Friday, December 30, 2005

The naming of the cheese.

Today, December 30th …

Today is the feast day of St Egwin, the seventh century bishop of Worcester. Apart from a legendary rescue-by-salmon, there are no food stories associated with him. This caused me something of a problem for this day, as I had decided to test my theory of three degrees of separation between any person and any food item. I had chosen the menu recommended for December 30th from a book called “Cre-Fydd’s Family Fare, or Young Housewife’s Daily Assistant” published in 1864.

Breakfast: Broiled haddock, ham, poached eggs, soda scones.

Dinner: Cold oysters, lemon, brown bread and butter.
Roast pheasant, veal and ham patties, mashed potatoes.
Chestnut pudding, cheese fondu.

Kitchen (i.e. for the servants): Liver and bacon, potatoes, rice pudding.

“Fondu” immediately caught my eye. I distinctly remember it being invented sometime in the 70’s, and here it was in the mid-nineteenth century. How to investigate this as well as test my theory?

It turns out that there is a modern cheese named for St Egwin, being produced on a farm near his home town in England. It is similar in style to a Swiss cheese. There is my link, for surely fondu is Swiss?

Well, the Swiss claim fondue (from the French word meaning to melt), but the ancients had something like it – there is mention in Homer’s Iliad of a mixture of Pramian wine, goat’s cheese and barley flour. There are no old written recipes for what we would now call fondu, because melted cheese has always been a homely, one-pot peasant dish designed to use up stale ends of cheese and bread, and not requiring instructions.

The Swiss would utterly reject the Cre-Fydd “fondu” recipe because it contains eggs, and is really a soufflé. So is the famous version from Brillat-Savarin, and so is Mrs. Beeton’s. Escoffier’s are more like fritters. So, what do I give you today?

I give you a thoroughly modern Anglo-Swiss recipe, just so you can dust off your 1970’s fondue sets – because the good news is, that fondue is “in” again. This recipe also includes Worcestershire sauce, which originated in Egwin’s home-town. Does that mean that the connection between him and fondue can be reduced to 2 ½ degrees?

3 cups cheese, ¼ cup butter, ¼ cup flour, ½ teas dry mustard, 1 cup milk, 1 cup beer, 1 tab Worcestershire sauce, and a drop or two of Tabasco.

On Monday: A sweet start to the New Year.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Battle for Food.

Today, December 29 …

Legend has it that on this day in 1777, “Philadelphia Pepper Pot soup” – “the soup that won the war”, was invented by a cook in the American Continental Army. They had failed to repulse the British, who were in Philadelphia, and George Washington decided to set up winter quarters 20 miles away in Valley Forge, which had good natural defences.

It proved to be a harsh, miserable winter for the raggle-taggle band of 10,000 troops and associated women and children. Many were, quite literally, half-naked, and disease was rife. Officially, the basic ration per man per day was a pound of bread, a pound of meat or fish, a quart of beer, and a pint of milk. In reality the army often went days without bread, or meat, or both. In late December, the absence of meat almost caused a mutiny, and – the story goes – Washington instructed his cook to make a soup “that will warm and strengthen the body of a soldier and inspire his flagging spirit.” Supposedly, he came up with one made from tripe, scraps of meat, and a lot of pepper - the soldiers were warmed and made war-ready, and the British were finally routed.

“Pepper pot” is a dish with West Indian roots. In the Caribbean is a very spicy stew (a “Pallat-scorching Devil’s Broath”) which can be made with any available ingredients, but preferably sea turtle. Tripe would have given a similar desirable gelatinous texture to turtle meat. The interesting thing is that two-thirds of the Continental Army were foreign born, and many of these were African Americans - who would not fight in the same regiments alongside white Americans again until Korea. The cook responsible for the soup must surely have had African roots.

Strangely, for a dish with supposed eighteenth century origins, there is no recipe in the “Boston Cooking School Cookbook” before the 1918 edition.

Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup.
Sliced onion, 1/4 cup each 1/2 lb. honeycomb tripe, cut in cubes, chopped celery, chopped green peppers, 11/2 cups potato cubes, 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns, finely pounded, 31/2 tablespoons flour, 5 cups hot White Stock, 3/4 tablespoon salt, 1/2 cup heavy cream.
Cook vegetables in three tablespoons butter fifteen minutes; add flour, and stir until well mixed; then add remaining ingredients except cream. Cover, and let cook one hour. Just before serving, add cream and remaining butter.

Tomorrow: The naming of the cheese.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Any peas with that?

Today, December 28th …

The most important anniversary on this day, is that of the Old Foodie’s birth. In South Australia they think that Proclamation Day is also important. This is the day, in 1836, that SA was declared a colony, the most important result of which is that the day is a public holiday.

It is apt for both that the theme for today is the meat pie. Firstly, it is the OF’s culinary specialty. Secondly, the SA’s are famous for their meat pie floaters. They didn’t invent the combination of meat pie with mushy peas of course, they merely act like they did: meat pies have been around for ever, mushy peas even longer, and the combination for “a long time”. We will never know who had the brilliant inspiration for the specific SA format of a pie “floating” in a sea of mushy peas, but the first pie cart was licenced in Adelaide in 1871. By 2003, so significant had it become that the “pie floater” was recognised as a South Australian Heritage Icon by the National Trust of Australia.

The idea of the pie floater inspires many things: fear and loathing or ecstasy and longing, for example – often simultaneously in the same person. To the brilliantly funny Terry Pratchett, a hero is “someone who will eat a Meat Pie Floater when he is sober”. To the outrageously funny Billy Connolly, it has a particularly masculine nationalism: “You can tell a lot about a nation by its food. Here in Adelaide I discovered a real southern Australian speciality - the pie floater. We're talking proper food here - man's food, none of your Continental rubbish.” Considering that some of the affectionate names for this culinary icon are fly cemetery, rat coffin, maggot bag, I am not sure what this says about proper men.

The very first Australian cookbook contains a recipe for mushy peas, which are just a lumpy version of pease pudding after all.

Pease Pudding.
Soak the peas for ten or twelve hours; tie them loosely in a cloth, leaving room for them to swell, and simmer for a couple of hours*. When tender, drain them; rub them through a colander with a wooden spoon; add an ounce of butter, one egg, beat up, and pepper and salt to taste. Beat them well together, tie lightly in a cloth, and boil for half an hour.

Tomorrow: The Battle for Food.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A young woman in possession of a good recipe.

Today, December 27th …

Jane Austen did not save her delicious wit for her novels. She wrote often to her sister, Cassandra, and on this day in 1808 described an evening party at her brother’s house in Southampton, where she was living at the time.

The last hour, spent in yawning and shivering in a wide circle round the fire, was dull enough, but the tray had admirable success. The widgeon and the preserved ginger were as delicious as one could wish. But as to our black butter, do not decoy anybody to Southampton by such a lure, for it is all gone. The first pot was opened when Frank and Mary were here, and proved not at all what it ought to be; it was neither solid nor entirely sweet, and on seeing it Eliza remembered that Miss Austen had said she did not think it had been boiled enough. It was made, you know, when we were absent. Such being the event of the first pot, I would not save the second, and we therefore ate it in unpretending privacy; and though not what it ought to be, part of it was very good.

The “black butter” that Jane refers to is not a sauce of butter cooked until it is burnt, but a thick, dark, spiced conserve of apples cooked in cider, with a history going back to mediaeval times. It is still a particular specialty of Jersey – where they add liquorice to make it even blacker. There is a dearth of cookbook recipes for such a homely preserve, even under its plain name of “apple butter”. Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s) actually calls it “American”, reflecting its popularity in the former colony, and the ignorance of the editors in respect of its history. Like pumpkin pie, it crossed the Atlantic, and then acted as if it had been born there.

Apple Butter, American.
Fill a preserving pan with apples, peeled, quartered, and cored. Add a slight flavouring of cloves, allspice, and cinnamon. Cover with good cider, and boil slowly, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon, until the whole becomes a dark brown jam, with only juice sufficient to keep it soft and buttery. Remove it from the fire, and place in well-covered jars, and in a few weeks it will be ready for use. It makes an excellent substitute for butter, and is very wholesome for children.

Tomorrow: Any peas with that?

Monday, December 26, 2005

On keeping husbands at home.

Today, December 26th …

In 1899, when war with the Boers was inevitable, Winifred Heberden stayed on in Kimberley with her surgeon husband. She kept a diary during the four month siege, and on Boxing Day wrote:

The men stood to arms both yesterday and to-day at 3 a.m., expecting 'Christmas Boxes' from the Boers, but everything was quiet at our end of Kimberley … Eggs are now 6/6 a dozen, and so scarce that their price is sure to rise rapidly. Potatoes have vanished, and we have dried beans or crushed mealies with our meat …

She saw more of her husband by staying along for the military ride than most nineteenth century wives, if a little book from Canada is any guide. According to its male author, husbands on their way home from the corporate battlefield were easily waylaid by the gentleman’s club, for “the majority of men (when the pleasures of the table alone are considered) prefer to dine at their club or restaurant rather than at home.”

The title said it all: ‘The little helpmate, or, How to keep husbands at home: a dictionary of useful information not generally known; what dishes are good as well as cheap; the cost, and how it is done by professional cooks; together with several valuable household recipes, including the wonderful carpet shampoo which is alone worth many times the price.’

Luckily Winifred did not need the advice, because a generous supply of eggs was necessary.

Bearnaise Sauce.
“… as it is a favorite of club-men, I think their wives ought to know how to make it. Do not be discouraged if you don't succeed the first or second time, but try again. Put four tablespoonsfuls of chopped shallots into a small saucepan and let them stew for fifteen minutes. Then add two teaspoonsfuls of beef extract and six egg yolks, one a time, stirring all the while over a slow fire until it begins to thicken. Remove the saucepan to still cooler part of the range, and add, a little at a time, half a pound of butter, with occasional drops of water. When all the butter is stirred in , strain through a wire strainer, and add a little cayenne pepper, salt, and finely chopped green parsley.

Presumably nice clean carpet also helped keep the husband at home. If you want the wonderful carpet shampoo recipe, you only have to ask.

Tomorrow: A young woman in possession of a good recipe.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Keeping cool over the Christmas Ham.

Today, December 23rd …

James Woodforde was an English country parson who kept a diary for over 40 years, giving us a wonderful picture of middle class life in the eighteenth century. Like his contemporary Samuel Johnson, he minded his belly very much, and often recorded his dinners.

