Ladies and gentlemen, the results are in! Eighteen ingredients, nine hours, three loaf pans and one historic recipe later – we have a winner – in Election Cake. Yesterday, when I wrote about the history of this patriotic confection, there was uncertainty and speculation about what exactly it was (cake or bread?) and if it was going to be a palatable sweet treat that transitioned well across three centuries. Today, we discovered what this celebratory concoction was all about. Let’s look…
The recipe began yesterday, simple enough, with yeast and water and flour, and a dash of sugar and oil…
It was left to rise six hours on its own, which it did, like a good little cake…
Next, went in a handful of ingredients…
After they were all mixed together, the batter was ready to be parceled out into three loaf pans…
and were left to rise again, for another hour, which they really didn’t do at all. It would be generous to say that after the hour was up, each loaf was half an inch taller, but that would be an exaggeration. Maybe, indeed the batter did rise a little, but if so it was barely noticeable. I hesitated here at this stage, thinking maybe I should let them sit longer so that each loaf could get bigger. But then I remembered that the author of this recipe, Fannie Farmer, was a stickler for precision and instruction, so into the oven the three loaves went, without any extra rise time. Just follow the recipe. That’s what Fannie would have said.
Exactly at the one hour mark, no less and no more, the loaves came out sky high and golden brown…
Fannie didn’t fail us after all! The tops even cracked open themselves, and looked like little lips about to say yum. A good sign of things to come. After a short cooling off period, the loaves were ready to cut and serve and taste…
And that is when I discovered that this very old Election Cake is in fact, very delicious. I understand how people could get confused about whether to call it a cake or a bread because really it is similar to both. It has a texture and consistency like banana bread or zucchini bread but also it has a light and fluffy body like cake. The combination of the whiskey, yeast and nutmeg gives it a subtle hint of almost root beer-like tang that is lovely and warm. And although it already has a cup of butter in it, this little darling of a delectable is calling out to be sliced and toasted with an extra slather of butter.
While no one ingredient is powerfully overwhelming, all of them work well together to create a balanced flavor that hints at citrus and at spice, which leads me to understand how so many varieties of Election Cake came about between the 1700’s and now. It’s wonderful just as it is, but it’s also one of those recipes that might spark your creativity. After you have made it once or twice, it will make you feel brave – enough to confidently add your own little twist. Not an improvement, just a twist. Maybe you’ll want to add some nuts or orange peel or cinnamon or cranberries. Or maybe you’ll get creative on the serving side and want to pair it along with thinly sliced pieces of ham or brie or cream cheese for a savory little snack. I love recipes like this – ones that feed your brain as well as your belly.
Either way you decide to approach this recipe, you’ll be most successful with it if you use good quality ingredients like local eggs, fresh nutmeg, European butter, etc. They might be a little more expensive to buy, but the more fresh and natural your ingredients, the more flavorful this cake, in particular, will be. And because it makes three loaves at once, you can freeze two for later, preferably when its cold and snowy, as this would be especially nice for winter breakfast alongside a cup of coffee, for lunch or tea-time or even afternoon hors d’oeuvres. Sweet in a satisfying, robust way (not in an empty calorie way), it will give you renewed energy to carry on with your day, which was exactly the original intention way back on voting days in the 1700’s.
Fannie Farmer’s Election Cake
(Makes 3 loaves. Recipe written exactly as it appeared in the 1965 edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
Put in a bowl… 1 cup warm water (not hot)
Sprinkle over it… 1 package yeast
Add… 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon salad oil (I used olive oil), 2 1/2 cups flour
Beat thoroughly , cover, and let rise overnight or at least 6 hours.
Butter three loaf tins. Cream 1 cup butter. Cream in 2 cups dark brown sugar.
Add 4 eggs, well beaten.
Stir in 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon powdered cloves, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon mace (if you can’t find this spice, substitute it for an additional 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg), 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Add to the the butter mixture. Add 2 cups seeded raisins, 1 cup whiskey.
Stir into the yeast batter and beat to blend well. Divide the dough in the tins. cover and let rise 1 hour. Bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees.
