Happy May! Hope everyone’s new month is off to a lovely start. Around here, all the trees are proudly sporting their leafy greens and the city flowers are unfurling so many colorful shades each day brings a new sight of delight in the neighborhood. These long waited pops of color remind me of Janice in her book, A Paris Year, when she walked around the City of Light scouting out items of a specific color to photograph. Starting out at the onset of each journey, Janice would pick a particular color, say red or yellow or turquoise, and then look for things to photograph that were made up primarily of that hue during her walk. This past weekend, I did the same thing when I walked to the farmers market. Before I started out I decided on the color peach. This is what I saw along the way…
It’s too early for peaches at the market so there were no color-themed fruits to photograph in that department quite yet, but while we wait for summer crops and our next blog post coming out this week (a special Mother’s Day themed story and interview!) I wanted to share, in the meantime, some new changes that are occuring in the Vintage Kitchen, so that you can be kept abreast of all the latest news.
Most excitedly, the Vintage Kitchen is growing! Over the next few months, we’ll be expanding our vintage product range in the shop to include some newly made yet very classic kitchen essentials all based on historic designs or nostalgic stories that have been personally tried and tested for years. This is in an effort to introduce fun and unique finds to your space that will not only augment your love of the vintage aesthetic, but will also be of very helpful assistence in the kitchen. The first of these new products arrived in the shop this past week…
Introducing the French market bag! Imported from Europe, this is the best way I have found to tote vegetables home from the farmers market.
The bags, made of handwoven palm leaves, are light-weight yet very durable. The long leather straps rest comfortably on your shoulder and the funnel shaped design (wider at the top than it is at the base) allows for longer and more fragile items to be stowed away securely without being crushed or tossed about. No more broken baguettes or decapitated flowers with this beauty!
There are two different styles of the market bag available in the shop. One has long leather shoulder straps (pictured above) and the other has hand-held rolled leather handles (pictured below). Both are convenient for grabbing and going and they are both the same size as far as bag capacity. The preference, of course, is totally up to you, but I recommend the shoulder strap version if you generally tend to walk to your market or live in a more urban environment where you gather your groceries primarily on foot. It’s such a comfortable way to tote your items around town. The hand-held bag…
… I would recommend for shoppers who drive to their market since the bag sits up right on its own and stows away really well in the car. Tucked into the back seat or the trunk it does not topple over easily, and will keep all your market finds secure while you drive home.
In addition to being helpful, these market bags also bring a bit of Parisian style and joie de vivre to your shopping experience. Each bag holds quite a bit of items, so if you get carried away at the market, your bag will be able to handle all your whims. For example all this fits in one bag with plenty of room to spare…
I have used my market bag (the very same one with the long straps) for over 4 years now. It has become so indispensable, it adventures with me on a daily basis. At this point, it feels not only like a bag but also like a true and cherished companion! I can’t say enough wonderful things about it. I hope you will love the bags just as much too. There are limited supplies of each style and they are selling quickly, so if they strike your fancy don’t hesitate. You can find them in the shop here and here.
If you would like to be made aware of new items listed in the shop each week, along with special promotions and added seasonal content, then please sign up for our new email newsletter which will be going out once a week (starting next Friday). Unlike many of these blog posts, this newsletter is designed to be a quick read, featuring mainly photographs and a few links to some fun content. In response to many shoppers asking how they can be kept aware of new items coming to the Vintage Kitchen, and after testing out many avenues over the past few weeks, I’m excited to finally have a good solution that will help collectors find what they love quickly. Sign up for the email newsletter by clicking the subscribe now button on the left-hand side of the shop’s home page here. It looks like this…
Sold Items in the Shop
Another improvement for the shop this past week came in the form of relocating sold items to a new category all their own. This transfer, which removed all listings that were sold out from the general inventory of available items, came at the request of a few shoppers who were frustrated in not being able to easily navigate around the site to see what was actually available to purchase. But with many historians and researchers accessing the shop for informational purposes (due to all the history we include with each item’s listing) I didn’t want these sold items to be completely removed from the shop all together. In an effort to make it a pleasant experience for everyone spending time in the shop, I hope this new solution will help. From here on out, see all the sold items in this category (found in the header section) here…
I hope you’ll come back to the blog this week to read our upcoming Mother’s day inspired post about a talented seamstress in Minnesota who led a really an interesting and dynamic life. Through an interview with her daughter, who generously shared family photographs, their family linen collection, and many stories about her mom (including a recipe!) we’ll learn how one spirited woman lived a passion fueled life and defied many stereotypes that tend to be attached to women of the mid-20th century.
Until then, of you are looking for any last-minute Mother’s Day gifts, there’s still time left to find something just as unique and treasured as Mom is. From the shop, I recommend these items…
What makes these particular items so wonderful for mom? All of the mothers in our lives deserve to spoiled on their special day. These carefully selected items will add a little dose of symbolic beauty to her every day, while also presenting her with a unique bit of history. French artist Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955) learned to appreciate the beauty of flowers from his mother, Suzanne Valadon who was also a painter. The his & hers set of antique steamship chairs signifed luxury and comfort aboard cruise liners of the late 1800s. Breakfast in bed never looked prettier in the 1950s than with a pair of embroidered pillowcases, which were often gifted as wedding presents. Peacocks throughout history have been considered the most beautiful bird in the avian kingdom and signifies power, protection and elegance. And finally, the market bag will add chic Parisian style and a little extra joie de vivre to each and every one of her days.
Hello, dear kitcheners. Hope everyone is having a cozy holiday and enjoying something delicious. I wanted to send out a little Merry Christmas post last Friday with well-wishes for the holiday and a photo of the outdoor Christmas tree we made for the city birds this year, but the December 25th bomb explosion in our city waylayed those plans. The explosion happened just a half-mile away from where my husband and I live. Fortunately, everyone we know is safe and fine, but the whole event was pretty nerve-wracking. We lost internet service for three days, so that’s what stalled the happy holidays post, but that time offline gave me a chance to think about this post and all things that brought real joy to a year that can only be off-handly described as challenging.
To everyone who checked in on us over the holiday, I just wanted to say a special thank you. I don’t often write about our local home base of Nashville here on the blog, because I always like to think of the Vintage Kitchen as a universal place that defies roots in a specific city, state, or country. But on certain occasions, local events and local situations do affect the workings of the Kitchen and therefore require some recognition. Like the highs and lows that punctuated every week in this calendar year, the holiday started off lovely with a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. How rare and enchanting! Then in the morning, there was a bomb and the city was changed.
In other years, other Christmases, this is what 2nd Avenue looked like during the holiday season…
I’ve walked this street a million times on my way to the French bakery for baguettes, on my way to the library for research, on my way to dinner at some favorite downtown restaurants. With its sparkly trees and century-old brick buildings, the atmosphere on 2nd Avenue during November and December is usually a reliable guarantee. It always hums with cocktail fueled celebrations, Christmas music pouring out of the bars, and a sense of bustling adventure as merrymakers drift from one entertaining music venue to the next.
