Saturday, May 13, 2017

Make America Great Again: The American Chestnut (Bear With Me)


There is a thing that disappeared from this country in the 20th century whose loss impacted the way of life of a large swath of American folks. All the way from Maine, through Appalachia, to the Ohio Valley... A part of the landscape simply disappeared. The return of this thing might tangibly make America great again...

I am speaking of the American Chestnut tree (Castanea dentata). Watch this video, it tells the story of the tree, and the impact the loss had on a way of life, better than I could. It is also heartbreaking. To make a long story short, the American chestnut once made up 20-30% of all hardwood over most of the eastern part of this country. 3 to 4 billion trees. In the early 1900s a blight started in a NYC (that damn cursed metropolis...) botanical garden which quickly spread. Virtually all American chestnuts died. 

The trees were used for wood, the nuts were forage for livestock and wildlife, the leaves returned nutrients to the soil... All suddenly, in historical terms, gone.


There remain isolated stands of American chestnuts scattered across its original range. But the hopes for a widespread return of the tree to its original numbers are slim. The blight remains and most trees do not survive past 10 years.

There are various organizations out there fighting the good fight to save the American chestnut. Take a look (maybe donate a bit...) at The American Chestnut Foundation. Scientists are doing their science thing (backcrossing, genetics, etc...). In fact, for some New York pride you should know that Cornell and SUNY-ESF are leading the way on this.

I don't know why this issue has put its hooks in me, but it has. I went ahead and bought 4 tiny saplings.



All seem to have taken root and are breaking bud into tiny leaves! I'm excited.

I will try my best to raise these little tree-babies. When they are affected by the blight (seems to be inevitable) I will try to nurse them through. We will just have to wait a decade or so to see what happens.

The American chestnut flowers into long whispy catkins in late spring or early summer. There are descriptions of people standing in the Appalachian mountains watching the white catkins undulate with the wind across the entire landscape as far as the eye could see... It must have been beautiful. It must have been great. I will never see this in my lifetime. But maybe my children could, or my grandchildren...

Imagine chestnut fed, Appalachian-hog, country hams. Imagine handcrafted chestnut furniture. Imagine just sitting in the shade of one of those stately behemoths...

"A society grows when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in" is the old proverb, right? Cliche as it is, it is a great sentiment. I'm trying to do my small part to affect positive change. You have to try, right?

Maybe look into getting a couple of saplings. I don't know, it could be fun for you and make you feel good.




Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Church Cookbooks of New York: Part 5: 6# Fudge (Velveeta), "The Heart of Adirondack Cooking" First Presbyterian Church, Warrensburg, NY, 1988



Part 2:  "Hot Damn," "Sharing Our Best" - Chemung ARC, Elmira, 1996
Part 2.5: Steamed Chickent "From Ridgewood Kitchens," West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, NJ, 1945

Here we have this lovely little number out of Warrensburg.



Something that makes me laugh about this book is how half of the recipes are attributed in the title to someone other than the person who is listed as the contributor. It's as if folks were afraid of being thought to have taken credit for a recipe that belonged to someone else... Thieving Grandma Branch's pickle recipe and accepting the undeserved laurels would be a hanging offense. How absolutely typical of my stodgy Upstate countrymen. 



Check the below recipe out. This is why I am in the church cookbook collecting business. The recipe isn't really a revelation. However, it speaks to the fact that once and a while you can turn up fragments of local cooking lore in these recipe collections. A no-name recipe that was found on a scrap of paper in a book...


Anyhow, the recipe I decided to experiment with is the below.


Here we have "6# Fudge." 

Now, I am no especial fan of fudge. I have barely any sweet tooth. But a fudge recipe wherein the very first ingredient is Velveeta? Where do I sign up.

I'm no stranger to fudge involving cheese. The Herkimer County Cheese Co. (maker of my beloved Xmas Cheese Balls) makes a cheddar cheese fudge which I have sampled. However, the dark arts involved in actually producing the stuff interested me enough to give it a go.

So I assembled my 6 pounds of stuff.

A pound of Velveeta.


A pound of margarine (shudder... I hate margarine).


Melted these two up together.


And then I had a little help from my junior mixing the molten "cheese"/margarine into the 4 pounds of powdered sugar and cocoa mixture.


