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

The Fifth Day of Christmas.

December 30 ...

“On the Fifth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Five gold rings”

One of the interpretations of the five gold(en) rings is that they represent the band of yellow around the neck of the pheasant – meaning that the first seven gifts in the song are all birds. Pheasant may be all very well, but we have had partridge and hen already, and it is time for something lighter.

Golden fruits seem appropriate after all of our over-eating – perhaps bananas? Some say that bananas were the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, rather than the apple (which is certainly not a native of the Middle East, and has a more suggestive shape for a fall from grace). No doubt early clerics had reasons for associating the apple with the sin, but there is often very little logic in how we assign names or meanings. The following fruit salad is a good example. I am unable to hazard any guesses at all as to why this is “Russian”. Certainly pineapple has not a single mote of Russian inheritance, and surely vodka would be more suggestive than madeira or rum?

Alas, this fruit salad has no bananas, but it sounds wonderfully colourful and delicious nevertheless.

Russian Fruit Salad.
Peel and pit some peaches, cut in slices and add as much sliced pineapple, some apricots, strawberries and raspberries, put these in a dish. Prepare a syrup of juice of two lemons, two oranges, one cup of water and one pound of sugar, a half teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, grated rind of lemon, add one cup red wine and a half glass of Madeira, arrak or rum. Boil this syrup for five minutes, then pour over the fruit, tossing the fruit from time to time until cool. Place on ice and serve cold.
[The International Jewish Cook Book. By Florence Kreisler Greenbaum, 1919]

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

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Sixth Day of Christmas.

Quotation for the Day …

What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.
Agnes M. Pharo

The Fourth Day of Christmas.

December 29 ..

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four calling birds …”

Or – four “colly” birds in an earlier version. “Colly” indicates coal black, so four blackbirds were the gift for the day – and they do “call” beautifully as well, so either way they fit the rhyme. As we are told in the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence, blackbirds can be baked in a pie, so pie is a possibility for the day. There are almost as many explanations of the nursery rhyme as there are of the Christmas song, and one of them suggests that it is based on an actual pie presented at a huge feast hosted by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy in 1464. The event was to whip up support for another crusade, and as was the custom for feasts of the time, some impressive entertainment was arranged. At one point a giant pie was presented – containing ‘eight and twenty’ musicians who “sang” when the pie was opened.

I think I will take today’s inspiration from the “colly” colour, not the birds – birds have already featured twice in our song-menu. Dark fruitcake seems like the way to go – get next year’s made now and keep dousing it with something alcoholic for the next twelve months.

I am rather fond of my own Chocolate Alcohol Cake recipe, but this one, from “an experienced lady” sounds very black and tasty indeed.

Black Cake.
One pound of flour, one of sugar, fourteen ounces of butter, ten eggs, three pounds of seeded raisins, three pounds of Zante currants, and one pound of citron, a wine glass of wine, one of brandy, and one of milk, a tea-spoonful of saleratus, a table-spoonful of molasses, a table-spoonful of cinnamon, a tea-spoonful of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of mace, or one nutmeg. The sugar should be the brown kind, and stirred a few minutes with the butter, then the eggs beaten to a froth, and stirred in. Brown the flour in a pan, over a few coals — stir it constantly to prevent its burning. It should be done before you commence making the cake, so as to have it get cold. Stir it into the butter and sugar gradually, then add the molasses and spice. Dissolve the saleratus in the milk, then strain it, and mix it with the brandy and wine, to curdle them—stir the whole into the cake. Just before you put it into the cake pans, stir in the fruit gradually, a handful of each alternately. When well mixed in, put it into cake pans and bake it immediately. If baked in thick loaves, it takes from two hours and a half to three hours to bake it sufficiently. The oven should not be of a furious heat. Black cake cuts the best when three or four weeks old.
[The American Housewife: Containing the Most Valuable and Original Receipts ... By Experienced lady, 1841]

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my good friend gave to me
Four keeping cakes,
Three boiling hens,
Two chocolate tarts,
And a partridge in a pear tree.”

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Fifth Day of Christmas.

Quotation for the Day …

The merry family gatherings
The old, the very young;
The strangely lovely way they
Harmonize in carols sung.
For Christmas is tradition time
Traditions that recall
The precious memories down the years,
The sameness of them all.
- Helen Lowrie Marshall

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Third Day of Christmas.

Today, December 28 …

“On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me: "Three French hens ….".

Why French? I guess because “Three Bresse chickens” doesn’t have the right ring to it? To the English, a “French Hen” was an alternative name for a particular variety of bantam chicken with frizzled (i.e upcurled) feathers. I have no idea why. Does the rhyme mean three of these little birds? But why hens? Old laying hens are not much use for anything other than making chicken stock – mind you, that’s a pretty noble end. What would we do without chicken stock? Live on ice-cream I suppose.

Once upon a time, recipes and bills of fare specified the type of fowl that made up the dish – capon, pullet, hen, rooster etc. Now we mostly just get “chicken”, because mostly the bird is factory reared to standard specifications, and is culled at a standard age. Chicken-rearing practices would have to be drastically re-discovered for us to regularly see these old names on menus – but in case it does happen, here is a short summary:

Hen: the female of the “common domestic barnyard fowl” i.e Gallus domesticus; usually refers to a bird beyond its pullet stage.

Pullet: a young female, at the beginning of her egg-laying life (about 20 weeks) but has not yet moulted.

Rooster, Cockerel: the male of the “common domestic barnyard fowl”, most usefull in the household to make Cock-Ale (a useful beverage to restore your fighting spirit).

Capon: A castrated cock. Capons are bigger, fatter and more docile than their intact brothers, so desirable on all counts to farmers and the first two to cooks (they make the best roasters, apparently).

In case the chicken-rearing revival does not become widespread, but you have a yen for roast capon on Sundays, here is how to caponize your birds, as told by William Ellis in his marvellous Country Housewifes Companion (1750)

To make Capons. This operation belongs to the country housewife. I know a yeoman living near Hempstead in Hertfordshire, whose estate is but about fifty pounds a year, that makes (as it is credibly reported) fifteen pounds a year by the sale of capons; his wife and daughter cut the young dunghill cocks, but I don't suppose they were all bred on his farm, for some for this purpose make it their business after harvest-time to go to markets for buying up chickens, and between Michaelmas and Allhollantide caponize the cocks, when they have got large enough to have stones of such a bigness that they may be pulled out, for if they are too little, it can't be done; and to know when a cock is fit for it, he should be pretty well grown, have a good comb, and be well fleshed, for these signs shew they are bigger than those of leaner fowls. To cut them, the cock must lie on its back, and held fast, while with a very sharp knife she cuts him only skin-deep about an inch in length, between the rump and the end of the breast-bone, where the flesh is thinnest; next she makes use of a large needle to raise the flesh, for her safer cutting through it to avoid the guts, and making a cut here big enough to put her finger in, which she thrusts under the guts, and with it rakes or tears out the stone that lies nearest to it. This done, she performs the very same operation on the other side of the cock's body, and there takes out the other stone; then she stitches up the wounds, and lets the fowl go about as at other times, till the capon is fatted in a coop, which is commonly done from Christmas to Candlemas, and after. Now if the stones are but big enough, as they lie to the back, they may be safely taken out with a greased fore-finger, without much danger of killing the creature, but when they are too small there is danger. This way of caponizing a cock, I have had done at my house for my information, by a woman deemed to be one of our best capon cutters, else it would have been a difficult matter for me to give a description of it; for they that never saw such an operation, and venture at it, must expect to kill one or more, before he or she gets master of the science. And indeed it is for want of this knowledge that the art of caponizing fowls is not so much practised as formerly; but as I have given a pretty good account I hope of it, I am of opinion the art will be revived, and capons sold in greater plenty than ever.

