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?

Appetite City: Hot Tamales!


Appetite City: Street Food. My demo is at 12:30.

Yes, it’s true. Tamales in New York in the 1890s.   The earliest mentions of Tamales stretch back to the late 19th century, even earlier than the 1910 date I give in the show (ugh. my bad.).  Grimes mentions them in his book, Appetite City, and the image of the tamale men on the streets of the city enchanted me. One of the original newspaper articles on the topic, from the New York Herald, is below.

Why veal and not chicken? I’m not an expert on 19th century meat production (yet), so maybe some of you out there can add to this explanation.   But as I understand it, chicken was not being mass produced, like we do in factories today, so it was quite expensive. Veal, on the other hand, was a by-product of the milking industry. You don’t need male calves, and raising them to adulthood is a financial detriment to your business. Selling off calves young was a boon, so the price was cheap.

If you’re looking for the best masa (or tortillas) in town, you’ll have to check out Tortilleria Nixtamel for yourself.

1890s New York Tamales
from The New York Herald, 1894.
From the (LA) Times Cookbook No. 2, published c. 1905.

and http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/real-homemade-tamales/Detail.aspx
and http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/beef-tamales-recipe/index.html 

1 ¼ lbs Veal
1 large onion, halved
1 head of garlic
4 dried chilis
2 cups masa harina
⅔ cup lard
1 8-ounce package dried corn husks

1. Place veal in a large pot or slow cooker; add onion and 4 cloves of garlic.  Cook until tender.

2. Separate dried corn husks, then soak  in a sink filled with warm water for 30 minutes to soften.

2. Remove meat from cooking liquid and shred.  Set aside to cool.

3. Remove stems and seeds from chili pods; place in a saucepan with two cups water. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from heat to cool.

4. Add chilies and water to a blender along with remaining garlic.  Blend until smooth; strain mixture, and add 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Mix with shredded meat.

5. To masa, add: ½ teaspoon salt, lard, and enough veal broth to make a spongy dough.

6. Fold the tamales; best to watch my demo in the video above.  Bring water in a pot with a steamer basket to a low boil; steam tamales for two hours.



Snapshot: The Common Ale

This is a snapshot from waaaay back, over Memorial Day weekend.  Cleveland friend Pete brewed some beer from the 19th century called Common Ale.  He wrote an article about it awhile back, which you can read here, but May was the first time I got to taste it for myself.

A few evenings previous to sipping this beer, I had Ukranian food with The Alaskans, who have been been getting into beer drinking and brewing.  Alaska Chris explained to me all the vocabulary used to describe the flavors of beer, things like biscuity and grapefruity.  These flavors are generally created through various combinations of hops.  But I imagned these terms to mean things like “grapfruit-like,” something with citrus notes, as opposed to actually like a grapefruit.

And then I tasted the common ale. It tasted just like grapfruit.  Not in an extremely strong why, like straight up grapefruit juice.  Not like some girly beer with grapefruit juice.  But like grapefruit beer.  It was amazing, delicious, and refreshing.  I could never imagine that a combination of hops could deliver a flavor so close to an actual grapefruit..

If you’re a home brewer, I recommend taking a look at Pete’s recipe.  The common ale is a great summertime beer: light and infinitely drinkable.  It takes less than a month to brew, so you can sip it before summer’s end!

Update: Notes on the ingredients from Pete!

7lbs. American 2-Row Malt (Organic if you can afford it) If you’re an extract brewer, 4.5# of light dry malt extract would work just fine.
3lbs. Flaked Maize.
3oz. Liberty Hops.
California Common Lager Yeast — Wyeasts’ number is 2112 and ferments cleaner than White Labs’ yeast.

Cocktail Hour: Beef Beer

The short story: I was doing research amongst the stacks at the New York Public library.  In the appendix of a large volume called Virginia Taverns, I found a recipe for a “American Strong Beer,” dated 1815.  I read on to discover this beer was made with mustard, rice and beef.  Interesting.

