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

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

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

Vintage Jell-O ad

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

1933 Jell-O Cookbook

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

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

Vintage Jell-O Ad

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

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

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

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

MEET THE COOKBOOKS…

MEET THE VINTAGE RECIPES…

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

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

MEET THE TEAMS…
 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

New England Style: Three Vintage Bread Recipes You’ll FALL in Love With

bread2

Now that Autumn is here and the temperatures are cooling and the holidays are coming in close, there is nothing that trumpets the start of the cozy Fall season more than baking homemade bread. This week in the vintage kitchen we are exploring three different types of bread – one quick bread, one muffin recipe and one sandwich bread, all tackled the old-fashioned way. Meaning without a bread machine or any fancy paddling mixers.

Inspiration begins back in the late 1960’s when food writer and cookbook author June Platt was living here…

littlecompton-ri

in the picturesque seaside town of Little Compton, Rhode Island. Tasked with writing a reigional cookbook made up wholly of New England fare, June compiled a list of over 250 recipes that represented the belly and bounty of diverse Northern appetites.

Her recipes were published in 1971 under the title June Platt’s New England Cook Book…

June Platt's New England Cook Book

and contained recipes both historic and modern for all meals of the day including cocktail hour, appetizers, party fare, preserves, homemade wine and the infamous bread featured here in this post. Let’s look at what’s in the oven…

BREAD No. 1

If you are anything like Ms. Jeannie, you find sandwich bread making a bit of a challenge. Usually when Ms. Jeannie attempts such creations her bread comes out weighing 18 pounds and has both the texture and composition of packed clay. Right when the oven door opens and the weighty wonder gets hoisted onto the cooling rack, she knows instantly  that she’ll need not a bread knife but a handsaw to cut into such a terrible beauty of an endeavor.

But things have changed dear readers. Ms. Jeannie can no longer say that baking is dreadful and that light, fluffy sandwich bread eludes her. Thanks to June Platt she has found her perfect sandwich bread. Easy to make, simple to bake.  Success at last! Although it is is yeast bread and therefore takes some hours to fully prepare from start to slice, it is WELL worth it and very simple. You’ll never want to eat any other bread again.

Brown Bread

Like New Englanders themselves, this bread is humble, hardy and versatile. According to June Platt, legend has it that this recipe stemmed from a farmer who was so fed up with his wife’s terrible cooking that he took to the kitchen himself keen on preparing something (anything!) edible. As  Louisa May Alcott (a fellow New Englander) said necessity is the mother of all invention, and so Farmer made his bread and named it after his wife Ana and her (damnable) cooking talents…

Anadama Bread

(makes 2 loaves)

1/2 cup white stone ground cornmeal

2 cups boiling water

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup dark molasses

1 rounded teaspoon salt

1 yeast cake dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water

4 cups flour* (see note)

  1. Stir cornmeal very slowly into boiling water, using a wooden spoon.
  2. When thoroughly mixed add the butter, molasses and salt. Try to work out any lumps by flattening them out with the back of the wooden spoon against the side of the bowl or pan.
  3. Cool to lukewarm.
  4. Add the yeast dissolved in the warm water.
  5. Add the flour, one cup at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon, to make smooth dough.
  6. Place on a lightly floured board or canvas and knead well.
  7. Place dough in a well-buttered bowl and cover with a cloth wrung out in hot water.
  8. Allow to rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until more than double its original bulk (or for about 2.5 hours).
  9. Preheat oven to 400 degrees , and butter two 9″inch bread pans.
  10. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board again, knead lightly and shape into two loaves.
  11. Place dough in the buttered pans , cover with a towel wrung out in hot water , and allow to rise again until doubled in bulk (about one hour).
  12. Place the loaves in the pre-heated oven and bake until they are a deep golden brown (about 45-50 minutes).
  13. Place on a wire rake to cool before removing loaves from pans.

This a fun recipe to work on while you have a whole home day planned. Because it does take some time you may want to double up on the recipe and make four loaves of bread so you can stick some in the freezer for later use.

*Ms. Jeannie followed this recipe and the steps exactly with the exception of the flour. She used 2 cups all purpose flour and two cups of cake flour which is little bit lighter in texture.  This combo may have aided in a slightly fluffier loaf.

Moist, flavorful, easily sliced (no handsaw required!) this sandwich bread is perfect for everyday use in the versatile sandwich department. Hopefully it will become a household staple in your kitchen, like it now is in the land of Ms. Jeannie.

*** Update 10/26/2016***

Another batch of bread was made this time using all-purpose flour (in place of cake flour) and olive oil (in place of butter) and it came out equally as wonderful and delicious. The all-purpose flour makes it the tiniest tiny bit more dense but other than that there are no noticeable differences in either taste or texture, which leads Ms. Jeannie to believe that this just might be the most versatile and easily experimental bread recipe ever. Next time, she’ll try it with a sprinkling of nuts, seeds and/or whole grains to see what happens. Stay tuned on that front or experiment yourself and let Ms. Jeannie know how it all turned out in the comments section below.

BREAD No. 2

Fruit and nut breads are always an instant favorite and an easy go-to for busy morning breakfasts. Ms. Jeannie never passes on homemade banana or berry breads and likes to experiment herself with different flavor combos when it comes to quick breads.  Since we are in the middle of nut season, June Platt’s vintage recipe for Cranberry-Orange-Walnut Bread sounded wonderfully delicious and in-season. Only there was one slight problem. Cranberries.

Ms. Jeannie scoured high and low, store to market to store again. There were no cranberries to be had anywhere in her fair city, fresh frozen or otherwise. A bit too early for Thanksgiving relish season, perhaps, New Englanders must have made this bread in the colder mornings of November instead of October.  Out of season, but not out of spirit Ms. Jeannie substituted. And then substituted again. Dried sour cherries replaced fresh cranberries and almonds replaced walnuts.

