One of the many interesting ingredients in the Japanese pantry is konnyaku — a versatile, low calorie food with a highly distinctive texture. It’s rubbery and springier than even finger jello1.
Also called “devil’s tongue jelly,” konnyaku is more or less flavorless until it is simmered in broth, and so it is almost always part of a dish that has a flavorful broth or dressing. Besides soaking up the flavors of the broth, it provides an interesting textural element to stews and soups — for example, in the vegetable stew recipe below, you get soft vegetable, soft vegetable, soft vegetable, some fairly soft tofu, and then springy, resilient konnyaku.
The calorie label is a bit hard to believe: a 9 ounce (255 gram) package has only 30 calories, just 0.12 calories per gram, compared with a carbohydrate’s 4 calories per gram or a fat’s 9 calories per gram. The reason for this is fiber: the magic of konnyaku is that it form a resilient mass of fiber with nearly no starch, fat or protein.
Konnyaku is made from the root of the Amorphophallus konjac plant, which is peeled, boiled, and mashed, before a coagulant is added to cause the paste to set into a gel. Sometimes hijiki (a sea vegetable) is added for flavor, nutrition (calcium), and color. (The konnyaku in the photo above contains hijiki — the konnyaku noodles in the photo below do not.)
If you love Thanksgiving, you should learn the name Sarah Josepha Hale.
Starting in 1846 and continuing until her retirement in 1877, Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) used her position as editress1 of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine — one of the most popular and influential magazines of the time — to campaign for a national Thanksgiving holiday in November. For many years, she wrote two editorials in the magazine explaining the benefits of a national Thanksgiving holiday and encouraging her readers to work for one by pressuring public officials. She also wrote thousands of personal letters (by hand!) to elected officials, to the influencers of the day (other magazine editors, prominent preachers, etc.), and to her wide network of friends and family.
When Hale started her campaign, Thanksgiving wasn’t a new concept in America. Towns, villages and states held harvest festivals in the autumn that would generally involve a late-morning trip to church for a special service, followed by a feast2. But there was no national Thanksgiving Day. For example, in the late 1700s, towns on Long Island celebrated Thanksgiving on the first Thursday after the cattle returned from the common pasture. Because the return of the cattle was highly weather-dependent, the date varied from year to year3. In 1789, President Washington issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation that set forth “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” but this was a one-time event.
Hale wanted a national Thanksgiving holiday. To Hale, a national holiday would be a “promoter of this national spirit,” demonstrate the “prosperity and happiness of the American people,” encourage generosity, and add a third patriotic holiday to the national calendar to supplement Washington’s Birthday and the Fourth of July.
As time went on, new collections of images appeared and I learned about existing collections, and started to use them as sources of the art for my blog. Eventually, however, my tastes changed slightly and I started being attracted to the ‘vintage’ material in the archives. I liked adding quirky or unusual images to my posts — instead of a picture of a finished dish that I was writing about, I’d include something from an old seed catalog or a fairy tale (as in my post about turnip pickles and turnip greens).
As I’ve discussed before, in the olden days, catsup/ketchup was about much more than tomatoes. Cookbooks from the 18th and 19th century are ripe with recipes for catsup/ketchup that contain ingredients that are decidedly non-ketchup ingredients, like walnuts, anchovies, and oysters.
What is sold for mushroom catsup, is generally an injudicious composition of so many different tastes, that the flavour of the mushroom is overpowered by a farrago of garlic, anchovy, mustard, shallot, beer, wine, spices, &c.
Ready made catsup is little better than a decoction of spice and water, with the grosser parts of the mushrooms all beaten up to a pulp.
When I first saw Mock Tomata Sauce on my screen, I had a few thoughts. First: ????. Next: I need to try this. And then: this reminds me of the delicious mostarda spread / sauce in the Gjelina cookbook (a concoction of lightly fried apples, coarse mustard, rosemary, etc.), so I can see it working.
Here’s Kitchiner’s recipe (mid-sentence capitalizations and “tomata” in original):
Mock Tomata Sauce. — (No. 293.)
Reduce sharp tasted apples to a pulp as in making apple sauce; pound them in a mortar with as much turmeric as will give them colour, and as much Chili vinegar as will give the same degree of acid flavour that the tomata has; add to each pint a quarter of an ounce of shallots shred fine; put all into a well-tinned saucepan and mix them well together, and give them a gentle boil; when cold, take out the shallot1 and put the sauce into small stone bottles; your sauce should be of the consistence of a thick syrup 2; this may be regulated by the Chili vinegar.
Obs. — The only difference3, between this, and genuine Love-apple Sauce, is the substituting the pulp of Apple for that of Tomata, and colouring it with turmeric.
(Updated with alternative method to preserve fresh basil)
Believe it or not, the bunch of Thai basil in the photo below is three or four weeks old (it’s been so long that I don’t remember). And yet it is almost as bright green and lush as it was on the day I bought it.
I don’t remember where I heard this tip, but since it works so well and it is basil season, it’s worth sharing.
The following Receipts [Ed. note: recipes] are not a mere marrowless collection of shreds, and patches, and cuttings, and pastings, from obsolete works, but a bona fide register of practical facts, accumulated by a perseverance not to be subdued, or evaporated, by the igniferous terrors of a roasting fire in the dog-days. The Receipts have been written down by the fireside “with a spit in one hand, and a pen in the other,” … the author submitting to a labour no preceding Cookery-Book-maker, perhaps, ever attempted to encounter; having eaten each Receipt, before he set it down in his book.
So rants William Kitchiner, in the preface of his 1817 The Cook’s Oracle1, a collection of cooking instructions and over 500 recipes for all types of foods.
Later in the preface, he continues his tirade:
Most of these books2 vary but little from each other, except in the prefatory matter: cutting and pasting seem to have been much oftener employed than the pen and ink: any one who has occasion to refer to two or three of them, will find the receipts almost always “verbatim et literatim;” equally unintelligible to those who are ignorant of, and useless to those who are acquainted with, the business of the kitchen.
Yes, Dr. Kitchiner3 is passionate about his work and doesn’t think much of his contemporaries and predecessors. He backs up his claims with hundreds of pages of (supposedly) original content, clear writing, and fully tested recipes.
Now and then a food magazine contains a recipe that becomes a standard my kitchen. Even more rarely, a single issue will contain two standards. The May/June 1998 issue of Saveur was one of those rarities, with two recipes that I have made many, many times and consider critical parts of my cooking repertoire.
The first is clafoutis;, a dessert of fruit embedded in a custard, a dessert I make a few times during the cherry and apricot season in the spring. Although it can be adapted to fall fruit like apples and pears, I haven’t tried those variations. The second is torta verde, a savory pie from the Liguria region of Italy. In this torta, a thin olive oil crust holds a mixture of Swiss chard, feta cheese, onion, potato and eggs. I probably make it once a month, all year round, especially before long domestic flights because it is superbly portable and has robust flavors that stand up to taste-killing aircraft cabins.