Welcome, dear readers, to the new new new Twice Cooked.
This seems to happen just about once per year, here. I get progressively more peeved with the clutter and crud that builds up around the edges of the site, and when I can stand it no longer, I go into a fit of web-coding berserker rage, bulldoze the whole thing, and install something cleaner, faster, and (I hope) a little better both to read and maintain.
Life, alas, handed me some lemons last week.
It is difficult for me to overstate just how disruptive it has been to have been without a working oven for a week and more. Oh, in part the disruption has been about the blog. Every summer treat I might want to show you all — from tarts and quiches, to simple roasted vegetables, to fine and fancy eclairs — all requires an insulated box full of fire to transform raw ingredients into food.
There is no originality at all in this, but as part of a quick experiment, I’ve taken a stereo card from the 19th century, and turned it into an animated GIF. I really like the effect. It looks very much like a photo in three dimensions. And seeing as how it’s the Fourth of July and all, the stereo card I cut up is both taken by a famous American, and of a famous American.
So without further ado: Walt Whitman, by Matthew Brady.
The file turned out to be a tiny bit large. And for that I am very, very sorry.
To all of you for whom it is relevant — I’d like to wish you a happy Fourth of July. I have no recipe for you (alas!). But I do have a (sort of) food-related quotation from one of my favorite American authors: Herman Melville. Just by way of warning, it is from Typee, his first novel, which indulges in an unfortunate appetite for the exotification of the “savage” other. But Melville is capable of such impressive turns of phrase that it is worth tolerating this shortcoming in order to share in his clear delight in language. So:
Their very name is a frightful one; for the word ‘Typee’ in the Marquesan dialect signifies a lover of human flesh. It is rather singular that the title should have been bestowed upon them exclusively, inasmuch as the natives of all this group are irreclaimable cannibals. The name may, perhaps, have been given to denote the peculiar ferocity of this clan, and to convey a special stigma along with it.
These same Typees enjoy a prodigious notoriety all over the islands. The natives of Nukuheva would frequently recount in pantomime to our ship’s company their terrible feats, and would show the marks of wounds they had received in desperate encounters with them…. It was quite amusing, too, to see with what earnestness they disclaimed all cannibal propensities on their own part, while they denounced their enemies — the Typees — as inveterate gourmandizers of human flesh; but this is a peculiarity to which I shall hereafter have occasion to allude.
I sincerely hope that whatever culinary issues you face today, one of them is not a propensity for the inveterate gourmandizing of human flesh. But I do hope that the phrase, at least, will stick in your mind.
I like cherries. I like them a lot. They are, so far as I can tell, the smallest of the stone fruit — miniscule cousins to the plum, peach, apricot, and all those most cherished sweet drupes of summer. They are the harbingers and the advance guard of the season’s coming in earnest, which — as any of you who are regular Twice Cooked readers already know — might actually count as a strike against them in my humble book. But their flavor is so intense, and so explosive when encapsulated in so compact a package, that it is difficult to think of them as other than bearers of the concentrated essence of all that is good in this too-hot season of the year.
There are some classic, really fine cherry desserts out there. Clafoutis may be the most deserving of attention, with its delightful texture — somewhere between a custard and a cake — and whole cherries, unpitted, baked right in. The denizens of Limousin, the region in central France from which the dessert derives, say that the inclusion of the pits enriches the final product, perfuming the whole thing with a scent that is not unlike almonds. And they say (I would assume) that folks concerned about swallowing a pit or cracking a tooth should really be more careful.
Strawberry shortcake is elegant, unpretentious, and simple. Yet so often it goes unbearably awry. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this thing that often lives near the strawberry display in the supermarket. It’s a little bowl-shaped golden cake, encased in plastic packaging, that bills itself as the shortcake component of the dessert, and sometimes makes the claim that it’s ready for reddi-wip, or some such other nonsense.
This is not a shortcake. This is an angel food cake — generously speaking. Or less generously — in Sarah’s words — it is a Twinky without the filling. Shortcake has a technical definition, and what it is is a biscuit. That simple. Sometimes it’s a biscuit of the same sort that you’d serve with fried chicken. Or sometimes it’s sweetened slightly — which it is in this recipe, here.
The rhubarb is a vegetable most often used as a fruit – in much the same way that the tomato is a fruit used as a vegetable. But unlike the ubiquitous tomato, rhubarb sometimes stymies American cooks. What’s to be done with this briefly available, bitter, even poisonous plant?
Well, there’s pie. In the nineteenth century, rhubarb was so strongly associated with pie that it was commonly called pie plant. And then there are the many variants of pie: crisps, crumbles, buckles. Rhubarb is so very assertive that it was not much eaten until and unless it could be sugared; prior to that, it was prized only for its medicinal properties. But other fruits have a mellowing effect on rhubarb’s harshness. Apples, especially, soften it without transforming its flavor. Personally, I believe that it’s a crime against strawberries to pair them with rhubarb – and it’s underselling the rhubarb as well!
I remember — a few years ago, now — having a conversation with a friend on social media about whether it was necessary to soak your fried chicken in buttermilk before dredging it in flour and slipping it into your skillet full of hot oil. At the time, my position was that my mother’s dear friend from Oklahoma — the woman from whom I learned to make the stuff, whose fried chicken we all prized above all else — never soaked. Therefore I don’t either. And my position at the time was that if your chicken is fresh enough, and if it’s in fact a frying bird — young and small — it doesn’t need the extra help anyway.
Well today, I’ve changed my mind. I stand corrected — more or less.
For anyone who has had any contact with me for the last month, the idea of a lemon kefir tart shouldn’t come as a great surprise. I have, after all, spent that time all but obsessed with kefir, stashing mason jars of room-temperature milk all around the house, and watching gleefully as my grains — the live active culture — transform said milk into a thick, sweet, sour, sometimes slightly carbonated beverage.
What has set me down this path is a recent trip to New York, to visit Hana and her husband. Walking into their tiny Manhattan apartment, two things struck me almost at once: the happy, healthy, gigantic kombucha mother gurgling away in a jar on their counter, and the jar of kefir, just about done fermenting.
I feel like it’s been events and announcements and self-promotion all around for the past few weeks, and that I’ve been short changing you all on substantial writing about food.
That will change very soon. Promise.
But in the meantime, if you’re in the Philadelphia area, come out and hear me speak tomorrow night at the Barren Hill Tavern and Brewery in Lafayette Hill — on Germantown pike, not too far from Chestnut Hill. I’ll be reprising the talk that I gave at Science on Tap in April – “Culturing Food: History, Health and Fermentation.” But it will be a new audience, with new questions, and (I hope) some slightly spiffed up visuals.
At any rate, it’s part of an event called Pint of Science — a multi-city, International, three day mini-festival that happens in a bunch of cities. The people who run the Philadelphia chapter are super sharp. The other speakers sound fascinating. And did I mention that there is also going to be beer?
Here’s the relevant information: the Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery is at 646 Germantown Pike; the event goes from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm; mine is the second talk of the night. And though they seem to want you to RSVP here using Eventbrite, registration is in fact free.
Come on out, have a beer, and have a good time. And if you do make it, say hello. I want to meet you!