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Writer and historian Michael Twitty share the stories and foods of the African and Jewish diasporas. Plus, we explore the wide world of breakfast cereals with Gabe Fonseca, make spaghetti with parsley pesto and consider the apple with Dan Pashman.
Questions in this episode:
"Is it safe to can peppers in oil?"
"How can I get softer beans?"
"Can you recommend a book about the chemistry of cooking?"
"Can you help me convert my muffin recipe?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today author and historian Michael Twitty takes us on a culinary journey and his new book Koshersoul Twitty explores the common ground between Jewish and African foods and traditions.
Michael Twitty: It's like a common joke. It's like, okay, oh, this tastes horrible. You have to try some. Why don't have to try some if it's horrible, because it's horrible. And it's like, there is a certain wisdom in being able to understand what is horrible. Being would appreciate the good and be able to survive. Things that aren't so great.
CK: That's coming up later in the show. But first, are you an adult who loves cereal? And would you admit it?
Voice: I'm eighty years old. And I love Kellogg's Frosted Flakes.
Brave folks are coming forward to challenge the notion that Frosted Flakes is just a kid cereal. I eat them. I love them. And I don't care who knows. What more can you say Frosted Flakes have the taste of adults have grown to love their GREAT!
CK: In the 80s and 90s. ads like this featured brave adults confessing that they did in fact love Frosted Flakes. Right now, I'm joined by an adult who does not hide his love for cereal. My first guest Gabe Fonseca reviews breakfast cereals on his YouTube channel Cereal Time TV. Gabe, welcome to Milk Street.
Gabe Fonseca: Thanks for having me.
CK: So, I have an odd confession. I remember eating Sugar Pops. Sugar pops our tops. Remember that? Yeah, probably before your time. I was watching Arthur Godfrey, which is is a name nobody under 60 has heard of on a little tiny black and white television that was about a foot wide. Eating them directly out of the box on the sofa. So, they imprint on your psyche. (yeah exactly). There must be some deep emotional attachment to to cereal. Is it the creativity that goes into this? Is it what companies can do with a simple sugar-coated grains and all the imagination that goes into what is the thrill here?
GF: I think you you kind of nailed it is a combination of all that for me. I think a lot of it obviously harkens back to just nostalgia growing up eating sugary breakfast cereal, as I'm sure many kids they watching Saturday morning cartoons sort of just gets a bond at a young age association with this, this, this breakfast food and the mascots and the colors and the flavors. And it’s sort of it sticks with you.
CK: Did you see a progression from the early days, let's say the early days being the 50s of cereal where they they had simpler concepts and then they expanded on them?
GF: So, when I look back at the cereals that I never got to try that, you know, started the whole sugar cereal craze, the cereal actually would have sugar pops or sugar crinkles or sugar in the name. And it was just a handful of ingredients with a lot of sugar in it. And as parents became more sort of health conscious, they would remove sugar from the names of a lot of the cereals. They still keep the sugar in there, but they they would market it not as candy essentially.
CK: Yeah, I remember doing some research on this a while back. And the Kellogg brothers really started with a healthy way to start the day. Right, because people started with cold meats in the morning, right? They thought that grains toasted wheat for example or corn was healthy, and then obviously got subverted by the notion of sugar. But but but these were really supposed to be healthy foods, right?
GF: Yeah, everything kind of in our culture goes like well, how can we mass market this and make the most money possible out of this? And it's like, well, if we can get kids to eat this as well, you know, and the surefire way to do that is well it's just sweeten them and add sugar to them.
CK: I think it's so interesting is sort of a primmer in mass marketing, right? Because you're talking about using cartoon characters or icons or tigers or things that would appeal to kids and bright colors and sugar. Somebody really figured out how to sell this stuff
GF: Well back in the day with the commercials they did a really good job of world building you know mythology building Captain Crunch had many enemies John the foot he had you know the milk see and crunch island they had like little maps you could get in the boxes that you know it kind of explored the world of Captain Crunch and his friends and his enemies and where he lived and where he sailed and stuff.
Captain Crunch clip: And we're here to show the world the secret of crunch Island. Let's go here the fields of Daisy
GF: Linus the Lionhearted and a few other characters had their own cartoon at one point on Saturday mornings and This was when back when you could use those characters and actually have cartoons for advertising that they changed that because they were like, we can't mark it to kids that way. But they had all these characters who went on adventures and had stories
Post cereal clip: on the show is brought to you by post. Dale a little bit better post.
CK: Love it. It's a PR person's dream. So, tell me about the back of the box. I spent, like many kids in the 50s, the 60s, eating cereal, looking at the back of the box. And I read every word. There were games on it. There were other things. So how do they use the back of the box to draw kids in?
GF: Yeah, I mean, whether it's prizes in the box or games on the back of the box, they keep your eyes glued to the box, and they definitely have prices in boxes anymore. And even the back of the boxes nowadays aren't what they were when I was growing up.
