Friday, June 29, 2007

An Antipodean Dinner.

Today, June 29th

The new Deputy Adjutant General of the military forces in Australia, Godfrey Charles Mundy, arrived in Syndey in June 1846. He was no stranger to the expatriate life, having already served in India and Canada. One of his first formal dinners was at ‘Tarmons’, one of the stately homes on Potts Point, overlooking the harbour. He was clearly quite impressed:

I dined this day, 29th June, with my respected chief Sir Maurice O'Connell, at his beautiful villa, Tarmons … there were brisk coal fires burning in both dining and living room and … the general appliances of the household, the dress of the guests and servants were entirely as they could have been in London. The family likeness of an Australian and Old Country dinner party became less striking when I found myself sipping doubtfully, then swallowing with relish, a plate of wallabi tail soup, followed by a slice of boiled schnapper with oyster sauce. A roast of kangaroo venison helped to convince me … a delicate wing of the wonga-wonga pigeon and sauce, with a dessert of plantains and loquats, guavas and some oranges, pomegranates and cherimoyas landed my decision at length firmly in the Antipodes.

What to choose from that menu today? The Wonga (or Wonga-Wonga) Pigeon I think. Pigeon makes such an elegant dish. The Wonga Pigeon (Leucosarcia melanoleuca) is a large, lovely, plump pigeon native to the forests of the Eastern edge of Australia, and is apparently delicious eating.

I give you a recipe from “Mrs McLurcan”. Hannah Maclurcan was one of Australia’s first cookbook writers. Her book was first published in 1898, and one has to wonder how Australian-born nineteenth century housewives managed with the very English Mrs Beeton’s and Mrs Acton’s and Warne’s Everyday Cookery books that were available in the colony before that time.

Roast Wonga Pigeon.
Ingredients: 6 pigeons, ½ lb. butter, 2 cups breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, saltspoon cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt, juice of 3 lemons.
Mode: Pluck and clean the pigeons nicely, rub them over well with flour, pepper and salt them well, make a stuffing with half the butter, all of the breadcrumbs, chopped parsley and pepper and salt, divide it into six and equally stuff each bird. Then squeeze the lemons into a basin and beat up the butter with the juice until it is like a cream. Place the pigeonsin a baking tin and cover each one well with lemon and butter, place in a smart oven and bake ½-¾ of an hour. Baste them as often as you can. Serve at once with watercress (if obtainable).

Monday’s Story …

Rice Pudding Again.

Quotation for the Day …

Poultry is for the cook what canvas is for the painter. Brillat-Savarin.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Recipe for Mum.

Today, June 28th

Samuel Pepys enjoyed a trendy seventeenth century drink on this day in 1664:

“…thence with my uncle Wight to the Mum house; and there drinking, he doth complain of his wife most cruelly, as the most troublesome woman in the world…”

The specialty at the Mum house was – Mum. Mum was a type of beer originally made in Braunschweig (Brunswick) in Germany. At first it was made entirely from wheat malt, although at later times barley malt was also used. It was strong, flavoured with hops and various herbs, and aged for a couple of years before being unleashed on the public. Mum was popular in Pepys’ time, partly on account of its supposed medicinal benefits (an old beer-drinkers excuse). It was supposedly “wholsom for Melancholy Flegmatic People, and for those whose Food is coarse Bread and Cheese, Flower'd [i.e floured] Milk, Herbs and lean Potages, …” as well as being “very great in the Gravel, and against inward Bruises”.

Naturally, whatever the Germans could do, the English tried to do better, and recipes for Mum soon started appearing in English cookbooks. There were often comments about its not particularly pleasant flavour (probably necessary in order to claim medicinal benefit?) – perhaps on account of the birch and fir tops. Maybe that is why old cookbooks also had recipes for bottled sauces using old Mum as an ingredient?

To make Mum.
Take thirty-two gallons of Water, boil it till a third part is waster, brew it according to Art, with three Bushels and a half of Malt, half a Bushel of ground Beans, and half a Bushel of Oat-meal; when you put it into your Cask, do not fill it too full, and when it begins to work, put in a Pound and a half of the inner Rind of Fir, half a Pound of the tops of Fir and Birch, (instead of the inward Rind and tops of Fir, our English Mum-makers use Cardamums, Sassafras and Ginger, the Rind of Walnut-tree, Elecampane-root, and red Sanders; others add Alexander Water-cresses, Brook-lime, and Horse-radish Root rasp’d) Avens, Beton, Burnet, Marjoram, Mother of Thyme, Penny-royal, of each a small Handful, Elder-flowers a Handful, of Rosa Solis a handful, of Carduus Benedictus a handful and a half, of Barberries bruis’d half an Ounce, of Cardamums bruis’d an Ounce and a half; these Ingredients are to be put in when the Liquor has wrought a while, and after they are let it, let it work over the Vessel as little as may be; when it has done working, fill up the Cask, and put into it five new laid Eggs, not broken nor crack’d, stop it close, and it will be fit to drink in two Years.
[Cook and Confectioners Dictionary; John Nott 1724]

To make Mum Catchup.
To a quart of old mum put four ounces of anchovies, of mace and nutmegs sliced one ounce, of cloves and black pepper half an ounce. Boil it till it is reduced one third. When cold, bottle for use.
[The Experienced English Housekeeper; Elizabeth Raffald, 1769]

Tomorrow’s Story …

An Antipodean Dinner.

Quotation for the Day …

Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer. Dave Barry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A pot of the best tea.

Today, June 27th

The first known reference to tea by an Englishman appeared in a letter dated this day in 1615. An East India agent, R.L. Wickham in Japan wrote to his colleague Mr Eaton in Macao requesting “I pray you to buy for me a pot of the best chaw.” His “chaw” was an attempt at the Chinese ch’a - which persists in the very English reference to a cup of tea as a ‘cuppa char’, and in the currently-fashionable-again spiced‘chai’.

The Chinese had been drinking tea for many hundreds of years by then of course. The idea filtered into Japan in the early ninth century, but it remained a Far Eastern secret until the mid-sixteenth century. The first European to taste tea and write about it was a Portuguese Jesuit missionary, Father Jasper de Cruz in 1560. The exotic medicinal drink took another hundred years before – in today’s parlance – it began to achieve significant market penetration. It was not offered for sale to the public in England until 1657, when it was advertised as being “wholesome, preserving perfect health until extreme old age, good for clearing the sight,” and able to cure "gripping of the guts, cold, dropsies, scurveys" as well as making the body “active and lusty.” Samuel Pepys had his first taste of the “China drink” in 1660, but by 1667 he was able to write of his wife making it at home – again, for medicinal reasons, her apothecary advising her it was good for her “cold and defluxions.”

