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Historical Brownies

IMG_8822Fannie Farmer’s brownies

I always read with interest and great enjoyment the posts of My Revolutionary Pie a fascinating look at American culinary history. I was particularly taken with a “Brownies” post, which detailed the origins and evolution of this now ubiquitous sweet treat.

Below are My Revolutionary Pie’s adaptations of one of the first brownie recipes from 1906 created by Fannie Farmer, in The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, and a recipe of a former student of Farmer, Maria Willett Howard, published in 1907 in Lowney’s Cook Book.

Both brownies are different from the dense, heavy versions of today. They both contain quite a small amount of chocolate – 2 ounces (about 57 grams). They are sweeter and less chocolatey. I liked the Lowney’s Cook Book version better  – it has more butter and produced a less crunchy texture. The walnuts really stand out in both versions.

However, the photos look very similar – I can really only tell the difference because I photographed them on different plates!

For the full and fascinating early history of the brownie, see the post:

Fannie Farmer’s Brownies
Adapted from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1906 edition)

¼ cup butter, melted, plus butter for greasing pan
1 cup sugar
1 egg, unbeaten
2 ounces (2 squares) (57g) unsweetened chocolate, melted
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325°F (163 degrees C) Butter an eight-inch (20cm) square baking pan, then cut out an eight-inch (20cm) square of parchment paper, place it in the bottom of the pan, and butter the parchment.

2. Blend melted butter with sugar. Add the egg and beat well. Mix in slightly cooled chocolate and vanilla extract and stir well. Blend in flour, followed by walnuts.

3. Spread mixture evenly in baking pan, using an offset spatula if possible.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until firm. Let rest a few minutes, then invert brownies from pan onto cutting board, peel off parchment, and slice into squares.IMG_8834

Lowney’s Brownies
Adapted from Lowney’s Cook Book by Maria Willett Howard (1912 edition)

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus butter for greasing pan
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 ounces (2 squares) (57g) unsweetened chocolate, melted
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325°F (163 degrees C). Butter an eight-inch (20cm) square baking pan, then cut out an eight-inch (20cm) square of parchment paper, place it in the bottom of the pan, and butter the parchment.

2. Cream the butter briefly, then gradually add the sugar, and cream well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the slightly cooled chocolate.

3. Whisk together the flour and salt, then add to the batter and mix well. Stir in the nuts.

4. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until slightly firm on top. Cut into squares in pan, then let cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan.IMG_7251


Butterscotch White Chocolate Brownies


8DFD5202-E170-4C55-AAA6-7F0D9467AA263EA60341-3CA7-4246-8481-20B26F7A6FB2These brownies are based on a recipe from a new favourite of mine, “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook”, the  classic American cookbook updated by Marion Cunningham. The link to buying the book is here.

I was introduced to the rich history of American cooking through a fellow blogger Revolutionary Pie. One of her posts on brownies introduced me to the legendary Fannie Farmer, and inspired me to bake some “historical” brownies, see my post here.

So when I found the book online I instantly bought it and have been dipping in and out of this 1,230 page tome ever since!

Here is an ultra easy recipe for Butterscotch Brownies from the book. Because the recipe was so simple I decided to pimp it up with some white chocolate chunks! With or without, the butterscotch/ caramel flavour is delicious and the brownies are a nice change from the traditional chocolate.


1/2 cup melted butter

2 cups dark brown sugar

2 free-range eggs

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups plain flour

2 tsps baking powder 

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup chopped macadamias (or walnuts or pecans)

3/4 cup chopped white chocolate chunks


Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Line a 9×13 inch baking tray with baking paper.

Mix all the ingredients together, combining them well. Spread evenly in the tray and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until dry on top and almost firm to the touch. Cool in the tray, then cut into squares or fingers.



Glen Davis, Capertee Valley: Mine Abandon


Between towering sandstone escarpments in the Capertee Valley, lies a curious ruin.

A shale oil mine, first founded in 1891as the MP1 Mining Development, was later revived as National Oil Proprietary Limited, from 1940 to 1952. What remains is a series of ruins, a testament to a failed vision and also to the endurance of those who persevered with the troubled conditions, logistical, financial and political.

I toured the mine ruin on a visit to the Capertee Valley, west of the Blue Mountains. It was a beautiful, crisp winter day. The light was intense, emphasizing the sheer craggy walls of the escarpment, which enclosed the mine ruins with almost a sense of claustrophobia.

Our guide was affable, loquacious and informed. A storyteller, he regaled us with curious stories of these curious ruins; shocking workplace accidents, awful living and working conditions and a spectral figure caught on film.

My companions described the landscape as post apocalyptic, Planet of the Apes, a moonscape –  some apt descriptions.

