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We chat with chef and TV host Marcus Samuelsson about his childhood in Ethiopia, his adoption by Swedish parents and the rich complexity of the Black experience in America, from cooking to culture. Plus, Joe Berkowitz reveals secrets from the little-known world of cheesemaking; Bianca Bosker gives us a history lesson on the humble fork; and we make hearty Soupe au Pistou.
Questions in this Episode
“How do you make blueberry pancakes without changing the color of the batter? If I mix blueberries into the batter, the batter just turns blue.”
“My fiancé nearly subsisted on sardines before I came along. I cook for him often, but I never use sardines and he admits that he sometimes misses them. Can you suggest ways I could incorporate sardines into my cooking?”
“What is cream of tartar and what role does it play in baked goods? It is an ingredient in my family’s banana bread recipe, but that’s the only recipe that I’ve ever seen that uses it, other than play dough which of course isn’t to be eaten. It’s an old recipe, so is there some historic aspect to its usage?”
“As a child, I so well remember by grandmother and great aunt preparing fried potatoes in Germany. My brothers and I took for granted the wonderful, rich, yellow, flavorful potatoes that were a staple. Where can I find potatoes like this, or is it impossible to duplicate those long ago flavors without the soil to nourish them?”
Christopher Kimball: Hi, this is Christopher Kimball. Thanks for listening to Milk Street Radio. You can go to our website 177 Milk Street .com to get our recipes to stream or a television show or to get our latest cookbooks. Here's this week's show is mostly radio for PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball.
Christopher Kimball: Today I'm chatting with Marcus Samuelson about his new book, The Rise. He describes his early years in Ethiopia and Sweden, the influence of African food in America, as well as the rich diaspora of black dishes from Doro Wat to grits.
Marcus Samuelsson: So much of the food that we really think through as American food today, you think about grits you think about the techniques of barbecues, for example, come from West Africa. But then also it's been this incredible layering like a casino like Creole. For me, there is a complete link between France, Haiti, Africa, the Spanish and America, only that cuisine can really take place in America.
CK: Also coming up we make bold au Pistou stew and Bianca Bosker discusses the introduction of the fork to the American table. The first is my interview with author Joe Berkowitz. He spent a year exploring the subculture around cheese for his book, American Cheese. Joe, welcome to Milk Street.
Joe Berkowitz: Thanks for having me.
CK: Very few people have that eureka moment. But you did as you write in your book. You said the world of Pepper Jack was dead. And you tasted something called Rogue River cheese. And you write I love the writing. “The first word that comes to mind was dank a guttural current of wishing we'd buzz. It packs a visceral drug punch the reverberate throughout my body. It was the dawning realization that cheese was a miracle food and edible unicorn”. Was it really that good?
JB: Was it really that good? It was just so far away from the kinds of cheese I'd had to eat before. And that was the big story of researching and living this book for me was realizing just how incredible some cheeses could taste. There are just mountains beyond mountains.
CK: Yeah, you said in your book that you were did a tasting of some cheese that was in the process of being aged. And then the cheesemaker took a sample from the next day's cheese. And you said it actually tasted different. You could taste the difference. And I thought that was really like, like a Monday's cheese a year ago tastes one way and Tuesday's cheese a year ago tastes differently.
JB: Yeah, that was a dairy called Uplands in Wisconsin. And when I went in the cave with the main cheese maker, I asked him, you know if he had any, like kind of a secret stash, like a wheel that was particularly good that he returned to. And he took me there. And we had a sample of that. And then yeah, we tried the next day's cheese and in a hard to articulate way, there was a distinct difference between you know, his most primo batch and the next days. And if I hadn't been eating cheese every day for a year with intent focus, I don't know if I would have been able to make the distinction but in that moment I definitely did.
CK: Okay, so tasting cheese, like tasting wine, there are all these terms. And in the book, you and your wife are tasting, and someone says, quote, “it's meaty on the nose of a piney note and in roasted shirataki mushrooms at the finish”. Is this just like the wine world where half of this is complete, utter nonsense?
JB: I think some people have a more acute palate, and they can detect things that not everybody can. But I think similar to how wine works, people can incept an idea of how it tastes in your head. And most of the time, it's it can be really hard to argue with them if they're good at their job.
CK: Well, you do say sharpness is not really a term and you write in your book it's a shared hallucination. That means whatever anyone needs it to mean. And then you're even harsher about the term assertive.
JB: Yeah, you know, like, if you were to say oh, this cheese has high acidity. That's not really going to make anyone excited about it. But if you say that this is a real sharp cheese, it definitely you know, tickles your brain in a different way. And yeah, assertive. I just think that's a funny way to say that a cheese stinks. Another one is barnyardy (Oh, yeah) Every time I've heard someone say that. It means it tastes at least a little bit like poop.
