Archive for August, 2011
In the past, I fortunately avoided most of the disasters befalling NYC. I was always out of town for the various blackouts and riots. This summer, however, I was around for both last week’s earthquake and on Saturday and Sunday for Hurricane Irene. Yet I actually didn’t notice either of them. I learned of the earthquake when relatives began calling. It was rather embarrassing to admit “What earthquake?” There was no shaking going on in my first floor Upper West Side apartment. I feel more of a tremor when the front door of the apartment building slams shut. Of course, I was preoccupied in hooking up and trying to figure out the new printer for my computer that had just arrived. But I think I would still be aware when the ground started shaking.
I knew, of course, that Irene was coming. The media was hyping it for days beforehand. Reporters seem downright gleeful as they enthusiastically predict all forms of potential disaster. There were some uprooted trees and broken branches in Central Park. My cousins in Teaneck could hear the wind and lost their electricity for several days as the result of downed power lines. A brave rabbi near Monsey was electrocuted from a broken power line attempting to rescue a boy he spotted trapped under a tree. Yet from my vantage point, I could only spot an occasional heavy downpour. Since this cleans the sidewalks in Manhattan, the water was welcomed. Too much water or too much wind or too much anything can be dangerous. I didn’t feel any abnormal wind in my well sheltered apartment nor see any flooding. (There’s more water when my upstairs neighbor lets her tub overflow, which she did again when I was away in Montreal back in June. I’m still waiting for my landlord to paint.) I am thankful for having lived through two disasters within a week without any ill effects. Yet can you say you experienced an earthquake or hurricane, if they went by without notice? Hopefully, I’ll never have to find out. After all, it was more than a century since the last hurricane landed in NYC and I can wait another century for the next go round.
Meanwhile, I’m in Brooklyn for this week to help babysit my sister’s youngest while she and the brother-in-law are in Israel for a wedding. I was scheduled to arrive on Sunday, but mass transportation in NYC was shut down. The subways reopened this morning and by the time I rode them, they were actually quicker and less crowded than usual. Visiting Brooklyn is like visiting a foreign country. (I know we’re not in Manhattan anymore, Toto!) The older girls can fend for themselves, so it’s primarily for the three younger nephews. My great-nephews, Dovid and Daniel (and sometimes parents), are here too at the moment while their parents finish getting their new apartment ready. Dovid, at 20 months, is a big boy who walks and talks like he’s much older. And such blond hair. He certainly doesn’t get that from the Marks side of the family. My nephews made ketchup omelets and ketchup tortilla-pizza-wraps for dinner, which I consider a disaster. That’s also not from the Marks side of the family.
I need some time at the end of the week for cleaning my apartment before I head off to Israel next Wednesday and another opportunity of spending the holidays in the Holy Land. In between, I’m appearing at Stony Book Hillel Sunday Sept 4 at 3:30 for Festival of Bites: http://alumniandfriends.stonybrook.edu/page.aspx?pid=299&cid=1&ceid=131&cerid=0&cdt=9%2F4%2F2011
Talk about good timing. If Irene had arrived a mere week later, my Hillel presentation would have been wiped out and my travel plans to Israel could have been waylaid. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to miss various other hurricanes during trips to Israel. Two years ago, one hurricane halted flights from Tel Aviv to NYC for several days before my departure, but flights resumed the day I left. I have been occasionally waylaid by Israeli strikes. One such strike shut down El Al in 1974 and there were thousands of stranded passengers at the airport. I would have missed several weddings during the next couple of days. I managed to get a seat on a TWA flight (who would have dreamed at the time that TWA would have vanished) to Athens, Greece (that plane’s next stop was Rome) to change planes for another flight heading to NYC. After landing in Greece to change planes, the young customs agent wanted to open my tefillin with a knife, but when I insisted that he call his supervisor, calmer heads prevailed and my tefillin and dignity remained intact. After landing in JFK, we heard the news that the plane I had been on from Israel to Athens, while heading to Rome, crashed in the Adriatic Sea killing everyone on board. That kind of puts some of life’s minor disasters (including maybe even ketchup omelets) into perspective.
And thanks to everyone who wrote to me about how much they enjoy Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. And those who noted how they recently gave EJF as a gift. That made my day.