Cherries seemed fitting on the historic side – George Washington was a fan after all. On the flavor side they are sweet yet tart like a cranberry and the dried version seemed like the next best thing. Just be sure when preparing this recipe you look for pitted sour cherries. Ms. Jeannie found her cherries at the international market inside her local farmers market and they were not pitted. That added a sticky extra 30 minutes in the prep department.

cherry1

Sour Cherry – Orange – Almond Bread

(makes 1 loaf)

2 cups sifted flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg ( well beaten)

Juice of 1 orange (about 1/3 cup)

Freshly grated rind of 1 orange (about 1 heaping teaspoon)

1/4 cup cold water

1 cup granulated cane sugar

1/4 cup melted butter

1 cup dried sour cherries, roughly chopped

1/2 cup whole almonds,  roughly chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9″ inch bread pan.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the beaten egg, orange juice, grated rind, water and sugar.
  4. Add the sifted ingredients and stir just long enough to mix. Stir in the melted butter. Fold in the sour cherries and almonds.
  5. Spoon mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour (or until inserted toothpick comes out clean). Oven temperatures really vary the timing on this one so keep your eye on it.
  6. Let cool on wire rack.

Because the almonds add a little hearty protein and the cherries mingle tartly with the sweet orange and cane sugars this bread is almost like a soft protein bar. Two slices are very satisfying especially when served warm with a little butter. A lovely alternative to oatmeal on those frosty winter mornings and a great bread for holiday house guests with its fast, festive and easy to freeze attitude, this bread will make holiday entertaining a breeze in the brunch/breakfast department.

Cherry orange almond bread

Bread No. 3

Our final bread comes to us by way of Vermont. June Platt had a special soft spot for the state and especially loved the maple syrup that sweetened all matter of meals in Fall and Winter. Her recipe for Vermont Johnnycake Muffins is ideally suited as a companion for a warm bowl of chili with its dense composition and hint of maple sweetness. Essentially it is a cornbread muffin with a cute name. But as Ms. Jeannie knows living in the South there are two VERY different camps on the subject of cornbread. Northerners like their cornbread sweet, Southerners like their cornbread sour (or non-sweetened if you will). Ms. Jeannie prefers hers a a little on the sweet side but not so sugary that it tastes like cake. This Johnnycake is a hospitable meet-you-in-the-middle between North and South. A cornbread for everyone.

muffins1

Vermont Johnnycake Muffins

(makes 8 muffins)

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cornmeal

2 eggs, well beaten

1/3 cup milk

1/4 cup maple syrup

6 tablespoons melted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together , add the cornmeal and sift again.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients and add to the dry ingredients, stirring only enough to dampen all the flour.
  4. Pour into well-buttered muffin tins and bake in a hot oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

June suggests serving these handsome guys with Maple cream or Maple Butter. Ms. Jeannie suggests a little bit of jalapeno jelly, a dollop of goat cheese and a drizzle of honey.  Like the other breads above, these muffins freeze well and can fill up a hearty appetite in a half second. Its just the kind of fortitude you need when shoveling snow or battling that freezing wind rolling in off the coast.

Vermont Johnnycake Muffins

Released to great critical acclaim, all the recipes in this cook book re-introduced regional delights that were overlooked and underrated in mid-20th century America.  June helped bring them out of hiding 45 years ago and in turn four decades later, Ms. Jeannie is shining a spotlight on them again today. So whether you are looking for something new to bake-up this season or you are like Ms. Jeannie just trying to bolster up your bread baking abilities look no further than New England dear readers!

To explore more vintage recipes from June Platt’s New England cookbook, including the wonderfully named Beach-Plum Jelly, Rinktum Ditty, Cranberry Troll Cream, Red Flannel Hash and the classics-  Lobster Rolls, New England Clam Chowder, Boston Baked Beans, etc etc etc… visit this link here.

Cheers and happy baking from June, Jeannie and all of New England!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Vintage Kitchen: Sage Smothered Chicken with Polenta

An Herb and Spice Cookbook

This week in the vintage kitchen we are celebrating the wonders of the summer herb garden with a vintage recipe that has absolutely antique roots.

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you’ll recognize the name and face of the recipe writer…

craigclaiborne2

…celebrated New York Times food critic and cook Craig Claiborne. Back in February Ms. Jeannie shared his recipe for Eggplant Pizza from his 1963 Herb and Spice Cook Book – a complete gem of a compendium organized by herb and spice for quick reference.  In that post, oregano was the featured herb and Ms. Jeannie gave all the credit to Craig for his imaginative and most delicious creation.

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Eggplant Pizza! Find the recipe here.

But while Craig was the chef in the kitchen, the writer of the words and the name attached to the dust jacket, there was another face behind the flavor of the book – a muse of intellectual imagination that inspired Craig and enhanced his cook book.

Hilda Layel (1880-1957)

Hilda Leyel (1880-1957)

Her name was Hilda Leyel and she was the woman behind the crusade to bring back the herb.

For centuries herb gardening has been considered a feminine endeavor and a maternal skill –  a salve for the sick, a staple for the diet and a component in clean living. But with the introduction of doctors and hospitals and modern medicine, and the dawn of the industrial revolution, herbs and herb gardening fell out of fashion by the early part of the 20th century. Then Hilda came along.

A life long lover of gardens, a student of medicine, and an appreciator of fine food, good wine and natural living Hilda published several books on the importance of herbs, opened Culpepers, the first herbal-only shop in England (which offered herbal remedies, food, makeup and holistic products) and founded the still-going strong  Herb Society all within a decade between the 1920’s and 1930’s.  The efforts of this one woman single-handedly revitalized the popularity of herbs in gardening, cooking and personal product choices for not only the citizens of England but also of the world at large.

