Etsy Kitchen Histories: Easy-as-Pie Apple Peeler

apple1Get this for your kitchen.

My latest on Etsy is about the 19th century invention that has innovated my kitchen: the mechanical apple peeler.

I’ve never minded paring apples by hand, but it is time consuming. As opposed to fiddlin’ or courtin’, I usually binge watch TV shows or catch up on NPR while spraying the counter and floor in a sticky snowfall of peels and seeds. But this holiday season, I’ve added a tool to my kitchen arsenal that will make my share of the pie baking so much easier: a mechanical apple peeler-slicer-corer. When I sent my first fruit through the cranks and blades of my cast-iron peeler, it blew my mind.

I use the apple peeler to recreate a 1763 recipe for apple and pumpkin pie, which I think is one of the best recipes I have ever made while writing Four Pounds Flour. It is simple. It is sooo delicious. It is the new/old pie that is going to rock your Thanksgiving table.

pie31763 Apple & Pumpkin Pie – a recipe well worth making.

The finished pie had all kinds of caramelized sugar and molasses qualities as a result, giving it a taste somewhere between sweet potato casserole and apple crisp. It’s an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving feast as is, but there is also room for adventurous bakers to play with texture and flavor.

Make it. Read it. Do it.

History Dish: Martha Washington’s Ale and Apple Fritters

fritter1One little fritter.

Fried. Apples. Beer. This recipe appealed to me for obvious reasons. But, interestingly, it also goes along with the medieval theme of my last dinner party. Read on for Mrs. Washington’s link to Queen Elizabeth.

The History

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, the source for this recipe, is not a collection of Martha’s own recipes: they were transcribed by an unknown person in the 17th century and were given to her during her first marriage to Daniel Custis in 1749, perhaps as a wedding present.  Widowed at 25, she was Martha Custis until she met George, and together they raised Martha’s two children from her previous marriage; and later, two orphaned grand-children. Interestingly, Martha gave birth to no more children during her marriage to George.

The cookbook was passed down to one of the Custis grandchildren and the recipes themselves had likely been a family heirloom for generations before. Food historian Karen Hess writes “Many of the recipes must have seemed old-fashioned to Martha…the cuisine of the manuscript is that of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.” That’s the 1550s-1620s, which means many of these recipes are considered to be part of a late-medieval mode of cooking.

Put yourself in Martha’s shoes and imagine trying to make dinner from a 200-year-old cookbook. So who can say if Mrs. Washington ever cooked any of the recipes in this manuscript, but some of them definitely seem a bit more modern than others.  Take, for example, the two recipes for apple fritters: one combines nutmeg, clove, ginger, mace, cinnamon, saffron and rosewater–a startling amount of spices much more reminiscent of the Forme of Cury than a modern recipe.  But the other fritter only calls for nutmeg, cloves, and mace–and a little cinnamon sugar strewn on top. Simpler, its likely a later addition to the recipe collection.

The more modern fritter recipe also contains ale, probably added to make the batter light with yeast and carbonation. A beer-battered, fried apple sounded pretty fucking good to me, so I decided to give this recipe a shot.

fritters2Cut yr apples about yay big.

The Recipe

To Make Fritters

Take a pint of very strong ale, put into it a little sack & warm it in a little scillet; then take 8 youlks of eggs & but 2 whites, beat them very well; yn put to them a little flowre & beat them together, yn put in yr warme ale; you must put noe more flowre to ye eggs after ye ale is in. Yr batter must be noe thicker then will just hang on ye apples. Season batter with ye powder of nutmegg, cloves, and mace; then cut your apple into little bits & put them into ye batter; yn set on ye fire a good quantity of tryed suet or hoggs lard, & when it is very hot drop in yr apples one by one with yr fingers as fast as you can. When they are fryde, lay ym on a cleane cloth put over a cullender, yn lay ym on trencher plates, & strow on ym sugar & cinnamon.

