January 29, 2009

The Duck Press: The Medieval Torture Device of Historic Gastronomy

The Feedbag Visits the Duck Press at Daniel from The Feedbag on Vimeo.

If you've ever wanted to see a roast duck get pressed like apple cider, watch this video. Be warned! It's pretty gruesome.

Zagat is sponsering a series of "vintage dinners," featuring "great menus from the 19th century." It's like my dream come true. I spent a night at Daniel learning about their Carnard a la Press, a specialty at Tour D’Argent in Paris for the last 100 years or so. The Duck will be featured at their vintage dinner on Tuesday.

The Vintage Dinner series continues over the next two months, so if you're in New York, make your reservations now.

Read more about the duck press.

Vintage Dinner Series Full Schedule

January 26, 2009

"Seal brains...I would consider one of the delicacies and luxuries of the Antarctic..."

A 1950's recipe book guides cooks in the Antarctic, providing instructions on how to prepare the local wildlife.

"In a chapter on seal brains, he listed recipes for fried seal brains, seal brains au gratin, brain fritters, seal brain omelette and savoury seal brains on toast. The cook must be a man -- there were no British women in Antarctica at the time."

Antarctica was declared a nature preserve in 1959. Presently, researches depend on deliveries of frozen and canned foods.

On a different note, E.A.U over at New York, circa 1850 makes an 1845 gingerbread cookie recipe using blackstrap molasses.

January 23, 2009

Try This at Home: Bottling Spruce Beer

Zaite and Mark are on step two of Spruce Beer Brewing. They've bottled it, and will let it mellow for a few weeks before an official tasting. Initial reports say that it could use less hops and more spruce flavouring; but they'll know for sure in a week or so.

Photos from Step 2 are below.

January 19, 2009

Lincoln's Inuagural Lunch

James A. Garfield's pickled oysters, 1881 (photo: L.A. Times)

I'm down in D.C. for the next few days for the inauguration. There's going to be an inaugeral lunch for the Obamas that "recalls Lincoln's favorite foods." The lunch will include seafood stew, a brace of American birds, and apple sponge cake.

I had been under the impression that Lincoln wasn't much of a gastronome. He seemed to be so dis-interested in eating, he occasionally forgot. Lincoln's 1861 lunch was very simple: Mock-turtle soup (a stew made by boiling a calf's head), corned beef and cabbage, parsley potatoes, and blackberry pie. His 1865 dinner was a much grander affair, which you can read about in this L.A. Times article, along with the full history of presidential first meals.

Recipe: James A. Garfield's pickled oysters, 1881

Recipe: William H. Harrison's poundcake, 1841 Made with mace and nutmeg.

(photo: L.A. Times)

January 14, 2009

Temporal Fusion Cuisine: Fiamma's Gnocchi

I wanted to share with you an amazing food I recently consumed. I did a video with Josh Ozersky of The Feedbag at Fiamma restaurant here in New York.

Chef Fabio Trabocchi prepared a gnocchi recipe, exceptional in it's preparation of the potatoes, which are placed in a dutch oven with hay, and left to smoke and smolder on a stove top. The result is a potato that is infused with the smokey flavor of a dish cooked over an open fire. The recipe also calls for the addition of a pinch of nutmeg, a flavour very common to 19th century cooking.

When I took a bite of the tender potato dumplings, the combination of the nutmeg and the smokiness instantly transported me back to my time at a living history museum, and the hearth-cooked meals we would prepare. This is a dish I would dub "Temporal Fusion Cuisine," a phrase I coined to describe food which relies heavily on flavors or techniques from culinary history, and combines it with contemporary culinary culture. Although Trabocchi did infuse the hearth-cooked flavor intentionally, I don't think he intended the strong references to 19th century American cookery that this dish contains. Additionally, it was incredibly delicious, and I encourage the home chef to give this one a whirl.

You can get the full recipe here, and watch Trabocchi prepare the dish in the video below.

The Feedbag Makes Gnocchi with Fabio Trabocchi from The Feedbag on Vimeo.

January 12, 2009

Eating Like a Tenement Family: So What Have We Learned?

Illustration: "Homes of the Poor," Harper's Weekly.

I ended up spending close to $20, and consumed about 800 calories a day. Rethinking it, the cost does fit with Corson's projected budget: $60 would not be spread equally in a family with children of varying ages. $20 is intended for each adult, and the remaining $20 would be divided amongst the children.

