Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Church Cookbooks of New York (Well, New Jersey This Time), Part 2.5: Steamed Chicken ("From Ridgewood Kitchens," West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, NJ, 1945)



Part 1:  The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 1: Tomato Soup Cake ("Golden Anniversary," Church of the Master, Rochester, 1977)
Part 2:  The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 2: "Hot Damn" ("Sharing Our Best" - Chemung ARC, Elmira, 1996)

I am calling this installment of church cookbook cooking "Part 2.5" as it is not from a New York recipe collection. It is from a Ridgewood, New Jersey collection.  I will continue with my exploration of the lore and wisdom of Upstate New York church ladies shortly.

Recently I purchased a small lot of mostly Central New York cookbooks. Included was "From Ridgewood Kitchens," sponsored by the Women's Guild of the West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, New Jersey, 1945.


This is a thoroughly interesting recipe collection. It is a snapshot of late/post WWII home cooking in the North East. Many of the recipes seem almost modern. This period in American cooking is unlike the 50s/60s/70s with all of the kitsch horrors that those eras produced. In the mid-40s you had relatively simple preparations using spare amounts of wholesome ingredients.

This recipe especially piqued my interest --


What a nice, simple Asian influenced recipe! It is unlike the American recipes of the following decades where "Asian" or "Oriental" in the recipe name will mean, "this has soy sauce in it, maybe water chestnuts too."

So I purchased ingredients and followed the instructions religiously.


Although I did adhere to the recipe, the recommended amounts of peanuts and raisins felt a bit aggressive. Almost as if you were stuffing the chicken carcass with trail-mix... For the mushrooms I used rehydrated shitakes.

After steaming in a glass bowl propped on an overturned saucer in a stock pot for 2.5 hours, this is what we have --


It smelled really very good.

I flipped the stuffed chicken into a larger bowl as per the recipe --


It made for an interesting presentation I thought. A nice steamy dome of chicken carcass....

Final step, "Serve."


First thing I thought was, "hell, I don't eat enough steamed chicken." Steaming the whole bird results in tender juiciness (even in the white meat) that is difficult to achieve via other cooking methods.

Second thing I thought was that this might be some sort of spiritual grandmother recipe to modern American-Chinese "sweet and sour" chicken dishes. The sugar/salt/raisins/peanuts together had a sweet/salty/sour/crunchy feel that you find in the modern globby sauced and fried dishes. But this '45 recipe is stripped down and delicious.

I would prepare this again. I don't know that I have seen a similar recipe during my study of old timey church cookbooks, so I feel I have resurrected a treasure from the past... I think you could successfully tweak this recipe to your own particular tastes. I would like to see a source of heat and maybe a little more acid.

I apologize for the departure from my usual local subject matter. Increasingly I am using this weblog to record things for myself so I don't forget them.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Grandma Brown's Baked Bean Sandwich




My post concerning Grandma Brown's Baked Beans (Mexico, NY) has long been one of my most viewed. I am quite happy with this as I absolutely love Grandma Brown's beans. In fact, for years as a younger man I kept one of the 116 once mega-cans in my apartment as an objet d'art.

Aside from the beautiful label design, Grandma Brown makes some delicious no-nonsense bean products. Just peruse the comment section of my post and you will sense the intense loyalty felt towards these beans by my fellow Upstate New York countrymen.

Something that caught my eye while reading through those comments were the repeated reminiscences concerning Grandma Brown's baked bean sandwiches. Here is such a comment from "Jim" --

"I was born in Fulton NY not far from Mexico NY.
Grandma Browns was an "institution" for any baked bean fan in our area. In the early 50's the company had a booth at the NYS Fair, and sold bean sandwiches for .15 (fifteen cents !).
There was a one block line of people waiting for them. The next year ? No GB sandwiches. Rumor had it that the "hot dog and burger" guys threatened not to come back if GB was allowed ! I believe it was true.
Jim Mahern - "still a fan"!"


Baked bean sandwiches, eh? This is not a tradition that I am familiar with. Some cursory google research informed me that the baked bean sandwich seems to be a tradition out of New England. This makes sense to me. I have long said that Upstate New York (at least the eastern part) shares a common food culture with inland New England. 

My initial thought was that the baked bean sandwich would have been served warm. However, it appears that the baked bean sandwich is a dish traditionally served cold. I am not averse to consuming Grandma Brown's products cold. One of my guilty pleasures is tortilla chips with ersatz bean dip made from GB's bean soup straight out o' the can. So I decided to make a traditional baked bean sandwich.

