Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Birthday Dinner.

October 31 …

It is hard to believe, but The Old Foodie is two years old today. The actual body is considerably older of course, but what is a paltry few decades between life forms?

I want to thank you all for accompanying me on this cyber-journey. I had no idea when I started that I would accumulate so many friends along the way, and that it would be so much fun. I do hope you continue to keep reading .

Birthdays mean birthday dinners, so I looked around for a virtual celebrity chef to cook for me today. In spite of the fact that she was neither a celebrity (merely married to one) nor a cook (one had staff to do that sort of job in her day), and her style of food is not to my taste (being very BV – or British Victorian), I settled on Lady Maria Clutterbuck.

Lady Maria Clutterbuck was not her real name of course. She was Catherine Dickens, the wife of Charles, and her life was sad, in the end. She was very young (only 21) when she married Charles in 1836, just as he was about to become very famous. Their marriage appears to have been happy in the early years when she hosted dinner parties and travelled with him on his literary tours. Bearing him ten children and probably suffering post-natal depression took their toll however, and the marriage faltered and eventually they separated. I chose Lady Maria/Mrs. Dickens as my hostess because I thought it would be fun to hear the inside gossip on Charles Dickens, by One Who Knows.

In 1851 she published a little book called What Shall we Have for Dinner? Satisfactorily Answered by Numerous Bills of Fare for from Two to Eighteen Persons. Eventually I chose the following menu for my virtual dinner – a modest repast for four persons – and you can will see what I mean by it being very BV.

Salmon. Asparagus Soup. Smelts.
Fore Quarter of Lamb. Fricassee Chickens.
New Potatoes. Peas.
Lobster Patties.
Noyau Jelly. Ice Pudding.

The menu is even more solidly BV when you read her recipe for Asparagus soup, which turns out to be a meal in itself.

Take two quarts of good beef or veal broth, put to it four onions, two or three turnips and some sweet herbs, with the white part of a hundred of young asparagus, but if old or very large at the stem half that quantity will do, and let them all simmer till sufficiently tender to be rubbed through a tammy, which is not an easy matter if they be not very young ; then strain and season it, have ready the boiled tops which have been cut from the stems, and add them to the soup ; or poach half-a-dozen eggs rather hard, have ready a hundred of asparagus heads boiled tender, boil three quarts of clear gravy soup, put into it for a minute or two a fowl just roasted, then add a few tarragon leaves, season with a little salt, put the eggs and asparagus heads quite hot into the tureen and pour the soup over them without breaking them ; the fowl will he just as good as before for made dishes.

Tomorrow’s Story …

An Examination in Domestic Economy.

Quotation for the Day …

There is no such passion in human nature, as the passion for gravy among commercial gentlemen. Charles Dickens; Martin Chuzzlewit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Primitive Cookery.

October 30 ...

Yesterday we considered choosing a book by its wordy title and front page “blurb” in the days before colourful graphic covers. Those plain text days could still be misleading.

Take a look at this wonderful title, from 1767.

Primitive Cookery.
Kitchen Garden display’d
Containing a Collection of
For preparing a great Variety of
Cheap, healthful, and palatable Dishes,
Without either Fish, Flesh, or Fowl,
A BILL OF FARE of Seventy Dishes, that
will not cost above Two-pence each.
Directions of pickling, gathering, and preserving
Herbs, Fruits, and Flowers:
With Many other Articles appertainingto the
Product of the Kitchen Garden, Orchard, &c.

It would seem reasonable to assume from the title that this was a “vegetarian” text, although the word would not be coined for another century, and the very concept would have been unintelligible to most folk of the time whose primary goal was to get good animal protein on the table as often as possible.

There was a philanthropic spin on the contents as well as a health angle. A certain Dr. Lobbs provided some verbose Advice to the Poor with regard to Diet – and excellent advice it would have been too, if only the poor had been able to afford his recommendations (or buy the book; or even read it, most of the poor of the time being illiterate.) He does offer some general dietary advice which does fall within his area of medical expertise however, so perhaps we could trust him in this regard:

“I should advise all persons to conclude their dinner with eating the quantity of a nutmeg or two of old Cheshire, or double Gloucestershire cheese, on account of its efficacy against flatulencies. I speak from my long experience, who seldom eat cheese at any other time.”

It appears that the good doctor was long-winded in more ways than one.

The doctor and several other contributors also misread the brief for the book (if indeed there was one), as a number of recipes include meat, or meat bones. If that was not an issue for his eighteenth century readers, or for yourself, this one caught my fancy.

A Cabbage Pudding.
Chop two pound of lean veal with as much beef suet; beat it in a mortar with half a cabbage scalded; season it with mace, nutmeg, pepper, salt, green gooseberries, grapes, or barberries, according to the time of year. In winter put in a little verjuic, beat all together with four or five yolks of eggs; then wrap it up in green cabbage-leaves, tie a cloth over it, boil it an hour, and melt butter for sauce.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Birthday Dinner.

Quotation for the Day …

Cabbages, whose heads, tightly folded, see and hear nothing of this world, dreaming only on the yellow and green magnificence that is hardening within them. John Haines.

Monday, October 29, 2007

To the Officers of the Mouth.

October 29 ...

It may be true that you can judge a book by its cover, but what of the days before colour printing and graphic designers and the whole colourfull digital age? One clearly chose by the front page. Words instead of pictures. So they better be good words. And preferably a catchy title.

Below is one of my favourites, from a book published in 1682.

A Perfect School of
For the
Officers of the Mouth:
The Whole ART
A Master of the Household A Master Confectioner
A Master Carver A Master Cook
A Master Butler A Master Pastryman

Being a Work of singular Use for Ladies and
Gentlewomen, and all Persons whatsoever
that are desirous to be acquainted with the
most excellent ARTS of Carving, Cookery,
Pastry, Preserving, and Laying a Cloth for
Grand Entertainments. The like never before
Extant in any Language.

Adorned with Pictures curiously Ingraven
displaying the whole Arts.
By Giles Rose, one of the Master Cooks in
His Majesties Kitchen.

How could you resist a title like this? There are those of you who are vocal in your hatred of the word “foodie” – I know, because I have read your rants. Unfortunately, none of you have come up with a suitably catchy alternative. Could we co-opt “Officers of the Mouth”? OOMs for short? Giles was referring to the staff who made it all happen in the kitchens and at the dining tables of the well-off, but as few of us have servants these days the title is languishing, begging to be recycled and appreciated once more.

If, like me, you throw a towel over your shoulder while you are cooking, you may say that this is because you like to keep a wiping-cloth handy at all times. You may not have realised it, but you have also been demonstrating your rank at the top of the meal-producing hierarchy – as Steward, or Maistre de Hostel.

Giles explains it thus:

The hour of Meals being come, and all things are now in readiness, le Maistre de Hostel takes a clean Napkin, folded at length, but narrow, and throws it over his Shoulder, remembring that this is the ordinary Mark, and particular sign and demonstration of his Office: and to let men see how credible his Charge is, he must not be shamefaced, nor so much as blush, no not before any noble Personage, for his Place is rather an Honour than a Service, for he may do his Office with his Sword by his side, his Cloak upon his Shoulders, and his Hat on his Head; but his Napkin must be always upon his Shoulder, just in the posture I told you of before.

We will examine the job descriptions of the Master Carver and the other Officers in due course, but for now I leave you with the recipe for the day, also taken from Giles’ book. It is an especially delicious-sounding one that I am sure you will be unable to resist. Let me know how it turns out.

