Etsy Kitchen Histories: Parmesan Ice Cream

icecream2A dish of parmesan ice cream.

In this month’s Etsy Kitchen History, I explore historic flavors of ice cream (musk!), ice cream molds (roast chicken!), and attempt a fascinating 18th century recipes for Parmesan ice cream.

In the 1780s, King Ferdinand IV of Naples and his wife arrived at the San Gregorio Convent to find “…a table covered, and every appearance of a most plentiful cold repast, consisting of several joints of meat, hams, fowl, fish and various other dishes.” The King and his entourage were bummed, however, because they had just eaten. But not wanting to seem impolite, they sat down, and Queen Maria Carolina “…choose a slice of cold turkey, which, on being cut up, turned out a large piece of lemon ice. All the other dishes were ices of various kinds, disguised under the forms of joints of meat, fish and fowl.” The King and the nuns alike had a hearty laugh at the joke.

Read more on Etsy here! And on Four Pounds Flour this week, I’ll be posting about two more unique historic flavors: ambergris and lapsang souchong.

Kitchen Histories: The Velveeta Grilled Cheese

My latest Kitchen History post on Etsy is in celebration of April, which is National Grille Cheese Month.  I explore the secret–the and history–of the perfect grilled cheese.  Read it here, and you can read the archive of all my Etsy Kitchen History posts here.

When I was in elementary school, my mom would drive me to the neighboring township for sleepovers at my friend Kelly’s. One of my clearest memories from these visits was the lunch Kelly’s mom would prepare for us: grilled cheese. The cheese was creamier than any I’d ever had before, with a tanginess I couldn’t identify. Her method was a mystery, until one day I ambled through the kitchen while she got her ingredients ready…

This post deals largely with the history of Velveeta cheese, inspired by a vintage Velveeta slicer I found on Etsy.  Yesterday, I got a mysterious package in the mail, shipped overnight from Oregon.  Inside:


Yes, that’s a yellow wax seal stamped “Velveeta.”  There was a handwritten card that said “We noticed your love of vintage Velveeta cheese cutters and couldn’t resist diving into the vault to send you this little vintage gem.” It was signed “The Velveeta Team.”



In the box, there was a c. 1980’s “cheese cuber” and two pounds of Velveeta cheese. I couldn’t be happier.  It was such a sweet thing to do. And I’m simultaneously amazed that throughout history, man has created so many tools for slicing a semi-gelatinous foodstuff that is probably one of the easiest things in the world to cut.

But hell yeah I’m going to make some queso dip with this thing.

The History Dish: Silesian Cheese Cake

silesian3A Silesian Cheese Cake!

The History

When The Practical Cookbook was penned in 1844, Germany wasn’t a unified country: it was a collection a various city states, each with distinct languages, cultures, and foodways.  The recipes is this book are often titled with the region of their creation: “Pork Croquettes in the South Germany Style,” “Frankfurt Sausages,” “Baden-Baden Pudding,” “Westphalian Cake,” and this recipe, Silesian Cheese Cake.  Silesia was a part of Prussia, which today is part of Poland–although when this book was written the area was German-speaking.  The Cheese Cake is a yeast risen dough, topped with a mixture of cheese curds, sugar, and cinnamon.


The Recipe


For the Dough:

2 1/2 cups white flour
1 cup yeast starter (It’s a moist, doughy yeast culture that lives in my fridge.  More on this in a future post.  If you don’t have fresh yeast, use 3 cups flour and 1 packet yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water.)

1/2 cup apples, pared and diced.  (The original recipe calls for raisins.  I hate raisins.  But this dough needed some sweetness, so apples instead!)
1/4 unsalted butter, melted (The recipe calls for half butter and lard; I used schmaltz instead.  Butter will do just fine)
2 cups warm milk
2 tablespoons sour cream (or buttermilk)

Put everything in a bowl and mix it up, stirring in the apples last.  Cover with a clean towel and set somewhere warm to rise for 30 minutes.  Spread into a baking pan, and allow to rise 30 minutes more.

