Friday, April 28, 2006

A ravishing cake.

Today, April 28th …

On April 28th 1873 the Imperial Hotel in Vienna was officially inaugurated, which means that today is the birthday of the Imperial Torte, one of the most famous cakes in a city of famous cakes. It is a pleasant little story.

Emperor Franz Joseph I was to officially open the hotel, and knowing his love of sweet things, the pastrycooks of the city had spent the preceding day competing to produce the masterpiece that would catch his eye. One young apprentice also wanted to make something for his beloved Emperor, and sneaked down to the kitchen during the night. All of the usual round baking pans had been used, so he came up with the first square chocolate cake in Vienna: a multi-layered torte with five thin layers of almond paste, a “slight hint” of cocoa crème, and a milk-chocolate glaze. Naturally it was the one that the Emperor chose, and the rest, as they say, is culinary myth-tory.

Sadly, the recipe is a closely guarded secret, so you will have to go to Vienna to taste the real thing, but do not despair – there is an alternative cake with an alternative story.

Franz Joseph also loved the ladies, and like many royal males in history, had an actress for a mistress. Katharina Schratt had a villa close to his summer residence – rumour had it that they were connected by a secret passage – and she always made sure she had a special Gugelhopf made for him. Hence, the local euphemism for the Emperor’s visits to her became “he has just ravished another Steinkogler Gugelhupf!”.

Steinkogler Gugelhupf
150gm butter, 100 gm sugar, 6 egg yolks, 350gm flour, approx 250 ml milk, 30 gm yeast, 2 egg whites, pinch of salt, almond slivers
sugar to serve

Combine yeast, a small amount of warm milk, a pinch of sugar, and 1 tabs flour in a mixing bowl and keep warm. Then melt butter in a pan, and stir until foamy. Now mix in the sugar, egg yolks, flour, milk, pinch of salt, and the yeast mixture. Stir vigorously until the batter forms bubbles and no longer adheres to the sides. Beat the eggwhites until stiff and fold in. Grease a Gugelhupf mold with butter, dust with flour and sprinkle in the almond slivers. Put in the batter, cover and let rest in a warm location. Bake 1 hour at 170-180oC, sprinkle with sugar and serve

From ‘Imperial Austrian Cuisine”; Renate Wagner-Witttula.

On Monday: Spring rites and Workers rights.

Above and Beyond ...

For an 1870's recipe for "Kouglauffe" from an English cookbook, go to the Companion to the Old Foodie.

Quotation for the Day …

There is no sincerer love than the love of food. George Bernard Shaw.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Chicory and Flummery

Today, April 27th …

Anne Frank, the German-born Jewish girl who spent two years in hiding in Amserdam during World War II, sometimes wrote in her diary about the food in “the Secret Annexe”. Food was smuggled to them by loyal Dutch employees of her father, who were struggling to feed themselves and risked their lives by hiding and feeding their Jewish friends. The figures will never be certain, but of about 25,000 Jews who hid in Holland during the war, two thirds survived.

On this day in 1943, in the ninth month of their stay, Anne wrote:

… Our food is miserable, Dry bread and coffee substitute for breakfast. Dinner: spinach or lettuce for a fortnight on end. Potatoes twenty centimetres long and tasting sweet and rotten. Whoever wants to follow a slimming diet should stay in the ‘Secret Annexe’.

Twelve months later she commented again on this pattern of “food cycles”, when for days or weeks on end they had nothing but one particular food, often half-rotten, “according to the season”, but in spite of the miserable food she still felt herself to be privileged to be with her family, to have a place to hide and to have good Dutch friends.

We dont know exactly what the coffee substitute was that Anne drank, but it was probably the dried and roasted root of chicory (Cichorium intybus), the same plant whose leaves we call “Belgian endive” and use in salads. Holland had been a centre of production of chicory since the eighteenth century, and chicory was certainly exported from there to America in the late eighteenth century specifically as a coffee extender and substitute.

Meanwhile, the folk in England thought they had it tough. It is difficult to even guess how the following English wartime recipe got its name. What or where is the connection with the Netherlands? Any ideas?

Dutch Flummery.
½ pint lemon squash; ¾ pint water; ½ oz powdered gelatine; 2 reconstituted dried eggs or fresh eggs; 2 oz sugar.
Put the squash and ½ pint of water into a saucepan and heat. Soften the gelatine with 2 tablespoons of water. Heat the remaining water and pour onto the gelatine. Add the eggs and sugar to the lemon mixture and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the dissolved gelatine, pour into a wet mould and allow to set.

Tomorrow: A ravishing cake.

On this Topic ...

Coffee substitutes were also featured in "Just like the Real Thing on April 19th.

Quotation for the Day ...

In most households a cup of coffee is considered the one thing needful at the breakfast hour. But how often this exhilarating beverage, that "comforteth the brain and heateth and helpeth digestion" is made muddy and ill-flavoured! ... You may roast the berries "to the queen's taste," and grind them fresh every morning, and yet, if the golden liquid be not prepared in the most immaculate of coffee-pots, with each return of morning, a new disappointment awaits you. Janet McKenzie Hill; Practical Cooking And Serving (1902)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A right royal fish.

Today, April 26th …

Sometimes, the Good Old Days really were good. In the seventeenth century, Samuel Pepys regularly ate sturgeon, as on this day in 1662:

At Southampton we went to the Mayor's and there dined, and had sturgeon of their own catching the last week, which do not happen in twenty years, and it was well ordered. They brought us also some caveare, which I attempted to order, but all to no purpose, for they had neither given it salt enough, nor are the seedes of the roe broke, but are all in berryes.

Sturgeon were, like dolphin, porpoise and whale, “royal fish’ (Yes, I know, these are not fish, but they were considered so in Sam’s time), that is, they belonged to the king, or at least the local lord of the manor, and any found in the Thames above London Bridge belonged to the Lord Mayor. In other words, they were not for the riff-raff.

Usually Sam referred to sturgeon from a barrel – that is, salted or souced – not freshly caught. It had once been very plentiful in the Thames, but judging by Sam’s comments this source was already in decline by the mid-seventeenth century. Nevertheless, he was able to eat it very regularly, and recipes for it were very plentiful.

