Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans: Sip A Sazerac

In case you haven't heard, September 26th is Sip a Sazerac Day. What? You've never heard of a Sazerac Cocktail? That's okay, the only reason why I've come across it in my travels is because, 

1: I've been to New Orleans and no visit to New Orleans is quite complete without imbibing in a Sazerac Cocktail, unless of course you have a distaste for cocktails:) 
2: I just happen to have a wonderful cookbook titled Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans that offers a glimpse into the history of New Orleans' "stormy" drink.

"...It is said that M. Peychaud, a druggist who came to the city in 1793 dispensed a "tonic" to the clients of his apothecary shop. It was composed of Cognac and a secret formula which came to be know as "bitters", and was mixed in a double-ended egg cup called in France a coquettier. This word most Americans found difficult to say. Eventually the pronunciation degenerated to give us the word "Cocktail", and the formula for Peychaud's drink became know in time as the world famous Sazerac Cocktail...
Before we dive into the history of The Official Cocktail of New Orleans, would you mind very much if I share some of my favorite passages from Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans? (©1971) It's such a "Heavenly" book:) 
From the dedication: This book is dedicated to the Ursuline Nuns of New Orleans who have untiringly and unceasingly served this community since 1727. The nuns occupied the old Ursuline Convent pictured on the cover from 1752 to 1825. It is the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley and the only one to survive from The French Colonial Period.
If you follow that link above to the Ursuline Convent, you will be able to view an online movie tour just like visitors to the convent do before they embark on their self guided tour. It's quite interesting and not very long. Located in the French Quarter, the building was listed as a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960.
Thankfully, the convent, which now forms the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was spared during Hurricane Katrina. According to the National Historic Landmark website, Hurricane Katrina did blow down the chimney which damaged the roof and the sprinkler system caused extensive interior water damage but the building has since been re-roofed and the walls of the Old Ursuline Convent were repaired.
Arrival of the Ursulines in New Orleans, 1727 (19th century depiction) courtesy of Wikipedia.
The picture entitled "Landing of the Ursuline Nuns," is the most historic picture in Louisiana, being the only glimpse taken of New Orleans in that early period. It is a reproduction of a sketch made by Madeleine Hauchard, a young Ursuline novice, at the moment of the landing of the community on Louisiana soil. From the day of the departure of the Sisterhood from France, Madeleine Hauchard, who was far ahead of her day and generation, began to keep a diary of the order. As the nuns landed in New Orleans, and were met by Governor Bienville and the other Government officials, and clergy, Madeleine Hauchard paused and rapidly sketched the group, for as she afterward told her superioress, "The landing was historical". This original sketch, faithfully preserved by the Ursulines, and still to be seen in the old Convent, was subsequently enlarged by Madeleine Hauchard, and hangs in the Convent parlors within the strict enclosure. On completing the picture, she placed herself among the Sisterhood; she may be easily recognized by the tall, white novice's cap that she wears, and the cat that she bears in her arms. She brought this pet cat all the way from her old home. The picture has never been seen outside of the Convent walls...For upwards of thirty-eight years she kept the daily record of all the events that happened in the colony, and this diary, still faithfully preserved in the old Convent, is the only record extant of those early days. Historical New Orleans 1897-1917
In 1727, King Louis XV of France sent 14 Urusuline nuns to New Orleans to establish a hospital for poor sick people and to provide education for young girls of wealthy families. The convent comprised a school, library, garden, dormitory, nursery and a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Victory.
From the Foreword: History has a way of swirling and eddying, of bringing together people and places to produce the unexpected and the amazing. This is the case with the Ursulines of New Orleans. That they did so is attested to by many of the chronicles of the city's early history. It was the Uruliners who educated the daughters of the plantation aristocracy and the French officials, and education in the 1700s meant cooking and the "wifely arts" before "reading, writing, and ciphering."
Before any sipping occurs, I must mention Sister Xavier's Herb Garden at the Historic Old Ursuline Convent.
...In the 1740s, the entrance to the old Ursuline Convent commanded a lovely unobstructed view down to the banks of the Mississippi...Here Sister Xavier had her herb garden...It was planted by Sister Xavier, who compounded the medicines for the Royal Hospital and who became the first woman pharmacist in the New World. The teas , infusions and distillates which she brewed from the herbs represented the greater part of what was available in those days for the treatment of the sick. There was bay leaf for sprains, marjoram for convulsions and dropsy, oregano for rheumatism and dill to bring soothing sleep. The Royal Hospital commissioned by Louis XV stood next to the convent since nursing the sick was one of the primary reasons for the coming of the Ursulines to New Orleans in the first place...
...The Ursuline tradition holds many United States firsts in its dedication to the growth of individuals, including the first female pharmacist, first woman to contribute a book of literary merit, first convent, first free school and first retreat center for ladies, first classes for female slaves (which continued until abolition), free women of color and Native Americans. In the region, Ursuline provided the first center of social welfare in the Mississippi Valley. They also operated the first boarding school in Louisiana, housing and educating a large number of Catholic Hispanic girls and women from central and South American countries - most from economically and socially privileged families.Ursulines also operated the first school of music in New Orleans...
I hope you've enjoyed this "taste" of Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans. And it is a taste dear readers for this book is filled with lots more insight and recipes. I've only gotten to page 9! Is it any wonder that Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans was included in the first twelve cookbooks Souther Living Magazine chose for their Southern Living Community Cookbook Hall of Fame? (I'm sorry I couldn't find a better link which was not commercialized)

