Room Service

Photo by Richard Averill Smith (1935)

Funny how a tidbit of fact checking can lead to some interesting reading and a blog post.  I simply needed to make sure the hotel I wanted to feature in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was indeed open for business in 1935.  I had a pretty good idea that the Waldorf=Astoria had been built and would be available for John’s best friend, Claude Willoughby, and his wife, Patsy, to spend the first night of their honeymoon in the lap of luxury.  Still, I’ve been burned before on assuming facts for my novel, so I conducted a little research to make sure the hotel wasn’t closed for remodeling or some other detail that would prevent me from mentioning it in my book.

As soon as the fact was confirmed, I could have stopped.  After all, I simply needed to say where Claude and Patsy spent their first night and that it was a gift from Claude’s grandparents.  But it’s the Waldorf=Astoria, and the opulence drew me in.  I won’t waste your time with overwhelming amounts of useless history.  Rather, I’ll skip right to the interesting facts and secrets.

For instance, did you know how the “=” came to be the official symbol in the title Waldorf=Astoria?

The roots of this New York institution go back to 1893, when millionaire William Waldorf Astor opened the 13-story Waldorf Hotel on the former site of his mansion at Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street.  A private bathroom in every guest chamber and electricity throughout were two on a long list of Waldorf firsts.

Four years later, the Waldorf was joined by the 17-story Astoria Hotel, erected on an adjacent site by Waldorf’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV.  The corridor connecting the two buildings became an enduring symbol of the combined Waldorf and Astoria hotels, represented by the quirky “=” the Waldorf=Astoria uses instead of a hyphen in its official logo.  In 1929 the original Waldorf=Astoria was demolished to make way for the Empire State Building.

The new hotel cost $42 million and was the largest and tallest hotel at the time, having 1,852 rooms and 42 stories.

And here’s some other interesting information regarding the Waldorf=Astoria per luxury suite specialists, “The Jackies,” better known as Jackie Collens and Jackie Carter.

The most requested suite is the Presidential suite.  When a president stays there, bulletproof glass is installed.

There’s an underground railroad that runs from Grand Central Terminal to the fourth floor of our basement.  When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the sitting president, that’s how they would bring him in because many people didn’t know he was in a wheelchair.

Old Waldorf=Astoria Hotel

The largest suite is 33A:  The Cole Porter.  It’s a five-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath configuration suite that’s about 4,300 square feet, which typically rents out on a monthly basis.  Prices start at $150,000.  Porter lived there for 25 years and wrote a number of famous songs [in the room]; one of his biggest was “You’re the Top” from Kiss Me Kate.  His piano is still in the suite, one more reason the room is so popular.

After Porter’s death in 1964, Frank Sinatra took over the lease, and he and his wife Barbara lived there until 1988.  Rumor states that they etched their initials into the bathroom door but the door was apparently removed during renovations, and its whereabouts are unknown.

President Herbert Hoover was here from 1932­–1964, and President Dwight Eisenhower stayed from 1967–1969.  He and his wife lived in suite 700R because his wife had a fear of heights.  To accommodate them, we had the elevator specially designed to open on the 7th floor.  General Douglas MacArthur lived with us from 1952–1964, which is when he passed away.  His wife continued to live here until her death in 2000.

The Elizabeth Taylor has the largest and most exquisite bathtub which can easily accommodate three people.  The pillows in the master bedroom of the Royal Suite were created to resemble the Duchess of Windsor’s pugs.  Douglas MacArthur’s master bathroom was designed with a constellation on the ceiling.

The hotel was the first to use red velvet ropes (outside the Palm Room restaurant) as a way to create order among the people crowding the entrance.  Access was granted only with a reservation, another first; the fact that it created a sense of stature and separation was secondary.  They also created rooftop happy hours.

The history-filled hotel is a magnet for guests with sticky fingers, and the items that disappear the most are teakettles, silverware, teapots, plates, and ashtrays.  Once, a candelabrum was taken.

Oscar Tschirky, who is known globally as Oscar of the Waldorf, is credited with creating the Waldorf salad.  It originally contained sliced apples, raisins, celery, cherries, and walnuts, and was lightly covered in a sugared mayonnaise dressing.  Today truffle oil has been added to the mix.