Tea is, in my humble opinion, still wonderfully therapeutic on its own, but sometimes it is necessary to take a little sugar to make the medicine go down. This is, I am confident, the reason why so many Tea Cake recipes were invented – this seems to have happened somewhere in the first half of the nineteenth century. The phrase covers a wide variety of treats today, but originally a tea-cake was “a light kind of flat cake to be eaten at tea”. Sometimes these were in the nature of a sweet yeast bun, sometimes more like a scone or a small cake, using baking powder as leavening agent. I give you one of each type, from the Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillipronie (1909).

Sultana Tea-cakes (Mrs Emslie, 1897)
Baked in ribbed quenelle moulds.
¼ lb. butter, ¼ lb. sugar ¼ lb. flour, 2 oz sultanas, 2 eggs, a little candied peel, and baking powder [she does not specify the amount].
Mix the same as for a cake; bake in small ribbed quenelle moulds. When they are done, cover them with icing of sugar and water, and put them on a wire sieve to dry.

Watford Cakes.
1 lb. flour, 3 oz. white sugar, 3 oz. butter, 1 oz. German yeast, ¾ lb. sultanas, a little mixed candied peel and spices, 2 eggs.
Mix with warm milk; will take about 2 hours to rise. Bake.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Recipe for Mum.

Quotation for the Day …

The British have an umbilical cord which has never been cut and through which tea flows constantly. It is curious to watch them in times of sudden horror, tragedy or disaster. The pulse stops apparently, and nothing can be done, and no move made, until "a nice cup of tea" is quickly made. There is no question that it brings solace and does steady the mind. What a pity all countries are not so tea-conscious. World-peace conferences would run more smoothly if "a nice cup of tea", or indeed, a samovar were available at the proper time. Marlene Dietrich

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Recipes from Scutari.

Today, June 26th

Alexis Soyer was a famous French-born chef in Victorian England who cooked for aristocrats and gentlemens clubs, and achieved celebrity status in his own time. He was also famous for his philanthropic works in Ireland during the potato famine, and in the Crimea during the war of 1854-6.

Soyer volunteered to go to the Crimea at his own expense, to assist in the task of provisioning the troops at the front line. He worked alongside Florence Nightingale, with whom he had corresponded, in the hospital at Scutari, helping her to improve the feeding and hence the health, of the injured soldiers there. While he was in the Crimea, Soyer kept up a steady stream of letters to the editors of The Times, and these were published regularly, along with many of his recipes.

Here is an extract for his letter published on this day in 1855.

To the Editor of the Times,

Sir,- I herewith beg to forward you some of the most important receipts which I have concocted out of the soldiers’ rations, and which are now adopted in various parts of the camp, and will no doubt shortly be extended to every regiment in the Crimea, having had them printed for circulation throughout the army. Some of the receipts were printed at head-quarters and issued for distribution. The reason for my return to Scutari for a short time is to place a civilian cook who understands his business in each hospital, which cannot fail to be beneficial to the patients, and by a due organisation in those departments economy will in the end be effected.

I brought with me from head-quarters 12 complete rations as given daily to the troops, and with these provisions I am now teaching ten of those very willing fellows who were originally engaged as cooks in the hospitals the plain way of camp cookery, and, instead of being almost useless, as they were, in so important a branch, they will now turn out, if not the bravest in the army, at least the most wonderful, being able to face both fire and battery when requisite.

With the highest consideration, I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient servant,


Barrack Hospital, Scutari,

(Receipt No. 1) Stewed Salt Beef And Pork A La Omar Pasha
Put into a canteen saucepan about 2lb of well soaked beef, cut in eight pieces; ½lb of salt pork, divided in two, and also soaked; ½lb of rice, or six tablespoonsful; ½lb of onions, or four middle-sized ones, peeled and sliced; 2oz of brown sugar, or one large tablespoonful; ¼oz of pepper, and five pints of water; simmer gently for three hours, remove the fat from the top and serve. The first time I made the above was in Sir John Campbell’s soup kitchen, situated on the top of his rocky cavern, facing Sebastopol, near Cathcart’s-hill, and among the distinguished pupils I had upon the occasion were Colonel Wyndham, Sir John Campbell, and Dr Hall, Inspector-General of the Army in the Crimea, and other officers. This dish was much approved at dinner, and is enough for six people, and if the receipt be closely followed you cannot fail to have an excellent food. The London salt meat will only require a four hours soaking, having been only lightly pickled.

(Receipt No. 7) Cossacks’ Plum Pudding
Put into a basin 1lb of flour, ¾lb of raisins (stoned, if time be allowed), ¾lb of the fat of salt pork (well washed, cut into small dies, or chopped), two tablespoonsful of sugar or treacle; add a half pint of water; mix all together; put into a cloth tied tightly; boil for four hours, and serve. If time will not admit, boil only two hours, though four are preferable. How to spoil the above:- Add anything to it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A pot of the best tea.

Quotation for the Day …

An old-fashioned vegetable soup, without any enhancement, is a more powerful anti carcinogen than any known medicine. James Duke M.D.(U.S.D.A.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Fork Food.

Today, June 25th

It is said that the first fork to arrive in America made its entry on this day, as part of the goods carried by Gov. John Winthrop to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was a single fork, not a set, and was carefully carried in its own leather case. A mini-timeline is in order to put this event into perspective.

11th century: It appears that the Greeks may in fact have been the first to use forks, if the story of the bride of Domenico Selvo, Doge of Venice, is true. The Greek princess was so refined she had a eunuch to cut her food into small pieces which she then proceeded to eat with a golden fork. This was considered to be so decadent and delicate that her death a short while later was seen as evidence of Divine Retribution.

1364 - 80: Charles V of France had several forks amongst his household treasures – but they were only to be used for foods which would otherwise stain the hands . It is not noted whether or not this was considered decadent.

1533: Oft-repeated history says that Catherine de Médici of Italy took forks to France when she married Henry II of France (but if we are certain that Charles V already had them nearly a century before, then they must already have been in France?) It does seem that it was the Italians who first used the fork regularly and popularised its use throughout Europe.

1611: An English traveller, Thomas Coryat, observed the use of forks in Italy, and thought the idea so good he took up their use on his return, for which he was soundly ridiculed.

It was not until well into the eighteenth century that forks became common-place, but a slow start was compensated for by the Victorians in the nineteenth century. Their love of dining table knick-knackery meant that special forks (and other utensils) were designed for specific foods: bacon forks, lettuce forks, asparagus forks, strawberry forks, sardine forks, oyster forks …. You get the idea.

Until there were forks, there were no fork luncheons of course, so may of the little recipes in For Luncheon and Supper Guests by Alice Bradley (1912) would have had to have been eaten very inelegantly with spoons or fingers. Alice’s book says that they are “Suitable For Company Luncheons Sunday Night Suppers, Afternoon Parties Automobile Picnics, Evening Spreads And For Tea Rooms, Lunch Rooms Coffee Shops, And Motor Inns.” I just worry that she didn’t specify which fork to use for which dish. I don’t think there was an egg fork (please correct me if I am wrong), so perhaps the bacon fork would do for this one.