Three of Hilda's cookbooks.

Three of Hilda’s cookbooks.

It was Hilda’s passion, promotion and sheer love that inspired Craig with his Herb and Spice cookbook. Her detailed research and botanical understanding of each of the 54 herbs and spices featured in his cookbook tell of the history, symbolism and importance of each plant. Which makes the two of them a great team. She tells why herbs are important and he shows how they taste great.

It is wonderful to see that Hilda’s efforts had numerous and lasting effects decades after her death in 1957.  To honor Hilda’s magnificent determination, it is only fitting to feature a recipe from the sage section of the Herb and Spice Cook Book which comes from the botanical name salvio, meaning to “save” since Hilda in her own way saved the herbs from obscurity. Cheers to Hilda!

This week we are making Sage Smothered Chicken with Polenta, which is on the heavier side of summer cooking but features so many garden ingredients that its hard to resist. If you want to make a lighter (aka cooler) dinner during this hot season, just omit the polenta and serve the chicken alongside a fresh garden salad. It’s delicious either way!

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Sage Chicken with Polenta

(serves 4-6)

1 4lb. chicken cut into serving pieces

Salt and freshly ground Pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (canned if your garden tomatoes aren’t ready yet!)

1 six-ounce can tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon ground sage

A small bunch of fresh sage leaves (for garnish)

4 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup yellow or white corn meal

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with one teaspoon salt and one quarter teaspoon black pepper. Heat the oil and brown the chicken, onion and garlic lightly. Add the tomatoes, paste, sage and pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon pepper or more to taste).

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Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 50 minutes or so. While chicken is cooking prepare the polenta by bringing two and a half cups water to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl mix the cornmeal with one and a half cups water until combined. Add cornmeal mixture to the boiling water and stir until pot comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes.

Place the polenta on a large platter. Arrange the chicken on top and spoon the sauce over it. Garnish the platter with fresh sage leaves for presentation. Serve hot.

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You will most likely have extra sauce left over with this recipe, which you can freeze for later use as a homemade tomato sauce for pasta or pizza. Delicious and helpful! A big cheers to Hilda for inspiring Craig who then inspired Ms. Jeannie.

Find the Herb and Spice cookbook for sale in Ms. Jeannie’s book shop here. 

Happy cooking dear readers!

 

Indonesian Inspiration: It’s Summer in the Vintage Kitchen!

Roedjack Manis

This week in the vintage kitchen we are traveling culinary style to the exotic locale of Indonesia with a flavorful summer salad recipe that capitalizes on the best of fresh garden vegetables. The recipe, Roedjak Manis, hails from the vintage 1967 cookbook A World of Nuts by Morton Gill Clark...

A World of Nuts Cookbook by Morton Gill Clark

and features one of the South’s most prolific crops – the peanut. Poor peanuts have gotten a bad rap in recent years due to all the nut allergy problems, but if you don’t suffer from any such malady than this recipe might just become your most favorite salad of the season.

As colorful as Indonesia’s  floating marketplace in Lok Baintan Kalimantan…

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this coleslaw like salad is bursting with a bright bouquet of garden goodness that not only makes it delicious in the flavor department but also pretty on the plate.

Roedjack Manis

And unlike some international recipes, if your garden isn’t yielding this type of produce just yet, no worries, you can find all these ingredients easily at the farmers market or the grocery.

Before we dive into the recipe, let’s look at the place where our salad hails from…

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Home to over 6,000 islands, Indonesia is an epicenter of culture and cuisine combining Chinese, Indian, European and Middle Eastern nationalities. This unique blend of heritage paired with it’s lush tropical environment provide the platform for some of the most flavorful cuisine in the world. 

Morton Gill Clark, traveled around the world gathering inspiration for his nut cookbook, picking up recipes that not only were not only indigenous of the places he visited but also easily adaptable for American cooks and kitchens. As a mid-century food journalist for Gourmet Magazine and Vogue, he had a refined palette for good, clean food that was easy to prepare and interesting to play around with. His recipe for Roedjak Manis is a shining example of both. Loaded with vitamins, nutrients and healthy fats, it offers a variety of serving options – a side salad, an appetizer, a snack, a unique hors d’ouevre – it is literally a feast for your imagination and for your belly.

If your summer scrapbook doesn’t include a trip to the idyllic islands of Indonesia, don’t fret, your senses will transport you on a trip of a lifetime with this culinary kitchen adventure. Are you ready dear readers? Let’s go!

Roedjak Manis (serves 4-6)

2 sweet red peppers or 8 mini bell peppers in assorted colors, seeded

1 cup peanuts

1 tblsp. brown sugar

1 tsp anchovy paste

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 1/4 cups finely shredded green cabbage

1 cup finely shredded lettuce (spring salad mix, romaine, etc)

1 cup thinly sliced bamboo shoots

1/4 cup slivered scallions

1/3 cup whole toasted peanuts

1 medium cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

1 hard-boiled egg, chopped

A quick note on ingredients: Ms. Jeannie purchased a bag of dry roasted, salted peanuts in the shell, which she then de-shelled for this recipe. If you don’t have this extra few minutes you can use a jar of already shelled peanuts. Bamboo shoots come in cans packed with water and can be found in the Asian section of the grocery.   

Roughly chop the peppers. Combine peppers and peanuts in a blender and pulse until they form a creamy paste similar to hummus. Depending on the water content of your peppers you might need to add a few squeezes of lemon juice to get the appropriate consistency. After a few minutes in the blender, peanuts and peppers should look like this…

Roedjack Manis

Next, add the sugar, anchovy paste and lemon juice to the pepper mixture and blend until combined. Set aside.

Thinly slice the cabbage, lettuce and bamboo shoots and toss together in a large mixing bowl.