However, I spent $20 to slowly starve to death. I lost a total of 3.6 pounds over the course of the week. I'm certain my weight loss would eventually plateau: women's bodies are notorious for locking in fat during starvation crises.

My caloric intake was remarkably consistent at about 800 calories a day. As I told my mother: "I tried not to be a baby about it--I mean, I'm just doing this for a week. This is how people lived their lives. Or worse!" Her response:

"People can't live on 800 calories a day; they can only get sick and die."

She is really good at cutting to the quick. And the question has been posed often recently: How much does it cost to eat well in America?

Here are a few things I learned about food this week:
  • Buy potatoes, onions, and rice in bulk. It's cheaper, and you really can't go wrong.

  • From now on I'm going to buy bakery bread as opposed to it's commercial counter part. The loaf I bought this week was twice as big and half as expensive.

  • Even my roomates agree: Macaroni and Cheese is delicious in any century. I'm glad I revisited this 19th century recipe. Also, Polenta is great. Baked or fried, with veggies or cheese, I'm going to incorporate it into my diet. And it's so cheap, it's practically free.

  • I'm also going to start saving my soup stock. After make soup or stew, the juice at the bottom on the pot is good stuff. It's flavourful from hanging out with all those meats and vegetables. I'm keeping it, and throwing some rice or barley in there, and eating it again.

  • I loathe cabbage.

  • The apple I had wasn't necessary to keep my bowels moving; the beans etc. had plenty of fiber, and I was very regular. After a few days, even my desire for fresh produce wained. All I wanted was a quick source of calories: I craved bread, butter and milk, exactly what Corson recommends buying.

I bet you're also curious what I ate on my first day of freedom:

  • For breakfast, I had 1 1/2 cups of hot cocoa, because I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. (.38 cents)

  • This morning, I had a video shoot at a master sushi class with Chef Toshio Suzuki, who some say is the best sushi chef in New York. I watched Chef Suzuki prepared sushi fresh before my eyes, and popped two of his creations into my mouth. (free!)

  • Afterwards, I headed over to Pomme Frites for some Belgian fries smothered in mango chutney mayonnaise ($6.00)

  • For dinner, my boyfriend promised to make me any meal I wanted. I'll be having Manwiches. The sloppy joes, not the other kind. (free!)

    UPDATE: I also had some fresh pineapple. I returned to my pre-tenement weight in one day.

Now I pose the same question to you: What have you learned? Additionally, some of you have been asking me if I am going to do a part two, either by doubling my budget or eating some sort of "modern" tenement meal. What would you do as a sequel to this project?

January 11, 2009

Eating Like A Tenement Family: Day 7

Roly-Poly Pudding.

Breakfast: Cocoa and Fried Polenta

Last night, I went to bed with a pounding headache, that no amount of Tylenol seemed to help. I lied awake for hours--during this project, I've had a lot of trouble sleeping. I'm so hungry by the time I turn in, that the sensation of it keeps me awake. I'm too famished to get up and do anything else, but too uncomfortable to drift off the sleep. I wake up the next morning exhausted.

This morning, I could barely open my eyes when my alarm rang. "It's okay," I told myself. "You get to have hot chocolate this morning." I had been looking forward to it all week.

I slipped into my robe and shuffled into the kitchen...only to see 2 empty milk jugs on the kitchen table. One of my roommates had polished off not only the skim milk, but also my whole milk which they had earlier this week declared "disgusting." I opened the fridge to find a carton of half and half. "I'll use this," I thought. "The cream will give me strength!"

I poured it into my mug...and it came out in chunks. It was beyond spoiled. "Is there no god damn milk?" I screeched. I shoved my feet in my boots and put on my coat--angrily--and went to the corner bodega to buy milk. The snowstorm the night before had turned the world into a sheet of ice. As I scooted down the sidewalk, hanging onto the sides of buildings, I cursed everything.

Finally, I got back and mixed up my hot chocolate. The cocoa was a gift from my brother. It was delicious. Corson recommends accompanying it with fried lentils; I didn't have any lentils left over, so I fried up the rest of my polenta. Delicious, and very satisfying.

I collapsed on the couch, feeling too awful to move.

"You look like shit!" My roommate declared.

"I feel like shit."

"That's because you don't eat anything." Thanks, Jeff.

