Thursday, August 31, 2006

To make a French cheese.

Today, August 31st …

Thank goodness we have a specific day to celebrate Camembert cheese! No, it is not the birthday of Marie Harel - the woman to whom its invention is perpetually attributed in spite of the fairly glaring fact of its existence for at least a century before she was born in 1761.

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1983 that Camembert de Normandie was granted the “Appellation d’Origine Controlle”. The AOC or “term of controlled origin” was superceded by the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) of Camembert in 1992, which means we can celebrate on that day too. Hell! We can’t have too many days to celebrate Camembert, so lets add in Marie’s birthday anyway (April 28th) – mere facts did not stop a statue being erected in her honour in Vimoutiers (which is also the wrong town anyway, isn’t it? Why is it not in the village of Camembert? Reasons of opportunism and entrepreneurship I’ll bet).

There is one other mildly problematic thing about Camembert - how to determine when it is perfectly ripe for eating? One assumes the French champagne maker, M. Taittinger would know, and his advice is:

“You put your left index finger on your eye and your right index finger on the cheese … if they sort of feel the same, the cheese is ready.”

Which means that the painter Salvador Dali must have been eating over-ripe Camembert if, as he said, the melting watches in his famous painting “Persistence of Memory” were inspired by a meal of the cheese.

We need a few comforting, certain facts to balance these anxieties, do we not? I can tell you that each 250 gm round of Camembert is made from 2.3 litres of unpasteurised milk from Normandy cows, is ripened by the moulds Penicillium candida and Penicillium camemberti for at least three weeks, then packed in paper and thin plywood boxes before being shipped off to afficionados around the world.

The other incontrovertible fact about Camembert cheese is its firm place in the hearts, minds, stomachs and culture of the French. What other nation would make a cheese such as Camembert part of its ration for its troops, as the French did in the first world war? Not the English, whose troops were decidedly not given Stilton or Wensleydale or any other wonderful cheese, and who certainly at one time in history had a strange idea of what could be included under the heading of “French cheese” ……

Today’s recipe …

Ann Shackleford’s ‘The modern art of cookery improved: or, elegant, cheap, and easy methods, of preparing most of the dishes now in vogue; ... ’ (c. 1767) has a recipe for “cheese” following one for trifle, which turns out to be very appropriate as the “cheese” is actually a custardy dessert.

To make a French Cheese.
Take a gallon of new milk, beat up eight eggs (leaving out four white) strain them into the milk, with a large stick of cinnamon, and the juice of two lemons; sweeten it to your taste, and mix all well together, set it over a clear fire, keeping it stirring till it is ready to boil, then take out the cinnamon; lay a coarse cloth over a pan, and pour it on the cloth; (about four hours will drain the whey from it) press the cheese tight into moulds, of what shape you please; when it is settled, turn it into a china dish and pour this cream over it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The end of a species.

Quotation for the Day …

The camembert with its venison scent defeats the Marolles and Limbourg dull smells; It spreads its exhalation, smothering the other scents under its surprising breath abundance. Emile Zola.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

An excellent parrot soup.

Today, August 30th …

Ernest Giles said of himself “ … though I shall not attempt to rank myself amongst the first or greatest, yet I think I have reason to call myself, the last of the Australian explorers.” He was certainly one of the most determined. Between 1872 and 1875 he led five expeditions into the central and western interiorof the continent, without receiving any official support or reward.

On this day in 1873, on his second expedition, it was the birthday of one of his companions, one William Tietkens. Naturally, the campsite for the night was named “Tietkens’ Birthday Creek”, and luckily a birthday dinner was caught.

“On reaching the camp, Gibson and Jimmy had shot some parrots and other birds, which must have flown down the barrels of their guns, otherwise they never could have hit them, and we had an excellent supper of parrot soup.”

Parrot soup is rarely pronounced “excellent”, except sometimes in situations of extreme explorer-hunger. In fact, documented evidence of parrot-for-dinner in any form is uncommon. Like parrot pie, parrot soup seems to have an existence more mythical than real, and what “recipes” do appear for it are usually in joke form. The Standard Aussie Outback Recipe for Parrot Soup is something along the lines of “place parrot in water with an old boot (or an axe-handle). When the boot (or axe-handle) is tender, throw away the parrot and eat the boot (or axe-handle)”.

Why is parrot-for-dinner uncommon? Are parrots hard to catch (or were Giles’ men terrible hunters)? Are the Angami tribe of Nagaland onto something in disallowing their children from eating parrot flesh for fear that they may develop the birds’ noisy chattery habits? Are parrots really tougher than old boots? Or do they simply taste awful? Have they never been attributed with aphrodisiac qualities?

A parrot-smuggling racket discovered on the India-Nepal border on 2005 was attributed to the demand from Chinese gourmets - suggesting some inherent culinary desirability (or was it the demand of feather fashionistas?). There will always be a proportion of consumers for whom desirability as a food is related to scarcity rather than palatability – a factor, no doubt, in the apparent popularity of flamingo tongues for certain Roman emperors.

Today’s Recipes …

There is a recipe for parrot in the ancient Roman collection attributed to Apicius (who is mysterious in his own right) – but the parrot seems an afterthought, an alternative to the perhaps more desirable flamingo.

For Flamingo.
Scald the flamingo [then remove feathers], wash and dress it, put it in a pot, add water, salt, dill, and a little vinegar, to be parboiled. Finish cooking with a bunch of leeks and coriander, and add some reduced must to give it color. In the mortar crush pepper, cumin, coriander, laser root, mint, rue, moisten with vinegar, add dates and the fond of the braised bird, thicken [strain] cover the bird with the sauce and serve. Parrot is prepared in the same manner.

[Slightly adapted from the Vehling translation of Apicius: “Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome.]

If flamingo and parrot are unavailable, or not to your taste, you can still enjoy the parrot theme with a thoroughly modern cocktail:

Yellow Parrot.

1 oz. Brandy (or Apricot Brandy)
1 oz. Pernod
1 oz. Yellow Chartreuse

Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, shake and strain into a chilled martini glass..

Tomorrow’s Story …

To make a French cheese.

Quotation for the Day …

Hunger makes you restless. you dream about food -- not just any food, but perfect food, the best food, magical meals, famous and awe-inspiring, the one piece of meat, the exact taste of buttery corn, tomatoes so ripe they split and sweeten the air, beans so crisp they snap between the teeth, gravy like mother's milk singing to your bloodstream. Dorothy Allison.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Authentic Chop Suey.

Today, August 29th …

A very important Chinese-American event happened in New York on this day in 1896. Contrary to popular myth however, this was not the invention of ‘Chop-Suey’.

What is Chop-Suey anyway?

According to the OED, the phrase is derived from the Cantonese shap sui, meaning “mixed bits”, and was first recorded in print in 1888 with the definition “A staple dish for the Chinese gourmand is chow chop svey [sic], a mixture of chickens' livers and gizzards, fungi, bamboo buds, pigs' tripe, and bean sprouts stewed with spices”. By 1904 the first clarification of the ethnicity of the dish came in another newspaper: “One of the Chinese merchants of New York … explained that chop suey is really an American dish, not known in China, but believed by Americans to be the one great national dish of the Celestials.”

Between these two dates is our Chinese-American event. On this day the Viceroy of China, Li Hung Chang ("the man … who, the Chinese say, is the real Emperor of China") was entertained at a dinner at the Waldorf. The main purpose of his visit to the USA was to win support for China’s conflict with Japan, but there was almost as much interest in the Viceroy’s strange eating habits. Not only was he skilful with chopsticks (!), his own cooks prepared his food – even at the Waldorf.

"For the first time in the history of the Waldorf, Chinese chefs have prepared Chinese dishes in Chinese pots, pans, and skillets. And the dishes they have cooked have created more curiosity and consternation than the presence of the great Viceroy himself.”

Other Chinese might tempt fate by consuming strange viands placed before them, but Earl Li, who has escaped safely from the plague, famine, rebellion, and the bullet of a Japanese assassin, would not risk such an experiment.”

The dish called 'Chop Suey' was most certainly not created on the day for the local dignitaries, who were as unwilling as their guest to tempt fate by consuming strange viands, but instead were served a menu that was elegant but simple:

Consommé de Volaille en gelée
Filets de kingfish à la Tourneville. Salade de concombres
Ris de Veau à la Daubigny. Pois Français.
Grouse du Printemps, rôti. Salade Romaine.
Omelette soufflé aux Fraises.
Fromages. Café

Chop-suey rapidly lost its ‘strange viand’ status, and within less than two decades recipes for it appeared in American cookbooks, and it was certainly on menus of the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco in 1919.