Roedjack Manis

Then add the pepper mixture, whole peanuts and scallions with the lettuce and toss. It’s easiest to use your hands for this process since the pepper mixture is thick.

Roedjack Manis

Once all the ingredients are combined, set salad aside while you chop the egg and slice the cucumber. You can serve these last two ingredients either on top of the salad or on the side depending on your preference. Ms. Jeannie served her egg/cucumber on the side and put the salad in a big bowl, family-style so her dinner mates could serve themselves.

Roedjack Manis

Because this salad is packed with peanut protein, you could make this a meat-free meal or it would also be delicious with simple sautéed or poached chicken breasts, carrot chips or steamed rice. Like the summer season itself, it is easy breezy in the adaptability department and transports well as a picnic component.

Find more nut-based recipes in Morton’s cookbook here.  And find more around-the-world inspiration in the vintage kitchen with these previous cooking related posts.

Cheers and happy cooking!

 

In the Vintage Kitchen: Eggplant Pizza

Eggplant Pizza

Pizza has been a favorite in the U.S. since the early 1900’s with the first of its kind debuting in New York City in 1905. Popular right from the start, pizza wars started popping up all over the city, then the region then the country as Italian immigrants spread across America with their claims of making the best pizza in town.

G. Lombardi's the trendsetter on the american (pizza) frontier.

G. Lombardi’s on Spring Street in New York City was the trendsetter on the American (pizza) frontier.

And while bravado and traditional recipes may have fueled the pizza craze initially, creativity, with its variations on a theme, has kept it going ever since.

Strolling through 19th century pizza signs

A walk through 20th century pizza signs…

By the 1960’s American home chefs were experimenting with the complimentary trifecta of tomato sauce, bread and cheese in new and spectacular ways.  By thinking beyond the boundaries of size, shape and similarity, pizza was elevated to a nouveau cuisine that could incorporate a host of  ingredients from the humble to the exotic appealing to palates both simple and sophisticated.

One such experimenter determined to add a new twist to the traditional pizza pie was food editor, critic and chef Craig Claiborne.

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In his 1963 Herb and Spice Cookbook, he capitalized on the subtle yet dynamic flavor pairings of basil, oregano and garlic and came up with a dough-less version of eggplant pizza.

An Herb And Spice Cookbook by Craig Claiborne

Craig was no slouch in the cooking department. He knew his way around a home kitchen just as much as he did a commercial kitchen and he knew what and how people liked to eat. As the The New York Times food and restaurant critic for 29 years from 1957-1986, he pretty much pioneered food journalism in the Unites States at a time in the mid-1950’s when such editorial posts were primarily held by women for the female homemaker audience. But Craig was different, he was interested in casting wider nets, reaching more diverse audiences and bridging a relationship between restaurants, patrons and cultures.

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The author of over twenty cookbooks throughout his career, Craig’s Herb and Spice Cook Book is marvelous in both content and presentation. Organized alphabetically by spice or herb name it is a great reference cookbook when you have ten pounds of basil ready to harvest in your garden or you are craving a specific spice like curry or cinnamon… or marjoram!

marjoram

The eggplant pizza recipe fell under the oregano section which included recipes for Eggplant Antipasto, Chicken Napolitana, Herb-Broiled Swordfish and Creole Cabbage among four others. Excited by the possibility of giving her indoor oregano plant a hair-cut, Ms. Jeannie was happy to try this new version of pizza which turned out to be really delicious.

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It is a fun recipe for a few different reasons: 1} you make a quick version of homemade tomato sauce that takes little time and tastes great; 2} the “pizzas” can range in a variety of customizable sizes depending on the girth of your eggplant… if you have a skinnier eggplant you could serve those as appetizers or hors d’ouevres  for a party (maybe this weekend’s Super Bowl?!) or if you have a more rubenesque eggplant that would be a perfect size for dinner entrees; and 3} the breadcrumbs add a fabulous bit of crunch to the whole package just like a traditional pizza dough would.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe…Ms. Jeannie hopes you love this magical version of pizza just as much as the tradtional.

Eggplant Pizza (serves 6)

2 tablespoons cooking oil (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

1 small clove of garlic, minced

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

3/4 cup finely chopped green pepper

4 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon oregano

3/4 teaspoon basil leaves

3/4 teaspoon sugar

2 3/4 teaspoons salt* (Ms. Jeannie thinks this might be a typo as it seems like a lot of salt for this size recipe so please use caution and your own sensibilities with this ingredient. And remember you an always add more salt but never take it away.  Ms.Jeannie used about 1 teaspoon total but you might adjust that according to your taste).

1 medium eggplant

1 egg

1 tablespoon milk

1/2 cup bread crumbs (Ms. Jeannie used plain panko-style bread crumbs)

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesean cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

flour for dredging

Oil for frying (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

Toppings of your choice: whatever  you normally like on a pizza ie: mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, olives, etc.

Directions:

1. Heat the oil in a one quart saucepan. Add the garlic, onion and green pepper. Cook, stirring, three minutes or until the onions and green pepper are limp.

pizza3

2. Add the tomato paste and water. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, over low heat until very thick, about ten minutes Add the oregano, basil, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt* before the end of cooking time. *Salt to taste here. If you think the sauce needs more add a little bit, just keep in mind you’ll be adding salty parmesean cheese and possibly salty toppings later).

3. Remove sauce from heat and set aside while preparing the eggplant.

4. Wash, peel and cut eggplant into cross-wise slices one half inch thick.

5. Beat the egg with the milk and set aside. Mix bread crumbs with the remaining cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper.

