Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Fairy Food.

April 30 ...

Yesterday’s find of eighteenth century Fairy Butter delighted me, although I am not sure why – perhaps because it is a is a fun recipe from a time when cookbook writers were not at all frivolous.

What do fairies eat, really? I have no idea, but I am informed that if you leave food out for them, should there appear to be any leftovers next morning - avoid the temptation to scoff them yourself – do not even feed them to the domestic animals, - for the fairies have taken all the substance from your gift.

As for Fairy Butter, it appears that fairies do indeed have a thing for that mellow yellow grease. On May Day (tomorrow), they are entitled to steal any butter left unattended – so unless you can keep your eye on your fridge all day tomorrow, it might be best to use all your butter up today. Have a baking frenzy. Have a Fairy Party. Here are a couple of entirely appropriate recipes to keep you busy.

Fairy Fancies.
For this pretty, fanciful pastry, make a good shortcrust. When very thinly and evenly rolled out, cut with a tin cutter, procured for the purpose, as many sheets of crust for the foundation of the pastry as are required; then with a round tin cutter of about an inch in diameter, and another of half the size make eight rings of crust, and carefully place two – one of each size, the largest at the bottom – on the four corners of the foundation previously formed. The rings should be brushed with white of egg to make them adhere. Bake in a slow oven, as the pastry should be of a pale tint. When cold, fill each of the four rounds with differently coloured jams or jellies. The above may also be iced with sugar, or made of almond paste, and the rings coloured according to fancy, and filled with whipped cream.
[Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, 1870]

And here is a delightful contribution to our Gingerbread through the Ages archive:

Fairy Gingerbread.
½ cup butter.
1 cup light brown sugar.
½ cup milk.
1 ⅞ cups bread flour.
2 teaspoons ginger.
Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, and milk very slowly. Mix and sift flour and ginger, and combine mixtures. Spread very thinly with a broad, long-bladed knife on a buttered, inverted dripping pan. Bake in a moderate oven. Cut in squares before removing from pan. Watch carefully and turn pan frequently during baking, that all may be evenly cooked. If mixture around edge of pan is cooked before that in the centre, pan should be removed from oven, cooked part cut off, and remainder returned to oven to finish cooking.
[The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, Fannie Merritt Farmer, 1896]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Pepys’ Porke.

Quotation for the Day …

We did not immediately come up with Béarnaise, Bercy, and Poivrade sauces. It took more than a single attempt to discover reduced cream, marinade, and forcemeat. We did not straightaway invent barding fat, the touch of garlic, and the thin slice of truffle under the skin.... While genius is spontaneous, its manifestations nevertheless require the passage of time before glorious perfection is achieved. This is particularly true in the area of food and drink .... Magical dishes, magical words: a great cook is, when all is said and done, a great poet. . . . For was it not a visit from the Muses that inspired the person who first had the idea of marrying rice and chicken, grape and thrush, potatoes and entrecôte, Parmesan and pasta, aubergine and tomato, Chambertin and cockerel, liqueur brandy and woodcock, onion and tripe?
Marcel Étiennegrancher, 'Cinquante Ans a Table' (1953)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Butter to follow the Bread.

April 29 ...

Butter is the natural corollary to bread. After several - Nay! - Numerous bread stories over the last couple of years, I am finally induced to write about the lovely, pure, vitamin-rich (A and D), all-natural and very tasty yellow grease. Olive Oil may be all very well and equally pure and natural, but you cant make decent pastry and cakes with olive oil. Butter’s only crime is that it is currently politically-nutritionally incorrect. As for its substitute, the awful yellowish grease called m..g….e, – to paraphrase someone whose name escapes me – Who do you trust most, cows or factories?

Margarine has been described as being only one step away from plastic, and I for one believe it. In less enlightened times, entirely chemical-free butter substitutes were available, and they were quite delicious in their own right. Here is one:

Almond Butter Gelly.
Take a pound of almonds blanched, and beat fine seven yolks of eggs, and strain out the amonds, then set a quart of cream, or more, on the fire, and when it boils up put in a little lemon peel, and add the juice of a lemon; put it in a cloth, let it hang a day or two, and put it into dishes.
[Hannah Glasse, Compleat Confectioner, 1742]

Doesn’t that sound delicious?

Butter does not keep well, this is its sole fault. Such is the way of ‘natural’ foodstuffs. In previous times some heroic efforts were made to preserve it, and by way of example I give you “Dr Anderson’s famous recipe for preserving butter”, from an article in A Compendium of Useful Knowledge (1835).

“Best common salt, two parts; saltpetre, one part; sugar, one part – beat them up together, so that they may be completely blended. To every pound, or sixteen ounces of butter, add one ounce of the composition. Mix it well with the mass and close it up for use.” The article continues “Butter prepared in this manner will keep for years, and cannot be distinguished from that recently salted. It should, however, be remarked, that butter thus cured does not taste well, till it has stood a fortnight or three weeks. Dr. Anderson remarks, that he has found by experience, that the above mentioned composition not only preserves the butter more effectually from any taint of rancidity, but makes it also look better, taste sweeter, richer and more marrowy, than if it had been cured with common salt alone.”

That is a pretty amazing recipe – it manages to make margarine sound almost tempting. I like my butter to taste buttery, not marrowy. It is the saltpetre that is the problem, not the sugar. The addition of sugar to butter gives us buttercream icing. Hannah Glasse also gives us the following delightful idea – a recipe that was plagiarised regularly in subsequent cookbooks for the rest of the century.

Fairy butter.
Take the yolks of two hard eggs, beat them in a marble mortar with a large spoonful of orange-flower water, and two spoonfuls of fine sugar beat to powder; beat all to a fine paste, add a like quantity of fresh butter just taken out of the churn, and force it through a fine strainer of little holes into a plate.

Tomorrow’s Story …

More on Fairy Food.

Quotation for the Day …

Honest bread is very well - it's the butter that makes the temptanion. Douglas Jerrold (1803-1857)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bread and Mutiny.

April 28 ...

Today is the anniversary in 1789 of the Mutiny on the Bounty. In case you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, the famous incident took place during a voyage whose purpose was to transport breadfruit trees to the West Indies to provide slave food. The mutiny was led by the infamous Fletcher Christian against Captain William Bligh – and was triggered, they say, by Bligh’s allocation of some of the scarce water supply to keep the breadfruit trees alive – or maybe it was the mutineers preference for returning to the temptations of Tahiti.

The significance of the breadfruit (which was the subject of a previous story) is revealed in its name. It is, or was, the ‘bread’ – that is, the starchy staple – of the areas where it originated (the Malay peninsula and Pacific Islands) which grow no grain. I do not know the traditions of those places, but would be surprised if the breadfruit is not held to be almost sacred there. In the grain-growing places of the world, bread is more than fuel: it is a highly symbolic food (think of the use of bread in the sacrament) – and there are many traditions which demonstrate its sanctity: bread must be blessed before it is cut; a dropped piece must be kissed apologetically, and it is almost always considered particularly evil to waste the smallest piece.

Every culure that has bread at its heart has devised ways to use up the smallest scraps of the stalest bread, and we have met some of these in previous posts. In the English tradition virtually the only common use for stale bread nowadays is in bread pudding in one of its many incarnations. There is no longer an obvious English equivalent to the Tuscan papa al pomodoro (tomato and bread ‘soup’), but it appears that this and the very English bread and butter pudding may share a common ancestor.

Bread used to be used to make a sort of ‘water gruel’ – a type of porridge suitable for the destitute, the invalid, and the infant, such as in the following recipe from Mrs Kettilby’s book of 1734.

Panada, for a Sick or Weak Stomach.
Put the Crumb of a Penny White-loaf grated into a Quart of cold Water; set both on the Fire together, with a Blade of Mace: When 'tis boil'd fmooth, take it off the Fire, and put in a Bit of Lemon-peel, the Juice of a Lemon, a Glass of Sack, and Sugar to your Taste. This is very nourishing, and never offends the Stomach. Some season with Butter and Sugar, adding Currants, which on fome Occasions are proper ; but the first is the most grateful and innocent.

