Donuts And Apple Cider: An Autumn Marriage Made By Autos And Automation

Deena Prichep wrote . . . . . .

When baker Julie Richardson was growing up in Vermont, Autumn Saturdays had a particular rhythm. First, soccer practice. And then, to the apple orchard for some cider and donuts.

“I would sit there and watch that machine — watch the doughnuts plop into the hot oil, go down the conveyor belt and plop out the other end,” she says.

For many New Englanders — and for people across the country who grew up near apple orchards — it’s just not Fall without cider and donuts. It’s a combination that makes culinary sense: When cider is used to make the dough, Richardson notes, the acidity helps yield a tender crumb. And a cold, crisp glass of cider helps wash down the deliciously oily donuts, hot from the fryer — the autumnal version of milk and cookies.

It’s a tasty pairing for sure. And one that evokes earlier times.

“We put this rural gloss on it,” says food writer and culinary historian Michael Krondl. “Farm stands have been around forever, and cider donuts harken back to New England Fall and changing leaves. Yeeeeeah,” he laughs. Krondl’s audible skepticism comes because he thinks this sepia-tinged tradition arose because of some distinctly new world trends — namely automation, and automobility.

But first, to acknowledge the actual old-world component: Yes, both cider and donuts have long histories. Krondl notes that in early America, hard cider was “one of the primary beverages, prior to Prohibition — especially in apple-growing areas like New England and the Upper Midwest.” It was cheap, common and easier to make than beer (not to mention handy when you’ve got a bumper crop of fruit that would otherwise go bad).

As for donuts: You can find mentions of fried cakes in the Bible, and pretty much every culture has their own beloved take on batter or dough hitting hot fat (not surprising, given that heating a cauldron of oil is a bit easier than rigging up an oven). Something resembling modern donuts has probably been a part of American history since the early Dutch settlers, and the treat got a big boost during World War I, thanks to the tasty outreach of the Salvation Army. But back stateside, donuts weren’t as widespread as they are today — namely because making them was a fairly labor-intensive process.

Until Adolph Levitt came along.

Sally Levitt Steinberg, Adolph’s granddaughter, tells the almost mythical origin story of how her grandfather met an engineer on a Midwestern train, and the two of them came up with the prototype for a donut-making machine. After many failures, Levitt finally succeeded in 1921, setting up the machine in the window of his bakery in Harlem, N.Y. Instead of having to roll out the dough, cut the donuts and fry them in a pot, bakers could just set up this machine, which plopped perfect circles of batter into hot oil, then fried and flipped them at just the right time. It’s the exact contraption that later hypnotized Richardson — and so many others.

The public recognized the delicious importance of the invention. Steinberg says her grandfather took the machine out for a demonstration in Times Square, and it stopped traffic all over the city.

“It just exploded,” says Steinberg. “Then he realized that the machine was going to last forever, and the money wouldn’t. So then he got into the rest of the aspects of the business — mixes, shops, selling donuts in supermarkets.”

And, as Krondl notes, at the same time that Levitt’s donut machine was taking over, another phenomenon was happening — the rise of the automobile.

“It’s the collision of the automobile, automation and advertising,” says Krondl. “You’ve got these machines in every donut shop in America, and the Doughnut Corporation of America [Levitt’s company] is controlling them. And you begin to have these farm stands, particularly near urban areas, where people can go on a Sunday drive. People would do that in the early days of the automobiles — excursions.”

Drivers and passengers would get hungry on these drives. Krondl asserts that the newly perfected automatic donut machine (with its accompanying easy-to-use commercial mixes) was a perfect way to feed them at their destination. And the donuts went perfectly with the cider these farm stands were already pressing.

“Like McDonalds,” Krondl says, “farm stands are a function of mobility and the highway system.”

A hundred years ago, Adolph Levitt wasn’t thinking about “automobility” or Sunday drivers — he was just thinking of returning GIs’ appetite for tasty fried treats, and how to turn a fortuitous encounter with an engineer into the solution for a market need. But Krondl maintains that the result, coming at the time it did, married cider and donuts together forever. And we should all be grateful.

“At a certain point, you couldn’t have a farm stand without a donut machine,” says Krondl. “Which I totally support.”