There are many other pieces of history and fun secrets about the Waldorf=Astoria, too many to include, so I’ll leave you with this article, Dear Waldorf, Mummy Stole Your Teapot Back in 1935. So Sorry.  The amnesty program wasn’t so much an effort to recoup stolen items as it was an attempt to generate attention on social media.  I’d say it worked.

~~~~~

“Waldorf=Astoria Hotel – New York City.” Waldorf=Astoria Hotel – New York City, http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/WaldorfAstoria.html. Accessed 7 May 2017.

Strauss, Alix. “The Secrets of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.” CNT. Condé Nast Traveler, 05 Oct. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017.

The Hoopla About Chuppahs

Beautiful white chuppa with red flowers for outdoor wedding ceremony.

When John Welles’s best friend, Sam Feldman, invited him to a party Sam’s mother was hosting, John was not at all enthused. Sam, who always had a girlfriend on his arm, wanted John to run interference for him as he dodged the girl his mother wanted him to meet. Little could either young man have predicted how captivating Abigail Cohen, called Babby, would prove to be. Not only was Babby beautiful, the young school teacher was intelligent, articulate, and poised. John began to rethink his opinion about dating Babby, but not in time. By the end of the party, Sam and Babby hit it off exactly as Sam’s mother knew they would. John did not begrudge Sam his good fortune. Rather, he and Claude Willoughby were the best men at Sam and Babby’s wedding.

Being Jewish meant Sam and Babby took their vows under a chuppah. A chuppah is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. There are many traditions surrounding the chuppah, and they have changed throughout the years depending on an orthodox or modern interpretation.

The chuppah is usually a square of cloth supported by four poles. The fabric can be as elegant as silk or velvet, as simple as cotton or linen, or as important as an heirloom piece of lace or tallit belonging to a family member. The poles can be free-standing or held in place by friends of the couple. Either way, the poles should touch the ground. It is a great honor to be asked to hold the chuppah poles, and this role is often given to people very close to the couple.

Many couples like to decorate the chuppah poles and tops to match the theme of their wedding. Whatever material is chosen, be sure that it will withstand unpredictable weather conditions if the ceremony is outdoors. Ruining a family heirloom or the collapse of an unsteady chuppah will definitely spoil the wedding.

the-hoopla-about-chuppahs-2The purpose of the chuppah is to symbolize the new home the couple will create. At one time, the cloth chuppah was draped around the bride and groom but was later spread over their heads. Ancient rabbis compared the chuppah to Abraham’s tent during Biblical times. Abraham was famous for his hospitality, and since his tent was open on all four sides, travelers could enter from any direction.

The bride and groom are brought to the chuppah by both parents. The space inside the chuppah should be big enough for the couple, clergy, and a small table for ritual items such as wine and glasses. The bride will also need enough room to circle her groom without tripping or snagging her dress. Don’t forget to make the chuppah tall enough for the tallest person to stand under without hitting the fabric where it will drag in the center. Family and friends in the wedding party, including parents, often stand outside the chuppah. Afterward, the new couple can receive guests in their chuppah as a symbol of the love and openness of the home they will build together.

Answers to the Question Y

answers-to-the-question-y2The summer of 1928 was a busy time for young John Welles. Although his schooling was going well, he fought to maintain top spot in the grade standings just ahead of the lovely, yet annoying, Garland Griffin for whom he was developing serious feelings. Also on the young man’s mind was the odd behavior of one of his best friends, Claude Willoughby.

Claude’s personality was always fiery and his temper unpredictable, but as of late, John knew there was something more going on with his friend than Claude would admit. The truth of the situation almost becomes clear to John during an afternoon spent at the YMCA with Claude and their friend, Sam Feldman. What John discovers aren’t the facts in their entirety, but what he assumed was bad enough. Only later does the full truth come out, and by then, John has absorbed Claude’s secret as his own.

My research on the YMCA led me to the Y’s own history page. I’ll direct you there for a comprehensive overview, but I do want to point out some tidbits about this benevolent organization that I found to be most interesting:

In 1844, industrialized London was a place of great turmoil and despair. For the young men who migrated to the city from rural areas to find jobs, London offered a bleak landscape of tenement housing and dangerous influences.

Twenty-two-year-old George Williams, a farmer-turned-department store worker, was troubled by what he saw. He joined 11 friends to organize the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets.

Although an association of young men meeting around a common purpose was nothing new, the Y offered something unique for its time. The organization’s drive to meet social need in the community was compelling, and its openness to members crossed the rigid lines separating English social classes.

