A Coffin Filled with Pepper

This is what black pepper looks like just after it’s harvested. Who knew?

There is the gradeschool myth that Far East spices, including pepper, were used to cover the taste of rotting meat. But recent scholarship suggests that if a family could afford spices from the Far East, they could also afford freshly slaughtered meat–which logically, makes sense.

However, the old legend may not have been entirely wrong, just misinterpreted. A 1998 study by Cornell showed that black pepper, as well as many other spices, have antimicrobial qualities. Ground white and black pepper kill up 25% of bacteria they come in contact with, although pepper doesn’t hold a candle to garlic, onion, allspice and oregano, which kill 100% of bacteria. So, perhaps meats of the Middle Ages weren’t highly spiced to hide the flavor of rotten meat, but to actually stop the meat from rotting.

Pepper, therefore, acts as a preservative by keeping microorganisms at bay. Early Americans seemed to be aware of pepper’s preservative properties. There’s a bizarre story recounted in the 1949 book Pepper and Pirates of a seafaring man who died far from home in the early 19th century, and he “was shipped back to Salem in a coffin filled with pepper.” Apparently, his body made it back little worse for the wear.

Make Love and Get Arrested

Charles Bergengren accepts the Viktor Shreckengost Teaching Award at CIA’s 2012 Commencement. Skip to 2:20 for the start of Charlie’s speech.

That’s the advice professor Charles Bergengren gave students on commencement day 2012 at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

That’s my alma mater, and Charlie is my old professor.  He passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly just two months after giving this speech. In the void of his absence, I realized just how much he has influenced me as an artist.  As an expert in folklore and vernacular art, he’s the one that made me think of food as art for the first time.  I did my first piece of culinary historical writing for him.  He advised my thesis work and inspired me to walk 500 miles across Spain after I graduated.

I miss him.

Watch this video (skip to minute 2:20 for the start of Charlie’s speech).  In five minutes, he’ll make you a better researcher.  And he may even inspire you to do something radical.


Podcasts: MSG Gets the Jigglies & Wigglies

The Masters of Social Gastronomy podcast talks the science and history of GELATIN!

Sarah will discuss the origins of gelatinous desserts, starting long ago when jiggly delights were made with drippings from beef stew or extracts from the swimbladders of sturgeon. Then she’ll take on that modern wonder: Jell-O! She’ll explore the greatest atrocities and wildest successes of the 20th century Jell-O mold. From 19th-century “Punch Jelly,” to 20th-century “Jell-O Sea Dream with Shrimps” you will hear about gelatin both beautiful and horrible.

Then, Soma will untangle the science of gelatin and its kin, introducing a few lesser-known relatives along the way. How’d we get the wiggle in those jigglers? Find out where killer bacteria and Jell-O meet on the other side, and dive into the amazing world of edible dishware. Stretch the boundaries of reality through an introduction to counterfeit Chinese eggs and the fancy-pants world of molecular gastronomy.

You can subscribe to the MSG podcast via ITUNES here.

Read More!

JELL-O: A Biography

Hello, Jell-O!: 50+ Inventive Recipes for Gelatin Treats and Jiggly Sweets

Jelly Shot Test Kitchen: Jell-ing Classic Cocktails-One Drink at a Time

Origin of a Dish: The Jell-o Shot


Origin of a Dish: Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream

Liquid Air boiling on a block of ice. “If a kettle containing liquid air be placed on a block of ice, boiling will again take place and the addition of ice to the contents of the kettle will make the boiling proceed more rapidly.”—(Charles Leonard-Stuart, 1911) (source)

In 1987, a microbiologist in Lexington, KY, got the idea to flash freeze ice cream with liquid nitrogen, a chemical he was familiar with from working in his lab.  This was the start of the “ice cream of the future,” Dippin’ Dots, which is frozen by spraying ice cream mix into cyrogenic freezer. You can see a cool video of how it works here.

One would think using liquid nitrogen to freeze ice cream was a modern discovery.   But 86 years before Dippin’ Dots, British cookbook author Agnes Marshall, known as the Queen of Ice Cream, proposed the use of “liquid air” to freeze ice cream.

