Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Odds and Ends for Dinner.

January 23

Our old friend Parson James Woodforde has given us much wonderful information about the dining habits of the middle class in the second half of the eighteenth century. He was clearly a man who enjoyed his food, and frequently made quite detailed report of his dinners. On this day in 1795 however, he was uninspired, noting simply: “Dinner to day, odds and ends &c.” One can almost hear the plaintive, disappointed voice.

He uses this same phrase in other entries, not telling us any other information. There are people who cook specifically to have leftovers, – I am one of them myself – there are others who abhor the idea, and are either much more calculating cooks than I am and are able to prepare just the right amount for one meal, or they are more daring and are able to dump the remains into the garbage.

The problem with leftovers (if it is a problem), is largely in the name, which hints at toothprints and saliva residue at best, and loss of flavour and serious bacteriological contamination at worst. What else to call them? Parson Woodford’s other phrase, ‘heatups’, is no better. ‘Re-cycled’ sounds ethically correct but somehow not delicious.

One eighteenth century author tried hard with ‘secondary cookery’, which at least is a little intriguing. The full title of the book is The family save-all, a system of secondary cookery, and it was published in 1861. It is a fascinating book, and the author tries valiantly to add excitement to many dishes that surely do need it, by renaming them in they style of a ‘Capital Dinner from Ox-Cheek’ and ‘Capital Soup from Cow Heels’.

My favourite is this one:

A Marbled Dish of Remnants.
A sort of marbled mass is sometimes made by shaking together in a mould remnants of various coloured Blanc-manges cut nearly of the same size, and then filling it up with a clear jelly.

His creativity falls short of glamourising some dishes however:

Economical Dish of Baked Faggots.
Leaves of Mangel Wurzel as a Table Vegetable.
Delicious Pie of Sheep’s Head and Trotters.
Tails, Various Uses Of.
Various ways of Cooking and re-Cooking that unmanageable dish, Ox-heart.

The book contains much other useful advice on such things as getting rid of vermin, removing stains from clothing, etc, and a whole lot of other things that you didn’t even realise you needed to know, such as:

Important Hints on Breathing.


How to Eat an Egg with Satisfaction !
WHAT ! mean to insinuate that, after all these years, we don't know how to eat eggs properly ? Never mind: don't be above taking a hint. By the usual mode of introducing the salt into a boiled egg, it will not incorporate with the egg; the result is, you get either a quantity of salt without egg, or egg without salt. In order to make the two mix properly, after cutting off the top of the egg, put in a drop of water, tea, coffee, or other warm liquid that may be on the table ; then add the salt, and stir. The result is far more agreeable - the drop of liquid is not tasted.

And this very useful idea, using ‘English chilies’. I don’t believe I have ever read the phrase before.

Home-made Cayenne Pepper, of superior Flavour.
Those who desire to obtain good Cayenne Pepper, free from adulteration and poisonous colouring matter, should make it of English chilies. By so doing they half the heat of the foreign. A hundred large chilies, costing only two shillings, will produce about two ounces of cayenne - thus the superior home-made is as cheap as the commonest red pepper. The following is the way to make it:—Take away the stalks, and put the pods into a colander ; set it before the fire for about twelve hours, by which time they will be dry. Then pour them into a mortar, with one-fourth their weight in salt, and pound and rub them till they are as fine as possible; sift through a little muslin, and then pound the residue, and sift again.

Tomorrow’s Story …

An anthropologist does dinner.

Quotation for the Day …

Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with ...
Robert Farrar Capon.

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