Etsy Kitchen Histories: What to Grill Today

grillingThis is a Dixie Dog

My latest Etsy article is essential a rant about the historic gender bias in grilling–with recipes!  Read it here.

Yes, it’s a pet peeve of mine — it’s gotten to the point where I threaten anyone who approaches the grill. But it’s not just personal paranoia. Do a search for “vintage barbecue” on Etsy and you will find men — cookbooks adorned with images of men grilling; photos, aprons, and even grilling utensils emblazoned with images of men. So what’s the deal? Why, historically, is cooking in the kitchen the realm of women, but grilling outdoors the realm of men?

DSCF5864The Dixie Dog is a hot dog stuffed with peanut butter and wrapped in bacon.

Events: Masters of Social Gastronomy Face the Future!

Intuitive Antipasto – New York Times

Banning pasta in Italy, pre-WW2 molecular gastronomy and high-concept dinner parties: Welcome to The Futurist Cookbook!

Published in 1932 by F.T. Marinetti, it aimed to transform everyday meals from stodgy, sleep-inducing traditions into multi-sensory, scientific experiences appropriate for the modern world.

The evening will include an interactive tasting of Futurist cuisine! Join us as we abandon silverware, caress sandpaper, and craft meat skyscrapers, all in the name of recreating the cuisine of futures past.

This month, we’re in the back room at Public Assembly. Doors at 7, talks a bit after, and bring an ID. MSG is always FREE, but PLEASE RSVP here so we bring enough samples!

Edible Alphabet and Cubist Vegetable Patch – Image courtesy

Gallery: Supermother’s Cooking with Grass Cookbook (1971)


I first spied this little beauty in the very reputable Antique Trader Collectible Cookbooks Price Guide. What grabbed my attention — other than the fact that it’s a cookbook for “grass” – is that it doesn’t just contain your run-of-the-mill pot brownie recipes.  This book contains savory comestibles that will get you high.








And in case there’s anything else you need:


You can buy your own copy on Amazon: Supermother’s Cooking With Grass

Origin of a Dish: The Toga Party

fdrFDR presiding over one of the first known “toga parties.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

After my experiment with a Greek Symposium (where we did at one point shout “Toga! Toga! Toga!”), I got curious about the origins of the modern, pseudo-Greek, fraternal Toga Parties.  And I found the photo above.

Yes. In the middle, that is indeed President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  In a toga.

FDR’s critics often compared him to a dictator, going as far as to refer to him as “Caesar”.  To poke fun at the name, his wife Eleanor threw him a “Dear Caesar” themed birthday on January 30th, 1934, his 52nd year of life.  The costume pictured on the left is from the FDR Library & Museum and was worn by a friend of the Roosevelts to the ball.  According to Henrietta Nesbitt, head of the White House housekeeping and cooking staff, the birthday cake was a fruitcake, made with dates, raisins, almonds, citron and orange peel (source).

Did Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt throw the first toga party on record?  Perhaps.

I have found one earlier reference in the novel Vile Bodies, published in 1930 (although it takes place in 1914).  The book is an account of the Bright Young Things, a group of Londoners in the early 20th century perceived as “the most glamorous, influential, self-absorbed, quasi-bohemian and overeducated creatures in existence. During their flickering moment they were adored and despised in almost equal measure. (source)”

In Vile Bodies, the protagonist Adam complains ‘Oh Nina, what a lot of parties’ and the narrator elaborates:

 …Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St John’s wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming-baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris – all that succession and repetition of massed humanity … Those vile bodies …

Were Greek-themed toga parties actually a thing in pre-war London?  I’m uncertain.

Although the idea of a college fraternity stemmed from the Greeks, togas are Roman.  So how did one become associated with the other? It’s believed to have been invented in the 1950s, but the only source is a self-referencing reference about a party at Pamona Collge in 1953. I apparently need to start doing oral histories with Pamona College alumnus (know any?).  But this lineage may be entirely made-up.  The toga party simple may have been a creation of popular culture.

The 1978 film Animal House had a famous Toga Party scene which over the next year, created a fervor for toga parties on college campuses.  Both the Washington Post and Newsweek reported on the new phenomenon and allegedly the movie’s promoters were going campus to campus throwing toga parties.  The best article I’ve found on all this comes from the Princeton Weekly newsletter, written in in the midst of the toga frenzy in 1978.  A few select quotes:

Toga is wild and crazy…Toga is an excuse to let loose.  Toga is bed-sheet chic and drapery decadence.

‘What do you think all this toga business means?” I asked.

“Nothing really. For a lot of people, it’s key to have a crazy time is all.”

My favorite part is when he describes a campus-sheet shortage due to over-zealous partiers and wary linen franchises.  Read the whole article here.

