If you look at old photographs, says Trifecta Tavern's Eve Küttemann, it's not too hard to determine what life must have been like 100 or more years ago. What's impossible to know is what life tasted like back then—unless, of course, you're willing, like Küttemann is, to explore the recipes of your great-grandparents and their great-grandparents.
So she started collecting old cookbooks—and heading to the library when the some of them proved to rare or spendy to track down or buy—and began mining them for old recipes to figure out what Americans used to make way back in the day.
Now she's ready to show you what she's learned over the last few years by inaugurating Sage Hen, a first Fridays dessert series that starts this Friday, April 3, behind the scenes, as it were, around the wooden baking table she and her colleagues use at Trifecta Tavern's in-house bakery.
The intimate gatherings will start at 8:30 p.m., and will seat only eight of you. But if you're one of those lucky enough to score a ticket, you'll will be treated to assorted savory snacks, olde-tyme cocktails researched and developed by Trifecta's Bar Manager, Colin Carroll, followed by three vintage desserts (all accompanied by bubbles), and some tea cakes when the tasting wraps up.
Up first is Küttemann's takes on a a trio of desserts, including a syllabub (which she says dates back to the late-18th-century and which resembles a whipped frothy milkshake made with cider), cornmeal puffs (which she likens to a soufflé) and chocolate-mashed potato cakes—the recipe of which she found in a community cookbook that her great-grandmother and her friends and neighbors contributed to in early-20th-century Oklahoma.
The desserts, Küttemann admits, have been modernized and tweaked, but only because the old recipes are so...vague. "The descriptions for a lot of the recipes are dry," she says, adding that you need to cook it out to figure out "what they mean by a handful of this and some of that."
And as for the series name, Küttemann was very deliberate. She'd come across the term "sage hen," while doing her research—a term of antiquated endearment for indomitable American women whose main—neé, only—job was to run the home and feed the people in it. It's also a nod to the sage grouse, an indigenous bird that the government is dangerously close to putting on the endangered species list.
Küttemann says that she feels if we neglect antique American recipes—and fail to learn how to interpret their often mysteriously incomplete recipes—that they may be soon be endangered, too, which is why she's all set to showcase how the old can be the new new.