Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ankerstock for New Year.

What New Year food are you planning for tonight and tomorrow? Many cultures have a particular New Year food tradition. Of course there are many dates for New Year, depending on the country, religion, and historic time, but for most of us in the West, tonight is New Year’s Eve. Before the partying starts, some thought must go into the celebratory food, and the one I have for you today requires some advance preparation. It also fits, I think, neatly into the ‘forgotten food’ that has been a bit of a theme this week.

In Scotland, once upon a time, there was Ankerstock. I am officially considering it ‘forgotten’ because the Oxford English Dictionary does not know it. Ankerstock (or Anchor-Stock, Ankerstock, Ankerstoke) was a spiced rye bread with currants, sometimes called Ankerstock Gingerbread (which means it also fits in the Through the Ages with Gingerbread archive.) Its name apparently refers to “some fancied resemblance to the stock of an anchor” – although whether this means its shape or its weight and solidity is a bit unclear.

Most mentions of Ankerstock in the literature refer to a single source – an article in Blackwood Magazine of December 1821.

“One of the first demonstrations of the approach of Christmas in Edinburgh was the annual appearance of large tables of anchor-stocks at the head of the Old Fish-market Close. These anchor-stocks, the only species of bread made from rye that I have ever observed offered for sale in the city, were exhibited in every variety of size and price, from a halfpenny to a halfcrown.”

Luckily for us, Maria Rundell included a recipe for Ankerstock in her wonderful book Domestic Economy, and Cookery, for rich and poor, in1827.

Ankerstock or Rye Bread
Requires very little yest [yeast]; mix with the water from two to six ounces of treacle for each pound of flour; let it be strained through a very fine gauze or lawn sieve, as treacle is often adulterated with sand; add salt, caraway, or anise of Verdun; the rye being sweet, the additional sweet gives it a determination, and corrects a disease to which that grain is liable, and makes the bread pleasant, healthy, and nourishing. It is an excellent sea store.

Quotation for the Day …

Gastronomers of the year 1825, who find satiety in the lap of abundance, and dream of some newly-made dishes, you will not enjoy the discoveries which science has in store for the year 1900, such as foods drawn from the mineral kingdom, liqueurs produced by the pressure of a hundred atmospheres; you will never see the importations which travelers yet unborn will bring to you from that half of the globe which has still to be discovered or explored. How I pity you!
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

To make a Quiddany.

I think I will start a campaign to bring back lovely lost old food words. Yesterday's dunelm will be somewhere on the list, but the first will be quiddany (or quiddony or quidini or several other variations). The word appears to be related to the old French codignat meaning a fruit jelly – the ‘q’ perhaps coming from the association with quinces (although they were made from many fruits).

I don’t know why or how we lost the name, but it seems very remiss of us. I think I will start a campaign to bring back lovely lost old food words. All the campaign needs is a catchy name …

Some quidonnies are thick, syruppy, ‘wet’ preserves, but this one, from Hugh Plat’s Delights for Ladies (1602) appears to be more of a fruit paste. I love the idea of rose-water with the quinces.

To make Quidinia of Quinces.
Take the kernelles out of eight Quinces, and boyle them in a quart of Spring-water, till it come to a pint: then put into it a quarter of a pint of Rose-water, and one pound of fine sugar, and so let it boile til you see it come to be of a deep colour: then take a drop, and drop it on the bottom of a sawcer; and if it stand, take it off; then let it run thorow a gelly-bag into a bason; then set on your bason upon a chafing-dish of coales, to keepe it warm: then take a spoone, and fill your boxes as full as you please: and when they be cold, cover them: and if you please to print it in moulds, you must hove moulds made to the bigness of your boxe, and wet your moulds with Rose-water, and so let it run into your mould: and when it is cold, turn it off into your boxes. If you wet your moulds with water, your gelly will fall out of them.

Quotation for the Day …

I would stand transfixed before the windows of the confectioners' shops, fascinated by the luminous sparkle of candied fruits, the cloudy lustre of jellies, the kaleidoscope inflorescence of acidulated fruitdrops -- red, green, orange, violet: I coveted the colours themselves as much as the pleasure they promised me.
Simone de Beauvoir.

Monday, December 29, 2008

To Make a Dunelm.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will be fully aware that I love words – particularly odd food words. I have an interesting and mysterious one for you today, and am hoping one of you can shed some light on it.

Several cookbooks from the first half of the nineteenth century have recipes for “A Dunelm of … ” The venerable Oxford English Dictionary does not know “dunelm”, which is a poor start to researching the topic. Wikipedia comes partly to the rescue with the definition of “A Scottish hash of chicken or veal with mushrooms and cream” , but then confuses the issue by saying that “Dunelm” is also an abbreviation for “Dunelmensis” - the old Latin name for Durham, which is in the North of England, not Scotland. The very comprehensive Dictionary of the Scots Language does not own it as a Scottish word, so I remain baffled, but intrigued.

The recipes must therefore speak for themselves. A “Dunelm” seems to be a good way to use up leftover cooked meat, whilst avoiding the use of the word “hash”.

A Dunelm Of Chicken.
TAKE a few fresh mushrooms, peeled and dressed as for stewing; mince them very small, and put to them some butter, salt, and cream. When put into a sauce-pan, stir over a gentle fire till the mushrooms are nearly done. Then add the white part of a roasted fowl, after being minced very small. When sufficiently heated, it may be served up.
Culina Famulatrix Medicinæ, Alexander Hunter, 1804

Dunelm of Veal, Fowl, Rabbit, Venison, or Butcher's Meat.
Stew some mushrooms very gently for an hour and a half in butter, with mace, salt, and pepper; let them cool, and mince them; dust in flour till the butter becomes a roux, and work in by degrees a little cream, till it obtains the consistency of a sauce; simmer and cook it smooth; mince the meat the same size and quantity of the mushrooms. Butcher's meat requires onions, and venison civet and port wine.
Domestic Economy, and Cookery, for rich and poor, by A Lady (Maria Rundell), 1827

Quotation for the Day …

The army from Asia introduced a foreign luxury to Rome; it was then the meals began to require more dishes and more expenditure . . . the cook, who had up to that time been employed as a slave of low price, become dear: what had been nothing but a métier was elevated to an art.
Livy (Titus Livius), Roman historian (59-17 B.C.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Leftovers Day.

I always think of Boxing Day as Leftovers Day and Reading Day (all those lovely books received as gifts – especially the cookbooks).

