Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Laws of Eating: Part II.


For a long time after I began this blog in late 2005 I kept to an “On This Day” theme. I ultimately discontinued this for several reasons, and subsequently much of my material ended up in my Food History Almanac.  I still have many unused stories related to specific dates however, and I thought it might be fun to use them from time to time.

On this date in 1336, in the tenth year of the reign of King Edward III, England’s first sumptuary law was promulgated at the Parliament held in Nottingham.  Sumptuary laws have been promulgated by kings and governments for many centuries (I have written on them previously here), but have always proved impossible to enforce – no doubt in part because the law-makers and enforcers belonged to the very classes whose consumption was being targeted. Many sumptuary laws throughout history have addressed clothing and jewellery, but the Statutum Cibariis Utendis of 1336 was an ‘alimentary statute’ – that is, it was concerned entirely with food consumption. The act specified the number of courses that were to be allowed at a meal, and the type of dishes served:-


Whereas, heretofore through the excessive and over-many sorts of costly meats which the people of this Realm have used more than elsewhere, many mischiefs have happened to the people of this Realm - for the great men by these excesses have been sore grieved; and the lesser people, who only endeavour to imitate the great ones in such sort of meats, are much impoverished, whereby they are not able to aid themselves, nor their liege lord, in time of need, as they ought; and many other evils have happened, as well to their souls as their bodies - our Lord the King, desiring the common profit as well of the great men as of the common people of his Realm, and considering the evils, grievances, and mischiefs aforesaid, by the common assent of the prelates, earls, barons, and other nobles of his said Realm, and of the commons of the same Realm, hath ordained and established that no man, of what estate or condition soever he be, shall cause himself to be served, in his house or elsewhere, at dinner, meal, or supper, or at any other time, with more than two courses, and each mess of two sorts of victuals at the utmost, be it of flesh or fish, with the common sorts of pottage, without sauce or any other sorts of victuals. And if any man choose to have sauce for his mess, he may, provided it be not made at great cost; and if fish or flesh be to be mixed therein, it shall be of two sorts only at the utmost, either fish or flesh, and shall stand instead of a mess, except only on the principal feasts of the year, on which days every man may be served with three courses at the utmost, after the manner aforesaid.'

Although as with other sumptuary laws in other times and places, the statute was impossible to enforce, it was not formally repealed until 1856, during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Now, for the recipe for the day I give you a nice, rich dish of goose from Forme of Cury, the cookery manuscript of the Master Chefs of King Richard II, published in about 1390.

Gees in Hoggepot

Take Gees and smyte hem on pecys. cast hem in a Pot do þerto half wyne and half water. and do þerto a gode quantite of Oynouns and erbest. Set it ouere the fyre and couere  it fast. make a layour of brede and blode an lay it þerwith. do þerto powdour fort and serue it fort.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Genuine Breakfast vs The Counterfeit Breakfast.

Are you a breakfast person? If so, what sort of breakfast do you like? I wonder how your breakfast ideals will match up with the suggestions of M. Tarbox Colbrath, the author of What to Get for Breakfast: with more than one hundred different breakfasts, and full directions for each (Boston, 1882)?

Last week I gave you a recipe for CherryShortcake from this book. The chapter from which this recipe came is entitled Fruit Cake Breakfasts, and it is quite an anomaly - as you will see below, the author is clearly of the carnivorous persuasion.  In the Preface, he or she gives a fairly lengthy biblical justification for eating the ‘wholesome’ varieties of animal flesh – while remaining uncertain and a little apologetic about pork:

Although pork is largely used throughout all Christendom, yet I cannot judiciously give it a place in this breakfast directory. There will be no danger of starvation if it is dispensed with. The world is full of good things, so we can easily repudiate it. Just as good, and much more wholesome dishes can be gotten without it. No baked beans, a la New England, no pork sausage. ….. for it is allowed that pork is the most indigestible of all meats, besides being unscriptural.