Source: npr


Chinese Food History – An Anthropoligical Study

Adapted from K.C. Chang, Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives . . . . . .

To say that the consumption of food is a vital part of the chemical process of life is to state the obvious, but sometimes we fail to realize that food is more than just vital. The only other activity that we engage in that is of comparable importance to our lives and to the life of our species is sex. As Kao Tzu, a Warring States-period philosopher and keen observer of human nature, said, “Appetite for food and sex is nature.” But these two activities are quite different. We are, I believe, much closer to our animal base in our sexual endeavors than we are in our eating habits. Too, the range of variations is infinitely wider in food than in sex. In fact, the importance of food in understanding human culture lies precisely in its infinite variability -variability that is not essential for species survival. For survival needs, all men everywhere could eat the same food, to be measured only in calories, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins. But no, people of different backgrounds eat very differently.

The basic stuffs from which food is prepared; the ways in which it is preserved, cut up, cooked (if at all); the amount and variety at each meal; the tastes that are liked and disliked; the customs of serving food; the utensils; the beliefs about the food’s properties -these all vary. The number of such “food variables” is great.

An anthropological approach to the study of food would be to isolate and identify the food variables, arrange these variables systematically, and explain why some of these variables go together or do not go together.

For convenience, we may use culture as a divider in relating food variables’ hierarchically. I am using the word culturehere in a classificatory sense implying the pattern or style of behavior of a group of people who share it. Food habits may be used as an important, or even determining, criterion in this connection. People who have the same culture share the same food habits, that is, they share the same assemblage of food variables. Peoples of different cultures share different assemblages of food variables. We might say that different cultures have different food choices. (The word choices is used here not necessarily in an active sense, granting the possibility that some choices could be imposed rather than selected.) Why these choices? What determines them? These are among the first questions in any study of food habits.

Within the same culture, the food habits are not at all necessarily homogeneous. In fact, as a rule they are not. Within the same general food style, there are different manifestations of food variables of a smaller range, for different social situations. People of different social classes or occupations eat differently. People on festive occasions, in mourning, or on a daily routine eat again differently. Different religious sects have different eating codes. Men and women, in various stages of their lives, eat differently. Different individuals have different tastes. Some of these differences are ones of preference, but others may be downright prescribed. Identifying these differences, explaining them, and relating them to other facets of social life are again among the tasks of a serious scholar of food.

Finally, systematically articulated food variables can be laid out in a time perspective, as in historical periods of varying lengths. We see how food habits change and seek to explore the reasons and consequences. . .

My own generalizations pertain above all to the question: What characterizes Chinese food? . . . I see the following common themes:

The food style of a culture is certainly first of all determined by the natural resources that are available for its use. . . . It is thus not surprising that Chinese food is above all characterized by an assemblage of plants and animals that grew prosperously in the Chinese land for a long time. A detailed list would be out of place here, and quantitative data are not available. The following enumeration is highly impressionistic:

Starch Staples: millet, rice, kao-liang, wheat, maize, buckwheat, yam, sweet potato.

Legumes: soybean, broad bean, pea- nut, mung bean.

Vegetables: malva, amaranth, Chi- nese cabbage, mustard green, turnip, radish, mushroom.

Fruits: peach, apricot, plum, apple, jujube date, pear, crab apple, mountain haw, longan, litchi, orange.

Meats: pork, dog, beef, mutton, venison, chicken, duck, goose, pheasant, many fishes.

Spices: red pepper, ginger, garlic, spring onion, cinnamon.

Chinese cooking is, in this sense, the manipulation of these foodstuffs as basic ingredients. Since ingredients are not the same everywhere, Chinese food begins to assume a local character simply by virtue of the ingredients it uses. Obviously ingredients are not sufficient for characterization, but they are a good beginning. Compare, for example, the above list with one in which dairy products occupy a prominent place, and one immediately comes upon a significant contrast between the two food traditions.

One important point about the distinctive assemblage of ingredients is its change through history. Concerning food, the Chinese are not nationalistic to the point of resisting imports. In fact, foreign foodstuffs have been readily adopted since the dawn of history. Wheat and sheep and goats were possibly introduced from western Asia in prehistoric times, many fruits and vegetables came in from central Asia during the Han and the T’ang periods, and peanuts and sweet potatoes from coastal traders during the Ming period. These all became integral ingredients of Chinese food. At the same time,. . . milk and dairy products, to this date, have not taken a prominent place in Chinese cuisine. . . .

