Friday, August 31, 2007

Food from the Fens.

Today, August 31st

Today I am in Norfolk, renewing my acquaintance with my cousin and her family. I guess that is as good an excuse as any to discuss the specialties of this flat waterworld on the bumpy bit of the East coast of England.

We have, come to think of it, often dined here in the second half of the nineteenth century with the delightful Parson James Woodforde, who lived in Norfolk for over forty years. His diary is a delightful record of the time and the place and his dinner table. Perhaps we should get more specific today. I understand that a trip to the Colman mustard shop is on the agenda prepared by my cousin Jo. The Colman family have been making mustard in Norfolk since 1814, so I expect the shop to be fun - I’ll report back on that after my visit.

Norfolk has a long coastline and a lot of waterways (‘The Norfolk Broads’) and some of its fish and shellfish are famous: where would history be without Yarmouth herrings? Oysters from Colchester oysters were so beloved of the Roman invaders that they sent them them back to Rome using teams of runners who took only four days to deliver their cargo – a feat that gives a whole new meaning to the concept of “food miles”. And where would chefs around the world be without Maldon sea-salt?

The Norfolk food joke is the ‘Norfolk Dumpling’ – which has somehow taken connotations of an ethnic slur – I am not sure why that is, as it is essentially no different from dumplings or suet puddings or any other carbohydrate and fat heavy ‘filler’ enjoyed by hungry peasants and farm workers for centuries. Perhaps a Norfolk historian can suggest an explanation?

The aristocracy have to eat too, of course. Here is an elegant take on rice pudding (or is it rice pie? Rice custard pie?). Please don’t stint on the quantity of brandy and Madeira, I am sure the Duke would be upset.

Duke of Norfolk’s Pudding.
Take six eggs, separate the yolks from the whites, beat up the yolks with a glassful of brandy, and flavour well with nutmeg and sugar. Boil a large cupful of the best Carolina rice in a pint of Madeira for half an hour; add one dozen ratafia cakes and the egg mixture, and beat all together. Have ready a dish lined with puff paste, and bake slowly for three-quarters of an hour.
[Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, 1870’s]

Monday’s Story …

Magna Carta Cake.

Quotation for the Day …

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.
Mary Anne Radmacher Hershey

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Drinking and Eating Apple Jack.

Today, August 30th

The G(A)stronomer – whose guest post on Celestial Alcohol you enjoyed so much – apparently has a favourite tipple. Or class of tipple actually. Anything alcoholic made from apple. I feel fairly sure that cider and apple brandy and all variations thereof have been made ever since there were men and apples – in other words, since long before recorded time. There is then no timeline or specific historic points that I can detail. My investigations did turn up one interesting thing however.

As you no doubt know, ‘apple jack’ is an Americanism for alcohol made from apples – sometimes it seems to mean cider, sometimes the even harder stuff. If any of my American readers wish to clarify this wish-washy definition, please do so in the comments, for the edification of all of us. In some English counties, ‘apple-jack’ however, is dessert (it is possible that some of you consider the liquid variety in this way too, I suppose) in Suffolk.

An ‘Apple-jack’ in Suffolk is (or was) an apple turnover. It is “a homely sort of pastry” made by “folding sliced apples with sugar in a coarse crust, and baking them without a pan”. It is identical to an Apple-Stucklin (Hants.) an Apple-Twelin (Norfolk), an Apple-Hoglin, a Flap-Jack and a Crab Lanthorn. Who would have thought that a very ordinary farmer’s fare could have so many regional names? If any of my English readers can add some more, please also do so in the comments, for the further edification of us all.

You can, dear G(A)stronomer, have your American alcoholic apple-jack and eat it too. Here is a recipe from The American Peoples Cookbook (1956), with two variations.

Cider Salad.
Mrs. Joe A. Engler, LeMars, Iowa.
Lightly oil with salad or cooking oil (not olive oil), a 1-qt fancy mold. Set aside to drain.
Pour into a small bowl
½ cup cold water.
Sprinkle evenly over cold water
2 tablespoons (2 env.) unflavored gelatin
Let gelatin stand about 5 min to soften
Heat until very hot
2 cups apple cider
¼ teaspoon salt

Remove from heat and immediately add softened gelatin, stirring until gelatin is completely dissolved. Spoon a small amount of the gelatin mixture into mold. Chill in refrigerator until partially set. Cool remaining mixture; chill until slightly thicker than the consistency of thick, unbeaten egg white.
Just before gelatin is of desired consistency, prepare
2 cups (about 2 medium-size) diced apple (do not pare),
¼ cup (about 1 oz) chopped walnuts,
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley.

When gelatin is of desired consistency, blend in the apples, walnuts, and parsley. Turn into the mold. Chill in refrigerator until firm.
Unmold onto chilled serving plate. Garnish with
Curly endive.

Apple-Jack Salad.
Follow above recipe. Decrease cider to 1 ¾ cups. Add ¼ cup apple brandy to gelatin after it has cooled but before chilling it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Food from the Fens.

Quotation for the Day …

When we examine the story of a nation's eating habits, describing the changing fashions of preparation and presentation and discussing the development of ifs cuisine throughout the ages, then we find an outline of the nation's history, harking back to those distant days when a scattered tribe lurked in dismal caves, feeding on raw fish and plants and the hot. quivering flesh of wild beasts, lately slain with a rude spear. Auguste Escoffier.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Duck Egg Ideas.

Today, August 29th

Today’s topic is the request of Jo Davidson, an Aussie who keeps chooks and honey-bees and “cooks a bit too”. Apparently she has a supply of duck eggs, and is interested in some ideas for using them.

Well Jo, I do have a most interesting recipe for you. Do let me know if you try it.

Larks in Shells.
Boil twelve Hen or Duck Eggs soft; take out all the Inside, making a handsome Round at the Top; then fill half the Shells with passed Crumbs, and roast your Larks; put one in every Shell, and fill your Plate with passed Crumbs brown; so serve as Eggs in Shells.
[The lady's companion: or, an infallible guide to the fair sex. Containing, rules, directions, and observations, for their conduct and behaviour ... The second edition. London, 1740]

In case you cant get larks or a suitable substitute, or you still have duck eggs to use up, you can substitute them for any recipe using hens’ eggs, remembering to take into account that duck eggs are larger. If you are sick of scrambled and fried and so on, you could salt them as the Chinese and Thai do. The best way of course, as I know you are fully aware, is to use them in baking. Duck eggs are superb in cakes because of the yolk has more fat and the white has more protein than hens’ eggs, both of which help enormously in making cakes rise and stay risen. Here is a recipe for a cake that specifically suggests duck eggs.

Blue Ribbon Pound Cake
4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 cups butter or margarine
1 cup milk
2 tsp. lemon or vanilla extract, or 1 of each
3 cups sugar
6 duck eggs or 10 hen eggs
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside. Have butter, milk and eggs at room temperature. Cream butter until very light and fluffy then add sugar gradually, creaming all the while. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.
Combine milk and flavoring. Add dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Do this in four or five additions.
Pour into a well greased and floured bundt pan and a small loaf pan.
Bake at 300 degrees for one hour and 20 minutes
[From an Abilene newspaper of 1976]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Drinking and Eating Apple Jack.

Quotation for the Day …

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn." Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Retro Cookbook.

Today, August 28th

That intrepid Retro Cake cook, T.W. Barritt of Culinary Types has asked for some information on a cookbook in his possession. It is a 1930’s copy of The American Woman's Cookbook edited by Ruth Berolzheimer.

Well, this one was an interesting challenge, T.W.!

Ruth Berolzheimer died in 1965 after a long and illustrious career as a “cooking and child welfare expert” (according to her obituary). She was for years the director of the Culinary Arts Institute, and the editor/author of a number of books.

The The American Woman's Cookbook was originally published in 1939 (or perhaps 1938?) by the directors of the College of Home Economics of Cornell University, under the auspices of the Delineator Institute – and it seems that it was descended from an earlier Delineator Cookbook. The Delineator Cookbook in turn was derived from a fashion magazine called The Delineator, which was originally produced in the 1870’s by the Butterick sewing pattern company.

The book contains over 10,000 recipes, and went to many printings of many editions. From the outset was considered a trustworthy and comprehensive resource, and I was delighted to find that for those of us not lucky enough to own a real copy, there is an online version available via the Internet Archive. So – thankyou for the idea, T.W, it has led me to a new resource.

