Thursday, May 31, 2007

On Worcestershire Sauce.

Today, May 31st

Worcestershire Sauce, an essential ingredient in a Bloody Mary (and even more essential in a Virgin Mary) was trademark registered by Lea & Perrins on this day in 1892. Lea & Perrins had been manufacturing the famous sauce since the 1830’s, but Trademark legislation was not enacted in Britain until 1875. Why did they wait so long to patent their product? They must have been confident that imitations of their sauce would not have been serious competition, which means that they must have been confident that they could maintain the secrecy of the recipe.

The recipe has a mysterious disputed past. The original Worcestershire Sauce bottle label stated that it was “from the recipe of a nobleman of the country”. Most versions say the ‘nobleman’ returned from India with a recipe which he asked the local apothecaries (Lea & Perrins) to make up. They did. It was awful. They all forgot about the idea. They literally forgot about it, and left the barrels in the cellar. Some time later (months? years?) the barrels were rediscovered, and were about to be disposed of when someone thought to taste the contents and Lo! and Behold! – fermentation had improved the brew no end. The rest is marketing history.

The sauce became a standard ingredient in savoury dishes, even in America (although the American version contains white, not malt vinegar), as this recipe from School And Home Cooking By Carlotta C. Greer (1920) demonstrates. Note: it is a text book, so questions will follow. Please pay attention.

Veal Cutlets (Steak)
Clean the meat; then remove the bone and tough membranes. Cut the meat into pieces for serving. Cover the bone and the tough pieces of meat with cold water and cook at a low temperature. (This stock is to be used in the sauce.) Small pieces of meat may be put together by using wooden toothpicks for skewers. Season the veal with salt and pepper. Roll in dried bread crumbs, dip in beaten egg, then in crumbs again. Put 2 tablespoonfuls of drippings or other fat in a frying pan. Brown the cutlets in the fat. Remove the veal; in the frying pan prepare the following:

Sauce for Cutlets.
3 tablespoonfuls drippings
1/4 cupful flour
1/2 tablespoonful salt
1/8 teaspoonful pepper
2 cupfuls stock or water
2 tablespoonfuls chopped parsley
1 teaspoonful Worcestershire sauce
Make a brown sauce, using all ingredients except the Worcestershire sauce (see Brown Sauce). Add the cutlets to the sauce, and cook them at simmering temperature for 1 hour or until tender. Just before serving, add the Worcestershire sauce.

Beef may be prepared in the same way.

Why is it desirable to use parsley and Worcestershire sauce with veal? Is it desirable to use Worcestershire sauce with beef or mutton? Explain your answer. Why is Worcestershire sauce not cooked with the brown sauce?

I fail. I am unable to answer Ms Greer’s questions. Are you?

Although the exact recipe for Lea& Perrins’ Worcester Sauce remains a secret, there seems to be consensus that it contains salted anchovies, tamarind, molasses, garlic, vinegar, chillies, cloves, shallots, and sugar. As with the famous drink that once contained real Cola, its popularity has ensured that imitators will keep trying. The useful and comprehensive Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s) gave a recipe for it, using its original name of Worcester Sauce.

Worcester Sauce, To Make.
Mince two cloves of shallot, put the mince into a dry bottle, and pour over it a pint of Bordeaux vinegar. Add three table-spoonfuls of essence of anchovy, three tablespoonsful of walnut ketchup, two tablespoonfuls of soy, and as much cayenne as is approved: the quantity cannot be given as cayenne varies so much in quality. Cork the bottle, keep it in a cool place, and shake it well twice a day for a fortnight. Strain the sauce, put in small bottles, cork closely, and store for use.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Queen of Artichokes.

This Day, Last Year …

We had a story about the Australian explorer, Edward John Eyre

Quotation for the Day …

The English have only three sauces - a white one, a brown one and a yellow one, and none of them have any flavor whatever. Guy de Maupassant, French author.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Heavenly Beer.

Today, May 30th

The New York Times ran an interesting snippet on this day in 1995.

Using one of the world's largest radiotelescopes, British scientists have analyzed an interstellar gas cloud and calculated that it contains enough alcohol to make 400 trillion trillion pints of beer.

This is the sort of factoid that begs too many questoids. How many of these interstellar booze-clouds are there? An approximately Infinite number? (Is ‘Infinite’ a number? ) How can the alcohol be harvested? Is it a renewable resource? Can these clouds be seeded to make it rain beer? Would that be 400 trillion pints of low alcohol beer, or high? Presumably, as they were British scientists, they mean British trillions (18 zeros) and not US trillions (12 zeros) – which means that for those of you in the USA, it is better than you perhaps first thought on reading the story.

If there is an Astronomer Reader following this blog, please contact me and offer to do a guest blog post (all the best blogs do this guest-blog thing) and give us some more information on this massive untapped resource.

As for my own thoughts on reading this little article, all I can say is, if I was the Supreme Celestial Cook, I would use some (well, most) of that alcohol to make champagne. I mean, how many beer-drinkers does one Universe really need?

Even with my brave champagne-drinking friends to help (you know who you are), there would surely be much alcohol of all sorts left over to use in cooking. I seem to have posted a number of historic recipes using booze since this blog started (I’m not sure what this says about me). We have had, for example, Foie Gras Souvarov (brandy), Rum Pudding, and Whisky Apples (on the Companion site).

Clearly however, once that Astronomer Reader contacts me and gives us the information we want, that will be an insufficient number of recipes. Here are a few more, all from the 1870’s.

Beer Soup (German Method)
Simmer two quarts of milk beer (it should not be bitter) with the thin rind of a lemon, a few cloves, and a stick of cinnamon, sweeten with sugar, and add it through a sieve to the yolks of sx well-beaten eggs and half a pint of cream. Whilst pouring into the tureen, stir it to a froth with a wire whisk. The beer should be very hot, without boiling, before it is stirred with the eggs. Serve hot with toast.

Champagne Cream.
Beat the yolks of five eggs very thoroughly, and add by degrees some finely-pounded white sugar, sufficient to make it stiff and firm. Then add a bottle of champagne, keep on stirring till it is all mixed. Last of all, put in a tablespoon of brandy. Put the cream in a glass jug, and serve it in champagne glasses.

Rum Omelette.
Beat three eggs in a bowl, and add a very small pinch of salt, a tea-spoonful of finely-powdered sugar, a slice of butter, and a tablespoonful of rum. Fry the omelette in the usual way. Lay it on a hot dish, and pour round it half a tumblerful of rum which has been warmed in a saucepan. Set light to this, and take the omelette to table with the flame rising round it.

Whisky Cordial.
This cordial should be made when white currants are in season. Take the thin rind of a large fresh lemon entirely free from the bitter white part. Put it into a jar with half a pint of ripe white currants stripped from the stalks, and a piece of whole ginger the size of a bean. Pour over the ingredients a quart of whisky, and let them infuse for twenty-four hours. Strain the liquor, sweeten it with half a pound of loaf sugar, let it stand twelve hours longer, and bottle for use. Cork securely.

UPDATE: A real Astronomer DID respond to my plea, and you will find the GUEST BLOG post very informative - and even more importantly - fun. Do read it, you wont be sorry.

Tomorrow’s Story

On Worcestershire Sauce.

This Day, Last Year …

We looked at an ocean liner menu.

Quotation for the Day …

Whiskey - I like it, I always did, and that is the reason I never use it. Robert E. Lee

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

King Charles’ Birthday Bash.

