Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Pavlova: the story.

Today, January 31st …

[update: February 7th, see the entry for 1933]

The Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova was born on this day in 1885, so there is no difficulty guessing our topic today – ‘the pavlova, the sweet dessert’. There has been a longstanding battle between Australia and New Zealand as to who 'invented' the pavlova, with tempers getting quite nasty at times. This is my contribution to the war.

For those of you who need the clarification, a pavlova as defined by the OED is “a dessert consisting of a soft-centred meringue base or shell filled with whipped cream and fruit.” I would like it put on notice here that the OED, which should be absolutely non-partisan, has clearly allied itself with the “soft-centred like marshmallow” school of thought, in complete disregard for the very vocal opposition school that maintains a pavlova should be thoroughly dried and crisp throughout.

We have established then, that a pavlova is a form of meringue. Neither Australia nor New Zealand invented the meringue, because the meringue was invented before they were. As for meringue, it was not, repeat NOT ‘invented in 1720 by a Swiss pastry-cook called Gasparini, who practised his art in Mehrinyghen [hence ‘meringue’], a small town in the State of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.’ Even the venerable Larousse perpetrates this myth, in complete disregard for the fact that confections made from sweetened, stiffly-beaten egg whites appear in cookbooks printed well before that date. The earliest I can find appears in the recipe collection of Lady Elinor Fettiplace, which is dated 1604, which she calls White Bisket Bread.

To make White Bisket Bread.
Take a pound & a half of sugar, & an handful of fine white flower [flour], the whites of twelve eggs, beaten verie finelie, and a little annisseed brused, temper all this together, till it be no thicker than pap, make coffins with paper, and put it into the oven, after the manchet [bread] is drawn.

Note: this is clearly what we would call ‘meringue’, but Lady Elinor does not use the name. The first use that I am aware of (and I stand willing to be corrected) is in the cookbook of François Massialot, the first chef of Louis XIV (1638 - 1715). His book was published in 1692, and contained a chapter on “Meringues and Macaroons”. This is one of the recipes from the English translation of 1702.

Dry Meringues.
Having caus’d the Whites of four new-laid Eggs to be whipt, as before, till they rise up to a Snow, let four Spoonfuls of very dry Powder-sugar be put into it, and well-temper’d with a Spoon: Then let all be set over a gentle Fire, to be dried a little at two several times, and add some Pistachoes, that are pounded and dried a little in the Stove. Afterwards, they are to be dress’d as other, and bak’d in the Oven somewhat leisurely, with a little Fire underneath, and more on the top; When they are sufficiently done, and very dry, let them be taken out, and cut off with a Knife: Lastly, as soon as they are somewhat cold, let them be laid upon Paper, and set into the Stove to be kept dry.

So, should M.Massialot get the credit for ‘inventing’ the meringue, as the evidence is that he used the name first? Or, until an earlier manuscript turns up, should it go to Lady Elinor, on the principle that the concept is the thing, not the name?

Australia and New Zealand, we have established, did not invent the bisket-bread/meringue style confection itself. Did either of them actually invent the particular iteration which both now call the pavlova, or did one of them steal the name an apply it to a similar, but quintessentially different variation? Here we have the nub of the dispute. It is all in the name.

It is not my job here to take sides (although as I have pointed out elsewhere, NZ is the country that re-named the Chinese Gooseberry the Kiwi Fruit, in what was clearly an attempt to give it origin status), so I hereby give you the known facts/factoids in chronological order for you to make up your own minds.

1926: A cookbook printed in NZ called Cookery for New Zealand, by E. Futter contained a recipe ‘Meringue with Fruit Filling’. It was not, however, called Pavlova.

1927: The OED cites the first use of the word ‘pavlova’ in ‘Davis Dainty Dishes’, published by Davis Gelatine in NZ. It was ‘composed of coloured layers of jelly made in a mould resembling a ballerina's tutu’. Pavlova, as coloured jelly – I don’t think so!

1927: A group of Congregational Church ladies produced a cookbook called Terrace Tested Recipes, in Wellington NZ in 1927. One recipe was for ‘Meringue Cake’, which was made in two tins, the resulting two cakes being sandwiched together with cream and fruit, or serves as two cakes. Not called pavlova. Structure similar? Not the two layer one, certainly.

1929: Yet another NZ cookbook, Mrs. McKay’s Practical Home Cookery, had a recipe for ‘Pavlova Cakes’, the plural representing the three dozen little confections made from the mixture. This is hardly the same thing as a pavlova with the traditional filling/topping, now is it?
1933: Bron at Bron Marshall Classic & Creative Cuisine sends this correction on Feb 7th:

The recipe was submitted by a Laurina Stevens for the Rangiora Mother’s Union Cookery Book, it was called “Pavlova” - the correct name, the recipe was for one large cake and contained the correct ingredients, egg white, sugar, cornflour, and vinegar, and it had the correct method for cooking. This has been proven thanks to the research of Professor Helen Leach, of the University of Otago’s anthropology department. Prof Leach also uncovered a 1929 pavlova recipe in a New Zealand rural magazine which had the correct ingredients and correct method of cooking, however it was unfortunately published under a pseudonym.

1935: The family of Herbert Sachse of the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Western Australia have maintained a vigorous claim that he invented the dish to be served at afternoon tea, and commented (or someone did) that “It is as light as Pavlova”, and hence the name Sachse claimed in a magazine interview that he ‘improved’ a recipe for Meringue Cake he found in the Women’s Mirror Magazine on April 2, 1935 (which had been submitted by a NZ resident.

I guess the only way this dispute will get resolved is if we can come to a consensus as to what defines a pavlova, as distinct from a meringue or a meringue cake or a pavlova cake(s).

I reckon the passionfruit is crucial.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Pepys’ Pease Porridge.

A Previous Story for this Day …

We had a story about monkeys and bananas on this day last year.

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.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A dish for the Empress.

Today, January 30th …

The new (and final) Emperor of the new (Second, and final) French Empire, Napoleon III, fairly quickly set about finding himself a suitable bride to provide him with an heir or several. After being rejected by a couple of European royal princesses whose families had no wish to ally themselves with the pretentious upstart, he chose Eugenie de Montijo, a beautiful woman with aristocratic Spanish blood. The marriage took place on this day in 1853, at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris.

The culinary connection for us today is that this is the Empress for whom dishes styled ‘a l’Imperatrice’ are named. These dishes classically contain rice, although I have no idea why this is so. Perhaps the Empress had a special liking for it.

The great Escoffier, who was responsible for creating many dishes in the name of famous or royal persons, was born in 1846, so was a child at the time of the wedding of Napoleon and Eugenie. Nevertheless, his version of Riz impératrice is a classic, and the recipe appears below. This is no boarding-school or nursery rice pudding. Compare it with the ‘Empress Pudding’ from the very English Cassells Dictionary of Cookery – and ponder as to whether this is simply another take on the classic dish named for Eugenie, or was it named for the ‘other’ Empress - Victoria, Empress of India?

Riz impératrice.
(Rice with custard cream, kirsch and maraschino.
8 oz rice, 1 ¾ pints boiling milk, pinch salt, ¼ vanilla pod, ½ oz butter, 8 oz castor sugar, kirsh, maraschino, ¼ oz gelatine, ½ pint thick cream, ½ pint English custard cream*, apricot syrup.
Wash the rice, put into plenty of boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. Drain off the water, add the boiling milk, salt, vanilla and butter, and simmer for 10-12 minutes, then add the sugar.
Pour the rice into a bowl, cool a little and flavour with kirsch and maraschino. Add the dissolved gelatine and whipped cream to the custard cream and mix with the rice.
Pour into a mould and leave to set.
Unmould and cover with apricot syrup flavoured with kirsch and maraschino.

*Crème à l’ anglaise.
(Custard Cream)
1 lb sugar, 16 egg yolks, 1 ¾ pints boiled milk, vanilla pod, orange or lemon peel, or 3 tablespoonfuls liqueur.
(if a vanilla pod, orange or lemon peel is used for flavouring, infuse it in the milk while it is heating. If liqueur is used, add to the custard when cold.
Put the sugar and egg yolks together in a pan and beat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and creamy. Add the milk and cook over gentle heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Avoid letting the custard boil or it will curdle.
If it is required hot, strain into a bain-marie and keep over very low heat, to avoid the eggs being overcooked. If required cold, strain into a bowl and stir while cooling.
Note: 1 level dessertspoon arrowroot, mixed with 2 tablespoons cold milk may be added to the sugar and egg yolks. This will prevent curdling should the custard boil.

