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Thread: To Play With Food

  1. #1
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    Default To Play With Food

    I learned to drop names from a name-dropper extraordiare: Joan Baez. These are some of the names I will be going to drop:


    James Frazier Reed
    (14 November, 1800 – 24 July, 1874)


    Martha Jane “Patty” Reed Lewis
    (26 February, 1838 – 4 July 1923)


    James Frazier Lewis
    (c 1866 – c 1943)


    Ethel Merril Bishop
    (c 1889 – c 1963)


    Eliza Susan Pitts
    (3 January, 1894 – 7 June, 1963)




    I came to play with food as a result of George Donner and James Frazier Reed’s decision to lead a small party of pilgrims to California. I say pilgrims, because (citing Wikipedia) “Although they are called pioneers, all but a few lacked specific skills and experience for traveling through mountains and arid land, and had little knowledge about how to interact with Native Americans." At the Little Sandy River in Wyoming they chose to deviate from the Oregon Trail, taking instead the Hastings Cutoff. Before reaching California, this decision would lead their party of fellow travelers to starvation, death and cannibalism. Of the 87 original members of the party, 47 survived to reach California, many having resorted to cannibalism to survive. The Donner Party will forever be engraved in the history of California. James Frazier Reed and his daughter Martha Jane – who every one called Patty – were among the survivors. (This is the Patty of Patty Reed’s Doll, by Rachel K. Laurgaard.)


    Patty Reed grew up to marry Frank Lewis, living in Capitola with their son, James Frazier Lewis and two daughters. While living in Capitola, Frazier Lewis had a candy store on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. While working in his store, as legend has it, Frazier – he had dropped the James – developed a new candy recipe by accident. This was his Frazier Lewis’ Victoria Cream, “the world’s first nickel candy bar.” (http://www.metroactive.com/papers/cr...lee1-0250.html)


    “Even as pounds of the wonderful stuff were shipped all over the country, James guarded the recipe. Legend has it that he personally mixed his confidential concoction with two garden spades before letting his employees shape it into candy bars. I imagine no one got to lick the shovels.


    The Victoria Cream candy bar was produced at the Frazier Lewis factory on East Cliff Drive until 1941. James Frazier Lewis died in 1943, and some say the candy recipe was lost forever.”
    (https://santacruzmah.org/2012/artifa...wis-candy-box/)


    What legend does not record, however, was that a young woman named Ethel Merril was hired by Frazier Lewis to work in his candy factory. Ethel was born in Capitola in 1889. In 1903, the Pitts family moved to Santa Cruz with their daughter Eliza. Ethel and Eliza soon became fast friends growing up in Santa Cruz. A few years later, Ethel went to work for Frazier Lewis, while Eliza, nee Eliza Susan Pitts, changed her name to Zasu and engaged in theatricals at Santa Cruz High School. After graduating from High School, Zasu went on to Hollywood to continue her career. In an October 1, 1997 story in the L.A. Times, much later in her career Zasu purchased the recipe from Frazier Lewis. In the Santa Cruz Sentinel on April 1, 2001 another story tells of the original creation of the recipe, concluding with the note that Zasu did not produce any Victorias, and the recipe “died with her in 1963.”


    In time, Ethel Merril met and married a dairy farmer named Leslie Bishop, from Fort Bragg, CA. Much of their history is lost to me, but I caught up with them when they were living on a dairy farm in Fernbridge, CA. When I was 8, my sisters and I spent two weeks staying with them while my parents went on vacation – my father was Leslie’s youngest brother. My sharpest memory of that time was that of being hosed off by Auntie Ethel in their front yard. I had been playing in the barn, and had lost track of time. I was playing in the milking gallery when suddenly the door at the far end of the gallery rumbled open on its track, and the cows began filing into the gallery. At 8 years of age, these beasts were much larger than I was – and I was quite fearful of these animals. As it happened, the only gate out of the gallery was at the same end of the barn that was now open to let the cows in, and I was at the other end. In a panic, I made a dash for the gate. I do remember sliding about ten feet in cow dung…. The next thing I remember now is being hosed off. Much to the amusement of my Aunt and Uncle. I’m sure.


    Continued in next post….
    "The future is already here it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson

  2. #2
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    In December of 1955, my father borrowed a row boat from a friend so he could row out to rescue his brother and sister-in-law from their house which would, in a few more days, be washed down stream in one of the Eel River’s greater floods. We were living in what had been an old Victorian home that had been stuccoed over. The house in Eureka is a great barn of a house, which had at that time two staircases and 6 bedrooms. So yes, of course my Aunt and Uncle came to live with us. This was how a new ritual was introduced into our family: in November and December, when the day dawned bright and clear with linoleum so cold we wouldn’t get out of bed until threatened, my Aunt and Mother would be in the kitchen making Vics. The lost recipe of legend.