After the introductory advice, the author embarks on the menu and recipe suggestions of his ‘Breakfast Repertory’ - with meaty enthusiasm, as you will deduce from the section headings:

III. Beefsteak  Breakfasts.
IV. Cold Beef Breakfasts.
V. Venison Breakfasts.
VI. Mutton and Lamb Breakfasts.
VII. Veal Breakfasts.
VIII. Domestic Fowl Breakfasts.
IX. Fish Breakfasts.
X. Egg Breakfasts.
XI. Croquette and Sausage Breakfasts.
XII. Fruit Cake Breakfasts.
XIII. Ancestral Breakfasts.

There are in fact recipes in the book for beverages, vegetables, bread, cereal, fruit (and fruit cake,) but they appear in the menu suggestions in the place of minor courses, or side-dishes alongside the main dish. But before I give you the recipe of the day, I want to let the author speak to you on the importance of the right type of breakfast.

THE GENUINE BREAKFAST.
How pleasant those homes where genuine breakfasts are appreciated; where cooking morality is of importance, and the food is aesthetically prepared. Feeling assured of a satisfying bill of fare, with what cheerfulness the family respond to the news of the morning repast. Who can deny the comforts, luxury and moral benefit of this meal in one's own cheerful breakfast-room, where the cutlets are sweet to the senses, the baked potatoes dainty and mealy, the biscuits of an ethereal nature; where the coffee is fragrant and delicate, and possessed of such charms that spirituous beverages have no temptation; where the cream comes safely from the cow to the pitcher; and where each dish brings health and pleasure.

Such a breakfast is absolutely perfect, because attractive, wholesome, nutritious, simple, and easily digested, leaving the stomach comfortable, the head so clear, the spirits so light, and the vital forces so supplied that amiable visages, clear financiering, speculation, and imagination are the speedy compensation. Beside, the stomach, when in this beautiful condition, is a moral force; and if (as is sometimes said) many of the evils of the world are traceable to bad and scanty food, with this kind of breakfast one should not fail to be a better man or woman throughout the day.

THE COUNTERFEIT BREAKFAST.
A home without a good breakfast - how shall we describe it? Instead of the sunny courtesy with which a man comes to a faultless breakfast, he who has no assurance of a satisfying morning repast, comes like a man who has had bad news broken to him, and most likely with a "breach of peace" pictured on his face. Yet, if this man had the same assurance of an attractive breakfast of which the courteous one was confident, he might have excelled him in politeness.

Pity the sorrows of those who are not especially favored with a genuine breakfast, that stimulates the body, lightens the spirits, clears the thought, gives moral force, and recompenses by generally resisting the foes of life, for he who is badly and scantily fed in the morning has not the moral safeguard through the day of him who has been well fed at breakfast.

When so much depends on this meal, is it not surprising that so many treat it indifferently? A broiled beefsteak, a digestible breakfast-cake, a dainty baked potato, a clear cup of coffee, are especial wonders in many families, who have never dreamed that a square and satisfying breakfast has much to do with the prosperity of humanity. In this enlightened republic, instead of breaking fast with a plenty of simple and nourishing food, how many begin the labors of the day with a scanty, unattractive, and indigestible breakfast, which exhausts instead of supplying the forces!

Bacon or pork served swimming in grease, - steak fried or broiled till the life has gone out of it, and consequently so tough and hard that one could eat and enjoy a side of leather about as easily, - cold potatoes warmed over in fat that suggests the longevity of both fat and the vessel in which it was preserved, - a hastened corn-cake so rank with soda that the stomach is made unhappy through the day, - a choice mutton-chop transformed beyond recognition, - muffins burned to a cinder, by forcing them with too hot an oven, - scrambled eggs, and griddle-cakes made leathery for want of promptness, - the coffee, alas! for that precious cup, that benefactor of mankind, so invaluable to many for its gentle stimulating powers, and especially designed for sustenance instead of dangerous wine, - this indispensable comfort so muddy and bitter that you cannot recognize its first principles ; and to complete its transformation, the milk served in an unsanitary pitcher! These are familiar breakfasts in many families.