Empress Pudding.
Put enough fresh milk in a well-lined saucepan to pulp half a pound of rice. Let the rice soften over a very slow fire, and, when quite done, add two ounces of butter and stir till it is dissolved. Set the rice by to cook: when it has cooled, stir in three well-beaten eggs. Put a layer of rice into a dish lined with puff paste, place a layer of any kind of jam over it, and fill up the dish alternately with rice and jam. This pudding may be eaten cold, in which case it should be served with boiled custard poured over it. Bake in a moderate oven for three-quarters of an hour. [Cassell’s, 1870's, English]

Tomorrow’s Story …
The Pavlova: the story.

On this Topic.

Two different rice pudding recipes were given in the story entitled Rice Pudding to Complain About.

A Previous Story for this Day …

There was a great, tragic mystery enacted on this day at Mayerling in Austria in 1889, when Crown Prince, Rudolph Habsburg, and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera died in a murder-suicide. Or was it?

Quotation for the Day …

"I am the emperor of Germany, but you are the emperor of chefs." Emperor William II of Germany speaking to Georges-Auguste Escoffier.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Wine with Wisdom.

Today, January 29th …

Herman Melville wrote to his great friend Nathaniel Hawthorne on this day, urging him to visit, and tempting him with a promise of food and wine and conversation.

“ … Fear not that you will cause the slightest trouble to us. Your bed is already made, & the wood marked for your fire. But a moment ago, I looked into the eyes of two fowls, whose tail feathers have been notched, as destined victims for the table. I keep the word "Welcome" all the time in my mouth, so as to be ready on the instant when you cross the threshold. … Mark - There is some excellent Montado Sherry awaiting you & some most potent port. We will have mulled wine with wisdom, & buttered toast with story-telling & crack jokes & bottles from morning till night”.

How could anyone refuse an invitation for “mulled wine with wisdom, & buttered toast with story-telling” from such a brilliant writer? Especially another brilliant writer? What stories did they tell over their buttered toast? Did they exchange plot details from the books they were working on? Melville must have been close to finishing Moby Dick, and Hawthorne The House of the Seven Gables at that time as both books were published later the same year.

Whatever they discussed, the mulled wine would certainly have been welcome, as the temperature at Melville’s farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts would have been below freezing. What did they mull over, over this mulled wine? And what a lovely confluence of words that is!

To mull is “to consider, ponder upon”.
Mulled wine is wine “made into a hot drink with added sugar, spices, fruit, etc., and formerly sometimes thickened with beaten egg yolk”

I did hope to find a clever connection between the various uses of ‘mull’, but a prolonged foray into the OED turned it up 11 times as an adjective, and 5 as a verb (with 5 more in the form of ‘mulled’), which was far too many for this non-linguist to unravel. The various entries were also prefaced with OED-speak such as “the origin is uncertain”, “various theories have been advanced as to the origin of this word”, and “the development of the other senses is unclear”. So I gave up. A selection of the definitions does seem to be relevant however.

‘To mull’ also means ‘to grind to a powder’ (the spices) and ‘to become wet or liquid’ (mixing the spices with the wine), and ‘to warm’, all of which fit the mulled wine concept, and are pretty good metaphors for the mental process too. There is also the possible association with the Latin word ‘mulsus’, meaning mixed with honey, which would fit with the sweetening of the drink.

It might seem likely that the name of the Anglo-Indian 'Mulligatawny Soup' would reference the grinding of the spices, but the word has a completely different (and thankfully quite unequivocal etymology), which is satisfyingly descriptive. ‘Mulligatawny” comes from a Tamil word meaning “pepper water”. There is no evidence that I am aware of that either of our two literary gentlemen ever ate it, but it would have been entirely appropriate for the mid-winter weather in Massachusetts.

I give you a recipe for the soup from the same era, from Cookery, rational, practical and economical, treated in connexion with the chemistry of food by Hartelaw Reid (1853)

Mulligatawny Soup.
Cut the meat of three pounds of a breast of veal into small pieces, and simmer the trimmings, gristles, and bones, along with a knuckle of veal broken in pieces, in about three quarts of water, until these are converted into a good strong stock. Fry (sauter) the pieces of meat in butter, in a deep stewpan, along with some sliced onion, and a slice of lean ham. When slightly browned, add two tablespoonfuls of flour, mix well, and pour over them the stock previously strained. Allow this to simmer gently for nearly an hour, skimming off the fat as it rises. Then add two or three dessert-spoonfuls of curry powder, season with salt and cayenne to taste, and continue the simmering until the veal is thoroughly cooked. Before serving, remove the ham. Carrot and turnip may be used in this soup if desired, being sliced and sautéed along with the meat and onion; apples are also sometimes employed in this way. The remains of cooked fowls or rabbits, cut into pieces of the proper size, may be warmed up in this soup and served along with, or instead of, the veal.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A dish for the Empress.

Quotation for the Day …

It is true that taste can be educated. It is also true that taste can be perverted... If any man gives you a wine you can't bear, don't say it is beastly... But don't say you like it. You are endangering your soul and the use of wine as well... Seek out some other wine good to your taste. Hillaire Belloc.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

1 can of meat, 100 recipes.

My search for a recipe for yesterdays post Australian Meat, English Pie led me to Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery, which was published in England in the 1870's. It gives, under Tinned Meat, Australian, a total of one-hundred recipes for this product.

The recipes are, let it be said, not particularly appetising to us today. There is, in fact, a certain cant look/cant look away quality to them, but for reasons which I am at a loss to explain, and which perhaps are best not explored, I feel compelled to make this culinary treasure more widely available.

I have, therefore, decided to gradually post them. As the topic is above and beyond the normal Old Foodie postings, I have decided that the recipes will be housed on the Companion to the Old Foodie site. Doing it this way also ensures that visitors to this site dont fall over them accidentally and get a fright.

If you are interested, and are not afraid of fatty lumps of canned meat, or other ingredients such as Pea Powder, you will find "Tinned Meat, Australian" HERE.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Australian Meat, English Pie.

Today, January 26th …

There is no avoiding it, today Down Under it is Australia Day. When America won its War of Independence, Britain was forced to find another dumping ground for its criminal class (most of which was the urban poor). The prison hulks in the Thames soon proved insufficient (and had rather too much unsightly proximity to the urban rich), so a fleet of slightly more seaworthy hulks were obtained, filled up with convicts, put under the charge of Captain Arthur Phillip, and sent off to the Great South Land.

Australia Day commemorates the day in 1788 that this “First Fleet” sailed into Sydney Cove and was formally claimed for Britain by Captain Phillip. The last shipment of convicts arrived in 1868, just as a trade opportunity in the opposite direction was starting to assert itself.

There was a serious shortage of meat in Britain in the second half of the nineteenth century due to a combination of circumstances: the population grew from 28 to 35 million between 1850 and 1880, and cattle plague (probably Rinderpest) had drastically culled cattle herds. In the new colony of Australia there was an abundance of cattle and sheep. How to get this beef and mutton to the Mother Country? Many methods of meat preservation were tried and patented.

The Australian Meat Company was established in 1865, with head offices in London, and a large canning business in South Australia. It is difficult to avoid thinking that the amount of effort expended by the authorities, companies, and cookbook authors to promote the use of this tinned Australian meat somehow reflects its lack of intrinsic appeal. Its one great virtue was its cost, and Phyllis Browne, who addressed herself to “people of moderate income, with moderate domestic help, and ordinary kitchen utensils” in her book A Year’s Cookery (1879), had this to say about it:

“Australian Meat is at its best when served cold with pickles. It should be turned out of the tin very carefully, and the dripping that lies on it should be taken away, and will prove a valuable addition to the household stock of dripping to be used in cookery. .. The jelly should be preserved – it will make excellent gravy; and in order that there may be no waste the tin should be rinsed with warm water for gravy.”

Canned Australian meat remained a common commodity in Britain for decades after the first successful shipment of frozen meat from Australia arrived in England aboard the Strathleven in 1880. The 1910 edition of Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery feels justified in providing 100 recipes for using tinned meat because “considerable prejudice exists, owing, to a great extent, to the fact that few know how to cook them properly”.

Naturally, I have to give you a recipe for meat pie today (it is our national dish, after all), and have chosen one from a junior cousin to Cassell’s Dictionary, a cookbook “written on the basis of the maxim that economy and simplicity are not incompatible with excellence and elegance”. It is Cassell’s Shilling Cookery (1888).

