A Curry Powder Recipe from 1818

The Universal Receipt Book - 1818 - curry powder recipe - splice of pages 153 and 154

On one of the rare occasions when the Bloglovin’ web interface works with my complicated browser set-up, I ran across a fascinating piece of data visualization. It was a Data Visualization of Eight Flavors from the Four Pounds Flour blog in which the author used the Google Ngram Viewer to highlight the eight flavors in her new book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine.  One of the flavors is curry powder, and here’s an Ngram for curry powder:

I was initially surprised by the 1800-1820 blip, but after a little thought it makes sense:  the spice trade between India and Europe has been active since antiquity; British business interests in India began in the 17th century, and one of the outcomes of Britain’s colonialism was the creation of a new thing called “curry powder” that was exported to Britain, Europe and the United States.  So it follows the some books from long ago would mention curry powder.

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Twice-Baked Potatoes with North African Spices

Twice-baked potatoes with chermoula and yogurtA few months back, I read a post from the Nerds with Knives blog about Yotam Ottolenghi’s Chermoula Roasted Eggplant. The recipe looked great — roasted eggplant drenched with a piquant spice paste (the chermoula) — and since it was eggplant season, I tried it a few times.  Finding the right eggplant proved challenging, but when I found the right one it was a great success.

My culinary gears started turning. What else could this chermoula flavoring be used for?  Of course, I could have consulted a North African cookbook or one from Ottolenghi, but it can be fun to explore ideas on my own. My first though was potatoes. The flavors of the chermoula — cumin, coriander, garlic, paprika, olive oil — would be a perfect foil for potato’s hearty and mellow flavors.

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Sketches by W.M. Thackeray, a Master of the Quick Sketch

Self portrait, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 492 Moon observer, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 211 Owl person drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 387 Flying witches, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 212 A reader, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 264 Faces, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 107 A Wayside Sketcher, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 473 Sitting for a portrait, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 432 Napper, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 194 Falling foul of the skirts, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 488 Self portrait, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 455

Rainy weather and stressed umbrellas, drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 460 - BWhile searching for something or other in Flickr Commons, the wave of images included some attractive sketches of people struggling with umbrellas in a storm, elegantly attired dancers, and various other everyday happenings.  I soon discovered that they were from Thackerayana: Notes and Anecdotes, a book published in 1875. The book is tribute to William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), a writer known for the novels Vanity Fair and The Luck of Barry Lyndon (this was the foundation for Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film Barry Lyndon).

The 500+ page book highlights Thackeray’s skill as an artist — he was a master of caricature and the quick sketch — by pairing facsimiles of drawings found in the margins of books in his library with relevant writing (sometimes the text near his drawings, sometimes text relevant to the drawing).  His drawings can be charming and inventive, and the gallery above shows some of my favorites.  The images could make a fun coloring book.

[Click “Continue Reading” to see an image gallery.]

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What Seems New Is Old: “Trash Fish” in a 1974 Newsletter

Trash fish image from University of North Carolina Sea Grant Program Newsletter, May, 1974
Rudderfish from Bulletin of US Fish Commission on Flickr Commons
Rudderfish (Seriola zonata)

“Trash fish” — a term used to describe less-marketable seafood that might normally be tossed back into the ocean — has been a hot topic in the last few years. To be better stewards of the oceans, we need to spark interest in less popular fish — the “trash fish” — thereby cutting waste, reducing pressures on overharvested species (like bluefin tuna, red snapper, etc.), and providing additional income to fishing communities.

The highest profile efforts have been the Chefs Collaborative’s series of Trash Fish Dinners, where their members highlight under-valued species such as porgy, silver carp, and triggerfish.  In recent weeks, trash fish got a much bigger audience, with a feature role on a Top Chef elimination challenge: recreate the traditional Italian “feast of the seven fishes” using trash fish. A recap of Top Chef Charleston from Grub Street describes what happened in great detail. After a bunch of drama, the teams turned out triggerfish with chile sauce and stewed tomatoes, amberjack with kimchi and rice porridge, and ras el hanout-spiced tunny. Not all of them were successful: one was “flavorless and also the texture of tennis shoes.”

The promoters sometimes make it seem like trash fish is a new concept — i.e., unlike those barbarians in the past, we are going to use our limited aquatic resources more carefully. In reality, trash fish is a much older idea.

While searching for “parmesan” in Flickr Commons, I ran across the University of North Carolina Sea Grant Program Newsletter from 1974 with an image that caught my eye:  “Wanted: Trash Fish to Taste Good!”

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Old Menus for Christmas, New Year’s Day, and a Bunch of Bankers

Griswold House 1900 Christmas Menu

The Buttolph Collection of Menus at the New York Public Library is a way to see what people were eating at restaurants in the past. The collection contains tens of thousands of menus, with the bulk from the early 20th century, when the collection’s creator, Miss Frank E. Buttolph, was actively collecting menus.  In this post, I’ll highlight two seasonal menus and a creative menu for bankers.

A Stocking Menu from Detroit

The Christmas Spirit moved the Griswold House’s menu designer in 1900, leading to a stocking-shaped menu. Based on my reading of menus from around 1900, this one is fairly typical. It is loaded with French cuisine, and also has some game (roast canvasback duck and stuffed roast opossum). And celery, of course (restaurant menus of that era often had celery in the salad or appetizer section).