Naturally, in view of T.W’s interest in baking, I have to give you a couple of classical cake recipes from the book.

One-Two-Three-Four Cake (Measure Cake)
1 cup butter or other shortening
2 cups sugar
3 cups sifted cake flour
4 eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add egg yolks 1at a time, beating thoroughly after each one is added. Sift dry ingredients together 3 times and add alternately with milk and vanilla to creamed mixture, beating until smooth after each addition. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into pans linedwith waxed paper and bake in moderate oven (350F.) 25 minutes. Makes 3 (9 -inch) layers.

Old-Fashioned Poundcake
1 pound butter (2 cups)
1 pound sifted cake flour (4 cups)
10 eggs, separated
1 pound sugar (2 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter, work in flour until mixture is mealy. Beat egg yolks, sugar and vanilla until thick and fluffy. Add first mixture gradually, beating thoroughly. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Beat vigorously 5 minutes. Bake in 2 loaf pans lined with waxed paper, in a moderately slow oven (325F.) 1 ¼ hours. Makes 2 loaves (8x4 inches).

Tomorrow’s Story …

Duck Egg Ideas.

Quotation for the Day …

I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad. George Bernard Shaw

Monday, August 27, 2007

Roots, by Request.

Today, August 27th

If all goes according to plan, I will be posting this from London! My holiday postings will be on topics suggested by readers, and a couple at my own whim.

“M” of The Cat’s Tripe was first in with a request. She asks for a story on ‘rapunzel, scorzonera, skirret.’

These are indeed old-fashioned root vegetables, thoroughly deserving of an honourable modern mention and an overdue revival. First, a definition for those of you who may not be familiar with them.

Rapunzel is another name for rampion or ramps (Campanula rapunculus), a species of bellflower with an edible root and leaves, both of which can be used in a salad.

Scorzonera ((Scorzonera hispanica ) is from the family Asteraceae, the family that includes the sunflower which we featured last week. It has a long black root and is a cousin to the white-rooted salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius), which we have met in a previous story. In recognition of their relationship, it is sometimes referred to as ‘black salsify’ but once upon a time was also called by the far more interesting name of viper-grass because of its supposed protection against venomous snake bites. As if that wasn’t enough names between them, both salsify and scorzonera are also sometimes named ‘vegetable oyster’ because of their supposed similar flavour.

Skirrets (Sium sisarum) are a species of water parsnip, also now hardly grown, but very common in early cookbooks, before they became overwhelmed by the invasion of bright orange carrots into England.

Murray's modern cookery book. Modern domestic cookery, by a lady (1851) has one highly adaptable recipe:

Salsifis, Skirrets, And Scorzanera,
Are not much known in England, though all good, and deserving of more general cultivation. The salsifis are white, and not unlike small parsnips, and ripen the first year, whilst scorzanera is black, and requires 2 years in coming to perfection; but it is preferable of the two. In flavour they somewhat resemble Jerusalem artichokes. They are much cultivated in France, and appear in the markets as a very late winter or early spring vegetable. Scrape them and throw them into water with a little lemon-juice squeezed into it to keep them white; boil in milk-and-water; serve with melted butter or white sauce; or stew them in rich brown gravy; or, when boiled tender, dip in batter and fry quite crisp.

The Lady does not include a recipe for rapunzel in her book, but luckily good old Cassell’s Dictionary (1870’s) comes to the rescue, while bemoaning its passing from popularity.

The root of this plant, which is white and spindle-shaped, used to be much in request for the table under the name of rampion or ramps. The plant is now little cultivated in Britain, but it is still commonly grown in France for the sake of the roots, which are used either boiled or as a salad, and of its young leaves, which are also employed as a salad. The esculent roots are far more delicate than turnips or radishes: the seeds are ophthalmic. The root, either sliced together with its leaves in salads, or eaten as the radish, as well as boiled like asparagues, is most palatable when drawn young, and eaten fresh from the ground.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Retro Cookbook.

Quotation for the Day …

One of the gladdest moments of human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares and the slavery of home, man feels once more happy. Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Salad Bizarre.

The Sunflower Salad of last week generated a little interest on account of it challenging the very notion of salad. It made me curious as to what else might pass as ‘salad’. I went first of all to the source of the recipe - The Lily Wallace New American Cook Book (1946), and have been unable to pursue the line of research any further after discovering this:

Frozen Waldorf Salad.
2 eggs
½ cup sugar.
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup pineapple juice
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ cup shredded pineapple
1 cup whipping cream
2 apples, chopped finely.
Beat eggs slightly. Add the sugar, salt, and fruit juices. Cook over hot water until thick. Cool. Fold in fruit and whipped cream. Pour into refrigerator tray and freeze. Cut in squares and serve on a bed of lettuce. Serves 6.

Random Thoughts on the Concept of Frozen Waldorf Salad:
I suppose it is the celery that makes it salad.
I don’t know whether or not mayonnaise would be an improvement or not.
I think this is the salad you have when you are having ice-cream.
Or is it the ice-cream you are having when you are having salad?
It would be perfect for those moments when you think that life is short, so you want to eat dessert first, but are afraid to make it even shorter by doing so, so you compromise and have salad instead.
How many times was the recipe tested before it was deemed perfect enough to go into the book, and who was on the taste testing panel?
This salad idea renders me almost speechless.

Please add your own Random Thoughts in the comments section.

I am off to England tomorrow morning. Stories are already prepared, but their regular posting will be dependent on a number of things, the primary one being my ability to connect to the Internet successfully all by myself in strange places without the assistance of The Old Foodie Spouse. By the end of the week I will be at the home of my cousin, who has grandchildren of a certain age, and I am sure they will be a great help in matters technical.

Oxford Symposium Here I Come! I hope to meet some of you there.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A peppercorn ransom.

Today, August 24th

History, they say, is written by the victors. In the case of ancient history, it is also often written long after the event, and therefore of dubious accuracy especially when it comes to such specific things as calendar dates. To clinch the pre-story disclaimer, I would like to remind you, faithful readers, that a real historian I am not. I do not know exactly if this is the anniversary of the final sacking of Rome by Alaric the Visigoth (damn fine name, that, for a conqueror) 1,597 years ago. Either history or legend says that it is, and either will serve us well enough for introducing the topic of pepper – and particularly its price and value.

By the year 410 the barbarian (Alaric) was literally at the gate of Rome, the hub of a now crumbling empire. His ransom, it is said was the usual victor’s demand of land, gold, silver etc – and also 3,000 pounds of pepper. Certainly, the Visigoths were hungry, but the pepper was not to spice up the spoils of their pillaging and foraging. Pepper was an enormously valuable spice (at times it was literally worth its weight in gold), and was often actually used as currency.

The love of pepper seems to be part of being human – and it has been suggested that we have learned to like spices because they are good for us. ‘Spice’ is a culinary term, not a botanical one, and the foods we call ‘spicy’ are plant foods, and it seems that the ‘spiciness’ we perceive comes from chemicals which plants have developed as defence mechanisms against insects and infecting agents. The theory is that when we eat these foods, we are ‘borrowing’ some of the protective ability, thus conferring an evolutionary advantage over our more culinarily-challenged human competitors. We are all familiar with the general theory of anti-oxidants, but here is also some tantalising (but as yet unconfirmed) evidence for specific foods being protective of specific diseases – cinnamon in diabetes and turmeric in dementia for example. So, if you needed any excuse to eat Indian food, there you have a new one: it may well be good for your health.

The intense desire for spices drove much if not most of the early voyages of discovery and conquest. Pepper originated in India, in what is now called Kerala, and it has been traded since very ancient times – to this day is the most widely traded spice in the world. Alaric would have been confident that the Romans would have had good stocks of pepper - they clearly loved the spice: in the only surviving Roman cookbook De re coquinaria it is used in 349 of 468 recipes. They even used it in sweetmeats.

Home-made Sweets (Dulcia Domestica)
Little home confections (which are called dulciaria) are made thus: Little Palms (or as they are ordinarily called) Dates are stuffed – after the seeds have been removed – with a nut or with nuts and ground pepper, sprinkled with salt on the outside and are candied in honey and served.

And we think that salted toffee is a new fashion!

Also from this cookbook: we have previously featured recipes from this book for Flamingo , and for Green Sauce for Fowl, and Stuffed Dormouse.

Monday’s Story …

Roots, by request.

Quotation for the Day ….

