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)

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