Friday, November 30, 2007

Tamarinds, by Twain.

November 30 ...

Today is Mark Twain’s one hundred and seventy second birthday. I am not sure, but I think he is the third most often quoted writer who has ever been in the world (after William Shakespeare and Dr Samuel Johnson). His food quotations alone would last a long time as blog-fodder. I like what he has to say about tamarinds: “strangers eat tamarinds, but they only eat them once” – a witty enough one-liner, but the paragraph it springs from (from his story Roughing It) explains why no-one goes back to the tree for a second bite.

“I thought tamarinds were made to eat, but that was probably not the idea. I ate several, and it seemed to me that they were rather sour that year. They pursed up my lips, till they resembled the stem-end of a tomato, and I had to take my sustenance through a quill for twenty-four hours. They sharpened my teeth till I could have shaved with them, and gave them a "wire edge" that I was afraid would stay; but a citizen said "no, it will come off when the enamel does" - which was comforting, at any rate. I found, afterward, that only strangers eat tamarinds - but they only eat them once.”

The tamarind (Tamarindus indica) originated in Africa and from there found its way first to India and the Pacific islands and thence to many other parts of the world with a tropical climate. The mouth-puckering qualities of the tamarind are due to its intense sourness – even when it is ripe it is very sour – and generally speaking it is not eaten from the tree but prepared in some way – as a drink, a sauce, a chutney or pickle etc. Medicinal qualities are attributed to it wherever it is known, and this was the first use of it in the West. It is particularly used in fevers – and no doubt the idea of a hot lemon drink for a cold derived from it, lemons being a more easily accessible sour flavour than the foreign tamarind.

A beverage or infusion of tamarind crosses both borders – the medicinal and the culinary. One gentleman by the name of William Vincent Wells visited Honduras in the mid-nineteenth century, and found it made a very refreshing drink in that hot climate. He called it Tamarind Ambrosia, and described how it was made:

"He [his host, Olancho] also possessed the art, from long practice, of concocting certain delicious drinks. Among these was one to which I invariably paid my respects. It was made from tamarinds, and usually served about noon from earthen jars, wrapped in several thick swaths of flannel, and placed in the draft as a cooling process. The preparation of this beverage was simple enough. From a cask of the fruit, which seemed to have been crushed to a pulp and liberally mixed with the coarse sirup of the country, a quantity of thick liquor was drawn off, in a partly fermented state, and diluted to a drinking consistency, which, when settled, was turned into jars. To this was added powdered cinnamon, allspice, or some fragrant herb (gathered in the neighboring hills), to suit the taste. The liquor, without the spices, is often used during and after fevers."

Most of us in the West know the tamarind as an ingredient in dishes from India, Thailand, and other parts of the mysterious East. Here is a recipe for tamarind preserve “from India” from a little book translated by the Oriental Translation Fund in 1831.

Tamarind Preserve.
Take raw Tamarind, ¼ ser ( ½ Ib.)
Loaf sugar, ½ ser (l Ib.)
Lemon, 1 chittank (2 oz.)
Having removed the skin of the raw tamarind and extracted the seeds, take ¼ ser and make a syrup of the sugar in half a pao (4 oz.) of water, and remove its impurities.
When it settles, throw in the tamarind and cook it, and when it acquires a consistency add lemon- juice, and take it off the fire and cool it ; and keep it, and take it out and use it when required.

Monday’s Story …

Hot Roots.

Quotation for the Day …

Cooking Rule... If at first you don't succeed, order pizza. Anonymous.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

With the foxhounds.

November 29 ...

Yesterday’s post reminded me of a great lady and a little gem of a book that I met while I was in Norfolk, England, in September. I stayed for a few days with my cousin, who – knowing my interest in all things to do with food – invited her neighbour over one day for a cuppa. This lady is of fine Norfolk stock, and the local cooking guru it seems. She was a fund of knowledge about Norfolk specialties, and brought a bundle of little old local cookbooks which she loaned to me for my stay.

One of the books was “The West Norfolk Foxhounds Cookery Book”, and it was quite amusing. Most of us don’t tend to associate foxhunters with humour, but I assure you this book is quite funny, in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. It starts by describing fox-hunting as “… Not unlike adultery. Hours of hanging around punctuated by moments of high passion. Both highly immoral and very expensive.”

I learned that provisioning for a fox-hunt is quite a different thing from that of shooting parties, which we learned about yesterday. There are no picnic niceties like folding chairs and brass centrepieces full of fruit, because fox-hunters are serious about hunting - refreshment is for sustenance only and is taken on the run (or should that be on horseback?) so to speak. The repast consists solely of sandwiches.

“Hunting sandwiches are eaten under vigorous conditions and they should be prepared with that in view. They should be cut, formed, and packed so that they can be eaten on the back of a runaway mustang in a hurricane of wind and cold rain by a man who has recently broken his right wing.

In cut, the repast should favour the practical rather than the aesthetic. Too small a sandwich involves too many incursions of the gloved hand into the pocket: too large a sandwich may involve the jettisoning of the major part of the unconsumed portion of the day’s ration should the pack be so inconsiderate as to find a fox while the meal is in progress. … the sandwich should be packed with more thought for accessibility than for hygiene …. the ideal package should be capable of being opened by one numbed, gloved, hand withoug being removed from the pockets.”

Naturally there was a list of suggested fillings for robust sandwiches in the book. They are to be made “after breakfast” – which explains the ingredients of my favourite idea:

Bacon and Marmalade Sandwiches.
Excellent to stuff your pocket for Cub Hunting.
Fry bacon until crisp and cut to bits. Toast two thick slices of bread and then split horizontally. Spread marmalade on the untoasted side, put bacon on top and place the other piece [of toast] on top. Squash down and cut off crusts and repeat with other slices.

Stomach not up to it? “For those whose digestions sneer at solid food taken during strenuous exercise, the only solution may be egg beaten up in port, carried in a flask of vast dimensions.”

Tomorrow’s Story …

Tamarinds, by Twain.

Quotation for the Day …

Bread that must be sliced with an axe is bread that is too nourishing. Fran Lebowitz

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Shooting Luncheon.

November 28 …

If you are a member of the Idle Rich in the Northern Hemisphere, at this time of the year your thoughts may well be turning to a little pre-Christmas shooting party. If so, you must do a little advance planning if it is to be an occasion of ‘unruffled enjoyment.’ Your luncheon party will consist of about a dozen people – the shooters of course, and the ladies who will join them at the appropriate time. In addition, some preparation will have to be made for the keepers, beaters, and loaders, without whom a shooting party would be a lot of work, and likely not very successful. Those “whose daily fare is often rough and meagre” will be most appreciative of the meat sandwiches and bread and cheese which you will provide. The shooters and their ladies of course will need finer fare than these rough yokels. What a conundrum. Two picnics to pack.

I am so glad that an English newspaper article of this week in 1921 gives us some hints as to how to cater for such a range of requirements, as I find modern magazines sadly lacking in assistance to the grouse-hunters of the world. Portable foldable camp furniture is necessary. A proper fitted luncheon basket (or two) is ideal, and a cloth is essential (a length of bright French cotton check will do): napkins to match of course, but don’t worry about dainty table linen or silver.

For the comestibles, the hardy sportsman is no longer expected to make his frugal luncheon from the remains of his ample breakfast. Some suggestions are:

Main Course: “A big brown marmite, piping hot from a haybox, or warmed up on the cottage fire, the contents fresh neck of mutton or lamb, with potatoes and small pickling onions, or alternatively, a hot-pot of game or poultry,, with celery, peeled chestnuts, and a milky gravy, flavoured with Worcestershire sauce or mushrooms, together with a bowl of jacketed potatoes, and a casserole of baked Boston beans.”

Second Course: “Jam or spiced apple puffs, covered-in cheesecakes or mince pies are an easy second course to serve and consume, while a little truckle cheese or wedge of gruyere with butter and lettuces or celery, and a tin of mixed plain biscuits made hot and served from their tin home, and a sportsman cake, should be included. A brass dish of apples and pears makes the perfect centrepiece, and to comfort the chilly, slip in perhaps a box of dry Chinese ginger, or some peppermint sweets.”

I must confess to being a bit lax in the brass centrepiece department in the picnics I have catered for over the years, but perhaps they are not so important for mere picnics. I am not so sure how Boston baked beans got onto the menu of a very English outdoor luncheon: trying to impress those wealthy Americans with marriageable daughters I suppose.

The article does help us out with a suitable cake for a shooting luncheon – one with a very intriguing name.

