Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Motoring Excursions.

Today, February 28th …

The one hundredth birthday edition of the Michelin guide was released on this day in the year 2000. Twenty-two restaurants were awarded the prestigious three stars – breaking what many felt was an unacknowledged limit of twenty-one to be so honoured. The guide is highly influential – some say too influential - and has certainly not been without controversy. A star more or less can make or break a restaurant, and perhaps even a life – the suicide in 2003 of Bernard Loiseau in Burgundy was said to have been triggered by the fear of loss of a star.

Finding food on motoring trips was not a problem faced by many people when the Guide Michelin began its rise to power, although excitement in the new method of transport was whipping up. The world’s first true motor race had taken place a few years earlier, in 1895. It was from Paris to Bordeaux and back, and observers were stunned when Emile Lavassor won in a mere 48 hours and 48 minutes. He stopped, they say, only at the halfway point, for a glass of champagne and a cup of weak soup. If only the guide had been available then, perhaps he would have fared better.

The alternative time-honoured way of solving the problem is to take your own food along on motoring trips. Today we prefer the convenience of ‘service areas’ over the organisation required to provision ourselves for the road, but in the early days of motoring, the packing of the picnic lunch was most important. In an article in 1914 assuring its readers that the motor car was ‘not an expensive luxury’ but ‘the vehicle of freedom’, The Times stressed the importance of thorough planning if the trip was to be enjoyable.

For economical foreign or home travel the most suitable motor-car for three or four people is a comfortable five-seated car of from 15-20 h.p., with a first-class hood fitted with side-curtains and capable of being raise and lowered from within the car. It is of the first importance that there should be ample room in the body for the extra coats, rugs, and other paraphernalia such as picnic baskets, the necessity for which is so often forgotten until the time comes for finding room for them all.

Proper planning of luggage requirements, The Times reminded its readers, would also “avoid one of the most irritating difficulties of long-distance touring, the sending forward of one’s main belongings by train.” And we could all do without that hassle, couldn’t we?

But what to put in the picnic basket? An English standby was a pie – a substantial, pie with a sturdy crust and a meaty filling. I don’t know if Lady Clark of Tillypronie went on motoring trips, but this recipe from her cookbook, published posthumously in 1909, would be just the thing for a motor excursion. It is a game pie in the grandest of pie traditions, its basic construction essentially unchanged for well over half a millennium.

Birk Hall Excursion Pie
A cold game pie.
This requires 4 grouse or 6 partridge to make a very good pie. If you take grouse, use the fillets only, and as large as you can get without bones. Make clear or thick soup of the rest of the birds. Lay the grouse or partridge fillets in the pie-dish with a sliced onion and some chopped truffles; season, and cover with first stock; then add the paste and remember to make a hole as a ‘chimney’ in the centre of the paste under the centre ornament or ‘rose’ to let out unwholesome steam.
For the paste take ½ lb. flour, 4 ozs. butter or some dripping, 1 egg, a little salt, and as much water as will make it into a stiff paste; work it well. Prepare the crust of this and put it on.
Put the pie to bake in the oven. In 1 ½ hours the paste will be a nice brown. If this is so, the pastry is done enough, but the birds will require ½ hour’s additional simmering to make them tender (i.e., 2 hours in all); so cover the paste quickly with paper to prevent its catching, and if the oven bottom is cool, as it is at Birk Hall, put the pie on that, but if it is hot (as it is in many ovens) then put the pie on the top of the hot plate, or wherever it is cool, to simmer the meat the additional ½ hour. Take off the paper and replace the ‘rose’. Serve cold for an excursion or for breakfast

Tomorrow’s Story …

How Long is a Leek?

A Previous Story for this Day …

Our story was about our old friend Samuel Pepys

Quotation for the Day …

Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last. François Minot, Editor, Guide Michelin.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hiawatha's Wedding Feast

Today February 27th …

The much-loved American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on this day in 1807. One of his most popular works is The Song of Hiawatha. Hiawatha is an Ojibway Indian who is reared by his grandmother Nokomis when his mother Wenonah dies of heartbreak at being abandoned by her husband Mudjekewis. When he is a man, Hiawatha sets out to find his father and avenge his mother’s death. The Song of Hiawatha is the story of his adventures, his love for the beautiful Minnehaha, and his realisation that the Indian must accept and befriend the White Man, because he has come to stay.

In the poem - one of the first to take Native Americans as its theme - he describes the feast prepared by Hiawatha’s grandmother Nokomis at his marriage to his beloved Minnehaha (Laughing Water).

XI. Hiawatha's Wedding-Feast.

Sumptuous was the feast Nokomis
Made at Hiawatha's wedding;
All the bowls were made of bass-wood,
White and polished very smoothly,
All the spoons of horn of bison,
Black and polished very smoothly.
She had sent through all the village
Messengers with wands of willow,
As a sign of invitation,
As a token of the feasting;
And the wedding guests assembled,
Clad in all their richest raiment,
Robes of fur and belts of wampum,
Splendid with their paint and plumage,
Beautiful with beads and tassels.
First they ate the sturgeon, Nahma,
And the pike, the Maskenozha,
Caught and cooked by old Nokomis;
Then on pemican they feasted,
Pemican and buffalo marrow,
Haunch of deer and hump of bison,
Yellow cakes of the Mondamin,
And the wild rice of the river.
But the gracious Hiawatha,
And the lovely Laughing Water,
And the careful old Nokomis,
Tasted not the food before them,
Only waited on the others
Only served their guests in silence.

Nokomis did her grandson and his bride proud. It was a worthy feast indeed, with the only mystery (for some of us) being the ‘Yellow Cakes of the Mondamin’.

In one of his adventures Hiawatha triumphs over the corn spirit Mondamin who has challenged him, and as a reward receives a gift which becomes ‘the friend of man’ - a plant with green robes and ‘soft yellow tresses’. Maize. The Yellow Cakes of the Mondamin then, are Corn Cakes.

Maize, thanks to the Native Americans they met, certainly also proved to be the friend of the early settlers who would have starved without it. None of the cookbooks they took with them from England would have had recipes for maize, for it is a truly American plant. It was not until 1796 that the first American cookbook was published, but it did include a recipe for corn cakes.

Indian Slapjack.
One quart milk, 1 pint Indian meal, 4 eggs, 4 spoons of flour, little salt, beat together, baked on gridles or fry in a dry pan or baked in a pan which has been rub’d with suet, lard or butter.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Food for Motoring.

A Previous Story for this Day …

The story last year was called 'Tuppence for Mutton'

On this Topic ...

If your interest in Native American Cuisine is piqued, and you would like to know more, go on over to Native American Cuisine and you will find out a lot more.

Quotation for the Day ...

“When you ask one friend to dine,
Give him your best wine !
When you ask two,
The second best will do”

Monday, February 26, 2007

Breakfast for Health.

Today, February 26th …

John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor (along with his brother Will) of flaked breakfast cereal, was born on this day in 1852. He was a man of unshakeable beliefs: meat was bad, alcohol was bad, sex was bad (he spent his honeymoon writing a treatise on Hygiene); water was good (lots by mouth, more by enema), yoghurt was good (half the daily allowance by mouth, the other half to follow the path of the water enema), and nuts were so good they would “save the race” (the white race that is).

It has to be said, however misguided his ideas seem to most of us today he worked tirelessly to try to avert what he saw as the path to hell and poor health that humans had taken. He started the Race Betterment Foundation and ran conferences to promote segregation. He started the Battle Creek Sanitorium. He invented cornflakes.

There are two versions attributed to John Kellogg of how the flaked cereal invention came to be: in one he says it was in response to an incident when an elderly female patient broke her false teeth on the zwieback she had been prescribed, the other that it came about when he lived in a small room with no suitable facilities for preparing the cooked grain that was the usual breakfast for those not having the usual meat and eggs of the day. Whatever the explanation, and in spite of the irreconcilable differences it created between John and Will, the invention has made their name famous.