CK: Now let's talk about the world of cheese. Yeah, you went to lots of events you ran into lots of people you write the cheese world is made up of misfits, rebels, rogues and romantics. So, are there one or two people you met during this journey that are really unusual, different have great stories?
JB: Well, there is a cheese influencer named Tanya Darlington. She goes by Madame Fromage. And she holds Philadelphia's cheese ball. And it's just this huge party, where there'll be like this big last supper tableau of all kinds of cheese on this table. And another blogger, Erika Quebec goes by cheese sex death. One of the more interesting events I went to perhaps the most interesting was this event she threw called strip cheese, where it was a cheese themed burlesque show.
CK: And what exactly does that mean? Do I dare ask
JB: Well, so her brand is kind of like a sexy goth approach to cheese. And her event was held in a former Funeral Parlor in Chicago, and there was a coffin full of cheese. So, everyone came in and feasted for a while and then it's a burlesque show, but everyone had some way to tie cheese into it. One was a tribute to Chester Cheetah that was sort of unexpected, where a guy stripped down to his skivvies and was just belly flopping all over a bowl full of Cheetos on the ground after starting off in like a crisp, pristine white suit. Yeah, so it just goes to show that there is a weird, but fascinating fandom around cheese. It's all it's an entire subculture that I had no idea existed.
CK: Thank you so much. I will never get that image out of my mind. Belly flopping on Cheetos. So, if you're into cheese professionally, there are professional conventions every year. So, what about tastings? Are there places where you go when you have to identify cheese?
JB: There are these certifications you can get like a Sommelier and one of them is the taste test that is just can you identify when cheese is defective? So, the best you could hope for was it would just not taste as nutty as normal would taste a little bit plain. But then there would also be some cheeses I tasted, and it just tasted just rotten
CK: So, give me a few cheeses that I may not know about, but do you really think are exceptional?
JB: Well, Rogue River Blue is incredible. It's from Rogue River Creamery in Oregon. And it tastes the way I described in the book is it tastes like fruity pebbles cereal milk, but fermented into fudge, and it just doesn't have a taste like what I associate with cheese. Yeah, it's really incredible. I think my favorite are Alpine style cheeses, like Gruyere, and Emmentaler, which is what we call Swiss cheese. And I had always hated or been indifferent to Swiss cheese. No, just the kind that are sliced and have holes in them. But actual Emmentaler cheese from Switzerland is delicious.
CK: So, for Christmas, I shouldn't send you a box of Pepper Jack, right?
JB: Yeah, I would ship it right back to you. No, I'm kidding. I would I did the whole thing. That's that's something is that I think you can become a cheese snob in the way that I sort of have and it doesn't automatically mean that you turn up your nose at Pepper Jack. I will still eat Pepper Jack any day of the week. I like it a lot.
CK: Joe, it's been a real pleasure. Thank you for this walk down cheese lane. Thanks.
JB: Hey, the pleasure is all mine. Thanks for having me on.
CK: That was Joe Berkowitz. His book is American Cheese an Indulgent Odyssey through the Artisan Cheese World.
It's time to take your call to my co-hosts Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Also author of Home Cooking 101. Okay, Sara so I have a question before we take calls. Everyone has a jar half-filled jar of capers right in their refrigerator, or I have two or three at all times for some reason. So, what do you do with all those capers sitting around?
Sara Moulton: Now it's so funny, you should bring up capers because my dad who passed away last year, his all-time favorite thing was sole, you know, in brown butter with capers. So, I was just at our old farmhouse and there were six jars in there. So, I have started actually doing pork with brown butter and caper sauce, chicken cutlets with brown butter and caper sauce. Yeah, so lots of brown butter and caper sauce is what I do with capers, but I also throw it into tuna fish, you know, tuna salad. Anytime I want to pickle, something salty. I'll throw it into something like that or into a tomato sauce to give je ne sais quoi I love putting it in Ratatouille. You know that vegetable Provence all vegetable stew. It's a nice little salty, crunchy thing in there.
CK: I love it tuna fish. I agree. It's great in a sauce, little white wine and butter and little quick two-minute pan sauce absolutely. Yeah, the thing is, they keep staring at me.
SM: Yeah, well go back to the old sole with brown butter sauce and capers and think of my sweet dad.
CK: Okay, time to take a call. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Ginny from London,
CK: London. How is London today?
Caller: It's just marvelous. I really enjoy it a lot.
CK: So how can we help you?
Caller: I've had this dilemma for a while. How do you make blueberry pancakes without making the pancakes blue? deep question, because if you mix them in the batter, the batter becomes purple or blue. So, I'm trying to figure out a way to prevent that from happening.
CK: Well, I assume you've tried pouring the batter on the griddle or pan and then plopping blueberries on top right.