6. Dip the eggplant slices in the flour, then in the beaten egg, then in the seasoned bread crumbs.

7. Saute the eggplant in the hot oil until golden, turning to brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all eggplants are cooked.

pizza4

8. Place the cooked eggplant slices on a cookie sheet and spread them with the cooked tomato sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese and your desired toppings . Place under a broiler until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

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Ms. Jeannie kept her pizzas simple and just topped them with mozzarella, capers, basil and garlic but other ideas include prosciutto, pineapple, mushrooms, pepperoni, olives, figs, etc. So many possibilities!

Happy experimenting dear readers! With love from Ms. Jeannie and Craig Claiborne

You can find Craig Claiborne’s Herb and Spice Cook Book here and a host of other vintage recipes Ms. Jeannie has blogged about previously here.

Want to know what it is like to run a real-life modern day pizza kitchen? Check out the recently published book Delancey by Molly Wizenberg – it is completely entertaining. And if you are not craving pizza by the end of all this, you are extraordinary:)

mollywizenberg

 

In the Vintage Kitchen: How To Make Healthy Refried Beans From Scratch

beans1

Happy New Year dear readers! Ms. Jeannie is sending you bucketfuls (it’s been raining a lot here) of good wishes, good fortune and good health for this new year.

This week we are back in the vintage kitchen with a healthy recipe that features a food staple held high in the luck department for January. Beans! They also made the news this past week as something we Americans should be eating more of (poor unfortunate sugar just got the worst rap) so we are conquering two bright and shiny wish you well tidings with one post here – good health and good luck.

If you are anything like Ms. Jeannie you might never have thought much about refried beans…how they are made, what exactly they are made with and how you might possibly make your own better version at home. In the store they come canned in two varieties, vegetarian and traditional and most contain hydrogenated oils and preservatives which are not the healthiest of options. But refried beans are great on tacos, burritos and nachos and are a great source of protein so Ms. Jeannie was excited to come across a from-scratch recipe in this vintage cookbook recently listed in her shop

bestrecipes1

Best Recipes from the Cook Book Guild published in 1972

Published in 1972, The Best Recipes from the Cook Book Guild is actually a compilation book of hundreds of recipes from other note-worthy cookbooks published between the 1940’s and the 1960’s. Each recipe comes with source notes and sometimes a story about where the recipe came from and who made it originally, which of course opens the door to a myriad of culinary adventures to pursue.

 

mexicancooking

The refried bean recipe came from the 1967 edition of The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (1915-2003), who was an award-winning  British food writer and the wife of Mexican diplomat Cesar Ortiz Tenoco.

elisabethlambertortiz

Through extensive travels in South America (and perhaps a few helpful lessons from Cesar’s family!) Elisabeth became an expert at preparing and instructing others on the art of Mexican cooking. The author of numerous international cookbooks, she is credited primarily with introducing Latin American cuisine to home cooks in both the U.S. and her native England during the 1960’s singing it’s flavor-packed praises in the forms of books and articles for Gourmet magazine and various food-related periodicals.  So what we have here dear readers is a fresh approach to an ethnic recipe from  a woman who learned her way through the culture. In Ms. Jeannie’s opinion, this is the best kind of cooking – learning through curiosity, love and experience .

Part One: Cooking the Beans

Part One: Cooking the Beans

Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos) serves 6

2 cups dried pinto, black or red kidney beans (Ms. Jeannie used black beans for her recipe)

cold water

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bay leaf

2 serrano chiles, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried chilis, crumbled (Ms. Jeannie used one teaspoon red pepper flakes since fresh chiles aren’t in season yet here in the South)

11 tablespoons lard or oil (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

salt

freshly ground pepper

1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped ( if tomatoes aren’t in season yet you can substitute 1 can of diced tomatoes, drained of juice)

  1. Wash the beans and place in a saucepan, without soaking, with enough cold water to cover, 1 of the chopped onions, 1 of the garlic cloves, the bay leaf and the chiles.
  2. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat; and simmer gently , adding more boiling water as it evaporates from the pan. {Note: Using black beans, this process took about one hour and 30 minutes with about a cup of additional boiling water added halfway through.}
  3. When the beans begin to wrinkle (or become sift as in the case of the black beans) add one tablespoon of lard or oil and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes over the same heat. Do not add anymore water.
  4. Heat the remaining lard or oil in a skillet, and saute the remaining onion and garlic until limp. Add the tomato and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and working in small batches add beans to the onion/garlic mixture mashing them together to form a paste. Repeat this step until all beans have mashed with the onion and garlic.
  6. Heat 2 tablespoons of lard or oil in a large skillet, add the beans in small batches and mash over low heat, forming a creamy heavy paste. Add two additional tablespoons of lard or oil intermittently throughout this process.
  7. Repeat step six again with the last 4 tablespoons of oil, once the beans have all been initially pureed. (This is the re-fried part in the name refried beans!) It should look like this when finished…
Homemade Refried Beans

Part Two: Mashing and Frying the Beans

This recipe is a great one because, once you understand the principles of refried beans  you can really change things up and add your own flair if you like. Spice it up, experiment with different herbs or chopped vegetables like leeks or scallions or different types of cheese.  If you like your refried beans a little bit more loose, you can add a little water to the pan after step 7 and mix it into the beans until you get the desired consistency. Likewise you can use the beans as part of lots of different dinner options from hors d’oeuvres to appetizers to main courses.

beans5

Ms. Jeannie made chicken tostados with her refried beans.  Quick and easy, she prepared them with the same whimsical, spur-of-the-moment method she uses for making tacos.  This one featured layers of tostado with chicken breast, green olives, lettuce, onion, avocado, cheddar cheese, tomatoes and the warm refried beans.

There are so many beans left over, Ms. Jeannie’s already hatching new recipes in her head about how else she can use them in her cooking this week ahead.  It looks like luck will continue spilling forth across many days this week in the kitchen department. If you want to save your luck for another day store it in an air-tight container and freeze it for later use:)

To embark on more culinary adventures using The Best Recipes from The Cookbook Guild as your spring board, please visit here. And as always, you can access dozens of other delicious vintage recipes on Ms. Jeannie’s blog using this link.

