The Food Almanac: Friday, November 2, 2012

The Food Almanac: Friday, November 2, 2012

In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of The New Orleans Menu, notes food facts and sayings.

Today's Flavor
Today is Deviled Eggs Day. Deviled eggs used to be common as an appetizer around New Orleans. The most famous place for them was Maylie's, which served them with remoulade sauce. It sounds strange, but it's actually very good. Arnaud's revived the idea a few years ago and had them on their lunch menu as "The Count's Eggs." No lunch there at the moment, though. So if we're going to eat deviled eggs with remoulade, we have to make them ourselves.

Annals of Royal Food Proclamations
Today is the birthday, in 1755, of Marie Antoinette, the queen of France. Aside from her famous recommendation that certain people eat cake (actually, she recommended that they eat brioche), she had a New Orleans hotel named for her on the corner of Toulouse and Dauphine. That was the original location, in 1970, of Louis XVI French Restaurant, named for Marie's husband. The restaurant later moved to where it is now, on Bienville off Bourbon.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Napoleon is a mid-sized city of just under 10,000 people in the northeast corner of Ohio, an even 100 miles south-southwest of Detroit. It was founded in 1836, and has always been a manufacturing town, albeit one with a bit more natural beauty in its countryside than most. The Maumee River, where you can actually catch fish, flows through town and on into Lake Erie. Many restaurants are in Napoleon, but try Spengler's founded in 1879 and still going strong as a downtown café and saloon. Their menu is bereft of napoleon pastry, but some other restaurant must have it, wouldn't you think?

Edible Dictionary
mille-feuille, [meey FUH-yeh], French, n. The name literally means "a thousand leaves." That may be an understatement. A mille-feuille pastry is usually made of several sheets of puff pastry, each of which contains at least 512 sheets, from having been folded over and rolled out nine or so times. After baking, the leaves of pastry become flaky and pull apart a bit to display just how many of them there are. The most famous mille-feuille has a name of its own: the Napoleon pastry. But these days more than a few chefs are making all sorts of desserts in the mille-feuille style, as well as some savory dishes. Louis XVI, for example, used to make a mille-feuille filled with crawfish and crabmeat.

Deft Dining Rule #204
If you order two napoleon pastries for yourself at one time, you may expect to hear the French lady on the other side of the counter exclaim, "Mon dieu!"

Food Records
Today in 1978, fishermen off the coast of Newfoundland caught the largest squid ever: 55 feet long and weighing almost two tons. These giant squid are known to battle sperm whales to the finish in a fair fight. One fried ring feeds a family of twelve.

Food in Show Biz
The Soup Nazi a guy who made great soups, but who put his customers through hell to get them appeared for the first time today in 1995 on the Seinfeld television show. The character was based on that of Al Yeganeh, who ran the Soup Kitchen International in Manhattan. It has become a small chain of souperies in the last couple of years.

Food in Art
Today is the birthday, in 1837, of Émile Antoine Bayard, a French painter and illustrator. Among his best-known works are the drawings in several of Jules Verne's novels. He is remembered (barely) on the menu at Antoine's in New Orleans with a salad. It has a Cubist look, with an artichoke heart stuffed with a mix of minced celery, parsley, and green onions, topped with a rolled anchovy stuffed with caviar. As weird as this sounds, it is of interest because the chopped part of this is the starting point for Antoine's oysters Rockefeller recipe. I don't think they sell many salades Bayard, but I've always liked it.

Food Namesakes
Danny Cooksey, a television actor who played Sam on Diff'rent Strokes, was born today in 1975 . Former Saints tackle Chris Port was born today in 1967 . British cricket star Fred Bakewell stepped up to life's wicket today in 1913 . Longtime Kentucky Congressman Romano Mazzoli, whose name sounds like a dish, was born today in 1932 . The Spruce Goose, the largest airplane ever built, was taken on its first and last flight today in California in 1947. The pilot was Howard Hughes, who designed it.

Words to Eat By
"They say that a good cook can ignite sparks by the way he kisses. The way I see, just because a guy can turn on the stove doesn't necessarily make him a good cook." Stephanie Powers, who played the girl from U.N.C.L.E. on the 1960s television show. She was born today in 1942.

Words to Drink By
"I have seen all, I have heard all, I have forgotten all." — Marie Antoinette, born today in 1755.

