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Vintage dishes with a modern twist make for unique eats

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

At BlogHer Food ’12, food writer and pastry chef Garrett McCord talked with bloggers Kelly Jaggers and Kristen Herwitz about the popularity of vintage food and drinks and how twists on standard “olds” can make exciting “news.”

Who is the inspiration?

Both Jaggers’ and Herwitz’s interest in vintage recipes hits close to home. Herwitz has utilized her husband’s grandmother’s handwritten recipe cards, saying she, “scribbled down ideas from them for inspiration and incorporate[d] my modern values.”

Jaggers’ vintage roots come from her upbringing in a multigenerational family. “They were all tremendous cooks and made massive meals. I grew up cooking this food and loving it,” she said. Now, Jaggers likes to “make things more trendy,” and enjoys using new spices and ingredients to make old recipes new again.

What is vintage all about?

“Vintage has varying definitions,” Herwitz said. These dishes and drinks are rooted in the “old” — casseroles, meals with boxed or canned ingredients — made “new” by the modern interpreter.

Herwitz and Jaggers appreciate the history that vintage recipes evoke. “It’s interesting to see what was done before you and build on it, based on your food values,” Herwitz said.

“Food is so personal, and we all have food history,” Jaggers said. “It connects you to your past and culture, and you learn about others through food.”

When is the right time to innovate?

Herwtiz and Jaggers delight in mixing old ideas with new — when the time is right.

Jaggers mentioned that there are certain recipes that need very little refining. “On my blog I have a recipe for Great Grandma’s Coffee Cake, but I did not change much because it’s beautiful the way it is,” she said. “You don’t have to change every vintage recipe you come across.”

Other more generic recipes, such as pie or brownies, might be better with a little alteration. For Herwitz, recipes such as a classic Jell-O salad or a green bean casserole are perfect jumping off points to incorporate her interests. “Those recipes started as fresh originally,” she said. “Now you can bring your food values or flavors to the recipes,” for example, making them healthier or incorporating current, trendy ingredients.

Where can you find vintage ideas?

Herwitz and Jaggers mentioned a variety of sources, including family (aunts, grandmothers, grandmothers-in-law), travel, local food markets and chefs.

McCord noted that vintage is subjective. He posted a Chinese recipe made in Beijing by a native Chinese chef, “and the first comment on my blog said it was not authentic!”

Herwitz said that sometimes mistakes and accidents can lead to new successes. “The flip-side of mishaps can be something truly inspired. New ingredients at the farmers market, or a chat with a bartender at a restaurant, can lead to exciting inspiration.”

How do you tailor a vintage recipe?

Herwitz demonstrated two versions of the Manhattan cocktail. One, more classic — stirred and not shaken with a bit of froth on top. The second was served on the rocks with spherical ice cubes. Her other twist is to decrease the amount of sugar by half. “I take health into consideration,” she said.

Jaggers said a recipe is really about an idea or an inspiration. “Recipes that people can take and make their own are a beautiful thing.”