It’s about 10 degrees outside in Queens right now, so finding a warm spot in my house for the dough to rise was difficult.  But I found it by following the cat–she knows best.  She’s been camping out by the steam heat pipe in the bathroom.

silesianMoxy helps the dough rise.

For the topping:

The recipe’s directions confused me in regards to the cheese curds–“…The evening before wanted take 3 quarts of thick milk with the cream, put into a cheese cloth bag, and the next morning use for the cake.”  Okay, so she’s instructing cooks to strain the liquid out…but usually you have to make it curdle first.  Would the cook add salt?  Would the natural bacteria in the milk make it curdle? Would it be more like Greek yogurt? Maybe someone who’s reading this post knows better.

I found a package of “French Yogurt Cheese” in a weird, small grocery store near my house.  It looked, and tasted, like large-curd cottage cheese, which seemed to be about what I needed.

silesian1What is this? I don’t know.

1 cups vaguely defined cheese curds (try cottage cheese)
1/4 cup cream
1/2 stick melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 large egg (I put in two–but the recipe would have used 2 medium eggs, not two large. Ooops.)

Put it in a bowl and mix it up!

silesian2Mixing the Topping.

After the dough had its second rise, I poured the cheese mixture on top, then baked at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

The Results

I cut a slice of this cake while it was still warm.  It had surprisingly moist, dense, and gummy texture.  I’m not sure if that’s the nature of the recipe, or if my yeast didn’t do much of anything.  Either way, I didn’t really mind.  It kinda worked.

I think this cake could use some technical improvements.  Perhaps the dough should be baked first, then spread with the cheese topping, and put in the broiler a few minutes to melt and brown it.  I think the ultimate incarnation of this recipe would be a slightly sweetened yeast dough, topped with poutine-style cheese curds, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  Salty, sweet, and a little gooey–I think it could be a real winner.

 sliesian4Gummy, but decent.



The History Dish: Peanut and Cottage Cheese Sandwiches

Peanut Butter and Cottage Cheese: a non-threatening sandwich.

On Fridays and Saturdays, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum runs a fantastic tour: Foods of the Lower East Side.  It’s an exploration of immigration history through taste and flavor.

I am one of the many guides for this tour;  my favorite part is when I get to show visitors this school lunch menu from c. 1920:

Source: 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, by Jane Ziegelman.

So what do you think of this menu?  How would you describe it?  What stands out to you?  In comparison, what do you remember eating at lunch in school, or what are you children’s favorite school lunch meals today?

The school lunch program started in schools in the Lower East Side.  At its inception, the program had two purposes.  Primarily, the school board wanted to provide children a healthy, balanced meal for a few cents.  Up until the lunch program was initiated, children were given money by their parents to buy their own lunch from the shops and pushcarts on the Lower East Side.  If you were a kid with money to burn, what would you buy? Candy.

However, critics believed the school lunch was designed to Americanize the children of immigrants  The thought was if we Americanize the dinner table, we’ll Americanize the immigrant.  The kids will like the “American” lunches and start asking for the same foods at home.

When I present this menu on my tour, the menu item that visitors comment on the most is Tuesday’s “Peanut and Cottage Cheese Sandwich.”  It strikes guests as so bizarre, particularly on a menu that’s supposed to be American.  So I promised everyone that I would give it a try.

I checked my early 20th century cookbooks for “peanut and cottage cheese sandwiches” without any luck.  I couldn’t decide if it was chopped peanuts, or peanut butter, mixed with the cottage cheese.  And then I found this:

This recipe comes from Money Saving Main Dishes published in 1948 by the Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics. T his recipe was taste-tested on the adorable blog The Mid-Century Menu.  You can read her full pickle-peanut butter post here.

I figured this mid-century recipe would be a good guide for me, so I mixed it up, sans pickles.  I mashed together peanut butter and cottage cheese,  spread it over bread,  and fried it like a grilled cheese.  The result? A warm peanut butter sandwich.  It didn’t taste like much of anything, not even peanut butter. Even the texture was unassuming: cottage cheese doesn’t melt, so it didn’t add anything.  The sandwich was Beige Food, going into my mouth, giving me calories. Non-threatening and neutral.

