Thursday, December 10, 2015

The New York Academy of Medicine Library, Cookbook Treasures and Queen Victoria's Turkey

New York Academy of Medicine, founded 1847, at 5th Avenue and 103rd since 1926

I was introduced to the New York Academy of Medicine a few weeks ago. It’s housed in an impressive Byzantine-ish building on 5th Avenue full of spacious rooms, a beautiful auditorium and a magnificent library full of some of history's greatest cookbooks.  Cookbooks in a medical library? I realized I knew absolutely nothing about this venerable institution and decided that had to change. 

The New York Academy of Medicine was formally begun in 1847. In an article by member D. Bryson Delavan written in 1926, I learned it was formed around 3 cardinal principals:

1. Cultivation and advancement of the science of medicine
2. Promotion of the character and honor of the profession
3. The elevation of the standards of medical education

The Academy didn’t find a home of its own until 1875 when they took over a house at 12 W 31st Street –– just in time too because members had begun donating their books for a library. By 1880 there were 25,000 books and periodicals and the services of a professional librarian were secured to properly handle the donations. For 50 years, the man responsible for the library was Mr. John S. Brownne. He came by it naturally, it seems –– his father Robert was the librarian of the New York Lyceum of Natural History (soon to become the Academy of Science).

Some books were given as enormous direct donations –– the collection of The New York Medical Journal, 23,000 volumes from a 100-year old collection of The New York Hospital and Dr. John Watson’s rare old books (beginning the library’s most excellent collection of incunabula) as well as other generous gifts of many member’s enviable medical libraries. Others were bought by the Academy. The market for “desirable accessions’ in medicine was sizzling at the end of the 19th century yet many prizes were won by the Academy’s deep pocketed members, wealthy friends and grateful patients.

Because of this, by 1926 the library had 239,505 books! Today it has around 550,000 as well as a formidable museum of medical objects (including a model for George Washington’s dentures and the 1600 BCE Edwin Smith papyrus – an ancient surgical document that contains the first use of the word brain). The New York Academy of Medicine moved into their beautiful building on 5th Avenue in 1926.

What about those cookbooks I teased you with? Last summer, a lovely lady named Kiri Oliver contacted me about coming for a visit and writing about a very particular collection at the library. You see, the Margaret Barclay Wilson Collection of Cookery is housed here and the collection was celebrated in a group of lectures this year, culminating in a marvelous all day celebration aptly titled Eating Through Time. Everyone from great food historian Ken Albala (talking about sex and food) to a Danish forager chef to Jacques Pepin discussing his life in food made for a great day (to get updates on events and for a fun read, subscribe to the NYAM blog -- they recently did a fine piece on the magnificently researched 19th century hospital drama, The Knick, on HBO). 

NYAM Rare Book Room 

NYAM Rare Book Room with the gorgeous restored cork floor

NYAM Rare Book Room

Robert Latou Dickenson sketch of Rare Book Room, 1933 

I snapped a few pictures of the books that were on display in the Coller Rare Book Reading Room during the event.

The Fulda Apicius

The Fulda Apicius 
On view at the exhibit in glass cases were some of the collection’s treasures including the earliest western cookbook -- 9th century Fulda copy of the centuries older recipes of Apicius (that I wrote about HERE – the other copy of the manuscript is in the Vatican library).

Scappi's Opera

I got to see Maestro Scappi’s beautiful L'Opera in person (that I wrote about HERE ). I was amazed at how SMALL it is –– it fits easily in your hand – maybe 5x8” (I always thought it was a giant book for some reason). There was Hannah Wooley’s 17th century masterpiece and Monsieur Emy’s 18th century book with recipes for ice cream (very new at the time) as well as an introductory sampling of the Library's precious collection of manuscript cookbooks.

I came back a few weeks later to peruse the collection with Librarian Arlene Shaner as my guide. She was incredibly patient with me as I worked though the 22 books I had requested (all visits are by appointment, you need to make a request of which books you wish to see a few days before the visit).

Some of my requests were chosen to see favorite books in person after being familiar with their online versions — it was great fun to leaf through both the 19th century’s giant tome, The Epicurean (that I wrote about HERE) and William May’s diminutive The Complete Cook —a 17th century gem (that I wrote about HERE and HERE –– I love his food!) .

