Thursday, February 14, 2008

Raisins of all sorts.

February 14

An article in the Scientific American on this day in 1852 set me off on a few thinking tangents.

Skins of Raisins.
We see it stated in some papers, that Dr Devees, of Boston, has said that raisin skins are indigestible, and that nothing but the stomach of an ostrich can master them. He mentions the deaths of three children, caused by skins of raisins not digesting in their stomachs. Well, Dr. Devees, what about their digestibility when cooked? Raisins are fruit, which from time immemorial, have been used as a nourishing and healthy food by all Orientals.

I was glad to see the silly Dr Deeves taken to task so promptly. I would have asked him if there was the same risk with currants and sultanas, just to see how he responded. They are all dried grapes, after all. ‘Raisins’ were once specifically called “raisins of the sun”, to indicate that it was the dried variety of grape that was meant. "Raisins of Corinth" were from a small variety of grape, and ‘Corinth’ eventually became corrupted to ‘Currants’, sultanas are from Sultana grapes, and muscatels from the Muscat grape. It is quite OK to substitute freely. A Raisin cake will be fine if you use sultanas or currants. I promise.

Today’s recipes are below.

Today’s sermon is below the recipes. Just letting you know so you can skip it if you wish.

The recipes are (1) a fifteenth century version of little mincemeat pies – with veal, pork, eggs, spices and dried fruits (including of course raisins), baked in pastry ‘coffins’, (2) and a nineteenth century sweet, fruity ‘baba’, because I have been neglecting one of my favourite sources lately – the incredibly comprehensive Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery.

Take buttys of Vele, and mynce hem smal, or Porke, and put on a potte; take Wyne, and caste ther-to pouder of Gyngere, Pepir, and Safroun, and Salt, and a lytel verous [verjus], and do hem in a cofyn with yolks of Eyroun [eggs], and kutte Datys and Roysonys of Coraunce, Clowys, Maces, and then ceuere thin cofyn, and lat it bake tyl it be y-now [enough].

Baba with Raisins.
Mix half an ounce of German yeast and four ounces of sifted flour with warm water to a soft dough, and put it near the fire to rise. Rub twelve ounces of butter into twelve ounces of flour, work it into a smooth paste with eight well-beaten eggs, one ounce of pounded sugar, and a little salt. When the paste is ready and the sponge sufficiently risen, blend them well together and mix in two ounces of finely-minced candied citron-peel, two ounces of well-dried currants, and three ounces of stoned raisins. Butter a mould fill it about half full, and allow it to rise until it is nearly at the top, when it may be baked at once in a moderate oven. Time to bake, one hour and a half.

We live in an era when it seems that fewer and fewer of us cook less and less. There are many reasons quoted – but two of the commonly given reasons do not strike very true, really, when you think about it.

One is that we have “no time”. But legally we have a mere five eight hour days in which to earn our living. And we have labour-saving gadgets to take the work out of kitchen chores such as chopping and kneading and. And we buy our raisins pre-stoned. And in any case the “time” of rising of yeast dough is not our time - we can watch a lot of U-Tubes while the Baba dough does its silent thing.

The other “reason” (excuse, I call it) is that we have lost our skills (because our mothers didn’t cook, and maybe even our grandmothers, and it is always the mummy’s fault anyway). If this is true, it is also true that now have cookbooks with easy-to-follow, accurate instructions - none of this “take some wine and cast some spices thereto”, and “cook it till it be enough”. AND our ovens have temperature regulators. AND they have timers. AND we no longer believe that raisins kill little children. Progress seems to have offered a few pretty reasonable trade-offs to me.

We should quit whingeing and have more home-made fresh buttery Babas in our lives. Sweet yeast dough is pretty forgiving stuff.

Tomorrow’s Story …

All in a stew.

Quotation for the Day …

The past is always a rebuke to the present. Robert Penn Warren


Liz + Louka said...

Just as well raisins don't kill little children, since my little daughter loves them. But it's true she doesn't digest them: they tend to go straight through. I could understand if Dr Deeves had said little children can choke on raisins, but why would indigestibility cause anything more than indigestion?

Liz + Louka said...

Oh, and regarding your "sermon" - when I used to work full-time, I used to make lots of elaborate meals, but now I'm a stay-at-home mum, my (working) husband often has to cook when he gets home.

The Old Foodie said...

Liz - when you are a stay at home mum, you are actually working far harder (as I am sure you have already realised)- and for longer hours - than you ever did when you did "real" (ie paid) work! You are excused from all but survival for this part of your life (Glad you get time to read my blog though)