Monday, December 31, 2007

The Sixth Day of Christmas.

December 31 …

“On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Six geese a laying.”

The geese are “out” in our new version of our song, on three counts: we are birded out with the rhyme so far, goose is very expensive (at least it is here in Aus), and there is a lot of fat for a small amount of meat (making it not so economical to serve). It is what the geese are a’laying that interests me.

It is approaching the point where the only politically correct food to eat (for an omnivore) is eggs. I haven’t heard anyone expounding on the issues of methane emissions (what do chooks emit?), the inefficient ratio of conversion of animal feed into meat protein, or over-harvesting, in relation to fowl. Sure, there are ethical debates about inhumane methods used in huge chicken factories – but it is the common or garden barnyard fowl I am talking about here. Even the cholesterol police don’t seem to crack down on eggs too much anymore. They are fit for babies and grannies, from breakfast to supper, at formal or casual meals, from soup to crème caramel, crème brulée, egg custard tart, pavlova, pound cake, and – well, you get the idea.

Breakfast is the definitively eggy meal, when eggs are the feature not a mere ingredient. Usually we have our breakfast eggs fried, poached or scrambled – although those of you Over the Big Water confuse the rest of us when we are in your country with excessive additional choices such as ‘over-easy’ and ‘sunny-side up’ and other mysterious options. On most modern menus it is the additions that vary the breakfast meal – do you choose the sun-dried rhubarb with your poached egg, or the side of curried okra with your scramble? It seems to me that in previous times there were more options with the actual egg.

M. Marnette from France in his book The Perfect Cook (1656) not only gives “Five and twenty twenty several sorts of Omelets of egs, and Ten several manners or wayes of poaching of eggs, but also instructions on how To make fourteen several kinds of Marmalades of eggs. A marmalade of eggs sounds strange but it is another word for scrambled eggs – or mumbled eggs if you wish.

We will stick with the simple poached egg today – which in M.Marnette’s time was sometimes poached in wine, or milk, or even butter. I’ve never seen a modern breakfast menu giving a choice of poaching liquids, so there is an idea for those of you who open for breakfast. First, his basic instructions:

Describing the several ways and manners how to dress Poached Eggs, and boyled Eggs in Water.
Cause your water to boyl, after which break your eggs into it, the one after the other, and when they are pretty well boyled, take them out of the said boyling water before they become too hard; these kind of poached Eggs may stand you in stead to garnish an herb pottage withall, or any such like dish. Observe also that these kind of eggs may bee served up alone, with diverse kinds of sauces, and also sometimes eggs may be poached in Milk, or in any sweet wine.

And now one of his variations, which is the sort of poached egg (actually egg yolk) you have when you really want fried egg (or is it scrambled?) – which he follows with instructions for the Manner to butter a dish of eggs without any butter at all.

The Tenth manner of eating Poached Eggs.
Cause good fresh butter to be melted in a dish over an indifferent hot fire, after which you may break your eggs, and having taken out the white, you may put all the yolks into a porrenger by themselves,and after that you may pour them one by one into the said melted butter, and when the said butter shall begin to boyl take your dish off from the fire, and so you may adde there-unto a little powdered cinamon and sugar if you please.

“On the sixth day of Christmas, my good friend gave to me
Six eggs a poaching
Five golden fruits
Four keeping cakes,
Three boiling hens,
Two chocolate tarts,
And a partridge in a pear tree.”

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Seventh Day of Christmas.

Quotation for the Day …

I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday - the longer, the better - from the great boarding school where we are forever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest.
Charles Dickens

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