Fashionable Food is fabulous. It was published in 1995 and, I am sorry to admit, I just discovered our copy. Suzi and I have a lot of cookbooks, a lot. And sometimes things go onto shelves so you can read them soon, and then soon becomes a lot of years, a lot.
Did I say this book was fabulous? Or fascinating? Heck, it’s both.
Sylvia loves old cookbooks and is herself fascinated by the history of cooking. This book discusses food fads, both wonderful ones and — as you will see — some pretty incredibly bad food idea. She covers seven decades, the Twenties through the Eighties, with each decade getting its own chapter. And I’ve only made it through that first chapter on the Twenties, but already I can heartily recommend this book. If you love food history, if you wonder how our food culture has changed, then this book is superior.
It’s a combination of cookbook and culinary history. Each decade is discussed in terms of the changes taking place: what new foods and equipment arrive, what are the “in” dishes, what changes occur in how we cook. And interwoven in that discussion are sample recipes: some good ones, some pretty outrageous ones, but all of them authentic to that time period.
The Twenties were a decade of decisive change in how we cook and eat. Prohibition had a numbing effect: restaurants, who survive on the margins of spirits and wine, faded away and were replaced by Tea Shops. French chefs returned home. And a changing economy meant that middle class families often now made do without a maid to absorb the burden of cooking. It was up to Mom.
The food industry truly began to dominate our culinary lives. They provided both food and propaganda. The benefits of canned fruit, over that dirty stuff that was fresh off the farm, was lauded. Canned pineapple appeared in almost everything. And the Burpee Seed Company was able to dominate the lettuce market with something called Iceberg, the head lettuce that became synonymous with the word lettuce.
Salads were a big deal, but they trick was to hide those “natural” ingredients and make sure that sweetness was dominant flavor tone. So you have very popular tomato-pineapple salad:
Water Lilly Salad
6 medium tomatoes, peeled with stem intact
1 16 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
Cut the tomatoes in sixths, partly through to the solid part at the stem. Press gentry apart until the tomato is like a water lily, about two-thirds open. Place the tomatoes on lettuce leaves and fill the centers with crushed pineapple. Garnish with mayonnaise.
Okay. What can say? Yummy? No, it pretty ghastly. If you tried to serve this to your family now, you’d be faced with divorce and children seeking emancipation.
But, it gets worse. There’s a Banana and Popcorn Salad using a sliced banana topped with popcorn and mayonnaise sitting on a lettuce leaf. At least it does not involve peanut butter.
Sylvia goes at lengthy about the way “new” things were put to use. Gelatin, aspic, and Jell-O were major players in fashioning salad meals. Ever had aspic? You should do it once. Just to say you have.
Refrigerators began to appear in the Twenties, replacing the old ice boxes. It was a slow process. Only two million homes had refrigerators by 1937 and only 80% by the mid-Fifties. Though, in contrast, only 8% of British homes had refrigerators by 1956.
General Electric supplied both the refrigerators and recipes. They loved frozen things. Like salads, yes, frozen salads. They created a Fruit and Flower Mission Frozen Cheese Salad where you mixed cream cheese, mayonnaise, and whipped cream with pimientos, bell pepper, pecans, and paprika. You froze it and then served it. With mayonnaise. Iceberg lettuce leaves were optional.
I read the Twenties chapter this morning and this book is a real page turner. Every turn of the page has me asking, “They did what?”
Now, not everything is bad. The original Lady Baltimore Cake is here. Those same yellow cake layers can be employed in a lovely Marshmallow-Coconut Cake. And Devil’s Food cake, that first appeared in 1898, now arrives in a more refined recipe complete with classic vanilla boiled icing.
And there’s a new cake that, in the Twenties, thrilled everyone and was the centerpiece for any upscale dinner party: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.
You have to give those people at Dole credit for some of the earliest mass marketing masterpieces.
I’m off to read about the Thirties. I love this book and you will too, just find a copy and settle in.
Sylvia wrote this 21 years ago. I looked her up and was delighted to see that, after all that time, she has a new book: Melon, A Global History. I’m getting my copy of that now. I’m not wasting another 21 years.
If I say Chicago, what food snaps into your mind. Pizza? Dogs? Cabbage rendered in a thousand different ways? That’s a dangerous topic to ask a person from New York, the home of true pizza and the world’s best hot dogs. And, and, which city has won more World Series?