Recipe for the Day …

The ‘Chinese-Japanese Cook Book’ (c1914) had several recipes for chop-suey.

Duck Chop Suey.
Three or three and one half pound duck; one tablespoonful of duck fat; one and one quarter tablespoonfuls of soyu; dash of cayenne pepper; two teaspoonfuls of salt; one cup of dried mushrooms; one bunch of celery; one half cup of small white onions; one dozen lotus seeds; one can of bamboo shoots; two pounds of bean sprouts.

Carefully wash the duck and remove the bones, then wipe dry and pound the meat until tender. Then chop up about a tablespoonful of duck fat, and fry. Remove all lumps of fat, leaving only the clear oil, and put in the duck meat, cut in small pieces. Fry to a golden brown. Add one and one half tablespoonfuls of soyu, a dash of cayenne pepper, and half a tablespoonful of salt. Cover, and let simmer for twenty minutes while preparing the following: Wash and soak for ten minutes one cup of dried mushrooms, pulling off all stalks and cutting small; cut up a bunch of celery small, and add a cupful of small white onions. Slice a dozen lotus seeds very thin, and half a can of bamboo shoots. Put all in with the duck and fry ten minutes; then add two pounds of bean sprouts and cook five minutes longer. Serve with rice.

Tomorrow’s Story …

An Excellent Parrot Soup.

Quotation for the Day …

We (the Chinese) eat food for its texture, the elastic or crisp effect it has on our teeth, as well as for fragrance, flavor and color. Lin Yutang

Monday, August 28, 2006

Blue means safe to eat.

Today, August 28th …

Narcissa Whitman was one of the first white women to travel the Oregon Trail and cross the Rocky Mountains. She and her new husband Marcus Whitman were missionaries wishing to spread the gospel to the Indians of the Pacific northwest. They set off the day after their wedding in February 1836, and in the journal she kept along the way she recorded all sorts of observations and reflections of life on the trail.

On this day in 1836 she wrote:

“We nooned upon Grande Ronde river … The camas grows here in abundance, and it is the principal resort of the Cayuses and many other tribes, to obtain it, as they are very fond of it. It resembles an onion in shape and color, when cooked is very sweet and tastes like a fig. Their manner of cooking them is very curious: They dig a hole in the ground, throw in a heap of stones, heat them to a red heat, cover them with green grass, upon which they put the camas, and cover the whole with earth. When taken out it is black. This is the chief food of many tribes during winter.”

The camas root (Camassia quamash), also known as indigo squill, meadow hyacinth, quamash, was a staple food of the Indians of the American northwest. What Narcissa did not mention, although she surely knew, was that the bulbs were only dug while the plant was flowering to avoid inadvertently harvesting the similar “Death Camas” (Zigadenus elegans) which has white or greenish white flowers. The two plants often grow literally side by side, so a further precaution was that the flowering stem remained attached until the root was completely uncovered.

The bulb is very versatile – it can be eaten raw, although was more usually cooked as Narcissa described; the cooked bulb can be pounded down to a starchy powder useful for thickening or adding to flour in baking; finally, it can be boiled down and a molasses-like syrup extracted and used for sweetening. A most useful plant, but not surprisingly for a Wild Food, there does not appear to be any recipes for it in early American cookbooks. Never fear, we do have a recipe (or is that two?) inspired by the story.

Recipe for the Day …

Narcissa described the taste of the roasted root as being like figs, although it is more often said to be similar to chestnuts. The starchy texture of the root would certainly be closer to that of chestnuts than figs, and perhaps allow it to be substituted for them in a recipe. It is unlikely that Narcissa took any cookbooks with her, but she would surely have enjoyed a copy of nineteenth century America’s most popular cookbook – Miss Eliza Leslie’s “Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches”, published in 1837, long after Narcissa was on her way. Perhaps the camas could have been used instead of “yams” (meaning sweet potatoes in this context) or chestnuts, in this recipe from the book?

Take one pound of roasted yam, and rub it through a cullender. Mix with it half a pound of white sugar, a pint of cream or half a pound of butter, a tea-spoonful of powdered cinnamon, a grated nutmeg, and a wine glass of rose water, and one of wine. Set it away to get cold. Then beat six eggs very light. Stir them into the mixture. Put it into a buttered dish and bake it half an hour. Grate sugar over it when cold.

May be made in the above manner.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Authentic Chop Suey.

Quotation for the Day …

Red meat is not bad for you. Now blue-green meat, that’s bad for you! Tommy Smothers

Friday, August 25, 2006

How to Roast a Swan.

Today, August 25th …

Today in 1845 was the birthday of “Mad King Ludwig II” of Bavaria – officially, that is. In actual fact he had been born an hour earlier, in the dying moments of yesterday, but attendants at the birth – and his own mother – conspired to keep the real time a secret. The reason was that his grandfather, Ludwig I, had a wish that his new grandchild would share his own birthda. The decision to conspire in this deceit should give some indication of the state of the royal family dynamics at the time.

Was Ludwig mad? Or bad? Or sad? Surely he was sad? – and perhaps made mad by the circumstances of his life. Might he have been an architect had he not been royal? The the fanciful fairytale castles that he instigated are huge tourist drawcards today. Or perhaps he might have been a musician, for he was passionately fond of music and was a long-time patron of Richard Wagner. Instead he was forced to be king, a king tortured by his own homosexuality – and one who was increasingly unlikely to be able to fulfil his primary kingly duty and provide an heir.

His day to day behaviour was not bad - embarrassing to his family and officials, yes, but embarrassing is not the same as wicked. Much of his embarrassing behaviour centred round his dining habits. He ate at odd hours, at whim, often with imaginary guests and sometimes with his actual horse at the dining table. He loved riding, and often set off on imaginary journeys (around the riding pavilion), dismounting at his imaginary location where waiting staff spread a picnic meal on the ground.

He was very interested in food itself, although apparently his dental problems meant that food had to be soft, and naturally his tastes were very German. One recorded meal was:

Sweetbread soup
Gooseliver on toast
Fried Carp with Parmesan sauce
Roast veal stuffed with kidney, anchovy, and sour cream
Roebuck stewed in Cider
Semolina dumplings
Nut cake with rum and chocolate sauce
Sugar-iced biscuits
Beer and champagne.

Perhaps he might have been a cook or restaurateur, in another life?

Ludwig’s torture and the State’s embarrassment ended when he and his physician both “accidentally” drowned in a lake on June 13th 1886, three days after he was officially declared insane by a chief psychiatrist who had not examined him.

Today’s Recipe ..

Ludwig was also known as “The Swan King” for his great love of “The Monarch of the Lake”, and swan motifs are everywhere in his castles. We can be fairly sure he would never have eaten his favourite bird, but earlier rich and royal folk certainly did. It was not enjoyed for its taste – which is said to be like “fishy mutton”, but because it was prestigious (certainly in England, all swans have officiallly belonged to the monarch since the twelfth century) and because it could be made into a spectacular centrepiece at the banquet. To do this of course required that the cooked swan be re-dressed in its plumage before being presented at table. In case you need to know how to do this, here is a recipe from the late fourteenth century “Le Menagier de Paris”.

SWAN. Pluck like a chicken or goose, scald, or boil; spit, skewer in four places, and roast with all its feet and beak, and leave the head unplucked; and eat with yellow pepper.

Item, if you wish, it may be gilded.

Item, when you kill it, you should split its head down to the shoulders.

Item, sometimes they are skinned and reclothed.

RECLOTHED SWAN in its skin with all the feathers. Take it and split it between the shoulders, and cut it along the stomach: then take off the skin from the neck cut at the shoulders, holding the body by the feet; then put it on the spit, and skewer it and gild it. And when it is cooked, it must be reclothed in its skin, and let the neck be nice and straight or flat; and let it be eaten with yellow pepper.

Monday’s Story …

Blue means safe to eat.

Quotation for the Day …

Dining out is a vice, a dissipation of spirit punished by remorse. We eat, drink, and talk a little too much, abuse all our friends, belch out our literary preferences and are egged on by accomplices in the audience to acts of mental exhibitionism. Such evenings cannot fail to diminish those who take part in them. They end on Monkey Hill. Cyril Connolly (1903-1974), The Unquiet Grave (1945)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

St Bartholomew's Day.

Today, August 24th ...

St Bartholomew’s day is a joyous day for foodies, with something, somewhere, for everyone. Bartholomew was supposedly martyred by being flayed alive – which would be an uncomfortable and un-PC association with food to be sure, but it has made him the patron saint of butchers (and tanners). The more interesting food traditions of the day however come via two institutions associated with him – St Bart’s Hospital in London, and the ancient St Bartholomew’s Fair.

