Martha Stewart: Care for Munising bowls with food-grade mineral oil

Published: Sunday, July 18 2010 3:00 p.m. MDT

Dear Martha: I have a large wooden bowl marked "Munising." What can you tell me about it, and how can I restore it?

Answer: Munising bowls hail from their namesake town, nestled on the South Bay of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Workers at Munising Woodenware Company, in business from 1911 to 1955, machine-lathed each vessel out of hardwood, usually maple, from the forests nearby. The factory produced other household items, such as butter molds, spoons and breadboards. The goods were sold at department stores, where many found their way onto wedding registries. During World War II, the factory fashioned 50 million tent stakes for the Army and the Marines. Of the many items the company made, the bowls were among the few types of pieces branded with its name.

Today, Munising bowls surface in antiques stores and at online auctions. The salad bowls, 10 inches or more in diameter, are usually unadorned or painted a solid color on their exterior; some are footed. The largest vessels, at least 17 inches wide and unpainted, are dough bowls. Carved from the broadest trunks, these are more valuable and harder to come by. In the 1940s, the factory began painting some with decorations, such as fruit or flowers. According to Karen Boaz, owner of Red Barn Antiques in nearby Au Train, artisans weren't allowed to sign their work, but many hid their initials in the painted swirls.

To care for a Munising bowl, coat its surface with food-grade mineral oil, and let it get absorbed for six to eight hours. Repeat until oil no longer permeates the wood, and wipe off excess. Treat the bowl every month, and keep it out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat and cold. If you use the vessel to serve or prepare food, avoid any that may stain the wood, such as beets or berries. To clean it, wash it with hot water and gentle dishwashing liquid. Do not let it soak. Dry it, and then reapply oil.

Dear Martha: What is in an egg cream, and what is the origin of the drink?

Answer: "Egg cream" is a misnomer for this New York City soda-fountain drink, which calls for neither eggs nor cream – only chocolate-flavored syrup, milk and seltzer. The frothy concoction is a refreshing, seemingly rich treat: silky brown below, airy white on top.

As is often the case with iconic foods, the egg cream's origins are more legend than fact. One theory is that an early version contained the title ingredients; a recipe from 1906 includes both (but no chocolate). The name might have derived from chocolat et creme, a favorite French drink of a Yiddish theater actor, or from the foam, reminiscent of beaten egg whites. Most likely, a candy-shop owner (Louis Auster, some say) concocted it around 1900 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, then home to many Jewish immigrants. Without using pricier ingredients such as ice cream, the drink was an economical and popular offering at candy shops, lunch counters and soda fountains in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, with its heyday spanning from the 1930s to the 1960s.

The egg cream lives on across the country as a fizzy ambassador of its hometown. But purists insist that it still come with local flavor: In addition to ice-cold whole milk and seltzer spritzed from a pressurized bottle, the drink must be mixed with a chocolate-flavored syrup called Fox's U-Bet (foxs-syrups.com), made by a century-old Brooklyn company, for a sweet taste of tradition.

Dear Martha: I just made plain yogurt and want to try different flavors. Do I add them during the fermentation process?

Answer: Just make your yogurt and chill it. When you serve it, spoon raspberry jam, honey or blueberry sauce on top – whatever you choose to flavor it with. I love it just plain with a spoonful of fresh applesauce or beautiful, thick local honey.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 601 W. 26th St., 9th floor, New York, NY 10001. Questions may also be sent by e-mail to: mslletters@marthastewart.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number.) Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. Distributed by the New York Times News Service.

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