Fruitcake has often been the butt of jokes, considered an inedible block that gets re-gifted year after year. But it’s also been a beloved baked good for generations — and one of the most famous is Jane Parker Fruit Cake. Jane Parker was the private label brand of A&P, the company that basically invented the modern supermarket. But when A&P went bankrupt, this beloved fruitcake was nearly lost to history. We talk to the two brothers in New York City who saved this fruitcake from extinction. Then Nikita Richardson, senior staff editor at New York Times Food, chats with us about her favorite gift ideas, and Team Sporkful offers their own gift recommendations for the holidays!
Cookish by Chris Kimball
Wandering In Strange Lands By Morgan Jerkins
Vegetable Kingdom by Bryant Terry
In Bibi’s Kitchen by Hawa Hassan
Every Night Is Pizza Night by J. Kenji López-Alt
The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Wreck The Halls" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Birthday Party" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Layers" by Erick Anderson
- "Call" by Nona Marie Invie
- "Brand New Day" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Pumpernickel" by Karla Dietmeyer and Olivia Ann Diercks
Photo courtesy of Jane Parker.
Dan Pashman: The holidays are coming. This year has been a year like no other. I know that I really want to just try to slow down a little bit and enjoy time with my family, my loved ones this season. And what better way to do that than hang out together in the kitchen and cook. So stayed tuned the very end of this episode, my kids are going to making a special appearance. We're gonna jump in the kitchen and make a Pillsbury Grands Giant Cinnamon Roll. The kids get into it. It's going to be a lot of fun. And it's the perfect way for you to take your holiday up a notch this year. So keep listening and pick up Pillsbury Grands Cinnamon Rolls on your next grocery trip.
CLIP (JOHNNY CARSON): Do you ever get a fruitcake for Christmas?
CLIP (PERSON): Always, I got on this Christmas
CLIP (JOHNNY CARSON): Do you eat it?
CLIP (PERSON): No
CLIP (JOHNNY CARSON): You see?
CLIP (PERSON): It's too fattening.
CLIP (JOHNNY CARSON): That's the damnedest thing.
CLIP (PERSON): Yeah.
CLIP (JOHNNY CARSON): Nobody eats them.
CLIP (PERSON): You keep it for a long time.
CLIP (JOHNNY CARSON): You put it up in the closet somewhere.
CLIP (PERSON): Yeah.
CLIP (JOHNNY CARSON): And then you wait till next Christmas and you...to somebody else.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show, we obsess about food to learn more about people. And this week, we’re bringing you the Sporkful Holiday Gift Guide. We’ll run through a whole bunch of gift recommendations in the second half of the show, but first, we are going to do a deep dive into one of the most classic holiday gifts of all time, and it comes in the form of a story.
Dan Pashman: As you heard in that Johnny Carson clip at the start of the show, fruitcake has long been the butt of holiday jokes. They basically never go bad. In fact, back in 2017, researchers in Antarctica came across a 106-year-old fruitcake, which they described as “almost edible.” Now, the fact that they seem to last forever can raise some suspicions. But does fruitcake deserve this reputation as the perpetually re-gifted punchline? Are they really as bad as Johnny Carson said? Well, it depends who makes them, because for many people, especially in the South, fruitcakes are a beloved holiday tradition with a long history. And for a lot of folks, it’s a homemade affair.
Kathleen Purvis: And it's an undertaking. You've got to get a lot of candied fruit. You got to get a lot of nuts and you get a lot of cake batter.
Dan Pashman: This is Kathleen Purvis. She’s a food writer in Charlotte, North Carolina. She’s written books about bourbon, pecans, and distilling in the South. She knows a thing or two about fruitcake. She says traditionally, people start making theirs before Thanksgiving, right at the start of the pecan harvest season. And unlike many other baked goods, the process of making a fruitcake doesn’t end after you’ve taken it out of the oven.
