Sunday, May 01, 2016

Mmmmm...Rye Bread Ice Cream, or Solving the Mystery of "Ice Cream, Bisque of Black Bread"

Sometimes I see something so mysterious and compelling — like "Ice cream, bisque of black bread, a la Delmonico" — that I need to track down its story. Most of the time, I lose interest or have no hope of finding the answer, but sometimes lightning strikes and I find the answer.

One of these lightning strikes happened recently with the bisque of black bread. This mysterious item was on the menu of the infamous whale meat luncheon at the American Museum of Natural History in 1918.  When I first saw the menu item, I wondered "What the heck is a bisque of black bread? That sounds bizarre."  But as I think about it more, I recall bread and chocolate, bread pudding, the use of rye flour in sweet pastries in Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain, so perhaps it isn't such a bizarre idea.

My initial internet searches came up empty. Soon, though, my luck changed, thanks to some old "old media." I was sorting through my collection of old Saveur magazines (preparing to give most of them away) and one of the covers announced "Dinners from Old New York." As luck would have it, the article — "Grand Cuisine" by Richard Horwich  — was all about the long-gone New York restaurant called Delmonico's.  Delmonico's, as in the a la Delmonico part of the bisque of black bread menu item.

In his article, Horwich mentions a famous cookbook written around the end of the 19th century by a long-time Delmonico's chef named Charles Ranhofer. This book — The Epicurean — has been digitized by Google Books and the full text is available at Hathi Trust. After a lot of clicking and waiting for pages to load, I found the recipe on page 987! It is called Pumpernickel Rye Bread Ice Cream and mysteriously grouped with cinnamon and ginger ice cream.  Here's is a scan of the page (the plain text of the recipe is in the reference section):

Cinnamon, ginger or pumpernickel ice cream from the Epicurean by Charles Ranhofer

I am guessing that they renamed the dish on the whale meat menu to align with the food conservation message, i.e., to contrast it with the white bread that was discouraged during the war.

The ice cream appears to be straightforward: rye bread in an unflavored ice cream base. Although it sounds a little odd to me, it must have been a flavor favored by the diners of the day because Delmonico's had a reputation as a palace of fine dining. I was curious to see if perhaps this flavor was popular in Delmonico's era, and so I searched the New York Public Library's menu collection for a little while.A ll I found was a rye bread ice cream" on a 1900 menu for Edward F. Lang's Ladies' and Gent's Lunch Room and Restaurant (139 Eighth Street bet. Broadway and 4th Ave., New York).

Have you ever seen a rye bread-flavored ice cream in a cookbook or ice cream shop? I have never seen such a flavor; the closest I have seen is a reference to burnt toast flavored ice cream from the brilliant team behind San Francisco's Bar Tartine in a Saveur 100 issue.  If I ever see it offered, I will certainly try it, even though there's a good chance I won't like it — caraway seeds are one of my few absolute disliked flavors. But with a caraway-free dark bread like the Finnish Rye that I wrote about a while ago, perhaps it could work.

More on Delmonico's and Ranhofer
Delmonico's restaurant occupied at several different buildings during its long run in Manhattan, moving to find better spaces or to follow the money. The restaurant's peak was the mid- to late-19th century, when it was a favorite of the elite: mayors, titans of industry, theatrical stars, writers and other notables like Samuel Morse and Charles Dickens (here is the menu for his dinner). Finally located at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, it closed in 1923, a victim of changing tastes and prohibition.

Cover page of the Epicurean by Charles RanhoferRanhofer's book is monumental: over 1,000 pages, more than 3,000 recipes, and at least 500 menus that cover nearly every combination of meals, number of people and time of year (for example, a supper in May, a luncheon in January, an August garden picnic for 100 people, a sideboard for 800 persons at a wedding). Ranhofer was quite attentive to the seasons, offering tables showing when vegetables, fruits, meat and fish were in season, and when they were hothouse-grown or imported from Europe.

Not everyone was a fan of Ranhofer's work. In A History of Old New York Life and the House of the Delmonicos, by Leopold Rimmer (1898), Mr. Rimmer wrote:

The only mistake that ever was made against the interest of the Delmonicos' business was Mr. Charles Rauhafer's cook book, which gave away all secrets of the house, and every Tom, Dick and Harry, who calls himself a chief cook, and had learned his trade in Delmonico's kitchen, can cook and make up the finest dinners on record, with that book, which tells him everything he don't know. There is hardly one hotel in New York to-day whose chef did not learn his cooking at Delmonico's, every one of them. The book gave all the secrets to the world —the market, what is in season, where to get it, and what is the correct thing to eat every day, and all the year around. 

The Epicurean: A Complete Treatise Of Analytical And Practical Studies On The Culinary Art, by Charles Ranhofer, full text available at Hathi Trust, Hotel Monthly Press (Chicago), 1920. Public domain.

The recipe in plain text:
Pumpernickel Rye Bread. — Grate half a pound of rye bread and pass it through a coarse sieve or colander; pour into a vessel and throw over a pint of thirty-degree syrup. Break twelve egg-yolks in a tin basin. add eight ounces of sugar, mix well with a pint of boiling milk; cook this on a slow fire without boiling, remove and when cold strain through a sieve, freeze, adding the rye bread when nearly frozen and two quarts of whipped cream (No. 50)
Additional books by a former chef at Delmonico's:  The table: how to buy food, how to cook it, and how to serve it, by Alessandro Filippini (full text at Hathi Trust);   The Delmonico cook book : how to buy food, how to cook it, and how to serve it, by Alessandro Filippini (full text at Hathi Trust).

