Embrace Your Inner Bula: You’re On Fiji Time This Week!

For all the travelers out there who are feeling a little bit housebound these days and are missing your exotic ports of call, this post is for you. For anyone who finds themselves in a food rut, tired and bored by all the usual dinnertime choices, this post is for you too. And for anyone feeling especially grumpy, frustrated or lackluster when it comes to navigating this strange roller coaster of a turbulent world, this post is also for you.

That may sound like a lot of importance to place upon on the shoulders of one food related blog post but the salve for all these wayward troubles can pretty much be soothed in one word thanks to our featured destination of the week.

Tonight’s post takes us to the beautiful islands of Fiji, via the kitchen, to make a very quick, very easy  fish dish that tastes of coconuts and day dreams and relaxed coastal living. Welcome to Week 16 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Welcome to Fiji, dear kitcheners!

There is no doubt that Fiji is one of the most picturesque places in the world. But there is more to it than just sand and sun and beautiful beaches. Beyond all of the stunning panoromas, swaying palms and exotic flowers, there lives something even more beautiful. So beautiful in fact it can’t be translated via photograph.

It’s not a tangible item that you can hold in your hand or buy with your credit card or gift to a friend. It’s not a specific place you can visit, or a hotel you can check into, or a body of water you can bob around on. It’s not a rainbow, or a waterfall, or a sunset, or a mountaintop view or a brightly colored flower. It’s not a hike, nor a sunbathe, nor a visit to the spa.

Fiji’s exotic flowers.

It’s a feeling.

An inward attitude. A manifesto. An intrinsic, deeply rooted way of being. Something completely unique to the 22 islands that make up the country of Fiji.  It’s called bula.

Technically referred to as a greeting similar to saying hello, bula carries much more significance than a simple salutation. It resonates as a way of life for anyone lucky enough to visit or live on one of the islands. It also happens to be one of the most commonly talked about things that people miss most about Fiji once they leave the country.

First bula starts out as a pleasantry. A sincere wish for happiness, good health and a zesty energy for life. Then it subtly transforms from a word you are saying into a feeling you are emoting. It becomes an infectious enthusiasm of spirit. A radiation of joy. An exuberance of attitude. Regardless of current circumstances or situations, in spite of challenges and setbacks, embracing the bula spirit means expressing happiness, appreciation and friendliness. In other words… smiles and good nature for all. Whether they are strangers or loved ones, coworkers or customers, kids or adults, neighbors or newcomers, this extension of outward positivity has labeled Fijians the friendliest people in the world.

Practically a national language in and of itself, bula is a trademark of the island’s hospitality. It encourages warmth and welcome. Good cheer. Grateful attitudes. And a delight in the moment right in front of you. Besides their unique heritage and their idyllic landscape, it is the characteristic that Fijians are most proud of and what sets them apart as a community from everyone else in the world.

This type of jubilant reminder couldn’t have come at a better time. Especially for this week in regards to the Recipe Tour. As I’ve mentioned in a few posts over the last couple of months,  it’s been a bit of a challenge to keep the Tour on track since the tornado in March and then the pandemic right after. As you all know, it’s easy to get caught up in the global events unfolding each day and then to let that news cloud your mind, dampen your spirit, and affect your disposition. Sometimes writing about food while all this chaos is going on in the world seems trivial and I struggle with the desire and importance of wanting to share a good recipe while so much catastrophic stuff is going on.  But learning about Fiji’s bula spirit this week and then making one of their traditional island recipes really let in a breath of much-needed fresh air and perspective, both literally and figuratively.

If you saw the sneak peek video for this week’s recipe on Instagram, you may have noticed that it looked a little bit different than all the other videos from all the other weeks. That was due to a rainstorm that thundered its way through the preparation parts of this  week’s film shoot.

It was one of those storms that comes on quickly, toting dark grey clouds the size of whales and sucks up so much natural light, you have to turn on every single lamp in the room just so you can see what you are doing right in front of you. Rolling in just a few minutes into the cooking process, right as I began sauteing onions in a pan for the cream sauce, this storm turned the kitchen so dark and moody, the photo/video shoot had to immediately go on location (aka the balcony) so that I could grab as much natural light as possible. Otherwise the whole cooking process would have resulted in murky colors and grainy details. Fortunately for this purpose, there’s a small nook on the balcony between two potted herbs and some blooming flowers that is impervious to damp weather. It’s the one little dry spot that can accommodate an impromptu photoshoot without ruin to camera or food subjects.

In the video, you may have noticed what sounded like crashing waves roaring above the Fijian music playing in the background. That was actually the sound of the wind and the rain from the storm.   The heavy rain and the 60 mile an hour winds that eventually would come later that evening, kindly held off long enough so that the entire series of food photos were done from start to finish before I had to scurry around the balcony and bring everything inside.

It can be a little bit stressful cooking under the pressure of weather and good light, especially when preparing a dish that doesn’t offer any leeway for prolonged preparations. Generally, it takes anywhere from 3-6 hours to prep, photograph and video each week’s recipe for the Tour, depending on the level of difficulty and the cooking steps involved. Over the course of the last sixteen weeks, I’ve developed a nice little routine when it comes to making and photographing the recipes. But this week, the storm threw a wrench in the rhythm. This dish couldn’t sit around waiting on the weather to pass nor could it be made halfway and finished up the next day.

Instead of getting all flustered with the change in routine and getting caught up in some silly forced notion of perfectionism when it came to the photos, I thought about Fiji and how they might have handled this situation. I bet the first thing they would have done would be to smile and then say bula. Which is exactly what I did. Instead of fighting the weather, I appreciated the new way of thinking that the storm presented.  I didn’t fret over the lack of light and the frenzied pace of cooking. Even though there were mad dashes outside to photo and then mad dashes back inside to cook some more. I went with the flow  and managed a new rhythm. I poured sauce over fish while clouds poured rain over me. And I smiled about it. I embraced the bula spirit.

And you know what happened, dear kitcheners? Everything turned out just fine. Delicious in fact. Do you know what else happened? This was the first time in 16 weeks that a Tour recipe was prepped, prepared, photoed, cooked and on the table for presentation in under an hour. That’s a new first in the Kitchen! All because the rain storm scurried me along. Funny enough, this is the way of typical rain storms in Fiji as well – quick to arise, heavy in outpour, brief in stay. I love that Lady Nature decided to add her own little bit of Fijian authenticity to the cooking day.

Storm clouds over Pacific Harbour, Fiji

Like the islands themselves, this Baked Cod recipe is colorful, comforting and a breeze to make (rain or shine!). It’s really three recipes in one, each broken down into segments  – cream sauce, coconut milk, and cod, but since we’ve already made fresh coconut milk in Week 8’s trip to Ceylon, I substituted canned coconut milk for fresh, which shaves 45 minutes off the prep time. The cheddar cheese in the cream sauce can be yellow or white, depending on your own preference as it doesn’t affect the pearly color of the sauce either way. I also chopped up an extra  1/4 cup of the onions and green pepper for garnish at the end. That step added a nice fresh crunch to the finished dish. Had we not had the rain storm to contend with, this dish would have taken about 20 minutes to prepare. True to its island culture and the bula spirit,  it’s a joy to make.

We’ll start with the cream sauce, since you’ll want to make that first and just keep it warm on the stove while you assemble the cod in the baking dish. Again, please excuse the photos in this post, they don’t really capture beauty of the dish nor the process as I would have liked but you’ll get the idea. I loved this recipe so much I’ll happily make it again (on a sunny day!) so that I can take some new photos and enjoy a taste of the islands once again.

Fiji Cream Cream Sauce

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion (plus 2 more tablespoons more for garnish)

3 tablespoons finely chopped green pepper (plus two more tablespoons for garnish)

1 1/2 cups coconut milk

salt to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Cook the onion and green pepper, stirring, until the onion is wilted (about 4-5 minutes). Add 1 1/4 cups of the coconut milk and bring to a boil.

Blend the remaining 1/4 cup coconut milk with the cornstarch  and stir it into the simmering sauce . Simmer for three minutes, stirring constantly.

Baked Cod in Cream Sauce

Serves 4

2 cups boneless cod filet, cut into 1″ inch cubes

1 1/2 cups Fiji Cream Sauce

1/2 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese

Arrange the cod pieces in one layer in a baking dish and pour the sauce overall.

Sprinkle the cheddar cheese over the top…

and bake 30-40 minutes or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Once ready, remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Because of Fiji’s geographic location, its local cuisine has been influenced by India, the Polynesian Islands, Asia and most importantly by what grows naturally well on the islands. Coconut, sweet potatoes, root vegetables and seafood are common staples. Since there were no serving suggestions when it came to this recipe, I paired this creamy fish  with black rice for both its dynamic color and its fragrant, slightly nutty taste. This turned out to be an ideal companion as the flavors blended together really well and the rice soaked up some of the sauce. A little sprinkle of freshly chopped purple onion and green pepper on top of the fish added a splash of color for garnish.

Even though the preparation for this dish was a little haphazard, by the time we were ready to try it, the bula spirit had fully presented itself.  Once the first bite was taken, it really did feel and taste like a rejuvenating dinner that had the power to soothe a number of situations. Placing a colorful flower on the plate lent an exotic island aesthetic, ideal for the wanderlust travelers feeling stuck at home. The creamy coconut milk, an alternative to a more common, basic white sauce or cheese sauce, added an out of the ordinary flavor component, offering fun inspiration for all the bored cooks out there.  And the green, purple and black hues of this dish added a delightful dose of color therapy (read more about the power of this in Week 10: Columbia) which couldn’t help but brighten up even the most lackluster soul. I found the comfort level of this meal to be a 10 (out of 10!) so for all you eaters feeling grumpy or out of sorts, this dish will hopefully raise your spirits in an equally comforting way as well. That’s the magic of food in Fiji for you! That’s the magic of the bula spirit inside you!

Cheers to Fiji for showing us how to embrace our inner bula by embracing and radiating warm affection and positivity, despite the challenges that face us. Next week, we’ll be heading off to the gourmand capital of the world, via the kitchen, as we celebrate Week 17 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour in France. See you soon!

Fiji Photo Credits: Timothy Ah Koy, Vijeshwar Datt, Ishan, Roberto Nickson, Prem Kurumpanai

A Very English Dessert: Trifally Speaking

Hello Hello! Happy Mother’s Day weekend to all the moms out there. Welcome to week 15 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. This week finds us in England via the kitchen, making a dessert that dates all the way back to the 1750’s.

It was a time when women dressed like this…

An embroidered muslin dress dating from 1730-1769 from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection

and men dressed like this…

Men’s fashionable suit made in England circa 1765. Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert museum collection.

and housing looked like this…

An engraving of Marble Hill, circa 1749 courtesy of english-heritage.org

and dessert looked like this…

In the kitchens of castles and cottages and country houses across the rolling hills and bucolic landscapes of England, big bowls filled with fruit and cream and custard and cake decorated tables and delighted diners.

The fun of this week’s vintage recipe starts with the adjectives that most often describe it… tipsy, whimsical, drunken, inconsequential, foolish, scrapy, flurried. It was first made in the 1500’s, but really became part of the popular dessert vernacular in the 1700’s, and was one of the few sweet treats of its day that appealed to practically every type of eater, from the thrifty homemaker to the flamboyant palace chef. Legend states that its origin may have originally sprouted in Spain or Italy, but once the British embraced it, it became a wholly English dessert. And it came complete with cute nicknames – The Tipsy Parson, The Tipsy Hedgehog, The Tipsy Squire. All an homage to the alcohol cleverly disguised inside the cake and custard that held the whole assemblage together.

Today in the Kitchen, I’m pleased to announce that we are making English Trifle, a piled up assortment of boozy cake, jam, fruit, custard and cream. Like any 500 year old recipe, lots of variations have emerged since it was first created, but the fundamental hallmarks of the recipe (cream, cake, alcohol, fruit, custard, jelly) haven’t changed in five centuries. That makes it one of the most authentic desserts in the history of baking.

The first cookbook to print a recipe for trifle with jelly was Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, which was published in 1751.

Eight years ago, my friend Diana gave me a trifle dish. I loved it immediately for its big shape, but up until now never actually made the food that it’s named for. Instead, over the past almost-decade, I’ve used my trifle dish for all sorts of non-related kitchen jobs – a flower vase, a holder for various miscellanies (wine corks, napkins, kitchen tools, flatware), a container to corral foodstuffs (bread, cookies, nuts), a fruit bowl, an ice bucket, a table centerpiece for candles and crafts, an organizer for pantry odds and ends, and most recently a punch bowl. It’s overall handiness is ironic considering that this dish was made for one very specific type of dessert.

