Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Mason Jar Story.

Today, November 30th …

If you come across an old jar proudly embossed with the words "Mason's Patent Nov 30th 1858", hope – but don’t assume – that you have found a valuable antique. Although this was indeed the date of issue of a patent to John Landis Mason, jars bearing the date were produced by the millions until the 1920’s. The sort of success that every inventor dreams of, Yes?

The application for U.S Patent number 22,186 said:

"Be it known that I, John L. Mason, of the city, county, and State of New York, have invented new and useful Improvements in the Necks of Bottles, Jars, & especially such as are intended to be air and water tight, such as are used for sweetmeats, & of which the following is a specification….”

The system of excluding air to aid preservation had been learned over many centuries of trial and error (and no doubt many cases of serious food poisoning), and even at the time of John Mason’s patent there was no scientific understanding of the process - this came a few years later with Pasteur’s “germ theory”.

John Mason’s innovation consisted of a shouldered glass jar with a threaded edge and a corresponding threaded metal lid, which was indeed a new and useful improvement over the existing methods of sealing with a layer of fat, or “bladder”, or linen, or cork, or wax, or a combination of these with or without string or wire ties. Over the next few decades the basic Mason jar design features were tweaked with glass or lined metal lids and rubber gaskets such as are familiar today. The new jars were responsible for the huge boom in home preserving which lasted well into the twentieth century when domestic freezers became common.

In spite of its eventual huge impact, the patent expired before John Mason was commercially successful, and he apparently died a pauper, his only legacy being the association of his name with the generic product. What happened to John Mason was what we now call “generic trademarking”, that is, the association of The Product with The Brand, and something a good trademark lawyer (if there were such people then?) could have helped him avoid. He is in good company historically. The same thing happened to with zippers, brassieres, aspirin, cellophane, thermos flasks and a host of other eminently copiable ideas.

There are some cooks with pure and nostalgic hearts who still preserve surplus produce the old way, and in their honour I provide several nineteenth century recipes which are eminently suitable for processing in jars. The recipes chosen are for green tomatoes, for no better reason than that they are seriously under-used here in Australia.

Mixed Pickles.
One peck of green tomatoes, half a peck of onions, one pint grated horseradish, half a pound white mustard seed, half a pound of unground pepper, one ounce each of cinnamon, cloves and turmeric, and two or three heads of cauliflower; tie the pepper, cinnamon and cloves in a thin muslin bag, place all the ingredients in a granite ware kettle, cover with vinegar and boil until tender. Can put while hot in glass fruit jars. [U.S Newspaper recipe 1879]

Green Tomato Sauce.
Two gallons green tomatoes sliced without peeling, twelve large onions also sliced, two quarts best cider vinegar, one quart brown sugar, two tablespoonfuls ground black pepper, one tablespoonful allspice, one tablespoonful cloves, both ground. Mix all together and stew until tender, stirring often to prevent scorching. Put up in small jars for convenient use. A nice sauce for all kinds of fish and meat. [U.S Newspaper recipe, 1882]

Green Tomato Preserves.
Take seven pounds of nice, even-sized, small, green tomatoes, six pounds of sugar, three lemons, five cents’ worth of cloves and cinnamon mixed (use only half of this) and one-half ounce of whole ginger. Pierce each tomato with a fork, heat all together slowly and boil until the tomatoes look clear. Don’t use the seeds of the lemons. Take out the tomatoes with a perforated skimmer and lay on large platter and then fill in glass jars. Boil the syrup until very thick,pour over the tomatoes hot, and seal. This tastes like fig preserves. ["Aunt Babette's" Cook Book: Foreign and domestic receipts for the household…” c1889]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Diplomatic Drinks and Dessert.

A Previous Story for this Day …

"Sending home the Bacon" was the story for this day in 2005.

Quotation for the Day …

Alexandra often said that if her mother were cast upon a desert island, she would thank God for her deliverance, make a garden, and find something to preserve. Preserving was almost a mania with Mrs. Bergson. Stout as she was, she roamed the scrubby banks of Norway Creek looking for fox grapes and goose plums, like a wild creature in search of prey. She made a yellow jam of the insipid ground cherries that grew on the prairie, flavoring it with lemon peel; and she made a sticky dark conserve of garden tomatoes. She had experimented even with the rank buffalo-pea, and she could not see a fine bronze cluster of them without shaking her head and murmuring, "What a pity!" When there was nothing to preserve, she began to pickle. Willa Cather, 'O Pioneers!'.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lièvre à la Royale.

Today, November 29th …

What is required of a dish for it to be claimed as a “culinary masterpiece”? A certain school of culinary thought seems to suggest that complex method, prolonged preparation time, and expensive or rare ingredients are obligatory. It helps too, no doubt, if the dish is clearly too superior for the peasants, by virtue of it requiring a week’s hunting to provide for one meal. Such was the dish featured in what was his usual political column in Le Temps, on this day in 1898, by Senator Aristide Couteaux.

The dish was “Lièvre (Hare) à la Royale”. The Senator described how he spent a week hunting in Poitou for the perfect specimen, before rushing it to his friend the restaurateur M. Spüller for the seven-hour preparation. The method was described by Elizabeth David in ‘A Book of Mediterranean Food’, and I refer you to this for the lengthy details. The instructions start by specifying that:

“You require a male hare, with red fur, killed if possible in mountainous country, of fine French descent (characterised by the light nervous elegance of head and limbs) weighing from 5 to 6 pounds, that is to say older than a leveret but still adolescent. The important thing is that the hare should have been cleanly killed and so not have lost a drop of blood.

The other ingredients are: 2-3 tablespoons goose fat, ¼ lb fat bacon rashers, ¼ lb bacon in one piece, 6 oz. of good wine vinegar, two bottles of Macon or Médoc (not less than two years old), 20 cloves of garlic, 40 cloves of shallot, and the usual carrot, onion stuck with a clove, and bouquet garni. And don’t forget the carefully saved blood of the hare, which you may mix with 2 or 3 small glasses of cognac if you so desire.

M.Couteaux explains the necessity for attention to detail. He instructs that “the chopping of the garlic and the shallots must be so fine that each of them attain as nearly as possible a molecular state” because the aim is that “the multiple and diverse aromas melt into a whole so harmonious that neither one dominates, nor discloses its particular origin, and so arouse some preconceived prejudice, however regrettable.”

He finishes by noting that, if properly prepared, it is “needless to say, that to use a knife to serve the hare would be a sacrilege. A spoon alone is amply sufficient.”

There was a recipe for a dish with the same name and equally complex construction, but a completely different style in Henri Babinski’s ‘Gastronomie Pratique’ (1907). His version was in the form of a ballotine, with a garnish of game quenelles and a sauce containing foie gras and egg yolks. Which was the correct form of this classic?

Neither, according to Prosper Montagne, who did not mince words in his ‘Larousse Gastronomique’ under the heading of “Lièvre Farci à la Périgourdine or à la Royale ”.

“This magnificent dish must not be confused with a dish of the same name, which was looked upon for a very long time in Paris as a kind of culinary masterpiece, though it was, in fact, nothing more than a rather mediocre hash strongly flavoured with shallots and garlic. In any event , this dish had no claim to the epithet ‘royale’ which was given to it by certain pseudo-gastronomes at the end of the nineteenth century.”

Prosper’s version of the dish in no less complex for all his criticism, the hare being stuffed with a mixture that included truffles, goose foie gras and the blood of the hare (as well as its giblets), before braising in white wine and finally briefly browned in the oven.

So, we have three experts, disagreeing on details but agreeing on a high level of complexity for this one particular haute cuisine classic.

There is an alternative school of culinary thought that says that simple is best, especially if the major spice is hunger. Such was the belief of the fourth century Greek poet Archestratus who said:

“Many are the ways and many the recipes for dressing hares; but this is the best of all, to place before a hungry set of guests a slice of roasted meat fresh from the spit, hot, season'd only with plain, simple salt....All other ways are quite superfluous, such as when cooks pour a lot of sticky, clammy sauce upon it”

As always, compromise is possible, so I give you a recipe which falls between the two extremes. It is from William Verral’s ‘A Complete System of Cookery’ (1759)

A hare stewed.
Take a young hare (a leveret is another thing) and cut into ten pieces, the two legs, two wings or shoulders, the chine in four, and the stomach and skirts in two, don’t blanch them, but skim your wine &c. well; put it into your stewpan, with about three half-pints of Port wine, two or three onions, a carrot or two, and a bit of mace, and let it stew gently for two hours, take out your hare clean into another stew-pan, and strain your sauce to it, adding a ladle of cullis, and if not thick enough put in a bit of butter and flour, and boil it a minute, and keep it hot till your dinner is ready, fling in a spoonful or two of capers, some minced parsley, and the juice of a lemon or orange, and serve it up with some fry’d bits of bread in the dish and round it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Mason jar story.

