Food: Family Recipes & Favorites
I’m always interested in stories of longevity, so when I came upon this one right after preparing a big old pot of borscht, my favorite soup, I could not help but feel validated about my cooking choice.
It was about a South Dakotan who’d made it to 100 (in 1920) and was living with his 96-year-old wife. They were originally from a place once known as Kulm, Bessarabia, South Russia. Today this location is known as Pidhirne, Odessa Region, Ukraine. The couple emigrated to the US in 1880, and of their 11 children, only one was still living in 1920.
Their lifestyle and her cooking seemed to be what kept the two of them going all those years, and apparently she was still doing the cooking at age 96. Perhaps, almost a century later there is something we can learn from them, or at least reinforce what we already know is key to a healthy, long life. Their “secrets”:
- Low stress – they never spent time worrying about anything (although their life was not without heartache);
- Physical activity – they performed manual labor on their farm every day;
- They never worked too hard;
- They never ate in excess;
- She never baked him pies, cakes, cookies, etc., and they never ate any of those things;
- They never ate candy—ever;
- They never ate fried meat, except bacon on rare occasions;
- They only ate Russian black / whole wheat / rye bread;
- They drank milk in unlimited quantities;
- Meat, eaten rarely, was roasted or boiled;
- Soup – lots of it, every day; borscht was their favorite 😉 ;
- Never used tobacco products;
- Alcohol abstinence for last 20 years; just occasional wine before that.
Any surprises in the list? Just one for me: that they avoided cakes, pies, cookies, and candy altogether. I think I’d find it challenging to go even a week without at least one cookie. But reading their story does make me want to cut out processed sugar…. and eat more borscht!
Now, I know that there are many different styles of borscht, a dish that got its start in Ukraine. The one I am used to is Moscow-style borscht, and it is so delicious, I could eat it every day. I’ll leave you with the recipe. It’s very simple, and can be adjusted—you can easily make a vegetarian version.
Stay healthy and well, everyone, and have a good day.
While Jule De Ryther, a famous concert soprano, found a second career discussing and sharing her knowledge about food, Juliet Corson (1841-1897) spent her whole career trying to educate the public about food and cookery, and healthy and economical eating, particularly among society’s poorest. She was a proponent of letting nothing go to waste and making the tastiest and most nutritious meals possible no matter how small the budget. At 35, she founded the New York School of Cookery and operated it for seven years before ill-health forced her to close it down. She traveled the country, between bouts of ill-health, to promote the need for cookery classes in public schools. The French Consul General in NYC even consulted with her to see how her methods could be adapted to France.
Miss Corson’s numerous publications included Fifteen-Cent Dinners for Workingmen’s Families, published by the author for free distribution to working-people earning $1.50, or less, a day (New York, 1877), Twenty-Five Cent Dinners for Families of Six (1879), and Practical American Cookery & Household Management (1886); for links to other publications, click here. I’ve not had time to read any of them, but I am sure she has plenty of tips that could apply to us today. Many of us are always looking for economical ways to feed our families and maximize our resources. One can only speculate what else Corson may have taught us had her life not been cut short at age 56 by a debilitating tumor (NYT obituary – “Death of Juliet Corson; The Well-Known Writer and Teacher of Cookery and Dietetics Expires Almost Alone”).
By the time Miss Corson penned this article in 1896, she was near her life’s end. You can tell from the article how passionate she is about food, and how knowledgeable. I was going to include just the portion about Madame De Ryther, but decided to include the entire article since it contains so much interesting information on the history of food and the preparation of game, an art that was already being lost in this country back then when venison was “the only wild meat ever seen freely in the New York market,” and is now in most places a great rarity, which is understandable of course, but it’s still interesting to get a sense of how our ancestors lived and worked, and what they ate. And how they may have prepared it.
Have a good Monday, all!
PS: Receipts = recipes; frumenty = thick wheat porridge usually served with venison (in Medieval times).
