Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A White Dinner.

Most of us don’t do formal dinner parties anymore, do we? A shortage of time, money, and domestic help, I suppose. It used to be the way to socialise with friends - no movies, one couldn’t do take-out, and it was not seemly for ladies to dine in public. But one can easily have too much of a good thing, and in the late nineteenth century there appeared to develop a sort of dining ennui amongst those with what my mother would have called more money than sense. So, what could one do when when one wanted dining variety? One could hold a dinner with a colour theme, of course!

Out of necessity, the idea was interpreted quite broadly in respect of the food (there are not too many yellow meats or pink salad vegetables), but hostesses could go all out with the flowers, napery and decorations – and anyway, it was the idea that counted. According to the Jessup Whitehead, the author of The Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering (c1889), ‘White Dinners’ were fashionable during Lent, and he gives a menu for one such dinner.

I have looked long and hard at this menu, and - maybe I am particularly dim this evening - but I missed the sense of abstinence that I understand is a feature of Lent.
And surely the pursuit of fashion in respect of dinners is inheritently un-Lenten in itself?


During lent dinners au blanc, or white dinners, are fashionable. In many housesthe fair, white damask tablecloths replace the covers of colored velvet, satin, plush,or sateens with their exquisite surcloths of laces, or, if colors are used, it is the soft violet shade, so beloved by the adherents to the third empire in France and the highchurch party in England. This is the menu of a white dinner recently given.


Hors d’Œuvre.
Huitres en Coquille.
Potage au riz. Purée de Morue.
Brochet au Citron. Alose à la Marrons.
Poulette au blanc. Filet de Veau à la Pere François,
Œufs Farcies. Rissoles de Bœuf. Filets de
Canards aux Navets.

Agneau. Carré de Porc Roti.
Crème de Noyau. Pannier de Roseblanc.
Frangepane de Moëlle.
Canapees de Fromage à la Diable.
Citron. Cerises Blanc.

At least desserts are never a problem at colour-themed dinners.  There is a Bavaroise (Bavarian Cream) to suit every colour theme:

NOYAU CREAM: Whipped cream flavored with noyau and set with gelatine.
NOYAU: A liqueur or cordial flavored vith nectarine, bitter almond and peach kernels.

CREMES (Fr.) Creams. Bavarian creams. A class of gelatinized cream compounds; a more elaborate sort of blanc-mange, whipped while setting on ice to make it spongy and delicate. CREME A LA BAVAROISE Whipped cream with gelatine dissolved in syrup mixed in; about ½ oz. gelatine to 1 qt. BAVAROISE AU GINGEMBRE Ginger cream. Preserved ginger pounded, mixed with syrup and gelatine, mixed with whipped cream; set in moulds on ice; served with cake. CREME BAVAROISE A LA PRASLIN Almond nougat-candy pounded and dissolved with boiling milk, gelatine and whipped cream added; moulded on ice. CREME AU CHOCOLAT Chocolate cream ; some chocolate dissolved in hot milk, mixed with whipped cream, sugar and vanilla.

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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Foods that will win the War, and maybe the Recession too?

A nice WW I book from the USA might serve to help us with some modern food “issues.” With a few minor changes to the text, Foods That Will Win The War (1918) could be addressing today’s economic climate, health and nutrition theories, and ethical concerns.

“Food will win the war, and the nation whose food resources are best conserved will be the victor … Our government does not ask us to give up three square meals a day - nor even one. All it asks is that we substitute as far as possible corn and other cereals for wheat, reduce a little our meat consumption and save sugar and fats by careful utilization of these products. This book is planned to solve the housekeeper's problem. It shows how to substitute cereals and other grains for wheat, how to cut down the meat bill by the use of meat extension and meat substitute dishes which supply equivalent nutrition at much less cost; it shows the use of syrup and other products that save sugar, and it explains how to utilize all kinds of fats. It contains 47 recipes for the making of war breads; 64 recipes on low-cost meat dishes and meat substitutes; 54 recipes for sugarless desserts … ”

Not only have its authors planned to help the woman in the home, conserve the family income, but to encourage those saving habits which must be acquired by this nation if we are to secure a permanent peace that will insure the world against another onslaught by the Prussian military powers.”

