Archive for the ‘Food History’ Category

Delectably edible baseballs and gloves

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Jules Catering celebrates Red Sox Opening Day at Fenway

As always when exploring Jules Catering’s kitchen, we felt a powerful pull toward the bakery, where, on the eve of the Red Sox 2014 home opener, something really special was going on: Shortbread cookies baked and shaped and decorated as baseball balls and gloves were being artfully arranged and packaged by Jules’ Assistant Pastry Chef, Wilmar Aristizabal.¬†

Raise your glove if you love Red Sox Home Opener shortbread cookies from Jules!

Raise your glove if you love Red Sox Opening Day shortbread cookies from Jules!

Cookies were everywhere, so we asked the obvious: How many?

“One-thousand-five-hundred.” Wilmar didn’t bat an eye.

Jules' resident "Cookie Monster" Wilmar Aristizabal offers a few of the 1,500 cookies he baked for the Red Sox home opener

Wilmar sent us home with a sampling of the 1,500 cookies he baked for Opening Day at Fenway

A simple recipe, a massive achievement

“It’s very basic,” Wilmar continued. “For the dough, just three ingredients.”¬†

Classic Scottish shortbread cookies as prepared by Jules features only high-quality sweet butter, powdered sugar, and flour

Top-quality unsalted butter + powdered sugar + flour = classic Scottish shortbread cookies from Jules

“Ginger or citrus or even savory flavorings, like cheddar, are called for in some shortbread recipes, but for Opening Day, we go the traditional route.”

Fresh, creamery butter is essential

Premium creamery butter is essential

“Something else we do is use confectioners’ sugar in the dough, rather than the granulated sugar featured in some recipes” Wilmar explained. “We do this because we believe the powdered sugar yields a more delicate and crumbly texture. Then, before we bake, we sprinkle granulated sugar on top.”

Wilmar blends the flour and powdered sugar before mixing both into the softened butter

Wilmar blends the flour and powdered sugar before mixing both into the softened butter

“Of course, simple as the recipe is, ‘stitching’ the seams on 1,500 balls and gloves¬†does¬†take time.”

We could only imagine.

These baseball gloves are NOT tough as leather

These baseball gloves are NOT tough as leather


Beneath the stitches is delectable crumbly shortbread coated with egg-white and powdered-sugar icing

Beneath the stitches crumbly shortbread is coated with egg-white and powdered-sugar icing

What quantities are involved in a recipe for so many cookies?

Large¬†quantities!” Wilmar reached for a calculator. “In total,¬†this 1,500-cookie batch required more than 56 lbs of butter, 71 lbs of flour, and 15 lbs of powdered sugar. But because I prepare only 200 cookies at a time, it’s manageable. I don’t break my back.”¬†

So if 269 Cookie Monsters were to occupy each of the 269 seats atop Fenway’s “Green Monster,” you could feed–?

“From this batch of shortbread, we could offer about 5-1/2 cookies apiece!”

Fenway Park’s “Green Monster” is poised for Opening Day

Why “short” and why “bread”?

A jazz musician we knew used the term “short bread” to characterize low-paying gigs, but we wondered about the culinary meaning of the word. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the short in shortbread refers to “butter or other fat used in baking‚Ķ ‘shorten’ in the sense of ‘make crumbly’‚Ķor ‘easily crumbled.'”¬†And the bread¬†in the name¬†was used by early Scottish bakers who fought to classify shortbread biscuits (ie, cookies) as a “bread,” in order to avoid paying a government tax placed on biscuits.

A Scottish creation that dates back to the 12th century and popular ever since throughout the United Kingdom, shortbread is said to have been refined and popularized by Mary Queen of Scots, who, at age 44, was beheaded for treason for allegedly plotting the execution of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.

