Tuesday, July 31, 2007

All about cucumbers.

Today, July 31st

Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American author, enjoyed the produce of his own garden on this day in 1843.

Monday July 31st. We had our first cucumber yesterday.

The cucumber is not the world’s most exciting food, is it? Cool and crisp and used for its texture rather than its flavour. Nothing to dislike, but nothing to travel across town for. Inoffensive perhaps is the best word.

One thing I have never quite been able to understand is the concept of cucumber sandwiches. The British writer Sir Compton MacKenzie probably summed it up best in his description of an English tea party as somewhere where “You are offered a piece of bread and butter that feels like a damp handkerchief and sometimes, when cucumber is added to it, like a wet one.” I have certainly never been able to understand why this wet handkerchief-like sandwich has come to represent an entire English class of the Edwardian era – a class that could have afforded whatever it wanted as a sandwich filling. Why not truffled grouse sandwiches? Or sandwiches made from ham from peach-fed single-sty piglets? Or plain old cheese and tomato?

I decided to look into the puzzle. I came across a fairly lame explanation that the development of hot-houses made them easier to grow, and they became a symbol of the class that could afford hot-houses. Are cucumbers so difficult to grow in England that Mr and Mrs Peasant couldn’t manage any in their gardens? I thought they were the garden-glut vegetable par excellence. Another theory is that being pale and delicate and light they symbolised the class which could eat for style rather than sustenance. If anyone else has any ideas I would love to know.

Cucumber sandwich recipes (or should that be instructions?) do not seem to exist in cookbooks of the era. The only one I could find was hardly classical, as I understand that ‘classical’ in respect of a cucumber sandwich means bread + butter + cucumber. Sir Compton MacKenzie would find the following sandwich, from the very elegant The Gentle Art of Cookery (1925) to be very ‘wet’ indeed.

Cucumber Salad Sandwich.
Mix sliced cucumber with mayonnaise and spread between bread.

This paucity of instructions for what was (is?) clearly a very important sandwich historically speaking surprised me, particularly as so many authors comment on how badly sandwiches are made. To give a couple of examples:

The ‘lady’ responsible for Murray's modern cookery book. Modern domestic cookery, (1851) says ‘Sandwiches require more care than is usually bestowed on them, for this reason, that every one believes he can cut sandwiches.’

The redoutable Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870s) says ‘Sandwiches, when properly prepared, constitute a convenient, elegant, and palatable dish for suppers or luncheons, but have fallen into bad repute on account of the manner in which they are often made’.

Future food historians and archeologists will be baffled, for although they are mentioned in books, cucumber sandwich remains do not last long in midden heaps.

In the meanwhile, my quest developed into a search for an interesting (dare I say exciting?) culinary use for cucumbers, as it seems negligent only giving you a one-line recipe for the day. I have been unable to find anything any more intriguing than the recipe for Cowcumbers, to Pickle in the likeness of Mangoes which featured in another story. I did find the following recipe however, and being a marmalade and jam lover and maker from way back it seemed interesting – if your neighbour has a glut of cucumbers and you have an insufficiency of lemons.

Cucumber and Lemon Jam.
3 lb. green cucumbers; 3 fresh lemons; 2 ½ lb sugar; 1 pint water.
Cleanse and slice cucumber thinly. It may be peeled or not as desired. Sprinkle lightly with salt and allow to remain for several hours, then drain off the water which the salt has drawn.
Meanwhile cut the lemons roughly and boil them in a covered pan for forty-five minutes. Strain the liquid into a preserving pan, add the cucumber (washed and drained) and cook for fifteen minutes, then add the sugar, and finish the cooking rapidly in an open pan. Usual time fifteen to twenty minutes after adding the sugar. If desired the cucumber may be cut in strips or blocks. Apple cucumber may be used instead of the green ones, but they should be used while the skin is white, and not after it becomes yellow.
[Australian Cookery of Today; Sun News-Pictorial; Prudence; 1930s]

On this Topic …

For exciting information on the EU regulations on cucumbers, go to this previous post.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Fashionable Brunch.

Quotation for the Day ...

A cucumber should be well sliced and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing. Samuel Johnson.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Camel Stew.

My friend Marj sent me the following recipe in response to my earlier post today. It is attributed to the Australian bush painter Jack Absalom, and appeared in one of the bush cookbooks he published.

The recipe appears, with one small variation or another, in various other places - places where there are plenty of camels that is!

Camel Stew.

3 medium sized camels
1 ton salt
1 ton pepper
500 bushels of potatoes
200 bushels of carrots
3000 sprigs of parsley
2 small rabbits.

Cut camels into bite-sized pieces. This should take about two months.
Cut vegetables into cubes (another two months)
Place meat in pan and cover with 1000 gallons of brown gravy.
Shovel in pepper and salt to taste.
When meat is tender, add vegetables.
Simmer slowly for 4 weeks.
Garnish with parsley.
Will serve 3800 people.
If more are expected, add two rabbits.

Eating Camel.

Today, July 30th

The Australian explorer John McKinlay was given the task of searching for the lost Burke and Wills expedition which had set off in August 1860 with the aim of being the first to cross the continent from south to north. By the end of the year the deaths of Burke and Wills had been confirmed, and McKinlay turned his party northwards, as instructed, to explore the area to the north and west of Lake Eyre.

Eventually McKinlay and his men reached the Gulf of Carpentaria - to find the ship they were hoping to board had already left. They turned south and east, heading for Bowen on the coast of Queensland – six hundred mile trip for which their health, animals and supplies were not prepared. On this day in 1862 they killed and ate their last camel. With only a few horses left they were in dire straights, but a few days later they came across a cattle trail and within an hour were at the cattle station eating roast beef and damper.
Which brings me to my questions of the day. What does camel taste like? How does one cook camel? Not having any experience of my own, I am obliged to go to the experts.

In The Curiosities of Food, published in 1859, Peter Lund Simmons (who probably did not actually eat it but quotes others) says:

“ The flesh of the camel is dry and hard, but not unpalatable. … In Barbary, the tongues are salted and smoked for exportation to Italy and other countries, and they form a very good dish. The flesh is little esteemed by the Tartars, but they use the hump cut into slices, which, when dissolved in tea, serves the purpose of butter.”

The late Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food quotes Stobart (1980) on camel’s milk, which he says:

“has very small fat globules and cannot readily be churned to make butter.” It can however, apparently be made into a kind of yoghurt.

Waverley Root in Food quotes his correspondent Dr Lloyd Cabot Briggs, ‘an anthropologist who has spent a good deal of time in the Sahara’, and who presumably should know. He says:

“Camel [meat] has a distinctive taste which show up in a peculiar way. While you are eating it, it tastes just like rather ordinary beef or relatively tasty veal (depending on age), but when you’ve finished and run your tongue around your mouth, you suddenly discover a slightly sweetish after-taste, like horse but not quite so much, very faint, but definite.”

Hmm. So camel does not taste like chicken.

It seems that the experts give second-hand reports too. I would be delighted to hear some first hand experience, so please do leave a comment if you have some!

To my surprise, the Larousse Gastronomique (I have a 1961 edition) gives a number of recipes for camel. Here are a couple, in case you should get invited on a Saharan or Outback Aus tralian expedition.

Camel’s Feet Vinaigrette.
Soak the feet of a young camel. Cook them in a white court-bouillon in the same way as for Calf’s feet. Drain them. Serve with a vinaigrette sauce.

Roast Camel’s Hump.
Only the hump of a very young camel is prepared in this way.
Marinate the meat with oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, spices. Roast it in the same way as for roast sirloin of beef. Serve with its own gravy and water-cress.