Caller: Yeah, I've done that. I mean, then you have to cover them with more batter because the blueberries will stick, you know, to the skillet.
CK: I have a griddle electric griddle I make them a lot. You know, I pour the batter out then I very quickly at the blueberries. As the pancakes cook is you know, they won't totally cover the blueberries, but they'll start to and then if you have a well-greased or season griddle, you won't stick really flip it over and it won't be perfect. You'll get some bleeding on that one side. My flip answer is eat them in the dark. But if you want to eat them a light of morning, you could try a poor Well, I'm sorry. I just love to eat them. They don't last long. I would put a little flour on the blueberries before you add them to the pancakes. That will help a little bit. The other thing I never tried but I always wondered about was could you use frozen berries? And in the time, it takes to cook a pancake would they get to the point that they're on frozen? That might be worth the test?
Caller: Yeah, yeah. Those are two great ideas. I have to give those a try.
SM: I agree with all of that. And I do believe that the frozen would work. I think that would be perfectly fine. Ginny wanted to try this and then let us know how it goes.
Caller: I will Yes. I'll try that this weekend.
CK: Take care. Thank you.
SM: All right.
Caller: Thanks so much. Bye Bye.
CK: Hi, this is Milk Street Radio. Give us a ring anytime with your kitchen questions. The number is 855-426-9843 one more time that's 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street radio.com Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Leah from Annapolis, Maryland.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: So, I am recently engaged.
Caller: Thank you so much. My fiancé merely subsisted on sardines before he met me. I cook quite a bit, but I don't cook sardines. And so, he you know, mentioned some time he misses eating his sardines. And so, I thought well, maybe Chris and Sara know what to do with sardines.
CK: My first question is, did he tell you this before you got engaged? I’ll give a short answer. I would use sardines the way I use fish sauce. It's a base flavor. So, I would pick out a couple of sardines. When you're heating up oil to sauté onions or whatever you're doing to start a recipe. They dissolve into the oil. You don't taste anything fishy. You just get that umami flavor, right, the deep rich background note. So, if you're making a soup or a stew or anything else, it's just a way of adding complexity. That's how I use sardines. And now Sarah is going to tell her she's the right out of the can
SM: No, no, I was going to say another way to think of sardines is like tuna fish but more moist. So, you could make like a sardine salad, you know, like you would with tuna. But there's a classic Italian dish, which is pasta con le sarde which is sardines tossed with spaghetti that combined with garlic and crumbs and parmesan and parsley, so it makes a nice pasta sauce. I wouldn't like it with tomatoes, but that's a place you could put it into a tomato sauce. You could put it on a pizza. I feel like I'm doing a Dr. Seuss rhyme here.
Caller: In a house with a mouse,
SM: you can put it in fish tacos
CK: on a boat with a goat.
SM: You could add it to I don’t know braised greens. A great way to do it would be to grill up some baguette crosscut slice brush with olive oil, grill it up and then crumble up the sardine with some white beans and some really good olive oil and lemon and some fresh herbs and put that on top as an hors d'oeuvre
CK: I want to get back to the boyfriend thing here for a second. First of all, do you like sardines? Let's just find out what going on
SM: Right’s that’s very basic here,
Caller: I'm not opposed to them. I feel like I'm just ignorant. I just don't know what to do with them and they are pretty fishy.
SM: Just keep in mind when anything is fishy a good way to counterbalance that is with fresh lemon juice. So, if you have to make it once a week and you're still not sure you'd like it, I would make sure there's a lot of lemon in there because that really cut the fishiness. But you know that fishiness is could grow on you too. So
Caller: It could
CK: I have a really devilish notion here. (Okay) In Vermont, if you have a rabid dog that chases deer, you get the dog in close contact with some really rotten deer meat, so they have a bad experience. So, you can make the worst possible sardine dish ever that he just never wants to eat it again. Now that like that is what really insidious of me to suggest that but you might just like overdo it. Right? Right. Or serving sardines every day for two months. And then you're done.
Caller: So, he’s just sick of them.
SM: I didn't know you had this evil side.
CK: I could have a little fun with this. You know me, come on.
Caller: Oh, the things you learn when you call in?
CK: No, it's true. Anyway, good luck with us.
CK: You’re listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next. I'm talking to chef Marcus Samuelsson that in more in just a moment.
This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson his new book At the Rise explores contemporary black cooking through chef profiles and recipes. Marcus welcome to Milk Street
MS: thank you so much for having me.
CK: Well, it's it's been a long time since we chatted. Your new book, The Rise is dedicated to your mother. And you once wrote, when I go back to Africa, when I see a young woman carrying a couple of kids, two kids, I wonder if that's what my mother looked like. Could you just explain why you why you said that?
