Category Archives: history

The Optimist’s Creed (of Donuts)

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I came across this intriguing bit of ephemera in a scrapbook dating to the 1930s, and I became curious about its origin. Turns out this “Optimist’s Creed” is a longstanding advertising campaign of Mayflower Donuts. It seems equally at home in the Great Depression as it does in 2020, doesn’t it? Mayflower Donuts was founded by Doughnut impresario Adolph Levitt in New York in 1931, and eventually blossomed into a chain of Mayflower Doughnut shops across the US. Levitt had previously invented an automatic doughnut fryer, which he sold to other doughnut shops around the US, eventually opening up his own Mayflower chain. Mayflower featured prominently at World’s Fairs throughout the 1930s, including Chicago in 1933-4 and New York in 1939-40, as the company tried to drum up publicity. You can see the Optimist’s Creed hung on the wall of a Chicago Mayflower shop circa 1949, from Calumet 412. Despite its former popularity, as of this writing in 2020, the Mayflower chain seems to have disappeared. If you are a fan of the Optimists’ Creed you can buy a mug or print from Vintage Menu Art.

Chicago Mayflower shop circa 1949, from Calumet 412.

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Celebrating Juneteenth with a feast

Today marks Juneteenth, commemorating the day on which enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were finally told of the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, two years after it was issued on January 1, 1863. Since then, Juneteenth has been a celebrated by the African-American community as a day of celebration and reflection. Juneteenth is a state holiday in Texas since the 1970s, but there have been calls to make it a national holiday. One of the classic celebrations of Juneteenth is the family and community cookout, full of recipes passed down through the generations, along with new favorites. Many of the biggest celebrations of Juneteenth are still held in Texas, and Texan foodways and traditions have influenced what have become the iconic Juneteenth foods, as showcased by Chef Adrian Lipscombe’s Texan-tinged menu at the James Beard House. Nicole Taylor unpacks some of the food traditions of Juneteenth for the New York Times. The color red is a symbol of resistance, and red foods have become popular on Juneteenth for symbolic reasons, including red-tinted hot links, red velvet cakes, and red beverages.

Sacramento Juneteenth celebration foods by Lisa Nottingham

Michael Twitty draws linkages between the popularity of red foods for Juneteenth and the foodways of West Africa. Says Twitty, “The practice of eating red foods—red cake, barbecue, punch and fruit– may owe its existence to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo brought to Texas in the 19th century.  For both of these cultures the color red is the embodiment of spiritual power and transformation.” Other traditions include tea cakes, a common sight on the Juneteenth table according to Etha Robinson. Ultimately, what is at the Juneteenth table is a reflection of the community cooking it, as highlighted by the four chefs in this Saveur article featuring chefs Carla Hall, Marcus Samuelsson, JJ Johnson, and Jerome Grant.

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Ul Boov for Mongolian Lunar New Year: Tsagaan Sar

Happy Lunar New Year! It is now the year of the pig in Chinese astrology (M’s lucky year!). There are so many delicious traditional foods, across all of the regions that celebrate Lunar New Year, that it is hard to choose one to feature. This year, we decided to go a little off the beaten track, a feature a dish that is specific to Mongolian Lunar New Year, Tsagaan Sar. This holiday is traditionally celebrated with copious amounts of food, including lots of dairy, tea with milk and dumplings. The centerpiece of the Tsagaan Saar (which means “White Moon”) table may be the Ul Boov, a huge layered presentation of cakes and cookies. Ul Boov literally means “shoe sole” and describes the shape of the fried cakes that compose this dish. Check out a video of an Ul Boov being made below.

 

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Katharine Hepburn’s Brownie Recipe

It’s always intriguing to find out about celebrities’ secret recipes. Well of course they probably eat (or ate) like we do, but it is sort of charming to think of them actually cooking for themselves or friends. Such is the case with Katherine Hepburn, who apparently made a mean batch of brownies. This recipe was published first by the New York Times after her death in 2003, and purportedly makes a delightful, fudgy brownie. Looking at the recipe, it seems like this chocolaty dessert might be perfect for Valentine’s Day. And if you are looking for a perfect Valentine’s movie pairing, I also recommend one of my favorite Hepburn romantic comedies (which also just happens to star Cary Grant) 1938’s Holiday (seen above).

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Pastry Post Doc: Fa Gao for Chinese New Year

chinaSaturday is Chinese New Year – kicking off the year of the horse! Chinese Fa Gao 发糕 aka “Prosperity Cake” is a delicious part of Chinese New Year festivities, and is said to bring good luck. So what makes this cake so “prosperous?” Turns out wordplay is part of it – “fa” means both “prosperity” and “raised.” The recipe for Fa Gao is super simple – and consists of not much more than sugar, rice flour, water and baking soda (hence the “raised”). The rice flour imparts a a more sticky, dense texture, which comes through during the steaming. The individually-sized cakes, baked in cupcake tins, have a distinctive split at the top. Even if they are not flavored, the cakes are often dyed in bright colors for the festive holiday. Check out the Fa Gao recipes from Kirbie Cravings, Random Cuisine and Yes to Cooking to add to your Lunar new Year Table.