CK: So, what could you send away for in the hay day?
GF: Oh, man books, toys, all kinds of stuff. Lucky Charms had one where you could send away for a tree.
Cereal Ad: Especially with boxes of Lucky Charms with new marshmallow trees. With two proofs of purchase, you can get your own real baby tree for free.
GF: I had a shirt that I sent away for a Rainbow bright shirt, it was just, you know, you would cut out the back of the box with proofs of purchase and some money and you just send away for it. And then you know, a month or two it took it took weeks. Yeah, it's a winter gloss. You forgot about it. And then it would arrive in the mail, and you go oh, I forgot I got this mug or this ball or frisbee or something like that from Captain Crunch.
CK: So, you started collecting cereal boxes, I guess a decade ago. So, I just have to ask you know, how many cereal boxes do you have exactly?
GF: Yeah, so I at this point, I haven't counted in a while. But the last time I checked it was around 400 plus boxes. But I do have a little small room in our house where we have the boxes displayed on the wall.
CK: Is there ever discussion in your household about how that room can be used for something else?
GF: Oh, you've talked to my wife. No, it's a, it's a very small room that we kind of is our game room. And so she's like, Yeah, you can you can have this room here. That will just be where the cereal is.
CK: And and reportedly, you have custom Captain Crunch sneakers.
GF: Yeah, well, (um) that's that's my favorite cereal of all times Captain Crunch. And I hesitate to wear them in public so I don't like to get them dirty so that they kind of are more of a conversation piece than practical at this point,
CK: You have your top 10 list of favorite cereal. So, I'm just going to ask you, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Spider Man. That's number four on your list. Why is it number four on your list? Why is it in the top 10?
GF: Well, first of all, I will say that list fluctuates depending on my mood. And those were basically the same scenario, and it was just a frosted Rice Chex cereal with marshmallows in and now for Teenage Mutant Turtles, they had specific marshmallows to that brand and Spider Man specific marshmallows to that brand. And there isn't still a cereal like that on the market right now. And so maybe it's just my memory has sort of built it up better than than then it was, but you know, the kid in me is like, Oh, I just remember eating that and loving it so much.
CK: But I do have to ask the obvious question, which is I remember years ago, I I used to love Hostess cupcakes, right chocolate. I ate a lot of those as a kid. And so, I remember we were I was doing a recipe for making them from scratch. Right? So, we started by tasting hostess cupcakes and they were awful. So, I have this imprinted memory of that. A number of other things. But now as an adult, I'm older than you but my taste buds are not the same as they were there when I was eight. Today now that you're you know, of voting age. Why? What Why does Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cereal still appeal? Is the imprint emotional imprint strong enough to overcome the actual flavor of it? Or do you like the flavor?
GF: I think I think it's the former honestly, I do because I love cereal. I talk about it all the time. I have my box and stuff. I don't eat those sugary cereals for breakfast. I could never do that now. I eat them. You know maybe once a week for dessert. I'll have a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or fruity pebbles but even then, I find after that bowl that it's it's too much sugar for me. And so, if I were to be able to eat them again, I would i I'm sure my tastebuds would be like oh, this is not this is not how I remember it. But I still hold on to that memory. Like I said it's still that nostalgic sort of seeing that box and being able to recreate those memories of when you were younger.
CK: Gabe, it's been a pleasure. I need to visit your room of cereal. Thank you.
GF: Thank you once again and you're always invited anytime
CK: Oh, that was Gabe Fonseka, host of the YouTube channel Cereal Time TV. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. also, author of Home Cooking One on One. Sara, are you ready?
SM: I am so ready, Chris. Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Chelsea.
SM : Hi, Chelsea. Where are you calling from?
Caller: L___ Springs, Ohio.
SM: And how can we help you today?
Caller: Canned peppers in oil are really popular around here. And they're given us gifts sold in local restaurants and stores. I've been wanting to get into canning. And I was asking my out of state friends if they had a good recipe. And they were horrified at the safety concerns with canning foods in oil. And they've never heard of peppers in oil. I was wondering if peppers are an exception, or if it's actually unsafe?
SM: Well, there's two other ingredients that you want to find in there besides the oil. And if they're the right amount, then you should be safe. And that would be salt, and acid. And sugar actually, although I wouldn't put sugar in my peppers, but those are all preservatives, and when in the right proportions would make it safe. You know, what I would do is reach out to your local extension, you know the government sort of farming extension and get their advice for the proportions that would be appropriate when canning and then it should be fine. Chris?
CK: If there's going to be a problem in Canada, that's going to be because you've used oil, because you may not heat it up enough even with pressure canning to kill off any potential botulism, whatever the molecules of fat and oil can protect the bacteria if it exists. And they also you're dealing with a very alkaline mixture, peppers, etc. Like green beans are alkaline. I would just wouldn't do it. And if anyone's given you can peppers in oil. I don't know how much acid you have to add. But probably so much that it would just taste a bit odd. I agree with Sara you can check with your extension service. But this is walking on the wild side.
