Monday, March 02, 2015

Acclimatisation Society of Victoria Dinner in 1864

I don’t believe I have given you a dinner menu from an Acclimatisation Society before, which has been a serious omission which I will remedy today.

Acclimatisation Societies were a nineteenth century imperial concept. There were two broad aims: one was to aid the study of natural history, the other was to encourage the spread and cultivation of native species from the respective colonies. A third aim was perhaps to have a jolly good eating time – most of the dinners were clearly intended to showcase all of the intriguing exotica that could be obtained and prepared for the table.

The Acclimatisation Society of Victoria (Australia) was established in 1861. The first annual dinner was held in 1863. The following year, the Melbourne newspaper the Argus,  in its edition of 7 July 1864, gave a detailed description of the second annual meeting and dinner. Part of that article is transcribed below:

Acclimatisation Society's Dinner.
The second dinner given under the auspices of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria took place last evening, at Scott's Hotel, Collins-street West. About sixty gentlemen were present, … The whole affair was highly successful. Not only was it a fitting tribute to the cause of acclimatisation, but it was also a complete triumph of gastronomy. All the varieties of " fish, flesh, and fowl" obtainable-indigenous and imported - were represented; and there was in consequence a repast as gratifying to the bon vivant as to the man who looks upon the multiplication of our food resources merely from the utilitarian point of view. There were several kinds of soup - oyster, Murray lobster, wild turkey, and kangaroo. The fish included,"cod" from the Murray, trumpeter from Hobart Town, eels caught at Yon Yean, and perch brought from Gipps Land. Among the entrees were curries, pates, and salmis, in which wombat, bandicoot, and paroquet figured conspicuously; but the bonne bouche was certainly the "vol au vent of frogs." With regard to the more substantial features of the feast, it may bo observed that, although there were saddles of Chinese mutton and kangaroo, the undoubted pièce de resistance was a saddle of mutton (weighing 451b.) cut from a Leicester sheep, and presented by Mr. T. F. Hamilton, of Gisborne. There was also a famous haunch of venison, but it had not been hung long enough to thoroughly satisfy epicures. Other sorts of game were plentiful, and English pheasant and hare were discussed simultaneously with native companion and mallee hen. Of the vegetables, the yams and sweet potatoes were much inquired after.  There was a great assortment of sweets, one prominent item being a pudding named after His Excellency the Governor. The wines included some choice European varieties, samples of the best vintages of New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria ; a sparkling American wine – Cautauba - grown in Ohio; and some colonial Madeira, thirteen years old made by the late Mr. Bear. The success of the entertainment was considerably enhanced by the response made to the Acclimatisation Society's appeal for "palatable contributions. Among these contributions was a fallow buck, a black swan, and some  wallabies, sent by Mr. McHaffie, of Philip Island; a number of pheasants and rabbits, by Mr. T.Austin, of Barwon Park; a hare, by Mr.W. Lyall; yams and sweet potatoes, by Mr. E. Dacomb, of Portland; and several bottles of home-made colonial pickles, by an unknown donor. The contributions by the Acclimatisation Society of Queensland consisted of sugar bananas, pineapples, green ginger, arrowroot, oranges, and preserves, from the estate of Mr. Charles Coxen; some sugar from the station of the Hon. Louis Hope; and a number of yams and sweet potatoes; and we understand it was a matter of regret to Mr. L. A. Bernays and other gentlemen connected with the Queensland society, that, owing to the short notice, other articles could not be sent. For other information about the viands, we must refer our readers to the subjoined "bill of fare.”

