Friday, May 29, 2015

When is a Yam a Sweet Potato?


Sweet potatoes are common and popular here in Australia, yams are generally only to be found in specialist greengrocers. In some parts of the USA, I understand that sweet potatoes of the yellow/orange colour are popularly referred to as ‘yams,’ – it is said because African-American slaves of the colonial period found them to have many similarities with the real yams with which they were familiar. Sometimes, if there is no additional commentary, it can be difficult to determine which is intended in a particular recipe.

Botanically speaking, the yam is the common name of some plants from the family Dioscoreaceae, is native to Africa and Asia, and the sweet potato belongs to the family Convolvulaceae, and is native to the Americas.

The Australian newspaper, the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.) of October 4, 1886, in a column entitled A Course of Cookery, by a Mother has this to say about the vegetables:

SWEET POTATO. - One of the most popular vegetables in this country is the sweet potatoe. It can be baked, boiled, or even stewed as a fruit. To boil them use no salt, as it gives them a dark tinge. They are very good mashed with chopped eschalot and parsley; boiled plain with melted butter; or baked with meat. For tarts they can be boiled, mashed, and flavoured with lemon juice, lemon peel, and sugar, turned into a pie dish, and covered with short crust; also treated with sugar, nutmeg, lemon, and sweet spice, the same as pumpkin pie, they are very good.

THE YAM. -It is a great pity the yam is not more generally cultivated in the colonies. It grows well, and with very little trouble, and is far before many other vegetables in the matter of nutriment. In the South Sea Islands the natives live on yam from their infancy.
The best and pleasantest way to cook them is to bake them in the ashes. Lay them in the dull, red ashes, turning them occasionally till done, then scrape off the outside,  break open the yam, and eat with a spoon and some fresh butter and salt. They are delicious for supper on a cold night. Boiling them quite spoils their flavour. The English potato, done in the same way, is far nicer than boiled.

Half a century later, another Australian newspaper, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW) of 13 July 1937, appeared to refer to sweet potatoes as yams. Or am I the one who is confused and is interpreting the article incorrectly. The article was in the Women’s Realm section, and was on cooking with yams and pumpkins. The author opines that “Natives of the South Sea Island and the Australian aborigines still cook yams in this fashion [roasting in their skins].” The South Sea Islands reference suggests sweet potatoes, does it not? For your decision and delectation, here are several of the ‘yam’ recipes from the article.


Yam Custard.
Sufficient boiled yams to make two cupfuls pulp, 2 eggs, 1 cupful milk, 1 tablespoonful flour, 1 teaspoonful salt, ¼ teaspoonful cinnamon.
Beat the yam pulp and rub through a coarse sieve. Beat the eggs with the flour and then add the salt, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the yam pulp and finally the milk a little at a time. Pour into a buttered pie-dish and bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes or until set. Cover with a thin layer of crushed peanuts and top with marshmallows cut in halves. Place in the oven and brown lightly. Serve hot or cold.

Baked Stuffed Yams.
Six medium-sized yams, 6 small white onions, milk and butter.
Peel and part-boil the yams in boiling salted water. Remove from the saucepan and dry them. Then from the centre of each cut a small round piece as large as the onion, and lay it aside. Put the onion in each potato with a teaspoonful of milk and butter. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne pepper and bake for 30 minutes or longer in a hot oven.

Creamed Yams.
Six medium-sized yams, 1 oz butter, salt and pepper, one gill cream.
Prepare and peel the yams. Boil until tender in salted water. Drain and mash with the butter and seasonings. Mix in the cream and pour into individual fire-proof dishes. Brown in a hot oven and serve with grilled cutlets.

Baked Spiced Yams.
Four medium-sized yams, eight cloves, four pieces of garlic, melted dripping, parsley sauce.
Peel the yams and boil until half tender in salted water. Drain and coat with melted butter. Stick two cloves in each yam and a piece of garlic on a small skewer. Bake until tender in good beef dripping. Remove the cloves and garlic and dish on a hot dis. Coat with parsley sauce and serve with veal cutlets.

Yam Puffs.
One cupful mashed yams, half cupful flour, two eggs, half teaspoonful salt, one teaspoonful baking powder. 

