An Interview with Russian Cookbook Author Anya von Bremzen

Anya von Bremzen, a James Beard Award winning food writer and author of the best-selling Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing and Sarah Lohman, a historic gastronomist and author of Four Pounds Flour, both recreate historic recipes as a way to make a personal connection with the past. They took some time to talk turkey (okay, more like chebureki) in honor of Anya’s Tenement Talk on Wednesday March 19th at 6:30. Tickets to the event are free! 

Sarah Lohman: Out of curiosity, do you still live in Queens? In the book, you mention your mother does. I’ve lived in Queens as long as I’ve lived in New York, and what I love the most about it is he incredible ethnic diversity of food. How has your Queens connection influenced your coking and interest in food? Any restaurant recommendations?

Anya von Bremzen: Yes, I live in Jackson Heights, Queens, two blocks from my mom. Jackson Heights is said to be the most multicultural community in the US, and when we moved here over two decades ago, it suddenly felt fine and empowering to be an immigrant, it became positive part of our identity. My previous books are about global cuisines: Latin American, Asian, Spanish, etc., and it was great top be able to find any ingredients I wanted right on my doorstep. I like La Portena Argentinean restaurant, and Chao Thai in Elmhurst.

Continue reading the interview on Notes from the Tenement Museum, here.

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.

The Turkey and the Farmer

Broad Breasted White turkeys, the most common breed of turkey eaten for Thanksgiving.

I recently spent time with a couple hundred Thanksgiving turkeys at the Stone Barns Agriculural Center, about an hour north of New York City.  I give the details of my adventures in my latest article for Etsy, which you can read here.  But roasting my turkey today got me thinking about those gobbling birds I met before they became dinner.  Below, a conversation I had with Stone Barns livestock manager Craig Haney.

There is a certain disconnect between these frisky turkeys and what ends up at Thanksgiving dinner.  In less than two weeks, the turkeys would be slaughtered on site by the farmers who raised them.  I asked Craig how that felt.

“I wouldn’t say I’m sad.  There are some birds you get more attached to, they stand out for whatever reason.  But even then, I know why we raise them.  I’m excited about people buying their turkeys from us.  I take pleasure and pride in that–the idea that they’re all going to people’s homes, that they’ll be relished and enjoyed.”

For Craig, slaughtering the turkeys signals the end of the season, and the end to intensive farm labor for the year–just as it did 100 years ago or more.  Craig doesn’t care which turkey ends up on his dinner table, he likes both the Broad Breasted Whites and the Bourbon Reds; but he has little to do with cooking on the big day.  “My wife cuts me a lot of slack,” he admits.  But it seems appropriate to the historic spirit of the holiday: Craig spent six months getting that bird from chick to carcass; but his wife will get it to the Thanksgiving table.

The Gallery: Washington Market, Thanksgiving Eve 1885

From Harper’s Weekly, November 28th, 1885.


The Washington Market of to-day is not the Washington Market of old.  It is a much fresher and more healthy-looking place than the old ramshackle affair of former years.  The Thanksgiving Eve surroundings of Washington market are, however, the same now as they have ever been.  The busy buyers of turkeys and other Thanksgiving Day edibles swarm about it like bees around a hive, and jostle one another in its narrow passageways.  Big turkeys and little turkeys hang, cold in death, from rows upon rows of cruel hooks, their plump or skinny, white or pinkish breasts decorated with little bright-colored rosettes, in mockery of the pitiless fate that has already befallen them, and the cruel mutilation which is to overtake them on the morrow.  Ducks and geese and chickens are piled in mounds on the zinc covered countered, and the carcasses of fallen deer hand from hooks, while banks of green-topped celery and rosy-cheeked apples lend color to the scene.  Small tradesmen fill up the spaces between the regular market stalls with appetizing stores of hares, rabbits, and other small game, and big butchers in iron-starched white or checked aprons move around like jolly warders at a fair.  At the street corners outside of the market little rosy-cheeked girls, and old women whose cheeks are no longer rosy, sit behind huge baskets of oranges and apples.

[In this image] The evening rush has not yet set in.  A few hours later, and the passageway will be almost impassable, and there will be an indescribable confusion of sounds, as shrill-voiced women clamor for Thanksgiving bargains, and the vendors in the market cry forth the excellence of their wholesome wares.

If FDR had not declared Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of the month instead of the last, November 28th would be Thanksgiving eve this year, too!

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.

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.

Handmade, Chicken-Flavored, Marshmallow Peeps

A pretty miserable Peep.

