Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year Breakfast.

Today, January 1st …

Samuel Pepys started the New Year in January 1661 with breakfast with his father, brother, uncle and two cousins. He gave his guests a rather substantial and impressive meal, but unfortunately the day then went rapidly down-hill, food-wise.

… and I had for them a barrel of oysters, a dish of neat's tongues, and a dish of Anchoves, wine of all sorts, and Northdown ale. We were very merry till about eleven o'clock, and then they went away. At noon I carried my wife by coach to my cozen, Thomas Pepys, where we, with my father, Dr. Thomas, cozen Stradwick, Scott, and their wives, dined. Here I saw first his second wife, which is a very respectfull woman, but his dinner a sorry, poor dinner for a man of his estate, there being nothing but ordinary meat in it. … and so returned to Mr. Pierces, and there supped with them, and Mr. Pierce, the purser, and his wife and mine, where we had a calf's head carboned [carbonadoed] but it was raw, we could not eat it, and a good hen. But she is such a slut that I do not love her victualls.

First, some explanation of Sam’s victuals is probably in order:

Neats tongues are calves tongues.
Northdown ale refers to the type of hops used in the manufacture – the Northdown hop making a full-bodied, characteristically British ale, apparently.
‘Ordinary Meat’ meant basic beef – usually considered a bit low class, unless it was in the form of something like a grand chine of beef.
‘Carbonadoed’ means ‘A piece of fish, flesh, or fowl, scored across and grilled or broiled upon the coals’.

The breakfast was a little unusual for the times in that Pepys clearly planned it and catered for it. A more usual way of breaking the overnight fast was with something simple, taken informally - a piece of bread and cheese perhaps, or leftovers from the night before, or most commonly a “morning draft” at an alehouse. As Pepys indicates, the main meal of the day in the seventeenth century was in the middle of the day, which meant that there was little need for a substantial early meal. Over the intervening centuries, the dinner hour has moved progressively later in the day necessitating a parallel increase in the significance of breakfast – for the well-to-do that is. The poor have always started work at the crack of dawn, and eaten whatever they can whenever their masters allow a meal-break. What we think of as a traditional British breakfast is largely a nineteenth century invention of wealthy households - although even the heartiest breakfast today would be unlikely to include anchovies and tongue.

Unfortunately Pepys does not give us any clue as to how his breakfast dishes were prepared, but luckily a contemporary cookbook comes to our rescue. Here is an elegant dish from Robert May’s The accomplisht cook (1660).

To stew a Neats Tongue whole.
Take a fresh Neats tongue raw, make a hole in the lower end and take out some of the meat, mince it with some bacon or beef-suet, and some sweet herbs, and put in the yolks of an egg or two, some nutmeg, salt, and some grated parmisan or fat cheese, pepper and ginger; mingle all together, and fill the hole in the tongue, then wrap a caul or skin of mutton about it, and binde it about the end of the tongue, boil it till it will blanch: and being blanched, wrap about it the caul of veal with some of the forcing, roll it a little brown, and put it in a pipkin, and stew it with some claret and strong broth, cloves, mace, salt, pepper, some strained bread or grated manchet, some sweet herbs chopped small, marrow, fried onions and apples amongst; and being finely stewed down, serve it on fine carved sippets with barberries and slic’t lemon, and run it over with beaten butter. Garnish the dish with grated or searced manchet.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Sweet Beets.

Quotation for the Day …

Breakfast is a notoriously difficult meal to serve with a flourish. Clement Freud.


Kelvin said...

Hello & Happy New Year from across the ditch. Hope you have a good one.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year!

Now here's a question to ponder for 2007... if a neat's tongue is a calf's tongue, where the heck does neat's foot oil come from? And don't you just love the English language? :-)

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Kelvin and Nene;
Happy New Year to you both.
Nene: the OED says “neat's-foot oil (also neat's-feet oil), oil made from boiled cow heel, esp. used to dress leather”
I think I remember a reference to it also being used medicinally (for consumption?). Doesn't make you want to rush out and buy some for soup, does it?

Anonymous said...

I've never seen that particular reference, but I know that patients with consumption (TB for the non-historians) used to line up in the slaughterhouses to drink the slaughtered animal's blood while it was still hot; this was recommended as a means of building up their constitutions. Imagine a line of pale, dropping girls along the blood-splattered wall... There's a painting with this image as the subject; I will have to go looking for it.

angie said...

The 1661 recipe is unbelievable and very interesting. I love to cook and would love to try my hand at some of those terms!! Thanks.