Interested in learning more about Fannie Farmer and her historic recipes? Find the 1965 edition of her original 1898 cookbook in the shop here.
And just a little reminder… there are just two days left to save 20% off all vintage and antique platters in the shop! Find your favorite here.
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…
Long before Irma Rombauer became a household name, she was an everywoman of the early 1900’s living in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband and two children. As the wife of an attorney who had political aspirations, Irma was actively involved in the social scene of St. Louis, a well-connected member of various clubs and organizations and a fun hostess of house parties and local events.
When the stock market crashed and her husband tragically committed suicide as a result, the rosy colors of Irma’s St. Louis lifestyle suddenly took on a whole new shade. Without much money in savings, Irma, now in her early 50’s, had to quickly figure out what to do. Most importantly, she had to figure out how to survive on her own and care for her family, as a single woman, after thirty years of marriage.
While the Great Depression was a very hard time financially for families around the country, it was also a very creative period in home cooking. As everyone struggled to survive and to feed their families, barriers started breaking down as far as people’s pre-conceived notions of kitchen work and culinary skills. The wealthy could no longer afford kitchen staff and therefore had to start cooking for themselves. The middle class no longer had the same budget for groceries and had to learn how to cook more frugally. And the lower class had to stretch their meager food supplies even further. That meant a whole wave of new cooks were beginning to emerge. Cooks who needed answers on how to do new things whether it was learning basic skills, innovative recipes or new techniques.
Irma saw an opportunity here in this great depression of both her own and the country’s. Americans needed a practical, instructive cookbook that offered good nutritional food for all budgets and all skill levels. Assume nothing, teach everything and most importantly find the joy, those were the thoughts ruminating in Irma’s mind. This cookbook idea seemed especially relevant after a fellow St Louisan published a cookbook in 1929 featuring all sorts of expensive ingredients and decadent dishes – a notion that seemed totally inappropriate to Irma for both the time and the town.
The funny thing about Irma though at this point in her life, was that she wasn’t exactly known for her cooking. Her parties with her husband in the past had been memorable – not for the food but for the atmosphere. While Irma herself was a dynamic hostess and an interesting, intelligent conversationalist, what she served was overshadowed by her charming personality. People didn’t come away from Irma’s kitchen raving about her food but instead raving about Irma. So the very idea that Irma would embark, could embark, on writing a cookbook, as just a sort-of-okay meal maker, was a great surprise to everyone who knew her. But none of that mattered. Irma had a plan in mind that was going to turn her kitchen from dull to delicious.
Because she was so well connected and knew a lot of people in her community, Irma started collecting recipes from her friends and their families. Recipes that were proven hand-me-downs, time-honored and beloved. Once gathered, she went home and tested each recipe herself… adapting, tweaking, altering and omitting along the way if needed. When a satisfactory bundle of approved recipes emerged that suited her taste, she organized them into book form, named it The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat and had 3,000 copies printed up by a local print shop. Tah-dah, the Joy of Cooking was born.
Irma mailed out copies of the cookbook from home and handled publicity and sales campaigns herself, enthusiastically spreading the joy of Joy. The rest is cooking history. Bobbs-Merrill picked up professional publishing of the book in 1936 with the debut of the second edition. Irma became a trusted authority known for her reliable recipes and engaging writing style. And the book went on to sell 18 million copies across eight updated editions. Covering everything from how to skin a squirrel to how to make a souffle, Joy of Cooking raised a nation of home cooks (18 million of them!) by assuming nothing, teaching everything and finding the joy.
That is a wonderful contribution to the American food scene. At a time when women could have felt marginalized by their roles as domestic cooks, Irma made cooking exciting and delicious and easily attainable. Her cookbooks turned into confidence and that confidence radiated into all other aspects of life. Rumor has it that a new addition is scheduled for publication in 2019, edited and updated by the Rombauer family, who have faithfully handled the cookbook and its revisions since Irma’s death in 1962. Thanks to Irma’s children and her grandchildren, they have made the Joy of Cooking a record holder as the oldest cookbook in history that is still maintained by one family. A legacy that hopefully will keep Irma in our kitchens for another 80 years.