Burnt House Cake.
Six ounces ground rice, 10 oz. flour, ½ lb. each of stoned raisins, sultanas, sugar, and butter. Beat butter to a cream with a 1d. packet of mixed spice. Dissolve one teaspoonful of bicarbonate soda in a quarter of a pint of milk, which should be added to the other ingredients boiling hot, and baked in a moderate oven for an hour.

Anyone have any ideas about the name of this cake?

Tomorrow’s Story …

With the foxhounds.

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. La Cuisine Francaise.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Foreign Food.

November 27 ...

At risk of boring you, I could not resist staying with our cookbook of yesterday’s post, the Domestic Economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady (1827). The index alone is worth reading. It is full of fascinating and mysterious dishes which I have never seen in modern cookbooks. I was tempted by Caldomuchocaldo, but was eventually swayed by ‘cubbubs’ and assumed you might be too.

Ball Cubbub.
Pound the meat, fat and lean, with a sufficient quantity of onions, garlic, curry-powder, pepper, and salt; mix all well up together, make it up into balls, and fry them in butter; serve them in a heap upon buttered or curried rice, or in a curried sauce, on fried bread or parsley, or almost in any way, with plain boiled rice in another dish.

Cubbubs = Meatballs? Rissoles? Curried Hamburger Patties? I remained confused until I read the next recipe:

Curry Cubbub.
Cut the meat into small equal pieces, and thread them upon silver skewers, intermixed with garlic and onions, rub them over with ginger, sprinkle with vinegar, dust them over with a little curry-powder, and fry them in butter.

The skewers give the game away. Cubbubs are kebabs (or kebobs) and represent another phonetic interpretation of the original Arabic word meaning (according to the OED) small pieces of meat cooked on skewers. The first mention in English is in 1698, and sums them up pretty well – “Cabob is Rostmeat on Skewers, cut in little round pieces no bigger than a Sixpence, and Ginger and Garlick put between each.”

We might have Caldomuchocaldo another day, if you are interested.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Shooting Luncheon.

Quotation for the Day …

When it comes to foreign food, the less authentic the better. Gerald Nachman, San Francisco Chronicle

Monday, November 26, 2007

Kedgeree, otherwayes.

November 26 ...

Kedgeree is a peculiarly Anglo-Indian concoction. It apparently began with khitchr – a dish based on a mixture of rice and pulses from the Indian subcontinent. In the hands of returning colonials it became a capital breakfast dish of rice, eggs and leftover fish.

Here is the wonderful Eliza Acton’s take on it (1845).

Kedgeree Or Kidgeree, An Indian Breakfast Dish.
Boil four ounees of rice tender and dry as for currie, and when it has cooled down put it into a saueepan with nearly an equal quantity of cold fish taken clear of skin and bone, and divided into very small flakes or scallops. Cut up an ounce or two of fresh butter and add it, with a full seasoning of cayenne, and as mueh salt as may be required. Stir the kedgeree constantly over a clear fire until it is very hot: then mingle quickly with it two slightly beaten eggs. Do not let it boil after these are stirred in; but serve the dish when they are just set. A Mauritian chutney may be sent to table with it.
The butter may be omitted, and its place supplied by an additional egg or more.
Cold turbot, brill, salmon, soles, John Dory, and shrimps, may all be served in this form.

The following early nineteenth century version from Domestic Economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady.(1827) is closer to its roots as a pulse and rice dish.

Indian Cutcheree.
Steep a pint of split peas, and add a large tea-cupful of rice, with an onion, ginger, pepper, mace, and salt; boil till the peas and rice are swelled and tender, but not
clammy ; stir them with a fork till the water is wasted. Serve it up in a dish garnished with hard eggs and whole boiled onions. The stirring it with a fork is to prevent the grains being broken.

But from the same book is this “American” variation, with an intriguing sub-variation which takes it about as far as it is possible to go from its essentially vegetarian origins.

American Cutcheree Soup.
Prepare and pulp some of the nicest dry green peas; put them into any nice seasoned white soup with coriander mint, or any determined sweet herb; to 1 lb. of peas, add 2 ounces of rice, and finish it with egg and cream, or keep out the egg, and add curry-powder, or make it of brown soup, with fried onions, all-spice, and sage, and thicken it with blood.

Tomorrow’s Story …

More Foreign Food.

Quotation for the Day ..

Eat what is cooked; listen to what is said. Russian Proverb

Friday, November 23, 2007

Oranges and Lemons Day.

November 23

Today is the feast day of St.Clement, the patron saint of blacksmiths and of the Worshipful Company of Bakers, and main star of the nursery rhyme and children’s game of “Oranges and Lemons”. The rhyme ostensibly refers to the ringing bells of a number of churches in the City of London, and there are two contenders for the “St Clement’s” – St. Clement Danes (in The Strand) and St Clement Eastcheap (near London Bridge).

There are many interpretations of the possible symbolism and meaning of the rhyme, but no convincing historic associations between either of these churches and citrus fruit. It was deemed a good enough connection however for the small seedless cross between an orange and a tangerine to be named a Clementine. Tenuous connection or not, the nursery rhyme itself is now the connection, so if we need an excuse to eat oranges and lemons, this is it. Which reminds me to ask (those of you on the other side of the ‘other’ pond) who is it that decides on these strange celebratory days with names such as Creamy Mashed Potato Day and Salad of Wild Rice with Pomegranate Seeds Day? Has anyone declared today officially Oranges and Lemons Day?

There is another food association with St Clement in addition to bread and citrus. A “Wayz-Goose” was often held on or around St Clement’s day: this does not mean that everyone got to cuddle a bird, the phrase was used more as we would refer to a Bean Feast, or an Annual Knees-Up – specifically one provided by an employer at the beginning of winter. No doubt goose was often served, for at this time of the year the remaining animals which were not required for breeding and could not be over-wintered would be slaughtered. For journeyman printers, the giving of the Wayz-Goose indicated that their employer would then allow them to work by candlelight (the days been short and dim by this time of year in the Northern hemisphere.)

Here is a lovely pudding, very suitable for those shortening days you are getting in the upper half of the world.

Orange Marmalade Pudding.
Mix six ounces of grated bread-crumbs with three ounces of finely-shred beef suet. Add a pinch of salt, a quarter of a tea-spoonful of powdered ginger, half a tea-spoonful of baking powder, half an ounce of candied lemon-peel chopped small, two tablespoonfuls of moist sugar, three well-beaten eggs, and a quarter of a pint of new milk. Take a well-buttered mould, spread a layer of the mixture at the bottom, then put a layer of orange marmalade, and repeat until the mould is full, being careful to let the mixture be at the top of the pudding. Bake in a moderate oven, and turn out before serving. Time – 2 hours to bake the pudding.
[Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery, 1870's]

Monday’s Story …

Kedgeree, otherwayes.

Quotation for the Day ..

Huge lemons, cut in slices, would sink like setting suns into the dusky sea, softly illuminating it with their radiating membranes, and its clear, smooth surface aquiver from the rising bitter essence. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

P.S. To my American friends. I have not forgotten that today is also THANKSGIVING. Please have a happy safe day and eat yourselves almost to bursting point. If you feel the need to look back in history as you digest all that dinner, last year's historic Thanksgiving menus might just do the trick. They are HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE. I hope one day to join one of you for a genuine Thanksgiving Feast!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

School Food Chapter II

November 22 …

Just in case your little darlings are still complaining about school and school food, here is a second story to use in a (probably futile) attempt to make them feel grateful.

It is taken from the writing of William Makepeace Thackeray (writing as Mr. A.M. Titmarsh) about his visit to Ireland, and in particular to the Agricultural Seminary of Templemoyle where seventy scholars “some young and some expounded into six feet and whiskers – all, however, are made to maintain exactly the same discipline, whether whiskered or not”, but which “is one of the very few public establishments in Ireland where pupils of the two religious denominations are received, and where no religious disputes have taken place.”


Eleven ounces of oatmeal made in stirabout – one pint of sweet milk.
Sunday-Three quarters of a pound of beef stewed with pepper and onions, or one-half pound of corned beef with cabbage, and three and one-half pounds of potatoes. Monday—One-half pound of pickled beef, three and a half pounds of potatoes—one pint of buttermilk.
Tuesday-Broth made of one-half pound of beef, with leeks, cabbage, and parsley, and three and a half pounds of potatoes.
Wednesday - Two ounces of butter, eight ounces of oatmeal made into bread, three and one-half pounds of potatoes, and one pint of sweet milk.
Thursday – Half a pound of pickled pork, with cabbage or turnips, and three and a half pounds of potatoes.
Friday—Two ounces of butter, eight ounces wheat meal made into bread, one pint of sweet milk or fresh buttermilk, three and a half pounds of potatoes.
Saturday—Two ounces of butter, one pound of potatoes mashed, eight ounces of wheat meal made into bread, two and a half pounds of potatoes, one pint of buttermilk.
In summer, flummery made of one pound of oatmeal seeds, and one pint of sweet milk. In winter, three and a half pounds of potatoes and one pint of buttermilk or sweet milk.