MS: Yeah, I mean, I think that adoption, and in my case, I'm obviously extremely grateful to my Swedish parents that I got adopted. But when you're adopted you as a child, and as an adult, also, you you always wonder, what if, and when me and my sister got adopted, my mom, my sister and I, we had tuberculosis. And what we do know about our mother I know is that she, she died in her mid 20s. Walking, my sister and I from the village, with to reclose, into Swedish hospital, and then she passed away. So, I don't have any memories. I don't have a picture of her. I don't remember what her eyes looks like just very basic, fundamental things that most people have clear memories of their mother. And so so reimagining my mother is something that I do. And my sister also we talked about this, we do that, but we don't do it. When we see a black young woman here in America. We do do it only woman come to Africa, because I think it's the nature and the surroundings and everything, specifically Ethiopia.
CK: You obviously don't remember the village when you were that young. But you've gone back. Could you just tell us about the village you were born in? Is it changed a lot from people you've spoken to since you were young? Is it still pretty much the same?
MS: Yeah, so I would say the biggest change came about six or seven years ago. So, I was born in a tiny village called ____, which is about now a used to be about a three-hour drive from Addis from the Capitol. And now it's about you can do it in an hour and a half because actually built a highway, right? That's a massive change. You know what I mean? And Addis Abeba is this, you know, it's basically imagine the savannah and African savanna where you drive and drive and drive. You know, it's tried, the sand is red, and it's dusty. And then you just take off this tunnel, a little bumpy road to the right. And there it is about 15 huts or so and that's our ____. But about six years ago, that we built a road through this village And I was actually there with Anthony Bourdain. And for me, it was just one of the things that I guess even Addis Abeba is not safe from gentrification. Because happened to be that they found salt and minerals about a couple of miles away. So, for about 30 years or so it was very similar and then about six years ago it changed.
CK: You talk about your son's Zion, you say he’s going to grow up to be a herring and mackerel boy in Swedish, but will also be a Doro Wat kid, the famous Ethiopians stew.
MS: Yeah, and one of the many reasons of writing the rise was to really talk about the complexity in the layers of blackness. It's not one linear path, you can actually be Swedish like Zion, being a black, brown skinned kid, with super curly hair, and live in Harlem, and feel connected to this trilogy between America of course, Sweden as a place where we go into summertime, and Ethiopia, as a place of originality, where I will say, culturally, his mom and I are raising him very much like an Ethiopian kid in Harlem. So, I do think it's important that he is connected to all the three and that's the blessings of being in America is that you can clearly identify with all three, you know, The Rise talks about the complexity and the many different ways we are in America, through our food, but also through identity. And once you start to understand the food on it, you start to understand see the possibility of blackness are so many different rivers to it. Which Zion is just one example of that
CK: Yeah, I love. I love the book, The Rise because it's about complexity. You ask, in the preface of the book, at the beginning, you asked what does it mean to be a black cook? Did you actually come up with an answer to that other than complexity?
MS: Well, I think you have to make it in tranches, right. First of all, one of the biggest blessings I've been given is as a black person to actually talk about complexity in my art form, which majority of people of color actually never get the chance to do. So, I am extremely grateful to the audience and the opportunities of that, and you have to recognize your privilege. And, you know, it's just, I'm setting a table, but I'm bringing in these incredible people that some of them are very known, some of them not so known but it shows the layers and the complexity of it, which food does explain in many, many different ways. But we haven't had that deep conversation about it the way for example, other art forms have had, right if you and I would go and have conversation about gospel jazz, rock and roll, hip hop. Your next question is what era? Right? (Good point). You don't have to be huge music lover, but you understand there are differences here, right? What I always felt like African American and black people in this country has done so much for American food. But we're written out of the authorship of it. And that then really then changes the aspirations. Why should we go into food and the inspiration, but it also changes everything on a financial level, too right? So you know, if Nearest Green would have gotten 10 cents on every Jack Daniels ever sold, that would have changed not only for Nearest Green, but for his family and the legacy after that.
CK: And he was he was the guy who taught them how to distill bourbon right?
MS: Exactly, exactly. Right. So, these are, when you written out of your authorship, it doesn't have a small impact, it has a huge impact, right?
CK: If you look at the food in the book and try to say this somehow puts a circle around what you might define as black foodways or African American food ways. You know, there's a lot from Ethiopia, there's fonio, West Africa, there's Berber from you know, East Africa, shrimp and grits. kofta with okra, jollof rice, goats, broken rice, rice, and peas. couscous? Is it the approach to the food is that the history of the recipe or the ingredients, or where they come from? I went through all the recipes, and I just felt there was a, this may sound silly, but sort of a joy and energy to it, which I thought was distinctive.
MS: Well, I that's I think that's a very important question. Because the method and the sympathy here is really, it's a couple of things.