Cost: .40 cents.

Lunch: Haslet Stew and Roly-Poly Pudding

I started on the Roly-Poly Pudding first, since it needed to boil for two hours:

"Suet Roly-poly.-Sift together one pound of flour. two teaspoonfuls of salt, and one teaspoonful of baking powder, (cost about five cents,) rub into them two ounces of sweet drippings, (cost one cent;) mix with two gills of milk, or one egg, and two gills of water...roll out half an inch thick, spread with quarter of a pound of chopped suet, (cost two cents,) one teaspoonful of salt, a little spice of nutmeg, and two tablespoons of sugar (cost two cents); roll it up, tie it tightly in a well floured cloth, and boil steadily for two hours in a large covered pot."

I consulted with my mother to see what she thought "sweet drippings" were. We decided it was probably like grease, and perhaps "sweet" was synonymous with "fresh." Regardless, I decided to substitute lard (.19 cents), and rubbed it in with the flour and other ingredients. After adding the milk (.13 cents) and water, the dough was a little thin, like muffin batter. I added a little more flour until it was the consistency of cookie dough and rolled it out. For some reason, I drew a line at asking my butcher for suet, and also substituted lard. I rolled it up with the other seasonings.

I took a pillow case that I had rinsed and dried to get rid of any laundry detergent residue, and shook flour inside. I placed my dough-log in it, tied it up, and placed it in a pot of boiling water. See you later, roly-poly pudding.

Meanwhile, I prepared the haslet stew:

"Haslet Stew.-For this dish use a fresh pig or sheep's haslet...cut them in two inch pieces, put them into a sauce-pan with one ounce of salt pork diced, an onion chopped, one dessert spoonful of salt, and half a tablespoonful of black pepper ; two bay leaves, two sprigs of parsley and one of thyme, tied in a bouquet, (cost of seasoning one cent.) one ounce of flour. one gill of vinegar, half a pint of cold gravy or cold water, and six potatoes peeled and cut in dice, (cost of all these about five cents) stew these ingredients gently together for two hours, and serve as you would a stew, with a tablespoonful of chopped parsley sprinkled over the top, and bread to eat with it. It will give you a good dinner for about fifteen cents."

Haslet is a bag of pig offal, livers and hearts and things. While there was all variety of offal available at my local butcher, I had to buy the beef chuck steak from yesterday's dinner in a pack of two. I decided to save a few cents, and replace the haslet with beef.

I tenderized the beef chuck steak ($1.40) and dredged it in flour, pepper and salt, then browned it in a saucepan with a slice of bacon (.15 cents) and half an onion (.05 cents). I poured in a cup of water to deglaze, then added two diced potatoes (.34 cents), a bay leaf, a handful of parsley (.15 cents), and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme. I added more water, then simmered the pot for about an hour.
I don't understand why this photo came out looking like a postcard from the '70s.

I ate it with a hunk of bread (.07 cents) and it tasted like real food. The beef was tender from it's long simmer, and the few herbs made for a flavourful broth. It was fine.

I took the roly-poly pillowcase out of the boiling water. It was hot as hell. I slowly unrolled it and scooped out the pudding, which was stuck to the sides of the bag (which still smelled a little like laundry). It tasted better that it looked, especially with a little sugar sprinkled on top. But it was salty--so salty! I wouldn't make it again.

Cost: 2.33

And to be honest, I'm so full from lunch, that I don't think I'm going to make Cheese Pudding (a cheesy polenta) tonight for supper. I'm just going to finish up the night with an extra cup of milk (.25 cents).

Total cost: 2.98
Approximate Calories Consumed: 1,390

7-Day Total: about $19.16

Tomorrow, we'll discuss what we've learned.

January 10, 2009

Eating Like a Tenement Family: Day 6

Breakfast: Barley in Mutton Broth and Scalded Milk
Corson suggested that I have mutton broth for breakfast today, but cooking the barley the night before used it all. So I ate a bowl of leftover barley with a cup of milk. It was still good, although not necessarily want I want for breakfast.

Cost: .25 cents

Lunch: Beef and Potatoes

Like every other meat this week, it's boiled according to the directions for Salt Pot-au-Feu. I had a chuck steak ($1.40) that I tenderized with a few whacks from a heavy rolling pin. I dredged it in salt, pepper, and flour then browned it in butter and cooking oil (.15 cents). I chopped up two potatoes (.34 cents) and tossed them in the pot, then covered everything with water and boiled it for 15 minutes.