LE MENU.
Sydney rock oysters.
LES POTAGES.
A la tortue.
Aux huitres.
Au dindon sauvage.
A la queue de kangaroo.
A la bisque d'ecrevisses du Murray.
LES POISSONS
Les cabillauds de Murray, sauce crevettes.    
Le fillet de merlan au gratín.  
Le filet de sole à l’orliz.
Le mullet grille a la maitre d'hotel
La matelotte d'angullle.
Les anguilles frites au beurre.
Le porch do Gipps Land a la Nantaise
Les anguilles du Yan Yean a la Tartare
Le perch du Murray a la Chambord
Le poisson noir, sauco Gonolse.
Le carrelet, sauce  Normande
Le fillet de trompeteror au turban.
Le dorade au bleu.
LES ENTREES
Le vol au ventt de grenouille a la poulette
La chartreuses de pigeon sauvage.
Le fricandeau de wombat aux epinards
Les côtelettes de venaison, sauce champignons
Le fillot de canard noir, sauce d'orange.
Le bandicoot en currie
Le civet de chevreuil.
Le pate chaud de perroquets.
Le salmi do sarcelles aux truffes.
Le lapin sauvage sauce a la chasseur.
LES FROIDS.
La rnayonaise de volaille.
Le chaud froid de gibier.
Do. do. poulet nouveau.
L'Aspic d'escalop de lapin native
Do. de pigeon native
La galantine de dindoneau.
Hûre de sanglier
Lo cochon sauvage du Goulbourn.
Le jambon glacé – langues glacées.
LES ROTS.
Le selle do mouton de Chine.
L'agneau de Chine garni de pilaf
Lo lapln do Barwon Park, bouilli sauce celery.
Le dinde bouilli sauce celery.
Les dindes rotis.
Les poulettes.
Les oies rôties.
L'ole du Cap Barren.
Le canard sauvago roti.
Le jambon braisé au Madeira
Le lapin de Barwon Park rotis.
Hanche de venaison.
Selle de kangaroo.
LE GIBIER
Le faisan.                                                        Les oiseaux de wattle.
Le lievre                                                          Le dinde sauvage
Le native compagnon                                      Le canard noir
Le canard des bois                                          Les pluviers dorés
Le pintade roti                                                            Les wombats
Les bandicoots                                                la poule de mallee
Les Sarcelles                                                   Les cailles

LEGUMES DE LA SAISON
Les yams de Queensland.
Les pommes de terres douces, les artlchaux.
ENTREMETS.
Les corbeilles garnis.
Les biscuits aux amandes.
Les meringues Suisses.
Les biscuits do Savoie a l'orange.
Les tourtes aux pommes.
La chartreuse de fruits.
La gélée de Danzick.
Les pommes aux riz meringues.
Le boudin de Darling.
Le fondu au Parmesan.
Les gateaux Napolitains.
Le blanc mange a la Moscovite
Les beignets d'ananas.
La Charlotte a la Parisienne
Le gélée au Madeiro,
Le compote d'abricot de Chantilly.
Le meringue a la crême.
Le boudin de Victoria.
Le macaroni au gratin.
OMELETTES SOUFLEES
Le boudin glacé a la Cerito.
Les crêmes aux fraises glacées.
CAFE.

The dinner was served à la Russe, by which it is to understood that almost everything was carved at the sideboard, and handed round by the waiters. The effect of this arrangement was to prolong the repast over a period of something like three hours and a half- an arrangement which, judging by results, was not at all unsatisfactory to the great majorityof the guests.

Recipe selection was difficult today. I decided against giving you instructions for cooking wombat or bandicoot, but still wanted to keep the content Australian. In the end, amidst such elaborate richness, I went for a simple banana recipe, for no better reason than that bananas are an important crop in my home state of Queensland.

Banana Cream.
Procure five ripe bananas, take off the skins and pound the fruit in a mortar to a pulp with 5 oz.white sugar. Beat up half a pint of good cream to a stiff froth, add the pounded bananas, half a glass of brandy, and the juice of one lemon; mix well together, then add ½ oz. of isinglass dissolved in a little boiling water, gently whisk for a few minutes, fill the mould, set in a cool place till wanted. When required dip the mould in warm water for a few seconds, wipe and turn out onto a glass dish.

The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld) 6 December 1890.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Dishes Suitable for a Cold Dinner (1869)


The weather in the Southern hemisphere is surely (and hopefully) about to cool down, as the weather in the north is just as surely and hopefully going to warm up. I like to think, as March and April approach, that the style of food we seek in our two halves of the world will be more similar. I hope at this time of the year that a post about suet pudding or thick soup will not be out of kilter with any of us, unlike the same topic in December, say, when the mere thought of such robust and sustaining food is exhausting to those of us near the tropics.

My post yesterday on the mid-nineteenth century dinner in Russia mentioned cold soup, and I had intended to explore that topic today, but in the meanwhile came across a lovely food article applicable to most of us in most seasons of the year in Cassell’s Household Guide (London, 1869.)  A cold dinner in which hot foods are also allowed – a dinner which has “more than a sufficiency of dishes for the hospitable entertainer to choose from” seems to fit the bill, don’t you think?

