Monday, March 31, 2008

Too much Bumboo.

March 31 ...

An eighteenth century Sussex village shopkeeper by the name of Thomas Turner kept a diary for a number of years, and although it is by no means as comprehensive as those of our friends Samuel Pepys and James Woodforde, it still gives a fascinating insight into community life of the time. On Friday last week (the 28th) I was going to give you his diary entry for that day in 1756, but the idea got pushed rudely aside in view of the vehement feedback on the Aussie damper issue.

I give you his diary entry belatedly today:

“I went down to Jones, where we drank one bowl of punch and two muggs of bumboo; and I came home again in liquor; Oh! With what horrors does it fill my heart, to think that I should be guilty of doing so, and on a Sunday too! Let me once more endeavour never, no never to be be guilty of the same again.”

I had never heard of ‘bumboo’ (bumbo, bombo) until I reaed that entry. It is a sort of toddy, made from rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg, and it clearly has a link with the sugar-producing colonies. I wonder how it made its way to a Sussex village?

Bumboo was apparently a drink of choice for sailors, sugar workers, and many plantation owners. It was useful at election time for those who wished to persuade, bribe, or confuse potential voters to their cause – including apparently George Washington in 1758. There is a fascinating account of its use in Virginia in the 1770’s written by ‘an old English officer’ called J.F.D Smyth; he was clearly very snooty and did not think much of the local American born estate-owners:

‘The gentleman of fortune rises about nine o’clock ; when perhaps he walks as far as his stables, which is seldom more than the distance of fifty yards from his house. After seeing his horses he returns to breakfast, which generally consists of tea or coffee, bread and butter, with very thin flices of venison-ham, or hung-beef. He then lies on a pallat, on the floor, in the coolest room in the house, in his shirt and trowsers only, with a negroe at his head, and another at his feet, to fan him and keep off the flies. Between twelve and one he takes a draught of bumbo, or toddy, a liquor composed of water, sugar, rum, and nutmeg, which is made weak, and kept cool. He dines between two and three, and at every table, whatever else there may be, a ham and greens or cabbage, is always a standing dish. At this meal he drinks as he pleases , of cyder, toddy, punch, port, claret, and madeira. Having drank some few glasses of wine after dinner, he returns to his pallat, with his two blacks to fan him, and continues to drink toddy, or sangaree, the whole afternoon. He does not always drink tea. Between nine and ten in the evening he eats a light supper of milk and fruit, or wine, sugar, and fruit, &c. and almost immediately retires to bed for the night."

Ham obviously figured large in the diet in that time and place. Virginia ham has a famous reputation, and one day I hope to try it out for myself. In the meanwhile, I give you some recipes for the inevitable, interminable slices that come from a single leg.

Royal Ham Sandwiches.
Chop up some boiled ham and the yelks of three or four hard-boiled eggs, according to quantity required. Press all through a collander, then cream a tablespoonful of best butter and mix with the ham and eggs; a teaspoonful of prepared mustard is a nice additional flavor; spread between thin slices of bread and cut around or fold up as you desire. An empty baking powder can will do to use as a cutter.
[Aunt Babette's" Cook Book: Foreign and domestic receipts for the household. 1889]

[To use Scraps of Ham]
To economise the scraps left from boiled ham, chop fine, add some of the fat also chopped, and put in a baking-plate, first a layer of bread-crumbs, then a layer of mixed fat and lean, then another layer of crumbs, and so on till all is used, putting a few bits of fat over the top; pour over it a little water, or a dressing of some kind, and set in oven till a nice brown. This is delicious for breakfast, or for a "picked up dinner," after having made a soup from the bone, well cracked and simmered for three hours with a few sliced potatoes and rice, or dried corn and beans which have first been soaked and parboiled. In boiling hams, always select an old ham; for broiling, one recently cured. After boiling and skinning a ham, sprinkle well with sugar and brown in oven.
[Buckeye Cookery, And Practical Housekeeping. 1877]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Tree fruit.

Quotation for the Day …

Carve a ham as if you were shaving the face of a friend. Henri Charpentier.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Damper, Episode 2.

Yesterday's promised post is postponed, for two reasons: after two weeks of redecorating, both my home and my wits are in disarray, and I have no idea what I was going to write about, and secondly because my thoughts on Aussie damper yesterday provoked some flak from my sister and from one of my best friends. Here is the correspondence. You haven't heard the last of this, I can tell you.

From my Little Sister, Val:
Well big sis, what can I say. Aussies DO eat damper! Our variety when camping is to make up the damper dough & mould it around a stick & toast it just like you do with marshmallows. Yummy. Then you dunk your damper kebabs in bush honey (or golden syrup) & eat. A much better variety than in the ashes plus you get to chat companionably around the fire & stare at the flames.
Little Sister

My reply:
Ah! but I bet you have a bit more in your damper than flour and water!
Memo to self: must go on campfire excursion with Little Sister.
Big Sister.

From my friend Marj:
Speaking as one who has savoured the delights of sitting around a campfire at the back of beyond (and other places) with freshly cooked damper from the camp oven among other delicacies, I can tell you, you haven't lived (yet)!

My reply:
Got a similar email from my sister! I bet your damper was not simply flour and water - bettcha it had some milk or butter or currants. AND it was cooked in a camp oven not directly on the ashes. … [yours] is a "second generation" or "scone-type" damper (Damper for Wusses) Flour and water, that’s what the lady said. Make it more runny and it is glue, make it less runny and it is brick.

Marj’s reply (accompanied by the above photo, taken beside the Jardine River in North Queensland):
‘This is one damper that I admit to adding sultanas to - we enjoyed it while camped beside the Jardine River on Cape York a few years ago.There was none left over to throw to the crocs in the Jardine.
I could not find the photo of another damper that rose beautifully, only to fuse to the lid of the camp oven. I won't bore you with Col's damper story - as a past Queen's Scout he accompanied our boys on a Scout Camp and showed his considerable damper skills to all the eager faces. Unfortunately that damper formed a permanent attachment to the camp oven and had to be removed with an angle grinder! He wasn't asked to demonstrate a second time.
Be a devil - try a damper!"
PS the brush in the background is for brushing of the ashes/coals BEFORE the lid is removed! The wine and XXXX act as suitable lubricant.

[For those of you over the various Ponds – the XXXX refers to ‘Fourex’, a well-known Queensland beer brand.]

To reinforce the ‘real’ recipe, here is a more detailed description of the method from Brisbane the Progressive! An Account of the Colony, its Soil, Climate, Productions and Capabilities. J.C. White, 1870.

Damper, or Bush Bread.
Cut a piece of bark off a gum tree for a kneading trough about 2 feet square.
Put on it 2 or 3 pannikins of flour – one pannikin is about 1 ob. – add a small tsp of salt to every 1 lb. of flour, gradually pour water into the centre and work it till it becomes a thick paste. The secret of a good damper depends on the thorough working of this paste. Shape it into a round flat cake about 2 inches thick – it will be ready for cooking.
Your fire should be prepared some time before so that you may have a large quantity of ashes. Rake out the ashes with a forked stick, level the ashes on the ground, which should be about 2 or 3 inches thick, rub your cake over with a little loose flour to prevent it sticking, and carefully place it on the ashes. Cover it all over with hot ashes about 2 or 3 inches deep. It will be baked in 30 or 40 minutes, according to size.
You can tell when it is done by uncovering it and striking with your fingernails: if not done the sound is dull and dead; or stick your knife in,and if it draws out clean it is done.
Knock off all the ashes with a green bough, stand it up to cool, and it is fit for use.

Please, Little Sister and Marj, send us your methods for comparison.

Monday’s Story …

Back to the Bumboo.

Quotation for the Day …

Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia. Charles M. Schulz

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unconspicuous Consumption.

March 27 ...

Tuesday’s story of sixteenth century wedding breakfast splendour and Wednesday’s story of nineteenth century wilful extravagance were in such contrast to Monday’s story on the simplicity of scones (the awful simplicity, in the case of Bloater Scones) that I felt they needed an equally simple Wednesday buffer. For some reason understood only by the relevant brain cells, it was obvious that I had to write about Aussie Damper.