I stand firmly by my statement about the indispensibility of chicken stock, so our foodie Twelve Days of Christmas now reads:

“On the third day of Christmas, my good friend sent to me
Three boiling hens,
Two chocolate tarts,
And a partridge in a pear tree.”

Susanna Kellet, whose book A complete collection of cookery receipt… was the source of yesterday’s recipe, knew some other things to do with boiling hens.

A dish of Boiled Hens.
Dress your hens for boiling, fill their bellies with the yolks of hard boiled eggs, and boil the hens; when enough, lay them in order on a dish, then pour sauce over them, and thin slices of bacon round.

Sauce for Boiled Hens.
Take some good turnips, pare them, cut them into square small dices, and boil them in milk and water, but don’t boil them too much; then drain them, and have some bacon boiled and cut like turnips, and lay them together; then shred some lemon and oysters, and melt some butter; when it is ready, put all into it, and pour it over your hens; you may boil square pieces of bacon, to lay in the middle of the dish.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Fourth Day of Christmas.

Quotation for the Day …

The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet. Judith Martin (“Miss Manners”)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Second Day of Christmas.

December 27 …

“On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me … two turtle doves …”

There seems to be something very Un-PC about the idea of eating turtle doves, even if they are glorified pigeons – which are certainly very OK to eat. Apart from Mrs. Chiang-Kai Shek, who attributed her good health to the regular eating of a restorative soup made from white doves, I can find hardly a reference to them appearing on the table. Perhaps we are reluctant to eat them because we have appropriated the species to our coo-ing love-bird selves?

Turtle doves coo over ….. bird seed I suppose? Human turtle doves gift each other … chocolate! Chocolate may well be the most coo-ed over food for all humans, lovers or not, so on this second day of Christmas we are going to have TWO chocolate tarts!

Chocolate, for most of its life, has been a beverage. It was introduced to Europe in the mid-sixteenth century by the Spaniards, who came across its use by the Aztecs (who had gotten it from the earlier Maya who got it from the even earlier Olmecs). It was a spicy drink back then – with vanilla and chilli and all sorts of other ingredients added, but was not sweet. It appears that it was the Spanish who added the sugar, and once that was done, its success in Europe was certain. It took several technological developments in the nineteenth century to make it the solid eatable confectionary that we know today.

In between chocolate as a bitter, spicy drink and chocolate as a sweet, smooth, biteable confection, chefs and cooks discovered its value as a cooking ingredient. It was usually partly processed into solid cakes of coarse “cocoa” which had to be grated or pounded up before use. The first I have been able to find are in François Massialot’s Le nouveau cuisinier royal et bourgeois, ou cuisinier moderne (first ed. 1691) there are two recipes in which chocolate is an ingredient: in a sauce for “sea-duck”, and in a sweet custard. (This recipe is given in an earlier story on chocolate history).

The earliest known written version of our theme song is from 1780, so I am going to give you a recipe from that year. It is a chocolate cream recipe from Susanna Kellet’s book A complete collection of cookery receipts, (consisting of near four hundred,) which have been taught upwards of fifty years…. With a little adaptation it would make a fine filling for those chocolate tart shells that I am sure you can whip up in a jiffy.

Chocolate Cream.
Scrape two ounces of chocolate in a pint of cream, set it on, and let it just come a boil; then mill it up, put in a little perfume, and steep it in rose water. Sweeten to your taste and put in a china dish, and lay froth upon it.

“On the second day of Christmas, my good friend sent to me
Two chocolate tarts
And a partridge in a pear tree.”

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Third Day of Christmas.

Quotation for the Day …

If I were a headmaster, I would get rid of the history teacher and get a chocolate teacher instead and my pupils would study a subject that affected all of them. Roald Dahl.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The First Day of Christmas.

December 26 …

Is “The First Day of Christmas” today? Or was it yesterday?

The correct answer is “both”. Another correct answer is “neither”.

It depends,to start with, on which calendar you use.

According to the Julian calendar, Christmas is not for another thirteen days.

It also depends on when “the day” starts. You thought it was at midnight, didn’t you? And you are correct, for our time and in our culture. Blame the Ancient Romans for the midnight idea. Before they imposed their definition on their subjects the “day” ended when the sun went down – which makes perfect sense for a people whose “clock” was the sun and whose calendar was the turn of the seasons.

So – the new “day” started with the start of what we now call “night”, an arrangement that fitted perfectly with the world view that said that First there was Dark, and Light and Life arose out of the dark. The idea of night preceding (not following) the day is how it came to be that “today” (Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day) actually began “last night” at sunset, and “Twelfth Night” (the eve of January 5) precedes precedes Twelfth Day (January 6), and

According to the Christian calendar, Twelfth Day (or Epiphany, or Three Kings Day) is the day that the Wise Men, bearing gifts, came to pay homage to the infant Jesus. It is the official end of the Christmas season, and at the secular rules say it is time to take down the decorations, clean out the fridge, hide your ugly presents in the back of the deepest cupboard, and start panicking about the credit card bill that is probably already in the mail.

The twelve days of Christmas are also – as I am sure by now you are repetitively aware – the subject of a traditional song, the lyrics of which are themselves the subject of much debate. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” may or may not be a song of religious symbolism, or numerological wit (if you apply the correct mathematical formula, you end up with 364 gifts – enough until the next Christmas), or a mere nonsensical childrens memory song/game. The first known recorded version dates to 1780, but it is undoubtedly much older, possibly medieval, and possibly even French in origin. In some versions the person doing the sending is not “my true love” but “my mother”, and there are minor variations in the gifts in different versions.

Your next question is probably “So what has this to do with food?” Not much, really, except that everything is to do with food, or can be made to do with food. There are many parodies of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, but my brief search has been unable to uncover a foodie version. It is time to put this to rights.

The first line of our song is taken directly from the original – there is no need to change it - Partridges and Pears are fine ingredients for a meal – particularly, I find, for breakfast. Here is some help from Eliza Acton (Modern Cookery for Private Families, 1845).

BROILED PARTRIDGE; (Breakfast dish.)
Split a young and well-kept partridge, and wipe it with a soft clean cloth inside and out, but do not wash it; broil it delicately over a very clear fire, sprinkling it with a little salt and cayenne; rub a bit of fresh butter over it the moment it is taken from the tire, and send it quickly to table with a sauce made of a good slice of butter browned with flour, a little water, cayenne, salt, and mushroom-catsup, poured over it."
We give this receipt exactly as we received it from a house where we know it to have been greatly approved by various guests who have partaken of it there.

Wipe some large sound iron pears, arrange them on a dish with the stalk end upwards, put them into the oven after the bread is drawn, and let them remain all night. If well baked, they will be excellent, very sweet, and juicy, and much finer in flavour than those which are stewed or baked with sugar: the bon chrétien pear also is delicious
baked thus.

Tomorrow's Story …

The Second Day of Christmas.

Quotation for the Day ...

Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles. Anon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Alternative Christmas Menus.

December 25, Christmas Day.

I hope you, my hungry readers, all have a safe and happy Christmas season, however you celebrate it. I hope your Christmas food is sufficient in amount and superb in quality. While you enjoy your meal(s), consider these alternative Christmas dinners, taken in wild and far-away places.