Creamed Eggs And Mushrooms With Bacon Curls.
Put 6 eggs in top of double boiler. Cover with hot water, bring to boiling point, place over boiling water or on back of range and let stand 60 minutes. Remove shells and cut eggs in eighths lengthwise.
Remove skins and stems from ½ pound mushroom caps and cut in slices lengthwise.
Cover stems and skins with 1 ½ cups cold water, heat slowly to boiling point, simmer gently 20 minutes and strain.
Melt ⅓ cup butter, add ⅓ cup flour mixed with ¾ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. When smooth add stock strained from mushroom skins, with enough top milk or thin cream to make 3 cups. Stir until sauce boils.
Sauté mushroom caps in 1 tablespoon butter for 3 minutes. Add to sauce with the hard cooked eggs. When thoroughly heated turn out on a platter and arrange bacon curls over the top.
4 small cooked potatoes cut in pieces or 1 cup cooked macaroni or 1 small can asparagus cut in pieces may be used instead of mushrooms.

Bacon Curls.
Place thin strips of bacon on a board and with a broad-bladed knife press strips out as thin as possible. Roll each slice into a curl and fasten with a wooden toothpick. Cook until crisp and delicately brown in hot bacon fat deep enough to cover the curls of bacon. Drain on brown paper and remove toothpicks.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Recipes from Scutari.

Quotation for the Day …

The Italian and also most strangers that are commorant in Italy, do alwayes at their meales use forke when they cut their meat for while with their knife which they hold in one hand they cut the meate out of the dish, they fasten their forke, which they hold in their other hand, upon the same dish; so that whosoever he be that sitting in the company of any others at meale, should unadvisedly touch the dish of meate with his fingers which all at the table doe cut, he will give occasion of offence unto his company, as having transgressed the lawes of good manners, insomuch that for his error he shall least be brow beaten if not reprehended in wordes. This form of feeding I understand is generally used in all places of Italy; their forkes being for the most part of yron or steele, and some of silver, but those are used only by gentlemen. The reason of this their curiousity is, because the Italian cannot by any means indure to have his dish touched with fingers, seeing all men's fingers are not alike cleane. Thomas Coryat, 1611.

Friday, June 22, 2007

May Harrods Suggest … ?

Today, June 22
nd ...

Once upon a time, Harrods of London ran a series of newspaper advertisements in which they gave suggested menus for the day. Naturally, the ingredients could all be sourced at Harrods. I give you the menu for this day in 1914. Check out those prices, and weep. Don’t weep too hard over the canned peaches. Weep very hard over the champagne.


May Harrod’s Submit This Menu?
Hors d’œvres.
Prawn and Olive Salad
(Prawns 1s. and 2s. a doz. in Fish Dept;
Olive, 11d. a bottle, Grocery Dept)
Clear Mock Turtle Soup.
Grilled Soles with Anchovy Butter.
(Soles, 2s. a lb. in Fish Dept; Anchovy
Paste, 9 ½ d. a pot in Grocery Dept.)
Roast Gosling. Apple Sauce.
Green Peas. New Potatoes.
(Gosling, 6s. 6d. each, Poultry Dept; Green Peas,
1s. a peck; New Potatoes, 10lbs a 1s. Veg. Dept)
Pêches à la Royale.
(Lemon Cling Peaches, 1s. 3d.
a tin, in Grocery Dept.)
(7s. 7d. in Wine Dept.)
And with it
Harrods advise
A glass or so of Champagne
Eugene Laroche
Grand Imperial, extra dry, 5s. 5d.
A bottle, vintage 1906.

The ingredients will cost you more today, but here are a couple of recipes to fit this menu, from Soyer's Standard Cookery, 1912.

Anchovy Butter.
Take the bones from six anchovies, wash the fillets and dry them upon a cloth, pound them well in a mortar; add six ounces of fresh butter, mix well together, and proceed as in the last.

White Mock-Turtle Soup.
Procure half a calf's head, (scalded, not skinned), bone it, then cut up a knuckle of veal, which put into a stewpan, well buttered at the bottom, with half a pound of lean ham, an ounce of salt, a carrot, a turnip, three onions, a head of celery, a leek, a bunch of parsley and a bay-leaf, add half a pint of water; set it upon the fire, moving it round occasionally, until the bottom of the stewpan is covered with a white glaze; then add six quarts of water, and put in the half head, let simmer gently for two hours and a half, or until the head is tender, then take it out, and press it between two dishes, and pass the stock through a hair sieve into a bowl; then in another stew-pan have a quarter of a pound of butter, with a sprig of thyme, basil, marjoram and bay-leaf, let the butter get quite hot, then add six ounces of flour to form a roux, stir over a sharp fire a few minutes, keeping it quite white; stand it off the fire to cool, then add the stock, stir over the fire until boiling, then stand it at the corner, skim off all the fat, and pass it through a hair sieve into another stewpan; cut the head into pieces an inch square, but not too thick, and put them into the soup, which season with a little cayenne pepper; when the pieces are hot, add a gill of cream and pour it into your tureen.
The above quantity would make two tureens of soup, and will keep good several days, but of course half the quantity could be made.

On this Topic ...

A recipe for Mock Turtle Soup, assembled from very convenient canned ingredients, is HERE.

A recipe for Mock Mock Turtle Soup (the name is not a typo!) is HERE.

Monday’s Story …

First Fork.

Quotation for the Day …

If the soup had been as warm as the wine, if the wine had been as old as the turkey, if the Turkey had had a breast like the maid, it would have been a swell dinner. Duncan Hines.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Solstice Syrups.

Today, June 21st

This day is the Solstice – the day the sun seems to stand still. In the Northern Hemisphere it is the Summer Solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year, and in the Southern Hemisphere it is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night. Since very very ancient times these celestial marks of the turn of the seasons have been celebrated all over the world, and the celebrations have been adapted and appropriated to varying cultures and religions. The classic example is the adoption of the Northern Winter Solstice customs to the Christmas season, so that we now do not associate fires and fruit cake with the movement of the sun at all (and they have an uncomfortable fit at Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere where it is Summer).

It seems to me – us now being global citizens and all – that the celebration of the Solstices is worthy of reviving. Not in the sense of religious worship, but in the sense of acknowledgement of this wonderful planet and the cycle of the seasons. A twice-yearly, truly global, non-sectarian celebration. Does the world need that? Would it be fun?

I would love to hear your own solstice celebration ideas.

Last year I gave you some ‘Snow’ recipes to represent the Winter Solstice here in the Southern hemisphere. This time I give you some recipes inspired by the Summer Solstice, which those of you in the Northern half of the globe are celebrating.

I have chosen some fruit syrups or cordials which may be used to make refreshing drinks. It may be that we will all need more cooling beverages in the future, if we cannot solve the problem of global warming. In the meanwhile, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere and feeling chilly, make the drinks anyway, and add a nip of the warming draft of your choice.