The trifle dish turned punch bowl was featured in Week 4 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 when we visited Barbados via the kitchen. Read more about that here.

Anyway, its exciting to think that this much loved glass container is not only making it’s trifle debut here on the Recipe Tour but also serving up the oldest historical food we have made on the blog yet. That means it is older than  Election Cake (1700’s) and older than Sally Lunn Cake (1600’s)

That’s Election Cake on the left and Sally Lunn Cake on the right!

The recipe we are following for this English Trifle is from the 1970’s New York Times International Cookbook, but it is pretty faithful to the 16th-18th century versions. The only adjustment I had to make with this specific recipe was exchanging the current jelly for raspberry preserves, since I couldn’t find current jelly at the grocery store.  Some vintage recipes for trifle feature other fruits like cherries, apricots, strawberries or peaches so really you could use any type of jam that you prefer best and still keep the historical integrity of true English Trifle completely intact.

A two part process, this was no quick whip up in the kitchen, but it’s not complicated to make.  Since it contains two recipes in one, I wound up breaking up the steps into two parts over two days – one day for the homemade sponge cake and the other day for the homemade custard and assembly. Over the years, especially in the mid-to late 20th century, many short-cut variations have been substituted for these two steps – including store bought pound cake, prepackaged ladyfingers, instant pudding mixes, prepackaged cake mixes and ready made whip cream. But I recommend making the whole dessert from scratch even though it takes a good chunk of time to prepare.

The process of making this over the course of two days worked well, because the longer the sponge cake rests in the fridge, the easier it is to slice for presentation in the trifle dish. It is also ideal to refrigerate the entire finished (and decorated) trifle overnight to allow the cake time to soak up the Madeira,  and to allow the rum to blend into the custard.

There’s a fun step in the sponge cake making process which involves a clean kitchen towel and the act of rolling the cake up inside it. If you are familiar with jelly roll cakes, this won’t be a new or unusual task for you, but if you’ve never rolled up a hot cake just out of the oven in a kitchen cloth before, it will feel a little strange and unnatural. Almost like something you’ve been trained not to do as a kid – like writing in a book or coloring on a wall. But persevere anyway. It all works out wonderfully in the end.

Sponge Jelly Roll

3 tablespoons butter, melted

4 eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

3/4 cup tart current jelly ( I used 50% less sugar organic raspberry preserves)

2 tablespoons Madeira

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brush an 8×12 jelly roll pan (or a standard cake pan) with half the melted butter. Line the pan with a large sheet of parchment paper, letting a little of the paper hang over the sides. Then brush the parchment paper with the remaining butter.

Break the eggs into a medium size bowl. Add the salt and three quarters cup sugar.

Beat with an electric mixer until stiff or until the batter forms a thick ribbon and fall back onto itself when the beaters are lifted from the bowl. Carefully fold in the flour and vanilla. Pour this mixture into the prepared pan. Spread smooth with a ribber spatula. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

While the cake is baking, lay your clean kitchen towel flat on the counter. In a small bowl, sift together the remaining two tablespoons sugar with the confectioners’ sugar. Sprinkle the sugar mixture on the clean towel. Watch this step over on Instagram in the Week 15 video here.

After you pull the cake from the oven, grab all four corners of the parchment paper and immediately remove the cake from the pan. Carefully flip the cake onto the sugared towel and peel away the parchment paper.  Adjust the cake so that it lines up with the edge of the towel and then quickly roll it up. Watch a video of this step here.

Let the cake rest for 15 minutes wrapped in the towel. Then unroll the towel and spread the cake with a thin, even layer of jelly.

Then roll the cake up once more, except this time don’t roll it up into the cloth.

Transfer the roll carefully to a sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper,  and wrap it and place it in the fridge to chill. (Note: You can leave it in the fridge up to 24 hours. The longer it sits in the fridge the easier it will be to cut and arrange in the dish).

After the cake has chilled, remove it from the fridge and place it on a cutting board. Cut the entire jelly roll into 1/2″ inch thick slices.

Next line the bottom of the trifle dish with as many slices as will fit to cover the bottom and then line the sides of the dish. You should have a few slices left over after you’ve lined the dish. Set those remaining slices aside for use after the custard is ready.

Sprinkle the cake slices with the two tablespoons of Madeira and then cover and refrigerate the dish while you make Part Two of the recipe.

English Trifle

Serves 10-12

Sponge Jelly Roll slices

4 eggs, seperated

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1 1/4 cups light cream

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons light rum

1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and add the sugar.

Beat thoroughly with an electric mixer and add the gelatin. Set aside.

Bring the light cream to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring constantly so that the cream does not scorch. Slowly add it to the egg mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk as you incorporate the milk.

Transfer the egg/milk mixture to a large saucepan. Cook and stir the mixture over low heat until it coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 10 minutes).

Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and set the pan in a bowl filled with ice cubes to cool. Stir until cooled. {Note: I cooked my custard for about 15 minutes on the stove, which I think turned out to be about 5 minutes too long! Once the custard sits in the ice cubes it thickens even more, so ultimately when you remove the custard from the heat it should be about the consistency of somewhat runny cheese sauce and not quite as thick as loose pudding, which was more like my consistency.}

In a separate mixing bowl add the egg whites and beat until they form soft peaks.

Fold the whites into the cooled custard. {Note as you can see from the photo below my custard became pretty thick once it cooled. If this happens to you, don’t worry, once you fold in the egg whites and the cream you can use a rubber spatula to smooth the custard out. The rum also helps the custard break down a little bit.}

Beat half the heavy cream until stiff…

And then fold the heavy cream into the custard/egg white mixture…

Then fold in the rum…

Spoon all the custard into the trifle dish, covering the bottom slices and spreading the custard evenly with a spatula.

Cover the top of the custard with the reserved slices of jelly roll.

Beat the remaining cream and sweeten it with confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract. Using a pastry tube or spoon, garnish the top of the trifle with cream. Now comes the fun part… decorating the top! The recipe’s directions stopped after the whipped cream, so we are now, at this stage,  left up to our own interpretations and creativity from this point forward. Some bakers like to decorate the tops of their trifles with crushed nuts, slivered almonds, shaved chocolate or fruit. I decided to top mine with strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and mint.

And because this recipe hails from England, the land of beautiful gardens, I put a few fresh flowers on top too.

We are enjoying strawberry season this month in the South, so the berries seemed like an ideal companion, and my sweet mint in the garden is growing by leaps and bounds, making me want to add mint to everything in order to keep it under control. But you might have your own fun spin on a trifle topper so I encourage you to get creative.

To serve the trifle, you just need to dive right into it with a big spoon and scoop out a slice of cake from the side and place it on a dessert plate. Then add an extra dollop of custard and whip cream from the interior and add some additional bits of topping for an extra bit of flair.

A truly delicious baking endeavor that tastes of summer and satisfaction, this whole dessert is substantial but not heavy. The custard is pillowy, the whip cream delicate, the berries tangy.  It is no wonder that this recipe has been floating around the dessert world for five hundred years. It’s a timeless classic for sure. No matter how we have evolved as humans from century to century, I don’t think we’ll ever tire of any combination involving fruit and cream, flour and custard, butter and jam. It’s in our history, after all.

P.S. The trifle will keep in the fridge for a few days but not the freezer, as this recipe is meant for sharing not storing. If you are still quarantining like we are in my neck of the woods, and your amount of eaters is small, don’t let the size and scale of this recipe sway you. Perhaps you could surprise your friends or neighbors with a little gift of British baking.

Cheers to England for propelling this dessert through centuries. And cheers to all the moms out there who have made this recipe in the past and will continue to make this recipe in the future!

Join us next week as we island hop over to Fiji for a tropical dinner and a special weather episode that adds audible ambiance to our cooking adventure. See you next time for Week 16 of the Recipe Tour!

An Interview of Botanical Interests in Cooking and Cuba By Way of Miami

Now that the days are getting longer and the temperatures warmer, it seems like everyone’s fingers are itchy for a little bit of gardening these days. This week, I’m happy to present a special botanical post to satisfy all the green thumbs out there.  In the kitchen, our around-the-world culinary escapades take us to Cuba, where we are making Santiago Pork Roast, a slow food recipe that takes two days to prepare from start to finish.

And in this post, you’ll also meet one of our blog readers, Jorge J. Zaldivar, a Cuban-American farmer who is dedicated to preserving Florida’s horticultural history in Miami via food and fruit. Welcome to Week 11 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

That’s Jorge on the left and Chef Daniel Boulud on the right!

There are quite a few readers of the blog who live in Florida and enjoy gardening and adventuring around their state. I’m hoping this post in particular will offer some new insight into their favorite hobbies. Jorge is a font of knowledge when it comes to botanicals and is anxious to share all that he has learned in regards to horticulture, cooking and connecting with others in this tropical landscape.

In addition to being involved in the farming of heirloom guava varieties, Jorge is deeply connected to promoting the tropical fruit community of South Florida in so many interesting facets. He operates PG Tropicals (creators of locally sourced artisanal products including tropical fruit jams and jellies), writes a food blog called Sub-Tropic Cookery which features the recipes and botanical adventures of vintage cookbook author Alex D. Hawkes (1927-1977), and previously sat on the board of the Rare Fruit Council International (RFCI) headquartered in Miami and the South Florida Palm Society (SFPS). I caught up with him to discuss his Cuban heritage, his passion for plants and his inherent interest in food history. He also recommends some of his most favorite places to visit in Miami and shares a few Cuban themed eateries in his town that all newcomers to South Florida must check out. Let’s see where he takes us…

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Jorge J. Zaldivar, I was born in Miami, Florida to two parents from Cuba’s Oriente province. Cuba had six provinces prior to the communist regime reapportioning and dividing everything. My mother’s side is from Manzanillo, the birthplace of el Son, one of the island’s most important musical genres.

A vintage map of Cuba circa 1947
No other country has originated a greater number of musical styles and genres than Cuba, this is due to the melange of interesting cultures, particularly African and their rhythms. My father’s side is from Banes, Cuba where the U.S. Airforce U-2 airplane was shot down in 1962. I currently live in Miami-Dade County and travel between home and the farm which is just North of the Florida Keys in Homestead’s Redland.
Redland, located at the entrance to the Everglades is South Florida’s farm country. It’s known for its red clay soil and unique agricultural products that do not grow anywhere else in the United States. Photo by Jorge J. Zaldivar
Tell us a little bit about your Recipes Lost blog. What inspired it and what attracted you to the culinary explorations of Alex Hawkes?

While collecting cookbooks and hunting for Caribbean recipes, not only did I discover Time Life’s Foods of the WorldThe New York Times Int’l. Cookbook and various other titles, I found Alex D. Hawkes’, A World of Vegetable Cookery (1968). I noticed in the flap that Hawkes was from Coconut Grove, my very same zip code in fact. I made it my mission to learn about his story which has resulted in researching and writing his biography which is laden with stories and recipes from my hometown, many botanically inclined and filled with wonderful anecdotes.

American botanist and cookbook author Alex Hawkes (1927-1977) worked extensively throughout his life in the study of tropical horticulture including that of orchids, palm trees and bromeliads. He also traveled frequently around the Caribbean islands collecting authentic recipes. Photo courtesy of Sub-tropic Cookery.

His other titles are highly recommended such as his books on Rum (1972), Shrimp (1966), Caribbean and Latin America flavors (1977) and his coveted South Florida Cookery (1964). The Sub-Tropic Cookery blog was my dedication to Alex D. Hawkes and some of his recipes, this was done via my Recipes Lost project.

As a fellow Craig Claiborne fan, what do you like about his recipes and/or his approach to cooking?

Craig Claiborne (1920-2000) – longtime Food Editor at the New York Times and the inspiration behind the International Vintage Recipe Tour

As a cookbook collector the goal was to try and put a finger on this guy with loads of books and a New York Times column. Hawkes is more of my personal Claiborne but the two did meet and speak for an interview. He was mentioned in Craig Claiborne’s: A Feast Made for Laughter.

the-new-york-times-international-cook-book
The vintage 1971 cookbook that launched the International Vintage Recipe Tour.