Growing up, I had heard of quince (Cydonia oblonga), but never actually tried this “exotic” fruit until I was studying Russian in Moscow several decades ago. I was having tea at the apartment of two elderly ladies I’d befriended, and they gave me a jar of homemade quince jam (варенье из айвы – “varen’e iz aĭvy”) to take back to my dorm. It was delicious, and a tinge of sadness crept over me when it came time to scrape the last remnants off the sides and bottom of the jar. After that, I started noticing quince in Moscow’s big city markets. Much of that quince hailed from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, areas within the quince’s native territory of SW Asia, Turkey, and Iran. And during a subsequent trip to Tbilisi and Yerevan, serendipitously at harvest-time, I saw quince everywhere—along with an abundance of grapes, apples, and other fruits.
Per Wikipedia, today’s top producers (in order) are Turkey, China, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Iran, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Spain, Serbia, and Algeria. Most quince you find in the US, if you can find it, comes from Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. While, it can be found in orchards in places like Oregon, its general scarcity in the US is allegedly related to the reluctance of commercial growers to cultivate quince due to its susceptibility to ‘Fire blight’ disease.Can you eat quince raw? I bought a kilo at a Moscow market, and quickly discovered that they are very tough, sour, and generally unpleasant that way. That said, I’ve since learned that some cultivars do exist that are okay to eat raw, e.g., ‘Aromatnaya’ and ‘Kuganskaya’ from Russia, and ‘Mellow’ from Ukraine.
On the surface one might think that jams, jellies, butters, and preserves are the formats in which the highly aromatic quince shines most brightly. However, enterprising cooks have come up with other uses, e.g., syrups, liqueurs, butters, and wine, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you search for quince-related blog posts around the web, you’ll find dozens of recipes from just the past few weeks–for pies, tarts, stews, curries, breads, cakes, and more, demonstrating that this fruit has fans worldwide. While how often you run into the actual fruit offline, in the real world, seems largely to depend on where you live, via online shopping the quince can come to you in the form of jam, jelly, paste, relish, balsamic vinegar, chutney, marmalade, and even throat lozenges.
Our ancestors living in Colonial times would have been very familiar with quince trees. Jefferson had one in his gardens at Monticello. Quince seeds are an excellent source of pectin for making preserves so it was considered essential to have at least one on your property. But the appearance of Knox gelatin toward the end of the 19th century changed all that, and the quince’s decline began. For an interesting and entertaining article that includes those little factoids and much more, read the May 2, 2012, New York Times article: In Praise of the Misunderstood Quince.
Today’s blog post includes a 1903 column by Madame De Ryther on making quince preserves and plum jam, and a 1904 article on salads. Obviously, 110 years ago, the quince still had a place in mainstream American cuisine. The article on salads appeared in spring, but I thought I’d include it here in the run-up to Christmas, since it’s always nice to include something lighter on the table during this season of heavy eating. I’d hoped to try making quince preserves, but no grocers in this area sell the fruit; one of them offered to special order some for me, but I did not want to deal with the added expense.
As for the salads, Madame De Ryther has tons of interesting ideas and tips on combinations I’d never considered. The one recipe that stood out to me the most was the one for cucumber salad since that is the way my father always made his cucumber salad, and I am sure he picked up his technique from his mother (b. 1882) who was a passionate cook and baker and would have followed columns like Madame De Ryther’s with great interest. Or perhaps that is just the way her own mother made cucumber salad. So much that goes on in the kitchen is passed down from one generation to the next.
If you end up trying any of Madame De Ryther’s recipes, please leave a comment! Best wishes to all for a good week ahead.