The cornflakes were never intended to replace boiled cereals. Cereals in one form or another were essential in treating what Kellogg saw as the two major ‘problems’ that explained almost all human misery, personal or global. They were ‘the solitary vice’ (which is way outside the scope of this blog) and constipation. In 1919 in his book called the Autointoxication of Intestinal Toxemia, he explained it all:

…. intestinal stasis is the fundamental and widespread cause of a large share of the chronic maladies that afflict the people in civilised lands …

… including, it seems, insanity. He quoted a specialist in mental diseases:

“Who has not seen a prodigious evacuation of the bowels at the hands of the physician terminate a case of insanity…? … constipation is only a link in the series of causes and consequences arising from the disturbed abdominal viscera, and on the mental side encourages and accentuates such symptoms as apathy, irritability, perverted moral feelings, melancholia, mania – nay, suicide ….”

If there was any doubt about the efficiency or otherwise of the bowels, this could be investigated by ‘The Intestinal Test Diet’ in conjunction with the administration of carmine capsules, followed by ‘a careful study of the stools’.

For a man six feet in height weighing 180 to 200 pounds … Breakfast: one and one half pints of milk, two ounces zwieback, one pint of oatmeal porridge made with one and one third ounces of dry meal, ten grams of butter and one egg. Dinner: one ounce pure gluten biscuit, one ounce of butter, potato soup prepared with six and one third ounces of potatoes, three and one third ounces of milk. One third of the ounce of butter may be added to the potato soup. Supper: the same as breakfast.

To assist anyone wishing to prescribe or follow this regime who might need some tuition on the subject, he gave 8 ½ pages on the examination of the stool (which presumably included counting the capsules, although I confess I couldn’t read that far).

The book included a recipe for an anti-toxic food:

A Simple and Excellent Breakfast Food.
An excellent breakfast food for the antitoxic ration, which is much to be preferred as an anti-toxic food to the breakfast foods in common use is the following:
Mix together equal parts by measure of corn meal, steel-cut oats, and sterilized bran. Stir this mixture into boiling water in sufficient amount to make a rather thin porridge. As soon as the mixture thickens, or not more than five minutes after beginning to stir the meal, the porridge should be removed from the stove and is ready to serve at once. The preparation is not only far more wholesome than the long cooked cereals, but is more palatable than oatmeal and other preparations served in the usual way.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Hiawatha's Wedding-Feast

On this Topic

John Kellogg and his wife Ella featured in another story which included a sample of the ‘Large Number of Original, Palatable, and Wholesome Recipes’ from her book ‘Science in the Kitchen …’

Quotation for the Day …

"Some breakfast food manufacturer hit upon the simple notion of emptying out the leavings of carthorse nose bags, adding a few other things like unconsumed portions of chicken layer's mash, and the sweepings of racing stables, packing the mixture in little bags and selling them in health food shops." Frank Muir, British writer and broadcaster

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Colour of Food.

Today, February 23rd …

The Orange Free State was handed to the Afrikaners on this day in 1854 at the Bloemfontein Convention. One hundred years to the day later a dinner was held at the Maitland Hotel in Bloemfontein to celebrate the anniversary.

The menu was:

Grapefruit cocktail.
Eeufees Groentesop.
Rainbow Trout Meunière.
Asparagus Hollandaise.
Roast Spring Chicken with Bacon and Mushrooms.
Roast Saddle of Lamb with Mint Sauce
Potatoes Green peas Cauliflower.
Strawberries and Ice-cream
Fancy Pastries Fruit Cheese
I am struck by how singularly uninspiring this meal was, considering the national significance of the event it was intended to mark. It was a very generic 1950’s idea of fine dining, and the menu could have just as easily been presented anywhere in Britain, Europe, or the Americas. The one exception amongst the dishes, the only one apparently giving a nod to nationalism is the mysterious dish Eeufees Groentesop.

Afrikaans was not taught to me in the Yorkshire of my childhood, so I am sadly deficient in the language. I am however, more or less reliably informed that the Eeufees Groentesop translates as ‘Centenary Vegetable Soup’. Why this one exception? Why not all the dishes given in Afrikaans? More to the point, why not a menu of Afrikaaner dishes? What rule is this exception proving? And how many other questions does this beg?

The only answer I can come up with which may serve to answer all of the questions is: lack of imagination on the part of the organisers or the chefs.

If it was not to be a meal of Afrikaaner food (which would surely have been most delicious as well as most appropriate), why not Orange food? A colour theme would have fitted nicely, and might have been a lot more fun. The grapefruit would have been allowed in immediately, and the soup could have been made with yellow-orange vegetables. A fishy dish with saffron, and of course duck with orange would have been perfect main dishes.

There would have been no shortage of dessert choices as oranges lend themselves best of all to sweet dishes – which set me thinking that an afternoon tea party would have been a most elegant alternative to a stodgy, stuffy dinner. In Breast Cancer week in October we considered holding a ‘Pink Tea’, and discovered that the idea was not new - trendy ladies of leisure held colour-themed afternoon teas way back in the 1880’s.

From the book that gave us the Pink Tea idea, Aunt Babette's" Cook Book: Foreign and domestic receipts for the household: A vaulable collection of receipts and hints for the housewife, many of which are not to be found elsewhere. (Cincinnati, 1889) here are some ideas suitable for an Orange Afternoon Tea.

Orange Fritters.
Yelks of four eggs beaten with four tablespoonfuls of sugar, stir into this the juice of half a lemon, and just enough flour to thicken like a batter; add the beaten whites, and dip in one slice of orange at a time, take up with a large kitchen spoon and lay in the hot butter and fry a nice brown. Sprinkle pulverized sugar on top.

Orange Cake.
Beat light the yelks of five eggs with two cups of pulverized sugar, add juice of a large orange and part of the peel grated, and half a cupful of cold water and two cups of flour, sifted three times. Add a teaspoonful of baking powder in last sifting and add last the stiff-beaten whites of three eggs. Bake in layers, and spread the following icing between and on top: Beat the whites of three eggs stiff, add the juice and peel of one orange and sugar enough to stiffen. Very nice.

Orange Ice.
Take six oranges; grate the peel of three and squeeze out the juice of all the oranges. Add the grated peel to the juice, also the juice of two lemons, one pint of water and one pint of sugar. Strain into the can and freeze.

Take four large, juicy oranges and six tablespoonfuls of sugar. Squeeze the oranges upon the sugar, add a very little water and let them stand for fifteen minutes; strain and add pounded ice and water.

Monday’s Story …

A Simple and Excellent Breakfast Food.

This Day, Last Year …

It was the birthday of Cesar Ritz.

Quotation for the Day …

"And every day when I've been good,
I get an orange after food."
Robert Louis Stevenson.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Grapefruit with Oysters?

Today, February 22nd ...

I happen to be in agreement with the late, great Alan Davidson on the topic of grapefruit. In The Oxford Companion to Food, he says “it is more suitable for use as a dessert fruit than in cooking, as its flavour is assertive and tends to swamp anything else”.

There will be those who disagree with the “more suitable for use as a dessert fruit than in cooking” I suppose, but I doubt any dissent on the Grapefruit is Assertive statement. It seems to me a rather swamping accompaniment to oysters, but perhaps some of my dear readers will disagree with me and will relish the following recipe, kindly provided by the food writer for the New Orleans newspaper The Daily Picayune, on this day in 1912

Grapefruit Cocktail And Other Grapefruit Recipes
Hostesses who have handsome grapefruit glasses, cut the pulp in large pieces, cover it with sugar and maraschino cherries or pieces of ginger, and heap it in the small inner glass. The outer one is filled with shaved ice.
Grapefruit salad is an excellent digester at the close of a heavy meal. It is better with French dressing than with mayonnaise, and should be marinated for at least half an hour before serving. Ices and sherbets of grapefruit are delicious. The use of halves of grapefruit as receptacles for oyster cocktails is by no means a new idea, and yet it is one of those unique combinations of flavors that can not be too widely known.
To prepare the grapefruit for this purpose the cook has to remove the seeds and core, and then, having filled the center with small, raw oysters, dress them, as for a cocktail, with tomato ketchup, grated horseradish, tobasco sauce, etc., without, of course, the use of lemon, for the pulp of the fruit itself will impart all the acidity required.

