Thursday, July 03, 2008

Travel Language No. 2

July 3 …

The Old Foodie Spouse often comments, in response to one of my stories, that I am “having a go at” (that is, “taking the mickey out of”) Americans “again”. He did not say it yesterday, surprisingly, - being more miffed that the story was not about real black pudding, as he had anticipated. Nothing could be further from the truth however, for those of you from “Over There” are amongst my most loyal readers, and I never intend to mock. I am merely bemused on a permanent basis about how we can share a common heritage and language and yet still get something as basic as our puddings and biscuits mixed up. Nevertheless, I will say to my American friends, that I do not intend to travel to your country again, without some intensive education on how to negotiate the breakfast order. I am baffled by “sunny side up” and “over easy” and disturbed by “half and half” and the immoderate size of a stack of pancakes. But I digress.

The problem is very widespread. The complexities of travel in America, for an Englishman, are nothing compared with those of travel in Scotland, for an Englishman. Technically - although recognising that the Scots have never been wholeheartedly in favour of the union - Scotland and England are in fact the same nation. The language difficulty is of long standing. In 1827 an English army officer called Capt.Thomas Hamilton wrote a novel about a character called Cyril Thornton. A work of fiction it may be, but certainly the author had travelled to Scotland, otherwise he could not have gotten the story so right. Here is the dialogue:

“It was already evening. My uncle's dinner-hour was past; and it was, I thought, on the whole, better to delay my visit till the following morning. I therefore declared myself stationary in the Buck's Head till the following day, and feeling at the moment a more proximate and cogent want than that of sleep — for during my day's journey I had tasted no refreshment — I requested a sight of the bill of fare. "Bill o' fare ! " replied the jolly and facetious dowager, " troth that's puttin' the cart before the horse; for ye maun ha'e your fare first, and syne it will be time enough to speer for the bill." "Perhaps you do not understand me, or it may not be your custom in Scotland to keep one." "I understand you weel eneuch, Major, and it's what you Englishmen often ca' for ;' but I never trouble mysel' to put pen to paper aboot the matter, for I was aye glegger at the speaking than the writing; and weel I wat, a souple tongue comes better
speed than the best pen that ever came out o' a goose. You'll be for soup, I'se warrant ; and there's baith stot's tail and hare soup in the house, besides barley broth, gin ye like that better. Then, in the way o' fish, there's haddocks, partins, and herrings, fresh from the Broomielaw. For meat, ye can ha'e a chop, a stake, or a nice veal cutlet, for ye'll maybe no like to wait for the roasting o' a joint ; or ye can get a spatch-cock made o' a chicken in ten minutes. Then there's game — paitricks or muir-fowl, wham o' them ye like best ; and, gin ye like nane o' thae things, I daursay there's mair in the house, though I canna just mind them at the present moment." I assured her, however, there was not the smallest occasion to tax her memory any further, and made my selection from the numerous delicacies of which she had already satisfactorily indicated the local habitation and the name.”

There are a host of words here that are not “English”. Partin (partan) we have come across before; a stot turns out to be ‘a young castrated ox’, so a stot’s tail is ox-tail; paitricks are partridges, and muir-fowl are red grouse. “Broth” is easy enough, and international enough thank goodness, for no traveller to go hungry. We did have a story once before on Scotch Broth - the pot au feu of Scotland - without managing to give a recipe. Today I make good with the version from that wonderful Scottish book The Cook and Housewife’s Manual, by Christian Isobel Johnstone (or Mistress Margaret Dods, if you prefer.)

Scotch Barley-Broth, With Boiled Mutton Or Beef, as Bouilli Ordinaire.
To from three to six pounds of beef or mutton, according to the quantity of soup wanted, put cold water in the proportion of a quart to the pound, — a quarter-pound of
Scotch barley, or more or less as may suit the meat and the water, and a spoonful of salt, unless the meat is already slightly salted. To this put a breakfast-cupful of soaked white or split peas, unless in the season when fresh green peas are to be had cheap, a larger quantity of which must be put in with the other vegetables, using less barley. Skim very carefully as long as any scum rises ; then draw aside the pot, and let the broth simmer slowly for an hour, at which time put to it two young carrots and turnips cut in dice, and two or three onions sliced. Ten minutes before the broth is ready, add a little parsley, picked and chopped, — or the white part of three leeks may be used instead of onions, and a head of celery slice, instead of parsley seasoning; celery requires longer boiling. For beef-broth a small quantity of greens roughly shred, and the best part of four or five leeks cut in inch lengths, are better suited than turnip, carrot, and parsley, which are more adapted to mutton. If there is danger of the meat being overdone before the broth is properly lithed, i. e. thickened, it may be taken up, covered for a half hour, and returned into the pot to heat through before it is dished. Garnish the bouilli with carrot and turnip boiled in the broth, and divided ; or pour over it capsr-sauce, parsley and butter, or a sauce made of pickled cucumbers, or nasturtiums heated in melted butter, or in a little clear broth, with a tea-spoonful of made mustard and another of vinegar. Parsley, parboiled for two minutes and minced, may also be strewed over bouilli, — or a sprinkling of boiled carrots cut in small dice.

Tomorrow’s Story…

The Fourth.

Quotation for the Day …

It has been claimed for the British baker that he alone can make a muffin; but it is almost to be feared, if this were ever so that the prestige has been passed over to America, where muffins are made of various flours, and so light and digestible that it is a question if they are not rather an American dish. Theodore Francis Garrett.


Jayne said...

LOL Growing up with Scottish relatives I understood every word and it sounded a lot yummier in the broad brogue than plain English ;)

Unknown said...

Dear Old Foodie, are you reading Joe Pastry's blog? He posted the identical quotation on muffins on July 2. (Or is that the only quotation there is about muffins, aside from Oscar Wilde's line about not eating muffins "in an agitated manner, as the butter would probably get on my cuff"?

But I really wanted to comment on the delightful suggestion to add nasturtiums to the soup.

The Old Foodie said...

Dear nbm - I do usually read Joe Pastry's blog (we are cyber-friends, aren't we, Joe?) - but I must admit that I missed this - I try to write the stories a bit ahead, and sometimes someone else has the same idea at the same time, which I think is pretty clever of us.