Friday, October 24, 2014

The Devil's Dishes, or Halloween is almost here

From the 1970s: Devil's Food Twinkies.
Still sometimes sold in "selected markets."
Devil's Food Cake. Deviled Ham. Deviled Eggs. Deviled Crab. A menu for Halloween? Sounds good to me! Never mind all those pumpkin and pumpkin spice dishes! Give me chocolate, mustard, and hot pepper!

I wondered if devil-themed foods might have anything to do with Devil's Night. Looking into it, I learned that most of my information about Halloween customs and Devil's Night was inaccurate. Urban legends and speculations, I found: just what you might expect about a holiday celebrating myths and ghosts.

American Jack-o-Lantern, 1867 (IBTaurisblog)
The Halloween Devil reflects fears of ghosts and hauntings: Halloween is at its root a festival celebrating the dead. Catholics for centuries honored saints and deceased members of their families for the first two days of November, solemnly visiting graveyards and attending religious services. They prayed that their loved ones were with the saints and not with the Devil -- but feared the worst, especially when visiting graveyards at dusk.

In Ireland, a variety of customs arose as a sort of opposite to the solemnities, including dressing up in costume, carving lanterns out of large vegetables, doing mischief of various kinds, and begging for food (which was a custom on other holidays as well, including Valentine's Day and the Wassail part of Christmas). Irish immigrants brought those customs to America in the mid-19th century.

These traditions appeared to have their roots in ancient Celtic customs. Many writers, beginning in the 19th century and continuing with current believers in Paganism claim that ancient Celtic rites were the basis for the Irish celebrations that eventually came to America. If you read anything about Samhain, the Celtic holiday (sometimes attributed to Druids, in even less historically accurate speculations) you'll see all kinds of parallels presented -- this Halloween origin story is still widely believed. However, the supposed evidence for the Celtic connection was often circular: where scholars couldn't find good descriptions of early customs, they filled in with information from their own experience or the recent past, which meant the parallels were very convincing. In fact, too good to be true.

In particular, a historian named Ronald Hutton in Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford University Press, 1996) demonstrated that the usual claims about early Celtic practices are not verifiable. The evidence for the "development of the feast and of its associated days of All Saints and All Souls," he says is "intractable and ambivalent." (p. 360) Writer David Emery summarizes: "It seems reasonable to conclude that the connection between Halloween and Samhain has, at the very least, been overstated in most modern accounts of the holiday's origin."

Finally: Devil's Night. I always thought this was the accepted name for the riotous and disorderly side of the holiday. I remember having to drive through Detroit one late fall evening in the mid-1980s for a job interview, without realizing it was Devil's Night. From the freeway I heard police helicopters and sirens and saw smoke rising from burning buildings. Detroit's Devil's Night festivities then were at their most destructive, and hundreds of houses were being torched and other vandalism done. A few years later, with a lot of effort from the authorities, things calmed down.

What I did not realize until now, looking up information for this post, is that Devil's Night was a name used almost uniquely in Detroit, and the vandalism was never as severe or systematic anywhere else. Yes, the Irish had Goblin Night or Mischief Night, but not Devil's Night. And bonfires were an old British-Isles tradition, but not insurance fires!

Well, what about the food? 
Deviled eggs, deviled ham, Julia Child's poulets grill├ęs a la diable, deviled crab cakes, and similar dishes are devilish because of their spiciness -- though they make a perfect choice for Halloween menus. Deviled tongue and deviled kidneys, now obsolete at polite luncheons where they once would have been popular, might enhance the Halloween spirit in more ways than one! And devil's food cake, named not for its taste but for being the opposite of pure white angel food cake, is a very popular Halloween dessert.

The term "deviled" for spicy originated long ago. "The first known printed mention of ‘devil’ as a culinary term appeared in Great Britain in 1786, in reference to dishes including hot ingredients." (source: History of Deviled Eggs)

