Archive for the ‘Culinary History’ Category

The movie Julie and Julia will be released this week in theaters nationwide. Directed by Nora Ephron, it is a fascinating tale of two women – one is the culinary icon Julia Child and the other a New York blogger named Julie Powell. The two women never met – yet cooking became the thread that tangled their lives together in a most unexpected way.



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In February, I attended a winter board meeting for Les Dames d’Escoffier in Washington D.C. The evening we arrived, a lovely dinner was hosted in Georgetown at the home of a local Dame, who prepared a fabulous Persian meal.  





The hostess was Najmieh Batmanglij. It was an extraordinary meal and Najmieh was no ordinary cook.  She is a noted culinary historian, chef and teacher, whose cookbooks have established her as a leading authority of Iranian cuisine. Her cookbooks include New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies; Persian Cooking for a Healthy Kitchen; Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey (hailed by the New York Times) and From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian Table.  



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Author Robert Pelton



Happy Thanksgiving! My last post, Pilgrims, Pumpkins and Plymouth, brought to mind the wonderful historical cookbooks of Tennesee author Robert W. Pelton who is married to Dr. Kristie Lynn. Dr. Lynn practices medicine in the mental health field and is also an expert in the arena of historical cookery. Last summer I had the privilege of meeting the couple at a family gathering. Keep reading to learn more about Pelton’s cookbooks. You will also find several recipes.


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“No man can be a patriot on an empty stomach.”

William Cowper Brann – 1855-1898

To fully appreciate America’s indigenous cuisine, it is necessary to step back in time and taste the heritage dishes from our past. During a food seminar in Philadelphia this year, I enjoyed a memorable evening at the historic City Tavern, which is under the auspices of Independence National Historic Park. The event was a living history lesson that provided insight into the life and dining habits of many Colonial Americans including the Founding Fathers. Ben Franklin even appeared on the scene to entertain guests with his wit and humor. Philadelphia has a cast of Colonial Characters who bring the city’s history to life.

The elegant City Tavern, modeled after London’s best, was built in 1773 by 53 prominent Philadelphia businessmen (including several Declaration of Independence signers), who sold shares to subscribers. Also called the Merchants’ Coffee House, it was considered the finest establishment of its kind in the colonies.

In a way, the fine food and spirits provided by the tavern were the fuel that helped our founding fathers conduct some of the country’s most important business, such as creating the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Paul Revere were regulars, making it the hub of the political, social and business world.

Upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1774 to attend the First Continental Congress, Adams remarked that City Tavern was, “the most genteel tavern in America.” When the Second Continental Congress convened on Saturday afternoon, eight members, including Washington, regularly dined at the tavern at a large table reserved for their use. John Nixon read the Declaration of Independence in public for the first time at City Tavern.

Before traveling to New York City to take the oath of office, George Washington held an inaugural celebration at the tavern on April 20, 1789, with 250 Philadelphians in attendance. Adams and Jefferson often met to enjoy “a feast of reason and a flow of the soul.” Even the British came to party during their occupation of the city.

All manner of activities took place within the tavern’s walls. In the front “Subscription Room,” one could read the latest international newspapers and ships’ manifests. In the area of the Bar and Coffee Room, patrons drank coffee (and stronger drink) while discussing ship movements and perhaps buying and selling stocks and ship’s cargos. In other rooms, patrons could visit hear a concert, join the Philadelphia Dancing Assembly, attend social organizations, engage in a heated political discussion, find overnight lodging or dine on an amazing array of native and imported foods.

At the time, Philadelphia was the largest city in the New World. Immigrants arrived regularly at the busy nearby port, bring their culinary traditions and native foods. Ship cargos included fine fruits from Europe and Jamaica and spices from the Spice Islands. Tavern diners also enjoyed fish and oysters from the Delaware River and fine natural foods grown in the rich surrounding farmland. Wild game was also abundant.

Sadly the tavern was demolished in 1854, a few years after being damaged by fire. The US Department of the Interior, authorized by the Truman Administration, began a careful, authentic restoration of the landmark, which was completed in 1976, in time for the country’s bicentennial celebration.

Today the tavern is a restaurant run by noted Chef Walter Staib, of German and Burgundian lineage. Staib (with Beth D’Addono) authored a cookbook called, City Tavern Cookbook- 200 years of Classic Recipes From America’s First Gourmet Restaurant.

Chef Staib’s philosophy for the Tavern is “from the farm to the table, as fresh as possible.” In the book, he strived to preserve the authentic nature of the colonial recipes, but in some cases, “had to adapt some to modern tastes and equipment.” Some of the mouthwatering recipes list numerous ingredients and require steps and sauces that require the cook’s commitment. Portion sizes are generous in the book and may feed more than the suggested amount. The recipes offer a taste of history, featuring native Colonial ingredients and others that arrived at Philadelphia’s thriving port.

During his tenure, Staib has commissioned reproduction of the original china’s decorative rim, the colonial-size silverware and Madeira glasses from the same firm that produced hand-blown crystal for Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello table.

In the book’s forward, John Mariani writes that it is inaccurate to say “American gastronomy is so much younger than those of Europe and Asia, for it was the Americas that gave the world so many of those ingredients that help to define what we think of European and Asian food.”

Mariani continues, “What would India’s or Thailand’s food be without the chili pepper What would Europe do without the potato What would Italian cooking be without the tomato Corn and chocolate, world staples, didn’t exist outside of the Americas before 1492.”