Happy cooking dear readers!

 

Summer Reading Sale! 15% off all Vintage Book Purchases

To ring in the summer season, Ms. Jeannie is having a vintage book sale in her shop. Within her vintage library you’ll find all sorts of entertaining reads (over 40 in number!) from rare books to vintage classics, cookbooks to … Continue reading

Sunday at the Diner with Luncheonette Vintage

Magic surrounds a diner. Ms. Jeannie has always said this. Any diner. It doesn’t matter where it is located, who runs it, how its decorated, or what they serve. There is something about sliding into a leather booth, ordering breakfast at midnight and not being hurried along that does wonders for a soul.

When Ms. Jeannie lived in New York, Sundays were the designated diner days. First she started going with her parents, her brother, her sisters when she was small to the local diner just up the street from their house. Coloring books in hand, endless stacks of pancakes and hours later, a leisurely family breakfast was had.  And nobody had to fight about whose turn it was to wash dishes at the end! Perfect, said Ms. Jeannie at 5!

As Ms. Jeannie grew, she carried on dinering with her friends, then her roommates, then boyfriends and  then ultimately, the best diner date of all, her handsome husband.

Everything under the moon was discussed at the diner. Friendships were forged over steaming stacks of homestyle potatoes. Politics defended over pancakes. Boys dissected over burgers. Life marked important over pie.

Or not.  Sometimes, nothing was said at the diner. Sometimes you just got lost for sleepy hours in the comfortable company of the New York Times,  and a crossword puzzle or two or three. That’s where the magic comes in.  Conversation, spoken or unspoken was always cathartic, always interesting.

Now that Ms. Jeannie lives far far away from any diners, she has had to be a tad more creative in order to get her diner fix. So when Ms. Jeannie stumbled upon Jana, the shop owner of Luncheonette Vintage, Ms. Jeannie knew she had found her next diner date.

As you’ll read, Jana’s roots are steeped in diner mentality. She’s fascinating and thoughtful and has interesting things to say about a range of topics.  So grab a cup of coffee, take a seat and slip into the world of all things vintage…

Ms. Jeannie:  Your shop personality is so fun and retro quirky, how did you land on the name Luncheonette Vintage?

Luncheonette Vintage: Thanks! There were a bunch of reasons. I wanted to combine all good stuff: food, deliciousness, vintage, and, well, friendly service in one term. Even the word, “luncheonette,” has such a vintage feel and really rolls off the tongue. But the name is also way to honor my grandparents: my grandmother worked at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Manhattan,

A 1940’s era Woolworth’s lunch counter. Photo courtesy of expolounge.blogspot.com

my grandfather was one of the legendary Hungarian waiters in the 1930s and 1940s (I bet you didn’t know there was a such a breed, but they were all smart, sophisticated, handsome, and very graceful with a tray). He worked at the original, famous Lindy’s.

Leo Lindy’s famous deli and restaurant opened in New York City in 1921 and is still in operation today!

My father was a hat check boy there and still remembers checking Rita Hayworth’s hat.

Rita Hayworth (1918-1987) was a well known 1940s era movie actress and dancer and considered one of the 100 most greatest stars of all time.

On the other side, my maternal grandmother was a legendary cook known for heaping plates of her phenomenal cooking in front of her guests, and then coming out with even more. Food is a big deal in my family.

I’ve had so many waitressing and cooking jobs over the years — it’s so common among writers (my other hat). That hustle bustle, serve-it-up with a smile and make people happy stays with me. Sometimes I dream of having a whole empire based on the theme: a men’s vintage shop called Grill Cook, a vintage bookshop called Cook’s Secret Life, but in the end I like the varied, endless menu of my Luncheonette.

MJ: You live in scenic upstate New York, how much do you do think location affects the items represented in your shop?

The stunning Catskill Mountains are located about 100 miles from New York City.

LV: That’s a great question. I live in the Catskills in a very rural area filled with woods and farms and tons of history. It’s a tangible history: old farmhouses, cabins and barns, old stone walls, old middens you’ll find while hiking that are filled with trash from 100 years ago.

People are thrifty here: they do not throw things away until there is absolutely no use for them, or until the house is changing hands after decades. So you can find amazing treasures at yard sales. I love old hunting and fishing gear and old cabin furnishings, old dishes, mason jars (you don’t even want to know how many I’ve got here — I’ve got to get them listed!). And old linens: in the old days women around here prided themselves on handiwork, and I’m always amazed by their embroidery and crocheting. The other day I can across a garbage bag filled with hand embroidered linens, including notes from a mother to her daughter, written in 1876, on how to work certain stitches. “Stay small,” the mother wrote. “It may be a temptation to stitch large but it is always a mistake.” I love that.
MJ:  At what point in life did you realize you were destined to become a collector?

LV: I was born into it. It’s in my DNA. My father is a photographer and a writer who has collected cameras and books since he was a child, my mother (a really, really talented painter) collected art books and loved Danish modern. My first obsession was horses, and I accumulated a mythical horse farm in my room, populated by dozens of Breyer horses. Whenever I see a Breyer horse from those days my childhood comes flooding back.

Breyer horses were made beginning in the 1950’s by Breyer Moulding Company. The horses started out as adornment pieces to mantle clocks, but people loved the figures so much they just wanted to purchase the horses instead of the clocks!

MJ: Why do you think people are lured towards vintage items?

LV: So many reasons. I always say, Go green, eat vintage! But it’s true: buying, wearing and using vintage is a great antidote to our very disposable society, a small way to stop wreaking havoc on the earth. Imagine if instead of running to UO or H&M for yet another cheap T-shirt made by third-world kids with toxic dyes and textiles that will never break down, we all just reused and recycled? 

