Swedish Salty Licorice

Image by /kallu It's unfathomable to most, coveted by some. Enthusiasts keep an emergency stash of the stuff in their purse; others take a nibble and promptly spit it out. It elicits passion, nostalgia, pain, discomfort, and satisfaction.

Ah, yes, Swedish salty licorice.

Swedish candy is notoriously fantastic, but salted licorice is the black sheep of the otherwise delectable family of gummy sweets. The stuff is potent and undoubtedly polarizing.

Licorice itself is the root of a plant called Glycyrrhiza glabra that is native to Spain, Italy, and Asia. The plant contains a component that is 20-40 times sweeter than sugar, so it is logical flavoring option for candy.

No one quite knows how or why licorice candy was first combined with a salty flavor, but its history as a confectionary began in Scandinavia in the 1930s. Salted licorice, however, doesn’t actually contain any salt. The brininess comes from the chemical ammonium chloride, so salted licorice is often called salmiakki, the Finish word for ammonium chloride. Modern salty licorice ranges in color from light brown to deep black, and it may be chewy or hard. Salted licorice is popular in Sweden, of course, as well as The Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, and Germany.

Image by Accidental Hedonist

What is so enticing about salted licorice for Scandinavians? Consider the classic dishes gravlax or pickled herring. Bitter saltiness is deeply embedded in Scandinavian cuisine and home cooking, so a salty flavor is intertwined with notions of comfort and home. Curing meat and fish with salt during the long winter months is standard practice for many Scandinavians in past and present time, so an affinity for salt is deeply rooted in the Scandinavian palette.

On the other hand, salty licorice could merely exist as national entertainment. Many Scandinavians admit to enjoy feeding salty licorice to tourists just to watch them squirm. Some say it’s almost a national sport!

Most Swedes consume salted licorice as typical candy, but many also enjoy Turkish Pepper Shots, which are hard salted licorice popped into a shot of vodka. If you’re hooked to the flavor, it’s easy to want to infuse everything with salmiakki. However, too much licorice can cause a spike in blood pressure, so be careful not to overdo it.

Salty licorice is a unique treat for a large part of the world. It acts to demonstrate the diversity of global food preferences and the fascinating ways in which tastes are formed through the forces of climate, culture, and ecology.

Have you ever tried salty licorice? What was your experience like?


History of the New England Clambake

Photo by andrewyang Marcus is hosting a traditional New England clambake on the Jersey Shore this Saturday at The Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival. In preparing for the event, many of us here in the Marcus Samuelsson Group offices recently found ourselves quite curious about the custom. We turned to trusty Google to learn more, and wanted to share our findings with you.

Today, clambakes are no longer exclusive to New England, as they are incredibly popular in Ohio and even California. There are also endless variations in technique and ingredients. For instance, some clambakes include sausages and other meat. In the past, seafood was not considered an adequate protein source for the men doing the hard labor of digging and gathering for the clambake, so meat was added for energy. This is why some clam chowder includes ham bone or bacon. Other menu items for a clambake can include lobster, white potatoes, corn, and cold beer; the only universal item is steamed clams. Clambakes have also been streamlined in recent years with the use of enormous stainless-steel pots heated by propane burners.

We were astonished to learn that clambakes have been a tradition in New England for over 2,000 years. Native American tribes of states such as Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut have long cooked clams and lobsters in sand pits as means of subsistence. In fact, it is possible to still stumble upon remnants of historic cooking pits in Rhode Island.

A 1947 clambake in Pembroke, Massachusetts. Photo by Boston Public Library

A traditional clambake begins by digging a pit in the sand of the beach where the clams are gathered. The pit is a product of centuries past: Native Americans did not have massive cooking pots, so they used the earth as their cooking vessel. The pit is then filled with seaweed, lined with hot rocks or stones that have been heated until white-hot over a wood fire. Next, live clams, mussels, and lobsters are added, and the pit is covered with more seaweed and some sand. Finally, a wet tarp of canvas or plastic is laid over all until the food is cooked.

The end product of a clambake is not necessarily a decadent meal. Clambakes are the types of cultural traditions that don’t just feed the participants. Instead, they are deeply nourishing events for the individual and the community. Kathy Neustadt’s book Clambake paints a vivid picture of the Allen’s Neck Friends Meeting’s annual clambake in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, which has occurred on the third Thursday of August since 1888 (!). Neustadt discusses how the event is inclusive, relying on the abilities of every individual.  She also emphasizes how clambakes revere the surrounding environment, relying on the fertile soil and easy access to the ocean to create the custom. Clambakes exist as a reminder of ancestry as time marches on.

Few meals are as fulfilling as a clambake. It is an all-day activity that yields scrumptious results, but the long process and intricate cooking method creates a reverence for the tradition and its participants.


Happy Hour: An Infamous History

Happy Hour is the perfect time to relax and wind down from a long day at work. It’s a time to catch up with friends, meet new people, and get to know your colleagues in a more relaxed environment (not to mention a great deal on drinks and food). But the definition of happy hour wasn’t always this; it has an interesting history that starts in the Navy.

In the 1920s, "happy hour" was Navy slang for the scheduled period of athletic activity or other entertainment on-ship. During this same time the passage of the National Prohibition Act, informally known as the Volstead Act, made liquor sales and consumption illegal. In reaction to this, citizens held "cocktail gatherings" at speakeasies like the Cotton Club in Harlem, and in their own homes, to secretly lift their spirits with cocktails before dinner. 