I was intrigued by the idea of “flummery” made from oatmeal seeds and milk. Surely this sort of “flummery” represents a re-branding of “frumenty”- the ancient grain porridge that was the staple food of peasants for centuries. Did the students observe any discernable difference between this “flummery” and the daily breakfast stirabout?

Mostly today we think of “flummery” as being a light fruity jellied dessert without any grain at all, like this one from Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s)

Melt two ounces of gelatine in a pint and a half of water; add a wine-glass of sherry and half a glass of brandy, with the juice of three lemons, and sugar enough to sweeten. Stir into the liquid when cold a pint of double cream which has been whisked until it began to thicken. If mixed while warm the lemon juice will curdle it. Moulds should be dipped in water or oiled, and the flummery should be allowed to set a day before turning out. Blanched almonds, slit lengthwise, stuck round the flummery, or preserved cherries, look well.
Sufficient for two moulds.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Oranges and Lemons.

Quotation for the Day …

The age of your children is a key factor in how quickly you are served in a restaurant. We once had a waiter in Canada who said, 'Could I get you your check?' and we answered, 'How about the menu first? Erma Bombeck.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

School Food.

November 21 ...

Do you have, or do you know, any children who complain about school, food, life, the Universe, and Everything Else? Tell them this tale, as a gratitude-provoker.

In the nineteenth century, much effort on the part of the authorities was given over to considering the nutrition of its children. In particular, attention was paid to the food provided by its boarding schools. The professor of Clinical Therapeutics in King’s College, London, Dr Isaac Burney Yeo (who thought of the low-carb diet over a century ago) wrote a book called Food in Health and Disease in the 1890’s.

On the topic of school food, Dr Burney extensively quotes Dr Clement Dukes, the Medical Officer of Rugby School, author of his own book, Health at School.

Another highly important matter in the arrangement of meals at school is that the pupils should be allowed ample and sufficient time to eat them, and the master should see that the food is properly masticated, or, at any rate, that sufficient time is allowed for this process, as imperfect mastication is a common cause of indigestion, and may become an injurious habit, which, like other bad habits, should be corrected at school.

It seems that in certain schools, or with certain masters, boys are sometimes detained in school as a punishment during a portion of the dinner or breakfast time, so that the time available for feeding is seriously encroached upon. Such a system shows a lamentable absence, in the authorities, of the most elementary understanding of the conditions of health.

The practice of requiring a lesson at 7 a.m., on an empty stomach, and after a long fast, especially in winter, is indefensible. The pupils should be allowed hot milk, or hot coffee and milk, with a piece of bread, before going into school at all. This is most essential for the delicate or average boy or girl.

At 6.45 to 7.15 am there should be, then, a provision of hot coffee, with plenty of milk – a beverage both nutritious and stimulating.
At 8.30 a.m.
- Breakfast, after the 1st lesson; this should be a good meal, with some animal food - ham, bacon, cold beef, fish, or eggs. Some porridge. Bread and butter,
or jam or marmalade. Hot milk and water, or coffee. (Everything should be provided for the boys, and they should not be required to buy anything for themselves.)
At 1.30 p.m. - Dinner, which should be a good meal of meat, pudding, potatoes or green vegetables, or haricot beans, peas pudding, etc. (School should cease at least 15 minutes before the meal, to give the boy time to wash and prepare himself for dinner.)
5 to 6 p.m. - Tea, with bread and butter, art egg, marmalade, jam, or potted meat.

As to supper, Dr. Dukes thinks boys should either not have any supper, so that they may go to bed without food in their stomachs, or that merely bread and butter, or bread and milk, or a glass of milk or water should be provided. He strongly objects to cheese, meat, beer or pastry at supper ; he considers a meat supper with beer as most objectionable in growing boys, as tending to excite their passions - and calculated to lead to immorality.

We cannot altogether accept these unqualified objections to supper. Our own view is that, instead of a meal at 5 or 6 p.m., only a few hours after a heavy dinner, it would be better to serve simply coffee or tea, or hot milk and water at that hour, and provide a fairly nutritious, but unstimulating, supper at 8 pm. Porridge made with milk would be excellent, or tapioca, or rice pudding, with marmalade, or, in winter, some good soup with farinaceous substance, or other light, but nourishing food.

Some nervous mothers of course made sure that their little darlings had a little store in reserve, in case of hunger.

Children’s Cake.
(Suitable for sending to children at school)
Mix thoroughly one pound of flour, two heaped tea-spoonfuls of baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Rub well in a quarter of a pound of butter or good beef dripping, and add a quarter of a pound of currants, a quarter of a pound of chopped raisins, a quarter of a pound of sugar, a little grated nutmeg, and two ounces of candied peel chopped small. Mix with water to a stiff paste, and bake it in a moderate oven. If preferred, caraway seeds may be substituted for the currants and raisins. Time to bake, 1 hour. Probable cost, 1s. Sufficient for a moderate-sized cake.
[Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, 1870’s]

Tomorrow’s Story …

School Food Chapter II

Quotation for the Day ..

Speaking of food, English cuisine has received a lot of unfair criticism over the years, but the truth is that it can be a very pleasant surprise to the connoisseur of severely overcooked livestock organs served in lukewarm puddles of congealed grease. England manufactures most of the world's airline food, as well as all the food you ever ate in your junior-high-school cafeteria. Dave Barry.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stinking Garlic.

November 20 ...

Sir John Harington, the “saucy godson” of Queen Elizabeth I, and the man who first got the idea of the flush toilet died on this day in 1612. The idea never came to anything in Harington’s lifetime – the idea was well ahead of its time, and he was also perhaps too busy being what we would call in Australia “a larrikin”, getting into various scrapes that did not impress his godmother. It was over two hundred years before Thomas Crapper in nineteenth century England made the concept real (Victorian England was exactly the right time and place for such an invention), for which we will all be forever grateful.

Harington is not featuring in today’s story on account of his method of disposing human excrement - although one could argue its relevance to a food blog – but because of the quotation attributed to him on the topic of garlic.

"And scorn not garlic like some that think, it only maketh men wink and drink and stink"

Harington was an author and poet, and in between bouts of being “a bit of a lad”, he translated the famous Medical Poem of Salerno. The Medical School of Salerno in Italy was founded in the ninth century, and associated with it (although possibly not written there), is a long poem called the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitatem. The poem discusses general health measures such as diet and exercise, bowel habits, wine-drinking and so on, and it became enormously popular and was expanded numerous times and translated into many languages.

Harington’s work was the first English translation, and the garlic quotation comes from the verse which relates to protection from poisoning. It clearly explains the belief behind the inclusion of garlic in the famous plague-protecting ‘Vinegar of the Four Thieves.’

Six things, that here in order shall ensue,
Against all poisons have a secret power,
Pear, Garlic, Radish-roots, Nuts, Rape, and Rue,
But Garlic chief; for they that it devour,
May drink, and care not who their drink do brew:
May walk in airs infected every hour.
Sith Garlic then hath powers to save from death,
Bear with it though it make unsavory breath:
And scorn not Garlic, like to some that think
It only makes men wink, and drink, and stink.

For our recipe today we jump ahead again to the Victorian era. Mrs Beeton was not a fan of garlic. She says “The smell of this plant is generally considered offensive. … It was in greater repute with our ancestors than it is with ourselves, although it is still used as a seasoning herb. On the continent, especially in Italy, it is much used, and the French consider it an essential in many made dishes.”

Garlic does appear in a few of “her” recipes (she collected, she did not author them), and there is a prodigious amount in her recipe for Mango ‘Chetney’. I picked out this recipe as the mango season has started in earnest here in Queensland, and I thought that local readers might particularly enjoy it. Strangely however, the recipe contains no mango. There is no formal acknowledgement of the use of apples as the subsitute – an obvious and convenient substitute given that mangoes would have been difficult to source in England. The recipe was supplied to her by an “English lady, who had long been a resident in India, and who, since her return to her native country, has become quite celebrated amongst her friends for the excellence of this Eastern relish” – presumably this Lady used mangoes while she was in India? Why is this recipe not called Apple Chetney?

