Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Humble Gleaners.

Today, July 4th

Today being The Fourth of July, for no particular reason other than I find its title oddly appealing, I decided to feature a little community cookbook compiled by the Ladies’ Aid Society of the First Congregational Church of Oakland, California in 1883.

The book is called “Still another," a book of choice recipes, and it is a collection of ‘favourite cooking recipes of those ladies of our Society who have long been recognized as authorities amongst us in all matters connected with housekeeping.’ The vaguely apologetic tone of the title is continued in the Preface, as the ladies admit that they ‘…claim no place among the grand compendiums of Housewifery; we have been humble gleaners in the field of culinary art.’

Many individual recipes bear the name of the particular humble culinary gleaner (or authoritative housekeeper) who supplied it, but the little ‘poem’ at the end is completely unacknowledged (and untitled).

Grate Gruyere’s cheese on macaroni,
Make the top crisp, but not too bony.

Roast veal with rich stock gravy serve;
And pickled mushrooms too, observe.

Roast pork, sans apple sauce, past doubt,
Is Hamlet with the Prince left out.

Your mutton chops with paper cover,
And make them amber brown all over.

Broil lightly your beefsteak – to fry it
Argues contempt of Christian diet.

Buy stall-fed pigeons; when you’ve got them
The best way to cook them is to pot them.

It gives true epicures the vapors,
To see broiled mutton minus capers.

To roast spring chickens is to spoil ‘em
Just split them down the back and broil ‘em.

Boiled turkey, gourmands know, of course,
Is exquisite with Challenge Sauce.

Egg sauce – few make it righ, alas! –
Is good with blue fish, or with bass.

Nice oyster sauce gives zest to cod;
A fish, when fresh, to feast a god.

Shad, stuffed and baked, is most delicious,
‘Twould have electrified Apicius.

Methinks the good ladies should have stuck to recipe writing.

Its artistic qualities aside, this poem did throw up one challenge. What is Challenge Sauce? There is no recipe for it in the book. It turns out that it was a commercial sauce produced by Messrs Durkee, supposedly in an attempt to mimic the very popular English Worcestershire Sauce made by Messrs Lea & Perrins’. Messrs Durkee did not hold their advertising copywriter back from promoting its unsurpassed ‘piquancy and richness of flavor’, nor its superiority over its competitors. One advertisement for it in 1873 read:

‘Pronounced by connoisseurs unqualifiedly the best, and at the same time a "perfect Sauce" for table use. It is cheaper than the English, and no dearer than the disgusting trash put up in this country and sold as Sauces.’

There are other questions raised by the ‘poem’ of course, as there always are. Just why is frying your steak an un-Christian act? How does covering your mutton chops with paper make them ‘amber brown all over’? And what, pray, is so difficult about Egg Sauce, a recipe for which is given in the book?

Egg Sauce.

Boil two or three eggs hard, cut them fine, and stir them into your drawn butter; if too thick, add a little cream or rich milk.

Happy culinary gleaning to you all!

Tomorrow’s Story …

Lobster, two cents apiece.

Quotation for the Day …

Another peculiarity of this country is the absence of napkins, even in the homes of the wealthy. Napkins, as a rule, are never used and one has to wipe one's mouth on the tablecloth, which in consequence suffers in appearance. Baron Ludwig von Closen (on American eating habits) (1780)


Lapinbizarre said...

Don't you think that this is quite probably a British poem of maybe 50 years earlier, resurrected by a contributor to the book? The style is passé for the 1880's, and much of the food mentioned hardly strikes one as "Californian". Mutton with caper sauce is a very old-style British dish. Stall fed pigeons and mutton chops also sound very British - 1840's perhaps? Shad is an Atlantic, not a Pacific fish.

My guess is that it was written by someone familiar with S. Smith's salad recipe in verse - someone very definitely not in Smith's league as a stylist, but attempting to write in the same vein:

"Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl, and, scarce-suspected, animate the whole", sort of thing?

In which case, perhaps consider what the person submitting the recipe might have misremembered or mistranscribed as "challenge sauce", rather than seeking a recipe for challenge sauce itself.

Lapinbizarre said...

Afterthought. Mrs Beeton recommends "chestnut sauce", which is a possibility, for fowls or turkey. The chestnut is alien to the Western US. It was grown on the East Coast - cf. Longfellow's "Under a spreading chestnut-tree the village smithy stands" - but was largely wiped out by blight. Chestnuts still show up in the US around xmas, but are pretty-well invariably the previous season's crop, imported, and too much decayed (dried out, mouldy) to be worth the trouble of attempting to use them.

Anyway, how about maybe someone unfamiliar with the chestnut, substituting another word?

Lapinbizarre said...

pps. Lady Clark has three chestnut sauce recipes, all for turkey.