1803: The Lewis and Clark expedition party were at Camp River Dubois (near present day Hartford, Illinois). They had just finished constructing the camp on Christmas Eve. Clark

“Christmas 25th Decr: I was wakened by a Christmas discharge found that Some of the party had got Drunk (2 fought) the men frolicked and hunted all day, Snow this morning, Ice run all day, Several Turkey Killed Shields returned with a cheese & 4 lb butter, Three Indians Come to day to take Christmas with us, I gave them a bottle of whiskey …. ”

1815: In Australia, Capt. James Kelly, in the newly discovered Macquarie Harbour:

“Christmas Day. Strong gales from the westward, and a heavy sea heaving into the cove. This day we had a 'glorious feed' for dinner - two black swans; one roasted (stuck up), the other was made into a sea-pie - a three-decker, in a large iron pot, - a first-rate Christmas dinner on the west coast of Van Diemen's Land. After dinner we named the cove 'Christmas Cove,' by throwing a glass of brandy into the salt water, and giving three hearty cheers upon the occasion.”

1908: Shackleton en route to the South Pole:

“From Nov. 14, 1908 to Feb. 23, 1909, our party was always hungry, except on Christmas Day when we divided a four-ounce plum pudding into four parts and licked the spoons. We had another luxury that day in a tin of frozen sardines, which contained seventeen fish. After taking four each we tossed our knives on the ice for the odd one. We started to take a tin of jam with us, but as it weighed two pounds we left it 121 miles from base, which was 750 miles from the pole. Our breakfast consisted of pony steaks.”

A couple of extra side-dishes would have gone down a treat for any of these intrepid, and hungry, explorers.

New York Cranberry Sauce.
Wash 1 quart of cranberries, put them into the kettle with 1 pint of water and four cored and sliced tart apples. Cover and cook for twenty minutes; press through a colander.Add 1 pound of sugar, boil five minutes and take from the fire.
[Galveston Daily News,dec 17, 1911]

Creamed Chestnut Pates.
Shell a pint of chestnuts and peel off the brown skins. Wash In cold water and boil in milk until very tender. Drain and sprinkle over them half a teaspoon of salt. Keep hot. Add to the milk in which the chestnuts have been boiled sufficient cream to make a pint, and thicken with a teaspoon of corn starch mixed with a little cold milk: stir in a double boiler until boiling, then add a teaspoon of butter and a little grated onion; let boil up, add the chestnuts; when steaming hot spoon into hot pate shells. One has to gauge the amount of sauce to the size of the shells. Serve garnished with parsley and sliced lemon.
[The Fort Wayne Sentinel, (Indiana) dec 21 1903]

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Foodie’s Twelve Days of Christmas.

Quotation for the Day …

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. Calvin Coolidge.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mrs. Pepys’ Pies.

December 24, Christmas Eve.

Samuel Pepys arrived home from the office on this day in 1663 to find his wife making mince-pies. The traditions of mince pies for Christmas was already well established by the mid-seventeenth century, and Pepys mentions them in other diary entries – noting, a few years later when he was more prosperous, the servants (“my people”) helping his wife with this project.

Mince pies originally contained meat, as we found out in our December 2005 story – which also touched on the symbolic meaning attached to the making and eating of pies. There is an almost infinite variety of recipes for mincemeat – even “mock” mincemeat – and several appear in the Vintage Christmas recipe archive.

The cookbook of Robert May – The Accomplish’t Cook – was very popular in Pepys time and I like to think that perhaps Mrs. Pepys knew of it. May gives several recipes for mince pies, with “French” and “Italian” versions included. There are no caraway seeds in these “foreign” recipes as there are in two out of three of the pies of unspecified heritage (caraway seeds were particularly beloved of the English): the “Italian” version presumably gets its nationality from the use of saffron, but I cant hazard a guess as to what makes the other one “French”. Elizabeth Pepys was of French Huguenot stock, so she might have been able to tell us.

Minced in the French fashion, called Pelipate, or in English Petits, made of Veal, Pork, or Lamb, or any kind of Venison, Beef, Poultrey, or Fowl.
Mince them with lard, and being minced, season them with salt, and a little nutmeg, mix the meat with some pine-apple-seed, and a few grapes or gooseberries; fill the pies and bake them, being baked liquor them with a little gravy.
Sometimes for variety in the Winter time, you may use currans instead of grapes or gooseberries, and yolks of hard eggs minced among the meat.

Minced Pies in the Italian Fashion.
Parboil a leg of veal, and being cold mince it with beef-suet, and season it with pepper, salt, and gooseberries; mix with it a little verjuyce, currans, sugar, and a little saffron in powder.

[Remember – traditions says it is good luck to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas, to bring good luck for each of the succeeding twelve months.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Alternative Christmas Menus.

Quotation for the Day …

It is a great Nostrum the composition of this Pasty ["Christmas Pye"]; it is a most learned Mixture of Neats-tongues, Chickens, Eggs, Sugar, Raisins, Lemon and Orange Peel, various kinds of Spicery, etc. M. Mission, French visitor to England in the late seventeeth century.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Alternative Christmas Puddings.

Just in case you are behind schedule with your puddings, here are a couple of alternative ideas for you. As usual, they have been added to the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive.

The following recipe was found in a Winnipeg newspaper of 1914. It sounds like a nice change from heavier puddings.

Cranberry Snowballs.
Sift together two cupfuls of flour, a pinch of salt and three teaspoonfuls of baking powder; add sufficient sweet milk to make a soft batter, one cupful of sugar, one and a half cupfuls of chopped cranberries dredged with flour and two well beaten eggs. Pour the mixture into buttered pudding cups, and steam for two hours. Garnish with sprigs of holly and serve with hard sauce.

And from Eliza Acton, a mid-nineteenth century plum pudding with potatoes and carrots:

(Cheap and good.)
Mix well together one pound of smoothly-mashed potatoes, half a pound of carrots boiled quite tender, and beaten to a paste, one pound of flour, one of currants, and one of raisins (full weight after they are stoned), three quarters of a pound of sugar, eight ounces of suet, one nutmeg, and a quarter-teaspoonful of salt.
Put the pudding into a well-floured cloth, tie it closely, and boil it for four hours. The correspondent to whom we are indebted for this receipt says, that the cost of the ingredients does not exceed half a crown, and that the pudding is of sufficient size for a party of sixteen persons.
We can vouch for its excellence, but as it is rather apt to break when turned out of the cloth, a couple of eggs would perhaps improve it. Sweetmeats, brandy, and spices can be added at pleasure.
Mashed potatoes, 1 Ib.; carrots, 8 ozs.; flour, 1 Ib.; suet, ½ Ib.; sugar, ¾ Ib.; currants and raisins, 1 Ib. each ; nutmeg, 1; little salt: 4 hours.

[From: Modern Cookery for Private Families. Eliza Acton, 1845]

Saturday, December 22, 2007

1944: Wartime Christmas Recipes.

During, and for some years after WW II, the Ministry of Food in Britain put out regular Food Facts leaflets to help the public cope with rationing. Rationing was eased very slightly on some foods in the weeks leading up to Christmas – the authorities being well aware of the morale-boost that this would provide.

Food Facts No. 232 in the second week of December in 1944 had recipes for Christmas pudding and cake.

First, the “splendid Christmas Pudding recipe with a fine, rich, fruity flavour, which is not difficult to make. It tastes almost as good as pre-war!”

Christmas Pudding.
2 oz. plain flour, ½ level teaspoon baking powder; ½ level teaspoon salt; ¼ level teaspoon grated nutmeg, ¼ level teaspoon salt; ¼ level teaspoon cinnamon; 1 level teaspoon mixed spice; 4 oz suet or fat; 3 oz. sugar; 1 lb. mixed dried fruit; 4 oz. breadcrumbs; 1 level tablespoon marmalade; 2 dried eggs, reconstituted; ¼ pint pale ale, stout or milk. (Enough for 4-5 people).
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and spices together. Add sugar, fruit, and breadcrumbs and grated suet or melted fat. Mix with the marmalade, eggs and liquid. Mix very thoroughly. Put in a greased basin, 2 pint size. Cover with greased paper and steam for 4 hours. Remove paper and cover with a fresh piece and a clean cloth. Store in a cool place. Steam 2 or 3 hours before serving.