A previous story for this day …

The story for November 29th 2005 was "Inside Entertaining".

Quotation for the Day …

I want a dish to taste good, rather than to have been seethed in pig’s milk and served wrapped in a rhubarb leaf with grated thistle root. Kingsley Amis.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Public Picnic for the Prince.

Today, November 28th …

Antipodean Colonials from various cities fell over each other (literally, as it turns out, as well as figuratively) to upstage each other during the first royal visit to Australia in 1867. The visitor was Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Victoria and Albert.

His first port of call was Adelaide, where things appeared to go according to plan. Next was Melbourne, and on this day in 1867 the city prepared to show its philanthropic heart by putting on a splendid free banquet on the banks of the Yarra river. The Victorian newspaper The Age, proudly announced that “Victoria will long remember this day”. How right it was.

Most strangely, considering this bounty of food and drink was to be free, the caterers seriously underestimated the number of “guests”. By early afternoon on a very hot day, 70,000 people (a sizeable proportion of the population at the time) were straining at the barricades, and the police decided they could not guarantee the prince’s safety. When it was announced that Alfred would not be opening the event, the crowd stormed the barricades, rushed the supply tables and “a frightful saturnalia” (to make an understatement) ensued.

Naturally, Sydneysiders sneered at the rough behaviour of the Melbournians, but the figurative tables were turned when the prince was in their city on the second leg of the trip in March 1868. At their picnic (stout, oysters and buttered brown bread before noon, champagne, chicken and lobster later in the day), a mad Irishman with a grudge attempted to assassinate the prince. Luckily the prince received only a minor flesh wound, and probably suffered less than some police and civic officials did in the aftermath.

No Colonial etiquette manuals in Australia at the time, that was the problem. It would never have happened in that other Colonial outpost – Canada – of course . A better class of settlers – not derived from convicts and press-ganged marines, a longer period of settlement in which to develop a system of manners, and closer to “Home” and the opportunity to refresh them. I don’t know if it was the first etiquette manual in Canada, but ‘Social etiquette, or, Manners and customs of polite society: containing rules of etiquette for all occasions... ’ written by Maud Cooke and published in 1896 stated clearly that a picnic was a “delightful summer entertainment” provided that “whoever goes … know how to dress, know where to go, and above all know what to carry to eat.”

Of course, the manual went on to tell just what these essentials were, making particular note of what must not be forgotten:

“There are several important items which must not be forgotten, and among them are hand towels and soap, combs, hand-mirror, thread, needle and thimble, a corkscrew and a can opener.”

And of course it reminded picnickers that:

“It might seem needless to say that there should always be a chaperon on picnic parties if it were not that even on this day there appears, in some places, to be a proper understanding of this subject …. When a number of young people get off together, they are apt, without the least intention of propriety, to let their spirits carry them away and lead them into absurdities they would never commit in a graver moment.”

And then the food:

“To begin with the substantials, a cold roast, a boiled tongue, deviled eggs are simple and tasty. The roast may be sliced off before going, and carefully wrapped up, but the tongue should be carried whole and cut up when required, or it is apt to become dry. The eggs are easily prepared, being hard boiled, cut lengthwise, the yolks taken out, mixed in a bowl with pepper, salt, and mustard, and a few drops of Worcester, and put back again in the whites.”

Various types of sandwiches were mentioned, but for real detail we must go to a cookbook of the time and place, called very simply ‘Cookery”, by Amy Richards, published in 1895. Here is my pick.

Walnut Sandwiches.
Mix together equal quantities of chopped walnuts and gruyere cheese, season with pepper, salt and mustard, and form into sandwiches with thinly cut bread and butter: stamp into rounds, and sprinkle with paprika and cheese finely grated. Dish au couronne on dish paper, and garnish with parsley.

Fruit Sandwiches.
Some slices of stale cake – 1 banana – a few slices of pineapple – 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Slice the fruit very thinly, sprinkle with the sugar, and allow it to stand a little time. Form into sandwiches with the cake, and serve with whipped cream.

On this Topic …

Mrs Beeton’s recommendations for a picnic appeared in the story of March 8th 2005.

A previous story for this day …

Chestnuts were the feature of “A Lusty and Masculine Food for Rustics” on this day in 2005.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Lièvre à la Royale.

Quotation for the Day …

All the ingenious men and all the scientific men in the world could never invent anything so curious and so ridiculous as a lobster. Charles Kingsley.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Black Diamonds.

Today, November 27th …

Today is St Siffrein’s feast day, which would be most unremarkable except that it is the traditional start of the Black Truffle Market in Carpentras in Provence. Of all of the fruits of the earth, the truffle par excellence has a mystique and a price that are in inverse proportion to its beauty. Why is it so?

The French writer Jean Louis Vaudoyer (1883-1963) said “There are two types of people who eat truffles: those who think truffles are good because they are dear and those who know they are dear because they are good.” There may be a third type (or a subtype of Vaudoyer’s second group) – those who eat (or order, or cook, or gift) truffles because of their supposed aphrodisiac qualities - although it has always struck me as strange to hear “lust” and “fungus” in the same sentence. There may even be a fourth – those who eat them and don’t understand the fuss and never eat them again. For the remainder of this story we will ignore all but Vaudoyer's second type of truffle eater.

I have heard that there is such a thing as too much chocolate, or too much champagne. I have heard it without necessarily believing it, but I have never heard a whisper from any ghostly gastronome in history that there is such a thing as an excess of truffles. Gastronomes are in fact united in saying that the desirable quantity of truffles is as big as you can possibly manage it. A few quotations from the authorities will serve to illustrate this point:

James de Coquet (1887-1936): “Truffles are a luxury, and the first requirement of a luxury is that you should not have to economize. A capon with no truffles at all is better than one which has been truffled, but not enough”

When the great Curnonsky (1872-1956) was asked by a society hostess how he liked his truffles, he replied “In great quantity madame. In great quantity”

Charles Monselet (1825-1888): “I don’t want truffles cut into little pieces, so scarce that you have to scrape the inside of your chicken to find a few shavings; no, I want avalanches of truffles, I want too much of them.”

The French novelist Colette (1873-1954) is often credited with the saying “If I cant have too many truffles, I’ll do without truffles”, although this is difficult to verify. Although she may have valued excess when it came to quantity of truffles, on their preparation she was quite minimalist:

“You pay its weight in gold for it, then in most cases you put it to some paltry use. You smear it with foie gras, you bury it in poultry overloaded with fat, you chop it up and drown it in brown sauce, you mix it with vegetables covered in mayonnaise. … To hell with thin slices, strips, trimmings, and peelings of truffles! Is it not possible to like them for themselves?”

Colette would have approved of the recipe contributed by Auguste Kettner (the nineteenth century London restaurateur to “The Book of the Table” (1877). It is elegant in its simplicity, and to Hell with the laundry.

Truffles in a Napkin.
Wash, and brush them several times in cold water. Then stew them slowly in a Mirepoix of white wine for half an hour or three-quarters. Drain them and serve them in a folded napkin.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Public Picnic for the Prince.

Quotation for the Day …

The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber, and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord. Alexandre Dumas(1802-1870).

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lemon juice every which way.

Today, November 24th …

The Queensland Daily Guardian featured a recipe for preserved lemon juice on this day in 1866.

To Preserve Lemon Juice for a Voyage.
Select only the best, freshest lemons. Squeeze them well through a strainer. To every 1 qt. of juice add 1 oz. cream of tartar. Let it stand 3 days, (stirring it frequently) and then filter it through thin muslin pinned tightly on the bottom of a sieve. Put it into bottles, filling up the neck of each bottle with a little of the best olive oil. Cork tightly, then seal. When you open a bottle avoid shaking it, and carefully pour off the olive oil that is on top of the lemon juice.