The grapefruit is a descendant of the Shaddock, or Pomelo (Citrus maxima). The Shaddock probably originated in SE Asia, and was taken to the West Indies in the 17th century. A close encounter with a sweet orange in (probably) Barbados resulted in a new hybrid. In 1750 this was referred to as “the forbidden fruit” by a clerical gentleman (the Rev. Griffith Hughes) who was apparently engaged in a theological discussion as to the real nature of the infamous Biblical fruit. By 1830 – a few years after it migrated to more entrepreneurial shores in Florida - the ‘forbidden fruit’ was recognised by horticulturalists as a distinct fruit (Citrus x paradisi). Its common name is not due to it tasting like grapes (it doesn’t), but for its growth in small bunches on the stem (far-fetched, but better than the grape story).

The new fruit was a bit problematic. It looked like a giant orange (and was often fraudulently sold as such) but it tasted … well, assertive. It was new and ‘exotic’ however, so housewives felt they had to fiddle with it in order to qualify as ‘hostesses’ when the husband’s boss came to dinner. Hence the invention of the grapefruit cocktail (raw or grilled/broiled).

The grapefruit, however, is not only assertive in taste, it does not give up its flesh easily, which does not make for a relaxed dinner. An elegant half-grapefruit (cut with ‘pinking sheared’ edges please) topped with a maraschino may look elegant, but retrieving the juicy segments tends to cause most inelegant splashes on the boss’s shirtfront (or worse, the boss’s wife’s bosom), which does not make for a relaxed boss. There proved to be an easy solution to this problem – grapefruit knives and grapefruit spoons were quickly invented, to the eternal gratitude of businessmens' wives ever since.

The wayward juice problem was eventually solved independently by a couple of clever people who had clearly – judging by the brilliance and passion of their ideas – been spattered not just across their bosoms, but perhaps more painfully, in the eyes. At last, the grapefruit was conquered. The two wonderful shirt and eye-saving contrivances appeared in the Modern Mechanix magazine in the 1930’s.

The ‘umbrella spoon’: this opens automatically when you dig your spoon in, creating a protective shield which then closes as you approach your mouth.

The Grapefruit Guard.

I truly don’t know how I have managed without one or both of these in my life. Will someone not revive these ideas and save me from hostess-embarrassment?

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Colour of Food.

A Previous Story for this Day …

Frances Trollope comments on the domestic manners of the Americans.

Quotation for the Day …

Angie Dickinson, when asked IN 1985 what kept her young, said “Grapefruit juice and young men”

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chewing a Walking Stick.

Today, February 21st …

The Rotary Club of Nottingham, England held a dinner on this day in 1927, and the club members were addressed by a past president of the Sheffield Rotary Club. It appears that Mr. A. Peters had visited China, for he regaled them with some details of a banquet at which the food seemed most strange to those most English of gentlemen. The address was reported in the newspaper the following day:

‘The following menu of a banquet in China was given … thousand year old eggs, mussels in custard, slugs and seaweed, sharks’ fins, ducks’ giblets, and bamboo sprouts. … Regarding the eggs, Mr. Peters said they might have been only 100, 50, or 10 years old, but that was their title, and they were black. Eating bamboo sprouts was like chewing a walking-stick.’

‘Eating bamboo sprouts was like chewing a walking-stick’ – did Mr. Peters actually attend this banquet? Or, more to the point, did he attend but avoid the bamboo sprouts? Or was he simply telling English gentlemen what they wanted to hear - that Oriental gentlemen really had some odd eating (and presumably other) habits, which clearly indicated a strange (and inferior) culture?

Perhaps Mr. Peters hadn’t the faintest idea what bamboo was, and read up the Oxford English Dictionary beforehand? If he did, he would have discovered that it was ‘A genus of giant-grasses (genus Bambusa), numerous species of which are common throughout the tropics. Also the stem of any of these used as a stick, or as material’. ‘What a good line!’ he may have thought ‘Those strange Chinese eat what we use as walking sticks’.

The first reference to bamboo as a culinary item in the OED is as late as 1889, and it is from none other than Rudyard Kipling, who travelled widely and it appears with an open mind. In Sea to Sea, he describes a meal that includes bamboo-shoots – although this takes place in Japan, not China.

‘After raw fish and mustard-sauce came some other sort of fish cooked with pickled radishes, and very slippery on the chopsticks. The girls knelt in a semicircle and shrieked with delight at the Professor’s clumsiness, for indeed it was not I that nearly upset the dinner table in a vain attempt’ to recline gracefully. After the bamboo-shoots came a basin of white beans in sweet sauce—very tasty indeed. Try to convey beans to your mouth with a pair of wooden knitting-needles and see what happens. Some chicken cunningly boiled with turnips, and a bowlful of snow-white boneless fish and a pile of rice, concluded the meal. I have forgotten one or two of the courses, but when O-Toyo handed me the tiny lacquered Japanese pipe full of hay-like tobacco, I counted nine dishes in the lacquer stand—each dish representing a course. Then O-Toyo and I smoked by alternate pipefuls.

My very respectable friends at all the clubs and messes, have you ever after a good tiffin lolled on cushions and smoked, with one pretty girl to fill your pipe and four to admire you in an unknown tongue? You do not know what life is. I looked round me at that faultless room, at the dwarf pines and creamy cherry blossoms without, at O-Toyo bubbling with laughter because I blew smoke through my nose, and at the ring of Mikado maidens over against the golden-brown bearskin rug. Here was colour, form, food, comfort, and beauty enough for half a year’s contemplation.’

America appears to have been far more broad-minded about Chinese cuisine than the English – probably because of it had a significant Chinese population. There were even a few cookbooks featuring Chinese recipes published in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1914 the Chinese-Japanese Cook Book was published in America. The authors acknowledged that the recipes were modifications of ‘native dishes’, so that they would appeal to the Western palate – which pretty well excluded recipes for thousand-year old eggs it seems, for there are none in the book. There is however a very elegant and elegantly-named recipe for stuffed eggs, which I give below. American palates were also clearly not intimidated by edible walking sticks, and several recipes include bamboo shoots.

Tamago Bolan (Peony Eggs)
Boil five eggs hard. Place in cold water. Remove shells carefully, so as not to blemish whites. Carefully cut off top with thread, one end between teeth, the other between fingers, drawing thread through egg. Remove the yolks. Boil a small pink snapper (fish) in hot water for ten minutes, or steam for thirty. Remove all bones and fins, and chop together until fine. Mix with finely mashed miso, pepper, and salt. Chop yolks daintily and fluffily, and mix with fish meat. Fill the whites with this mixture. Now place the filled whites in center of a lettuce head and arrange fine strips of udo shoots round it. To fix lettuce head properly, all the leaves should be carefully adjusted and separated, washed, and then put back into shape again. It looks now like a bouquet, and is held together with toothpicks.

[UPDATE: Helen in Japan informs me "thought you'd like to know that the Japanese for peony is "botan" rather than "bolan". Worn type in an old book could easily produce a misreading, even supposing it got into the original source correctly! I'm not familiar with this particular dish, though the minced fish sounds very similar to an Edo period recipe I have for "strawberries" in soup - the strawberries are formed from a paste of minced prawns and served in clear soup with a few greens at the top of each strawberry. In the order, "Botan Tamago" the name is more commonly given these days to an egg poached in a paper cocotte or fried so that the white forms soft "petals" around the yolk."

Thanks to Helen for this. I have checked the online cookbook at the Feeding America site, and it does say "bolan" - so a typo, OCR error or translation error? ]

Fried Bamboo Shoots.
Take one can of bamboo shoots and drain off all water. Wipe the bamboo shoots dry, and slice in long thin strips. Have ready boiling peanut oil, and toss the shoots into that. Cook until crisp. Delicious. Must be eaten hot.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Grapefruit with Oysters?

On this Topic …

The Chinese-Japanese Cook Book can be found online at the Feeding America site. We have considered ‘Chop Suey’ in an earlier story, in which we included several other recipes from this interesting cookbook.

A Previous Story for this Day …

We discussed the Shrove Tuesday tradition of the Pancake Race on this day last year.

Quotation for the Day …

You don't sew with a fork, so I see no reason to eat with knitting needles. Miss Piggy, on eating Chinese Food.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Salad, by Dumas.