Sip A Sazerac

Photo credit Kitchy Cooking
Believe it or not, there is a valid reason Sip A Sazerac Day holds a special place of reverence in drinking history. September 26th commemorates the "Storming of the Sazerac!" As a matter of fact, in 2009, the Sazerac Bar celebrated 60 years of women being "allowed" to drink at the legendary bar. Here's an explanation from the NOLA website.
In 1949, the Roosevelt's legendary manager Seymour Weiss bought the bar, which attracted a regular crowd of politicians and business leaders. Traditionally it only allowed women inside on Mardi Gras. On September 26, 1949, Weiss reopened the bar in a space facing Baronne Street, which today houses the hotel gift shop. And he also welcomed women every day of the year. "I think he wanted to move those movers and shakers into the hotel," said Russ Bergeron, a bartender at the Sazerac Bar. "Or he might have bought it for the shock value of allowing women in." A canny showman, Weiss recruited camera friendly "make-up girls" from Godchaux's department store to pack the bar on opening day. He called it the "Storming of the Sazerac." Each year, the hotel celebrates that small victory in the liberation of libations.
Not to worry ladies. You haven't missed the historic event, yet:) This year The Roosevelt New Orleans will re-create the "Stormin of the Sazerac" on Friday, Sept. 28, starting at 3 p.m. to mark the 63rd anniversary of the original "Stormin."
Why all the fuss over a drink that once was but actually no longer is when you consider the original ingredients for the "first" Sazerac are no longer available? I suppose we need to first visit the site of the "new" Official Sazerac Cocktail. And then we need to hit the books to clear things up a bit.
"When the Sazerac was first created, it contained an imported Cognac made by a company called Sazerac de Forge et Fils made in Limoges, France. The mixture changed in the late 1870s when American Rye Whiskey was substituted for the Brandy, supposedly to please the tastes of the locals." (Emeril Lagasse; Every Day's A Party p.10
A more in depth version online comes from Errol Laborde here.
...To understand what happened in 1859, you have to first understand what was happening prior to that –– New Orleans was going bonkers over imbibing. Folks there were talking about a concoction that a Royal Street pharmacist, A. A. Peychaud, had created. To a shot of brandy, Peychaud had begun adding his family formula for bitters, a tonic compound that was offered as a cure for various maladies. The bitters, when added to the brandy, gave a kick to the drink.
In a city happy over brandy with bitters, next came John B. Schiller, a local agent for a French cognac importer who had an idea. The brand he imported was manufactured by the firm of Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils of Limoges, France. In 1859, Schiller opened a place on Exchange Alley in the French Quarter and called it the Sazerac Coffeehouse. He was the exclusive purveyor of the Sazerac brand cognac (remember, cognac is a form of brandy), which he also served with bitters to create the world’s first Sazerac cocktail.
Schiller had a hit on his hands, not that it took much to convince cocktail-crazy New Orleans to try another drink. But as the city became more American and less French, tastes shifted. In 1870, Schiller’s bookkeeper, Thomas Handy, bought the business and changed its name to the Sazerac House. That’s not all he changed. He kept the bitters but replaced the cognac with rye whiskey. As Stanley Clisby Arthur explained in his book, Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, the change was to “please the tastes of Americans who preferred ‘redlikker’ to any palefaced brandy.” As the Sazerac was reinvented, no longer was its namesake hooch part of the recipe. Around that same time, Leon Lamothe, a bartender at Pina’s Restaurant on Burgundy Street, began adding a splash of absinthe (a licorice-tasting spirit) to the drink. It became a standard ingredient...
As you can see, the history of the Sazerac Cocktail is way beyond the scope of this blog or post for that matter. Here are a few more versions from books I have on hand.

American Heritage Cookbook ©1964 p.621
This from The Dictionary of American Food and Drink by John Mariani:
And finally, from The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink compiled by Andrew Smith.
Russ Betrand here at the world famous Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel discusses How To Make a New orleans Sazerac Cocktail:
For a more in depth "spin" on the history of The Sazerac Cocktail and the history of the word "cocktail, I suggest you visit The Gumbo Pages. Speaking of Gumbo, aren't you in the mood for a little something now that are taste buds have been tantalized? I'm not sure what you would serve with a Sazerac Cocktail but I have a feeling you can't go wrong with Appetizing Olives!!!