St Bart’s Hospital In Sandwich, Kent was funded with the spoils of the final defeat in 1217 of the French by the Cinque Ports (of which Sandwich is one). An annual memorial of the event is still held, and at one time the children present received a “dole” of bread, cheese, and beer. Later this was replaced by a leg race around the chapel for the reward of a currant bun, the adults being given a souvenir “St Bart’s biscuit” – a sort of wafer imprinted with the hospital seal.

As for the fair, it was a tradition in Smithfield (which is also the home of The Worshipful Company of Butchers) from 1133 to 1855. Roast beef and roast pig were the main meaty delights on offer, washed down with copious amounts of ale no doubt, but for the sweet toothed and the littlies, apples dipped in honey – the forerunners of our toffee-apples – appeared for the first time.

Honey appears again – in its alcoholic form – in Gulval, Cornwall, where on this day there is the Blessing of the Mead ceremony. The association with St B is perhaps simply a seasonal one, as it is (or was) with the ancient Printer’s day holiday on this day, which marked the shortening of the days and the need to light candles to work by. The printers received a compensatory payment which was traditionally spent on roast goose (not the candles?).

Fear not, if you do not like beef, pork, goose, apples, currant buns, biscuits or honey. St Bartholomew is, for some reason baffling to myself, the patron saint of Florentine cheese makers, so you could, if you are cheese-inclined on this day, have some good Pecorino to celebrate.

Today’s Recipe …

The beef served on this day is traditionally called Bartlemas Beef (Bartlemas = St Bartholomew’s Mass), and the wonderful Hannah Wolley gives the following recipe in her “Cook’s Guide” (1664). She uses “rare” in its sense of “Unusual in respect of some good quality; of uncommon excellence or merit; remarkably good or fine”, and presumably from the instructions, she means us to use salted (“corned”) beef.

To make rare Bartlemas beef.
Take a fat Brisket piece of beef and bone it, put it into so much water as will cover it, shifting it three times a day for three dayes together, then put it into as much white wine and vinegar as will cover it,and when it hath lyen twenty-four hours take it out and drye it in a cloth, then take nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mace, of each a like quantity, beaten small and mingled with a good handful of salt, strew both sides of the Beef with this, and roul it up as you do Brawn, tye it as close as you can; then put it into an earthen pot, and cover it with some paste; set it in the Oven with household bread, and when it is cold, eat it with mustard and sugar.

Tomorrow’s Story …

How to Roast a Swan.

Quotation for the Day …

When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting. Saint Jerome

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Soyer in Scutari.

Today, August 23rd …

The Crimean War had been underway for nearly 12 months when the French-born, English resident chef Alexis Soyer volunteered to travel to the front lines at his own expense, to assist with feeding the British military. Soyer was an enormously resourceful man – a flamboyant, perfectionist, obsessional workaholic - not just an inspired cook, but a cookbook author and prolific inventor of kitchen equipment.

He need never have stepped out of his highly esteemed position in the well-appointed kitchens of wealthy English aristocrats, but for his highly developed social conscience. When he heard of the suffering in Ireland during the potato famine, he travelled there and set up soup kitchens – developing his “famine soup” recipe and portable cooking equipment to do the job. Later, his correspondence with Florence Nightingale made him realise that his skill in feeding large numbers of people with not much in the way of supplies would be of value in the Crimea, where conditions were unspeakably awful, and getting worse.

When he arrived in Scutari in March 1855, the English troops were a malnourished, ill-clad, verminous lot, suffering from scurvy and cholera. The soldiers daily ration at the time – in theory - was 1 lb army biscuit, 1 lb meat, and a few sundry other items. In practice there were supply problems, no efficient catering system (each soldier fending for himself) and no fuel to cook with (and it was wet and cold).

Soyer’s efforts changed British Army catering for ever. He immediately organised kitchens, arranged supplies of dried vegetables, and developed recipes using Army rations which he then printed and sent out into the field. His biggest contribution however was the mobile field oven, which was formally launched on this day in 1855.

The basic design was still in use by the British Army almost a century later during the Gulf War – an amazing legacy of which Soyer would have been proud. Sadly, he died a few years later in 1858, at the age of 48 – his health apparently damaged by his voluntary war service.

Today’s Recipes …

Soyer kept up a correspondence with the Times newspaper while he was at Scutari, and his letters included examples of the recipes he developed: here is a sample:

(Receipt No. 1)
Put into a canteen saucepan about 2lb of well soaked beef, cut in eight pieces; ½lb of salt pork, divided in two, and also soaked; ½lb of rice, or six tablespoonsful; ½lb of onions, or four middle-sized ones, peeled and sliced; 2oz of brown sugar, or one large tablespoonful; ¼oz of pepper, and five pints of water; simmer gently for three hours, remove the fat from the top and serve. The first time I made the above was in Sir John Campbell’s soup kitchen, situated on the top of his rocky cavern, facing Sebastopol, near Cathcart’s-hill, and among the distinguished pupils I had upon the occasion were Colonel Wyndham, Sir John Campbell, and Dr Hall, Inspector-General of the Army in the Crimea, and other officers. This dish was much approved at dinner, and is enough for six people, and if the receipt be closely followed you cannot fail to have an excellent food. The London salt meat will only require a four hours soaking, having been only lightly pickled.

(Receipt No. 7)
Put into a basin 1lb of flour, ¾lb of raisins (stoned, if time be allowed), ¾lb of the fat of salt pork (well washed, cut into small dies, or chopped), two tablespoonsful of sugar or treacle; add a half pint of water; mix all together; put into a cloth tied tightly; boil for four hours, and serve. If time will not admit, boil only two hours, though four are preferable. How to spoil the above:- Add anything to it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

St. Bartholomew’s Day.

Quotation for the Day …

The same intelligence is required to marshal an army in battle and to order a good dinner. The first must be as formidable as possible, the second as pleasant as possible, to the participants. Plutarch (c. 46- 127)

Monday, August 21, 2006

The "Pot au Feu" of Scotland.

Today, August 22nd …

To the eternal gratitude of all lovers of language, the witticisms, aphorisms, pearls of wisdom and irresistibly quotable quotes that flowed from the lips of the famous Dr Samuel Johnson were reverently recorded by his young biographer James Boswell. In 1773 they travelled together to Boswell’s home country of Scotland – a country which Johnson viewed as barbaric, in spite of never having visited there. One can sense the Young Man’s nervous anticipation of The Great Man’s reaction to things Scottish, and then the bosom-swelling pride as one of His prejudices falls – or is swept – away.

On this day in 1773, Boswell wrote:

At dinner, Dr. Johnson ate several plate-fulls of Scotch broth, with barley and peas in it, and seemed very fond of the dish. I said “You never ate it before.” – Johnson “No, sir; but I don’t care how soon I eat it again.

A Eulogy to Scotch Broth being required here, I can do no better than hand over to that mischievous pseudonymous Mistress Margaret Dods, in her “Cook and Housewife’s Manual” (1856). She makes the following Observations about the dish:

“This is the comfortable Pot au Feu of Scotland, which still furnishes the Manse and the Farmhouse dinner, and the “Pot-luck” of homely and hearty old-world hospitality. The pieces of fresh beef best adapted for barley-broth are the shin, the brisket, the flank and the veiny piece, - of mutton, the neck, the ribs, and the knuckle. In some part of the “Land of Kail”, broth made of fresh beef would scarcely be tolerated, - the meat not at all; and unquestionably the brisket or flank when salted for a week makes excellent broth, while the meat eats better. Many, however, prefer fresh meat.”

She goes on to quote herself on the topic of Scotch Broth as cooked by unqualified persons:

“Mistress DODS, with her usual sagacity, stated with great plausibility of reasoning that one capital defect of barley-broth cooked by Englishers and other unqualified persons, is produced nine times out of ten by the bad quality of the pot-barley often used in England. Nor does pearl-barley give the same consistence as pot-barley. Rice, with mutton, veal, or fowl broth is an excellent substitute for barley. Where it equally cheap it would be better liked than the principal. Both are of course best when quite fresh.”

Today’s recipe …

Rather than give Mistress Dods’ recipe for Scotch Barley-Broth, it seems like a good opportunity today to look at soups in Scotland’s first printed recipe book, “Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work” (1736). Strangely, Mrs. McLintock does not give a recipe for Scotch Broth – but perhaps she figured that no genuine Scots cook needed one. Her recipe for Onion Soup sounds interesting – should it be called Onions With Broth?

