Monday, July 31, 2006

“Black Tot” Day.

Today, July 31st …

A centuries-old Royal Naval tradition ended on this day in 1970 at precisely 6 bells in the forenoon watch (i.e at 11 am), when the last rum ration was issued. A black day indeed.

Before rum, there was beer. The sailors ration before 1731 was a gallon of beer a day, which sounds like a lot, but trimming sails and doing things with yardarms was thirsty work. In 1731 for reasons which are unclear but which no doubt have some economic rationale, half a pint of rum was made equivalent to the gallon of beer, thus starting off almost a decade of rum-bliss for H.M’s sailors. The slide down to the dreadful day in 1970 began in 1731 when (for the cited reason of drunkenness) the ration was ordered to be mixed with water to the ratio of a quart of water to half a pint of rum, and doled out in two instalments each day; in 1740 the ration was further polluted with sugar and lime.

Naval men stoically made the best of it, as they still do, although one wonders what the officers now use for their traditional noontime toasts. The ritual was (is?) to toast first, the reigning monarch, and secondly:

on Monday “Our ships at sea”
on Tuesday “Our men”
on Wednesday “Ourselves”
on Thursday “A bloody war and quick promotion”
on Friday “A willing soul and sea room”
on Saturday “Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet”
on Sunday “Absent friends and those at sea”

Rum, of course, is a drink distilled from the by-products of sugar production, which must make it the most brilliant example of re-cycling in the entire history of the human race. Should you have some rum left over from drinking, it can be re-cycled further in any number of recipes, such as this one, from the 1870’s, which also re-cycles leftover bread.

Rum Pudding.
Grate three ounces of stale bread-crumbs, and pour over them as much rum as will moisten them. When they are well soaked, beat them up with six ounces of sugar, a little grated nutmeg, and first the yolks, and afterwards the well-whisked whites, of four eggs. Pour the mixture into a buttered mould, and let it steam until done enough. Turn it upon a hot dish, pour half a tumblerful of rum over it, set light to this, and serve immediately. Time to steam the pudding, one hour. Probable cost, 8d., exclusive of the rum. Sufficient for three persons

Above and Beyond ...

There are several other rum recipes in the extract from Cassells’ Dictionary of Cookery.

Tomorrow: Lammas Time.

Quotation for the Day …

Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash. Winston Churchill

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Saturday "Sauce Vénitienne".

Today, July 29th ....

.... which is Saturday, but you deserve an extra story this week, dont you?

If you love Venice, or if you’ve never been but love it anyway, then you’ll love my friend Greybeard’s site Love Venice. I absolutely love it, and could say that looking at it every day is almost as good as being there, but that would be patently stupid, as I am sure Greybeard himself would agree. He posts one of his wonderful photos of Venice virtually every day, accompanied by a short story. I thought of him when I came across a reference to something cooked “à La Vénitienne” the other day, and, not being certain what it was, looked it up. It sounds simple enough – a white wine based sauce flavoured with herbs, and especially good with fish, fowl, and eggs – then I found the following recipe (or actually, series of recipes-within-a-recipe), which demonstrates why one really does suffer from the terrible shortage of kitchen staff these days.

From Larousse:

Venetian Sauce ; Sauce vénitienne (for eggs and poultry).
Cook down by two-thirds ½ cup (1 decilitre) of vinegar to which a chopped shallot and 2 tablespoons of chopped chervil and parsley have been added. Stir in 1 cup (2 decilitres) of Allemande sauce*, finish off with 3 tablespoons (50 grams) of Green butter**, strain and add a tablespoonful of chopped chervil and tarragon.

*Allemande sauce.
This sauce is often wrongly included among “basic” sauces. Allemande, which in spite of its name is entirely French in origin, is a compound sauce.

For 2 ½ cups (5 decilitres): put into a pan with a thick, flat bottom, 2 egg yolks (3 if they are small) and 2 cups (4 decilitres) of light veal or chicken stock. Mix together. Add 2 ½ cups (5 decilitres) of Velouté sauce***, mix with a whisk. Begin cooking over a good heat, stirring with a wooden spoon to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook down carefully without boiling until the sauce coats the spoon well. At the last moment add three tablespoons (50 grams) of butter, rectify the seasoning and strain through a cloth. Keep in the bain-marie (double boiler) until the moment of using (beat the sauce while it is in the bain-marie and butter the surface to prevent skin forming).
Note. Depending on its intended use and according to taste, this sauce can be seasoned with a pinch of grated nutmeg and sharpened with a squeeze of lemon juice

**Green butter.
Ordinary butter, softened to a paste and mixed with green spinach, prepared in the following manner: pick over, wash and dry the spinach leaves and pound them in a mortar uncooked. Put the spinach into a very strong cloth, twist the cloth to extract all the juice from the spinach, which should be collected into a little saucepan, set this juice to coagulate in a bain-marie (double boiler) ant turn out onto a fine cloth stretched out over a receptacle. Scrape off the green residue which remains on the cloth with a spoon. This substance is called vert d’épinard (spinach green). To this spinach green add double its weight in butter. Rub this butter through a fine sieve or tammy.

*** Velouté sauce.
For 2 ½ quarts: stir 2 ¾ quarts (litres) of white stock made with veal or chicken into 1 cup (325 grams) of pale blond roux made with butter and flour. Blend well together. Bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon until the first bubbles appear. Cook the Velouté very slowly for an hour and a half, skimming frequently. Strain through a cloth. Stir until it is completely cold.
Note. Velouté is a great basic sauce, and it may be prepared in advance. Obviously it may also be made just before it is used.
As the white stock which is used for making it is seasoned and flavoured, it is not necessary to add other flavourings to this sauce. An exception may be made for skins and trimmings of mushrooms which may be added when available, this addition making the sauce yet more delicate.

I don’t know when Sauce Vénitienne was developed, or why it should have a French-originated “German” sauce as its base , but its roots clearly show in this white wine “Italian” sauce from the 1769 cookbook by Menon, “The professed cook: or the modern art of cookery, pastry, and confectionary, made plain and easy… ”:

Sauce Italienne Blanche.
White Italian Sauce.
Simmer on a slow Fire a Spoonful of Oil, chopt Truffles, two Cloves of Garlick, two whole Chibbol, Parsley, half a Leaf of Laurel, two Slices of Lemon, first peel’d. and good Consumee, viz. Jelly Broth, a Glass of white Wine; skim it well and sift it.

Now all I need for this simple sauce is a goodly supply of truffles ....

Friday, July 28, 2006

Duck at Sea.

Today, July 28th ...

Day 5 of "Duck and Dessert".

Our final day of “Duck and Dessert” is going to be aboard ship. On this day in 1913 the Cunard ship R.M.S “Franconia” was at sea, probably on its usual route between Liverpool and Boston, and the dinner menu was:

Caviar d’Astrakan Hors d’oeuvres Varies
Consomme Dame Blanche Crème de Celeri
Halibut –Cardinal Greyling au Gratin
Cotelettes d’Agneau aux Petits pois
Vol au Vent – Toulouse Tete de Veau-Financiere
Sirloin and Ribs of Beef
Boiled Chicken Aylesbury Duckling
Saddle of Mutton
Mushrooms Saute
Boiled Rice Cauliflower
Potatoes – Boiled Mashed and Noisette
Quail au Cresson
Plum Tart Victoria Pudding
Gelee au Madere Cocoanut Macaroons
Ice Cream
Cheese Dessert Coffee
Sirloin Steak Chops Squab Chickens.

The chef did not feel it necessary to specify how the duck was prepared but had ensured that it was the very best type of duck that England could offer – the Aylesbury, named for the town in Buckinghamshire where it originated about two hundred years ago. At one time flocks of the ducks were “walked” the 40 miles to London to market, their feet protected by a coating of tar and sawdust, and accommodation being provided in special yards at inns along the way.