DISHES SUITED FOR A COLD DINNER OR ANY REPAST
TO BE PARTAKEN OF AT AN UNCERTAIN HOUR.
Very agreeable entertainment is the unceremonious repast which, whether called a breakfast, a déjeûner, a collation, a luncheon, a meat-tea, or an early cold dinner, is the same in principle and composition. We will speak of it by the last of those names; because, practically, it is a dinner; no one thinks of dining after it.
A cold dinner is something of a very elastic nature. It may be partaken of at any hour, from eleven in the morning till six in the evening. It may contain as few things as you please, provided there be plenty to eat and drink, or it may be a collection of rarities got together from the uttermost ends of the world. And here, again, is the convenience of a principle which consists in the absence of rule Although the meal is essentially a cold one, a few hot things may be interspersed, when season and opportunity invite their presence, not as the basis, but as the interludes, the entremets, in the general course of the banquet, of which there is no exact beginning and no defined end.
As with the eatables, so with the drinkables. Nothing is excluded ; there may be anything and everything. In a cold dinner there are no set courses; all is placed on the table at once, with the exception of the few agreeable surprises that may appear in the shape of fried Epping sausages, kidneys, omelettes, and other dishes. Nothing is removed but empty dishes, which may or may not be replaced by dishes of the same size containing something else. But little waiting is required, and that little can be diminished by a couple of roomy dumb-waiters, placed at opposite corners of the table.
          The meat-tea is often found to increase the comfort and convenience of family life—Why should not the unpretending cold dinner more frequently play a similar part in social intercourse?
As a cold collation is particularly suited to a large party, all of whom we suppose to be accommodated with seats round the board and not to stand up, let the table be of corresponding length and breadth. The fact of the decorations being permanent and the arrangements fixed allows you to cover the table with one, two, three, or more white table-cloths. To economise space and avoid removes, ornament as little as possible with things that do not contain or garnish eatables. Edifices of spun sugar and nougat or candied almonds are expensive, and the palate, at least, scarcely gets from them money's worth in return for what they cost. The same sum, it appears to us, may be more satisfactorily expended in other ways; for instance, on the fines: and most beautiful fruit of the season. A welcome though old-fashioned centre-piece is a pyramid of glass salvers, laden with jellies, creams, syllabubs, custards, &c., and crowned with a trifle or tipsy cake. For each end of the table there are few better ornaments than large dishes of fruit of different kinds, artistically grouped and piled together, combined with flowers, foliage, and fern fronds. An inverted bowl makes a good support. Each group will be more effective for containing some one or two of the larger fruits, as melons, cocoa-nuts, specimen bunches of grapes, Duchesse d'Angoulème pears, &c. To succeed well in this requires both taste and practice. If you are rich in garden produce, you can make a trophy of your centre-piece, in Great Exhibition style, and place your piles of little toothsome articles at either end.
That done, your plates, knives and forks, spoons, and glasses, must take their places round the table. All the remaining space is claimed by the viands which constitute the meal. In giving a hot dinner, an important point is to proportion the quantity to the number of guests. A mountain of victuals is the height of vulgarity and bad taste. There is only one thing worse than putting too much upon a table—if it be worse—and that is too little. But in a cold dinner, the whole of it, or very nearly so, being presented at once, the weakness of making a show may be indulged in without incurring the blame of ostentatious profusion. Of course it increases the beauty and interest of the display, when there are the means of using articles of plate, china, and glass, which are in themselves curiosities or objects of art. We now proceed to note more than a sufficiency of dishes for the hospitable entertainer to choose from.
Fish.—Pickled or soused salmon. Potted mackerel, herring, eels, and sprats. Collared eel. Eels in savoury jelly, or with Tartar sauce. Dressed crab. Lobster opened, cracked, and divided. Shrimps and prawns. Pickled mussels and cockles. Cold fried smelts. Potted char or other fish. River trout boiled in vinegar and water. Carp or pike, au bleu—i.e., boiled in court-bouillon, left in it till cold, and then served whole. Eel patties. Oyster patties. Eel pie. Oyster pie. Cods' sounds and tongues pie. Mackerel pat, Mayonnaise of lobster, salmon, or turbot. Lamprey or lampern pie. Conger pie. Caviare. Sardines, anchovies, or tunny, in oil.
Sweets and Sundries.—Baked custard. Lemon pudding. Blanc-mange. All sorts of jellies and syllabubs. Raspberry and currant, gooseberry, cherry, greengage, apricot, apple and quince pies—one Irishman wished his apple pie to be all quince. Boiled custards. Whipped cream and sponge cake. Marmalades and preserves, as preserved ginger. Mince pies. Open fruit tarts. Gaufres or wafers. Macaroons. Cocoa-nut cakes. Fruits crystallised in sugar. Cracker sweetmeats. Gruyere, or other choice cheese, under a bell-glass. Virgin honeycomb. Nuts of various kinds. Foreign fruits, as West India pines, dates, oranges, French plums, figs. Stewed prunes, pears, Normandy pippins, apples, and rice. Bullace or damson Cheese. Cherry brandy. Plums in brandy.
Small Things.—Brawn. Potted meats. Mayonnaise of cold fowl. Sandwiches of various kinds; pâté deoie gras sandwiches are the most distingués, to be offered at the close of the repast. Pickles; sliced cucumber; olives; radishes. Salmagundi; various salads ; cold kidney-beans or artichoke bottoms with oil and vinegar. Cream cheese. Sliced smoked Bologna, or other sausage. Terrines of truffled goose or duck's liver. Calf's head, pork, calf s liver, and other meat cheeses. Galantine of turkey or fowl, in slices. Hare pate.
Large Joints.— Rolled ribs of beef boned. Roast sirloin. Quarter of lamb. Boiled leg of pork stuffed. Ham. Tongue. Hunters' beef. Salted round of beef. Yorkshire pie, containing turkey, goose, fowl, &c., boned. Roast turkey or fowl, carved, divided into portions, and covered  with savoury jelly gravy. Turkey, goose, or fowl, en daube, served whole, surrounded with the jelly in which they were stewed tender. Roast sucking-pig. Giblet pie. Wild fowl pie. Roast quarter of kid. Pickled boar's head.
In summer time cold soup is eaten in Russia; but English palates require further training to render them capable of appreciating it. Hot soup may be served from the sideboard; or, instead of soup, oysters can be given, handed round from the sideboard, and followed by plates of bread and butter; or there may be both soup and oysters; in which case the oysters are served the first of the two. The sideboard is also the place for all the varieties of malt liquor; for champagne until it is opened; and also for liqueurs to be placed on the table when coffee is brought in, which is usually served in the dining-room, at table, and not in the drawing-room—as at a cold dinner the ladies seldom retire, but all quit the table together at the close of the entertainment, announced by the coffee and liqueurs. The presence of black bottles on the table is a matter of local custom. Port, sherry, Madeira, and the white wines which replace or supplement the latter, are here always presented in decanters. On the Continent, although the lighter ordinary wines, often drawn from the cask, are allowed to appear in decanters, it would be utter heresy to decant fine wines or curious old samples with which the host regales his guests. These must be presented in the state in which they are taken from the bin, and not wiped or dusted in any way. The more mouldy and grimy they are, the more their appearance is usually admired. Old Burgundy, and other wines which deposit a crust or lees and must not be shaken, are slipped, in the cellar, into a flat basket or cradle, without changing their horizontal position, uncorked, sent round, and never set upright till they are emptied. To decant such wines would be considered an act of barbarism; the cradle is a warrant of their age and excellence. Many hotel-keepers will not accord the honours of the cradle to wine below a certain price.

