Friday, September 21, 2007

Crime and Punishment in the Kitchen.

Today, September 21st

Benjamin Franklin recorded his experiences en route to Philadelphia aboard the Berkshire in 1726. A very interesting and instructive event happened on this day in that year.

Wednesday, Sept. 21. - This morning our steward was brought to the geers and whipped, for making an extravagant use of flour in the puddings, and for several other misdemeanors.

It is difficult to be sure of the exact nature of his crimes but let me tell you - the cook got off lightly compared to some of his colleagues in history. Mind you, some cooks’ crimes are rather larger in scale than being a bit heavy-handed with the flour: in a previous story we saw what havoc can be wreaked by a shipboard cook with a temper and a cleaver.

Richard Roose, a cook in sixteenth century England was boiled to death in a large pot, having been found guilty of poisoning several members of the household of the Bishop of Rochester (and inadvertently several paupers who received the leftovers as alms) in 1532. The legislation which enabled this particularly gruesome execution was especially enacted and made retrospective for his case - presumably on the principle of making the punishment fit the crime. It seems likely, or at least possible, that poor Richard was the fall guy for one of the movers and shakers of the political and religious conflict of Henry VIII’s reign, as the probable intended victims were well and truly involved in it all.

I am puzzled at how one can be “extravagant” in the use of flour to make puddings. The puddings would have been of the solid, stodgy, filling type made made to eke out the meat supply, and just as likely to have been “savoury” as “sweet”. Perhaps the "crime" was that there was too much flour and in relation to suet in his puddings and they were too dry? A common seaboard meal was sea-pie, which is something like a cross between a savoury suet pudding and a pot-pie – made with several layers of crust reminiscent of the various decks of a ship. But we have had a recipe for sea-pie before (two, actually, there is one in the cook-with-the-cleaver story too) – so what to give you today?

I have chosen an entirely different sort of pudding – far too extravagant for seaboard life, but I am sure Ben Franklin would approve. It is from a famous cookbook of his time – John Nott’s Cooks’ and Confectioners’ Dictionary (1724), and is a sort of multiple cross between bread pudding, custard, and apple-pie.

To Make an Italian Pudding.
Beat half a score Eggs well with a Pint of Cream, add to them a Penny white Loaf grated, and a grated Nutmeg; mix them well together, then butter the Bottom of a Dish, and lay upon it half a score Pippins cut in slices, and a little Orange-peel, strew over them some fine Sugar, and pour on them half a Pint of Wine: Then put in your Pudding, lay over it a Puff-paste, and set it into the Oven, it will be done in half an Hour. Lay Paste also round the sides of the Dish.

Monday’s Story …

The Price of Cloves.

Quotation for the Day …

I seem to you cruel and too much addicted to gluttony, when I beat my cook for sending up a bad dinner. If that appears to you too trifling a cause, say for what cause you would have a cook flogged ?
Marcus Valerius Martialis (Martial), First Century Roman poet.


Lili said...

It sounds like a cross between a bread pudding, custard, and upside down apple pie au-vent. I've never seen anything quite like it, but I'll bet it's delicious.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I am very glad that no one is policing my actions in the kitchen.