To make an Onion Soup.
Take a neck and Hough of Beef, a Nuckle of Veal, boil all the Substance out of the Meat, put in with them 3 or 4 Onions stuck with Cloves and a little black Pepper, Jamaica Pepper; when they are all well boiled, strain the Liquor thro’ a Callender, then take two Dozen of large Onionis, boil them in a little of the Broth; when they are well enough, pour off the Liquor they were boiled in, put the Onions into a Plate, and pour the Soup on them.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Soyer in Scutari.

Quotation for the Day …

In taking soup, it is necessary to avoid lifting too much in the spoon, or filling the mouth so full as almost to stop the breath. St. John the Baptist de la Salle, 1651 - 1719, in The Rules of Christain Manners and Civility.

Exploring (with) Goats.

Today, August 21st …

In July 1846 the young Australian explorer John Horrocks set off with five companions, a number of badly behaved goats and a single ill-tempered camel, to explore the northern part of South Australia. On this day in 1846 the worst-behaved goat was punished by execution, and thereby provided dinner for the party.

Apart from their occasionally tricky behaviour, goats are enormously useful to humans: small enough to be manageable, able to live off the most unpromising land, and producing good milk as well as meat. They are in many ways the ideal animal for survival situations, so much so that once upon a time, ships’ masters would leave them on deserted islands, knowing they would be fruitful and multiply, providing sustenance for shipwrecked sailors – as they did for the “real” Robinson Crusoe”. They were brought to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788, and it would be an understatement to say that they thrived, as the feral descendants of those early goat-settlers now number somewhere between 2 and 3 million, and represent a huge environmental threat.

As for “Harry” the camel, from an auspicious beginning as the first of many camels imported as pack animals to serve the expanding settlements, exploratory expeditions, and railroad construction industries, he met an untimely end by causing the same in his master. Harry was said to be an irritable animal, which perhaps is bad publicity perpetrated by the witnesses for he surely did not deliberately jostle his master on that fateful day just as Horrocks was loading his gun to shoot at a bird. The discharge from the gun shot away part of Horrocks’ right hand and face, and he died 23 days later. Harry, for his sins, was also executed.

Many more camels were imported to Australia over the second half of the nineteenth century, and half to one million of their descendants now form the only significant population of wild camels in the world. As with goats, they compete with pastoral and native animals for fodder, and are a significant environmental problem. There are culling operations in force in many states, but strangely for this home-grown protein, the meat is exported, which is why you never see camel stew on the menu of your favourite Australian restaurant.

Today’s Recipe …

The very first Australian cookbook – Edward Abbott’s “English and Australian Cookery Book: Cooking for the Many as well as the Upper Ten Thousand” (1864) was a resounding failure, as we have discussed previously. Not all of his recipes were as outlandish as “Slippery Bob”, and he has no recipe for camel meat, but this one fits our theme today:

Roast Kid.
This is very good eating. It is in great request on the Continent of Europe. Put a quarter down to roast, and let it be well browned; serve with gravy, slices of bacon, and some veal stuffing balls. It is more tender than lamb.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Pot au Feu of Scotland.

Quotation for the Day …

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch? .
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 1980

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee.

Today, August 18th …

The prolific French writer Honore de Balzac died on this day in 1850 at the ripe young age of 51 years, the cause, it is said, being caffeine poisoning from the enormous quantities of coffee he consumed.

Depending on the source of the information, Balzac’s fifteen-hour writing days and prodigious output were enabled by 20 to 40 cups of coffee a day, and it is clear from his famous essay “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee” that he was intimately acquainted with addiction and withdrawal. He describes in it a “horrible, rather brutal method” of eating the coffee grounds themselves when the drink is no longer sufficiently stimulating.

“ … sparks shoot all the way up to the brain. From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination's orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink - for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.”

The sketchy details of his health and death do suggest he had heart failure, and if the legendary tales of his gluttonous eating are true, a cardiac death would hardly be surprising. One often-quoted (but impossible to substantiate) story is that he once sat down to a meal of one hundred Ostend oysters, twelve lamb cutlets, one duckling with turnips, two roast partridges, and two plates of Sole à la Normande – followed by fruit and accompanied by “copious quantities” of wine, liqueurs, and of course coffee.

Balzac himself would surely have scorned the use of coffee as anything other than a straightforward stimulant, but it was starting to be used in sweet dishes, as in the following elegantly striped coffee and almond gelatine dessert from the book of his contemporary, Baron Brisse (1868).

Today’s Recipe …

It is known that the good Baron never actually cooked himself, and this is obvious from the recipe, for he would have realised that this striped coffee and almond gelatine dessert would never freeze, and he would have stressed that one layer would have to be allowed to set before the next one was carefully poured on top.

Coffee Blancmange.
Toast a quarter of a pound of coffee-berries, grind, and put them in a tumblerful of boiling water, leave until the grounds have settled at the bottom of the tumbler, pour the clear coffee into a bowl, and add half a pound of sugar and half an ounce of dissolved gelatine. Pound one pound of sweet almonds in a mortar, add three tumblersful of water, and squeeze the whole through a cloth; pour half of this liquid onto the coffee, and stir the other half into half a pound of sugar and a quarter of an ounce of gelatine, which have been dissolved in a tumblerful of warm water. Place a mould in a pailful of ice and pour in alternate layers of coffee and milk of almonds as they freeze.

More Coffee Recipes …

There is a goodly number of historic recipes using coffee as an ingredient in the Coffee Recipe Archive, should you be interested.

On Monday …

Exploring (with) Goats.

Quotation for the Day …

Never drink black coffee at lunch; it will keep you awake in the afternoon. Jilly Cooper, 1970, How to Survive from Nine to Five

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fun with Potatoes.


The problem with many early recipes (16th – mid 18th centuries) is being sure what is meant by “potato” as often sweet potato was intended, and the earliest known written recipe for “Earth Apples” (German, 1581) is now thought to refer to a type of squash.

The following recipe seems to clearly mean Solanum tuberosum, and is an interesting cook-in-a jar method.

To make a Potatoe Herrico.
Scrape the skin clean off four pounds of good raw potatoes, then wash them clean; take two pounds of beef, one of mutton, and one of pork; or, as you like best, four pounds of any of these meats; cut them into pieces of three or four pounds each, season them very well with pepper and salt, and a good onion chopped very small; have ready a strong wide mouthed jar such as hares are usually jugged in; slice a thin layer of the potatoes into the jar, then a layer of the seasoned meat over them, and so alternately layers of potatoes and meat; let your uppermost layer be potatoes, so that your jar be about three quarters full, but put no water into your jar; then close or stop the mouth of it with a large well-fitted cork, covering the same with a strong piece of canvas, and tying it down with pack thread, so as only a little of the steam may escape in stewing; for a little should constantly evaporate from the sides of the cork to save the jar from bursting. Then place your jar up right in a kettle of cold water on the fire, so as the mouth of the jar may be always two inches above the water in the kettle, when boiling. The herrico in the jar will begin to boil some minutes sooner than the water in the kettle, and that for obvious reasons. In about an hour after the water in the kettle begins to boil, your herrico will be fully stewed. Then take out and open the jar, pour out the herrico into a deep dish, and serve it up.
[Taylor, E, “The lady’s, housewife’s, and cookmaid’s assistant: or, the art of cooker, explained and adapted to the meanest capacity … ”; 1778]


If you don’t have a jar to cook your spuds in, you could try cooking them in a paper-bag, as promoted by Nicolas Soyer, the grandson of Alexis Soyer, and author of “Paper Bag Cookery” (1911).

Here is how:

New Potatoes.
Peel, halve and put sufficient in a paper-bag for three persons with three tablespoonsfuls of cold water. Add one leaf of mint and a little salt. Seal up bag. Place gently on the broiler. Allow 30 to 35 minutes in hot oven. All potatoes should be cut in two.

Baked Potatoes.
Thoroughly wash twelve good sized potatoes. Make a few small slits in them but do not peel. Place in a paper-bag with one tablespoonful of water. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, according to size.

Potatoes Chateau.
Peel and blanch two dozen small potatoes and drain well, Put htem in a bag and add two ounces of butter. Seal up and bake in a very hot oven for 35 minutes. Place on a very hot dish, season to taste, and serve.

Potatoes Paysanne.
Cut half-a-dozen good-sized peeled potatoes into large dice; parboil for a minute or so. Place in a paper-bag and add a chopped onion, four ounces of ham finely diced, and two ounces of butter. Seal up and bake for 30 minutes.

Potatoes Mâitre d’Hotel.
Cut up six cold boiled potatoes, place in a well buttered bag, add half a glass of milk, salt and pepper, an ounce of butter, a little chopped parsley, and grated nutmeg. Cook for 15 minutes.


You don’t have to buy a Potato-Man kit to have fun with potatoes, some recipes sound like fun just on account of their names.

