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)

11 comments:

Rosemary said...

Chicken was a luxury food. Suppose a flock of twenty hens. Each year one would rear, perhaps one hatch of chickens, perhaps two? That makes six chicken for flock replacement, six old hens for the pot - no make that four, supposing 'something' got two of them (age, predators, accidents) twelve young cockerels. Suppose you can feed four people off one young bird, and have two on two different occasions at celebration meals. Each bird must be killed, and plucked (minimum 1/4 hour, perhaps more like 1/2 hour)and then drawn and singed (ten mins.). Killing a large pig, and most WERE large, - well, say an hour to kill and scrape and eviscerate. Then two days to butcher and salt parts. But you end up with pounds and pounds of meat. Not twelve or twenty meals, but perhaps 100. Your neighbours will help with the work, and in return give you pork. You try not to kill pigs at the same time, so you quite often have fresh pork (and usually have salt pork aka bacon). So pork is quite a common meat, and less work goes into it. I know this as for years I eat only my own meat.

Mary in Austin said...

Chickens were raised primarily for eggs back when. Chicken meat was considered a by product of egg production prior to 1910 and its supply was less than the demand. Things like winter and supplemental foodstuffs were not so readily available, which kept farm flocks small.

Also, before 1922 and the discovery of Vitamin D, chickens were scarcely available and expensive during the winter months, as they suffered from a lack of sunlight.

Pass the mock (veal) drumsticks, please...

Mary in Austin said...

Chickens were raised primarily for eggs back when. Chicken meat was considered a by product of egg production prior to 1910 and its supply was less than the demand. Things like winter and supplemental foodstuffs were not so readily available, which kept farm flocks small.

Also, before 1922 and the discovery of Vitamin D, chickens were scarcely available and expensive during the winter months, as they suffered from a lack of sunlight.

Pass the mock (veal) drumsticks, please...

Shay said...

Chicken (at least in the US) was considered a luxury until the advent of feeder farms. Cooks disguised cheaper cuts such as pork and veal (!) in dishes with names like "veal birds".

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

No good explanation on this one. I am a fan of the hedgehog meatloaf idea, though. For years, I have wanted to make a Mock Apple Pie to see if it really tasted anything like apples -- maybe it's finally time to give that a go. And there's still that cake in the shape of a lamb shank that is tempting my inner baker ...

Anonymous said...

i agree with the above comments. Chicken was a luxury. The politician who called for "a chicken in every pot" was making a grand promise indeed. I am still amused at recipes for 'mock chicken legs' which involve shaping veal cubes on a skewer to approximate the shape of the real thing!

By the way, I have made Mock Apple Pie with crackers; it does bear a resemblance. It balances the sweet and sour quite nicely, and your tongue is almost fooled. It's a fun dish to make at least once, for the novelty of it!

hhoffman said...

I was just reading Colin Spencer's excellent book "British Food - an extraordinary thousand years of history" and came across mock food. His view was that it was a product of the Victorian era's very rigid and powerful social structure. It was extremely important to be doing the "right thing" and copying the higher classes was one of the things to do. In this, appearance was the most important aspect. He mentions recipes for mock turtle soup, mock crab and mock lobster salad, none of which have any kind of fish ingredient showing that mocking the taste was not at all important.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello everyone: I am convinced by you all that the mock chicken pie was indeed a substitute of a more expensive ingredient for another. Thankyou.
hhofman: I have just picked up a copy of Colin Spencer's book, but have not started it yet. I agree that the Victorians got really serious about mock food (and that it was related to 'status' issues) - but I hope to show you over the week that the idea itself has been with us for a very long period of time.

~~louise~~ said...

I have admired your blog for much too long not to have left a comment before today. Perhaps, I have felt a wee bit intimidated or perhaps, I'm in awe of the wealth of culinary history you explore. Whatever the case, I must say, thank you. Your blog is sheer delight!

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Louise - I am very happy that you are enjoying my little stories - but I'd hate to think I was intimidating! Please continue to enjoy.

SometimesKate said...

I know this is about six years too late, but in western Pennsylvania (eastern US state) there used to be a dish called "City Chicken". I'm fairly sure I first read about it in one of John Thorne's books, or maybe on Lynn Oliver's Food Timeline.

Anyway, it was pork that was shaped to look like a chicken leg, more or less. Some recipes wrapped the pork in some veal, and others had you shove chunks of pork on a skewer, then bunch them up at one end to look like a chicken leg.