The recipe for the day is a for an elegant dish of duck en daube, which may be served hot or cold, and may be adapted for goose or any other fowl.

Canard en Daube.
Prepare your duck as if for roasting, lard it with bacon, season with salt, pepper, parsley, chives, thyme, bay-leaf, and basilic, chopped fine; tie up the duck tightly, and put it into a stewpan, with slices of bacon, half a calf 's foot, pepper, salt, onions, bunch of sweet herbs, carrots, thyme, cloves, bay-leaf, cloves of garlic; moisten with stock; add a glass of brandy; cover the pan closely, and let it stew very slowly, stirring and turning it occasionally whilst stewing, to prevent the duck sticking to the bottom, and that it might take the same colour equally. It will take four or five hours. Skim it carefully. You serve hot with .the sauce, or cold with the sauce, in jelly, as it will be quite stiff. You can dress geese the same way.

French Cookery Adapted for English Families (1853) by Frances Crawford.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Russian Dinner in 1875.


The New York Times of October 10, 1875 carried an extract from a book called Winter in Russia, written by the nineteenth century French writer and critic, Theophile Gautier. It is a marvelous description of life at the top of the social ladder in Russia at the time, as seen through the eyes of a very articulate visitor. One interesting observation is that eating out of season was quite the norm, at that time and place, for that particular social group.

