Category Archives: Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

A Birthday Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Pastel Clouds (1978)

The Devil’s Tale turns nine today! Since those first blog posts in 2009, our online and social media outreach has grown a bit, to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, but the blog is our first and dearest, and we’ll take any excuse we can get to make cupcakes.

And how could you not be motivated to bake something from this cheery 1978 cookbook from the Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks? It reminds me of Rainbow Brite, which was something I was in to when I was probably about nine, so it’s age appropriate.

Cover of "Jell-O Gelatin Rainbow Cake Recipes"

This little promotional cookbook contains a recipe for Pastel Clouds, cupcakes made from vanilla cake mix and flavored with Jell-O. Which is about all of the cooking energy I can muster on a Sunday afternoon. Here’s the recipe:

Page with recipe for Pastel Clouds, showing four finished cupcakes in pink, orange, and green.

Color photo of cupcake ingredients, including four boxes of Jell-O!I have not visited the Jell-O section of a grocery store in many years and . . . there are so many flavors of Jell-O! I may have gone a little overboard: I got strawberry, raspberry, lemon, and peach and decided I’d make strawberry cupcakes with lemon icing and peach cupcakes with raspberry icing. Which, since I planned to make only one batch of cupcakes, meant dividing lots of things in half, but I managed. And it’s finally October, so I also had a chance to use my spooky Halloween baking cups (which might not fit with the “pastel clouds” vibe, but oh well).

Somewhere along the way in making the cupcakes, I realized things weren’t really developing into one of our normal Test Kitchen posts, with arcane measures and techniques and curious ingredients. Jell-O is still as weird and wiggly as when I was a kid, the strawberry is still the best, and the lemon is still . . . way too reminiscent of school cafeterias. This recipe, while not quite how I’d make cupcakes normally, still holds up forty years later. We’ll see if The Devil’s Tale makes it to that milestone!

Happy birthday, Devil’s Tale and thanks for reading, everyone!

Color photo of plated finished cupcakes.

 

Apple Pie and Raspberry Shrub (1836) — Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Post contributed by Mandy Cooper, Research Services Graduate Intern, and Ph.D. candidate, Duke University Department of History.

When I started as the Research Services intern, I knew that I wanted to do a blogpost for the Rubenstein Test Kitchen. But, where to begin? I spent some time exploring our collections and reading over the previous Test Kitchen blog posts as I thought about what I should make. Finally, I decided that since I’m a nineteenth-century historian, I would make a dish from that era, with a drink to go along with it.

After some initial exploration (relying on Ashley Young’s Guide to Food History at the Rubenstein), I settled on using Lydia Maria Child’s 1836 The American Frugal Housewife. The book was part of a genre of prescriptive literature that gave women advice for fulfilling their domestic duties. Child emphasized how to be a good wife, mother, and hostess while maintaining a frugal lifestyle. Many of the tips and recipes included a reference to it being “good economy” to use specific ingredients over others or to use substitutes for things like coffee. (Though, Child pointed out that in the case of coffee, “the best economy is to go without” which is definitely not an option for this graduate student!)

After looking through the recipes, I decided to make a dessert that I could share with my coworkers at the Rubenstein. I found some mouth-watering options, including an apple pie that sounded delightful. Like most recipes from the nineteenth-century, this one was a bit short on details, both for the filling and the pie crust, but the ingredients were simple.

Image showing ingredients used for apple pie: a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, a carton of butter, a jar of cinnamon, a lemon, and five apples

The Filling

photograph of first page of text for apple pie photograph of second page of text for directions for making apple pie

First, I made the filling, which could be easily set aside while I made the pie crust. But, Child didn’t specify how many apples, so I looked at a few other apple pie recipes before deciding to use five apples. I first peeled and sliced all of the apples before putting them all in a pan with about a tablespoon of water. The recipe calls for sugar to taste and says that cloves and cinnamon are good spices for the filling. Since I love cinnamon apples—and already had cinnamon at home—I decided to use cinnamon instead of cloves. I stewed the apples to get them tender, being sure to follow Child’s instructions to stew them “very little indeed,” tasting and adding more sugar and cinnamon as I went to get the flavor right. Child also said “If your apples lack spirit, grate in a whole lemon.” I thought the apples were a bit sweet, so I grated in a bit of lemon zest (thought not a whole lemon!).

photograph showing thinly sliced apples in a pot on a stove top

The Pie Crust

photograph of text of book show recipe for pie crust

The recipe for pie crust was also short on specifics, so I looked up other recipes to determine how much flour I should use. I used 2 cups of flour and about 1.5 sticks of butter for the bottom crust and the same for the top. I set aside a half cup of flour and about ¼ stick of butter to use for rolling out the crust like Child instructed. Since I was (attempting) to stay true to the 19th century recipe, I rubbed the rest of the butter into the flour with my hands, until “a handful of it, clasped tight […] remain[ed] in a ball, without any tendency to fall in pieces.” This was harder than I expected and took more time than I had planned. Once the dough stayed clasped in a ball, I wet it with cold water, rolled it out on a floured surface, put small pieces of butter all over it, floured it, rolled it back up, and repeated this process three times. I did the same thing for the top crust, which was a bit easier. After putting the crust in the pie pan, I poured in the apple filling. I then cut strips of the crust to lay over the top of the pie.

two photographs: the first of stewed apples in a pie crus, the second of a completed unbaked pie with a lattice work top

I put the pie in the oven for 40 minutes, checked it, and then put it back in for another 10 minutes until the crust turned golden.