Ale & Apple Fritters
Adapted From Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats

1 large egg + 2 yolks
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ale (I used Guinness, it’s what I had on hand)
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mace
1/8 tsp clove
4 med-large cooking apples
Oil for frying

In the microwave, warm beer one minute on high. With a fork, whisk together eggs, flour and salt. Add beer and brandy, and mix until blended. Add spices. Set aside in a warm place from 30-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and pair the apples, slicing them into one-inch chunks. Heat oil for frying: you can use lard in a cast iron pan, like the original recipe suggests, or vegetable oil in a FryDaddy, like I did.

Put apple pieces into the batter, mixing them to coat. Drop into hot oil using your fingers or a spoon. Fry until golden brown, turning once. Remove into a colander lined with paper towels, over a plate. Allow to cool slightly, then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Toss fritters in the colander to coat, then serve.

fritters3Strown with cinnamon and sugar!

The Results

The results were unexceptional. Technically, the recipe came out well: the apples slices were cooked, the coating thin but crispy. But the fritter batter was almost flavorless, and there was no satisfying contrast between the apples and the coating.  There was nothing interesting going on with the taste or the texture. Perhaps I should have fried them in lard.

I’m disappointed since it seemed like this recipe had a lot of potential.  What do you all think? How can this fritter recipe be improved?

Party Time Reenactor: A 14th Century Feast for Your 21st Century Table

14thc_1Dishes from the Forme of Cury, the oldest English cookbook. Photo by Will Heath.

Furmente wyth Porpays,” is a wheat and milk gruel/drink mixed with slivers of porpoise. Why would you want to eat Furmente wyth Porpays? Well, you’re rich, and its a fast day, and it happens to be 14th century England.

This recipe comes from the oldest cookbook written in English, The Forme of Cury–“cury” being a Middle English word for cooking.  The document is believed to be compiled in 1390 by the master cooks of King Richard the II; one of the oldest and best copies of this extraordinarily rare manuscript is on display RIGHT NOW at the Morgan Library & Museum. I stopped by the Morgan because I was determined to revive 14th century recipes that could be served, and enjoyed, at a 21st century dinner party.

The History

Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, Roger Wieck, took me into the library where the manuscript is on display. He casually pointed out the document was on display across from “…One of our Gutenberg bibles.” The collection has several. The Gutenberg was printed about the same time the Morgan’s copy of the Forme of Cury was written; one book to feed to the spirit, the other to feed the body.

The cooking manuscript is written in navy blue ink on animal-skin vellum, which looks soft and semi-translucent.  It’s rolled in a way that reminds me of a Torah, the top and bottom having to be coiled and adjusted to reach each recipe. Wieck choose to display a recipe for coneys–or rabbits, the origin of the name of Coney Island–and another for Blanc Mange, a tribute to his love of Monty Python.

Middle English, on first glance, looks closer to Klingon than English. Luckily, the University of Manchester Library, has not only digitized their version, but offers a transcription of each page, which I referenced to plan my 14th Century Dinner Party.

Prepping for a Medieval Dinner

The manuscript contains about 200 recipes, many of them fascinating in more subtle ways than sea mammal stew.  One dessert is delicately flavored with hawthorn flowers, a blossom I wasn’t aware was edible–I’ll have to give it a try in the spring.  Another is made with cherries, and uses ground cherry pits for flavor, a technique that would have delivered a gentle almond flavor, as well as a gentle dose of arsenic.

I emailed a few friends, inviting them to a “14th Century Dinner Party,” and set about selecting a few recipes that were within my abilities to prepare. I skipped the arsenic and the dolphins and decided to start with Appulmoy, an applesauce-based pudding.  Pared and cored cooking apples went into a pot with a bit of water and were cooked until soft.  The original recipe says to push them through a strainer, but I took a 2013 shortcut and used an immersion blender. To the hot apple mush, I added one cup each rice flour, honey, and almond milk as well as 1 tsp salt and 2 tsp “powder fort,” or strong spice.

Strong Spice is a medieval spice blend that may have been sold pre-mixed; there are very few recipes on how to make it. A 14th century Italian cooking manuscript, Libro di cucinarecommends a blend of black pepper (I used half “smoked black peppercorns” to try to emulate some of the flavor of cooking fires), long pepper (and Indian spice that fell out of favor in Europe after the American chili pepper was introduced), cloves and nutmeg.  I put the first three ingredients in my pepper grinder and cracked them into the Applemoy, and then grated half a nutmeg into the dish.

