Hot Chocolate at the Hotel de Crillon: A Parisian Retrospective and A Recipe

Two days ago I woke up to a surprise. Snow flakes! Floating and falling and flying just outside the kitchen window, finally it felt like winter at last! For the first time all season the outside weather matched the inside holiday spirit.

We don’t get snow very often in Nashville but when we do it’s a call for extra special cooking adventures. The last time, we had a good dose of white winter weather, I prepared a Ruth Reichl recipe – slow simmered Chicken Fricassee from her 2015 cookbook, My Kitchen Year. That cookbook centered around Ruth’s rejuvenation of herself and her spirit via her kitchen in upstate New York. This year, inspired by the snow day, we are taking a little trip too, but not to New York. In this post we are headed to Paris to highlight a winter recipe that is famous throughout the city.

On the stove there’s a warm, rich pot of homemade hot chocolate derived from a recipe that was originally born in the kitchen of a beautiful historic hotel located at 10 Place de la Concorde, just steps away from the Champs Elysee.  This isn’t your everyday, ordinary hotel and this isn’t your everyday, ordinary batch of hot chocolate. This cup of cocoa doesn’t involve powdered substances, paper envelopes or hot water. It doesn’t include high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners or a long list of ingredients. You can’t go buy it prepackaged in a store and pour it into a cup at home for convenience.  This recipe is unique, prized and unavailable online. It tastes like magic. And for me, it taste like memories. I am very pleased to introduce you to the Hotel de Crillon and the most esteemed cup of hot chocolate in all of Paris.

In my growing up years, the Crillon was our home away from home anytime my family and I visited the City of Light. From the time I was 6 months old to the time I was 16, stays at the hotel were part of the fabric of my childhood. We had a very good family friend with a beautiful sing-songy name – Michele de la Clergerie – who was the VP of Public Relations at the Crillon. Because of that friendship and all the business my dad’s company did with her company, the Crillon turned into a natural home base for us whenever we visited Paris. Sometimes we were just there for a few days as a stopover on the way to the South of France or to Switzerland or to Africa or some other destination, but often times we stayed for a week or more, taking up two suites in this dazzling building.

Photo courtesy of jetsetter.com

Photo courtesy of crillon.com

The hotel has recently gone through a renovation which has included a more modern update of the furniture and decor, so it doesn’t look exactly like it did when we stayed there in the 1980’s and 90’s – but many of the hallmarks (the black and white checkered marble floors, the gold detailing, the big, sashed curtains, the outdoor dining patio, the lavish breakfast room, the en-suite balconies and baths, the beautiful French doors and of course the exterior of the building itself) all remain exactly as I remember.

When I look at pictures of this beautiful hotel now, as an adult, and then recall the experiences my family and I had there while I was growing up, it all seems like a fairy tale. Some sort of far off, fanciful, other life escapade… gauzy, romantic and lush… with a level of luxury fit for make-believe or movie sets or circumstances beyond reality.

My passport photo – age 3:)

But real it all actually was. Thanks to my dad’s career with a French airline, by the time I was three, I was an experienced international traveler, already well on my way to filling up stamps in my second government issued passport…

Those first years of life, I traveled with my own luggage, my doll, my favorite book of the moment, and my best friend, my sister, who was only a year and a half older than me.

Growing up with my sister and traveling all around the world felt a lot of the time like riding a lion… exciting, unusual and wild. That’s me on the right (age 2), my sister on the left (age 3 1/2).

Our permanent home address was  New York, but really it felt like we lived all over the globe due to the amount of traveling we did as a family. My mom kept our suitcases in the bottom of our closet, standing ready to fill at a moment’s notice. My sister and I had two wardrobes – a regular kid wardrobe and then a traveling wardrobe. The latter, our traveling wardrobe, was mostly made up of dresses and cardigan sweaters and shiny shoes. These were clothes that were light in weight, packed well, were suitable for most occasions and ultimately subscribed to my dad’s fashion philosophy of “it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.”

A family photo on the Meditterarean Sea circa 1983! My parents are on the left. Family friends are standing behind my sister and I. That’s me on the left and my sister on the right.

It  wasn’t unusual for my mom to  wake us up from an afternoon nap  with a greeting that ran along the lines of  “Surprise, we are going to Hawaii – we leave in an hour,” or for my dad to come home from a day at the office and announce a family trip to Switzerland or the Bahamas or London with just a few day’s notice.

In the 1980’s the tourism industry was riddled with perks and freebies and gifts and complimentary tickets and special passes and personal invitations. For the most part, the industry overall was gregarious, charming, hospitable, convivial and fun. Mainly everyone who was lucky enough to be a part of it, was just out for a good time and an interesting story. Because of my dad and his job connections we always flew first class, stayed in luxury hotels, and dined in celebrated restaurants. This made us witnesses, as a family, to a pretty glamorous side of travel. One that allowed us to experience all the thrills of a high-end lifestyle without having to worry so much about how to pay for it all.

This is a photo from the family albums which captures the chaotic color and life and excitement of traveling when I was small. Lots going on, always and never in a language that I could easily read:)

Growing up as kids in this high-flying airline industry afforded my sister and I lots of special experiences and taught us so many life lessons it would take a year to write them all down. But the most important thing it taught us from the very beginning was how to be nimble. My dad always loved to tell a story about how discombobulated I could become as a kid when we traveled. Especially after waking up from a nap, opening eyes for the first time in a new city or a new country where I didn’t know the language or understand the culture. We’d be in Hawaii and I’d wake up at the age of 3 or 4 asking if we were in Monte Carlo or Germany or was it the beach in Bermuda?!

This whirlwind collage of first cities and first countries, and travel via cars and planes and boats and trains, in such frequent rotation quickly led my sister and I to associate certain small details with certain cities. Lake Geneva became known as the hotel with the herd of wild deer in back. Monte Carlo had the balconies that hung over the sea. The hotel in Abidjan had floor to ceiling green wallpaper. Hawaii had birds in the lobby.  Morocco had a walled garden. And Paris had the beautiful, welcoming Hotel de Crillon.  But my sister and I didn’t call it that. We called it the hotel with the great hot chocolate and also the place without the pool. Oh my.

The Hotel de Crillon pictured with the Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation. Photo by Eric-Cuvillier. Courtesy of the Paris Tourist Office.