1. NOLA History: The Old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter
2. The Search for the City's Best Sazerac
3. World Wide Words: Cocktail
4. Tales of a Cocktail | Sampling Sazeracs in New Orleans (New York Times)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cookies, Cones and a Birthday!

Surprised to see me so soon??? Me too!!! I hadn't planned on posting today but when I realized that it was September 21st, things changed. You see, not only is today National Pecan Cookie Day, it also happens to be a very special "gal's" birthday. Oh no sillies, not my birthday. Heavens, aren't these years adding up quick enough:) It's Miranda's Birthday!!! You may know her as The Blond Duck, hostess of A Duck in her Pond.

One day last year while I was doing my usual blog visiting, I happened upon a rather unusual post by Madame Bitty at Miranda's blog.

I suppose you should call her Queen Bitty, we wouldn't want to upset her you know:)

Anyway, on that Autumn Day, Madame Bitty was aligning the stars with the Pond family's horoscopes. It was a rather amusing post especially since Queen Bitty has such a way with "words." :) In my follow up comment, I left a note to Miranda telling her I would try to do a horoscope post on her birthday this year. Well, that changed too. After I piled the few astrology cookbooks that I have on the table, I didn't feel all that inspired. What kind of birthday tribute would it be if it didn't have that personal touch? I thought to myself. Miranda is such a free spirit, I'm sure she would understand.

Just in case you've never "met" the birthday girl, here is how she describes herself:

Giddily married to her best friend. Texas native. Novelist and writer. Working hard to get my children's books published. I'm delightfully whimsical, artsy and creative.  And goofy.  Really goofy. I take frequent dance breaks wherever I am, whenever I can. My days are spent chasing my two Chihuahua puppies, Bitty and Bear. My motto: Be a happy duckie! My goal: to bring joy and whimsy to the world through my stories.

Personally, I think she's just Duckie; dancing around the internet bringing joy to whomever she "meets." So, despite my lack of baking skills, and photography finesse, and the fact that I didn't have one pecan in the pantry, I managed to rustle up some cookies to celebrate Duckie's birthday.

That's right "kiddies" I baked cookies! Seriously, when is the last time you heard me "say" those words? I think the last time I baked cookies to share with you was back in 2011. Pinwheels I believe:) or was it those delicious Forget the Cake Crumb Cake Cookies I found over at Olla Podrida? (you see what happens after you have so many birthdays:) Which ever, I think we can agree, it's been a while:)

The baking of the cookies was pretty uneventful considering I have a way of botching these kinds of things up every now and again. I did run into a few rather important snags though. The most important being, no pecans! High, low, cabinet, fridge, freezer, not a pecan to be found. What's a girl to do? Improvise! I was pretty sure Miranda wouldn't mind if I used almonds instead of pecans. Actually, I used mixed nuts but let's keep that hush, hush:) Yes, I toasted them too. I even dragged out the food processor John and Kyla gave me for my birthday to crush them all up. I remembered that once Miranda had baked her mom a Hummingbird Cake for her birthday and she used almonds instead of pecans. Then there was that time she was in a pinch for a dessert for her husband Ben and she quickly whipped up Magic Sugar Bars once again substituting almonds for pecans. I think I'm safe, I hope:)

Without further ado, I present Butter Pecan Cookies! (minus the pecans:)

I think the most difficult part about making these cookies was choosing them. I had forgotten how many different recipes one can encounter while in search of the "perfect" Pecan Cookie. I was quite tempted to "chocolatize" them when I found this recipe for Chocolate Drizzled Butter Pecan Cookies over at Anna's Cookie Madness. However, when I took a quick trip over to Rosa's Yummy Yums and saw her gorgeous looking Pecan Sandies, I just knew I had to go with a more traditional approach. So, I chose a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookies and Candies cookbook published long before Miranda was even born. 1966 to be exact:)

Butter Pecan Cookies
1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar (I used vanilla sugar & omitted the vanilla)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I omitted the salt because I didn't have unsalted butter)
1 cup chopped pecans (mixed nuts here:)

Cream butter and sugars until light. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients; blend into creamed mixture. Stir in nuts. Drop from teaspoon on un-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° about 10 minutes. Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Happy Birthday Miranda! I hope you like them!!!

Tomorrow is Ice Cream Cone Day. You might be surprised to learn, unlike some of these obscure "food" days we celebrate, Ice Cream Cone Day actually has a tasty reason to be celebrated. You see, on September 22, 1903, Italo Marchiony applied for a patent for the very first Ice Cream Cone "molding apparatus." He was granted the patent on December 15th that same year.