“Liquid air will do wonderful things, but as a table adjunct its powers are astonishing, and persons scientifically inclined may perhaps like to amuse and instruct their friends as well as feed them when they invite them to the house. By the aid of liquid oxygen, for example, each guest at a dinner party may make his or her ice cream at the table by simply stirring with a spoon the ingredients of ice cream to which a few drops of liquid air has been added by the servant.” –The Table (August 24, 1901)

I haven’t been able to find the primarily source article, but this quote comes from Mrs Marshall, The Greatest Victorian Ice Cream Maker, With a Facsimile of the Book of Ices, 1885 by Robert Weir.

Agnes Marshall, ice cream hottie.

“Liquid air” would be liquid oxygen, and I’m not sure if that’s what she actually proposed using, or if she was confusing it with liquid nitrogen.  The technology required to manufacture liquid air had been pioneered at this time, and there were presentations being done with it around the world.  Some reports say she demonstrated her ice cream freezing technique at the Royal Institution in London in 1904.

The technique went relatively untouched for the next century.  In the mid 1990s, the use of liquid nitrogen in the kitchen was further developed by Herve This, a chemist and cook who is known as the Father of Molecular Gastronomy.  Liquid nitrogen freezes ice cream almost instantly.  The faster ice cream freezes, the smaller the ice crystals; the smaller the ice crystals, the smoother the ice cream.  Ice cream made in this style was popularized by Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal, both considered pioneers of the molecular gastronomy movement.  Today, Top Chef contestants use it every other week.



Mrs Marshall, The Greatest Victorian Ice cream maker, With a Facsimile of the Book of Ices, 1885. By Robert Weir

The Book Of Ices: Including Cream And Water Ices, Sorbets, Mousses, Iced Soufflés, And Various Iced Dishes, With Names In French And English, And Various Coloured Designs For Ices. By Agnes Marshall

Frozen Desserts: The Definitive Guide to Making Ice Creams, Ices, Sorbets, Gelati, and Other Frozen Delights by Robert Weir


Menus: Fannie Farmer’s Full Course Dinner

One of the most emblematic cookbooks in American history is Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.  Called “The Mother of Level Measurements,” Farmer is both credited with bringing standardization to American recipes but, as a result, destroying the soul of American cuisine.

Her cookbooks were promoted as practical and economical: a kitchen guidebook for the everyday women.  But it also included simplified recipes for high-end dishes that allowed any housewife to produce them in her own kitchen.

Interestingly, in the back of the book, she includes a menu for a “Full Course Dinner”: twelve courses designed for the most upscale dinner party.   This menu is republished below.  It would be a hellavu party.

First Course

Little Neck Clams or Bluepoints with brown bread sandwiches. Sometimes canapes are used in place of either. For a gentleman’s dinner, canape’s accompanied with Sherry wine are frequently served before guests enter the dining room.

Second Course

Clear soup with bread sticks, small rolls or crisp crackers. Where two soups are served, one may be a cream soup. Cream soups are served with croutons. Radishes, celery or olives are passed after the soup. Salted almonds may be passed between any of the courses.

Third Course

Bouchees or rissoles. The filling to be of light meat.

Fourth Course

Fish baked, boiled or fried. Cole slaw dressed cucumbers or tomatoes accompany this course; with fried fish potatoes are often served.

Fifth Course

Roast saddle of venison or mutton, spring lamb, or fillet of beef potatoes and one other vegetable.

Sixth Course

Entree made of light meat or fish.

Seventh Course

A vegetable. Mushrooms, cauliflower, asparagus or artichokes are served.

Eighth Course

Punch or cheese course. Punch when served always precedes the game course.

Ninth Course

Game with vegetable salad, usually lettuce or celery; or cheese sticks may be served with the salad and game omitted.

Tenth Course

Dessert, usually cold.

Eleventh Course

Frozen dessert and fancy cakes. Bonbons are passed after this course.

Twelfth Course

Cracker, cheese and cafe noir. Cafe noir is frequently served in the drawing and smoking rooms after the dinner.  After serving cafe noir in drawing room, pass pony of brandy for men, sweet liquenr (Chartrense, Benedictine ,or Parfait d Amour) for women, then Creme de Menthe for all.

History Dish: Fancy Frank Fry

That frank’s gotta pickle and a cheese in the middle, and a bacon on the outside!