Really, the leftovers are the best part of Christmas eating. I favour the minimal change system – cold turkey and ham in salads or sandwiches, and quickly re-roasted vegetables. A lot of stock from the bones of course, to be frozen for later use. What I do not favour are dishes such as this:

Curried Turkey Wings and Bones.
Prepare a curry sauce as follows: saute 2 large onions in butter or margarine, add 1 apple with peel, finely chopped, cook until tender.
Add 2 cups of turkey broth, vegetable broth, or water with bouillon cubes. Add 2 tablespoons of curry powder. Cook for 30 minutes. Then add turkey wings, disjointed, and leg and thigh bones. Continue cooking until they are heated through.
Add any leftover turkey gravy, or 1 tin of cream of mushroom soup and a little evaporated milk.
Season to taste, adding more curry if desired. Add a handful of white grapes.
Serve with rice, cranberry sauce, thinly sliced cucumbers with oil and vinegar, salted peanuts and baked bananas. “Beer is good with this”, says James Beard.
[Jefferson City newspaper, 1957]

Curry powder? Mushroom soup? Apples and Grapes? Served with cranberry sauce?

And a James Beard recipe? Is it really?

Quotation for the Day …

Cooking Rule: If at first you don't succeed, order pizza. Anonymous.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Menu, 1808.

Here is the bill of fare (and table arrangement) of the Christmas dinner of the Duke of Buckingham in 1808. The expatriate French king Louis XVIII was present, and the bill of fare was prepared by Mr. Simpson, the Duke’s cook. The dinner “Was undoubtedly more substantial than elegant” according to the author of Host and Guest, a book about dinners (Andrew Valentine Kirwan, 1864.)

First Course.
 Rice soup, removed with a Turkey and Truffles.
Semels Souffle and poivrade sauce
Beef Collops à la Tortue and Truffles
Three Sweetbreads larded, and asparagus peas.
Poulard à la Daube, larded, and mushrooms.
Three Chickens à la Reine.
Leg of Lamb, and haricot beans.
Soup, removed with a bacon chine, roasted.
Soup, removed with a haunch of venison.
A Neat’s Tongue
Three Chickens and celery.
Two Rabbits à la Portuguese larded, and sorrel sauce.
Grenadines, and endive.
A Souties of Mutton, and cucumber.
Petit Pâtés of Oysters.
Giblet Soup, removed with a Sirloin of Beef.

Second Course.
Four partridges.
Carmel Basket with Pastry.
Savoy Cake.
Cauliflower à la Flamond.
Jerusalem Artichokes à la Crême.
A Cheesecake.
Mince Pies.
Spinage and Croutons.
French Beans.
Six Snipes.
A Pheasant.
Red Cabbage à l’Alemande.
Mince Pies.
Apricot Tourte.
Ragout Mellé
Chantillie Cake.
Carmel Basket, with meringues.
Two Guinea Fowls, one larded.

Quotation for the Day …

Were I a philosopher, I should write a philosophy of toys, showing that nothing else in life need to be taken seriously, and that Christmas Day in the company of children is one of the few occasions on which men become entirely alive."
Robert Lynd

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sharing a Drink.

You know how sometimes, when someone around you is cock-a-hoop, you want to take them down a peg or two? Well, it turns out that both of these phrases have their origins in the taverns of old, when beer mugs were shared, and each drinker was supposed only to drink down to one marker – a ‘peg’ or hoop on the tankard.

The same fascinating source as yesterday - Things Not Generally Known, Familiarly Explained, by John Timbs et al (1867), explaines it all.

Hoop was the old name for a quart-pot, such pots being anciently made with staves bound together with hoops, as barrels are. Nash, in his Pierce Penniless, says : " I believe hoops in quart-pots were invented that every man should take his hoop, and no more." There were usually three in number to such a pot; hence one of Jack Cade's promised reforms was, "the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer" (2 Hen. VI. act iv. sc. 2). Nares asks: " Will not this explain cock-a-hoop better than the other derivations?" A person is cock-a-hoop, or in high spirits, who has been keeping up the hoop, or pot, at his head.
Pewter pots are made with hoops to this day; but formerly, the hoop outside seems to have served the same purpose as the pegs inside in the older Peg-Tankards.

Thankgoodness for a plenitude of drinking-ware!


Please also consider buying a raffle ticket in the Menu for Hope (see the side-bar). The School Lunch Program in Lesotho is a wonderful project of the United Nations World Food Program. One of the prizes is my book The Pie: A Global History (due in March.)

Also: I am tickled pink that The Old Foodie is featured in the Naxos (music label) Christmas podcast. Old recipes to match the era of the music. What fun. You can download it from the Naxos site HERE, or the direct link is HERE.

Quotation for the Day …
Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.
Washington Irving

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Old Foodie is Podcast!

I am tickled pink. Recipes from this site (well, recipes from old books that have appeared on this site) have been featured in the Naxos Christmas podcast!

The music is pretty good too.

You can download it from the site HERE  or directly from HERE 

The Vintage Christmas Recipes archive is HERE

All About Toothpicks.

I have a little diversion from the Christmas fare today for you today. I am going to tell you almost everything you ever wanted to know about toothpicks, but never thought to ask.

The toothpick: a small article for personal post-prandial use. Plus of course the occasional kitchen function of skewering small pieces of cheese and multicoloured cocktail onions to an orange or keeping bacon wrapped around prunes at retro buffet parties. An item that may cause etiquette angst perhaps (in public or not? at the table or not? during the meal or not? discreetly behind the hand or not?), but on the whole is an inconsequential, trivial, disposeable item of personal oral hygiene.

Or is there more to the toothpick than there appears at first glance?

Once upon a time the simple toothpick was a veritable symbol of one’s wordliness and wealth. Of course, I am not talking of a cheap splintery wooden or nasty non-biodegradeable plastic toothpick here, I am talking of the fine elegant variety that used to be.

The first recorded mention of a toothpick, according to the OED, is from 1488, and refers to ‘twa tuthpikis of gold’. Gold toothpicks. Naturally then, a toothpick was a symbol of wealth. This little extract from the Encyclopædia of Antiquities, by Thomas Dudley Fosbroke (1825) tells us more:

“The tooth-pick is the Anglo-Saxon toth-gare. To pick the teeth was, in the time of Elizabeth, the mark of a man affecting foreign fashions. In a ludicrous order in Nichols's Progresses we find it said, " Item, no knight of this order shall be armed for the safeguard of his countenance with a pike in his mouth, in the nature of a tooth-pick." Nares says, that it was a fashion imported by travellers from Italy and France, and that using it in publick was deemed a mark of gentility. The tooth-picks were not only carried in cases, but sometimes worn in the hat. Magnetick tooth-picks were made at the end of the seventeenth century.”

So, the toothpick was a symbol of gentility as well as wealth.