Australians feel very sentimental about damper. No-one actually eats it, but nevertheless it is held in great affection. It is a superb example of historic distance lending enchantment to the taste. Those sturdy bush folk who ate it because it was the only ‘bread’ possible in a blisteringly hot yeast-killing climate with no oven would, I am sure, have swapped the blackened tough mess for a slice of Wonder Bread quicker than you can say Where’s the Jolly Jumbuck. And while we are on the topic of sentiment, you know the old wonderful bush song about the dog that ‘sat on the tucker box, five miles from Gundagai’? Man’s faithful doggy friend guarding the food supplies? The dog they built a statue to? Well, I hate to destroy a lovely image, but I understand the original wording to the song was ‘the dog shat on the tucker-box’. Some best friend, that. But I digress.

Ellen Clacy joined her brother in the Victorian goldfields of 1852. Her description of the making of damper will serve as our recipe for the day:

‘A damper is the legitimate, and, in fact, only bread of the bush, and should be made solely of flour and water, well mixed and kneaded into a cake, as large as you like, but not more than two inches in thickness, and then placed among the hot ashes to bake. If well-made, it is very sweet and a good substitute for bread.’

A cake of flour and water, sans butter, sans eggs, sans milk, sans sultanas, sans everything. Fairly makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? Hunger, as they say, is the best seasoning of all.

On one particular day, there were problems at damper-making hour:

‘The rain had, however, spoiled our ashes, the dough would neither rise nor brown, so in despair we mixed a fresh batch of flour and water, and having fried some rashers of fat bacon till they were nearly melted, we poured the batter into the pan and let it fry till done. This impromptu dish gave general satisfaction and was pronounced a cross between a pancake and a heavy suet pudding.’

I hope they did find gold.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Too much Bumboo.

Quotation for the Day …

Of doctors and medicines we have more than enough. What you may, for the love of God, send is some large quantity of beer.
Dispatch from the colony of
New South Wales, Australia 1854

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Conspicuous Consumption.

March 26 ...

The most enthusiastic guilders of already golden lilies during the Golden Age were the Vanderbilts. Mrs. Vanderbilt held the party of the season at their home on Fifth Avenue at 53rd street on this day in 1883. Twelve hundred of the social elite were invited, and the town was a-buzz with anticipation for six weeks. It was to be a costume ball.

The idea had been announced a week before Lent, and since then, said the New York Times, ‘It has been on every tongue and a fixed idea in every head … It has disturbed the sleep and occupied the waking hours of social butterflies, both male and female, for over six weeks, and has even, perhaps, interfered to some extent with that rigid observation of Lenten devotions which the Church exacts. … Amid the rush and excitement of business men have found their minds haunted by uncontrollable thoughts as to whether they should appear as Robert Le Diable, Cardinal Richelieu, Otho the Barbarian, or the Count of Monte Cristo, while the ladies have been driven to the verge of distraction in the effort to settle the comparative advantages of ancient, medieval, and modern costumes …..’

The newspaper devoted many inches of column to the individual costumes, which were, as would be expected, of great and shining magnificence. Fancy dances (including a hobby-horse quadrille) were to be the main fun of the evening, and to that end ‘The drilling in these quadrilles has been going on assiduously in Mrs. William Astor’s and other private residences for more than a week …’. The floral arrangements were suitably fantastic with ‘vases and gilded baskets filled with natural roses of extraordinary size …. as were the rest of the decorations. The gymnasium was converted into the supper room, and was particularly spectacular:

‘ .. the gymnasium, a spacious apartment, where supper was served on numerous small tables. But it had not the appearance of an apartment last night: it was like a garden in a tropical forest. The walls were nowhere to be seen, but in their place an impenetrable thicket of fern above fern and palm above palm … two beautiful fountains played in opposite corners, … the doors of the apartment, thrown back against the walls, were completely covered with roses and lilies of the valley.'

The New York Times columnist was clearly not inclined to describe the food, (or perhaps that might have seemed vulgar?) other than to say that the catering cost $65,000 of the total of $250,000 for the event. I was then, at the end of the lengthy article, forced to make an alternative choice for the recipe of the day.

It was common at the time for chefs to invent new dishes (or variations on old) and name them in honour of the rich and famous. Alexander Filippini, one-time Delmonico chef, wrote several cookbooks, and there are a set of recipes in The table: how to buy food and how to cook it, published in 1889, which are styled ‘a la Vanderbilt’. They consist of a garnish, and two egg recipes based on the garnish. I like to think that the name came from the large amount of green peppers used, which was reminiscent of a large amount of some other green stuff that the Vanderbilts threw around like confetti.

Garnishing Vanderbilt.
Peel one green pepper ; chop it very fine, and place it in a stewpan with one tomato cut into small pieces. Add an ounce of butter and eighteen canned, picked, and chopped-up shrimps ; season with a third of a tablespoonful of salt and a scant teaspoonful of pepper. Cook for ten minutes, and use for garnishing.

Omelet a la Vanderbilt.
Take two fine, sound, green peppers, plunge them into hot fat for half a minute, then take them up and lay them on a dry cloth; skin them neatly, remove all the seeds from the insides, and when emptied cut them into small slices. Put these into a saucepan on the hot stove with two medium-sized fresh, sound, slicedtomatoes, twelve nicely shelled shrimps, and three tablespoonfuls of Madeira wine sauce (No. 185), then season with half a pinch of salt and a third of a pinch of pepper; cook slowly for fifteen minutes. Break twelve fresh eggs into a bowl, season them with half a pinch of salt and a third of a pinch of pepper, and beat well for five minutes. Put two ounces of good butter in a frying-pan, place it on the hot stove, and when the butter is melted drop in the eggs, and with a spoon or fork mix briskly for two minutes. Fold the opposite side up with a skimmer, lift up the thick part of the prepared sauce, and place it in the centre of the omelet, fold the other side either with a knife or fork, and let it cook for two minutes longer, then turn on a hot dish; pour the rest of the sauce in the saucepan around the omelet, and send to the table very hot.

Eggs a la Vanderbilt.
Place one ounce of good butter on a silver dish, set it on the hot stove, and break in twelve fresh eggs, being careful not to disturb the yolks; season with a light pinch of salt and the third of a pinch of pepper; then let cook slowly for four minutes. Pour over the eggs a pint of hot Vanderbilt garnishing as for the omelet, and serve immediately.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Unconspicuous Consumption.

Quotation for the Day …

Have wholesome, but not costly Food, and be rather cleanly than dainty in ordering it. William Penn (1644-1718)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A wedding breakfast, 1571.

March 25 ...

I don’t think I am giving you enough historic menus - in spite of a great surplus on my computer. I have plenty to spare because quite a large number in my ‘collection’ do not have an exact date, so they are no use in my book Menus from History, which has an ‘on this day’ theme. It seems a shame that these fine bills of fare should languish un-appreciated, so I will bring one out from time to time and dust it off for your interest.

I confess to another motive for my generosity: I have been completely stumped by some of these menus. I am unable to authenticate a number of them, or to discover any other interesting details on an awful lot more. Perhaps you might be able to help?

Today’s menu is mentioned as a curiosity under ‘Banquets’ in Larousse (at least, in my 1961 edition). The ‘bill of fare’ is the from the Nuptial Dinner of Maître Baude Cuvillon (Conseiller et Maître ordinaire de la Chambre des comptes), in 1571. The Larousse says that there was an afternoon banquet with two courses plus ‘Issue’ (dessert), and then at midnight there was a supper (disner de chauldéau). The bill of fare is apparently preserved in the archives of the Nord Department, but it is not detailed in Larousse. It is, however, described on several internet sites, without its exact provenance being stated. A crash course in sixteenth century French and a visit to the Archives du Nord both being slightly the other side of impossible for me at present, I give you the internet version, and hope that one of you can spread some light.

First Course.
Salads of various kinds.
Flesh of prinsels with parsley and vinegar.
Mutton broth.
Fricasse of gosling.
Spring chickens with spinach.
Cold saille.
Pigeons a la tremoulette.
Roast joints of mutton.
Roast brest of veal.
Small pastries with hot sauce.
Roast roebuck.
Dainty pate.
Spring chickens in aspic.
Sweetened mustard.