Kathleen Purvis: You cover it with cheese cloth and you put it in something airtight, like a metal can. And every few days, every week or so, you you lift that lid, you pour on a little drizzle of the alcohol, close it back up again and let it keep going. So it has to ripen. And that's another reason why you have to do it at least a month before Christmas. You know, if you wait till after Thanksgiving, it's really too late.
Dan Pashman: Fruitcakes are typically dark brown, either baked in a big ring or in a loaf. And like Kathleen said, they’re stuffed with nuts ,and candied dried fruits like raisins, orange peel, and cherries. They keep for such a long time because they’re so dense. They have a low moisture content, so there’s less opportunity for icky stuff to grow. Now, I didn’t grow up with fruitcake. I’m Jewish and from New Jersey. But I ordered my first one recently, and I have to say, I really liked it. I got a one pound fruitcake thinking, "Jeez, a pound of cake seems like a lot." Then it arrived and it was tiny, like the size of a single brick, and about as heavy as one. But I liked that density. It was chock full of nuts and fruits, you could really sink your teeth into it. This was like an entree cake.
Dan Pashman: Now real fruitcake aficionados will insist that fruitcakes don’t just keep for a long time, they actually get better with age. And there’s some science to back that up. You see, the skins of the dried fruits have tannins, which seep into the cake as it sits. Tannins are the compounds that make red wines get better with age, they produce more complex flavors. And by pouring some kind of alcohol on the fruitcake every week, you kill off anything on the surface you might not want there, which allows the fruitcake to sit and cure longer, and allowing those tannins to really develop in the cake. But the alcohol has often served another purpose for home bakers.
Kathleen Purvis: And the other thing about fruitcakes is it was kind of an excuse to drink, because you moisten them with alcohol, typically brandy, sometimes bourbon or whiskey, it was a chance, even if you were very polite, maybe teetotaler or a person to get a little bit of something that had a little tipple in it. You see a lot of that kind of baking in the South: lane cakes, bourbon balls, fruitcakes.
Dan Pashman: So homemade fruitcake has long been the tradition. But another tradition started taking off in the mid 20th Century, Jane Parker Fruitcakes. Jane Parker was the store brand line of baked goods for the supermarket chain A&P. In its day A&P was one of the largest retailers in the world. In 1940 they had nearly 16,000 stores across America. They basically invented the supermarket, the store where you could see the butcher, the baker, and the milkman in one stop. They also invented Jane Parker. She wasn’t a real person. She was basically A&P’s in-house Betty Crocker. And her specialty? Fruitcakes.
Kathleen Purvis: You know, one of the things about Jane Parker cakes is they were one of those things people gave away. And they would buy them—a lot of times, like your car dealer would buy 20 or 30 of them and make sure that his most regular customers would get one. It went along with things like country hams and, you know, a bottle of hard to get whiskey.
Dan Pashman: But by the 1980s, A&P was falling on hard times. Stores were closing, and the Jane Parker baking had been outsourced to Canada. The fruitcakes became harder to find at A&Ps, but they began popping up elsewhere...
Kathleen Purvis: They started selling these fruitcakes in small, limited supermarket chains, independent supermarkets, things like that all over the south.
Dan Pashman: We should say, we don’t know exactly how these small stores got their hands on these fruitcakes, since they were supposed to be baked as a private label for A&P. We just know that’s what happened. In 1985, Kathleen started working at the The Charlotte Observer newspaper. And when she got there, she learned about one of the newspaper’s annual traditions, the fruitcake column.
Kathleen Purvis: Every year our food editor, my predecessor, would have to find out where in town the Jane Parker fruitcakes were going to be stocked and she would run an announcement in her column of all the places where you could get em.
Dan Pashman: Kathleen became food editor in 1989, but she didn’t have to worry about the fruitcake column until many years later, when her predecessor retired. Kathleen took over that role in 2002, but her very first column started with a warning. “Let's cut to the chase,” she wrote, “If you're looking for Jane Parker fruitcake, you may be out of luck.”