We made a couple of batches. One with walnuts and one without (my fudge assistant doesn't fancy walnuts).

They went into some tins lined with buttered parchment. Don't you just love the phrase "buttered parchment?" It just rolls off of the tongue...


And here we have a chunk. Cooled and cut.



If you are into fudge, this is some pretty good fudge. The Velveeta adds a textural component and just a hint of flavor. The Velveeta in this recipe reminds me of the butyric acid in Hershey's chocolate. Just a little funk in the background to make things interesting.

I have made "process cheese" akin to Velveeta in the past utilizing sodium citrate (see here) along with quality New York cheddar. I think it might be fun to whip up a 6# Fudge batch utilizing a more assertive cheese just to see what happens. It would most likely be horrible, but you never know. It might be fun.

Anyhow, I told a bunch of friends that I was making the Velveeta fudge and everyone was all "gags" and "grosses." I even had to foot a bunch of it over to a misbelieving neighbor who thought the stuff would be vomitous.


Everyone who tasted the 6# Fudge (including my supremely picky children) declared it to be above average fudge and perfectly normal in taste. 

The only problem I have with this recipe is that it is 6 pounds of fudge. Remaining in my house at the time of this writing is approximately 5 pounds of fudge. I can't even feed the stuff to the dog...

Who wants fudge? I will arrange for the Velveeta Cheese Fudge Fairy to visit your abode.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Crap In Cans: Mrs. Fearnow's Brunswick Stew


Remember 2008-ish? That was the golden age of food-weblogs. Countless knuckleheads were out there doing corny write-ups on novelty canned goods (remember the whole chicken in a can craze?). In fact, one of my very first weblog posts was a canned haggis review (I can't find it, it's lost to history)... **Edit: Found it!**

I never thought I would find myself nostalgic for those days. But here I am less than a month away from my 37th birthday and I'm sitting here waxing nostalgic for those days... Here in the late twenty-teens most of the amateur food commentary goes down on short form social media. There are precious few truly amateurish hacks writing posts that you can sink your teeth into. Thumbing through the twitters or the instagrams just isn't the same. I find this a little sad.

So here I am being all hip and retro by resurrecting the genre. I didn't even find that interesting of a canned good...But I'm a-writin' about it and you can't stop me.

I should note before going on that I just had some minor oral surgery and am mildly zonked on pain killers... This may or may not have something to do with my whim of the evening.

Here we have "Mrs. Fearnow's Brunswick Stew with Chicken."


My first thought upon spying this can at Hannafords (Delmar) was, "Oh, god. It can't actually have squirrel in it... Isn't Brunswick Stew supposed to have squirrel in it?..."

Fear not, Mrs. Fearnow's is made with chicken.



Here she is cold and un-canned.


It has sort of a pre-digested look to it, doesn't it? I think it's the corn.


The little disks of potato struck me as weird.


But all in all, the stuff wasn't that bad... Tender veg, a pleasant tomato tang, some nice mouthfeel from the chicken fat... A cut above your average canned slop.

Anyhow, I hope you will join me in bringing back retro food-weblog topics. Go ahead, test some prison recipes. Maybe make a White Castle Casserole. Do some kitschy bacon recipes,,, Maybe make a bacon wrapped E.L. Fudge. Ensure you accompany your cheesy prose with equally badly lit cellphone pictures!

Party like it's 2009. Get weird with it.



Bacon Wrapped E.L. Fudge. Yup, I Went There. (From 2008)



I had one random slice of bacon and some double stuffed Keebler EL Fudges lying around, I think you can pretty much predict what happened.

Yup, "Elwood" (EL fudges have elf's names on them if you don't know)got wrapped in bacon. Am I becoming a parody of myself here with the whole bacon wrapped thing?



Into the oven we went Mr. Elwood the cookie at 350 for about 20 minutes.



When I took it out it appeared that there was some chocolatey filling seepage. I let the elf cool so things had a chance to firm up a little. I then sliced it on the bias to get a look at the insides.



Verdict: Upon biting into the bacon/cookie you are hit with an immediate pork flavor on the front end which morphs into a salty/chocolate flavor as you continue to chew. A little disconcerting at the incept but we finish with a fairly pleasant flavor. Not bad, not bad.


