Monday, November 17, 2008

From the Orient.

I (and my lovely daughter) are in Thailand this week. Shopping and Eating. It seems appropriate then, to give you something with an Eastern flavour.
Mrs Woolley from last week was silent on the subject of the Orient, which is not surprising for a woman born in the early seventeenth century. A hundred years later however, knowledge of the outside world was pressing in on England, and the author of  Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor(1827), known at the time only as “A Lady”, had quite a comprehensive chapter on “Oriental Cookery.”
She starts by saying:
“WE are accustomed to look to the East for the origin of arts and sciences. I am not, however, inclined to ascribe the invention of cookery to Brahma or Visnu, nor do 1 feel myself so far implicated in its honour as to fall out with the heathen of old for not elevating to a niche in the Pantheon a deity that has, in these latter ages, found so many worshippers. The art of cookery; more than any other, depends upon local circumstances, as it is with the greatest difficulty communicated from one country to another, the natural productions of the soil requiring to be transported, as well as the modes of dressing them. In the early emigrations, the people must have been shepherds to abandon their native country without very great inconvenience; in their progress to husbandry and civilisation, they would adopt peculiar fashions of their own, from chance or necessity. The styles of the different nations might be thus various, though much on a par with respect to quality; and, although that of one country might surpass the rest, the others, not admitting of any general standard, could not possibly adopt it or profit by it. Travellers, while they might communicate unknown sciences, against which there could be no very rooted prejudice, or discoveries in known ones, which would be received with avidity, not only would have found it impossible to introduce improvements in this art, but would also have had to divest themselves of the deepest rooted of all prejudices. …
She then finds a recipe to illustrate her point:
“On opening Dr. Hunter's Culina accidentally, at the last page (quite in the oriental style), I was not a little pleased at finding the following admirable receipt, so different from the English style; there being some obsolete words in it, he has thus rendered it …”  
A delicious Dish,
Take good cow's milk and put it into a pot; take parsley, sage, hyssop, savory, and other good herbs; chop them and stew them in the milk; take capons, and after half roasting them, cut them in pieces, and add to them pines [pine nuts], clarified honey, and salt; colour with saffron, and serve up.
The Lady goes on to say:
“Nothing but prejudice could call any thing in this receipt disgusting. This dish is completely Turkish. The sweet herbs (the milk is in the Arab style), the saffron, the capons, the making of which is a constant practice in the East, and of which we have no trace among our nations anterior to the time of the Crusades; but, above all, the sweets, the honey, and the pine kernels, which arc richer and stronger than almonds, and must have been imported, as they never bear fruit more towards the north than the 43°, all proved to me that our travelled forefathers had not been proof against the dainties of the East. The dish I have tried, and, even without capons, I can affirm that it well merits its title.”
And then:
“But what was my surprise, on turning the page for the connexion, to read as follows: “Whoever looks into the 'Forme of Cury,' as compiled about 400 years ago, by the master cook of Richard the Second, will he highly disgusted with the dishes there recorded. Much, therefore, is due to those who have brought forward the culinary manners of the present age, in opposition to the nauseous exhibitions of former times. For example:” then follows (will the reader believe me ?) the above-mentioned ‘Delicious Dish’
The author is referring to a dish (or one of a number of dishes) that are a fore-runner of our modern blancmange, or “white eat”, - one variety being called Blank Dessire or Blank de Sur, meaning “white dish from Syria”.
For to make Blank de Sur.
Take the zolyks of Eggs sodyn and temper it with the mylk of a kow and do thereto Comyn and Safron and flowr’ of ris or wasted bread myced and grynd in a morter and temper it up with the milk and make it boyle and do thereto wit of Egg corvyn smale and take fat chese and kerf ther’to wan the liquor is boyld and serve it forth.
Form of Cury, circa 1390.
A recipe for Blanc Maunger, also from the Form of Cury, is HERE.
Quotation for the Day …
I prefer to regard a dessert as I would imagine the perfect woman:  subtle, a little bittersweet, not blowsy and extrovert.  Delicately made up, not highly rouged.  Holding back, not exposing everything and, of course, with a flavor that lasts.  Graham Kerr.

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