Dangerous breakfasts these. They do not fitly feed hunger. The hungry body vainly tries to recuperate in its efforts to digest this wretchedly- cooked food not "convenient” for it, so that what might have been done had the food been rightly cooked, remains undone. Determination, application, and patience will enable one to serve a very different morning meal, with a little earlier rising, if necessary, for a breakfast gotten in "no time" usually drifts its own way.

As the menu and recipe for the day, I give you the following ideas from the book. And may the force be with you.

BREAKFAST No. 15
Oatmeal Mush
Oven-Broiled Beefsteak                     Parker-House Biscuit
Green Corn on the Cob.
Coffee.                                                Ripe Fruit.

OVEN-BROILED BEEFSTEAK.
Try this labor-saving experiment, and, like others, you may sanction it. Perchance, if not
apprised, you might not suspect that your steak was not gridiron-broiled. To begin, your oven must be very, very hot, else you will lose the juice of your steak. A moderate oven would ruin it, for, to be in perfection, it must be quickly seared with heat. Other principles are the same as for gridiron-broiling.

Lay your steak into a dripping-pan large enough to hold it without condensing. Set it in a hot oven. If thick, it will need to remain ten minutes, according to the doneness you prefer. When done, season to taste, and serve on a hot platter. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Bow-Wow Cake Day.


In the English town of Painswick in Gloucestershire, on the first Sunday after the nineteenth of September, a very ancient festival is held. Associated with this day is a special, rather confronting dish. The origins and meaning of this special dish are lost in the mists of antiquity, and its actual form appears to have morphed and mutated over the centuries. Nowadays, ‘Painswick Dog Pie’,(aka ‘Painswick Bun, or ‘Bow-Wow Cake’) does not contain dog meat, but merely a china dog in recognition of a longstanding local traditional tale.

The details of the story are disputed, but appear to relate to enmity between Painswick and the adjacent parish of Stroud. One version of the story has it that a Painswick man, having promised venison for some visitors from Stroud, on being unable to source the game, substituted with dog meat. Naturally, the deceit, when discovered, caused normal parish rivalry to escalate into name-calling and open hostility.

Whatever form it takes, the pie/cake/bun is enjoyed following the ceremony of ‘clypping’ or embracing the church, in celebration of the Nativity of the Virgin. The children of the parish of St. Mary, with flowers in their hair, join hands and form a ring around the church – which sounds like a wonderfully picturesque occasion.

I am unable to give you a recipe for this day’s special dish – as mentioned, there is no consensus as to the form (pie? cake? bun?) or the primary ingredient (dried fruit? almond meal? – certainly not actual dog flesh.) But I must give you a recipe with a Gloucester connection, must I not? Gloucestershire was famous in the past for its lampreys, for a traditional pudding called HegPeg Dump, and also for a wonderful breed of pig called the Gloucester Old Spot. Probably the county’s most famous food product however, it its cheese, and Gloucester cheese has always been a favourite for toasting.

To Toast Cheese.
Cut some double or single Gloucester cheese into small shavings, and put it with a bit of butter into a cheese-toaster; place it before the fire till the cheese dissolves, stirring it now and then. Serve with a slice of toasted bread, divided into four, and the crust pared off. It is generally eaten with mustard, salt, and pepper.
The Practice of Cookery: Adapted to the Business of Every Day Life (Edinburgh, 1830)

by Mrs. Dalgairns.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cheese Puddings.


A short while ago, I gave you a story entitled  Cheshire Cheese Pudding, and it rapidly became clear that some of you felt misled and were ultimately disappointed that there was no recipe for a pudding made with Cheshire Cheese. The story referred to a pudding tradition at a London pub with a venerable history - Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, in Fleet Street.

To make things right, to the disappointed reader or three, I give several cheese puddings today. The first one is most interesting. Look at the amount of sugar it contains!