Years later, retired Boston sea captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan, working as a marine missionary, noticed a similar need to create a safe “home away from home” for sailors and merchants. Inspired by the stories of the Y in England, he led the formation of the first U.S. YMCA at the Old South Church in Boston on December 29, 1851.

I pressed on with my research because I needed to know what the YMCA was like specifically in the 1920s. What I came across confirmed something I had heard about on a television show back in the 1970s but assumed was intended to be a funny portion of the storyline: swimming nude at the Y. I’ll direct you to Eric Markowitz’s 2014 article, “Until Fairly Recently, The YMCA Actually Required Swimmers To Be Nude,” because it has to be read to be believed. While nude swimming may have been the standard in the 1920s, I’ll allow potential readers to envision the above-mentioned scene based on what he or she is familiar with in regards to swimming at the Y.

Night on the Town

night-on-the-town-2The Alexander cocktail features in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, during the winter of 1927 when John and his two best friends, Claude and Sam, sneak away for a night on the town. Prohibition limits their choice of establishments where they might procure a decent drink, but the young men are looking for a little wild entertainment. Where they end up provides more than they bargained for in quite a few ways. I’ll leave you with that little teaser (I have to save something for the publication of my novel), and provide you with the recipes I found and my experience with the drink.

I don’t keep ingredients on hand for cocktails, so I ventured out with my best friend, Emily, to find a bartender who could make the drink for us. It took us three tries at different restaurants before we found one that had the ingredients to make an Alexander. The drink is old-fashioned, and only one bartender knew what we were talking about.

When you mention an Alexander, the drink that most often comes to mind is the brandy version with white crème de cacao.   Even if you don’t order a Brandy Alexander, this is probably what you will receive.

Brandy Alexander

¾ oz. brandy

¾ oz. white crème de cacao

¾ oz. heavy cream

Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

But let’s tiptoe back a little farther in history to 1910 and Jacob Abraham Grohusko’s book, Jack’s Manual on The Vintage & Production, Care & Handling of Wines, Liquors, etc., which is supposedly the oldest reference to a drink called The Alexander. It sounds lovely and like it might have a bit of kick with the rye whisky.

Alexander Cocktail

75% rye whisky

25% Benedictine

1 piece of ice

Twist of orange peel. Stir and serve.

And let us not forget the 1916 mention in Hugo Ensslin’s book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks, which provides this version of The Alexander.

Alexander Cocktail

⅓ El Bart gin

⅓ white crème de cacao

⅓ sweet cream

Shake well in a mixing glass with cracked ice, strain, and serve.

So which drink would John, Claude, and Sam have imbibed during their night on the town? For recipes, I’m following the lead of Gary Regan in his 2011 article, Behind the Drink: The Brandy Alexander, but I’m putting the gin back in the drink as it was originally created.

The Alexander

The lovely Gretchen

The lovely Gretchen

2 oz. gin

1 oz. dark crème de cacao

1 oz. heavy cream

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Emily and I requested Tanqueray gin, and the lovely bartender, Gretchen, was kind enough to procure heavy cream from the kitchen to make our drink. The restaurant where we dined makes a Brandy Alexander with gelato, but we were striving for authenticity. In our opinion, the drink was delicious. Not too cloying, the flavor of each ingredient blended well, but they also remained well defined. The gin made for a light, crisp drink despite the cream. For the sake of research, we tried the brandy version.

Brandy Alexander

2 oz. Cognac or other fine aged brandy

1 oz. dark crème de cacao

1 oz. heavy cream

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

The Brandy Alexander was also a delicious cocktail but with a titch more warmth to it. The flavor was richer which we attributed to the brandy. Again, the three ingredients complimented each other without losing their identity and becoming something else entirely.

Traditionally, the drink was served in a cocktail glass, sometimes called a champagne glass, and if you aren’t familiar with it, it’s the saucer style glass on a stem. Today, if you find a restaurant or bar that can make a Brandy Alexander, or the gin version, you’ll receive the cocktail in a martini glass.

For an interesting tidbit, Barry Popik, historian, states the cocktail was invented at Rector’s in New York. According to Mr. Popik, Troy Alexander, the bartender, created the white drink to celebrate Phoebe Snow, the fictional character used in advertising for Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. The snowy beverage was used to emphasize the fact that the railroad powered its locomotives with anthracite, a clean-burning variety of coal, and was backed up by images of Phoebe Snow in a snow-white dress. The Brandy Alexander was originally known as Alexander #2.

Cheers!

Suits Me to a Tea