Lemons are unique amongst fruits – they are so versatile that they are indispensable in every half-decent kitchen, yet they are never eaten in the hand, in the form that they come off the tree. Certainly the whole lemon may be cut up and cooked in marmalade or pickles, but it is the juice that is its most valuable asset. The “recipe” given above is hardly a recipe at all, it is simply a way of preserving the juice by excluding the air, making it particularly valuable on long voyages to help prevent the dreaded scurvy.

We now know that scurvy is caused by lack of Vitamin C, but long before this was common scientific knowledge, lemons were credited with a variety of health benefits. William Salmon’s ‘The family dictionary: or, household companion … ’ (1705) says:

“ … the Juice of them is taken with Success in all hot Diseases: it likewise (if mixed with a little unslack’d Lime) cureth the Itch, cleaneth Spots, and destroyeth Worms in the outer-part of the Body, in the Nose, or parts of the Face, Nose &c. where they many times appear with their black Heads, even with the Skin like grains of Gunpowder: their Juice only takes away Pimples, and Redness in the Face; and if made into a Syrup with fine Sugar, it kills Worms in the Belly: it is given with Success in all Fevers.”

Perhaps the scarcity of Worms in the outer-parts of our bodies today is due to the diligent administration of lemon juice by several centuries-worth of mothers. A major problem with lemon juice is that it is notoriously puckering, so it is lucky that one day a mother realised that a spoonful of sugar would make the medicine go down without screams (I have no proof, but I am certain it was a mother who did this). The invention of lemonade was before William Salmon’s time, for he included several variations in his manual.

Water called Limonade.
A very good sort of Limonade may be prepar’d by allowing three Limons to a quart of water, with a quarter of a pound of Sugar; and these ingredients may be proportionalby augmented, according to the quantity design’d. After having squeezed out the Juice of your Fruit into the water, leave the Pulp and Seeds to infuse for a considerable time; then press the Limon, Pulp, and Peel, strain the Liquor and set it by to cool.

Medical ideas develop, and mothers must add nutritional value, so before too long there was “milk lemonade” and “egg lemonade” for invalids.

Egg Lemonade.
2 tablespoons lemon juice; White 1 egg, 2/3 cup cold eater; ½ grain saccharine dissolved in 1 teaspoon water. Add lemon juice to white of egg, and as soon as egg is dissolved add remaining ingredients. Strain and serve.
[Fannie Farmer’s “Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent” (1904)]

Grown-ups soon realised that a different sort of value could be added, and no doubt many of them over the aeons have claimed a health benefit from their alcoholic lemon juice of choice. Here are two for you to choose from.

Lemon Wine.
To 4 ½ gallons of water allow the pulp of 50 lemons, the rind of 25, 16 lbs. of loaf sugar, ½ oz. of isinglass, 1 bottle of brandy.
Peel and slice the lemons, but use only the rind of 25 of them, and put them into the cold water. Let it stand 8 or 9 days, squeezing the lemons well every day; then strain the water off and put it into a cask with the sugar. Let it work some time, and when it has ceased working, put in the isinglass. Stop the cask down; in about six months put in the brandy and bottle the wine off.
Seasonable - The best time to make this is in January or February, when lemons are best and cheapest.
[Mrs Beeton’s “Book of Household Management” (1861)]

Lemon Liquor.
Infuse the thin rind of two large, fresh lemons in a pint of rectified spirits of wine, for ten days. At the end of that time, strain, and mix with it the juice of the lemons and a syrup made by boiling half a pound of refined sugar in a pint of water for five minutes. Pour the liquor into bottles, cork securely, and tie bladder over the corks. Probable cost, 5d., exclusive of the spirit. Sufficient for a little more than a quart of liquor.
[Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, 1870’s]

Now you have plenty of ideas for that glut of lemons.

A previous Story for this Day …

Green Butter and the Art of Sandwiches” was the story on November 24th 2005.

Monday’s Story …

Black Diamonds.

Quotation for the Day …

50 lemons are a burden for 1 person, but they are treasures for 50 people. Anon

Thursday, November 23, 2006

From Jujubes to Jelly Babies.

Today, November 23rd …

The Doctor Who series premiered on BBC TV on this day in 1963, giving us a fine opportunity to test the theory of a maximum three degrees of separation between any event or person and a specific food item. The theory is proven by the fourth Doctor (played by Tom Baker from 1974 – 1981) who, as I am sure you well know, had a penchant for jelly beans. I am reliably informed that Jelly Beans are food, and they are a fine topic for this day if for no other reason than to provide a distraction from The Turkey (and a happy Thanksgiving to all of you “over there”).

In the beginning, in North Africa and Syria was the Jujube tree (Ziziphus zizyphus), whose edible, berry-like fruit has a decidedly un-berry like mucilaginous texture. This peculiar texture was found to be soothing to sore throats and the like, hence its adapatation to medicinal use in early times. As tends to happen with exotic imported ingredients, supply did not keep up with demand and apothecaries set about copying the shape and texture of the dried fruit by using other more easily obtained plant-derived gums such as gum arabic. The therapeutic jujube lozenge or pastille was born, and it was good because it was sweet. Because it was sweet, it was appealing outside of its medicinal indications, and so it became gum candy. And gum candy in its turn morphed into many forms such as gummy bears, snakes, frogs – and babies.

To be specific, Jelly Babies were first produced by Bassett’s in Sheffield in 1919. Originally they were called “Peace Babies”, coming off the production line as they did after the end of the war. They became very popular, and many other companies produced them until the next war came along and production of all confectionary ceased due to sugar rationing. Much in the style of Doctor Who himself, the Peace Babies were reborn as Jelly Babies in 1953.

One intriguing story (perhaps it is urban myth) about jelly babies is that “research” has shown that women with children are more likely to bite the heads off them first, whereas childless women are more likely to eat them whole. Interpret as you wish.

One important fact about jelly babies is that “genuine” ones are slighly powdery from the cornstarch used to dust the moulds before the gum is poured in. This is elegantly demonstrated in the following recipes taken from ‘The Italian confectioner; or, Complete economy of desserts …’ by William Alexis Jarrin (1827). Should you wish to use the recipe to make your own chewable children, you will not need to perform the final step of encasing the gum in “candy” as this would give you something like jelly beans, not jelly babies. The tricky part will be the carving of jelly-baby shaped holes in the starch powder in your box.

Jujubes in Candy.
Take some of the finest and whitest gum arabic, dissolve it in a sufficient quantity of orange-flower water. To every pound of gum, add two ounces of crystallized sugar; reduce it in the bain marie to a very thick consistence, similar to jelly, without stirring or moving it, which would hinder it from being transparent; procure a small box of about half an inch in thickness, and fill it with very dry starch powder, and make some small holes in it, of the same size as you wish the pastilles to be; then fill these small holes with your paste, and put it in the stove to dry; when dry, wipe all the starch off perfectly clean, and put them in candy like any other objects.

A Previous Story for this Day …

The story for November 23rd 2005 was "The Roast Beef of Old England".

Tomorrow’s Story …

Lemon juice every which way.

Quotation for the Day …

One grows tired of jelly babies Castellan. One grows tired of almost everything, Castellan, except power. The Doctor, in The Invasion of Time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Musical Food (and Drink).

Today, November 22nd …

Today is the feast day of St Cecilia, the patron saint of all things musical, which gives us an excuse to consider once again "The Taste of Music". There are plenty of ideas still unexplored.

We could simply choose random dishes with musical names, such as carta di musica, (thin flatbreads from Sicily) or timbales (“kettledrums”, that is, dishes made in a sort of bell shape, and either sweet or savoury, large or small). We look to classical cuisine for one of the many dishes named for composers, singers or operas – how about Tournedos Rossini followed by Pêche Melba for example? For a lighter meal there is a good choice of egg dishes with musical names – such as Eggs Adelina Patti, or Massenet or Manon. Unless you would prefer something like Salade Tosca? We could even have a whole menu inspired by the names of musical compositions: the Ox-Minuet, followed by Lumps of Pudding (from the Beggar’s Opera), and Bach’s Coffee Cantata.

All this music and singing is thirsty work however, so we can do no better than make a long, relaxing drink to enjoy with whatever is in the freezer. The musical society named for St Cecilia in Charleston, South Carolina developed a wonderful version to be served at their annual ball (you get extra thirsty if you dance with your music). But Beware! this Punch packs a hefty one!

St Cecilia Punch.

2 lemons, thinly sliced.
1 cup brandy
½ pineapple cut in 1 inch chunks
¾ cup sugar
1 cup green tea, chilled
½ cup rum
1 cup peach brandy
1 cup champagne
3 cups Club soda.