I am intrigued by the idea of magnetic toothpicks. Why? To more easily remove metallic fragments from between the teeth? To conveniently stick to your metal cigar case? They are mentioned again in a lovely informative book called Things Not Generally Known, Familiarly Explained, by John Timbs et al (1867), in the chapter Olden Meals and Housewifery:

“The employment of Tooth-picks is very ancient. In the 12th volume of Mr. Grote's able History of Greece, p. 608, we find that Agathocles, " among the worst of Greeks," was poisoned by means of a medicated quill, handed to him for cleaning his teeth after dinner. Mr. Grote's authority is Diodorus, xxi. Fragm. 12, pp. 276-278.
Tooth-picks were in common use in the time of the Caesars. Martial tells us those made of a chip of mastic wood (lentiscus) are the best; but that if you run short of such timber, a quill will serve your purpose; and he ridicules an old fop, who was in the habit of digging away at his gums with his polished lentiscus, though he he’d not a tooth left in his head.
Tooth-picks occur early of silver; but pieces of wood, or of feathers with a red end (as quills in our day), were most usual. The tooth-pick is the Anglo-Saxon toth-gare.
The old name was Pick-tooth: it was imported by travellers from Italy and France, and the using of it was long deemed an affected mark of gentility. It was worn as a trophy in the hat; and Sir Thomas Overbury describes a courtier, the pink of fashion, " with a pick-tooth in his hat." Bishop Earle says of an idle gallant, "his pick-tooth bears a great part in his discourse." Magnetic tooth-picks were made at the end of the seventeenth century.”

A toothpick was considered ‘the distinguished mark of a traveller’ as early as 1600. Ben Jonson in his satirical play Cynthia’s Revels defines a traveller as ‘ … one so made out of the mixture and shreds of forms, that himself is truly deformed. He walks most commonly with a clove or a toothpick in his mouth.’

One might carry around one’s toothpick, and use it publicly, but one had to be elegant too. Here is some advice, from Practical Morality; Or, A Guide to Men and Manners (1831)

‘When the table is cleared, to carry ahout your toothpick in your mouth, like a bird going to build his nest, or to stick it hehind your ear, as a barber does his comb, is no very genteel custom.’

Finally, the Dark Side of the story. The simple little toothpick has also been used as a murder instrument, if we are to believe the story of Agathocles, King of Sicily. He died in 289 BCE, aged 72 years, some say at the instigation of his ambitious grandson who persuaded a once-faithful servant to give his maser a poisoned toothpick. The gruesome variation of the tale says that the poison made the King’s mouth gangrenous, making him unable to speak - for which reason he was burned alive on a funeral pyre.

Poisoned versions aside, there is something about the idea of individual enduring toothpicks that intrigues. Do we have a last minute gift-idea here for the idle gallant / distinguished traveller / person who has everything in your life? A toothpick case with gold or silver toothpicks? A metallic hatband with toothpick? Shall we see designer toothpicks on the market soon? Toothpicks with corporate logos? Modern folk like us would probably insist on some self-sterilising system incorporated in the design of the case, but this should not be a challenge for engineers of all things tiny, should it?

Today’s recipe will not precipitate toothpick- anxiety. No shreds or seeds to stick between the teeth. A nice variation on egg-nog for you, from the Dictionary of obsolete and provincial English by Thomas Wright (1857)

A drink made with the yolks of twelve eggs, a quart of strong home-brewed beer, a bottle of white wine, half a pint of gin, a grated nutmeg, the juice from the peel of a lemon, a small quantity of cinnamon, and sugar sufficient to sweeten it.

Quotation for the Day …

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white'."
Bing Crosby

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Cheap Christmas Pudding, 1890

I have a very short story for you today – I am sure you will understand, it is the busy season after all. I give you an idea from a letter to the Editor of The Times, December 24, 1890.  It is a reminder that times have been hard in the past, that a little creativity in the face of economic hardship is always possible, and that, sadly, prices have risen somewhat in the last century or so.

A Cheap Christmas Pudding.
 Sir, - There are tens of thousands of respectable families whose life is one continueal struggle with poverty, who at the present season of the year plunge into the most unnecessary expense in order to provide themselves with an orthodox Christmas pudding.
Now that eggs are 2d. each, and sultana raisins 1s. a pound, a really cheap Christmas pudding would be a positive boon to many. The following recipe will not be found in any cookery book, as it is the result of some experiments I made with dates a few weeks ago. Dates are now retailed at 2d. a pound, and enable us to make a rich, nourishing, and wholesome pudding, sufficient for six persons, at a cost of 4d.
Take a quarter of a pound each of suet, flour, and brown sugar (Porto Rico), one pound of dates, and a quarter of a grated nutmeg. Chop the suet finely, stone and cut up the dates, mix all the ingredients well together, moistening with as little water as possible; boil the whole in a buttered basin for four hours.

Quotation for the Day …

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together
Garrison Keillor.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Luncheon on the Lusitania, 1911.

It is about time I returned to my Food History Almanac (in progress) for inspiration, and today I have an excuse as it is the birthday of my friend Jan.  I am sure she will share this virtual luncheon with you aboard the famous but ill-fated Lusitania.  I should point out, lest I lose her friendship, that I am not implying that Jan was born in 1911 -  but I understand that time-travel is discounted on one’s birthday.

R.M.S “Lusitania
Tuesday December 19th 1911
Lettuce             Sliced Tomatoes
Bordeaux Sardines
Puree of Split Peas
Fillets Flounder, Florentine
Steak and Kidney Pudding
Roast Mutton and Onion Sauce
Corned Brisket of Beef with Cabbage
Spinach            Parsnips, Crème
Baked, Boiled, & Mashed Potatoes
Roast Beef                   Brawn              Ox Tongue
Galantine of Veal                      Bologna Sausage
Plums and Rice Small Pastry
Sago Pudding
Ice Cream
Apples             Oranges           Dates   Roasted Peanuts
Cheese             Tea      Coffee

For the dish of the day I have chosen the Galantine of Veal because frankly, the other dishes did not sound birthday-special enough. Also, this seems like an elegant way to use up some of the Christmas ham – maybe for the New Year buffet table?

Galantine of Veal.
3 or 4 lb breast of Veal
1 lb sausage meat
1 lb Ham or Tongue
2 hard-boiled eggs
truffles, seasoning, aspic jelly, glaze.
Prepare the meat as in breast of veal stuffed and roasted. Season the sausage meat rather highly and spread it on the top. Cut the hard-boiled eggs in pieces lengthwise and the tongue or ham in strips, and place these in rows on the top of the sausage meat. Two or three truffles and a few pistachio nuts may also be put in if wished. Roll and sew up the meat, then tie it in a cloth very firmly and in the shape of a bolster.
Put the bones from the veal into a saucepan with stock or water to cover them and a few pieces of flavouring vegetable. Bring this to the boil, put in the roll of veal, and cook slowly from two and a half to three hours.
When done, lift it out, and if, owing to the shrinking of the meat, the cloth looks wrinkled, take it off and re-roll it, and press till cold between  two boards or dishes with a three or four pound weight on the top.
When cold, take the galantine out of its cloth, and trim the ends. Brush over the surface with a little melted glaze, and apply two coatings if necessary.
Serve garnished wit aspic jelly or some nice salad.
 [From The Woman’s Book: Contains Everything a Woman Ought to Know (1915)]

Quotation for the Day …
There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents ... and only one for birthday presents, you know.
Lewis Carroll

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hard Times in the Kitchen.