On this topic: For more about the role of camels in the exploration of Australia, see the story on John Horrocks.

Tomorrow’s Story …

All about cucumbers.

Quotation for the Day …

Abu el-Heidja has deflowered in one night
Once eighty virgins, and he did not eat or drink between,
Because he surfeited himself with chickpeas,
And had drunk camel's milk with honey mixed.
Sheik Nefzawi: The Perfumed Garden

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Readers Choice.

Well, my dear and faithful readers. I am delighted t0 say that I will be in Olde England - the land of my birth - in about a month. I will be away from my home in Australia, but not (thanks to my lovely new notebook) away from my computer, and not therefore away from all of you.
I will be attending the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking, so if any of you are going to be there, I will look forward to meeting you.
Allowing myself a day or so to recover from jet-lag and to gird my loins for my return to my real job, there will be 15 weekday posts to prepare in advance. I have decided to give you the choice of topics. The first 15 ideas will be the subject of the holiday postings, but should it turn out that I am underwhelmed with suggestions, I will indulge some of my own whims.
Please post your ideas in the comments section below, or email me at theoldfoodieATfastmailDOTfm

Friday, July 27, 2007

Spanish Potatoes.

Today, July 27th

William Eden, a British diplomat in Spain, wrote to his mother on this day in 1788, and mentioned the food:

“I must not forget to mention that we find here two excellent articles for the table – good bread, and as fine potatoes as I ever saw”

Was he referring to the potato, or the sweet potato? The potato was certainly being grown in England at that time but it was hardly popular, particularly on the tables of the well-to-do. One writer of the time (David Davies, in The Case of the Laborers in Husbandry, 1795) said:

“Today the whole laboring people have neither meat nor cheese nor milk nor beer in sufficient quantities, they eat white bread where everybody else eats it. Though the potato is an excellent root, deserving to be brought into general use, yet it seems not likely that the use of it should ever be general in this country.”

One of the problems in unravelling the early history of the potato in Europe is that many of those who wrote about the new exotic plant had not actually seen it and confused it with other roots. Botanists were no exception to this, and even the famous Gerard added to the confusion by mistakenly believing it came from Virginia, and giving it the name Batata virginiana in 1597. The potato already had the botanical name which it still bears today - Solanum tuberosum, which was given to it in 1596. By naming the plant Batata, Gerard also confused the actual plant with the sweet potato, which is Batata edulis.

There is confusion too in early cookbooks, which sometimes refer to the ‘Spanish Potato’ – which we take today to mean the sweet potato. It is not always so clear-cut however, and even the OED is not sure. Here is what it says on the two species:

- A plant, Batatas edulis, family Convolvulaceæ, having tuberous roots, for which it is cultivated for food in most tropical and subtropical regions of the world; = BATATA. Its native region is unknown, but it appears to have been seen by the Spaniards first in the West Indies c1500. Now distinguished as sweet or Spanish potato.

- The plant Solanum tuberosum (family Solanaceae), a cultigen of South American origin, now grown commercially worldwide for its starchy underground stem tubers. Originally more fully potato of Virginia, Virginia potato. Also called white potato and (formerly) Carolina potato, Spanish potato, Chilian potato, Irish potato.

It is not always possible to be certain which ‘potatoes’ are being referred to in early cookbooks, and sometimes it does not matter from a culinary point of view, as they can be substituted.

The first recipe almost certainly means the sweet potato:

Your crust being ready, lay in Butter, then your Potato boil’d tender, then some whole Spice, and Marrow, Dates, and the yolks of hard Eggs, blanch’d Almonds, and Pistacho Nuts, candied peels of Citron, Orange, and Limon, put in more Butter, close it and bake it; then cut it open, and put in Wine, Sugar, the Yolks of Eggs and Butter.
[Salmon, William. The family dictionary: or, houshold companion. London 1710]

As does this one:

Potato, or lemon cheesecakes.
Take six ounces of potatoes, four ounces of lemon-peel, four ounces of sugar, four ounces of butter; boil the lemn-peel till tender, pare and scrape the potatoes, and boil them tender and bruise them: beat the lemon-peel with the sugar, then beat all together very well, and let it lie till cold: put crust in your pattipans, and fill them a little more than half full: bake them in a quick oven half an hour, sift some double refin’d sugar on them as they go into the oven; this quantity will make a dozen small pattipans.
[Carter, Charles. The London and country cook: …London, 1749]

But what about this one?

To make Potato Fritters.
Boil and beat half a dozen of potatoes; mix them with four beat eggs, about a gill of thick cream, some sugar and nutmeg, a little salt, a bit of fresh butter oiled, and a dram; beat them all well together, and drop them in the boiling dripings; fry them a light brown. Dish them hot, and strew sugar over them.
[Cookery and pastry, as taught and practised by Mrs MacIver; Susanna MacIver; 1789]

If you still want more historic potato recipes, you can go over to the Potato Recipe Archive.

P.S Now that my pie book is off to the publishers (it is in the mail today!!) I just might amuse myself part of this weekend by starting to put together a Potato Timeline. What do you think?

Monday’s Story …

Eating Camel.

Quotation for the Day …

Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food. For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good. But don’t forget the potatoes. John Tyler Petee.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Taking Cider to Lisbon.

Today, July 26th

Henry Fielding, the author of the novel Tom Jones, travelled to Portugal in 1754, on the advice of his physicians. The start of the voyage was delayed for weeks due to days of insufficient wind or too much wind, and when they finally did set sail the too much wind recurred and they were blown almost immediately back to the Devon coast. Fielding took advantage of the return to land to do some further provisioning, as he tells in his journal.

Sunday, July 26. Things now began to put on an aspect very different from what they had lately worn; the news that the ship had almost lost its mizzen, and that we had procured very fine clouted cream and fresh bread and butter from the shore, restored health and spirits to our women, and we all sat down to a very cheerful breakfast. But, however pleasant our stay promised to be here, we were all desirous it should be short: I resolved immediately to despatch my man into the country to purchase a present of cider, for my friends of that which is called Southam, as well as to take with me a hogshead of it to Lisbon; for it is, in my opinion, much more delicious than that which is the growth of Herefordshire. I purchased three hogsheads for five pounds ten shillings, all which I should have scarce thought worth mentioning, had I not believed it might be of equal service to the honest farmer who sold it me, and who is by the neighboring gentlemen reputed to deal in the very best; and to the reader, who, from ignorance of the means of providing better for himself, swallows at a dearer rate the juice of Middlesex turnip, instead of that Vinum Pomonae which Mr. Giles Leverance of Cheeshurst, near Dartmouth in Devon, will, at the price of forty shillings per hogshead, send in double casks to any part of the world.

Henry was in the right place for cider – the South West of England is famous for its apples and apple products, although ‘cider’ did not always mean alcohol from apples – it seems that the word has very ancient roots, and may originally have referred to any strong drink. Other fruits can be fermented of course. We are quite fond of fermented grape juice in this house - we call it wine - and indeed, most fermented plant material is referred to as ‘wine’ - as in cherry wine or plum wine or apricot wine or turnip wine. The only other fruit wine I can think of that has its own particular name is perry, from pears. Perhaps these specific old names indicate just how long these beverages have been made? Surely humans have been drinking cider almost as long as they have been eating apples? Maybe even longer, if you consider that the earliest apples were small and hard and sour and probably not very delicious to bite into.

If you have too much cider, you can do one of three things with it (a more inventive mind than mine may come up with more, but I have discovered three). You can invite a lot of friends over to help you drink it. You can distill it into apple brandy or applejack or whatever else you want to call the rather more seriously alcoholic preparations (you may be breaking the law by doing this however). Or you can cook with it.

