Friday, October 31, 2008

Two Excuses to Celebrate.

Today is the third birthday of The Old Foodie. How Amazing. It started off as a little experiment for fun, and here we all are, 863 posts later. Who’da Thought It?

A few people around the world will chose to celebrate Halloween instead of the TOF’s birthday of course, for tonight is also the e’en (evening) of All Hallows (All Saints) Day.

The modern customs of Hallowe’en are the result of clever commercial manipulation of traditions that have their roots in the the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain which marked the end of the harvest season. It was believed that on this night the passages between the worlds of the living and the dead were open, and the souls of the dead could walk the land, wreaking havoc if they were not properly appeased (or confused by scary costumes and noise.)

The spirits could also be invoked to foretell the future, and many Halloween games and customs are based on old divination methods. For example, in a variation of the bean in the Twelfth Night Cake, or the charms in a Christmas Pudding, one custom in Ireland was to put a ring in a sweet fruit bread called a barm brack. The girl who got the ring would get her man within the year – a hugely reassuring promise at a time when her only other alternative to marriage was remaining dependent on her parents or brothers for ever.

Barm Brack comes from the words barm (yeast) and breac (speckled) and refers to the fruit scattered through the sweet dough. In that other stronghold of the Celts – Wales – speckled bread is called Bara Brith, and in Scotland it is the same as Bannock.

The earliest recipe I have found so far (after a far from an exhaustive search) is from a Scottish cookery book of 1802 – the recipe donated by a lady in Bath, proving that the provenance of recipes nearly always demonstrates a mongrel heritage. The name of the particular recipe is clearly a phonetic interpretation at the name.

To Make Barren Brack.
Take three quarts of flour, rub into it three ounces of butter, seven ounces of sugar, some carraway seeds, make a hole in this; put into it two eggs beat up to a froth, a gill of barm in as much new milk as will wet it; work it up and let it rise, and bake it upon a girdle.
Mrs. Cobb, Bath.
The New Practice of Cookery, Pastry, Baking, and Preserving: being The Country Housewife’s Best Friend, by Mrs Hudson, Mrs Donat, Edinburgh, 1804.

Quotation for the Day …

On the plain household bread his eye did not dwell; but he surveyed with favor some currant tea-cakes, and condescended to make a choice of one. Charlotte Bronte.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Mango a Day (soon).

The first mangoes are here in the shops in Queensland. I hope for a prolific local crop and therefore ridiculously cheap fruit as last year’s was not good, for reasons I do not remember – maybe the weather, or maybe the fruit bats won the annual battle.

I can give no better a description of the mango than that in the very Victorian English Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (c1870)

“Of all the tropical fruit, the mango is one of the most grateful to Europeans. In form it is like a short, thick cucumber. The skin of the fruit is thick, and the interior consists of a pulp, which melts in the mouth with cooling sweetness.”

I love that old use of the word grateful in the sense of something ‘pleasing to the mind or the senses’.

The first mention of the fruit (as manga) in a European language was in Italian in 1510 - which is much earlier than I thought it would be, considering that not too many Europeans had travelled to its native countries of India and Burma (Myanmar) so early in the sixteenth century.

The interesting thing is that a mango in early English cookbooks also refers to any pickle resembling a mango, and particularly the sort made with whole fruit stuffed with spices and pickled (see the link below to the Cowcumber Pickle). India clearly gave the world this idea, and I am grateful for it. To pickle usually means to preserve by salting or immersing in vinegar, but the word is used loosely for other preserving methods, such as the following one, taken from a grand Anglo-Indian cookery book.

Mangoe Pickle in Oil.
Divide the mangoes into four parts rather more than half way down, having the bottom whole ; scoop out the kernel; stuff the space in each mangoe as full as it will admit of, with mustard seed, cayenne pepper, sliced ginger, sliced garlic, and grated horseradish; bind each mangoe with thread; put them into a quantity of oil sufficient to immerse the whole. Manner of preparing the mustard seed, &c. &c. - For fifty mangoes use five seers of mustard seed ; husk it, steep it in water for twenty- four hours, removing the water twice or thrice during the time, dry it afterwards for two days, reduce it into coarse powder; mix with it the ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, and grated horseradish ; make the whole into a paste with vinegar; stuff the mangoes with it; reserve a fourth part of the mustard powder to mix with the oil into which the mangoes are to be immersed. The garlic, ginger, and horseradish are to be steeped in water, and allowed to dry for a day previous to being used.
Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book. By R. Riddell, 1860.

In case of a surplus of mangoes in your neighbourhood, please refer to the following recipes:

Queensland Christmas mincemeat

Mango Ice-Cream

Cowcumbers, to Pickle in the likeness of Mangoes (1705).

Bengal Recipe For Making Mango Chetney, from Mrs. Beeton (1861)

Quotation for the Day …

We owe much to the fruitful meditation of our sages, but a sane view of life is, after all, elaborated mainly in the kitchen. Joseph Conrad.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Laws of Eating.

Today the only worries we have in relation to our daily meals are paying the grocery bill, and eating locally and ethically in a manner acceptable to the nutrition police. Mind you, the latter can be quite tricky – it must be low-fat, low-carb (I live in terror of a fashion for low-protein), high-fibre, low GI, additive-free (unless the additives be vitamins, minerals, good bacteria, natural flavours and colours). But I digress. The only real police you might have to worry about are the International Environment Police (I am sure they exist) if you tuck into someone from an endangered species. In the past, it was not always the case, and if you were unlucky or greedy you could fall foul of Sumptuary Laws.

Most sumptuary laws related to what you could or could not wear, but some determined what you could and could not eat. There are a number of reasons for the enactment of sumptuary laws. The moral, of course – to minimise the sins of pride, gluttony, or lust (the degree of neckline plunge has previously been legislated). The economic - to protect people from themselves by reducing the temptation to fall into debt; maybe also to provide jobs (enforcers) and raise revenue (fines)? And, perhaps most importantly - to reinforce the social structure in a very visible way, by ruling that only those of a certain rank could wear fur, or the colour scarlet for example, or have more than a couple of blackbirds in a dish.
In 1517, early in the reign of Henry VIII, to reduce the excessive fare at feasts (isn’t that the whole point of feasts?), it was proclaimed that the number of dishes served depended on the rank of the highest person present. A feast with a cardinal could have nine dishes, a parliamentary lord, lord mayor, or knight of the garter could have six, and (to prove that money also talks) anyone who could spend ₤40 a year or whose fortune was worth ₤500 could have three. The problem with enforcing laws of that kind is that the enforcers are from the same class who enjoy the feasting too, so it has rarely worked in practice.

In 1541, Archbishop Cranmer (the man who facilitated Henry VIII’s divorce so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, converted to Catholicism during the reign of Mary I, then recanted and was burned as a Protestant heretic) took his clergy to task on their indulgent lifestyles. His reforming regulations said that a meal for an Archbishop could include not more than six dishes of meat, and four of ‘second dishes’(what we would now call ‘dessert’ dishes), a bishop five of meat and three of second dishes, a dean or archdeacon four of meat and two of second dishes, and the ordinary clergy only two dishes of meat. The rule was honoured more in the breach than in the observance, and everyone gave up on it after a few months. The details are more interesting in their original language, so here they are, in the words of Henry VIII’s antiquary, John Leland (1506-1552)

“In the yeare of our Lord MDXLI it was agreed and condescended upon, as wel by the common consent of both tharchbishops and most part of the bishops within this realme of Englande, as also of divers grave men at that tyme, both deanes and archdeacons, the fare at their tables to be thus moderated.