suits-me-to-a-teaI remember the first time someone asked me if I wanted regular tea or sweet tea. I was a teenager on vacation with my parents in North Carolina. I thought the best thing that would happen to me that week was endless basking in the sun and swimming in the ocean. Who knew that a counter person working the register at McDonald’s could bring such happiness to a Northerner from Ohio? Even better, the delicious beverage was served at every restaurant we visited during that trip. My family had discovered sweet tea and drank it by the gallons that week. We even purchased large cups of sweet tea to drink on the way home. The restaurant wasn’t out of sight before it was consumed.

Flash forward a couple of years to the advent of sweet tea reaching McDonald’s in Ohio and other restaurants as well. We Northerners were elated, but we had a few things to learn: keep your sweet tea refrigerated so it doesn’t grow bacteria and don’t try to pass off that junk in the beverage machines as sweet tea.

All this to say that sweet tea factored in to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, the first time John met Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby at the University of Maryland. John had been invited to visit Sam’s home along with Claude. While he instantly liked amiable worrier, Sam, John’s initial opinion of Claude was reserved at best. Claude sneaked bourbon into the sweet tea without John’s knowledge. When John took a large swallow, he choked on the presence of the strong alcohol much to Claude’s entertainment. The conversation that followed would either make or break their tentative relationship.

There are many recipes out there for sweet tea and the history is quite enjoyable to read. I had no idea that iced green tea was the original favorite. The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. Of course, you can always put a splash of bourbon in yours; just remember to warn your guests first.

Sweet Tea

¾ c sugar (I use raw)

¾ c water

suits-me-to-a-tea-2Place the sugar and water in a saucepan, stir thoroughly, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil the mixture for seven minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the heat so the syrup doesn’t scorch. You should attain a gentle, rolling boil. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.

10 cups water, divided

6 regular-sized tea black tea bags

1 pinch baking soda

Ice

Lemon slices (optional)

In another saucepan, bring three cups of water to a boil. Remove the pot from the range and place on a trivet. Add tea bags and baking soda, and steep for six minutes. Do not squeeze the tea bags when removing. Add the simple syrup and stir. Allow to cool to room temperature.

When the tea/syrup mixture has cooled, pour into a pitcher and add the remaining seven of cups water. Serve over ice with lemon slices if desired.

Enjoy!

Sweet History Lesson

sweet-history-lessonI researched the history of sweet tea for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, because I used it in a scene involving John and his two classmates at the University of Maryland, Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby. As I’ve mentioned previous blog post (Who is in Your Details, No Bad Apples), it’s important to check your facts, and I honestly didn’t know how far back recipes for sweet tea went. Thankfully, the time period in which I wrote the scene was well after the first documented evidence of sweet tea in American culinary history.  So, without further ado, I present to you the History of Sweet Tea as gleaned from the What’s Cooking in America website.  I credit them and their sources with all of the history presented in this post.  It’s a bit of a lengthy read, but that’s what makes a great Research Road post.

History of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea

There are two traditional iced teas in the United States – Iced Tea and Sweet Tea.  The only variation between them is sugar.  Southerners swear by their traditional sweet iced tea and drink it by the gallons.  In the South, iced tea is not just a summertime drink, and it is served year round with most meals.  When people order tea in a Southern restaurant, chances are they will get sweet iced tea.  Outside of the southern states, iced tea is served unsweetened or “black,” and most people have never even heard of sweet tea.

18th Century

1795 – South Carolina is the first place in the United States where tea was grown and is the only state to ever have produced tea commercially.  Most historians agree that the first tea plant arrived in this country in the late 1700s when French explorer and botanist, Andre Michaux (1746-1802), imported it as well as other beautiful and showy varieties of camellias, gardenias, and azaleas to suit the aesthetic and acquisitive desires of wealthy Charleston planters.  He planted tea near Charleston at Middleton Barony, now known as Middleton Place Gardens.

19th Century

1800s – English and American cookbooks shows us that tea has been served cold at least since the early nineteenth century when cold green tea punches, that were heavily spiked with liquor, were popularized.  The oldest recipes in print are made with green tea and not black tea and were called punches.  The tea punches went by names such as Regent’s Punch, named after George IV, the English prince regent between 1811 until 1820 and king from 1820 to 1830.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, American versions of this punch begin to acquire regional and even patriotic names, such as Charleston’s St. Cecilia Punch (named for the musical society whose annual ball it graced), and Savannah’s potent version, Chatham Artillery Punch.

Iced tea’s popularity parallels the development of refrigeration:  The ice house, the icebox (refrigerator), and the commercial manufacture of pure ice, which were in place by the middle of the nineteenth century.  The term refrigerator was used for the first patented ice box in 1803 and were common in the mid-19th century in the United States.