Australian Meat Pie.

Warm the tin; strain off the jelly. Place this in a saucepan with six beads of garlic, and let it boil gently for ten minutes. Take out the garlic. Add a teaspoonful of salt, two of black pepper, a pinch of cayenne, and half a grated nutmeg. Mix the meat thoroughly in this gravy, and put it in a pie-dish. Cover with a crust and bake till the pastry is done. Take it out of the oven, and let it get cold.
This pie must be eaten cold, not hot. If the jelly were insufficient to moisten the meat, some water, or still better, stock, should be added.
Australian meat lacks flavour and requires vigorous treatment, as above.
Should such a strong flavour of garlic be objected to, put in less, or an onion, but garlic is best.
[I must add, for those of you who have not experienced a good Aussie Meat Pie, that we dont make them from canned meat nowadays!]

Monday’s Story …

Mulling it over.

A Previous Story for this Day …

This day in 1888 marked the centennial anniversary of the day that Captain Arthur Phillips formally claimed the land as the furthest outpost of Her Majesty’s Empire, and landed a considerable number of her less desirable subjects as its first citizens. The ‘Inevitable Banquet’ that accompanied such events was the feature of the story on this day last year.

Quotation for the Day …

I live on toasted lizards,
Prickly pears, and parrot gizzards,
And I’m really very fond of beetle-pie.
Charles Edward Carryl (1841–1920), U.S. poet

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Maids of Honour.

Today, January 25th …

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were married secretly on this day in 1533 by the Bishop of Litchfield, which gives us an excuse to enjoy or discount (or both) some myths about the delicious little English almond cheesecakes known as Maids of Honour.

Various versions of the myth have Anne making the tarts for Henry (ridiculous), Henry coming across the maids eating the tarts, sampling some himself, and being so enamoured of them he decided to secure the recipe (or the maid who invented them) and lock it (her) away (ludicrous), or Henry himself discovering the recipe in a locked trunk (plain silly). So, is there a connection at all?

Well, Anne came to Henry’s attention because she was a Maid of Honour to the wife he wanted to rid himself of (Catherine of Aragon) due to her failure to produce a viable heir. That’s it, the sum total of the connection. Why Anne? Why not some other Maid of Honour to some other Queen, or some other Maid of Honour and some other Queen’s Husband? Or is there another explanation altogether?

Maid-of-Honour tarts are also sometimes called Richmond Tarts. In the borough of Richmond in London, there is a little street called Maid-of-Honour Row which was built to house the Maids of Honour of Caroline, the wife of George II, two centuries after Anne’s short reign. Perhaps then there is some connection between this elegant row of houses and the Tarts? Several sources say that the first recipe for Maid of Honour Tarts are to be found in late seventeenth century books, but I have been unable to find any (please let me know if you know of their whereabouts). Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food gives a reference that suggests that the first print occurrence occurred in the Public Advertiser of 1769. Hannah Glasse places them in the second course of several of her suggested menus in the 1778 edition of The Art of Cookery (but does not give a recipe with the name). So – perhaps there is a mid-eighteenth century association with this little elegant row of houses, and not the mother of Queen Elizabeth I?

We are really only discussing a name of course. Medieval cookery sources have a huge variety of custard, cheesecake and almond tarts, and many of them are similar to our Maids of Honour. Names are important however, so I give you a recipe for them from the late eighteenth century – one without almonds, just to show that nothing is certain in this cooking life.

From: The New Art of Cookery, according to the present practice…; by Richard Briggs; 1792.

Maids of Honour.
Take half a pint of sweet curds, beat them well in a marble mortar till they are as smooth as butter. Put in half a pint of cream, the yolks of four eggs, the whites of two, well beaten and strained through a sieve; a quarter of a pound of fresh butter melted, a little grated lemon-peel, and nutmeg, one ounce of candied citron shred very fine, a glass of brandy, and a spoonful of orange flower water; sweeten it to your palate with powder sugar, mix the ingredients all well together, have your patty pans very small, sprinkle on a little flour, put a thin puff-paste over them, more than half fill them, and bake them in a moderate oven.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Australian Meat, English Pie.

A Previous Story for this Day …

If you have any Scottish blood, or wish you had, today is “Burns Day”, and you may need the complete instructions as to how to celebrate it.

Quotation for the Day …

The most dangerous food is wedding cake. James Thurber

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Big Night.

Today, January 24th …

The movie ‘Big Night’ opened on this day in 1996 at the Sundance Film Festival. The story is about two Italian-American brothers who stage a final ‘Big Night’ at their restaurant, in a wonderfully defiant gesture in the face of imminent closure forced by the competition from the slick operators across the street.

Their ‘Big Night’ is a marvellous celebration of life, and love, and food, and of how life, and love, and food are intertwined because they are the same thing to these brothers – and to us too, if we are lucky.

The real star of the movie is the pièce de résistance of the meal – a giant timpano or timbale. A ‘timbal’ used to mean a kettle drum, but sometime, somewhere, some chef co-opted the name for ‘a dish made of finely minced meat, fish, or other ingredients, cooked in a crust of paste or in a mould.’ The mould being, of course, in the shape of a kettle drum.

The brothers could have made individual timbales for each guest, it would have been an easier and safer decision, but easier and safer options were not being celebrated this night. A single large timpano - in spite of the inherent risks in its construction (getting the layers of filling right), cooking (what if it was not cooked through?) and especially its turning out of the mould (would the unthinkable happen?) – was the only option. A single timpano was crafted with skill and care and patience - large enough to share with friends, lovers, and families - a dish that celebrated heritage and culture and joy, a grand creation that symbolised everything that the brother’s restaurant was, and the opposition restaurant wasn’t.

The essential feature of a timpano/timbale, as we have said, is its shape. The filling may be as varied as the circumstances and whim of the cook allow, and the lining of the mould – the OED definition above, notwithstanding – is not always of dough. Certainly the Big Night brothers used pasta, and in the image above (from one of Francatelli’s books), several are made with macaroni - arranged in intricate patterns as one would expect from a high-class Victorian chef - but another also uses mackerel roe. There are other choices too, as we will see from our recipe example, which is from the eighteenth century. George Dalrymple uses thin slices of veal and bacon (‘lard’) in this version, but in the succeeding recipe in the book, “Pig in a Mould named as above” he uses the pig skin to line the mould.

From: The practice of modern cookery; adapted to families of distinction, as well as to those of the middling ranks of life … George Dalrymple (1781)

Timbale à la Romaine.
The Timbal is a Mould much like a Turk’s-cap for Bleaumange, &c.
Cut slices of veal very thin; put them in your mould or stew-pan, upon slices of lard; baste them with eggs to make them join together; make a good forced-meat of veal or poultry, bread-crumbs soaked in cream, udder, rasped lard or butter, chopt parsley, shallots, mushrooms, pepper and salt, and two or three eggs; lay some of this forced meat upon the veal, then a ragoust of pigeons, sweet breads, palates, cockscombs &c; cover it over with the remainder of the forced meat and lard; bake it in the oven; when done, turn it out upon the dish you intend for table, take off the lard, and serve with sharp sauce. If lard, meaning bacon, is disagreeable, rub your mould or pan well with butter, which will answer the same purpose.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Maids of Honour.

A Previous Story for this Day …

Lobster Thermidor was discussed in A Revolutionary Dish.

Quotation for the Day …

The chef, or cook, proportions, assembles, and prepares various products of the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms, creating food for the epicure. The aesthetic pleasure induced by food can be so closely related to that produced by certain music and other arts, as to defy separation or separate identification. Merle Armitage in ‘Fit For A King’ (1937)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

To Dress a Cod’s Head.

Today, January 23rd …

Our good friend Samuel Pepys dined with Sir William Batten, the Surveyor of the Navy on this day in 1663, upon a cod’s head.

I cant help noticing that Cod’s Head has fallen out of favour. What is strange is that it was once very much in favour, and not just by those who couldn’t afford a nice thick fillet. One household manual from 1881 describes it as ‘a very genteel and handsome dish’ - echoing the thoughts of several hundred years of fish connoisseurs and cookbook writers. Why has it fallen from grace?

Perhaps it is our ignorance? Fish head sounds like not enough meat for the effort of getting it off the bones. If we discover that ‘a cod’s head’ was usually shorthand for ‘a cod’s head and shoulders’, does the offer of more flesh for our fiddling change our attitude?