Cheers to the Rombauer family and to Irma, in particular, who would have celebrated her 141st birthday today, and cheers to always finding the joy in both good times and bad.
Looking for your own vintage edition of Joy Of Cooking? Find two ediions currently available in the shop – one from 1967 here and one from 1975 here. And if you missed the previous blog post, catch up with a recipe for Irma’s Plum Cake Cockaigne here.
Happy September, happy October and happy Autumn everyone! That’s three cheers, two months and one season that has happened since the last post. Oh my. The majority of September around the Vintage Kitchen was spent curating and collecting items for the shop and went by in such a hurry I officially coined it the hi/bye month because that’s exactly what it felt like. Here one minute, gone the next.
October started in the same way, with the same humid temperatures and the same busy schedule. Hot summer weather has hung around with gusto until just a few days ago, making this new season and curating for it, a bit of a challenge. My heart was wrapped up in the idea of Fall – all those colorful leaves and pumpkins and baking projects – but my head couldn’t quite get over the fact that it was still 90 degrees outside during the day and looked very much like August instead of October. New arrivals in the shop over the past 30 days reflect those dueling situations. Fall that feels like Summer.
New (old) items that fit into the Fall 2018 Collection are wrapped up in all the traditional touchpoints that ignite sentimental feelings of nostalgia and embrace the cozy, crisp months to come…
Vintage spice jars, whiskey glasses, quilt squares, mixing bowls, teacups and fall foliage art prints help set the mood for the season in your kitchen, while homemade cookie recipes, holiday menu guides, and nut-themed delicacies help satisfy the seasonal cravings in your belly.
Some highlights from this collection include this 1960’s whiskey decanter made by the Van Winkle family in Louisville, Kentucky – one of the few distillers legally able to operate during Prohibition…
This 1960’s dinner plate – one of the very last patterns made by Salem American Ironstone in 1967 just before their pottery closed its doors forever…
This vintage quilt square table topper made in the 1930’s from recycled feedsack materials…
These National Ivory teacups made in the 1920’s during a similiar point in time when women’s roles, rights and liberties were also being redefined…
This 1970’s cookbook – the delicious work of internationally recognized pastry chefs/ husband and wife team, John and Hazel Zenker, who shared over 300 cookie recipes containing old-world charm and European heritage…
New arrivals in the shop that fell under the still-feels-like-summer category include this batch which I call September Skies…
…named for the matching colors found in the pretty sunsets that blushed over the city throughout September and October. They include floral serving pieces, ceramic planters, travel cookbooks and embroidered linens that bloom in thread. It is somewhat ironic how each piece in this collection speaks of all the pretty elements of this past summer but also really reflects the colors in the September/October sunsets…
Perhaps this was Lady Nature’s way of reminding me to be patient – that Autumn would come eventually because it always does one way or the other.
Whatever weather you are experiencing in your neck of the woods this Autumn – hot, cold, crisp or humid, I hope you are having the happiest of Octobers. And that you are finding beauty in the season and celebrating it in style.
Fall in love with history and its many assorted faces in the shop here. Up next on the blog is a sweet treat recipe for Plum Cake circa 1963, from one of the most famous American cookbooks of all time. It’s a lovely Fall dessert that combines spices, baked fruit and a thin layer of cake that is light in constitution yet heavy in flavor. Stay tuned!
They come with names that sound like 1970’s rock bands… Bodega Red, Arran Victory, British Queen, Golden Wonder, Bellarosa. Or like types of prize-winning chickens… German Butterball, Champion, Adirondack Red, Tyson. Some even sound like certain breeds of dairy cows… Shetland Black, Royal Jersey, Blue Bell, Annabelle, Cream of the Crop.