Surprise Potatoes.
Wash some large potatoes, but do not peel them; cut a small piece off the top and scoop out the centre; fill with sausage meat; replace the lid and bake in rather a hot oven from one to one and a half hours; a slice should also be cut from the bottom part of the potatoes, that they may stand flat on the dish.
[From: “The Day by Day Cookery Book”; Mrs A.N. Whybrow; 1900]

Potatoes for Pilgrims.
(a Trappist recipe).
Boil six or eight potatoes, and cut them in slices. Make a little frying batter, and dip in it half a dozen onions thinly sliced; fry these in hot fat, and when they are browned, put the potatoes into the pan with them. Pour over them as much milk as will barely cover them. Sprinkle powdered sugar upon them, let them stew gently a short time, and serve very hot. Time to stew, five or six minutes. Probable cost, 8d. Sufficient for four or five persons.

Frying batter.
To four ounces of flour add a gill of lukewarm water, a pinch of salt, and two-tablespoonfuls of salad oil. Let the mixture stand awhile, and, before using, dash in the whites of two eggs whisked till firm.
[Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery; 1870’s]

Potato Snow
The Potatoes must be free from spots, and the whitest you can pick out; put them on in cold water; when they begin to crack, strain the water from them, and put them into a clean stew-pan by the side of the fire until they are quite dry, and fall to pieces; rub them through a wire sieve on the dish they are to be sent up in, and do not disturb them afterwards.
[Kitchiner; Cook’s Oracle; 1845]

Shoo-fly Potatoes.
There is a machine which comes for the purpose of cutting shoo-fly potatoes; it costs two dollars and a half. The potatoes are cut into long strips like macaroni, excepting that the sides are square instead of round. They are thrown into boiling lard, sprinkled with salt as soon as done, and served as a vegetable alone, or as a garnish around meat. (1878)
[Story of July 4th 2006]


Potatoes are the most versatile of vegetables, suitable for your guests whichever stratum of society they represent.

For the Working Class, from Francatelli’s “A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes”( 1861)

Potato Pie.
Slice up four onions and boil them in a saucepan with two ounces of butter, a quart of water, and pepper and salt, for five minutes; then add four pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut in slices; stew the whole until the potates are done, and pour them into a pie-dish; cover this with stiff mashed potatoes, and bake the pie of a light colour.

For the Middle Class, from the “Middle Class Cookery Book”, The Manchester School of Domestic Economy and Cookery, 1903

Potato Salad.
2 large cooked Potatoes; ½ Teaspoonful Salt; ¼ Teaspoonful Black Pepper; 2 Pickled Gherkins; 2 Tablespoonfuls Oil; 1 Tablespoonful Vinegar.
Cut the potatoes into slices about half an inch thick, or rather less; divide these into dice; divide the gherkins lengthwise; cut into pieces; mix with the potatoes in a salad bowl, Mix the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper well together; pour over the potatoes.

For the High Class guest, a recipe from “High Class Cookery Recipes”; The National Training School for Cookery, Mrs. Charles Clarke; 1893

Pommes de Terre à l’Anna.
Two pounds of Potatoes; two ounces of grated Cheese; one and a half ounces of Butter; Salt and pepper; one teaspoonful of chopped Parsley.
Butter a plated dish, peel the potatoes and cut them into rather thin slices. Lay these slices in close even rows on the dish, and sprinkle over them the cheese, salt, pepper, and parsley; put a piece of butter here and there on the top, and bake in a moderate oven for an hour and a quarter.


Potato and Pop Corn Balls.
Mix two cupsful of hot mashed potatoes, one teaspoonful of chopped onion, one tablespoonful of chopped parsley, two tablespoonfuls of butter, salt and pepper to taste, then shape them into small balls, open the center and put in some popped corn – Nelson’s makes the crisp and flaky grains – place on a buttered dish and cook in a moderate oven a quarter of an hour, sprinkle ground popped corn over them before removing from the oven, and serve alone or with tomato sauce.

Nelson’s Pop Corn Recipes,1916.


Potato recipes that appear in other stories are:

Preserving Potatoes (1894)
Potatoes à la Maitre d’Hôtel. (1861)
Erdtapfel (Earth apples) (1581) [some historians now consider that this actually refers to a type of squash, not potato]
Shoo-fly Potatoes (1878)
Potato Pasty (1861)
Potato Cakes (1917)
To Dress Potatoes (1782)
Potatoes à la Parisienne. (From Larousse)
Potato Omelette. [1852]
Potato Sandwiches. [1857]

Parmentier and Potatoes.

Today, August 17th …

If you haven’t yet met a potato you don’t like, today is a day to celebrate. It was the birthday in 1737 of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the French agriculturalist and apothecary who did more to popularise the potato in Europe than any other single individual in its history.

Parmentier joined the army in 1757, and spent several years as a prisoner of war in Germany. The mainstay of the prison diet was potatoes, and one would think that one would never want to see a potato again after that experience, but it made Parmentier realise the nutritional value of a crop at that time seen as only fit for pigs – and prisoners.

After his return to France in 1763, Parmentier had to work hard to promote the potato in the face of opposition from scientists (who said it caused leprosy), the clerics (that it provoked lust, and anyway was a Protestant vegetable), and the gourmands (it was tasteless, indelicate, and flatulent). Some poor wheat harvests helped his campaign, but in the end he succeeded with methods well-known today – making it appear covetable, and arranging celebrity endorsement. The first he achieved by having some trial plantings in the garden of the Palace of the Tuileries appear valuable by having them guarded heavily - by day only, thus ensuring the theft of plants at night. The second he did by managing to persuade Marie Antoinette to wear a posy of potato flowers in her bosom, and by hosting grand dinners with the likes of Benjamin Franklin in attendance, at which all courses from soup to liqueur were based on potatoes.

In addition to his agricultural work, Parmentier - perhaps in remembrance of his own childhood as an orphan - had a highly developed social conscience for the time. Louis XVI supposedly said “France will thank you some day for having found bread (ie potatoes) for the poor”, and Parmentier actually did open up soup kitchens to feed the poor of Paris. It is fitting then that the dish most associated with him is potato soup, of which, of course, there are many variations.

Today’s recipe …

Here is a very rich and regal version, from Queen Victoria’s chef, Francatelli.

Potato Soup à la Crème.
Cleanse, peel, wash, and slice up, about twenty large-sized good potatoes. Put them into a stewpan with one large onion, and one head of celery – also sliced up; add four ounces of fresh butter, a little pepper, salt, and grated nutmeg; set them to simmer on a slow fire, stirring them occasionally until they are nearly dissolved into a kind of purée. The add to them three pints of good white consommé, and having allowed the potatoes to boil gently by the side of a moderate fire for half an hour, pass them through the tammy, and having removed the purée into a soup-pot, add, if requisite, a little more consommé, and set the purée on the fire to boil gently by the side of the stove, in order to clarify it in the usual manner required for other purées of vegetables. Just before sending to table, add a pint of boiling cream, a pat of fresh butter, and a little pounded sugar. Serve the fried crusts with this soup. (The Modern Cook; 1860)

A Birthday Gift …

As a special gift on Parmentier’s birthday, I give you the recipe which explains the image at the top of today’s post. The recipe is repeated in a number of Victorian cookbooks, and is an example of the Victorian love of kitchen and table gadgetry. This version is from Mrs. Beeton (1861)

Potato Pasty.
INGREDIENTS: 1 ½ lb of rump-steak or mutton cutlets, pepper and salt to taste, 1/3 pint of weak broth or gravy, 1 oz. of butter, mashed potatoes.
Mode: Place the meat, cut in small pieces, at the bottom of the pan; season it with pepper and salt, add the gravy and butter broken into small pieces. Put on the perforated plate, with its valve-pipe screwed on, and fill up the whole space to the top of the tube with nicely-mashed potatoes mixed with a little milk, and finish the surface of them in any ornamental manner. If carefully baked, the potatoes will be covered with a delicate brown crust, retaining all the savoury steam rising from the meat. Send it to table as it comes from the oven, with a napkin folded around it. Time. – 40 to 60 minutes. Average cost, 2s. Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons. Seasonable at any time.

Even Further Above and Beyond ..

If you still have not had enough in the way of historic potato recipes, you can go to the Companion story "Fun with Potatoes".

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee.

Quotation for the Day …

I appreciate the potato only as a protection against famine; except for that I know of nothing more eminently tasteless. Brillat Savarin.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Paraguay Tea.

