Archive for September, 2018

Looking back at America’s oyster craze

September 16th, 2018

oysters 1800s craze

By Joseph Temple

Today, with oyster consumption at an all-time low across the United States, it may seem surreal to think that oysters, described by James Beard as “one of the supreme delights that nature has bestowed on man” were at one time considered quintessential American fare. That’s right—back in the late 1800s, the average person from Maine to California ate a whopping 660 oysters per year—a figure that was triple the amount of what was being consumed in the United Kingdom!

So why is it that you rarely see anyone eating this seafood outside of Boston’s Union Oyster House or New York City’s Grand Central Oyster Bar?  And how did oysters get to be so popular in the first place?

To answer the latter, you need to go back to early nineteenth century when oysters were strictly a local affair. Harvested in places like the Chesapeake Bay, the shelf life of an oyster was short, making it extremely difficult to ship this delicacy to the American interior without spoiling. But with arrival of refrigeration in the 1830s, improved railroad lines, and the canning industry, what was once only available on the coasts could now be enjoyed all over the Midwest too.

Having these technological advances, the supply of oysters skyrocketed in the two decades after the American Civil War. While harvested in numerous spots, the mecca for oyster beds was New York City, specifically the bays of New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. From 1880-1920, as the city’s population exceeded over a million people, New York alone produced approximately 700 million oysters per year. Using techniques that would make modern day ecologists cringe, this rapid depletion led to oysters representing nearly a third of the total value of all U.S. fisheries during this time.

Helping to fuel this full-blown craze by the 1870s was the oyster bar—an American institution that should be studied by every culinary student. With an abundant supply being transported around the country, the cost of oysters was only half the cost of beef per pound, making it the perfect seafood to compliment one’s beer or whiskey. By the 1880s, nearly every city and town had either an oyster bar, an oyster lunchroom, or an oyster cellar, where they were offered to a thirsty clientele the same way pretzels are today. Appealing to both rich and poor, oyster houses could serve them many ways, from broiled and roasted to pickled and scalloped. “Oysters are not only a delicious luxury for the wealthy epicure, but are an economical and wholesome food for those of limited means,” according to one industry-sponsored pamphlet. “They should not be regarded as a rare treat, but as a frequent and appetizing item of regular food supply.”

But how did all this come crashing down? Well, by the twentieth century, oysters received a wave of bad publicity, being blamed for several breakouts of cholera and typhoid, causing demand to plummet. Also, with the enactment of the Volstead Act in 1919, Prohibition had pretty much wiped out the [oyster] bar, a venue where most Americans were getting their supply. Sadly, since this time, very few have survived.

Arguably the most popular food of the 1800s, the oyster, given its rich history really is as American as apple pie. So the next time you want to honor your nation’s culinary past, why don’t you try serving this wonderful seafood. Whether it’s Oyster Soup, Oysters on Toast, or Philadelphia Fry, you’ll take great pleasure in rediscovering a classic dish!


Flood, Charles. Lost Restaurants of Seattle. Charleston: The History Press Inc., 2017.
Greenburg, Paul. American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood. New York: Penguin, 2014.
Isa, Mari. (2017, February 23). The Great Oyster Craze: Why 19th Century Americans Loved Oysters. Michigan State University. Retrieved from
Maruzzi, Peter. Classic Dining: Discovering Americas’ Finest Mid-Century Restaurants. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 2012.
Smith, Andrew F. Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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Ask Sid: Frozen Yogurt?

September 12th, 2018
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frozen yogurt probiotic ice cream

Question: Liked your informative post on probiotics in yogurt with new trends Sid but what about using frozen yogurt instead?

Answer: Yes frozen yogurt is very popular and usually is a healthier choice than ice cream. However please keep in mind that that the heating or freezing of it does adversely affect those valuable probiotics found in regular yogurt. Check out the process used. Really are entirely different products but enjoy them both in moderation.

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Yogurt 2.0: Beneficial Probiotics But Sugars Not so Much!

September 10th, 2018

Still like me a daily consumer of yogurt? Posted a blog here on it back on January 20, 2014. Focused last time mainly on fat levels and additives including artificial sweeteners. The buzz for health benefits of probiotics (live micro-organisms) has been well documented including help for your large intestine, cholesterol levels, blood sugars, plus flu & colds. The yogurt industry has been on the move recently with many success stories such as Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya starting his Chobani (“shepherd”) brand in 2007 reaching now over $1 billion in annual sales for his Greek yogurt. Most consumers are not aware that yogurt has sugar in confusing amounts and sometimes quite high levels. My usual 3 go to 0% fat yogurts are the lowest priced Astro Balkan Plain (5 grams sugar/125 grams), local Olympic Natural Plain (7 grams/175 grams) and my fav Liberte Greek Plain (6 grams/175). The newest product is Liberte Skyr Icelandic style advertising less sugar and no sugar added. Oikos has Triple Zero (Artificial Sweeteners, Preservatives, and Fat) as well as Organic. Non-Dairy yogurt are expanding too using almond, coconut, and soy for lactose intolerant, vegan, dairy allergic and all of us. There does seem to be a trend to a more natural product with less sugar which is good news. Still it is somewhat of a nightmare shopping for yogurt with so many choices but some much better than others. What is your preferred yogurt?