Sam was a bibliophile as well as a diarist, and one of the fifteenth century manuscripts in his library contained a recipe for sturgeon which was very simple:

Take and lay hym in Water over nyght seth hym and let hym kele and lay hym in vyneAger or yn Aysell* that sauce is kyndely ther to serue hit furth.

Robert May’s book “The accomplisht cook … ” (1660) had 32 recipes for sturgeon, including variations, – a lot, compared to say, Nigella and Jamie, and an indication of its popularity at the time.

To roast Sturgeon.
Take a rand** of fresh sturgeon, wipe it very dry, and cut it in pieces as big as a goose egg, season them with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, and stick each piece with two or three cloves, draw them with rosemary, and spit them thorow the skin, and put some bay leaves or sage leaves between every piece, baste them with butter, and being roasted, serve them on the gravy that droppeth from them, beaten butter, juyce of orange or vinegar, and grated nutmet; serve also with it venison sauce in saucers.

* aysell is cider vinegar
** a rand is a strip or a long slice of meat or fish, particularly sturgeon

Tomorrow: Chicory and Flummery.

Quotation for the Day ...

The fact is I simply adore fish,
But I don't know a perch from a pike;
And I can't tell a cray from a crawfish
They look and they taste so alike.
William Cole: And Be Merry

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Beanes means ventosyte.

Today, April 25th …

Andrew Boorde – English physician, failed Carthusian monk, writer of the first guide-book to Europe, and possible reluctant spy for Cromwell – died on this day in 1549 in prison. There are many uncertainties about his life: his date of birth (in 1490), the reason for his imprisonment (he may have kept “loose women” in his quarters), and how he died (he may have taken poison).

What is certain is that he left a rich legacy in his four books, one of which 'A Compendyous Regyment or a Dyetary of Helth', published about 1542 is a marvelous record of medical thought at the time. He describes the ideal positioning for a home, the importance of “pure and fresshe ayre” and good sanitation, and of course he has much to say on nutrition.

He stressed the importance of a balanced diet, exercise, a quiet life. Wine, he said, “must be fyne, fayre, and cleare to the eye, it must be fragrant and redolent”, but he had some reservations about beer: “nowe of late dayes it is moche used in Englande to the detriment of many Englyshemen” for it “doth make a man fatte, and doth inflate the bely”.

Boorde refers to the problem of windiness of the belly again when he talks about peas and beans, and we would not argue with that theory today – althouth the second property that he attributes to beans might surprise.

Of Peason and Beanes.
Peason the whiche be younge be nutrytyve, howe be it they doth replete a man with ventosyte. Beanes be not so moch to be prayesed as Peason, for they be full of ventosyte, although the skynes or huskes be ablated or caste away, yet they be a strong meate and doth provoke veneryous actes.

A cookbook contemporary with Boorde’s work - ‘A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye’ (1545) gave these recipes for beans:

To frye Beanes.
Take youre Beanes and boyle them and putte them into a fryinge panne with a dyssche of butter, and one or two onions, and so lette them frye tyll they be browne altogether, then caste a lyttle salte upon them, and then serve them forthe.

To make a tarte of beanes.
Take beanes and boyle them tender in fayre water, then take theym oute and breake them in a morter and strayne them with the yolckes of foure egges, curde made of mylke, then ceason it up with suger and halfe a dysche of butter and a lytle synamon ad bake it.

Tomorrow: A right royal fish.

Quotation for the Day ...

"Abstain from beans. There be sundry interpretations of this symbol. But Plutarch and Cicero think beans to be forbidden of Pythagoras, because they be windy and do engender impure humours and for that cause provoke bodily lust." Richard Taverner

Above and Beyond ...

Today in Australia it is Anzac Day, the anniversary of the landing on the Turkish peninsula at Gallipoli in 1915, and Australian readers were probably expecting a post on Anzac Biscuits. So as to not to disappoint or appear unpatriotic, my story "Hardtack to Anzacs" appears on The Companion to the Old Foodie site.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Lord Mayor's Easter.

The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of London gave the “accustomed Easter entertainment to a numerous and distinguished party at the Mansion House” on this day in 1848. Messrs. Ring and Brymer, caterers, provided the following Bill of Fare:

Turtle and iced punch, turbot, salmon, fried fish, cod’s head, turbons de filets de soles, carpe en matelot, anguille à la tomata, perches à la vass fiches, mackerel en matelot.

Sideboard – Petit patés, chickens, capons, turkey poults (larded), hams and tongues (ornamented), ribs of lamb, raised ornamental pies, lobster salads, prawns, Chantilly baskets, ornamented trifles; pine, strawberry noyeau, Rhenish and Italian creams; nougat with cream; Dantzic, noyeau, and maraschino jellies, Charlotte à la Russe, gateau à la duchesse, gateau de pomme, apple tarts, fanchonettes, boudin St. Clair; raspberry, apricot, and greengage tourtes; trifles, cabinet puddings, Nesselrode puddings, and creamed tarts.

Removes – Haunches of mutton, chines of mutton, sirloins of beef, quarters of lamb, ducklings, goslings, turkey poults, pea-fowls, Guinea-fowls, leverets.

Dessert – Pines, grapes, pears, apples, oranges, dried fruits, preserved ginger, brandy and cherries, Savoy cakes, almond cakes, mixed cakes, wafers.

Ices – Pine, millefruit, raspberry, lemon, ginger, cherry, &c.

Preserved ginger was a standard treat on the dessert table at Lord Mayor’s dinners. Here is a recipe from the 1845 edition of William Kitchiner’s “Cook’s Oracle”.

To Preserve Ginger.
Take green Ginger, pare it neatly with a sharp knife, throw it into a pan of cold water as it is pared, to keep it white; when you have sufficient, boil it till tender, changing the water three times; each time put it into cold water to take out the heat or spirit of the Ginger; when tender, throw it into cold water; for seven pounds of ginger, clarify eight pounds of Refined Sugar; when cold, drain the Ginger, and put it in an earthen pan, with enough of the Sugar, cold, to cover it, and let it stand two days, then pour the Syrup from the Ginger to the remainder of the Sugar; boil it some time, and when cold, pour it on the Ginger again and set it by three days at least. Then take the Syrup from the Ginger, boil it, and put it hot over the Ginger; proceed in this way till you find the Sugar has entered the Ginger, boiling the Syrup and skimming off the scum that rises each time, until the Syrup becames rich as well as the Ginger.