Beat the eggs well. Then mix in the cooked yams and beat for five minutes. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Fry in tablespoonfuls in faintly-smoking fat. Serve with grilled bacon.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Macarons: Everything Old is New, but Different, Again.


Trends come and go, and come again, and go again. I am not sure of the position of cupcakes and macarons in the limelight right now, but as sure as eggs are eggs, they will be pushed off the pinnacle again, and just become ordinarily popular once more.

I was thinking about macarons recently, and wondering when they changed from macaroons, which is how I always knew them, back when they were ordinarily delicious, not trendy delicious. Was the loss of an ‘o’ significant in their rise to neon-coloured stardom, do you think? On second thoughts, the macaroons of my childhood were made from little pyramids of coconut stuck together with sugar and egg, and baked, or with condensed milk, and not baked. Perhaps these coconut macaroons were a local phenomenon where I grew up – which is when and where macarons were just meringues.

So, what does the Oxford English Dictionary have to say about macarons? Let us acknowledge, then ignore for the purposes of this post, the confusion of it referring to a type of macaroni (pasta) in the early fifteenth century and beyond. One of the supporting quotations in the OED is from Chambers Cyclopaedia, published in 1753, which says:

Macaron, the name of a sort of vermicelli, a paste made of flour and water, and formed into the shape of the barrel of a quill, or the guts of small fowls.

The other definition of macaron given by the OED, and the one that concerns us today is “a small sweet cake or biscuit consisting chiefly of ground almonds (or coconut), egg white, and sugar.” The word is used with this meaning in Cotgrave’s Dictionary of the French & English Tongues (1611) which says:

Macarons, Macarons; little Fritter-like Bunnes, or thicke Losenges, compounded of Sugar, Almonds, Rosewater, and Muske.

So, there you have it, a super-mini summary of the concept of macarons. As the recipe for the day, I give you    Hannah Glasse’s version from her famous book the Art of Cookery, published in 1747.

To make Maccaroons.

Take a Pound of Almonds, let them be scal’d, blanch’d, and thrown into cold Water, then dry them in a Cloth and pound them in a Mortar, moisten them with Orange-flower Water, or the White of an Egg, lest they turn to an Oil; afterwards take an equal Quantity of fine powder Sugar, with three or four Whites of Eggs, and a little Musk, beat all well together, and shape them on Wafer-paper with a Spoon round, bake them in a gentle Oven on Tin Plates.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Recipes for Rolliches.


One of the things I love most about food history research (which is surely true of most research – and if not, it should be) – is happening across something I have never heard of before, while I was looking for something else entirely. It happened to me recently – I forget what the original subject of my search was, but the serendipitous find was ‘rolliches.’

I discovered rolliches in a book I have referred to many times before - The market assistant, containing a brief description of every article of human food sold in the public markets of the cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn; including the various domestic and wild animals, poultry, game, fish, vegetables, fruits &c., &c. with many curious incidents and anecdotes (New York, 1867) by Thomas de Voe.  This is the piece:

Rolliches (from the Dutch word rolletje). — This peculiar meat preparation was once a famous dish among the ancient Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, and although the making of it has almost been discontinued in our (New York) State, yet there are many old families in New Jersey and other places, who continue on from year to year, in preparing this as one of their principal dishes, to be used throughout the winter months, especially where fresh meat is only occasionally to be procured. It is found to be a wholesome article of food when properly prepared, and for the following receipt I am indebted to Mrs. Ann Hill, who has prepared and assisted in its preparation for about twenty years. She says: "Take the fresh, uncooked, but well-cleaned tripe, cut it into eight or ten as near square pieces as possible; then cut up the flanks and tops of sirloin pieces of beef, in strips, about as large as a good-sized finger, and lay them so as fat and lean will mix throughout, and enough to fill each piece of the tripe; pepper and salt should be well sprinkled between each layer of meat (some also add herbs to give peculiar flavors); then sew them up tightly and put them into a large pot, and boil slowly, until a broom-wisk or rye-straw can be pushed into them without breaking; they are then taken out, put under a weight, and left so all night; next morning the fat is skimmed off from the liquor, when the rolliches are put into a tight tub or pot, and a mixture of half vinegar and half pot-liquor is poured over, and enough to cover them; then a weight placed on top to keep them under. When wanted, one or more is taken out, cut up into thin slices, and warmed up in the liquor in a frying-pan, when they are found to be excellent eating."
They are occasionally found in our markets, having been brought in by the Jersey Dutchmen, who sold them in ordinary times for about twenty-five cents per pound.

