Much to my wallet’s chagrin, my girlfriend insists on purchasing organic, additive-free bread filled with the kind of whole grains that keep you regular.
“It’s good for you!” she says, with the brainwashing conviction of an infomercial host. I am dubious that dining on bread slathered in peanut butter qualifies as “good for you,” but I keep my yap shut and my opinions confined to this column. Eating all natural bread makes her happy.
Yet there’s a black side to this bliss: the bread’s short lifespan. Lacking glorious preservatives, the bread quickly turns lettuce-green and as fuzzy as a teenager’s mustache. At the first sign of blooming spores, my girlfriend trashes the costly loaf. This hurts my cheapskate heart. So, like an OCD-riddled secret agent, I investigate the bread daily, excising any blooming spores.
“Is this bread too old?” she’ll ask, eager to make another PB&J.
“Not at all,” I’ll reply, one of those sweet white lies that keep relationships trucking along.
With such an aversion to ancient bread, it’s understandable that I didn’t invite her to Park Slope’s Old Stone House. On a recent rainy Thursday night, the historic structure hosted Bread and Beer, touted as a “New Amsterdam tasting menu.” The event was the barley-based brainchild of Long Island City artist Sarah Lohman, who runs historical gastronomy website Four Pounds Flour. She dredges up 18thand 19th-century recipes, creating a form of culinary time travel.
“I love making something that was written down 300 years ago a reality,” explained Lohman, bustling around in an apron and big smile. Her event focused on Dutch foodstuffs that sailed over to New Amsterdam, now known as New York. Lohman researched and re-created five courses of bread, each paired with an equally antediluvian beer created by home brewers Chris Prout and Erik Olsen, of Greenpoint brew shop Brouwerij Lane.
For the first course, Lohman paired barley waffles (“They were thought to be healthier than waffles made with wheat,” she explained) with ginger beer. The waffles were crunchy, yeasty and a tad dry, made better with a thick smear of hand-whipped butter. Made with egg whites, sliced lemons and blackstrap molasses, the ginger beer packed a subtle spiciness and very little booze.
“You’re not going to get drunk drinking this,” Olsen said of the ginger beer, which registers a kombucha-like 1-percent ABV.
Instead of being overwhelmingly meaty, the beer drinks dry and slightly fruity, with gentle notes of hamburger.
But I could definitely get pie-eyed from the second beer. It was a circa-1815 American strong ale fashioned with wheat, barley, rice, dry mustard and lean beef. Yes, beef. “You use it to make a sort of broth,” Olsen explained of the cow flesh, whose proteins aid the Belgian yeast. Instead of being overwhelmingly meaty, the beer drinks dry and slightly fruity, with gentle notes of hamburger. It’s fine for a glass, a bit much for a pint and a nice mate to the rusks. They’re dense, chewy, slightly sweet biscuits cooked in a cask-iron skillet. They ain’t Bisquick, but they ain’t bad.
Course three constituted the duivekater, a lemony bread baked in the shape of a femur bone. “It’s an evening of meats where they’re not expected,” Lohman said of the bread, which was traditionally made at Christmas and Easter and was served with the dry and delicately hoppy Seven-Grain Saison, courtesy of California’s The Bruery, not Brouwerij Lane. The substitution was because “the beer we brewed had a powerful, funky, horrible nose,” Olsen explained. “We have some outside, if anyone wants to try it.” Everyone remained frozen in place, as if imitating the doomed residents of Pompeii.
The next round was a return to form— or, more accurately, meat. The beer was another riff on the beef brew, this one done with caraway seeds and English yeast. The beer’s toasty caraway character was well matched with crunchy Mrs. Lefferts New Year’s Cookies, which were spiked with caraway and orange. “Cookies are one of the most American foods you can think of,” said Lohman, who explained that the word cookies is derived from the Dutch word koekjes, which were crisp cakes for New Year’s Day.
By this point, I was a bit bloated and woozy from the nonstop carbohydrate assault. Man was not meant to live on bread and beer alone. But there was one more course so, with a grand belch, I cleared space and snagged a piece of sweet, spiced zoet koek. It corresponded with a spruce beer, a dark and rich elixir fashioned from molasses and spruce limbs. This imparted a resinous character, not unlike tongue-kissing a Christmas tree.
Some recipes, I must admit, are better off lost in time.