The Hotel de Crillon was originally a palace built in the late 1700’s for King Louis XV – who was nicknamed the Beloved King. It was originally built to be an office building but throughout its existence seemed to beckon more like a siren than a bureaucrat, attracting a menagerie of artistic, colorful and creative inhabitants during the  18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Visitors and residents included Benjamin Franklin, Marie Antoinette, King Louis XVI, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and countless celebrities. One of it’s owners, the eventual hotel’s namesake, was the Crillon family. They were descendants of an 18th century duke revered in the French Army for not only his courageous spirit but also his chivalrous demeanor. The Crillon family lived in the palace during the entire 1800’s until it was sold in 1909 and turned into a hotel.  By the time I came to know it in the latter half of the 20th century, as a little blond baby barely walking, the building contained so many exquisite historical attributes it was easy to imagine life as a real princess.

Photo courtesy of Artelia Group.

Embarrassing to admit now, I didn’t fully appreciate the spectacular beauty of the hotel then nor understand its cultural and architectural significance even during my teenage years.  Marie Antoinette was beheaded right out front. The building itself was caught up in the middle of the French Revolution. Dignitaries, heads of states, presidents, kings, queens and movie stars from all eras of history have stayed in the very rooms that we’d stayed in and walked the very floors (that beautiful black and white marble!) that we walked. Fashion shows, photo shoots, film crews and artists from last century to this one have crawled all over the hotel property documenting and decorating it for countless creative pursuits.

But for all the incredible circumstances, situations and events that have happened in and around the Hotel de Crillon since its beginnings, the one element that I can never forget about this special place, has nothing to with famous faces or elaborate decorating or stories from past centuries. It has to do with food. A simple cup of house hot chocolate. When we were little girls, it usually arrived via  room service on a breakfast cart, served by an attendant and poured from a silver pot.  As I got older and grew into my teenage years, my sister and I would take our hot chocolate at a table on the outdoor patio before heading out to explore the city.  Hearty, restorative and decadent, it was practically a meal in itself. But my dad taught us a little foodie secret before we even learned how to talk.  The perfect accompaniment to a cup of hot chocolate is a croissant.  As we discovered, these two foods made up a perfect pairing of flavors and forged an unforgettably indulgent tradition that we looked forward to with each visit. To this day my family still agrees.  No other cup of hot chocolate, wherever we traveled in the world, or attempted to recreate at home, ever tasted as good as the hot chocolate served at the Crillon.

We weren’t alone in thinking this. The hotel’s flagship beverage has been revered in Paris by both tourists and locals for decades. Mentions on the internet still to this day deem it one of the best, if not the best hot chocolate in the entire city. It is so beloved, it is difficult to come across an article about the Crillon that does not mention a more enjoyable cup.

Last January, I came into possession of an antique Nippon porcelain chocolate pot and a set of four matching cups and saucers. When I saw it, I immediately thought of Paris and the Hotel de Crillon and the delicious hot chocolate from decades ago. The hand-painted set was made in Japan at the turn of the 1900’s –  about the same time that the Crillon was turned into a hotel. As if fate had stepped in and lined up all the details, I knew that this chocolate set was the perfect match to pair a story and a recipe from the vintage family archives.

Just a few years ago, my sister had mentioned that she had seen the Crillon hot chocolate recipe posted on their website. But when I went to look, it was no longer there. The website had changed to reflect the hotel’s new style and new renovations. I wasn’t disappointed though because surely I thought, in our modern age, with all sorts of travel writers and food makers covering all aspects of Paris, on the internet there would be someone out there who would have shared the hotel’s hot chocolate recipe via an article or a cooking blog. Surprisingly, such was not the case.  So I contacted the hotel directly and explained the whole story about when I was young and my family’s experiences and the memorable hot chocolate. Right away, being the lovely and gracious hoteliers that they are, they promptly emailed the recipe over for use in the blog post. How wonderfully exciting!

I am so very happy to share this recipe with you. Nothing is more fun or festive, especially around the holidays, then making a big pot of hot chocolate fit for a crowd. This recipe is thick, rich and not overly sugared. It’s filling and hearty  and by the time you finish the last drop  you’ll feel delightfully satisfied. And if you live in one of those states where it snows and snow and snows  all winter long – this recipe will keep you fortified as you shovel and frolic your way through the season.

The recipe sent from the  Crillon is in hotel-size volume and contains French measurements, so I’m including the original French recipe (see photo), which makes 30 cups of hot chocolate, as well as the converted American measurements version (which also makes 30 cups!) and then further breakdowns of the American recipe into smaller quantities (15 cups and 7-8 cups) if you are entertaining a more petite crowd.

And a final note, it was tricky to find 66% dark chocolate, at least in my neck of the woods. In order to keep this recipe user friendly for all readers, I wanted to use chocolate that could be found easily in all grocery stores, so I combined two common percentages (56% and 100%) which are pretty standard here in the States when it comes to dark chocolate ratios. But for our European readers, you’ll probably be able find, more easily, the percentages the Crillon uses, so I’d recommend that.

 

The Hotel de Crillon’s Hot Chocolate Recipe

(American conversion) Makes 30 cups

  • 15 cups heavy cream
  • 15 cups whole milk
  • 3 oz sugar
  • 8oz 56% semi-sweet chocolate (56% cacao)
  • 4 oz. 100% unsweetened chocolate (100% cacao)
  • 4 1/2 oz. milk chocolate (3/4 cup)

For 15 cups:

  • 7 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 7 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1.5 oz of sugar
  • 4 oz 56% semi-sweet chocolate (56% cacao)
  • 2 oz 100% unsweetened chocolate (100% cacao)
  • 2 1/4 oz milk chocolate

For 7-8 cups:

  • 3 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 3 3/4 cups whole milk
  • .75 oz of sugar
  • 2 oz 56% semi-sweet chocolate (56% cacao)
  • 1 oz 100% unsweetened chocolate (100% cacao)
  • 1 1/8 oz milk chocolate

In a large pot, combine the cream and the milk over medium heat, stirring frequently until just beginning to boil. Remove from heat, cover with a tight fitting lid and set aside.

In a double boiler, melt all the chocolate together. And then add in the sugar and stir to combine.

Pour the melted chocolate into a medium size bowl. Add one cup of the hot milk/cream mixture to the chocolate and whisk to combine until the texture resembles soft whipped cream.