A Tart of the Brain of a Capon.
Mince the Brain of a Capon Raw, with as much Marrow, or Beef Suet, as the Flesh contains to, sheet your Patty-pan with fine Paste, and add to your Meat, Champignons, Truffles, Cockscombs, Sweet-breads of Veal, and season all this with a packet or bundle, Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg, and a little Lard beaten or melted, cover it with the same Paste, and indore* it, let it bake an hour and a half, then put into it, when it is baked, Pistaches, the juice of Lemons, and a good gravy in serving it away.

* indore = to make golden, for example by using an egg wash, or saffron - or occasionally real gold.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Primitive Cookery.

Quotation for the Day …

"What science demands more study than Cookery? You have not only, as in other arts, to satisfy the general eye, but also the individual taste of the persons who employ you; you have to attend to economy, which every one demands; to suit the taste of different persons at the same table; to surmount the difficulty of procuring things which are necessary to your work; to undergo the want of unanimity among the servants of the house; and the mortification of seeing unlimited confidence sometimes reposed in persons who are unqualified to give orders in the kitchen, without assuming consequence, and giving themselves airs which are almost out of reason, and which frequently discourage the Cook." Louis Eustache Ude.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Puckering up with Persimmons.

October 26th
When the word “persimmon” is mentioned, is the word “puckery” ever far behind? It seems not, and Henry Thoreau certainly put them together in his journal article of this day in 1856.

“The persimmon (Diospyros Virginiana) quite common. Saw some trees quite full of fruit. There was a little left on the trees when I left, November 24th, but I should think it was in its prime about the end of the first week of November, i.e., what would readily shake off. Before, it was commonly puckery. In any case it furs the mouth just like the choke-cherry. It is not good for much. They would be more edible if it were not for the numerous large seeds, and when you have rejected them there is little but skin left. Yet I was surprised that the fruit was not more generally gathered.”

We pucker-up for unripe persimmons because of their highly astringent nature – an astringent being a chemical that actually dries and shrinks body tissue. It seems we may be biologically programmed to react unfavourably to bitter and astringent foods as in nature they often indicate poisons, so a taste for such foods must be acquired. Certainly we are able to do this to some extent: the followers of Ayurvedic principles consider bitter to be one of the six basic tastes; many Asian people enjoy bitter melon; many Engish people enjoy their tea with industrial-strength tannins. I don’t know anyone who relishes unripe bananas, but you may be lurking out there.

Some foods are said to be psycho-active (all chocolate and some mushrooms?), but here we have a food that has a direct physical effect that is completely unrelated to its nutritional value. The great astringency of an unripe persimmon will stimulate the muscles of the face to form a “corrugation of the skin of the face, brow, lips” – or, less prosaically, to “drawe a man’s mouth awrie, with much torment”.

Are there any other foods that have such a sudden and direct physical effect? The only ones I can think of, after much brain-wracking, are chilli peppers on most occasions when they are eaten, and ice-cream when it causes “ice-cream headache”. Both the chilli pepper and the ice-cream experience are examples of a neurological glitch caused by the misinterpretation of a sensory stimulus in the mouth (chemical or temperature). In the case of the chilli peppers, the significance of the capsaicin (the “hot” chemical) is misinterpreted by the brain, which invokes the body’s heat loss mechanisms (flushing, sweating). In an incident of “brain-freeze” the constriction of the blood vessels in the palate due to the cold ice-cream triggers a neurological response called referred pain that is thankfully usually very brief. Can you think of any other examples?

To avoid serious persimmon-pucker, there seems to be only two choices: eat them very ripe, or try this trick from a United States Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin of 1915:
“Since heat makes the astringency of the persimmon more apparent, it is always well to add one-half teaspoonful of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) to each cupful of persimmon pulp in all recipes where the fruit is subjected to heat. Although it has been proved by experiment that the soda may be omitted if the fruit is entirely free from astringency, it is better to use it until one is sure of the quality of the persimmon pulp.”

In a previous post we had recipes for Persimmon Bread and Persimmon Beer. Here are a couple of recipes from the Farmers’ Bulletin that might be a bit more practical for most of us today.

1 cup of persimmon pulp.
1 teaspoonful of baking powder.
1 tablespoonful of peanut butter.
1/2 teaspoonful of soda.
1 egg. Milk to make a thin batter.
1 cup of flour.
Bake and serve as above. [i.e on a hot griddle; serve with butter or sirop]

1/2 cup of persimmon pulp.
1 teaspoonful of baking powder.
1 tablespoonful of peanut butter.
1 egg
1/2 teaspoonful of soda.
1 cup of flour.
Press or cut in pats 1/2 inch thick and bake in a quick oven.

Monday’s Story …
To the Officers of the Mouth.

Quotation for the Day …
… its [the persimmon’s] bitter power of astringency is surprising, and seems capable of suspending for a time all the faculties of the lips, and binds up the risible muscles of the sufferer to the same extent that it excites those of a spectator. Charles Augustus Murray (in the 1830’s)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A side-effect of chocolate.

October 25th

Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné was a seventeenth century French aristocrat. For many years she kept up a prolific correspondence with her married daughter, and her letters are a wonderfully witty glimpse into life at the top of the food chain at that time and in that place.

She frequently mentions chocolate in her letters of the early 1670’s when it was very new, very expensive, and very fashionable. Like most newly introduced foods, its qualities were the subject of much debate: was it suitable for periods of fasting, being a mere drink? Did it have medicinal value? Was it addictive? Was it an aphrodisiac?

On this day in 1671 Mme. de Sévigné delivered a juicy piece of gossip disguised as advice to her daughter, who was pregnant at the time:

" … the marquise de Coëtlogon took so much chocolate, being pregnant last year, that she was brought to bed of a little boy who was as black as the devil who died."

Mme. de Sévigné did not need to mention to her daughter that one of the other fashionable household items at the time was a handsome, black, Moorish servingman. It seems that the mother of the unfortunate infant did indeed have one of these fashion accessories, and part of his job description was to take her her evening chocolate drink. But I stoop to repeat gossip myself now, which is not seemly at this distance of centuries.

If France at the time was obsessed with anything Mexican and more-ish or manly and Moorish (Ouch! Sorry, couldn't resist that one), over in England the fashion was for anything French, including of course, the latest dishes.

Today therefore, I give you a recipe from a book with the unexpurgated title of The English and French cook describing the best and newest ways of ordering and dressing all sorts of flesh, fish and fowl, whether boiled, baked, stewed, roasted, broiled, frigassied, fryed, souc'd, marrinated, or pickled; with their proper sauces and garnishes: together with all manner of the most approved soops and potages used, either in England or France. By T. P. J. P. R. C. N. B. and several other approved cooks of London and Westminster. 1674.

Publishers don’t do book titles like that anymore, alas, even for books by approved cooks.

Lemonade a-la-mode de France.
The French make a Lemonade several ways, sometimes by taking two handfuls of Jalsomine [jasmine], and infuse it in a pottle of Water, letting it steep twelve hours, to every quart of Water put six ounces of Sugar: you may make it of Orange-flowers or Gilliflower after the same manner. Or take some Lemons, cut themand take out the juyce, then put it in Water as aforesaid; then pare another Lemon, and cut it in slices, put it among the juyce with a due proportion of Sugar.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Puckering up with Persimmons.

Quotation for the Day ...

Dont wreck a sublime chocolate experience by feeling guilty. Chocolate isn't like pre-marital sex. It will not make you pregnant. And it always feels good. Laura Brody. Growing up on the Chocolate Diet.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Devil's Dung Sauce.