It presses home the timeless message that a little effort, made by a lot of people, a lot of times, can add up to a big change - a general message we could apply to a whole lot of modern environmental issues, perhaps.

“A little bit of saving in food means a tremendous aggregate total, when 100,000,000 people are doing the saving. One wheatless meal a day … would mean a saving of 90,000,000 bushels of wheat, which totals 5,400,000,000 lbs. Two meatless days a week would mean a saving of 2,200,000 lbs. of meat per annum. One teaspoonful of sugar per person saved each day would insure a supply ample to take care of our soldiers and our Allies. These quantities mean but a small individual sacrifice, but when multiplied by our vast population they will immeasurably aid and encourage the men who are giving their lives to the noble cause of humanity on which our nation has embarked.”

Here is one recipe from the book that manages to do a lot with not much (note that the corn syrup would have been the regular, not the high-fructose kind!).

Wheatless, Eggless, Butterless, Milkless, Sugarless Cake

1 cup corn syrup
2 cups water
2 cups raisins
2 tablespoons fat
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 ½ cups fine cornmeal, 2 cups rye flour; or, 3 ½ cups wholewheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, or, ½ teaspoon soda

Cook corn syrup, water, raisins, fat, salt and spices slowly 15 minutes. When cool, add flour, soda or baking powder, thoroughly blended. Bake in slow oven 1 hour. The longer this cake is kept, the better the texture and flavor. This recipe is sufficient to fill one medium-sized bread pan.

Quotation for the Day.

The first time I ate organic whole-grain bread I swear it tasted like roofing material.
Robin Williams

UPDATE: Cath, at The Canberra Cook, has made this cake. You can find her post HERE.  It looks good!

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Master Confectioner and Master Pastryman.

The roles of Master Confectioner and Master Pastryman were too obvious to need explaining to seventeenth century readers of The Perfect School of Instruction for the Officers of The Mouth (1682). Elaborate pies (‘bake-meats’) and tarts, clever marzipan (marchpane) shapes, colourful sweetmeats and so on were prestigious dishes at great dinners, and royal and aristocratic households had no problem in keeping both departments very busy.

The Perfect School advised the Master Confectioner that he would be shown how to make ‘… all sorts of Sweetmeats, both wet and dry, with the Compounds of Fruits and Sallets, with the manner how to make all Delicious Drinks, very Pleasant and delightful to the Taste and Pallat. The Master Pastryman needed to know how to ‘… make all Bake-meats in Perfection, with the Composition of all Pastes, as Biskets, Makaroons, and Marchpains.’

Virtually everything in those times was made ‘from scratch’, including spice mixes and food colourings. The mortar and pestle got a great workout, as the following recipes (from The Perfect School) show:

How to prepare all Spices for a Pastry-man’s use, call’d Sweet Spice.
You should take two ounce of Ginger, one ounce of Pepper beaten to powder, and mingled together, then add Cloves, Nutmegs, and Cinnamon beaten, of each one ounce, this quantity of the Spices may serve to put to a whole pound of pepper, either more or less, these being mingled together must be kept in a Box, for use.
You may keep them each by himself, because some will use pepper only, but all together is more pleasant, and for your Spice and Salt you should put the weight of your Spice in Salt well bruised, and keep it in a dry place for your use.

[Green Colouring]
When you would prepare your green for colouring of either your Preserves or Paste, take the young leaves of a Pear-tree, beat them in a Mortar, strain out the juice into a dish, and set it upon the fire, and when it begins to boil put it into a strainer or cloath, and take the scum that stays upon the Cloath or Strainer, and keep it for your use when you would colour anything green, either Paste or Preserve.

Quotation for the Day.

Bad cooks – and the utter lack of reason in the kitchen – have delayed human development longest and impaired it most.
Freidrich Nietzche, Beyond Good and Evil

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Master Cook.

Finally, the job description you have been waiting for with bated breath all week – that of a seventeenth century Master Cook, as portrayed in our book of the week - The Perfect School of Instruction for the Officers of The Mouth (1682). Unfortunately, the description of his duties – unlike that of the other officers we have looked at this week – is short. In fact, it is non-existent. No notes on uniform (grubby, probably), working hours (long, certainly), behaviour (same as modern chefs? – people havent changed all that much), or ceremonial appearances (none). The Master Cook simply cooked (or more likely ordered other, lesser cooks about).