Christmas Cake.
½ lb. margarine, ½ lb. sugar (brown if possible); 5 dried eggs, dry; 10 tablespoons water; ½ teaspn. almond essence; ½ teaspn. vanilla essence; ¾ lb. plain flour; 1 level teaspn. bicarbonate soda; ½ level teaspn. Salt; 2 level teaspns. mixed spice; 2 lb. mixed dried fruit; 3-4 tablespns. ale, stout, or milk.
Cream margarine and sugar, adding dried eggs and water gradually. Beat until white and creamy. Add essences. Sift flour, soda, salt and spices together and add to mixture. Add prepared fruit and lastly the liquid, to make a fairly stiff mixture. Mix thoroughly. Put in a cake tin lined with paper, and bake in a slow oven for 3 hours. Leave in tin to cool. (Icing recipe in next week’s Food Facts.)

As promised, Food Facts No. 233 the following week had the recipe for ration-friendly icing, as well as several other ideas including one for wartime gingerbread men.

Icing made with ordinary Sugar and Household Milk.
Ingredients: 4 level dessertspoons sugar, 6 level tablespoons Household Milk, dry [i.e milk powder], 2 tablespoons water, colouring and flavouring.
Method: Mix sugar and milk together. Add water and beat till smooth.Add colouring and flavouring and sperad on top of cake.

Gingerbread Men.
Ingredients: 2 oz. sugar or syrup, 2 oz. margarine, 8 oz. plain flour, ½ level teaspoon mixed spice, 2 level teaspoons ginger, lemon substitute, 1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda.
Method: Melt in a pan the syrup or sugar and margarine. Pour into a bowl. Add some flour and the spice and lemon substitute. Stir well. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in a tablespoon of tepid water and add to the mixture. Continue stirring, gradually adding more flour. Finish the process by turning out the mixture on to a well-floured board. Knead in the remainder of the flour. Roll a small ball for the head, flatten it and place it on the baking tin. Roll an oblong for the body and strips for arms and legs. Join these together with a little reconstituted egg and put currants for the eyes.

Spiced Fruit Punch.
Ingredients: 1 level tablespoon marmalade, 1 level dessertspoonful syrup, ¼ - ½ level teaspoonful ground ginger, 1 tablespoon water, 2 tablespoons orange squash, 1 tablespoon lemon squash, ½ pint freshly made tea.
Method: Put marmalade, syrup, ginger, and water into a pan and make hot but do not boil. Add the lemon and orange squash and the tea and serve hot or very cold. (The tea should not be allowed to stand for more than 3 minutes before straining, and should not be very strong.

Snow Pudding.
Ingredients: 1 ½ oz. semolina, ½ pint milk and ½ pint apple pulp, or 1 pint fruit syrup, 1 ½ oz. sugar, coloured sugar for decorating.
Method: Cook the semolina in the milk or fruit syrup for 7-10 minutes, then beat in the appke and sugar. Turn into a bowl to cool. When cold, but not set,beat until light and frothy. Turn into a dish and just before serving, decorate with coloured sugar.

Coloured Sugar.
Ingredients: Put 2 level teaspoons sugar on a plate and add a few drops of food colouring. Mix well. Allow to dry before using as a decoration. If more than one colour is available, a very pretty effect can be obtained by using different coloured sugars.

[For the sake of completeness, these recipes have been added to the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive. The gingerbread men recipe has also been added to the Through the Ages with Gingerbread archive.]

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mushroom Advice.

December 21 ...

Marion Harland, American writer of all sorts of books including very popular cookbooks, was born on this day in 1830, in Virginia. She did not like, or rather - “not being ambitious of martyrdom” - she was afraid of mushrooms.

.- Have nothing to do with them until you are an excellent judge between the true and false. .... Not being ambitious of martyrdom, even in the cause of gastronomical enterprise, especially if the instrument is to be a contemptible, rank-smelling fungus, I never eat or cook mushrooms; but I learned, years ago, in hillside rambles, how to distinguish the real from the spurious article. Shun low, damp, shady spots in your quest. The good mushrooms are most plenty in August and Septemher, and spring up in the open, sunny fields or commons, after low-lying fogs or soaking dews. The top is a dirty white, -par complaisance, pearl-color, -the underside pink or salmon, changing to russet or brown soon after they are gathered. The poisonous sport all colors, and are usually far prettier than their virtuous kindred. Those which are dead-white above and below, as well as the stalk, are also to be let alone.
Cook a peeled white onion in the pot with your mush rooms. If it turn black, throw all away, and be properly thankful for your escape. It is also deemed safe to reject the mess of wild pottage, if, in stirring them, your silver spoon should blacken. But I certainly once knew a lady who did not discover until hers were eaten and partially digested, that the silver had come to grief in the discharge of duty. It was very dark, and required a deal of rubbing to restore cleanliness and polish; but the poison - if death were, indeed, in the pot - was slow in its effects, since she lived many years after the experiment. It is as well perhaps, though, not to repeat it too often.
[From: Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery. 1873]

The methods Marion suggests to distinguish safe from poisonous mushrooms were commonly believed at the time – and absolutely none are reliable. I present her words to you out of historic curiosity, not as words of instruction! It can be extraordinarily difficult to tell the deadly, the delirium-inducing, and the delicious apart, and even experts occasionally make mistakes.

No self-respecting cookbook of the time would have excluded recipes for mushrooms however, and in spite of her anxiety Marion’s was no exception. Here are a couple of examples, for your holiday season enjoyment:

Mushroom Sauce.
1 teacupful young mushrooms.
4 tablespoonfuls butter.
1 teacupful cream or milk.
1 teaspoonful flour.
Nutmeg, mace, and salt to taste.
Stew the mushrooms in barely enough water to cover them until tender. Drain, hut do not press them, and add the cream, butter, and seasoning. Stew over a bright fire stirring all the while until it begins to thicken. Add the flour wet in cold milk, boil up and serve in a boat, or pour over boiled chickens, rabbits, etc.

Mushroom Catsup.
2 quarts of mushrooms.
¼ lb. of salt.
Lay in an earthenware pan, in alternate layers of mushrooms and salt; let them lie six hours, then break into bits. Set in a cool place three days, stirring thoroughly every morning. Measure the juice when you have strained it, and to every quart allow half an ounce of allspice, the same quantity of ginger, half a teaspoonful of powdered mace, a teaspoonful of cayenne. Put into a stone jar, cover closely, set in a saucepan of boiling water over the fire, and boil five hours hard. Take it off, empty into a porcelain kettle, and boil slowly half an hour longer. Let it stand all night in a cool place, until settled and clear. Pour off carefully from the sediment, and bottle, filling the flasks to the mouth. Dip the corks in melted rosin, and tie up with bladders.
The bottles should be very small, as it soon spoils when exposed to the air.

Monday’s Story …

Mrs. Pepys’ Pies.

Quotation for the Day …

I confess, that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town. Alexandre Dumas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mystery Turkey.

December 20 …

It is that time of the year again. The time to search for new and interesting ways to cook the Christmas turkey. Even more critically, the time to search for new and exciting ways to use up the Christmas turkey leftovers for the days that follow.

I present this recipe today in the hope that someone, somewhere will shed some light on the name. Or even make some wild hilarious guesses. It is from The Complete Practical Cook, by Charles Carter, published in 1730.