One of the most significant aspects of this cooking manuscript is the lack of herbs and the prominence of spices. Spices screamed wealth, as they were extremely expensive to import, and the rich covered everything with copious amounts of spice.  One of my guests would comment on the strength of the flavors in the food, when one would might expect bland cooking from the medieval era.

I slowly simmered the thickening Applemoys. Dense and gluey, it popped and bubbled like a witch’s cauldron, and tasted only of the heat of black pepper. I stirred in a pinch of saffron and put it in the refrigerator, hoping the flavors would mellow by the next day.

I decided my main dish would be Cormarye, a roast pork loin, so I washed and pricked two pork tenderloins and rubbed them in two tablespoons of the powder fort mixture, with the addition of a tablespoon each coriander, caraway, and garlic powder.  I placed them in a plastic bag and added a quarter bottle of wine, and set them away to marinate overnight.

14th Century Dinner Party

Although no one arrived in costume, I’m sure they would have if I had given them more time.  Wine was uncorked and my guests chatted as I finished cooking the meal. After being removed from their overnight stay in the fridge, the applemoy was golden from the saffron and the pork was purple from the wine–Medieval cooks loved to play with color. I reheated the applemoy and consulted a modern recipe to finish the tenderloin.  I seared it in olive oil (the Form of Cury is the first English cooking document to mention it), then added the marinade as well as chopped mushrooms and leeks before placing it in a 450 degree oven.

Another remarkable aspect of the manuscript is the quantity of vegetable recipes. The inspiration to add mushrooms and leeks to the pork was taken from a recipe for “Funges.” Another, called “Salat,” describes a fresh dish made from garlic, onions, fennel, sage, mint, borage and other leafy herbs. One recipe, titled “Aquapates,” is for boiled garlic colored with saffron.  The English, contrary to most Europeans at the time, liked the taste of garlic, and it appears fairly frequently in the manuscript. However, it was likely also served with regard to its medicinal abilities.

The food hit the plates steaming hot, and was DEVOURED. I selected recipes I thought would go well together, but the results were above and beyond my expectations. Strongly flavored, but not overly seasoned, the intense sweet and savory sensations seemed different, but not foreign, and wholly modern. Earthy, rich, salty and spicy, even the appulmoy had magicked into a tart and sweet polenta-like starch. It was sincerely enjoyed by all.

Who knew a medieval document could provide food suitable for a typical Sunday dinner? Recipes from my party are below, but I encourage the adventurous among you to explore the Forme of Cury online to seek out more dishes. Catch the manuscript in person at the Morgan Library & Museum, on display through October 7th.

14thc_2Appulmoy, Cormarye, and Funges. Photo by Will Health.



Tak colyanndre. careaway smal gro(u)nden. poudo(ur) of pep(er) & gar-lek y gro(u)nde & rede wyne. medle alle þes to gider and salt hit. tak loynes of pork rawe & fle of þe skyn and pryk it wel wiþ a knyf & lay it i(n) þe [sew] sause. rost þer of what þou wolt & kepe þat þat falliþ þ(er) fro i(n) þe rostyng& seeþ it i(n) a possynet wiþ fayr(e) broth & s(er)ue it forth w(i)t(h) þe rost ano(n).

Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms and Leeks

1 Pork Tenderloin
Spice Rub: 1 tablespoon each cracked whole coriander, cracked caraway seeds, cracked black pepper, garlic powder and salt.
8 oz red wine
2 cups each sliced mushrooms and leeks
1 cups chicken or vegetable stock

The night before: rinse and dry tenderloin; prick the surface all over with a fork. Rub with spice blend, seal in a ziplock bag. Place in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours, turning over once.

Remove pork from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat 2 tb olive oil in a cast iron or steel skillet over high heat; sear tenderloin on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Add marinade, mushrooms, leeks, and stock; place in oven for twenty minutes or until a thermometer stuck in the thickest part reaches 137 degrees. Remove from oven and set meat aside; place skillet back on stove top and bring to a boil. Boil until sauce reaches desired thickness. Slice meat and serve with sauce and vegetables.