In the Chinese culture, the whole process of preparing food from raw ingredients to morsels ready for the mouth involves a complex of interrelated variables that is highly distinctive when compared with other food traditions of major magnitude. At the base of this complex is the division between fan, grains and other starch foods, andts’ai, vegetable and meat dishes. To prepare a balanced meal, it must have an appropriate amount of both fan and ts’ai, and ingredients are readied along both tracks. Grains are cooked whole or as flour, making up the fan half of the meal in various forms: fan (in the narrow sense, “cooked rice”), steamed wheat-, millet-, or corn-flour bread, ping (“pancakes”), and noodles. Vegetables and meats are cut up and mixed in various ways into individual dishes to constitute the ts’ai half. Even in meals in which the staple starch portion and the meat-and-vegetable portion are apparently joined together, such as in . . . “wonton” . . . they are in fact put together but not mixed up, and each still retains its due proportion and own distinction. . . .

For the preparation of ts’ai, the use of multiple ingredients and the mixing of flavors are the rules, which above all means that ingredients are usually cut up and not done whole, and that they are variously combined into individual dishes of vastly differing flavors. Pork for example, may be diced, slice shredded, or ground, and when combined with other meats and with various vegetable ingredients and spice produces dishes of utterly diverge, shapes, flavors, colors, tastes, and aromas.

The parallelism of fan and ts’ai an the above-described principles of ts’ai’ preparation account for a number ( other features of the Chinese food culture, especially in the area of utensil To begin with, there are fan utensils and ts’ai utensils, both for cooking an for serving. In the modem kitchen, fan kuo (“rice cooker”) and Ts’ai kuo(“wok”) are very different and as a rule not interchangeable utensils. . . . To prepare the kind of ts’ai that we have characterized, the chopping knife or cleaver and the chopping anvil are standard equipment in every Chines kitchen, ancient and modem. To sweep the cooked grains into the mouth, and to serve the cut-up morsel of the meat-and-vegetable dishes chopsticks have proved more service able than hands or other instrument (such as spoons and forks, the former being used in China alongside the chopsticks).

This complex of interrelated features of Chinese food may be described, for the purpose of shorthand reference, as the Chinese fan-ts’ai principle. Send a Chinese cook into an American kitchen, given Chinese or American ingredients, and he or she will (a) prepare an adequate amount of fan, (b) cut up the ingredients and mix them up in various combinations, and (c) cook the ingredients into several dishes and, perhaps, a soup. Given the right ingredients, the “Chineseness” of the meal would increase, but even with entirely native American ingredients and cooked in American utensils, it is still a Chinese meal.

The above example shows that the Chinese way of eating is characterized by a notable flexibility and adaptability. Since a ts’ai dish is made of a mixture of ingredients, its distinctive appearance, taste, and flavor do not depend on the exact number of ingredients, nor, in most cases, on any single item. The same is true for a meal, made up of a combination of dishes. In times of affluence, a few more expensive items may be added, but if the times are hard they may be omitted without doing irreparable damage. If the season is not quite right, substitutes may be used. With the basic principles, a Chinese cook can prepare “Chinese” dishes for the poor as well as the rich, in times of scarcity as well as abundance, and even in a foreign country without many familiar ingredients. The Chinese way of cooking must have helped the Chinese people through some hard times throughout their history. And, of course, one may also say that the Chinese cook the way they do because of their need and desire for adaptability.

This adaptability is shown in at least two other features. The first is the amazing knowledge the Chinese have acquired about their wild plant resources. . . . The Chinese peasants apparently know every edible plant in their environment, and plants there are many. Most do not ordinarily belong on the dinner table, but they may be easily adapted for consumption in time of famine. . . . Here again is this flexibility: A smaller number of familiar foodstuffs are used ordinarily, but, if needed, a greater variety of wild plants would be made use of. The knowledge of these “famine plants” was carefully handed down as a living culture -apparently this knowledge was not placed in dead storage too long or too often.