Bengal Recipe For Making Mango Chetney.
1 ½ lbs. of moist sugar, ¾ lb. of salt, ¼ lb. of garlic, ¼ lb. of onions, ¾ lb. of powdered ginger, ¼ lb. of dried chilies, ¾ lb. of mustard-seed, ¾ lb. of stoned raisins, 2 bottles of best vinegar, 30 large unripe sour apples.
The sugar must be made into syrup; the garlic, onions, and ginger be finely pounded in a mortar; the mustard-seed be washed in cold vinegar, and dried in the sun; the apples be peeled, cored, and sliced, and boiled in a bottle and a half of the vinegar. When all this is done, and the apples are quite cold, put them into a large pan, and gradually mix the whole of the rest of the ingredients, including the remaining half-bottle of vinegar. It must be well stirred until the whole is thoroughly blended, and then put into bottles for use. Tie a piece of wet bladder over the mouths of the bottles, after they are well corked.
This chetney is very superior to any which can be bought, and one trial will prove it to be delicious.
[Use green mangoes, my local friends, it will be delicious]

Tomorrow’s Story …

School Food.

Quotation for the Day ..

Chutney is marvelous. I'm mad about it. To me, it's very imperial. Dianna Vreeland.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pudding or Pie?

November 19 ...

I was planning to discuss the meaning of puddings today, but my bloggy friend Joe Pastry beat me to it with his wonderful exposé of puddings (or should that be series of exposées ?) last week. Joe covered several meanings of “pudding” - the concept of pudding meaning dessert/sweet, pudding in the sense of sausages, and the cusp between pudding and cake. He has even dared to bring tapioca into the pudding debate. I have no idea, Joe, what you have in store in Pre- and Proto-Puddings Part Two, so I will forge ahead anyway with a narrower pudding focus, and aim for perfect synchronicity but not duplication of our stories.

I wish to focus on the pudding that is also a pie, or the pie that is also a pudding - the “Pudding-pie”. There is a particular reason for focussing on this topic this month, for November was the time of the famous Dedington Pudding-Pie fair in Oxfordshire, England.

There are many different dishes called pudding-pies – including I understand some artificially coloured and flavoured commercial powder which becomes “pudding” with the mere addition of water. This post will not discuss that sort of “pudding” any further.

The oldest meaning of pudding-pies is a sort of custard or cheesecake (with or without a pastry crust) which was a popular Lenten dish. In various cookbooks across the ages the name has also been applied to baked dough puddings, boiled puddings, bread puddings, batter pudding (including one wonderful Norfolk variation – the Norfolk Pudding Pye Doll – which is the fen-folk’s name for Toad in the Hole). And the Dedington Pudding-pie, which is a category all of its own.

The origin of the Dedington pudding-pie is obscure. Perhaps the ancient Dedingtonians wanted to define their Martinmas fair in some way, and could not decide whether it would be with cake or plum pudding or pie, so they combined the ideas. We will never know, but whatever the story, the Dedington pudding-pie is a ‘raised’ pie filled with what to all intents and purposes is a plum-pudding mixture. The robustness of the crust is legendary - some reports say that the crust was put in the sun for a few days to harden before being filled. It is always possible, I suppose, that some ancient ones are still around and are the origin of the idea that every fruitcake has been around forever, and just gets re-gifted and re-gifted.

I give you Mrs. Beeton’s recipe (1861) for the ‘original’ variety of pudding-pie, most famously associated with the English county of Kent.

Folkestone Pudding Pies.
1 pint of milk, 3 oz. of ground rice, 3 oz. of butter, 1/4 lb. of sugar, flavouring of lemon-peel or bay-leaf, 6 eggs, puff-paste, currants.
Infuse 2 laurel or bay leaves, or the rind of ½ lemon, in the milk, and when it is well flavoured, strain it, and add the rice; boil these for ¼ hour, stirring all the time; then take them off the fire, stir in the butter, sugar, and eggs, and let these latter be well beaten before they are added to the other ingredients; when nearly cold, line some patty-pans with puff-paste, fill with the custard, strew over each a few currants, and bake from 20 to 25 minutes in a moderate oven.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Stinking Garlic.

Quotation for the Day …

As a rule they will refuse even to sample a foreign dish, they regard such things as garlic and olive oil with disgust, life is unliveable to them unless they have tea and puddings. George Orwell, "The English People"

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Gingerbread for Voyages or Travelling.

There are so many gingerbread recipes now in the Through the Ages with Gingerbread archive that it is getting to be quite a challenge to find variations with a different spin. This one seems to meet the challenge.

It is a fruity version with almonds which is twice-baked in the manner of biscotti, making it suitable to take on long seafaring voyages.

Gingerbread for Voyages or Travelling.
Three pounds of treacle, four pounds of flour, half a pound of sugar, both well sifted, two ounces of pounded ginger, a quarter of an ounce of allspice, a quarter of a pound of orange-peel, two ounces of caraway-seeds, a quarter of a pound of citron, a quarter of a pound of almonds, a pound of butter; let the almonds be blanched and cut with the citron and orange-peel; it ought not to be much handled, but well mixed ; bake it in small cakes or nuts; give it a quick oven.
This bread, baked with the fruit pounded, is to be very well dried in a cool oven, and then to be rasped, and again kneaded, with as much butter and treacle as it will take ; knead up with more fruit and spices; bake it well, without burning; dip it in spirits of wine, with a few drops of the essence of caraway, cinnamon, or cloves; dry it in the oven; wash it over with isinglass and sugar, or white of egg ; dry it again, and wrap it up in writing- paper very close ; pack it in a lined box, exclude the air, and it will keep years in a dry, but not warm place. This is excellent for sea store.
[Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady; London; 1827]

Friday, November 16, 2007

Weapons-grade Chilli.

My friend P. sent me this response to my story on chilli-heat. I thought you would love it too.

"I have a couple of friendly neighbours, one half of whom is a senior police detective who has a pepper spray as part of his standard issue kit. He complained over drinks one night that he hopes it still worked if ever he needed it in a crisis, because his partner is in the habit of using it from time to time to pep up a curry or a chili con carne. She said a couple of squirts from the pepper spray is a lot easier than chopping fresh chillies by hand - and it tasted just fine. Shame to waste such a handy culinary item on felons and ne'er-do-wells, in her opinion.

Milk and Custard.

November 16 …

I saw a pseudo-historic article recently that referred to the “white meat” eaten by the peasants of a few hundred years ago – because they were too poor to own cows but could afford chickens. Well, I have news for that writer. Egg-producers (and I mean chickens, not chicken farmers) were also too valuable to eat until they died of old age. The “white meats” referred to meant milk, butter, cheese. They were the food of rural folk, and for a long time were considered too lowly for the rich. Lard was preferred in England for cooking purposes throughout medieval times, probably because its value was perceived as greater because the animal had to be killed to get it, and there were good reasons for eschewing milk in the cities. No refrigeration meant that any but a very short distance to from the cow and you got sour milk (and often adulterated or diluted milk.) One partial solution was to drink boiled milk, which was considered to have medicinal value. In his ‘secret diary’, William Byrd of Westover in Virginia, he frequently mentions having boiled milk for breakfast. On this day in 1711 he wrote:

“I rose about 7 o'clock and read two chapters in Hebrew and some Greek in Homer. I said my prayers and ate boiled milk for breakfast…. About 2 o'clock we dined at Marot's and I ate some fish for dinner. ..About 4 o'clock Jimmy Burwell and I resolved to go to the wedding at Mr. Ingles' and went away in his coach and found all the company ready to go to supper but we ate nothing with them but some custard.”

Ahh! Custard. What a great way to have your boiled milk. Custard is not what it used to be: the word comes from crustade (croustade) and – as it sounds – refers to a crust. In other words, custard used to be a pie (or a tart, if you will). The OED says that custard is “formerly, a kind of open pie containing pieces of meat or fruit covered with a preparation of broth or milk, thickened with eggs, sweetened, and seasoned with spices …now a dish made with eggs beaten up and mixed with milk to a stiff consistency, sweetened, and baked; also a similar preparation served in a liquid form.

Custard is a great way to get your boiled milk and your eggs too. It sounds like the perfect breakfast food. Why don’t we have custard for breakfast?

The other way to get your other white meats is in puddings. Here are two from Soyer’s Shilling Cookery for the People (1854)

Curd Milk Pudding.
Put in a basin three eggs, a little grated lemon-peel, three ounces of currants, one pint of curds, and one pound of bread-crumbs; boil in a cloth half an hour; turn out and serve.

Cocoa Nut Pudding.
Grate half a nut, add another egg to the milk, mix with the above. An ounce of flour may be added.