We wonder whether Mary Queen of Scots, found guilty of plotting the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I, dined on shortbread for her last meal

We wonder whether Mary Queen of Scots dined on shortbread for her last meal

Queen Mary’s favorite shortbread was cut into triangular “Petticoat Tails,” so named because the triangle wedges cut from the circle of dough were the same shape as the pieces of fabric used to make an Elizabethan petticoat, and the name for a pattern back then was ‘tally.’ Queen Mary’s preferred ‘petticote tallis‘ was flavored with¬†caraway¬†seeds.

Other fascinating facts about shortbread:

  • Because shortbread ingredients were expensive, this treat was often reserved for special occasions, notably¬†Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year‚Äôs Eve.
  • The Scottish custom of eating shortbread on New Year‚Äôs Eve arose out of an ancient pagan ritual.
  • In Shetland, a decorated shortbread was traditionally broken over a bride‚Äôs head before she entered her new home.
  • In the UK, January 6 is National Shortbread Day.
  • Southerners in the US traditionally used brown sugar when preparing the dough; in Kentucky, shortbread cut into squares or wedges and topped with strawberries and cream is known as “Derby Cake.”
Using Jules' classic shortbread recipe we shaped and cut Mary-Queen-of-Scots-style "Petticoat Tails"

Using Jules’ classic shortbread recipe we shaped and cut Mary-Queen-of-Scots-style “Petticoat Tails”

Shortbread cookies are not just for Red Sox Opening Day

Jules’ Director of Business Development, Jenny Willig, popped down into the kitchen to give us a little backstory on “the themed cookies Jules prepares for summer ice-cream socials, winter holiday events, and any number of other ‘show-appreciation-for-the-guests’ -type occasions Jules caters throughout the year.”¬†

Jenny Willig, standing with a package the Jules sales team assembled as part of the bid process for today’s Opening Day event, says, “Pitching and ‘catching’ Jules’ food and service is a win-win for all involved.”

Jules’ Traditional Shortbread Recipe (Serves 8)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature)

1. Whisk the flour and powdered sugar together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

2.¬†Using your hands, press the dough into a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter and knead until it is smooth. Press the round of dough on top of a piece of parchment paper and, with a rolling pin, roll out until about ¬Ĺ-inch thick. Define a circle by cutting around the circumference of a pie or dinner plate.

3. Transfer the parchment paper with rolled-out circle of dough to a baking sheet. Crimp the edges, then poke the dough all over with a fork and sprinkle evenly with granulated sugar. Score the circle of dough into 16 wedges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 20 minutes. (Overnight also works.)

4. Adjust an oven rack to the top third of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake the shortbread until pale golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.

5. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and, while the shortbread is still warm, use a sharp knife to cut through the scored marks and separate the wedge-shaped Petticoat Tails. Let cool and serve.

We love the way these cookies crumble

We love the way these cookies crumble (again, quality butter and powdered sugar are key)

World champ cookies, a championship team

Whether they win or lose, Jules loves the Red Sox. 

Grateful fans gather in the shadows of the Green Monster, November 2, 2013

Grateful fans gather in the shadows of the Green Monster, November 2, 2013


"Did I hear 'World Champion Cookies'?!"

“Did someone say ‘World Champ Cookies’?!” (Boston’s ace was all ears)

The best Sox are the Red Sox

Three days ago at the White House, Barack Obama (a Chicagoan and a White Sox fan), wished David Ortiz and other members of the Red Sox good luck this season. “May the best Sox win,” he smiled.

Big Papi snaps a 'selfie' with the President, who invited the Red Sox to the White House April 1

Big Papi tweets a ‘selfie’ with the President, April 1

“Shortnin’ Bread”–Music to munch by

Finally, because there’s very little we enjoy more than sampling shortbread while tapping our toes to great music, here’s Mississippi John Hurt playing and singing “Shortnin’ Bread.”

Interestingly, the shortnin’ bread lauded in this song may actually have¬†been¬†bread–ie, a quick bread made with shortening–rather than the shortbread cookies featured in this post. But that’s a topic for another time!

