The City of Lighters and Other Paris Fun Facts

Everyone knows that French food is one of the most well-crafted and esteemed cuisines in the world, but not many people know why or how it came to be. In David Downie’s new book, A Taste of Paris, he dives into the history behind the food with a researcher’s wild abandon for discovery and a humourist’s eye for fun.

Last time we were reading about the City of Light here on the blog, we were exploring it through the paintings and photographs of writer Janice MacLeod in her book, A Paris Year.

Janice and her Paris Year!

This time around, we are deep in the archive vaults of Parisian history alongside author David Downie as he takes us on an epicurean tour of the food that made France famous. Magically, in just 280 pages, David manages to condense centuries worth of feasting into a tidy timeline that begins in 53 B.C. and ends in present day.

“What is thrilling at least to me,” David declares in the starter portion of the book, “is to speculate on how in modified and sometimes-hard-to-recognize forms many foods and food-related habits have survived the ravages of time, the invasions and massacres and floods and fires, the plagues and changes in religion or political and economic systems, and live on in Paris today.”

It is with that keen interest that David dissects how, when, where and why the French have cooked, created, dined and dallied their way to the top of the menu board. Along the way, we learn about colorful characters like…

Queen Caterina de Medici – wife of King Henry II (1519-1589)

Queen Caterina, wife of King Henri II who chewed tobacco leaves to relieve her headaches which started French women’s universal love affair with nicotine.

We also learn about the histories behind an assortment of interesting neighborhoods, buildings, and restaurants that all contributed to the food scene both ancient and modern…

Clockwise from top left: Le Marais historic district, Palace de Versailles, Hotel de Cluny dating to the 1300’s, Verjus restaurant

…and we learn fun facts galore on a myriad of kitchen topics like these…

  1. Butter knives were invented so that people couldn’t pick their teeth at table.
  2. During the Middle Ages, long before the invention of plates,  bread was baked in cutting board shapes and used to hold piles of food for individual eaters. Once the food on top of the bread was consumed, the bread was given to peasants or animals to eat.
  3. Artichokes are considered an aphrodisiac, especially in Italy.
  4. One in three French people smoke (hence the city of lighters!)
  5. In-home cooking spaces in most French houses didn’t exist until the late 18th century.
  6. Below is one of President Obama’s favorite restaurants near the Eiffel Tower…

La Fontaine De Mars

Paris is a city continuously simmering in centuries of tradition. A delightfully unique aspect of David’s book is that he shifts back and forth between present day and the past, so you absorb plenty of history along the way but you also directly understand the correlation between what’s changed and what hasn’t.

While you don’t need to be a European history scholar or a devout foodie in order to tuck into this culinary aspect of the city, it helps if you have a special interest in old world events and a basic understanding of the fine-tuned culture of the Parisian lifestyle because David presents so much interesting, thoughtful information.  You’ll want to marinate in his chapters for a bit instead of rushing through them in one quick read. I was lucky enough to receive this advance copy of the book several months ago. One of the fun aspects of reading it over the summer was keeping Pinterest close-by so that I could look up the people and places of Paris while I was learning about them through David’s eyes.

With a wonderfully engaging voice and an ability to colorfully (and often times humorously) describe a building or a banquet, David treks you around town with insight and intimation. One of my favorite lines in the book came forty pages in when he writes about the 3rd-century Roman bath complex at Cluny as “a charming jumble that looks like a mouthful of broken molars repaired with elaborate fretwork crowns.” Admittedly, I had no idea what the Cluny bath house looked like, but thanks to David’s description I could get a pretty good impression of it.

Other intriguing sections in the book included the eating habits of Versailles’ residents, the symbolic imagery found in The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry,  and the gregarious life surrounding French food writer, Maurice Edmond Sailland a.k.a Curnonsky (1872-1956).

A snippet from the Taste panel of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry created in 1500.

But not everything is champagne and caviar and easily expressed. Amidst all of these fascinating history lessons, David also dives into his own food experience which began in Paris in the 1970’s. With his modern eyes, he retraces his food steps taken four decades ago to see how, and if, the landscape he once personally adored still holds up to the memories he stored. He also talks about the future of French food among the booming explosion of other newly exalted food scenes in other cities. Can Paris hold up to the competition?

Described best as  part guidebook, part history class and part personal memoir, A Taste of Paris pushes you to make notes, take notes, look for more, explore more… which brought me to quickly wish for two things that the book did not have – detailed maps of the areas where David traveled and an index for quick reference.  Then I discovered, as I finished the last page that David does offer both maps and an index of sorts. He and his wife offer walking tours of Paris through his website where they take you on all sorts of off-the-beaten-path adventures. That’s ten times better than a paper map and a list of page numbers! You get the guy (and the guide) in person, all to your yourself!

While we often don’t even think about the fact that millions of people have experienced both good and terrible situations treading upon the very ground we also walk upon so nonchalantly every single day,  David reminds us that the veins of history are deeply wound up in the practices and procedures of our modern lives. That flaky croissant, that steaming cup of hot chocolate, that celebratory pop of champagne were all born a long time ago yet they continue to intrinsically impact us as we move towards the future. In detailing the anatomy of a cuisine, David dissected a city whose culture has influenced a collective conscious of eaters around the world and that is pretty remarkable.

Whether you get the chance to meet up with David in Paris and peruse the food scene together or you simply read about his city in your city, A Taste of Paris is as satisfying as falling in love with a new museum exhibit. It will broaden your point of view, make you think, ask questions, ponder your own country’s evolution of food practices and ultimately make you appreciate how far we have come, as a civilization, from the days of heaping breadboards and kitchen-less houses.

Cheers to David for peeling back the layers of French food culture in such an interesting way!

Find A Taste of Paris available here. Learn more about David and his other Paris based books here. And if you find yourself in the City of Light(ers) take David’s tour and watch the book unfold before your eyes.

 

Three Recipes, Three Kitchens, Six Cooks – It’s The Wiggly, Jiggly Vintage Gelatin Cooking Challenge

It’s either fondly loved or fearsomely loathed. It’s a hodgepodge of color and creativity. It’s wiggly and jiggly. It’s sweet or savory, saucy or solid. And depending on how you prepare it, it’s silky and smooth or chunky and lumpy.

Today in the Vintage Kitchen we are talking about gelatin. That powdered concoction of collagen that originated in the boiled hooves of calves back in the 1700’s and now can be found in slim paper envelopes, dry and granular, in grocery stores around the world.

Vintage Jell-O ad

Food suspended in a translucent, quivery clump doesn’t necessarily sound or look appealing to our modern selves but there was a time in history when this type of dish was considered the essence of elegance. For centuries, gelatin has been used in cooking but in the 1930’s aspics, mousses and molded gelatin salads began to rise in mass popularity among both the upper class and the lower class for two entirely different reasons. Affluent, upper-class society enjoyed such dishes for their delicate and artistic composition while lower working classes, struggling to get through the Great Depression, valued gelatin as an inexpensive source of protein that came with an added bonus of being able to disguise and transform leftovers.