Gradually incorporate the chocolate mixture into the big pot of milk and cream, whisking until well combined.

Warm the hot chocolate over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until it reaches a temperature warm enough to your liking. It is best served right away. If you have any leftover (which will probably not be likely!) you can refrigerate it and slowly reheat it the next day or simply enjoy it cold, like a glass of chocolate milk.

I love this hot chocolate just as it is without any adornment. But feel free to add some marshmallows or a peppermint stick, some flavored liqueur or a dash of whiskey, if you want to jazz it up in your own way. And definitely serve it alongside a basket of fresh croissants. (Side note: for anyone who does not live near a french bakery, Trader Joe’s sells wonderful frozen croissants that you can heat up at home in the oven). 

After my dad retired in the mid-1990’s, we rarely traveled to such glamorous locales or on such a glamorous scale as the childhood days. Instead we explored our hometown more (the great city of New York) and traveled around the United States, of which we didn’t know nearly as well as Europe. My sister and I grew into our adult selves, got married, explored careers, and forged ahead into lives of our own making. The flutter of those early travel experiences, and the decadence with which we enjoyed them, became cherished parts of our past… wonderful memories to be tucked away in our hearts and our minds.

I grew up in the time before Instagram and iphones and the modern desire to record every moment of every situation at whim. There are no day by day, detail by detail photo streams of all my sister and I saw and did in the first half of our lives. Just a few handfuls of random pictures taken on the run from one place to another. But what we do have are our memories swirling around in our heads.  Even though some of those are now slightly hazy and somewhat dim due to time,  I’ll never forget the Hotel de Crillon and their majestic building and their gorgeous hospitality. And now, thanks to their graciousness in sharing this treasured recipe, I’ll never forget the taste of their hot chocolate either.

The next time you are in Paris, I hope you get a chance to visit the Hotel de Crillon, if not to stay, than at least just to peek inside and treat yourself to a cup of their house hot chocolate.  It has been over 20 years since I last visited the Crillon, but if I could partake in some sort of magical time travel, my 2019 self would meet up with my 1980’s self in the foyer of the hotel and whisper into that little girl’s ear… “Chin up, they have a pool now.”

A big cheers and a big thank you to Sofie, Elcie and Victoria at the Hotel de Crillon for sharing this memorable recipe. Cheers to my dad for all the adventures big and small, to my mom for always letting us go, and to my sister, my forever travel pal, without whom these trips would not nearly have been as fun.

If you’d like to learn more about the antique chocolate pot, find it in the shop here. If you’d like to learn more about the hotel, please their website here. And finally, dear readers, if you try this recipe, please let me know what you think in the comments below.  I hope it becomes a new wintertime favorite for you too. Cheers!

Can A Painting Inspire Dinner?

Can a painting inspire dinner? Absolutely! That’s exactly what happened when I found this tropical painting while out curating items for the shop. It’s a petite folk art landscape scene from Haiti with a handmade wooden frame and stretched cotton cloth instead of canvas. The colors are so vibrant…

and the brush strokes so full of energy.  The whole scene sings with the colorful island vibes that the Caribbean is known for.  Immediately it made me think of the 1960’s cookbook in the shop – The Art of Caribbean Cookery – another midcentury treasure that also sings songs of colorful island life.

The painting hails from Haiti, just one of the 28 islands that make up the Caribbean, but the cookbook, written by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, includes all the cultural influences of all the islands… Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, etc.  Carmen is Puerto Rican herself and grew up in a traditional island household of the 1920’s, a world where servants cooked and children were not encouraged to help.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 1920s. Photography by Charles Martin courtesy of National Geographic

As Carmen explains in the introduction of her cookbook,  it was deemed improper for well-brought-up young ladies to perform menial household chores, cooking included. “Only occasionally was I ever allowed to enter the vast room where food was actually prepared, and how I regretted that.”

Carmen and her family’s house, Casa Aboy, in Puerto Rico,  including a photo of the dining room. These images were taken in the 1980’s by Felix Julian Delcampo
This is the house as it appears today, bright and pretty. Photo via pinterest.

But things changed once she met her husband, Luis, in the late 1930’s. Luis was an unashamed food zealot – an eater, a cooker, and a recipe collector.  He had a day job in engineering but on nights and weekends, he and Carmen crafted their time together around the glorious subject of food. Bolstered by one another’s support and enthusiasm,  the two indulged their culinary interests in a fun and curious way, which turned out to be the only encouragement Carmen needed to realize her life-long passion for cooking. What used to be forbidden was now a freedom.

carmen-aboy-valldejuli-and-luis-valldejuli
Carmen and Luis – the Carribean’s cooking dynamite team. Luis was always in charge of the cocktails.

Carmen took on this new interest with gusto. She and Luis dined their way through the islands, exploring offerings at family tables, fancy restaurants and everything in between. They traipsed around sugar plantations and farms and fruit groves. They listened and questioned and learned from everyone they encountered about cooking methods and techniques, about family stories and recipes passed down through generations. After each escapade, they’d return home to their own kitchen in Puerto Rico ready to dissect what they had discovered. As Carmen learned first hand, cooking in the Caribbean was a vast wonderland of food, flavor, and influence from other countries far from the tropics.

Vintage Caribbean travel posters from the 1950s and 1960s.

Floating between the Gulf Of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, with the United States, Mexico and South America acting as surrounding neighbors, the Caribbean is made up of an incredibly diverse population – an exotic tribe of people from Europe, Africa, Mexico, the Mediterranean coast, the United States and the U.K.

Vintage 1960s travel poster designed by Paul Loweree

Originally there were the first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, but then came the British, French, Dutch, Danish, and Spanish settlers along with slaves from Africa who worked the sugar plantations and ex-pats from America looking for escapism. All these cultural influences grew diversity on the islands and greatly layered the cuisine of the Caribbean, making it not just one type of food, but a blend of many nationalities.

the-art-of-caribbean-cookery-carmen-aboy-valldejuli

In the painting, there is no sign of food, but its very essence pulls your imagination towards sandy beaches, tropical drinks, coconuts, rum, pineapple, papayas. Carmen is quick to explain that cooking in the Caribbean is not all “roast pig and ritual,” that food varies from island to island, built upon six centuries of history and the cohabitation of many cultures.  It was with that in mind that I chose, a recipe from Carmen’s cookbook that is an authentic Carribean dish marinated in generations of foreign influence. For today’s post, we are making a recipe that combines elements of Spain with two Caribbean staples – olives and capers. The dish is called Pescado Dorado or Golden Fish and it is a lovely meal to wrap up the end of summer with since it shines best with garden tomatoes fresh off the vine.

