Monday, June 30, 2008

Food & Finance.

June 30 ...

Today here in Australia it is the last day of the financial year – the day, depending on one’s financial capabilities - when one either resolves to embrace future frugality, or plans the shopping spree when the tax cheque comes in.

It made me think of a financial theme for the day. I have often wondered how the classic French garnish that entitles a dish to be styled ‘à la Financière. ’ This garnish (and I am quoting Larousse here) consists of ‘cock’s combs, cock’s kidneys, quenelles, lamb’s sweetbreads, mushrooms, olives, and strips of truffles’. Methinks it sounds like a meal all on its own, not a mere garnish. An alternative gives it as including a sauce made with Madeira and Truffles, which probably explains the name - it is obviously short for ‘à la clever Financière. ’

Cookbooks authors almost always stress the necessity of economy in the kitchen (apart from the Baron Brisse, that is). Cookbooks of the Victorian era seemed to particularly delight in giving recipes whose very names suggested that they were suitable for economically distraught times. We had ‘Half Pay Pudding’ in a previous story, but there are many others – Save-All Pudding, Miser’s Sauce, Poor-Man’s Soup, for example. All quite gloomy, really. I want to assume that at least a few of you are clever, even elegant, economists. To you I dedicate this pudding, from Cassell’s Shilling Cookery (1888).

The Elegant Economist’s Pudding.
Cut the remains of any plum pudding into neat slices and lay them in a buttered pie-dish, pressing them down to make them adhere. Make as much custard as will fill the dish. Let it go cold. Pour it upon the pudding; cover the top with thin slices of pudding, and bake in a gentle oven. When the custard is set, the pudding is done enough. It will take from half an hour to an hour, depending on its size. The custard may be plain or rich, according to taste.

Any ideas (ridiculous or otherwise) as to how this pudding got its name?

Tomorrow’s Story.

Dominion Day, 1933.

Quotation for the Day.

When you give food to the poor, they call you a saint.
When you ask why the poor have no food, they call you a communist.
Archbishop Helder Camara.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Macaroni, Unusual.

June 27 ...

We have had a macaroni previously on this blog – a story that specifically addressed the problematic definition of the word, as well as commenting on the history of macaroni cheese, and giving Mrs. Beeton’s recipe for macaroni pudding. We have also had at least one nineteenth century menu which included the very popular macaroni soup. We have had vegetarian Macaroni Italian Fashion , and even macaroni specifically for the Pope. Macaroni has played a supporting role in a lot of other recipes on this blog too.

Just when you think there is nothing more to be said on the subject of macaroni, up pops this recipe:

Macaroni Cordial.
This favourite French liqueur is very little known in England. The secret of making it is, even in France, confined to a very few persons. We have, however, obtained the genuine receipt, which is as follows: - Infuse, for fourteen days, in nine pints of brandy, one pound of bitter almonds, with a small quantity of Bohemian or Spanish angelica root beaten together; shaking frequently the vessel which contains all these ingredients. At the expiration of that time, place the whole contents in a cucurbit; and, distilling, in balneo mariae, five pints of spirit thus impregnated with the flavour of the almonds and angelica, make a syrup with five pounds of sugar, two quarts of eau-de-mille-fleurs, and three quarts of common distilled water. This being mixed with the spirits, add thirty drops of the essence of lemons ; after which, filter it through blotting-paper. This operation is readily performed: and the liquor, having once passed through, becomes a delicious cordial, of the most brilliant clearness ; charming, at the same time, both the taste and sight.
[A Modern System of Domestic Cookery: Or, The Housekeeper's GuideM. Radcliffe 1823]

Presumably this name is related to the use of ‘macaroni’to mean (in English), a foppish, “Continental” invention.

My long-standing intent to make up a glossary for the strange words appearing in this blog never seems to eventuate – or at least, the time required doesn’t. For today only, I will offer a glossary-on-the-fly:

A Cucurbit (you thought it was a gourd, didn’t you?) is “a vessel or retort, originally gourd-shaped, used in distillation and other chemical (or alchemical) processes, or for keeping liquids, etc., in; forming the lower part of an alembic.” [OED]

Balneo Mariae: a water bath.

Eau-de-mille-fleurs: a perfumed water, so called because it supposedly contained the scent of a thousand flowers, (but in practice, usually orange, lavender, and fennel)

Monday’s Story.

Food & Finance.

Quotation for the Day.

I love strong tasting dishes: macaroni prepared by a good Neapolitan cook. Casanova.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Hearty Crab Supper.

June 26

Dorothy Wordsworth, the sister of the poet William Wordsworth, was a writer herself , although she confined her work to a private journal. On this day in 1828 she was in the Isle of Man, and wrote:

“ … Douglas harbour illuminated; … Joanna welcomed us with a dish of crabs sent by her kind friend Mrs. Putnam. Stars appearing at our return; after a hearty supper of crabs etc. retired to rest.”

Crabs are decapod crustaceans. They are also very good to eat, if you don’t mind shelling out the crab meat, or shelling-out for pre-shelled meat in a restaurant. For some reason that I cannot explain, my first thought on reading this journal entry was ‘What have crabs to do with crab apples?’.

Crab Apples are small, excruciatingly sour wild apples impossible to eat raw but fabulous for jam/jelly. Is the word in this context related to that of the fine animal that made Dorothy a fine supper? The origin, it has to be admitted, is uncertain. The OED gives two possibilities, one quite prosaic, one quite delightful. The first I interpret as a Viking inheritance – from the word skrabba, simply meaning fruit of the wild apple tree. I prefer the second – that it is related to crabbed or crabby, as we apply them to persons of ‘contradictory, perverse, and fractious disposition’ – which is reminiscent of the strange gait of that decapod crustacean that we call a crab.

If there is such a thing as linguistic terroir, then I think a modern chef of inventive mind should create a new dish incorporating both crab crustacean and crab apple - and invite me to be on the sampling panel. I can only offer separate recipes from the nineteenth century.

Hot Crab.
Pick the meat out of a crab, clear the shell from the head, then put the meat with a little nutmeg, salt, pepper, a bit of batter, crumbs of bread, and three spoonfuls of
vinegar, into the shell again, and set it before the fire. You may brown it with a salamander. Dry toast should be served to eat it upon.
A New System of Domestic Cookery: Formed Upon Principles of Economy … Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, 1814.

Crab-Apple Jelly.
Wash the fruit clean, put in a kettle, cover with water, and boil until thoroughly cooked. Then pour into a sieve, and let it drain. Do not press it through. For each pint of this liquor allow one pound of sugar. Boil for twenty minutes to half an hour.
Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book. Maria Parloa. 1882.

Tomorrow’s Story.

Macaroni, Unusual.

Quotation for the Day.

It was quite a challenge to make people eat crab ice cream. Heston Blumenthal

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Groaning over dinner.

June 25 ...

Our old friend Parson Woodford and his niece Nancy dined – as they often did - with the local squire, Mr. Custance and his family on this day in 1783.

“Nancy and myself dined and spent part of the afternoon at Weston House with Mr. and Mrs. Custance……whilst we were at Dinner Mrs. Custance was obliged to go from Table about 4 o’clock labour Pains coming on fast upon her. We went home soon after dinner on the Occasion – as we came in the Coach. We had for Dinner some Beans and Bacon, a Chine of Mutton rosted, Giblett Pye, Hashed Goose, a Rabbit rosted and some young Peas, - Tarts, Pudding and Jellies…..Mrs. Custance….was brought to bed of a fine girl about 7 o’clock and as well as could be expected.”

Childbirth being a very frequent event in most households of the time, it was obviously not thought necessary for guests to quit the table immediately when the hostess was forced into a hasty retreat - her ‘groaning time’ upon her. No doubt the good parson, who enjoyed his food, did not let it affect his appetite for the remainder of his dinner.