Image Credits:
Green Monster Fenway Park, Bernard Gagnon: Wikimedia Commons
Mary Stuart Queen of Scots, Francois Clouet: Wikimedia Commons
Big Papi Tweets Selfie with the President: David Ortiz, Twitter
All other photos: Liz Muir 


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“Bet you can’t eat just one!”

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Jules has a thing about potato chips

“That old girl is a girl after our own heart” was the word from Jules Catering, after we screened this one-minute vintage television commercial for Scudder’s Potato Chips:

“We have a lot in common with¬†Laura Scudder. She’s particular about her potato chips,¬†we’re¬†particular about our potato chips. We’re like¬†Goldilocks. We want our chips to sound and taste and look¬†just right.”

"Just right" homemade potato chips from Jules

Of course Jules and Laura Scudder aren’t alone in being particular about fried potatoes.¬†

Do you know how potato chips were inadvertently invented in Saratoga Springs, New York?¬†Have you heard about¬†“Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt¬†mixing it up with¬†Chef George Crum?

Cantankerous chef “wreaks culinary vengeance” on persnickety diner

Cornelius Vanderbilt insisted on 'crisp'!

Potato chip historians credit George Crum with inventing the potato chip at the Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1853. This is a point of fact.

Rumor has it¬†that Crum was¬†provoked¬†into this innovation, when multi-millionaire shipping and railroad magnate¬†Cornelius Vanderbilt, who summered in Saratoga Springs, rejected a plate of fried potatoes prepared by Crum because they were “too thick and soggy” and “not salty enough.”

Vanderbilt sent Crum’s potatoes back to the kitchen, not once, but twice!¬†

Then, according to one report, Crum’s response was to “wreak culinary vengeance” on the Commodore by slicing the potatoes paper thin, frying them to a crisp, and then salting “the living daylights out of them.”

George Crum answered with 'crisp'!

When, for the second time, Crum slammed down the plate before Vanderbilt, this tough-to-please customer “tried one, smiled, then helped himself to the rest.”

In this way Crum inadvertently invented what he called Saratoga Chips.

George Crum’s potato chips were an instant hit.

Potato chip variables

“George Crum was lucky,” Jules observed, “because simple as it may seem, consistently making a light and crispy potato chip isn’t so easy. We’re longtime pros, but even for us it required a good deal of experimentation.”

“For one thing, not all potatoes fry equally well. But it’s not just about the type of potato. Other variables include: skin on or off…sliced thick or thin….”

“The type and temperature of the oil must also be factored in.”

Potatoes, oil, and salt

“So,” we asked. “What’s Jules’ recipe? How do you get from here…

Boise Valley potato harvest

…to here?”

Freshly made potato chips from Jules are salted while hot

“TOP SECRET!” Jules replied. “Like we said, unlike George Crum, we didn’t just luck into creating the crispy-light potato chips our clients love today. We worked at this over a period of time. There was a lot of trial and error.¬†But, if you’d like to see¬†how it’s done, our good friend and master potato-chip maker, Fernando Medina, is making a fresh batch right now.”

Fernando slices potatoes with a mandoline

Potatoes bubble in a clear, clean oil

Without a doubt, these chips are homemade

¬†“Try one,” Fernando offered.

Mmm-mmm-mmmmm! We were very nearly speechless.

“Have another,” he prompted.

We couldn’t resist.¬†

Americans have a thing for potato chips

According the Snack Food Association, potato chips are the number one salty snacks in the U.S., and potato chip sales reached $3.6 billion in 2010.

This, of course, would come as no surprise to Bert Lahr, the onetime Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, who went on to become spokesperson for Lay’s Potato Chips¬†in the l960s.¬†“Bet you can’t eat just one” was Lahr’s and Lay’s signature slogan. (Below is a variation on this theme.)

Bert Lahr, the one-time Cowardly Lion, sold a lot of chips

If you haven’t had the good fortune to try Jules’ freshly made potato chips, then Jules puts forth the familiar and friendly challenge:¬†Bet you can’t eat just one!

