I Digress…Forgotten Foods

UPDATE: Added a little more info about each food based on the signs that were at the festival, as well as pictures of the things I ate. They were tasty. Thanks to Sarah Levitsky, Marketing and Special Events Coordinator at Reading Terminal Market.

This is sort of a digression, but don’t worry, I’m still working on my next history lesson for you all. I discovered an event (ok, fine, my friend Maggie discovered it) that’s happening in Philly this Saturday, Nov 12, that was right up my alley. I wanted to share so that those of you who are in Philly might have the opportunity to partake in the event.

It’s the Festival of Forgotten Foods at the Reading Terminal Market.

Forgotten Foods!

It focuses on local foods that used to be favorites but have, for one reason or another, fallen by the wayside. What makes a food forgotten? Why exactly were these foods “forgotten?” Well, it could be for a variety of reasons. One is that people’s tastes changed. Pepper pot soup is made with tripe, which isn’t as popular now as it was a couple hundred years ago. Some of the ingredients became scarce, such as snapper. Cape may salt oysters were almost extinct and have only recently been brought back. People’s needs have changed as well. We have refrigeration now, so a drink like the raspberry shrub was no longer necessary. It’s made with vinegar to act as a preservative, but now we have those handy ice boxes all the young kids are raving about. And some have just evolved into something else, like Wilbur Buds turning into Hershey Kisses. Chock it all up to time, progress, and environmental factors.

Here’s a list of the foods and a little more info about them:

Fried Oysters with Chicken Salad and Pepper Hash – Believe it or not, fried oysters and chicken salad are a classic Philadelphia pairing. It came about in the early 19th century and was a particular favorite of lunchers all over the city. Why? Probably because it had a little bit of something for everyone. Oysters were cheap and widely available in Philly whereas chicken was expensive. The dish would come with a small bit of chicken salad (for a little class) with a nice helping of oysters (for affordability) and a side of pepper hash to round out the meal. Pepper hash is an uncooked relish made primarily of cabbage and peppers. It was used to replace acidic condiments, like lemons, which were expensive.

Fried oysters and chicken salad. Weird, right?

Fried Oysters and Chicken Salad with Pepper Hash from Pearl's Oyster Bar.

Snapper Soup – No, it’s not made with the fish. It’s made with the turtle. Originally the soup came in two ways: a thick, roux based soup or a broth based soup used its ingredients, meat and vegetables, to give it a little oomph. It’s served with a little sherry and oyster crackers. Abraham Lincoln served it at his inauguration in 1861, and William Howard Taft hired a special chef just to make it during his presidency. Now, you can get it canned from Bookbinder’s, but I kinda have a feeling it’s just not the same.

"Mom, where's my turtle?" "I...uh....well...I was hungry...." "MOM YOU DID IT AGAIN?"

Fried Catfish on a Waffle – In the 19th century, the Schuykill was full of catfish. Tons and tons of catfish. Catfish and waffles was a dish created by one Mrs. Watkins, the proprietor of the Falls Hotel in what we now call East Falls. Originally, catfish and waffles was a huge meal. It would go something like this: fried catfish with waffles, then a steak, then stewed chicken and the waffles, then coffee. Some places served dessert after. (I’m assuming the catfish and waffles at Reading Terminal will just be the catfish and the waffles.) Soon, all the other local taverns were joining in the fun. It ended up kind of being the 18th and 19th century equivalent of the cheesesteak: Philadelphians (and other travelers) would ride up and down the Schuylkill in carriages sampling the dish from all the restaurants that specialized in the dish.

Fried Catfish and Waffles from Downhome Diner

Pepper Pot Soup – “The soup that won the war.” In 1777, the American Continental Army was fighting the British Army.  The winter was rough and men were pretty much naked and starving. So on December 29th, 1777 (according to legend anyway), George Washington told his cook to make a soup “that will warm and strengthen the body of a soldier and inspire his flagging spirit” which obviously meant a large soup made of scraps of meat, tripe, and a whole lotta pepper.