The Perfect School assisted the Master Cook by:

‘Shewing you in a very familiar way how to make all manner of new Dishes and Ragoues, and the manner how to season all Meats, both Fish and Flesh, as also the method of Services for all the four Quarters of the Year, as well as Inter-messes as Deserts. … Meats fitting for Feasts, Banquets, and Collations of all sorts, &c’

In other words, it simply provided the wannabe Master Cook with recipes. We can glean a little of interest from the above paragraph however. It was clearly important for the cook in the second half of the seventeenth century to be aware of new and fashionable dishes, and it was important to take the seasons into account when planning meals. Some things have changed little, after all, in several hundred years.

Although I am all for taking inspiration from the past, a modern Master Cook would probably be best advised not to send a dish of Sheeps feet and Hogs feet to table with hot charcoal buried within the dish itself, as in the following recipe taken from this week’s book, which was written when litigation was less of an issue.

Sauce d’Enfer, or Hell-sauce.
Boil Hogs feet in good Broth, and when they are boiled take them out and broil them upon the Gridiron; this done, cut your Hogs feet into good handsom pieces, and lay them in a Dish, and put green Sauce over them. Or if you will, after they are broiled, take Onions minced very small, put them into a Dish, and set them a stewing with some Verjuice; and when they are stewed put some Mustard to it, then take Sheeps feet cut in pieces into a Dish, but very hot, put in at the same instant some burning Charcoal a top of the Sheep’s feet, and then put the Hogs feet on top of that, with their sharp Sauce with them: And serve this at the entry of the Table, or as an Entermesse.

Quotation for the Day.

People have been cooking and eating for thousands of years, so if you are the very first to have thought of adding fresh lime juice to scalloped potatoes, try to understand that there must be a reason for this.
Fran Lebowitz.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Master Butler.

Today it is the turn of the Master Butler, as he is described in The Perfect School of Instruction for the Officers of The Mouth (1682) – our source of fun for the week. I have previously bemoaned the dearth of servants in my home (in particular I have mentioned the complete absence of an anaetta). If you could chose only one servant, what type would you have? I would probably chose a maid-of-all-work, or at least a scullery maid, for fairly obvious reasons. I am not sure of the value of a footman in this day and age, and I am bemused by the idea of a butler, although I am aware that they are indispensible to celebrities.

A modern butler, I understand, is in charge of cellaring and serving wine – not a full-time job - even in my own household where a considerable amount of good stuff is consumed - but in previous times when households were larger and guests always hanging around, then presumably they were more essential. Strangely, this aspect of the butler’s job is not mentioned in the Perfect School.

But, I get ahead of the story. The author of our source for the week first discusses the requirements of a good butler. He must ‘to be indued with these three qualities: first, Fidelity, Good Behaviour, and Affability towards those whom he hath to do withal,’ and he is advised‘to endeavour all he can to understand his Lord and Master, and next those that pertain unto him.’ His general responsibility was for the accoutrements and setting up of the table, and the specific skills required were that he must know ‘how to fold and pleat your Table Linnen into many Figures, and the Carving of all sorts of Fruits into divers fashions.’ The seventeenth century butler’s visible work began ahead of the meal:

‘The hour of Meals now come, he must put himself in a posture of serving; and first let him put his Covering into a Basket which is for that purpose, covered with a clean Napkin; then let him set in his Bason and Ewer, the Essay Cup, and Cadnet, Flagons, Salts, Plates, Spoons, Forkes, Knives, Riders for Plates, Table-Cloaths, Napkins; of which two at the least folded in the fashion of a broken Staff, with Bread, and all other things necessary that belongs to the Covering of a Table, and side Table’

Cleverly folded napkins were a fashionable novelty at this time – so much so that the author of Perfect School noted that

‘And it is also as necessary for him to know how to fold, pleat,and pinch his Linnen into all manner of forms, both of Fish, Beasts and Birds, as well as Fruits, which is the greatest curiosity in the covering of a Table well, for many have gone farther to see a Table neatly covered, than they would have done for to have eaten a good meal at the same Table.’