Today, February 20th …

Alexandre Dumas gave us The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and The Man in the Iron Mask – some of the greatest adventure novels ever written. His real labour of love however was his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, although he never saw it published. Dumas died on December 5th 1870 while Paris was under siege by the Prussians, and his great dictionary was not published until 1873, after the end of the Franco-Prussian war.

On this day in 1865, Dumas was at a dinner for twenty hosted by his friend Doctor Jobert de Lamballe.


Croûtes au pot.
Purée de perdreaux à la Beaufort.

Crépinettes de gibier.
Petits vol-au-vent à la Monglas

Carpe du Rhin à la Chambord.
Dinde truffée à la périgourdine.

Filets de perdreaux à la Richelieu.
Gâteaux de volaille à la Tourville.
Noisettes de chevreuil aux truffes
Salade de homards à la Bagration.
Punch rosé.

Poulardes truffées
Pâtés de foie gras

Cardons à la moelle.
Truffes au vin de Champagne.
Petites timbales Sans-souci.
Brioche mousseline à la d'Orléans.

The Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine is a truly monumental work – an encyclopedia with recipes, covering everything from ‘Abaisse’ to ‘Zuchetti’ and written ‘to be read by worldly people and used by professionals’. Dumas was not just a gourmet (it is said that his love of food was equalled only by his love of women), he was an excellent practical cook at a time when men were either professional cooks, or kept right out of the kitchen. He was particularly proud of his salad, and he explained its story in detail in a letter to his old friend Jules Janin. He is talking about his legendary Wednesday evening suppers.

‘… Finally, I made a salad that satisfied my guests so well that when Ronconi, one of my most regular guests, could not come, he sent for his share of the salad, which was taken to him under a great umbrella when it rained so that no foreign matter might spoil it.

“How” you will ask me, my dear Janin … “how could you make a salad one of the important dishes for your supper?”

It is because my salad was not just like any other salad.’

Dumas goes on to give his secret away:

‘It was a salad of great imagination, composite order, with five principal ingredients:
Slices of beet, half-moons of celery, minced truffles, rampion with its leaves, and boiled potatoes.

… First I put the ingredients into the salad bowl, then overturn them onto a platter. Into the empty bowl I put one hard boiled egg yolk for each two persons – six for a dozen guests. These I mash with oil to form a paste, to which I add cherviel , crushed tuna, macerated anchovies, Maille mustard, a large spoonful of soya, chopped gherkins, and the chopped white of the eggs. I thin this mixture by stirring in the finest vinegar obtainable. Finally I put the salad back in the bowl, and my servant tosses it [Dumas has earlier mentioned that this should be done an hour before it is to be served, and the salad should be turned over three or four times during that hour.] On the tossed salad I sprinkle a pinch of paprika, which is the Hungarian red pepper.

And there you have the salad that so fascinated poor Ronconi.’

[From: The Dictionary of Cuisine, edited, abridged, and translated by Louis Colman.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Chewing a Walking Stick.

A Previous Story for this Day …

The Milk shake was the topic of our story last year on this day.

Quotation for the Day …

Wine is the intellectual part of a meal. Alexandre Dumas, Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Feeding the President on President’s Day.

Today, February 19th …

The third Monday in February in the USA is a federal holiday to honour (perhaps that should be honor!) the country’s presidents, past and current. The day has its origins in the celebration of George Washington’s birthday on February 11th 1732 – which became February 22nd when the ‘new’ Gregorian calendar was accepted in Britain and all her Dominions in 1752.

The ‘original’ calendar was based on a year of 365 days, but the time taken by the earth to orbit the sun was close to 365.25 days. What this meant was that by the time of Julius Caesar, the calendar was out of step with the seasons. A leap year day was added every fourth year – creating the Julian calendar. Actually, the true length of a year was not quite 365.25 days, but either 365.2422 or 365.2424 depending on which astronomer you believe. To cut a long convoluted story short, this translates to another error of around 11 minutes each year, or 1 day every 131 years. In 1582 Pope Gregory XII decreed that the by now 11 day difference would corrected by jumping from October 4th straight to October 15th. Naturally the new Protestant countries of Europe were not going to follow a Popish calendar, and stuck to the old one as a matter of principle. One by one however they gave in and converted (to the new calendar that is), but it was almost two hundred years before Britain finally capitulated and accepted the Gregorian calendar.

America in 1752 was, of course, still one of Her Dominions, and officially accepted the new calendar at the same time, so Washington's birthday became the 22nd of February - although some old-fashioned souls were still stubbornly (or mistakenly) celebrating it on the 11th well into the nineteenth century. Then on February 12th 1809 Abraham Lincoln was born. After his assassination in April 1865 his birthday also became a nationally celebrated day. Employers don’t like too many staff holidays, and employees prefer the holidays they do have to be tacked onto a weekend, so eventually a compromise was reached and a federal holiday declared on the third Monday in February.

All of which does not appear to have much directly to do with food, but this blog is also about What Happened in Food History on This Day, so I thought the calendar confusion was worth an explanation. I don’t intend to leave the story food-less of course, so here is the menu for a dinner eaten by a real president on this day. The year was 1970, so it must have been Richard Nixon.

Suprême of Filet of Sole Véronique.

Breast of Pheasant Smitane.
Wild Rice Croquettes.
Green Beans Amandine.

Bibb Lettuce Salad.
Brie Cheese.

Vacherin Glacé aux Fraises.

Schloss Johanissberger 1967.
Château Latour 1964
Dom Pérignon 1964

This is a truly appropriate menu for a country which had shaken off its colonial masters and had become the greatest power in the world. A menu with truly international aspirations – even down to the language. Who needs Esperanto when you can use American Franglish?

I don’t mean to mock America here my friends! Right Royal English menus of the time suffer from the same affliction. If ‘Suprême’ in one dish, why ‘Breast’ in another? Why not Faisan instead of Pheasant? Or Strawberries instead of Fraises? Lets have some consistency please.

My language peeve aside, this menu has truly international roots. The Wild Rice is native to the American continent, and Bibb lettuce is a nineteenth century Kentucky variety. Sole Véronique (sole with green grapes) is as classic as you can get from the classic French (Escoffier no less) repertoire. A Vacherin when it is not a French or Swiss cheese is a dessert of meringue and ice-cream and fruit – the sort of sweet thing that could cross any international boundary and be instantly loved.

The Breast of Pheasant Smitane gives a nod to Central and Eastern Europe, and is our recipe for the day. Smetana is a sort of heavier duty crème fraîche which hails from that part of the world that has at times been at odds with our host nation for the day. It has given its name to Smitane Sauce, which, they tell me, goes wonderfully with breast of pheasant.

Smitane Sauce.
Brown lightly a finely-chopped onion; add a full glass of dry white wine, reduce on slow heat; add a pint of sour cream; let it boil for a few moments only, pass through a fine sieve and add the juice of one lemon.
[Andre Simon; A Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy; 1952]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Salad, by Dumas.

On this Topic …

We have previously featured another menu enjoyed by Tricky Dicky (also written in American Franglish), in a post which gave an ice-cream recipe from 1747.

Quotation for the Day …

Today we had a lunch for Jaime de Piniés, the president of the General Assembly, then we had cocktails with the foreign minister of Austria. We passed through a Chinese dinner, and now we are here. It's our life. Otilia Barbosa de Medina, wife of Portugal's ambassador to the UN, commenting on diplomatic dining at a dinner given by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1985.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

An Old Foodie Screensaver.

I am tickled pink that one of the many friends-I-have-never-met, Nene Adams of The Year 'Round: A Victorian Miscellany, has made for me a special desktop wallpaper and screensaver.
I'll let you use it if you like.
The Old Foodie Screensaver:

The Old Foodie wallpaper 800 x 600:

The Old Foodie wallpaper 1024 x 768:

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cod for the Queen.

Today, February 16th …

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were entertained at a State Banquet at Parliament House on this day in 1954, during their first visit to Australia.

The menu was:

Paw-Paw Cocktail
Grilled Murray River Cod with Butter Sauce
Roast Breast of Chicken with Asparagus Tips
Ice Pudding ‘Royal Style’

A good, but uninspiring, typical 1950’s menu you might think, but for that rare delicacy, Murray Cod. Alas, it is a meal not to be repeated in modern times, for we have all but destroyed this magnificent freshwater fish by the usual methods of exploitation and outright attack. Flagrant over-fishing (late 19th C to the 1930’s), introduction of predators in the form of the carnivorous (but tasty) Redfin Perch in the 1950’s, and farming practices such as the use of toxic chemicals and river regulation have all played their part as mechanisms in this interpretation of a common basic story of human greed and complacency.