Quince – some resources:
Well, it’s the Monday after Thanksgiving, and food is now the farthest thing from my mind. I’ve cooked and baked enough in the last week to happily sail through the next few months without doing either, but I promised you a series of “Madame De Ryther Mondays” until Christmas… So here is a 1904 article in which she discusses how to make puddings: rice pudding, tapioca pudding, chocolate pudding, and one other whose name is concealed by the Fulton History site’s logo label. Since I honestly can’t bear the thought right now of unwrapping another stick of butter or spooning heaping tablespoonfuls of sugar into anything, I am currently psychologically unable to try any of these recipes out myself. But don’t let that stop you if you have managed to remain “on your kitchen feet,” both mentally & physically, in the aftermath of Thanksgiving ;-).
In her article, professional-singer-turned-food-writer Madame De Ryther opens with a comment made by Madame Melba (1861-1931), an Australia-born, world-renowned opera star, with whom Madame De Ryther was obviously acquainted, their singing careers, perhaps, having brought them together at some point.
Who was Madame Melba? Per Wikipedia: Dame Nellie Melba GBE (19 May 1861 – 23 February 1931), born Helen Porter Mitchell, was an Australian operatic soprano. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian era and the early 20th century. She was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. She took the pseudonym “Melba” from Melbourne, her home town. And, yes, “Peach Melba,” “Melba toast,” “Melba garniture,” and “Melba sauce” were all created in her honor by a French chef named Auguste Escoffier. I must admit that I often heard mention of Melba toast and peach Melba while growing up, but it was not until writing this post that I’d heard of Madame Melba (I’m embarrassed to say) and was able to put 2 and 2 together (much like discovering Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini last year, and making the link with Chicken/Turkey Tetrazzini). (Note: Viewers of season 4 (2013) of Downton Abbey would have seen Madame Melba (played by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, New Zealand’s famed soprano) perform for Lord and Lady Grantham; I was not a Downton viewer at that time.)
Getting back now to the article, Madame De Ryther reports that Madame Melba had once lamented to her the lack of good puddings in America, and having traveled the world and sampled desserts along the way, she indeed must have known a thing or two about the topic. In 1904, when this article appeared, everyone in America would have heard of Madame Melba, so using Melba’s opinion about America’s lack of good puddings was certainly a clever way for Madame De Ryther to hook her readers.
However, the food writer is not all that excited about replicating European puddings, more specifically English puddings, which she considers to be too heavy by American standards (and if you’re familiar with British cuisine, you know what she means—puddings here in the US are very different; Jello-type pudding comes to mind or rice pudding or tapioca, not hearty, classic fare like sticky toffee pudding, bread & butter pudding, spotted dick, and the like—puddings that I personally like, albeit usually in small doses).
The recipes Madame De Ryther includes here are for much lighter and “daintier” versions that she feels would suit the American palate better than English-style puddings which were designed to “to drive the heavy fog from [English] stomachs,” according to one French chef.
Of course, at this point neither a heavy pudding nor a light one could drive away the heavy Thanksgiving fog in my stomach! But that is neither here nor there. I’m sure Madame De Ryther’s recipes helped her readers “whip up” some divine puddings. I’ll just wait ’til I’m fully “recovered” to give them a try! 😉
PS: With Christmas fast approaching, for a fun and superbly informative post on English Christmas puddings that has lots of great images, click here. And for a few Madame Melba YouTube videos, scroll down below the article. Have a great day, all!
To continue with “Madame De Ryther Mondays” in the run up to Christmas, I would be remiss if I did not first mention (on Thanksgiving Eve) that a post I created last year contained Madame’s recommendations for a festive Thanksgiving dinner (click here).
Now back to this post. Here is a clipping from 1904 that offers recipes for two cakes.
The first, which is for a molasses/gingerbread cake, includes ground mace, a spice that seems to be absent these days from most grocery stores. I am not sure why that is, but, in any case, you may have to go to a specialty store or order it online. Amazon carries it in both the ground and blade form. Mace is the outer covering of the nutmeg seed and blade form seems to be more highly praised for its flavor than ground. But for this recipe, it seems logical to go with the ground version.
