At my grandmother’s house recently, I browsed through her copy of Life Magazine‘s Picture Cook Book (1958). It positioned itself as a new kind of cookbook, one copiously illustrated with pictures, one which had been seven years in the making, and one involved photographers traveling all over America and large parts of Europe.

It was from a very different time in a number of ways. The modern art of plating was nascent: even at the best restaurants, plated food looked slopped on the plate, in contrast with elegantly-arranged serving dishes. At La Tour d’Argent in Paris, a meal with wine and house specialties, costing as much as any in Europe, would set one back by US$16.

The cheese section of the book too was illustrated, with piled up rounds and wedges of cheese, mostly European ones. The three specifically American cheeses it noted were cream cheese, cottage cheese, and Liederkranz.

Why hadn’t I heard of this most American of cheese before? Because Liederkranz is extinct. It died in 1985 when a contaminated batch had to be recalled, the culmination of a number of troubled years of production for the cheese. Rumors abound that the bacterial strain necessary to make it may still be stored safely away somewhere, but there is certainly no great likelihood that it will be revived.

The cheese was “born” in the early 1890s by Emil Frey, a German cheesemaker who was commissioned by one of the owners of the Monroe Cheese Company in New York to make a Limburger-like cheese. It survived the company’s bankruptcy and sale, World War I, and a fraught move to Ohio, in part thanks to good advertising. A 1922 article from the journal Printer’s Ink, entitled “The Antithesis of ‘Reason-Why’ Copy Sells Cheese” examines how Monroe Cheese successfully and unusually positioned Liederkranz as an object of desire (for its “piquancy and zest”) rather than a necessity.

Frey moved to Ohio because of declining pasture availability in New York, but had to return for the wooden shelving for the cheese’s storage in order to rescue the bacteria strain. In 1929, the cheese was sold to Borden, although Frey stayed on, supervising its production, until his retirement in 1938.

Its real troubles began with a production facility fire in 1973. In 1981, Borden stopped production and sold the rights to the Fisher Cheese Company. In 1985, the last batch, contaminated, was recalled, and no more were produced. (In addition to the summary at Practically Edible and the Monroe Cheese Festival history page, a chapter is devoted to the cheese’s history in John Steele Gordon‘s 2001 book, The Business of America. )

Liederkranz was a strong, smelly cheese. One Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist, reminiscing in 1993, charmingly describes its potency: “Cutting into a piece of Liederkranz was like that Indiana Jones movie where they opened the ark of the covenant. “

An advertisement positions it as a manly cheese: “If you’ve a husband, pamper him with the cheese that’s a man’s idea of heaven – mellow, robust Liederkranz.” A 1945 Life ad for it shows a sign next to the cheese, with large letters spelling out “For Men”; a smiling woman writes underneath it “And Women Too”.

Liederkranz was named for a New York choral group. The name literally means “Wreath of songs” or “Song Circle”. It seems appropriate, on New Year’s Eve, to bid a year farewell with a defunct cheese and a round of good cheer and singing.


This weekend, my thing-a-day calendar told me about an unfamiliar fruit. “Cultivation of the tropical fruit noni is the most important industry on the French Polynesian island of Maupiti”, explained the Island-themed calendar.

What was news to me is a multi-million dollar industry to other people. Maupiti’s poplation of c. 1200 people is only a small proportion of the world’s noni-cultivators. The fruit, also known as the Indian mulberry, morinda (after its Latin name), canary wood, or cheese fruit (!) is grown from India to Hawaii.

Early transliterations of it wrote the word as “none”, which is more entertaining, if less intuitive for correct pronunciation. See, for example, J. Macrae, Journal. 13 May 1825 in With Lord Byron at Sandwich Islands (1922). 26 “They also cultivate a plant which they name None, for the sake of its fruit, which yields their favorite yellow dye for the tapa cloths.” Tapa cloth is made from the bark of the paper mulberry.

The internet, full of cheerleading for its disputed health benefits, tells me that it’s a trendy fruit – or at least, it was in 2007 when a glut of sites and commentary on it were posted. Search for the fruit by name and you’ll find dozens of them, if you’re interested in what it supposedly accomplishes, from curing cancer to colds.

In any event, newly-sensitized to its existence, I now expect to see noni products everywhere in trendy health food shops. It’s a pity that descriptions of it don’t make it sound more appealing. At least its smell is far worse than its taste.

P. S. My favorite annual fundraiser, which supports the UN World Food Program, is now on, from today until December 25th. It’s a raffle full of amazing and varied food-related prizes, with each ticket going towards a specific prize so you won’t win anything you don’t want or can’t have realistically shipped. More details on Menu for Hope are available from its organizer at Chez Pim.

porpoise porridge

Porpoise porridge has been minorly in the news recently, an event not likely to happen again anytime soon. It’s in the news because it’s a recipe which appears in The Forme of Cury(e), one of the earliest cookbooks written in English, specifically Middle English. It was written by a chef working in the court of Richard II. It’s a well-known cookbook as a result.

It was from this book that most of the recipes came when one of my departments held a medieval feast. It was from this book that all the recipes came when I took a medieval cooking workshop several summers ago. Editions of it have been available online and offline for years. What’s new is that this summer, back in June, the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester put a digitized version of the original manuscript online.

The porpoise has been monopolizing headlines. The BBC announced the release of the digitized manuscript with “14th Century cookbook goes online. Recipes for porpoise, pike and blancmange from a 14th Century cookbook have been made available online by the John Rylands University of Manchester library.”

