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What Would Nettie Eat: A Jazz Age Murder

On Valentine’s Day in 1923, Harry Diamond, a dashing bootlegger who was a real lady killer, decided that since his rich wife had signed a new will leaving her fortune totally to him, it was time to get rid of her. In a sort of Deadman’s land between Gary and East Chicago, he ordered his chauffeur to check the tires, then shot his wife five times at close range and shot the chauffer as well. Nettie played dead, the chauffeur ran away, and as soon as Harry carried her body into the drugstore she owned, she looked him in the eye and said “You killed me, Harry.”

Nettie in one of the drugstores she owned. A pharmacist, she was one of only seven women to graduate out of a class of 800 or so from Columbia University’s School of Pharmacy.

I recounted the story of this murder that took place in my hometown in my true crime book A Jazz Age Murder in Northwest Indiana. The woman, Nettie Diamond, was a much married pharmacist and businesswoman and her husband (her fifth and last) was a bootlegger and speak easy owned named Harry Diamond. He was like 23 and she was 42.

I was signing copies of my book after a presentation when one of the people who had attended asked me how I had gone from writing about food to writing about murder. I still write about food but the short answer was that my mother had dated Nettie’s son when they both were attending Indiana University way back when and she had told me about their romance–and the murder– shortly before she died. I had known Nettie’s son, whose name was changed from Herskovitz to Hurst as he was my elementary school principal. Anyway, this is turning out not to be such a short answer, but I became fascinated by the case which is so perfectly 1920s and when I was asked about segueing from food to murder, I started asking myself, well…what would have Nettie and Harry eaten?

Below are some recipes that were popular in the 1920s. So who knows? Maybe Nettie would have had her cook (yes, she had one) whip up some of these dishes. As for the drinks, this was Prohibition after all, and I’m guessing that Harry would have served some of his bootlegged rye whiskey. The Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan happens to be making a classic rye whiskey and kindly shared a recipe with us.

Steak houses were big.  Instead of using the word oven broiled instead of grilled which doesn’t sound very good at all. But it’s the same concept. Think Jazz Age clothing, lots of cigarette smoke, ice clinking in cocktail glasses, banquettes, and Cole Porter music when making this steak dish using Omaha steaks—as that company was already in business.

Steak Au Poivre

2 (10- to 12- ounce) filets mignons (or substitute your favorite cut such as bavette, rib eye, skirt, porter house, flat iron, or New York strip), at least 1½ inches thick

Kosher salt

3 tablespoons avocado oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

¼ cup full- fat coconut milk

½ cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon green peppercorns in brine, drained

1 teaspoon loosely packed fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon ghee

Time: 20 minutes, plus 1 hour of marinating

“Pat the steaks dry with paper towels and liberally season all sides with salt. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside for 1 hour at room temperature. When ready to cook the steaks, heat a large cast- iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium- high and pour in 2 tablespoons of the avocado oil. Heat until oil is shimmering and carefully place the steaks in the skillet.

“Cook, flipping the steaks every 60 seconds, until the internal temperature registers 130° to 135°F on an instant- read thermometer, about 8 minutes. Remove the steaks from the pan and transfer them to a wire rack to rest for 10 minutes. While the steaks rest, wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel, then place it over medium heat. Pour in the remaining 1 tablespoon avocado oil, then add the shallot. Cook, stirring, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by about half, about 2 minutes.

“Add the stock, green peppercorns, thyme, and a pinch of black pep-per. Cook until the sauce has reduced again by half, about 4 minutes. Fold in the ghee and stir until it has melted. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as desired. Slice the steaks against the grain and arrange them on a serving platter. Spoon the green peppercorn sauce over the top and serve.

SERVES 2

Excerpted from THE PRIMAL GOURMET COOKBOOK: Whole30 Endorsed: It’s Not a Diet If It’s Delicious © 2020 by Ronny Joseph Lvovski. Photography © 2020 by Donna Griffith. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Journeyman Fig Old Fashioned

1.5 ounces Field Rye

0.5 ounce fresh orange juice

0.25 ounce Journeyman Bourbon Maple Syrup

Dash of Journeyman Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar

Dehydrated orange wheel or orange slice

Stir ingredients and pour into a rocks glass, over ice. Garnish with dehydrated orange wheel.

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