By the way, here’s my recipe for a real omelet:
(For each serving)
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper
½ tablespoon (7 ml) unsalted butter or margarine
About 3 tablespoons (45 ml) filling (optional)
1. Beat the eggs, salt, and pepper with a fork until blended, but not frothy.
2. Heat a 5-inch skillet over medium heat. When a drop of water bounces and sizzles, add the butter or margarine and swirl the pan. When the butter finishes sizzling, but has not turned black, pour in the eggs.
3. Stir the eggs with the back of a fork in a circular motion while simultaneously shaking the pan until the eggs begin to set (about 10 seconds). Stop stirring and use the fork to lift the edges to allow the additional liquid eggs to run underneath, repeating until the eggs are almost set, but are still a little moist in the center (20 to 25 seconds).
4. Spread the filling down the center of the omelet perpendicular to the skillet’s handle. Remove the pan from the heat, fold the lower third of the omelet over the filling, then flip the omelet from the upper edge of the skillet, in the process folding the upper third of the omelet, into the center of a warm plate. Or spread the filling over half of the omelet, fold in half, and slide onto a warm plate. The outside of this omelet will be yellow.
Asparagus Omelet: Top with 6 to 8 asparagus tips cooked, halved lengthwise, and, if desired, sautéed in a little butter.
Caviar Omelet: Spread 2 tablespoons (30 ml) sour cream over half the omelet and top with 2 tablespoons (30 ml) salmon caviar.
Cheese Omelet: Sprinkle with about 3 tablespoons (45 ml) Cheddar or other shredded hard cheese before folding.
Fines Herbes Omelet: Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) mixed fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, chives, and chervil).
(Omelet for 5 to 6 servings:)
6 large eggs
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon (15 ml) butter or margarine
Proceed as above, but cook in a 10-inch skillet.
I stopped by my local branch of the NYC public library this week. I wasn’t hunting for books, but actually was looking for a copy machine that takes coins. I needed a single copy of a sales receipt from Toshiba to send in with the mail-in rebate form. I’ve been disappointed with the quality of my last two Dell laptops, on one the hard drive died after three years and with the most recent one the hinges and frame cracked after two years. (No, I didn’t drop it. And the casing isn’t covered by the warranty.) So I decided to try a Toshiba. (I am a little worried, because the brand new computer starts clicking every so often.) And I can get about $100 rebate back from Toshiba once I get this copy. Unfortunately, the copy machine in the library was “Out of Service.” The old-style copy machine with coin slots seem to be a thing to the past, as today most require credit cards.
Anyway while I was at the library, I thought I would take a look at its small cookbook collection. And much to my delight, there on the shelf was a copy of my Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. (Oops, my laptop just clicked again. I do hope it’s not a sign of a problem.) Anyway, I’m quite pleased by the acceptance of Encyclopedia of Jewish Food as a resource tool. I visited the offices of Saveur magazine a few weeks ago and everyone there was already familiar with EJF. Karen, the research editor, keeps a copy of EJF on her desk as one of her primary research tools, but admits it is borrowed frequently by other staff members. In addition, I noticed from my Google Alerts that quite a few writers are citing EJF. (I also noticed that some writers lately have been using information directly from EJF without an acknowledgement, which is irritating.) Encyclopedia of Jewish Food is even the source to use in Mumbai, India: http://www.mid-day.com/specials/2011/jul/240711-Falooda-Badshah-dessert-drink.htm
Anyway, it is gratifying that EJF is being recognized and used. I would hate to think that it would be one of those volumes that sits on the shelf and gathers dust.
Yet it seems that a lot of people still aren’t aware of its existence. This week I ran into a high school classmate, Moshe, who I had not seen in a number of years. As we quickly attempted to catch up and I discussed EJF, he had not heard about it. I was in Baltimore for the weekend (that’s why this blog is a little late) and ran into several old acquaintances who were also unaware of EJF. Without massive advertising (or actually any advertising), I have to rely on word of mouth to spread the news about EJF. (Don’t forget to tell your friends and relatives about the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. And it makes a great gift.) Part of the nature of the book publishing world is that an author has to sell enough copies of their current book in order to publish the next one.