More and more dishes with "deviled" in their name appeared in the 19th century. In Mrs. Beeton's 1861 Book of Household Management, the term comes up in reference to turkey, of which the legs "appear only in a form which seems to have a special attraction at a bachelor’s supper-table, - we mean devilled: served in this way, they are especially liked and relished." (Household Management) Mrs. Beeton also recommended a deviled sauce made of vinegar, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and cayenne; as well as chicken with deviled butter made with chutney, anchovy paste, and of course cayenne pepper. Beyond Mrs. Beeton:
"In The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Amanda Hesser includes an 1878 recipe for deviled crabs, saying that today’s deviled eggs are the mild-mannered cousins of deviled crab and kidneys, which 'were meant to be spicy and bracing, the kind of food you had after a long night of drinking.' She also notes that in David Copperfield ..., 'Mr. Micawber saves a dinner party by turning undercooked mutton into a devil,' covering the slices with pepper, mustard, salt and cayenne and cooking them well, then adding mushroom ketchup as a condiment." (Lisa Bramen, Smithsonian)
Above: Underwood Devil Logo, 1921.
Below left: 2014 Devil; right: original 1870 Devil
Underwood's Deviled Ham was first sold in 1870. Underwood's devil logo is the oldest trademark in continuous use (left). Their deviled ham is still available, though I can't say I want to eat any of it.

To make things even more complicated, in France there's an earthenware or cast-iron pot called a "diable" (devil) that allows cooking a whole chicken without added fat -- this utensil also gives its name to dishes cooked in it.

I'm afraid the original Halloween tradition was a lot more bland, not even as much fun as the candy that we'll be giving out next week. Oat cakes called "soul cakes" were offered to visitors or beggars in seventeenth century Shropshire, Lancashire, and Herefordshire for All-Souls Day. Those who received the cakes said "A soule-cake, a soule-cake, Have mercy on all Christen soules for a soule cake." Or "God have your soul, bones and all." In Wales, the gifted food was bread and cheese, and later on the beggars asked in rhyme for apples, pears, plums, or cherries as well as soul cakes. (Hutton, p. 374-375)

Besides food names, many common plant names begin with "devil." Some are spices or foods -- but some are poisons. Devil-in-a-bush, Devil's horn, Devil's stinkpot, devil's milk, Devil's apple, Devil's dye, Devil's butter, Devil's coach-wheel, Devil's curry-comb, Devil's garters, Devil's night-cap, Devil's fingers, Devil's claws, Devil's eye, Devil's guts, Devil's head, Devil's darning-needle, Devil's dung, Devil's walking-stick, and many more were listed in an article in 1890 in American Notes and Queries, Volume 5.

By Halloween, I'll post more information on various deviled dishes, including my favorite deviled eggs and how to make them. Devil's food cake also deserves an entire post to explore its history, before and after cake mix. Enjoy Halloween treats all week!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Eastern European Cookbooks

Eastern European Cookbooks
Today for Cookbook Wednesday, I decided to feature some ethnic cookbooks from Eastern Europe, not including my many Jewish cookbooks. Most of these are strictly cookbooks, that is, collections of recipes without a lot of narrative or historic material. I've tried at least one recipe from each of them. I have not researched whether there are better books on this topic. Any suggestions?

On my shelf I found:
  • A Taste of Russia by Darra Goldstein.
  • The Cuisine of Hungary by George Lang, who also wrote an interesting autobiography called Nobody Knows the Truffles I've Seen, covering his early life in flight from the Nazis and his later glamorous life as a restauranteur in New York.
  • Gundel's Hungarian Cookbook by Karoly Gundel of the famous Gundel's restaurant, which was in business pre-Communist times, and was resurrected by George Lang after the fall of Communism. I received this as a gift.
  • The Czechoslovak Cookbook by Joza Brizova.
  • The Polish Country Kitchen Cookbook by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab. A kind gift from friends from Poland.
  • The Eastern European Cookbook by Kay Shaw Nelson.
  • Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure by Joseph Wechsberg. This is not a cookbook, but includes memoirs of eating at Gundel's and in other Eastern European restaurants in the middle of the 20th century.
Wanted but I don't have it yet: Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya von Bremzen, author of Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, which I very much like. The latter isn't in my photo because I read the Kindle edition.

Cookbook Wednesday is a great idea. Its inventor is Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations, where I get many ideas. Next week I'll feature another selection of ethnic or regional cookbooks from my collection. Maybe I'll even try some recipes.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Food Fraud

I have just read Bee Wilson's book Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee. Food adulteration with poisons (like lead-based or cancer-causing dyes), with unreasonable additives (like alum in bread), or with cheaper substances (like adding water to milk or injecting chickens with dilute broth) has been a problem for centuries, as documented throughout the book. Outright cheating by false labeling, false weighing, or overcharging customers is another fraud that's far from new.