Cheese Pudding.
Four eggs, one cupful of sugar, half a small cupful of grated Parmesan cheese, one cupful of flour, two teaspoonfuls of yeast-powder, one  pinch of salt, and one quart of milk. Bake half an hour; serve as soon as baked, and eat with hard sauce.
Los Angeles Cookery, by the Los Angeles Ladies' Aid Society, 1881

And few more variations on the cheese pudding theme for you:

To make pretty little Cheese-curd Puddings.
You must take a Gallon of Milk, and turn it with Runnet, then drain all the Curd from the Whey, put the Curd into a Mortar and beat it with half a Pound of fresh butter till the Butter and Curd are well-mixed; then beat six Eggs, half the Whites, and strain them to the Curd, two Naples Biscuits, or half a penny roll grated; mix all these together, and sweeten to your Palate; butter your Patty Pans, and fill them with the Ingredients. Bake them, but don’t let your Oven be too hot; when they are done, turn them out into a Dish, cut Citron and candied Orange-peel cut in long Slips, stick them here and there on the Tops of the Puddings, just as you fancy; pour melted Butter with a little Sack in it into the Dish, and throw fine Sugar all over the Puddings and Dish.  They make a pretty Side-dish.
The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy; by Hannah Glasse (1758 ed)

Cheese-Pudding.
Grate Cheshire, or new rich Dunlop, or any mild melting cheese, in the proportion of a half-pound to two beat eggs, with a little oiled butter, cream, and a large tablespoonful of finely-grated bread. Bake in a small dish lined with puff-paste, or omit the paste, as in other puddings, at discretion.
Another, plainer and better. Grate the cheese; use but one egg, and melt the whole in a small saucepan with milk, or, if for a supper-relish, with ale or porter; use two tablespoonfuls of finely-sifted crumbs. Pour the mixture into a small buttered pudding-dish, and brown it in the Dutch oven. Made-mustard may be added.
The cook and housewife's manual, by Margaret Dods [Christian Isobel Johnstone],
1862 edn.


Cheese Pudding.
Take a quarter of a pound of excellent cheese; rich, but not strong or old. Cut it in small bits, and then beat it (a little at a time) in a marble mortar. Add a quarter of a pound of the best fresh butter. Cut it up, and pound it in the mortar with the cheese, till perfectly smooth and 'well mixed. Beat five eggs till very thick and smooth. Mix them, gradually, with the cheese and butter. Put the mixture into a deep dish with a rim. Have ready some puff-paste, and lay a broad border of it all round the edge, ornamenting it handsomely. Set it immediately into a moderate oven, and bake it till the paste is browned, and has risen very high all round the edge of the dish. Sift white sugar over it before it goes to table.
It is intended that the cheese taste shall predominate. But, if preferred, you may make the mixture very sweet by adding powdered sugar; it may be seasoned with nutmeg and mace. Either way is good.
It may be baked in small patty-pans, lined at the bottom and sides with puff-paste. Bemove them from the tins as soon as they come out of the oven, and place them on a large dish.
This pudding is very nice made of rich fresh cream cheese; the rind, of course, being pared off. Cream cheese pudding will require sugar and spice—that is, a heaped tea-spoonful of powdered nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon, all mixed; two ounces of fresh butter, and six eggs.

Miss Leslie's New Cookery Book (1857)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cake for Breakfast.

Once upon a time, before the advent of leavening agents such as baking powder, a ‘cake’ was essentially a sweetened, and often be-fruited, loaf of bread. At another once upon a time, ‘muffins’ were small,yeast-risen, bubbly, griddle-baked ‘cakes’ (in the sense of small lumps of something, as in a cake of soap.)  This latter form of muffin is sometimes still referred to as an ‘English muffin’ to differentiate it from a modern muffin, which is a cupcake without the frosting, and allows us to eat cake (in the modern sense of the word) for breakfast.

The concept of cake for breakfast is not new – only the style has changed over the centuries. I give you a random selection of historical ideas for breakfast cake, and hope you enjoy them:

An ordinary Breakfast Cake.
Rub a pound and a half of butter into half a peck of flower, three pounds of currants, half a pound of sugar, a quarter of an ounce of mace, cinnamon, and nutmeg together, a little salt, a pint and a half of warmed cream, or milk, a quarter of a pint of brandy, five eggs, a pint of good ale-yeast; mix it well together, bake it in a moderate oven. This cake will keep good a quarter of a year.
The Lady's Assistant for Regulating and Supplying her Table: being a complete system of cookery, containing one hundred and fifty select bills of fare, properly disposed for family dinners ... with upwards of fifty bills of fare for suppers ... and several desserts: including likewise, the fullest and choicest receipts of various kinds (1777) by Charlotte Mason.

