My newest Table Matters column is up — it’s about the weird medical history of chocolate, and it features a recipe for chocolate cake spiced to help balance your four humors.
I’m stoked to announce that I’m writing a new column for Table Matters called “Forgotten Foods.” Every month, I’ll be featuring a different recipe (or family of recipes) that used to be popular but, for whatever reason, has fallen out of favor. You can expect: old cookbook weirdness, delicious recipes, and a lot of butter and cream.
The first piece is about a mega-delicious, late-1800s bachelor food that gave people absolutely batshit dreams. I am not making this up. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to experience the glory of Welsh rarebit.
Hey! Little Old Lady Recipes will be released next week! Thus I’m spending this week thinking a lot about little old lady food again.
While most little old lady recipes are about food without pretension or fancy tools, I also love the bygone formality of yesteryear entertaining. That sense of hospitality certainly hasn’t disappeared entirely – people continue to host lovely dinner parties, and the popularity of Mad Men has at the very least ensured that we’re dressing up occasionally to enjoy a stiff cocktail. But there’s a certain level of feverish perfection that I imagine all housewives used to strive for and is largely gone from our day-to-day shindigs (save for the black-tie keggers of our college years).
Thus I would like to turn, for a moment, to one of my favorite childhood cookbooks – the classic Joy of Cooking. When I first started baking in middle school, I spent hours paging through the cookies,cakes, and candies (I had a particular obsession with candy making, at least until the day I gave my finger a spectacularly terrible burn with boiling hot sugar syrup). More recently, I’ve been obsessed with the book’s entertaining tips. I love the elaborate efforts the book describes – not just in the specific order and placement of the meal, but the way that everything had the opportunity to not just be presentable, but over-presentable. Of course, ultra-formal meals were already a rare breed at this time, as the book notes:
Most of us moderns look with amazement, not to say dismay, at the menus of traditionally formal dinners. Such meals are a vanishing breed, like the bison—but, like the bison, they manage here and there to survive. They begin with both clear and thick soups.
(I assume that last line also refers to the dinners as well as the bison, who I had previously thought only enjoyed broths.)
But speaking of entertaining, I would like to present one of my favorite things from my most recent look through The Joy of Cooking – the ice punch bowl. Honestly, it’s not all that outlandish at first glance, and it’s legitimately useful – you can keep a drink cold without worrying about diluting it to much. Then again, my fridge does that too, and my fridge doesn’t require wrangling a block of ice half the weight of Natalie Portman in order to just hold my damn punch. The directions, for those of you who feel like you’re just not getting enough pizazz out of your normal pitchers and punch bowls, are as follows:
Place in the kitchen sink a 50 lb. cube of ice. Choose a round metal bowl of at least 3 qt. capacity. Chip out a small depression in the center of the ice block and set the bowl over it. Fill the bowl with boiling water, being careful not to spill any on the ice beneath. As the heat of the bowl melts the ice, stir the water. As the water cools, empty and refill the bowl each time, bailing out the depression in the ice, until the desired volume is displaced. Now, move the ice block onto a square “tray” of aluminum foil. Set it where you wish to dispense the drink. The tray should be a couple of inches larger than the block, constructed of heavy-duty material in leak-proof fashion, the edges turned up about 1-1/2 inches all around to form a gutter. Any crudities can be masked by greenery or flowers.
For clarification, that’s crude-ities in the ice, not crudites, the raw vegetable sticks, because it would be weird to hide those.
I like thinking about the party that this punch bowl is at. If you’re spending that much time on the punch bowl, what else are you putting on the table? Capers that were hand-picked as the most spherical from a selection of 100 jars? Tiny carved-carrot garnish men that worship the punch-bowl ice god? The fancy cracked-wheat crackers?!?!?!
If anybody has ever tried making this punch bowl, for love of all things Betty Crocker, please leave a comment.