For those of you who, like me, love words, the last phrase is interesting as it demonstrates the way their usage changes over time. We usually apply ‘grateful’ and ‘innocent’ to persons, but in Mrs Kettilby’s time they were also applied to ‘things’. If you know that ‘grateful’ used to mean ‘pleasing to the mind or the senses, agreeable, acceptable, welcome’, and ‘innocent’ used to mean ‘doing no harm; producing no ill effect or result; not injurious; harmless, innocuous’ you would be inclined to prepare the first version for a particularly sensitive stomach.

‘Panada’ comes from the Spanish language, and references the bread (pan, pane, pain etc) which is its most important ingredient. In the English tradition, panada is often a sweet, custardy dish – the grandparent of bread and butter pudding. Here is another recipe which shows its other side – a sort of savoury custard with onion, with a sweet variation ‘if you please’.

To make Panada.
Grate the Crumb of a Penny Loaf and boil it in a Pint of Water, with one Onion and a few Pepper-corns, 'till quite thick and soft, then put in two Ounces of Butter, a little Salt, and half a Pint of thick Cream, keep stirring it 'till it is like a fine Custard; pour it into a Soup Plate, and serve it up.
N. B. You may use Sugar and Currants inftead of Onions and Pepper-corns if you please.
[Elizabeth Raffald, 1769]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Butter to follow the Bread.

Quotation for the Day …

There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love. M.F.K Fisher

Friday, April 25, 2008

Anzac Day.

April 25 ...

Today is Anzac Day in Australia, the day that we pay homage to the brave men who fought and died at Gallipoli. It is a public holiday, so there will be many picnics and BBQ’s later in the day.

Anzac biscuits are the food most associated with the day, and we have looked at their history on a previous Anzac Day (see the links below), so today I give you a couple of recipes with Aussie names, just for fun. They are proof of the idea that each nation re-names the classics in its own honour – the following could just as easily be Irish Stew and Fruit Bread.

They are from an undated version of The Coronation Cookery Book, compiled by the Country Women’s Association of NSW.

Drovers Dream.
Flour and season 6 thick shoulder chops, place in a casserole. Fry 1 medium sliced onion in butter, place in the casserole with the chops, add 12 small sliced turnips with sufficient water to cover. Bake in a moderate oven until chops are tender – about 1 hour. Remove cover the last 15 minutes. Serve with small new potatoes sprinkled with chopped parsley and melted butter.

Bushmens’ Brownie.
Use 4 cups of flour, 1 cup each of sugar, dripping, currants, and raisins, 1 teaspoon each of baking soda, cream of tartar, spice, and cinnamon, and sufficient milk to mix. Rub the dripping into the flour in which the soda, cream of tartar, spice, and cinnamon have been mixed and sifted. Add the sugar, currants, and raisins, and mix with milk to make a dough slightly stiffer than that of fruit cake. Place in a greased meat dish and bake for one hour.

Previous Aussie Food Stories.

Last Year’s Anzac Day Story:

From Hardtack to Anzacs – on Companion site (about ANZAC BISCUITS).

Lamingtons: the first recipe (so far).

The Pavlova: Aussie or Kiwi? The debate.

Tinned Meats, Australian.

Australian Meat, English Pie.


and Damper 2.

Monday’s Story …

Bread and Mutiny.

Quotation for the Day …

Always eat grapes downward -- that is eat the best grapes first; in this way there will be none better left on the bunch, and each grape will seem good down to the last. If you eat the other way, you will not have a good grape in the lot. Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Freudian Food.

April 24 …

Clement Freud, grandson of Sigmund, politician, celebrity chef, restaurateur, and food writer was born on this day in 1924. He is responsible for more than his fair share of quotable quotes, which seems like a good place to start today’s story.

“In moments of considerable strain, I tend to take to bread-and-butter pudding. There is something about the blandness of soggy bread, the crispness of the golden outer crust and the unadulterated pleasure of a lightly set custard that makes the world seem a better place to live.”

“If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving, you don't actually live longer; it just seems longer.”

“Congealed fat is pretty much the same, irrespective of the delicacy around which it is concealed.”

Breakfast is a notoriously difficult meal to serve with a flourish.”

“To barbecue is a way of life rather than a desirable method of cooking.”

“Eating is to put off the evil moment when one has to write an article. I trot into the kitchen instead of sitting down. I make some mayonnaise and open a can of tunny fish, and I eat tunny mayonnaise which I don’t really want. This is obviously how one gets so fat and slothful.”

Mr.Freud gives his favourite foods as caviar, foie gras, and oysters. “I love angels-on-horseback. Oysters wrapped in bacon, smoked streaky bacon, however socially desirable back of bacon may be. Never fry bacon, grill it. Skewer the bacon round the oyster and grill it. You can get it crisp this way because the fat runs off.”

Angels on horseback. When was the last time you had Angels on Horseback? The 1970’s? Are they so retro they are due for a re-run?

It seems that Angels on Horseback are older than I thought – although they used to go by a different name. Here is a recipe from an American cookbook called Favorite Dishes, by Carrie V.Schuman, 1893.

Pigs in Blankets.
From Mrs. Isabella Laning Candee, of Illinois, Alternate Lady Manager.
This amusing and appetizing dish is easily made.Take large fine oysters and drain them well, and season with salt and pepper, and a drop of lemon juice if desired. Cut fat bacon into very thin, even slices, and wrap each oyster in a slice of bacon, fastening securely with a wooden skewer – a toothpick will do. Two cloves can be inserted at one end of the roll to simulate ears. Have the frying pan very hot, and cook the little pigs until the bacon crisps. Serve immediately upon small pieces of toast.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Anzac Day.

Quotation for the Day …

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. Doug Larsen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

St.George's Day.

April 23 ...

It is St George’s Day today, and all over the world the legendary dragon-slayer is celebrated with special dishes and big dinners – or at least, he used to be. Not so much fuss is made of him in modern times. Perhaps we have so many more – and more animated – superheroes to choose from nowadays.

In New York, on this day in 1880, the St George’s Society held their ninety-fourth anniversary dinner at Delmonico’s. Some trouble had clearly been gone to to anglicise the menu, at least in the naming of the dishes.

This was the bill of fare:

Britannia Mock Turtle

Salmon, lobster sauce
Green Peas
Roast Ribs of Beef. Chicken with Mushrooms.
Boiled Potatoes. Tomatoes
Lamb Scollops, Rossini. Victoria Cutlets.

St George.

Snipe Capon.
Plum Pudding
Maraschino Jelly Cream Puffs.
Fancy Cakes Neapolitan Ice Cream
Fruits and Coffee

The only real puzzle on the menu is the lamb ‘scollops’. A classical ‘Rossini’ garnish consists of slices of truffle, and slices of foie gras sauteed in butter (according to the Larousse), so that part is clear. A ‘scallop’ however, is of course a shellfish, and by extension, a dish cooked in a shell-shaped dish, but surely this was not meant here? Or was it? A ‘collop’, on the other hand, was originally a piece of bacon, or even egg and bacon, but came to mean a ‘single serve’ piece of meat just right for frying. Most likely this is what was intended, but we will never know for certain. Just to indicate how impossibly unlikely it is that enlightenment will ever be achieved on the topic of (s)collops, I give you several recipes:

Sometimes ‘collops’ are leftover roast, in the guise of schnitzel:

Lamb Collops with Tomato Sauce.
Take small, thick pieces of roast lamb or boiled mutton. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, dip in crumbs, egg and crumbs, and saute in a hot blazer, using enough butter to prevent burning. Serve with tomato sauce.
[Chafing Dish possibilities; Fannie Merritt Farmer, 1898]

Sometimes ‘collops’ are almost like a stir-fry:

Mutton Collops.
Take a loin of mutton that has been well hung; and cut from the part next the leg some collops very thin. Take out the sinews. Season the collops with salt, pepper, and mace; and strew over them shred parsley, thyme, and two or three shalots: fry them in butter till half done; add half a pint of gravy, a little juice of lemon, and a piece of butter rubbed in flour; and simmer the whole very gently five minutes. They should be served immediately, or they will be hard.
[A New System of Domestic Cookery…. Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, 1824]

Sometimes, a dish of collops is actually a dish of savoury mince:

Minced Collops.
Take whatever quantity of lean beef and suet you want, and mince it very fine. Take a piece of butter, brown it with some flour, then put in your minced meat, and keep beating it .until it becomes brown. Have some rich gravy ready, add it to your minced collops and let it boil; then draw it aside and allow it to stew slowly for half an hour, adding pepper and salt to taste, and a little ketchup. If you think you have too much gravy, take off the cover and reduce it a little. Minced collops should be very thick.
Dish it hot, and garnish upon the top with poached eggs.
[Practice of Cookery and Pastry, adapted to the Business of Everyday Life. I. Williamson. 1854]

St. George’s Day last year …

We had traditional Hare Soup.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Freudian Food.