Doing a lot with a little right. And I do think America is very interesting, because so much of American food actually comes and is linked from West Africa. That broken rice that you see came to the Carolinas and the Gullah culture took their own spin on that, right. And the techniques of barbecues, for example, so much of the food that we actually adore, or you think about grits you think about the food that we really think through as American food today, come from West Africa, but then also it's been this incredible double layering. And that's what makes American food like a casino like Creole. For me, that is a complete link between France, Haiti, Africa, West Africa, to Spanish and America, only that casino can really take place in America in a way. So, there's definitely an energy. There's also this identity around ingredient that needed to get extended. There's a reason how do we get to the broken rice, right? Here's the good rice. And here's the broken rice. And yet, you have delicious food, very similar to the way I think about how American music has been reimagined from church, to rock and roll to James Brown, and therefore you have hip hop
CK: Did The Rise this book change the way you think about cooking a little I just give you an example. You know, a couple months ago, I started making doro wat a lot, because I realized just a bunch of onions, half a cup of Berber, you know, spice mix, and then some protein, whatever you want, you know, and I went this is brilliant, because it's a bunch of onions. And mostly not that spicy spice depending on what you like. But it just created this incredible foundation.Did you find during this book, did you find similar moments when you went? Oh, yeah, that's, that's pretty cool. You know, that's, that's a great technique.
MS: Well, first of all, thank you for being curious, because I think it takes people like yourself, that curiosity with the way you know, maybe I discovered something in Vietnamese food or maybe I discovered something in let's say Indian food, right? That aha moment when it's outside your own culture becomes a really big reward. And you can't wait to tell your friends that are also curious about this right? And something like doro wat what you completely got it. It's actually an onion sauce with a little bit of Barbara, and meat, but that what it's called doro or what wat doro means chicken and wat means sauce is really the sauce. That makes it right. So that sauce can go in. It can be greens, it can be broccolini can be tofu, it can be anything that you want. And when I say reason why I say that is because that's how Ethiopians eats it, the Doro is actually only added for big celebrations, because most of Ethiopian cooking is actually vegetarian. And the meat only enters when there is a big celebration breaking a fast. So, you you've you got there in a way that I really love because it's it's exactly what it is.
CK: A lot have been said about food as a way of introducing people to culture. You’re a chef, have you seen when people taste food, they're not familiar with? It's an, it's a little first step to start to understand something broader or is that overstated?
MS: I like to think yes, because I've been around it right, like I can't really when I think about minority food, I think about my Swedish food. You know, it's a small country that most people haven't been to an eating pickled herring, the way we eat in Sweden. I love it, because I grew up with it. But that for me, it's much stranger. So, when somebody said you were minor, I never think about the black side of me or being minority. I think what the Swedish side as a minority, because it truly is a small country, and its amazing country. But, you know, black food in America is something black excellence is something we should celebrate, acknowledge. And because it's ours, it's American is not doesn't belong to black people. It belongs to everybody, just like American music belongs to everybody.
CK: Now, I thought, you know, let's just stop right there for a second because I think I don't hear that point being made loudly enough. And it's a really good point. It's American sort of part of the whole American experience.
MS: And like you think about we learn very often, you know, as a black person, and you think about all these amazing people are in the book. There's a level of normality that people just want you know, you speak to Nina Compton, you speak to a Sharma you speak to, you know, very often, blackness get talked about constantly in these extremes, whether it's a super athlete or you know, somebody super famous like Oprah, well, the majority of black life lives in a normal life with love and dreams and inspirations and nonlinear path. Do you know and guess what? So has most people in, in food America, regardless of black or white, or Asian or at the next, right, but here is a culture of their own that was very often written out out of the American food story. So, all I'm asking is like read these stories support them because this is our history this all of America's history.
CK: Marcus just a real pleasure having you on Milk Street. Thank you so much.
MS: Thank you so much for having me and keep cooking that doro wat
CK: Not a problem. That was Marcus Samuelsson. His book is called The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food. Marcus asked the question, what does it mean to be a black cook? From Kafka with okra to doro wat rigatoni to sea moss smoothie? It may be a difficult question to answer if you're looking for a very well-defined culinary repertoire. But there is a joy and energy to this cooking. There's a richness of palette and construct, also a deep sense of terroir, all married to the joys and idiosyncrasies of culinary immigration. Marcus, his own son grew up on Swedish herring and Ethiopian stews. Most of all, and I hope that Marcus might agree with this, there is the hope or the demand that this richness of culture and food be considered a part of what makes America so special. It's no less than he and all of us deserve. It's time to head into the kitchen at Milk Street to chat with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe Soupe au Pistou. JM, how are you?
JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.