Kathleen Purvis: I went out one time to go to a store, where they were known for always carrying them. And as I recall, when I got there in early November, they were already out of the fruitcakes. I had to beg for one. And the only reason I got one was because the bookkeeper in the store had set aside several for her own and she agreed to sell me one. [laughing] And I took it into the office and I stopped off and I got your run of the mill Claxton's fruitcake, which is the one that's most common. It's still pretty available out there. And I took them both to my office and we did a side by side tasting and the Jane Parker blew everybody away.
Dan Pashman: But despite how good they were, Jane Parker fruitcakes were disappearing. Meanwhile that same year, somewhere in Queens, New York, two brothers, Chris and Alex Ronacher, decide to go into business together. This was the early days of the internet, and they decided to open an online candy store. Six years later, 2008, A&P is on its last legs. But for their 150th anniversary, the store decides to bring the fruitcakes back into production. And Chris and Alex see an opportunity—or really, their father does.
Chris Ronacher: And my dad, he knew what we were doing goes, "Hey, guys, you should try selling this," you know? So we said, "Fruitcake? Really? Oh, all right Dad." So we actually we put it online and it was an instant success. It just—as many as we could get our hands on. And we're putting them online and reselling them. And by the time we get home, whatever we had purchased was sold already. It was insane. That went on for five, six years like that. OK? And then it made up about twenty five, thirty percent of our holiday sales every season. So it was a really great item until 2014, A&P went bankrupt. Now, instantly there were no more fruitcakes. So 14 went by, 15 went by, 16 went by. People were calling us, emailing us, "Where's the fruitcake? How come you guys don't have them anymore?" And we were telling them the sad story. The third season came by, no fruitcakes. And me and my brother, we said, "We got to figure out where these are. Someone has to be making them."
Chris Ronacher: So, Alex and a lot of due diligence. He did a lot of research online to find out what was going on. And he found out that all the intellectual property rights, all the patents, the trademarks, logos, the original recipes and everything else was being held in a bankruptcy liquidation sale.
Alex Ronacher: And I was thinking to myself, "Knowing how well this cake sold for us, it's probably gone already," you know? But I looked there and sure enough, it was still up for auction. I went up to Chris. I was like, "Listen, I found it to be found. He said, "Found what?" I said, " I found Jane Parker. And they say they have the original recipes and all the rights to the brand, the logos, everything. You know? It's all set. So it seemed like there was no interest in it except for us."
Dan Pashman: Chris and Alex bought the whole Jane Parker brand, recipes and all. They wouldn’t tell me exactly how much they paid, but they pointed us to an article on the website Brandland USA, which says “They were able to purchase the brand and relaunch for less than $100,000.” Their plan was to bring Jane Parker back to its glory days. But right away, there were issues.
Chris Ronacher: It was supposed to be a turnkey thing. Everything was understood the baker was going to make the product. They had all the ingredients and machinery, yadda, yadda. Everything was done. Once we signed and the ink dried. The baker didn't want to make fruitcake anymore. They weren't going to make them for us anymore. So you were left with a recipe and a design on a box, and that's it. Nothing else. No baker. Nothing. Nothing. The box art that we got was so outdated that no printers could use it.
Dan Pashman: Right...
Alex Ronacher: So they could they actually couldn't open it in any of like the Adobe illustrators and stuff.
Dan Pashman: Right. Right.
Alex Ronacher: This is so archaically old, it might as well be...
Dan Pashman: I imagine it like being sent to you, in one of those old photocopy devices ...
Alex Ronacher: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Like the purple...like the multiple sheets on top of each other and...
Alex Ronacher: That's right. Like a step up from like a hammer and a chisel, pretty much. Like that, you know?
Dan Pashman: Right.
Chris Ronacher: Now that that was April of 2017. And the cakes are usually baked in June, July for the holiday season. So we had two months to find a baker, get the recipe down and have all the packaging made to get this done. So we went to a different couple of bakers. Some couldn't help, some had no interest, some never return calls.
Dan Pashman: Why? Why was this difficult? There's a lot of industrial bakers out there.
Alex Ronacher: Well, that's true. There are a lot of industrial bakers but to make a quality fruitcake, it....the list gets very small, very fast.
