Friday, July 1, 2011

What did Frederic Church Eat at Olana? Chicken Curry and Apple Custard!


Olana view from Julianne Zaleta of Herbal Alchemy 

A few weeks ago, our little group of foodies and scenties, Rebecca Wizenreid of  3 Points Kitchen, Julianne Zaleta of  Herbal Alchemy and Lucy Raubertas of  Indie Perfumes and myself (we need a name, ladies –– Les Dames de l’Alchemie, La Confrérie des Alchemistes?), drove a few hours north of NYC to visit Frederic Church’s Olana, perched high above the Hudson River near by the diminutive Rip Van Winkle Bridge and antique mecca, Hudson NY. It was a spectacular spring day and the lovely ride up from the city was a perfect way to mentally dissolve our constraining city suits and don the nurturing spiritual raiments of Arcadia.   

The house is dazzling and eccentric and attracted many famous figures in the 19th century with the gracious hospitality of its owner (don't worry, I'll share some original recipes served at Olana).  If that isn't enough, the view is one of the most breathtaking on the East coast and nearly unchanged from the 19th century.

Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)

Frederic Edwin Church was a premier member of the Hudson River School of Painting.  A child of privilege from Hartford, Connecticut, his father Joseph was a silversmith who became a director of Aetna Life Insurance.  When young Church showed an interest in painting, family friend, Daniel Wadsworth  (of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut) introduced Frederic Church to Thomas Cole in 1844 and Cole took the 18 year old under his wing (Cole founded the Hudson River School  in 1825). Church thrived under his tutelage and success came quickly to the young artist.

Heart of the Andes

Church’s sensational early work, Heart of the Andes, was painted in 1859 after he traveled to South America in 1853 and 1857.  There he sketched images of incomparable beauty and majesty that he found there and those sketches would be worked into his oil paintings when he returned to New York.  Church was inspired by naturalist and explorer, Alexander von Humbolt,  the author of Kosmos and a true polymath who believed landscape painting was a superior expression of love of nature –– a quality he reverenced (Dr. Lost Past tells me he cast a giant shadow, Carl Sagan's Cosmos was so named in homage to von Humbolt).  Humbolt’s writings also motivated Church to go to the Arctic in 1859. Church was also influenced by John Ruskin’s Modern Painters  where Ruskin: “ emphasized the scrutiny of nature”.   Ruskin believed “To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion–– all in one.” 

Church made a lot of money with the painting by charging admission (12,000 people paid 25¢ to view it) at New York’s Studio Building on West 10th Street.  At the time, the painting had a remarkable effect on its viewers, “women felt faint. Both men and women succumb[ed] to the dizzying combination of terror and vertigo that they recognize[d] as the sublime. Many of them will later describe a sensation of becoming immersed in, or absorbed by, this painting, whose dimensions, presentation, and subject matter speak of the divine power of nature” said Wikipedia . It was monumental (nearly 5’x10’ not including the enormous frame). The painting was later purchased for  $10,000 … the most paid for a painting by a living American artist to date (it was bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1909).  Oh yes, Church was one of the founding trustees of NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art!

The work impressed one young lady to be sure. Church met his wife to be, the lovely Isabel Carnes at the exhibition.

The Arabic writing says, marhaba, which is welcome in English in Julianne’s Photo

Newly married, Church had engaged Richard Morris Hunt  to build his charming ferme ornée called Cosy Cottage for a country get-away (he lived and had his studio in NYC) on his first piece of property on the Hudson. When he bought more property on the mountain-top (his estate eventually encompassed 250 acres with a 10 acre lake and a profitable working farm), Hunt submitted a plan for a French chateau-style house, which Church approved.  Then Church changed his mind.  Inspired by a tour of the Middle East (1867-8), he dismissed Hunt and enlisted Calvert Vaux, famed Central Park architect, to manifest his new vision. Author Louis Werner discovered in a letter Church had written to a friend, “Having undertaken to get my architecture from Persia, where I have never been –– not any of my friends either –– I am obliged to imagine Persian architecture –– to embody it on paper… I made it out of my own head.” Vaux took to the project and was as passionate about it as the owner.  The house was completed in 1872.

Petra by Frederic Church 1874

Petra (made famous in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade film) had an enormous effect on Frederic Church.  Louis Werner, in his article, “A Treasure house on the Hudson”  revealed that Church wrote in his travel journal “The tombs, many of them, were cut in a rich orange-red rock full of waving shades.  Sometimes the rock was a lovely dove tint also full of graded tints.  I never beheld anything so beautiful in rocks.” “This wonderful temple is cut in the face of a tremendous precipice which is of a black color with an olive tinge in it.  The rock when freshly exposed is of a beautiful reddish salmon color miscalled pink by some travelers.  It is wonderful to see so lovely and luminous a color blazing out of black stern frightful rocks…”

Church used Petra’s colors on Olana’s walls.  Petra was also the subject of one of my favorite of his paintings with his magical view of Petra through the siq—a rock passageway that opens on the monument (admission –– I love Petra too!).  Church was worried he’d be overtaken by roving bandits at any moment as he did sketches of the site:  “I flung open my pocket sketchbook and drew the scene roughly, we then dashed down the path and seized another view, an so on, sketching and running until we reached the narrow plain below where the camels had long preceded us.” This painting was given to his wife as a gift.  In its monumental frame (created by Church for the painting), it has remained on the sitting room wall for well over a century.