"The rich can eat unadulterated food without much bother, whereas for most of the poor, it is a constant effort." (p. 101) Poor people have suffered more than those with the resources to purchase better quality foods and the time and energy to pay attention to what is happening. But money is far from an adequate protection against food frauds. "The motive to swindle -- greed -- is a constant in human history," Wilson writes. (p. 322)

Swindled is closely related to several other books I've read, but has an interesting approach to the topic of food safety and food regulation. Wilson profiles a number of crusading chemists, medical doctors, journalists, and others who have attempted to inform the public about major problems in the food supply. Their efforts were sometimes successful, sometimes not, but she uses their discoveries to illustrate exactly what frauds were common at several times in the past. Wilson also adds a number of other historic and ongoing frauds into her narrative, up through recent baby-milk scandals in China. Swindled was published in 2008: I wish it continued right up until the present.

Here are some of the most interesting people I learned about:
  • Frederick Accum (1769-1838) wrote A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons in 1820. Wilson says: "It would be an exaggeration to say that this book changed everything; after it was published, the swindlers carried on swindling, and more often than not they still got away with it; no food laws were changed on account of Accum... . But his treatise finally opened people’s eyes to the fact that almost everything sold as food and drink in modern industrial cities was not what it seemed; and by being not what it seemed, it could kill them." (p. 1)
  • Arthur Hill Hassall (1817-1894) discovered how to use a microscope to detect adulteration of food. He documented the widespread use of alum in falsifying white bread, adulteration of coffee, artificial substances in mustard, impure drinking water, and many other frauds.
    "Hassall analysed more than 2,500 samples of food embracing 'all the principle articles of consumption, both solids and liquids' and found that purity was the exception, adulteration the rule. Earlier writers might say vaguely that cinnamon was 'often' or 'sometimes' adulterated (with cassia, wheat, mustard husks, and colouring), whereas Hassall could state with absolute certainty that out of nineteen samples of ground cinnamon, only six were genuine; that three consisted of nothing but cassia; that ten were mixed up with bulking agents such as sago, flour, or arrowroot; and that these faked cinnamons were not always cheaper than the real thing, meaning that the public was being consistently cheated in the purchase of cinnamon.Unlike the scaremongers, Hassall was not afraid to say when a food was not adulterated." (p.127)  
  • Thomas Wakley (1795-1862) was founder and editor of The Lancet, dedicated to enlightening the public about medical affairs. The power of the free market was a given at the time in English politics -- and the idea was especially applied to food, for which there was no regulation.  "Wakley argued for public health in the widest sense—and this necessarily entailed a frontal assault on the evils of adulterated food." (p. 126) In disseminating the facts about food fraud in his day, Wakley particularly publicized the work of Arthur Hassall. Under their influence the first pure food act was passed in 1860, though it was weak.
  • Harvey Wiley (1844-1930) was a strong advocate for regulating food during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. Eventually he was the author of the first food and drug laws in the US. His role in developing the FDA has come up in other books I've read. (See my recent post titled Food Safety and its History).
  • Caroline Walker (1950-1988) was an advocate for better food regulation in England in the 1980s. She wrote The Food Scandal with Geoffrey Cannon. 
  • Mark Woolfe at the time Wilson wrote was head of the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) and more recently has been a member of the RSC's Analytical Methods Committee. Woolfe's role in developing DNA tests to identify falsely labeled Basmati rice, as described in Swindled, is an interesting study in modern technology that just barely manages to stay ahead of the fraudsters!
Swindled is an enjoyable book despite the depressing subject matter, because it's engagingly written. I enjoyed the many anecdotes and factual discussions of food frauds in the past, including examples of recipes for "mock" dishes that playfully imitated real foods without including the "real" ingredients. The book also offers lots of amusing illustrations like this one (p. 98):

Friday, October 17, 2014

Smokers in Art

I hate smoking. I dislike the smell, the activity, and the risks involved with smoking. I'm very happy that it's no longer allowed in most public interior spaces, and it's becoming less and less common in outdoor public spaces. It's been years since anyone even gave a single thought to smoking inside my house, or inside most homes.

That said, smoking was once a common activity, shared and enjoyed by a large part of the population (though some paid dearly for having done so). Some have viewed smoking as a kind of consumption, analog to eating. In several recent museum experiences, especially last summer in Amsterdam and in the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia a few days ago, I was fascinated by the large number of paintings that portray smokers enjoying pipes or cigarettes. Here are a few of them.