This is the perfect time to share these cute little ice cream bowls I picked up at a garage sale yesterday. I don't normally go to yard sales on Thursdays but when I saw the entire lawn covered in all kinds of interesting things, I just had to stop. Aren't they cute, and just 50 cents for all four of them! I was going to mail them to Tabi and Noah in Idaho but I think I'll save them for when they come and visit next summer:)

I also picked up this Betty Crocker cookbook at the yard sale for a mere 25 cents. Yes a quarter!!!

I breezed through it in search of a Pecan Cookie recipe but immediately stopped when I spied this!

After a quick search, I actually found the recipe for the Scarecrow Cake in the book at the Betty Crocker website. The secret to the Scarecrow's moppy hair is...Waffle bowls!!! Perfect for the first day of Fall don't you think?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cookies for Mrs. Fields' Birthday

Debbi Fields, the namesake of the Mrs. Fields cookie empire, shares a birthday today with any one of you who may have been born on September 18, 1957. I mention this because, unlike Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima, who were bred as figments of corporate imaginations, Debra Jane Sivyer [Fields] is a "real" California native who is the youngest of five children.

By most accounts, Debra "managed to do what most people considered impossible."

At the age of 20, Debbi was a young housewife with no business experience. Yet, she had a dream, a recipe, and a passion for sharing her chocolate chip cookies. She managed to do what most people considered impossible. She convinced a bank to finance a business concept which had never before been proven and which appeared on the surface to have little likelihood of success.

Mrs. Fields wanted to open a chocolate chip cookie bakeshop and store. On August 16, 1977, Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery opened its doors to the public in Palo Alto, California. Twenty-plus years later, Debbi Fields' role had expanded from managing one shop to supervising operations, brand name management, public relations and product development of her company's 600+ company-owned and franchise stores in the United States and 10 foreign nations.

To celebrate, I thought it would be fun to share a few recipes from Mrs. Fields Best Loved Cookie Book authored by Debbi Fields and the Editors of Time-Life Books ©1997. I must admit, it was rather difficult to choose from the 200 recipes for drop cookies, filled cookies, fancy cookies, bar cookies, and an assortment of pies, cakes, pastries, puddings, souffles, frozen desserts and candy. Whew! See what I mean? Since Mrs. Fields is widely know for her cookies, I thought a few cookie recipes would be most appropriate.

Let's begin with the Glazed Honey-Nut Rolls filled with walnuts, raisins, and semi-sweet chocolate chips. After all, September is Honey Month:)

Next up we have a personal favorite of mine, Apple Cream Pennies. When my daughter Michele is kind enough to send her mom some homemade apple butter, Marion and I both agree Apple Cream Pennies are worth their weight in gold:)

Apple Cream Pennies
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple butter

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, soda, and salt. Mix well with a wire whisk. Set aside.
3. Blend sugar in large bowl using an electric mixer set as medium speed. Add butter and mix to form a grainy paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
4. Add the flour mixture and blend at low speed until just combined. Do not over mix.
5. Shape dough into marble size balls. Place balls on un-greased cookie sheet, 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes. Transfer cookies to a cool, flat surface with a spatula.
6. Prepare the filling: Blend cream cheese and sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium until fluffy. Add apple butter and beat until filling is smooth and thoroughly combined.
7. With a small knife spread 1 teaspoon of apple cream on the bottom half of each cooled cookie. Top with another cookie to create a sandwich. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling. Makes about 6 dozen.

I love No-Bake cookies, don't you? Here's a recipe for Refrigerator Thumbprint Fudgy Cookies. Chocolate, raspberries and oats, oh my:)

Refrigerator Thumbprint Fudgy Cookies
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) salted butter, softened

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

12 ounces (about 2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips

2 1/2 cups quick oats (not instant)

1 cup raspberry preserves

1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

In a 2 quart saucepan, combine butter, cream, and sugar. Warm over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, add vanilla and chocolate chips, 1 cup at a time, stirring until chocolate melts. To complete the dough, fold in the oats and stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Using the bottom of a glass, flatten cookies to 2 inches in diameter. Make a depression in center of each cookie with your thumb. Chill cookies in refrigerator 30 minutes or until set. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon of preserves into center of each cookie. Dust with powdered sugar. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.

If you're planning on celebrating Talk Like A Pirate Day, September 19th, just barrel full steam ahead into these Buried Treasure Muffins:)

Kids Cooking Klutz Press ©1987

For those of you who don't want to miss it, National Punch Day is celebrated on September 20th. I did, what I believe to be, a fun post last year for National Punch Day, including a Swig of History:) You may not enjoy punch as much as the next person but, if you're a tiny bit curious about Daniel Webster's favorite punch recipe, you may want to take the high road for a quick visit.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I must have looked quite the site a few weeks ago when I "ran" down to my favorite Amish Produce Stand to get Marion a loaf of Amish bread for her noon lunch.

I say this because I received the most delightful surprise yesterday when I once again went down to get Marion a few snacks to hold her over while I make a quick trip to New York today. (I'll actually be gone by the time you get to reading this; I do believe those employees of mine think New York is as close as a quick trip to M&M. It isn't!)