We can be certain that the chef aboard the “Franconia” was male, but make no apologies for offering this rather delicious-sounding recipe from “The Woman’s Book: contains everything a woman ought to know” (1911).

Roast Duck.
Fill the duck with apples peeled and cut in quarters and a few French Plums* which have been soaked and stoned. Roast in the same way as a fowl. It will take from three-quarters of an hour to one hour. Serve with brown gravy and salad

*presumably this means prunes.

And from the same book, something we could also call Cocoanut Macaroons:

Cocoanut Biscuits.
2 oz Dessicated Coconut; 2 oz. Castor Sugar; 1 tea-spoonful flour; 1 white of egg; Wafer paper.
Chop the cocoanut a little more finely if necessary, and mix it in a basin with the other dry ingredients. Whip the white of egg to a stiff froth, and bind all together with this. Put small squares of wafer paper on a dry baking-tin, arrange a tea-spoonful of the mixture on each, and bake in a slow oven for half an hour, or until the biscuits are firm and of a pale brown colour. Cool them in a sieve, breaking off the wafer paper which projects beyond the edges. These biscuits should be kept in paper in an air-tight tin box.

On Monday: Black Tot Day.

Quotation for the Day …

The white Aylesbury duck is, and deservedly, a universal favourite. Its snowy plumage and comfortable comportment make it a credit to the poultry-yard, while its broad and deep breast, and its ample back, convey the assurance that your satisfaction will not cease at its death. Isabella Beeton, 1861.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Gertrude, Alice, and Duck.

Today, July 27th …

Day 4 of “Duck and Dessert”.

Today was very nearly a ducky disaster when a little last minute fact-checking revealed that the planned and written story for the day – featuring Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William – actually happened yesterday. Luckily for us - but not for her - this day in 1946 was the day that Gertrude Stein died. As the maximum allowable number of degrees of separation between any person and any food item is three, we just make it thanks to her life partner, Alice B. Toklas, who, luckily for us, wrote a cookbook containing several recipes for duck (but only one for Haschich Fudge).

Alice’s book is fascinating as much for the anecdotes as for the recipes, and she describes how “murder in the kitchen” (i.e the killing of the main ingredient for the next meal) had to be done before Gertrude got home, “for she didn’t like to see work being done”. They were both spared the ordeal when their pet Barbary duck Blanchette was mauled by a neighbour’s dog, and the cook, anticipating that the poor thing was going to die of fright, administered three tablespoons of eau-de-vie (to flavour her flesh) and then put her out of her misery. Blanchette was cooked with orange sauce, but we have had a recipe for that this week, so today we will have duck prepared from another recipe in Alice’s book, with figs and port.

Duck in Port Wine.
Put 24 figs in a wide jar to marinate for 36 hours in an excellent dry port wine and cover hermetically. Put the duck in a preheated 450 degree oven. After ¼ hour commence to baste it with the port wine in which the figs have been macerating, and which has been heated. Continue to baste every 15 minutes. Turn the duck on each side so that the legs are browned. When all the port has been used for basting, put the figs around the duck and baste with veal bouillon. Continue to baste. The duck will be cooked in an hour unless it is a very old duck indeed.

And for dessert:

Flaming Peaches.
Fresh peaches are preferable, though canned ones can be substituted. If fresh, take 6 and cover with boiling water for a few minutes and peel. Poach in 1 ½ cups of water over low flame for 3 or 4 minutes. Place in a chafing dish, add ¼ cup sugar and ¾ cup peach brandy. Bring to the table and light the chafing dish. When the syrup is about to boil light and ladle it over the peaches. Serve each peach lighted.

Tomorrow: Duck at Sea.

Quotation for the Day …

What is sauce for the goose may be sauce for the gander but is not necessarily sauce for the chicken, the duck, the turkey or the guinea hen. Alice B. Toklas; The Alice B Toklas Cookbook.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

For those of Moderate Income.

Today, July 26th …

Day 3 of "Duck and Dessert"

Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” was first performed in 1879 in Copenhagen, and its ferocious indictment of the prevailing attitudes to the marital relationship and the role of women provoked outrage throughout Europe. Meanwhile, in England, Victoria was in the thirty-second year of her reign, and one can probably fairly safely assume that she would not have been amused by the play. The Victorian Englishwoman’s place, if she was of the burgeoning middle class, was firmly in the home and firmly in control of the servants and the goings-on in the kitchen. Luckily, a spate of books appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century to help.

Phyllis Browne’s “A Year’s Cookery” was published in 1879, and addressed to “people of moderate income, with moderate domestic help, and ordinary kitchen utensils”. A menu was given for breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper for each day of the year, with recipes, shopping lists, instructions for advance preparation, and daily lists of “Things that must not be Forgotten”. The menu for dinner on this day in 1879 was: Filleted Turbot, Roast Ducklings (of course!), Green Peas, Cherry Pie, and Cheese.

Roast Ducklings.
Stuff the ducks with sage and onion stuffing such as is used for roast goose. If this is objected to, it can be omitted. Put the birds down to a brisk clear fire, and baste them well till done enough. Send them to table with good brown gravy (made by stewing the necks, gizzards, and livers with onions) poured round but not over them.

Phyllis gives general instructions for fruit fillings for pies, and several recipes for pastry – advising that “for both pies and tarts a light crust is always to be preferred”, the best being Puff Paste. Should this be regarded as “either too troublesome to make or too rich for digestion”, she suggests:

Flaky Crust.
To make this, put half a pound of flour into a bowl, with a pinch of salt, half a teaspoonful of sifted sugar, and half a teaspoonful of baking powder; mix all thoroughly, and make to a stiff paste by stirring in the white of one egg whisked to a stiff froth and a little water. Weigh a quarter of a pound of butter or clarified dripping and divide this into two portions. Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a quarter of an inch, spread one portion of the butter evenly over it, and dredge flour upon this. Fold the paste in three, turn it round with the edges to the front, and roll it again. Spread the remainder of the butter over it, dredge flour on it again, and roll it to the shape that is required. Bake in a brisk oven.

Tomorrow: Gertrude, Alice, and Duck.

Quotation for the Day …

An apple is an excellent thing - until you have tried a peach. George du Maurier.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

St James (the Great) Day.

Today, July 25th …

Today is the feast day of St James the Great, the patron saint of Spain. Luckily for us, there are a number of foods associated with him.

“Coquilles St Jacques” are the most obvious, and are named in recognition of his symbol of a cockle shell. The explanation for this piece of symbolism is by no means clear, but by extension, he is especially associated with oysters. In England it used to be forbidden to sell oysters until St James’ day, and it was said (or hoped) that whoever consumed oysters on the day would not go without money for the year. In other places there were other traditions - apples were blessed, mutton pies handed out by the village vicar, and in Grenoble, bread and red eggs were blessed and eaten.

Another old belief was that if you gathered chicory at noon or midnight of St James’ day, using a golden knife, and not speaking during the procedure, the chicory would gain the power to open sealed doors and boxes by merely being held against the lock. At a pinch therefore, you could (after opening any necessary locks) celebrate the day by having a nice chicory salad.

All of which is very interesting, but this week’s theme is “Duck and Dessert”, and there does not appear to be a single association of St James with ducks. Luckily, ‘The universal cook, and city and country housekeeper…. (F.Collingwood, 1797) gives a recipe for duck with oysters.

To boil Ducks the French Way. Another French Method.
Having larded your ducks, and half roasted them, take them off the spit, and put them into a large earthen pipkin, with half a pint of red wine, a pint of good gravy, some chestnuts roasted and peeled, half a pint of large oysters, the liquor strained and the beards taken off, two or three little onions minced small, a very little stripped thyme, mace, pepper, and a little ginger finely beaten, with the crust of a French roll grated. Cover it close, and let it stew half an hour over a slow fire. When they are enough, take them up, and pour the sauce over them.

