Sunday, September 7, 2008

It's 1917!

The last two entries were a little dark and heavy, so I decided to lighten things up a bit with everybody's favorite summertime dessert, Gelatine. I'd use that other name but they're probably sue. Besides, I'm not really talking about THEM.

A long time ago, I bought a movie magazine from 1917. It had a cover story about Wallace Reid, a snippet of an O. Henry story enticing you to buy the rest of the collection, ("...Tansey heard a musical, soft giggle, and breathed an entrancing odour of heliotrope. A groping, light hand touched his arm, and then...") and a marvelous recipe for Ivory jelly held within the confines of an advertisement for Knox Gelatine. Better still, if you sent away for it, you could receive this marvelous little cookbook called Dainty Desserts for Dainty people.

Now I'm trained. Wallace Reid, Ivory Jelly and Heliotrope are forever fixed together in my mind, and whenever one comes along it unearths a terrible craving for the other two. The first appearance of heliotrope flowers in the spring makes me want to dig out The Birth of a Nation and watch only the part where Reid gets into a fistfight with two other men who rip his shirt off in the scuffle. Oh, my, yes it does. And if I make a batch of ivory jelly and eat it while I watch the film, I'm in heaven.

Today, however, I am trying something a little different. The color pictures in the Knox booklet always make me want to try the recipes. Nowadays, if you go ver to the Knox recipe site and look things up, you'll find fifty pages comprised of two things: Jelly and cheesecake. It seems that all the fancy - ahem, I mean dainty - desserts have been forgotten. I guess it's up to me to rescue them!

Pardon me while I tie this red sheet around my neck and climb to the top of the bookcase.

Timecat to the rescue!

Today's experiment will be Columbia Pudding! Now before you get all crazy and drooly on me, I don't have one of these highfallutin' pans. They just don't make them anymore, and the ones on ebay are just stupid expensive, there's no way I'm ever going to buy one. So I just have a little copper jelly mold pan from the sixties. That's what we have to work with today.

DARN THIS BLOG. I keep making big pictures so you can see the details and they still upload as teensy weensy pictures. Oh well, just click on them to make them bigger. I deliberately kept this whole page together so you could see some of the recipes and maybe try them out later. Anyway, the first part of the Columbia Pudding recipe involves the wine jelly that is described on this page.

At first glance, it looks equal parts interesting and nauseating, but as I cooked up it and tasted it, I was amazed. It was sangria! And not only sangria but GOOD Sangria! For some reason I expected it to taste like mulled wine, which is very much a love it or hate it thing, but I was very pleasantly surprised. After filling the bottom of my mold with the wine jelly mixture, I soaked the cut figs in the stuff for about five minutes and then stuck them to the sides of the pan as directed. It took a few tries but I found that if you hold an ice cube against the outside of the mold, just opposite where you're pressing the fig half, it's sets quickly and stays in place. Yeah yeah, I know, they look like little leeches. Never fear! After slurping up the remaining sangria the figs left behind, you won't care a bit.

The Spanish Cream part of the recipe took a bit of doing because I don't have a double boiler. I did the ol' Alton Bron trick of floating your bowl of goodies in a pan of hot water and it did the trick quite nicely. The Spanish Cream was really very tasty, but the whipped egg whites...I don't know, that was a mysterious addition to the recipe. It doesn't mention if you're supposed to add them while the stuff was hot or wait for it to cool down. I had to guess. I've heard of a dessert called Floating Island where merengues are added to hot milk pudding so they'll solidify into tiny islands. So I folded in the egg whites while the milk was still hot, but not boiling. The broke up into bazillions of tiny white balls of foam and floated on the mix. Hmmm. Okay, time to pour.

Good night, Sweet Prince!

Okay, so it's been sitting in the fridge overnight, and today is the unveiling of a treat probably not seen since The Great War! Drumroll please...

You will, of course, notice a few things...

Number one, it looks nothing like the original illustration. Being the great genius that I am, I didn't have any white wine around the house, so I used what I had on hand, which was a lovely Cabernet. What was the point in going to the store and sacrificing $20 on an experiment, sez I to myself. In retrospect, perhaps a nice, sweet Gewirtztraminer would have been the best choice from a photographic standpoint, but it will have to wait until next time. That odd little purple teardrop shaped thing in the front of the pudding is a fig. I only popped in a few. If I'd ringed the mold I'm sure it wouldn't look quite so out of place.

Number two, it doesn't have a border of cherries and whipped cream around the perimeter. This is because I thought the original illustration was a tad bit CREEPY, looking as though it had been carefully garnished with severed, manicured fingers.

Now for the real question. How does it taste?

I'd have to say the the individual flavored jellies were quite good, but put together they lost something. I think it would have been tastier if I had used grape juice instead of wine. That being said, I'm absolutely going to make the wine jelly again on it's own, pour it into individual cups and call it Sangria Gelatine. I thought that was the BEST stuff! My husband preferred the vanilla milk custard, and asked if I could just make that part later.