1933 Jell-O Cookbook

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are not big on wasting food nor on cooking up unappealing vintage recipes for the sake of mocking their unpleasant attributes. For decades throughout the 20th century people of all ages, income levels, races and genders ate and adored gelatin recipes, so it is in that vein, that we set out to explore these beloved concoctions to see how they might stack up in today’s foodie-conscious culture. Will our modern palates love them just as much as they did decades ago? Or have we become more finicky in the way we approach, prepare and taste our contemporary everyday fare?

In this post, we are diving head first into three vintage gelatin recipes steeped in the culture of mid-century America. Gelatin may have seen its rise to fame in the 1930’s, but its absolute height of popularity came in the 1950’s where two of our recipes originate.  In that decade, more women worked outside the home than ever before making time a newly juggled commodity. Gelatin-based salads, desserts, and main entrees were quick to prepare, could be made well in advance of the dinner hour and retained their shape and consistency for days in the refrigerator. This was the perfect meal-planning solution for busy women acting as wife, mother, career professional and caretaker all in one. Companies like Kraft Food (makers of Jell-O) responded to the demands of mid-century women by continuously creating and rolling out a plethora of newly invented flavored gelatins during the 1950’s that, in-turn, spawned thousands of unique recipes ranging from sweet to savory. It was a heady decade full of potential and possibilities for both gelatin companies and creative home cooks!

Vintage Jell-O Ad

By the 1960’s, the novelty of putting odds and ends into a gelatin mold had worn slightly.  Gelatin aficionados were getting a little bit more sophisticated in their creations as well as their flavor pairings. They weren’t as apt to throw-in the leftovers, or disguise a boring vegetable but instead were creating recipes that were more about flavor than thrift. Food pairings were suggested, wines were recommended and serving situations thoughtfully addressed.

Tomato aspic filled with potato salad and served alongside corn bread muffins circa 1961

It is these two interesting decades in food culture that became the foundation for our very first experimental food challenge featuring four blog readers (plus two from the Vintage Kitchen), three states (representing the East and West Coasts) and three mid-century gelatin recipes.

Our goal for this challenge was to fully embrace the experience of making and tasting these past populars.  Would we discover that they were difficult, time-consuming and confusing?  Or would they be effortless, creative and full of flavor? Each team received the same recipes with the same ingredient list, but each team could choose whatever food brands they wanted and whatever specific types of ingredient they wanted. For example – one recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese, which left it open to interpretation as to what type of cheese.  Finished product presentation was also left up to each team, even though some recipes offered serving suggestions or style notes.

MEET THE COOKBOOKS…

MEET THE VINTAGE RECIPES…

– Jellied Cheese Ring Salad (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955)
Molded Cucumber Mousse (from The Blender Cookbook, 1961)

Spanish Cream (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955)

MEET THE TEAMS…
 

The only requirements for this project were that each team take one photo of the ingredients they used in each recipe and one photo of their finished product. They also answered a set of questions about the experience, since working with gelatin in this format was something rather new for everyone involved. The teams did not communicate with each other at all during the process of making each recipe, nor had any collaborative influence over food styling or interview interpretation, which made for an interesting variety of visual appearance when it came to the finished products. Let’s look!

RECIPE No. 1: MOLDED CUCUMBER MOUSSE (from The Blender Cookbook, 1962)

 

Harpie & Manny, RetroRevivalists from New Jersey,  made their Cucumber Mousse using bottled lemon juice and dried parsley and decorated it in a ring of cucumbers with sliced tomatoes.

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we used fresh lemons and Mediterranean sea salt along with parsley and organic cucumbers from the farmers market. We added our own bit of color by styling it with purple cabbage and fresh parsley. Just like Harpie & Manny we also used cucumber slices in the finished presentation.

Note how Harpie & Manny’s cucumber mousse has a lovely even consistency throughout. Our mousse in the Vintage Kitchen, had a two-toned effect with a bright green gelatin ring at the top. Not sure, why this happened but it did give our mousse an extra dose of wiggle.

Overall this recipe was very interesting. It was light, airy and creamy.  Harpie thought it was a breeze to whip up in the blender but found the ingredient interpretation a bit tricky when it came to the onions. “The directions are challenging to interpret: should we add a slice of a medium onion, or slices of a medium onion? I settled for something in the middle.”

In the Vintage Kitchen we struggled with this same issue, was it one thinly sliced medium onion or one thin slice of a medium sized onion? For the VK version we finely sliced a whole medium onion, but after tasting the finished product, would definitely cut way back on the onion to about one slice. All that onion led to a strong taste which wasn’t terrible just tangy! Having said that, if you are a fan of cold cucumber soup then you would love this recipe. It’s refreshing and summery and pretty in color. The original recipe suggested pairing it with cold poached salmon or trout, which would be really good. It would also be delicious served on of top of smoked salmon and crackers or smashed with avocado on multigrain bread with lemon and fresh herbs. Both Harpie and Manny and the Vintage Kitchen would make this mousse again, experimenting next time with a bit less onion. Harpie thought it made an excellent alternative to lettuce leaf salad.

RECIPE No. 2: JELLIED CHEESE RING SALAD (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955 edition)

 For this recipe, you’ll note that the cheese was left up to interpretation. Marianne and Olivia,  a mother/daughter duo from Redmond, WA used honeyed goat cheese and topped their ring with orchard peaches, prosciutto, and fresh basil.  Very creative!
 

In the Vintage Kitchen, we made our ring salad with Havarti Dill cheese, organic farm eggs and milk and smoked paprika. We also chose not to ring this one since we initially thought about cubing it and serving it on top of crackers. We decorated it with a simple sprig of rosemary and served it on an age appropriate plate made by Garden City Pottery in San Jose, California in 1951.

We loved how Marianne and Olivia added a bevy of extra flavors to their cheese ring, which really opens up the possibilities of offering a sweet or savory appetizer or hors d’oeuvre. In the Vintage Kitchen, we hemmed and hawed over various cheese possibilities (blue, cheddar, gouda, cream cheese, brie, camembert, parm etc etc etc) for this recipe for an entire day before deciding on Havarti dill. There was a lot to consider here as far as color, texture, and taste, and while we had big hopes for it, the jellied cheese turned out to be pretty uninteresting in the flavor department. The Vintage Kitchen version had the consistency of a slightly damp sponge and had absolutely no smell. The combo of the smoked paprika and the dill made it taste sweaty like room-temperature buttermilk or old socks. Definitely not quite what we were expecting!

Marianne and Olivia said their version featuring goat cheese made the ring somewhat grainy, so that wasn’t ideal either.  While they didn’t hate it they wouldn’t rush to make it again. Perhaps it’s easier and more delicious to just eat a piece of cheese, in this case, instead of ringing it in jelly! But here in the Vintage Kitchen, we love a good challenge. We haven’t quite given up on this guy yet. The right cheese and the right mix of spices might yield something magical, so we are going to continue working on this just to see if we can come up with something palatable for football snacking season.

RECIPE No. 3: SPANISH CREAM (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955)

Creativity really ruled the roost with this recipe  Harpie and Manny added an elegant drizzle of chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries to theirs.

Marianne and Olivia topped theirs with a dollop of homemade blackberry jam and served it on a gorgeous antique plate.
 