We are assailed with the terrors of the recession, the impending depression, the ‘credit crunch’, the evaporation of our superannuation and savings every time we turn on the news these days. If it was a beat-up at the beginning (as some experts say), it is now a reality – perhaps (as some experts are saying) by virtue of the old truth that if you repeat anything often enough, people will start to believe it (especially if it is of the anxiety-producing kind of ‘truth’).

So, what’s a household cook to do? Return to what household cooks always used to do as a matter of course, that’s what. Back in the days (not so far away) when it was a household sin to waste food, a good cook found a way to re-cycle it. It used to be considered not just a virtue, but a positive act of creativity to use up leftovers in such a way that the family did not recognise their reappearance.

I like this idea from the 1920’s. It uses up stale gingerbread (and could no doubt be adapted to any cake) in a sort of hot trifle. And it makes a nice contribution to the Through the Ages with Gingerbread archive too.
From Good Housekeeping’s book of menus, recipes, and household discoveries, published about 1922

Gingerbread Custard.
1 cupful stale gingerbread, broken in pieces
¼ cupful sugar
2 eggs
1 pint milk.
Scald the milk; beat the egg-yolks and sugar together. Add the scalded milk gradually to the egg mixture. Pour this over the gingerbread which has been placed in a buttered baking dish. Place in a pan of hot water and bake in a 3500 F oven for about thirty minutes or until set. Cover with a meringue made from egg whites, six tablespoonfuls of granulated sugar, and one-fourth teaspoonful of vanilla, and brown in a 3000 F oven, about fifteen minutes.

Quotation for the Day …
Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas."
Peg Bracken.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Adding regularly to the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive but avoiding too much duplication is becoming a challenge after several years – but I refuse to give up. Here is something a little different – a Christmas cake that is not a Fruit Cake. And from a celebrity to boot. It is from a Massachusetts newspaper of 1926, in an article entitled “Christmas Recipes from famous actresses”.  It serves my secondary purpose of trying to find some dishes from outside the English and American corpus – which is a tricky challenge, given my limited language skills!

Ilsa Marvenga’s Wickelkuchen.
This popular German Christmas cake is made of 4 cupfuls of flour, 1 cupful of butter, 1 ½ small cupful of warm milk, 1 ½ tablespoonful of rose-water, and ½ yeast cake which is dissolved in the warm milk.
Rub the butter and flour together and stir In the milk, yeast, and rose-water, making a soft dough even if you have to use more milk. Roll this out on a board to one-half inch thickness and put on it ½ cupful of butter in small pieces. Strew over this ¼ pound of finely cut citron and ¾ cupful of sugar mixed with a teaspoonful of cinnamon. Roll up and make a slash down the middle lengthwise about one inch deep Brush over with the yolk of 1 egg and let rise in a warm place until very light.
Bake one-half hour in a moderate oven. It takes from one to three hours to rise.
[Fitchburg Sentinel, Massachusetts, Dec 22, 1926]

This is ‘cake’ in its original sense (before leavening powders) of a sweet bread . I love the idea of rosewater in fruit bread, don’t you? It sounds like a great breakfast bread.

With the help of those invaluable research and translation aids from Google, I find that Wickelkuchen translates as Wrap Cake – which makes sense, when you read the recipe. I would love some feedback on this cake from German readers or those with a German heritage. Is it specifically a Christmas bread?

As for Ilsa Marvenga, the same research tools let me down somewhat, but it appears that she was a performer in the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920’s, as well as other shows around the country.

Quotation for the Day …

Christmas is for children. But it is for grownups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide-bound hearts.
Lenora Mattingly Weber.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Turning on the Cool for Christmas.

It gets a little frustrating in this hot part of the world when the seasonal mags and books and blog stories start flooding the universe with their colourful, tinselly images – and we grab them eagerly – and we read them eagerly ……… and we find that many of the recipes are not for us, but for the cold part of the world.

There are many in these antipodean ex-colonies who still insist on the enormous Christmas roasts with all the trimmings and stuffings – even if they cant remember how long it is since they left “Home” – even if they were not actually born at “Home, ” but someone in the family was, way back when.

It is hot and sultry here. We will have the air-con on full blast on Christmas Day, and hope we will be allowed a dispensation for the profligate use of energy on this culinarily challenging occasion. Full-blast air-con is, after all, the only way of conserving the energy of She Who Must Cook A Big Roast Dinner When The Temperature Is In The High Thirty’s (Celsius, that is. It is HOT. ) You have heard of Extreme Sport. Doing the traditional honours, in this part of the world, to the standard that they are done in the colonial Homeland, is, my friends, Extreme Cooking.

I have my own way of dealing with the situation. In addition to the Christmas Pud (a concession I am prepared to accept, and besides, it is made by my MIL, who makes the best Christmas pud in the world), I serve my own Christmas Ice-Creams, two of them. I may even post the recipes for them if you wish.

But I digress. This is supposed to be a food history story. I was delighted – surprised, but delighted – to find this recipe for a frozen Christmas pudding, in the New York Times of December 21, 1879! Was it a warmer winter than usual, I wonder? Was it to be served in the over-heated dining rooms of posh homes and hotels? It is certainly a rare find, and it sounds delicious.

Plum Pudding Glace.
Stem and seed three fourths of a pound of raisins; simmer them, together with a few sticks of cinnamon, in a quart of new milk; beat up the yolks of four or five eggs and half a pound of white sugar; pound in a mortar one-fourth of a pound of sweet almonds; strain the milk, put it on again to boil. And add the yolks of the eggs; remove from the fire, and when cool, add the eggs; remove from the fire, and when cool add the almonds and the raisins which were boiled in the milk, but not the spice; cut some citron very fine or thin; also preserved ginger, if you have it; when well mixed add a quart of cream, and freeze; beat to a stiff froth a quart of cream; flavor with wine, whisky, or rum as preferred; sweeten, and place in spoonfuls round the pudding.

Quotation for the Day …

He who has no Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a tree.
Sunshine Magazine.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Menu for Hope.

Menu for Hope.
For the fifth year in a row food bloggers around the world are participating in a giant fund-raising effort for charity. The campaign launches today, December 15, and runs until December 24.
Last year the campaign raised almost $100K for the United Nations World Food Program. This year we want it to be even better!
This time around the beneficiary will again be the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). Specifically, it will go once more to the school lunch program in Lesotho.
You can read more about the campaign at Chez Pim, the website of Pim Techamuanvivit who began the whole thing five years ago.
It works like this. Raffle prizes (food related of course) are offered by food bloggers all over the world. One raffle ticket costs $10 (that is US dollars, so about $15 Australian, or ₤6.65 or €7.5 as of today’s rates). You buy the raffle tickets online. You can buy as many raffle tickets as you like, for as many different prizes as you like. The instructions on how to bid are below, but first I want to tell you about the prize I am offering.
I am going to donate a copy of my book The Pie: A Global History. It will be out by mid-March, so the winner will have to wait patiently until then, when I will post it to them wherever they are in the world. If you like my blog, think the WFP is a good cause, and think it might be worth risking US$10 on a raffle ticket for my book, then please buy one – or three! or more! Of course, you can bid on as many other prizes as you wish.

