Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sour Cream or Apple Sauce?

Both! Make your own sauce:

Apple (or Apple-Quince) Sauce

5 apples, different kinds, some sweeter, some sour

If you can find one, one quince




Peel the apples but leave the reddest one unpeeled (one peel will make the sauce nice and pink, more than one is too much). Peel the quince. Cut the fruit up into little pieces. Place in a saucepan and add water about 1/3 to 1/2 way up. Cook and stir to desired degree of sauciness. Add sugar to taste and butter if desired (and when is butter not desired?).

That’s a quince up there, can you tell? They are very hard and you can’t eat them raw, but they contribute a wonderfully heady fragrance to applesauce. Adding a pear is nice too.

Here are Natasha’s instructions on How to Grate Potatoes


Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Above, a white turnip from John Madura Farms, and a Robertson’s golden ball turnip, probably the finest culinary turnip (not a rutabaga!) from Keith’s Farm, both represented at Union Square on Wednesdays. At first I thought this kind of turnip was called “goldenbor” and thought it might have something to do with winterbor kale and redbor kale.

The Yiddish word for turnip is di brukve, and rutabaga is di shvedishe brukve. A Brussels sprout is di brukselke or der briseler kroyt.

The estimable Language Hat posted about rutabagas in language and literature about a month ago, and ever since I have been wanting to root up something Yiddish about rutabagas or turnips. Somehow, I can’t think of anything, but I always felt that I remember Marlene Dietrich’s movies and music as having been in Yiddish. Does anyone else get that? Here is the entry on turnips from Marlene Dietrich’s ABC, a memoir in lexicon form by the screen goddess and serial autobiographer:

I was raised almost entirely on turnips and potatoes, but I think that the turnips have more to do with the effect than the potatoes.

Saturday evening’s In Mol Araan was devoted to bagels in the life and work of the Ba’al Shem Tov. I would not have guessed I would ever need to blog twice about the Besht and Jewish food in one week, but az me lebt, derlebt men (very roughly: live and learn). This very puzzling tale is related in Shivkhey haBesht (from Dan Ben-Amos and Jerome R. Mintz’s 1970 English translation).

189. The Turnip
I heard that once they put a turnip on the Besht’s table, but he refused to eat it. They asked him why, and he said “This turnip grew in a gentile cemetery.” They did not want to eat it either and they put it at the end of the table.

This story is less about the turnip than about the Besht’s uncanny ability to discern the turnip’s provenance. At least, I think that’s what it is about. These are some very confusing stories. The turnip story from the Grimms is even more disturbing.

Here’s some turnip bibliography. I like the title Those Brassy Brassicas.

These turnips are probably going into a lentil soup this week. I have these very pretty brown lentils, smaller than common lentils, but bigger than French lentils or black beluga lentils.

, , , , , , ,

Dietrich, Marlene. Marlene Dietrich's Abc. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962.

Dov Baer ben, Samuel, Dan Ben-Amos, and Jerome R. Mintz. In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov [Shivhei Ha-Besht]; the Earliest Collection of Legends About the Founder of Hasidism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tiny Little Brussels Sprouts

I got these tiny little sprouts from my CSA. Medium sized sprout and US twenty-five cent piece provided for scale. Pretty cute huh? I find sprouts very pretty. I like them well enough as vegetables, but I don’t usually find them as exciting as their leafier and more deeply-flavored cousins, collards and kale. But just look at them—they look so elegant swirling around their stalks in those snazzy spirals.

I once tried to cook Brussels sprouts still attached to the stalk since I thought this would make an impressive presentation. I sawed off the bottom of the stalk to make a flat base, steamed the whole thing upright by making a foil tent over my tallest pot, and then nailed the stalk xmas-tree style to a wooden board. My plan was that we would be able to pluck sprouts from the tree with chopsticks and dip them in vinaigrette, but it turns out Brussels sprouts are fastened onto those little trunks very securely. The sprout-tree was impressive, and once we wrestled the sprouts off the trunk, they were delicious, but I never tried that again.

Here's what I did with this lot:

Braised Balsamic Brussels sprouts

1 pound tiny Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed (or larger sprouts cut into halves or quarters)

Olive oil
1 shallot, minced

2 largish cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup water, more if needed
3-4 sprigs parsley, minced, if you have some.

Heat olive oil in a large iron skillet. Add Brussels sprouts, and cook and stir several minutes. Add chopped shallots and garlic, and keep cooking until everything is just beginning to brown nicely.

Turn up the fire, and add balsamic vinegar and water, and cook several minutes until liquid is absorbed; you may want to add more water. Add the parsley and mix.

It is sometimes nice to have toasted crumbs with these, but only if you have really nice fresh crumbs. By fresh, I mean not stale-smelling. Dried bread is fine, but check any ready-made crumbs for an unpleasant stale-bread smell.