I cracked open a can of GB's baked beans and spooned some right onto a slice of Freihofer's.


Don't that look beautiful?




Tucking in I found the bean sandwich to be thoroughly pleasant. It's one of those starch on starch concepts that scratches a very particular itch. I imagine that a bean sandwich made out of leftovers from a batch of doctored (I always add bacon and mustard) Grandma Brown's beans would be sublime.

You know what this sandwich was missing? I'll tell you my idear for the perfect GB's bean sandwich. Butter the heck out of that bread with some softened butter, squirt a little mustard onto that bread, and ensure there was some good smokey bacon involved in your bean preparation.

This is the first food project I've done in years that really made me swell with Upstate New York pride... After nearly a decade of writing this hack weblog I am still discovering new traditions from my beloved homeland!

Perhaps you should prepare some GB beans at your memorial day BBQ. Then perhaps you should make a sandwich out of the leavings. This is my advice to you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Church (Cornell) Chicken: Brooks BBQ



We don't have many true culinary traditions here in Upstate NY, but we do have some. Eating grilled "Cornell Chicken" at your local church barbecue is one of them.

I start salivating every time I drive by a church signboard advertising a chicken BBQ. I have since childhood. I nearly lose my mind when I drive by a church and see (smell) this...


If you aren't from around here I guess I should explain a couple of things before I go on...

First of all, a note on Cornell Chicken. This recipe was developed by the late Professor Robert C. Baker (also the inventor of the chicken nugget), Professor of Poultry Science and Food Science at Cornell University. The recipe is as follows.

Recipe for Barbeque Sauce (enough for 10 halves): 

1 cup cooking oil 
1 pint cider vinegar 
3 tablespoons salt 
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning 
1/2 teaspoon pepper 
1 egg 

Beat the egg, then add the oil and beat again. Add other ingredients and stir. The recipe can be varied to suit individual tastes. 

Chicken halves marinated/basted in a variant of this sauce are fairly ubiquitous at church chicken barbecues. The outfits that cater these events generally have their own secret recipe for their particular sauce. But they are all basically variants of the above Cornell Chicken recipe. Brooks BBQ out of Oneonta is the most common caterer in the Capital Region (you might also see Giffy's).

Secondly, a note on the use of the term "BBQ" or "Barbecue." Folks, the term "BBQ/Barbecue" has been attested as meaning, "a social gathering with food cooked over an open heat source" since the 17th century... It's use is not solely limited to southern style BBQ. If you argue this point and get bunched up about Brooks' or Giffy's using the term then you are a pedant. A dirty, stinky, annoying pedant.

I would argue that Cornell chicken served at church/community barbecues and grilled on grates over charcoal is our own "Upstate New York vernacular BBQ." It has its own history, traditions, and recipes that have persisted over time. It is ours. We should embrace and be proud of it.

Moving on. I took the entire family over to the Methodist church in McKownville the other weekend for some Brooks' chicken.


I lived for most of my childhood in McKownville so this is my home base for church chicken.

Everyone should "Eat In" at least once in your life. This is where you will soak up the true experience of a chicken BBQ. The whole process makes me happy. It hasn't change much in my lifetime. The fact that they now accept debit cards seems a revolutionary development...

You start off by taking a looksy at the menu.


Then you buy your tickets.


Next you walk over to the seating area which will contain charmingly set clothed tables. You grab a tray and get your drinks. Water, apple juice, tomato juice, or coffee. It is always water, apple juice, tomato juice, or coffee... Then you choose some cake and go sit down. The nice folks at the church will bring you your chicken.

My son started his meal with an appetizer of cake...


You know what makes me smile more than almost anything? A church BBQ "relish tray," that's what. Just look at it. Look! There is nothing in the world more charming then a relish tray at a church chicken BBQ.


Then your chicken arrives. And your potato.


I love Brooks' chicken. Tender, flavorful, crisp... At least it is always crisp when you go to the actual Brooks' location in Oneonta. At church events we must make some allowances as sometimes the chicken has been held for a bit after coming off of the grill. But didn't I tell you folks? This is about the experience as much as it is about the chicken...

You sit there in that church with your family and your fellow countrymen and munch your chicken bones clean. There is something very peaceful and serene about the whole process. I can't explain it. It is a thing that must be experienced for one's self.

Something that troubled me during my visit was the average age of the fellow chicken enthusiasts seated around me. It was an aged crowd. Other than my own, I don't think there were any young families. This made me sad. I think the lugubrious pace of "eating in" at these events is too much for the frenetic members of my generation... The staid traditions may seem too "hokey" for many.