“First, that tharchbishop should never exceede six divers kindes of fleshe, or six of fishe, on the fishe days; the bishop not to exceede five, the deane and archdeacon not above four, and al other under that degree not above three; provided also that tharchbishop myght have of second dishes four, the bishop three; and al others under the degree of a bishop but two. As custard, tart, fritter, cheese or apples, peares, or two of other kindes of fruites. Provided also, that if any of the inferior degree dyd receave at their table, any archbishop, bishop, deane, or archdeacon, or any of the laitie of lyke degree, viz. duke, marques, earle, viscount, baron, lorde, knyght, they myght have such provision as were mete and requisite for their degrees. Provided alway that no rate was limited in the receavying of any ambassadour. It was also provided that of the greater fyshes or fowles, there should be but one in a dishe, as crane, swan, turkey cocke, hadocke, pyke, tench; and of lesse sortes but two, viz. capons two, pheasantes two, conies two, and woodcockes two. Of lesse sortes, as of patriches, the archbishop three, the bishop and other degrees under hym two. Of blackburdes, the archbishop six, the bishop four, the other degrees three. Of larkes and snytes (snipes) and of that sort but twelve. It was also provided, that whatsoever is spared by the cutting of, of the olde superfluitie, shoulde yet be provided and spent in playne meates for the relievyng of the poore. Memorandum, that this order was kept for two or three monethes, tyll by the disusyng of certaine wylful persons it came to the olde excesse.”

To assist you to flout the old law, here are a couple of nice recipes from a cookbook of the time – A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye (about 1545)

To make a Custarde.
A Custarde the coffyn must be fyrste hardened in the oven, and then take a quart of creame and fyve or syxe yolkes of egges, and beate them well together, and put them into the creame, and put in Suger and small Raysyns and Dates sliced, and put into the coffyn butter or els marrowe, but on the fyshe dayes put in butter.

For to make wardens in Conserue. [Pears in Syrup]
Fyrste make the syrope in this wyse, take a quarte of good romney and putte a pynte of claryfyed honey, and a pounde or a halfe of suger, and myngle all those together over the fyre, till tyme they seeth, and then set it to cole. And thys is a good sirope for manye thinges, and wyll be kepte a yere or two. Then take thy warden and scrape cleane awaye the barke, but pare them not, and seeth them in good redde wyne so that they be wel soked and tender, that the wyne be nere hande soked into them, then take and strayne them throughe a cloth or through a strayner into a vessell, then put to them of this syrope aforesayde tyll it be almost fylled, and then caste in the pouders, as fyne canel, synamon, pouder of gynger and such other, and put it in a boxes and kepe it yf thou wylt and make thy syrope as thou wylt worke in quantyte, as if thou wylt worke twenty wardens or more or lesse as by experience.

Quotation for the Day …
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. Ernest Hemingway.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Random Menu Thoughts.

I haven’t given you a menu for some time, so purely at random I have selected this gem – which I am sure will help you all solve the What Shall We Have for Breakfast, Luncheon, and Dinner Today, Not Forgetting the Servants.

The author of Menus for Every Day of the Year, published in 1912, and written by M. Jebb Scott suggests the following for October 28:

Grilled Kippered Salmon.
Game Omelet.

Stewed Eels.
Fried Calf’s Liver
Batter Pudding.
Fig Roly-Poly

Clear Soup.
Filleted Mackerel, Parsley Sauce
Roast Ox Heart
Coffee Moulds
Parmesan Soufflé

Liver and Bacon
Fig Roly Poly.

A whole lot of random thoughts pop up into my head and compete for attention when I read this. In no particular order I noted that:

- There are two puddings at both luncheon and dinner.
I have never, in my whole, entire, complete life to date, been offered Game Omelette for breakfast. My life is the poorer for that.
The dinner ends with a small savoury dish. That is just so British.
The servants obviously got the leftovers of the Family’s luncheon pudding.
Didn’t the Family get Bacon with their Liver!? If not, why on earth not?
We don’t eat Ox Heart much these days. Why?
Recycling of leftovers was an art form in those days. The breakfast menu for the next morning included “Minced Ox Heart and Tomatoes.”
Is “kippered” salmon another name for smoked salmon?
I hope there were vegetables – that they were “assumed” to be present, but not menu-worthy.
Ditto the custard for the puddings.
Who (or what) was E.M.?

E.M. Pudding.
Cream together 3 oz. of butter and 4 oz. of sugar, add two or three eggs, and half a gill of warm milk. Then lightly mix in 6 oz. of self-raising flour, 2 oz. each of candied peel, cherries, and sultanas. Grease some fancy tins, dust some caster sugar, and flour over them, half fill with the mixture, and bake in a moderate oven from fifteen to twenty minutes.

What are your thoughts?

Quotation for the Day …

No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers. Laurie Colwyn.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Second Supper.

Before I fold away this idea of more meals in the day (temporarily that is, I have more meals for you yet) – I want to talk about second supper. I must be well on the way to getting honorary Hobbit citizenship now.

Once upon a time, there was rere-supper. Sir Walter Scott described it thus, in 1833, in Woodstock:

“Rere-suppers (quasi arriére) belonged to a species of luxury introduced in the jolly days of King James’s extravagance and continued through the subsequent reign. The supper took place at an early hour, six or seven o’clock at lates – the rere-supper was a postliminary banquet, a horse d’oeuvre, which made its appearance at ten or eleven, and served as an apology for prolonging the entertainment till midnight.”

The name comes from an obsolete form of ‘rear’ – presumably because it happens at the rear-end of the day. Sir Walter may have gotten the description right, but he was wrong about its origin. It was not King James’ idea, second supper had been around since at least the fifteenth century, but seems to have died out during the nineteenth century. The idea must be due for revival, surely? His countrywoman and contemporary, the writer Christian Isobel Johnstone (aka Mistress Margaret (Meg) Dods) discussed the requirements in her wonderful book, The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1828),

“When a formal supper is set out, the principal dishes are understood to be roasted game or poultry, cold meats sliced, ham, tongue, collared and potted things, grated beef, Dutch herring, kipper, highly-seasoned pies of game, &c. &c., with, ccasionally, soups, - an addition to modern suppers which, after the, heat and fatigue of a ball-room, or large party, is found peculiarly grateful and restorative. Minced white meats, lobsters, oysters, collared eels, and crawfish, dressed in various forms ; sago, rice, the more delicate vegetables, poached eggs, scalloped potatoes, or potatoes in balls, or as Westphalia cakes, are all suitable articles of the solid kind. To these we may add cakes, tarts, possets, creams, jellies in glasses or shapes, custards, preserved or dried fruits, pancakes, fritters, puffs, tartlets, grated cheese, butter in little forms, sandwiches; and the catalogue of the more stimulating dishes, as anchovy toasts, devils, Welsh, English, and Scotch rabbits, roasted onions, salmagundi, smoked sausages sliced, and those other preparations which are best adapted to what among ancient bon vivants was called the rere-supper.”

The Westphalia Cake turns out to be a ham and potato meatloaf. It might be a good idea to file away for the post-Christmas season.

Westphalia Loaves for a Supper Dish, or to eat with Veal, &c.
Grate four ounces of good lean ham, and mix it with a pound of good potatoes, mashed with butter. Add salt, pepper, and two eggs, to bind the ingredients. Mould this into small loaves, or shape it in patty-pans, and fry and serve in a brown gravy, or alone.

P.S. In a previous story we had Pickled Herrings: a French way for a rere-supper, also from Mistress Dods.

P.P.S: "The Old Foodie" will be three years old on Friday! By the birthday there will be 864 posts. Hard to believe - for the Old Foodie at any rate.

Quotation for the Day …

And please don't cook me, kind sirs! I am a good cook myself, and cook better than I cook, if you see what I mean. I'll cook beautifully for you, a perfectly beautiful breakfast for you, if only you won't have me for supper.

Bilbo Baggins to the Trolls in The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Friday, October 24, 2008

Not Luncheon

Once upon a time, instead of lunch (or maybe as well as lunch?) there was nuncheon (or nonsensche or nuncion or many other permutations). The word is quite a problem. It has the odd ‘-uncheon’ ending (analagous with luncheon, truncheon and puncheon, says the OED), but its etymology is obscure, to say the least. It appears to come from the words noon and schench. Noon seems obvious – it is 12 midday, right? Not always. Noon comes from nones, the Latin word for ninth, and noon used to refer to the ninth hour of the day reckoned from sunrise, or maybe the word is related to nón, the old Icelandic time of about three in the afternoon. Three in the afternoon was the Christian prayer time of Nones, - based on the nine hours from daylight approximation.