SM: Just get a good recipe and talk to your extension. It's not impossible.
CK: Don't do it. There are things like if you want to go hang gliding, right or parachuting. I get it because there's a thrill there. There's risk and reward. The reward of canning in oil seems de minimis in relationship to the risk.
Caller: I mean, I'm personally young and healthy. But I do have a disabled mother who lives with me. So, I'm going to go with maybe No, maybe no for certain situations.
CK: Yeah, it's just you want to be really careful with canning.
SM: Well, that for sure. That's why I don't can, I'm sure I'm going to kill somebody.
CK: You know, my mother used to say that about her cooking, but she cooked a turkey at 170 degrees in the oven for 10 hours. I used to say maybe we should up the oven temperature. And your answer was well, I haven't killed any of you yet. And I thought that was actually not a very good no position.
SM: No, you're right. You're right.
CK: Anyway, Chelsea, thanks so much.
SM: Good question.
Caller: Yeah. Thank you so much.
CK: Take care.
SM Bye. Bye. Thank you.
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Bonnie in Eugene, Oregon.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: I as a young cook, who was not raised eating beans, I got interested in eating a lot of beans. And I learned the hard way that you cannot cook beans with tomatoes or they will not soften. After some disastrous chilies. I learned this. And that has been my mantra ever since. And it's worked great. Cook the beans separately than add the tomato. During the pandemic. There were a lot of recipes coming out using stuff out of your pantry and bean recipes. And I saw at least one, maybe two recipes that were like throw it all in the liquid and even some tomato and I was surprised to see that. But I gave one of these recipes a try. And just as I suspected the beans did not get soft. So why would somebody tell you to do that? And maybe that's not something you can answer but it seems weird because it was from a reputable source. And I've also heard that hard water can make beans not soften and I do not have hard water. I have a very soft water. So, I wonder if you have any thoughts about this?
CK: Yeah, the first thought is after 40 years of this I can tell you that you should never fully trust really almost any recipe because people's kitchens are different, or people make mistakes, or you know their ingredients are different. So, you're absolutely right a high acid environment will toughen the outer skins it will slow down cooking I went to Boston baked beans in Vermont, I think 20 years ago and after eight hours they still weren't cooked because I had the molasses in there and the tomato you know so it was just a disaster. So yeah, I think small amount of acid probably isn't going to hurt anything but too much acid will harden the outer skin. make it hard for the water to get into cook the beans so you're absolutely right. In a pressure cooker you know or instant pot on the pressure cooker setting in Maybe he could handle a higher mount of acidity because of the pressure. I don't know the answer to that. But you should not be in shock and awe that a recipe did not work because your instincts absolutely right.
SM: I agree. I have heard the thing about hard water that it can be a problem. Not in all situations, but it can.
CK: Yeah, I mean, just add the acid once the beans are cooked in the last 45 minutes or hour or whatever it is of cooking, and then you're fine.
Caller: That totally makes sense. Maybe a little bit of tomato paste. You can get away with that. Why bother? Just wait and put it in?
CK: Very often you saw a tomato paste to sort of caramelize it and bring out the flavor. If you had a tablespoon of tomato paste. I think that would be fine. Yeah, do to the onions. But it's just like don't add a can of tomatoes or a ton of molasses or something. Yeah.
SM: All right.
Caller: Okay, well, it's a good rule of thumb and let the buyer beware with the recipe.
CK: Yeah, that's they should do the buyer beware cookbook. Yes. Right. Right. Which is absolutely true. Bonnie, thanks for calling. Yeah, you're right.
Caller: Thanks very much.
CK: Take care. Bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio, Sara and I are ready to take your calls. Give us a ring at 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Bob Kilpatrick
SM: How can we help you? Well, listen,
Caller: I’ve been baking for many, many decades. But my cooking skills aren't as great. I'm looking for a resource, maybe a book on the chemistry of cooking. I'm thinking it might help me. Do you have a recommendation?
SM: Yes, I have several. The gold standard, although it's pretty dry reading. But the information is wonderful is Harold McGee. He did a book called On Food and Cooking. It's very, very detailed. Of course,
CK: Let's just say you can't read the book. I mean, it's so tactical. I mean, it's it's very dry It's a reference book
SM: Yes, it is. A more modern version, somebody that Chris has worked with a lot is Kenji Lopez Alt, The Food Lab, and that's a very good one. And I have an additional one. And I don't even know if it's still out. There's two or three of them. And I don't remember the name of the author. But the name of the book, which is pretty unique is What Einstein should Have Told His Chef
CK: it's Robert Wolke W-O-L-K-E.
SM: So, you know, those books too
CK: And there two editions. Yes, the first and second
SM: and they're fun. And they're probably the easiest of all three books that I just mentioned to digest.