Another recipe, with more in the way of spicing appears in The Thrift Cook Book (Philadelphia, 1919) by Marion Harris Neil.

Rolliches—An Old Dutch Dish
Uncooked tripe                                   1 bay leaf
Flank or sirloin beef                           1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon salt                                 Vinegar
½ teaspoon powdered mace               Garlic             
¼ teaspoon powdered allspice          
½ teaspoon white pepper


Rolliches are a delicious supper dish. Take fresh and well cleaned tripe, and cut as nearly eight inches square as possible. Cut beef into finger length strips, mixing fat and lean, and seasoning well with seasonings mixed together. A teaspoon each of powdered thyme, summer savory and sage may be added if liked to other seasonings. Fill squares of tripe with seasoned meat, and roll up like sausages. Put these rolls into a kettle of boiling water and let them simmer until the rolliches are quite tender. Remove from the fire, put a weight on top, and leave rolls in the liquor eight hours, by end of which time the liquor should be a jelly. Melt liquor, mix it with one-half its measure of vinegar, then scald and cool. Put rolliches in it, adding one sliced clove of garlic to each gallon of vinegar. The rolliches will be ready to use in a week, but will be better in two weeks.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Floddies and Fadges.


You may never have heard of floddies and fadges. I have a vague memory of ‘fadges’ from my grandmother in the north of England, and was reminded of them while researching my recent Wartime Potatoes post. It is time to explore them further.

The Oxford English Dictionary does not know the floddy, but of the fadge it reveals that it is a Scottish word referring to a large flat loaf or bannock, with written evidence from 1609 . As we will see, this is a rather narrow description

Of floddy, I find that it is a small Scottish island, and a Scottish surname, and that bacon floddies are traditional to Gateshead in County Durham. There needs to be more time to find out more.

From the British wartime Ministry of Food’s Food Facts leafet  no. 25 of January 1941:

“Fadge” for Breakfast
“Fadge” is both nourishing and filling.  It is excellent for breakfast.
Boil some well-scrubbed potatoes, then peel and mash them while hot. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, add salt, and work in enough flour to make a pliable dough. Knead lightly on a well-floured board for about 5 minutes, then roll into a large circle about ¼ inch thick. Cut into wedge-shaped pieces, and cook on hot girdle, an electric hot-plate or on the upper shelf of a quick oven until brown on both sides, turning once.

Potato Floddies.
These are real energy givers.

Scrub 2 potatoes and grate with a coarse grater over a bowl. Then add sufficient flour to form a batter. Season with salt and pepper. Melt a little dripping and make very hot in a frying pan. Drop the mixture into it. When brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Serve with a little jam if you want it as a sweet dish. If you want it as a savoury, add a pinch of mixed herbs and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Monday, May 25, 2015

An Excuse for Pound Cake.


Today is, according to the Christian calendar, Whit Monday. Whit Sunday, (or Pentecost), is the seventh Sunday after Easter, and is commemorated by Christians as the day in which the Holy Ghost is said to have entered the twelve Apostles. The day used to begin three days of religious observances known as Whitsuntide, but as with so many early Christian celebrations, over the centuries elements of the pagan festivals occurring at around the same time became incorporated. 

Today, of course, the day after Whit Sunday, is Whit Monday. Now, I do particularly love any celebration with any spiritual connections whatsoever that includes cake. And I have found one for you today.

From Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time: an account of local observances (London, 1896) by Peter Hampson Ditchfield:

Whitsuntide is the great season for old club feasts. From an economic point of view, no one who has the welfare of the people at heart will regret the decline of the old village benefit clubs. They were nearly all rotten; they were conducted on the most unsound systems of financial organisation; they usually failed to benefit the members when aid was most needed; and their place is well supplied by the admirably conducted benefit societies, the Oddfellows, Foresters, and other sound benefit clubs.
But the student of the manners and customs of our race regrets the disappearance of many of our village clubs, because it has entailed the destruction of many old customs associated with the annual club feast, which were not without their special interest and importance. Those that have survived the lapse of time are here recorded.