Image Credits
Bread + ice cream image made by the author using a bread image from the Internet Book Archive, page 195 of The pride of the household; the bakers' complete management (1900), and a detail of an ice cream advertisement from The National Archives UK, The Sydney Mail, March 23, 1932, CO 1069-607-41 (part of a great photo album about the opening of the Sydney Harbor Bridge).  The Epicurean illustration is from the full text version at Hathi Trust.
The ice cream image is a detail of an advertisement for Peters Ice Cream. If you look at the full page, you'll see text to the right that reads

The Health Food of a Nation
Manufactured almost entirely from the Primary Products of AUSTRALIA

Ice cream as the nation's health food, and an ad boasting about Australian content has a company name of American Delicacy...

Random link from the archive: Ancient Folktales above a Los Angeles Street

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pre-Earthquake and Fire San Francisco in Early 20th Century Postcards

San Francisco is a great postcard city:  dramatic views of the Bay and hills, the Golden Gate, old and new buildings. And so it's not surprising to find a bunch of San Francisco images in a collection of early 20th century postcards. This particular postcard collection was produced by the Detroit Publishing Co. and are housed in the amazing Digital Collections at the New York Public Library. In this post, I'll share three postcards of pre-1906 San Francisco.

Pre-Earthquake and Fire San Francisco
The first postcard is a view of San Francisco from the Fairmont on Nob Hill from 1905, looking towards Yerba Buena Island (note the Ferry Building in the background on the right). I am guessing that the wide street on the right is California Street.  Nearly ready to open, the Fairmont was heavily damaged by the fire, and architect Julia Morgan oversaw the restoration, which was completed in 1907. Most of what is shown on the postcard was destroyed by the earthquake and fire.

Postcard of SF Bay from the Fairmont from NYPL Digital Collections
San Francisco Bay from the Fairmont, NYPL Digital Collections

The next postcard shows San Francisco's City Hall. Amazingly, "April 19, 1905" is written on the card, a date that is just 364 days before the 1906 earthquake of April 18, 1906. City Hall was destroyed by the earthquake and fire (more on this below). 

Postcard of SF City Hall, pre-1906, from NYPL Digital Collections
San Francisco's City Hall, 1905, NYPL Digital Collections

The final city view is a street scene from Market Street near Kearney. The title is "Lotta Fountain and Palace Hotel." Lotta Fountain is the golden object in the foreground, a gift from Lotta Crabtree and dedicated in 1875. After the earthquake and fire, it served as a meeting point for survivors.  The Palace Hotel is the large building behind the fountain. It was under construction at the time of the earthquake and was destroyed in the post-earthquake fire. In the years after the earthquake, the hotel was rebuilt and is currently one of Market Street's grand old hotels (with a spectacular garden courtyard restaurant and interesting historical displays in the lobby areas).

Postcard of Lotta Fountain and the Palace Hotel (pre-1906)
Lotta Fountain and the Palace Hotel, pre-1096, NYPL Digital Collections

Post-Earthquake and Fire San Francisco
The fire burned for several days and destroyed much of the area around Market Street, as the map below shows.  Civic Center, Nob Hill, the Tenderloin, the Financial District, South of Market (what did they call it in 1906?) were all gutted by the out of control fires. 

Map of burned areas in San Francisco from Aitken and Hilton
Map of burned areas after 1906 earthquake, from A History of the Earthquake and Fire in San Francisco by Aitken and Hilton
City Hall was one of the casualties:
At the City Hall hundreds of tons of brickwork had crashed to earth ; in a moment the once imposing building had been stripped of all its pretense and its seeming strength. Half the building was in ruins. The great bronze dome, three hundred and thirty-five feet in height, rose airily out of the huge piles of brick that had been its walls and columns, its frame seeming strangely slight in the absence of the brick work which had surrounded it and lay in monumental ruin below. A group of massive columns, with their gigantic cornice, crashing into an apartment house across Larkin street, brought down its whole front wall. (p. 24, A History of the Earthquake and Fire in San Francisco by Aitken and Hilton)

After the cataclysm was over, City Hall was but a shell of its former glory:

San Francisco City Hall after 1906 earthquake and fire
City Hall After the Earthquake, from A History of the Earthquake and Fire in San Francisco by Aitken and Hilton
City Hall was rebuilt, of course, with completion in 1915, and is now one of the gems of San Francisco (and often thematically lit to commemorate notable events, most recently blue and gold for the Golden State Warriors and purple for Prince). The 2008 photo below is one view of its current appearance.

San Francisco City Hall and Slow Food Victory Gardens, 2008
City Hall, 2008 with the Slow Food Victory Gardens in the foreground. From the author's Flickr Collection.

Image Credits
Postcard images from The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1898 - 1931.  Links to the image pages at the NYPL:
Map of San Francisco fire and photo of damaged City Hall from A History of the Earthquake and Fire in San Francisco; an Account of the Disaster of April 18, 1906 and Its Immediate Results, by Aitken, Frank W; Hilton, Edward, The E. Hilton Co. (San Francisco), 1906. Public domain. Full text available at

Random link from the archive: Celebrating Election Day and Inauguration Day

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Twenty percent of your adult life pursuing whales: voyage lengths during Golden Age of Whaling

Boston Harbor, Sunset, Fitz Henry Lane
The Golden Age of Whaling attracts my interest because it was such a dramatic and absurd undertaking.  During its peak years, the industry had a few hundred sailing ships searching vast areas of open ocean for the earth's largest living creatures so they could kill them and process their carcasses at sea to obtain valuable oil or baleen. After a voyage that could last several years, the ship would finally return to port with a hold full of products to be used in homes and industry.  To be sure, today's supply chain for gasoline or diesel fuel is also pretty dramatic and absurd, requiring far flung enterprises that explore for oil, transport it to refineries, extract the desired fuels, and so forth. A whaling agent from 1850 might call that absurd. But I think what is so different about whaling is its personal scale. Nearly all operations were people-powered, catching the whale, harvesting the blubber, operating the ship, to name a few.

