Archive for the ‘Historical Figures and Events’ Category

Centennial Songs and Recipes

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Like most human beings, I like thinking about summer when snow is on the ground outside. So I started contemplating my summer concert this past January when the air was crisp and cold.

I knew that Leonard Bernstein had been born in 1918 and that I wanted to salute him in the concert, particularly because I knew that he had spent some time (well, one summer) down the road from my house, at Singing Brook Farm here in Hawley, Massachusetts.

Leonard Bernstein (center) at Singing Brook Farm in 1949 with his Sister and Brother

I also knew that my voice (which is just fine but not exceptional) wasn’t up for an all-Bernstein concert. It occurred to me that the concert might be expanded to cover a range of musical figures born in 1918.

I did a little research, and it turned out that quite a few American composers and singers came into the world that year: lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, of Lerner and Loewe; Patty Andrews, of the Andrews Sisters; singer/actress Pearl Bailey; crooner/actor Robert Preston, best known as the loveable con artist in The Music Man; and many more.

I wasn’t 100 percent I wanted to make 1918 the focus of my concert until I recalled that my late mother, Janice Hallett Weisblat, was also a 1918 baby.

Baby Janice with her Mother, Clara

Jan, whom I called Taffy, didn’t have a professional-quality voice. In fact, she lost much of her vocal range singing too hard while suffering from a cold one evening when I was a small child. Nevertheless, she adored music and used the range she had left to sing her heart out whenever possible. Singing a couple of her favorite songs seemed like a wonderful way to celebrate her centennial year.

My concert, called “A Century of Songs and Singers,” will take place next Saturday, August 25 (Bernstein’s birthday), at the Federated Church on Main Street (Route 2) in Charlemont, Massachusetts. I will be accompanied by Jerry Noble, a delightful person and musician.

Please join us if you’re in the neighborhood. If you can’t come to the concert, you might like to make a dish or two from 1918 babies, as I did this week on Mass Appeal. I made Pearl Bailey’s Corn Fritters and my mother’s Blueberry Sally Lunn.

The blueberry recipe appears elsewhere on this blog as Blueberry Snap. I share the corn recipe below, along with the videos in which I make the dishes.

Pearl Bailey

Pearlie Mae’s Corn Fritters

Pearl Bailey’s “cookbook,” Pearl’s Kitchen, is pretty vague about the proportions in this recipe so I had to more or less construct them myself. I recommend her book and her music nevertheless. Pearl’s Kitchen shows off its author’s remarkable spirit. She writes:

To cook is to share, and it is as important to me as walking onto the stage to full applause. Cooking is as crucial as anything I do in life, because I like to see the smiles on people’s faces when they enjoy something I have prepared. I cook as I live.

Amen.

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 cups lightly cooked corn kernels
butter as needed for frying

Instructions:

In a bowl combine the flour, the sugar, the baking powder, the salt, and the pepper. Make a well in the center of this mixture.

In another bowl or a measuring cup whisk together the milk and egg. Pour them into the dry ingredients, and mix. Stir in the corn kernels.

Put a pat of butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat. The butter should melt and begin to bubble but not burn. Pop in small scoops of the corn batter.

Fry on both sides. “Just let it bubble away until it browns, then turn it over,” said Pearl Bailey. Serves a crowd.

And now the videos:

Pearly Mae’s Corn Fritters

Taffy’s Blueberry Sally Lunn

Foods of Our Fathers

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

This post will be quick because it’s hot outside, and I really, really want to spend all of Independence Day by the water!

For my TV appearance this week, I decided to make dishes beloved of a couple of our founding fathers. I started out with George Washington’s Hoe Cakes, which I first wrote about here after my visit to GW’s gristmill near Mount Vernon. They were as tasty as I remembered: crispy and corny.

I went on to make a strawberry fool in honor of John Adams and his pioneering wife Abigail Smith Adams. According to The Food Timeline and other sources, the pair were fond of a simple, rich gooseberry fool. I didn’t have any gooseberries—but strawberries have just reached their peak here in Massachusetts. So I made those into a fool. Everyone who tasted it raved.

Neither dish will warm up your kitchen too much, and both will make you respect the taste of our first and second president.

Here’s the recipe for the strawberry fool. If you have strawberries and cream in the house, you can eat it in less than 15 minutes. I wish you a Glorious Fourth!

 

Strawberry Fool (inspired by John and Abigail Adams)

Ingredients:

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Toss the strawberry pieces in half of the sugar, and let them sit for 10 minutes to juice up.

Place half of the strawberries and all of the strawberry juice in a blender. Puree the mixture; then stir it into the remaining strawberries.

Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks, adding the remaining sugar and the vanilla when it is almost ready. Fold in the berry mixture. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Hoe Cakes on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Strawberry Fool on Mass Appeal

A Tasty Blend of History and Food

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

I’m a sucker for history and for food so I’m always interested in any project that combines the two. I recently received a copy of The Pleasure of the Taste from the Partnership of Historic Bostons. This booklet examines the intersecting culinary opportunities and habits of English settlers and their Native American neighbors in the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The book was put together by the Partnership, a nonprofit history group that “encourages discussion and debate” about daily life in Massachusetts in the 17th century.