October 24 ...

William Makepeace Thackeray, the author of Vanity Fair, was enthusiastic about food, as we can surmise from his ode to Bouillabaisse, which he sampled while in Europe in the 1830’s. He recorded in detail a meal he tackled in true trencherman-style during his stay in Brussels:

“In the matter of eating, dear sir, which is the next subject of the fine arts, a subject that, after many hours’ walking, attracts a gentleman very much, let me attempt to recall the transactions of this very day at the table-d’-hote. 1, green pea-soup; 2, boiled salmon; 3, mussels; 4, crimped skate; 5, roast-meat; 6, patties; 7, melons; 8, carp, stewed with mushrooms and onions; 9, roast-turkey; 10, cauliflower and butter; 11, fillets of venison piques, with asafoetida sauce; 12, stewed calf’s-ear; 13, roast-veal; 14, roast-lamb; 15, stewed cherries; 16, rice-pudding; 17, Gruyere cheese, and about twenty-four cakes of different kinds. Except 5, 13, and 14, I give you my word I ate of all written down here, with three rolls of bread and a score of potatoes.”

The dish that surprised me here was the venison with asafoetida sauce. There is very little mention of asafoetida in nineteenth century European cookbooks, although it had been a popular spice in Ancient Rome.

Asaofoetida comes from Ferula assafoetida, a flowering plant related to fennel, which is native to Iran. The resinous sap of the plant has a pungent sulphurous smell and when dried has been prized since ancient times as a flavouring spice and a medicine. It is still commonly used in Indian food, particularly by those who for religious reasons eschew onion and garlic, because it mellows somewhat when cooked and provides a similar undercurrent of flavour.

To those who are not afficionados, the smell is foul, offensive, disgusting, and – well, foetid, hence one of its popular names of “Devil’s Dung.” The famous Victorian chef Alexis Soyer was not a fan:
“This plant, which we have excluded from our kitchens, and whose nauseous smell is far from exciting the appetite, reigned almost as the chief ingredient in the seasoning of the ancients. Perhaps they cultivated a kind which in no way resembled that of modern times. If it were the same, how are we to explain the extreme partiality which Apicius shows for it and which he says must be dissolved in luke-warm water, and afterwards served with vinegar and garum? It is certain that the resin drawn by incision from the root of this plant is still much esteemed by the inhabitants of Persia and of India ; they chew it constantly, finding the odour and taste exquisite.”

[From: The Pantropheon, Or, History of Food, and Its Preparation (1853)… Alexis Soyer]
There were others however who were not only prepared to use it, but to use it raw, as in this recipe when it is desirable to imitate ‘moutarde de maille’.

The [Salad] mixture or dressing.
For 4 persons bruise only the yolk of 1 hard-boiled egg (leaving out altogether the white), with some salt, and make it into a paste with 2 large teaspoonfuls of moutarde de maille; or, if obliged to use common mustard, add to it a drop or two of asafoetida, which will impart to it a slight flavour of garlic. Then add oil and vinegar in the following proportions, without using so much as to make the sauce thin, and taking care to have the finest Provence or Lucca oil, and the very strongest species of real French vinegar : namely, to every one spoonful of vinegar add two of oil; 1 spoonful of the vinegar being impregnated with chilis, which will add warmth to the salad, much more agreeably than cayenne. A little of tarragon may be an improvement, and a spoonful of Quihi or walnut ketchup is not objectionable; but mushroom ketchup will destroy the pungeney of flavour, and both may be left out without inconvenience. When this is done, mix the sauce well, but lightly, with the salad, to which a few slices of boiled beetroot, and the white of the egg sliced, will be a pretty addition.
[Murray's modern cookery book … 1851]

Tomorrow’s Story …
A side-effect of chocolate.
Quotation for the Day …
One man's meat is another man's poison. Proverb

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dinner to die for.

October 23rd

The eighteenth century French gourmand Grimod de la Reynière hosted a most unusual dinner party in 1783 which has gone down in history as “the Mortuary Dinner’. Grimod was known to be eccentric, but even for him, this dinner was a little over-the-top. The invitation to a “collation-supper” was in the form of an obituary notice, and guest were advised “The arrival is fixed for 9 o'clock and supper will take place at 10 o'clock. You are requested not to bring neither dog nor lackey as there will be enough servants. Neither pig nor oil will be missing from the supper. You are requested to bring this invitation, without which admittance will be refused.”

There were in fact two levels of “invitation” - 17 guests were invited to take part, but a further 300 were to be spectators. After an elaborate checking of their credentials by guards, and the correct answering of the question “are you visiting Monsieur de la Reyniere, the opressor of the people, or Monsieur de la Reyniere, the defender of the people ?”, guests were taken to an ante-room where they were “judged” as to their merits. They were then led by Grimod first into a completely dark room (just long enough to get a little nervous) and then to a taper-lit room draped in black, with incense wafting about and a grand central funeral catafalque. Some descriptions say that there was a coffin behind each guest’s chair, and indeed, it is difficult to know for certain what is truth and what is embroidery. The three hundred spectators watched the proceedings from the balcony, and were probably grateful that they had not received the more prestigious invitation to actually participate.

There are a lot of theories as to Grimod’s motives: if he was intending to embarrass his parents (the antagonism was mutual) or annoy his guests (whom he had locked in so they could not escape), he succeeded. Alternatively he may have been making a pre-Lenten statement about the proximity of death when we are in life (an ancient theme), or he may have been paying homage to a recently deceased paramour (or would-be paramour). He may have simply wanted to play a practical joke.

It is most frustrating that no menu for this dinner survives: the food was “self-service” from side-tables, and there was, apparently, plenty of pig and oil. That is all we know. Where history leaves off however, literature comes to the rescue. Grimod’s dinner was used as inspiration for a similar event by a character in the novel Against the Grain, by J.K.Huysmans in 1884. The character in the book, called Des Esseintes, is also an eccentric known for his parties, and he hosts this particular event in memory of his (temporarily) lost virility. All the décor is black, the outside garden also being strewn with charcoal; the tablecloth is black, and the plates black-rimmed; the food is served by naked negresses. Between them, Des Essientes and his creator come up with some good ideas for an “all black” menu.

“ … turtle soup, Russian black bread, ripe olives from Turkey, caviar, mule steaks, Frankfurt smoked sausages, game dished up in sauces coloured to resemble liquorice water and boot-blacking, truffles in jelly, chocolate-tinted creams, puddings, nectarines, fruit preserves, mulberries and cherries. The wines were drunk from dark-tinted glasses, - wines of the Limagne and Roussillon vintages, wines of Tenedos, the Val de Penas and Oporto. After the coffee and walnuts came other unusual beverages, kwas, porter and stout.”

It seems appropriate today to give a recipe for pig, from Grimod’s time.

To make a Ragout of Pork Chops.
Cut a loin of pork into chops, and stew it with a little broth, a bunch of sweet herbs, pepper, and salt: have ready a veal sweetbread, parboiled, and cut into large dice; put it into a stewpan, with mushrooms, the livers of any kind of poultry, and a little butter; set it over the fire, with a little flour, a glass of white wine, some gravy, and as much broth, adding salt and whole pepper, a bunch of parsley, scallions, a clove of garlic, and two cloves; let the whole boil, and reduce to a strong sauce, and serve it over the chops: or do the chops in the same manner as the ragout, and when half done, add the sweetbread, livers and mushrooms.
[The French family cook; Menon; 1793]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Devil’s Dung Sauce.