Tak applen & seeþ he(m) i(n) wat(er). drawe he(m) þorow a strayno(ur). tak alma(u)nd mylke & hony & flo(ur) of rys. safro(u)n & poudourfort & salt. & seeþ it stondy(n)g.

Spicy Apple Pudding

6-8 cooking apples (I like to mix several varieties)
1 cup honey
1 cup rice flour
1 cup almond milk
2 tsp Spice Blend: 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon each cracked black peppercorns, ground long pepper, and grated nutmeg
1 tsp salt
Pinch saffron

Pare, core and slice apples; add to a large pot with 1/2 cup water.  Cook over medium-high heat until extremely soft. Puree. Ad remaining ingredients and cook over low heat, stirring reguarly, until it thickens, about 15-25 minutes. Serve hot, or refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to matures, before reheating.

The History Dish: Sour Apple Compote

Sweet n’ Sour! Apple compote.

I always like to share a good apple recipe this time of year, so you can take advantage of the fall apple bounty, or use up a couple of fruits on the verge of going bad.  This is a really unique one from the Manual For Cooking and Baking.


The lovely lady pictured is Hinde Anchamnitzki (pronounce Hinn-dah Ahn-prwah-nit-ski), who published the first Yiddish cookbook in America.  The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is working on translating it, and is planning on building a larger program around her seminal work utilizing their new demo kitchen space.

Below is her recipe for “English Apple Compote” that plays with the sweet/sour flavors that traditionally appear in Jewish cooking.  I’ve tried it, and it’s fantastic.  It calls for “Sour Salts,” which is citric acid; I was able to find it at Williams Sonoma, of all places.  It gives the dish the mouthpuckering Sour Patch kids sensation one doesn’t normally associated with turn-of-the-century food.  Additionally, cooking the raisins in the sugar syrup teases the flavor out of the dried fruits, and give the dish a distinct raisin tang.

The original recipe is below; it was traslated for me by vice president of education at the Tenement Museum, Annie Polland; I modernized the recipe myself.

The original recipe.

European Apple Compote
From Manual For Cooking and Baking by Hinde Anchamnitzki, 1901.
1/2 lb Sugar
1/4 lb Raisins
1/2 tsp Sour Salts (Citric Acid)
1/4 c Sugar
6 medium baking apples
Combine sugar, raisins, sour salt and water in a large pot; cook over a medium heat until all of the sugar is dissolved. Peel and core apples, and cut them into 1/4 in. slices.  Cook in a large pan, covered, until the apple slices are tender when pierced with a fork.  Add to sugar syrup; allow to cool, and serve.


If you like, you can pair this compote with a pie crust, like this one made of Matzo meal.  The crust is tasty enough to serve any time of year, not just for Passover!


Events: The Big Apple Historic Cocktails

The Hot Apple Toddy will be featured on October 20th @ The Brooklyn Historical Society

Amazing event coming up on October 20th!  Let me give it to you straight: $40 for 4 cocktails.  More than that, the evening will be an exploration of locally produced apple alcohols.  You thought you knew cider; well, we’re going to blow your minds with products from new producers making alcohol in traditional ways.  Guest of the evening will include:

Revolution Cider, out of Philadelphia, who produces a unique hard cider inspired by recipes from the Revolutionary era.

Warwick Valley Winery is bringing their intense apple brandy, as welll as samples of the apple liqour (it’s like an apple in a bottle–soo good) and apple cider.

Cornelius Applejack has generously donated their artisinal, small batch applejack–generally considered some of the best on the market.

All this and so much more, including cider history and cocktail lessons!  Full details below; get your tickets here!



Thursday, October 20
The Big Apple:  Historic Cocktails with Regional Apple Alcohols
7:00 p.m. @ The Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont Street at Clinton Street Brooklyn, New York
Ticket: $30 BHS members/$40 non-members. Purchase your ticket here.