I’ll be appearing at Stony Brook Hillel Sunday Sept 4 at 3:30 for Festival of Bites: http://alumniandfriends.stonybrook.edu/page.aspx?pid=299&cid=1&ceid=131&cerid=0&cdt=9%2F4%2F2011
I even have a few appearances in Israel in September and October, including for the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews. Later I’ll be at the Denver JCC Book Fair 350 S. Dahila Street on Monday October 31 at noon. And at the Great Neck Library 159 Bayview Avenue, Great Neck on Sunday December 11 at 11:00 am. And I have a few scholar-in-residence gigs in the winter and spring. (For information on my demos/lectures, see http://www.gilmarks.com/1257.html on my website.)
Writing a book is not only about getting it published, but promoting it. Any I have to rely on word of mouth to help spread the word. My previous book, Olive Trees and Honey, is doing as well today as ever (it was published in 2005), precisely because of world of mouth. And Encyclopedia of Jewish Food showing up on library shelves is a good sign. But years ago I once had a lady approach me after a lecture, telling me how much she loved my book and how she Xeroxed recipes from it from a copy in her library. Not exactly what an author wants to hear.
My mother receives a weekly shipment of fresh organic vegetables from a CSA (community supported agriculture). While some of these items are familiar to her, some are unknown and intimidating. Last week in her shipment was some okra and I received a call seeking information on how to prepare it.
Okra (Hibiscus esculentus), a member of the mallow family and a relative of cotton, is a native of Ethiopia. The 3- to 9-foot high okra plants produce tapered capsules ranging from 2½ to 8 inches in length. Larger, mature pods require a slightly longer cooking time. For best flavor, the pods should be less than 4-inches long. Residents of the Mediterranean prefer even smaller pods, about 1-inch. Okra is high in fiber, rich in vitamins A, B, and C and iron and calcium, and purportedly enhances blood flow.
Okra arrived in America in the early 1600s with the black slaves, but never received much attention outside the South where it is fried, stewed, steamed, and pickled. The word okra came from okuru in Igbo, a language of Nigeria. In England and India it is known as lady fingers. Its Bantu name (in central Africa) kingombo or ochinggomboo gave rise to the name of the famous dish, gumbo. The Ladino name for okra, bamia, and, the Arabic name, bamiya, also derived from the Bantu kingombo, indicating its African origins.
There is no specific mention of this plant in the ancient world, though some scholars claim that a few ambiguous Egyptian pyramid drawings are of okra. Its first verified appearance was in twelfth century CE Egypt. Shortly thereafter, the Moors introduced okra to Spain, where, as with other vegetables, it gained wide acceptance amongst Sephardim. The few other areas where okra accrued some degree of popularity was in the Levant, Balkans, India, and the American South. After tomatoes arrived from South America, they became the favorite Sephardic partner for okra, alone or as one of many vegetables in a stew. For a more substantial dish, meatballs are cooked with the sauce. In the Middle East, okra pods are sometimes pickled along with other vegetables in turshi. Dried okra is enjoyed through the winter.
Okra’s mucilaginous nature — very noticeable when overcooked — makes it unappetizing to many. However, soaking it in vinegar water or blanching in hot water lessens this attribute. Okra is often paired with tomatoes and lemon juice, as their acid tends to counteract the gooeyness. On the other hand, okra’s primary characteristic can be desirable in stews as a thickener. Some cooks insist on frying okra in a little oil until browned, about five minutes, before cooking to enhance the flavor. Middle Easterners historically tended to overcook their vegetables, resulting in rather wilted okra; many contemporary diners prefer their okra with some of the crispness intact.
Okra and chicken stews are popular summer Sabbath fare from India to Tunisia. Among Sephardim from Turkey and the Balkans, okra in tomato sauce was both everyday fare as well as a Sabbath dish from late spring through Sukkot. In some households, it is also common at the meal following the fast of Yom Kippur. Syrians feature okra flavored with tamarind on Rosh Hashanah and festive occasions. Persians cook okra in a lamb stew called yakhnat.
Although okra can be found year-round, the best supplies are from May to October. For best flavor, pods should be less than 4-inches long. If your fingernail does not easily go into the pod, it is too old. Store in a plastic bag at room temperature for no more than a day or two. Rinse just before cooking.
TO PREPARE: Gently scrub the okra to remove any fuzz. Trim the caps of the okra being careful not to cut into the flesh.