The code for my prize is AP01. You will need to use this number if you want to bid on my book.
Here is what you do:-

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at

 The master list of prizes is at
2. Go to the donation site at and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win.  Your email address will not be shared with anyone.
P.S The list of prizes offered specifically by bloggers in the Asia Pacific, Australia, New Zealand region is at Ed Charles’ blog Tomato.

Aussie Christmas Lollies.

“Lollies” are to Australian kids what “Candy” is in the USA and “Sweets” are in Britain. The word seems to be derived from “lollipop”, but why in Australia it became the word for all sorts of small confectionery is a mystery (to me, at any rate.) “Lolly” is also slang for money – but that doesn’t appear to explain the transition to sweeties, does it?. “Lolly” also used to be an old English dialect word for the tongue, which maybe fits a bit better with the idea of a lollipop (a candy on a stick). Finally, “lolly” is also, according to the OED the word for “soft ice, or congealed snow floating in the water when it first begins to freeze”- which explains Ice-lollies perhaps (which, perversely, are “ice-blocks” in Aus).

Enough of this struggle with English as she is interpreted through the ex-colonies! On to today’s story, which begins, as all good stories do, with “Once Upon a Time. …”

Once upon a time a certain “Polly Parrot” ran the children’s pages in The Argus (a Melbourne newspaper). The “Fun Children” who sent in good ideas for publication were awarded Parrot Cards – a reward which I am quite sure delighted them to a degree that would be incomprehensible to the modern child. As Christmas approached in 1931, cards were awarded for recipes for “Christmas Lollies.” Here are the parrot-card winning entries for the edition of Saturday 12 December 1931.

Most Fun Children enjoy making home-made sweets during the school holidays.
It would be very jolly to make some for Christmas. If they are placed in attractive little boxes they make charming Christmas presents. Polly Parrot is sure that you will like the following recipes, which she recommends:-

Fruit Nougat
For this recipe you will need some dates, dried figs,raisins, and Maraschino cherriesand two cups of melted sugar. Chop the dates, figs, raisins, and cherries into smallpieces, and arrange in alternate layers in a shallow buttered pan. Melt two cups ofsugar over a quick fire, watching closely that it does not turn yellow. Pour it overthe fruits evenly and slowly, using only enough to blend. Before the mixture isquite cold, cut it into small bars.
(A Parrot Card for Frances Hope Bertuch, Bonnie View, Harcourt North.

Turkish Delight.
Soak one ounce of powdered gelatine in three-quarters of a cup of cold water for two hours. Put 2 lb. of sugar into a saucepan with three-quarters of a cup of water, bring to the boil, and add the soaked gelatine, a little citric acid, and a few drops of vanilla essence. Simmer for 20 minutes, skim well, and then pour on a damp dish.
Leave for 24 hours, then cut into squares and roll in castor sugar. For colouring use cochineal.
(A Parrot Card for Edna Hoskin, Primrose street. Violet Town)

Cocoanut Dainties.
Here is some cooking which a small child could do. The ingredients needed are:-
Four table-spoonfuls of sugar, 8 tablespoonfuls of desiccated cocoanut, and thewhites of two eggs. Beat the whites of the eggs to a froth, add the sugar, and beatwell again. Then stir in in the cocoanut.
Drop teaspoonfuls of this mixture on to a greased slide, and bake about 10 or 15minutes in a moderate oven.
(A Parrot Card is awarded to Jean Douglas, Coast Road, Mirboo [?] North, Gippsland.)

These recipes have been added to the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive.

Quotation for the Day …

There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.
Erma Bombeck (I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gingerbread Men, a Trio.

My recent brief (I would like to say ‘in-depth’) glance (I would like to say ‘analysis’) of my blog stats indicated that ‘gingerbread men’ is a popular search term at this time of the year. Looking at blog stats makes me nervous. As I said yesterday, I really have no idea what they mean, or what to do with them – but I feel that should do something with them. Respond? Give Googlers what they want?
I am going to give some of you what you seem to want, then I am going to desist from puzzling over search terms and so on, and return to choosing topics in a random fashion, or – of course, responding to you, my individual readers, when you have a particular query (Goldenrod Cake coming up soon, Anonymous!)
The only Gingerbread Men recipe in the Through the Ages with archive is from 1925. To make up the shortage, today I give you two American versions from 1915, and one wartime English version from 1944.
These simple recipes when compared give us quite a lot of trivia to puzzle over. ‘Brides’ in 1915 were clearly expected to make their own leaf-lard, and to know the difference between genuine buttermilk and non-genuine; boys in 1915 were not expected to cook (the book is clearly intended for girls, and it is clearly stated by one of the boy characters that ‘boys don’t cook’); molasses rules in the US, syrup in the UK; and does wartime ‘lemon substitute’ mean lemon essence?
Gingerbread Men.
 2 cups of molasses.
1 cup of equal parts of butter and lard, mixed.
1 level tablespoonful of ginger.
1 teaspoonful of soda.
Flour to mix very stiff.
Melt the butter, add the molasses and ginger, then the soda, dissolved in a teaspoonful of boiling water; stir in flour till the dough is so stiff you cannot stir it with a spoon; take it out on the floured board, and roll a little at a time, and with a knife cut out a man; press currants in for eyes and for buttons on his coat. Bake in a floured pan.
The Fun of Cooking: A Story for Boys and Girls. 1915
Ye Ancient Gingerbread [for gingerbread men]
One pint of sorghum molasses, one cup (genuine) sour buttermilk, one cup home-made leaf lard, one level tablespoon soda, three-quarters tablespoon ginger, one teaspoon each allspice, cinnamon, one-quarter teaspoon salt, two eggs, and Sperry [brand] flour to make a soft dough.
Mix lard and molasses, add beaten eggs, then add spice, salt and soda mixed with about one cup Sperry flour and alternate with the milk, beating all well together. Finally add flour enough to make a soft dough. Roll rather thick, cut in fantastic shapes, “little gingerbread men,” if to please the little folks, or any desired shape. Have a moderate heat only, as bread should not be baked too quickly.
The Bride’s Cookbook. Edgar William Briggs, California,1915
Gingerbread Men.
Ingredients: 2 oz. sugar or syrup, 2 oz. margarine, 8 oz. plain flour, ½ level teaspoon mixed spice, 2 level teaspoons ginger, lemon substitute, 1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda.
Method: Melt in a pan the syrup or sugar and margarine. Pour into a bowl. Add some flour and the spice and lemon substitute. Stir well. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in a tablespoon of tepid water and add to the mixture. Continue stirring, gradually adding more flour. Finish the process by turning out the mixture on to a well-floured board. Knead in the remainder of the flour. Roll a small ball for the head, flatten it and place it on the baking tin. Roll an oblong for the body and strips for arms and legs. Join these together with a little reconstituted egg and put currants for the eyes.
Food Facts leaflet from the Ministry of Food in December 1944
Have fun.
P.S. The Vintage Christmas Recipes Archive has been updated, and more will be added this weekend.
Quotation for the Day …
Let me see if I've got this Santa business straight. You say he wears a beard, has no discernible source of income and flies to cities all over the world under cover of darkness? You sure this guy isn't laundering illegal drug money?
Tom Armstrong.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Patriotic Christmas.

