WAMU 88.5 : The Kojo Nnamdi Show

Foodie History: Cookbooks And American Food Culture

Americans have long relied on cookbooks for inspiration and practical guidance in the kitchen. But cookbooks also serve as interesting historical documents, reflecting the trends, fads, immigration patterns and changes in American agricultural practices. Kojo explores the "American cookbook canon" and the evolution of food culture in the 20th century.

Classic Recipes From "101 Classic Cookbooks"

Julia Child’s Famous Sticky Fruitcake

A Christmas Cake from "From Julia Child’s Kitchen."

This cake isn’t sticky at all, but it started out that way during my first Experiments, and the name has remained, as a family joke. I decided to work up a very fruity and nutty mixture that was easy to do all alone, with no friendly helping hands, and this is it. It’s not a budget cake, unfortunately, since a large amount of fruits and nuts can never be an economy affair. But it is so rich and filled with good things that only a small slice should suffice, meaning that one luxury cake can go a long way. It is my habit to make a large amount of anything like this, particularly since it keeps for months and small fruitcakes make wonderful gifts, but you may cut the recipe in half or in thirds if you wish.
For 16 cups or more of fruitcake batter, to fill a 16-inch angel loaf pan 4 1/4 inches deep, or two 9-inch 8- cup pans, or whatever combination and size of pans you wish, including miniature 1- cup loaf pans

The fruit and nut mixture:
(to be macerated 12 hours)

4 pounds (2 quarts) diced mixed glaceed fruits:
part of this may be diced dried dates, pitted
tenderized dried prunes or apricots, or raisins,
or currants
1 pound (2 cups) prepared store-bought mincemeat
1 pound (1 quart) mixed unsalted whole or chopped
nut meats (such as walnuts, pecans, almonds,
cashews, filberts)
2/3 cup dark Jamaican rum
1/3 cup Cognac or Bourbon
1 Tb instant coffee (espresso coffee suggested)
1 cup dark molasses
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp each: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, mace
1 tsp salt

The dry ingredients
30 cups all-purpose flour (measure by dipping drymeasure
cups into flour and sweeping off excess)
1 Tb double-action baking powder
The remaining ingredients
1 pound (2 sticks) butter
2 cups white sugar
1/3 cup light-brown sugar
2 Tb vanilla
6 “large” eggs

Optional decoration after baking
1 to 1 1/2 cups apricot glaze (apricot jam pushed
through a sieve, boiled to the thread stage [228
degrees] with 2 Tb sugar per cup of strained jam)
A dozen or so glaceed cherries
A dozen or so whole pecan or walnut halves

Macerating the fruits and nuts.
Turn the candied fruits into a very large mixing bowl, pour on boiling water to cover, stir about for 20 to 30 seconds, then drain thoroughly; this is to wash off any preservatives. Return fruit to bowl, add the mincemeat, nuts, liquors, instant coffee, molasses, spices, and salt; stir about. Cover airtight, and let macerate for 12 hours (or longer).

Completing the cake mixture.
Stir half the flour into the fruits and nuts, sprinkle over the baking powder and the rest of the flour, and stir to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars together in a separate bowl until light and fluffy, then beat in the vanilla, and the eggs, one at a time, beating 30 seconds after the addition of each egg. Blend the egg-sugar mixture into the fruits.

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Butter your cake pan (or pans), line Bottom with wax paper, butter that, roll flour around in the pan to coat interior, and knock out excess flour. Turn the batter into the pan, filling it to within . inch of rim (and mold any extra cake mixture in a muffin tin). Bake in middle level of oven for 2 to 2. hours or longer, depending on size and shape of pan. Cake will rise about . inch, top will crack in several places, and it is done when it shows the faintest line of shrinkage around edge of pan in several places; a skewer, plunged down into cake through a crack, should come out clean (or, at most, showing a residue of sticky fruit). Remove cake from oven and place pan
on a rack to cool for 20 to 25 minutes; cake should shrink a little more from sides, showing it is ready to unmold. Turn cake upside down on rack and give
a little shake to unmold it. Peel paper off bottom, and turn cake carefully right side up—you will need some fancy maneuvering if this is a big cake, like boards for bracing and turning.

Additional flavoring.
If you wish more Cognac or rum or Bourbon flavoring, pour a spoonful or two over the cake 2 or 3 times as it cools. *Storing the cake. When cold, wrap in plastic, then in foil, and store in a cool place. Will keep for months, and flavor matures with age, although the cake makes delicious eating when still warm from the oven.

Optional decoration.
If you wish to make a luxurious spectacle of this cake, first paint the top and sides with warm apricot glaze (be sure glaze has really boiled to the thread stage, so it will not remain sticky when cool). Press halved glaceed cherries and nut meats into the glaze and, for a loaf cake, make a line of cherries down the center flanked on either side by nut meats. Paint a second coating of glaze over the fruits and the top of the cake. Let set for half an hour at least. allowing the glaze to dry and lose its stickiness. (Although you can still store the cake after glazing, I usually glaze it the day I serve it.)

