Recipes from the Historian’s Cookbook

Alexander Lee | Published 08 June 2018

An Early American Take on Sushi

Although America’s love affair with sushi only began in the 1960s, Japan’s favourite delicacy had reached its shores much earlier. Back in 1852-3, an expedition led by Commodore Matthew Perry had succeeded in breaking Japan’s centuries-long policy of isolation, and in forcing the Shogun to open his ports to American ships – paving the way for trade between the two nations.Over the next few decades, these burgeoning commercial ties encouraged a growing number of Japanese to seek a new life in the United States.

On 8 February 1885, 676 men, 159 women, and 108 children arrived in Honolulu (then unofficially under American control), becoming the first official immigrants; and, by 1906, almost 200,000 people of Japanese origin had set up home in California. It was not long before some of them started setting up restaurants; and, by the beginning of the 20th century, sushi had gained quite a following amongst Americans. Unfortunately, the excitement was not to last. In 1907, the American government – unnerved by the sheer number of new arrivals – concluded an informal agreement with the Japanese Empire, whereby Japan would prevent any further emigration; and in 1924, the federal Immigration Act banned Japanese immigration altogether.

Before that unhappy moment, however, popular enthusiasm for sushi was hard to miss. Japanese dinner parties were all the rage, and newspapers gleefully – if not always accurately – explained the secrets of Japanese cooking to their readers. The following sushi recipe is one of the most striking. First published in the Charlotte News on 19 May 1906, it was later syndicated to a number of other periodicals (including the Yale Expositor and the Minneapolis Journal); and though it cannot be said to reflect contemporary Japanese techniques, it nevertheless makes a creditable effort to adapt them to the habits of the American kitchen.

Makes enough for a small family

“Sushi” is made by boiling a half cup of rice with two tablespoons of chopped preserved ginger. When cold, mold into cakes about two inches long and one inch wide, flattened on the top. Cut up a half pound of any kind of fish into narrow strips, boil, then add a small bottle of sho-yu [soy sauce]…Cool the fish and serve a strip on the top of each rice cake.”

Wartime Falafel

In the spring of 1940, Mandatory Palestine was in a state of high tension. Though Italy had not yet declared war on the British Commonwealth, and the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa had so far been spared the horrors of bombing, the shadow of the Second World War had already fallen across the region. Already, thousands of Jews fleeing the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and Easter Europe were arriving in Palestine in defiance of the restrictions imposed on immigration by the British at the London Conference the previous year. The pressure on resources – especially food – was acute. Many familiar dishes, and even some staples, were out of reach. Falafel, however, was still available to all; and in the circumstances, appealed even to some of those who still regarded it as a ‘foreign’ importation. On 27 May 1940, the following recipe appeared in Haaretz – then, as now, a leading newspaper. It is remarkable in a number of ways. Unlike most other recipes, it adopts a flexible attitude towards the main ingredients. Fava beans, dried peas, or any other pulse could be used. Even more unusually, it omits the herbs and spices which are most commonly associated with falafel (e.g. cumin and coriander) – but which were, of course, unavailable – and outlines not one, but two different methods of preparation in the recognition that cooking oil may not be available.

No quantities are given. Adjust ingredients to taste and to suit the number of diners.

Cook the legumes (dried peas, lubia [fava beans], or another type), grind, mix with oil (preferably sesame) until thickened, add plenty of crushed red pepper and salt (you can also add fresh green pepper while grinding and add other minced vegetables at the end). Make small balls from the mixture and deep fry in boiling oil until yellow-brown. You could also make an easier version with pea-flour (if available), mixed with water until thick or cooked in water with a pinch of baking soda and finished as above.

Translation from Y. Raviv, ‘Falafel: A National Icon’, Gastronomica, 3/3 (2003): 20-5.

Pellegrino Artusi’s Tuscan Panettone

Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911) was never meant to be a famous cook. The son of a wealthy shopkeeper, he was destined for a career in commerce. After completing his studies in Bologna, he returned to his native Forlimpopoli, and immersed himself in the family business. But his life was turned upside-down when the bandit, Stefano Pelloni (known as il Passatore), appeared in town on the night of 25 January 1851. With ruthless efficiency, Pelloni and his gang stormed the theatre and took all of the town’s wealthiest families hostage – including Artusi. Huge sums of money were extorted, and many of the women were raped. The experience scarred Artusi deeply. Four months later, he and his family decided to leave Forlimpopoli and take up residence in Florence instead. There, Artusi pursued a successful career in finance; and, after inheriting a large sum of money, devoted himself to his favourite hobby: cooking. In 1891, he published La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene (‘The science of cooking and the art of eating well’). As its title suggests, it was the product of a profoundly methodical approach to cookery – and it is still a classic.