Quotation for the Day …

Nouvelle Cuisine, roughly translated, means: I can't believe I paid ninety-six dollars and I'm still hungry. Mike Kalin

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Table d’Hôte.

April 22 ...

A New Zealand newspaper carried the following amusing little story one day in 1895, under the heading “Table Dottie”.

A little time ago, on one of the Cunard boats, one of the crew (while the passengers were at dinner) picked up a menu , and, seeing on the top "Table d'hote" inquired of one of his mates the meaning of it".. "What does this 'ere mean, Joe ? " Joe, taking the menu gazed on it with a puzzled air, scratched his head, and said : "I can't make nothing of it. Let's go to old Coffin ; he's a scholard, and sure to know." On giving the menu to the boatswain he thoughtfully stroked his chin, and said: "Well, lock 'ere, mates ; it's like this 'ere. Them swells down in the saloon haves some soup, a bit of fish, a bit of this, and a bit of that, and a bit of summat else, and calls it 'table dottie.' We haves table dottie, only we mixes it all together and calls it Irish stew."

I guess every country and household has a one-pot dinner that uses up a bit of this and a bit of that and definitely a bit of summat else: in my household it is called Refrigerator Soup. I do wonder however, who put the “Irish” into “Irish Stew”? Was it originally used to refer to a dish of potatoes, and therefore an ethnic slur in the same way as “Welsh Rabbit”? Methinks it needs more research.

The usual obligatory ingredients are potatoes, mutton, and onions, but there can be many variations of a simple theme, and the dish can just as easily be “poshed up”. The “Lady” who wrote Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, in 1827 obliged her readers by pointing out that “ … the fashionable Irish Stew is now mashed potatoes put into a mould, and filled with dressed mutton, covered with potatoes and baked, which is also an excellent variety, and may be called a casserole or timbale of potatoes”, and William Kitchener in The Cook’s Oracle poshed it up simply by re-naming it “Hunter’s Pie.”

We had a Baked Irish Stew in an earlier story, and today I give you another variation from 1802, twelve years before the OED’s first true reference (which is from Byron!).

Cutlets a la Irish Stew.
Get the best end of a neck of mutton, take off the under bone, and cut it into chops; season them with pepper, salt, a little mushroom powder, and beaten mace. Put them into a stewpan, add a large onion sliced, some parsley and thyme tied in a bunch, and a pint of veal broth. Simmer the chops till three parts done, then add some whole potatoes peeled, and let them stew till done. Serve it up in a deep dish.
N. B. Let the parsley and thyme be taken out when the stew is to be served up.
[The Art of Cookery made Easy and Refined, John Mollard, 1802]

As for the true meaning of Table d’Hôte (or Table Dottie, if you prefer) – that will have to wait for another tale.

Tomorrow’s Story …

St George’s Day.

Song for the Day …

Air: “Happy Land.”

Irish stew, Irish stew!
Whatever else my dinner be,
Once again, once again,
I 'd have a dish of thee.

Mutton chops, and onion slice,
Let the water cover,
With potatoes, fresh and nice;
Boil, but not quite over,
Irish stew, Irish stew !

Ne'er from thee, my taste will stray.
I could eat
Such a treat
Nearly every day.
La, la, la. la!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Curry Crime.

April 21 ...

Compared with, say, those of Charles Dickens, the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle are pretty minimalist in terms of food references. Charles Dickens’ stories with the food removed would be diminished indeed, but one could be forgiven for believing that food was of no importance at all to Sherlock Holmes. Unless the food is a clue towards solving a dastardly crime, of course.

In Silver Blaze, Sherlock quickly realises that a mutton curry is crucial to solving the mystery of the disappearance of the favourite runner for the Wessex Cup, and the murder of its trainer. He explains to the ever-present Watson:

“It was the first link in my chain of reasoning. Powdered opium is by no means tasteless. The flavour is not disagreeable, but it is perceptible. Were it mixed with any ordinary dish the eater would undoubtedly detect it and would probably eat no more. A curry was exactly the medium which would disguise this taste. By no possible supposition could this stranger, Fitzroy Simpson, have caused curry to be served in the trainer’s family that night, and it is surely too monstrous a coincidence to suppose that he happened to come along with powdered opium upon the very night when a dish happened to be served which would disguise the flavour. That is unthinkable. Therefore Simpson becomes eliminated from the case, and our attention centres upon Straker and his wife, the only two people who could have chosen curried mutton for supper that night. The opium was added after the dish was set aside for the stable-boy, for the others had the same for supper with no ill effects. Which of them, then, had access to that dish without the maid seeing them?”

The stable-boy may have run another risk in eating curry at that time in history. Food adulteration has occurred for centuries, perhaps millenia, but by the nineteenth century science was catching up with the perpetrators. A common adulterant in cayenne and curry powders was red lead. Lead is not good for one. Lead can cause a lot of nasty things, including paralysis and death. A Lancet report of 1855 reported an analysis of a number of samples:

“The consumption of curry powder and cayenne pepper is so limited, and so much confined to classes of society, to the members of which, cheapness, particularly in articles used on so small a scale, is no great matter, that we might have expected they would escape adulteration. The very reverse, however, is the case, - curry powder is extensively adulterated both with innocent and poisonous admixtures…. . Eight samples contained the dangerous poison - red lead. As the saturnine preparations are accumulative poisons, and produce various chronic diseases of the nervous system, and also of the organs of secretion, the amount of illness induced by the frequent use of adulterated curry powder is probably very considerable.”

I am not so sure about the accuracy of the first statement. ‘Curry’ seems to have been popular with the English ever since the Empire expanded to include India, and curry powder was affordable by all but the poorest folk.

Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s) has some wise words to say on the general topic of curry, saying “it is often rendered unpalatable by the same curry powder being used for every dish, however differently may be the viands of which it is composed.” It goes on to give several recipes for curry powder, but then says “ we think it will be found quite as satisfactory and economical to purchase curry powder of a first-class dealer as to make it at home.”

Mutton, Curried, Good.
Put four ounces of mutton into a stewpan, and pound six middle-sized onions in a mortar; add the onions to the butter with an ounce of curry powder, a tea-spoonful of salt, a dessertspoonful of flour, and half a pint of cream. Stir until smooth. Fry two pounds of mutton, cut in neat pieces, without bone. Let them be of a light brown colour. Lay the meat in a clean stew-pan, and pour the curry mixture over. Simmer until the meat is done.
Time, two hours to simmer.
Probable cost, 1s per pound.
Sufficient, two pounds for four or five persons.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Table d’Hôte.

Quotation for the Day …

This curry was like a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that I'd once heard. … especially the last movement, with everything screaming and banging 'Joy.' It stunned, it made one fear great art. My father could say nothing after the meal.
Anthony Burgess.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cake in Imitation of a Haunch of Lamb.

The amazing T.W Barritt has done it again. He has created a Retro Cake that is so Retro it must be due for a come-back - except that few would have the skill or patience to construct it. His Cake in Imitation of a Haunch of Lamb, inspired by a recipe in Theodore Garrett's late ninteenth century Encyclopaedia of Cookery, is HERE. While you are visiting, do check out his other Retro Cakes. Surely they are worth publishing in a real book?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mock Food No. 5

April 18 ...

I have saved the best till last for you this week. I have had to make some tough choices. Sadly, in the morning rush (I have been writing on the fly this week, not in organised-ahead fashion), my computer has mislaid the recipe for Mock Tapioca that I know you would have loved.

Firstly, I give you a mock chicken recipe using up all those fish sounds you probably have languishing in your freezer, as you are probably tired of Eliza Acton’s recipe for them by now.