Here we have butler-as-fabric artist. There are copious illustrations to demonstrate the divers ways of carving of fruit, but none at all for the napkin-folding. Imagine trying to make a complicated origami design without illustrated instructions and you will have some idea of the difficulty of folding napkins ‘like a Dog with a Choller about his neck’, ‘in the fashion of a Cross, like the Order of the Holy Ghost’, or ‘pleated in the form of a Pigeon upon her Nest in a Basket.’

Napkins were very important of course, and would be very necessary for a savoury, drippy sauce such as the following one, taken from the same book (and which also shows that bread sauce for poultry has a long heritage.)

Sauce for a Capon.
Take Bread and scorch or tost it,and then take the livers of Capons or Pullets if you please,one or other, and broyl them upon the Coals, and put them a-steeping in Wine with your Bread, and when they are steept strain them through a Strainer with a little small Spice, Cinamon, red Wine Vinegar, and Verjuice, put it in a Dish, and set it into your Dripping-pan under your Capons whilest they rost, and when they are rosted set your Sauce a-boyling upon the Coals, and season it with Salt.

Quotation for the Day.

Another peculiarity of this country is the absence of napkins, even in the homes of the wealthy. Napkins, as a rule, are never used and one has to wipe one's mouth on the tablecloth, which in consequence suffers in appearance.
Baron Louis de Closen on dining in America (1780)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Master Carver.

I want to continue today with the job descriptions of the senior household staff as described in The Perfect School of Instruction for the Officers of The Mouth (1682), starting with that of the Master Carver. The author tells us that the Master Carver not only had to be greatly skilled in ‘what manner you ought to break up any Meats, either Fish or Fowl, Fruits or Sweetmeats, with the difference and distance of pieces’, but also, most importantly ‘the manner how you ought to present it to each Person, according to his Rank and Quality.’ I wonder who got the Parson’s Nose?

The role of carver  had been a very important one for centuries. At great medieval feasts it was often awarded to an especially favoured nobleman. He was not only expected to perform the job with great flair and elegance, he was also expected to know the correct jargon, for there was a different term for the carving of each dish. Luckily for aspiring carvers, a wonderful ‘How To’ book published by Wynkyn de Worde in about 1513, called The Book of Kervynge, was there to help.

Here, for your edification and amusement, is the list:

Baeke the dere
lesche y brawne
rere that goose
lyste that swanne
sauce that capon
spoyle that henne
fruche that chekyn
babrace that malarde
bnlace that conye
dysmembre that heron
displaye that crane
disfygure that pecocke
baioynt that bytture
batache that cuclewe
alaye that felande
wynge that partryche
wynge that quayle
niynce that plouer
thye that pygyon
border that pauy
thye that woodcocke
thye all maner small byrdes
tymbre that fyre
tyere that egge
chynne that samon
strynge that lampraye
spatre that pyke
sauce that place
sauce that tenche
splaye that breme
side that haddocke
tuske that berbell
culpon that troute
syne that cheuen
trallene that ele
traunche that sturgyon
baderttraunche that purpos
tayme that crabbe
barbe that lobster

May I suggest you seriously consider learning to recite that list off by heart? It could come in handy on all sorts of occasions. Filling in a conversation lull at a dinner party. One-upping the know-it-all of your choice. Impressing the Chef when you are applying for a job perhaps?

In the meanwhile, here is a recipe from the book that should not cause you too much trouble in the carving (sorry, I mean tyere-ing).

To Make an Omelette of Apples.
Pare three or four apples and cut them in thin slices, and fry them in a Frying-pan with a quarter of a pound, or better, of good fresh Butter, and some Sugar, and when your Apples are fryed, take eight or ten Eggs beaten, and seasoned with Salt, and put them into your Frying-pan to your Apples, make it fry and lift it up with the point of a Knife, about the middle of your Pan to let the raw Eggs run under, that the Eggs and Apples may be well incorporated the one into the other, but shake your Pan as oft as you can that your Omelette do not burn, and when he is baked put him into a Dish, and put Sugar over him.

Quotation for the Day.