Oyster Stew – It was definitely a “poor man’s dish.” Like I mentioned, oysters were plentiful and cheap. Even the poorest family could afford a good amount of oysters to have a Sunday supper of oyster stew. It is believed that Native Americans taught English colonists and settlers how to harvest and cook them into said stew. The stew was made up of butter, cream, and oysters. What could be easier?

Oyster stew with oyster crackers. Yum.

Fried Apple Pie – Fried pies are small pouches of sweet dough, folded into half moons, stuffed with some tasty apple filling and fried. They were served with cinnamon-brown sugar mix or royal icing (that hard white icing made from eggs and powdered sugar used to hold gingerbread houses together). They were a particular favorite of United States President Franklin Pierce. Now, the closest thing we have to a real fried apple pie are those things at McDonald’s that aren’t nearly as good or those handheld pies from Tastykake. Have you tried the chocolate one? OMGSOGOOD.

(A fuzzy picture of) Fried Apple Pie from Beck's Cajun Cafe.

It was delicious.

Liverwurst – Liverwurst, or liver sausage, is a sausage made of ground liver and pork and fat with lots of onions and spices. It hails from Germany and was brought over with who else? but the PA Dutch, the original makers of fine, weird pork products. “Liverwurst” is an Anglicization of the German word “Leberwurst.” Only about 10-20% of the sausage is actually liver and it can be smoked or plain. Liverwurst comes in large links, loaves, and slices. It doesn’t need to be cooked and the texture ranges from sliceable to spreadable and is often served as snacks or sandwiches. It’s really good on rye breads.


Raw Cape May Salt Oysters – Geez, oysters keep popping up, don’t they? Cape May Salt Oysters were once plentiful in the Delaware Bay. And you may have noticed I keep saying they were cheap, as well. They were pretty common up until the Great Depression when a parasitic disease and over-harvesting nearly wiped them out. Today, about 70% of the oysters we eat come from Louisiana, but they’re finally starting to come back thanks to environmental clean up in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Wilbur Buds – The predecessor to the Hershey’s Kiss. Wilbur Buds were manufactured by H.O. Wilbur and Son in 1894. Wilbur sold his hardware store in the 1800’s and opened a confectionery with his partner, Samuel Croft. Originally called Croft and Wilbur, the store was located at 3rd and Market in Old City, but they eventually moved to Lititz, PA. They were little conical shaped chocolates, hand wrapped in foil. The foil prevented the candy from going stale. The bottom wasn’t flat, like the copy cat Kisses, but shaped like a flower with W-I-L-B-U-R carved into each petal. Critics raved about them and they stayed on top until Hershey’s invented equipment that wrapped the candy mechanically.

Wilbur Buds from the Pennsylvania General Store.

Raspberry Shrub – No, it’s not a shrub that grows raspberries, silly. It’s a drink! Vinegar-marinated raspberries in water. Sort of. Raspberries, vinegar, and sugar are made into a concentrated syrup and then added to water. A shrub is a colonial-era drink whose named is dervied from the Arabic word “sharab,” meaning “to drink.” Shrub could be made from any from, but the favorites were berries, oranges, and lemons. The vinegar makes the drink feel carbonated on the tongue and helped it from spoiling in warm weather (no refrigeration). It was a favorite of notorious playboy, Benjamin Franklin. Interesting side note, my boyfriend is the great-great-great-great-great-great legitimate grandson of Ben. My claim to fame, ladies and gentlemen.

Raspberry Shrub from Pennsylvania General Store.

Pawpaw Ice Cream – I guess the first thing to do is tell you what a pawpaw is. It’s a fruit, native to the eastern side of North America (Texas to the Great Lakes to Canada down the east coast to Florida), with an extremely short season from mid-August to October. It looks like a mango on the outside, has a custardy inside with several kidney bean shaped seeds, and tastes a little like a banana. The fruit, which has sort of fallen out of favor, was used to make ice cream way back when. It’s creamy texture was the perfect base for an even creamier ice cream.