Cod Sounds to look like small Chickens.
A good maigre-day dish. Wash three large sounds nicely,, and boil in milk and water, but not too tender; when cold, put a forcemeat of chopped oysters, crums of bread, a bit of butter, nutmeg, pepper, salt, and the yolks of two eggs; spread it thin over the sounds, and roll up each in the form of a chicken, skewering it; then lard them as you would chickens, dust a little flour over, and roast them in a tin oven slowly. When done enough, pour over them a fine oyster-sauce. Serve for side or corner dish at the first course.
[From Mrs Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery. 1824]

Secondly, a consolation prize from our source of yesterday, Richard Bradley’s The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director (1732) – a method of making artificial Cocks-Combs. Although there may not be much call today for them today, and most of us can no longer find our Jagging Irons, the truth of his final sentence still stands – that “the Eye must be pleased before we can taste any thing with Pleasure”.

To make Artificial Cocks-Combs.
Take Tripe, without any Fat, and with a sharp Knife pare away the fleshy Part, leaving only the brawny or horny Part about the Thickness of a Cock’s Comb. Then, with a Jagging-Iron, cut Pieces out of it, in the Shape of Cock’s Combs, and the remaining parts between may be cut into Pieces, and used in Pyes, and serve every whit as well as Cock’s Combs; but since those cut in Form please the Eye best, and as the Eye must be pleased before we can taste any thing with Pleasure, therefore in Fricassees we should ever be careful to put in those which are cut according to Art.

If you would like more to add to your Mock Food repertoire, may I point you to previous stories?

Ritz Cracker ‘Apple Pie’

White Mock Turtle Soup

Mock Turtle Soup, assembled from very convenient canned ingredients.

Mock Mock Turtle Soup (the name is not a typo!), and Mock Arrack

Mock Brawn. [1792]

Mock Chicken (Columbia War Papers)(1918)

Mock Asses’ Milk (2 recipes)

Monday’s Story …

Curry Crime.

Quotation for the Day …

I prefer milk because I am a Prohibitionist, but I do not go to it for inspiration. Mark Twain.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mock Food No. 4

April 17 ...

In view of the pre-occupation with finding acceptable Lenten substitutes for meat, it might be expected that ‘mock fish’ or ‘mock seafood’ would not be common historically. It would be an incorrect assumption, but once the idea is grasped, it is obvious that only the more desirable fish and seafood would be imitated. I don’t remember ever seeing a recipe for ‘mock flake’ (shark meat to you non-Aussies), or ‘mock flathead’.

There is a wonderfully apocryphal story about the ancient king Nicomedes’ cook, who, when his master called for anchovies in spite of the fact that he and his army were stationed many miles from the ocean, mocked some up from strips of salted turnips – each strip being decorated with exactly 40 poppy seeds. It is said that the king was pleased – but was he fooled? Anchovies were an essential ingredient in English cuisine for centuries, the taste for them presumably being a distant legacy of the ancient Roman fermented fishy sauce called garum. It is hardly conceivable that a seventeenth or eighteenth century English cook could manage without anchovies – but if it was necessary to fake them, there was no need to resort to root vegetables, it was entirely fair to add value to a lesser fish. A couple of recipes from Richard Bradley’s The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director (1732) will demonstrate:

To make artificial Anchovies.
About February you will find, in the River of Thames, a large quantity of Bleak, or in August a much larger parcel in Shoals. These Fish are soft, tender, and oily, and much better than Sprats to make any imitation of Anchovies from. Take these, and clean them, and cut off their Heads, and lay them in an earthen glazed Pan, with a Layer of Bay-Salt under them, and another over, a single Row of them; then lay a fresh row of Fish, and Bay-Salt over that; and so continue the same Stratum super Stratum, till the Vessel is full, and in a Month you may use them, and afterwards put Vinegar to them. But they will be like Anchovies without Vinegar, only the Vinegar will keep them. Turn them often the first Fortnight.

Another of Bradley’s recipes is clear in regard to one of our other puzzles: note that he says ‘it will deceive a good Judge.’

To make an artificial Crab or Lobster.
I Suppose you have by you the large Shells of Sea-Crabs clean'd; then take part of a Calf's Liver, boil it and mince it very small, and a little Anchovy Liquor, and but very little, to give it the Fish-taste. Mix it well with a little Lemon Juice, some Pepper, and some Salt, with a little Oil, if you like it, and fill the Shells with it; and then the outside Parts of the Liver, being a little hard, will feel to the Mouth like the Claws of the Crab broken and pick'd, and the inner Parts will be soft and tender, like the Body of a Crab. One may serve this cold, and it will deceive a good Judge, if you do not put too much of the Anchovy Liquor into it.

A very common subterfuge from medieval times was to use veal to substitute for sturgeon – a very desirable fish on two counts: it was rare, and it was richly oily. I was going to give you a recipe for Mock Sturgyn, but a recipe for mock terrapin won in the end. Terrapin is not fish, of course – at least we don’t classify it as fish nowadays, but the old requirement of ‘non-flesh’ applied to creatures that lived in the water. The definition was not so much one based in ignorance of the animal classification system, but on that ‘cooling’ tendency derived from life in a watery environment. Hence porpoise, whale, barnacle geese, and foetal rabbits were allowed on ‘fish’ days. The recipe, from Eliza Leslie’s The Lady’s Receipt Book (1847) takes us several centuries later and to another continent (America).

Terrapin Veal.
Take some cold roast veal (the fillet or the loin) and cut it into very small mouthfuls. Put into a skillet or stew-pan. Have ready a dressing made of six or seven hard-boiled eggs minced fine; a small tea-spoonful of made mustard; a salt-spoonful of salt; and the same of cayenne pepper; a large tea-cupfull (half a pint) of cream, and two glasses of sherry or Madeira wine. The dressing must be thoroughly mixed. Pour it over the veal, and then give the whole a hard stir. Cover it, and let it stew over the fire for ten minutes. Then transfer it to a deep dish, and send it to table hot.

If however, your kitchen embarassement is a surplus of Sturgeon when the guests expect Turtle, you can use the first to make a good copy of the second. Email me if you are in this terrible predicament, and I will forward a late eighteenth century recipe.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Mock Food No. 5

Quotation for the Day …

“....shellfish are the prime cause of the decline of morals and the adaptation of an extravagant lifestyle. Indeed of the whole realm of Nature the sea is in many ways the most harmful to the stomach, with its great variety of dishes and tasty fish.”
Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mock Food No. 3

April 16

The very strict dietary rules decreed for hundreds of years by the Christian Church were a very powerful inspiration for fake food. At some times in history almost half the days of the year were ‘fish’ days. There were multiple and overlapping reasons for this. The prevailing idea was that ‘flesh’ food stimulated bodily heat and lust, whereas fish, which came from the water was cooling, including cooling to the passions. The fact that fish do not have an observable sex life enhanced the belief that it was more suitable for times of religious observance when distracting thoughts were best kept to a minimum – and for those in religious orders, that meant all the time.

There were economic and political reasons too: encouraging fish consumption preserved livestock on the land, and encouraging the fishing industry meant the availability of a large cohort of men with sailing experience who could then be sent on voyages of discovery or used to supply the Navy.

The proscriptions led to the invention of some wonderful fish dishes, and some artful substitutes for meat, but the best fake food was invented for Lent. During Lent, all animal products were forbidden. Essentially it was a vegan diet, although the word was not coined until very recent times.

No milk, no butter, no eggs. What to do?

Make almond milk, that was step number one. Huge amounts of it were made in medieval times, and the mind boggles at the work involved in pounding vast quantities of almonds without the assistance of food processors – but kitchen labour was cheap in those days, I suppose.

Eggs? No problem. The following recipe is taken from the Harleian MS (circa 1430). It is difficult to follow, but essentially says to ‘blow’ the eggs (pinhole each end and … blow the contents out) then re-fill it with a ground almond mixture, half of which is coloured yellow with saffron (and cinnamon) and placed in the middle to mimic the yolk.

Eyroun in lentyn [Eggs in Lent].
Take Eyroun, & blow owt þat ys with-ynne atte oþer ende; þan waysshe þe schulle clene in warme Water; þan take gode mylke of Almaundys, & sette it on þe fyre; þan take a fayre canvas, & pore þe mylke þer-on, & lat renne owt þe water; þen take it owt on þe cloþe, & gader it to-gedere with a platere; þen putte sugre y-now þer-to; þan take þe halvyndele, & colour it with Safroun, a lytil, & do þer-to pouder Canelle; þan take & do of þe whyte in the neþer ende of þe schulle, & in þe myddel þe ȝolk, & fylle it vppe with þe whyte; but noȝt to fulle, for goyng ouer; þan sette it in þe fyre & roste it, & serue forth.