It was fine. I ate all the potatoes, because it's really hard to mess up a potato, and three-quarters of the meat. The meat was very tough. I chewed thoroughly, and tried not to choke, because I didn't want to be found dead in my apartment next to a mysterious looking bowl of beige food. But when it was all done, I felt full for the first time this week. Either potatoes are awesome, or my stomach has shrunk. Probably both.

Cost: $1.89

Supper: Beans in Broth

Stupid beans. I hate beans. They take so freaking long to make. I soaked 1 cup of beans (.84 cents) for six hours, then boiled them in beef broth for 90 minutes. I sucked on a lemon in the meantime ( .12 cents).

And then I smelled something burning. And it was my beans. I had been afraid of this all week: skrewing something up and then having to eat it anyway. And now it was happening.

So I ate about a cup of burnt, awful beans.

Cost: .96

Total Cost: $3.10
Approximate Calories Consumed: 785

Running Total: 15.64-16.18

I am in a foul mood. And I've lost three pounds so far this week. I get to have hot cocoa tomorrow morning, and I am looking forward to it so, so much.

January 9, 2009

Eating Like A Tenement Family: Day 5

Lamb and Turnips: A World of Beige

Breakfast: Toasted Bread and Scalded Milk

The usual.

Cost: .32 cents

Lunch: Mutton and Turnips

Mutton and Turnips is prepared according to the instructions for Salt Pot-au-Feu. I used a lamb shank ($2.47), and chopped up one turnip (.86) and half an onion (.05 cents). I rinsed the lamb and patted it dry, then rubbed it with salt and pepper. I heated a tablespoon of butter (.15 cents) with a dash of cooking oil in a pan, then browned the lamb all sides. I took out the lamb and tossed in the the onion (mmm..lamb fatty onions.) I browned them a little, then added the turnip and let it cook about a minute more. I put the lamb back in, and added water until the lamb was about 3/4 covered. I put a lid on the pot, and left it at a low boil for half an hour. After straining out the lamb and veggies, I saved the broth for supper and tomorrow's breakfast, as usual.

I declare the dish edible, but not delicious. The turnips were a little over done, but tasted strangely like broccoli cheese soup. The lamb was gummy--I'm beginning to think boiling is not the best method in which to prepare meat. The cut of meat I selected was also pretty fatty, which is probably why it was relatively cheap. However, lamb has a very rich flavour, and it maintained some of that. It was probably one of the most flavourful things I've eaten this week.

Cost: 3.52 (Yikes.)

The hardest part about this is not necessary the taste of the food; but after I'm done I still feel hungry, and all I have to look forward to is continuing to be hungry.

Supper: Barley Boiled in Stock

I reheated the lamb broth from lunch, and added a 1/2 cup of barley. I simmered it about 45 minutes. I have to say it was pretty damn good. The broth was very flavorful, and the barley absorbed it all, but left a starchy goo between the kernels. It was salty, warm and satisfying; but I still could only eat about half before I was full. I put the rest in the fridge for tomorrow.

Cost: .39 cents

I also had one extra cup of milk (.25 cents)

Total Cost: $4.48
Approximate Calories Consumed: 763

Running Total: $12.54- $13.08

I often feel overwhelmed and out of patience, especially after physical activity. I live about a mile from the subway, so after a walk to the train I'm a pretty cranky bitch.

January 8, 2009

Eating Like a Tenement Family: Day 4

Fried Polenta!

Breakfast: Fried Polenta and Scalded Milk

Instead on Ms. Corson's suggested breakfast of Rice Panada, I decided to save a little money by frying up slices of polenta left over from last night's dinner. This preparation is another suggested meal in Fifteen Cent Dinners, so I'm not straying too far from the path here.

I sliced the cold polenta about 1/2in-1 in thick, and fried them in a skillet with 1 tablespoon hot butter (.15 cents). The edges were crispy and buttery, although a little plain. It could have used some cheese or maple syrup.

Cost: .40 cents

A couple hours later, I was in the shower, and got woozy. Then nauseous. And I had to sit down until the feeling passed.