Monday’s Story …

Pudding or Pie?

Quotation for the Day …

There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies. Winston Churchill in a radio broadcast,1943.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Is there a chile you cannot eat?

November 15 …

This day in 1941 is the birthday of the immensely funny writer Daniel Pinkwater, who is unafraid of fat (as a body habitus), and to whom I am eternally grateful for making me understand that even in the most pedestrian life, there can be challenges.

In A Hot Time in Nairobi, he wrote:

“It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done, or think you can do. There’s a confrontation with destiny awaiting you. Somewhere there is a chile you cannot eat”

Chiles (or chillies, or chilli peppers or whatever you will) are hot because of the capsaicin that they contain. Capsaicin is a chemical that is so highly irritating to the tissue that it fools the brain into thinking that the tissue is on fire. It is presumed that this was developed to give an evolutionary advantage to the plants by discouraging animals from eating them. Clever humans of a certain occupational sort have in turn taken advantage of the plants and extrated the chemical and put it in a spray can to discourage (or at least seriously distract) other humans from uncivil or illegal behaviour. Other clever humans have adapted its use for medical purposes – some of those hot liniments that you rub on acheing muscles for example. It has other medical uses and potential uses too which are fascinating but outside the scope of this blog.

The “hotness” of a particular chilli is affected by various horticultural conditions, but if it is not too sweeping a generalisation, some varieties are hotter than others. The heat is measured in one of two ways. The Scoville scale was developed by William of the same surname in 1912. It is based on subjective assessments of a team of volunteers: the capsaicin being progressively diluted until it is undetectable. To give some idea of the scale, a capsicum (sweet bell pepper) rates zero, pure capsaicin, should anyone be able to eat it, would rate as 16,000,000 Scoville units. The hottest pepper on record was a habanero that rated 577,000: the fate of the volunteers in that trial is not recorded. A new sauce called “The Source” made by Juan Specialty Foods has been registeed at 7.1 million units, and purchase must surely require the possession of a weapons licence.

Scientists have no truck with subjective anythings however, so they applied the technique of high pressure liquid chromatography to the problem and came up with American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) units. An approimate conversion is to multiply ATSA units by 15 to arrive at Scoville units.

In spite of the common (mis-)conception that British food is bland, the Brits have had a love affair with chilli powder at least since the eighteenth century - thanks no doubt to returning colonials with a taste for foreign food. In old cookbooks it is usually called cayenne (or some related spelling such as chyan), and it is used in a wide range of dishes. Here is an eighteenth century take on that common staple – pea soup.

Common Peas Soup.
To a quart of split peas put a gallon of soft water, and a little lean bacon, or roast beef bones. Wash a head of celery, cut it, and put it in with a turnip. Boil it till it is reduced to two quarts, and then work it through a cullender with a wooden spoon. Mix a little flour and water, boil it with the soul, and slice in another head of celery, chyan pepper, and salt to your taste. Cut a slice of bread into small dice, fry them of a light brown, put them in your dish, and pour the soup over them.
[ The universal cook, and city and country housekeeper. Francis Collingwood; 1797.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Milk and Custard.

Quotation for the Day …

‘Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp’, said Joseph, really interested. ‘A chili’, said Rebecca, gasping; ‘oh yes!’ She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported. From Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. (1853)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dumb fish.

November 14 ...

Thomas Jefferson (from his home in Monticello) wrote to his granddaughter Ellen Randolph Coolidge in Boston on this day in 1825, asking her to be his “agent” there, and procure various desirable articles for him.

“I want to engage you, as my agent at Boston, for certain articles not to be had here,and for such only. But it will be on the indispensable condition that you keep as rigorous an account of Dollars and cents as old Yerragan our neighbor would do. This alone can induce friends to ask services freely, which would otherwise be the asking of presents and amount to a prohibition. We should be very glad occasionally to get small supplies of the fine dumb codfish to be had at Boston, and also of the tongues and sounds of the Cod. … We should be the better perhaps of your recipe for dressing both articles.

Codfish are not noted for their intelligence, but was it really necessary for Jefferson to refer to them as “dumb”? He was wrong, of course. Not about the intelligence of cod, but about the word. It was a longstanding Chinese-whispers type error. The cod he wished to have sent to him were those that had been “dunned”, not “dumbed”. “Dunning” is a particular method of slack-salting and curing cod, at the end of which process they develop a dun colour. At some point, “dun” was heard as “dumb” (because it fitted with the accepted understanding of the intelligence of fish), and the rest as they say, is linguistic history.

Salt cod has made a huge mark on history: it has two huge merit points – it is capable of long-storage (suitable for voyages or hard times), and in the past it was eminently acceptable for the many fast days decreed by the Church. It was (is) a challenge to prepare on account of its dryness and saltiness. Ellen did respond to her grandfather’s request for advice on its preparation, so gives us our recipe for the day.

“The salt cod is prepared the first day very much as we do our bacon hams, soaked the over night, & boiled a good deal to soften & freshen it. It is then eaten with hard boiled eggs, melted butter or oil, & various boiled vegetables, as beets, carrots, &c. Egg or anchovy sauce may be served with it, & is preferred by some. The second day the fragments of the cold fish are minced very fine, & mixed with boiled potatoes, & either eaten with a sauce or made into cakes & browned in a frying pan. With the tongues & sounds the principal care is to freshen them as much as possible by washing & soaking, & they are oftenest boiled plain & served with a sauce.”

[We have considered cods’ sounds and other funny fish bits in a previous story]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Is there a chile you cannot eat?

Quotation for the Day …

It is a true saying that a man must eat a peck of salt with his friend before he knows him. Miguel de Cervantes, in Don Quixote

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Feeding Evacuated Children.

November 13 …

On September 1st 1939 in England the mass evacuation of children from the cities (which were expected to be bombed) to the relative safety of the countryside began. The experience was very varied – most must have been very homesick at first, some were ill-treated by their host ‘parents’, but some were happier and better fed than they had been in their real homes.

Country families who took evacuees were paid 8 shillings and sixpence a week for each child. On this day in 1939 The Times ran an article explaining just how two particular country mothers fed the children in their care.

“One, a Scottish woman who has five boys in her house (they range from 6 to 12) … says they have gained in weight and are always contended with their food. .. Being a Scot, their hostess naturally believes in porridge. This they have three times a week for breakfast, alternating with scrambled eggs.”

Her charges were lucky – they had three meals a day (breakfast, dinner, and high tea) with vegetables and apples from the garden, and hot milk at supper before an 8 o’clock bedtime. The Scottish mother gave her midday menus for the week:

SUNDAY: Roast shoulder of lamb or mutton, cabbage, potatoes. Baked apple dumplings.

MONDAY. Cold meat, potatoes and sprouts. Hot apple and custard (made with custard powder: a 4s. tin is the cheapest way of buying it.)

TUESDAY. Shepherd’s pie, carrots and turnips. Currant dumplings, sugar.

WEDNESDAY. Scotch broth, made with about 3 lb of boiling meat (flank of beef), barley, split peas, carrot, turnip and onion. Meat as a second course with potatoes. No sweet.

THURSDAY. Beef stew, 2 lb meat at 1s. a lb. with vegetables, potatoes. Rice pudding.

FRIDAY. Mince: 2 lb minced beef (Brown onions in dripping add meat, then thicken, add water and seasoning, and cook gently. Quaker oats may be added.) Tinned pineapple and custard.

SATURDAY. Use up rest of mince. There should be enough. Baked bread pudding (Soak bread all night, then work in a little margarine or dripping, few currants, sultanas, and chopped peel, nutmeg, spoonful of treacle if liked. Beat in an egga nd enough skim milk to make it fairly moist. Put in greased pie-dish and bake in slow oven for about 2 hors till brown. Turn out and sift sugar over top. This is good cold, as cake, or sliced, will reheat in oven.)

Naturally the newspaper included some recipes from the host mothers. First, “an economical pudding”.

Cocoa Pudding.
Mix 1 tablespoon patent cornflour with one of cocoa in a basin. Blend with a little cold milk. Heat up ¾ pint of milk; pour on to mixture in basin, mix well, return to pan, and stir till it boils. Let it cool, add 1 tablespoon castor sugar, or brown sugar, few drops vanilla, and yolk of an egg. Beatthe white stiffly to froth, fold in lightly. Pour mixture into buttered pie-dish and bake in a moderate oven for 25 minutes.

Exeter Stew.
Melt 1 oz. dripping in saucepan, brown in it 1 small sliced onion, then add 1 tablespoon of flour and allow it to brown. Pour on 1 pint water, add ½ lb lean beef cut in squares, 1 carrot and turnip diced, with pepper and salt, bring slowly to boil, then simmer for 2 hours. Skim from time to time.
Serve it with dumplings made as follows: chope finely 1 oz. suet , ad ½ teaspoon chopped parsley, ½ teaspoon chopped herbs (don’t overdo herbs for children), 3 tablespoons flour, pepper and salt. Divide into 8, then with floured fingers roll into small balls, dust them with flour, and cook for the last ½ hour in the stew.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Dumb fish.

Quotation for the Day ...

Onion skins very thin,Mild winter coming in.
Onion skins very tough,
Coming winter very rough.
Old English rhyme

Monday, November 12, 2007

London Salmon.

November 12 …

A salmon was caught in the Thames on this day in 1974 – the first for over 140 years. Salmon are fussy fish – they require clean shallow fresh water for breeding, and clear access to and from their breeding grounds to the open sea where they spend most of their adult lives. Humans have been ingenious in creating salmon-killing pollution and in making rivers more navigable by deepening the shallows and building locks. Over-fishing of the oceans has not helped the salmon’s cause either.

In 1960 a River Thames clean-up program began, and it is making headway. In addition, the Thames Salmon Re-habilitation Scheme began a breeding program to develop salmon which are more suited to the river conditions of the modern age, and have built fish ‘ladders’ to enable the fish to negotiate the upstream weirs en route to their breeding grounds.

We may one day be able to order Thames Salmon again in posh British restaurants. The famous nineteenth century French chef to wealthy English, Louis Eustache Ude believed that Thames Salmon were the finest, although surely they were already becoming rare when he wrote his cookbook (The French Cook) in 1829? This is what he says:

“Thames Salmon is the most esteemed, and sells accordingly. I have occasionally bought it at sixteen shillings per pound, which brings the price of one dish only to more than four pounds. Salmon is served indiscriminately, plain, or as an entree, entremets, &c. Crimped* salmon fetches the highest price, and is the only kind introduced at the table of the true gourmand.”

*Crimping is “to cause (the flesh of fish) to contract and become firm by gashing or cutting it before rigor mortis sets in.”

Ude gives recipes for boiling and broiling salmon, and is dismissive of other methods of cooking it.

“Salmon is cooked in various other ways, for which it is totally unfit. This fish being oily, will not admit of so many varieties. I have seen salmon pies sent to table, petits pates, and scollops of salmon in paper cases, croquettes ditto, and bonne morue, all which dishes are good for nothing ; and the best proof of the truth of this assertion
is, that no one will ever taste them.”

I think we had better stick with his preferred methods of cooking salmon.

Slices of Crimped Salmon with Lobster Sauce.
Boil the salmon quickly in salt and water. Serve up with lobster sauce. Fifteen minutes is sufficient to boil it. If you leave it too long in the water, it loses all its
taste and colour.

Slices of Crimped Salmon broiled, with Caper Sauce.
Marinade your slices of salmon in a little olive oil, with salt and pepper. Three-quarters of an hour before you send up, broil them on a very slow fire, on both sides.
When it is done, take off the skin, and drain it on a clean towel to draw out all the oil. Dish it, and cover it over with the caper sauce. Let it be understood that your gridiron must be put on a slope, with a plafond under the fore-feet to receive the oil, the smoke of which, if it fell into the fire, would spoil the fish, and fill the kitchen with smoke and stench. Cover the slices with caper sauce.

Tomorrow’s Story...

Feeding Evacuated Children.

Quotation for the Day …

Thou canst not serve both cod and salmon. Ada Leverson, on being offered a choice of fish at a dinner party

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Gingerbread Time.

It is the time of year to start thinking gingerbread thoughts, so I feel the need to add to the archive of historic Gingerbread recipes.

Here are a couple of gleanings from The Cookbook of Lady Clark of Tillypronie . It was published 1909, after her death, but the recipes are her lifetime collection and most date from much earlier. The names of the donors of the recipes are noted, and there are often little asides and comments included, such as in the second recipe given (in relation to “another copy”).

The first recipe contains yeast, so is a genuine sweet raised bread rather than cake.

Ginger Cake. No.3 (Isabel Heywood).
2 lbs fine flour, ¼ lb butter, ¼ lb sugar, 2 teaspoonfuls each powdered ginger and pounded allspice thoroughly mixed together, 2 tablespoonfuls yeast. Make into a light dough with warm milk. Bake.

This next one would make a very large cake, but it sounds delicious with a lot of citrus flavours and some caraway seeds. If you intend to try it, note that it is meant to be made in at least a week in advance. Also note that the method instructions say to include a dessertspoonful of soda, which does not appear in the ingredient list.

Gingerbread Loaf or “American Cake.”
For tea or for luncheon.
1 lb. 14 ozs. flour, ½ lb. butter, 2 lbs. treacle, ½ lb. powdered sugar, ¼ lb. candied lemon peel also ¼ lb. chopped citron peel if liked, a tablespoonful of caraway seeds, 1 lemon squeezed and its peel grated, 1 ½ ozs. of powdered ginger, ¼ lb citron, ½ teaspoonful beer (“a tablespoonful” in another copy), 2 eggs.
Melt the butter and the treacle together, and rub in the sugar with a dessertspoonful of soda which is not quite ½ oz. (another copy says a teaspoonful). Bake like any other cake, having ornamented the top with slices of citron or caraway comfits if you like, but do not cut it for eating in under a week.

For your reading convenience, these recipes have been added to the archive in the appropriate place.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The end of a meal.

November 9 ...

Anthony Trollope finished Barchester Towers on this day in 1856. He says in the book that “the end of a novel, like the end of a children's dinner party, must be made up of sweetmeats and sugarplums.”

Trollope’s apparent dismissal of sweet things as suitable only for the end of children’s parties is probably as much a comment on his Englishness as anything else. The traditional end to an English dinner used to be a small savoury dish – a little Welsh Rabbit, sardines on toast, or a ‘Devil’, perhaps.

I am at a loss to explain this peculiarly English preference for a savoury end to a meal. The more recogniseable custom – of ending a meal with a something sweet – goes back to at least medieval times when a feast finished with hippocras (a sweet spiced wine) and wafers. The tradition was probably based on the medical belief that sugar (or honey) and sweet spices acted as digestives. Sugar was very very expensive at that time and was used in small quanitities as we would use a spice. It was commonly added to what we would now consider to be ‘savoury’ dishes, although there was no such distinction in the Middle Ages.

Sugar became progressively cheaper as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries advanced and sweet dishes became more prominent, but still appeared throughout the meal. Gradually a final separate course solely of very sweet dainty things developed and this was called the ‘banquet’. For a time the word did double duty for both the sumptuous meal and the separate course. This meal was usually taken in a separate room – sometimes even a separate building or pavilion called the Banquetting House in the grounds of the stately home. Eventually the delicacies of the banquet course became dessert, the ‘course’ itself remaining as a faint echo in the chocolate mint with coffee.

Eventually all sorts of things were included in “banquettting stuffe”, and whole cookbook sections were devoted to them. Sweetmeats of course were there – they could be “wet” (fruit in syrup) or “dry” like nougat and “sugarplums” (candied fruit). Other delights which might appear were small sweet biscuits, marzipan shapes (some very elaborate), jellies and creams, and ‘compost’.

It is a wonderful word, compost. ‘Compost’ is a purely gardening term today, and refers to decomposing material to be used for the enrichment of the soil. It also refers to a preserve composed of 'fruit or spice preserved in wine, sugar, vinegar, or the like.’

The recipe I give you today is from those elegant ladies Mrs. C.F. Leyel and Miss Olga Hartley. It is a wonderful dish that falls somewhere between a wet sucket and a compost. Their instructions for making a caramel are a bit minimalist, but the idea is lovely. I would just pour the cool caramel over the oranges and not worry about the first syrup.

Caramel Oranges.
Skin the oranges, cut them into thick slices free from pips and pith, and arrange them in a bowl. Pour over them a syrup made of their own juice and white sugar. Make some caramel with a quarter of a pound of loaf sugar and a gill of water, by boiling it together for about ten minutes. Pour it out to harden; then beat it into crumbs and sprinkle it on the oranges. Cover the bowl with a little sweetened whipped cream and on this put a few chopped burnt almonds.[The Gentle Art of Cookery; Leyel & Hartley; 1925]

Monday’s Story …

London Salmon.

Quotation for the day …

We owe much to the fruitful meditation of our sages, but a sane view of life is, after all, elaborated mainly in the kitchen. Joseph Conrad.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Kitchen Bags.