Today, May 29th …

In the year of 1660 the Parliament of England declared that this day “the 29 of May, the King's birthday, to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King's return to his Government, he entering London that day.”

There are three historic events commemorated this day. It was the day that King Charles II re-entered London after the long exile which followed the English Civil War, the execution of his father, Charles I in 1649, and the short life of the The Commonweath of England under Oliver Cromwell. It also happened to be Charles’ 30th birthday, and surely his Restoration was the best present an exiled King could wish for.

The third event is commemorated in one of the common names for the holiday – “Oak Apple Day”. The name reminds of the day in September 1651 when Charles escaped the Roundheads by hiding in a hollow in an oak tree. It became a tradition that Royalists wore an oak sprig or an ‘oak apple’ on this day to demonstrate their allegiance to the crown, and those who did not were set to become the victims of various taunts and minor abuses – which gave rise to another common name for the holiday – Pinch-Bum Day. I should also point out here, in the interests of clarity, that oak trees do not bear apples. The ‘apple’ refers to a ‘gall’ or excresence produced on the tree due to the irritating presence of a type of wasp. A local name for these mini-apple shaped galls gives rise to another name for the 29th of May – Shick-Shack Day. It may well be that the roots of the day lie in very ancient ‘tree worship’ times, hence one more name – Arbour Day.

Now we’ve clarified that (?), lets get onto the food. The seventeenth century in England was a fine time, culinarily speaking. English food (for those who could afford the best) was superb, if we are to judge by contemporary cookbooks. Improved sea-power opened up trade with far away places, and the return of Charles II from exile had stimulated interest in food from Europe (particularly France). Seventeenth century English gourmets could pick the best from everywhere – you may remember Samuel Pepys enthusing over a ‘Spanish Olio’ in a previous story.

It became traditional for the Chelsea Pensioners to be treated with good old English Roast Beef and Plum Pudding on this day. There are plenty of plum pudding ideas in the Christmas Recipe Archive, and roast beef hardly seems regal enough for the day, so we need different inspiration. The most famous cookbook of the time was The Accomplish’t Cook, by Robert May, and he included a recipe for cooking beef to mimic red-deer – a common practice of the time, and perhaps something we would try if the King was coming for dinner unexpectedly and we were out of venison. It will do for our main course.

Charles was not for nothing referred to as the Merry Monarch. He made merry on occasions with Nell Gwynne who was a lowly (but very beautiful) orange-seller. Oranges were expensive imported delicacies in Charles’ time, and a popular way of using them was to preserve the peels in a sugar syrup – and call it orengado. In honour of the Merry Time had by Charles and Nell, I give you a recipe for apple pie flavoured with quinces and orengado from the other famous cookbook of the time, by William Rabisha. The title of the book deserves repeating in full: The whole body of cookery dissected, taught, and fully manifested, methodically, artificially, and according to the best tradition of the English, French, Italian, Dutch, &c., or, A sympathie of all varieties in naturall compounds in that mysterie wherein is contained certain bills of fare for the seasons of the year, for feasts and common diets : whereunto is annexed a second part of rare receipts of cookery, with certain useful traditions : with a book of preserving, conserving and candying, after the most exquisite and newest manner ...

To bake Beef red Deer fashion in Pies or Pasties, either Surloin, Brisket, Buttock, or Fillet, larded or not.
Take the surloin, bone it, and take off the great sinnew that lies on the back, lard the leanest parts of it with great lard, being seasoned with nutmegs, pepper, and lard three pound; then have for the seasoning four ounces of pepper, four ounces of nutmegs, two ounces of ginger, and a pound of salt, season it and put it into the pie: but first lay a bed of good sweet butter, and a bay leaf or two, half an ounce of whole cloves, lay on the venison, then put on all the rest of the seasoning, with a few more cloves, good store of butter, and a bay-leaf or two, close it up and bake it, it will ask eight hours soaking: being baked and cold, fill it up with clarified butter, serve it, and a very good judgement shall not know it from red deer. Make the paste either fine or course to bake’t hot or cold.
To this quantity of flesh you must have three gallons of fine flower heapt measure, and three pound of butter; but the best way to bake red deer, is to bake it in course paste, either in pie or pasty: make it in rie meal to keep long. Otherwayes you may make it of meal as it comes from the mill, and make it onlie of boiling water, and no stuff in it.
[Accomplish’t Cook, May, 1660]

To make a Pie with whole Pippins.
You must pare and core your Pippins, and when your Coffin is made, take a handful of sliced Quinces, and strow over the bottom therof; then place in your Pippins, and fill the core-holes with the sirrup of Quinces, and put into every one a piece of Orangado, so pour on the sirrup of Quinces over your Apples, with Sugar, and close it; these pies will ask good soaking, especially the Quince-pie.
[Whole Body of Cookery dissected, Rabisha, 1661]

For those of you who love words, you will note that these recipes both refer to the food ‘soaking’. It does not mean marinading. ‘To soak’ also used to mean to soak up heat, and specifically "To bake (bread, etc.) thoroughly". Words are Fun, aren’t they?

Tomorrow’s Story …

Heavenly Beer.

This Day, Last Year …

We ate at the summit of Mt Everest.

Quotation for the Day …

The art of cooking as practised by Englishmen does not extend much beyond roast beef and plum pudding". Pehr Kalm a Swedish visitor to England, in 1748

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thankyou Erasmus.

Today, May 28th ...

Tonic water, that essential diluent for gin, was patented by Erasmus Bond in London on this day in 1858. Thankyou Erasmus.

The bitter ingredient in tonic water is quinine (or more commonly nowadays a synthetic mimic), which comes from the bark of the South American Cinchona tree. The bark was used in ancient times by the indigenous people of South America for the treatment of fevers, and it came to the attention of the European usurpers in the seventeenth century as a malaria medicine. How this very bitter ingredient became a drink mixer is attributed to the British in India, who disguised its taste with sugar, lemon – and gin. The nasty “mother’s ruin” of eighteenth century England became the elegant drink of the Colonial masters.

The amount of quinine in regular tonic water nowadays is well below the amount required to prevent or treat malaria, but I would argue that when mixed with gin it still has a therapeutic effect.

What to eat with your G&T? The concept of pre-dinner nibbles or ‘appetisers’ was not known in Erasmus’ time, but that is not to say that recipes of the mid-nineteenth century cannot be adapted to that use. Here are a couple from The English cookery book, receipts collected by a committee of ladies. (1859)

Puree of Fowl.
After chopping fine and pounding the white meat of turkey or fowl, add enough of white sauce to pass it through a sieve, flavoured with lemon-peel and juice, or lemon pickle, and a little cucumber ketchup. This may be heaped in the middle of a dish and garnished with the broiled legs, or it may be served in a wall of mashed potatoes, or rice egged over and browned; if rice, strew upon the egg some fine bread-crumbs before browning.

I reckon if you heap this in a dish it would make a fine and elegant 'pate". A modern processor would help in the making too.

If you are still drinking G&T's at supper, here is a nice, versatile dish to try.

Scrape a quarter of a pound each of Cheshire and Gloucester cheese, and good fresh butter; beat all in a mortar with the yolks of four eggs and the inside of a small French roll boiled in cream till soft; mix the paste with the whites of eggs previously beaten, and put into small paper pans made rather longer than square, and bake in a Dutch oven till of a fine brown. They should be eaten quite hot. Some like the addition of a glass of white wine. The batter for ramakins is equally good over macaroni when boiled tender; or on stewed brocoli, celery, or cauliflower; a little of the gravy they have been stewed in being put in the dish.