A Russian Dinner.
Before seating themselves the guests approach a small round table where is set out caviar, bits of salted herring, anchovies, cheese, olives, slices of Bologna sausage, Hamburg smoked beef, and other relishes, to be eaten with biscuits, in order to stimulate the appetite. This lunch is taken standing, and accompanied by a kind of absinthe, Madeira wine, eau-de-vie de Dantzic, Cognac, and cumin, a kid of anisette, which resembles the raki of Constantinople and the Greek islands. Inconsiderate or diffident travelers, who cannot resist polite urgency, allow themselves to be persuaded to taste of every-thing, not dreaming that this is but the prologue to the performance, and take their seats at the dinner-table, having already quite satisfied their appetites. In all fashionable houses we find French cookery, and still the national taste is shown in some characteristic details. For example, by the side of the white bread is served a slice of the blackest rye bread, which the Russian guest crumbles with evident relish. They seem to be very fond of certain salted cucumbers, called agourcis, and which I found at first far from delicious. During dinner, after great draughts of Bordeaux, and of Veuve Cliquot champagne, which is found nowhere but in Russia, they take porter and ale, and especially kwas, a kind of local beer made of the crusts of black bread fermented, which one must learn to like, and which to strangers scarcely seems worthy of the magnificent goblets of Bohemian glass or of chiseled silver in which foams its brown liquor, And still, after a residence of several months, you come at last to like these agourcis, this kwas, and the chtchi, the Russian national soup. The chtchi is a sort of stew, into whose composition enters breast of mutton, fennel, onions, cabbage, pearl barley, and prunes. This odd compound has a most original flavour, which you soon find agreeable, especially if you are an experienced traveler, a cosmopolite of the cuisine, whose gustatory papillae are accustomed to surprises of every kind. Another favourite is the potage aux quenèfes; it is a clear soup, in which as it boils is poured, drop by drop, a kind of paste made of eggs and spices, which, surprised by the heat, forms into round or oval pellets, much like the dropped eggs of our Parisian consommés. With the chtchi are served little balls of pastry. Everybody who has read Monte Cristo will remember that repast where the former prisoner of the Château d’If, realizing the marvels of fairy tables with his wand of gold, causes a sturgeon from the Volga to be served to him, a gastronomic wonder, unknown at even the most luxurious tables outside of Russia. And in truth, the sturgeon merits his reputation; ‘tis and exquisite fish, the flesh white and fine, perhaps a trifle too rich in taste, midway between the smelt and the lamprey. He may attain very considerable dimensions, but those of medium size are best. Although not disdainful of such matters, I am not a Grinod de lat Raginère, nor a Cussy, nor a Brillat-Savarin, to speak with suitable lyric fire upon this theme, and I regret ti, for the dish is worthy of the most accomplished epicure; to such a man the sturgeon of the Volga would well repay the trouble of the journey. Partridges, whose flesh, perfumed by the juniper berries on which they feed, emits a fragrance of turpentine at first quite surprising, appear frequently on Russian dinner-tables. The enormous moor-fowl also, and the bears ham of fable and the filet of elk, serve as proof that it is no bill of fare of Western Europe which is laid before us. Every people, even though invaded by the monotony of civilization, retain some tastes absolutely peculiar, and still keep a few national dishes, whose flavor it is perhaps impossible for a foreigner to approve. For an example of this we may take the Russian cold soup, in which float crystals of ice amid bits of fish; its mixture of spices, vinegar, and sugar is as surprising to an exotic palate as the gaspacho of Andalusia. This soup, by the way, is served only in Summer. It is very cooling, they say, and the Russians are enthusiastic about it. As vegetables are for the most part raised under glass in this country, their maturity has no special date marked by the seasons, and they are always or never, “early”; every month in the year you may eat green peas at St.Petersburg. The asparagus knows no Winter. It is large, tender, succulent, and perfectly white; the stalks never have a green tip, as they do with us, and you may attack them at either end indifferently. In England, they eat salmon cutlets; in Russia, cutlets of chicken. The dish has been in fashion since the Emperor Nicholas tasted it at a little tavern near Torjek, and found it good. The recipe had been given to the hostess by an unlucky Frenchman who could in no other way pay his scot, and it made her fortune.

I have been unable so far to find out more about this Franco-Russian chicken cutlet dish, but will persevere, and let you know of any interesting discoveries. I am also unable to give you an ‘authentic’ Russian recipe, as, sadly, I am unable to read Russian. It is always interesting however to see how one country interprets the food of another, so may I give you two choices of soup from a book with the full title of The Practical Cook, English and Foreign: Containing a Great Variety of Old Receipts, Improved and Re-modelled, and Many Original Receipts in English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Polish, Dutch, American, Swiss, and Indian Cookery ; with Copious Directions for the Choice of All Provisions, the Laying Out a Table, Giving Small and Large Dinners, and the Management of a Cellar, by Joseph Bregion and Anne Miller, published in 1845?

The Russian Countrywoman's Soup
(Potage de Choux a la Paysanne Russe).
Cut in small pieces three pounds of the brisket of beef, and one pound of thin streaky bacon; put these in a stock-pot, add beef stock, and skim it; two hours after, mix with the soup two onions sliced, and sweated in butter; then a spoonful of flour, and a white cabbage cut up, washed and drained; boil these two hours, put into six sausages, which take up again ten minutes afterwards; skim the soup, and serve. This is the common soup of the Russian people.

Russian Imperial Soup
(Potage Russe a l’lmperiale).