Of the hundreds of recipes in Artusi’s book, perhaps the tastiest and most touching is for panettone. The invention of Artusi’s Tuscan cook, Marietta, this is much easier to make than the traditional Milanese version, and no less delicious.

Panettone Marietta

Marietta is a fine cook and so good and honest that she deserves to have this dessert named after her, since it is from her that I learned it.

Flour, finely ground 300g
Butter 100g
Sugar 80g
Sultanas 80g
Eggs 1 whole and 2 yolks
Salt a pinch
Cream of tartar 10g
Bicarbonate of soda a teaspoon, that is, just under 5g
Candied fruit 20g, cut into little pieces
Lemon zest
Milk about 200ml

In the winter, soften the butter in a bain-marie and then work it with the eggs. Add the flour and milk a little at a time, then the rest [of the ingredients] except the sultanas, cream of tartar and baking soda, which should be kept until last. Before adding these, work the mixture for at least half an hour and make sure that you add enough milk to get the right consistency – that is, not too liquid, not too solid. Pour into a mould, taller than it is wide, and twice the volume [of the mixture] so that it doesn’t overflow, and so that it will take the shape of a round loaf of bread. Grease the sides of the mould with butter, dust with finely-ground sugar mixed with flour, and bake in the oven. If it turns out right, it should rise a lot, forming at the top, a cracked dome. This is a dessert which deserves to be recommended, because it is much better than the Milanese panettone you find in shops, and doesn’t take much trouble.

Stephana Malcolm’s Kedgeree

Born in rural Dumfriesshire to an impoverished family of tenant farmers, Stephana Malcolm (1774-1861) spent most of her life in the Scottish border country. But her brothers travelled widely. While two, Charles and Pulteney, became admirals in the Royal Navy, a third, John, won fame and fortune as a member of the East India Company. Rising to become both a major-general and the governor of Bombay, he opened his family’s eyes to the culture – and cuisine – of the subcontinent. Evidently much taken with kedgeree, Stephana duly noted it down alongside Indian pickle and mulligatawny soup in the hand-written recipe book she had been keeping since c.1790. Her version was, by necessity, different both from the colonial dish and khichdi; but her ingredients are nevertheless a testimony both to the local economy of the Solway Firth, and to the reach of British trading interests in the late eighteenth century.

Serves 3-4 people.

Mince into very small pieces a large cold boiled Haddock or bit of cod, Haddock is best, add to it 4 hard boiled Eggs, also minced, boil a large Tea Cup full of Rice, drain and dry it nicely, melt in a stew Pan a piece of butter the size of an Egg, make the mince very hot in it, mixing with it very lightly the Rice, season with salt and a little Cayenne Pepper, & serve very hot, heaped very lightly on a dish.

Via the National Library of Scotland.

Gouffé's Pot-au-Feu

Jules Gouffé (1807-1877) was one of the most famous and influential French chefs of the nineteenth century. After studying under Marie-Antoine Carême, he became Napoleon III’s personal cook in 1855, and, in 1867, accepted an offer from the novelist Alexandre Dumas to become the officier de bouche at the Jockey Club of Paris. While in that role, he wrote a number of important cookery books, remarkable for their sophistication and precision. The most notable of these was Le Livre de Cuisine (1867), which naturally included a recipe for pot-au-feu (“the soul of home cooking”). This was based on that of Carême, but differs in the care with which Gouffé described the method of preparation.


750g meat [leg or shoulder of beef]

125g bone (more or less the amount in the meat given above)

4 lt water

30g salt

1 carrot, peeled

1 large onion, peeled, with a clove stuck in it.

3 small leeks

1 stick of celery

1 medium-sized turnip

1 small parsnip

Note: Some people have a habit of adding garlic; I do not advise it. The taste of the garlic – always so pronounced – tends to impair the aroma of the broth, and makes it unsuitable for consumption by sick people.


The first requirement is to get your fire going well. Feed your stove well with charcoal. A cooking pot which is placed on a well-made fire can go three hours without you having to touch it. Whenever it is necessary to put some more fuel on the fire, be careful not to make the flames too hot: a strong heat never does any good to a pot-au-feu, which always needs to be cooked very gently. [Modern cooks who prefer to use electricity or gas instead of charcoal should simply be sure to use a relatively low heat.]

Take care, when putting the lid on the pot, to leave a gap two fingers’ wide: the broth may become cloudy in an hermetically sealed pot.


Bone the beef.

Tie it round [with string], to hold it together.

Break the bones with a cleaver.

