Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Grubs and Roots.

Today, May 31st.

In 1840-1 Edward John Eyre lead an expedition across 1200 miles of some of Australia’s most unforgiving country, to open up the route between Adelaide and West Australia.

By this date, the party was reduced to Eyre and Wylie (his young aboriginal assistant and guide) and their situation was perilous. Eyre wrote:

… I halted for the night, to rest myself and give Wylie an opportunity of looking for food. … There were many grass-trees in the vicinity, and as several of these had been broken down and were dead they were full of the white grubs of which the natives are so fond. From these Wylie enjoyed a plentiful, and to him, luxurious supper. I could not bring myself to try them, preferring the root of the broad flag-reed, which, for the first time, we met with at this stream, and which is an excellent and nutritious article of food. This root being dug up, and roasted in hot ashes, yields a great quantity of a mealy farinaceous powder interspersed among the fibres; it is of an agreeable flavour, wholesome, and satisfying to the appetite. In all parts of Australia, even where other food abounds, the root of this reed is a favourite and staple article of diet among the aborigines.

The white grub so relished by Wylie was, of course, the witchetty or witjuti grub, the larva of a moth found in the roots of some species of wattle known to Central Australian aboriginals as the witjuti bush, or “food tree”. They are usually eaten raw and alive, straight from the wood - although for faint-hearted tourists they are usually cooked. Their flavour is something like chickeny scrambled eggs, and they are highly nutritious - ten large ones will provide sufficient daily protein for one adult.

No recipe is needed then, for the grubs, and Eyre has given us instructions for preparing the reed, so lets jump to a much later period in the settlement, and try another delicacy.

Mrs Rawson’s Roast Bandicoot.
A bandicoot is a very disagreeable animal to clean, therefore it should be done as soon after killing as possible, and then the flesh can be left in strong vinegar and water for a few hours before dressing. Sweet potatoes and onions make a good stuffing for bandicoot, which is good either boiled or baked.

Tomorrow: Day One at the Ritz.

Quotation for the Day:

Why is not a rat as good as a rabbit? Why should men eat shrimps and neglect cockroaches?. Henry Ward Beecher.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Mission Menu.

Today, May 30th …

A luncheon was held aboard the H.M.S “Aquitania” on this day in 1918, in honour of the American Mission to the allied countries. The “Aquitania” was a British Cunard Line cruise ship chartered by the United States during WW I for use as a troop ship, although to judge by the menu, the food retained some element of the luxury associated with peace-time cruising.

There are a couple of small glitches in interpreting the menu: a few words were difficult to read due to the condition of the paper, and the dishes all appear to be named in honour of individuals who presumably had something to do with the war effort. The “Salade de Wilson” is obvious, but The Old Foodie eagerly awaits enlightenment on the other names from someone with a knowledge of U.S history of the time.

Potage McCormick
Davis Rarebits-Meredith
Johnson’s Haricot Ox Tail
Short’s Mutton Chops Frey Potatoes, Dunn, Wright
Green berry Peas Scotts Mashed Potatoes
Lovejoy’ York Ham Higgins’ Roast Beef
Salade de Wilson
Compote of Plums & Custard a la Ryan
Grenfell Cheese – Seccor (?)
Nestor Coffee – Spraggon (?)

Meanwhile, back on the American mainland, where normal folk were living with nominated meatless, wheatless and porkless days, a menu such as this – with ham and roast beef at the same meal, would have seemed an impossible dream. Instead they had to make do with dishes such as these, from “Daily Menus for War Service” by Thetta Quay Franks:

Boston Roast (Farmers Bulletin 487)
1 pound can of kidney beans or equivalent quantity of cooked beans; ½ pound of grated cheese; breadcrumbs, salt.
Mash the beans or put them through a meat grinder. Add the cheese, and sufficient breadcrumbs to make the mixture stiff enough to be formed into a roll. Bake in a moderate oven, basting occasionally with butter and water. Serve with tomato sauce. This dish may be flavoured with onions, chopped, and cooked in butter and water.

Mock Chicken (Columbia War Papers)
Cooked beans, 2 cups; stale breadcrumbs, 1 ½ cups; Butterine, 2 tablespoons; Milk, ¾ cup; Salt, ¾ teaspoon.
Press the beans through a fine strainer, add the milk.Arrange alternate layers of bean pulp and buttered crumbs in a buttered baking dish. Cover with crumbs and bake in a moderate oven 45 minutes. Serve with tomato sauce.

Tomorrow: Grubs and Roots.

Quotation for the Day …

In America, even your menus have the gift of language. . . . 'The Chef's own Vienna Roast. A hearty, rich meat loaf, gently seasoned to perfection and served in a creamy nest of mashed farm potatoes and strictly fresh garden vegetables.' Of course, what you get is cole slaw and a slab of meat, but that doesn't matter because the menu has already started your juices going. Oh, those menus. In America, they are poetry. Laurie Lee.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Advance Holiday Postings.

The Old Foodie will be away attending her son's wedding in Greece (and how much fun is that!) from today 12th May to Monday 29th May.

So as not to disappoint, a little story has still been written for each day.

The Old Foodie expects you to do the honourable thing, and not read them in advance.

On the correct day, simply click on the title of the story, and you will be taken there instantly.

May 12th: To Pickell Walnuts Green.

May 15th: Bordeaux and the rest

May 16th: Saintly Pastry.

May 17th: Delights of Mafeking

May 18th: First, Coffee.

May 19th: Pork, Pease, and Pie?

May 22nd: The Elegance of Beans.

May 23rd : Several Seville Suggestions.

May 24th: Fat Cake for the Queen.

May 25th: Lettuce Revisited

May 26th: A Great Culinary Mystery

May 29th: Mint on the Mountain

Until we meet again: Happy Feasting, From The Old Foodie.

P.S emails may or may not be answered during the holiday, so please be patient while you wait for a response to your comments and questions.

Quotation for the Day ..

One of the gladdest moments of human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares and the slavery of home, man feels once more happy.
Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890)

Mint on the Mountain.

On May 29th …

Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to reach the summit of Mt Everest on this day in 1953. They stayed only fifteen minutes, took some photos, and had a small snack before heading back down.

“We made seats for ourselves in the snow, and sitting there in reasonable comfort we ate with relish a bar of mintcake”

Specifically, what they had was Kendal Mint Cake, from England’s Lake District. It is a essentially an opaque sugar cake flavoured with mint, and the story is that the invention was the result of a mistake. A local confectioner making “glacier mints” cooked the sugar syrup a little too long, and it started to form crystals again and became cloudy. It became a local delicacy, then in 1953 the company was asked to provide supplies for the Everest expedition at short notice, and it achieved international fame. The mint cake was chosen presumably because it was a conveniently packed and efficient form of calories for extreme activity.

The “cake” may have gotten to Everest, but it was refused entry to New York in the 1950’s by Customs officers who ruled that “cake” should have flour in it, and ordered a whole shipment dumped in the sea!