Raspberry Shrub

Though according to Child “Beer is a good family drink,” I decided to go with a non-alcoholic drink option and try a raspberry shrub to go with my apple pie.

photograph of ingredients for raspberry shrub on kitchen counter: a bag of sugar, a bottle of white wine vinegar, and a carton of red raspberries

Child promised that raspberry shrub is “a pure, delicious drink for summer,” and since it looks like summer has officially arrived here in Durham, I thought it would be the perfect addition to my historical recipe experiment.

I used 12 ounces of fresh raspberries and white wine vinegar. After washing the raspberries, I put them in a pot, covered them with vinegar, and brought them to a boil before letting them simmer over medium-high heat until the berries were soft—a bit less than 10 minutes. I then strained the mixture into a glass measuring cup to get out the seeds and pulp of the berries and make measuring easier.

two photographs: the first of fresh raspberries in a saucepan on a stove top, the second of cooked raspberries in the saucepan being poured through a strainer into a glass measuring cup.

After straining the mixture, I ended up with a little over 1.25 cups of juice, which I poured back into the pot. The recipe called for equal amounts of sugar and juice, so I also added 1.25 cups of sugar. I brought the mixture barely to a boil before taking it off the eye, skimming the foam off the top, and letting it cool. Once it cooled, I poured the juice into a mason jar to store it.

photograph of raspberry shrub in a glass mason jar. the liquid in the jar is a dark red.

Child said to mix raspberry shrub with water for a “pure, delicious drink,” so I added 4 tablespoons of the juice to a glass of water. Then, since I love mint with raspberry, I added a sprig of fresh mint as a garnish.

photograph of completed shrub drink in a glass with ice. The drink is pink, and there is a mint sprig as a garnish.

The Verdict

The apple pie filling was absolutely delicious. The pie crust, though, didn’t turn out very well, even though it looked beautiful. Despite all of the butter, it was dry and tasted like chalky flour with butter, and it was a bit too thick. I might try an apple pie again, but I would definitely find a different recipe for the crust. (I was nice and didn’t inflict this crust on my co-workers here at the Rubenstein!)

The raspberry shrub was a success! Light, refreshing, and sweet—perfect for summer, just like Child said. I’ll definitely be making it again, though I’ll likely let the juice and sugar mixture simmer for a little longer next time, since there was a very slight taste of vinegar to it still.

Frankfurter Kranz: A Frankly Extravagant Cake (1969) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Coordinator

For my last Test Kitchen post , I attempted a Mexican-Italian fusion recipe from the 1940s. That mostly worked out (destroyed spatula notwithstanding) so I decided to continue with the international cooking theme. Luckily, the Rubenstein Library is a very worldly place. The library has 27 cookbooks  published by Time-Life Books as part of their Foods of the World  series in the 1960s and 1970s. These heavily illustrated books combine cooking instructions with travelogues and food histories. The books usually cover each region of a country and describe how to properly throw a party there.

Our Foods of the World holdings include cookbooks covering the foods of the great American West, Africa, France, the Middle East, China, and the British Isles. With so many choices, making a recipe decision was tough. I briefly considered a kulebiaka (a flaky cabbage loaf from Russia) which is, apparently, considered a “food of the people.” The Russian cookbook also contained a decent amount of beet-based recipes that were pretty hard to pass up. The cuisine of nearby Scandinavia (also lots of beets) piqued my interest. It involved a lot of pickled things, dishes served with a side of raw eggs, and much of it was described as “food for a man’s appetite.” Could I even handle that? I wasn’t sure.

Ultimately, I decided to tackle the food of the German people. I don’t really know much about German cuisine. I know that sausages and beer are important, but I assume they eat other things from time to time.

Three images of food: sauerkraut served in a pineapple, German sausages, and a cake

Despite the appealing pictures of meat and sauerkraut artfully served in a pineapple, a hearty German cake called a “Frankfurter Kranz” seemed like the way to go. This cake is described as a layer cake with butter-cream filling and a praline-topping. The cookbook goes on to say that this cake “is a frankly extravagant cake” and “it is a special treat served only on the most elegant occasions.”

Continue reading Frankfurter Kranz: A Frankly Extravagant Cake (1969) — Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Muffins (1852) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Muffins baked and blog post written by Jessica Janecki, Rare Materials Cataloger

When looking for a recipe to test, I immediately remembered a book I had cataloged for the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection , Ladies’ Indispensable Assistant, published in 1852 (available in digitized form through Hathi Trust or in print. 

Title page for book "Ladies Indispensable Assistant"

This book was memorable for its extraordinarily long title. When faced with titles of this length, catalogers frequently resort to truncation, but I had risen to the challenge:

Ladies’ indispensable assistant : being a companion for the sister, mother, and wife, containing more information for the price than any other work upon the subject : here are the very best directions for the behavior and etiquette of ladies and gentlemen, ladies’ toilette table, directions for managing canary birds : also, safe directions for the management of children, instructions for ladies under various circumstances : a great variety of valuable recipes, forming a complete system of family medicine, thus enabling each person to become his or her own physician : to which is added one of the best systems of cookery ever published : many of these recipes are entirely new and should be in the possession of every person in the land.