Now, I want to point out that I'm a videographer by trade, and my work is largely sedentary. Long hours of editing require me to sit on my butt all day. So if I feel woozy on this diet, I cannot imagine how a full-grown male, working 12-15 hour shifts rolling barrels at the Fulton Fish Market would fair.

Lunch: Salt Pot-au-Feu

"Salt Pot-au-feu-Put one and a half pounds of Salt pork (cost eighteen cents,) in three quarts of cold water; bring it slowly to a boil. and skim it well; when it has boiled fifteen minutes, put in with it a two or three cent head of cabbage...and boil both steadily for half an hour..."

After the shower incident, I decided it was time to make lunch. I had not yet had a chance to go to the grocery store, so I had to substitute the salt pork with 3 slices of bacon (about .90 cents) I let them brown up in a pan, then threw half an onion (.05 cents) into the rendered fat. I let it cooked about five more minutes, then added 1/4 of a white cabbage (.33 cents), salt, pepper, and about 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar (about .02 cents). I covered it over with water and let the whole mess boil for 15 minutes. I choked down about half. I saved the broth for supper and tomorrow's breakfast.

Cost: $1.30

Supper: Lentils Stewed in Stock

I cooked 1/2 cup of lentils (.27 cents) according to the package directions, using the stock left over from lunch as the cooking water. I ate about half of them, before feeling full and uninterested. Simultaneously, I still feel hungry. I also allowed myself one slice of bread (.07 cents).

The cider that I added to the broth at lunch gave the stock a really weird taste. I'm not saving it for breakfast tomorrow.

Cost: .34 cents

I also had an extra cup of milk (.25 cents) and an apple (.33 cents)

Total Cost: $2.04
Approximate Calories Consumed: 796
Running Total: $8.06- $8.60

January 7, 2009

Try This At Home: Spruce Beer

From American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1798.

Two friends of mine are attempting to make Spruce Beer, a very old recipe for homemade beer. In America's early days, Beer was an indispensable household drink, being an important source of fresh water, calories, and in the case of spruce beer, vital nutrients received from the boiling of spruce branches.

Simmon's recipe uses essence of spruce, which can be purchased in most brewing stores. Or, you can make your own by boiling spruce branches in with the hops, which is a great source of vitamin C. I've tried to make this recipe once before and it tasted like ass, but I made a few mistakes that my friends are correcting in their recipe.

Their photo slide show tells the story; they're bottling their brew this Saturday, and tasting it in another couple weeks. I'll give you the full report when I have it.

Spruce Beer


3 gallons distilled water
48 fl oz blackstrap molasses
2.5oz Fuggles hop pellets
1 tbs spruce essence
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1 packet Nottingham yeast


Stock pot with lid
Big Spoon
a few small bowls, such as Pyrex measuring bowls
Fermenter (lidded food-grade pail & bubbler)
Spray bottle with distilled water
small quantity of vodka

Sanitize everything within a 35 block radius. Put 2 gallons of water into stock pot. Add all molasses to the pot and stir until dissolved. Turn heat on and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. some time while the pot is heating place the third gallon of water and the spruce essence In the fermentor, shaking it vigorously for a few minutes (this adds oxygen into the water.) Once the water has reached a boil, add 2oz of hops pellets. There will be a hot break once the hops are added (the pot will foam) so spray the hot break with the spray bottle to keep it from foaming over. Dissolve the yeast nutrient in a small quantity of water. 5 minutes after the hops pellets were added, add the yeast nutrient. Continue to boil for 10 minutes.

Remove the pot from the stove and place in an ice water bath in the sink. Keep the lid on the pot at this point to keep contaminants out. Use the thermometer to monitor the temperature - once the temperature drops down to around 100 degrees, activate the yeast. Follow the directions on the packet, which will tell you to put the packet and a quantity of warm water in a small bowl and wait 15 minutes.

Pour the liquid contents of the pot into the fermenter, making sure not to dump the sludge from the bottom of the pot in too. Give the pot a quick rinse to get rid of the sludge. Pour (most of) the liquid back and fourth between the pot and fermenter 4-5 times to add more oxygen to the environment. The liquid should end up in the fermenter.

Pour in the activated yeast bowl into the fermenter. Put the lid on the fermenter. Fill the 2 chambers of the bubbler with vodka and insert it into the fermenter lid.

Place the container in a cool place, and wait a week. After 2-3 days if the bubbler is not happily bubbling away, you have likely done a disservice to your yeast and it is dead. You can grab another packet of yeast and get a good culture growing and then add it into the fermenter.