Tomorrow’s Story …

King Charles’ Birthday Bash.

Quotation for the Day …

What contemptible scoundrel stole the cork from my lunch? W.C Fields.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Today, May 25th

The Australian explorer John Oxley was in the depths of inland New South Wales on this day in 1817. As is the explorer’s lot, he and his party were hungry for fresh food, and hunger maketh man more liberal in his interpretation of what is food and what is not. Here is part of his journal entry for this day:

May 25. … At two we arrived at the base of a hill of considerable magnitude, terminating westward in an abrupt perpendicular rock from two hundred and fifty to three hundred feet high. The country we passed over was of the most miserable description; the last eight miles without a blade of grass….. This hill was named Mount Aiton. The country having been recently burnt, some good grass was found for the horses a little to the south-west. We therefore stopped for the night, and ascended the face of the mount for the purpose of looking around: a very large brown speckled snake was killed about half way up, which, in the absence of fresh provisions, was afterwards eaten by some of the party. ….We have seen so few animals, either kangaroo or emu, and the country appears so little capable of maintaining these animals, that the means of the natives in procuring food must be precarious indeed. We found just a sufficiency of water to answer our purpose in a drain from the Mount; our dogs are, however, in a wretched condition for want of food.

Peter Lund Simmonds in The Curiosities of Food (1859) has a whole series of snake-eating anecdotes, all from the perspective of a civilised eater observing the ignorant (even if noble) savage or the fearless frontier pioneer. In case you are lost in the wilderness and get hungry and are not afraid to catch a snake (which in Australia is highly likely to be extremely poisonous) and do not already know how to cook one, Simmonds most helpfully quotes a certain Dr Lang’s account of snake cooking in Australia:

“One of the black fellows took the snake, and placing it on the branch of a tree, and striking it on the back of the head repeatedly with a piece of wood, threw it into the fire. The animal was not quite dead, for it wriggled for a minute or two in the fire, and then became very stiff and swollen, apparently from the expansion of gas in its body. The black fellow then drew it out of the fire, and with a knife cut through the skin longitudinally on both sides of the animal, from the head to the tail. He then coiled it up as a sailor does a rope, and laid it again upon the fire, turning it over again and again with a stick till he thought it sufficiently done on all sides, and superintending the process of cooking it with all the interest imaginable. When he thought it sufficiently roasted, he thrust a stick into the coil, and laid it on the grass to cool, and when cool enough to admit of handling, he took it up again, wrung off its head and tail, which he threw away, and then broke the rest of the animal by the joints of the vertebrae into several pieces, one of which he threw to the other black felllow, and another he began eating himself with much apparent relish.”

The observer in snake-eating anecdotes is almost always repelled by the idea, and responds with disgust or admiration at the habits or bravery of the eater. What is it about snake? Newly-hatched birds and other baby animals are said to react in fear to lengths of rope, suggesting that we are biologically programmed to see them as dangerous enemies. Snakes are stealthy creatures too, and we are more inclined to fear that which can sneak up on us. The poor eel is tarred with the same brush. Eels are fish, pure and simple, but they have a snake-like shape and this is often given as the reason for avoiding them. It seems unfair to me.

Here is Charles Elmé Francatelli’s Eel Pie from his 1860’s book The Cook's Guide and Housekeeper's and Butler's Assistant.

Richmond Eel Pie.
Skin, draw, and cleanse two good-sized Thames eels; trim off the fins, and cut them up in pieces about three inches long, and put these in a stewpan with two ounces of butter, some chopped mushrooms, parsley, and a very little shalot, nutmeg, pepper and salt, two glasses of sherry, one of Harvey sauce, and barely enough water to cover the surface of the eels; set them on the fire, tnd as soon as they come to a boil, let them be removed, and the pieces of eels placed carefully in a pie dish; add two ounces of butter, kneaded with two ounces of flour, to the sauce; and having stirred it on the fire to thicken, add the juice of a lemon, and pour it over the pieces of eels in the pie dish; place some hard yolks of eggs on the top; cover with puff-paste; ornament the top; egg it over, bake for about an hour, and serve, either hot or cold.

Monday's Story ...

Thankyou Erasmus.

This Day, Last Year ...

We thought about lettuce.

Quotation for the Day …

To the goggling unbeliever [Texans] say - as people always say about their mangier dishes - "but it's just like chicken, only tenderer." Rattlesnake is, in fact, just like chicken, only tougher. Alistair Cooke.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Gentleman’s Club.

Today, May 24th ...

The famous Reform Club opened this day in London in 1836. The Gentlemen’s clubs which were an integral part of the life of the Victorian London male had begun life a century and a half earlier as coffee-houses. Coffee took Europe by storm during the seventeenth century, but it was a beverage not easily prepared at home, requiring as it did special equipement for roasting and brewing. Inevitably, people met other people at the coffee houses, and inevitably, people with particular interests tended to gravitate to the same venues. Entire economic and political organisations – such as Lloyds of London – arose from individual coffee houses.

By the early nineteenth century, more and more of the (male) movers and shakers of the Industrial Revolution spent more and more of their time in the Big City, while maintaining homes and families in the country. The gentlemen’s clubs (there were about 30 in London by mid-century) provided “an aristocratic home and admirably-regulated menage, without any of the trouble inseparable from a private household” for several generations of men schooled in the all-male environments of prestigious universities.

London clubland was centred around St James and Pall Mall. The Reform Club was there, and as with most clubs, it was a “special interest” club. In 1832, The Representation of the People Act 1832 (commonly known as the Reform Act) was introduced by Whig politicians to make dramatic changes to the electoral system to reflect the demographic changes resulting from the Industrial Revolution. The Reform Club was decidedly not a Tory club. It became famous on account of its food – thanks to the famous chef Alexis Soyer, who presided over the kitchens from 1837-50. One of his signature dishes was “Lamb Cutlets Reform” – a dish of breaded cutlets served with a sweet-sour sauce based on a classic poivrade sauce. I have been unable to find his original recipe, although he alludes to it in his book, The Modern Housewife. The dish clearly outlived his time at the club, for one of the later chefs, Charles Elmé Francatelli included the recipe in one of his own books, The Cook’s Guide and Housekeepers and Butler’s Assistant.

It is worthy of rediscovery, if you can source some Harvey’s Sauce.

Reform Sauce.
Prepare some poivrade sauce, No. 19; to this add a glass of port wine, half that quantity of Harvey [sauce], a teaspoonful of anchovy, and two good tablespoonfuls of red currant jelly; boil together for five minutes, and pour into a clean small stewpan for use.

Poivrade Sauce.
Cut up into very small square pieces an ounce of lean ham or bacon, the same quantities of carrot, celery, and onion, a bay-leaf and thyme, twenty peppercorns, and a bit of mace.
Fry these ingredients in a small stewpan, with a piece of butter the size of a walnut, until the whole becomes well browned; add a wineglass of vinegar and half that quantity of mushroom catsup, and a teaspoonful of anchovy; and when this has boiled down to half its original quantity, then add about half a pint of brown sauce, a few spoonfuls of good stock, and a wineglassful of sherry.
Let the sauce boil gently by the side of the fire, to throw up the grease, &c, which having been removed, strain through a sieve or strainer into a small stewpan for use.
Note. It frequently happens in small households that ready-made brown sauce is not to be had; in such cases, and in order to save time and expense, a little thickening can be easily made by using for that purpose equal proportions of butter and flour kneaded together, and stirred quickly over a slow fire for three minutes, and moistened with good stock, or any kind of broth

Tomorrow’s Story ….