Joan Nathan's Potato Knishes

From "Jewish Cooking in America," Mama Batalin’s Potato Knishes. Don’t be intimidated by this strudel dough. It is easy and fun to make. Try doing it with a friend.

4 large onions, sliced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds russet (baking) potatoes
Salt to taste
1 large egg
1 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil plus additional for
rolling the dough
1 cup water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour

Yield: approximately 60 knishes

  1. Slowly cook the onions in the oil in a skillet, covered, over a low heat. Let the onions “sweat”for about 20 minutes, or until they are soft. Then remove the cover and let fry over a medium heat until golden brown. Don’t drain.

  2. Meanwhile peel the potatoes and cut them in half. Put them in a large pot filled with cold water and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, and cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain and cool for 5 minutes.

  3. Mash the potatoes and add the egg, the parsley, salt, and pepper. Add the onions with the oil and mix well with your hands. Set aside while preparing the dough.

  4. Beat the eggs and reserve about 1 tablespoon of egg for the glaze. Mix the rest with the oil, water, vinegar, and salt. Add the flour gradually, beating first with a spoon and eventually your hands as you knead the dough. Continue to add enough flour to make a smooth dough. Shape into 4 balls and let rest, covered with a cloth, about a half hour to relax the gluten.

  5. Roll each ball of dough out as thin as possible into a flat rectangle. Flour well and place between 2 sheets of waxed paper. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

  6. Using your hands, carefully stretch each rectangle as thin as possible, about 12 to 14 inches long by 4 to 5 inches wide. Spread one quarter of the filling (about 1. cups) onto approximately one third of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border.

  7. Holding onto the waxed paper, roll up the dough like a jelly roll, brushing oil across the top a couple of times as you roll. Using the side of your hand like a knife, divide the roll into 2-inch knishes. Then pinch the open ends shut. Repeat with the remaining balls and dough. Place the knishes, flat side down, on a greased cookie sheet, leaving a 2-inch space between each. You will have to bake in batches.

  8. Mix the reserved tablespoon of egg with a little water. Brush the tops with the egg wash and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Marion Burros' Chicken Florentine

From Burros and Levine's "The Elegant But Easy Cookbook."

Yield: 6 servings


Cook according to package directions 2 ten-oz packages frozen chopped spinach. Drain well. Then melt 1 tablespoon butter. Cook in it and stir constantly. 1 clove garlic, mashed. Dash basil. Dash marjoram.

Add and mix well 1 tablespoon flour. Add 1/2 cup medium or heavy cream. Place mixture on bottom of casserole. Cover with meat from 1 five-lb stewed chicken

Melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add and blend well 3 tablespoons flour. Stir in and cook until thickened 1 cup cream. Salt and pepper to taste. 1 cup chicken stock.

Pour sauce over chicken. Cover with 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Refrigerate or freeze. When ready to serve, return to room temperature; bake at 400° F for 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.

James Beard's Oyster Stew

From "American Cookery" by James Beard. If there is a traditional Christmas Eve dish in the United States, it is oyster stew. This may be made with cream only or with milk.

5 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
2 cups cream
1 pints oysters and liquor
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped parsley or paprika

Heat soup bowls. Add a good pat of butter to each bowl. Keep piping hot. Drain the oysters, then heat the milk, cream, and oyster liquor to the boiling point. Add the oysters and bring again to the boiling point. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Ladle into the hot bowls and add a sprinkling of chopped parsley or of paprika.

Sautéed Oyster Stew.
Combine the oysters and butter in a skillet and cook until the edges curl. Add the hot cream and milk, and bring to the boiling point. Season, ladle into hot bowls, and serve with crisp biscuits or buttered toast.

Joan Nathan's Gâteau de Hannouka

From Joan Nathan's "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France"

Makes: 8-10 servings


1 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing pan
5 apples (3 Fuji and 2 Granny Smith, or any combination of sweet and tart apples), peeled, cored, and cut into ½- inch pieces (about 6 cups)
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup walnut halves, roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped almonds
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a Bundt pan or a 9- by-13- inch baking pan. Toss the apples in a large bowl with the zest and juice of the lemon, the walnuts, and the cinnamon.

  2. Pulse together the flour, baking powder, salt, almonds, and 1¼ cups of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. With the food processor running, add the eggs, oil, and almond extract, processing until just mixed.

  3. Spoon 1/3 of the batter over the bottom of the pan. Scatter the apples on top, and cover the apples with the remaining batter. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar (you'll need less if using a Bundt pan).

  4. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. The cake will take a shorter time to bake in the shallow rectangular pan than in the Bundt pan.

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