As for the recipe, the ingredients for the cake are simple, even if the method is tricky – sugar, glucose, and peppermint oil. The concept of flavoured sugar – in other words “candy” is not new, and historically many other flavours were used in the past. Here is a rose-flavoured sugar cake from a 1671 publication “A Queens delight, or, The art of preserving, conserving and candying …”

Sugar of Roses.
Take the deepest coloured red Roses, pick them, cut off the white bottoms [the small piece at the base of the petal], and dry your red leaves [petals] in an Oven, till they be as dry as possible, then beat them to powder and searce [sieve] them, then take half a pount of Sugar beaten fin, put it into your pan with as much fair water as will wet it, then set it ina chaffing-dish on coals, and let it boil till it be sugar again, then put as much powder of Roses as will make it look very red, stir them well together, and when it is almost cold, put it into pailes, and when it is thoroughly cold, take them off, and put them in boxes.

Tomorrow: A Mission Menu.

On this Topic …

There are some wonderful recipes for sugar and violets at 18th C Cuisine.

Quotation for the Day …

Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold. Judith Olney.

A great culinary mystery.

On May 26th …

The diary of Parson James Woodforde of Norfolk is a wonderful source of information about day to day life in England in the second half of the eighteenth century. He regularly recorded details of his meals, and made several mentions over the years of a most puzzling dish. This day in 1784 was one of them.

I took a ride afterwards to Du Quesne’s and ther dined and spent the Afternoon with him ….We had for Dinner some Pike and Maccarel, a fore Qr. of Lamb rosted, Pidgeon Pye – Charter &c. &c. I carried Mr. Du Quesne a Cucumber in my Pocket.

What is this thing called “Charter”? The good Parson first mentions the dish in 1777 when he has it at the house of another gourmet batchelor cleric. In 1785 he refers to it as “the” Charter, perhaps suggesting that it was a dish in its own right, not just an unattached adjective.

One source says it is “chicken pie, with heavy cream and onion”, which seems far-fetched, given that pies were usually called “pies”, except when they were “pyes”. The Parson Woodforde Society considers from minute examination of the many volumes of the diary, that it was some sort of custard, and a recipe supposedly representing it and consisting of custard and stewed dried apricots was published in an English newspaper in 1984. This also sounds rather fanciful.

Is the name a corruption of “charlet”, from which we get “charlotte”? The OED says charlet is “ A kind of custard containing milk, eggs, brayed pork, and seasoning, boiled to a curd” (which means the first source may not be so wrong after all), and this name probably derives from the old French word for minced meat. By the time “charlet” gets to be “charlotte” it is a thoroughly modern, and absolutely meat-free dessert.

There are recipes for charlet in “The Forme of Cury”, England’s first cookbook from the Master Cooks of Richard II, which dates from the end of the fourteenth century. This one contains pork.

Take Pork and seethe it wel. hewe it smale. cast it in a panne. Breke ayrenn [eggs] and do therto and swyng [shake or mix] it wel togyder. do therto Cowe mylke and Safroun and boile it togyder. salt it & messe it forth.

On Monday: Mint on the Mountain.

Quotation for the Day …

There are only two questions to ask about food. Is it good? And is it authentic? We are open [to] new ideas, but not if it means destroying our history. And food is history. Giuliano Bugialli

Lettuce revisited.

On May 25th …

The first “French Hospital” was set up in London in the early eighteenth century to cater for the Protestant Huguenot refugees from France. In one form or another, in one location or another, the respite facility has continued to the present day to assist the descendants of these refugees.

IN 1905, the thirty-seventh annual dinner was held in aid of funds for the hospital and dispensatory. The French ambassador was in the chair, assisted and supported by the Lord Mayor of London and the the Sheriffs and Under Sheriffs of London. The venue was the Hotel Cecil, and the menu was as follows:

Hors d'Oeuvres Variés
Consommé Carnot Crème Milanaise
Truite Saumonée, Sauce Chablis
Salade de Concombres.
Curry de Homard et Crevettes à l'Indienne
Caille aux Petits Pois à la Française
Aspic de Foie Gras en Belle Vue
Selle d'Agneau à la Broche
Champignons grillés Laitues Farcies
Pommes Nouvelles
Sorbet au Kirsch
Poularde à l'Américaine
Salade NiçoiseAsperges d'Argenteuil, Sauce Mousseline
Fraises Melba glacées
Paniers Nationaux de Petits Fours


Berncastler Doctor
Perrier Jouet, Ex. Sec., 1895
Delbeck. Ex. Reserve Dry, 1893
Duc de Montebello, 1893
ClaretBranairre Ducru, 1893

Dow's 1890

Otard's Liqueur de fine Champagne 1875
Eaux Minérales

It is always good to discover, or re-discover an interesting dish on an old menu. The Consommé Carnot sounds intriguing, and was presumably named for Sadi Carnot, the President of France from 1887-1894, but alas there does not seem to be a recipe for this dish in any of the standard texts of the time. Escoffier does have one for stuffed lettuce however. How long is it since you stuffed a lettuce?

Laitues farcis.
Lettuces, chicken forcemeat, chopped ham, truffle, 3- 4 tablespoons demi-glace sauce, fried croutons.
Blanch the lettuces, cut in half lengthwise and braise as in the preceding recipe.
On each half place 1 tablespoon forcemeat with a little chopped ham and truffle. Fold each half lettuce over onto itself and put into a buttered dish. Sprinkle with a little of the cooking liquor. Cover and put into a slow oven for 4-5 minutes, just long enough to poach the forcemeat. Add demi-glace sauce to the rest of the cooking liquor and strain the sauce over.

Tomorrow: A great culinary mystery.

Quotation for the Day …

I worry about scientists discovering that lettuce has been fattening all along. Erma Bombeck.

Fat Cake for the Queen.

On May 24th …

May 24th was the birthday of Queen Victoria, and was celebrated throughout the Empire by her Majesty’s loyal subjects, including the Bavarian explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, stuck somewhere in the far north of Australia on this day in 1845, and half-starving.

It was the Queen's birth-day, and we celebrated it with what - as our only remaining luxury - we were accustomed to call a fat cake, made of four pounds of flour and some suet, which we had saved for the express purpose, and with a pot of sugared tea. We had for several months been without sugar, with the exception of about ten pounds, which was reserved for cases of illness and for festivals. So necessary does it appear to human nature to interrupt the monotony of life by marked days, on which we indulge in recollections of the past, or in meditations on the future, that we all enjoyed those days as much, and even more, than when surrounded with all the blessings of civilized society; although I am free to admit, that fat-cake and sugared tea in prospectu might induce us to watch with more eagerness for the approach of these days of feasting.

The empty sugar bags were saved in anticipation of celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on June 18th , when they were boiled up with their tea.

Leichhardt’s “Fat Cakes” could not have been as elegant as this recipe in Dorothy Hartley’s classic book “Food in England”.