This Day, Last Year …

It was Queen Victoria's Birthday.

Quotation for the Day …

Speaking of food, English cuisine has received a lot of unfair criticism over the years, but the truth is that it can be a very pleasant surprise to the connoisseur of severely overcooked livestock organs served in lukewarm puddles of congealed grease. England manufactures most of the world's airline food, as well as all the food you ever ate in your junior-high-school cafeteria. Dave Barry.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Suffragette Food.

Today, May 23rd

The state of South Australia was the first in the world to give women the right to vote. One of the pioneers of the feminist movement in the country was Louisa Lawson, the mother of the famous bush poet Henry Lawson, and a poet and publisher in her own right. On this day in 1889 she addressed the founding meeting of the Dawn Club in Sydney, which she had started – a women’s club which encouraged debate and discussion on a variety of issues relating to women’s rights. The first meeting was at Forresters Hall, but subsequent meetings were held at a variety of tea rooms around the city. Many of the tea rooms were owned by a Chinese immigrant called Quong Tart – a man who understood discrimination all too well, but who ultimately became ‘as well known as the Governor himself’ for his business and philanthropic activities in Sydney.

Louisa Lawson’s sisters around the globe were fighting the same fight, and a major fund-raiser for many groups was the production and sale of cookbooks – an idea that would have made many militant feminists half a century later shudder in horror. Thankfully, the movement has moved on, and it is perfectly possible to be a feminist who cooks today. Not that Louisa would have had a choice (and feminism is about choice after all). Her life was not luxurious – at times it was very hard, and she undoubtably knew how to cook. I do not know if she contributed to any cookbooks, but she would surely have admired her sister-publishers who did. In her honour I give you three recipes from The Suffrage Cookbook, published in America in 1915.

Pie for a Suffragist's Doubting Husband.
1 qt. milk human kindness
8 reasons:
White Slavery
Child Labor
8,000,000 Working Women
Bad Roads
Poisonous Water
Impure Food
Mix the crust with tact and velvet gloves, using no sarcasm, especially with the upper crust. Upper crusts must be handled with extreme care for they quickly sour if manipulated roughly.

Suffrage Angel Cake (a la Kennedy)
11 eggs
1 full cup Swansdown Flour (after sifting)
1 ½
cups granulated sugar
1 heaping teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pinch of salt
Beat the eggs until light - not stiff; sift sugar 7 times, add to eggs, beating as little as possible. Sift flour 9 times, using only the cupful, discarding the extra flour; then put in the flour the cream of tartar; add this to the eggs and sugar; now the vanilla. Put in angel cake pan with feet. Put in oven with very little heat. Great care must be used in baking this cake to insure success. Light the oven when you commence preparing material. After the first 10 minutes in oven, increase heat and continue to do so every five minutes until the last 4 or 5 minutes, when strong heat must be used. At thirty minutes remove cake and invert pan allowing to stand thus until cold.

Suffrage Salad Dressing
Yolks of 2 eggs
3 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of tarragon vinegar
1 pinch of salt
Beat well ; cook in double boiler. When cold and ready to serve, fold in ½
pint of whipped cream.

I particularly like the first recipe.

Tomorrow's Story ...

The Gentlemen's Club.

This Day Last Year …

We featured Seville oranges.

Quotation for the Day …

There are plenty of women capable of choosing good husbands (or, if not good when chosen, of making them good); yet these same women may be ignorant on the subject of making good pie.
[From Recipes Tried and True. Compiled by the Ladies' Aid Society of the First Presbyterian Church, Marion, Ohio; 1894

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Receipt for Caveach.

Today, May 22nd

Major Thomas Mitchell, a distinguished military man of Scottish birth was appointed Surveyor-General of NSW in March 1827. His exploratory expeditions made a huge contribution to the mapping of inland Australia, but he was said to be a difficult, haughty man.

No doubt Major Mitchell’s wife, Mary was long-suffering on both counts. I wonder, when she found out that she was to be sent out to the colonies, did she relish the adventure, or dread the life ahead of her? Mary kept a manuscript book of recipes inscribed with this date in 1827. Did she bring it with her? Was it a gift from anxious female friends and relatives?

The waters of New South Wales had fish in abundance, and it is to be hoped that she made much use of the recipe for ‘caveach’ in the book. The OED says that to caveach is ‘to pickle mackerel or other fish according to a West Indian method.’ ‘Caveach’ sounds suspiciously like ‘ceviche’, does it not?. Surely both words have the same origin? But ceviche is said to have originated in South America (several countries claim the invention), not the West Indies. There is a persisting rumour that there is an Arab influence to the concept, so perhaps the Spanish are the common intermediaries.

A ceviche is ‘raw’ fish, in the sense that it is not cooked by heat, it is fish ‘cooked’ by the action of an acid, which in the case of South and Central America is in the form of citrus juice. Mary’s ‘caveach’ on the other hand calls for the fish to be first fried before it is pickled in vinegar. Minor variations of her recipe appear in English cookbooks from the early eighteenth century.

It seems that the name and the concept were both adapted by English cooks, as the following recipe (the earliest I have been able to find) suggests.

To Pickle Mackarel, call’d Caveach.
Cut your Mackarel into round Pieces, and divide one into five or six Pieces: To six large Mackarel you may take an ounce of beaten Pepper, three large Nutmegs, a little Mace, and a handful of Salt; mix your Salt and beaten Spice together, and make two or three holes in each Piece, and thrust the seasoning into those holes with your finger; rub the Pieces all over with the Seasoning; fry them brown in Oil, and let them stand ‘till they are cold; then put them into Vinegar, and cover them with Oil. They will keep, well cover’d , a great while, and are delicious.
[Collection of above 300 receipts … Mary Kettilby; 1714]

I would love to hear about any early references to ceviche in Spanish or Portuguese cookbooks!

Tomorrow's Story ...

Suffragette Food.

This Day Last Year ...

We had a story about Van Gogh

Quotation for the Day ...

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Chinese Proverb.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and get rid of him for a whole weekend. Australian version.

P.S Thanks to those of you who noted that the comments button for yesterday's Wonder Bread post had disappeared. It has been fixed, so please comment-away.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Wonder(ful) Bread?

Today, May 21st

Several American newspapers carried advertisements for a new product on this day in 1921.


So now the mystery we will end,
And to every home a message send,
A message that brings joy to you,
To mother, father and grandma, too,
To Mary, Betty, Jack and Jo
For all the family will learn to know,
The meaning of this wonder word
That everyone has read and heard.
A new delight with every bite,
Both morning, noon and every night,
For Mary knows, you know her well,
And many a truth she's had to tell,
And now the best she ever knew,
She gives in this new loaf to you,
For as the bakery leads, they're still ahead,
And now it's

P.S. Place your order for WONDER BREAD, the new wrapped loaf, with your grocer Monday. He will have it beginning Tuesday, May 24th

Poetry it isn’t.

The Staff of Life it isn't.