Quotation for the Day …

Everything in a pig is good. What ingratitude has permitted his name to become a term of opprobrium. Grimod de la Reyniere.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Stocking the Shelter.

The prolonged face-off between the USA and the Soviet Union that came to be called the Cold War began as World War II ended and lasted for over three decades. The Cold war never (thankfully) heated up to boiling, although it got uncomfortably warm during the fourteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. By this time many American families, at the urging of the government, had built bomb shelters in their backyards or under their houses as preparation for a nuclear attack, should it occur. The building and provisioning of the shelters spawned a whole new industry and Government did its bit by producing a voluminous amount of pamphlets and manuals on various aspects of the survival business.

Naturally, provisioning the shelter adequately was paramount. This is what one pamphlet advised:


As an absolute minimum, a 90 day supply of food is recommended; 6 months is more realistic; 24 months would not be beyond the realm of common sense


The following conditions will probably prevail in the event of a nuclear attack. Fresh milk will be impossible to obtain and canned evaporated or dry powdered milk must be substituted. Fresh eggs will be scarce. Since chickens have great tolerance for radiation, fresh eggs will probably be one of the first staples available after a nuclear attack


Buy only foods that will be enjoyed because shelter occupants will be under emotional stress. When buying shelter food select proper size containers to eliminate left-overs that might be difficult to preserve


Store, prepare, and serve the following inside shelter facilities: bacon; corned beef hash; sausage; meat balls; chili con carne; tamales; chipped beef; salmon steak; crab meat; shrimp; clams; oysters; smoked bologna; country cured ham; au gratin potatoes; spaghetti; macaroni; buckwheat mix; canned cheese; tomatoes; brown bread; flour; relish; maple syrup; oatmeal; hot cereals; baby foods as needed

It might be sensible to keep a few packages of vegetable seeds in the shelter for a do-it-yourself post-war project.

Concerned housewives of the time who wished to do their own preserving had no shortage of recipe books to turn to for advice. Some recipes sound more than a little scary today, when we are more aware of serious food-poisoning, and some sound a little unnecessary – such as one in the 1940’s The New American Cookbook for preserving nuts by canning (bottling) in a pressure cooker. The idea was to delay rancidity – which would hardly be an issue under the circumstances, one would think. The same book has many candy recipes, and this one seems to me to be a better way of preserving nuts – and it would be a great comfort food too.

½ cup evaporated milk
2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter or fat
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup broken nut meats.
Combine milk and sugar. Cook slowly, stirring only until sugar is dissolved, until 236o F is reached, the stage at which a drop of mixture will form a soft ball when dropped into cold water. Add butter or fat. Cool slightly. Add other ingredients and beat until creamy. Pour into greased pan. Chill.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Dinner to die for.

Quotation for the Day …

Even if only ground beef was irradiated, it would save lots of lives. Dr. Donald Thayer, USDA; 1997

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Macadamia and Orange Biscotti.

Warning! This is not a food HISTORY post!

I’ve had a couple of requests for my Macadamia and Orange Biscotti since mentioning them in response to a comment to yesterday’s blog story.
Here it is, followed by some of the variations (it works perfectly well using gluten-free flour too.)

60 gm soft butter
220 gm caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
3 eggs
350 gm plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarb soda
½ teaspoon salt
150 gm (more or less) of coarsely chopped roasted macadamias; I work on the principle of cramming as many in as possible.
a couple of extra tablespoons of sugar for topping.

Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and rind until just combined.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beat until just combined.
Stir in the flour, baking powder and soda; when they are nearly mixed in, add the nuts.
The mixture is very sticky at this point, and it is easier to manage if you put in the fridge for a while (overnight works fine too, if you want to make it ahead).
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, cut into two lumps, and knead each one very lightly until it is not so sticky. Pat these out into two logs – about 2.5 cm (an inch) thick, and long-ish or wide-ish depending on your fancy. Flatten them lightly so that they have an even, flat top.
Brush the tops with water (I just run my hand under the tap then over the top of the dough); sprinkle with the extra sugar (as thick or thin as you like).
Put them in a moderate oven for 35-40 minutes (ovens are so variable I hesitate to give you an exact time) – they should be golden and slightly firm but not hard. Transfer them to a cooling rack (I use two flat spatulas to lift them).
When they are cool enough to handle, slice them however thick or thin you want.
I use a serrated bread knife, but an electric knife works well.
Put them in a moderately-slow oven until they are dry; turn them over at some point – they don’t need to be brittle, they will continue to crisp up a bit after you take them out of the oven and put them on a wire cooling rack.

This is an infinitely variable recipe. You can substitute some of the flour with ground almonds (about ⅓ - ½ a cup) for a slightly different texture. You can of course use any nuts (or choc chips) and other flavourings. Maple sugar and macadamia is divine, if you can get an affordable source of maple sugar. I am thinking perhaps Palm Sugar and Pine Nuts next?

My favourite is Chocolate Hazelnut: just substitute ½ cup of the flour with good quality cocoa, and use roasted hazelnuts instead of macadamias. In this case – even better if you substitute a couple of teaspoons of instant coffee (mix with a few drops of water) for the vanilla.

Let me know if you try it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Nut by Any Other Name

October 19th

It seems terrible that “the finest nut in the world” has all but lost its association with its country of origin. The success of Hawaii in its commercial exploitation of the macadamia has led to many people around the world believing that that it originated there. Even the linguistic association was lost when the 1932 marketing name of “Australian Nut” officially gave way to the “Macadamia Nut” in 1958 – thanks to the Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

The two edible species of the Genus Macadamia are native to a mere 600km stretch of coastal land from Grafton to Marybororough. Long before colonisation the nuts were prized by local Aboriginal people (who called it ‘Kindal-Kindal’), who also traded them and extracted the oil for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. It is the only Australian native food to be grown commercially on any significant scale.

Ludwig Leichardt (who we have met before in previous stories) is credited with collecting the first botanical specimen from near present-day Kilcoy, on September 18th 1843. That specimen is still in the Melbourne National Herbarium. At a scientific meeting in 1857 it was given its botanical name by Dr. Ferdinand von Mueller, who dedicated it to “John Macadam Esq. M.D. the talented and deserving Secretary of our Institute". Unfortunately the accompanying drawing was of the wrong plant, there was no mention of the fruit, and John Macadam (who became Post Master General in 1861) almost certainly had never eaten the nuts.

The first cultivated Macadamia was planted in 1858 in what is now the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. It was another three decades before the first orchard was established near Lismore, at about the same time as seeds were taken to California and Hawaii. By the 1920’s the industry looked promising in Australia, but it fell into a decline by the 1940’s, allowing it to be overtaken by production in Hawaii where it was better supported financially and scientifically. I

In 1998 Australia once again became the worlds biggest producer of macadamias. In view of the fact that macadamias are high in mono-unsaturated oils, perhaps we should lobby for another name change to “The Australian Health Nut” as it seems unlikely – even in these locavore days – that the name “Queensland Nut” will ever be re-instated.

As everyone with a back-yard tree knows, the incredibly hard shell is a barrier to entry to the delicious nut: it is all too easy to end up with muscle fatigue and a pile of mashed nuts+shells. Perhaps this accounts for the dearth of macadamia nut recipes in early Australian cookbooks. This recipe, from the 1930’s Australian Cookery for Today, would adapt pretty well, I think.