Cakes, Bath Breakfast.
Rub into two pounds of flour half a pound of butter, and mix with it one pint of milk a little warmed, a quarter of a pint of fresh yeast, four well-beaten eggs, and a tea-spoonful of salt; Cover it, and let it stand before the fire to rise for three-quarters of an hour; make it into thick cakes about the size of the inside of a dinner plate; bake them in a quick oven, then cut them into three, that the middle slice, as also the top and bottom may be well buttered. Serve them very hot.
The Cook's Own Book (Boston, 1840) by Mrs. N.K.M.Lee

I am intrigued, that at a time when bread straight from the oven was considered by many to be an unhealthy choice, that several of these dishes were intended to be served hot.

The following rather similar idea sounds quite delicious too – although I have no idea of the authenticity of the reference to General Washington in this context.

General Washington’s Breakfast Cake.
Sift into a pan 1 lb. of flour, and put into the middle of it 2 oz. of butter warmed in a pint of milk, a small spoonful of salt, 3 well-beaten eggs and 3 tablespoonfuls of fresh yeast. Mix well and put in a square tin pan greased with butter. Cover it, and set in a warm place, and when very light, bake in a moderate oven. Send it to table hot, and eat it with butter.
Dwight’s American Magazine, 1845

And for contrast, a very no-frills version of the concept:-

Hommony Breakfast Cake.
Three spoonfuls of hommony, two of rice flour, a little milk, salt and butter. It must be stiff enough to bake in a pan.
The Carolina Housewife (1847)

And another, even more austere (but somewhat adaptable) version:-

Oatmeal Breakfast Cake.
Oatmeal makes a very tender breakfast cake, the most readily prepared of any thing we put into the oven. Wet oatmeal with water until it can be easily shaken down flat, pour one-half to three-fourths of an inch thick, and bake until the surface is slightly brown. It is not at all exacting in the amount of heat required. It is good with little, better with more, and not spoiled with quite a high degree, provided, of course, that it is not burned. It is, in fact, one of the most accommodating materials on the bread catalogue. In the first place, the amount of water used in wetting it up may be greatly varied. It may be wet up hard, spread out on a bread board and baked before the fire, as they say is often done in the isles of Scotia and Erin. Again, for a hasty bread with very little fire, it may be stirred stiff and baked on a griddle. The oatmeal flavor is not quite so marked as in the "mush," and most people like it on first trial. It can also be made up with wheat meal and with corn-meal, better with the latter, in proportions of one-third corn-meal to two-thirds of the oatmeal.
An experiment just tried demonstrates very prettily the accommodating nature of oatmeal. The meal was wet with cold water till two or three spoonfuls of the latter ran freely on the surface of the mixture. This batter was poured into a frying-pan to the depth of half an inch more or less, covered close, and set upon a stove just hot enough to bake it without burning. In fifteen minutes the cake was turned out, light, sweet, tender, with a deliciously crisp under-crust, and far more wholesome than a whole stack of griddle-cakes. This may seem hardly dignified enough for the ordinary family breakfast-table, though it needs nothing but custom to make it so; yet many a housewife will be glad to produce such a dish for the early breakfast of some friend who must hurry off to the train; and many an obstinate coal fire may be cheated out of its vexatious dilatoriness by thus putting the breakfast cake on the top of the stove instead of in the oven.
The Ladies' Repository (Cincinnati and New York, 1870) a monthly magazine produced
by the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Want some vegetables with that?

Squash Breakfast Cake.
One pint of sifted squash, one egg, a small cup of sugar, a piece of butter the size of an egg, two tablespoonfuls of yeast, and enough flour to mold up. Set to rise overnight. In the morning dissolve a teaspoonful of soda in a little water and put into the mixture; mold, and cut into biscuit. Let them rise, and bake fifteen minutes.
Los Angeles Cookery: Fort Street Methodist Episcopal Church (1881, Los Angeles, Calif.).

