Vintage Vegetables

May 10, 2017

This little book, published in England in 1925, is one of my all-time favorites.  It’s filled with a number of astonishingly good recipes, a reminder that the English middle class and aristocracy ate very well before wars and rationing destroyed their national cuisine.

The vegetable recipes are especially interesting.  Here, for example, are some great recipes for the English peas which are starting to show up in markets now.

And here some excellent ideas for spinach. I’m particularly intrigued by this Italian (obviously Venetian) recipe.

And finally, these rather mad recipes from the chapter called “Dishes from the Arabian Nights.”  Can’t wait to try those eggs; will they really have “the flavour of chestnuts”?

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Hop Bitters, Potato Caramel Cake and One Strange Curry

May 8, 2017

Here’s another cookbook from Portland, Oregon, a 1973 reprint of a 1913 cookbook published by the Portland Woman’s Exchange. As James Beard reminds us in the introduction (Beard was born and raised in Portland), the Woman’s Exchange was a national movement dedicated to providing otherwise unemployed people with a market for their crafts. (When Beard wrote the introduction, the New York Woman’s exchange still existed).

Of the Portland Woman’s exchange, where the pictures below were taken, Beard writes:

I remember it as an old residence on Fifth Street, where it ran a small restaurant and sold excellent food, such as English crumpets and muffins, wonderful cakes, beautiful candies, and other items that could be ordered specially.

This rich (and perplexing) scene features a table-side chaffing dish:

A lovely teaching environment: Many of the book’s recipes have a distinct West Coast flair. I wonder how easy it was to get coconuts in 1913 Portland: 

Here’s a mulligatawny-inspired approach to eggs:   Mashed potato in cakes: 

And this astonishing recipe for bitters gives you a glimpse of an era when sugar was still sold in huge loafs, and housewives mixed up herbal tonics. (The closest thing I can find to Buchn is the “buchu” plant native to South Africa.) In all the early 20th century cookbooks I’ve perused, I’ve never encountered anything quite like this: 

Curious about mandrake? This Matt Simon article, about the hallowed root  is worth a read.  Medieval Europeans believed that  mandrake uttered a blistering scream when it was uprooted. (See below.)

And for fun, here’s an old sugarloaf, which fell out of production in the United States in the late 19th century with the rise of granulated sugar. The nips next to it were used to cut it: 

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Ramp It Up

May 7, 2017

It’s ramp season – and it won’t last long.  Looking for new ways to use the pungent leaves – I’m kind of tired of the ubiquitous ramp pesto – I went to one of my favorite old cookbooks.

Published in 1984 in fairly funky black and white, this is an American classic, filled with real recipes by real people. They offer a number of ways to use ramps.

If you’re planning on foraging for ramps, read this first:

 

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Cook Spaghetti Three Hours…

May 5, 2017

Like Lizzie Black Kander’s Settlement Cookbook before it, the Neighborhood Cookbook, first published in 1912 in Portland, Oregon was intended to raise money for a Jewish Women’s center that offered lifestyle classes to the poor – cooking, sewing, even laundering. These centers were essentially finishing schools for immigrants, pushing an agenda of assimilation and civilized economic independence. But unlike the Settlement Cookbook, the Neighborhood Cookbook features all kinds of Jewish-ish delicacies, and embraces an almost slapstick enthusiasm for the nearly forgotten timbale (essentially ground meat or vegetables turned into large muffin tins.) There are 14 kinds represented. For that sensibility alone it’s fun to read. 

I liked seeing these matzoh recipes, one of which is basically gussied up matzoh brei. It’s also fun to reflect on a time when shredded wheat with milk got it’s own special recipe: 

A small sample of timbale recipes: 

Three whole recipes for goulash:

This zany thing defies introduction: If you feel sorry for that poor pasta, include these asparagus, string beans and all other veggies in your sympathies:

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My Dinner at Fish and Game

May 3, 2017

Let me start by saying I’ve rarely had better cured pork than the soft, sweet American version of prosciutto they’re making at Fish and Game in Hudson.  Air and salt cured for two years, it has that beautiful frill of ivory fat that melts seductively as your mouth closes around it. Once its vanished you’re left with the complexity of the meat itself, the intense flavor resonating long after it’s gone. Don’t miss it.

There are lots of other lovely dishes on the current menu – it changes regularly – like this brilliant take on asparagus, which is topped with a wonderful mush of sea urchin, lime and garlic.  You’ll never want to eat asparagus any other way.

I was impressed with the restaurant’s version of scallop crudo. Scallops are the sea’s mildest creatures, but these soft raw slices are topped with XO sauce, which changes their nature into something both funky and intriguing.

Grilled soft shell crab arrived on a little pillow of smoked eggplant that. The texture coaxed out the soft succulence of the meat just as the smoke and chili oil underscored its flavor.

These floppy noodles ( made from locally grown rice), were topped with a robust  fish ragout laced with turmeric. Impressive.

I’ve always admired what Zac Pelaccio was attempting at this beautiful restaurant: he’s been relentless about sourcing local ingredients, going so far as to make his own fish and Worcestershire sauces.  But now that he’s allowed more of the Southeast Asian flavors he did so well at Fatty Crab (and at his barebones Back Bar up the street) to influence the kitchen, the menu has become even more exciting.

Restaurants in this part of the Hudson Valley are constantly improving and there are many excellent new ones to explore. But as they increasingly follow the farm to table mantra a kind of dull sameness has crept onto the menus. It’s safer that way – something to please everyone.  Meanwhile Fish and Game follows nobody’s lead and blazes its own trail.  I didn’t love every dish I tried, but there wasn’t one I didn’t admire and dinner left me with a deep desire to return.

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