Shench is an ancient word meaning a drink. So – nuncheon was originally (whenever that was) a drink taken at midday or three o’clock or somewhere between. Soon it certainly came to refer to a small meal as well as a drink, which may make it a better competitor for our modern afternoon tea! The problem is that some references clearly indicate a mid-morning snack.

What to eat for nuncheon? Most references seem to be to a lump of something such as bread or cheese with beer or ale. One of the few specific foods mentioned in the OED supporting quotations comes from 1880, which is a very late use of the word, and it mentions “bread and cheese and gingerbread for noonchin”. Gingerbread we have plenty of in the Through the Ages with Gingerbread archive – but it is a long time since I added to it, and the time of Christmas approacheth when many thoughts turn to such spicy treats. Here is a nice do-able recipe from Mrs.Radcliffe.

Orange Gingerbread.
Sift two pounds and a quarter of fine flour, and add to it a pound and three quarters of treacle, six ounces of candied orange peel cut small, three quarters of a pound of moist sugar, one ounce of ground ginger, and one ounce of allspice : melt to an oil three quarters of a pound of butter, - mix the whole well together, and lay it by for twelve hours, - roll it out with as little flour as possible about half an inch thick, cut it into pieces three inches long and two wide, - mark them in the form of chequers with the back of a knife, put them on a baking plate about a quarter of an inch apart, - rub them over with a brush dipped into the yolk of an egg beat up with a tea-cupful of milk, bake it in a cool oven about a quarter of an hour; - when done, wash them slightly over again, - divide the pieces with a knife, (as in baking they will run together.)

A Modern System of Domestic Cookery: Arranged on the Most Economical Plan M. Radcliffe; 1823.

Quotation for the Day …

I'll bet what motivated the British to colonize so much of the world is that they were just looking for a decent meal. Martha Harrison.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lunch or Luncheon?

Lunch is interesting. We have a great tendency to shorten words, so assume that lunch is an abbreviation of luncheon, but in fact the reverse appears to be the case and luncheon appears to be an extension of lunch. The OED gives as evidence the analogies of punch and puncheon and trunch and truncheon. The word apparently derives from lump – as in the lump of bread or meat or cheese that you put in your pocket when you went out into the fields for the day – the analogy here being hump and hunch or bump and bunch. Any further delving into lump is fraught with theories: it may be old Dutch or Danish or German; it may relate to lap which may relate to lumpen which means to happen by chance (referrring in this argument to the random size of the portion, that is.)  Lunch was for a time in the early nineteenth century (according to one of the supporting quotations in the OED) the fashionable word, and luncheon “unsuitable in polished society”, but fashions change and later in the century that changed – and the un-posh tended to have dinner and tea anyway ( High Tea that is)

The word refers, of course, to the middle meal of the day by those who have dinner at night. Those who have dinner in the middle of the day have to forego lunch, but get tea (or supper) at the end of the day instead. Our source from yesterday was of the latter persuasion, so for lunch today I am going to see what her countrywoman the reliable Miss Marion Harland has to say in one of her books - Breakfast, Luncheon, and Tea (1875), from the Common Sense in the Household series.  The book has very common-sensicle chapters on individual topics such as ‘Kidneys’, ‘Haste or Waste?’ and ‘What I know about Egg-Beaters.’
She starts her chapter on Luncheon with a wonderfuly inspirational story. A “young friend … who had not long been a wife and housekeeper” returns from a morning drive one day to find her widower brother had arrived home with three gentlemen for dinner. The custom in the household being for an early “dinner”, and her husband not yet home, she goes to the kitchen with great trepidation to see how the preparations for the meal are progressing. They are not. The cook is already distressed. The usual “plethoric hamper” has not been delivered by her usually careful provision merchant. It is a few moments past twelve, the shops are closed and anyway they are not close. There is cake and pie, but not even a “pertater” never mind meat for soup. Even her angel of a cook cant make something out of nothing. The distraught young housewife “with a womans instinct of leaning upon rugged masculine strength when deserted by feminine wit” discreetly speaks to her brother, who reflects upon it momentarily, and, brilliant man that he is, comes up with the solution.
“I understand! I have it! We’ll be fashionable for once. Set on sardines, cheese, pie, cake, claret and sauterne, and a dish or two of fruit. Make a royally strong cup of coffee to wind up with, and call it luncheon!” [Ms Harland’s italics]
Within fifteen minutes the guests are summoned to the dining room, where they are welcomed by the pretty hostess, in becoming demi-toilette. She presides over the collation, wisely realising that “A lisp of apology would have spoiled all, and she had tact enough to avoid the danger.”
Phew! Another social disaster avoided! Let that be a lesson to us all.
Had she had a few more minutes the cook could have used some of the cheese (thank goodness for cheese!)  to make the following “eatable compound” from Ms Harland’s book.
3 tablespoonfuls grated cheese.
2 eggs, beaten light.
1 tablespoonful melted butter.
1 teasponful anchovy sauce.
Pepper – cayenne is best
1 teaspoonful of flour, wet with cream.
Rounds of lightly toasted bread.
Beat the butter and seasoning with the eggs; then the cheese, lastly the flour; working until the mixture is of creamy lightness. Spread thickly upon the bread, and brown quickly.
This is a Dutch compound, but eatable despite the odd name.
Quotation for the Day …
One should never refuse an invitation to lunch or dinner, for one never knows what one may have to eat the next day. Edouard de Pomiane.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Thoughts on Breakfast.

Most of us probably don’t think of breakfast and parties in the same breath – breakfast and the best newspaper, or breakfast and last night’s washing-up, or breakfast and one-thousand and one emails perhaps, but not breakfast and fun.

Ms. Julia Andrews, the author of Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea, viewed Classically, Poetically, and Practically (1860) the source of yesterday’s ideas and recipe, quoted several American visitors on the topic of English “breakfast parties”

Miss Sedgwick writes of the English breakfast party, that the hour appointed is from ten to eleven o'clock. “The number of guests is never allowed to exceed twelve. The entertainment is little varied from our eight o'clock breakfasts. There are coffee, tea, chocolate, toast, rolls, grated beef and eggs, and in place of our solid beef-steaks, - broiled chickens, reindeers' tongues, sweetmeats, fruit and ices. These are not bad substitutes for heavier viands, and for our variety of hot cakes. You see none of these unless it be a “muffin.”

Mrs. H. B. Stowe in mentioning a breakfast at which she was a guest in England, relates some conversation with Mr. Macaulay upon breakfast parties. She says: “Looking around the table, and seeing how everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves, I said to Macaulay that these breakfast parties were a novelty to me; that we never had them in America, but that I thought them the most delightful form of social life. He seized upon the idea as he often does, and turned it playfully inside out, and shook it upon all sides, just as one might play with the lustres of a chandelier - to see them glitter. He expatiated on the merits of breakfast parties as compared with all other parties. He said, ‘You invite a man to dinner because you must invite him ; because cause you are acquainted with his grandfather, or it is proper you should; but you invite a man to breakfast because you want to see him. You may be sure if you are invited to breakfast, there is something agreeable about you.’ - This idea struck me as very sensible; and we all, generally, having the fact before our eyes that we were invited to breakfast, approved the sentiment.”

I am not sure that a meal between 10 and 11 o’clock can rightly be called breakfast, except for the leisured classes, but brunch had not been invented yet, so it must stand as breakfast. Which reminds me that brunch must be added to the expanded list of possible Hobbit-Meals, giving us it eight.

I am totally baffled by the reindeer's tongues enjoyed by Miss Sedgwick in England, she must have been much further north than I have ever travelled in that country. As for the muffins,these would have been the “original” English muffins – made with yeast batter and cooked on a griddle. Somewhere along the way, methinks after their migration to America, they became sweeter, and turned into cakes. Here is a recipe for the English version, from the same book.