As Christmas approached, on this day in 1769, he bought his Christmas goose:

“To a fatted Goose at 5 Pence per Pound”

Nine years later on December 23rd 1778 he entertained guests. The ham was disappointing:

“ I gave them for dinner 3 Fowls boiled, part of a Ham, the major part of which Ham was entirely eat out by the flies getting into it, a tongue boiled, a Leg of Mutton rosted, and an excellent currant Pudding. I gave them for Supper a couple of Rabbits smothered in onions, some Hash Mutton and some rosted Potatoes, We were exceedingly merry indeed all the night.”

Folks were generally much more forgiving in the days before refrigeration, although Samuel Pepys over a century earlier recorded a dinner at which “my stomach was turned when my sturgeon came to table, upon which I saw very many little worms creeping, which I suppose was through the staleness of the pickle.” Most of us would never, ever, host a dinner party again, if we had given fly-blown ham to guests - and the guests certainly wouldn’t have stayed on for supper and been exceeding merry. An excellent pudding can only make up for so much.

It is highly unlikely that there was any sort of cookbook in the parson’s household, although they were being churned out thick and fast at the time. Charlotte Mason’s “Lady’s Assistant for regulating and supplying her table … ”, was published in the same year as the ham disaster. Here are a couple of her suggestions:

Goose roasted.
It must be seasoned with sage and onion, cut very small, and mixed with pepper and salt; an hour will roast it: boil the sage and onion in a little water before they are cut, it prevents their eating so strong, and takes off the rawness.
For sauce – gravy and apple sauce.

A very good common pudding, with currants.
A pound of currants, a pound of suet, five eggs, four spoonfuls of flower, half a nutmeg, a tea-spoonful of ginger, a little powder sugar, a little salt; boil this three hours

On Monday: On keeping husbands at home.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Taste of Music.

Today, December 22nd …

The composer Giacomo Puccini was born on this day in 1858. Every Christmas he had panettone baked and sent to friends. One year he quarreled with Toscanini and tried to cancel the order, but it was too late and the cake had already been delivered. He sent a telegram to Toscanini saying “Panettone sent by mistake”, to which the reply came “Panettone eaten by mistake.”

The first opera (Euridice) for which the music has survived was written in 1600 for the wedding of Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici at the Pitti Palace in Florence. Classical dishes and fine dining have kept their association with opera ever since.

There was a vogue in the nineteenth century for naming dishes in honour of celebrities and special events, and opera provided plenty. Should you be so inclined, a complete meal could be made on the theme of Aida (salad, turbot, bombe), or Tosca, or Carmen, for example.

Strangely, there does not seem to be a dish named in honour of Puccini himself, although there is a recipe for “Oeufs poche Manon”. Rossini (a passionate gourmand) wins in the composer stakes with, among others, Tournedos, an Escalope de foie gras, and a dish of partridge breast. Verdi has a chicken breast dish, and another was created for Berlioz for the opening night of “Benvenuto Cellini” in 1838. Performers are not left out: we have Peach Melba and Melba toast, “Chicken Tetrazzini” (for Luisa) and “Coupe Adelina Patti”. There are many more!

Puccini was was born in Lucca, in Tuscany, the home of magnificent beans and superb olive oil. His heritage shows in this letter written to his publisher, Giulio Ricordi in 1895:

“ … you will receive some beans; they are oustanding, and this is how you cook them: put them into a pan of cold water (you must get the quantity right, not too much and not too little) and simmer them for two hours over a low flame so that when they are cooked there are only two or three spoonfuls of broth left - that's why you must be careful about the quantity of water.N.B. When you put them in the water add four or five sage leaves, two or three whole bulbs of garlic, salt and pepper and when they (the beans) are half done add a bit of oil to boil with it.

Tomorrow: Keeping cool over the Christmas Ham.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Drowning in Armagnac.

Today, December 21st …

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Disraeli, Britain’s only Jewish Prime Minister. Before he entered politics, he was a writer, and being a dandy and gourmet, there are many references to the good life in his novels. One of his most frequently quoted sentences, from “The Young Duke”, is:

“All paradise opens! Let me die eating ortolans to the sound of soft music.”

Unless we are prepared to break the law, most of us will never know this paradisical experience, for these tiny European garden birds are now protected. The French chef M. Massialot (1702) described the ortolan as “a delicate Fowl of an exquisite taste, about the bigness of a Lark.” For centuries, in France, they have represented the abolute pinnacle of gastronomic experience. Francois Mitterand had them prepared (illegally) for what was his final fine dining experience before his death from cancer in 1996. I wonder, did he have soft music playing?

The famous chef, Alexis Soyer was briefed in 1846 to provide a dinner at the Reform Club in London, with “magnificent contempt of expense”. One of his inspirational thoughts was: “An ortolan can hardly be truffled, but I will undertake that a truffle shall be ortolaned!” Or, in other words he would cook “the delicate native of Provence .. gloriously interred in the choicest production of Perigord”. This culinary gilding of the lily did not eventuate; the birds were not delivered in time. Poor gourmets.

Poor birds: ortolans were caught and force-fed until they were “lumps of fat”, and were then suffocated (“take them by the Beak, and holding it close between your Finger and Thumb, the Bird will be stifled in about a Minute”), or drowned in Armagnac (super-gourmet method).

Soyer’s guests would not have needed instruction in the ritual of ortolan-eating. A large napkin covers the head and plate while the diner eats the whole bird (except the beak), with the hands. Depending on beliefs or sensibilities, the purpose of the napkin is to (a) capture the aroma (b) hide the messy process from other guests, or (c) hide the greediness from God.

As for cooking them, the method is simple. M. Massialot says:

Ortolans must be drawn, and roasted on a small Spit, and basted with a little Lard: Then they may be cover’d or strew’d with Bread and Salt, and eaten with Salt and Orange.

Tomorrow: The Taste of Music.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Another sort of shipboard victuals.

Today, December 20 …

In 1853, the good ship “Sir Edward Parry” left Plymouth on this day, bound for South Australia, its passengers hungry for the gold recently discovered in the colony. They were usually pretty hungry on the three month voyage too.

The recommended ration for adults aboard emigrant ships run by “respectable shipowners” was:

Every day: 8oz. of “ships’ biscuit”, 6 oz. flour, 3 oz. oatmeal, and 3 Quarts of water.
Meat: Saturdays: 8 oz. Beef ; Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 6 oz. pork; Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday: 8 oz preserved meat.
Weekly: Coffee: 2 oz.; Tea 1 ½ oz; Treacle 8 oz.; Raisins 8 oz; Suet 6 oz; Pease 2/3 pint; Rice 12 oz; Butter 4 oz; Cheese 4 oz; Preserved Potatoes 8 oz.
Also each week: mixed pickles one gill; mustard, ½ oz., salt 2 oz. and pepper ½ oz.

Many passengers supplemented the ration with personal supplies, but it was still pretty grim fare for most, particularly when you take into account that the flour and biscuit would almost certainly have been weevily, and the meat so heavily salted and tough as to be uneatable except by the very hungry.

The preserved potatoes were almost always hated. One emigrant to New Zealand in 1879 wrote “We had preserved potatoes today for the first time. None of our Mess could eat them so we threw them overboard”. Many preserving methods were tried, but the usual method for use at sea involved covering them with quicklime, which must certainly have added something to the flavour. A simple drying method would have kept them more palatable, but keeping them dry on board ship would have been impossible.

If you have a bumper crop, you could try the recipe from the very useful book “Enquire Within Upon Everything” (1894).

Preserving Potatoes
The preservation of potatoes by dipping them in boiling water is a valuable and useful discovery. Large quantities may be cured at once, by putting them into a basket as large as the vessel containing the boiling water will admit, and then just dipping them a minute or two, at the utmost. The germ, which is so near the skin, is thus destroyed without injury to the potato. In this way several tons might be cured in a few hours. They should be then dried in a warm oven, and laid up in sacks, secure from the frost, in a dry place.

Tomorrow: Drowning in Armagnac.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Some baloney about Bologna.

Today, December 19th …

If you had been a Second Cabin guest aboard the famous “Lusitania” in 1911 on this day, this would have been your luncheon menu:

Lettuce Sliced Tomatoes
Bordeaux Sardines
Puree of Split Peas
Fillets Flounder, Florentine
Steak and Kidney Pudding
Roast Mutton and Onion Sauce
Corned Brisket of Beef with Cabbage
Spinach Parsnips, Creme
Baked, Boiled, & Mashed Potatoes
Roast Beef Brawn Ox Tongue
Galantine of Veal Bologna Sausage
Plums and Rice Small Pastry
Sago Pudding
Ice Cream
Apples Oranges Dates Roasted Peanuts
Cheese Tea Coffee

I bet the sago pudding was popular. What about the Bologna Sausage?

The mystery that is sausage meat causes us a great deal of food anxiety, and this is reflected in our word “baloney”, meaning nonsense or “rubbish”, which supposedly derives from the idea of Bologna (or “Poloney”) sausage. This is grossly unfair to Bologna, which has no more sinister a potential than any other type of sausage.

Genuine Bologna sausage is Mortadella. It has been made for at least 500 years from pure pork studded with distinctive cubes of white fat, flavoured with pepper, coriander, anise, and pistachio nuts, without smoking or drying. Someone once got an inspiration from it and created luncheon meat, which really is baloney.

The only constant factor in recipes for Bologna sausage in old cookbooks is the name. Robert May’s recipe (1660) comes pretty close to the real thing. He uses “a good leg of pork” and a lot of lard, flavoured with cloves, nutmeg, mace, pepper and caraway seeds. Rabisha’s “Poloney Sassages to keep all year” (1682) are all wrong from point of view of authenticity, although they do sound delicious: they are a smoked dried sausage made from a gammon of bacon, with cloves, mace, nutmeg, pepper, and red wine.

Mistress Margaret Dods, the Scottish pseudonymous author of the very amusing “Cook and Housewife’s Manual” (1856), says in a footnote: “Bologna sausages labour under the calumnious imputation of being made of asses’ flesh”. She does not commit herself to an opinion as to what the correct ingredient should be, but plays it safe by using a bit of everything in her version, and calling it:

Imitation Bologna Sausage.
Take equal weight of bacon, beef, pork, and veal. Mince, and season high with pepper, salt, and sage. Fill a well-cleaned gut, and boil for an hour; or smoke and dry them for future use.

Tomorrow: Another sort of shipboard victuals.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The goodly litter of the cupboard.