In the end what I like most is how important the NYT Cookbook became. Of all his books the NYT Int’l Cook Book is my favorite aside from the work he did with Pierre Franey for Time Life’s Foods of the World. I have not pursued their books together as much as I should have. There’s always time for 60-Minute Gourmet and the many evolving themes of cookery.

It’s wonderfully fascinating that you are a part of the Rare Fruit Council International in Miami. How you are involved there? How did your interest in rare fruit come about?

I have served on the Board of the Rare Fruit Council Int’l. (RFCI) in Miami. As I began studying our history I fell in love with the story and am getting documents ready to formalize an archive for the Council. By becoming the official Historian it will allow members to notice that these documents are not just historical and sitting here. I intend to help spread awareness of the RFCI’s efforts to promote rare tropical fruits in this region and to put all this wonderful information to good use again.

I discovered the RFCI when I found their famous Tropical Fruit Cookbook, the rest is history. I am also the 2020 President of the South Florida Palm Society (SFPS) and Member of the Tropical Fruit & Vegetable Society of Redland (TFVSR) at the Fruit & Spice Park.

Tell us a little bit about PG Tropicals. Do you make all the preserves yourself? What inspires you about it? 

PG Tropicals is the partner that purveys fruit from Guavonia Guava Grove in Homestead’s Redland Agricultural Area. All of the preserves are made in small batches, generally to order which are purveyed to a portfolio of dedicated chefs and artisans committed to the same ideals I believe in. As we say “Keeping it local”, which comes with other benefits such as lowering our carbon footprints and positively affecting our community.

PG Tropicals’ platter of sliced fresh guava and Redland Guava marmalade

What is your most favorite tropical fruit and why?

This is as difficult as the infamous “What’s your favorite mango?” question. The reason I neglect answering this question is because the seasonality of fruit allows most divine fruits to shine at the proper time of the year. It’s just perfect in design right? Just imagine, it’s the peak of winter and you have had a great year sampling plenty of longan, lychee, sugar apple, guanabana, mamey, abiu, and plenty more to boot.

Tropical fruit display at Redland’s Fruit & Spice Park

When you haven’t tasted mango for some months and you find a bag in the deep freeze, victory. When your taste buds catch a glimpse of that flavor and your mouth lights up that’s when you notice how special each fruit is, and how mango although not the best, is certainly in a class of its own when you experience that taste again. I find it difficult to choose just one. I am also fascinated at how the fruit is seasonal, not all plants are ever bearing. It shows us some patience.

Did you study botany/agriculture in school or did you explore these fields of interest on your own?

I studied Elementary Education at Florida International University, I also DJed on the student radio station and had a quite successful classic 1970s disco / dance radio program. I am lucky to have grown up in a family that always had plants everywhere, whether the nursery they operated pre-Hurricane Andrew (1992), and our yards.

Under the palm trees in Miami, FL. Photo by Matthew Hamilton.
My grandfather left us a considerable number of palms and curious fruit trees. My father loves to grow plantains, sugar cane and citrus. His brother ventured more towards the ethnobotanical route filling in all the loose ends with medicinal plants and herbs in addition to various fruit crops such as mamey, avocado, Bixa (annatto), mango, guava, guanabana, canistel, mammee apple and many more worth exploring and enjoying. In Cuba, my family lost various acres of land which was originally given to my great grandfather for fighting in the war of independence against Spain. As my father has told me, “From here to the end of the block and much more.”

Would you ever consider moving to Cuba? 

I wouldn’t consider moving somewhere that is simply 90 miles, and a boat ride away from lunch or supper. More Americans lived in Cuba pre Castro, or pre revolution as we say. This is known because of the major interests and financial investments U.S. corporations had on their neighboring island. I would not choose to reside in Cuba until they hold democratic elections and acknowledge the nationalization of property that occurred. It is the largest mishandling and misappropriation of U.S. assets in history. As an American I cannot let that go unnoticed. It’s hard to be on one side of the Atlantic Ocean, is what I am trying to say.

How does your Cuban heritage influence your cooking?

I always wonder if Chinese people or other cultures around the world explore “international” food as much as we do here in the United States. What I am trying to describe is that I find it very humbling to imagine that aforementioned Chinese example, cooking traditional food and fare in China, without the need or desire to explore other cuisines. This is what I consider humbling, because these people may not know anything else, yet here in the U.S. where options are plentiful, I along with other cooks are simply trying to emulate the flavors that encapsulates these humble Chinese cooks and many other cultures around the globe.

I am enamored by finding my own Cuban flavor and trying to get it just right, in the eyes of my grandmother and those that have perfected these recipes for us to say, “that tastes Cuban.”I strive for perfecting the flavors of Cuba to ensure that our heritage is not offset by a few distasteful events in our island’s history. 

Photo by Tijana Drndarski

Who first taught you how to cook?

I learned to prepare Pan con Ajo aka Garlic Toast by mashing garlic with a pestle, then olive oil and salt is added to the mortar. This is to be slathered on Cuban bread, which is then optimally toasted. This is the teachings of my parents and grandmother. I recall my abuela’s / grandmother’s first apartment in Miami Beach prior to the cultural wave that took over and transformed it into that hyper busy city it is today. I recall sitting on the counter with her learning to peel garlic.

Tell us a little bit about life in Miami. If one of our readers was to visit the city for the first time, what five places would you recommend that they visit first?

1. Fruit & Spice Park in Homestead’s Redland, Miami’s bucolic countryside to visit the only botanical park in the United States that showcases several hundred species of rare tropical fruits that grow nowhere else in the continental United States. Please say Redland to appease the locals, as Redlands is a city in California! 

Fruit & Spice Park is situated on 37 acres and boasts over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and nuts as well as plant specimens from around the world.

2. Los Pinareños Fruit Stand who has been open for business in Little Havana’s Calle Ocho (8th St.) for over 40 years. Situated directly adjacent to the eternal burning flame dedicated to the Cuban Bay of Pigs 2506 Brigade, on Cuban Memorial Boulevard & Memorial. The proprietors are from Pinar del Rio in Cuba hence the name “Pinareños”. A region famous for their Guayabita del Pinar rum made with guavas, among other things. 

Los Pinarenos. Photo courtesy of progresoweekly.us. Read more about this history of this fascinating market and fruteria here. 

3. Azucar Cuban Ice Cream Co. Since you are already on Calle Ocho (8th St.) drop by Domino Park across the street and get some of Miami’s freshest and most unique flavors of freshly made ice cream.

Azucar Ice Cream Shop. Photo by Sarthak Navjivan

4. The Kampong in Coconut Grove, is open by appointment only. This is the home of Dr. David Fairchild. The foremost food explorer that changed that American palate more than any other individual in modern history.

Facing Biscayne Bay at Dr. Fairchild’s Kampong. Photo by Jorge J. Zaldivar
Photo by Jorge J. Zaldivar

His thousands of plant introductions not only gave Washington D.C. their famous cherry blossoms, but our plates are indebted to his introduction of broccoli, soybeans and countless other staples the American diet simply couldn’t live without. (Drop by Ariete nearby or Chug’s Diner for some Cuban snacks.) 

American botanist, photographer and author Dr. David Fairchild (1869-1964)introduced over 200,000 exotic plants to the United States as well significant agriculture crops to our modern diets including kale, quinoa and avocados.

5. HistoryMiami Museum is certainly worth the visit in Downtown Miami. Go here before everything else, even though it’s last on the list! So it helps you understand the city you are about to explore.

HistoryMiami is Florida’s largest history museum in the state.

Also check out Edible South Florida for the most updated and relevant info to South Florida. They are the only FREE local print magazine available. I am their Goodwill Ambassador and highly recommend scouting out a copy while in town.

For new tropical home gardeners, what three trees, flowers or plants would you most recommend for their gardens?

Carica papaya
Psidium guajava

Plinia jaboticaba

From left to right: Papaya plant (Carica papaya), Guava tree (Psidium guajava), Brazilian tree grape (Plinia jaboticaba)

What is one tropical fruit everyone should know about or experiment with in the kitchen?

The most overlooked fruit by far is fruta bomba, papaya. Botanically Carica papayais one of the fastest growing plants in the tropics. It’s not a tree, just like bananas, which are botanically speaking herbaceous plants. Papaya, aside from being one of the healthiest and best things you can eat, is so versatile that a separate homage is needed.

Antique botanical illustration of Carica papaya by Berthe Hoola van Nooten circa 1863
The leaves can be used for a tea and eaten after being boiled. The seeds add a piquant taste to a salad dressing. The pulp can be made into juice and smoothies. Baked into a delicious Eve’s Pudding or pie. Papain, meat tenderizer is derived from this wonderful plant. Improved cultivars exist in various colors of gold and orange. The fruit is nutrient dense with antioxidants, among the best things one can eat. The ability to use it raw as a vegetable, pickled or in soups is also a fact that makes this much overlooked fruit truly utilitarian.
 

It’s available in most ethnic markets and should certainly be approached by more people in the United States with access to quality fruit. The imported or Florida grown varieties are excellent. A word of note in Cuba many regions call this fruit, fruta bomba (bomb fruit) because the word papaya is actually a vulgar term for female genitalia in some parts of the island. When you cut one open you’ll figure it out. Nonetheless do not fret because botanically the species of the Carica genus is papaya.

Although some people are reluctant to buy papaya because of the smell, it’s a must to try it. This recipe is the most accessible, and the lemon helps mellow it out. This “breakfast papaya” is from none other than Dr. David Fairchild’s files, which we have Alex D. Hawkes to thank. 

If you could only grow one fruit for the rest of your life, which would you select and why?

I cannot answer this question easily. I guess if it had to be my entire life I would choose coconuts, the fruits of the Cocos nucifera palm. That way I can die drinking coconut water. Didn’t think that was coming right?

Coconut Tree. Photo by Kilarov Zaneit.

If you could invite 5 famous people from history, living or dead, to dinner at your house who would you invite?

As silly as this would turn out and the criticism may turn out to be a blunder I would invite for the purpose of my personal story…

The dream dinner party! Clock-wise from top left: Dr. David Fairchild; Ann Seranne and Eileen Gaden; Alex D. Hawkes; William “Bill” Whitman; and Richard D. James.
1. Alex D. Hawkes
2. Dr. David F. Fairchild
3. William F. Whitman
4. Ann Seranne & Eileen Gaden (I know it’s two people but they are a team!) Eileen was the original Food “Blogger” Instagrammer IMO. 

5. Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) maybe he would DJ

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti

 What are two goals you hope to accomplish this year?

I want to continue expanding my rare plant collection, mainly grown from seeds. I also want to take every opportunity I can to lower my carbon footprint in everything I do. Composting, traveling, wastefulness, conserving resources, water management and many more ways to positively impact the planet. 

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez

One thing that I really admire about Jorge is his passionate commitment to understand all aspects of tropical fruit trees and plants, from studying to growing to eating.  Horticulture is such a slow, steady, scientific  pursuit that requires much patience, time and thoughtfulness in order to achieve successful long-term results. It is inspiring to see the ways in which he is bringing information learned from past botanists and recipe collectors forward into the light of our modern day landscape.

Like the growth of a fruit tree, our recipe also requires a bit of time and patience in order to be successful. With just a few basic ingredients, it’s simple to prepare but does require 15 hours from start to finish. Most of the time is spent in marinating (12 hours) in the fridge and then roasting (3-3 1/2 hours) in the oven, so it leaves plenty of opportunity to do other stuff in your life while waiting for dinner to be ready. Maybe in that time, you can start planting the seeds of your own tropical garden:)

The recipe calls for a large roast 6-7 lbs., but you can also easily cut all the ingredients in half, and make a smaller 3lb version if you aren’t feeding as many people during these days of quarantine. Like Thanksgiving turkey, this makes a wonderfully delicious dinner that has all sorts of potential and possibilities when it comes to serving. I’ll talk about that in a minute, but first here’s the recipe, so that you can get to marinating already.

Santiago Pork Roast (serves 8-10)

1 loin of pork (6-7 lbs)
1 large onion, thinly sliced in rings
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic finely minced

Place the pork loin in a roasting pan or  glass dish and scatter the onion rings over it. Combine the remaining ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour this over the meat and cover with plastic wrap (Note:  you can also transfer all the ingredients into a plastic Ziploc bag and marinate it that way, which is what I did). Refrigerate 12 hours or so, turning the meat once in while.

After 12 hours, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the meat from the plastic Ziploc bag (if using) and place in a glass dish or roasting pan.