Longer and Longer Voyages
As demand for whale products increased and the stocks in the Atlantic Ocean were depleted, whalers began to sail farther and farther from their home port, requiring more significant time commitments from the crew.  For American ships, the vast majority sailed from New England, and so if they were whaling in the Pacific or Indian Ocean, they sailed south to the Cape of Good Hope, took a right turn, then sailed up to the whaling grounds.  With this part of the voyage taking many months, it didn't make sense to hunt for a few months and turn around. Even a hugely successful first few months would often result in the ship dropping its cargo at the nearest port for pickup by a cargo specialist.   And so, as the Golden years wore on, competition increased, and whales became scarcer, voyages became longer and longer.

Cross section of a whaleship (explanation on this page at Hathi Trust)

The chart below shows the average voyage length for vessels leaving from New Bedford, MA for three different whaling grounds and two categories of sailing vessels (the main difference between ship and bark is how the sails are rigged*).  Naturally, for a New England-based ship, the Atlantic voyages were the shortest and did not see much of an increase during the century until its end. The expansion into the far away Pacific and Indian Ocean grounds, however, led to a major lengthening of voyages, with averages passing three years and in the latter decades nearing a four year duration — years of days that alternated between boredom and incredibly intense and dangerous work, years out of communication with loved ones (there were letter drops at ports and ships sometimes brought letters, but that was hardly reliable or speedy), years stuck with the same crew and in cramped quarters.          

To put a three or four year voyage in some context, consider what that would have meant in the mid-19th century.  At that time, the life expectancy for a white male at age 20 was about 40-44 years (estimate from Hacker), so a 4 year voyage that starting at age 20 would constitute about one-fifth of the man's remaining life.  To bring this to today, for a 20 year old with a 70 year life expectancy, a voyage lasting one-fifth of his remaining life would be roughly 10 years.

A Wider and Wider Hunting Range
As demand for whale products increased, whaling ships expanded their hunting range. An amazing research project analyzed historical whaling logs from American whaleships to identify where ships sailed, where they spotted whales and what kinds of whales they saw. The authors used three sources of data which they claim account for about 10% of American whaling voyages between 1780 and 1920. The data were then plotted on maps to provide an estimate of the historical range of whale populations. (Smith et al., 2012)

Two maps from the article give a sense of the evolution of whaling between 1780 and 1849**.  The first figure (A) shows the early days of industrial whaling (1780-1824). Light blue markings represent days in the logbooks with no whale sightings.  Violet marks are locations of home ports and frequently used supply ports. The other colors each represent a different type of whale (the most prominent are blue for sperm whales and red for right whales).   There is a right whale hot spot off the coast of South America (red) and some sperm whale activity in the Pacific (blue), but ships have not spent much time in the Pacific or Indian Oceans.  Note the loop in the mid-Atlantic Ocean between eastern North America and western Africa, which corresponds to the prevailing current and winds, something that was quite important in the age of sail.

Daily locations and whale sightings, 1780–1824. Extracted from Figure 16 in Smith et al., PLoS ONE

The second figure (B) covers 1825 through 1849, the years of major increases in the industry's output (in terms of dollars, the peak was 1851-1855, as one of my old posts shows). This increase was the result of technological improvements and longer voyages that allowed ships to span the oceans from continent to continent and around the southern rim of the planet.  By the middle of the 19th century, whaleships had explored the vast oceans, identifying the best hunting grounds, as the blue and red bands in the figure illustrate. 

Daily locations and whale sightings, 1825-1849. Extracted from Figure 16 in Smith et al., PLoS ONE

* Chapter 7 of In Pursuit has some details about how the differences between a ship and a bark impacted whaling operations:
One change (it is not clear whether it should be called a design or a rigging change) affected the whaling fleet far more than it did the merchant marine. That technical breakthrough was the innovation of the bark -- square rigged on the fore- and mainmasts and fore-and-aft rigged on the mizzenmast...
      First, it could move nimbly among the ice floes of the Arctic, and escape when the ocean froze at the end of the hunting season. (Twice the Arctic fleet was caught and crushed because the ocean froze so rapidly.) Second, the bark was more easily handled by the few men left aboard when the whaleboats were manned and most of the crew had joined the hunt. Since the mizzen was normally already raised, the shipkeepers did not have to raise it while the hunt was on. Third, and least important, the rig structure gave more clearance for the operation of the two boats near the stern.
Wikipedia has additional details, of course (ship and bark/barque/barc)

** The datasets could make an amazing animation to show the evolution of whaling over the studied period.  An interactive 3-D chart would also be interesting since there are many zones with many overlapping points that obscure the density of whale sightings. 

Davis, Lance E., Gallman, Robert E., and Gleiter, Karin. In Pursuit of Leviathan: Technology, Institutions, Productivity and Profits in American Whaling, 1816-1906. National Bureau of Economic Research. Published in January 1997 by University of Chicago Press. Full text available at NBER.