Renowned in town as the section of the city that contains the most concentrated collection of Victorian and early 20th-century commercial warehouses, it has an enchanting aesthetic that blends the contemporary with the historic. Horse and buggy carriage rides line the street as country bands croon and tourists from all over the world traipse up and down, in and out, and all around the brick structures that have lorded over this side of the city since the 1860s.
Unfortunately, that environment is no longer a guarantee anymore. This is what 2nd Avenue looked like this Christmas…
On the National Register of Historic Places since the 1970s, the buildings of 2nd avenue for the past 170 years have told stories of Southern history that date back to the steamboat days of the Victorian era. Located just one block from the riverfront, they are especially significant in regards to the role they played in the commercial trade occurring along the vital Cumberland River during the 19th and 20th centuries.
With loading docks on the riverside and retail sales space on the 2nd avenue side, these tall, elegant and imposing warehouses were all-encompassing, enabling entrepreneurs to handle all sides of their business including shipping, receiving, distribution, and retail sales all in one place, all in one space.
Evolving with the times for different needs and uses, most of the buildings along the waterfront have been able to retain the unique architectural details that hint at what wharf life was like in the 1800s. Rounded doorways, intricate moldings, barely visible painted signs peek out from their facades. Side doors, basement entrances, industrial windows, weathered wood, hand-forged hardware, rooftop terraces, even a secret garden in one stretch hint at activities that once occurred. It’s not hard to imagine different days and different eras. In a city that is constantly growing and changing, this set of buildings adds a comforting sense, a grounding blanket, to an urban landscape that grows taller, newer, every week.
But now the bombing has marked these buildings and left the fate of them hanging in a precarious state. All the damage has yet to be completely accessed, but it looks grim for several of the historic structures on 2nd Avenue.
It’s impossible to try and sort out the reasoning behind the whole bombing ordeal when information is still being gathered and one man’s mental state is still up to interpretation. Right now all I can do is chalk it up to a really terrible event in a year plagued with really terrible events.
It would be easy to slide into despair about everything that has gone wrong in these past 365 days, especially here in my city, but on January 1st, 2020 I wholeheartedly declared that this was going to be the year of joy and I’m determined, as the title of this blog post states, to wrap up these past 12 months by highlighting the things that did bring joy this year, no matter how big or small. So here it goes, pandemic and bomb explosions and race riots and tornadoes aside, here are the best moments of joy that occurred in the Vintage Kitchen this year…
If you are in a hurry and you need a nutshell, the year of 2020 goes something like this – we cooked, we read, we watched fun things. We donated, we crafted, we communicated. We treasured nature. We treasured life. We treasured any thing that grew in a positive direction. We laughed, we celebrated. We zoomed. We wrote about other times and other places. We researched. We discovered. We cherished anything that birthed a smile or spawned a good time, no matter how silly or fleeting. And we grew. This was the year for patience and appreciation. For understanding and for finding more meaning. This was the year for the Kitchen and for the comfort it brought.
If you have some time to spend over this holiday weekend, here’s a little bit more of an in-depth look at what made the land of the Vintage Kitchen most joyful this past year.
When the wildfires broke out in Australia in January, we were on Week Two of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Featuring a cake recipe popular in the land down under, we hosted our first-ever donation drive with a percentage of shop sales for the week going to the rescue efforts at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park via their GoFundMe page. I’m so happy to say that the Vintage Kitchen raised over $100 for the cause. As a thank you on behalf of any and all donations, the Park sends out regular updates on how the animals are doing and the progress that they are making to get everyone back on their feet again. Every one of you who purchased a shop item during our drive in January, aided in this rescue effort, so I wanted to share two updates with you that really made me stop and smile this year. The first is this photo featuring a recovering koala that had been burned in the fires.
The photo was taken on weigh day in April, which is an exciting progress report both for the koalas themselves and the rescue team. I just love that the koalas get weighed on a tree pole. So cute! And this one looks so happy and ready to be back on the road to healthy.
In July, the park sent out this 2-minute video. Koalas are not bears, but when they all sit together on their tree branches they look as cuddly as a favorite teddy:)
A Press Feature
In November 2020, our very first International Vintage Recipe Tour dish (Week One: Armenian Stuffed Meatballs) was featured both in print and online with the readers of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, a weekly newspaper based in Massachusetts. Especially exciting because the newspaper reports on all things Armenia from around the globe including news, arts, culture and cooking, the feature introduced a whole new community of home cooks to the Vintage Kitchen and helped promote not only our love of heirloom recipes but also our love of traditional heritage foods.
Messages From You
One of the most consistent things that helped fuel the Kitchen this year were messages from you. Feedback from shop sales, inquiries about vintage kitchenware and chats about blog posts and recipes peppered email and social media conversations throughout 2020. Here are a few fun snippets shared from within our culinary community that brought an extra dose of joy to the year…
Melissa wrote into the shop with a question about the age of her grandmother’s nut chopper, which resulted in a lovely conversation about family heirlooms. She also shared a photo of her 5-year-old kitchen helper, who is now the fourth generation family member to use (and love) this vintage grinder. How wonderful!
Viktoria, who you may recall from the Recipe Tour’s Austrian interview, sent a note and photo to say that she finally made it to the top of the Stanser Joch mountain this year. In her interview published in late January, when asked about goals for the year she admitted that it was hard to plan given these uncertain times. But one thing she hoped to accomplish was climbing to the top of Stanser Joch. In the fall of 2020 she sent this photo and crossed that goal off her list. How exciting! She joked that it was pretty much the only goal she was able to count on accomplishing this year, but in my book that makes it her best goal. Cheers to Viktoria!
Blog reader Gwen, wrote in to say that she braved the flambe and made Bananas Au Rhum (featured in this Haitian post) and not only enjoyed the recipe but also was impressed by the fact that she did not burn her kitchen down in the process! Cheers to you and your bravery Gwen!
Fellow blog reader and Vintage Kitchen shopper, Marianne, purchased the 1965 edition of Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook and then got to baking in her kitchen. She shared this photo of her first vintage Farm Journal foray… Country Apple Pie. It’s a vintage recipe that contains two unusual ingredients – heavy cream and tapioca. She wrote “It was good! You wouldn’t really think there was cream in there if you didn’t know. It makes the juices from the pie into a silky sauce.” Sounds delish! And cheers to a beautiful dessert!
Laura wrote into the Kitchen this month with a longshot request regarding the possibility of finding a very specific lost holiday cookie recipe that was a favorite of her 83-year-old mom. This humble inquiry opened up a world of wonder around the Vintage Kitchen for days, instigated a deep dive into vintage recipe archives, yielded two blog posts (here and here) and provoked a nationwide recipe search that connected a handful of people across a wave of different social media platforms. This 2020 search for the 1970s Date Accordions goes down as the most quickly solved (and most satisfyingly resolved) mystery of the year! Read more about it here.