Trim in small escalopes a small slice of sturgeon, and throw salt over it; cut in escalopes the fillets of a middling-sized eel and a sole; proceed with the essence and the fish as in the last article; then add to it roots, prepared as for the Julienne; boil it an hour, and pour it into the tureen containing the escalopes of the fish, some small whiting quenelles, with which mingle parsley chopped and blanched; add twelve livers of burbots, and twelve roes of carp dressed in salt and water.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chutney of Alubokhara.


Yesterday’s recipe source, Indian cookery and confectionery (407 recipes) by Mrs. I.R. Dey, published in Calcutta in 1900, included a recipe for ‘chatni’ made with an ingredient which was a mystery to me, so naturally I have to share it with you. You may need to refer back to yesterday’s post for information on the units of measurement.

Chatni of Alubokhara.
Wash alubokharas, raisins and dates 1 powa each and keep the raisins and alubokharas under water for about a quarter of an hour in an enamelled pot. Then heat ½ powa of oil and fry a generous pinch of panch-foron and some broken chillies in the oil and then fry a little the alubokharas, raisins and dates in it. Add 3 powas of water and when it boils add 1 powa of sugar, a generous pinch of salt and a little pasted turmeric. Take down when the desired thickness of the soup is reached.

According to the book, alubokhara, is “a sort of prune, brought chiefly from Bokhara.” This Urdu word apparently translates as “potato of Bukhara” – the famous ancient city in what is now Uzbekistan. A little further investigation led me to The Hand-book of the Economic Products of the Punjab (Lahore, 1868)  which has two entries on the fruit:

Dried Prunes, “álu bukhárá” (Prunus bukhariensis)
Selling price at Peshawar, 2 seers 8 chittacks per rupee. They are extensively brought to the plains and can be bought in any bazar.

Prunus domestica, var. Bokhariensis.
A cold remedy. The fruit is used as a refrigerant laxative in fever and indigestion, both as a cold infusion, and as an electuary. It is principally brought from Peshawar. By Europeans it is principally used as a laxative in combination with senna.
Dose. – 9 fruits. Price, 4 annas a seer.


So, there we have it – the mysterious ingredient is none other than the prune, which is non other than a dried plum. I must admit I rather fancy it made into chutney.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dinner in Mysore in 1867.


Nineteenth century Britons were fascinated by news of events taking place in the most far-flung reaches of their Empire – and it seems that nowhere was more fascinating than India. A correspondent to The Times of October 4, 1867 described at great length some of the ceremonies held in Mysore in celebration of the 74th birthday of the Rajah.

        It is the only place in India – the only place I ever heard of anywhere – in which, year after year, free hospitality is offered to all the world. During the Mysore races, which take place about the time of the Rajah’s birthday, and last altogether nearly a fortnight, anyone who likes – I mean any one belonging to the class “gentlemen” – may take up his abode at Mysore as the Rajah’s guest, may sit down every day to three substantial meals at a sort of table d’hôte on the race course, and may call at all hours for beer, sherry, claret, or the favourite Anglo-Indian beverage “B. and S.” On the race days he may call for his bottle of champagne. On three days during the races – one of the Rajah’s birthday – all guests are invited to a grand dinner at the palace; and the birthday dinner was selected as the most favourable opportunity for holding a Durbar, at which to announce the decision of the British Government of the adopted son [to inherit the title.}
        Over a hundred guests, some fifteen or twenty of them ladies, mustered at 7.30 p.m. , in carriages provided by the Rajah, at a point not far from the palace …
The business of the day being over, we all adjourned to the banqueting-hall, where a dinner in English style, which no pains had been spared to make both good and plentiful, awaited us. The Rajah’s native guests had already been entertained at a State dinner, served up in a very different style. One of them, in an elaborate and graphic account (which has been kindly lent to me) of the Durbar, describes this dinner with an epicurean gusto and warmth which I fear your English readers, unless they happen to be at once teetotalers and vegetarians, will find it hard to sympathize:-

“A numberless variety of romantic dainties had been spread. All sorts of nice fruits, 50 different sorts of curry stuffs and greens, very richly and palatably prepared; about 30 or 40 sorts of confectionery of the best relish, and as many kinds of sweet and salt puddings and cakes; upwardsof 15 sorts of fanciful rice and syrups; sherbets prepared from all descriptions of fruits available in India. In fact, there was nothing wanted to make the dinner most sumptuous, excellent, and kingly.”

I wonder how many of your aldermanic readers will endorse this concluding eulogy?
The Rajah, by a Royal fiction, was not supposed to be present at our dinner, but he really posted himself at the upper end of the room behind a curtain … and he evidently took the keenest and most amused interest in all that was going on, constantly sending complimentary presents, usually mysterious specimens of sweetmeat, or curry, or sherbet, to any old friends or acquaintances whom he happened to recognize among the guests.