CK: There are two others years ago, Shirley Corriher she is from Atlanta she wrote Cook Wise and then she wrote Bake Wise. And she was the first person that really combined was kitchen science, cooking science with recipes, because they're cookbooks as well. So, her stuff is very manageable. The guy I've used for years Guy Crosby, Cook Taste and Learn is a book he came out with about a year ago. It's a fairly slim volume, but he's really good. His stuff is really solid. But I think in terms of ease of use Bake Wise or Cook Wise, because they have recipes too, is probably the most useful. And Kenji, The Food Lab Kenji Lopez Alt’s he's brilliant.
Caller: All right. I'll start there.
CK: All right. Thanks for calling.
Caller: Hey, thanks.
SM: Bye, bye.
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: It's Dick ___ from Providence, Rhode Island.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller My wife and I have a muffin tin that I think we've had since we got married over 50 years ago. It's starting to wear through at the seams, so I looked around for a new one. They all have six cups now. Ours has eight cups. Our recipe is for eight muffins. I suppose we could find a recipe for modern muffin tins and scale the recipe we have easily since three quarters of an egg doesn't really work. And the recipe we have will overflow the cups if it's divided six ways instead of eight. I tried to find out when and why the design of muffin tins changed. I thought that if anyone had a handle on this change, you would what dictator had the ability to make every muffin tin manufacturer or change the capacity of their product?
CK: Well, if I don't have the answer, I'll make one up really quickly. First of all, how big were these muffins in the eight-muffin tin? Most muffin tins today are usually 12 There's a six or six. Yeah, was the eighth one a bigger size diameter at the bottom than in the typical 12 muffin tin today?
Caller: I think probably the same.
CK: Well, if you go back to the 19th century, there were things called gem pans. And they were the precursor to muffin tins. They were usually used for little cakes and things like Fanny Farmer calls for gem pans. So, I wonder if this tin wasn't designed specifically for muffins. It was designed for little cakes, for example. And if I tried to confuse you, I did it on purpose because I'm not actually sure the answer, but that's my best answer wasn't really a muffin tin would be what I would say.
Caller: It's only about 50 years old. I mean, I know we got a new. So, it's not something that goes back to Fannie farmer, the recipe that comes on the box of cornmeal that we used to get the cylindrical boxes, right. It made eight muffins in this tin so
CK: You got me, I'm totally stumped. I mean, I've seen cake pans, other things, different sizes, shapes. I've never seen a muffin tin with 8
SM: You know, No, me either.
CK: The thing that you really stumped me on is that that canister of cornmeal has a recipe on the back and it's for eight muffins. That's really
SM: It used to it doesn't now,
CK: I know, but that meant that at the time a lot of people were baking and had the pan he had, and I've never seen one.
Caller: Right. Right.
CK: So, I don't know.
SM: Dick, let me first of all, say congratulations on 50 years of marriage. That's pretty wonderful.
Caller: It's actually 51. Now, so
SM: Oh, wow.
Caller: Thank you.
SM: Well, good for good you. One of the things I was going to suggest is a solution. You love this recipe for eight muffins, is that correct?
Caller: It works very well.
SM: One thing you could do is take those cupcake liners and get two ramekins that are about the same size as the muffin tins and line them with a cupcake liners. And then you know, just do your six in your tin and then another two on the outside.
CK: You can scale this up or down easily. You know what the weight is use, look it up have a large egg up because I assume for large eggs, and you simply whisk your eggs and then weigh out the right amount. Yeah, so three quarters of an egg is really an easy thing to do.
Caller: I think another thing that we could do is buy a 12 muffin tin and use eight of them.
CK: What I would suggest if you do that is leave the ones in the middle alone. We've done this with popovers recently, so we found that if you leave the center ones alone, then you get even baking all around
SM: you mean empty.
CK: yeah, that'll work. Actually, that's a great idea.
SM: Well, Dick, will you let us know how it goes?
Caller: Of course.
CK: Thanks for calling
Caller: thanks for the conversation.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next Michael Twitty shares the foods of the African and Jewish diaspora’s that's coming up in just a moment. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, I'm joined by historian and author Michael Twitty. His latest book is called Koshersoul: Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew. Michael, welcome back to Milk Street.
Michael Twitty: Well, thank you so much for having me again.
CK: The Cooking Gene was and is one of my favorite food books ever. So, it's always a pleasure to speak with you. Your new book Koshersoul. It's an it's a complicated concept, I think in part, but maybe you could just set it out for us.
MT: Sure. So Koshersoul is about my spiritual and culinary journey as an African American Jew, and not just as an African American Jew but as one who has learned with and eaten with other African American Jews. We have lessons to teach about their own journeys. It's a food memoir. It's part cookbook. It's also part culinary history. But it's never, you know, purely one of the three. It's a blend. It's a braid of the three like a collar if you want it's an it's a literary collar that's what coat your soul with.