Bake, basting frequently about 3 and 1/2 hours or until the meat is thoroughly cooked.

(Note: if you are using a smaller cut of meat, you won’t need to bake the roast that long. The general rule of thumb when it comes to pork at this temperature is 20 minutes of cooking time per lb. When it is ready, the internal temperature will read 145 degrees.)

Let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Filled with flavor notes of lime, ginger and garlic, this roast turned out to be wonderfully delicious. The caramelized sugar adds a bit of sweetness to the roasting juices, which makes its own rich sauce for drizzling. The onions, had an unexpected crunch to them and a sweet tangy taste that reminded me a little of pickled vegetables.

Traditional Cuban serving companions with Santiago Pork Roast are black beans and fried plantains. You could also serve it alongside rice, another staple in the Cuban diet. I wound up making sandwiches. Served on rolls, each one was layered with thinly sliced pork, mixed salad greens, mayonnaise, a drizzle of the juice from the pan and a pile of the roasted onions. It was delicious, I forgot to take a photo of them:) If you didn’t want to use rolls, bread works also – ideally, it would be a loaf of Cuban bread. Perhaps you could even follow in Jorge’s footsteps, and make garlic toast, just the way he made it with his grandmother.  Possibilities abound. Culinary creativity awaits! Cuban style pork roast is open to everyone’s interpretations.

A big cheers to Jorge for sharing his slice of tropical paradise with us. Cheers to all the agricultural accomplishments of the botanical gardeners that settled the Sunshine state and made it beautiful. And cheers to vintage Cuba for providing us with a new favorite roast recipe!

To keep up with Jorge, find him on Instagram, Twitter and his blog.

Next week, we’ll officially be one forth of the way through our Recipe Tour, as we hit the three month mark! Join us for Week 12, next Wednesday when we visit Czechoslovakia via the kitchen! In the meantime, keep your chin up and stay healthy please.

Treats from a Tree: Welcome To Maple Country

Happy Wednesday! Welcome to Week 7 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Tonight in the kitchen we are heading to Canada, the big, beautiful neighbor that sits right above us in the United States and offers up all sorts of creative inspiration for the artistic mindset.

On the famous front…  it’s the new home of Harry and Megan, it’s the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery, it’s the creator of cheese curd covered french fries and it’s the film location star for over a dozen favorite movies (Titanic, Gorillas In the Mist, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Seven Years in Tibet, Catch Me If You Can, Anne of Green Gables, Capote, Juno, Good Will Hunting, The Notebook, Legends of the Fall, A Christmas Story, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Cutting Edge, and Fly Away Home to name just a few). It also shares an interesting fun fact with last week’s Recipe Tour destination, Brazil. Do you know what it might be? Here’s a clue…

Canada, as it turns out, is a natural leader when it comes to being a tree loving paradise. With over 318 billion on record (as of 2015), it boasts the second largest collection of trees in the world. In case you were wondering, Russia has the largest collection, then Canada, then Brazil and then the United States.  Among all those billions of trees lives one in particular that is so special it has its own name and a regular roster of visitors. Meet Comfort…

The Comfort Maple, Pelham, Ontario, Canada.

the oldest surviving sugar maple in all of Canada, possibly in all of the world. Named after the Comfort family of Pelham, Ontario who donated the tree and surrounding land to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in the 1960’s, the Comfort Maple is believed to be about 500 years old. Included in a land sale purchased by the Comfort family in 1816, this lucky sugar maple has survived more than five centuries thanks to a calm relationship with Mother Nature and years of thoughtful care from generations of the Comfort family. Standing 80′ feet tall and measuring 20′ feet in diameter at the trunk, it’s amazing to think about all the life that has occurred in and around this tree. Now a designated living monument to history, this majestic heirloom has become one of the most treasured icons in all of Canada with people from around the globe coming to picnic under its branches.

 

Like the Comfort tree, the Canadian recipe we are whipping up in the kitchen tonight is also a national favorite steeped in its own time laden history. On the menu, we are making Maple Walnut Tart, a sweet treat of a dessert that features a sugary pool of 100% pure maple syrup  that has been dotted with walnuts and then tucked between two layers of pie crust. Although, it is traditionally called a tart, it is much more of a thin, shallow pie.

Maple Walnut Tart

Born out of necessity and enterprise, Maple Walnut Tart is a Canadian manifestation of Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Pie) which was a popular dessert in France involving sugar, eggs and pastry dough. When the French started immigrating to Canada, sugar was an expensive, often unobtainable commodity. Luckily these new French Canadians had a local sweetener right in their own backyard – the sap of the maple tree. The sugar in their French pie was swapped for maple syrup and a new national dessert was born. Likewise, as a nod to further tweaks and adjustments, over the course of the past century, Maple Walnut Tart has taken on a menagerie of variations including additional ingredients. Eggs, butter, salt, cream, lemon peel, bread crumbs, granulated sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate and even other nuts create signature desserts that nowadays are almost always baked open- faced, without a top crust.

That makes the vintage recipe we are making in the Vintage Kitchen quite unusual now, since it has a traditional top and bottom crust and very few ingredients. Containing just seven in total, it is made of a collection of everyday essentials that you almost always have on hand. Because of its simplicity, it reminded me a lot of one of those homemade desserts you might whip up on the impromptu when you are craving something sweet but don’t have all the necessary ingredients on-hand to make anything remotely decadent like a chocolate layer cake or fancy cookies or a berry pie.

The star of the show and the highlight of this recipe is of course the maple syrup, one of Canada’s most well-known foods. Producing on average about 10 million gallons a year, Canada is the leader in maple syrup production in the world. Interestingly, most of it comes from one province in particular – Quebec – which means if you are a fall foliage lover with a sweet tooth that’s where you should head come Autumn!

I was excited to find 100% pure maple syrup from Quebec at Trader Joe’s. Most of the maple syrup at all the other markets or grocery stores in my neck of the woods seem to come from New York State or Vermont. At $16.00 a bottle it was a splurge for the Kitchen but after learning so much about maple syrup production for this post I have a new found appreciation for it.

Did you know that on average it takes one sugar maple between 30-50 days to produce 40 gallons of sap? That 40 gallons of sap yields just one gallon of retail-ready maple syrup. The bottle of maple syrup that I purchased for this recipe was 25 oz in total, which is just a little under a quarter of a gallon. Basically this means it took one tree, one full week to make my one bottle of maple syrup. What a feat! Although I only needed one cup for this recipe, it makes me appreciate every drop:)

This is the first recipe in the Tour that I’ve had mixed feelings about. I’ll get to the recipe first so that you can see what is involved and then I’ll follow up at the end…

Maple Walnut Tart

(serves 6-8)

1 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped

Pastry for a two crust 8″ inch pie (I used my reliable family heirloom pie crust recipe which you can find here).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the pastry and then set aside while the filling is being made.

Bring the maple syrup and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Continue to boil for two minutes. Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and add to the boiling syrup., stirring constantly for about two minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter, and cool quickly by placing the pan in the refrigerator (about 10-15 minutes).

Line an 8″ inch pie pan with the pastry, pour in the cooled syrup and sprinkle the walnuts on top.

Cover with the top crust, crimping the edges to seal, and cut a few slashes in the center of the pastry to allow steam to escape.

Bake for thirty minutes in the center of the oven. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Originally at the onset of preparing this recipe, I thought the end result was going to be  more creamy and caramel-like in both consistency and taste.  In actuality though, it is much simpler – really just imagine walnuts drizzled in maple syrup and wrapped in pie dough and you pretty much have the general gist.

Needless to say, at first bite, the tart was pretty underwhelming. My first thought was there’s not enough ingredients (ie flavor components) to make this sensational. The maple was there but it mixed very soft and very subtle with the pie crust. The walnuts, didn’t really melt or dissolve when baked in the oven and therefore left a chunky consistency. This aspect actually  turned out to be a nice contrast though with the softer syrup.

I can understand now why different versions have been created with eggs and spices and additional flavor enhancers. Every modern day recipe for Maple Walnut Tart I looked at in comparison to this one included butter, eggs, milk, vanilla, brown sugar, etc in significant quantities. In full agreement, I think ultimately, what this recipe is lacking is a creamy fat component. Over the course of this next week, I’m going to experiment with some creamier accompaniments… a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of freshly whipped cream, a few slices of apple and brie and see if that might just be all the pizzazz you might need to create a more satisfying dessert. I’ll report back on those findings next week.

In the meantime, I’m excited and anxious for you guys to try this recipe and see what you think. In my opinion, it tastes better served at room temperature on the third day. I’m not sure if it’s because I have sampled it a few times in order to get an accurate understanding of the tart or if this dessert is actually starting to grow on me, but it seems to be one of those recipes like fruit cake that gets better with time. After discovering all the labor that went into making the maple syrup on the tree’s behalf, I really wanted this recipe to be phenomenal right away, but maybe that’s the spirit of the syrup.  After all, it took  one entire week out of one tree’s life to make the sap! Maybe this recipe is slow to bloom in more ways than one:)

Lucy Maude Montgomery’s most famous literary character, Anne Shirley said… “Maples are such sociable trees. They’re always rustling and whispering to you.”

Perhaps this vintage recipe is whispering to us too.

Cheers to maple trees and to the incredibly long life of Comfort and to sugary sweet contemplations in the kitchen. There is always something to think about around here.

Join us next week as we head to spicy Ceylon, a true time-traveler of a kitchen feat since the country doesn’t exist anymore:)

 

The International Vintage Recipe Tour: {Week 1} Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls

Welcome to Week 1 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020! If you missed the previous blog post a few days ago, this is week #1 of a year-long culinary adventure as we cook our way through 45 countries in 12 months, courtesy of recipes from the 1971 edition of The New York Times International Cook Book. If you are all caught up and ready to explore, then cheers to our travels. Let’s get started…

COUNTRY #1: Armenia

In today’s post, we are headed to Armenia via the kitchen, to prepare a traditional heritage food packed with protein and whole grains, and to learn more about this exotic country’s history thanks to the publication of a modern day memoir.

I must confess right off the bat, before I began this cooking project I knew absolutely nothing about Armenia, other than the fact that it is where the paternal side of the Kardashian clan hails from. Pronounced R-Me-Knee-A (not R-Min-E-A!), and  nestled between Turkey, Georgia and Iran, Armenia is a small country that could easily be missed, depending on the age of the map you are consulting…

Located in Western Asia, a section of the world which also includes Middle Eastern countries,  Armenians consider themselves neither Middle Eastern nor Asian but distinctly European. Armenia is the birthplace of the apricot and home to the oldest winery in the world (which dates back 6000 years). The capital city of Yerevan predates Rome, and is considered one of the oldest inhabited capital cities in the world. On the food front, their traditional cuisine has been influenced and enhanced by the closeness of their surrounding neighbors, giving Armenian dishes a unique blend of Russian, Turkish, Georgian and Mediterranean flavors.

This week in the kitchen, we are making a regional favorite, Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls. Essentially, this recipe is a meatball made with lamb, which is then stuffed inside another meatball, also made of lamb, and then cooked in beef broth. Each batch of meatballs is made with a different blend of ingredients – one vegetable laden, the other grain laden. Once tucked inside each other, they are quickly cooked in a boiling homemade broth and served immediately from the pot, plump and steamy.  Although stuffing meatballs sounds a little bit complicated, it’s actually a very easy and fun recipe to make.

Over the course of the last few decades I have made countless numbers of meatballs, but I never considered, before this recipe, that they could be 1) be stuffed or 2) be cooked in other ways besides pan frying or baking in the oven. Always a fan of innovative cooking methods and creative food compositions, I thought these stuffed and boiled meatballs would be a really interesting and exciting challenge. And boy was this the case!  A combination of  artistry, hand massage and play dough, these magical meatballs rolled their way into formation in the kitchen with nothing but joy and fun.

The only tricky situation I encountered with this recipe was sourcing bulgur, a cracked wheat that is a staple in the Armenian diet. Usually I can find this easily in the organic section of my local grocery store, but the day I went to shop for all the recipe ingredients, the store had sold out of what I needed. Two additional stops at other grocery stores also yielded an empty cart. Because the International Vintage Recipe Tour happens at a quick clip with shopping, cooking, photographing and writing all occurring within a week’s time frame, I had to come up with a substitution for this now elusive ingredient.  My first challenge of the project!