Check out other Food Almanac columns by Tom Fitzmorris.

Couldn't Ask For More

Choosing a meatless cookbook to focus on seems rather counter to our mostly paleo lifestyle, but the popularity and appeal of the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen cannot be overlooked. Her recipes use healthy, natural ingredients much of which would fit in the Zone or Paleo food program.

The first recipe I'm showcasing this week is Basic Corn Bread.

Who doesn't love corn bread?

It's a must with chili or other hearty soup/stew. Corn Bread screams comfort food!

This recipe is a variation from the traditional it calls for buttermilk or yogurt instead of milk.

I used Arrowhead Mills Organic Yellow Corn Meal and 1/2 buttermilk, 1/2 organic vanilla yogurt. For the sweetener I used coconut sugar. It's subtle and went well with the sweetness of the vanilla yogurt.

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt (I used 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup organic vanilla yogurt)
1 egg
3 tablespoons sugar or honey (I used coconut sugar)
3 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square pan (or a 9-10 inch cast-iron skillet) with butter.

Combine dry ingredients in medium bowl. Combine wet ingredients, including sugar/honey, separately. Stir wet ingredients into dry, mixing just enough to thoroughly combine. Spread into the prepared pan.

Dry Ingredients

Dry and Wet. combine

Batter, ready for the oven

The batter is relatively thick- much thicker than other cornbread recipes I've tried. No cause for concern it turns out great!

Bake 20 minutes, or until the center is firm to the touch. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

The Pioneer Woman

Ree Drummond is cooking up food for her kid crew to take home after a busy day of filming. She makes Alex's Veggie Packed Burritos for her health-conscious daughter and Mauricio's Tortilla Soup for her soon-to-be son-in-law. Then Ree bakes Paige's S'mores Brownies to share with her friends and whips up Stu's Baked BBQ Ribs for her nephew.

California Cooking

The sun is shining, and Ree Drummond is doing some California-style cooking. First, her Wine-Roasted Chicken with Pistachio Pesto Pasta can be separated or enjoyed together. That's followed by vibrant Cauliflower Tacos with Avocado Crema and divine Roasted Grape and Ricotta Toasts. To finish, Ree makes an irresistible LA-inspired Butterscotch Pudding.

16-Minute Meals: Cowboy Favorites

Start the clock! Ree Drummond is sharing 16-minute cowboy and cowgirl favorites from her kitchen on the ranch. There's superfast and supertasty Steak Medallions and Potatoes followed by quick Gnocchi with Chorizo and Corn. Then she makes sweet Crisp in a Pinch and a Chicken Jalapeno Popper Quesadilla for a quick snack.

3 Apps and a Cocktail

Ree Drummond has cocktail hour and a summer party on her mind. She puts her ranch kitchen spin on a BBQ Shrimp Cocktail and makes irresistible Buffalo Chicken Meatball Skewers. Then she bakes an all-American pull-apart Bacon Ranch Cheesy Bread and mixes up Blueberry-Basil Limeade.

Friday Fun Food.

Earlier this week we had a couple of heavy-duty (dare I say “unpalatable”?) stories on bread made from blood and sawdust. It is the end of the week, and time for some Friday Fun (I know it is still Thursday for many of you – please don’t email me and tell me I got the date wrong – I assure you it is already Friday in Australia.)

I wondered about the origin of Chiffon Cake. It seems that before it was cake, chiffon cake was a jelly dessert (as in ‘set with gelatine’, i.e Jell-O, not ‘jelly as in jam’). Here is a recipe from a South Carolina newspaper in 1934.

Apricot Chiffon Cake.
1 tablespoon granulated gelatine.
4 tablespoons cold water.
1-2 cups apricot juice.
1 tablespoon lemon juice.
1/8 tablespoon salt.
3 egg yolks.
1 cup sugar.
2 tablespoons flour.
3 egg whites beaten.
1/3 cup cooked apricots.
½ cup whipped cream.
Soak gelatine and water 5 minutes. Beat yolks, add sugar, salt, and flour. Add fruit juices. Cook in double boiler until thick and creamy. Stir constantly. Add gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved. Cool. Fold in rest of the ingredients and pour into a glass mold. Chill until stiff, unmold and serve cut in slices. Garnish with apricots.