Nut Salad.
2 hard-boiled eggs
¼ lb shelled walnuts
1 young lettuce
¼ lb cream cheese
slice onion.
Take the yolk from one egg and reserve it. Chop the remainder of the eggs finely. Wash and dry the lettuce. Rub the inside of a salad bowl with a cut onion, and put in the lettuce. Add a layer of chopped egg sprinkled with mayonnaise, then a layer of chopped nuts, and then another sprinkling of egg. Continue the layers and finish with a liberal lay of mayonnaise. Rub the egg yolk through a sieve, sprinkle it over the salad, and surround with cream cheese in small balls.

On this Topic …

The Australian Macadamia Society has an impressive archive of recipes.

Monday’s Story …

Stocking the Shelter.

Quotation for the Day …

He that eateth well, drinketh well;
he that drinketh well, sleepeth well;
he that sleepeth well, sinneth not;
he that sinneth not goeth straight through Purgatory to Paradise
William Lithgow, Rare Adventures (1614)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Monsieur Buffet.

Today, October 18 …

Monsieur Pierre-Aphonse Buffet did not exist. Or if he did, he lived and disappeared with no obvious trace in the late seventeenth or first half of the eighteenth century. Even if he did exist, he certainly did not give his name to the word “buffet” in any of its incarnations.

“Buffet” means three things, according to the OED. It means a blow or punch (did you play ‘Blind Man’s Buff’ as a child?), a three-legged stool (on which Miss Muffet probably sat - rather than a tuffet - eating her curds and whey, which were probably cruds and whey), and of course a sideboard or cabinet (and ultimately the food served from it).

The OED does not even venture a guess as to the origin of the word, and I therefore hold it partly responsible for the perpetuity of the myth of Pierre-Alphonse. It is a colourful myth, reminiscent of the one about the English Earl of Sandwich giving his name to sandwiches. It says that the usage came about because he was a Parisian gambler-gourmet who ensured that food was laid out on his sideboard so that he and his guests did not need to leave the gaming table in order to eat.

There are faint suspicions that the word is French in origin – and the custom of using a sideboard or cupboard to make an ostentatious display of one’s gold and silver knick-knacks probably did start in France, maybe in the sixteenth century. It became an obvious location for the placement of elegant filled dishes of fine food when one entertained, and eventually, by the early nineteenth century, the word came to apply to the meal served from it.

Once upon a time, buffet parties were elegant and refined. Now we have the ‘all you can eat’ kind, which have inspired the invention of elastic-waisted ‘buffet-pants' and may have played their own small part in the obesity epidemic.

From ostentation to elegance to gross in a mere few centuries. Mrs. Beeton lived in the time when a buffet was on the cusp between ostentation and elegance. She thought they were very appropriate for suppers.

“Where small rooms and large parties necessitate having a standing supper, many things enumerated in the following bill of fare may be placed on the buffet. Dishes for these suppers should be selected which may be eaten standing without any trouble. The following list may, perhaps, assist our readers in the arrangement of a buffet for a standing supper.

Beef, ham, and tongue sandwiches, lobster and oyster patties, sausage rolls, meat rolls, lobster salad, dishes of fowls, the latter - all cut up; dishes of sliced ham, sliced tongue, sliced beef, and galantine of veal; various jellies, blancmanges, and creams; custards in glasses, compotes of fruit, tartlets of jam, and several dishes of small fancy pastry; dishes of fresh fruit, bonbons, sweetmeats, two or three sponge cakes, a few plates of biscuits, and the buffet ornamented with vases of fresh or artificial flowers. The above dishes are quite sufficient for a standing supper; where more are desired, a supper must then be laid and arranged in the usual manner.”

Her suggestion of sausage rolls seems a little out of place to me; sausage rolls may be delicious, but they are hardly elegant. Here is her recipe for them.

1 lb. of puff-paste No. 1206, sausage-meat No. 837, the yolk of 1 egg.
Make 1 lb. of puff-paste by recipe No. 1206; roll it out to the thickness of about ½ inch, or rather less, and divide it into 8, 10,or 12 squares, according to the size the rolls are intended to be. Place some sausage-meat on one-half of each square, wet the edges of the paste, and fold it over the meat; slightly press the edges together, and trim them neatly with a knife. Brush the rolls over with the yolk of an egg, and bake them in a well-heated oven for about ½ hour, or longer should they be very large. The remains of cold chicken and ham, minced and seasoned, as also cold veal or beef, make very good rolls.

To every lb. of flour allow 8 oz. of butter, 4 oz.of lard, not quite ½ pint of water.
This paste may be made by the directions in the preceding recipe, only using less butter and substituting lard for a portion of it. Mix the flour to a smooth paste with not quite ½ pint of water; then roll it out 3 times, the first time covering the paste with butter, the second with lard, and the third with butter. Keep the rolling-pin and paste slightly dredged with flour, to prevent them from sticking, and it will be ready for use.

(Author's Oxford Recipe)
837. 1 lb. of pork, fat and lean, without skin or gristle; 1 lb. of lean veal, 1 lb. of beef suet, 1/2 lb. of bread crumbs, the rind of 1/2 lemon, 1 small nutmeg, 6 sage-leaves, 1 teaspoonful of pepper, 2 teaspoonfuls of salt, 1/2 teaspoonful of savory, 1/2 teaspoonful of marjoram.

Chop the pork, veal, and suet finely together, add the bread crumbs, lemon-peel (which should be well minced), and a small nutmeg grated. Wash and chop the sage-leaves very finely; add these with the remaining ingredients to the sausage-meat, and when thoroughly mixed, either put the meat into skins, or, when wanted for table, form it into little cakes, which should be floured and fried.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Nut by Any Other Name

Quotation for the Day ...

I went to this restaurant last night that was set up like a big buffet in the shape of an Ouija board. You'd think about what kind of food you want, and the table would move across the floor to it. Steven Wright

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Directions to Servants.

Today, October 17 ...

Old household manuals are full of advice on how to manage (and discipline) the domestic servants. Life “below stairs” must have been very unpleasant if the Mistress had a nasty streak, or the Master a wandering eye or hand. Even in households where the servants were well treated and well fed – although never as well as their employers, as we saw last week – the days must have been long and hard.

Humans have an amazing capacity for subversion however, and no doubt badly-treated servants found creative ways to retaliate. There is a sense of slight anxiety to be read behind much of the advice given to the mistress in those manuals, as if it was a given that they would be cheated or let down by their servants at any opportunity.

There were worse ways a disgruntled servant could retaliate than simply by stealing a bit of tea or not getting the laundry white enough – and the great satirist Jonathan Swift named them in his essay “Directions To Servants” in 1745.

"If you are bringing up a Joint of meat in a Dish, and it falls out of your Hand, before you get into the Dining Room, with the Meat on the Ground, and the Sauce spilled, take up the Meat gently, wipe it with the Lap of your Coat, then put it again into the Dish, and serve it up; and when your Lady misses the Sauce, tell her, it is to be sent up in a Plate by itself. When you carry up a Dish of meat, dip your fingers in the Sauce, or lick it with your Tongue, to try whether it be good, and fit for your Master's Table..."

To the cook, he said " are not to wash your Hands till you have gone to the Necessary-house*, and spitted your Meat, trussed your Pullets, pickt your Sallad, nor indeed till after you have sent up the second Course; for your Hands will be ten times fouled with the many Things you are forced to handle; but when your Work is over, one Washing will serve for all..."

* i.e the bathroom, restroom, W.C.,toilet, lavatory, dunny, loo …..