And for dessert, this recipe from the same book may be stretching the “red eggs” tradition a bit, but it sounds delicious:

Pink-coloured Pancakes.
Having boiled a large beet-root till it is tender, beat it fine in a marble mortar. Put to it the yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and three spoonfuls of cream. Sweeten it to your taste, grate in half a nutmeg, and add a glass of brandy. Mix all well together, and fry them as before directed. Garnish with green sweetmeats, green sprigs of myrtle, or preserved apricots.

Tomorrow: For those of Moderate Income.

Quotation for the Day …

It is proven by experience that, above five or six dozen, oysters cease to be a pleasure. Grimod de la Reyniere; Almanach des Gourmandes.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Dining with Marie Antoinette.

It is some time since we had a theme for the week, so it is time to address that deficit. A perusal of the Recipe Archive shows that there has not been, to date, an Old Foodie story with a recipe for duck. This seems an oversight of enormous proportions, given that it is a favourite food of the The Old Foodie Spouse, so as compensation we will have “Duck and Dessert” this week.

We start with a very classic duck dish, enjoyed by Marie Antoinette at her little place called the Trianon, in that carefree time before she lost her head.

Today, July 24th …

On this day in 1788, this was dinner at the Trianon:

Le riz
Le Scheiber
Les croutons aux laitues
Les croutons unis pour Madame.

La pièce de bœuf aux choux
La longe de veau à la broche.

Les pâtés à l'espagnol
Les côtelettes de mouton grillées
Les hatelets de lapereaux
Les ailes de poulardes à la maréchale
Les abatis de dindon au consommé
Les carrés de mouton piqués à la chicorée
Le dindon poele à la ravigote
Le ris de veau au papillote,
La tête de veau sauce pointue
Les poulets à la tartare
Le cochon de lait à la broche
La poule de Caux au consommé
Le caneton de Rouen à l'orange
Les filets de poularde en casserole au riz
Le poulet froid
La blanquette de poularde aux concombres.

Les filets de lapereaux
Le carré de veau à la broche
Le jarret de veau au consommé
Le dindonneau froid.

Les poulets
Le chapon pané
Le levraut
Le dindonneau
Les perdreaux,
Les lapreaux


Did she chose the “Le caneton de Rouen à l'orange”? Citrus had been a common flavouring for all sorts of dishes from medieval times, whether lemon, citron, or orange, but the original, bitter “Seville” orange seems to have a special affinity with duck. Naturally, only the best duck would have been served to the Queen, and the ducks in France are the heavy big-breasted birds from Rouen.

The French cook François Menon’s book “The professed cook; or the modern art of cookery, …." was translated into English, and this recipe is from the 1769 edition:

Canetons de Roüen à la Broche.
If you would have it for a First-course Dish, give it a few turns with Butter, in a Stew-pan over the Fire, wrap it up in Paper to roast; it must not be too much done; serve with a good Consumee Sauce, chopt Shallots, the Juice of an Orange, Pepper, and Salt: if for a Second-course Dish, roast it without Paper crisp: also serve with Juice of Seville Orange.

We don’t know what sweet things the Queen enjoyed at the dinner, but this recipe from Menon’s book has the right name!

Crème à la Reine. Queen’s Cream.
Boil a Pint of Cream to half reduced, with fine Sugar, Orange-flower Water; when half cold, mix with six Whites of Eggs well beat up; bake it between two very moderate Fires, and to remain in its natural Colour.

Tomorrow: St James the Great.

Quotation for the Day …

When there is no more cookery in the world, there will be no more letters, no quick and lofty intelligence, no pleasant easy relationships; no more social unity. Carême.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Coffee Recipes.

As a special weekend treat for my loyal readers, I have added a further eight new recipes dating from 1873 to the 1920's to the archive of Coffee Recipes.

All of today's additions are for coffee cakes - cakes using coffee as an ingredient that is, but there are recipes for coffee mousse, souffle, Ice-cream, bon-bons, wafers and other goodies in the archive.

More will be added as time permits.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Feasting with Hemingway.

Today, July 21st …

Ernest Hemingway was born on this day in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. In December 1921, already a war veteran, he arrived in Paris determined to be a writer, and hungry to experience the flourishing artistic life of the city. It was not as easy as he thought, and his hunger was rather more physical for rather too long before he made his mark.

Hemingway clearly loved eating, and his writing is full of evocative descriptions of food. There is no better example than the posthumously published “Moveable Feast” - by which he meant the city of Paris itself. One day, when he was very hungry, he suddenly received 600 francs from a German publisher. He went straight to the Brasserie Lipp, which still specialises in dishes from Alsace, and ordered a meal. Here is his classic description:

The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes à l'huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I ground black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly. When the pommes à l'huile were gone I ordered another serving and a cervelas. This was a sausage like a heavy, wide frankfurter split in two and covered with a special mustard sauce.
I mopped up all the oil and all of the sauce with bread and drank the beer slowly until it began to loose its coldness …

The German influence is clear in this meal, with its use of potatoes and mustard. It is apt then, that the first known European recipe for potatoes, in 1581, comes from a German cookbook. Or does it?

The recipe is in “Ein new Kockbuch” by Marx Rumpolt (1581), and it is for “Erdapfel” or “Earth Apples”. The recipe reads:

Earth apples. Peel and cut them small, simmer them in water and press it well out (strain it?) through a fine cloth; chop them small and fry them in bacon that is cut small; take a little milk thereunder and let it simmer therewith so it is good and welltasting.

For a long time “earth apples” were assumed to be potatoes. Food historians are now unsure, and some feel that they were a type of squash. With either ingredient, and however the instructions are interpreted, it is a good hearty dish, eminently suitable for hungry writers.

On Monday: Dining with MarieAntoinette.

Quotation for the Day …

Just give me a potato, any kind of potato, and I'm happy. Dolly Parton

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The proper appreciation of sparrows.

Today, July 20th …

The New York Times ran an article on this day about the proper appreciation of sparrows:

English Sparrows are being properly appreciated. Hundreds of them are now caught by enterprising people for sale to certain restaurants where reed birds are in demand. A German woman on Third Avenue has three traps set every day, and she catches probably seventy five a week. They are cooked and served to her boarders the same as reed birds and are declared quite as great a delicacy. This German woman bastes them, leaving the little wooden skewer in the bird when served. They are cooked with a bit of bacon. She tempts them with oats, and after the catch they are fed a while with boiled oaten meal. She sprinkles oaten meal in the back yard also, and thereby fattens the free birds. … So soon as it becomes known that the Sparrow is a table bird their number will rapidly grow less.
People don't like to experiment, but when it is discovered that the Sparrow has been declared good by those upon whom they have been tried, no boarding house meal will be deemed in good form unless a dish of fat Sparrows adorns it. Sparrow pie is a delicacy fit to set before a king.

Sparrow pie has a reputation for making the eater sharp-witted, so perhaps the writer of this tongue-in-cheek article had partaken of it himself. In reality, sparrows have always been the survival choice in times of hardship and war, or the alternative bird when you have no reed-birds, or larks, or pigeons, as these historic recipes show:

Tourte of young pigeons.
Make a fine past, and let it reste, then take your young pigeons, cleanse them, and whiten them. If they are too big, cut them, and take gaudiveaux, sparagus, mushrums, bottomes of hartichocks, beef marrow, yolks of eggs, cardes, pallats of beef, troufles, verjuice of grapes, or goose-berries, garnish your tourte with whatever you have, not forgetting the seasoning, then serve. (The French Cook, 1653)

There is no mention of substitutes at this point, but suddenly, after a recipe for Tourte of Beatilles, the same author adds:

The tourte of sparrows is served like that of young pigeons with a white sauce.