One quart of milk, one egg, salt, half a cup of yeast, table-spoon of melted butter, flour to make a thick batter. To be made late in the evening, and stand all night for breakfast, or if you wish them for tea, mix them at noon, and keep the pan in a warm place and it will rise in a few hours. Heat the griddle, then butter it and the muffin rings ; put the latter upon the griddle and pour in the batter ; turn them once only.

Quotation for the Day …

I went to a restaurant that serves "breakfast at anytime". So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance. Stephen Wright.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thoughts on Breakfast.

When we have breakfast we are literally breaking the (overnight) fast. We all agree that it is the first meal of the day, although we may follow it with lunch and dinner or dinner and tea or lunch and supper. The word has been used in this context since at least the mid-fifteenth century. I have no idea what it was called before then. Perhaps there was no word, which suggests there was no “meal” as such. This makes sense as what happened until very recent times seems to be that everyone individually grabbed whatever was available – usually leftovers from the night before. They did not sit down first thing in the morning in a sociable fashion. Cereals for breakfast are an American phenomenon of the second half of the nineteenth century, and the “traditional” English breakfast is a phenomenon of the second half of the twentieth century. One thing is certain – however adventurous we may be with our food the rest of the day, we are creatures of habit when it comes to breakfast.

Hobbits and Bavarians and Poles have an official Second Breakfast, which seems to me to be a wonderful idea. Hobbits apparently have seven meals a day - breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper – an idea we should perhaps all aspire too. I am going to explore these meals over the next few days and maybe even add a few more.

This theme will allow me to plumb the depths of a book called Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea, viewed Classically, Poetically, and Practically, which seems to me a fine way to view every meal as well as being an inspirational guide to titling books. It contains three hundred modern receipts, and was published in New York in 1860. The author starts off with some random thoughts on the meal, including this:

“Southey alludes to the different preferences of various nations in regard to food when he describes a man of universal taste, as one who would have eaten "sausages for breakfast at Norwich, sally lunns at Bath, sweet butter in Cumberland, orange marmalade at Edinburgh, Findon haddocks at Aberdeen, and drunk punch with beef-steaks to oblige the French if they insisted upon obliging him with a dejeuner a l’Anglaise. He would have eaten squab-pie in Devonshire, sheep's-head with the hair on in Scotland, and potatoes roasted on the hearth in Ireland ; frogs with the French, pickled herrings with the Dutch, sour-krout with the Germans ; maccaroni with the Italians, aniseed with the Spaniards, garlic with anybody; horse-flesh with the Tartars ; ass-flesh with the Persians; dogs with the North-Western Indians, curry with the Asiatic East Indians, birds' nests with the Chinese, mutton roasted with honey with the Turks, pismire cakes on the Orinoco, and turtle and venison with the Lord Mayor ; and the turtle and venison he would have preferred to all the other dishes, because his taste, though catholic, was not indiscriminating."

I don’t know what pismire cakes are, but they sound alarming. I will endeavour to find out and let you know. In the meanwhile, I give you this breakfast dish from the book, because everyone aught to be bewitched at breakfast once in their lives.

Veal Bewitched.
Take the hind-quarter of veal, three slices of salt pork, three slices of bread, three eggs, salt and pepper to your taste. Chop the meat, pork, and bread fine, add the beaten eggs,
and wet the whole quite soft with milk. Put it into a baking dish, and bake two hours. When done, it will turn out in the form of the dish. To be sliced and eaten cold.

Quotation for the Day …

When dressed, I to the yard repair,
And breakfast on the pure, fresh air;
But though this choice Castilian cheer
Keep both the head and stomach clear,
For reasons strong enough for me,
I mend the meal with toast and tea.
From Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea, viewed Classically, Poetically, and Practically.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Nips, naps, and caps.

I have a new word today – new for me that is. I was reading about the old profession of ale-conning (that’s not the word, yet). An ale-conner was an officer appointed to assess the quality of beer and ale. Now, I know that many of you feel superbly equipped to do this job, but you are no longer required, it has been taken over by laboratories. There was an apocryphal story – I think about Shakespeare’s father who was, according to the apocryphal story, an ale-conner – that says that the way the strength of the ale or beer was determined was by pouring some ale onto a bench, then sitting down in it for a while in leather trousers. The expert determined the sugar content depending on how well the leather stuck to the beery seat. That’s about as apocryphal a story as you can get.

Of course, the ale-conner did it by taste, as the following story tells. It is about an ale-conner in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, by the name of Captain Cox. The story says that he was “of such credit and trust” that he had retained the job for many years “and ever acquitted himself of such estimation, as yet, to taste of a cup of nippitate, his judgement will be taken above the best in the parish, be his noze near so read.” I think the last word should be “red.”

My new word of the day is nippitate. Any of you heard it before?

The OED says it is a form of nippitatum, a mock Latin word meaning “ale or other alcoholic drink, of the highest quality and strength”, and dates its use to the sixteenth century. The word’s origin is unknown, but it may be related to the later word nipperkin or perhaps nappy. A nipperkin is also of obscure origin, but appears to come from Dutch and means a little drink and a small measure (less than half a pint) for the little drink. It is a grand way of saying a nip, in other words. We are in the land of obscure origins well and truly, and nappy is also one of its citizens. It refers to the head or nap of the beer or ale – a nappy beer being a strong beer. So, nippitate is as another old dictionary says, a whimsical word. An alternative whimsical word for the same thing is huff-cap (because it goes to your head, and figuratively speaking it huffs or raises your cap.)

Beer Soup.
Take equal quantities of beer and milk (one quart of each); mix two tables-spoonfuls of flour with a little of the beer, and add it to the remainder with the grated peel of half a lemon, half a teaspoonful of powdered ginger, cinnamon, or nutmeg, and sugar to taste: boil the milk separately and stir it rapidly with a whisk into four well-beaten eggs; put the beer with the milk into a saucepan, bring it to the point of boiling, keeping it well stirred all the time, and turn it quickly into a tureen. Serve with toasted rolls. Sufficient for twelve persons.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery. c1870’s

Quotation for the Day …

When this nippitatum, the huffe cappe, as they call it, this nectar of life, is set abroach, well is he that can get the soonest to it, and spend the most upon it.
Stubber’s Anat. of Abuses.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dishing up an Insult, Part 2.

My lovely friend Marisa sent me an email in response to the idea of giving a name to a dish that is also an ethnic slur (or comment). She is an expert in Sicilian food and is writing her own book on it, and tells me that there is a Sicilian dessert called Testa di Turco (Turk's head) which is made of pastry and “in most parts of Sicily it is fried , and layered/topped with custard - cream.” Methinks it sounds good enough to move to Sicily for.

Ever since the crusades the Europeans have enjoyed eating Turks’ or Saracens’ heads in one form or another. There is a wonderfully apocryphal story about Richard I keeping a supply of Saracen’s handy, in case of a hunger attack. He had them apocryphally served

“soden full hastily
With powder and with spysory,
And with saffron of good colour.”

Ridiculous story of course, proving the inverse law of fakelore - the popularity of a story is inversely proportional to the amount of true fact in it.

Medieval folk who could not lay their hands on a real Turk made due with symbolic ones, and often they were glorified pies. Here are two examples from the thirteenth century (from Two Anglo-Norman Culinary Collections, edited by Constance Hieatt), one for fast days and one for meat days.

Turk's head.
How to make the dish called Turk's head from a fish day or in Lent. Take choice rice and wash it and dry it; then grind it thoroughly, mix with thickened almond milk, and put in spices and saffron, as directed below, and sugar. Make a pastry case; then scald eels and remove the excrement; then cut them up; and take parsley, sage, and some broth, and grind it in a mortar, and put in saffron and mixed ground spice; then cover [with a pastry lid] and put it in the oven.

Turks head. [2]
A sheet of pastry well filled with rabbits and poultry, dates, peeled and sweetened in honey, new cheese, cloves and cubeb; sugar on top, then a generous layer of ground pistachio nuts; the color of the ground nuts, red, yellow, and green.The head (of hair) should be black, arranged to resemble the hair of a woman, in a black bowl, with the face of a man set on top.