Roast Beef, Medium, is not only a food. It is a philosophy. Seated at Life’s Dining Table, with the menu of morals before you, your eye wanders a bit over the entrees, the hors d’oevres, and the things a la though you know that Roast Beef, Medium, is safe and sane and sure.
Edna Ferber.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Royal “Mouth”

Some light was shed on the minor mystery of the Queen’s “mouth” in Friday’s story by a commenter who pointed out that the French term for the office responsible for provisioning the royal household was the “Bouche”, which translates literally as “the mouth.” I should have remembered – after all, I featured a lovely book called The Perfect School of Instruction for the Officers of The Mouth in a blog post some time ago.

The book was published in England in 1682 by Giles Rose, and was a translation of a French work written twenty years before. Not much is known about Rose, except that (according to the frontispiece of the book) he was one of the Master Cooks to Charles II. The book examines the roles of the senior staff responsible for feeding a large household – specifically the Maistre de Hostel (or Steward), the Master Carver, Master Butler, Master Cook, Master Confectioner, and Master Pastryman. In the previous story I gloried in both the wonderfully detailed title page of the book, and the knowledge that when I throw a kitchen towel over my shoulder while I am cooking, I am modelling the ‘ordinary Mark, and particular sign and demonstration’ of the office of the Maistre de Hostel (from which we get Maître d’hôtel, or simply Maître d).

I promised in that post to return to the book to explore the roles of the other household staff. I am belatedly doing so, now I have been reminded of its treasures. Before I move on to the Carver and Butler and so on, there is a little more of interest in the role of the Steward (to use his English job description). His job ‘especially amongst Persons of Quality’, was ‘none of the least in a Family, no more than his charge is inconsiderable’ for he had the overall responsibility of running what could be a very large household with a large number of family members, staff, visitors, and visitors’ servants. He had to maintain an inventory of the household goods, give instructions to each of the other Masters as to the catering requirements for each day, to order, organise, monitor and track the distrubution of provisions, and keep a meticulous account of expenses.

The Steward’s work was not all behind the scenes however, he did have his time in the spotlight. When the first course was dished up and ready, he would lead the procession carrying it to the table, and, ‘being come into the Hall, where the Company are to eat’, would doff his hat to his Lord before overseeing the placement of the dishes. The shoulder-towel then came into use:

‘The Company disposting themselves to wash their hands, he takes the Towel by both ends and delivers it to the Company, neatly, with care and respect, and not rudely; and when the Ceremony is ended, and all have wiped their hands, then he takes the Towel away again, and carries it to the side-Cupboard, and there leaves it.’

The Steward then took up a position behind his Master’s Chair, ‘or some one of the chiefest persons at the Table, till it be time to fetch in the second Course’ – always vigilant for a sign from his Master or Mistress as to their commands for the progress of the meal.

There cant be too many jobs available for good household stewards nowadays, but history is full of disappearances and reappearances and fashions and unfashions. In the earlier post on this topic I gave you a recipe from the book for A Tart of the Brain of a Capon, which seems unlikely to be fashionable again soon. Perhaps the following tart, also from the book, might be closer to re-invention?

A Tart of Green Sprouts.
Take your green Sprouts of green Colworts, give them a set or scald in hot Water, and lay thema draining, then mince them small, and put them in fine Paste, and garnish them with the Hearbs, season them with Lard melted, Beef-marrow, an Onion stuck with Cloves and Pepper, and some thin slices of interlarded Bacon between the laying of the Hearbs, cover it up with the same Paste, and when it is baked, put in some Gravy, and the juice of a Lemon, and serve it away.

Quotation for the Day.

A thriving household depends on the use of seasonal produce and the application of common sense.
Olivier de Serres (1539-1619)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dinner with Queen Eleanor.

Queen Eleanor (Leonora) of France (1498-1558) visited her brother, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (1500-1558) in Brussels in 1544. A royal retinue took some feeding in those days, as a contemporary account of her visit shows:

“Queen Leonora received daily for her mouth, 128 lbs. of beef, 2 ¼ sheep, 1 calf, 2 swine, 2 fat capons, 18 fowls, 4 partridges, 2 woodcocks, 2 pheasants, 2 hares, 24 quails or turtle doves.”

Clearly, all of this food was not for the Queen herself. I am not sure what the phrase “for her mouth” means (and hope that one of you will enlighten me) – perhaps it refers to the members of her personal household?