Apple cider, apple brandy, and applejack are complex alcohols that are infinitely mixable. We’re going inspire you to add them to your liquor cabinets with a night of nineteenth-century cocktails!

The evening will begin with a cup of Apple Punch, which features slices of crisp New York apples steeped in wine. While sipping drinks, guests will hear a short talk on the history of apple alcohol in New York. Afterward, participants will learn how to make three historic apple cocktails: the refreshing, spicy Jersey Cocktail; the warm and comforting Apple Toddy; and the sweet, meringue-like Tiger’s Milk Punch. These drinks will feature local apple alcohols made from traditional recipes. Participants will work with educators in small groups, learning about the history of each drink as they imbibe their handmade cocktails. Additionally, local apple alcohol producers will be on hand to talk about their products and the state of the apple industry today.

Generous donations have been made to this event by Revolution CiderWarwick Valley Winery, and Cornelius Applejack.

This event is part of Glynwood’s Cider Week, which seeks to cultivate an appreciation for hard cider. Glynwood preserves apple orchards in the Hudson Valley by promoting the production of hard cider and apple spirits. Learn more at

This event is part of BHS’s Brooklyn Food Stories. Advanced ticket purchase recommended as the event will fill up. Ticket: $30 BHS members/$40 non-members. Purchase your ticket here.


Going Vegan: Day 1, Lunch & Dinner

My first foray in to vegan cookery: Tomato, kale, and spinach soup with toasted pine nuts and raw radishes.

After a mid-morning snack of almond butter with maple syrup on whole wheat bread, I got started on my first vegan lunch.  I was very apprehensive of my first two days of veganism; No Animal Food, while presenting some very convincing points, also presents some truly horrendous recipes.  For example, my lunch of Spinach Soup No. 1

Spinach Soup No. 1 lb. spinach, 1 lb. can tomatoes, 1 tablespoonful nut-milk (Mapleton’s), 1½ pints water. Dissolve nut-milk in little water, cook all ingredients together in double-boiler for 1½ hours, strain and serve.

Most of the recipes in the book are equally plain.  At the risk of sounding sexist, this book was written by a man.  In 1910.  Who was a vegan.  He’s not the first person I would turn to for culinary advice; his collection of recipes are more like instructions on how to make something to eat than recipes for a meal.
I wrestled with how much I would allow myself to alter the recipes without losing their historic nature.  In the end, here’s what I I did:  I added kale in addition to the spinach and two teaspoons of fresh herbs as well as pepper and salt.  I don’t know what “Mapleton’s Nut Milk” is, I think some powder to mix with water, so I used about 1/4 cup of almond milk.  I did cook this in a slap-dash double boiler, a glass bowl set in a stock pot, and in 90 minutes it was tender and soup like.  To add some texture, I toasted pine nuts and added a few slices of fresh radishes.  I feel like maybe I diverged from the initial recipe too much, although I used ingredients that would have been on hand in the average 1910 vegan household.
In the end, it tasted ok.  My boyfriend and I ate big bowls with slices of toast, and it was fine.  Not bad; not great either.
I wanted to make dinner a little more special: I halved a large acorn squash, and covered it with olive oil, salt, pepper, and sage and put it in the oven at 400 degrees for an hour.  This turned out delicious.  I also decided to bake a bit of bread:

Apple Bread 2 lbs. entire wheat meal doughed with 1 lb. apples, cooked in water to a pulp…prepared as follows: Mix ingredients with water into stiff dough; knead well, mould, place in bread tins, and bake in slack oven for from 1½ to 2½ hours (or weigh off dough into ½ lb. pieces, mould into flat loaves, place on flat tin, cut across diagonally with sharp knife and bake about 1½ hours).

These instructions aren’t as clear as they could be, so here are my proportions (quantities halved):

Apple Bread

2 large apples cooked soft with a little water
¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup whole wheat meal
A loaf pan sprayed with non stick cooking spray

1. Pare and core the apples; cube.  Put into a pot with a little water, and cook over medium heat until soft enough to mush to a pulp.  Feel free to use different types of baking apples, some that stay solid and some that fall apart into sauce, to add different textures.