Obs. If you put the Syrup on hot at first, or if too rich ,the Ginger will shrink, and not take the Sugar.

Tomorrow: Beanes means ventosyte.

Quotation for the Day …

A banquet is probably the most fatiguing thing in the world except ditchdigging. It is the insanest of all recreations. The inventor of it overlooked no detail that could furnish weariness, distress, harassment, and acute and long-sustained misery of mind and body. Mark Twain in Eruption

Friday, April 21, 2006

An Admirable Receipt for Eggs.

Today, April 21st …

Vincent van Gogh went to Arles, in Provence, early in 1888. He moved into the ‘Yellow House’, painted his yellow sunflowers, invited Gauguin to stay, and continued his prolific correspondence with his beloved brother Theo in Paris.

On this day he wrote:

… But indeed, it will do you good to have breakfast. I do it here myself, and eat two eggs every morning. My stomach is very weak, but I hope to be able to get it right; it will take time and patience. In any case I am really much better already than in Paris. … Besides, one doesn't really seem to need a great deal of food here …

Vincent frequently spent his own money on art supplies rather than food. A few months later his fragile mental health deteriorated further, culminating in his ear-cutting incident in December.

How would Eliza Acton, our cookbook author of the week (1845) have cooked Vincent’s eggs?

(An admirable receipt.)
This mode of dressing eggs is not new, it seems, indeed, to have been known in years long past, but not to have received the attention which its excellence deserved. We saw it mentioned with much commendation in a most useful little periodical, called the Cottage Gardener, and had it tested immediately with various modifications and with entire success. After many trials, we give the following as the best, and most uniform in its results, of our numerous experiments. First, put some boiling water into a large basin – a slop basin for example – and let it remain for a few seconds, then turn it out, lay in the egg (or eggs), and roll it over, to take the chill off the shell, that it may not crack from the sudden application of heat; and pour in – and upon the egg – quite boiling water from the kettle, until it is completely immersed; put a plate over it instantly and let it remain, upon the table, for twelve minutes, when it will be found perfectly and beautifully cooked, entirely free from all flavour and appearance of rawness, and yet so lightly and delicately dressed as to suit even persons who cannot take eggs at all when boiled in the usual way.
Obs. – This is one of the receipts which we have reproduced here from our cookery for invalids, on account of its adaptation to the taste generally.

On Monday: The Lord Mayor’s Easter.

Quotation for the Day ...

Eggs are very much like small boys. If you overheat them or over beat them, they will turn on you and no amount of future love will right the wrong. Irena Chalmers.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Tale of Timbuktu.

Today, April 20th …

A Frenchman called Rene Caillie arrived in Timbuktu on this day in 1828, becoming the first European to do so and survive to tell the tale. The story has all the elements of an adventure movie in the Indiana Jones style. Caillie was an orphan child who decided that a life of adventuring was preferable to being apprenticed as a shoemaker. Lured by the fables of the “City of Gold” in the heart of Africa, learned the language, studied the customs, and set off posing as an Egyptian pilgrim. He was disappointed to find not gold, but “a mass of ill-looking houses, built of earth". Fearing discovery he stayed only two weeks, and returned to France a national hero, having beaten the English in the undeclared race to the city.

Caillie’s first meal in the city was “an excellent couscous with millet and mutton”, which he ate with his fingers. It is hard to imagine such a travel adventure not triggering a spate of cookbooks, but these were the days before food-travel writing. Pity.

Eliza Acton, whose recipes are the focus this week, had not yet published her cookbook (1845) when Caillie entered Timbuktu. When she did do so, she did not include millet or couscous recipes in her chapter on “Foreign and Jewish Cookery”, as her space for that chapter was limited because “we have so much enlared in the pages on the more important subject of ‘Bread’, and on other matters which relate to simple English domestic economy, that we find it necessary to depart from our original intention, and to confine our receipts here to a comparatively small number.”

Potatoes were the preferred English starch, and this is one of Eliza’s suggested ways to cook mutton.

A Baked Irish Stew.
Fill an brown upright Nottingham jar with alterate layers of mutton (or beef), sliced potatoes, and mild onions; and put in water and seasoning as above; cover the top closely with whole potatoes (pared), and send the stew to a moderate oven. The potatoes on the top should be well cooked and browned before the stew is served. We have not considered it necessary to try this receipt, which was given to us by some friends who keep an excellent table, and who recommended it much. It is, of course, suited only to a quite plain family dinner. The onions can be omitted when their flavour is not liked.

Tomorrow: An admirable receipt for eggs.

Above and Beyond ...

The original title for this post was “Timbuktu Tucker” – an absolutely obvious name for Australian readers. Then I realised that it might not be so obvious to those of you who are “overseas” (excluding Tasmanians, of course), so a brief explanation may be in order, with the disclaimer that while being a lover of words, I am not a linguist.

“Tucker” is a common Aussie slang word meaning food. The word ultimately derives from the verb “to tuck (in)”, as in to make a fold or to put out of sight. By the late eighteenth century it had developed its association with the consumption of food and drink, and by the mid-nineteenth century the noun “tuck” – British slang meaning food, had derived from the verb.
The mid nineteenth century was the time of the great Gold Rush to Australia, and the Australian slang word “tucker” seems to appear almost immediately and simultaneously both a verb and a noun.
So – a school canteen is a tuckshop, and the women who run it are “tuckshop ladies”, and “bush tucker” is wild food.
The truth is, however, that apart from in “the bush”, much of this slang is dying out with globalisation and immigration and multi-culturalism, no doubt being replaced with new words that to future generations will be slang.

Above and Beyond ...

The Eliza Acton recipes featured this week, plus a few more, are here.