Second Course.
Venison broth.
Roast capon.
Orange salad.
Roast pheasants.
Roast rabbits.
Roast spring chickens, some stuffed some larded.
Roast quail.
Roast crousets.
Smoked tongue.
Boulogne sausages.
Pheasant pates.
Pate of meaux hams.
Crousets pates.
Turkey or peacock pate.
Venison pate.
Leg of lamb daube.
Capon in aspic.
Roast swan.
Sweetened mustard.

Issue [dessert]
Mousse tart.
Apple tart.
Chervil tart.
Jam tart.
Cream flan.
Pate of pears.
Clove apple.
Pears in mead.
Sartelles pears.
Gren walnuts.
Fresh fruit.
Ample jelly.

I gave you a recipe for roast swan from the late fourteenth century Le Menagier de Paris, so I looked further afield for today. I was surprised to find one in Alexis Soyer’s Gastronomic Regenerator (1847) in the section intriguingly entitled Amateur Receipts . It is in the form of a rhyme, and is also in serious need of light-shedding.

Roast Swan à la Norwich.
Take three pounds of beef, beat fine in a mortar,
Put it into the Swan - that is, when you've caught her ;
Some pepper, salt, mace, some nutmeg, an onion,
Will heighten the flavour in Gourmand's opinion ;
Then tie it up tight with a small piece of tape,
That the gravy and other things may not escape.
A meal-paste (rather stiff) should be laid on the breast,
And some whited-brown paper should cover the rest.
Fifteen minutes at least ere the Swan you take down,
Pull the paste off the bird, that the breast may get brown.

The Gravy.

To a gravy of beef (good and strong) I opine
You'll be right if you add half a pint of port wine :
Pour this through the Swan - yes, quite through the belly :
Then serve the whole up with some hot currant jelly.
N. B. - The Swan must not be skinned.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Conspicuous Consumption.

Quotation for the Day …

Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good. Alice May Brock.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What flavour scones?

March 24 ...

I know exactly what made me decide to feature ‘scones’ today. Sheer astonishment at the degree to which the human cook will go to adapt, modify, and ‘improve’ a perfectly good recipe, that’s what. I was quietly browsing an Australian cookbook (undated, but probably late 1930’s), not seeking to be shocked, disgusted, or even intrigued when I came across a chapter of recipes for ‘scones’. We have tackled the subject in a previous post, but just to remind you, a scone is ‘generally, a soft cake of barley- or oatmeal, or wheat-flour, baked in single portions on a griddle or in an oven. Also with defining words, denoting varieties of this cake, as butter, potato, soda, treacle scone; brown scone, one made of whole meal; drop-, dropped scone, one made of a small portion of batter dropped on the griddle or on a tin and baked.’ It is better known to some of you ‘over there’ is essentially the same thing as a ‘biscuit’.

There are few things simpler and better than an Authentic Devonshire Tea: scones with good jam (strawberry jam, preferrably) with lashings of proper cream, (‘clotted’ cream, preferrably). The use of whipped cream is a bit down-market, and the use of the synthetic stuff that looks like shaving cream from a can is an act of sacrilege. The only real debate is whether or not the scones should be plain, or contain sultanas. In Australia, whose housewives are (were?) famous for their scones, it is perfectly acceptable, maybe even desirable, to provide pumpkin scones.

Any other varieties seem superfluous somehow. But superfluity is no barrier to housewives who want to get creative when the ladies are coming over for afternoon tea. A previous story featured two scone recipes from New Zealand, and these were not too startling – apart from the first being called ‘buns’ when they are clearly ‘scones’, and the second containing preserved ginger. The Australian book that gave shocked me however, contained a couple of pretty scary scone recipes amongst the forty it had on offer.

Be honest now. Would you ever be inclined to serve Bloater* Scones or Curry and Egg Scones?

Bloater Scones.
½ lb self-raising flour
1 oz. butter
1 egg
lemon juice to taste
2 oz. bloater paste
salt and cayenne
1 gill** milk
Sift flour, salt, and cayenne. Rub in butter and bloater paste. Add egg and milk and lemon juice, and make into a soft dough. Knead slightly. Roll out ½ inch thick. Cut into small rounds 1 inch in diameter. Glaze and bake in a quick oven eight to ten minutes.
Filling: 1 dessertspoon bloater paste and one dessertspoon whipped cream, blended together and flavoured with cayenne, lemon juice, and salt.

Curry and Egg Scones.
½ lb. self-raising flour
1 oz. butter
1 dessertspoon curry powder
pinch salt
1 hard-boiled egg
1 gill milk.
Sift flour, curry powder and salt into a basin. Rub in butter and add egg chopped finely and milk. Make into a dough, roll out, cut into rounds, brush over with milk and bake about ten minutes.
[From: Australian Cookery of Today Illustrated, by ‘Prudence.’]

*bloaters are herrings: bloater paste is, essentially, pureed bloaters.

**gill = unit of volume in the British Imperial and United States Customary systems. It is used almost exclusively for the measurement of liquids. Although its capacity has varied with time and location, in the United States it is defined as half a cup, or four U.S. fluid ounces, which equals 7.219 cubic inches, or 118.29 cubic cm; in Great Britain the gill is five British fluid ounces [Encyclopedia Britannica]

Tomorrow’s Story …

A wedding breakfast, 1571.

Quotation for the Day …

In nothing more is the English genius for domesticity more notably declared than in the institution of this festival - almost one may call it - of afternoon tea...The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose. George Gissing (b. 1857)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Buns.

March 21 ...

It is Good Friday today according to the Christian calendar, and the day when it is traditional to eat hot cross buns. Although the phrase ‘cross buns’ was first recorded in 1733, the tradition appears to have very ancient roots. ‘Bread’ in one form or another has played an important symbolic role in all cultures in which grain is a staple (as does rice in Eastern cultures), and it seems that bread marked with a cross-like symbol may go back a very long way indeed – perhaps to Ancient Greece or Ancient Egypt. The original ‘cross’ may in fact have represented the crossed horns of an ox – a traditional sacrifice in many times and places.

Today I want to consider when ‘cross buns’ became ‘hot’. I don’t know for sure (another project!), but it was certainly well and truly established by the mid-nineteenth century. Henry Mayhew, in his amazing social study London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those that Will Work Those that Cannot Work, Those that Will Not Work described the street sellers of Hot Cross Buns in 1851.

“The sellers of the Good Friday buns are principally boys, and they are of mixed classes — costers' boys, boys habitually and boys occasionally street-sellers, and boys street-sellers for that occasion only. One great inducement to embark in the trade is the hope of raising a little money for the Greenwich Fair of the following Monday. I am informed that 500 persons are employed on Good Friday in the streets of London in the sale of hot-cross buns, each itinerant selling upon the day's average six dozen halfpenny, and seven dozen penny buns, for which he will take 12s. 6d. (his profits being 3d. in the shilling or 3s. I½ d.). One person informed me that last Good Friday he had sold during the day forty dozen penny buns, for which he received 50s. The bun-selling itinerants derive their supplies principally from the wholesale pastrycooks, and, in a less degree, from the small bakers and pastrycooks, who work more for "the trade" than themselves. … The itinerants carry their baskets slung on their arm, or borne upon the head. A flannel or green baize is placed at the bottom of the basket and brought over the buns, after which a white cloth is spread over the top of the baize, to give it a clean appearance. A vendor of " hof-cross buns " has to provide himself with a basket, a flannel (to keep the buns warm), and a cloth, to give a clean appearance to his commodities.”

Last year on this day I gave you a recipe for Hot Cross Buns from the good old reliable Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s). Here is an alternative recipe from the same book.

