Monday, February 04, 2008

An explosive cocktail.

February 4

A veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar called Thomas Davey officially took over as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) on February 4, 1813. By most accounts he was completely unsuitable for the position, being lazy, incompetent, and hard-drinking. His only real claim to fame is as the inventor of a famous drink called ‘Blow my Skull’ which was said to be mixed in a cask and served in half-pint glasses. The ‘original’ recipe for this beverage is in Australia’s first cookbook, written by the Tasmanian politician Edward Abbott. Abbott describes the drink as a mix of boiling water, sugar, lime or lemon-juice, ale or porter, rum, and brandy – making it a very potent cocktail (or punch) indeed. Other ‘original’ recipes include a variety of other ingredients such as Madeira, gin, claret, opium and cayenne pepper.

Abbott says that Davey enjoyed his drink as an accompaniment to roast pig, but the idea made me wonder about the more modern accompaniment to cocktails – the little snacks known by the Frenchified word ‘canapes’. The OED describes a canape as ‘a piece of bread or toast, etc., on which small savouries are served’, and gives the first use of the word as appearing in an 1890 version of Mrs Beeton’s famous cookery book. I have to say that the OED frequently falls down in the culinary quotations area. It certainly appears in English cookbooks several decades earlier, and an example (I don’t know if it is the very earliest) is in Richard Dolby’s book The Cook’s Dictionary (1831). Interestingly, Dolby gives two interpretations (and spellings) of the word, and consequently two recipes.

Roll out three quarters of a pound of puff-paste, keeping it long and narrow ; do not let it be more than a quarter of an inch thick, and about three inches wide. Cut the paste across with a sharp knife, in slips three-eighths of an inch in width, and place them on the cut side, on a baking-plate, each two inches apart; bake them in a hot oven, and when nicely coloured, sprinkle them with sugar, and glaze them. When done, remove them from the plate; and just before they are served, mask them with apricot marmalade, or any other you may like better, und arrange them on your dish en couronne.

Cut some pIeces of the crumb of bread about four inches long, three inches wide, and one inch thick, fry them in boiling lard, till of a light brown colour ; then рut them on a drainer, and cut into slips some breast of fowl, anchovies picked from the bone, pickled cucumbers, and ham or tongue. Then butter the pieces of bread on one side, and lay upon them alternately the different articles, till filled. Trim the edges, and put the pieces (cut into what form you please) upon a dish, with slices of lemon round the rim ; and serve in a sauce-boat, a little mixture of oil, vinegar, cayenne pepper, and salt.

A canape is also, according to the OED, ‘a sofa’. I presume the name for the savouries came about because the little puffy squares of fried bread embroidered with pieces of chicken breast or anchovies resembled upholstered cushions? Any French scholars out there care to take a stab at explaining the English usage of the word for a snack?

Tomorrow’s Story …

Primrose Day.

Quotation for the Day …

[The cocktail hour] The pause between the errors and trials of the day and the hopes of the night. Herbert Hoover.

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