The recipes are from Cassells Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s), and appear under the heading Summer Beverages.

Quince Syrup.
Grate quinces, pass the pulp through a sieve, then set it before the fire for the juice to settle and clarify; strain and add a pound of sugar (boiled down) to every four ounces of juice; remove from the fire , and when cold bottle for use. A table-spoon of this syrup will flavour a pint of water.

Rasberry Vinegar [syrup]
This is made by squeezing the juice of three quarts of raspberries into a quart of vinegar, and then simmering the vinegar for about a quarter of an hour with two pounds of sugar in an earthen pipkin not glazed with lead. When cold it is to be corked; and a small spoonful of water makes it a very cooling and refreshing drink.

Lemon Syrup.
Boil six ounces of sugar in a pint of water until it is dissolved. Let it cool, then add a quarter of a pint of lemon-juice and half a drachm of essence of lemon. Mix thoroughly, and bottle for use. Sufficient: two tablespoonfuls of syrup to a tumblerful of cold water.

If your solstice celebrations demand cake, I offer you my recipe for Summer Solstice Cake (originally made for the Southern Hemisphere Christmas).

Tomorrow's Story ...

May Harrods Suggest … ?

Quotation for the Day …

The right food always comes at the right time. Reliance on out-of-season foods makes the gastronomic year an endlessly boring repetition. Roy Andries de Groot.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Potage Jubilé

Today, June 20th

The young Queen Victoria ascended to the throne on this day in 1837, and it proved to be the first day of an extraordinarily long reign. Victoria occupied the throne of England for sixty-three years and seven months, which meant that she celebrated three jubilees: Silver Jubilee in 1862, Golden Jubilee in 1887, and her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

The word “jubilee” has a Jewish heritage, and comes from the name of a ram’s horn used as a trumpet. The the word “jubilant” obviously comes from the same root, and would have aptly described the mood of Her Majesties subjects had she fulfilled the obligations required under the original definition of the word “jubilee”. The OED gives this as:

“A year of emancipation and restoration, which according to the institution in Lev. xxv was to be kept every fifty years, and to be proclaimed by the blast of trumpets throughout the land; during it the fields were to be left uncultivated, Hebrew slaves were to be set free, and lands and houses in the open country or unwalled towns that had been sold were to revert to their former owners or their heirs.”

It is doubtful if much emancipation and property restoration happened anywhere in Her Empire during any of Her Jubilees, but there is no doubt that may dishes bear the name “jubilee’. Not all were invented for Her special days of course, many organisations and individuals have celebrated their 50th anniversaries with a new dish. The famous Escoffier gives a recipe for Potage Jubilé and it seems likely that it might have been in Victoria’s honour. It is a very elegant take on pea soup, and here it is.

Potage Jubilé (Pea soup with quenelles of chicken)

1. Purée de pois frais.
This can be made in two ways:
(i)2 lb garden peas, white stock.
Cook the peas quickly in boiling salted water, strain and rub the peas through a fine sieve. Return the purée to the pan and add some white stock.
In this way the purée has a good colour.
(ii)2 lb garden peas, 3 oz. butter, 1 small lettuce, pinch sugar, 2 spring onions, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ pint water.
Put all the ingredients together and cook until the peas are tender. Rub through a fine sieve. Return the purée to the pan, add some white stock and bring to boiling point.
In this way, the purée is less bright in colour but has a more delicate flavour.
In both cases add 2-3 oz butter before serving and a little chopped chervil or mint.

2. Fine forcemeat of chicken with cream.
1 lb boned young chicken, 1 level teaspoon salt, very small pinch white pepper, 2 egg whites, 1 – 1 ¼ pints fresh thick cream.
Pound chicken in a mortar with seasoning. Add the egg-whites slowly then rub through a fine sieve. Put into a flat dish and leave on ice for at least 1 hour. Then stir in the cream very gently and keep on ice until required for use.

Preparation of Quenelles.
These are shaped in a spoon or ladle, in various sizes, put into a buttered fireproof dish and carefully covered with boiling white stock or simply with salted boiling water. Cover the dish and allow the quenelles to poach ofr 10-12 minutes on the corner of the stove. Above all, do not let the liquid boil, the quenelles should poach very gently.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Solstice Syrups.

Quotation for the Day …

Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living. For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish. Louis P. De Gouy, The Soup Book (1949)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

To Feed a Butt of Beer.

Today, June 19th

According to the French Revolutionary Calendar, what we now call June 19th (or sometimes the 20th) was the first day of the month of Messidor. Messidor was the tenth month of the year, and the first month of the Summer quarter. The name comes from the Latin word messis, meaning ‘harvest’.

The French Revolutionary Calendar was the official calendar over three periods of time: it was initially adopted on October 24th 1793 (but made retrospective from September 22nd – although how a calendar is made retrospective I have no idea.) It lasted until Napoleon Bonaparte restored the conventional (Gregorian) calendar on January 1st 1806. It was briefly reinstated for two brief periods during the Revolution of 1848 and the Paris Commune in 1871 before it fell into oblivion- apart from in the hearts and minds of a few enthusiasts who apparently still dote on it for historic, sentimental, or philosophical reasons. The fact is, the calendar never worked very well for a number of reasons – and one particular bone of contention with the workers was that they still only got one day off a week – and the ‘week’ was 10 days long.

The days of the calendar were named after agricultural plants, apart from the 5th (named after a domestic animal) and the 10th (named after an agricultural tool). The leftover days at the end of the year to bring the start back to the autumn equinox were called the Sansculottides (which refers to "those without trousers". There is a logical explanation for this name, but the ones provided by your own imagination will no doubt be much more amusing.

The first (Primidi) of Messidor was called Seigle (Rye), so this is the topic today.

Rye probably originated in North East Europe or South West Asia (or both, of course). Originally, say the experts, it was a weed in the wheat crop. It grew better than the wheat in many areas, particularly the colder ones, and eventually farmers gave up trying to separate the two, and harvested the fields as they were. The combined crop was called “maslin”, from an old French word meaning “mixed” - and the word lives on in our word for mixed salad greens - “mesclun”. Maslin bread was the common bread of the common folk for centuries, fine white wheat bread being only affordable for the well-to-do. Wheat is high in gluten, which is what gives bread its characteristic texture and structure; rye is low in gluten, so bread made solely with rye is very dense indeed, although it may be tasty.

In order to make bread, dough must be fermented by the addition of yeast, either deliberately or serendipitously from the air. The other great fermentation product of grain of course is alcohol, and the world has a goodly selection of these made from rye. What you can do, if you make your own rye bread, is to make an extra batch of extra-nutmeggy flavour, and use it to make beer, as Mrs. Taylor shows:

To feed a Butt of Beer.
Bake a rye loaf, of two-pence price, with a pretty deal of nutmeg in it; then cut it in pieces, and put it in a bag of hops with some wheat, and put them altogether in your cask.
[Mrs.. Mrs. Taylor's family companion; or the whole art of cookery display'd, in the newest and most easy method, being a collection of receipts …. London; circa 1795]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Potage Jubilé.
Quotation for the Day …

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Benjamin Franklin

Monday, June 18, 2007

Retro Cake Challenge No. V

T. B Barritt has done it again. Retro Cake number 5 is a Coca-Cola Cake. If you have fond memories of the '70's go to "Coca-Cola Cake and a Smile from 1971" and get a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling.