Another feature of Chinese food habits that contributed to their notable adaptability is the large number and great variety of preserved foods. . . . Food is preserved by smoking, salting, sugaring, steeping, pickling, drying, soaking in many kinds of soy sauces, and so forth, and the whole range of foodstuffs is involved-grains, meat, fruit, eggs, vegetables, and everything else. Again, with preserved food, the Chinese people were ever ready in the event of hardship or scarcity.

The Chinese way of eating is further characterized by the ideas and beliefs about food, which actively affect the ways . . . in which food is prepared and taken. The overriding idea about food in China -in all likelihood an idea with solid, but as yet unrevealed, scientific backing-is that the kind and the amount of food one takes is intimately relevant to one’s health. Food not only affects health as a matter of general principle, the selection of the right food at any particular time must also be dependent upon one’s health condition at that time. Food, therefore, is also medicine.

The regulation of diet as a disease preventive or cure is certainly as Western as it is Chinese. Common Western examples are the diet for arthritics and the recent organic food craze. But the Chinese case is distinctive for its underlying principles. The bodily functions, in the Chinese view, follow the basic yin-yang principles. Many foods are also classifiable into those that possess the yin quality and those of the yang quality. When yin and yangforces in the body are not balanced, problems result. Proper amounts of food of one kind or the other may then be administered (i.e., eaten) to counterbalance the yin and yang disequilibrium. If the body is normal, overeating of one kind of food would result in an excess of that force in the body, causing diseases. . . .

At least two other concepts belong to the native Chinese food tradition. One is that, in consuming a meal, appropriate amounts of both fan and ts’ai should be taken. In fact, of the two, fan is the more fundamental and indispensable. . . . The other concept is frugality. Overindulgence in food and drink is a sin of such proportions that dynasties could fall on its account. . . . Although both the fants’ai and the frugality considerations are health based, at least in part they are related to China’s traditional poverty in food resources.

Finally, perhaps the most important aspect of the Chinese food culture is the importance of food itself in Chinese culture. That Chinese cuisine is the greatest in the world is highly debatable and is essentially irrelevant. But few can take exception to the statement that few other cultures are as food oriented as the Chinese. And this orientation appears to be as ancient as Chinese culture itself. According to Lun yu (Confucian Analects, chap. “Wei Ling Kung”), when the duke Ling of Wei asked Confucius (551-479 B.C.) about military tactics, Confucius replied, “I have indeed heard about matters pertaining to tsu (meat stand) and tou (meat platter), but I have not learned military matters.” Indeed, perhaps one of the most important qualifications of a Chinese gentleman was his knowledge and skill pertaining to food and drink. . . .

The importance of the kitchen in the king’s palace is amply shown in the personnel roster recorded in Chou li.Out of the almost four thousand persons who had the responsibility of running the king’s residential quarters, 2,271, or almost 60 percent, of them handled food and wine.

What these specialists tended to were not just the king’s palate pleasures: eating was also very serious business. In I li, the book that describes various ceremonies, food cannot be separated from ritual. . . . [In] Chou texts [12th century B.C.-221 B.C.] references were made of the use of the ting cauldron, a cooking vessel, as the prime symbol of the state. I cannot feel more confident to say that the ancient Chinese were among the peoples of the world who have been particularly preoccupied with food and eating. Furthermore, as Jacques Gernet has stated, “there is no doubt that in this sphere China has shown a greater inventiveness than any other civilization.”

Source: Asian Recipe

How Chinese Food Got Hip in America

Eric Fish wrote . . . . . .

In 2009, the author and food historian Andrew Coe published the book Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States. From the first Americans to travel to China in 1784 through widespread anti-Chinese sentiment in the 19th century, Coe traced how it took the United States quite some time to develop a taste for Chinese cuisine. It wasn’t until adventurous “Bohemians” in New York City started exploring Chinatown in the 1880s for exotic treats that the food started to become popular. In the years since, “Chinese food” as understood by Americans has undergone several cycles of trendiness and localization, including the chop suey craze of the early 20th century to the explosion in variety after President Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China. But how far have American tastes for authentic Chinese food actually come?

Coe spoke with me about how Chinese food got hip and how shifting demographics of Chinese people in the United States have changed the culinary landscape since his book came out.