There are other Turks’ Heads too. A large variety of pumpkin, and a metal turban-shaped mould for desserts or ices very popular in the nineteenth century.

There are other Cannibal ideas too. (Warning: Shameless Plug Alert) If you are interested in cannibalism (the theoretical aspects of course), you may be interested in Human Cuisine, or part of Gary Allen’s Master-Work in Progress on How to Serve Man.

Quotation for the Day …

Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus. Peter Ustinov.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spotted What?

A regular reader who I will call Bob M (you know who you are, Bob!) responded to yesterday’s post by asking about, or suggesting “Spotted Dick.” I am not sure that this represents an ethnic slur, but it certainly sounds like it is intended as a slur to someone. The very name can trigger everything from sniggers to blushes to extreme rapidity in covering the childrens’ ears (which is not for fear that they will be frightened, but that the parents will be embarrassed by the loud questions as to what is so funny about it that everyone else is giggling.)

Spotted Dick is an English pudding. It is not to be laughed at. It is a very serious suet pudding studded with spots of currants, rolled into a a …. log or sausage shape, and steamed or boiled. Occasionally it is called Spotted Dog: there are two occasions when this is permissible. Firstly, the legitimate variation produced when the currants are sprinkled generously over the outside after the dough is rolled up, giving a Dalmation-like appearance. Secondly, when the grandchildren, the maidenly aunt, or the vicar are visiting.

There are all sorts of theories about the name. The spotted part is obvious. Moving quickly away from the obviously graphic to the wimpily linguistic we have:
- The idea that ‘dick’ is somehow derived from ‘dough’. Now, ‘dog’, I can believe comes from ‘dough’, but the other is difficult to appreciate no-matter what the accent.
That it derives from ‘pudding’ via ‘puddink’ to ‘puddik’ to ‘dick’. An explanation which just may get it ethnic slur status.
Reverse nomenclature. The Dalmation dog when it was introduced was named the Pudding Dog because of its curranty spots. Which gives us, perhaps, Spotted Dog, but not the other.

It is quite obvious that linguists are desperately scraping the bottom of the barrel for explanations, isnt it?

Oddly, ‘dick’ also used to refer to a type of hard cheese (the OED says so), which has almost certainly got nothing to do with the pudding, but which I thought you would find interesting. Specifically, it used to be a skim-milk cheese also called “Skim Dick”, in several English counties. It was poor cheese made too early in the season from poor milk from poor cows before they could get out in the spring pasture, the poor milk being made even poorer by skimming.

On second thoughts, it is always possible the cheese idea is related. The French call a number of things fromage because they are compressed or shaped like cheese – fromage de fruits for example. A pale slab of dough has its pale slabbiness in common with the cheese – and if the local dialect word for the latter is dick, then it is possible that this also became the nickname for the pud. It is no sillier than fromage de fruits.

‘Dick’ also can mean a leather apron, a ditch or dike (or the bank thereof), a short way of saying dictionary, and a slang name for a detective. I cant see any pudding clues there.

I offer you two recipe variations of Spotted Dick. The first is a cheat because it uses butter, not suet. What you gain in flavour you lose in stodgy texture.

Spotted Dick.
6 ounces of flour
3 ounces of butter
4 ounces of sultanas or raisins
1 teaspoon baking powder
Chop the butter as you would suet, and mix into it the flour with the sultanas or raisins, and the baking powder. Add as much water as will make a paste thick enough to roll out, as for roly-poly pudding or jam roll. When rolled out, fold over, and put into a pudding cloth, and boil for about one hour.
Meatless Cookery. Maria Gillmore. 1914.

The second is a cheat as the mixture is cooked in a basin rather than the traditional elongated shape. It will give you the correct flavour with less embarrassment.

Spotted Dick.
Serves 4-6.
4 oz. self-raising flour
pinch salt
4 oz. (or 2 level teacups) fresh white breadcrumbs
4 oz. shredded beef suet
2 oz. castor sugar
3 oz. cleaned currants
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
milk to mix.
Sift together the flour and salt into a mixing basin. Add the breadcrumbs, suet, sugar, currants, and lemon rind and mix well. Stir in enough milk to mix to a soft dropping consistency, then spoon into a well-buttered 1 ½ pint pudding basin. Cover with buttered double-thickness greaseproof paper – buttered side inwards, and with a pleat to allow pudding to rise and tie securely. Steam gently for 2 ½ hours.
The Times, November 1968.

Quotation for the Day …

“Hallo! A great deal of steam! the pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that. That was the pudding.”
Charles Dickens in 'A Christmas Carol'

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dishing up an Insult.

Every now and again I add another example to my Welsh Rabbit recipe collection, and I must be due to give you another one or two of them. If you remember from the original posts on Welsh Rabbit Which is Not Rarebit (here and here), one of the theories about the name is that it originated in an ethnic slur. I came across another variation of the that sort of friendly nationalistic joking (?) the other day while searching for something completely different. The header was “Sure and there’s no bird in it at all” – and the slurred ones are the Irish.
Here is the recipe for Irish Turkey, from Mrs. Elmer Trump of Allentown, PA as it appeared in the San Antonio Light of November 12, 1939.
Irish Turkey.
“Here is my recipe for Irish Turkey that is both delicious and satisfying.”
“I buy a pig’s stomach. Clean and set it in water overnight. The next morning I make it as follows: I judge whenI have enough potatoes cut in small cubes to fill it. On the day before I cook 1 pound nice lean pork and ¾ pound of very nice veal. To this I add 1 teaspoon salt. When cool cut in pieces. I keep the broth to roast the stomach in and dip 3 slices of bread in it and cut in cubes. When the potatoes are almost steamed 1 put in 1 onion cut real fine, 2 eggs and sweet marjoram or parsley and salt and pepper. Last of all I put the meat in the pan, fill the stomach, and sew the end up and roast it. This I roast for 1 ½ hours, then remove the top of the roaster and brown it nicely. I also prick the top of the stomach with a fork on account of bursting. Put on a large plate and slice. I pour brown butter over it. This is an inexpensive substitute for chicken or turkey. I serve it with cranberries and dried corn. I bet you cant beat it, that is if you are not like some people and afraid of a pig’s stomach.”
I think I definitely have another subject heading for recipes – Cooking by Ehnic Slurring. If you have any good examples, do please let us all know in the comments. 
Quotation for the Day ...
Laughter is brightest, in the place where the food is.- Irish proverb

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Olives.

To continue yesterday’s story, the ‘other’ olive is ‘a dish made from slices of beef or veal, typically rolled around a filling of onions and herbs, stewed, and served in gravy.’   The dish with this name has been a feature of English cuisine since at least the sixteenth century, when olives (from the tree) were an expensive imported luxury. Why is it so?
The name seems to be an example of folk etymology – the process by which a word is adapted to another use because of some confusion of pronunciation and meaning. In old manuscripts the same dish is called alowes (or aloes or some other attempt at interpreting a word phonetically) – which comes from the French for small birds (alouette is a lark). After some time in England the word became heard as olives, which are also small, round, and stuffed - and there you have it. The idea also explains why they are also called ‘beef birds’ or oiseaux sans têtes (headless birds).
To confuse the matter even further, small flat pieces of meat (or fish) rolled around a filling are also called paupiettes (poupiettes, polpettes etc) – derived from the Italian polpa for flesh, or turbans, which is self-explanatory.
Here is Elizabeth Raffald’s take, from her wonderful book The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769)
To Make Veal Olives.
Cut the thick part of a leg of veal in thin slices, flatten them with the broad side of a cleaver, rub them over with the yolk of an egg, strew over every piece a very thin slice of bacon, strew over them a few bread crumbs, a little lemon peel, and parsley chopped smalll, pepper, salt, and nutmeg; roll them up close and skewer them tight, then rub them with the yolk of eggs, and roll them in bread crumbs and parsley
chopped small, put them into a tin dripping-pan to bake or fry them; then take a pint
of good gravy, add to it a spoonful of lemon pickle, the fame of walnut catchup, and one of browning, a little anchovy and Chyan pepper, thicken it with flour and butter, serve them up with forcemeat balls, and strain the gravy hot upon them: garnish with pickles, and strew over them a few pickled mushrooms.