The Official Preppy Handbook, a parody published in 1980, gives this advice: “Toga party- Girls wear designer sheets, men wear the kind from the linen service.  If accompanied by a Roman-style dinner, these sheets may go home stained with red wine, though serious drinkers might switch to a grain alcohol punch around 10 o’clock. Since dancing in a toga is impossible, getting drunk is the primary activity.”  In just two years, toga parties went from the height of college fashion to passé enough to be parodied.

There are a lot of gaping holes in the story of the toga party.  The frustrating part about researching the history of alcohol is that apparently people were too drunk to remember.

Etsy Kitchen Histories: The Bimuelo Pan

familyAt the Lower East Side Tenement Museum with a photo of the historic character I portray (far right). Photo by Will Heath.

Happy Passover, everyone!  Tonight, millions of Jews are sitting down to a sumptuous meal of religious significance–and then a week of yeast-free food.

Even if you’re not Jewish, you’ll enjoy my most recent Etsy article about Bimuelos, a Pesach-friendly dessert made by Sephardic Jews, who are descended from Jews of Spain.  You’ll also get a behind the scenes look at my life as an educator at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum playing a Sephardic Jewish character. Read all about it here.

And if you are Jewish, you’re probably going to be sick of matzo by Thursday or Friday.  So allow me to recommend Manishevitts’ 1944 cookbook,
Ba’ṭam’ṭe Yidishe maykholim (Tempting Kosher Dishes).  Don’t worry, it’s in Yiddish AND English.  Need to liven up your matzo meal regime this week?  Try Pumpkin PancakesMatzo Meal Polenta, or Boston Pie.

Podcast: Monosodium Glutamate

To celebrate its one year anniversary, this month’s Masters of Social Gastronomy Podcast takes on its namesake: monosodium glutamate (MSG)! Savory spice or fatal flavor?

Sarah Lohman of Four Pounds Flour will track MSG back to its source in traditional Japanese food, showing how time and money can turned an innocuous plant into the darling of mass production

Soma will take on modern-day interpretations of MSG, from its role in “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” to its many relatives hiding in everyday foods. Science fact will be separated from science fiction as myths are deflated and truths laid bare.

BONUS TRACK! “Storytime” from the Monosodium Glutamate lecture. Soma and Sarah toast to one year of MSG talks with fish sauce diluted to the color of “honey wine.” Sarah bitches about the deception propagated by chic kitchen product “Umami Paste #5.”


You can listen to all of our podcasts here, or you can subscribe in Itunes here!

The History Dish: 1001 Sandwiches


Welcome to the world of early 20th century sandwich making, when the advent of sliced bread gave birth to a booming sandwich culture.  The first bread-slicing machine was installed in a factory in 1928; within two years, 90% of store-bought bread was factory sliced. Standardized and convenient, housewives focused their creative energies on what went in between the bread.

1001 Sandwiches, published in 1936, is the expanded edition of 700 Sandwiches written about a decade previous. To give you a sense of common of ingredients in a 1930s sandwich, here are the “ sandwich ‘makings’” author Florence Cowles advises you to keep on your emergency “sandwich shelf”:

Peanut butter, packaged cheese, potted and deviled ham, corned beef, chicken, tongue, dates, sardines, lobster, salmon, pimientos, pickles, olives, salted nuts, jams and marmalades, honey, horse-radish, mustard, bouillon cubes, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, mayonnaise and crackers.  With a good selection of these ingredients you can calmly meet any sandwich emergency which may arise.

I taste-tested four sandwich creations from this book, choosing recipes that sounded bizarre but potentially tasty.  I also subjected Jonathan Soma, co-founder of the Brooklyn Brainery, to my sandwich antics.  The recipes, and the results, are below.

Cheese and Cornflake Sandwich




This was a crunchy sandwich; definitely very auditory.  And scratchy–it really tears up the roof of your mouth.  Soma is crazy for cream cheese, so he said he would make it and eat it–he votes yaaay! I vote boo!

Potato Chip and Olive Sandwich



 I was out of mayonnaise when I assembled this sandwich, so I substituted tartar sauce.  Soma thought it looked like Thai food and tasted “like all of its ingredients individually.”  Very non-harmonious.

I liked it–it was super salty! It would fix a hangover in no-time flat.  I vote yaaay! This was my favorite overall. Soma votes boo.

Bacon and Prune Sandwich



 Soma informed me that prunes are no longer called prunes.  They’re now “dried plums.”  So this is a Bacon and Dried Plum sandwich, which sounds very sophisticated. We both agreed this was not bad–although I wouldn’t eat it willingly.  This was Soma’s favorite hands-down

Ham and Banana Sandwich



This sandwich was promptly re-named the Hamana Sandwich.