This is madness. If you drive by a sign in your community advertising a chicken BBQ, you better go. Don't grab a takeout chicken. You stay right there and "eat in." While eating tell your children, "someday you will bring your children here."

We cannot afford to let things like this fade from the world.  The world has already moved on from so many things...






Friday, May 6, 2016

The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 2: "Hot Damn" ("Sharing Our Best" - Chemung ARC, Elmira, 1996)


Part 1:  Tomato Soup Cake, "Golden Anniversary" - Church of the Master, Rochester, 1977)

As folks seemed to like the concept of exploring recipes from my small (but growing) stash of vintage local Church/Community recipe collections, I thought I would follow up with a Part 2.

Today we have a selection from "Sharing Our Best" released in 1996 by the Chemung ARC out of Elmira, NY.


The recipes in this book were mostly fairly pedestrian takes on workaday family style dishes. However, something that stood out to me was the recipe titles. Many of the recipes for familiar dishes had these wonderfully strange monikers.

In there I found -- "Barbara's Cheese Moss Balls, "Even Pat Can Do It - Hamburgers and Tomatoes," "$250.00 Cookie Recipe," "White Trash (basically muddy buddies/puppy chow)," and the dish I ultimately decided to recreate -- "Hot Damn."

Here is the recipe for, "Hot Damn"by Ms. Aviva Tappan --


I'm on board to give any recipe containing Doritos and Velveeta a whirl...

A note on the ingredients. This recipe is not something I would feed my family regularly, or would ever consume myself. I decided that I would make an effort to tailor it to my families tastes so that it would not be an entire waste. I used Barilla protein plus rotini for the noodles and omitted the mushrooms/olives. No way I'm getting mushrooms/olives past my picky rugrats.


I haven't handled Velveeta in many years. I had forgotten how fascinating the stuff is. So bright and wiggly. I played with it for a minute or two.


The recipe for "Hot Damn" is pretty simple. Mix all the crap together, slop it in a baking dish, and bake at 350 for "20 or 30" minutes. And that is what I done did.

Here she is fresh and pipin' hot out of the oven. A gooey, bubbly, golden brown heap of "Hot Damn."


I served myself a small portion and tucked in... I had to laugh! This stuff tastes like Nacho Cheese Doritos in a noodley casserole form. The "Hot Damn's"  salsa/Velveeta/crushed Doritos had melded together into a perfect "Dorito Sauce."

Pretty amazing actually. If Ms. Aviva Tappan was going for the perfect expression of Doritos flavor in the form of a casserole she hit the nail right on the goddamn head. Kudos to her. I can't say that I exactly enjoyed this recipe, but I can definitely appreciate the cut of its jib.

So, did my kids like it? Nope. Mr. Dave Jr. wasn't having any of this "Hot Damn" nonsense. My intrepid daughter took a bite, shrugged her shoulders, and said -- "no thank you."

So here I am. Left with a giant dish of "Hot Damn" and a house redolent with the aroma of Doritos... No matter. A small price to pay for bringing New York's past back to life. I think I will be able to find some willing bellies to fill with gobs of "Hot Damn."

Stay tuned. This will not be the end of this series. I just acquired the following list of treasures --


There is sure to be solid gold contained on some of these pages...

Sensible Fashion for the Upstate Male: Waxed Fabric Hat (Non-Food Post)


As it has been raining nonstop I thought I'd take a brake from the hack food posts and share a "lifestyle tip by Dave" to help keep the rain off your noggin.

Ever hear of waxed cotton? If you don't know, waxed cotton is produced by applying "fabric wax" to material. It is a historical method of effectively waterproofing all sorts of things. Tents, bags, coats (I've been eyeing a waxed cotton Barbour field coat for ages),  hats...

Fabric wax is very useful stuff.

I make my own.


It's fairly easy to do. The recipe is simply -- 1 part beeswax, 1 part paraffin wax, and 1/10th part orange oil. I don't think the orange oil is necessary but I've read it makes the fabric wax easier to spread (I like the smell). You heat up the mixture in a double boiler and then pour into molds. I use a silicon tray meant for oversized ice cubes.


Anyhow, I've had this hat lying around for years. It's a canvass "field hat" (sort of like an Akubra maybe?). I've never really worn it much because I look sort of ridiculous in it. But as I have just turned 36 I've decided I'm now allowed to dress as ridiculously as I want. I thought waxing this hat would make it perfect for soggy dog walks, rainy day hiking, and whatever else I get up to out in the wet.