It sounds like saucy dishes were the subversive servant’s delight. Here is a recipe for gravy from Anne Battams’ The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts,... (1759).

To make gravy sauce.
Take a piece of lean beef, cut it small in thin slices and put as much water as will something more than cover it, with a little old black pepper, and a little onion or shallot, and let it stew till you think the gravy is all out of the beef, then put in a little salt; when it is cold, put in a quarter part claret, a little butter and a little flour, and shake it up for use.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Monsieur Buffet.

Quotation for the Day …

I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage. Erma Bombeck.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The virtues of coffee.

Today, October 16 ...

The first coffee house in London opened in St. Michael's Alley, Cornhill, in 1652. Like many newly introduced foods, it was first promoted as a health food. If you are suffering from the Spleen, Hypocondriack Winds, or the like, go and have a cup of coffee - this advertising broadsheet, produced sometime in the first year or two of the coffee house opening, says it will be good for you.


The Grain or Berry called Coffee, groweth upon little Trees, only in the Deserts of Arabia. It is brought from thence, and drunk generally throughout all the Grand Seigniors Dominions. It is a simple innocent thing, composed into a Drink, by being dryed in an Oven and ground to Powder, and boiled up with Spring water, and about half a pint of it to be drunk, fasting an hour before, and not Eating an hour after, and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured; the which will never fetch the skin off the mouth, or raise any Blisters, by reason of that Heat.
The Turks drink at meals and other times, is usually Water, and there Dyet consists much of Fruit & the Crudites whereof are very much corrected by this Drink. The quality of this Drink is cold and Dry; and though it be a Dryer; yet it neither heats, nor inflames more than hot Posset.
It so closeth the Orifice of the Stomack, and fortifies the heat's very good to help digestion; and therefore of great use to be drunk about 3 or 4 a Clock in the afternoon, as well as in the morning.
It quickens the Spirits and makes the Heart Lightsome. It is good against sore eys, and the better if you hold your Head o'er it, and take in the Steem that way. It suppresseth Fumes exceedingly, and therefore good against the Head-ach, and will very much stop the Defluxion of Rhuems, that distil from the Head upon the Stomack, and so prevent and help Consumption and the Cough of the Lungs.
It is excellent to prevent and cure the Dropsy, Gout and Scurvy.
It is known by experience to be better than any other Drying Drink for People in years, or Children that have any running humors up on them, as the Kings Evil.
It is very good to prevent Mis-carryings in Child-bearing Women.
It is a most excellent Remedy against the Spleen, Hypocondriack Winds, or the like.
It will prevent Drowsiness, and make one fit for business, if one have occasion to Watch; and therefore you are not to Drink of it after Supper, unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for 3 or 4 hours.
It is believed that in Turkey, where this is generally drunk, that they are not troubled with the Stone, Gout, Dropsie, or Scurvy, and that their Skins are exceeding clear and white.
It is neither Laxative nor Restringent.

It was a long time before coffee was used as cooking ingredient rather than a mere beverage, but you can browse the offering in the Coffee Archive if you are interested. Coffee was drunk with conversation in the seventeenth century, not cake. If you were to have cake in the seventeenth century, then the cake of preference was Seed Cake. We would classify it as a sweet bread (it was almost two hundred years before baking sodas were invented), and here is an example from the classic Hannah Woolley’s Accomplished Lady’s Delight, published in 1675.

To make a Caraway-Cake.
Take three pound and a half of the finest Flower, and dry it in an Oven*, one pound and a half of Sweet Butter, and mix it with the Flower, till it be crumbled very small, that none of it be seen; then take three quarters of a pint of New Ale-Yeast, and half a pint of Sack, and half a pint of New Milk, with six spoonfuls of Rose-Water, and four Yolks, and two Whites of Eggs; then let it lye before the Fire half an hour, or more, and when you go to make it up, put in three quarters of Caraway-Comfits, and a pound and a half of Biskets. Put it into the Oven, and let it stand and hour and a half.

*this was because it was often difficult to ensure flour was completely dry – no airtight plastic storage containers back then

Tomorrow’s Story …

Directions to Servants.

Quotation for the Day …

These consumers are always ordering mutant beverages with names like "mocha-almond-honey-vinaigrette-lattespressacino,"' beverages that must be made one at a time via a lengthy and complex process involving approximately one coffee bean, three quarts of dairy products and what appears to be a small nuclear reactor. Dave Barry.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Advice for the Melancholy.

Today, October 15 ..

Firstly ….

Before I tell you today’s story, I want to make a little announcement. Small changes are afoot on this blog. I may move away, a little, from the strict “on this day” format (don’t worry, there will still be a story every weekday.)

There are two reasons. One – the negative one – is that I am aware that another blog is systematically stealing my content on a daily basis, with no acknowledgement (I think it is called a “scrapping”). So - if you are reading this and the name The Old Foodie is not at the top of the page, then you are reading this on the site of a word thief. My blog is almost two years old. As the weekend days become weekdays in each succeeding year, if I continue this format by the end of another twelve months I will have covered all 365 days. It is still my hope that I will publish something along the lines of a Food History Almanac in the future, and although I have ample more material for every day of the year, it has been suggested to me that I may be giving away potentially the entire content for such a book to some other thief.

I might add that this person is doing the same thing to another blogger who runs a site called The Art of Drink. By all means go there and say hello to Darcy, who alerted me to the theft and is also trying to get this guy to cease and desist. And no, I am not going to give you the thief’s site address, because if you go to it you will assist him to earn money from the Adsense ads he is running. At this point in time the perp has been notified to the Google Adsense team knee-capping department (at least, I hope that’s one of their disciplinary techniques.)

The second reason for the change – the positive one, I hope – is that there are a lot of lovely stories that do not have a specific date, but do not deserve to be neglected on that account. This applies particularly to the more ancient stories. So, for a little while, or from time to time, I will just give you a random story. It also means that if you have a particular question or idea, then that just might be able to be accommodated too.

And Finally, our story for the day ...

The experts now say that eating chocolate increases our naturally happy-hormones, the endorphins – something that most of us didn’t need scientists to tell us, although their evidence is useful for decreasing any break-through chocolate-guilt.

The idea that food can affect mood is far from new. The ancient Greek Doctrine of the Humours underpinned medical thought until well into the Middle Ages, and it was firmly based in food as medicine and medicine as food and food as potentially mind-altering (and it was not referring only to a certain variety of mushroom). A gross over-simplification of the complex concept that was Humoral Theory goes something like this:

Everything in the natural world is made up of the four elements: Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. Each of these has a particular “quality”: fire is hot, earth is dry, water is moist, and air is cool. A combination of two of these elements gives each natural thing or process its “complexion”, which has an associated “humour”. The four humours are represented in humans by blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile (or choler). A persons “temperament” depends on which humour has “sovereignty”, so there are four basic temperaments:

SANGUINE: complexion is “hot and moist”, blood is the dominant humour.

PHLEGMATIC: complexion is “cold and moist”, phlegm is the dominant humour.

CHOLERIC: complexion is “hot and dry”, yellow bile is the dominant humour.

MELANCHOLIC: complexion is “cold and dry”, black bile is the dominant humour.

Disease was believed to be due to an imbalance of the humours, which is why it was perfectly logical to perform blood-letting if the condition was understood to be due to an excess of that particular humour, or of administering purges or diuretics for other excesses. Alternatively, deficiencies in a particular humour could be addressed by administering a medicine or food which was rich in that humour.