Carmen’s recipe recommended using a whole fish but I used cod filets instead since I couldn’t find a whole tropical-looking fish at our neighborhood market.  The recipe serves 8 but if you don’t want to make a big dinner out of it, simply cut all the ingredient measurements in half and you’ll wind up with a smaller serving for four.

PESCADO DORADO – GOLDEN FISH

(serves 8)

1 fish weighing 4 lbs, cleaned (or 4lbs of fish filets – I used cod)

2 large limes

2 tablespoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

2 bay leaves

12 green olives

1 tablespoon capers

1 tablespoon liquid from jar of capers

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed

1 1/4 pounds tomatoes

2 canned pimientos

If using a whole fish, wash it inside and out. Ignore this step if using fish filets.  Cut 2 slight gashes on both sides of the fish or filets. Place the fish in a baking dish. Squeeze the juice of the limes over the fish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange the rest of the ingredients from the onions to the tomatoes on top and around the sides of the fish.

Preheat oven temperature to 550 degrees.* Bake fish for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 25 minutes longer, basting fish occasionally.

Heat pimientos and serve as a garnish on top of fish.

*A note on cooking time and temp – In 1963, Carmen’s oven reached 550 degrees. In 2018, the hottest my oven gets is 525 degrees. I cooked the fish at 525 degrees for the first 15 minutes and then reduced it to 425 degrees and cooked it for the remaining time with no problems.

Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s Pescado Dorado

What emerged from the oven, after it was done baking, was a flaky cloud of codfish that was swimming in a salty citrus sea. To say that this dish was anything but delicious would be an understatement. Sometimes fish dishes are very light and leave you still feeling hungry, but this one is robust in flavor and is filling enough on its own.  I paired this fish dish with a handful of sauteed spinach and garlic but rice would also work or a side salad. Dessert was kept equally simple with a fresh fruit board that included pineapple, mango, papaya and fresh coconut.

We also had a little musical accompaniment during dinner from Harry Belafonte, one of the most iconic singers of Caribbean folk songs in the world. About a month ago, I heard the song Cocoanut Woman for the first time…

and instantly loved it. Further discovery led to his Calypso album, a bestseller full of Caribbean folk songs that was released in 1956. In its first year, this album sold a million copies landing Harry on top music charts and making him an international superstar. If you are unfamiliar with his work, the link below is the full album of his 1976 record The King of Calypso, which packs all of his most famous hits in one album including the Jamician folk song Day-O about dock workers loading banana boats and the island love song, Jamaica Farewell.

Between the three – painting, music, and food – this dinner felt like a mini island vacation all in itself.  If you find that your summer has come and gone and left you without the chance to relax as much as you wished, try spending the evening with Carmen and Harry and Emmanuel (the painter) and see if your spirit can’t be soothed by a little slice of creative paradise. A glass of rum helps spread the cheer too.

Incidentally, I tried to find out more about my muse for this post, the artist named Emmanuel who painted the Haitian landscape that started all this to begin with. But he was elusive. As it turns out, there are LOTS of painters named Emmanuel in the Caribbean. That’s okay, though, it doesn’t matter that he can’t be tracked down further.  Muses aren’t exactly known for their easy accessibility.  Bob Dylan believed that the highest purpose of art was to inspire. In that case, Emmanuel certainly fulfilled his role, at least during dinner time in the Vintage Kitchen. As for Carmen, she went on to become an expert, the expert, of Caribbean cuisine, publishing several cookbooks throughout her life. Even though she died in 2005, she is still regarded as the classic authority on Caribbean island cuisine.

So as you can see, a painting can indeed inspire dinner and also a little more. Hope this post inspires you just as much. Cheers to soaking up the essence of the islands without ever leaving home.

Find the cookbook and the painting in the shop here and here. Find Harry Belafonte’s music on our Vintage Caribbean Vibes Spotify playlist here.

The Pineapple, The Sea Captain and How A Legend Began…

Sailors are known for their stories. You’d be hard-pressed to go to any ocean-enthusiasts house and not hear a tale of the extraordinary fish caught, or the summer storm turned sour or the port city that lured like a siren song.  But did you ever hear the story about the pineapple? The one that tells how it became one of the most iconic symbols in the world? Today in the Vintage Kitchen, we’ve got a legend on the table.

There are a few versions surrounding the pineapple and how it became known as the universal symbol of hospitality. Some stories claim it was a gift of peace offered to foreign explorers by local Caribbean tribes.  Other stories state it was a sought-after souvenir traded around South America until it eventually was welcomed in Europe for experimental gardening. Another explains that it was a status symbol of the very rich and the very royal who used it as a party decoration to signify the extent of their wealth, visually reinforcing the fact that they could indeed offer the best of everything to their guests, no matter what the cost. But our favorite version in the Vintage Kitchen, of how the pineapple came to be a hospitality icon, is the one that dates to the 1700’s in the time of the sea captains.

That legend states that merchant trading ships like this…

A Chesapeake Bay style sloop was a common merchant ship traveling between the West Indies and the Eastern Atlantic coast.

carried cargo (mainly sugar, tobacco, rum, and molasses) back from the Caribbean islands to various ports in New England. Included in their bounty was the exotic tropical pineapple, a fruit so unusual in its beauty, so incredible in its sweetness and so valuable in its price, it was treated delicately just like its most precious counterpart, sugar.

When the ship was back in port and safely unpacked, the captain would return home to his New England house with a pineapple in hand.  He would spear this fruit on the front garden gate to signify to friends and neighbors that he had returned from his ocean voyage and was ready to entertain visitors with good stories and good food.

The centuries-old houses of Kennebunkport, Maine where many a sea captain lived.

With just the right amount of whimsy and practicality, it is not hard to see how such a story and such an action could have spread throughout the village, and then the state, and then the coastline, so that within time, hundreds of garden gates across many states were bearing pineapples – a symbol of friendly invitation, warm welcome and kind generosity.