Combine the lemons and brandy in a small bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.
A few hours before serving, place the pineapple in the punch bowl, add the lemon and brandy mixture, with the sugar, tea, rum, and peach brandy. Just before serving time add the champagne and soda. Serve over ice.

A previous Story for this Day …

The story for November 22nd 2005 was "Propaganda and Puddings". It has a recipe for "All British Christmas Pudding", also known as "Empire Christmas Pudding".

Tomorrow’s Story …

From Jujubes to Jelly Babies.

Quotation for the Day …

Composing a concert is like composing a menu … If you start with light pieces and play a 45-minute sonata after the interlude, it's like starting dinner with hors d'oeuvres and dessert and finishing with a Châteaubriand and vegetables. Arthur Rubinstein.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanksgiving Menus, Part IV; "Other"

Here is a final offering of historic Thanksgiving menus for your enjoyment.

1918: The crew aboard U.S.S. Manchuria had a wry sense of humour, if this Thanksgiving menu is any guide.

Dish Water
Roast Sea Gull
Soft Packing
Cranberry Sauce
Sweet Spuds
Ice Cream a la Manchuria
Punk Slider
1937: The Soviet explorers at the weather camp on the polar floe had on American Thanksgiving Day: canned soup, canned vegetables, smoked sausages, dried meat, cakes, tea.

1969: The Apollo 12 astronauts just splashed down in time for Thanksgiving. In their cramped quarantine trailer aboard the U.S.S Hornet, they sat down to turkey with cranberry sauce and a choice of cherry or pecan pie, before watching the movie “Good-by Columbus”.
Previous Historic Thanksgiving Menus ...

A Better Soda Cracker.

Today, November 21st …

A cracker, according to the OED, is a thin, hard biscuit. According to a lot of military men, it is a damn hard biscuit. The military version - “hardtack” - has been called by many names over many centuries by many soldiers and sailors - all of them descriptive, but none of them flattering. Aussie “Diggers” for example have referred to their ration biscuits as Stone Bread, Teeth Dullers, Sheet Iron, Flour Tile, Concrete macaroons, and Ammo (ammunition) Reserves. One particular Digger described them as having “the delicious succulency of ground granite or the savoury toothsomeness of powdered marble”.

Cracker biscuits had two important attributes in their military incarnation: their keepability and their absorbability. The former might have been more important to quartermasters and victuallers, but for soldiers, the absorbability of their biscuits served the dual purpose of avoiding broken teeth and making mealtime slop less sloppy (and hence the names “cracker hash” and “cracker stew”). This attribute has also been used by civilian cooks and housewives since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. By soaking up other standard flavourings, particularly in pies, they provided an illusion by association of the real thing – such as apples (the most common) or the meat in mincemeat pie, in this Canadian recipe from 1890.

Mock Mince Pie.
Three soda crackers rolled fine, one cup of cold water, one cup of molasses, one-half cup of brown sugar, one-half cup of sour cider or vinegar, one-half cup of melted butter, one half-cup of raisins, one half-cup of currants, one egg beaten light, one teaspoonful of cinnamon, one-quarter teaspoonful each of cloves, allspice and nutmeg, five apples chopped fine.

Cracker biscuits are not purely a military phenomenon of course, but there is an element of abstemiousness and virtue about them even in civilian society where they serve to make a bowl of soup look like a real meal, or to levitate a piece of cheese to the mouth in a polite way.

One day, something made someone in the Nabisco Company decide that the world needed a better cracker, one of less than military strength, and – to cut what was probably a longish story short – the Ritz Cracker was conceived. It was delivered on this day in 1934, with its name already decided by virtue of a competition. What a genius of a name! Four letters to overcome the connotations of hardship and hard texture and the dreariness of the Depression by associating the new biscuit with Cesar Ritz and his exclusive hotels!

This new improved cracker needed a new improved Mock Apple Pie of course, and a back-of-the-box recipe soon appeared which has become something of a cultural icon (although I am not sure which culture it belongs to), with its own cult following.

In case you should want to join the Mock Apple Pie cult, but are without a box handy, here is the recipe:

RITZ® Mock Apple Pie

Pastry for 2-crust 9-inch pie
36 RITZ Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1-3/4 cups crumbs)
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. cream of tartar
Grated peel of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

PREHEAT oven to 425°F. Roll out half of the pastry and place in 9-inch pie plate. Place cracker crumbs in crust; set aside.
MIX sugar and cream of tartar in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in 1-3/4 cups water until well blended. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 15 minutes. Add lemon peel and juice; cool. Pour syrup over cracker crumbs. Dot with butter; sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll out remaining pastry; place over pie. Trim; seal and flute edges. Slit top crust to allow steam to escape.
BAKE 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is crisp and golden. Cool completely.

On this Topic …

On The Companion to The Old Foodie site you will find an article called:
"From Hardtack to Anzacs."

Tomorrow’s Story …

Musical Food (and Drink).

Quotation for the Day …

But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.....we dispatched it with great expedition. Ishmael in Herman Melville's 'Moby Dick' (1851)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Queen’s Cake and Bride’s Pie.

Today, November 20th …

When Princess Elizabeth married Prince Phillip on this day in 1947, Britain was still under rationing, and rationing applied to the royal family too. The problem of where to get sufficient ingredients for what had to be a Very Big Day was solved by the rest of the world, who came to the rescue with donations of food parcels.

There were in fact ten cakes made for the occasion, but the official one – the one cut by the couple on the day – was made from ingredients donated by Australian Girl Guides, and made by the firm of McVitie and Price. The cake was nine feet high, had four tiers, and weighed about 500lb. It was decorated with Scottish heather and “emblems of cricket, tennis, and racing” (what, no corgis?). What we don’t know is the exact recipe. We do know, thanks to McVitie and Price that the ingredients were:

Butter, caster sugar, moist Tate & Lyle pieces, flour (Clark & Butcher), frozen whole egg, honey, salt, spice, cassia, nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground almonds, cherries, currants, sultanas, mixed peel, caramel powder, glycerine, egg colour, oil of lemon, oil of orange, brandy, sherry, rum.

The wedding cake has come a long way since its ancient beginnings as simple cake of grain broken over the head of the happy couple, as a symbol and wish for fertility. Between then and now, the grain offering went through a stage of being a pie (TOF opinion: all good things were once pie). These ‘Bride Pies’ were no less elaborate for the lack of layers of icing and sugar sculpting, and could even be part of the entertainment if they contained live birds or snakes. This recipe from Robert May’s ‘Accomplish’t Cook” (1660) shows how to do it:

To make an extraordinary Pie, or a Bride Pie, of severall Compounds, being several distinct Pies on one bottom.
Provide cock-stones and combs, or lamb-stones and sweet-breads of veal, a little set in hot water and cut to pieces; also two or three oxe pallets blanched and slic’t, a pint of oysters, sliced dates, a handful of pine kernels, a little quantity of broom-buds pickled, some fine interlarded bacon sliced, nine or ten chestnuts roasted and blanched, season them with the salt, nutmeg, and some large mace, and close it up with some butter. For the caudle, beat up some butter, with three yolks of eggs, some white wine or claret wine, the juyce of a lemon or two, cut up the lid, and pour on the lear, shaking it well together, then lay on the meat, slic’t lemon, and pickled barberries, and cover it again, let these Ingredients be put into the middle or scollops of the Pie.
Several other Pies belong to the first form, but you must be sure to make the three fashions proportionably answering one the other; you may set them on one bottom of paste, which will be more convenient; or if you set them several you may bake the middle one of flour, it being baked and cold, take out the flour in the bottom, and put in live birds, or a snake, which will seem strange to the beholders, which cut up the Pie at the table. This is onely for a Wedding to pass away time.
Now for the other Pies you may fill them with several Ingredients, as in one you may put oysters, being parboild and bearded, season them with large mace, pepper, some beaten ginger, and salt, season them lightly, and fill the Pie, then lay on marrow and some good butter, close it up and bake it. Then make a lear for it with white wine, the oyster liquor, three or four oysters bruised in pieces to make it stronger, but take out the pieces, and an onion, or rub the bottom of the dish with a clove of garlick; it being boild, put in a piece of butter, with a lemon, sweet hearbs will be good boild in it, bound up fast together; cut up the lid, or make a hole to let the lear in, &C.Another you may make of Prawns and Cockles, being seasoned as the first, but no marrow: a few pickled mushrooms (if you have them) it being baked, beat up a piece of butter, a little vinegar, a slic’d nutmeg, and the juyce of two or three oranges thick, and pour it into the Pie.
A third you may make a Bird Pie; take young Birds, as larks, pulled and drawn, and a force meat to put in the bellies made of grated bread, sweet herbs minced very small, beef suet, or marrow minced, almonds beat with a little cream to keep them from oyling, a little parmisan (or none) or old cheese; season this meat with nutmeg, ginger, and salt; then mix them together with cream and eggs like a pudding, stuff the larks with it, then season the larks with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, and lay them in the Pie, put in some butter, and scatter between them pine-kernels, yolks of eggs, and sweet herbs, the eggs and herbs being minced very small; being baked make a lear with the juice of oranges and butter beat up thick, and shaken well together.For another of the Pies, you may boil artichocks, and take onely the bottoms for the Pie, cut them into quarters or less, and season them with nutmeg. Thus with several Ingredients you may fill up the other Pies.