CK: You spend some time in Marseilles. With some luck, it was sort of hard to find a lot of recipes that you’d want to bring back here. But yes, there was one in particular Soupe au Pistou stew. (Yes) Which is essentially a minestrone with something like pesto. So, let's start with a soup is just a bean soup with veggies?
JM: It is, and you know, I’ve got to tell you, when I went to learn this dish, I was not ready to be impressed. Because, like you say, it's just a vegetable bean soup. And they add a little bit of pasta to it, although that's more to give it body and to thicken it than to actually add noodles to it. But it's what they do, after they've made the soup that really got my attention. And as you know, I went to Genoa to learn how to make true Italian pesto. And I didn't realize that the south of France has its own version of this, which of course they call pistou. And they add that to the top of this very simple vegetable and bean soup. And I was expecting to not be very impressed by it, because you figured well, that's going to water down all the flavor of that beautiful pesto. Because as we know, in Italy, it's it's construction, you know, they add very precise amounts of ingredients in a specific order so that each ingredient is treated in a particular way to get the end result. And of course, that pesto is then tossed with pasta. And it's not diluted very much. So, it's a very careful construction of flavor. Here, they take a very different approach. Even though in the south of France, they use exactly the same ingredients. They go big on the garlic, I mean, so much so that when I tried the pistou by itself, it burned my tongue. I mean, that's a lot of garlic and I like but they use all the same ingredients, very different proportions, and they're not at all careful about how they put things together, they just throw them in a mortar and pestle. And they they bash it until it's a coarse paste. And when the soup has finished simmering, they ladle that into each bowl of soup, and you mix it in. And so, what was this almost inedible taste of garlic and basil suddenly infuses all the broth infuses the vegetables and you get these amazing aroma’s coming out of each bowl. And then it suddenly made sense. You need a stronger pesto in order to flavor a bowl of soup. And that's a different requirement than tossing with a bowl of pasta.
CK: So, the takeaway, I guess is how intense the sauce is depends entirely on how it's going to be used.
CK: That’s not a brilliant concept. But true very often I've tasted a circle, this is too salty, or this is too strong. Right? But then you use it like adding to a super stew right, It's fine.
JM: You know, it depends on the intent. What are you going to do with it? What is it supposed to be flavoring and flavor and pasta is going to be much different than flavoring a bowl of soup.
CK: So, we don't use a mortar and pestle here we use the food processor or any other changes we made bacll at Milk Street?
JM: You know, it was such a simple recipe. It was wonderful for Milk Street because you know, it's just we start with dried beans and we cook them up with some vegetables. The only thing we really did differently was instead of dumping all the vegetables in at once we add them in in an order so that the more tender vegetables go in last don't get overcooked. And other than that it's a very straightforward vegetable and bean soup that we then topped with this amazing pistou.
CK: Thank you very much. I guess your trip to Marseille paid for itself.
JM: It did indeed. You can find this recipe for soupe au pistou at 177 Milk Street.com
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Coming up. Bianca Bosker gives us a history lesson on the humble fork. We'll be right back.
This is Milk Street Radio. I'm Christopher Kimball. Next up Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.
SM: Welcome to Milk street Who's calling?
Caller: Hi this is Joselyn
SM: Hi, Jocelyn. Where are you calling from?
Caller: I am calling for Bedford, Massachusetts.
SM: How can we help you today?
Caller: I was calling because my family has an old banana bread recipe that came with a under cookbook that my mom got as a wedding present. And it uses cream of tartar And it is one of the only baking recipes I have ever seen that uses cream of tartar as one of the dry ingredients and I was curious as to what purpose it actually serves in the recipe. And since it is kind of an older recipe if there's any historical information about its usage?
SM: what other leavener is in there besides the cream of tartar?
Caller: I think it's just baking soda.
SM: Okay, well that makes sense. Baking powder is actually combination of baking soda and cream of tartar. So, my guess is that is why it was there. cream of tartar is a byproduct of the winemaking process, and it's essentially an acid. So, it's very useful with merengues or egg whites. Chris, do you have any thoughts?
CK: Do I have any thoughts?
SM: I know you're full of thoughts.
CK: I think cream of tartar may at one time been a formula with baking soda for baking powder. Baking soda is alkali which will react with acids in a batter. If there are no acids in the batter, you add a little cream of tartar to balance it out. But baking powder today usually is double acting so it will start reacting at room temperature with liquid and then often temperatures. That's why it's called double acting. But I agree with Sarah that the only real use for today is with egg whites. For every two whites add maybe a quarter teaspoon of cream of tartar. Much like sugar, it helps to stabilize the foam. It's harder to over whip and they want to deflate as rapidly. So that's really pretty much why I keep cream of tartar around is just a little bit of an insurance policy with egg whites. The banana breads interesting though. What else is in the recipe?
