Thursday, February 25, 2010

Slow Cookers

Slow cookers are back. It figures, the economy is bad and slow cooking makes savory, inexpensive food.

The idea has been around a long time. In the 1890s through the early 1900s, a little item called a fireless cooker was developed which slow cooked food on residual heat. Super-insulated boxes with tight-fitting insulated tops could hold a pot of food heated to boiling for many hours allowing the food to finish cooking. When homemakers had to buy fuel specifically for cooking, when heat for cooking was not a by-product of warming a house, people paid attention to the costs of cooking a meal. Some cook books of the era reveal this concern.

Fireless cookers had their time in the sun, then faded away.

In 1971, Rival Company introduced the crock pot based on a product developed by a company which they had purchased. Crock pots cooked slowly all day, too, a boon during the economic turn-down of the 1970s, and a help to women who were joining the workforce in ever-increasing numbers. During the more prosperous 1980s and 1990s, they acquired a dowdy reputation, and crock pots were cheap at yard sales.

So our economy has turned down again, women are employed at higher numbers than men, and "slow cookers" which sound classier than crock pots, are program-able to save electricity.

I can't wait to see the next iteration.

This Week's Editor's Notebook at Food History News Website

Here is where to go: FHN
In this week's issue: Marmalade in Toronto. Culinary Historians of Northern California meeting news. Pancakes by Ken. Global anything--a rant. Twitter and me.

Briefly, this weekend is the third annual "Mad for Marmalade, Crazy for Citrus" in Toronto with the Culinary Historians of Toronto who really know how to have a good time with food history.

Plus CHoNC (Cul. Hist. of No. California will meet in March and Andy Smith will speak.

Ken Albala covers himself in pancake glory in New Yorker.

I complain about Global in book titles.

Finally, I signed up with Twitter, so I can Tweet eventually and you can follow me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Snickerdoodles is one of food history's attractive nuisances. They sound like they ought to be "olde tyme" recipes. Cute or funny sounding names are candidates for this category, like Anadama bread, slumps, grunts, and pandowdy. Food writers (and their editors) are awful suckers for these things so from time to time, I get a little question like, "can you tell me the history of the colonial cookie snickerdoodles." Of course, no one is born knowing what is or isn't colonial so I say something like "there is apparently no evidence for snickerdoodles appearing before the twentieth century....yadda, yadda."

But now thanks to the tireless efforts of Barry Popik we have an "early sighting/citing." Barry searches newspapers for the earliest mention of a word he can find. He found a reference to Snickerdoodles dated 1898 on page 8 in the Boston (Mass.) Daily Globe for Jun 14, 1898. That, of course, means that the cookie was around sooner than 1898, as all etymologies reflect common usage. There is even a recipe for them submitted by M. Elizabeth Adams.

Three quarters of a cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of milk, 3 cups of flour, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon of soda. Mix; drop on a tin in spoonfuls, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, and bake in quick oven.

Barry also found a cool reference to them in Boise, Idaho, in 1901 in the Idaho Daily Statesman, Sunday, October 20, 1901 on page 11: "'Snickerdoodles' is the somewhat fantastic name of quickly made little cakes especially dear to the children hearts." The old receipt for them copied from an old scrapbook says:

'Stir together two cups of sugar and half a cup of butter. When creamy, add two well-beaten eggs, then one cup of milk, with a teaspoonful of soda, dissolved in it; and, lastly, add two and a half cups of flour, with two teaspoonfuls of cream of tartar and half a spoonful of salt. Beat the batter thoroughly, and bake in shallow pans, dusting the top of the cake before baking with cinnamon and sugar. Bake fifteen minutes, and when cool cut in squares. This receipt will make two panfuls, which will cut into twenty-four squares.'

To learn more about Barry Popik and his work, just google him. To learn more about snickerdoodles, make them. Use Ms. Adam's recipe above.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Marjorie Mosser and Good Maine Cooking

I can’t say I have ever seen a Queen Anne Revival recipe. Usually food doesn’t seem to adopt identifiable stylistic elements the way architecture, clothing, furnishings and art and music do. However, styles and ideas do affect food conservatively—that is, usually delayed and not very powerfully.

Down East Publishing Company, the same who do the magazine Down East, are reprinting Marjorie Mosser's Good Maine Cooking. Mosser was the secretary and niece of historical novelist Kenneth Roberts, who was actively writing in the mid-20th century. Mosser’s book was reprinted in 1974 with additions to (and no deletions from) the original 1939. I am writing the foreword to the new reprint of the 1974.

I looked over the contents of the earlier book, and the notion of Arts and Crafts kept floating into my mind.

Abby Carroll has identified the whiff of Colonial Revival in the New England food of the late 19th century during her research for her dissertation for Northeastern. When I think about it, I recall that tables in the late 18th century were set with the same symmetrical sensibility as the Georgian houses that housed them. It is not as if someone said, in the Martha Stewart Living of the 1700s, “Today we are going to set our table in the latest Georgian style.” Rather it is in the air, and drifts down gently, exerting the mildest but persistent influence.

So in Mosser’s book there are lots of good old Maine baked beans, handcrafted donuts, brown bread, salt codfish dinners and all kinds of solid home produced food by the craftswoman of the kitchen. Memories of Roberts’ boyhood a riddled with the smells of home cooking, and the pages of the books are full of the kinds of things he ate growing up. It seems all Arts and Craftsy to me.

A New (Old) Blogger on the Block

Here for the first time in the Blogosphere is writing from Sandy Oliver, American Food Historian, with good stuff from my ongoing Editor's Notebook on the Food History News website, plus and minus other material.

Food History News? Editor's Notebook? You may well ask. Food History News was a printed quarterly newsletter begun June 1989 and ended peacefully in January 2010 after 80--count 'em--issues chock full of all kinds of American food history information.

It has a website with what, when it began, was a primitive sort of blog, called Editor's Notebook, started nigh on ten years ago. You can still go to and click on Editor's Notebook where you can read what I have posted since sometime last fall.

Since my website is dedicated to news from the world of food history and a portal to sources, I will let this space become a platform for food history musings, opinion, and commentary. This blog will introduce you to me and my work as a food historian which is now sneaking up on its 40th year. (Yes, I started young, and am not ready to retire just yet.)