Butter? Almonds again to the rescue. The following recipe is from a Neopolitan recipe collection, Cuoco Napoletano, via Terence Scully’s excellent translation.

Butiro Contrafata.
Get a pound and a half of blanched, well ground almonds; get half a beaker of good rosewater and strain the almonds - if that rosewater is not enough, use however much you need so that the amount of almonds can be strained; then, so the almond milk will bind well, get a little starch, a little saffron if you want, and fine sugar, and lay this mixture into a mold as if were butter; like that it is good to eat.
[Scully, Terence. Cuoco Napoletano. The Neapolitan Recipe Collection: A Critical Edition and English Translation. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2000].

Tomorrow’s Story …

Mock Food No. 4

Quotation for the Day …

Thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat, and yet thy head hath been beaten as addle as an egg for quarrelling. William Shakespeare (1564-1616), from Romeo and Juliet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mock Food No. 2

April 15 ...

The feedback yesterday convinced me that the rationale behind the mock chicken pie made from pork and potatoes was indeed because chicken was a luxury meat ‘back then’ – compared to ordinary every-day pork. The second part of the conundrum remains however – was it intended to fool the family (or guests)? If they were fooled, did the cook have the last laugh silently, or did she reveal the trick after receiving the praise?

Today’s choices cause no such dilemma. They are foods intended purely for fun, and as they come from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, they demonstrate for just how long we have been playing with our food.

The first one is from The Form of Cury, the first known English cookery manuscript which was compiled by the Master Cooks of King Richard II right at the end of the fourteenth century. It is for ‘Golden Apples’ – meat balls made with a ‘farsur’ or ‘farce’ of ground meat, which are then ‘gilded’ with egg and saffron (or parsley if you want Green Apples). See if you can make out the instructions, now that you have some clues. I will post a ‘translation’ at the end of the week.

Pomme dorryse.
Farsur to make pomme doryse and oþere þynges. Take þe lire of Pork rawe. and grynde it smale. medle it up wiþ powdre fort, safroun, and salt, and do þerto Raisouns of Coraunce, make balles þerof. and wete it wele in white of ayrenn. & do it to seeþ in boillyng water. take hem up and put hem on a spyt. rost hem wel and take parsel ygronde and wryng it up with ayren & a party of flour. and lat erne aboute þe spyt. And if þou wilt, take for parsel safroun, and serue it forth.

The second is another favorite that kept popping up for centuries under various spellings. It is for ‘yrchouns’ or ‘hirchones’ – that is, ‘urchins’ or ‘hedgehogs’ – made with spiced ground pork stuffed into pigs’ maws (stomachs) to form fat sausage shapes which were then stuck all over with ‘spines’ made from blanched almonds cut ‘small and sharp’, or in some recipes from small ‘prikkes’ of pastry. The recipe I give you is from the early fifteenth century Harleian manuscript: another source actually suggests making ‘hirchones’ with the maw (stomach) of ‘one great swine’ and five or six maws of (smaller) ‘pigges’- the idea being, apparently, to have a happy little hedgehog family on the table to delight the guests. If you cant get any pigs’s maws at the butcher this week, make them as you would a meatloaf and they will be fine.

Take Piggis mawys and skalde them wel; take groundyn Pork and knede it with Spicerye, with pouder Gyngere, and Salt and Sugre; do it on the mawe, but fille it nowt to fulle, then sewe them with a fayre threde and putte them in a Spete and men don piggys. Take blaunchid Almoundys and kerf them long, smal and scharpe, and frye them in grece and sugre. Take a ltytle prycke and pryckke the yrchons. An putte in the holes the Almoundys, every hole half, and lech fro sometimes. Ley them then to the fyre; when they be rostid, dore them, sum with Whete Flowre and mylke of Almoundys, sum grene, sume blake with Blode, and lat them nowt browne to moche; and serve forth.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Mock Food No. 3

Quotation for the Day …

A clever cook, can make....good meat of a whetstone.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466?-1536)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Chicken pie without the chicken.

April 14 ...

The Editor of The Cultivator – the journal of the New York Agricultural Society –made a ‘polite invitation’ to Farmers’ wives and daughters to furnish recipes for future publication in the issue of January 1849.

The response must have been underwhelming, for in March, the Editor’s wife herself supplied a few recipes. This one is intriguing:

Mock Chicken Pie.
Boil common potatoes – season highly with salt and pepper; some prefer a little thyme or summer-savory. Pour milk over them, and stir till of a moderate paste; fill a pie dish with crust above and below the contents. Strew pieces of pork through it. Bake in an oven, and serve hot. A single crust, filled and doubled, is called tarn-overs.

My puzzle is this: why not call it Pork and Potato Pie?

I am moderately intrigued by the whole, old concept of Mock Food. There seem to be several reasons for counterfeiting food, but I am not sure which one applies here. The commonest reason is probably one of necessity – when a substitute must be found for either a more expensive or unavailable ingredient. Such counterfeit foods are common in times of scarcity: wartime ersatz coffee for example. Or carob for real chocolate, when there is a scarcity of common sense. This explanation surely does not apply in the above recipe? Down on the farm, when a pie is called for, a single family-size post-menopausal hen would be more easily available to substitute for a big porker than the reverse, wouldn’t it?

Deception is another reason. The family want chicken pie, but there is still some leftover roast from Sunday which must be used up? They say they hate pork but it was cheap this week at the market?

The other issue of importance is : was this pie intended to be served up as if it was chicken, with the truth not told?

The third reason for making mock food is for fun: meatloaf with slivered almonds stuck all over it and called hedgehog, for example. But there is nothing remotely hilarious about the mock-chicken pie, is there? Or am I am missing something?

It seems that this topic of mock food is worthy of pursuing this week, as we search for enlightenment. Your input is humbly requested.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Mock Food No. 2

Quotation for the Day …

We didn't starve, but we didn't eat chicken unless we were sick, or the chicken was. Bernard Malamud (1914-86)

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Monk’s Choice.

April 11 ...

According to the Gregorian calendar, the plant for this day, dedicated to St Leo, was the Dandelion (Leontodon taraxacum), a member of the sunflower family which is far less grand than the signature member, and in fact usually considered to be a weed.

My appreciation of the dandelion is coloured by two childhood perceptions. One was the sincerely repeated folktale that if you picked dandelions you would wet the bed. This was clearly not a belief confined to the north of England, as even our old enemy across the channel calls it piss-en-lit. I absolutely did not believe such a ridiculous theory, but on the other hand, there was no way I was going to test it out. The other was my favourite soft drink ‘Dandelion and Burdock’. I have to admit that I did not for a long time recognise this as having any connection with the incontinence-causing weed, because in my head the drink was an entity called ‘dandelionandburdock’.

‘Dandelion and Burdock’, for those of you uninitiated into its delights, is Britain’s answer to root beer or sarsparilla – or is it that root beer and sarsparilla are America’s answer to Dandelion and Burdock? The modern drink is a completely dandelion-less, burdock-less, artificially-coloured, artificially-flavoured, highly sweetened bastard offspring of what was once a medicinal concoction. Many herbs and wayside ‘weeds’ were once used extensively for their medicinal value - dandelion was used for everything from ‘inward bruises’ and pleurisy to liver disorders for example. Medicine was cheap in those days – you just went out and picked it, no dispensing fee charged.

Dandelion was also a useful salad green or pot-herb, and still could be, if we bothered with it – as the French still do. It seems that the Americans used to use it this way too (do you still?)

These are relished by many as well as spinach cooked in the same way. Take the young leaves before the plant blossoms or while in bud, mash quite clean, boil tender in salted water, drain well and press them dry. They can be served plain with melted butter or can by chopped and heated afresh with pepper, salt, and a little butter rolled in flour, and a spoonful or two of gravy or cream. A lareg quantity should be boiled, as they shrink very much. The dandelion is considered very healthy, and the slight bitterness is relished by most persons.
[Jennie June's American Cookery Book. 1870]

Monday’s Story …

Chicken pie without the chicken.