November 8 ...

A bag (whether or not you call it a ‘belly’, as we did yesterday) is a very useful culinary item over and above its value in bringing the ingredients home. Plastic bags are only useful for wrapping rubbish and messing up the environment, but fabric bags are a different thing altogether - although we don’t use fabric in the kitchen as much as we used to. Food processors have obviated the need to laboriously press stuff through a piece of wool or flannel or silk to make a purée, and dishwashers mean that we don’t need as many towels. And how many of us still use tablecloths?

Nevertheless, bags still have some uses in the kitchen. Small muslin ones hold bouquet garni; bags with nozzles allow us to pipe fancy biscuit shapes and write ‘Happy Birthday’ on cakes; a fine cloth still does a fine job of filtering the finest debris from stock to convert it into consommé, and jelly bags are indispensible for making jelly; our Christmas ham stores best in a calico bag, which, if we are of a mind, we can recycle the next year to boil the Christmas pudding.

A quick browse in the eighteenth century turned up this idea too:

To recover sour ale.
Scrape fine chalk a pound, or as the quantity of liquor requires more; put it in a thin bag, into the ale.

Thinking of Christmas and the inevitable over-eating, my eyes lighted on this recipe from the same book, which also uses a bag:

Surfeit Water.
To every gallon of French brandy put four pounds of poppies pick’d clean from the greens and seeds, and gathered very dry, half a pound of raisins ston’d, half a pound of figs, a quarter of a pound of green liquorice scrap’d and slice’d, a quarter of a pound of coriander-seed, a quarter of a pound of aniseed bruis’d, and an ounce of cardamum-seed; let them infuse in a glass jar in the sun for fourteen or fifteen days, then run through a jelly bag, and put to it a quart of aniseed water, and a little sugar.
[The London and country cook …. Charles Carter; 1749]

Cookbooks and household manuals often used to contain home remedies such as this one, and they were the responsibility of the mistress of the household. They were made in the still-room – so called because much distillation occurred there. Surfeit-waters used to be very popular to cure – as the name suggests – the discomfort of over-indulgence. Some were made by distillation, others, like the one above, by infusion.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The end of a meal.

Quotation for the Day ….

Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four food groups: Alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat. Alex Levine.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

On Belly-cheare.

November 7 ...

Those of us who are founding members of the Society of Abligurands take our Belly-cheare very seriously, although hopefully this is not reflected in the size of our actual bellies. Methinks we should consider as our patron Dr Samuel Johnson, who has previously graced our pages on more than one occasion. He famously stated that he ‘enjoyed his belly very much’, and, moreover, he had no trust in those who did not do the same, figuring that if they didn’t care what they ate, they wouldn’t care about anything very much at all.

The word belly has two basic meanings; it means ‘that part of the (human or animal) body which lies between the breast and the thighs, and contains the bowels’ and it also refers to a ‘bag, skin-bag, purse, pod, husk’. The OED is uncertain of the relationship between the two uses, although it seems to me to be self-evident, a bag including a ‘skin-bag’ as it apparently does. It is a lovely word, and very useful in its extended forms too. As society members we enjoy sharing our belly-timber (or our belly-joy, or belly-care, or belly-matter) with our belly-friends, and sometimes we meet over a belly-vengeance (small beer).

‘Belly’ can also refer to ‘a joint of meat’, and very delicious it can be too when the joint is from a pig. The following recipe might be a change for the Christmas table – although the final instruction to keep ‘a long time’ (before refrigeration!) in salt water would hardly be considered safe today.

Mock Brawn.
Take the head and a piece of the belly part of a young porker, and rub it well with saltpetre. Let it lie three days, and then wash it clean. Split the head, and boil it; take out the bones, and cut it in pieces. Then take four or five ox feet boiled tender, cut them in thin pieces, and lay them in the belly piece with the head cut small. Then roll it up tight with sheet tin, and boil it four or five hours. When it comes out, set it up on one end, put a trencher on it within the tin, press it down with a large weight, and let it stand all night. The next morning, take it out of the tin, and bind it with a fillet. Put it into cold salt and water, and it will be fit for use. It will keep a long time, if you put fresh salt and water to it every four days.
[The London art of cookery … John Farley; 1792]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Kitchen Bags.

Quotation for the Day …

A fully gorged belly never produced a sprightly mind. Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Glutton, by any other name.

November 6 ...

There is a lot of discontent in the world of those for whom food is a primary interest (some may say an obsession) – and it hinges on the word “foodie”. I don’t have a problem with it myself, as you can tell from my name, but nevertheless, some of you whom I love and admire do find it offensive, so (other than in signing my name) I do try to avoid it. As a believer in finding solutions for that which ails, I am also part of the movement to find a better (i.e more universally acceptable word) for ‘those for whom food is a primary interest’ (almost a raison d’être some might say). So far I have not succeeded, but I have come across some beautiful words in the process.

I am never quite sure of the difference between a gourmand and an epicure, nor where f****e fits in, but one thing I am sure of is that being a f****e does not include gluttony on a regular basis. An occasional gluttonous episode is permitted a f****e when faced with more than an elegant sufficiency of a particularly divine or exceptionally rare food, but daily gluttony is not. Such a practice values quantity over quality. I do wish we had as many words to describe ‘those for whom food is a primary interest’ (this is getting tedious) as we have for those who are gluttonous.

My absolute favourite is 'Flap-Sauce' (or flappe-sawce). It is the sort of insult that your target might, in his or her ignorance, take as a compliment - thereby increasing the value of the jibe enormously, especially if you used it in public. If you are inclined to such mean-spirited jokes of course.

Other alternatives which are equally sadly obsolete are broth-belly, gully-gut, globber, greedy-gut, gutling, and gipe. A particularly scruffy variety is the gobslotch, who is described as ‘a dirty voracious eater.’ ‘Belly-god’ also refers to a glutton, but methinks it could almost be appropriated to mean ‘those of of us for whom food is a primary interest’ (this is really getting tedious).

I eagery await your feedback and suggestions for an alternative word for f****e. In the meanwhile, what else could I give you but a rich sauce for your gluttonous friends to get into a flap over.

For making a rich Caper Sauce
Drain some Capers from their Liquor, and cut them small; put them into a small Sauce-pan with some Essence of Ham; sprinkle in a little pepper, and let it boil up; then put in the Capers, and let it boil up again two or three times, then serve it up hot.
The common Way is, to mix Capers with melted Butter; but who has once tasted the French Caper Sauce will have no Relish for the greasy Kind in common Use.
To save the Expense of Essence of Ham, our common Ham Sauce will do.
[The complete English cook; or, prudent housewife…. Brooks, Catharine; 1770?]

Tomorrow’s Story …

On Belly-cheare.

Quotation for the Day …

What is sauce for the goose may be sauce for the gander, but it is not necessarily sauce for the chicken, the duck, the turkey or the Guinea hen. Alice B. Toklas.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A New Food Society.

November 5.

I wish to announce the formation of a new society, and invite you to join. It is “The Society of Abligurands”. Membership is free, meetings are held ad-hoc (but as frequently as possible, preferably at expensive restaurants), rules will be few (and are to be advised), and the only membership requirement is that one must be a regular practitioner of the art of abligurition, or have aspirations to be such a practitioner.

Abligurition is, according to the OED, ‘prodigal expense on meat and drink.’ It is derived, as I understand it, from various words which reference squandering on dainty articles of food, and licking (lips certainly, fingers possibly, but perhaps also plates?). The OED does not appear to include the word ‘abligurand’, but it most certainly should, and perhaps with sheer force of our numbers (I know there are more of you out there), perhaps it will at its next revision. You can be part of linguistic history as well as culinary, if you join now.

I eagerly await your enthusiastic participation, and in the meanwhile offer you the details of one of the most famously extravagant dishes ever made.

In 1850 in York, England, a Grand Banquet was given by the Mayor, as part of the promotion of the planned Great Exhibition. The guest of honour was Prince Albert (the mastermind behind the show), and the chef was the great Alexis Soyer. Soyer was known to spare none of his employer’s expense in preparing his great banquets, and really, when the point of this feast was propaganda, why would he?

Soyer outdid himself on this occasion. He came up with a dish that was referred to at the time as “l’extravagance culinaire à la alderman”, or “the hundred guinea dish”. To give it some perspective, one hundred guineas (₤105 and 5 shillings) is equivalent to US$17,368 or AUD$18,819 today.