Griswold House 1900 Christmas Menu
Cover and interior of Griswold House 1900 Christmas Menu (a much larger picture of the 1900 Griswold House Christmas menu, ~4 MB)
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Caffeine in Your Cup of Tea: Loose Versus Bagged

Caffeine in Tea versus Time

Let’s face it: a cup of tea can taste great and be a relaxing ritual, but the caffeine might be the biggest attraction. And if you want to get the most (or least) in your cup, scientific articles can be a valuable resource. In particular, some of the papers by a group from the University of Natal in South Africa have results that are useful to the everyday tea drinker, not just to fellow scientists (I reviewed one about the effect of water temperature on caffeine levels in brewed tea).

Tea bag size illustrationIn part three of the series (full reference below), the focus is on size and shape, with seven configurations considered:

  • Loose tea
  • Four square tea bags, with area on one side of 16, 36, 49, and 64 cm2
  • A round bag, with area on one side of 49 cm2
  • A rectangular bag with area on one side of 49 cm2 (6.1 cm x 8 cm)

To the right, you’ll find scale drawings of the tea bags.

The tea was a black tea (Ceylon Orange Pekoe) that had been sieved so that pieces were between 1.4 and 2 mm in size. They don’t specify the quantity of tea (how did the reviewers let this happen?), a reference to a previous paper indicates that they use 4 grams of tea. They brewed the tea in a specially constructed brewing rig that maintained a constant temperature (80 C +/- 0.1 C).  Periodically, samples were extracted and analyzed for caffeine concentration.

The researchers’ goal was measurement of things like “rate constants,” but what I’m interested in is the caffeine evolution, i.e., caffeine level versus time. Fortunately, they included an equation* that converts from their interest to my interest.

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A Google Books Ngram of Pumpkin Pie and Spice

Pumpkin frolic Mother-Earths-children-the-frolics-of-the-fruits-and-vegetables-from-Internet-Archive-on-Flickr

Mother Earth's children; the frolics of the fruits and vegetables (1914) - from Internet Archive on FlickrAlthough peak pumpkin has passed, the December weather keeps me thinking about it. For example, I would be happy to have pumpkin pie on the Christmas dessert table.  So I thought it would be fun to run three pumpkin terms through the Ngrams Viewer from Google Books:  pumpkin pie, pumpkin pie spice, and pumpkin spice.  For those not familiar with the tool, The Ngrams Viewer searches the Google Books library of digitized printed materials, which is mostly books but also includes periodicals.

Pumpkin Pie, Pie Spice, and Spice

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Vegetable and Chickpea Stew with Green Olives and Rosemary

Provencal Vegetable and Chickpea StewA great stew is a balance between flavors and textures, and ideally the end result is greater than the sum of the parts. One of my favorites is a French-influenced vegetable stew that I have been tinkering with for a few months. It has sweet squash, mellow potatoes, piney rosemary, and sharp green olives, with a bright broth of tomatoes and Dijon mustard.

Although this blog is vegetarian, I’m not.  After many years of strict avoidance of meat, I started eating it a few years ago — but only rarely, and only from good local sources (like Marin Sun Farms and the Local Butcher Shop). As I was starting to learn how to cook meat dishes (I was a vegetarian when I learned to cook), I gravitated towards slow-cooker dishes where I would be less likely to mess up the expensive meat — I was seeking the magic of “set it and forget it” (though I should note that the team at Serious Eats has done some careful analysis of stews and found that slow cookers are not so great when compared to pressure cookers or Dutch ovens).

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“Cocoa…Might Well be Called the Vegetable Egg”

Detail of a Ghirardelli advertisement in The Utah Farmer (1915)

During my extensive explorations of Flickr Commons, I ran across a magazine called The Utah Farmer, a periodical for all kinds of farmers in the Utah area. Ghirardelli Chocolate, the legendary San Francisco chocolate company (“since 1852”), was one of their regular advertisers, with an ad in most issues.  One of their ads in 1915 had an interesting perspective about cocoa:

A great food scientist says: ‘Cocoa (Ghirardelli’s Ground Chocolate is a blend of the finest cocoa and pure sugar) might well be called the vegetable egg; but in fact cocoa contains a larger percentage of nutriment matter than the egg.’

It might be pleasant to think that cocoa is as nutritious as an egg, but I doubt that claim would stand up to much scrutiny (and what exactly is “nutriment matter”?).  

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Fun with a Victorian Slang Dictionary


I was out walking the other day, and it was hot, so I was really feeling the collar. As I rounded the corner onto Kings Lane, I spotted my old crony George. And so I says to him, “I’m headed to the Lion’s Pub, why don’t you come and have a pickle?”

Once we got there, we ordered some steps, the house bags o’ mystery, and, against my better judgment, a few fourpenny cannons. Of course, pints of foot-rot were quickly acquired.

In 2016, much of the passage above might not make sense. And for good reason: it was sprinkled with slang from the Victorian era (late 19th century, early 20th century).

Here it is again, with some translation:

I was out walking the other day, and it was hot, so I was really feeling the collar (sweating as I walked). As I rounded the corner onto Kings Lane, I spotted my old crony (friend) George. And so I says to him, “I’m headed to the Lion’s Pub, why don’t you come and have a pickle (join me for a quick meal)?”

Once we got there, we ordered some steps (thick slices of buttered bread stacked on the plate to look like steps), the house bags o’ mystery (sausages), and, against my better judgment, a few fourpenny cannons (low-priced beef-steak puddings). Of course, pints of foot-rot (low quality ale) were quickly acquired.

These slang terms are all from a book published in 1909 called Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase, which I learned about from The Public Domain Review’s Twitter feed (@publicdomainrev).

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