The army from Asia introduced a foreign luxury to Rome; it was then the meals began to require more dishes and more expenditure . . . the cook, who had up to that time been employed as a slave of low price, become dear: what had been nothing but a métier was elevated to an art. Livy (Titus Livius), Roman historian (59-17 B.C.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vegetable Confectionary.

Today, August 23rd

A newspaper article on this day in 1943 described the “bright new future for the sweet potato”. Professor Ware of Alabama Polytechnic had given a demonstration of a “surprising array of new concoctions” made from the vegetable. One of these concoctions was Alayam (an intentional anagram of Malaya? If so, why?), a sweetened, dehydrated product that was 48% sugar (making it no surprise that it tasted ‘like caramel taffy’). This basic product was then used to manufacture a number of other foods, such as breakfast cereal, pie-crust, and a sort of candy made in the form of pretzel-like sticks flavoured with (depending on which report you read) with ‘peanuts, pecans, coconut or pineapple’, or ‘oranges, nuts, or macaroon’.

The professor hoped (or expected) that his invention would become a regular food after the war, but the world seemed to have been underwhelmed by the idea, and it did not happen - unless we are all eating it unawares in the same way that we consume vast quantities of corn syrup.

Professor Ware was not the first to see the possibilities in this sweet, carbohydrate-rich vegetable. George Washington Carver, the brilliant African-American agricultural scientist had promoted it and been creative with it at least a decade before. Carver developed 118 products from the sweet potato. Not all of these were edible - they included postage-stamp glue, ink, and a form of rubber – but the vast majority were. Amongst the food products were things like mock coconut, mock ginger, and substitutes for coffee, egg yolk, and tapioca. I am not sure why it was felt that the world needed a substitute for tapioca, but it was there, if your need was desperate.

One of Carver’s promotional methods was to publish bulletins describing the use of various products. Here are a couple of sweet potato recipes from Bulleting Number 38, 1936. Who needed Alayam after all?

Sweet Potato Muffins
Boil until thoroughly done a sweet potato weighing about 3/4 of a pound; mash very fine; pass through colander to free it from lumps; add to it a large tablespoonful of butter and a little salt; whip well, now add 1/2 cupful of milk and two well beaten eggs and flour enough to make a soft batter, which will be about two cupfuls. Before adding the flour sift into it one teaspoon of baking powder. Bake in muffin rings or gem pans.

Sweet Potato Nuts
Take one pint of boiled and mashed potatoes, one pint of toasted bread crumbs rolled fine, one pint of mixed nut meats chopped fine (peanuts are excellent); season with salt, a little pepper, also sage and mace if desired; take the yolks of two eggs; stir in two teaspoons of baking powder; whip until light; pour it into the above mixture and stir well; form into small cakes; dip each into the whites of the eggs, then into shredded cocoanut and brown in a frying pan containing a little pork fat (not deep fat) turn; brown on both sides.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A peppercorn ransom.

Quotation for the Day ….

Do you know what breakfast cereal is made of ? It's made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners ! Roald Dahl

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chicken Soup for the Masses.

Today, August 22nd

Canned commercial soup was in the headlines on this day in 1971 in Texas. Campbell’s Chicken Soup to be exact. It is often said that bad publicity is good publicity, and this might be true of wannabe film stars, but it is not necessarily the case when you are a food producer and your product is being recalled because of possible botulism.

Poisoning by the nerve toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum is a pretty scary thought. It might be very desirable when injected into your wrinkles or thin lips (Bo Tox – get it?) but a mere 90 micrograms per kilogram of your body weight by mouth can paralyse you to death. The bacteria is found in soil, from whence, if you are spectacularly unlucky, it can get into you via the food you eat.

Botulism is usually associated with home-canned foods, not the commercial variety, which gives the story of the day greater impact: consumers expect the experts to do it better and safer than they can do it themselves. What is doubly ironic is that of all the lines of canned food it was chicken soup that was recalled. The universally accepted comfort food. Good for the Soul as well as the Body. A metaphor for healing, soothing, restoring. A good title for a series of books (although Chicken Soup for the Woman Golfer’s Soul may be stretching the metaphor a little far.)

The word ‘soup’ covers a broad range of dishes, but the essential feature is that the dish is ‘liquid’ and has to be drunk, or spooned. It is associated with the word ‘sops’ which used to refer to the bread which was dipped into broth or wine, but somewhere along the way, as words do, changed and came to refer to the dip not the dipper. The word ‘soup’ seems to have come into common usage in about the mid-seventeenth century, and although it often referred to a ‘pottage’, this was not always the case.

Here is an example, from Robert May’s Accomplish’t Cook (1660). The echo of ‘sops’ is here in this still quite medieval-sounding sweet-savoury recipe.

Soops, or butter’d Meats of Spinage.
Take fine young spinage, pick and wash it clean; then have a skillet or pan of fair liquor on the fire, and when it boils, put in the spinage, give it a walm [a momentary boil] or two, and take it out into a cullender, let it drain, then mince it small, and put it in a pipkin with some slic’t dates, butter, white wine, beaten cinamon, salt, sugar, and some boil’d currans, stew them well together, and dish them on sippets finely carved, and about it hard eggs in halves or quarters, not too hard boild, and scrape on sugar.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Vegetable Confectionary.

Quotation for the Day ….

And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either. John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sunflowers, art, and salad.

Today, August 21st

Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo from Arles, on this day in 1888.

“I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won't surprise you when you know that what I'm at is the painting of some big sunflowers”.

I love it that one hundred and nineteen days ago to this very day – perhaps even this very hour – Vincent was creating with all the colours of the yellow rainbow one of his famous sunflower paintings. Such a gloriously happy, sunny painting by a man dead by his own hand less than two years later. Vincent never managed to sell a single painting in his lifetime. Perhaps on this day in 1888 he was painting the very picture that sold in 1987 for almost $40 million US dollars?

Today, in honour of the often literally starving artist, we are going to consider sunflowers as food. Sunflowers belong to the family Asteraceae – which means plants with heads composed of many florets. It is the largest family of flowering plants in the world with about 24,000 species – and we eat many of them. Dandelions, artichokes, cardoons, Jerusalem artichokes, lettuce, endive, chrysanthemums, marigolds are all members of the same family as the Sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

The Sunflower originated in North America, was first domesticated by American Indians (for whom it was an important food), and was first grown commercially in Russian (probably because sunflower oil was not prohibited by the Church from consumption during Lent, as were many other oils). It is an extremely important seed crop in the world, with some varieties being grown specifically for oil production and some for the whole seed itself.

I got misled and waylaid in my search for an interesting use of sunflower seeds by a recipe with the title ‘Sunflower Salad’. It does not contain sunflower seeds, but it seems tragically appropriate today when we have art as a starting theme. This recipe gives a whole new meaning to the concept of Art-on-a-Plate.

Sunflower salad.
Take sliced peaches and arrange on lettuce so as to form the petals of a flower. Place a scoop of chocolate ice-cream in the center. For the stem use a thin slice of pepper and for the leaves, bits of lettuce. This is very attractive and can be served with any of the many brands of dainty crackers.
Allow 2 slices of peach per serving.
[The Lily Wallace New American Cook Book; 1946]

Tomorrow’s Story ...

Chicken Soup for the Masses.

Quotation for the Day ….

My grandfather had a wonderful funeral. It was held in a big hall with accordion players. On the buffet table there was a replica of the deceased in potato salad. Woody Allen.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Advice to picnic parties.

Today, August 20th

This time of the year seems to be a perfect time for considering picnics. In the northern hemisphere it is time to tally up the number of picnics enjoyed so far and make up for any shortfall before the summer ends; in the southern hemisphere where it is still cool, it is time to start planning picnic menus in time for spring.