Good Friday Buns.
(commonly called Hot Cross Buns)
Rub a quarter of a pound of butter into two pounds of flour. Add a pinch of salt; then mix a wine-glassful of fresh, thick yeast with a pint and a half of warmed milk, and stir these into the flour till it forms a light batter. Put the batter in a warm place to rise. When sufficiently risen, work into it half a pound of sugar, half a pound of currants, half a nutmeg, grated, and a quarter of an ounce of powdered mace. Knead these well into the dough, making it up into buns, and place them on buttered baking tins. Make a cross on them with the back of a knife, brush a little clarified butter over the top, and let them stand a quarter of an hour before the fire. Bake in a good oven.

Sufficient for two dozen buns.

Monday’s Story …

What flavour scones?

Quotation for the Day …

The best part of Easter is eating your children’s candy while they are sleeping, and then trying to convince them in the morning that the Easter rabbit came with one ear. Anna Quindlen.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cakes and Travellers.

March 20 ...

Charles Joseph La Trobe was born on this day in 1801, and when I discovered that fact, I was sure that today there would be an Australian story. La Trobe was the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District from 1839 to 1851, and Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria from 1851 to 1854. He was a man of great vision and good intentions, although his period in office was not without its controversies and difficulties. His name has been given to several locations and institutions, particularly in Victoria, where the State Library holds a large collection of his papers and correspondence.

I had no idea that La Trobe ever visited the United States, until my brief foray into his life-story. In 1824, he accompanied his student-protégé the Comte de Pourtalés on a long trip to the North American continent, where he spent some time with Washington Irving. Sadly I have been unable to find, in my very brief browsing, any food stories relating to his time in Australia, but he was clearly impressed with the baking skills of the women of New England.

“No where is the stomach of the traveller or visitor put in such constant peril as among the cake-inventive housewives and daughters of New England. Such is the universal attention paid to this particular branch of epicurism in these states, that I greatly suspect that some of the Pilgrim Fathers must have come over to the country with the Cookery book under one arm and the Bible under the other.”

He must have found it a startling contrast when he arrived in Australia where most of the early citizens had not arrived voluntarily, and a lot of the second wave were gold-diggers. It is likely that far fewer of these folk made a priority of packing their bibles and cookbooks! The first cookbooks in both America and Australia were the ones brought by migrants from their home countries, and were almost certainly the popular English texts of the time.

Naturally, in view of La Trobe’s comments, today must be a comparative cake-day. The first genuinely American cookbook was published by Amelia Simmons in 1796, just about the time that the baking-soda and baking-powder type leavening agents came on the scene. Here is a nice cake from her book.

Honey Cake.
Six pound of flour, 2 pound honey, 1 pound sugar, 2 ounces cinnamon, 1 ounce ginger, a little orange peel, 2 teaspoons pearl-ash, 6 eggs; dissolve the pearl-ash in milk put the whole together, moisten with milk if necessary, bake 20 minutes.

The first genuine Australian cookbook was published in 1864, seventy-six years after the first batch of convicts arrived. It was written by a Tasmanian politician called Edward Abbott, and was called the English and Australian Cookery Book: Cooking for the Many as well as the Upper Ten Thousand. It was an eccentric book, only ever went to one printing, and never had a chance against the English Victorian cookbooks (particularly Mrs Beeton’s Household Manual) brought by the later free settlers. The recipes are a strange mix of ‘Australian’ recipes (not popular in the colony, where the standard was everything from ‘Home’, and recipes lifted from other sources. Here is a very classic cake from the book:

Plain Sponge Cake.
One pound of flour, one pound of sugar, and eight eggs. Beat the yolks and the whites separate sufficiently, then add the two together, and put in the sugar. Whe mixed, add the flour by degrees; a few drops of essence of lemon is an improvement. Butter a dish and bake.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Good Friday Buns.

Quotation for the Day …

A man accustomed to American food and American domestic cookery would not starve to death suddenly in Europe, but I think he would gradually waste away, and eventually die. Mark Twain, ‘A Tramp Abroad’

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


March 19 ...

As we discovered yesterday, the folk of Leicestershire used to be nicknamed “Bean Bellies”. I don’t suppose they still are, but here is the explanation for the name, given in a book from 1801.

‘Leicestershire … the air is sweet and wholesome. It is a champaign country in general, and abundantly fertile in corn and grass …. Besides wheat, barley, oats and pease, it produces the best beans in England. They grow so tall and luxuriant in some places, particularly about Barton-in-the-Beans, that they look, towards harvest-time, like a forest; and the inhabitants eat them not only when they are green, as in other places, but all year round; for which reason their neighbours nickname them bean-bellies.’

An ethnic slur with jealousy at its root, it seems:

‘Yea, those of the neighbouring countrys used to say merrily ‘Shake a Leicestershire many by the collar, and you shall hear the beans rattle in his belly.’ But those Yeomen smile at what is said to rattle in their bellies, whilst they know that good silver ringeth in their pockets.’ [1849]

This story is also meant to be a jibe, but there may be a good idea in it:

‘A story [about Leicestershire] that the mayor is chosen by a sow. The candidates sit in a semi-circle, each with his hat full of beans in his lap, and he is the mayor from whose hat the sow eats first.’

A brief potted history of beans is impossible: the origins are lost in the mists of antiquity, and their varieties too numerous to mention here, even if I knew them. That beans are extraordinarily nutritious, and that they have played a vital role in the diet of many cultures throughout history is not in doubt, but nevertheless they have suffered from their share of bad publicity over the centuries.

The followers of the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras were prohibited from eating beans, for obscure reasons that will occupy scholars in perpetuity. There are almost as many suggested explanations as there are bean varieties – everything from the risk of precipitating a blood crisis in folk with an inherited deficiency of the enzyme G6PD (it happens, it but it is very rare), to their appearance ‘like genitals’, and to the idea that the hollow stems act as a conduit for the passage of souls to and from the underworld. The commonest reason given is that they produce ‘flatulence’, although why this would be more of a problem to a mathematician I am not sure. The problem occurs as a result of the complex carbohydrates which this ‘musical fruit’ contains. These particular carbs are not able to be digested by humans, so the intestinal bacteria get to enjoy them - and it is their digestive processes, not ours, that produce the gas. Boiling reduces the problem, eating them regularly reduces the problem (the bacteria adjust, apparently), and some say adding garlic and onions to the recipe reduces the problem.

If you thought sweet bean dishes were a Chinese idea, consider this recipe, from a book which has one of my favourite titles – Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery; or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d.[1744]

Bean Tart
Boil and blanch Green Beans, then make a Puff-paste and put into Petty-pans. Put in a layer of Beans and a Layer of Sweetmeats, with Sugar between each Layer. Then cover them, and make a Hole on the Top; put in a Quarter of a Pint of Lemon-Juice, some Marrow, season’d with Salt, Nutmeg, Cloves, Mace. When bak’d put in a little White Wine thickened with the Yolk of an Egg and Butter into each Tart.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Cakes and Travellers.

Quotation for the Day …

But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You must not give him beans.
G.K. Chesterton.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On Dumplings.

March 18 ...

This day in 1892 was the birthday of the Pulitzer prize winning American novelist Robert Tristram Coffin. I have to say I have not read any of his novels, but I do love him for this quotation:

‘My family dumplings are sleek and seductive, yet stout and masculine. They taste of meat, yet of flour. They are wet, yet they are dry. They have weight, but they are light. Airy, yet substantial. Earth, air, fire, water; velvet and elastic! Meat, wheat and magic! They are our family glory!’

I wonder if he was of ancestral Norfolk, England stock? The people of Norfolk have been associated with dumplings since at least the fifteenth century – so much so that they themselves acquired the nickname ‘Norfolk Dumplings’. Generally speaking this was a term of mockery, but the locals could choose to interpret it as a metaphor for their robustness:

“The inhabitants of this County are strong and robust, sharp and cunning. The Food of the Commonalty is much upon Puddings and Dumplings, which has produced the Proverb of Norfolk Dumplings, as the Eating Beans so much in Leicestershire has proverbially nicknamed the People Leicestershire Bean-Bellies. Nor may the People be ashamed of their Food, it being certainly the wholsomest and nourishing to the human Body, not breeding such ill Juices as Flesh doth.”
[Magna Britannia Antiqua .. 1738]

Every country and every era has has its starchy belly-filling, protein-stretching dish: frumenty, porridge, polenta, bread are but a few variations of the theme. Dumplings are simply lumps of boiled dough, and are certainly not unique to Norfolk. They are simple, solid, and filling, and never pretentious. Small Italian ones are called gnocchi, and they are about as elegant as a dumpling can get. Here is a slightly fancy version (with eggs) from the eighteenth century.

