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Shrubs and Syllabub: Colonial Desserts Take the Edge of Summer Heat!

July 9, 2010

Okay, 105 degree heat demands more than a meal of calf’s heart–another recipe in Mary Randolph’s Virginia Housewife cookbook of 1824.  Or actually, I should say that it demands less than a calf’s heart.  When it is as hot as it was when I visited Colonial Williamsburg a couple of weeks ago, you really want to stick your face in something icy.  Something icy with a little booze is even better.

The King’s Arms Tavern, a tourist favorite at CW, offers about two of the tastiest things I’ve eaten in summer in a long time.  The first is the “Shrub,” pictured above.  The Berry Shrub, left, is described on the menu as frosted cranberry juice and raspberry sorbet.  The Fruit Shrub, pictured right, is frosted Tropical Fruit Juice and Lemon Sorbet.  Boy, are these tasty after trolloping around like a tourist through steamy kitchen gardens.  If a visit to the King’s Arms Tavern is not forthcoming, may I recommend making these delights at home while your husband dons a tri-corner hat and waxes violent objections to King George and the great tyranny!  Huzzah!  Best to make him wear the Colonial Breeches, too, in the name of authenticity.  He may object, but wave a Shrub in his face and he will relent!

Now Syllabub is where the boozy desserts come in.  This is a lovely Colonial treat, not nearly as nasty sounding as the above Calf’s heart.  This one is actually worth trying to make at home, although I also tasted it at the King’s Arms Tavern.  The recipe I tasted at the King’s Arms tastes more closely related to this modern recipe for Lemon Syllabub than for the concoction described in The Virginia Housewife, which calls for milk seasoned with sugar and white whine, “but not enough to curdle it; fill glasses nearly full, and crown them with whipt cream seasoned.”  Another Virginia Housewife recipe builds on this and calls for the addition of raspberry or strawberry marmalade to flavor and color the syllabub–which it may be presumed as more regularly in stock in an early American Virginia pantry than a host of lemons.  Also, small slices of cake may also be floated on the Syllabub, and again, garnished with mint or another dollop of light cream.  I normally don’t like to mix milk and alcohol; however, if it is cold and creamy enough, and it is the aforementioned 105 degrees, I say load in the cold milk and alcohol, and my stomach can battle the curdling internally.  Mmm, mmmm…

Really Vintage Food–I’m Talkin’ Thomas Jefferson Vintage!

June 15, 2010

Okay, let’s go deep vintage food. Let’s look at the guy who tried to grow so many of our first stabs at exotic veggies–Thomas Jefferson.  He took on tomatoes, eggplants, and artichokes before they were hip.  He was no locavore, asking Lewis and Clark to bring back plants from the Louisiana purchase. Purportedly, various dignitaries of other nations vied to offer the most unusual and rare plants to his gardens.  Here, we have an enthusiast of the exotic;  Thomas Jefferson’s gardens cannot be overlooked in their influence on American cuisine, if only, at the very least, when they trickled on into his cousin’s early American cookbook. A documentation of new Virginia cuisine, “The Virginia Housewife,” by Mary Randolph, appeared in print in 1824, with some actual recipes developed at Monticello by Jefferson–reportedly an early “fusion food” enthusiast, as well, with his pairing of French and Virginia eating traditions.  An early gumbo is listed therein, although my current gumbos tend to lack veal knuckles.  What a shame.

I’m here studying Monticello’s gardens and the landscapes at the University of Virginia as part of the Historic Landscape Institute, which is pretty darn cool.  In the photo above, we see the kitchen garden, or vegetable garden, with the bean arbor just to the south of the garden pavilion.  The cool thing is that Jefferson liked to attempt to grow just about anything.  Which really means that there are some strange things in the historic gardens of Monticello.  Or at least things that were more exotic than those veggies the slaves grew in their own, separate plots at their homes on the plantation (which it is documented that they sometimes sold to the Jefferson household.  Stick it to the man, I say!).   Let us not discuss Jefferson’s elaborate garden accomplishments without acknowledging the real sweat equity of the slaves who tended the terraced gardens–I mean, no one imagines a 6’2″ white dude circa 1800 out in this Virginia heat lugging dirt from one section of the yard to another to create the beautiful terraces that we enjoy, do they?  Monticello presents a complicated legacy, and the organization tries to do right by addressing these issues, while still honoring the man at the heart of the Monticello story.  It may be up to each individual visitor to decide how well that is accomplished.

Yet, in the realm of strange vegetables, how many people have grown Sea Kale?  As a New Englander, I’m entirely unfamiliar with it.  However, Jefferson grew it, and employed specially made clay pots which were placed over the growing plants, where they were “blanched” in place, and cut when they were sufficiently white with a taste that would be reputedly asparagus-like.  Blanching in a covered pot prevents small plants from producing chlorophyll, and thus keeps them tender and less bitter.  Historically so, but not very tasty according to those I’ve found who’ve eaten the darn thing.

Therefore, let us consider the real vintage food–when tomatoes were scarce and the three sisters of corn, squash, and potatoes were culinary staples.  I think limited choice can sometimes be a good thing.

More from the Historic Landscape Institute 2010 coming soon…Meanwhile, please enjoy  some of Jefferson’s lovely hops.