There was more. The same document tells us that additional supplies were provided for others in her train.

“For the kitchen of the suite were daily supplied 2 oxen, 18 sheep, 3 calves, 12 swine, 60 capons, 48 fowls and pigeons, and 40 head of game.”

When the omitted vegetables, bread, sweetmeats, ale and wine are added to this list, it was an awesome amount of food indeed. Sadly, there are no details of the actual dishes made from them, so we do not know what was served to the Queen. There are plenty of sources of medieval recipes however, and not a great deal changed over a few hundred years or so. I give you the recipe for a right royal quantity of small birds and poultry from the early fifteenth century cookbook Du Fait de Cuisine, by Master Chiquart Amizco.

And again a gravy of small birds and poultry: to give understanding to him who makes it, let him take about a thousand small birds and let these small birds be well plucked and carefully cleaned so that there remains neither feathers nor refuse; and take a hundred large poultry which are fair and clean, and let them be cut in half and cut into pieces, and one should make four pieces from each quarter, and wash them very well and cleanly with the small birds; and, being washed, put them to dry on fair, white, and clean boards. And take a great deal of lard and melt it in fair, large, and clean frying pans; and arrange that you have a fair and clean cauldron and put your small birds and poultry therein and strain your melted lard well and cleanly, then put it into the said cauldron over the said small birds and poultry. And take a great deal of bread according to the quantity of your meat and slice it into rounds and put it to roast on the grill until it is well browned; and have beef and mutton broth -- and let it not be too salty -- put in a fair and clean small cask, and put therein a great deal of clear wine; and when your bread is roasted put it to soak in the said cask of broth and clear wine. And take your spices: cinnamon, ginger, grains of paradise, pepper; minor spices: nutmeg, cloves, mace, galingale, and all spices -- and let the said master be advised not to put to much in of anything, but have a temperate and sure hand in putting in that which it seems to him is necessary. And while he is straining his bread and his spices, let him have his meat sautéd over a fair clear fire; and let him have a man who stirs it constantly with a big slotted spoon so that it does not stick to the bottom and that it does not burn; and the said master in straining his bread and his spices should put while straining either a third or a half or what he has strained with his meat, so that the said meat will neither be spoiled nor burn, until he has strained all of it and put it into the said broth. And, being strained and set to boil, the said master should check and taste if it needs spices, vinegar, salt or something else and that it has too much of nothing; and do not wait until your meat is overcooked but draw it back over a few coals, at least until it is time to take it to the sideboard, and there, at the sideboard, it should be arranged in serving dishes well and properly.

Quotation for the Day.

Chicken one day, feathers the next.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lunch with the King of Spain.

A variation of the desert-island question is ‘What would be on your perfect menu, if money was no object?’. Royalty are in this lucky situation every day (does it get boring, one wonders?), and there is always some fun to be found on historic royal menus. Alfonso XIII (1886-1941) became King of Spain on the day he was born, due to the untimely death of his father in an accident. His mother Queen Maria Christina ruled until he achieved his majority at the age of at sixteen, on March 17, 1902.

Two days after his birthday, 107 years ago to this day, the young king sat down to the following luncheon at the Royal Palace in Madrid.

19 Mars 1902

Déjeuner de S.M.
Consommé Julienne
Oeufs au plat
Pilaf de mouton au riz
Escaloppes de Veau à l’Anglaise
Pommes de terre maître d’hôtel
Poulet rôti
Gâteau Marignan.

The royals of Europe formed their own ‘superclass’ – intermarried as they have been for centuries – and enjoyed a sort of generic international cuisine. This royal Spanish menu was written in French, as all posh menus were until very recently (and I think still are in the English royal households), and contains not one single intrinsically Spanish dish.

The dishes are from the classical repertoire, so there are no surprises - and nothing scary or innovative. Even without the menu saying so, we can be sure that this was lunch not dinner, because there are eggs on the menu – and one never serves eggs at dinner if one is posh.

There was one big advantage of the classical names for dishes, and that was that if one was a sophisticated diner, even if one did not speak a word of French, one would know what one was getting. There was no need for the modern, long, wordy prose descriptions of each dish that are almost recipes in themselves. For the chef, there was generally speaking no expectation that one would constantly innovate (although a garnish or sauce might be tweaked and renamed for a special occasion or special guest) – the desirable skill was to faithfully and consistently reproduce the classics.