First, during the Dutch Golden Age many painters of homey scenes included smokers. Around 150 years after America -- source of tobacco -- began supplying novel products for the European market, smoking seems to have been very well-established:

Gerrit Dou: Self-Portrait, c. 1640.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 
Man Smoking a Pipe: Gerard Dou, c. 1650.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Adriaen Van Ostade: The Smoker, c. 1647.
Adriaen Van Ostade: Smoker at a Window,
c. 1667. Detroit Institute of Arts
Dirck Hals: Gentlemen Smoking and Playing Backgammon, c. 1687
Vincent van Gogh painted several smokers:

An early Picasso in the Barnes collection surprised me with the cigarette in her hand:

Picasso: Woman with Cigarette, 1903
Cezanne painted a few smokers as well. Two pipe smokers are included in his famous card players, and his 1897 portrait of Henry Gasquet includes a cigarette:

Finally, also at the Barnes, this wonderful picture -- I believe the man in the lower left is smoking as he waits for his child to finish his music lesson. I couldn't stop looking at this painting.

Henri Matisse, The Music Lesson

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Along the Susquehanna

Two herons in the Susquehanna River.
Lunch at Accomac Inn: it was such a warm day that we ate outside
on the screened porch overlooking the Susquehanna.
An inn first stood on this site in Colonial times, when a ferry crossed the river at this point. The current inn, which has been in business for around a century, serves vegetables from its own garden.

The last tomatoes growing in the chef's garden.
Len and Arny leaving Accomac Inn
Not far from the Inn is a farm stand with these beautiful onions...
huge cabbages...
and lots of gourds and pumpkins.
Railroad tracks near the river, with a couple of windmills in the distance.
Lancaster County farmland.
Notice the symbols on the silos.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Day at the Barnes Foundation

Our beautifully artistic lunch at the Barnes Foundation:
crab cakes with colorful vegetables, Cuban sandwich.
For years I have hoped to see the collections of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, and at last, today, we did so. The numerous works by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Soutine, Picasso, Utrillo, Modigliani, a few by Degas, Monet, Manet, and many other late-19th and early-20th century artists are overwhelming. Collections of African masks, American Indian pots and jewelry, early-American furniture, Renaissance works (mostly by less-well-known artists), and fascinating functional metal objects were also exciting. Even the works from other times and cultures seemed to me to express sensibilities from early-twentieth century art movements. The fact that this is a collection of enormous size and remarkable quality that belonged to just one man amazes me.

Photography is forbidden, but I sinned for this
 image of Arny and Tracy in front of the art.
I loved Matisse's "Music Lesson," especially
the figure who appears to be a father
waiting for his child at the lesson.
Mona Lisa was waiting in the gift shop.
On the way back from Philadelphia to Lancaster we made a random and very lucky stop for Thai food. The Royal Thai Orchid in Malvern, Pennsylvania, turned out to have great duck with fruit, soft-shell crab, and crabcakes.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Lancaster Central Market

Lancaster, Pennsylvania: The towers of the Lancaster Central Market
are visible from the top floor of the convention center
Fountain nearby
Inside the market this morning we saw crowds of people buying snacks to eat right away while walking around, or lunch to eat while sitting at tables in various parts of the building. If you want food to take home, stalls offer produce, meat, and dairy products from many local farms; bakery goods, candy, ethnic foods including Amish, German, Mexican, Cuban, Greek, and Asian; and lots of other delicious-looking specialties.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

And what's for breakfast?

Turkish breakfast from NYT article
 The New York Times Magazine's food issue is publishing one fabulous article after another! Today: "Rise and Shine: What kids all over the world eat for breakfast." Japan, France, Turkey, Malawi, Iceland, Holland, and Brazil are all represented by stunning photos of children eating breakfast and of the selection of foods they eat.

"Our native sweet tooth helps explain the global popularity of sugary cereals and chocolate spreads like Nutella: Getting children to eat sugar is easy. Teaching them to eat slimy fermented soybeans, by contrast, requires a more robust and conservative culinary culture, one that resists the candy-coated breakfast buffet," says the article. Photos of food items from breakfast around the world show a wide variety of strong-flavored items like Turkish kahvaltilik biber salcasi, a paste made of grilled red peppers; Japanese natto made from fermented soybeans; Malawian deep-fried fritters made of cornmeal, onions, garlic and chiles; and various fresh or pickled vegetables, strong cheeses, and olives.