Crumbs for sprouts

3/4 cup whole wheat sourdough bread crumbs, or any other bread crumbs

1 teaspoon thyme, crumbled

Olive oil

Mix bread crumbs and thyme with a few tablespoons olive oil. Toast the crumbs on a baking sheet in a moderate oven, stirring once or twice, until golden, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle toasted crumbs over the sprouts and mix.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Giant Monobulb

A few days ago I bought this perfectly normal-looking head of garlic in Union Square. When I unwrapped it, (I mean when I peeled it, but with garlic, it’s like unwrapping) I found that instead of a half dozen or a dozen or so little cloves, it was all one big old uncloven monobulb. I was going to call it a giant monoclove, but I guess I shouldn’t really call it a clove, since that refers only to things which have the quality of clovenness. It is not elephant garlic, which has giant cloves, but has them in the same pattern as smaller varieties of garlic.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

בײגל און דער בעש“ט

בײגל װערן דערמאָנט לכל־הפּחות צװײ מאָל אין שבֿחי־הבעש“ט, און איטלעכס מאָל ראַטעװען זײ אַ לעבן. אײן מאָל ראַטעװעט דער בעש“ט אַ מײדל װאָס האָט זיך פֿאַרליבט אין אַ גױ (אַן אָדם השובֿ) װען ער האָט איר געזאָגט אַז איר איז באַשערט חתונה צו האָבן מיט אַ (ייִדישן) בעקער און פֿאַרקױפֿן בײגל אין מאַרק.אײן מאָל ראַטעװעט זיך אַ ייִד װאָס װאַרפֿט אַ בײגל כּדי די גױים זאָלן אים קאָנען געפֿינען. אײן מאָל װערט דערצײלט אַז אַ ייִד איז אַרײַנגעפֿאַלן אין אַ טײַך און האָט זיך נישט געקאָנט ראַטעװען. ער האָט געהאַט בײַ זיך אַ בײגל, װאָס ער האָט אַרױסגעװאָרפֿן. מע האָט אים געזען און געראַטעװעט. אָט שרײַבט דער מגיד׃

ונזכּר שיש אצלו בײגל, וזרק הבײגל לערלים ומיד באו והצילו אותו בע“ה (און ער האָט זיך דערמאָנט אַז ער האָט בײַ זיך אַ בײגל, און ער האָט געװאָרפֿן דעם בײגל צו די גױים, און זײ זענען תּיכּף געקומען אים ראַטעװען, מיט דעם אײבערשטנס הילף).

הײַנט צו טאָג, אַז אַ מענטש װערט חלילה דערטרונקען, װאַרפֿט מען אים אַ ראַטיר־רינגל (אָדער, בעסער, אַ ראַטיר־בײגל) ער זאָל קאָנען שװימען, אָבער דעמאָלט, דאַכט זיך, האָט דער דערטרונקענער אַלײן געדאַרפֿט אַרױסװאַרפֿן אַ בײגל. מיר איז אינטערעסאַנט אַז אין בײדע עפּיזאָדן, װערט אַ ייִד געראַטעװעט דורך גױים, אָדער, װי מען האָט דעמאָלט געשריבן, „ערלים“. (אַגבֿ, אין פֿישקע דער קרומער װערן מענדעלע און אַלטער געראַטעװעט דורך צװײ גױים אױף װעמען זײ האָבן נאָר װאָס אױסגעלאָזט אַ גאַנצע תּוכחה, רופֿנדיק זײ „עשׂו“. אַז זײ װערן לסוף געראַטעװעט זאָגט מענדעלע „הידים ידי עשׂו“, מײנענדיק אַז נאָר די גױים האָבן קראַפֿט זײ צו ראַטעװען, „הקל קול יעקבֿ“, מײנענדיק אַז די ייִדן קאָנען נאָר שרײַען און זיך באַקלאָגן.)

דער בעש“ט, זעט אױס, איז געװען זײער ליבעראַל. ער האָט געהאַלטן אַז גױים מוזן זײַן פֿרום לױט זײער גױישן שטײגער—װאָס עס זאָל נישט זײַן. דער בעש“ט האָט אײן מאָל געזאָגט אַ ייִד אַז ער טאָר נישט האָבן קײן געשעפֿטן מיט אַ געװיסן גױ, נישט צוליב דעם װאָס ער איז אַ גױ, חלילה, נאָר צוליב דעם װאָס מען האָט אים געזען אַז ער האָט זיך נישט איבערגעצלמט פֿאַרבײַפֿאָרנדיק אַ קלױסטער. דאָס הײסט, ער איז נישט גענוג גױיש! איך טראַכט נאָך אַלץ װעגן דעם װאָס דער הײליקער בעש“ט האָט שטאַרק קריטיקירט דעם גױ װאָס האָט זיך נישט איבערגעצלמט.