The International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020
As you can see from some of the mentions above, the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 influenced and instigated many of the joyful moments of this year. The goal set out in January was to cook our way through the cuisines of 45 countries over a 12 month period with recipes that were featured in the 1971 edition of the New York Times International Cook Book. We didn’t make it all the way through the Recipe Tour this year, but I am pleased to say that we at least made it halfway. 21 countries to be exact! Not so bad considering the momentous sandwich of a year that began with a tornado, ended with a bombing and was stuffed with a global pandemic in between.
I am happy to announce that the Tour will be carrying over into 2021, so that we can continue the fun of exploring heirloom foods from far off places. The second-half of the tour will be handled a little bit differently in the new year – it will no longer be the only focus of the blog like it was primarily this year. Instead, the recipes will get peppered in with other kitchen posts throughout the next twelve months. It was a pretty enthusiastic schedule laid out for 2020, with a new country and new recipe featured every week. While those plans were industrious, they left very little room (and time!) to write about anything other than the Recipe Tour adventures. So in 2021, I hope to open up the blog to more posts about a wider variety of subjects and recipes, most particularly bringing back some seasonality to the blog and highlighting holidays once again.
In January we will be kicking off the new year, and the new half of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, with a hunger for Hungary (pun intended!). So stay tuned for more adventures in the kitchen as we continue to cook our way around the globe. In the meantime, catch up on previous International Vintage Recipe Tour posts here.
The Kitchen Garden
Quirky gardening ruled the roost around here this year, thanks to the help of a flourishing experimental garden that included papayas, coconuts, avocados, grapefruit and a Liz lemon tree. Finding new things to grow, new ways to grow them, and new garden subjects to learn about meant a continuous stream of curious growing in 2020. Getting hands in the dirt, clipping, pruning, shaping and fertilizing every week, indoors and out, added a sense of hope and purpose to the pandemic, as well as reaffirming the fact that life continues to grow and thrive regardless.
The succulent garden in particular really grew by leaps and bounds this year, and had to be re-homed to larger containers a number of different times. Two of the homes included repurposed containers – a hollowed-out half coconut shell and a broken vintage Japanese sugar bowl. The coconut was a leftover cooking component of the Ceylon blog post. The sugar bowl was destined for the shop but suffered an unfortunate fall before it ever got there. Now they are both quirky containers that bring joy to the kitchen each day along with reminders that life isn’t perfect and home is what you make it.
The Wormholes of History
The reliable saving grace of 2020 was the research. Whether we were traveling down the wormholes of history for the Recipe Tour, learning about the backstory of shop items or discovering the biographies of true adventurers from the past, it was these curious moments that lent an air of much-needed escapism when the pandemic loomed too large or the political world seemed too crazy. This year I was totally enthralled with these past lives…
and these old objects…
The Bird Seed Christmas Tree
Julia and Paul, our resident city mourning doves visited the balcony every day throughout 2020 offering their consistent, reassuring, and calming presence in exchange for a seed tray and a lump of suet or two.
They turned out to be quite the ambassadors for the neighborhood, inviting a host of other feathered friends to dine with them as well. Throughout each day of 2020, we had visits from chickadees, wrens, cardinals, cowbirds, titmice, blackbirds, mockingbirds and an occasional brown thrasher. We loved all these visitors so much that my husband and I made them an outdoor Christmas tree for them on the balcony, complete with white fairy lights, homemade birdseed ornaments, orange slices, dried fruit cups and cranberry swags.
The ornaments were fun to make – requiring nothing more than birdseed, unflavored gelatin and some cookie cutters. I wasn’t sure if the birds who had been used to a full seed tray every day would be interested in these ornaments at all. If this year taught me anything it was to keep my expectations low. But to my surprise, after day two of the decorated tree, Julia and Paul got to pecking away at the ornaments and encouraged the other birds to do so too.
This whole birdseed ornament Christmas tree project was an unexpected reassuring wrap-up to a climatic year. Once you mix the birdseed with a mixture of gelatin and water it sets over the course of a few hours and eventually, the ornaments harden – petrifying into whatever shape they form to. This process kind of reminded me of the year of joy. In the beginning of 2020, I was determined to focus on joy, find the joy, feel the joy. Then one catastrophe after another happened and joy felt harder to proclaim. Harder to find. Somehow though joy found its way. Present in the little nooks and crannies that formed the year. Luckily, those moments, like the birdseed ornaments, petrified and have turned hard and lasting in my memory of 2020. For that I’m grateful. For the joy I’m grateful. And for you and the Vintage Kitchen, in this weird and wonky year, I am grateful. For anyone who bought a teacup or a towel from the shop, shared a story or a recipe, left a note of kindness or support on a post or a story I’m grateful. In the nicest way, you are the glue of joy that stuck this year together.
Now, with just hours left in 2020, I would like to say cheers to this New Year’s Eve. Cheers to the strength that made this year liveable, to the micro-moments of joy and happiness that carried us through from January to December. Cheers to a more calm, peaceful year ahead. Thank you for being a part of the Vintage Kitchen. Onwards and upwards in 2021.
It seems like a bit of a rush to talk about the holidays already. Autumn has just arrived and it’s not even Halloween yet. But time flies faster this last quarter of the year, and I didn’t want it all to blaze by without sharing some fun things that have been brewing in the Vintage Kitchen recently. Especially since they might be of help when it comes to celebrating the holidays this year.
Add to Wishlist
It’s here! It’s here! Your very own Vintage Kitchen wishlist is here! Launched just last month, you’ll notice a heartshaped icon on all product pages in the shop, both in the upper right corner and underneath every specific item’s title on each product page. If clicked, the item will be saved to your own personal wishlist where it will sit until you decide to remove it. Whether you are deciding about a vintage or antique piece for yourself, or you want to share your favorite gift ideas with friends or family, this will keep everything you love all in one organized place.
Shop Sale – November 2
Our BIG shop sale day is just three weeks away! Enjoy 40% off site-wide on Monday, November 2nd during our annual one-day-only All Souls Day sale! This is the only sale in the shop all year, so if you have your eye on something special, November 2nd is the day to capture deep discounts and get a head start on your holiday shopping. Discounts will automatically be applied upon checkout which means no coupon codes are needed. The sale begins at 12:00am, November 2nd and ends at 12:00am, November 3rd. Hope you find something that speaks to your soul or reminds you of a dearly departed loved one from days gone by:)
The Quick Cooking Chronicles
For all the busy cooks out there who are short on time these days, but still long for interesting, home-cooked foods, I’m excited to announce a new series of fast-acting heirloom recipes – The Quick Cooking Chronicles.
Not every fantastic vintage recipe I make in the kitchen actually makes it to the blog. This is a true travesty and something I have been trying to figure out a way to remedy for over a year now. So many marvelous heirloom recipes get left behind just because there is not enough time to research and write about their history in a thoughtful manner.