Norfolk Dumplings.
MAKE a batter with a pint of milk, two eggs, a little fat, and fome flour ; drop this in little quantities into a pan of boiling water; they will be done in three minutes; throw them into a sieve or cullender, to drain.
[The Ladies Assistant. Charlotte Mason. 1787]

Tomorrow’s Story …


Quotation for the Day …

“ [Samuel Taylor Coleridge] holds that a man cannot have a pure mind who refuses apple dumplings. I am not certain but he is right” . Charles Lamb.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A dispensation for St Pat’s Day.

March 17 ...

A dispensation for St Pat’s Day.

Today, I don’t need to tell you, is St Patrick’s Day – the day when everyone who is Irish, thinks they may be Irish, or wishes they were Irish celebrate with a little drink. Or sometimes a big green drink.

The Irish are suspected of a certain fondness for a nice drink, which could be a potential problem, given that the national saint’s day falls during the period of Lent. Pope Gregory realised way back in the sixteenth century that it was an impossible abstinence request, and made the very sensible decision to avoid the issue, and gave a dispensation for the day. Since then the Irish have made thanks with the toast “Good luck and long life to the Council of Trent; it took away meat but left us the drink.” Unless the story is all blarney of course. Perhaps someone theologically inclined could clarify it for us?

The generic St Paddy’s day drink is the Pota Phadraig, or Patrick's pot. It may be beer or whiskey or whiskey punch or any appropriate substitute, but its most important feature is that it is always full. St Patrick supposedly rid Ireland of snakes, but his far greater legacy was the mythical pot that never emptied, the pot that many Irish and wannabe-Irish have been trying to find the bottom of ever since. His other great Lenten gift is also summed up in the popular song about him:

“This ended, our worshipful spoon
Went to visit an elegant fellow,
Whose practice, each cool afternoon,
Was to get most delightfully mellow.
That day, with a black-jack of beer
It chanced he was treating a party;
Says the Saint—'This good day, do you hear,
I drank nothing to speak of, my hearty!
So give me a pull at the pot!' "

The pewter he lifted in sport,
(Believe me, I tell you no fable),
A gallon he drank from the quart,
And then placed it full on the table.
A miracle!' every one said,
And they all took a haul at the stingo;
They were capital hands at the trade,
And drank till they fell; yet, by jingo,
The pot still frothed over the brim!

“Next day. quoth his host, ' 'Tis a fast,
And I've naught in my larder but mutton;
And, on Fridays, who'd make such repast,
Except an unchristian-like glutton!'
Says Pat, 'Cease your nonsense, I beg,
What you tell me is nothing but gammon;
Take my compliments down to the leg,
And bid it come hither a salmon!'
And the leg most politely complied!”

A very traditional libation to the Saint is whisky punch, as this writer says so eloquently:

“Good whisky-punch, when well made, is, certainly, of all the tipples ever invented by man, the most insinuating and the most loving ; because, more than any other, it disposes the tippler to be pleased with himself. It brightens his hopes, assuages his sorrows, crumbles down his difficulties, softens the hostility of his enemies, and, in fact, induces him for the time being to think generously of all mankind, at the tip-top of which, it naturally and good-naturedly places his own dear self, with a glass in one hand and a mug in the other, without a wish ungratified, and as unsuspicious of evil as if not a single drop of gall, or a sprig of wormwood, existed on the face of the earth.
[Hints for the table: or, The economy of good living. J. Timbs, 1859]

And here is how to make it. Take note of Father Maguire’s preferred version, I reckon it could become very popular ….

The mystery of making whisky-punch comes with practice. The sugar should be first
dissolved in a small quantity of water, which must be what the Frisk cull " screeching hot.'' Next throw in the whisky. Then add a thin shaving of fresh lemon peel. Then add the rest of the water, so that the spirits will be a third of the mixture. Lastly,— Drink ! Lemon-juice. is deleterious and should be eschewed. What is called " Father Maguire's receipt for making Punch." is more simple than the above. It runs thus,—First put in your sugar, then add the whisky—and every drop of water after that spoils the punch.

Noctes Ambrosianæ, By John Wilson, Robert Shelton Mackenzie, James Hogg 1863

Tomorrow’s Story …

On Dumplings.

Quotation for the Day …

I never turned to drink. It seemed to turn to me. Brendan Behan (a 2 or 3 bottle sof whisky a day man)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi(e) No. 5

March 14 ...

Pi day dawns. In gratitude to the mathematicians of the world who do mathematics ungrudgingly, leaving me free of the worry of it, I give a thanksgiving pie. A thanksgiving pumpkin pie of course, even though I am from the wrong continent(s) entirely for such a tradition. Or am I?

Once upon a time there was ‘a kynde of Melones’ called ‘pompones’ or ‘pompion’. Certainly the pompion was known in England by 1526, when it was described this way in the Grete Herball of Peter Treveris. The term may have been used fairly loosely for a number of edible gourds, but let us stay in the spirit of the day and consider a pompion was close enough to what we would call a pumpkin today (or maybe a squash). There are many recipes for pompion pie in English cookbooks, and when the early seventeenth century English went to the new colony across the Atlantic, they took their cookbooks with them. The pompion/pumpkin pie thrived in its new home so well - as it simultaneously slipped into an elegant decline in its ‘old’ - that it all but forgot its heritage.

Its heritage was not pure Anglo of course (but then the English are a mongrel race if ever we were one) – it seems it had an Italian parent. An ancestor of the pumpkin pie appears in a book published in Venice in the sixteenth century – an ancestor containing cow’s udder - but a recogniseable pumpkin pie nontheless. The first edition of Epulario was in 1516, but it is accepted to be a plagiarised copy of the work of Maestro Martino of Como at least half a century before. The recipe I give you today is from the 1598 English translation, grandly entitled Epulario, Or, The Italian Banquet; Wherein is shewed the maner how to dresse and prepare all kind of Flesh, Foules, or Fishes. As also how to make Sauces, Tartes, Pies, &c. After the Manner of all Countries. Translated out of the Italian into English..

To make a Tart of Pompeons.
Take Pompeons and make them cleane and grate them as you doe Cheese, and boile them a little in broth and milk, then take as much Cheese as aforesaid, adde to it also a little old Cheese, take also a pound of the panch [paunch] of a Hogge, or a Cowes Udder well sodden [boiled] and chopped small, and if you will you may use Butter instead of those two things aforesaid, or Suet, adding to it halfe a pound of Sugar, a little Saffron and Sinamon with a quart of milk, and Egges, as need requireth. And when you thinke the Pompeons are sodden, take them up and straine them, and colour it with Saffron, then make a crust of past under it, put it in a pan, and make a soft fire both under and over it, and being half baked, cover it with Wafers or such like stuffe instead of an upper crust, and being thorow baked, straw it with Sugar and Rosewater.

Monday’s Story …

A dispensation for St Pat’s Day.

Quotation for the Day …

Her washing ended with the day,
Yet lived she at its close,
And passed the long, long night away
In darning ragged hose.
But when the sun in all its state
Illumed the Eastern skies,
She passed about the kitchen grate
And went to making pies.
‘The Wife’ Phoebe Cary (1824-1871)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pi(e) No. 4

March 13 ...

Something that continues to intrigue me is the vast difference between the interpretation of the unqualified word ‘pie’ in America and Australia. In the States, ‘a pie’ is unequivocally a sweet dish. In Australia a ‘pie’ is indisputably a savoury meat item – and more. The meat pie is Australia is an iconic dish – although the edible reality often falls short of the dream, which is why it (the commercial variety which is the default fodder at sports games) is affectionately referred to as a ‘maggot bag’ or ‘fly cemetery’.