1839 – The 1839 cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife, by Mrs. Lettice Bryanon, was typical of the American tea punch recipes:

“Tea Punch – Make a pint and a half of very strong tea in the usual manner; strain it, and pour it boiling (hot) on one pound and a quarter of loaf sugar. (That’s 2 1/2 cups white sugar) Add half a pint of rich sweet cream, and then stir in gradually a bottle of claret or of champaign (sic). You may heat it to the boiling point, and serve it so, or you may send it round entirely cold, in glass cups.”

1879 – The oldest sweet tea recipe (iced tea) in print comes from a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia, by Marion Cabell Tyree, published in 1879:

“Ice Tea – After scalding the teapot, put into it one quart of boiling water and two teaspoonfuls green tea.  If wanted for supper, do this at breakfast.  At dinner time, strain, without stirring, through a tea strainer into a pitcher.  Let it stand till tea time and pour into decanters, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the pitcher.  Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar.  A squeeze of lemon will make this delicious and healthful, as it will correct the astringent tendency.”

1884 – This may be the first printed recipe using black tea, which has become so universal today, and could also be the earliest version of pre-sweetened iced tea, the usual way of making it in the South today.  Mrs. D. A. (Mary) Lincoln, director of the Boston Cooking School, published Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking in 1884.  On page 112, there it is: iced tea, proving that the drink was not just a Southern drink.

“Ice Tea or Russian Tea – Make the tea by the first receipt, strain it from the grounds, and keep it cool. When ready to serve, put two cubes of block sugar in a glass, half fill with broken ice, add a slice of lemon, and fill the glass with cold tea.”

1890 – Professor Lyndon N. Irwin, of Southwest Missouri State University and a member of the St. Louis World’s Fair Society, found an article from the September 28, 1890, issue of the Nevada Noticer newspaper regarding the 1890 Missouri State Reunion of Ex-Confederate Veterans.  This article clearly states that iced tea had been around prior to1890.  The article states the following:

“The following figures will convey some idea of the amount of provision used at Camp Jackson during the recent encampment. There were 4,800 pounds of bread, 11,705 pounds of beef, 407 pounds of ham, 21 sheep, 600 pounds of sugar, 6 bushels of beans, 60 gallon of pickles, and a wagonload of potatoes. It was all washed down with 2,220 gallons of coffee and 880 gallons of iced tea. The committee expended $3,000, a little in excess of the amount subscribed, for the entertainment of the old soldiers.”

1893 – The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also called the Columbian Exposition, had a concessionaire that grossed over $2,000 selling iced tea and lemonade.

The Home Queen World’s Fair Souvenir Cookbook – Two Thousand Valuable Recipes on Cookery and Household Economy, Menus, Table Etiquette, Toilet, Etc.  Contributed by Two Hundred World’s Fair Lady Managers, Wives of Governors, and Other Ladies of Position and Influence, compiled by Miss Juliet Corson includes a recipe for variations on serving iced tea.

1895 – The Enterprising Manufacturing Co. of Pennsylvania distributed its popular recipe booklet called The Enterprising Housekeeper by Helen Louise Johnson. In the recipe booklet, they advertise their popular ice shredders and its many uses. One use was “for your iced tea.”

20th Century

1900s – After 1900, iced tea became commonplace in cookbooks, and black tea began replacing green as the preferred tea for serving cold.  The preference for black over green tea in an iced beverage came with of import of inexpensive black tea exports from India, Ceylon, South America, and Africa.

1904 – It was at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis that iced tea was popularized and commercialized (not invented).  Due to the hot summer of 1904, people ignored any hot drinks and went in search of cold drinks, including iced tea.  Because of this, it changed the way the rest of Americans thought of tea, thus popularizing iced tea.

Most historians mistakenly give credit to Richard Blechynden, India Tea Commissioner and Director of the East Indian Pavilion, as being the creator of ice tea at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  In the East Indian Pavilion at the Fair, Blechynden was offering free hot tea to everyone.  Because of the intense heat, it was soon realized that the heat prevented the crowd from drinking his hot tea.  Blechynden and his team took the brewed India tea, filled several large bottles, and placed them on stands upside down – thus allowing the tea to flow through iced lead pipes.  This free iced tea was very much welcomed by the thirsty fair goers.  After the fair, Blechynden took his lead pipe apparatus to New York City, offering free iced tea to shoppers at Bloomingdale Brothers Department Store, demonstrating iced tea is a desirable summertime drink.

According to the book Beyond The Ice Cream Cone – The Whole Scoop on Food at the 1904 World’s Fair by Pamela J. Vaccaro:

“Both hot tea and iced tea appeared on most restaurant menus at the Fair – at the Barbecue, Fair Japan, the Old Irish Parliament House, the Louisiana and Texas Rice Kitchen, Mrs. Rorer’s East Pavilioin Cafe, and so on. It is highly unlikely that all these restaurants jumped on the bandwagon of Blechynden’s “new idea,” and scurried to the print shops to have their menus reprinted!