At Bampton, Oxon, in order to celebrate the club feast, which is held on Whit-Monday, a procession goes round the town; it is made up as follows : —

1. A drum-and-piper, or, as he is more commonly called, “whittle-and-dub” man (the term pipe-and-tabour was in use within living memory); the music is now, however, played by a fiddler.

2. Eight morris-dancers, dressed in finely-pleated white shirts, white moleskin trousers, and top-hats decorated with red, white, and blue ribbons. Only six dance at a time, two standing out to relieve the others. They dance to certain well-known tunes (a list of which is given), and sing while they dance.

3. A clown called the "Squire," who carries a staff with a calf s tail at one end and a bladder at the other, with which he belabours the bystanders. He also carries a money-box, known as the “the treasury,” which in this case is a wood box with a slit in the lid.

4. A “sword-bearer,” who carries a cake in a round tin impaled on a sword. The cake is a rich pound-cake, and is provided by some lady in the town. The tin has its rim cut into zig-zags, and has a slit in the bottom to admit the sword-blade. Both cake and sword are decorated with ribbons.
When the dancing begins, anyone who wishes can taste the cake by applying to the “sword-bearer.” When all is over at night, what is left of the cake is divided amongst the eleven men, who generally give it to their friends.

I have given you recipes for Pound Cake before, of course:
      




Here is an even earlier recipe, from Hannah Glasse herself, as it appeared in her famous book The Art of Cookery, published in 1747.

To Make a Pound Cake.
Take a Pound of Butter, beat it in an earthen Pan with your Hand one Way, till it is like fine thick Cream; then have ready twelve Eggs, but half the Whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the Butter, a Pound of Flour beat in, a Pound of Sugar, and a few Carraways: beat it all well together for an Hour with your Hand, or a great wooden Spoon. Butter a Pan, and put it in, and bake it an Hour in a quick Oven.

For Change, you may put in a Pound of Currants clean wash’d and pick’d.

Friday, May 22, 2015

When is a Yam a Sweet Potato?


Sweet potatoes are common and popular here in Australia, yams are generally only to be found in specialist greengrocers. In some parts of the USA, I understand that sweet potatoes of the yellow/orange colour are popularly referred to as ‘yams,’ – it is said because African-American slaves of the colonial period found them to have many similarities with the real yams with which they were familiar. Sometimes, if there is no additional commentary, it can be difficult to determine which is intended in a particular recipe.

Botanically speaking, the yam is the common name of some plants from the family Dioscoreaceae, is native to Africa and Asia, and the sweet potato belongs to the family Convolvulaceae, and is native to the Americas.

The Australian newspaper, the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.) of October 4, 1886, in a column entitled A Course of Cookery, by a Mother has this to say about the vegetables:

SWEET POTATO. - One of the most popular vegetables in this country is the sweet potatoe. It can be baked, boiled, or even stewed as a fruit. To boil them use no salt, as it gives them a dark tinge. They are very good mashed with chopped eschalot and parsley; boiled plain with melted butter; or baked with meat. For tarts they can be boiled, mashed, and flavoured with lemon juice, lemon peel, and sugar, turned into a pie dish, and covered with short crust; also treated with sugar, nutmeg, lemon, and sweet spice, the same as pumpkin pie, they are very good.

THE YAM. -It is a great pity the yam is not more generally cultivated in the colonies. It grows well, and with very little trouble, and is far before many other vegetables in the matter of nutriment. In the South Sea Islands the natives live on yam from their infancy. The best and pleasantest way to cook them is to bake them in the ashes. Lay them in the dull, red ashes, turning them occasionally till done, then scrape off the outside,  break open the yam, and eat with a spoon and some fresh butter and salt. They are delicious for supper on a cold night. Boiling them quite spoils their flavour. The English potato, done in the same way, is far nicer than boiled.

Half a century later, another Australian newspaper, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW) of 13 July 1937, appeared to refer to sweet potatoes as yams. Or am I the one who is confused and is interpreting the article incorrectly. The article was in the Women’s Realm section, and was on cooking with yams and pumpkins. The author opines that “Natives of the South Sea Island and the Australian aborigines still cook yams in this fashion [roasting in their skins].” The South Sea Islands reference suggests sweet potatoes, does it not? For your decision and delectation, here are several of the ‘yam’ recipes from the article.