While planning for Bread & Beer, I sent this recipe to the brewers at Brouwerij Lane as a novelty; the next thing I know, they’re making it.  And it was my favorite beer of the evening.  Joshua Berstein of the New York Press just wrote about it:

But I could definitely get pie-eyed from the second beer. It was a circa-1815 American strong ale fashioned with wheat, barley, rice, dry mustard and lean beef. Yes, beef. “You use it to make a sort of broth,” Olsen explained of the cow flesh, whose proteins aid the Belgian yeast. Instead of being overwhelmingly meaty, the beer drinks dry and slightly fruity, with gentle notes of hamburger.

You can read Berstein’s full article on the Bread & Beer event here.

Brewers: give this recipe a shot.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

They brewed this beer in two incarnations, one of which was infused with caraway.  Below, the full menu and tasting notes for the event.

Silver & Ash: Look at All Those Wieners!

Silver & Ash, the interactive edible art piece I presented with singer/songwriter Clare Burson, went off without a hitch last week.  We were SOLD OUT, and I am pleased to say the food was very well received;  and in the coming months, I’m continuing to work on the dishes to make them even more delicious and interesting.  We’re bringing this event back to New York this September, and we *may* be bringing it to the West Coast (possibly with a 19th Century Pub Crawl in San Francisco as well!) Stay tuned, and in the meantime, here are a few images to wet your appetite.

Look at all those wieners! The second course of Silver & Ash is modeled after a favorite dish from Wiemar Germany. The dish features all-beer wieners from Schaller & Weber, a butcher's shop founded in 1937 in New York's German community of Yorkville. Braised in beer from the world's oldest brewery (the Weihenstephan brewery near Munich), these wieners were served alongside a hot potato salad.

The dining room of the Henry Street Settlement. The tables are set and ready for guests.

The kitchen, behind the scenes at Silver & Ash, the staff is hard at work preparing a delicious meal.

Sold-out seats packed with 30 guests. Clare takes the mic and begins to perform, weaving stories with music from her upcoming album, Silver & Ash.

Clare takes the stage to tell it like it is.

For the third course, we served a dish that Clare's mother closely associates with her childhood: frozen chicken pot pies. I decided to serve the pies in vintage packaging; in this photo, server Sarah Litvin presents a box o' pie to bemused Edible Brooklyn editor Rachel Wharton. As the guests begins to dig in to their pot pies, the room was filled with reminiscences: "I had these all the time when I was little!" "I remember when my parents went out, they would leave chicken pot pies for us for dinner." It was so funny to hear that so many people had a visceral memory associated with chicken pot pie--and that a few bites of warm, flaky pie crust could bring it all back.

The final course is laid out and ready to be served: it's comprised of thick slices of Helga's Homemade Almond Pound Cake. Helga is Clare's grandmother, and she prepares this not-too-dense, not-too-sweet poundcake for all of her grandchildren. Helga stashes the baked cakes in the freezer, where her family knows they can always find a frosted slice. I topped the poundcake wtih a port wine cherry compote, because Helga loved eating cherries when she was growing up--she and her friends would hang them from thier ears like earrings, and pretend to be grown up and sophistaced. After the show, Clare's family told me I had gotten the pound cake just right--and that was the best compliment of all.

Events: The Boston 19th C. Pub Crawl

Hey, Bostonites! (Bostonians?)  Come join us for a night of nineteenth-century debauchery at Boston’s oldest bars and most notorious dens of vice!
We will meet promptly at 5:30 PM at Eastern Standard (528 Commonwealth Avenue) for classic cocktails and complimentary appetizers.  We will then proceed to Red Hat Café; Union Oyster House; Bell in Hand Tavern; and, should we still possess the fortitude and sobriety, Drink.
The crawl is FREE to join.  Appropriate nineteenth century attire is encouraged, but by no means required.
Go to www.19thcpubcrawl.com/boston for more information.  Or, rsvp via Facebook here.
Brought to you by The Nineteenth Century Society and Four Pounds Flour.
See you there!

Events: Save the Dates for Cakes, Pancakes, and Beer.

Want a mouth full of history? Then mark your calender for these free events!