The designs for the veritable riot of stenciled graphics all over the house came from 19th century pattern books of Middle Eastern motifs.  Church executed most of the sketches for the designs based on these books but did not paint them himself.  They are remarkable and in perfect condition.

From Olana historic site 

Sadly, the kitchen is undergoing renovations so I wasn’t able to view it or photograph the charming pantry full of the families’ dishes (no photography is permitted in the house), but the dining room is remarkably quirky and full of rather somber old masters I imagine Church gathered on his European trips.  Judging from contemporary letters and journals, it seems the dinners there were anything but somber…. They were charming! Church had a vast collection of native costumes from all over the world (some of which are on display) that were often worn at dinners as well as being used for his paintings.  They must have been very colorful affairs judging from the costumes that I saw with wild hats, curl-toed shoes and dashing robes… there are fun photographs of the family dressed up in the costumes.

The remarkably accommodating Librarian for Olana, Ida Brier, was kind enough to send me accounts of the 19th century table at Olana:

“Research has shown that some dinners were formal affairs, where all wore evening dress and the different courses were each served on separate plates.  Other meals were less formal, with all the food laid on the table at one time and passed around.  All visitors concurred that an abundance of food was always found and that the produce of the farm was always included. They write of dinners of chicken, green peas,  new corn, potatoes, wild berries & cream and cake and the table set with old silver things.   And as Church noted:  “We are not ashamed to offer our friends ham and eggs – in fact we are rather proud we have it to offer – and if we come a little short in our fare at supper – we usually recompense our hungry guests by a substantial sunset.” (FEC to Prof. O. Rood, May 16, 1875.  Collection Columbia University Libraries, Special Collections.)  Sounding entirely modern, he writes to his friend Mr. Warner just before Thanksgiving in 1888:  “We are preparing to celebrate the Morrow.  I got my Turkies from Rhode Island which is celebrated for the breed . . . Its better for the flesh of any animal or bird not to have suffered much in Mind or body just before death.” (Archives, Olana State Historic Site)”

The Olana Crayon, the Newsletter for Olana 

Further, in an article in The Olana Crayon called The Hidden Olana, Food, Glorious Food, Brier and her fellow author Valerie Balint quoted one guest –– author, artist and fellow world traveler, Susan Hale  : “We have delicious things to eat, did I mention it? All out of the garden . . . cream, ice cream of the same, and wonderful floating islands, & such, with Mexican dulces with odd names, forms of guava and nougat.” … “Breakfast is very punctual at eight.  The neat maid twangles a triangle to summon us, and we meet in the superb dining room . . . Exquisite flowers arranged only by Mrs. Church are always on the table, and every plate and pitcher and napkin is chosen for its beauty or prettiness.  . . . Delicious cream and perfect coffee, burnt in the only machine of its kind in the world . . . Coffee is served after dinner in little cups with exquisite little spoons, each one different, in the shape of some flower or leaf; all these things are Mr. Church’s taste.”  Susan Hale to Lucretia Hale, July 6, 1884, while visiting Olana  "Letters of Susan Hale", Caroline Atkinson, ed. 1918. pg 141.

Brier reported:Church was very fond of coffee, and always sending coffee beans to his friends - 2 bags of Colima coffee to Samuel Clemens, 140 lbs of coffee to his daughter and son-in-law; and a later shipment of Oaxaca coffee sent to them with the admonition to age it for 2 years(!)” 

The house is full of books that are original to the house and Brier was kind enough to give me a listing of some of the cookery/housekeeping books in the library.  Astonishingly, they are all now available online… I include links to them.  