But today we are not talking about chickens or cows or headliner music. Instead, today we are talking about potatoes. All those names previously discussed are specific types of one of the most consumed foods on the planet- the noble and nourishing potato. With more than 5,000 varieties in the world, you might think that it would be hard for one lone potato type to stand out in his vast tuber family of brown, round, knobby eyed dirt dwellers. But there is actually one big-time celebrity in the batch – a spotlight stealer known around the world – a superstar of the food and restaurant scene that represents the most frequently consumed potato on the planet.
It is my pleasure to present the story of the wondersously addictive potato variety known as the Burbank Russet. Haven’t heard of it, you say? Ah, but just you wait…you’ll know it. Maybe not by backstory but definitely by bite.
On Friday, it was National French Fry Day and we celebrated with a homemade batch of Russet potato french fries in honor of the guy who created them. Meet Luther Burbank, 19th-century American botanist extraordinaire…
Luther grew up in Massachusetts in the 1850’s playing with seed balls in his mother’s garden instead of playing with sports balls in his farm neighborhood. His interest in botany from the time he was a youngster fueled his curiosity for plant cultivation, a field of study that would eventually turn into a lifelong career. Throughout his childhood and into early adulthood, Luther tinkered around with seed starting and plant breeding. Although it was a laboriously slow process, most often times ending up in disappointment, Luther came by this area of study naturally. His mother also shared his interest in gardening and the two of them would happily spend hours working in the garden, talking about the life stages of various plants.
The plant world was a playground to Luther, something that represented creativity and freedom from set rules and rigid disciplines. He had aspirations to one day have his own farm in California where he would grow vegetables and flowers for the retail market and try his hand at growing new breeds of plant life. In his early 20’s, he started experimenting with potatoes. But developing a new variety wasn’t as easy as you might think. Potatoes are peculiar things. They can be regenerated in two ways – through seeds or eyes. Either method produces similar results or slightly different results in the form of mutations or sports each time off-spring are generated. It is difficult to determine at the onslaught of a growing project how the potatoes will turn out at the end of the project. More often than not the experimentation stage for Luther in trying to cultivate a new variety was long and finicky.
But in 1873 gratification came, finally, to Luther’s ruddy, soil-covered hands. One day in his 24th year, Luther went out into the field to dig his latest sample crop, half expecting to uncover the same old story of growing the exact same plant he started out trying not to grow. But this time, something was different. Instead of digging up an ordinary round potato, Luther pulled a tuber out of the ground that was twice as big and twice as long. It was reddish-brown in color and hefty in weight. A totally different specimen than the parent potatoes he had started this most recent batch with. Success at last! His first genuinely original new potato had emerged.
He christened this new masterpiece the Burbank Russet and immediately sold it for $125. Was that enough money for Luther to retire early to his California dream farmhouse and garden? Not quite yet, but that’s not important to this story. Money never mattered to Luther, only the science that stood behind it. He made a new potato and that was pretty motivating stuff to keep his heart in the game and his hands in the soil.
Luther’s Burbank Russet was an exciting and innovative new addition to the agricultural market for its time because of its size. Almost twice as large as typical potatoes of that era, it also boasted an adaptable consistency (good for baking, mashing and frying) and was more disease resistant to common blights that affected many potato crops around the world. But after it was introduced in the late 1800’s, it took some time for the Burbank Russet to catch on. The US government initially started farming it in Oregon and from there it slowly spread to neighboring states and then the region and then the rest of the country. Eventually, it became the best-loved potato cultivator in the US.
Farmers loved it because it was easy to grow and held up well in both shipping and storage. Once it became a successful and abundant crop, the food industry got on board. Its size, consistency and cooking adaptability made it an ideal food product for both general household consumers as well as commercial food companies and restaurants.
Although the actual cooking process of making French fries – cutting strips of potatoes and frying them in fat – had been around in France and Belgium since the 1700’s, it wasn’t until a valuable American discovery was made in the 1930’s that fries started to take hold as an American food staple. This important discovery was that french fries froze well and could be reheated easily while still maintaining the same shape, taste and texture. In the early days of refrigeration, this was exciting! This mere fact opened up opportunities for the retail, transportation and restaurant industries as french fries could now be shipped around the country in both frozen and fresh forms.