This is what a pawpaw looks like. It tastes so good.

Paw Paw Ice Cream from Bassetts Ice Cream.

So there you have it. The foods that I will absolutely be trying on Saturday. All this good stuff will be supplied by Reading Terminal vendors (Pearl’s Oyster Bar, Downhome Diner, Beck’s Cajun Café, Martin’s Quality Meats and Sausage, Fairfood Farmstand, Pennsylvania General Store, and Bassett’s Ice Cream) and each sample costs between $2-$5. Starts at 10am, ends at 4pm in the Center Court. Get there. It’s gonna be great.

Keep eating and asking, my friends.



– “Fried Oysters with Chicken Salad.” Eat Your World | A Global Guide to Local Foods. Eat Your World, LLC. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://eatyourworld.com/destinations/pennsylvania/philadelphia/what-to-eat/fried-oysters-with-chicken-salad&gt;.

– Favreau, Meg. “Oysters in Hot Water.” Table Matters. Drexel University. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://www.tablematters.com/index.php/philly-sections/ed/edoyste&gt;.

– Nichols, Rick. “A Snappier Snapper.” Philly.com. Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 Apr. 2008. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://articles.philly.com/2008-04-13/news/24989707_1_turtle-soup-pepper-pot-snapper&gt;.

– Moody, Wendy. “East Falls Past.” The Fallser. The Fallser Newspaper, June 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://thefallser.com/index.php/Around-East-Falls/East-Falls-Past/East-Falls-Past.html&gt;.

– Clarkson, Janet. “The Battle for Food.” The Old Foodie. The Old Foodie, 29 Dec. 2005. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://www.theoldfoodie.com/2005/12/battle-for-food.html&gt;.

– Dubow, Charles. “The Perpetual Oyster.” Information for the World’s Business Leaders – Forbes.com. Forbes.com Inc. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://www.forbes.com/2003/11/07/cx_cd_1107feat.html&gt;.

– Lynn, Andrea. “Fried Pie – All About Fried Pie.” American Food – American Recipes and Cooking – American Cuisine. About.com. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://americanfood.about.com/od/resourcesadditionalinfo/a/fried-pies.htm&gt;.

– “Oyster Types.” Gourmet Food Magazine Website: THE NIBBLE Gourmet Food Gifts, Specialty Food, Mail Order, Online Gift Webzine. Lifestyle Direct, Inc. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/fish/seafood/oyster-glossary4.asp&gt;.

– Kawash, Samira. “Kissing Cousins: the Hershey’s Kiss and the Wilbur Bud.” The Candy Professor. 1 Mar. 2010. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://candyprofessor.com/2010/03/01/kissing-cousins-the-hershey’s-kiss-and-the-wilbur-bud/&gt;.

– Hesser, Amanda. “Recipe Redux – Raspberry Vinegar, 1900.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. New York Times, 28 July 2010. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/magazine/01food-t-000.html&gt;.

Pictures, in order of appearance:












7 thoughts on “I Digress…Forgotten Foods

  1. Bea says:

    Here’s another reader Esther! Great info and perhaps some ideas for this week ends meals 😉 Well done, your blog is really interesting

  2. lisa says:

    very cool esther! i knew your mom at philadelphia college of the arts. i am also in the food industry these days, i run a crepe & smoothie food booth at summer festivals. loved your stories as i grew up in the philly area too. cheers! lisa (glickman mcdonough)

  3. The Cozy Herbivore says:

    Wow, this looks like such a great event! About pawpaws– my work (I’m a pastry chef at the Franklin Fountain) just got some local pawpaws and yep, we’re planning to make ice cream with them. They’re quite delicious, so creamy! Have a great time today, eat lots of oysters!

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