We tested these sandwiches in front of a live studio audience, and someone screamed out “It looks like someone already ate it!”

The weird part is really expected this one to be good.  It was instantly repulsive.  Soma described it as “Not the worst thing I could of had.”  I was nauseous. Horrific. Horrendous.

Taste History Today: Ray’s Candy Store Egg Creams

eggcreamsLemon-lime, mango, coffee, and strawberry egg creams.

I went on an egg cream tasting rampage with some friends from the Brooklyn Farmacy. Egg Creams are  a classic New York drink, invented somewhere on the Lower East Side  (although it’s debatable where).  The drink is made from seltzer, milk, and Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate, Vanilla or Strawberry Syrup (made in Brooklyn).  It’s best crafted at a soda fountain because the pressurized seltzer gives the drink a creamy, foamy head.  It’s sweet and refreshing and great when it’s hot (or chilly and rainy, like the day we had them).

Purists say there’s only one way to make an egg cream, but I’ve got a problem with purists.  I believe recipes are meant to change and evolve; so while an egg cream made with Fox’s Syrup is traditional, Ray’s Candy Store in the East Village changed up the old recipe by offering mango, tamarind,  lemon-lime, coffee, and strawberry egg creams, to name a few.  I liked the strawberry the best, because it reminded me of Frankenberry cereal.  I’m classy.

I’ve also made egg creams with the addition of rum or vodka, which was great.  And if you keep a careful eye on the Farmacy’s menu, you may one day see nouveau flavored egg creams pop up there, too.

UPDATE: I’ve heard many stories about where the egg cream came from, and how it got its name–what have you heard? What are you memories?  Please share in the comment below.

The Gallery: Fiery Poker Heats Up Hot Buttered Rum

Tom and Jerry, eggnog’s hot and spicy cousin, is the subject of my most recently blog post for Etsy–you can read it here.  Although the drink was invented in the 1840s, it had an inexplicable return to popularity in the 1940s.  While trying to uncover the reason, I came across this full-age add for The Rums of Puerto Rico, from LIFE magazine, February 23, 1953.

The above gathering is clearly very manly.  Below, a few cocktail suggestions using the “Greatest Winter Drink,” rum.  The full-page ad can be viewed here.

The History Dish: Automat Pumpkin Pie

A pumpkin pie with sweetened condensed milk. Can I get a hell yeah?

If you are going to be in NYC anytime in the next month, be sure to stop by the New York Public Library to catch the Lunch Hour NYC exhibit.  It’s free and cute and you’ll learn a lot of fun facts about food.

The coolest part of the exihibit is the installation of  a functional automat.  Automats were the precursors to fast food; meals were made from scratch at commissaries all around the city, then shipped to the automat restaurants.  The food was placed behind little windows, and after dropping a few coins in a slot, you could open the doors and retrieve you treats.  A new automat opened, and closed, on St. Mark’s street a few years ago.

Horn & Hardart, the company that innovated the automat concept, was just as well known for the quality of their food as their unique way of delivering it.  At the Lunch Hour exhibit, you can play with their automat machine, opening the doors and such.  You won’t find any mac and cheese or baked beans inside, however–but they did thoughtfully include recipes of all the restaurant’s most famous dishes.

Horn and Hardart’s automat, from Lunch Hour NYC.

One of the recipes I grabbed when I visited was Hron & Hardart’s recipe for pumpkin pie.  I had a pie pumpkin hanging out in my kitchen; it had been a Halloween decoration, and I decided it was time for it to go to a better place.  Inside me.  I roasted it, which is an easy way to process pumpkin–see how here.  I also made a crust from scratch from this recipe, which is my go to pie crust.

The filling was easy to mix up and the pie doesn’t bake for long.  The recipe tells you “Insert a silver knife into the filling about one inch from the side of the pan.  If the knife comes out clean, the filling is done.”   I’ve never read pumpkin pie instructions so specific–a silver knife?  Using this method, the center comes out underdone and extremely creamy.  I’m not sure if I liked it though, being used to a firmer pie.

But the wildest thing about this pie is I realized I made a HUGE mistake when I baked it that turned out to be wonderful.  I only just now noticed that the recipe calls for evaporated milk NOT sweetened condensed milk, which is what I used.  But holy moly, have you ever made a pumpkin pie with sweetened condensed milk?  It’s astounding.  The caramel-ee flavor of the sweetened condensed milk really comes through in the final product.  Creamy, burnty sugary, pumpkin…awesome.

God pumpkin pie is great.  Why don’t we make it year round?  I guess something about it just doesn’t feel right in the summertime.