This mixing of food and medicine is fairly common in household management works of the time, when cooking, preparing home remedies, and caring for invalids all fell under the purview of the mistress of the household, but I had never before seen a household management book with instructions for keeping canaries, let alone one which felt the need to advertise this in the title.

In the hopes of producing something palatable and edible, I skipped the sections on home remedies and medicinal plants and went straight to the “valuable recipes.” I had high hopes, after all, the title page declared this “one of the best systems of cookery ever published.”

I settled on Muffins.Image of recipe in book. It reads: Mix a quart of wheat flour smoothly with a pint and a half of luke-warm milk, half a tea-cup of yeast, a couple of beaten eggs, a heaping tea-spoonful of salt, and a couple of table-spoonfuls of luke-warm melted butter. Set the batter in a warm place to rise. When light, butter your muffin cups, turn in the mixture and bake the muffins till a light brown.

Reading over the recipe, I had all the ingredients. However, several steps were required to convert this into a usable recipe for modern kitchens. First, the recipe was short on instructions, lacking rising time, cooking time or oven temperature, information difficult to provide at a time when cooking might be done over an open fire or on a coal burning cast iron stove. Since this was essentially an enriched yeast dough, like a brioche with less butter, I consulted similar modern recipes to get an idea of cooking time and oven temperature. I decided on 400 degrees Fahrenheit and to simply bake until light brown as instructed.

On to the ingredients. A quart of flour is approximately 4 cups. By comparison, the muffin recipe in my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook calls for 1 ¾ cups of flour to make 1 tin’s worth of muffins. So right away I knew I wanted to halve the recipe. This was also before modern instant yeast, so I knew the measurement of a half cup of yeast would be for some sort of home made yeast preparation, recipes for which I had leaved past before spotting the muffins. Since I did not want to grow my own yeast, I decided to use the active dry yeast I had on hand. 1 teaspoon would be the usual amount of yeast to use with my proposed amount of flour if I were making bread. The recipe called for “wheat flour,” which to modern readers might mean “whole wheat,” but in 1852 whole wheat flour was called graham flour, after health nut and fiber aficionado Sylvester Graham. Since this was a yeasted bread dough, I decided to use the white bread flour I had on hand. I also substituted cashew milk for regular milk, since that was what was in my refrigerator.

Photograph of ingredients used in the recipe: bread flour, active dry yeast, and cashew milk
Modern Ingredients

Here is the recipe I used, adjusted to modern measurements and reduced by half:

2 cups unbleached bread flour
1.5 cups cashew milk
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 beaten egg (grade A large white)
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter

To compensate for my modern yeast, I proofed it in the warmed cashew milk with a tablespoon of sugar before adding the yeast-milk mixture to the flour. This made a very wet and sticky dough. It was so wet that I did not bother with covering it and simply left it on top of the stove to rise.

Photograph of wet dough in a glass mixing bowl
A very wet dough

I checked at 10 minute intervals until it looked “light,” hoping for a doubling in volume. After an hour I decided it had risen enough. I scooped the batter-like dough into a greased muffin tin and baked until light brown, which turned out to be 25 minutes.

Image of fully baked muffins in a metal muffin pan
Hot out of the oven!
Photo of a single deliciously golden brown muffin
The finished product

These were delicious hot out of the oven. They were crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside, sort of a cross between a roll and a muffin. They also reheated well in the microwave. I would make these again.

Kerry Cake and Sadie Seal (1971) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Post contributed by Erin RyanDrill Intern for the Duke University Archives. 

When I first signed up to do a Rubenstein Test Kitchen blog post, my plan was to do something from an early-to-mid 20th-century vegetarian cookbook in our collections. I’ve been a vegetarian since the mid-’90s.

Photograph of the cover ofr "401 Party and Holiday Ideas for ALCOA"But then, as I was browsing our library catalog, I came across 401 Party and Holiday Ideas from ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America, 1971) in our Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks. I was intrigued; my grandfather—my dad’s father—worked for ALCOA for about 35 years, until his retirement in the early ’80s.

Pretty soon, I was hooked.

This amazing book features the creations of one Conny von Hagen, who worked as a designer for ALCOA, still one of the largest producers of aluminum.

Conny was also behind 1959’s Alcoa’s Book Of Decorations: A Year-Round Treasury of Easy-to-do Decorations for Holidays and Special Occasions. According to the timeline on their website, ALCOA introduced aluminum foil to the U.S. in 1910—you can see some “Alcoa Wrap” next to Conny in the picture below. This introductory page also explains that her designs appeared on TV, in newspapers and in magazines.

Photograph of page from "401 Party and Holiday Ideas" showing the author Connie Van Hagen  showing off the aluminum foil crafts she has created

401 Party and Holiday Ideas from ALCOA has ideas for 24 separate occasions, from Christmas and Hanukkah to “Teen-Age Party” and Election Day.

Photograph of page from book showing Election Day craft. Features four young women wearing dresses made of aluminum foil over red, white, and blue shirts and tights.  They area lso wearing hats made of aluminum foil and appear to be handing out campaign literature or other election material.

For this post, I decided to make (1) a food recipe; (2) a foil creation.

