Thursday, May 15, 2008

A little Soy.

May 15 ...

Dr. William Kitchiner and his Magazine of Taste is our inspiration for the week. It proves that spice mixes are not a new idea. It is probably fair to say that Dr. Kitchiner was the inventor of the concept in the first few decades of the nineteenth century. The box itself is an even more impressive idea and has a lot of appeal in this plastic world – in fact I would quite like one myself, if I could find someone to make it for me out of mahogany (another beautiful timber would do), with the correct number of compartments.

It has not been easy to decide which recipes to include this week, but I found myself slightly intrigued by ‘Pea Powder’. I assumed it must consist of dried peas, simply pre-ground to speed up the cooking process. It is not. It is a flavouring powder (of course) with the most amazing power of suggestion.

Pea Powder.
Pound together in a marble mortar half an ounce each of dried Mint and Sage, a drachm of Celery Seed, and a quarter drachm of Cayenne Pepper; rub them through a fine sieve. This gives a very savoury relish to Pea Soup, and to Watergruel, which, by its help, if the eater of it has not the most lively imagination, he may fancy he is sipping good Pease Soup.

Another essential sauce in Dr. Kitchiner’s box is Soy (position 15 in his box) and he uses it in many recipes. He does not attempt to fake it, which is surprising, given that he does not hesitate to tell how to make all manner of other sauces and catsups. Luckily, one of his contemporaries gave instructions for the genuine article:

SOY, is a liquid condiment, or sauce, imported chiefly from China. It is prepared with a species of white haricots, wheat flour, common salt, and water ; in the proportions respectively of 50, 60, 50, and 250 pounds. The haricots are washed, and boiled in water till they become so soft as to yield to the fingers. They are then laid in a flat dish to cool, and kneaded along with the flour, a little of the hot water of the decoction being added from time to time. This dough is next spread an inch or an inch and a half thick upon the flat vessel (made of thin staves of bamboo), and when it becomes hot and mouldy, in two or three days, the cover is raised upon bits of stick, to give free access of air. If a rancid odor is exhaled, and the mass grows green, the process goes on well; hut if it grows black, it must be more freely exposed to the air. As soon as all the surface is covered with green mouldiness, which usually happens in eight or ten days, the Cover is removed, and the matter is placed in the sunshine for several days. When it has become as hard as a stone, it is cut into small fragments, thrown into an earthen vessel, and covered with the 250 pounds of water having the salt dissolved in it. The whole is stirred together, and the height at which the water stands is noted and the height at which the water stands is noted. The vessel being placed in the sun, its contents are stirred up every morning and evening ; and a cover is applied at night, to keep it warm and exclude rain. The more powerful the sun, the sooner the soy will be completed ; but it generally requires two or three of the hottest summer months. As the mass diminishes by evaporation, well water is added; and the digestion is continued till the salt water has dissolved the whole of the flour and the haricots ; after which the vessel is left in the sun for a few days, as the good quality of the soy depends on the completeness of the solution, which is promoted by regular stirring. When it has at length assumed an oily appearance, it is poured into bags, and strained. The clear black liquid is the soy, ready for use. It is not boiled, but is put up into bottles, which must be carefully corked.
[A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines: Containing a Clear Exposition ... Andrew Ure, 1847]

Dr Kitchiner’s Magazine of Taste - impressive as it is - contains only a small fraction of the essences, quintessences, sauce bases, and powders on his book. Tomorrow we will enjoy some of its omissions.

Tomorrow’s Story …


Quotation for the Day …

A well made sauce will make even an elephant or a grandfather palatable. Grimod de la Reynière.

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