I have no idea what, where, or who is “Rockampuff”. Even Google refuses to hazard a guess. Presumably it is an attempt to ‘translate’ a French name, coming as it dos from a high-class courtly cookbook.

Whatever its origins, the recipe would be an elegant, if labour-intensive way of using up leftover roast turkey, and is surely worth adapting by persons of a modern persuasion.

ROCKAMPUFF, with Capon, Pullet, Turkey, or other Fowl.
Take, after roasted, all the brawny, white, and fleshy Part of your Fowl’ mince it, when taken off, very small: Take the best of the Joints and Bones, and cut them in pieces, and ragoust them in good Gravy; put to them a few Morelles and Mushrooms, and an Artichoke-bottom cut in Pieces; season with Pepper, Salt, Nutmeg, an Onion, and a Faggot of Sweet-herbs; sheet the same dish you serve it in with Puff-Paste; raise a border of hot Butter-Paste in the Inside three or four Inches high: First put in your Ragoust, and over that lay a Row of large Oysters dipp’d in Eggs, and seasoned with Pepper, Salt, Nutmeg, Thyme and Parsley minc’d, and a little grated Bread; then toss up your minc’d Fowl with good Gravy, thick Butter, and the Yolk of an Egg, season’d with Pepper, Salt, and Nutmeg; Put it over the Oysters, and strew over it some Raspings of French Bread to the thickness of a quarter of an Inch; then take thick Butter and beat it up with the Yolk of an Egg or two, and with a Brush, drop it all over in Rings till quite cover’d; paper your Border round, and bake it; and when done, serve it away hot to the Table: Squeeze over an Orange.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Mushroom Advice.

Quotation for the Day …

Cooking Tip: Wrap turkey leftovers in aluminum foil and throw them out. Nicole Hollander.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Candy for Health.

December 19 …

An article in the prestigious British Medical Journal on this day reported on a study conducted by the equally prestigious Harvard School of Public Health. The results appeared to show that the mortality rate was lowest amongst men who ate candy at least three times a week compared with those who did not eat candy at all..

I find this study immensely interesting, not only because of its value in reducing greed-guilt, but also on account of the wild and wonderful theories that can be inspired by it (not by the Harvard researchers I might add). Was it the preserving power of the sugar? Or were the ancient medicos right and sugar has medicinal benefits in its own rights, even if they were wrong on the dose (they thought tiny amounts were sufficient)? Would the same results apply to women? Are the results explained by the candy-eaters doing large amounts of exercise penance? Are candy-eaters more fun, and it is actually the fun that saves your life? Did the BMJ deliberately choose to publish this article before Christmas, as their gift to their reading public?

We have met several different forms of candy in this blog – chocolate occasionally (but not often enough), nougat (in relation to a crime), ‘sugar of roses’ (in an article about climbing mountains and eating mints), caraway comfits (in a story about lust and orgies), and ‘others too numerous to mention’ (or look up) by this lazy writer.

So what to choose by way of recipes, to reduce your mortality risk over the Christmas season?

I have so far neglected liquorice in this blog. Liquorice comes from the root of several species of shrubby plants of the genus Glycyrrhiza, especially G. glabra. It has been used for centuries as a medicine, and is said to be useful in – among other things – disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, which are prevalent in late December due to the festivites. It is timely then to address the omission.

‘Confectionary’ only fairly recently came to apply only to hard candy. Once upon a time it was part of the pastrycooks domain and also included all manner of conserves and sweetmeats as well as pastries. Pastrycooks of the early eighteenth century had a frighteningly large sphere of responsibility, if we are to judge by the information immediately below the title of today’s recipe source, which was published in 1705.

The pastry-cook’s vade-mecum: or, a pocket-companion for cooks, house-keepers, country gentlewomen, &c. ...

Choice and Excellent Directions, and Receipts for making all Sorts of Pastry-Work; Dressing the most Dainty Dishes; Candying, Preserving and Drying all manner of Fruit. As also, the Art of Distilling and Surgery.

The “Good Old Days” Huh? When the local pastrycook had pretensions to chirugerie? No thankyou. I’ll take my varicosed veins to a real surgeon.

To make Liqourish Cakes.
Take 12 ounces of Liquorish scraped very thin, then take two pints and a half of Isop [hyssop?] Water, one pint and half of Coltsfoot Water, a pint and half of red Rosewater, two good handful of Rosemary flowers, one handful of Maiden-hair, keep all these together three or four days in a stew Pot or Jug that may be close stop’d, shaking them together two or three times a day, then put them all into a Skilet, and set them upon a soft Fire two hours, then strain it into a Silver Bason, put to it a pound of brown Sugar-candy so let it boil till it grow thick enough to beat to a Paste, when you find it grow pretty thick, take a little upon a Spoon, and beat it with a Knife till it be cold, and then you will find whether it be enough, when you take it off the Fire, it must be beaten with a good strength with a Spoon till it be white, then take some fine Sugare searced, and so roul it up in little Cakes, the best way is to keep beating it to the last, or else it will so crackle that it will never role handsomely, half this Receipt is enough to make at a time.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Mystery Turkey.

Quotation for the Day …

Anyone who uses the phrase 'easy as taking candy from a baby' has never tried taking candy from a baby. Unknown

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Old Christmas Recipes for the Collection.

There seems to be no limit to the variations possible in traditional Christmas recipes. Here are three more for your enjoyment. They have also been added to the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive.

1829: An “Italian” cake from an English cookbook.

Another sort of Spongati, or Italian Christmas Cakes.
Five yolks of fresh eggs; one pound seven ounces of sugar in powder; seven ounces of bread, dried and powdered; one pound two ounces of almonds, blanched and roasted like cocoa; four ounces of wild pine-apple kernels; three drachms of fine cinnamon; three drachms of cloves; three and a half drachms of nutmeg; two ounces of preserved cedratys; and one drachm of ground pepper.
This mixture must likewise be put into a crust or covering made of the following paste, viz. steep two ounces of gum-dragon [gum traganth] in twice its volume of orange-flower water, and put on your marble slab fourteen pounds of pulverized sugar, and six pounds of fine starch; add your gum, and strain it through a cloth like the paste for drops; form a malleable paste by adding a little white wine; make your crust, put in the above ingredients, and cover them with a large wafer paper; make them an inch thick. You may have wooden moulds representing different subjects, into which you may put your paste, and fill the moulds as above, covering them with a wafer paper. They must be kept in a stove in a gentle heat a day before they are baked, in a slack oven.

[From: The Italian confectioner; or, Complete economy of desserts. William Alexis Jarrin; London, 1829]

1854: Christmas pudding made with snow (and potatoes). This is from a book of “recipes for cooking on hygienic principles” – what we would now call a health-food cookbook

Christmas Pudding.

Mix together a pound and a quarter of wheaten flour or meal, half a pint of sweet cream, a pound of stoned raisins, four ounces of currants, four ounces of potatoes, mashed, five ounces of brown sugar, and a gill of milk. When thoroughly worked together, add eight large spoonfuls of clean snow; diffuce it through the mass as quickly as possible; tie the pudding tightly in a bag previously wet in cold water, and boil four hours.
The book states that “It is a singular fact that puddings may be made light with snow instead of eggs – a circumstance of some importance in the winter season, when eggs are dear and snow is cheap. Two large tablespoonfuls are equivalent to one egg. The explanation is found in the fact that snow involves within its flakes a large amount of atmospheric air, which is set free as the snow melts.”

[From: The New Hydropathic Cook-book. Trall, R.T, New York, 1854]

1870: “Not healthful” mince pies – with maple syrup and cider.

