The Simple Lemon Cake That Helped Create a Legend

Margaux Laskey wrote . . . . . . .

A golden Bundt, scented with lemon zest and painted with a tangy lemon-sugar syrup, Maida Heatter’s East 62nd Street Lemon Cake is a favorite among Times readers. Credit Craig Lee for The New York Times

When Craig Claiborne discovered Maida Heatter in 1968, she was already a bit of a Miami Beach celebrity. She and her husband, Ralph Daniels, a former airline pilot, ran a small restaurant, and Ms. Heatter, a jewelry maker, illustrator and self-taught baker, made all the desserts. The locals were crazy about them.

Mr. Claiborne, then the food editor of The New York Times, was in town to cover the culinary side of the Republican National Convention. As a publicity ploy, Ms. Heatter got her hands on some canned elephant meat and developed a recipe for elephant-meat omelets with sautéed bananas and chopped peanuts. No one ordered it, but the stunt got Ms. Heatter the attention she had hoped for. Mr. Claiborne arrived to cover the omelets but left besotted with Ms. Heatter’s desserts.

So much so that in 1970, Mr. Claiborne featured three of Ms. Heatter’s cakes in The New York Times Magazine. One was a recipe for a simple lemon cake that Toni Evins Marks, Ms. Heatter’s daughter, had found. She sent it to her mother, who tinkered with it and renamed it the East 62nd Street Lemon Cake because that’s where Ms. Marks lived. It quickly became a favorite among Times readers. Nancy Reagan and Bill Blass were said to be fans.

Four years later, with encouragement from Mr. Claiborne, Ms. Heatter published her first cookbook, “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts,” for which she won a James Beard Award. She wrote several more (many included the cake recipe) and earned two more James Beard Awards. At 101, she still lives in Miami Beach (the restaurant sold in 1974), and with a niece, Connie Heatter, she is working on a compilation of her fans’ favorite recipes, to be published in summer 2019.

In late January, the Food section received a reader email urging us to publish Ms. Heatter’s East 62nd Street Lemon Cake on NYT Cooking. We quickly pulled the recipe from our archives, took beautiful new photos and published it online. Almost immediately, enthusiastic reader comments trickled in, like this one from Edna: “This is a favorite in our household. I made it for the first time 40 years ago when I was in the fourth grade! Now with a household of my own, it is a regular!”

The cake itself is a golden Bundt, scented with lemon zest and painted with a tangy lemon-sugar syrup while still warm, an elegant dessert for almost any occasion. Top it with berries and whipped cream, or leave it plain and serve it with tea.

East 62nd Street Lemon Cake


Fine dry bread crumbs or flour for dusting the pan
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons lemon zest


1/3 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9‐inch tube pan. Coat it with the bread crumbs.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
  4. Fold in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk. Stir in the lemon zest. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top of the batter. Bake 1¼ hours, or until the cake tests done.
  5. While the cake bakes, make the glaze. Warm the juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until all of the sugar is dissolved. Cover and remove from heat.
  6. When the cake is done, immediately unmold the cake onto a cake rack and apply the glaze with a pastry brush to the top and sides of the cake until it is all absorbed.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings.

Source: The New York Times


Food History: How Did Salt And Pepper Become The Staples Of Western Cuisine?

Natalie Jacewicz wrote . . . . . . .

Salt and pepper shakers are so omnipresent on tabletops that adding a dash of the white or black stuff (or both!) is almost a dining rite. The seasonings pair well with just about everything and they go together like — well, salt and pepper.

But these two culinary staples have not always occupied such a place of prominence. “It’s a weird accident of history,” says Ken Albala, a professor of history and founder of the Food Studies Program at the University of the Pacific. In Europe during the Late Middle Ages, “Pepper was never on the table, nor was any other spice, for that matter. Usually spices would be added in the kitchen with a very heavy hand until the 17th century.”