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we topped our Spanish Cream with the last of this season’s sweet Ranier cherries. We served it on a vintage JAJ Floral Pyrex plate that was made in England in the 1960’s and dusted each piece with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Each team agreed that the Spanish Cream was by far their most favorite recipe of the three and definitely one to be made again and again. Harpie loved that it was sweet but not too sweet in taste, silky smooth in texture and refreshingly cool in the heat of summer.

Marianne liked the fact that this recipe was made up of a few simple ingredients that turned into an eye-catching, delicious treat. “I think jellied foods first appealed to people because they were pretty and a bit of a novelty. Take the Spanish Cream for example. All you need is milk and a few eggs to make a really special looking dessert. Top it with some fresh berries or jam and you have an elegant dish from ingredients most would have on hand.”

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we loved that the consistency of the Spanish Cream was light and airy, making it a great dessert choice following a heavier meal. In taste we found it to be most similar to flan or rice pudding but not as dense in texture. Marianne likened it to a cold marshmallow or even a tapioca pudding.  Because of its simple combination of basic ingredients, there is lots of available room to add your own creativity by adding extra flavor enhancers and playing around with the styling, which makes this dessert completely customizable to each cook’s preference.  Next time Marianne and Olivia make it,  they will be experimenting with a coffee version. Harpie and Manny will throw in an extra dose of vanilla and top it with maraschino cherries. And next time we make it in the Vintage Kitchen,  we will be experimenting with a local honey and Greek yogurt version.

So enjoying two out of three of these vintage recipes wasn’t so bad! Each of us embarked on this challenge with our own pre-conceived notions about jellied foods. Harpie and Manny weren’t sure that a gelatin dish could taste good if it was anything other than sweet. “Could savory jello recipes be tasty? Or are we too ingrained in that jello is supposed to be sweet and fruity? Coming from the 1990’s baby background that the Retro Revival staff was born in, jello desserts were only fruit flavored. Anything that wasn’t fitting of that description was considered unpalatable. Once we tried the cucumber mousse (which was the first recipe we made), our feelings immediately changed. Unlike what we expected – suspended savories in a flavorless blob – we got a light and tasteful alternative to boring green salads.”

Marianne addressed the preconceptions about the congealed consistency factor.  “I think many people are afraid of gelatin or they don’t realize that it can be used to create something of a creamy texture. The expectation is that it will create something solid and jiggly. But it has so many uses beyond fruit gelatin desserts. Initially, by participating in this challenge, I was interested to see what kinds of textures would be achieved. Would jellied cheese be better than it sounds? Would I find the next “wow” dish to bring or serve at my next dinner party?”

Here in the Vintage Kitchen we were excited too at the possibility of discovering something new in these old recipes. We were curious to find the attraction of this type of cooking and to understand why people would prepare and eat jellied foods. We went into this project thinking that vintage gelatin dishes were going to be primarily a flavorless mix of strange ingredients.  We were pretty certain that our modern palate, so trained on enjoying and seeking out fresh whole foods, would reject the idea of tucking into a quivery conglomeration of cold cut-ups.

 Surprisingly though, after completing the challenge, we were all pleasantly enlightened.  Gelatin was no longer the oft-putting substance we once thought it was and it taught each of us a new way to look at how it ties together the consistency of food in a variety of formats. It was also really fun to work with. Each recipe was quick to make and exciting to style. Like blank canvases, gelatin offers an artistic form of expression combining simple, tactile arrangements of food, texture and color. As you can see from our above photographs each team presented their finished dishes in entirely different ways. Other than decorating a cake there are not that many types of food that yield such widely diverse creativity in the presentation department.

 

Marianne brought up a good point about the availability (or in this case the non-availability of ingredients back in the 20th century that aided the aspect of artistic merit. “Vintage cooks used everyday ingredients to make something special. Today we are so accustomed to getting exotic ingredients from all around the globe. Vintage cooks didn’t have that option. So, for special occasions, they used what they had and elevated them to a new level with gelatin. Appearance must have been very important. By today’s standards, the original recipes aren’t what most people think of as visually appealing but you have to admit they are all kind of show stoppers.”

Would we rush out and buy boxes and boxes of gelatin tomorrow and eat it every day from here on out? Probably not. But we wouldn’t run away from it now either. In this cooking experiment, we discovered a valuable place for the humble gelatin recipe. The powder package still holds up (no pun intended!) carrying with it the same essence of possibility and potential that it had in the 1950’s and the 1930’s and the centuries before.

Harpie and Manny thought we were still a few years away from seeing a gelatin resurgence in popular American cooking. Marianne and Olivia thought that with a good marketing campaign and better names for dishes (for example, Honeyed Goat Cheese Mousse with Yakima Peaches, Sliced Prosciutto and Basil instead of Jellied Cheese Ring Salad) that people would be more willing to experiment with and accept a jellied food dish. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we think this is the perfect time to see gelatin rise in popularity again. Watch any episode of Chef’s Table…

and you’ll see professional cook’s experimenting with all sorts of materials to elevate their food to a new level of sensory experience. Gelatin has all the attributes of attaining something truly marvelous with a modern approach. We may not be as apt to enjoy Jellied Eggs with Prunes or Olive-Studded Ham Loaf but we don’t HAVE to eat those combos anymore either. As Marianne said we have the world at our finger tips so the set of ingredients for our next jellied dish is limited only by our imagination. And that, dear readers, is the true novelty of a good gelatin.

Cheers to our brave and industrious kitchen experimenters Harpie & Manny and Marianne & Olivia, for joining us on this fun-filled cooking challenge through the wiggly world of gelatin. Keep up with Harpie and Manny on their Retro Revival blog here.  Find both of the vintage cookbooks (plus many more unique mid-century ones!) in the shop here.

A Special Note on the featured cookbooks in this post: The Blender Cookbook (1962) features over 275 pages of vintage recipes intended entirely for creation in the blender. You will never believe the wide range of inventive and innovative recipes that these two Paris trained Gourmet magazine food editors turned authors came up with for all meals of the day! The Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book (1955) celebrates the 25th anniversary of the opening of America’s first supermarket. We previously featured this cookbook in a post about supermarket founder Michael J. Cullen, which you’ll find here.

Our Favorites: Five Wonderfully Whimsical Things about Julia Child (And A Recipe!)

Her old cookbooks teach us new tricks. Her methodical approach to food never fails us. Her infectious joie de vivre still inspires us. She may have passed away 13 years ago but the spirit of Julia Child is still very much alive and well here in the Vintage Kitchen.  Yesterday marked Julia Child’s 105th birthday.  In celebration, we’ve compiled a list of five whimsical things that we absolutely adore about this great lady.

1. The Photograph – December 1968, France

This is my most favorite picture of Julia Child. It was taken in December 1968 while she was staying at her summer house, La Pitchoune, in Plascassier, France. I love that she is laughing so hard she’s practically tumbling off the counter. I wonder what the situation was at the moment this image was captured. Was her husband, Paul, standing just out of frame telling a joke? Or maybe one of those crab claws just reached up and started playing tug-of-war with her fork. Or maybe it was Julia herself just hamming it up for the camera. Spontineanity ran wild in Julia’s kitchen and I have feeling there were many days in many kitchens around the world that witnessed a moment like this with the engaging lady laugher.

