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1940s Archive

Food Flashes

Originally Published April 1944

April brings the shad's return to the Hudson. Those flapping, leaping, squirming, iridescent beauties of the herring family will be gill-trapped again by the thousands daily.

War gives the shad an extra break for its freedom. Lack of manpower, lack of equipment, waterway restrictions which push the nets back will reduce the catch, although the river will be literally teeming with fish.

The vanguard of the shad run noses into the Hudson by April or earlier, depending on the weather. Shad wait for spring before heading into freshwater rivers and to their spawning headquarters. A warm day now and then doesn't fool a shad into rushing the season. Only when ocean temperatures rise to 56 degrees and over does the run start. Shad move northward with the flood tide. They return with the ebb. They swim a little upstream when they feel so inclined. It takes almost three weeks for a shad to make the trip from the Battery to Albany, if he gets there at all, for the way is net lined. It is before the spawning that a shad is desirable; on its way back to the less perilous sea nobody is interested, for the fish is tired and flabby, and longing to lie down and swim.

Today, as in the time of George Washington and John Marshall, planked shad is the preferred dish for the gourmet. But do have your shad boned; it pays in extra eating pleasure. Wash the fish, then dry. Now broil, flesh side up, six minutes, then sprinkle with salt. Place on a pre-heated oiled plank, skin side up, and bake in a hot oven for about ten minutes. Brush the fish with melted butter. It needs nothing else. Lord Bacon was talking about philosophy, not gastronomy, when he pleaded in Latin that we should “get to know things in themselves.” But that advice might equally well be applied to the shad. There is no better fish to enjoy “just as it is,” quite unadorned by fancy sauces, for a shad carries in its juices the vigorous essence of spring.

Go to Sutton Nut Shop, 159 East 57th Street, if you want a crisp crunch of nuts now on the scarce side. There you find trays of freshly salted almonds, Brazils, cashews, filberts, too, but not salted, pistachios of Syria, pine nuts beloved by the Navajo Indians, pecans in plenty, walnuts dear to Port lovers, and plebian peanuts no end. The nut roasting is done daily in the kitchen back shop. A few moments in hot oil, a good sprinkling of salt, careful draining and drying make a nut almost greaseless. Long keepers are these nut meats; after two months they still hold their fresh-roasted flavor.

Gift packing for the armed forces in camps around the states is a feature of this nut knack counter. Tin boxes are used, these in three sizes. The biggest box carries 2¼ pounds, has seven compartments. Little box is for the 1-pound assortment.

Dried apricots are selling at B. Altman's, Fifth Avenue and 34th, but they're the old-fashioned kind, sun dried, unsulphured, packed by those few orchardists who have in the past processed their wares exclusively for the health food shops. Now these are the only apricots not reserved by the government.

Sulphured fruit is generally preferred, for numerous reasons. Sulphur prevents decay, it preserves the natural color, it discourages depredations from insects, it hastens drying, thus lessening the loss of that highly unstable vitamin C. About 85 percent of the crop is sulphur treated, the remainder packed for the food faddists who believe the sulphur treatment detrimental to health. As far as records show, there is no scientific fact sponsoring this theory. But now with dried apricots a war casualty, we all are eager to nibble of the unsulphured fruit.

These are apricots dried in the old-time manner, dried in the sun, dried until shrunken, only a hint of their original gold showing at the seed pit. But they stew up into a rich apricot flavor, and your palate approves. Wash the fruit well, soak for two hours, or until they're nicely plumped, then cook for fifteen to twenty minutes, until just tender. Almost no sugar is needed, for the fruit has a natural sweetness. The price is 84 cents a pound—quick, a price ceiling!

Don't forget the fripperies, the buckle on the shoe, the initial on the napkin. Food needs fripperies too, a truffle now and then. For truffles in 4. and 8.ounce tins go to Dussourd & Filser, 960 Madison Avenue. Prices change from week to week, moving always skyward. Here's how they stand for the present: 4 ounces brushed truffles, $3.25; 8 ounces, $5.95.

For fish aristocrats of ocean, lake, and river, go to Wynne and Treanor, 712 Madison Avenue, Jewelled beauties cased under glass sparkle against a background of ice. Spattered with jewel dust is the speckled trout—silver grey, dotted in brown, spotted with rose. Not a trout there weighs more than half a pound, one trout to a serving, sold boned and stuffed with what you please. But to everyone's pleasure is a stuffing of green shrimp. Sauté the trout as usual, and serve with shrimp sauce. Stuffed or unstuffed, rainbows of the brook sell at 75 cents apiece.