What really “stirs the pot” is that “Richard Blechynden” was listed as an official concessionaire (No. 325) “to serve tea in cups and packages” at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 – 11 years before the one in St. Louis. The financial records from the exposition do not list any ledger entries for Blechynden – which raises the question of whether he actually showed up or was just late with his report. But, if he had been there, it would have been odd that he would not have realized that his product was already being sold in hot and cold versions. It would likewise be odd that, in the 11 intervening years, he would have been totally oblivious to the drink’s inclusion in cookbooks and on menus.”

1917 – By World War I, Americans were buying special tall iced tea glasses, long spoons, and lemon forks.  By the 1930s, people were commonly referring to the tall goblet in crystal sets as an “iced tea” glass.

1920 to 1933 – The American Prohibition (1920-1933) helped boost the popularity of iced tea because average Americans were forced to find alternatives to illegal beer, wine, and alcohol.  Iced tea recipes begin appearing routinely in most southern cookbooks during this time.

1928 – In the southern cookbook, Southern Cooking, by Henrietta Stanley Dull (Mrs. S.R. Dull), Home Ecomonics Editor for the Atlanta Journal, gives the recipe that remained standard in the South for decades thereafter.  It is a regional book that very much resembles the many “church” or “ladies society” cookbooks of that era.

“TEA – Freshly brewed tea, after three to five minutes infusion, is essential if a good quality is desired. The water, as for coffee, should be freshly boiled and poured over the tea for this short time . . . The tea leaves may be removed when the desired strength is obtained . . . Tea, when it is to be iced, should be made much stronger, to allow for the ice used in chilling. A medium strength tea is usually liked. A good blend and grade of black tea is most popular for iced tea, while green and black are used for hot . . . To sweeten tea for an iced drink, less sugar is required if put in while tea is hot, but often too much is made and sweetened, so in the end there is more often a waste than saving . . . Iced tea should be served with or without lemon, with a sprig of mint, a strawberry, a cherry, a slice of orange, or pineapple. This may be fresh or canned fruit. Milk is not used in iced tea.”

1941 – During World War II, the major sources of green tea were cut off from the United States, leaving us with tea almost exclusively from British-controlled India, which produces black tea. Americans came out of the war drinking nearly 99 percent black tea.

1995 – South Carolina’s grown tea was officially adopted as the Official Hospitality Beverage by State Bill 3487, Act No. 31 of the 111th Session of the South Carolina General Assembly on April 10, 1995.

21st Century

2003 – Georgia State Representative, John Noel, and four co-sponsors, apparently as an April Fools’ Day joke, introduced House Bill 819, proposing to require all Georgia restaurants that serve tea to serve sweet tea.  Representative John Noel, one of the sponsors, is said to have acknowledged that the bill was an attempt to bring humor to the Legislature, but wouldn’t mind if it became law. The text of the bill proposes:

(a)  As used in this Code section, the term ‘sweet tea’ means iced tea which is sweetened with sugar at the time that it is brewed.

(b)  Any food service establishment which served iced tea must serve sweet tea. Such an establishment may serve unsweetened tea but in such case must also serve sweet tea.

(c)  Any person who violates this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.

SOURCES:

1904 St. Louis World’s Fair – The Iced Tea Question, by Lyndon N. Irwin.

Beyond the Ice Cream Cone – The Whole Scoop on food at the 1904 World’s Fair, by Pamela J. Vaccaro, Enid Press, St. Louis, 2004.

Boston Cooking School Cook Book, by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1996 Reprint.

GA: Food Establishments Must Serve Sweet Tea!, Political State Report, Tuesday, April 1, 2003.

Georgia General Assembly, House Bill 819.

I’ll Have What They’re Having – Legendary Local Cuisine, by Linda Stradley, Globe Pequot Press, 2002.

Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, NC, Features Works by Pierre-Joseph Redout April Issue 2002, from Carolina Arts Magazine, by Shoestring Publishing Company, Bonneau, SC.

South Carolina General Assembly, 111th Session, 1995-1996.

Steeped in Tradition – Sweetened or Not, Iced tea is Southerners’ drink of choice, by Linda Dailey Paulson, writer for Atlanta-Journal Constitution newspaper.

Taste of Luzianne, Luzianne Tea.

Spin to Win

spin-to-winIn December of 1927, Claude Willoughby has been left behind in Maryland as his father, sister, and step-mother return to Kentucky for Christmas. The cruel abandonment is Claude’s punishment for disobeying his father’s directive. Sam Feldman comes to Claude’s rescue by inviting him and their friend, John Welles, over for an after-the-fact Hanukkah celebration. After a meal of brisket and latkes, the boys play dreidel with Sam’s mother, Gladys.

Although the game is meant for children, I know quite a few adults, myself included, who get caught up in playing dreidel every Hanukkah. In fact, we have a tradition that last year’s winner must return to defend his or her title the following year.