Sugar was in short supply and rationed during both world wars in Britain, and the Ministry of Food continually churned out advice on how to cope with the shortages. Home supply of sugar was a greater issue in those days, when baking and preserving were part of every housewife’s lot. Even the most reluctant home cook had to make the effort at Christmas.
On November 2, 1917, the Ministry put on a demonstration of Christmas Cookery. One of the recipes given was this one, which gave me pause for thought:
Mince Meat for Patriotic People
1 ¼ lb apples
6 oz suet, grated
½ lb currants and raisins
¼ lb moist sugar or corn syrup
¼ lb dates or prunes (stoned)
¼ lb candied peel (optional)
1 oz ground ginger
1 oz mixed spice
1 lemon or orange
½ gill cider (optional)
Peel and chop the apples, chop the dates, figs or prunes and candied peel – clean currants and raisins, mix all together. Sufficient for 36 mince pies.
Firstly, I love the name. It is hard to imagine such a call to patriotism even in times of the greatest nationalistic fervour today, isnt it?
Secondly, I was surprised to see corn syrup as an ingredient. Is it not a modern evil? A manufactured non-food perpetrated on us surreptitiously for non-nutritional reasons, and sharing a large part of the blame for the diseases of over-nutrition such as diabetes and obesity, that plague our modern society?
No, actually. The original corn syrup was glucose syrup, not the High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is the subject of increasing controversy today. HFCS is made by using various enzymes to convert 90% of the glucose into fructose . It is sweeter and more soluble, and it converts cheap corn (from a perpetual surplus) into a valuable ‘commodity.’ The English version was likely also made from wheat, which was called ‘corn’ in the old days because ‘corn’ meant grain (‘corned’ meat is processed with ‘grains’ or ‘corns’ of salt.)
This article, from an edition of The Times in August the previous year, shows that corn syrup was quite heavily promoted as a substitute for sugar during the war.
In order to meet the deficiency of sugar, the Board urge all those who have been in the habit of making home-made jam to save as much ordinary sugar as they can from their household supplies and to make up the remainder with the sugar known as glucose. Glucose, which is sold under the name of corn syrup, is made in England, and also imported from America, and is extensively used in the manufacture of confectionery and sweets, especially acid drops and toffee. In the manufacture of home-made jam, not more than one part of corn syrup should be added to two of sugar, and the weight of the sugar and syrup should be approximately equal to the weight of the fruit used.

Now, something I only do occasionally is look at my blog stats, because I have no idea what to do with the information. I did look during the week before Thanksgiving, and was surprised to see quite a lot of searches for ‘pies no corn syrup’. Am I picking up some sort of grass-roots resistance here?
Getting back on topic, the other important shortage during both wars was wheat. Again, the Ministry came to the rescue with recipes to conserve it. This was the recipe for the pastry to make up the Patriotic Mince Pies.
Short Crust Paste for Mince Pies.
¼ lb ordinary flour, 2 oz maize flour, 2 oz barley flour or cornflour, 4 oz lard, dripping, or margarine, a pinch of salt, ½ teaspoonful bicarbonate of soda, water to mix.
Mix the flour, salt, and soda, and rub fat into flour. Mix to a stiff paste with water. Roll out. Sufficient for 12 pies.
These recipes are now in the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive.
Quotation for the Day …
If there is no joyous way to give a festive gift, give love away.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


A third, and for the time-being final, foray into Receipts for the Table from the New York Times of 1876 (December 3) gives the following variations on a theme of pig bits for breakfast. I was always under the impression that this dish was spelled ‘scrapple’, but I await the advice of those of you who hail from that part of the world where it is eaten with relish.
Thinking ahead a couple of weeks - would it be sacrilege to make this with the leftover Christmas ham, I wonder?
Scrappel, I.
Boil a hog’s head one day, and let it stand five or six hours, or all night. Slip out the bones and chop fine; then return the meat to the liquor. Skim when first cold; warm and season freely with pepper, sage, salt and sweet herbs. Two cupfuls of buck-wheat meal and one cupful corn-meal. Put into molds and when cold cut into slices and fry for breakfast.
Scrappel, II.
Take pigs’ ears, tail and head, or any trimmings of pork; cover with water, and boil slowly until all the bones drop out; skim from the liquor, which set to get cold; then skimm off all the fat; mince the meat very fine; season it high with salt, black pepper, powdered sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, and summer savory; put the liquor on the fire, and when boiling, add the minced meat; stir well; then stir in new white Indian meal until it is a stiff as mush; put out in dishes, and cut in slices, and fry brown.
The word apparently derives from ‘scrap’, and the dish derives from the necessity to avoid wasting even the meanest fragments of animal protein. The scraps of meat are bulked out with any available starch (in this case cornmeal and/or buckwheat meal) in the same time-honoured tradition that produced haggis (in which case the meat is mutton and the starch is oatmeal). Strangely, it seems to be a relatively new word/concept, and appeared only in the early 1850’s.
Quotation for the Day …
A peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork. What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand, is that the two statements are connected by an and not by a but.”
John Berger.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Light or Lite?

Today’s recipe from the column Receipts for the Table from the New York Times of 1876 shows beautifully how our use of the language – and our very concepts – change with time.  Today’s rigorous standards would not allow “light” gingerbread made with half a pound of lard, for example.
Light Gingerbread.
One pint New Orleans molasses; set on the corner of the range until warm enough to melt one-half pound of lard in it; beat it up well; one half nutmeg, one teaspoonful each of cinnamon and cloves, and two tablespoonfuls ginger, a pinch of salt, one cupful milk stirred in two beaten eggs, and prepared flour, with two teaspoonfuls baking powder added; mix until just stiff enough to break off clear when you pour it from the spoon.
New York Times Dec 10, 1876.
So, when did we start to become interested in lite food?
I was amazed to find that lite is a very old variation of the spelling of light – and “light” has been used in relation to food and drink which are “light of digestion” for at least a thousand years! There are references from about the year 1000 of “leoht beor” and “leoht wyn.”