עס קומט מיר אױס אַז דער בעל־שם איז נישט געװען אין גאַנצן יושרדיק צום גױ. אפֿשר איז דער גױ געװען אַ פּראַװאָסלאַװנער און דער קלױסטער אַ קאַטױלישער אָדער פֿאַרקערט. אפֿשר איז דער גױ גאָר געװען אַ פּראָטעסטאַנט. אינעם אַכצנטן יאָרהונדערט איז שױן געװען אין אוקראַיִנע אַ היפּשע באַפֿעלקערונג מענאָניטן אַנטלאָפֿענע פֿון די דײַטשישע לענדער. װי די ייִדן, רעדן זײ נאָך זײער דײַטשישע שפּראַך נאָך יאָרהונדערטער אין אַ סלאַװישער סבֿיבֿה, אָבער נישט דאָס בין איך אױסן. קאָן זײַן אַז בײַ גױים זענען דאָ ניואַנסן װעגן דעם װען מען צלמט זיך איבער יאָ און װען נישט װאָס דער בעש“ט האָט נישט אין גאַנצן פֿאַרשטאַנען.


דאָס איז אָבער אַזױ טיפּיש בײַ אונדז ייִדן. עס איז אונדז נישט גענוג מיר זאָלן בעסער װיסן װי די גױים װי אַזױ צו זײַן ייִדן. מוזן מיר אױך װיסן בעסער װי אַזױ צו זײַן גױים נאָך דערצו!

אַלע בײגל־אַַנעקדאָטן האָב איך פֿון מרדכי קאָסאָװערס װוּנדערלעך „ייִדישע מאכלים,“ אַ פּרעכטיק אױסגעפֿאָרשט און קלאָר געשריבן בוך װעגן ייִדיש עסן און ייִדישע װערטער.

בײגל און דער בעש“ט bagels and the Ba’al Shem Tov

זיך איבערצלמען to cross oneself, make the sign of the cross

דער פּראַװאָסלאַװנער Eastern Orthodox

דער קאַטױל Catholic

דער מענאָניט (ן) Mennonite

װי די ייִדן, רעדן זײ נאָך זײער דײַטשישע שפּראַך נאָך יאָרהונדערטער אין אַ סלאַװישער סבֿיבֿה, אָבער נישט דאָס בין איך אױסן.

Like the Jews, they still speak their Germanic language after centuries in a Slavic environment, but that is not my point.

Dob Baer ben, Samuel, and Samuel Aba Horodezky. Shivhe Ha-Besht. Berlin, 1922.

Kosover, Mordecai. Yidishe Makholim: A Shtudye in Kultur-Geshikhte Un Shprakh-Forshung. Nyu-York: Yivo, 1958.

Mendele Mokher, Sefarim. Fishke Der Krumer. Krako ; Noy York: Ferlag "Mendele", 1910.

Voth, Norma Jost. Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia. 2 vols. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1990.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Back on the Bean in Washington

Francisco de Zubarán, Cup of Water and a Rose on a Silver Plate, about 1627-1630. National Gallery, London.

I am not officially a teetotaler, but until this week, I had been largely on the leaf (and off the bean) for quite a while. During my recent visit to the capital, I drank as much coffee in three days as I have in the past ten years, and spent my first night more or less velcroed to the ceiling of my hotel room.

I can’t help feeling some real fondness for DC, even while largely concurring with JFK’s assessment (northern charm, southern efficiency). There are many strollable neighborhoods and some very decent food, but here’s what happens if you order tea: They’ll bring you a cup of rapidly cooling water, and some packets of sugar (and fequal and splendelenda) and say “I’ll be right back with the bag!”

I am by no means complaining, you understand. I really cherish our quirky regional variations, and I did have some delicious coffee.

Riley, Gillian, and National Gallery (Great Britain). A Feast for the Eyes. London and New Haven: National Gallery Publications; Distributed by Yale University Press, 1997.

You Can Still Save the World by Drinking Vodka!

Time is short to buy raffles for Menu for Hope. Check out the orchidaceous selection of food-related prizes at Chez Pim. How did she make that breathtaking collage of pictures? Pim does something to amaze me almost every day. You have better odds of winning if you pick one of these.

Of course I can’t help recommending that you bid on my donation: A bottle of Absolut vodka in which an exquisitely lush and fragrant Buddha’s Hand Citron has been steeped. Food bloggers have donated all manner of goodies to Menu for Hope II. Read details here, or just rush to donate here. At the donation site you may select any prize you wish.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Potato risotto?

Has anyone tried the recipe for Potato Risotto that was in the paper a couple of weeks ago? You are supposed to grate the potatoes, cut the shreds into approximately Arborio-rice-sized morsels, and then cook them in oil, wine, and mushroom stock all’ risotto. Similar recipes seem to have been around for a while, but this was the first I had seen.

