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1940s Archive

Food Flashes

Originally Published July 1945

The “limeade” trees are heavy with the glossy green harvest. Picking of the Persians begins in the lime groves of Florida, the fruit coming to eastern markets between now and September.

The green Persian is as generous of juice as the golden lemon, yet it took a war to bring it to commercial importance. As lime import sources were cut, Florida took over to put this lime's bracing goodness into the menu.

This is the fourth summer the big seedless greens have been seen in northern markets. Now they are an everyday find at the corner grocer's, not merely a luxury for hotel service or to add that glamour touch to a bon voyage basket. Green as a jealous eye, but utterly ripe and juice-dripping. They have to be juicy—it's the law of their state. More than two years ago Florida's legislature passed bills requiring that limes fulfill the same rigid maturity rulings and juice tests which have long been applied to Florida oranges and grapefruit. Inspectors examine the fruit before it's shipped, and only the best are given the nod of approval. A few Florida Key limes are around, but these are mere midgets and of no great importance. Now Florida growers are tearing out “Key” groves to replant with the “greens.”

Like all citrus fruits, limes give vitamin C as well as vitamin A and a host of valuable minerals. But the world loves the lime chiefly for its flavor, so delicately refreshing. Use the lime any way you would be using the lemon, but remember that it's more gentle in its sourness and requires less sugar. Traditionally, limes are the summer's number one cooler. Iced tea takes to lime, tomato juice, too. Save on butter by serving wedges of the lime with asparagus, with green beans, with beets—a drizzle of the juice is all the dressing required. Drip lime juice over melon, avocado, or stewed fruit, and you have an Arabian Night's miracle to dip up with a spoon. Use a slice of the lime to top a clear soup, jellied or hot. Lime enlivens fish. We use the fresh juice in a milk sherbet—a poem served with crushed and sweetened red raspberries.

The Danes' old-fashioned egg salad is a sandwich spread superior. Chopped hard-cooked eggs—that's all it is, sprinkled thick with chives, then blended in a slow-moving mixer with a non-fattening dressing, all spanked up with Worcestershire. If you like, serve it as a salad on water cress or lettuce. Or heap a mound on a meat platter, and circle with paper-thin slices of salami. Hearty, filling fare, spread thick-between squares of dark bread. Cut buttered pumpernickel into narrow strips, and spread on the egg mixture to tag after cocktails. Thin slices of olive, those wearing little red tail lights, would add a bright trim. Old Denmark, 135 East 57th, has this savory mixture: one pint $1, and enough to spread a square yard of bread.

A treasure chest to order straight from the desert carries fresh dates from the palm and a varied assortment of date products, also fresh citrus.

See what you have—three pounds of golden dates, not the usual run, but hand-selected for best texture, finest flavor. Next item out, a two-and-one-quarter pound package of date honey butter, called “crème of the desert,” this to use as a spread on the hot breakfast toast; it's perfect, too, as a filling for cookies and cakes, or use it in pies, mix it into ice cream. A recipe book accompanies the kit giving 250 tested recipes for using dates in breads, cakes, pies, puddings, sauces. Pull out the cake. It's a one-pound date, honey, and walnut fruit loaf in a flat brown slab like an old time heavenly hash. It has a crunchy crust baked to a golden glow covering the rich interior—fresh dates mixed with chopped nuts. This makes a rich dessert if heated slightly and served with whipped cream or ice cream. Cut into tiny squares, it is good to eat as a confection.

Still more surprises. Here is a pound box of stuffed dates, but in new form. Labor is scarce in the date packer's kitchens, and stuffing dates is a whale of a trouble. What the packer does is to turn the dates and the stuffing of nuts and honey into a mechanical mixer; then, well blended, the mass is pressed into inch-thick squares, cut into pieces, and sugar-rolled. The taste is exactly the same as stuffed dates—different in form, that's all. As if this wasn't a boxload, there's more—two pounds of freshly packed and gathered oranges and grapefruit—sweet, sweet, for these fruits are at their best now in the desert country. To order, ask for a “gift case;” wire money or mail check for $10.25 to Russell C. Nicoll, Valerie Jean Date Shop, Thermal, California.

“Constant Comment” is a blend of the Old South being introduced to Manhattan's tea tipplers by Ruth Campbell Bigelow and Mrs. Bertha West Nealey. These women, deploring the decline of the tea table in favor of the cocktail, hope to return the tea hour to its rightful importance by presenting a family of glamorized blends which promise to make tea truly “the sovereign drink of pleasure.” “Constant Comment” is a Ceylon tea, the best that can be purchased in the present wartime market, and is blended with processed orange and numerous spices.

The formula comes from Mrs. Nealey's grandmother, Mary Anne Armstrong, who prepared this tea all the years of her life for her plantation table at Lynch River, S. C. She had the recipe from her mother, and on back to the days of the Jamestown settlers. Six months went into perfecting the blend. Previously, Mrs. Nealey had made the tea in small lots only for the family. When the tea is made in quantity for long-time keeping, the orange requires special processing, so as not to lose the balance of fragrance with the spice.