Childbirth was of course much more hazardous in those days, which probably accounts for the longer celebrations when it all went well. ‘Groaning time’ was indeed the very apt name for for the ‘lying in’ time, and many special foods were prepared for the occasion. A special ‘groaning beer’ (or ‘groaning ale’, ‘groaning malt’, ‘groaning drink’) – an extra strong beverage – was prepared to sustain the poor father during the ordeal, and to give to the visitors and ‘gossips’ after it was all over. ‘Gossips’ used to be the name for the women who were present at the birth, and the name meant something like ‘God’s witnesses’ – in the sense that they were spiritual sponsors or godparents of the child (sorry for the linguistic aside, but I couldn’t resist such a great word – think on it next time you accuse someone of gossiping.)

Anyway, the visitors and attendants might also be offered groaning cake, groaning pie, groaning bread or groaning cheese, depending on local tradition. In some areas a groaning cake would be offered to the groaning woman (as if she would be interested!), after it was cut into the exact number of slices as the number of those present, for luck. In other areas every caller to the house after the birth had to partake of a slice of the cake, again ‘for luck’ – there still being a long risky time before mother and child could be deemed safe. Another variation of tradition was that when the woman was going to be ‘churched’ after the birth (to be ceremonially ‘cleansed’ and welcomed back to the flock) she carried a piece of the groaning cake to give to the first person that she met along the way.

There was no single, significant recipe for these cakes and breads and pies – it was the occasion that gave the name. I therefore give you a recipe from the wonderfully named The New Book of Cookery; or, Every Woman a perfect Cook, by Mrs. Eliz. Price, (1785), which would be quite suitable, and could be prepared well in advance of the expected time. Perhaps a fine gift for your next friend so blessed?

A good Plumb Cake.
To a pound and a half of fine flour add a pound of currants, half a pound of raisins stoned and chopped small, ten or twelve eggs (but only half the whites) a pound of butter worked to a cream, a gill of white wine or brandy, a pound of sugar, a little orange flower water, some candied citron, orange, and lemon, a few sweet almonds pounded, a little beaten mace, nutmeg, and cinnamon; when you have beat it all together about an hour, put [it] in the hoop, and send to the oven; it will take two hours baking.

Tomorrow’s Story.

A Hearty Crab Supper.

Quotation for the Day.

Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first. Ernestine Ulmer

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


June 24

Those of us who food-blog away in the bottom half of the globe have to deal on a daily basis with the constant threat of seasonal confusion due to the fact that food bloggers in the other half of the world outnumber us several large numbers to one, and therefore dominate cyberspace. We get a case of serious culinary cognitive dissonance when it is freezing outside yet we are bombarded with recipes for chilly ices and cooling salads, and when we are sweating and sweltering we are offered boiling soups and ‘winter-warming’ casseroles.

Well, today is the traditional Mid-Summer Day “up there” where most of you are. I am here to remind you that for some of us, it is Mid-Winter, and I have my thick socks on. I have made it my mission, at Solstice time, to try to find recipes that will suit us all (2006, 2007), and I have previously given you my Solstice Cake recipe.

What to do this year? We have a joint literary heritage which crosses equatorial boundaries, so I thought something inspired by Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream. I give you Queen Mab’s Pudding, courtesy of Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (circa 1870). I give it first in the original form – suitable for those of you “up there”, then I give my own suggestions for adapting it to Mid-Winter.

Queen Mab’s Pudding.
Put a pint and a half of new milk or cream into a saucepan with any flavouring that may be preferred – either an inch of stick cinnamon, the thin rind of a lemon, vanilla, or eight or nine bitter almonds, blanched or sliced. Simmer the liquor gently till it is pleasantly and rather strongly flavoured, then put with it a pinch of salt, four ounces of loaf sugar, and an ounce of isinglass or gelatine, and stir till the last is dissolved. Strain the mixture through muslin, and mix with it the well-beaten yolks of five eggs. Stir it again over the fire until it begins to thicken, but on no account allow it to boil, or it will curdle. Stir until it is cool, then mix with it an ounce and a half of candied peel and an ounce and a half of dried cherries – or if preferred, preserved ginger or preserved pineapple may be used instead of the cherries, and alittle of the juice of the fruit may be stirred in with the pudding. Pour the pudding into an oiled mould, and let it stand in a cool place, or on ice, until set. Turn the pudding out very carefully, and pour around it a sauce made of clear syrup flavoured with lemon-rind and coloured with cochineal, or if preferred, mixed with a small portion of strawberry or currant acid.

Midwinter version: omit the isinglass or gelatine, throw the dried fruits into the warm custard if you like them, pour into warm bowls, add a blob of colourful jam or some sun-like soaked dried apricots. Eat.

There. Now don’t we all feel like brothers and sisters under the solstice sun?

Tomorrow’s Story.

Groaning over dinner.

Quotation for the Day.

"....that the mounds of ices, and the bowls of mint-julep and sherry cobbler they make in these latitudes, are refreshments never to be thought of afterwards, in summer, by those who would preserve contented minds."
Charles Dickens, while traveling in
America (1842)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Chocolate Alternatives.

June 23 ...

Last week, in the story on chocolate, my recipe source was Every man his own Gauger, by ‘James Lightbody, Philomath’, published in 1695. It is a lovely little book full of useful tables of measures and prices as well as information on ‘the true Art of Brewing Beer, Ale, Mum, … and several English Wines’. There is a section called ‘The Compleat Coffee-Man’ (good name for a business, if you are looking for one), which teaches ‘how to make Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, Content, and the Richest, Finest Cordials &c…’.

Now Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate were all new to England in the seventeenth century, so what caught my eye in James’ book was that chocolate had already become a gold standard in the delicious beverage department, as shown by the fact that there was already an interest in alternatives. Note that I do not use the word ‘substitute’, for I do not believe that there is a true substitute for chocolate. And that includes carob (see the quotation below). If you need a chocolate alternative – delicious in its own right, but with no pretensions to be the Vague Ghost of a Pale Imitation of The Real Thing, then this idea from James’ book sounds just the ticket.

To make a sort of Liquor, which is not in the least inferior to Chocolate.
Take a sufficient quantity of the kernels of new Walnuts, and take the small rine or skin from them, put them into a pan and dry them so as they may be beaten to a fine powder, then searce [sieve] the powder through a fine searce, beating the Gross till it become as fine as it may pass the searce; to every pound of the same powder, add six ounces of fine sugar, one ounce of Nutmegs, half a dram of Saffron, all beat to a powder. Then take a pint of milk, and half a pint of water, and boyle for a small time over a gentle fire, and put thereto one ounce and a half of the powder; then take a small quantity of the Liquor out and beat with a dozen of Eggs, adding thereto three or four spoonfuls of Cream, and put all together and let it boyle for half an hour gently, then take it off and keep it hot for use; observing to use the Mollinet, as you did in Chocolate: I have known Hazelnuts used instead of Walnuts.

The recipe also gives you another opportunity to use your mollinet, which I know that some of you rushed out to buy recently.

It strikes me that this beverage actually sounds like a walnut custard: would it not also be a delicious alternative to accompany your apple pie? Or if made with hazelnuts, to add value to your chocolate cake?

The little Philomath* also mentioned something called ‘Content’ alongside tea, coffee, and chocolate in his foreword. He does indeed have are recipe for such a desirable thing, and I will give it to you next week, perhaps?

*The OED tells me that this is an obsolete word for "A lover of learning; a student or scholar, esp. of mathematics, natural philosophy, etc.; (formerly) spec. astrologer or prognosticator"

Tomorrow’s Story.


Quotation for the Day.