After prohibition ended, cocktail lounges continued the tradition of pre-dinner drinks. The term "Happy Hour" was used in a 1959 Saturday Evening Post article on military life, which then quickly raised its popularity, and it became the common term used for this cocktail time. Speakeasies and cocktail lounges starting using this term to lure people in and boost sales. The name was quite fitting as the word “happy”  was often associated with “slightly drunk”, and well-described the patrons cheerful state. Gradually, the term transitioned from being used to name a preface to the evening to the term used for today’s well-known after-work ritual. In the 1980s, bars began to  offer complimentary or half-off bar snacks during happy hour,  which was a response to the heightened enforcement of anti-drunk-driving laws.

Typically between the hours of 4-7, Happy Hour is the perfect time to unwind, enjoy a cocktail, a tasty bite, and good company. Now that you know the history, come enjoy the benefits of Happy Hour Monday-Thursday at Red Rooster, and share your newfound knowledge of its infamy!


Harlem Remembers Sylvia

In the wake of the passing of the legendary Sylvia Woods, we wanted to pay our respects and homage to Mrs. Woods by delivering messages from Harlem itself, and the community that she so greatly impacted through her wonderful restaurant, food and hospitality that goes beyond any human measurement. We, for one, want to thank her, and so would these everyday Harlemite men and women:

Rasheen, a former New York Times Journalist:

“My earliest memory was about 40 years ago. She worked hard, she worked real hard. Almost 18, 19 hours a day sometimes. The center building was the restaurant. My brother-in-law owned the space next door. But you know how they say B.B. King was the hardest working man in showbiz? Until he got sick a couple of years ago? She was the hardest working woman to own a restaurant. I don’t know how she did it, working 18 hours. And she stayed in the kitchen! She would taste the food before it went out, and made sure everybody was happy. But she was an excellent lady, always had a great personality and taught her kids real well, I respect her.”

Says Denise, a Harlem resident for over 50 years about her recollections of Sylvia:

“This was back in 1974. I remember when she had a little greasyspoon back in the day. Greasyspoon was just stools. And her food was just…soul. You know? It tastes like something that your grandma would make: the smothered pork chops and collard greens, like what granny would cook. She cooked like how she would cook for her family, or her personal family.  She’s a great mentor, and she started from nothing but turned it into a million-dollar corporation—she did her thing!!  And God blessed her.  She’s gone now, but I celebrate her life.  We all have to leave, but she was a great woman, and she gave a lot of her people jobs, which is still going on now. And late at night—everything that was left over, she would give it to the brothers and sisters that were homeless out here and feed them. A lot of people don’t know that either. Late at night, she would have her employees bring all that food in Tupperware. And I remember at a time in my life where I waited for her, at 12 o’ clock, for some of those smoked ribs! (Laughs) She was a great, great lady.  She will be missed.”

Jonathan Bodrick, a Brooklynite who relocated to Harlem and owner of vintage clothing and makeup boutique B.o.r.n., of his first experience at Sylvia’s:

“Hmm, I’d say about 42 years ago, I was about five years old. This was for my parents’ 20-year anniversary of marriage. We traveled all the way from Ocean Hill Brooklyn to Harlem to eat at Sylvia’s. And it was a major thing because we’d heard about Sylvia’s and we all were excited to try her food. Coming from a Southern background—my dad is from South Carolina like her—I was used to that Southern cuisine, but it was different to experience it outside of your mother’s kitchen. And that was exciting! Fast-forward many years later, and I’ve had this store for eight years now, who knew I’d be doing a fashion show for her, and meeting her. For me, it was like meeting royalty. It made me feel important, now, as a small business owner myself.  I was very, honored.”

These are just a few of the inspirational everyday tales of Mrs. Woods.  Please stay tuned for more to come! A very special thanks to everyone who participated in this post and thank you, Sylvia.

Photos: Diamond Bradley

The George Washington Bridge: Suspension Sandwich

By: Dylan Rodgers

Over 600 feet tall and lit up like Vegas at night, the George Washington Bridge stands as a marvel to modern engineering. It spans a distance of 4,760 ft. across the Hudson River and connects Washington Heights in Harlem, NY to Fort Lee, New Jersey. The length is not what makes this bridge remarkable.  The George Washington Bridge is built like an Oreo with two layers for the creamy vehicular filling to drive on. In fact, the added capacity of a second level makes this the only 14 lane suspension bridge in existence, and it's all thanks to Othmar H. Ammann.

Ammann designed and oversaw construction of 6 of the 11 bridges that connect NYC to the rest of the contiguous United States. Originally the George Washington Bridge was planned as a six lane wire-suspension bridge. The idea of a suspension-style bridge was used as early as the 15th century near Tibet and Bhutan.  With the addition of heavy-duty, steel cables the suspension bridge has become the most cost-efficient and versatile style of bridge, something that the George Washington Bridge considering the substantial changes it has undergone and easily taken in stride.

In 1946, two lanes were added to the top level. By 1962, the bottom level was opened to traffic, an addition that increased the bridge's capacity by 75 percent. It is amazing that the traffic weight and pressure can nearly double and not only be handled, but be dealt with constantly for 49 years is another feat entirely.

The George Washington Bridge was deemed a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1981.

As Harlem Week (Month) comes to a close and with you running all around town visiting every key historical site I've posted, I wanted to feature one that is easily overlooked from a purely functional standpoint. The George Washington Bridge though 604 feet tall, lit as if it is an aspiring airport, and entirely one of a kind almost seems to just blend into the road in our day-to-day routine. The next time you cross that bridge, take some time to really let it all sink in. Crossing it could easily become one of the more inspiring times of your day.

Photo: Hialean