Is it the appreciation that shoulders or not, it would still be a nuisance to serve? Carving - the skill that was once essential to all men of good breeding (or housewives of good training) - seems to be a Lost Art. If this is the issue holding us back from truly enjoying a Cod’s Head, then some old cooking texts can come to our rescue with detailed carving instructions.

A Cod's Head and Shoulders, perhaps, require more attention in serving than any other. ... In carving, introduce the trowel along the back, and take off a piece quite down to the bone, taking care not to break the flakes. Put in a spoon and take out the sound, a jelly-like substance, which lies inside the back-bone. A part of this should be served with every slice of fish. The bones and glutinous parts of a cod's head are much liked by most people, and are very nourishing. [The Complete Cook...; Sanderson, J. M. 1864]

Some are even more detailed, and provide illustrations to assist:

Cod-Fish. Next to turbot, a cod's head and shoulders is the handsomest dish of fish brought to table. The fish-knife must be passed through the back from 1 to 2, and then transversely in slices. No fish requires more care in helping, for when properly boiled the flakes easily fall asunder, and require a neat hand to prevent the dish looking untidy. With each slice should be sent a portion of the sound, which is the dark lining underneath the back-bone, to be reached with a spoon. Part of the liver may be given if required. The gelatinous part about the eye, called the cheek, is also a delicacy, and must be distributed justly, according to the number of the party. [Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, 19th C]

Or is our lack of enthusiasm an aesthetic thing? In our modern age, do we associate fish heads with fish bait or funny foreigners? Or is it the eye, staring at us reproachfully from the platter? It need not be this, for another 19th century household manual reassures us that “The green jelly of the eye is never given to any one”.

A final mystery is this one: Codfish presumably still come with heads. What do fishmongers now do with that part of the fish? As we are now informed and reassured, and keen to make up for this deficiency of Cod’s Head in our lives, we need to solve this puzzle.

In anticipation of our success in securing ourselves a good source of this Esteemed Delicacy, I give you this recipe.

Cods-Head to Dress.
Cut it fair and large, boil it in Water, and Salt, add a pint of Vinegar, so that all the Head and Appurtenances may be just covered, put into the mouth of it a quart of stewing Oisters, a bundle of sweet-Herbs, and an Onion quartered: and when it is sufficiently boiled, set it a drying over a Chafing-dish of Coals; then take Oister liquor, sliced Onion, and two or three Anchoves, a quarter of a pint of White-wine, and a pound of sweet Butter, shred the Herbs, mix them with the Oisters, and garnish it with them, adding withal some slices of Lemon, grated Bread, and a little Parsley.
[William Salmon’s The family dictionary, or, Household Companion…1695]

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Big Night.

A Previous Story for this Day …

Rhubarb was our topic a year ago to the day.

On this Topic …

We have previously considered other Funny Fish Bits.

Quotation for the Day …

The codfish is a staple food

For which I'm seldom in the mood.

This fish is such an utter loss

That people eat it with egg sauce.
Ogden Nash.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Death of a Queen.

Today, January 22nd …

Queen Victoria died on this day in 1901, a few months short of her 82nd birthday, after 63 years and 7 months on the throne - the longest reign in British history. She had watched the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution on the way of life in Britain, had seen to it that the Empire was consolidated, and had strengthened her country’s ties with Europe by marrying her children into its royal families. Most of her subjects had known no other royal ruler.

The culinary fashion of the time was to name dishes after those one wished to honour, and it is probably true to say that there are more dishes named after Victoria than any other single person. Should you wish to commemorate her life on this anniversary of her death, you could simply cook your favourite ‘small cut of meat’, and dress it with the classic garnish ‘à la Victoria’, which according to the Larousse is:

Small tomatoes stuffed with purée of mushrooms; quartered artichokes simmered in butter. Sauce: Meat juices of the main dish blended with Madeira or port and thickened veal stock. Uses: For small cuts of meat.

Alternatively, should you feel so inclined, you could sit down to an entire menu ‘à la Victoria’. Here is one selection.

Soup: Cream of Pearl Barley à la Victoria
Fish: Sole Victoria, OR Salmon à la Victoria.
Chicken: Poularde Victoria
Salad: Salade Victoria
Dessert: Bombe Victoria OR Victoria Pudding (with Victoria Sauce, of course).

Of course, it would be perfectly appropriate to sit down to a simple Afternoon Tea in her honour, and partake of one (or more) of the many varieties of cakes and biscuits named for her. The Larousse describes a Victoira Cake ‘made like plum cake’ leavened with baking powder and containing almonds and crystallised cherries. Her chef Francatelli’s cake also has cherries, but he adds brandy, leavens it with German yeast, and makes it in the manner of ‘a German kouglaüffe’ – perhaps a nod to her very German heritage and completely German husband. Mrs Beeton and several other cookbook writers of the era give recipes much closer to our (now) traditional idea of a Victoria Sponge with its jam filling, although they call it a ‘Victoria sandwich’. Not a Victoria Sandwich Cake. This distinction is made clear in Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s) which lists:

Victoria Sandwiches, Savoury.
Victoria Sandwiches, Sweet (which turns out to be a cake recipe.)

Naturally, if you opt for the Afternoon Tea option, you will wish to also have on your table the savoury sandwiches with her name, so here they are:

Victoria Sandwiches, Savoury.
(for breakfast, luncheon, &c.)
Wash six or eight anchovies, cut off their heads and fins, take out the back-bones, and divide each fish in two, from the shoulder to the tail. Cut an equal number of thin slices of brown bread and butter, put between two slices alternate layers of hard-boiled eggs, mustard and cress cut small, and the fillets of the anchovies; press the slices closely together, and with a sharp knife cut them into neat squares. Place them on a dish covered with a napkin, and garnish with parsley. If not wanted immediately, cover them with a napkin wrung out of cold water to keep them moist.

Tomorrow’s Story …

To Dress A Cod’s Head.

On this Topic …

Queen Victoria's Christmas Dinner, 1899.

Queen Victoria's Luncheon on January 17th 1899

Quotation for the Day …

Family dinners are more often than not an ordeal of nervous indigestion, preceded by hidden resentment and ennui and accompanied by psychosomatic jitters. M.F.K Fisher.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Recipe Archive Update.

There are now over 500 recipes in the RECIPE ARCHIVE. Recipes from posts to the end of December 2006 have been added.

It is now time for another Recipe Feature. There are special collections of recipes for potatoes, coffee (as an ingredient), gingerbread, and Christmas dishes in this archive. What next?. If you have any special requests or suggestions, please leave a comment on this post, or email me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Saintly Weed.

Today, January 19th …

After the previous two days of heavy-duty menus, it is a relief to return to some delicate plant cookery. The mediaeval monks’ saintly calendar of flowers comes to our rescue today. The plant of the day, which is dedicated to St Martha, is the White Dead Nettle.

The stinging nettle is a weed, an invalid food, or a spinach substitute, depending on your point of view, state of health, and finances. Its medicinal use goes back many centuries, and we have already met the hymnist John Byrom, who used ‘nettle broth’ for some unspecified malady in 1728. Nicolas Culpeper in his famous herbal the English Physitian (1652) gave a list of medicinal actions of the nettle, noting among other things that would:

“ … open the Pipes and passages of the Lungs … and helpeth to expectorate tough Flegm, as also to raise the impostumated Pleuresie, and spend it by spitting; .. killeth the Worms in Children, easeth pains in the sides, and dissolveth the windiness in the Spleen, as also in the Body, … Remedy against the stinging of Venemous Creatures, the biting of Mad Dogs … ”

Culpeper’s contemporary, Samuel Pepys, recorded taking nettle porridge on a number of occasions. We know he suffered from ‘the stone’, so perhaps the nettles helped, for Culpeper also said of it that “the Seed provoketh Urine, and expelleth the Gravel and Stone in the Reins or Bladder.”

Aside from its medical use, the nettle is a most useful culinary plant. It can be used to make tea or beer, depending on inclinations and brewing skill, but it is less well known that it can be used as a sort of vegetable rennet (vegetarians take note). Cassells’ Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s) says:

Nettle, Rennet of.
In the Western Isles of Scotland a rennet is prepared by adding a quart of salt to three pints of a strong decoction of nettles, a table-spoonful of which is said to be sufficient to coagulate a bowl of milk.