In a previous story I gave you Mrs Beeton’s suggested list of comestibles for a picnic for forty persons, and it would do well to refer to it in your planning. As to the venue and logistics, here is some advice from Punchinello on this date in 1870:


At this culminating period of the summer season, it is natural that the civic mind should turn itself to the contemplation of sweet rural things, including shady groves, lunch baskets, wild flowers, sandwiches, bird songs, and bottled lager-bier.
The skies are at their bluest, now; the woods and fields are at their greenest; flowers are blooming their yellowest, and purplest, and scarletest. All Nature is smiling, in fact, with one large, comprehensive smile, exactly like a first-class PRANG chromo with a fresh coat of varnish upon it.
Things being thus, what can be more charming than a rural excursion to some tangled thicket, the very brambles, and poison-ivy, and possible copperhead snakes of which are points of unspeakable value to a picnic party, because they are sensational, and one cannot have them in the city without rushing into fabulous extra expense. It is good, then, that neighbors should club together for the festive purposes of the picnic, and a few words of advice regarding the arrangement of such parties may be seasonable.
If your excursion includes a steamboat trip, always select a boat that is likely to be crowded to its utmost capacity, more especially one of which a majority of the passengers are babies in arms. There will probably be some roughs on board, who will be certain to get up a row, in which case you can make the babies in arms very effective as buffers for warding off blows, while the crowd will save you from being knocked down.
Should there be a bar on board the steamer, it will be the duty of the gentlemen of the party to keep serving the ladies with cool beverages from it at brief intervals during the trip. This will promote cheerfulness, and, at the same time, save for picnic duty proper the contents of the stone jars that arc slumbering aweetly amongst the pork-pies and apple-dumplings by which the lunch-baskets are occupied.
Never take more than one knife and fork with you to a picnic, no matter how large the party may be. The probability is that you may be attacked by a gang of rowdies and it is no part of your business to furnish them with weapons.
Avoid taking up your ground near a swamp or stagnant water of any kind. This is not so much on account of mosquitoes as because of the small saurian reptiles that abound in such places. If your party is a large one, there will certainly be one lady in it, at least, who has had a lizard in her stomach for several years, and the struggles of the confined reptile to join its congeners in the swamp might induce convulsions, and to mar the hilarity of the party.
To provide against an attack by the city brigands who are always prowling in the vicinity of picnic parties, it will be judicious to attend to the following rules:
Select all the fat women of the party, and seat them in a ring outside the rest of the picnickers, and with their faces toward the centre of the circle. In the event of a discharge of missiles this will be found a very effective cordon – quite as effective, in fact, as the feather beds used in the making up of barricades.
Let the babies of the party be so distributed that each, or as many as possible of the gentlemen present, can have one at hand to snatch up and use for a fender should an attack at close quarters be made.
If any dark, designful strangers should intrude themselves upon the party, unbidden,
those gentlemen present should by no means exhibit the slightest disposition to resent the intrusion or to show fight, as the strangers are sure to be professional thieves, and, as such, ready to commit murder, if necessary. Treat the strangers with every consideration possible under the circumstances. Should there be no champagne, aplologize for the absence of it, and offer the next best vintage that you happen to have. Of course, having lunched, the strangers will be eager to acquire possession of all valuables belonging to the party. The gentlemen, therefore, will make a point of promptly handing over to them their own watches and jewelry, as well as those of their lady friends. Having arrived home, (we assume the possibility of this), refrain, carefully, from communicating with the police on the subject of the events of the day. The publicity that would follow would render you an object of derision, and no possible good could come to you from disclosure of the facts. But you should at once make up your mind never to participate in another picnic.

One of the items on Mrs B’s list is “2 cold cabinet puddings in moulds”, which I am sure you would not consider leaving off your picnic menu. In case you have mislaid your recipe, here is a nice one, with an entirely appropriate sauce.

Cabinet Pudding.
Time, to steam, one hour.
Seven or eight small spongecakes; a large cupful of white wine; three ounces of loaf sugar; seven eggs; one quart of new milk.
Pour a large cupful of white wine over seven or eight small spongecakes to soak them through. Sweeten a quart of new milk with about three ounces of loaf sugar, stir into it seven well-beaten eggs, and mix it well together, pour it over the soaked spongecakes, and then carefully turn the whole into a buttered mould, tie it securely over and steam it. Serve it with the cabinet pudding sauce given below.

Cabinet Pudding Sauce.
Yolks of two eggs; two tablespoonfuls of pounded sugar; four or five spoonfuls of white wine.
Well beat the yolks of two eggs, and mix them with the pounded sugar and the white wine. Simmer it over a slow fire for a few minutes, stirring it constantly, and pour it round the pudding.
[Warne’s Everyday Cookery, 1890’s]

I would reinforce Mrs Beeton’s implicit advice to carry these to your picnic in the moulds in which they are prepared, as no-one likes smashed up pudding.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Sunflowers, art, and salad.

Quotation for the Day ….

I've liked lots of people 'til I went on a picnic jaunt with them. Bess Truman

The Baron Brisse Menu 5.

Today, August 17th

We have lost the art of setting and decorating a dinner table it seems. In return for this lost art we have the convenience of being able to eat anywhere any-time - on the run, in the car, standing at the kitchen bench, out of a take-away box, or in front of TV. It was very different in the baron’s day.

How to lay the covers.
Formerly dinner-tables were heavily decorated with massive bronze, silver, and cut-glass ornaments, which prevented the guests from seeing each other across the table, and rendered conversation with your opposite neighbour impossible. At the present time, these ornaments have been superceded by low flower-baskets of either glass or silver. Formerly candelabra only held four or five candles, now they hold as many as fourteen or fifteen, so we require fewer and have more light.
Each guest must have a tumbler and three wine-glasses placed on his right-hand side, arranged according to the order in which the wines are served. First, Madeira; second, Bordeaux; third, Champagne. During dinner extra wines have special glasses handed with them. Finger-glasses with warm water must be handed after crayfish or prawns.
The dessert plates must always have a doiley and a finger-glass placed on them.

I do hope that little historic reminder inspires you to dust off the candelabra lurking in the back of your cupboard, and to wash and iron your doiley collection. When you have done that, here is the baron’s menu suggestion for today.

Menu for August 17.

Potage à l’ oiselle à la crème.
(Sorrel soup with cream).
Matelote savant.
(Stewed carp, pike, perch, barbel, and eel).
Canard au navets.
(Stewed duck and turnips).
Quartier d’agneau rôti.
(Roast forequarter of lamb)
Concombres farcis.
(Stuffed cucumbers)
Pêches à la Bourdaloue.
(Peaches à la Bourdaloue).

Today’s recipe choice is unequivocally, classically French:

Stewed duck and turnips.
Truss your duck and brown in a stew-pan with some fresh butter, peel and cut some young turnips into equal sizes and brown in the same butter, stir in a little powdered sugar. Reduce some stock to a thin brown sauce, season with salt, pepper, a bouquet of parsley, chives, half a head of garlic, and laurel [Bay] leaves, stew the duck in this sauce, and when half cooked add the turnips, turn the duck from time to time, and be careful not to break the turnips, cook over a slow fire. Clear the sauce of all grease, and serve.

Monday’s Story …

Advice to picnic parties.

Quotation for the Day ….

The French are sawed-off sissies who eat snails and slugs and cheese that smells like people's feet. Utter cowards who force their own children to drink wine, they gibber like baboons even when you try to speak to them in their own wimpy language. P. J. O'Rourke

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Baron Brisse Menu 4.

Today, August 16th

Yesterday we enjoyed the baron’s ideas on the duties of a host. Naturally, he also had clear ideas on how to behave as a guest.


The first duty of a guest is to be punctual. Unpunctuality must necessarily cause confusion in the kitchen. A dish you have to wait for is generally good, whilst a dish which has had to wait is generally the contrary. The result is that the cook gets demoralized, he loses his temper at the dinner not being appreciated, and certainly it is sufficient caused to discourage the best of chefs. In consequence it follows that the cook gets into the bad habit of sacrificing the flavour of the dish to the form of serving, finding he has not given satisfaction in the cooking, he tries to please the eye. I cannot speak too strongly on the affectation of being late for dinner, and a good host ought not to wait for one or two people who are late whilst five or six others are watching the hands of the clock and yawning convulsively, a sure proof of how hungry they are. Shame on unpunctual people! These persons are sometimes called inexact, but it is a wrong name to give them; for a really inexact man will arrive one day ten minutes before his time and the next day ten minutes after, but unpunctual people are very exact, they always come late.

They are generally people who find it is the only means of attracting attention, and there are others who think it makes them of importance.

Unpunctuality really means a wish to force people to acknowledge their slavery toe the laws of society.

Mrs Beeton, whose book was enormously popular in England at the same time as the baron was writing would surely have agreed with his insistence on punctuality, but would have been horrified at his disdain for leftovers (see Monday’s story).

Here is his suggested menu for August 16.

Potage à la savoyarde.
(Soup à la savoyarde)
Tête de veau à l’ huile.
(Cold calf’s head with oil and vinegar)
Gigot de mouton à la russe.
(Leg of mutton à la russe)
Aubergines à la provençale.
(Egg-plant à la provençale)
Chartreuse de fruits.
(Chartreuse of fruits)

We now have another ‘Savoy’ recipe for our collection.