On this Topic …

The Elaborate Science of the Confectioner”, a story about Queen Victoria’s wedding cake, which included recipes for wedding cake icing from 1769, was posted on February 10th 2006.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A better Soda Cracker.

Quotation for the Day …

The Bride Cake
This day my Julia thou must make
For mistresse Bride, the wedding Cake:
knead but the Dow and it will be
To paste of Almonds turn’d by thee:
Or kisse it thou, but once, or twice,
And for the Bride-Cake ther’l be Spice
Robert Herrick, ‘ Hesperides’ (1648)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thanksgiving Menus, Part III: The Vegetarian Option.

We continue our examination of historic Thanksgiving Day menus with a selection of vegetarian offerings.


The “Diet for a Complexion” article in the New York Times of 1897, as featured in the story of November 7th, ended with a vegetarian Thanksgiving menu suggestion:

Vegetable Soup.
Baked White Potatoes. Baked Sweet Potatoes.
Lima Beans. Corn. Tomatoes.
Oyster Plant Croquettes. Brown Gravy.
Apple Sauce.
Celery, Spiced Peaches, Pickles, Potato Salad.
Salted Almonds.
Plum pudding, Vanilla sauce.
Mince pie. Cherry pie. Custard pie.
Oranges, Bananas, Apples, Figs, Grapes.
Raisins. Nuts.
Banana Ice-cream.

"The mince pie is made of apples, raisins, currants, lemons, citron, lemon peel, and seasoned with the proper spices.

Not everyone cares to become a vegetarian, but if a larger proportion of vegetables in the diet has a tendency to develop pink and white Fra Beato Angelico faces, it is worth trying."


The Vegetarian Society of New York enjoyed their “non-carnivorous dinner” on Thanksgiving Day. The menu was:

Fresh mushroom cocktail, olives and radishes, clear vegetable soup, whole wheat crackers, celery, crusted eggplant with tartare sauce, chestnut roast with brown gravy; candied sweet and mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, salad, pumpkin and mince pie, and coffee.


Oscar (Tschirky) of the Waldorf and Neil (Ehmke) of the Vegetarian Society of New York disagreed over the traditional components of the Thanksgiving Dinner in 1946, which is hardly surprising.

The only thing they did agree on was “mixed green salad and assorted fresh fruits”

Mr Ehmke was of the opinion that “Harvest foods should be served”. At their society Thanksgiving Dinner, the vegetarians “and their 250 sympathisers” sat down to: pot cheese, nut melange, cereal beverage and soy blueberry and whole wheat date and raisin muffins.

Oscar served “an old fashioned dinner” at the Waldorf-Astoria. The menu included: oysters, celery, olives, giblet soup, sea food or fillet of sea bass sauté with grapes, roast turkey with chestnut stuffing, pan gravy, cranberry sauce, string beans, squash, turnips, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, yams, plum pudding, or mince or pumpkin pie or ice cream, coffee, nuts, figs, raisins, and cider.

To see Thanksgiving Menus, Parts I and II, please just scroll down.

Thanksgiving Menus, Part II: The Presidential

1946: President Truman’s Diet Thanksgiving.

It must have been the clear bouillon that made the diet difference.

From the New York Times:
The White House announced today an ample menu for the Thanksgiving dinner which President Truman will sandwich in between two diplomatic dinners, but he’s still dieting.

The continued waistline-reduction regime is on the authority of Mrs. Mary E. Sharpe, White House housekeeper, who counts the Presidential calories. She declined to elaborate other than to say: “When I make up menus I keep it in mind.”

Mrs. Sharpe gave the Thanksgiving menu as follows: clear bouillon, curled celery and olives, roast stuffed turkey, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, candied sweet potatoes, buttered peas, cauliflower au gratin, orange and cress salad, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and cheese, candied fruit, nuts, coffee.

1961: President Kennedy’s Family Dinner.

President Kennedy and his family dined at the home of his father, Joseph P. Kennedy in Nantucket Sound on Thanksgiving Day in 1961. There were 33 at dinner, and the menu was:

Tomato Soup
Roast Turkey
Cranberry Sauce
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Hot Buttered Rolls
Assorted Pies
Vanilla, Strawberry, and Chocolate Ice Cream.
1995: President Clinton at Camp David.
Thanksgiving Menu:

Turkey wrapped in Bacon.
Mrs. Kelly’s traditional cornbread stuffing.
Mashed Potatoes.
Liza’s Sweet Potato Casserole.
(from "30 Years at the Arkansas Governors' Mansion")
Giblet Gravy.
Seasoned Green Beans.
Assorted cut relish tray.
Black Cherry Salad.
Cold Fruit Salad
Fresh baked dinner rolls and muffins
Pumpkin pie, Pecan pie, Apple pie.
For Thanksgiving Menus, Part I: The good, the bad, and the ugly - simply scroll down, please.
Next Instalment: Thanksgiving Menus, Part III: The Vegetarian Option.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thanksgiving Menus, Part I: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The twelve thousand geographic miles that once separated North America from Australia has shrunk to a few electronic nanoseconds, which means that it has been impossible "over here" to avoid noticing the building Thanksgiving fever "over there". The feeling of being unable to participate, of being left out - excluded even - has not been pleasant. However, I have stopped sulking now, and realise that I can indeed participate by simply doing what I usually do, and giving you some food history for the day.

So, for my many American friends (most of whom I have never met), here is my Thanksgiving gift to you - a selection of historic menus for your enjoyment.


The idea of “eating local” as one aspect of eating ethically has some currency, but it is hardly a new idea. It was promoted as an “appropriate and patriotic” approach to Thanksgiving in November 1918, shortly after the armistice was signed. Americans were reminded of the continuing need to conserve food so that Europe could be fed. The Food Board did its bit by providing sample menus of how this could be achieved, and the New York Times did its bit by publishing them.


“Home-Grown” Thanksgiving Dinner Urged by Food Board.

Thanksgiving dinners of “extreme simplicity” are advocated by the Food Administration, which calls to mind that more than 300,000,000 people in the Eastern Hemisphere need food. The Food Administration says that a “home grown” dinner is recommended, with simple menu, no waste, no imported food, and economy in the use of fats. “Feasting” during the holiday season is discouraged. “Even with the armistice in effect, the need for food saving with a view to world relief is greater than ever” says an announcement today.

The Food Administration suggests any one of these six simple menus as “appropriate and patriotic”:


Roast Turkey, Potato Stuffing.
Glazed Sweet Potatoes, String Beans,
Pickles, Turnips, Onions.
Pumpkin Pie.


Roast Chicken, Potato and Celery Stuffing.
Cranberry Jelly.
Steamed Squash, Oyster Plant, Nuts.
Celery and Apple Salad.
(Use locally grown nuts.)
Plum Pudding.


Roast Pork, Baked Apples.
Cranberry Jelly, Squash, Turnips.
Tomato Salad (home canned tomatoes.)
Marshmallow Pudding.


Roast Rabbit, Creole Stuffing.
Glazed Sweet Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce.
Head Lettuce Salad, with Mayonnaise.
Celery, Locally Grown Nuts.
Indian Pudding, with Raisins.


Roast Goose, Potato and Walnut Stuffing.
Apple Sauce, Giblet Gravy.
Fried Carrots, Canned Peas.
Fruit Salad.
Sweet Potato Pie.


