Tobacco Prose: The Cigar-Factory Readers of Ybor City

Postcard depicting The Cigar Lady of Ybor City, Florida
Images: Boston Public Library

We read to know we are not alone.
–C.S. Lewis


On a December evening in 1903, the streets of Ybor City, Florida rang with gunfire. Two men had dueled and, in so doing, sustained grave injuries. One of the duelists, Mexican national Enrique Velázquez, would find himself the worse for the exchange, his bullet wounds carrying him off five days later. His antagonist, Spaniard Jesús Fernández, managed to survive his injuries.

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Braised Beef Heart

“Most housekeepers get into a ‘rut’ and buy the same steaks, chops and roast each week, having no repertoire of cheaper dishes,” an 1888 edition of Table Talk laments. The author suggests that “a beef’s heart or a braised calf’s liver make an excellent and economical change.” Certainly beef heart is one of the more neglected pieces of meat. And this is indeed a sad fact. For beef heart, if properly cooked, is quite delicious — and exceptionally nutritious.

Here’s an economical and tasty recipe for braised beef heart from Serve this dish with a green salad and a crusty loaf of sourdough bread.

Braised Beef Heart

3 lbs beef heart
3 tablespoons onion soup mix
1 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 cube beef bouillon
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1. Trim any fat off the heart. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut off any large pieces of the connective tissue around the top of the meat.

2. Roll into a roast form and tie with string.

3 Brown in the oil on all sides.

4. Put in a dutch oven and add the onion, cut into about 8 pieces, and all the other ingredients, except the bread crumbs.

5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 4 hours, turning every hour.

6. After 2 hours, add the bread crumbs.

7. When done, remove heart and use an immersion blender or regular blender to smooth the gravy. If desired, you can thicken the gravy some more with a water and flour mixture, bringing it to the boil.

8. Slice the heart lengthwise into 1/4″ slices.

A Viennese Favorite: Tafelspitz

Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, was a notoriously fast eater. This proved troublesome to the court as every time he entertained his highest military officials, Franz Joseph was the first to be served. The rules of etiquette at the time dictated that once the Emperor stopped eating, everyone at the table must also finish their meals. Because of the rapidity with which he finished his meals, the soldiers were never able to finish their meals, leaving the table as hungry as when they first arrived.

Taking pity on the hungry soldiers, the court chefs created a simple but delicious dish that could be quickly prepared and brought to table: Tafelspitz, or Viennese boiled beef. Franz Joseph was so enamored of the new recipe of boiled beef and vegetables that he insisted upon having it at almost every meal.

Below is a recipe for Tafelspitz from Use a well-aged tri tip, or a piece from the bottom sirloin primal cut, but almost any large cut of beef will suffice for making this recipe. Serve the finished dish with roasted sliced potatoes or a mix of apples, cream and horseradish. Because the process of boiling the beef results in a delicious stock, Tafelspitz is an economical dish — the stock can be saved and used for vegetable soups or stews.


2 qts. water
2 large carrots, cut into thin sticks
1 teaspoon salt
4 celery stalks, cut into thin strips (or substitute one celery root for a more authentic flavor)
3 pound beef brisket
2 leeks, white part only
2 gherkins
1 onion – cut into rings parsley

Heat 2 qt. water with salt. Add beef; bring to a boil. Skim foam from surface until clear. Partially cover pot; simmer 1-1/2 hours.

Cut leeks in 2 inch pieces, then cut in half lengthwise. Add leeks, onion, carrots and celery to beef. Cook until beef and vegetables are tender.

Cut beef into 1/2 inch slices. Cut gherkins lengthwise in thin slices, leaving 1 end uncut. Spread out slices like a fan – garnish beef with gherkins.

Serve vegetables in a separate dish with 4 tablespoons cooking liquid spooned over the top. Garnish with parsley.