Apple Butter (or ‘Black Butter’) can be made if you have too many apples as well as too much cider, and although this is said to be a speciality of the Jersey Islands, the recipe we enjoyed some time ago was called, by the eminently English Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, ‘American Apple Butter’. The remembrance of this set me looking at other American ways of using cider, as it seems Devonians and Cornwallians never have much left for cooking, if their cookbooks are anything to go by. Americans and Canadians have, in the past, made something called Mock Mince Pies, which we have previously enjoyed on this blog, and which we cannot therefore repeat. I was beginning to think I was going to have to encourage you to take option two, when I came across these ideas.

Cider Cake.
Six cups flour, three of sugar, one of butter, one of sour cider, tea-spoon soda, four eggs; beat the eggs, butter and sugar to a cream, stir in the flour, and then add the cider in which the soda has been dissolved.--Miss Mary A. Dugan. [Buckeye Cookery; America; 1877]

Cider Vinegar.
Take six quarts of rye meal; stir and mix it well into a barrel of strong hard cider of the best kind; and then add a gallon of whiskey. Cover the cask, (leaving the bung loosely in it,) set it in the part of your yard that is most exposed to the sun and air; and in the course of four weeks (if the weather is warm and dry) you will have good vinegar fit for use. When you draw off a gallon or more, replenish the cask with the same quantity of cider, and add about a pint of whiskey. You may thus have vinegar constantly at hand for common purposes.
The cask should have iron hoops.
A very strong vinegar may be made by mixing cider and strained honey, (allowing a pound of honey to a gallon of cider,) and letting it stand five or six months. This vinegar is so powerful that for common purposes it should be diluted with a little water.
[Directions For Cookery, In Its Various Branches.; Miss Leslie; 1840]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Spanish Potatoes.

Quotation for the Day …

Cider was, next to water, the most abundant and the cheapest fluid to be had in New Hampshire, while I lived there, - often selling for a dollar per barrel. In many a family of six or eight persons, a barrel tapped on Saturday barely lasted a full week. … The transition from cider to warmer and more potent stimulants was easy and natural; so that whole families died drunkards and vagabond paupers from the impetus first given by cider-swilling in their rural homes. Horace Greeley (1811-1872)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Today, July 25th

An English newspaper reported a 'scramble' at an Installation at Windsor on this day in 1771. The exact nature of the ‘Installation’ escapes me at present, and has been filed in the voluminous ‘to research’ pile until voluminous time is available, but it seemed like a mighty big well-planned, if not entirely well-executed event. The ‘scramble’ was not about eggs – or if eggs were present, they were not specifically mentioned. Perhaps they were included in ‘delicacies of every kind’.

At the Installation on the 25th of July.

Two thousand beds were made in the Castle at Windsor, and two thousand tables were spread on Thursday. There were seventeen kitchens, and fifty cooks in each kitchen, beside other attendants. After dinner on Thursday, at Windsor, the new regulation of the Lord Steward took place about the scramble; as it was thought a better plan of œconomy to carry the victuals to the mob, than to let the mob come to the victuals. Accordingly the windows of the Castle were thrown open, and the provision tossed out to the gaping croud below. A cloud of hams, chickens, pasties, haunches, and delicacies of every kind, with knives, forks, plates, tablecloths, and napkins, their companies, darkened the air. This was succeeded by showers of liquor; some conveyed in bottles, properly corked, but the greater part in rain. The scramble was more diverting than any other part of the preceding farce. You would see one stooping to a fowl and a great ham falling plump upon his back; another, having a fork stuck in his shoulder, and looking up to secure himself from more of the arrows thus flying by day, received a creamed apple-pye full in his face. A beef-eater having lost his cap in the scuffle had his loss repaired by a pasty falling inverted upon his head. A bargeman who had just secured a noble haunch of venison, was retiring as fast as he could with his booty, and ran with it full against the back of Lord --- and made an impression on it so like a gridiron, that all the mob, after they ceased their laughter, cried out, smaok the Merry Andrew.

The use of ‘scramble’ to refer to a culinary technique seems to be a very recent use of the word – the OED gives it as appearing in 1893. Here are a couple of interesting scrambles for you - one with egg, one without, one pre-WW II and one post-war. The first is from The Times of 1939, and the second from a Ministry of Food leaflet in 1947.

Kipper Scramble.
Bring the kippers to the boil in a frying pan just covered with water, and simmer for five minutes. Remove the flesh from the bones and break up with a fork. Now beat up an egg and two tablespoons of milk per kipper. Mix together and season with pepper, and stir the mixture with sufficient butter in a saucepan until it thickens. Serve on buttered toast.

Mince Scramble.
(For 4) 4 oz macaroni; ½ oz dripping; 1 medium-sized onion, chopped, 1 level teaspoon mixed herbs; 1 bay leaf and 4 peppercorns, if possible; 1 lb tomatoes, sliced; 8 oz cooked meat, minced; salt and pepper to taste.
Cook macaroni in boiling salted water until tender. Melt dripping and fry onion, herbs, bay leaf and peppercorns (if used) for 10 mins; add tomatoes and simmer for a further 15 mins. Sieve. Strain macaroni and add to sieved mixture with meat. Season to taste, heat through. Serve with potatoes and a vegetable.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Taking Cider to Lisbon.

Quotation for the Day …

Man who waits for roast duck to fly into mouth must wait very, very long time. Chinese proverb, perhaps (but funny, even if it is not a genuine Chinese proverb)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Table manners for children.

Today, July 24th

The theologian and early Methodist John Wesley asked his mother for child-rearing advice during some correspondence between them in 1732. She had had nineteen children, so could be expected to have experience to impart, but it is puzzling to know why Wesley wanted the advice, as he was not to marry until 1751, in his 48th year (and he never did have children). Wesley’s mother was apparently held in great affection by her family, in spite of her strict discipline. In a letter dated this day in 1732, she explained the rules relating to mealtimes:

According to your desire, I have collected the principal rules I observed in educating my family. The children were always put into a regular method of living, ….. When turned a year old (and some before), they were taught to fear the rod and to cry softly; … As soon as they were grown pretty strong, they were confined to three meals a day. At dinner their little table and chairs were set by ours, where they could be observed; and they were suffered to eat and drink as much as they would but not to call for anything. If they wanted aught, they used to whisper to the maid which attended them, who came and spoke to me; and as soon as they could handle a knife and fork, they were set to our table. They were never suffered to choose their meat, but always made to eat such things as were provided for the family.

Mornings they had always spoon-meat; sometimes at nights. But whatever they had, they were never permitted to eat, at those meals, of more than one thing; and of that sparingly enough. Drinking or eating between meals was never allowed, unless in case of sickness, which seldom happened. Nor were they suffered to go into the kitchen to ask anything of the servants, when they were at meat: if it was known they did, they were certainly beaten, and the servants severely reprimanded”.

Tough rules for children? I wonder what today’s authorities would say about the good and Godly and much loved Mrs Wesley?

A couple of modern translations of some of her words may be in order. ‘At meat’ means ‘while they were eating’ or ‘during the meal’. ‘Spoon meat; is soft food eaten with a spoon, particularly by infants, the elderly, and the sick. Here is a quite delicious-sounding example from a book of the time, A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick and surgery …by Mary Kettilby (1724)

To make a very good Barley-Gruel.
Of three Ounces of Pearl-barley make a Quart of Barley-water; shift it once or twice, if it is not white; put to it four Ounces of Currants clean pick’d and wash’d; when they are plumpt, pour the Gruel out to cool a little, and beat up the Yolks of three Eggs and put into it, with half a Pint of White-wine, and half a Pint of new thick Cream, the Peel of a Lemon, and as much Sugar as you like; stir it gently over the Fire ‘till ‘tis as thick as Cream. ‘Tis a pretty wholesome Spoon-meat for Suppers.