Italian cuisine does have a number of dishes of the genre “X in the manner of Y;” Ada Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking lists Melanzane a fungetielli (eggplants cooked like mushrooms) in the chapter on Naples and Fagioli all’ Uccelletto (white beans cooked like small birds) in Tuscany, and Marcella Hazan describes her wonderful Carote in Scapece as being cooked in the manner of zucchini. In each of the above cases I am more familiar with the recipes mentioned than with the putative original recipes whose style they adapt, but this could be a coincidence.

I would not have thought of trying this spontaneously; it sounds like it could be a sticky mess, but then, so does a recipe for risotto the first time you read one. It occurs to me that I was once sure that a number of wonderful recipes must have been the result of typographical errors. I am thinking especially of dal bada, in which we fry ground dal without first cooking it (falafel is prepared in the same way).

Boni, Ada. Italian Regional Cooking. New York,: Dutton, 1969.

Hazan, Marcella. Marcella's Italian Kitchen. 1st ed. New York: Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1986.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Top Ten

Thanks to
mzn for tagging me to come up with my ten favorite foods. Of course you understand that this kind of list comes swathed in disclaimers of all kinds. I knew immediately what answers 1 and 2 would have to be, but but everything else is more or less ex tempore, and probably seasonally influenced.

10. Kabocha soup of many colors. Really, you want to make this soup.

9. Apples, especially hard sour apples at the beginning of their season. In early fall macouns, then russets, now winesaps.

8. Chocolate bourbon pudding with plain whipped cream (Do you think I can legally post this recipe? It was in a magazine about twenty years ago).

7. Canelés—mildly sweet baked eggy things. I’ve only had these twice, once when I was six, and once five years ago. They were so good.

6. A decent cup of tea.

5. Pasta with tomato sauce. It's what the angels eat in heaven.

4. Leftover pasta with tomato sauce reheated in an iron pan with a little extra olive oil and garlic.

3. Maida Heatter’s Chocolate Gingerbread, and almost every other recipes in her Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. I just made some. I love the smell of the hot coffee mixing with the cool butter.

2. Whole artichokes with vinaigrette, and then I love to look at the pile of scraped leaves on the table afterward. An example of the necessity of ruins.

1. Black cherries in June (Oddly enough, I do not especially care for the sight of the stones and stems).

I’ll illustrate this with an artichoke print, even though cherries are in first place. See items 1 and 2, above.

I humbly request a top ten list from Dagmar.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jewish Cookery Book Philadelphia 1871

The sentence in Hebrew at the top of the title page reads “The practices of cooking correctly according to the commandments of our holy faith

Jewish Cookery Book by Esther Levy, published in Philadelphia in 1871, is currently thought to be the first Jewish cookbook published in the United States. Its full title: Jewish Cookery Book, on Principles of Economy, Adapted for Jewish Housekeepers, with the Addition of Many Useful Medicinal Recipes, and Other Valuable Information, Relative to Housekeeping and Domestic Management, accurately describes the book’s impressive and ambitious scope. The Jewish Cookery Book includes recipes drawn from English cookery (Toad in a hole, Bubble and squeak, steamed suet puddings), American cookery (Corn bread, Succotash), and Ashkenazic (Central European) Jewish cooking (Matzo fritters, Luxion pudding), as well as recipes that are a fusion of all three, such as “Coogle, or pudding, and peas and beans.” In addition to recipes, the author provides an extensive section on “Medicinal recipes,” household hints for cleaning various materials and exterminating diverse pests, suggested weekly menus and two views of the year: A guide to seasonal produce available for each month and a guide to the Jewish calendar.

Esther Levy suggested for her readers a combination of English, American and Jewish customs as well as foods. This kosher cookbook directs readers to rub a scarlet fever patient with bacon fat, to anoint bunions with lard, and to wrap salt pork around the neck of a sore-throat sufferer. While none of these remedies involves ingesting the pork products, these recommendations would have been unlikely in the old world, and would be unthinkable in a kosher cookbook today. Menus for Friday evening and Saturday stray from Jewish tradition in that they are for festive but modest meals. The week’s most lavish meal is to be Sunday, “when the husbands are at home.”

The Jewish Cookery Book provides a repertoire of carefully prepared, vividly seasoned dishes for hardworking but well-situated Jewish families. The food practices Levy outlines demonstrate Jewishness, and adaptation to America, and also social class. I will give the last word to Mrs. Levy herself. For Monday supper she recommends a modest meal, since the day is set aside for washing, but adds:

I would recommend a pretty bouquet of flowers in the middle of the table; their fragrance refreshes the eye and gratifies the mind, as there is so much sweet language embodied in flowers.