By the time hamburger stands started popping up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, french fries became a main attraction at the drive-in burger stand as well as the family dinner table.
The novelty of enjoying french fries both at home and at restaurants offered plenty of potential in the form of culinary creativity. In mid-century America, the common condiments for them were simple… ketchup (or catsup, however you prefer!) and salt.
But by the 1970’s, these little potato favorites were garnering more international gourmet attention. Common toppings and condiment companions of the disco-era included the following…
…paprika, cracked black pepper, parmesan cheese, malt vinegar, crushed herbs, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, salt and a special mayonnaise/mustard mixed combo variation. In addition to frying, it also became much more commonplace, especially in the latter decades of the 20th century, to oven bake freshly cut fries. This method of cooking was believed to be a “healthier” version since it involved less oil and a tamer cooking experience (no vats of hot fat to contend with!) as opposed to traditional deep-fry methods.
Because a lot of people tend to think it is easier to go to a fast food restaurant and buy a serving or two of fries or grab a box of frozen ones from the grocery store, we made the oven-baked variation for this post to prove how simple, quick and easy it is to take a fresh potato and turn it into a delicious hot french fry in less than 30 minutes. This recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking (1975 edition) cookbook and was a breeze to make. Literally, it took 5 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to bake, which makes it a fast side dish for your summer burgers.
Oven “French-Fried” Potatoes (serves 1-2)
1 large russet potato (scrubbed)
1/8 cup olive oil
A generous sprinkling of sea salt
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice potatoes lengthwise into long 1/4″ sticks (you can do this by hand or by using the julienne setting on your vegetable slicer. Either way try to keep each stick as uniform as possible to ensure even baking. Lay the freshly cut sticks between a couple layers of paper towels and pat dry to remove extra moisture, then spread sticks out on an ungreased baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
Using your hands, toss the potatoes and oil together so that all sticks are coated and spread them back out in the pan as flat as possible.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and flip the fries over and return back to the oven for an additional 8-10 minutes. They should look something like this when they are ready…
Remove fries from the baking pan onto a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (or any of your favorite spices) and serve immediately.
Inspired by the 1970’s list of approved condiments, I kept thinking while writing this post how fun it would be to have a french fry bar party where guests could pick and choose their own toppings from a wide assortment. So many flavors pair well with potatoes, so the possibilities would be endless as far as dips and dredges, sprinkles and submersibles. The one element of homemade french fries that should always remain constant though is the potato – always use russet potatoes. They are the variety of choice in almost every fast food french fry you’ll ever eat – including McDonald’s whose fries are legendary. And besides, you’ll make Luther happy, using his version over any other!
Luther never lived to see the ultimate french fry-loving success of his humble potato breed, although he did live a fulfilling gardening life up until the time of his death in the mid-1920’s. He did acquire that dream farm in California that he always wanted…
And he built a garden where invented new varieties of fruits and flowers and vegetables. We have Luther to thank for cultivating these beauties…
So while he never did see his potatoes bubbling up in oil at the golden arches, he did see his lifelong passion laid out in the golden hour light of each day into night. Satisfaction was never going to be found in fame or fortune when it came to Luther Burbank. He didn’t care about either of those two things. His happiness lived deep within the dirt – a vast canvas of potential fueled by creativity and curiosity that never ceased to inspire him.
Cheers to Luther for inventing one of the most delicious potatoes in the world. And cheers to all the farmers who keep growing the russets. May they continue to add a bit of indulgence to our diets and serve as a basis for inspiration in our culinary endeavors.
Find out more about Luther and his Santa Rosa, CA garden park here. Find the vintage Joy of Cooking cookbook in the shop here.
If you guys have any favorite toppings or condiments that you prefer on your french fries please post them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!
Happy 4th of July! It has been super quiet around here on the blog since mid-May and I must say, I have missed you all terribly. There was a family tragedy and a family illness that took me unexpectedly far away from the Vintage Kitchen for most of June. But I’m happy to write that I’m back and ready to dive into a plethora of new kitchen stories starting this week.
