Vittles: Vintage Food and Drink: Making a Modern Meatloaf, Manhattan, Martini or Macaroni & Cheese



M = Garrett McCord
s1 = Kelly Jaggers
s2 = Kristen Herwitz

M -- Passed around vintage recipe cards from era 1929 typed up on Remington typewriter, brought a few to look at and passed around room -- this is one definition of vintage adult cocktail hour 4pm til last man standing, buttered toast with bacon grease.

s1 -- Passing copy of my book Not So Humble Pie for you to see lots of recipes are vintage, based on old recipe. These are my twists to update them, peruse through and pass around.

M - What do you feel constitutes vintage and what is modern?

s2 - Vintage has a varying definition, from what my mom did with cans and boxes and casseroles, to other recipes now considered vintage. My husband's grandma in Boston had handwritten recipe cards and I scribbled down ideas from them for inspiration and incorporate my modern food values, by adding vegetables like kale and broccoli into and cheese or creating cocktail recipes updated with new artisan liquors or my own infused rooted in history, based on family experience, stories behind them all.

s1 - I grew up in a multigenerational family, they were all tremendous cooks and made massive meals; I grew up cooking this food and loving it. Now as an adult, I make things more trendy, new spices, new ingredients, make recipes new again. Choose what ingredients you love now to make it fresh and fun for your audience and family.

M - Blogging is about a new recipe I made or adapted, but is there a place for old fashioned vintage recipes?

s1 - It depends on your blog. If you blog about all types of recipes there might be room for that green jello recipe. But maybe you update it by making homemade marshmallows and homemade jello. There's no reason you can't take goofy or off the wall recipes and make them new and 110% better with fresh ingredients.

s2 - People have wonderful stories behind the recipes so you can tweak to fit your food values. I love it when I go to a blog and there's a great story behind a dish, why it's on their mind and valuable to share. Even if the recipe isn't amazing, it can have value to your audience.

M - Is there value to that classic jello salad with a box of jello/marshmallows or a green bean casserole?

s2 - Those things started as fresh originally. Now you bring your food values or flavors to recipes to have value, using the old recipe as a base, making it healthier or fresher.

M - What are personal examples from your blogging of vintage recipes that you can incorporate successfully into your blogs?

s1 - On my blog I have a recipe for great grandma's coffee cake, but I did not change much because it is beautiful the way it is -- no need to change. Some others, such as pie or brownies, we all have one of those recipes, so they may be fine but maybe you can make it better with a little alteration. The value of old recipe boxes is to get ideas, it's just a jumping off point.

Take what you love and incorporate those ideas. Some are failures, but don't be afraid to try. You don't have to change every vintage recipe you come across.

s2 - I think the best way to show is to demo a couple manhattan recipes (goes up front to demo).

s2 - There is some controversy where Manhattans came from. Some say it was Winston Churchill's mom at the Manhattan Club in New York, some say it was her favorite, some say she was pregnant at time, others say she was giving birth, so we are not sure where it came from.

I got married in October and wanted a variation of a specialty cocktail and worked with the bartender. The basic Manhattan recipe is 2 parts whiskey (used Makers Mark today) and 1 part vermouth, along with a dash (or three) of bitters. A cherry was added half a century after it was developed, but it's not a necessary ingredient. She made one served up, shaken and strained. It's traditionally stirred but lots of bartenders now shake it to give little froth on top.

I personally like it on the rocks, so I will demo that too. I use globe ice cubes, because they melt slowest and dilute less.

Need 3 things - jigger, shaker, strainer - and it costs less than 30 bucks. It's about the same as two cocktails out at bar! I like to use a full 2 oz pour (whiskey), lexardo and vermouth mix; but you can mix up cocktails with whatever sweetener you like.

The last major element is bitters, many make their own at home or bartenders do. I'm using Scrappy's. Bitters are an infusion of herbs and spices, sometimes acidic like citrus, angostura has clove nutmeg spices

M - Creating this recipes is a way to connect with community, can you explain that more?

s2 - You can get fresh cherries at your Farmers Market, then drop in bourbon to sit. Also, I enjoy sitting at a bar in discussion with the bartender, asking how they are making their drinks, why this or that liqueur. It gets you interacting with people and learning what they do and why.

Question - Where does mixology fall into this?

s2 - It's wishy washy There is some sense of history and art, combining flavors. You can go in and ask for bartenders choice, choose your base liquor and give an example of flavors you like, and they create something for you on the spot. That's artistic and is a talent I don't have!