Direct translation of classical French menu phrases with the aid of a general dictionary does not help in sorting out what was actually eaten. ‘A l’Anglaise’ means, more or less, ‘In the English-style’ – which a sophisticated diner would understand to meant that his veal escallopes were plainly cooked, after coating in breadcrumbs. Oeufs au plat literally means ‘eggs on a plate’ –the French cross between fried and poached eggs, which are delicately buttery and definitely un-browned. Cookbooks contain an almost infinite variety of garnishing basic fried eggs, but it seems at this luncheon that they were unadorned, else the menu would have specified ‘a la Greque’ or ‘au tomates’ or whatever.

The Professed Cook, (1812) by B.Clermont suggests:

Oeufs au plat en ragout: Done in the table-dish, with a ragout of asparagus, pease, or any other sort of garden-stuff.

Quotation for the Day.

Without butter, without eggs, there is no reason to come to France.
Paul Bocuse.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Amber Pudding.

It goes without saying that colour is important in food. As far as vegetables are concerned, nutritionists tell us that the intensely-coloured varieties are especially good for us. As far as cooked dishes are concerned, cooks and chefs everywhere know that some colours attract and some repel. Last October we explored the themes of red, yellow, blue, and green food, and I was reminded of this when I got briefly diverted by Amber Pudding while I was deciding over yesterday’s recipe. It was rejected on the day, because it did not contain ambergris, but it is too delicious to reject utterly. Recipes for Amber Pudding appear regularly in nineteenth century cookbooks, the name coming from its beautiful golden-amber colour, which in turn comes from the butter, egg yolks, and candied orange it contains.

Golden-coloured food seems particularly appealing. Is there some sort of inherited attraction because of the long association with the ripe, golden grains that have been staple foods for our species for millenia? Or is it just a potato chips and custard thing?

Amber Pudding seems worthy of re-discovering, perhaps in the form of little tartlets for the petits fours platter at your next dinner party?

A Very Fine Amber Pudding.
Put a pound of butter into a sauce-pan, with three quarters of a pound of loaf sugar finely powdered; melt the butter, and mix well with it; then add the yolks of fifteen eggs well beaten, and as much fresh candied-orange as will add colour and flavour to it, being first beaten to a fine paste. Line the dish with paste for turning out; and when filled with the above, lay a crust over, as you would, a pie, and bake in a slow oven. It is as good cold as hot.
A new system of domestic cookery, by a Lady (M.E. Rundell) 1808

Quotation for the Day.

Custard: A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow, and the cook.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1906)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Ambassador's Requirements.

Catering for visitors, particularly diplomatic visitors, can be a tricky and expensive obligation. When the Turkish Ambassador and his retinue were passing through Vienna in May 1731 (a total of 62 persons and 25 horses), they were to be furnished every day with the following:

8 Pound of Honey
30 White Loaves of a Pound of Bread each
40 Other Loaves of Wheaten Bread, of a Pound each
10 Weathers or Sheep
130 Pound of Mutton
18 Pullets and Capons
2 Turkey Cocks
50 Pound of Rice
25 Pound of Fat
8 Pound of Sugar
4 Pound and a half of Tallow Candles
4 Pound and a half of Coffee
1 Pound and a half of Sugar for Sherbet
Half a Pound of Loaf Sugar
Cinnamon a Quarter of a Pound
Cloves the fame Quantity
Half a Pound of Ginger
The same of Pepper
2 Pound of Wax Candles, of Half a Pound each
3 Pound of Raisins
4 Pound and a Half of Currants
30 Pound of fine Meal
6 Pound of White Starch
2 Pound and a Half of Almonds
60 Eggs
8 Measures of Milk
3 Measures of Wine Vinegar
2 Ounces of Mace
the same Quantity of Nutmegs
Half an Ounce of Saffron
6 Pound of Salt
10 Pound of Onions
6 Pound of White Pease
3 Pound of Soap
2 Pound of Oil Olave
3 Quarters of a Pound of Rose Water
12 Lemons
1 Pound of preserved Citron
2 Pound of Olives
3 Pound of White Sweetmeats, Bikets, &c.
1 Ounce of Balsam
Half an Ounce of Amber
I Pound of Ulm Barley
A certain Measure of Oats for the Horses
Hay and Wood, as much as needful
Also Sallad, Spinnage, Garlick, Parsley, and other
Greens, Fruit, &c.
Lastly, 3 Ounces of Aloes for the whole Journey.