Using the fabric wax is pretty easy. You just rub it on as evenly as possible. Here is the first coat.


Now, a trick I use for small items like this hat is to throw it in a pillow case and run in the dryer for about 10 minutes. The canvass will soak up a lot of wax so you have to repeat this process something like 3 to 5 times.

Here is the hat after three applications. The fabric has gotten darker, stiffer, and acquired a faint waxy sheen.


The hat is now fairly waterproof. I am attempting to show how water beads up on it in the next photo, but I guess it didn't turn out so well...


Waxed cotton is great stuff. With use/abuse it crinkles and lines and starts to look more interesting the more you wear it. I love things that become more beautiful the more they are used/cared for. When enough of the wax has worn off, reapply and your item is reinvigorated.

So there you have it. In light of our godforsaken Upstate New York weather, methods of keeping the cold and damp out are essential. Fabric wax is one of those historical products that has stood the test of time. All of my Upstate American countrymen should keep a hunk of this stuff in their toolboxes in case the need to waterproof something in a jiffy comes up...

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Found Recipe Card...



I'm always finding things. However, sometimes I think it is the things that are finding me...

On this weblog, I contain my ramblings about found things to grocery store lists (List #1 "The Blonoga List, List #2, List #3, List #4). But today I found something else applicable.

My lovely daughter and I were walking along Delaware Ave. in Delmar after some coloring book shopping. About halfway home I spied a recipe card right next to the sidewalk! My interest in vintage recipe cards is second only to my interest in vintage local church/organizational recipe collections. I believe the universe had decided to brighten my day.

Here we have Card 47 "Gold Coast Salad" from "My Great Recipes" (packet 22) published in Holland in 1984.


The recipe is fairly uninteresting. Just a simple blanched and dressed carrot salad. The food styling in the photograph is nice, it has a very 80s modern feel to it. I find the fact that I found a random recipe card on the side of the road more interesting than the card itself...

I had a mind to reunite this lonely card with its recipe card brethren. But a cursory search of eBay found that the complete sets go for 35-50 bucks. I am not 50 bucks worth of interested.

Anyhow, it was neat finding an old recipe card.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 1: Tomato Soup Cake ("Golden Anniversary," Church of the Master, Rochester, 1977)


I have a thing for old, yellowing, comb-bound church (or sundry other civic associations) cookbooks. I have written of this love before. I have an especial interest in those that come from Upstate/Western/Central/Northern New York. These recipe collections often contain lost wisdom and lore from generations gone by. I snatch them up whenever I can.

You can find plenty of predictably bad vintage recipes in these collections, jello molds and things like that. But once in a while you come across something so strange it simply needs to be brought back to life and tested. So I figured I might do a series of posts where I try out an interesting recipe or two and see what happens. Just my small way of keeping our culinary history alive.

Today we have "Tomato Soup Cake." Yes, you heard me. "Tomato Soup Cake."



I will get to the recipe in a minute, first let me introduce you to the book.

Here we have, "Golden Anniversary Cookbook."


This no frills affair was published in Rochester in 1977.


So, "Tomato Soup Cake," eh? I have never heard of this before! It sounded so strange that I figured there must be something to it. If someone took the time to write the recipe down and submit it to "The Cook Book Committee and Volunteers of The Church of the Master" it must be pretty good, right? I had to know...


The recipe, except for the tomato soup, is a pretty standard spice cake. It is like carrot cake, but only instead of carrots -- tomato soup. I decided to follow the recipe religiously except I omitted raisins. Why? Because I hate raisins and they ruin everything.

"Add soda to soup" seemed to me that it might be of some importance. I started thinking things like -- "maybe the acid in the soup reacts with the baking soda and this neutralizes the tomato soup flavor and produces magical lift and other pleasurable cake characteristics." So I added the soda to the soup.


Stirring the baking soda in it did start to fizz and overflow a bit, so don't do this too far in advance.

The ingredients came together into a fairly benign looking batter.


And baked up into a fairly benign looking cake.


Now began the first hints of horror. The smell... Oh sweet lord baby Jesus, the smell... An otherworldly stench of tomato soup concentrate spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

I let the cake cool and whipped up the suggested cream cheese frosting. I slopped the frosting on top and it all looked entirely normal.


I cut myself a hearty slice. Apart from being a little orange in color (and having the above described stench) it looked like a perfectly normal slice of spice cake.