In an effort to continuously share good food, especially during hectic times, these not-enough-time recipes will now have a new home on the Vintage Kitchen Pinterest board, aptly called The Quick Cooking Chronicles. All the vintage recipes featured here are made with simple ingredients and simple steps. They are heirlooms that have been around for decades and have been sourced from old cookbooks, or passed down from family members, or shared between readers here on the blog. They are the good foods, the new (old) favorites, the time savers, the uncomplicateds. All made with just a handful of everyday ingredients yet arranged in interesting, unexpected ways. Super helpful, they are foods made for days filled full with gift wrapping and snow shoveling and turkey prep and hanging lights and decorating trees and clinking glasses and celebrating life. It’s a continual work-in-progress so check back often here if you are in the search for some quick, good recipes. I hope they will help bring ease to your kitchen and keep you fed and fueled! Here’s an example of such a meal… the recipe that instigated it all…
The algorithms have been changing again on Instagram, which means that the Vintage Kitchen content is getting covered over. I have no interest in being a slave to these constantly ever-changing metrics with their unpredictable highs and lows and their peaks and valleys. I just want to bring good stories and good food to you:) The best way to help shed light on vintage kitchen history is to comment and to share posts if you feel so inclined or generally like the content. This will help our community of cooks and readers grow more vibrant each and every day and for that I’m so grateful! There are a couple of VERY EXCITING things in store for the Vintage Kitchen, all which will be unveiled soon. I can’t wait to share the news! In the meantime, cheers to Autumn and to appetites and to schedules that keep us on our toes 🙂
Happy September, happy October and happy Autumn everyone! That’s three cheers, two months and one season that has happened since the last post. Oh my. The majority of September around the Vintage Kitchen was spent curating and collecting items for the shop and went by in such a hurry I officially coined it the hi/bye month because that’s exactly what it felt like. Here one minute, gone the next.
October started in the same way, with the same humid temperatures and the same busy schedule. Hot summer weather has hung around with gusto until just a few days ago, making this new season and curating for it, a bit of a challenge. My heart was wrapped up in the idea of Fall – all those colorful leaves and pumpkins and baking projects – but my head couldn’t quite get over the fact that it was still 90 degrees outside during the day and looked very much like August instead of October. New arrivals in the shop over the past 30 days reflect those dueling situations. Fall that feels like Summer.
New (old) items that fit into the Fall 2018 Collection are wrapped up in all the traditional touchpoints that ignite sentimental feelings of nostalgia and embrace the cozy, crisp months to come…
Vintage spice jars, whiskey glasses, quilt squares, mixing bowls, teacups and fall foliage art prints help set the mood for the season in your kitchen, while homemade cookie recipes, holiday menu guides, and nut-themed delicacies help satisfy the seasonal cravings in your belly.
Some highlights from this collection include this 1960’s whiskey decanter made by the Van Winkle family in Louisville, Kentucky – one of the few distillers legally able to operate during Prohibition…
This 1960’s dinner plate – one of the very last patterns made by Salem American Ironstone in 1967 just before their pottery closed its doors forever…
This vintage quilt square table topper made in the 1930’s from recycled feedsack materials…
These National Ivory teacups made in the 1920’s during a similiar point in time when women’s roles, rights and liberties were also being redefined…
This 1970’s cookbook – the delicious work of internationally recognized pastry chefs/ husband and wife team, John and Hazel Zenker, who shared over 300 cookie recipes containing old-world charm and European heritage…
New arrivals in the shop that fell under the still-feels-like-summer category include this batch which I call September Skies…
…named for the matching colors found in the pretty sunsets that blushed over the city throughout September and October. They include floral serving pieces, ceramic planters, travel cookbooks and embroidered linens that bloom in thread. It is somewhat ironic how each piece in this collection speaks of all the pretty elements of this past summer but also really reflects the colors in the September/October sunsets…
Perhaps this was Lady Nature’s way of reminding me to be patient – that Autumn would come eventually because it always does one way or the other.
Whatever weather you are experiencing in your neck of the woods this Autumn – hot, cold, crisp or humid, I hope you are having the happiest of Octobers. And that you are finding beauty in the season and celebrating it in style.
Fall in love with history and its many assorted faces in the shop here. Up next on the blog is a sweet treat recipe for Plum Cake circa 1963, from one of the most famous American cookbooks of all time. It’s a lovely Fall dessert that combines spices, baked fruit and a thin layer of cake that is light in constitution yet heavy in flavor. Stay tuned!
Hello dear readers! The Vintage Kitchen is very excited to announce a gorgeous gift giveaway from an incredible artist inside the white box pictured above! What could it be? What could it be? Here are a few hints…
It will last forever.
It’s made from history.
There is more than one inside.
It is meant for a specific item in your kitchen.
Back in the day, they were referred to as statement pieces – now they add sparkle to any space.
We will keep you stumped until tomorrow when we reveal the contents of the giveaway, which is tied into a lovely interview with the artist that will be up on the blog this week. Submit a guess today as to what’s in the box in the comments section below, and you’ll be automatically entered for your chance to win this magical prize. And please note, you do not have to correctly guess the contents in order to win. A winner will be selected at random from the pool of comments provided. The winner will be announced on Wednesday!
Good luck and happy guessing!
P.S. If you are new to the blog, giveaways in the past are all kitchen themed in one way or another. See what fun items we have given away in the past here and here.
Can a painting inspire dinner? Absolutely! That’s exactly what happened when I found this tropical painting while out curating items for the shop. It’s a petite folk art landscape scene from Haiti with a handmade wooden frame and stretched cotton cloth instead of canvas. The colors are so vibrant…
and the brush strokes so full of energy. The whole scene sings with the colorful island vibes that the Caribbean is known for. Immediately it made me think of the 1960’s cookbook in the shop – The Art of Caribbean Cookery – another midcentury treasure that also sings songs of colorful island life.
The painting hails from Haiti, just one of the 28 islands that make up the Caribbean, but the cookbook, written by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, includes all the cultural influences of all the islands… Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, etc. Carmen is Puerto Rican herself and grew up in a traditional island household of the 1920’s, a world where servants cooked and children were not encouraged to help.
As Carmen explains in the introduction of her cookbook, it was deemed improper for well-brought-up young ladies to perform menial household chores, cooking included. “Only occasionally was I ever allowed to enter the vast room where food was actually prepared, and how I regretted that.”
But things changed once she met her husband, Luis, in the late 1930’s. Luis was an unashamed food zealot – an eater, a cooker, and a recipe collector. He had a day job in engineering but on nights and weekends, he and Carmen crafted their time together around the glorious subject of food. Bolstered by one another’s support and enthusiasm, the two indulged their culinary interests in a fun and curious way, which turned out to be the only encouragement Carmen needed to realize her life-long passion for cooking. What used to be forbidden was now a freedom.