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Canned Haggis, Tatties and Neeps. Yum. (From 2008)

Here it is folks! As promised, one glorious can of yummy, meaty Lamb Haggis! Just delivered from the fine folks at the Caledonian Kitchen.



The first ingredients are in order: Water, Lamb, Hydrated Pinhead Oats, Beef Liver, and Refined Beef Suet. R-e-f-i-n-e-d spells delicious!!! In case you are watching your figure this one 14.5 ounce can contains 1320 calories and 212% of your daily saturated fat intake. Thats all that tasty beef suet working around in there.

Lets crack this bad boy open and see whats shaking. The odyssey begins.



OK, upon opening the can you are literally punched in the face by the smell. The smell of this crap is like concentrated corned beef hash stank mixed with that gamy smell particular to lamb. Some how I do not think the choice chops of lamb made it into this mess. I think I caught a sniff of mechanically separated lamb anus. My kitchen was completely hotboxed in like 6 seconds. My wife who is currently incubating my minion (pregnant) headed for the hills cursing me in some strange gypsy tongue.



Oh good god! After shaking it out of its can I was a little disappointed that the wee haggis was not ensconced in some thing's stomach. But disappointment quickly faded against the strength of the stench that shook even my Anglo-Scots soul to its foundation. How to prepare this jiggling column of lamb scrote and oatmeal? I decided upon the traditional treatment of Haggis, Tatties, and Neeps. I decided to substitute Parsnip for the, in my opinion, nasty Scottish Turnip (rutabaga) which represents the Neep part of the dish.



First I sliced a couple half inch rounds of the Haggis and browned them well in a generous amount of butter.



While this was working I set a large peeled Yukon gold potato and a peeled parsnip to boil in salted water. You are gonna want to boil these until tender but not mushy.



When these are done (about 20 minutes), dry, cool somewhat, chop into symmetrical
cubes, and saute until crisp on all sides.



Next, reduce a couple jiggers of single malt scotch until syrupy. Add a half cup of whipping cream and reduce further for a couple minutes. Season, and finish with some finely chopped parsley.



I served these two rounds of haggisy goodness with points of good German Schinkenbrot, the crisped tatties and neeps, a drizzle of the whiskey cream sauce, and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.



Next step, Dig In!!! Yum!!! Immediately break out remaining single malt, fix a pint glass size whiskey and water, gargle, spit, repeat until rotting, fatty, nasty, gamy, lamby ass funky shit taste dissipates.



Seriously folks, this is slap your children gross. It is a food with which the ass smell is locked in mortal combat with the ass taste for supremacy.

Verdict: I fed this to my cats and then felt bad for them.



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Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 4: Transparent Pie ("Chappaqua Cookbook" The Chappaqua Congregational Church, 1941)


Part 2:  "Hot Damn," "Sharing Our Best" - Chemung ARC, Elmira, 1996
Part 2.5: Steamed Chickent "From Ridgewood Kitchens," West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, NJ, 1945

I scored this little darling last week.


Here we have 1941's "Chappaqua Cookbook" from the The Congregational Church of Chappaqua.


The first thing I ought to say about this particular church cookbook is that it was absolutely brimming with racist imagery. Pages and pages of it. I have several cookbooks from this era and once in a while there will be something to raise an eyebrow... But Chappaqua Cookbook? Chock full. I won't share any images as I don't think anyone benefits from that. 

Considering only the recipes, the book is wonderful. One of the first recipes in the book is the below. I imagined this being whipped up in a prison toilet. This is one of the only "home brew" recipes I have come across in one of these collections. I imagine wild "Sherry" fueled ragers going down at the Congregational Church.

The next one gave me a case of the barf-spits. Prune/mayo/seafood? I can't live at that speed.


My favorite part of 40s/50s Church/Community cookbooks is the hand drawn art work that was common. From the 60s on you don't see this as much. It was pretty much a convention in the 40s and 50s. I absolutely love the "illuminated" title of this pickle recipe.


These lil' dancing cukes? I love them


Anyhow, I came across the following recipe for "Transparent Pie"by M. Pennebaker (L.H.P.). I have no idea what "L.H.P." stands for, but maybe it's this which would make M. Pennebaker a whole lot more interesting. Something about the name "Transparent Pie" made me laugh so I decided to give it a whirl.