I know there was some concern at the turn of the century that spicy, highly flavored food prevented proper assimilation to American culture.  I’m not sure if that was widely believed, or a theory presented by a loud-mouthed few.  I certainly don’t feel more American after eating that sandwich.


In the News: NOTABLE EDIBLES: The Cheese Stands Alone

Clare Burson and I were written up in Edible Manhattan this month for the Silver & Ash Dinner concert we did last spring.  It’s a lovely piece, focusing on the source of our inspiration, a 100-year-old piece of cheese, passed down through Clare’s family.
Clare’s got an album coming out; I’ve heard it.  It’s perfectly sad and reflective.  It drops September 14th; join us for the release party at Joe’s Pub.
In themeantime, read the Edible article here.

The Gallery: Big Cheese in the White House

“Big Cheese in the White House: Admirers of the President Andrew Jackson presented him with a 1,400-pound wheel of cheese shortly before he left the White House in 1837.  Jackson invited members of the public to eat the cheese; it was disposed of within two hours.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith (Editor).

Origin of a Dish: Macaroni and Cheese

An American classic.

Macaroni and Cheese is largely thought of as a modern dish, thanks to the “Kraft Dinner,” introduced in 1937 and used as rations during WWII.  But good ‘ol Mac n’ Cheese  has a much longer history.  In fact, I’ve already cooked up two different versions of this classic dish on this blog: a simple, 19th century version I ate during the Tenement Diet, and a more decadent recipe using neufchatel cheese during the Kellogg Diet.
Macaroni was possibly invented by the Romans, and was served with cheese sometime in the Medieval era (source).  The first documented occasion on which Macaroni and Cheese was served in America was at the White House in 1802, during Jefferson’s presidency. A guest at one of Jefferson’s dinner parties recounts his first experience with the dish (source):
“…A pie called macaroni, which appeared to be a rich crust filled with onions or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong, and not very agreeable. Mr. Lewis told me there was none in it; it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions were made of flour and butter, with particularly strong liquor mixed in them.”
The earliest known American recipe for macaroni and cheese appears in The Virginia Housewife, first published in 1824.  This is the recipe that we shall attempt today.
It seemed decadent to boil the macaroni in milk, but I gave it a whirl to stay true to the recipe.  While the pasta was cooking, it smelled sweet like a rice pudding; however, upon tasting it, I could discern no noticeable difference.  I think that this step could be left out, if you desire.
I used a Queso Blanco, an un-anged, simply made Mexican cheese.  I choose it for it’s similarity to farmer’s cheese, and other fresh cheeses used in the 19th c.

Macaroni and Cheese
from The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook By Mary Randolph, 1838 ed.
1/2 lb macaroni
1 quart whole milk
12 oz sliced farmer’s cheese, queso blanco, or queso fresco
1 stick unsalted butter
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bring one quart milk and an equal amount of water to a rolling boil.  Add macaroni and cook, uncovered, until al dente, about 6 1/2 minutes.
2. Drain in a colander. While still in the colander, sprinkle pasta with about a 1/2 tsp salt, shake to combine, then sprinkle with about 1/2 tsp more (or to taste).
3. Our about 1/3 of the pasta into a casserole or baking dish.  Cover with 1/3 of the cheese and butter.  Repeat, ending with a layer of cheese and butter on top.
4.  Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.
My roommate and I took two bites and then made frowny faces at each other.  I don’t think this is the best incarnation of Mac and Cheese.  It tasted like buttery noodles.  And then…something was OFF with the cheese I bought.  It had an odd bitter/fishy taste. I don’t know if was the brand of cheese, or if the cheese was bad.  But I would take Kraft over this any day.

The Historic Gastronomist’s Gift Guide

Curious where to find the best Christmas gifts for the culinary history enthusiast in your life?  Look no further: I’ve put together this list of gifts for the antiquated cook and contemporary gastronome alike..