Is it unethical, to despise something you have never actually tasted? I confess to never having eaten Wonder Bread on any of my several short trips to the USA, but nevertheless I feel I know it from its clones around the world.

Wonder Bread contains wheat flour, water, and:

High fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness).

Wonder Bread sounds pretty scary.

By way of contrast, William Ellis in his Country Housewife’s Companion (1750) described how a Cheshire servant made her bread:

A Cheshire Servant Maid's Account of her making leavened Bread.
She told me in November 1746, that in the part of Cheshire where she had lived they eat barley-bread, or bread made with half rye and half wheat-meal, which they there call mobbum bread; but in other parts of Cheshire, towards Manchester, she says, they eat sour cake, that is to say, oatcake-bread. Her way to make barley or mobbum bread was to save a salted piece of leavened dough against next baking, and then crumble it into warm water, with which she mixed her flower, and made it just into a dough over night, and let it lie till next morning, when she kneaded it for good. She said, they make use of no yeast, unless they think the leaven not strong enough to ferment the dough of itself, - but to make leaven the first time, knead a piece of dough with salt, as long as it will take up any, then hang it up, or leave it covered in salt; and to make it better, you may add a little yeast to the dough, or instead thereof some grounds of ale, or an egg. The staler the leaven the closer will be the bread, and the sooner sour, and if the dough is not well kneaded, it will be streaky.

Mobbum Bread sounds pretty good. Unless you would miss those exthoxylated mono and diglycerides of course.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Receipt for Caveach.

Quotation for the Day …

"...the best poet is the man who delivers our daily bread: the local baker...." Pablo Neruda

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Food Blog Awards!

Four (4) people have voted for The Old Foodie in the Bloggers Choice Awards! My family are, to a member, adamant that they didn't do it. Thankyou, whoever you are. What fun. I was going to make myself this Fun Pudding (1870's) to celebrate, but it sounds too underwhelmingly funny. I'll have some red bubbly wine instead. Red bubbles are great fun. With chocolate to follow.

Fun Pudding.
Mix a couple of spoonfuls of arrowroot with half a pint of milk and the same of cream. Put it in a stew pan, with sugar to sweeten. Stir until it boils. Have ready sliced apples enough to fill a large sized dish; they should be sliced thin, and sugar should be strewn between the slices. Put bits of butter over the apples, and bake them gently till soft. Let them go cold, pour the arrowroot (also cold) over them. Garnish with apricot jam, and serve.
[Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery, 1870's]

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gourmet Eggs and Giant Eggs.

Today, May 18th …

Peter Carl Fabergé was born on this day in 1846 in St. Petersburg, and he grew up to be the goldsmith to the Russian Imperial Court of Tsar Alexander III. He is famous for the extraordinary handcrafted bejewelled Easter Eggs he created for the Russian royals, who gave them to each other as gifts.

In 1998, Fabergé was honoured by the famous London hotel, Claridges, during its centenary year. The focus was on the recreation of famous and fabulous dishes from historic events for a special “Taste of History” menu. At least one new dish was especially created for the centenary, and it was inspired by Fabergé’s exquisite jewelled eggs. Egg Fabergé consisted of a lobster mousseline stuffed with a quail's egg and garnished with a mosaic of macaroni and truffle, served on a nest of celeriac. An elegant, stylish dish for an elegant stylish hotel.

In medieval times, the feast was an opportunity to impress – a feast was as much about theatre (and propaganda) as about food, and often these were the same thing. At the end of each course, a ‘subtelty’ would be produced and paraded around the feasting hall. It might be a huge pastry sculpture of a castle complete with drawbridge and moat, or a stag in full flight which spouted red wine when it was ‘shot’, or an image of a saint. Whatever its actual form, it was a message designed to induce shock or awe in the guests. When they left the feast they were in no doubt as to the wealth, power, and superiority of their host.

Sometimes of course theatrical food was just fun. Style is all very well, but some celebrations demand size. Giant eggs seem to have been particularly popular, if the surviving references and recipes are any guide. Here is one from a fifteenth century German manuscript.

A dish made from 30 or 40 eggs
In order to make a dish from 30 eggs or 40 in form of one big egg, you must take two pig's bladders, one of them smaller than the other. Rinse them carefully inside. Then take the eggs, remove the shells, and separate the whites from the yolks. Take the small pig's bladder, mix the yolks and put them into the smaller bladder, until the bladder is full. Tie the bladder up carefully and give it into a pot. Let it boil, until the big yolk becomes solid. Then take away the bladder from the big yolk. Take the bigger bladder and cut a hole in it, big enough to put in the big yolk. Sew up this hole in the bigger bladder with the big yolk within. Then you have to mix up the white of the eggs. Take a funnel, put it into the opening hole of the bigger bladder and pour the white of the eggs on top of the yolk within the bigger bladder, so that the bladder is filled. Tie it up, put it into the pot and let it boil once more. The white of the eggs will boil around the big yolk, and there will be one big egg. You can serve it with a sauce of vinegar.

Monday’s Story …

Wonder(ful) Bread?

This Day, Last Year …

We found out a little about the history of coffee.

Quotation for the Day …

He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart. C.S. Lewis.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cheesecakes for Supper.

Today, May 17th …

Jane Austen wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra on this day in 1799, from the town of Devizes in Wiltshire.

“Our journey yesterday went off exceedingly well; nothing occurred to alarm or delay us. We found the roads in excellent order, had very good horses all the way, and reached Devizes with ease by four o'clock. I suppose John has told you in what manner we were divided when we left Andover, and no alteration was afterwards made. At Devizes we had comfortable rooms and a good dinner, to which we sat down about five; amongst other things we had asparagus and a lobster, which made me wish for you, and some cheesecakes, on which the children made so delightful a supper as to endear the town of Devizes to them for a long time.”

Cheesecakes for supper sound like a wonderfully indulgent holiday treat for children, but then the nature of cheesecakes is such that they can be varied to suit any occasion. Once upon a long time ago, they were simpler and perhaps more elegant, made from curds and eggs, sweetened to a greater or lesser amount, maybe spiced a little, and perhaps enriched with butter or marrow (the marrow from bones that is, not the vegetable) and baked in a shallow “coffin” to a delicate custard consistency.

There are many recipes for cheesecakes in our earliest surviving cookbooks as they were eminently suitable for the large number of fast days decreed by the Church. A Lenten version was made with almond milk and rice, a crustless version was a ‘pudding pie’, a triangular-shaped one was sometimes called a talemouse, and one with added currants made for an extra-lucky consumer. One thing these early cheesecakes did not contain was cream cheese, as this is a thoroughly modern invention. This and the other modern invention of the refrigerator have allowed the invention of unbaked ‘refrigerator cheesecakes’ which may or may not be an abomination compared to the original thing, but which are certainly less work than the original thing.

Recipes for the original thing frequently begin along the lines of ‘first make your curds’, an instruction which usually assumed you had first milked your cow. Here is the method from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby, Opened, published in 1669.

To Make Cheesecakes
Take 12 quarts of Milk warm from the Cow, turn it with a good spoonfull of Runnet. Break it well, and put it in a large strainer, in which rowl it up and down, that all the Whey may run out into a little tub; when all that will is run out, wring out more. Then break the curds well; then wring it again, and more whey will come. Thus break and wring till no more come. Then work the Curds exceedingly with your hand in a tray, till they become a short uniform Paste. Then put to it the yolks of eight new laid Eggs, and two whites, and a pound of butter. Work all this long together. In the long working (at the several times) consisteth the making them good. Then season them to your taste with Sugar finely beaten; and put in some Cloves and Mace in subtile powder. Then lay them thick in Coffins of fine Paste and bake them.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Gourmet Eggs and Giant Eggs.