The second recipe, for “Surprise Cake,” contains nothing that most kitchens would not have on hand. So I decided to try this one. It’s short and sweet, and to the point. After doing a bit of investigation, I learned that “sweet milk” simply means whole milk as opposed to buttermilk. I only had skim on hand, so that is what I used. The addition of all that baking powder resulted in a very robust-looking batter. The recipe calls for a little grated nutmeg; I only had ground on hand so I added 1/8 tsp.
After getting the batter in a cake pan, I put it in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes but checked it with a toothpick (not a “broom splint,” as Madame directs) and decided it needed an extra five minutes. That seemed to do the trick (bear in mind, we are at a very low elevation, so more time may be required for those not in low-lying locations).
For the icing, I cheated horribly and used a tub of Betty Crocker’s vanilla icing (Madame De Ryther no doubt did an eye roll) and then sprinkled chopped walnuts on top (see image below).
I served slices of the cake for dessert with a bit of pistachio frozen yogurt. My “guinea pigs” gave it “two thumbs up.” The cake was very moist and light. The nutmeg was not too overpowering, but I do think I’d use a little less next time or try vanilla or lemon flavoring, alternatives the recipe suggests. But, overall, Madame De Ryther delivers what she promised: a cake that is “cheap, easy to prepare, and much better than the store-bought article.” Well, I can’t honestly say it is better than store-bought given how many superb bakeries exist today, but—straight from your oven—it will certainly be fresher.
At the start of her article, Madame De Ryther described cake-making as becoming a lost art among city women—thanks to the rise in popularity of store-bought cakes. I don’t think my grandmother on my father’s side would have been swept up in that trend. She would have been 22 at the time this column appeared, and she was quite the baker. My Dad used to wax lyrical about her culinary specialties. She probably would have devoured anything and everything Madame De Ryther wrote. My Mom’s mom, on the other hand, would definitely have been one to head to the bakery! She just did not enjoy cooking or baking, although she had the know-how. Let’s face it, some love to bake and some don’t. As the saying goes, “To each their own,” and Vive la différence!
Well, if anyone out there tries either of these recipes, feel free to share your results below!
As promised last Monday, here is one of Madame De Ryther’s numerous food columns; this one from 1904 features “Dainty Luncheon Dishes.” She offers recipes for items with which most of us are probably familiar: chicken croquettes, turkey hash, minced ham with poached eggs, and a club sandwich which she insists must be served hot. Of those, I lean towards the croquettes (anyone remember Howard Johnson’s shrimp croquettes from the 70s?—loved them), but, as I am trying to watch my waistline, Madame momentarily lost me at “heaping tablespoon of butter” and “gill of cream.”
But once I learned that a gill of cream is only four fluid ounces, I felt I could give Madame’s recipe a try. With no chicken on hand, I opted for ground turkey. (The recipe calls for 1 pint which is about 1 lb.) And I used canola oil in a deep-fryer set to 350 degrees F. instead of “a kettle half full of fat over the fire.” I served them with some cranberry jelly, mashed potato & vegetable, and I must say, they turned out pretty well—everyone at the table thought they were tasty in spite of their truly unphotogenic appearance; and it was only after dinner that I showed them where I got the recipe.
I would definitely make these croquettes again (I’d never tried making them before this), but next time I would make my two heaping tablespoonfuls of flour more heaping than I did this time around. And, while I did let the mixture cool down, next time I would refrigerate it for a bit after it cooled down to make it easier to handle. I might also spice it up a bit with a dash of chili flakes, or use a bit more red pepper.
So there you have it. All in all—a winner for dinner, but definitely too time-consuming for today’s world of ‘grab-and-go’ lunches.
Have a good Monday!
P.S. I would say that the recipe feeds 4-6 depending on how hungry everyone is.
It’s already November, and simply thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas is enough to expand my waistline by several inches. Where did the year go? Blink your eyes and Christmas will be here. Yes, Christmas is coming; the goose is getting fat…
This past year, while perusing old newspapers, I frequently stumbled upon early-twentieth-century food columns written by the exotic- and mysterious-sounding Madame Jule De Ryther (1845-1915). Apart from conveying her opinions on all things culinary, she touched on attitudes and social mores of the day, often with blunt humor, and even covered such topics as bacteriology and the importance of clean dishes and properly washed milk bottles1.