If you have missed Retro Cakes Nos. I-IV, go HERE and see them all. You'll be glad you did.

Turtle Season.

Today, June 18th

The Corporation of the City of London held a banquet on this day in 1814 for the “Allied Sovereigns” – the Prince Regent (later George IV), The Emperor of Russia (Tsar Alexander I), and the King of Prussia (Friedrich Wilhelm III). Seven hundred guests sat down to a dinner “as sumptuous as expense or skill could make it ….”.

It was more than an excuse for a good nosh-up of course:

“This, indeed, and similar occurrences, are not to be considered as mere festive parties; they are, when connected with their causes and consequences, political events of no small moment, the memory of which will remain so long as the present generation exists, and the record of them will form a part of the history of the unions of the Empire which the Sovereigns respectively are born to govern.”

Unfortunately, the record of this occasion of dinner-table diplomacy does not include the complete details of the menu - or if it did they have so far eluded me - but it did include mention of one essential dish for such events:

“Samuel Truner, Esq., one of the Directors of the Bank of England. Very handsomely presented a fine Turtle for the occasion, which was the first imported in the season, and arrived in time to be served .. ”

Turtle, particularly in the form of soup, became an indispensible and inevitable part of every important dinner - public or private or state - by the nineteenth century. So unthinkable was it to have a dinner without it, that it was preferrable (and quite proper) to have Mock Turtle Soup rather than No Turtle Soup. As turtle became more scarce, the substitute became more common, accumulating status in its own right until it became the norm.

Before their inevitable near-extinction by eating, how did one prepare a turtle for ones Royal Guests? This is how:

The following receipt for dressing a Turtle, having been much enquired after, was received from a cook in the Indies, where they are dressed in the utmost perfection.
Cut off the head first, and hang the turtle by one of the hindmost fins, that the blood may run from it to make the fish white. This done, cut off the fins & wash them clean; then cut off the belly shell well with meat, take out the guts and wash them very clean, and observe you turn them the right way or you will meet with a great deal of trouble. Stew the guts with a quart or three pints of the best Madeira wine, infuse half a dram of coyn* butter. Then having boiled the four fins, & taken the scales off, stew them with the guts on the belly part, which is called the collop. Take all sorts of the best sweet herbs, cut and shred them very small, and strew them over the collop. Put pieces of the best best butter, one bottle of the best Madeira wine, and a dram and a half of pepper, or coyn butter over it. Take great care it is not over baked. You may cut off collops and dress them as veal cutlets. Send your guts up in the top shell, and set it at the upper end of the table, the collops in the middle, and at the lower end, which garnish with the four fins.
This is the most proper way of dressing this fish, in any part of the Indies, or in England, approved by the best and most experienced cooks who undertake to dress them.
[From: The British Jewel, or complete housewife’s best companion … (1776)]

*coyn: an obsolete word for quince.

[Be patient – there will be more on Mock Turtle Soup on Friday.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

To Feed a Butt of Beer.

Quotation for the Day …

I have always been punctual at the hour of dinner, for I know that all those whom I kept waiting at that provoking interval would employ those unpleasant moments to sum up my faults. Nicolas Boileau (1636-1711)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bloomsday Breakfast Recipes (2)

Tomorrow, the 16th of June is Bloomsday, an Irish holiday to celebrate the life of the writer James Joyce. All of the 'action' of James' novel Ulysses takes place on June 16th 1904, and the chief protagonist is Mr Leopold Bloom.

"Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine."

Last year I gave you a recipe for one of Bloom's favourite dishes - fried kidney ( and I have repeated it below for the sake of completeness), so today I give you recipes for some of his other favourite dishes, so you can have yourself a Bloomsday breakfast or dinner.

Heart, Calf’s [Roast]
Wash the heart very clean, soak it in vinegar and water, fill it with a forcemeat made of four ounces of crumb of bread, two ounces of butter, two table-spoonfuls of chopped parsley, half a tea-spoonful of finely-minced lemon rind, and a little salt and cayenne. Fasten the heart securely and roast before a clear fire for an hour and a half to two hours. Serve it with goodmelted butter mixed with a table-spoonful of lemon juice or vinegar. A calf’s head is improved by partially boiling it before it is roasted.

[Cassell’s “Dictionary of Cookery” (1870’s)]

Liver, Fried.
Cut one pound of liver into slices, a quarter of an inch in thickness, and dredge some flour over them. Take an equal number of slices of bacon, fat and lean together. Fry the bacon first, and when it is done enough, draw the rashers from the fat, and place them on a hot dish. Fry the slices of liver in the same fat, and when lightly browned on both sides, dish bacon and liver in a circle, a slice of each alternately. Pour the fat from the pan, and dredge a little flour into it. Add a quarter of a pint of broth, a little salt and pepper, and a table-spoonful of mushroom ketchup. Stir smoothly together until the sauce boils, and pour it into the dish with the liver. Garnish with sliced lemon. If liked, a table-spoonful of finely-minced gherkins or pickled walnuts may be added to the sauce.
[Cassell’s “Dictionary of Cookery” (1870’s)]

Giblet Soup.
Stew the giblets (i.e head, neck, feet, gizzard, liver, heart, &c., “all the parts of a goose that are left behind when it goes to the spit to be roasted”), in 3 pints of water, and cook until the gizzard is tender, by which time all the other parts are sure to be well done; a little thyme should be used to flavour, and salt and pepper to season; strain the liquor, and when it is cold remove all fat and grease. Cut up the cold giblets into small pieces ready to add to the soup when required.
Beef stock must be added to the giblet stock, in quantitu according to the number of diners; the beef stock to be of course flavoured with vegetables, onion, &c. Add the minced giblets to the combined stocks. Heat well, and serve as hot as possible.
Have ready some light and delicate suet and flour dumplings, the size of a large walnut, well boiled and tender, to be served in the soup; allow 2 or more for each person.
Add the freshly made dumplings to the soup when it is in the tureen.

[The Cookery Book of Lady Clarke of Tillipronie; 1909]

Kidney Fritters.
Make a batter with four well-beaten eggs, mixed with half a pint of new milk, and flavoured with a little pepper, salt, and pounded mace. Stir into this a teaspoonful each of finely shredded chives, parsley and mushrooms, and a table-spoonful of the remains of a cold veal kidney finely minced, and mixed with half its weight of fat. Beat together for two or three minutes, then melt an ounce of butter in the frying pan, pour in the mixture, and stir it until it is set. When it is browned on one side, turn it on a hot dish, hold a salamander or red-hot shovel over it for a minute or two to colour it on the other, and serve immediately.