A word if you're going to try this at home: Double the gelatine in the recipe. I don't know if packages were larger in 1917, or stronger, or whatever, but in all the recipes I've tried from this booklet, the gelatine was a little weak and the jelly just went blaaaahhhh all over the plate when it was unmolded. Doubling the gelatine will produce a sparkling tower of dessert. I forgot to double the gelatine in this recipe, so it flattened out considerably. I also only had a shallow jello mold, so if you have a cathedral mold or something lying around the house, go ahead and use that. I used to have a nice deep bundt pad but when I started looking for it, I realized I hadn't seen it in two or three moves, which goes to show you how often I make a bundt cake.

And thus ends today's lesson on how to recreate a a tiny piece of time from scratch. I will now retire to the comfort of my squishy sofa, feed my Wallace Reid addiction (oh dear...sorry Wally) and breathe the entrancing odor of the heliotrope in bloom outside my door.


Further reading for my Time Traveling Friends

A much clearer scan of Dainty Desserts for Dainty People may be found here.

My scan comes from my own copy, but if you want to flip through this book and find recipes of your own, this site not only shows it off but magnifies it beautifully.

I thought I was so original until I found this tremendous british site showing off historic recipes and their perfect recreations. But they totally cheat because they own the original antique molds, the blighters! If you have a week to spend in England and several hundred dollars, they can teach you how to do it, too. But of course you don't get to bring the molds back with you. *grumble grumble*

Friday, August 22, 2008

It's 1937

Downtown Glendale can be an excellent Time Machine if you look in the right places. (The Americana and the Glendale Galleria are NOT the right places.)

The best thing to do first is to look around for a giant spire sticking up out of the middle of nowhere. As soon as you've found it, start heading in that direction. It's the Alex, a beautifully restored movie theatre from long, long ago. Although it only rarely shows a vintage film, the Alex and the areas immediately surrounding it have remained more or less the same for many, many decades. New businesses have moved in and out, but the storefronts are practically unaltered, and a few of the original businesses are still in existence.

Damon's Steakhouse is one of them.

Now, historically speaking, if I were walking down Brand Boulevard in 1937, it's a cinch I probably wouldn't be able to afford a steak dinner, much less something as frivolous as a cocktail. I'd be wearing a dress made from flour sacks and I'd probably be going home from whatever job I (hopefully) had to make dinner for the family. Somehow I think I'd look more like Marjorie Main than Claudette Colbert, but just for this one day the hubby and I must have scraped and saved just enough for a night out. Maybe it was my birthday.

I'd be wearing my best dress with a hat and gloves, because I'll be out in public, and for heaven's sake you can't go out wearing just ANYTHING. You have to look NICE.

We'd just left the wonderful Alex(ander) Theatre, which was showing You Can't Have Everything (I just love Alice Faye and Don Ameche) and London by Night. We walked a few blocks away to to that new place, Damon's, where they say the steaks are absolutely the very best, and as thick as the potatoes they serve with them. I hear the martinis are terribly strong, too, and what better way to end a night of escapism?

Well, whaddaya know, it was all true (and it still is).

After a delicious dinner of juicy steak and potatoes, we sipped our cocktails and chit chatted far into the night. Did you see the paper today? They've started printing photos in color...Stella Dallas was a terrible movie, and I hear Barbara Stanwyck still hasn't gotten a dime from that good for nothing Frank Fay...They're opening up Foothill Boulevard, so we'll be able to get to Pasadena faster now...

Finally, we wobbled our way into the street and boarded the last trolley home, looking behind us at a street practically deserted this time of night. Only the steady light from the streetlamps and the dark sedans parked along the street could be seen, not a person in sight. Tomorrow I'll have to go back to my flour sack dress, my radio shows and my Rinso white laundry, but tonight I can dream.

Damon's still has marvelous steaks and cocktails. Years ago they hooked up with a tropical theme and kept getting more and more kitcshy until they hit critical mass.

Further traveling for my time-jumbled friends:

The Alex Theatre has been gorgeously restored and the Spire is still visible from miles away. It's used mostly as a live venue these days, but among the usual must-miss events such as An Evening Celebrating Set Decorators in America and the Young Musicians from Armenia Tour, the Alex will actually show MOVIES. The Alex Film Society will tell you when. (Single lady time travellers take note: A Three Stooges Marathon is coming up; it's bound to be loaded with men!)

Damon's has their own website, but do visit in person for the excellent steaks and the framed original menu from the days where a steak dinner outed you a whole fifty cents. Years ago they hooked up with a tropical theme and kept getting more and more kitschy until they hit critical mass. They're also not in the original location anymore, but their "new" location (since 1980) is a storefront even older than the first one. The menu is pretty much the same and you can pick out the modern dishes if you want to, (she said snootily). Beware of their famous salad dressing. It's an original recipe from the 30's but I suspect it's really just Lawry's and Mayonnaise, which only reinforces the idea that maybe it really IS an original, depression-era recipe along the lines of fried dough and ketchup soup. They still have powerful cocktails to wash it all down.