The modern context in which Lite is “used positively” and especially “with capital initial” as a marketing buzz-word, seems to have begun in the early 1960’s. The OED sums it up by saying that it designates “ a manufactured product that is lighter (in weight, calorie content, etc.) than the ordinary variety.”
Light is always relative of course, and I am intrigued as to the Heavy (Hevy?) version of the above recipe. Presumably it refers to the older form of gingerbread not leavened with baking powder. The English Saturday Magazine of April 24, 1841 seems to suggest that this is so:
“To produce very light gingerbread is a desirable thing, and this result is now easily obtained by the gingerbread-bakers, by secretly using sesqui-carbonate of ammonia, or common smelling salts, instead of the magnesia and tartaric acid, or the potashes abovementioned. This salt is entirely dissipated by the heat in baking, and leaves no taste. The carbonic acid gas, and the ammoniacal gas of which the salt is composed, in forcing their way out, expand and perforate the most tenacious dough, and give lightness to the richest and heaviest materials. The proportion of sesqui-carbonate of ammonia to be used in making gingerbread, is half an ounce to every three pounds of materials, including flour, treacle, spices, butter, &c.
Hevy or Lite however, this recipe fits nicely into the Through the Ages with Gingerbread archive.

Quotation for the Day …

Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread.”
William Shakespeare.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Variations on a theme of Ribbon Cake.

It is some time since I gave you a vintage cake recipe, and I know that is what many of you love best. Of course, you can always fly in your quickest electronic fashion over to T.W’s Retro Cake series, if you are seriously deprived.
In 1876-7, the New York Times ran a series called ‘Receipts for the Table’, and on December 1876, they featured this gem:
Ribbon Cake.
Two cupfuls sugar, one cupful butter, one cupful milk, four cupfuls flour, four eggs, one teaspoonful cream tarter, half teaspoonful soda; have two tins ready of equal size; put one third in each and bake. To the other third add three teaspoonfuls molasses, one cupful currants, and a little citron and spice to suit, and bake in same size tin; then done put a layer of light, then a layer of jelly, then dark, then jelly, then light; lay a pice of paper on top, and turn it over on one of the tins and press it with two flat irons till cold.
Now, once you have overcome the very counter-intuitive idea of weighting down an ordinary cake, this concept lends itself to a myriad variations. The idea is so good, that recipes were still popping up in 1915. Here is a honey and spice variation, also from the New York Times, on December 19, 1915 – this one with no mention of pressing the finished cake (or is that a given? Is there a ribbon-cake expert out there?).
Ribbon Cake (2).
Half a cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup milk, 3 ½ cups flour, 5 teaspoonfuls baking powder, 1 ½ teaspoonfuls ground cardamom seed, 1 ½ teaspoons ginger, ¾ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspooon cloves, ½ cup raisins, seeded and cut in pieces; ½ cup figs, finely chopped, 1 tablespoon honey, and 4 eggs.
Rub the butter and sugar together and add the yolks of the eggs. Sift together the flour and baking powder and add them to the mixture, alternating them with the milk.  Finally, add the whites of the eggs, well beaten. Bake two thirds of the mixture in two layer-cake pans. To the remainder add the spices, fruit, honey, and bake. Put the layers together with crystallized honey.
There are a lot of very colourful Christmas-themed possibilities here!
Have fun, and if you make a ribbon cake over the holiday season, do let us all know in the comments.
I just might feature some more ideas from the Receipts for the Table series this week, in case you want to have a 1876 Christmas.
P.S The Vintage Christmas Recipes archive is HERE.
Quotation for the Day …
Don't expect too much of Christmas Day. You can't crowd into it any arrears of unselfishness and kindliness that may have accrued during the past twelve months.
Oren Arnold

Friday, December 05, 2008

Pudding with Cheese.

When I was a child in Yorkshire, our Christmas cake was always served with slices of cheese on the side – Wensleydale, if I remember correctly. I have never, ever, heard or read of cheese being an accompaniment to hot Christmas pudding, have you? A French visitor was served with it this way in 1658 and was singularly unimpressed. 
The visitor Laurent Chevalier d'Arvieux (1635-1702), a traveller, linguist, and diplomat. He said:
“Their pudding was detestable. It is a compound of scraped biscuit, as flour, suet, currants, salt, and pepper, which are made into a paste, wrapped in a cloth, and boiled in a pot of broth; it is then taken out of the cloth, and put in a plate, and some old cheese is grated over it, which gives it an unbearable smell. Leaving out the cheese, the thing is not too bad.”
Not having heard of cheese on hot Christmas pudding before, I did wonder if it was some sort of hard sauce made with less than fresh butter that graced the top of his serving, and he mistakenly took it for cheese. I wonder when hard sauce was developed?
His countryman Francois Maximilien Misson visited England in 1698, and felt completely differently about English puddings, and although he seemed to be referring to puddings in general, surely he did not exclude the Christmas version when he said:
“They bake them in the oven, they boil them with meat, they make them fifty different ways. Blessed be he that invented the pudding - to come in pudding time is to come to the most lucky moment in the world.”
M. Misson also clearly enjoyed the Christmas pie of Olde England, a genuine mincemeat pie, before the meat was lost to us.
“Every family against Christmas makes a famous Pye, which they call Christmas Pye. It is a great Nostrum the Composition of this Pasty. It is a most learned Mixture of Neats-tongues, Chicken, Eggs, Sugar, Raisins, Lemon and Orange Peel, various kinds of Spices etc.”
The other sort of Christmas pie popular in the land of pies was the huge pastry coffin filled with a learned mixture of all sorts of titbits of meat, birds, and other goodies, such as the famous Yorkshire Christmas Pie, a recipe for which can be found in the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive.
It is always interesting to see how visitors react to the food in the country they are visiting, and also how one country interprets the cuisine of another. A famous cookbook of the seventeenth century was The Accomplish’t Cook: or the Art and Mystery of Cookery, by Robert May, first published in 1660. This is his take on French pudding.
To make a French Pudding.
Take half a pound of raisins of the sun, a penny white loaf pared and cut into dice-work, half a pound of beef-suet finely minced, three ounces of sugar, eight slic't dates, a grain of musk, twelve or sixteen lumps of marrow, salt, half a pint of cream, three eggs beaten with it, and poured on the pudding, cloves, mace, nutmeg, salt, and a pome-water, or a pippin or two pared, slic't, and put in the bottom of the dish before you bake the pudding.
Quotation for the Day …
He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. 
Roy L. Smith

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Legal Punch.