Pineapple gates in Odessa, DE

No one yet has accurately been able to authenticate the first-time connection between pineapples and hospitality, but this sea captain story may help explain why you’ll find pineapples incorporated into outdoor architectural details all over the East Coast from Maine to Florida.

Appearing in gardens both ancient and new…

Permanent pineapples in the garden.

…history tells of America’s long-standing love affair with this hospitable fruit.  You’ll see it on the front doors of old houses like this one…

The historic Hunter House in Newport, Rhode Island built in 1748.

 

There’s the pineapple above the door, welcoming all who enter.

and this one…

Virginia’s Shirley Plantation, completed in 1738, which boasts a three-foot tall pineapple in the middle of the roofline…

and in the decorative details of brand new, modern days houses…

Pineapple themed door knockers, welcome signs, doorbells, and house number plaques announce an age-old symbol on brand-new exteriors.

You’ll also find them indoors…

Most often as finials front entry staircases…

blending classic and traditional elements from past centuries to the present century…

Pineapples in all modern ways useful… ice bucket, lamp,bookends, flower vase.

Last week we added a new vintage pineapple to the shop…

This one was neither a finial nor an exterior facade detail but instead at one point in its life had adorned the top of a fountain.  The fountain wasn’t as big as Charleston’s famous Waterfront Park pineapple…

Waterfront Park, Charleston SC

but she is an ideal size for many design possibilities including lighting, decoration, and display.  And she carries forth the sea captain’s theme of good stories and good food in a most beautiful way.

Even though we might never be able to uncover where and how the pineapple became involved with the convivial idea of good hospitality, we still love the idea of one fruit bringing together three centuries worth of parties and people. Critics would say that the sea captain story is flawed because pineapples were expensive and traders wouldn’t put a small fortune out in plain view for anyone to steal. But hospitality is about extending and offering, not squandering and hiding, so clearly, the argument could go either way.

If you a were a sailor in the 1700’s, at sea for long stretches of time, with life and death equally close at hand, perhaps you needed a little frivolity upon returning home to family and friends and the pineapple provided just that. A simple yet beautiful billboard. One that symbolized rich with life lived instead of rich with monetary wealth.

Cheers to the legends that stick around and to the fruits that travel through time!

Channel your own inner sea captain and set the stage for your next nights of entertainment. Find the vintage fountain topper pineapple piece in the shop here!

 

 

Dinner Time Stories: An Extraordinary Evening with Le Petit Chef

An evening of Dinner Time Stories with La Petit Chef

It’s not every day that you receive an invitation to dine with the world’s smallest chef. But that is exactly what happened on Sunday night. This one-of-a-kind dinner took place at The Standard, a private cigar bar and restaurant located in a historic townhouse in downtown Nashville.

A foreigner to the country, the world’s smallest chef lives in France, but he’s just recently embarked on a world-wide tour of sorts that will take him to Stockholm, Cairo, the United Arab Emirates and all around the United States in 2018. Lucky for us, his first stop in America was right here in Nashville at one of the prettiest restaurants in town.

The Standard is an elegant splash of old-world glamour that naturally evokes daydreams of long-ago decades and previous merrymaking.  Although it’s only recently become a restaurant and cigar bar (in the early 2000’s) it is definitely not hard to imagine that this building has lived a flamboyant and glamorous lifestyle throughout its existence.

Built in 1843, it is a gorgeous example of antebellum Italianate architecture, the last of its kind on this city block that once held dozens of similar buildings all in a row.  With its exposed brick walls, moody lighting, leather furniture, big fireplaces and cozy nooks your imagination doesn’t have to run far to conjure up swanky scotch parties and charming tuxedo-types romancing dates and drinks throughout the past 175 years.

Scenes from the Standard

Originally a family home, then a bed and breakfast in the 1980’s, and now most recently a night-time restaurant and a private club, it is safe to say that this building has seen its fair share of special occasion dinners. This past Sunday evening was no exception.

Tucked into a private dining room with two long tables, white cloths and curious leather bound books placed at each setting,  dinner guests were invited to indulge in a bit of whimsy for a two hour stretch on a cold January night.

Photo courtesy of dinnertimestoriesusa.com

Our mysterious host, the little chef, was nowhere to be found at this point, but as the lights dimmed and the maitre d’ welcomed us, he magically appeared…

Bonjour! Meet the little chef with the BIG personality!

from inside the books placed before us!  As it turns out, the world’s smallest chef is no bigger than your pinkie finger. Mini in size, but mighty in personality, we quickly learned that Le Petit Chef is a BIG fan of a certain famous explorer…

Marco Polo (1254-1324), the famous Venetian explorer who traveled across Europe and Asia and published his experiences in a book called The Description of the World.

Marco Polo. By nature, the two have very much in common – they are both intrepid travelers, free spirits, and excellent storytellers. This very special dinner, hosted and prepared by the little guy himself, turned out to be a culmination of bold travel experiences inspired by his idol, Marco and his famous 14th-century explorations that changed the world.

Told through the use of 3D projection mapping, Le Petit Chef cooks and adventures right before your eyes pulling you into his engaging world of storytelling and food presentation in the most fanciful of ways. Over six courses, he takes dinner guests to a myriad of exotic lands, near and far, with stops in places like India, Asia, the Himalayas (and more!) all the while preparing signature dishes from each culture.  His adventures were so big in scale, he had to literally jump out of the book and walk around on the table in order to showcase the whole journey…

To give you a little perspective, that’s my wine glass in the top left corner and Le Petit Chef in the right-hand corner walking around on the tablecloth.

I realize this is a difficult situation to wrap your head around – a little guy walking and talking around your plate  while you are also eating – so we’ll share this video so that you get a better idea of how it all works…

Each course was presented in its own dynamic and interesting way. The first course for example, (Ratatouille  Terrine with Tomato Jam accompanied by a Roasted Green Slip Mussel with Garlic and Lemon) arrived in a mini suitcase just as the little chef was sailing across the ocean in search of the start of his trip.

As the story continued and the travel destinations became more exotic, the table landscape changed in a multitude of different ways…

Here we are in China!

In an instant, patterns and colors transformed into new shades and shapes…

while real food filled our bellies and visual artistry fueled a feast for our eyes. Magic met us at every turn.