Carob is a brown powder made from the pulverized fruit of a Mediterranean evergreen. Some consider carob an addequate substitute for chocolate because it has some similar nutrients (calcium, phosphorus) and because it can, when combined with vegetable fat and sugar, be made to approximate the color and consistency of chocolate. Of course, the same argument can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt. Sandra Boynton.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Isabella goes to Paris.

June 20 ...

On this day in 1389, Queen Isabella, the wife of Charles VI of France, made a ceremonial entry into Paris. “Isabella of Bavaria” was married off to Charles when she was fifteen years old. She had by the time of this event, at the tender age of nineteen, already given him two of the twelve children she would ultimately bear him.

Royal “entries” into major cities were huge events lasting days on end – with parages, entertainments, tournaments, - and of course, feasting. The banquet which followed Isabella’s official annointing as the Queen of France was, of course, as grand and spectacular as massive wealth and power could make it. The scenario was described in detail:

“You must know, that the great table of marble, which is in this hall, and is never removed, was covered with an oaken plank, four inches thick, and the royal dinner placed thereon. Near the table, and against one of the pillars, was the king's buffet, magnificently decked out with gold and silver plate, and much envied by many who saw it. Before the king's table, and at some distance, were wooden bars with three entrances, at which were serjeants at arms, ushers, and archers, to prevent any from passing them but those who served the table; for in truth the crowd was so very great, there was no moving but with much difficulty. There were plenty of minstrels, who played away to the best of their abilities.

… There were two other tables in the hall, at which were seated upwards of five hundred ladies and damsels; but the crowd was so great, it was with difficulty they could be served with their dinner, which was plentiful and sumptuous. Of this it is not worth the trouble to give any particulars; but I must speak of some devices which were curiously arranged, and would have given the king much amusement, had those who had undertaken it been able to act their parts.

In the middle of the hall was erected a castle of wood, forty feet high, twenty feet long, and as many wide, with towers at each corner, and one larger in the middle. This castle was to represent the city of Troy the great, and the tower in the middle the palace of Ilion, from which were displayed the banners of the Trojans, such as king Priam, Hector, his other sons, and of those shut up in the place with them. The castle being on wheels, was very easily moved about. There was a pavilion likewise on wheels, on which were placed the banners of the Grecian kings, that was moved, as it were, by invisible beings, to the attack of Troy. There was also, by way of reinforcement, a large ship, well built, and able to contain one hundred men at arms, that, like the two former, was ingeniously moved by invisible wheels. Those in the ship and pavilion made a sharp attack on the castle, which was gallantly defended; but from the very great crowd, this amusement could not last long. There were so many people on all sides, several were stifled by the heat; and one table near the door of the chamber of parliament, at which a numerous company of ladies and damsels were seated, was thrown down, and the company forced to make off as well as they could.

The queen of France was near fainting, from the excessive heat, and one of the doors was forced to be thrown open to admit air. The lady of Coucy was in the same situation. The king, noticing this, ordered an end to be put to the feast, when the tables were removed, for the ladies to have more room. Wine and spices were served around, and every one retired when the king and queen went to their apartments.”

Poor young Isabella; she was already pregnant with her third child, a girl who was also to be called Isabella - the future wife of King Richard II of England. No wonder she felt a little tired and faint – it must have been an exhausting day.

It is disappointing for his readers six centuries later that the scribe did not believe that the plentiful and sumptuous feast was worth describing in detail. The story does give me an excuse to give you some recipes from the time however, for I have been neglecting the medieval era. I have chosen some dishes for Isabella from a ‘cookbook’ of the time written by the ‘master of the kitchen stores of the king’, who presumably had a lot of say in the preparation of this banquet. The book is usually referred to as Le Viander de Taillevent, it was written somewhere between 1386 and 1393, and rapidly became the culinary gospel of medieval France.

White capon soup.
Cook them in wine and water, dismember them, and fry them in lard. Crush almonds with some capon livers and dark meat, steep in your broth, and put to boil on your meat. Take ginger, cloves, galingale, long pepper and grains of paradise, and steep in vinegar. Boil well together, and thread in well beaten egg yolks. It should be well thickened.

Crayfish stew.
Take almonds, wash without blanching or peeling, and crush. Take some fine large crayfish, cook them in two parts of water and one part of wine, with a bit of vinegar if you wish, drain them, and let them cool. Remove the feet and tails from their shells and set them aside. Beat and crush the carcasses very well (like the almonds), steep everything in clear puree of peas, wine and verjuice, and strain together through cheesecloth. Take the crayfish feet and tails, fry them in a bit of butter, dry them like fried loach, and boil them in a pan or fine clean pot. Take ginger, a bit of cinnamon, a bit of grains of paradise, a bit less cloves than grains, and a bit of long pepper, steep in a bit of wine and verjuice, and add sugar generously. Boil everything together and salt lightly. If you wish to add fried fish do so. It should be thick enough to cover your meat.

Large and small crisps.
Cook the large crisps in some hot lard in a syrup pot or brass casserole. Make them from egg whites and fine flour beaten together. It should not be too thick. Have a deep wooden bowl, put some batter in the bowl, and shake the hand inside the pan above the hot lard [pouring batter into the lard]. Keep them from browning too much.
Cook the small crisps in an iron pan. Beat egg yolks and whites with some fine flour. It should be a little stiffer than the batter for large crisps. Have a little fire (as long as it is hot). Take your wooden bowl pierced at the bottom, and put some batter in it. When everything is ready, pour [a thread of batter from the hole in the bowl] and form it into the shape of a small buckle (or larger), with a kind of tongue of the same batter through the buckle. Let them cook in the lard until they are plump.

Monday’s Story.

Chocolate Alternatives.

Quotation for the Day.

Food for thought is no substitute for the real thing. Walt Kelly (1913-1973).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Superdreadnought food.

June 19.

On June 19th, 1915, a banquet was held to celebratet the launching of the “Superdreadnought” USS Arizona. One of the speakers was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would be President in 1941 when the Arizona was destroyed at Pearl Harbour.

Little Neck Clam Cocktails
Strained Chicken Gumbo, in Cups
Queen Olives Salted Almonds Hot House Radishes
Sweet Midget Gherkins
Crab Flakes, A La Newburg in Cassolettes
Sirloin of Beef, Pique, with Fresh Mushrooms
Surfine Peas Bermuda
Sorbet National

Half Phila Squab Chicken, with Cresses
Waldorf Salad
Fancy Forms of Ice Cream
Biscuit Tortoni
Assorted Cakes Fancy Macaroons
Lady Fingers
Chocolate Mints
Demi Tasse

It is always interesting to look at extensive menus like this one and wonder what I would have chosen. The chicken gumbo? I have to admit that I am frightened of gumbo. I am not sure why: I think I read a treatise on its ‘slimy’ texture in my formative years. ‘Slime’ and ‘food’ should not appear in the same sentence. Perhaps it is silky? Oleaginous? Unctuous?

Chicken Gumbo.
Cut up a young fowl as if for a fricassee. Put into a stew-pan a large table-spoonful of fresh butter, mixed with a tea-spoonful of flour, and an onion finely minced. Brown them over the fire, and then add a quart of water, and the pieces of chicken, with a large quarter of a peck of ochras, (first sliced thin, and then chopped,) and a salt-spoon of salt. Cover the pan, and let the whole stew together till the ochras are entirely dissolved, and the fowl thoroughly done. If it is a very young chicken, do not put it in at first; as half an hour will be sufficient to cook it. Serve it up hot in a deep dish.
A cold fowl may be used for this purpose.
You may add to the ochras an equal quantity of tomatoes cut small. If you use tomatoes, no water will be necessary, as their juice will supply a sufficient liquid.
[The Lady's Receipt-Book; By Miss Leslie. 1847]

Tomorrow’s Story.

Isabella goes to Paris.

Quotation for the Day.