Roast Wild Duck, Stuffed with Apples.
Belgian Baked Potatoes, Stuffed Olives.
Fried Tomatoes, Escalloped Eggplant.
Cabbage Salad.
Cranberry and Apple Pudding with
Cranberry Pudding Sauce.


The bad boys in Sing-Sing got some good food at Thanksgiving in 1900. This is their menu as described by the New York Times:

In the Prison at Sing Sing.

The inmates of the State Prison had a holiday to-day and enjoyed a “Thanksgiving” fare. Breakfast consisted of sausage, mashed potatoes, peas, milk and sugar, and all the bread they wanted. Mince pie, cheese, apples, bread, tea with milk and sugar, and two cigars for each man formed the bill of fare for dinner. There was no entertainment of any kind, and no religious exercises were held.


In the pre-Super Size days of 1911, there were still some who believed that the way to fame and notoriety was via the stomach.


Starts Sample Bill of Fare with 15 Pounds of Turkey – Will Eat it for $25.
Charles W.Glidden of Lawrence, who says he is the champion eater of New England has submitted a Thanksgiving menu against which he is willing to back himself to the extent of $25. Here is the menu:

Fifteen pounds of turkey or chicken, two loaves of bread, three quarts tea, six bananas and cream, twelve doughnuts, one bunch celery, ten large potatoes, one-half pound butter, one order squash, two quarts cranberry sauce, one mince pie.

Glidden is the man who broke into fame not long ago by eating 58 ears of corn in 115 minutes. Last Monday Lewis A. Walker of Spencer issued a challenge, directed partly at James R. Kane of West Warren, and submitted three menus, offering Kane his choice, but Glidden scorns Walker and his sample menus, saying it makes him “laugh to hear these other fellows tell how much they can eat.”

As the Big Day approaches, time and energy willing, I will add a few more interesting menus to this little collection.

Tomorrow: "Thanksgiving Menus Presidential Style" perhaps, if you are still interested?

Ox-cheek and Dumplings.

Today, November 17th …

Jane Austen kept up a regular correspondence with her beloved sister Cassandra, and the letters are as full of the witty, pithy observations on life as are her novels. On this day in 1798 she wrote:

“I am very fond of experimental housekeeping, such as having an ox-cheek now and then, I shall have one next week, and I mean to have some little dumplings put into it, that I may fancy myself at Godmersham.”

Godmersham was the home of Jane’s brother Edward, and she visited there often. But what did she mean by “experimental housekeeping”? Her comment sounds very tongue-in-cheek, as if there is some insider family joke going on. Jane was certainly not indicating that the cooking of ox-cheek itself constituted experimental housekeeping. It was part of the standard repertoire of any ordinary cook, as cookbooks of the time show. John Nott’s ‘Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary’ (1724) for example gave five ways of preparing it – baked, boiled (2 versions), marinated, and in pie.

Ox-cheek pie could be very luxurious, with the meat being cooked slowly overnight, then removed from the bone and layered with truffles, artichokes, asparagus, forcemeat balls, and hard eggs, topped up with good gravy then covered with puff pastry ornamented with pastry leaves. Essentially though, ox-cheek was a cheap cut of meat, and much more likely to be made into soup. One of the chief desirable virtues in a housewife or housekeeper has always been thrift, and ox-cheek provided an excellent opportunity to demonstrate thriftiness. The basic soup could also provide a second course, as “the meat, when taken from the bones, may be served as stew”. For the less squeamish, it could even be poured over the unsliced head, as in the following recipe (which also uses the ox palates) from the same year as Jane’s letter:

Ox-cheek Soup.
Take half an ox-head, and cut the cheek clean from the bones, break the bones to pieces, and put them in a large pan of water all night to soak out the blood; in the morning wash them clean out, and put them into a pot with six quarts of water, when the scum rises, skim it well; take six onions, six heads of cellery, about four leeks, and two turneps, well washed and cut in two, with a bundle of sweet herbs, a spoonful of all-spice, some cloves and mace, and a little salt; put in two palates, and stew them till tender, then take them out and throw them into cold water, and take off the skins; cut them into square pieces, stew the head five hours, try if the head is tender, if not stew it gently till it is; then take it out, and strain the soup into a pan to settle, skim it well, and pour it from the settlings; put a quarter of a pound of butter in a stew-pan and melt it, put two large spoonfuls of flour in, and stir it about till it is smooth; by degrees put the soup in, keep stirring for fear it should go into lumps, if it does you must strain through a sieve, put in half a pint of white wine, and season it with Cayan pepper and common pepper and salt, nearly as hot as mock turtle; in the meantime cut a carrot and two turneps in dice, four heads of cellery and two leeks about half an inch long, boiled in water till tender, strain them in a sieve, and put them to the soup; cut the cheek in square pieces and put it in with the palates, and two spoonfuls of browning, stew it gently for half an hour and skim the fat off clean; put it in a soup-dish or tureen with crispt bread in a plate.N.B. You may put the cheek whole in a large soup dish, if you like it best, and the soup over it.
[Briggs, Richard. The English art of cookery, according to the present practice; being a complete guide to all housekeepers, on a plan entirely new; ... 1798]

Another desirable virtue of housewives and housekeepers was charity, and one of its manifestations was the provision of soup for the poor. A good woman called Hannah More produced a little 16 page booklet round about the time of Jane’s letter, to help with this activity. It was called ‘The cottage cook, or, Mrs. Jones’s cheap dishes; shewing the way to do much good with little money.’ The soup recipe she recommended was so thrifty it used only one ox-cheek and was so charitable that it fed sixty poor souls at her recommended rate of a pint per grown up. The recipe was:

An ox cheek, two pecks of potatoes, a quarter of a peck of onions, one ounce of pepper, half a pound of salt, boiled together in ninety pints of water till reduced to sixty, any garden stuff may be thrown in.

A very versatile meat, ox-cheek. What happens to it nowadays?

A Previous Story for this Day ….

The story for November 17th 2005 was “The Clerical Gourmet

Monday’s Story …

Queen’s Cake and Bride’s Pie.

Quotation for the Day …

The soup, thin and dark and utterly savorless, tasted as if it had been drained out of the umbrella stand. Margaret Halsey (1910-1997)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Some rather expensive wine.

Today, November 16th …

The oldest bottle of wine ever sold at auction was a bottle of 1646 imperial Tokay. The action happened at Sotheby’s in Geneva on this day in 1984, and the price was 1,250 Swiss francs (US$1,005 or AUD$1,314 or GB₤ 530). That’s quite a lot of money for what may well have been vinegar – not that the new owners would have intended to drink it, wine collectors collect, they don’t drink the stuff.

For comparison purposes, here are a couple more amazing wine price factoids.

In 1985 at Christie’s in London, a world auction record for a single bottle of wine was recorded. The wine? A 1787 Château Lafite once owned by Thomas Jefferson. The price? A very cool US $157,500.

In March 2006 at Christie’s New York, a world record price for a case of wine was recorded when a six magnum box of 1985 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti was sold for US$170,375. The record remained for only a few short months until it was broken again twice within a space of minutes. This time the action was at Christie’s Los Angeles where in October a 12 bottle case of Mouton 1945 sold for US$ 290,000, followed by a 6 magnum case for US$ 345,000.

One big problem with big prices is that they attract big tricksters, and periodic wine fraud scandals keep making the news. The worst possible scenario happened to a billionaire art and wine collector from Florida, William Koch, when he bought several bottles of wine purporting to be from Thomas Jefferson’s Paris cellars (the bottle necks engraved with the great man’s initials to prove it) in 1988. It was not until he was asked to put one of the bottles on display in a Boston museum exhibit in 2005 that Koch was alerted to a possible fraud by museum experts who determined that the engraving was done using tools that did not exist in Jefferson’s time. The legal deliberations will no doubt continue for some time.

Wine fraud is easy in theory. Blending fraud is probably very common – take a little premium wine and blend with less premium, but sell at the premium price. Or change a few labels, add some dust, engrave bottle necks if wished, and auction to the highest bidder. No-one can taste test the product, and even if they did, there probably aren’t any tasting notes around for 1646 Tokay for comparison purposes.

It is all about intent of course, and “mock” beverages or food are not necessarily intended to be fraudulent, sometimes they are just designed as substitutes for an unavailable or unaffordable real thing.

William Graham of Ware wrote a book called “The art of making wines from fruits, flowers, and herbs, all the native growth of Great Britain. ... ” in 1770. He covered the standard beverages made from elderflower and turnip and so on, but also included some instructions for imitation wines.