Lorén Spears served as an adviser to the project. Spears is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe and the executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island.

Spears obviously knows her way around a kitchen; she contributed a number of Native American recipes to the booklet, describing how they would have been prepared in the 17th century but also adapting them for modern kitchens.

The other major adviser was my friend Kathleen Wall, the colonial foodways culinarian at Plimoth Plantation. Kathleen is a wonderful source of knowledge about food in Massachusetts over the centuries and has frequently judged the charity pudding contest (last year it was a pie contest!) I organize from time to time.

Like Spears, Kathleen provided both vintage and modern-day versions of her recipes.

The recipes are not extensive, but they do give the reader (and the cook) a good idea of what Puritan housewives would have had to deal with in terms of cooking conditions and ingredients.

Samp was apparently a major staple of the 17th-century colonists’ diet. An adaptation of the Native American nasaump, this cornmeal-based bread constituted a major bread/starch for both communities.

The booklet delivers versions of both nasaump and samp, along with recipes for stews, tarts, and of course puddings. I’m going to start experimenting with the modern versions of the recipes, but as I go along I may in fact try a bit of historical reenactment.

The Pleasure of the Taste is charming: informative, quick to read, and useful. It may be ordered from the Partnership at www.historicbostons.com.

I leave you with Kathleen’s recipe for English samp, courtesy of the Partnership of Historic Bostons.

English Samp

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups boiling water or milk
1 cup cornmeal
a pinch of salt
a pinch of sugar (optional)
butter or bacon drippings as needed

Instructions:

Stir the boiling water or milk into the cornmeal in a heat-safe bowl. Add the salt and, if using, the sugar. Mix well.

Heat butter or bacon drippings in a cast-iron skillet. When the butter or drippings simmer, add the batter in half-cup measures to the pan.

Flip repeatedly. “They take their own sweet time,” Kathleen says of these cakes.

Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.

Kathleen sampling pudding.

A Sinatra Centennial Cookie

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

frankcupweb

Today music lovers around the country (and probably around the world) celebrate the centennial of the 20th century’s most popular singer. Frank Sinatra crossed generations in his appeal, then and now. He was born on December 12, 1915.

I actually fêted Frank and his birthday a bit early to avoid the rush. In August, with the help of my neighbor Alice Parker, I performed my own Sinatra concert in Charlemont, Massachusetts.

sinatra poster smaller copy

The concert was a delight. I didn’t actually try to BE Sinatra, of course. I don’t look like him, and I don’t sound like him. Instead, I tried to be Sinatra-esque in my approach to the music, working on my phrasing and feeling the melody and lyrics as much as I could.

The audience loved the evening—and so did I.

The concert was a fundraiser for the minister’s discretionary fund at the local church. We asked community members to bring refreshments to serve after the music. One of the offerings was particularly appropriate for the concert’s Italian-American subject.

Camille Azzalina White is a lively, attractive widow who directs the local senior center. Camille baked her grandmother’s Italian cookies for the concert. Everyone who tasted one fell in love. Naturally, I asked the baker to give me the recipe—and a little information about her grandmother.

Camille’s “Nana,” Marie Incoronata Danata Colantonio, lived from 1897 to 1988. Although her parents were immigrants from Frosolone, Italy (she was one of ten children), Marie was born in this country.

Nevertheless, because of a 1907 law that was fortunately changed during her lifetime, she actually lost her U.S. citizenship in 1916 when she married Angelo Melchionda, an immigrant who had not yet been naturalized. She was forced to take a test to regain her status.

Marie & Angelo Melchionda 1916

This and other vintage photos come courtesy of Camille White.

Camille grew up in a multigenerational house in Medford, Massachusetts, along with her parents, grandparents, siblings, and aunt and uncle. Her grandmother was a benevolent, generous matriarch.

“Although Nana worked full time outside the home [she was a stitcher in a factory in the north end of Boston],” her granddaughter remembered, “she found time to cook many delicious meals for her family, who always came first. Sunday meals especially became a family gathering with relatives visiting for dinner or dessert after dinner.

“In later years at different times, she was a caregiver for her ill mother, her husband, a widowed sister, and then for young grandchildren. She embraced her family with boundless love and gave comfort to others freely and without question.”

Nana making cookie frosting.web

Nana Melchionda makes frosting for her cookies.

One of Camille’s earliest recollections is of making these cookies with her grandmother, although the recipe has changed over the years. (It originally featured five pounds of flour and 18 eggs!)

“Each time I make and bake these cookies,” she told me, “I recall many happy childhood memories of family, anticipation for the holidays, and mostly so many loving times spent with my dear Nana.

“With this recipe, I continue to make new memories with my children and grandchildren….”

I’ll definitely make these cookies for Christmas this year. (I have a cookie swap coming up!) My baking will honor the Sinatra centennial—and also Camille’s Nana Melchionda.