Grilled Shrimp with Chili, Sriracha and Sesame, on the left and a dessert demonstration by Le Petite Chef on the right.

By the time the cloudy mountaintops of the Himalayas were presented, and real-life fog flooded our plates, in both food form and story form, we all, everyone at the two long tables, had completely fallen in love with the little chef.  When the last crumbs of dessert were whisked away and the little chef bid us good night, we knew we had experienced an incredible event. We had spent a glorious time with a new friend who not only fed ourselves but also fed our souls.

It’s the goal of the little chef to see as much of America as possible, which is good news for you. He might be heading your way next! Keep up with his city stops here… and if he’s in your neck of the woods, go and find him. Dine with him. Fall in love with him. And enjoy the enchantment he brings. It will be an unforgettable night full of magical storytelling.  And if there is anything more than we need in this crazy world right now, it is more moments like this in our lives.  Passion, excitement, and entertainment meet at the table of Le Petit Chef.  As Marco Polo once said, “You’ll hear it for yourselves, and it will surely fill you with wonder.”

Look for Le Petit Chef’s tour schedule here.

If you live in the Nashville area, book your Dinner Time Story night at the Standard here.

And if you haven’t already visited, all you Nashvillians, stop by the Standard for a cocktail or two. You won’t regret it!

Cheers to Le Petit Chef for a most marvelous night and to Marco Polo for continuing to inspire centuries of travelers the world around.

Around the World with Paola, By Heart

She was born in Columbia and raised in New Jersey before she moved to the Netherlands where she now writes about France. Meet Paola Westbeek, the international adventurer who followed her heart halfway around the globe to find a lifestyle that fit her perfectly from the inside out.

Meet Paola and her adorable pup, Pastis!

Diving into a European culture and lifestyle as an American isn’t easy but Paola makes it look like a piece of cake, two times over. She not only moved abroad but fell in love, went to school, had a baby, learned two new languages and started a journalism career steeped in the history of her foreign country. Living and working in the Netherlands and France, Paola’s journey through the past twenty years is an inspiring example of letting your instincts lead you to the people and places that will ultimately define you best. In today’s interview, we learn the courageous story of how Paola discovered life in the Netherlands and then discovered herself in France. She also offers some travel suggestions for anyone interested in exploring the cities beyond Paris and shares a recipe for one of her most favorite wintertime soups. It’s a bon vivant adventure of the most bright and beautiful sort as Paola lovingly discusses her “heart’s home,” how she got there, and how she plans to stay creatively wrapped up in her world of intuition.

In The Vintage Kitchen: So you live in the Netherlands but you write about France. How did all this come about?

Paola: Well, first of all, I married a Dutchman! In 1997, I left New Jersey as a nineteen-year-old girl and moved to the Netherlands to be with my then boyfriend. A year later, we were married and I knew I wanted to stay here. I fell in love with the European way of life. Everything just seemed more laid-back. And I became fascinated with the culture and history of the Netherlands. So much so, that I studied Dutch language and culture at the University of Leiden, one of the top universities in the country (very proud I got accepted!). In four years’ time, I had read almost every significant piece of Dutch literature (even 17th-century writers such as Vondel and P.C. Hooft), I was a regular at almost every major museum, and in 2007 I received my specialization in Dutch art history of the Golden Age. I had always imagined I would end up working at the Rijksmuseum, but instead, I followed my heart and started writing.

The lovely city of Leiden.

As a child, my biggest dream was to become a writer. I remember putting together little books and magazines, and making the covers out of cracker boxes. At the beginning of my writing career, I mostly wrote about food in Dutch art and culture, but also about travel, lifestyle and even wine. After a few years of writing for the magazine, DUTCH (published in Canada and the U.S.)…

I was offered the job of editor-in-chief a wonderful opportunity to use all the knowledge I had acquired during my studies in Leiden. And I even worked as a recipe writer and contributed more than 350 recipes for the top women’s Dutch weekly, Vriendin.

Though I briefly studied at the Journalism School in Utrecht (Hogeschool voor de Journakistiek), my writing career developed mostly through passion and motivation. In the last two years or so, I’ve started to really focus my writings on one of my other passions France!

Recently Paola launched her own website devoted entirely to her love of France. Visit her here.

What is it about France that makes you love it so much?

What do I love about France? Everything! I feel like more of myself when I’m there. Quieter. Centered. More relaxed. I also love French food and wine, of course. And the music (I am beyond madly in love with Charles Aznavour and will be seeing him in March excited!). 

Oh, and by the way, France has some pretty amazing beauty products. Walk into any random French pharmacy and you will find the best creams, lotions and potions to look beautiful without ever even having to think about Botox! 

On your website, you mention that you were born in Colombia and were raised in the U.S. How very cool! Where did you live in the States? Do you still feel connected to Colombia in any way?

My parents emigrated to New Jersey when I was a baby, and I only visited Colombia once when I was six years old. However, my parents were very much Colombians and never forgot their roots. I feel more American than Colombian though, even though I am now Dutch but my heart is French! Sorry to confuse you! Haha!

{Side note: In a very strange case of coincidence, through this interview, Paola and I discovered that we lived in the very same town (a small hamlet, really) in New Jersey. At the same time Paola was moving to the Netherlands to be with her love, I was moving to New Jersey to be with my love. New Jersey never gets recognized as a conduit of romance, but maybe it really is!}

Tell us a little bit about life in the Netherlands. In what ways does it make you feel different than when you are spending time in France?

I love the sense of freedom in the Netherlands and that the Dutch are so down-to-earth. Life is pretty good here, but the only thing I don’t like that much is that the country is small and crowded. As soon as I cross the border into France, I feel like I can breathe!

Paola’s gorgeous French vistas.

What keeps you in the Netherlands as opposed to living in France full-time?

My daughter is still in high school and a move isn’t really smart at this point. Plus, my husband has a great job and it would be foolish to leave that behind. For now, we’re just going with the flow and seeing where life takes us. Perhaps there will be a permanent move in the future or perhaps we will divide our time between the Netherlands and France. In the meantime, I’m there every chance I get whether with the family on vacation or for work.

For first-time travelers to France, what top 5 places (sites, cities, attractions, etc) would you recommend they experience first?