Carmen took on this new interest with gusto. She and Luis dined their way through the islands, exploring offerings at family tables, fancy restaurants and everything in between. They traipsed around sugar plantations and farms and fruit groves. They listened and questioned and learned from everyone they encountered about cooking methods and techniques, about family stories and recipes passed down through generations. After each escapade, they’d return home to their own kitchen in Puerto Rico ready to dissect what they had discovered. As Carmen learned first hand, cooking in the Caribbean was a vast wonderland of food, flavor, and influence from other countries far from the tropics.
Floating between the Gulf Of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, with the United States, Mexico and South America acting as surrounding neighbors, the Caribbean is made up of an incredibly diverse population – an exotic tribe of people from Europe, Africa, Mexico, the Mediterranean coast, the United States and the U.K.
Originally there were the first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, but then came the British, French, Dutch, Danish, and Spanish settlers along with slaves from Africa who worked the sugar plantations and ex-pats from America looking for escapism. All these cultural influences grew diversity on the islands and greatly layered the cuisine of the Caribbean, making it not just one type of food, but a blend of many nationalities.
In the painting, there is no sign of food, but its very essence pulls your imagination towards sandy beaches, tropical drinks, coconuts, rum, pineapple, papayas. Carmen is quick to explain that cooking in the Caribbean is not all “roast pig and ritual,” that food varies from island to island, built upon six centuries of history and the cohabitation of many cultures. It was with that in mind that I chose, a recipe from Carmen’s cookbook that is an authentic Carribean dish marinated in generations of foreign influence. For today’s post, we are making a recipe that combines elements of Spain with two Caribbean staples – olives and capers. The dish is called Pescado Dorado or Golden Fish and it is a lovely meal to wrap up the end of summer with since it shines best with garden tomatoes fresh off the vine.
Carmen’s recipe recommended using a whole fish but I used cod filets instead since I couldn’t find a whole tropical-looking fish at our neighborhood market. The recipe serves 8 but if you don’t want to make a big dinner out of it, simply cut all the ingredient measurements in half and you’ll wind up with a smaller serving for four.
PESCADO DORADO – GOLDEN FISH
1 fish weighing 4 lbs, cleaned (or 4lbs of fish filets – I used cod)
2 large limes
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
12 green olives
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon liquid from jar of capers
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
1 1/4 pounds tomatoes
2 canned pimientos
If using a whole fish, wash it inside and out. Ignore this step if using fish filets. Cut 2 slight gashes on both sides of the fish or filets. Place the fish in a baking dish. Squeeze the juice of the limes over the fish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Arrange the rest of the ingredients from the onions to the tomatoes on top and around the sides of the fish.
Preheat oven temperature to 550 degrees.* Bake fish for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 25 minutes longer, basting fish occasionally.
Heat pimientos and serve as a garnish on top of fish.
*A note on cooking time and temp – In 1963, Carmen’s oven reached 550 degrees. In 2018, the hottest my oven gets is 525 degrees. I cooked the fish at 525 degrees for the first 15 minutes and then reduced it to 425 degrees and cooked it for the remaining time with no problems.
What emerged from the oven, after it was done baking, was a flaky cloud of codfish that was swimming in a salty citrus sea. To say that this dish was anything but delicious would be an understatement. Sometimes fish dishes are very light and leave you still feeling hungry, but this one is robust in flavor and is filling enough on its own. I paired this fish dish with a handful of sauteed spinach and garlic but rice would also work or a side salad. Dessert was kept equally simple with a fresh fruit board that included pineapple, mango, papaya and fresh coconut.
We also had a little musical accompaniment during dinner from Harry Belafonte, one of the most iconic singers of Caribbean folk songs in the world. About a month ago, I heard the song Cocoanut Woman for the first time…
and instantly loved it. Further discovery led to his Calypso album, a bestseller full of Caribbean folk songs that was released in 1956. In its first year, this album sold a million copies landing Harry on top music charts and making him an international superstar. If you are unfamiliar with his work, the link below is the full album of his 1976 record The King of Calypso, which packs all of his most famous hits in one album including the Jamician folk song Day-O about dock workers loading banana boats and the island love song, Jamaica Farewell.
Between the three – painting, music, and food – this dinner felt like a mini island vacation all in itself. If you find that your summer has come and gone and left you without the chance to relax as much as you wished, try spending the evening with Carmen and Harry and Emmanuel (the painter) and see if your spirit can’t be soothed by a little slice of creative paradise. A glass of rum helps spread the cheer too.
Incidentally, I tried to find out more about my muse for this post, the artist named Emmanuel who painted the Haitian landscape that started all this to begin with. But he was elusive. As it turns out, there are LOTS of painters named Emmanuel in the Caribbean. That’s okay, though, it doesn’t matter that he can’t be tracked down further. Muses aren’t exactly known for their easy accessibility. Bob Dylan believed that the highest purpose of art was to inspire. In that case, Emmanuel certainly fulfilled his role, at least during dinner time in the Vintage Kitchen. As for Carmen, she went on to become an expert, the expert, of Caribbean cuisine, publishing several cookbooks throughout her life. Even though she died in 2005, she is still regarded as the classic authority on Caribbean island cuisine.
So as you can see, a painting can indeed inspire dinner and also a little more. Hope this post inspires you just as much. Cheers to soaking up the essence of the islands without ever leaving home.
Find the cookbook and the painting in the shop here and here. Find Harry Belafonte’s music on our Vintage Caribbean Vibes Spotify playlist here.
There are sibling rivalries, legendary love affairs, epic business successes and terrible company failures. There are cross-continent travelers, centenarians who never age and homebodies who would never think of leaving. There are the everlasting partiers, the quiet dignifieds, and the rebel-rousers with battle scars to show. Forget all the drama that’s occurring on your tv screen or on your phone. Compelling, real-life adventures are happening right in front of you, right on your kitchen table. Welcome to the dramatics of the age-old dishes. They carry the stories of what we’ve eaten across our imaginations and over time.
Today we are highlighting some of the stories that make table settings more interesting and conversations more memorable. When we stock plates and curate collections in the shop we are looking for unusual designs and elegant patterns that can easily be incorporated into your everyday routine for a splashy bit of decadence in both the thought and feel department. We like old china to look old because that’s what ignites the imagination. To us, there is nothing more disappointing then standing in front of a dish trying to decide if it’s new-to-look-old or old but so brand-new looking that you just know it’s never ventured out of the china cabinet. In the Vintage Kitchen, we like dishes that bring some story to the table with an extra added dose of depth and charisma to enhance the food that we prepare.
A few weeks ago on Instagram, we did a before and after photoshoot of a simple yogurt and coffee breakfast to demonstrate the difference and the impact of ordinary vs. extraordinary. On the left is plain, modern, basic American-made dishware. On the right is colorful vintage handpainted dishware that is more than 60 years old and comes from another country. Don’t you think the mood of the morning changes dramatically just with a hint of some old time interest?
A plate is a plate, you might say. But it’s really so much more than that too. It’s someone’s artwork. It’s a town’s business and a country’s export. It’s an owner’s style expression and a collector’s pride and joy. It’s a plate but it’s also a passion.