However I can’t quite put my finger on the atmosphere. There was no doubt that the pristine day only served to accentuate the foreboding of the valley: there was indeed an other world sense, shadows and intuitions of past difficulty and trouble, hard times and futility.

What was evident was the encroach of nature, the land reclaiming its own. Entropy had set in.

A fascinating and startling landscape to visit.

There is plenty of material to read on the internet. Some interesting photos, some historical, can be found at:

Below are some photos. I have not tried to order or to name, but rather to give the “feel” of the place. The above website is helpful in identifying some of the ruins.


Versatile Blogger Award


Revolutionary Pie has kindly nominated my blog for this award.

I am a big fan of this blog (subtitled Colonial Cooking in a 21st-century kitchen) as I am interested in the history of cooking both from the insights food gives us to the past and as a social commentary on family and tradition.

Revolutionary Pie has shown me that there are some fascinating parallels between the colonial cooking experience of America which the blog details and that of Australia’s colonial history.

My nominator tells me that I need to list 7 random facts about myself!

1. The documenting of the process of cooking is as rewarding as the process itself.

2. Beauty – or taste – is in the eye of the beholder – food photography creates a context for food.

3. I have been cooking for as long as I can remember – it’s the most satisfying and creative of domestic endeavours.

4. I am researching family cookery books. Handwritten books from my mother and grandmother are of equal interest as historical documents as much as for forgotten recipes.

5. I am fascinated by decay and entropy in natural and man-made environments.

6. Music: “Beyond ‘ambient’, the music of the Quiet Space incorporates 20th century composition, blissful pop and ethereal drones. It is music to reflect and relax to – a soundscape in which to lose yourself.”

7. Insomnia gives me so much more time to reflect…


My nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award are:

Ron Scubadiver’s Wildlife

Indigenous Histories

Dining on the Bund in Shanghai


I have recently returned from a trip to Shanghai which is to me, a culinary mecca. In previous visits I have dined at some outstanding restaurants which exemplify the best in Shanghainese  cuisine.

The purpose of this visit was to sample some of the best of the historical tradition of sophisticated European dining, part of Shanghai’s fascinating heritage from the economic dominance of European commerce in the early 20th century.

The Bund is one of the most well known sights in central Shanghai, an embankment where the modern financial district of Pudong faces the grandeur of art deco buildings across the Huangpu River. These buildings once housed numerous banks and trading houses from western countries.


Today many of these buildings have been transformed into high end dining venues, which showcase some of the best European food in the world.

I was fascinated, visiting these restaurants, by the architectural transformation of large internal commercial spaces into sophisticated industrial chic, designs which reflect the clever and at times transformational food concepts on the menus.

Here is a brief impression of some unique dining experiences on the Bund.

Mr and Mrs Bund

Bund 18, 6/F, 18 Zhongshan
Dong Yi Road, Shanghai 200002
+86 21 6323 9898

A “playful haute French bistro headed by chef Paul Pairet” as described by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants (and ranked Number 43), was my favourite dining experience of this trip. My second visit confirmed my first: innovation meets tradition, sophistication meets funky, culinary artifice meets simplicity of flavours.

The website will give you a much better idea of the food of this establishment than this writer can produce in one short review.

Here is what I ate on Saturday 14 December 2013:

Soft Egg MayoIMG_3287

Salmon Meuniere IMG_3288

Escalivada – charred-grilled eggplant, capsicum, zucchini and tomatoesIMG_3290

Asparagus Essential ParmesanIMG_3292

Orange and Orange Tart – candied whole orange, orange sorbet and curd, vanilla chantilly and crumbsIMG_3308

The theatricks of this dish made it the epitome of the dining experience: a simple whole orange on a plate, which, when cut open, reveals layer upon layer of flavour, colour and texture.

The Westin Bund Centre Shanghai

88 Henan Middle Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China +86 21 6335 1888

The Sunday Veuve Clicquot Brunch at the Westin Hotel is legendary. I experienced this on Sunday 15 December 2013.

Two floors of sumptuous food encompassing all major cuisines. Ice-cream, chocolate and desserts feature strongly, which was very well received by this writer with a sweet tooth!

And of course the free flowing Veuve Clicquot!


M on the Bund

20 Guangdong Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China +86 21 6350 9988


This restaurant has a more intimate feel than other restaurants on the Bund. Its rooftop terrace and low ceilings create a warm and inviting atmosphere. The views from the paned windows and terrace are stunning, day or night.

While I enjoyed the food I found it it a little un-adventurous. Mood won out over food for me.

The highlight of my meal on Monday 16 December 2013 was dessert:

Baked raspberry Bombe Raspberry-icecream, sponge cake and Italian meringue.