If it does bubble, you should spend this week reflecting on life and catching up on your favorite television episodes.

(thanks to Zaite and Mark S.)

Eating Like a Tenement Family: Day 3

Stewed Tripe.

Breakfast: Toasted Bread and Scalded Milk

Pretty much as it sounds, because nothing wakes me up in the morning like warm milk. Although, I presume they're boiling all of their milk because pasteurization wasn't around yet, and there was a contaminated milk crisis in New York City.

Cost: .32 cents

Lunch: Stewed Tripe

Like most middle-class Americans, I've had very little experience with offal. Our affluence has afforded us the luxury to ignore organ meats in favor of the succulent muscles of our animal friends. But not today!

"Stewed Tripe.-Cut in small pieces one pound of tripe. (cost eightcents,) half a quart each of potatoes and onions, (cost of both five cent) and put them in layers in a pot, seasoning them with one table-spoonful of salt, and one level teaspoonful of pepper; mix quarter of a pound of flour with water, gradually using three pints of water, and pour it over the stew: (the flour and seasoning will cost two cents) put the pot over the fire and boil if gently for an hour and a half."

I have had tripe (cow stomach) once before, in a Philadelphia Pepper Pot stew, and it was like springy, tasteless chicken.

I told myself to stop being a baby and went to wash the tripe (.48 cents). Just the feel of it was enough to turn my stomach--like used Kleenex soaked in baby oil. I prepared the tripe using these instructions. I'm assuming its so important to wash and sterilize it because of the risk of digestive tract bacteria; germ theory was probably not something a Tenement family would be familiar with.

It smelled like a fish tank when it was boiling. Or like a cat pooped in a sandbox.

When I was slicing up the tripe, I wasn't sure if it would be best to go with small pieces, that might melt away into the broth, or larger pieces I could pick out if I wanted. I decided to go small, and also cut up two medium potatoes (.34 cents) and half of an onion (.05 cents). I added the onion to my pot first, to let it get a little color, then the tripe, and lastly the potatoes. I added a little salt and ground pepper.

I had saved the water in which I had boiled the macaroni the night before. Corson recommends drinking the starchy water for breakfast; while I wasn't up for that, I couldn't let all those nutrients go to waste. I whisked in 1/4 cup of flour and poured it in my soup pot. I brought the mix to a boil, then turned it down and let it simmer for 30 mins, until the potatoes were tender. It thickened considerably, but still maintaned that fish tank smell.

In the end, I am a big puss. I could handle one bite of the gummy organ meat; It really had some flavor that I associate with contaminated water. I ate out the potatoes, trying to taste them as little as possible.

Cost: .87 cents

Supper: Polenta

"This favorite Itallian dish is closely related to the hasty pudding of New England, and the mush of the South. "

After this afternoon, I was relieved to have something unchallenging for dinner. Polenta is easy and about one of the cheapest foods you can make, costing about .05 a serving. It can be made with water, milk, or leftover stock; and is improved by the addition of onions or cheese.

I made a third of this recipe for polenta. I ate half, and stored the rest away in the fridge for tomorrow. It was great.

Cost: .32 cents

Also had my daily apple and lemon half.

Total Cost: 1.96
Approximate Calories Consumed: 800

Running Total: 6.02-6.56

January 6, 2009

How to Cook a Wolf

I came across this excerpt and commentary on How to Cook A Wolf (1942), a book by food writer M.F.K Fisher, that I think is appropriate to my Tenement experiment:

"The book was written when wartime shortages had compounded the problems of the Depression, and Fisher offers sensible advice in each chapter about how to make do, provide nutrition, and even enjoy oneself at table. Along the way she illuminates her times. For true emergencies, the essay “How to Stay Alive” ponders what’s needed spiritually and nutritionally to survive on what was a few cents a day in her time. It includes a recipe for making a slumgullion of “ground whole-grain cereal,” a tiny amount of cheap meat, and loads of vegetables (“wilted and withered things a day old maybe…[or] the big coarse ugly ones”), stewed three or more hours.

'I know, from some experience,' she says, '[that it] holds enough vitamins and minerals and so on and so forth to keep a professional strong-man or a dancer or even a college professor in good health and equable spirits. The main trouble with it, as with any enforced and completely simple diet, is its monotony. It must be considered, then, as a means to an end, like ethyl gasoline, which can never give much esthetic satisfaction to its purchaser or the automobile it is meant for but is almost certain to make that automobile run smoothly.'