Take this one for example… a 9.25″ inch white ironstone plate with a 10- sided polygon shape. It’s hefty, weighing close to one pound, and its speckled with age spots that resemble the shadowy craters of the moon. There is a long delicate crack that measures almost 7″ inches right across the middle and I fear that any day now, it will split the plate in two. When it touches down on another surface, no matter how gently, it broadcasts a two beat thump like a hollow footstep. I think that’s the history of the plate trying to talk. A spirit wanting to tell some secrets. This plate carries a lot of those. It’s 183 years old.
If it was used once a day, every day, for 183 years it would have served a total of more than 60,000 meals throughout its life so far. A remarkable feat for any piece of kitchen equipment, let alone one of a fragile, easy-to-break nature. How many times over the course of its life has this plate been set down and picked up? Whose hands touched it and where did they carry it?
Made in England by C & WK Harvey between 1835-1853, it tells the story of the hustle-bustle days of English pottery making. The Harveys were a father/son team made up of the Charles’ (Sr. & Jr.) and William K. Their pottery plant was located at the Stafford Street Works in the town of Longton, Stoke-on Trent, England – a section of town that Charles Sr. built in 1799 to house factories for a number of different pottery makers.
In the early 1800’s, Stoke-on- Trent was the hub of pottery manufacturing for the entire country of England and employed hundreds of thousands of workers. Parts of the Works are still there today, although now it is a mixed-use commercial neighborhood, primarily consisting of retail storefronts. Almost all of the potteries once associated with it are now gone.
For things like salads, and cheese and crackers, fruit, scrambled eggs and dessert, the old Harvey plate gets used all the time. It’s shiny and smooth and substantial under the touch of fingertips. It’s bright white and pale tea and watery grey in color. It’s got so much crazing, you barely even notice all those zillion fine lines running every which way. It’s simple and it’s extraordinary all in one. It appears often in the Vintage Kitchen photo shoots.
Now so rare in availability pieces from this pottery maker are mostly seen only in museum collections. It’s moved with me four times since I found it more than 10 years ago. With each move, it gets wrapped in a thick sweater and then an even thicker blanket and then transported in the clothes boxes (the best place to pack your most treasured dishes!) to ensure a safe arrival. The crack hasn’t gotten the best of it yet. Fingers crossed, that it never does.
Somewhere along the timeline of its long life, the Harvey plate crossed the ocean from England to America and eventually found its way into an antique shop in the rural South where I found it. Exactly how it got from the U.K. to the U.S.A. is where imagination takes off and the topic of conversation begins. Perhaps it came by boat, packed in someone’s steamer trunk in the late 1800’s. Maybe along with a matching set of dishes destined for a new home in a new country. Or perhaps it embarked on a lengthy 1930’s journey through the mail and then via train where it chugged through cities and states, time zones and territories. Maybe it sat on a festive dinner table celebrating the end of slavery or the rise of the civil rights movement. Or maybe it arrived in America much later – in the 1980’s via airplane – a treasured find from a jet-set vacationer who fell in love with the antique history of England.
We’ll never know the exact story but it is fun to speculate on all the possibilities. Many a dinner party have been enjoyed discussing this very plate’s past. Often times, the more wine poured the better the story gets. Since it is an active worker in the Vintage Kitchen you’ll never see it available in the shop but we do offer many others with equally interesting stories to tell.
Clarice Cliff and her pretty floral plates were designed in the 1930’s for Royal Staffordshire. Clarice was a legend in the English ceramics world from the 1920’s to the 1960’s, designing hundreds of eclectic pieces that were admired by collectors the world over.
Considered one of the most remarkable ceramic artists of the 20th century, Clarice is revered not only for her artistic merit but also her devotion to finding beauty in unusual shapes, colors and designs that were considered very unorthodox in relation to other kitchenwares produced during her lifetime. She was also a brilliant businesswoman – savvy not in an aggressive sales-driven sense, but intrinsically smart, using her own intuition and infectious love of her craft to guide her career, thus attracting a devoted fan base. Her Dimity pattern plates burst with the bright colors of spring. We paired them in two different mix and match collections combining similar colors and unique shapes to compliment the bright and fun-loving personality of Clarice herself.
There is the story of the Willow pattern that has been captivating romantics since the 1850’s. The tale is English in origin but it was based on the original Blue Willow porcelain pattern that was made in China during the 1700’s. The tale involves a wealthy girl who falls in love with her father’s accountant. Her father, who does not approve, forbids the romance and arranges his daughter’s marriage to another man more suited to the family’s prominent social standing. The night before her arranged marriage, as the Willow tree starts shedding its blossoms, romance wins and the accountant and the girl run away together living happily for many years. One day the other suitor finds out where the couple is living and kills them. After death, the young lovers are reunited in the form of birds flying high above the landscape.
All the elements of the story are drawn out on the plate. You’ll notice the palace where the girl grew up, the bridge that takes her and her lover away, the island where they live happily together and the birds they eventually become overhead. Lots of china companies caught onto the fact that this was a popular pattern and an even more popular story and began producing their own versions in different colors. This red willow plate was made by famous American pottery company Homer Laughlin in the 1940’s. We combined it with two other Asian inspired plates to create our own fabled love story collection…
Similiar to the story of the Harvey plate, the Meakin brothers, Alfred, George and James, ran several potteries in Stoke-on-Trent and Tunstall, England. Alfred, produced this stunner, the Medway Blue under his own pottery label Alfred Meakin England in 1897. Exquisitely detailed, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could or would part with this beautiful plate, but like the Harvey, it somehow migrated over to America. Its journey wasn’t without fault or flaw – there’s a sign of adventure lurking in a small very old pencil point sized chip near one side of the rim.
Celebrating over 120 years of life, this plate holds all the dinnertime stories. 44,000 of them. When we look at it, we see the pretty pattern but we also see faces. People through history who stared down at its contents. Their hair-dos and their makeup, their tuxedoed bow-ties and their evening gowns, their earrings and their mustaches. We imagine the conversations while they ate their chicken and fish and game meats. Would we be discussing the same dramas of the day if we served a slice of pizza on top of the same plate?
Other patterns on other dishes ignite similar questions and thought process. When we look at this golden-edged Pope-Gosser plate made in Ohio in the 1920’s we see Jay Gatsby written all over it. Funny enough, it’s pottery founder I . Bentley Pope, an English transplant to America, was a swashbuckler of a salesman and a charming wordsmith. Perhaps he had a bit of the Gatsby or the F. Scott in him too.
Last September, when we discussed the book A Taste of Paris, we learned from author David Downie that the original dinner plate was nothing more than a flattened loaf of bread on which food was piled high. Between that primitive time and now, it is amazing to think how far we have come since the days we ate our dishes. If you are interested in learning more about other plate histories, visit the shop and see which ones spark your heart. We’ve listed both collections and single plates in case you want to mix and match yourself. If you have a favorite from any featured above, share it in the comments section below. We’ll be excited to learn which ones appeal to you and why!