From a cursory reading this seems to be a pretty run of the mill custard pie. I don't consider custard pies to be particularly transparent, but I went with it anyhow.

Church cookbook recipes always have you throwing things in double boilers. Because of this I have been on the hunt for a vintage enamelware double boiler. Haven't found a good one yet. In the meantime I do the bowl over a pot thing.


One thing about this recipe that is interesting to me is how much culinary knowledge it presupposes. I love custard so I know what the drill is. I could easily see it not being apparent to others that you are going to want to cook the custard until it is fairly stiff. That would make for a soupy pie and no one likes a soupy pie. Also, "meringue on top" is a pretty spare bit of instruction.

I took "a slow oven" to be 325. So in she went for 30 minutes. I made the meringue by hand with a whisk as I'm a masochist. It came out fairly crappy.


I let it chill and cut myself a slice this very morning for breakfast.


As you can see there is nothing particularly "transparent" about the "Transparent Pie." It is pretty much just a custard pie with some meringue on it. False advertising.

I am a huge custard pie fan. In fact, I don't consider you to be much of a person unless you can cook a decent custard pie. So I was a bit surprised that I didn't really like this recipe. I would dial the sugar way back. Also, I don't really feel like the meringue brings much to the party.

So there you have it. Weird pie from Chappaqua.

One of these days I need to have a dinner party and go full bore with some of the more interesting recipes from these books. I play it fairly conservative as I don't really want to waste food in the name of bizarre historical recipe experimentation. I am starting to accrue a mental stockpile of whizbangers that need to be brought to life and it is starting to bother me...

I might actually have to start a "Ridiculous Food Society" to consume them...

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Community Cookbooks of New York, Part 3: Barbecued Frankfurters ("Kitchen Kapers" City Club of Albany, Albany, 1949)


Part 1:  Tomato Soup Cake, "Golden Anniversary" - Church of the Master, Rochester, 1977
Part 2:  "Hot Damn," "Sharing Our Best" - Chemung ARC, Elmira, 1996
Part 2.5: Steamed Chickent "From Ridgewood Kitchens," West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, NJ, 1945

I consider "Kitchen Kapers" to be one of the jewels of my (ever expanding) Church/Community cookbooks of Upstate New York collection. I really owe some more in depth coverage of its contents. The ads, anecdotes, artwork, etc... are mental ambrosia for any City of Albany History buff.

I consider "Kitchen Kapers" to be nothing less than a work of American folk art.


The book was "compiled" by the City Club of Albany. The City Club is apparently still a going concern (they have a Facebook Page).

Will give some more in-depth coverage of the various hand-drawn elements (ads and recipe artwork) in the future, so just a teaser below. The Tobin's ad and the intro. page to "Meats" are both great. I had a great uncle who worked for Tobin's!


I chose a fairly simple recipe mostly due to the fact that I had a pack of hot dogs in the fridge that I wanted to do away with. This recipe is by no means my favorite (or the most interesting) in the book. There is another humdinger of a recipe in Kitchen Kapers that I am going to have to lay on you at some point in the future.

Here we have "Barbecued Frankfurters" by Mrs. Willbur H. Crammel Sr.


This is a fairly simple recipe and is thoroughly typical of other contemporary recipe collections in my collection.

It's basically a ketchup based BBQ sauce poured over hot dogs and then baked.


Here she is pipin' hot out of the oven!


I am going to dig deep here for a reference, bear with me... The appearance of the "Barbecued Frankfurters" immediately conjured to my mind a scene from the seminal 1989 classic film "Robot Jox."

I am, of course, speaking of the "Real Meat Tonight" scene.


Anyhow, I was a little perplexed by this dish. There was not the usual "serve over rice" or "serve on sliced bread" instruction at the end of the recipe to guide me towards a suitable method of consumption.

I flopped a dog on a plate.


Pretty much what you would expect. A baked hot dog with some sweet BBQ sauce. I will say that it reminded me of the "Brat Tub" preparation (click here for an ancient recipe from my blogging past). I love me a good Brat Tub. Should the craving for wurst braised in a sweet sauce strike me in the future, I will be going with the Brat Tub.

Certainly more to follow concerning "Kitchen Kapers." As I am easily the 3 or 4 thousandth most eminent City of Albany cookbook historian, I feel it is my duty to give this recipe collection the attention it deserves.
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