Take some of the dough from the bread. Roll it out a quarter of an inch thick, dot with dabs of cold stiff lard aobut the size of half walnuts, sprinkle with crystallised sugar, and fold the dough into three, or end to end, pinching the sides together to keep in the air. Fold it over once more from the side and roll again, beginning to roll from the open end, so as to imprison the little pockets of air within the dough. Do this three times, putting the dabs of lard between the bubbles showing through where the first dabs were imprisoned. The last time strew very lightly (over the sugar and lard) with spice – barely a breath of nutmeg or a suspicion of cinnamon or allspice (spice very delicately indeed, a sthe lard takes up the aroma strongly).
Roll out to the size of the baking-tin, marking it across and across, for lardy cakes should be broken down their cracks, never cut. Bake in a hot oven.

Tomorrow: Lettuce revisited.

Quotation for the Day …

Traveling carries with it the curse of being at home everywhere and yet nowhere, for wherever one is some part of oneself remains on another continent. Margot Fonteyn

Several Seville Suggestions.

On May 23rd …

Elizabeth Purefoy was an English gentlewoman living on the family estate in Buckinghamshire in the mid-nineteenth century. The landed gentry were easily self-sufficient, but it behoved their station to obtain delicacies from London to augment their own produce. One of Elizabeths former servants had married and moved to London with her husband, who ran an inn in Islington, and he acted as her agent in the city. She sent him requests, he did his best to fill them, and she let kept him informed as to the condition of the foodstuff when she received it. The fish she loved was often disappointing and “stinking” before it reached her, and sometimes containers leaked or broke. On this day in 1747 she wrote to him:

I received your pickled salmon, and the pot of anchovies, & six Sevill oranges which were all very good & wee return your thanks for them. The salmon was very good but jumbled into pieces & the liqor all run out…I have sent you with your butter a stone Bottle which I desire you to get filled with thevery best sallet oyll & sent as soon as may be.

I wonder what she intended for the oranges? Seville oranges are practically only used in marmalade nowadays, but in the mid-eighteenth century cooks used them far more frequently and in ways we would now consider quite adventurous.

Hannah Glasse’s famous cookbook “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” was published in the same year that Elizabeth wrote her letter. She used Seville oranges in marmalade of course, and many other sweet dishes such as syllabub, bread pudding, and apple “tort” and “florendine”, but she also used them in “spinage pudding”, “potatoe pye” and this interesting dish of eggs.

To broil Eggs.
Cut a Toast round a Quartern Loaf, toast it brown, lay it on your Dish, butter it, and very carefully break six or eight Eggs on the Toast, and take a red-hot Shovel and hold over them. When they are done, squeeze a Seville Orange over them, grate a little Nutmeg over it, and serve it up for a Side-plate. Or you may poach your Eggs, and lay them on the Toast; or toast your Toasts crisp, and pour a little boiling Water over it, season it with a little Salt, and then lay your poached Eggs on it.

Tomorrow: Fat Cake for the Queen.

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

The elegance of beans.

Today, May 22nd …

Vincent van Gogh was voluntarily confined in the asylum at Saint- Rémy in 1889 after a mental breakdown. He but kept up his correspondence with his brother while he was there, and on this day wrote:

The food all right as far as it goes. It tastes a bit musty, of course, as in a cockroach-infested restaurant in Paris, or in a boarding-house. The poor wretches here, having absolutely nothing to do (not a book, nothing more to distract them than a game of boules or a game of draughts), have no other daily distraction than to stuff themselves with chickpeas, haricot beans, lentils and other groceries and colonial produce, in set quantities and at stated hours. As the digestion of these foodstuffs offers certain difficulties, they fill their days in a way as offensive as it is cheap.

We have already touched on this entertaining aspect of beans in an earlier Old Foodie story, so it is time to re-dress the balance, and look for the elegance that is also in them. Vincent was in France, and there is no doubt that the French do elegance very well, so here are a couple of nineteenth century recipes for French-style beans.

From “366 Menus and 1200 recipes”, a book by the Baron Brisse, nineteenth century food journalist for La Liberté:

French beans and haricots à la maitre d’hôtel.
Boil equal quantities of French beans and fresh young haricot beans in salt and water; when cooked, drain and place in a dish near the fire. Melt a large lump of butter, flavour with chopped herbs, salt and pepper, warm the beans in this, and serve very hot

Haricot beans with capsicum butter.
Boil the beans with salt and water, when done, drain them and toss in a saucepan with some capsicum butter.

Capsicum butter.
Pound some dried capsicums, and stir into butter; it is generally used for sandwiches.

French beans with white sauce.
Cut up your French beans; soak them in cold water, and boil in boiling salt and water; when done, plunge them into cold water and drain. Warm some chopped onions in fresh butter, but do not brown them; when nearly cooked, stir in a little flour, salt, pepper, chopped parsley, chives, and a wine-glassful of stock, add the beans, and when boiling, thicken the sauce with yolks of egg, and flavour with lemon juice. Do not let the sauce be too thin

Tomorrow: Several Seville Suggestions.

On this Topic ...

See the earlier posts on April 25th Beans Means Ventosyte, and another food story about Vincent van Gogh at An Admirable Receipt for Eggs.

Quotation for the Day ...

To be a gourmet you must start early, as you must begin riding early to be a good horseman. You must live in France, your father must have been a gourmet. Nothing in life must interest you but your stomach. Ludwig Bemelmans

Pork, Pease, and Pie?

Today, May 19th …

Queen Elizabeth I was released from the Tower of London at one o’clock on this day in 1554, and according to popular legend she went first to church to give thanks, and then on to the King’s Head Tavern in Fenchurch St (sadly no longer there), for a meal of boiled pork and pease pudding.

It is highly unlikely that the cook at the tavern could read, never mind own a cookbook, cooks learned on the job how to make the standard dishes such as pork and pease. Naturally then, a cookbook published around about this time with the impressive title of “A Propre newe Booke of Cokerye, declarynge what maner of meates be beste in season, for al times in the yere, and how they ought to be dressed, and serued at the table, bothe for fleshe dayes, and fyshe dayes. With a newe addition, verye necessarye for all them that delyghteth in Cokerye” assumed this knowledge and did not include recipes for them.

We dont know if Her Majesty had any “dessert” (not that this course existed then as it does now), but there are some good things in the Propre Book which would have been very suitable, such as these pies.

To make pyes of grene apples.
Take your apples and pare them cleane and core them as ye wyll a Quince, thenmake youre coffyn after this maner, take a lyttle fayre water and half a dyche of butterand a little Saffron, and sette all this upon a chafyngdyshe tyll it be hoate then temperyour flower with this sayd licuor, and the whyte of two egges and also make yourcoffyn and ceason your apples with Sinemone, Gynger and Suger ynoughe. Then putte them into your coffin and laye halfe a dyshe of butter above them and so close your coffin, and so bake them.

To make a tarte of goseberies.
Take goseberies and parboyle them in whyte wyne, claret or ale, and boyle withall a lyttle whyte breade, then take them up, and drawe them throughe a strayner asthycke as you can with the yolckes of syxe egges, then season it up with suger, halfe adische of butter, so bake it.

[This little book also contains the first known written recipe for pastry, which was given in an earlier Old Foodie story, on December 7th. This story was retrospectively posted so appears in the March archive; you will need to use Ctrl+F to search for the date after you click HERE.]