Salt was on the table, but not in a shaker. Instead, salt was often presented in saltcellars, or in Italian courtly settings, at the end of a knife offered by a trinciante, or meat carver. According to Albala, the trinciante would carve the meat in the air, allowing each slice to fall delicately to the person being served. The trinciante would then dip the end of the knife in salt and scrape it onto the diner’s plate. (If this sounds complicated, it was; there were entire books dedicated to the art of carving, and noblemen were often the carvers.)

In fact, salt has occupied a place of culinary dominance across cultures. “We like the taste of salt innately because salt is a signal of protein in nature,” says Rachel Herz, an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and author of Why You Eat What You Eat. What’s more, humans need salt to regulate fluid balance and help nerves and muscles function. Salt also helped preserve food before refrigeration. And, Herz says, studies have shown that the more salt people eat, the more they crave it.

So salt had a foothold in cooking, and pepper was one of many spices used in heavily seasoned dishes. But after the Middle Ages, the use of most spices decreased. The decline likely had multiple causes. As spices got more affordable, they grew less associated with wealth and featured less in European courtly cooking. At the same time, the view that spices were necessary for specific healthful properties declined.

According to Albala, increasingly influential French haute cuisine relegated most spices to dessert, but salty and spicy flavors were not incorporated into the final course. Because they did not fit in dessert, salt and pepper remained flavors in savory dishes. Salt shakers, Albala surmises, probably became common in the early 20th century, when producers figured out how to keep salt from clumping.

Tabletop seasonings may do more than flavor food, according to Krishnendu Ray, an associate professor of food studies at New York University. Unlike today — when many people have personalized diets for nutritional, ethical or preferential reasons — “in most traditional cuisines, individual exceptions were rare. Most people ate what people around them ate. Seasonings allowed room for idiosyncrasies and personal preferences.”

Seasonings can also serve as bridges between different types of cuisine. Ray, for example, grew up in a small town in Odisha, a state in eastern India. On special occasions, his family would go to one of two Chinese restaurants, and both featured a tabletop condiment of green chiles in vinegar.

“It’s very Indian to have green chiles,” says Ray. “But vinegar isn’t that common in Indian food, other than being used in some marinades.” The sauce was so central to his conception of Chinese food, that he was “shocked” when he came to the West and learned the condiment was not a staple in Chinese food everywhere. In retrospect, he views the condiment as building a bridge between Indian and Chinese cuisines.

As Ray’s story demonstrates, salt and pepper may rule supreme among seasonings in European dishes, but many culinary traditions have produced plenty of tabletop alternatives. Ray asked for examples on the Association for the Study of Food and Society’s Facebook page and received 36 responses within two hours. Among the examples: fish sauce and crushed red peppers in Thailand and Laos; lime, salsa, and chopped onion and cilantro in Mexico; and chile-based awaze paste in Ethiopia.

Today’s chefs could even incorporate some tips from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, according to Albala, who has cooked a number of recipes from the past. Many old recipes do not say exactly how much seasoning to add; one 16th century French cookbook simply advises “a great deal of sugar.” The recipes can probably take up to a tablespoon of seasoning.

“Some people assume they couldn’t have put so much seasoning on, because it wouldn’t taste good. I say nonsense!” Albala declares. “Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top of chicken or pasta, and it is so good.”

Source: npr

How the US Military Helped Invent Cheetos

Cheese Purists the world over exalt their mummified milk. Their silken Goudas and savory Emmentalers. Their fetid fetas and squeaky queso frescos. Their moldy Roqueforts and runny Camemberts. These disks of rotted dairy are the pinnacle of thousands of years of experimentation that began when a herdsman carrying a ruminant’s stomach brimming with milk found that by journey’s end, he had a bag full of curds and whey.

Modern cheese making is a little more complicated, but the same principles apply. Fresh milk is allowed to ferment, with either wild or cultured bacteria. Then, when they have raised the acidity enough, rennet—enzymes from calves’ stomachs (these have now been replaced with laboratory‑produced enzymes)—is added. This coagulates the caseins, which make up about 80 percent of the total milk protein, so that they form a gel.