The Tavern’s beers and ales are currently custom-brewed by a local microbrewery, free of preservatives and served in traditional 20-ounce British pints. The Tavern also serves colonial shrubs, produced in the original manner. Staib’s recipes are faithfully recreated from dishes that reflect the tastes of our Founding Fathers.

The colonials who visited City Tavern dined on wild game, dried fruits, seafood, chowders, puddings and pies. Today, the restaurant serves dishes like Giant Cornmeal Fried Oysters, Tavern Lobster Pie, and Martha Washington Style Colonial Turkey Pot Pie, Medallions of Venison, Hot Cider, West Indies Pepperpot Soup and Artichoke & Smoked Chicken Salad. For a taste of Walter Staib’s cuisine, read the post, Colonial Recipes-A Bite of American History.

Photos C. Susan Slack

Read Allison Askin’s article in the State Newspaper Wednesday, December 6th on holiday appetizers.


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12993-B386477D-ACB8-40AA-99DC-B4B73E663D7C.jpg Appetizers were not served in Colonial America as they are today. Chef Walter Staib, author of the ‘City Tavern Cookbook- 200 years of Classic Recipes From America’s First Gourmet Restaurant,’ explains that meals were organized as “first plates” and “second plates.” First plates included appetizers, salads and soups. The ‘first plate’ foods were carried to the table in bowls and platters simultaneously and served family-style. The mouthwatering recipe for Cornmeal Fried Oysters with Pickapeppa Remoulade would make a tasty appetizer during the holiday season. Stay warm with a mug of the brandy-laced Hot Cider. Don’t forget Santa! He might like some with a slice of the moist, delicious Chocolate-Almond Swirl Bread.

Cornmeal Fried Oysters with Pickapeppa Remoulade ~

Fried Oysters (serves 4 to 6)

1-1/2 cups yellow cornmeal, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 4 eggs – lightly beaten, 24 extra-large Bluepoint oysters – shucked, 4 cups (1-quart) vegetable oil for frying

Pickapeppa Remoulade (2 cups sauce)

Pickapeppa is made from a variety of tropical fruits and spices from all over the world. It is a commercially prepared West Indies condiment, aged in oak barrels one year.

1/4 cup chopped kosher dill pickles, 1/4 cup chopped yellow onions, 1-3/4 cups homemade mayonnaise (or quality store-bought mayonnaise), 1 tablespoon Pickapeppa Sauce, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, 2 lemons – each cut into 4 or 6 wedges, for garnish

1. Prepare Fried Oysters. Place the cornmeal, flour and eggs in separate dishes. Dip each oyster, first into the flour, then the egg, then the cornmeal to evenly coat.

2. Place the coated oysters on a baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to fry.

3. Pour the oil into a deep-fat fryer or 4-quart heavy saucepan. Heat the oil over high heat to 350 degrees F (if you drop a small amount of the cornmeal mixture into the oil and it sizzles, it’s hot enough.) To prevent the coated oysters from sticking together, carefully drop them into the heated oil one at a time.

4. Fry the oysters, a few at a time, for 2 minutes, until golden. Using a slotted spoon, remove the oysters from the oil and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

5. Prepare the Pickapeppa Remoulade: In a food processor bowl, puree the pickles and onions.

6. Transfer the puree to a medium mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix well.

7. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Will keep for up to 3 days.

8. To serve, arrange oysters on individual plates and serve with the sauce. 9. Garnish with lemon wedges.

During my visit to the Tavern, I tasted many special brews as prepared by our Founding Fathers. One was the Tavern’s 1774 Beer based on a recipe penned by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. Another was the City Tavern’s George Washington Ale based on the President’s own personal recipe for beer. Madeira was a top favorite at City Tavern along with Jamaican rum, French brandy and English whiskey. Fresh apple cider was often married to West Indian spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Hot Cider was a popular beverage in the wintertime, also valued for its ability to warm one’s hands while holding the cup.

Hot Cider ( Makes 18 ounces or 2 servings)

2 cups fresh apple cider, 2 sticks cinnamon, 1/4 cup applejack brandy or Jamaican rum

1. In a medium saucepan, bring cider to a simmer over high heat.

2. Add the cinnamon sticks and simmer about 5 minutes to infuse the flavor on cinnamon into the liquid. Remove from heat.

3. Stir in brandy or rum.

4. Serve hot in cups or mugs.

Chocolate-Almond Swirl Bread~

Thomas Jefferson developed a passion for chocolate. He cultivated a taste for it in Europe where it had become fashionable as early as 1657. As stated in Chocolate: An Illustrated History, Jefferson predicted in the late 1750’s that “the superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.” Jefferson was wise beyond his time!

3 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces (1/2 cup), 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter – at room temperature, 1 cup homemade almond paste OR 10-1/2 ounces purchased almond paste,* 6 large eggs, 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, sifted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat one 8-1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2-1/2 inch loaf pan with vegetable cooking spray.

2. In a small dry bowl set over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate. Reserve.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and almond paste on medium, until light and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

5. Add the flour and stir just until moistened.

6. Fold about 1/3 of the batter into the melted chocolate.

7. Pour the plain batter into the prepared pan. Spoon the chocolate batter over the top. Gently swirl the batter to marble.

8. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the loaf is firm on top and pulls away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

9. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. To remove bread, flip pan on its side and gently pull out bread. Slice and serve. Makes one 8-inch loaf *

The recipe calls for homemade almond paste but also recommends using purchased almond paste. To read about the City Tavern and Chef Walter Staib, read the post, Philadelphia Feast: Dining at America’s First Gourmet Restaurant.

Photos (C.) Susan Fuller Slack ]]>

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