The Hebrew word sevivon or s’vivon means to turn around. Dreidel is the Yiddish word for a spinning top. All dreidels have four Hebrew letters on them which stand for the saying Nes gadol haya sham, meaning a great miracle occurred there. In Israel, instead of the fourth letter shin, there is a peh which changes the saying to Nes gadol haya po, a great miracle occurred here.

Playing with the dreidel is a traditional Hanukkah game played in Jewish homes all over the world, and rules may vary. Here’s how to play the basic dreidel game:

  1. Any number of people can take part.
  2. Each player begins the game with an equal number of game pieces (about 10-15) such as pennies, nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, matchsticks, etc. (Our family uses Hershey’s Nuggets which makes winning or losing fun as many of the playing pieces are enjoyed during the game.)
  3. At the beginning of each round, every participant puts one game piece into the center pot. In addition, every time the pot is empty or has only one game piece left, every player should put one in the pot.
  4. Every time it’s your turn, spin the dreidel once. Depending on the outcome, you give or get game pieces from the pot:
  5. Nun means nisht or nothing. The player does nothing.
  6. Gimmel means gantz or everything. The player gets everything in the pot.
  7. Hey means halb or half. The player gets half of the pot. (If there is an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes half of the total plus one.)
  8. Shin (outside of Israel) means shtel or put in.  Peh (in Israel) also means put in. The player adds a game piece to the pot. (Our family puts two pieces in.)
  9. If you find that you have no game pieces left, you are either out or may ask a fellow player for a loan. (We’re pretty ruthless for the Dreidel Champion title; once you’re out, you’re out!)
  10. When one person has won everything, that round of the game is over!

For non-Jewish players, we came up with a way to remember what do to for each Hebrew letter:

Nun you get none – don’t do anything

Gimme gimmel – you get the entire pot

Hey means half – you get half the pot plus one if there’s an odd number of pieces

Shin two in – put two game pieces in the pot

Recipe for Disaster

Recipe for DisasterOne of the worst secrets young John Welles will keep reaches its peak by late 1928. Only John isn’t aware of it yet. The secret involves one of his best friends, Claude Willoughby, and the ruthless gangster by whom he is employed, Leo Jenkins.

Leo goes out of his way to make sure Claude suffers at every turn. He does so as a means of getting back at Claude’s father, the true object of Jenkin’s scorn. Bad business dealings put Claude’s father, J.D., at odds with Jenkins, but instead of bearing the brunt of the gangster’s wrath, J.D. offers up Claude as compensation by suggesting his son work for the man. Claude’s loathing of Leo cannot be suppressed during one of their encounters as the gangster eats a meal of sausage and potatoes, and it costs him dearly.

When I wrote the scene, I pictured kielbasa-style sausage and fried potatoes. I don’t have the kitchen equipment required to make sausage, but I’m sure there are many delicious recipes on the Internet. Also, you could consider kielbasa from a local butcher or even a well-known brand. Sliced fried potatoes are easy and delicious, and they complement the sausage. Add some grainy brown mustard, and you have a meal fit for a man as coarse as Leo Jenkins.

Fried Potatoes

Russet potatoes (about 3 inches long)

Peanut oil (Whoever made the potatoes for Leo Jenkins probably would have used lard or butter, but I’m suggesting peanut oil because I love the way it crisps whatever you fry in it.)

Sea salt

I recommend about three potatoes per person. Scrub the potato skins under water with a soft brush to remove excess dirt and eyes. Place the potatoes in a large pot and fill with enough cold water to cover your quantity of potatoes. Bring the water to a boil. Time the potatoes for five minutes and test for doneness with a sharp knife. You should be able to pierce them without resistance, but do not cook them to a soft or mushy state. Boil for another five minutes only if necessary.

Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool on a cutting board. After cooling, you can refrigerate them for use within two days or you can slice them to fry immediately.

Heat the peanut oil in a cast iron skillet over a medium-high to high heat. The surface will ripple and the oil pop. Drop in one potato to test. If the oil sizzles, it’s ready. Place the sliced potatoes in one layer in the skillet and cook until golden brown. You will need to cover them while they cook. Flip and repeat on the other side.

Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined platter. Keep the platter in a warmed oven as you cook. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Season the potatoes with salt in between the layers. Serve hot with the kielbasa and brown mustard.

Enjoy!

Keep Calm and Eat Latkes

Keep Calm and Eat LatkesLatkes are featured twice in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. The first time was during a Hanukkah celebration Sam Feldman hosted for his two friends, John Welles and Claude Willoughby. Although Hanukkah was technically over, Sam’s idea to celebrate again was meant to cheer up Claude who had not returned to Kentucky with his family for Christmas. Sam’s mother, Gladys, made the latkes as an accompaniment to her brisket.

The second instance in which latkes are served was during the dinner John had with his neighbors, Reuben and Hannah Wise, during the years he lived in West Virginia. Hannah served the shredded potatoes with salmon patties.