Then I took a bite. As you start to chew you get the tasty cream cheese frosting and sweet spice up front. For a moment you think, heck. This ain't half bad. But then you are punched in the mouth by the condensed tomato soup. Punched right in your poor unsuspecting mouth.

I will not sugar coat it. I'm sorry Mrs. Arline Copeland, but this is some horrific shit. No need to recreate this recipe in your home kitchen. Just go buy a slice of carrot cake and glob on some tomato soup concentrate and the effect will be similar. The tomato soup is not a background note, it is a front and center flavor. I don't know, maybe the cake needs the raisins? Somehow I don't think they would have made it any more bearable.

I am sitting here probably two hours after having a bite of the "Tomato Soup Cake" and I can still taste it in my mouth. I worry that a foul, spicy, tomato film has permanently coated my tongue.

I usually don't have this strong of a reaction to unpleasant food. I hate all those stupid Buzzfeed videos where people carry on about how much they hate Korean potato chips or something... I am not exaggerating for comic effect here. "Tomato Soup Cake" is horrid. I have been traumatized.

Has anyone out there heard of this recipe before? Does your family eat it? Do you like it? Is this part of some culinary tradition? I just don't understand it. What sort of deviant human thought that tomato soup concentrate might bring something good to the spice cake party? (*Edit: I googled it. This is a well attested Depression era recipe. All sorts of history out there if you are interested)

In any event, I had a grand old time whipping this up so expect future installments. I just eBayed (don't tell my wife) an especially grand volume from the mid-80s out of good ol' Albany. There is sure to be a recipe of note in there.

I'm off to brush my tongue.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

This is a Halfmoon; This is a Black and White Cookie.


Sometimes I can be quite a cranky pedant. A few weeks ago I was scrolling through my facebook feed when I spied a link to one of those Buzzfeed quizzes. It was entitled -- "Can You Pass This Upstate New York Food Test?" I'm not one for these sorts of things but I had a minute so I gave it a go.

Scrolling through the quiz I came to the question, "What are these treats called?" There was a picture that was clearly of a Black and White Cookie. So I answered Black and White Cookie... I was told I was wrong and that this was a Halfmoon.

This is where the cranky pedant bit comes in. A black and white cookie is a black and white cookie, a halfmoon is a half-moon (you need only to consult the wiki). There is a difference. So I got angry. I am proud of Upstate/Central/Western/North Country/etc... food traditions (halfmoons are out of Central New York) and I have taken it upon myself to champion them. So I proceeded to harangue the author of the quiz...




Until he (@perpetua) replaced the offending picture of the black and white cookie with one of my own pictures of a proper Hemstrought's halfmoon.




I thought this a grand public service, but I think the matter warrants a little more discussion. I will do that below.

Whenever the halfmoon vs. black and white cookie debate comes up someone will invariably chime in with, "but lots of people use the terms interchangeably." I like to respond to this with a quote from one of my favorite Peep Show characters -- Super Hans.


So here is a side by side comparison of the two treats for clarity's sake.

I obtained my specimens at the Hannafords in Delaware Plaza in Delmar. Note that they sell both Hemstrought's half-moons and generic black and white cookies. Labeled correctly.

Black and White Cookies -


Half-Moons -


First we shall examine a black and white cookie. This is a creature of downstate/NYC/Long Island extraction. It is widely available throughout New York and has a few defining characteristics.

The vanilla/chocolate topping is a solid glaze or fondant sort of stuff. It is often almost crispy to the tooth.


The "cookie" part is a dense white/vanilla substance, often flavored with a bit of citrus.


I am not a fan of this particular cookie.

Now we have a glorious Hemstrought's Halfmoon. The vanilla/chocolate topping is composed of frosting. Note that the vanilla side is often higher than the chocolate at the center line.



The "cookie" part is not vanilla sponge. It is chocolate! A proper halfmoon has a chocolate base.


Take a bite of the halfmoon. It is delicious. Soft, yielding frosting and a cocoa punch from the cookie. No deviant crispy fondant and citrus scented garbage sponge.


This my friend is a halfmoon.

So maybe the terms aren't so "interchangeable," eh? In fact, my children (bless their hearts) reject black and white cookies outright. Halfmoons are one of their beloved treats. The cookies are two separate and distinct animals and I will point this out every single time it comes up.

I hope I have cleared this up for you.

Also, go home Hemstrough'ts. You are drunk. These particular halfmoons are weird.


Happy Easter!


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