Yam Custard.
Sufficient boiled yams to make two cupfuls pulp, 2 eggs, 1 cupful milk, 1 tablespoonful flour, 1 teaspoonful salt, ¼ teaspoonful cinnamon.
Beat the yam pulp and rub through a coarse sieve. Beat the eggs with the flour and then add the salt, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the yam pulp and finally the milk a little at a time. Pour into a buttered pie-dish and bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes or until set. Cover with a thin layer of crushed peanuts and top with marshmallows cut in halves. Place in the oven and brown lightly. Serve hot or cold.

Baked Stuffed Yams.
Six medium-sized yams, 6 small white onions, milk and butter.
Peel and part-boil the yams in boiling salted water. Remove from the saucepan and dry them. Then from the centre of each cut a small round piece as large as the onion, and lay it aside. Put the onion in each potato with a teaspoonful of milk and butter. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne pepper and bake for 30 minutes or longer in a hot oven.

Creamed Yams.
Six medium-sized yams, 1 oz butter, salt and pepper, one gill cream.
Prepare and peel the yams. Boil until tender in salted water. Drain and mash with the butter and seasonings. Mix in the cream and pour into individual fire-proof dishes. Brown in a hot oven and serve with grilled cutlets.

Baked Spiced Yams.
Four medium-sized yams, eight cloves, four pieces of garlic, melted dripping, parsley sauce.
Peel the yams and boil until half tender in salted water. Drain and coat with melted butter. Stick two cloves in each yam and a piece of garlic on a small skewer. Bake until tender in good beef dripping. Remove the cloves and garlic and dish on a hot dis. Coat with parsley sauce and serve with veal cutlets.

Yam Puffs.
One cupful mashed yams, half cupful flour, two eggs, half teaspoonful salt, one teaspoonful baking powder. 

Beat the eggs well. Then mix in the cooked yams and beat for five minutes. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Fry in tablespoonfuls in faintly-smoking fat. Serve with grilled bacon.

Of the Hebridean Table (1773)


I have a delightful traveller’s food tale for you today. I found it in The Flowers of Celebrated Travellers: Being a Selection from the Most Entertaining and Instructive Travels by M. Stewart, which was published in 1934, although the particular story is from an account of a journey to the Western Isles in 1773. The ‘celebrated traveller’ is none other than the wonderful lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, who visited the area during that year with his friend and biographer, James Boswell.

