Monthly Archives: April 2016

Cornbread in the 1700s

One of my favorite YouTube channels is Jas. Townsend and Son, where cooking from the 18th century is explained and demonstrated. Having done a bit of Revolutionary War-era re-enacting myself, I am particularly attracted to this information, though my work as a food historian reinforces this interest.

In this episode, James Townsend demonstrates an early form of cornbread, from the oldest known American cookbook, but Amelia Simmons. I have a reproduction of this cookbook, and reading it makes me really appreciate the work that goes into translating early recipes into practical instructions, as Townsend does. I can recommend pretty much any of his videos, as they show a whole range of cooking from the 1700s, from soldiers’ fare to party food. Some of the recipes I plan on trying, others, I simply marvel at.

But here, to start, is the Amelia Simmons approach to making cornbread.

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Filed under Corn, Culture, Food, History, Recipe, Video

And the Nation’s Top Brandy Market Is…

Wisconsin.

Who’d have imagined? Well, probably folks in Wisconsin, but it was certainly a surprise to most of us at this weekend’s Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance (GMFA) conference on Wisconsin Supper Clubs.

And how much brandy are we talking about? Wisconsin consumes one third of all the brandy produced in the United States. According to one source, that’s roughly 650,000 cases of domestic brandy per year.

Top drink, sometimes half-jokingly suggested as a candidate for official state cocktail, is a brandy old fashioned. (They mentioned that if you simply order an old fashioned, without specifying preferred liquor, you’ll automatically get the brandy version.) In the number two spot is the brandy Alexander. But a toddy or a simple snifter with good brandy are not ruled out.

These drinks are all staples of Wisconsin’s multitudes of supper clubs, where locals and tourists gather for good food and a friendly evening of conversation—and brandy.

Another interesting fact that was shared is that supper clubs (usually places out in the country) did well because Wisconsin had more paved rural roads than any other state, so supper clubs and American car culture grew together.

Supper clubs are family owned and food, which is generally locally sourced and seasonal, is made from scratch. Menus can be ambitious, but certain elements are immutable: Friday-night fish fry and Saturday prime rib topping that list.

We also learned that broasted chicken was invented in Beloit, Wisconsin. There is a machine called a broaster, and broasting is a proprietary technology that cooks chicken very quickly, while minimizing the amount of oil to which the chicken is exposed.

While supper clubs are not clubs now, they did require membership during Prohibition.

So much more to share, but perhaps I should leave that to those who were presenters:

Mary Bergin, journalist, syndicated columnist, and author of The Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook.

Teresa Allen, culinary historian and author of The Flavor of Wisconsin.

Dave Hoekstra, award-winning Chicago journalist and radio personality, and author of The Supper Club Book (which strays outside of Wisconsin).

Holly De Ruyter, documentary filmmaker and creator of the charming film, Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club.

As for the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, it is an organization that has as its goal the study and preservation of foodways found across a far-too-often ignored region—the American Heartland. GMFA supports research, hosts heirloom recipe contests at state fairs, and puts on conferences.

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Pinckney Bend

One of the loveliest aspects of being a writer is the people with whom my work connects me. Most often, this is people I’m interviewing for books and articles, but occasionally, it’s people who approach me because they have enjoyed my writing. Such was the case with Ralph of Pinckney Bend Distillery.

Pinckney Bend crafts whiskey in the style of the 1800s, using heirloom corn, to make it as much like the historic drink as possible. After reading my book, Midwest Maize, which addresses the historic creation of whiskey from corn, Ralph contacted me to let me know he’d read and liked my book and to tell me about their efforts to recreate that sense of history. I love that there is someone who loves history enough to go to this extra effort—to not simply use old methods to produce the product but even growing old types of corn to make certain they’re being historically accurate.

I haven’t yet made it down to Missouri, to visit Pinckney Bend or sample their whiskey, but it has certainly been added to my travel plans for the coming year. I’ve done a bit of re-enacting (American Revolution), regularly visit places that recreate history, such as Colonial Williamsburg and Greenfield Village, and been to a few historic banquets (Elizabethan England, Napoleonic France, and a few visits to the American Civil War), and there is a special joy in tasting something that connects you to an important period of history. At least there is if you love history, and I do.

If you’re interested in knowing more, about the place and the product, here’s a link to the history of Pinckney Bend (good Lewis & Clark story, among other tales), and you can explore their products from there.

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Filed under Corn, Culture, History, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Travel