The most usual use of course is as a pot herb. Given that the usual consumers of the nettle are the peasants and the poor, it is not surprising that there are almost no recipes for it in cookbooks – if one could afford to buy a cookbook, and had an education that enabled one to read it, presumably one would not be eating wayside weeds. Alexis Soyer, the most famous chef of the Victorian era did however include instructions for cooking nettles it in his Shilling Cookery for the People, published in 1854. He did not have a recipe for them in The Modern Housewife (1853), which was clearly written for a better class of reader.

Here is the recipe from Soyer’s book, whose full title is: Shilling Cookery for the People: embracing An Entirely New System of Plain Cookery and Domestic Economy (1854). He addresses the recipes in the book to ‘Eloise’.

“I herewith send you the receipts I promised you on Nettles which I tried while in Norfolk”

Wash them well, drain, put them into plenty of boiling water with a little salt, boil for twenty minutes, or a little longer, drain them, put them on a board and chop them up, and either serve plain, or put them in the pan with a little salt, pepper, and a bit of butter, or a little fat and gravy from a roast; or add to a pound two teaspoonfuls of flour, a gill of skim milk, a teaspoonful of sugar, and serve with or without poached eggs.
This extraordinary spring production, of which few know the value, is at once pleasing to the sight, easy of digestion, and at a time of the year when greens are not to be obtained, invaluable as a purifier of the blood; the only fault is, as I have told you above, Eloise, they are to be had for nothing; it is a pity children are not employed to pick them, and sell them in market towns.

Monday’s Story …

The Death of a Queen.

A Previous Story for this Day …

A story about the avocado, which grows on 'the Testicle Tree'.

On this Topic …

Other recipes for flowering plants are:

15thC Almond and Rose-petal sauce for Loche [fish]
17th C Minnow tansie with primroses and cowslips (same site as the above)
18th C Syrup of Violets.
20th C Eggs cooked with Marigold

Quotation for the Day …

Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food. Hippocrates.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

An Extraordinary Banquet.

Today, January 18th …

The legendary chef Antonin Carême (1784-1833) is generally acknowledged as the founder of classic French cookery. During his own lifetime, he was styled The Cook of Kings and the King of Cooks, and for about two years one of his royal masters was the future King George IV, the gluttonous, spendthrift Francophile - George, Prince of Wales, acting as Regent on behalf of his father, the poor mad George III.

Carême did not stay long in the Prince’s kitchens, for a variety of reasons, but while he was in the Regent’s employ, he engineered one of the most elaborate and extravagant banquets ever held.

It all happened on this day in 1817, at the ‘Brighton Pavilion’ – the Regent’s new, extravagant and elaborate seaside residence. The occasion was the state visit of Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia.

This dinner was not simply a meal offered to a hungry overseas guest, this was not simply Dinner, this was Theatre (or Propaganda if you will) - Theatre with a cast of 120 dishes. Here is the playbill.

Les profitralles de volaille à la moderne.
Le potage santè au consommé.
Le potage de mouton à l'anglaise .
Le potage de riz à la Crècy.
Le potage de pigeons à la marinière.
Le potage de karick à l'Indienne.
Le potage à la d'Orléans.
Le potage de celeri, consommé de volaille.

Les perches à la Hollandaise.
La truite saumonée à la Génoise .
Le cabillaud à la crème.
Le brocket à l'Espagnol garni de laitances.
Les soles au gratin et aux truffes .
Le turbot, sauce aux crevettes.
Les merlans frits à l'Anglaise.
Le hure d'esturgeon au vin de Champagne.

De petits vol-au-vents à la Reine .
De petit pâtès de mauviettes.
De croquettes à la royale.
De canetons à la Luxembourg.
De filets de poissons à l'Orly.

Le quartier de sanglier marine .
Les poulardes à l'Anglaise.
Les filets de boeuf à la Napolitaine.
Les faisans truffés à la Perigueux.
La dinde à la Godard moderne.
La longe de veau à la Monglas.
Les perdrix aux choux et racines glacés.
Le rosbif de quartier de mounton.

(arranged around the relevés de poissons as indicated).
La sante de poulardes à la d'Artois.
Les ris de veau glacés à la chicorèe .
La croustade de grives au gratin.
Les poulets à la reine, à la Chevry.
Les côtelettes de lapereaux en lorgnette.
(Les perches à la Hollandaise).
Les quenelles de volaille en turban .
Les cailles à la mirepoix, ragout à la fiancière.
La magnonaise de perdreaux à la gelée .
L'emince de langues à la Clermont .
Les poulets dépèces l'Italienne .
(La truite saumonée à la Génoise) .
Les filets de volaille en demi-deuil .
Les aiguillettes de canards à la bigarade .
La darne de saumon au beurre de Montpellier.
Le pain de volaille à la royale.
Les filets d'agneaux à la Toulouse .
(Le cabillaud à la crème).
La caisse de lapereaux au laurier.
La blanquette de poulardes aux champignons .
La casserole au riz à la Monglas .
Les petits canetons à la Nivernoise.
Le sauté de faisans à la Perigord.
Les sautés de perdreaux au suprême.
La chevalier de poulets garni d'Orly .
La timbale de nouilles à la Polonaise .
Les escalopes de chevreuil à l'Espagnole .
Les ballotines de poulardes à la tomate.
(Les soles au gratin) .
Les bécasses, entrée de broche à l'Espagnole .
Les filtes de volaille à la belle vue .
Les hâteletes d'aspic de filets de soles .
Les cervelles de veaux à la Milanaise .
Les escalopes de gelinottes, sauce salmis.
(Le turbot, sauce aux crevettes) .
Les filets de poulardes glacés aux concombres.
Les boudins de faisins à la Richelieu .
La salade de volaille à l'ancienne.
La noix de jambon aux épinards.
Les ailerons de poulardes à la Piémontaise.
(Les merlans frits à l'Anglaise).
Les pigeons au beurre d'écrevisses.
La poularde à la Maquignon.
Le vol-au-vent à la Nesle, Allemande.
Les cotelettes de moutons à la purée de pommes de terres.
Les filets de poulardes à la Pompadour.

An Italian pavilion.
A Swiss hermitage.
Giant Parisian meringue.
Croque-en-bouche aux pistache.
A Welsh hermitage.
A grand oriental pavilion.
Un gros nougat à la française.
Croque-en-bouche aux anis.

Les bécasses bardées.
Le dindonneau.
Les faisans piqués.
Les poulardes au cresson.
Les sarcelles au citron.
Les poulets à la reine.
Les gelinottes.
Les cailles bardées.

(of which 16 are desserts, with indication of arrangement around roasts and grosses pièces).
Les concombres farcies au velouté.
La gelée de groseilles (conserve).
(Les bécasses bardées).
Les gaufres aux raisins de Corinthe.
Les épinards à l'Anglaise(Le Pavilion Italian).
Le buisson des homards.
Les tartelettes d'abricots pralineés.
(Les dindonneaux).
La geléé de marasquins fouettée.
Les oeufs brouilles aux truffes.
(La grosse meringue à la Parisienne).
Les navets à la Chartres.
Le pouding de pommes au rhum.
(Les faisans piques).
Les diadémes au gros sucré.
Les choux-fleurs à la magnonaise.
(L'Hermitage Suisse).
Les truffes à la serviette.
Les fanchonettes aux avelines.
(Les poulardes au cressons).
La gelée de citrons renversées.
La croute aux champignons.
Les cardes à l'Espagnol.
La gelée de fraises (conserve).
(Les cailles bardées).
Les gateaux renversés, glacés au gros sucré.
Le buisson de crevettes.
(Le Pavilion Asiatique).
La salade de salsifis à l'Italienne.
Les gateaux à la dauphine.
(Les gelinottes).
Le fromage Bavarois aux abricots.
Les laitues à l'essence de jambon.
(Le gros nougat à la française).
Les champignons grilles demi-glacé.
Les pannequets à la Chantilly.
(Les poulets à la reine).
Les pains à la duchesse.
Les truffes à la serviette.
(L'Hermitage Gaulois).
Les pommes de terre à la Lyonnaise.
Les gateaux d'amandes glaces à la rose.
(Les sarcelles aux citrons).
La gelée de cuirassau de Hollande.
Les céleris à l'Espagnol.