As it turns out, thanks to some quick research online, it was a simple remedy. Two similar alternatives for bulgur are couscous and quinoa, both standard finds in most grocery stores, both traditional heritage foods of Armenia and surrounding countries, and both substituted with the same 1-1 ratio. Perfect!

While the meatballs are easy to make, and they cook within ten minutes,  they do require about 6 hours of preparation time. Most of the time is eaten up by broth making (3 hours), chilling time in the fridge (2 hours), and hand kneading (20 minutes) but simultaneously, while each of these tasks are occurring, other components of the recipe can be readied, making it feel like the hours and the tasks just fly by. Both the interior meatball filling and the beef broth can be made a day or two ahead of time, but I recommend doing it all at once just for the sheer delight of completely immersing yourself in the making of this unique food.  The recipe itself feeds a crowd, making on average between 22-24 meatballs in total, so this would be a fun weekend cooking project when you don’t have the pressure of the busy work week to battle and you can relax with a glass of wine or an Armenian cognac as you cook the day away.

THE RECIPES: Homemade Beef Stock and Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls 

(Note: All  recipes prepared throughout the International Vintage Recipe Tour are executed exactly 100% as written in the New York Times International Cook Book, unless noted).

Homemade Beef Stock

4-5 lbs. beef short ribs or beef soup bones

2 leeks, trimmed split and washed well

2 carrots, trimmed and scraped

2 ribs celery, cut in half

1 onion stuck with two cloves

2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon peppercorns

Place the beef in a kettle and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and blanch about 5 minutes, then drain and run under cold water. Return the bones to the kettle and add the remaining ingredients. Add more cold water to cover and simmer, uncovered, about three hours. Skim the surface as the stock cooks to remove fat and scum. Strain.

Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls

For the stuffing:

1 lb. lamb, ground

4 medium onions, sliced

1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1/4 teaspoon chopped mint

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the Meatballs:

1 lb. very lean ground lamb

1 cup very fine burghul (cracked wheat) or 1 cup quinoa or 1 cup couscous

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

water

4 cups boiling beef stock

To make the stuffing, saute the lamb over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the onions and cook over low heat  for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the green pepper, parsley and mint and cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and simmer for five minutes.

When cool, chill stuffing for at least 2 hours. After it is filled shape into the size of marbles (about one teaspoonful for each)

To make the meat balls, combine the meat burghal, salt, pepper, onion and parsley and knead the mixture as you would dough , adding a few drops of water as you go along. Knead the mixture for twenty minutes until the mixture is like a medium soft dough.

Dip your hands in a bowl of cold water and make balls the size of walnuts. Make a dent in the middle of each ball with your thumb and press all around the inside wall to amke a round opening for the filling. The wall should be fairly thin. (Watch a video on how to do this on my Instastory here).

Place the marble-sized filling in each shell and bring the edges together to close. Smooth the surface with wet fingers  and flatten slightly by gently pressing between the palms.

Drop the meat balls into the boiling stock and cook for ten minutes  or until the meat balls come to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon without puncturing. Serve immediately.

THE RESULT…

Delicious! Like a hearty little bundle of meatloaf, these meatballs contain all the components of a balanced dish with subtle, nuanced flavors. Filling, comforting and satisfying, the only thing I would have wished, was that they were a bit more aromatic in the spice department. They weren’t bland in the least, but I think I might have been spoiled years ago by my lovely Bulgarian friend’s specialty of Turkish meatballs, which are laden with cumin. That aside, these Armenian meat balls were delicious and delicate in their own unique way. I bet also, had I prepared this dish in the Springtime when the onions and the mint are at their peak of freshness, the sweetness of the mint and the tangy-ness of the onion would have been stronger, sharper and more distinct.

Next time, I’ll experiment with this recipe again in March or April, and add a triple dose of mint to the stuffing to see how that adds to the overall taste. If you try this recipe now, during the winter months, I would suggest serving them with a dollop of mint jelly or a spicy habanero jelly to add another dynamic layer of flavor. Traditionally, this food would be served alongside a heaping pile of rice pilaf or in a shallow basin of broth, like a soup, but because we are featuring just one recipe from each country on this Tour (although this week had two because of the broth) I served these meatballs with a simple side salad and some fresh grapes in lieu of the suggested Armenian Rice Pilaf recipe that followed in the cookbook.

HISTORICAL COMPANION: The Hundred Year Walk

Just like you would pair a fine wine with a fine meal to bring out the food’s flavor,  I thought it would be fun to connect each recipe we make with a unique cultural story from history to add interest to the dish and spark additional conversation. Throughout the tour, this historical nod will come in various forms – interviews, book recommendations, movie suggestions, music playlists, art discussions and artifact discoveries. This week’s cultural tie-in comes in the form of a book, The Hundred Year Walk, which details the history of Armenia and its people in a highly relatable way.

Written  by Dawn Anahid MacKeen, a thirty-something California native who is half American and half Armenian, The Hundred Year Walk,  published in 2016, tells the true story of her Armenian grandfather who survived Turkish military capture in the early part of the 20th century. It’s almost impossible to research anything about Armenia without reference to the tragic Armenian genocide of 1915 – an event that killed over 1 million people – about half of the country’s population. While this is a heavy topic for our recipe tour, this event is as important to the country’s history as their staple foods, and has come to define the Armenian culture throughout the past 100 years.

Dawn’s grandfather Stepan, a survivor of the Armenian genocide of 1915, recorded details of this life-altering experience and his escape to freedom in journals which he kept throughout his life.  Those journals were passed down to Dawn’s mother who tucked them away, out of sight for decades. But in the early 2000’s, on a trip home to California to visit her parents, Dawn finds the handwritten books and suddenly becomes consumed by stories surrounding her grandfather’s unusual and heroic escape.  Filled with a desire to understand her own family history and the struggles Stepan faced, Dawn begins piecing together  his cataclysmic journey as he walked through cities, over mountains and eventually across the desert in order to escape death. Retelling Stepan’s story as events unfolded in 1915, Dawn also parallels this ancient history with her own modern day journey of exploration in the early 2000’s, as she follows in his own footsteps retracing his route through modern day Turkey and Syria – a young woman traveling alone amid post 9/11 tension and unease.

What I loved most about Dawn’s book was her ability to paint a thoroughly engrossing portrait of the Armenian way of life known by her grandfather’s generation, and then balance that against her own unique perspective and experiences as a modern day American woman. Her book is a crash course in all things Armenia, while also offering a compassionate viewpoint of the effects of war and displacement upon multiple generations.

On a side note, one of the random things I learned in preparation for this post is that the library will buy books for you.  I wanted to read The Hundred Year Walk over the Christmas holiday but none of the books available online would be delivered in the timeframe that I needed, and my local bookstore didn’t carry this title. Dawn’s book was also not included in my local library system, which meant that they didn’t have any copies in any of their branches. On their website, I noticed a feature called “suggest a book ” where you can suggest a book for the library to buy which will then become part of  their permanent circulating collection. Not sure, how all this worked nor how quickly, I submitted a request for the library to purchase a copy of The Hundred Year Walk. The very next day I received an email that the book request had been approved, and that they were ordering several copies for several branches. Four days later, I received another email. The book was at the library ready for pickup. How marvelous! I’m not sure if all libraries offer this service, but it’s worth an inquiry if you find yourself in a particular predicament.

A 1940’s map of West Asia

History can feel very far removed and intimidating when you have no reference point or fundamental understanding of a country or a culture that is thousands of miles away and vastly different from your own.  But cooking this batch of Stuffed Meat Balls and reading The Hundred Year Walk was such a captivating experience.   Riveting from page one, I won’t spoil the book and its trajectory of events, only to say that it starts with a scene in the kitchen – a conversation between Dawn and her mother while they wash dishes. It’s a mundane task, so commonplace and ordinary, yet ultimately becomes life-changing for both women as there in the swirl of the dish water, Stepan’s story begins to form.

I hope Week One of the International Vintage Recipe Tour sets up in your kitchen in just the same way.  That conversations spark between between friends and family as meatballs get made and interest about Armenia grows.  I look forward to exploring and sharing more recipes from this fascinating country with you in future posts.  In the meantime, if you have any related food stories or experiences to share about Armenia or the Stuffed Meat Ball recipe,  please share them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

To learn more about Dawn Anahid Mackeen , visit her website here.

Join us next week, as we embark on Week Two of our epicurean adventure… Australia, where we’ll feature a good news recipe for a country that needs all the good news it can get right now.

Announcing the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

Happy New Year! Hope your holidays were festive and that your new year is off to a great start. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, there are lots of fun things in the works for 2020 – ones that incorporate both cooking and collecting. After the emotional events of last year, I’m ready to pour a giant amount of joy into this new decade starting right now, with January, and the announcement of a big year-long project…

international-vintage-recipe-tour

Pack your market bags dear readers, we are going on an adventure. Welcome to the International Vintage Recipe Tour of 2020! Each week throughout the year, I’ll be cooking an authentic heritage recipe from a different country that was featured in the 1971 edition of the New York Times International Cook Book. Sharing both the experience (and the recipe!) here on the blog every Wednesday, I hope you’ll join me in exploring together the cuisine of 45 countries over the course of 12 months. It’s going to be an epic year of discovery, one in which I hope will shine a spotlight on some old, wonderful, possibly forgotten dishes that may have gotten covered up over time.

the-new-york-times-international-cook-book

Throughout this project, we’ll cover all the food groups and prepare unique dishes for all meals of the day including breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour and dessert. Organized alphabetically by country, we’ll circumnavigate the globe, exploring an eclectic range of landscapes and cuisines together. One week, we’ll be making island fare fit for a summer beach party and the next we’ll be deep in another hemisphere’s mountain range cooking up cuisine much more suited for skiing and snow. Some recipes will be quick to make like mixing up a tropical cocktail or making homemade mustard, while others will involve more time and detailed technique like making a layer cake or pickling vegetables. We’ll visit all the continents (except Antarctica) and we’ll touch upon interesting aspects of each country’s history through interviews, books, movies, music, art and artifacts.

james-spanfeller-illustration

A year-long cooking project is quite a commitment. It’s the biggest endeavor I’ve ever attempted here on the blog and I’m not quite sure how smoothly it’s all going to run.  But exploring foreign foods has been a favorite source of joy and curiosity for me since my college days, when my sister and I used to throw International Dinner Night parties in our Brooklyn apartment. By traveling around the globe via the kitchen this year, I hope this project will spark some unexpected fun in your cook space too.

Since I haven’t previously tested or tried any of these recipes listed in the cookbook before, there’s a good chance we’ll encounter some mishaps along the way and uncover some unusual cooking situations. There are foods from many countries included in this adventure that I have never even tried before, and there are some countries listed in the cookbook that don’t even exist anymore thanks to changes in world history. But through this project I hope to start some conversations with you about the validity of vintage recipes, the ways in which we prepare foreign food and the effect these recipes have upon our modern palettes.

There are lots of books that could have been referenced once this idea of a vintage recipe tour started swirling around, but The New York Times International Cook Book is an ideal fit for this type of world-wide exploration for two main reasons. First, Craig Claiborne…

The recipes in the International Cook Book were collected and tested by Craig Claiborne (1920-2000), a long-time editor at the New York Times and a treasured favorite cook here in the Vintage Kitchen. Throughout his career, Craig came in contact with all sorts of foodies from all sorts of places around the world – famous chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, food critics, industry professionals, home cooks and “those who wanted to communicate their culture via their kitchen.” He was also a talented wonder in the kitchen himself and the author of over twenty cookbooks. There is not a recipe that I’ve tried of his that I haven’t absolutely loved. Needless to say, he knew a good recipe when he saw one and he knew the good sources from which to get them. When he was preparing The New York Times International Cook Book he consulted hundreds of people and traveled thousands of miles to collect the most highly prized recipes he could find. Although he hasn’t been as widely recognized or remembered as some other famous culinary icons of the past, I’m excited to re-introduce him here on the blog. With his name attached to this cookbook, I have a feeling we are in good gourmand hands.

Ingredients for spaghetti and anchovy and clam sauce from the Italy chapter of the The New York Times International Cook Book

The second reason why the International Cook Book is an ideal vintage recipe springboard is because of the decade in which it was produced…the 1970’s. The first edition came out in 1971,  a decade of heightened curiosity and savvy in both the international travel department and the cooking department. While the 1960’s made air travel to foreign countries appear glamorous and exotic, by the beginning of the 1970’s international escapades were more widely accessible to Americans. This interest in other cultures reflected in the food scene of the 1970’s too – by exposing American palates to more diverse cuisine and broadening their culinary horizons.