The local produce stand is operated by an Amish family that lives in the neighborhood. The two oldest girls, who are twins, Rachel and Marianna are usually there from Wednesday to Saturday. Sometimes if either of them have an errand to run, the younger sister, Sadie, is there to welcome you. I'd say she's about 14 or 15 years old.

This one day when I "ran" in, I had been working in the garden in the vicinity of the compost pile. I may have mentioned what a terrible composter, I've been this season. (or is that compostee?) Anyway, as luck would have it, my gardening clothes, which are prehistoric Mr. Green Jeans, were noticeably dirty! (you may remember Mr. Green Jeans from the Captain Kangeroo Show, you may not. I know, I'm dating myself here:)
Marianna just happen to be there on this particularly sweltering day and I couldn't help thinking to myself about the many times that I have seen her laboring during idle minutes between customers. In all these years of going there, I don't think I've ever seen her stay still for even a second. If she isn't restocking the canned peaches glistening on the shelves, she's outside tending to the fresh produce or the many lovely plants they also sell. As we speak, the front of the store is overflowing with Fall mums. (I didn't have my camera with me when I "ran.")
In the course of me checking out with Marion's loaf of bread, we did our usual idle chat. She inquired about the flower garden and I asked her what fresh produce she'll have in store for next week. I don't like to pry into her personal life but I know her sister Rachel got married this past October and I was curious to know if she had moved into her new house. Many Amish newly weds around here wait until their friends and neighbors build them a house to live in. Rachel and her husband have been moving from house to house since October which is also customary. She is now at her parents house while the finishing touches and town approval are in the works.
I started to apologize for the state of my being when I realized that Marianna was looking a bit under the weather. Weary actually. I said something to her like "well one thing is for sure, when you're feeling so tired at the end of the day, you at least know you had a pretty productive day." Or something to that effect. She gave me this bright smile and as if something had just occurred to her she thanked me for the handful of 4 O'clock seeds I had given her last year. "They were so pretty" she said. "Now I have Morning Glories, 4 O'clocks and Moonflowers to remind me of the time of day" and she laughed. Did I ever tell you I'm like Mrs. Johnny Flower seed? Not only do I clip and pinch seeds whenever and wherever I see them with that trusty scissors of mine but, I also spread them around to whoever will take them. Here are a few this year's harvest.
With that, in her cute little Amish voice, for lack of a better Dutch accent on my part, she thanked me and simply pointed her little finger at me and returned to her chores. One of which is changing the weekly sign:)
I hadn't thought about it since then probably because whenever I did my weekly "run", Marianna was usually doing errands and since Sadie is extremely quiet and shy, I don't usually like to startle her with my over zealous New York accent. I do my picking, Marion has been on a Whoopie Pie kick, and I quietly leave. (well as quietly as possible for a New Yorker at heart:) This is probably a good time to share an Oatmeal Whoopie Pie recipe with you. I'm sure you're getting hungry thinking about all those Amish goodies:)

So yesterday, not quite attired like Lisa Douglas from Green Acres, I ventured back to M&M to get Marion some of her faithful snacks, yes, a few Whoopie Pies, a couple of Donuts and a freshly baked Shoo Fly Pie! (the woman sure does love her Amish snacks)

To my utter delight, Marianna was there and she was looking 100% better. It seems, she hadn't been feeling well since that day I saw her and she gave into it, just a tiny bit, by letting her sister Sadie work at the stand while she recuperated. She told me that she was thinking about what I had said and she gave me this as a gift.

Chances are I won't be blogging until next Sunday, another good Lord willing and the creek don't freeze kinda week:) However, I will have my MacAir with me in New York so I will be able to visit all your tasty blog posts. I was going to prepare the list for this weeks food days but quite frankly, I have a long drive in the morning and lots of people to scold when I arrive:) I think it's best I get some sleep:) Have a GREAT week everyone!!!

My "farm" truck in Pennsylvania.

And the trucks in New York. I guess you could say I like red vehicles, lol...

And lilac Butterfly Bushes:)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mining for Answers

"A critic is to an author as a fungus to an oak"

It just so happens, that I live in the same state as The Mushroom Capital of the World; Pennsylvania! The difference is, I live right smack in the middle of the state a couple of miles away from the now more infamous, State College and the proclaimed Mushroom Capital of the World is a couple of counties Southeast. Have I ever visited? No. Have I tried once or twice? Twice. As a matter of fact, it was just last year to the day that I "vowed" to report my in depth finding as to why Chester County is referred to as such.

Pennsylvania has a deep unique history when it comes to mushroom cultivation. However, The Story of Mushrooms did not begin here.