4 soufflés de pomme.
4 soufflés à la vanille.
4 fondus.
Sadly, I am unable to give you Carême ‘s recipe for ‘roast beef of a quarter of lamb’, which appeals, nor one for the Giant Parisian Meringue, which does not, but instead opt for the most classical aspect of classical French cuisine – a sauce. Carême said there were four classic sauces: Sauce Béchamel, Sauce Velouté, Sauce Espagnol, and Sauce Allemande. We have featured his recipe for Sauce Espagnol in a previous story, so for today we have:

Sauce Allemande.
1 oz. butter
1 oz. flour
half a pint of boiling water
salt and pepper
1 egg
3 drops of wine vinegar.
Melt the butter, add the flour and then the boiling water and seasoning. Off the heat whisk well the egg and vinegar and add gradually to the sauce whilst whisking. Do not re-boil.

Tomorrow’s Story ...

A Saintly Weed.

A Previous Story for this Day …

The Tin that Takes the Biscuit.

On this Topic ...

Carême’s Sauce Espagnol is HERE.

Charles Ranhofer’s Sauce Espagnol (1894) is HERE

Quotation for the Day …

I want order and taste. A well displayed meal is enhanced one hundred per cent in my eyes. Carême.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Queen’s Beef.

Today, January 17th …

Queen Victoria was at her favourite home of Osborne, on the Isle of Wight on this day in 1899. She was a few months shy of her 80th birthday, and this is what was on the menu for luncheon:

Potage aux huitres.
Oeufs brouilles aux truffes.
Côtelletes de Veau à l’Allemande.
Poulets decoupés à l’Anglaise.
Boeuf braise au Macaroni.
Faisans à la Casserole.
Chicorée à la crème.
Poulets rôtis.

Cold Rt Fowls. Cold Rt. Beef.
Cold Tongue Spiced Beef.
Galantine Game Pie.
Salade Normande.

Soufflés à la Circassienne.
Crème de Pêches à la Montreuil.
Petits Gâteaux Condés

Some of Her Majesty’s subjects who had the misfortune to be residents of a workhouse on this exact Tuesday in 1899 had, for their midday (main) meal:

Vegetable broth
Bread 4 oz
Cheese 2 oz
Dumplings 8 oz
Did the Good Queen agonise over this difference while she picked and nibbled her way around her lunch (did she have all her own teeth by then)?. It seems unlikely, but perhaps I am being uncharitable.

History has not usually seen fit to record the names of the individuals who functioned as cooks in the workhouses, and I don’t know who was the Good Queen’s chef in 1899 – perhaps some other historian can enlighten me. Her best known chef however – although he was in the role for less than a year - was the Anglo-Italian, Charles Elmé Francatelli. He left her service in 1842, so was not responsible for today’s menu, but food fashions did not change quickly during the Victorian regime, and we can be fairly confident that the dishes in his book The Modern Cook, published in 1860 would still have been the standard in 1899.

Francatelli gives a selection of braised beef dishes, all variations on the following theme:

Braised Roll of Beef, a la Flamande.
Take a piece of sirloin of beef, well covered with fat, weighing about twenty pounds; bone it, leaving the fillet adhering to the upper part; daube or interlard the fillet in a slanting position, by inserting with a large daubing needle some pieces of ham or bacon about a quarter of an inch square and four inches long; then roll the beef up close, and fasten it round with a string so as to secure its shape. Break up the bones and place them with the trimmings at the bottom of a braizing pan; then place the roll of beef on the bones, and garnish with four carrots, four onions, with a clove stuck in each, four heads of celery, and a faggot of parsley with thyme and a bay leaf, and two blades of mace; moisten with half a bottle of sherry and two glasses of brandy; set the whole on the stove to simmer for about ten minutes, then add a sufficient quantity of good stock or consommé, nearly to cover the beef; place thereon a well-buttered paper, and, after having caused it to boil, set the braizing pan to continue gently boiling on a smothered stove for about five or six hours: the time for this must be regulated by the degree of tenderness of the meat. When the beef is done, drain, trim, and put it into a convenient-sized pan, containing a little of the liquor in which it has been braized; and with a portion of the remaining part, work some brown sauce for the remove; boil the rest down, and with this glaze the beef. Place it on a dish, garnish round with alternate groups of turned and glazed carrots and turnips, glazed onions, and Brussels-sprouts; pour the sauce above alluded to round the dish, glaze the beef, and send to table.

Tomorrow’s Story …

An Extraordinary Banquet.

A Previous Story for this Day …

Popeye and Spinach.

On this Topic …

We have previously looked at the menu for Queen Victoria’s Christmas Dinner in 1899.

Quotation for the Day …

And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait/ Because I have a luncheon date. John Betjeman

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Risotto à la Milanaise.

Today, January 16th …

There is a charming myth that the classical northern Italian dish Risotto à la Milanaise was created in 1574 by the artist responsible for the stained glass windows in the Cathedral of Milan when he added some saffron (supposedly used for colouring his paints) to a dish of rice at his daughters wedding. It is a legend that begs many questions, not the least of which is what was an elite artist doing in the kitchen at that time, paint colourings in hand. The legend goes on to say that the guests pronounced the dish “risus optimus”, or “excellent rice”, which became eventually became “risotto”. The OED does not give this explanation, but does concede that the name is of Italian origin, and then rather prosaically describes the dish as “A stew or broth made with rice, chicken, onions, butter, etc.” The crucial “etcetera” that makes basic risotto into Risotto à la Milanaise, is, of course - saffron.

So, can we get any closer to the real origins of this dish?

What we do know is that a dish of “Sicilian style rice” was served on this day in 1543 at a banquet organised by Cristoforo da Messisbugo, a steward of the Este family in Ferrara. The dish allegedly contained egg yolks, grated cheese, pepper, saffron and sugar. It is certain that Sicily was under Moorish influence for centuries, and saffron originated in the Middle East - probably in ancient Sumeria, and is a feature of Sicilian dishes, so the explanation so far sounds reasonable. We also believe that the Moors also took rice to Europe, and were growing it in Spain in the 8th or 9th century, and that it was being produced in the Lombardy plain by the end of the 15th century, which also fits our story.

Dishes are rarely, if ever “invented” – they evolve and develop over time, and one day might be given a special name, along with which comes the belief that it is newly invented. In reality, rice and saffron were partners at least two centuries before our mid-sixteenth century banquet. It is possible that they were partners in the 8th or 9th century, but no cookbooks (if indeed there were any) survive from that time. I give you recipes for fourteenth and fifteenth century risotto-like dishes containing saffron.

From France, from the manuscript known as the Viander de Taillevent, written in about 1375, and translated by James Prescott:

Decorated rice for a meat day.
Pick over the rice, wash it very well in hot water, dry it near the fire, and cook it in simmering cow's milk. Crush some saffron (for reddening it), steep it in your milk, and add stock from the pot.

From England, from the manuscript known as the Form of Cury, written in about 1395:

Ryse of Flesh.
Take Ryse and waishe hem clene. and do hem in erthen pot with gode broth and lat hem seethe wel. afterward take Almaund mylke and do therto. and colour it with safroun an salt, an messe forth.

From late 15thC Italy, from the cookbook of Maestro Martino, as translated by Jeremy Parzen in The Art of Cooking: the first modern cookery book; edited by Luigi Ballerini.

Martino gives it as a variation of a recipe for Farro (or emmer, an ancient variety of wheat).

Farro with Capon Broth or Other Meat Broth.
To make ten servings: first of all, clean and wash the farro well, and cook in good capon broth or fatty pullet broth, and let it simmer for a long while. When done cooking, add some good spices; and take three egg yolks and a bit of cold farro, and mix together. Then drop into the farro, and make yellow with some saffron.

Rice with Meat Broth.
Prepare as for farro broth. But many do not like eggs with their rice, so you should leave it up to your master’s tastes.

And for a named version of the dish of the day (although not necessarily the first), we jump to the mid-nineteenth century, to Eliza Acton’s version in Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845).

Risotto a la Milanaise
Slice a large onion very thin, and divide it into shreds; then fry it slowly until it is equally but not too deeply browned; take it out and strain the butter, and fry in it about three ounces of rice for every person who is to partake of it. As the grain easily burns, it should be put into the butter when it begins to simmer, and be very gently coloured to a bright yellow tint over a slow fire. Add to it some good boiling broth lightly tinged with saffron, and stew it softly in a copper pan for fifteen or twenty minutes. Stir to it two or three ounces of butter mixed with a small portion of flour, a moderate seasoning of pepper or cayenne, and as much grated Parmesan cheese as will flavour it thoroughly. Boil the whole gently for ten minutes, and serve it very hot, at the commencement of a dinner as a potage.

Obs.- The reader should bear in mind what we have so often repeated in this volume, that rice should always be perfectly cooked, and that it will not become tender with less than three times its bulk of liquid.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Queen’s Beef.