Over time, I quickly grew to admire Madame De Ryther, a ‘Martha Stewart’ of her time, and on further research, I found even more reason to place her on a mental pedestal: before her food career began, she had been a highly regarded soprano, performing in prestigious concerts around the United States. I assume that’s where the “Madame” came from, and while her first name may have been Jule, I suspect “De Ryther” was a stage name. I never found evidence of a marriage.
In her younger years and into middle age, Madame De Ryther was enjoying a busy musical career. She sang regularly at the Church of Divine Paternity and the Anthon Memorial Church (today known as All Souls Episcopal Church) in NYC.
She had been the celebrated soprano of the Wieniawski Troupe during its 1873 concerts in California. At that time, Henryk Wieniawski, a Polish violinist and composer, was recognized as being one of the world’s greatest violinists, having been the solo violinist of the Emperor of Russia2.
On August 23, 1874, she sang the Star Spangled Banner at a concert benefiting the Women’s Training School in Long Island, a school supported by Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. President Grant was in attendance for the event3.
The 1899 book Letters of Sidney Lanier, which contains correspondence of the famous 19th-century American musician, poet, and author (d. 1881), includes a January 9, 1875, letter describing an upcoming concert in which Mme. De Ryther was to appear: “Our second concert comes off to night and we are to play such beautiful music as makes my heart tremble even to think of. First comes Beethoven’s Second Symphony, one written before the dreadful deafness had come upon his ears and pierced into his heart. […] Then Mme De Ryther, a lady in form and manner and stage appearance much like our dear departed G_______, is to sing with a glorious contralto voice a noble aria, Handel’s little known opera “Rinaldo.”
During its 1879-1880 run at the Fifth Avenue Theater in New York, Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera “Trial by Jury” included the talents of Mme De Ryther who took over the role of Little Buttercup, “a manifest improvement” over the previous performer, according to the New York Dramatic Mirror.
And, in 1886 she performed in a traveling lecture series presented by prominent painter, photographer, and explorer William Bradford (1823-1892) whose seven voyages to the Arctic in the 1860s, accompanied by other prominent photographers, resulted in dozens of images—“the only complete collection of views in existence of the Arctic Regions”4. These images, which provided the basis for many of Bradford’s subsequent paintings, were projected on a large screen. As the images unfolded during the lectures, Jule would sing Eskimo and old Norse songs and hymns “in the native tongue”; her “wonderfully sympathetic voice” was “heard to advantage in this weird music”5. (To view a gallery of Bradford’s paintings, click here.)
I’m not sure when Madame De Ryther’s singing career came to a close, but it was likely sometime in the 1890s. The last mention I found made of her musical talent was in The Printing World (pub. 1891, p. 298):
Here is a specimen of musical criticism in California. The San Jose Mercury, in an article on the Wienawski troupe, says of Madame De Ryther: “She is marvellous on the low notes, and she sings with a pathos calculated to lift a sensitive reporter right out of his boots.”
Her first newspaper job was as a society reporter with the New York Recorder. Later she worked for other papers, including the New York Herald and the New York Times. Her food columns started to appear in the New York Evening Mail and the New York Press in the early 1900s6.
Jule was born in Little Falls, New York. Her father Albert W. Churchill was the proprietor of the Benton House (later known as Garvan House) in Little Falls. He managed a number of hotels in Rome NY from 1858-1870: the American Hotel, Stanwix Hall, the Railroad House, and Curry’s Eating House7. Her mother was Susan E. Churchill. Jule’s early education was in Little Falls; she later moved to NYC to study vocal music under Madame Seguin8. Jule had four siblings: Fred B. Churchill; Emma Churchill Belden; Frances Churchill Waters; and Cornelia Churchill Russ. She died of pneumonia at age 69 on March 14, 1915, at the Hotel Vanderbilt in NYC9. Funeral services were held two days later at the Church of the Transfiguration in NYC, and she was buried in the Churchill family plot in Little Falls10. When I discovered that last bit of information, I created an entry for her on Find a Grave, and did my best to link the Churchill family together.