Dan Pashman: So I'm sure part of that is quality, like you want to make a good one. But as part of that also fruitcake? Like they didn't want to be, they want to deal with making fruitcake?
Alex Ronacher:: You know, it's actually like a very labor intensive and very slow process to make the cake. You know, the cakes are baked for a very long time at low temperatures. They have to be chilled afterwards for, I think two weeks. Right? You know, in order to cure the correct way? There's the nut allergen part. So you have to find a bakery that processes tree nuts and not everybody does that.
Dan Pashman: Finally, Chris and Alex found a baker in Beatrice, Nebraska, 40 miles south of Lincoln, who said they’d do it. During that first year, the brothers had no idea how many fruitcakes they’d need. They ended up selling just under 5,000, which for them was a success. And beyond the sales, they were struck by peoples’ reactions.
Alex Ronacher: We have hundreds and hundreds of emails. We have hundreds and hundreds of voicemails that were left for us with people actually crying on the phone, saying how my dad worked for A+P when he got back from the World Wars. You know? And he would bring that cake home and having the cake here is like having my dad back at the table with him.
Dan Pashman: That’s Chris and Alex Ronacher. This year they say they expect to sell 10,000 fruitcakes, about double what they sold in their first year. In fact, things are going so well that they stopped selling all their other candies and snacks. They’re now Jane Parker, full time. You can order their fruitcakes at JaneParker.com. And one more thing about the recipe. The classic Jane Parker fruitcakes don’t have alcohol in them. Chris and Alex say it’s because of laws about shipping alcohol across state lines. So if you want the authentic experience, you’ll got to add the alcohol yourself.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, our holiday gift guide kicks into high gear. We’ll find out why Nikita Richardson, food editor at The New York Times, swears by a certain nut butter from Hawaii. And she’ll tell us about a home seltzer machine that’s a showpiece on your counter. Plus Sporkful staffers join me to share food book recs, and more. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. If you love our nerdier episodes, make sure you check out last week’s show, where I talk with the authors of two new food science books. Nik Sharma explains his Flavor Equation. And legendary food science writer Harold McGee tells us why he spent 10 years writing a book about smells. One thing I learned from that conversation? When you pick a leaf from a tea plant, at first it’ll just smell like a leaf. But the leaf starts sending internal signals saying like, “Help! Someone ripped me off my plant. I’m injured!” And some of those signals release compounds that smell lovely
CLIP (HAROLD MCGEE): So all you have to do is pick some tea leaves and let them wither and then pick them up and smell them. And instead of smelling like green leaves, they smell like flowers. It's just an amazing experience.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): What I'm hearing from this, is when you're enjoying a cup of tea, you're really just taking pleasure in the tea plant's cries for help.
CLIP (HAROLD MCGEE): That's pretty much it.
Dan Pashman: That episode is up now, come and get it all you food science nerds. OK back to the show. Nikita Richardson just started a brand new job as a Senior Staff Editor for New York Times Food. But until recently, she wrote excellent shopping and product guides for The Strategist. So she’s the perfect person to share some last minute gift ideas.
Dan Pashman: So I thought we would kind of split up our discussion into gear and food.
Nikita Richardson: The two genders.
Dan Pashman: Right, right. Right. Now Nikita, this year, anyone who follows you on Instagram knows that you developed a pretty serious crush on a coffee pot.
Nikita Richardson: Yes.
Dan Pashman: It's called a moka pot, but it's spelled M-O-K-A. I think a lot people have seen these things.
Nikita Richardson: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: They're like usually silver with a black handle. They sit on top of a stove top. They're kind of like octagonal.
Nikita Richardson: Yes. It's essentially a percolator. There's a bottom section that has water in it. And as that water heats up and reaches the boiling point, the pressure builds in and inside the moka pot and it pushes hot water through coffee. And then the coffee comes out of a spout, that's at the top of the pot.
Dan Pashman: It sort of—it erupts almost like a volcano.