2. Add almond milk to hot apples and stir.  Sift together whole wheat flour and baking powder, add to apple mixture.  Press into a loaf pan and bake 45 minutes at 375 degrees, or until done.


The bread was a little gummy, a little dense, but somehow really good.  It complimented both the squash, and my main dish, a nut roast:

Nut Roast No. 1 1 lb. pine kernels (flaked), 4 tablespoonfuls pure olive oil, 2 breakfastcupfuls breadcrumbs, ½ lb. tomatoes (peeled and mashed).  Mix ingredients together, place in pie-dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and bake until well browned.

I coarsely chopped pine nuts which added a nice texture; I didn’t have plain bread crumbs, so I used “Italian Spice” bread crumbs, which were delicious.  The tomatoes, which I mashed until chunky, were nice bright spots of acidity.  Basically, I threw all three of the above dishes into a 375-400 degree oven at various times, and an hour later, I had dinner.

Dinner: Brown!  Roasted squash, nut roast, and apple bread.
My boyfriend, a voracious carnivore, dug into dinner with enthusiasm.  “This is delicious! It tastes like fall!  Being vegan is great!” Those are actual, direct quotes.  And I’d have to agree: dinner was really, really good, and very satisfying.  For dessert, we had baked bananas.  Weird looking, and tasted about how you’d imagine: like a hot soft banana.
Baked Bananas- Prepare the desired number by washing and cutting off stalk, but do not peel. Bake in oven 20 minutes, then serve.
It’s not until after dinner, when I was cleaning up, that I thought to double check the ingredients on the “Italian Bread Crumbs.” I was horrified to discover it contained honey, skim milk, and buttermilk.  Crap.  So I messed up day one of veganism; but overall, the food was not bad at all.

Pretty weird…Baked banana.

Appetite City: Reuben’s Apple Pancake

This week’s episode of Appetite City focuses on Delis, a take-out tradition brought by the Germans and appropriated by Eastern-European Jewish immigrants. I cook up one of the BEST FOODS EVER: Apple Pancakes from the now defunct Reuben’s Restaurant.

I’ve done a post on Apple Pancakes before; so for recipes and more history on the dish, go here. They are well worth making–and reviving. When the cameras turned off, the crew of Appetite City descended upon the plate of Apple Pancake like a pack of ravenous lions, a swarm of hungry ants, or some sort of other voracious animal. The pancakes were a hit.

I had a viewing party at my apartment last night and cooked Apple Pancakes with the same results: swarms of my friends devouring them burning hot from communal plates.  I also served up another deli favorite, an authentic New York Egg Cream. Egg Creams, any New Yorker knows, contain neither eggs nor creams; and can only be authentically made with “Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup” (available locally at Economy Candy and online).   The formula is 2 tablespoons U-Bet Chocolate syrup mixed with 1 cup of whole milk and topped off with a 1/2 cup plain seltzer. I used a long, bar spoon to blend the syrup and milk before adding the seltzer; and, in a possible Egg Cream first, I added an ounce (or two) of rum.  Delicious.

The History Dish: Reuben’s Apple Pancake

The Apple Pancake: Apples fried in a sweet batter, covered in a buttery, caramel crust.

In June, the Lower East Side Tenement museum held its annual benefit, themed around the multi-cultural food of the New York.  It featured vendors and restaurateurs cooking up some of the best food in five boroughs:  Tortilleria Nixtamel; Orwasher’s Bakery; Ma Peche; Murray’s Cheese; The Brooklyn Brewery and many more.  I was invited to do a little food demo, so I wanted to do something flashy: I decided on Reuben’s Apple Pancake.

Reuben’s Restaurant was one of the iconic eateries that haunted midtown from the turn of the century until 1966, when it shut its doors (debatable–it survived at a different location with a different owner until 2001).  A kosher-style deli, it was the type of place that the children and grandchildren of Ashkenazic Jewish immigrants would eat alongside stars of stage and screen; sometimes, the two were one in the same.  It was most well know for its sandwiches named for celebrities–yes, it was that kind of place, one of the ones from which all other celebrity themed sandwich shops descended.  Most notably, “The Reuben.”  Concocted by the restaurant’s owner for some hungry young starlet, it was a mighty stack of multiple meats, cheese and french dressing, that is arguably the grandfather of the Reuben we know today.

