Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Packed Lunches for a Whole Week, from 1943.

I have some simple, useful advice for you today, to help with one of the tedious chores of the week – what to put in the packed lunches for the family. The suggestions may appear a little un-exciting at first glance, but they are from a very challenging time, food-wise, and are testament to human ingenuity, I think. From the British Wartime Ministry of Food’s Food Facts leaflet number 160, produced in July 1943, may I share the following ideas with you?

Packed Lunches for a Whole Week.
Six suggestions for a packed meal that are tasty, nourishing, and full of variety.

Are you stumped to know what to put in the packed lunches your family take off to work? It is a problem.
You don’t want to give them the same old thing every day – and it’s not good for them, either. People do best on variety, and they need a balance of body-building and energy-giving good, including plenty of protective food, especially greenstuff.
Follow these suggestions. They’ll take a load off your mind for a whole week, and they’ll make sure the lunches you put up contain proper nourishment.

MONDAY.
Sandwiches filled with a mixture of cold mashed potato, grated cheese, chutney, and chopped fresh parsley.
Lettuce
Jam turnover.

TUESDAY
Turnover filled with mixture of chopped cooked beans, melted cheese, and chopped parsley; tomato
Raw cabbage salad in a screw-top jar
Chocolate Pin Wheels.

WEDNESDAY
Potato scones filled with scrambled dried eggs, cooked mixed vegetables, and chopped parsley
Watercress
Prune dumplings

THURSDAY
Rissoles made with cooked meat, cooked beans, and mashed potato
Raw spinach and lettuce
Fruit turnovers

FRIDAY
Soup
Sandwiches filled with scrambled dried eggs, mashed potato, and chopped fried bacon
Radishes or tomatoes
Lettuce

SATURDAY
Turnover filled with sausage meat, cooked dried peas, herbs, chopped parsley, and chopped leek or onion
Raw cabbage salad in a screw-top jar
Oatmeal scones and jam

The leaflet added that “Recipes for any of the above may be had from the Ministry of Food, Portman Square, London, W1.” I have, however, been unable to find a recipe for the Chocolate Pin Wheels given in the Tuesday menu. Instead, I give you the instructions for using dried egg to make an omelette, from a Food Facts leaflet of July 1942 – it might be a good alternative to the scrambled dried egg sandwich filling.

Spanish Omelette

Time: Preparation 15 minutes. Cooking 10 minutes. Ingredients: 2 eggs (2 level tablespoons of dried egg mixed with 4 tablespoonfuls of water), 8 oz. shredded mixed vegetables, 1 ½ oz. margarine or dripping, 2 tablespoonfuls water,  a pinch of salt and pepper, a little chopped spring onion or parsley. Quantity: 2 helpings. Method: Beat the eggs. Heat the fat in a frying pan and fry the vegetables and spring onion until tender. Add the eggs, water, and seasoning, stir until the eggs are set, form into a roll, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Oysters, Eggs, Testicles, and Intestines.


This is the final instalment of an unplanned trilogy on chickens and oysters and chicken-oysters and non-mollusc oysters. I suffer, at times, I think, from concept-creep and the urgent need to share the efforts of my research creepings with you. To re-cap: on Friday we considered the small piece of meat called the chicken oyster, which led me to the amusing etymology of the merrythought, which led me to today’s story on ‘other’ oysters.
It all began with the simple task of looking up what the Oxford English Dictionary had to say on oysters. After it had dealt with the oyster-as-a-mollusc and the oyster-as-chicken, the OED had more:

a. Chiefly U.S. With distinguishing word: an item of food likened to an oyster in shape, flavour, texture, etc.  corn, mountain, prairie oyster.

The subsequent supporting quotations are a veritable guide to all that is good in mock-oysters – one of them even includes an actual recipe. Here they are, with comments on, and links to, some of those I have already featured here on this blog:

1847   S. Rutledge Carolina Housewife 101   Corn Oysters.

I dedicated a complete post to MockOysters some years ago: one of the recipes was based on corn. 