Soak every 1 pound (455 grams) whole okra in a mixture of 1 quart (1 liter) water and ¼ cup (60 ml) vinegar for 1 hour. Drain.
In the Greek method, spread 1 pound (455 grams) okra in a single layer on a baking sheet, sprinkle with ¼ cup (60 ml) vinegar, and dip the caps into kosher salt. Return the okra to the baking sheet and let stand in the sun or a warm place for 1 hour. Rinse under cold water and pat dry.
1 pound (455 grams) okra = 64 medium
= 13.5 ounces trimmed
= 3.8 cups
1 cup (240 ml) trimmed okra = 3.5 ounces/100 grams
Okra is one of those items that people either love or hate. Or more likely, unfamiliar with. Something about the slime and unique earthy-vegetal flavor turns some people off. Heirloom okra has a more intense flavor than most modern commercial types. Also large pods tend to be tough and woody. I happen to love it, although I don’t very often get the opportunity in New York City to find if fresh.
Here are a few okra dishes from okra-loving regions:
6 to 8 servings
2 pounds (7 cups) whole small okra, caps removed and sliced ½-inch thick
4 to 6 cups vegetable oil for deep-frying
1½ cups cornmeal (or 1 cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup cornmeal)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
3 to 4 lightly beaten eggs or ¾ cup buttermilk (or 2 eggs beaten with ¾ cup whole milk)
1. In a large pot or skillet, heat the oil to 370 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder. Dip the okra in the eggs to coat, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture to coat well.
3. In about 3 batches, add the okra to the oil and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes per batch. Remove and drain. Serve hot.
Sephardic Okra with Tomatoes (Bamia kon Domates) P
6 to 8 servings
2 quarts water mixed with ½ cup white or cider vinegar
2 pounds (7 cups) whole small okra, caps removed, or 20 ounces frozen
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups (24 ounces) peeled, seeded, and chopped plum tomatoes, or 6 ounces tomato paste dissolved in 2 cups water
About 1 teaspoon table salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons granulated or brown sugar
Ground black pepper to taste
1. Soak the okra in the vinegar water for 1 hour. Drain and pat dry.
2. In a large skillet or saucepan, heat 3 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the okra and sauté until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove the okra.
3. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then the onions and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes.
4. Add the lemon juice, sugar, and pepper. Return the okra, cover, and simmer over low heat until tender, about 30 minutes, or bake in a 375-degree oven, about 1 hour. Serve warm accompanied with rice or flat bread or at room temperature.
Sephardic Okra with Lemon (Bamia kon Limon): Substitute 1 cup water for the tomatoes and increase the lemon juice to ½ cup.
Sephardic Okra with Meatballs: Form 1 pound ground beef or lamb into ½-inch balls, brown in hot oil, remove the meatballs, add and fry the onions, then return the meatballs when returning the okra.
Balkan Okra with Dill: Omit the onions. In Step 4 when the okra is tender, add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill.
Ethiopian Okra with Tomatoes (Bamya Alicha): Omit the lemon juice and sugar. With the tomatoes, add 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger and ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom. After cooking the okra for 25 minutes, add 1 to 3 seeded and minced jalapeños and cook for 5 additional minutes.
Indian Okra with Tomatoes (Bindi Bhaji): With the lemon juice, add ½ teaspoon ground turmeric and, if desired, ¾ teaspoon dried chili flakes. If desired, reduce the tomatoes to 2 cups and substitute ¼ cup tamarind paste dissolved in 2 cups water for the lemon juice.
Iraqi Okra with Stuffed Dumplings (Kubba Bamiya): Increase the lemon juice to ¾ cup and water to 8 cups. Add 16 to 18 kubbah (stuffed dumplings made with a semolina shell; see page 000) when returning the okra and simmer until they rise to the surface, about 25 minutes.
Syrian Okra with Tomatoes (Bamia bil Benadora): With the tomatoes, add ¼ teaspoon ground allspice and 2 tablespoons tamarhindi (tamarind sauce) or 1 tablespoon apricot butter and 1 tablespoon prune butter. If desired, also add ¾ cup pitted prunes.
Syrian Okra with Tamarind (Bamia bil Tamarhindi): Omit the tomatoes and lemon juice and add ¼ cup tamarind paste dissolved in 2 cups water. If desired, after cooking the okra for 30 minutes, add 1 cup (4 ounces) dried apricots and 1 cup (6 ounces) pitted prunes and simmer for an additional 30 minutes.
