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


Rosemary said...

I've come across the word panada in stories of the Peninsular War period - never knew what it was!

Another time honoured use fr bread was 'bread and milk' which I still love. I didn't know, until my daughter came back form a stint at a northern English hospital, that there it was known as 'pobs'. Anybody know anything about this word?

The Old Foodie said...

I have not heard the word 'pobs', but I will certainly search it out. Watch out for another blog story!