But back in October 2007, Melissa Clark was introducing the concept to many for the first time in The New York Times: “If a chef dares to offer something as unappealing as, say, a raw kale salad, chances are it’s fantastic,” she wrote in an article titled If It Sounds Bad, It’s Got to Be Good. This article was all about the curious, addictive raw kale salad at Franny’s in Brooklyn (also published in Saveur the same month), which seems to mark the launch point for kale salad to catapult into the food trend hall of fame.
After reading the article, I wondered if there were earlier versions of kale salad, and what they looked like. To get the long view, I headed over to one of my favorite quick-research tools — Google Books — to look for much older versions of “kale salad.” I was not disappointed, finding a handful of recipes from 100 years ago and more. And I also found some old books that could be at home on bookstore shelves today (after a lot of updated design and new photographs).
One of my favorite genres of art is the 19th century Japanese landscape print, especially the works by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), who is best known as the creator of several series that showed famous scenes from around the nation, like “53 Stations of the Tokaido” and “Famous Views of the 60-Odd Provinces.” The subjects of the prints in the series vary between the long and medium view — for example, a rainbow over a the sea, or travelers passing over a bridge. So when I saw a series of Hiroshige fish prints appear in a Creative Commons CCSearch result, my curiosity was piqued. What was the story behind the series?
It turns out that prints of animals, fish and plants were relatively rare: in Hiroshige’s 40 year art career, he designed over 10,000 single sheet prints and several hundred book illustrations, with only around 500 having an animal or plant as the subject [the statistics are from Birds and Flowers, a book in the reference list below].
After reviewing a few books about Hiroshige at the local libraries, I found the answer to my question, and it turned out to be straightforward: a poetry guild called Kyokashi hired him to make ten fish illustrations to accompany their poems. During the design and printing process the poets gave their poems to the woodblock carvers, who added the lettering to a block so it would appear on the final print.
Every six months I visit several websites that sell pure cricket flour so I can update the prices in my “cricket flour price tracker.” The July update day occurred recently, so my post from 2016 has July 1, 2017 price data. Despite all of the hype about crickets as human food and about cricket companies scaling up to produce more product, the retail prices on July 1 were exactly the same as they were in January. Here’s a static version of the new chart:
One of my favorite posts featured a set of chocolate chip cookie charts, which built on an idea from Megnut’s Mean Chocolate Chip Cookie post. For her “mean” post, Meg collected a bunch of chocolate chip cookie recipes, calculated the mean (average) for each ingredient to create a new recipes, and then baked cookies. Her result: “These cookies were pretty damn good!”
I didn’t bake the recipes, I charted them: butter versus sugar, chocolate chips versus sugar, and so forth. At that small scale, it was a fun project, but not exceptionally revealing. You probably can’t learn much from a dozen not-carefully chosen recipes.
Collecting Lemon Curd Recipes
Meyer lemon meringue pie is one of my favorite desserts, with its rich crust, tangy filling, and sweet and airy meringue. My go-to recipe is from Chez Panisse Desserts, a rather haphazardly written recipe*, but one that has resulted in delicious lemon curd over the years. For some reason, lemon meringue pie and the cookie charts recently collided in my thoughts, and my impulse was to collect recipes and make some charts. Food charts can be fun, and perhaps I’d also learn something about lemon curd. So I dug into cookbooks, cataloged the ingredients, processed the data, and built some charts, which I share below. But first, a little bit about curds, custards, and creams.
The Golden Gate Bridge is a global icon, a triumph of engineering, and a work of art. In American terms, it was shaped by the City Beautiful movement, the Progressive Era, and the Great Depression. More mysteriously, the Bridge expresses those forces that science tells us constitute the dynamics of nature itself. Like the Parthenon, the Golden Gate Bridge seems Platonic in its perfection, as if the harmonies and resolutions of creation as understood by mathematics and abstract thought have been effortlessly materialized through engineering design.
That’s the opening to Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge, a concise examination of one of the wonders of the modern world by Kevin Starr (1940-2017). It’s a slim volume, less than 200 pages — a sharp contrast to Starr’s greatest legacy, his monumental 7-volume Americans and the California Dream — that takes an expansive and slightly non-traditional look at this magnificent structure and site. In eleven chapters with one word titles (“Icon,” “Site,” “Money”, etc.), Starr looks beyond concrete and steel to bigger topics like the geological formation of the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay, how the Golden Gate stayed hidden from the Spanish for years*, and its cultural and artistic meanings — the Bridge as an Icon, as a driver of local commerce, as a catalyst for metropolitan prosperity.
A segment on potatoes with author Raghavan Iyer on the May 13, 2017 episode of Good Food, got me wondering about potato statistics: Where are the world’s potatoes grown? Which country eats the most potatoes? Who imports and exports potatoes?
I went looking for answers at the amazing FAOSTAT website, which is a statistical database about food and agriculture from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. They have data for numerous crops, and I quickly found data for potato production, “supply” (the quantity available for human consumption), export and import, and plugged it into Tableau Public to make the maps shown below. The maps should be interactive — move your mouse over a symbol to get its information, zoom in or out, or do other pan and zoom operations (click the right pointing triangle for these). If the blog-sized maps aren’t working for you, I also created an auto-sized version that can be accessed on the full size Spud Stats page.
I’d like to conclude my celery trilogy by looking at the ngram for celery (the first two parts of the trilogy were about celery on restaurant menus and celery vases). Ngrams show the popularity of a word or phrase throughout time and are especially useful for slang, grammar, and spelling preferences (like ketchup and catsup). An ngram is a blunt tool, of course, since it’s not possible to limit the search to books with a certain subject matter (like cookbooks).
The chart below is the ngram for celery. There are three notable features: a significant rise between 1900 and 1920, a drop between 1940 and the mid-1960s, and another significant rise from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. The first rise was probably related to authors capitalizing on the popularity of celery in that era, both for eating and growing (at home and commercially). The mid-century decline was likely connected to the post-war interest in processed food and convenience, a place where celery does not fit (except perhaps in canned cream of celery soup). I’d guess that the renewed interest in healthy eating in the 60s and 70s led to celery’s change of fortune (hippies, back to the land, clean eating, etc.). To get the real answers would take a lot more research.
When I typed “celery” into the CC Search box to search a few museums’ public domain collections to illustrate my previous post on celery on restaurant menus, I was expecting one or two results, perhaps a still life. And so I was surprised when the search returned a bunch of objects called “celery vases” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It turns out that “celery vases” were a thing. And some of them are attractive works in glass or ceramic.
Celery was a popular vegetable in the 1800s and early 1900s — often served as an appetizer with other raw or pickled vegetables. And so the artisans of the era created appropriate dishes to hold the crisp green stalks. (I wonder: are potters and glass makers working feverishly on the ideal plates for avocado toast or bowls for kale salad?)