CK: This concept is course it's from you. It's interesting. It's thought provoking, trying to connect the lines between Jewish food and African or African American food. You say, these are your words, the centrality of humor and joy in both traditions, African and Jewish diaspora’s is a beating back trauma through brave happiness. Nothing is like being in this specific crazy busy intersection. It is maddening. And it's lovely. Is that the nut of it?
MT: I think that the first thing you have to think about as food as a means by which people protect themselves heal themselves, surround themselves, nourish themselves. So, for me, it's like the Jewish Diaspora. And the African diaspora, specifically the African Atlantic diaspora. But these huge groups of people that have made the modern world possible, and there's poverty there, and their success, and this triumph, and all of that, and the food helps you along the food helps you get through these massive, horrible things, but also brings people together helps define the people and who they are. It's never just the food for its own sake, it's always attached to another value of, of human existence, of comfort, of pleasure, all of it. And I make the joke that we're the only people that like to eat our oppression. It's like a common joke. It's like, okay, oh, this tastes horrible you have to try some, why don't have to try some, if it's horrible, because it's horrible. It's like, there is a certain wisdom in being able to understand what is horrible, being able to appreciate the good, and be able to survive, things that aren't so great. You know, it's, my late mom used to always go, this is nasty. You’ve got to you got to have some, like, why do I have to eat my oppression? Why, why? And now, I answered, there's a simple wisdom in this. And we're, we're the two people who represent the original sins of the West, you know, outside of, of course, misogyny, anti-disabled stuff, things against queer people, and the poor. You know, it's the Jews and the blacks. And sometimes we're both, and then we get a double. So what does our food look like when we get a double? Is it more joyful? Is it more rementful? Those are the questions that I'm trying to answer.
CK: So, do you think that the Jewish culture from a culinary point of view, and the sub-Saharan African experience are both linked, and also distinctive from other places in the world in terms of how the food relates to culture?
MT: Yes, because of when we became a diaspora. That was it. As diaspora people as people with a history of slavery, exile, yearning to go home, but also yearning to be at home, to be accepted. Also, being the other, making fun of our captors, but also being oppressed by the idea that captives may be better than us. All those kinds of questions. That's what makes us so unique.
CK: You talk about lies told about cultures that eventually become self-fulfilling prophecies. Can you give me you know, an example or two?
MT: Huh? Wow, okay. (Um) I think one of the lies is that everything is lost, that everything has to be handed down. That what we do now doesn't matter. You know, that's one of the things that I got to get out of Koshersoul the most is that, you know, I was meeting with ______as a black Hasidic rabbi, young fellow. And he says to me that, sure, we have all these amazing, interesting histories that people are very curious about but at some point, it's like the Rabbi administrator who's yes, was destroyed in a in a disaster. His mother was very upset. And he said, no, no, I worry. He says, you know, part of our Yes, by the way, in Yiddish means pedigree heritage. He says, It's not about the focus that we've had, over the years we will make it's about the traditions we're going to make. It's about the merit of the the the good deeds that we do now. And go move forward with that matter. And so that for me is the new model. It's not so always about the myth of well, if you didn't receive it, you don't have it. What about if you make it
CK: So, the food itself I was looking at the recipes in the book, some of them seem you know, like chicken Yassa from Senegal, for example. red rice, hoppin John, but then other ones are clearly quote unquote, cross- cultural. You’re combining them kosher soul spring rolls, Louisiana style latkes. Are these recipes things from your own personal experience where you're combining the two traditions or is there an actual composite cuisine, where you see the two traditions coming together?
MT: One of the things that I want to be very, very, very careful about was not defining a kosher soul tradition. And the reason why is because there are layers here. And the sometimes these layers have been forgotten, or misplaced, or undervalued. So, for example, the yam knoedel is straight out of, you know, Mrs. Mildred Covert, a blessing memory, the world that was created when black women and Ashkenazi Jewish women in the deep south interacted and made recipes together. The Yassa and hoppin John very much kind of like returned to black roots tradition, and African American food and cuisine. And then these foods can be altered to sort of reflect both tables. And then of course, there's other ones that are just straight up having fun, like the kosher soul rolls. You know, it's the pastrami, the collard greens, the idea of the spring roll, the very Americanus of it, but also the East Asian influence, playing between all of those pieces. So, I wanted to make sure that the reader was able to be able to participate all these different parts of Koshersoul, not just one and understand that kosher soul depends on the kosher salt cook, not the other way around.
CK: So as Jewish people emigrated from Germany, the United States in the mid 19 century, was there a point at which African American food and Jewish food intersected?