And as a final offering, from the unashamedly-entitled chapter ‘Fruit-Cake Breakfast’ in What to Get for Breakfast: with more than one hundred different breakfasts, and full directions for each (1882) I give you:-

Cherry Short Cake.

This delicious cake, when made in perfection, can hardly be surpassed, and meets with an especially warm reception among the juveniles, who always make a triumph over early rising when this cake is served for breakfast. To begin with, you must not use an acid cherry, however ripe. Only very sweet and very ripe ones will answer for this cake. These too, must be of the very best quality. Make a short cake as for strawberry, short cake in Breakfast No. 45. When the cake is baked, split and butter the inside of each half. Have the cherries stoned. Add them thickly and liberally to one half of the cake, sweeten to taste, and lay the other half on the top of the cherries. If you have two or more cakes, do not pile one on the other. Keep them separate, or they will be soggy. They look nicer when baked in Washington-pie plates, and cut pie fashion when served.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Anyone for Sandwich Casserole?


Sandwich Casserole was a new concept for me when I discovered the following recipe in a 1930’s  newspaper.  It seemed to be quite a common thing until the 1950’s, but I can find little trace of it afterwards. No doubt many of you will now contact me saying that it was an integral part of your childhood (hopefully via the comments, so we can all share your stories.)

Summertime Sandwich Casserole.
6 slices bread
1 small can deviled ham
1 ¼ cups grated American cheese
1 ½ cups milk
2 eggs
 ½ tsp salt
Dash of pepper.
Butter
Spread three slices of bread with the ham, sprinkle with ¾ cup of the cheese, and cover with the remaining slices of bread, buttered.  Cut the sandwiches in half and place flat in a baking dish. Scald the milk, add gradually to the beaten eggs, add salt and pepper. Then pour over the sandwiches. Sprinkle the remaining half cup of cheese over all this. Place in a pan of hot water and bake until cheese is melted and sandwiches are hot through. Garnish with paprika and parsley.

Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin) July 26, 1939.

(This recipe appeared in a display advertisement for a gas cooking range.)



Sandwich Casserole
Six slices of bread, 2 cups minced turkey or chicken, 3 tablespoons minced ham, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, salt, pepper, 1 cup grated cheese, butter, 1½ cups milk, 2 eggs, parsley to garnish.
Spread three slices of bread thinly with butter, cover with meat mixed with mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with ¾ cup of the cheese and cover with the remaining slices of bread thinly buttered. Cut the sandwiches in halves and place in a greased baking-dish large enough to hold them without overlapping.Scald the milk in a double-boiler and add gradually to the slightly beaten eggs. Season with salt andpepper, pour over sandwiches.Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup cheese. Place in dish of hotwater, bake in moderate oven (350deg. F. gas, 500 deg. F. electric) about 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and the sandwiches are heated through. Garnish with parsley.
Advocate (Burnie, Tas.) 31 December 1949

A Sandwich Casserole Saves Time.
Busy with spring cleaning? Here’s a goodly dish that you can prepare ahead and pop in the oven to bake while you go on with the work.
Ingredients:
1 ½ cups minced corned beef, ham, pumped leg of lamb, etc.
Mixed mustard
1 cup grated well flavoured cheese.
2 firm tomatoes.
9 slices white bread, without crusts.
4 eggs
1¾ pints milk.
Salt and pepper.
Method:
Butter bread, make three two-decker sandwiches with sliced tomato, pepper, salt, grated cheese in first layer, minced corned beef, or pumped leg, mustard, as second layer. Press firmly together, cut each one cornerwise, put evenly in well-greased casserole, cut side down (sandwich could be cut into 4). Beat eggs, add milk, salt and pepper, pour over sandwiches. Bake until set in slow oven, about 1 ½ hours. Sprinkle top liberally with more grated cheese and paprika for last 15 mins of baking.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) 28 Oct 1954.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Carob Bean.