To make Artificial Malaga, Canary Wine, &c.
Take a cask that has been well seasoned with right old Malaga; new trim it, and hoop it strong, leaving it open at one end, to which end a close cover must be fitted, to take off and put on at pleasure, and keep it in a seasons in a warm place; fll it with spring or conduit water, and to every gallon of water add six pounds of the best Malaga raisins well bruised, and sprinkle on every twenty gallons a handful of calx wine; then place the cover close, and keep it warm with cloths fastened about it, and so let it continue four or five days to work and ferment; after that open it, and see if the raisins are floating on the top of the water; and if you do find that they are, press them down again, and so do every four or five days, letting them stand three weeks or a month; then tap the vessel three or four inches above the bottom, and try if the liquor tastes; and if it does not, let it stand longer, till it has got the true flavour; then draw it off into another cask that has had Malaga in it, and to every twenty gallons put a pint of the best aqua vitae, a quart of Alicant wine, and two new-laid eggs beaten together, and let it stand in a vaulted cellar, or such-like place, till it be fit for drinking; if it want sweetness, put in a little fine loaf-sugar, and it will abundantly answer your expectation: and this dashed with a little white wine, or curious brisk pippin cyder, may pass for Canary.

And thus not only artificial Malaga may be made, but other artificial wines; for it cannot but be supposed that an ingenious person may, by these examples, invent and prepare other sorts of wines different from these in taste, for having once got the knowledge of the different herbs that bear a similarity to the different sulphur of the true wine, whether styptic, acid, mild, lusciouis, fat, or balsamic, so must the different sorts of wines be, whether Ribella, Tent, Rapadavia, Canary, or any others: as for white wine, or Rhenish, you may make them of sweeter or tarter ciders, as you find in the directions given for making artificial Claret, bating the colouring; though you must be at the labour and charge of fining them more, on purpose to keep up a good body.

A previous Story for this Day …

The November 16th story in 2005 was “Tea Time Memories”, and featured Proust and madeleines and linden tea.

Tomorrow’s Story ..

Ox-cheek and Dumplings.

Quotation for the Day …

I forget the name of the place; I forget the name of the girl; but the wine was Chambertin. Hilaire Belloc.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Peace Christmas Pudding.

Today, November 15th …

On this day in 1918, a few days after the armistice, there was a mood of cautious elation in Britain. The relief was tempered with a sense of the awesome responsibility of feeding Europe, and the ordinary British housewife was reminded that shortages would continue for a while. The ordinary British housewife at that time must have had her mind firmly focussed on her own imminent responsibility to provide a Christmas pudding for her family - shortages and difficulties notwithstanding. Sensibly, the authorities made some concessions to the season, and over the space of a few days, announcements were made about some essential Christmas ingredients.

A maximum price for all eggs (except plovers’ eggs and gulls’ eggs) was set, although the customer was reminded that “in most cases, dried eggs will have to be used” in the pudding. The increased sugar ration would, it was hoped, offset this dreary persistence of egg powder. Bread was to become whiter, with a smaller substraction of the grain allowed (the browner, wholemealier, healthier wartime bread was not universally adored by Britons). Another “pleasing announcement” which would give “immense sentimental satisfaction” was that an effort would be made to import supplies of apples, oranges and other fruits and nuts, “so that Christmas may be a more agreeable festival”. This extra fruit was important, for although “about 12,500 tons of currants, raisins and sultanas will be released for Christmas”, for practical purposes this translated to only a limited quantity of dried fruit per family. The pudding cook was advised that “This dried fruit deficiency can, however, be made good by the addition of apples, of which there will shortly be a large quantity on the market.”

The official pudding promoted by the Ministry of Food in 1918 was the previous year’s recipe recycled, but with a new name. “Peace Christmas Pudding” (which “could not aspire to pre-war richness”) included carrots to help the apples help the dried fruit deficiency, and treacle to help the sugar deficiency and help disguise the flavour of the dreaded egg powder. At least the bread was white. And with what joy it must have been eaten!

Peace Christmas Pudding.
(large enough for six)
4 oz flour, 4 oz soaked bread, 6 oz chopped suet, ½ teas salt, 1 dessert spoonful mixed spice, 4 oz sultanas, 2 oz mixed chopped peel, ½ lb apples, 2 oz grated carrot, 1 egg (dried), ½ gill milk, 2 oz treacle, grated rind and juice half a lemon
Weigh out and measure all the ingredients. Prepare the dry materials and put them in a mixing bowl, stir all well together, then add the egg and milk. When thoroughly mixed, put the mixture into two well-greased basins, cover each with a cloth and boil or steam for fully three hours.

A previous Story for this Day …

On November 15th 2005 the story was about the Italian Futurists and vermicelli al pomodoro.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Some rather expensive wine.

Quotation for the Day …

Christmas is a season of such infinite labour, as well as expense in the shopping and present-making line, that almost every woman I know is good for nothing in purse and person for a month afterwards, done up physically, and broken down financially
Fanny Kemble (1809–1893)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Trinity of Cassoulets.

Today, November 14th …

Prosper Montagné, the man who gave us the Larousse Gastronomique, was born on this day in 1865 in Carcassone. His original goal was to be an architect, but he was inevitably drawn into the business when his father opened a hotel in Toulouse. He stayed in the industry, and gradually moved upwards through the kitchens of some of the most famous restaurants in the country, with a few other career diversions along the way. During the first world war he organised the kitchens of the Allied armies; in the 1920’s he travelled to the United States and visited the slaughterhouses of Chicago; on his return to Paris he opened his own restaurant (which folded); and, of course, he wrote several books.

Naturally we should choose something from the Larousse Gastronomique to celebrate Prosper’s birthday. Given that it contains an awesome 8,500 recipes, it might seem like an impossible choice, but there is one clear winner – the quintessential French dish called cassoulet. Why is the choice so easy? Because Prosper was born in Carcassone, and started his career in Toulouse – which means he had a personal history in two of the three classical sources for cassoulet.

Prosper starts by fairly prosaically describing cassoulet as a “Haricot (shell) bean stew”, he goes on to quote “certain gastronomes” who insist that the cassoulet from Castelnaudary (in South West France) is the only true version, and “serious culinary writers” (including himself) recognise a “Trinity” of cassoulets – those of Castelnaudary, Carcassonne, and Toulouse.

He then goes on to differentiate them:

“The three types of cassoulet should have the following differences: that of Castelnaudary (the forebear, the leader), is prepared with fresh pork, ham, knuckle of pork, and fresh bacon rinds; that of Carcassonne with the addition to the above of a shortened leg of mutton, and partridges in season; that of Toulouse, always in addition to the ingredients already mentioned for the cassoulet de Castelnaudary: breast of pork, Toulouse sausage, mutton (neck or boned breast) and confit d’oie (preserved goose) or confit de canard (preserved duck)."

And finally, gives the basic recipe:

Cassoulet de Castelnaudary.
Here is a ‘simple’ recipe confided to us by a gourmand of Castelnaudary:
Simmer some white haricot (shell) beans in a glazed earthenware pot known as a toupin (Pamiers or Cazères haricots are the best) with the usual seasoning, meats, and aromatic vegetables (without forgetting the garlic, the soul of Languedoc cooking!)
Drain them when they are properly cooked but whole and unbroken, put them in their special earthenware pot (in Issel clay) which has been lined with fresh bacon skins cooked with the haricots, knuckle of pork, breast of pork, sausage, a leg of confit d’oie (preserved goose).
Sprinkle with a layer of coarse breadcrumbs and add goose fat. Put into the baker’s oven (heated with mountain furze), and cook gently for several hours.
When a good golden crust has formed on the surface of the cassoulet stir it in with the aid of a spoon, and repeat this operation at least two or three times.
‘And so’, says our gourmand, ‘you will obtain a cassoulet which you can serve with either a fine Aquitaine wine, or with an old Minervois wine’.

As it is Prosper’s birthday today, it would seem appropriate to make the version from Carcassonne, so please do add the mutton and (if you have them) partridges, to the basic recipe.

A previous Story for this Day …

On this date in 2005 we featured “Armadillo and Hot Spices”.

Tomorrow’s Story ..

Peace Christmas Pudding

Quotation for the Day …

Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba. Julia Child.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Game Dinner, 1880

Today, November 13th …

The twenty-fifth Annual Game Dinner was in Chicago on this day in 1880. The host was the hotel magnate John Burroughs Drake who held the event for thirty years, initially at the Tremont House then at his Grand Pacific Hotel (after he built it 1873 for a cool $1.5 million).