2. The TV Appearance – David Letterman

On December 22, 1986 Julia Child was scheduled to demonstrate how to cook with a blowtorch on the Late Night with David Letterman show. The segment starts out as planned but quickly goes awry and both Julia and David wring all the humor they can out of this unexpected situation. It’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants funny piece – both of them cleverly improvising with the comedy at hand.  Julia is famous for saying “No matter what happens in the kitchen, – never apologize.” You can see her sticking to that advice with aplomb here.

3. The Decorating Choice – La Oubliette

In Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, she describes moving into a French apartment that was already furnished.  It was full of old antiques that were musty, broken down and too small for her tall stature.  The shabby scene depressed her so much that she rounded up everything that she disliked in the apartment,  put them into a closet, and shut the door tight, never to encounter that stuff again. She named that closet La Oubliette or the Forgettery. Anything that displeased her from that point forward for the duration of the time that she and Paul lived there went into that closet.  Out of sight, out of mind.

After reading that passage years ago and falling in love with that idea, I established my own Forgettery in whatever place we’ve lived in. Not all of our spaces have had the luxury of spare closets, but a cupboard or a drawer or a hidden shelf works just fine too.  Sometimes we use it not only for physical objects but also for words. There is something very gratifying about walking into your own Oubliette, saying out loud whatever injustice happened to you that day, and then walking out, shutting the door and leaving all that negativity and all those bad vibes closed in there instead of in you. Julia. She was a cook and a therapist all in one!

4. The Random Cambridge, MA Kitchen Comforts

This past May, we had the exciting experience of visiting Julia Child’s kitchen at the Museum of American History. I had seen pictures of it online before so I knew that I’d see the yellow tablecloth and her big restaurant stove and the pots and pans hanging from the pegboard, but what I didn’t realize I’d see was a host of everyday items that had nothing to do with the kitchen.

You know, those other errant household objects of daily life that just seem to migrate their way into the kitchen but have nothing to do with food or cooking? Things like keys, wallets, shoes, books, tape, paint cans, bags, notebooks, etc.? Julia’s kitchen was full of that sort of stuff too. A Rubix cube, a pile of papers, jars of pens and pencils, a calculator, some sort of glowing orb-like light, bird identification books, a signal mirror from World War II.   Julia was all about keeping things close by that she loved. She even had a junk drawer packed full of odds and ends. And a slew of giant, oversized cooking tool props that appeared in funny stories on her cooking show.  She wasn’t into staged or professionally decorated or aesthetically styled perfection. She was into comfort and function and fun entertaining in a casual environment. Even though Julia and Paul hired architect Robert Woods Kennedy to redesign the kitchen after they purchased the house,  all the decorating of their most favorite room was left up to them.  And it shows in the eclectic menagerie of items they collected and colors they loved.

5. The Book – Jessie Hartland

I recently discovered this fantastic children’s book Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child, at a local book sale. Written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland and published in 2012 it is technically considered a children’s book but really anyone of any age could easily appreciate and enjoy it. Jessie tells Julia’s life story in a vivacious arrangement of words and pictures that is so enchanting you’ll want to read it out-loud while imitating Julia’s voice.  It is such a sweet, good-natured and fun-loving approach to the life of this extraordinary culinary icon, you’ll feel like you’ve met Julia Child herself by the end of it.

On the last page of the book, Jessie shares her own adaptation of French crepes inspired by Julia’s recipe. Since it is Julia’s birthday week, and she shouldn’t be cooking for her own celebrations, we made Jessie’s version instead which turned out to be delicious. Julia would definitely approve.

The only ingredient differences in Jessie’s vs. Julia’s recipe is salt and water. Julia’s has a little of both and Jessie’s has none. And to be totally honest we like Jessie’s version better.

One of the things that Julia Child liked most about French cooking was that it was “careful cooking” meaning that you had to spend time with it and keep a thoughtful eye on the procedure of it. She treated all her recipes at first like mountains that needed to be climbed and then, once conquered, like friends that needed to be nurtured and shared and appreciated.  If you have never made crepes before, it may sound a little scary when it comes to flipping these thin style pancakes, but once you’ve conquered it, you’ve mastered this multi-functional breakfast/lunch/ dinner and dessert appropriate food like a champion.

The ingredients are very simple and straight forward. I used free range organic farm eggs, organic whole milk and organic butter in this recipe. Like Julia Child always says – the better quality your ingredients, the better your food will taste.  And if you store your eggs in the refrigerator let them warm up to room temperature before you use them.

Jessie’s Crepes

(makes 5-6 crepes, each about 6.5″ inches in diameter)

3 eggs

1 cup milk

3/4 cup flour

butter (about 1/8th cup)

In a medium sized bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Add the milk and whisk again. Add the flour and whisk one more time. Next Jessie recommends pouring the batter through a fine strainer into a glass measuring cup. I don’t have a strainer so I poured the mixture through cheese cloth wrapped around the fine side of a cheese grater. That worked just fine.

This step removes any large flour lumps and makes the batter silky smooth.  If you don’t have a glass measuring cup you can just strain the batter into a mixing bowl and scoop it with a soup ladle.

Melt 1 teaspoon of butter in a frying pan until it is hot (medium high temp) but not smoking. Whisk the batter one more time and then pour about 1/4 cup into the frying pan. Holding the handle twist and rotate the pan to make sure the batter evenly coats the entire bottom of the pan. Wait about 30 seconds (there should be no more loose or runny batter on the top of the crepe – if there still is cook it a little longer) and then, if you are feeling brave flip the crepe in the pan to cook the other side for about 15 seconds.

There are a couple of other options regarding flipping if you don’t want to toss your crepe up in the air.

Option #1: Carefully slide a spatula underneath the crepe and flip it to the other side.

Option #2:  My personal favorite –  use a cake frosting knife, and slide it under the pancake and quickly flip it.  The goal of all this cooking and flipping is two fold… don’t wait too long to flip it so that the bottom burns and don’t tear the crepe in the process of flipping. The first one might not make the table – and that’s okay – if it burns, or tears or winds up on the floor just start again with more butter and a new scoop of batter. Practice makes perfect. And one general rule of thumb – more butter is better than less butter when it comes to making sure the crepes don’t stick, so when in doubt add more not less. This is what your crepes should look like once they are ready…

Repeat this step until you have made all your crepes. You can keep them warm by placing each one on top of the other, stack-stile, on a plate covered with aluminum foil as each one comes out of the pan. Or covered in a dish in the oven on the lowest temperature setting.

Crepes are a foundation piece that can be served in a number of different ways for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. When we make ours for breakfast, we sprinkle powdered sugar on a warm crepe, roll it up and then top it with a mixture of seasonal fruit in the summer or a warm fruit compote in the fall and winter. But you can just about add anything you like to a crepe and it will be delicious.

One thing to keep in mind when serving crepes is that they contain no sugar so if you like them sweet don’t forget to add sugar or honey, maple syrup, chocolate sauce, whip cream or your own fruit medley.

French Crepes ala Jessie via Julia!

And of course, the very best companion for this festive French dish is a good book like Bon Appetit, which you can find here.

If you are a big fan of Julia, like us, please share your favorite things about her in the comment section below. We’d love to learn more about how she inspires you!

In the meantime cheers to the lady who keeps inspiring us to find the fun in the food! Happy Birthday Julia!