The great dish of New Orleans, and which it claims having the honor of invented, is the GUMBO. There is no dish which at the same time so tickles the palate, satisfies the appetite, furnished the body with nutriment sufficient to carry on the physical requirements, and costs so little as a Creole Gumbo. It is a dinner in itself, being soup, piece de résistance, entremet and vegetable in one. Healthy, and not heating to the stomach and easy of digestion, it should grace every table.
William H. Coleman, Historical Sketch Book and Guide to
New Orleans and Environs (1985)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Waterloo Food.

June 18 ...

On this day in 1815 the British defeated Napoleon Bonaparte (and hence their traditional enemy, the French) once and for all near a Belgian town called Waterloo, and they (the British, that is) have celebrated the event ever since. The Duke of Wellington - he who was responsible for the victory - held a banquet on the anniversary every year at Apsley House (his London mansion) until his death. It was a grand affair, and only the elite (including King George IV in 1821) and one was only invited if one was from the elite of society, or was one of his old military comrades.

Other less grand celebrations went on, each individual or community commemorating the day as they could. The villagers of Denby Dale in Yorkshire in 1815 made the second of their famous giant pies, calling it The Victory Pie. In 1845, the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt and his team in deepest Australia had been saving their sugar bags for just this day. The starving men boiled them up with their tea, dissolving out the last sweet fugitive grains as a delicious treat.

So how shall we celebrate the day? Surprisingly, there is little named for the battle iself, so we must be content to celebrate the man who made it all happen.

There is of course, Filet of Beef Wellington, the beef covered in foie gras and truffles, the whole wrapped in golden puff pastry, and the absolute dinner party dish of the 60’s . Apocryphal stories abound as to its naming. The reality is that beef wrapped in pastry has been around for as long as there has been pastry. The particular incarnation that we refer to may indeed have been named in his honour – or is it in honour of his highly polished boots, as some say?

Nineteenth century chefs often named their dishes after famous people (living or dead) or famous events. Here is one from Queen Victoria’s chef, Francatelli – a dish which also looks to Wellington’s legs.

Legs of Fowl à la Wellington.
In this case also the legs of fowls whose fillets have already been used will serve the purpose : the legs, wings, and back-bones should be separated and neatly trimmed, placed in a deep sautapan with two tablespoonfuls of salad-oil, a sprig of thyme, one bay-leaf, a clove of garlic, a little pepper and salt. Fry the members of fowls over a sharp fire until they are done of a light-brown colour, and then, after removing the bay-leaf and thyme, shake in two tablespoonfuls of flour, and one of Crosse and Blackwell's Indian Chutnee; stir all together, moisten with half a pint of good gravy, simmer the whole over the fire for ten minutes, and serve.
[The Cook’s Guide, Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1863]

Tomorrow’s Story.

Superdreadnought food.

Quotation for the Day.

Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event. Oscar Wilde.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mangled Menus.

June 17 ...

The S.S. Pretoria, in spite of its name, was a German vessel of the Hamburg-America Line. As the company name suggests, the ship plied the waves between those two countries, beginning in 1898. Over its travelling life the ship carried many German migrants to new lives in America. Migrants usually travelled third class (steerage), and the ship had room for over two thousand of them. First and second classes added up to less than four hundred.

On this day in 1911, some of the passengers sat down to the following bill of fare – written in two languages, not including the inevitable tortured French, and English, and Franglais phrases.

Hauptmahlzeit (Dinner)
Suppe Magenta (Soup Magenta)
Gedämpfer Glattfisch (Braised Flounders in Parsley)
Boeuf à la Mode, deutsche Art (Boeuf à la Mode à l’Allemande)
Aprikosen-Kompott (Stewed Apricots)
Kabinett-Pudding (Cabinet Pudding)
Weinschaum-Sauce (Chaudeau Sauce)
Käse Frucht Kafee (Cheese Fruit Coffee)

One of the constantly amusing things about looking at old menus is the apparently random translation rules. The only thing that is consistent is the lack of consistency. The names of individual dishes often seem to be random derivations and amalgamations of several languages - of the country where the meal is held, of where the dish originates (or is believed to originate), of French (because that was the standard menu language).

Surely Suppe Magenta did not need translating to Soup Magenta ? (why not Magenta Soup?).

Boeuf à la Mode, deutsche Art (on the ‘German’ side of the menu) translated into Boeuf à la Mode à l’Allemande for the ‘English’ side of the menu is almost a non-translation. Why not Beef, Fashionable German Style? Or Fashionable Beef, German style?

Aprikosen-Kompott sounds far more elegant than Stewed Apricots, which sounds very boarding school. Why not Apricot Compôte, which is closer in concept and would be understood in English, and is also elegant?

The Weinschaum-Sauce is wonderful. Apparently it is the German name for the (Italian) Zabaglione, which on the English side of the menu becomes Chaudeau Sauce, which is French-ish and means a sweet pudding sauce - so why is it not Sweet Pudding Sauce? (or is that custard?)

Surely Suppe Magenta is cherry soup? Or is it beet soup? Any German foodies out there that can shed some light?

Cherry Soup (Berlin).

Trim and stone 1 pint of red cherries, add I pint of water, juice and grated rind of a lemon, cinnamon, sugar to taste, and 3 tablespoonfuls of wine or cordial, claret is the best. Cook until done and serve, hot or very cold, with a plate of buttered toast. It will take about half an hour to cook, mashing the fruit well. These fruit and wine soups are favorite hot weather fare in Austria and Germany.

[With a Saucepan over the Sea; Adelaide Keen, Boston, 1902]

Tomorrow’s Story.

Waterloo Food.

Quotation for the Day.

I eat at this German-Chinese restaurant and the food is delicious. The only problem is that an hour later you're hungry for power. Dick Cavett.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Chocolate, the Old-Fashioned Way.

June 16 ...

This day in 1657, so all the books say, was the day that Chocolate was first advertised in England. The Publick Advertiser announced:

“In Bishopsgate St, in Queen's Head Alley, at a Frenchman's house, is an excellent West Indian drink called chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time and also made at reasonable rates.”

Chocolate was a very new and exotic treat in England at this time, but within a few decades it was easily available (for those who could afford it) in London’s famous coffee houses. At this time chocolate was a drink – ‘eating’ chocolate was still two centuries away. It was made by laboriously pounding and sifting the cacao beans to a fine powder from which compressed ‘cakes’ or rolls were made, which were then grated up when a drink was needed. The variety of flavoured chocolate drinks in trendy modern shops – such as hazelnut, cinnamon, mocha, vanilla etc – are not a new idea, they are a rediscovery of a very old one. Right from the outset, chocolate was improved with added flavours.

Here is the seventeenth century method of making yourself a chocolate drink, taken from a small book written in 1695.

To make Chocolate Cakes and Rowles.
Take Cocoa Nutts [i.e Cacao Beans], and dry them gently in an Iron pan, or pot, and peel off the husks, then powder them very small, so that they may be sifted through a fine searce; then to every pound of the said powder add seven ounces of fine white sugar, half an ounce of Nutmegs, one Ounce of Cinamon, Ambergreece and Musk each four Grains, but these two may be omitted, unless it be for extraordinary use.

To Make Chocolate.
Take of Milk one Pint, and of Water half as much, and boil it a while over a gentle Fire; then grate the quantity of one Ounce of the best Chocolate [i.e the cake, as above], and put therein; then take a small quantity of the Liquor out, and beat with six Eggs; and when it is well beat, pour it into the whole quantity of Liquor, and let it boil half an Hour gently, stirring often with your Mollinet; then take it off the Fire, and set it by the Fire to keep hot, and when you serve it up, stir it well with your Mollinet. If you Toast a thin slice of white Bread, and put therein, it will eat extraordinary well.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Mangled Menus.