[Cassell’s “Dictionary of Cookery” (1870’s)]

Of course, any potato dish would be suitable for an Irish day; there are plenty to chose from in the Fun with Potatoes archive.

I am on the hunt now for an appropriate recipe for cod roe ....

Calf’s Head and Pig’s Face.

Today, June 15th

“We had for Dinner boiled Calfs Head and Pigs face, a Piece of rost Beef and a Gooseberry Pudding’.

The English Parson James Woodforde recorded his dinner, as he often did, in his diary on this day in 1792. Most of us would have passed on the animal faces and gone for its rump, if we were time-travelled back to this meal, I suspect. Our modern sensibilities prefer that the parts of the beast that might smile back at us (and require a lot of fiddly preparation) be served up in anonymously in sausages or meat pies (you didn’t think all those snouts and ears and smiles were just sent for dog meat, did you?).

In the good Parson’s day, when a beast was killed, it was eaten nose to tail without qualms. The parson had expressed some distaste for cow’s udder when he was served it at Oxford in 1763, but perhaps that was a reflection on the College cooks as it appeared on his own table regularly over the next three decades.

Often, as on this day, the Calf’s and Pig’s heads were simply boiled, but there were other ways of presenting these delicacies. Hannah Glasse in her Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) gives recipes for many parts of the pig and cow that are spirited away to be turned into a ‘product’ today, and do not reach the butchers’ shops. She gives several recipes for Calf’s Head – boiled, baked and hashed (two versions), and in a very elegant pie. In the pie recipe she also answers the question you were all afraid to ask: “What about the Eyes?”

To make a Calf’s Head Pye.
Cleanse your head very well, and boil it till it is tender, then carefully take off the Flesh as whole as you can, take out the Eyes and slice the Tongue; make a good Puff-paste Crust, cover the Dish, lay in your Meat, throw over it the Tongue, lay the Eyes cut in two, at each Corner; season it with a very little Pepper and Salt, pour in half a pint of the Liquor it was boiled in, lay a thin Top-Crust on, and bake it in an Hour in a quick Oven. In the mean time boil the Bones of the Head in two Quarts of the Liquor, with two or three Blades of Mace, Half a Quarter of an Ounce of whole Pepper, a large Onion, and a Bundle of Sweet Herbs. Let it boil till there is about a Pint, then strain it off, and add two Spoonfuls of Catchup, three of Red Wine, a Piece of Butter, as big as a Walnut, rolled in Flour, Half an Ounce of Truffles and Morels; season with Salt to your Palate; boil it and have Half the Brains boiled with some Sage, beat them, and twelve Leaves of Sage chopped fine; Stir all together, and give it a boil; take the other Part of the Brains, and beat them up with some of the Sage chopped fine, a little Lemon-peel minced fine, and half a small Nutmeg grated. Beat it up with an Egg, and fry it in little Cakes of a fine Light brown, boil six Eggs hard, take only the Yolks; when your Pye comes out of the Oven, take off the Lid, lay the Eggs and Cakes over it, and pour the Sauce all over. Send it to Table hot without the Lid. This is a fine Dish, you may put in as many fine Things as you please, but it wants no more Addition.

Monday’s Story …

Turtle Season.

Quotation for the Day …

There are few articles of cookery more generally liked than relishing pies, if properly made. Mrs Rundell, in A New System of Domestic Cookery (1806)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Fourteenth Guest.

Today, June 14th

Lieut.-Col. Nathanial Newnham-Davis was probably one of England’s first restaurant reviewers. If he were alive today he would no doubt be blogging his experiences, but in the late nineteenth century his only options were to write for newspapers, or publish a book. He did both. His articles frequently appeared in The Times, and he published books called The gourmet's guide to London, and The Gourmet's Guide to Europe.

On this day in 1899, he received a dinner invitation ‘with a tinge of mystery’. He was to dine ‘at one of the cheapest but most amusing places in town’, at a venue for which an introduction was required, where the conversation would be in French, and he was sworn to secrecy as to its whereabouts. It doesn’t sound like a commercially viable idea for a restaurant, does it? After walking through a labyrinth of streets in an unpretentious locality, they entered (via a wine-shop) what was clearly a private apartment, presided over by “Madame” (there is no suggestion that she was A Madam however, in spite of the secretive nature of the evening).

The meal began with a soup and continued with the boiled beef, whereupon “the lady in green” (unlucky colour, that) “made the terrible discovery that we were thirteen at table”. Madame was prevailed upon to sit down (she had been “hovering” and superintending the food, it seems) until a couple of belated guests arrived and saved the night. An admirable chicken, a sweet and cheese and coffee completed the meal for a total cost of two shillings.

Thirteen has been an unlucky number in many cultures for many centuries, and all sorts of explanations are given for the superstition, which I wont go into here. Suffice it to say that thirteen at table is a particular worry, the belief being that one of the guests will die within the year. The point was proved to some when President Wilson died within a year of giving an Armistice dinner for thirteen. The belief was (still is, they say) particularly prevalent in Paris, where independent gentlemen made themselves available as paid guests, called quatorizième (“fourteenth”) ready at a moment’s notice to save the life of someone else at table, in the unfortunate event that only thirteen others turned up.

The number thirteen pops up with varying significance in many places. In Norfolk it is (or was) believed that primroses are unlucky, but if one must bring them into the house, the bunch must not be fewer than thirteen in number, or broody hens (or geese) will hatch only the same number of eggs from the clutch as the number of primroses. As an accompanying belief, the traditional number of eggs to set under a hen is 13 – in the belief that she will then rear 12 and the 13th will be addled.

I therefore give you a recipe for a sixteenth century tart of eggs and primroses, and your guests will be very lucky if you go to the trouble of making it for them. The recipe is given as a variation of a tart of borage flowers.

To make a tarte of borage floures.
Take borage floures and perboyle them tender, then strayne them wyth the yolckes
of three or foure egges, and swete curdes, or els take three or foure apples, and perboyle wythal and strayne them with swete butter and a lyttle mace and so bake it.

To make a tarte of marigoldes primroses or couslips.
Take the same stuffe to euery of theim that you do to the tarte of borage and the same ceasonyng.
[A Propre new booke of Cokery; 1545]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Calf’s Head and Pig’s Face.

Quotation for the Day …

Mark Twain told a friend of an invitation to be the 13th guest at a dinner party. Horrified, the friend advised him, “Don’t go! It’s bad luck!” To which Twain replied, “Nonsense.” The next day, Twain met the friend again and said, “I admit that you were right about the dinner. It WAS bad luck. There was only enough food for twelve.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Shakespearian Strawberries.