And here’s a recipe I annotated from Esther Levy’s book. I love how she Romanizes “Coogle,” just like “Google”

Coogle, or pudding, and peas and beans

Take a shin bone and a piece of bola, about three pounds; get a pint of Spanish beans, others will serve the same, and a pint of Spanish peas; put them in a brown pan, one that will fit in the oven, and put the beef, peas and beans in it, and cover it over with water; add pepper, ginger, salt, and a little cayenne pepper. Make the coogle in the following manner: a quarter of a pound of currants, a quarter of a pound of raisins, a quarter of a pound of sugar, the same quantity of bread crumbs and suet, chopped fine, four eggs, a quarter pound of flour, some spices and a small piece of citron. Mix well together; put the coogle (or pudding) in a basin, place it in the pan with the peas and beans, and cover the basin with a plate. Let it cook a day and a night, and dish up the soup without the meat. Some persons like the meat, others do not. Turn out the pudding and eat with a sauce. Be sure while cooking this dish, to see there is sufficient water on it; if plenty is put on at first, it will not require much when cooking.

Coogle. Kugl. Esther Levy is writing at a time when words of Yiddish and Hebrew extraction have not yet begun to appear commonly in Romanized form in written English. Other interesting spellings chosen by Levy are “luxion” (lokshn) for noodles, and “cowledge” (koyletsh) for braided Sabbath bread (challah), literally “coil.” Levy translates this as “twist.” Levy also uses the word “cowledge” for a wedding cake.
And peas and beans. This is in fact a recipe for tsholnt with kugl, a traditional Sabbath combination. The tsholnt itself is here presented as secondary. The recipe appears in the poultry section of the cookbook, although there is no poultry in the recipe, perhaps because tsholnt with kugl, like poultry, is associated with the Sabbath.
Bola. In Jewish cookery, “bola,” from the Spanish word for “ball,” has two meanings. Here it refers to top sirloin, a cut of beef that is round in shape. The Jewish Manual uses the word “bola” to mean a sweet, baked pudding. See Judith Cohen Montefiore and Chaim Raphael, The Jewish Manual, or, Practical Information in Jewish & Modern Cookery: With a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette (New York: NightinGale Books, 1983), 61 and 65.
Spanish beans. White beans. In English cookery, three types of beans are commonly called “Spanish beans”: White beans, favas, and tolosa beans, similar to red kidney beans. The nature of this recipe indicates that white beans are used.
Others will serve the same. Other types of beans may be substituted.
Spanish peas. Chickpeas.
Brown pan. A glazed earthenware vessel.
Cayenne pepper . Spiciness and a fondness for intense flavors are characteristic of Anglo-Jewish cooking; see Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, "The Kosher Gourmet in the Nineteenth-Century Kitchen: Three Jewish Cookbooks in Historical Perspective," The Journal of Gastronomy 2, no. 4 (1986/1987): 61 and 65. But while this recipe includes spices, it has no onions or garlic, the flavors that typified Central and Eastern European Jewish cooking.
Suet. Suet, the hard fat from around beef kidneys and loins, was not commonly used in European Jewish cooking, where goose fat was most frequently the cooking medium, and suet is not considered to be kosher. It is, however, very commonly used in English puddings. In her recipe for “A baked pudding of ripe fruit or apples” Levy specifies that the pudding must be prepared with chopped suet and “not melted [goose] fat.” Here the author is displaying the strong influence of English cookery on her repertoire.
Basin. A pudding basin is a deep round bowl that can be sealed with a lid or plate that allows the pudding to cook in a hot water bath, or, in this case, a pot of tsholnt. Traditionally, a kugl cooked in a tsholnt would be a savory starchy pudding wrapped in a cloth so that it would soak up the flavors of the stew as it cooked. Levy has Anglicized the traditional recipe by using English hardware (the pudding basin) instead of a pudding-cloth and flavoring the pudding with sugar and dried fruit, making a dish that is Jewish in form and English in content.
A day and a night. This dish would traditionally be cooked over the Sabbath, beginning on Friday afternoon, so that a hot meal would be ready Saturday, when cooking was not permitted. The author is assuming that the users of this recipe will understand that this is a Sabbath dish.
Sauce. This recipe does not recommend a specific sauce but a very similar recipe, “A Rich (Pureem) Pudding—(Feast of Esther)” calls for a sauce made with beaten eggs emulsified with wine and lemon.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. "The Kosher Gourmet in the Nineteenth-Century Kitchen: Three Jewish Cookbooks in Historical Perspective." The Journal of Gastronomy 2, no. 4 (1986/1987): 51-89.

Levy, Esther. Jewish Cookery Book, on Principles of Economy, Adapted for Jewish Housekeepers, with the Addition of Many Useful Medicinal Recipes, and Other Valuable Information, Relative to Housekeeping and Domestic Management. Philadelphia,: W. S. Turner, 1871.