1883   Daily News Cook Bk. 388   Veal Oysters—Get one and one-half pounds of tender veal from the leg, cut into pieces the size and shape of an oyster, dip in olive oil and roll in fine cracker crumbs.

What I love about the above, is that the Oxford English Dictionary has performed as a cookbook!

1907   Daily Chron. 4 Feb. 4/7   A wistful pet name for an egg, duly seasoned and to be swallowed whole—the ‘prairie oyster’.

It is not spelled out in the above recipe, but the egg is consumed raw, and is reputed to be a good cure for a hangover.See the following quote for another explanation of the name.

1937   A. Wynn in J. F. Dobie & M. C. Boatright Straight Texas 217   At branding time there was that delicacy known as the mountain oyster.

‘Mountain oysters’ are the delicate name for the delicacy also known as bull’s testicles; they are also sometimes called ‘prairie oysters’ – which may cause a problem if you want to order a raw egg hangover cure.  I mentioned them in a previous post, here.  

a1969   in Dict. Amer. Regional Eng. (1996) III. 924/2   Cabbage oyster ... tastes like oyster stew, like oyster stew with cabbage in place of oysters.

The ‘cabbage oyster’ as an entity is proving elusive: my first thought is that it refers to cabbage rolls, but I really have no idea. Another thing to add to my ever-lengthening list of interesting things to research!

1999   Wall St. Jrnl. (Electronic ed.) 8 Mar.   Chitlins, formally called chitterlings, casually called ‘chitts’, and occasionally referred to as ‘Kentucky oysters’.

Chitterlings (chitlins) are the intestines of freshly-killed hogs (or less commonly, calves). As a food, they are associated with the American South. Another euphemism for them is ‘wrinkled steak.’  

As the recipe for the day, I give you chitlins from one of my favourite cookery books, published in 1827 – Domestic Economy, and Cookery, for Rich and Poor, by a Lady.

Chitterlings, in various Ways.

They require to be very well cleaned; turn them out, and lay them some hours in lime or charcoal-water; refresh, wipe, dry, and lay them in vinegar; mince part of the chitterlings, after they have been cooked in white stock, roux, or blanc and toss them with half the quantity of minced suet, a little cream or stock, a clove of garlic, or a clove or two of shalot, mace, pepper, and salt; stuff the chitterlings, turn them round, tie them in short lengths as sausages, with very narrow tape or cord, and leave a little bow at each tying; paper, and fix them upon a grill, hang it on a bird-spit, and baste well with white wine and white wine vinegar; take off the paper, and give it a very pale colour, finishing with butter, and serve them upon spinach or sorrel. They are also excellent cooked in a braise, and a sauce made of it with acid; or plain roasted, without farcing, tied up nicely, and basted with butter and vinegar, which is to be made into a sauce for them with a little white gravy.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Thoughts on Merrythoughts: or, the Suggestive Chicken.


In Friday’s post we considered what might be the most prized part of a roast chicken, and the anecdotal evidence which strongly suggests that this is the chicken ‘oyster’ or sot-l'y-laisse as it is referred to by the French. You will remember that the first reference in English to this tiny treat and perquisite of the cook appears in the section on carving in the fourteenth edition of Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families, and reads:

The breast, wings, and merrythought, are the most delicate parts of a fowl. On the upper part of the side-bone is the small round portion of flesh called the oyster, by many persons considered as a great delicacy.

What is this merrythought of which the writer speaks?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the forked bone between the neck and breast of a bird; the furcula, wishbone. Also: the portion of a cooked bird when carved that includes this bone.”

So, the merrythought is simply the wishbone. Why the name? This is where the story gets interestingly naughty. The first reference to ‘the bone called the merie thought’ is in 1598, in Florio’s Worlde of Wordes, but it gives no clue to the origin of the name. For theories on this, we must jump to the quotations from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries:

a1697   J. Aubrey Remaines Gentilisme & Judaisme (1881) 92   'Tis called the merrythought, because when the fowle is opened, dissected, or carv'd, it resembles the pudenda of a woman.