The Cote Chalonnaise region of France. Photo courtesy of mlc-vins.fr

As much as I love Paris, Paris isn’t all there is to France. If you really want to experience France, head to the countryside where life is good and lunch (complete with a glass of wine and dessert!) lasts two hours and costs very little! I would recommend you visit the Côte Chalonnaise’s vineyards (they produce pretty fantastic wines at a fraction of the price of the bigger Bourgogne wines from the Côte-d’Or)…

Read more about Paola’s excursions to Bergerac, France over on her website here. Photo courtesy of Paola Westbeek.

the beautiful city of Bergerac for a meal of magret de canard (duck breast) with a glass of Pécharmant,

The coastal town of Arachon, France

Arcachon for some oysters or…

Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, a gorgeous getaway town for Londoners and Parisians. Read about Paola’s favorite restaurants here.

Le Touquet-Paris-Plage (a ritzy coastal town in the north) and…

The medieval village of St. Marten located in the Ardeche region of Southwestern France.

the Ardèche’s picturesque villages.

If you could pick one city in which to live fulltime, which would you choose and why?

The gorgeous village of Duras – Paola’s ideal place.

Easy. Not a city, but the village of Duras in the Lot-et-Garonne. I was smitten by Duras when we first visited a decade ago, and we have spent our summers there every year since. It almost feels like I’ve lived there in a past life. It’s my heart’s home.

Does Pastis accompany you on all your travels?

Pastis!

Absolutely! He’s my second ‘child’ and I wouldn’t dream of leaving him anywhere. He gets a lot of attention in France because of his good looks, and because of his BIG mouth! Doxies are LOUD barkers!

Tell us a little bit about En Route magazine.

Paola writes a culinary column for En Route magazine . Her latest piece was this article about cheese from the Loire Valley.

En Route is one of the top magazines about France in the Netherlands. The magazine covers everything from French culture to travel and food and wine. I had been reading the magazine for quite a while and had even been interviewed by them before a meeting with editor Andy Arnts in 2015 resulted in getting my own culinary column.

I was over the moon! In my column Question de Goût, which I write in Dutch, I explore the history of French food and drink. I have written about the history of Bresse chicken, quiche, Agen prunes, salted caramel, kir, Brillat Savarin cheese and much more. Each column requires extensive research, which I love because I have always been a bit of a nerd. I learn so much! Recently, I also started writing travel articles for the magazine.

Last September, Paola focused her culinary column on Sainte-Maure de Touraine cheese.

What do you think are some common misconceptions about French food?

That it’s difficult to cook, too complicated and time-consuming, and too rich and heavy. Granted, it does take some skill to produce perfect sauces for example, and there’s nothing light about cassoulet or choucroute, but you have to remember that French cuisine is extremely varied. Whereas in the north they love their butter, cream and more substantial dishes, in the south (Provence, for example) they give preference to olive oil, sunny vegetables and seafood (the Mediterranean diet). If you want to cook like the French, it’s not so much about the traditional dishes, but about the style of cooking and eating. For the French, food is almost a religion. They are very picky about choosing the best products (they have amazing markets where you can find the freshest produce, beautiful meats and cheeses and fragrantly fresh herbs and spices), they prefer to eat according to the seasons and food is something which is fully enjoyed, meaning that you sit down at the table and savor every bite preferably with a glass of wine. I love that.

Paola’s French Onion Soup. Find the recipe on her site here.

Recently you posted a few photos on Instagram of your homemade French Onion soup. I know there are two versions – the brothy kind and the thicker, creamy kind that looks more like a potato soup. Tell us about your preference and why you make your soup the way you do.

Mine is somewhat in between. I have tasted my share of onion soups in France and I created this recipe based on my memories of the best ones. The key, as you can read in the recipe, is to cook the onions slowly so they release all their natural sweetness and infuse the broth with flavor. And my secret? A shot of Armagnac! I adore Armagnac and often drink it in France with an espresso after a dinner out.

If you could have a lengthy several course dinner in your beloved France with five famous people (living or dead) who would you choose and why?

Paola’s dream dinner companions: (clockwise from top left: Edith Piaf, Thomas Jefferson, John Lennon, Charles Aznavour, and Rembrandt

Charles Aznavour, bien sûr! His music touches my heart deeply. I could be having the most terrible day, and if I put on one of his records (yes, I prefer records!), it’s like instant happiness. The man is 93 years old and just as vital and beautiful as ever. Then in no particular order, Thomas Jefferson because he was such a HUGE Francophile and food and wine lover (see my blog post!), Edith Piaf because her life fascinates me and I love her music, Rembrandt because his work always moves me to tears (not joking, it’s pretty embarrassing to stand in front of one of his masterpieces the tears just start to flow!) and John Lennon because he’s my favorite Beatle and I am a major Beatles fan.

What is your most favorite French wine? Which types do you prefer to use in cooking and what would you recommend for an everyday table wine?

Grapes on the vine in a Cotes de Duras vineyard

The wines from Côtes de Duras are my favorite. The appellation produces quality wines which are somewhat similar to Bordeaux wines but much more affordable. There are reds, whites, rosés and sweet wines made by more than 200 passionate wine growers. Of course, the wines are especially dear to me because they come from ‘my heart’s home’.

One of Paola’s favorites.

Every time I sip a wine from Duras, I feel as though I’m back there. I serve them with weekday meals but also fancier dinners. As far as cooking with wine use good wine, it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it has to be good enough to drink! And never use special ‘cooking wine’ that is not meant for drinking!

ITVK: If you could write one article for En Route and you could choose whichever topic you liked, what would write about and why?

For my food columns, I pretty much have free reign, which is fantastic. One of my career dreams is to interview Charles Aznavour, for any publication interested! Although I wonder how I would ever keep it together!

ITVK: How has living in multiple foreign countries changed your viewpoint about the definition of the word home?

I consider myself a cosmopolitan woman. I often say that France (Duras) is my ‘heart’s home’… but my real home is with my family.

Paola, at home in her favorite place – Duras.

A very big thank you to Paola for sharing her passions and her kitchen stories with us. You can keep up with her daily adventures on instagram here as well as her French lifestyle blog, here.

Inspired to begin your own culinary exploration of France? Pop over to the Vintage Kitchen shop where you’ll find French treasures like these ready for new adventures…

From top left: Vintage 1970’s French cookbook, Vintage European Linen Napkins, Haviland Family Dishware and Antique Paris Street Maps

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.