Wild game dinners became fashionable for the rich and powerful in the second half of the nineteenth century in North America (which proved to be a great thing for trappers and transporters, but not so good for several species of fauna), and no-one did it bigger or better than John B. Drake. Five hundred guests sat down to the following spectacular bill of fare on this day in 1880:

Blue Point oysters in shell.
Soup: Game, Venison Broth.
Fish: Black Bass, Brook Trout.
Animals: Loin of buffalo, leg of elk, saddle of black-tail deer, saddle of mountain sheep, red deer, saddle of black bear, leg of black bear, saddle of antelope, loin of moose, coon, woodchuck, opossum, red squirrel, black squirrel, jack rabbit, English hare, mountain bison, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, striped squirrel, American rabbit.
Forest Birds: Wild turkey, cedar hen, spruce grouse, pheasant, partridge, prairie chicken, quail, blackbirds, Virginia partridge, red-winged starling, pintail grouse, ruffled grouse, Carolina dove.
Marsh Birds: Jack snipe, sand snipe, yellow-leg plover, golden plover, kildeer plover sand peep, Wilson snipe, least sandpiper, rice birds, reed birds, dunlin sandpiper, rail, curlew, sandhill crane.
Water Fowl: Wild goose, Canada goose, laughing goose, canvas-back duck, black duck, mallard duck, coot, brant, red-neck grebe, longtail duck, hooded merganeer duck, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, blue-bill widgeon, ringed-neck duck, red-head duck, shoveler duck, scoop duck, ruffle-headed duck, butter-ball duck, dusky duck, gray duck, Arctic goose, stewed terrapin in cases, green turtle steak, Burgundy sauce, oyster patties, frogs fried in crumbs.
Pièces de resistance: The pride of the forest, the coon on watch, the happy family, the ranch cottage, the hunter at home, boned snipe with truffles, sand hill crane in marsh, quail on socle, red-winged starling en arbour, boned ducks in feather, prairie chicken in nest, woodchuck sunning, partridge in plumage, fox squirrel au naturel.

The New York Times described “The Brilliant Affair” down to the typographical details of the bill of fare itself:

“The bill of fare was gotten up beautifully in a typographical way. The cover represented hunting scenes and the Grand Pacific Hotel in its exterior and kitchen. The back was a monogram in gold bronze, topped with an elk’s head. It was printed on Nile green calendar paper.”

It would quite literally be impossible to repeat that dinner today. I say that advisedly, thanks to a recent article by Frank Bruni in the New York Times, who says “Federal law forbids the commercial sale of indigenous American wildlife that isn’t being raised in special circumstances.” So, anything “wild” on a New York menu is either “quasi-wild”, or the breed has been given that name (as in “wild boar”), or it was actually wild but was shot elsewhere, such as Scotland, where post-mortem inspections are carried out in a manner which satisfies the American authorities.

All of which leaves me with two dilemmas. I do not wish to get a reputation for political incorrectness in giving recipes for endangered species (such as the whale, last week), or for risking public health in giving recipes for potentially disease-ridden, pellet-ridden beasties and birdies. I must stand firm however, in telling my stories.

The second, more serious dilemma is – how on earth do I choose which dish to feature from among so many?

This is how I do it. I avoid the issue. It is still, as far as I am aware, legal to eat your own personally hunted game in America (within the usual limitations of licences, seasons etc), so many of you huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ types must have your own particular methods of preparation. If you are willing to share, please place your recipes in the comments section. With some collaboration, for the sake of historic interest, we could have a virtual banquet, or at least an interesting treatise.

For my own contribution since I live "elsewhere", I give you a recipe for the Burgundy Sauce. Or rather, it is for Bordelaise Sauce, but I am sure Charles Ranhofer would understand if you substitute Burgundy for the Bordeaux (or would he?).

Bordelaise Sauce.
Put into a saucepan half a bottleful of Bordeaux wine, adding a small garnished bouquet containing a little garlic, half a bay leaf, and two cloves; a quarter of a pound of the peelings and stalks of some chopped mushrooms, one tablespoonful of blanched shallots lightly fried in three spoonfuls of oil, one pint of espagnole sauce, half a pint of veal blond, and season with salt, mignonette and cayenne, boil, skim off the fat and then pour in half a bottleful of white wine, and when the sauce is reduced, strain it through a tammy and stir in a teaspoonful of chopped parsley; a pound of beef marrow cut in either squares or slices may be added to the bordelaise just when ready to serve. A simpler way is to brown some minced shallots in oil with a clove of crushed garlic, adding red wine and gravy, then reduce it to half, pour in the espagnole, boil, skim off the fat and serve. [From Charles Ranhofer’s “The Epicurean” 1894]

Tomorrow’s Story …

A trinity of cassoulets.

Quotation for the Day …

I am a strong partisan of second causes, and I believe firmly that the entire gallinaceous order (fowl) has been merely created to furnish our larders and our banquets. Brillat-Savarin.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Whale of a Dinner.

Today, November 10th …

The whaling industry in Australia began on this day in 1791. Samuel Enderby, of the well-established British whaling and sealing firm Samuel Enderby & Sons arranged for whaling ships to carry convicts in the Third Fleet. Naturally they stayed on to ply their lucrative trade, and Australia’s first primary industry was born.

The enterprise was enormously successful - for humans that is. The Southern Right Whale was harvested close to extinction within a mere fifty years. Humpback Whales lasted a little longer before reaching almost the same fate, but it was not until the 1930’s that the world started to get concerned enough to call a moratorium on the industry.

Several species of whale remain endangered to this day. Part of the world continues to hunt them, while the rest of the world continues to argue about how to solve the problem. The great disgrace is that this is not a story of one hungry species eating another to near-extinction.
Humans have almost destroyed the whale to supply their demand for for non-culinary oil for candles, lamps, soap etc, and “bone” for such essential items as whips, corsets, and umbrellas.

Whale-meat is edible of course, but apart from some communities in the frozen wastelands of the world, it has not historically been a “real” food for significant numbers of people. Occasionally it has been serendipitous food, as when a whale has been beached, or as a convenient meal for fishermen in the whaling industry. Sometimes it has been eaten as a ceremonial or symbolic food – such as in Japan where it has been eaten for centuries and is considered part of the cultural heritage.

Ironically, simultaneously with the realisation in the 1930’s that some species of whale might be endangered, humans became endangered by a different sort of conflict. The two concepts collided when human war made humans realise that whale could be a good source of “real” food too. In Japan, the effect was felt after the war, when for a long time the only protein available in any quantity was whale meat, and an entire generation of Japanese schoolchildren of the time have become adults who look upon it as comfort food.

In Allied countries faced with shortages and rationing, food authorities promoted whale as a substitute for other meat, but it would be an understatement to say that it never became popular in those countries in spite of the vigour and creativity of the promotional campaigns. Britain was still under rationing for years after the war, and in 1947 “a correspondent” to The Times gave some ideas for cooking whale meat.

Firstly, she described it:

“The whale meat, which has been likened to beef, is perhaps more of the tecture of strong liver. The lack of fat is a drawback in the opinion of some, but all who eat it are surprised at the absence of a fishy taste and the darkness of the flesh”.

Then she recommended it cooked as “goulash”.

Whale Goulash.
Allow about a ¼ lb. of meat to a person (the cost at the fishmongers is 1s. 10d. a lb.). Cut finely a similar weight of onions and cook them in hot fat until they are transparent , but do not allow them to brown! Cut the whale meat into small cubes, season with salt and sweet paprika, add it to the onions, and cover and cook for half an hour over a low heat to draw out the juices. Add tomato ketchup to colour and a little water. Keep covered and simmer until the onions have become absorbed into the gravy. Serve with macaroni or dumplings.

To make dumplings, fry a cupful of soft bread cut into small cubes in margarine, put in a basin and sprinkle with a little flour. Add two beaten eggs, or the reconstituted equivalent, enough milk to make a wet dough, and season. Beat well with a wooden spoon and roll into balls with hands dipped in cold water. Put into boiling water and boil for twenty minutes.

A previous Story for this Day …

The story for November 10th 2005 was "A taste of France, or is it Italy."

Monday’s Story …

A Game Dinner, 1880.

Quotation for the Day …

He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it. Herman Melville, ‘Moby Dick’.