1708   Brit. Apollo No. 84.    For what Reason is the Bone next the Breast of a Fowl, &c. Called the Merry-thought..? The Original of that Name was doubtless from the Pleasant Fancies, that commonly arise upon the Breaking of that Bone.

Think on that, my friends, next time you cut up a fowl in front of your children!

It is only right that Miss Acton supplies our recipe for the day. Here she is on how to roast a turkey.

To Roast A Turkey.
In very cold weather a turkey in its feathers will hang (in an airy larder) quite a fortnight with advantage; and, however fine a quality of bird it be, unless sufficiently long kept, it will prove not worth the dressing, though it should always be perfectly sweet when prepared for table. Pluck, draw, and singe it with exceeding care; wash, and then dry it thoroughly with clean cloths, or merely wipe the outside well, without wetting it, and pour water plentifully through the inside. Fill the breast with forcemeat (No. 1, page 143), or with the finest sausage meat, highly seasoned with minced herbs, lemon-rind, mace, and cayenne. Truss the bird firmly, lay it to a clear sound fire, baste it constantly and bountifully with butter, and serve it when done with good brown gravy, and well-made bread sauce. An entire chain of delicate fried sausages is still often placed in the dish, round a turkey, as a garnish. It is usual to fold and fasten a sheet of buttered writing paper over the breast to prevent its being too much coloured: this should be removed twenty minutes before the bird is done. The forcemeat of chestnuts (No. 15, Chapter VI.) may be very advantageously substituted for the commoner kinds in stuffing it, and the body may then be filled with chestnuts, previously stewed until tender in rich gravy, or simmered over a slow fire in plenty of rasped bacon, with a high seasoning of mace, nutmeg, and cayenne, until they are so; or, instead of this, well-made chestnut sauce, or a dish of stewed chestnuts, may be sent to table with the turkey.
1 ½ to 2 ½ hours.

Obs.—A turkey should be laid at first far from the fire, and drawn nearer when half-done, though never sufficiently so to scorch it; it should be well roasted, for even the most inveterate advocates of under-dressed meats will seldom tolerate the taste or sight of partially-raw poultry.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Best Bit of the Chicken?


I want to start today with a lovely, oft-repeated story told about the famous French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (17551826.) This is the version given in The art of dining; or, Gastronomy and gastronomers (1852) by Abraham Hayward:

An anecdote (related to Colonel Damer by Talleyrand) may help to rescue the fair fame of BrillatSavarin' from the reproach of indifference, and illustrate the hereditary quality of taste. He was on his way to Lyons, and was determined to dine at Sens. On his arrival he sent, according to his invariable custom, for the cook, and asked what he could have for dinner? The report was dispiriting. "Little enough," was the reply. "But let us see," retorted M. Savarin, "let us go to the kitchen and talk the matter over." In the kitchen he found four turkeys roasting. "Why!" exclaimed he, "you told me you had nothing in the house. Let me have one of these turkeys." "Impossible!" said the cook, "they are all bespoken by a gentleman upstairs." "He must have a large party to dine with him then?" "No, he dines by himself." "I should like much to be acquainted with the man who orders four turkeys for his own eating." The cook was sure that the gentleman would be glad of his acquaintance; and M. Brillat-Savarin immediately paid his respects to the stranger, who turned out to be his own son. "What, you rogue, four turkeys all for yourself?" "Yes, sir; you know that, whenever I dine with you, you eat up the whole of les-sots-les-laissent"— the titbit which we call the oyster of the turkey or fowl—" I was resolved to enjoy myself for once in my life, and here I am, ready to begin, although I did not expect the honour of your company."
It may not be deemed an unpardonable digression to state here that the late Lord Alvanley had his supreme de volaille made of the oysters, or les-sots-les-laissent, of fowls, instead of the fillet from the breast; so that it took a score of fowls to complete a moderate dish.