Tomorrow’s Story …


Quotation for the Day …

Be careful not to be the first to put your hands in the dish. What you cannot hold in your hands you must put on your plate. Also it is a great breach of etiquette when your fingers are dirty and greasy, to bring them to your mouth in order to lick them, or to clean them on your jacket. It would be more decent to use the tablecloth. Treatise on (1530)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Clotted Cream

Today, July 23rd

It is some time since we had a historic menu to enjoy, and if 20 years counts as historic, the menu of the wedding breakfast of the royal couple Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson in 1986 will do nicely.

The wedding breakfast was held at home (Buckingham Palace) and was quite simple.

Oeufs Drumkilbo
(Stuffed Eggs)
Carré d’Agneau Paloise
(Lamb with Mint Sauce)
Couronne d’Epinards aux Champignons
(Spinach with Mushrooms)
Fèves au Beurre
(Buttered Broad Beans)
Pommes Nouvelles
(New Potatoes)
Fraises St George.

Crème Caillée
(Clotted Cream)
Les Vins
Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Austlese 1976
Château Langoa Barton 1976
Bollinger 1966
Graham 1966

The menu being written in French is a persisting British Royal tradition - something which has always struck me as very odd, as the rest of the English have long since abandoned the practice. It seems particularly perverse to have given that delectable and very English dish of Clotted Cream a French name. Does ‘Crème Caillée’ ever appear on a real French menu? But what a simple, perfect dessert for the Family who can afford anything! Washed down with a bottle of Bolly. Paradise on the table.

Clotted cream is obtained by heating the milk and then leaving it in shallow dishes for the cream to rise to the top where it forms thick ‘clots’ or ‘clouts’ with a fat content of around 60% and a slightly caramel-tasting yellow crust. Best made from the milk of Jersey cows. Best served with home-made strawberry jam on fresh home-made scones, in a traditional Devonshire tea. Equal second best way of serving is as above, with strawberries. The amazing thing about real Clotted Cream is its texture. It bears no relation to that of its bastard offspring Whipped Cream, especially the Sweetened version. Accept no substitutes.

The recipe I have chosen for today is for the very English dish of Burnt Cream. You may recognise it as a version of the very French dish Crème Brulée. It is not actually cream, but a version of custard, which is Crème Anglais after all.

Cream, Burnt.
Boil a pint of milk in a saucepan, with a stick of cinnamon and a little candied lemon-peel cut into small pieces. Let it remain by the side of the fire to draw out the flavour, then strain it, and pour it over the yolks of three or four eggs well beaten. Put the mixture on the fire, and simmer the custard gently till it thicken. Pour it into a dish; when cold, cover the surface with powdered loaf sugar, and brown with a salamander.
[From Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, 1870s]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Table manners for children.

Quotation for the Day …

...apple pie with custard all on the top, its the most acceptable entertainment that could be made; they scald their creame and milk in most parts of these countrys and so its a sort of clouted creame as we call it, with a little sugar, and so put on top of the apple pye; I was much pleased with my supper." Celia Fiennes; My Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall" 1698

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A poem about wild berries, by Jim.

My friend Jim emailed me this poem - inspired apparently by my post on brambling. He reckons he is a computer dummy, and couldn't post in the comments section. I reckon he's shy. I love the poem, so I am posting it for him.

"in the 30's & 40's i used to go around farmers hedge groves picking blackberries with my granny. we used to make tart apple & blackberry pies, as well as jam.
here's poem about another hedge grove culanry berry."

roman banks 1940’s
in ancient times the imperial army
camped on top of the roman embankment

nowadays the babbling brook meanders
singing softly to those soldiers of yesteryear

on one’s tod sloan a sharp eyed bairn walks
amongst grazing & cud chewing contented cows

whilst around him rabbits & weasels scurry free
a slow moving hedgehog is too spiny to touch

and from the birds nests in the hedge rows
he takes only one egg for his collection

white elder flowers he gathers for granny’s medicinal tea
& from blue-black elderberries she makes jelly & wine

come the days end a sharp bairn lays in the long grass
watching skylarks fall out of a fading sun.


Menus from History: The Book.

I am delighted to announce that I have signed a contract with Greenwood Publishing Group for a book on Historic Menus (or rather a two volume set of books.) The anticipated title is MENUS FROM HISTORY: Historic Meals with Recipes and Commentary for Every Day of the Year.

As the title suggests, the book will include a menu for each day of the year for an actual meal that took place on that exact day, with at least one recipe from the era. The menus will cover many centuries of dining around the world, from ancient Rome to today, from palaces to prisons, during war and peace, and aboard ships and planes and trains, from breakfasts to banquets and picnics. Many famous people and many interesting foods will appear, and all sorts of habits and traditions revealed.

I am going to have so much fun with this!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Heg Peg Dump.

Today, July 20th

Today is the special day of St Margaret of Antioch, who is patron saint of childbirth on the very excellent basis of the story that when swallowed by a dragon, the cross she was carrying so irritated the poor thing’s digestive system that she was disgorged unharmed. It has been claimed on and off over the centuries that St Margaret may never have existed, which would have been a terrible tragedy for the folk of the English county of Gloucestershire where she is particularly appreciated. Had she been declared santa non grata (I just made that up; is there such a phrase?) the locals would not have an excuse to eat Heg Peg Dump on her special day.

Heg Peg Dump is one of the almost infinite number of suet puddings made by the English. Suet is ‘the solid fat round the loins and kidneys of certain animals, esp. that of the ox and sheep, which, chopped up, is used in cooking’, and it has probably been responsible for the vast majority of English coronaries over the last thousand years or more. It makes a moist dough suitable for steaming or boiling both savoury and sweet delights such as Spotted Dick and Jam Roly Poly and Steak and Kidney Pudding.

Heg Peg Dump is the Gloucestershire version, and was traditionally made from ‘heg pegs’ or wild plums. It was probably chosen for her day because ‘Peg’ is a diminutive of Margaret, so there was a happy coindence of names (and, lets be pragmatic, wild plums are presumably ripe enough in mid-July). ‘Peg’ can also mean ‘a small piece of dough’, which may or may not be relevant. As for ‘dump’, it no doubt signifies ‘dumpling’, also made from suet, with or without a filling. In other words, Heg Peg Dump is Suet Plum Pudding, essentially no different from this recipe from the late Victorian book Warne’s Every-Day Cookery, by Mary Jewry. Its all in a name.

Damson Pudding.
A pint and a half of damsons, six ounces of moist sugar; suet crust.
Make about three quarters of a pound of suet crust, line a basin with it, reserving a piece for the top; fill the basin with the fruit, add the sugar, and two tablespoonfuls of water; put on the lid, pinch the edges of the crust firmly together; tie over it a floured cloth, put the pudding into a saucepan of boiling water, and boil it from two and a half to three hours. When done, turn it carefully out.
Suet Crust for Puddings.
One pound of flour; six ounces of beef suet; a cupful of cold water.
Strip the skin from the suet, chop it as fine as possible, rub it well into the flour, mix it with a knife, work ti to a very smooth paste with a cupful of water, and roll it out for use.

Monday’s Story …

Clotted Cream

Quotation for the Day …

All plums are under Venus, and are like women - some better and some worse. Edward Bunyard

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Victualling the ‘Mary Rose’.