1970s Cherry Coke Athletic Jersey from luncheonettevintage

And vintage is sometimes so much better made. Way before the concept of planned obsolescence (like, 10 years for a car), things were made to last. It drives me nuts to see cheap new stuff that is designed to look like great old stuff — until it winds up dumped in a landfill.

For style, vintage is so amazing. There’s a decade that will work for any body type, and the clothes just give you that slightly other sensibility.

Women’s Vintage 1950’s Cropped Jacket. So very Mad Men!

You can rock a 1940s suit and take on a whole different persona. That goes for men as well as women. Think of Mad Men.

1960’s nylon BoatJac windbreaker

I also think that vintage items can be a very personal way of reconnecting with your own past. It’s different for everyone, but certain items can cause a rush of nostalgia and memory. My mother kept her paintbrushes in antique Dundee marmalade jars (she probably found them in a barn sale around here), and I’m always reminded of her when I see one.

Vintage Dundee Marmalade Jar. Dundee marmalade was first produced in 1797 in Dundee, Scotland. Photo courtesy of thevintagewall.com

I’ve had buyers tell me how happy they were to find that one old cookbook, for example, that they remember from childhood. This past Christmastime, a member of the Larkin family came to the shop and bought a Larkin family cookbook to give to her daughter. To have a physical, touchable way to connect to memories is lovely.

MJ: What is your most favorite item in your shop right now and why?

LV: I love it all. And I don’t just stock my shop with a chockablock mess of whatever is old. If I don’t like it, I don’t sell it. I’m not super big on chintz and I can’t stand sexist or racist kitsch. It may be kitschy and retro but it’s still and always offensive.

But my total favorite right this second is an 1850s ambrotype — a type of old, Civil Ware era photograph — of a very serious looking young woman, and I am fascinated by it. 

Antique 1850’s Ambrotype from luncheonettevintage

Who was she? Was she a soldier’s wife? A widow? Was she pregnant? She looks it. Was she happy? Where did she live?

Closeup view. What do you think her story is? Send Ms. Jeannie a message with your version of this women’s life and she’ll post it on the blog!

There’s a story there, an enigmatic sense of history. I find irresistible. It makes me kind of thirsty.

MJ: Is there one vintage item that you are striving to attain for your own collection?

LV: Since I collect vintage and antique everything, the easiest answer is everything. But I do gravitate towards very functional things that happen to look amazing. I have this thing for mason jars that I am going to have to get over, because I have about 200 of them, in all sizes, some going so far back they’re warped and warbled.

Vintage 1910’s Ball Ideal Mason Jar from luncheonettevintage

I am always looking for very old black and grey pearls, too. I love 1930s dresses and it’s a lifelong quest for that perfect one. And I have a thing for old stationery, old notebooks.

1930’s Ledger Paper from luncheonettevintage

That might be genetic too, since my grandfather Charlie (the one who wasn’t a Lindy’s waiter) had an office furniture and stationery shop, Acme Paper. The family jokingly called him the Paperclip King.

MJ: What era do you most identify with or seem naturally drawn towards?

LV: That’s a funny question for me, because I am drawn to all of them. One of my college majors was history, and I was fascinated by American from about the industrial revolution to after World War II. You can see the nature of the time in objects.

I love the proportions of the 1950s, both the outsized, tailfin, atomic era craziness and that very clear form and function kind of modernism. When I was writing about World War 2 era industrial design (I cowrote a book called Great Inventions/Good Intentions for Chronicle Books), I realized that there was so much that went into the style of that time, so much hope, so much faith, this idea that design by itself can improve our lives. I am still moved by the sight of a Raymond Loewy pencil sharpener.

Raymond Lowey Pencil Sharpener, circa 1933

MJ:  You also mention in your profile that you are sourced by production companies like Mad Men and Boardwalk empire. How exciting! Have you ever seen one of your items on either show?

A scene from Boardwalk Empire – Season 1

Still shot of two different sets from Mad Men

LV: I wish! They buy tons of stuff and copy so much of it. But there was a gym scene on a Mad Men episode where I think I caught a glimpse of a bag I’d sold them. It was in the background, sitting on a bench. But it looked perfect and I was very proud.
MJ:  If you could be the prop master for any tv or movie set, past or present, which would you choose?

LV: I think it would be super fun to be the prop master for Bonanza, the old TV series. I love those old Western saddles and clothes.

Or a Depression era movie. Those 1930s dresses, wow. Those men’s shoes. I could go on. But if I could just be a prop assistant on Downton Abbey for a season, oh my, that would be marvelous.

The exquisite costumes of Downton Abbey.

MJ: What one type of item is a consistent seller in your shop? What seems to be the slowest to sell?

LV: Anything military, like a WW2 jacket, flies out the store.

1960’s Army Duffle Bag from luncheonettevintage

Cookbooks, especially old and illustrated, often fly off the shelves.

1933 Good Housekeeping Cookbook from luncheonettevintage

Some pieces of dinerware.

1950’s Sundae Glasses from luncheonettevintage

Clothing from the 1950s is gone in a fingersnap.

1950s Mink Fur Stole from luncheonettevintage

I just got in an amazing 50s daydress by a designer who was kind of the queen of the 50s daydress: Caroline Schnurer. It’s got an amazing neckline with a wraparound, attached scarf, that strapless bodice, a huge billowy skirt. I can’t wait to list it.

On the other hand I have this 1970s pantsuit that looks like a skinny dowager on acid that I can’t seem to get rid of. Sometimes things don’t sell because the photos just aren’t that appealing, too. I’ll reshoot something so freshen it up, and 9 times out of 10 it looks much better and someone finds it.

MJ: What are some of the challenges of being a vintage seller?