The ingredient list read:

5 Turtle-heads, part of fins, and green fat.
24 Capons (the two small noix from each side of the middle of the back only used).
18 Turkeys, the same.
18 Poulardes, the same.
16 Fowls, the same.
10 Grouse
20 Pheasants, noix only.
45 Partridges, the same.
6 Plovers, whole.
40 Woodcocks, the same.
3 Dozen Quails, whole.
100 Snipes, noix only.
3 Dozen Pigeons, noix only.
6 Dozen Larks, stuffed.
Ortolans, from Belgium.
The garnish, consisting of cocks’-combs, truffles, mushrooms, crawfish, olives, American asparagues, croustades, sweetbreads, quenelles de volaille, green mangoes, and a new sauce.

The cost was explained thus:

“The expensiveness of the above is explained by the fact, that if an epicure were to order this dish only, he would be charged for the whole of the above-mentioned articles.”

Care to join?

We need to start work on the manifesto as soon as possible, so please send in your suggestions.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Glutton, by any other name.

Quotation for the Day…

...The rapturous, wild, and inefable pleasure of drinking at someone else's expense. Henry Sambrook Leigh.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Poetic Tea.

November 2 …

English is such a rich language that it always seems a shame when we force a word to do double duty for two different concepts. I am thinking of the word “tea” at present. It means, of course, a beverage essential to life, made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. It also means a meal, and therein lies another confusion – when we are invited to “tea”, is that High Tea or Low Tea?

I make a plea for the re-cycling of another good old English word for the meal, to enable “tea” to be reserved solely for the life-giving beverage. I suggest the word “voide”. According to the OED this means “A collation consisting of wine accompanied by spices, comfits, or the like, partaken of before retiring to rest or the departure of guests; a repast of this nature following upon a feast or fuller meal; a parting dish.” This meal does sound more in the nature of a supper, but we don’t need a new word for supper - and in any case, High Tea often does duty as Supper. Certainly, the word is based on some old French word (a gift of those invading Normans in 1066, no doubt) – and invokes the idea of a gap or space, such as that left by the aforesaid departing guests.

It is quite a poetically appropriate word to replace “tea” when you discover that Afternoon Tea was invented for just this purpose – to fill the increasing gap between lunch and dinner in the early nineteenth century. I though it was very serendipitous synchronicity when I then discovered a little book published in 1860 called Breakfast, Dinner and Tea, viewed Classically, Poetically, and Practically. I was even more delighted to find that this was an American book, as until then I was labouring under the clear misunderstanding that “tea” was a purely English phenomenon. We are not so different after all

The author explains the American concept:

“In our Northern States, it is a very general custom both in town and country, to invite company to tea; - this meal being preferred to dinner as involving less effort, fatigue, and formality. The table is on these occasions more or less bountifully spread, according to the means and tastes of the hosts; conversation flows unrestrained by formality; a general cheerfulness seems to emanate from the steaming cups of tea, and the company generally separate at an early hour, with increased kindliness and neighborly feeling. In the rural districts, this meal partakes of the nature of a supper, both on ordinary and extraordinary occasions. When these latter occur, the greatest profusion abounds ; plenty with them is the soul of hospitality, and it is desired that every guest shall taste of every dish.”

Naturally, the book contains some recipes, and true to the practical-poetic nature of the meal, a number of them are named for their makers. “Kate” must have been a fine home cook, she gives us two recipes.

Kate's Sponge Cake.
Take six eggs, with their weight in sugar, and the weight of four of them in flour. Beat the whites to a froth ; stir the yelks with the sugar, and then putting them together, stir the whole ten minutes, gradually adding the flour.
Flavor with vanilla, lemon, or nutmeg. Bake it in a quick oven, and do not move it while baking.

Kate's Cookies.
Two cups of sugar, half a cup of butter, and one and a half cup of sweet milk, one teaspoonful of cream of tartar, half a teaspoonful of soda and two eggs. If you prefer to use sour milk omit the cream of tartar. Mix in sufficient flour to stiffen. Bake in a quick oven.

Monday’s Story …

More Food Word Fun.

Quotation for the Day …

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast.
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And while the bubbling and loud hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer, but not inebriate, wait on each.
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

An Examination in Domestic Economy.

November 1 …

Candidates wishing to apply for a Queen’s Scholarship to a training college in London in the mid-nineteenth century were required to sit for an examination to determine their eligibility. A student hoping for a scholarship to study Domestic Economy had to perform very successfully on a three hour paper which covered laundry work, health, needlework, and cookery.

Those of you who rather fancy yourselves as good housekeepers – how would you fare with this exam paper from 1859? You have three hours. Remember to only answer one question from each section.

Note: A First-Class Scholarship for male was worth ₤23 for the year, with a personal allowance of ₤4 (but as a mid-Victorian male it is unlikely that you would be sitting a Domestic Economy examination). For a female, a First-Class Scholarship was worth ₤17, with a personal allowance of ₤3.

Puzzle: if you can already answer these questions, why do you need to go to College?


Three hours allowed for this Paper.
N.B. Do not answer more than one question in each Section.


1. Describe, step by step, the processes of washing – ironing - drying. Mention common faults, and give practical rules.
2. What is starch ? and what is the use of it ?
3. What is the difference between calico, flannel, and linen? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each for clothing ? What is the price per yard of a good sort of each ?


1. Describe the component parts of air, and shew the necessity for ventilation.
2. Describe the component parts of water, and name some simple methods of purifying water.
3. How does a fire act upon the ventilation of a room ? What would be the effect of a fire-place, and door-place, opposite each other ?

3. Explain the methods you would adopt for teaching needlework to 30 girls, aged from 7 to 14 years, and explain the meaning and use of the following : - hemming,
sewing, felling, running, gathering, whipping, stitching, back-stitching, and herring-boning (add, as often as you can, illustrations by drawing to the several parts of your

1. Write out plain directions for making bread, for brewing, and for curing bacon.
2. Write out recipes for pea soup, gravy soup, Irish stew, potato pie, and boiled apple pudding. What are the advantages and disadvantages of salted provisions ?
3. Write out recipes for making barley water, beef tea, gruel, and toast-and-water.

1. How would you treat burns, scalds, sprains, colds, chilblains, stings of wasps and bees ?
2. Name the most common vegetable and mineral poisons, and state what course you would adopt in the case of a person who had taken poison.
3. What is to be said for and against the mother of a family going out to work ? Illustrate your answer by money reckonings.

1. Describe each of the following articles, explaining how it acts - an oven, a spit, a frying-pan, a saucepan. What do you mean by stewing? Is it an advisable mode of cookery ? Why ?
2. What do you mean by a drain ? Why is a house unhealthy if it has no drains, or is near to open ones ? In what situations are houses most likely to be ill drained ? Why ?
3. What is vaccination? What is the object of it? How is it commonly performed ?

To help you with Section IV Question 2, who better to help you than the wonderful Eliza Acton? From her book Modern Cookery, in All its Branches … (1858), here is one of her recipes for Gravy Soup.

Rub a deep stewpan or soup-pot with butter, and lay into it three quarters of a pound of ham freed entirely from fat, skin, and rust, four pounds of leg or neck of veal, and the same weight of lean beef, all cut into thick slices; set it over a clear and rather brisk fire, until the meat is of a fine amber-colour: it must be often moved, and closely watched, that it may not stick to the pan, nor burn. When it is equally browned, lay the bones upon it, and pour in gradually four quarts of boiling water. Take off the scum carefully as it rises, and throw in a pint of cold water at intervals, to bring it quickly to the surface. When no more appears, add two ounces of salt, two onions, two large carrots, two turnips, one head of celery, a two-ounce faggot of savoury herbs, a dozen cloves, half a tea-spoonful of whole white pepper, and two large
blades of mace. Let the soup boil gently from five hours and a half, to six hours and a half; then strain it through a very clean, fine cloth, laid in a hair sieve. When it is perfectly cold, remove every particle of fat from the top; and, in taking out the soup, leave the sediment untouched ; heat in a clean pan the quantity required for table, add salt to it if needed, and a few drops of Chili or of cayenne vinegar. Harvey's sauce, or very fine mushroom catsup, may be substituted for these.
When thus prepared, the soup is ready to serve: it should be accompanied by pale sippets of fried bread, or sippets a la reine. Rice, maccaroni in lengths or rings, vermicelli, or nouilles, may in turn be used, to vary it; but they must always be boiled apart till tender, in broth, or water, and well drained before they are slipped into it. The addition of young vegetables, too, and especially of asparagus, will convert it into an elegant spring-soup; but they, likewise, must be separately cooked.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Poetic Tea.

Quotation for the Day …

The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn. Norman Douglas (1868-1952)