The housekeeping / cookbooks found in the historic library include: 

Elizabeth Miller, In the Kitchen (1875)
Maria Parloa, Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion 
               (Boston:Estes & Lauriat, 1887) 
Parkes, Mrs. William, Domestic Duties - or, Instructions to Young Married Ladies: On the Management Of Their Households, and the Regulation Of Their Conduct In the Various Relations and Duties of Married Life/Third American Edition.-- NY: J.& J. Harper, 1829;
Barker, Lady, First Lessons in the Principles of Cooking: in three parts.--London:  McMillan & Co, 1874;  
Mrs. Putnam,Mrs. Putnams's Receipt Book and Young Housekeepers Assistant.-- NY:  Oakley and Mason, 1867; 
Mary F. Henderson, Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving (New York:  Harper, 1886); 

The Olana Crayon article continues: “There are numerous cookbooks in the Olana Archives, and many contain handwritten receipts, as recipes were called at that time.  Within In the Kitchen, a cookbook written in 1875 by Elizabeth S. Miller, are numerous pages written in Isabel Church’s own hand in sections entitled For Additional Receipts.  These collected recipes include everything from Calves Liver a la Mode to Bishop’s Buns to Sweet Waffles and are often denoted by the name of the person who gave Isabel the recipe.”

One of these came from Thomas Appleton, who Brier writes was: “a well-known poet and essayist, as well as a patron of the arts and sometime painter. There are several recipes from Appleton written in Isabel [Church]’s cookbooks, and a letter by Frederic references both this dessert and a soup dish when thanking Appleton for a lovely stay at his home in Boston:  “Not only fragrant memories of things heard and seen, but fragrant memories from Ann’s domain are brought to us – The latter in practical shape.  Mrs. Church has already developed successfully the ‘Chowder’ and ‘Red Robin.’  We have most assuredly profited from our visit.”  

I found the recipe for the soft custard in the Putnam cookbook, and it’s not too hard to imagine the Church’s cook, Jane, may have referred to the book when preparing Appleton’s ‘receipt’.  The result is rich but refreshing with a very sexy texture thanks to the luxurious custard… who knew applesauce could be sexy? 

The second recipe for an Indian Curry is a contribution from the Church children’s tutor, a Mr. Scudder.  It is simple and delicious.  I chose to make it with a poussin (a very young chicken) from D’Artagnan but it would be good with a Cornish hen or a small, cut-up chicken or chicken breast (or even the mutton or veal that Scudder mentioned in his receipt).  The addition of the cardamom seemed frightfully exotic for the times!  I was a bit skeptical about the lard and coconut milk but I shouldn’t have been… it is pure evil and I mean that in the nicest way because the spicy heat is gorgeous with the rich full flavors. I must say onions with the sweet lard (pastured pigs make lovely lard) and cardamom are insanely good together… I had a hard time keeping myself away from eating them by themselves!

Red Robin

4 c milk (I used 3 ½ c milk and ½ c cream)
8 eggs
1 c sugar
1/3 c Pedro Ximeniz sherry or a sweet-ish Madeira (Boston Bual or NY Malmsy from Rare Wine Company)

Whip the eggs and sugar till frothy.  Add scalding milk to eggs, stirring constantly.  Strain and put on top of a double boiler till thickened, stirring constantly.  It will have the texture of very thick cream or, say pancake batter.  Chill or serve warm.

5 apples, cored but with peel for color and cooked down with 1/4 sugar
rind of a lemon grated
2 T cognac

24-32 very thin slices apple with peel
3 T maple syrup
1 T lemon juice

Cook down applesauce.  Run it through a food mill to get rid of the peel.   Toss apple slices in syrup and lemon juice, blended. Lay apple slices on silpat and cook for 1 hour at 200º or until translucent… longer if you want them crisp.  You may want to make more of these.. they are quite good!

Pour custard into a bowl top with applesauce and serve with slices on top

Red Robin – Mr. Appleton

“5 Apples – cut and cooked as for applesauce. Then add a large bowl of sugar and grated rind of one lemon – Then cook and make into marmalade. Put in mould and cooled. Pour over marmalade on soft custard strongly flavored with wine -”

From Mrs. Putnam’s Receipt Book

Curry - from India for 2 persons

2 T lard or duck fat
2 semi-boned poussin from D'Artagnan (they are 10-12 oz each) or 1 cornish hen or 2 chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
2 large onions, sliced
¼- ½ t cardamom to taste
¼ t cayenne pepper
2 T curry powder mixed with water to form a thick paste
1 cup coconut milk
juice ½ lemon

Saute the chicken until brown on both sides and remove. Sauté the onions slowly in the fat till brown and add the cayenne and cardamom. 

Add the curry mix and the coconut milk and stir for a few minutes. Put the chicken back in the pan and let simmer slowly until the chicken is done, about 10 minutes. Serve.

To make Curry:

2 tablespoons of lard.
2 large onions sliced & fried brown
2 large spoons curry powder mixed with water to a thick paste & stirred well into the onions & lard. 

Then add mutton or veal cut up into small pieces, (or a young chicken, jointed) & cook well with the other ingredients adding the milk of a grated cocoanut which may be obtained by pouring hot water over the grated cocoanut & squeezing hard until the milk is extracted.  

After the milk is put in, it must be stirred all the time for ten minutes; then leave it all in the frying (covered) pan, on the stove to simmer, but not cook.   Just before it is to be served put in the juice of half a lemon.   If cocoanuts are not to be had, use a small cup of rich cows milk, part cream if you have it, lightly sweetened with white sugar. 