To celebrate all the ladies in your life that would appreciate a homemade dinner served on a lovely plate we are having a 20% off sale in the shop which runs now thru May 13th. The discount is available for all items in the shop and will be applied to your entire order. Use the coupon code MOTHERSDAY at checkout to receive the discount.
Cheers to all the adventurers out there who keep life interesting, both plates and people! May the stories continue and the memories bloom.
We read and we watched, listened and researched and last, but definitely not least, we paired up old items with new owners in an effort to ensure that the stories of time-laden treasures were never forgotten, just like the 1950’s Chinese enamelware mug that originated in Tianjin, China and now adventures with Sally in Mississippi.
Based on all the fun we had last year, we can hardly wait to get started on 2018!
This January, we’ll be sharing our favorite list of books discovered over the course of the last 12 months, interviewing an inspiring international jet-setter, exploring an ancient art form born out of a kitchen catastrophe and celebrating a very special kitchen companion’s birthday. And since it is the new year and everybody is wishing each other good health and happiness, we will also be cooking up a few vintage health-conscious recipes that were made for dieting (or reducing, as they liked to call it) in the 1940’s. New vintage items, and all the stories they hold will continue to be added to the shop every week, so stay tuned for a colorful and eclectic month here in the Vintage Kitchen!
Cheers to a cheerful January, with much love from The Vintage Kitchen.
Red meat, big salads, tea, butterscotch pudding, ice cream, meatloaf, homemade cookies… those were some of Katharine Hepburn’s most favorite foods. Whether she was staying at her Turtle Bay residence in mid-town Manhattan or at her family’s compound in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, Katharine liked most entertaining people at home with a homecooked meal.
If you were lucky enough to be invited to dinner at either of Katharine Hepburn’s houses, you’d arrive promptly at 6:00pm and leave by 8:00pm so that she could be in bed by 8:15pm. A notorious early riser, Katharine lived by her own clock, bustling through the hours of her day with an admirable endurance that lasted her entire life.
But needless to say, even the most energetic of crusaders experiences a point in each day when blood sugar runs low and a brief rest is welcomed. For Lady Kate that small break in her schedule came at tea-time, her most favorite part of the afternoon, which she’d serve in antique teacups collected from her travels around the world. The saucers hardly ever matched the cups, the handles were sometimes repaired in one or two spots and there might be a chip in the rim, but none of that mattered. They were perfectly lovely serving pieces for a perfectly lovely time of day.
“Nice things are meant to be used,” said Kate when it came to living with antiques. The older the item the better it seemed. And because she was sentimental and somewhat thrifty she saw no harm in repairing a broken dish so that it could return to its previously useful state.
Along with a strong batch of freshly brewed tea, she would also always serve a homemade sweet treat believing that dessert tasted better in the afternoon than it did at night after a full meal. One of the dessert recipes she was most well-known for was her Lace Cookies which take their name from their paper-thin constitution and delicate web-like appearance.
This past week, the Vintage Kitchen moved to a new space and like Kate our energy was running on high as we packed and unpacked in a dizzy array of busyness. But now finally that we are settled and the moving boxes have been emptied, our own tea-time has come calling. We don’t get the luxury of having Katharine Hepburn come join us, but at least we have her recipe and a good imagination to make up the rest. Tracy Lord (The Philadelphia Story), Ethel Thayer (On Golden Pond), Tess Harding (Woman of the Year) … if we could somehow magically invite these Hepburn characters along with Kate this surely would be a tea-time of legend. If you are unfamiliar with Kate’s movies here is a little clip from our most favorite, The Philadelphia Story, where she plays a bride-to-be whose dealing with cold feet and a complicated heart.
When Katharine was on set or on stage she was known to give helpful training and technique suggestions to less-experienced cast members who were struggling with a scene or a role. She was careful never to tell them exactly step-by-step how to get from point A to point B because she thought that would just yield a copycat performance. What she did offer instead was advice and recommendations that would help shape the parameters of a character or the foundations of a scene so that actors could confidently put their own personality into the performance. In essence, she offered helpful broad strokes and left the details up to the individual to interpret. The same can be said for her recipe sharing.
The first thing you’ll notice about her cookie recipe is how simple it is. But we all know simple things can sometimes turn out to be most complicated. Kate’s approach to acting was often described as enigmatic, precise, contagious, controlling, all-consuming, accommodating and effortless. Her lace cookies share all those same attributes. They were absolutely delicious but they can be a little finicky, so before you whip up your own batch please note the following bits of advice from the Vintage Kitchen.
Do not use anything bigger than a teaspoon to drop your dough onto the cookie sheet. (We first made tablespoon sized cookies, thinking the bigger the better, and once heated up in the oven each separate cookie spread out to meet up with the others and form one giant cookie that covered the entire baking sheet and never fully cooked.)
A disposable foil cookie sheet works better than a metal non-stick cookie sheet because of the raised perforations in the disposable sheet design.
Don”t forget to grease your cookie sheet in-between each batch or the cookies will stick like glue to the pan.
It’s best to serve these within 30 minutes after they’ve come out of the oven. That’s when they are crispy like a potato chip. Over an extended amount of time, they relax to a more limp and chewy state (although still delicious!)
Also, Kate made her cookies with finely chopped walnuts, but we used roughly chopped peanuts because we thought the cookies would stack in a more whimsical way for the photograph. We were right – rough chopping adds a little more volume to the stack. So depending on your preference, nuts and chopping style these cookies call for a little of your own creativity as well, just like Kate would have encouraged.
Katharine Hepburn’s Lace Cookies
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup raw sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (or roughly chopped peanuts or any nut of your preference)
Beat butter, egg, and vanilla together until smooth. Add sugars and flor to egg mixture, mix thoroughly. Stir in nuts. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls on greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes. Cool on baking sheet. Makes about 30 cookies.
With a consistency like very thin peanut brittle and a taste like toffee, these cookies are delicate coasters of caramelized sweetness. And because they contain so little flour, they are a crisp and light dessert alternative to something dense and gooey. Keep in mind, they don’t travel well because of their fragile nature, so these treats are best enjoyed at home with friends and family and a late afternoon pot of tea just like Kate would’ve have done.
Cheers to Kate for her delicious recipe and to finding a little sweet respite in your busy schedule!
* This post was originally intended to appear as part of the Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Unfortunately, our move interrupted our ability to participate, but you can still catch up on all the fun posts featuring the great Kate here.
This week’s post has us traveling all the way back to a cosmopolitan city in exotic 1940’s North Africa thanks to a lovely invitation from the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. This weekend, October 13th – 15th marks the date of the Great Breening Blogathon featuring Joseph Breen, an influential, but seldom remembered figure in filmmaking during the glamorous days of old Hollywood.