Quotation for the Day …

Speaking of food, English cuisine has received a lot of unfair criticism over the years, but the truth is that it can be a very pleasant surprise to the connoisseur of severely overcooked livestock organs served in lukewarm puddles of congealed grease. England manufactures most of the world's airline food, as well as all the food you ever ate in your junior-high-school cafeteria. Dave Barry.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shop Bananas.

April 10 ...

Window-shopping took on a whole new meaning on this day in 1633 in Holborn (London), when Thomas Johnson put a strange new fruit on display. Johnson, the man who edited Gerard’s Herball, had come by a banana plant which had survived the journey from the Bahamas. He hung up the stalk with its strange ‘hand’, and the general public were able to watch it ripen over the next few weeks. Johnson recorded the event:

"Aprill 10. 1633. my much honored friend Argent (now President of the Colledge of Physitions of London) gave me a plant he received from the Bermuda's: the length of the stalke was some two foot; the thicknesse thereof some seven inches about, being crested, and full of a soft pith, so that one might easily with a knife cut it asunder. It was crooked a little, or indented, so that each two or three inches space it put forth a knot of some halfe inch thicknesse, and some inch in length, which incompassed it morre than halfe about; and upon each of these joints or knots, in two rankes one above another, grew the fruit, some twenty, nieteene, eithteene, &c. mor or lesse, at each knot: for the branch I had, contained nine knots or divisions, and upon the lowest knot grew twenty [fruits], and upon the uppermost fifteene. The fruit which I received was not ripe, but greene, each of them was about the bignesse of a large Beane; the length of them some five inches, and the bredth some inch and halfe...
This stalke with the fruit thereon I hanged up in my shop, were it became ripe about the beginning of May, and lasted until June: the pulp or meat was very soft and tender, and it did eate somewhat like a Muske-Melon...This Plant is found in many places of Asia, Africke, and America, especially in the hot regions: you may find frequent mention of it amongst the sea voyages to the East and West Indies, by the name of Plantaines, or Platanus, Bannanas, Bonnanas, Bouanas, Dauanas, Poco, &c.
Some (As our Author hath said) have judged it the forbidden fruit; other-some, the Grapes brought to Moses out of the Holy-land."

There was a brief flurry of excitement in 1999 when an ancient-looking banana was found at an archeological dig beside the Thames. It was found amongst some Tudor artefacts, suggesting that a banana had made it to England a century and a half earlier than the one Johnson received. Alas! Eventually it turned out to be a 1950’s banana, and no-one, absolutely no-one, could be interested in a 1950’s banana.

Bananas are soft, and they ripen quickly – two serious impediments to importation, so they did not become common and affordable in Europe until the late nineteenth century. Americans, being closer to the source (the Caribbean) were luckier, and such early banana recipes as there are are to be found in American cookbooks. I give you two today: the salad excites me not at all, but I think the tart could be delicious, especially with its hot custardy sauce.

Banana and Celery Salad:
Chill heart celery and very ripe bananas, slice thin crosswise, mingling the rounds well. Pile on lettuce leaves, and cover with French dressing, into which finely grated cheese has been scantly stirred. This dressing with cheese is fine for tender Romaine, also for almost any sort of cooked vegetable used as salad.
[Dishes & Beverages Of The Old South, 1913]

Damson and Banana Tart:
Line an agate or earthen pie dish two to three inches deep, with very good crust, rolled thin, but not stretched nor dragged. Cover it with bananas, sliced thin, lengthwise, strew over three tablespoonfuls of sugar, and a pinch of grated lemon peel. Sprinkle with a liqueur glass of rum or brandy or whiskey, then put in a layer of preserved plums - damsons are best - along with their juice. If there is room repeat the layers - bananas and plums and seasoning. Cover with a crust rolled fairly thin, prick and bake three-quarters of an hour in a moderately quick oven. Serve either hot or cold, preferably hot, with this sauce. One egg beaten very light, with a cupful of cream, a wineglass of rum, brandy or sherry, and a larger glass of preserve syrup. Mix over hot water, stirring hard all the time till it begins to thicken. It must not get too thick.
[Dishes & Beverages Of The Old South, 1913]

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Monk’s Choice.

Quotation for the Day …

One man's poison ivy is another man's spinach. George Ade.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

“Comeback” meals.

April 9 ...

Some cooks cook with the express intent of having leftovers. I am one of those cooks. I understand (no, I don’t, actually) that some cooks abhor leftovers, and some eaters refuse them. I have puzzled over the issue in several previous stories (two of them are here and here), and had no intention of bringing up the subject again (at least for a while) until I came across the term ‘comeback’, in relation to a meal. I naively thought this meant a meal so good that everyone came back for more, so there were no leftovers to agonise over.

I was wrong, it seems. A ‘comeback’ is restaurant-speak for a particular type of leftover. At least that is what Mr. Charles Fellows indicates in his book Fellows’ Menu Maker (Chicago, 1910). I don’t know if this remains current restaurant parlance, and would be grateful for some enlightenment from professionals in the business.

Difference between Leftover and Comeback.
The difference between a leftover and a comeback in culinary parlance is: a leftover is prepared food which has not been dished onto a plate to set before a diner, but which may be kept for service at a future meal. A comeback is food that has been dished onto a plate, probably messed over, and returned to the kitchen. The leftover is an economy; the comeback is a waste.
Food dished onto platters for redishing onto plates, are classified as leftovers when returned to service pantry in the original platter. Such food is not spoiled.

Please be advised: I definitely do not want to know what restaurants do with ‘comeback’ food.

On the same pair of pages as the above exposé are a number of menus from The Drake hotel in Chicago, so I thought it might be fun to see what could be done with leftovers (as in the household use of the phrase) from one of the meals.

United Dinner of hotel associations at The Drake, Chicago, July 13, 1921

Little Neck Clams
Jellied Gumbo
Celery Almonds Olives
Lobster, Mornay
Cucumbers, Parisienne
Filet Mignon, Drake
New Peas Potatoes Berny
Blackstone Salad
Ice Cream

I shouldn’t imagine leftover clams would ever be a problem: they would surely to into chowder. Leftover Potatoes Berny should never happen: no-one in their right mind would leave the tiniest scrap of deep-fried almond-coated, truffled, buttered and egg-yolked mashed potato balls. Leftover almonds could simply be used to make more Potatoes Berny. Olives don’t get leftover, they just get put back in the oil or brine. Coffee leftovers can be used in many recipes, and there is a goodly selection in the Coffee Recipe Archive.

The idea of Jellied gumbo just frightens me. I cannot comment.

I am bereft of ideas for the other items on the menu. I am left with celery.

Cream of Celery Soup.
A pint of milk, a table-spoonful of flour, one of butter, a head of celery, a large slice of onion and small piece of mace. Boil celery in a pint of water from thirty to forty-five minutes; boil mace, onion and milk together. Mix flour with two table-spoonfuls of cold milk, and add to boiling milk. Cook ten minutes. Mash celery in the water in which it has been cooked, and stir into boiling milk. Add butter, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Strain and serve immediately. The flavor is improved by adding a cupful of whipped cream when the soup is in the tureen.
[Miss Parloa's New Cookbook, c.1880.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Shop Bananas.

Quotation for the Day …

I have not attempted to give recipes for using up scraps, as this art is only useful when you run short of provisions; it is quite a mistake to imagine that warming up cooked meat is economical, as all good transformations must be expensive. Baron Brisse, 1868

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Bon Voyage.

April 8 ...

When Britain took on the Boer republics in 1902, her colonial citizens heeded the call to come to the aid of their mother country. In August 1902 a contingent of New Zealanders, their stints over, travelled home in the ship Britannic. In a pattern that is probably as old as the colonial navies of the world, the officers dined well, the troopers not so well aboard ship. The nicely printed menu for one, and the description of the other, demonstrate the difference quite clearly.