Quotation for the Day:

He that travels in theory has no inconveniences; he has shade and sunshine at his disposal, and wherever he alights finds tables of plenty and looks of gaiety. These ideas are indulged till the day of departure arrives, the chaise is called, and the progress of happiness begins. A few miles teach him the fallacies of imagination. The road is dusty, the air is sultry, the horses are sluggish. He longs for the time of dinner that he may eat and rest. The inn is crowded, his orders are neglected, and nothing remains but that he devour in haste what the cook has spoiled, and drive on in quest of better entertainment. He finds at night a more commodious house, but the best is always worse than he expected. Samuel Johnson

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Just like the Real Thing.

Today, April 19th …

Frances Woolfolk Wallace kept a diary of her journey from their home in Kentucky to “Dixie Land” to visit her Confederate officer husband during the American Civil War. On this day in 1864 she wrote:

Left Dr. Boyd's for Meridian … How kind the doctor and his wife have been to us. We fared very well and missed nothing but coffee, they use cornmeal parched for coffee, and except for that they live very well. We will now, I fear, find rough fare.

Desperate times produce desperate solutions, and the variety of coffee substitutes suggested during the war was testament to human ingenuity and the creative impetus of caffeine withdrawal. There were vigorous debates in the correspondence columns of the papers about the virtues of parched cornmeal, rye, acorns, and wheat, or the seeds of okra, persimmon, garden peas, and cotton, or the roots of sweet potato, beets, dandelion and chicory, and even the grated crust of dry bread as substitutes or extenders for the real thing.

Sweet potato seemed to be a popular choice, no doubt for the simple reason of its availability. One correspondent to an Alabama newspaper wrote:

We have just the thing in the sweet potato. When properly prepared, I defy any one to detect the difference between it and a cup of pure Rio. Preparation--Peel your potatoes and slice them rather thin; dry them in the air or on a stove; then cut into pieces small enough to go into the coffee mill, then grind it. Two tablespoons full of ground coffee and three or four of ground potatoes will make eight or nine cups of coffee, clear, pure and well tasted.

Eliza Acton, whose recipes we are featuring during her birthday week, had been dead several years when Frances wrote her diary, but her book (1845) was as popular as ever. She gave an extravagant recipe for coffee which would have been beyond the wildest dreams of the Confederate soldiers – in spite of its very appropriate name.

In France vulgarly called Gloria.
Make some coffee as strong and clear as possible, sweeten it in the cup with white sugar almost to a syrup, then pour the brandy on the top gently over a spoon, set fire to it with a lighted paper, an when the spirit is in part consumed, blow out the flame, and drink the gloria quite hot.

Tomorrow: A Tale of Timbuktu.

Above and Beyond ...

Joe Pastry has some posts on Civil War food, so if you are keen to know more, go on over. He also has some great recent posts on working with chocolate, so if you dont know about tempering etc, go and find out!

The Eliza Acton recipes featured this week, plus a few more, are here.

Quotation for the Day ...

Give a frontiersman coffee and tobacco, and he will endure any privation, suffer any hardship, but let him be without these two necessaries of the woods, and he becomes irresolute and murmuring.
U.S. Army Lt. William Whiting in 1849

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Feast of Reason and a Flow of Soul.

Today, April 18th …

Members of the New York City Press Club held a dinner for Charles Dickens at Delmonico’s on this day in 1868. Male members of the club, that is. Female journalists were refused tickets, public banquets being for men only. The club did most generously offer the ladies eating behind a curtain, but it seems they were not impressed, and the event triggered the gradual development of women-only clubs.

The two hundred men sat down to a “Feast of Reason and a Flow of Soul”, and the following menu.



Consommé à la Sevigné, Crème d’asperges
Hors d’Oevres.
Les petites Tim-balles à la Dickens
Truites à laVictoria; Pass (?) à la Italienne.

Fillet de boeuf à la Lucullus; Agneau farci à la Walter Scott.

Filets de Brants à la Signora; Croustade de ris de veau à l’Anglaise; Cotelettes à la Fenimore Cooper; Galantine à la Royale; Aspics de foie gras histories.

A l’Americaine.

Becassines, poulets de graine truffes.

Tomates, petits pois, artichautes, laitues braisees.

Soupirs à la Mantilini, macedoine de fruits, Moscovates a l’Abricots, gelees au kumel, gateaux savarins et Viennois, glaces a l’orange, glaces variees.

Fruits et desert.
Temple de la literatture, Trophee a l’auteur, Stars and Stripes, Pavillon International, Armes britanniques, La loi du destin, Monument de Washington, Colonne Triumphale.
Recipes from Eliza Acton are this week’s theme, but it would be appropriate to include one of her recipes here in any case, because, although they do not appear to have met, she and Dickens were aware of each others work on social issues.

This is how she might have cooked the lettuce for him:

Strip off the outer leaves, and cut away the stalks; wash the lettuces with exceeding nicety, and throw them into water salted as for all green vegetables. When they are quite tender, which will be in from twenty to thirty minutes, according to their age, lift them out and press the water thoroughly from them; chop them a little, and heat them in a clean saucepan with a seasoning of pepper and salt, and a small slice of butter; then dredge in a little flour and stir them well; add next a small cup of broth or gravy, boil them quickly until they are tolerably dry, then stir in a little pale vinegar or lemon-juice, and serve them as hot as possible, with fried sippets round them.

Tomorrow: Just like the Real Thing.
Above and Beyond ...
A selection of Eliza'a recipes, including the first known recipe for Bakewell Pudding, are here.

Quotation for the Day ...
By reason of its soporigous quality, lettuce ever was, and still continues the principal foundation of the universal tribe of Sallets, which is to cool and refresh, besides its other properties ... including beneficial influences on morals, temperance, and chastity. John Evelyn, Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets (1699)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Celebrating Eliza.

Today, April 17th …

Eliza Acton was born on this day in 1799 in Sussex. She was a frustrated unsuccessful poet, but an instantly and enduringly successful cookbook writer – and the first one to list the ingredients separately from the method. Her “Modern Cookery for Private Families”, published in 1845, was intended for the home cook, and became an enormously popular book until it was ousted by Mrs Beetons “Household Manual” (which contains many recipes sourced from Mrs Acton). It remains a much finer book than Isabella’s.