Nikita Richardson: Well, no, no, no, no, no, no. It flows like a river. [laughs] If you're if you are doing it correctly, it should not erupt.
Dan Pashman: OK, I got it.
Nikita Richardson: It should flow. And also it saves me a ton of money because you can just make like, very good—it's almost like espresso coffee, but not quite. But it's going to be stronger than pour over drip. This is like a very perfect middle ground.
Dan Pashman: And folks can get a moka pot, a perfectly nice, one for what? Like 30 or 40 bucks. Right?
Nikita Richardson: Like twenty five dollars.
Dan Pashman: OK.
Nikita Richardson: Cheaper than that, like they're cheap.
Dan Pashman: So much cheaper than a fancy espresso machine?
Nikita Richardson: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Now, if people want to go a little bit high end and they care about aesthetics, as do you, Nikita...
Nikita Richardson: Mmm, yes.
Dan Pashman: One of the items you feature that caught my eye is this Aarke? That’s spelled A-A-R-K-E, the Swedish made stainless steel sparkling water maker.
Nikita Richardson: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: So I guess this is sort of like a SodaStream, except very fancy.
Nikita Richardson: Yes. Our editor at The Strategist, Maxime Builder, is a professed seltzer obsessive. And she did this experiment where she brought in all these seltzer makers and tested them out, like not only for can they make sparkling water, but can they look good doing it? And the Aarke is as close as we will ever get to an extremely attractive seltzer maker. It comes in like brass or silver. It just has that kind of like form and function. If you are going to get it at home seltzer machine, you could get a soda stream. There's nothing wrong with it. They make it makes great seltzer. But if you want it to look good on your countertop, then get an Aarke.
Dan Pashman: And that runs about two hundred and thirty dollars. So it's going to set you back, but I guess it's a showpiece, if you can afford it.
Nikita Richardson: Like I think I put that on my list of like a great gift for couples. It's a beautiful seltzer machine, and I think you really enjoy it.
Dan Pashman: One more piece of gear from the company Great Jones, I should say, full disclosure, Great Jones has advertised on the show before but they are not paying us to talk about their products right now. And this is one that I've heard a lot of people this Great Jones Holy Sheet Pan, which you know, I’ve read the name 27 times but it's the first time I’m saying, "Holy Sheet Pan", out loud and I only just now got the pun.
Nikita Richardson: Yeah. They love a good pun there.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. It's blue first of all, so it looks cool. But what makes this different from other sheet pans?
Nikita Richardson: You can get really good sheet pans, decent sheet pans that cost a lot less than Holy Sheet and be fine. But I mean also....
Dan Pashman: This one’s 35 bucks.
Nikita Richardson: Yeah. One, 35 is not that bad for the color. But also if you add onto that the fact that it doesn't warp, which everyone has had that sheet pan that warped or that like when you take it out of the oven it starts popping because it's like adjusting to room temp. Every sheet pan with time becomes blackened, gets—you know what I mean? They become discolored, which, you know, shows use. But it also gets pretty annoying too. This isn't going to do that as much. And that's what really sets it apart. Plus, I talked to chefs all the time. Frequently this sheet pan comes up among like even professional chefs. They just really, really love it. And these are people who love things that are cheap and do get the job done. And then also it's like a wonderful housewarming gift. If somebody has just moved into a place, I would give them that sheet pan.
Dan Pashman: All right. So, Nikita, let's move on to a couple of the food that you have featured. One is this Omsom Southeast Asian sampler. And Omsom is this company started by these two sisters, Vanessa and Kim Pham, they launched this company along with these very accomplished Asian chefs in NY, and these are these sauce packets. The same way you might have any other kind of sauce packet or spice blend to add to a recipe, that sort of allow for a shortcut to cooking a dish.