Today, December 16th …

Today is the traditional beginning of the mince(meat) pie season, so if you haven’t organised your supply by now, it is almost too late.

We don't put meat in our mincemeat now, partly because we have lost our taste for sweet-savoury foods, but also because we no longer need to preserve meat this way. A pie with a thick crust, unless it got damp or cracked, would keep meat for a long time before refrigeration.

Mince pies evolved from the special occasion “plum porridge” mixture that also gave us Christmas cake and pudding. At Christmas, the “ goodly litter of the cupboard, thus various in kind and aspect, was carefully swept into one common receptacle; the mingled mass enveloped in pastry and enclosed within the duly heated oven … ” and Lo! Mince Pies!

They were briefly banned during the Puritan era, along with everything else that was fun, one killjoy writer even going so far as to describe them as “idolatry in crust”, but thankfully they were restored to the Christmas menu with the Restoration of the monarchy. Sometimes they were very large, and the envy of foreign visitors to England, such as the Frenchman M. Misson. In 1698 he wrote that "Every family against Christmas makes a famous Pye, which they call Christmas Pye. It is a great Nostrum the Composition of this Pasty. It is a most learned Mixture of Neats-tongues, Chicken, Eggs, Sugar, Raisins, Lemon and Orange Peel, various kinds of Spices etc."

If you want extra Christian symbolism with your traditional pie, you can make them crib-shaped (they used to also be called “crib pies”) to represent the manger, and add three spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves) to represent the gifts of the three wise men. If you want extra secular tradition with the tradition, eat one every day of the twelve days of Christmas (until January 6th) to have twelve lucky months.

In Queensland of course, at this time of the year “the goodly litter of the cupboard” includes mangoes, so here is a mincemeat recipe from the Australian Women’s Mirror in 1932.

Queensland Mincemeat.
Peel and slice enough green mangoes to make, when run through mincer 1 cup of pulp (minus excess juice). Add ½ cup sugar, 1 cup currants, 1 cup raisins cut up finely, 2 heaped Tabs. Home-made orange marmalade, 1 heaped Tbs. Butter and 1 ½ tsp. Mixed spice. Mix thoroughly.

On Monday: Some baloney about Bologna.

2006 Update: There is a collection of Vintage Christmas Recipes HERE.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Sex and Science in the kitchen.

Today, December 15 …

On this day in 1926, Dr John Harvey Kellogg, the man who gave us cornflakes, gave a speech to the Chicago Medical Society on the danger of excessive weight loss “to meet the demand of the fashion for slimness”. Few of us would argue with that theory, nor his promotion of regular exercise. Vegetarianism is OK too, for those who don't mind murdering plants, although his was a strict, condiment-free version.

Actually, he wasn’t keen on anything even remotely spicy. All “sexual excess” was sinful, and he had so broad idea an of “excess” that he spent his honeymoon in 1892 writing “Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life”. He also managed to distract himself from dangerous excesses by the practice and promotion of what we would now call “klismaphilia” (look it up!).

John and Ella never had children, so perhaps his dedication to writing pre-occupied him beyond their honeymoon. She occupied herself with writing too, and in 1893 published “Science in the Kitchen. A Scientific Treatise on Food Substances and their Dietetic Properties, Together with a Practical Explanation of the Principles of Healthful Cookery, and a Large Number of Original, Palatable, and Wholesome Recipes”.

Wholesome, perhaps. Palatable? I leave it to you to decide.

A sample daily menu:

Fresh Fruits
Graham Grits and Cream
Prune Toast
Graham Puffs
Cream Crisps
Caramel Coffee or Hot Milk

Vegetable Broth with Toasted Rolls
Baked Potato with Pease Gravy
Stewed Asparagus
Cracked Wheat and Cream
Whole-Wheat Bread
Canned Berries
Manioca with Fruit
Caramel Coffee or Hot Milk

Real coffee being forbidden (too stimulating), you must substitute:

Caramel Coffee. Take three quarts best bran, one quart corn meal, three tablespoonfuls of molasses; mix and brown in the oven like ordinary coffee. For every cup of coffee required, use one heaping tablespoonful of the caramel. Pour boiling water over it, and steep, not boil, for fifteen or twenty minutes.
Instead of bacon:

Prune Toast. Cook prunes,allowing them to simmer very slowly for a long time. When done, rub through a colander, and if quite thin, they should be stewed again for a time, until they are about the consistency of marmalade. Moisten slices of zwieback with hot cream, and serve with a spoonful or two of the prune dressing on each. One third dried apple may be used with the prune, if preferred.

Tomorrow: The goodly litter of the cupboard.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A prophet in the kitchen.

Today, December 14 …

Michel de Nostredame, better known by his Latinised name of Nostradamus was born on this day in Provence in 1503. What has this “prophet” got to do with food, you ask? Well, it just goes to show that the interest in his “prophesies” is so great that it has completely overwhelmed his work as a physician. And what has his work as a physician got to do with food, you ask? Well, in those days they believed that medicine was food, and food was medicine – a modern idea, no?

His “prophesies” were written in such obscure and convoluted language that they may be interpreted as broadly as the interpreter wishes. Luckily, his other book, “An excellent and most useful little work essential to all who wish to become acquainted with some exquisite recipes”, also published in 1555, is much more straightforward.

There were numerous jellies and sweetmeats amongst the more obviously medicinal recipes, including this one:

How to make a jam or preserve with heart-cherries, which the Italians call 'amarenes'.
Take some of the nicest heart-cherries you can find, good and ripe … Take three pounds or so of them. Then take a pound-and-a-half of sugar, and let it dissolve in the juice of three or four pounds of other heart-cherries. And take care that once the juice has been extracted you add it to the sugar at once. .. Boil it up as quickly as possible … When you have removed all the scum and can see that your sugar is as red as it was to start with and is thoroughly clarified, … immediately put in the heart-cherries to boil, stirring them neither too much nor too little, until they are perfect, all the while removing the scum on the top with a spatula. Do not take them off the fire until they are cooked right through ... Then put one drop on a pewter plate, and once you see that it will not run down in either direction, they are ready. … pour them while still hot into small containers holding three or four ounces each. You will then have beautiful red, whole heart-cherries with a wonderful taste that will keep for a long time.

… if a sick person takes just a single one, it will be to him like a balsam or other restorative.
Might come in handy for the post-Christmas sloth, yes?

Tomorrow: Sex and Science in the kitchen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Minding the belly.

Today, December 13th …

Samuel Johnson – “the second most quoted man in the world” - died on this day in 1783. His admirers around the world have formed societies to celebrate his life and work, the first one (The Johnson Society) being formed in London in 1884. Every year it held a supper of steak and ale on the anniversary of his death.

Some of his most deliciously quotable sayings are on the topic of food:

“Some people have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat. For my part, I mind my belly very studiously and very carefully, for I look upon it that he who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else”

“A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of any thing than he does of his dinner; and if he cannot get that well dressed, he should be suspected of inaccuracy in other things."

"A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing."

Sam’s magnum opus was, of course, his dictionary, and his definitions are far wittier than most:

Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

Kickshaw: A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.

The word “kickshaw” comes from the French “quelque chose”, and came to mean any dish so frivolous it could not possibly have an English origin.

The authorship of Hannah Glasse’s famous “Art of Cookery made plain and easy …”, published in 1747, was the subject of much debate at the time, with Samuel himself weighing in on the side that said it was written by a man, for “women can spin very well, but they cannot make a good book of cookery.” He thought that he himself could write a very good cookbook, because he would write it upon “philosophical principles”.

In spite of her vigorous condemnation of the fad for French cooks, Hannah did include a recipe for a “kickshaw” in her book:

Make puff paste, roll it thin, and if you have any moulds work it upon them; make them up with preserved pippins: you may fill some with gooseberries, some with raspberries, or what you please: then close them up, and either bake or fry them; throw grated sugar over them, and serve them up.

Tomorrow: A prophet in the kitchen.

Monday, December 12, 2005

First catch your cockatoo.

Today, December 12 …

An Australian Christmas theme today, by popular request. We have met Ludwig Leichhardt before, on his overland expedition across the continent. Ludwig was very mindful of maintaining morale amongst his men, and always attempted to mark special days, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

On this day in 1844 he wrote:

Our meat was all consumed; but we wished to reserve our bullocks for Christmas, which was, in every one of us, so intimately associated with recollections of happy days and merriment, that I was determined to make the coming season as merry as our circumstances permitted.

A few days later, he decided to take advantage of the good weather and killed the beast early. While the flesh was drying, he and several of his party went off on a reconnoitering expedition. When they returned on Christmas Day his companions were just sitting down to their Christmas dinner of “suet pudding and stewed cockatoos”.

Parrots and cockatoos were a common bush food for early explorers and settlers, with varying degrees of enthusiasm: “Parrot-pie is as much esteemed in Australia as rook-pie in England” – which gives you some idea of the esteem level. More likely it was felt that “Parrot pie is pretty good; at least, it may be so when other animal food is scarce”. Parrot stew became a bush joke, with many variations of the recipe “take a parrot and an axe-head, boil them until the axe-head is tender, throw the parrot away and eat the axe-head.”

Very oddly, later editions of Mrs. Beeton (after her death in 1869) had chapters on “General Observations on Australian Cookery”, no doubt on the assumption that copies would be taken to the colonies, which they were.

Parrot Pie
Ingredients: 1 doz. paraqueets, a few slices of beef (underdone cold beef is best for this purpose), 4 rashers of bacon, 3 hard-boiled eggs, minced parsley and lemon peel, pepper and salt, stock, puff-paste.
Mode: Line a pie-dish with the beef cut into slices, over them place 6 of the paraqueets, dredge with flour, fill up the spaces with the egg cut in slices and scatter over the seasoning. Next put in the bacon, cut in small strips, then 6 paraqueets and fill up with the beef, seasoning all well. Pour in stock or water to nearly fill the dish, cover with puff-paste and bake for one hour.

Tomorrow: Minding the belly.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Pottages for the King’s Dyet.

Today, December 9 …

A new employee started on this day in 1674 in the Kings Privy Kitchen. Charles II had appointed a “French Cooke for the making of Pottages for our Dyet”.

Too many years of dull Puritan rule had made England yearn for European fun and fashion in all things. Now it had Royal affirmation. There would be no resisting the extravagance of the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, particularly at Versailles. The Frenchification of English food was inevitable, even if it remained controversial and in some quarters, resented. In 1747, Hannah Glasse said “So much is the blind Folly of this Age, that they would rather be impos'd on by a French Booby, than give Encouragement to a good English Cook!”