The Maccullochella peelii peelii played a hugely significant role in the lives of inland Aboriginal people, featuring large in their mythology and culture, as well as being an important item of food and trade. Early explorers and settlers were astonished by the abundance and size of the fish. John Oxley, who explored inland New South Wales and the Murray-Darling basin, wrote in his journal in 1817:

“If however the country itself is poor, the river is rich in the most excellent fish, procurable in the utmost abundance.”

Oxley reported that one man caught 18 Murray Cod in less than an hour, the largest weighing about 32 kg. It is one of the largest completely fresh-water fish in the world: the largest on record – estimated to be over 75 years old - was caught in 1902 and weighed over 113 kg and measured 1.8 metres in length.

There is some evidence that perhaps the numbers of Murray Cod are increasing again. We do indeed hope so, although 32 kg specimens will probably remain history-book tales.
You will, of course, need to substitute your favourite alternative freshwater fish in this selection of Australian recipes featuring Murray Cod.

Codfish and Potatoes – Bouillabaisse of Cod.
2 lbs. Murray Cod - 1s.
1 lb. Potatoes--1d.
Slices of Roll
1 quart Water
1 fagot of Herbs
2 Leeks or 1 Onion
Pinch of Saffron
1 ½ Butter – 3 ½ d.
Total Cost - 1s. 4 ½ d.
Time - One Hour.

Put the butter into a saucepan, and when it is hot add the leeks or onion chopped small, and let them get a good colour without burning; then add a quart of water, the fagot of herbs, the saffron tied in a piece of muslin, and the potatoes peeled. Bring up to the boil, and when they are nearly cooked cut the cod into slices and lay it in. Cook
slowly for twenty minutes, take up the fish, and put it in a hot dish and lay the potatoes round. Season and flavour the liquor, and boil up.
Cut the bread into slices, put it into a hot dish, and strain the liquor over; serve with the fish.
[From: The Art of Living in Australia, Phillip Muskett, 1893.]

Murray Cod.
Cod, 1 cup breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1 dessertspoon chopped parsley, salt and pepper, few drops any liquid sauce.
Take slices from the thick part of the cod, so that there is a flap to enclose the stuffing. Fill the cavity with the rest of the breadcrumbs seasoned with the rest of the ingredients.
After placing the stuffing in position, fasten the flaps around it and make secure with a pointed wooden match. Brush the slices of cod with melted butter, and sprinkle with browned breadcrumbs. Bake gently in a moderate oven and baste frequently. Serve with mild tomato sauce and a garnish of cress.
[From: Australian Cookery of Today, published by the Sun News-Pictorial, edited by ‘Prudence’, circa 1930’s]

Murray Cod Cutlets.
Small cutlets of Murray cod, hard boiled egg, beaten egg, fine dried breadcrumbs, flour, salt, pepper, finely chopped parsley.
Wipe the cutlets dry with a clean cloth. Mix a little flour with salt and pepper. Roll the cutlets in this. Shake off any superfluous flour. Dip them in beaten egg. Roll in fine breadcrumbs, coating them thoroughly. Have ready a frying pan with enough fat to well cover the bottom of the pan. When a faint bluish smoke rises from the fat, put in the cutlets. Do not attempt to fry more than will cover the bottom of the pan at one time. Cook over a slow, moderate heat. Turn the cutlets over when they are browned on the underside, and fry the other side. Drain on kitchen paper and place on a hot dish. While the fish is cooking, hard-boil the egg. Shell it and cut in rings. Put a ring on each cutlet, then sprinkle parsley over each garnished cutlet and serve.
[The Coronation Cookery Book, compiled by the Country Womens Association of NSW, circa 1941]

Monday’s Story …

Feeding the President on President’s Day.

A Previous Story for this Day …

The story on this day last year also had an Australian theme: we discussed Vegemite.

On this Topic …

A previous story about the explorer John Oxley and fish, which also includes some comments by the cookbook author Phillip Muskett on the topic of fish in Australia was called “A Fish dinner on the Beach.”

Quotation for the Day …

Fish should swim thrice: first it should swim in the sea….then it should swim in butter, and at last, sirrah, it should swim in good claret. Polite Conversation Jonathan Swift.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Steak and Mustard in America.

Today, February 15th …

The myth refuses to go away. Mustard was NOT advertised for the first time in the USA on this day in 1758. Nor was the newspaper was containing the first advertisement the Philadelphia Chronicle. There are fragments of truth in the foundations of many myths however, and the first advertiser may indeed have been Benjamin Franklin, as is usually quoted.

There was an advertisement for mustard in Benjamin Franklin’s own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette in April 1732. I do not know if it is the first advertisement for mustard in America, but feel compelled to give you a story based on facts not certain to me, in the hope that those of you who are mustard-historians will enlighten me.

The 1732 advertisement read:

Choice Flour of Mustard-Seed, in Bottles, very convenient for such as go to Sea; to a little of which if you put hot Water, and stop it up close, you will have strong Mustard, fit to use, in 15 minutes. Sold at the New Printing-Office near the Market, at 1s. per Bot.

This was hardly the first appearance of mustard in America of course. Mustard has been used by humans since before recorded history, and has always been popular – no doubt because it was easily grown in Europe and therefore cheap compared to exotic imported spices. There may however have been a resurgence in its use about the time of Benjamin Franklins advertisement, as an important new development in the mustard-making business had occurred in 1720 in England. Mustard seeds form an oily paste, not a powder or ‘flour’ when crushed. A Mrs Clements of Tewkesbury developed a way to dry mustard seeds in that year, and mustard history never looked back. Benjamin Franklin had the heart of an inventor and no doubt kept up with who was inventing what around the world, so it does seem likely that he played at least some small part in the mustard industry in America.

I went to America’s first cookbook – American Cookery: or, the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry, and Vegetables …., by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796, thinking that a nice ‘first recipe for mustard’ might be appropriate today. Alas, I found none, but this recipe was irresistible. It does rather seem like a recipe for a kitchen fire, so please take care, and do add mustard to make your steak even more grateful.

To dress a Beef-Stake, sufficient for two Gentlemen, with a fire made of two newspapers.
Let the beef be cut in slices, and laid in a pewter platter, pour on water just sufficient to cover them, salt and pepper well cover with another platter inverted; then place your dish upon a stool bottom upwards, the legs of such length as to raise the platter three inches from the board; cut your newspapers into small strips, light with a candle and apply them gradually, so as to keep a live fire under the whole dish, till the whole are expended when the stake will be done; butter may then be applied, so as to render it grateful.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Cod for the Queen.

A Previous Story for this Day …

"Alcohol and other food for Invalids"

Quotation for the Day …

And then you bit onto them, and learned once again that Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler could find a use for bits of an animal that the animal didn't know it had got. Dibbler had worked out that with enough fried onions and mustard people would eat anything. Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Lusty Tart.

Today, February 14th ...

On this St Valentine’s day, for your reading (if not eating) pleasure, I give you a 16th century take on aphrodisiac food. You may have a little trouble getting one of the ingredients for this recipe, but I am sure we can leave it out without losing too much of the effect.

A Tarte to provoke courage in a man or Woman.
Take a quart of good wine, and boyle therein two Burre rootes scraped cleane, two good Quinces, and a Potato roote well pared, and an ounce of Dates, and when all these are boyled verie tender, let them be drawne through a strainer wine and all, and then put in the yolks of eight Egs, and the braines of three or four cocke Sparrowes, and straine them into the other, and a little Rosewater, and seeth them all with Sugar, Sinamen and Ginger, and cloves and Mace, and put in a little Sweet Butter, and set it upon a chafing dish of coales betweene two platters and so let it boyle till it be something big.
[From : “A good huswifes handmaide for the kitchin Containing manie principall pointes of cookerie …”; 1594]

There is so much of interest here, I hardly know where to start. The beginning usually being a good place, I will start with the background: the mediaeval theory-of-everything. It was believed at that time that everything single thing in the natural world arose from the four basic elements (fire, earth, water, air), each of which had a particular quality (hot, dry, moist, cold). In the human body these were represented by the ‘humours’ (sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic). Disease was due to imbalance in these humours, and health and mood could be adjusted by varying the diet, so long as you knew the ‘temperament’ of each food. So - any physician (or decent cook) would have understood the potential effect of any dish by considering the ingredient list.