6F, Three on the Bund, No. 3
Zhong Shan Dong Yi Road
Shanghai, 200002 China
+ 86 21 6323 3355


This Italian restaurant from three Michelin star Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is situated on the Bund in close proximity to Mr and Mrs Bund and M on the Bund.

I was very impressed with the raw industrial concept of the architectural design. The dining space feels like an abandoned commercial space has been superimposed with the makings of a restaurant.

Huge concrete pillars, rusting steel frames and a rough hewn wooden floor create a perfect backdrop for the no-nonsense rustic Italian food.

You can see from the photos the beautiful art deco windows overlooking the Bund which somehow do not seem at odds with the exposed industrial structures within the restaurant.


On Tuesday 17 December I ate a simple meal of:

Rigatoni and Meatballs, Smoked Chili-Tomato Ragu – House Made PastaIMG_3375

Daily Selection of House-Made Gelati or Sorbetti – chocolate, pistachio and vanilla gelatoIMG_3377

My dining companion ordered a Dark Chocolate Tart with gelato.IMG_3376

This was my last dining experience on this trip, and it was made even more enjoyable as I had broken my ankle the night before, and determined to go to Mercato, I had made it to the restaurant on a cold and rainy night on crutches!


About the Quirk and the Cool

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The Quirk and the Cool is me – Inga Scarlett from Sydney Australia. I’m a cook, who reads about food, talks about food, watches food programs, and I do a lot of cooking and eating as well! I’m fascinated with the art and science of food, and curious about food history and traditions.

Music is another huge passion, and creating theatre events.

I should mention my cooking companion is the Quirky Cat, Possum, so named for her stripey tail. A constant and knowledgeable critic of food, so long as it’s Hills Science Diet…

The Quirk and the Cool is a blog primarily about food: cooking, eating, reading, conversation.  A forum  where I can share dishes, recipes, techniques, trends. It’s also a ragbag of other interests and views, a place to record the eclectic and eccentric, but much more likely the homely and the mundane. This random information is being documented more for the records of this quirky writer, but also for people who have a passion for food, who seek recipes and cooking advice or for those who may have similar pursuits.

The name The Quirk and the Cool references “the quick and the dead” (the Apostles’ Creed) and the “the Quirk and the Dead ” (Overnights ABC local radio). It’s an excellent segment if you’re ever listing to the radio in the wee small hours.

You can read more about my music interests in the Music Page and in Music posts, and more about my approach to food in Food Philosophy.

As I write in Food Philosophy, my favourite chef is Jamie Oliver and he has been a big influence on my cooking since he first started making television shows and writing books.

Rustic, down to earth, Italian influenced, Jamie you’re the man!

Jamie’s food ethics are what I adhere to, as well. Higher welfare, free-range, ethically sourced, sustainable, healthy – Jamie has shown that these goals are actually achievable.

I cook and blog a lot of Jamie’s recipes because they are so achievable and I want people to see how easy it is to cook his food – whether it’s healthy, simple, cost saving, comfort food or just plain delicious.

Family cooking, recipes and traditions handed down from generation to generation are important. I still cook from handwritten cookbooks that were written by my maternal grandmother and my mother and I have recipes handed on by other family members too.

I love eating out – but I want the food to be good! There is so much great food in Sydney, but a lot of pretension out there too. Some of the best food comes from local restaurants and even pubs. One of my favorite places for food, ambiance and quirkiness is Shakey Tables in the Hunter Valley in NSW.

I live in Rozelle, an eclectic suburb in the inner west of Sydney. Ten minutes from the city, Sydney Harbour  at the bottom of my street, it has quaint old sailors’ cottages and commercial premises as well as dazzling new architecture. Historically a working class suburb, you now see a whole range of residents, yuppies, dinks and prammers,  artists, actors and advertising gurus as well as some long established residents who have lived here for yonks.

Rozelle and nearby suburbs Balmain, Balmain East and Birchgrove on the Balmain peninsula are famous for their pubs and the area may well contain the most pubs per capita in Australia –  at one time, the peninsula contained up to eighty pubs! And add to that a cafe or restaurant on every corner and you have a vibrant food and wine scene. And the Orange Grove Markets down Balmain Road are some of the best in Sydney for local farmers’ produce.

The Peninsula, as it’s called, is a lush garden suburb, with gardens flowing over front and back fences, creating a lovely “shared” streetscape. Bougainvillea, jasmine, briar rose and native violets proliferate and overflow from garden to garden and onto the nature strip.

And lastly, I’m a dreamer. An insomniac who spends many nocturnal hours, thinking, dreaming, listening and sometimes the edges get delightfully blurred. Ambient music is the soundtrack of those hours.

Below, the Sydney skyline at dawn, from the bottom of my street, and Possum, the Quirky Cat.



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