Eric Fish: In your book you recount when Americans first set foot in China on a trade mission to Guangzhou in 1784 and described the food as “the repose of putrefied garlic upon a much-used blanket.” How has the American conception of “Chinese food” changed since then?

Andrew Coe: When the first Americans got to China, they were intensely curious about Chinese culture. They had Chinese merchants who were their trading partners and they went to have feasts at their homes. This was one of the great novelties of their lives—to have this food. For those first Americans, the meals were probably the most exotic and alien experiences they’d ever had. Everything about the experience was weird—the ingredients, the flavorings, how the food was prepared, how it was chopped up, the textures, … the chopsticks, and the etiquette of how people acted at the Chinese dinner table. All of this was totally alien, and when you think about how [Americans] react to Chinese food today, there’s still a little of that kind of alienness in Chinese food— at least as far as the greater American population.

Obviously there are many Chinese Americans here and many other people who really know Chinese food who are perfectly comfortable eating within the Chinese tradition, but you look at the kinds of Chinese food [many] people eat—so-called Chinese food—in the United States, and it’s nothing like what they eat in China. It’s been Americanized, because most Americans aren’t comfortable with Chinese food until it’s turned into essentially an American version and served in an American setting. So we’re still a little weirded out by Chinese food.

Fish: What was the culinary impact of Nixon’s 1972 visit to China?

Coe: One of the big things that happened was that the Chinese did a live broadcast of President Nixon having a feast in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and sitting next to the paramount Chinese leaders having Peking duck. People just went crazy. At the time, the Chinese food that people knew about was chop suey, chow mein, egg rolls and the like, but it was no longer considered hip food. It was sort of boring and bland and nobody cared about it anymore. But suddenly, after seeing Nixon eating his Peking duck, people decided that they wanted “authentic Chinese food” like Nixon was eating in Beijing and like restaurants catering to Chinese populations were serving. So people went exploring in Chinatowns. There were restaurants opening in New York and the West Coast serving Hunan and Sichuan food, and this was at a time when there was a kind of counter-culture where it was cool to like hot, spicy food—anything with chili peppers. That’s how a whole new range of dishes got introduced to the United States, like kung pao shrimp and General Tso’s chicken. Of course, over the years those dishes then became Americanized and bland.

Fish: Do you see any generational difference in tastes for authentic Chinese food in America? Are younger people becoming more open to it?

Coe: That’s an interesting question, and I’m afraid I have to answer no, I don’t think so. A lot of younger people, both Chinese Americans and non-Asian Americans, have largely been brought up within the American tradition, and they’re not that used to it. If you go to Chinatowns, you don’t really see large parties of young people eating in traditional Chinese restaurants. They will, however, eat in restaurants where the traditional Chinese food has been made hip. I’m particularly thinking of places here in New York, like a chain called Xi’an Famous Foods, which is kind of like Chinese fast food, but they’re not serving chop suey. They’re serving very delicious spicy noodle dishes, vegetable dishes, and a kind of spicy lamb burger. That’s where Chinese food has been made very attractive to younger customers, and that is working very well.

Fish: Just since your book came out seven years ago, the number of Chinese students in America has nearly tripled—now at more than 300,000—and waves of new middle-class immigrants from China have come. Has this had any discernable culinary impact?

Coe: Absolutely. It’s a little slower of an impact with the Chinese students, but they’re obviously having a very big impact in cities and towns where there’s a large Chinese student population—not just big cities like New York or Los Angeles that have a large Chinese population anyway, but in places like Pittsburgh. In these places you suddenly have all these really interesting Chinese restaurants popping up that are serving not just traditional Cantonese food, but food for Mandarin speakers—meaning food tastier for those from central and northern China, with lamb instead of fish and chicken that is a lot spicier than Cantonese food.

And immigration in general is absolutely central to the big boom in Chinese foods in the United States. It began really with [President] Lyndon Johnson’s Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which really opened the door to a lot of immigration, including Chinese immigration. Ever since, we’ve had waves and waves of people moving here and bringing their food traditions. It’s not just Cantonese food traditions, but Hunan, Sichuan, Dongbei, Beijing, Taiwan, and Chinese from Singapore and Vietnam, etc. It was really first just in the Chinatowns but now more broadly across the United States. We’re really getting a much bigger picture of what Chinese food is and just getting introduced to so many great new flavors and tastes. It’s a lovely time to be eating Chinese food in the United States, particularly if you live in a place like New York.