The book is liberally sprinkled with pithy comments, firm opinions, and general “observations” on all topics: fish should be cleaned with “scrupulous nicety”, cream for a trifle should be heated in a “delicately clean” saucepan; cakes are “sweet poison”, and garlic should be boiled in several changes of water to reduce its “naturally pungent flavour and smell”.

Eliza also credits her recipe sources (often suggesting improvements), and is very clear on gender roles:

“ … a gentlewoman should always, for her own sake, be able to carve well and easily, the dishes that are place before her that she may be competent to do the honours of a table at any time with propriety and self-possession.”

“When partridges are served to ladies only, or in parties where they are present, it is now customary to take off the heads, to truss the legs short, and to make them appear (in poulterer’s phrase) all breast.” The partridges, of course should “hang as long as they can possibly be kept without becoming offensive”.

Now, you dont get advice like that from Nigella and Jamie, do you?

In the hey-day of British colonialism, she has a chapter on curries.

Mr. Arnott’s Currie-Powder.
Turmeric, 8 oz.*, coriander seed, 4 ox., cummin seed, 2 oz., fenugreek seed, 2 oz., cayenne, ½ oz. (more or less of this last to the taste.)
Let the seeds be of the finest quality. Dry them well, pound, and sift them separately through a lawn sieve, then weigh, and mix them in the above proportions. This is an exceedingly agreeable and aromatic powder, when all the ingredients are perfectly fresh and good, but the preparing is rather troublesome.

*We think it would be an improvement to diminish by two ounces the proportion of turmeric, and to increase that of the coriander seed, but we have not tried it.

Mr. Arnott’s currie recipe follows, with Eliza’s suggested improvements.

Tomorrow: A Feast of Reason and a Flow of Soul.

Over and Above ...

This week, in celebration of her birthday, TOF will feature Eliza's recipes.

Eliza Acton's book also contains the first known recipe for Bakewell Pudding. It is here, as are recipes for Mr Arnott's Currie, Bengal Currie, Garlic Ragout, and several others.

Quotation for the Day ...

Food is an implement of magic, and only the most coldhearted rationalist could squeeze the juices of life out of it and make it bland. In a true sense, a cookbook is the best source of psychological advice and the kitchen the first choice of room for a therapy of the world.
Thomas More, in 'The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.'

Friday, April 14, 2006

To make the mind glad.

Today, April 14th …

Well, we really need to get a whole cuisine, and a few centuries away from yesterday’s traumatic topic. Some readers have not yet found their appetites restored.

Luckily, today is St Lidwina’s day (which I am sure you know) and the plant dedicated to her is borage (Borago officinalis), a most versatile but underused herb, and one which will serve for today’s lesson – that there are a lot of Good Ideas in The Past waiting to be rediscovered and presented as Innovative Modern Recipes.

Firstly, its Food Porn attributes: it is prettily hirsute with bright blue flowers, and it smells like cucumbers, or like the freshness that the smell of cucumbers imparts.

Secondly, its medicinal reputation. To quote the historical authorities: Gerard (1597) says it will “exhilerate and make the mind glad”, Evelyn (1664) that it “revives the hypochrondriac and cheer the hard student”, Parkinson (1640) that it “expels pensiveness and melanchollie”, and Culpeper (1653) that it is useful in “putrid and pestilential fever”. As for modern authorities, there is some evidence that borage oil may benefit people with eczema: The Old Foodie will watch the journals.

Now the culinary aspects. The young leaves, tops and flowers can be used in salads, or the whole plant cooked as a pot-herb, steeped in wine, or made into a flavouring syrup. The flowers make wonderful honey (hence its nickname of ‘bee-bread’) and also used to be candied as a sweetmeat. How useful is that?

To demonstrate a Good Idea from The Past, here is a very interesting salad recipe from England’s oldest ‘cookbook’ – a manuscript called “The forme of cury, a roll of ancient English cookery, compiled, about A.D. 1390, by the master-cooks of King Richard II”

Take parsel, sawge, garlec, chibollas, onyons, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes [porette], fenel, and ton tressis [cresses], rew, rosemarye, purslarye [purslain], lave, and waishe hem clene; pike hem, pluk hem small with thyn honde, and myng [mix] hem well with raw oile. Lay on vynegar and salt, and serve it forth.

Or if you prefer a restorative broth (‘eowtes’ means a sort of pottage):

Eowtes of Flesh.
Take borage, cool [colewort], lang-debef [bugloss], persel [parsely], betes [beet-root] orage [orach] auance [avens], violet, sawray [savory] and fenkel [fennel], and when they buth [are] sodden, presse hem wel smale, cast hem in gode broth, and seethe hem, and serve hem forth.

On Monday: Celebrating Eliza.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dog for Dinner.

Today, April 13th …

The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-06), was the first U.S. overland expedition to the Pacific coast and back. On this day in 1806, the party was on the return trip, and Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal:

… the dog now constitutes a considerable part of our subsistence and with most of the party has become a favorite food; certain I am that it is a healthy strong diet, and from habit it has become by no means disagreeable to me, I prefer it to lean venison or Elk, and it is very far superior to the horse in any state.

The expedition party frequently bartered with Indian tribes along the route for dogs for food, but not all were as enthusiastic as Lewis. The rearing of dogs specifically for food, as has happened (and still happens) in various communities is a concept which causes outrage amongst animal rights advocates who are geographically and culturally elsewhere, and who unfortunately seem unable to keep ethnic slurs out of the debate.

Like it or not, for all sorts of reasons throughout history, man’s best friend has at times been man’s best food. One mans taboo or crime is another’s delicacy or medicine, and a taboo can be quickly neutralised by extreme hunger. The Polar explorer Robert Peary (1909) said “Many times I have thanked God for a bite of raw dog”, and who are we who have not experienced starvation in the frozen wastes to be judgmental?

Lewis and Clark did not have the wherewithal to cook their dog meat to a ‘recipe’, but here, for the curious, and with every disclaimer possible, is a recipe from Jerry Hopkins’ ‘Extreme Cuisine’.

Stir-Fried Dog with Coconut Milk.