Mince Pies.
Mince pies are not healthful, and one batch in a season is quite sufficient. A shin of beef boiled down till very tender, one pound of nice clear beef suet chopped very fine, a table-spoonful of salt, six pounds of greening apples peeled, cored and chopped, three pounds of raisins stoned, three of currants carefully cleaned, one pound of brown sugar, a cup of maple syrup, half a pound of citron, shredded, half a pound of candied lemon peel, a quart of the best cider. This mixture makes rich pies, but mince pies are nothing if not rich. These are also particularly fine in flavor. Instead of cider, some persons put in a quart of Madeira wine, and a little brandy; but it is better not to use alcohol in food when it can be avoided.

From: Jennie June's American Cookery Book. Jane Cunningham Croly, New York, 1870

Melba mixes it up.

December 18 …

The Times newspaper in England on this day in 1928 included a short article under the heading of Australian Christmas Cake Mixed. Gift for the Duke and Duke and Duchess. The Duke in question was Albert Frederick Arthur George - eligible for the title as second son of the monarch, who subsequently went on to higher things and became monarch himself (as George VI) when his brother King Edward VIII unexpectedly abdicated.

The newspaper did not explain why the Duke was so honoured, but it is to be hoped that he was impressed not only that the cake was made from Australian ingredients, at Australia House, in the presence of Lady Ryrie, wife of the High Commissioner for Australia but also that Dame Nellie Melba herself lent her watchful eye to the proceedings. Dame Nellie she was better known at the time for her operatic rather than her culinary roles, and sadly there is no explanation given as to how or why she came to be playing this non-singing role on this day. She was the woman for whom Peach Melba and Melba Toast were named, but this alone hardly seems sufficient qualification for a responsibility of such awesome magnitude.

The ‘recipe’ for the cake was given in the article. If a mere list can be called a recipe nowadays that is. At the time every English housewife worth her salt would have understood ‘the usual method’ of mixing the ingredients.

The ingredients of the cake were as follows: 2½ lb. butter, 2 lb. sugar, 2½ lb. flour, 1¼ lb. almonds, 24 eggs 10 lb. currants, 3 lb. raisins, half-gill brandy, half-gill rum, candied peel, &c.

There are other questions begged by this article too: were the eggs flown over specially for the cake? Or did they come from Aussie hens in the backyard of Australia House? What secret Aussie ingredient is included under the “&c.”?

Tomorrow’s Story …

Candy for Health.

Quotation for the Day …

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. Garrison Keillor .

Monday, December 17, 2007

An epicure, defined.

December 17 ...

There is someone who can settle the problem of the word “foodie” after all, and I am reasonably reliably informed that his birthday is today. Happy birthday William Safire. Mr. Safire, as I am sure you, my hungry readers, well know, is the spectacularly readable political columnist for the New York Time Magazine and an expert “On Language”.

The problem of the word “foodie” is only a problem for a few folk, but they are so vociferous in their hatred of it that one has to be very deft in dodging the cyber-spittle and sharp hackles raised by their reactions to it. I don’t have a problem with the word myself, but that is OK. Live and let live, I say. Viva la debate. The more opinions the better. Etc etc etc. I do, however, have one issue with the foodie word haters: no matter how vehement their hatred of it, no matter how vigorously they wish it expunged from the lexicon, no matter how frequently they launch their diatribes at the rest of us more mild-mannered folk – they never, ever, ever offer an alternative word to take its place.

I know Mr. Safire could do it, because he has spoken with his usual eloquence on related nouns for those with a particular relationship with food:

“In the lexicon of lip-smacking, an epicure is fastidious in his choice and enjoyment of food, just a soupçon more expert than a gastronome; a gourmet is a connoisseur of the exotic, taste buds attuned to the calibrations of deliciousness, who savors the masterly techniques of great chefs; a gourmand is a hearty bon vivant who enjoys food without truffles and flourishes; a glutton overindulges greedily, the word rooted in the Latin for ‘one who devours’. … After eating, an epicure gives a thin smile of satisfaction; a gastronome, burping into his napkin, praises the food in a magazine; a gourmet, repressing his burp, criticizes the food in the same magazine; a gourmand belches happily and tells everybody where he ate; a glutton embraces the white porcelain altar, or, more plainly, he barfs”.

How about it Mr. Safire? Your authoritative voice could surely end the battle once and for all. Do please add another word to the lexicon of lip-smacking, for ‘those with a particular relationship with food not fully explained by the above, and currently designated by the controversial word "foodie".

I have taken today’s recipe from the aptly named 1842 publication The Epicure's Almanac, or Diary of Good Living, by Benson Earle Hill (a grand name, that). It is eminently suited to a birthday or Christmas, or any other celebration where alcohol is not eschewed. The author seems to me however to be misguided in his advice that the dish would be much admired by ‘the better sex’ – my impression is that the ‘less good sex’ are also fond of a good boozy ‘trifle’ too.

Tipsey Cakes.
Lay as many sponge cakes as the dish you intend to use will contain, pour over these three glasses of Sherry, and one of Brandy, mixed together; when the cakes have absorbed the wine and spirit, spread red currant jelly on the top of each, about half an inch thick, and stick through the jelly, into the cakes, sweet almonds, blanched, and split in four; about a dozen of these to each cake will be sufficient.
Observation. - This is a tasteful and easily prepared dish, particularly applicable to supper tables, and is usually much admired by the better sex.

It may be ironic that the aphorism given for December in this book is “Remember, we eat that we may live: not live that we may eat”. Surely, the reverse is true of a f****e? And if a definition is close, can a word be far behind?

Over to you, Mr. Safire.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Melba mixes it up.

Quotation for the Day …

It is precisely because no one needs soup, fish, meat, salad, cheese, and dessert at one meal that we so badly need to sit down to them from time to time. It was largesse that made us all; we were not created to fast forever. . . . Enter here, therefore, as a sovereign remedy for the narrowness of our minds and the stinginess of our souls. Robert Farrer Capon.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Scotch Christmas Bun.

The Vintage Christmas Recipes list just keeps on growing in spite of itself. The latest addition to its family is 'A Scotch Christmas Bun', sometimes known as "Black-Bun". Some recipes are for a fruit cake-type mixture in a pastry shell - a sort of cake that is a pie or a pie that thinks it is a cake. Mistress Dod's recipe is for a raised yeast dough, some left plain for the outside 'wrapping', the remainder enriched and used as filling. It is from The Cook and Housewife's Manual: A Practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery, by By Mistress Margaret Dods (Christian Isobel Johnstone); 1847.

A Scotch Christmas Bun, from Mrs. Fraser's Cookery.
Take half a peck of flour, keeping out a little to work it up with ; make a hole in the middle of the flour, and break in sixteen ounces of butter ; pour in a mutchkin (pint) of warm water, and three gills of yeast, and work it up into a smooth dough. If it is not wet enough, put in a little more warm water : then cut off one-third of the dough, and lay it aside for the cover. Take three pounds of stoned raisins, three pounds of cleaned currants, half a pound of blanched almonds cut longwise; candied orange and citron peel cut, of each eight ounces; half an ounce of cloves, an ounce of cinnamon, and two ounces of ginger, all beat and sifted. Mix the spices by themselves, then spread out the dough ; lay the fruit upon it; strew the spices over the fruit, and mix all together. When it is well kneaded, roll out the cover. Cover it neatly, cut it round the sides, prickle it, and bind it with paper to keep it in shape ; set it in a pretty quick oven, and, just before you take it out, glaze the top with a beat egg.