Then there’s a lot of manipulation—cutting, stirring, and heating—that removes fluid, or whey, leaving behind solid curds. The curds are put into molds, salted or brined, and pressed, which expels more whey and turns the cheese into a solid mass. Mold may be added, either at the beginning or later in the process. Then, depending on the variety, the cheeses are matured for anywhere from two weeks to two years, allowing enzymes, both those from microbes and those from the rennet, to turn fats and proteins into tasty new substances.

Cheese is one of the bedrocks on which the Western diet is founded—a long‑term storage method for excess milk, especially when cool storerooms and caves were available. But the food didn’t fare so well during summer or in hot climates. With heat, animal fat softens or even liquefies, oozing out and creating an oily and unappealing mess.

In the early twentieth century, dairymen on either side of the Atlantic—the Swiss duo Walter Gerber and Fritz Stettler in 1911 and James Kraft in 1916—hit on and patented a solution to the seasonal sweats: emulsifying salts. The chemical disperses water‑phobic caseins by exchanging sodium for calcium; this permits the now smaller particles to be diffused and suspended in liquid. Melting traditional cheeses and mixing them with the emulsifying salts resulted in a cheese‑like product that withstands high temperatures and protracted storage.

Even better, this new food could be made and sold very cheaply, because it could be produced, at least in part, from the rinds and irregular bits left over from cutting wheels of cheese into bricks. Melting the ingredients also pasteurized them, inactivating the live bacteria and enzymes and contributing to a longer shelf life.

The army placed its first order for processed cheese–which at the beginning, came in only one flavor: white—during World War I, buying twenty‑five million quarter‑pound tins from Kraft. This single act probably established Kraft’s century‑long (and still going strong) food industry hegemony. By the time World War II rolled around, the military was a raving cheeseaholic, consuming the dairy product by itself, on sandwiches, or as sauces for vegetables, potatoes, and pasta.

In 1944 alone, the Quartermaster Corps bought more than one hundred million pounds from Kraft’s parent company, National Dairy Products Corporation (which finally itself took the Kraft name in 1969), as well as five hundred thousand pounds of cheese spread (bacon bits optional) to accompany the K and some of the C rations. During the war, the company’s sales almost doubled. But it still wasn’t enough. The military was hungry for new ways to store, ship, and eat cheese.

At the beginning of the war, the army had embarked on a dehydration‑ and‑compression spree—by removing heavy water and reducing its volume, more food could be packed into a single shipment, always an advantage when there are millions of mouths to feed. All foodstuffs except meat were run through the drying chambers and squashed into bricks—fruits and vegetables, flour, potatoes, eggs, and cheese.

As would become its historic pattern, the military funded or supported a variety of efforts, some of which were destined to die a quiet death and others that would garner glory, becoming wartime staples and the basis for future consumer products. Cheese dehydration research was conducted by the Quartermaster Corps’ Subsistence Research Laboratory, through the USDA laboratories, at various universities, including the University of California at Davis, and by industry, notably Kraft.

Unless a food has a strong and flexible internal structure—think cellulose, the long chains of sugar molecules that give plant cells their rigidity—it crumbles when it dries out, something food technologists call fines. One can imagine the first experiment in drying and pressing a proud block of Wisconsin cheddar: cheese dust. This ruled out eating reconstituted cheese out of hand in slices or chunks. But for cooking, the granular form would be an advantage.

The first real cheese powder was developed in 1943 by George Sanders, a USDA dairy scientist. (Even before the war began, USDA’s research facilities had been enlisted to work toward military goals, exhorted by Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace “to consider their possible contributions to national needs as the defense program approaches the stage of ‘maximum effort.” This relationship continues to this day; the USDA has collaborated with the Quartermaster Corps and later the Natick Center on topics as varied as chemical testing, fungi collection and classification, potatoes, dairy, and, from 1980 on, operation of the army’s radiation food sterilization program.)