All this sounds more applicable with each morning’s news. "

In the 1870s, proteins and fats had been discovered and taken into nutritional consideration, but vitamins had not yet made an appearance. It's interesting that by the 1940s, vegetables are introduced as part of a poor man's diet. But even today, it's fresh produce that can be prohibitively expensive on a budget. The most expensive item of food I've bought so far is a bag of apples, and I anticipate my daily intake of fruit will put me far over budget.

The entire article on historic food writing is intriguing, and is on a blog that is quickly becoming one of my favorites: The Education of Oronte Chum

Eating like a Tenement Family: Day 2

Breakfast: Broth and Bread:

On the subject of broth, Juliet Corson has this to say:

"I wish to call your attention to the following important fact. The hardy and thrifty working classes of France, the country where the most rigid economy in regard to food is practiced, never use tea or coffee for breakfast, and seldom use milk. Their food and drink is BROTH."

With this is mind, I pulled last night's broth from the refrigerator, and poured it into a mug to be reheated in the microwave. It smelled like farts, and there was some sludgy stuff on the bottom I decided I couldn't stomach, so I threw that out. I added a little water to thin the rest out.

I toasted a slice of bread as well, from a loaf of fresh-baked Italian bread that cost .99 cents. It works out to about .07 cents a slice.

All in all, the broth wasn't bad. It tasted like a rich soup, which is not necessary what I want to eat first thing in the morning, but it made the hunger headache I've had since last night go away. I felt full, but not really satisfied. I give breakfast broth a B+, although I think it will grow on me.

Cost: .07 cents.

Lunch: Baked Beans

I decided it wasn't cost effective to make baked beans from scratch, as it was very labor intensive and used many items that I don't usually have in my pantry. So instead, I opened a can of Campbell's Brown Sugar and Bacon Baked Beans, cost .59 cents. Done and done.

Cost: .59 cents

Supper: Macaroni with Cheese

"Boil half a pound of macaroni...put it into a pudding dish in layers with quarter of a pound of cheese, (cost four cents,) grated and mixed between the layers; season it with pepper and salt to taste; put a very little butter and some bread crumbs over it, and brown it in the oven. It will make just as hearty and strengthening a meal as meat, and will cost about twelve cents."

Ms. Corson suggests boiling the macaroni with an onion in the water; I have also read other recipes in which you add Mace, a spice made from the shell of the nutmeg. Mace has got a real kick to it, and is often hard to find in modern grocery stores. I've decided to add 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes to impart a similar flavor.

My roommates were home, so I made a full recipe following Ms. Corson's directions. 8 oz of macaroni costs about .80 cents, and 1/4 lb of cheddar cheese costs about $1.50. I also used 1/8 stick butter (.15 cents) and a sprinkling of bread crumbs which I had in my pantry. The recipe makes about four adult-sized servings, at a cost of .61 cents each. With enough salt and pepper, it was tastey and fairly flavourful.

Cost: .61 cents

I also ate one apple (.33 cents) and half of a lemon (.12 cents)

Day 2 Total Cost: $1.72
Approximate Calories Consumed: 995

Cost to Date: $4.06-$4.60

Note that all prices are based on a New York grocery store; they will vary by location. Today was better, although for the most part I feel headachey and and somewhat nauseous. I couldn't imagine doing 12-14 hours of heavy labor on this diet; but I supposed sometimes you just do what you gotta do.

New York, New Year Cakes

My friend over at New York, Circa 1850 has made some rather pretty New York Cakes, which are traditionally served to New Year's Day callers.

Here's what she has to say about the finished product:
"The flavors (nutmeg, cinnamon, rosewater, and caraway seeds) are a bit jarring to the modern palate and the cakes are barely sweet; it has taken me a day or so to find them rather pleasant after all."