Before we get to the ingredients for this recipe, let us consider the title. Why ‘courage’? Because back in the 16th century, the word also used to mean lust. So this spicy, custardy, vaguely pumpkin-pie style dish would have been expected to provoke the passion to venery, that’s why. Do you see where we are going now?

Let us take the ingredients one-by-one.

Burre (burdock) roots were a common medicinal and culinary herb with a sweet taste and mucilaginous texture – both useful features in a sweet tart. The idea that astrological influences affected the nature of a food was also taken for granted at that time, and as the burdock plant came under the influence of Venus its use to provoke ‘courage’ would have been obvious. As an added bonus, burdock also “doth wonderfully help the biting of any serpents” so it might be a handy ingredient if you are planning a romantic picnic in the country on the day.

The quince is thought by some scholars to have been the fruit that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, which would make sense as it probably originated in Persia. It has a wonderfully voluptuous shape and feel, and its fragrance is said to be sufficient to make a woman faint with delight into the arms of her lover. As an intriguing aside, which may or may not be relevant, marmalade was originally made from quinces – and in Elizabethan times prostitutes were called ‘marmalade madams’.

The ‘potato’ in this recipe was the sweet potato – this recipe was written a couple of centuries before the ordinary potato became a common food. Its place in this recipe can be explained by the 16th century Dr Thomas Muffet in his book “Health’s Improvement”. He says of sweet potatoes that they "nourish mightily...engendering much flesh, blood, and seed, but withal encreasing wind and lust." In other word, a perfect ingredient for an aphrodisiac dish, although one would have to worry a little about the associated ‘wind’.

Dates had also been considered an aphrodisiac and fertility symbol in the Middle East for many centuries, so their inclusion in this tart made sense even apart from the sweetness and texture that they would have added to the mixture.

Sugar was very expensive in the sixteenth century, as were the spices, so this tart was clearly only for the well-off. Human nature being what it is, obvious extravagance may have gone some of the way towards helping the aphrodisiac effect, as it perhaps does now.

Now we come to the sparrows’ brains, which are not terribly easy to source these days, and may need to be omitted in any modern rendition of the recipe. They were included on account of their astrological significance. Sparrows had been associated with the planet Venus since very ancient times, and their brains were popular ingredients in remedies to improve the generative powers.

I leave it to you, my clever readers, to ponder on the reason that the brains of male sparrows are specified in a dish intended to provoke lust, and to interpret the final mysterious instruction to ‘boyle till it be something big’.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Steak and Mustard in America.

A Previous Story for this Day …

"Saints, Sex, and Soup"

Quotation for the Day …

Clearly it is not the lovelorn sufferer who seeks solace in chocolate, but rather the chocolate-deprived individual, who, desperate, seeks in mere love a pale approximation of bittersweet euphoria. Sandra Boynton.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Jolly Dolly Cake.

Today, February 13th …

The first instalment of Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge was released on this day in 1841. One of the main characters was a rather silly, vain, coquettish girl called Dolly Varden, who for some reason particularly captured the imagination of Dickens’ Victorian readers. In gratitude, they bestowed the ultimate compliment on her and gave her name to a variety of everyday things. It will forever be a mystery to me why one of those things was the brake van of a railway train, although a flamboyant beribboned hat and a bright spotted dress fabric are quite obvious. Naturally too, there is a food connection. Actually there are two food connections – a colourful spotted trout, and a cake.

There is much rich food prose scattered throughout Dickens’ novels. He is almost single-handedly responsible for our traditional Christmas food fantasy, thanks to A Christmas Carol, which stands as the virtual secular text for the season. He mentions many, many foods with great relish, and although I cannot find a reference to trout (I stand ready to be educated here), he does mention cake several times.

In The Mystery of Edwin Drood, on Christmas Eve in Cloisterham it is Twelfth Cake – a rather miserable cake in this case:

Lavish profusion is in the shops: particularly in the articles of currants, raisins, spices, candied peel, and moist sugar. An unusual air of gallantry and dissipation is abroad; evinced in an immense bunch of mistletoe hanging in the greengrocer's shop doorway, and a poor little Twelfth Cake, culminating in the figure of a Harlequin - such a very poor little Twelfth Cake, that one would rather called it a Twenty-fourth Cake or a Forty-eighth Cake - to be raffled for at the pastrycook's, terms one shilling per member..

In The Old Curiosity Shop, it is plum cake:

Mr Swiveller replied by taking from his pocket a small and very greasy parcel, slowly unfolding it, and displaying a little slab of plum-cake extremely indigestible in appearance, and bordered with a paste of white sugar an inch and a half deep.

In David Copperfield, seed cake:

Miss Lavinia and Miss Clarissa partook, in their way, of my joy. It was the pleasantest tea-table in the world. Miss Clarissa presided. I cut and handed the sweet seed-cake - the little sisters had a bird-like fondness for picking up seeds and pecking at sugar.

And in Martin Chuzzlewit, a ‘highly geological home-made cake’:

Here a great change had taken place; for festive preparations on a rather extensive scale were already completed, and the two Miss Pecksniffs were awaiting their return with hospitable looks. There were two bottles of currant wine, white and red; a dish of sandwiches (very long and very slim); another of apples; another of captain's biscuits (which are always a moist and jovial sort of viand). a plate of oranges cut up small and gritty; with powdered sugar, and a highly geological home-made cake. The magnitude of these preparations quite took away Tom Pinch's breath: for though the new pupils were usually let down softly, as one may say, particularly in the wine department, which had so many stages of declension, that sometimes a young gentleman was a whole fortnight in getting to the pump; still this was a banquet; a sort of Lord Mayor's feast in private life; a something to think of, and hold on by, afterwards.

Dickens also mentions almond cake and gingerbread, and perhaps others, but there is no obvious cake-connection to Dolly Varden. It seems that one of his large contingent of American fans was responsible for naming the trout and another for inventing the cake. It is a pretty, cheery cake, layered - as was Dolly’s colourful gown - one layer spotted with dried fruit. I do not know when the first recipe appeared, but one is present in the manuscript collection of a nineteenth century Army wife in Texas. The collection was published in 1972 under the heading of ‘Resourceful recipes and practical home remedies compiled by Alice Kirk Grierson from the 1850s to the 1880s.’

The Dolly Varden Cake.
2 coffee cups of sugar; 1 coffee cup of butter; ¾ coffee cup of milk; 3 ½ coffee cups of flour; 4 eggs; 2 spoons of baking powder.
Divide in three parts. To one part add one teaspoon of ground cloves, cinnamon, a little nutmeg, and currants, raisins, and citron to taste. Bake in three common long head pans each third separately, two thirds being white, one black. When done, put together with jelly and frosting, in three layers like a jelly cake. It is very pretty when sliced across the loaf, the dark part forming the middle layer. I flavor all with any extract I wish before I divide it

Dolly would have loved it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Lusty Tart.

A Previous Story for this Day …

Flowery, Fishy, and Fried.

Quotation for the Day …

There is a country, which I will show you when I get into maps, where the children have everything their own way. It is a most delightful country to live in. The grown-up people are obliged to obey the children, and are never allowed to sit up to supper, except on their birthdays. The children order them to make jam and jelly and marmalade, and tarts and pies and puddings, and all manner of pastry. If they say they won't, they are put in the corner till they do. They are sometimes allowed to have some; but when they have some, they generally have powders given them afterwards. Charles Dickens, Holiday Romance.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Battle of the Herrings.