The sweet-or-savoury discussion would have been meaningless in medieval times when sugar was an expensive imported luxury and was used in the same way as a spice, and added to almost every dish in a rich man’s house. The echo remains in the name of our Christmas ‘mincemeat’ pies, which now don’t contain meat at all. ‘Sweet’ and fruit additions to all sorts of savoury recipes was still common in the eighteenth century, and in ways that would seem quite adventurous and cutting edge if we saw the ideas on a restaurant menu today. The first cookery book to be published in Scotland was Mrs McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work in 1736, and she gives an interesting recipe for Chicken Pye, with several variations involving fruit, and with two different ‘pastes’ for the bottom (the ‘coffin’) and top of the pie.

To make a Chicken Pye.
Lay your Chickens in your Pye, lay the bottoms of Artichokes with them if they can be got, take Nutmeg, black Pepper, Jamaica Pepper, and good Store of Fresh Butter, so close your Pye: you may have a Caudle* ready to put in at the Lumb, when it comes out of the Oven. If you make your Pye with Gooseberries, let the Butter and Spices be the same with the former; give good Store of Sugar. If it be not the Time of Gooseberries, take Currans and Rasins, and let your Liquor by White Wine and Vinegar. Take 2 lib. of Butter and a Peck of Flour, melt the Butter in boiling Water, and work it very well for all sorts of raised Past: for cold Paste, take 3 lib. and a half of Butter for each Peck of Flour, and wet the Flour with cold Water, then roll in your butter. For Puff-Paste, for each Peck of Flour take 4 lib. and an half of sweet Butter, and the Whites of 4 Eggs and beat them a little, take a little of the Flour and mix it with the Eggs and cold Water, and work them well together, till it comes to a Paste thick for rolling out, then roll it out, put Flour beneath that it may not stick to the Table, and put on the Butter, strawing a handful of Flour over the Butter, then fold it together, and roll in out 6 or 7 Times, always strewing Flour upon it every Time it is rolled out, and so apply it to the Use you desire.

*A caudle was a sort of pre-prepared sauce or ‘liquor’ that was poured in via the ‘lumb’ or hole in the top of pie, after it was cooked.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Pi(e) No. 5

Quotation for the Day …

I am convinced that digestion is the great secret of life and that character, talents, virtues, and qualities are powerfully affected by beef, mutton, pie-crust and rich soups.
Sydney Smith, in The Smith of Smiths by Hesketh Pearson (1934)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pi(e) No. 3

March 12 ...

It would hardly be acceptable for a week of pies to be without one example of an apple pie, now would it? You would probably all immediately cease reading these stories in protest.

Undoubtedly, one of the experts in the various forms of apple-in-pastry was the Herefordshire farmer, William Ellis, who wrote a wonderful and comprehensive book called The Country Housewife's Family Companion or Profitable Directions for whatever relates to the Management and good Economy, published in 1750. This is what he has to say on the topic:

Of Apple-Pyes, and Apple Pasties, for Harvest and other Times.
Apple Pyes and Pasties are a main Part of a prudent, frugal Farmer’s Family-Food, because the Meal and Apples that make them are commonly the Produce of his Land, and are ready at all Times to be made use of in Pyes or Pasties, for giving his Family and agreeable palatable Repast; a covered or turn-over Pasty for the Filed, and the round Pye for the House; the first being of a Make and Size that better suits the Hand and Pocket than the round Pye, and therefore are more commonly made in Farmers Families; for one, or a Piece of one, being carried in the Plowman’s and Plowboys Pocket, sustains their hunger till they come home to Dinner, and oftentimes pleases them beyond some sort of more costly Eatables; nor is it less wholesome than pleasant, for that the Ingredients of the Apple-pye are rather Antidotes against, than Promoters of the Scurvy. In short, it is the Apple Pye and Pasty, and Apples made use of in some other Shapes (particularly the famous Parsnip Apple) that I take to be some of the cheapest and most agreeable Food a Farmer’s Family can make use of.

I don’t know if such a thing as the ‘parsnip apple’ is still grown in England, but if it is not it should be, if it is as good as Farmer Ellis says:

A Character of the famous Parsnip Apple, and its Uses.
From whence this apple is so called, I cannot tell; but this I know, that it is the very best of apples for pyes, pasties, and puddings in harvest time, and for eating (baked or raw) single as they are; they are always the first apples that are ripe with us, for they commonly begin to drop from the tree about the middle of August, some of them weighing four ounces apiece; and I think I can affirm it for truth, that I have had above twenty bushels in one season off one tree only ……

Farmer Ellis gives a number of recipes for pastry and pies, but this one is my favourite.

Onion Pye made by labouring Mens Wives.
They mix chopt Apples and Onions in equal Quantities, and with some Sugar put them into Dough-crust and bake them: This by some is thought to make as good a Pie as Pumkins do. It is a Heredfordshire Contrivance.

I know that onions when cooked slowly become sweet, but that is a very brave combination. It was an idea, I guess, born out of necessity– onions being available to everyone with a small cottage garden, and having even better keeping qualities than apples. Just the thing when the labouring man comes home hungry and demanding apple pie when there are only a few apples left in the pantry.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Pi(e) No. 4

Quotation for the Day …

Apple-pie is used through the whole year, and when fresh apples are no longer to be had, dried ones are used. It is the evening meal of children. house-pie, in country places, is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it. Rev. Israel Acrelius, a Swedish parson, writing home from America (1758)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pi(e) No. 2

March 11 ...

One would not normally consider an ornithology book to be the source of an interesting recipe, but Bird Life of Heligoland, published in 1895 by ‘Herr Gäthes’ had an interesting recipe for Gull Pie, ‘Heligolandish fashion’. I don’t believe I have ever given you a recipe for gull before, and I have certainly never given you one from Heligoland. To be perfectly honest, I had to look it up. Heligoland (or Helgoland) is an island in the North Sea belonging to Germany.

This is the extract of the book, as given by The Scotsman newspaper.

“During November and December they [Kittiwake Gulls] are remarkably fat, and are then considered a delicacy: and although ‘a certain Greenland flavour’ clings to them, nevertheless, when I shot them myself, I used to relish them considerably when prepared in Heligolandish fashion. By this method, some coarse pearl barley is boiled, with water and some salt, over a moderate fire until it is half cookd, and then spread over the bottom of a stone-ware of brass saucepan; next to this comes a layer of gull, which is covered with a layer of barley, and so on, until the quantity of the layers corresponds with the number of individuals in the family. The whole is topped by a layer of dough sprinkled with raisins. This primitive pie is allowed to cook for three hours in a baking oven, and is served at the mid-day meal. In serving, the basin or saucepan is turned upside down on a dish, its contents, baked to a beautiful brown, and shining with fat, are thus dislodged in more or less perfect shape, and certainly present all the appearances of a very tempting dish.”

The writer of the review felt compelled to add “ To the above recipe we would desire to add – after ‘layers of gull’ after cooking only the breasts and meat without the bones or skins."

We could, of course, debate at some length as to whether or not this recipe represents a true pie - but then you wouldnt need to read the book, would you?

Tomorrow’s Story …

Pi(e) No. 3

Quotation for the Day …

I live on toasted lizards,
Prickly pears, and parrot gizzards,
And I’m really very fond of beetle-pie.

Charles Edward Carryl (1841–1920), U.S. poet

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pi(e) No. I.

March 10...

Here beginneth The Week of Pies.

Pi Day commemorates the mathematical symbol Pi, and it is the day when mathematicians around the world toss aside the tools of their trade (whatever they are) and try to have fun. Pi (or π, if you want to be fancy), is the mathematical constant that represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, and it is important because without it we would not be able to make perfectly regular pies. I am told that Pi is an irrational number, which I found interesting, as wrestling with any sort of numbers makes me quite irrational. Anyway, it means that it is a never-ending number. Even though it is indisputably never-ending, there are a lot of people who try to remember as many decimal places as they can. I am not quite sure why they do this. I am content with the first two decimal places, which make Pi equal to 3.14, which, by a stroke of amazing coincidence, can be seen as a way of indicating ‘March 14’. By this brilliant mathematical logic, Friday of this week will be Pi Day.