So, is this indisputably the most prized bit of the chicken?

The ‘oysters’ are small, round pieces of dark meat found on each side of the backbone, adjacent to the thigh joint in the chicken and turkey. Each one provides a mouthful of firm but exquisitely tender and juicy dark meat with a characteristic mouth-feel. It is considered by aficionados to combine the best elements of both breast and thigh meat and is traditionally the perquisite of the cook. The French call it sot-l'y-laisse which means something along the lines of "a fool leaves it behind" – and indeed, those who do not know of it do sometimes consign it to the stock-pot along with the carcass. I suspect a small part of its value lies in the fact that they are very small, and there are only two per bird, and as we all know, as a matter of principle, in rarity is desirability.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first reference to chicken oyster as appearing in 1855, in the fourteenth edition of Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families. Miss Acton would hardly have omitted it from her original edition in 1845, so it appears that this was a new usage around this time. In the 1855 edition, the mention appears in the section on carving:

The breast, wings, and merrythought, are the most delicate parts of a fowl. On the upper part of the side-bone is the small round portion of flesh called the oyster, by many persons considered as a great delicacy.

There are a number of other apocryphal stories about the chicken oyster – my favourite is one about pies being made entirely of them at great expense, with the intention to impress. As for random factoids about them: there are apparently real restaurants in Japan where one can enjoy yakitori made exclusively of chicken oysters; they feature in a dish at least one high-end dining establishment in the West (If only I could remember the details;) there is a restaurant in Paris with the name Le Sot-l'y-laisse; and they have been mentioned in at least two movies (Amélie, and Red Dragon) and a couple of episodes of Master Chef.

As the recipe for the day, may I give you the instructions for chicken pie from the 1855 edition of Acton’s Modern Cookery quoted from above? If you are are not foolish and are extremely rich, I guess you could use chicken oysters.

A Common Chicken Pie.

Prepare the fowls as for boiling, cut them down into joints, and season them with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg, or pounded mace; arrange them neatly in a dish bordered with paste, lay amongst them three or four fresh eggs, boiled hard, and cut in halves, pour in some cold water, put on a thick cover, pare the edge, and ornament it, make a hole in the centre, lay a roll of paste, or a few leaves round it, and bake the pie in a moderate oven from an hour to an hour and a half. The back and neck bones may be boiled down with a bit or two of lean ham, to make a little additional gravy, which can be poured into the pie after it is baked.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Whatever Happened to Corstorphine Cream?

Every now and then I hear of a dedicated food producer with a new, painstakingly researched and developed, locally-produced delicacy; every now and then I read of a once-upon-a-time local specialty which is no more. I don’t know how the balance sits overall, but I sincerely hope that it is tipping in favour of increasing numbers of small specialty products. Some time ago I read of Corstophine cream – a Scottish cultured cream cheese, and thought you might be interested.

The earliest reference given in the online Dictionary of the Scots Language dates to 1742:

Sc. 1742  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) III. 253: Th'yellow Pound & Cauller egs and sweet Corsterphine Ream [‘ream’ being an old word for cream, according to the same dictionary.]

The second reference given in the same dictionary is a little more enlightening. It is from Agricultural Surveys: Mid-Lothian (1795.)

Corstorphine Cream:- The following is extracted from the Statistical Account of the Parish of Corstophine, in this county: “They still prepare for  market a considerable quantity of what is well known over the kingdom by the name of Costorphine Cream. I have not been able to receive any account of the time it was first introduced. I have no doubt but it hath a just claim to a very great antiquity, nor do I know if the same mode of preparation hath been always in use. At present, there is some simple variation observed. I believe the most approved process is very simple and is as follows: They put the milk, when fresh drawn, into a barrel or wooden vessel, which is submitted to a certain degree of heat, generally by immersion in warm water. This accelerates the stage of fermentation. The serous is separated from the other parts of the milk, the oleaginous and coagulable; the serum is drawn off by a hole in the lower part of the vessel; what remains is put into the plunge-churn, and after being agitated for some time, is sent to market as Costorphine cream.