In the year of the appointment of Charles’ cook, “several approved cooks of London and Westminster” published a book called “The English and French cook … ”, which described “the best and newest ways of ordering and dressing all sorts of flesh, fish and fowl”, which was “full and plain so that from the Maid to the Master Cook, all may reap benefit”. It has a selection of “potages and soops” that would put a modern cookbook to shame, so what to choose for you? Potage made from quails, larks, thrushes, tortoises, or “farced” (stuffed) barnacles? “An excellent Potage to cleanse the blood”? “Potage without the sight of Herbs”?

I was tempted by the recipe for a pottage made from “lamb’s purtenances”, but they seem to be in short supply these days, so a Lenten pottage (from frogs), and a very modern-sounding raspberry soup will have to do.

Potage of Frogs.
Having broken their bones and trust them, blanch them, and drain them very well, then lay them into a Dish till you have made some Pease-broth, fry into it a little minced Parsley with Butter; having boiled a while , put the Frogs into your broth, but take them out presently, then allay a little Saffron, and put it into your Pot, having soaked your Bread, garnish it with the Frogs.

Pottage of Rasberries.
Take the yolks of half a dozen Eggs, and allay them with the juyce of a pint of rasberries, then put over a pottle of Milk, and when it boils, pour in your ingredients aforesaid, stir it very well, season with a little Salt, then dish it and garnish it with Rasberries.

On Monday … First catch your cockatoo

Thursday, December 08, 2005

To tease a jaded palate.

Today, December 8 ...

The Roman lyric poet Horace was born on this day in 65BC. In one of his “Satires” he illuminates the extravagant excesses of the obscenely wealthy by describing a dinner held by a boring and pretentious host. When a large wall-hanging fell down, bringing with it much dust and dirt, the guests could hardly contain their glee at his discomfort.

Among the “things that tease a jaded palate” were wild boar (caught when a soft southerly blew), crane’s legs, blackbirds with “charred” breasts, the liver of a white goose fattened on figs, and …

“ … Then a lamprey was brought in, lying on a great platter with shrimp sauce. Our host informed us that it had been caught before spawning, as its meat is less succulent if caught after spawning, and he gave us the recipe for the sauce. ‘You need virgin oil from Venafrum; roe and juices from the Spanish mackerel, a domestic wine five years old, added while the sauce is simmering … ”

The lamprey is a scaleless parasitic fish that looks like an eel, with a powerful sucker for a mouth, and was prized as a delicacy from ancient times - especially during Lent, because of its oily flesh and gamey taste. A large lamprey pie was a traditional demonstration of loyalty from the Corporation of Gloucester (the best lampreys came for the river Severn) to the King or Queen at the Coronation. After a century in the doldrums, the practice was resurrected in 1953 for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

It is odd, this enthusiasm to give lampreys to royalty, given that Henry I is supposed to have died from eating “a surfeit” of them. Are the burghers of Gloucester trying to send a message to his descendants in the First Family?

Here are the 15th century instructions to prepare your lamprey by first drowning it in red wine (with the lid on the pot in case it leapt out), before cooking it in its own blood:

Take a quicke lamprey; do hem in a pott. Do thereto a porcyon of rede wine, & stop the pott above that he lepe nought out. When he ys endyng, take hym out & put hym in scalding watyr; & take hym in a linnen cloth in thy hond, & strip hem well that all the glame go awey, & save the skuyn hole …

Tomorrow … Pottages for the King’s Dyet. …

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Prayers in the kitchen.

Today, December 7th …

On this day in 1824 the Royal Horticultural Society of London heard "An Account and Description of the Different Varieties of Strawberries which have been cultivated and examined in the garden of the Horticultural Society". The strawberry had finally yielded to several hundred years of natural and deliberate hybridisation of Old and New World wild varieties, and become a berry that we would find familiar today.

Wild strawberries were enjoyed for centuries before this of course, and we probably still agree with the ex-monk, physician and nutrition writer Andrew Boorde that simple is best. He said “Rawe crayme [cream] undecocted, eaten with strawberyes … is a rurall mannes banket [banquet]” (1542)

There were some recipes for cooking with strawberries in the sixteenth century, but the problem with trying to recreate recipes from this era is that the cookbooks were, to say the very least, minimalist. They were meant as memory aides for the few literate household staff, and, (like computer manuals today) were based on much assumed knowledge. There was less information to impart anyway – there were no strict cooking times (no clocks in kitchens), no cooking temperatures (no thermometers) and ingredient amounts were vague (no standardised measuring implements).

Literacy rates were very low, but even illiterate kitchen staff were expected to be able to say their prayers, and cooking times were sometimes given as the duration of a particular prayer, or combination of prayers. A short time might be several “Paternoster whiles” or “Ave Maria whiles” - which, I am reliably informed, are about 20 seconds and 13 seconds each respectively.

The anonymous author of “A Propre New Booke of Cokery” (1545) assumes that you know how much butter and how many strawberries to use, and the number of crusts for a strawberry tart. You will need to have your oven “hot enough”, and cook the tart “till it be done”.

To make a tarte of strawberies.
Take and strayne them with the yolkes of foure egges and a little white brede [bread] grated, then ceason it up with sugar and swete butter and so bake it.

“Anonymous” does, however, give us the first known recipe for pastry.

To make short paest for tarte.
Take fyne floure and a cursey of fayre water and a dyshe of swete butter and a lyttel saffron, and the yolckes of two egges and make it thynne and tender as ye maye

Tomorrow … To tease a jaded palate.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The food which is also a toy.

Today, December 6th …

What a relief to have a jolly saint for the day – one who is rotund and generous rather than skeletal and ascetic! It is of course St Nicholas’ day – the saint who has been transformed by popular vote into “Santa Claus”, who even in real life was associated with anonymous gift-giving. He was born in the third century AD in what is now Turkey, and is now particularly revered in Northern Europe, where his day marks the beginning of the Christmas season.

He is the only saint who has a special beer brewed and named in his honour. The Swiss lager called “Samichlaus” (Santa Claus) is made on December 6th one year and released on December 6th the next. At an awesome 14% alcohol the beer probably assists in the development of jollity even more than most!

As befits a jolly saint, he is also associated with the most fun food – gingerbread – the food which is also a toy, as it can be made into gingerbread men or gingerbread houses, or even in some areas, gingerbread pigs.

“Gingerbread” did not always mean “cake”. Originally it simply meant preserved ginger, but by the middle ages it was a fudgy sort of concoction, made with honey and breadcrumbs flavoured with a variety of spices, which could be cut or moulded into different shapes. Supposedly Queen Elizabeth I had gingerbread made to represent her favourite courtiers, which is a good enough reason for me to give you a courtly recipe from her era, from “Delights for ladies …” (Hugh Plat, 1602).

To make Gingerbread.

Take three stale manchets [small loaves] and grate them, drie them, and sift them through a fine sieve, then adde unto them one ounce of ginger being beaten, and as much Cinamon, one ounce of liquerice & anniseedes beeing beaten together and searced [sifted], halfe a pound of sugar, then boile all these together in a posnet [3 legged metal pot], with a quart of claret wine till they come to a stiff paste with often stirring of it; and when it is stiffe, molde it on a table and so drie it thin, & pring it in your moldes, dust your moldes with Cinamon, Ginger, and liquerice, being mixed together in fine powder. This is your Gingerbread used at Court, and in all gentlemens houses at festivall times.

Tomorrow …
Prayers in the kitchen.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A long experiment.

Today, December 5th …

The “Noble Experiment” of Prohibition ended on this day in 1933 in the USA. For 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, 32½ minutes, the country had been officially “dry”.

Unofficially of course, it was pretty well as wet as ever. The experiment did not so much fail as backfire, and some historians believe alcohol consumption actually increased, particularly among the young. Alcohol was (and is) closely woven into the fabric of society, and powerful social forces ensured that society did not miss its favourite commodity. Against a background of great hypocrisy there was “widespread disregard” for the law, assisted by increased corruption, large-scale organised crime, sheer human ingenuity –and a few legal loopholes. Alcohol, for example, could be prescribed for medical reasons, so doctors became popular house-guests!

The actual number of drinking establishments probably doubled during Prohibition, and illegal “speakeasies” were not so choosy about legal drinking age. Homes became distilleries, with spirits being made from anything and everything fermentable. One very brilliant piece of marketing saw the sale of a “grape brick” of compressed dried fruit being sold with an attached packet of yeast which carried a “warning” that if it was added to the grape juice, “fermentation might result”.

A few restaurants survived what was the death-knell for most. Some indicated the availability of alcohol to well-known patrons by a discreet notice called an “Entre Nous” (Between Ourselves) slipped into the spine of the menu book. One such was the Biltmore, which listed Cocktail Los Angeles, Solera Theresa, Montebello, Crement Brut Chatreuse 1869, Fine Champagne Courvoisier V.V.O. 1848, and Perfection Scotch on its little note.

In 1919, the chef (Victor Hertzler) of the Hotel St Francis in San Francisco had produced a cookbook. Many of the recipes contained alcohol, so could not have been served for almost 14 years.

Victoria punch. Two pounds of sugar, two quarts of water, and the juice of six oranges, mixed. Then add a small glass of rhum, a small glass of kirsch, and a glass of sauternes. Freeze. Serve in glasses, covered with a meringue made with the white of three eggs and one-half pound of sugar.

A “Sorbet au Kirsch” served at the Repeal Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on the night of the 5th must have been similar to this frozen punch. The Old Foodie will send the full menu on request!

Tomorrow … The food which is also a toy.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Eating backwards.

Today, December 2nd …

This was the day in 1936 that King Edward VIII made his final decision to marry the divorced American, Wallis Simpson. After spending the day discussing the impending constitutional crisis with the PM, he had dinner that eveing with Wallis and her cousin and aunt. This was the menu:

Clear Turtle Soup
Lobster Mousse with Light Piquant Sauce
Roast Pheasant
Potatoes Soufflé Mixed Green Salad
Bordeaux Wine
Frozen Fresh Pineapple and Toasted Cheese Savoury
Coffee and Liqueur

This habit of finishing a meal with a savoury – always hot, often “devilled”, and usually with cheese, salted or smoked fish, or bacon – is a peculiarly masculine English one. The idea, supposedly, was to cleanse the palate of the sweet course (the ladies having already left the room), before seriously tackling the port and cigars. A less colourful and much older explanation relates to the ancient belief that hard cheese “closed up the digestion” and therefore was sensible at the end of a large meal.