Photo Credits:
Laura Scudder’s Potato Chip YouTube: MiscVideos78rpm
Jules Catering’s Homemade Potato Chips: Liz Muir
Cornelius Vanderbilt Daguerrotype: Matthew Brady Workshop, Library of Congress
George Crumb: Public Domain
Boise Valley Potato Harvest Circa 1929: ID-0070,
Bert Lahr, Lay’s Potato Chip Ad: Frito-Lay
All other images of Jules Catering’s potato chips and chip-making process: Liz Muir¬†

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The turkey, “though a little vain and silly…

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

“…is a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards…with a red Coat on.” So wrote Benjamin Franklin, tongue at least partly in cheek, in a 1784 letter to his daughter, noting that “this respectable Bird” and “true original Native of America”¬†would have been superior to the bald eagle as the fledgling republic’s national emblem.

Ben Franklin and Tom Turkey

Ben and Tom


Looking ahead to Thanksgiving

Encountering this delicious quotation prompted us to do some gobbler Googling. In particular, we wondered how wild turkeys we’ve seen around town (the handsome fellow, above right, was photographed in Brookline!) compare to domestic turkeys, in particular, the free-range turkeys reared by Misty Knoll Farms¬†of New Haven, VT, purveyed by Kinnealey Quality Meats¬†in nearby Brockton, and prepared and served by Jules.

Wild turkeys

Louise Miller likes wild turkey meat

Louise Miller: "I like anything wild."

Before tapping into search engines, we called our friend Louise Miller, who was born on a small farm in Shaver’s Creek, PA, and married 60-plus years to a hunter of small and large game.

“Some people don’t like wild turkey, because it’s all dark meat and they say it tastes gamey, but I¬†much prefer wild to a supermarket bird. Jack, my husband, liked hunting turkey. He’d just park himself near a tree, where he thought they would be…where he’d seen signs of scratching…and he’d set there and call them. Gobblers will come to find the hen, but they’re sneaky. They can come up right behind you and you never know it. It’s harder–and takes more patience–to get a wild turkey than it does a deer.”

A key distinction between wild and store-bought birds stems from the fact that most commercially raised turkeys are selectively bred to grow faster and develop more breast meat than wild turkeys. Which leads to the question: Where do¬†free-range¬†birds fit in? They’re not wild. They’re not cooped up. Are naturally raised free-range turkeys something ‘in between’?

Why range free?

Up until the 20th century, green feed and sunshine (for the vitamin D) were fundamental to poultry rearing, because these ‘ingredients’ were required to raise healthy birds. But with the discovery of vitamins A and D, in the 1920s, the number of free-range poultry farms began to decline. While some large commercial breeding flocks were reared on pasture into the 1950s, advances in nutritional science led to increased confinement. ¬†Gathering up flocks and putting them all in one place allowed poultry to be raised on a commercial scale.

Monet Wild Turkeys

Foraging turkeys painted by Claude Monet

Of course while confinement yields efficiencies, it also presents problems. Today, the vast majority of the 260 million commercially raised turkeys in the US spend their lives in enclosed, artificially lit and ventilated sheds that house thousands of birds. Overcrowding–often extreme–causes stress hormones to rise, which increases aggression and accounts for a variety of other health problems. And, when disease occurs, it can easily spread.

In contrast, the advantages of a free-range approach are many. According to Compassion for World Farming:

  • Turkeys allowed to exercise and behave naturally have stronger, healthier legs
  • Access to fresh air and daylight means better eye and respiratory health
  • Health problems ¬†associated with a fast growth rate are minimized¬†because free-range farms often raise slower-growing breeds

Free-range turkeys from Misty Knoll Farms

Misty Knoll Farms turkeys in the straw

The free-range turkeys we know and love are those from family-owned and -operated Misty Knoll Farms, in New Haven, VT.¬†When old enough to withstand Vermont‚Äôs cool nights, they are sheltered in open barns and have free access to natural pasture, sunlight, and fresh water.¬†Because the turkeys range free on the farm’s meadows, and¬†because they are fed wholesome grain that is free of antibiotics and animal by-products, their lives–compared to factory-farmed turkeys–are natural and relatively stress-free.