Hacker, J. David, Hist Methods author manuscript on PubMed Central; available in PMC 2011 Apr 1. Published in final edited form as: Hist Methods. 2010 Apr; 43(2): 45–79. doi: 10.1080/01615441003720449

Smith, T.D., Reeves, R.R., Josephson, E.A., Lund, J.N. (2012) Spatial and Seasonal Distribution of American Whaling and Whales in the Age of Sail. PLoS ONE 7(4): e34905. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034905 (open access article)

Image Credits
First image:  Fitz Henry Lane, Boston Harbor, Sunset, 1850-1855. Downloaded from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) Image Library, part of the public domain collection (higher resolution is available at LACMA).  I don’t know what kinds of ships these are, but whatever the case, the painting is beautiful, a great example of luminism.

Second image: Cross section of whaleship Alice Knowles, plate 189 in History and Methods of the Fisheries: Section V, The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, George Brown Goode and a staff of associates, United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Government Printing Office (Washington, D.C.), 1884-1887. Public domain. Full text at Hathi Trust and Google Books.

Maps are from  Smith et al., an open-access article covered by a Creative Commons Attribution License

Random link from the archive: Komala's Vegetarian, Singapore

Saturday, April 02, 2016

A Vintage Postcard of UC Berkeley Shows Long Lost Buildings

I find it easy to get lost in the New York Public Library's Digital Collections, which contain hundreds of thousands of images and a massive collection of menus. One recent morning I was looking for something and stumbled into a large 'box' of early 20th century postcards from the Detroit Publishing Company. While browsing through the images I ran across a postcard of the UC Berkeley campus with a view that few (if any) living persons have seen — most of the buildings on the postcard were torn down many decades ago.

A scan of the postcard is below. The card is undated but has a "Copyright, 1901" statement at the bottom which gives a reasonable upper bound for its date.  The view is quite uncrowded, with just a few buildings and plenty of open space. When I first looked at the postcard, I guessed that the building in the center-right of the composition was South Hall (built in 1873), which is the oldest building on campus.  The identifications of the other buildings were a mystery to me.  My South Hall guess turns out to probably be wrong, as I'll explain below.

University of California, Berkeley postcard from NYPL
University of California, Berkeley postcard from NYPL Digital Collections (click to enlarge)
The next picture is the postcard with the white space removed to allow for more detail (unfortunately, my competence with the Blogger platform does not include sizing or inserting pictures so that they properly fill the width of my blog, so you might need to click to get a column-filling size). 

Detail of University of California, Berkeley postcard from NYPL
Detail of postcard (click to enlarge)

The building identifications are in an on-line exhibit from the University Library, where there is a black and white photo that has a remarkably similar view — it might have even been the source material for Detroit Publishing Company's postcard. Unfortunately, the citation in the catalog is not terribly descriptive, nor does it have a date, and I haven't had a chance to do further research: The Bancroft Library, UARC picture 300:18. (Some questions arise: Who took the photo? Did Detroit 'borrow' or buy the image from another photographer and then hand color it for printing?)

The exhibit says that the view is from the Conservatory (built 1891, now gone) across the Botanical Garden (moved far up the hill a while ago), to North Hall (erected 1873, now gone) and the Philosophy Building (erected 1898, now gone).  In the distance are the Mechanical Arts building (called Mining or Civil Engineering on some old maps, erected 1879, now gone) and the Chemistry Building (erected 1891, now gone).  Although not noted in the exhibit's description, I am guessing that a little bit of Bacon Library (1878) is showing on the left side of North Hall.  I've added these identifications to the next picture. 

Annotated University of California, Berkeley postcard from NYPL
Postcard with guesses for building identifications

Historic Campus Maps
While I was hunting for clues to the buildings' identifications — but before I ran across the library's history exhibit — I found some great old maps in the Earth Sciences & Map Library. The subject "University of California, Berkeley -- Maps" led me to maps from 1901, 1908 and 1911 that could be viewed on-line and downloaded. The map from 1911 was most useful because the facing page describes each of the buildings, including their completion date and cost (remember to account for inflation when thinking about the construction costs!  The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an easy to use inflation calculator that goes back to 1913).

The oldest map I downloaded is the "Map of University Tract, Student's Cooperative Society" from 1901 (catalog record in Oskicat, interactive map viewer). The campus has just a few buildings, but quite a few eucalyptus groves (the bulk of the eucalyptus trees in the East Bay hills were planted a few years later by commercial logging interests between 1910 and 1914, as an earlier post explains). Interestingly, the northern branch of Shattuck Avenue between Center Street and University Avenue is called Stanford Place on the map.  Given the rivalry between the two universities, it's not surprising that Stanford Place was eliminated (the actual reason is probably more boring and related to the removal of railroad tracks from downtown Berkeley).

Detail of 1901 map of UC Berkeley from the Earth Sciences & Map Library
Detail of 1901 map of UC Berkeley

A map from 1908 (catalog record in Oskicat, interactive map viewer) shows the campus core filling out (detail below).  The Greek Theatre, Hearst Memorial Mining Building, California Hall and the New University Library are now part of the campus. 