I am not certain when the real, cakey chiffon cake came into being. The usually repeated story is that it was invented by Harry Baker, who was not a baker at all but an insurance agent. He kept his recipe secret for two decades until he sold it to General Mills, who gave it away to Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, who published it in May 1948. The problem with this story is that there are recipes for chiffon cake before this date – not much before, I grant you. The Nevada State Journal of April 30, 1947 gave a recipe for “a new cake indeed … the baking sensation of the century” which turned out to be a chiffon cake. There may well be earlier recipes waiting to be discovered, but in the meanwhile, I am happy that it was invented in the late 1940’s.

One interesting thing is that the advertisement (for a brand of flour) which included the recipe said that it was from ‘Martha Meade’ and could therefore be trusted. There was a cookery book promoting the Sperry Brand of flour called Modern Meal Maker edited by Martha Meade and published in 1935. I have not found out anything else about this author, nor have I set eyes on a copy of the book so I don’t know if it included a recipe for chiffon cake.

The ‘secrets’ of chiffon cake are said to be two in number: – the use of vegetable oil, and the whites being whipped separately then folded in (I don’t believe this last one was a new idea in the 1940’s).

Here is the recipe from the Nevada newspaper of 1947.

Velvet Chiffon Cake.
Sift flour before measuring.
Use level measurements for all ingredients.
Preheat oven to baking temperature 325o [F] a slow moderate oven.
Have all ingredients at room temperature (about 70o)
Measure all ingredients before starting to mix cake.
Have ready an ungreased tube pan 10 in. diameter, 4 in. deep.

Sift together in a mixing bowl:-
2 cups sifted Sperry Drifted Snow “Home Perfected” Enriched Flour.
1 ½ cups granulated sugar.
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder.
1 teaspoon salt.
Make a well in center of dry ingredients and add in order listed:-
½ cup cooking (salad) oil
5 egg yolks, unbeaten
¾ cup cold water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon each vanilla and almond extracts.
Beat with a spoon until it forms a smooth batter.
In a very large mixing bowl place:-
1 cup egg whites, unbeaten (7 or 8)
½ teaspoon cream of tartar.
Whip (using hand whip, rotary beater, or electric mixer) until whites form very stiff peaks, Do not underbeat. (Whites should be much stiffer than for angel cake or meringue.) Then pour batter slowly and gradually over stiffly beaten egg whites, while gradually folding in with a rubber scraper or large spoon. Fold in until blended: do not stir. Pour immediately into the ungreased tube pan, Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour 15 minuts. When done, top surface of cake will spring back when lightly touched with the fingers, and the “cracks” will look dry. Take from oven and immediately place pan upside down, placing the tube part over a funnel or bottle. Let hang, free of table, until thoroughly cold. Loosen cake from sides and tubes with spatula. Turn pan over and hit edge sharply on table to loosen. Frost or not as desired.
16 to 20 serve in slices.

Quotation for the Day.
When baking, follow directions. When cooking, go by your own taste.
Laiko Bahrs

The Old Foodie

A food history story and recipe every weekday of the year.

About Me.


bravo. i smiled all the way through your sheeps trotter recipe and had to lol at one of the comments following your recipe, asking about six or eight feet.

I have just discovered your page when looking up 'quiddany' a word mentioned in my 'Ladies Compnion' of 1753.
Thank you - your page is delightful.
Muriel Brown

Thanks for doing this! In researching significant events for April 17, I came upon Pineapple Cheese. Up you popped with your informative and hilarious piece about Mr. Norton in Troy, PA!

Wow! I just stumbled upon your blog looking for some insight into timbales, for an article I'm planning. What a delight, I'll be reading often. Thank you.

I am so, so delighted to have found your page, and am sure looking back through your posts that I am going to look forward eagerly to each new one!

I have followed your blog sporadically since 2008 when I began blogging. Something I have thought of often but have failed to ask is whether or not you prepare the recipes. I don't seem to recall reading about you trying them or if I did, I don't remember.
I truly enjoy the food history. I was just curious about your preparing them.

Hi Vicki. I almost never prepare them - although I do use them for inspiration sometimes. in their original form they are often too rich or stodgy or not to my daily-meal taste. I love reading about them though, and researching them - there is always something to learn, and. It all informs what we do - one way or another.

Thank you for your blog. I have only just discovered it & am enjoying it enormously.

I just found this wonderful blog and cannot stop reading it! Spring cleaning can wait.


Penn Athletics Celebrates 100 Years of Women’s Sports at Penn

&ldquoAthletics for women have come to Penn to stay.&rdquo So says page 60 of the 1921 Record, the University of Pennsylvania&rsquos annual undergraduate yearbook.

A century later, as we celebrate the 35th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, that statement remains as true as ever.

Starting in January and continuing through the next year, the University&rsquos Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics (DRIA) will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1921 formation of the Women&rsquos Athletic Association (WAA) and the official start of women&rsquos athletics at the University. This will include content on the PennAthletics.com website and Penn Athletics social media accounts, and the University&rsquos 16 varsity women&rsquos teams will wear specially made patches on their uniforms to commemorate the anniversary. Additional plans are being developed and will be announced throughout the year.

&ldquoWe are so proud to be celebrating 100 years of women&rsquos athletics at Penn this year,&rdquo said M. Grace Calhoun, the T. Gibbs Kane, Jr. W&rsquo69 Director of Athletics and Recreation. &ldquoPenn has one of the longest traditions of women&rsquos college athletics in the nation, and can boast of Olympians, national champions, Hall of Famers, and Ivy League team and individual champions. After graduating, our women&rsquos athletes have positively impacted their workplaces and communities, and for that we are equally proud. We see this as a galvanizing moment to bring together our women&rsquos athletes, both past and present, to commemorate a century of excellence.&rdquo

As the 1921 Record continued, &ldquono provision had been made for athletics, but a group of determined young women arranged for a Penn class at the West Branch YMCA. In spite of the distance and inconvenience, the girls turned out nobly and practiced basketball assiduously.

&ldquoPerhaps this interest woke up the authorities at Penn, for in February we were offered Gym classes two hours every day at Kingsessing Playground and given an instructor, Miss [Margaret] Majer. The work was given only elective credit but over fifty girls came out. Thanks to Miss Majer, we had splendid basket-ball teams and now are developing baseball and tennis teams. Our girls played about eight games with outsiders&hellipthe list of teams included Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia Hockey Team, Temple, Drexel, and Sherwood.

&ldquoOur biggest basket-ball game, however, was the sophomore-freshman game. The best material from each team was picked and the class numerals offered for the winners. The game was a scrappy one and well-fought. In the end, the Sophomores won by a very few points.&rdquo

According to the University&rsquos Archives page: &ldquoWith this new commitment to women&rsquos athletics, the Undergraduate Association supported the 1921 establishment of a Women&rsquos Athletics Association, with a constitution and four officers.&rdquo The WAA&rsquos first officers were Catherine Riggs (president), Genevieve McDermott (secretary), Georgina Yeatman (treasurer), and Mildred Dougherty (manager).

The year-long celebration of women&rsquos athletics at Penn is being sponsored by ACME Markets. ACME&rsquos sponsorship was procured through a collaboration between ACME&rsquos agency (TKE, LLC) and JMI Sports, the exclusive multimedia rights partner of Penn Athletics.

&ldquoAs ACME celebrates 130 years of serving Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, we couldn&rsquot be prouder to recognize the 100th anniversary of women&rsquos athletics at Penn,&rdquo said Dana Ward, ACME&rsquos communications and public affairs manager. &ldquoWe are honored to be a part of the Penn community and thrilled to take part in such a significant milestone. Our newest location at 40th and Walnut looks forward to providing quality, fresh and unique food offerings for students, faculty, and neighbors for many years to come. Congratulations to the women who contributed to building this legacy for Penn Athletics and those who continue to raise the bar!&rdquo

Food Friday: Winter Salads

How are all your New Year’s resolutions holding up? Are you still walking 10,000 steps a day? Are you still eschewing alcohol (this has been a tough Dry January, but you can do it!)? Are you reading more? Are you still keeping a notebook handy for thoughtful jottings and ruminations? And what about your vegetable intake? I wish someone would sneak more vegetables into my diet, but being the chief-cook-and-bottle-washer around here, I can’t very well surprise myself with well-disguised broccoli or imperceptible beets. Therefore, I must suspend my disbelief and will finally surrender to adulting, and winter salads might be the best way to go.

I love a nice leafy, crunchy salad. I was raised on iceberg lettuce salads, so the discovery of romaine lettuce in college shifted the tectonic plates of my tetchy palate. I used to eat sun-warmed tomatoes out in the garden every summer, but grew up eating tasteless, refrigerated, hothouse tomatoes in my salads all winter long. Luckily time does march on, and we can avail ourselves of healthier greens all year long. Our local farmers have also come into the twenty-first century and are ready to nourish us with their winter bounties. Look for parsnips, garlic, turnips, rutabagas, leeks, lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, potatoes (sweet and regular), and cabbage.

The Ware family was going nuts on the Table Manners podcast this week, waxing poetical about “massaged kale”. Honestly. This was news to me, so off to Google I trotted. https://minimalistbaker.com/easy-massaged-kale-salad-15-minutes/ And as we all have delicate constitutions in this house, even omnivore Luke the wonder dog, I guess we will be massaging kale from now on. Put that hint in your handy notebook.

The dark of winter is a good time to introduce hints of color and sparkle to your salad. Cranberries! Apples! Cheddar cheese! Pomegranate seeds! https://www.foodiecrush.com/kale-salad-with-cranberries-apple-and-cheddar/

You can throw everything in a main course winter salad, by cleaning out the produce drawer in the fridge and adding shredded cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts, roasted squash, or chunks of apples. You will be cutting down on clutter while eating in a healthier fashion – surely that will be two more New Year’s resolutions you are attending to, because you are marvelously efficient and thorough. https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/food-cooking/recipes/a104726/ultimate-winter-salad/

We still haven’t touched upon quinoa, grilled cabbage, or sweet potatoes. You can go meatless for weeks, and feel very smug about your resolutions. And since we can’t socialize anyway, none of your friends will know how smug you have become. Finally, a silver lining for our pandemic times: you can be insufferable in private. And when the good times roll around again, you will show off your toned legs, flat abs, and your newly bookish nature to great effect. https://www.saveur.com/best-winter-salad-recipes/

Here is a great chatty, weekly newsletter: Emily Nunn and The Department of Salad can guide you through the rest of the winter: https://eatsomesalad.substack.com/p/welcome-to-the-department-of-salads

We have almost gotten through January. The first daffodil has bloomed in my front yard – I think it is regretting its rash and hasty decision already. Nonetheless, time is inching forward. Put down your phone, walk the dog, wear your mask and eat all your winter veggies. You’ll feel better. It’s almost time to plant seeds, and then the rest of the daffodils will start blooming, right on schedule.

If you are going to plant your own garden this year, now if a good time to go through some of the seed catalogues that have been arriving weekly. It’s almost time to start sowing seeds to nurture inside, while waiting for spring to arrive. https://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-calendar/MD/Easton#

“On Saturday afternoons when all the things are done in the house and there’s no real work to be done, I play Bach and Chopin and turn it up real loudly and get a good bottle of chardonnay and sit out on my deck and look out at the garden.”
–Maya Angelou

Silence Dogood here. This week, our fabled Friday Night Supper Club is gaining a few more members as a friend’s relatives drop in from out of town. (See our earlier post, “The Friday Night Supper Club,” to find out all about this excellent weekly gathering.) We were conferring about what to make as the main dish when a plaintive cry arose: “Make your macaroni and cheese. ”

Now, mac’n’cheese hadn’t been uppermost in my mind when I was contemplating today’s menu, but hey. Who doesn’t love mac’n’cheese? Deliciously satisfying in winter, yummy with a crisp salad or cole slaw and iced tea in warmer weather, it’s the ultimate comfort food. And this is without doubt the ultimate mac’n’cheese recipe. So, since I’m going to make it anyway, I thought I’d share the recipe with you.

Credit where credit is due, though: This is not a Silence Dogood original. Instead, it’s the brainchild of our good friend Delilah. So I don’t even have to strive for false modesty when I tell you that it is without question the best mac’n’cheese any of us have ever eaten. And better still, it’s made in a Crock-Pot (that’s a slow cooker, for you benighted souls who use a different brand from the one and only original), so it takes no more time and effort to make than mac’n’cheese out of a box. (Fans of mac-in-the-box, you know who you are.) Cook the pasta, put it in the Crock-Pot, stir in the other ingredients, turn it on, get along with your day. Talk about fix it and forget it convenience! But trust me, no one’s going to forget it once they’ve tasted it.

Before we get to the recipe, though, let’s take a moment to discuss what distinguishes great from gross when it comes to macaroni and cheese. In the gross category: Mac’n’cheese that’s pretty much all mac and no cheese. Mac’n’cheese that’s soupy. (Lonely elbow-fish swimming in a sea of sauce just does not work for us. Eeeewwww!) Mac’n’cheese that’s a lurid orange, a color dreamed up in the mind of some mad scientist for something called “processed cheese product.” Keep your products to yourself, please. Mac’n’cheese that’s tasteless (in this case, we’re referring to flavor, not to the Day-Glo orange color just described). Mac’n’cheese that’s gummy. Mac’n’cheese that’s bitter (a failing of many an otherwise lovely mac’n’cheese made by well-intentioned folks using globs of orange Cheddar). Mac’n’cheese with under- (ouch!) or overcooked pasta (eeewww, this is macaroni, not pudding, people). And finally, mac’n’cheese with a crust so hard it can chip your teeth and knock out your fillings, because, face it, you know that’s the best part and you’re going to try to eat it anyway.

Moving on to what makes a good mac’n’cheese great: Lots of yummy, crunchy (as opposed to hard) crust to contrast with the creamy interior. Plenty of luscious flavor of the cheesy, buttery, creamy variety. Elbows cooked just right, so they’re fully done but still hold their shape rather than disintegrating. And finally, a sauce that’s the right texture. This is key, in my opinion, and in fact is key to all great pasta sauces: It has to cling to the pasta rather than floating, concentrating the flavor thickly around each elbow, but there has to be enough sauce so it isn’t simply absorbed by the pasta, leaving a dry mac’n’cheese that pleases nobody. The closest I can come to describing the perfect mac’n’cheese sauce texture is to say that if you’ve ever eaten an exquisitely prepared corn pudding (the ones served at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky come to mind), you know the texture I mean.

If your mouth’s not watering by now, you must’ve forgotten to put your teeth in this morning. So let’s get back to the recipe. But first, I have to play Moses (or at least Chef Boyardee) for a minute and give you the Four Mac’n’Cheese Commandments: 1. Thou shalt not cook this dish on high or the cheese will burn. 2. Thou shalt not use sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk. 3. Thou shalt not use fresh milk, because it curdles in the Crock-Pot. 4. Thou shalt not cook this dish for more than 4 hours or the pasta will disintegrate. Okay, let’s do it! (Confession: This isn’t Delilah’s exact recipe, it’s the Hawk’s Haven version, which we of course think is even better. But we’re eternally grateful to her for passing along the original, so we’ve named our version after her.)

Delilah’s Crock-Pot Macaroni and Cheese

1-pound package of elbow macaroni, cooked al dente (I have to admit that I find that regular macaroni holds its texture better in this recipe than any of the “healthier” versions, and I keep trying different ones in the hope of proving myself wrong.—Silence)

2 12-ounce cans evaporated milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

4 cups (2 packages) shredded sharp white Cheddar (use extra-sharp if you want more flavor)

1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Set aside 1 cup of the Cheddar, the Parmesan, and the paprika. Stir all other ingredients together in the Crock-Pot. Top with reserved Cheddar, Parmesan, and a hearty sprinkling of paprika to give the top a lovely warm color. Cook on low 3 to 4 hours. (I like to cook it for the full 4 hours for a crunchier crust.—Silence)

That’s all there is to it, and boy, is it delicious! Of course, you’re free to try your own variations once you’ve enjoyed the basic recipe. Our heat-loving friend Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame thinks adding sliced jalapenos would be nice. I myself contemplate replacing some or all of the Cheddar with grated Swiss or Gruyere for a different taste, but haven’t tried either yet. (Why mess with perfection?) I could see adding sauteed mushrooms, sweet onions, and/or red or gold peppers, too. If you try any variations, please let me know how they turn out! And if you have a favorite mac’n’cheese of your own, please share it with us. Maybe some day we’ll do a Great Mac’n’Cheese Cookoff!

The Food Almanac: Friday, November 2, 2012 - Recipes

Two years ago, nearing the end of October, my friend Jake Hoffman sent me a recipe for grape pie. Included was a story. When Jake's grandmother died, he and his mother found this secret recipe among her belongings. It was "secret" not in the sense that her grape pie was so beloved that she never divulged the true ingredients, but because he had never recalled her making it, let alone ever heard of such a dish himself. A penchant for Concord grapes was in his blood, though,-- he and his mother, as he said, "always enjoyed Concord grape juice together." Curious about what it might reveal about their matriarch, they tried it out. Since then, the pie has become a fall ritual for Jake, when grapes make their yearly appearances at farmers markets and vines in his South Portland, Maine neighborhood. He's been making it every September or October for the past eight years.

I've had a few brushes with grape pie, but had never actually made or eaten one before, at least of the Concord variety. When I lived in North Carolina, I made a Muscadine Hull Pie, with the skins of the sweet, round fig-purple grapes that grow in the area. As for pie of the Concord variety, I'd first heard of it back in 2009, when my friend Angela shared a post here of a version her friend illustrator Jill Bliss had made. A few years later, my parents sent me a souvenir bumper sticker and children's book from Monica's Pies in Naples, New York, after becoming devotees of her signature grape dessert while on a road trip through the state.

As it turns out, Naples, New York is essentially grape pie ground zero. There in the western side of the state, along the Finger Lakes, Concord grapes grow extremely well and much of the region's economy relies on their production and byproducts (read: wine). Grape pie in particular rose to prominence there in the early 1960s when Al Hodges, the owner of Redwood Restaurant began offering a version, made from a recipe he picked up from a local German woman (grape pie is thought to be a German recipe). Demand for the dessert soon outgrew the restaurant kitchen, so Hodges hired Irene Bouchard, now known as the mother of Naples' grape pies. She started a small business out of her home which at its peak, produced 6,000 grapies each season. Bouchard passed away last year at the age of 98.

The Concord grape region where Naples is located actually stretches from Western New York and into Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. It's within that region that we can situate Jake's grandmother Anna Gillen. Here's what Jake told me about Anna:

"Anna (nee Welsh) Gillen, was born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, in 1919 and grew up in the Anthracite coal patches of Northeastern Pennsylvania (specifically Jeddo and Freeland). She moved to Bethlehem in her late teens as mining towns were declining and tons of people were finding work with Bethlehem Steel. Mother of 5, and a bank teller, she loved math and always wanted to be a teacher, but never was. She did a lot of baking until her death in 2011. Her oatmeal raisin cookies will never be beat, nor will her apple crumb pie." Turns out, her grape pie won't be either.

I finally got my hands on some Concord grapes this year, and made Anna's recipe. I was initially dubious of the crumble crust, not for taste-sake, but because I wanted to make sure the deep purple hue was visible in the pie. But I found the crumble to be an essential part of the recipe, counteracting the tartness of the grapes with its sweetness, and adding a sand-sugar texture to the syrupy filling. The flavor is rich and aromatic and evocative-- of memories drinking Concord grape juice with mom and grandmother's delicious secrets, of enterprising home bakers and vineyards running through the middle of the country, of a yearly fall ritual I may need to adopt for my own.

Anna Gillen's Grape Pie
Adapted from Jake Hoffman's grandmother's recipe

For the pie:
Nothing in the House pie crust, halved
4 cups or 2-2 1/2 pounds Concord grapes
1/4-1/3 cup granulated sugar, depending on sweetness of grapes
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter

1. Prepare half of Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions, reserving the leftover egg for an egg wash and saving other half of the recipe in the freezer for a future pie. Chill dough at least one hour before rolling and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in fridge until ready to use.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pop grapes put of their skin and separate pulp and skin into two medium-sized bowls. Place pulp in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer uncovered, 5 minutes. Run pulp through a seive or food mill to remove seeds.

3. Place de-seeded pulp into the bowl with the grape skins. In a separate bowl, stir together sugar, flour, and salt to combine. Add the lemon juice and melted butter to dry ingredients, then mix into the grape mixture.

4. Pour the filling into the pie crust and brush crust with reserved egg wash. Place pie pan on a cookie sheet and bake sans crumble top for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Meanwhile, prepare the topping by stirring together flour and sugar, and cutting in the butter until coarse crumbs form. Keep in fridge until ready to use.

5. After 25 minutes, remove topless pie from the oven and scatter the crumb topping over the grape filling. Return to oven for 15-25 more minutes until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown. Enjoy!

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