Friday, February 15, 2008

All in a Stew.

February 15

“I would like to find a stew that will give me heartburn immediately, instead of at three o clock in the morning.” These are the words of John Barrymore, the actor (Drew’s grandad), whose birthday it was on this day in 1882.

I don’t know what John Barrymore’s medical problems were, or who cooked for him, but there should be nothing stressful to the gastro-intestinal system about a stew. The word ‘stew’ does have a slightly less than classy ring to it however – compared with the same dish cooked in the oven, which we call a casserole. A casserole you can give to guests, a stew you give to family on a weeknight. A stew/casserole for guests is even more impressive if you call it a fricasée or a daube or a pot-au-feu or some other snobby Frenchified name. A stew by any other name tastes quite different, does it not?

A stew should be savoury, but the word has an unsavoury connotation because it is also an old word for a brothel – presumably because the hot, steamy bathhouses of old were where all that sort of action took place. Perhaps this is why a ‘stew’ seems an unglamorous dish?

The connection of the idea of “stew” with the Irish is longstanding. I don’t know when the quintessential stew became “Irish”, but it predates the potato famine of the 1840’s, as the following recipe(s) from Eliza Melroe’s An economical, and new method of cookery; describing upwards of eighty cheap, wholesome, and nourishing dishes (1798) show.

1st Irish Stew.

Take fat mutton chops, any quantity, for example, two pounds, potatoes, from four to six pounds, washed and scraped: onions or leeks, a proportionate quantity; pepper and salt, a sufficiency; stew the above with a small quantity of water, for an hour and a half in a vessel close covered.

NOTE.- It makes a very cheap, wholesome, nourishing dish, which, I hope, every family will be acquainted with, and this intimation rendered unnecessary. – On the same principle, legs of beef, ox-cheek, or the fat, sinewy parts of meat may be cooked, but lean meat will not be too tastey, or nutritious, for reasons already given in the course of this work. – Rice may be used instead of potatoes.

2nd. Take of gravy beef, one pound, Scotch barley, one pound, potatoes, two pounds, onions, one pound, pepper and salt, a sufficient quantity, bacon, three ounces. – the produce will be four quarts of soup, and will dine and sup three working men.

3rd. A sheep’s head; barley, one pound and a half, potatoes, three pounds, onions, half a pound: pepper and salt, a sufficient quantity; with cabbages, turnips, and carrots, and eleven pints of water; it will produce six quarts of soup; sufficient to dine and sup four men.

Eliza goes on to give several more variations, with the final reminder (the italics are hers):

If any fat appears on the top of any of the above stews, it should not be skimmed off, but should be united with the broth by means of flour, oatmeal, or potatoe starch, when probably more water will be necessary, which will of course increase the quantity, leaving it equally as strong tasted, for reasons already given in many other parts of this work.

Monday’s Story …

The Week o’Cakes, Day 1.

Quotation for the Day …

Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread -- there may be. David Grayson. Adventures in Contentment, 1907

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