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!

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