Lark, or Sparrow Pye.
You must have five dozen at least; lay betwixt every one a Bit of Bacon as you do when you roast them, and a Leaf of Sage and a little Force-meat at the Bottom of your Crust; put on some Butter a top and lid it; when bak’d for one Hour, which will be sufficient, make a little thicken’d Gravy, put in the Juice of a Lemon; season with Pepper and Salt, so serve it hot and quick. (Charles Carter’s “City and Country Cook … “ 1736)

Tomorrow: Feasting with Hemingway.

Quotation for the Day …

I went to a restaurant that serves "breakfast at anytime". So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance. Steven Wright.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A royal Pullman breakfast.

Today, July 19th …

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth set off on an official visit to Paris on this day in 1938, to confirm the allegiance between the two countries in the face of the threatening war. They traveled by train from Victoria station to Dover, and had breakfast in their Pullman carriage.

Orange Juice
Porridge & Cream
Fried Fillets of Sole
Finnan Haddock Kippers
Bacon Egg Tomatoes
Lamb’s Kidneys Mushrooms
York Ham Saute Potatoes
Tea Coffee Chocolate

The usual royal breakfast fare, or a final comforting meal before they hit French shores and ineffectual French breakfasts? Methinks the former is most likely.

Notice the choice of fish. One each from the two big families – big in the sense of their historic importance that is - herring (kippers) which came up in an earlier Old Foodie story, and haddock, which is from the cod family.

Genuine Finnan haddock (“haddie”) is traditionally from Findon in Aberdeenshire (beware of imitations), and is considered a delicacy by afficionados. The fish is headed, gutted, lightly salted, and should properly be cold-smoked over a peat fire.

Mrs Dalgairns (1840) tells us how to prepare them:

Finnan or Aberdeen Haddocks.
Clean the haddocks thoroughly, and split them; take off the heads, put some salt on them, and let them lie two hours, or all night, if they are required to keep more than a week; then, having hung them two or three hours in the open air to dry, smoke them in a chimney over peat or hardwood saw-dust.
Where there is not a chimney suitable for the purpose, they may be done in an old cask open at both ends, into which put some saw-dust with a red-hot iron in the midst; place rods of wood across the top of the cask, tie the haddocks by the tail in pairs, and hang them on the sticks to smoke; the heat should be kept as equal as possible, as it spoils the fish to get alternately hot and cold. When done, they should be of a fine yellow colour, which they should acquire in twelve hours at farthest. When they are to be dressed, the skin must be taken off. They may be boiled, or broiled; and are generally used for breakfast.

Mistress Meg Dods (1856) would have been horrified at the Frenchified “Finnan en Cocotte” recipe given in an earlier story. Her advice is that they should simply be “skinned, broiled over a quick and clean fire, and served in a napkin.

Tomorrow: The proper appreciation of sparrows.

Quotation for the Day …

“A Finnan haddock has a relish of a peculiar and delicate flavour, inimitable on any other coast than that of Aberdeenshire. Some of our Edinburgh philosophers tried to produce their equal in vain. I was one of a party at dinner wher the philosophical haddocks were placed in competition with the genuine Finnan fish. These were served round without distinguishing whence they came; but only one gentleman out of twelve present espoused the cause of philosophy.” Sir Walter Scott, quoted in Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Half a Bucke.

Today, July 18th …

Samuel Pepys’ diary gives us our second story for the week. On this day in 1660, he wrote:

“I dined at my house in Seething lane. Thence to my Lord about business; and being in talk, in comes one with half a Bucke from Hinchingbrooke, and it smelling a little strong, my Lord did give it to me, though it was as good as any could be. I did carry it to my mother to dispose of as she pleased.”

A smelly piece of meat seems a strange gift today, but in the days before refrigeration it was common to share out meaty largesse such as this amongst one’s friends – and in spite of quick distribution it would get high pretty quickly in July.

Two days later Sam happened to call at his parent’s home, where he finds his own wife and several guests dining on a venison pasty made from that self-same Bucke.
It is to be hoped the taint was not obvious. Perhaps the family cook knew of this method, from Hannah Wooley’s “Gentlewoman’s Companion … “ (1673):

Venison how to recover when tainted.
Take a clean cloth and wrap your Venison therin, then bury it in the Earth one whole night, and it will take away the ill scent or favour.

Of course, there were recommended ways of keeping it sweet for the longer term, and another of Hannah’s books, “The Cook’s Guide … “ (1664) tells us how:

To keep Venison nine or ten months good and sweet.
Take a haunch of Venison and bore holes in it, then stop in seasoning into it as you
do parsley into beef in the inside of it if it be red Deer, take pepper, nutmeg, cloves, mace and salt; if it be fallow deer then only pepper and salt; when it is thus seasoned dip it in white wine vineger, and put it in an earthen pot with the salt side down and having first sprinkled good store of spice into the pot; if it be fallow deer three pound of butter will serve, but if red deer then four pounds; when you put it into the oven lay an earthen dish over it, and paste it close up that no air can get out nor in, so let it stand six or seven hours in a very hot oven; when it is baked take off the cover and put in a trencher and a stone upon it to keep the meat down in the liquor; fill up the pot with melted butter and so keep it, serve it to the table in slices with mustard and sugar.

Tomorrow: A royal Pullman breakfast.

Quotation for the Day …

Wine is the intellectual part of a meal, meats are merely the material part. Alexandre Dumas.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Walthamstow Wine.

Today July 17th …

Wine from Walthamstow was enjoyed by Samuel Pepys on this day in 1667 – that is, wine from grapes grown a mere 6.4 miles from Charing Cross.

Sam wrote:

“I at Sir W.Batten's …. and there for joy he did give the company that were there a bottle or two of his own last year's wine growing at Walthamstow, than which the whole company said they never drank better foreign wine in their lives”

At that time Walthamstow was “the country”, where the wealthy such as Sir William had their country estates, and popular hobby of noblemen was grape-growing and experimenting with wine-making.

At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 there were 40-something vineyards listed in southern England, although in reality there were probably more. Various reasons are given for the decline –the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII (most of the wine being made by monks), the introduction of tea and coffee - and climate change (the weather was warmer in England a few centuries ago). Perhaps global warming is helping with the resurgence of interest in the production of wine in England over the last few decades- there is no doubt that it is happening, and some of the wines are doing very well in blind tastings alongside those from more traditional grape-growing areas of Europe.

During centuries when England’s vineyards were languishing, her citizens never left off their tradition of making “wine” from all sorts of things other than grapes – everything from parsnips to cowslips, but especially fruit. Sam Pepys’ contemporary, Sir Kenelm Digby, included many recipes for fruit wines in his book, including this one:

The Countess of Newport’s Cherry Wine.
Pick the best Cherries free from rotten, and pick the stalk from them; put them into an earthen Pan. Bruise them, by griping and straining them in your hands, and let them stand all night; on the next day strain them out (through a Napkin; which if it be a course and thin one, let the juyce run through a Hippocras or gelly bag, upon a pound of fine pure Sugar in powder, to every Gallon of juyce) and to every gallon put a pound of Sugar, and put it into a vessel. Be sure your vessel be full, or your wine will be spoiled; you must let it stand a month before you bottle it; and in every bottle you must put a lump (a piece as big as a Nutmeg) of Sugar. The vessel must not be stopt until it hath done working.

Tomorrow: Half a Bucke.

Quotation for the Day …

Reasons For Drinking:
If all be true that I do think,
There are five reasons we should drink:
Good wine— a friend— or being dry—
Or lest we should be by and by—
Or any other reason why.
Henry Aldrich.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A pretext for a good dinner.