Quotation for the Day …

Listen, then: let any man who shall have drunk too deeply of the cup of pleasure, or given to work too many of the hours which should belong to sleep; who shall find the accustomed polish of his wit turned to dullness, or be tortured by a fixed idea which robs him of all liberty of thought; let all such, we say, administer to themselves a good pint of ambered chocolate . . . and they will see marvels. Brillat-Savarin.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A menu of sorts.

June 13 ...

In the early nineteenth century a bill of fare was not just a list of dishes in the order they were to be served, because, to put it simply, they were not served in sequential order. Our ‘modern’ method of serving a meal in that way is attributed to a Russian influence – hence its name, service à la russe. As the nineteenth century progressed service à la russe gradually took over. By the 1860’s, Mrs Beeton felt obliged to include suggested bills of fare in both styles. By the end of the century the old method - service à la française’- was dead.

In service à la russe there were two courses (small sweet treats such as fruit and nuts etc might be served after the meal proper – this ‘course’ became our dessert.) All of the dishes for the first course were placed on the table with absolute symmetry both horizontally and vertically, before the guests took their seats. Of course, this meant that the food must have been almost cold before the guests got to it, but presentation was all. There was no demarcation between savoury and sweet dishes, and both appeared on the table in each course. When the first course was finished, all of the plates etc were removed and the table completely re-set with the second course dishes. A few dishes that were expected to be finished first, such as soup and fish, were removed during the course, and replaced with – more substantial dishes called ‘removes’

What this meant for cookbook writers was that suggested bills of fare had to include instructions for positioning of each dish on the table. The easiest way to do this was by providing a picture. One early menu book was A Complete System of Cookery (1816) by John Simpson, and he did just that. He had two dinner suggestions for today, June 13 – this is one of them.

Simpson naturally included recipes for most of his suggested dishes. I have chosen a simple soup for today, suitable for the weather conditions whichever hemisphere you live in.

Italian Soup.
Blanch as much Italian paste as is sufficient for a tureen of soup, let it lie in water a few minutes, then put it into a small soup-pot with about two quarts of best stock. Let it boil gently for about half an hour; if for white, make a liason as before directed page 50. [i.e. four yolks of eggs, a little flour, and a pint of good cream that has been boiled: beat the eggs and flour well up, then put the cream, and strain it through a hair sieve, and put two or three spoonfuls of beshemell to it.]

‘Italian paste’ is of course, pasta.

I wondered what other ‘Italian’ dishes Simpson might have included in his book, and what qualified a dish as uniquely ‘Italian’.

He has Italian sauce, white – made from light stock, truffles, shalots, and ham, cream, and a few drops of garlic vinegar and lemon juice, and Italian sauce, brown – made from stock, mushrooms, shalots, Madeira, Seville orange juice and a little sugar. He also has Italian sallad , which is essentially slices of cold chicken, with chopped aspic in the ‘sauce’, the salad being ‘finished as Dutch sallad’, which seems like a strange way to finish an Italian Salad. The Dutch salad ‘finish’ is ‘garnished with flowers cut from radishes and beetroot, any way your fancy directs.’

Note: there is not a tomato in the whole ‘Italian’ selection in the book. That seems very strange today – but tomatoes were still viewed with a little suspicion in some parts of the Old World, in spite of over three hundred years of exposure.

Monday’s Story …

A surprise.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


June 12 ...

A young Scot called James Anderson McLauchlan was bound for Australia aboard the good ship City of Adelaide on this day in 1874. Passengers on long voyages such as this were pre-occupied with the food, for obvious reasons, and often recorded their meals in their journals. James was no exception.

“Friday 12th ... expecting to get into the Trade Winds soon ... preserved meat and preserved potatoes for dinner today, which is a fine change from the salt Horse (as the sailors term it) which had almost taken the skin off my mouth. Our baker made us a piece of short bread for Tea. ... would have been nice but was spoiled in the firing .... ”

I wish James had indicated how the ‘preserved meat’ was preserved, if it was not salted as in the ‘salt horse’ which he mentions – which was salt beef, really, but sailormen will have their little jokes. I would like to know how the ‘preserved meat’ was preserved, if it was not salted. Preserved potatoes were almost universally hated by those at sea, so perhaps the passengers on this voyage were lucky in their supply. The shortbread must have been a treat, even if it was a bit overdone, and James could be expected to give a knowledgeable opinion on it, for it is particularly associated with his homeland.

The dictionary describes shortbread as ‘an article of food, in the form of flat (usually round) cakes, the essential ingredients of which are flour, butter, sugar, mixed in such proportions as to make the cake ‘short’ when baked’. This definition requires another definition , and ‘short’ in this context means crumbly. Good shortbread has the sort of crumbliness that is also a meltingness. The ingredients could just as easily be made into a sweet bread, but the crucial difference of texture is not simply due to proportions as the dictionary suggests, it is also due to technique. What makes flour butter and sugar crumbly or chewy (or hard) depends on the amount of gluten in the final mixture, and gluten development depends on a number of things including how lightly or heavily the dough is handled. Minimal handling keeps the gluten strands short, which makes the finished product ‘short'.

Of course, shortbread got its name before the gluten science was worked out.

Shortbread made with the basic ingredients above is as close to pastry heaven as it is possible to get, but those who are unafraid of gilding the lily can always value add. There are historical precedents to do this. A Scottish dictionary of 1825 says ‘carraways and orange peel are frequently added’, and that wonderful Scottish authority Mistress Meg Dodds (aka Christian Isobel Johnstone) shows in her Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1828).

Scotch Short-Bread.

To the fourth of a peck of flour, take six ounces of sifted sugar and of candied orange-peel, citron and blanched almonds, two ounces each. Cut these in rather large pieces, and mix them with the flour. Rub down among the flour a pound of butter in very minute bits, and melt a half-pound, and with this work up the flour, &c. The less kneading it gets the more short and crisp the cakes will be. Roll out the paste into a large well-shaped oval cake about an inch and a half thick, and divide this. Pinch the cakes neatly at the edges, and mark them on the top with the instrument used for the purpose, or with a fork. Strew caraway-comfits over the top, and a few stripes of citron. Bake on paper rubbed with flour.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A menu of sorts.

Quotation for the Day …

If every Frenchwoman is born with a wooden spoon in her hand. every Scotswoman is born with a rolling-pin under her arm. There may be a divergence of opinion as to her skill in cooking, but it is certain that she has developed a remarkable technique in baking not only in bannocks, scones and oatcakes, but also in the finer manipulations of wheat, in cakes, pastry and shortbread.
F. Marian McNell.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dying for food.

June 11 ...

A dish is pleasant beyond your expectations. What is there beyond mere delicious or yummy (see previous posts) to describe it? A modern phrase that thankfully seems to be declining is ‘to die for’. I don’t like the phrase, I think it is silly, but I am interested in its origins.

The Roman poet Horace wrote the line Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori , meaning ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’. The line has been used ever since in a military sense to glorify past or future deaths, but it has not to my knowledge ever been seriously used in a food context until recent times. I don’t intend to get into any sort of existential debate over this, but I will say that I dont think any piece of chocolate cake is worth dying for. You may disagree.

There are many ways to die food related deaths of course, and I don’t just mean by poisoning. They are not sweet deaths however. The seventeenth century chef known as Vatel ran himself through with his sword in 1661 – ashamed when insufficient fish was delivered for the King’s dinner (he was impatient, the fishmonger was running a little late). A London butcher in the reign of Henry VIII was boiled to death in the Smithfield market for allegedly attempting to poison members of the household of the Bishop of Rochester (apparently the process took two hours.) A ‘poor silly man’ known as The Great Eater of Kent in the early seventeenth century was famous, as his name suggests, for his great feats of eating. For the amusement of his neighbours he would devour an entire sheep, raw, in one sitting, and he regularly ate eighteen yards of black pudding for breakfast. He did not die, however, like Mr Creosote in the movie The Meaning of Life, by bursting asunder. His death was far more ironic than that. King James I came to hear of him, and ‘His majesty asked what he could do more than any other man; and being answered, that he could not do so much; he replied, hang him then, for it is unfit a man should live that eats as much as twenty men, and cant do as much as one.’