The food: Kerry Cake

I made Irish Apple Cake, or Kerry Cake, from the “Saint Patrick’s Day” chapter of 401 Party and Holiday Ideas. Criteria: It had to be vegetarian, and it had to be easy (I was pressed for time). I also wanted to serve it at my Easter family gathering. I didn’t like any of the Easter recipes, though. So a quick look through the rest of the book, and I settled on this:

Photograph of original "Kerry Cake" recipe

My ancestry is mostly Irish, but I did not know anything about Kerry Cake until I read here that it is a traditional Irish apple bread that was baked in an iron cooking pot called a bastible, hung over the fire.

Photograph of ingredients for Kerry Cake recipeBut this 1971 recipe just called for an 8-inch cake pan in a regular oven, and that’s what I used. I was making this in my mom’s kitchen, so I got to use the sifter that had belonged to her mom. Mom told me we had relatives from County Kerry, too.

I’m a pretty laissez-faire cook, in general. So I didn’t mind that the recipe didn’t specify what kind of apples to use, how big to cut the pieces, etc. I went for Granny Smith. They were pretty huge apples, so Mom and I decided I should just use two, to equal the “three medium” the recipe called for.

In all, it took me about 50 minutes to grate the lemon rind, cut up the apple, and put the batter together. I greased the pan with butter, baked it exactly according to instructions (30 minutes at 375), and it came out perfectly.

Photograph of finished Kerry Cake in pan on countertop

I whipped some heavy cream and served this cake at our Easter dinner. I was afraid it would be bland without spices, or that the lemon would taste strange. But it was delicious. Moist, not too sweet, and the lemon was exactly the right amount to accentuate the apples and butter. There were six adults at dinner, including a guest from Colombia, and everybody loved the Kerry Cake. Almost the whole cake was gone by the end of the night.

The foil creation: Sadie Seal

So many ideas here! It was tough to choose, but I settled on Sadie Seal, one of the circus animals on offer in the Kids’ Korner section.

Photograph of page in book giving directions for making a variety of animal out of aluminum foil, including "Sadie Seal"

In her introduction, Conny said to use things that were lying around the house to construct our decorations, so I rounded up a bunch of felt, foam balls, pompoms, and other supplies I had left over from a Halloween costume I never made. I already had a roll of heavy-duty foil in my cabinet. The instructions were not very detailed, as you can see from the photos below, but I did my best.

Two photographs of "Sadie Seal" in progress. The first shows a pom pom and foam ball on aluminum foil. The second shows the foil wrapped around the pom pom and foam ball but not yet looking like a seal.
Making the “mouth” was not easy. Once I cut off the extra foil, I was left with a hard, solid lump of metal that was sharp and nearly impossible to shape.

No guidance either on how to make the flippers. My first attempt gave her absurdly long arms; then I shortened them so much they didn’t touch the floor; and then went with my imperfect third try. I pinned the flippers on the body, cut some eyes out of black felt and pinned those on too. I couldn’t find any ribbon for her neck …  so … voila!

Photo of finished Sadie Seal which looks a little like a bird.

I was disappointed at first. It took me about 40 minutes to make this odd little bird-like creature and she didn’t look like the picture at all. But … I took her home on Easter weekend to show her to my gathered family. Once she had ridden with me in the car for 2.5 hours, looking at me with her little felt eyes, I felt like we’d bonded. Plus, everybody thought she was cute. (Mom thought she looked like a turtle.)

*I promise: all extra foil scraps from this project were duly recycled! But I’m not recycling Sadie any time soon. I’m pretty fond of her now. She’s staying on my desk.

To Make Sherif Cakes (1783) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Baked and gnawed by Beth Doyle, Head of Conservation Services

For my Test Kitchen entry I picked a recipe from the Eleanor King Commonplace Book (1781-1783). The entry “To Make Sherif Cakes” caught my attention because I had never heard of a Sherif Cake. My research did not find anything with this name or similar variation on the name. This recipe remains a bit of a mystery in terms of its origin.

The recipe, dated 1783, reads very much like a cross between a shortbread and a scone. With no leavening, I anticipated these would be very dense.

“Take 6 oz of butter—6 oz of sugar—6 oz of currants—one of nutmeg a teacupful of Brandy a pound & half of flour work [the] butter to [the] cream & mix 4 oz of sugar in and a pound of the flour the rest of the ingredients then roll it out like paste—with [the] remainder of the flour and cut it into what form you please. Wet the top of them with a little Brandy and dust the rest of the sugar over them.

Bake them in an oven not too hot.
Eleanor King November the 10 1783″

What also sticks out to me is the amount of nutmeg Ms. King calls for. Before listing this ingredient, she lists the other ingredients by ounces, then states “one of nutmeg.” Does she mean 1-ounce of nutmeg? That is a LOT of nutmeg. But there is no “spoonful” or “pinch” or other amount to indicate volume. I just couldn’t imagine putting in 1-ounce of nutmeg. I decided to halve the amount to a half-ounce, because a half-ounce of nutmeg is still a LOT of nutmeg.

Photograph showing ingredients measured out
With that decision made, it was time To Make Sherif Cakes. I gathered the ingredients, including the “teacupful of brandy.”