Today, August 16th …

In December 1833 Charles Darwin set off aboard the Beagle, on a scientific expedition whose main purpose was to survey the southern coasts of the South American continent. On this day in 1834 he was in Chile, at the top of Bell Mountain, with a beautiful view of the vessels at anchor in Valparaiso bay twenty six miles away. He wrote in his journal:

" … When it was dark, we made a fire beneath a little arbour of bamboos, fried our charqui (or dried slips of beef), took our mate and were quite comfortable. There is an inexpressible charm in thus living in the open air. "

The beverage he was referring to was Yerba Mate or Paraguay Tea, the national drink of Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, a tea – or more properly a tisane – made from the leaves of a small tree (llex paraguariensis) of the holly family. It is also called Missionary Tea or Jesuit Tea, because although it had been used from ancient times by the indigenous people of the area, it was the Jesuit missionaries of the sixteenth century and beyond who encouraged its cultivation as they found “… it restrained the desire of the Indians for spirituous drinks, while its cultivation, collection and preparation gave employment to converted Indians and brought wealth to the order”. Yet another name for this drink is St Bartholomew’s Tea, although I am completely unable to give an explanation for this, and would be most grateful if any readers can enlighten me.

Mate is becoming increasingly popular outside of its country of origin on the basis of its supposed health benefits, with the main promotional virtue being that it is lower in caffeine than tea or coffee – which is a “chose the least poisonous” sort of health recommendation if you ask me. There are just as many conflicting claims for the benefits of drinking mate as there were in the early 18th century, when one visitor wrote “Many things are reported concerning the virtue of this powder or herb; for, they say, if you cannot sleep it will compose you to it; if you are lethargick, it drives away sleep; if you are hungry it satisfies; if your meat does not digest, it causes an appetite.” If there are indeed health benefits, I suspect these have to do with its social role, as a drink of friendship and ritual, for this is a most important part of mate-drinking.

Today’s Recipes …

The method of preparation of mate is essentially the same as with any herbal infusion, although traditionally it is made in a container called a bombilla, and drunk through a special straw.

There do not seem to be any recipes using mate in other dishes, although “proper” tea (Camellia sinensis), particularly green tea, does occasionally appear as an ingredient. Julibean gives an intriguing steamed cake recipe on her blog.

The earliest recipes are for “Tea Cream”, which
was a fashionable dish in the eighteenth century, and is a short step from cream to ice-cream, as these recipes show:

Tea Cream.
Boil a quarter of an ounce of fine hyson tea with half a pint of milk, then strain out the leaves, and put to the milk half a pint of cream and two spoonfuls of rennet. Set it over some hot embers in the dish in which you intend to send it to table, and cover it with a tin plate. When it be thick, it will be enough. You may garnish it with sweetmeats. [Farley, London Art of Cookery; 1800]

Tea Cream Ices.
Make tea very strong in a tea-pot, have your cream ready mixt with the proper quantity of sugar and yolks of eggs, pass your cream through a sieve, pass likewise your tea over it, mix the whole well with a spoon, when that is done put in the sabotiere and make it congeal according to the usual method. [Borella; The Court and Country Confectioner; 1770]

Correction ...

I am grateful to Bridget of Pint Sized Cookery for pointing out my error: I quote from her comment: "Actually, the bombilla is the straw used. The container is called a mate, while the herb is often just called the yerba. Although both the container and herb can be called mate."
Thanks Bridget.

Tomorrow's Story …

Parmentier and Potatoes.

Quotation for the Day …

On Tea: “The Infusion of a China plant sweetened with the pith of an Indian Cane.” Joseph Addison (b. 1672)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

There is reason in roasting eggs.

Today, August 15th …

Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell dined at Boswell’s home on this night in 1773, a few days before setting off on their tour of the Hebrides. They had Scottish veal for dinner – although this is incidental to the main topic today, which is eggs, and eggy proverbs.

Boswell added a footnote to his journal entry of the day, relating one of Johnson’s anecdotes:

“ … My definition of man is, ‘a Cooking Animal’. The beasts have memory, judgment and all the faculties and passions of our mind, in a certain degree; but no beast is a cook. The trick of the monkey using the cat’s paw to roast a chestnut is only a piece of shrewd malice in that turpissima bestia, which humbles us so sadly by its similarity to us. Man alone can dress a good dish; and every man whatever is more or less a cook, in seasoning what he himself eats. ‘Your definition is good,’ said Mr Burke, ‘and I now see the full force of the common proverb. “There is REASON in roasting of eggs”.’

The proverb noted by the Whig politician Edmund Burke means that there is a rationale for the most apparently trivial thing - in this case, the cooking of eggs a particular way (if cooking pots are absent and eggs cannot be boiled, then they must be roasted directly on the fire) and this can be achieved by man, but not apes, proving man to be the superior animal.

Considering that at some stage the method had achieved significance enough to warrant its inclusion in a proverb, there is a dearth of actual recipes or even references to this thing called a roasted egg, other than in Boy Scout manuals (no cooking implements needed) or on Jewish tables as one of the highly symbolic traditional foods at the Seder ritual. Nor are there any recipes for a real dish that might underlie that other outdated eggy saying: “I have eggs on the spit”. This means “I am busy and cannot be distracted” – referring to the supposed method of cooking eggs on a spit after they had been hard-boiled, and the yolks removed and spiced-up before being put back into the whites – a job which surely must have needed close attention. The few apparently ancient recipes for these are actually for “mock” eggs which were really meatballs.

Be reassured, a dearth of recipes does not mean a complete absence of recipe inspiration (nearly as good as REASON perhaps?).

Today’s Recipes …

Firstly, from : “The Young Housewife’s Counsellor and Friend: Containing Directions in Every Department of Housekeeping, including the Duties of Wife an Mother.” By Mrs. Mary Mason, published by the Protestant Episcopal Church Book Society, New York. 1875.

A recipe shorter than the book title:

To Roast Eggs.
Make a puncture in the large end of the egg, then pour water over it, and cover it in hot ashes in front of the fire, from whence you may easily take it when done.

Secondly, a modern recipe for campers:

Eggs Supreme.
This is a good way of cooking eggs on a spit. With a knife point pick a tiny hole in each end of egg. Push a thin green wood skewer through holes. Place on forks over coals. Cook 10 minutes.

Tomorrow's Story ...

Paraguay Tea.

Quotation for the Day ...

I did toy with the idea of doing a cook-book.... The recipes were to be the routine ones: how to make dry toast, instant coffee, hearts of lettuce and brownies. But as an added attraction, at no extra charge, my idea was to put a fried egg on the cover. I think a lot of people who hate literature but love fried eggs would buy it if the price was right. Groucho Marx.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Welsh Rabbit, Chapter II.

"Welsh rabbit" has captured the interest of readers of this blog. I thank you for your interest, and give you two more variations. I leave it to you to ponder upon the issue of ethnic slurring in the names of these dishes.

From “The Boston Cooking School Cookbook”, by Fanny Farmer Merritt, 1918:

English Monkey.
1 cup stale bread crumbs; 1/2 cup soft mild cheese, cut in small pieces; 1 cup milk; 1 tablespoon butter; 1 egg; 1/2 teaspoon salt; Few grains cayenne
Soak bread crumbs fifteen minutes in milk. Melt butter, add cheese, and when cheese has melted, add soaked crumbs, egg slightly beaten, and seasonings. Cook three minutes, and pour over toasted crackers which have been spread sparingly with butter.

From Mrs Beeton’s "Household Manual", 1861:

Scotch Woodcock.
INGREDIENTS: A few slices of hot buttered toast; allow 1 anchovy to each slice. For the sauce, - ¼ pint of cream, the yolks of 3 eggs.
Mode. - Separate the yolks from the whites of the eggs; beat the former, stir to them the cream, and bring the sauce to the boiling point, but do not allow it to boil, or it will curdle. Have ready some hot buttered toast, spread with anchovies pounded to a paste; pour a little of the hot sauce on the top, and serve very hot and very quickly.
Time. – 5 minutes to make the sauce hot.
Sufficient. – Allow ½ slice to each person.
Seasonable at any time.

Italian Cake Day.

Today, August 14th …

On this day in the year 1230 in Lavagna, Italy, Count Opizzo Fieschi married Bianca dei Bianchi, a Siennese noblewoman. No doubt the marriage was based on the sound political principles of the time, and had the main aim of uniting two powerful territories, but it seems that there was genuine joy too, for the Count ordered a giant cake to be made and distributed to the local people. In 1949, the people of Lavagna started an annual tradition of honouring this occasion by holding a mediaeval festival with the usual music, merriment and mock-battles – and of course a giant cake. Pairs of numbered tickets are sold on "Fieschi's Cake Day", and the game of the day is to find the other person in the crowd with the same number, the reward being a piece of the cake.