Sunday, February 21st
A Timeline of Taste: A Brief Overview of the Last 200 Years
4:30pm – 5:30pm
At Trade School
139 Norfolk Street, New York, NY
Free for barter.

I’m offering an hour-long class through Trade School.

Our idea of what “tastes good” is constantly changing. In this class, we will take a look at the constant flux of America’s culinary preferences, from the publication of the first American cookbook in 1796 to the swell of convenience food in the 1940s and 50s. To inspire our discussion, we will be sampling four different cakes from four different eras, and will make one of these desserts in the class. And with your help, we’ll bring our exploration to the present day with a selection of contemporary dishes.

Trade School offers these classes through a barter system; when you sign up, you can choose to bring a small item to trade for the class. There are a limited number of seats available, so reserve yours today! Sign up here.

Sunday, March 7th
Pancakes a Plenty!
11am – 1pm
At Old Stone House
336 3rd Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Brought to you by the New York 19th Century Society.

Old Stone House lights up its hearth for a spring pancake celebration, featuring culinary creations by historic gastronomist Sarah Lohman. Pancakes a Plenty! presents three historic pancake recipes sure to please the modern palate: Pumpkin Cornmeal; Apple and Sour Milk; and Clove and Rosewater.

Pulled from the pages of 18th and 19th century New England cookbooks, these recipes have the flavor of New York life from another era. Prepared over an open fire, the pancakes will be served with all the fixins’ as well as hot drinks.

We’ll keep serving pancakes until the pancakes run out. So stop by and sample some slapjacks

Saturday, April 10th
The Boston 19th C. Pub Crawl
Starting at 5:30pm
Meet at Eastern Standard
528 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA
Free, but drinks are additional.

We’re taking the 19th Century Pub Crawl on the road to Boston! The evening will start at Eastern Standard, a contemporary bar that “…Breathe(s) life into forgotten cocktails of the past as well as conjuring up new classics.” They’ll be featuring several cocktails for the Crawl, including their house special the “19th Century,” and offering a selection of house-made hors d’oeuvres. From there, we’ll crawl to Boston’s oldest pubs, some stretching back to the 17th century! Our proposed route (subject to change) can be found here.

Saturday, May 15th
The New York 19th C. Pub Crawl
Starting at 6pm
Meet at Madame X
New York, NY
Free, but drinks are additional.

In the wake of last fall’s amazing New York 19th C. Crawl, we’re planning a whole new route! This spring, visit some of New York’s oldest taverns and most notorious dens of vice on 10th Ave. Formerly along Manhattan’s western waterfront, these inns served sailors drinks, drafts and entertainment. Our proposed route (subject to change) can be found here.

Events: The Cleveland Pre-Prohibition Pub Crawl

“This wall is over 100 years old.” Inside Cleveland’s oldest continually operating bar, the Harbor Inn.

I’m in my hometown of Cleveland for the holidays, a city I love very much. My heart breaks to see it looking so threadbare in this recession. My friends and I decided to celebrate our city via a journey into Cleveland history: a crawl of Cleveland’s oldest pubs and bars that tip their hats to a bygone era.

Our first stop was Edison’s Pub, a local bar that pays tribute to Thomas Edison.  We started there mostly because it was a convenient meeting spot for the attendees, but the $2.50 happy hour drink special wasn’t bad either.  Cleveland, you truly are the land of plenty!

Next up was the Prosperity Social Club.  Although it resides in what was a 1938 ballroom, the atmosphere was more 1950s VFW hall.  However, as someone pointed out, it was very traditional, old-school Cleveland.  We dug it.  It was easy to picture iron workers coming in from the cold for a drink, and the bar is still warmed by a vintage wood-burning stove.  I drank a hot whiskey, a comforting combination of Jameson, honey, lemon and clove.  Good for what ails ‘ya.  I recommend it, as well as the pierogies, the next time you’re there.