Today, July 19th

On this day in 1545, the Mary Rose, the first purpose built man-o’-war of the English Royal Navy and the pride and joy of Henry VIII, set off to engage the French who had already landed on the Isle of Wight. The King proudly watched it sail off – and was distraught when it almost immediately sank into the depths of the Solent. Less than fifty of the four or five hundred men aboard drowned. Naturally the French claimed credit, but it seems that no cannon had at that point been engaged, and the disaster may have been due to some instability in the ship itself.

The location of the wreck was ignored, found, lost, and found again over the centuries. Its location was rediscovered in 1966, and in 1982, this time under the watchful eye of Prince Charles (President of the Mary Rose Trust), the ship was recovered from its watery bed. The wreck (and the bodies of the crew) will continue to give up priceless information about the Tudor era for many decades, and today I want to tell you about some of the food finds.

Even after almost half a millenium under water, it is amazing what information can still be gleaned by clever scientists and historians. A number of barrels which once held ships provisions have been excavated; nine contained cattle bones from mature beasts, all butchered into standard joints of meat, another one contained pig bones, and there was also evidence of supplies of venison (presumably for the officers) and mutton. There were a large number of baskets of headless fish, mostly North Sea Cod, which would probably have been dried and salted for long preservation.

A supply of peppercorns, and a pepper-mill were recovered too, but to me, one of the most interesting finds was of a basket that had held several hundred plums, and they appear to have been fresh, not dried. There were five varieties of plums in the basket, and would have been a great treat, so unlikely to have been for the enjoyment of the ordinary seaman. The ration for seamen of the mid-sixteenth century was generous by historic standards: each man was allowed seven pounds of ships’ biscuit (hardtack), seven gallons of beer, eight pounds of salted beef, three quarters of a pound of stockfish (dried salted fish), three eighths of a pound of butter and three fifths of a pound of cheese each week.

Today I give you a recipe from a cookbook printed in that same year of the sinking, the Proper newe Booke of Cokerye. Lucky landlubbers who lived close enough to water cooked their fish in a variety of ways in the sixteenth century, and this extract describes a few of them.

Perche, Roche, Carpe, Eles, Floykes and al maner of brouke fyshe.
Take a posye of Rosemary and time and bynde them together, and put in also a quantitye of perselye not bounde, and put into the caudron of water, salte and yeste, and the herbes, and lette them boyle a pretye whyle, then putte in the fysshe and a good quantitye of butter, and let them boyle a good season, and you shall have good Pyke sauce.
For all those fysshes above wrytten yf they muste bee broyled, take sauce for them, butter, peepper and veneger and boyle it upon a chafyngdyshe and then laye the broyled fyshe uppon the dysche; but for Eeles and freshe Salmon nothing but Pepper and vyneger over boyled. And also yf you wyll frye them, you muste take a good quantitie of persely, after the fyshe is fryed, put in the persely into the fryinge panne, and let it frye in the butter and take it up and put it on the fryed fyshe, and frye place, whyttinge and suche other fyshe, excepte Eles, freshe Salmon, Conger, which be never fryed but baken, boyled, roosted or sodden.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Heg Peg Dump.

Quotation for the Day …

As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an an angler. Isaak Walton; The Compleat Angler, 1653-1655

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

In praise of Bouillabaisse

Today, July 18th

Today is the birthday (in 1811) of William Makepeace Thackeray, best known for his satirical novel Vanity Fair. Thackeray lived in Paris for a while, and developed a taste for bouillabaisse which he honoured in a poem. Here is an extract from it:

A Street there is in Paris famous,
For which no rhyme our language yields,
Rue Neuve des petits Champs its name is—
The New Street of the Little Fields;
And there ’s an inn, not rich and splendid,
But still in comfortable case—
The which in youth I oft attended,
To eat a bowl of Bouillabaisse.

This Bouillabaisse a noble dish is—
A sort of soup, or broth, or brew,
Or hotchpotch of all sorts of fishes,
That Greenwich never could outdo;
Green herbs, red peppers, mussels, saffern,
Soles, onions, garlic, roach, and dace;
All these you eat at Terrés tavern,
In that one dish of Bouillabaisse.

Bouillabaisse is particularly associated with the Mediterranean coast of France, and every town claims to serve the authentic version, as every inland town claims the authentic cassoulet. Every local claim to authenticity is supported by a local myth. In Marseilles it is said that it was invented by the goddess Aphrodite (or Venus if you wish), in order to deliver sufficient saffron to her husband to make him sleep (it was believed that this was an effect of the spice), so that she could slip away to meet her lover. Another story is that it was invented by “a certain Abbess of a Marseilles nunnery” for a Friday abstinence meal – that is, a meatless meal, for a bowl of bouillabaisse full of seafood can hardly be called maigre. In the Camargue region, the folk of the little town of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer say that when the saints were washed up on their shores after leaving the Holy Land, they fell asleep exhausted, waking to find the local fishermen cooking bouillabaisse ready for when they awoke.

Every region and every expert insists that particular combinations of fish and shellfish are essential for authenticity, but in reality of course the dish is an opportunistic one typical of peasant and fishing communities – whatever you catch goes into the pot. The author of The Larousse Gastronomique (I am using the 1961 edition) maintains that the authentic bouillabaisse comes from Marseilles, and that ‘no mussels or any other such molluscs should be added, as is the wont of many Paris restaurants.’ Not getting the ‘authentic’ version does not seem to have spoiled Thackeray's enjoyment of the dish.

The Larousse explains that in some regions potato is added and saffron omitted, or leeks are substituted for onions, and the garnish also varies in different regions (poached eggs sound good), and that the bread it is served over and with varies (toasted or not, rubbed with garlic or not, or in Marseilles a special bread is made for for bouillabaisse called marette). It also explains at some length the difference between bouillabaisse and chaudrée and cotriade and bourrides , and not understanding the differences myself between these dishes, I attempted to summarise the Larousse’s descriptions. I am no clearer on the subject, but you may be.

Chaudrée : fish stew from Fouras on the Atlantic Coast in the Charente-Maritime region; based on a court-bouillon with herbs and white wine.

Cotriade: fish stew from Brittany; contains potatoes, onions, herbs.

Bourride: fish stew from Provence; onions, tomatoes, garlic, saffron, thickened with egg yolks mixed with aioli.

I have chosen one of the bouillabaisse recipes from the Larousse, a ‘home dish’ version from Provence, which the author stresses ‘in no way resembles the bouillabaisse provençale’, presumably because it contains spinach. And no fish.

Spinach Bouillabaisse.
Pick over and wash 2 pounds (1 kilo) of spinach. Cook for 5 minutes in boiling water, then dip into cold water and drain, press with the hands to extract all water, and chop.
Put ¼ cup ( ½ decilitre) of oil into an earthenware casserole, add a chopped onion, previously fried lightly without browning, and the spinach. Cook on a low fire for five minutes, stirring all the time.
When the spinach is nicely seared, add five sliced waxy potatoes. Season with salt, pepper and a little saffron. Moisten with a quart (1 litre) of boiling water, add 2 chopped cloves of garlic and a sprig of fennel, and leave to cook, covered with a lid, on a low flame.
When the potatoes are cooked, break into the pan 4 eggs and cook gently. Serve the dish as it is.

The only explanation I can think of for a fish-less bouillabaisse is that the word ‘bouillabaisse’ comes from bouillir (to boil) and abaisser (to reduce) - there are no inherently fishy connotations in the word itself, so perhaps once upon a time it applied to any sort of stew? Any French culinary scholars out there care to enlighten us?

Tomorrow’s Story …

Victualling the ‘Mary Rose’.