Today, June 13th

The story of the disappearance (and presumed murder) of the royal princes in the Tower of London in the fifteenth century has spawned a lot of books and movies, and in almost all of them the evil-doer was their uncle and Protector, the Duke of Gloucester who then became Richard III. One of the writers who contributed to Richard getting the rap (there are significant doubts that he was actually the perpetrator) was no less than William Shakespeare, in his play Richard III. He has Richard (still at this point the Duke of Gloucester) casually ask the Bishop of Ely for some of the fine strawberries from the Bishop’s gardens, while he is planning his dastardly deed.

My lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn,
I saw good strawberries in your garden there;
I do beseech you, send for some of them!

Ely: Marry, I will, my lord, with all my heart."

Shakespeare, like many other dramatists of his time, used the Chronicles of Raphael Holinshed [1529 – 1580 approx.] as a resource. The Chronicles were also written long after the events, but if Holinshead was correct, the strawberry dialogue actually took place on this day in 1483. Holinshead says:

“On the Friday (being the 13th of June, 1483) many lords were assembled in the Tower, and there sat in council, devising the honourable solemnity of the king's [12 year old Edward V] coronation, of which the time appointed then so near approached, that the pageants and subtleties were in making day and night at Westminster, and much victuals killed therefore, that afterwards was cast away. These lords so sitting together, communing of this matter, the Protector came in amongst them, just about nine of the clock, saluting them courteously, and excusing himself that he had been from them so long, saying merrily that he had been a sleeper that day. After a little talking with them, he said unto the Bishop of Ely, 'My lord, you have very good strawberries at your garden in Holborn; I require you let us have a mess of them.' 'Gladly, my lord,' quoth he. 'Would God I had some better thing as ready to your pleasure as that.' And therewithal, in all haste, he sent his servant for a mess of strawberries.”

So how would Shakespeare’s contemporaries have enjoyed strawberries? Perhaps like this:

Tarte of Strawberies.
Seson your Strawberyes with sugar, a very little Sinamon, a little ginger, and so cover them with a cover, and you must lay upon the cover a morsell of sweet Butter, Rosewater and Sugar, you may Ice the cover if you will, you must make your Ice with the white of an egge beaten, and Rosewater and Sugar.
[From: A Boke of Cookrye, published in 1591]

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Fourteenth Guest.

Quotation for the Day …

The strawberry grows underneath the nettle;
And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
Neighbour'd by fruit of baser quality.
Shakespeare; King Henry V. Act I. Scene 1.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Life with Dates.

Today, June 12th

Today is the feast day of Saint Onuphrius, who, like the rest of the Saints I have featured in this blog, is only on my radar on account of a food connection. Saint Onophrius was a hermit, as Saints are wont to be, and lived during the 4th Century in Egypt. He lived entirely, it is said, on dates. He could have made a worse choice (athough there may not have been too many choices in 4th C Egypt) – because dates are not only nutritious (high fibre, high carb, almost zero fat, and lots of vitamins and minerals etc etc etc), they are delicious.

The date palm is native to North Africa and the Middle East, and is one of the oldest food plants cultivated by humans. It appears that we have been growing it for at least 7000 years in one of the world’s most challenging environments – the hot dry desert. The plant must have developed some spectacular survival mechanisms to have been so successful, and in a truly amazing example of time-warp gardening, a botanist in Israel has managed to germinate a 2000 year-old seed from a Judean date tree that was thought to be extinct. Perhaps one day we might be able to eat dates with a direct link to biblical times, which would be an amazing example of time-warp eating!

There is an old saying that there are as many ways of using dates as there are days in the year, and I don’t doubt that is true. They were certainly known and enjoyed by Europeans in the 13th century, no doubt thanks to returning crusaders. They were enjoyed only by the wealthy of course, who must have relished their sweetness in the centuries before sugar became cheap. I have chosen two medieval recipes for you featuring dates, either of which would be perfect for today.

The first is from an Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century, translated Charles Perry, and is for a sort of date and nut paste or cake that would be excellent on a cheese platter.

A Sweet of Dates and Honey.
Take Shaddâkh dates. Clean them of their pits and pound a ratl of them in a mortar. Then dilute with water in a tinjir on a gentle fire. Add the same amount of skimmed honey. Stir it until it binds together and throw in a good amount of peeled almonds and walnuts. Put in some oil so it doesn't burn and to bind firmly. Pour it over a greased salâya (stone work surface). With it you make qursas (round cakes). Cut it with a knife in big or little pieces.

The second is a Lenten tart from the first English cookbook, the Forme of Cury (about 1390). As a Lenten dish it contains no milk or eggs. The instructions are strange to us today, but it seems that a thick ‘custard’ of almond milk and rice flour is made and allowed to set, then cut into pieces and layered with cut up figs and dates in the pastry ‘coffin’, and finally more almond milk is poured in before it is baked.

For To Make Flownys [flans] In Lente.
Tak god Flowr and mak a Past and tak god mylk of Almandys and flowr of rys other amydoun and boyle hem togeder' that they be wel chariaud wan yt is boylid thykke take yt up and ley yt on a feyr' bord so that yt be cold and wan the Cofyns ben makyd tak a party of and do upon the coffyns and kerf hem in Schiveris and do hem in god mylk of Almandys and Figys and Datys and kerf yt in fowr partyis and do yt to bake and serve yt forth.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Pleasure and Health.

Quotation for the Day …

The first of all considerations is that our meals shall be fun as well as fuel. Andre Simon.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Breakfast of Travellers.

Today, June 11th

Today is a public holiday in most of Australia. It is the Queen’s official birthday, hence, as a relic of our colonial past and in recognition of Her as Head of the Commonwealth, we get a Monday off work. It is the one day a year I am a minor Royalist, in gratitude for the holiday.

For those of you who must drag yourselves reluctantly to work this Monday morning, pause a moment and think yourself back to 1911, when June 11th was a Sunday. On this retrospecive Sunday morning imagine yourself aboard the magnificent R.M.S. Lusitania and blissfully unaware of its fate in 1915 at the hands of a German U-Boat. Your imagination can only manage Second Class, but the breakfast choices are still pretty good.

Oatmeal Porridge and Fresh Milk
Broiled Codfish Steaks Aberdeen Haddock
Boiled Eggs to Order
Broiled Cumberland Ham Fried Eggs
Grilled Beef Steak Saute Potatoes
Rice Cakes, Golden Syrup
Corned Beef
White & Graham Rolls Soda Scones
Vienna Bread
Marmalade Jam
Tea Coffee Cocoa

Ham and eggs sound a good breakfast choice, but my history choice today is the Soda scones, for there is in soda scones the complete history of grain-based cuisine.

On the sad off-chance that there may be some of you who don’t know what a scone is, it is the little treat defined by the OED as “ … generally, a soft cake of barley- or oatmeal, or wheat-flour, baked in single portions on a griddle or in an oven. Also with defining words, denoting varieties of this cake, as butter, potato, soda, treacle scone; brown scone, one made of whole meal; drop-, dropped scone, one made of a small portion of batter dropped on the griddle or on a tin and baked.”