Sephardic Chicken with Okra (Pollo kon Bamia) M
(4 to 6 servings)
1 pound (3½ cups) stemmed fresh okra or 10 ounces frozen
2 quarts water mixed with 2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar
1 (3- to 4-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 8 (3½ pounds total) chicken thighs, bone-in and with the skin on
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups chicken broth or water
4 medium (1 pound) tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
About 1 teaspoon table salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Ground black pepper to taste
1. Soak the okra in the vinegar water for 30 minutes. Drain.
2. Rinse the chicken well and pat dry. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken — do not crowd the pan — and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken.
3. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pot. Add the onion, then garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Return the chicken. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Add the okra. Simmer until the chicken and okra are tender, about 30 minutes. Serve with rice or crusty bread.
Balkan Chicken with Okra (Pojo con Bambia): Reduce the broth or water to 1 cup and add 1 cup dry red wine with the okra.
Calcutta Chicken with Okra (Bamia Huta): With the tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons tamarhindi (tamarind paste), 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger, and ½ teaspoon ground turmeric. Just before serving, stir in 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint.
Greek Chicken with Okra (Poyo Frikasse con Bamyes): With the tomato, add 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, and 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Just before serving, stir in about 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
Tunisian Chicken with Okra (Dajaaj bi Bamia/Ganaouia au Poulet): With the tomatoes, add ½ teaspoon ground turmeric and 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon ground coriander.
Calcutta Pickled Okra (Bamia Pickle) P
(About 2 cups)
This is a synthesis of Middle Eastern and Indian styles.
1½ cups cider or malt vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons table salt or 1/3 cup kosher salt
2 to 4 small green chilies (optional)
8 ounces (about 40 pods) small okra
4 teaspoons chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
4 teaspoons minced garlic
4 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1. In a large non-reactive pot, bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar and salt dissolve. If using, add the chilies and simmer for 2 minutes. Let cool.
2. Remove the tops of the okra. Cut a 1-inch slit lengthwise along each okra pod. In a small bowl, combine the cilantro, garlic, and ginger. Stuff about ¼ teaspoon into each pod.
3. Into a large jar, pack the okra and, if using, chilies. Pour the vinegar mixture over top to cover. Close the jar and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours, then place in the refrigerator for 1 week.
(6 to 8 servings)
2 pounds (910 grams/7 cups/1.7 liters) whole small okra, soaked in vinegar water and drained
1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped (2 cups/500 ml/8 ounces/225 grams)
1 small (about ½ cup/120 ml) green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups (2 pounds/910 grams) tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup (240 ml) water
1 to 3 teaspoons (5 t 15 ml) granulated or brown sugar
About ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
Ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
Pinch ground cloves
1 bay leaf
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and bell pepper and sauté until softened (5 to 10 minutes). Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and 1 cup (240 ml) water and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft (about 15 minutes).
2. Add the okra, sugar, salt, pepper, chili powder, cloves, and bay leaf. Cover and simmer over low heat until tender (about 30 minutes) or bake in a 375-degree (190 C) oven (about 1 hour).
3. Uncover and cook until most of the liquid evaporates. Serve warm or at room temperature.
BY Gil Marks
Among the most frequent questions that I am asked these days is “What is your next book?” After the enthusiastic reception to my Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, I did not want to do an inferior Jewish cookbook. So I decided to pen “American Cakes.” It’s a history of American through its cakes.
I finished my first draft and am now in the process of checking and clarifying all of my facts. One of the most difficult aspects of writing food history is that much of the ‘information’ circulating out there is actually wrong. For example, this week I was checking the chocolate cake section and came upon one of those widely circulated and accepted bits of misinformation. Almost every source insists that the first person to make chocolate in North America was John Hannon, who in 1765 opened a chocolate factory in Dorchester, Massachusetts with the financial backing of Dr. James Baker. Hence the term and brand “Baker’s Chocolate.” (There are even sources claiming this was the first instances of chocolate in North America.) However, this is wrong. Americans were producing chocolate nearly a century before Hannon and consuming it even earlier.