M - Tell us about the Manhattans you've made.

s2 - One is more classic, normally stirred not shaken, and the little froth on top adds something nice. One is served on the rocks. It's technically not traditional although lots like bourbon/whiskey/scotch on the rocks, so they will like it this way.

M - Recently more focus on calories in cocktails, do you consider health in revamp of recipes?

s2 - I definitely take health into consideration, and tend to decrease the amount of sugar by about half.

s1 - My recipes tend to be high calorie but I want to serve food that is real. My values include taking a soup company recipe and find a way to make it at home with real ingredients,lower sodium, etc. You can incorporate flavors you are comfortable with in a healthy way, so what's old is new again. Old recipes are coming back to be popular in a new way, thanks to chefs and thanks to bloggers, we are leaders!

s2 - You have food allergy issues now, which either were not spoken before or people just didn't realize. Now I love to recreate a recipe so a friend can enjoy it safely.

M - I have one recipe card for a "cocktail cake" with fruit cocktail, rum, sugar, flour, etc. Now I can revamp and use fresh fruit, more rum, freshen it up. Another is banana cookies, typed up by my grandma sometime between 1929-35, and it's now on Simply Recipes as is. It's an ancient recipe but others have revamped it who didn't know my grandma. That still has value in all reincarnations. Vintage recipes, as is, have a spot on your blog.
s1 - Recipes that people can take and make their own are a beautiful thing. A recipe is an idea or inspiration. Some people buy cookbooks and never cook a thing from them but just use for ideas.

Question - In updating classic recipes, how far can you go updating or modernizing and still keep integrity? For example, a classic Caesar salad - that some will now omit cheese egg or garlic, which are important ingredients, so now it's no longer a Caesar salad.

s1 - If you go without a key ingredient for dietary reasons that's one thing, but if you use mayo or lemon or cumin in your Caesar Salad and use no classic ingredients, and it loses the feel, then you've lost the intent of the original recipe.

s2 - On cocktails, it's a little clearer. A Manhattan is whiskey based. If you change to gin, it's a Martinez. If you switch sweet vermouth for dry vermouth, it's a martini. The delineation is a lot clearer in cocktails.

M - For example at lunch yesterday, the potato salad did not look like itself - it was a tower of potatoes, blue cheese, bacon, mayo in a squeezy tube - but it was still potato salad in a classic sense, but they redid it. It was vintage and reworked but still had the classic components so it still counts.

Question - Do you have fun or interesting places to get ideas how to take vintage recipes and make modern?

s1 - My Aunt Ruby has a great recipe box, which she kept secretive in the past, but as she's gotten older she's been more generous. I jot down a few recipes and go to a farmers market that's close and go shopping with those ideas in my head. I might choose different meat or herbs, but I'll make her recipes with ingredients she's not expecting. I look at recipes and so the shopping after, or look online for what's trendy or in season.

s2 - I sit at the chefs counter of a restaurant and have a conversation about their food to get insight on how they'd tweak a recipe to fit whatever. I visit local farmers markets and talk to them about ideas, how they enjoy and cook things, ethnic twists in ways my mom didn't use.
At Thanksgiving I want to tweak family recipe been around for four generations, green veggies with cheese sauce. It was made with Cheez Whiz and canned soup in the past, but I made it with real cheese, fresh broccoli, not soggy veggies, and everyone was shocked I could do that and make more delicious.

M - We all have different ideas, how do you teach yourself to be receptive to all influences around you, TV shows, menu, online, street vendor?

s1 - If you travel, that's an excellent place to be inspired. I went to Tokyo and spent 3 hours in a yakitori restaurant and enjoyed this amazing chicken. Now I'm on a mission to incorporate chicken butt into a recipe!
Other cultures are a great source of inspiration using common ingredients.

M - And vintage is subjective. I posted a Chinese recipe made in Beijing with a real Chinese woman, and the first comment on my blog said it was not authentic! But I was there and the lady showed me how and I cooked it - I could prove with pictures, but my commenter disagreed.

Question - For copyrighted attribution, my grandma's recipe cards are just like yours, newspaper clippings with no date or anything. Is vintage food a grey area in tracking down source?

M - Copyright says you can't copyright the list of ingredients. What you can copyright is the instructions, your words and method. If you can't find the source/link, say what you can - "it's yellow and old with no date" and then tell the story of how you came to it.