Another account appeared a few years later in ­A Practical Treatise on Diet: And on the Most Salutary and Agreeable Means of Supporting Life and Health by Aliment and Regimen ... and Including the Application of Modern Chemistry to the Culinary Preparation of Food (1801) by William Nisbet, M.D. Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh.

Corstorphine Cream.
Besides cheese, another form in which the curd is used in one part of Scotland, is in what is termed Corstorphine cream. This is made by filling a vessel with skimmed milk, which has a hole in its bottom stopped with a peg; this vessel is placed within another filled with boiling water; and when this is done, it is allowed to remain in this situation for a day or two, according to the state of the weather; at the end of this period a coagulation of the milk has taken place, and the watery part of it subsided to the bottom. This watery part is then drawn off by opening the peg at the bottom of the vessel, and being again stopped up, the same operation iscontinued for 24 hours longer, when an additional water is again drawn off, and the consistence of the curd is thus rendered pretty thick; it is then agitated briskly with a wooden stick, and made fit for use. This form of curd is much used in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh; it forms an aliment tolerably nourishing, and in summer, from its proportion of acidity, is gratefully acid and cooling.

By 1821, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine referred to it as “a species of delicacy at one time greatly in vogue,” suggesting that it was already becoming uncommon.

In 1951, the Scotsman described it as a beverage: “Corstophine cream was an old-fashioned cooling drink. It is made by mixing equal quantities of milk obtained on two succeeding days, letting it stand 12 hours, then adding a little new milk, and beating all well together with sugar.”


I wonder what happened to Corstophine cream? It could hardly have been the development of commercial production on a large scale at that time, surely?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Broth, Bouilli, and Conjugal Revenge.


There is a great deal of pretentious nonsense in the food world at present on the subject of ‘bone broth.’ From the way that this is discussed, in almost whispered awe, one could be forgiven for thinking that ‘bone broth’ was a new discovery akin to that of a new star in the culinary firmament. I have studied the instructions for the preparation of bone-broth provided by some of the high priests of the art, and unless I am missing something, I assure you my friends, that this thing of which they speak is ‘stock’ (or broth, or boulli, if you prefer). Stock made with bones, as the name implies, but stock nonetheless. Nothing more, nothing less. And I have to tell you that stock is far, far, from a new concept in cooking. Cynic that I clearly must be, I remain completely unable to think of a single reason to invent a brand new name for an ancient cooking concept, unless it be related to the ancient concept of marketing and self-promotion.

I feel better having gotten that off my chest. Thank-you for listening. In return, may I amuse you with a story about stock? There are not enough stories in cookery books these days (except for the tedious ones by humorless posers and proponents of ‘bone broth.’) The story comes from our source for the last couple of days - 99 practical methods of utilizing boiled beef and the original recipe for stewed chicken (New York, 1893.) The author opines for some length on Some Opinions on the Value of Bouillon and ends with this lovely anecdote:

Bouillon played a leading part in a conjugal episode which caused considerable gossip in the sixteenth century. Catherine de Médicis, then in her youth, gave a grand fête, to which every lady invited was to be accompanied by a cavalier wearing her colors, and who was chosen by the queen herself.
Madame de Guise was one of the guests. Now, Monsieur de Guise was known to be frightfully jealous of a certain Saint-Mégrin, who, as luck would have it, was chosen as the cavalière servente of his wife. Guise forbade her attendance at the ball, but she broke through his commands, alleging that duty to her sovereign superseded her duty to her husband.
The fête lasted until six o'clock in the morning. When the young wife returned to her home, her husband appeared at her bedside accompanied by a majordomo carrying a bowl of bouillon. "Drink this, madame," said the duke, "it will cure you forever of all fatigue."
It will be remembered that at this epoch, poison played an important rôle in royal kitchens, and in the houses of the great.
When the duke made his way to the door, adding — "Cries for help are in vain, madame, the servants are all away," — the duchess certainly believed that her last hour had come. She wept, implored, bade farewell to earth — but did not perish. When, at noon, Guise once more entered her room, with an innocent smile upon his lips, asking after her health, he found her in a pitiable condition of fright, bewilderment, and anguish.
The duke then said with a gentle severity: "Come, madame, be comforted. The bouillon has, as I hoped, been of benefit to you, and I owe it thanks for having permitted me this little revenge. I had an uncomfortable night, and you an uncomfortable morning. We are quits."
Thus bouillon, most innocent bouillon, was the accomplice in a conjugal revenge and a sweet reconciliation.

This is another story which it is so unlikely to be able to authenticate that I am not even going to try. But it made me smile, which is sufficient enough reason to include it.

To the enthusiastic stock-makers as well as the deadpan bone-broth developers amongst you, I give you the remainder of the piece on Some Opinions on the Value of Bouillon, which will also stand as our recipe for the day.

THE pot-au-feu, or bouillon, is made by boiling meat for a certain length of time in water by means of which most of its nutritive qualities are extracted. Vegetables are added to give further relish and nutriment.
Bouillon of the best quality can be made from good meat only, which should be chosen from the fleshy, juicy part of the thigh.
Meat from the breast and neck makes a good pot-an-feu of lighter quality, and containing more fat, for which reasons it is preferred by some.
In some households, it is the custom to add a beef spleen to the bouillon: this is rich and juicy, and gives more nutritive value to the dish, but is a trifle heavy for most palates. The spleen itself is not eaten, but thrown away. Again, some persons add a piece of lard to the soup, should the beef from which it is made be dry or of inferior quality.
The vegetables used are: carrots, parsnips, celery, and turnips; the last is rejected by some cooks, who think that it detracts from the clearness of the bouillon, but this is hypercriticism. Vegetables are put into the pot only after the soup has been skimmed.
Three pounds of meat are required to a quart of water. Should this amount of liquid be reduced to a third by boiling, we have consomme or bouillon consummately perfect, but the meat is done to rags in the process, and cannot be utilized as bouilli. To the meat may be added a few bones, one of which may be marrow bone if the taste is relished. Should delicacy be preferred to richness, the marrow bone must be omitted. The meat should be put into cold water, which must be heated by slow degrees, in order that it may gradually penetrate the meat, softening it and dissolving the non-nutritive portions which rise to the top of the liquid as scum. Immersion in hot water would cause contraction and hardening of the muscular fibres, and coagulation of the nutritive elements, and would prevent the issue of the juices of the meat. The process of boiling should be slow; the soup-pot hermetically sealed.
Let us take it for granted that these directions have been explicitly carried out. The meat has been immersed for half an hour, and the infusion is hot, but not yet boiling. We stir up the fire; the scum becomes thicker, and we remove it, at the same time adding a little salt to the bouillon, putting in the vegetables, and then closing the soup-kettle again and allowing the slow ebullition to continue.
Some cooks add parsley root, a little garlic, an onion into which cloves are stuck, and a bay-leaf. This is entirely a matter of taste, and no general rule can be given. Certain authorities claim that the garlic should be placed within the beef, as is sometimes done with a leg of mutton; some affirm that this vegetable, with its penetrating flavor, greatly increases the succulence of the bouillon. For our part, we believe that a good bouillon may dispense with all odors except the delicate ones peculiar to the ordinary vegetables, and that garlic, onions, and cloves are used rather to conceal the absence of the flavor sui generis of the bouillon, than to add to its delicacy.
The same may be said of coloring matters, whether in liquid form or in balls or tablets. Good bouillon has a color peculiar to itself, a reddish-yellow, which comes from the juice of the meat. Its absence indicates too small an amount of meat in proportion to the water used, a deficient quality of meat, or a too rapid process of boiling. From six to seven hours of slow, continuous boiling are essential to the success of the pot-au-feu.
A peculiarly delicate flavor may be obtained by adding to the beef some pieces of raw fowl, or the remains of a cooked fowl, more especially the carcass. The same cannot be said of pieces of the leg or shoulder of mutton; this meat imparts an acrid odor, which detracts from the perfection of the consommé, and also interferes with its preservation.
Bouillon should be strained through a colander or a sieve into the soup dish, to prevent the entrance of any fragment of meat or vegetable. The same precaution is to be observed when bouillon is used in the preparation of soup with pâtes d'Italie.
At one time two learned chemists, Lefèvre and Vincent by name, invented an economical bouillon, made from meat which had already served once in the preparation of bouillon — from the bouilli, in fact. To every pound of the meat they used two quarts of water, three ounces of carrots, and a little onion. They let it boil for two hours, and obtained as a result a pint and three-quarters of good bouillon. But the bouilli was cooked to rags. It is a question whether the economy of the proceeding was as great as they claimed, and whether it would not have been better to utilize the bouilli in some other fashion, and use fresh meat for the bouillon.
Another theoretical plan consists in the manufacture of bouillon from bones only. The nourishing qualities of the meat would be a missing factor.
Opinions differ as to the value of bouillon. The English assert that it is non-nutritious, and laugh at our fondness for what they call hot water. It is not to be gainsaid that bouillon is more of a stimulant than of a nutriment properly so called.
Some Abyssinian tribes, as the Gallas, reject the bouillon, and save only the meat.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