Joseph was the enforcer behind the Production Code Administration, set up during the 1930’s, which acted as a morality censor for all film scripts, scenes, and storylines in the motion picture industry. Bolstered by his own Catholic beliefs and the bishops who originally wrote the code, Joseph was not interested in seeing sexy, sensual imagery on the big screen and the PCA wasn’t interested in exposing such immorality to the American movie-going public. The thought of being subjected to plotlines involving extra-marital affairs, obscene language, excessive violence or varying degrees of nudity were offensive. Family friendly, American made films were not the place for such suggestive behavior according to Joseph and the PCA.
With line by line lists of cant-do’s and won’t-permits attached to each script that the PCA reviewed, screenwriters and directors were challenged with creative ways to express character’s motives and actions while also keeping their plots plausible and compelling. How do you portray magnetic chemistry without showing a steamy, passionate kiss? How do you elude to compromising situations without showing corrupt scandals? How do you make your central location not look or sound like the most unethical, debaucherous place in the world yet still convey to watchers that shady dealings are happening right and left? And ultimately, how do you tell one of the most romantic and dramatic love stories of all time without showing anyone caught up in the physical throes of passion?
The answer is Casablanca.
Many noteworthy movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood were questioned by Joseph and the PCA. The Outlaw (Howard’s Hughes 1943 western) showed too much of Jane Russell’s cleavage; the “damn” in Rhett Butler’s famous “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” line in Gone With the Wind was flagged for unnecessary profanity; and the fact that Casablanca’s Ilsa was married at the time she first met Rick was altogether too salacious for the PCA to greenlight. All three movies managed to overcome these sticky spots eventually, but not without some major behind-the-scenes defense tactics for creative license.
The PCA and Joseph’s staunch deployment of it was frustrating but important to movie studios because it balanced political correctness with the expectations of what movie audiences wanted to see. What was considered entertaining and appropriate to movie-goers in mainstream America in the 1930’s and 1940’s was laughter, light-hearted romance, and noble sentiment. So if movie studios wanted to sell tickets, they had to comply with what watchers wanted to see. And the PCA was there to make sure that decorum and good manners reigned supreme as far as what was being showcased on the big screen.
On the morality level, Casablanca in particular, seemed like it was doomed from the beginning. It was set primarily in a bar, Rick’s Cafe Americain, where alcohol continuously flowed. It was fueled by desperation with characters willing to do anything and everything to garner exit visas to leave the country. It contained a smoldering, forbidden romance, murder and contempt for government officials. All major issues when it came to the Production Code Administration.
By the time the script came back from the PCA review office, it contained several red flags and numerous notations from Joseph Breen. No bed was ever to be shown in Rick’s apartment, (such an object would have signaled an intimate encounter with Ilsa). The dubious character of Captain Renault (who was in charge of granting exit visas from Casablanca) was not allowed to verbally suggest or show that he was granting visas to women only in exchange for sex. And Rick and Ilsa’s fated love affair? Joseph found it highly immoral that Ilsa met and fell in love with Rick years before in Paris while she was married to her husband Victor Lazlo. This long-simmering love business between Ilsa and Rick had to be cleaned up in order for the movie to go on. Even though sex does sell, in conservative 1940’s America these scandelous situations were considered way too over-the-top for the eyes and minds of mainstream movie-going audiences.
So how did Casablanca’s production team manage to get around such roadblocks and ultimately propel the film towards three Academy Award wins and iconic movie status? Through good writing and good direction and good acting. So much of the storyline that seemed PCA in-appropriate – the excessive drinking, seduction, womanizing and volatile emotions were so expertly staged and nuanced that the script eventually passed approval with Joseph Breen. Once Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa) and Claude Rains (Captain Renault) delivered their performances there was no mistaking the precarious situations that the scriptwriters originally intended. Movie audiences still got the idea loud and clear even if wasn’t visually or audibly spelled out.
In today’s depict-anything-you-want movie plot experience, it seems so foreign to have such a morality cloud like Joseph Breen hovering over a film production. But I wonder if the beauty and ultimate success of Casablanca came in the act of being challenged to subtly hint at each impropriety. Perhaps that is what makes it timeless and still translatable in today’s cinematic scope. It leaves room for our own imaginations to sort out and further dissect the specifics of the relationships between characters.
I’m not a big fan of censoring art in any way. I think you lose the point of it then. I once lived in a town where plays were censored for language or risque content and it felt very limiting. Art is intended to provoke reaction and expand horizons so I’m not sure if Joseph Breen and I would have been on the same page in the philosophy department, but his impact on Casablanca was influential, so maybe his enforcement of the Production Code Administration ultimately helped the movie in the long-run.
For all the spicy current passing between Ilsa and Rick throughout the movie, there is not a lot of spicy food being passed around Rick’s cafe. Originally I thought it would be fun to write a dinner and a movie post and feature some aromatic Moroccan food of the likes that would have been served at Rick’s. But apparently, the main thing on the menu at Cafe Americain, the bestseller of all bestsellers, was a cocktail or two or three or half a bottle. Champagne, bourbon, scotch, gin, whiskey are present in almost every scene. Alcohol swishes and swirls and sits in glasses while Rick broods, Captain Renault schemes and Ilsa seeks courage. So in lieu of a traditional North African dinner, here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are staying true to the spirit of Casablanca by serving up a food accompaniment with this post that pairs best with your favorite cocktail…Sweet Spiced Nuts circa 1967.
This recipe comes from the vintage cookbook, A World of Nut Recipes by Morton Gil Clark and features three ingredients essential to Moroccan cooking: cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This is a super easy recipe to make for cocktail hour, parties or late night snacking. The flavors are subtle, accommodating and interesting and with nut season now in full swing, you have a variety of options to choose from. For this recipe, I used a variety of mixed nuts which included peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts but pecans, pistachios, macademias, etc all would make delicious alternatives as well.
Sweet Spiced Nuts – Makes 1 Cup
1 cup nuts
1/4 cup fine granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8th teaspoon ground allspice
1/8th teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg (egg white part only)
Place the nuts in a small bowl and pour over them the slightly beaten whites of 1 egg. Mix so that all the nuts are evenly coated. In a separate bowl combine the sugar and spices and then toss with the nuts, mixing well again so that all the nuts are evenly coated. Spread seasoned nuts out into a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 25 minutes. If you prefer ultra-crunchy nuts bake them about 10-15 minutes longer, but keep your eye on them so they don’t burn. Once done, let them cool on the baking sheet until ready to serve. Pair with your favorite cocktail and some lively conversation.
Pair with your favorite cocktail and some lively conversation. And while you’re at it, raise a toast to Joseph Breen, who made his mark, for better or worse, on one of the world’s most beloved movies of all times. Here’s look’n at you, Joe!
To learn more about Joe Breen and his influence on old Hollywood, catch up with other blogathon related posts here.
For more dinner and a movie posts from the Vintage Kitchen, pull up a chair here.
And last but not least, find 200 more pages of interesting nut-related recipes in the World of Nut Recipes cookbook available in the shop here.