Until then, it had been “considered impossible to dehydrate natural, fat‑containing cheese,” because the heat melted the fat, which then separated out. Sanders’s innovation was to divide the process into two steps. In the first, the cheese, shredded or grated, was dried at a low temperature; this hardened the surface proteins of the particles, forming a protective barrier around the lipids. Once sufficient water had been evaporated, the cheese was ground and dehydrated at a higher temperature. The final step was to form it into what the patent describes as cakes. A 1943 war bond ad unveiled the product to the public with a picture of a bare‑chested solider feeding a second soldier bundled up in a parka with a cheese cake on a pointy stick:

For jungle or ski troops—a new kind of cheese! . . . But they should taste the same—and taste good—wherever they’re eaten. That has meant many headaches for the Army Quartermaster Corps and the food processors who supply them. . . . For emergency use in arctic and tropics, National Dairy laboratories developed a dehydrated, compressed cheese that keeps well anywhere and takes less shipping weight and space.

In the summer of 1945, Little Boy and Fat Man were detonated in Japan, ending the war and leaving the Quartermaster Corps with warehouses full of food as well as an elaborate manufacturing and distribution system still churning out goods for millions of troops. This would take years to redirect or dismantle. Fearful of the effect of the sudden withdrawal of its huge wartime contracts, the government propped up the dairy business first by buying their excess product and then, in some cases, by selling it back to them at lower prices. (The Commodity Credit Corporation, created during the Great Depression and still in existence, would later distribute these surpluses to welfare recipients and the elderly—the storied “government cheese.”) A temporary federal agency, the Surplus Property Administration, sold off at bargain‑basement prices the food the Quartermaster Corps had amassed.

Who doesn’t love something they get for free or at a third of the original cost? But what could one do with football fields full of potato flakes, a cave stuffed with dried eggs (the army’s strange storage location for one hundred million pounds of the stuff), or a mountain of dehydrated cheese?

Well, there was one group always interested in lowering the cost of finicky fresh ingredients: the grocery manufacturers, businesses such as Swift, Quaker Oats, General Foods, General Mills, Libby’s, Borden, McCormick, Colgate‑Palmolive, Gerber, Scott Paper, Kellogg’s, Pillsbury, and Kraft. (The strength of the companies that produced the packaged goods that lined the nation’s nascent supermarkets, many with deep military ties, only grew over the next century, as did that of their trade group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, today the food industry’s most powerful lobbying organization.)

Perhaps instead of real cheese, the food corporations could mix in the cheap powder to add flavor. Not only would they save outright on the cost of ingredients, they’d pay a lot less to ship and store it—after all, that was the army’s primary purpose in developing dehydrated cheese in the first place. These ration conversions inspired a flood of fledgling products, particularly in the new and growing categories of convenience and snack foods.

In 1948 the Frito Company (it merged with H. W. Lay & Company in 1961 to become Frito‑Lay, Inc.) debuted the country’s first cheesy snack food, made with the same Wisconsin cheddar the army used for its dehydrated products. Frito Company founder Charles Doolin had been a military supplier, even building a facility in San Diego, where there is a naval base, to service his contracts.

According to his daughter Kaleta Doolin, “During the war, tins of chips were sent overseas to be served in mess halls and sold in PXs. This venture helped put the company over the top as a nationwide business.” Afterward, new plants were opened in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City, where soon cornmeal and water were being extruded, puffed, fried in oil, and coated with finger‑licking, orange dehydrated cheese. Cheetos!

Excerpted from Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat.

Source: WIRED

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich – The Combination Is Delicious and Original

Ken Albala wrote . . . . . .

While the peanut butter and jelly sandwich eventually became a staple of elementary school cafeterias, it actually has upper-crust origins.

In the late-19th century, at elegant ladies’ luncheons, a popular snack was small, crustless tea sandwiches with butter and cucumber, cold cuts or cheese. Around this time, health food advocates like John Harvey Kellogg started promoting peanut products as a replacement for animal-based foods (butter included). So for a vegetarian option at these luncheons, peanut butter simply replaced regular butter.

One of the earliest known recipes that suggested including jelly with peanut butter appeared in a 1901 issue of the Boston Cooking School Magazine.

“For variety,” author Julia Davis Chandler wrote, “some day try making little sandwiches, or bread fingers, of three very thin layers of bread and two of filling, one of peanut paste, whatever brand you prefer, and currant or crabapple jelly for the other. The combination is delicious, and so far as I know original.”

