Two food books recently crossed my desk, each from different eras and with vastly different content, but both culinary treasures.
I couldn't wait to read Emma Wedgwood Darwin's book titled Mrs. Charles Darwin's Recipe Book, Revived and Illustrated, published by Glitterati. Emma's husband, Charles, was one of the most celebrated and perhaps notorious thinkers of his day. His treatise On the Origin of Species completely changed the way we view the nature of evolution.
But it was Emma who provided stability, love and laughter in the Darwin home. As a member of one of the Victorian era's most eminent families, her notebooks vividly describe the lifestyle of the English intelligentsia.
For most of his adult life, Charles was plagued by ill health, and much has been written about his mysterious illnesses. Boiled rice must have been a necessary ingredient in his diet, and no doubt he demanded that it be cooked exactly as in the recipe written in his own hand.
The authors, Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway, have thoroughly researched the life and times of the mid-19th century and tested each of the 55 recorded recipes. The 24-page introduction is fascinating.
There's Emma's marriage in 1839 to her cousin, Charles, raising 10 children (three died in infancy or childhood), and how she entertained the large extended family at Down House, their home in Kent.
Cookery, history, Victoriana and botany buffs will delight, as I did, in this rich and exciting exploration — a firsthand peek into the home life of a man whose ideas rocked the world. You may not prepare all the recipes, but the photographs, drawings and reproduced hand-written recipes make for a spellbinding time.
Baked Cheese Custard
Serve as a lunch dish along with crusty bread and an arugula salad.
1 oz. (2 Tbsps.) butter
1 oz. (1 rounded Tbsp.) flour
1 cup milk
2 oz. grated cheese, such as sharp cheddar or blue cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper (a little mustard and/or grated nutmeg would be good, too)
Preheat oven to 325°.
Grease a 3-cup ovenproof dish.
Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and stir in the flour. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring well to get a smooth sauce. Bring to a boil and let it bubble for a few minutes. Turn heat to low.
Add the mustard and/or nutmeg, if using. Stir in the cheese, and as soon as it shows signs of melting, turn off the heat.
Whisk in the eggs and mix well.
Season with salt and pepper.
Pour into the prepared dish and bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until set in center.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 387; protein, 18 g; carbohydrates, 11 g; fat, 30 g; cholesterol, 290 mg; sodium, 300 mg.
This was served drizzled over lettuce and beet-root salads.
yolks of 2 hardboiled eggs
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. dry mustard or 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup light or heavy cream
3 Tbsps. vinegar (not malt vinegar)
Sieve the yolks into a bowl.
Add the sugar, mustard, salt, pepper and oil. Mix well.
Pour in the cream slowly, stirring constantly. Add the vinegar slowly, tasting as you go.
Makes about 1 cup.
Approximate nutrients per tablespoon: calories, 31; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 1 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 32 mg; sodium, 4 mg.
From Victorian England to 20th-century delicatessens, America's Great Delis, published by Collector's Press and written by Sheryll Bellman, brings us a detailed account of how deli food became so firmly entrenched in America.
The origins and evolution of favorites like challah, corned beef, matzah, cheesecake and bagels are included, and a timeline chronicles the history of Jewish migration. Filled with photographs and illustrations, this is a history book with recipes showcasing the richness of Jewish food throughout the centuries.
It's noted in the text that delis in the 21st century are adapting to cultural changes. You might find matzah-ball soup served at the local diner and brisket may be served at an upscale restaurant, but, writes Bellman, "it won't taste the same — the deli experience with the smells and sounds is just like home."
America's Great Delis preserves what memories are left of the colorful history of the Jewish deli and also preserves recipes passed down not with accurate measurements, but by memory and instinct.
Here in Philadelphia, Neil Parish, determined to recreate the American Jewish deli, has opened the Kibitz Room at 1521 Locust St. A classic deli with wood floors, mirrored walls and a tin ceiling, it's reminiscent of yesteryear. Salamis hang from the ceiling, loaves of rye bread are stacked on the shelves, and the luscious desserts will feed a family of four.
New York Egg Cream
No eggs, no cream, but this is the famous New York Egg Cream. Bellman suggests that it's best made with Fox's u-bet Chocolate Syrup, but any chocolate syrup may be used. Seltzer from a pasteurized cylinder renders the most foam, but bottled seltzer will also work.
2 Tbsps. chocolate syrup
1/2 cup very cold whole milk
1 cup cold seltzer
Pour the milk into a tall (16 oz.) glass. Pour in chocolate syrup without stirring.
Place a spoon in the glass, and spray or pour in the seltzer over the spoon handle or into the sides of the glass until the foam reaches just below the rim.
Stir gently at first, then more vigorously, until the foam head is stabilized and the syrup is thoroughly mixed. The drink should settle into several shades of light and dark chocolate. Serve with a straw.
Approximate nutrients: calories, 177; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 29 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 17 mg; sodium, 79 mg.
Zingerman's Whitefish Salad
Zingerman's Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Mich., was started in 1982 by college students Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw, who were frustrated at not being able to find Jewish food in their college town.
1 whole (11/2 lbs.) smoked whitefish
2 Tbsps. mayonnaise
2 Tbsps. plus 2 tsps. sour cream
21/2 tsps. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsps. chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 medium cucumber, chopped
Remove skin, bones and any brown bits from the whitefish and discard. Flake the fish into small pieces in a medium bowl, checking again for any bones.
In a separate medium bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, sour cream and lemon juice. Gently stir in the onion, parsley, cucumber and flaked fish.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 118; protein, 16 g; carbohydrates, 0 g; fat, 6 g; cholesterol, 27 mg; sodium, 704 mg.