I Scream, You Scream…

We all scream for ice cream! Without question, ice cream is one of the most popular treats in America, but do you know much about its history? According to Laura B. Weiss, author of Ice Cream: A Global History, iced drinks can be traced back to at least the ancient Greeks and Romans. But many historians believe that the emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) in China may have been the first to eat a frozen milk-like confection — made with fermented cow, goat or buffalo milk which had camphor added to make it flake like snow. Italians generally are credited with inventing ice cream as we know it today, popularizing a concoction of sugar, flavorings (often fruit like lemon or strawberry), and ice or snow sometime in the mid-seventeenth century. Ice cream was particularly favored by the French aristocracy in the 1800s, and Thomas Jefferson is said to have gained an appreciation for the treat while serving as US ambassador to France from 1784-1789.

Happy Independence Day!

In honor of the patriotic spirit of the Fourth of July, plus the gardening season that is upon us, we take a special look at victory gardens! Though more known for their place in the Second World War, victory gardens (or war gardens as they were initially called) were first advocated during World War I. In addition to rationing other goods, citizens were urged to do their patriotic duty and grow their own vegetables, fruits and herbs at home in order to free up resources for the military. It was hoped that with more resources, the U.S. forces would have better success on the warfront.

Smithson’s Cookbook: English Curry

The origin of curry, the saucy, spiced dish celebrated in India and Great Britain, is not exactly known.   But it is now thought that similarly spiced dishes were developed concurrently, but independent of each other, in England and in India thanks to the spice routes that spanned from Asia and into Europe.   Exotic spices like turmeric and pepper made their way into England during the conquests of the Romans in 40 AD and the Moors in 711 AD, and came in handy during Middle Ages when highly seasoned meats could make aging meat more palatable.

Cooking from the Collections: National Soup Month

Did you know that January is National Soup Month? We didn't either but it gave us a great topic for this month's Cooking from the Collections feature! We whipped up two creamy, comforting vegetable soups that are sure to warm you up. We're happy to say that although they are the simplest recipes we've tried, they were also the most lauded by our SIL tasters (well, those without lactose issues, that is). Turns out you can't go wrong with butter and milk, flavored with a smidgen of vegetables. A cooking textbook from 1915 demonstrates that Paula Deen wasn't the first to hit upon that successful formula!     Green Pea Soup This recipe comes from the fascinating A text-book of cooking by Carlotta C. Greer, published in 1915. As the title indicates, it was designed as a textbook to accompany cooking classes and hidden in the "Body-Building Vegetables" chapter was this gem. Despite the healthy-sounding name, this soup was so very rich and creamy that one taster commented "That soup more »

Cooking from the Collections: More sweet treats!

Welcome to Part II of December's Cooking from the Collections feature! This month, our intrepid recipe testers tried their hand at old fashioned sweets.  The treats included Martha Washington’s recipe for sugar cookies, a boozy 1950’s  rum pudding, and a gingerbread cookie that might have been a favorite of James Smithson.  Who do you think would win a holiday bake-off? The founder of the Smithsonian, our very first First Lady or an aspiring June Cleaver?  Today we present the remaining two recipes. Click over to Friday's post to learn more about James Smithson's gingerbread. All three desserts ready for sampling.   Martha Washington’s Sugar Cookies Before there was Martha Stewart in the kitchen, there was Martha Washington. Thanks to a transcription by Karen Hess of Martha Washington’s Booke of cookery, anyone can whip up the the original First Family’s favorite treats for the holidays.  Not only does Hess dutifully transcribe Martha Washington’s personal cookbook, she also translates ingredients and cooking methods for modern times.  These basic cookies (callled "cakes" by more »

Cooking from the Collections: James Smithson’s Gingerbread and more

Welcome to our monthly Cooking from the Collections feature! This month, our intrepid recipe testers tried their hand at old fashioned sweets.  The treats included Martha Washington’s recipe for sugar cookies, a boozy 1950’s  rum pudding, and a gingerbread cookie that might have been a favorite of James Smithson. Who do you think would win the holiday bake-off? The founder of the Smithsonian, our very first First Lady or an aspiring June Cleaver? Today we showcase a recipe from a cookbook owned by James Smithson. Stay tuned for more recipes next week!  Like many well-reared gentleman and natural philosophers of his day, James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian Institution, was given to penciling annotations (notes, corrections, commentary, preferences, etc.) into his books.  Marginalia, as we call it in book circles.  Poking through his copy of Hannah Glasse’s cookbook, The art of cookery made plain and easy (1770), I found two recipes for “ginger-bread”.  Gingerbread as you may know can refer to either a cookie or cake (beware though that more »

Cooking from the Collections: Casseroles make a comeback

Welcome to our new "Cooking from the Collections" feature! On a monthly basis, we will be experimenting with the wide variety of cookbooks in the Smithsonian Libraries' collections. From a personal cookbook of James Smithson to the many volumes of the Culinary Historians of Washington (CHoW) collection, we have plenty to work with!   It's that time of year again! For many, the Thanksgiving meal is the culinary event of the year (we'll be giving thanks for elastic-waist pants!), filled with turkey, pumpkin pie, and mountains of side dishes. What Thanksgiving table would be complete without a homey casserole to round out the offerings? For our inaugural "Cooking from the Collections" post, we've decided to feature a few unusual dishes from The Casserole Cookbook. A 1956 volume, written by "Staff Home Economists" and published by the Culinary Arts Institute, it boasts "175 main dish and dessert casseroles". The photo credits acknowledge a number of large companies in the food industry, such as the American Meat Institute and Ac'cent, and the more »

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