If you yourself do like the phrase ‘to die for’, may I caution you in respect of its written use. I have seen it used in the form of an acronym. Be advised that the acronym TDF can also mean ‘Total Dietary Fibre’ (and it is highly unlikely that the food under discussion fits this category), but even more alarmingly, it can also mean Testis-Determining Factor (the context is purely scientific.)

It is perfectly possible that a food could shock you to death. The cost of the truffles in this recipe, for example.

Turkey with Truffles.
Take a fat turkey, cleanse and singe it; if you should chance to burst the gall-bladder or intestines, wash the inside of the body very carefully. Then peel three or four pounds of truffles; chop up a handful of the worst with some fat bacon, and put them, into a saucepan, together with the whole truffles, salt, pepper, spices, and a bay leaf; let these ingredients cook over a slow fire for three quarters of an hour ; then take them off, stir, and leave them to cool ; when quite cold, put them in the body of the turkey, sew up the opening, and let the bird imbibe the flavour of the truffles, by their remaining in for several days, if the season permit. When you wish to dress the turkey, cover it with thin broad slices of bacon, and over that, strong paper, and roast it two hours: when nearly done, take off the paper that the bird may brown a few minutes, and serve.
[French domestic cookery, by an English physician. 1825]

Tomorrow’s Story …


Quotation for the Day …

A nuclear power plant is infinently safer than eating, because 300 people choke to death on food every year. Dixy Lee Ray.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


June 10 ...

Thinking of the words yummy and yum-yum for yesterday’s post led me to consider other words of appreciation that we use for food. The first word that popped into my head was the very uninspiring , delicious, which did not immediately suggest a story. Sometimes (as you may have noticed), a short trip into the Oxford English Dictionary will rescue me – so there I went. The OED says that delicious means ‘highly pleasing or delightful; affording great pleasure or enjoyment’. No argument with the editors there. In tiny print underneath this definition however, was the qualification ‘In mod. use, usually less dignified than ‘delightful’, and expressing an intenser degree and lower quality of pleasure.’ I am both intrigued and frustrated by this sub-text.

Firstly. I had no idea of this particular nuance, did you? The ability to assign a greater range of nuances of dignity to a dish is wonderful news. Take, for example something like a deep-fried caramelised anchovy with truffled rhubarb puree and mustard foam. A pretty dignified dish already. If it is slightly less than pretty dignified, I can refer to it as a deliciously dignified deep-fried caramelised anchovy with truffled rhubarb puree and mustard foam. Alternatively, if it is totally over-the top in the dignity stakes, it is a delightfully dignified deep-fried caramelised anchovy with truffled rhubarb puree and mustard foam. Restaurant reviewers take note.

I have some difficulties with the second part of the phrase however. The OED seems to suggest that a delicious dish (compared with a delightful one), is simultaneously more intensely pleasurable and yet gives a lower quality of pleasure. After my initial excitement about the nuances-thing, I am no longer sure I can use the words accurately. Can anyone out there help, please?

Here is a culinary challenge. Could you invent a pudding that is not only delicious, but also elegant, uisng the humble potato and the mush method. One cook has already done it.

Delicious Pudding.
The farina of potatoes, or potato starch, is said to make an elegant pudding. The following are the ingredients: To one quart of boiled milk, add, gradually, as in making mush, a quarter of a pound of potato flour, well pulverized, a quarter of a pound of sugar, and a little butter; when cold add three eggs, and bake it half an hour. When well prepared, and properly cooked, it is delicious eating.
[American Farmer, 1829]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Dying for food.

Quotation for the Day …

Nobody seems more obsessed by diet than our antimaterialist, otherworldly, New Age, spiritual types. But if the material world is merely illusion, an honest guru should as content with Budweiser and bratwurst as with raw carrot juice, tofu, and seaweed slime. Edward Abbey.

Monday, June 09, 2008


June 9 ...

Two years ago on this very day I told you about a banquet given by the Scottish Geographical Society one hundred and eighteen years ago to this very day. The banquet was given in honour of Henry Morton Stanley, the perpetrator of the famous words spoken in Africa in 1871 - ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’

One banquet, so many possible subjects to discuss. Executive decisions to be made on a daily basis. Such is the burden of a food history blogger. There was something called ‘Niam-Niam Cream’ on this menu, but I avoided the topic two years ago out of sheer ignorance of its composition. That ignorance remains, and will probably persist forever, unless the testing notes of the chef turn up in some dusty Scottish archive, but a story can be wrung from everything however, and I do believe I have found one in the name of this intriguing item.

The Niam-Niam area people of Central Africa of (according to the OED) ‘mixed Negroid descent’, whatever that means. More specifically, it appears that they come from the area that is now called the eastern Sudan. The name means ‘great eaters’, and history or legend say that this particularly refers to their cannibalistic tendencies. It is interesting, this story, in view of my blog post yesterday about the new book Human Cuisine. (Self-promotion Alert coming up!). I do not know if the Niam-Niam people feature in the book - I do not know what else features in it apart from my own contribution, until I receive my complimentary copy. But I digress.

The name of these peoples is apparently pronounced ‘Yum-Yum’. When I found this out (I am no longer sure of the route I took to this point), I hied me off to the Oxford English Dictionary. On yum, the OED says it is ‘echoic’, in other words it is ‘an exclamation of pleasurable anticipation, with implication of sensual or gustatory satisfaction; frequently reduplicated as yum-yum, etc.’

So, is the OED wrong, and the word and the word comes to us from this African tribe? Or is the OED partially right, and it is echoic – but it is globally echoic, because what ever tribe we come from in the world, we all make similar mouth-humming sounds when enjoying a delicious morsel?

I cannot provide a recipe for Niam-Niam Cream, as it must have been an invention of the chef in honour of the famous guest, or perhaps a simple tweaking of an existing ‘cream’ recipe. The following pudding is yummy enough, so it will do.

Cocoa-Nut Pudding.
A quarter of a pound of cocoa-nut, grated.
A quarter of a pound of powdered white sugar.
Three ounces and a half of fresh butter.
The whites only of six eggs.
A table-spoonful of wine and brandy mixed.
Halfa tea-spoonful of rose-water.
Break up a cocoa-nut, and take the thin brown skin carefully off, with a knife. Wash all the pieces in cold water, and then wipe them dry with a clean towel. Weigh a quarter of a pound of cocoa-nut, and grate it very fine, into a soup-plate.
Stir the butter and sugar to a cream, and add the liquor and rose-water gradually to them. Beat the whites only, of six eggs, till they stand alone on the rods ; and then stir the beaten white of egg, gradually, into the butter and sugar. Afterwards, sprinkle in, by degrees, the grated cocoa-nut, stirring hard all the time. Then stir all very well at the last.
Have ready a puff-paste, sufficient to cover the bottom, sides, and edges of a soup-plate. Put in the mixture, and bake it in a moderate oven, about half an hour.
Grate loaf-sugar over it, when cool.
[Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats, By Eliza Leslie, 1836]

Tomorrow’s Story …


Quotation for the Day …

It is, of course, entirely possible to cook without using wine. It is also possible to wear suits and dresses made out of gunny sacks, but who wants to?
Morrison Wood.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Human Cuisine.

