Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Westphalia Coffee.

July 29 ...

It seems that subsitutes for coffee have been a long-term pre-occupation for the whole world. An expert writing in American Farmer in 1823 had something to say on the topic. He had been given a sample of ‘Germanic or Westphalia Coffee’ – or substitute coffee made from Chicory (Chicorum intybus).

'… It is very much used in the north of Europe, and in France, as a surrogate for coffee, and that it is used in the latter country to adulterate the coffee which is sod in powder or ground in the shops … immense factories are established in Germany, for the sole purpose of its preparation. The manufacturers collect the root towards the end of autumn, it is then cut in slices, dried, afterward torrified and pulverised or ground. The French authors say “It is used in infusion or decoction with water, to make a drink which has all the appearance and bitterness of coffee, without possessing the other precious qualities of that useful beverage. But that it is nevertheless applied to the same uses, either alone or mixed with milk or cream. They state that it is necessary to take great precaution in keeping it, since, in large masses, it is liable to spontaneous combustion.'

The author goes on to extoll its ‘health’ virtues compared to the real thing.

'From the trials I have made of it, I believe, as a dietetic article of family use, it is more healthful than rye coffee, and has a softer and more agreeable taste: it is less injurious to delicate constitutions than coffee – it is less heating, more perspirative, less stimulating than coffee; and, though far inferior, as every substitute must be, to genuine coffee taken in moderation, I yet believe the health of the community, the female part of it especially (to whom there can be no doubt that coffee is particularly injurious), would be benefitted by using a moiety or two thirds of this article, mixed with one half or one third of genuine coffee.'

One of the nice thing about that little story is a new word (to me) – ‘torrified’, which means “roast, scorched, or dried by fire” (from the verb ‘torrefy’).

The most astonishing (or amusing) thing is the reported propensity for chicory root to spontaneously combust! The author attributes several large fires in German factories to this (wonder why the roasting equipment was not thought responsible?). And who would have thought that coffee was more injurious to the fairer sex? On account of it being more ‘perspirative’ I suppose.

In the same journal, but not by the same author, is this wonderful-sounding recipe:

Mrs. G’s Famous Buns.
One pound and a half of flour (a quarter pound left to sift in last) and half a pound of butter cut up fine together. Then add four eggs beat to a high froth, four tea-cups of milk, half a wine glass of brandy, wine, and rose-water each, and one wine glass of yeast*; stir it all together with a knife, and add half a pound of sugar, then sift in the quarter of a pound of flour, and when the lumps are all beaten fine, set them to rise in the pans they are to be baked in. This quantity will make four square pans full.

* presumably she means a sloppy mix of yeast, flour and water, not pure yeast)

Quotation for the Day …

A cup of coffee - real coffee - home-browned, home-ground, home-made, that comes to you dark as a hazel-eye, but changes to a golden bronze as you temper it with cream that never cheated, but was real cream from its birth, thick, tenderly yellow, perfectly sweet, neither lumpy nor frothing on the Java: such a coffee is a match for twenty blue devils, and will exorcise them all.
Henry Ward Beecher, "Eyes and Ears"


srhcb said...

RE: Chicory Explosions

Almost any organic material which can be finely ground becomes potentially explosive. Flour mills take extreme precautions to avoid any source of flame or sparks.

As recently as ten years ago an explosion at a grain elevator in Kansas killed seven people!

The Old Foodie said...

Hello steve. Fascinating - I had no idea! Is that something to do with methane or one of those other gases from fermenting or decomposing or composting stuff?
Of course, the roasting equipment is still a possibility.

srhcb said...

Actually, it's the flout itself that produces the explosion!

I'm not scientist, but in principle it's rather like a thermobaric bomb: http://tinyurl.com/6ng4er

All it take is a superfine powder/mist and any slight source of ignition.