The sandwich moved from garden parties to lunchboxes in the 1920s, when peanut butter started to be mass produced with hydrogenated vegetable oil and sugar. Marketers of the Skippy brand targeted children as a potential new audience, and thus the association with school lunches was forged.

The classic version of the sandwich is made with soft, sliced white bread, creamy or chunky peanut butter and jelly. Outside of the United States, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is rare – much of the world views the combination as repulsive.

These days, many try to avoid white bread and hydrogenated fats. Nonetheless, the sandwich has a nostalgic appeal for many Americans, and recipes for high-end versions – with freshly ground peanuts, artisanal bread or unusual jams – now circulate on the web.

Source: The Conversation

What Did 17th Century Food Taste Like?

From Res Obscura . . . . . . .

As the official portraitist for the Spanish monarchy at the height of its glory, Diego Velázquez painted queens, emperors, and gods. But one of his most famous paintings is a window into a much humbler world. A woman is frying eggs in hot oil, ready to scoop them out with a simple wooden spoon. Behind her, a servant boy carries a half-full jug of wine and a melon tied up in a loop of twine.

This painting is the type of thing historians love. A profoundly talented artist with a knack for realism, choosing the type of subject matter that is so normal that it rarely gets preserved (the same is true today—how many contemporary painters choose to depict taquerias or bagel shops?) Scholars suspect that Velazquez’s own family members may have served as models in his early paintings. It’s possible that the woman in this painting numbered among them, since she also appears in a religious painting he produced in the same year.

But this post is not about Velazquez. It’s not even about art history. It’s about food.

What can we learn about how people ate in the seventeenth century? And even if we can piece together historical recipes, can we ever really know what their food tasted like?

This might seem like a relatively unimportant question. For one thing, the senses of other people are always going to be, at some level, unknowable, because they are so deeply subjective. Not only can I not know what Velázquez’s fried eggs tasted like three hundred years ago, I arguably can’t know what my neighbor’s taste like. And why does the question matter, anyway? A very clear case can be made for the importance of the history of medicine and disease, or the histories of slavery, global commerce, warfare, and social change.

By comparison, the taste of food doesn’t seem to have the same stature. Fried eggs don’t change the course of history.

But taste does change history.

One example, chosen at random: the Mexican chili peppers hiding in the bottom edges of both paintings.

The pepper family (genus Capsicum) is native to the Americas, and it was still a relatively new arrival in the cuisines of Asia, Africa, and Europe when Velazquez was alive. As a non-elite person born in 1599, we can guess that his grandparents would not have been familiar with the taste of peppers and that his parents still thought of them as an exotic plant from across the seas. Even the name he, and we, apply to the plant was a foreign import: the word ‘chili’ is from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. So is ‘avocado’ (Nahuatl ahuacatl), ‘tomato’ (tomatl) and chocolate (chocolatl).

The taste for these foods was a significant factor in the series of global ecological movements between the Old and New Worlds that historians call the Columbian Exchange. Any time we eat kimchi, or kung pao chicken, or pasta with red sauce, we are eating foods that are direct results of the Columbian Exchange.

Someone really needs to make a better map of the Columbian Exchange. This one, from a public-domain resource for teachers from UT Austin, is one of the best I could find, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the full range of exchanges.

But we’re also eating modern foods. That’s not to say that there aren’t older correlates to these dishes—there undoubtedly are. But food has changed since the early modern period. Globalization of food crops has transformed the flavors of regional cuisines. Meanwhile, factory farming has led to a homogenization of some of the varietals available to us, while also creating a huge variety of new strains and hybrids.

One example: I didn’t realize until recently that broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and collard greens are all technically the same species, Brassica oleracea. The substantial differences between these sub-species are all due to patient intervention by human farmers over millennia. Many of these changes are surprisingly recent. Early versions of cauliflower may have been mentioned by Pliny and medieval Muslim botanists, but as late as 1600, a French author was writing that cauli-fiori “as the Italians call it” was “still rather rare in France.” Likewise, Brussels sprouts don’t appear to have become widely cultivated until the Renaissance.

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