Today, February 12th …

The siege of Orleans began in October 1428, and was finally relieved in May 1429 thanks to Joan of Arc. The English (aided by the Burgundians) may have ultimately lost the war and been forced to relinquish their goal to rule all of France, but they won a decisive battle on this day when they routed the French (aided by the Scots) who were attempting to intercept a supply convoy on its way to the English front line. The success was due to the strategy of the commander, Sir John Fastolf who repulsed the attack by forming a circle with his wagons, and placing his fearsome English archers on top to pick off the enemy. His convoy carried the usual consumable ingredients of war such as cannon balls and powder, which were the intended target of the French. It was also carrying a considerable number of barrels of herrings destined to feed the besieging troops during Lent, which somehow resulted in the conflict receiving its name of the ‘Battle of the Herrings’.

Herring and cod were important commodities for many centuries, and the search for sources of supply was a major motivator for the massive exploration efforts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They were important partly because they lent themselves well to preservation by drying, salting, and smoking, which were vital in the days well before refrigeration. They were also important because of the many meatless days on the religious calendar.

We have previously discussed the different sorts of herrings (bloaters, kippers etc) in a previous story. Today it seems particularly appropriate to consider the culinary connections of the Auld Alliance between the Scots and the French, particularly as they apply in the herring department.

Mistress Meg Dods, the pseudonymous author of Scottish publication The Cook and Housewife’s Manual in 1826, gives this recipe:

Pickled Herrings: a French way for a rere-supper.*
Wash the herrings; cut off the heads and tips of the tails; skin them; steep them in lukewarm milk and water, and dry and broil them; dish with slices of raw onions and rennets, and serve with oil.
[*A rere-supper is a ‘second supper’ following a normal supper, usually very late at night]

Time has weakened the Auld Alliance of course, and Mistress Dods was certainly no Francophile, for this is what she has to say about the cooking of fish in France:

‘Fish is not so well dressed in Paris as in London or the Hague. The cooking au bleu, à la Genevoise, &c., is in fact practiced chiefly to disguise the want of that first quality of all fish, which les poisons equivoques of Paris rarely possess – freshness. The French, however, dress fish better, or at least more variously, than we do, as in vol-au-vent, and as rissoles, salpiçons, but above all, au gratin. No 688’

And here is Recipe 688, for you to consider its virtues. It is certainly more elegant than broiled herrings with raw onion.

Soles, Flounder, and other small flat Fish, or Fillets of Turbot, &c., au Gratin.
Have a flat silver dish, or tin baking pan, and spread a bit of fresh butter over it. Mince, very finely, parsley, eschalots, and mushrooms; season with pepper and salt, fry the herbs, and lay them in your buttered dish. Place your fish, neatly cut and trimmed, over this, and cover with fine breadcrumbs. Over this stick a few bits of butter; moisten with a little white wine; cook under a furnace with a few embers, that the gratin may get crisp; squeeze lemon over our dish, and serve it very hot. The gratin may be browned with a salamander, and fried sippets may be stuck over the dish. Small undressed fish may be divided, have the bones taken out, and be baked au gratin, arranging the pieces en miroton

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Jolly Dolly Cake.

On this Topic …

To make Minced Herring Pies. (1660)

To make SOLOMON GUNDY to eat in Lent (1764)

Quotation for the Day …

Some fishes become extinct, but Herrings go on forever. Herrings spawn at all times and places and nothing will induce them to change their ways. They have no fish control. Herrings congregate in schools, where they learn nothing at all. They move in vast numbers in May and October. Herrings subsist upon Copepods and Copepods subsist upon Diatoms and Diatoms just float around and reproduce. Young Herrings or Sperling or Whitebait are rather cute. They have serrated abdomens. The skull of the Common or Coney Island Herring is triangular, but he would be just the same anyway. (The nervous system of the Herring is fairly simple. When the Herring runs into something the stimulus is flashed to the forebrain, with or without results.) Will Cuppy, How to Become Extinct, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Cornbread for Hard Times.

Today, February 9th …

Eleanor Roosevelt was for fifteen years (1946-1961) voted the world’s most popular woman. Her regular newspaper column “My Day” was published six days a week from 1935-1962 with the exception of four days after the death of her husband. Eleanor covered a huge range of topics in her columns from political to personal and global to local. On this day in 1946 she wrote of the post-war proposed voluntary ‘rationing’ of wheat.

“I am glad that the United States is going to help Europe by reducing its own food supply, and that conservation measures are being planned to increase the surplus wheat we can ship abroad. My mind reverts to the last war, when every housewife was asked to use cornmeal instead of flour for at least one meal every day. …. I still have many recipes for different types of cornbread which we used not only once a day, but often twice.

The suggestion has been made to me that, if we had smaller loaves of bread we might waste less, for a large loaf often becomes stale before we have used all of it. Because it is no longer good for table use and because the sugar shortage now makes it difficult to use stale bread for puddings or desserts, we throw it away. I’m sure that, if we were given a really true picture of the situation in many nations – such as Italy, which has been clamouring for a higher bread ration for a long time – we would gladly co-operate by using smaller loaves.”

Many young housewives must have drawn on the First World War experiences of their mothers and grandmothers as to how to substitute for wheat in their recipes in 1946. The problem when substituting other grains and cereals for wheat in bread recipes is that only wheat contains sufficient gluten to give bread its characteristic structure. Gluten is a protein formed in wheat flour when water is added, and its long molecules form a firm elastic mesh which gives bread both its solidity and its lightness (by trapping air bubbles). Bread made with other grains may be very tasty, but without the gluten it has a more ‘cakey’ and soft texture.

Perhaps Eleanor was familiar with ‘Daily Menus for War Service’, by Thetta Quay Franks, published in 1918? It contained many recipes for 100% wheatless ‘War Breads’ from sources such as the Conservation Food Show, the U.S Food Administration, Farmers’ Bulletins and the Columbia War Papers.

Corn Bread.
Cornmeal, 1 cup; Baking powder, 2 teaspoons; Sugar, ½ tablespoon; Salt, ½ teaspoon;
Sweet Milk, 1 cup; Fat, 1 tablespoon; Egg, ½.
Mix dry ingredients. Add milk, well-beaten egg, and melted fat. Beat well. Bake in a shallow pan for about 5 minutes. Yield: 1 pan, 9 by 9.

Corn Bread with Barley Flour.
Cornmeal, 1 cup; Barley Flour, 1 cup; Molasses, 4 tablespoons; Baking powder, 6 teaspoons; Salt, 1 teaspoon; Milk, 1 cup; Egg, 1; Fat, 2 tablespoons.
Sift dry ingredients together; add milk, beaten egg, and melted fat. Stir well. Put into greased pan, allow to stand in warm place 20 to 25 minutes and bake in a moderate oven 40 t0 45 minutes. Yield: 1 loaf, 4 by 12 inches.

Corn Muffins.
Cornmeal, 1 cup; Pastry flour (sifted) ½ cup; Sugar, ¼ cup; Salt, 1 teaspoon; Baking Powder, 2 teaspoons; Milk, 1 cup; Melted butter, 2 tablespoons.
Mix dry ingredients and add milk and butter. Put in greased muffin pan and bake 30 minutes in a moderate oven. Yield: 10 muffins.

Monday’s Story …

The Battle of the Herrings.

A Previous Story for this Day …

We considered 16th C bishops and cardoons on this day last year.

Quotation for the Day …

Nothing in the whole range of domestic life more affects the health and happiness of the family than the quality of its daily bread. Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book. 1884

Thursday, February 08, 2007

First, Kill your Pig.

Today, February 8th …

The eighteenth century English country parson James Woodforde enjoyed a comfortable living from his curacy in Norfolk. The small holdings attached to his position made his household virtually self-sufficient, and the diary he kept for four decades is rich with detail of village and rural life of the time. He recorded anecdotes about harvesting, pig-rearing, fishing, bread making, preserving, and all manner of other farm and domestic duties. His dinner on this day in 1792 was “boiled Leg of Pork and Peas Pudding, a rost Rabbit and Damson Tarts”, and we can be confident that he knew intimately the source of every ingredient.

What an idyllic life! Producing one’s own natural, organic food in the peace of the countryside, completely in rhythm with the seasons. Fresh, wholesome produce. No added food miles. Simple, healthy, and stress-free.

Unless you are queasy about actually murdering your own sweet, fat little piglet with your own hands of course.

Unless you have no clue as to how to choose a good piece of fresh pork if you are unable to kill your own - thereby risking falling victim to an unscrupulous butcher trying to off-load stock from his unrefrigerated shop.