Caller: It's a blender recipe so you dump a bunch of things into the blender. Your eggs, your butter, it's white sugar. The rest of it's a pretty standard quick bread to flour. Like I said baking soda and then the cream of tartar.
SM: But it was an older recipe you said (yes) Chris that's probably why
CK: It could be this was around the time of the Magna Carta. I mean double acting’s been around quite a while.
SM: I mean to make a banana bread in a blender is wild.
CK: You can do it in a blender, you don’t blend the flour, you liquefy the liquid ingredients first, right. And then you mix those by hand into the dry.
Caller: And then you mix those by hand into the dry
SM: Right, you don’t over develop the gluten. Anyway, the answer is it was an older recipe but these day you wouldn’t do that, you can just use double acting baking powder
Caller: if I wanted to replace the cream of tartar in this recipe would it just be a one for one with the the baking soda in the cream of tartar with baking powder?
CK: Yep, because you don't have anything that acid in there. It's white sugar not brown sugar. So, I would just add up the total of those two ingredients or use baking powder instead as Sarah suggested.
SM: Alright, Jocelyn. Thanks for calling.
Caller: Thank you.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio, give us a call. Anytime we'll answer your questions at 855-426-98431 one more time, that's 855-426-9843 or just email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Bridget Roseman and Sandfield Massachusetts.
SM: Hi, Bridget, how can we help you today?
Caller: Gosh, what fun. I am the child of a war bride and a military man who met during World War Two. And I spent my childhood or part of it in Germany, with my grandparents and my cousins. And they had a tradition of gardening that sustained them in the war and in the agricultural region was was very common for everybody to have a big garden. And when I was a child, I have a very vivid memory of this incredibly fertile soil it was almost greasy. And one of the things I remember so well was the potatoes. And I can just hear my grandmother asking those _____and we heard it almost every single day. As children, we got sick of hearing it but now I just crave those potatoes. You can't come close to that in this country.Really, the best you can do is Yukon Gold. But it pales by comparison to these potatoes, and they had no bugs. And they were just like treasures found in the soil. And how do we come close to this?
SM: Oh dear, you know, it has to do with terroir, you know, it's like wine or anything else, and also probably care. But you probably can't find the exact same potato. I have a girlfriend who is married to somebody who's German, and they spent a certain amount of time every year in Germany. And I know that she has sometimes used a potato you can find here called German butterball, that might be something to look for Yukon Gold is sort of not completely a waxy potato, but I think we're talking about a waxy potato so any small yellow waxy potato would be a substitute.
CK: Part of it is who's growing them. I mean, I've grown potatoes for a long time. And they taste great. And the soil of Vermont is terrible. So, it's not that we have great loamy soil, but you know, it's like growing your own apples. So commercially, it's like the commercial tomato or the commercial apple. They're not as good as a garden.
Caller: And Maine seems to be a place where we grow potatoes in this country. And yet, there's not a lot of diversity. Not a lot of choice there. But is there some variety out of Maine that seems to be fairly small farms and fairly well done not mega commercial farms. So what would we choose there? Or what could I find as a seed potato to plant in the spring?
CK: Well, I do know, let's say in Vermont, some of the orchards are growing heirloom varieties. I just picked up a whole bunch recently. And I think that's probably true for potatoes as well. If you went to a farmer's market, you'd find some out of the way varieties. I know the Green Mountain potatoes sort of the standard potato in New England, or at least in Vermont, but it's you know, it's a baking potato it’s nothing special. I would go to the Farmers market. I agree with that. Yeah. Portland, Maine on Saturday mornings has a fabulous farmer's market. And also Seeds of Change is that catalog, which has all the heirloom varieties. I would look there too. Yeah. Yeah. Great.
Caller: Great. Great point. Thank you very much for that.
CK: Thank you.
SM: Thanks Bridget. Thank you. Bye. Bye.
Caller: Thank you. Bye. Bye
SM: Bye, bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary inspiration from one of our listeners.
Caller: Hi, this is Jonathan smiley from New Albany, Indiana. And here's my tip. Leftover waffles or pancakes can be frozen, we delete them. To stop them sticking together. I put a sheet of parchment paper between the waffles as I put them in the freezer bag. Once they're frozen, this makes it easy to remove one or two without having to defrost the entire bag. Thanks.
CK: By the way, if you'd like to share your own cooking tip, on Milk street radio please go to 177 Milk Street com slash radio tips. Next up, it's journalist Bianca Bosker. Bianca, how are you?
Bianca Bosker: I'm doing well. How are you?
CK: I'm always a little nervous when I talk to you because I just never can predict what you're going to say.
BB: That's good. It's someone's going to keep you on your toes. It's good Chris. Well, I want to talk about a relatively new and rather divisive addition to America's tables, which is the fork. I was doing dishes the other day and maybe it was boredom, maybe it was resentment. But I started to wonder, where did the fork come from? Something that you've researched yourself, Chris?