"...as ancient as the Egyptian pyramids themselves, Egyptian hieroglyphics recorded that mushrooms were enjoyed by the pharohs. Mushrooms were popular in Greek and Roman diets too...the Greeks calling them "Bromo theo", meaning "Food of the gods". Legends persisted in early civilizations...some believing that mushrooms had magical powers to cure disease, prolong life or aid the soul in entering the realm of the gods. Centuries later, the consults and palaces of Europe served mushrooms, prized for their delicate flavor. King Louis XIV of France encouraged "champions", or mushrooms, to be grown in caves around Paris..."

Why? Why is Pennsylvania "so big" when it comes to mushrooms? "Is it the climate, a tradition, or just a happy fungi feng shui?" That question was asked by T.W., grand host of the blog Culinary Types, when I announced last year that I was taking a few days off to visit Kennett Square for the annual Mushroom Festival. He wasn't the only one who was curious, I was too! And since I never did make it to the mushroom festival, which as I mentioned in my last post, is this coming weekend, I decided to do a bit of foraging on my own to uncover at least some of the answers.

I immediately ruled out climate. Fact is, under the proper conditions, mushrooms will pretty much spawn anywhere.

While mushrooms are usually grown in the absence of light, darkness is not a requirement. Mushrooms have been grown in unused coal and limestone mines, old breweries, basements of apartment houses, natural and man-made caves, rhubarb sheds, and many other unusual structures. Mushrooms were reportedly grown in an old dairy barn, which was so damp that cows living in it had died of pneumonia.

Although many of the mushrooms farms scattered around Pennsylvania are presently located outside of Kennett Square, it does appear The Evolution of the Mushroom Industry in Pennsylvania did indeed begin in Kennett Square.

Mushrooms reached the U.S. in the 1890s when Quaker farmers like Jacob Steyer and William Swayne imported mushroom spawn from Europe to try their hand at growing mushrooms. Swayne, who is generally credited as the father of mushroom growing in the U.S., first grew carnations in his greenhouse in Kennett Square. Carnations, which are grown on elevated benches, failed to utilize all the space available in the greenhouses in which they were grown. In particular the space directly under the elevated beds had always been a dead loss. In an attempt to utilize this wasted space, Swayne began cultivating mushrooms in the space under the beds. By hanging flaps of burlap from the beds above he successfully created an environment of stable temperature and humidity in which his mushrooms could thrive...Swayne achieved such great success with mushroom growing that it wasn’t long before other farmers in the region began to cultivate the fungi. Soon, the farming of mushrooms transformed from a single farmer’s attempt to increase productivity into a lucrative business. Specialized houses constructed from cinderblocks began to replace greenhouses as the primary structures for mushroom cultivation, and these buildings started to pop up all over the county. The mushroom industry had found a new home: Chester County.
Mushroom Production

You may have the sense that there is a lot more to this story. There is. However, it is way beyond the scope of this blog post. I do want to mention one more rather interesting fact that not only provides for the embedded tradition of mushroom growing in Pennsylvania but also the "happy fungi feng shui" feeling that wavered over me when I learned this shroomie tidbit at the Mushroom Council. Yes folks, there is an actual Mushroom Council and it's loaded with cartons of mushroom recipes.

Grilled Philly Cheese Mushroom Sandwich
U.S. Mushroom Cultivation: In 1891, the first book on mushroom growing was published and it shed new light on the theory of cultivation. William Falconer, a mushroom grower and experimenter from Dosoris, Long Island agreed with the recommendations of agricultural journalists and compiled their theories in Mushrooms: How to Grow Them; A Practical Treatise on Mushroom Culture for Profit and Pleasure.

That's right folks. The very first book ever published on the cultivating of mushrooms was published on Long Island in New York!!! And the text is available online for free right here! How do like them apples, T.W? Way cool:)

The book suggested that mushroom growing was perfect for florists. Since they grew flowers on benches, florists could just slide mushroom beds right under their flower benches and gain a profit in growing two crops in the area of one. Falconer also thought that mushroom growing was ideal for farmers who had access to growing their own manure and spawn. At the time skilled labor was not a necessity of mushroom growing. It was recommended to house wives as well as a source of home income. Not only did Falconer's book develop target groups for which growing was suited. It also contained much practical advice on building beds for cultivation, the perfect growing temperature and where mushroom markets were developing.

Falconer's book popularized the production of mushrooms in the United States, it was instrumental in growing the mushroom industry in New York, Central Massachusetts, Michigan, California and yes even in good ol' Southeastern PA. No longer was it the housewive's task in The Taming of the 'Shroom. Mushrooms were going farming and that dear readers was left up to the "men folk." But wait, I'm confused. Growing up on Long Island, I had never heard any mention of mushroom growing no less the publication of any mushroom growing book. I don't even know where Dosoris is/was. Of course, I just have to find out. All I know for sure, as of this writing, is that Dosoris is in the vicinity of Glen Cove which is clear across the island from where I grew up. Any theories T.W?

