Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What does “cooking” mean?

Today, February 8th …

What does “cooking” mean? My favourite answer is:

It means the knowledge of Medea, and of Circe, and of Calypso, and of Helen, and of Rebekah, and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs, and fruits, and balms, and spices; and of all that is healing and sweet in fields and groves, and savory in meats, it means carefulness, and inventiveness, and watchfulness, and willingness, and readiness of appliance, it means the economy of your great-grandmothers, and the science of modern chemists; it means much tasting, and no wasting, it means English thoroughness, and French art, and Arabian hospitality, and it means, in fine, that you are to be perfectly and always "ladies" -"loaf-givers”; and you are to see … that everybody has something nice to eat.

The answer was given by the English author, artist, philosopher, and socialist John Ruskin, who was born on this day in 1819. It is given to the little girl Mary, who asks the question in his book “The Ethics of the Dust: Ten lectures to little housewives”, a book of philosophical dialogues set in a girls school – hence the reference to “ladies”. The words “lord” and “lady” have very ancient roots, and come from the Old English word for loaf - “hlaf”, so the superior male, responsible for feeding his dependents, was the “loaf-guardian” and his wife the “loaf-maker” or “loaf kneader”.

Ruskin’s multi-ethnic references made me think of a little book called “365 foreign dishes for every day in the year”, published about 1908 by Anonymous. There are two obvious choices for “something nice” to eat today:

The recipe for today, February 8th is:

Bombay Spinach.
Boil the spinach in salted water until tender; drain and chop fine. Fry 1 chopped onion in 2 tablespoonfuls of butter; add the chopped spinach, a pinch of pepper and curry-powder. Cover and let simmer five minutes. Serve on a platter with stewed prawns and garnish with croutons.

And a single recipe which gives new meaning to the idea of fusion cuisine!

Spanish Canapes.
Prepare circular pieces of buttered toast. Then mix 1 cup of chopped fish with 3 sweet pickles minced fine, and 2 tablespoonfuls of Madras chutney; moisten with 2 tablespoonfuls of Hollandaise sauce. Spread this mixture over 8 pieces of toast; sprinkle with 3 tablespoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Let bake for five minutes and serve.

Tomorrow: A thorny problem.

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