LV: If you are not an obsessive personality, who can sink into research for hours and drive all over the county and farther looking for vintage, then forget it. You need to be driven. And I am. So the biggest challenge for me is time management, because I can lose myself in a search, a sale, a library or online looking up information.

I recently had someone ask me if I could find her some old, white diner platters for her wedding, and I went at it like it was a search and rescue mission. Then realized I had an article due to a magazine in a week that I hadn’t even started. And last weekend I walked into a storage space filled with vintage clothing and the hours turned to minutes. But that is one of the joys of what I do. I get to immerse myself in days gone by.

Service: it’s a challenge, and an important one, to describe and measure things right, especially clothing and shoes. I’ve been buying and wearing vintage since I was about 10, and sometimes you don’t know how something is going to fit until you try it on. The idea of not being able to return something bought online — I just find that preposterous. I make it a point to not only take returns, but make it easy for the seller. Actually that’s probably one of the challenges of being a vintage buyer too. For shops that don’t take returns, you have to make sure and ask all the right questions.

MJ: On the organizational side, how do you inventory and/or store all of your items? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your supply? Do you have any helpers that work behind the scenes in your shop?

LV: I have an encyclopedic and somewhat photographic memory, which helps. And I’m a Virgo, so I’m an obsessive list maker. I have a warehouse with labeled bins, a Z-rack (professional garment rack) with garment bags, and all sorts of boxes with categories. And I have an annex, which is right next to my studio, where a lot of the delicate stuff goes. Storing things carefully and safely is so important.

That ironstone platter that somehow survived for 100 years without a chip is an accident waiting to happen. And never jam vintage clothes on a rack: sometimes old dyes are unstable and will actually leach into another fabric. So each piece, ideally, needs space to breathe and hang. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but I think of luncheonette’s inventory (and inventory that isn’t part of luncheonette) as a vast and everchanging, growing archive, and that helps. As do excel spreadsheets.

Helpers are great! I’ve had and have some wonderful helpers. I am really particular about how things are folded, packed, photographed, etc. — I’m a very demanding head cook. It has to be done right, but I’ve had a few people who really got it and I love working with them.

And I have some great sources for knowledge and wisdom: My Dad is a font of knowledge about mid century stuff, knows everything about old cameras, and has a great eye. I work with a few people who know antiques a lot better than I do, and I’m always asking questions of wiser folk.

I think I’ve pestered Chris, of the lovely etsy shop MissFarfalla, dozens of times.

Fine Vintage Clothing Shop, Miss Farfalla (also on Etsy!)

She’s a genius when it comes to vintage clothing. She knows so much. Finally, my chickens help by supplying those pretty brown eggs I used in cookbook photos.
MJ: In a previous blog post, Ms. Jeannie mentioned that she would like to sit down to lunch with 20th century novelist, Kathleen Norris and contemporary writing phenom Stephenie Meyer. If you could luncheon with anybody, living or dead, Who would you choose?

LV: I live in an area that is so rich with writers that I have a great time at such lunches, and I’m lucky to be a part of that community already. But I’ve been feeling very nostalgic lately for my grandmothers, and I think if I could have lunch with anyone, it would be them.

Then, of course, my Mom, who I miss every second and is probably my biggest inspiration. We’d go to Serendipity 3 on East 60th street in Manhattan and have iced hot chocolate and Ftatateeta’s Toast.

But I would not turn down an invitation to lunch with Gertrude Stein.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was an American writer, poet and art collector. Best known for her book of poems, Tender Buttons, written in 1912, and for her friendships with Alice B. Toklas and Pablo Picasso.

We’d talk dog. I love dogs. Dogs and vintage and writing seem to work together quite well.

MJ:  What is the name of your most favorite real-life diner, where is it located and what do you normally order?

LV: You can’t just have one favorite diner, can you? Here are four: Mom’s Open Kitchen in Lorain, Ohio; the luncheonette (I don’t know its name) on 83rd and Lexington in Manhattan; Dietz Stadium Diner here in Kingston; and the old, old Friendly’s in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, home of the best chocolate frappe ever.

MJ:  You mentioned that you have written some short stories and are currently working on a novel. Can you share a little bit about the storyline? What authors inspire your writing? What book are you currently reading?

LV: That story collection, Russian Lover and Other Stories, came out in 2007.

Russian Lover and Other Stories by Jana Martin

I’m now working on a novel that takes place in the northern Catskills. It involves wolves and people who really care about animals, and interestingly there’s a character who works with vintage.

She stumbles into a community that is kind of wild and crazy and on the fringe, half wilderness and half internet, and some of them have really out there ideas about e-commerce that are slightly inspired by people I know.

I’m hoping to be done by September. I’m endlessly inspired by authors. It’s a really, really long list. But Flannery O Connor was an early influence, for sure. TC Boyle. Margaret Atwood. I’m currently reading a book about the photographer Disfarmer, by Julia Scully.

Disfarmer: The Heber Springs Portraits 1939-1946 by Julia Scully

MJ:  If you weren’t a writer or a vintage shop owner/collector, what would you be?

LV: Wow. I think I don’t know the answer to that. I am so much what I am. I might be have loved to work with horses, or if I had the talent, I would have loved to be a photographer. But I am really in a Popeye phase of life now, after doing so many things in my life, including assisting photographers, playing bass in bands, and lots and lots of cooking and waitressing: I yam what I yam.

This interview is part of an ongoing interview series, that Ms. Jeannie is orchestrating about artists, writers and musicians and their inspirations.  The interview was with Georgia based rustic home decor designer, Frick & Frack Scraps, in March. Read that interview here.

This month, Ms. Jeannie conversed with Jana, writer and shop owner of Luncheonette Vintage, based in New York’s scenic Catskill Mountains. Visit her shop here.