Vintage and Historic Cook Books:

Kitchen Arts & Letters
1435 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10128
(212) 876-5550

“Nach Waxman is owner of one of the largest food bookstores in the country, Kitchen Arts & Letters, in Manhattan. From his perch behind the counter, he sees customers—famous chefs, not-famous line cooks, and civilians alike—streaming in to peruse his bountiful, unusual collection. Waxman shows us the basement, where he’s got some truly rare books. (”

Joanna Hendricks Cookbooks

488 Grennwich Street, New York NY
tel. 212-226-5731

“Located downtown, on Manhattan’s far west side, the tiny unique shop is filled with a variety of vintage cookbooks, menus, photographs and tableware. There isn’t a lot of foot traffic on this part of Greenwich Street and it’s easy to miss the store. Look for a small copper plaque that reads cookbooks, affixed to a very old and heavy wooden door. (”



Measuring Spoons

Cast Iron Cookware from Lodge Cast Iron
$10 and Up

“Nestled alongside the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachian Mountains is the town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee (population 3,300). Yet out of this tiny community comes the finest cast iron cookware in the world. Lodge Cast Iron began making cookware during the first presidential term of William McKinley. Amazingly, some of the first cast iron skillets,griddles and dutch ovens made over 100 years ago are still being put to good use.”


Economy Candy
108 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002
(800) 352-4544
order online:
photo: petervh

This mega candy store on New York’s lower east side carries a plethora of hard-to-find historic cooking ingredients such as preserved citron peel, dried currants, and almond paste. Additionally, they carry “Old Time Favorites,” vintage candy bars like the Cherry Mash.

Deborah’s Pantry
327 Sumneytown Pike
Harleysville, PA 19438
order online:

Deborah’s Pantry specializes in obscure 18th century cooing ingredients and apparatus, including isinglass and pearlash.  The 18th Century Tea Sampler ($16) makes a great gift for the casual enthusiastic.

Cheese of the Month Club
Murray’s Cheese
254 Bleecker St.
New York, NY 10014

The Cheese of the Month club is on everyone’s wish list: “Murray’s Cheese of the Month is a 1½ pound selection of 3 varied and delicious cheeses, sent to your door for 4, 6 or 12 consecutive months. Each selection includes a variety of milk types, textures and flavor profiles, with a special focus on seasonal cheeses.”

Retronovated Recipes: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Today is the last day of National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month!  I had the pleasure of attending a grilled cheese sandwich competition yesterday, and there were a lot of fancy-schmance grilled cheeses. Take a look:
Much like my friend Josh, I’m a Wonderbread and American cheese kind of girl.  I was inspired to do a little research into historic grilled cheese sandwich, and I came across this recipe from The International Jewish Cook Book (1919):
I liked the idea of adding a little kick to the cheese with paprika and mustard.  It reminded me of when I would sleepover my best friend’s house in elementary school.  Her mom would make the best grilled cheeses with Velveeta and spicy brown mustard.
So I decided to use the Toasted Cheese recipe to spice up my grilled cheese routine.
Spiced Grilled Cheese

16 oz (1 package) Velveeta Cheese
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 tsp Powdered Mustard
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Garlic Powder
8 Bread Slices

Add Velveeta and spices in a medium pan; melt until smooth over a low heat, stirring constantly. Spread a generous amount on a lightly toasted bread slice, and sandwich with another slice of bread on top.  Finish as you would a grilled cheese sandwich: melt butter into a skillet, place sandwich into the skillet to toast, flip when golden brown.  Will make about four sandwiches


Grilled cheeses are really something I can get behind.

Goodbye Roquefort?

File under ridiculous: due to a high import tax slapped on by the Bush administration, Roquefort cheese will no longer be imported into the United States. I last served the cheese at my Devil in the White City Dinner Party, and it saddens me that I will no longer be able to nosh on a Victorian favorite.

Murray’s Cheese (the best cheese store in New York) is holding a farewell party. Read the full story here.