Montefiore, Judith Cohen, and Chaim Raphael. The Jewish Manual, or, Practical Information in Jewish & Modern Cookery: With a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette. New York: NightinGale Books, 1983.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Drink vodka, save the world

Or help the world out a little, anyway. I have donated a bottle of Absolut vodka in which an exquisitely lush and fragrant Buddha’s Hand Citron has been steeped to the raffle Pim has graciously arranged for food earthquake relief in South Asia. This week food bloggers will donate all manners of goodies to Menu for Hope II. Read details here, or just rush to donate here. At the donation site you can select any prize you wish.

Believe me, you do not want to miss this vodka. It came out beautifully—very smooth and dazzlingly citrusy.

Cookbook challenge: la cuisine est un jeu d'enfants

My very first cookbook must have been La Cuisine est un Jeu d’enfants by Michel Oliver, a gift from my Venerable Mother. I think I must have been about seven when I first read this book, and I have returned to it again and again over the years. I noticed the dedication “a mon père Raymond Oliver avec toute mon admiration” for the first time only this week, when I got the book out to respond to the cookbook challenge from Alicat and Sara.
I think this may be the best cookbook intended for children I’ve ever used (I do remain a fan of Mollie Katzen’s children’s books as well). There is nothing silly or repulsive in this book that a fully-grown person wouldn’t want to prepare. There are recipes for some pretty complicated dishes, including soufflé and custards baked in a water-bath, but all the instructions are clear and gorgeously illustrated. The ingredient list is shown in pictures along the left-hand margin of each recipe. There is one picture of a plucked chicken in a bathing suit, accompanying the recipe for Poulet au sel, that terrifies me as much today as it did thirty-three years ago, but other than that, I find I want to try almost everything.

My favorite section remains the chapter on salads. I chose to prepare this salad called “Oronges” (mushrooms) (Not "oranges"as my spelling software is trying to insist). We make clever little mimetic mushrooms out of stuffed eggs and tomatoes. They are easy and delicious. I left out the anchovies (but I do love those little squiggles the signify anchovies in the margin!).

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Ladies' Auxiliary to Temple de Hirsch Famous Cookbook Seattle 1925

On a bed of shredded lettuce, put a slice of tomato, heart of artichoke; put on crab legs, shrimps, or lobster. Over all pour Thousand Island dressing. Garnish with riced egg.
Mrs. S. Aronson

Olympia Salad is a typical recipe from The Ladies’ Auxilliary to Temple de Hirsch Famous Cook Book. It is a very fancy dish. Each serving must be constructed separately, the ingredients are expensive, and the instructions do not include the preparation of the artichoke heart and Thousand Island dressing, which would have been handled, it is assumed, by the household help. It is also treyf, or unkosher, as are many of the recipes submitted to this synagogue community cookbook of 1925. I first saw a copy of the Famous Cook Book only recently, but I first read about this astonishing salad many years earlier in a remarkable book by Mary McCarthy called Memories of a Catholic Girlhood.

Mrs. S. Aronson, in fact, is Mary’s Aunt Eva, the stately and imperturbable older sister of her Jewish grandmother, Augusta Preston, one of the countless outlandish relatives presented in Memories. McCarthy tells the story of her childhood with recipes, along with a digression about the Gallic wars, and vivid portraits of the grownups who acted as her guardians after the premature deaths of her parents.

McCarthy’s grandparents fall into three very clear groups: the petty and mean McCarthys, who are not merely indifferent to beauty, but actively hated anything beautiful, their gorgeous daughter-in-law, McCarthy’s mother, included; the upright, dignified, and correct Presbyterian Harold Preston, whose name was a byword for honesty, as McCarthy tells us three times, among all who knew him; and the lavish and sensuous Jewish Augusta Morgenstern Preston, the most beautiful woman in Seattle, the real star of the book and the most extraordinary character in all of American letters. The grandparents fall into stereotypical categories, but they are by no means stereotypical characters. Each portrait is very real and distinct; so much so that the characters are almost incredible. McCarthy herself comments that if the book were work of fiction rather than a memoir, she would have had to explain her McCarthy grandmother to make her believable. Other grownups who play a role in the McCarthy children’s upbringing are the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, who "like all truly intellectual women, were romantic desperadoes," and a great aunt and uncle on the McCarthy side, the Schreibers, whose cruelty and stupidity are nearly bottomless.