This Day, Last Year …

We were sampling the delights of the siege of Mafeking.

Quotation for the Day …

Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink
That is the finest of suppers, I think
When I'm grown up and can have what I please,
I think I shall always insist upon these.
Christopher Morley
(Founder of Saturday Review, 1924-1941)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dialectical Difficluties.

Today, May 16th …

Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of the poet William Wordsworth, lived with her brother for a number of years in Grasmere in the English Lake District. She kept a diary, and occasionally noted a meal or a cooking session. On this day in 1800, her note was brief.

“…I finished my letter to M.H. Ate hasty pudding and went to bed.”

Hasty pudding is pudding, hastily made. It is a flour of some sort stirred into a liquid of some sort and boiled until it is thick, and it appears in every cuisine that is grain-based. It is porridge if it is made with oats, polenta if it is made with maize, and in medieval times it was frumenty if it was made with wheat. Depending on the availability of enhancing ingredients, it can be improved with cream or eggs or spices or ale or wine or fruit or … Well, you get the idea.

My ranging across centuries of cookbooks confirmed for me what I had already suspected - Hasty Pudding is an idea rather than a recipe, and a not very interesting idea at that. One recipe did somewhat puzzle me however (and not because it is made with bread instead of grain), and set me off on a linguistic rather than a culinary search. It is from a Scottish cookbook of the same year as Dorothy’s diary entry, by a ‘Mrs Frazer’, and called The practice of cookery, pastry, confectionary, pickling ….

A Hasty Pudding.
Prepare as much bread and milk in a small bowl as will fill an asset, and put in a piece of fresh butter in it; pick and clean a handful of currants, and boil altogether, cast four eggs and put them in it; season with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. After the eggs are in, stir it on the fire till it thicken, but don’t let it come a-boil; then butter a bowl, and put the pudding in it; set it before the fire, or in an oven, and when it is fastened, turn it out into the asset, and serve it up.

Fill an asset? I thought an asset was something that filled something else – your house or jewel case or coffers, not something that itself required filling - by pudding. England and Scotland have always had an uneasy relationship, and part of the blame for this must lie on the language gulf. The Scots have historically allied themselves with the French against the English, and in return for their allegiance have been allowed to appropriate some French words. It turns out that asset (or ashet, ashett, aschet, assiet, ashad etc) comes from the French word assiette, and means a flat plate or dish. Hence also Ashet-pie, which is Scottish code for a pie made on a flat plate. And pie is preferable to Hasty Pudding any day in my opinion.

If you don’t have a suitable asset amongst your kitchen assets, Mrs. Frazer also gives a recipe for pie that does not require a dish at all, and which also demonstrates that the Scots have retained some of their original Gaelic (did the French accept some Gaelic words in return, I wonder? I somehow doubt it).

A Parton Pie.
Boil two partons for half an hour; when perfectly cold, break the large claws and pick the meat out of them, also the meat out of the body, and the red roe; beat them in a mortar with four ounces of sweet butter, a few breadcrumbs, a quarter of an hundred of stewed oysters, with some of the liquor, and a glass of white wine. Then wash the back shell clean, and put a paste vandike round the edges of it; fill it with the meat, and stick bits of butter on the top. Bake it half an hour

A parton (partan, partane, perton, perten, pertine, pertein, pertian) is, apparently, Gaelic for crab.

Ain’t linguistic trivia grand? Almost as grand as crab and oyster gratin.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Cheesecakes for Supper.

This Day, Last Year …

We celebrated the feast day of St. Honoré, the patron saint of bakers and pastrycooks.

Quotation for the Day…

"I never thrust my nose into other men's porridge. It is no bread and butter of mine; every man for himself, and God for us all. Miguel de Cervantes

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fleeing the Famine.

Today, May 15th …

The “Great Hunger” or “Great Famine” which occurred in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century was called the “Potato Famine” because it was the total destruction of that crop (on which the Irish had become nutritionally dependent) by a fungal blight that was the dramatically visible cause. In reality of course, as always, there were many underlying and contributing issues – economic, political, social and so on – which historians will no doubt still be unravelling for many years.

The consensus of history seems to be that the response of the British government was too little, too late, and much of the aid was inappropriate, misguided, and wasteful. Soup kitchens offered emergency meals, and we have previously salivated over some of the soup recipes considered appropriate for the poor (see below). The first food depots opened on this day in 1846 in Cork, and distributed potato alternatives such as the much hated Indian Corn (maize).

Most of the ‘problem’ was ultimately solved by the Irish themselves, whoeither died or left the country in numbers that will never been known for certain – the same political and social forces muddied the statistical water too. It is likely that over a million people, or something like 10-15% of the population died between 1846-9, and perhaps two million left the country forever, at least half a million of these choosing America, the land of opportunity.

Migration to the USA was on such a scale that an industry arose around supplying migrants for the journey, and newspapers gave articles on ‘hints to emigrants’. One article suggested the following provisions to supplement the on-board bill of fare:

You should take with you some flour and suet cut up; mix both together dry – they will keep well, and be always ready. Onions, potatoes, and dried herbs, these three things are very useful in making a sea-pie of a stew out of your salt meat after it has been soaked. Wrap the potatoes and onions up separately, each one in paper, and stow them in a hamper; by doing this, if one gets bad it will not affect the rest. Pack your herbs and put them in papers; don’t forget mint and a little celery-seed for your pea-soup. A few loaves of bread cut up and sent to the baker, with directions to put them in a slow oven and do them to a light brown. A few quarts of dried green and split peas. A couple of hams. A little pepper, mustard, salt, and pickles. A few raisins and currants, with the addition of a little tea, coffee, cocoa, and sugar. Now the major part of these things could be stowed in a flour-barrel, would be compact, and wouldn’t cost much. You wouldn’t want to use these things directly, as you would take with you a few articles for present use.

A “sea-pie” can mean a number of things. It can be a pie of seafood or a pie to take on a sea voyage, but it more usually means a pie that can be cooked at sea - a one-pot dinner boiled like a suet pudding, with layers of filling separated by layers of dough “the number of which denominate it a two or three decker”.

An “occasional correspondent” to The Times, wrote an article on Trawling in the North Sea in 1883, and included a ‘recipe’ for sea-pie in the text.

Another occasional dainty is sea-pie, which our 'doctor', or cook (Charley, the seventh hand) would thus construct: In the bottom of the pot is a layer of junk cut in pieces and free from bone; over this a “deck” of crust as thick as a blanket; over this, a second layer of potatoes and modest condiments, and over this again a second deck of crust. The whole is slowly cooked or stewed in its own juice for several hours, and the result is a mess of pottage which might well have tempted Esau.

On This Topic …

Recipes for soup for the poor can be found HERE (1798) and HERE (1861)

Tomorrow’s Story …

Dialectical Difficulties.

This Day, Last Year …

The French wine classification system was the topic of the day.

Quotation for the Day …

I'm fond of anything that comes from the sea, and that includes sailors. Janet Flanner (US journalist, 1892-1978)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Watermelon Cake.