As a teenager, I was obsessed with Marshmallow Peeps.  I would wait until after Easter and then descend upon Target to buy box after box of marked-down peeps, just pennies apiece.  As an adult, I can no longer devour peeps with quite the same enthusiasm, but they still fascinate me.  They represent some aspect of my personal history: a yearly spring awakening, marked by yellow and pink confections appearing faithfully on the store shelves.  The peeps eagerly peeked out from cellophane wrapped boxes, promising to be lovable and delicious.

Peep History

Marshmallows were originally made from “Marsh Mallow,” a plant whose roots produce a sticky, white, mucilaginous substance that can be whipped with egg whites and sweetened.  This treat was popular in France in the early 18th century.  By the end of the 19th century, the marsh mallow had been replace with gelatin. I have never been able to find fresh marsh mallow, but if I ever do, I’m going to make “original” marshmallows.

Sam Born, the founder of “Just Born,” the company that makes marshmallow peeps, arrived in New York via Russia in 1910.  Like many other Jewish immigrants, Born went in to the candy business.  Candy was cheap to make and easy to sell, the perfect start-up for a new immigrant looking for work.  In fact, many American candy companies were founded by Eastern European Jewish immigrants, in including Tootsie Roll and Double Bubble.

Born opened his first retail location in Brooklyn in 1932, and in the 1950s, acquired a candy company called Rodda that produced a line of marshmallow Easter peeps.  Despite the fact that the company’s owners are still observant Jews, they are copacetic with the decidedly non-Kosher peeps.  “We see no conflict in offering a non-kosher brand or one that is so associated with Easter. We are a candy company for everyone,” said Ross Born,  Bob Born’s son (source).

Making a Hand-Made Peep

When marshmallow peeps were first produced, they were entirely handmade.  Each peep was squeezed out of a pastry bag one at a time; they were sugared and the eyes were hand-painted, and then the marshmallow chicks were left to dry.  Each peep took 27 hours to produce from start to finish.   Now, automated peep-making machines churn out several thousand peeps a day–each one takes about six minutes to make.  Watch this video–it’s awesome when the shoot the eyes on.

After I read about the original, labor-intensive Peeps, I wanted to try making a Peep on my own.  I just took a marshmallow making class at the Brooklyn Brainery, so I was inspired to creatively flavor my Peeps.  But what flavor should a chicken shaped marshmallow be??

I used Alton Brown’s marshmallow recipe, and replaced the water with–you guessed it–chicken bouillon!  I wanted a delicious, sweet and savoury, chicken-flavored Peep!  I followed Brown’s recipe, but something went wrong: I don’t know whether I cooked the sugar too long, or it’s because I used chicken bouillon instead of water, but my end result was less like marshmallow fluff and more like taffy.

I tried to squeeze it out of a pastry tube, and this is what I ended up with:

My second try was slightly better, and I formed it into one misshapen Peep.  I sprinkled him with yellow sugar and dotted his eyes on with a toothpick covered in vanilla extract.

He tasted just like ramen noodles.


Events: Brooklyn Buzzard Day March 18th

Buzzard Sunday
When: Sunday, March 18th, 11 am-4 pm
Where:  Brooklyn Brainery, 515 Court St., Brooklyn, NY.
Tickets: $12, Get ’em Here




We’re having a pancake breakfast! With games and a craft fair and fancy-pants pancakes.You’re all invited to come on down to the Brooklyn Brainery for a good old fashioned craft fair and pancake breakfast. We’ll be cooking up pancakes, all you can eat style, from 11-3pm or so, with plenty of OJ and coffee to wash it all downAdmission includes breakfast, games (and prizes!), and the chance to hang out with some other really nice people.Get your tickets in advance,we likely won’t have any at the door.Why? Buzzards, obviously.

Hinckley, Ohio is a small town with a bizarre holiday: Buzzard Day.

The legend of this festival stretches back nearly 200 years, to the great Hinckley Hunt of 1818. Hinckley was a new settlement and the menfolk decided a massive extermination of any and all nearby predatory animals was necessary for their safety and survival.

Because of a sudden freeze, they were forced to leave behind piles of rotting bear, wolf, and bobcat carcasses all winter. But when those rotting corpses thawed in the spring, magic happened: flocks of turkey vultures descended upon the small town to devour the fetid flesh.

To this day, buzzards still return to Hinckley on March 15th. The following Sunday is affectionately known as “Buzzard Sunday” and draws a crowd of thousands to the local elementary school for all you can eat pancakes, games, and crafts.  I’m cooking historic pumpkin cornmeal pancakes!

The legend of Buzzard Day may not be true, but this festival is the real deal. And this year, we’re starting the tradition of Brooklyn Buzzard Day.

It will be the best.  Get your tickets here.