Quotation for the Day …
“If I had magic powers, I should like to wave my golden fork over the confined cookery of Europe and enlarge it to infinity; I would like to . . . offer French nationality to the many hardly known but delicious foreign dishes; ...I would like to put the whole of natural history on the spit, in stews, in fricassees, in court-bouillon, in grills, ..... ”  Jean-Camille Fulbert-Dumonteil (1831-1912)

Monday, October 13, 2008

On the Olive.

I have a very short story today to start to address a sadly neglected (on this blog) topic. The olive. At least a couple of sorts of olives – and I don’t mean green or black.

Let me begin by defining the olive from the tree – or by letting the OED define it for me:

“An evergreen tree, Olea europaea (family Oleaceae), with narrow entire leaves, green above and silvery beneath, and axillary clusters of small whitish flowers; esp. one of the variety O. europaea var. europaea, long cultivated in the Mediterranean region for its fruit and the oil obtained from this.”

Humans worked out how to cultivate the olive before they developed a written language, which shows a thoroughly correct and sensible set of priorities. For millenia it has been a source of nutrition, of wealth, of religious symbolism, of clean soft skin, of medicine, of great salad dressing, and a whole lot of other useful things. And the trees are large and shady and beautiful and live for a very long time indeed, and the wood is lovely too. What more could one tree offer?

Mostly, we just eat olives after the most minimal preparation, but the urge to fiddle with perfection is great, and humans invented the idea of recipes for just that purpose. Today I give you a couple of ideas from Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady. 1827 – and note that The Lady suggests the mixture of olives and anchovies as a stomachic, or stomach medicine. I love the idea of orange juice with olives.

Olive Sandwiches.
Stone and pound some olives, either with olive oil or butter. If they have been simply pounded, butter the bread, and spread it over it, or try some slices in olive oil, light crisp, but not hard, and spread the olives, or lay them in patches.
Olives rank next to anchovies, in their digestive and restorative powers for weak stomachs, for which every thing ought to be pounded, as what is often good for them they otherwise are not able to digest.
Olives and anchovies mixed make excellent stomachic sandwiches.

Forced Olives.
Stone the very finest Spanish olives, opening them as little as possible, and fill them with powdered or pounded anchovies, peg them together with a nice small wooden peg, or stitch them, pack them carefully, and cover them with their pickle ; if there is not enough, boil and filter a salt pickle, and add it, or put them in bitter orange or lemon-juice, and cover them with olive oil. Those that are fond of olives, and wish to eat them in perfection, will have the brine poured off, and the bottles filled up with orange-juice and olive-oil. They are prepared in this manner at Morocco.

Tomorrow – Olives of Beef (or Veal) and How They Came By Their Name.

Quotation for the Day …

[Of the olive] The whole Mediterranean, the sculpture, the palm, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers -all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water. Lawrence Durrell. Prospero's Cell (1945)

Friday, October 10, 2008

On Toast

I am inclined to agree with Julia Child on the subject of toast. She said “I have trouble with toast. Toast is very difficult. You have to watch it all the time or it burns up.” She is right. You have to get it right first time. Overdone toast with the black dust scraped off is bad, and underdone toast re-submitted to the toaster becomes dried out and hard and is also bad.

Toast does seem to be originally an English invention. A Prussian clergyman visiting England in 1782 wrote about the new habit of afternoon tea.

“The slices of bread and butter, which they give you with your tea, are as thin as poppy-leaves – But there is another kind of bread and butter usually eaten with tea, which is toasted by the fire, and is incomparably good. This is called toast.”

The usual excuse for toast is that it is a way of using up stale bread, and there are worse ways than making it drier and warmer so that it will soak up more butter. The idea is sufficiently good that we must ensure that there is a supply of stale bread available at all times. There are other ideas for stale bread of course, such as French Toast. French Toast is simply bread dipped in egg and fried, and the idea is very old indeed. In old books it is called pain perdu, which is usually translated as lost bread, but I prefer the idea that it is a corruption of pain pour Dieu, or God’s bread. The same idea goes by a myriad other names: Poor Knights, Golden Bread, Bread Fish, Gypsy Toast, and Gilded Slices for example.

French Toast is ‘French’ to the English. I find it interesting how one nation will name a dish after another, often without any obvious connection. I want to explore some examples of this over the next few days. Unless I change my mind. What is it that makes this recipe “German”? (to an English cook book writer)

German Toast.
Take the remainder of any fricassee or ragout ; any small quantity will do; chop it finely, add a little chopped parsley, and a little bit of shalot or chive: mix it up with one or two eggs beaten, according to the quantity. Put the whole with its gravy into a stewpan, and let it reduce and thicken on the fire. Let it remain until it is cold, then cut pieces of bread, toast them: lay the mixture thickly upon them. Boil an egg hard, cut it into small pieces, and stick them on the top; brush the whole with egg beaten up, sift bread-crumbs over, and bake them in the oven; squeeze a little lemon-juice on the top. This makes a good corner-dish.
A New System of Domestic Cookery. Maria Rundell. 1844

[Another idea is Bacon Toast]

Quotation for the Day …

The toaster is part of a system and only has significance relative to the wrapped, pan-made, thin-crusted bread that can be used in it … Ultimately, the toaster is an apology for the quality of our bread ... the toaster represents a heroic attempt to redeem our packaged bread … Every piece of toast is a tragedy.

Arthur Berger. The Crux of Toast. In Et cetera. 1990.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Green is easy.

Green food coloring is easy: the juice of spinach and parsley and lots of other plants are there for the taking. They are a good way of sneaking some vegetable goodness into little children – although this may be more useful to reduce maternal guilt than have any impact on their nutrition. Green juices have been used for hundreds of years, and as there is no dearth of green plants, it would not seem necessary to resort to anything else.

There is one natural food coloring however that is slightly infamous. It was also used as a paint pigment. Actually it is yellow, but if blue is added it becomes green (I forgot to include it in the story a couple of days ago, so need an excuse to do so now, so please forgive the artifice.) It is Indian Yellow – and it is said to have been produced from the urine of cows fed on mango leaves. This is (or was) apparently a cruel practice causing pain and premature death of the cow. I have no idea how true this is, or if the practice continues, but if there is an art historian out there who can enlighten us all I would be very grateful. But, it is natural – or at least not synthetic, which proves that you have to be careful in interpreting that word on food packages.

Here are a couple of ideas from Cassell’s New Dictionary of Cookery, 1910, for your next cake or soup.

Green Icing.
Take a handful of young spinach-leaves, wash them thoroughly, and put them while wet into a mortar, and bruise them until the juice can be squeezed out. Whisk the white of a fresh egg to a firm froth: add, gradually, a quarter of a pound of sifted loaf sugar, and the juice of half a lemon, with as much of the spinach-juice as will colour the icing sufficiently. Beat it well, one way, for half an hour, and add a little more sugr, if necessary. Spread it smoothly and dry in a cool oven.

Greening for Soup.
Wash a handful of young spinach leaves, pound them in a mortar, put the bruised leaves into muslin and squeeze out as much juice as is required. The soup may be heated, but must not be brought to the boiling point after the juice is added, or the green will be converted into a dirty yellow.

There is also a recipe in the book, in which parsley juice is used to convert Bechamel into Dutch Sauce (a little lemon added at the point of serving).

Quotation for the Day …

Red meat is not bad for you. Now blue-green meat, that’s bad for you!
Tommy Smothers.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Blue Thoughts

We do eat with our eyes, which is partly why cooks like to play with food colours. What our eyes perceive as delicious is however, to some extent (or maybe full extent) pre-determined by ancestral and personal historic ‘knowledge’. Blue food, for example (a few M&M’s aside), is not relished. This is presumably because there is no truly blue food in nature. Blueberries are really purplish-black, and the veins in blue cheese are greenish, and from a colour point of view only serve to as a counterpoint to the creamy white background.