31:54 MT: Well, absolutely, I mean, look at obe. Right there, right there. Obe has a German Jewish progenitor. But there's absolutely nothing in German Jewish food that says there should be an obe. It's a combination of the foodways of the Chesapeake, and German pickling traditions, and spice traditions from Africa, across the diaspora, only one seasoning. And of course, there were, there were other traditions. For example, the, the deli tradition affects black eating highly, because you know what the Jewish deli was one of few places where black folks were introduced to a new whole new way of eating that wasn't through domestic labor. You know, now you're the great migration, or you're in a southern city. In some places, that deli might be the only integrated eating space, or semi-integrated eating space. So, it's like, you have to look for it. But before you look for it you have to know what you're looking for.
CK: Are there recipes today that really do other the ones that you just mentioned, reflect this symbiosis between the two cultures? Or are the foods coming out of the same notion of the diaspora, but still separate?
MT: I mean, I could have basically, you know, rep route, Marcy Cowen Ferriss work, Matza ball gumbo, and giving you one version. But also, there's what two black Jews, what do African American Jews eat? How do they celebrate? How do they make their own kosher soul? So, this is a newer thing. Because for these families, these traditions weren't always written down. And now they are written down, what are they made of? And also, their social distinction needs to be aware of. So, for example, the women who worked in other women's kitchens, they didn't always put down on paper, the labor they did for white women. In fact, that was kept separate from their personal life. So how do we reckon that? What does it look like? What does it look like when a Kugel comes back into the black community? What kind of fruit, what level of sugariness spicing goes into that kugel? There weren't that many things that made that transfer. But those that did, were much more southern and black tasting and appearing looking, then, you know, other dishes.
CK: So, in The Cooking Gene, you you had a bigger point about where people come from and their perception of themselves and you know, how cultures overlap and interact. If I was to step back from Koshersoul and ask the same question, and that is, you know, what have you learned from this or what do you want other people to take away from this? What would your answer be?
MT: Leave no stone unturned. You know, no, this isn't just this is a niche isn't it isn't like, cute. It's it's, wow, there are all these people who have these different routes and routes into a place where Jewish peoplehood and black existence intersect. You know, I could have written a book about Ethiopian Jewish foodways. But that would have told you anything about him from Mississippi, right? So, I could have written a book about Brazilian black Jews. And it's interesting and exciting. There's a reason why in Koshersoul I explored the food of white southern Jewish Protestants who convert to Judaism, alongside black American Muslims, alongside black American Jews, because it's all of them have in common, a very deep Southern Heritage and roots. But also, I love and adherence to the traditions. It's sort of like what are your roots, what binds us together? We get, we could talk about divides in differences all day long. But the very fact that these very different groups of people have very similar outlook, from the time they put on a head covering, to the time they sit down to eat with their loved ones, we see a bigger sense of the human family, the American family, than we often get to look at.
CK: You have a deeply humanistic view of the world. Does that make you an optimist?
MT: Absolutely. I have to be. Well, I have to be, I don't have a choice. I have no choice in this. I mean, you've seen it. This is hard. This is hard stuff to look at day to day. It can turn your stomach, it can make you feel hopeless, or break your heart. And yet, there's something very special about reaching across the table reaching across the aisle and being in contact with someone who has every reason not to trust you like you but has to out of a sense of hope. For example, the feeling of I know where I am, I know that I feel at home. But when I got us Hardee’s on Atlantic Avenue in New York, even though there is a conflict, ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, if you look across the street, there's a halal so if we please, I get that. I mean, I'm there to you know, what I'm saying is my feet are in so many different places. And my americanus makes it possible. My African is my African global and this makes it possible. My Jewish to diaspora, this makes it possible, knowing that my family has been through all these different places and continents and people over time has made that possible. And that's what makes it exciting to live.
CK: Michael, it's always a pleasure. And it's always just really exciting to talk to you. Thank you so much.
MT: Thank you very much. This has been great.
CK: That was Michael Twitty, author of Koshersoul: the Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew. For Twitty food is a time machine it's a way of experiencing the past through your senses, even though of course you're stuck in the present. Food is also a means of coping with the trauma of life through the humor enjoy present in both Jewish and African culinary traditions. In this 21st century, however, food has become trivial, reduced to Instagram size, momentary pleasures that are fleeting at best. The flip side is Twitty’s worldview where pain and pleasure coexist, where food sustains culture in hard times, where the past and present are connected through culinary tradition. So the challenge is pretty clear. Say all of that in your next tweet. This is Milk Street Radio coming up. We consider the apple with Dan Pashman. That's after the break.
Hi I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's chat with JM Hircsh about this week's recipe. Spaghetti with parsley pesto. JM, how are you?
JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.
CK: Don't get me started on pesto because so many people think it's you know, basil, but obviously there are 1000s of pesto all over Italy. And the one I subbed out most often as most people do is parsley because it's cheap and you've got it sitting around. Basil doesn't last very long and it's expensive. So, you know, I make parsley pesto all the time. But I think you had a slightly different take on something you actually had in Italy. Is that right?