If you’re ever in the Bronx, and you happen to see a brightly dressed man digging around in the dirt, don’t be alarmed.  That’s my friend Jason.  He speaks for the trees.  He’s been journeying to the Bronx on his days off to care for the neglected city greenery.  You can read about his adventures on his blog here.

Jason, like me, is originally from the Midwest.  Also like me, when he was growing up, Jason would often travel around with his mother to local flea markets and garage sales.  I think rummage sales might be the best in the Midwest.  Someone suddenly decides to throw open their barn, revealing long-lost, dust-covered treasures that can be bought for a nickel or a dollar a piece.  Although, what qualifies as a treasure is different from one person to another.

Jason brought me a find from long ago: a set of matchbooks, printed in 1963, adorned with recipes using Hunt’s Tomato Sauce.  You can see more of the collection on my Tumblr blog here.

 The matchbooks have recipes on the inside!

When I handle them, open them, pull them apart to examine the recipes, I think about tearing off each match and striking it, lighting each until the recipe is revealed.  Ripping off the last blue-tipped match and then cooking myself a Hunt’s adorned treat.  The vision brings to mind chain-smoking while stirring tomato sauce covered pork, which I supposed is exactly what we were doing in 1963.

As Jason and I looked over the recipes, there was one that caught my eye: The Fancy Frank Fry.

The hot dogs are stuffed and ready for afryin’

The Recipe

Fancy Frank Fry
From Hunt’s recipe matchbooks, 1963.

8 hotdogs
8 3-inch strips Cheddar or Swiss cheese
3 dill pickle sticks, cut in thirds
9 slices bacon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Worchestershire
2 8-oz. cans Hunt’s Tomato Sauce

Split franks lengthwise, not quite through.  Stuff each with a strip of cheese and a pickle stick. Wrap slice of bacon around each frank.  Place in a cold skillet, fry over medium heat, turning often, until bacon is crisp on all sides; pour off excess fat.  Add remaining ingredients; simmer 25 to 30 minutes.  Makes 4-6 servings.


I cooked this recipe in two phases: first, I took the filled and wrapped hotdogs and fried them, plopped two of them on buns, and my boyfriend and I devoured them.  Golly were they good.  The cheddar had liquified in the middle, creating a taste and texture that far rivaled any store-bought pre-cheese-filled hotdogs.  The franks were Nathan’s, too, which were worth the money.  And the crispy bacon on the outside!  Salty, acid from the pickle, fatty…oh man oh man oh man.

A great way to ruin a good hot dog.

And then I dumped the tomato “sauce” on the rest of the dogs in the skillet.  This recipe had two problems which I anticipated in advance: one, some of the hot dogs split during cooking, causing them to bleed out their cheese-filled guts into the skillet.  Two: cooking the hotdogs in the sauce made the bacon soggy!  The pickle, too, was warm and floppy.  And who wants that?  After simmering for a half an hour, the dogs were flaccid and unappealing–although they were happily devoured by my coworkers the next day.  That’s what coworkers are for: gratefully devouring your failings.

But I think this recipe could be better.  Time to retronovate.

The Retronovated Recipe

Let’s cut the unnecessary tomato sauce out of this recipe–sorry Hunt’s.  Split the hotdog and stuff a strip of cheddar in there.  Wrap it in bacon and fry it until it’s crispy on all sides.  Put it on a bun and top with chopped dill pickles and BBQ sauce.

Voila. I’m going to call it “The Ohio Dog,” after the place where these matchbooks and I were born.

Cocktail Hour: The Bronx and The Queens

The Bronx Cocktail. Photo by Kristy Leibowitz, taken at the Brooklyn Historical Society

After the creation of the Manhattan and the Brooklyn, cocktail jealousy ran rampant in the remaining three boroughs.  The Bronx and Queens were quick to follow with their own drinks, although few people remember them today.

The Bronx Cocktail was invented sometime right around the turn of the 20th century, and it did add something very important to the American drinking repertoire.  According to cocktail historian David Wondrich, it was the first drink to make the addition of fruit juice to a cocktail acceptable.  Yes, drinks before this had a squirt of lemon here and there; but The Bronx took a good teaspoon of orange juice and mixed it with gin and vermouth.  From this drink, all of our screwdrivers, mimosas, hurricanes, and cosmopolitans have spawned.