The Dosoris Mushroom Cellar: This is a subterranean tunnel or cellar that was excavated and arched some ten years ago, expressly for the cultivation of mushrooms. It is situated in an open, sunny part of the garden, and its extreme length from outside of end walls is eighty-three feet; but of this space nine feet at either end are given up to entrance pits and a heating apparatus; and the full length of the mushroom cellar proper inside the inner walls is sixty-three feet. The walls and arch are of brick, and the top of the arch is two and one-half feet below the surface of the soil. This tunnel or arch is seven feet high in the middle and eight feet wide within, but a raised two-feet-wide pathway along the middle lessens the height to six and one-half feet. Between this pathway and the sides of the building there is only an earthen floor, but it is quite dry, as the cellar is perfectly drained. Three ventilators sixteen feet apart had been built in the top of the arch, but this was a mistake, as the condensation in the cellar in winter from these ventilators always keeps the place under them cold and wet and rather unproductive. One tall wooden chimney-like shaft would have been a better ventilator than the three ventilating holes now there, which are covered over with an iron and glass grating. Mushrooms: How to Grow Them; A Practical Treatise on Mushroom Culture for Profit and Pleasure.

Mushrooms may be highly perishable, tedious to harvest and yes even a bit scary sometimes to eat but, since they are cultivated indoors under a controlled environment, they are always in season. Yes, they do have their peak times but you can usually find desirable healthy looking mushrooms any time of year. And the best part, besides their incredible earthy taste, is they are environmentally green to produce. I can't get into that part of the amazing world of mushrooms however, if you should ever find the time in your busy bee of a life, I suggest you delve into Fungi and the Mushroom producing industry. You can begin with a visit to Serious Eats where David Falkowski, a mushroom farmer in Bridgehampton, New York did a wonderful interview about growing mushrooms on the east end of Long Island (he provides mushrooms to everyone's favorite Barefoot Contessa; Ina Garten:) and I've also left a link to the Virtual Mushroom Museum below. Grab a cup of...and have a visit. Really very cool!!!

I can't very well leave you without providing at least one mushroom recipe or two:) Remember when I told you today is the birth date of author, cook and food journalist Craig Claiborne? (another frequent visitor to the east end of Long Island:) Well, do I have a special treat for you: Au Gourmet

I haven't had the opportunity to research where this recipe for Mushrooms Stuffed with Crab Meat came from. I happened upon it at an auction I attended a few years back. The estate auction was held by the family of woman by the name of Ruth Gray Knorr. She had a magnificent collection of cookbooks and cooking related paraphernalia. I'm only sorry I didn't buy it all!!! (there was literally tons:) I did manage to buy quite a few items and this recipe letterhead is one of my finds. I think it has something to do with cooking classes Mr. Claiborne may have given at Bloomingdale's but further research is needed. I happen to be a huge fan of mushrooms especially when they are stuffed with crab meat!!!

These recipes for Chicken Marengo were harvested from The Southern Heritage Plain and Fancy Poultry Cookbook published by Oxmoor House in Birmingham Alabama ©1983. As you can see, The Chicken Marengo Story begins with a classic dish and a history; quite appropriate for National Chicken and Mushroom Month, don't you agree???

This Week in Food Days:
5th-National Cheese Pizza Day!
6th-National Coffee Ice Cream Day
7th-National Acorn Squash Day
7th-Salami Day
8th-Date Nut Bread Day

I'll be back in time for Grandparents' Day on Sunday which also happens to be, National Wiener Schnitzel Day! Enjoy:)

1. The Fungus Among Us: It's a Fungusful World Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History (an amazing virtual museum of all kinds of Fungus including mushrooms. Very Cool:)
2. Agaricus Mushroom Growing (Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences PDF file)
3. Fungus Among Us
4. What is Mushroom Compost?
5. Smothered Chicken with Mushrooms (New York Times)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Taste of September's Food Celebrations

The morrow was a bright September morn;
The Earth was beautiful as if newborn;
There was that nameless splendor everywhere,
That wild exhilaration in the air,
Which makes the passers in the city streets
Congratulate each other as they meet.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow-

It's been a while since I've harvested a list of monthly food celebrations to share with you. It looks like it's going to be a while before we have a "complete" list because as I'm gathering they're a multiplying.

Take waffles for instance. Way back in March of 2008, I suggested you "dig out the waffle iron" for International Waffle Day which is celebrated on March 25th. A few months later, that ol' waffle maker is once again celebrated on August 24th, the day the first patent for a waffle maker was issued to Cornelius Swartwout. Two months later, the same thing, out comes the waffle maker for International Chicken and Waffles Day, which I'm sure I conveyed to you at the time, is not a favorite of mine. Well, it looks like we may have all those waffling days in apple pie order because I've finally confirmed that the first week of September is National Waffle Week!