The descriptions of food are what make differences between the McCarthy, Schreiber, and Preston homes not just the work of a memoirist but of a genius. Here is the section on mealtime chéz Schreiber:

We had prunes every day for breakfast, and cornmeal mush, Wheatena, or Farina, which I had plain, since by some medical whim it had been decided that milk was bad for me. The rest of our day’s menu consisted of parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage, onions, Swiss chard, kale and so on; most green vegetables, apparently, were too dear to be appropriate for us, though I think that, beyond this, the family had a sort of moral affinity for the root vegetable, stemming perhaps from everything fibrous, tenacious, watery, and knobby in the Irish peasant stock. Our desserts were rice pudding, Farina pudding, overcooked custard with little air holes in it, prunes, stewed red plums, rhubarb, stewed pears, stewed dried peaches. We must have had meat, but I have only the most in distinct recollection of pale lamb stews in which the carrots outnumbered the pieces of white, fatty meat and bone and gristle; certainly we did not have steak or roasts or turkey or fried chicken, but perhaps an occasional boiled fowl was served to us with its vegetables (for I do remember the neck, shrunken in its collar of puckered skin, coming to me as my portion, and the fact that if you sucked on it, you could draw out an edible white cord), and doubtless there was a meatloaf and beef stew. There was no ice cream, cake, pie, or butter, but on rare mornings we had johnnycake or large wooly pancakes with Karo syrup.

The house had no "dust catchers," that is, no toys and no kind of art or decoration. I should note here that the McCarthy's were not poor. They were one of the richest families in town. The children’s menus were chosen for ideological correctness, not need. The home of the McCarthy grandparents was less barren. Catholic art and Italian scenes (which were Catholic via "regional infusion from the Pope") were tolerated and the food was not quite so wretched:

For all her harsh views, my grandmother was a practical woman and would not have thought it worth while to unsettle her whole schedule, teach her cook to make lumpy mush and watery boiled potatoes . . . in order to approximates the conditions she thought suitable for our characters. Humble pie could be costly, especially when cooked to order.

When she was eleven, McCarthy was rescued by her maternal grandparents and taken to her hometown of Seattle. In Seattle, Mary attended Catholic boarding school, and on the weekend, tagged along with her grandmother, and sometimes one or both of her aunts, the queenly but dim Aunt Eva Aronson, and the Bohemian intellectual Aunt Rosie Gottstein. The three Morgenstern sisters probably provide a good cross-section of the reform German Jewish community of Seattle in the teens and twenties. One of the revelations of the book is that what must have still been the frontier town of Seattle had a real and very sophisticated high society, and that it was Jewish. Aunt Rosie was middle class, "poor, compared to her sisters." The living room of her small apartment was "lined with signed photographs of opera stars," but the room needed painting. Aunt Eva, on the other hand, was part of the "hard, smart set" in Jewish society that traveled and gambled for high stakes. Augusta Preston herself, of course, had married into the upper crust, but took part in neither Jewish nor Protestant social events. Her amusements, shopping, dressing, gardening, and eating, were solitary pleasures. One of the most brilliant points in this sparkling gem of a memoir is that McCarthy uses her aunts’ recipes to illustrate the gap in their social standing.

The cookbook of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Temple de Hirsch . . . has many recipes contributed by Mrs. M. A. Gottstein. Her chicken stewed with noodles, hamburger and tomatoes, and rhubarb pie are quite unlike the recipes contributed by Mrs. S. Aronson . . . which begin with directions like this: "taken nice pair of sweetbreads, at a cup of butter, a glass of good cream, sherry, and some foie gras." Or her recipe for baked oysters: "pour over each caviar and cream and dot with bits of butter. Serve hot."

The Famous Cook Book has no recipes contributed by Mrs. H. Preston, but we get a good idea of what meals were like in her home:

"Take a spring chicken," many of her recipes began, and the phrase often salted her conversation. "She's no spring chicken," she would say of another woman. Baby beets, new potatoes, young asparagus, embryonic string beans, tiny Olympia oysters, tiny curling shrimps, lactary ears of corn. . . our food was almost too choice, unseemly for daily use. The specialties our table were like those of a very good hotel or club: Olympia oyster cocktail and deviled Dungeness crab; a salad, served as a first course, that started with a thick slice of tomato on which was balanced and artichoke heart containing crab meat, which in turn was covered with thousand Island dressing and sprinkled with riced egg yolk; a young salmon served in a sherry sauce with oysters and little shrimps; eggs stuffed with chicken livers. We ate this company food every day; every meal was a surprise, aimed to please some member of the family, as though we were invalids who had to be "tempted". On Sundays, ice cream, turned by the gardener in the freezer on the back porch, was chosen to suit me; we had strawberry (our own strawberries), peach, peppermint (made from crushed candy canes), and the one I was always begging for -- bisque (224)

The Famous Cook Book offers no clue as to what bisque ice cream may have been, but it is in an inestimable source of information about the Jewish community of Seattle in the twenties. Unlike other treyf cookbooks of the era such as Aunt Babette’s Cookbook, discussed in Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's essay Kitchen Judaism, the Famous Cook Book does not make any distinction between recipes that are kosher and those that are treyf, nor does it offer any possible substitutes for cooks who might wish to adapt the recipes for kosher kitchen. It does on the other hand include the note that "where liquor is mentioned in recipes, substitutes may be used."

