Thursday, February 09, 2006

A thorny problem.

Today, February 9th …

A Spanish bishop and four gentlemen guests sat down to dinner on this day in 1568. The menu has survived:

Bread, wine, and sweet oranges
2 roast hens
6 roast partridges
Pastry of half a kid goat
Roast wild boar
Mutton meatballs with 8 egg yolks
Boiled mutton, 2 pounds
Turnips in bacon
Boiled pork, 2 pounds
Apples, 4 pounds
2 cardoons
Olives and cheese, 50 walnuts


It is to be hoped the gentlemen had superb digestive systems.
The menu raises a number of questions: what did the cook do with the remaining 8 egg-whites, considering Australia was not yet discovered, and pavlova did not exist? Why exactly 50 walnuts? And why do we not see cardoons on the menu anymore?

The cardoon is a member of the thistle family, and a relative of the artichoke, which probably originated in North Africa, from whence it went to southern Europe. It was usually referred to as “Spanish” by early English botanists, so it seems particularly appropriate to have been enjoyed by our bishop on this day.

Unlike the artichoke, it is the fleshy stalks of the inner leaves which are cooked and eaten, but as there is a dearth of instructions in modern books, I give you those from William Verral’s “A complete system of cookery …” (1759)

Cardoons, with piquant sauce.
Cardoons are a thistley sort of vegetables, and an exotick plant, and are managed in the garden as celery or endives, by being mouldred up as they grow in height to make them white. The French make use of this in some sort of sauces in the first course dishes instead of celery, &c. But for an entremets , or second-course dish, they generally do it in the following manner: One large one is enough for a small dish; cut the white part only in pieces about two inches long, blanch it in water, and if you have a braize tie it up, and stew it very tender in that; if not take broth, season it high, and stew it in that; take it out upon a cloth, and pull off the skin on both sides, and put it into a sauce piquant, as before mentioned; let it stew softly twenty minutes or half an hour, squeeze in the juice of a lemon or orange, and dish it up. This is very good sauce for roast beef or mutton.


Tomorrow: The elaborate science of the confectioner.

3 comments:

rsb said...

if this was daily fare I would say they were all overweight

The Old Foodie said...

Ah Yes! So much for the abstemious, ascetic life of a sixteenth century cleric!

Pontormo said...

Very interesting post, TOF! I stumbled upon it in my quest for more information about the ways cardoons are/were prepared throughout the world.

You ask an important question, at least, one that has also occured to me. Why is it that cardoons have declined in popularity, nay, familiarity in the English-speaking world?

I'd also like to know if that is the case in other cultures. I've eaten artichokes galore in Italy over the course of nearly three decades, but stumbled upon them only in N. American cookbooks devoted to Italian regional cooking during the past couple of years. Never saw one in France or England where I've spent some time, too.

And over here, it is thanks to the combined efforts of Italian-American immigrants, chefs like Alice Waters, up-scale supermarkets and maverick horticulturalists (who grow them as ornament as well as food) that the cardoon is becoming known among foodies old and young.

I suspect the rising cult of the artichoke has something to do with it, but the ones we get from California are ridiculously inedible compared to their Roman counterparts. The cardoons I now can buy are easy-peasy to prepare in comparison.