Quotation for the Day …

… apple pye with custard all on the top, it's the most acceptable entertainment that could be made; they scald their creame and milk in most parts of these countrys and so its a sort of clouted creame as we call it, with a little sugar, and so put on top of the apple pye; I was muched pleased with my supper … .
Celia Fiennes; , "My Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall" (1698)

First, coffee.

On May 18th …

A Bavarian physician and botanist called Leonhard Raowolf set off with a friend on this day in 1573 on a three year journey to the East, specifically to seek new medicinal plants. He travelled through Syria, Armenia, Constantinople, Baghdad and Jerusalem, recording all sorts of details about day-to-day life in these very foreign places. He was the first European to describe the use of coffee, which he saw in Aleppo:

A very good drink they call Chaube that is almost as black as ink and very good in illness, especially of the stomach. This they drink in the morning early in the open places before everybody, without any fear or regard, out of clay or China cups, as hot as they can, sipping it a little at a time.

One “first” always precipitates a series of others, and the new drink did not take long to start its world take-over. The first record of coffee-drinking in England was in 1637, in the diary of John Evelyn who noted:

… there came in my time to the college one Nathaniel Conopios, out of Greece. He was the first I ever saw drink coffee.

The university town of Oxford was also the location of the first coffee house, in 1650. London followed, with the first establishment there opening in 1652 in St. Michael's Alley, Cornhill. It was widely advertised for its medicinal benefits, with the first known coffee advertisement saying, in part:

... It suppresseth Fumes exceedingly, and therefore good against the Head-ach, and will very much stop the Defluxion of Rhuems, that distil from the Head upon the Stomack, and so prevent and help Consumption and the Cough of the Lungs. It is excellent to prevent and cure the Dropsy, Gout and Scurvy.

It seems fitting to give the first known instructions for the roasting of coffee, from 1662.

The coffee berries are to be bought at any druggist, about three shillings the pound; take what quantity you please and over a charcoal fire, in an old pudding pan or frying pan, keep them always stirring until they be quite black; and when you crack one with your teeth that it is black within as it is without. Yet if you exceed then do you waste the oyl, which only makes the drink; ... The berry prepared as above, beaten, and forced through a lawn sive is then fit for use.

Tomorrow: Pork, Pease, and Pie?

Quotation for the Day …

The coffee falls into your stomach and straightaway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army on the battlefield when the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensign to the wind." - Balzac, "Treatise on Modern Stimulants"

The delights of Mafeking.

On May 17th …

The siege of Mafeking was lifted on this day in 1900, in the most decisive British victory of the second Boer War. The commander of the garrison was Colonel Robert Baden-Powell (of Boy Scout fame), and the action made him a national hero. As national heroes do, he later wrote his memoir and called it “Lessons from the Varsity of Life”. In it he described the siege food:

… we learned to economise very rigidly in the matter of food, and also to devise food substitutes. When a horse was killed … His skin, after having the hair scalded off, was boiled with his head and feet for many hours, chopped up small, and with the addition of a little saltpetre was served out as “brawn”. His flesh was taken from the bones and minced in a great mincing machine and from his inside were made skins into which the meat was crammed and each man received a sausage as his ration. The bones were then boiled into a rich soup, which was dealt out at the different soup kitchens; and they were afterwards pounded up into powder with which to adulterate the flour. … Our flour was made from the horses’ oats, pounded and winnowed. … We managed thus, however, to issue every man daily a big biscuit of oatmeal. The husks of the oats were put to soak in large tubs of water for a number of hours, at the end of which the scum formed by the husks was scraped off and given as food to the hospital chickens, while the residue formed a paste closely akin to that used by bill-stickers. This was called sowens, a sour kind of mess, but very healthy and filling … Amongst other things we supplied for the invalids in hospital a special blancmange which was made from the Poudre de Riz from the hairdressers and chemists shops.

While they were eating horse sausages, sour porridge and dessert made from hairdressers powder, the soldiers probably fantasised about a simple luxury such as this traditional Scottish oatmeal dish:

3 oz. oatmeal; salt to taste, ½ oz butter; boiling water to cover.
Put the oatmeal into a wooden bowl, preferably of birchwood, add the salt and butter and enough boiling water to cover it well. Stir it with a wooden spoon, allowing lumps to form. It is good eaten with sweet milk or buttermilk.

Tomorrow: First, coffee.

Quotation for the Day …

Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people. Definition from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (1755)

Saintly Pastry.

On May 16th …

Today is the feast day of St. Honoré, the patron saint of bakers, pastrycooks and confectioners. So, unless you are too full of zarzuelas, barquillos, churros, and buñuelos from yesterday’s feast for San Isidro, a pastry feast is in order. The choice is easy, because St. Honoré has a cake specifically named for him – a delicious choux pastry, cream filled gateau topped with little balls of pastry (as in profiteroles) and attributed to the famous Parisian pastrycook Chiboust in 1846. Did he really name it in honour of the saint, or the Parisian district where he ran his business? Does it matter?

Chiboust certainly did not invent the choux pastry for the Gateau St Honoré, its origins are somewhere in misty antiquity, perhaps in the sixteenth century, as an adaptation of a fritter dough. He was presumably however, responsible for the “Crème Chiboust” that fills the cake. It is essentially a standard crème pâtissière made lighter by having stiffly beaten egg whites folded through it.

From Larousse, the paste and the filling:

Chou paste I (d’office):
Pour 4 cups (a litre) of water with ¾ cup (200 gms) of butter and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt into a pan. Bring to the boil. Remove from the fire and add 4 ¾ cups (625 gms) of sieved flour, pouring it all in at once. Mix well.
Cook this composition on the fire, stirring with a wooden spoon until it dries and comes away from the walls of the pan.
Remove from the fire and, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, add from 12-14 eggs (depending on size) putting them in two at a time.

Cream filling for the Saint-Honoré:
3 cups (3/4 litre) of French pastry cream (Crême patissière). Heat it, and add to it while warm 6 leaves of gelatine (or 1 ounce of granulated gelatine) previously soaked in cold water and softened.
Beat 6 egg whites stiffly, sprinkling them lightly with sugar when stiff, to prevent them from separating. Incorporate them rapidly into the pastry cream, and fill the inside of the Saint-Honoré with the resulting cream, using a forcing (pastry) bag and a large, fluted nozzle.

You’ll have to assemble it yourself from an illustration, or you can simply make profiteroles and fill them with the cream – it will be much easier to serve!

Tomorrow: The delights of Mafeking.

Quotation for the Day …

Baking is just like driving a car; you can read every manual you can get your hands on, but until you get in and do it, you won't really learn how. Marion Cunningham.

Bordeaux and the rest.

On May 15th …

The Exposition Universelle de Paris began on this day in 1855, and its enduring legacy has been the Bordeaux Classification of wine. The Exposition was France’s response to England’s Great Exhibition of 1851, and naturally they wanted to upstage their historic rivals. The obvious thing to do was to showcase French wine, and the Bordeaux Wine Brokers' Union was given the task of developing a classification system to accompany the display.

