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.


Lapinbizarre said...

"THREE large nutmegs"! Brings to mind Marge Simpson's comment, while shopping at "Monstro Mart", "Ooh, that's a great price for twelve pounds of nutmeg".

The Old Foodie said...

I remember reading once that a lot of nutmegs sold in Europe and the States used to be lumps of wood, carved to look like nutmegs (and stored with some for a while to give them a vaguely nutmeggy scent). they were then sold to the poor ignorant consumer - who no doubt grated up a lot of them to try to get the flavour. I wonder how true/widespread that was?

Lapinbizarre said...

I've been pummelling my brain half the night trying to remember where I read the story about the late 18th c. British artist so mean that he & his wife stole nutmegs. Just remembered that it is in the slightly spotty, posthumous, E. David "Nutmeg" book. I use mace & nutmeg more than seems to be fashionable nowadays, tho' with care. Three large nutmegs - though how large was an early 19th c. nutmeg? - still seems to be pushing it.

The Old Foodie said...

Roger - that sounds like a great story. It does not ring any bells for me. If you do remember it, please let us know. Dont pummel the brain too hard!

Anonymous said...

It sounds more similar to escabeche, although all seem to share a root.