1 lb haunch, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 small green chilies, seeded and sliced
4-6 mushrooms, sliced
1 cup coconut milk
5 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1 teaspoon cornflour (mixed with water to form a paste)
salt and pepper to taste
fresh mint leaves

Heat oil in wok or frying pan, then add meat, stir-frying until lightly browned. Add coconut milk and soy sauce and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add onion, chillies, mushrooms, and seasoning and continue to stir. When the mixture begins to bubble, stir in cornflour paste. Garnish with mint leaves. – Based on interviews with Chinese cooks, Bangkok and Guangzhou, 1998.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dinner in the Digester.

Today, April 12th …

On this day in 1682, a dinner was held at the Royal Society in London, and on this occasion the food was cooked in a new invention of the French physicist Denis Papin – a ‘steam digester’. Many of the intelligentsia of the day were present, including the diarist and horticulturalist John Evelyn, who recorded in his diary:

I went this afternoone with severall of the Royal Society to a supper which was all dress’d, both fish and flesh, in Monsieur Papin’s Digestors, by which the hardest bones of beefe itself, and mutton, were made as soft as cheese without water or other liquor, and with lesse than 8 ounces of coales, producing an incredible quantity of gravy; and for close of a jelley made of bones of beefe, the best for clearness and good relish, and the most delicious that I have ever seen or tasted. We eat pike and other fish bones, and all without impediment; but nothing exceeded the pigeons, which tasted just as if bak’d in a pie, all these being stewed in their own juice without any addition of water save what swam about in the Digester, as in bal neo; …. I sent a glass of jelley to my wife, to the reproach of all that the ladies ever made of the best hartshorn.

There are many recipes in 1682 edition of Wm. Rabisha’s ‘The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected’ which would have been appropriate to cook in the digester (or its modern child - your pressure cooker). Jelly-making was a very complicated and tricky business in the days before instant gelatine, and Rabisha does give a recipe for hartshorn jelly, but even with a modern pressure cooker it would be a rare and enthusiastic historic cook who would actually make it.

This recipe would be adaptable today:

To boyl a Leg of Veal and Beacon [sic].
Lard your leg of Veal with Bacon all over, and a little Lemmon-pill amongst it, then boyl it with a piece of middle Bacon; when your Bacon is boyled, cut it in slices, season it with Pepper and dryed Sage mixt together; dish up your Veal with the Bacon round about it; send up with it, saucers of Green-sauce, strow over it Parslee and Barberries.

Rabisha’s boiled pigeon, hartshorn jelly, and green-sauce would have been fitting, but would have overflowed the 400 words, so they are here, if you want them.

Tomorrow: Dog for Dinner.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Worts of all sorts.

Today, April 11th …

Joseph Banks, English gentleman and famous botanist, was aboard the Endeavour with Capt. James Cook on his first voyage of discovery – the voyage that observed the transit of Venus and mapped the east coast of Australia. On this day in 1769 he wrote:

I shall fill a little paper in describing the means which I have taken to prevent the scurvy in particular.
The ship was supplyd by the Admiralty with Sower crout which I eat of constantly till our salted Cabbage was opend which I preferd as a pleasant substitute. Wort was servd out almost constantly, of this I drank from a pint or more every evening but all this did not so intirely check the distemper … I then flew to the lemon Juice which had been put up for me according to Dr Hulmes method describd in his book …

Scurvy was the mysterious curse of long sea-voyages, and the eighteenth century was a period of intense experimentation to find a way to reduce the loss of valuable slave cargo as well as seamen.

Sauerkraut, salted cabbage, and preserved lemon juice make sense to us today – and certainly more than ‘elixir of vitriol’ and molasses which were other experiments of the time. But what is this thing called ‘wort’? The OED says it can mean ‘a pot-herb’, ‘any plant of the cabbage kind’, and ‘a potage’, but Banks was clearly referring to the fourth definition: ‘an infusion of malt’, which after fermentation becomes beer.

With ‘wort’ meaning cabbage, pot-herb, potage and unfermented beer, there would have been a clever symmetry in finding a recipe for cabbage soup with beer, especially if it came from Elizabeth Raffald’s “Experienced English Housekeeper”, which was published in 1769, the same year as Banks’ adventure. Alas, its only cabbage recipe is this one:

To boil Cabbage.
Cut off the outside leaves and cut it into quarters, pick it well and wash it clean; boil it in a large quantity of water with plenty of salt in it. When it is tender and a fine light green, lay it on a sieve to drain but dont squeeze it, if you do it will take off the flavour. Have ready some very rich melted butter, or chop it with cold butter.

Sounds good to me. Why is the idea of cabbage as cooked by English cooks some sort of international joke (see the quotation in the sidebar)?

Tomorrow: Dinner in the Digester.

See another diary entry from Joseph Banks for March 3rd. You'll have to scroll down, or use Crl+F - it was a long retrospective posting!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Dinner with the Duke, 1690

Today, Monday April 10th …

The Marquess d’Arci (“formerly the French King’s Ambassador at Turin”) invited the Duke of Chartres to an “entertainment” on this day in 1690. The cook was Francois Massialot - according to his own description “a cook who dares to qualify himself royal”. His very successful cookbook “The court and country cook … ”, first published in 1691 was translated into English and ran to many editions over the next few decades.

The menu was:

The First Course.

Two sorts of Potages, viz, A Bisk of Pigeons, and a Potage de Santé, with a young fat Hen.

The side-dishes.
A Quarter of Mutton farced.
A large fat Pullet in a Ragoo.
A Breast of Veal farced.
Pigeons with sweet Basil in their Bodies, together with small Farce; and a large Piece of Beef in the middle.

The Second Course.

For the Roast.
A great dish of Roast-meat, consisting of several Fowls, according to their Season, and two Sallets.

The Intermesses.
A Dish of Pain au Jambon.
Boil’d Cream
A Ragoo of Sweet-Breads of Veal and Capons-livers.
A Dish of Asparagus with Sauce of Jus lié, or thick Gravy.
And so there may be seven Dishes for each Course.