The good men ranked sixty-one wines in five classes or “growths” (crus) for red wines – all from the Medoc region apart from Château Haut-Brion from Graves - and two for white wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Within each class the wines were again ranked according to quality, which essentially equated to price. In spite of ongoing controversy about its relevance and its resistance to modification, the classification is still in use 150 years later.

Members of the jury who were lucky enough to taste them all apparently commented:

The Wines of Bordeaux give tone to the stomach, while leaving the mouth fresh and the head clear. More than one invalid abandoned by the doctors has been seen to drink the good old wine of Bordeaux and return to health.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, for most drinkers it would still be simply “claret”. There must have been a significant amount of indifferent claret in England at the time, if the number of recipes to “flavour” it are any guide.

Dr. William Kitchiner (1775-1827) was one of the wealthy eccentrics that England does so well. He was an enthusiastic cook, and his book “The Cook’s Oracle” (1817) went to many editions, which is not surprising because it is a very readable, delightful mix of recipes, advice, common sense and gossip.

In case you have some indifferent claret (or “burgundy” or tokay), here are a couple of ideas from his book.

Chili, or Cayenne Wine.
Pound and steep fifty fresh Red Chilies, or a quarter of an ounce of Cayenne Pepper, in half a pint of Brandy, White Wine, or Claret, for fourteen days.

Essence of Allspice for Mulling of Wine:
Oil of Pimento, a drachm, apothecaries measure; Strong spirit of wine, two ounces.
Mixed by degrees: a few drops will give the flavour of Allspice to a pint of Gravy, - or Mulled Wine, - or to make a
Bishop. Mulled wine made with Burgundy is called Bishop; with old Rhenish wine, Cardinal; and with Tokay, Pope.

Tomorrow: Saintly Pastry.

Quotation for the Day …

“French wines may be said but to pickle meat in the stomach, but this is the wine that digests, and doth not only breed good blood, but it nutrifieth also, being a glutinous substantial liquor; of this wine, if of any other, may be verified that merry induction: That good wine makes good blood, good blood causeth good humors, good humors cause good thoughts, good thoughts bring forth good works, good works carry a man to heaven, ergo, good wine carrieth a man to heaven.”James Howell (1594-1666)

To Pickel Wallnutts Green.

Today, May 12th …

A seventeenth century Mistress of Capels Manor in Enfield, England kept a “receipt book” and inside she inscribed: “Madam Susanna Avery, Her Book, May ye 12th, Anno Domini 1688”.

She included this recipe:

To Pickel Wallnutts Green Let your nutts be green as not to have any shell; then run a kniting pin two ways through them; then put them into as much ordinary vinegar as will cover them, and let them stand thirty days, shifting them every too days in ffrech vinegar; then ginger and black peper of each ounce, rochambol* two ounces slised, a handfull of bay leaves; put all togeather cold; then wrap up every wall nutt singly in a vine leaf, and put them in putt them into the ffolloing pickel: for 200 of walnutts take two gallans of the best whit vineager, a pint of the best mustard seed, fore ounces of horse radish, with six lemons sliced with the rins [rinds]on, cloves and mace half an ounce, a stone jar, and put the pickel on them, and cork them close up; and they will be ffitt for use in three months, and keep too years.

No-one pickles their own walnuts anymore. No-one does much pickling of anything, that’s part of the problem, but walnuts are problematic even in the hands of enthusiastic picklers. That’s the problem in a nut-shell (pun intended) – the hands. How on earth did Mistress Avery do it without rubber gloves to protect her lily-white gentlewoman’s hands? Walnuts contain walnut stain – of the very same dark colour as is applied to wood, and it wont wash off, it has to wear off.

Nonetheless, they must have been considered worth the effort, judging by the number of recipes in old books. Mrs Raffald (1769) gives variations to pickle them black, green, or “an olive colour”, and also notes:

You may make exceedingly good catchup of the alegar** that comes from your walnuts by adding a pound of anchovies, one ounce of cloves, the same of long and black pepper, one head of garlic, and half a pound of common salt to every gallon of your alegar. Boil it till it is half reduced away and skim it very well. Then bottle it for use and it will keep a long time.

*Rocambole (rochambole) is a type of garlic, also called Spanish Garlic or Sand Leek.

**Alegar is sour ale ( i.e vinegar formed from the fermentation of ale)

So, go make some!

On Monday: Bordeaux and the rest.

Quotation for the Day …

On Walnuts: “With onions, salt, and hony, they are good against the biting of a mad dog or man, if they be laid upon the wound”. From John Gerard’s Herbal (1633)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

An uncertain soup.

Today, May 11th …

William the Conqueror crowned himself King of England on Christmas Day 1066, but it was not until this day in 1068 that his wife, Matilda was crowned Queen consort. The coronation was naturally followed by a lavish banquet, and a new dish was created for it which was to become a coronation tradition until the reign of George IV in 1821.

William’s cook was a Norman (naturally) by the name of Tezelin. He came up with a white soup called “Dilligrout”, and the story is that William was so pleased he gave Tezelin a manor at Addington in Surrey, on the condition that the manor provide this dish at future coronations in perpetuity. A manor for a bowl of soup!

We will never be sure as to the exact recipe for this soup. The OED is unable to help, saying only that it is some sort of pottage, and is unable even to clarify the derivation of the word. It is possible that it has the same root as groat and grit, referring to coarse grain – although this would hardly seem likely to simulate such royal generosity. Other sources say it was “ .. compounded of almond milk, the brawn of capons, sugar and spices, chicken parboiled and chopped, and was called, also, ‘Le mess de gyron,’ or, if there was fat with it, it was termed maupigyrnun.”, which would have been an expensive, elegant dish and much more appropriate to set before the king.

If this latter description is correct, then the dillegrout/maupigyrun must have been similar to the original “blancmange”, which meant “white food”, and was made from chicken and almond milk. There are no recipes from the time of William’s reign, so we must be content with one from Englands oldest cookery manuscript, the late fourteenth century “The Forme of Cury”.

Blank Maunger.
Take Capouns and seeth hem, thenne take hem up. take Almandes blaunched. grynd hem and alay [mix] hem up with the same broth. cast the mylk in a pot. waisshe rys and do therto and lat it seeth. thanne take brawn of Capouns teere it small and do therto. take white grece sugur and salt and cast therinne. lat it seeth. yhenne messe it forth and florissh it with aneys in confyt rede other whyt. and with Almaundes fryed in oyle. and serue it forth.

Tomorrow: To Pickel Wallnutts Green.

Quotation for the Day …

Beautiful soup! Who cares for fish, game, or any other dish? who would not give all else for two pennyworth only of beautiful soup? Lewis Carroll.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The legality of tomatoes.

Today, May 10th …

After a six-year battle a U.S. court decided on this day in 1893 that the tomato was a vegetable. This was in complete disregard for the science of botany, many experts, and numerous dictionaries, but with complete and touching regard for “the common language of the people”, culinary convention (“any plant or part thereof eaten during the main dish is a vegetable … If it is eaten at any other part of the meal it is a fruit”) and - not surprisingly- the economics of the tomato trade.