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The key to a fortune!

September 9th, 2018

beaulieu vineyard history sacramental wine

By Joseph Temple

In last week’s blog entry, we traveled back in time to the era of Prohibition, looking at the rise of Alicante Bouschet, a grape that experienced a tremendous boom due to a clause in the Volstead Act. Allowing citizens to make “non-intoxicating” fruit juice and ciders for “home use,” this legal loophole led to an explosion in amateur winemaking, causing consumption to go from 60 million gallons annually in 1919 to 150 million gallons. But just as important was another loophole that kept a few lucky wineries alive during the “noble experiment” – a loophole that allowed wine to produced and sold for sacramental purposes.

And taking immediate advantage of this clause was Georges de Latour, owner of Beaulieu Vineyard in the Napa Valley who moved quickly to acquire a license to produce sacramental wine. So during this thirteen-year period which saw the number of wineries nosedive from around 700 in 1919 to just 130 before repeal in 1933, Beaulieu Vineyard actually thrived by cornering the market on sacramental wine.

Arriving in the United States in 1883, de Latour, a wealthy French chemist who made his fortune by developing tartaric acid would buy four acres of land in Napa—land that consisted of wheat fields and orchards until his arrival.  Incorporating it into Beaulieu Vineyard in 1904, the land became known for its Cabernet Sauvignon as one of Napa’s 120 wineries. However, unlike most of his competition, de Latour adapted to the new reality as National Prohibition took effect on January 16, 1920.

Described as “one of the best known families in San Francisco” by one newspaper, the de Latour’s used their connections in the Catholic community to become “The House of Altar Wine.”  After receiving his license to make sacramental wine in March of 1920, de Latour received what historian Daniel Okrent described as “the key to a fortune” by winning approval of the Archbishop of San Francisco to supply altar wines. Of course, having two Catholic priests on the first board of directors for Beaulieu Vineyard played a huge role in getting this business—especially since one had a direct connection to the archbishop.

Soon thereafter, de Latour piled up endorsements from other religious figures across the country as the go-to source for sacramental wine. With an office in New York City, Beaulieu Vineyard had key distributors in seven eastern and Midwestern cities by 1922, resulting in the construction of a brand new facility four years later to produce a vintage in the neighborhood of 600,000 gallons. As Okrent explains, schmoozing the clergy played an important role in building his business: “de Latour’s most brilliant marketing gesture was the construction of a guest cottage for visiting clerics and a standing invitation to any who wished to visit Beaulieu and the test the wines on the spot.”

Producing sacramental wine until 1978, this market allowed Beaulieu Vineyard to survive Prohibition as hundreds of vineyards fell by the wayside. “The House of Altar Wine” as Beaulieu was described had survived in tact, earning dividends that today would be worth more than a million dollars!


Clarke, Oz. The History of Wine in 100 Bottles: From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond. London: Pavilion Books, 2015.
Okrent, Daniel. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Scribner, 2011.
Taber, George. Judgement of Paris: California vs. France and the historic 1976 Paris tasting that revolutionized wine. New York: Scribner, 2005.
Weber, Lin. Prohibition in the Napa Valley: Castles Under Siege. Mount Pleasant: Arcadia Publishing, 2013.

California Digital Newspaper Collection

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Ask Sid: What is Torrontés?

September 5th, 2018
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Torrontés torrontes wine grape argentina

Question: What is Torrontés?

Answer: Unique white wine from Argentina. I like the definition by @LauraCatena (managing director of Bodegas Catena Zapata & Luca Winery) in her fun book Vino Argentino by Chronicle Books:

“A white grape varietal and the only truly native Argentine varietal. Torrontés smells like an ultra-ripe Riesling and tastes like a slightly sweeter version of Pinot Grigio. The best Torrontés comes from Salta, a province in the northernmost part of Argentina.” Laura also includes a recipe for Helado de Torrontés that has “the flowery perfume of Torrontés wine, and the creaminess and grainy texture of home-made ice cream.”

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