I have accumulated many of Madame De Ryther’s columns, many of which were likely read by our ancestors who lived at that time, so, in her memory, between now and Christmas, I am going to publish “Madame De Ryther Monday” posts (on Mondays, of course!), with or without commentary on my part. I may actually attempt some of her creations, and if I do, I will surely tell you about it. Perhaps, by Christmas you will have as much admiration as I do for this wonder woman of yesteryear!
Here is the first article, from October 11, 1903: “Madame De Ryther’s Receipts for Two Excellent One-Dish Dinners”
1. “The Subject of Clean Dishes”, The Springfield Union, November 20, 1913
2. Reported in the Sacramento Daily Union, July 1, 1873
3. Reported in the New York Herald, August 24, 1873
4., 5. “The Bradford Recitals,” Elkhart, Indiana, Daily Review, October 19, 1886
6. Jule de Ryther Obituary, Utica Herald Dispatch, March 15, 1915
7. William Churchill obituary, Rome Citizen (NY), January 23, 1885
8. Jule de Ryther Obituary, Utica Herald Dispatch, March 15, 1915
9. Jule de Ryther New York Times Obituary, March 15, 1915
10. Jule de Ryther funeral announcement, Rome NY Daily Sentinel, March 16, 1915
To close out the week, I will leave you with four recipes left us by Violet Boles, my mom’s 1st cousin (once removed). Violet was born in Knocknagrally, County Laois, Ireland, in 1904. According to my mother she worked in the hotel industry on the Isle of Wight for a number of years. She emigrated to the US after her marriage to James Newton Boles (b. 1898, Tipperary, Ireland) in the early 1960s. Ordinarily I would not write about folks in the family tree who lived so close to the present day, but Newton (who went by his middle name) and Violet had no children; so, I hope they would not mind me sharing a bit about them here.
My mom’s father William Boles was very close to Newton, his cousin six years his junior. William, who emigrated to the US in 1912, was at least some of Newton’s inspiration to do the same, according to my mother. Newton emigrated in 1925 to Ontario, Canada, and from there made his way to Detroit, where he worked for Uniroyal for many years.
Newton and Violet eventually retired to 800 20th Avenue North in St. Petersburg, FL, tending their backyard fruit trees and enjoying the warm temperatures and steady sunshine. I remember them showing us their avocado and orange trees—an exotic sight for us. They were wonderfully kind and caring people; both had a twinkle in their eye, and Newton especially had a terrific sense of humor. He was a very fun-loving man. My mother thought the world of him.
I’ll never forget visiting them in February 1975 or 1976 when Newton was already in his 70s, and how Newton took us up I-4 to ride on Disney’s newly opened ‘Space Mountain’ roller coaster. We were amazed that he took the roller coaster with us and that he seemed to take it all in stride. Newton was a rather wild driver, so between the journey itself and the nerve-shattering, vertebrae-jarring ‘Space Mountain’ ride, we had a very memorable time!
Violet’s banana bread recipe is the best one I’ve ever come across. I’ve made it many times (I love the typo: ‘chapped walnuts’!) The date loaf is delicious, too (that recipe is cut off at the end, but you just add the remaining ingredients, mix, and bake at 350 for 50-60 min., depending on your altitude).
I’ve yet to try the carrot and cranberry breads, but know I will get to them eventually.
So enjoy these, if you are so inclined, and let me know how things turn out. Have a good weekend!
(Note: Newton died in 1983 at 84, and Violet in 1993 at 89. They were interred at St. Petersburg’s Memorial Park Cemetery.)