Cookbook Author Rants about Cutting and Pasting in Cookbooks

Baker's Kitchen. Engraving by Benard. Wellcome Collection m2wrjvfj
Baker's Kitchen. Engraving by Benard. Wellcome Collection m2wrjvfj
A baker’s kitchen, engraving by Benard

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 Oracle 1, 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.  

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Torta Verde: a Savory Pie from Italy

The crust of a torta verde, an Italian savory pie. This one is filled with chard, potatoes and feta.
The crust of a torta verde, an Italian savory pie. This one is filled with chard, potatoes and feta.
The crust of a torta verde, an Italian savory pie. This one is filled with chard, potatoes and feta.

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.

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A Word Cloud For Insects as Food (Entomophagy)

For a little while, I was collecting articles about Insects as Food. I thought it would be fun to feed them into a word cloud generator, so I piled the articles into a giant text file, made some small adjustments and pasted the text into one of the free on-line cloud generators.   Initially, I used WordItOut because it was user friendly and allowed a good amount of creative control. For the 2018 update, I switched to Tableau Public after learning from Clearly and Simply how to make Word Clouds in Tableau.

The word cloud shown below was built using text from 33 articles (over 27,000 words) from a variety of mass-media sources like magazine articles, newspaper articles, blog posts at media websites, and trade publications.  They aren’t a random sample of news coverage and are probably somewhat cricket heavy. Before submitting the text, I edited the source material to remove plurals from certain top-ranked words (e.g., crickets -> cricket, insects -> insect, etc.) and also removed many common words (the, and, him, her, etc.).

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Three Businesses That Fight Food Waste

The Gleaners - Etching by Millet - from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - DP827910
The Gleaners - Etching by Millet - from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - DP827910
The Gleaners, by Jean-François Millet (1855-56). One could say that the companies profiled in this post are participating in a form of gleaning. (Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0 1.0)

Countless initiatives have been launched to fight food waste. Traditionally, these have been non-profit, volunteer-driven efforts like San Francisco’s Food Runners (which collects prepared food from restaurants or events for distribution to the needy) or food banks (which might collect surplus food from manufacturers or groceries). Recently, bunches of for-profit companies have been wading into the field, hoping that their efforts to decrease food waste might lead to increases in profits.

A few months ago, the Meetup.com group Food Innovation Circle set up a panel discussion on food waste reduction as a business opportunity. Representatives from three San Francisco-area companies told their stories and answered questions:

  • Renewal Mill – this company’s goal is to convert byproducts into useful ingredients. The presenter was Claire Schlemme, Co-founder, CEO.
  • Regrained; – their focus is giving new life to the ‘spent grain’ leftover from beer making. The presenter was Philip Saneski, Vice President of Product.
  • Imperfect Produce – a produce delivery service that specializes in fruits and vegetables that don’t meet industry standards because they are too small, misshapen, or lightly bruised. The presenter was Dylan Bondy, head of outreach.

It was fascinating to hear how these companies were working to reduce food waste and establish sustainable businesses. Below I’ll share an overview of each company’s based on the event and a little bit of research.

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Tracking Retail Cricket Powder Prices

Cricket Powder Retail Prices - February 2018
Person pointing at a chart (from the Internet Archive)
Person pointing at a chart (from the Internet Archive)

I have been following the field of entomophagy (insects as food) for a while: watching the news, and occasionally writing news roundups or more detailed pieces (see archive section below).  So I have been wondering, as news coverage has increased, new products are launched, and companies start scaling up their insect-rearing operations, what is happening to retail cricket powder prices?

In early 2015, I started recording the retail price of 100% pure cricket powder at a handful of on-line stores (shipping costs were not considered).  The results of these surveys are shown in the chart below (from my collection of charts at Tableau Public).
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Mexican Rice and Vegetables in Achiote Broth

Mexican Rice flavored with achiote paste (annatto) with vegetables
Mexican Rice flavored with achiote paste (annatto) with vegetables
Achiote rice with vegetables

As a follow-up to my post about achiote (annatto seeds), this post shows a way to use them in your kitchen to make a spicy rice and vegetable dish that can be a centerpiece of a vegetarian meal.   Achiote has an interesting flavor that’s hard to define — it’s a great change of pace from the typical Mexican flavors that we encounter.

The recipe, which is adapted from a non-vegetarian one in Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, has four basic steps:  making an achiote paste, preparing vegetables, cooking the rice, and adding the vegetables at the end.

The paste in this recipe is similar to the small blocks of “Achiote Paste” sold in Mexican grocery stores, blocks of spice that could be loaded with artificial colors, preservatives and who knows what.  If you’re OK with the additional ingredients or have found a brand that is all natural, you could use part of that spice block to replace the homemade paste in this recipe, but that would reduce the brightness of the flavors.

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How Much of an Avocado Is Edible?

Chart of percentage of avocado that is edible

Berkeley Bowl Marketplace in Berkeley, California is justly famous for its vast array of produce and their avocado selection is no exception. They sometimes sell five or more different sizes — I have seen pee wee, small, medium, large and extra large. Of course, each size has a different price and they are always sold by the piece, never by weight.

Seeing the array of avocados, I wonder: 1) does the edible fraction depend on the size of the avocado? and 2) what are the relative costs of the different sizes? To answer these questions, I bought almost 20 avocados of various sizes and weighed them with and without skin and pit.

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The Home-Made Yogurt Routine

yogurt container pattern
yogurt container pattern

My plastic container bin used to be loaded with 1-quart yogurt containers, and I felt packaging guilt whenever buying a new tub, even when it was local and organic.

I knew that it wasn’t too hard to make yogurt at home — I had mental images of electric yogurt makers from the 1970s — but a “coincidence of information” (i.e., a series of web articles) showed me that I didn’t need an electric device or any fancy equipment.

Homemade yogurt is not as easy as grabbing a tub at the market, but there is something satisfying about doing it yourself, and it’s a chance to reduce your use of plastic.

Warm, Heat, Cool, Mix, Wait

Making yogurt at home is relatively easy but requires some organization and time. The process can be summarized as warm, heat, cool, mix and wait.

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Ancient Roman-Style Carrots

Roman Style Carrots based on ancient Roman recipe in Apicius

Roman-Style Carrots based on ancient Roman recipe in Apicius
Ancient Roman-Style Carrots

Many of us have old recipes that we love to cook — perhaps they have been passed down through the generations on index cards, or are from old community cookbooks with frayed corners and well-worn covers.  But few are as old as this post’s recipe for carrots simmered with cumin, mint and vinegar.

This recipe is really old:  it’s derived from a book written more than 1,700 years ago, during (or before) the days of Caesar, Augustus, and Tiberius.

In fact, it was the recipe’s age that first attracted my attention as I was browsing through Deborah Madison’s The Savory Way. I’m not usually a big fan of carrots, but after I tried it once, it was on its way to becoming one of my kitchen standards. The background of cumin and mint, a hint of sourness from vinegar, and the sweetness of the carrots meld into something delicious. And knowing that it might have been enjoyed by Caesar, Cicero, Augustus, Livia, and other Romans makes it even more exciting.

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