I credit my grandma when I use her cards, because I can't ask her anymore so you have to figure it out for yourself, and do the best you can do.

S1 - If you directly copy as is from the card or clipping, you do a dis-service to your readers. Revamp and rewrite it for yourself and tweak a bit, make it better. "From my grandmother's recipe box" is my attribution, because it might not have been her original but I don't know.
s2 - People used to steal from each other a lot, give good faith effort to discover source. Also, older recipes could use some clarification, simplification.

s1 - If there are no instructions but just a list of ingredients, you make it your own.

M - Are there issues with preserving/canning sites, asked audience member Sean Timberlake.

Sean - preserving is different, since you can't vary due to safety reasons. The method is pretty straight forward. People are generally good about attribution; that's ethical and transparent.

Question - I've hear chefs would deliberately sabotage recipes they wrote so others couldn't copy? Example, oysters Rockefeller made by Chef Antoine, who would not even teach his sons the correct version, so it died with him. It's not technically possible to make that recipe perfectly authentic now because he's gone so it's a lot of guesswork.

s1 - In Corpus Christi, there was a tortilla woman who was amazing, and my mom would go and ask for the recipe - but she'd give my mom the wrong ingredients! My mom sent me as a 9 yr old to take notes while watching her but the woman caught on, and put lard in the Crisco cans just to sabotage it.

M - Do you have a process for how you approach an old recipe and refine it?

s2 - I incorporate more veggies into recipes from my youth/family, but it's not a formula. To mac and cheese, I'll add broccoli or kale or greens, and usually just double the amount. And I had no onions the other day so I used radishes.

With cocktails, I try more fresh ingredients - I use no maraschino cherries but will buy fresh cherries to infuse them and use later.

s1 - Cravings are my methods. In my food memories I remember flavors. My grandma's chocolate cream pie is one of my favorites in the world, with a dark rich flavor. For a long time I tried to duplicate it and tried to be fancy. Turns out it was cocoa powder and that's it. So for me, it's cravings and trial and error.

Question - How much of your process actually makes it into the actual blog post?

s1 - If a recipe is troublesome, I will talk about it a little in the blog. I fail all the time, but embrace it. I'm not perfect and what I present is what "I' want it to be, but it might not be what you want. I take notes and try again and again.

s2 - It's important for readers to know that if they mess up, it's not big deal. I've shown pictures of what it's not supposed to look like. Cooking is about failure too, just like life. It's not right the first time always, it's serendipitous.

M - Some recipes suck, so just because it's vintage does not mean it's good.

s2 - The flip side of mishaps can be something truly inspired. New ingredients found at market can turn out amazing.

M - Do you feel vintage recipes vs modern recipe affects getting brand recognition on your blog?

s2 - Brands probably care about your stats more.

s1 - When I've been approached by PR firms, it's because of my quality of recipes on blog, not because they are this type or that. They are just well written, tested and good quality. I'm not sure modern vs vintage is as much factor as quality.

M - How much research do you do on old recipes? Whether it's an old story, historical person or event, how do you apply to post?

s1 - I'm a nerd so if it calls for research then I will do it, whether it's old cookbooks, good book resources, my family, google, etc. I look at 3 sources minimum.

s2 - If I get my CSA box and I want to make mac and cheese and it turns out amazing, I'll snap a couple photos and do no research. For others I do a ton of research and ask others before posting. So some are spontaneous and others I do geek out.

M - How does vintage food affect the blog community as a whole?

s2 - It brings a sense of history and keeps things grounded. It's interesting to see what was done before you and build on it, based on your food values or health or allergies that affect what you do. I appreciate understanding what's behind each dish, and there's value to tweak it so it's more modern.

s1 - Food is so personal, and we all have food history. Recipes are a way to share with the world, and bloggers have a unique platform with no rules; that's why it's special! I'm sharing my life and family and history with others and keeping recipes alive. It connects you to your past and culture, and you learn about others through food.

M - Any takeaways?

s2 - It's fun to broaden your spectrum, and I incorporate my values into cocktails.

s1 - So many food bloggers get caught up in food snobbery and turn their noses up at old ideas and recipes. But don't be afraid to use old recipe boxes and things you would turn your nose up at and figure out how to turn it into something for you. Get creative, and make something you can enjoy now. It might be a fine recipe now, but with this little change, you can make it real fine.

M - Your homework is to find the most jello salad-ish recipe you can and decide to revamp it. Explore your own culinary vintage history and how to incorporate it into your voice and for your blog.


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.