Breakfast in Brazil from NYT article
Of course there are also many photos of bread and butter with fruit jams, Nutella, or sugary sprinkles; of egg dishes, of cups of cocoa or juice, and of hot or cold cereals or mush dishes that would taste more familiar to an American breakfast eater. The faces of the children, photographed as they ate their breakfast was the most wonderful part of the article.

I also enjoyed another article from this food issue: "What if You Just Hate Making Dinner?" by Virginia Heffernan, despite its being very extreme. The Times likes to balance its coverage. Lately their food section under its new leader Mark Bittman has been on a tear about how important, wonderful, rewarding, and healthful home cooking is. Heffernan doesn't just take a contrarian view, but her article goes over the top with fear and loathing of any cooking activity. The premise: "By the time my son arrived, I vainly believed that I should be able to not just defrost food but conjure it — by means of the web or a 3-D printer or at least a game male, close at hand, whose ego had been serendipitously formed by Emeril or 'Top Chef.' But instead, to my horror, home cooking had made a hideous comeback. Noble food philosophers preached the retro virtues of slow, real food instead of the quickie, frozen stuff that had once spelled liberation to me."

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Pizza for lunch?

School lunch spending from the New York Times article
What's for lunch? Pizza. What's on the pizza? Tomato sauce that the government counts as a whole lot of vegetables. School-lunch pizza these days is low in salt with maybe a whole wheat crust -- not as good as salty pizza with regular crust. But do you like it better than broccoli, which you'll be told to eat tomorrow? Well duh.

"How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground" in the New York Times Magazine describes in detail the struggle to improve school lunch programs. It illustrates the dizzying and constant back-and-forth about the nutritional value of pizza and potatoes. It documents the machinations of the food industry. It highlights the startling political involvement of the "lunch ladies" and their lobbyists in opposition to the new rules. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was "an ambitious bill that would impose strict new nutrition standards on all food sold in public schools." Well-meaning, but fraught!
"As the government began turning the broad guidelines into specific rules — specific rules with specific consequences for specific players — life became more difficult. What began as a war on obesity turned into war among onetime allies. Republicans now attack the new rules as a nanny-state intrusion by the finger-wagging first lady. Food companies, arguing that the new standards are too severe, have spent millions of dollars lobbying to slow or change them. Some students have voted with their forks, refusing to eat meals they say taste terrible."
Children who refuse vegetables for school lunch are a double whammy -- the lunches they eat don't count towards federal reimbursements AND the kids come away hungrier because their hamburger or pizza has been downsized since they are supposed to get some calories from their vegetables. We put all the kids on a diet to solve obesity -- what about the thin, active, hungry ones? And "schools of all sizes and income levels were struggling with higher costs, lower participation and what they call plate waste — kids throwing away perfectly good food." It's so complicated when one set of guidelines apply to all. The net result of all the politics is a complicated program full of bad incentives and bad faith, and any compromise is likely at best to remain that way.

This mess is all about money, as you would imagine. Varying interest groups earn big money from the enormous federal school lunch program -- that's no surprise. From the first efforts at the beginning of the Obama administration, they have lobbied and otherwise influenced Congress and affected the USDA in its rule-making. The loudest voices are the most financially engaged voices.
"Next September, when the entire Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will be up for reauthorization, the soccer moms of America may not get a vote. Just a few years ago, President Obama’s school-lunch reform seemed like a kind of armistice in Washington’s eternal culture of influence and partisanship. Today Obama’s lunch reform, much like Obama’s presidency, feels mired in an endless insurgency — against a stealthy, well-financed and infinitely patient foe."

Monday, October 06, 2014

Late Fall Vegetables and Fruits

On the way to watch birds at Watkins Lake yesterday (see this post) we stopped at a wonderful farm stand on Sharon Hollow Road. The season for most summer produce is ending, and I was surprised to find quite a few exquisite fruits and vegetables. At dinner last night we ate the eggplant that I bought. I regretted not buying more of everything!

Amazed to find just a few peaches, which came from Grand Rapids as our side of the state was peachless this year.

Honey Crisp apples were only $1.29 a pound.
Very late tomatoes.
Small sweet peppers -- the ones I broiled were just delicious with the eggplant last night.