Watermelon cake is an idea of a cake rather than a recipe. There are several interpretations of cake-in-the-guise-of-a-melon in American cookbooks from the 1870’s to 1930’s, and surely it is a fun idea worth re-discovering. T.W.Barritt over at Culinary Types has done just that in his latest Retro Cake Challenge. Do go over and drool, it looks gorgeous.

Quotation of the Day …

Mark Twain said: “The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of this world's luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented.”

Upstairs in Mayfair.

Today, May 14th …

One way or another, we are all voyeurs at heart. We may peer judgementally at the contents of the supermarket trolley in front of us at the checkout queue, or we may surreptitiously read about the latest celebrity love and lust dramas in weekly magazines, or we may read other people’s diaries. I mean of course historic diaries.

William Tayler was a servant (perhaps a footman) in a well-to-do nineteenth century household in Mayfair, London, and and he kept a diary. He obviously felt that the eating habits of the Upstairs folk who employed him were worthy of note, for on this day in 1837 - a mere few weeks before Victoria became Queen of England - he wrote:

“For the parlour breakfast they have hot rolls, dry toast, a loaf of fancy bread and a loaf of common and a slice of butter … they make their tea themselves. They have chocalate which is something like coffee but of a greasey and much richer nature. This is all they have for breakfast … Lunch is at one … They generally have some cut from ours or have cold meat and some vegitibles. Dinner at six which is considered very early. This day they had two soles fryed with saws (sauce), a leg of mutton, a dish of ox, pullets, potatows, brocolo (broccoli), rice and a rhubarb tart, a tabiaca (tapioca) pudding, cheese and butter … tea at eight o’clock with bread and butter and dry toast, never any supper – its not fashionable.”

Broccoli was the stand-out food for me when I read this description, although I was tempted by the idea of an unfashionable supper. Broccoli is the vegetable that proves that the average customer at the greengrocer is smarter in some ways than a lot of heavily scientific botanists and horticulturalists. The latter struggle to find any significant difference between broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis asparagoides) and cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis cauliflora), whereas even the vege-phobes amongst us can distinguish them from across the store. Broccoli, I am reliably informed, differs from cauliflower only in “the form and colour of its inflorescence and its hardiness”. And both are only variations of the cabbage plant after all, as we have previously noted.

Broccoli, as its name suggests, was produced (developed? invented?) either deliberately or accidentally, in Italy. It appeared in Britain in about 1720, but did not take the vege-growing or eating public by storm. It has been treated with fluctuating indifference ever since. From the mid-eighteenth century to the early Victorian era, cookbooks – if they had any recipes for it at all – all gave variations on the same three themes. Broccoli was boiled and buttered (with most recipes noting that the French eat it with vinegar and oil), or ‘boiled like asparagus’, garnished with nasturtium buds and served as a ‘pretty salad’, or cooked with eggs.

Broccoli then seems to have fallen somewhat out of favour. There is nothing at all in Richard Dolby’s The Cook's Dictionary, and House-keeper's Directory: A New Family Manual of Cookery … (1830) in spite of its reasonably encyclopedic content. Those eminent Victorian cookbook authors, Isabella Beeton and Eliza Acton have one recipe each for what is essentially the boiled vegetable. An author called Frederick Bishop was at least aware of (and sounds slightly sad about) the imminent loss of the broccoli and egg recipe, so I give it here as it sounds worth rediscovering, reviving, or re-vamping.

Broccoli and Buttered Eggs.
Keep a handsome bunch for the middle, and have eight pieces to go round; toast a piece of bread to fit the inner part of the dish or plate; boil the broccoli. In the meantime have ready six (or more) eggs beaten, put for six a pound of fine butter into a saucepan, with a little salt, stir it over the fire, and as it becomes warm add the eggs, and shake the saucepan till the mixture is thick enough; pour it on the hot toast, and lay the broccoli as before directed. This receipt is a very good one, it is occasionally varied, but without improvement, the dish is however nearly obsolete.
[The Illustrated London Cookery Book: Containing Upwards of Fifteen Hundred First-rate Receipts ... By Frederick Bishop 1852]

Is there a society for the Preservation of Lost Recipes? I would like to join.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Fleeing the Famine.

Quotation for the Day …

“I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.” George Bush Snr.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Any Fruit With That?

Today, May 11th …

Our old friend Parson James Woodforde of Norfolk told us about his dinner on this day in 1789 in his diary, and he lamented the lack of the traditional accompaniment to his fish.

“We had Maccarel to day for Dinner being the first we have seen any where this Season, 5d. apiece, but the Spring is so very backward that here are no green gooseberries to eat with them nor will there be any for some time.”

Most of our longstanding traditional accompaniments such as apples with pork and cranberries with turkey have their origins in the seasons and in terroir. The parson notes that his mackarel was the first they had had that year. A book of the time tells us that it is season from April to July, and as the parson notes, it would have been expected that the gooseberries would have been available by this time in May. Pigs were often reared in association with orchards, the fruit lending its flavour to the animal’s flesh, and making it a perfect accompaniment to it on the table. Likewise, turkeys and cranberries are natural accompaniments because both originated in the North American continent.

In medieval times, there was no distinction between sweet and sour dishes, but by the end of the seventeenth century this had become clear, and an enjoyment of sour flavours had developed. A common sour note at the time came from the barberry – which we have looked at previously. This fell out of favour and became less available when the bushes were found to be a source of a disease which was damaging wheat crops around the world, and large scale eradication was put in place.

Gooseberries were commonly added to what we would consider savoury dishes today. Like most other fruit, they were likely to be more sour in the parson’s day than we are used to now, thanks to two hundred years of horticultural progress that have given us sweeter cultivars. Recipe books of the eighteenth century clearly show that they were the traditional and favourite accompaniment to mackerel. So was fennel. The plain lemon is now our generic fish flavouring of choice. Methinks that in some respects our ancestors had more variety than we do.

Whether you prefer your fish boiled or broiled, these recipes from The new art of cookery, according to the present practice; being a complete guide to all housekeepers, on a plan entirely new ... , written by Richard Briggs, “many years cook at the Globe Tavern Fleet-Street, the White Hart Tavern, Holborn, and now at the Temple Coffee-House, London” will show you how to do it eighteenth century style.

To boil Mackarel.
Gut and wash the mackarel clean, take care of the liver and roe, and put it in the fish again; have a kettle of spring water boiling, put in some salt, put the fish on a drainer, and tie them across it with packthread, put them in and boil them; (if large half an hours, smaller twenty minutes) take them up, let them drain a moment, and put them in a dish; garnish with green fennel and scalded gooseberries, with fennel and butter and plain butter in boats.

To broil Mackarel.

Gut your mackarel and wash them clean, split them down the back, wipe them dry with a cloth, sprinkle some pepper and salt on them, with a little fennel, mint, and parsley chopped fine, flour them and broil them over a clear fire till they are brown; put them in a hot dish, and garnish with scalded gooseberries and fennel, with fennel and butter and plain butter in boats. You may broil them whole; gut and wash them very clean, chop some fennel mint and parsely fine, mix it with a piece of butter and a little pepper and salt, stuff the mackarel and wipe them with a cloth, flour them, and broil them gently for half an hour; put them in a hot dish, and garnish with scalded gooseberries and fennel, with plain butter in a boat.

Monday’s Story …

Upstairs in Mayfair.

This Day, Last Year

We found out about Diligrout.