Right: Hot Whiskey at the Prosperity Social Club

We jumped in a cab and headed north, stopping at Cleveland’s new mixology sensation, the Velvet Tango Room.  From their website:
At the Tango Room, we believe in craft. We believe that the right combination of ingredients can take you back in time, to a porch in Key West, a beach in Bermuda, a shadowy speakeasy in New York, or a glittering bar in Paris. When you sit at our bar, we want you to connect to those places and that history, so we carefully research old cocktail recipes, lovingly resurrecting classic drinks with historically accurate ingredients.”
Sounds right up my alley, doesn’t it?  It’s pricier than most Cleveland bars, at $15 a drink, but it’s worth it.  The cocktails taste like a sip of history, respectfully revived and celebrated.  I had a pisco sour (Peru’s national drink!) and I plan on returning soon for one of their carefully crafted Manhattans.
This bar is incredibly popular in Cleveland: five years ago, when I was working on my thesis, everyone said a venue like this could never survive locally.  As it turns out, perhaps a historically innovative place like the Tango Room is exactly what Cleveland needs.

Next we walked a few blocks past the Westside Market, and into the Great Lakes Brewery.  GLB is know for its beers named after famous Clevelanders and events from the city’s history.  It’s  housed in what was once the Market Tavern, est. 1865.

“Its most famous patron was Eliot Ness, the man credited with taking down Al Capone’s gang. The Taproom retains much of the charm and mystique from the 1930s era in its grand Tiger Mahogany bar (Cleveland’s oldest) and intriguing bullet holes said to have come from Eliot Ness himself.”

The bar in the Taproom at the Great Lakes Brewery.  There is a pen sticking out of a bullet hole put in the bar in the 1930s.

Ness’ time in Cleveland is a fascinating one, marked by his fruitless search for a serial killer known as the Torso Murderer that stalked the city streets.  The killer would dismember his victims and leave their remains on the banks of the Cuyahoga.  The case was never solved.

We cabbed it again, heading for the lake front and the Harbor Inn, Cleveland’s oldest continually operating bar, est. 1895.  We were apprehensive about this joint, having heard it was both a dive and a college bar.  But upon arrival, it was exactly the kind of place I’m comfortable in: a little worse for the wear, but roomy and convivial.  We had a great time playing on the vintage bowling machine and downing $2 PBR tall boys.
Last, we crossed the river and entered the Flat Iron Cafe.  Established in 1910, it’s Cleveland’s oldest Irish Bar:

“The building, which was formally a four story hotel, had a fire in the late 1800’s in which the top two floors were destroyed…The first floor was used as a blacksmith’s shop and the rooms on the second floor were used as lodging over the years by the sailors and longshoremen working on the lakes.”

Exterior: Flat Iron Cafe

I don’t remember much at this point…someone was solving a mystery.  I ate a gyro from a street cart. Somebody else may have gotten married.  At any rate, a good time was had by all.  I’m certainly thankful for my Cleveland friends who joined me on my historic antics.  And I’m thankful to have grown up in such great town with a fascinating history.  I love you, Cleveland!
Check out our route here.
And see more photos below!

Events: Brooklyn Beefsteak Wrap-up!

“The Unbridled Enthusiasm of Sarah Lohman.” Photo by Doan Buu.

I know this post is belated, but I must to take the time to say something about the amazing event I attended in Gowanus last weekend, the Brooklyn Beefsteak.

The mood at the event was nothing less than euphoric: a room full of hungry carnivores, subdued by the ever-flowing pints of McSorely’s, and finally satiated by course after course of beef. And oh, the beef! We started with tiny hamburgers, then slices of tenderloin, then there was pot roast, and some sort of BBQ Beef. Too many beefs for me to count or remember, and each one masterfully prepared.

My favorite course was the strips of tenderloin, grilled over charcoal and drizzled with butter. It’s the most traditional preparation of beef at a beefsteak, and arguable the best.

And now I know a thing or two about the history of the beefsteak, thanks to the two lectures at the event: one on the tradition of the beefsteak in New York (a manly 19th century gathering) and one on the survival of the beefsteak in the VFW halls of northern New Jersey. Both talks were entertaining; however, I don’t envy the speakers for trying to give a history lesson to a room full of drunks. We were an enthusiastic crowd, to say the least.