Detail of 1908 map of UC Berkeley from the Earth Sciences & Map Library
Detail of 1908 map of UC Berkeley

The third map is "Map of the University of California, Berkeley" from 1911 (catalog record in Oskicat, interactive map viewer).  This one has an important addition to the University landscape:  Sather Gate. Notice that Telegraph Avenue continues all the way to Sather Gate, the street marked College Avenue is now Piedmont Avenue, several roads around campus are marked as streetcar routes (Bancroft Avenue on the south, also Dana and Allston (not shown)), and there is a "Stable Yard" near Bancroft and Telegraph.  As noted above, the full version of this map has a facing page with short descriptions of each building, including cost and completion date.

Detail of 1911 map of UC Berkeley from the Earth Sciences & Map Library
Detail of 1911 map of UC Berkeley

To compare with today's campus (until the next groundbreaking makes them obsolete...) visit the UC Berkeley web page of current maps or download one in PDF format.  The center of campus is much more crowded with buildings, but thanks to the underground library stacks there is still a large open space near the main library and the severe limitations on automobile traffic makes the campus a pedestrian friendly place.

Image Credits
Postcard from The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "University of California, Berkeley, Calif." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1898 - 1931. Link. No known copyright restrictions.

Maps from the Earth Sciences & Map Library, University of California, Berkeley.  Links to catalog records and on-line viewer are above.

Additional Resources
The library's exhibit also includes a panoramic view of Berkeley also from the Detroit Publishing Company from about the same time — another potential "before and after" project.

The University has a multitude of history resources, like campus planning documents and a guide to finding information about the UC Berkeley campus, including individual buildings, features, landscapes, artworks, and plans.

Random link from the archive: Celebrating the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th at Fort Point

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rising Income Inequality during the Golden Age of Whaling

Portuguese whalers based in New Bedford, Mass.
If you worked on a whaleship during the Golden Age of Whaling (ca. 1820-1860), you wouldn't have known your salary. From the lowliest "boy" all the way to the captain, the salary wasn't a fixed daily amount, but something distinctive to the whaling industry known as the "lay."  When you a contract to work on a whaleship, you were promised a certain fraction of the net proceeds from the voyage to be paid after your ship finished the voyage. The "lay" was the reciprocal of your share, so a lay of 20 meant 1/20th of the proceeds, a lay of 100 was 1/100th and so on.

Whaling was one of the few industries that had this type of labor contract. Its use has been documented as early as the 17th century, but it is not clear exactly why whaleships adopted the practice — perhaps because it transferred risk from the owner to the worker from loss of the vessel and commodity price drops; or it offered the chance of a big pay day to those who were willing to risk it; or because it strongly promoted teamwork and thus higher productivity.

Two Paychecks for Several Years of Work
For a voyage that might last several years, most whalers received two payments along with free (uncomfortable) lodging on the ship and (mostly terrible) food.  The first payment was an advance before the voyage—to go on one last shore-side bender, buy personal supplies for the voyage, to give something to your family, etc.  The second payment only happened if you survived the voyage and didn't desert (like Hermann Melville did twice). Soon after the return to the home port, the owners of the ship would sell the goods, calculate the expenses from the trip, deduct the advance they gave you at the voyage's outset, and finally pay you. So the variation in your wages could be huge, depending on how many whales your ship killed and processed, as well as the quality of the oil, the current market price, and how rigorous the owners were with their expense calculations. You might end up with nothing.

Whaling vessels in New Bedford, Mass.

Evolving Income Inequality on 19th Century Whaleships
As I was researching my earlier posts about whaling, I ran across a remarkable resource, a 500+ page book prepared for the National Bureau of Economic Research about the American whaling industry between 1816 and 1906 (full reference below). In Pursuit of Leviathan: : technology, institutions, productivity and profits in American whaling, 1816-1906 (hereafter referred to as "Pursuit") was prepared by a team of three authors in academia (CalTech and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). The researchers analyzed thousands of 19th century records to document the economics of the whaling industry. I haven't read the whole book, but the sections that I read are often mostly comprehensible to a non-economist (I got a little lost, i.e., went into skim mode, in the sections about regression analysis).

While browsing "Pursuit," I ran across some data that reminded me of today's discussions about widening economic inequality in the United States and worldwide. This dataset listed the lays for various occupations on whale ships between 1840 and 1858. Since the lay can be a little confusing (a lower numerical value is better), I converted the lay to share of net earnings (1/lay) and also calculated the shares relative to 1840 to see the evolution over time. I then used the Tableau Public tool to make two charts, which are shown below. The first one shows how the share of earnings for each occupation changed over time. With such a wide scale, it's pretty hard to see what is going on, especially at the lower end for the semi-skilled and unskilled seamen (perhaps Tableau allows y-axis zooming).  Much more revealing is each occupation's share relative to 1840, which is shown in the second chart. 

Several occupations saw a major rise in share, one was relatively flat, and three occupations saw their shares decrease over time. What's interesting about this — and an analogue to today's discussions of income inequality — is that the biggest increases went to the officers (first mate, second mate, third mate), while the lower ranks saw decreases. It's a little surprising that the captain's share didn't keep pace with the mates, but not all of the captain's income was covered by the lay:  he often had a supplemental contract that provided the possibility of a bonus for a profitable voyage, and also received some of the profits from the on-board sale of clothing, tobacco, and other items from the "slop chest."

What Caused the Divergence?
"Pursuit" gives several explanations for the wage divergence for officers and the less skilled hands.  A wide variety of technological improvements were probably the chief causes.  During the 19th century, sailing ships underwent countless changes. From 1820s to 1870s there was a near complete change in rigging and sail technology: better materials (more iron meant better durability), lighter sails (required fewer crew to raise and lower), replacing hemp rope with more durable chain cables and metal wire.  On deck and below deck the crew had pumps that were easier to operate, and winches and cranes that could be worked with fewer crew.