Today, July 14th …

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1789 that the oppressed peasants rose up and stormed the terrible prison in Paris called the Bastille, liberating its political prisoners and turning the tide of history inevitably towards the founding of the Republic. No - actually, it was the day that a rioting mob, seeking the weapons stored there, managed to overcome about 112 guards (80 of whom were invalides) and in the process managed to liberate the seven remaining prisoners – four forgers, two madmen, and one dissolute young aristocrat placed there by his family. The real story notwithstanding, the events became symbolic of the founding of the Republic, and it is the National Day of France.

Naturally then, it is a day for French food, for as Jean Anouilh said “Everything ends this way in France – everything. Weddings, christenings, duels, funerals, swindlings, diplomatic affairs – everything is a pretext for a good dinner”. We have the pretext, but what shall we chose from the classic French repertoire for our dish of the day?

The French gourmet Grimod de la Rèyniere who lived through it all supposedly said, with reference to the French Revolution, and with great relief, something along the lines of: “If it had lasted any longer, we might have lost the recipe for fricassée of chicken” It seems apt to choose this dish then, and to make it even more appropriate, the good Baron Brisse (1868) gives us a version named for one of the mistresses of Louis XV:

Fricassée of fowls à la Du Barry.
Cut up your fowls into joints, and soak for an hour in cold water, which change two or three times; drain, and dry them carefully in a cloth, and cook in water; as soon as it begins to boil, remove the pieces of fowl, and pass the liquor through a tammy. Warm a lump of butter, some scraped bacon, and a slice of Bayonne ham over a slow fire; when quite hot, add the pieces of fowl, and as soon as they begin to stiffen, stir in a tablespoonful of flour; take the saucepan off the fire, moistent the fricassée with equal quantities of stock, and the liquor in which the fowls were boiled; season with a bouquet of mixed herbs, an onion stuck with cloves, and boil for three quarters of an hour, remove the onion and herbs, and if the sauce is not sufficiently reduced stir in some yolks of eggs, and serve.

Tomorrow: Walthamstow Wine.

An extra treat for Bastille Day ...

A special day sometimes justifies a special treat, so I give you a number of quotations today, each one giving a different perspective on the French and their food. Please comment, if you feel so inclined, on the one you feel most closely matches your own feelings, and of course, please submit any others you may know.

“Food: Part of the spiritual expression of the French, and I do not believe that they have ever heard of calories.” Sir Beverley Baxter.

Thanksgiving is America's national chow-down feast, the one occasion each year when gluttony becomes a patriotic duty. In France, by contrast, there are three such days: Hier, Aujourd'hui and Demain." Michael Dresser.

“The French are not rude. They just happen to hate you. But that is no reason to bypass this beautiful country, whose master chefs have a well-deserved worldwide reputation for trying to trick people into eating snails. Nobody is sure how this got started. Probably a couple of French master chefs were standing around one day, and they found a snail, and one of them said: "I bet that if we called this something like `escargot,' tourists would eat it." Then they had hearty laugh, because "escargot" is the French word for "fat crawling bag of phlegm." ” Dave Barry.

“Bouillabaise is only good because cooked by the French, who, if they cared to try, could prepare an excellent and nutritious substitute out of cigar stumps and empty matchboxes.” Norman Douglas.

“Mayonnaise: One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a state religion.” Ambrose Bierce.

“We heard one evening, under the eye of the imperturbable Paul, a foreign lady ask for a milk chocolate drink to accompany a fillet of sole Cubat, the chefs specialty. Sacrilege! Just as well that Marcel Proust and Boni de Castellane were not here to see that.” Simon Arbellot.

"If any one element of French cooking can be called important, basic and essential, that element is soup." Louis Diat.

"Never forget that the pheasant must be awaited like the pension of a man of letters who has never indulged in epistles to the ministers nor written madrigals for their mistresses." Francois des Essarts

“A man should not so much respect what he eats, as with whom he eats.” Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.

"The only cooks in the civilized world are French cooks. … Other nations understand food in general; the French alone understand cooking, because all their qualities - promptitude, decision, tact - are employed in the art. No foreigner can make a good white sauce." Louis Victor Nestor Rocoplan.

“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.

“Without butter, without eggs, there is no reason to come to France”. Paul Bocuse.

“In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport”. New York Times journalist, 1986.

“Truffles are a luxury, and the first requirement of a luxury is that you should not have to economize." James de Coquet.

"Light, refined, learned and noble, harmonious and orderly, clear and logical, the cooking of France is, in some strange manner, intimately linked to the genius of her greatest men." Marcel Rouff.

The Prince in the Colonies.

Today, July 13th …

In 1920 the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) arrived in Australia on an official visit with the specific purpose of thanking its citizens for their contribution to the recent war. The citizens were suitably awed, and this time did not attempt to assassinate him – although in truth it was a rabid Irishman, not a true Australian that had taken a shot at the first royal prince (Alfred) in 1867.

Successive local authorities spared no expense in trying to outdo each other in royal offerings. In Adelaide, they took him to the hotel on this day in 1920, and gave him offal for lunch.

Huitres au Naturel.

Consomme a la Macedoine.
Potage Crème de Celeris.

Merlans à la Excellence.

Ris de Veau à la St.Cloud.

Filets de Mignon aux Champignons.

Sarcelle à la Chevreuil.

Asperges au Beurre.

Pouding à la Chanceliere.
Charlotte Russe.

Glace Nesselrode.


Hock, Claret, Sherry, Madeira (old), Port, Sparkling Hock.

“Ris de Veau” are veal sweetbreads, which are “the pancreas, or the thymus gland, of an animal” and “esteemed a delicacy” according to the OED. Princely food, Huh? At least the wine list was impressive. Something for everyone there. The Madeira was not new, and the bubbly was not labelled “Australian Champagne”. We’ve come a long way in the Colonies since 1920.

When H.M. Queen Elizabeth travels overseas, a list of forbidden ingredients is sent ahead to the host nation – no garlic (cause royal bad breath) no oysters (uncooked, risk of royal diarrhoea), no spaghetti (royal bosom might get bespeckled with sauce), no berries (unsightly berry seeds on royal teeth). No BERRIES ?!

Luckily, offal does not appear to be on the royal “off” list, so should a member of The Family come to stay, you could cook them sweetbreads. Here is the exact recipe from the cookbook of Queen Victoria’s chef, Francatelli.

Sweetbreads à la St.Cloud.
These should be scalded and pressed in the usual way, and studded over in neat circular order with pieces of black truffle or red tongue, cut in the form of large hobnails; then make twelve openings with a blunt wooden skewer in each sweetbread, in a introduce in these the nail-like pieces of tongue perpendicularly. Braize them according to the directions in the foregoing, and when done, dish them up with a white Toulouse ragout; garnish the entrée around the base with a border of small quenelles decorated with truffles, and place a group of trimmed crayfish-tails, previously tossed in a little glaze, coloured with lobster coral; slightly glaze the sweetbreads, and serve.

Tomorrow: A pretext for a good dinner.

Quotation for the Day …

One must always welcome guests sincerely, with a certain effusion of the heart, for when they come to your table they must already be happy with you. Baron Brisse

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Furry Things"

Today July 12th …

The master of the good ship ‘Felicity’ recorded in his log on this day in 1820 his decisive action in the face of potential disaster.

“Mate reports that seaman had brought one of those furry things on board in a covered cage. Ordered its neck wrung and body thrown overboard.”