Sadly, there are no details of the original cake, but I like to think that the Count honoured his bride by choosing one in the tradition of her home in Siena – in other words, what we would now call panforte. Panforte was already a well established specialty of the area in the thirteenth century, and records show that tenants of the Monastery of Montecellesi were required to pay a tithe of “panpepati e mielati" (pepper and honey bread) in 1205. “Panforte” means hard bread, but it was also called pan pepato or pepper bread (“pepper” being interpreted broadly to mean spice), and pan melato (honey bread).

There do not seem to be any surviving medieval recipes for panforte, but as evidence of the enduring universal appeal of the idea of a candy-cake, I give this Victorian English cookbook version which is spiceless, fruity, and has a meringue-type candy frosting.

Italian Sweetmeat.
Dissolve a pound and a quarter of loaf sugar in half a pint of water. Boil it for fifteen minutes, adding when clear half a wine-glassful of orange-flower water. Take out a quarter of a pint of the syrup to cool. Hold over the boiling sugar a small funnel and drop the stirred yolks (not beaten) of sixteen eggs gradually through, so as to fall in balls; thee when set must be taken out and drained. Bland and pound to a paste twelve ounces of sweet and one ounce of bitter almonds, stir it into the boiling sugar, with two tablespoon-fulls of brandy, simmer till the whole thickens, and rub through a sieve. Shred finely a quarter of a pound of pineapple, half the quantity of angelica, and six ounces of mixed candied peel; put these in layers with the almond paste and egg balls into a buttered pie-dish, and pour over the top the whites of five eggs, beaten to a froth with the cold clarified sugar. Bake in a brisk oven, and turn out carefully. This sweetmeat is better eaten cold. Time to make, an hour. Probable cost, 4s. (Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, c. 1870's).

Tomorrow: There is reason in roasting eggs.

Quotation for the Day …

Honey comes out of the air … At early dawn the leaves of trees are found bedewed with honey. … Whether this is the perspiration of the sky or a sort of saliva of the stars, or the moisture of the air purging itself, nevertheless it brings with it the great pleasure of its heavenly nature. It is always of the best quality when it is stored in the best flowers. Pliny (A.D. 23-79) 'Natural History'

[The Image of the beehive is from the Gode Cookery site.]

Friday, August 11, 2006

Recipe Archive Updated!

There are now over 300 historic recipes in the archive. Recipes are listed by type and century; some are also listed by cookbook or author. The archive can be found on the Companion Site HERE.

Welsh Rabbit.

Today, August 11th …

If you had been aboard the Red Star Line vessel “SS Zeeland”, somewhere between Antwerp and New York on this fine late summer day in 1907, what would you have chosen from the luncheon menu?
Smoked Salmon Soused Mackerel
Ox Mouth Salad Spring Onions Sliced Tomatoes
Fresh Salmon, Mayonnaise
Potage Lyonnaise Olla Podrida
Fresh Mushrooms on Toast
Ribs of Beef
String Beans
English Mutton Chops
Onions in Cream
Broiled Spring Chicken and Bacon
Spaghetti Neapolitan
Baked & Boiled Potatoes
To Order (15 Minutes): Steaks, Welsh Rarebit
Roast Beef Mutton Ham Veal Chicken Brawn
Ox & Lamb Tongue Corned, Smoked & Spiced Beef
German & Bologna Sausage Leberwurst

Vermicelli Pudding Devonshire Dumpling, Hard Sauce
Vanilla Ice Cream Pastry

CHEESE: Neufchatel Swiss

Welsh Rarebit for me. Or should that be rabbit? Why has cheese on toast got such an odd name? The inordinate fondness of the Welsh for cheese had been accepted for centuries, so the Welsh connection is obvious.

As for the rabbit/rarebit debate, which is it? The OED traces Welsh Rabbit to 1725, sixty years before “rarebit”, and the eminent lexicographer H.W.Fowler stated in no uncertain terms “Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong." End of discussion.

Which leaves two questions: why rabbit for cheese, and why rabbit to rarebit? There are enough theories on which to base a PhD, but here are the pick:

Question 1. Undoubtedly it is a joke. Either as an ethnic slur (the Welsh are too poor to buy or too stupid to catch real rabbit), or an ironic joke by the Welsh themselves to indicate their good humour in times of adversity.

Question 2. “Rabbit” sounds like “Rarebit” if you say it in a posh English accent (such as no doubt the guests aboard this ship would have affected). In other words, is it an example of genteelisation by pronunciation?

Hannah Glasse (1747) avoids any suggestion of ethnic slurring by giving recipes for Welch, Scotch AND English RABBITS.

To make a Scotch Rabbit.
Toast a piece of Bread very nicely on both Sides, butter it, cut a Slice of Cheese, about as big as the Bread, toast it on both Sides, and lay it on the Bread.

To make a Welch Rabbit.
Toast the Bread on both Sides, then toast the Cheese on one Side, lay it on the Toast, and with a hot Iron brown the other side. You may rub it over with Mustard.

To make an English Rabbit.
Toast a Slice of Bread brown on both sides, then lay it in a Plate before the Fire, pour a Glass of Red Wine over it, and let it soak the Wine up; then cut some Cheese very thin, and lay it very thick over the Bread; put it in a Tin Oven before the Fire, and it will be toasted and brown presently. Serve it away hot.

[Chapter II of Welsh Rabbit is HERE]

On Monday: Italian Cake Day.

Quotation for the Day …

From Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary (1911): RAREBIT n. A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad-in-a-hole is really not a toad, and that riz-de-veau à la financière is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she banker.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Mustard making.

Today, August 10th …

On this day in 1390 in France, a regulation was put in force that mustard was to contain only “good seed and suitable vinegar”. It is not clear (to me) why the French government suddenly felt it necessary to legislate its production, as mustard had already been cultivated in Europe for centuries, if not millennia. The love affair of European humans with spicy food must have started with this hot little seed, and it was certainly the cheapest – by virtue of its being locally grown - way of spicing up the cold roast or the leftover boar’s head.

The “must” in mustard refers to mixing of the seed with grape must, and the suffix “-ard” means “hardy” – presumably in the sense of keeping well, or perhaps suggesting its assertiveness. This assertiveness (or should that be aggression?) is due to a chemical reaction that occurs when the seeds are crushed, releasing glycosides plus an enzyme that breaks them down into very bite-y hot compounds which quickly mellow unless the reaction is stopped by the addition of vinegar.

In spite of the French legislators’ impulse to purity and minimalism in mustard, cooks have always fiddled with flavour.

Honey for sweetness was popular; from 14th C England we have:

Lombard Mustard.
Take Mustard seed and waishe it & drye it in an ovene. Grynde it drye. Sarce it thurgh a sarce, clarifie hony with wine & vynegr & stere it wel togedr, and make it thikke ynowz & whan thou wilt spende thereof make it thynne with wine. (Forme of Cury, c 1390)

And the English – who love their mustard hot – sometimes even added horseradish and ginger to fuel the fire:

To Make Mustard.
The best way of making Mustard is this: Take of the best Mustard-seed (which is black) for example a quart. Dry it gently in an oven, and beat it to subtle powder, and searse it. Then mingle well strong Wine-vinegar with it, so much that it be pretty liquid, for it will dry with keeping. Put to this a little Pepper, beaten small (white is the best) at discretion as about a good pugil and put a good spoonful of Sugar to it (which is not to make it taste sweet, but rather, quick, and to help the fermentation) lay a good Onion in the bottom, quartered if you will, and a Race of Ginger scraped and bruised, and stir it often with a Horse-radish root cleansed, which let always lie in the pot till it hath lost its vertue, then take a new one. This will keep long, and grow better for a while. It is not good till after a month, that it have fermented a while. Some think it will be the quicker if the seed be ground with fair water, instead of vinegar, putting store of Onions in it. (K.Digbie, 1669)

Tomorrow: Welsh Rabbit.

Quotation for the Day …

Mustard’s no good without roast beef. Chico Marx.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The first pineapple tart.

Today, August 9th …

John Evelyn was a contemporary of Samuel Pepys, and he too kept a diary which gives us glimpses of seventeenth century life at the top. On this day in 1661 Evelyn noted:

“I first saw the famous Queen Pine brought from Barbados and presented to his Majestie; but the first that were ever seen in England were those sent to Cromwell House foure years since.”

The pineapple is a native of South America, and it had been cultivated there for centuries before Christopher Columbus saw one in Guadeloupe in 1493. Unlike the other New World finds of potato and tomato which were seen for a long time as foreign therefore suspicious if not downright poisonous, the pineapple was seen immediately as foreign therefore exotic and absolutely worthy of presentation to the King. Much horticultural expertise and hothouse experimentation resulted in England’s first home-grown pineapple in 1719, but it remained an expensive treat for a couple of centuries until the Hawaiian canning industry took off at the end of the nineteenth century.