On Saturday, September 8, 2012, a Georgia historical marker will be unveiled at the first Waffle House restaurant in Avondale Estates, Ga.  Now a museum dedicated to the Southern staple, a dedication celebration will begin at one o'clock in the afternoon to conclude the events of National Waffle Week, September 2-8.

See what I'm talking about Waffles and Bacon now seriously, what a way to begin a month!!! That's right "kiddies," the first day of September in the year 2012 is International Bacon Day!!!

International Bacon Day

Okay, so now that our tummies have had their nibble for the day, I think perhaps it's best to "discuss" the month long food celebrations for September. If there's an icon that tempts you, feel free to give it a tap for some recipes from the sponsors. (oh my, that's sounds like a commercial. I just meant so you can confirm the celebrations for yourself:)

National Chicken Month | September

National Honey Month!

National Honey Month | September

About Honey Month, I plan on devoting a post to National Honey Month next Sunday, September 9th. I have some very special honey recipe books I'd like to share with you. Here's a sample of two of them:)

Honey Recipes

And sample recipes from Two Sweet Gifts

Honey Orange Sauce

As many of you already know, September is National Rice Month. I did a rather in depth post for National Rice Month titled National Rice Month "Grown in the USA" back in 2009. The folks at the USA Rice Federation were kind enough to send me an email thanking me for the post. It was very cool:)

National Rice Month | September

September is also All American Breakfast Month AND Biscuit Month!!!
Before I forget, Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15th.

“In 1968, Congress authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim a week in September as National Hispanic Heritage Week. The observance was expanded in 1988 to a month long celebration (Sept. 15-Oct. 15). During this month, America celebrates the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Sept. 15 was chosen as the starting point for the celebration because it is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.”

If you thought only Americans came up with delicious reasons to celebrate food, you would be surprised to learn the UK has their share of monthly celebrations too. Take Papaya for instance. September is National Papaya Month in the UK! (FYI: The UK celebrates Bacon Day too!)

There are a bunch more monthly celebrations taking place all over the internet in the month of September. If you want to refresh your memory, you can visit lasts year's list here.
I do want to take just one more moment to mention National Mushroom Month before we get to the daily celebrations. I LOVE Mushrooms! So yes, I have a Mushroom Month post planned in the future:) In the mean time, isn't this undated booklet from the American Mushroom Institute in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania charming?

Recipes for Mushroom Lovers

As some of you may remember, I've been trying to get to Kennett Square for the annual Mushroom Festival for quite some time now. This year's 27th Annual Mushroom Festival is going to be held September 8th & 9th and they are going to have the First Ever National Fried Mushroom Eating Contest, thats EVER! Boy would I love to put a feather in my cap on that day!!! That deliciousness looks almost as good as a fired Oreo, lol...

Daily Celebrations

September 1st is also National Cherry Popover Day. Yes, there's a day for that:) As a matter of fact, Cherry Popovers are filled with history. Who knew???

I haven't come up with any substantial reasons for celebrating National Grits for Breakfast Day OR National Blueberry Popsicle Day except that I happen to like them both. So, what the heck!

Have you ever experienced Welsh Rarebit? If you haven't, you really should. It's so much more than a simple "ooey gooey grilled cheese sandwich." September 3rd is the day to do it because, yes, you guessed it, it's National Welsh Rarebit Day. And no, bunnies don't like cheese. I tried:)

History tells us that the ritual of afternoon teas was started by Anna Maria Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who was born on September 3, 1783. If you like, you could visit another in depth post I did celebrating A Dish of Tea or you could simply celebrate with a Victorian High Tea.

Tea Time M. Dalton King (1992)
Tea TimeThe Duchess is credited with the innovation of "afternoon tea." The daughter of an earl and wife to the Seventh Duke of Bedford, Anna had lived her entire life in aristocratic homes. The Duchess was accustomed to a meal structure which dictated that lunch was served around twelve or one, and dinner, six to eight hours later, with nothing in between. Anna lost patience with this custom as she approached middle age. One afternoon, she broke with tradition and requested that a tray of tea and buttered bread be sent up to her. This was unusual, but as a duchess is never refused anything by her servants, it was done.

So are you hungry yet? I'm guessing your bellies are rumbling by now for sure. Let's wrap this up. Since I'm going to be back here on Tuesday, September 4th, with a post dedicated to Craig Claiborne, it's his birth day that day, I'm going to leave you with the link I did for 2009 which has all of the delicious days celebrated in September.

I'm going to what sounds like a fabulous auction today. I'm really excited because not only will they be auctioning off the car of my dreams, nope, not telling unless I get it, there are also tons of cookbooks advertised!!! Wish me luck!!! When I get back, I'll be catching up on all my visits and then it's back to work for October's surprise:)

1. Swedish Waffles for Våffeldagen, Swedish Waffle Day
2. September “Organic Harvest Month
3. September Holidays in 2012 (from about.com)