Anchovies, Olives.
Oyster a la Plessy, Consomme Faubonne.
Baked Bass, Piquante Sauce.
Braised Sheep’s Head, Calves Feet au Pascaline.
Sirloin of Beef, Baked Potatoes, Boiled Chicken, Bacon,
Parsley Sauce, Leg of Mutton a la Bretonne.
Yellow Squash, Cabbage, Boiled Potatoes.
Curried Prawns and Rice, Cold Ox Tongue
Fig Pudding, Apricot Tart, Queen’s Cakes, Ice Cream.
Devilled Sardines on Toast

Bread issue 6.30; bread good, but only enough for one meal.
Breakfast – Stew: half cooked meat and potatoes, hot water for gravy, plenty of grease; potatoes scarce, about half a dozen among fourteen men, always thrown overboard, not being fit to eat. Coffee: a mixture of tea, coffee, and chocolate, more like the latter; probably sugar in it, but could not say.
Dinner – Soup: Very good. Boiled mutton and sauce; mutton always absolutely raw, sauce flour and pot-water, with plenty of lumps, not bad paste for wall-papering, rather lumpy. Boiled rice and prunes. Rice ground, but a slatey colour, with no sugar; pruned good, generally averaged two per man (tantalising).
Tea – Bully beef and pickles; bully beef good, pickles fair, generally averaging two per man. If at all late one found one’s share gone, as they were generally eaten before the beef arrived. More could be got at the canteen on board at 1s per bottle. Tea, horrible. Butter and jam twice a week: jam, carrots and beetroot.

I bet those troopers would have loved a good suet pudding. A good pudding would have made them much more inclined to overlook the shortcomings in the rest of the bill of fare.

Here is a nice one from the same era, from the Middle Class Cookery Book, by the Manchester School of Domestic Economy and Cookery.

Suet Crust for Roly-Poly Puddings.
½ lb flour
¼ lb Beef Suet
Cold water,
Pinch of salt.
Shred the suet into very thin flakes; mix the salt into the flour; rub the shredded suet will into the flour; mix all to a stiff paste with cold water. Flour the paste-board lightly; turn the paste on to it, an work it with the right hand on the board for three or four minutes. Flour the rolling pin; press it onto the dough to flatten it out; then roll the dough out, rolling always one way. Fold the dough in three, and roll it out again. Repeat this once more, and roll the crust to the size required.

A Lancashire Roly-Poly.
2 apples
2 oz currants
2 Tablespoonfuls Golden Syrup
Spice, if liked, and Grated Lemon Rind.
Mince the apples very fine, spread them with currants on to the crust, and add the golden syrup, or treacle if preferred. Roll up the crust pressing the edges of the sides together as you roll. Slighty wet the top edge, and press the crust lightly so as to close it. Prepare a pudding cloth; put the pudding onto it, roll it tightly up and tie the edges with string or tape.When one edge is tied, pass the string along the pudding and tie the other edge. Put a plate (or drainer) at the bottom of the saucepan; put in the pudding and boil for one hour and a half. The water in the saucepan must be boiling before the pudding is put in, and must continue to boil the whole time, until the pudding is taken out.

Tomorrow’s Story …

“Comeback” meals.

Quotation for the Day …

If you could make a pudding wi' thinking o' the batter, it 'ud be easy getting dinner. George Eliot. Adam Bede, 1859

Monday, April 07, 2008

Rough and Icy.

April 7 ...

The New York Tribune made mention of granita on this day in 1887, in an article which explained that ‘granites … must be frozen without much beating, or even much stirring, as the design is to have a rough, icy substance.’ Mark Twain knew of granita a couple of decades earlier . In Innocents Abroad (1867) he described the scene in Venice, where people sat at small tables ‘smoking and taking granita (a first cousin to ice-cream)’. Ice-cream’s other cousin is sorbet, or sherbert, and the desirable texture for sorbet is smoother than granita but not as creamy as ice-cream.

The Italians made these frozen delights their own, and then took them with them wherever they went in the world, so the world can be forgiven for thinking them Italian. And maybe they are. But their origin was in the East. The first incarnation was what the West came to call sherbert or charbe or zerbet or several other interpretations of the Turkish/Arabic word for drink. The fruity drink was not originally chilled (ice being hard to come by at that time in that part of the world), but of course this was done when possible. By a happy coincidence the word is similar to the Italian sorbire meaning to drink, so perhaps this facilitated the Italian adoption of the concept. Of course the Italians were way ahead in things culinary during the Renaissance, and wondrous frozen creations were a feature of many of the extravagant banquets held by the obscenely rich and famous of the period.

As for granita, the word comes from the same origin as the word granite (as in the rock type) which refers to its grainy or granular (rough) texture.

We have ice-cream machines and freezers nowadays to make the job virtually fool-proof, but the earliest granita and sorbet makers had to rely on the ice and salt churn to make their sorbets and granitas – or ‘water-ices’ as they were called.

Here is a recipe from 1807, from The Complete Confectioner: Or, The Whole Art of Confectionary Made Easy ... by Frederick Nutt. It sounds wonderful. We don’t use Seville oranges nearly enough.

Seville Orange Water Ice.
Take the rind of two Seville oranges off very fine and thin ; squeeze them into a bason with one lemon; add two gills of syrup* and half a pint of water; pass them through a sieve and freeze them rich.

[* My note: a standard granita syrup is made in the ratio of 1:1 sugar and water: stir over heat until the sugar dissolves, then boil for a few seconds, then take off the heat and cool]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Bon Voyage.

Quotation for the Day …

Given the clientele, the restaurants on Capri might resemble those fancy Northern Italian places on the East Side of Manhattan where the captain has taken bilingual sneering lessons from the maitre d’ at the French joint down the street and the waiter, whose father was born in Palermo, would deny under torture that tomato sauce has ever touched his lips. Calvin Trillin, Third Helping.

Friday, April 04, 2008

To solve the dinner problem.

Those of you who are regular readers will be aware that I love menu recipe books – especially the sort that give you a menu for every single day of the year, with the recipes for each dish. Takes the work out of planning the dinner. Doesn’t take the work out of actually cooking the dinner of course – and in the early nineteenth century, that could represent quite some work. John Simpson was cook to the Marquis of Buckingham, and he wrote a comprehensive cookbook in 1816, called A Complete System of Cookery, on a plan entirely new, consisting of an extensive and original collection of receipts ….. (it is hard to know when the title stops and the front matter begins in some of these old books). It is not certain whether the Bills of Fare for Every Day in the Year in his book are those such as he would cook for the Marquis, or are for ‘economical dishes to suit the most private families’.

Here is his menu for April 4, demonstrated by an image to best show how the food was set out on the table with great geometrical precision, as was the habit of the day.

As promised, he included the recipes:

Beef Kidney.

Cut the kidney in neat slices, (about the size of a semell of veal) put them in warm water to soak for two hours, and change the water two or three times, then take the kidney out of the water and put it on a clean cloth to dry the water and juice from it, then put clarified butter in the fryingpan, put the kidnies in and fry them of a nice brown; season them with pepper and salt; put them round the dish and ravigott sauce into the middle.

Ravigott sauce.
Put into a stew-pan a very small clove of garlick, a little chervil, a little burnet, a few leaves of tarragon, two or three shalots, chopped mushrooms, thyme, parsley, a little bit of butter, a few spoonfuls of stock, and a little pepper and salt; put the stew-pan on a slow stove to simmer very slow for about ten minutes, then add as much coulis as is requisite for the quantity of sauce wanted, let it boil a few minutes, then rub it through a tammy; return it into the stew-pan and make it hot, then squeeze a little lemon juice in, add a little cayenne pepper and a little salt if wanted.

It is interesting to compare this recipe for ‘Ravigott Sauce’ with one from the mid-twentieth century given in the Larousse, which we saw in a story last year. Just to remind you “ .. sauce Ravigote gets its name from the French verb ravigoter, meaning to cheer or revive. This ability supposedly comes from the four herbs it traditionally contained - tarragon, chervil, chives, and burnet - which together had the reputation for being restorative.”

Monday’s Story …

Rough and Icy.

Quotation for the Day …

Take advantage of the gracious condescension of the elegant calf's kidney, multiply its metamorphoses: you can without giving it any offence, call it the chameleon of cuisine. Des Essarts French actor (1740-1793)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Good Old Idea.

April 3 …

I know I have said this before, but I am constantly surprised that cooks and chefs do not look to the past for inspiration when trying to invent ‘new’ dishes. For those of you in this situation professionally, I dedicate today’s story.

The English Folk Cookery Association was founded in 1928 in “an attempt to capture the charm of England's cookery before it is completely crushed out of existence.” The Association actively sought local and national recipes which were in danger of being lost. In 1930, the following story was submitted by Miss Janet Esdaile, from the charmingly-named Milton-under-Wychwood, in Oxfordshire.