A Previous Story for this Day …

The ancient Roman festival of Concordia was our story on this day in 2006.

Quotation for the Day …

Rice is a beautiful food. It is beautiful when it grows, precision rows of sparkling green stalks shooting up to reach the hot summer sun. It is beautiful when harvested, autumn gold sheaves piled on diked, patchwork paddies. It is beautiful when, once threshed, it enters granary bins like a (flood) of tiny seed-pearls. It is beautiful when cooked by a practiced hand, pure white and sweetly fragrant.Shizuo Tsuji

Monday, January 15, 2007

Too much Molasses.

Today, January 15th …

A storage tank containing 2.3 million gallons of molasses exploded in Boston on this day in 1919, killing 21 people and injuring more than 150 others. The cause of the explosion was never fully determined, but was no doubt a combination of circumstances - an unexpectedly warm day causing a sudden increase in fermentation and hence a rapid rise in pressure in a poorly constructed and over-filled tank.

The explosion sent sheets of metal and debris hurtling outwards with sufficient force to slice through the girders of the nearby elevated railway. A tide of molasses spewed out and poured through the streets in a wave up to 15 feet (4.5 m) high at a speed of 35 mph (56 kph), knocking buildings off their foundations and proving impossible to outrun. The complexity of the clean-up is hard to imagine, even with the aid of photographs of the disaster. Eventually salt water from Boston harbour was pumped into the town to flush the streets, but it took many months to remove the sticky mess – and locals say you can still smell the molasses on some days.

Molasses, blackstrap molasses, treacle, and golden syrup are all by-products of sugar refining – and they essentially the same thing, the only variation, as they say, being in the details. Once, they were all referred to as ‘treacle’ (from an old word meaning an antidote to poison) - as they still are in Britain. In the Americas, the Portuguese word for honey – melaço, was adapted to become molasses, in another example of the separation of the two countries by their common language.

When sugar cane is crushed, the resulting juice is boiled several times to evaporate off the pure sugar which then crystallises. The liquid remaining from the first boiling – which is still very sweet – is what is called ‘Golden Syrup’ in Britain, or ‘Light Molasses’ in America. A second boiling produces a darker, more bitter but only slightly less sweet syrup called ‘treacle’ (or ‘black treacle’) in Britain and ‘molasses’ (or dark molasses) in America. A third boiling produces the very dark, bitter ‘blackstrap’ molasses beloved only of cattle and those enthusiasts who believe it a ‘health-food’.

Molasses was once the primary sweetener in the USA, and early American cookbooks are full of recipes using it as an ingredient. Here is a very healthy-sounding recipe for Boston Brown Bread from Everyday Foods in War Time, by Mary Swartz Rose, Assistant Prof of Nutrition at the Teachers College, Columbia University, published the year before the disaster.

War Time Boston Brown Bread

Rye meal, 1 cup
Corn meal, 1 cup
Finely ground oatmeal, 1 cup
Milk, 1½ cups
Soda, ¾ teaspoon
Salt, 1 teaspoon
Molasses, 1 cup
Baking powder, 2 teaspoons.

Mix and sift dry ingredients, add molasses and milk, stir until well mixed, turn into a well-greased mold, and steam three and one-half hours. The cover should be greased before being placed on mold. The mold should never be filled more than two-thirds full. A one-pound baking powder box makes the most attractive shaped loaf for steaming; place mold on a trivet in kettle containing boiling water, allowing water to come half-way up around mold; cover closely and steam, adding as needed more boiling water. One cup chopped peanuts and 1 cup of cut dates may be added.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Risotto à la Milanaise.

Quotation for the Day …

It's hard to imagine a single food that can be more aptly described as the essential ingredient than sugar. From a Tate & Lyle packet.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Victory Sausages.

Today, January 12th …

On this day in 1943 in the USA, an official of the Meats Division of the Office of Price Administration announced that for the duration of the war, frankfurters (or ‘hot dogs’) would be replaced with ‘Victory Sausages’, and that a proportion of the meat of the said sausages would itself be replaced with ‘an unspecified amount of soybean meal or some other substitute.’

The ostensible justification for the enforcement of ‘an arbitrary sausage formula’ was the shortage of real meat, but surely this could have been carried out without a name change for the product? Consumers have always assumed that the contents of a sausage are arbitrary, have they not? It was clearly a propaganda opportunity too good to miss – a simple name change to demonstrate anti-German sentiment, an idea resurrected from the previous war when ‘sauerkraut’ became ‘Liberty Cabbage’, and resurrected again when ‘French Fries’ briefly became ‘Freedom Fries’ (due to anti-French sentiment on the part of US soldiers in Iraq).

Propaganda aside, the government assured the populace that the sausage formula might be arbitrary, ‘but it would meet the standards of wholesome nutrition regardless of how much substitute matter it contained.’ Soybeans – ‘the vegetable meat’ - got a large amount of their own propaganda during this time. Numerous commercial products based on soy meal with names only marketing gurus could love came onto the market. One was called Soysage, and consisted of meal made from soy, peanuts, and cottonseed, augmented with wheat bran and wheat germ and flavoured ‘discreetly’ with dehydrated onion and spices. A food writer in 1943 in the New York Times waxed as lyrical as she could on its virtues, informing her readers that ‘as might be expected from its composition, Soysage is to be employed as a meat substitute.’ The package directions, she said ‘say to blend a cup of it with half a cup of water and form the mixture into patties or “sausages”, brown in a skillet, add more water and continue cooking for about eight minutes until the moisture is absorbed.’ The good folk in the New York Times kitchen felt the necessity to value-add to this recipe, and recommended adding a grated raw carrot, a grated onion, and a pinch of sage to the mixture, and after initial browning, to transfer them to the oven to finish cooking, and then serve them with ‘an appetizing tomato or parsley sauce.’

The ‘vegetable meat’ was also heavily promoted as a grain substitute, and the recipes supplied by various authorities for soymeal in this role sound rather more palatable than those for it as a meat substitute. Here is another New York Times recipe, also from 1943.

Soybean Bread.
Six cups sifted enriched flour, one cake yeast, three and a half tablespoons dry skim milk, two cups water, three teaspoons salt, two and a half tablespoons sugar, nine tablespoons high fat soybean flour and one and a half tablespoons shortening. Two cups of fluid milk may be used in place of the dry skim milk and water.

Monday’s Story …

Too much Molasses.

A Previous Story for this Day …

James Boswell used food to assist his amorous endeavours in 1763, in a story called ‘Food for Perfect Felicity’.

On this Topic …

Official First World War recipes for meatless dinners made with beans, were in THIS STORY.

Quotation for the Day …

People who enjoy eating sausage and obey the law should not watch either being made. Otto von Bismarck

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hardy’s Ale.

Today, January 11th…

The novelist Thomas Hardy died on this day in 1928, and forty years later a commemorative ale was released in his honour in his home county of Dorset. This is a very special ale. It is matured in sherry casks for nine months, bottle fermented in individually numbered bottles, designed to be laid down for 5-25 years, and - at 12.5% ABV - decidedly not for wimps.

The ale was inspired by a passage in Hardy’s novel “The Trumpet Major”. The action of the novel occurs in the fictional county of Wessex (which is certainly Dorset), and Hardy describes the local beer as:

“……of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste; but, finally, rather heady. The masses worshipped it, the minor gentry loved it more than wine, and by the most illustrious country families, it was not despised."

There were some anxious moments for beer aficionados around the world when the Eldridge-Pope brewery was sold in 1997 and it looked like the beer would not survive. There was no 2000 vintage, but happily common (and commercial, it seems) sense has returned, and the beer is once again available.

A recipe for the ale is clearly out of the question, and a recipe using it as an ingredient would clearly be sacrilege. Luckily, Dorset is also famous for its apples, and a recent competition was held to determine what would be the signature dish of the county. The local Dorset Apple Cake won, and fine recipes for it can be found on the sites belonging to my fellow-bloggers, Andrew at Spittoon Extra, and Anna at Baking for Britain.

My offering to you is a mid-Victorian apple cake from Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery (1845), and leave it to you to decide if it is actually cake, or tart, or pie.

