The Successes and Failures of a Culinary Detective

There is something alluring about being a detective; to be someone who uncovers lost secrets and forgotten mysteries. People who cook from historical recipes are often culinary detectives as they search for ingredients and techniques from long ago.

The recipe for the History Detective challenge came from the Gilboa Monitor, a weekly paper that ran from 1878 – 1918. Gilboa New York is a small town in the northern Catskills. This once vibrant town was dramatically changed in about 1918 when the New York City Water Board began construction of a dam along the Schoharie River to provide drinking water for New York City. The residents of the original town center were relocated when the dam was flooded.

The front page of the Jan 28, 1915 Gilboa Monitor featured local and county news, including a story on the dam project and some news about the Great War. Advice for housewives and recipes were scattered on pages 2 and 3. One of those recipes was for Steamed Beef.

It sounded simple, just steam some dried beef in spiced vinegar for fruit pickles. But what is spiced vinegar for fruit pickles? And where does one find dried beef? After much searching, detecting, for spiced vinegar for fruit pickles in the New York Newspaper Project we found reference to the Cornell Bulletin for Home Makers No. 294 Cornell Pickles and Relishes, 1934. This little gem has lots of interesting pickle recipes, including many recipes of fruit pickles. We used the Pickled Pear II recipe on page 29 for the spiced vinegar.

Finding the dried beef was much harder. We were not confident in the dried beef we could find in our local grocery store so we made our own from part of a bottom round roast, drying the beef in our food dehydrator. We just sliced the beef thin and dried it for 5 hours in the dehydrator.

We cut up the dried beef smaller that the recipe called for because we were concerned that the meat would be tough, it was not.

We steamed the meat as we would steam vegetables but we believe this was a mistake as the meat came out very dry and tasteless. We think we should have simmered the meat in the spiced vinegar for an hour which would have really rehydrated the meat and given it some flavor. Worcestershire Sauce and Ruby Relish (an apple/beet relish) improved the flavor of our meat tremendously.

While we are disappointed with our results of this recipe, we were really happy to find the Cornell Bulletin on Pickles and Relishes.

Time: about 7 hours, over two days

Cost: about $13 (used local, grass fed beef)

Successful: No

Accurate: Probably not since we did not use dried beef that was available 100 years ago and we steamed the meat wrong. And we served the meat over potatoes, not toast.