comes in a 24-hour red wine, onion and herb marinade and then a quick pop into the oven for 2-3 hours of cooking. Once it comes out of the oven it cools on the counter before heading to the fridge where it chills until dinner time. The benefits of this dish are many because the roast is large – big enough to feed up to 18 people – which means you could have a lot of leftovers depending on your party size. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, that meant practically a week of additional dinners plus extra for the freezer. From just one roast we made fajitas, beef pot pie, steak salad, stuffed peppers plus two extra nights of the actual recipe. Easy summer dinner indeed!
The recipe calls for a 5-6 lb rump roast which we substituted for a 4 lb. grass-fed beef rump roast. We like grass-fed beef the best because it’s healthier for humans and because it is a better lifestyle for the cows who forage on open pastures eating only natural grasses instead of being lumped together on feedlots eating only grain. If you try this recipe and incorporate grass-fed beef too, there are a couple of factors that need to be altered. Grass-fed beef cooks faster since it is much leaner than grain-fed beef so it’s important to pay attention to the roasting time. Instructions for both types of beef are included with the recipe here, depending on your own preferences. Other than that, this very easy dinner is as promised – very easy. And the whipped horseradish is the perfect accompaniment so definitely don’t forget it.
Place the roast in a large bowl and cover with the wine, onion, thyme, black pepper and bay leaf. Marinate for 24 hours in the fridge, turning a few times throughout the marinade process.
After 24 hours, remove the meat from the marinade, setting the marinade aside for future use. Let the beef warm up to room temperature before patting it dry and dusting it all over with the flour/salt/pepper mixture.
In a Dutch Oven brown meat on all sides in the beef fat, shortening or oil. If you are using grass-fed beef do this step in a hot skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sear meat about a minute per side on all sides.
Pour the marinade and the tomato puree in the Dutch oven, cover and bake at 350 degrees for 3-4 hours or until fork-tender. If you are using grass-fed beef, after searing, place in Dutch oven or a large casserole dish, add the marinade and tomato puree and top the roast with three pats of butter. Cover and bake at 425 for 20 minutes then turn the oven off and keep the roast in there for two hours, being careful to not open the oven door for the entire time.
You want the internal temperature of your roast to be about 135 degrees when finished. Once your roast is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest at room temperature until it is cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
While your roast is cooling, in a small bowl, whip together the sour cream, mayonnaise, and horseradish in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Once dinner time arrives, thinly slice the roast beef, arrange on plates and drizzle with the horseradish mixture.
The original 1962 recipe included side dishes of hominy, watercress salad and sesame seed crusted toast points. While those sound lovely we skipped those dishes and served our grass fed roast beef with a simple side salad of mixed greens tossed in a homemade lime vinaigrette. It was simple and complimentary and easy. The words of the day!
If you time your dinner and your day right, you’ll be able to experience two sunsets at once. One a feast for your eyes, the other a feast for your belly. Hope you find this vintage recipe as effortless as we did.
This week in the vintage kitchen we are celebrating the wonders of the summer herb garden with a vintage recipe that has absolutely antique roots.
If you are a regular reader of the blog, you’ll recognize the name and face of the recipe writer…
…celebrated New York Times food critic and cook Craig Claiborne. Back in February Ms. Jeannie shared his recipe for Eggplant Pizza from his 1963 Herb and Spice Cook Book – a complete gem of a compendium organized by herb and spice for quick reference. In that post, oregano was the featured herb and Ms. Jeannie gave all the credit to Craig for his imaginative and most delicious creation.
But while Craig was the chef in the kitchen, the writer of the words and the name attached to the dust jacket, there was another face behind the flavor of the book – a muse of intellectual imagination that inspired Craig and enhanced his cook book.
Her name was Hilda Leyel and she was the woman behind the crusade to bring back the herb.
For centuries herb gardening has been considered a feminine endeavor and a maternal skill – a salve for the sick, a staple for the diet and a component in clean living. But with the introduction of doctors and hospitals and modern medicine, and the dawn of the industrial revolution, herbs and herb gardening fell out of fashion by the early part of the 20th century. Then Hilda came along.
A life long lover of gardens, a student of medicine, and an appreciator of fine food, good wine and natural living Hilda published several books on the importance of herbs, opened Culpepers, the first herbal-only shop in England (which offered herbal remedies, food, makeup and holistic products) and founded the still-going strong Herb Society all within a decade between the 1920’s and 1930’s. The efforts of this one woman single-handedly revitalized the popularity of herbs in gardening, cooking and personal product choices for not only the citizens of England but also of the world at large.
It was Hilda’s passion, promotion and sheer love that inspired Craig with his Herb and Spice cookbook. Her detailed research and botanical understanding of each of the 54 herbs and spices featured in his cookbook tell of the history, symbolism and importance of each plant. Which makes the two of them a great team. She tells why herbs are important and he shows how they taste great.
It is wonderful to see that Hilda’s efforts had numerous and lasting effects decades after her death in 1957. To honor Hilda’s magnificent determination, it is only fitting to feature a recipe from the sage section of the Herb and Spice Cook Book which comes from the botanical name salvio, meaning to “save” since Hilda in her own way saved the herbs from obscurity. Cheers to Hilda!
This week we are making Sage Smothered Chicken with Polenta, which is on the heavier side of summer cooking but features so many garden ingredients that its hard to resist. If you want to make a lighter (aka cooler) dinner during this hot season, just omit the polenta and serve the chicken alongside a fresh garden salad. It’s delicious either way!