Exciting things coming up in July include an interview with a creative artist who will make you look at your refrigerator in an absolutely new and enchanting way; we will travel back in time to a hotel in 20th century Minnesota and share a few recipes that made them famous around the world; we’ll learn about a guy who invented one of the most addictive foods ever known to eaters; we’ll celebrate three national food recognition days and we’ll host a giveaway that is guaranteed to add a little sparkle to your life. So stay tuned on that front. July is full of fun!
In the meantime, since it’s a holiday today and you are out and about celebrating with friends and family, we’ll keep this post short – a litle dollap of history pertaining to patriotism and how Americans ate their way through Independence Day in 1902.
In that year, this guy was president…
And patriotic family gatherings looked something like this…
Decorations were simple…bunting, flags, flowers and the natural settings of the great outdoors. There were parades and town concerts and special events planned throughout the day.
Conversations were full of pride, in the general achievements of the country. Unlike today, where the political terrain is quite rocky and American morale is at an all-time low, in 1902, patriotism was a bit more revered. President Roosevelt prepared a speech saying nothing but thank you to the American military for continuing to extend and uphold the open arm ideals of the United States and pledged to continue to promote peace and tolerance throughout the world.
In American households during the early 20th century, the 4th of July was the one day where political affiliations were set aside. What was celebrated in conversation was not that someone was a Democrat or a Republican but instead an American. And topics led more towards incredible examples of what had been achieved in the past as a unified country as opposed to criticisms about the work that still needed to be accomplished individually.
Eating occurred on a large all-day scale with a full breakfast, lunch and dinner… each incorporating the colors of the American flag. Here’s a suggested menu from Woman’s Favorite Cook Book published in 1902…
You’ll notice, even back then, the holiday has always been about cooking and spending time together. The kitchen would have been a hotbed of activity (just like it still is today) preparing all the staples we still enjoy eating on the Fourth – ice cream, salads, garden vegetables, fresh berries, cake. Our national pride might be much more diluted now than it was 116 years ago but our bellies are traditionally still enjoying the same types of food. That is a comfort at least.
Theodore Roosevelt once said…“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”
Teddy would have appreciated all the new voices coming forth this year (no pun intended!) in our fights for democracy and fairness and freedom for every person in America. He would have admired all the political bravery that exists today and marveled at all that we have accomplished so far. Americans of the early 20th century would have lauded our collective efforts too, noting how far we have come on the food scene as far as innovations and improvements and equipment while still managing to keep the culinary traditions of our ancestors alive.
So it is with that in mind that we say cheers to the holiday, to the progress we have made, and to the traditions we still hold dear. However you choose to celebrate the 4th of July – whether you are partying it up at a fish fry, a barbeque, a picnic, a seafood boil or a campfire roast – I hope your holiday is filled with fun, family, and friends. May it be peaceful and light. And may all those fireworks be bright. Cheers to a happy holiday! We’ll see you back in the Kitchen shortly.
It’s been known by names such as The Island of Cod, Vinland, Land of the Fish and Terre Neuve. You’ll know it as Newfoundland. Walter Winfred Chenoweth knew it as the island of the can. Or the canning jar to be specific. That’s where he taught local inhabitants how to preserve harvests from the garden and the sea in glass jars for future consumption.
Walter Chenoweth (1872 -1945) was a professor and department head of Horticultural Manufactures at Massachusetts Agricultural College, now known as the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Born in Grundy County, Missouri in 1872, Walter spent his entire professional career, researching, testing and educating others on agriculture and the science of growing fruit, mostly at MAC where he was a member of the staff from 1912-1941.
Through years of trial and error, scientific study and hands-on testing, Walter became an expert in the area of food sciences, especially food preservation. In 1929, he went overseas to Newfoundland where he set up canning stations and taught classes to local inhabitants and British colonizers.
