Friday, March 03, 2006

Dinner for the taking.

Today, March 3rd …

In 1769, Capt James Cook was aboard the Endeavour, en route to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus. After spending some time in Tierra del Fuego, they rounded Cape Horn in late January and entered the Pacific ocean.

The botanist Joseph Banks was aboard, and on this day he took advantage of calm weather and went out in a small boat. He killed 69 birds, but made his dinner from the piscatorial equivalent of road-kill.

I found also this day a large Sepia cuttle fish laying on the water just dead but so pulld to peices by the birds that his Species could not be determind; only this I know that of him was made one of the best soups I ever eat.

Very few of his contemporaries back at home would have eaten such a thing. One person who had was the writer Tobias Smollett, who was in Nice, France in 1766. He mentioned “The sepie or cuttle-fish, of which the people in this Country make delicate Ragout”.

Cephalopods were not part of the English diet until very recently: there is certainly no mention of them amongst Mrs Beeton’s almost two thousand recipes. Perhaps they were too “foreign”. The ancient Romans ate them, and there are plenty of recipes for them in fourteenth and fifteenth century European cookbooks, but strangely they do not feature in the haute cuisine of nineteenth and early twentieth century European chefs such as Escoffier. Perhaps they were too “peasant”.

This delicious-sounding recipe from the Spanish "Libro de Guisados" (1529) shows the Arab influence of that time, and would have been far from peasant food.

Pottage of Squid and Cuttlefish
The squid and cuttlefish must be well washed and clean, and after gently frying them, but not entirely, and when they are almost half cooked, take them out of the frying-pan and put them into a pot; and then put with them blanched almonds and raisins and pine nuts; and then take a few toasted almonds and pound them and strain them with a little vinegar watered down with fish broth if you have it; if not cast in a litle water so that it will not be too strong; and when the raisins and the almonds have been slightly fried with the squid and cuttlefish, take them and finish frying them; then cut them into pieces and when this is done prepare dishes

On Monday: A fruit worth gathering.

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