Sage Chicken with Polenta
1 4lb. chicken cut into serving pieces
Salt and freshly ground Pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (canned if your garden tomatoes aren’t ready yet!)
1 six-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
A small bunch of fresh sage leaves (for garnish)
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow or white corn meal
Sprinkle the chicken pieces with one teaspoon salt and one quarter teaspoon black pepper. Heat the oil and brown the chicken, onion and garlic lightly. Add the tomatoes, paste, sage and pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon pepper or more to taste).
Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 50 minutes or so. While chicken is cooking prepare the polenta by bringing two and a half cups water to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl mix the cornmeal with one and a half cups water until combined. Add cornmeal mixture to the boiling water and stir until pot comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes.
Place the polenta on a large platter. Arrange the chicken on top and spoon the sauce over it. Garnish the platter with fresh sage leaves for presentation. Serve hot.
You will most likely have extra sauce left over with this recipe, which you can freeze for later use as a homemade tomato sauce for pasta or pizza. Delicious and helpful! A big cheers to Hilda for inspiring Craig who then inspired Ms. Jeannie.
The fun thing about adding vintage pieces to your wardrobe is the variety in how you can wear them. But sometimes this seemingly fun game of match and go can also be challenging. Don’t fret my dears, Ms. Jeannie is here to help advise.
It’s bright color, cableknit accents and short sleeves make it a versatile piece to wear in multiple seasons and situations. The belt and buttons lend to its classcly tailored lines, which means that it would look great with the following…
Brighten it up even more with an elegant silk blouse…
If you have great legs, pair it with a twill skirt from H & M
For an office look, wear it with Jones Wide Leg trousers from Anthropologie
Or on cool summer nights…
For office-in-to-evening outfits, this Jersey Tea Dress from Boden in taupe would be effortless…
Sometimes all it takes is a great accessory like this Italian leather handmade tote to make a vintage sweater look even greater!
A fun romp through one woman’s experiences with (now vintage!) clothing is the book called Love, Loss and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman.
This funny, poignant story details the critical clothing choices Ilene made during pivotal moments in her life. Each story is accompanied by delightful illustrations such as this one…
Ilene had no intention of publishing her experiences. She wrote down and illustrated her memories as a momento for her grandchildren and assembled them in a binder.
In 1995, her book was published, much to Ilene’s surprise. In 2010, the book was adapted by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron as an Off-Broadway play.
It’s on it’s second year run at the Westside Theater, but will be closing at the end of March 2012 after over 1,000 perfomances. Here’s a picture of the final cast…
Over 30 different casts have participated in the play. Each cast performed for 4 weeks. Members included: Jane Lynch, Alexis Bleidel, Rita Wilson, Janeane Garofalo, Rosie O’Donnell, Kristen Chenowith and Samantha Manthis just to name a few.
Imagine the 1960’s vintage red belted sweater making it all the way to Broadway! Or at least it imagine it sparking some great memories in your life that could be passed down to other generations.
The countdown has begun! Season 5 of Mad Men is almost here and for a vintage lover like Ms. Jeannie it couldn’t get here faster.
Thrilled to see the new poster in her email box, Ms. Jeannie was a little taken aghast at the naked mannequin – but after all it is fitting for both the time period and Don Draper’s state of affairs (no pun intended!).
Ms. Jeannie’s friend, Thom, was visiting from L.A. where he said the city is braced for Mad Men fever. Buildings are dressed in giant size billboards throughout the city in this image:
Which we both agreed was fantastic advertising because, no where does it say Mad Men anywhere on the sign but fans would recognize the iconic silhouette and the simple font anywhere. Simplicity and subsequent notoriety like this is a marketing team’s dream!
A favorite ad campaign clip from the show is when Don Draper pitches the Kodak Carousel.
If you get nostolgic yourself for a vintage Kodak Carousel you can purchase one on Etsy. This one below even comes with an instruction manual!
Ms. Jeannie will be posting several 1950’s-1960’s era Life magazines in her shop soon. They are full of great retro ads that I’m sure Don Draper would have loved to concept.
If Ms. Jeannie could step back in time during this period she would choose Peggy’s role, played by Elizabeth Moss, since Peggy is determined to be on the same playing field as the ad guys and won’t let things like female discrimination, office politics and pre-conceived notions get in her way. She’s a woman with ambition, that Peggy Olson is, yet she’s not willing to sacrifice her humanity in order to reach that golden ring. She’s flawed like all the others but she’s also the character who is most aware of her own short sightedness. She strives to be good, and in that simple act of trying, she sort of is good.
That said, Ms. Jeannie wouldn’t mind having the wardrobe and (hair color!) of Joan:
Michelle Williams recently did an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross about her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in the movie My Week with Marilyn. She had some really interesting things to say about studying for the role of Marilyn, what it was like to be a woman in the 1950’s & 60’s and what it must have been like to be Marilyn specifically in that time period.
Etsy has an extensive listing for retro etiquette books, but this one stood out among all the others. It’s fascinating to see how women’s roles have changed over the course of just a few decades. Reading books like this sort of hits you like a ton of bricks:
Life for a dreamer like Ms. Jeannie would have been tough. But thanks to the mindset of gals like Peggy, Ms. Jeannie would have made it through and probably done something remarkable in the process.