Photograph showing dough being mixed in KitchenAid Mixer

I creamed the butter and sugar, then added the remaining ingredients, being sure not to overwork the dough.

Photograph of sherif cake cut out using biscuit cutter

I transferred the dough to a floured board. Before “roll[ing] it out like paste” I had to decide how thick these should be. I wasn’t sure if “like paste” was a hint, long lost to time, as to how thick the cakes should be, or if that simply described the very stiff dough. I decided since these were very scone-like I would make them thick like scones. I rolled them out to about ¾ of an inch thick and cut them with a biscuit cutter. I then brushed the tops with brandy and sprinkled them with sugar. Into the oven they went “until done.” For me, that was about 40 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Photograph of single Sherif Cake on a plate

The result was a very dense cake/scone. They taste like nutmeg and not much else. My nutmeg expired two years ago (!!) and is not very strong. Even at half an ounce of stale nutmeg, the nutmeg flavor is overpowering.

Straight from the oven these were slightly chewy. As these cooled, however, they became very hard, almost like what I imagine hard tack must be like. They would probably be best dunked in a strong cup of tea or coffee, and perhaps that was the intent. Or, perhaps, these were supposed to be more like a shortbread cookie, rolled out thinner so they are more crisp and easier to chew. Even so, they would still probably need dunking in a liquid to make them safe for your teeth.

Without substantial changes, I’m not sure I would make these again unless I was going on a long sea journey with no access to refrigeration. However, the idea of a nutmeg-currant scone is interesting. I might try making a standard currant scone, adding some nutmeg (maybe starting with 1-teaspoon), and serving with a brandy-infused whipped or clotted cream. Now that sounds delicious.

If you decide To Make Sherif Cakes, I’ve rewritten the recipe below for easier interpretation. If you do make these, let us know how they turn out in the comments.

To Make Sherif Cakes

Ingredients
–6 oz butter, softened
–6 oz sugar [set aside 2 ounces for the topping]
–1-1/2 pounds all purpose flour [start with 1 pound, or even less, and add as needed; save about a ¼ cup for dusting your rolling board and pin]
–6 oz currants
–1 oz nutmeg [or to taste; it’s a LOT of nutmeg]
–1 cup Brandy

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the butter and 4 oz. of sugar together.

Add 1 pound of flour and the remaining ingredients, mix until combined. [You might want to experiment here and start with ¾ of a pound of flour to try to get a slightly lighter dough.] Do not overwork the dough.

Roll out on a floured board to whatever thickness you like. Cut into shapes. Brush the tops with a little brandy and dust with the remaining 2 oz of sugar. Place on a baking sheet. Bake until done. Mine took about 40 minutes, but they were about ¾ inch thick. If you roll yours out thinner, adjust the baking time.

Beef & Okra Gumbo (1957) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Post contributed by Ashley Rose Young, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Duke University and the Business History Graduate Intern at the Hartman Center.

Throwing a Mardi Gras-themed party this weekend? Then check out this gumbo recipe!

New Orleans Carnival season is in full swing with Mardi Gras fast approaching. My Twitter feed is full of images of brightly clad parade goers and heaps of dazzling beads. Scrolling through my feed the other day, nostalgia overwhelmed me. I had been missing New Orleans, the subject of my dissertation research. In that moment, I wanted one thing: gumbo.

With a goal to kick off the Rubenstein Test Kitchen in 2017, I thought I could make gumbo from a historic recipe, satiating my emotional need for it while also sharing my passion for the dish with wider audiences. There was one flaw in my plan, though. I had already written a blog post for the Devil’s Tale on Shrimp Gumbo Filé. As I pointed out in that post, however, New Orleans-style gumbo is anything but formulaic and reflects the complexity of New Orleans’ Creole food culture. There were an infinite number of combinations that I could draw upon to make a gumbo dish that would look nothing like the one I had made a few years ago.

So, I set out to look for a gumbo recipe that stood in contrast to the meaty seafood stew I had previously made from the Picayune’s Creole Cook Book (1916). Whereas I tend to gravitate towards roux-based stews with chicken, ham, and seafood, I knew that there were entirely different gumbo traditions—ones that drew upon ingredients that I have never tried in my gumbos.

Ladies Home Journal (1957). David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

I found just the recipe I was looking for in an article published in a 1957 issue of Ladies Home Journal. This was a beef-based stew with tomatoes and okra, among other unfamiliar gumbo ingredients like basil and oregano. The recipe came from an article titled, “Main Dishes with a Southern Accent,” written by Dorothy James, a native New Orleanian.

Okra Gumbo

Buy 2 pounds of either stewing beef or veal cut into 1” cubes. Put in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven along with 2 cups water, 2 cups chopped onion, ¾ cup chopped green pepper, ¾ cup chopped celery, 2 cloves garlic, crushed. Season with 1½  teaspoons salt, 1½ teaspoons gumbo filé, 1 teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon basil, ½ teaspoon orégano, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and a dash of crushed red-pepper flakes. Gumbo filé is innate to gumbo as far as Southern cooks are concerned, but it is not generally available in the North. It may be omitted, in which case add a little more red pepper and herbs. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Separate the meat from the broth and set both aside. Make a brown roux with ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup bacon drippings. Add the broth, 4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered, and 1 cup tomato sauce. Cover and cook until the sauce is well blended. Then add the meat, cover again, and simmer gently about 45 minutes longer. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Wash and trim 1½ pounds fresh okra. Then cut into ½” pieces—there will be about 3 cups. (You can use two 10-ounce packages of frozen okra). Add to the gumbo and cook another 20-30 minutes, or until the okra is tender. Serve with rice. Makes 6 servings.