At the time of Walter’s trip, Newfoundland was in peril. Suffering drastically from results of the Great Depression and a financially crippled local government, the people of Newfoundland were in a state of crisis. The train line that ran through the province ate up all the government’s resources. Vast holes were poked in the salt cod industry – Newfoundland’s main export- via trade halts due to the Depression and via competition from other countries like Iceland, who were developing more efficient fishing methods. These two factors meant that the local government couldn’t take care of its people financially and the sea couldn’t keep its villages afloat as far as income.
Collaborating with British medical doctor Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940) who was trying to stop the spread of contagious diseases and malnutrition in Newfoundland’s fishing villages, Walter Chenoweth lent aid in the best way he knew how. Through preservation. For a year, Walter worked to make local inhabitants and newcomers more self-sufficient through food storage. By setting up canning station facilities around the island he taught all who were willing to learn how to can fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and poultry so that no food would be wasted or left behind to spoil.
This was an important skill for islanders to master in their subarctic climate. With a slim gardening window of just 2-3 months, planting, growing, harvesting and preserving had to be done quickly and correctly to ensure beneficial results. Handled inappropriately, jarred foods could cause serious illness and even death due to bacteria. Stressing proper sterilization methods and practices to ensure safe food preservation, Walter taught islanders every aspect of canning from equipment to techniques, precautions to recipes.
Vintage Wheaton canning jar available in the shop.
In addition to common jarred items like wild blueberry jam and pickled vegetables, Walter also taught the islanders how to can freshly caught fish, boiled chicken, and roasted meat. These teachings came at a fortuitous time. Two years later, after Walter was back home in Massachusetts, two-thirds of island workers would become unemployed due to the unstable trade markets and the local government’s lack of proper financial planning. Food would become scarce, morale would plummet and families would resort to inventive measures in order to stay alive. Canning skills would become an important component of survival.
During that time of island-wide poverty and hunger, the only formal aid that would be offered by the local government was a meager food dole consisting of molasses, flour, cornmeal, fatback, split peas, and cocoa. This care package provided only half of a person’s daily caloric intake. Preserved food helped bridge the gap between the dole and starvation. Eventually, through fortitude and endurance, the island got back on its feet and money started flowing again into communities thanks to jobs and resources needed for WWII.
When Walter returned back home to Amherst, he compiled fifteen years of hands-on experience into a book called Food Preservation, which he published in 1930…
Part cookbook, part instructional guide and part natural science lesson it contained all aspects of the food canning process beginning with the understanding of how bacteria grew in 1765…
and how that led to the eventual creation of foods kept in sealed shelf-stable jars. In between the anatomy of vegetables, lists of equipment, instructions on canning methods, and advice on troubleshooting, shelving considerations, and cleanliness factors, Walter included a host of recipes explaining how to preserve summer’s bounty for next winter’s nourishment. He explained how to build canning stations, storage rooms and simple farm factories to accommodate production. Everything from cider to syrup, carrots to kerosine, fruits to fermentation were tackled. At the time of publication, Food Preservation was the most concise book ever written on the topic of canning and was so thorough it became the go-to teaching tool in food science classrooms for decades.
A once celebrated, but now forgotten pioneer in his field, Walter’s contributions to the people of Newfoundland has been long overshadowed by the lifetime efforts of Dr. Grenfell. It’s easy to understand how that happened – Grenfell made a HUGE impact on the island by building hospitals and schools and by bringing worldwide attention to the hardships of an isolated community.
Walter’s story in Newfoundland may not have been as lengthy nor as flashy as Grenfell’s but, like the products Walter represented, he gave the gift of long-term sustenance to a sea-island in need of a salve. What’s wonderful about a jar of pickled beets or canned tomatoes from last summer? It’s not just an example of previous effort spent, it’s a symbol of security, an innate assurance that the past is vital to the future. That’s what Walter really gave the people of Newfoundland in their darkest hours – a promise that good things were coming soon.
Cheers to Walter for teaching us how to enjoy our harvests year round and to the people of Newfoundland for never giving up.
Find Walter’s Food Preservation book in the shop here. Find the vintage Wheaton canning jar featured in this post here.