In the 1960s, New York was barreling towards bankruptcy, an economic inevitability that took many of New York’s most notable restaurants with it.  The same decade saw the decline and shuttering of Reuben’s,  Horn & Hardart’s Automat, Schrafft’s, and more.  After closing, Reuben’s still sold their famous cheesecakes via mail order.  But the restaurant was famous for another dessert that could not be purchased over phone lines: The Apple Pancake.

The apple pancakes had to be made fresh, by guys in the kitchen who had been doing it for thirty years and had built huge biceps from flipping endless steel skillets.  The pancake was a mixture of apples and cinnamon, cooked in a batter.  What made it exceptional was the process by which it was cooked:  the pancake was flipped in its skillet five or six times.  Before each flip, butter was scooped into the skillet and the topside of the pancake sprinkled with sugar.  When the pancake was fliped, the sugar and the butter worked together to create a caramel curst that was simultaneosly crispy and gooey.

After giving this recipe a try in my own kitchen, I discovered the result to be something between a funnel cake, an apple dumpling and creme brulee.  It was promptly declared “stoner food” by those who sampled my recreation (and meant in the best possible way).

An apple pancake dripping with butter and caramel is not something that could be shipped through the mail.  So when Reuben’s shuttered, it remained only in the hearts and minds of the New Yorkers who loved it.  And then slowly, over time, it was forgotten.

It is now my mission to bring it back.  MAKE THIS RECIPE.  Below, a video of me cooking one up at the Tenement Benefit.  It features two, mediocre pancake flips, but it will give you an idea of the technique.

Reuben’s Apple Pancake from Sarah Lohman on Vimeo.

Cooked by Sarah Lohman; video and narration by Eleanor Berke

Cooked by Sarah Lohman; video and narration by Eleanor Berke

The flip is important to the end result, but don’t let it intimidate you: with a little practice, anyone can flip pancakes like a pro.  Practice with dry beans in a skillet to get a sense of the flick of the wrist.  Then, when it comes time to hurl your apple pancake through the air, FLIP WITH CONFIDENCE.

Above all, make this recipe!  It may be the most delicious thing on the earth.



Reuben’s Apple Pancake
From The New York Times, 1971:
And NYTimes, 1986:’s+special&st=nyt

1 large cooking apple
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
⅔ cup milk
½ cup flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoon clarified butter

1. Peel, core, and slice apple into 1/4-inch thick, quarter-moon-shaped slices. Place in bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon. Mix well; cover and allow to marinate for at least 24 hours; longer if possible. Stir occasionally.

2. Beat egg with milk; combine flour and salt, then add wet ingredients.  Mix until batter is smooth.

3. In a non-stick, 9-inch skillet: heat 2 tablespoons butter until it sizzles. Add drained apples and cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until apples soften.

4. Add another 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour in batter evenly and cook over medium-high heat, pulling sides of pancake away from edges and allowing batter to flow under and cook. Keep lifting with spatula to prevent sticking. When pancake begins to firm up, sprinkle 1/4 the sugar evenly over the top.

5. Add another two tablespoons of butter, slipping it underneath the pancake. Then flip the pancake and cook, allowing the sugar to caramelize. When it begins to brown, sprinkle top with another 1/4 of sugar. Add more butter if needed. Flip pancake again and allow sugar to caramelize on the bottom.

6. Sprinkle 1/4 of sugar on top. Add more butter to pan if needed. Flip pancake once again and continue caramelizing.

7. Sprinkle top lightly with sugar and place in 400 degree oven for 15 – 20 minutes, to caramelize further.

The History Dish: Matzo Meal Pie Crust

Apple pie with a matzo meal crust.

Back in September, I was asked to represent the Lower East Side Tenement Museum at Apple Day.  Apple Day pays tribute history of the Lower East Side, which in the 1700s was  part of Mr. Delancy’s farm and  included a sizable apple orchard.  My assignment was to feature apple dishes that reflected the neighborhood’s immigrant history.