Edward and Wallis went into exile in France after his abdication. Meanwhile, the Vicomte de Mauduit a Frenchman with aristocratic origins, and self-styled “wandering nobleman”, had made the opposite journey some time before. He was “a born cook” and wrote several books about food while living in England in the 1930’s before mysteriously disappearing back in his native country the 1940’s. He said:

“Savouries are essentially an English dish, and are to the English what hors d’oeuvres are to the French, only backwards, in the sense that hors d’oeuvres begin a French meal and savouries end the English dinner.”

His recipe for “Welsh Rarebit” in “The Vicomte in the Kitchen” (1933) is quite acceptable, except for its name, for the dish should properly be called Welsh Rabbit (a full explication will have to wait until the completion of my “Almost Definitive History of Welsh Rabbit”, which, like so many other projects, is “pending”). As a matter of high principle, I cannot give this incorrectly titled recipe. I suppose a Frenchman can be trusted with fish and cream sauce however, especially if it is “en cocotte”.

Finnan en Cocottes.
Take the meat off a raw finnan haddock, cut it into fine flakes, and divide them into individual china dishes. Mix some whipped cream with some parmesan, salt, and cayenne, then pour this over the fish and bake in a quick oven for about ten minutes.

On Monday … A long experiment.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Liquid Lunches.

Today, December 1st …

The hotel that Somerset Maugham said symbolised “all the fables of the exotic East” opened on this day in 1887 in Singapore. There are no prizes for guessing that it was The Raffles.

It was the “high noon” of the British Empire, and the hotel was unflinchingly Colonial - with mod-cons. There were modern electric fans, but there were also punkah wallahs to work the canvas ceiling blades via ropes attached to their big toes. One must keep up appearances, mustn’t one?

Food was always a feature at The Raffles. The imported European chefs turned out hearty mutton-chop breakfasts that were, like the strict dress code, entirely appropriate for England. But there was Tiffin. Raffles was famous for its “Tiffin” - an Anglo-Indian concept first appearing at the beginning of the nineteenth century:

“The English corresponding term is luncheon: but how meagre a shadow is the European meal to its glowing Asiatic cousin.” [Thomas de Quincey].

This Asiatic cousin was a light, informal meal, usually buffet-style, of a variety of curry dishes served with the usual accompanying sambals. No mutton chops.

The word comes from a North England dialect word meaning “to take a little drink”. In other words, its original meaning may have suggested the liquid refreshment enjoyed by the sahibs and memsahibs who were naturally very thirsty in the tropical heat. Their drinking was facilitated by the “chit” system at The Raffles, which meant that drinks were never paid for at the time of consumption (a bit low-class, that) but were signed for, (and often never ultimately paid for), by the largely the long-term and permanent residents.

And what would be a discussion of The Raffles without instruction for its signature “tiff” for your next liquid lunch?

Singapore Sling: one half gin, one quarter cherry brandy, one quarter mixed fruit juices, a few drops Cointreau and Benedictine, a dash of Angostura bitters; top with a cherry and a slice of pineapple.

Should you insist on food too, for your tiffin lunch (or BBQ, if you must), here is a very simple Raffles recipe named for another of its literary guests.

Brochette of Prawns Rudyard Kipling.
350 gm King prawns, skewered and seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon juice. Fry until just done. Place on a bed of Saffron rice. Heat up some chopped Mango chutney, and pour over. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and serve.

Tomorrow …. Eating backwards.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sending home the bacon.

Today, November 30th ...

A two month siege of Rochester Castle in Kent ended on this day in 1215. The rebel barons who had siezed it were finally defeated by King John in a campaign that used an ingenious tunnel-and-burn technique. The very hungry besieged inmates were by this stage eating their remaining horses (no, I am not going to give you a horsemeat recipe), and their nostrils must have been particularly agonised by the King’s choice of accelerant for the flames – pig fat.

When the tunnels were finished, the king commanded “ … that with all haste, by day and night, you send to us 40 bacon pigs of the fattest and those less good for the eating to bring fire under the tower". The timber lining the tunnels was coated with the pig fat and set alight, taking the fire into the foundations of the south tower, which eventually crumbled.

It was almost 500 years too soon, but King John would have found William Salmon’s
“Family Dictionary and Household Companion” (1695) very useful. It had consecutive entries on Gammon and “Gangreen” – both useful topics on this particular battlefield, particularly as any leftover pig-fat could be recycled in the gangrene remedy. We are not mindful of the risk of gangrene in our households today, and Jamie, Delia, et al completely omit recipes for its treatment, so I give this one for you to keep as a standby. Any leftover Cataplasm could be recycled into a delicious bread pudding.

When the part afflicted with this Malady has been lightly scarified, apply, as hot as can be endured, a Cataplasm of strong Brandy and Crumbs of White Bread, shifting it three or four times a day, or as often as you find it convenient; or for want of this, take a boiled Turnip, mash it with Hogs-lard, and lay it to the place.

The dictionary also had a recipe for a “Bacon Froise” which could have been useful for the battlefield quartermaster. A “froise” was a kind of thick pancake, which typically contained - slices of bacon!

Bacon Froise.
Take eight Eggs well beaten, a little Cream and a little Flower, beat them well together, like other Batter, then fry very thin slices of Bacon, and pour some of this over; then fry it, and turn the other side, pour more upon that, so fry it, and serve it to Table.

Tomorrow … Liquid Lunches.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Inside entertaining.

Today, November 29th …

The musician John Baptist Grano’s journal entry on this day in 1728 reads:

“ … drank Coffee for breakfast, order’d a Fire in my own Room … order’d some boyl’d Onions for Dinner; waiting for which I wrote and read … ’twas about 4 a clock before I went to Dinner and Mr Blunt did me the honour of eating with me; I had a Rabbit to entertain him with, but ate none of it my selfe.”

A fairly ordinary day, really. Except that Grano was in gaol. In the Marshalsea to be exact - the debtors prison in Southwark, London, where Dickens’ father spent some time when Charles was a child, inspiring him to use it as the setting for “Little Dorrit”.

For most prisoners, the Marshalsea was a terrible place. Two or three of them died every day, and the awful conditions were the subject of a report to Parliament in 1729. The prison lease was held by a butcher - a one William Acton - who paid 240 pounds a year for the privilege, and made his income charging the “better class” of prisoners rent for (relatively) decent rooms and selling them such things as blankets, coffee, and food at extortionate prices – which makes one wonder, if they could afford such luxuries, why were they in debtors prison anyway? These upper class prisoners could also entertain guests, and there was no shortage of friends with a prurient interest in life on the inside.

Boiled onions and the gallbladder of a hare were an old preventative for the plague. I don't know if rabbit would substitute, and there is no evidence that Grano had this in mind, but perhaps Mr Blunt was safer for his dinner.

To celebrate not being in gaol, here is a more luxurious recipe from the era, from “Adam’s luxury and Eve’s cookery” (1744)

To butter Onions.
Put your Onions in boiling Water, when peel’d; drain them when they are well boil’d, and butter them, adding Sugar, Currants, and beaten Cinamon. Serve them on Sippets, strew Sugar over them, and run them over with beaten Butter.
Another Way: Slice some Apples, and mince your Onions, but more Apples than Onions, Bake them with Bread, tying a Paper over the Pan: When baked butter them, adding Sugar and Boiled Currants. Serve them on Sippets, and strew over them fine Sugar and Powdered Cinamon.

Tomorrow … Sending home the bacon.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A lusty and masculine food for Rustics.

Today, November 28th …

Half a century before the chestnut blight wiped out the chestnut forests of America, Henry Thoreau went into the woods on this day in 1856, to look for a lost comb. He “Unexpectedly [did] find many chestnuts in the burs which have fallen some time ago. Many are spoiled, but the rest, being thus moistened, are softer and sweeter than a month ago, very agreeable to my palate.”

This is the nut that John Evelyn (1664) said was “amongst the delicaces of Princes in other Countries … [and] is a lusty, and masculine food for Rustics at all times”. He bemoaned the fact that in England they were fed to swine, but then went on to suggest that “we might propagate their use, amongst our common people ...".

The chestnut must surely lay claim to being one of the most versatile of foods – eaten fresh or preserved (dried, canned or frozen), raw or cooked, as a staple or a delicacy, in all dishes from soup to nuts (Ouch! Sorry!) and for all consumers – the pigs, the poor, and the posh.

The French attempted to destroy the chestnut economy of Corsica in 1789. They called the chestnut “the food of laziness”, because by providing the Corsican Rustic with his staple “wooden bread” and his stock with fallen fodder, it allowed him to neglect the fields. It was however very acceptable for the rich and Princely French to enjoy the pick of the crop in a variety of luxurious ways - as soup, stuffing for turkey, sweetened purée, and especially as “marrons glacées”.

Nowadays we associate chestnuts with family celebrations such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, which might be a good time to remember that they also had a medicinal use in the past. As well as being “a first-rate remedy for cough and spitting of blood", please remember that “melancholy and Old Persons, also those who abound with gross and tartarous Humours ought to abstain from them.”

Those of your Christmas guests who are not gross and tartarous by nature might enjoy these easy Christmas recipes from “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook” by Fannie Merritt Farmer (1896)

Devilled Chestnuts.
Shell one cup chestnuts, cut in thin slices, and fry until well browned, using enough butter to prevent chestnuts from burning. Season with Tabasco Sauce or few grains paprika.

Chestnut Gravy.
To two cups thin Turkey Gravy add three-fourths cup cooked and mashed chestnuts

Tomorrow … Inside entertaining.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A co-incidence of princesses.

Today, November 25th …

Today is the feast day of St Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of spinsters, who pray to her in order to avoid her fate of dying unmarried, thus putting themselves, if their prayers are answered, under the patronage of St Monica, whose fate was a long unhappy marriage to an abusive and unfaithful husband.

November 25th was also the birthday in 1638 of the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, who was married off to the neglectful and very unfaithful Charles II in 1662, and is credited with bringing tea to England, and introducing it to the court. Being the devout woman that she was, it is unlikely that Catherine complained about her marriage to her saint, but I bet she pondered it over numerous cups of tea.

The Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon became the first wife of Henry VIII in 1509, and actively encouraged the lacemaking industry in England. As a result of confusion of her name with that of the saint, St Catherine became adopted also as the patron saint of lacemakers, who therefore had a holiday on her feastday. They would drink “hot-pot” (warm beer, thickened with eggs and spiked with rum), eat “Cattern Cakes”, and after getting up their appetite by playing games of leaping over candles they would tuck into stuffed rabbit with onion sauce.