I am delighted to announce that the long-awaited (by the editors and contributors that is) anthology on the topic of Cannibalism (which we prefer to call Human Cuisine) is now available. The editors are the illustrious pair - Ken Albala and Gary Allen, and one of the contributors is yours truly. My own contribution (modest down-cast glance here) has a medical spin, and is called The Human Remedy.

You can read about Human Cuisine HERE.

Even better, you can order Human Cuisine HERE.

As the very insightful Gary Allen says "A couple of strategically-placed copies, at your next dinner party, are bound to provide hours of fun at your guest's expense."

A good gift idea for the cookbook addict who has everything perhaps?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Dinner with Jane.

June 6 ...

On this day in 1811 Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra, and let her know that the Wedgwood dinner service that they had ordered had arrived safely. She was clearly delighted – although in an example of pure Austen-ese commented that ‘I think they might have allowed us rather larger leaves, especially in such a year of fine foliage as this … ’

The Wedgwood company was founded in 1759 by Josiah Wedgwood who came from a family that had been potters for four generations. Within a decade he was supplying the nobility of Britain and Europe. Josiah died in Jane’s twentieth year, but the Wedgwood pottery continued on, and still continues - as it should, indefinitely and forever. Jane would no doubt be delighted.

Jane Austen would be high on my list of famous five people you could invite to a dinner party. What would I give her to eat? I have chosen a couple of recipes from her own era, inspired by her own words.

“Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.”

Pigeons en Surprise.
Truss five small pigeons ; put them into boiling water, and let them boil up, keeping the livers apart; then take them out, and put into the same water five fine coss lettuces ; let these boil a quarter of an hour, squeeze them well, and open them into two parts, without separating the leaves; then cover them with a forcemeat, made with the livers of the pigeons, some parsley and green onions, five or six leaves of tarragon, a little chervil, and two shallots, the whole shred fine, and mixed with some butter or grated bacon, salt, coarse pepper, and the yolks of two eggs ; then put a pigeon upon each lettuce and cover it with the leaves in such a manner as that it cannot be seen; tie them thus with packthread, and stew slowly for an hour, with some rather fat stock, a bunch of parsley and green onions, two cloves of garlic, two large onions, a carrot and a parsnip, adding salt and pepper to your taste. When the pigeons are done, drain and untie them, wiping with a linen cloth : serve over them a good veal cullis, if you have any, otherwise put less salt into the stew ; strain it off, skim, and reduce it to the consistence of a sauce, thickening over the fire with a piece of butter, about the size of a walnut, rolled in flour, and the yolks of two eggs beat up ; serve the pigeons wrapt in the lettuces.
[French domestic cookery, by an English physician …. 1825]

“Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim.”

A Fashion Cake.
Mix a handful of
flour with a pint of good cream, half a pound of beef suet, melted and sifted, a quarter of a pound of sugar powder, half a pound of raisins stoned and chopped, dried flowers of orange, a glass of brandy, a little coriander and salt; bake it as all other cakes, about an hour, and glaze or garnish it.
[Every Woman her own House-keeper …. John Perkins, 1796]

Jane Austen has featured in other blog stories HERE and HERE.

Monday’s Story …


Quotation for the Day …

A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of. Jane Austen.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Not enough butter.

June 5 ...

Saving every scrap and drip of fat rendered in the kitchen was a patriotic act for housewives in the Allied countries during both World Wars. Every scrap and drip was almost as good as a bomb on the enemy, because even the blackest grungiest smelliest grease contains a very desirable 10% of glycerine – desirable because it is an essential ingredient in explosives. The fat was collected in empty cans kept beside the stove, and these were collected, usually by the local butcher, and sent to the munitions factory. The authorities were very serious about the saving of fat - a good housewife could earn two extra meat ration points for every pound of fat collected.

The other half of the patriotic culinary effort was reducing the use of fat in the first place, and this was enforced via rationing. In Australia on this day in 1944, the butter ration was reduced to 6 ounces, which was still very luxurious compared with the miserable 2 ounces allowed in Britain. There were all sorts of strategies promoted to offset the inconvenience of not enough fat for cooking. The whole idea seems bizarre today when we are told constantly that fat is poison. At the time however, fat was very desirable: it was necessary to feed you, fill you up, make you grow, and give you strength. There were no gyms, no brand-name gym shoes, and if one was seen running around the neighbourhood barely dressed, one’s neighbours would have called the police on one. Everyone simply moved about more, that’s the difference.

With such a dearth of fat the home baker had to be very creative. Both sides of the problem – finding enough fat and not wasting any fat – were got around partially by making cakes with fats that would not previously have been considered. In a previous story we found out about ‘codfat’ – which is not what it seems - and according to an Australian cookbook of the time made a great Pineapple Cake. Here is another recipe from the same book – some delicious cookies that use the dripping carefully saved from your Sunday roast – if you can stop the family spreading it on their bread, crunchy bits and all, that is.

Glamorous Cookies.
If you want a lovely rich tasting dark brown cookie try this: Melt together one generous tablespoon of clarified beef dripping, one big tablespoon of honey (just as you lift the spoon from the jar) and quarter teacup of brown sugar – the darkest you can buy. When boiling stir in one teaspoon baking soda dissolved in one tablespoon hot water. Cool a little while it bubbles. Then add a lightly whisked egg. Stir well. Flavour with vanilla or orange essence. Pour into it the following mixture.
Two cups sifted flour, one cup rolled oats, a saltspoon of salt and a big cup of raisins or sultanas (or mixed fruits.) Blend to a stiff consistency with the hot honey liquid. Allow to stand for ten minutes. Then put by small teaspoonful on a greased oven slide. Bake in a moderate heat until deep golden brown (approx. 36) Because you have mixed these cookies hot, there is no risk of them spreading flat in the oven.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Afternoon tea with Jane.

Quotation for the Day …

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale. Elsa Schiaparelli.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The last king of America.

June 4 ...

George III was the last king of America, and his birthday was this day in 1738 (although to His Highness, it was May 24, but the change to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 moved his birthday eleven days.) As was befitting, his birthday was celebrated all over his Empire, including no doubt, in the American colonies. At home, on his twenty-fifth birthday in 1763, his young wife Charlotte (whom he had met for the first time on their wedding day eighteen months before) planned a surprise party at the new home he had just bought for her (which we know as now as Buckingham Palace).

The party was held two days after his birthday. Most of the royal family attended, the music was by Handel, and the supper consisted of a hundred cold dishes and an ‘illuminated dessert’. If history contains any details of this fascinating illuminated dessert, then I have not found them, which is immensely sad as it sounds amazing.

You have two days to prepare for the anniversary of this party for the last king of America, and if you are an American Royalist you may wish to do just that. I have chosen three right royal cold dishes, leaving the remaining 97 to you to find. The recipes are from The London Cook, by William Gelleroy, “Late Cook to her Grace the Duchess of Argyle, and now to the Right Hon, Sir Samuel Fludyer Bart., Lord Mayor of the City of London”, published year before the party (1762).

To pickle Salmon.
Take two quarts of good vinegar, half an ounce of black pepper, and as much Jamaica pepper; cloves and mace, of each a quarter of an ounce, near a pound of salt; bruis the spice grossly, and put all these to a small quantity of water, put just enough to cover your fish; cut the fish round, three or four pieces, according to the size of the salmon, and when the liquor boils, put in your fish, boil it well; then take the fish out of the pickle, and let it cool; and when it is cold put in your fish into the barrel or stein that you keep it in, strewing some spice and bay-leaves between every piece of fish; let the pickle cool, and skim off the fat, and when the pickle is quite cold, pour it on your fish, and cover it very close.

Lemon Salad.
Take the lemons and cut them into halves, and when you have taken out the meat, lay the rinds in water twelve hours; then take them out and cut the rinds thus [drawing of spiral cut]; boil them in water till they are tender; take them out and dry them; then take a pound of loaf sugar, putting to it as much white-wine vinegar, and boil it a little; then take it off, and when it is cold put it in the pot to your peels; they will be ready to eat in five or six days; it is a pretty salad.