The final product was incredibly tasty. The gumbo, which had three kinds of thickener (filé powder, roux, and okra slime), had a decadent, creamy texture. The tomato was not overwhelming and provided a tangy, sweet undercurrent that blended nicely with the kick of the red pepper flakes. I had to add a bit more salt to balance the flavors in the dish to my liking. Overall, it was a satisfying meal that showcased both beef and okra beautifully.

As is the case with any recipe, there are tips, tricks, and “trade secrets” that are regularly left out. I’ve added some notes to help create the most flavor-packed gumbo possible.

I purchased a fatty beef brisket from the local grocery store. The more fat in the meat, the more flavorful the stock. I also patted my beef try with a paper towel (thanks for the tip, Julia Child) and browned it in 2 tablespoons of oil to start a nice faun on the bottom of the pan. After a few minutes, I pulled the beef out, added a bit more oil to the pan, and sautéed my vegetables for 5 minutes. Then, I added the beef back in along with the water and spices. I added an extra cup of water so that the beef was almost completely covered.

After letting the stew simmer for an hour, I separated the beef and broth, trimming the extra fat off the beef once the meat had cooled. In the meantime, I washed out my cast iron pot and prepped to make a roux, the base of most Creole stews. For a detailed lesson on how to make a roux, see my previous blog post on gumbo. This time, I decided to make a quick roux, in ten minutes or less. I heated up equal parts oil and fat over medium-high heat and stirred constantly. My roux went from butter yellow to Hershey’s chocolate bar brown in about 9 minutes. I poured the broth back in and then added the tomatoes and tomato sauce, and eventually the beef (watch for splatter from the hot roux).

Finally, I added in the okra, and allowed the gumbo to simmer for another 30 minutes, while I prepared rice.

Voila!

From Hawaiian Pie to Mustard Meringue: The Role of Test Kitchens in Modern Advertising

Post contributed by Ashley Rose Young, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Duke University and the Business History Graduate Intern at the Hartman Center.

One of the Duke Libraries’ most popular blog series is the Rubenstein Test Kitchen. For this series, we invite library staff and affiliated scholars to recreate historic recipes, some of which delight and some of which cause fright (wiggly meat jell-o, believe it or not, isn’t as appealing as it once was to the American consumer). Our contributors exercise a fair amount of creativity and patience as they replicate decades- or even centuries-old recipes. Their trials and tribulations at the stovetop are indicative of the culinary skills and know-how that can be lost in translation. For example, many historic gumbo recipes begin with the phrase, “First you make a roux,” but do not provide instructions for how to actually make the roux. The creators of those recipes assumed that readers would have mastered the challenging technique of slowly toasting flour in fat, which, in the 1800s was common knowledge. Many Americans today, however, would not know how to start a roux or even know that it is a traditional base for sauces and soups. Recipe writing and replication are no easy tasks.

Reflecting on our popular posts, a question came to mind: where did test kitchens originate? After co-curating our most recent exhibit, “Agencies Prefer Men!” The Women of Madison Avenue, I learned that the early history of test kitchens is actually tied to advertising agencies.

Woman in JWT test kitchen, mixing a batter.
J. Walter Thompson’s Chicago office test kitchen, 1919. JWT Archives, Iconographic Collection.

In 1919, the J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT) was the first advertising agency to invest in an on-site home economics service and test kitchen. The initial purpose of the kitchen, according to the JWT News Bulletin, was simple: “to invent and test recipes” in order to instruct women “how to get the best results with the greatest economy.” The kitchen was located in the Chicago office, which catered to important clients in the food industry, including Libby, Kraft, and Quaker.

As the test kitchen matured, its goals diversified to fit the demands of JWT clients. Researchers in the test kitchen, for example, worked to discover new uses for client products so as to increase sales opportunities in new fields. The test kitchen also had an important relationship with the art department at JWT. Researchers prepared dishes and brought them to the art team to be photographed for print advertisements. Those early experiments regularly failed because the food quickly lost its luster and thus looked unappetizing in photos. After an hour or so, for example, flaky biscuits and airy souffle no longer looked fresh. In order to remedy this issue, JWT employed home economics experts and renovated the test kitchen space, turning it into an “art gallery” for prepared foods. JWT understood the importance of the adage, “we eat with our eyes first.” The efforts of JWT paid off. As recounted in the News Bulletin, “The piping hot biscuits of the copy were made ten times as attractive by the delicate flakiness of the samples in the illustration.”

In this laboratory, test kitchen staff also created recipes to include in print advertisements. For example, they would have tested Libby’s products like Hawaiian Sliced Pineapple and Pineapple Juice before the agency designed advertisements for publication in magazines like The Ladies’ Home Journal

Advertisement for Libby's Pineapple, featuring pineapple upside down cake
Libby’s advertisement, 1947. JWT Archives, Domestic Advertisements.