Soup à la savoyarde.
Soak some slices of bread for a few seconds in boiling stock, place them in a deep dish, sprinkle with grated cheese; brown in the oven, and pour some boiling vegetable soup for fast day (see 30th of June) over them.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Baron Brisse Menu 5.

Quotation for the Day ….

If I compared my life to a cake, the sojourns in Paris would represent the chocolate filling and everything else would be plain English cake. A.J. Liebling

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Baron Brisse Menu 3.

Today, August 15th …

Baron Brisse had quite clear ideas on hospitality. Here is his advice on being a good host.

You must welcome your guests with effusion, so that they may feel quite at home before sitting down to dinner. Try if possible to introduce your guests to each other before dinner, particularly if you think that there are two people who will sympathize with each other. The decision how to place the guests at table must always be a troublesome business for the host; in fact, I consider this the most difficult part of giving a dinner; if you wish it to go off well. The host must always have his eye on his guests’ plates and glasses, to make sure they have all they require; and if a guest refuses a dish, the hot must try to persuade him to change his mind. A host whose guest has had to ask for anything is a dishonoured man.

Hmm. I’m not too convinced that a good host tries to persuade a guest to change his mind about a dish that he has refused. The guest hates it? Is allergic to it? Has eaten too much already? Is saving room for dessert? I would have seriously considered refusing the tapioca soup on yesterday’s menu. Today’s menu suggestion is fairly inoffensive, apart from the calorie count.

Menu for August 15.

Potage au macaroni avec parmesan.
(Macaroni soup with Parmesan cheese).
Saumon au bleu
(Salmon boiled in court-bouillon)
Fritot de poulets.
(Chicken fritters)
Rosbif rôti.
(Roast beef)
Petits Pois au lard.
(Green peas and bacon)
Flan de poires.
(Pear tart).

Chicken Fritters.
Cut up the chicken into joints, and soak for an hours in olive oil, seasoned with slices of lemon, onions, parsley, salt and pepper; drain, sprinkle them with flour, and fry until a good colour; dish up in a pyramid, cover with tomato sauce, and garnish with fried parsley.

Fried Chicken? Not crumbed. Less than “eleven different herbs and seasonings.” But with tomato sauce (presumably not bottled ketchup). The Colonel or The Baron. Who wins?

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Baron Brisse Menu 4.

Quotation for the Day ….

Food: Part of the spiritual expression of the French, and I do not believe that they have ever heard of calories. Beverley Baxter

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Baron Brisse Menu 2.

Today, August 14th

This is our second day dining from the book of the Baron Brisse. In his home in France, it is summertime. This is what he has to say about the month ofAugust:
August was the Emperor Augustus’ favourite month, and no-one can have been a better judge of a good dinner than he was. This emperor had the whole world at his feet, and hecould well set heat and cold at a defiance. Rome was at this time not only the capital of the world, but also of gastronomy. Everything worth having was brought to Rome, without Augustus having to exclaim, as did Louis XIV, “I had almost to wait.” Large cities become deserted in August on account of the great heat, and people either go to the country, the sea-side, or to drink the waters. They go about the country and fields, and do not think much about eating. However, at the end of the month shooting begins, and gourmands are provided with young quail, leverets, and young wild boar. Other game is not worth much just yet.

Here is the baron’s suggested menu for August 14.

Potage au tapioca.
(Tapioca soup)
Gigot braisé.
(Braised leg of mutton).
Laitues farcies.
(Stuffed lettuces).
Langouste sauce mayonnaise.
(Sea crayfish with mayonnaise sauce).
Pommes de terre sautées.
(Fried potatoes)
Macédoine de fruits en gelée.
(Macédoine of fruit in jelly)

I am not convinced of the idea of tapioca soup in the depths of summer, but the baron would no doubt disagree.

My choice of recipe for the day is the stuffed lettuce. Feel free to use cabbage, and hope that the baron does not find out.

Stuffed lettuces
Wash, trim, blanch, and drain your lettuces, remove the centre leaves very carefully, fill with forcemeat of fowl and truffles, or with quenelle stuffing; tie the lettuces round with string, and cook in a stew-pan lined with slices of veal and bacon; season with carrots, onions, and a bouquet of mixed herbs, and moisten with stock. If the lettuces are preferred in a white sauce, they must be warmed in béchamel sauce, thickened with yolks of egg, after being braised.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Baron Brisse Menu 2.

Quotation for the Day ….

If any one element of French cooking can be called important, basic and essential, that element is soup. Louis Diat.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Baron Brisse.

Today, August 13th …

As promised, this week we will be inspired by the mid-nineteenth century menu and recipe book of the Baron Léon Brisse. Not much is known about him. He was a (presumably) aristocratic Frenchman who appeared to have to earn a living. He began his working life in the department of Water and Forestry under Louise Phillipe, but left in 1850 to pursue his interests in gastronomy and writing (it seems that he left his employ in the wake of a scandal of sorts).

The baron was perhaps the first food journalist. He wrote regularly for La Liberte, and in 1868 published Les Trois Cent Soixant Six Menus du Baron Brisse (The 366 Menus of Baron Brisse). The book included 1200 recipes, many of which are quite outlandish – a fact for which he was criticised at the time. How was he to know? He did not actually cook himself, he was a collector of recipes.

In his preface, the baron makes one highly unusual comment. Cookbook authors almost always advocate frugality in the kitchen (or at least denounce flagrant waste). The baron says:

“I have not attempted to give recipes for using up scraps, as this art is only useful when you run short of provisions; it is quite a mistake to imagine that warming up cooked meat is economical, as all good transformations must be expensive.”

His suggested menu for August 13 is:

Potage Crécy
(Crécy Soup)
Matelote de carpe et d’anguille
(Stewed carp and eel)
Poupiettes de veau.
(Stuffed fillets of veal)
Pintade rôtie.
(Roast guinea-fowl)
Haricots verts au beurre noir.
(Green beans with black butter)
Biscuit de savoy.
(Savoy cake)

I do hope that I have solved your problem of what to cook for dinner tonight. The Baron has also enabled me to fulfil my promise to you a few days ago of giving you a recipe for a Savoy cake.

Savoy, or sponge cake.
Break fifteen eggs, keep the yolks separate from the whites, stir a pound of powdered sugar into the yolks, and flavour with either grated lemon peel or vanilla, beat until frothy; whip the whites to a thick cream, add to the yolks, and stir in a pound of flour; pour into a buttered mould, or into small cases, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and bake; when done, glaze the cake with whipped whites of egg, flavoured with lemon juice and sugar, and serve when cold.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Baron Brisse Menu 2.

Quotation for the Day ….

Chef: Any cook who swears in French. Henry Beard and Roy McKie

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Apple Chutney, 1946: A Guest Blog.

I was delighted to receive an email from Colleen in Sarasota, Florida - English-born but a long-time resident of the States, married to an American of Italian heritage, and with a sister in Sydney, Australia. You are a truly global citizen, Colleen.

With Colleen's permission, I give you her snippet of family culinary history. Here it is:-

I have my mother's old Official Handbook of the National Training School of Cookery, Buckingham Palace Road, SW, in London where she enrolled after serving as a District Commander in Q.M.A.A.C. in the first World War. In the back of my mind, I have the feeling she referred to it as Berridge House, but I could be wrong.

What I want to offer you today is the text of a handwritten letter to my mother from a lady in Devon dated Nov. 10, 1946:

"Dear Madam,

As a resilt of my advertisement in the Herald & Express of homemade chutney for sale I had a visit of an inspector from the Food Office. He told me I was overcharging, the price allowed only being 7d for 10oz container irrespective of quality. Yet, grocers are selling chutney for 1/10 a jar and such rubbish that it is not fit to eat. As you can understand from this I am not now able to sell my chutney. Instead I pass on my own recipe and it is well worth making while there is still apples in the shops.
With good wishes,
Yours faithfully
(Miss) E. Abr....(not legible)

Apple Chutney:
7 lbs apples
2lbs onions
1 lb. gran. sugar
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp mustard (dry)
2 pints best malt vinegar (Parsons)

Thanks Colleen for being my Sunday Guest Blogger. If any other readers would like to contribute a Sunday post, please email me! It could be fun.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Coffee, if you can get it.