1970’s travel poster for Qantas Airlines

The disco era ushered in a decade of cosmopolitan dining and entertaining that was backed by newly found confidence, curiosity and skill in the kitchen. Swiss fondue parties were all the rage, Spanish paella became a fashionable dinner food, and homemade Italian tomato sauce consisted of garden-raised ingredients instead of the 1960’s version that often combined conveniences like ketchup and canned tomato soup. Cooking in the 1970’s revolved around excitement, a desire for authenticity and an interest in cultural awareness that is similar to the way we approach food today. Over the course of the year, it will be interesting to see how these vintage recipes compare to our modern palates and standards of both cooking and eating. It is often said that history repeats itself, I’m curious to see if that cliche applies to food as well.

I hope you join me each week in this around the world journey and discover some new favorite recipes yourself. We kick off the big adventure next Wednesday, January 8th, with our first country…

What’s on the menu for Armenia? You’ll just have to wait and see:) Until next week… cheers to the new year!

The Art of the Vintage Picnic

Happy August! As promised in the last post, here is the article written for Artisans List that highlights the beauty and joy of a vintage style picnic. We’ve got just six weeks left before Autumn officially starts, but rest assured that doesn’t mean that picnic season, as we most traditionally know it, is over. There are plenty of Fall foliage opportunities for all you Northerners intent on a day trip and a dine out in nature. If you happen to live in the Southern half of the hemisphere than lucky you – everyday is a good day for a picnic no matter what time of year. When we settle into the cooler months, I’ll also be featuring two outside of the box picnic ideas – the carpet picnic and the car picnic  – both which promise to hold as much fun as their summertime counterpart. So stayed tuned on that front. In the meantime, six full weeks of summer still await. From somewhere I can hear a basket calling your name…

Twentieth century foodie, gourmand and all around good cook, James Beard declared that “picnicking is one of the supreme pleasures of outdoor life.” Indeed. No other dining experience seems quite so decadent. The fresh air, the natural setting, the creative food choices, the deliciously idle intentions. Picnics have a wonderful way of engaging all of our senses in such a fantastic way. It’s almost overwhelming.

Those first few moments at picnic’s start – when you are dizzy with the view and the weather and the notion of doing nothing but relaxing and reveling in food and friends – is satisfaction enough. But then a truckload of simple delights follow one right after another. There is that liberating sensation of kicking off shoes and wiggling bare toes in soft grass.  The crisp, snapping action of the picnic blanket as it unfurls from containment, joyfully sailing on the breeze before floating to the ground. There is the laying out of the carefully wrapped food parcels and the first sip of a celebratory toast. The giddy laughter, the bird songs, the sound of leafy trees dancing on the breeze… suddenly you are aware of the musical vitality of nature and yourself in it.

On a picnic, the world shines newly bright with details mostly overlooked in the hustle bustle routine of everyday life. It is an activity that encourages you to stop and to breathe and to melt – into your surroundings, into your friends, into the food that makes up your lunch or your dinner or your breakfast time snack. Yes, picnics are a triumphant and pleasurable experience. And there’s no better season for them then right now. In today’s post, we will be discussing the art of of the vintage picnic – how it came to be, how it shaped us, and why we still need to celebrate it now. Highlighting a handful of old, but still very relevant recipes, this post also offers suggestions on how to build your own vintage picnic experience so that you too can succumb to the relaxing style of outdoor eating that our ancestors favored so long ago. It’s history in a most delicious form, unveiled, just as we are about to round the corner towards the 4th of July, the most popular picnic holiday of the year.

This idea of eating outdoors from a basket on a blanket is no trend. It has been around for centuries and has taken eaters on a plethora of picturesque adventures. But it wasn’t always a simple act. At first, outdoor dining began in grand style. Lavish entertaining in lavish settings. In the 1700’s, there were the hunting after-parties which made glorious outdoor feasts of animals bagged from the day’s sport. Garden gatherings in the 1800’s involved fine china, silverware and fancy dress. Plein air luncheons in the early 1900’s focused on seasonal foods, artistic creativity and exquisite manners. Today, picnics involve technology fueled cooling mechanisms, compartmentalized backpacks and fitted amenities made for details and devices. Needless to say, the desire to picnic has never been lost, but the way we eat outdoors has evolved quite a bit over time.

Nowadays, anything goes when it comes to picnic style and presentation.  An impromptu paper bag lunch for two in a city park can be just as engaging as a thoughtfully prepared country basket for six. But just like any activity worth doing, there is a certain art form to a well produced picnic that makes for a more pleasurable experience. The vintage-style picnic favors china plates and real glassware, classic cocktails and linen napkins, and most importantly, homemade food. It is the sort of affair that wraps you up in a long, restful lazy day adventure fueled with time-honored tradition and attention to detail. It discourages anything fast or obtuse- like technology and frenzied time schedules and plastic utensils. It champions a slower, simpler and more relaxing rhythm. The type of experience that not only feeds your appetite but also your senses, your spirit and your sanity. Basically, a vintage-style picnic is a big, long break in your day meant for resting, relaxing and restoring through small details… the time-worn touch of an old plate, the taste of an heirloom recipe, the time-out of technology, and the tune in to your natural surroundings.

Legend loosely states that the word picnic stemmed from the French pique-nique which derives from the action of picking and selecting small spots or things. Originally, pique-niques were more like potlucks, in that all invited guests were asked to contribute a little food or drink for the group to share together. But it was England, in the 19th century, not France who created the picnic in the modern sense that we know it as today. Both a mealtime and a leisure activity, the English made picnicking a deliciously long-term and lengthy event that could last all day and well into the night if done right. They played games, read books, plucked instruments, talked, sang, painted, swam, flew kites, played sports and generally just all around enjoyed themselves while snacking on small plates of assorted foods from wicker hampers and baskets.

Monet’s painting, Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe (Dinner on the Grass) was painted between 1865 and 1866.

In America, prior to the Civil War, there were no lackadaisical, carefree picnic outings. If any outdoor eating occurred before that time period, it was eating en masse – generally a large sociable event where whole communities of people turned out to enjoy a barbecue or a church social or a political rally. The Victorians ushered in more intimate, family-style picnic parties, rambling in close proximity to home, as their appreciation of nature and outdoor enthusiasm bloomed in the late 1800’s.  But the rise of the automobile, the building of the U.S. highway system, and the introduction of drive-up motor lodges and nationals parks all encouraged a whole new independence when it came to on-the-go eating as the 20th century began. Suddenly, the English style picnic took hold as Americans began exploring their more easy-to-navigate country. Economical, spontaneous and available to everyone, picnics naturally turned destinations into dining opportunities. All you needed was a basket, a blanket, a small collection of foodstuffs and an adventurous spirit. Outdoor eating euphoria had arrived!

A group of picnickers photographed in 1914 by Albert M. Price. Photo credit: Library of Congress

Back in earlier centuries, outdoor eating meant bountiful quantities and dramatic fare. Whole animals roasted over fire pits, multiple courses served by domestic staff, exotic ingredients, rich foods, elaborate presentation. But as outdoor dining began to evolve over time into smaller parties and simpler affairs, the food that accompanied it changed also. As serving staffs diminished and people became more independent, picnics and the baskets they represented, became simpler – filled with foods that could be easily made, easily transported and easily unpacked. By the time the mid-20th century rolled around, there was a definite type of picnic fare anticipated and defined by the activity. Fried chicken, salads and deviled eggs topped the favorites list, along with hot dogs, sandwiches, pies, cakes, bread and fruit.

The picnic basket spread out before you in this post highlights vintage recipes that capture that same essence of familiarity and practicality, while also providing a well-rounded balance of flavors and tastes. Vintage recipes include Sicilian-Style Marinated Olives, Oven-Fried Chicken, Deviled Eggs, Cheese Straws and Blueberry Tart. Americanos join the party as a refreshing aperitif to toast the season and the stars. 

Ranging from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, these recipes came from a handful of treasured vintage cookbooks. They pair gourmet creations from famous chefs like James Beard with regional favorites from lesser-known sources, like the ladies of the Junior League of Huntsville, Alabama. Covering all matters of taste from sweet to salty, savory to sour, they are considered traditional picnic foods, but each contains an unusual twist in the form of a cooking method or an ingredient pairing that makes them both interesting and innovative. Whether you make all of these recipes at once for your next outing or just focus on a dish or two to sample and try, you’ll discover that all of these options listed here are steeped in simplicity. Almost all of them can be made a day or two ahead of time, so that your restful day of picnicking doesn’t include you running around the kitchen like a crazed cook.  

And, just one more note before we get to the recipes. While food is obviously the main attraction in a picnic, the vintage-style picnic places just as much importance on the accessories that go along with it as well – a.k.a. the servingware.  While it is true that we may no longer entertain as formally as we did in centuries past, there is something lovely about incorporating some little niceties into your basket in the form of linen napkins, china plates and glass drinkware. These details add an elevated aesthetic to your picnic that reflects the elegant English versions of yesteryear, and really just makes for a nicer overall dining experience.  A cocktail enjoyed from a plastic cup or a homemade dessert pierced with a plastic fork is never quite the same experience as using real glass and real flatware. Even James Beard agreed about that point. “Skimp on all the other dishware if you have too – but never on the glassware for your cocktail,” he advised.

A few vintage items featured in this post are a handwoven picnic basket from the 1930’s, a matching set of W.H. Grindley hotelware salad plates made in England (also in the 1930’s) and a handful of embroidered vintage linens in various shapes and sizes. Vintage restaurantware dishes in general are a great choice for picnics because they are heavy duty and aren’t quite as fragile as delicate ceramic or porcelain dishes. Salad plates or bread and butter plates are also the perfect size for your small snack needs and aren’t as bulky to pack as dinner sized equivalents. Likewise, vintage tablecloths make ideal picnic blankets thanks to their soft fabrics (decades of washing and drying!), variety of sizes and nostalgic designs. As you build your vintage accessories collection, you’ll also notice that these elements have a fun way of engaging people in conversation too.  Each item in your basket expresses its own unique story.  When packing all these elements up I like to designate the sturdy picnic basket for fragile foods, a separate tote bag for the servingware and linens and an additional tote for drinks and ice. That way everything remains intact from the moment you leave your kitchen to the moment you arrive at your destination.

Americano (serves 1)

1 1/2 oz. Campari

1 1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth

3 oz. Club Soda

Ice Cubes

Twist or Slice of lemon or orange for garnish

Add the Campari and vermouth to an old-fashioned glass. Add ice cubes and club soda. Stir to combine. Garnish with a slice or twist of lemon or orange.

Marinated Olives, Sicilian Style (from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, 1985)

1 pound Ligurian, Nicoise or Greek Olives  or a combination, drained

8 cloves garlic, cut lengthwise in half

Zest of 1/2 orange

Zest of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Combine olives, garlic, citrus, fennel and rosemary in a large bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice and oil. Marinate, stirring occasionally at room temperature at least 24 hours.

Deviled Eggs (from James Beard’s Menus for Entertaining Cookbook, 1965)

8 hard boiled eggs, shells removed

1 small tin boneless skinless sardines

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Mayonnaise

Cut the hard-boiled eggs in half and remove the yolks to a small bowl. Mash yolks with sardines, onion and parsley. Blend with mayonnaise until you reach ideal consistency then fill each egg half. Chill in fridge until ready to pack into your picnic basket. These can be made up to 24 hours in advance.  * If you don’t have a portable egg carrier, disposable muffin tins make a great alternative.

Oven-Fried Chicken (adapted from Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book , 1965 Souvenir Edition)

1 lb. chicken cutlets

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 tablespoons Herbes de Provence

1/8 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/3 cup butter, melted but cooled to room temperature

6 cups corn flakes, crushed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the garlic, salt, pepper, herbs, parsley and melted butter in a shallow dish and mix thoroughly. In a separate shallow dish add the crushed cornflakes. Dredge each piece of chicken on both sides in the butter mixture and then coat them on each side in the cornflakes. Place the prepared chicken on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until chicken is golden brown and crispy. *Note: This chicken recipe will loose its crunch factor the longer it sits. So if you are picnicking, this should be the last dish you make before packing the picnic basket and heading out the door. That being said, it’s still wonderful hours later or even the next day, but the corn flake coating will have a more breaded consistency rather than a crispy crunch.