Interestingly, the most primal and horrific operations — converting a dead whale into oil and other marketable products (like baleen) — were nearly untouched by technological advances.  There were improvements in stoves and tool materials, but while the sailing operations were becoming more and more mechanized, the dirty work like slicing blubber was still manual labor. To be sure, many tried to invent mechanized slicers and other tools, but they were not effective and not adopted. (Advanced technology to kill whales, such as rocket harpoons, didn't appear until late in the 19th century.)

Improved ship design was a major factor:  whereas early whaleships were converted from the merchant fleet and therefore not optimal (difficult to adapt to whaling's special requirements, lacking appropriate storage space), as the whaling industry grew, whaling companies started ordering ships that were specially designed for whaling. These purpose-built ships required a less skilled crew, but potentially placed more responsibilities on the officers.

Advances in oceanography and cartography were also important. Remember that this was the era of sail, and so an efficient voyage depended on using the prevailing winds and currents — you couldn't simply say that you are going to sail to a given location and expect to get there in a reasonable time without favorable winds and currents (in ancient times, traders abroad would often need to wait for months until the prevailing winds shifted to return home).  The U.S. government funded many expeditions, sought records from current captains, and produced many reports to further national commercial and military objectives.  So whereas "gut feelings" and experience might have been the key navigational tools in the early 19th century, more formal skills were needed after detailed charts and other tools were available, thus potentially requiring more educated mates, and therefore higher compensation. The additional responsibilities of managing a less skilled crew might have also pushed up their mates' wages. 

Another parallel with today was the replacement of U.S. citizens with workers from other nations to cut costs.  Whaleship officers tended to be American, but as time went on, the crew became more and more foreign. Wage data from the period show that land-based occupations offered significantly better wages than whaling, so it's possible that Americans decided to forego whaling in favor of jobs in bakeries, textile factories, blacksmith shops and other 19th century workplaces.     

Consequently, the crew mix changed during this time, with a hollowing out of the middle, leaving more "upper management" (mates) and more unskilled labor. Between 1840-43 and 1855-58, the percentage of skilled seamen on the crew dropped from 10.9% to 6.7%; the percentage of semiskilled seamen dropped from 12.9% to 8.3%;  the percentage of unskilled seamen, however, rose from 30.1% to 39.3%.

In the end, both capital and labor seem to have found some peace with the new conditions. The owners were satisfied with untrained labor because of low wages, and because they had confidence that the competent and often brutal mates could train and pacify the unskilled hands during the many months at sea. Ships were still fully staffed because there was always the chance of a big payday if the ship returned with a full hold and whale oil prices were high — whaling towns always seemed to attract enough risk takers who could go on years long voyages. 

Parallels in Today's Economy
In early 2015, the Economic Policy Institute published a webpage called Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts that shows some parallels to the whaling industry.  The next chart breaks the middle class into three wage segments.  Since 1979, wages for the middle part of the middle class have risen by a few percent and wages for the bottom part have slightly fallen.  The top part of the middle class, however, has seen wage increases of 41% in the same period.

Lance E Davis, Robert E Gallman, Karin Gleiter. In Pursuit of Leviathan: Technology, Institutions, Productivity and Profits in American Whaling, 1816-1906. National Bureau of Economic Research. Published in January 1997 by University of Chicago Press. Full text available on-line at NBER.

Image Credits
The Portuguese whalers drawing is plate 3 from The Fishermen of the United States: Section IV, The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, George Brown Goode and a staff of associates, United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Government Printing Office (Washington, D.C.), 1884-1887. Public domain. Full text at Hathi Trust and Google Books.

The whaleship drawing is plate 185 from History and Methods of the Fisheries: Section V, The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, George Brown Goode and a staff of associates, United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Government Printing Office (Washington, D.C.), 1884-1887. Public domain. Full text at Hathi Trust and Google Books.

Middle class wage distribution chart is Figure 4 in Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts from the Economic Policy Institute.

Random link from the archive: Tropical Triangles - Coconut Sticky Rice and Mango

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Recipe: Smoky-Spicy Glaze

Bowl of peppers from Thomas Campone Photography (via Flickr).  CC BY-NC 2.0.

When a bowl of beans or a bowl of soup needs some zing, or if I'm making a quesadilla in the middle of winter and don't have any decent salsa, I open my freezer and reach for a jar labeled "Spicy Toltec BBQ Glaze." It's a sweet-spicy-smoky sauce that makes just about anything more interesting. The recipe is from Coyote's Pantry by Mark Miller and Mark Kiffin (with John Harrisson), a collection of accompaniments and building blocks like salsas, sauces, flavored vinegars, pasta toppings and more. The Coyote in the title refers to Santa Fe's world-famous Coyote Cafe, one of the restaurants at the forefront of the modern Southwest cooking movement.

Making the glaze isn't too difficult, but it takes a bit of time and you need to pay attention so it doesn't scorch during the reduction (to monitor the reduction, try using a kitchen scale).  One part of the recipe seems a little bit silly to me and ripe for tinkering: a large amount of ketchup. Ketchup is basically tomatoes, sugar, salt and vinegar that have been cooked for a long time.  And the recipe already has vinegar and sugar, and is cooked for a long time. So why not replace the ketchup with a can of tomato puree or tomato paste and modify the vinegar, salt and sugar levels?