You can see a bajillion photos from the event here. And if you would like to learn more about the tradition of the beefsteak, I encourage you to read the classic New Yorker article All You Can Hold for Five Bucks. It was published in 1939 and survives as the source of most of our contemporary beefsteak knowledge. Don’t be dismayed by the first two paragraphs, were he talks about how terrible women are. It gets better after that.

History Dish Mondays: The Common Ale

A post for you brewers out there: my friend Pete recently recreated a long-lost 19th century brew fermented from corn. He writes:

Behold, beer fans. The beer pictured to the left is the Cream Common or Present Use Ale, a beer
brewed with lager yeast (bottom fermenting), but at ale temperatures (55-75 degrees). This is not uncommon for a style of the 1800’s — in fact, the Steam beer, known as the California Common to non-Anchor breweries is done the same way. I believe this was done to give beer fans something to drink while waiting for their lagers, the favored beer style of the time. This beer was very popular in the midwest, and was known as a “common” due to the ordering style of the time. If you asked for an Ale, it was likely that this was what you got, unless the establishment also made their own beer. In that case, you got a “Rare Ale”, which was completely different than the “Common” style of the region.

The recipe taken from
here and interpreted into a much more readable recipe was a very simple brew. With 7 lbs. of base malt — in this case, American two row malt, a very simple, clean tasting malt — added to 3lbs of flaked maize gave a very corny scent. If you’ve ever smelled the water left over after making steamed corn on the cob, you’ve smelled how this beer smelled while mashing, and understand why I didn’t want to drink something that smelled that terrible.

Thankfully, when hops were added (another American hop that would have been around at that time, Liberty, a noble hop with a very balanced smell as well as aroma. It’s not too hoppy as an IPA would be, and it’s not so weak as to just blend into the background.) the smell changed, considerably. The sweetness of the sugar in the corn took over, and mixed with the hops, the beer turned from boiled corn water to a delicate corn flan, with notes of cornbread in the boil.

Two weeks later, I put it in a keg and forgot about it for a week and half, to allow the beer to come up to gas, as well as give it time to mellow. Beer taken directly from the fermenter into a keg is drinkable, but, tastes green. The flavor profile never has time to develop, and as a result, the beer is a mishmash of what it’s flavor is going to end up being, the notes of the chord so to speak, woefully out of tune.

Now that it’s come together, the taste is wonderful. I imagine this as what the Busch, Miller and Coors families were inspired by in the Midwest. The nose is sweet, very unbeerlike with an effervescence not unlike a champagne. The taste is very earthy, and there’s a piquant balance of the hop, maize and malt which swirl on the tongue in an almost sweet way. This is definitely not a savory beer, something strong and manly. At just 4.8% ABV, the beer is smooth, and quaffable, and with each sip, I almost hear a horse whinny as Sam plays something on the piano in some midwestern tavern somewhere down near Cincinnati.

This beer will very likely become my lawnmower beer — that is to say the beer that I do some yard work and reward myself with a somewhat weak but tasty nonetheless beer that’s just a bit better for me than water. It’s likely that if you’re at my house between May and October and ask for an Ale, you’ll feel as though you’ve bellied up to the bar in 1863, too.”

Pete adds as an addendum: “There’s a book called American handy book of the brewing, malting and auxiliary trades. It’s out of print, but freely available on Google books. Unfortunately, the Common vs. Rare bit is anecdotal from a brewing forum I go to. One of the gentlemen is in his seventies, and his grandfather would take him to his local tavern and order the “Common Ale“, and when he had an extra dollar in his pocket, the “Rare Ale”. It could be local to where he grew up (Northern Kentucky) rather than something that was done everywhere.

Here’s another site, which jumpstarted the research on the recipe —
http://www.surrealstudio.net/ODanielsBlog/?cat=15 — This could also be the difference between the Common and the Rare — The Kentucky Common is a darker beer, and could have been brewed at different times to make it more “rare”. Unfortunately, lots of the history of this stuff is lost to the aether, thanks to prohibition.”

Thanks for sharing, Pete! I can’t wait to quaff some the next time I’m in Cleveland.