These buns, weighing from four to eight, ten, twelve, and sixteen, or more pounds, are still sent from Edinburgh, from the depots of Littlejohn and Mackie, to all parts of the three kingdoms. Every country town, rural village, and neighbourhood in England, Scotland, and Ireland, has its favourite holiday-cake, or currant-loaf, under some such name as " Lady Bountiful's loaf," " Mrs. Notable's cake," "Miss Thrifty's bun," &c. &c. We do not pretend to give receipts for all these - the formula is endless - and they are all good. … That they be well raised and well fired is all besides that is of any importance. They should be baked in a dome-shaped fluted mould or Turk's cap, but look still more imposing at holiday-times, formed like large, respectable, old-
fashioned household loaves. Leavened dough should be bought for them.

[If you have a great recipe for the fruit-cake version that you would like to share, do please let us know!]

Friday, December 14, 2007

A little bit of seal meat.

December 14 …

The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) won the unofficial race to the South Pole on this day in 1911, to the profound disappointment of Robert Falcon Scott – “Scott of the Antarctic” – who died on the return journey.

There was no celebratory feast at the Pole – it was a matter of raising the flag and the getting back to base as quickly as possible: Amundsen and his team simply “contented ourselves with a little piece of seal meat each, and it tasted well and did us good”.

Provisioning for polar expeditions in those times was based on the assumption that large amounts of fresh meat in the form of seals (and penguins, in the case of the South Pole), and that these would not simply be a nice change from canned and dried food but would form a significant part of the diet. For forays beyond the camp, the expedition sledges were provisioned with concentrated foods such as pemmican, milk powder, chocolate, and hard biscuits, but at the main base a great deal of attention was given to preparing interesting meals – for reasons of morale as well as nutrition. The men of Amundsen’s expedition were lucky in their cook. Adolf Lindstrom was apparently a cheery soul willing to rise early and prepare a breakfast of such things as hot buckwheat cakes and wholemeal bread which “slipped down with fabulous rapidity” with quantities of whortleberry jam. Fresh seal meat was universally preferred to canned meat, and Lindstrom came up with all manner of pies, puddings and pastries to serve along with canned fruit, butter, cheese – and more whortleberry jam.

Whortleberries of one species or another occur in many parts of the world (the cooler parts that is), and go by many different names. I knew them as bilberries as a child in Yorkshire, but you may know them as blueberries, blaeberries, whinberries – and perhaps other names. They certainly grow well in Norway, and it seems that vast amounts were preserved and taken on this expedition.

No doubt Lindstrom used whortleberries in many ways – I fancy he must at least have taken the idea of whortleberry sauce as served with venison and boar in his homeland, and used it to vary the interminable seal steak in Antarctica. Here is a good whortleberry breakfast idea, from the prolific nineteenth century American, Miss Juliet Corson. I’m not sure how they would taste if fried in seal oil.

Whortleberry Fried Cakes.
Sift a heaping teaspoonful of baking-powder and a saltspoonful of salt with two cupfuls of flour. Carefully pick over one quart of whortleberries. Beat three eggs for five minutes; stir into the beaten eggs two cupfuls of sugar and one pint of milk; then add the berries and the flour, mixing all the ingredients lightly and quickly. The mixture should form a stiff batter; if more flour is needed, add it. Fry the cakes by the tablespoonful in smoking-hot fat, as directed in the recipe for old-fashioned doughnuts; or fry them in a hot frying-pan, with just enough fat to prevent sticking to the pan. Use them buttered for tea or luncheon.
[Miss Corson's Practical American Cookery and Household Management. 1886]

Monday’s Story …

An epicure, defined.

Quotation for the Day …

I always plan dinner first thing in the morning. That's the only way I can get through the day, having a specific meal to look forward to at night. Alan King.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to feed Immigrants.

December 13 …

Most experts say that we humans orginated in Africa, which means that all of us have migrant ancestors I guess. Migrating slowly and in a spreading fashion from your place of origin over many millenia is, however, quite a different thing from a sudden transfer across an ocean or two because conditions in your homeland have become untenable. There is no time for cultural adaptation and language-learning for starters, and in fleeing one set of bad conditions, there may be exposure to other less obvious dangers.

One of the dangers faced by migrants in their new home is that of being ripped off by unscrupulous persons who take advantage of their confusion and vulnerability. The writer of an article in an American newspaper on this day in 1894 expressed some concern about the potential for abuse of the system of feeding emigrants at Ellis Island – their point of arrival in the United States. It was noted that there was a potential for fraud created by the sale to private individuals of lucrative restaurant rights on government property with a captive clientele of newly arrived “ignorant customers”.

When the immigrant has changed his European money for that which passes in this country, on landing at Ellis Island, his next business transaction is most instances is buying something to eat. … It is doubtful if one half of the 343,422 immigrants who landed at Ellis Island last year knew at just what stage of their transit through the big building they ceased to be under the direct orders and supervision of the United States authorities and free to set for themselves. … It is doubtful that there is another restaurant in the world where precisely the same conditions exist as at this one. It is on Government property, it is owned by private individuals. …. Many of its customers do not now how to count the money which they pay for what they buy. None of them ever saw it before; most of them will never see it again. Their purchases are made in a hurry. They do not ask for prices; there is no time. These are posted conspicuously, but many customers cannot read, and the formality is useless in their cases. They do not ask what is to be had in many instances. They take such quantities as are put into a paper bag and handed to them. They give a piece of money and are give some change. They add the paper bag containing the food to their other bundles and pass on, stolid, stupid, half-dazed, out into the United States.

The man who conducts the restaurant alone knows what his sales amount to. He makes no report to the Government as to the number of sales or their values. The Government sells the privilege; the man who buys it does the rest. No one else - not even the immigrant - has much to say about it.

Why should not the Government control this business, and by a businesslike system of reports make it certain that the immigrants are protected so long as they are on Government property and practically under Government jurisdiction?

The article goes on to describe the Bill of Fare posted behind the counter:

Rye bread, two pounds....10c
Wheat bread, two pounds....10c
Wheat bread, one pound...5c
Swedish bread, two pounds....10c
Rolls, each....1c
Pies, each....10c
Bologna sausage, per pound...20c
Boiled ham, per pound....30c
Corned beef, per pound....25c
Cheese, per pound....20c
Coffee, per cup.....5c
Milk, per pint.....5c
Soup, with bread, per bowl....10c
Sandwich, ham or corned beef, each....7c
Sausage and bread, each.....13c, 2 for 25c
Soda water, ginger ale, or sarsaparilla, each, small....7c
Do, large.....20c
Smoking tobacco....10c
Cigars, each.....5 and 10c

At the bottom of the bill is this notice, in large letters: "Prices are regulated by the Commissioner of Immigration." This notice is posted by virtue of a clause in the contract, which the successful bidder for the privilege makes, under which the Commissioner is at liberty to fix the prices which may be charged for bread, sausage, soup, &c.
… Few college graduates have sufficient knowledge of the modern languages to keep this restaurant. It requires a linguist to sell these pies and bologna. The process, as observed the other day, is peculiar. The quantity purchased was fixed by the man behind the counter, and he depended somewhat on the length of the journey ahead of the immigrant. As the half-dazed European approached the stairs where he was to look after his baggage, the man behind the counter shouted at him, in a foreign tongue. Presumably he asked where the immigrant was going, for the latter produced his ticket and showed it to the man behind the counter, sometimes saying something in his native tongue.
, eh?" repeated the man who dispensed bread and sausage. The immigrant nodded and grinned, knowing as much about the location of Scranton as he did about Tasmania. Before the grin died away the restaurant man had made up a "Scranton lunch," that is, one which was supposed to be enough to last until the immigrant reached that place. This consisted in most instances of one big loaf of bread, one bologna, a chunk of cheese, and a bottle of beer or ginger ale. If the immigrant had been going further more luncheon would have been sold to him.
These things were put in a bag of tough brown paper, the price was paid, and the immigrant, stolid as a graven image, passed down to the baggage room. This process was repeated at a rapid rate. Bread and bologna went in a steady stream of brown paper bags and cash came to the restaurant. Some days 3,000 luncheons of this type were disposed of.
The immigrant does not know whether he has his money's worth or not. There is no record of his transaction. He makes no protest at this treatment, and if he wanted to, it would be difficult for him to make out a case against the restaurant.

