That Saturday had already put me in a funk, and it was no one’s doing but my own. Starting a new job comes with a lot of expectations- mine AND others- and it also comes with a lot to learn. A lot of that learning happens when you mess up… and it shows you where and who you really are.Continue reading
Drinker With A Writing Problem
I’ve been walking a good chunk of the afternoon. I walked down from my home on Mount Tabor a nearly-straight shot on a blessedly warm March afternoon because I was a man on a mission. Only part of it was to get a good walk in on a sunny day and absorb as much vitamin D as possible. Another solid chunk was to go out among the populace on St. Patricks Day and find some friendly souls to get blitzed with.
Truth be told though, I walked over fifty blocks downhill in the sun through suburbs, commercial districts, industrial zones, and homeless camps alike because I wanted to try some friggin whiskey.
I did, it was delicious, and I have some thoughts about alcohol.
Invention In The Kitchen- Mad Science At Work
The idea came simply and quietly at the usual time- when I was working on something entirely different.
One of our customers asked if we made any Handpies that could meet their lower-than-usual price point. They loved our pies- as did their customers- but the rising costs of ingredients meant that for a lot of our flavors they would have to charge more than they thought their customers would tolerate.
So rather than cut off the pies completely, they asked my owner- who in turn asked me- if we had any recipes that would 1. Be delicious, 2. Be popular with customers at a cafe, and 3. Wouldn’t use too much of our more expensive ingredients so they could be sold at the desired low point.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but economics and desperation make fantastic midwives. As I went through our recipe books, checked with suppliers to see what ingredients cost what, and started spitballing ideas on our whiteboard (“Pineapple is cheap right now… a pineapple pie? What’s more expensive right now, berries or nuts? What can one person make quickly to reduce labor?”) three ideas from my past and present slammed into each other.
The father of invention had shown up, and it’s name was “Why Not?”
“Whose Idea Was This?”- Looking At Vintage Recipes and Food History
Like most of the internet, I’ve gotten a real kick out of the Tik Tok videos of Dylan Hollis. The vintage style aficionado and self-described amateur food historian has carved a space for himself on the internet with his bombastic personality and humor while testing out recipes spanning the 1800s to early 2000s.
The recipes he tries vary wildly in quality, and the recurrence of typically timely ingredients (especially lard and gelatin) regularly turn into comedic gold. More than once, Dylan strikes oil in his search for tasty recipes (“magic” peanut butter cookies and an eggnog recipe from the 1800s spring quickly to mind) and I sometimes use his videos as inspiration for things I can make at the pie shop.
Most often, I find myself intrigued by the recipes he picks and the trends they exhibit. WHY so much lard in everything made before the 60s? Why so much gelatin in mid-century America? Just HOW freaking high, lonely, horny, or all three must someone have been to create the “Candlelight Salad?”
The answer is, simply, that these recipes- like the books, movies, and music that were enjoyed then- are products of their time. Foodways are a part of culture and one can track the history and trends of a period of time as easily in a cookbook as you could a textbook.
What Makes Baking So Scary?
There are two common responses I get from career cooks when I start talking about baking. It’s either “Bakers are fucking useless and can’t do shit without a recipe book in front of them” or “Bakers are mad scientists and just the idea of baking terrifies me. It’s so precise that anything could fuck anything up.”
They are both right and both wrong because cooking and baking require different mindsets. Being able to do both is not just a matter of skill, it’s a matter of being able to switch between two different sets of priorities and relationships with time. As for “always needing a recipe book…” I humbly suggest that baking recipes can be done on the fly if you know which rules to follow and which to break. Once you know the right ratios, you can whip up a dough, bread, or filling from memory, but I’ll thank you not to disrespect our sacred grimoires, thank you.
Talk of wizardry and alchemy aside, though, what makes baking so scary?