This time of year, as another cold Vermont winter approaches, Misty Knoll turkeys–like any bird in the wild–plumpen up. Allowed to grow naturally to size, they are robust and meatier, and–when roasted–they will be juicy from wholesome feed, rather than from the injected oils and additives applied to factory-farmed birds. ¬†And, because they’re graded and processed on-site and by hand, only the finest birds are offered for sale. While it takes a little longer to rear birds in a free-range environment, Misty Knoll Farms feels good about being able to offer such healthy and nutritious turkeys. And Jules Catering’s Executive Chef Albert Rosada agrees.

Roasted free-range, organic turkeys from Jules

“The turkey breasts we’re roasting today are 22- to 24-pounds–the biggest breasts you can get,” explained Jules Catering’s Executive Chef, Albert Rosado. “Misty Knoll Farms turkeys are wonderful because they’re not full of fat or muscle–and they’re tender. The quality of the meat is grade A”

We asked Albert why he sports a meat thermometer in his pocket. “I need to keep checking. We want to roast white-meat turkey to 160 degrees,” he explained.

Albert halves organic free range turkey breast

Executive Chef Albert Rosado halves a succulent 24-pound turkey breast.

Halved organic free-range turkey breast

"We give our turkeys a lot o' love," Albert says.

Seconds after Albert finishes slicing, he passes breast meat along to Line Cook Jeff Ginyard, who ladles hot gravy. Moments later the turkey is sealed and wrapped, locked up in an insulated cart, and wheeled out the door!

Jeff ladles turkey gravy Jules Catering

When it's time for the holidays Jeff, Albert, and free-range turkeys are a winning team.

 Mmmm, that turkey looks so moist and smells so great. What else is on the menu? we inquired.

“Oh, we’ve got lots of great menu items,” replied Line-Chef Jeff, as he handed me the order sheet. “Today, for example, some of our corporate clients will be enjoying this little preview of a Thanksgiving feast.”

Roast Turkey with Herbed Bread Stuffing
Butternut Squash Ravioli in Basil Cream Sauce (Vegetarian Entrée)
Cranberry Chutney
Mashed Potatoes with Sweet Potato Swirls
Field Greens with Apple and Cheddar
Roasted Fall Vegetables
Dinner Rolls
Warm Apple-and-Pear Crisp with Whipped Cream


Photo Credits:
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin circa 1785 by Joseph Duplessis: National Portrait Gallery, Public Domain
Male Wild Turkey, Brookline, MA: Sasha Kopf, Wikimedia Commons
Louise Miller Talks Turkey: Liz Muir
The Turkeys by Claude Monet: WikiPaintings, Public Domain
Misty Knoll Farms Turkeys: Rob Litch
Turkey Prep at Jules Catering (3 photos): Liz Muir 


Farm and Chef Partnership

Misty Knoll Farms is an active member of the Vermont Fresh Network (VFN), a state-wide organization dedicated to building innovative partnerships among Vermont farmers, chefs, and consumers to strengthen Vermont’s agriculture.  

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Jules gives a fig about (ripe!) figs

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Adriatic Figs bounded by Mission Figs

“The fool looks for figs in winter,” said the 2nd-century Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.¬†But today, less than a week from the summer solstice, it’s not too soon to set our sights on figs.

California produces 98 percent of figs grown in the U.S., and the first California Mission Fig crop (which is harvested for fresh, rather than dried figs) matures in late June. A second, longer fig season begins toward the end of summer and runs through the fall. 