What is difficult to understand is how any seaman would have considered taking a “furry thing” aboard ship in the first place. A longstanding sailors’ superstition was that “furry things” would bring unspeakably bad luck at sea, notwithstanding that a single one of their feet is considered bring the opposite on dry land. Even speaking the real name of the “furry thing” (if you are on dry land right now, you can say it - “rabbit”) was considered extremely risky. Rabbits were sometimes believed to be the avatars of witches, so perhaps the sailors’ fear of “furry things” was part of the general superstition about women aboard ships – a ship being a woman herself, therefore prone to jealousy and acts of violent revenge.

It seems fairly certain that rabbit stew would never come out of any ship’s galley, but luckily, there are no superstitions about serving rabbit to guests on dry land. A good host would never willingly shock the guests with the choice of dinner dish, but it is always good to surprise them:

Rabbits Surprised.
Take young rabbits, skewer them, and put the same pudding into them as directed for roasted rabbits. When they be roasted, draw out the jaw-bones, and stick them in the eyes, to appear like horns. Then take off the meat clean from the bones; but the bones must be left whole. Chop the meat very fine, with a little shred parsley, some lemon-peel, an ounce of beef marrow, a spoonful of cream, and a little salt. Beat up the yolks of two eggs boiled hard, and a small piece of butter, in a marble mortar; then mix all together, and put it into a tossing pan. Having stewed it five minutes, lay it on the rabbit where you took the meat off, and put it close down with your hand, to make it appear like a whole rabbit. Then with a salamander brown it all over. Pour a good brown gravy, made as thick as cream, into the dish, and stick a bunch of myrtle in their mouths. Send them up to table, with their livers boiled and frothed.

[From ‘The London art of cookery, ...’ Farley, John (1800)]

Tomorrow: The Prince in the Colonies.

Quotation for the Day …

I don't go for the nouvelle approach-serving a rabbit rump with coffee extract sauce and a slice of kiwi fruit. Jeff Smith (the Frugal Gourmet).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

From Digby's Closet.

Sir Kenelm Digby was born on this day in 1603. The naval commander, herbalist, amateur scientist, and privateer is best known for his collection of recipes published posthumously in 1669, with the grand title of ‘The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt Opened: Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine, &c. together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c.’.

It was essentially a still-room book - a book of herbal and medicinal lore, with some culinary recipes and many for fermented drinks, especially those based on honey such as mead and metheglin.

One of its charms is the method of timing of recipes, such as when making tea: ‘The hot water is to remain upon it no longer than whiles you can say the The Misere Psalm very leisurely’, which would be about right as the Misere (Psalm 50), recited very slowly, takes 2 ½ - 3 minutes. He had a tendency to celebrity name-dropping too, with recipe titles such as “Hydromel as I Made It Weak For the Queen Mother”, a delight she must have shared, as he modestly proclaims that is was “was exceedingly liked by everybody”.

He did include some decidedly less-regal recipes for us:

Strong Mead.
Take one Measure of honey, and dissolve it in four of water, beating it long up and down with clean Woodden ladels. The next day boil it gently, scumming it all the while till no more scum riseth; and if you will clarifie the Liquor with a few beaten whites of Eggs, it will be the clearer. The rule of its being boiled enough is, when it yieldeth not more scum, and beareth an Egge, so that the breadth of a groat is out of the water. Then pour it out of the Kettle into wooden vessels, and let it remain there till it be almost cold. Then Tun it into a vessel, where Sack hath been.

Savoury Tosted or Melted Cheese
Cut pieces of quick, fat, rich, well tasted cheese, (as the best of Brye, Cheshire, &c. or sharp thick Cream-Cheese) into a dish of thick beaten melted Butter, that hath served for Sparages or the like, or pease, or other boiled Sallet, or ragout of meat, or gravy of Mutton: and, if you will, Chop some of the Asparages among it, or slices of Gambon of Bacon, or fresh-collops, or Onions, or Sibboulets, or Anchovis, and set all this to melt upon a Chafing-dish of Coals, and stir all well together, to Incorporate them; and when all is of an equal consistence, strew some gross White-Pepper on it, and eat it with tosts or crusts of White-bread. You may scorch it at the top with a hot Fire-Shovel.

Tomorrow: "Furry Things".

Quotation for the Day ...

Alcohol is necessary for a man so that he can have a good opinion of himself, undisturbed by the facts. Peter Dunne Finley.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Emu Egg for Breakfast.

Today, July 10th …

Major Thomas Mitchell was on his second expedition into western New South Wales on this day in 1836. The situation had been getting rather grim, and on the previous day he had been about to reduce his party’s rations when the dogs brought down three kangaroos. Things then got even better:

July 10 - This day, we had even better fortune in our field sports than on the one before, for besides three kangaroos, we killed two emus, one of which was a female and esteemed a great prize, for I had discovered, that the eggs, found in the ovarium, were a great luxury in the bush; and afforded us a light and palatable breakfast for several days.

A single emu egg is equivalent to about 10 hen’s eggs, so makes an impressive omelette, and as they contain more fat (the yolk accounts for about 45% of the egg, compared to 35% in a hen’s egg), the Major’s breakfast must have been “light” only in comparison to a feed of kangaroo meat and damper.

The Aboriginal people of Australia had discovered the delights of emu eggs some thirty thousand years before Mitchell, and probably usually roasted them in the ashes, but today they are only occasionally served in tourist resorts for their curiosity value.

Should you happen across some emu eggs, you can cook them in the same way as hens’ eggs, bearing in mind that the yolk is much paler, so the resulting dish will be the same. If you want to hard-boil one, you will need to be patient, as it will take about 1 hour 45 minutes for a medium-sized egg.

If you are unable to find an emu egg, but want to pretend the thrill of the chase, or amuse the children, you can make “Emu Eyes” (which you can call Ox-eyes or even Ned-Kelly’s eyes instead). You will require 2 hens’ eggs and 2 thick slices of bread. Cut a hole in the centre of each slice of bread with a biscuit cutter or similar, and drop them into a frypan in which you have some butter or oil sizzling. Break an egg into each “hole”, fry carefully, and when nearly done, turn them over even more carefully, and finish them off.

Tomorrow: From Digby’s Closet.

Quotation for the Day …

Far out-back, the emu egg sometimes still appears on the breakfast-table, but the flavour is coarse, and only a hungry bushman can attack it. Fullerton: The Australian Bush (1928)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Samuel Pepys' Cellar.

Today, July 7th …

Rather puffed up with pride at his improved station life, Samuel Pepys set Mr. Hudson the wine cooper to work in his wine cellar on this day in 1665.

… at this time I have two tierces of claret – two quarter-casks of canary, and a smaller of sack – a vessel of tent, another of Malaga, and another of white wine, all in my wine-cellar together – which I believe none of my friends of my name now alive ever had of his own at one time.

So how good a cellar was that, exactly?

First the quantity: a ‘tierce’ is a third of a pipe, or half a firkin, or two-thirds of a hogshead - in other words, in today’s measure about 35 imperial gallons (159 litres) or 42 US gallons.

Now the contents: ‘Tent’ comes from the Spanish tinto, and meant wine of a deep red colour, usually from Spain. So if ‘Tent’ was red, what was ‘Claret’? Originally the word came from the French clairet, meaning clear or light, and it meant a wine of a colour somewhere between ‘red’ and ‘white’ (or ‘yellow’) wine, although by the time of Sam Pepys, it was already being used to refer mainly to red wine. ‘Canary’ was a sweet white wine produced around Tenerife, and Malaga, or Malago wine was a sweet fortified wine from Andalusia, usually made from pedro ximinez grapes. Finally, ‘Sack’ was also a white, usually fortified wine from Spain or the Canary Islands – in other words, sherry.