Place the pieces of bone into the pot first, and the meat on top.

Add the water, which should be filtered….

[Cover the pot, as above, and place on a low heat].

Add…30g of salt.

As soon as the scum starts to rise, you should cool the broth down; that is to say that you should add…150ml of cold water… Skim with a slotted spoon. Repeat three times. After this is done, your soup will be perfectly skimmed.

Add the vegetables… This will momentarily stop the boiling.

As soon as you have brought the broth back to the boil, move the pot to the corner of the stove… Cover the rest of the fire with ashes [i.e. lower the heat], and allow the broth to simmer for…three hours.

Keep the heat steady…continual simmering is one of the most essential preconditions for a good pot-au-feu.

When the broth is completely cooked, take the meat out and put it on a plate… [then remove the vegetables, slice, and serve together. Keep the broth for later].

Taste the broth to check that there is enough salt in it. If more needs to be added, do so only at the last minute, just before serving.

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – the third president of the United States – was an early fan of ice-cream. He probably encountered it while serving as America’s ambassador in France between 1784 and 1789, and, after returning to his estate at Monticello, took steps to ensure that he could continue enjoying it. The instructions he wrote for his cook (below) constitute the first recipe for ice-cream ever written by an American.

2 bottles of good cream [= about 4 pints / 1.9 litres]
6 yolks of eggs.
½lb. sugar
One stick of vanilla
Handful of salt
Large quantity of ice

Mix the yolks & sugar. Put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla. When near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs and sugar.

Stir it well. Put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent its sticking to the casserole. When near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel. Put it in the Sabottiere [a metal canister, small enough to fit into the tub used for the ice]. Then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. Put into the ice a handful of salt.

Put salt on the coverlid of the Sabottiere & cover the whole with ice. Leave it still half a quarter of an hour. Then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes.

Open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabot[t]iere. Shut it & replace it in the ice. Open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides. When well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.

Put it in moulds, jostling it well down on the knee. Then put the mould into the same bucket of ice. Leave it there to the moment of serving it. To withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.

Allen Ginsberg’s Cold Summer Borscht

Born into a Jewish family in New Jersey, the poet Allen Ginsberg came to embody the 'Beat Generation'. But he was also famous for living extremely simply - even at the height of his fame. Among his favourite dishes was this recipe for cold summer borscht, which recalled both the flavours of his childhood home and his family's Russian origins. The directions and ingredients are given exactly as he wrote them. 

Serves 10-12 extremely hungry people. 

Dozen beets [UK beetroots] cleaned & chopped to bite size salad-size Strips
Stems & leaves also chopped like salad lettuce
All boiled together lightly salted to make a bright red soup, with beets now soft - boil an hour or more
Add Sugar & Lemon Juice to make the red liquid sweet & sour like Lemonade

Chill 4 gallon(s) of beet liquid.

Serve with: 
(1) Sour Cream on table
(2) Boiled small or halved potato on the side (i.e. so hot potatoes don't heat the cold soup prematurely)
(3) Spring salad on table to put into cold red liquid
1) Onions - sliced (spring onions)
2) Tomatoes - sliced bite-sized
3) Lettuce - ditto
4) Cucumbers - ditto
5) a few radishes

Via the Allen Ginsberg Project

Pizza Marinara

In the mid-19th century, Neapolitan fishermen were fond of eating this simple, but hearty pizza for breakfast, before heading out to sea. Indeed, so eagerly did they wolf it down that, according to legend, it was named the ‘seafaring pizza’ (pizza marinara) in their honour.

Makes three good-sized pizzas.

Pizza Dough

4 cups / 18oz Italian tipo ‘00’ flour or bread flour
1 ½ cups / 12 fl oz water
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon active dry yeast

  1. Place the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well, until the dough is smooth.
  2. Shape into a ball and cover with a clean cloth. Allow to rise for around two hours, or until it has doubled in size.   
  3. Punch the dough down to remove the air bubbles.
  4. Divide into three roughly equal pieces, and shape each into a ball.
  5. Pinch the top of each ball, and gently stretch the dough, wrapping it around the rest of the ball as you go, so that it forms a sort of outer coat. 
  6. Dust lightly with flour, and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to ‘prove’ for around an hour.

Marinara Topping

230g / 8oz. chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
olive oil

  1. Preheat your oven to 250°C (480°F)/ fan 200°C (390°F).
  2. Stretch the balls of dough into circles and place on a non-stick pizza pan.
  3. Put 1/3 of the tomato, a few slices of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of oregano onto each pizza. Use your fingers to distribute the toppings evenly.   
  4. Bake for 5-10 mins, or until the edge is golden brown. 
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