Archive: Culinary History

Mary Todd Lincoln's White Cake

As promised in yesterday's blog space, I’ve got the goods on Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake, the one she baked while courting Abe and in the Lincoln White House. A slice of Mrs. Lincoln's cake. (Kim O'Donnel) Upon first look at the recipe, which calls for six beaten egg whites, I’m thinking the results will be similar to that of Angel food cake. But Janis Cooke Newman, author of the historical novel “Mary” and all-knowing MTL White Cake expert, says I’m not even close; rather, Mary’s cake has a classic layer cake texture, with plenty of vanilla and almond notes. She also let know that despite two cups of sugar in the batter, the results are not super sweet as I had imagined. As I got to work, I wondered if I should invite Mary to join me in the kitchen, as Newman had done for three years while writing...

 

By Kim ODonnel | January 16, 2009; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (5)

How Mary Won Abe Lincoln Over With Cake

You may have heard that Barack Obama has a thing for Abraham Lincoln. Come Tuesday, when he’s sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, Obama will put his hand upon the same Bible used at Lincoln’s inauguration ceremony in 1861. The honest-Abe homage continues at lunch, which features Lincoln-inspired fare (pdf file) served on replicas of china chosen by Mary Todd Lincoln, the 16th president’s notoriously eccentric wife -- and the first to be called “First Lady.” Had historian Janis Cooke Newman been consulted on the menu, surely she would have recommended Mary Todd Lincoln’s vanilla-almond cake for dessert. For three years, Newman, a San Francisco-based writer, spent much of her time “getting into Mary’s head,” for her historic novel, “Mary,” which is based on the letters of Mary Todd Lincoln. And baking Mary’s cake, says Newman, who spoke to me by phone earlier this week, “was...

 

By Kim ODonnel | January 15, 2009; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (3)

Baking Good Luck Charms for St. Joseph

As St. Patrick's Day revelers dry out and recover from yesterday's merriment, Italians scattered around the U.S. and abroad are gearing up for tomorrow, March 19, a celebration of a patron saint of their very own. The saint in question is San Guiseppe, aka St. Joseph (as in Jesus, Mary and Joseph), and he's been known to protect the common worker from a host of calamities, including illness, bad weather, poverty and all-around bad luck. A ring of St. Joseph's bread for some good luck at Casa Appetite. I don't know from experience what it's like to be part of a St. Joseph's shindig, but based on how Sara Roahen describes in her "Gumbo Tales," it's a combination feast and homage and thanks to Guiseppe via offerings of decorative breads, cookies and other sweets. New Orleans is one of the many Italian communities where St. Joseph's Day is a big...

 

By Kim ODonnel | March 18, 2008; 11:01 AM ET | Comments (8)

Women's Kitchen Honor Roll

Not until the middle of Saturday afternoon did it occur to me that it was International Women's Day. I kinda kicked myself for being remiss but quickly realized it's never too late to pay tribute to and honor the women who have made the world more delicious. A complete list of the women who have made a mark as chefs, cookbook writers, food journalists, television personalities, restaurateurs, winemakers, farmers, cooking teachers, historians, scientists, cheesemakers, patissiers and chocolatiers would go on for days. And that's not even counting all the home cooks, the abuelas, nonnas and grannies, who, with all kinds of tricks up their sleeves, would fry chicken and bake cookies, teach you not to talk with your mouth full, let you lick the batter and teach you, when you were good and ready, the recipes that preceded both of you, from another time and faraway place. They transported seeds...

 

By Kim ODonnel | March 10, 2008; 11:08 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Soy Saucy Affair

Soy sauce was the raison d'etre for a most lavish affair last night at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, complete with a receiving line, political big wigs, a video message from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, flowing booze, incredible sushi and a taiko drum performance, all MC'd by former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard Myers (whose first encounter with Kikkoman was in the early 1970s when he was stationed in Japan). Specifically, the root of all the hoopla is Kikkoman , the global condiment giant that is celebrating 50 years of doing business in this country. The company, owned and operated by the Mogi family -- 17 generations! -- has been in the soy sauce business since the 17th century. Kikkoman first came to this part of the world in the late 1800s, exporting to Hawaii well before it was a state. In 1957, Kikkoman opened its first U.S. headquarters in...

 

By Kim ODonnel | September 27, 2007; 11:58 AM ET | Comments (10)

The Virtue of Birthday Cake

"Birthdays are milestones in the evolution of an individual or a group," according to the entry in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Interesting notion. A milestone it is indeed, but a marker of individual evolution -- this is something I'd never considered. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. (Kim O'Donnel) I like it: With every birthday, we don't just age, we evolve. This way, the birthday stops being a numbers game and instead a nod to one's state of being. For years, I've come to think of the birthday as a personal New Year's Day, an opportunity to reflect on the previous year and to set intentions for the next one. To mark the occasion, it is fitting to celebrate the sweetness of having lived another year with cake. Like humans, cake has evolved over the ages, and there are references to sweetened bread in ancient Egypt...