Was the wine used in cooking in the Pepys’ household? Quite probably, as it was a common practice as these recipes from Robert May’s ‘Accomplish’t Cook … ‘ (1660) show:

Sauce for a Duck.
Onions slic’t, and carrots cut square like dice, boild in white wine, strong broth, some gravy, minced parsley, savory chopped, mace, and butter; being well stewed together it will serve for divers wilde fowls, but most proper for water fowl.

To make a Pudding of Wine in guts.
Slice the crumbs of two manchets, and take half a pint of wine, and some sugar, the wine must be scalded; then take eight eggs, and beat them with rose-water, put to them sliced dates, marrow, and nutmeg, mix all together, and fill the guts to boil.

To make a Sack Cream.
Take a quart of cream and set it on the fire, when it is boiled drop in six or eight drops of sack, and stir it well, to keep it from curdling, then season it with sugar and strong water.

On Monday: Emu egg for breakfast.

Quotation for the Day …

“But i’ faith, you have drunk too much canaries and that's a marvellous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood ere one can say: What's this?". Shakespeare, Henry IV, part II, Act 2, Scent 4.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Biscuits, puddings, and Protestant eggs.

Today, July 6th …

The Old Foodie theory of a maximum of three degrees of separation between any person or event and any specific food hardly got a work-out today. It is the anniversary in 1685 of the Battle of Sedgemoor, the last fully pitched battle on English soil, fought between James, Duke of Monmouth (the illegitimate son of Charles II) and the men of his biological uncle, King James II. To cut a long story short, the Duke lost, and lost his head.

When the Duke, scruffy and starving, was flushed out of hiding, he had stolen peas on his person, so peas were a possibility. Traditional ‘Sedgemoor Easter Cakes’ were a possibility too, but it was a long way from Easter. There was a religious connection though: the family scrap for the throne that took place at Sedgemoor was not free of the religious scrapping that had plagued the whole century – the Duke was Protestant (considered desirable in an English king), and King James was Catholic (very unpopular). Easter also means eggs, and in this period, even eggs could take sides, as in this recipe from the 1682 edition of William Rabisha’s “The whole body of cookery dissected”:

To dress Eggs called in French Ala Augenotte, or the Protestant way.
Break twenty eggs, beat them together, and put to them the pure Gravy of a leg of mutton, or the Gravy of roast Beef, stir and beat them well together, over a Chaffindish [sic] of coals, with a little salt: add to them also a juice of Orange and Lemon, or grape-Virjuice [sic], then put in some mushrooms well boyled and seasoned; Observe as soon as your eggs be well mixed with the Gravy and other Ingredients, then take it off the fire, keeping them covered awhile, then serve them with grated Nutmeg over them.

Eventually, “Monmouth pudding” won, not because it was named for the Duke, rather for the Welsh border town of that name, but because there is something horrifically symbolic about a ball of a pudding with a slash of red at its base. It is said that it took eight blows of the axe to sever the Duke’s head.

Monmouth Pudding.
One pint of boiling milk; bread; three ounces of bread; peel and juice of one lemon; three eggs; a quarter of a pound of butter; two ounces of sugar; a little jam.
Pour the boiling milk on the bread, let it stand till tolerably cool; then add the juice and grated peel of the lemon, two ounces of sugar pounded, the eggs well beaten, and the butter dissolved; put in a layer of raspberry or strawberry jam at the bottom of a dish, pour the pudding over it, and bake it. [Warne’s Everyday Cookery, c1890’s]

Tomorrow: Samuel Pepys' Cellar.

Above and Beyond ...

If you are at all interested in traditional British baking, do please look at Anna's blog Baking for Britain, or go directly to her story about Sedgemoor Easter Cakes via the link in the story above.

Quotation for the Day …

‘Never mind about 1066 William the Conqueror, 1087 William the Second. Such things are not going to affect one’s life… but 1932 the Mars Bar and 1936 Maltesers and 1937 the Kit Kat – these dates are milestones in history and should be seared into the memory of every child in the country. Roald Dahl

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The poet of bran and pumpkins.

Today, July 5th …

Being a failed minister of religion is probably not a bad start for becoming a nutrition guru – both do require deep belief and evangelical zeal – and such was the career path of Sylvester Graham, born on this day in 1795. Although he was dead by the time he was 58 years old he developed a huge following (of “Grahamites”) during his lifetime, and left the enduring legacy of his name in “Graham flour” and “Graham crackers”.

His early theory of plain food for a long life developed into a hair-shirt type of nutrition doctrine that spun off to include advice about the value of cold bathing, loose clothing, and sexual restraint. Absolutely no condiments or stimulants of any kind were to accompany the strictly vegetarian fare, which was to be enjoyed in three instalments six hours apart, with no between meal snacks. Meat was the enemy, and bread the saviour – home-made bread that is, because, he said, bakers’ bread was made with over-refined and adulterated flour.

As is the lot of gurus throughout history, he came in for a lot of ridicule, and with newspapers called him “Dr.Bran”, and “the philosopher of sawdust pudding”, and Emerson called him “the poet of bran and pumpkins”, a recipe for wholesome pumpkin bread seemed appropriate initially.

Sweet-potato bread won, in the end. It is too deliciously subversive to resist, if you believe its old reputation for being an aphrodisiac. I’m also going to recommend it be eaten hot, straight from the oven, and not wait his recommended 12 hours before eating. So come back and haunt me, Sylvester.

From Juliet Corson’s “Practical American Cookery and Household Management” (1886):

Boil, peel, and mash sweet potatoes enough to yield a quart of pulp after they are mashed; to a quart of mashed sweet potatoes add a pint of milk in which has been dissolved half an ounce of compressed yeast, and two teaspoonfuls each of salt and sugar, together with a pint of boiling water, and just enough flour to make a thick batter; put this batter in a warm place near the fire to rise until it is double its first quantity, keeping it covered with a thick towel folded several times. When the batter has risen to twice its original bulk, mix with it enough more flour to make a soft dough; knead it for five minutes, then put it into three buttered iron pans, filling each half full, and again cover it, and let it rise to double its size; then bake the loaves in a moderate oven until they are quite done. Use the bread hot or cold.

Tomorrow: Biscuits, puddings, and Protestant eggs.

Quotation for the Day …

There are probably few people in civilized life, who were the question put to them directly - would not say, that they consider bread one of the most, if not the most important article of diet which enters into the food of man. And yet there is, in reality, almost a total and universal carelessness about the character of bread. Thousands in civic life will, for years, and perhaps as long as they live, eat the most miserable trash that can be imagined, the the form of bread, and never seem to think that they can possibly have anything better, nor even that it is an evil to eat such stuff as they do. Sylvester Graham; “Treatise on Bread and Bread Making” 1837

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Fourth, of Course.

Today, July 4th …

Today for your enjoyment, a selection of menus from three centuries of Independence Day celebrations:

The meal that legend says became traditional on July 4th for John and Abigail Adams in the 1770’s was quite simple, but elegant:

Green Turtle Soup
New England Salmon with Egg Sauce
New Potatoes Early Peas
Apple Pan Dowdy

It was rather more sumptuous fare when Ulysses S. Grant was banqueted by the Commissioners and Board of Finance of the Centennial Commission in 1873:

Consomme au Nid d’Hirondelles
Puree de Choux-fleur a la Reine
Old Amontillado Sherry

Petits Bouchees aux Queues d’Ecrivisses
Johannisberg Cabinet
Ruedesheimer Berg

Chapon Braisee a la Monte Christo
Filet de Boeuf a la Godared
Filet de Boeuf a la Belmont
Petits Pois Tomatoes farcies
Shoo-fly potatoes
Union League Cabinet
Louis Roederer, Carte Blanche
Geisler & Co., Dry Sillery.