On This Day in 1930: A Behemoth Was Born

On this day – August 4th, 1930 –  a giant marvel of a masterpiece was unveiled on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, New York. It involved a big building, a big parking lot and a plethora of products that extended far beyond what anyone could have imagined before. Aptly named King Kullen, it was King Kong-ish in size and scope and quickly took over an industry in a way only a behemoth of a good idea could.  It was the birth of the super market – the very first large space grocery store that contained not only food items but also hardware, paint, automotive, cosmetics, shoe shine, kitchenware, confectionery and drug departments all under one roof.

Michael J. Cullen (1884-1936)

The brainchild of grocery store employee, Michael Cullen (who spent half of his adult career working at The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company and then grocery retailer, Kroger) imagined a better, larger, less expensive shopping experience that would cut grocery prices in half for the customer and allow more space for the store to sell bulk items in mass quantity. Essentially it is the same concept that our modern American grocery stores still follow to this day.

Before Michael and his big-brained idea came along, people grocery shopped in small pocket stores like this one photographed in the 1920s…

These independent stores definitely filled a need and were vital businesses to the community but they were also very limiting and not very private. Space was an issue for the store owners which meant that many items had to be special ordered for customers on a need-by-need basis,  extending the shopping transaction by days or sometimes even weeks.  Service was also an issue as items were frequently stored up high or behind counters making it necessary for grocery employees to gather specifically what was needed.

This one-on-one buying model may have helped develop customer relationships but it also created lengthy wait times for other shoppers while each order was filled.  Speculation and gossip seeped into the buying process too as the whole store could see (and hear!) what everyone was buying. Combined with the fact that meat was purchased from the butcher, bread from the baker, fish from the fish monger and specialty cans and shelf stable items from the grocery, meant that the whole shopping experience could take hours out of the day.

Refrigerators of the late 1920’s provided enough storage to stock foods for up to a week.

Michael took note of all these clunky patterns, accessed the growing rise of refrigerators popping up in American homes and started jotting down ideas for something easier and faster involving less commotion and less expense. While he flushed out his thoughts he was still working at Kroger. He brought up his ideas to his boss who didn’t give Michael’s thoughts any merit. So Michael left Kroger and opened King Kullen Grocery Company independently months later. Michael knew he had a great idea – the right concept at the right time. He had worked in the grocery business for 28 years at that point, long enough to see where the consumer experience needed improvement and how profits could be made.

By building a bigger store in a bigger space, King Kullen initiated the self-serve shopping concept where all products were in easy reach of the customer with a large quantity of the same item available. So you could zip in and out of the store much more quickly. No more waiting, no more special ordering, no more gossip.

King Kullen also eliminated the idea of credit registry systems, another time sucker, by only dealing with cash transactions. And they axed the local delivery system which for small, independent grocers meant additional employees and additional expense. Combining all these elements – bigger store, easy to reach items, large selection of product and a faster payment system was much more efficient and empowering to shoppers.  Independent groceries were old-fashioned and pokey where King Kullen, in 1930,  was up to the minute modern.

And then there was the significant pricing system. Upon opening, King Kullen boasted that they could reduce your average grocery bill by 10-50% which during the Great Depression years was a major attraction for struggling wage-earners. By offering everything from house paint to ham (the “super” market concept)  under one roof, King Kullen became a one-stop shop. You can see the price difference between Kroger in the 1920’s and King Kullen in the 1930’s in these advertisements…

Late 1920’s Kroger grocery advertisement on the left, 1933 King Kullen Advertisement on the right

Some of the significant savings included:

  • Tea –   $0.29 per 1/2lb at Kroger vs. $0.39/per 1lb at King Kullen
  • Boiled Ham – $0.33/lb at Kroger vs. $0.21/lb at King Kullen
  • Catsup – $0.15/bottle at Kroger vs. $0.10/bottle at King Kullen
  • Whole Chicken – $0.33/lb vs. $0.19/lb at King Kullen
  • Beans – 4 cans for $0.23 at Kroger vs. 6 cans for $0.25 at King Kullen

Finally, by providing a large parking lot able to accommodate a vast amount of cars, King Cullen changed how people shopped. Families went together, some traveling up to 100 miles away from home so they could fill their car with foodstuffs and stock their shelves for a lengthier period of time. The super market also hosted all sorts of product events and giveaways making each shopping trip to King Kullen unexpected and engaging. It was a seamless, adventuresome outing, easy to navigate and fun to participate in.

King Kullen caught like wildfire in the hearts of the American public. Thousands flocked to the new Jamaica Avenue store on opening day, leading a trend that other grocery stores (like Michael’s previous employer, Kroger) noted and then soon replicated. Throughout the 1930’s store after store opened under the King Kullen brand. Unfortunately in 1936 tragedy struck when Michael died just six years after debuting his first Jamaica Avenue store from complications following an appendectomy.

With the help of his wife and his sons, Michael’s legacy and the King Kullen brand continued to thrive. Today there are 32 King Kullen grocery stores still in operation, proving that Michael was a true visionary. The motto of the brand from the beginning was “We are here to stay and to please the public.”  Eighty-seven years later and still going strong, they have definitely accomplished their mission and in doing so affected change across the entire grocery industry.

Just listed in the shop this week is a cookbook published in 1955 celebrating the 25th anniversary of the supermarket. Titled the Silver Jubilee, it contains over 500 pages of recipes utilizing ingredients easily found at King Kullen-sized stores.

It is hard to imagine this being a novelty cookbook now but if you think about having to stop at 5-7 different food stores to pick up ingredients for one recipe you can understand how enormous this concept really was between the 1930’s – 1950’s. We take so much for granted now in the form of food buying and what we expect from the process. The Silver Jubilee really helps us understand the marvel behind the modern just like Michael helped us experience the efficiency behind the industry.

Cheers to Michael and his revolutionary idea and a happy birthday to King Kullen!

Later this month we will be featuring a few recipes from the Silver Jubilee cookbook in our first ever cross country cook-a-thon. Stay tuned for that!  In the meantime, find the celebratory Super Market Cook Book in the shop here.

MFK: The Street Artists and the Food Writer

There is a group of graffiti artists in our city called the Metal Fingers Krew. They make these spectacular giant wall murals of their initials all over town on the sides of industrial buildings. Every time I pass one I think of the food writer MFK Fisher who shared the same initials.

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992)

The work of the Metal Fingers Krew is elaborately designed and really beautiful. They make their mark mostly on warehouses that are nondescript or in a state of shabbiness, so they add a bit of pizazz to the landscape with their color and their big 4-5 foot tall font faces.

MFK Fisher (1908-1992) made her mark on the 20th-century literary scene writing about food and how it looks and tastes and feels over the course of 30 books. Considered one of the most beautiful prose writers still to this day, she wrote her way through her own experiences… of men and marriages, of cross-continent moves, of motherhood and memories and of making food to eat.

The Metal Fingers Krew works like traditional graffiti artists – under the cover of night. One day you pass a blank brick building and the next day it is magically decorated. In a city that has a lot of murals but not a lot of graffiti, street art really stands out. The thing I notice most is not that this talented batch of artists defaced a building (which may or may not be exciting to the property owner) but that they’ve added a layer of creative flourish to what is otherwise a very linear and industrial part of town.