In both stories, the following recipe is the one I had in mind. Because the Feldmans and Wises are Jews, they would have used any oil other than lard. I recommend peanut oil because it ensures a wonderful crisp exterior and a tender, well-cooked middle. Some cooks prefer canola, but all appear to agree that this is one time to forego olive oil. Forget fancy potatoes for latkes as the starch in Russets also guarantees crunchy edges and soft, fluffy middles.

Latkes

12 Russet potatoes, shredded

1 large Vidalia onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, pressed

2 eggs, beaten

4 T flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Peanut oil

I recommend shredding the potatoes through a food processor to achieve matchstick like shreds. Be sure to press out all the liquid from the potatoes either by squeezing them through cheesecloth or a clean tea towel or in a colander under a heavy bowl filled with water. Wet potatoes do not fry well.

Combine the shredded potatoes and chopped onion in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients (except the oil) and stir. You may need to mix with your hands to ensure the clumps of potatoes are thoroughly coated.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet to very hot. The oil will ripple across the top and pop when ready. Drop in large spoonsful of the mixture and fry until golden brown and crisp on each side. Transfer the cooked latkes by slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined platter. Serve with sour cream and applesauce.

Enjoy!

Taking Stock of the Situation

Taking Stock of the Situation 1The summer of 1929 held a world of promise for young John Welles. He was succeeding brilliantly at the University of Maryland, had made two lifelong friends in Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, and the once competitive relationship he had with Garland Griffin turned into a romantic one unlike anything John ever imagined.

The opportunity to pamper the young woman who was swiftly becoming the love of his life occurred a few days after their visit to Garland’s home. An unexpected cold kept Garland away from John for a few days, and when he could stand it no longer, he took a crock of chicken soup to her.

Lucia, the sassy cook who works for John’s Aunt Prudence and keeps her on her toes, made the recipe for chicken noodle soup Sam’s mother, Gladys Feldman, gave her. Per Mrs. Feldman, Jewish chicken soup cured everything. Unfortunately, neither Lucia nor Gladys could predict how Garland’s secret would crash down upon John’s world, a secret for which there was no remedy.

The recipe I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene actually starts with the post Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner. This recipe provides the carcass you’ll need for the stock that is the base of the soup. I highly recommend using this particular carcass as the seasoning from that recipe tastes amazing in the soup.

Chicken Stock:

1 roasted chicken carcass

2 T olive oil

12 c water

1 medium carrot

1 medium celery stalk

1/2 medium Vidalia onion

1 t thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

1 t quad-colored whole peppercorns

Remove the meat from the chicken carcass and reserve it for the soup. Break up the carcass into several pieces using a large knife or kitchen scissors. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or stock pot to medium heat and brown the carcass pieces on all sides. Be sure to scrape any browned tidbits from the bottom of the pot and occasionally turn the pieces.

Peel the vegetables and coarsely chop them. Add the water, vegetables, and seasonings to the pot, and bring to a simmer. Do not let the stock boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer, occasionally skimming any scum off the surface of the stock using a large spoon. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the stock at a simmer until the flavors have melded, about 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Remove and discard the pieces of chicken carcass. Pour the stock through a wire mesh strainer placed over a large crock or bowl. Do not save the vegetables for the soup as the flavor has gone into the stock. The stock can be cooled to room temperature and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three days or frozen for one month.

Or you can pour the stock into a six quart pot and proceed with making soup.

Chicken Noodle Soup:

Reserved chicken meat

2 medium carrots

2 medium celery stalks

1/2 medium Vidalia onion

1 t sea salt

1 t thyme leaves

Freshly ground quad-colored peppercorns to taste

2 c dried egg noodles

Bring the stock to a simmer over medium-high heat. Peel and dice the vegetables to a medium dice. Add them and the seasonings to the pot and stir thoroughly. Return to a simmer then reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about twenty minutes.

In a separate pot, bring water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente. Drain them in a colander. Do not cook the noodles in the stock or they will become mushy and your stock pasty.

Shred the reserved chicken meat into small pieces. You’ll need about 2 c for the soup. Save any extra for another use.

Once the vegetables are tender, add the shredded chicken and drained noodles to the stock. Stir thoroughly and return to a simmer. Cook about five minutes to meld the flavors. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Enjoy!

Taking Stock of the Situation 2

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