The cookbook must have looked a very beautiful when new. With its white leatherette cover and gold gothic lettering on the front, it looks almost like a bride's bible, and it must have been given, along with or instead of a white bible, as a wedding gift or confirmation gift to many Seattle maidens. In addition to 400 pages of recipes, the cookbook includes a section on care for the sick (recipes for flaxseed tea and raw beef are in this section, and a recipe for sweetened boiled milk with wine) and a section of household hints, which include care instructions for ermine (rub with cornmeal, renewing meal is it becomes soiled), white silk stockings (put a teaspoon of turpentine in the rinsing water), and ivory handled knives (keep away from hot water). Augusta Preston, we learn, had an ivory handled revolver. There are dozens of pages in of advertisements from local merchants and businesses, many of them non-Jewish. These include ads for shoes, hats, and corsets, as well as food products. The women of the de Hirsch community must have been seen as a valuable target group for advertisers.

The recipes in the Famous Cook Book, like those in any community cookbook, are of inconsistent style and quality. Nonetheless they can be said to constitute a cuisine. For one thing, the bountiful produce of the Northwest is used to good advantage by many contributors. There are recipes which call for fresh figs, artichokes, asparagus, eggplants, and chestnuts. Second, while about half of the recipes call for some kind of seafood (another regional specialty), and there are a handful of recipes for ham, there are no recipes that call for pork or lard, which remained repellent to Jews who had shaken free of the other restrictions of kashrut (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 78). There are two very good recipes for “fish balls" [ gefilte fish] one made with halibut and salmon, and sweetened, the other made with halibut, cod, and onions, and served with a broth that has been enriched with cream and yolks. Both recipes are examples of traditional recipes adapted to take advantage of the freshest local fish. In one of the few concessions to kashrut in the book, fish and shellfish are in separate chapters. There are two recipes for matzo kloese, [matzo balls] one plain, and one with fried onions, ginger, and pepper; and also a recipe for "cracker balls," clearly an attempt to make a non-sectarian version of the Jewish favorite. A very rich flourless carrot cake (274) calls for six eggs, half a pound of sugar, half a pound of grated almonds, and half a pound of raw carrots. The recipe would be ideal for Passover, but it is not identified as a Passover recipe, no more is any other recipe in the book, not even the matzo balls.

The ladies of the Temple Hirsch loved strong vivid flavors, but one also comes away with an overwhelming sense of whiteness. All that cream and mayonnaise; all that ermine, silk, and ivory. They loved their legacy of traditional German Jewish foods, but wanted to have them separate from the Jewish rituals with which they were associated. They combine the produce of the northwest and the civilization of the old world. The sensuality of many of these recipes is in marked contrast to the fad of "food science" that gripped the east in the early decades of the last century. Here, for instance, is another recipe from the Famous Cook Book contributed by Mrs. S. Aronson.

Melt 6 tablespoons grated chocolate, add 6 cups boiling milk; when the chocolate is dissolved, add 3 tablespoons very strong clear coffee, 2 tablespoons sherry, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Sugar to taste. Serve in tea cups with [a] little whipped cream on top.

Rave on, Aunt Eva.

I am endlessly grateful to the intrepid Bonnie Slotnick who found me a copy of the Famous Cook Book. I am planning to try the flourless carrot cake this week. Here is the recipe:

Six yolks (beaten) with ½ pound sugar, beaten to a froth, ½ pound grated almonds, and ½ pound raw carrots, both weighed before grating; grated rind of 1 lemon, 6 whites beaten stiff and folded in. Place in well-buttered pan and bake in moderate oven, 40 minutes. Powdered sugar on top when cold.

I will probably toast the nuts, grind them instead of “grating” them, and maybe use half pistachios.

Aunt Babette. "Aunt Babette's" Cook Book: Foreign and Domestic Receipts for the Househould: A Valuable Collection of Receipts and Hints for the Housewife, Many of Which Are Not to Be Found Elsewhere. Cincinnati: Block Publishing and Printing Company, 1889.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. "Kitchen Judaism." In Getting Comfortable in New York: The American Jewish Home, 1880-1950, edited by Susan L Braunstein and Jenna Weissman Joselit, 75-105, 1990.

Ladies' Auxilliary to the Temple De Hirsch Famous Cook Book. Seattle, 1925.

McCarthy, Mary. Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1957.

(For more on food in the life and work of Mary McCarthy, see Eve Jochnowitz "Courageous Eating: Mary McCarthy and American Food between the Wars." In Cooks and Other People: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1995, edited by Harlan Walker, 152-57. Devon: Prospect Books, 1996.)

Facsimiles and transcripts of Aunt Babette’s cookbook, along with more than seventy other historically significant American cookbooks of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries are available at Michigan State University’s admirable Feeding America Project. It was thrilling beyond words for me to get my first look at the pages of many cookbooks I have read about for years, especially Aunt Babette’s, which has among other things a recipe for “Imitation cauliflower.” I hope very much that MSU will continue to support and expand this wonderful resource.

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