This week, the two other major UK newspapers caught up with this year’s events, inspired by the press release for a tasting session based on the cookbook, held at the library’s café. On the 2nd, The Telegraph’s article was entitled “How to cook porpoise, and other 600-year-old recipies” [sic]. The Daily Mail, on the 4th, used the headline “Porpoise porridge, Sire? World’s oldest recipe book reveals dishes English kings enjoyed 600 years ago”. (Larsdatter’s Medieval Material Culture Blog comments on the factual error in the latter headline.)

All the these articles leave out their centerpiece, however. How does one make “furmente with porpeys”? The book offers two recipes. (There’s also a recipe for “porpeys in broth” but “porpoise soup” doesn’t have the same alliterative appeal.) I’ll give you the more detailed of the two.

A furment (“frumenty” in modern English) is a kind of porridge, made from wheat. It comes from the Latin, frumentum (wheat), unlike porridge which comes from the Latin word for “leek”, porrum.

Take clene whete and bete it small in a morter and fanne out clene the doust, þenne waisthe it clene and boile it tyl it be tendre and broun. þanne take the secunde mylk of Almaundes & do þerto. boile hem togidur til it be stondyng, and take þe first mylke & alye it up wiþ a penne. take up the porpays out of the Furmente & leshe hem in a dishe with hoot water. & do safroun to þe furmente. and if the porpays be salt. seeþ it by hym self, and serue it forth.

In modern English, slightly adapted: “Take clean wheat and crush it into powder in a mortar. Aerate it to clean out the dust, then wash it clean and boil it until it’s tender and brown. Then take the second milk of Almonds and do the same thing. [i.e. Powder, aerate, boil?] Boil them together until they are thick. Then take the first milk and mix it up with a feather. Take the porpoise out of the frumenty and leave it in a dish with hot water. Add saffron to the frumenty. And if the porpoise be salted, set it by itself and serve it forth.” The recipe, like every other in The Forme of Cury, is non-specific about quantities and cooking times.

In practice, the porpoise – from Latin “pig-fish” (porcus + piscis), via Old French – is a group of protected species, and thus illegal to hunt and eat in many places, including the US and the UK, so the recipe is not actually likely to be of much use to you.


The lanepi is a bright red, round fruit with leaves or a crown sprouting vigorously from its top. Is it large? Is it small? Is it tasty? Is it poisonous? Unless its creators made those decisions, there is even less to know about lanepi than there is to know about the odorra pod.

The lanepi is one of a number fruits invented for the purpose of studying how language evolves with use. It’s part of a small, invented language which is deals entirely with discussions of these fruits – lanepi, mola, neluka, and kapihu. The “alien language” project, run by the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, Department of Linguistics and English Language, at the University of Edinburgh, is conceived with Darwinism as its model. Specifically, it addresses how language changes when passed from one user to another and so on.

The impetus to normalize unknown words and contextualize them in the known is demonstrated by a post on the project at The Lousy Linguist. Chris, the blogger there, in a post entitled “Martian Fruit“, imagines these fruits in use: “some yummy neluka pie, fresh kapihu, or baked lanepi with cinnamon” or a “a stiff vodka & mola juice cocktail .” I suspect he was predisposed to think of them as Martian thanks to that “alien” label on the language in the project.

Does lanepi even go with cinnamon? There’s no way of knowing – unless the inventors of the fruit and its language decide to tell us more about it.

My thanks to Steve of Glossographia for bringing the story (and thus the fruit) to my attention in the first place.

stewed tea

Perusing early uses of “stew”, I noticed that “stewed tea” warranted its own OED notes. It made perfect sense: it’s the only case in which “stewed” reliably means “overcooked”, unless, of course, you prefer your dried fruits unrehydrated in any way or know someone inevitably prone to overcooking all foods.

The earliest use of “stewed tea” the dictionary has is from 1908. The phrase appears in Arnold Bennett’s novel, Old Wives’ Tale. Two new guests arrive at a hotel, avidly watched by the assembled guests, gathered for afternoon tea: “They vanished quietly upstairs in convoy of the manager’s wife, and they did not re-appear for the lounge tea, which in any case would have been undrinkably stewed.”

Rudyard Kipling uses the phrase twice in his 1926 collection of short stories, Debits and Credits, in “The Wish House” and “A Friend of the Family”. (The stories were written between 1923 and 1925.) In both cases, it is part of a larger repast, whether “buttered toast, currant bread, stewed tea, bitter as leather, some home-preserved pears, and a cold boiled pig’s tail to help down the muffins” in the first case, or “stewed tea with your meat four times a day”, as in the second.

A few intriguing snippets from Google Books pushes the earliest date of its use further back, if those dates of publication are correct. In 1905, a local education authority in Great Britain advised that “If you take this stewed tea it will prevent you from getting the proper goodness out of your food.” It continues on to recommend that tea being drunk promptly after brewing. In 1904, Vol. 8 of The Queen Cookery Books uses it, although the available excerpt is not enough to provide anything more than a description of what stewed tea is.

In any event, “stewed tea”, as a phrase, first shows up in print at the beginning of the twentieth century, leaving me wondering about the earlier history of words used to describe over-steeped tea. Quickly checking Google Books again: “Over brewed tea” goes back at least to 1884. “Over steeped tea”, a rarer phrase, at least to 1915. And before 1884?

*© S. Worthen 2009