Today, July 25th …
Today is the feast day of St James the Great, the patron saint of Spain. Luckily for us, there are a number of foods associated with him.
“Coquilles St Jacques” are the most obvious, and are named in recognition of his symbol of a cockle shell. The explanation for this piece of symbolism is by no means clear, but by extension, he is especially associated with oysters. In England it used to be forbidden to sell oysters until St James’ day, and it was said (or hoped) that whoever consumed oysters on the day would not go without money for the year. In other places there were other traditions - apples were blessed, mutton pies handed out by the village vicar, and in Grenoble, bread and red eggs were blessed and eaten.
Another old belief was that if you gathered chicory at noon or midnight of St James’ day, using a golden knife, and not speaking during the procedure, the chicory would gain the power to open sealed doors and boxes by merely being held against the lock. At a pinch therefore, you could (after opening any necessary locks) celebrate the day by having a nice chicory salad.
All of which is very interesting, but this week’s theme is “Duck and Dessert”, and there does not appear to be a single association of St James with ducks. Luckily, ‘The universal cook, and city and country housekeeper…. (F.Collingwood, 1797) gives a recipe for duck with oysters.
To boil Ducks the French Way. Another French Method.
Having larded your ducks, and half roasted them, take them off the spit, and put them into a large earthen pipkin, with half a pint of red wine, a pint of good gravy, some chestnuts roasted and peeled, half a pint of large oysters, the liquor strained and the beards taken off, two or three little onions minced small, a very little stripped thyme, mace, pepper, and a little ginger finely beaten, with the crust of a French roll grated. Cover it close, and let it stew half an hour over a slow fire. When they are enough, take them up, and pour the sauce over them.
And for dessert, this recipe from the same book may be stretching the “red eggs” tradition a bit, but it sounds delicious:
Having boiled a large beet-root till it is tender, beat it fine in a marble mortar. Put to it the yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and three spoonfuls of cream. Sweeten it to your taste, grate in half a nutmeg, and add a glass of brandy. Mix all well together, and fry them as before directed. Garnish with green sweetmeats, green sprigs of myrtle, or preserved apricots.
Tomorrow: For those of Moderate Income.
Quotation for the Day …
It is proven by experience that, above five or six dozen, oysters cease to be a pleasure. Grimod de la Reyniere; Almanach des Gourmandes.