I think the more appealing version of The Bronx Cocktail is The Queens.  Instead of orange juice, gin and vermouth are combined with a muddled pineapple slice.  The original recipe calls for mixing The Queens in a shaker, and straining out the pineapple, but I say why not just leave that pineapple piece in there.  What’s it going to hurt?

The Bronx Cocktail
From The Ideal Bartender by Tom Bolluck, 1917

Fill a large bar glass (or shaker) full with shaved ice
1 oz dry gin
1 oz dry vermouth
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 slice orange (or, one teaspoon orange juice)

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.


  • A drop or two of orange bitters is a lovely addition to this drink.
  • Replace the orange with pineapple or pineapple juice for a Queens cocktail.


The only borough of New York to lack a cocktail to call its own is Staten Island.  So if you were going to craft a Staten Island cocktail, what would be in it?  No cheap shots! (We love you, S.I!)  I want a quality cocktail idea.

Cocktail Hour: The Brooklyn

Photo by Kristy Leibowitz, taken at the Brooklyn Historical Society

You’re probably familiar with the Manhattan, the classic cocktail combination of rye whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and a maraschino cherry.  But did you know that three of the other boroughs of New York have cocktails, too?  Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens all have their own variations–sorry, Staten Island.

This week, we’ll look at these outer borough concoctions starting with The Brooklyn.

There’s a more famous version of the Brooklyn than the one I’m going to share (recipe here).  I found this “Brooklyn” by poking around on good ‘ole Google Books; it’s from a 1910 issue of Mixer and Server, and the cocktail has a charming story attached to it:

Cincinnati Man Invents Concoction Guaranteed To Produce Results

There’s another new cocktail in town. This time, Brooklyn Borough has the distinction of naming it.

It’s the Brooklyn cocktail. Manhattan and The Bronx have been similarly honored; Richmond and Queens have yet to be heard from.

The inventor of the new drink is from the Rhine section of Cincinnati, and strangely enough now has his abode in Brooklyn, his lounging place being the Schmidt cafe, just at the right hand as one leaves the Brooklyn end of the bridge, first saloon you come to…

Hard cider is the basis or body or life or whatever it is of the drink. The ingredients are as follows:

Half a whisky glass of hard cider emptied into a long glass in which are three good-sized lumps of ice.

Half a jigger of absinthe.

Fill glass to brim with ginger ale.

Only three ingredients it will be seen. When asked what his excuse was for naming a pint of liquid a cocktail, Herr Hegeman [the creator] said: “I know a cocktail is supposed to be a small drink, but there is no law about it.  And I wanted Brooklyn to be known by a cocktail.”

The inventor recommends the drink for hot weather.  —New York Telegraph

A few notes:

  • “Richmond” is the old name for Staten Island
  • “The Rhine section of Cincinnati” – Cincinnati, Ohio had a large German immigrant population, second only in size to New York.

And on the drink: it’s great.  I recommend a little less absinthe: I use only a bar spoon.  Absinthe’s strong anise flavor can overpower the drink, but used in moderation it marries beautifully with the cider and ginger ale.  Additionally,  the drink takes on a characteristically cloudy color when the Absinthe hits the iced liquid.  It’s quite dramatic, and very mysterious looking.

The Brooklyn Cocktail is refreshing, it is great for hot weather, and it’s wonderfully easy to make.


The Brooklyn Cocktail
From Mixer and Server, via The New York Telegraph, 1910.

3 Ice Cubes
4 oz. Hard Cider
1 bar-spoon Absinthe (about a teaspoon or less)
Ginger Ale

Place ice in a tall glass. Add cider, then absinthe, then fill glass to the brim with ginger ale.


There is also a neighborhood specific “Carroll Gardens” cocktail, created by the folks at Death & Co., that I have yet to try.

UPDATE: There is also a Red Hook Cocktail, named after another Brooklyn ‘hood. (Thanks, Pitchaya!)

Menus: The First Raw Banquet

The following menu was served at the first elementary or uncooked banquet ever spread in this country, given by the authors, June 18, 1903… The object was more to show the numerous and attractive dishes that could be prepared from uncooked foods, than to observe or follow any particular dietetic rule or law.

Uncooked Foods and How to Use Themby Eugene and Molly Griswold Christian.