In time, the test kitchens of JWT not only functioned as places to present foods more effectively in advertising, but also as places that defined the trajectory of American cooking. As reported in the September 1958 JWT newsletter, the Home Economics Center was “an endless source of food ideas of all kinds.” As a promotion for their client, French’s mustard, JWT created a new recipe for meatloaf that featured a tangy mustard meringue on top of a mustard-laced loaf. The researchers also created a recipe for a heartier pizza crust made with French’s mustard. These innovative uses for ordinary products helped boost sales for many of JWT’s clients, bolstering the company’s reputation as one of the most dynamic and influential advertising agencies in the world.

Two women in the JWT Chicago Office Test Kitchen. One is icing a cake, the other is in the background preparing a turkey.
J. Walter Thompson’s Chicago Office Test Kitchen featuring Mabel Anderson (left), the head of the Home Economics Division, and Mildred Stull (right), 1958. JWT Archives, Iconographic Collection.

As we ready ourselves for the next round of Rubenstein Test Kitchen posts, I hope that our contributors think back on the paramount role that test kitchen researchers played in the making of the modern American palate, including the fascinating recipes preserved in our archives.

You can learn more about the JWT test kitchen researchers and their contemporaries in advertising via the “Agencies Prefer Men!” The Women of Madison Avenue exhibit, open through March 17, 2017 in the Mary Duke Biddle Room at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Almond Cake (1911) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

When Kate—our fearless Test Kitchen coordinator—assigned me to the Friday, April 15th post, I was very excited. Not because I love the month of April so much, although a couple of my nearest and dearest count it as their birthday month. And not because I love doing my taxes, it’s definitely not that. What I do love is a theme, and Tax Day—although not this year for a very good reason— provides an excellent opportunity for a monetarily themed baked good: financiers.

A financier is a small cake made with almonds. Its distinct name bears testament to the financial market in 19th Century France: financiers were first created in a bakery near the financial center of Paris, where many a financier could visit; the cakes are also a crisp golden color and baked in small rectangular molds (Hesser). So at their heart, financiers are really just edible gold bars, which may be even better than real gold bars, as food resembling precious metals most likely can’t be subject to additional income taxes.

While the origin story of these gilt cakes can be found on websites and is recounted in a 19th Century tome (Mémorial Historique et Géographique de la Patisserie), recipes for it don’t make frequent appearances in cookbooks (Hesser). Some of this may be born from the fact that the recipe is fairly straightforward, mainly involving eggs, butter, flour, and sugar. Haute cuisine (fine food) was very much a part of the French cookbook tradition, dating back to the publication of La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier Francais in 1651 (DeJean, 2005, p.107-109). Or, it could be a recipe known very well to the French, and just little known to Americans. In fact, there was little interaction between French cuisine and North Americans until the mid-to-late 20th Century when Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was first published, bringing French cuisine across the ocean (DeJean, 2005, p.131).

All this is to say, a recipe for financiers proved too elusive for me, and so I substituted in a similar recipe from our collections involving almonds, conveniently titled “Almond Cake” and found in  Royal Baker and Pastry Cook published by Royal Baking Powder Company. There are only two notable differences between the almond cake selected and financiers: baking powder and brandy, which I didn’t have anyway, and so I just left it out.almond cake 1

Royal Baking Powder Company was based out of New York and copyrighted its cookbook in 1911. The company took baking powder very seriously, and in its cookbook included such sections as “General Directions,” which “must be carefully read by everyone using this book” (p.1) and “Facts worth knowing” (p.44). These sections pertain to the merits of different types of baking powder. Did you know that there were 3 kinds of baking powder in 1911, with 3 different main ingredients? These ingredients were 1) cream of tartar, 2) phosphate of lime, and 3) alum and alum-phosphate. Royal Baking Powder is made with the “wholesomeness of cream of tartar” (p.1), and the makers advocate using only those baking powders made with cream of tartar.

almond cake 2

The recipe I used was appealingly tiny and contained mostly familiar terms. I did learn a new definition for the word “gills.” Not only does it refer to a specific kind of fish tissue, but it is also “a measure for liquids, containing one fourth of a standard pint.” (Gill, n.3). Thankfully, the latter definition is the one referenced in Royal Baking Powder Company’s recipe.

almond cake 3

The ingredients in the recipe were all things that might normally be in a kitchen, which meant I made a couple trips to the store. And even though I’m truly enamored with the word “gills,” I did not follow this part of the recipe, instead choosing to grind my pre-sliced almonds with their skin still on. Because Royal Baking Powder so vehemently argued against aluminum based baking powder, I chose one that prominently advertised that it did not contain any:

almond cake 4

Whenever I read my colleagues’ Test Kitchen posts, I always envision the labor involved in cooking the food– whether that’s scooping up lard to fry Mexican ravioles or carefully molding meat into a box shape.Some of these activities undoubtedly look exactly the same as they did in the recipes’ heydays. Others feature new technologies and look decidedly different. My own activities fell into the latter category. I chose to use my blender and hand mixer to combine ingredients, both because of time constraints and because my arms just aren’t strong enough to mix in each egg individually, with 3-4 minute intervals for beating.  What would’ve taken me 12 minutes to do thus took me 5, and the recipe came together very quickly. Je ne regrette rien.