Today, August 10th …

General Orders No. 54, dated this day in 1861, specified the ration for a Civil War Confederate soldier to be:

22 ounces of soft bread or flour, or 1 pound of hardbread (hardtack) per day.
1 pound 4 ounces salt or fresh beef or 12 ounces of pork or bacon.
1 pound of potatoes three times per week if available.
To every 100 rations 15 pounds beans or peas AND 10 pounds rice or hominy; 10 pounds green coffee or 8 pounds roasted coffee; 1 pound 8 ounces tea; 15 pounds sugar; 4 quarts vinegar; 3 pounds 12 ounces salt; 4 ounces pepper; and 1 quart molasses.

Sounds deficient in some vitamins, and very boring, but filling enough. Of course, this was the ration in theory. In practice things were not so luxurious. Apparently the biggest and most bemoaned issue for both civilian and soldier of the South alike, was not the vitamins or the variety – but the lack of coffee. Something had to be done, and much imagination was applied to the problem.

The range of coffee substitutes invented by desperate humans is quite astounding. Not all have been the result of wartime shortages. There are those anxious souls who fear what might happen to them under its stimulating effects - but don’t want to relinquish a hot beverage at breakfast. Such souls as Ella Kellogg, whose recipe for Caramel Coffee made from parched cornmeal we featured in a previous story – staunchly pure souls who consider prunes on toast an delicious alternative to marmalade. Most coffee substitutes are not the result of misguided opinion and choice however, they are the response to necessity in hard times. We have previously featured a Civil War recipe for ‘coffee’ made from sweet potato, but there were many, many, more ideas – and a significant amount of newspaper space was taken up with letters and recipes for coffee substitutes during the war. It seems to me that the range of ideas is testament to human ingenuity in deprivation – and to the amazing ability for hype in desperation. Most of the suggestions and recipes are accompanied by enthusiastic assurances that the substitute is as good, if not better than the real thing (so why was there an enthusiastic return to drinking expensive coffee instead of the infinitely cheaper substitutes after the war?).

Such creativity should be acknowledged: I will give a few more recipes for coffee substitutes in the future. For today, I give you an alternative idea – a method of ‘bulking up’ a limited amount of coffee, to make it go further. It is from a Georgia newspaper in 1865.

Substitutes for Coffee.
Nobody has had more occasion to mourn over the blockade than that numerous and highly respectable class, the coffee topers. Many an one would cheerfully munch his dry crusts at breakfast, if he could wash them down with the cheering beverage which used, in former times, to atone for the short-comings of cooks and fortify him against a day of vexations. For the stimulating property to which both tea and coffee owe their chief value, there is unfortunately no substitute; the best we can do is to dilute the little stocks which still remain, and cheat the palate, if we cannot deceive the nerves. The best substitute which we have yet found for either tea or coffee, is plenty of good, rich milk, which is at least nutritive, if not stimulating. But alas! the price of butter plainly tells that milk is almost as scarce as coffee, and many persons want something hot to drive off the fogs of the morning. After many unsatisfactory trials of rye, wheat, corn, potatoes, okra, acorns, and almost everything else that can be purchased, we have found in molasses, we will not say a substitute for, but an adulteration of coffee, which leaves but little to be desired, but the stimulus. Don't be alarmed, Mr. Editor, we are not about to propose "long sweetening." Molasses when boiled down until it scorches, is converted into an intensely bitter substance, called by chemists caramel. Our method is to put a quart or more of sorghum syrup into any convenient vessel, and stew it down over a slow fire, as if making candy, stirring constantly until the syrup is burnt black; then pour it out into a greased plate to cool. The blackish porous mass thus obtained is pounded, when quite cold, in an iron mortar. We mix it with twice its bulk of ground coffee, and use a teaspoonful of this mixture for each person; thus one teaspoonful of caramel and two of coffee will make six cups of a beverage which, as far as taste is concerned, is far preferable to pure Rio coffee. The burnt molasses or caramel, attracts moisture when exposed to the air, and must, therefore, be kept in a close vessel. It would be well, for the same reason, to prepare it in small quantities. If the molasses is burnt too much, it is reduced to charcoal and loses all taste. By the way, though a very simple matter, many housekeepers do not know that it is perfectly easy to clear coffee by adding a small quantity of cold water, just as it "comes to a boil."

Next Week …..

Next week, just for a change of routine, we will dine in mid-nineteenth century France with the writer and gastronome, Baron Léon Brisse.

Quotation for the Day ….

Give a frontiersman coffee and tobacco, and he will endure any privation, suffer any hardship, but let him be without these two necessaries of the woods, and he becomes irresolute and murmuring. U.S. Army Lt. William Whiting (1849)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Zen of Fishing.

Today, August 9th ….

Izaak Walton, the most famous writer on fishing in the history of – well, fishing writing – was born on this day in 1593. It is not surprising that his book, The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation, published in 1653, remained in print for the next two centuries. It is a charming book, and is fascinating even for non-fisherfolk; there are several versions available on the Internet (one via Gutenberg). It is said that it reflected Izaak’s pleasant temperament, and he suggests this himself in the preface.

‘And I wish the Reader also to take notice, that in writing of it, I have made a recreation, of a recreation; and that it might prove so to thee in the reading, and not to read dull, and tediously, I have in severall places mixt some innocent Mirth; of which, if thou be a severe, sowr complexioned man, then I here disallow thee to be a competent Judg. For Divines say, there are offences given; and offences taken, but not given. And I am the willinger to justifie this innocent Mirth, because the whole discourse is a kind of picture of my owne disposition, at least of my disposition in such daies and times as I allow my self, when honest Nat. and R. R. and I go a fishing together …’

The book is not a cookbook, but Izaak cannot resist giving some instructions on how to prepare some of the fish, including his favourite, the Pike.

‘These have not been tried by me, but told me by a friend of note, that pretended to do me a courtesy. But if this direction to catch a Pike thus do you no good, yet I am certain this direction how to roast him when he is caught is choicely good; for I have tried it, and it is somewhat the better for not being common. But with my direction you must take this caution, that your Pike must not be a small one, that is, it must be more than half a yard, and should be bigger.

“First, open your Pike at the gills, and if need be, cut also a little slit towards the belly. Out of these, take his guts; and keep his liver, which you are to shred very small, with thyme, sweet marjoram, and a little winter-savoury; to these put some pickled oysters, and some anchovies, two or three; both these last whole, for the anchovies will melt, and the oysters should not; to these, you must add also a pound of sweet butter, which you are to mix with the herbs that are shred, and let them all be well salted. If the Pike be more than a yard long, then you may put into these herbs more than a pound, or if he be less, then less butter will suffice: These, being thus mixt, with a blade or two of mace, must be put into the Pike's belly; and then his belly so sewed up as to keep all
the butter in his belly if it be possible; if not, then as much of it as you possibly can. But take not off the scales. Then you are to thrust the spit through his mouth, out at his tail. And then take four or five or six split sticks, or very thin laths, and a convenient quantity of tape or filleting; these laths are to be tied round about the Pike's body, from his head to his tail, and the tape tied somewhat thick, to prevent his breaking or falling off from the spit. Let him be roasted very leisurely; and often basted with claret wine, and anchovies, and butter, mixt together; and also with what moisture falls from him into the pan. When you have roasted him sufficiently, you are to hold under him, when you unwind or cut the tape that ties him, such a dish as you purpose to eat him out of; and let him fall into it with the sauce that is roasted in his belly; and by this means the Pike will be kept unbroken and complete. Then, to
the sauce which was within, and also that sauce in the pan, you are to add a fit quantity of the best butter, and to squeeze the juice of three or four oranges. Lastly, you may either put it into the Pike, with the oysters, two cloves of garlick, and take it whole out, when the Pike is cut off the spit; or, to give the sauce a haut goût, let the dish into which you let the Pike fall be rubbed with it: The using or not using of this
garlick is left to your discretion.”
This dish of meat is too good for any but anglers, or very honest men; and I trust you will prove both, and therefore I have trusted you with this secret.’

Tomorrow’s Story …

Coffee, if you can get it.

Quotation for the Day ….

It is agreed by most men, that the Eele is a most daintie fish; the Romans have esteemed her the Helena of their feasts, and some The Queen of pleasure. Izaak Walton.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Today, August 8th ...

Offal is not as popular as it used to be – or perhaps ‘popular’ is the wrong word to use when talking about times when people did not have the luxury of being able to be choosy. Funnily enough, it must always have had some vague connotations of ‘rubbish’ as the word ‘offal’ also applies to ‘that which falls or is thrown off from some process, as husks from milling grain, chips from dressing wood, etc.; residue or waste products’.