Of the Hebridian Tables.
IT need not, I suppose, be mentioned, that in countries so little frequented as the islands, there are no houses where travellers are entertained for money. He that wanders about these wilds, either procures recommendations to those whose habitations lie near his way, or, when night and weariness come upon him, takes the chance of general hospitality. If he finds only a cottage, he can expect little more than shelter; for the cottagers have little more for themselves. But if his good fortune brings him to the residence of a gentleman, he will be glad of a storm to prolong his stay. There is, however, one inn by the sea-side at Sconfor, in Sky, where the post-office is kept.
At the tables where a stranger is received, neither plenty nor delicacy is wanting. A tract of land so thinly inhabited, must have much wild-fowl; and I scarcely remember to have seen a dinner without them. The moor-game is every where to be had. That the sea abounds with fish, need not be told; for it supplies a great part of Europe. The isle of Sky, has stags and roebucks, but no hares. They sell very numerous droves of oxen to England, and therefore cannot be supposed to want beef at home. Sheep and goats are in great numbers, and they have the common domestic fowls.
But as here is nothing to be bought, every family must kill its own meat, and roast part of it somewhat sooner than Apicius would prescribe. Every kind of flesh is undoubtedly excelled by the variety and emulation of English markets; but that which is not best, may yet be far from bad; and he that shall complain of his fare in the Hebrides, has improved his delicacy more than his manhood.
The fowls are not like these plumed for sale by the poulterers of London, but they are as good as other places commonly afford, except that the geese, by feeding in the sea, have universally a fishy rankness.
These geese seem to be of a middle race, between the wild and domestic kinds. They are so tame as to own a home, and so wild as sometimes to fly quite away.
Their native bread is made of oats, or barley. Of oatmeal they spread very thin cakes, coarse and hard, to which unaccustomed palates are not easily reconciled. The barley cakes are thicker and softer. I began to eat them with unwillingness. The blackness of their colour raises some dislike, but the taste is not disagreeable. In most houses there is wheat-flour, with which we were sure to be treated, if we staid long enough to have it kneaded and baked. As neither yeast nor leaven are used among them, their bread of every kind is unfermented. They make onJy cakes, and never mould a loaf.
A man of the Hebrides, for of the women's diet I can give no account, as soon as he appears in the morning, swallows a glass of whiskey. Yet they are not a drunken race; at least I never was present at much intemperance. But no man is so abstemious as to refuse the morning dram, which they call a skalk.
The word whiskey, signifies water, and is applied by way of eminence to strong water, or distilled liquor. The spirit drunk in the north, is drawn from barley. I never tasted it, except once for experiment at the inn, in Inverary, when I thought it preferable to any English malt brandy. It was strong, but not pungent, and was free from the empyreumatic taste or smell. What was the process, I had no opportunity of enquiring, nor do I wish to improve the art of making poison pleasant.
Not long after the dram, may be expected the breakfast, a meal in which the Scots, whether of the lowlands or mountains, must be confessed to excel us. The tea and coffee are accompanied not only with butter, but with honey, conserves, and marmalades. If an epicure could remove by a wish, in quest of sensual gratifications, wherever he had supped, he would breakfast in Scotland.
In the islands, however, they do what I found it not very easy to endure. They pollute the tea-table, by plates piled with large slices of Cheshire cheese, which mingles its less grateful odours with the fragrance of the tea.
Where many questions are to be asked, some will be omitted. I forgot to enquire how they were supplied with so much exotic luxury. Perhaps the French may bring them wine for wool, and the Dutch give them tea and coffee at the fishing season, in exchange for fresh provisions. Their trade is unconstrained. They pay no customs, for there is no officer to demand them. Whatever therefore is made dear only by impost, is obtained here at an easy rate.
A dinner in the Western Islands, differs very little from a dinner in England, except that, in the place of tarts, there are always set different preparations of milk. This part of their diet will admit some improvement. Though they have milk and eggs, and sugar, few of them know how to compound them in a custard. Their gardens afford them no great variety, but they have always some vegetables on the table. Potatoes at least are never wanting, which, though they have not known them long, are now one of the principal parts of their food. They are not of the meally but the viscous kind.
Their more elaborate cookery, or made dishes, an Englishman at the first taste is not likely to approve; but the culinary compositions of every country are often such as become grateful to other nations only by degrees; though I have read a French author, who, in the elation of his heart, says, that French cookery pleases all foreigners, but foreign cookery never satisfies a Frenchman.
Their suppers are, like their dinners, various and plentiful. The table is always covered with elegant linen. Their plates for common use, are often of that kind of manufacture which is called cream-coloured, or queen's-ware. They use silver on all occasions where it is common in England, nor did I ever find the spoon of horn but in one house.
The knives are not often either very bright or very sharp. They are indeed instruments, of which the Highlanders have not been long acquainted with the general use. They were not regularly laid on the table, before the prohibition of arms and the change of dress. Thirty years ago, the Highlander wore his knife as a companion to his dirk or dagger; and when the company sat down to meat, the men, who had knives, cut the flesh into small pieces for the women, who with their fingers conveyed it to their mouths.

The recipe for the day is from Scotland’s first cookbook – Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work, published in 1736.  The recipe is a nice addition to the Gingerbread Archive.

To make a Ginge[r] Cake.
Take a Forpet of Flour, a Quarter of a lib. of Butter, a Quarter of a lib.of Sugar, an Ounce and a half of Ginger, a Quarter of an Ounce of Jamaica Pepper; and Nutmeg, half and Ounce of Carvey-seed; mix them all with your Flour, then take a Mutchkin of Triacle, and work it very well, and make it up into your Shape, and send it to the Oven.

Forpet: a corruption of a fourth part, usually of a peck, a dry goods volume of about two gallons.
Jamaica Pepper: allspice
Carvey-seed: caraway seed.
Mutchkin: equal to a quarter of a Scottish pint or roughly three quarters of an imperial pint.