The Floating Island, a pretty Dish for the Middle of a Table at a Second Course, or for Supper.
Take a soop-dish, according to the size and quantity you would make, but a pretty deep glass dish is best, and set it on a China dish; first take a quart of the thickest cream you can get, make it pretty sweet with fine sugar, pour in a gill of sack, grate the yellow rhind of a lemmon in, and mill the cream till it is all of a thick froth, then as carefully as you can pour the thin froth into a dish; take a French role (roll) or as many as you want, cut it as thin as you can, play a layer of that as light as possible on the cream, then a layer of currant jelly, then a thin layer of role, and then hartshorn jelly, then French role, and over that whip you froth with you saved off the cream very well milled up, and lay at the top as high as you can heap it; and as for the rim of the dish, set it round with fruit or sweet-meats, according to your fancy. This looks very pretty in the middle of a table with candles round it, and you make make it of as many different colours as you fancy, and according to what jellies and jams or sweet-meats you have, or at the bottom of the dish you may put the thickest cream you can tet, but that is as you fancy.
N.B To make this dish look pretty, stick on some perfumed cockle-shells, which will make it look like a rock.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Not enough butter.

Quotation for the Day …

One cannot have too large a party. Jane Austen.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Common Food.

June 3 ...

In 1742 the Trustees of Yale ordered that the ‘commons’ for scholars would be:

For Breakfast: one loaf of bread for four, which shall weigh one pound.
For Dinner: for four, one loaf of bread as aforesaid, two and a half pounds beef, veal, or mutton, or one and three quarter pounds salt pork twice a week in the summertime, one quart of beer, two pennyworth of sauce (meaning vegetables).
For Supper, for four: two quarts of milk and one loaf of bread, when milk can conveniently be had; and when it cannot, then an apple-pie, which shall be made of one and three quarter pounds of dough, one quarter pound of hog’s fat, two ounces of sugar and one peck of apples.

Scholars today still use their ‘common-rooms’ (a term coined at Oxford, apparently), without being aware, probably, that the word ‘commons’ referred to the food ration that used to be allocated to them. It also used to refer to the ‘common people’, although it would probably be considered discriminatory to use it in that sense today – but it is very OK to use the related word ‘community’ as liberally as possible.

I cannot imagine too many strapping young men being completely satisfied with the above diet, and it hardly seems brain food. I bet they prayed for milk shortages in order to get apple pie instead. Or maybe they wrote home to mother and begged for a parcel to be sent. The first genuine American cookbook was not printed until Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery in 1796, but that does not mean there were no cakes. Cooks had been busily adapting the recipes in English and other cookbooks to local ingredients and conditions since colonisation. Cakes needed little adaptation, and a favourite of the time was a seed cake. A number of you have asked about seed cakes, so here is one from a book published the same year as the Yale bill of fare – The Compleat Confectioner, by Mary Eales, ‘Confectioner to King William and Queen Ann.’ Note the instructions, with particular awareness of the fact that there were no cake-mixing gadgets of any sort – baking a cake and working-out were pretty much the same thing at that time.

Seed Cake.
Take four Pounds of the finest Flour and three Pounds of double refin’d Sugar beat and sifted; mix them together and dry them by the Fire while your other Materials are preparing. Take four pounds of Butter, beat it in your Hands till it is very soft like Cream; then beat Thirty-five Eggs, leave out Sixteen Whites, and strain out the Treddles from the rest, and beat them and the Butter together till all appears like Butter; put in four or five Spoonsful of Rose or Orange Flour Water and Sugar, with six Ounces of Carraway Seeds, and strew it by Degrees, beating it up all the Time for two Hours together. You may put in as much Tincture of Cinnamon or Ambergrease as you please, and let it stand three Hours in the Oven.

Tomorrow’s Story …

The last king of America.

Quotation for the Day …

No where is the stomach of the traveller or visitor put in such constant peril as among the cake-inventive housewives and daughters of New England. Such is the universal attention paid to this particular branch of epicurism in these states, that I greatly suspect that some of the Pilgrim Fathers must have come over to the country with the Cookery book under one arm and the Bible under the other. Charles Latrobe.(1801-1875)

Monday, June 02, 2008

A tale of tails.

June 2 ...

On this day in 1795, the Northwest Territory judge, George Turner wrote to George Washington. His letter was to accompany a gift of a buffalo robe and some beaver tails.

I don’t know if beavers’ tails figure very commonly on the dining table (or round the campfire) in the great Northwest any more, but they certainly feature regularly in tales of the old frontier. Once upon a time they figured in European tales too. In medieval times beavers’ tails were a very welcome food during the ‘fast’ (i.e non-meat) days of the Christian calendar, such as Lent – at least amongst the wealthy. How could this be? The beaver had fur, like a land mammal, but spent most of its time in the water. The debate went on for a long time, but eventually a greedily sensible compromise was reached and it was decreed that the tail would be allowed.

It goes without saying that beaver fur was desirable until recent politically correct times, so allowing the tail flesh to be eaten was very pragmatic. There were other ancient justifications for catching beavers too. They were a source of castoreum – ‘a reddish-brown unctuous substance, having a strong smell and nauseous bitter taste, obtained from two sacs in the inguinal region of the beaver … ’(OED). In other words a pheromone or ‘essential oil’ produced by the male beaver and used to mark out his territory and make the female swoon with lust. The oil was used in medicine. It was a powerful remedy, according to Pliny:

‘when applied to the head, it is productive of narcotic effects - a result which is equally produced by taking it in water ; for which reason it is employed in the treatment of phrenitis. Used as a fumigation, it acts as an excitant upon patients suffering from lethargy: and similarly employed, or used in the form of a suppository, it dispels hysterical suffocations. It acts also as an emmenagogue and as an expellent of the afterbirth …’

Quite useful, really. In view of its effect on the female of the species, and the fact that it was an expensive exotic ingredient, it also had a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Until recently (and perhaps still?) it was used as homeopathic remedy for headaches. Before you scoff, or are repelled by such ideas, think on this: you may be shocked – deeply shocked – to learn that you may have ingested it in chewing gum. Ask your supplier.

If you are gustatorily repelled or ethically outraged at the thought of eating furry aquatic animals with paddle-shaped tails, you can be reassured that you can have beaver-like alternatives. The Canadians make a beaver-tail-shaped doughnut called, not surprisingly, beavers’ tails, for the same reasons that there are cakey versions of bears’ paws and moose lips. I am not certain what those reasons are, apart from fun, which is a good enough reason. An earlier frontier version was simply bread, and the method was described thus in 1896:

‘If the traveler has no frying pan the bread is baked in a beaver tail. Such a loaf is long and narrow and is exposed to the fire upon a stick, the lower end being set in the ground, two or three cross sticks, the size of an ordinary skewer, are required to prevent the loaf from breaking and falling as it breaks.’

Finally, if it is not stretching linguistic coincidence too much, we can all enjoy our ‘beaver’ (more properly spelled ‘bever’) as an old English version of either a drink or a mid-afternoon snack.

And, I almost forgot, in his letter to George, George included a recipe for the tails.

Canadian Recipe for Dressing Beaver’s Tails.
First boil the Tail till it becomes soft & then broil it upon a gridiron until the fat or oil of it exudes in every direction. After this spread over the whole a coat composed of fine crumbs of bread & parsley, chopped very fine. Again lay it upon the gridiron till it becomes brown and crisp. In this state serve it up with vinegar salt and pepper.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Common food.

Quotation for the Day ..

You don't get ulcers from what you eat. You get them from what's eating you. Vicki Baum.