The first published recipe for pineapple appears in Richard Bradley’s “The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director” in 1736, and it still sounds delicious.

To make a Tart of the Ananas, or Pine-Apple. From Barbadoes.
Take a Pine-Apple, and twist off its Crown: then pare it free from the Knots, and cut it in Slices about half an Inch thick; then stew it with a little Canary wine, or Madera Wine, and some Sugar, till it is thoroughly hot, and it will distribute its Flavour to the Wine much better than any thing we can add to it. When it is as one would have it, take it from the Fire; and when it is cool, put it into a sweet Paste, with its Liquor, and bake it gently a little while, and when it comes from the Oven, pour Cream over it (if you have it) and serve it either hot or cold.

Even canned pineapple was a delicacy in late Victorian England, if we can draw any conclusions from its use in “High Class Cookery” (1893), by Mrs. Charles Clarke.

Pine-apple Souffle.
Three ounces of pineapple; three ounces of Flour, sifted; three ounces of sugar; two ounces of Butter; Half a pint of Milk; Yolks of three Eggs; Whites of four Eggs.
Melt the butter in a stewpan, and add the flour and milk; cook well; add the sugar and the pineapple, previously cut into dice; add the yolks one by one; whip the whites very stiff; stir in the mixture very lightly; pour into a prepared soufflée mould; steam one hour.
Reduce one gill of the syrup from the pine-apple, add one ounce of loaf sugar, and one glass of sherry; colour with cochineal; pour round the pudding. Some small pieces of pine-apple may be added to the sauce.

Tomorrow: Mustard making.

Quotation for the Day …

This special feeling towards fruit, its glory and abundance, is I would say universal.... We respond to strawberry fields or cherry orchards with a delight that a cabbage patch or even an elegant vegetable garden cannot provoke. Jane Grigson

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Nella's Orange Jelly.

Today, August 8th …

We met Nella Last – the ordinary English housewife with the extraordinary talent for writing about ordinary life in wartime England – in the story of March 22nd .

Today we are inspired by her again.

This day in 1940, early in the war, it was her son Arthur’s twenty-seventh birthday.

“How the years fly! Today has seemed a kaleidoscope of brightly coloured bits of memory – things I never think of in an ordinary life. I asked him last night what he would like best for a birthday tea. He thought very carefully and then said “Orange whip and Viennese bread”. Such a simple wish, and such a boyish one. As oranges with full flavour are difficult to get, and 4d. each, I decided to use Rowntree’s orange jelly. I used the juice of four Jaffas in the old 1d. orange days, and 1d. worth of gelatine which now costs about 4d. for the same quantity. I made the jelly with slightly less water than usual, whipped it when cold but not set, and added three stiffly beaten whites of eggs that I had saved from baking. They did not know it was not made from fresh oranges, and I did not say anything when they said it was the ‘best ever’. My Viennese rolls were a delight and I felt so happy about them, for it’s some time since I made them as my husband does not like either new or crusty bread. They turned out a lovely golden shell of sweet crust that melted in the mouth, and I put honey on the table to eat with them. I put my fine lace and linen cloth on the table, and a big bowl of deep orange marigolds. There was the birthday cake I made before Easter when butter was more plentiful, and for effect I put a boat-shaped glass dish with goldeny-green lettuce hearts piled in – which were eaten to the last bit. …”

A long extract requires a short recipe, so today, from the 1940’s:

Wartime recipe for Jelly:
2/3 pint water
1 oz. sugar
½ oz. gelatine
1/3 pint fruit squash.

Heat a little of the water with the sugar until this has dissolved. Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of cold water into a basin, sprinkle the gelatine on top. Allow to stand for 2-3 minutes then dissolve over hot, not boiling, water. Blend with the hot sugar and water. Add the rest of the cold water and the fruit squash. Rinse out a basin or mould in cold water, add the jelly and leave until set.

But if you want more than the quota of 400-ish words on the topic, we can go …

Above and Beyond …

Before Rowntree’s flavoured gelatine, there was plain no-frills gelatine in powdered or leaf form, and housewives with children’s parties to cater for have much to be grateful for in that small piece of culinary progress, for before there was gelatine, there was hartshorn. Hartshorn was precisely what it says, the horn of a hart or deer, and it required an incredibly lengthy and tedious process to turn it into jelly, as can be seen from William Rabisha’s seventeenth century recipe for hartshorn jelly. Gelatine is a protein produced by the breakdown of collagen in other animal tissue too, which is why stock made with such things as veal bones and calves feet have a silky – gelatinous - mouthfeel, and why it also can be used to make “jelly” (here we come up against some language barriers – jelly/jam, and jelly/Jello, but you’ll work it out). Hugh Plat’s “Delightes for Ladies … ” (1602 ) has a recipe for “Crystal gelly” made from veal knuckles and calves’ feet, flavoured with spices and rosewater. He also has one for “Gelly of strawberries …etc” made with the fishy version of gelatine – isinglass, produced originally from the swim bladder of the sturgeon, and later from that of the cod.

There are acceptable forms of gelatine and isinglass to fit Jewish and Islamic religious laws, and vegetarians are served by the jelling properties of several vegetable substances (carbohydrates, not proteins) such as agar, carrageenan (Irish moss), and pectin for example. It is deeply comforting to know that no child on the planet need miss out on their party jelly.

Nella Last.

Another story about Nella Last is 'An Indifferent Rabbit'.

Quotation for the Day …

Children should come to the table clean and in a merry mood; they should not rest their hands on their trenchers, nor drink more than two or three times during the meal; and they should wipe their lips with a napkin after each drink, especially if a common drinking-cup is used. Treatise on Manners published in 1530

Tomorrow: The first pineapple tart.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Gooseberries in Grasmere.

Today, August 7th …

Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of the poet William Wordsworth, clearly had a writer’s inclinations herself. It appears however, that she had no inclination for publication, preferring (or allowing) that fame for her brother, and to that end she devoted herself to the domestic chores of the household she shared with him in England’s Lake District. Her writing shines in her journals, and in amongst her lyrical descriptions of the surrounding countryside, she recorded the homely household chores such as the cooking.

On this day in late summer in 1800 she wrote:

“Thursday Morning….Boiled gooseberries – N.B, 2 lbs of sugar in the first panfull, 3 quarts all good measure – 3lbs in the 2nd 4 quarts – 21/2 lb in the 3rd.”

Etymologists disagree over the origin of the word “gooseberry”. Is it a corruption of an old German name (krausbeere) or old French name (groseille)? Or is it something to do with the goose? The OED refuses to commit on this, saying “The grounds on which plants and fruits have received names associating them with animals are so commonly inexplicable, that the want of appropriateness in the meaning affords no sufficient ground for assuming that the word is an etymologizing corruption.”

Dorothy almost certainly used her gooseberries in pies, but they have had a wide range of culinary uses over the centuries. Thankfully, in spite of their being no evidence at all for an etymological connection with the goose, there is a culinary connection – perhaps this IS the connection!. Gooseberry sauce was a common accompaniment to fish such as mackeral, but it was also used with goose, as in the following recipe from “The queen’s royal cookery: or, expert and ready ways for the dressing of all sorts of flesh, fowl, fish: …” by T.Hall, free cook of London (1709).

Sauce for Green-Geese.
Take Sorrel, pick it and wash it, and swing it in a coarse Cloth and stamp it, and strain the Juice; then have some Gooseberries tender scalded, but not broke; then melt some Butter very thick with the Juice of Sorrel; then sweeten it well with Sugar, and put in the Gooseberries, put it into the Dish, and lay the Geese upon it; and garnish the Dish with scalded Gooseberries and a little scrap’d Sugar; this Sauce will serve for a boiled Leg of Lamb.

There is something satisfying about the idea of green gooseberry sauce for a green goose, is there not? (“green” in this case, meaning young and fresh, not mouldy or putrefying!)

On this Topic …

According to the OED, the phrase “Gooseberry wine” can mean “an inferior or spurious champagne”, but it can mean the real thing too, and the real thing was said to taste like “English Frontiniac”, which was surely made from the variety called “Champain Gooseberry”?

There are recipes for Gooseberry Wine in Hannah Glasse (1747) and Mrs. Dalgairns (1840) on the Companion to The Old Foodie site.

A "Good Gooseberry Tart" appeared in the story of June 8th 2006

Tomorrow: Nella's Orange Jelly.

Quotation for the Day …

Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music out of doors, played by somebody I do not know. Keats.