Back to food. Chicago? I think Mexican. And largely because of one man: Rick Bayless. Frontera Grill is his flagship Chicago restaurant, a site that for over 20 years has served delicious, ethnically authentic, outstanding food. Rick has many books but this one, Frontera, packs in 50 recipes just from that singular restaurant. Over all those years, a lot of avocados have arrived at the back door of Frontera. A lot of happy people have left hours later through the front door, the tang of guacamole on their tongue, the vapors of margarita sublime in their brains.
Wonderful variations for guac and margaritas — plus some snacks — are presented here, reflecting years of trial, experimentation and ultimately perfection.
Take this guacamole. It has cheese. Like goat cheese. Would you have thought of that? I would not, but I do love the taste. Goat cheese adds both its distinctive flavor and mouth feel. Rick says this dish is substantial, and prefers it as side to shrimp, chicken, fish or pork. I put a chip in the picture because I could never make a batch of guac and not at least taste test. In this particular case, Suzen and I taste tested the whole bowl.
What did we do then? Why we dipped into our emergency supply of ripe avocados. You have one of those, right?
Grilled Corn and Poblano Guacamole
Yield: 4 cups
½ medium white onion, sliced crosswise into 3 rounds
A little olive oil or vegetable oil
1 small ear of fresh corn, husked and cleaned of silk
1 fresh poblano chile
3 ripe medium-large avocados
¼ cup crumbled Mexican fresh cheese or other fresh cheese, like salted pressed farmer’s cheese or goat cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1-2 tablespoons epazote [or cilantro]
Heat a gas grill to medium or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until medium-hot and the coals are covered with gray ash. Lightly brush both sides of the onion slices with oil, sprinkle with salt and lay on the grill.
Oil the corn and lay it beside the onion, along with the poblano (no oil needed on it). When the onion slices are browned on one side, 4 to 5 minutes, flip them and grill the other side. Turn the corn regularly until evenly browned, about 5 minutes. Roast the poblano for 5 to 7 minutes, turning it until evenly blackened. Let the roasted vegetables cool.
Chop the onion into ¼-inch pieces. Cut the kernels from the corn (you need about ¾ of a cup). Rub the blackened skin off the poblano, pull out and discard the stem and seed pod, tear the chile open and briefly rinse to remove stray seeds and bits of blackened skin. Cut into ¼-inch pieces.
Cut the avocados in half, running a knife around the pit from top to bottom and back up again. Twist the halves in opposite directions to release the pit from one side of each avocado. Remove the pit, then scoop the flesh from 1 avocado in a large bowl. Scoop the flesh from the other 2 avocados onto a cutting board and cut them into ½-inch pieces. With an old-fashioned potato masher, a large fork on the back of a large spoon, thoroughly mash the avocado this is in the bowl.
Scoop the diced avocado into the bowl, along with the grilled onion, corn, poblano and 2 tablespoons of the fresh cheese. Sprinkle with the lime juice and epazote [or cilantro], then gently stir the mixture to distribute everything evenly. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate.
When you are ready to serve, scoop, the guacamole into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Source: Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless
Photo Credits: Canon T2i, 18-55mm lens at F/5.7, 1/100 second at ISO 3200 [no flash]
Seafood is often considered to be fragile. Fresh and lovely for a day or so, then rather not too alluring. What if you could make our oysters last for month? You can and it’s simple: pickle them. You get your seafood flavor plus the tang of the pickling liquids. From Brooklyn Bar Bites [see my review here], this recipe will give you a large batch of appetizer bites to please a crowd. Or, you can make them all for yourself and just nibble for days. Like, up to 30 days!
Yield: about 1 quart
For the pickling spices:
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 4 pieces
1 whole clove
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
2 cups white wine vinegar
½ cup water
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
For the oysters:
30 large, meaty East Coast oysters, such as Blue Points, shucked
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 white onion, thinly sliced
To make the pickling spice: Put the peppercorns, coriander, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick in a small bowl and stir together. Transfer to a large saucepan and add the brown sugar, salt, vinegar, water, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard seeds. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the salt and sugar dissolve. Set aside.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the oysters and cook for 1 minute; drain.
Layer the oysters, lemon, and onion in a large clean jar with a lid. Pour the pickling liquid over them. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.
The oysters will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a month.
And, when you serve them, do it with the elegance shown in this lovely photo by Jennifer May.
Source: Brooklyn Bar Bites by Barbara Scott-Goodman [Rizzoli, 2016]