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TOPICS: Lap-Souchang vinegar; Cookbooks for the holidays; Tomato use in China; A wine talk; Herbal concerns

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Fall Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(4) page(s): 13 and 14

SMOKY LAP-SOUCHANG CHINESE VINEGAR made by Golden Whisk, a South San Francisco specialty food producer, won this year’s title of: 'Mother of All Vinegars.' Quite a feat, this honor, garnered at the 3rd annual International Vinegar Festival in Roslyn, South Dakota. Mr Diggs, aka The Vinegar Man, runs a vinegar museum there. He ran this fascinating contest that drew contestants from all over the world, some from as far away as South Africa. Judges included a chef, a leader from the Slow Food movement, a grocer, mayor, Benedictine monk, and someone Diggs called a 'Femme Extraordinaire.' For more informatin about the contest and about any vinegar queries, contact Diggs at (877) 486-0075.

Golden Whisk products are not new to winning awards, they have won other top honors. Elinor Hill-Courtney, creator and founder of the company was astonished when the judges named her product 'The Mother of all Vinegars,' 'The Most Innovative Vinegar,' and 'The Best Flavored Vinegar.' Made with Chinese Lapsang Souchong Chinese black tea leaves, it is rich, aromatic, and with tantalizing smokiness. Using it can enhance many dishes including Steamed Whole Sea Bass, Dry-fried Long Beans, and many other Chinese (and non-Chinese dishes.

In addition, Golden Whisk touts it as an item to be used in cooking as a wine substitute for those who refrain from alcohol. Ms Hill-Courtney also advises that it can also be consumed 'as a delightful tonic....sipped like a fine beverage.' At the festival, she cooked up many delicacies. Try it in your own creations. We did.

It was put to the test in those that call for black vinegar, and was great, and also tried in dishes previously made with no vinegar of any kind. After we tried several dishes, we learned that it also works wonders in spicy dishes and shows itself off in vegetarian cuisine. We also learned not to serve very delicate green teas as a beverage when we used more than a teaspoon in a dish. Obviously, it went well when Lapsang Souchang was the tea drank at the same meal.

Ms. Hill-Courtney created this vinegar in the late nineties when tea was becoming a cooking ingredient. She learned that it imparts unique flavors to foods. She found it to be, and we agree, quite smooth. She advises that this vinegar is a handcrafted one made at her production facility. We advise that it is available in many speciality stores, and can be purchased on the web at www.GoldenWhisk.com. For those without a computer, contact her by fax at: (650) 952-7677.

Did you know that vinegars made in China, in the Qingxu County in the Fenhe River Valley is where a very famous Chinese vinegar was first made? Called Old Chen’s Vinegar, this brand was made famous by Wang Laifu, a vinegar producer who lived in the 1600's. Now in Shanxi Province in Qingxu, that city has China’s first Vinegar Culture Musuem. It opened on this magazine editor’s birthday in July 2001, and contains more than two hundred historical items. We hope Golden Whisk and its speciality producer Ms. Hill Courtney sends them a sample or two of her award-winning American-made Chinese vinegar.

COOKBOOKS for the HOLIDAYS: Sources are many, but finding the cookbooks you want, finding reliable ones, sometimes finding any Chinese cook book can be a challenge. There are classics in the field. Many are better than the newer ones, certainly so when you want traditional recipes. Many newer Chinese/Asian cookbooks nowadays, including one reviewed in this issue, offer more fusion, some even the confusion that matches some people’s tastes. Some publishers only print good cookbooks, books one really can successfully cook from. A few are always reliable, others reliable sometimes, and for some, even if touted as a good cookbook, it can be a challenge to get hold of a copy and then cook from it. Asian publishers print so few, they quickly become unavailable.

One publisher we can recommend is Wei-chuan Publishing. They started in Taiwan, and many of their books are still printed there. Today, they have their main offices in the Unites States. That makes it easy to get their books. Unfortunately, they have little historical or culinary background materials in most of them. Their cookbooks do have lots of good recipes. They are still tested in the Wei-chuan School of Home Economics.

A few years ago, they began a series appropriately called: Chinese Cuisine. So far there are a handful of different titles. Fifty thousand or more of each of them have been gobbled up, and you might want to do the same. They are titled Chinese Cuisine • Beijing Style; Chinese Cuisine • Szechuan Style; Chinese Cuisine • Cantonese Style; Chinese Cuisine • Shanghai Style; and Chinese Cuisine • Taiwan Style. Any one of them can guide a novice or stimulate an expert. Most are bilingual, all have pictures of all of their dishes, and each one is a must-have for the serious Chinese cook. This publisher also has a pair of books about noodles, one called Noodles • Classical Chinese Cooking and a partner volume titled Noodles • Chinese Home Cooking. Both are also worth owning. They did another pair, titles the same if you substitute the word rice for noodles, and they are almost as good.

Huang Su-Huei, president of Wei-Chuan Publishing Company, began her career as a cooking consultant and a cookbook author. Her own volumes and those she and others edit are models, in the style of those first published by Fu Pei Mei, who is featured in this issue. Huang’s first book, titled Chinese Cuisine published in 1972, is currently in its 47th printing, and it, too, is worth owning. It is as easy to get now as it was then, as Mrs. Huang keeps revising it making every sussessive edition better than the one that preceded it. Mrs. Huang came to the United States in 1978. Since then, she expanded her publishing company and some time after that, made arrangements to sell her books at popular book stores including Barnes & Noble, Borders, and other well-known book outlets. Today, they are also available at web sites such as www.amazon.com and others

For the visual learner, Wei-Chuan has put out a few videos. The newer printed volumes have three, four, or five smaller pictures of steps in preparing each dish as well as one large one of the completed dish. Each year, this company releases new volumes. In 2001, the most recent in the Chinese Cuisine series was published. It was the Beijing-style one mentioned above. They also published a volume about Korean Cuisine; they have others on Thai, Japanese, Mexican, and other cuisines. In 2002, books are promised about the foods of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Still available is Su-Huei Huang’s classic volume called Chinese Cuisine and the one that followed called Chinese Snacks. There are other Chinese titles by her, Lee-Hwa Lin, and others; all are listed in their catalogue. To get a copy, write to them at 1455 Monterey Pass Road, Suite 110, Monterey Park CA 91754, or call them at: (323) 261.880 or fax them at: (31) 261-3299. You will be glad to know that most cost less than twenty dollars; s/h is extra.