When blue food colouring is used, it generally performs the same visual function as these veins (think of the blue M&M’s). Occasionally it is used deliberately to be outrageous – such as in the luminescent blue ‘slushy’ drinks which stain the teeth of ghoulish pre-adolescents, who drink them because their parents hate them (the drinks, that is.) In the olden days, cooks used to use two very natural blue colourings: turnsole (Crozophora tinctoria) and lapis lazuli (a brilliant blue rock, finely ground and used also in paint). Today we have E133 abd E132, which may or may not be better than whatever chemical it is in turnsole that produces blue.

The movie director Alfred Hitchcock, who supplied the quotation yesterday was famous for his horror movies, and in real life apparently had a practical-joking sense of humor. He once famously held a ‘blue dinner party’, at which all of the food was dyed blue, just to see what effect it had on his guests. I have tried for years to find an authentic and detailed description of the event, but although I am certain it did happen, the details have escaped me. The menu is variously said to have included soup, trout, chicken, venison, fish, peaches, and ice-cream, with ‘even the bread and water dyed blue.’ It is said that the guests were repelled by the food and could not eat much of it, even though the flavour was not affected. It is also often quoted that Hitchcock did not like blue skies in film. I have no idea if this is true, but bright blue skies in horror films perhaps do not create the right mood.

Blueberries, as I have said, are purplish-black, really. Here is one way to make them even blacker. I am sure they would not taste like blueberries after a few weeks of this treatment however, so what is the point?

Pickled Blueberries.
Nearly fill a jar with ripe berries, and fill up with good molasses. Cover, and set away. In a few weeks they will be ready to use.
Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book. 1880

[Miss Parloa also gives us a Black Pudding (dessert not sausage-style) made from blueberries.]

Quotation for the Day …

I've often thought tomatoes are
Much better red than blue.
A blue tomato is a food
I'd certainly eschew.

William Cole, from A Song of Thanks.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Yellow today.

Colouring food with various things natural and unnatural has a long history, and not just to give an entire dish a new colour. Sometimes food colouring has been used like paint. There are many references in medieval records of feast dishes decorated to look like heraldic symbols for example. Moving forward to the nineteenth century, in 1846 Alexis Soyer greatly impressed the visiting Pasha of Egypt with an edible portrait on a pineapple cream.

Cream of Egypt à l’lbrahim Pacha … an elegant cream à l’ananas, … What was his Highness's astonishment however, on again looking at the spot, to observe in the cream, as under a glass, a highly-finished portrait of himself, surrounded by a very carefully-executed frame. … “The portrait in the cream is drawn on wafer-paper, which being placed on the damp jelly representing the glass, dissolves, and nothing remains of the wafer-paper but the appearance of the portrait painted in light water-colours. Tbe imitation of the gilt frame is made with the eau de vie of Dantzic and gold water mixed with the jelly, the gold leaf of which forms the frame.” … Though everything was eatable in it, this magnificent dish was respected, and remained untouched until the end of the banquet, though everybody tried to partake of the fruit which surrounded it.

A chef with a truly artistic touch! I do wonder if the ‘light water-colors’ were truly edible however.

Yesterday it was cochineal that caught my eye, but other red colourings that have been used in the past are sandalwood, brazilwood, red fruits such as redcurrants, barberries, and pomegranate juice, or beets, crushed red roses, and alkanat or orchanet (a plant of the borage family). All very natural, as is a another red called vermilion, which comes from the natural mineral cinnabar, and consists of mercuric sulphide, which is a very dangerous natural toxin. Think on this sort of thing next time you find yourself attracted to a package that says ‘all natural’ ingredients. It is a marketing phrase, my friends, nothing more. I doubt that vermilion is used anywhere in food today, as we have Allura Red (E129) instead, and probably others, which is quite unnatural and may or may not be harmful.

It was red yesterday, so it is yellow today. Yellow colourings used in the past are safron, yellow lily, and things such as ‘yellow smalt’ made from natural minerals and used as paint pigment. Today, saffron is so prohibitively expensive that we would not be likely to use it just for colour, and I shudder to think how much this recipe for yellow colouring would cost.

Yellow Colour.
Yellow Colour for the ornamentation of pastry must be prepared by placing an ounce of hay-saffron in a sugar-pan with a gill and a half of water, a small quantity of alum, and half an ounce of sugar. Se the pan on the fire, let the liquid boil for ten minutes, then pass it through a napkin.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery. London. c1817.

(Hay saffron is the crocus stigmas dried in their loose state, not compressed into cakes. It is the most desirable, partly because it is more difficult to adulterate.)

Nowadays, turmeric is a cheaper substitute when a yellow is wanted, and here it is in pickle. - where it very advantageously also adds its flavour. Or is it that it coincidentally adds its colour?

Yellow Pickle.
Take six firm heads of cabbage, take off all the loose leaves, quarter them and dip them separately in a kettle of boiling water; lay them in dishes, and sprinkle them well with salt; lay them in the sun until the water is pretty well drained from them, then dip them separately in strong, boiling vinegar; let them be well saturated. Prepare your spice; an ounce of cinnamon, an ounce of cloves, one of mace, black pepper, orange-peeling, and ginger; let them be all well pounded. Three ounces of white mustard-seed, scald them in vinegar and let them stand and soak at least two hours; a half pound of horseradish, nicely sliced in long narrow pieces, these must be scalded also, as you do the mustard-seed. Then take a stone jar, put in a layer of cabbage, a layer of spice, horseradish, and mustard-seed, and a bag of tumerick, about as large as a hickory nut, then another layer of cabbage, then one of spice, horseradish, mustard-seed, and another bag of tumerick. On the top layer put a bag holding a half ounce of tumerick, then fill up with cold vinegar; have your jar air-tight, and do not disturb it for at least three months; they are always best when undisturbed, for at least a year. I have seen pickles made by this receipt, seven years old, which were delicious. Pickles should always be kept a long time before using them.
The Great Western Cook Book, or Table Receipts, Adapted to Western Housewifery.
New York. 1857.

Quotation for the Day …

I'm frightened of eggs, worse than frightened, they revolt me. That white round thing without any holes ... have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid? Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I've never tasted it. Alfred Hitchcock.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Red, red, food.

Before there was artificial red food colouring, there was an amazing natural red food colouring. I love/hate that word natural in relation to food. I do wonder how many people over the years actually knew that the cochineal used to make pretty pink icing for their cupcakes came from a natural insect.
The cochineal insect (Dactylopius coccus) lives on a cactus plant in South America and Mexico, and it was once the focus of a huge and very lucrative industry. Specimens of Prickly Pear along with insect inhabitants were collected by Captain Arthur Phillip en route to settle the first batch of convicts in Australia in 1788, the intention being to break the Spanish monopoly on the trade. I don’t know how much effort went into early attempts were to cultivate the insect (another story to research!) but the prickly pear certainly thrived to pestilential proportions.
It takes about 70,000 cochineal insects to produce one pound (about 500 grams) of cochineal, and and harvesting them is very labour-intensive. It is of course more expensive than synthetic colouring – at least five times as expensive – but it is natural (but not vegan-natural).
Most of the cochineal of course was used to dye fabric, but some found its way into kitchens. Cooks have always liked to play with colours in food, and there have been some pretty scary ingredients and methods used in the past – one has only to think of the deliberate use of copper pans to make pickles nice and green, the colour coming from the toxic copper salts produced by contact with the vinegar. The use of cochineal caused a verb to be invented – scutchanele, meaning to colour with cochineal (or to simply colour red, perhaps.)
I have chosen a pie recipe for you today. It is is an out-take from my Pie Book, which is inching closer to production, thank goodness. I have no idea why it is called Scotchineal Pie, but presumably it is reddish in colour.  I think the ‘roots’ are sweet potato.
To make a Scotchinear (or Scotchineal) Pie.
Boil the Roots tendre, and peel them, and season it with Nutmeg, Cloves, Mace, Cinamon, Sugar and Salt, then lay it in your Pie, and put to it a good quantity of Marrow, Limon-peel cut small, and some slices, strew in near half a poun of Currans, candid Citron, Limon and Orange-peel, cut in thin slices, Barberries, Grapes or Gooseberries as the time of Year afford, when the pie is filled put in some Sugar and wring in the juice of two good Limons.
For the Caudle take a quart of White-wine or Sider, a little Sack and thicken it up with the Yelks of 6 Eggs, and sweeten it to your Taste; if the Wine or Cyder be no sharp enough, put in a little Vinegar.
The Pastrycooks Vade Mecum, 1705  (Anonymous)
Quotation for the Day …
I prefer Hostess fruit pies to pop-up toaster tarts because they don't require as much cooking.  Carrie Snow.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Nutty Candy.