The problem had started with the Tariff Act of 1883, which placed 10% duty on imported vegetables but not fruit. In the interest of raising revenue, the NY Customs department declared the tomato a vegetable. The ruling was challenged in 1887 by an importer attempting to recoup duty paid on tomatoes brought in from the West Indies. Six years later the decision was finally made, and he lost.

There are many other examples of botany and cookery and the law defining things differently. The pumpkin is in the same predicament as the tomato, it is botanically a fruit, although usually thought of as a vegetable. Does it attract duty I wonder? The reverse story is that of rhubarb – botanically a vegetable, but culinarily used as a fruit. Bananas grow on giant herbs, not trees, and the strawberry itself is not a true fruit, it is merely the red fleshy “pseudocarp” (so technically is a vegetable) which holds the true fruits – what we call the tiny “seeds”. Is that clear?

In the midst of all this confusion, the comforting certainty is that the tomato is a very versatile food, and in spite of the U.S court decision, it can be cooked as a fruit as well as a vegetable. Here is an example, from “Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers” by Elizabeth Lea (1869).

Green Tomatoes for Pies
Pick the green tomatoes before they are much frosted; scald them and take off the skins; put them in your kettle and let them boil for half an hour; cut them up, and put in a pound of sugar to three pounds of tomatoes, and let them cook for half an hour longer; season them with the juice and peel of a lemon, and put them away in jars. They make very good pies in the winter, and resemble gooseberries.

Tomorrow: An uncertain soup.

Quotation for the Day …

What I love about cooking is hat after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It's a sure thing! It's a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure; it has a mathematical certainty in a world where those of us who long for some kind of certainty are forced to settle for crossword puzzles. Nora Ephron.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

High tea, low tea.

Today, May 9th …

Today we are going to clarify some of the misunderstandings about the meaning and conduct of “High Tea”.

If you want to play high-and-mighty, and crook your little finger just so, what you really want is “Low Tea”. The Daily Telegraph on this day in 1893 explained:

A well-understood `high tea' should have cold roast beef at the top of the table, a cold Yorkshire pie at the bottom, a mighty ham in the middle. The side dishes will comprise soused mackerel, pickled salmon (in due season), sausages and potatoes, etc., etc. Rivers of tea, coffee, and ale, with dry and buttered toast, sally-lunns, scones, muffins, and crumpets, jams and marmalade.

In other words, high tea is a substitute for dinner, taken in the evening at a high table, and is definitely low class in its origins. Low tea, on the other hand, is taken in the afternoon at low tables and is indisputably a high class affair (only the upper classes being able to sit about in the mid-afternoon.)

So, if you want your high tea to be well understood, you must master the art of grand pie making. Unfortunately the recipe for the Yorkshire pie may be intimidating for all but the bravest, so is hidden away in safety on the Companion site.

If you are not sure whether it is low tea or high tea you want to serve, “Sally Lunns” will be acceptable at either. These are sweet buns with much interesting fake-lore attached to their name, and really require a whole 400 words to themselves just as soon as possible.

There are three versions of the recipe in Cassell’s “Dictionary of Cookery” (c1870’s). The most elegant is supposedly Carême’s own, but space only permits this short one.

Sallylunns (another way)
Take two pounds of flour, one pint of milk, four eggs, and two spoonfuls of yeast; make a paste of these ingredients, and work until well risen. Then knead into it a pound of butter and a little salt; let it stand an hour, then bake, and rasp the tops. A little pounded sugar may be added to taste to the above ingredients.

Cassell’s “Household Guide” advises:

When wanted, slice, toast, and butter your Sally Lunns, and serve piping hot on a plate which you cannot hold with your naked fingers.

And cautions:

There are two objections to these and the following [muffins] - they are indigestible, and are also terrible "stroys" [destroyers] for butter.

Tomorrow: The legality of tomatoes.

On this Topic ...

Usually nowadays when we think of Afternoon Tea, we think of something like Devonshire Tea, with scones and cream. Scones are certainly popular afternoon fare in Australia. You can read about the Great Aussie Scone Fest on Miss Eagle's site at Oz Tucker, or if you didn't check it out after the post on "Colonial Kosher", check out Gillian Polack's diary Even in a Little Thing for May 4th - she has given some of the scone recipes from the cookbook of her Jewish grandmother who migrated to Australia in the 1850's.

Quotation for the Day …

In nothing more is the English genius for domesticity more notably declared than in the institution of this festival - almost one may call it - of afternoon tea. The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose. George Gissing (1857- 1903)

Monday, May 08, 2006

All at sea with sausage.

Today, May 8th …

You would have been in sausage (and pickle) heaven if you had been a passenger on the good ship “Admiral” of the Deutsche Ost-Afrika Line on this day in 1912.

The menu for luncheon, exactly as it was written, was:

Olives Pickles
Smoked Eel Rolledherring
Pickled Herring with mustardsauce
Meat-salad à la Bielefeld
Lobster-salad Beetroot-salad
Tomato-salad Potato-salad
Hot Dishes
Breast of beef, horse-radishsauce
Tenderloin-steak à la Holsteinoise
Mock-turtle Ragout
Ragout of mutton with onions
Cold Joints
Smoked and boiled ham
Hamburg smoked beef Tongue-sausage
Liver sausage
Cervelat sausage
Bologna and Salami sausage
Dutch, Edam, Gorgonzola
And Swiss cheese
Strawberries Oranges
Methinks a few turns around the deck would be in order between this Euro-fusion menu and dinner! After a solidly Northern European start, and moving quickly past something called “chickenpaste”, we get through the German varieties to several styles of Italian Sausages.

The problem is that we really cant reliably predict exactly what the individual sausages were, because over the centuries the names have become fairly randomly applied – and often no longer reflect their origins, as we saw in the story on “baloney”*. How many sausage fans would still feel the same about “Cervela” (a.k.a “Saveloy”) if they knew the name came from its original main ingredient – cervella, i.e brain?

Here is a recipe from the ancient Roman gourmet Apicius (Vehling translation):

Pound eggs and brains, pine nuts, pepper, broth and a little laser**with which fill the casings . First parboil the sausage then fry them and serve.

And now an interpretation from Mistress Margaret Dods, from her “Cook and Housewife’s Manual” (1856). The author who gave us “Imitation Bologna”, does not qualify her recipe for “Savaloys” at all.

Take a piece of tender pork, free from skin and gristles, and salt it with common salt and a little saltpetre. In two or three days mince it, and season with pepper, chopped sage, and a little grated bread. Fill the gut, and bake the savaloys for a half-hour in moderate oven. If to be eaten cold, let the meat lie a day or two longer in the salt.
Obs. Sausage meat may be broiled in a veal-caul, as a cake, first pressing it to a flat shape. It may be reddened with a little saltpetre. If to be used immediately, oysters, mushrooms, &c., may be put to sausages to heighten the flavour.

* The baloney story of December 19th was retrospectively posted in the March archive; you will have to use Ctrl+F after you click here, if you wish to read it.
**laser is now apparently extinct; it may have been similar to asafoetida.