Apple Cake, or German Tart.
Work together with the fingers ten ounces of butter and a pound of flour, until they resemble fine crumbs of bread; throw in a small pinch of salt, and make them into a firm smooth paste with the yolks of two eggs and a spoonful or two of water. Butter thickly a plain cake tin, or pie mould; roll out the paste thin, place the mould upon it, trim a bit to its exact size, cover the bottom of the mould with this, then cut a band the height of the sides, and press it smoothly round them, joining the edge, which must be moistened with egg or water, to the bottom crust, and fasten upon them to prevent their separation, a narrow and thin band of paste, also moistened. Next, fill the mould nearly from the brim with the following marmalade, which must be quite cold when it is put in. Boil together, over a gentle fire at first, but more quickly afterwards, three pounds of good apples with fourteen ounces of pounded sugar, or of the finest Lisbon, the strained juice of a large lemon, three ounces of fresh butter, and a teaspoonful of pounded cinnamon, or the lightly grated rind of a couple of lemons. When the whole is perfectly smooth and dry, turn it into a pan to cool, and let it be quite cold before it is put into the paste. In early autumn, a larger proportion of sugar may be required, but this can be regulated by the taste. When the mould is filled, roll out the cover, lay it carefully over the marmalade that it may not touch it, and when the cake is securely closed, trim off the superfluous paste, add a little pounded sugar to the parings, spread them out very thin, and cut them into leaves to ornament the top of the cake, round which they may be placed as a sort of wreath*. Bake it for an hour in a moderately brisk oven. Take it from the mould, and should the sides be not sufficiently coloured put it back for a few minutes into the oven upon a baking tin. Lay a paper over the top, when it is of a fine light brown, to prevent its being too deeply coloured. This cake should be served hot.
Paste: flour, 1 lb.; butter, 10 oz.; yolks of eggs, 2; little water. Marmalade: apples, 3 lbs.; sugar, 14 oz. (more if needed); juice of lemon, 1; rinds of lemons, 2; butter, 3 oz.: baked, 1 hour.
*Or, instead of these, fasten on it with a little white of egg, after it is taken from the oven, some ready-baked leaves of almond-paste, either plain or coloured.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Victory Sausages.

A Previous Story for this Day …

The story on this day last year featured the explorer David Livingstone.

Quotation for the Day …

I have fed purely upon ale; I have eat my ale, drank my ale, and I always sleep upon ale. George Farquhar, Irish dramatist (1678-1707?)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dumplings for Eccentrics.

Today, January 10th …

It is universally acknowledged that the British have more eccentrics per capita than any other nation on earth. A superb British example of Extreme Eccentricity was born on this day in 1716, to die wealthy but alone and miserable a long, cold, hungry 78 years later.

That person was the most miserly of a famous family of rich misers, a man called Daniel Dancer. In spite of his fun-sounding name, he lived the life of a recluse, wore rags until they fell off him and slept on a bed of sacks and straw. He ate a single meal a day of a bit of meat and a single dumpling – apart from the glorious brief two weeks when he ate mutton pies made from the decomposing flesh of a dead sheep which he happened upon and did not want to waste. A little embroidery rarely hurts what is already an apocryphal story, and one version of this tale says that rather than waste fuel he heated his dinner by putting it between two plates and sitting on it.

The OED defines a dumpling as “A kind of pudding consisting of a mass of paste or dough, more or less globular in form, either plain and boiled, or inclosing fruit and boiled or baked.” In other words, they are the plainest of plain food, their sole purpose being to take away hunger as cheaply as possible.

Daniel came from Harrow in Middlesex, and Norfolk is the English county most proud of its dumplings, but in reality - a dumpling is a dumpling whichever county it hales from. The OED definition is almost a recipe, so here, in Daniel’s honour, I give you a couple of another alternatives suitable for “poor people”, from William Ellis, a Hereford farmer who lived at the same time as Dancer and wrote a manual of domestic and farm management in 1750.

How Water Pancakes are made by poor People.
This pancake is made by many poor, day-labouring mens wives, who when they cannot afford to make better, make this; by stirring wheat flower with water instead of milk, for if they can get milk, they generally think it put to a better use when they make milk porridge of it for their family. The flower and water being stirred into a batter consistence, with a sprinkling of salt and powder'd ginger, they fry the pancakes in lard, or other fat, and without any sugar they and their family make a good meal of them.

How a poor Woman makes palatable Mince-Pyes of stinking Meat.
This is a poor industrious woman that rents a little tenement by me of twenty shillings a year, who for the sake of her poverty is every week relieved, with many others, by the most noble lord of Gaddesden Manour; who killing a bullock almost every week for his very large family, he has the offald meat dressed, and is so good as to have it given away to the poorest people in the neighbourhood. But it sometimes happens, through the negligence of careless servants, that this charitable meat is apt to stink in hot weather, for want of its due cleaning, boiling, and laying it in a cool place: However, the poor are very glad of this dole, as it does their families considerable service. And to recover such tainted meat, this woman, after boiling and cleansing it well, chops and minces it very small, and when mixed with some pepper, salt, chop'd sage, thyme and onion, she bakes it: This for a savoury pye. At another time she makes a sweet pye of this flesh, by mixing a few currants and plumbs with it. But in either form the taint is so lessened that it is hardly to be perceived.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Hardy’s Ale.

A Previous Story for this Day …

Getting the Sauce on Vegetables, a story about the complexities of EU regulations, was the story for this day last year.

Quotation for the Day …

The fricassee with dumplings is made by a Mrs Miller whose husband has left her four times on account of her disposition and returned four times on account of her cooking and is still there. Rex Stout (1886-1975), creator of the fat detective, Nero Wolfe.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Asparagus and Age.

Today, January 9th …

The death on this day in 1757 of the brilliant French mathematician Bernard le Bouyer de Fontenelle seems a strange start to a food story, but there are two very good reasons for our attention.

The first reason is that he died a few weeks short of his hundredth birthday, proving that his well-known gourmandism did not damage his life-span at all, which is enormously reassuring for those of us who love good food, and occasionally fear that we will pay the ultimate early price for our obsession.

The second reason is that he is the subject of a particularly good food story about asparagus, and I now have an excuse to tell it.

The story says that one day his friend and colleague the Abbé Terrasson (who was also known to be fond of his food) arrived unexpectedly just as Fontenelle was eagerly awaiting a dish of asparagus which he particularly loved, especially dressed with oil. The Abbé however, preferred his asparagus with butter, so the dutiful host ordered his cook to prepare half the dish with oil, and half with butter. Suddenly, before the dish was served, the Abbé fell down dead with apoplexy, whereupon Fontenelle instantly rushed into the kitchen, calling out to his cook “The whole with oil! The whole with oil, as at first!”

The story gives both support and rebuttal to another of Fontenelle’s traits. It was said of him that he was completely lacking in emotion, that he had never truly laughed or cried, that he believed ‘It is the passions that do and undo everything.’

Naturally, I give you a classical French recipe for asparagus today, taken from Alexandre Dumas père’s posthumously published labour of love, his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine (1870), as translated by Alan and Jane Davidson in Dumas on Food.

Asperges à la Pompadour.

M. de Jarente, Minister of state when Madame de Pompadour was in favour, left the following prescription to our celebrated gourmand Grimod de la Reynière, a nephew worthy of his uncle.

‘Choose three bunches of the most beautiful asparagus from large young Dutch plants, that is to say white ones with purple tips. Trim them, wash and cook them in the ordinary way, that is to say by plunging them in boiling water. Slice them afterwards by cutting them on the bias near the tip,into pieces the length of the little finger. Use only the best parts, setting aside the rest of the stems. Put the chosen pieces in a hot napkin so as to drain them and keep them hot while you prepare your sauce.

‘Empty a medium-size pot of butter from Vanvre or Prévalais and put the contents in spoonfuls in a silver dish. Add a few grains of salt, a good pinch of powdered mace and a generous spoonful of pure wheat flour; and in addition the yolks of two fresh eggs diluted with four spoonfuls of the juice of sour Muscat grapes. Cook this sauce in a double boiler; do not allow it to thicken excessively and thus become too heavy. Put your sliced pieces of asparagus in the sauce, and serve it all in a covered casserole as an extra, so that this excellent course does not languish on the table and can be appreciated at the height of its perfection.’

Tomorrow’s Story …

Dumplings for Eccentrics.

A Previous Story for this Day …

The story on this day last year was about Funny Fish Bits.

Quotation for the Day …

You needn't tell me that a man who doesn't love oysters and asparagus and good wines has got a soul, or a stomach either. He's simply got the instinct for being unhappy highly developed. Saki (H.H. Munro), who wrote the “Not So Stories” in the early twentieth century.