Today is the end of Confectionary week at the Old Foodie. I want to talk to you about prawlongs. Prawlongs (or prawlins) appear in a couple of old confectionary books, and I have been intrigued about the name for a while. I was going to ask your help in puzzling out what they are, as the OED, Google, and Wikipedia are of no use at all. Silly me. I should have looked at the recipes – I mean, really looked at them. When I did, the answer was embarrassingly obvious. Prawlongs are Pralines, which the OED does know about. They are ‘a confection made by browning almonds or other nuts in boiling sugar.’ Mrs. Kettilby in her book Above 300 Receipts (1714) also calls them Fry’d Almonds, which I like. There is nothing so consistent as inconsistency in culinary language however, and one of the supporting quotations in the OED is from Canada, and refers to ‘a small quantity of praline, made of roasted maize, rendered palatable with sugar’ in a camp-food context. Another says ‘It was the fragrance of prawleens, that compound of New Orleans molasses, brown sugar, chocolate, and butter.

For no better reason than that his name fits his subject, I have chosen a recipe for prawlongs from Frederick Nutt’s The Complete Confectioner, published in 1807.

He gives recipes for lemon, orange, pistachio (red), pistachio (white), burnt filbert (red), and orange flower prawlongs, as well as burnt almonds and filberts.

Burnt Filbert Prawlongs, Red.
Take some Barcelona nuts and crack them, put the kernals into a copper pan or sheet, and put them in the oven to roast; have a pan with syrup boiling and let it boil till it becomes almost to carimel; put a little cochineal in a cup, when the sugar is boiled, add it to it and the filberts, and stir them very much with a large wooden spoon, till you find the sugar is got hard around them; put them in a sieve, and separate them which stick together; have another pan, with syrup in, and boil it as before and as high; put the same quantity of cochineal in, and mix them as before, because the second time you do them, the finer the colour will be, and then put them in your box.

Apart from the fact that it sounds delicious, there are two other great things about this recipe. Firstly, it gives me another new-old food word – ‘Barcelona’ in relation to filberts (and their alter-ego, the hazelnut). Secondly, I think it may have given me a topic for next week– cochineal.

In the meanwhile, if any of you hail from New Orleans, and can treat us all to a recipe for the local version of prawleens, with chocolate, butter, and molasses, I would be most delighted.

Quotation for the Day …

Is dandy,
But liquor
Is quicker.
Ogden Nash.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

More on Marshmallows.

The tomato marshmallow recipe from a few weeks ago caused some interest, and in one other story I gave you a recipe for Mississippi Mud that contained marshmallows, but there is still a lot of fun to be had with them.
The marshmallow, before it was a puffy sweet was (is) a plant. It is known as Althaea officinalis, and it grows over wide areas of the world. As its name suggests, it grows in marshy areas. The ‘mallow’ part of the name comes from the Latin name for the plant – Malva. Which of course begs the question – what does Malva mean? The whole point of the plant seems to be the mucilaginous root, so presumably there is some meaning there. Any input from botanists or Latin experts would be gratefully received.
The mucilaginous quality of course is what made the plant valuable medicinally. Once upon a time, it was believed that the qualities of anything in the known world could be transferred to the eater/patient/victim, if the material was ingested. Coral red stones, ground up and added to medicine transmitted their red, bloody power, and mucilaginous mallow soothed and coated dry or inflamed parts of the body for example. Decoctions of mallow were therefore useful for all sorts of urinary and bowel problems, and irritable coughs.  
Marshmallows today of course don’t contain any Marsh Mallow. Such is progress. I am not sure how the mucilaginous quality got translated to a spongy, jellied, powdery and decidedly dry sweetie, but life is full of mysteries, and all the better for it too. I guess when they are melted, the texture is approximated; but someone made them first, before they toasted them, surely?  
This is how they used to be made, with the real plant.
Famous Tablettes de Guimauve,or French Lozenges of Marshmallows, being their grand Remedy for all sorts of Coughs.
These lozenges are of two sorts, the simple and the compound. For the first, cleanse and scrape roots if marshmallows, freshly taken out of the ground, and boiling them in pure water till they become quite soft, take them out, beat them in a marble mortar to the consistency of a fine smooth paste, and place it on the top of an inverted sieve to obtain all the pulp which can be forced through the sieve with the assistance of a wooden spoon, then boil a pound and a half of loaf sugar in six or seven ounces of rosewater, to a good solid consistence, and whisk it up, off the fire, with a quarter of a pound of the marshmallow pulp; after which place it over a gentle heat, to dry up the humidity, stirring it all the time, and when a good paste is formed, empty it on paper brushed over with oil of sweet almonds, roll it out with a straight rolling-pin, and cut it into lozenges with a tin lozenge cutter.
The Universal Receipt Book, Patricia Homespun, 1818.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Gobstoppers, Humbugs, and Bull’s Eyes.

More random facts on boiled sweeties today.

A gob is something you gab (and eat) with, and it must be an old word because the OED says it is ‘of obscure origin’, possible Gaelic. It is not too difficult then to understand what a gob-stopper is. What surprised me when I went looking is that it is a relatively recent word. The first OED reference is from Walter de la Mare, which pleases me no end – I do like it when the first reference is a literary one. In Come Hither (1928), Walter says ‘Gob-stoppers and toffee, are these not ‘good’ names for goodies?’ They are indeed Walter.

Humbug is an interesting word. The OED is really puzzled by it. It says ‘humbug’ is ‘a slang or cant word which came into vogue c1750.’ It goes on to say:

‘Many guesses at the possible derivation of humbug have been made; but as with other and more recent words of similar introduction, the facts as to its origin appear to have been lost, even before the word became common enough to excite attention. Cf. the following:
1751 (Jan.) Student II. 41 There is a word very much in vogue with the people of taste and fashion, which though it has not even the ‘penumbra’ of a meaning, yet makes up the sum total of the wit, sense and judgement of the aforesaid people of taste and fashion!..I will venture to affirm that this Humbug is neither an English word, nor a derivative from any other language. It is indeed a blackguard sound, made use of by most people of distinction! It is a fine, make-weight in conversation, and some great men deceive themselves so egregiously as to think they mean something by it!

This blackguard of a word became the name of a sweetmeat in the early nineteenth century – at least according to the OED again. It is mentioned as being ‘in common use in Gloucestershire’ in 1825. I’ll bet there are earlier references somewhere.

Bulls’ Eyes. Like gob-stopper, this one is self-explanatory. First mention again, about 1825. Perhaps there was a great growth in the boiled sweet industry in the first couple of decades of the nineteenth century? I am away from many of my resources at present, so am asking more questions that I am attempting to answer, which is not a bad thing. If any of you have any ideas, do please let us all know.

No recipes for todays sweets – they are variations on the same theme of yesterday; boil sugar and add flavouring and form into shapes. Instead, this one for pie. Pie is good.

Butterscotch Pie.
Line a pie tin with plain pastry [and presumably ‘bake blind’] then place in a saucepan
3 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of brown sugar.
Heat slowly and cook for three minutes. Then place one and one-half cups of cold milk in a bowl and add four level tablespoons of cornstarch to the milk. Stir to dissolve the starch and add to the cooked sugar and stir constanty to thoroughly blend. Bring to a boil and cook for three minutes. Cool and add one well-beaten egg. Then pour into the prepared pie plate. Care must be taken to not let the sugar caramel.
Mrs. Wilson’s Cook Book. 1920