Nikita Richardson: Mm-hmm. Yeah, exactly. I mean, I love the idea of children of immigrants starting literally anything because you're leaning into your own culture, but you're going to...you're going to sell it and package it in a way that feels very American and that's what this is. It's like a little box you it comes with, I believe, two to three of each of the little packets. And so, like the same way they like you can get taco seasoning. This is like, OK, you want to make authentic larb, squeeze this packet into your pork and you've got larb. You don't have to buy any extra spices. You don't do anything fancy. And I think hopefully one day every grocery store will have Omsom on their shelves where you can—I want to make Larb tonight. Let me go get this.
Dan Pashman: Other flavors include Vietnamese Lemongrass BBQ, Korean spicy bulgogi, Japanese Yuzu Misoyaki, and a lot more. So I'm psyched about this one. I gotta say the second I saw this on your list, Nikita, I ordered one for every person that works on The Sporkful.
Nikita Richardson: Yeah! [LAUGHING]
Dan Pashman: So we all got sampler boxes. So I took your gift guide suggesting right away. OK, here’s another one that you featured that sparked my interest. Macadamia nut honey butter?
Nikita Richardson: Yes. So that one is personal to me.
Dan Pashman: Tell me about it.
Nikita Richardson: Because last April, a good friend of mine got married in Hawaii. That's where she grew up and where she's from. And she let me bring along a plus one. So I brought my best friend with me and my best friend is vegan. And my friend Sarah came across this place Banan. It's soft serve, but it's made with only bananas. So no dairy. They just take Hawaiian bananas and turn it into the most delicious, richest soft serve I've ever had in my life. And the one that I got was this—had like chocolate in it, and then it had this macadamia nut honey butter. You know, I just like that nutty flavor and that sweetness. It's just so good. And then at the beginning of quarantine or so, I was on Instagram and they had put up, "Hey, you can now buy this and we're shipping it around the United States." And I was like, "What?" And it's so good. I just reordered like two two more jars a couple of months...a month ago. And I like to like put it—I make like my own chocolate pudding and I like to put it in the chocolate pudding, so it's like nutty and chocolaty.
Dan Pashman: Oh my God, so got the macadamia nut honey butter in chocolate pudding.
Nikita Richardson: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: That must be like homemade Nutella times 100.
Nikita Richardson: It's so good. It's like this recipe for dark chocolate pudding from the Phoenicia Diner cookbook. And I like—and then I like make it into individual pudding cups and then get to have one.
Dan Pashman: I want listeners to know that you did a little dance at the moment that you referred to your pudding set up. There was like a little shimmy there with that.
Nikita Richardson: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Well that sounds fantastic as someone who loves macadamia nuts and honey. I love elaborate nut butters.
Nikita Richardson: And supporting a small business because that's what they are. They are very small business. They don't have a footprint outside Hawaii. And that was a, you know, when everything was shut down, that was a huge revenue stream for them. And they actually, one of the owners cold emailed me and was like, "Thank you so much for mentioning us. Like, this was really huge for us because, you know, we're just trying to stay afloat like everyone else." And that that feels so much better, like as a writer than almost anything else.
Dan Pashman: One more for us to cover. Yes Yolk Yao-Pan Kombucha Vinegar.
Nikita Richardson: Yes. It was part of this bigger trend that I've noticed this year. There's all of a sudden very fancy vinegars. Like they're small batched. They're extra fancy. You can get beer vinegar now. You can get—like name it. The way people—everyone was making was their own olive oil, now they're making their own vinegar but the buy-in to vinegar is way lower, because you don't have to grow your own vinegar. You brew it essentially, like you ferment it.
Dan Pashman: This is making me suddenly realize that I have no idea what vinegar is.
Nikita Richardson: Vinegar...
Dan Pashman: I mean, like, I know what it is, but I don't know how it's made. Like what what does it even mean to be vinegar? Can you make vinegar out of anything?
Nikita Richardson: I don't want to mess up the science here, but yes. And I know this to be true because because the vinegars is that people make are made of everything. So there's like celery vinegar, and like you can ferment blueberries and make vinegar with it. You can vinegarize is almost anything.
Dan Pashman: I also...Like that word, vinegarize.
Nikita Richardson: Yeah. No, vinegarize.