MFK Fisher also added her own flourish. Writing about food and life with such poetic, descriptive detail you can practically taste her words, she was famous for saying that she just wrote the facts of things.  But in doing so she also wrote the feelings of everything. Even the unglamorous sides of cooking… the dirt, the dishes, the heat, the nonsense, the dueling perspectives, the disasters.  Like when you are canning fruit in the summertime without air conditioning you get hot and sweaty. Or like when you pull butter and lettuce out of water from the spring house storage you get cold and shivery. That was all just part of the process of eating and experiencing, not an indelicate act or sensation that should go overlooked or unnoted because it was unattractive to talk about. Every bit was important.

The Metal Fingers Krew talks the same language in their own way too. They point your gaze at a typically unattractive building and make you look at the detailed beauty of it simply by adding a swatch of color. They call attention to the plain-Janes of a shed row, or the slow decay of a factory, or the burnout of a building left vacant in the same way that MFK Fisher draws attention to eating the everyday foods that we mostly take for granted.

I think MFK Fisher would have loved the passion behind the Metal Fingers Krew graffiti art just as much she liked describing her passion with food. They were two artists working in two different mediums but had the same initials and the same sole purpose of expressing oneself.

“One of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”  MFK Fisher

What do you think? Do you see other stories or other artists in the face of graffiti? If so, please share your comments below!

In the meantime, cheers to painters and food preparers and the perspectives they bring!

Summer Dinner with Sunset: Cold Roast Beef with Whipped Horseradish circa 1962

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.

Sunset Magazine then, in 1898 (first issue!) and now (the current issue July, 2017)

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.

Sunset’s Beef A La Mode

(serves 12-18)

5 – 6 lb. rump roast (or 5-6 lb. grass-fed beef rump roast)

2 cups dry red table wine

1 onion, sliced

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon crushed whole black pepper

1 bay leaf

Flour seasoned with salt and pepper

1/4 cup beef fat, shortening or oil

1 cup tomato puree

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup grated horseradish

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.

Seared on all sides and ready for the oven.

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.

Explore 61 other 1960’s themed menus in The Dinner Party Cook Book available in the Vintage Kitchen Shop here.

New to grass-fed beef cooking? Visit the website of our favorite grass-fed beef vendor at the Nashville Farmers Market and learn more.

Cheers to easy summer nights and to the good friends that fill them.

British Occupied, India Fed: 1930’s Dinner and a Binge Watch {Summer Style}

 

There’s something to be said about dramas that unfold slowly. Whether it be of the kitchen cooking kind or the visual arts kind,  storytelling that marinates in its surroundings for awhile always proves worth the wait.  In today’s post, we are kicking off the start of lazy summer weekends with a masterpiece of both food and television… the two season BBC drama Indian Summers and the two-days-to-prepare recipe, Tandoori Chicken. Both are steeped in the colorful, cultural land of India in the 1930’s and both do a big number on your senses.

Just like the beautiful bouquet that was Downton Abbey, Indian Summers is stunning in cinematography, costumes and casting.  Taking place over several 1930’s summers in the Himalayan Mountains of British occupied India, the story centers around a brother and sister trying to navigate the political and polite terrains of affluent society.

Alice and Ralph

Alice comes with baggage to the exotic land she left long ago, escaping an unhappy marriage and an uncertain future.  Her brother, Ralph sets up house in a gorgeous mountain-side estate while pursuing a career in the British government that is vying for ultimate control over India.  Romance, mystery, intrigue, murder and scandal surround both characters as their stories intertwine with local residents and visitors.

The premise sounds simple enough, but the story gets more complicated with each new episode. A murder occurs right at the very beginning but it takes more than half a season to even begin to understand how the characters are connected to the crime and why it is significant to the broader story. It is such a subtle, sophisticated form of writing that by episode four I thought I missed something completely and had to go back to episode three to find an explanation. But as it turns I didn’t miss anything. Explanations unfold gradually as all the characters try to figure out for themselves the details and the reasonings behind the mysterious death. This leaves plenty of time for your own theories about what happened and why which makes the whole show really engaging. Plus there are plot turns and twists that you’d never see coming.

Here’s the trailer from Season 1…

Unfortunately, Indian Summers only had a 2 season run before being canceled so there are just 20 episodes in total. But this actually turns out to be the perfect amount of viewing time if you find yourself in need of a break over a long weekend. No seven season stretches that require months (or more!) here. Indian Summers is one tidy, compact easily digested show that will hook you from the opening scene and have you sailing your way straight through to the end.

To complement this marathon of mini-series viewing is the perfect, low-maintenance Indian dinner that takes two days to make and results in a  feast enough for six. Which means that you can binge-watch with friends AND feed them a fun dinner. Two days of cooking anything may not sound like it is low-maintenance to you at all, but even easier than a crock-pot recipe, all this chicken dish requires is ten minutes of preparation.

Tandoori Chicken, 1960’s style!

Introducing effortlessly easy Tandoori Chicken… the exotic entree that captured the appetites of mid-century eaters world-wide. Straight from Craig Claiborne’s 1963 Herb and Spice Cook Book, this recipe features simple ingredients, a slow marinade and a slow bake. As you fill your head with the dramatic experience of Indian Summers you’ll fill your space with an aromatic blanket of Indian spices. It’s a well-rounded sensory experience of a most magnificent kind!

The origins of this style of slow roasted chicken have their beginnings with Kundan Lal Gujral  who experimented with tandoori (a method of clay oven cooking) in a restaurant in Peshawar, British India during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Kundan Lal Gujral

By 1947 he perfected his methods and started serving it in his own restaurant in Delhi where it turned into a favorite signature dish. By the 1960’s it was all the rage being offered everywhere from humble houses to luxury hotels, restaurants and even on-board airplanes.  Craig Claiborne loved it for its feature of the spice coriander, which symbolizes hidden worth.

There are many variations of Tandoori chicken featuring different spice combinations – some turning the chicken a bright fiery red, others turning it a deep orangey brown. This recipe lies somewhere in the middle. Dark upon exit from the oven and infused with a tangy warmth encouraged by the citrus and vinegar, it practically falls off the bone once it is out of the  oven.  Ideally you’d have your own tandoori to cook it in, but if not, then a regular roasting dish works just fine.

Tandoori Chicken, 1960’s style!

Tandoori Chicken

Serves 6

1 5-6lb. chicken

2 cups yogurt

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons coriander

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2 table spoons fresh lime or lemon juice

2 teaspoons salt

  1. Wash the chicken and place in a close fitting bowl. In a seperate bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, spices, vinegar, lime juice and salt. Mix well and pour over the chicken. Turn to coat well with the marinade. Place in the refrigerator and marinate at least 12 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Just about to go in the oven.

3. Remove the chicken from the mixture and place it on a rack in a shallow baking dish or roaster. Save aside the marinade mixture for future basting.

4. Bake until tender, about 3 and a half hours. During the first hour and a half baste the chicken once with the yogurt marinade (at about the 45 minute mark). At the hour and a half mark  baste again with olive oil. And then repeat the olive oil paste two more times within the remaining baking period (about every 45 minutes).  You might need to tent the chicken for the last 45 minutes with aluminum foil to keep from over browning.