Meanwhile, I wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all….

Nana's cookiesweb

Nana Melchionda’s Italian Cookies

Ingredients:

1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter at room temperature
4 eggs
1 teaspoon anise oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups sifted flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
confectioner’s sugar, milk, and lemon flavoring to taste
sprinkles for topping

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Cream together the sugar and the butter. Add the eggs, the anise oil, and the vanilla.

In a separate bowl blend together the sifted flour and the baking powder; then add them to the butter mixture.

The dough will be sticky. Refrigerate it for 1 to 2 hours, wrapped in plastic wrap or wax paper, to make it easier to handle.

When the dough has cooled form rounds about a teaspoon wide (a little larger is acceptable) by rolling them between your palms. Place the rounds on the prepared cookie sheets, and press down on the top of each lightly.

Bake the cookies until they are lightly browned on the bottom, about 20 minutes–MAYBE LESS. Start looking at 13 minutes. Watch the cookies carefully as they can burn easily.

While the cookies are in the oven prepare the frosting. In a bowl whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, the milk, and the lemon flavoring until the mixture pleases you. It should be thick but not too thick.

Dip the tops of the cookies into the frosting, place them on wax paper, and add sprinkles to make them extra festive. Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on how big you make them.

M5 Marie Melchionda

Italian Fruit Tarts

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

fruit tartweb

“What makes this recipe Italian?” you may ask. Well … I wanted to honor Frank Sinatra. The 20th century’s most popular Italian-American singer would have turned 100 this year. And I am singing in a Sinatra tribute concert this coming Saturday.

To tell you the truth, a similar tart is made in many different places around the world. If I were performing a concert honoring Edith Piaf, I would call it a French fruit tart. If I were paying tribute to lyricist Johnny Mercer of Savannah, I would call it a Georgia peach tart. But … I’m paying tribute to Sinatra so by golly it’s Italian.

My concert will be called “To Be Perfectly Frank.” I am not actually going to try to BE Sinatra—that is, to imitate him. My voice is nothing like his. Even if it were, I would remain woefully aware that anyone who wants to hear Sinatra can listen to the real thing thanks to the enormous repertoire of recordings he left.

What I want to convey is his relationship to music—the way in which he made numbers his own, the emotion he conveyed while delivering a torch song, the fun he had with his colleagues and his audiences. Sinatra had a remarkable facility for putting across a song, a strong sense of self, and an aptitude for reinventing himself. I’d love to emulate him on all of those fronts!

With a little help from pianist Alice Parker and baritone Don Freeman, I’ll perform some of my favorites of his 1000-plus recorded songs on Saturday evening. I hope the audience will approve of our choices.

Donations at the door will go to the minister’s discretionary fund of the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts. The concert will include several sing-along numbers, and I promise it won’t last too long. Refreshments will be served when the singing ends.

If you can’t make it to Charlemont this Saturday, I hope you’ll listen to a Sinatra recording and make this yummy tart. I prepared it on Mass Appeal this week and later for company—and no one seemed to have any trouble finishing the tarts, even though they were a little large for individual consumption.

The tart-shell recipe comes from Wilton, from whom I purchased the tart pans. I love the fact that it requires no rolling; one just pats the crust into the pans. You may also use an 8- or 9-inch tart pan and have only one large tart. In that case you should reduce the tart shell and pastry cream ingredients by a third.

sinatra poster smaller copy

The Tarts

Ingredients:

for the tart shells:

1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the pastry cream (crème patissière):

1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
4-1/2 tablespoons flour
1 pinch salt
3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla

for assembly:

fresh fruit in season as needed (I used local peaches from Clarkdale Fruit Farms—wet but luscious!)

Instructions:

Begin with the tart shells. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and the sugar until they are just blended. Add the flour and the salt, and stir until the mixture seems crumbly. (It will be dry.)

In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk and the vanilla; drizzle this mixture over the flour mixture. Combine until the flour mixture is evenly moist; it will still be crumbly.

Divide the mixture among 6 (approximately) 4-inch tart pans. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the tart pans.

Bake the crusts for 16 to 20 minutes or until they are golden brown. Cool them for 15 minutes in their pans; then carefully remove them. Cool them completely before filling them. You may make them up to a couple of days ahead and store them in an airtight container.

Next, make the pastry cream. In a heavy pan heat the milk until it is hot, but do not let it come to a boil. Combine the sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl, and stir in the milk. Beat the mixture. Return it to the pan, and stir constantly over low heat for 4 to 6 minutes until it becomes thick and smooth.

Add a bit of the warm mixture to the beaten egg yolks, and then add a bit more; then stir the egg yolk blend into the rest of the pastry cream. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick custard. Cool, stirring every 5 minutes or so, and then stir in the vanilla.

When the pastry cream has cooled (allow at least half an hour for this; you may also cook it the day before and refrigerate it overnight), assemble the tart.

Spread the cream on top of the crust; then arrange the fruit attractively. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

And now the video: