Something Old, Something New

coal stove
I think we’re out of coal, dear

Well, here we are at 2015. I’m ready for it to be a fine 12 months. I started the year by going back in time. I had to order a new version of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Mine falls to pieces the minute you open it. I didn’t get the requested item for Christmas, so I ordered it online. While I was browsing around I came across another book, intriguingly entitled: “Fannie’s Last Supper.” The author is Chris Kimball, the host of America’s Test Kitchen. He wanted to recreate a meal from the original, 1896 edition. I’m a sucker for stuff like that, so I ponied up and got myself an ebook copy, which I’m reading on my iPad (talk about juxtapositions!).

The book got some bad reviews on Amazon, mostly because the author found most of the recipes in the cookbook to be absolutely terrible. I think he’s being a bit hard on the old girl. That was then and this is now. If you can’t deal with soggy, overcooked vegetables and heavy cream sauce over everything, then do something else. Still, it’s an interesting read with lots of social and culinary history thrown in among the revised recipes and admonitions.

I have a few historical versions of this cookbook: a reproduction of the original, a reprinting from 1918 (with wartime recipes and suggested substitutions, another version from 1951 and another from 1965. The menus change pretty radically along the way, so I guess jellied salad and fish boiled for an hour didn’t withstand the test of time. At some point they swapped out coal stoves and added baking temperatures, thank God. Really, I don’t need to learn how to light and maintain a stove. Checking oven temperature is an absolute necessity, particularly in my crappy old stove. See? If I had the cast iron coal stove, I could have switched it over to gas and it would outlast me by 100 years. So, there, Chris Kimball!

Fannie's Last Supper
Nice cover

I have to say, I like the book, although he’s very snooty towards Miss Farmer. He did acknowledge her marketing and business sense, since the book is a classic and has been for over a century. It sold like hotcakes the minute it came out. It had precise weights and measures, suggested menus (holy cow!), information about cooking classes at the Boston Cooking School and even a section on cooking for the sick. Toast water, anyone? And how about this for brekkies:

Raspberries
Shredded wheat biscuits
Dried smoked beef in cream
Hash browned potatoes
Baking powder biscuit
Coffee

Burp. I’ll get a cramp in my hand if I copy down her suggested dinners. Would I make anything from the original cookbook? Probably not. Some of them really do sound kind of gross and the method of preparation would cook every bit of nutrition right out. Boil that sucker for an hour! Get the deep frier ready and pass the cream sauce.

Just Dust Me Off And Put Me on Display

I’m a history buff, totally in love with the Erie Canal. We spent part of our vacation visiting excavated sites and/or checking out the waterways that are still in use.

I thought the Canal was a bust after it was first built between 1817 and 1825. I was given to understand that trains did it in. Guess I was wrong. The Erie Canal opened the American west and created boom towns along its path: Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, etc. It made New York City what it is today (for good or bad!).

The canal was re-dug three times. After the initial dig, it was expanded in the 1850s or 1860s (I don’t remember which). We saw excavations of that, too. The final expansion/re-digging came in the early 20th century, I think in 1911.

The canal was finally superseded by the St. Lawrence Seaway in the late 1950s. Today the 20th century version of the Erie Canal is used for educational and recreational purposes.

The hubby and I visited excavations in Newark, New York and in Buffalo. In fact – and here I go about Buffalo again – there’s a push on to completely renovate the original canal harbor. There are extensive remains of buildings and the tow path there, all extremely well preserved and accessible to the public. Check out some photos of the site, which opened in 2008:

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Christmas? What a Riot!

Quite the entertaining piece in this Sunday's Boston Globe, about the early origins of Christmas and its eventual taming over the years. Sounds like it was quite the wild time in the good old days, complete with drunkeness and debauchery:'

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/12/20/christmas_was_a_riot/

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Stepping Back and Seeing The World

The world, by the way, as it looked in 1901. I recently found an interesting video of the Pan-American Exposition which was held in Buffalo, New York. It was a gigantic event, or so I hear. Some of the buildings (made of marble!) are still standing and currently house the city's historical and science museums.

I find this video interesting in its depiction of electricity. In 1901, electricity was pretty new. We take it so much for granted these days: just go into a room and click on a lamp. Light up a building with the flick of a switch, to take its place among all the other lit-up buildings in the city.

But 109 years ago, that wasn't the case. Our house, built between 1895 and 1900, was originally piped for gas. We have a lot of the original tubing. Electricity didn't enter the house until later. We still have a disconnected power panel from 1913, with old knob-and-tube wiring setups.

Imagine being at this fair when the sun went down and all of the buildings were suddenly lit – by electricity! It would have been an awe-inspiring site. In fact, I think it would even wow us today.

Enjoy the video. I added the soundtrack: the Marine Corps Band planing a Souza march. Perfect! You can just imagine the band playing in a gazebo somewhere as you meander the broad paths and grand buildings of the Exposition.

By the way – the Exhibition took place in my home town of Buffalo. That's where I'm originally from, although I've lived in Boston since 1979.

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