Quotation for the Day …

At that comfortable tavern on Pontchartrain we had a bouillabaisse than which a better was never eaten at Marseilles; and not the least headache in the morning, I give you my word; on the contrary, you only wake with a sweet refreshing thirst for claret and water. William Makepeace Thackeray.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A-Brambling We Will Go.

Today, July 17th

Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of the poet William Wordsworth kept a journal of day to day life with her brother in Grasmere in England’s Lake District, and we have peeked into it before on this blog. On this day in 1828, she was in the Isle of Man, and her diary notes read:

July 17th, Thursday. … Fine evening, beautiful, sunset, walked with Mrs. Putnam to the Crescent and above on the green craggy steep. Beautiful sea views and the cliffs charmingly adorned with green gorse, purple heather, brambles. Mrs. P. hurried home to salt her fish.

Dorothy does not mention picking the brambles, but she was not in her own home with the attendant obligations to bake for the little household, or presumably she would have taken advantage of the free fruit (or would they not have been ripe yet?) ‘Brambles’ can refer to a number of fruits from the Rose family that grow on thorny shrubs with long canes – but in England (particularly in the North) it almost always refers to the blackberry. In earlier times the bramble buds and leaves were often used in medicinal preparations for such old time illnesses as ‘inward bruises’, but the fruit can be used as any other berry, and it marries particularly well with apple.

The commonest recipe in cookbooks of the eighteenth century seems to be for blackberry wine, which sounds like a fine beverage indeed. Today they are far more likely to be used to make jam (‘jelly’, if you are in the USA), or pies (especially with apple) – and you can adapt any berry recipe for these. In search of something a little different for those of you who are lucky enough to have a bumper blackberry crop, I found this recipe from The Times, in 1938. It sounds like a wonderfully fruity ketchup.

Blackberry Pickle.
Take a quart of large blackberries. Put them into the preserving pan with two pounds of white sugar, an ounce and a half of all-spice, half an ound of ground sugar*, and the juice of a lemon. Pour over it a pint of white vinegar. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for about an hour and a half, then pass it through a sieve, and bottle.
The flavour of the pickles naturally depends considerably upon the aromatic vinegar in which they are cooked. Here is an old-fashioned recipe.
Spiced Vinegar.
Put half an ounce of whole cloves and the same quantity of allspice, celery seed, mustard seed, whole mace, chopped white ginger, a pound and a half of sugar, and an ounce and two thirds of pepper into bags of strong but thin muslin. Lay in the preserving pan. Pour over six pints of wine vinegar. Bring to the boil. Stand for four hours. Remove the bags, strain and bottle. These vinegars should be stored for at least a month before using.

[*This sounds like an error to me, should it be nutmeg or something similar? Presumably also if the spiced vinegar is used, the spices are not needed in the pickle]

Tomorrow’s Story …

In praise of Bouillabaisse.

Quotation for the Day …

O, blackberry tart, with berries as big as your thumb, purple and black, and thick with juice, and a crust to endear them that will go to cream in your mouth, and both passing down with such a taste that will make you close your eyes and wish you might live forever in the wideness of that rich moment. Richard Llewellyn.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Napoleon or Neapolitan?

Today, July 16th

Today is the feast day of the patron saint of Naples, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and a great excuse to indulge – or over-indulge if you wish, as tradition has it that no-one will fall ill as a result of celebrating her day. Anything from Naples will be very appropriate - pizza is the most obvious, or anything alla napoletana, or à la napolitaine, or Neopolitan ice-cream (layers of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla).

If you want some extra historical boost to your celebrations, you could have Naples Biscuits, which are an old version of sponge fingers, ladyfingers (which in Australia refers to a type of banana), trifle sponges, Savoy biscuits, or boudoir biscuits. I have no idea why they are called Naples Biscuits - presumably because the recipe was thought to originate there - but since the mid-seventeenth century they have appeared frequently in English cookbooks by that name. Neither do I have any idea why they are called boudoir biscuits, although it may have something to do with their shape, and both names may have some vague connection with ‘the evil of Naples’, which was syphilis, when it wasn’t called the French pox or the English disease. As that may be too much information for you on the innocuous little biscuit that is the basis of every jolly English trifle, I will probably be wasting my time giving you a recipe for them today.

If sweet treats are your preferred poison, and you are swayed by the assurance that you wont get sick on this day from eating more than your share, you could have a ‘Napoleon’ instead. I mean of course one of those delicious iced puff pastry ‘mille-feuille’ (which means ‘thousand leaves’) cakes filled with pastry cream and jam. I know, I know, don’t bombard me with emails, Napoleon came from Corsica, not Naples. In spite of some highly creative myths about his role in its origins, the pastry has nothing to do with Napoleon (who was long since dead before the pastry was invented), and everything to do with bad translation. Most historians are confident that the name is a corruption of ‘à la Napolitaine’, which means ‘in the style of Naples’.

Strangely, that good old Victorian standby, Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, gets the name right with its version of the recipe.

Neapolitan Sweetmeats (a Dish for a Juvenile Party)
Roll out some good puff paste to the thickness of a quarter of an inch. Stamp it out in rounds, diamonds, or any shapes that may be preferred, remembering only to have an equal number of each shape. Place these on a floured baking sheet, and bake in a quick oven. When cold, spread a thick layer of different coloured jams upon half of them, press the other halves on the top, and garnish with a little piping of pink and white icing.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Brambling we will go.

Quotation for the Day …

'Tis not the eating, nor 'tis not the drinking that is to be blamed, but the excess. John Selden 1584-1654

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Muddy Cake Story.

Today, July 13th

I discovered that today is the anniversary in 1832 of the source of the Mississippi River, for which we must all be very grateful, as otherwise we might not have Mississippi Mud Cake. Thankyou Mr. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.

Recipes are never actually invented, they evolve over time. The Mud Cake is a fairly new species which seems to have sprung off the American parental tree in the early 1970’s, along with its cousin, The Mud Pie. Its ancestors are the Brownie (a mud cake is a more sensible sized brownie, that is all) and Fudge, but there must be a few rogue genes in there too, as the early 1970’s recipes for Mud Cake also contain marshmallow. This particular type of Mud Cake either never migrated to Australia, or when it did, the marshmallow was removed, for all of the Aussie Mud Cakes I have met are entirely marshmallow-free (which makes them purer and better, to my mind, but you may disagree.)

Every family has its black sheep, and at some time after the birth of the Mud Cake there sprang up something called Dirt Cake. I have never come across a live specimen, but in the interests of culinary history, sought out a recipe for you. It has an ingredient called ‘chocolate pudding mix’ in it, as well as broken up commercial biscuits (Oreos, which I believe are quite revered in their homeland), and I confess I could go no further. I am not sure what ‘chocolate pudding mix’ is, but I am pretty sure I wouldn’t like it, and I am very sure it has no place in a cake. Call me a purist. Call me a snob. Just don’t call me to the table and make me eat chocolate pudding made from a mix.

I would, however, be more than willing to sample this recipe, from a 1972 American newspaper cooking column.

The Mississippi Mud Cake.
2 sticks melted butter*
2 cups of sugar
4 eggs
1 ½ cups of flour
⅓ cups cocoa
½ teas salt
1 ½ cups pecans (chopped)
1 teas vanilla.

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and sift flour, cocoa, salt, and add to cream mixture. Add vanilla, nuts shredded in flour, and pour in 9 x 12 square pan. Bake 30-40 mins at 350 degrees. Remove from stove and cover with marshmallows and brown, then while still warm pour frosting over cake and let cool. Cut into squares.