Fish: Of all the topics we cover at Asia Society—business, politics, education, arts, etc.—our posts that inevitably get the most hits are related to food. Why do you think that is?

Coe: I think the reason these posts do so well is because food is hip. Particularly, ethnic food is hip. I think a couple reasons for that are, people are traveling a lot more, and people are going to other countries to work and study and coming back with new ideas of food and tastes. That’s opening their minds and taste buds. I also think food is hip because cities are hip. After World War II, the whole movement in the United States was fleeing the cities to suburbia. And food in suburbia is just not very good. You don’t have the concentration of people to really develop great cuisine.

But since the 1980s, the movement has gone in the other direction. I think that with everybody coming back to the big urban areas in the United States, you have this concentration of people, money, and culture. Food has in some ways come to symbolize the sophistication of cities, and so that’s why I think food is becoming hip and why people like to read about it.

Fish: What are some of your favorite Chinese dishes that aren’t commonly found in Chinese restaurants in the United States?

Coe: Some of my favorites are dishes that you do see in Chinese restaurants in many parts of the country, but they’re often prepared very badly. I’m particularly thinking of Peking duck, because Peking duck is one of the great foods of the world, but the way so many Chinese restaurants prepare it here is just an abomination. Then from northeastern China—the Dongbei region—I love dumplings made of sour cabbage and pork. Cumin lamb ribs are great. Anything from more central and western China with the mala favors—spicy, numbing flavors of chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. I have to have mapo tofu once every week or two just for my own personal internal balance. It’s one of the great dishes of the world to me.

I love any cold Sichuan appetizers—particularly tendons with the mala flavor. One of the aspects of Chinese food that’s very different from Western food is the incredible emphasis on texture. I love the gummy chewy texture of tendon. It’s almost like eating a gummy bear, but not quite. With Taiwanese food, one of the great Chinese street foods is oyster pancakes, which are very simple but just delicious. There’s also a Taiwanese dish called fly heads, which sounds gross but is actually—like so many Chinese food names—a metaphor for the way it looks. It’s made from minced pork, scallions, chili peppers, and black beans. The black beans look like fly heads when mixed into this minced dish. I love Cantonese food—congee and just the way they do vegetables like pea shoots—very simply prepared. And on and on … it’s hard to know where to stop.

Source: The Atlantic

An Iraqi-Kurdish-Israeli Dumpling Soup Makes Its Way To America

Devra Ferst wrote . . . . . . .

To make the Iraqi and Kurdish dumpling soup kubeh, Melanie Shurka dedicates hours. There are the broths to make, such as the beet-based selek or the lemon-infused hamusta enhanced by rounds of zucchini and Swiss chard. But more time is dedicated to making the dumplings themselves.

She and her cooks in New York City braise beef until it has collapsed on itself. Small palmfuls are then carefully tucked into a dough of semolina and ground bulgur, shaped into a ball with the corners of the dough kissing, and finally rolled out into a disk that’s plunged into hot broth.

The process requires skills that can only be taught by someone who has entrusted their recipe and technique to another. Perhaps because this dish is so difficult to make, Shurka, who is half Israeli and half American, has become the first person to dedicate a restaurant, fittingly named “Kubeh,” to it in the U.S.

She brought it to the U.S. not from the soup’s original home, but from its adopted one, Israel, where it’s a comfort food staple made by gifted home cooks for the Sabbath and in small restaurants that dot some of the country’s outdoor markets, most notably the one in Jerusalem.

Marak kubeh, or kubeh soup, most likely arrived in Israel in the 1950s with a wave of Iraqi immigrants (though a small group of Kurdish immigrants may have brought the dish with them to Palestine in the 1930s). These Jews had been eating it “within their community for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years,” explains cookbook author Joan Nathan.