The moody shot of Brand Boulevard in 1937 was courtesy the enormous and detailed photo collection that's available online from the Los Angeles Public Library, and they update it every year. Everything from the first photographs ever taken of Los Angeles in the 1860's to "Take my picture, Gary Leonard!" is here. The BEST pictures are by professional photographer William Reagh, who took shots all over Los Angeles when he was young, and then re shot the same areas decades later when he was an old man.

If you're blessed with a Library Card, you can access the ProQuest database for the Historical Los Angeles Times. Every issue of the Times from it's inception in 1881 is available. Look up your name, your address, or your favorite movie star. I found a marriage announcement for the people who lived in my house back in 1941, plus the original classified ad offering a plot of land that eventually became my neighbor's house in 1924 . What will YOU find?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's 1906

The Tiger Lilies have started to bloom in my yard today. This is a few weeks earlier than they usually bloom for me, but they always open in late June when it starts to get really uncomfortably hot. Not the kind of heat where you turn on your AC and go about your merry way, but the kind of hot where you turn on your AC and it doesn't really seem to help much. You don't want to go anywhere or do anything because effort = sweat, and in this sticky heat it's a sweat that will hydroseal your clothes to your skin, preventing any evaporative cooling. You might as well be wrapped in plastic for all the relief you'll get.

Imagine, if you will, that you're a rich young man around the turn of the century before air conditioning was invented. Not only are you generally sticky-hot today, but you're in New York, legendary land of summer swelter. Is there any reason you would choose to wear a heavy fur coat on a day like this?

Maybe. If you were crazy. Or hiding something.

If you were Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh, you were both.

Although the story has been told by better storytellers with more detail, here's the gist of it: Rich, unstable, violent Harry Thaw had pursued and married beautiful showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, in spite of (or perhaps because of) Evelyn's defloration at the hands of rich, famous, and much older architect/professional debaucher of showgirls, Stanford White several years earlier. Harry had an obsession with the details of the seduction, and on the night of June 25th, 1906 all three principal players found themselves attending a performance of Mamzelle Champagne on the rooftop stage of Madison Square Garden. Stanny was at a front table with several friends when Harry approached him, oddly dressed in a fur coat on this sweltering night. He had been wearing it for hours despite efforts to convince him to remove it. A few words were exchanged before Stanny turned his back on Harry, at which point Harry pulled a revolver from the pocket of his fur coat and blasted three holes in the back of Stanny's head in front of several hundred witnesses.

Although the impact has dulled over the years for people who don't know their names, let me put it into some modern perspective. Pretend Tom Cruise shot Sean Connery over deflowering Katie Holmes, in the front row of the Kodak Theatre on Oscar night.

The resulting trial set the press on fire. Had it been a seduction or had it been rape? Was Harry crazy or was he sane? Was he avenging his wronged bride ("He ruined my wife." Harry said calmly when police arrested him), or did he marry Evelyn specifically so he could have an excuse to murder the already-hated Stanford White?

The trial settled nothing. Harry was found guilty but insane and sentenced to a sanitarium. He was later declared sane at another trial and released. The only jail time he had was while he was waiting for his trial, and to say he had preferential treatment would be an understatement. He had all his meals, including champagne and desserts, catered by Delmonicos, and had a personal valet on staff. Evelyn was offered a large settlement by the Thaw family to swing her testimony more towards justified protection and insanity rather than premeditation, but as soon as Thaw got off they reneged. Evelyn was soon penniless, returning to the stage for as long as her notoriety as "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing" (Stanny had a bit of a fetish) would hold out. After that, several attempts at swallowing copious amounts of Lysol failed to provide the desired release, so she moved to Los Angeles and lived as anonymously as possible, only being bothered years later when she publicly displayed her sculptures at an art show, and again for the premiere of "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing" in 1955. Evelyn died in 1967, but will forever be known as the central figure in The Trial of the Century. Harry died of a heart attack in 1947, leaving what remained of his vast multi-million dollar fortune - all $10,000 of it - to Evelyn.

In 2006, the one hundredth anniversary of the murder did not pass this Timecat quietly. I was amazed to find that assorted descendants of all three players were planning to get together to meet and discuss the impact of the murder on their respective families, but darnit, I never found out if anything came of it. At the time I thought it was a REALLY bad idea, but now I sure hope they did it. I would have loved to listen in on the discussion! Meanwhile, not having any Thaw, White or Nesbit blood in my veins, I did what I usually do when I get obsessed with a damned good story. I DEVOURED everything about the case I could get my hands on: Books, memoirs, talking heads, biographies, fiction, movies, documentaries, newpaper articles and rumors. While I was doing all this brainwork, the flowers I'd been growing in my old-fashioned garden that year had started to bloom. On June 25th, I got my very first Tiger Lily.

I gave it to Evelyn.