Filets de Cannetons a la Rgence
Poulets en Supreme a la Toulouse
Pain de Gibier a la Charles XV.
Chateau Larose

Becasses roties, sur Canapee
Salade de Laitue de Tomates
Champagne frappe
Mumm’s extra dry

Corbeille de Fruits Corbeille de fleurs
Charlotte Parisienne
Chalets rustic a la Fairmount
Pyramid en Nougat Historic.
Grand Vin Chambertins.

Pudding Diplomate glacee

Cigars de Havanne

But it was very basic fare for the inmates of the National Home For Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth Kansas in 1902.

Chicken Pot Pie
Creamed Potatoes.
New Beets

Bread Butter Pickles

English Plum Pudding

Assorted Cake Coffee

Today’s recipe choice is easy. Just look again at that extravagant banquet. Does the dish “shoo-fly potatoes” not seem out of place amongst the classic consommés, puréees, and bouchées?

It sounds awfully like French fries to me, but here is a recipe for them from “Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving. A Treatise Containing Practical Instructions in Cooking; in the Combination and Serving of Dishes; and in the Fashionable Modes of Entertaining at Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” (1878) by Mary Foote Henderson.

There is a machine which comes for the purpose of cutting shoo-fly potatoes; it costs two dollars and a half. The potatoes are cut into long strips like macaroni, excepting that the sides are square instead of round. They are thrown into boiling lard, sprinkled with salt as soon as done, and served as a vegetable alone, or as a garnish around meat.
Tomorrow: The poet of bran and pumpkins.
An Appeal ...
So far, this dish called "Shoo-Fly Potatoes" has proved elusive. "Shoo-Fly Pie" is well known, and apparently well-named - the molasses attracting the little critters like crazy - but Potatoes? And a machine to cut them? TOF would be most grateful for any clarification of this dish, or the machine.
Quotation for the Day ...
A man accustomed to American food and American domestic cookery would not starve to death suddenly in Europe, but I think he would gradually waste away, and eventually die. Mark Twain 'A Tramp Abroad'

Monday, July 03, 2006

The End of the Auk.

Today, July 3rd …

Three humans managed to murder the last pair of Greak Auks and their single egg on this day in 1844, on the little island of Eldey off the coast of Iceland. The big, flightless, penguin-like birds from the Northern Atlantic were so easy to catch and kill, it is a wonder they did not succumb earlier to their human predators.

Auks, like many other swimming and diving birds, provided fresh meat for small subsistence communities and roving fishermen for centuries, but food was not the motive in the final slaughter. After they were no longer desirable as food, they were hunted relentlessly for their feathers, and finally, at the cusp of their extinction in the early nineteenth century, their rarity made them valuable to collectors of natural history specimens – an ironic fate of the last little family of Great Auks on earth.

The birds then, were already extinct by the time Peter Lund Simmonds wrote his fascinating book “The Curiosities of Food; or the Dainties and Delicacies of Different Nations Obtained from the ANIMAL KINGDOM” in 1859. The Great Auk is not mentioned, but other “NATATORES” are, with suggestions as to how to cook them:

The brent goose (Anser torquatus) is excellent eating, and its flesh is free from fishy taste. Then follow the little auk or rotge (Alca alle), the dovekey, or black guillemot (Uria grille),the loon, or thick-billed guillemot (Uria Brunnichii). The first two are better baked with a crust, and the last makes, with spices and wine, a soup but little inferior to that of English hare.

There are unashamedly gleeful descriptions of the hunt too. One “correspondent’ had a “pleasant day” gathering penguin eggs on Tristan d’Acuna:

Fancy what work, to stand amid hundreds of the birds, all screaming round you, so as almost to deafen you, tumbling them here and there, and picking up their eggs as fast as you can gather them! It is really amusing sport. I must remind you the kicking them over with our soft moccasins (shoes) does not hurt them in the least, and the next day they will have just as many eggs.

We need a soothing dish to follow such a story, perhaps one from hens’ eggs – free range of course - such as this one from Alexis Soyer’s “Modern Housewife” (1853).

Eggs with Burnt Butter.
Put into a frying-pan two ounces of butter, which melt; as soon as it is on the poit of browning, put in the eggs, which have been previously broken in a basin, and seasoned with pepper and salt; when well set, serve, with a teaspoon of vinegar over the eggs.

Tomorrow: The Fourth, of Course.

Quotation for the Day …

It might seem that an egg which has succeeded in being fresh has done all that can reasonably be expected of it. Henry James.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Extra! Extra! Maple Syrup and Canada Day.

Yes, Yes, the The Old Foodie knows that today is Saturday, not a weekday, but it is Canada Day (Fête du Canada), and The Old Foodie has many loyal Canadian readers.

As a gift to them all on their National Day, she gives some maple syrup recipes from From “The Emigrant Housekeepers Guide to the Backwoods of Canada” by Mrs. C.P.Traill, (1857). Images of the full text of this book can be found at Early Canadiana Online.

MAPLE SYRUP: This beautiful addition to the table is simply a portion of the syrup, taken out when it begins to thicken to the consistency of virgin honey. It sells at ninepence or tenpence a-quart readily; if for use in your own family, boil it rather longer, and cork it tight, setting it by in a cool cellar to keep it from fermentation. It is used as a sauce fro pancakes, pudding, and to eat with bread. Those persons who do not think it worth their while to make sugar, will often make a gallon or two of molasses. Some call it maple honey, and indeed it comes nearer to honey in tast, and consistency, than to treacle.

MAPLE SWEETIES: When sugaring off, take a little of the thickest syrup into a saucer, stir in a very little fine flour, and a small bit of butter, and flavour with essence of lemon, peppermint, or ginger, as you like best; when cold, cut into little bricks about an inch in length. This makes a cheap treat for the little ones. By melting down a piece of maple sugar, and adding a bit of butter and flavouring, you can always give them sweeties, if you think it proper to allow them indulgencies of this sort.

MAPLE VINEGAR: Those persons who make maple sugar generally make a keg of vinegar, which, indeed, is highly advisable; no house should be without it; it is valuable both as an article of diet and medicine; and as it is easily made, and costs nothing but the labour, I shall give directions on how to make it.
At the close of the sugar-making season, in the month of April, the sap loses much of its sweetness, and when boiled down, will not make sugar, but it will make good vinegar: - for this purpose it will only be necessary to reduce five pails of sap to one by boiling; twenty-five gallons of sap, boiled down to five, will fill your little five gallon keg; but it is better to boil rather more, as you will need some after the fermentation is over to fill up the vessel. This is the common proportion: five pails to one; but I don not think that six to one would be too much to allow in boiling down. While blood-warm, strain the liquor into the vessel, and pour in half a tea-cup of rising; set the cask in the chimney corner, or at the back of the stove, and let it work as long as it will, then lay a bit of glass over the bunghole to keep out dust, and let it stand where it will keep moderately warm for weeks. It will be fit for use by the summer; if it is too weak, put a little more sugar to it.
In the hot weather, a nice cooling drink can be made with a quart of hot water, a large spoonful of maple syrup, and as much vinegar as will sharpen it; when quite cold, grate a little nutmeg on it, or drop in a little essence of lemon, to flavour it. This is very refreshing in harvest weather.

MAPLE BEER: This is made with sap, boiled down as for vinegar, to which a large handful of hops boiled, and the liquor strained in, it added, with barm to ferment it; some add sprigs of spruce, others bruised ginger.

MAPLE WINE: Boil down six pails of sap to one, in proportion to the quantity you wish to make. Set it to ferment with a little yeast, and stop it soon: let it stand in a cool cellar after it is bunged. It may be drunk in a few weeks, as it has not much body, and would soon sour. A finer wine may be made with sap, boiled down, adding a quarter of a pound of raisins split.
This wine should be made when the sap is at its best: it is not prudent to defer it to the end of the season.