In 1670, Dorothy Jones and Jane Barnard of Boston received licenses to sell “Coffee and Chucaletto” (chocolate) from their separate public houses. Benjamin Harris, an English immigrant best known for penning the influential The New England Primer, received a city license in 1690 to sell “Coffee, Tee, and Chucaletto” at his bookstore in Boston. (This was the first record of the word tea in America.) Women, who were forbidden from patronizing taverns and inns, opted for chocolate houses. Chocolate in these instances referred to hot chocolate the beverage. It would be more than a century before Americans used chocolate in baking. The only other use of Chocolate in America before the Revolution was in coating almonds, an English treat appropriately known as “Chocolate Almonds.”
Meanwhile, Americans increasingly brought (or frequently smuggled it when the English tried to direct all commerce through England) cacao beans directly from the Caribbean and roasted the beans, then processed them in small American chocolate mills instead of importing chocolate blocks from England. Sephardic Jews, who dominated the early cocoa trade in the Caribbean and parts of Europe, turned New York, Providence, and Newport (Rhode Island) into American chocolate centers. (Check out the chocolate entry in Encyclopedia of Jewish Food for more on Sephardim and chocolate.) Quakers brought their love of chocolate and knowledge of its preparation to Philadelphia. (Quakers were among the earliest and most ardent English and American supporters and makers of chocolate, which they considered an alternative to alcohol. Apothecary Joseph Storrs Fry of England, a Quaker, introduced mechanized grinding of cocoa beans, producing a finer chocolate and lower price, and in 1847, added extruded cocoa butter and sugar to chocolate liquor to launch the first “eating chocolate” recognizable to modern chocolate lovers. The Cadburys and Rowntrees were also Quakers.) Sometimes various other American merchants along the East Coast returned from Curacao and Jamaica with cocoa beans in payment for cargo. By this time, much of the chocolate in North America was made there. Those early blocks of pure chocolate liquor were a rougher product than the mechanically-produced modern unsweetened chocolate.
In 1735, Benjamin Franklin advertized locally-made chocolate in his Pennsylvania Gazette: “To be sold, by the Printer hereof, very good Chocolate at 4 shillings per Pound.” After the Townshend Acts of 1767, as a protest against the British tea tax, American patriots substituted cocoa or coffee for their breakfast beverage.
In 1765 Irish immigrant John Hannon and Dr. James Baker opened thier chocolate factory in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Hannon roasted the cocoa beans, then ground them between two massive circular millstones in a water-powdered mill. The chocolate blocks were wrapped in paper labeled “Hannon’s Best” and boasted “if the Chocolate does not prove good the Money will be returned.” In 1780, the company was incorporated as “Baker’s Chocolate”; thus both the term and brand name. Following the American Revolution, during which many American chocolate makers ceased business and most of the continuing production was procured for the army, Baker’s mass-produced chocolate and a few other Boston-based chocolate manufacturers dominated the entire American market. Baker’s remained the biggest name in American chocolate well into the twentieth century, but it was in no way the first American chocolate maker.
In the mid-nineteenth century, American companies, drawing from the various European innovations, began to also produce eating chocolate and cocoa powder. San Francisco, the area’s moderate weather proving ideal for making chocolate in the time before air conditioning, emerged as a major chocolate producing center, including Ghirardelli (1852) and Guittard (1868). After discovering the production of eating chocolate at the World’s Columbus Exposition in 1894, caramel-maker Milton Hershey, a Quaker, went into the chocolate business and two years later introduced the first mass produced inexpensive chocolate bars in Lancaster, Pennsylvania before relocating his growing business to his hometown, Derry Church (renamed Hershey).
(For more on chocolate cakes, you’ll have to wait for the book.)
But research is not the tough part of my job. It is actually fun to discover truths. Sort of like putting together puzzle pieces.
In addition to checking facts, I also check cake recipes. I have been collecting recipes, after trying them first, in my computer for more than two decades. In my review of the text, I’m doing comparisons and additions. Which means that I have to make cakes. Sometimes I will try a nineteenth recipe not to include in the book, but to examine what type of cake they were preparing back then. This is not the tough part of my job either. I enjoy potchaing in the kitchen.
Of course, I have to sample every experiment. And I can’t let anything go to waste. Which is why I have put on a few pounds in the course of compiling American Cakes. As I said, it’s a tough job, but….