Tomorrow: High tea, low tea.

Quotation for the Day …

Doctor, do you think it could have been the sausage?" Supposed last words of the French poet Paul Claudel (1868-1955).

Friday, May 05, 2006

To the Women of the United States.

Today, May 5th …

When the United States entered WW I in 1917, Herbert Hoover was made Food Administrator, and his catch-cry was “Food will win the war!”. There was no doubt that the responsibility for this part of the war effort would fall to the housewife, and on May 5th 1917, Secretary Houston of the Department of Agriculture made an appeal “To the Women of the United States”.

In stirring patriotic prose, he urged every woman to “help to feed and clothe our armies and help to supply food to those beyond the seas by practicing effective thrift in her own household”, and to “Make economy fashionable lest it become obligatory”.

Stirring patriotic prose to assist housewives “to make of the housewife apron a uniform of national significance” also appeared in cookbooks such as “Daily Menus for War Service” (1918) by Thetta Quay Franks. The book included three alternative “war menus” for each day of the year – more expensive, medium price, and cheaper – with recipes to help cater for meatless, wheatless, and porkless days.

The cheap menu option for May 5th was:

Luncheon or Supper:
Broiled salt mackerel, Boiled potatoes, String beans, Quaker muffins, Oleomargarine, Baked apples (karo), Top milk.

Turkish pilaf with cooked meat (leftover), Brown nut sauce, Baked potatoes, Oleomargarine, Lima beasn, Scalloped Onions, Potato bread, Oleomargarine [second mention!], Tomato jelly salad with Mayonnaise (Wesson oil).

Breakfast for next day:
Stewed dried apricots, Oatmeal, top milk, Sugar, Coffee, Hot milk, Sugar, Potato bread, Apricot butter.

So how about putting on your aprons and trying a couple of the recipes for the day?:

Quaker Muffins.
Rolled oats 1 cup; Flour 1 cup; Sugar 3 tablespoons; Baking Powder 4 teaspoons; Salt ½ teaspoon; Milk 1 cup; Egg 1; Butterine 1 tablespoon.
Scald milk, pour on rolled oats and let stand ½ hour before mixing. Mix and sift dry ingredients into the rolled oats and milk mixture. Add the slightly beaten egg and melted butter. Beat well and bake in greased muffin pans ½ hour in a moderately hot oven.

Turkish Pilaf with Cooked Meat.
Rice 2 cups cooked, Onion 1 small, Tomatoes 1 cup stewed, Water ½ cup, Salt 1 teaspoon, Meat 1 cup cooked pieces, Pepper ¼ teaspoon, Fat 1 ½ tablespoons.
Cook ½ cup well washed rice in plenty of boiling salted water. Cut up onion, add tomatoes, seasoning, and meat. Put fat into frying pan, add above mixture, and rice and water. Cook one half hour.

On Monday: All at sea with sausage.

Quotation for the Day …

What science demands more study than Cookery? You have not only, as in other arts, to satisfy the general eye, but also the individual taste of the persons who employ you; you have to attend to economy, which every one demands; to suit the taste of different persons at the same table; to surmount the difficulty of procuring things which are necessary to your work; to undergo the want of unanimity among the servants of the house; and the mortification of seeing unlimited confidence sometimes reposed in persons who are unqualified to give orders in the kitchen, without assuming consequence, and giving themselves airs which are almost out of reason, and which frequently discourage the Cook. Louis Eustache Ude.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Colonial Kosher.

Today, May 4th …

A Colonial Conference was held in England in May 1907, and one of the many formal events was a kosher banquet to the Colonial Premiers, given by “Messrs. F. Barnett and Co., who are famed throughout the Jewish world as purveyors of comestibles prepared in the orthodox manner”. According to the report in the Penny Illustrated paper on this day in 1907: “The banquet will be given to celebrate the arrival of the first consignment of colonial meat that may be sold with the approval of the London Jewish Ecclesiastical Board. … The concession obtained by Messrs. Barnett is one of great importance to London Jews, who have been paying higher prices for meat than their Gentile neighbours”.

The menu as recorded by the newspaper was:

Olives, smoked salmon, anchovies.
“Frimsel” (a kind of vermicelli, home made).
Clear mock turtle (from Australian stock).
Boiled salmon, new potatoes, Indian sauce.
Australian sweetbreads.
Forequarter lamb (Australian).
Australian vegetables.
Surrey fowls.
Dessert (Colonial fruit).
Australian wines.

There are no instructions for frimsel, quail, or Indian sauce amongst the 1600 “favourite recipes of America, Austria, Germany, Russia, France, Poland, Roumania etc” in “The International Jewish Cook Book” (New York, 1919) by Florence Greenbaum, but we can try:

Cut the boiled sweetbreads into small dice with a silver knife. Mix with mushrooms, using half the quantity of mushrooms that you have of sweetbreads. Use two eggs in the sauce.

Cook any large fish in salt water - salmon is particularly nice prepared in this style--add one cup of vinegar, onions, celery root and parsley. When the fish is cooked enough, remove it from the fire, kettle and all - letting the fish remain in its sauce until the following sauce is prepared:
Take the yolks of two eggs, one-half teaspoon of Colman's mustard (dry), salt, pepper, a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of vinegar, one-half glass water and some fish gravy. Boil in double boiler until thick. Take some parsley, green onions, capers, shallots and one large vinegar pickle and some astragon, chop all up very fine; chop up the hard-boiled whites separately and then add the sauce; mix all this together thoroughly, then taste to see if seasoned to suit.

A silver knife is often specified in old books for cutting up fruit, to prevent it discolouring but why for the sweetbreads? Any ideas?

Tomorrow: To the Women of the United States.

Quotation for the Day …

At a dinner-party one should eat wisely but not too well, and talk well but not too wisely. Somerset Maugham.

On this Topic ...

There are some wonderful recipes for scones from the cookbook of a Jewish migrant to Australia in the 1850's at Even in a little thing.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Shark on Board.

Today, May 3rd …

William Dampier – adventurer, scientific observer, sea-captain and probable pirate – was the first Englishman to explore and map parts of Australia at the end of the seventeenth century. Unfortunately he was no foodie: there are precious few entries in his journals which mention food in any significant way, so we must glean what we can.

In 1699 he was given command of HMS Roebuck by the British Admiralty, with the commission to explore New Holland (Australia). On this day he was 234 miles west of Cape Salvadore, and wrote:

We cought 3 small sharks, each 6 foot 4 inches long; and they were very good food for us. The next day we caought three more sharks of the same size and we eat them also, esteeming them as good Fish boil’d and pres’d, and then stew’d with Vinegar and Pepper.

Eating shark has often been problematic for humans - they have no scales so are not kosher, animal rights activists object to the harvesting of their fins for soup, and their common names are often most unappetising. Who would have relished the idea of “Dogfish” or “Gummy Shark” before they were re-branded as “Rock Salmon” or “Flake”? Seventy years after Dampier, Joseph Banks aboard HMS Endeavour with Captain James Cook alluded to the other reason we are equivocal about eating shark – shark sometimes eats us. On day he described the catch of the day as “very good meat … tho’ some of the Seamen did not seem to be fond of him, probably from some prejudice founded on the species sometimes feeding on human flesh”.