Good Things from the Chafing Dish, Thomas J Murrey 

Others on my list were rare oddities. I pulled a handful of 1890’s chafing dish cookbooks skewed to male amateur chefs – it was an absolute craze in late 19th c NYC gentlemen’s clubs and I have wanted to learn more since first hearing of it (late night contests developed between chafing dish masters and the assembled group of club members would declare winners based on flavor and dramatic skill). 

A collection of choise receipts 1680-1700 

Gemel Book of Recipes 1660-1700

I also requested some volumes from their collection of 38 manuscript cookbooks since I have been interested in them for a long time.( I wrote about them HERE and HERE ). Rare they are indeed, since there is only one of each book, written mostly by the lady of house. These date from the 16th to 19th century, all written by hand (and in the case of the Choise Recipe book, gorgeously written) and cover everything from medicines to cure boils, to furniture polish to favorite recipes for cakes, jams, jellies and some savory dishes (I love these books –– I’m going to share some of their great recipes with you soon). Arlene kindly suggested a few more of the handwritten manuscript books when she saw that I was mad for them. There just wasn’t enough time to explore such a vast collection. It will take a few visits to get through so much rich material (the catalogue is online HERE).

A collection of choise receipts 1680-1700 listing many cures beginning with C (NYAM photo)

You may wonder what a library devoted to medicine is doing with a world-class cookbook collection?

Well, for one, food and medicine like food and perfume were thought of as related arts until fairly recently–– from the beginning of our history forward. Secondly, and most important for the library, member Margaret Barclay Wilson’s interests led her to amass a rather substantial collection of food-related books and papers which she donated to NYAM in 1929 (she was a professor of physiology and hygiene and ‘honorary librarian’ at Hunter College and felt cookery books were not respected as they should be ––  I agree,  they do flesh out their times in a sensual language we all can understand) .

Ephemera from Wilson collection (NYAM photo)

Wilson won a small bidding war over the Apicius in the 1920’s. It’s the crown jewel of her collection of early cooking masterpieces that included Scappi and Carême. Yet her 10,000 item bequest wasn't limited to classics, it also included restaurant menus and food company brochures of the early 20th century –– documents that were not much respected at the time.  Today we appreciate how much they reveal about the food styles and attitudes of their times. Wilson was not wealthy, but she left an endowment to insure the collection would be looked after properly and to allow for funding new acquisitions that would compliment the collection as they came up for sale - our Miss Wilson was a very forward thinking lady. The collection’s handwritten books have recently undergone a major conservation effort – they were cleaned and, when necessary, rebound under the auspices of the Pine Tree Foundation.

One of the books in the collection is Charles Elmé Francatelli’s The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant. Francatelli was a student of Carême, a chef at the Reform Club (that I wrote about HERE) and the Chef to Queen Victoria

I have wanted to make Queen Victoria’s turkey, Les Dindes rôties à la Chipolata, since I wrote about her Christmas dinner HERE. It is a simple dish, but full of luxurious touches (like the truffles!). I found the recipe tucked in his book. I had images of myself at the Queens table for a daydreaming minute or two but settled into a more practical reverie –– I was going to make this beauty. 

I haven’t made chestnut stuffing for years and thought it was time to do it again. The addition of the sausage (chipolatas are a small pork sausage) both in the dressing and on the outside as a garnish is a fine idea and you can either buy sausage or make it – if you don’t stuff it in casings it is as easy as could be and you know what’s going into it. I just made a bit extra for the garnish when I made the stuffing sausage. I did a Financiére sauce -light instead of a full out recipe.  If you want to go old school, there is a link to my Financiére sauce recipe-- just leave out some of the liquids as instructed.

This year, I had a beautiful D’Artagnan Heritage Breed Turkey. It was a frozen 15-pound beauty that looked absolutely fresh after a few days gentle thaw (I hear that’s the best way to do it). It cooked beautifully. I do have a turkey technique I have been using since I saw it in Gourmet Magazine many years ago. It involves butter and molasses and gives the turkey a beautiful mahogany glow and crisp skin yet leaves the turkey juicy and tender -- it may not be the one Francatelli used but then I don't have massive coal-burning ovens with 50 sauces bubbling away in a giant bain marie in my airplane hanger-sized kitchen either.

Make the turkey and you can say you are celebrating Christmas like a great English Queen!!

Turkey a la Chipolata

1 15 lb D’Artagnan Heritage Breed Turkey
1 recipe stuffing
1 recipe chipolata ragout
1 recipe turkey gravy

Place the turkey on your platter and tent for 20 minutes. Pour any accumulated juices into the gravy and dry around the turkey platter. Place the ragout around the platter with some of its sauce and garnish with fresh herbs. Serve with the gravy on the side.


