Friday, November 16, 2007

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.

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