Unless you are (Heaven forbid!) lacking in that skill essential to well-bred men – skill at carving efficiently and elegantly – thus rendering yourself “disagreeable and ridiculous to others”.

Unless you have a terrible craving for lamb, but it is out of season, and anyway you have to keep eating that damned pig you killed a few days ago, even though you are sick of the sight of pork, because there is a lot left and it won’t keep much longer.

Luckily, there are plenty of eighteenth century manuals to help you, should you decide to take up this idyllic lifestyle.

A book with the instantly reassuring title of The ladies’ library: or, encyclopedia of female knowledge, in every branch of domestic economy ... In which is included a vast fund of miscellaneous information (1790) begins the recipe ‘To Roast a Pig’ with the instruction: ‘Stick your pig just above the breast-bone, running your knife to the heart; when it is dead, put it in cold water for a few minutes, then rub it all over with a little rosin beat exceeding fine and its own blood …’. So now you know how to perform that little duty.

If you are forced to obtain your pork from the market, John Trusler gave plenty of advice in his book The honours of the table, published in 1788.

If it be young, in pinching the lean between your fingers, it will break, and if you nip the skin with your nails, it will dent. But if the fat be soft and pulpy like lard, if the lean be tough, and the fat flabby and spungy, and the skin be so hard that you cannot nip it with your nails, you may be sure it is old.

To know fresh-killed pork from such as is not, put your finger under the bone that comes out of the leg or spring, and if it be tainted, you will find it by smelling your finger; the flesh of stale pork is sweaty and clammy, that of fresh killed pork, cool and smooth.

Trusler gave advice for carving the roast meat too, and as his book was especially addressed to young people, he gave several pages of advice on how to behave at the dinner table. Methinks we modern folk could learn a little from our ancestors in this regard, so as a refresher I pass on a few tidbits of his advice:

Eat not too fast or too slow.
Spit not on the carpet.
Smell not your meat when eating.
Offer not another your handkerchief.

Not to seem indelicate here, there is a final point of etiquette which I think is very poorly attended to these days, so I am grateful to John T for reminding us:

‘If the necessities of nature oblige you at any time, (particularly at dinner,) to withdraw from the company you are in, endeavour to steal away unperceived, or make some excuse for retiring, that may keep your motives for withdrawing a secret; and on your return, be careful not to announce that return, or suffer any adjusting of your dress, or re-placing of your watch, to say, from whence you came. To act otherwise, is indelicate and rude.

Finally, to avoid a very inelegant temper-tantrum over the lamb instead of pork issue, I give a recipe from the Ladies’ Library manual of 1790, quoted from above:

To roast a Hind-quarter of PIG in Lamb-fashion.
At the time of the year when house-lamb is very dear, take the hind-quarter of a large roasting pig, take off the skin, and roast it, and it will eat like lamb, with mint sauce, or with sallad or Seville orange. Half an hour will roast it.

Have fun.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Cornbread for Hard Times.

A Previous Story for this Day …

“What Does ‘Cooking’ Mean?”

Quotation for the Day …

To do the honours of the table gracefully, is one of the out-lines of a well-bred man; and to carve well, as little as it may seem, is useful to ourselves twice every day, and the doing of which ill is not only troublesome to ourselves, but renders us disagreeable and ridiculous to others. Lord Chesterfield.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Pavlova: More on the Mystery!

I have just been informed of a New Zealand recipe for Pavlova dated 1933, which pre-dates the Aussie claim by 2 years. This is interesting news indeed.

Bron at Bron Marshall Classic & Creative Cuisine has sent the correction, you can read her full post HERE, but she summarises by saying:

"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."

Bron goes on to give a great recipe for a Pavlova, accompanied by some mouth-watering pictures.

Thanks Bron!

Tuesday Fritters.

Today, February 7th …

This day in 1665 was a Tuesday - Shrove Tuesday to be exact - and Samuel Pepys recorded his dinner in his diary:

“Up, and to my office, where busy all morning. At noon, at dinner, it being Shrove Tuesday, had some very good fritters.”

In the Christian calendar Shrove Tuesday is the last day before the beginning of Lent, when the faithful abstain from fleshly things for 40 days. It is the day to feast before saying “Farewell to Meat” (Carne Vale) and to use up the last of the eggs and milk and butter in a frenzy of fritter and pancake-making (hence “Pancake Tuesday”).

What is the difference between fritters and pancakes? Not much really. Both start with a batter of flour, milk, and eggs. A pancake is made by frying a small amount in a pan to form a thin cake (a pan cake – get it?), which becomes French if you call it a crêpe. This simple pancake is usually served with butter, or sugar or lemon or orange juice. It may, however, be filled by rolling it or folding it around something. If something is dipped in the raw batter and then fried, it becomes a fritter. Of course, not all fritters and pancakes abide strictly by this rule, but you get the general idea.

A religious excuse is not necessary to enjoy pancakes and fritters. They have been made and enjoyed since time immemorial in countries and cultures where the basic ingredients are found. They are easy to make and fun to eat - unless you have fallen victim to the campaigns of the world-wide Food Police who would have us banned from anything requiring

Here is selection from across the ages, just to prove their versatility.

For to make Fruturs.[Apple fritters with saffron and ginger]
Nym flowre and eyryn and grynd peper and safroun and mak therto a batour and par aplyn and kyt hem to brode penys and kest hem theryn and fry hem in the batour wyth fresch grees and serve it forthe.
[From: The Form of Cury, 1390.]

Samacays. [Curd cheese fritters]
Take vellyd cruddys or they be pressyd; do hem yn a cloth. Wryng out the whey. Do hem in a mortar; grynd hem well with paryd floure & temyr hem with eyryn & creme of cow mylke, & make thereof a rennyng bature. Than have white grece in a panne: loke hit be hote. Take up the bature with a saucer & let hit renne in the grece; draw thy hond backward that hit may renne abrode. Then fry hem ryte well & somdell hard reschelyng & serve hit forth in disches, & strew on white sygure.
[From: An Ordinance of Pottage, by Constance B Hieatt; from a 15th C manuscript]

To make Fritters of Spinnedge [Spinach].
Take a good deale of Spinnedge, and washe it cleane, then boyle it in faire water, and when it is boyled, then take it forth and let the water runne from it, then chop it with the backe of a knife, and then put in some egges and grated Bread, and season it with suger, sinamon, ginger, and pepper, dates minced fine, and currans, and rowle them like a ball, and dippe them in Butter made of Ale and flower.
[From: The Good Housewife's Jewell by Thomas Dawson 1596]

To make Fritters.
Take halfe a pint of Sack, a pint of Ale, some Ale-yeast, nine Eggs, yolks and whites, beat them very well, the Egg first, then altogether, put in some Ginger, and Salt, and fine flower, then let it stand an houre or two; then shred in the Apples; when you are ready to fry them, your suet must be all Beef-suet, or halfe Beef, and halfe Hoggs-suet
tryed out of the leafe.
[From: The Compleat Cook, 1658]

P.S. This year Shrove Tuesday falls on February 20th, so you have time to practice. If the ones given above do not suit you, here are the links to other suitable recipes for fritters and pancakes featured in previous stories.

How Water Pancakes are made by poor People (1750)

Apple Fritters (1869)

Salsify Fritters (1870’s)

Kidney Fritters (1870’s)

Pets de putain (Farts of a Whore) – which are fritters by a funnier name. (1653)

Pink Pancakes (1797)

To make Raspberry Fritters (1769)

Bacon Froise (1695) – which is somewhere between an omelette and a pancake.

Australian Pancakes (1971) – an Englishman’s view.

Crêpes Suzette – the mystery.

Tomorrow’s Story …
First, Kill your Pig.

A Previous Story for this Day …

One of the cookbooks of Ambrose Heath was featured on this day.

Quotation for the Day …

I will here say nothing of the fact that some fast in such a way that they nonetheless drink themselves full; some fast by by eating fish and other foods so lavishly that they would come much nearer to fasting if they ate meat, eggs and butter, and by so doing would obtain far better results from their fasting. For such fasting is not fasting, but a mockery of fasting and of God. Martin Luther.