This quantity is sufficient for 4 to 6 persons.   If it is required to be very hot add cayenne & black pepper.   2 or 3 cardamums alter and improve the taste of curry. 

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!!

I am off to the Oxford Food Symposium and will be posting from the UK for a few weeks!

PS.  My Friend Spencer at A Friend in New York is doing a tour of Olana and Hudson antique shops on July 23.  Here’s a link for his tour which will be great  fun!: OLANA TOUR


indieperfumes said...

Madly gorgeous! I loved that trip and now you've expanded and memorialized it with this piece. Plus I've been daydreaming about that Aftelier vintage patchouli you pulled out on the drive ever since. So appropriate to the trip, too.

So clever of you to have dug out the habits of the most refined Mr and Mrs Church. It re-frames everything to know he was such a stickler for his coffee and entertained so exquisitely. There is nothing that can compare to the life of a rich artist.

Diane said...

What a fantastic post. The Heart of the Andes as you say is sensational, I would love that painting in my home!!
I quite fancy that apple custard, maybe I will give it a try. Diane

Barbara said...

You girls had a brilliant day! I'm extremely jealous. But reading about it here is just about as good as being there with you.

The apple custard is dreamy delicious and comforting. I love custards of any kind, they are my most favorite dessert and the kind of thing I bother to make just for me. Never would have thought to add my applesauce on top, but now that I see it, what a marvelous idea!

tasteofbeirut said...

A wonderful post; I can't remember the circumstance that led me to Mr. Church but a while ago I became fascinated with him when I discovered his trip to the Middle-East; I have yet to visit Petra! (shame!). FYI "marhaba" is used in Lebanese to say "Hello" (the root verb is rahaba meaning saluting someone. Welcome in lebanese would be "ahlan wa sahlan".
Anyway, now I have an incentive to visit his house and check out the stencils! The apple and custard dessert sounds smashing! Love the apple chips on top. Great chicken too.
Have fun with the Brits!

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Amazing! I didn't even know that house existed. Now I have to go visit (and stop in at antique stores nearby of course!) Dishes look lovely too. :)

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I love Olana - I've only visited once, and unfortunately, much of the building was covered in scaffolding. I'm sure a return visit is in order. You really captured the artistic and exotic, yet countrified style of the house, particularly in the two dishes.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Dearest Deana,

Talk about SYNESTHESIA....your posts always combine the intellectual, academic necessities to better understand the PASSIONS of food, sensuality and the human experience. I cannot tell you how nourishing it is for me to come here and read every articulate word, and see every delicious image that makes me believe that our minds, spirits and bodies are so connected but often neglected in how we feed ourselves. THANK YOU for melding so many things into one lovely recipe for living, my friend.

CHEERS and thank you for ALWAYS coming over!!! Anita

Unknown said...

I saw your beautiful picture on Tastespotting and came over to look, not knowing it would be you daaaahling. I have recently been experimenting with coconut and curries. I cook curries a lot, but North Indian ones, and this coconut thing is new to me. I'd like to learn a coconut curry dish that really kicks arse :) thanks for the recipe!
*kisses* HH

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a great story! I must admit I hadn't heard of Church before I read your story so it was a real discovery! :D

Mary Bergfeld said...

I actually envy you the that was spent here. It sounds fabulous, largely due to your descriptive powers. You made the place come alive for those of us who have never seen the place and know little about the man. This was a fabulous post. I hope you have a great holiday. Blessings...Mary

Torviewtoronto said...

lovely pictures and post

Faith said...

Stunning views surrounding that church! Love how it was influenced so much by Petra, which I think is one of the most breathtaking places one can visit. The food looks wonderful and I love your artful presentation of the Red Robin!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Another fascinating person, architecture and food you have brought to life for us, Deana! Not only is your research always interesting to read but I love how you recreate the dishes of the era. I think I'd love a Red Robin! How beautifully you decorated it too :)

About Last Weekend said...

Both the chicken curry and the custard look divine and the Rock of Petra is one of my favourite places in the world, thanks for reminding me of my time there. Happy 4th. Cheers, Jody

Lazaro Cooks said...

Fantastic photos of a very cool trip. I can always count on some wonderfully researched material here.

I love a good curry. I think both the cornish hen or even the mutton would be perfect.

Be well

From the Kitchen said...

We plan to someday tour the Hudson Valley and now we have your wonderful recommendations! And, for the present, thank you for the delicious recipes.


Linda said...

Deana...another fabulous post! What a wonderful trip you all had...
Your pics are all wonderful. The food has my mouth always!

Peter said...

Olana is not too far from here; my wife danced there last summer. It is a lovely spot. Next time you're venturing up here, drop me a line.