The tea was ready for market, but no name seemed to suit. Then it happened this way: One of Mrs. Bigelow's Park Avenue friends was giving an afternoon party, and it was suggested she try the new blend. Not a word was said to the guests regarding its novelty, yet everyone spoke of the tea's aroma, its flavor—there was “constant comment.” A good name, why not? Labels were made and the tea was hurried to the stores, where it is selling at around 75 cents for the two-and-one-quarter ounce jar. Expensive? But here's a tea so flavorful that three quarters of a teaspoon make six bracing cups of aromatic spiciness. The tea is handled by B. Altman & Company, Fifth Avenue and 34th, Gimbel Brothers, Sixth Avenue and 33rd, Martin's Fruit Shop, 1042 Madison Avenue, the Oxford Market, 931 Madison, and Telburn of New York, 161 East 53rd.

The hefty cranshaw melon returns for the summer, selling for $1.50 to $2, according to size, running eight to ten pounds, cutting ten to twelve portions. The cranshaw, a cross between the casaba and the Persian, has juice-flowing flesh mottled in tones of pink blending to yellow. A melon honey-sweet, vaguely spicy, its seed cavity small, its walls measuring two and a half inches across, and sweet meated, sweet eating, right to the rind.

Danish pastries made miniature are for the tea table service, price 50 cents a pound, as baked by the “Florence,” 2282 Broadway. These little sweet breads of the flaky rich dough are turned out in doll size, but are stuffed exactly as the large ones, with cheese and fruit fillings. Honey buns, too, are baked playhouse style.

Danish buttersticks—these are the giants, each a twist seven inches long, two inches wide, of a sweet and tender bread, the top brushed with icing, then scattered thickly with thinly sliced almonds. Sensation of the bakery is the Danish raspberry cup. Always there is a lineup of customers waiting for these to come from the ovens. They are of the same raised yeast dough as the Danish pastries, but are raised in muffin pans, each little cup lined with a pleated paper holder. The bread is rolled around a filling of raspberry jelly, seedless raisins, and cinnamon. After the baking, the top gets a sugar icing. The raspberry rolls sell in their paper cups—neat things to handle, an ingenious idea home bakers might borrow.

The “Florence” is a father-, mother-, sister-, brother-run bakery that in less than five years has grown from a side street slit-in-the-wall to one of the bustlingest bake shops on the longest street in the world. Some 1500 persons buy its sweet stuffs daily between eight o'clock in the morning and midnight closing. Twelve bakers work in shifts of four around the clock, with father as the big chief at the baking boards. Brother John is business manager, keeps an eye on every detail, and is in love with the job. Mother is the diplomat who keeps the customers happy. Sister Ella is an all-round helper, a first lieutenant to Mamma.

Spain sends her Mazanella olives stuffed with filets of anchovies, brine packed, four ounces 55 cents, found at the Connoisseur's Corner of Hammacher Schlemmer, 145 East 57th. There, too, we spied the antipasto from Portugal packed in pure olive oil. The contents of the tin include two pieces each of sardine, tuna fish, a hot stuffed olive, cauliflower, onion, artichoke, pickle. Add a slice of tomato, a spike of celery, and a few carrot sticks, and pose the array on a crisp lettuce leaf, thus stretching a three-ounce tin, price 38 cents, to do service for two, and generously.

New York is a city of kings, food kings, crowned by the public's approval. There is Barney Greengrass, the sturgeon purveyor, so sure of his sovereign right that his shop sign at 541 Amsterdam Avenue announces the store as a kingdom. There is Mike Levy in Fulton Fish Market, scallop king of America, with a long cigar for his scepter. The crown of one Italian king untouched by the war swings high over his door at 363 West 42nd, proclaiming to all that here-in reigns Bruno, the ravioli monarch.

But it's William Poll, owner of the 58-year-old delicatessen at 1120 Lexington Avenue, that we want to tell you about. He's king-pin of kings when it comes to herring laved in sour cream. Let the sales speak up—over 5,000 filets are sold every week from this one corner store. The herring recipe came from the old Waldorf kitchen by way of Mr. Poll's brother, who for many years was headwaiter at the red-brick Fifth Avenue edifice. Iceland herring is used, these bought by the barrel of 2,000 filets packed down in brine. First the fish is soaked in fresh water for twenty-four hours, then it's drained and joined with the sauce. Follows a four-day rest in the sweet-sour stuff. The sauce is made of 90 per cent sour cream, with mild vinegar, a trifle of sugar, a selection of spices. Evaporated milk is added, just enough to give a smooth-flowing consistency. Onions go in, but are first given a water bath touched up with vinegar to take out the burn. The fish retail at 20 cents a filet, and extra sauce goes along, also a big dip of the mild sweet onions.