Dan Pashman: You should hold on to that.
Nikita Richardson: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And I know we talked a bit about small businesses. One way that people support small businesses that you've written about is by supporting Ethel's Club. Tell me about that.
Nikita Richardson: So Ethel's club is a social—like a social club that was started here in New York by this woman named Naj Austin. This is specifically geared toward people of color. It's not non-people of color can join, but it's geared toward people of color. People who continue to pay full membership, even after everything shuttered down, they started sending them kind of little like care packages and one of them was a Eats Box, which was all like little snacks and stuff from, you know, minority owned brands.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, so if you go to shop.ethelsclub.com, you can find their Good Eats Box, which has a bunch of different snacks. You can also give a gift of a monthly membership to Ethel’s club. Definitely something worth checking out.
Nikita Richardson: A couple of months ago, The Strategist did a story, where we asked black business owners about how they had gone through the pandemic. And because obviously, whatever hurt has been leveled against everyone in the United States, it is being felt way harder by minorities, especially black and brown people. What we kind of came out with was that, actually, they were struggling, of course, through the pandemic but then, you know, this renewed interest in Black Lives Matter happened and people started investing in black businesses heavily. I talked to a black owned chocolatier based in the Bronx, and he was like, "We did enough business in one month to carry them through the end of the year." He was like, "We made money that we only make around the holidays." To be able to give them that twice over in one year, any kind of small local minority owned business would be truly a gift. Truly a gift because buying from, you know, an Amazon, our Best Buy, your purchases are a drop in their bucket. But for a small business, that is a groundswell.
Dan Pashman: That’s Nikita Richardson. You can check out her writing at New York Magazine, and we’ll link to all the products she mentioned on our website, sporkful.com. Before we wrap up our gift guide, I want to see what the rest of Team Sporkful is excited about this holiday season. So I’m joined now by Producers Emma Morgenstern, Andres O’Hara and Tomeka Weatherspoon. So let's just go around the horn here, OK? I want to hear each one of you. We all picked gifts to recommend, mostly books but not all.
Dan Pashman: Emma, what do you got?
Emma Morgenstern: I have a recommendation. It's COOKish by Chris Kimball. I've cooked out of Cookish a few times. My husband and I have both made some dishes from there, including za'atar fish, also some charred brussel sprouts, some Korean fire chicken. So there's a lot of great kind of different kinds of recipes. And it's all designed to be super simple and super easy.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. I've checked that book out and really like it. My mom loves it, too. I'm a contributor to Milk Street Radio and yeah, I love everything Chris does. Tomeka,.
Tomeka Weatherspoon: Hi.
Dan Pashman: What what have you got for us?
Tomeka Weatherspoon: My recommendation is an electric tea kettle. You know, if you have a tea lover in your family or a friend? I recently learned that I have been making tea all wrong for years. Making tea at the wrong temperature, you know, green tea, herbal tea, black tea, I did not know that there are specific temperatures you're supposed to steep different teas at.
Dan Pashman: Really?
Tomeka Weatherspoon: And....yeah. They have electric tea kettles now and electric teapots where you can just push a button and it boils it to the right temperature, depending on which type you want to make. So I decided to get that for my sister.
Dan Pashman: Did you? Have you tried it or you got to be your sister?
Tomeka Weatherspoon: I just got it from my sister, but I'm thinking of getting it for me. I'm really curious if it's going to change how you know, how the flavor tastes of these different teas. Maybe it's going to be a whole new experience.
Dan Pashman: That's an interesting concept,
Emma Morgenstern: That's something that I don't miss about the Stitcher office, is that there was a hot water maker that didn't get the water up to the right temperature.
Tomeka Weatherspoon: Hmmm. Yeah.
Emma Morgenstern: And there is this woman...there's a woman, who used to work at Stitcher, and she would she would always say, "Oh, I'm a Tea-va.", because she really loved tea.
Emma Morgenstern: And she hated that the water did not get to the right temperature.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Emma Morgernstern: So this electric kettle that boils your water to the exact right temperature, does sound like a great gift. Grace, if you're out there, you should get it for yourself.
