Charting Lemon Curd Recipes

Chart of lemon curd ingredient distribution from 20 recipes

Lemon illustration from Birds and All Nature, January 1899 from Internet Archive on FlickrOne 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.

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Book Review: “Golden Gate” by Kevin Starr

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach
Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

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.

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Spud Stats: Growing, Eating, Importing and Exporting Potatoes

Potato production map

Potato from Flore Medicale Volume 4 by Chaumeton et al

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.

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The Otis House: When Wilshire Boulevard was Mansion Row in Los Angeles

Harrison Grey Otis residence on Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles (demolished)


I was browsing through the amazing digital archives of the New York Public Library recently, looking for fun stuff to pin to my Slices of Blue Sky Pinterest boards, and I ran across an old postcard from Los Angeles that caught my attention. The photo isn’t much — it’s a pretty big Spanish-style house — but the name in the caption is huge in Los Angeles history: Harrison Gray Otis. I remembered it from somewhere…cue the harp*…. oh yes, it was mentioned in my book review of Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles.

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Completing the Celery Trilogy: A Celery Ngram

loading celery crates onto trucks near Sarasota, Florida - Florida Memory on Flickr

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.

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Ornate Celery Vases Brought Style to an Unexciting Vegetable

Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1519 - DP241433 Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1513 - ADA5473 Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1511 - 187153 Celery Vase from Metropolitan Museum of Art - 9310 - DP206750 Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 667481 - DP341335
The Seller of Celery by John Ingram - Metropolitan Museum of Art DP826283
“The Seller of Celery” by John Ingram (18th c.)

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?)

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Before 1950, Celery Was an Extremely Popular Restaurant Menu Item

Charts of celery on restaurant menus, data from NYPL

I don’t like celery, so it might have been a defense mechanism when I started noticing it on menu after menu from the late-19th and early-20th centuries*. As I looked through the Buttolph Collection of Menus for food conservation messages on World War I-era menus, it seemed that nearly every menu included celery as a distinct menu item, like the five shown below.

Collage of menus with celery, menus from NYPL

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Bring Zing to Your Posts with Public Domain or Creative Commons Images

Unswept floor mosaic from ancient Rome Owl person drawing by W.M. Thackeray from Thackerayana (1875) - page 387 Passenger Pigeons by Audubon 1840-1844 from NYPL digital collections Hiroshige woodblock print - Fugu and Inada Fish, from the series Uozukushi DP123586 Tacos for 89 cents from Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr "Her Bitter Awakening", book cover from the British Library Heade - Hummingbird and passionflowers DT2080 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Banana, from Flora de Filipinas by F.M. Blanco, ca 1880 Cacao from Flore Medicale by Chaumeton et al, 1820.08 Winslow Homer Gulf Stream - from the Metropolitan Museum of Art DP140858

Main Reading Room at the U.S. Library of CongressSoon after I started blogging 10+ years ago, I learned about Creative Commons licenses, which some creators apply to their own work so it can be shared with certain restrictions (note that this blog is currently licensed with a CC BY-NC-SA 2.5, and my Flickr collection also has a CC license).  After figuring out the mechanics, I started using CC-licensed items to add visual elements to my blog posts (the first CC image I used was a lovely black and white photo of a crow in flight from Mark Lorch’s collection for my random musings about a Los Angeles street).  I continued to use Creative Commons art, mostly from Flickr, when I wanted a picture of a carrot, or a wheel of cheese, or something similarly relevant to my post.

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).

In the spirit of the Creative Commons, I’ll share a few of my favorite sources and list some of their good and bad characteristics:  Flickr Commons, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons CCSearch, and Google Books/Hathi Trust.

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A Man’s Pie from Sun-Maid Raisins

A Man's Pie - ad from California Associated Raisin Co. in 1933 Saturday Evening Post

One of my finds while bouncing through the Flickr Commons was this 1920 advertisement for “A Man’s Pie.”

A Man's Pie - ad from California Associated Raisin Co. in 1933 Saturday Evening Post

A “Man’s Pie,” it turns out, is a California raisin pie.  Here’s some of the copy:

A Man’s Pie

Fresh — delicious. Buy it ready baked.

Just phone to your grocer or bake shop and say, “Send a California Raisin Pie.”

You’ll get the pie that men like best because of its flavor and nourishment.

It’s a man’s pie — and a woman’s, too, for it saves home baking.

I don’t recall ever eating a raisin pie, but it sounds promising — I can imagine some spices, macerating the raisins in brandy or rum, and intense flavor. I made a quick run-through of my baking cookbooks and found only one recipe for raisin pie (in Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen). Surprisingly, the Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum doesn’t have a raisin pie (but does have macerated raisins for another dessert).

Image credit
A Man’s Pie, advertisement from the California Associated Raisin Co. in the November 20, 1920 Saturday Evening Post, from the Internet Archive, no known copyright restrictions.

Yogurt Making Updated

yogurt container pattern

I have been making yogurt at home for more than five years, avoiding countless plastic containers and saving a good bit of money.  Over that time I have made some improvements to my process, such as switching from 1 quart canning jars to the Luminarc Working Glass (easier to use, easier to clean).  To account for these upgrades, I updated my earlier post on yogurt making which you can find here:    The Home-Made Yogurt Routine.