A fascinating fruit

According to the Valley Fig Growers, a large cooperative in Fresno, California:

  • Fig trees have no blossoms on their branches; instead, figs blossom inward (it’s the tiny blossom that forms¬†inside the fruit that produces the edible seeds)
  • The dark purple figs known as ‘Mission’ figs are so named because¬†priests at Mission San Diego originally planted them in California in 1769
  • Fig Newtons, which were introduced to the U.S. market in 1892, represent the nation’s first commercial fig product (In an April¬†New York Times¬†article reporting on the rebranding of ‘Fig Newtons’ as ‘Newtons,’ we learned that this cookie originated in a bakery in Cambridge, and was named for the city of Newton)

“Nothing beats a fresh fig!”

So asserts Jules’ Owner-Chef Anita Baglaneas, and she should know. Having grown up in a rural village on the Greek island of Samos in the eastern Aegean, Anita first-hand and early-on experienced the joys of plucking and eating figs fresh from the tree. “I knew at first touch if the fruit was ripe, because when it was, I barely had to touch the fig to make it drop into my hand!”

“Of course, here in New England,” Anita continued, “it’s not so easy to find properly ripened figs. Too often–even at upscale markets and in pricey restaurants–figs that are offered up as ‘fresh’ and ‘ripe’ turn out to be disappointingly tasteless and hard. At Jules Catering, though, we never serve a fig before its time!”

How do you distinguish ripe from unripe?” we wondered.

“I’ll show you,” Anita replied.

Whole fresh figs, ripe and unripe

The ripe Mission Fig on the left will have some give, when you squeeze it (not so its unripe partner)

Ripe vs. unripe figs

“If you have no choice but to purchase figs in tightly sealed packages that prevent you from ‘copping a feel,'” Anita laughed, “well, then Buyer Beware! Figs don’t ripen off the tree, so to make sure that you get what you pay for, you really need to get in there and very gently squeeze.”

What’s the best way to eat a ripe fig?

“Where I grew up, the custom was to peel figs,” Anita continued. “But when figs are ripe and the skin is tender, it’s absolutely delicious and okay to simply wash figs, cut them in half, and jump right in.”

Anita presents figs

Anita points to figs that are ripe and ready to eat

When Anita subsequently ate the ripe fig (below, left), we asked for her verdict.

Ambrosia!” she exclaimed.

Halved fresh figs, ripe and unripe

On the left, "ambrosia"; on the right, "may be salvaged by baking"

What can we do if the figs we have purchased are less than perfectly ripe?

In response to our query, Anita on-the-spot improvised the following recipe, which she said will “maximize juiciness and concentrate flavors.”¬†

Baked Fig Recipe–Dessert

12 ripe (or, if necessary, not quite ripe) figs
Greek honey
Whipped cream

  1. Preheat oven to 400¬į.
  2. With a sharp paring knife, halve the figs from top to bottom.
  3. On a rack in a shallow baking dish place the figs, cut-side up.
  4. Bake the figs for about 20 minutes or until they puff up and look juicy.
  5. Divide the figs into four shallow dessert dishes, add a healthy dollop of whipped cream, sprinkle with hazelnuts, and serve.                                                                  
Yield: Serves: 4
Advance preparation: Figs can be baked several hours ahead.

Baked Fig Variations

“Baked figs are extraordinarily adaptable,” Anita explained. In the above recipe, “Greek yogurt can be substituted for whipped cream, walnut halves or slivered almonds can be substituted for hazelnuts, and of course the number of figs can be tweaked to meet your needs.”¬†
“Baked figs can also serve as a savory side to meat or foie gras,” she continued. “Or, place a baked halved fig on a crusty¬†crostini¬†with a slice of prosciutto,¬†drizzle with vinaigrette, and…yum!”

Are figs good for us? 

In moderation, you can’t go wrong!


For a more up-to-date take on the health benefits of figs, we turned to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, which notes that:

  • 8 ounces of figs provide 30 percent of recommended daily fiber
  • Figs are sufficiently high in calcium to promote bone density (eating 1/2 cup of figs offers the same amount of calcium as drinking 1/2 cup of milk)
  • Figs lower both insulin and triglyceride levels

In the classic¬†On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,¬†food scientist¬†Harold McGee writes:¬†“Figs are remarkable for containing very large amounts of phenolic compounds, some of them antioxidants,” and, “certain phenolic compounds appear capable of helping us fight cancer by preventing oxidative damage to DNA-damaging chemicals, and by inhibiting the growth of already cancerous cells.”¬†

Enough about figs! What about fig leaves?