JMH: Yeah. Can I tell you that it reminded me of gelato and still keep your attention?
CK: Yes, I'm, I'm all ears.
JMH: I was in Ravello, which is a very tiny hilltop town on the Amalfi Coast. And I was at a restaurant in la Vecchia Cantina, where Chef Antonio Cioffi introduced me to his take on pesto de pretzel, which is just parsley pesto. When he presented it to me, he takes a container out of the refrigerator because he made it ahead of time. And he takes a spoon, and he starts scooping it slowly, almost sensuously. And it looks like gelato. But it wasn't because he then took that scoop of gelato and threw it in a skillet with some spaghetti. And it immediately turned into this amazingly rich, creamy sauce, a pesto for the spaghetti. But when I tasted it, I could not believe how creamy and savory this pesto was. I had never tasted anything like it. I mean, I've made parsley pesto plenty of times myself. This was nothing like I had ever done before. And then like, okay, he hadn't done enough. He then further blew my mind by telling me. No nuts, no pine nuts, and no cheese were harmed in the making of this pesto.
CK: Oh, okay, so how did you get that incredibly thick, unxious gelato texture,
JMH: he takes a bunch of parsley, and he blanches it, he just dunked it in some boiling water for you know, maybe 30 seconds or so. And then he purees it with olive oil, just a hint of garlic and some lemon juice. I mean, we are on the Amalfi Coast after all, and it just becomes silky, silky smooth. And it's that blanching that is key because as we later you know, figured out as we were playing around with the recipe ourselves that no extreme, you're breaking down the cellular walls of the parsley when you do that quick blanche. And in doing so you allow it to puree so much more smoothly than if you had used the parsley fresh. So, the resulting pesto is just impossibly creamy. Again, but with no nuts and no cheese, and it was just so rich and delicious. I could not believe it.
CK: Now, I think you mentioned to me there was some element of umami in this as well.
CK: So, is there something else you haven't mentioned about this recipe you're holding back?
JMH: I did. Yes. I'm holding back so there is one do we want to call it a harder to find ingredient here in the US maybe call it your colatura di alici which is the Italian version of fish sauce really. And it adds that kind of umami richness that we get in a lot of Asian cuisines from fish sauce, it can be hard to find. But we found that just one single oil packed anchovy fillet thrown into the blender. Perfect. Gives you that same rich umami note and completely complements everything else going on in the pesto. Really delicious.
CK: I do have a question. Did he use some of the pasta cooking water to make the sauce?
JMH: Yep, a little bit just to thin it out and of course to also at the same time thicken it because of the starches in the water. But it was amazing. It comes together so quick. Now of course, it was gelato like because he had made it in advance and he put it in the freezer. You don't need to do that at home. I mean it is really appealing when you see it scooped out like gelato, but you don't need to do that you could actually just puree it and throw it in the skillet and throw do with your pasta, but it was very satisfying to watch. I wanted it on an ice cream cone.
CK: Well spaghetti with parsley pesto proves the golden rule of cooking which is simpler is always best right? Absolutely. JM another lesson from your constant I would say trips to Italy. Thank you.
JMH: Thank you. You can get the recipe for spaghetti with parsley pesto at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: Next up its culinary troublemaker Dan Pashman. Hey Dan, how are you doing?
Dan Pashman: I'm worried Chris. I'm worried.
CK: Oh, no, that's my I'm the downer on the show. Not you.
DP: Well, it's apple season. We're getting into apple season. I used to be allergic to apples right? It wasn't it was not life threatening my mouth will get itchy I was start sneezing it was enough to make me not like apples. And I managed to outgrow it. And now I love apples.
CK: Well, that's an upbeat story.
DP: It's a story of hope and renewal until we get to the part about the fact that I feel like apple season is losing the PR battle with pumpkin spice latte season. Like, we seem to go from August to pumpkin spice. Yeah, and that's, we got to stop that we got to totally make some space for apples.
CK: Yeah, you know, I know a friend of mine runs Saratoga Orchards in New York State near Saratoga Springs. And his family has been in this business for generations, he said it used to be people would buy a bushel or two of apples and make applesauce and pies and stuff. Now they buy three apples, four cider donuts and take a hayride. And I was like, he's in the entertainment business. He's not in the apple business, right?
DP: So that's what's changed. It's become like food tourism, as opposed to just like, let's, let's buy a ton of Delicious apples, because now was the time that they're good. And let's eat them 100 different ways. Right, putting aside specific varieties, Chris, just describe to me the qualities of your platonic ideal of an apple.
CK: We don't have enough time, but I'll give you the short version. Now this is like, this is the speech I give all the time. (Okay) Corn and apples have gone down the road of being sweet. And they've completely lost character. I mean, some of the old like sheep's nose apples, when I in the fall, I actually go and get these great old varieties. Some of them are almost savory, you know, some of them have interesting, different notes. The skins are gnarly, you know, they don't look perfect. But I think its depth of flavor and complexity of flavor. And what you get now is sweet. You know, that's all you get is sweet. So, nobody likes apples that have complex, interesting flavors or skins that are a little rusty. You know, it's going to look great and tastes sweet. That's what people want. And that drives me great.