1 cup of powdered sugar
½ stick of butter
½ cup of evaporated milk
⅓ cup of cocoa
½ teas vanilla

Sift powdered sugar and cream with butter, Add evaporated milk, cocoa, and vanilla. Pour over cake while still warm.

*A ‘stick’ of butter, for those of you ‘elsewhere’, is 4oz, which is near enough to 125gm.

The newpaper article was called ‘Unusual Recipes’, and I cant resist also giving you the recipe that came after the the mud cake. It is worth it for the name alone.

After That.
1 stick of butter melted in pan.
1 cup of graham cracker crumbs
1 package of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 can of angel flake coconut
1 cup of chopped pecans
1 can of Eagle Brand milk.

Place in pan by layers, in order as written. Bake 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool in refrigerator several hours before slicing and taking out of pan.

I’d love some information or stories on ‘After That’, if you have any to share.


American, British, Canadian and Australian cup and spoon measures are different, which can make converting some recipes a bit tricky. For this sort of recipe, it seems to work OK just using your own country measures, as everything is in proportion, more or less. It would be a whole lot easier if we all just used weight measurements.

I briefly and bravely experimented with posting the conversion charts for cookery that I use myself, but it was beyond my technical skills to make them stay formatted in Blogger. There are plenty of them online, but if you email me, I’ll send you mine.

Monday’s Story …

Napoleon or Neapolitan?

Quotation for the Day …

As with most fine things, chocolate has its season. There is a simple memory aid that you can use to determine whether it is the correct time to order chocolate dishes: any month whose name contains the letter A, E, or U is the proper time for chocolate. Sandra Boynton.

P.S. Yesterday I told you that today's story was to be called "Heg Peg Dump". I was getting ahead of myself. That is the title of the story next Friday.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Mystery of Cooks.

Today, July 12th

On this day in 1482, King Edward IV granted the Cooks of London their first charter, thereby incorporating it as The Company of Cooks.

The preamble to the charter said “ "...the freemen of the Mystery of Cooks have for a long time personally taken and borne and to this day do not cease to take and bear great and manifold pains and labour as well at our great feast of St. George and at others according to our command...".

What is this “Mystery of Cooks”? I thought at first it was a collective noun, and there are few linguistic things more collectible than collective nouns. I can understand flock, and herd, and flight, but how come a ‘pitying of turtledoves’ and a ‘muse of capons’? On second thoughts, capons probably have much to muse about. A crash of rhinoceroses, a tower of giraffes, a pomp of pekingese, and a blessing of unicorns seem to fit, but a bind of salmon and a hover of trout are strange. For human groups we have conflagration of arsonists (obvious, that one), goring of butchers (ditto) and a shuffle of bureaucrats (ditto ditto). I particularly like an unction of undertakers, a converting of priests, and an ambush of widows too, but the food professions really caught my eye.

We have a tabernacle of bakers, a feast of brewers, and a glozing of taverners. A tabernacle is a sanctuary or place of worship, and a feast needs no explaining, so these nouns seem to fit the professions of baking and brewing quite well. ‘Glozing’ comes from an old English verb meaning ‘to interpret, explain away’, and means to use flattery or cajolery (to ‘gloss over’), which I guess can happen when one is exposed to the work of taverners, so it fits too. What we do not have is a mystery of cooks. The correct collective phrase is 'a hastiness of cooks’. Go figure, as they say.

A mystery, in the sense used in the fifteenth century charter, was ‘a trade guild or company’. It also means a ‘craft, art; a trade, profession’, and as far as the mystery of cooking goes I like the suggestion of things alchemical and secret and religious in the name. It would make a much better collective noun for a number of cooks than ‘a hastiness’, don’t you think?

This archaic use of the word mystery is often found in the titles of old cookbooks, such as today’s recipe source The complete practical cook: or, a new system of the whole art and mystery of cookery. Being a select collection of above five hundred recipes ... by Charles Carter, published in 1730. What to choose from it? Well, the OED gives another use of the word ‘mystery’ which touches on the cooking theme. It is in relation to ‘mystery meat’, which is ‘inferior meat of dubious origin, served as corned beef, sausages, etc.’ The supporting quotations also include hash and canned meat in the definition. ‘Hash’ is chopped meat (from the French verb hasher, meaning to chop). Here endeth the word lesson for the day. The recipe for the day, from Charles’ cookbook, is therefore for hash. But not a hash of dubious meat at all.

Hash’d Capons, Pullets, Turkeys, Pheasants, Partridges, or Rabbits.
Brown a Piece of Butter gold Colour, and put to it fine clear Gravy; hash the brawny and fleshy part of your Fowl very thin and small, and put to it your thicken’d Gravy; season with a little Pepper, Salt and Nutmeg, a whole Onion, and a Bundle of Thyme and Parsly; stove it a little, and take that out again: Put in the small Bones of your Fowl, and hack and broil the Legs; toss up your Hash with some thick Butter, and the Juice of an Orange or Lemon; let it be thick, and dish it on Sippets, and lay your small Bones and Legs about it and garnish it with Lemon or Orange

P.S if you really want to know about dubious mystery meat, see my notes on the tinned Australian meat perpetrated upon the Brits in the late nineteenth century. It is on the Companion site HERE. Now I have been reminded of the project, I promise to post a few more of the recipes at the weekend (I bet you cant wait)

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Muddy Cake Story.

Quotation for the Day …

A cook, when I dine, seems to me a divine being, who from the depths of his kitchen rules the human race. One considers him a minister of heaven, because his kitchen is a temple, in which his ovens are the altar. Desaugiers, 19th C French poet.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Portrait of a Gardener.

Today, July 11th ...

The register of deaths at the Magistro della Sanita of Milan records that the painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo died on this day in 1593, at about 66 year of age, from kidney stones. Arcimboldo is best known for his much-imitated ‘portraits’ made from carefully assemble fruits, flowers, vegetables, and other foods. It is possible that his idea of creating pictures in this way was inspired by dishes at actual banquets held by various artists of his time, who made compositions out of real food.

The paintings are surreal, before there was an official Surrealist movement, and are full of allegory and symbolism which is lost to many of us today (I include myself here), but which would have been clear to his patrons and contemporaries. They are also clever and fun, and we can all appreciate that. My favourite is “The Vegetable Gardener”. Or should it be “The Vegetable Bowl”?

Paintings sometimes give us good information about food and dining in previous times. It is easy to identify the carrots and onions in this picture, and is that the long stalks of cardoons on the right (or the left, depending on which image you are looking at)? Garlic for the eyes too. Can you see anything else?

The carrot is our vegetable of choice today. Carrots have been around since ancient, perhaps prehistoric times – but it seems that they may have originally been used for their seeds and leaves. It was probably the Arabs who introduced them from Afghanistan into the Middle East and Central Asia sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries, from whence they gradually spread to the Europe and Britain by the fifteenth century. These were different from the carrots we know today - they were purple or yellow, with thinner roots, and likely not as tender or sweet. It was the Dutch who bred the classical orange carrot in the sixteenth centuries, some say as an act of patriotic horticulture in honour of the Dutch Royal Family, the House of Orange.

The carrot belongs to the vegetable family Umbellifereae, and, as the name suggests, they have umbrella-like flower heads. There are over 3000 members of the family, including many herbs (parsley, dill, coriander, fennel and caraway) as well as celery and angelica. The carrot’s most obvious relative is the parsnip, which looks very similar and cooks very similar.

Here are some words and, and recipes of sorts, for both the carrot and the parsnip from the fifteenth century Italian Bartolomeo Sacchi (a.k.a Platina). He considers them simply variations of the same medicinally useful vegetable.