King Henry IV’s ‘Chicken in the Pot.’


One of the recurring myth-tories of food history relates to Henry IV, King of France from 1589 to 1610.  In 1598, after decades of religious wars across France formally ended with the Edict of Nantes, “Good King Henry” turned his attention to restoring the country to peace and order. He is famously said to have had as a goal "A chicken in every peasant's pot every Sunday." I have been unable to find any actual authenticated reference to this statement – perhaps if I could read sixteenth century French it would help! – but I live in hope that one of you with knowledge in the area can shed some light on the story.

Authentication is not necessary for the perpetuation of an intriguing or amusing story however, as we are all too well aware. The idea has been attributed, and has stuck, and an amazing number of recipes for Henry’s Poule au Pot are given in online and paper sources.  
One of these completely unauthenticated ‘authentic’ recipes caught my eye recently because it is a rather anomalous inclusion in a book of recipes for boiled beef. The book is called 99 practical methods of utilizing boiled beef and the original recipe for stewed chicken, by the pseudonymous ‘Babet,’ was ‘translated from the French by A.R.’ and published in New York in 1893. The justification for including King Henry’s Poule au Pot, as well as the choice of 99 for the number of recipes, is elegantly explained in the Preface by a Mme. de Fontclose:

ARE you fond of boiled beef? Your only answer is a slight grimace. Words are superfluous. I can interpret your looks. And you, sir? you, madame? you, mademoiselle? you, baby?
Unanimously you reply, "No," a thousand times no, we do not like boiled beef, the bouilli as we call it at home. Yet — oh, the miseries of this life — we force ourselves to eat it at least once a week, with a resignation that our utmost endeavors fail to render a smiling acquiescence to the duty of economy. The pot-au-feu is truly delicious. As soon as it appears upon the table, our faces become illumined with expectation. We taste it; how savory it is, how delicately odorous. This is a dainty morsel, we exclaim. But suddenly monsieur's face loses its blissful expression; madame and mademoiselle suppress a sigh; baby makes a grimace; — to each has occurred the thought of the bouilli, the horrible bouilli, which is the price to be paid for the golden bouillon that makes our eyes shine, brings joy to our olfactories, and whets our appetite. Under the oppression of this sudden thought, all joy is banished, and the meal is finished in gloom.
The situation is trying. It is certainly hard that lovers of the pot-au-feu who cannot bring themselves to relinquish this savory and wholesome dish, should have to pay penalty for the indulgence by eating dry, tasteless, stringy meat, as offensive to the eye as to the palate. Some solution of the problem was needed. Babet has discovered it. Long life to Babet!