Green Goddess Salad–I’ll take the Peasant Salad, if it’s okay with you…

June 1, 2010


This salad really doesn’t sound too bad. But the picture does so little to help its cause.  As it is summer, and since I’ll be having Salad Monday on Tuesday, due to Memorial Day and attributable excesses, I thought I’d throw out something slightly reasonable.  However, don’t blame me when you realize how much one CUP of mayonnaise and 6 anchovy fillets do to the health value a lovely salad.  I’m no vegan, but I think healthier alternatives of the Green Goddess variety are in cyber-abundance, and perhaps, like traditional fried chicken made with lard vs. chicken fried in Canola Oil, this sparsely vegetated, salty, fatty Green Goddess salad should best be saved for a special occasion.  Like your father’s return from open heart surgery, or some similarly notable event.

Have at it!

John Dough-Creepier than the Pillsbury Dough Boy?

May 19, 2010

John Dough raises his chunky, unyielding baguette arm high above him in defiance: Fleischmann’s Yeast now!  The physics of such an act need not register here–let us just assume this bread man can raise a large, heavy box of yeast.   His vague smile and haunting, shadow eyes recall the Shroud of Turin. His ample belly shows just how puffy Fleischmann’s yeast can make your bread.

Yet does John Dough cross the mascot line from cute to frightening?  He reminds me of the antique chef kitchen string holder my mother received from her English grandmother, and hung above the laundry machines–leaving me afraid to reach for clean underwear these many years.  A tentative border exists between what lies in the realm of quaint, and what lies in the realm of “belongs in the creepiest attic of your creepiest relative,” perhaps the old lady who smells of moth balls and bay leaves.

More recipes to come from this cookbook, however, John Dough first inspired me.  Do you agree?  Cute, or frightening?

Source: Fleischmann’s Excellent Recipes for Baking Raised Breads.  The Fleischmann Company: 1916.

Mountain Brew Beer Ice–A Micro-Macro-Brew!!!

May 17, 2010

It occurs to me that I’ve been shirking the “fresh wine” portion of this blog, so I have an offering:  Mountain Brew Ice!  Let’s get over this little lapse in judgement with a fine beer, shall we?  And, at only $2.99 a sixer, we should be able to discuss this affordably, don’t you think?

Stewart’s Shops, ubiquitous providers of ice cream and cream soda in upstate NY, have added a new beverage to their convenience/ice cream stores–cheap beer!  Brewed as a contract beer by Genesee Beer company, this brings me back to my young college days–Oh, Genny Light!  Oh, the fine and silky Genny Cream Ale!  According to their web site, Genessee is the largest independently owned beer company in the United States, and has been brewing since 1878.  While Sam Adams still calls itself a micro brew (although everyone pretty much accepts that they are a huge brand) Genessee still makes macro brew style beer on a micro level, exemplified by our fine Mountain Brew Beer Ice, found exclusively at Stewart’s.

My friends and I had a saying in college as Syracuse Orangewomen: This beer goes down smooth and takes the skin with it!  Mountain Brew Ice carries on that tradition.  So here’s to you, cheap American Beer!  This beer counts as both Vintage Food and Fresh…Beer.

If you happen to pick up a sixer, please enjoy the very simple graphics, as if this can were designed by your local parks & rec department as a companion to its summer newsletter:  This summer, learn to make a gods-eye in arts & crafts, while sipping on our very own Mountain Brew Beer Ice…

New Perfection Cookbook–Substitutes for Meat!

April 29, 2010

More recipes from the New Perfection Cook Book, ca 1915...

Whoa is the vegetarian in the early part of the twentieth century.  There are five recipes under the heading “subtitutes for meat.”  Only one clearly fits the bill as something we may enjoy today as a vegetarian meal…The other ones are just a little bit…mmm..boring?  Slightly gross?

Take “Pimento and Cheese Roast” for example…Lima beans, cream cheese, and canned pimentos covered in bread crumbs and baked.  Why do meat substitutes have to mean flavor substitutes?  Similarly, “Peanut and Lentil Roast” probably leaves even the most devout vegetarian longing for some bacon flavor.

Likely, the derivation of these recipes comes more from an economic standpoint and lack of available meat than ethical points (such as Meatless Monday) or standards of taste.  However, as far as meatless meals are concerned…I think other cultures do it a lot better than us–phone out for a curry, anyone?

Source: New Perfection Cook Book, for New Direction Oil Cook Stoves, ca. 1915.

Cookbook Throwback–New Perfection Oil Cook Stoves

April 28, 2010

Never use gasoline! So reads the interior cover page.  This turn of the twentieth century cook book may have been a sales promotion, as 23 pages are devoted to the fine attributes of a kerosene cook stove and it’s “long blue chimneys” before laying out any recipes.  With instructional pages devoted to filling the glass reservoirs, lighting the burners, character of the flames, proper assembly of the burners, cleaning the wick, and correcting kerosene leaks, one has to wonder whether this kerosene cook stove provided much of an improvement over a wood cook stove.

However, the cook book does offer some interesting and fun tips, from “Miss Nellie L. McCann, Gorham, Maine, a New England Domestic Science Expert.”  Readers are advised to lay aside all other recipes, as this book will offer all that one needs.

This is not Nellie’s first cream cake.

Here’s a recipe you don’t see too much any more:

Smothered Sausages

Prick pork or veal sausages and place in casserole or covered pan.

Cover with mashed potatoes; cover potatoes with an egg well beaten.

Cover egg with fine bread crumbs.

Bake 30 minutes on high flame*

*remember, here we are cooking with kerosene.  I imagine 425 or so would do.

I like this recipe.  It fits my April 28th, 16 inches of snow today in New England kind of mood.  So forget that tomorrow you may be ridding your wardrobe of sweaters, and today, may I suggest smothering some sausages?

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