Dan Pashman: Right. OK, next up, Andres. What do you got for us?
Andres O’Hara: Well, you know, winter's coming and I keep seeing headlines about this is going to be a long winter. We're going to be in lockdown. And for me, cooking was definitely a way to keep myself sane, for a while. Then I got really sick of it. I got a bunch of takeout. I stopped cooking, and now I want to start cooking again. My recommendation is Bryant Terry's cookbook, Vegetable Kingdom. And right now, it's actually my first and only vegan cookbook. I'm really excited to try this fennel recipe, has kind of a Cuban twist on it. It's got like orange and garlic and, actually, crushed up plantains. He calls it plantain flour. It's just a bunch of like plantain chips he just mashed up in a bag and...
Dan Pashman: Oh my God.
Andres O’Hara: You know, sprinkled on top? It sounds delicious.
Dan Pashman: That's genius.
Tomeka Weatherspoon: That is genius.
Andres O’Hara: Yeah, yeah. I've never—I buy a lot of plantain chips and never thought of this.
Tomeka Weatherspoon: Right, yeah.
Andres O’Hara: You know, pulverizing them into a flour. But I think it's a great idea.
Dan Pashman: He turned that into a pie crust?
Andres O’Hara: No, no. This is just like a topping.
Dan Pashman: That's my first thought, pie crust.
Emma Morgenstern: With coconut oil maybe?
Dan Pashman: Oh yes.
Andres O’Hara: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Oh, man. I'm hungry now. So I'm gonna recommend two books, each ver different. First off, a kids book by a friend of the Sporkful, Kenji Lopez Alt. It's called Every Night Is Pizza Night. I got it. I've been reading it to my kids. They love it and it features a young girl named Pepo, who believes that pizza is the best. It's a scientific fact, but then she goes out on this quest to prove it scientifically and she ends up experiencing all different foods from all different cultures. And it's a great way to teach your kids a little bit about science and also foods from different cultures. So that's Every Night Is Pizza Night. The other book I want to recommend is not a food book, although it's written by Molly Wizenberg, who in the past has been a food writer. She's written a couple of food centric memoirs. She writes a blog called Orangette and she co-hosts a podcast, Spilled Milk, great fun food podcast. This book is called The Fixed Stars, and it begins with Molly in her mid 30s, married to a man. They have a kid. She goes on jury duty and finds herself developing a crush on one of the lawyers, who is a woman. And this catches her totally by surprise. And the book is sort of her journey to try to understand those feelings, come to terms with them, eventually act on them, and radically change her life. And to ask herself hard questions, like were these feelings always within me and they were suppressed? Where do they come from? Is this something that evolved within me? You know, this idea of the fixed stars, the title of the book, is sort of this idea of we think that things are permanent and immovable. We think that maybe our personality or our lives are set in stone at a certain point in our lives, but actually come to learn that what looks to be not moving in the sky is actually moving very quickly. Again that book is called The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg.
Tomeka Weatherspoon: And I wonder who the listeners are going to believe, what gifts they should get. Probably Dan’s picks because you're the best at selling.
Dan Pashman: Right. Well, I think that you guys all made great picks. So everyone, I want to hear from all listeners, what did you get? What did you like? Don't be biased by the fact that I'm just louder.
Emma Morgenstern: We'll just crank our gain in posts.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Andres O’Hare: Yeah. We'll cut you out of this, Dan.
Dan Pashman: Again, we’ll post links to all of these gift ideas on Sporkful.com. And if you’re looking for more gift ideas, might I suggest a Sporkful t-shirt? We have five different designs. They come in kids sizes. Check em all out at sporkful.com/store. Next week on the show, we'll hear your New Year’s food resolutions and I will share mine. In the mean time, make sure to nerd out with last week’s episode featuring interviews with the authors of two new books on food science.
Dan Pashman: Hey, want to see what I’m cooking and eating? Follow me on Instagram, @TheSporkful. See ya there.