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

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