Cattern cakes were just “Wiggs” – soft light bread rolls flavoured with caraway seeds, and so called because they were originally “wedges” in shape. There were many variations depending on the degree of enrichment or impoverishment of the dough (eggs, sugar), the recipient (“economical” for farmworkers), or the season (wiggs were popular Lenten food).

Due to a happy confluence of Catherines, it appears that we have an infallible formula for afternoon tea, but to ensure infallibility, we had better use a recipe from “ The lady’s companion, or, an infallible guide to the fair sex …” (1740) for our wiggs.

To make Wiggs.
You must take two Pounds of Flour, and a Quarter of a Pound of Butter, as much Sugar, a Nutmeg grated, a little Cloves and Mace, and a Quarter of an Ounce of Carraway Seeds, Cream and Yest [yeast] as much as will make it up into a light Paste, make them up, and set them by the Fire to rise ‘till the Oven be ready; they will quickly be baked.

P.S don't forget the lace tablecloth.

On Monday … A lusty and masculine food for Rustics.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Green butter and the Art of Sandwiches

Today, November 24th …

The word “sandwich” first appeared on this day in 1762, in the journal of the historian Edward Gibbon.

“I dined at the Cocoa Tree ... That respectable body … affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty of the first men in the kingdom, supping at little tables upon a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich”

Tradition has it that the sandwich was “invented” by John Montague, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, to enable him to eat at the gaming table. Another culinary myth I am afraid, perpetuated from a single gossipy mention by a travel writer of the time. Montague was variously Postmaster General, Secretary of State, or First Lord of the Admiralty between 1753 and 1782, busy, and not known to be a gambler.

Montague’s name may have attached to the sandwich, but “bread and meat” has been around as long as there has been bread, and meat – which is long before cutlery and plastic food wrap. It was the original transportable dinner, and at its worst still has that murky association with the desperate search for food on the road.

Anthony Trollope must have suffered, for he wrote:

“The real disgrace of England is the railway sandwich - that whited sepulchre, fair enough outside, but so meagre, poor, and spiritless within, such a thing of shreds and parings, with a dab of food.”

Caterers could do epicurean sandwiches instead of sepulchral if they read “The Gentle Art of Cookery” (1925) by those elegant ladies Leyel and Hartley:

“ … many hostesses who offer their friends indifferently cooked but pretentious lunches could, with far less trouble, gain an epicurean reputation if they were content with the simplicity of wine and sandwiches.

They give 38 variations starting with this one:

Green Butter
Well wash and bone two ounces of anchovies. Boil a large handful of very green parsley, just cover it with water and leave the lid off the pan it boils in. Boil for about five minutes then immediately put the parsley under the cold water tap. Strip the parsley from the stalks and chop it very fine (a parsley cutter costs only a few pence and saves a lot of time). Beat the parsley, the anchovies and a quarter of a pound of butter together into a paste, and pot it. This will keep for a week.

Naturally, they recommend champagne as the proper accompaniment.

Tomorrow … A co-incidence of princesses.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Roast Beef of Old England.

Today, November 23 …

Sam Pepys wrote in his diary in 1661 “This day I had a Chine of beefe sent home, which I bespoke to send and did send it, as a present to my Uncle Wight”. What a gift for an Englishman! A chine – a huge piece of cow consisting of the backbone and the loin meat each side, roasted to perfection, and the envy of visitors to England such as the Swede Pehr Kalm (1716-1779) who disguised his jealousy with scorn:

“Roast meat is the Englishman's delice and principal dish. .. The English men understand almost better than any other people the art of properly roasting a joint, which also is not to be wondered at; because the art of cooking as practiced by most Englishmen does not extend much beyond roast beef and plum pudding.”

You cant get more English than roast beef. Unless you have chicken tikka that is. Anyway, beef isn’t roasted anymore. Baked in ovens, yes, but not roasted on a spit in front of an open fire, turned all the while by little boys or ingenious mechanical devices, basted lovingly by the cook at regular intervals, the juice (none of your fancy jus) and drippings falling down into a pan of batter, transforming it into Yorkshire pudding.

Sadly, truth is often more prosaic than fiction. Contrary to popular belief, the sirloin did not get its name when a particularly splendid example of that “joint of goodly presence” was given a mock knighthood (“Sir Loin” – get it?) by either King Henry VII, James I, or Charles II. The name simply comes from “surlonge”, i.e above the loin.

In case you should be lucky enough to have the right sort of beef, fireplace, and small boy, here is a recipe from Robert May’s “Accomplish’t Cook” (1660).

To roast a Chine, Rib, Loin, Brisket, or Fillet of Beef,
Draw them with parsley, rosemary, time [thyme], sweet marjoram, sage, winter savoury, or lemon, or plain without any of them, fresh or salt, as you please; broth it, roast it, and baste it with butter: a good chine of beef will ask six hours of roasting.
For the sauce take straight tops of rosemary, sage leaves, picked parsley, time, and sweet marjoram; and stew them in wine vinegar, and the beef gravy; or otherwayes with gravy and juyce of oranges and lemons. Sometimes for change in saucers of vinegar and pepper.

Tomorrow ….Green butter and the Art of Sandwiches.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Propaganda and puddings.

Today, November 22 …

The Australian Woman’s Mirror published a recipe for “Empire Christmas Pudding” on this day in 1927. All of its ingredients, as the name suggests, were sourced from the British Empire.

The Empire movement had started at the turn of the century in Ontario, “to foster Imperial patriotism and loyalty” by reminding British subjects of their allegiance, no matter where they resided in the Pink Bits. Oaths were sworn, an “unnecessary holiday” (to some) was called on May 24th, and those at home and in the colonies were encouraged to buy Empire goods. It made culinary sense as well as economic sense, for:

“We have every clime and every season within our borders, and cold storage has annihilated distance, we may dine as elegantly, as exotically, as we choose. … gigot de pré-salé is only leg of mutton after all.”

To win hearts and minds, the stomach must be won over first, for as Lin Yutang said “what is patriotism but the love of food one ate as a child?” For the Englishman this meant pudding. The Empire Marketing Board developed the recipe, made a 40lb sample (26 hours to cook!), and presented it to the King, who accepted it “in the hope that the public will be encouraged to buy Empire ingredients for their own Christmas pudding”. Royal testimonials never hurt.

There was a shift in emphasis during the war, when rationing meant that puddings could not “aspire to pre-war richness”, and recipes had names that wept propaganda as compensation for the missing ingredients. Wartime official “Peace Christmas Pudding” had carrot and dried egg and “Mincemeat for Patriotic People” was not much better, but by 1927, all seemed well with the world again, Imperial patriotism was back, and a recipe could be a geography lesson.

All-British (Empire) Pudding.

5 lb. currants (Australia)
5 lb. sultanas (Australia)
5 lb. stoned raisins (South Africa)
1 ½ lb. minced apple (Canada)
5 lb. breadcrumbs (United Kingdom)
5 lb. beef suet (New Zealand)
2 lb. cut candied peel (South Africa)
2 ½ lb flour (United Kingdom)
2 ½ lb. Demarara sugar (West Indies)
20 eggs (Irish Free State)
2 oz. ground cinnamon (Ceylon)
1 ½ oz. ground cloves (Zanzibar)
1 ½ oz. ground nutmegs (Straits Settlements)
1 teaspoonful pudding spice (India)
1 gill brandy (Cyprus)
2 gills rum (Jamaica)
2 quarts old beer (England)

This was prepared by “the usual method” of course.

Tomorrow … The Roast Beef of Old England.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Politicians don't write cookbooks anymore

Today, November 21 …

Ludwig Leichhardt was a Prussian botanist and intrepid explorer of inland Australia in the1840’s. Other adventurers of the time took familiar food supplies on their expeditions, but Leichhardt planned to learn from the Aboriginal people, and live off the land. He has been criticised since as being a poor bushman, and he and his men did indeed spend a lot of time very hungry, but he would try any food once, and never repeated a mistake. On November 21st 1844 he reflected on the situation, and his journal reads:

“ … Iguanas, opossums, and birds of all kinds, had for some time past been most gladly consigned to our cooking pot, neither good, bad, nor indifferent being rejected. The dried kangaroo meat, one of our luxuries, differed very little in flavour from the beef, and after long stewing afforded us an excellent broth, to which we generally added a little flour. It is remarkable how soon man becomes indifferent to the niceties of food; and when all the artificial wants of society have dropped off, the bare necessities of life form the only object of his desires.”

Kangaroo might have been a staple for indigenous people and bushmen, but the representatives of the “upper ten thousand” who had the dubious fortune to find themselves in the farthest and wildest reaches of the Empire never embraced it. They were quite able to ignore an available and nutritious food precisely because it was enjoyed by “the many”, and because they too wanted familiar food from the the mother country, no matter how inappropriate for the new living conditions.

The first Australian cookbook was addressed to both groups and was published in 1864 by Edward Abbott, a Tasmanian politician passionate about all things Australian – which was not an desirable eccentricity in the colony. The recipes are an odd mix of local and British ingredients and dishes, interspersed with anecdotes and testimonials. It was a resounding failure, and never had a second printing. It was just too “colonial”.

Or perhaps it was some of the more outlandish recipes that frightened the expatriates off:

Slippery Bob.

Take kangaroo brains, and mix with flour and water, and make into a batter; well season with pepper, salt, &c; then pour a table-spoonful at a time into an iron pot containing emu fat, and take them out when done. “Bush fare” requiring a good appetite and excellent digestion.

Tomorrow … Propaganda and puddings.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Heroes in the Kitchen.

Today, November 18th …

You may not be at all interested in what gets eaten at the White House. You may consider anything smacking of political paparazzi-ism (is that a word?) beneath you. You may, alternatively, be gloriously inspired to re-create this meal when you realise that it was eaten by Tricky Dicky himself on this day in 1970. If not, stay with me anyway, for there is still much of interest in this menu.

Vol au vent Américaine

Supreme of Pheasant Smitane
Wild Rice
Timbale of Spinach
Carrots au Beurre

Baked Alaska

If America’s first family choose to have their menus in French, why would they not be consistent? Why not “riz sauvage” (or would it be “riz fou”?) and why not Bombe Alaska?