Some long time ago, I used to have a more-or-less relevant ‘Quotation for the Day’ at the end of each post. After a few years, it became harder and harder to find new quotations, and I was spending more time in the attempt than in researching and writing the actual post – so I discontinued the practice (and received some flack for it, I might add!) I recently came across one of my favourite quotations again, and it gave me my topic for the day:-

"Carob is a brown powder made from the pulverized fruit of a Mediterranean evergreen. Some consider carob an adequate substitute for chocolate because it has some similar nutrients (calcium, phosphorus) and because it can, when combined with vegetable fat and sugar, be made to approximate the color and consistency of chocolate. Of course, the same argument can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt." Sandra Boynton.

Suffice it to say that I could not agree more about carob as a substitute for chocolate. The carob does have many virtues however, so I want to talk a little about it today. The botanical name for the plant from which we get carob beans is Ceratonia silique. It is a leguminous shrub belonging to the Pea family, and is native to the eastern Mediterranean region (and perhaps Western Asia) and has been cultivated for thousands of years.

Some interesting factoids about the carob:

The large seeds are believed to have been used as a unit of weight in ancient times, and is  likely the origin of the word ‘carat’ used by jewelers.

They are also said to have been the ‘locusts’ on which John the Baptist survived his sojourn in the wilderness – hence the alternative names for the carob of ‘locust bean’ and ‘St. John’s Bread.’

In the biblical story about the prodigal son, the starving young man ‘would fain have filled his belly with the husks [carob pods] that the swine did eat.’ Carob pods have a long use as animal fodder, and this, together with the biblical story, has provided another alternative name of ‘swine’s bread.’

The Duke of Wellington’s troops apparently used carob beans as a staple during the Peninsular War (1807-1814,) although I have been unable so far to find out any details of this intriguing story.

The plant has many uses in industry and agriculture. In particular, from a human food-perspective, the pod (sans seeds) provides the sweet powder which some folk find sufficiently chocolate-like to accept it as a substitute, and which is widely used to flavour bakery products, liqueurs etc. From the seeds is obtained a gum which has many applications as a thickener or stabilizer in food products such as cheese and ice-cream.

Although the shrub has been cultivated for thousands of years in its native lands, it seems that the use of the carob bean as a human food in the West is comparatively new. A booklet entitled The Carob in California produced by the Agricultural Experiment Station in Berkeley in 1919 has this to say:

Owing to the richness of the carob bean in sugar, it has been suggested that it could be utilized as human food. For such purposes those varieties should be selected with show the minimum amount of crude fiber because this ingredient is objectionable as far as human food is concerned.

Beverage manufacturers were clearly ahead of the food-producers in this regard. In The French Wine and Liquor Manufacturer. A Practical Guide, Etc (New York, 1863) by John Rack, in the chapter on Flavours used in Making Brandy, the author gives the following recipes:

St. John’s Bread. (SILIQUA DULCIS)
The Carob-tree is a native of Syria, Egypt, and all Southern Europe. The fruit of this tree is a bean from four to six inches long, and one inch wide, of a brown leather color, known as St. John’s Bread. This bean contains a marrow of a light brownish color, and very aromatic, the seeds of the bean are very hard, and of a brilliant brown color. This flavor when combined with raisins is much esteemed by the French and Ger
mans. Take five pounds St. John’s Bread, and five pounds Malaga raisins, boil them together for five minutes; when cold, filter. Use for eighty gallons brandy. (See “Recipe No. 5.”) St. John’s bread is also known by the name of Siliqua Dulcis, and can only be procured at the best wholesale drug houses.

And ‘Recipe No. 5” referred to in the above is:

To make Brandy without Foreign Liquor.
RECIPE No.5
To 80 gals. Pure spirits, 5 o.p., add:
5 lbs. St. John’s bread,
5 lbs. raisins,
4 oz. orris root, powdered,
½ lb. white argol (crude wine-stone),
1 oz. acetic ether.
Color with sugar coloring.
Boil the St. John’s bread and raisins together in 2 gals. soft water for 5  minutes, and when cold, filter. Pour over the powdered orris root ¼ gal. boiling water, and when cold, filter. Dissolve the white argol in 1 quart soft water, and filter. When the above ingredients are thus prepared, they are ready for use.