Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Yet More on The Orient.

I just cannot put down Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by A Lady (1827). Her “Oriental” recipes are Anglo-Oriental, but they are confidently so: she does not appear to be concerned about “authenticity”. What amazes me most, is that way back in the first few decades of the nineteenth century she was able to include a large cohort of “foreign” recipes in an English cookbook, and get away with it. Yet a century and a half later, as a child growing up in post-war England, I had never even heard of any of these dishes. They were certainly not in my mother’s Be-Ro cookbook.
Most of us (children I mean, but I suspect also many adults) were so insular in our Englishness that we really did half (or maybe seven-eighths) believe that the spaghetti eaten by Italians was actually worms. My mother certainly never cooked it. At some point – when I was almost an adult I think – I was exposed to canned spaghetti, which I hated. Luckily it did not put me off the real thing. (Isn’t it a delight, discovering the real thing, after only knowing the ersatz, and not knowing it was ersatz?)
By the end of the nineteenth century, apart from the Anglo-Indian “curries”, this exotic influence seems to have disappeared. Where did those recipes go? I blame Queen Victoria.
I remember a few years ago when couscous (the instant sort of course) suddenly became fashionable. Yet, here it is – made from scratch even – way back in an English cookbook of 1827.
African Cuscussou.
Mix some of the finest dry sifted flour in a mixture of yolk of egg, warm water, and butter; or water, cream, or milk, and granulate it with the points of the fingers amongst dry flour, till it takes a proper consistency. Prepare a fowl very nicely for boiling, boil the gizzard, slice it nicely, without detaching it, blanch the liver, put them into the wings, and lay the fowl into a saucepan that will just hold it, with a steamer fitted to it; season it with mace, white-pepper, and lemon zest; put in a little water or milk, and put the steamer over it, with the granulated flour or cuscussou; make it boil, and leave it in the embers to steam till it is thoroughly cooked; in the mean time prepare, according to the quantity, hard-boiled eggs, coloured with saffron; dish the fowl, pour the cuscussou over, and stick the eggs in at proper distances.
Any other meat or fish may be so cooked, or with rice, instead of the cuscussou.
In doing fish, which is excellent, it is necessary to put the cuscussou to simmer first over what the fish is to be dressed in, either seasoned stock or cream, and when ready, to put in the fish, which will cook in a short time. The hard eggs are equally good with the fish; dish in the same manner.
I also remember the first time I had couscous at breakfast – what a novelty! - at a trendy Moroccan-ish restaurant in Sydney not too many years ago, yet here it is in 1827, albeit with a small English caveat.
Sweet Cuscussou, as dressed at Morocco.
Steam it with milk and sugar, and strew it over with cinnamon, or nutmeg and sugar. Like macaroni, it is so delicate, that it is particularly adapted to sweets, white meats,
fish, cheese, gourds, and apples, it being a dish of no expense, and particularly adapted, with fruit or vegetables, for children and invalids.
The inhabitants of Morocco cover it with a great deal of spices, particularly cinnamon and sugar, and send it so dressed in presents to the women, but it is rather too high-spiced for English tastes.

Quotation for the Day …
When it comes to foreign food, the less authentic the better.
Gerald Nachman, San Francisco Chronicle

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