TOMATO USE IN CHINA: Andrew Smith, cookbook author and now Editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, soon to be published by Oxford University Press, e-mails Flavor and Fortune that in 2001, China was the single largest producer of tomatoes in the world. He believes that year was the first year they topped the tomato chart. In the past ten years China has been inching upward so the trend has been underway. Smith asks: What do the Chinese do with all those tomatoes? Andy, some years ago on our very first trip to China we had them served to us very green and covered with sugar; they were a fascinating snack, and they were good. Anyone else want to advise him? We are amazed that a food imported into China only some five to six hundred years ago can become such an important item in their economy.

WINE TALK by Edith Frankel was wonderful! This author with her husband Joel wrote Wine and Spirits of the Ancestors. It is reviewed in this issue on page 22. At this talk, she spoke about early wines use and answered many questions addressed to this magazine. We share information about her talk to answer some of them.

Mrs. Frankel said wine was mixed with shaman mind altering drugs, probably as early as during Neolithic cultures. They were used then for revelations and trances as were hallucinogenic drugs and other alcoholic beverages. The Chinese called all alcoholic beverages jiu. They can have any amount of alcohol, not just what westerners consider appropriate to be termed a 'wine.' That means, she went on, that the term 'wine' or 'jiu' is used for drinks with any amount of alcohol.

She continued that wines were and still are made from fermented grains including millet, wheat, and later rice and fruits including grapes. We know this, she went on, because it is documented at least beginning from the Dawenkou culture until today. There are a plethora of artifacts found in the Shandong province at the Lin Yanhu site. They are purported from 4300 - 2400 BCE. Included are pottery items with filtering holes for refining wine, goblets from the Longshan culture (2400 - 2000 BCE), bronze items from Xia and Shang until 1122 BCE; and there is the Zhou Li written records of Forest of the Meat, Lake of Wine, etc.

During the Zhou Dynasty (1122 - 256 BCE), the earliest description of ritual wine use was found. It was recorded in the Li Ji or Book of Rites and describes a temple alter or jin and its two bronze wine vessels. Later during the Han Dynasty, the Chinese saw some introduction of grapes and grape wine. "As a matter of fact," she said, "this happened when Emperor Wudi (141 - 87 BCE) sent his minister Zhang Qian westward." The year was 138 BCE. Actually this minister went as far as what is now called Afghanistan bringing many things there and other things back to his Emperor. The Man Cheng Tomb #33 indicates the names of many wines. Poet Zou Yang wrote about two types of them.

Frankel said that later, during Tang Dynasty times (618 - 907 CE) and the 'Golden Age of China,' more grape vines were introduced, particularly in Louyang. She mentioned Poet Dou Fu (712 - 770 CE) and his friends as frequenters of the many wine shops in Chang An, then the capital of China. Today, that city goes by the name of Xian. Dou Fu and his buddies wrote about grape wines and about drunken orgies, some telling of Semitic pedlars selling grape wines from the skin bags they carried with them. Restaurants came into being about this time, some of them developed from or next door to the many wine shops of the day.

Edith Frankel stressed that wine was very popular in earlier times, more so than it is in China today. To emphasize her point and get a sense of their overindulging, she recited the following poem written by Lu Tong in 835.

"The first cup moistens my throat:
the second cup dispels loneliness and melancholy,
and the third cup heals my very belly
and I am ready to compose great literature."

"The fourth cup brings out a light perspiration,
giving me peace in an unpeaceful world.
The fifth clears tension in my muscles and bones.
The sixth cup brings me close to the Immortals.
With the seventh cup, I have had enough,
and only feel a cool breeze transporting me."

She illustrated her talk with slides taken from her book and at the end she mentioned that at the time of Chingis Khan (also spelled Gengis Khan) this type of over-imbibing was reduced. She pointed out that the Khans warned their people about the dangers of alcoholic overindulgence as they were already consuming large amounts of kumiss, a fermented mare’s milk beverage.

HERBAL CONCERNS: The Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2001's Volume 286 on page 208, writes about a few common foods and herbs that are best not consumed before surgery. For Gingko biloba, they recommend not ingesting it a minimum of a day and a half before a scheduled operation. If you are eating garlic or taking ginseng, keep away from both of them a minimum of seven days before surgery. The reason to avoid all three is because they raise the risk of bleeding. These days no one recommends taking Ephedra sinica which the Chinese call ma huang. But if you are, there are many reasons to stop at least a whole day before surgery because of reported vascular complications, arrhythmias, and some fatal interactions.

And, there is concern about ginkgo seed poisoning in children. Pediatrics reported on pages 325 to 327 of the Volume 109 February 2002 issue, about the fatal poisoning of a two-year–old girl who ingested fifty to sixty roasted ginkgo seeds. She upchucked and had diarrhea a few hours later and two hours after that had severe seizures, and unfortunately did not survive. These seeds contain 4-methoxypyridoxine, which is toxic.

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