The “history” of Baked Alaska is disputed, and more fakelore than history, but what is certain is that it was a brave chef who first sent it to the table. Covering a slab of cake and ice-cream with meringue and baking it till set and golden is not an activity for the faint-hearted. Particularly if it is for a president.

So how about the opposite concept? Ice-cream on the outside, meringue inside, and right in the centre some hot brandied marmalade. It was the invention of Nicholas Kurti, a physics professor at Oxford who specialised in ultra-low temperature physics, thereby qualifying him as an expert ice-cream cook. It works because: microwave frequencies are absorbed strongly in alcohol but not well in ice, and microwave ovens heat from the inside out. Voila! “Inverted Baked Alaska”!

The earliest published recipe for ice-cream is in 1718, but would exceed my word limit, so I will give you one from Hannah Glasse (1747).

" Take two pewter basons, one larger than the other; the inward one must have a close cover, into which you are to put your cream, and mix it with raspberries, or whatver you like best, to give it a flavour and a colour. Sweeten it to you palate; then cover it close, and set it into the larger bason. Fill it with ice, and a handful of salt: let it stand in this ice three quarters of an hour, then uncover it, and stir the cream well together: cover it close again, and let is stand half an hour longer, after that turn it into your plate. These things are made at the pewterers."

How brave are you?

Tomorrow … Heroes in the Kitchen.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Clerical Gourmet.

Today, November 17 …

On this day in 1832 the Reverend Richard Harris Barham, English writer and author of the Ingoldsby Legends, dined with the Reverend Sydney Smith, English writer and contributor to the Edinburgh Review. What did these two clerical and literary gentlemen talk about? Food, almost certainly. I offer two reasons for my opinion.

(1) Sydney was an eloquent and popular preacher who became the greatest wit and raconteur of his age. He was also a gourmet, so it is not surprising that he became a very popular dinner guest at the best tables. He left a wonderful legacy of witticisms about food:

“My idea of heaven is eating pate de foie gras to the sound of trumpets”

"Soup and fish explain half the emotions in life."

“Madam, I have been looking for a person who disliked gravy all my life; let us swear eternal friendship.”

(2) A few days after the dinner, Barham received a recipe in the mail from Smith – unsigned and without comments:


Two large potatoes passed through kitchen sieve,

Unwonted softness to the salad give;
Of ardent mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment which bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault
To add a double quantity of salt;
Three times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown,
And once with vinegar, procured from town,
True flavour needs it, and your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two well-boiled eggs;
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, scarce suspected, animate the whole;
And, lastly, on the flavoured compound toss
A magic teaspoon of anchovy sauce.
Then, though green turtle fail,
though venison's tough,
And ham and turkey are not boiled enough,
Serenely full, the epicure may say,
--'Fate cannot harm me,
-- I have dined to-day.'

N.B.-- As this salad is the result of great experience and reflection, it is to be hoped young salad-makers will not attempt any improvements upon it.

Even Sydney’s last letter was lyrical on the topic of food:

'Many thanks, my dear Sir, for your kind present of game. If there is a pure and elevated pleasure in this world, it is that of roast pheasant and bread sauce; -- barn-door fowls for dissenters, but for the real church man, the thirty-nine times articled clerk, the pheasant, the pheasant!

Thought: My own dinner guests need to lift their witticism game.

Tomorrow … Heroes in the Kitchen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tea-time memories.

Today, November 16 …

The first volume of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” was published on this day in 1913. In his novel, the sudden fragrance of a small French cake called a madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea, evokes the flood of memories on which the story is based. Proust knew instinctively what scientists have now proven: that the sense of smell is an enormously powerful trigger of memory.

It is probably the best known piece of gastronomic literary prose in the world, and so beautiful that it is almost impossible to read it without wanting to rush out and find some madeleines and linden (lime-blossom) tea to try to capture the experience for oneself. Alas, the association between memory and its triggers are far too personal, but in case you want to try anyway, the recipes follow.

A madeleine is simply an ordinary small cake, its only differentiation from any other being that it is baked in a shell-shaped mould, making it not ordinary at all, for this small difference makes this small cake special and elegant and romantic. The most famous are from Commercy in France, and Larousse gives a recipe:

Madeleine de Commercy.

Work together in a bowl 625 gm of fine sugar, 625 gm sieved cake flour; 12 eggs; 1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda; the grated rind of a lemon; a pinch of salt.
When this mixture is very smooth, add to it 300 gm melted butter. Mix well.
Put this mixture in special buttered madeleine moulds. Bake in a very slow oven.

It probably does not seem necessary to give a recipe for tea, but Charles Elmé Francatelli (an Englishman in spite of his name), saw fit to include one in his “Cook’s Guide” (1867), and who am I to argue with the chef to Queen Victoria? Anyway, the medical advice at the end might come in handy if the memories you trigger in your experiment are scary ones.

Lime-Flower Tea.

To half an ounce of lime-flowers pour one pint of boiling water; allow the tea to stand for about ten minutes, pour it into a cup, sweeten with honey, and drink it perfectly hot.
This tea, from its antispasmodic quantities, is a safe remedy in cases of indigestion, and is also beneficial when administered for hysteria.

Tomorrow …The Clerical Gourmet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Back to the Future.

Today, November 15 …

In 1930 the Italian Futurists launched their “Manifesto of Futurist Cooking” in Milan. Futurism was a 20th century artistic movement that had as fundamental notions a hatred of anything rooted in the past, and a love of change, speed, noise, and machines. In things gastronomical this meant bizarre combinations of ingredients (sardines with pineapple, mortadella with nougat), arranged as edible sculptures representing such things as “Earth + North Pole”, and “Alaskan Salmon in the sun with Mars sauce”, the total sensory experience of the meal being enhanced with dynamic olfactory, tactile, sound and light devises and surprises.

The dishes – as was intended – were controversial and shocking, but they were nothing compared with the outrage felt throughout Italy at the Futurists major victim – pasta itself, which they said was “heavy, brutalising, and gross” and inducing of “sloth and pessimism”. The Mayor of Naples’ response was simple: “the angels in Paradise eat nothing but vermicelli al pomodoro”, he said.

The combination of tomatoes and pasta is actually quite new, gastronomically speaking. Before the discovery of the New World, tomatoes were unknown in Europe, and the first actual written recipe for the combination of tomatoes and pasta is in 1839!

So – what did Italians eat with pasta, before tomatoes? Bartolomeo Sacchi, better known as Platina - a papal librarian, not a cook, wrote “On Right Pleasure and Good Health” in about 1475. He gave a recipe for pasta dough, made from white flour, egg white, rosewater and plain water, which could be used in various ways.

On Vermicelli.
Beat flour in the same way as above. When it is beaten separate into bits with your fingers. You will call these bits vermiculi [worms], then place in the sun. When they are well dried, they will last two or more years. When they have been cooked for an hour in rich broth and put in a dish, season with ground cheese and spices, but if there is a fast day, cook with almond juice and goat’s milk. Because milk does not require much cooking, first make it boil a little in water, then add the milk, When they have cooked, remember to sprinkle with sugar. The cooking of all pastas made from flour is the same. They may be somewhat coloured with saffron, unless they have been cooked in milk.

Tomorrow …Tea-time memories.

Monday, November 14, 2005

On armadillo and hot spices.

Today, November 14 …

Walter Raleigh’s voyage in search of “El Dorado” had gone badly wrong. He was carried ashore at Cayenne (French Guiana) on this day in 1617, ill with a fever. A crowd of curious locals brought food:

“… which they did in great plenty, … and great abundance of pinas, the princess of fruits that grow under the sun, … One of them gave me a beast called by the Spaniards armadillo …”

Few Europeans had tasted pineapple at this time, and even fewer had eaten armadillo, which Raleigh and his men did a few days later. He was no foodie. He did not record his impressions, but subsequent heroes say it is just like chicken, or pork, or rabbit, or duck (not armadillo?). He also made no comment about the spiciness or otherwise of the food, although the name “Cayenne” is now inextricably associated with the “pepper” of that name, which is not pepper, but simply chilli powder after all. Until it arrived in the Old World there was no chilli in Indian food (and no tomato in Italian food – but more on this tomorrow).

“Curry” is not an Indian term, it is an Anglo-Indian concept received in exchange for the love of cricket. The first English recipe for curry occurs in 1747; by the end of that century recipes were common. Sarah Martin included one for curry powder in “The new experienced English-housekeeper…” (1795).

To make Curry Powder.
Take an ounce of the best turmerick beaten and sifted very fine, fourteen bay-leaves beaten and sifted, one large nutmeg, a quarter of an ounce of mace, as much chyan [cayenne] as will lay upon a shilling, mix these well together, put them in a dry wide mouth’d bottle, and keep them in a dry place.

… and to make “curry balls”:

“ … take the yolk of an egg boiled very hard, and a lump of fresh butter the same size, beat it in a small mortar, mix it up with curry powder to a paste, make it into balls the size of a nut, lay them on a saucer, and cover them with a piece of writing paper, set them into an oven, to be made hot, but not to burn them, so send them to the table; these are to be sent on a dish by themselves, for those who like to add them to their sauce.

Tomorrow … Back to the Future.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Food for “Split-stomach day”.

Today, November 11 …

It is the feast of St Martin of Tours, patron saint of vintners, tavern keepers, and drunkards – which is very convenient as it is the traditional day for drinking wine from the new vintage. It was also the traditional day for slaughtering beasts which could not be over-wintered, and preserving as much as possible of the meat by salting, drying or smoking, to tide everyone over until spring. What could not be kept was eaten over a glorious few days of feasting, for the long bleak winter was a’coming in, the penitential season of Advent was imminent, and the next big feed would not be until Christmas. No wonder “Martinmas” was also called “Split-Stomach Day”.

Goose is almost obligatory in Europe at Martinmas - especially roasted, with regional variations (red cabbage or prunes or apples etc) - or in Sweden as a whole goose banquet which starts with “black soup” made from goose blood and offal, spiced and sweetened with fruit. There are various legends about St Martin and the goose for those who like symbolic explanations of their meals, but of course geese are very fat and very eatable by the end of the harvest season, which is the true and best justification.