Historically speaking, people were once much less finicky about the exact nature of edible animal protein – it was always valuable - and it is difficult to understand how the word as it applies to certain bits of animals came to have such a negative connotation. The OED calls these bits ‘the edible parts collectively which are cut off in preparing the carcass of an animal for food. In early use applied mainly to the entrails; later extended to include the head, tail, and internal organs such as the heart, liver, etc.’ Which is an odd definition, really. Although the parts are defined as ‘edible’ it is the rest of the carcass which is really being prepared for food. The sense of something less than appealing is confirmed in the next explanation of the use of the word in the OED – ‘The parts of a slaughtered or dead animal considered unfit for human consumption; decomposing flesh, carrion. Also (in extended use): slain bodies or mutilated limbs.’ Perhaps this is the nub of it – the recognition that offal ‘goes off’ more quickly than ‘real’ meat.

On the principle that a rose by another name just might taste very different, humans have gotten around the decomposing flesh connotations of offal by calling it something less scary. On this day in 1801, good old Parson James Woodforde had for his dinner “Calfs Fry & Heart rosted &c.” Calf’s fry is Calf’s liver, called ‘fry’ presumably because this is how it is usually cooked. ‘Fry’ can also refer to the testicles, which have many alternative names from the downright misleading (prairie oysters or mountain oysters) to the very prosaic (stones). In the following late eighteenth century recipe it seems that both lamb’s liver and lamb’s testicles are used. It is a sort of fry-up of two sorts of ‘fry’.

Lamb’s Fry.
Cut your fry into pieces about two inches long, the liver into thin slices, pepper, salt, and flour it well, take the skin off the stones: have a pan of hogs lard or beef dripping boiling hot, put the fry in, and when you think it is half-done, put in the liver, keep it turning, fry it quick of a fine brown, and then put it on a sieve to drain; fry a handful of parsley crisp, put a fish-drainer in the dish, put the fry on that, and garnish with the fried parsley, with plain butter in a boat; or you may give it a scald first, but not theliver, rub it over with the yolk of an egg, sprinkle bread crumbs over it, and fry it as before.
[The new art of cookery, according to the present practice … Richard Briggs; 1792.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Zen of Fishing

Quotation for the Day ….

The best thing about liver is how virtuous it makes you feel after you've eaten some. Bruce Jay Friedman.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Wasting Food is an Offence.

Today, August 7th …

With the War under way, the employees of the British Ministry of Food must have been working overtime by August 1940. Some lessons learned in the First War were put to good use, as this newspaper article from this day in 1940 shows:


An Order under which it will be an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both, to waste food was made yesterday, and will come into force next Monday. Mr. Boothby, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, said that it closely resemble a similar one made in the last War. Cases brought under that Order included the following:-

A woman who fed 14 dogs on bread and milk, fined ₤5.
Another woman who gave meat to a St. Bernard dog, fined ₤10.
A workman who left a loaf of bread in a cottage from which he moved, fined ₤20.
A furnaceman who, dissatisfied with his dinner, threw the potatoes in the fire, fined ₤10.
A woman who burned stale bread on her lawn, fined ₤5.
A farmer who fed seven stone of rock cakes to his pigs, fined ₤10.
Another farmer who fed his stock on bread, imprisoned for three months.

Under the present Order the penalties will be: On summary conviction, imprisonment not exceeding three months, or a fine not exceeding ₤100, or both. .... Mr Boothby said that the Order was not intended as a scourge, but only as a general direction to the public not to waste food. “It is not going to be harshly interpreted,” he said “I can guarantee that.”

The farmer feeding rock cakes to the pigs caught my eye - that is a lot of rock cakes (a stone is 14 lb). Was Mrs Farmer a terrible cook? More likely a local baker supplied them. Did the baker get fined too?

I always thought the name ‘Rock Cakes’ sounded unappetising and not salesworthy. Rock Cakes are something between a scone and a muffin – quick cakes which don’t keep well. Perhaps some of the older housewives of WW II pulled out this recipe from their clippings – it is taken from a newspaper milk advertisement of 1919.

Libby’s Orange Rock Cakes.
Mix together 8 oz of flour and 4 oz of sugar. Grate in the rind of one small orange and add a pinch of carbonate of soda. Stir in gradually the juice of an orange, a cupful of Libby’s Milk, and one well-beaten egg. Half fill small buttered tins and bake 15 minutes in a moderate oven.

Tomorrow’s Story …


Quotation for the Day ….

My mother didn't really cook. But she did make key lime pie, until the day the top of the evaporated milk container accidentally ended up in the pie and she decided cooking took too much concentration. William Norwich.

Monday, August 06, 2007

From the Savoy.

Today, August 6th

The Savoy Hotel opened in London on this day in 1889. It could hardly fail, considering it had the right position (on The Strand), the right manager (Cesare Ritz), and the right chef (Auguste Escoffier). It was the first British hotel to be fully electrically lit, and to have private baths. A welcome sanctuary for the weary nineteenth century traveller.

The site was another sort of sanctuary for several centuries in the past – a sanctuary for far more disreputable (I hope!) guests. Debtors and other escapees from the law to be exact. First, I need to tell you something about the name of the hotel. Have you ever wondered why ‘Savoy’? The House of Savoy was the oldest dynasty of royals in Europe, with a history of a thousand years of rule over an area that now encompasses part of South East France, part of Switzerland, and part of Italy. The dynasty was formally ended in 1946 when their residual empire (the Kingdom of Italy) became a republic, but a thousand years of influence ensured that the name ‘Savoy’ retained its regal connotations.
There was a Savoy Palace on the site long before there was a hotel. It was built by the Earl of Savoy in 1245, and had a long and colourful history and numerous incarnations – which are well beyond the scope of this site, and well beyond my range of knowledge. At some point in medieval times, it became an official place of sanctuary. There were a number of these in London – others were around the Carmelite Friary of Whitefriars, the Mint, the Inns of Court, and the area around the Clink prison (you’d think that would have been too close for comfort for escapees from the law, wouldn’t you?). The right of sanctuary ended in 1697, at least until the travellers version became available on the site with the opening of the hotel.

There are a number of foods with the ‘Savoy’ name – and aside from the cabbage, which presumably grew well in the mountains of the Savoie, most of the others are dishes which have some elegance or extravagance about them. We have:

- Savoy Biscuits: long finger-shaped sponge biscuits (sometimes called Ladies Fingers), the batter being piped out from a Savoy bag; often iced or joined in pairs, and sometimes forming the basis of a trifle.
- Savoy Cakes: something like a pound cake or a sponge cake, baked in shaped Savoy moulds (one nineteenth century menu describes them as being ‘like turbans’)
- Savoy Pudding: made with stale Savoy Cake.

I briefly misread the title of the recipe I give you today as ‘Savoy Toasts’, not ‘Savoury Toasts’ as it immediately precedes the Savoy Biscuit recipe in Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870s). I decided to give it to you anyway, because ‘Savoy Toasts’ makes leftovers on toast sound very posh and royal.

Savoury Toasts.
Savoury toasts may be served as relishes at breakfast or luncheon, or they may fill a corner at the dinner table. They may be varied at pleasure, and if agreeably flavoured, will constitute appetising trifles at small expense. To prepare them, cut some slices of crumb of bread, half an inch thick, toast them, butter thickly, and spread upon them any highly-seasoned savoury mixture. Put them into the oven to make them hot, and serve. Any cold ragôut or stewed vegetables heated in thick sauce, grated ham or tongue beaten up over the fire with egg and cream till thick, truffles or mushrooms, stewed in butter, seasoned and minced, or any similar preparation may be used to spread upon the toasts. Anchovies pounded may be used in this way also. They are prepared as follows: - Wash and bone the anchovies, mince them finely, and pound them to a paste in a mortar with a little piece of butter and a moderate quantity of cayenne. Work the whole to a smooth paste, spread it upon the buttered toast, and put it into a Dutch oven till it is quite hot.

I’ll give you a real Savoy cake recipe another day, I promise. Next week, in fact. Even better, I'll also give you Potage à la Savoyade. Next week we are going to dine in mid-nineteenth century France for the whole week. Now that's something to look forward too!

Tomorrow’s Story …

Wasting Food is an Offence.

Quotation for the Day ….