The system was of course more complicated, with varying “degrees” of a quality being assigned to a food, the influence of age, gender and a multitude of astrological and occult influences also having to be taken into account.

To return to our specific topic of the day, first, the diagnosis: a melancholy person could be recognised by these physical signs: digestion slowe and yll, tymerous and fearefull, anger longe and frettynge, seldome laughynge,pulse lytell, urine watry and thynne.

Secondly, the treatment: this was two-pronged. Foods with similar characteristics (i.e that were “cold and dry”) should be avoided, and foods that were “warm and moist” should be eaten. This refers of course to the actual complexion of the food, not its cooking and serving method.

So, if you are of a gloomy temperament, or are in a sad mood, the foods to avoid because they ingendre melancholy are:

Gotes flesshe
Hares flesshe
Bores flesshe
Salte flesshe
Salte fysshe
All pulses except white peason
Browne breadde course
Thycke wyne
Black wyne
Olde Cheese
Olde flesshe
Great fysshes of the see.

As to what to eat, that is proving slightly more complicated for me to advise you. Pork is certainly “hot in the first degree”, so should be good, but I have not been able to find out if it is “moist” enough from a humoral point of view to be suitable for a melancholy person. From a culinary point of view it would certainly be wonderfully moist cooked according to this sixteenth century recipe, if you follow the instructions and use the recommended good store of butter. It is cooked in a pastry “coffin” which functioned like a casserole dish.

To bake a Pigge.
Take your Pig and flea [skin] it, and draw out all that clean which is in his bellye, and wash him clean, and perboyle him, season it with Cloves, mace, nutmegs, pepper & salt, and so lay him in the paste with good store of Butter, then set it in the Oven till it be baked inough.
[A book of cookrye Very necessary for all such as delight therin.1591]

Tomorrow’s Story …

The virtues of coffee.

Quotation for the Day …

Pork - no animal is more used for nourishment and none more indispensable in the kitchen; employed either fresh or salt, all is useful, even to its bristles and its blood; it is the superfluous riches of the farmer, and helps to pay the rent of the cottager. Alexis Soyer 1851.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Family Fare from Phyllis.

Today, October 12 ...

The daily task of menu planning and implementation that we discussed yesterday was also tackled by Phyllis Brown in 1879 in her book called A Year’s Cookery. Phyllis specially addressed her book to “ … people of moderate income, with moderate domestic help, and ordinary kitchen utensils”, which I am sure includes most of you, my good readers. Unlike our author yesterday, Phyllis neglects to tell us what should appear on the dinner table of our moderate domestic help, but she does at least solve the luncheon issue.

For October 12th, she suggests:

Fried ham, fried eggs
Teacakes, dry toast
Brown and white bread and butter
Rice and barley porridge

Scalloped fish
Wyvern puddings

Lentil soup
Tomato Beef.
Town Pudding

Good solid puddings, twice a day - that seems to have been Phyllis’ motto. On this day the Wyvern puddings are essentially little Yorkshire puddings – what we would now call ‘popovers’, served with jam. Pudding number two for the day, Town pudding, is a steamed suet pudding with apple. Cant go too long between suet puds you know.

Phyllis also gives instructions each day for Marketing “for the day” and “for tomorrow”, as well as a list of “Things that must not be forgotten”. On this day, one of the things you must not forget is to prepare the “plump young fowl” bought today for tomorrow’s dinner. I am quite sure Phyllis means that the domestic help do this, not the Lady of the House. It is done by plucking it, hanging it in a cold larder, and cleaning the giblets – not forgetting to blanch them in boiling water for five minutes as “this will help keep them.” The feathers are of course to be preserved and dried for making pillows (store them in a large bag until there are sufficient for use.)

At least the Tomato Beef is easy.

Tomato Beef.
Cut the tomatoes into slices; butter the inside of a stew-pan, cover the bottom with sliced tomatoes, lay on a portion of the beef*, and put the tomatoes and beef in alternate layers till both are used. Cover the pan closely, place it at the side of the fire, and let its contents simmer gently for an hour and a half. Add pepper and salt, and serve on a hot dish.

*this is the “three pounds of lean Beef cut into steaks” that she instructed you to buy yesterday, along with half a dozen ripe tomatoes.

Monday’s Story …

Advice for the Melancholy.

Quotation for the Day …

The disobedient fowl obeys in a pot of soup. Nigerian Proverb

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Family Fare

Today, October 11 …

Deciding what to have for dinner every night is a joyful challenge or a perennial chore, depending on your point of view (which of course may vary from day to day). In the nineteenth century a whole generation of housewives were assisted in this daily exercise by a host of books on the subject. I thought that today and tomorrow we might all be assisted in our challenge or chore by those self-same books.

Today I have chosen Cre-Fydd’s Family Fare, or Young Housewife’s Daily Assistant, published in 1864, in the immediate wake of Mrs Beeton’s Household Manual.

This book, like most of its contemporaries, was specifically aimed at the modest middle-class household, in which the young housewife would not have been expected to cook, but most certainly needed to be able to supervise the goings-on in the kitchen, lest she be ripped-off by the domestic staff. The preface states that the book contains “bills of family fare for every day in the year, which include breakfast and dinner for a small family, and dinner for two servants”, which does leave one wondering how on earth one is to solve the luncheon problem.

For October 11, the Authoress suggests:

Kippered salmon, mutton chops, eggs, hung beef.

Scolloped fish.
Boiled aitchbone of beef (11 lbs), carrots, greens, potatoes.
Belgian pudding
Stewed cheese.

KITCHEN (i.e the servants)
Mutton chops, potatoes.

A “small family” tackling an 11 pound ( kg) aitchbone of beef for dinner sounds alarming until one reads ahead and sees “cold beef” on the family’s breakfast menu for the next two days, and on the servants’ dinner menu for the next three days. Come to think of it, it is still alarming when one realises that there would have been no refrigeration in this modest home.

Likewise, the Scolloped Fish was made from the remains of the previous day’s cod. The recipe describes it as a “second dressing”, which sounds infinitely more appetising than “leftovers”, and essentially consisted of reheating the cod fragments in a liberal amount of butter, with the addition of breadcrumbs or mashed potato.

Belgian pudding - there is never a dinner without pudding - for all its Continental name, is a variation on the very English theme of a suet pudding with dried fruit.

Now for the final course of Stewed cheese. It is a peculiarly English habit to end a meal with a small savoury dish. This one is a variation on the perenially popular theme of Welsh Rabbit (‘Rarebit’, if you insist on being incorrect), and is just the thing to fill up the gaps left by the fish, beef, and suet pudding.

Stewed Cheese.
Three quarters of a pound of rich cheese cut into thin slices (the rind taken off); season it with a teaspoonful of flour of mustard, half a saltspoonful of white pepper, and a cayenne saltspoonful of cayenne; put it into a pie-dish; pour over it a wineglassful of sherry, put in an ounce of butter in small pieces on the top, and bake in a quick oven till the cheese is dissolved (about twelve minutes); then add the yolks of two small eggs, well beaten; when well mixed, pour it into a tin dish, and bake for ten minutes, till the top is of a pale brown colour. Serve very hot, with a rack of fresh-made dry toast, very hot also.

On this Topic …

Welsh Rabbit Chapter 1

Welsh Rabbit Chapter II

Tomorrow’s Story …

Family fare from Phyllis.

Quotation for the Day …

The best way to eat the elephant standing in your path is to cut it up into little pieces. African Proverb

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Musical Food.