 

By Kim ODonnel | May 21, 2007; 11:02 AM ET | Comments (11)

ABCs of Guacamole

Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Mexican independence, which falls on Sept. 16; instead, it commemorates Mexico's victory in battle against the French in Puebla, on May 5, 1862, some 42 years after declaring independence from Spain. But it's a good reason to drink and eat cocina Mexicana, and one of the easiest things you can to do to celebrate is make guacamole. A Hass avocado, ready for guac. (Kim O'Donnel) Originally known in the Aztec empire as ahuaca-mulli, which literally means avocado sauce, guacamole goes way back in history because the avocado is an ancient fruit, originating in Mexico somewhere around 5,000 B.C. For the better part of a millennium, the avocado was known as the ahuacatl, which is said to be the word for "testicle," which would explain why the fruit was considered an aphrodisiac. When the Spanish conquistadores got wind of this luscious fruit in...

 

By Kim ODonnel | May 4, 2007; 08:41 AM ET | Comments (9)

Let's Go to the Fish Fry

The place to eat tonight is Columbia, S.C., where some 4,000 people will queue up in a parking garage for fried fish. The fish in question is fillet of whiting, a favorite of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), and the mastermind/host of this annual fish fry since 1992. He's also partial to the culinary stylings of Lucius Moultrie, who's been Clyburn's fish fry master for the past eight years. After retiring from the Columbia Fire Department 10 years ago, Moultrie switched careers and took over Palmetto Seafood, a fish market/kitchen that he runs with his wife and two sons. Tonight's shindig, which Moultrie calls "the after party," follows the more formal Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, a major Democratic fundraiser. Every year, he's watched the event grow; "Last year, it was an off-election year, and we still had nearly 3,000 people," he says, with a laugh. With expectations of at least 4,000...

 

By Kim ODonnel | April 27, 2007; 10:50 AM ET | Comments (0)

Rice Fritter-Fry

Good morning, sunshine! I've been a busy little fry-girl this morning -- my elbows deep in batter, a do-rag covering my head and "Jill Scott Collaborations" blaring from the iPod speaker. The project in question was a batch of calas (say KAH-LUHZ), a cousin of the beignet, but with an African-American rice connection. Here's lookin' at you, sugar. (RW) It's a two-part project; yesterday, I cooked a pot of rice, mashed it, mixed it with foamy yeast and allowed it to rest overnight to develop character and sour depth. And then I got up at o'dark thirty, long before the sun, and beat some eggs, mixed them with sugar, flour and lots of grated nutmeg. While the coffee was steeping in the French press, I added the egg mixture to the yeasty rice pulp and allowed the two parties to get to know each other for about 30 minutes (but...

 

By Kim ODonnel | February 22, 2007; 10:44 AM ET | Comments (2)

Calas and Black History

In the course of writing about beignets last week, I learned about another fritter with even deeper historical pockets. The cala, a yeasty variation made of rice, figured into the culinary repertoire of Creole cooks who were known to sell hot calas in the streets of the French Quarter in the 19th century. I've got a batter of cala dough rising, so I'll report back with the results in tomorrow's blog. In the meantime, let's talk about what got this calas party started in the first place: rice. The ubiquitous starch that we've all come to take for granted at suppertime, rice was a major contributing factor for a booming slave trade in South Carolina for more than 100 years and has played a pivotal role in African-American history, cuisine and culture. "From the 1720s to 1860, no other commodity was remotely as important to the region as rice," writes...

 

By Kim ODonnel | February 21, 2007; 12:42 PM ET | Comments (4)

A Vote for Election Cake

With mid-term elections four days away, the heat is on not only in the House and the Senate, but right where it needs to be -- the kitchen. Step back into voting history, with a piece of Election cake. (Kim O'Donnel) If we rewind the tape a few hundred years, Election Day was a time for cake. Back when Connecticut was still a colony, Election Day was an important holiday. Voters would take the day off from work and travel to Hartford, cast votes and then party into the night with booze -- and cake. The cake in question appears to have been adapted from English yeast breads or fruit cakes. Although some historic documents point to its appearance in the early 1700s, the first published evidence of an "Election Cake" recipe surfaced in 1796, when Amelia Simmons wrote "American Cookery, " the first known cookbook by an American. Simmons's...

 

By Kim ODonnel | November 3, 2006; 11:11 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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