Upper Lexington likes this creamed herring as a first course for dinner. They use it, too, as a snack for cocktail and beer parties. In the Poll's home, the herring are put to far better use, as a main course for supper. A great bowl of well-chilled herring in cream is passed with hot boiled potatoes, with hot buttered beets. Important to the main dish is the wooden bread bowl, heaped with thinly sliced pumpernickel.

Out of Chios of the Island of Chios in the Aegean Sea, ten hours by boat from the city of Athens, came Constantine Ghialis to seek his fortune in America. His capital nudged at zero, but of ambition and youth he had a cool million. He would be an importer bringing foods from the homeland. Connections were established with an importing firm, and Constantine Ghialis succeeded in modest fashion. But it was a success in no measure to satisfy his dreams. Less than three years ago he took courage and came to a daring decision—to be a merchant and importer rolled into one, and have his own place. There you will find him, in the Italian section, 627 Second Avenue near 34th Street, a down-at-the-heel neighborhood—but the little store shines.

Being an old campaigner in the spice fields, C. Ghialis specializes in herbs and spices, with honeys getting a good-sized corner of the shelf space. Spanish saffron returns—ouch!—$65 a pound! Don't worry, it's sold in dime packets, just a pinch, but that's more than enough to season a dish. In all there are more than 100 spices and herbs in jars, cartons, and cannisters. Here is enough caraway seed to sprinkle all the breads and cakes in the city.

Incidentally, you might like to know that caraway seed, scarce since war cut off supplies out of Holland, is a commercial crop in the states for the first time this year. California has some 300 acres, Oregon and Idaho have been growing the seed in lesser amounts.

There are miscellaneous Greek items, left-overs, of course, from prewar days. For example, heavy sweet conserves of cherry and quince, but only a little. There is Syrian orange and rose water; there is lokaum, which you know as “Turkish delight,” made by Greeks here. The shop is proud of its collection of chutneys, one a Major Grey, one of sweet fruits prepared in Bombay, British East India.

Turkey livers are being taken in the serious style they deserve. Gently cooked until just tender, they are packed in their own broth, eleven big pieces in the fourteen-ounce tins selling for $1.38, these, too, at Hammacher Schlemmer's. Spending that much, spend a bit more for that tin of mushroom caps broiled in butter—yes, butter, and packed right in the pixie's umbrella. Combine turkey livers and mushrooms, heat together with a finely chopped shallot, and add this to a cream sauce scented of Sherry. Serve over toast fingers or in a frail patty shell. The five-ounce tin of mushrooms sells for 71 cents.

Welcome French truffles here by way of Spain, where they made a brief stop to be packed in Spanish Sherry—selling now at Ellen Grey's, 800 Madusib Avenue.

Those plums growing on the straggling bushes among the sand dunes of New England's rugged coast provide one of the most peculiar and delicious flavors ever caught in a jelly kettle. Bloomingdale Brothers, Lexington Avenue and 59th, have a stock of this jelly down from Medfield, Mass., pound jars 39 cents. It's a jelly clear as a dewdrop, the deep red of stained glass, tender under the spoon. In its flavor is a blending of the bitter and the sweet. Even the ripest plum carries a tinge of bitterness of the tongue, as though something of the meager life of the bush had tinctured the sweetness of the fruit. The jelly is to serve with game or any roast bird. Try a dab with the meatball for a fine lift to the flavor, a new excitement for the meal.

It doesn't sound sensible to suggest Gimbel's crowd-pushing grocery department at 33rd Street and Broadway as a place to go chasing for “Sweet Content,” but that's where you'll find it—in loaf form, the name of a whole-wheat bread made by Mrs. Henry S. Patterson of Suffern, N. Y. This rough bread, molasses flavored, was originally developed by the baker's doctor-husband for his own health and pleasure. The doctor first sampled the loaf at the table of an aunt, the daughter of the late Mark Hopkins, president of Williams College for more than fifty years. The formula for the bread, long a favorite at the Hopkins' Williamstown table, came in for changing before it quite pleased the doctor. It was made and remade to suit exactly his palate.

“Try my bread,” the doctor urged friends who gathered at his table. One slice and voracious appetites developed. Neighbors asked to buy, and the business began, directed by Mrs. Doctor. It was she who named the loaf and designed the label, with its pine-circled pond and the Ramapo Mountains beyond—the “contentful” view from her kitchen. This bread is the sturdy type, plain as plain boiled potatoes. It slices well if sliced thick. One slice fills you up. The three-quarter pound loaf sells for 15 cents.

If you want the works when it comes to dried fruits, make a pilgrimage to lower Manhattan and that old-time store of Black and Koenig, 52 Dey Street. Here's the line-up for choice in fancy grades, super sizes: Sultana style raisins, Thompson seedless raisins, mixed fruits, California nectarines, Santa Clara prunes, Oregon prunes, California pears, California apricots, sweet dried cherries, glacé citron in halves, diced fruit mix, pulled figs, black Mission figs. Did we leave anything out that should have been mentioned?