January 5, 2009

Eating Like a Tenement Family: Day 1

Corned Beef with Cabbage.
Breakfast: Boiled Rice with Scalded Milk
There was no recipe given for Rice with Scalded Milk, so I added 1/2 cup of rice (this item was already in my pantry, but costs about .39 cents) to 1 cup milk (cost .25 cents). I brought it to a boil, stirring constantly, then turned down the heat to low. I stirred it and let it cook until it was very thick and starchy, then add about 1/2 cup water and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
It was gross and gummy. A tablespoon of sugar greatly improved the taste. The recipe yielded about 2 cups, and I ate half.
Cost: $ .25-$.64
Dinner (Lunch): Corned Beef and Cabbage
The recipe for Corned Beef and Cabbage is based on the recipe for Salt Pot-au-Feu, at Ms. Corson's recommendation. I'll be making Salt Pot-au-Feu on Thursday, and will get into the recipe in more detail then.
There were no instructions in Fifteen Cent Dinners (FCD) to make corned beef from scratch, so I assumed they were buying pre-made, possibly potted, beef that would have been less expensive than making it at home. After comparing prices of modern pre-packaged corned beef, I decided on Budding brand slices, costing a total of .86 cents.
I heated 1/2 a piece of bacon (about .15 cents, but I already had this item in my pantry) in a pot, to render some cooking fat and add flavor. I then added 1/2 of a small onion (about .05 cents) and let it cook until soft. I then added the Budding Corned Beef, browned it a little, then poured in enough water to deglaze the pan. I added 1/4 of a white cabbage (.33 cents) and added enough water to cover everything. I put the lid on the pot and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
When I took the lid off, the broth was a rich brown color and it smelled promising. I lifted out the cabbage with a strainer and placed the slices of beef on top.
The results: the Budding beef was a bad choice. Although cheaper than its cousin in a can (which costs about $4.00) it was tough, flavourless and inedible. The cabbage was not bad. I'm not a huge fan of boiled cabbage, but perhaps it will grow on me.
Cost: $1.24-$1.39

Supper: Peas Boiled in Stock
I added 1/2 cup dry split peas (.40 cents) to the leftover broth from the Corned Beef and Cabbage. I brought it to a boil, then turned down the heat, added a little pepper and salt, and simmered it for about 45 minutes, until nice and tender. I strained the peas and saved the broth for breakfast tomorrow. Nutritious, flavourful, and economical!
Cost: $ .40
I also ate 1/2 lemon (.12 cents) and 1 apple (.33 cents)

Total Cost Day 1: $2.34-$2.88
Total Approximate Calories Consumed: 661
Right now, I'm so hungry I'm having trouble thinking.

January 3, 2009

Experiments in Culinary History: Eating Like a Tenement Family

I recently came across a reference to an 1877 pamphlet titled Fifteen Cent Dinners. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I found a copy of the pamphlet online, and I got curious if the meals were as filling, nutritional, and cheap as the authors purports.

The pamphlet, according to it's author Juliet Corson (founder of the New York Cooking School), is meant as a guideline for the poorest working class families to provide a nutritional meal on the cheap. She proposes a meal plan that can feed a family of six for three dollars a week, about $57 in today's money.

In New York, a poor, working class family usually meant a life in the tenements. My curiosity stems from the desire to understand a small part of what life was like for these families by preparing and consuming the foods that made up their daily lives.

Although these families were also likely to be immigrants and were probably cooking some of the foods of their homelands, Corson assures her readers that the recipes are based around "...articles in common use among the working classes."

I'm going to start my experience with Ms. Corson's suggested menu. Here is my Bill of Fare for the next seven days:

I was struck by how efficient the menu is: the stock created at lunch has vegetables added to it for supper, then reheated for breakfast. Ms. Corson leaves an extra 62 cents ($11.94 our money) which she advises is for the purchase of "extra bread, milk and butter." I've decided it would be wise for me to use this money to purchase apples (because I would like to poop sometime this week) and lemons (to prevent scurvy). I'll also be taking a daily multi-vitamin.

I'll be working with 1/6th of Ms. Corson's given budget, so I plan to eat this week for about $10. I'll be keeping a running tally of the groceries I buy and each day I'll post recipes and photos of the foods I cook.

Ms. Corson says that "The cheapest kinds of food are sometimes the most wholesome and strengthening..." A statement that does not seem to hold true in today's society. The poorest classes are often the most obese, and the cheapest foods in the grocery store seem to be those that are the worst for you. Through cooking Ms. Corson's recipes, I hope to tap into an older, and perhaps wiser, way of eating on a restricted budget.

Or I might just end up constipated. I begin on Monday.

Fifteen Cent Dinners for families of six. (pdf)