The book's authors named this sauce after the Toltecs, a Nahuatl society in Central Mexico that succeeded the Mayans. Their zenith was between the 9th and 11th centuries and they left behind numerous ruins, most prominently Chichen Itza. Explaining the choice of the name Miller and Kiffin write "This sauce is a s ferocious as the Toltecs were themselves...this glaze is not for dainty tea parties."

The heat in the glaze comes exclusively from the chipotle puree, so if you are a wimp like me, use 1/4 cup or less. If you like the burn, go with 1/2 cup or more. (If you are a super wimp but want smoke flavor, you might try using Lapsong Souchong tea to impart smokiness, as I suggested here.)

It's great in a bowl of beans or lentils; in a bowl of mushroom-barley soup; on tacos, burritos or quesadillas; spread on grilled cheddar or Monterey jack cheese sandwich; and in numerous other places.

Recipe: Smoky-Spicy Glaze
Adapted from Coyote's Pantry, by Mark Miller and Mark Kiffin (with John Harrisson)

1 c. (236 mL) unseasoned rice vinegar
1 c. (236 mL) apple cider vinegar
2 T. (30 mL) coriander seeds
1 T. (15 mL) whole cloves
6 whole allspice berries
¼ c. (59 mL) vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. (236 mL) light brown sugar
¼ c. (59 mL) molasses
12 fluid ounces (354 mL) dark beer
1/4 - 1/2 cup (59-118 mL) chipotle chile puree (see note)
20 fluid ounces (591 mL) ketchup

In a non-reactive saucepan, combine the vinegars, coriander, cloves, and allspice. Bring to a boil. Boil gently until liquid is reduced by half. Strain and set aside the liquid; discard the whole spices.

Choose a non-reactive saucepan that will be large enough to hold all of the ingredients. Set it over medium heat. Add the oil and cook the onion until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, stir and cook for about 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, and cook, stirring until the sugar is melted (about 1 minute). Add the molasses and stir. Add the beer to deglaze.

Add the reserved spiced vinegar and chipotle puree to the pan and simmer over low heat for about 1 hour. Stir in the ketchup and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain, being sure to press to extract the maximum liquid amount from the mixture.

Store in the refrigerator or freezer (for longer storage).

Note: to make chipotle chile puree, buy a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, open it, and put the contents in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. For long term storage, wrap and freeze. The puree stays soft enough in the freezer so that you can easily slice off what you need. If you also keep tomato paste in the freezer, be sure to label the chipotle puree so you don't mix up tomato paste and chile puree.

Photo credits:  Photo of peppers in bowl from Tom Campone's Flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License (see also Thomas Campone Photography). Photo of Toltec eagle relief, 10th-13th century, from Metropolitan Museum of Art, via

 Random link from the archive: Temple Guardians in Thailand (my fourth post)

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Not a Free Lunch, but a Good Deal: Comparing Crickets to Other Livestock

In "Crickets Are Not a Free Lunch: Protein Capture from Scalable Organic Side-Streams via High-Density Populations of Acheta domesticus," the results clearly supported the "no free lunch" title: feeding "free" waste food or crop residues to domestic crickets leads to high mortality and low weight gain.

A free lunch is great, of course, but wouldn't we also be happy with a lunch that is a great deal?  Crickets might offer just that:  a source of protein that can be raised on food waste and offers top-tier protein conversion efficiency.

My previous post on the study focused on Lundy and Parrella's feed quality results and added some of my own proposals for potential food waste streams (most were not very good). The paper also contained another important component that I didn't write about: how crickets compare to other livestock in terms of feed conversion. With concerns about how a growing world can be fed, it is important to efficiently use our limited resources.

Table 3 in the original paper compared feed conversion efficiency and protein conversion efficiency for crickets raised on commercial poultry feed (PF) and the food waste that had good results (FW1 [1]) with domestic carp, chicken, pork and beef. In terms of protein conversion efficiency, crickets raised on PF were the most efficient, followed by carp and chicken. Crickets on FW1 were fourth, and pig and cow were at the bottom of the list.

Protein conversion efficiency can be defined a few ways, so here is how I'm defining it in this post:  the ratio of the mass of protein in the edible parts of the farmed product to the mass of protein in the feed (i.e., kg protein in edible parts / kg protein in the feed). In other words, what is the protein payback of the animal? Or, how much protein do I get back for the protein I supply?  A higher number is better.

Extending the Comparison
I extracted the results for the crickets on the high quality feeds from Lundy and Parrella and then dug into my literature collection for some additional results, with special focus on aquaculture. Aquaculture has been booming in the last few decades and holds great promise.  However, because it is often an exercise in feeding little fish to big fish, there are concerns about damage to aquatic ecosystems (the little fish are an important part of the food chain for other fish, seals and other mammals, and sea birds).  In addition, aquaculture can have trouble with waste disposal, parasites from farms crossing over to wild fish, and problems related to all large monocultures (like dealing with disease).

The chart below (built with the Tableau Public tool) shows the protein conversion efficiency results. The results need to be taken with a grain of salt, since there is a fair amount of variability in these calculations, especially on the edible weight fractions and different performance for different breeds or husbandry practices. Each item in the chart is followed by a parenthetical note that defines the source of the data, which is explained in note [2] below (and also below the chart).