I was immediately put in mind of a cookbook I’ve talked about beforeBa’ṭam’ṭe Yidishe maykholim; or, Tempting Kosher Dishes.  The book is now online thanks to the Steven Spielberg digital Yiddish library.

Ba’ṭam’ṭe Yidishe maykholim is a perfect example of Americanization and assimilation through the dinner table.  Released by the Manischewitz company in 1944, the slender cookbook is written in both Yiddish and English and features Kosher for Passover recipes for classic American dishes like Boston Cream Pie.

Someday soon, I will cook many more recipes from the book. But on the morning of Apple Day, I decided to tackle Matzo Meal Pie Crust.

This recipe starts wierd and gets weirder.  I put my matzos in a bowl and covered them with water until they got squishy; then, with my hands, I tried to squeeze out as much water was possible.  The result was a pile of moosh.  Why I had to do this, I’m not sure, because the next step is to dry the matzos back out.

I toasted the matzos in a skillet.  The recipe requested I use “fat” which means “schmaltz” which means “chicken fat,” which sadly I didn’t have.  So I used a tablespoon of Crisco instead.  Crisco is also kosher and released their own bi-lingual cookbook.

I toasted the matzo crumbles until they  looked dry:

Matzos wet, then dried again, in a skillet with Crisco.

The next step in the recipe is where things took a turn for the worse.  I mixed the toasted matzo crumbles with all the other ingredients which turned it back into moosh. Really runny moosh.  There was no way I could “press it into a pie plate with hands” because it was just liquid.  A mess.  It occurred to me I was using large eggs and perhaps medium eggs were a more appropriate size.  So I decided to scrap my messy disaster and start all over, from the top, with new matzos soaked in water.

I made you puke pie.

The second time around I used one egg instead of two and it was still a runny, goopy mess.  Usually, when something I make looks that much like puke, I call it quits.  But the fact of the matter was I had to be at Apple Day in about two hours.  So I poured my goop into two pie plates and slide it in the oven to pre-bake it before the filling went in.

I put it in at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  In the meantime, I prepared a basic apple filling.

When I took the crust out of the oven, it looked better, but still suspect.  It had, a least, formed into something crust-like.

I poured in the apple filling and put it back in the oven for another 15 minutes.  This time, when it came out, it looked rather glamorous.  I wrapped it up and carted it off to Apple Day.

In the end, this crust was a real surprise.  At the event, I cut the pie and scooped out a serving to taste test.  The crust was almost meringue-like: sweet and crunchy, but a little chewy, too.  Like apple pie over macaroon cookies.  Really, really good.

To be honest, I’d make this crust again, although I’d try to figure out if I could cut out some of the mush to dry to mush to dry steps.  It was a real shocker that something that looked so much like a throw-up could end up tasting so delicious.

Retronovated Recipes: Make Yourself a Ham and Apple Cornbread Sandwich

Toasted apple cornbread, melted butter, and hot ham.  Sound ok to you?

I served this delicious sandwich at an 1864-style baseball game where  I was charged with providing a few period-appropriate concessions.  I was inspired to create this flavor combo after stumbling across this recipe (albeit from 1884) from Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book for Apple Johnny Cake:

Apples stirred in to cornbread? Awesome!  Why had I never heard of this before?

I initially made the cornbread according to the historic recipe; it was very dry, grainy, and crumbly.  Not pleasant. I prefer a cakier, modern cornbread.  So I retronovated: I grabbed my favorite contemporary cornbread recipe (Mark Bittman’s) and folded in about a cup of chopped apples at the end.

A cross section of cornbread and apples.

Cornbread and ham were common foods served at fairs and political rallies in the 19th century, so it only made sense to pair my apple cornbread with a thick slice of ham.  At the baseball game, I toasted the cornbread on a griddle and heated a slice of ham alongside.  The cornbread got a healthy smear of fresh, handmade, sooo-yellow butter I got at Saxelby’s Cheese in the Essex Street Market.  Seriously, one forgets how yellow fresh butter is.

Anyway: cornbread, butter, and hot ham on top.  It was a damn good sandwich.