Tandoori Chicken, 1960’s style!

You’ll see in the photo above that the chicken does turn out quite dark – it was not burnt, as it sort of looks here – just very brown (similiar to the color of espresso) from the spices.

Once you remove the chicken from the oven let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. Serve it platter-style alongside warm naan bread and a simple salad of mixed greens and you have authentic Indian cuisine to pair with your Indian entertainment.

The house where Alice and Ralph live.

I hope the flavors and the film production transport you back to another era. If you have your own way of making Tandoori Chicken please share your recipe below. It would be fun to experiment with different herb and spice combinations!

Winners Announced for the Sparta Souvenir Giveaway!

Spartan Table giveaway names announced!

Ladies and gentlemen we have a winner! Well three actually since the Spartan Souvenir giveaway includes three gift packs. Technicalities aside, cheery congratulations goes out to Jessica W., Michael B. and Kari T. on winning olive oil and oregano samples from the gorgeous Greek city of Sparta courtesy of The Spartan Table. Winners, please check your emails for contest notifications and respond with your postal address for receipt of your prize via mail.

spartantable_gifts

A big thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway! Look for more exciting chances to win  souvenirs from around the world as we head into 2017. Ms. Jeannie would also like to extend a special thank you to everyone who sent private messages about this post in particular and the magical world of Jehny and George. Comments are like stars in the night sky – always delightfully unexpected and always very rewarding for the spirit – so keep them coming! Ms. Jeannie loves (LOVES!) to hear what’s going on in that brain of yours.

The Spartan Table holiday gift giving ideas

While you head into the holiday stretch, please keep The Spartan Table in mind for both holiday cooking and gift giving. Jehny and George ship so fast from Greece, you’ll have barely placed your order before you see your international package sitting pretty in your post box.  Unlike mail from Italy that can sometimes take up to a month for delivery, Greece is definitely on top of their postal practices and procedures with usual delivery time-frames hovering between 5-10 days. (The souvenirs for this post took just 5 days!) That, combined with the accommodating, kind and friendly attitudes of Jehny and George, your Christmas shopping experience with The Spartan Table is guaranteed to be not only easy breezy but also thoroughly enjoyable. And so very delicious!

Cheers to Jessica, Michael and  Kari and to the ancient city of Sparta for bringing history home.

 

Stories & Souvenirs from Ancient Sparta: Enter to Win Olive Oil & Oregano from Greece!

Hello from Sparta, Greece!

Hello from Sparta, Greece!

There’s a passage from Homer’s The Iliad that reads:

“Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, now the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”

This is not only a great quote for Autumn, as the leaves color and float and fall to the ground reminding us all that change is natural and seasonality vital, but it is also a great introduction to the guiding principles behind our next interview.

In today’s post we are traveling 5,000 miles away crossing over Homer’s “roaring seas and many a dark mountain range” to the country of Greece to the historic city of Sparta where we are chatting for a bit underneath the olive trees with Jehny and George from The Spartan Table. Purveyors and producers of an assortment of agricultural delights in this Mediterranean section of the world, Jehny and George come from a small town that is very BIG on  ancient history.

jehny7

First having discovered these two by way of Etsy, Ms. Jeannie fell in love with the sights and sounds of Sparta on a field walk with Jehny and her family as they described picking herbs in the Taygetus Mountains via their newsletter…

“The talk stops and for the next couple of hours, we ‘re “lost” in a green and white sea” of wild oregano together with thousands of bees and relative insects. We ‘re all busy to get as much as we can from this amazing plant. We stop for few minutes from time to time just to lay our eyes on the surrounding mountainsides while the sun has starting to set. There  are so much peace and beauty and even some sounds of some sheep somewhere around echoing like an old song from the distance…”

It was a combination of their descriptive writing, their enthusiasm for the job at hand, their accented words, the beauty of their landscape and their deep-rooted love for their country that caught Ms. Jeannie’s heart.  As part of the American culture’s ideals of constantly being on the move, always next-best-thinging our way through life, it was refreshing to read about people who were so settled into their sense of place and so appreciative of their natural surroundings. And then there was their national pride. Read further to understand this.

View of the Taygetus Mountains

View of the Taygetus Mountains

We all know that Greece has had their hardships, most recently with the economy – but as you learn through Jehny’s newsletters the detailed account of her family’s history over the last one hundred years and that of the olive grove that she now cultivates, we begin to understand this extraordinary set of determined people passionate about seeking and seeing the positive, progressive side of life. “To plant an olive tree is to proclaim a faith in the future, for it will be the following generations that will benefit, will reap no matter drought or storm, dictator or revolution, once the olive has made its home,” said Jehny in her February 1st, 2016 newsletter.

Jehny's family photographed in the 1930's

Jehny’s family photographed in the 1930’s

The Spartan Table was born in 2013 after Jehny left behind an unfulfilling corporate job and discovered by way of a small series of realizations that her passions leaned more towards olives than offices. In the early days of shop-keeping, she first offered a selection of local wild herbs cultivated from the mountains around her.  Quickly her shop grew to include olives, olive oil and olive paste from her family’s olive trees. Each year added a new series of local products and a new level of ancient history to back it up. Today you can find an increasingly interesting array of Greek products in her shop including sea salt dried on the sun soaked rocks of Mani, traditional sweet treats baked in Jehny’s kitchen, honey from beekeeper Bill, handmade soap and cutting boards (from the olive trees!) all made and/or procured by Jehny, her family and her friends in their local environment.

spartanshop_collage

A sampling of treasures from The Spartan Table!

How does she do it all you wonder? Can one woman’s love of her country and culture sustain a life worth living? You bet! Get to know more about Jehny and George and their storybook landscape in their interview here and then sign up below for a chance to win a complimentary souvenir from Sparta courtesy of Jehny and The Spartan Table.

Experience the flavor of Greece for yourself with these two special treats from The Spartan Table.

Experience the flavor of Greece for yourself with these two special treats from The Spartan Table.

Your location in Sparta is gorgeous! In your bio, you mention that it is your family’s region and that you have lived there a long time. In the United States families move around A LOT. So I am intrigued by your permanent sense of place in Sparta. What keeps (or has kept) your family there for all these generations?

Sparta is our homeland.It’s a mythical land with – perhaps – the most know Greek Ancient city (With Athens) The landscape is just beautiful. If you could see, even for a moment what we see every morning, the magnificent mountain Taygetus and the Spartan valley, you’d fell immediately in love with the place. Living in a place which great people once lived in, makes us feel truly blessed.

Sparti, Peloponnese, Greece. Photo courtesy of scout.com

Sparti, Peloponnese, Greece.

Tell us little bit about daily life in Sparta. Do you live in a farmhouse in the country or do you live in the city center in a more urban type dwelling?

Today the “modern Sparta” which has built in 1836, is a small town with near 20.000 inhabitants. We live just few blocks from the center and beside the Ancient Acropolis & Theater. Just 100 meters from our home, there are hundreds of very old olive trees amongst the Ancient ruins.

The ancient acroplis

The Acropolis in Ancient Sparta.

If we were to visit you in Sparta where are the first three places you would take us?