Those deviled crabs in the case are made in the orthodox manner by young Ellen Grey, 800 Madison Avenue, made with eggs, butter, cream, and Sherry in their get-together. And orthodox, regarding butter, means one pound to thirty crabs. The meat is the big, sweet, lump kind packed in Crisfield, Md., and also in Hampton, Va.

The Nova Scotia salmon is smoked for the store by a Russian who had a million-dollar smoking business in Paris before Hitler took over. It's a light smoking for salmon, to give a delicate wood-fire flavor, but not to muffle the salmon's sweetness. This sells at $2.50 a pound, sliced leaf thin, selling now to use with fresh asparagus as an entrée. Asparagus spikes are steamed as usual, dipped in melted butter, the tender tip end rolled in a thin salmon slice. Yes, exactly as Virginia ham was used in the pre-ration days. Hot Hollandaise adds a final blanket of warmth.

Buckwheat cakes spread with buckwheat honey—that's the next thing to going straight to heaven. Buckwheat's frail, orchid-like flowers of the beesweet odor provide a honey, Parnassan. We like the idea that the self-same blossom giving the honey, dark as rubbed walnut, can beget the dark grain blessed with the delectable flavor that comes to greatest power baked into a pancake. A buckwheat honey spread is around in the stores. R. H. Macy, Broadway and Thirty-fourth Street, has the 16-ounce carton for 29 cents.

Glazed nuts of a superior quality are Joffe's of Brooklyn, selling in numerous stores, the 11-ounce jar, about 50 candied pieces, $1.35. The nuts, once you get through the crystal-clear candy to the heart of the matter, are crisp and fresh tasting. An unusual assortment it is: almonds, cashews, English walnuts, pecans, and hazel nuts, with almonds in the majority and the best eating. A jacket of sweet glaze around a toasted almond is a blessing on the tongue. Ask for these at Maison Glass, 15 East 47th Street.

Look into the pastry case of Old Denmark, Inc. located at 135 East 57th Street, and let memory conjure up visions of the mouth-watering good things of Danish fairy tales—“sugar hearts,” “cakes bursting with raisins,” “flowers tasting sweeter than jam.” There, among the paper-thin ginger wafers, the honey sweets, the shortbreads, is a new collection of little cakes, the “Petits Danois,” packed 28 pieces in a transparent box, ¾ pound, price $1.90. The cakes are of rich shortbread dough cut into rings and sandwiched together with a variety of fillings. Some have orange cream, some have raspberry, still others are filled with a blackberry cream, some with nougat. The frostings are of five different kinds, but chocolate is best.

For a pleasing taste pucker to accompany stew everlasting, help yourself to a fresh, pickled green tomato. These come about one dozen to a quart jar, packed in herb-scented vinegar. Garlic is there, but not too much to override the fine flavor of dill. The tomatoes are meaty and firm, about golf ball size. Add one tomato, chopped, to the cabbage salad. Save the vinegar for a French dressing. The Dover Delicatessen, 683 Lexington Avenue, has the quart jar for 39 cents.

Maple's nectar runs again, bright, clear, fragrant. Sap trickles from the maples in the great orchards of Vermont, Ohio, and New York, and in the lesser orchards of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts, and Maryland. “Drip, drip, drip,” says the sap to the bucket. It's the “spring of the spring,” says the wind to the tree. In the sugar bushlands there is a wisp of smoke here, a cloud of steam there rising from the sweet liquid boiling into syrup. Enough syrup is coming to drown a billion pancakes. Again to the stores come the spring-fresh maple sugar patties, grainy and light. Spread a waffle with the paddled maple cream, and all is yours—and without benefit of ration stamps. America House, 485 Madison Avenue, has its usual fine selection of these maple sweet delicacies.

Surprise your friends with new foods and prove yourself a woman of untrammeled ideas. Pass salted oyster nuts from British East Africa, the strangest edible yet. A nut flat as a pancake, selling at the Vendôme Table Delicacies, 415 Madison Avenue, shelled and salted, $2.50 a pound, or $1.50 for those in shell. Some like the nut as an accompaniment with wine, as the green almond is used. But we like it toasted and lightly salted to serve as a tea-table treat or to pass with cocktails.