 

Mabel In the Market: The Search for the 1920’s Doughnut Shop {Part 2}

I’ve never played hide and seek with a city or a ghost before. But that’s exactly what I did with Mabel in Seattle. I was on a mission to find my great-grandmother’s doughnut shop, which according to family lore, was located in Pike Place Market sometime between the years of 1922 and 1940.

Mabel in 1907; Pike Place Market sign in 2017

If this were a movie, I’d find her by doughnut crumb trail.  I’d hop off the plane with weeks of research in hand, pop over to the market and seek out the very spot where Mabel,  my school teacher-trained, Iowa native, Seattle transplant great-grandmother would have rolled out daily stacks of doughnuts during the early 20th century.

I’d scurry through market hallways and stallways…

Pike Place Market Stairs

passing sign after sign…

until I reached my moment of satisfaction. The final destination…

… actual proof, at long-last,  that my Mabel’s place of productivity was here and that her baking legacy survived in these doughnuts still being prepared and displayed in the same way she would have made them 100 years ago…

But this is not a movie and the trail of this baking mystery did not roll out so smoothly. I did go to Seattle and I did go to the market. And I did discover Mabel. Just not exactly the way I thought I would.

As it turns out Mabel just might be the biggest fan of hide and seek I’ve ever known.  She popped in and out of this whole adventure playing her game of come find me in the most superlative of ways.

Before I left for Seattle I had trouble locating any supporting documents that would pin Mabel down in the market. I searched for weeks, trying all sorts of different avenues leading from Seattle to Iowa and back to Seattle again, hoping for a picture, a newspaper article, a copy of a market receipt, a letter home to her family… any small detail that would mention a doughnut or a day stall.   I came up empty handed on all fronts except for a picture I found of her sister Katie with whom Mabel was close…

Hello to Katie!

Taken around 1900, this was a great new addition to the family photo collection. We don’t have any pictures of Mabel’s seven sisters taken while they were young. Katie has no connection to Seattle or to the market that I know of yet but it was encouraging, a good luck sign, perhaps to see the sisterly face of someone who was so important and so close to Mabel.

Back to the market mission,  I was hoping that research helpers at pikeplacemarket.org would be more successful combing their city directories and market archives. They too tried all possible avenues on their end. Had there been a shop name or a specific date things would have been, could have been easier.  Working on it up until the eleventh hour we were communicating back and forth about potential scenarios and information but valid, concrete documentation would elude us both in the end. Mentions of Mabel in the market were nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t all disappointment at this stage though. Mabel came through in another way. A better way actually then documents and even doughnuts. She came to me in the form of dishes…

Dating to early 1900, this is Mabel’s antique flow blue china made by W.H. Grindley in the Portman pattern which had been stacked away, unbeknownst to me, in my sister’s house for years.  How exciting! Dishes that Mabel actually touched in her daily life and that survived her 1,800 mile journey from Iowa to Washington. I could just imagine one of her lovely little doughnuts sitting on this plate. Like her sister’s portrait this was a more delicate and intimate side of Mabel then I ever hoped for. A tangible piece of history and a part of her that I could carry with me back home.

Even though there was no factual info to be had about Mabel’s market days my sisters and I  headed to Pike Place anyway to see if some visual clues might strike us.

We saw fish and flowers, pigs and produce, wall murals and a great busker band. We even saw a real-life Hobart, an invention we blogged about back in May. ( I think I was the only one standing in line at this vendor that was more excited about seeing the mixer then the menu offerings).

But there were no signs of Mabel.  We commiserated over grilled cheese sandwiches and doughnuts on the wharf and talked over the possibility that perhaps Mabel just worked at a doughnut shop instead of owned one. Maybe the family story got muddled and misdirected over time. Maybe Mabel was a cog in the wheel instead of the actual wheel.

We left the farmers market feeling satisfied with food but not with family history. The search continued. Questions were still unanswered.

Further investigations led us out to the suburbs where Mabel popped up again. This time in the form of a house with a big garden yard – the place where she lived for a time in the 1950’s.  And we saw her again in two churches that were built by her only child Philip, just outside of Seattle…

Those three places didn’t provide any new clues but they did suggest a new possibility. What if Mabel made so many doughnuts at the market and on such a large scale that she never wanted to look or think or talk about another doughnut again? What if, when she moved out to the suburbs in 1940, she was done with doughnuts completely? What if that is the reason the family stories never stretched farther than the market mention?

On the last day of my trip, after I made peace with the fact that I would not discover any new information about this family story for the immediate time being,  Mabel sent out a consolation prize.  While doing a little antique shopping, my sister found an old cookbook from 1902 with a woman who looked a little like Mabel on the cover…

Flipping through it look what recipe I found on page 256…

Iowa doughnuts! A recipe from Mabel’s home state nestled in with a whopping 13 other recipes for the willing doughnut maker.  What are the chances of finding such a time appropriate cookbook with such a specific and applicable recipe?  To make this find even more Mabel-fied the inside cover of the cookbook was stamped with the name and address of the previous owner. And guess, dear readers, where that previous owner lived?

The small town where Mabel had her big garden yard and where her son built two churches!

What, really, are the chances of that? Seattle is a big city and the suburbs are dense and bubbling places. The antique shop where we found the cookbook was far from the town where Mabel lived and where her son built the churches. Not every state in the cookbook got its own doughnut recipe (only Iowa and Nebraska). And after almost fifteen years of antique collecting I’ve never come across this specific cookbook before. All signs pointed to Mabel and the magically meant to be.

So even though I didn’t exactly find out all the information I was looking for heading into this trip, I feel like I got to know Mabel so much more than just being able to reiterate some facts and dates. I touched (and took home!) dishes that she herself touched.  I saw the first-time face of her sister.  I saw the house of her senior years and I stood before two big buildings that her son built. And the icing on the doughnut is the found cookbook; owned by a person who lived in the same town as her; and that contains an obscure recipe from her home state for a sweet treat that eventually bore her business. That’s a tidy little package.

The hunt for her market days info is far from over and this story doesn’t yet come full circle but it does come full-spirit. When we eventually solve this mystery of Mabel in the market there might just be a movie style ending. Stay tuned for new updates as the research continues. In the meantime if you missed Part One of this post catch up here.

Cheers to all the “spirited” storytellers out there.