Belle’s Star-Spangled Cheese Straws (from the Huntsville Heritage Cookbook, 1967 Edition)

1 lb. New York State sharp cheese (or any sharp cheddar), grated

3/4 cup butter

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper

smoked paprika for garnish

Leave both the cheese and the butter out overnight on the counter to soften. The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together (except the smoked paprika)  in a medium bowl by hand. Knead the dough until it turns into a consistency like play-doh. Form into a ball shape. On a lightly floured pastry cloth, roll the dough out firmly to 1/4 inch thickness with a wooden rolling pin. By pressing it into the cloth with the rolling pin, you’ll be able to smooth out any crumbly or wrinkly areas as you work. Using a small star shaped cookie cutter, cut out the stars and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until lightly golden in color. Let stars cool on a rack and dust with smoked paprika just before serving.

Homemade Blueberry Tart (recipes adapted from the Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart)

For the tart shell:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

9 tablespoons very cold (or frozen) butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together. Add the chopped butter pieces and blend with with a fork until the mixture resembles small bread crumbs in various sizes. Add the egg and mix until combined. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Butter a 9-inch tart pan (the kind with a removable bottom). Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured pastry cloth and roll out to a size big enough to accommodate an extra 1/2 inch of dough in diameter when placed in the tart pan. Add dough to pan, trim any excess dough beyond the extra 1/2″inch that hangs over the sides. Fold the remaining  1/2″ inch of dough back into the tart pan, so that you are re-enforcing the side walls with an extra layer of dough. Pierce crust all over (bottom and sides) with a fork. Place tart pan in freezer for at least 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove tart pan from freezer and place directly in oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tart shell turns a soft golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

For the blueberry filling:

6 cups fresh blueberries

2/3 cup cane sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of salt

In a medium saucepan, bring 1/4 cup water and 1 1/2 cups blueberries to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and let berries simmer, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes.

In a small bowl mix the flour with 4 tablespoons of water until smooth and then add to the blueberries in the pan. Next, add the lemon juice, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Let the mixture thicken for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in 3 1/2 cups of blueberries. Immediately, add this hot blueberry mixture to the tart shell.

Sprinkle the remaining cup of fresh blueberries across the top of the hot mixture, gently pressing the berries down so that they stick into the hot mixture enough to bind them together. Place the tart in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or at most overnight.

Additional Picnic Companions

One of the joys of picnic fare is the ability to snack and nibble on little bits of food at whim throughout the day. Since the original pique-nique days, small has been the favored size and serving proportion. For that purpose, a wooden cutting board filled with fresh fruit, a sampling of cheeses, cured meats, fresh herbs and bread offer an infinite number of little edibles that can be combined in interesting ways with the food options listed above. From chicken baguette sandwiches to cheese and crackers to deviled egg wrapped prosciutto, variety runs the gamut. The picnic board here included rainier cherries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, goat’s milk Gouda, cave-aged cheddar, blueberry Stilton, herb stuffed salami, thinly sliced prosciutto, Genoa salami, a bouquet of fresh herbs and a French baguette.

Finally, when bellies are full and appetites satisfied, the vintage-style picnic experience celebrates and salutes the pursuit of leisurely activities. There’s no rushing to clean up or clear out once you finish eating.  The whole, blissful idea behind a vintage-style picnic is to stay awhile and relax into yourself and your surroundings. One of my most favorite picnic activities is bird watching and tree scouting. I usually tote along a couple of species guides and a pair of binoculars, so that I can identify what’s flying over and growing up around me. Other fun activity suggestions (depending on your setting) include painting, sketching, walking, kite flying, playing cards, reading, talking, napping, swimming, collecting and just appreciating the people and places that share your afternoon. 

The world is a beautiful place. Time is a priceless gift. Eating is a ceremonial act. The art of the vintage picnic reminds us of that. Just as it has in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Wherever your picnic adventures take you this summer, I hope they are magical and delicious. Cheers to dining out in nature. Hope it is your best meal yet!

Gifts of Food: Generous James and His Rich Pastry Dough Recipe {circa 1965}

In 1965, when James Beard published his new cookbook, Menus for Entertaining, he had one thing in mind… generosity. Unlike his 14 cookbooks published previously, all of which taught readers how to prepare good food, this one focused on the largehearted act of cooking for other people.

A subtle change from his more tutorial-style instruction favored in earlier cookbooks, this one captured an idealized, ethereal expression of how to combine the art of being a good cook with the art of being a thoughtful host. Two concepts that, surprisingly, don’t always meet up in the race to put a good meal on the table.

There are lots of elements that can inspire one to cook. Maybe it’s a particular ingredient or a time constraint, a season or a health reason, the weather or a garden, a particular holiday or a memory, a special piece of cooking equipment or a celebratory event.  And there are lots of fundamental reasons  to prepare a meal: to satiate, to learn, to nourish, to educate, to create, to boast.  In James’ case, in this cookbook, his inspiration was people and his reason was gratitude.

“There is no greater reward than pleasing your audience,” James shares in the introduction. His cookbook was not only about preparing something delicious, it was also about spoiling his guests, about indulging the valuable time spent together, and about presenting a thoughtful, custom dining experience. Like a play or a live performance, this type of entertaining is a nuanced event. Something wrapped around food and friendship equally. To James it meant paying as much attention to what you were serving as to whom you were serving and why.

For example, if James wanted to throw a dinner party and wanted to include a certain guest whom he knew was on a diet, he would plan a light and low calorie menu for  the night, making sure that it didn’t skimp on flavor but was fully satisfying for everyone, dieters or not, without being calorie heavy.

Or if he had a friend who longed to travel to Germany but couldn’t afford the plane ticket, James would plan a whole dinner party around German foods from start to finish complete with music and wine and Bavarian-style decorations. By putting focus on this German lover’s interests, it was his thoughtful way of acknowledging, satiating and celebrating his friend’s wanderlust.

This idea of unselfishly cooking for other people in an effort to please them and care for them is a notion that really hit home these past dozen weeks while I’ve been away from the blog. I spent the time in Florida, in and and out of the hospital with my sick dad as he fought hard through infections and medical procedures, rehab and rest.  While I was there, I was overwhelmed by the love and support that people showed my family through gifts of food. From the vendor at the farmers market who tucked extra pastries into our packages, to neighbors who stocked the fridge with homemade meals, to family friends who stopped by with treats in their hands and empathy in their hearts, it was these thoughtful gestures of kindness that helped sustain and support our spirits during a daunting time. Like James suggests in his book, cooking is one of the kindest, most fundamental things that you can do for another person, so you might as well throw your heart into it and fill the effort with joy and passion.

On Friday over on Instagram, I posted a picture of this homemade pear tart which was made with the Rich Pastry Dough recipe from James’ 1965 cookbook.

This was a thank you food parcel too. A gift for my friend, Diane, who shared her vintage cookbook collection with me while she was packing up to move. Like James in 1965, and the wonderful people in Florida in 2019, I wanted to thank her for her kindness with a homemade dessert. One that could be easily kept and consumed over the weekend while she moved from one house to another.  I wanted to make something for her that could be eaten on the run for breakfast or enjoyed by slice or sliver late in the afternoon when the moving boxes might seem endless and energy levels might be in need of a boost. Either way, tarts are very accommodating in that department. They travel well in the car, can sit on the counter all day, and can be eaten, provincial style without any need for plates and forks.

This pear tart in particular, is also a good transition dessert between Winter and Spring, and the wonky weather that always seems to be sorting itself out in March as the temps fluctuate between hot and cold. Comforting cinnamon and in-season pears are nods toward Winter, while the thin buttery crust with flecks of lemon rind adds a light, fresh note for Springtime. Diane’s husband is also a collector of vintage French cookbooks, so it seemed fitting to make a classically French dessert, but with a slight James Beard twist for them. This crust includes egg yolks, lemon rind and lots of butter and the filling is a combination of Julia Child’s pear tart, James Beard’s apple tart and my sister’s homemade apricot jam. (Note: If you don’t have a jam-maker in your family, don’t worry.  Any good-quality, corn syrup-free store bought jam will work too.)

Whether you make this for yourself or as a gift for someone else in your life, I hope you enjoy every part of the process of making it and presenting it. That’s what James would have wanted and what he hoped for when creating his cookbook so many decades ago.

James Beard’s Rich Pastry Dough circa 1965

Makes 1 2 crust pie or 2 shells

2 cups unsifted flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup vegetable shortening ( I used butter)

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind

2 raw egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Make a well in the center of the flour. Add sugar; butter, not too hard, not too soft, cut in small pieces; vegetable shortening cut in small pieces; lemon rind; eggs and salt. Work quickly with finger tips to make a smooth, firm pastry. Dough should form a ball and leave tabletop or bowl fairly clean. Chill dough ball in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

Remove dough ball from fridge. Cut in half.  Roll out one half of the dough on a floured work surface.  Transfer rolled dough to tart tin and remove excess dough from  the sides. Using a fork prick the dough all over the bottom and sides. Chill unbaked tart shell in pan in the freezer for 2 hours.

After two hours, remove tart pan from freezer and place immediately in a hot 450 degree oven for 10 minutes to pre-bake. Remove from oven and let cool in pan on a wire rack while you assemble the filling.

Pear Tart Filling

4 ripe pears

1/4 lb butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2-1 teaspoon cinnamon (depending on taste preference)

1 splash of white wine

2 tablespoons cane sugar + 2 more tablespoons for sprinkling

1/8 teaspoon salt

A dash of nutmeg

Juice of half a lemon

Apricot Jam

Leaving the skins on, dice two of the pears into quarter inch pieces. Add them to a small saucepan along with the butter, vanilla, cinnamon, white wine, salt, 2 tablespoons sugar  and nutmeg and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated (forming a consistency close to thick and chunky applesauce). Remove from heat. Let cool.

While filling is cooling cut the remaining two pears in half. Then lay them cut side down on a cutting board  and carefully slice them vertically into paper-thin slices.

Spread the filling evenly into the pre-baked tart dough. Arrange the pear slices in a circular fashion on top of the filling. Squeeze lemon juice over the pear slices and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cane sugar. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until pears and crust are lightly brown on top.

Remove from oven. Spread a thin layer of apricot jam over the entire tart and let cool to room temperature.

Last November, my husband and I traveled through Gearhart, OR where James Beard grew up, spent childhood summers and eventually after a long and hardy life,  became the final resting place for his ashes. We were hoping to see a glimpse of his life in town. Perhaps a restaurant named after him or his childhood house now a monument to visit. But there were no obvious signs. There was just a big stretch of beautiful ocean and the sound of the sea. Maybe that summed up his impact on the 20th century food scene best… a massive presence that still ripples through our modern days making us feel inspired, and impressed, soothed and comforted.

The beach between Astoria and Gearhart, OR

Cheers to James Beard, to good friends and to thoughtful food! Interested in learning more about James Beard? Discover a few of his cookbooks, including Menus for Entertaining,  in the shop here, here and here.

Sugar Spun Success: It’s the 1920’s, It’s Wilton and It’s the Winter Snowflake Cake!

Although it was invented technically in 1927, television didn’t make a widespread appearance in homes until the 1950’s. And cooking shows didn’t reach their heyday until the 1990’s. That means there was no Food Channel, no Great British Baking Show, no Martha Stewart. If you wanted expert instruction in the 1920’s on how to bake a festive looking cake for the holidays you basically had four options as far as guidance… your mom, your grandmother, your favorite cookbook or your favorite radio show…

Agnes White Tizard, the voice of Betty Crocker on Betty Crocker’s Cooking School of the Air taught listeners how to cook for 20 years. Read more about her here.

Very reliable sources for sure, those options would have definitely produced a delicious, time-tested cake that everyone enjoyed, and had been enjoying for years and years. But none of those options would have been able to show you how to make something new and innovative. For that you would have had to go to Chicago – to the Wilton School of Cake Decorating, where you’d get expert hands-on-training on how to make the most pretty and modern cake of the holiday season.

Dewey McKinley Wilton

Started in 1929 by confectionery artist Dewey McKinley Wilton,  the Wilton School first taught classes to area pastry chefs in the hotel industry. Dewey had a special relationship with these guys in particular. As a traveling pulled sugar expert, Dewey would show up in hotel kitchens around the Midwest when the pastry chefs needed an extra bit of magnificence to wow their hotel guests.