Quotation for the Day …

Nothing can more effectually destroy the appetite, or disgrace the cook, than fish sent to table imperfectly cleaned. Handle it lightly, and never throw it roughly about, so as to bruise it. Eliza Acton, Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Centennial Mystery Cake.

Today, May 10th …

On this day in 1876 the Centennial Fair opened in Philadelphia. It was the first World Fair in the USA, and as its name suggests, it was held to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. And what is an anniversary without a cake?

There are lots of emphatic, but completely un-documented references to a 'Centennial Cake' produced especially for this event, a cake which the same emphatic references say is the ancestor of Shoo-Fly pie. It might seem strange to suggest a cake as an ancestor to a pie, but this is from a country that clearly confuses the two as shown by the existence of the famous Boston Cream Pie, which is unequivocally a cake. I await eagerly but with some trepidation for my American friends to chastise, ridicule, inform, enlighten or otherwise engage with me in the process of enlightenment on this issue.

In the search for the original Centennial Cake, the most likely candidates would surely come from cookbooks of the same era. There was one such, put together by the good ladies of the First Congregational Church in Marysville, Ohio in 1876 also in celebration of the Centennial of the country and called The Centennial Buckeye Cook Book. I may not know a Buckeye when I see one, but I do know that Ohio is across the border from Pennsyvania, which I also happen to know is the location of Philadelphia (my geographical knowledge has grown by leaps and bounds since starting this blog). This book therefore seemed a good place to start, and it does indeed have a Centennial Cake recipe. This is it, from the 1877 edition:

Centennial Cake.
Two cups pulverized sugar, one of butter rubbed to a light cream with the sugar, one of sweet milk, three of flour, half cup corn starch, four eggs, half pound chopped raisins, half a grated nutmeg and two tea-spoons baking-powder.

Which sounds like a fairly unexciting cake for such an special event, does it not?

In view of the cake/pie confusion alluded to above, I make no apologies for including this next recipe, which is unequivocally for a pie, from The Times Cook Book of 1905

Centennial Marlboro Pie.
One cup stewed apples, sifted; one cup cream or rich milk; one cup sugar, one-half teaspoon cinnamon, two eggs beaten stiff; put all together and bake in pie crust, same as for custard pie. When baked pile on top whites of two eggs well beaten, with one tablespoon sugar; return to oven and brown slightly.

It does not, however, sound at all like shoo-fly pie, does it?

I think I need help with this. Those of you “Over There” please consider sending in your own Centennial Cake recipes in, and we will try to make sense of it all. If anyone has the mythical ‘original’ recipe from the Centennial Fair, I will be most pleased.

Tomorrow’s Story ...

Any fruit with that?

This Day, Last Year …

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

Quotation for the Day …

Americans can eat garbage, provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup, mustard, chili sauce, Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, or any other condiment which destroys the original flavor of the dish. Henry Miller, American writer (1891-1980)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Nails for Coconuts.

Today, May 9th …

We are voyaging with Joseph Banks aboard the Endeavour again today. In May 1769 the ship was lying at anchor at ‘King George’s Island’, and Banks made a new discovery on this day:

“We have now got the Indian name of the Island, Otahite, so therefore for the future I shall call it.”

We left Banks a few days ago purchasing breadfruit. On this day, still ‘in distress for nescessaries’, he was negotiating for that other South Sea staple – coconuts.

“Cocoa nuts have been for some days rather scarce, we are therefore obligd for the first time to bring out our nails. Last night our smallest size about 4 inches long were offerd for 20 Cocoa nutts, accordingly this morn several came with that number so that we had plenty of them. Smaller lots as well as bread fruit sold as usual for beads. Soon after breakfast Came Oborea, Obadee and Tupia bringing a hog and some breadfruit; they stayd with us till night then took away their canoe and promisd to return in 3 days. We had to day 350 Cocoa nuts and more bread fruit than we would buy so that we aproach our former plenty.”

The word ‘coconut’ comes from the Spanish and Portuguese coco, referring to the grin or grimace suggested by the three holes at the base of the shell. Perhaps the early Europeans who ‘discovered’ it did not immediately appreciate its value or they may have given it a more serious name. The late Alan Davidson said of it that it is “the fruit of Cocos nucifera, the most useful tree in the world. It provides not only food and drink, but also vessels to serve them in and fuel to cook them, as well as textile fibre, thatching and basket materials, timber, medicines, chemicals, and many other valuable or useful products.’

As far as food goes, the coconut tree provides a number of completely different products. Coconut juice is the ‘water’ inside the shell, available as a refreshing drink without any further ado (so long as you have a machete), and which is not to be confused with coconut milk and cream (made by infusing and pounding the flesh in water). There is also coconut oil, coconut sugar (syrup and ‘honey’), a version of the alcoholic drink ‘toddy’, and of course the hard white flesh itself.

Dried and dessicated coconut is what we often reach for when we see a recipe containing coconut – it is often too much trouble, even if the whole coconuts are available, to chip and chop out the flesh from the shell. I don’t know when these products became widely available, but in many instances they are an abomination compared with the real thing. Often they are ‘sweetened’ – as if coconut was not already sweet enough! and with a list of additives that are so scary they have to be disguised with code numbers.

We can learn a thing or two from our Victorian ancestors. They used the real thing when it came to coconut. I know, I know - they had kitchen hacks to do the hard hacking, and if the dried sweetened additive-laden version had been available they would surely have used it …. Nevertheless these recipes are very worthy. Who said Victorian food was stodgy and unimaginative?

Cream Cocoa Nut Pudding
Grate a large cocoa nut fine. Stir together a quarter of a pound of butter, and a quarter of a pound of loaf sugar till quite light. Beat six eggs and mix them gradually with one pint of cream, or cream and milk mixed together; stir all together well. Put the mixture into a dish and bake it. Serve hot or cold with sifted sugar: this pudding may be baked in puff paste.
[The English cookery book, receipts collected by a committee of ladies, and ed. by J. H. Walsh 1859]

Cocoa-nut Macaroons.
Take a fresh cocoa-nut, grate it finely, and allow half a found of finely-sifted sugar and the whites of four eggs beaten to a firm froth to every quarter of a pound of cocoa-nut. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. Drop little balls of the paste upon a well-battered tin about two inches apart from one another. Bake in a moderate oven. When the macaroons are lightly browned all over they will be ready.
[Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, c1870]

Cocoa-Nut Soup.
Grate very finely the white of a fresh cocoa-nut, and simmer it gently for an hour in some good stock, allowing a quarter of a pound of cocoa-nut for every half gallon of stock. Strain the liquid, and thicken it with some ground rice; half a pound of ground rice will be enough for this quantity. Season it with a little salt and cayenne, and a small tea-spoonful of mace. Just before serving, draw it from the fire, and add a cupful of thick cream.
[Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, c1870]

Methinks this soup might be a worthy partner to the chocolate soup featured in a previous story. Perhaps both, poured artistically into the bowl together. Chocolate-Coconut Soup! Now there’s a cutting-edge, modern-sounding, innovative idea. Feel free to use it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Centennial Mystery Cake.

This Day, Last Year …

We learned about High Tea and Low Tea.

Quotation for the Day …

Half of the receipts in our cookbooks are mere murder to such constitutions and stomachs as we grow America, owing to our brighter skies and more fervid climate, we have developed an acute, nervous delicacy of temperament far more akin to that of France than of England. Catherine Beecher, 1846.