Today, October 10th

This day in 1948 was the first performance of Leonard Bernstein’s La Bonne Cuisine: Four Recipes for Voice and Piano. The recipes translated and set to music by Bernstein were from La Bonne Cuisine Française by Emile Dumont, and his specific choices were 1. Plum Pudding 2. Queues de Boeuf (‘Ox Tails”) 3. Tavouk Gueunksis 4. Civet à Toute Vitesse (“Rabbit at Top Speed”).

I had thought to give you the song-recipes, but it appears that they are top-secret and unavailable due to strict observance of copyright, which is of course a good thing. The slight mystery to me is the Tavouk Gueunkis. The song starts by saying it is “so Oriental” (I did learn that much), and presumably it is a chicken dish (tavouk = chicken, right?) Someone help me here, please.

Plum pudding recipes are aplenty in the Christmas recipe archive, so it wont do for today’s recipe. I had a lovely Ox-tail ravioli at a local restaurant recently, so felt like a change. Rabbit it has to be.

There is a lovely little book published in 1859 called The gourmet's guide to rabbit cooking, by an old epicure (who is presumably the Georgiana Hill of the title page.) It gives 124 receipts for rabbit, but first, the author explains its culinary value thus:

Firstly, to quote from our friends the French, who possess an aptitude for delicacy of expression of which an English cook is totally deficient, the charm of rabbits consists in their being so easily and agreeably accommodated (mark the word), and in their capability of producing a variety of compositions, which, if proceeding from the hands of an able artiste, may, or elegance, be ranked amongst the most recherche dishes that can dignify the table of refined and enlightened amphitryons. Another thing recommendable in rabbits is their cheapness. Even one solitary rabbit will make a pretty appearance at a dinner, whereas its equivalent money's-worth of butcher's meat would be quite an uncomfortable object to contemplate. They are likewise easily obtained, being in season nearly throughout the year, are quickly dressed, have very little weight of bone, will keep well, and, besides being considered wholesome and easy of digestion, have, according to the following old rhyme, a property ascribed to them which confirms us in our estimation of their merits, and exemplifies the wisdom of the originators of cookery, in causing so favourable a combination of forces as ensues from their alliance with the admirable esculent which usually accompanies them in their culinary career :

For onions, you know, are generally said
To be an excellent remedy for a cold in the head;
And rabbits, I'm told by those who are smart,
Are a capital cure for a cold in the heart.

The author of the cookbook does give plenty of recipes for rabbit with these admirable esculents as an ingredient, but a couple of other more unusual combinations caught my eye and distracted me from my search for the speediest recipes.

Laver is a “marine algae” (i.e seaweed), is having somewhat of a comeback I understand, and is often served with gammon and suchlike, so perhaps not so strange with rabbit. Caviar, on the other hand, must be an unusual ingredient in a rabbit dish, yes?

Rabbit and Laver.
Cut up a very tender rabbit fry it in butter until it is quite done and appears beautifully brown. While it is doing put four ounces of fresh butter into a saucepan and when melted add the juice of a whole lemon a little Cayenne pepper and two table spoonfuls of fresh laver. Let it become almost boiling hot lay your rabbit upon a well warmed dish pour the laver sauce over it and serve as quickly as possible The perfection of this dish depends upon the promptitude of sending it to table for unless it is eaten hot the fineness of its flavour is lost.

Rabbit and Caviare.
Choose a fine fat rabbit cut it into joints season it lightly and put it into a stewpan with a quarter of a pound of fresh butter shake it over the fire until you think it is half done then pour in half a pint of white wine and allow it to stay upon the hob to simmer. Prepare a table spoonful of unpressed caviare and put it into another stewpan by the side of the fire moisten it with a tea cupful of gravy and soon after pour in half a pint of rich cream let it reduce slowly and when both are done dish up the meat upon the caviare.

On this Topic ...

We considered the dangers of rabbit aboard ship, and the essential differences between rabbit and hare in previous posts.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Family Fare.

Quotation for the Day …

Intellectual men who quickly wolf down whatever nourishment is necessary for their bodies with a kind of disdain, may be very rational and have a noble intelligence, but they are not men of taste. Sainte-Beuve, Charles Augustin (1804-1869).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Last Blackberries.

Today, October 9th

In mid-July we left Dorothy Wordsworth (sister of the English poet, William) gathering blackberries from the hedgerows. Dorothy was a thrifty soul – not one to leave a good bush unpicked – and we can safely assume that she did not miss an opportunity to pick, cook, and preserve as much of this free hedgerow food as possible. Presumably she knew that this is the last traditionally acceptable day to pick the fruit, for food mythology says that tomorrow the Devil spits (or urinates) on the bramble bushes in remembrance of his painful landing in one of them when he was turfed out of heaven.

The biblically knowledgeable amongst you will instantly recognise a small inconsistency here, for story has it the throwing out was done by the Archangel Michael whose feast day (Michaelmas) is considered to be the anniversary of this event. Michaelmas is September 29, which is 10 days ago. So why is tomorrow the blackberry-polluting day?

It all began with Julius Caesar, who was responsible for the original calendar based on a year of 365 days (and which we conveniently call the Julian calendar). The problem was, that the length of the actual year is approximately 365.25 days, so over the centuries the calendar got out of step with celestial happenings such as equinoxes and solstices. Minor tweakings of Leap Year occurrences had been applied at times, but a major re-working of the calendar was ordered by Pope Gregory in 1582, by which time the discrepancy amounted to ten days. These were simply omitted in that year, making it all right with again between civic and celestial worlds. Apart from the Protestant sections of the world that is, who would have no truck with Papist calendars. They (meaning specifically the English and all her colonies) hung out until 1752, by which time the discrepancy was eleven days. Finally, after two centuries of operating on a different calendar from a large part of the rest of the world, the English caved in, and removed the eleven days between September 2nd and September 14th. Hence, our explanation: September 29 (Old Style), became the new October 10 (new style), and presumably the Devil too adjusted his diary to note the correct day for spitting or peeing on the berries (was he really turfed out into the English countryside?)

I was also going to give you a full explanation of why a single blackberry is actually, botanically speaking, a cluster (an ‘aggregate’) of many tiny berries, and how a strawberry is not, botanically speaking, a berry at all, unlike avocadoes and pumpkins and eggplant and cucumbers which are very definitely botanical berries. I fear however that I might risk our coffee-break-length friendship with too much botanical information on top of too much calendar information, so I will leave that to another day.

In the meanwhile, here are a couple of other ideas for your berries (I am sure they would adapt to any ‘culinary’, as distinct from botanical berry, so feel free to try them with strawberries.)

Blackberry Pudding.
Make a batter of 1 quart of flour, 3 pints of milk, and 5 eggs. Stew 3 pints of blackberries sweetened to your taste, and stir them in the batter. Bake it, and eat it with any sweet sauce.
[The Ladies' New Book of Cookery … Sarah Josepha Buell Hale; 1852]

Blackberry Brandy.
Take equal parts of brandy and blackberry juice; add to every gallon one pound of loaf-sugar. This is excellent for bowel complaints.
[The Housekeeper's Encyclopedia of Useful Information for the Housekeeper in ...
By E. F. Haskell, 1861]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Musical Food.

Quotation for the Day …

I remember his burlesque pretense that morning of an inextinguishable grief when I wonder that I had never eaten blueberry cake before, and how he kept returning to the pathos of the fact that there should be a region of the earth where blueberry cake was unknown. William Dean Howells.