‘The other day my landlady served me with a delicious vegetable. It looked like very young and tender asparagus in the dish, but peat colour instead of pale green, and it had rather a strong smell. I was quite at a loss to identify it by colour and smell except that it reminded me of walking past a root field. Its taste was not unlike parsnips but not nearly so sweet and it melted in the moth. It was swede shoots. My shepherd landlord told me he picked them off the sprouting roots when he unearthed the bury. They keep their delicate orange colour till they reach the light. The can only be had just at this time of the year (April) and round here the gentry consider them a great delicacy. "Us poor folk don't trouble about 'em," were his words.’

This is surely a good old idea worthy of making new again? Swede shoots could be the new micro-salad (is white asparagus passé yet?). Just remember folks, you heard it (or re-heard it) here first.

The swede is, of course, a turnip. A large sweet yellow turnip to be sure, a type said to have been introduced first to Scotland from Sweden in the early 1780’s. Until you can buy swede shoots at the local market, you will have to be satisfied with the mature root. Any plain turnip recipe can be made more colourfully with the swede, although the white would clearly be preferable to mimic pears, as in the following recipe, from Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (circa 1870’s).

Turnips, Glacés.
Select a few firm turnips; turn, in the shape of pears, a sufficient number to cover or fill the dish; stew them in a little broth with a little sugar, which reduce to glaze, and add to it a little glaze. When equally glazed, dish them; take a spoonful of Spanish sauce to detach the glaze that remains in the stewpan, with a small bit of butter twice as big as a walnut, which work with the sauce. Pour the sauce over the turnips after you have given it a good seasoning.

[The cookbook does not indicate whether you should try to pass the glazed turnips off as glazed pears. It seems a shame not to, after all that carving. ]

Tomorrow’s Story …

To solve the dinner problem.

Quotation for the Day …

The turnip is a capricious vegetable, which seems reluctant to show itself at its best.”
Waverley Root.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Mighty Spread.

April 2 ..

It is unarguable that Charles Dickens had a way with words – and a large number of his words concern food: his novels are wonderfully embellished and enriched with food incidents and food stories – as are his letters and journals.

On this day in 1842, he was in America, on his second day aboard the steamboat Messenger en route from Pittsburg to Cincinatti.

“We are to be on board the Messenger three days: arriving at Cincinnati (barring accidents) on Monday morning. There are three meals a day. Breakfast at seven, dinner at half-past twelve, supper about six. At each, there are a great many small dishes and plates upon the table, with very little in them; so that although there is every appearance of a mighty 'spread,' there is seldom really more than a joint: except for those who fancy slices of beet-root, shreds of dried beef, complicated entanglements of yellow pickle; maize, Indian corn, apple-sauce, and pumpkin. Some people fancy all these little dainties together (and sweet preserves beside), by way of relish to their roast pig. They are generally those dyspeptic ladies and gentlemen who eat unheard-of quantities of hot corn bread (almost as good for the digestion as a kneaded pin-cushion), for breakfast, and for supper. Those who do not observe this custom, and who help themselves several times instead, usually suck their knives and forks meditatively, until they have decided what to take next: then pull them out of their mouths: put them in the dish; help themselves; and fall to work again. At dinner, there is nothing to drink upon the table, but great jugs full of cold water. Nobody says anything, at any meal, to anybody. All the passengers are very dismal, and seem to have tremendous secrets weighing on their minds. There is no conversation, no laughter, no cheerfulness, no sociality, except in spitting; and that is done in silent fellowship round the stove, when the meal is over. Every man sits down, dull and languid; swallows his fare as if breakfasts, dinners, and suppers, were necessities of nature never to be coupled with recreation or enjoyment; and having bolted his food in a gloomy silence, bolts himself, in the same state. But for these animal observances, you might suppose the whole male portion of the company to be the melancholy ghosts of departed book-keepers, who had fallen dead at the desk: such is their weary air of business and calculation. Undertakers on duty would be sprightly beside them; and a collation of funeral-baked meats, in comparison with these meals, would be a sparkling festivity.”

The separate listing of ‘maize’ and ‘Indian corn’ is a little baffling, but what would a Victorian Englishman be expected to know about the strange American substitute for ‘English corn’ or wheat? Perhaps someone with more expertise in the maize department can shed some light on what two variations he might have seen on the table?

I do hope that Dickens had some better experiences with corn-bread at some other time during his stay. We have had several recipes for corn-bread in the past, so today I give you an alternative use for corn – perhaps Dickens would have enjoyed these fritters more than the bread?

Corn Fritters: American.
Take 12 small ears of corn, free from all silk; cut the grains down the centre, and scrape all the corn and milk off the cob; add about 2 table-spoonsful of flour, 2 eggs well beaten, pepper and salt to your taste, and mix the whole well together. Put a table-spoonful of this mixture at a time in a frying-pan with hot lard or butter; when brown, turn them, and serve them hot. If the corn is large it will require 3 eggs, if very milky, a little extra flour. It should be thicker than pancake batter; a hot fire will cook them in 5 minutes. They are excellent for breakfast, and may be mixed the night before. For dessert put in sugar instead of salt and pepper, and eat them with your favorite sauce.
[The ladies' new book of cookery … Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, 1852]

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Good Old Idea.

Quotation for the Day …

It is not elegant to gnaw Indian corn. The kernels should be scored with a knife, scraped off into the plate, and then eaten with a fork. Ladies should be particularly careful how they manage so ticklish a dainty, lest the exhibition rub off a little desirable romance. Charles Day, 1844.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tree Fruit.

The very authoritative British journalist and broadcaster Richard Dimbleby hosted the very authoritative current affairs program Panorama in the 1950’s - it was, naturally, on the BBC – and you cant (or couldn’t, in the 50’s) get any more authoritative than the BBC. On this date in 1957 he reported on the springtime harvest of spaghetti in Switzerland (not such vast spaghetti plantations as in Italy). He described how the growers always had an anxious time in March for fear of frost, which harmed the flavour of the crop, but that thankfully the dreaded ‘spaghetti weevil’ had all but disappeared. He discussed the fact that each strand of spaghetti grew to the same length each year thanks to intense cultivation by growers over many generations. He even showed pictures of the crop being harvested, and the spaghetti strands being laid out to dry.

Many viewers were most intrigued by the story of something that was only familiar to them in cans: some rang in to ask where they might purchase a spaghetti bush, so that they could grow their own. A not insignificant number were not amused in the sort of way that only the British can be not amused when they realise they have been ‘had’. A few of those were apparently BBC staff. Today, he would have been sued for causing embarassmen-stress to his fellow-workers, but the Brits still had their post-war strength of character, and he got away with it. The spoof is still the best-ever April Fool’s joke. Ever.

Just to show that there were a few enlightened souls in the British Isles at that time, I give you a recipe from the wonderfully British Constance Spry Cookery Book (1956). Constance and her colleague Rosemary Hume ran the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London in the ‘50’s, so could be expected to be at the cutting edge of international cuisine.

Spaghetti a la Bolognese.
1 large onion
1 oz. dripping
¼ lb. liver (chicken, calf, or pig)
½ oz flour
1 ½ gills stock
a bouquet garni
1 teaspoon concentrated tomato pureé or 1 tablespoon reduced tomato pulp.
1 clove of garlic, crushed with a large pinch of salt.
Freshly ground black pepper
A dash of sherry or Marsala
½ lb spaghetti
a little melted butter
chopped parsley and grated cheese.
Finely chop the onion. Melt the dripping in a sauté pan or shallow saucepan, add the onion and sauter slowly till turning colour, then put in the liver (whole if chicken liver, diced if otherwise) and cook briskly for a few minutes; draw aside. (If chicken liver is used, it must now be removed, sliced, and returned to the pan.) Sprinkle in the flour,mix, pour on the stock, season, and bring to the boil. Add the bouquet, tomato, and clove of garlic, and finish seasoning with some freshly ground black pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy-looking. Remove the bouquet and add the sherry. Meanwhile cook the spaghetti … and return to the pan, add a little melted butter, cover with a cloth, and leave to stand in a warm place until the sauce is ready. Pile the spaghetti up in a hot dish and pour over the sauce. Seve at once, well dusted with chopped parsley, and with a dish of cheese handed separately.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Mighty Spread.

Quotation for the Day …

No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention. Christopher Morley