Martinmas is also “The feast of sausages and black puddings”, for these are the quintessential dishes of the slaughtering season. It was a delicious time for those lower down the social scale, but perhaps a little too bloody and gruesome to dwell on for most of us today, with our more delicate modern sensibilities. The following recipe does include both goose and sausages, but it is from a book of “genteel” recipes for “prudent housewives”, so seems eminently suitable for today. It is from Catharine Brooks’ “Complete English cook …” (1770)

For fricaseying a Goose.
Roast your Goose, and before it is quite done cut and scotch it with your Knife long ways, and then slash it across; strew Salt and Pepper over it, then lay it in your Pan, with the skinny Side downwards, till it has taken a gentle Heat; then broil it on a Gridiron over a gently Fire; when it is enough, baste the upper Side with Butter, and a little Sugar, Vinegar, and Mustard; pour this into a Dish with Sausages and Lemon, and serve it up.

On Monday … On armadillo and hot spices …

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A taste of France, or is it Italy?

Today, November 10th ...

The delightfully curmudgeonly Scottish surgeon and writer, Tobias Smollett travelled to Europe in 1764 to improve his health. His journals and correspondence were later published as “Travels Through France and Italy”. On this day he wrote in a letter from Nice:

“ .. this country produces a good deal of Meliga, or Turkish wheat, which is what we call Indian corn. I have, in a former letter, observed that the meal of this grain goes by the name polenta, and makes excellent hasty-pudding, being very nourishing …”

The grain he was referring to was maize, and it no more came from Turkey (or India) than did the Turkey fowl. Maize originated in Central America, and was unknown in Europe before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. So – how come the word “polenta” appears in English at least 500 years earlier? One reference from 1398 says “Pollenta is corne isode ipeled & holed & ischeled with frotinge of handes”. Which means - wheat, soaked (boiled?) and hulled by rubbing it between the hands. Somehow the English “lost” polenta and rediscovered it as Italian!

Polenta is simply one name for the universal peasant food – mush, gruel, porridge, stirabout, hasty pudding - call it what you will, and make it from what you have – barley, oats, wheat, maize, or even chestnuts. Boil it up with any available liquid, and you have very hastily prepared a pudding.

Strange, isn’t it, that “polenta” seems exotic, whereas “hasty pudding” sounds plebeian? Mrs. W.G. Waters wrote “The Cook’s Decameron” - a book about Italian food - in 1901. She commended her husband in the Preface for his “great daring” in trying the recipes. Here is one of them.

Polenta is made of ground Indian-corn, and may be used either as a separate dish or as a garnish for roast meat, pigeons, fowl, &c. It is made like porridge; gradually drop the meal with one hand into boiling stock or water, and stir continually with a wooden
spoon with the other hand. In about a quarter of an hour it will be quite thick and smooth, then add a little butter and grated Parmesan, and one egg beaten up. Let it get cold, then put it in layers in a baking-dish, add a little butter to each layer, sprinkle with plenty of Parmesan, and bake it for about an hour in a slow oven. Serve hot.

Tomorrow … Food for “Split-stomach day”.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

All Hail the apple trees.

Today, November 9th …

It was probably a bitterly cold night when Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary for this day in 1666: “Being come home, we to Cards till 2 in the morning; and drinking lamb’s-wool, to bed.”

“Lamb’s wool” is a drink made from hot, sweet, spiced ale mixed with the pulp of roasted apples. The ale would have been sweeter than we are used to today, as it was brewed without the hops which made it bitter but improved its keeping qualities – the brew that we now call “beer”. It was a traditional drink at Hallowe’en, which occurred during the harvest season, and at Twelfth night, when it was used to “wassail” or toast the orchard fruit trees to encourage a good new crop.

Why the name? You can take your pick of the two most popular explanations. The name may be derived from La Maes Abhal, a pagan celebration of the apple harvest, or it may simply be that the hot, fluffy roasted apple pulp floating on the top of the drink looked like lamb’s wool. Probably of course it is a happy symmetry of both ideas.

Mrs Beeton seems oddly confused over lamb’s wool. She refers to it as an old English beverage, but then goes on to give the recipe for a French version made from wine, which she likens to marmalade!

“ … is made by boiling any given quantity of new wine, skimming it as often as fresh scum rises, and, when it is boiled to half its bulk, straining it. To this apples, pared and cut into quarters, are added; the whole is then allowed to simmer gently, stirring it all the time with a long wooden spoon, till the apples are thoroughly mixed with the liquor, and the whole forms a species of marmalade, which is extremely agreeable to the taste, having a slight flavour of acidity, like lemon mixed with honey”

A far more authentic version is by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), from his “Twelfth Night”, with the added bonus is that it is poetic.

"Next crowne the bowle fullWith gentle lamb's wooll;Adde sugar, nutmeg and ginger'With store of ale too;And thus ye must doeTo make a Wassaile a swinger."

Tomorrow … A taste of France, or is it Italy?…

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Food for cowboys and popes

Today, November 8th …

Today commemorates the admission in 1889 of Montana as the forty-first state of the USA. They breed them tough in the mountains, but not so tough that they don't use a euphemism for their biggest culinary specialty. “Rocky mountain oysters” are beef testicles, and the big event of the year in Montana is the “Annual Testicle Festival” (a.k.a “The Testy Festy”) at which two tons of the battered and deep-fried delights are served to hungry aficionados.

Testicles (from a culinary point of view, that is) probably have a greater number of “nice” names than any other food. Even the French sanitise them (slightly) by calling them rognons blancs (“white kidneys”). If you saw bulls’ jewels, cowboy caviar, Montana tendergroin (ouch!), or swinging beef (they gotta be joking!) on a menu, would you order first and ask afterwards?

For obvious reasons, testicles have a reputation as aphrodisiacs, which of course has nothing to do with why Bartolomeo Scappi, the personal cook to Pope Pius V included a recipe for “Pie of Bull’s Testicles” in his collection.

Boil four bull's testicles together with salt. Cut into slices and sprinkle with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. Then, in a pie crust, place layers of sliced testicles alternated with mince of lamb's kidneys, ham, marjoram, cloves and thyme.

In recipe books from the days when nothing could be refrigerated, and nothing was wasted, animal testicles were usually called “stones”, and all sorts were used, including those from cockerels, which presumably then were no longer cockerels. They were included in many dishes, particularly pies and fricassees - the traditional repositories of kitchen odds and ends. Here is a recipe from “Receipts of pastry & cookery: for the use of his scholars” by Edward Kidder, a cookery teacher in London in about 1740.

A Lambstone and Sweetbread Pye
Boyle blanch & slice them season them with savory spice lay them in your pye with slicd
artichoke bottoms lay on butter & close your pye [with] A Lear [a thickened sauce, often poured in after a pie was cooked].

Tomorrow … All Hail the apple trees.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Elephant (not) on the menu

Today, November 7th …

Today in the U.S.A is Republican Elephant day, which commemorates the political cartoon drawn by Thomas Nast for Harpers Weekly in 1874. Nast represented the Republican voter as an elephant, and although it was not meant to be complimentary at the time, the party itself adopted the elephant as its symbol, for its size and strength.

What has this got to do with food, you ask? I remember a story about canned elephant meat omelette being served as a publicity stunt at a Miami restaurant during a Republican convention in the 1960’s – a politically incorrect act of astonishing proportions by today’s standards, but one which nevertheless made me wonder what elephant flesh would actually taste like. Absolute abhorrence at the thought of actually eating it does not do away entirely with simple curiosity, so I was forced to look at the reports of others.

Gordon Cumming, great white hunter in Central South Africa in the 1840’s, was enthusiastic: “the feet, thus cooked [in a pit] are excellent, as is also the trunk, which very much resembles buffalo’s tongue.” Dr David Livingstone in 1867 – even extremely hungry - was not:

We get some elephants' meat from the people, but high is no name for its condition. It is very bitter, but we used it as a relish to the maëre porridge … not one of us would touch it with the hand if we had aught else, for the gravy in which we dip our porridge is like an aqueous solution of aloes …

If you read French, and have no conscience, I refer you to Alexandre Dumas’ “Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine” for a recipe for elephants feet. Otherwise, I offer one for athe “other” pachyderm - cooked hunter’s style to give the illusion of adventure - as described by the French gastronome Baron Brisse in “366 Menus and 1200 recipes” (1868)

Fillet of boar au chasseur.

Soak the fillet for at least two days in olive oil and salt, drain, and simmer in a stew-pan lined with slices of bacon, carrots, onions, a bouquet of mixed herbs, salt, pepper, and equal quantities of stock and white wine; when sufficiently done, drain the fillet, glaze it, and serve with piquant sauce, to which you have added a little of the liquor in which it was cooked, after passing it through a tammy and reducing.

Tomorrow … Food for cowboys and popes ...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Marmalade, madams, and maladies

Today, November 4th …

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on this day in 1663 “Home to dinner and very pleasant with my wife, who is this day also herself making of Marmalett of Quince, which she now doth very well herself.”

Elizabeth’s marmalade would have been a dry paste such as we now eat with cheese - cut with a knife, stored in boxes and served as an after dinner sweetmeat. Over time, other fruit came to be used such as “Wardens, peares, apples, & Medlars, Seruits or Checkers, strawberys everyone by him selfe or els mixt it together as you think good.” Eventually it became our familiar citrus jelly with rind suspended in it, perfect for spreading on breakfast toast.

For some odd reason the Scots have claimed marmalade as their own by perpetuating a couple of myths. One idiotic explanation for the name “marmalade” is that it came from the medicinal use of candied orange (“to cool the stomach”) by Mary Queen of Scots, who suffered sea-sickness on her voyage from France to Scotland in 1561 - hence “Marie est malade” became “marmalade”. The word of course comes from the Portuguese word “marmelo” for quince, and was in use well before Mary’s travels. “Modern” orange marmalade was also decidedly not invented by Janet Keillor of Dundee in 1797, there being recogniseable recipes for it from almost a century before.

If not a medicinal excuse to indulge, why not aphrodisiacal? Quinces were always believed to be aphrodisiacs, and oranges were extravagant (therefore enticing) delicacies in the seventeenth century, so the reputation became attached to marmalade, which is probably why prostitutes were called “marmalade madams” in Pepys’ time.

Perhaps Mrs Pepys had a copy of “The French Cook…” by La Varenne (1653), which contained this recipe:

How to make the Marmalat of Quinces of Orleans.
Take fifteen pounds of Quinces, three pounds of sugar, and two quarts of water, boil all together; after it is well sod, pass it by little and little through a napkin, and take out of it what you can; then put your decoction in a bason with four pounds of sugar, seeth it, for to know when it is enough, trie it on a plate, and when it doth come off, take it quickly from the fire, and set it up in boxes, or somewhere else.

Aphrodisiac anyone?

On Monday … Elephant (not) on the menu.