A number of cookery books on Indian (or more properly, Anglo-Indian) foods were published for English audiences in the second half of the nineteenth century. Today I have chosen as the source of the recipe for the day Indian cookery and confectionery (407 recipes) by Mrs. I.R. Dey, published in Calcutta in 1900. I give you a nice, and I hope sufficiently fanciful rice dish.  But firstly I must give you a translation of the weight measures, as given in the book.

MEASURE OF WEIGHT
16 Annas = 1 tola or bhari (the weight of a rupee)
16 Annas = 6 ½ drams (avoir.) = 175 grains.
5 Tolas = 1 chhatack = 2 oz. (avoir.)
4 Kanch-chas = 1 chhatak.
4 Chhataks = 1 powa = ½ lb. (avoir.)
4 Powas = 1 seer = 2 lbs. (avoir.)
80 Tolas – 1 seer.
40 Seers = 1 Maund.

POLAO WITH ANARAS (Pine apple )
 Required :- Meat 1 seer, rice 1 seer, pine-apple peeled, and cut into medium pieces 1 ½ seer, lemon juice ½ powa, or more if desired, sugar ½ seer, ginger 3 tolas, coriander-seeds 1 ½ tolas, black cumin seeds 1 tola, cloves ¼ tola, cinnamon ¼ tola, cardamom ¼ tola, saffron ¼ tola, salt 4 tolas, ghee ½ seer, and water 4 seers.
Method:- Make a saturated solution of the sugar and boil the pieces of pine-apple in it with the lemon-juice after seasoning them for about an hour or more with one tola of salt. Then boil the meat in about 4 seers of water until the latter reduces half, to less than [sic]. Heat about ½ powa of ghee in a pan and season it by frying ½ tola of black cumin, and then fry the boiled meat in the ghee after separating them from the water, till they are slightly brown and do not stick to one another, Then add the water again and allow the whole thing to boil. In the meantime heat on another oven about ½ powa of ghee in another pan and slightly fry the remaining ½ tola of black -cumin, cloves, cinnamons and cardamoms, all entire, in it. A few cassia leaves may also be fried. When the flavour of the spices fill your nose, add the rice, washed, dried and smeared with saffron, ginger and coriander seeds, all pasted, and stir till some, of the rice begin to burst. Then add the boiling meat with the water to the rice, add salt and allow the whole thing to boil under cover after stirring it well. About 10 minutes before taking it down from the oven add the pieces of pine-apples with the sugar solution. When the water dries up, pour about one powa of hot ghee and stir to render the whole mass non-sticky. Polao is now ready for the dish. Always be careful to add hot water if at any time during the preparation water runs short in the pan. This preparation and also the following ones in this chapter must be made on slow heat.


I do love that instruction “when the flavour of the spices fill your nose.”!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Dinner in a Pullman Dining Car in 1869.


Oh! For the old days of trans-continental rail travel, and of dining in luxury whilst travelling at the astonishing pace of thirty miles an hour! A correspondent of the New York Times in 1869 enjoyed the privilege, and waxed lyrical about his experience in the edition of June 28.