Queen Victoria, 1882

Size matters. At the website for London’s Victoria and Albert Museum we were amused to learn about a 19+-inch fig leaf created circa 1854 for Queen Victoria:

“The story goes¬†that on her first encounter with the cast of [Michelangelo’s] ‘David‘ at the Museum, Queen Victoria was so shocked by the nudity that a proportionally accurate fig leaf was commissioned. It was then¬†kept in readiness¬†for any royal visits, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks.”

bronze fig leaf

This 19-inch fig leaf was attached to Michelangelo's 'David' in advance of royal visits

Photo Credits:
Ripe vs. Unripe Figs (5 photos): Liz Muir
Syrup of Figs:
Queen Victoria and Fig Leaf: Wikimedia Commons

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“Generous cuts of succulent corned beef”

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

1873: Liebig Meat Co. produced tinned corned beef

Why ‘corned’ beef? For thousands of years people have cured and preserved beef ¬†by covering it with salt the size of kernels of corn, and the name corned beef refers back to a time when the word ‘corn; was applied to anything granular.

The Irish traded for salt as far back as the Middle Ages, writes Mark Kurlanksy¬†in Salt–A World History, and their salted beef was the “meticulously boned and salted forerunner of what today is known as Irish corned beef.” Prized by Europeans because it did not spoil, corned beef from Ireland was also adopted as a food provision by the British navy, which meant it traveled far!

In Ireland,¬†corned beef¬†was a dish originally associated with Easter Sunday–at least for those sufficiently affluent to procure any sort of beef at all. ¬†Killed before winter, the beef would have been salted and then savored after the Lenten fast.¬†Author-Chef¬†Darina Allen, founder of the¬†Ballymaloe Cookery School¬†in¬†Shanagarry, County Cork, and proponent of¬†The Slow Food Movement, notes that¬†corned beef has long been associated with Cork City, which was “the provisioning port for boats before they crossed the Atlantic.” From the late 17th-century to early in the 19th, beef corning was Cork City’s primary industry.

Corned beef helps free King from Demon of Gluttony!

Corned beef in Ireland also has literary-mythical roots. Aislinge Meic Con Glinne (The Vision of MacConglinne) is a late 11th-century parody in which the hero, Anier MacConglinne, wins the patronage of Cathal, King of Munster, by reciting a fabulous food-laden vision that frees the king from a demon of gluttony that has been residing (tapeworm-like!) in his throat. At least for the carnivores among us, corned beef spit-roasted on an open fire is described in mouth-watering detail:

Gluttony as depicted by Hieronymus Bosch

“And he called for juicy old bacon and tender corned-beef and full-fleshed wether, and honey in the comb and English salt on a beautiful polished dish of white silver, along with four perfectly straight white hazel spits to support the joints. The viands which he enumerated were procured for him, and he fixed unspeakable, huge pieces on the spits. Then, putting a linen apron about him below and placing a flat linen cap on the crown of his head, he lighted a…fire of ash-wood, without smoke, without fume, without sparks. He stuck a spit into each of the portions, and as quick was he about the spits and fire as a hind about her first fawn, or as a roe, or a swallow, or a bare spring wind in the flank of March. He rubbed the honey and the salt into one piece after another. And big as the pieces were that were before the fire, there dropped not to the ground out of these four pieces as much as would quench a spark of a candle; but what there was of relish in them went into their very centre.” [Excerpted from an In Parentheses¬†publication¬†translated by Kuno Meyer, ¬©¬†2001]

New York feast vs. Boston feast–Yet another rivalry?

