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.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Green peas from Adam and Eve.

Today, November 3rd …

Today is the anniversary in 1952, of the introduction of frozen peas by the Birdseye company, which set me thinking about pease, peas, and petits pois, as well as food preservation and food snobbery.

Freezing is only a modern way of keeping the crop after all, and I am told that a lot of chefs prefer to use them over the fresh variety. I’ll bet they don't admit it though. As for canned peas, they say the French prefer them over frozen, which is either malicious gossip or a dirty little Gallic secret.

From ancient times, “pease”, or field peas were grown specifically for drying, and provided basic sustenance for the poor. Garden peas were developed and perfected later, and by the second half of the seventeenth century, the French court was in raptures over petits pois. Eating fresh peas from the pod was so ridiculously extravagant, they became à la mode almost overnight with the rich and powerful, or at least their mistresses. The Marquise de Maintenon, secret second wife of Louis XIV summed it all up in a letter in 1695:

" There are some ladies who, after having supped with the King, and well supped too, help themselves to peas at home before going to bed at the risk of indigestion. It is both a fashion and a madness."

Here is my favourite old recipe for peas (although the “Green Peas Tart” nearly won), from a little book called “Adam’s luxury, and Eve’s cookery; or, the kitchen-garden display’d …”, published in England in 1774. An intriguing title, is it not? The sisterhood would say that some things haven’t changed for centuries.

Peas the Portuguese Way.
Wash your Peas, cut in some Lettuce, with a Lump of Sugar, some fine Oil, a few Mint Leaves cut small, with Parsley, Onions, Shallots, Garlick, Winter Savory, Nutmeg, Salt, Pepper, and a little Broth; put them over the Fire, and when ‘tis almost ready, poach some new Eggs in it, making a Place for each Egg to lie in; then cover your Stew pan again, and boil your Eggs with a little fire upon the Cover; then slide them into your Dish, and serve them.

Makes Eggs Florentine look a bit wimpy, doesn’t it?

Tomorrow … Marmalade, madams, and maladies.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

An old take on seafood extender

Today, November 2nd …

If you were a second-class citizen in 1911, and were aboard the SS “Majestic” on this day, this would have been your dinner:

Consomme Diablotins

Boiled Cod, Cream Sauce

Salmi of Ducking with Turnips

Roast Lamb, Mint Sauce
Sirloin of Beef, Browned Potatoes

String Beans, Fried Oyster Plant
Boiled Potatoes

Plum Pudding
Scotch Shortbread

Ice Cream

Oranges Plums Assorted Nuts

Would the hoi-polloi in first class get real oysters? The “vegetable oyster” served to you in second class was salsify, or perhaps its black-skinned Italian cousin, scorzonera, which taste like oysters (a bit, with a touch of asparagus, or maybe coconut?), and which were popular root vegetables until they became victims of food fashion. Or perhaps it was our need/desire for all foods quick to prepare that pushed it off the dinner list, for salify needs to be peeled (and immediately dropped in acidulated water to stop it discolouring) then pre-boiled before being used.

Once all that kitchen-hand labour was out of the way, salsify could be sent to the table in a number of guises. Most easily, this would be “with whatever sauce you think proper”, but battered and fried rounds were particularly popular. They were “often served round boiled fish”, where the chef presumably hoped they would have looked, as well as tasted, for all the world like fried oysters. Was anyone fooled?

If you want to test out the theory of taste, here is a recipe from Cassell’s “Dictionary of Cookery”, published in the 1870’s.

Salsify, Fried, or Salsify Fritters.
Boil the salsify till tender, or, if preferred, take the remains of dressed salsify. Drain and dry the roots by pressing them in a soft cloth. Make a little frying batter, dip each root separately into this, throw them into the hot fat, and fry them till they are lightly browned. … No sauce will be needed for them when dressed in this way. Sometimes the salsify is dipped into egg and bread-crumbs instead of batter before frying.

Maybe vegetable oyster isn’t such a nuisance after all: it can be prepared in advance (keep in the acidulated water), pre-boiled in advance (keep in the water), and the leftover boiled bits can be recycled as mock oysters next day.

How useful is that?

Tomorrow … Green peas from Adam and Eve.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Eating the flower of death.

Today, November 1st …

Today is the first of the “Days of the Dead” in Mexico, and bright yellow marigolds – “the flowers of death” - are everywhere. Their strong smell supposedly guides the dead back to their earthly homes for this few days each year, when they are especially honoured by their descendants over two days of fun-filled celebration – a strangely incongruous idea to those of us with an Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Marigolds are everywhere except in the food, even though they are very edible, and have a long history of use in Europe for medicinal and culinary purposes. So, if you are unable to get to Mexico for the fun, but have a few pesticide-free edible marigolds in your garden, you can at least get into the spirit of the day (pun intended) - European-style - by simply putting them in your salads, or cooking the leaves like spinach. If you feel more culinary energy coming on, you could even make marigold conserve or wine. Another very popular use was in “pease soope” and broths, particularly mutton-broth, and dried flowers used to be sold for that particular purpose.

There is far too much “past tense” in these discussions of ingredients, don't you think? One writer in 1841 was already bemoaning the fact that “The use of marigold flower in soup, or broth, has for some reason gone out of fashion with modern cooks”.

Marigolds have sometimes been called “poor man’s saffron” because of their colour. Which would you rather eat (real saffron I know, but lets assume for the purposes of this discussion that you cant afford it right now) – “natural marigold” or artificial yellow colours E102, E104, E107, E110?

Here is an almost modern recipe from “The Gentle Art of Cookery” (1925) by two very English ladies, Mrs Leyel and Miss Hartley.

Eggs cooked with Marigold

Blanch and chop some marigold flowers; poach as many eggs as are required, and while they are cooking sprinkle them thickly with chopped marigolds and season them with nutmeg, pepper and salt. They should be poached very slowly.
Fry some bread first steeped in milk. Strew the croutons with powdered marigolds; serve the eggs on the top with fried parsley, and garnish them with fresh marigold flowers.

Gives a new slant on the idea of “sunny-side up”, doesn’t it?

Tomorrow … An old take on seafood extender.