CK: Yeah, people used to just carry knives around, right. And you just cut off a piece. But then the fork. I think it just had two tines initially it was it was quite different than the modern fork. Right?
BB: Very different and a relative late bloomer by comparison with the spoon and the knife. But yes, right, early traces of the fork, which were then bigger, they had two tines were used as a cooking utensil. But the personal table fork that came a bit later, probably around the fourth century, and the early adopters were really the wealthy and elite in the Byzantine Empire in Persia and the Middle East. Western Europe, totally different case, the fork was an abomination. And one of the earliest sort of recorded cameos of the fork apparently took place around the year 1004 when the niece of the Byzantine emperor married into the nation aristocracy. And this bride had the gall to eat her dinner with a fork. I mean, people were outraged. There was a member of the clergy who denounced her, he wrote, and I quote, “God and His wisdom has provided man with natural forks his fingers” For the next couple 100 years, eating with a fork was condemned, it was at worst an insult to God. It was at best pretentious, affected, snooty, dainty, you know, a sign of just sinful pride and vanity.
CK: So, when did it come into regular service in Europe?
BB: Well, by 1633, King Charles the first of England had declared it decent to use a fork. Some other countries that was you know, a bit earlier. There’re some explanations for that. One of them, for example, is practical. There was apparently a big rage for eating candied fruits in the 1400s. And that was really difficult to do with a spoon and a knife, you know, they were sticky, it was messy. Some explanation say that hygiene concerns led to the embrace of the fork. Also, etiquette this idea of sort of conspicuous consumption through the tools you use for consumption. But in the United States, it took us a while. So, the fork or as it was called, for a long time, a split spoon took until the mid to late 1800s to really gain traction in the US in the 1830s was actually an American who declared it kind of unpatriotic to eat with a fork that you had a hand and knife and like that was the American way. But by 1887, it was called a favorite and fashionable utensil. It was interesting that Americans were sort of late to this party, but the Victorians took the fork and ran with it, I mean, came out with like, dozens of different forks, berry forks, cherry forks, fish forks, chip forks, oyster forks, granny forks, a mango fork, which kind of looks like someone giving you the middle finger, and they just embraced it.
CK: You know, it's interesting, there are places in the world where you taste food off the back of your hand while you're cooking. And you still eat with your hands. And there's something I've done that and there is something wonderful about eating with your hands. And so I'm all for utensils, but we did leave something behind.
BB: Oh, I completely agree. And what's interesting is, when you look at some of the prototypes for next generation utensils, some designers are trying to bring us back to the idea of eating with our hands, I think there's an interesting argument that they make, which is that we actually lose a lot of information about our meals by forgoing eating with our fingers, you know, that flavor isn't just taste and smell. It's the texture, it's the temperature. There's a team called Michel Fabian that has come up with prototypes that essentially try and recreate the experience of eating with our body. So, they have one product, for example, that is supposed to combine the functionality of chopsticks, the fork and the knife, while also imitating the thumb and index finger. Can you imagine what this might look like?
CK: No idea,
BB: It is a tongue. There's also a long teardrop shaped glass one that they've come up with, which is designed to evoke the experience of licking your fingers. But I think stepping back from this, you know, the fork is credited with turning eating into dining. And I think that in looking at these concepts and thinking about the sort of relatively new history of the fork, it sort of raises this question of how we come to this moment where we should take dining back to eating, are we losing something and maybe the most revolutionary thing of all might be to put down the fork and take up our two hands?
CK: Well, there are burgers, there is barbecue.
CK: There was fried chicken, there chips there lots of things. We still use our hands for its sandwich, of course. No, I think that's interesting. I guess the question now is, will we revert back to a pure form of eating our food or will we stick with the white tablecloth high dining?
BB: Well, and what might we gain in the process of moving away from it? I mean, that plethora of forks has led to this concept of fork anxiety, you know, the idea of what fork you used when and how it really was and I think continues to be bound up in issues of class and status. So, I think that it's a it's just food for thought.
CK: Bianca thank you so much to eat with a fork or to eat with your hands. Another modern conundrum. Thank you.
BB: Thank you.
CK: That was journalist Bianca Bosker. That's it for today. If you tuned in too late or just want to listen again, you can download and subscribe to Milk Street radio and Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street please visit us at 177 Milk Street com there you can download each week's recipe, watch the latest season of our television show. Or you can order our latest cookbook Cookish. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street and on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio was produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, co-executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Associate Producer Jackie Novak, production assistant Sarah Clapp and production help from Debby Paddock. Senior audio engineer David Goodman, additional editing from Vicki Merrick, Sidney Lewis and Samantha Brown, an audio mixing from Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe additional music by George Bernard Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.