Triacle: treacle

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Wartime Potatoes.


As many of you know, I am particularly fond of the regular Food Facts leaflets published by the British wartime Ministry of Food throughout the war and for many years afterwards. Yesterday I gave you a couple of recipes from a 1948 publication. One recipe was for a potato supper dish, and it struck me (yet again) how intrinsic to British cooking is the potato. It is almost impossible to imagine the cuisine of the country without the humble but incredibly versatile spud.

I thought it might be fun to look at a sample of potato recipes from the Food Facts leaflets of the wartime Ministry of Food.

Let us start early in the war, in November 1940: from Food Facts no. 16:

Potato and Watercress Soup.
Potatoes and watercress are two of the most valuable of the “protective” foods – the foods that help us resist illness and fatigue. This soup is a true protective dish. Scrub a pound of potatoes and cut into quarters. Boil in 1 ½ pints of water until soft. Then put through a sieve, return to the pan, add a bunch of watercress shredded, and pepper and salt to taste. Simmer very gently for 5 minutes, adding a little milk if the soup is too thick (This makes enough for 4 people.)

Reduction of the consumption of wheat and fat were goals of the Ministry of Food throughout the war: less wheat imported meant that shipping could be freed up for military use, and fat was essential for the production of explosives. Many Food Facts recipes were developed to accommodate these requirements, as in the leaflet number 28 in early February 1941, which made a feature of potatoes. It began with the following:

Have you discovered how often potatoes can replace foods that are now difficult to get? Potatoes can be served in an endless variety of ways – below are a few suggestions. Potatoes build up your strength, give you vitality and help you to resist illness – as they are home-grown. So eat them often.

One of the included recipes saved wheat, the other, fat:

Potato Pastry.
This is extremely good with either sweet or savoury dishes. Sieve 8 oz. plain flour with ½ teaspoon salt. Rub in 4 oz. cooking fat with the tips of the fingers, until the mixture has the appearance of fine breadcrumbs. Add 4 oz. sieved cooked potato and rub lightly into the other ingredients. Mix to a very dry dough with a little cold water. Knead well with the fingers and roll out.

Potato Suet Crust.
This recipe will make your suet ration go further, and give you a light crust, which is not greasy. Mix 8 oz. flour, 2 oz. suet, 2 oz. grated raw potato, salt, and a little water. Then cook your mixture in the usual way.

Potatoes were the sole topic of the leaflet the following week in February. Number 29 went so far as suggesting that potatoes be eaten three times a day – for breakfast, dinner, and supper. I have mentioned this particular leaflet, and gave the recipe for Surprise PotatoBalls in a previous story (here) and also gave the recipe for Coffee Potato Scones in another post.

Leaflet No. 29 also had the following very simple potato idea:

Parsley Potato Cakes.
Here is a new breakfast dish which you can prepare the day before.
Boil 1 lb. potatoes and mash them while hot with a very little hot milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Next morning, add a tablespoon chopped parsley. Shape the mixture into little cakes, cover well with browned breadcrumbs and pan fry in a little hot fat, or bake in the oven.

The Ministry of Food introduced several cartoon-type characters to encourage vegetable consumption during the war, and the most famous is probably Potato Pete, who even had a potato song:

Potatoes new, potatoes old,
Potatoes (in a salad) cold,
Potatoes baked or mashed or fried,
Potatoes whole, potatoes pied:
Enjoy them all including chips –
Remembering spuds don’t come in ships!

I am sure I will return to this theme of wartime potatoes, but as a final offering, especially for those of you who have never met a potato they didn’t like, here is another recipe from the Food Facts leaflet which gave us Potato Devils yesterday – leaflet number 430, published in September 1948, well after the end of the war.

Hot Potato Salad.
1½ oz. dripping; 1 level tablespoon chopped onion; 1½ lb. boiled potatoes, sliced; salt and pepper to taste; 1-2 level tablespoons chopped parsley.
Heat the dripping and fry the onion until light brown. Add the potatoes and sprinkle with seasoning. Heat slowly, stirring frequently, until all the fat has been absorbed. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve hot.