First made in their homes in the new state, it provided these immigrants with a connection to their past. Even during a time when meat was scarce and culinary indulgence was often intentionally pushed aside in the name of building the country, hours and care were dedicated to making the soup properly. If the exteriors of the dumplings are too thick, they become cannon balls; too thin and they fall apart, muddying the soup. In certain communities, striking that balance is the mark of being more than just a talented cook. The quality of a woman’s kubeh (and its cousin, kibbeh) is “a test of their refinement and elegance,” Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi explain in Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

Members of these communities opened restaurants like Rachmo, Azura and Morduch in Jerusalem, introducing the dish to a broader Jewish audience, Shurka explains.

In the U.S., “there’s no restaurant where someone from the MTA and Barack Obama would sit back to back,” says Naama Shefi, who founded the Jewish Food Society. “But in Israel, at Azura, you could definitely see someone like Bibi [Netanyahu] next to a bus driver,” eating the restaurant’s famed kubeh and hummus.

The soup has woven itself into Israeli culture. “It became the culinary term most identified with Mizrachi cookery,” or the food of Jews from the Middle East, Gil Marks noted in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. It’s “the equivalent of the Ashkenazi gefilte fish.”

Shurka is not the only person with ties to Israel in New York who longs for the soup. In 2012, Shefi, hungry to launch an Israeli culinary pop-up that was more of an artistic experiment than a business, came across a passage in Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food: “When the last generation who makes kobeba or kubba has disappeared …. I hope Jerusalem keeps up her reputation as the capital, and that some food producer will decide to make them commercially, so that a whole little world of our culinary culture does not disappear.”

Taking that as her cue, Shefi set out to learn to make kubeh. “We by reading recipes —tons of them,” she says. But, it was clear from the start that she and Itamar Lewensohn, who oversaw the kitchen for the three-week pop-up called The Kubbeh Project, would need to learn from cooks around Israel before bringing kubeh to New York.

Shurka had a similar realization, launching her kubeh quest with the few resources that exist in cookbooks and online — there are fewer than 10 videos on YouTube that show how to make the dumpling soup. She quickly realized she would need to travel to Israel to learn to make the soup properly. Before leaving, she made numerous phone calls, but people were puzzled by her interest and not eager to share their recipes. “But as soon as I got there — with Israelis, everything has to be done in person — all of the sudden, people were like, ‘I’ll teach you, come to my restaurant.’ ”

A post on Facebook led to meeting a distant family friend’s aunt in her 70s who shared her recipe for Syrian lamb kubeh, which replaces the bulgur and semolina exterior with a shell of ground meat and rice. This take on the dish was born because of Passover laws that forbid Jews from eating wheat. “I hadn’t had this on the agenda,” Shurka says. But, a riff on that recipe, warmed with cinnamon, is now on her menu.

At another home, Shurka became something of a fascination. A cook of Kurdish descent invited several friends over who shared their tips for making the dish. They were all curious about “the American girl who wanted to make kubeh,” Shurka says.

There were also the two days she spent at Rachmo, a restaurant known for its kubeh in Jerusalem, where the owner initially balked at her request. “How you dare you come into my restaurant and ask for [its] heart and soul?” she recalls him saying. After some cajoling, he welcomed Shurka into his kitchen and ultimately wished her well with her project in the U.S.

Drawing upon research, Shurka has twisted the tradition a bit by braising instead of sauteeing the meat filling for her classic siske kubeh, and mixing and matching broths and varieties of dumplings, some of which will change throughout the year.

Still, there’s skepticism about whether an American audience will embrace the dish. Shurka says when she pitched her restaurant to investors, “Israelis would say, ‘We’re happy you’re opening, but do you think [Americans will] like it?’ ” Shurka is banking on the comforting nature of the soup, the universal appeal of dumplings, and a growing love of Israeli flavors within the U.S.

For Shefi, introducing kubeh to new diners may also be the key to safeguarding the food from the fate Roden foreshadowed. “In order for food to be passed from generation to generation … the only way is to cook it and for other people to crave it,” she says. “If you’re not exposed to something, you won’t crave it.”

Source: npr

The History Of Wedding Cake

Nicole Jankowsk wrote . . . . . .

On June 2, 1886, 28 fashionable guests gathered solemnly in the Blue Room of the White House in anticipation of a rare matrimonial event.