Food maven and former¬†New York Daily News¬†restaurant critic¬†Arthur Schwartz¬†writes in his “opinionated history” of a cookbook,¬†New York City Food,¬†that Irish immigrants in the U.S. were not sufficiently well off to to treat themselves to what he identifies as the precursor to corned beef and cabbage–Irish bacon and greens–until the late 1800s.

“How bacon and greens evolved into Corned Beef and Cabbage is anybody’s guess,” Schwartz writes. “Some surmise that the Irish adopted the meat of their German, Jewish, or even German-Jewish neighbors, or WASP employers and turned it into a dish to help celebrate their Saint Patrick’s Day, an essentially New York City-Irish Holiday that is now part of all Irish-American culture.”

Saint Patrick’s Day essentially a¬†New York City¬†holiday? We’d like to hear you shout that out to commuters riding the Green-Line ‘T’ on March 17, Mr. Schwartz! We’d also like to remind you that¬†another common name for corned beef and cabbage is¬†“New England¬†Boiled Dinner”–with no mention of New York!


""Charlie" and "Charlene" of the M(B)TA kindly allowed us to snap this Green Line photo

Saint Patrick’s Day at Jules

Finding ourselves riding the Green Line on Saint Patrick’s Day this year, we were lucky enough to catch a leprechaun counting gold coins under our seat. “Okay, okay,” he grumbled, when we demanded that he magically grant us three wishes in exchange for his release. “What d’you want?”

Because were feeling a little peckish, “Corned Beef and Cabbage from Jules” was our knee-jerk reply. “And if you could throw in a frosted Shamrock Cookie, that would be great!” Alas, we forgot to wish for speedy delivery (which Jules readily supplies), so the leprechaun told us that we’d have to stop by Jules’ kitchen to make our wishes come true. And so we did, arriving–as if by magic–in the nick of time.

First, we checked in with Jules’ Executive Chef Albert Rosado, who has impressive corned-beef credentials. While cooking for Harry and Leona (a.k.a.¬†“The Queen of Mean”) Helmsley at the Helmsley Hotels in the 1980s, Albert would moonlight at¬†McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon¬†at¬†42nd Street and Second Avenue, not far from Times Square.

Executive Chef Albert Rosado

“This was the gathering place for the Grand Marshal and other bigwigs involved in¬†New York City’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade,” Albert reminisced. “Some three- or four-thousand¬†people came in and out of McFadden’s around about St. Patrick’s Day, and over the course of ¬†three days we prepared something like five- to six-hundred pounds of corned beef, as well as many pounds of Irish stew.”

What about green beer? we wondered.

“We didn’t dye the beer ourselves,” Albert laughed, “but McFadden’s¬†did serve¬†green beer for St. Patrick’s Day. Purveyors supplied McFaddon’s with that.”

Longtime Jules Line Cook Jeff Ginyard¬†also¬†knows his corned beef. Because Jules brines its own beef brisket, Saint Patrick’s Day preparations must begin a full day in advance, he explained, adding that two muscles comprise a beef brisket. “We use the leaner ‘first cut’ for corned beef sandwiches. The fattier and more succulent ‘second cut’ is used for boiled dinners.”

We asked why the corned beef was cooking in its own pot, apart from the vegetables. “So the vegetables don’t get mushy we prepare them separately,” Jeff explained. “But we want them to pick up the corned-beef flavor, so we¬†remove some water from the pot where the brisket is cooking, and we boil the cabbage–and the other vegetables–in that. The corned beef stock, by the way, is flavored with mustard seed–and the brine is seasoned with peppercorns, bay leaves, and allspice.”

Corned beef + cabbage + shamrock cookie from Jules…

The leprechaun granted our wishes…our three dreams came true!

Jeff Ginyard with corned beef... bliss potatoes, carrots, and turnips









This fresh cabbage ready for cooking is naturally green

Photo Credits:
Creative Commons: Liebig Tinned Corned Beef, detail from Bosch’s ‘Allegory of Gluttony and Lust’
EarthShare: Green Beer
Liz Muir: All other photos


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