 

almond cake 5

almond cake 6Financiers are most typically baked in individual molds. Royal Baking Powder specifies a fluted pan, which I don’t own. I thus didn’t follow the recommendations for either financiers or the almond cake and baked it in a clear pan. This was probably a mistake, as glass pans do not conduct heat as well as metal ones (Lawandi, J.).

almond cake 7

As with other recipes of its time, Royal Baking Powder doesn’t specify a temperature, and so I arbitrarily chose 375 degrees. After checking on the cake at 20 minutes, and then again at 35 minutes, I decided to bump up the heat to 400 degrees. (You may recall that the recommended cooking time was 20 minutes.) Another 10 minutes resulted in a cake that would not poison eaters, and I called that success and took it out of the oven.

almond cake 8

I attempted to give my almond cake a more financial appearance and shaved the cake down into gold bars. The cake was quite crumbly and didn’t quite take to my tender ministrations. I quickly let go of my gold bar dreams (and taking pictures) and just started eating, which was a good thing to do. The cake was much better than expected, and I quickly helped myself to another couple slices. I imagine that it would taste even better with ice cream.

My quest for a financier recipe ultimately reminded me of a library aphorism: let the resources guide your research, meaning that it’s probably not a good idea to choose a topic (or theme) until you look at the resources available to you. If I had paid more attention to that rule of thumb, I might have chosen a slightly more accessible recipe and ended up with a delightful French pastry that more closely followed the instructions.

To be fair, I also ended up learning more about financiers, French cuisine, and baking powder than I ever dreamed of, and those are things certainly worth knowing. Just as importantly, I ended up with a delicious dessert to get me to the weekend.

Works Cited

DeJean, J. E. (2005). The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour. New York: Free Press.

Gill, n.3. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/78285?rskey=ObQoES

Hesser, A. (1999, November 24). The Pastry Chef’s Rich Little Secret. The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/24/dining/the-pastry-chef-s-rich-little-secret.html

Lawandi, J. (n.d.). When to Use Glass Bakeware and When to Use Metal – We’ve Got Chemistry. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.thekitchn.com/glass-vs-metal-bakeware-is-there-a-difference-food-science-217961

Royal Baker and Pastry Cook: A Manual of Practical Receipts for Home Baking and Cooking. (1911). New York, U.S.A.: Royal Baking Powder.

Post Contributed by Liz Adams, Special Collections Cataloger

 

Oatmeal Cakes and Baked Oatmeal (1917) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

While processing the Slade Family Papers my colleague came across several delightful pamphlets from the US Department of Agriculture on economical and nutritious foods. One in particular caught my eye, “Do You Know Oatmeal?” which was published in 1917. Conveniently, it had already been digitized and was available through the Internet Archive.

oatmeal1
Do you know oatmeal?

As a long time fan of oatmeal, I was thrilled to see it get the government promotion it deserves. There were several recipes to choose from, and in a change from some past test kitchen experiences, all the recipes seemed edible to this oatmeal lover. Finally, I decided on “Spiced Oatmeal Cakes” which seemed to be a cross between a cookie and a muffin, and “Baked Oatmeal and Nuts.” As a vegetarian, I was especially intrigued by the direction “Instead of meat, cook this appetizing dish for your family.”

oatmeal 2
Part cookie, part muffin?
oatmeal 3
Savory oats

According to Wikipedia oatmeal can refer to ground oats, rolled oats in various forms (instant, quick cooking, “old fashioned”, etc.) or steel cut or Irish oats. The recipe did not specify a type, but the long cooking time given on the front page (1 hour in a double boiler) suggested the “old fashioned” variety rather than instant or quick cooking. However, I never cook my oats longer than 10 minutes on the stove top so I was a bit skeptical. In the end, I went with what I had in my cabinet, Quaker Old Fashioned.

oatmeal 4
The Face of Oatmeal

I started with the oat cakes. All the ingredients were things I already had in my pantry. The only oddities in the recipe were 3 tablespoons of unspecified fat and the lack of oven temperature. I chose canola oil and 350 degrees.

oatmeal 5
Mise en place

These were very easy to assemble, even with the extra step of precooking the oatmeal. The dough/batter was very dry and I had to add ¼ cup water in order to reach a stir-able consistency. I also did not get 12 cakes.

oatmeal 6
Into the oven they go!
Thirty Minutes Later
Thirty Minutes Later!

Verdict: They were super tasty warm from the oven. I ate 3. They also smelled delicious while they baked.

The “Baked Oatmeal and Nuts” was equally as easy to assemble. Sadly, this would not feed 5 people, despite what the recipe says. I regularly cook 2 cups of dry oats for 2 people for breakfast, and then add fruit, flax seeds, and sugar. 2 cups already cooked oatmeal, split between 5 people would be a snack at best, even with the addition of peanuts and milk.

I used apple cider vinegar, and I used soymilk instead of regular milk. I also reduced the salt to 1.5 teaspoons. I also accidentally added ½ teaspoon pepper instead of ¼ that the recipe calls for. Since the oven was already preheated, I stuck with the previously decided upon temperature of 350 degrees.

oatmeal 8
Ingredients for Baked Oatmeal and Nuts
oatmeal 9
The Final Product

Verdict: This was fairly tasty, although a little bland. I would also bake it longer than 15 minutes if I were to make it again.

Post contributed by Jessica Janecki, Rare Materials Cataloger