The tricky issue of what to serve in the way of party drinks during Prohibition in the USA was solved by either breaking the law, getting around a legal loophole, - or by being as imaginative as possible with fruit juice.
In September 1930 an example was led from the top, with a little book called Prohibition Punches by Roxana B. Doring, wife of the one-time Commissioner of Prohibition, and subsequently Administrator of Industrial Alcohol.
There were contributions for several “nationally-known” women and famous hostesses. Here is a selection, ready for your alcohol-free Christmas parties.
From Mabel Walker Willebrandt, former Assistant United States Attorney General, whose nickname was Prohibition Portia:
Portia’s Punch.
To one small bottle of red Concord California pure concentrated grape juice or Concord loganberry, add two bottles light-colourd ginger ale, one lemon sliced thin, half cut chopped mint leaves. Serve very cold.
From Mrs Laura Volstead Lomen, daughter of the author of the Volstead act:
Fruit Punch.
One can grated pineapple, three cups boiling water, one cup tea freshly make, juice six lemons, juice ten oranges, one quart strawberry, currant, or grape juice, one bottle Apollinaris water, one quart of sugar or three cups of syrup of thirty five degrees, and four quarts of water.
Grate the pineapple and boil with the water twenty minutes. Strain thoroughly through jelly bags, press out all possible; let it cool and add rest of fruit juice, tea, and syrup. If sugar be used, add a pint of water and let boil six or eight minutes, cool before using. Add Apollinaries water just before serving. If possible make punch a few hours before serving and chill. Strawberries, mint leaves or sliced bananas may be added.”
And from Mrs. Seymour Lowman, wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury:
Meridian Mansions Punch.
Sixteen ounce bottle of rose lime juice, sixteen ounce bottle of orange juice, two bottles of ginger ale, juice of twenty-four lemons, sugar if desired. Chill by adding lemon water ice made in freezer.
Quotation for the Day …
Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special!  How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer.... Who'd have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? 
Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An Authentic Frittata.

I have a change and a treat for you today. My dear friend Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, who lives in Melbourne, has agreed to do a guest post (several, actually – watch out for them in coming weeks.) Marisa is a fantastic cook and writer. She has written her own book Australian Fish, Sicilian Recipes and is patiently doing the rounds of the publishers. In the meanwhile, she is working on developing her own blog, and just as soon as she determines it is fit for making public, I will be sure to let you know. 

Marisa has so much to offer on the subject of Italian – and particularly Sicilian – food, that it was difficult to know what to choose from her suggestions. I am always interested in how one country choses to interpret (misinterpret, adapt, or bastardise, if you will!) the cuisine of another country, and what does authentic mean in relation to specific dishes, and how is the authenticity of a dish determined anyway?

I remembered being intrigued by the following recipe, from The Italian Cook Book, compiled By Maria Gentile (New York, c1919).
Curled Omelet (Frittata in riccioli)
Boil a bunch of spinach and rub it through a sieve. Beat two eggs, season with salt and pepper and mix with them enough spinach to make the eggs appear green. Put the frying pan on the fire with only enough oil to grease it and when very hot put in a portion of the eggs, moving the frying pan so as to make a very thin omelet. When well cooked, remove it from the frying pan and repeat the operation once or twice in order to have two or three very thin omelets. Put these one over the other and cut them in small strips that are to be browned in butter adding a little grated cheese. These strips of omelet, resembling noodles, form a tasty and attractive dressing for a fricandeau (veal stew) or a similar dish.

Is this authentic? The OED says that a frittata is “A thick, well-cooked Italian omelette, typically containing a selection of meat, cheese, potatoes, etc., usually mixed in with the eggs during cooking, and served open rather than folded.”

What does Marisa say? Here are her words:
 Every national cuisine has certain rules and customs. I always like to respect the original ingredients and methods of a recipe, which originates from another country, before creating my own variations.

One of the many Italian dishes that Australians have adopted is frittata, and because it contains eggs, it usually appears on restaurant menus in the breakfast section or as a light meal. In Italy a frittata is a common way to use up leftovers – usually it is made from the pasta (dressed or undressed) or the vegetable contorno (side dish of vegetables) from the night before, much like the English dish bubble and squeak made with shallow-fried left-over vegetables.

Frittata in Italy is usually placed between slices of bread and eaten as a panino (stuffed rolls or rustic shaped sandwich) or as a snack (spuntino).

This is where we get to the issue of variations.

How often have you seen recipes for frittata, either baked or browned under a grill?

This is the matter of respect. Frittata is always fried and never baked. It is called a frittata because it is fritta (fried) – derived from the verb friggere, to fry.

I have been researching and writing about Sicilian cuisine for a long time and I was intrigued to read that in her book, The Food of Italy, Claudia Roden states that ‘frittate are common throughout Italy, except for Sicily and Sardinia’.

If I may speak from my experience, Roden is wrong about frittata in Sicily. When I was in Ragusa last year, my aunt (zia) Niluzza made a simple frittata with fresh pork sausage and ricotta. Frittate (plural) have certainly always been common in my Sicilian relatives' kitchens, so in deference to Claudia I went back through numerous sources on Sicilian cuisine and was pleased to find many recipes for frittata.

The food of Sicily, like the food of Italy is very localised, but I found recipes from all over the island. Frittata seem to be particularly popular in rural areas where eggs were plentiful (but where chickens are reserved for special occasions) and generally they contain cooked or sautéed vegetables and perhaps a little grated cheese. Sometimes they contain a few chopped herbs or spring onion, or fresh breadcrumbs. Some recipes include cooked meat or fish, or slices of unripened, freshly made cheese (fresh pecorino or formaggio fresco) or ricotta (technically not a cheese because it is made from the left over whey).

How could Claudia have missed them? Sadly, some sources do not include them – perhaps because frittata were considered so basic, that they didn’t rate a mention? Or perhaps because in Sicilian, frittata is sometimes called other names – milassata and frocia are the most common.

Given the number of different cultures which have influenced Sicilian cuisine, who was responsible for the frittata? Was it the Arabs who made the eggah, the Spanish with their tortilla or the French with the omelette? Most of my references seem convinced it was the Spaniards.

Having told you most frittate are simple affairs, here is a rich tasting and unusual Sicilian recipe with an interesting combination of ingredients – a milassata that combines pumpkin, artichokes and asparagus and the flavours of cinnamon, mint and parsley. 

Use 100g each of cooked asparagus, young artichokes (tough leaves removed and poached in salted water with a little lemon juice, till soft) and thin slices of pumpkin fried in hot extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the cooled vegetables to 8 lightly beaten eggs, (fresh free range for taste), 100g of grated pecorino cheese (parmesan is used in the north of Italy), 50g of fresh breadcrumbs, a pinch of cinnamon, 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint and 2 of parsley, salt and pepper.
Heat some olive oil into a large heavy-based fry pan. Pour the mixture into hot oil. Fry the frittata on the one side. Turn the heat down to low and, occasionally, with the spatula press the frittata gently on the top. Lift the edges, tilting the pan. This will allow some of the runny egg to escape to the sides and cook. Repeat this process until there is no more egg escaping.
Invert the frittata onto a plate, carefully slide the frittata into the pan and cook the other side.

Sicilian Children’s song and Italian translation:

Ole’ ole’ o lagna
a‘rrivatu u’rre di Spagna
a puttatu cosi novi
cosi ca vannu fritti cull’ovi

Ole’ Ole’ o lagna
e’ arrivato il re di Spagna
ha portato cose nuove
cose da friggere con le uova

Ole`, ole, o lament (could also be a sing song),
the king of Spain has arrived
he has bought new things
things that are fried with eggs.
Thanks Marisa!
Quotation for the Day … 

The olive tree is surely the richest gift of Heaven, I can scarcely expect bread.
Thomas Jefferson