    In 1958, Auntie Ethel announced that her friend Zasu – she would reminisce about her friend from time to time – was coming to Eureka to visit. At that time, I only knew some woman named Zasu who lived down South was a friend of my Aunt. You know how old ladies have really odd names. A month went by, and then the day came when Zasu Pitts arrived on our doorstep, accompanied by her good friend Mary Laurel (Stan Laurel’s wife). Apparently, Zasu wanted to persuade my Aunt to come to Los Angeles to help them make candy bars. By that time, however, my Aunt had gotten on in years and had to decline the invitation.

    My mother taught me the recipe 45 years ago, but it wasn’t until about 30 years ago that I began making Vics seriously. I made the candies regularly for about 10 years before it occurred to me that there were more candies in the world than just Vics. So I taught myself how to make truffles. Chocolate truffles first. The easiest. Then I started thinking about making raspberry truffles. Raspberry. That’s a wonderful flavor to blend with chocolate. That was when I bought a dehydrator. Began dehydrating raspberries. Started making some dynamite raspberry truffles.


    One day I ran across an article in Sunset Magazine about a confectioner in Santa Cruz who offered classes in working chocolate. I thought maybe I should take his class, to see how the professionals do it. This proved to be an excellent learning experience. During the time I was there, we talked about Frazier Lewis – I learned that Santa Cruz had only just recently converted an alley downtown into a walking lane, naming it Frazier Lewis Alley. While there, I happened to mention that I was still making the Victoria Creams. One day, a few months later, I got a phone call from Lois Laurel, asking me for some Victorias: she remembered the time her mother and Zasu had driven up to Eureka to visit my aunt.


    After a while making raspberry truffles, I started wondering if I might somehow find a way to make orange truffles. Orange and chocolate is even a finer combination than raspberry and chocolate. Orange is the finest. I spent about 3 months trying to wrap my head around how to add orange juice to chocolate. Couldn’t come up with a way to make it work. Then I started thinking of candied orange peel. Maybe I could add that to the cream…. That was about the time I ran across an old cook book of recipes local to the West Coast of Florida. In it, I found a recipe for Orange Cream, which was exactly a blending of candied oranges and cream. That did it for me – the next day our refrigerator boasted two gallon-sized zip-lock bags of naked oranges from our tree. The peels I had candied and set up in the dehydrator. My orange truffles are dynamite – my own opinion, of course.


    So then I began to experiment with apricots, blueberries and sour cherries. None of these proved to be satisfactory: the flavors were wonderful, but fleeting. I never was able to get the sour cherry flavoring right. I may still try that – it still strikes me as a possible blending. So I continued producing my truffles and Vics. About 3 years ago I tried making raspberry cream candies. Didn’t think it through too well. Tossed a pint of raspberries into the candy pot as it was cooking up to soft-ball stage. Poured the candy out onto the marble to cool, and cool it did. I almost had to take a chisel to get the candy off the slab. One of my more spectacular failures. So the idea of raspberry creams went back onto the back burner.

    Continued in next post....
    "The future is already here it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson

  3. #3
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    Then last Winter a friend asked me if I might consider making a blackberry cream candy for her. Later in the Spring when blackberries became available in the stores I decided to try another tack. I juiced a pint of berries and cooked it down to about half its volume. Made a batch of Vics as usual, but as I was working the candy and adding the nuts, I added a couple of tablespoons full of the blackberry juice. This addition made the candy get immediately VERY loose. I had serious concerns that I might not be able to save it. But I continued working the candy, and in time it cohered sufficiently that I was able to form it into the dipping pellets. The end product became my first Blackberry Cream candy. This had a very nice flavor. Then last month I ran a pint of raspberries through my Chinois and cooked the juice down to about 1/3 of its volume. Again, the juice loosened the candy perilously, but, again, working it on the marble brought it back to the consistency needed for shaping the centers. The resultant Hand Dipped Raspberry Creams were DYNAMIIIIIIITE! My Quality Assurance Officer, SWMBO, assures me that this recipe is the finest I have ever come up with. The flavor is wonderful, and the candy centers went totally creamy soft.


    Now I have invested in a serious chocolate melting machine, so I don’t have to waste so much time tempering the chocolate. My next task is to standardize the size of the candies. In the past, my QA officer has faulted me on the variance in the size of my candies. I think I have come up with a forming protocol that will produce the desired uniformity of size. I’ll have to try it in my next batch. Next up: my Christmas candies. I shatter a fist full of peppermint candy canes, and add the shards to my standard Vics and chocolate truffles. This will be an excellent opportunity to try out the melting machine. My very own bain-marie.