Such an important mathematical and baking day requires a week of preparation, does it not? A week of Pi(es) also allows me to give you some of the ‘out-takes’ from my book The Pie: A Celebratory History, which is now safely in the hands of Reaktion Press, and I hope will be in many of yours at future but yet-to-be-disclosed date.

I will endeavour to give you recipes you may not have come across before, as well as some clever observations on pies and pie-making from cookbook authors over the centuries.

Observations on Pies, No. 1.

To the following comments on pie-making we are indebted to Sir Theodore Mayerne. They are taken from his book Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus, published in 1658. It must surely be in the running for a prize for the most-obscurely titled cookery book of the century - as befits a jargon-inclined medical man, and a royally-appointed one at that. Sir Theodore modestly indicated in the frontispiece of his book that he was 'Physician to the late King Charles’.

“You must generally observe that no kind of flesh whatsoever may be put in paste before it be mortified, therefore you must let that flesh which you do intend to put in paste to be sufficiently mortified, which may be done by hanging it in the Aire, or by burying of it under ground, for the space of twenty and four houres, after which you must beat the said flesh-meat more or less with a wooden rowlett or Pestell according to the said fleshes thickness and hardness, which is a third way to mortifie it: so likewise must you observe that beef and mutton must be more beaten and mortified , than any other flesh whatsoever.”

The very first recipe in Mayerne's book is for a pie, and it would not be too difficult to make as there is only a little sparrow-flesh to deal with – all the other ingredients can remain unhung, unburied, and unbeaten.

The London Pie.
Take of Marrow-bons, eight, cock-Sparrowes, or Larks, eighteen, Potato-roots, one pound, Eringo-roots, a quarter of a pound, Lattice-stalks two ounces, Chestnuts forty, Dates half a pound, Oysters, a peck, Citron-rindes preserved, a quarter of a pound, Hartichokes, two or three, Yelks of hard Egs, twelve, Lemmons sliced, two, Barberries picled, one handfull, Gross Pepper, a quarter of an ounce, Large mace half an ounce, Corrents a quarter of a pound. Liquor it when it is baked with white-wine, butter and sugar.

If you want more, the recipe archive contains some lovely pies:

Pie of Bull’s Testicles (16th C)
A Lambstone and Sweetbread Pye. (1720-40)
Parrot Pie (late 19th C)
To make minced Herring Pies. (1660)
Tourte of young pigeons. (1653)
Tourte of Beatilles. (1653)
Pie of Turkie. (1653)
Lark, or Sparrow Pye. (1736)
Yorkshire Goose Pie (1769)
Eel Pie. (1861)
Bride Pie [1660]
Pies with live birds and frogs (1665)
A sea Pie.(1831)
Australian Meat Pie. [1888]
Birk Hall Excursion Pie [1909]
How to make Venison, Beef, or Mutton Pasty.[1690]
Blood Pie for a Side Dish (1702)
Sea Pie (19th C)
Richmond Eel Pie.[1863]
To bake Beef red Deer fashion in Pies or Pasties, either Surloin, Brisket, Buttock, or Fillet, larded or not. [1660]
Old Maid’s Pie [1948]
To make a Calf’s Head Pye. [1747]
Hottentot Pie. [1769]
A Tart of the Brain of a Capon. [1682]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Pi(e) No. 2

Quotation for the Day …

[re: Pie] A word whose meaning has evolved in the course of many centuries and which varies to some extent according to country or even region. Many languages lack a truly equivalent word, since pies, in the Ango-American sense of the word, are indigenous to Europe, especially C and N Europe, and occur elsewhere only as introduced dishes. Alan Davidson; Oxford Companion to Food.

Friday, March 07, 2008

A Delightful Risotto.

March 7

The Pall Mall Gazette mentioned “a useful description of how to cook risotto, a delightful dish too rarely seen in England” on this day in 1885. Rice had been imported into England and used in a myriad dishes since the fourteenth century, but never in this way. Certainly it was the starchy base that, along with chicken meat, made the the original ‘blanc manger’ (‘white eat’) of medieval times, and later it became the inevitable accompaniment to ‘curry’, but apart from in the rice pudding much beloved of Englishmen, rice was rarely a star in English cuisine.

The first published English recipe for risotto (as far as I can find) had already appeared in Eliza Acton’s classic Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845), and we have met it before (along with some other fine old rice recipes): it is for a Risotto Milanese. Were the editors of the Pall Mall Gazette behind the times, or did the popular book fail to popularise the dish?

It is always fascinating to see how a 'foreign' dish is taken up and adapted elsewhere. I wondered how America, with its much larger contingent of Italians, interpreted risotto? This is how one non-Italian, dietitian-cookbook writer did it in her book pertaining to food ‘of the foreign born’:

1 cup rice
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups tomatoes
1 cup stock
This may be the means of using up any bits of meat that the housekeeper has on hand, or it may be made with cheese and tomato only. Wash one cup of rice and turn it into a frying pan containing two tablespoons of melted butter. Stir over a moderate heat until it begins to take on a golden tinge, and then add two cups of canned tomatoes, which have been pressed through a sieve, and one cup of strained stock. Cover and cook slowly until the rice is tender and has absorbed nearly all the liquid, which will take about forty minutes. When half done add salt and paprika to taste. If necessary to stir, use a fork, so as not to break the grains. Just before removing from the fire add a tablespoon of butter, cut in bits, and half a cup of grated cheese. Half a cup of any minced meat or poultry can be substituted for the cheese, both ham and sausage being particularly good.
[Foods of the Foreign-Born in Relation to Health. Bertha M.Wood. 1922]

This is how the idea was interpreted by someone who sounds like she is from a real Italian migrant family.

Risotto With Lobster
(Risotto con gamberi)

For this risotto either lobster or crab meat can be used: the former is, however, considered more tasty. The lobster or crab meat ought to be about half the weight of the rice employed. A little more than a pound of rice and half this weight of crab meat ought to be enough for six persons.
Chop fine a sprig of parsley, a stalk of celery, one carrot, half an onion a clove of garlic and brown the whole in good olive oil. When browned, add the crab meat and season with salt and pepper. During the cooking process stir and turn over the crabs, and when they have become red, pour over as much hot water as is necessary to cook the rice.
After the water boils for a while, remove the lobster (or crab, or craw-fish) leaving the saucepan on the fire. Put half of the crabs aside, and grind the rest. Rub the ground meat through the sieve and put it back on the fire. In another saucepan melt some butter and put into it little by little the rice that has been washed and dried. Stir and add the broth from the first saucepan. When the rice is almost cooked add the craw-fish that you have put aside, or rather its meat extracted from the shells, take from the fire and pour over it the fish mixture, adding some grated cheese.
[The Italian Cook Book …Maria Gentile. 1919c.]

Monday’s Story …

Mathematician’s Alert:
Next week we will have a week of Pies, because it is Pi week.

Quotation for the Day …

(On the Italians) They eat the dainty food of gamous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman's octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach." Luigi Barzini, founder of Il Globo, in The Italians, 1964

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Englishman’s Principal Dish.

March 6 ...

The star of our story today is a man born on this day in 1716 in Sweden of Finnish parents, and he stars on account of his enlightening comments about English food. His name was Pehr Kalm, and he visited England in 1748. It is always interesting to see how travellers interpret their food experiences. Our man of the day gave English food a thumb’s up – admittedly a thumb’s up limited to two dishes, but quite nice praise nonetheless.

Roast meat is the Englishman's delice and principal dish. The English roasts are particularly remarkable for two things. I. All English meat, whether it is of ox, calf, sheep, or swine, has a fatness and delicious taste, either because of the excellent pasture ... or for some other reason. 2. The English men understand almost better than any other people the art of properly roasting a joint, which also is not to be wondered at; because the art of cooking as practiced by most Englishmen does not extend much beyond roast beef and plum pudding.’

The great modern misconception about roasted meat is that it is the same as meat baked in an oven. We use the terms interchangeably (but incorrectly) today. The true way to roast meat is by exposing it directly to the flames - preferrably on a spit. It is almost impossible to get true roasted meat nowadays: naked fires breach all sorts of regulations, and animal- and child-protection laws prohibit the employment of dogs or little boys to turn the spits. Such is the trade-off for progress.