President Grover Cleveland, a notorious bachelor at 49, was to wed 21-year-old Frances Folsom after a yearlong clandestine engagement. Wedding invitations had been sent only five days before.

Never before — or since — had a sitting president taken his vows in the White House. But while many facets of Cleveland’s executive affair resembled 21st-century wedding revelry, the Blue Room ceremony would seem strange in some ways to a modern wedding guest.

The newlyweds did not kiss to seal their vows; the stoic president detested such a public display of affection. And the cake was far from a white-frosted, tiered confection.

The Clevelands celebrated with a 25-pound nut-laden fruitcake, which was common for wedding cakes until almost the 20th century, says Claire Stewart, author of As Long as We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts.

As Stewart, a former executive chef and culinary management professor, explains in her new book, “the white layered confection known today is a fairly modern invention.” But the rituals of the cake, including joint cutting and sharing, are centuries old.

Stewart believes that studying the feasts and fancies of weddings past offers so much more than historical detail. It provides insight into our own lives — why we celebrate as we do today.

For example, the symbolism behind cake traditions likely encompasses a complex mix of purity, fertility and superstition.

“Ancient Roman wedding ceremonies were finalized by breaking a cake of wheat or barley (mustaceum) over the bride’s head as a symbol of good fortune,” Carol Wilson writes in the food studies journal Gastronomica.

It’s likely this particular ritual was also a very public display signaling the groom’s new possession of his bride’s virginity. Modern wedding cakes, with their snowy white and flowery exteriors, can be seen as an extension of this same concept.

But the modern wedding cake’s rise to “visual cornerstone and iconic marriage symbol” is just one aspect of the feast of wedding history that Stewart’s book serves up.

As privileged guests raised a glass to the newlywed President and Mrs. Cleveland, they were likely unaware they were partaking in a toasting practice dating back as far as the sixth century. Stewart writes that the tradition of the champagne wedding toast “stems from a time when unions between warring factions could serve to forge peace.”

A celebratory sip from a communal cup by the father of the bride at a reception once signified to all in attendance that the provided wine was safe to consume. And clinking glasses together might be part of a long-held superstition that the sound scared away the devil. Even the term “toast” likely stems from “a time when spirits were often rancid, and a piece of spiced bread was put into the cup to improve the flavor,” Stewart writes.

Wedding trends — as well as standards of etiquette — have historically trickled down from the upper echelons, Stewart explains, “with the lower classes eager to replicate the restrained behavior of their so-called betters.”

In the Renaissance era, for example, “peasants or the lower classes had very raucous wedding affairs, with lots of drinking and games. It was considered a giant party where everyone and anyone was invited.” These boisterous parties were also meant to prove that a bride’s family could afford to throw an extravagant celebration.

But, according to Stewart, “the wealthy elite didn’t have to work to project wealth,” so their wedding celebrations were much more subdued. Soon, upwardly mobile members of the middle class took notice of how the wealthy elite incorporated specific guest lists and careful itineraries into their wedding festivities. By the 1800s, the more “staid wedding repast” became the idealized wedding for everyone.

During the Victorian age, when restraint and propriety were paramount virtues, the focus of the wedding celebration suddenly shifted away from the food and onto the decorations.

“Victorians tended to see all indulgence as filthy. The consumption of food in general seemed to them a rather animalistic endeavor — one they wanted to distance themselves from as much as possible,” Stewart says. It was impolite to even comment on the wedding food at all.

Blame this for the intense importance that some modern couples put on centerpieces and wedding favors.

An edition of the The Dodge City (Kan.) Times, dated June 10, 1886, reveals that guests at Cleveland’s wedding were sent home with “satin boxes containing dainty pieces of the bridal cake, each one bearing the hand-painted monogram “C.—F.” While presumably most revelers ate their gifts shortly after the wedding, at least a couple of pieces have been preserved for posterity.

The Grover Cleveland Birthplace museum in Caldwell, N.J., houses a 130-year-old slice in its collection — albeit with one bite missing. As the story goes, a visiting Cub Scout was dared to take a tiny nibble in the 1950s.

After more than 60 years in a decaying cardboard box, the cake couldn’t have tasted very good.

Then again, it is fruitcake: black, cement-like and heavy – so perhaps it was simply impossible to tell.

Source: npr