ACROSS THE CONTINENT.
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From the Missouri to the Pacific Ocean by Rail.
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The Plains, the Great American Desert, the Rocky Mountains.
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One Hundred Hours from Omaha to San Francisco.
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From Our Own Correspondent.
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San Francisco, Friday, June 18, 1869.
My trip over the Pacific Railroad, from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, from Omaha to San Francisco, though presenting no very extraordinary experiences, was made under some new conditions of travel; and it was altogether so delightful a trip, and so fruitful in ministrations to the eye and the imagination, that it may be written out at somewhat greater length than could be wished.
…. A couple of hours out, dinner was announced – an “event” to those of us who had yet to experience what it is to eat in one of PULLMAN’S hotels on wheels; so stepping into the car next forward of our sleeping palace, we found ourselves in the dining car, the “International,” which, O, muse of gastronomy, inspire me with language fit to describe!
            And first as to the mechanism, &c, of the car itself … The car is devoted exclusively to the purpose of cooking and dining. Midway between the two ends of the car, and occupying its entire width save a narrow passage to the left, is located a compact kitchen, specially designed for the Pullman car, and a marvel of economy of space and of adaptation of means to ends it is. I am not learned in the mysteries of the batterie de cuisine, but I have it from an expert that it affords facilities for the last triumphs of cookery, and as the proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof, I can bear personal witness to the amazing successes realized in that adytum of gastronomy.
            Now, you may imagine that the presence of a kitchen in the dining car is a sacrifice of aesthetics to necessity; but such is not the case, for the apartment is so effectually encased in rich mirrors and carved decorations that you would not dream it to be a kitchen, while the ventilation is so perfect that not the faintest intimation that cooking is going on reaches the nostrils. Immediately beneath the kitchen floor, and communicating by beneath the kitchen floor, are dust-proof ice-boxes and provision cellar in which are packed the fresh meats and the butter, eggs, and other edibles requiring cook quarters.
            Having inspected the cuisine, we come to the dining-saloons, which occupy the two ends of the car. In each of these are placed six tables, making twelve in all; and as at each table four can sit comfortably, forty-eight persons may dine at the same time. These tables are portable, and may be promptly stowed away out of sight. Attached to the side of the car, by each table, is a bell, one stroke upon which instantly brings a waiter to your side. The interior of the dining-saloon is elegantly finished in black walnut, mounted with silver, while all the appointments are in perfect taste, and the effect is strikingly pleasing.
            It was a revelation to us, that first dinner on Sunday; and though we continued to dine for four days, and had as many breakfasts and suppers, our whole party never ceased to admire the perfection of the arrangements and the marvelous results achieved. Upon tables covered with snowy linen and garnished with services of solid silver, Ethiop waiters, flitting about in spotless white, placed as by magic a repast at which DELMONICO himself could have had no occasion to blush; and indeed, in some respects it would be hard for that distinguished chef to match our menu; for, in addition to all that makes up a first-chop dinner, had we not our antelope steak, (the gourmet who has not experienced this – bah! What does he know of the feast of fat things?) our delicious mountain brook-trout, our choice fruits and berries, and, sauce piquante and unpurchaseable, our sweet-scented appetite-compelling air of the prairies? You may depend upon it, we all did justice to the good things, and, as we washed them down with bumpers of sparkling Krug, while we sped along at a rate of thirty miles an hour, agreed it was the fastest living we had ever experienced. (We beat that, however, two days afterward when we made twenty-seven miles in twenty-seven minutes, while our Champagne glasses filled to the brim spilled not a drop!) After our dinner we repaired to our drawing-room car ….

As the source for the recipe for the day, I feel compelled to go to The table: how to buy food, how to cook it, and how to serve it (1895), by Alessandro Filippini - one-time chef at Delmonico’s famous New York restaurant.

Fillipini notes that “antelope may be generally had through the autumn and winter months,” and gives recipes for various cuts of antelope (steak, chops, saddle, stewed, civet) cooked and served in various ways (à la Francaise, and with chestnut puree, currant jelly, cranberry sauce, port wine sauce, sauce poivrade, and sauce Colbert.) One of the suggestions is that antelope steak be cooked like venison, and served with Russian sauce. Russian Sauce is referenced multiple times in the book as recipe 211, but in the text, recipe 211 is mistakenly named Prussian sauce. Here it is:


211. Prussian Sauce. — Add to three-quarters of a pint of hot bechamel sauce (No. 154), a teaspoonful of powdered sugar, a scant teaspoonful of red pepper, three tablespoonfuls of grated horseradish, and two tablespoonfuls of cold cream. Let it boil for four minutes, meanwhile stirring it well, and use when needed.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Semolina Pudding.


As severe tropical Cyclone Marcia bears down on my home state of Queensland, my culinary thoughts turn to comfort food. For me, this is soup. For some reason however, this morning as I woke to the sound of heavy rain which is the harbinger, without doubt, of more serious cyclonic rain and wind and damage, I thought of milk puddings – which is odd, because I am not especially fond of these. My second thought was specifically of semolina in the form of pudding, which is also odd because I can definitely take or leave semolina pudding (I prefer my thick gruel in the form of oatmeal!) Thought number three was the astounding realization that I did not know, exactly, what semolina was. Wheat, of course, I knew that, but what form of wheat?

The Oxford English Dictionary advises that it is “an article of food consisting of those hard portions of ‘flinty’ wheat which resist the action of the millstones, and are collected in the form of rounded grains.”  The word is derived from the Italian semolino , which is the diminutive of semola, which is bran. Old English millers would have called this (I think) ‘middlings’ – so another question is why did this inevitable residue of the milling process take on an Italian heritage?

I do indeed like the paradox that these ‘hard flinty’ bits of wheat end up as a soft, bland bowl of thick mush, so without further ado, here is a recipe for semolina pudding:

Semolina Pudding.
Take a pint and a half of milk, when boiling drop into it three tablespoonfuls of semolina, and stir it all together for about fifteen minutes; throw in two ounces of butter, and three ounces and a half of sifted sugar, with the grated rind of one lemon. Whilst the semolina still remains hot, beat gradually and briskly into it four eggs. Bake in a moderate oven.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, c.1870.


As the day and the storm proceed, I may just see what other semolina ideas the world has to offer.