Roast beef had been so much an automatic part of life for centuries in England that by the time of Pehr Kalm’s visit, it was not considered necessary for cookbooks to include instructions. There were lots of ideas for using the leftovers however, and here is a nice example from the eighteenth century.

Cold Roast Beef marinaded.
Cut slices of cold roast beef, and make a marinade with a litte oil, parsley, chibbol, mushrooms, a trifle of garlick, and three shallots, all finely chopped, pepper and salt; soak it along with the beef about half an hour; make as much of the marinade to keep as you can, with a deal of bread-crumbs; broil on a slow fire, basting with the remaining liquid. Serve with a sharp sauce.
[The lady’s complete guide; or, cookery in all its branches. Containing the most approved receipts. Mary Cole. 1791]

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Delightful Risotto.

Quotation for the Day …

Roast Beef, Medium, is not only a food. It is a philosophy. Seated at Life’s Dining Table, with the menu of morals before you, your eye wanders a bit over the entrees, the hors d’oevres, and the things a la though you know that Roast Beef, Medium, is safe and sane and sure. Edna Ferber.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Scurvy Seamen.

March 5 ...

The great plague of the great sea voyages of previous centuries was scurvy, the highly unpleasant and sometimes fatal disease caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C – the result of long periods of time living on hardtack and salt meat but no fresh fruit and vegetables. There were many theories advanced over the centuries as to the cause of scurvy, and in retrospect the anecdotal evidence of the value of fresh greens and citrus had been around for centuries before James Lind published his classic Treatise on Scurvy in 1753. In spite of his findings (that citrus juice was the treatment of choice), it was forty more years before the Navy ordered lemon juice to be routinely supplied to its ships. Such is the way of the beaurocracy.

On this day in 1776, Captain James Cook sent a letter to the military physician Sir John Pringle in which he described The Method taken for preserving the Health of the Crew of His Majesty's Ship the Resolution during her late Voyage round the World.

"Mile-end, March 5, 1776

As many gentlemen have expressed some surprise at the uncommon good state of health which the crew of the Resolution, under my command, experienced during her late voyage, I take the liberty to communicate to you the methods that were taken to obtain that end. … I shall not trespass upon your time in mentioning all those articles, but confine myself to such as were found the most useful.

We had on board a large quantity of Malt …This is without doubts one of the best antiscorbutic sea-medicines yet found out

….Sour Kraut, of which we had also a large provision, is not only a wholesome vegetable food, but, in my judgement, highly antiscorbutic and spoils not by keeping. A pound of it was served to each man, when at sea, twice a week or oftener, when it was thought necessary.
Portable Soup or Broth was another essential article, of which we had likewise a liberal supply. An ounce of this to each man, or such other proportion as was thought necessary, was boiled with their pease three days in the week; and when we were in places where fresh vegetables could be procured, it was boiled with them and with wheat of oatmeal every morning for breakfast, and also with dried pease and fresh vegetables for dinner. It enabled us to make several nourishing and wholesome messes, and was the means of making the people eat a greater quantity of greens than they would have done otherwise.
Further, we were provided with Rob of lemons and oranges; which the surgeon found useful in several cases."

Sauerkraut is as familiar today as in Cook’s time, and we have previously had a story on the use of cabbage aboard his ship. ‘Rob’ is ‘the juice of a fruit, reduced by boiling to the consistency of a syrup and preserved with sugar’, in other words a sort of concentrated cordial which could be diluted with water and given as a beverage. Another mainstay of long journeys by land as well as sea was the ‘Portable soup’ - a forerunner of our soup cubes, it was a highly concentrated gelatinous bouillon made into the form of dry ‘cakes’. It helped the problem of scurvy, as Capt. Cook pointed out, by encouraging the seamen to eat more greens (when they were available) than they would otherwise.







To make a Veal Glue, or Cake Soop, to be carried in the Pocket.
Take a Leg of Veal, strip it of the Skin and the Fat, then take all the muscular or fleshy Parts from the Bones; boil this Flesh gently in such a Quantity of Water, and so long a Time, 'till the Liquor will make a strong Jelly when it is cold: This you may try by taking out a small Spoonful now and then, and letting it cool. Here it is to be supposed, that tho' it will jelly presently in small Quantities, yet all the Juice of the Meat may not be extracted; however, when you find it very strong, strain the Liquor through a Sieve, and let it settle; then provide a large Stew-pan, with Water, and some China Cups, or glazed Earthen Ware; fill these Cups with Jelly taken clear from the Settling, and set them in a Stew-pan of Water, and let the Water boil gently 'till the Jelly becomes thick as Glue: After which, let them stand to cool, and then turn out the Glue upon a Piece of new Flannel, which will draw out the Moisture ; turn them once in fix or eight Hours, and put them upon a fresh Flannel, and so continue to do 'till they are quite dry, and keep it in a dry warm Place: This will harden so much, that it will be stiff and hard as Glue in a little Time, and may be carried in the Pocket without Inconvenience. You are to use this by boiling about a Pint of Water, and pouring it upon a Piece of the Glue or Cake, of the Bigness of a small Walnut, and stirring it with a Spoon 'till the Cake dissolves, which will make very ftrong good Broth. As for the seasoning Part, every one may add Pepper and Salt as they please, for there must be nothing of that Kind put among the Veal when you make the Glue, for any Thing of that Sort will make it mouldy.
[The Whole Duty of a Woman,Or, An Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex. 1717]

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Englishman’s Principal Dish.

Quotation for the Day …

Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? Who refuses to leave you when you are impoverished and stretches its resources to give a hearty sustenance and cheer? Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? Yet who also is capable of doing honor to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it. You don't catch steak hanging around when you're poor and sick, do you? Judith Martin (Miss Manners)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Waldorf What?

March 4 ...

Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana arrived in New York on this day in 1932, and headed straight for the Waldorf Astoria. According to the New York Times, his first statements were to declare that any good Democrat could win the Presidential election, that the country was in trouble because it had departed from the statutes of the Lord, and that the remedy for the Depression was an equitable distribution of wealth. He then ordered a Waldorf Sandwich.

When his sandwich arrived, ‘it wasn’t the old sandwich at all’, so he called Oscar (i.e Oscar Tshirky, or ‘Oscar of the Waldorf’) and complained. Oscar rang ‘a former chef’ for advice, and a short while later the sandwiches ‘prepared in the old Waldorf style’ were sent up. According to the Senator, a real Waldorf Sandwich consisted of:

‘ … slices of chicken, broiled bacon, and Swiss cheese, with lettuce, between two slices of toast, the whole sandwich then being dipped in batter and fried in butter.’

The good Senator advised that in return for the correct sandwich he was going to send Oscar the recipe for “pot likker”, which, he said, was a favourite in Louisiana, and which he himself had helped to popularize. Oscar later made the comment that the addition of the slice of Swiss cheese and the frying of the sandwich was ‘a special order’ (And it appears that he was underwhelmed by the offer of the Senatorial pot likker recipe.)

Oscar was familiar with ‘improvements’ being made to perfectly good culinary ideas. We have seen in a previous story to what lengths people were prepared to go to ‘improve’ the original Waldorf Salad. He would no doubt have been horrified had he lived long enough to discover Waldorf Salad Cookies. Yes, Cookies. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid of Inspiration Striking in Certain Quarters.

There you have it, a triumph of branding – a complete meal, Waldorf style – Salad, Sandwich, and Cookies. Preceded by a Waldorf Cocktail or three of course.

Waldorf Cocktail.
1 ½ ounces bourbon
¾ ounce Pernod
½ ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash angostura bitters
Shake well together with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass

Tomorrow’s Story …

Scurvy Seamen.

Quotation for the Day …

Everyday happiness means getting up in the morning, and you can't wait to finish your breakfast. You can't wait to do your exercises. You can't wait to put on your clothes. You can't wait to get out - and you can't wait to come home, because the soup is hot. George Burns (1896-1996)