1 15 lb D’Artagnan Heritage Breed Turkey
1 T soy sauce
2 T softened butter
3 C unsalted stock
½ c Rare Wine Company Charleston madeira
3 T softened butter
salt and pepper
1 T molasses
1 t red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 425º

Rub the Turkey with the 2 T butter and soy. Put a bit of butter under breast skin if you can. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and stuff with some of the stuffing and place on a rack. Truss if needs be and cover the wing tips with foil. Cook for 15 minutes and then turn heat down to 350º. Pour 1 cup of stock and some of the madeira into the bottom of the pan. Cook the turkey for 2 hours, basting frequently with the rest of the stock (make sure there is always a bit of liquid in the pan so it doesn't burn and ruin your gravy -- you can toss in a bit of water too. Combine the 3 T softened butter, molasses and red wine vinegar. Take the turkey from the oven and brush the molasses mixture all over the turkey. Cook for 35-45 minutes. Remove from the oven, put on a platter and tent for 20 minutes.

Chestnut Sausage Stuffing

1 loaf peasant bread, cubed
1 pound sausage (from recipe or good herbed breakfast sausage
2 medium onions, chopped
4 -8 stalks celery, chopped (depending on size of stalk, some are green and small)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ c cup white wine
¼ c calvados or dry sherry
1 to 1½ cups chicken stock (depending on the bread, use what is needed to moisten the cubes.
2 sprigs parsley
*2 sprigs sage
*1 sprig rosemary
*1-2 t thyme or 4 sprigs, leaves removed
3/4 pound fresh shelled, cooked chestnuts from D’Artagnan (the weight of the nuts without shells)
1 T salt or to taste
Pepper to taste

Sauté the sausage till lightly browned, remove. Pour out some of the accumulated fat. Sauté the onion and celery and garlic until softened. Add the wine and 2 T of calvados and reduce to a glaze. Add 1 c of the stock and the herbs and toss in the bread cubes and reserved sausage and chestnuts. Add more stock as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the last of the calvados.

Stuff the turkey. Take any leftover stuffing and put in a dish. Cover with foil and cook for about 20 minutes at 375º

* some stores sell  a poultry selection of fresh herbs with a bit of everything in it... these are most economical.

Turkey Gravy

Turkey drippings
1 c heavy cream
¼ c flour
1 – 2 cups additional stock
½ c red wine
2 T  Rare Wine Company Charleston madeira
2 T calvados or cognac
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour off the drippings from the pan into a fat separator. Pour the drippings back into the pan, leaving most of the fat behind. Add some of the cream to the flour, making a slurry. Add this to the pan and stir till it thickens. Add the rest of the cream, scraping up any brown bits if you wish. Then add the stock and the liquor. Taste to see if it needs any seasoning. Serve with your turkey and dressing.

Herbed Pork Sausage

1 ¼ lb ground pork
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
½ t fennel, crushed
1sprig sage, leaved chopped
1 t dry thyme
2 -3 sprigs fresh marjoram, leaves chopped
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t mace
1/8 t cayenne
2 t salt
1 t pepper

Combine all of the ingredients and let the flavors meld overnight or at least a few hours.
Use most of the sausage for the stuffing. Reserve around ¼ lb to make small sausages for the ragout.

Chipolata Ragout

1 slice of bacon, chopped
¼ lb pork sausages whole or sliced
¼ lb mushrooms
1 or 2 truffles sliced (I used D’Artagnan whole summer truffles in a can  but they have fresh black truffles as well  or fresh white truffles for extra luxury
2-3 carrots, cut into long rounded pieces
6 small turnips, peeled and rounded
¼ lb cooked chestnuts from D’Artagnan
1 T D'Artagnan truffle butter
*1 T mushroom ketchup or soy sauce
*1 T Rare Wine Company Charleston madeira
*½ cup D’Artagnan duck-veal demi-glace
1 T calvados

Sauté the bacon until crisp and remove. Add the sausages and mushrooms a cook until done, set aside. Steam the carrots and turnips till done.

Warm the truffle butter. Add the mushroom ketchup, madeira and demi-glace. Cook until well combined. Add the sausages, mushrooms, carrots, turnips and toss to coat.

Add the calvados and place on the platter around the turkey.

*if you want to make Financiére, don't add the asterisked items and use about a cup of sauce. The recipe for the sauce is HERE and it can be made ahead and frozen in ½ c portions


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