    From time to time I have (foolishly, I know) toyed with the idea of opening my own candy store. Amish Rob tells me I really need to bring my Raspberry Creams to market. Because of the success this recipe has had, I have been penciling out a possible path to market. Part of this work included doing some more research: rereading the Wikipedia article on Zasu Pitts, I remembered that she had written a book on candy making. A quick visit to Amazon brought me to a seller who had one copy (slightly stained) of her book. Her book includes a recipe for “Basic Fondant.” Comparing her recipe with my Aunt’s recipe for the creams, I was able to understand how Frazier Lewis came to develop his recipe – I know what his “mistake” was. A few years ago my wife did some Googling and found what Lewis’ ‘secret ingredient’ was – something Lewis himself didn’t understand. A free-floating variety of yeast, when introduced into the candy center during the working of it will cause the candy to become very soft and creamy after it has set for a day or two.


    Zasu Pitt’s book has also shown me how to bring some candy to market. Always before, when toying with going commercial, I repeatedly ran into the same road block. Yes, I could make a candy store succeed. Just not here in Modesto. The good folks of my community know quality when they see it. They insist on quality whenever they can. Their only problem is they also insist on paying Walmart prices for it. The tile-setter who redid our house told us of a woman who asked him to bid on a tile job. The man is an artist, besides being a master craftsman. So Paul quoted her his price, to which she replied that she could get the work done much cheaper than that. Some time later the woman called Paul to ask if he could fix the lousy tile job that some other guy had done. This is Modesto. Whenever we need an item of quality, we have to special order it: the stores here only stock factory seconds.


    A few years ago California passed a ‘Cottage Food’ law. This law would enable me to produce candy for sale in my home kitchen. This would be an ideal solution – I can make a couple batches of candy each week for sale. The only catch is the law stipulates “non-perishable” goods. My creams quality as perishable. At the moment, it would appear that Zasu’s Basic Fondant might qualify as non-perishable. More research is required.


    So these are the people and the how it is that I came to play with food. When I’m not working on the boat, that is. Merry Christmas everyone!
    "The future is already here it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson

  4. #4
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    So... webishop 14 is The Candyman. Ya gets all kinds here in The Bilge, eh?

    Merry Christmas, Candyman; I wish we were closer 'cause I sure would like to try one o' them blackberry creams.
    Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    Thank you for that...

    Just curious... Richard Donnelly?

  6. #6
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    Thank you for a delightful story.

    I remember growing up in Modesto, and partaking of (I think it was) Nick's Mayflower Candies. My Cub Scout troop visited to see him make candy. I remember my grandparents bringing a box of Mayflower candy over to my home on special occasions. So, I suppose part of Modesto for me is fine candy.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    With no exaggeration, the candies Bill gave us to taste were the best cream candies I’ve ever eaten. I’d gladly fork over fistfuls of dollars for more, and I’m cheap.
    Some of the best candies I’ve had, period.

    They were just almost too much.

    The candies, by the by, marvelous as they are, are but a pale reflection of the man. Rarely have I met a more kind, friendly, and intelligent person.

    Now, about those lemon creams...

    Peace,
    Number One FanBoy

  8. #8
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    Quote Originally Posted by Canoeyawl View Post
    Thank you for that...

    Just curious... Richard Donnelly?
    Is he on Mission Street? (I seem to remember the street name -- maybe.)
    "The future is already here it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson

  9. #9
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    Joan Baez? The one who sang "like my father before me, I'm a working man"?

  10. #10
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    You should hear her in a live concert recording.
    "The future is already here it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson

  11. #11
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    What a great story - thanks for that!
    If I use the word "God," I sure don't mean an old man in the sky who just loves the occasional goat sacrifice. - Anne Lamott

  12. #12
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    Quote Originally Posted by webishop14 View Post
    Is he on Mission Street? (I seem to remember the street name -- maybe.)
    Just next to the Guitar store...

  13. #13
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    Quote Originally Posted by Canoeyawl View Post
    Just next to the Guitar store...
    Richard Donnelly.... Yes, that was he. It's been a few years. Is he a friend? Still in business?
    "The future is already here it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson

  14. #14
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    Still in business.

    It is difficult to pass by his store without stopping in.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    Next time you see him, tell him I said "Raspberry Creams, in Dark Chocolate."
    "The future is already here it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson

  16. #16
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    Default Re: To Play With Food

    damn me, web bishop
    i sit here in hell craving an orange cream to go with my waking coffee
    excellent story
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

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