If you grow grain, what can you do with it to make it more digestible and palatable? You can soften up the whole grains in water, boil them up, and make a sort of porridge called frumenty. You can first grind the grain to a varying degree from very coarse to very fine. You can then get creative with this idea of grain mixed with water. Your mixture can be varied, depending on which grain you use, how ‘wet’ you make it, and what else you add to enrich it. You can cook it on a flat hearthstone or metal griddle over your fire, or inside your oven, if you have one. From this grain and liquid you can end up with:

Pancakes, drop scones, or pikelets (Australia) or hoe-cakes (America) – with a wettish batter, cooked on a griddle.
Griddle (or girdle) scones – with a bit less liquid so you have a dough rather than a batter. Or a damper, if you are in Australia and make one large scone with your dough.
Bread – if you add yeast (or the air adds it for you).
Cakes and soda scones – if you add a rising agent such as baking powder.
Pastry - if you add fat, and handle lightly.

Baking powder leavening agents were developed in the mid-nineteenth century, so by definition, soda scones did not exist before then. A textbook of 1848 called “School chemistry: or, practical rudiments of the science” by Robert Dundas Thomson describes how this works “Soda scones are made by mixing bicarbonate of soda with the flour, and then baking the mass up with buttermilk; the acid of the milk displaces the CO2”

In yet another example of two countries with a common culinary heritage being divided by their common language, what is called a ‘scone’ in England and Australia, is a ‘biscuit’ in the United States. Technically, the word ‘biscuit’ means ‘twice cooked’ – so a crisp, hard thing - so we who use ‘scone’ for this soft cooked dough tend to feel linguistically correct and therefore superior on this point. Imagine my surprise then, when I took up that quintessentially English cookbook author, Isabella Beeton (1861), to give you her soda scone recipe, to find that she calls them Soda Biscuits!

A book of the same era - Cookery and domestic economy, by Somerville (1862) – recognises the difference (or is it the similarity?) and gives these two recipes:

American Biscuits.
Mix half a pound of sugar with one pound of flour, half a tea-spoonful baking powder, and rub in four ounces of butter; make into a dough with warm milk, roll out thin, cut them out, and bake immediately in a quick oven.

Soda Scones.
To every pound of flour give one half tea-spoonful of carbonate of soda, and the same of cream of tartar, make it into a dough with very sour butter-milk; knead quickly; make it up in small round balls, roll out pretty thin, prickle them with a fork, and bake immediately on a hot griddle or in the oven. A little butter rubbed amongst the flour may be added if wanted richer, and a few currants.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Life with Dates.

Quotation for the Day …

In nothing more is the English genius for domesticity more notably declared than in the institution of this festival - almost one may call it - of afternoon tea...The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose. George Gissing.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Election Cake

Today, June 8th

A young soldier stationed in North Carolina called Frederick Osborne wrote home to his family in Massachusetts on this day in 1862. He made mention of a local specialty:

“Aunt Jane has been making 'lection cake I suppose, or is the time for it past?”

Young Fred was referring to Election Cake, a cake associated with – as its name suggests – local elections. It is a New England specialty, and came to be particularly associated with Hartford, Connecticut.

The history of Election Cake goes back to colonial times, to the days when the British summoned eligible men from far and wide to the nearest town for military practice, and the whole town prepared for the onslaught of hungry soldier-farmers. In other words, the town’s housewives did a lot of baking of very large cakes which at that time were known as Training Cakes or Muster Cakes.

Even before the Revolution the same cakes served well for elections, when party representatives descended on the same towns for the vote-counting. The military association did not go away completely however. A New York Times article in June 1871 described the recent Artillery Election Day in Boston when officers were elected and commissioned in a ceremony that was a “relic of colonial days”. The newspaper bemoaned the loss of glory of this once great holiday when parades were held, and election cake and luscious ginger-beer could be purchased from stalls set up on the Common.

Election cake was a fruited yeast bread (leavening agents such as baking powder were not developed until the mid-nineteenth century). The first American cookbook, by Amelia Simmons, contained this recipe which you will find most useful if a few score out-of-town visitors descend on you.

Election Cake
Thirty quarts flour, 10 pound butter, 14 pound sugar, 12 pound raisins, 3 doz eggs, one pint wine, one quart brandy, 4 ournces cinnamon, 4 ounces fine colander seed, 3 ounces ground alspice; wet the flour with milk to the consistence of bread oover night, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will rended the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has rise light work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going into the oven.
[American Cookery; Amelia Simmons 1796.]

Monday’s Story …

The Breakfast of Travellers.

Quotation for the Day …

I won't eat anything that has intelligent life, but I'd gladly eat a network executive or a politician. Marty Feldman.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hellish Food.

Today, June 7th

The American writer Henry Miller died on this day in 1980. He once had a conversation by correspondence with his British writer friend Lawrence Durrell on the subject of the food in Hell.

Miller wrote: “Hell is probably quite similar to most Paris bistros ... a bit overheated, somewhat too crowded, and a little too noisy for my tastes. The waiters will surely treat you rudely and the cashiers will always add a few extra francs to your bill but ... and this is the important part ... the food will be marvellous”.

Some time later, Miller and Durrell spent some time on the island of Corfu, which – being part of the Ionian Islands – is of volcanic origin and sometimes smells of the sulphur. Durrell apparently asked his friend how he would feel about his “bistro” smelling sulphurous (as Hell is said to do).

Miller replied: “With a good bouillabaise, a young chicken cooked in tarragon and a good wine from Bordeaux not even the smells of hell will bother me”

Presumably, in Hell’s Kitchen, the Devil is Cook. Which made me think of the hot dishes called ‘devils’ that were so beloved of the Victorian Englishman. The eccentric English cookbook writer William Kitchener eloquently described their delights (and dangers) in his book The Cook’s Oracle, and they can be read on the Companion site HERE. We have also previously had recipes for Devilled Chestnuts and Devilled Eggs, so we should perhaps find another focus for today.

This story started with Henry Miller, whose idea of heavenly food in Hell included the French bistro version of chicken cooked in tarragon, so here is a recipe from the eccentric French cookbook writer, the Baron Brisse (1868).

Chicken with Tarragon.
Boil some finely chopped tarragon-leaves and take a third of them to mix with a stuffing made of minced liver of chicken, scraped lean bacon, salt and pepper. Stuff the fowl with it, truss and cover with slices of bacon, wrap up in a sheet of buttered paper and roast. Melt some fresh butter, stir in a little flour, and add the remainder of the tarragon leaves, a little gravy, a few drops of vinegar, salt and pepper. When the fowl is two-thirds cooked, take it off the spit and simmer in a stew-pan with the sauce until quite done. Thicken the sauce with two or three yolks of eggs before serving.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Election Cake.

Quotation for the Day …

The disappearance of hot hors-d'oeuvre was the result of the excessive development of women's skirts. Baron Leon Brisse (1813-1876)