… In this book, monsieur, you will find revealed a secret which will make you wish to have pot-au-feu every day of the week. No more gloomy looks will greet the appearance of the meat which follows the soup. "What is this?" you will exclaim when the cook triumphantly places before you a dish whose savory odor proclaims its worth. Madame or mademoiselle smile mischievously, being already in the secret, if not the real cordons-bleus of the house, and only await your favorable verdict to announce that this is but one of many recipes, and that you need not
eat boiled beef prepared in the same fashion twice in the whole year. You cry in joyful amazement, "Truly this Babet is a marvel ! "
The suit is won. Readers of this little book will not, like the Bishop of Chalons referred to in the Memories of Saint-Simon, be forced to eat boiled beef au naturel for every meal, and be therewith content. All vegetables, condiments, and seasonings have been invoked to lend their aid in making the dish a delicious one, and after tasting Babet's seasonings, you will follow my example in modifying an old proverb to read : Seasoning makes the bouilli and the fish.
Babet deserves the thanks of all who found the pot-au-feu undesirable because of its cost, and because of the necessity of eating the insipid meat from which it was prepared. Babet has opened a new world to school-boys, boarders, soldiers, convalescents, heretofore condemned to perpetual boiled beef. Babet has lent material aid to the thrift of small households, by showing them how to utilize every scrap of the detested beef; and better yet, to Babet belongs the glory of having banished ill-temper from the family board, and contributed to the gaiety and laughter so essential to good health and well-being. Could humanitarian theories find a better application?
          But, Madame, methinks you are puzzled over the number 99. Why not 100 recipes? you ask. Because, most charming of housekeepers, to you is reserved the privilege of completing the series by the invention of the one hundredth recipe.

And here is the recipe you have been waiting for:-

King Henry the Fourth's Recipe for Stewed Chicken.
(The Poule-au-pot)

The poule-au-pot, which good King Henry desired to have form the Sunday dinner of every peasant in the land, is a succulent dish too much neglected in these days, when dainty living is tending to replace the rustic cooking of the good old days.
But as the mere suggestion of a dish usually arouses a desire to taste it, we will give the recipe for the famous chicken, which, in spite of its apparent simplicity, is a choice morsel.
Get a good, fat hen, and buy it alive if possible, or at least, not drawn. Put aside the liver, gizzard, heart, lungs, head, neck, and wings, and any eggs which it may contain. Bone the head, neck, and wings, and mince the whole with ham, lard, bread crumbs dipped in milk, salt, pepper, spices, sweet herbs, parsley, and garlic, for we must remember that Henry the Fourth was a Béarnais, and that garlic is found in all the cooking of that part of the country.
When the hash is ready, add the yolks of eggs and put the stuffing into the hen. (Chestnuts and slices of truffle may also be put in the stuffing, but are not in the ancient, classic recipe.) Sew the opening, tie with string, and cook as follows:
All is in readiness for the pot-au-feu. Skim it, add the vegetables, and put in the chicken, which you allow to cook gently. Withdraw it before the flesh loosens from the bones, which would occur very quickly in the case of a young bird. From time to time lift it on a skimmer and prick with a knife, to ascertain the degree to which it has cooked.
Prepare upon a platter a bed of parsley, or, better yet, of cress. Take the hen from the pot, remove the strings, and lay it on the platter, sprinkling fine salt over it. It should be eaten very hot. The stuffing should be firm enough to cut in slices. The bouillon obtained by this process is exquisite, and the fowl loses none of its flavor. Taste it, and become convinced of King Henry the Fourth's solicitude for the well-being of the peasants of France.