DP: No, it's true. I mean, I agree that I would like some more complex apples. I disagree with you on the skin. I you know, I do feel like the breeding that has made the newer varieties of apples has made great advancements on the skin. I mean, that thick, chewy skin that's like the texture of felt, is you know, we can, we can do better than that. And when you get an apple with that thin tautt scanning your teeth pierced through it and unleashes this just torrent of juice and flavor. I mean, that's a fantastic experience.
CK: I mean, you're right, some of those apple varieties, the skin was really tough. You know, just because its heirloom doesn't mean it's any good. But in general, you know, a good Rhode Island grinning or as I said, a Sheep's Nose. They had really interesting flavors. And so the old piemakers you know, you use three or four varieties in a pie. And, man, it wasn't cinnamon and sugar, right, It was something very different.
DP: What's your like, if you're just going to snack on an apple? What's your ideal temperature for the Apple to be at?
CK: Slightly chilled, like a bottle of red wine? I don't want to cold out of the refrigerator. But I think cool room temperature. I like a little snap.
DP: I like it cold out of the fridge. I want maximum crunch maximum snap,
CK: We would expect no less of you. You never do anything halfway.
DP: That's right. go hard or go home even with apples.
CK: So, what's your okay, so you've now posited a problem. It's pumpkin spice season not apple season. What's your grand scheme to bring apples to the top of the media empire here?
DP: Well, I think that there are new varieties of apples coming out every couple of years. There was a big release with one called the Cosmic Crisp a couple years ago
CK: Well, that was a dog and never made it right.
DP: Well, that's unclear that they say it's doing well I'm not sure. But I think that if a new variety could come along and really capture people's imagination and sort of, quote unquote, go viral for lack of a less annoying term. I think that would be good. Or maybe if an apple recipe went viral on social media, that could help to rekindle it.
CK: I think the other problem is distribution. I mean, major companies control distribution of apples and varieties of apples and to break into that industry is really pretty hard, but maybe we just need a great TikTok video.
DP: Now, Chris, before we wrap up, I got a game for you to play. You're ready. I'm ready. You've already dropped the names of a few obscure apples as I expected you would. We're going play a game right now called apple variety or New England town. I'm going to say something and you have to tell me if it's an apple variety or a New England town. I expect you to be good at this. This is really in your wheelhouse. Go first up. Ash meads, Colonel. I
CK: I think that's an apple
DP: Correct. And for the record, that's Colonel like a kernel of corn, not a military rank. Next one, Cumberland.
CK: I don't think there's a Cumberland Apple I know of. But I'd say it's a town.
DP: Correct. It sounds good. It could be an apple though doesn't it?
if you said
CK: If you said Cumberland delicious. Maybe That would be different.
DP: Okay. All right, next one. Lemon stir.
CK: Oh, that's a town.
DP: You're right. I drive through it all the time. Adams Pearman.
CK: That's definitely an apple.
DP: Yes, you are right. Next one. Baldwin.
CK: That's an apple.
DP: That was a trick question. The correct answer is both.
CK: Okay, well, fine, but it's an apple
CK: Oh, I've never heard of that as an apple. Well, I've never heard of this as a city either town. I'd have to go with town. I've never heard of it.
DP: You're right. Yeah. You reasoned through that one well, it is a town. All right. Final question. In apple variety or New England town Cumberbatch?
CK: Didn't he start in Sherlock Holmes.
DP: Yes. There is a famous actor by that name.
CK: I you know, I don't know. I've never heard of it. I'd say apple, but I've never heard of it.
DP: Well, I'll give you credit, because it's another trick question, but I think you're very close there. Chris. The correct answer is neither.
CK: Ok There you go.
DP: Cumberbatch sounds like it should be an apple and in New England town, but it is neither.
CK: You've missed your call. You should be the host of the game show. All right. All
DP: All right. All right. Well, if you want to work on a spinoff together, let me know
CK: Absolutely. Dan, thank you very much. We agree that apple's should be restored to their top of the pyramid place in the fall. We just have to work harder on it. Thank you.
DP: Thanks, Chris. Enjoy your next apple.
CK: That was Dan Pashman. He's the host of the Sportful podcast also inventor of the new pasta shape, cascatelli. That's it for today we have over 200 episodes of Milk Street Radio on Apple podcast, Spotify, Milk Street Radio.com, or wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street and everything we have to offer please go to 177 Milk Street.com. There you can download our recipes, watch our television show and explore our online store. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and cooking questions. And thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, senior editor Melissa Olsen, producer Sarah Clappp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media at Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.