According to the conventions of the time, all of the dishes in each course would have been placed on the table simultaneously and with absolute symmetry. The meal would have finished with a ‘banquet’, which originally meant an array of sweetmeats, fruit and nuts, often served in another room or even a garden ‘banqueting house’.

As for the menu itself – how good does the pigeon dish sound? Here is Massialot’s recipe.

To dress Pigeons, with Sweet Basil.
Let your Pigeons be well scalded, and slit a little on the Back, to let in a small Farce, made of raw Bacon well minc’d, with Parsly, sweet Basil and Chibbol, all well season’d. The having stewed them in a Pot, with some Broth, an Onion stuck with Cloves, a little Verjuice and Salt, let them be roll’d in beaten Eggs, and at the same time wrapt up in Bread-crum, to the end that they be well breaded. Every one of the Pigeons being thus order’d a-part, they must be fried in hot Lard, till they come to a fine colour, and afterwards fried again all at once with Parsly; which is to garnish them when they are ready to be serv’d up among the Side-dishes.

Tomorrow: Worts of all sorts.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Mussels at Maxim's.

Today, April 7th …

In 1893 the famous Parisian restaurant ‘Maxim’s’ opened on this day. Or it might have been the 23rd. The confusion was discovered too late to change yesterday’s “Tomorrow is …” line, but luckily this day is also the anniversary in 1972 of the gangland killing of Mafia boss “Crazy Joe” Gallo at Umberto’s Clam House in Manhattan. Luckily for the Old Foodie that is, not for Crazy Joe, terminated in the middle of his 43rd birthday dinner of spaghetti with clams, because the bivalve theme is still OK.

One of Maxim’s specialties is “Billi Bi” soup – a cream soup of mussels with white wine, named for the tin magnate William B Leeds (affectionately know as – Billi B to his friends). The dish was not invented for him – mussel soup is popular in many regions of France, in particular in Brittany where it is often made with saffron. The name change is an example of currying favour with a wealthy patron by re-naming his favourite dish in his honour.

The French are masters of the art of making soup from the produce of the sea, and they should be, because they have been practicing for centuries. One of the earliest French cookbooks, “The Viander de Taillevent”, dates from the last few decades of the fourteenth century, although the recipes are much older. Taillevent rose from being a kitchen boy to the master cook of Charles V, and his manuscript has many recipes for fish and seafood. Here is a small sample.

Oyster ragout.
Scald them, wash them well, and fry them in oil. Take browned bread, puree of peas or some of the water in which the oysters were scalded (or other hot boiled water), and wine (mostly), and sieve. Take cassia, ginger, cloves, grains of paradise and saffron (for colouring), steeped in vinegar. Add onions fried in oil, and boil together. It should be very thick. Some do not boil the oysters.

Cook them in water with some vinegar and (if you wish) some mint. When setting them out, add some Spice Powder. Some wish butter with them. Eat them with vinegar, Green Verjuice Sauce, or Green Garlic Sauce. You can make some ragout from them if you wish.

Mussels with mint. Interesting!

In case it is Maxim’s anniversary, you could finish with a Tarte Tatin – sort of upside down caramelised apple tart - the restaurant’s dessert specialty.

On Monday: Dinner for the Duke, 1690.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Frozen for 30,000 years.

Today, April 6th …

There are many intriguing reports (read: myths, legends and anecdotes) of someone-somewhere eating something retrieved from deep inside a glacier, but vague reports do not culinary history make. There is one, and only one, well documented episode, and it took place on this day in 1984.

The location was Alaska, the diners were brave paleontologists (speaking from sunny sub-tropical Queensland, Australia, it seems self-evident that one would have to be brave to choose to be in Alaska), and the meat was bison meat from an individual nick-named “Blue Babe”. It had been frozen for 30,000 years.

Two fearless participants wrote about it.

R. Dale Guthrie wrote:

To climax and celebrate [taxidermist] Eirik Granqvist’s work with Blue Babe, we had a bison stew dinner for him and for Bjorn Kurten … A small part of the mummy’s neck was diced and simmered in a pot of stock and vegetables. We had Blue Babe for dinner. The meat was well aged but still a little tough, and it gave the stew a strong Pleistocene aroma, but nobody there would have dared miss it.

Bjorn Kurten wrote:

The meat in its abdomen had spoiled before the bison was completely frozen. But in the neck area small pieces of meat were found attached to the skull. The lions had left so little there that it had frozen through while the meat was still fresh. When it thawed it gave off an unmistakable beef aroma, not unpleasantly mixed with a faint smell of the earth in which it was found, with a touch of mushroom. About a dozen of us gathered .... on April 6, 1984, to partake of Bison priscus stew. The taste was delicious, and none of us suffered any ill effects from the meal.

Bison is of course, ‘buffalo’. If you should come across a well-aged piece of it while hiking in the frozen wastes, you could make some of that rugged outdoor person’s snack and standby – pemmican.

From ‘The Market Assistant, Containing a Brief Description of Every Article of Human Food Sold in the Public Markets of the Cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn’ (1867)

Pemmican … This is prepared by cutting the lean meat into thin slices, exposing it to the heat of the sun or fire, and, when dry, pounding it to a powder. It is then mixed with an equal weight of buffalo suet, and stuffed into bladders.

Tomorrow: Mussels at Maxim’s.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dr Livingstone's breakfast.

Today, April 5th …

In 1854 Dr David Livingstone, medical doctor and missionary, was on his great trans-African journey. He was ill with a fever when he reached the banks of the River Quango on 4th April, but was prevented from continuing by “petty tyrants” who controlled the crossing. A local militia man called Cypriano came to his aid, and they crossed into Portuguese territory later that day. The next morning Livingstone woke to a better breakfast than he had had for some time.

On the morning of the 5th Cypriano generously supplied my men with pumpkins and maize, and then invited me to breakfast, which consisted of ground-nuts and roasted maize, then boiled manioc roots and ground-nuts, with guavas and honey as a dessert. I felt sincerely grateful for this magnificent breakfast.

So there he was, Scot in Africa, the guest of a Portuguese man who fed him food originating from half a world away – assuming the ‘groundnut’ was the peanut. It could have been the Bambara or Hausa groundnuts which are African, but pumpkins, manioc (cassava), guavas and maize (which probably also made the ‘farina’) are from the Americas. Presumably the honey was local.

