Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Eat Local, Eat Seasonal.

Today, May 1st …

There is nothing new under the sun, it seems. We regularly rediscover old ideas and by the process of re-branding, think they are new. The recent vogue for the ‘100 mile diet’ (that is, eating only what is grown within a hundred mile radius of one’s home) is only a new name for ‘eat local’, the corollary to which is ‘eat seasonal’. In Samuel Pepys’ day, eating local was the only option, other than eating food kept in storage or preserved (often long and indifferently) by drying, salting, smoking, or encased in a thick pastry crust. Sam had a real treat on this day in 1662.

“Sir G. Carteret, Sir W. Pen, and myself, with our clerks, set out this morning from Portsmouth very early, and got by noon to Petersfield; several officers of the Yard accompanying us so far. Here we dined and were merry. At dinner comes my Lord Carlingford from London, going to Portsmouth: tells us that the Duchess of York is brought to bed of a girl, at which I find nobody pleased; and that Prince Rupert and the Duke of Buckingham are sworn of the Privy Councell. He himself made a dish with eggs of the butter of the Sparagus, which is very fine meat, which I will practise hereafter.”

Sam's asparagus would certainly have been grown around Petersfield - as it still is, and ultimately May 1st would become the official start of the asparagus season in England (which lasted until June 21st or thereabouts).

Asparagus probably originated in Eurasia, was cultivated by the Ancient Egyptians and Romans, but perhaps not by the Greeks, and had been known in England for at least a hundred years before Sam’s meal. It had only recently become more easily available and fashionable however, which probably explains the dearth of recipes for it in cookbooks of Sam’s time.

I am intrigued and puzzled by Sam’s reference to the ‘butter of asparagus’. What did he mean by this? The best part (the tips), or a puree perhaps? Whatever it was, it seems that one of the natural partners of asparagus had already been determined in Sam’s day – eggs.

Asparagus is best eaten as close to au naturelle as possible, unless it be with eggs or butter or cream. This then must be the perfect recipe as it contains them all, and would not be out of place in a modern cookbook.

Asparagus, or Artichokes in Cream.
Take your large Asparagus, and cut them in Pieces, half an Inch long, as far as they are green; then stove them in clear strong Broth till crisp and tender; season them with Pepper, Salt, and Nutmeg and a little Onion; then toss them up thick with Yolks of Eggs beat up in a little white Wine and Cream, and some thick Butter, and so serve them, and garnish with Lemon.
You must do Artichokes the same Way, but boil the Bottoms tender, and then stove them in Gravy, and season them, and thicken them, and toss them up with Cream as you do Asparagus.
[Complete Practical Cook; Charles Carter, 1730]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Buns from Chelsea.

This Day, Last year …

The Story was called ‘Spring rites, Workers rights’

Quotation for the Day ….

Sparagrass eaten to Excess sharpen the Humours and heat a little; ...They cause a filthy and disagreeable Smell in the Urine, as every Body knows. Louis Lémery, 1702.


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Asparagus has an almost mystic quality -- maybe it's the intriquing shape of the spears, the purple highlights, and the very deep green color. Such an excellent rite of Spring. Glad to hear the fascination has continued through the centuries.

Sally said...

I've been eating wild asparagus for a week now. I wonder if the artichokes in this recipe are referring to what is known as Jerusalem Artichokes in my part of the world? This is the tuber of a wild sunflower-like plant. I can't imagine the artichoke which we eat today would be available to English cooks back then. Maybe I'm wrong.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Sally - the artichoke was indeed the 'real' artichoke - it was common and popular back then. Jerusalem Artichokes are a native of your own country; they were briefly popular in England as a novelty after their introduction in the early 17th century, but they quickly fell out of favour and were considered only suitable for animals or hungry peasants - although it seems they have become trendy again.