Crickets fed on commercial poultry feed are in the first tier of conversion efficiency along with farmed Atlantic salmon and broiler chickens, with efficiencies of around 30%. That's somewhat interesting, but since the crickets were fed a premium formula of industrially-farmed grains and legumes, the result isn't nicely aligned with the hype about insects. Insects are often advertised as magical food generators, so let's focus on the efficiency for crickets on the food waste diet [3].  Those crickets fall into the second tier along with several species of farmed fish. And that's a lot more in line with the hype -- in this case, "crickets fed on food waste are as productive than many popular farmed fish."

Conversion efficiency is just one facet because we should also be concerned about the source of the protein in the feed. A high protein conversion efficiency for crickets wouldn't mean much if the protein in the feed was from corn-raised feedlot cattle.

In the world of aquaculture, there are carnivores and omnivores. Carnivores are fish like salmon which need a fair amount of fish in their diet; omnivores like carp can often survive on a fish-free diet. Naylor et al. present data on fishmeal and fish oil content of feeds for a variety of fish for 2007.  At that time, Salmon feed was typically about 24% fishmeal and 16% fish oil; Chinese carp 5% fishmeal and no fish oil; tilapia 5% fishmeal and no fish oil.  The feed for trout, seabream and seabass is similar to salmon feed with a significant fraction of fishmeal and fish oil (Tacon and Metian). Considering that the fishmeal and fish oil usually come from small fish ("forage fish" like sardines, anchoveta, herring), the crickets raised on food waste look like an even better deal compared to the carnivorous farmed fish.

The protein conversion efficiency results above make a good case for crickets — on paper. But when the product hits the plate, it's another matter, as few people are going to replace their salmon steak or whole seabass with a cricket-based dish (manufactured cutlet of processed cricket anyone?). Or, to look at the comparison from the other direction, you don't hear people talking about using tilapia flour in protein bars or as a protein supplement like they talk about cricket flour. So food visionaries will need to do lot of thinking about how crickets will fit into the future of food — it won't be a direct swap-out situation. I can easily see insects as a "sustainability extender" for ground beef, meat-glue-enabled chicken nuggets, or sausage [4]. Or replacing the soy or wheat gluten in a meat substitute [5].

As food technologists and chefs work on uses for crickets and other insects, the microranchers will be working on their own issues, like improving efficiency. Between 1972 and 2002, the protein conversion efficiency of farm-raised Atlantic salmon rose from 10% to 30%, thanks to changes in feed formulation, breeding and other practices. Could crickets and other insects see similar major gains? Insects are much simpler than salmon (or dairy cows or pigs), so I don't know what kinds of biological boundaries exists, but if insects take off as a food source, the companies raising them will certainly work to get more output for less input.

[1] FW1 is "the solid, pasteurized, post-process filtrate from a proprietary, aerobic enzymatic digestion process [29] that converts grocery store food waste into 90% liquid fertilizer and 10% solids (the portion used in the experiment)," where [29] refers to "California Safe Soil. Fertilizer from food: H2HTM. 13 May 2014. Link"
[2] L = Lundy and Parrella; T = Torrissen et al.; N+L = Protein intake for total weight gain from Naylor et al., edible weight fraction (0.65) and protein fraction of edible weight (0.18) from Lundy and Parrella (who obtained it from Smil). Note that these estimates are used for all of the fish (actual values might vary across species and even for different sources of the fish, e.g., Scotland vs. Chile vs. Norway).  Note also that the broiler chicken results were reported as a range from 0.25 to 0.33 in Lundy and Parrella; I plotted the average.
[3] Recalling the first note, the food waste conversion process creates two valuable products: liquid fertilizer and solids. The cricket feed was only the solids, so the fertilizer can go to growing more crops.
[4] The LocoL restaurant that recently opened in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles (and soon to open in San Francisco's Tenderloin) is keeping burger costs by supplementing the ground beef with grains. Hear co-founder Roy Choi talk with Evan Kleiman about the restaurant at KCRW's Good Food
[5] On the subject of meat substitutes: 1) I recommend pieces by Tom Philpott and Mark Bittman about fake meat and its role in improving the sustainability of the food system, 2)  At Food52, examining if insects are an option for vegetarians (My personal "vegetarian line" is drawn above insects, so I have no ethical qualms about eating them. I am hardly a philosophical purist on the subject).

  • M.E. Lundy, M.P. Parrella, Crickets Are Not a Free Lunch: Protein Capture from Scalable Organic Side-Streams via High-Density Populations of Acheta domesticus. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0118785 (2015). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118785
  • Rosamond L. Naylor, Ronald W. Hardy, Dominique P. Bureau, Alice Chiu, Matthew Elliott, Anthony P. Farrell, Ian Forster, Delbert M. Gatlin, Rebecca J. Goldburg, Katheline Hua, and Peter D. Nichols, Feeding aquaculture in an era of finite resources, PNAS 106 (36) 15103-15110 (2009), DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0905235106
  • V. Smil, Nitrogen and food production: Proteins for human diets. Ambio 31: 126–131 (2002).
  • Albert G.J. Tacon and Marc Metian, Global overview on the use of fish meal and fish oil in industrially compounded aquafeeds: Trends and future prospects, Aquaculture 285: 145-158 (2008), DOI: 10.1016/j.aquaculture.2008.08.015
  • Ole Torrissen, Rolf Erik Olsen, Reidar Toresen, Gro Ingunn Hemre, Albert G.J. Tacon, Frank Asche, Ronald W. Hardy & Santosh Lall, Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar): The “Super-Chicken” of the Sea?, Reviews in Fisheries Science, 19:3, 257-278 (2011). DOI: 10.1080/10641262.2011.597890.

Random link from the archive: Farm Tour: Growing Mushrooms