What was not on the menu was anything that we would now associate with Portugal, so it seems fair to give you a ‘Portuguese’ recipe, albeit one from an English cookbook. The Queen in Digby's time was Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II.

From: ‘The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt’ (1669)

Portugal Broth, as it was made for the Queen.
Make very good broth with some lean of Veal, Beef, and Mutton, and with a brawny Hen or young Cock. After it is scummed, put in an Onion quartered, (and, if you like it, a Clove of Garlick,) a little Parsley, a little balm; some Coriander-seeds bruised, and a very little Saffron; a little Salt, Pepper and a Clove. When all the substance is boiled out of the meat, and the broth very good, you may drink it so, or, pour a little of it upon tosted sliced-bread, and stew it, till the bread have drunk up all that broth, then add a little more, and stew; so adding by little and little, that the bread may imbibe it and swell; whereas if you drown it at once, the bread will not swell, and grow like gelly; and thus you will have a good pottage.

Tomorrow: Frozen for 30,000 years

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

First Class Tinned Apricots.

Today, April 4th …

If you had been aboard the Japanese cruise ship M.S “Santos Maru” of the Osaka Shosen Kaisha Line on this day in 1934, you would have been en route between Japan and the east coasts of South America and the United States. It was still the golden age of cruising, and you would have been travelling first class in one of the 38 suites, because that was its only accommodation. This would have been your lunch for the day:


Chutney Spanish Olives Pickles
Tomato & Rice Soup
Stew Rabbit & Pickle Pork
Petits Caisse a la Joinville
Oeuf’s a la Neige
Curry and Steamed Rice
Potatoes Boiled and Julienne
Roast Ribs of Beef Mortadela Sausage
Roast Pheasant Boiled Corned Ox-Tongue
Dressed Salad
Toast Pudding

FRUITS:- Tin apricots Bananas
CHEESE:- Holland Cremeri Gruyere
Luncheon Rolls Soda Biscuits Assorted Nuts
Tea:- Lipton Green & Coffee

You could stay home and still eat your way around the world with that menu! Apart from its confused ethnicity, the menu raises some interesting issues: Lipton tea is mentioned by brand name, the apricots were (proudly?) determined to be from a can, and what on earth is ‘Toast Pudding’?

Toast pudding sounds like a very Victorian English dish for a very Victorian English invalid, rather than a first-class passenger on a cruise ship, but a recipe could not be found in any of the standard English cookbooks. To the OF’s surprise, there is one in ‘The White House Cookbook’ (1887), by Mrs. F.L. Gillette! Perhaps an American reader can enlighten TOF further on the history of the pudding, and its relationship to the Presidential home?

Toast several thin slices of stale bread, removing the crust, butter them well, and pour over them hot stewed fruit in alternate layers. Serve warm with rich hot sauce.

As for the tinned apricots … TOF is unable to comment except to say there may be times and places when these are necessary, perhaps in extreme circumstances even desirable, but surely there are better ways to preserve apricots? Dried? In Brandy? Serve apples instead?

A recipe for sugared and dried apricots in ‘A Book of Fruits & Flowers; Shewing The Nature and Use of them …’ (1653), sounds great, but would push this story over the word limit, so you must email TOF if you want it.

Tomorrow: Dr Livingstone’s breakfast.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Surgeon's Biscuit.

Today, Monday April 3rd …

This day in 1764 was the birthday of the Scottish Dr John Abernethy, surgeon at St Bart’s in London, who either invented himself or had named for him the “Abernethy biscuit”. Dr John was apparently an indifferent surgeon but an excellent lecturer, and a dogmatic and curmudgeonly man who believed that most diseases were due to disordered digestion. It is said that an “indolent and luxurious” patient asked him what was a cure for gout, and the good doctor replied (tersely) “Live upon sixpence a day – and earn it”.

The Abernethy biscuit was an adaptation of the plain Captain’s biscuit, with sugar (presumably to make them more palatable), and caraway seeds, presumably because of their reputation for being beneficial in digestive disorders.

Nutrition in the form of biscuits is an old idea. A century before Dr Abernethy, Dr William Oliver of Bath ((1695-1764), invented his ‘Bath Olivers’ for a similar reason – as a diet aid for his wealthy and over-fed private patients. Sylvester Graham, the nineteenth century American failed-preacher cum nutrition guru, wanted his followers to avoid lustful thoughts, which he believed were associated with abnormal bowel function, hence his ‘Graham Crackers’ (along with abstinence, cold baths, and enemas).

‘Medical biscuits’ today include complete nutrition packages designed for areas of natural disaster, over-the-counter charcoal biscuits which “adsorb gaseous impurities in the digestive system” (which may be a very good thing for some people!) and ‘Health Bars’, which are more often than not very unhealthy high sugar snacks.

To make the genuine article: from ‘The Bread And Biscuit Baker's And Sugar-Boiler's Assistant’ (1890)

Abernethy Biscuits. (Dr. Abernethy's Original Recipe.)
1 quart of milk, 6 eggs, 8 ozs. of sugar, 1/2 oz. of caraway seeds, with flour sufficient to make the whole of the required consistency. They are generally weighed off at 2 ozs. each, moulded up, pinned and docked, and baked in a moderate oven.

Or for a more modest quantity: from ‘Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery’ (1870):

Rub one ounce of butter into one pound of the best flour, adding a dessert-spoonful of sugar and half an ounce of caraway seeds. Mix all together with two eggs, and , if necessary, a little milk. Roll the batter out, knead it into small round cakes, making holes with a fork to allow the steam to escape, and bake in a moderate oven. Time to bake, fifteen minutes. Probable cost, 6d., Sufficient for eight biscuits.

Tomorrow: First Class Tinned Apricots.

The picture of the Abernethy biscuit is courtesy of NICE CUP OF TEA AND A SIT DOWN - the website with the best-ever Mission Statement:
Well I think we should all sit down and have a nice cup of tea, and some biscuits, nice ones mind you. Oh and some cake would be nice as well. Lovely.