A seminal cookbook in Australia’s culinary history is “The Art of Living in Australia" , by Philip Muskett (1893), and it does indeed have a recipe for fish cooked with vinegar and peppercorns. Dampier would have enjoyed it.

2 Mullet, 1/2 pint Vinegar, 1 gill Water, 1 fagot of Herbs, 1 doz. Peppercorns, Salt,
Wash the fish, dry them on a cloth, and rub them with a little salt. Lay them in a deep dish, put in the herbs and peppercorns, pour over the vinegar and water. Cover with a tin, and stand in a cool oven, and bake very slowly for an hour. Take them out and let them get quite cold in the vinegar, then lay them in a dish, and strain the sauce over. Garnish with sprigs of parsley.

Tomorrow: Colonial Kosher.

Quotation for the Day …

I'm fond of anything that comes from the sea, and that includes sailors. Janet Flanner.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Dining in State.

Today, May 2nd …

Here’s a question: if you were the President of France, and the King of England was coming to dinner, you knew he was a bon viveur, and there were important matters of international diplomacy to negotiate, what would you serve?

You’d give him a couple of comfortable, familiar dishes from his own country to make him feel relaxed and at home, then with a rapid culinary about-face you’d bring out the best, the most elegant, and the most clearly haute that your cuisine could offer, right?

On this day in 1903, during the Entente Cordiale discussions, President Emile Loubet hosted a state dinner for Edward VII at the Elysée Palace. The menu was printed on silk:


Diner offert par le Président de la République Français
À S.M. Edouard VII
Le 2 Mai 1903

Crème Windsor
Oxtail Soup
Barquettes d’Ecrevisses Nantua
Truite Saumonée au Vin de Chambertin
Baron d’Agneau de Pauillac aux Morilles
Salmis de Gelinottes au Xérès
Canetons de Rouen à l’Archiduc
Sorbets au Kummel
Spooms au Cherry Brandy
Poulardes du Mans Truffées
Foie Gras Frais à la Souvaroff
Salade Gauloise
Asperges d’Argenteuil sauce Mousseline
Petits Pois nouveaux à la Français
Timbales de Fruits Glacés à l’Orange
Glace Viviane
Feuilleté aux Amandes
Corbeilles de Fruits
Or in English:

Windsor Soup
Oxtail Soup
Crayfish Tartlets in Cream Sauce
Salmon Trout in Wine
Baron of Suckling Lamb with Morels
Braised Hazel Grouse with Sherry
Rouen Ducklings in Paprika Cream Sauce
Sorbet with Kummel
Wine Sorbet with Meringues and Cherry Brandy
Chicken with Truffles
Foie Gras with Brandy and Truffles.
Salad garnished with Cocks’ Kidneys and Cocks’ Combs
Asparagus with Cream Sauce
New Peas braised with Lettuce and Onions
Mould of Glacé Fruits with Orange Sauce
Ice Cream Viviane
Almond Pastries
Fruit Basket
The wine list wasn’t bad either, and needs no translation.

Porto Commandador
Chablis Moutonne
Château Yquem 1874
Château Haut-Brion 1877
Mouton Rothschild 1875
Clos de Vougeot 1870
Moët Chandon White Seal
Moët et Chandon brut Impérial 1889
Luckily, with a little adaptation, recipes for all but one of these dishes can be found in the Larousse Gastronomique or Escoffier’s “Ma Cuisine” (at least in my 1961 and 1965 editions respectively), should you have a surplus of large truffles and a great desire to re-create this menu. Please invite me if you do.

Without weighing into the current animal rights debate about foie gras production, I give you this recipe, from Larousse:

Foie Gras Souvarov.
Brown a firm foie gras in very hot butter, after seasoning it and leaving it to steep in brandy. Put it in a oval earthenware heatproof dish with large quartered truffles. Pour on a little Demi-glace sauce diluted with truffle essence. Cover the dish and seal with a strip of dough. Cook in a moderate ovenfor 40 to 40 minutes according to the size of the foie gras. Serve as it is in the cooking dish

The only mystery is the Glacé Viviane. Who was Viviane?
Tomorrow: Shark on Board.

Quotation for the Day …

If I can’t have too many truffles, I’ll do without truffles. Colette.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Spring rites, Workers rights.

Today May 1st is …

Today is May Day, a day traditionally associated with the rites of Spring – a day of rural revelry arising from the slow blending of the sacred and the profane over many centuries. A day to worship trees, gather flowers, light bonfires, eat bannocks, dance around the maypole, and wash ones face in the dew to preserve one’s beauty. A day of prognostications and proverbs about the weather and the crops.

A day, especially if you have German heritage, to indulge in a little ‘Maibowle’ (May Bowl) – a wine cup flavoured and perfumed with Woodruff (Asperula odorata), a little white flowering herb that grows in the woods. Here is a recipe from those lovely ladies, Mrs Leyel and Miss Hartley, in ‘The Gentle Art of Cookery’ (1926)

Always drunk in Germany on May Day
Put a pint of white wine and two of red into a jug with sufficient sugar to sweeten it. Cut an orange, without peeling it, into thick slices and add it to the wine: then throw in some bunches of woodruff well washed and drained. Cover the jug and leave till next day.

Which is all very well for the rural inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere. What about the rest of us? Luckily, in many parts of both hemispheres, today is also International Workers' Day – a day celebrating some historic wins by the labo(u)r movement (work is the same in all countries divided by confused spelling – and we all work, dont we?).

A delightful mid-Victorian publication with the confident title of “Enquire Within upon Everything” advises us on ‘Work, how to accomplish’, in paragraph 436:

It is better to accomplish perfectly a very small amount of work, than to half do ten times as much.

Employers may not agree, and you may end up needing recipes such as this, also from within the book:

Half-Pay Pudding.
An officer’s wife is the contributor of the following: Four ounces of each of the following ingredients, viz. suet, flour, currants, raisins, and bread-crumbs; two tablespoonfuls of treacle, half a pint of milk – all of which must be well mixed together, and boiled in a mould, for four hours. To be served up with wine or brandy sauce, if half-pay permit. From two to three hours we find sufficient. It is an excellent substitute for Christmas plum pudding, at the small expense of 6d. or 7d.

Tomorrow: Dining in State.

Quotation for the Day …

In Paris today millions of pounds of bread are sold daily, made during the previous night by those strange, half-naked beings one glimpses through cellar windows, whose wild-seeming cries floating out of those depths always makes a painful impression. In the morning, one sees these pale men, still white with flour, carrying a loaf under one arm, going off to rest and gather new strength to renew their hard and useful labor when night comes again. I have always highly esteemed the brave and humble workers who labor all night to produce those soft but crusty loaves that look more like cake than bread. Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)

Above and beyond …

There are two versions of May wine in the English “Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery” at The Companion to The Old Foodie.