An example of pulled sugar ribbons atop a modern day cake. This is the type of work Dewey did for area hotels in the 1920’s. Photo via pinterest.

Most of these pastry chefs were wonders themselves in the cake baking department, having been trained in Europe, and were very proficient with a frosting knife and lofty buttery layers. But they weren’t quite as familiar with Dewey’s flair for pulling sugar into hardened shapes and intricate designs.

A 1920’s pastry chef with confectionery creation. Photo courtesy of snackncake.com

Quite curious, they wanted to know about techniques, about processes, about possibilities. And most importantly, all these pastry chefs wanted to know how exactly a pot of boiling melted sugar could eventually turn into a big, brilliant ribbon or a bird or a crunchy piece of abstract art. Dewey was more than happy to share what he knew, but after so many pastry chefs in so many hotels kept asking so many of the same questions over and over again, his entrepreneurial spirit kicked in.

Instead of telling each chef, one by one, how pulled sugar was done, he realized he needed to be teaching one class geared towards many minds.  So that’s what he did. He started the Wilton School of Cake Decorating in the dining room of his house in 1929 and charged $25 a class for an expert lesson on how to pull sugar and make hard candies. The class filled up in a jiffy. Nothing excites a pastry chef more than a newfangled way to decorate a sweet treat, and in all that sugary merry making of the new School there was plenty of learning going on.  While Dewey was teaching his students, he was also learning about their classical European ways to bake, frost and assemble cakes in eye-catching ways.

An image from the early years of the Wilton School of Cake Decorating.

Soon word spread beyond the pastry chef community. The school was fun and informative and produced the most spectacular and delicious cakes the Midwest had ever experienced. People started arriving for instruction from other towns beyond Chicago, and then other states beyond Illinois. Home cooks, caterers, food economists and restaurant owners were clamoring to learn Dewey’s special way with cakes – a method he wound up calling the Wilton Way – which combined the best parts of European baking with simple easy-to-replicate American designs.

Now getting ready to celebrate its 100th birthday in a few short years, The Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionery Art still remains a bustling educational center for all baking aficionados.  Determined to create interesting and engaging art through butter and suagr, Dewey and his following generations grew the business into not only a school, but also a food product and accessories line that can be found in most grocery stores around the country today as well as on their website. They even offer online classes for those who can’t make the trip to Illinois to join the fun in person.

That’s a pretty remarkable career for any business, let alone one in the baking industry where it can be difficult to remain innovative and approachable at the same time. Thanks to Dewey’s Wilton Way  and his easily accessible method, he helped dispel the myth that cake decorating was an intimidating, complicated art meant for only a certain type of person.  Thousands of accomplished students have graduated from the Wilton program since its inception, many continuing on with successful careers in the baking industry.

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, I was introduced to the Wilton Way through this book…

a 1991 reprint of their 1979 cake decorating book. It is full of attractive cakes, some vibrant with retro charm, others timeless and elegant…

Laid out like coursework, it teaches readers progressively in master class style. Meaning that if you start at the very beginning, and work your way through each chapter, by the end of the book you’ll have amassed so much skill you’ll be able to confidently tackle the baking and decorating of a multi-tiered wedding cake festooned with  a bevy of frothy details.

This past week, I endeavored to make their Winter Snowflake Cake – a pale green pastel beauty that consisted of two layers and frosted snowflakes…

This was my first foray into cake decorating with an intentional design, multiple frostings and more than one piping project, so it was a fun adventure, but it definitely didn’t go quite as planned. The Wilton’s are fast to reassure in their book, saying that the best way to make a perfect cake is to practice, practice, practice. I fast forwarded through the beginning chapters and went straight to this cake. That being said, here’s my finished version…

You’ll notice it is missing some elements from the original cake – most noticeably the side snowflakes. I’ll explain how they went awry further down in the post. I’m also sharing the recipes, as I go along too, in case you want to take yourself to school and experiment with making your own vintage snowflake cake this winter as well.

One funny thing about this cake decorating book in particular is that it’s all about cake decorating and only cake decorating, which means that you have to gather a recipe in order to bake the actual layer cake part from another source. I used Martha Stewart’s Butter Cake recipe which turned out great because it baked flat and even on all sides – characteristics you definitely want when making a multiple layer cake.

Martha Stewart’s Butter Cake 1 

(makes two 9.5″ inch round cakes)

8 ounces unsalted butter

3 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 350. Butter cake pans and dust with flour, tapping out excess flour.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, mix butter and sugar until pale (about 2-3 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix again.  Add flour mixture in three batches alternating between each batch with two batches of milk. Stir until evenly combined.

Distribute batter evenly between cake pans (this is about 3 1/4 cups of batter per pan).

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cakes cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert cake layers and remove cake from pan. Let cool on wire rack completely then wrap each cake in wax paper and then plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you are ready to frost.

There are two types of frosting used for this cake. A pale green buttercream and a bright white royal icing. Both icing recipes are from the Wilton School and are easy to use. They both include a curious ingredient called meringue powder (made by Wilton!) which can be found in the baking section of your grocery or online.

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as meringue powder before this project,  but basically it is an egg-white substitute used in place of whipping up fresh eggs. Normally, I’m not a fan of substitute convenience products but since this was the first time I was making this cake I wanted to use the products they recommended. Next time, I’ll try to make my own meringue using fresh eggs. Now it’s onto the frosting…

Snow-white Buttercream

(makes 8 cups)

2/3 cup water

4 tablespoons meringue powder

11 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

1 1/4 cups butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2-3 drops green food coloring

In a large mixing bowl, combine water and meringue powder and whip at high speed until peaks form. Add 4 cups sugar, one cup at a time, beating at low speed after each addition. Alternately, add butter and remainder of sugar. Add salt and vanilla and beat at low speed until smooth. Add food coloring one drop at a time, (a little goes a long way!) mixing thoroughly between drops until a desired shade is achieved. The color will deepen as the icing ages, so keep that in mind when adding drops.

Special note: This  recipe makes enough frosting for one two layer cake  including top, sides and  filling between layers, plus a little extra. Leftover frosting can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for several weeks.

Next, I set to work frosting the top of the first layer and then the top and sides of the next layer…

When it was all sufficiently frosted, I cleaned the frosting knife and then gently scraped it as evenly as possibly around the sides of the cake to create a smooth texture.That same treatment was repeated on top of the cake too so that it maintained a flat and level surface. At this stage, I learned a fun little trick. A little drop of water helps to smooth icing out – so round I went once more on the sides with a wet frosting knife. Then the cake was set aside so that the icing could harden (or “crust” as Wilton described it). Next on the schedule was making the icing for the snowflakes…

Meringue Royal Icing

(makes 3 1/2 cups)

3 level tablespoons meringue powder

1 lb. confectioner’s sugar

3 1/2 oz. warm water

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Combine all ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl. At first, mix slowly with an electric mixer then increase the speed to medium and mix for 7-10 minutes.

Things is where things got a little bit tricky. While the snowflake icing is super easy to make,  the method used to make the snowflakes is really difficult. It involved piping icing onto wax paper…

letting each snowflake dry for an hour…

re-piping each one again (aka over-piping), letting it dry for another hour…

and then carefully removing each snowflake from the wax paper and adhering them to the cake one by one. In theory, this sounds simple enough, but each snowflake was very tricky to remove without them doing this…

After many attempts and many hours, I abandoned this method of snowflake making altogether. Evidently I need more practice in this department! Instead, I just carried on and piped the large snowflake directly on top of the cake, freehand style, and left the sides bare.

Finally, this winter snowflake cake was trimmed on top and bottom with little snowballs. Wilton recommended using two-different sized pastry tubes #3 and #6 for this task, but I just used just one ziploc bag and it worked great.

And that was how this vintage snowflake cake came to be. It definitely isn’t a perfect cake compared to Wilton standards, but it was a whole lot of fun to make and has me thinking about future designs once I practice, practice, practice as Wilton often recommends.

Have you guys ever decorated cakes like this before? If you have any tips or techniques or adventure stories of your own confectionery creations, please share them in the comments section below. It will be fun to help propel the educational portion of this post, so that we can all learn together. And most definitely, if you embark on this winter snowflake baking project, please let us know how it all tuned out in your kitchen.

In the meantime, learn more about the wonderful world of Wilton and their inspiring vintage cake decorating book  here.  Several other shop items also made an appearance in this post’s photos as well… find the 1960’s era glass cake stand here, the 1920’s silver plate water pitcher here, and the vintage embroidered tea towel here.

Hope your weekend is as sweet as buttercream and as lofty as a layer cake! Cheers!

 

The Cake That Fed An Entire Town: {Part One} On Election Day in 1700’s America

Once upon a time in history long, long ago there was a cake that fed the whole entire town on Election Day. Called simply, Election Cake, it was an active participant in the voting scene of early America. But while the recipe’s origins are as old as the United States itself, the exact history is a little bit varied depending on which source in which state is telling the tale.

The first American cookbook was written by Amelia Simmons and published in 1796. Her second edition of this cookbook, published two years later in 1798, features the first published recipe for Election Cake.

Essentially though, everyone pretty much agrees that it boils down to the early days of New England (some say Connecticut, some say Massachusetts) when Election Day was celebrated in the Spring and considered one of the biggest party days of the year. Enjoyed with the same amount of zeal as our modern St. Patrick’s Day festivities, Election Day in 1700’s America was a boozy holiday full of ale and camaraderie and community support. Only people weren’t celebrating one particular heritage like we do the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. They were celebrating everyone’s heritage, as Americans, on Election Day. The fervor was for freedom. And the cake was needed to sop up everyone’s spirits (the ale especially).  It also provided a little motivation to actively vote for the political candidates of the day, because even in 1700’s America, people (and politicians!) were aware of the powerfully compelling nature of cake and its ability’s to attract favor.

Being such a big festivity in the lives of Colonial America, with people traveling from miles around to attend special gatherings,  it made sense to local residents, at the time, to bake one enormous cake to serve all who showed up. So out of thirty quarts of flour and fourteen pounds of sugar and ten pounds of butter, Election Cake was born from the loving hands and hearts of local women who couldn’t vote themselves but could at the very least feed the men who were voting for them. Some historians say that this proves that women were important members of the political spectrum even back then when they had no vocal authority.  I don’t know about that, they may have just looked at the voting day in a practical feed-the-masses way,  but it is fun to think that while they were baking, they were also discussing political topics among themselves. Even if they were just hushed whispers while they were mixing batter and melting butter, I like to think they were formulating their own ideas about what should and could happen in the future shaping of America.

An election cake recipe from 1889 by Ellen Wadsworth Johnson. Photo courtesy of connecticuthistory.org

The interesting thing about Election Cake though is that it is not really cake. Since its inception it has really been more of a fruit and spice studded bread than a traditional cake. And in true American spirit it has been revised and enhanced and reworked over the centuries into numerous different versions like breakfast buns, frosted bundt cakes and drunken fruit cakes. The core of the recipe remains the same though – flour, butter and sugar – but over the years different variations have been included and excluded that involve milk, eggs, raisins, currents, citrus fruits, whiskey, rum, brandy, wine, confectioner’s sugar, etc. Baking equipment differs too. Originally, back in the day when one giant cake was made, it was too big to fit into any bakeware so it just baked free-form on the oven floor. Next came bread loaf pans, a smart decision that produced numerous easy-to-handle loaves that could be made by numerous hands. Then there was the bundt cake method, the cast iron skillet method, the baking dish method, etc.

The 1965 edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook originally published in 1898.

For this post, I’m making the Fannie Farmer version from her 1965 Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which was first published in 1898. True to form, this recipe has changed a bit over the Fannie Farmer years too. The 1960’s version involves raisins, whiskey and loaf pans. Her original recipe from 1898 called for figs, sour milk and bread dough starter.

The bulk of this project lies in waiting for the dough rise (six hours!).

A nine hour baking project from start to finish, this is a kitchen adventure that will unfold over two days and two blog posts. Tonight, we discussed the history behind the recipe, and tomorrow we’ll discuss the actual recipe and how it all turned out. Will it indeed be more like a raisin bread rather than a fruit cake, as it is listed in Fannie’s cookbook? Will our modern palettes fall in love with this old fashioned recipe enough to resurrect it and recommend it in the Vintage Kitchen?  Will it become a repeat labor of love on future days of election or will it be a one hit-not-so-wonderful? Only time will tell in this case. Tune in tomorrow for the 2018 Election Day results, vintage kitchen style…