On the Carrot and Parsnip.
There are two kinds of parsnip … Doctors say that the parnsip is white while the carrot is red or almost black. … Both are difficult to digest and of little and harsh nourishment. The parsnip should be boiled twice, with the first water thrown away, and cooked with lettuce the second time. Transferred from there to a dish and seasoned with salt, vinegar, coriander, and pepper, it is suitable to eat, for it settles cough, pleurisy, and dropsy, and arouses passion. It is even customary for it to be rolled in meal and fried in oil and fat when it has been hollowed out after the first boiling.
Carrot is seasoned in the same way as parsnip, but it is considered sweeter if cooked under warm ash and coals. When it is taken out, it should cool a little, be peeled, scraped entirely free of ash, cut up in bits and transferredin to a dish. Salt should be added, oil and vinegar sprinkled on, some condensed must or must added, and sweet spices sprinkled over. There is nothing more pleasant to eat than this. It is good for people in two respects, for it represses bile and moves the urine. In other ways it is harmful, as it is for liver, stomach, and spleen.
[On Right Pleasure and Good Health; Platina (1475), from the Milham translation]

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Mystery of Cooks.

Quotation for the Day …

Some guy invented Vitamin A out of a carrot. I'll bet he can't invent a good meal out of one. Will Rogers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cheshire Cheese at Sea.

Today, July 10th ...

Henry Teonge, was a chaplain in the Royal Navy in the seventeenth century, and served aboard his Majesty’s ships Assistance, Bristol, and Royal Oak. He wrote in his diary on this day in 1675:

“Wee are past the Rock of Lysbon … This day our noble Capt. Feasted the officers of his small squadron with 4 dishes of meate, viz. 4 excellent henns and a piece of porke boyled, in a dish; a giggett of excellent mutton and turnips; a piece of beife of 8 ribbs, well seasoned and roasted; a couple of very fatt geese; last of all, a great Cheshyre cheese…”

Cheshire cheese appears to be Britain’s oldest named cheese, and it is mentioned in the Domesday Book at the end of the 11th Century. The name originally referred to any cheese made in that part of the country, and it covered a wide range of cheese styles, from the fresh and crumbly to the aged, harder variety. It had a special association with the Royal Navy, which purchased great quantities for provisioning ships for long voyages. Perhaps it was the sheer volume of cheese produced in Cheshire (and also Gloucester) that ensured they were the only cheeses bought by the Navy in the eighteenth century. Currently about 6,500 tonnes are made annually, and it is one of the U.K.’s most popular crumbly cheeses.

The author of European Agriculture and Rural Economy, a Henry Colman, got some instructions for the making of a fine Cheshire Cheese from a dairy wife in 1851. He reproduced them ‘verbatim and in full’ in his book.

Cheshire Cheese: “Take thirty gallons of new milk to make a good-sized cheese, and then put the rennet into the milk. When come into curd, break it very small; then bring it together into one side of the tub; then dip the whey from it, and put it into the cheese, with a cloth inside of the vat, and put it under the press one hour; then take it out and break it up very small, and warm a small quantity of whey and pour over the curd, and stir it around; then take the whey from it, and put the curd into the vat again, and squeeze it well with the hand. When putting it in the vat the last way, take a small quantity of salt, and put it into the middle of the cheese, and put it under the press. Apply dry cloths to it several times, and salt it every twelve hours four tiimes. A little flour is a very good thing to put in the middle of the cheese with the salt – about one tablespoonful.”
What the use of the flour is in this case, it would be difficult to say. It may be like the horse-shoe upon the door-post. But I chose to give her directions verbatim and in full. Her cheese is of the best quality, and her dairy-room a model of neatness and order.

Here are a couple of ideas for your ‘Leftover Cheese’ recipe folder:

For potting Cheshire Cheese.
Put three Pounds of Cheshire Cheese into a Mortar, then take a Pound of the best fresh Butter you can get; pound them together, and in the beating add a Glass or two of Canary, and half an Ounce of Mace, so finely beat and sifted that it cannot be discered. When all is well mixed, press it hard down into a Pan, cover it with melted Butter, and keep it cool.
A Slice of this upon Bread eats very fine.
[The complete English cook; or, prudent housewife; Catharine Brooks; 1770?]

To make a Cheshire Cheese Soop.
Put the Crumb of a Penny-loaf into three Pints of Water, boil it, and grate half a Pound of old Cheshire, put it into the Bread and boil it.
[Professed cookery:…. Ann Cook; 1760?]
Tomorrow’s Story …

Portrait of a Gardener.

Quotation for the Day …

People who know nothing about cheeses reel away from Camembert, Roquefort, and Stilton because the plebeian proboscis is not equipped to differentiate between the sordid and the sublime. Harvey Day.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tripe, Glasgow Style.

Today, July 9th

The Scotsman newspaper carried this notice on 9th July 1831:


JANET LUMSDEN takes this opportunity of expressing her sincere gratitude to the public for the very flattering encouragement she has received for a number of years, and respectfully intimates, that as the Magistrates have resolved to take down the Booth in which she formerly carried on business, she has removed to No.1, Market St, opposite the Slaughter House. Her new premises are spacious, not exposed either to the scorching sun or withering winds; and her Cow Heel and Tripe are now far superior to what they were formally. In the evenings from 7-9 o’clock, she is now supplying her customers and families with warm Tripe, prepared in the real Glasgow style, in any quantity her friends are pleased to order.

It would be fascinating to know the reason for the Magistrates’ decision on Janet’s premises. Were they declared unsanitary? Was a new Court House going up? Was she behind in her rent? Whatever it was, Janet was clearly made of very pragmatic stuff, able to turn the situation to her (and her customers’ advantage) by declaring her new premises and her old product even better than before.

Buying take-away dinner is not a new phenomenon. It was the norm for many centuries for people to buy their dinner at cookshops such as this one, because most urban poor did not have kitchens or equipment or fuel. Tripe and Cow Heel were once popular (perhaps because they were cheap) for the working class (urban or rural), but I somehow doubt that they will become fashionable again soon. Chinese take-aways and burger joints are probably safe from competition for a while yet.

I have no idea what style of tripe is ‘the real Glasgow style’, and am hoping one of my readers will enlighten me. I looked hard for a tempting recipe for tripe, but instead found a frightening one. If the thought of eating any style of tripe frightens you, how about one prepared in England and shipped to the East Indies, for your enjoyment some months later.

To preserve tripe to go to the East-Indies.
Get a fine belly of tripe, quite fresh. Take a four gallon cask well hoop’d, lay in your tripe, and have your pickle ready made thus; take seven quarts of spring water, and put as much salt into it as will make an egg swim, that the little end of the egg may be about an inch above the water; (you must take care to have the fine clear salt, for the common salt will spoil it) add a quart of the best white vinegar, two sprigs of rosemary, an ounce of all-spice, pour it on your tripe; let the cooper fasten the cask down directly; when it comes to the Indies, it must not be opened till it is just a-going to be dressed; for it wont keep after the cask is opened. The way to dress it is, lay it in water half and hour; then fry or boil it as we do here.
[Hannah Glasse, 8th edition (1763) of The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy …]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Cheshire Cheese at Sea.

Quotation for the Day …

Far from the Parlor have your Kitchin plac’d
Dainties may in their working be disgrac’d.
In private draw your Poultry, clean your Tripe,
And from your Eels their slimy Substance wipe.
Let cruel Offices be done by Night,
For those who like the Thing abhor the Sight.
[The Art of Cookery, in imitation of Horace’s Art of poetry … by William King; 1708]