The article does not suggest that the current owner of the licence is cheating, he merely points out the potential for dishonesty. There were others who were looking out for the new citizens, and migrants (as well as other ‘poor’ folk) were specifically addressed in a publication by the American Public Health Association in 1890. The little volume called Practical Sanitary and Economic Cooking Adapted to Persons of Moderate and Small Means contains nutrition advice and simple recipes for three price ranges: for a family of six these were, per day, 78 cents, $1.26 a day, and $1.38.

The author of this book is big on the importance of soups. She says “at least three nations, the French, German and Italian, make daily use of them and have for generations. To take part of our food in this form is an absolute necessity if we are to do the best possible with a certain amount of money”. How true. Bean soup would have been a familiar and comforting dish to many of those immigrants: here is one version from the book.

Bean Soup.
Ingredients. 1 lb. beans, 1 onion, 2 tablespoons beef fat, salt and pepper.
Additions, to be made according to taste. ¼ lb. pork, or a ham bone, a pinch of red pepper, or, an hour before serving, different vegetables, as carrots and turnips, chopped and fried.
Soak the beans over night in 2 qts. water. In the morning pour off, put on fresh water and cook with the onion and fat till very soft, then mash or press through a cullender to remove the skins, and add enough water to make 2 qts. of somewhat thick soup. Season.
This soup may also be made from cold baked beans. Boil ½ hr., or till they fall to pieces, then strain and season.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A little bit of seal meat.

Quotation for the Day …

In America we eat, collectively, with a glum urge for food to fill us. We are ignorant of flavour. We are as a nation taste-blind. M.F.K. Fisher

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Enchanting Christmas Pudding.

December 12 ..

They say that the world is divided into those who love fruit cake and those who don’t. The same could be said of Christmas pudding, which is essentially the same thing as Christmas Cake, except that the mixture is boiled not baked. The Times newspaper ran an article called Christmas Cheer on this day in 1921, and gave short shrift to those “crabbed natures” who “express abhorence” of both sweets. It did, however, offer alternative recipes for such curmudgeonly readers, as well as one for the cook (i.e mother) who may feel that almond-iced and sugar-iced cakes may be “too much of a good thing” for her children.

Naturally for the time, such caring cooking advice appeared in the newspaper section called The Woman’s View - any men seen reading a cooking column would have been viewed with suspicion of great unmanliness (or worse), in the 1920’s. The lapse of over eighty years has made it - I am quite sure of this (and grateful) – very safe for male readers to tackle these dishes, so don your aprons and go forth with brave culinary abandon, gentlemen!

I give you all three recipes, which I have also added, for completeness sake, to the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive.

The pudding recipe may suit those who do not like their pudding “to emerge rich and dark from a long imprisonment in the basin”, but prefer a lighter more wholesome compound.

Enchantress Christmas Pudding.
½ lb each of bread crumbs, sultanas, currants, raisins, mixed peel, suet, brown sugar four eggs, and the zest of two lemons. Mix and cook in the usual way, serving brandy or orange butter.

Those crabby curmudgeons who dislike both pudding and cake are offered this dish:

Macédoine of Dried Fruits and Cake.
Cut into small pieces some glacé cherries, French plums, raisins, citron peel, dates, and a few crystallized or glacé French apricots, greengages, or pears. Put these into a stewpan with a tin of pineapple cut into small pieces with the juice added to the other fruit, let all get hot, and place in the centre of a hot silver dish with slices of spong-cake cut in rounds fried in butter to a pale brown on both sides. A dash of rum or maraschino flavouring the mixed fruit can be added, or the fruit could be piled onto a pyramid on a large round of fried cake divided into sections.

And for the little darlings ..

Children’s Cake.
½ lb butter beaten to a cream with ½ lb castor sugar, break in four fresh eggs, beating each separately, add gradually ½ lb flour, then 1 oz of skinned and chopped pistachio nuts, 1 oz chopped sweet almonds, ½ lb glacé cherries halved, the grated rind of a lemon. Mix well, bake in a moderate oven for some two hours. Cover with soft icing, and decorate if desired.

Tomorrow’s Story …

How to feed Immigrants.

Quotation for the Day …

...Christmas is a season of such infinite labour, as well as expense in the shopping and present-making line, that almost every woman I know is good for nothing in purse and person for a month afterwards, done up physically, and broken down financially

Fanny Kemble (1809–1893), British actor.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The invention of “American Cheese”.

December 11 …

The man who invented ‘American Cheese’ was born on this day in 1874 on a farm near Stevensville, Ontario. Why did this Canadian call his cheese ‘American’? Was he honouring the country that enabled him to make his fortune? Or was it some sort of ethnic slur/joke against the folk across the border from his birthplace (like ‘Welch Rabbit’ is in England? You decide which of these applied to James Lewis Kraft’s patented processed cheese - made from genuine milk solids, all pesky bacteria and mould killed, and virtually guaranteed not to spoil.

Kraft moved to Chicago in 1903 with $65 in his pocket and started peddling cheese from the back of a wagon. The problem is, the very nature of cheese makes it prone to spoilage (and this applied especially in summer in the days before refrigeration). There is a fine line between a perfectly aged cheese and a spoiled cheese and a spoiled cheese means loss of profit. Kraft was not a scientist, but he tried various ways around the problem – including canning. Shredding and heat-sterilising cheese solves the spoilage problem (or the ageing virtue, if you want to look at it that way), and the addition of emulsifiers stops the separation of fat from solid. If this mixture is then canned it will keep virtually indefinitely. This is what Kraft did – naming it ‘American Cheese’ for reasons which I have not been able to establish – and he patented the method in 1916.

Sterilised emulsified canned cheese may be absolutely consistent and may keep forever, but a lot of folk feel that it is bland and – well, just ‘aint cheese. Kraft’s timing however was perfect. One organisation that does not care a hoot about flavour but cares a lot of hoots about durability in food is the military. Six million pounds of his cheese ended up in ration packs during World War I; soldiers developed a taste for it (or at least a familiarity with it), it remained relatively cheap during the Great Depression, and Kraft’s name became famous, or to some – infamous, on account of its synonymity with “not cheese”.

Here is an American World War I recipe that uses cheese – no cheese specified, but presumably “real” as it is grated. It would have been a perfect recipe for a meatless day, and comes from Farmers’ Bulletin 487.

Corn and Cheese Souffle.
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of chopped green pepper
¼ cupful of flour
2 cupfuls of milk
1 cupful of chopped corn
1 cupful of grated cheese
3 eggs
½ teaspoon of salt.
Melt the butter and cook the pepper thoroughly in it. Make a sauce out of the flour, milk, and cheese; add the corn, cheese, yolks, and seasoning. Cut and fold in the egg whites beaten stiff; turn it into a buttered baking dish and bake in a moderate oven 30 minutes.
Made with skimmed milk and without butter, this dish has a food value slightly in excess of a pound of beef and a pound of potatoes.

Tomorrow’s Story …

An Enchanting Christmas Pudding.

Quotation for the Day …

If antiquity be the only test of nobility, then cheese is a very noble thing … The lineage of cheese is demonstrably beyond all record. Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)