England is merely and island of beef swimming in a warm gulf stream of gravy. Katherine Mansfield; The Modern Soul

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Recipe Archive Update.

The recipes from the July postings have been entered into the RECIPE ARCHIVE.

Unless I have miscounted, there are 798 recipes. I dont quite know how that happened, but the 1000 mark is in view!

If you have any special requests for historic recipes, please email me (the link is in the sidebar) and I will do my best to oblige.

In Defence of Cucumber Sandwiches.

I am delighted that Rachel Laudan has agreed to allow me to post her response to my story about cucumber sandwiches a few days ago. Thanks Rachel!

Cucumber Sandwiches.
Your column set me thinking about cucumber sandwiches. When I was growing up in England we didn’t have them often. They were too much of a fiddle to make on a regular basis. They were a treat for a formal tea, really the British meal as you well know, for entertaining unless you were very wealthy. They were served only on warm summer days and there were precious few of those in England. And finally, they were really upgraded bread and butter in the sense that the quality of the bread and butter was all-important and the filling was just a delightful extra to offset the taste and texture of bread and butter.

I’ve been thinking about how my family made them and trying to reconstruct its logic. I’m sure neither my mother nor her friends would have been thought it necessary to explain all this.

To make them, we used a square loaf of fairly dense, high quality bread a couple of days old, not stale, but of a good consistency and a little dry. We had a good salty flavourful butter that had been allowed to soften, never mayonnaise. And above all, a razor-sharp carbon steel slicing knife, never one of those serrated jobbos that tear the bread.

My grandmother cut the crust off the loaf, then buttered the exposed area, and then cut a very thin slice. She repeated this until she had as many buttered slices as she needed. This was regarded by my other grandmother as a low class way of buttering bread (you have to love the English). But the bread did not tear this way. The slices were laid out in neat rows on the table, buttered side up.

The butter protected the bread so that it did not get soggy. Since the sandwiches were always served in warm weather, it stayed unctuous and not soggy.

Meanwhile, the cucumbers were peeled and sliced thinly but not paper thin. You want a bit of crunch. We seasoned them lightly with a touch of vinegar. We often used the much-derided malt vinegar, good in these circumstances just because it is concentrated and you don’t want the cucumbers wet. A touch of either finely chopped chives or finely chopped mint didn’t hurt either but their flavour should not dominate. The key rule was not to salt the cucumbers. Salted they turned flabby and the sandwiches too.

The cucumber, drained if there was any liquid, were placed on half the slices, and topped with the partner slice. The sandwiches were then stacked up in a loaf form and wrapped in a slightly damp tea towel until ready to serve.

Then, with the really sharp knife, my Mother sliced off the crusts, cutting down through the whole loaf. Then she cut the sandwiches into triangles or squares and arranged them on a plate.

Really fine.

Friday, August 03, 2007

San Francisco dining, 1920.

Today, August 3rd ….

Today I am taking you back to enjoy luncheon at the famous St Francis hotel in San Francisco in 1920. Life must have seemed pretty good back then. Secure in the knowledge that the War to end all Wars had made life safe forever, this is what the wealthy inhabitants and visitors enjoyed at the hotel on this day eighty-seven years ago.

Dishes marked with Star (*) are Ready.

*Mixed Melon Supreme, Parisienne 25
*Giblet a l’Anglaise 35
*Consomme, Marconi 35

*Fried Smelts, Remoulade 60
*Fillet of Halibut, Bonne Femme 65
Broiled Fresh Mackeral, Maitre d’Hotel 50
Terrapin, Maryland 135
Boiled Salmon Belly, Hollandaise 60

Egg Bienvenu (1) 30

*Spring Lamb Irish Stew 50
*Exposition Sausages, Potato Salad 45
*Tripe and Potato, Family Style 50
*Cold Capon, Tongue, Lima Bean Salad 125
Broiled Imperial Squab with Bacon 200
Top Sirloin Steak, Bordelaise 100

*Broiled Fresh Mushrooms 100
*Stewed Celery in Cream 35

*Potato O’Brien 30
Fresh Peach Pie 25 Huckleberry Tarte 35
Vanilla Pudding Souffle 35 Peach Moussee 50
Frozen Caramel Pudding 60
Strawberry a la Ritz 60
What would have been your choice from the menu? The chef to the hotel, Victor Hertzler, had published a cookbook the year before this dinner, and recipes for a number of the dishes are included. Here is what I have chosen for your lunch today:

Salted salmon belly, melted butter.
Soak a salted salmon belly in cold water over night. Then place in vessel and cover with fresh cold water, bring to a boil, and then set at side of the range for twenty minutes. Dish up on a napkin on a platter, garnish with parsley in branches and quartered lemons. Serve melted butter separate.

Potato salad.
Slice three boiled potatoes while hot. Add one small onion chopped fine, some chopped parsley, salt and pepper, two spoonsful of olive oil, and one each of boiling bouillon, or boiling water, and vinegar. Mix carefully so as not to break the potatoes , and serve in salad bowl with lettuce garnishing.

Monday’s Story …

From the Savoy.

Quotation for the Day ….

I would rather live in Russia on black bread and vodka than in the United States at the best hotels. America knows nothing of food, love or art. Isadora Duncan, America dancer (1878-1927)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mulberries and Silk in the Kitchen.

Today, August 2nd ...

Mulberries. My old, long deceased friend Samuel Pepys ate them on this day in 1662. His diary note reminded me of them:

‘I to Captain Cocke's along with him to dinner, where I find his lady still pretty, but not so good a humour as I thought she was. We had a plain, good dinner, and I see they do live very frugally. I eat among other fruit much mulberrys, a thing I have not eat of these many years, since I used to be at Ashted, at my cozen Pepys's.’

I thought of eating the berries, which made me think of silkworms eating the leaves, which reminded me of the old recipes I have seen which specify a silk strainer. It is difficult to imagine nowadays, but silk was once a very useful kitchen appliance.

Think yourself back to the days before blenders and supermarkets. Think yourself into the position of cook in a fine household. You are required to make the finest white bread for your delicate Mistress or toothless Master, the nurse is insisting on lump-free gruel for the Little Darlings, and there is a pound of cinnamon quills waiting patiently to be rendered into fine powder for the Christmas frumenty. What is a cook to do?

Use an old-fashioned strainer, sieve, colander, tamis, or whatever other-named filtering and pureeing device is available (and depending on whether the job is to remove lumpy bits or produce a fine powder or a smooth paste) along with a lot of that other old-fashioned ingredient – elbow-grease – that’s what a cook would do. The only strainers with specific purposes that are in common use now are flour sifters and tea strainers, but one upon a time there were fish-strainers, gruel strainers, punch strainers (cant have citrus seeds in the punch, can we?) and wine strainers (I’m not sure what these strained out – sediment I suppose) and perhaps others that I havent heard of.

All sorts of tools have been used over the centuries to perform these filtering jobs – bowls with holes, mesh made from wire, or horsehair or pig bristle, and of course - woven fabric. A ‘bolt’ of fabric is a familiar term, and it comes from ‘boulting’ or sifting crushed grain through progressively finer fabric to produce various grades of flour. Old recipes mention ‘straining cloths’ of wool, linen, lawn or just ‘cloth’ – and they must have been a real chore to clean for re-use. Flour mills eventually came to use silk for the finest flour, and the ‘boulting’ cylinders came to be called ‘silks’. By the mid-seventeeth century, silk strainers became widely used in household kitchens and allowed very fine powder or very fine puree.

In this delightful recipe, from Charles Elmé Francatelli who was briefly the chef to Queen Victoria, both the mulberries and the silk are used, which is nice, I think. The second recipe is nice too.

Mulberry Water.
Bruise a pound of mulberries with six ounces of rough sugar; add a pint of water, mix, and filter through a silk sieve. This most refreshing drink, which contains very little acidity, is an excellent febrifuge, and is also good for sore throats.
[The Cook’s Guide; Francatelli; 1863.]

Essence Of Orange For Wild Fowl.
Chop two shalots and put them into a small stewpan with the rind of an orange, quite free from the white or pith, and a little chopped lean of raw ham and cayenne pepper, moisten with two glasses of port wine and a little strong gravy ; set the essence to simmer gently on the fire for about ten minutes, then add the juice of the orange with a little lemon juice, and pass it through a silk sieve.
[The Cook’s Guide; Francatelli; 1863.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

San Francisco dining, 1920.

Quotation for the Day ….

A clever cook, can make good meat of a whetstone. Erasmus