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Fa Gao / Huat Kueh by Tobym

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Marcus Samuelsson’s recreation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Meal That Never Was

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In honor of Martin Luther King Day, Chef Marcus Samuelsson will attempt to recreate a meal that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was scheduled to have on the day he was assassinated. On April 4, 1968, MLK had planned to have dinner with Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles in Memphis. The dinner, to be prepared by women in Kyles’ congregation, included Southern favorites like fried chicken, ham, sweet potatoes, and sweet potato pie, and was later known as “The meal that never was.” Today at his restaurant in Harlem, Red Rooster, Samuelsson will pay tribute to MLK with a meal based on that menu.

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Make America Cake Again with Election Cake

USA-flagToday is election day in the US, and while the eaters voted early in Ohio last week, it has still been a stressful day watching the news and the polls. I think we, and anyone else who voted, deserves some cake – maybe even some “Election Cake.” Though it has been out of fashion for over a century, Election Cake used to be an election day staple. Election Cake represented the most popular flavors of the time: it  is a leavened sourdough cake with molasses, cinnamon, dried fruit and nuts. In the past, when people actually had to travel distance to the polls, election day was something of a celebratory affair.  The election cake hails from a time before refrigeration, and when this type of stable cake would be necessary to last through a long day at the polls and the celebration after.

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Nourished Kitchen has a great Election Cake recipe (pictured above). But if you want to get a little more historical, here’s a recipe from the Washington Post from 1796. This was long before women could vote, so making these kinds of cakes was one way to participate in the electoral process. Election Cakes are making a comeback thanks in part to Old World Levain Bakery, in Asheville, N.C., who started the “Make America Cake Again” project, encouraging knowledge of historical cakes, and encouraging bakeries to sell Election Cakes and donate the proceeds to the League of Women Voters. You can check out more recipes on the OWL page, and to see if there is a bakery selling Election Cakes near you.

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The history of Chow Mein in Calcutta

chinaIndia FlagThis fascinating Telegraph India article weaves the long and winding history of Chinese Chow Mein noodles in Calcutta (seen below), which was first popularized in Calcutta’s Chinatown and has now become one of the city’s most iconic and popular street foods. If you don’t have a trip to India in your future, here is a recipe for Indian-style chow mein.

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The Mexican Roots of Modica Chocolate

Mexico FlagItalyThe story of Modica chocolate is one of our favorites, and we are looking forward to bringing it to you in advance of of the most visible Mexican holiday in the US, Cinco de Mayo. So we know that chocolate is a new-world creation, and was popular among Aztecs (where it was known as Xocoàtl) for centuries. So now that chocolate has spread the whole world over, where can you still find the most traditional Aztec recipes? Sicily! No, I am not joking. It turns out that Sicily, conquered many times over, was under Spanish rule while the Spanish were also colonizing the new world, and these colonizers brought back the Aztec recipes for chocolate to Sicily. These traditional recipes are still made in certain parts of Sicily today with nothing but cacao, sugar and (maybe) spices.ModicaChoc

The process of making the chocolate by grinding it on a metate (as it was originally in Mexico) imparts a pleasantly gritty, natural texture to the chocolate, which is delicious and completely unique. A historical and picturesque Sicilian town in the province of Ragusa, Modica, is known for its expertise in all things chocolate, and is home to several longstanding chocolate shops producing chocolate the traditional Aztec way, which has become known in Italy as “Modica Chocolate.”AnticaBonajutoOn our trip to Sicily, we took a visit to Modica to see this piece of chocolate history for ourselves, and stopped at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (Corso Umberto I, 159, 97015 Modica RG, Italy), one of the more famous chocolatiers, in operation since 1880. This shop in particular is known for their wide variety of Modica chocolates made on the premises. The chocolate bars here come in almost every cacao percentage, plus unique flavors like lime, marjoram, almond and orange peel. Fortunately they let you sample, so we were happy to taste a bunch of varieties before we arrive on our two favorite picks: sea salt and hot chili.ADBCannoliWhile you can find good traditional Mexican chocolate in Oaxaca and other places in Mexico itself, what Sicily has to offer is on par with these treats. And truth to be told – we could see that this chocolate and that found in Oaxaca were cousins, maybe even siblings. If you are unable to visit Modica itself, you can get the Modica-made Sabadi chocolate bars at Eataly. P.S. If you visit the Bonajuto shop they also have the best cannoli ever!

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Louis Armstrong: Red Beans and Rice-ly yours

NOLAFlagWe are going to New Orleans at the end of this week, one of our favorite food destinations! To prep for our journey we’ve been doing a lot of of research into what food we want to eat, and what music we want to hear (answer: EVERYTHING). Appropriately, we unearthed a food story at the junction of food and music that involves one of New Orleans’ favorite sons, Louis Armstrong. It turns out that along with being the lauded musicians that he was, Louis Armstrong was a major foodie. In fact, he often signed his letters, “Red Beans and Rice-ly yours,” after his favorite dish. In 1971, Louis Armstrong gave one of his final performances, which was then released as an album, also called Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours  with a booklet of his favorite recipes. The rare album has been recently reissued with recipes intact: red beans and rice and all.

RedBeansandRicelyRed beans and rice have long been an iconic part of New Orleans cuisine, and every cook makes them a different way, though ham hocks and the holy trinity of onion, celery and bell peppers are the traditional flavorings. NPR details Armstrong’s international food adventures, including finding the only Chinese restaurant in Nairobi, and also provides and transcribes his original, personal recipe for red beans and rice, which you can see below. It turns out the Armstrong isn’t the only one musician who loved Red Beans and Rice, other New Orleans musicians and residents have adopted the dish as their favorite meal to share for yearsRedBeansandRice.jpg

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