The Acropolis and the Ancient Theater. The Mystras Byzantine castle city, where the last emperor left to save the Konstantinople. (Like King Leonidas, the last emperor went to fight into a war, knowing in advance that everything had being lost). And the museum of the Olive Oil, which is unique in Greece.

sparta_collage

Clockwise from left to right: The Museum of Olive Oil, the Mystras Byzantine Castle City and the Ancient Theater.

So many people in life don’t appreciate the environment around them which is what makes The Spartan Table and all your lovely newsletters so refreshing. Your national pride is wonderful. What keeps you excited about your culture on an everyday basis?

As we mentioned before, living in a land of heroes, it’s impossible not to feel the “vibes” of their acts despite that hundreds of years have passed. We feel that we have to make something for the next generations and keep the spirit of dignity, pride and freedom alive.

King Leonides, Byzantine Church, Mystras

King Leonidas, the gorgeous indoor and outdoor architecture of Byzantine Church and Mystras.

From harvesting olives to farming sea salt to collecting herbs and honey and making soap – are you involved in all these endeavors personally or do you have a big team that helps you gather items for your shop?

Since we started from the scratch – after a stressed corporate life- we tried to make everything with our hands and our small team (our Family). Getting some big inquiries and interest about our humble treasures, we decided to add some more People in our small team. These are people with great passion and love about what they do and we are honored and proud having them with us!

In the olives!

In the olives!

Of all the items in your shop right now, which is your most favorite?

Jehny: wild walnuts with honey from wild flowers and herbs.

George: Sheperd’s tea with honey from wild flowers and herbs.

favorites_collage

Jehny’s favorite on the left, George’s on the right.

What are the differences between Greek olive oil and Italian olive oil? Do they contain different olive varieties or are they harvested in a different way? Does the different geographic landscape/environment affect the taste of olive oil?

First of all, remember that Greece is the 3rd biggest olive oil producer in the world with an average of 350.000tn annually. Italy is at 600.000 tons (when their internal consumption is 800.000tn – think about it) And Spain is more than 1.200.000tn. Greece produces mostly extra virgin olive oil (which Italy and Spain does not) Laconia, our regions produces ONLY extra virgin olive oil and it’s one of the 3 biggest producer regions in Greece. “Koroneiki” is one of the best and most well know varieties of Greece but we have one more unique one: “Athinoelia” (the tree of Goddess Athena). This is an exquisite EVOO and it’s the “first extra virgin olive oil” in Greece every year. This EVOO has a strong and spicy taste and almost all of the yearly production is going to abroad every year. It’ s the EVOO that everyone must try even for once in life!

oliveoil1

Extra virgin olive oil from The Spartan Table .

Which country do you ship your products to the most?

Mostly to U.S and secondly to Canada. We’ve met wonderful people in these first 3 years and we hope that one day we’ll have the honor and pleasure to welcome them in our home.

Soap handmade by Jehny's mom!

Soap handmade by Jehny’s mom!

You mention in your olive oil listings that you can also use the oil as part of your beauty regiment. How would you recommend using it?

Simply by putting on the skin (massage). Or make “oil with herbs”.

Handmade Olive Paste

Handmade Olive Paste

What is one thing that has really surprised you this past year in regards to your business?

As we said before, through these 3 years since we started, we met wonderful people which not only supported us as with all their hearts but also shared few lines and messages with their beloved ones. This led to warm feedback and to a genuine interest from a company from Netherlands which asked for a big project for Christmas. Upon our first contact and we asked how they found us , they simply answered : “We read your story and every feedback about you”. Then we understood that the love and support of our Friends in the States (mostly), “drove” them to our door!

If you could invite five famous people (dead or alive) to dinner at your house whom would you choose and why?

Well, we can’t really choose. There are a lot of people which we’d love to invite. So instead of this option, we want to invite as many people as we can to share our table. You know, “common people” like us.

Coasters

A recent addition to the Jehny’s shop – Olive Wood Drink Coasters!

What is your most favorite meal to make in your kitchen?

Greek Salad (and many another kind of salads) and Meat (pork, chicken in the oven with EVOO, herbs, and different vegetables).

When you are not cooking or harvesting or collecting for business what hobbies do you enjoy? Reading and sharing moments with family and friends (and sometimes trying to get some decent sleep – cause we miss it often!)

On George's bookshelf...

On George’s bookshelf…

What book are you currently reading? What music are you currently listening to? Jehny : Reading books and articles about decorations (special events and weddings). Greek pop music. George: “I contain Multitudes” & “The secret life of plants”. Old Rock and classical music.

Do you ever dream about living somewhere else in the world? If so, where would you choose and why?

No, but we love to travel and meet new friends. Unfortunately due to the heavy crisis in Greece, we can’t afford to any trips but we hope that one day we ‘ll start traveling again.

What inspires you about your business?

The superb landscape. You can’t be “unaffected” when You see the mountains and the valley every morning!

View from the olive groves!

View from the olive groves!

Understandably so, with a  view like that! Throughout history, the olive branch has been a symbol of peace the world over.  Although they lead busy lives as blooming entrepreneurs, you can see how the olive trees have brought peace and fulfillment to the lives of Jehny and George. And you can taste it too. In the aromatic flavor of their olive oil, which is fresh and raw like newly cut grass. In the sweet, earthy smell of their wild mountain oregano. To breathe these two cooking staples in, is to breathe all the myths and legends and stories of a thousand centuries. It is to breathe in the sun and the sky and the windswept air of Sparta, where great men and women have dared to accomplish great feats.  But maybe most importantly you are breathing in generations of a country’s faith in itself and in it’s future.

giveaway from The Spartan Table

Jehny and Ms. Jeannie are so excited to offer three lucky readers the opportunity to sample the wild oregano cultivated from the Taygetus Mountains and the extra virgin olive oil from the family groves of The Spartan Table. Three winners will each receive one complimentary packet of oregano and two mini bottles of olive oil to test and  to try to experiment and to explore.

All you need to do is fill in the comment box below with your name and email address (so we can let you know who won!) and then answer the question: Who is your favorite author? in the comment box, so we can avoid spam messages. Winners will be picked at random and will be announced both here on the blog, on instagram and via email on Monday morning, November 21st, so please enter for your chance to win by midnight (11:59pm) on Sunday (11/20). Enter as many times as you like and please spread the word to fellow culinary lovers.

Please note, Ms. Jeannie totally respects your privacy. Your contact information will not be sold or shared and is simply used here for contest purposes only. If you are reading this post on your phone you may have trouble seeing the actual contact form box. Please visit msjeannieology.com to access the private and secure form which will send your entry directly to a private email account. Any troubles beyond this, please comment on the blog post and Ms. Jeannie will help you ASAP!

While you wait to find out if you are the lucky recipient of a Sparta souvenir peruse the lovely offerings of  The Spartan Table here .

{After a long nap in the question and answer department, Ms. Jeannie’s interview series is back in full swing, bringing you face to face with real-life creatives from around the globe. If you missed last week’s interview with museum director  Louise Van Tartwijk, from Washington, Connecticut’s Gunn Historical Museum find it here. If you are new to this series, catch up on a bevy of previous interviews here.}

Until Monday, cheers and good luck!

Photo credits: The Spartan Table, maranghuset.se