Some of the amounts seem huge: more than one loaf of bread and almost a pound of rice per person per day – and over two pounds of mutton (presumably the Ambassador himself, and a couple of the other top-ranking staff got the turkey cocks).

It would be fascinating to know what was cooked with these ingredients. Sherbet, obviously, as a quantity of sugar was allocated for making it. The amber (ambergris or amber greese) was probably also used to perfume and flavour this sherbet, which at this time was a cooling fruit drink.

Ambergris is a strange substance regurgitated by sperm whales which is found floating on the sea or washed up on beaches, and is an entirely different thing from the amber that is the fossilised resin of a tree that is used to make jewellery. Why the whales produce it is still a bit of a mystery, as I understand it, – but it may be a result of some digestive disturbance. When it is freshly thrown up by the whale it is an unattractive-looking whitish or grey soft mass with an unpleasant smell. Under the influence of the sea and the sun, it develops a waxy texture and the smell becomes musk-like, and voila! it becomes an expensive, exotic ingredient. Its great value is in the fragrance industry, but historically it had a wide range of medicinal and culinary uses. Methinks it was a brave man who first used whale vomit to flavour his drink. We have met ambergris as a flavouring for negus in a previous post. Here it is in a nice pudding.

An Almond Pudding.
Take three penny white Loaves, grate and dry them before the Fire, take a Quart of Cream and make it scalding hot, and put it on the Bread in a Pan, and let it stand to be cold; then take a Pound and and half of sweet Almonds, blanch'd, and beat fine with Orange-flower Water, mixing them with the Bread; the Quantity of Almond should be alike with the Bread; the Yolks of ten Eggs, with Cloves, Mace, Sugar, and Amber greese to your Taste, with a little Marrow; and all mixed together, and put in the Dish, with Paste all round; then bake it.
Court cookery, or, The Compleat English cook, by Robert Smith, 1725

Quotation for the Day.

A Table richly spred, in regal mode,
With dishes pil'd, and meats of noblest sort.
And Savour, Beasts of chase, or fowl of game,
In pastry built, or from the spit, or boyl'd,
Gris-amber steam'd; all Fish from Sea or Shore,
Freshet, or purling Brook, of shell or fin,
An exquisetest name, for which was drain'd
Pontus and Lucrine Bay, and Afric coast.
Alas, how simple, to these Cates compar'd,
Was that crude Apple that diverted Eve!

John Milton, in Paradise Regain’d (1671)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Camping Candy.

Once upon a time, in the bad old days, the kitchen was the exclusive preserve of women. The only men-who-cooked were professional chefs or men outdoor-of-doors (hunting, shooting, fishing, exploring, war-making etc). “Camping” was a very different experience, I expect, in the days before super light-weight materials, freeze-dried foods and mosquito repellent – especially for men with no experience of the domestic arts. One supposes that other, more war or wilderness-wise men would mentor these novices in the outdoor culinary arts, and presumably, most of the time, this is what happened.

Occasionally, the advice was given by ladies, who almost certainly had no experience of rough living, but understood the principles enough to feel their methods could be adapted. In 1917, a little book called the ABC of cooking for men For men with no experience of cooking on Small Boats, Patrol Boats, in Camps, on Marches, etc. was published for the benefit of the Knitting Committee of the American Defence Society.

The foreword clarified the connection between women who knit and men who are forced to cook.

“It is hoped that both cook-book and knitted garments may help to make more comfortable the men who are only too ready to do their bit.”

The knitting ladies made no assumptions as to the existing skills of their proteges, and they included instructions for elementary kitchen tasks such as how to boil potatoes. They clearly assumed however that a well-equipped pantry would be available, as the following recipe shows:

If starving for a taste of candy, make fudge.
1 cake unsweetened Baker's Chocolate
4 cups of sugar
2 cups of milk, piece of butter about the size of an egg (little generous)
Boil for half to three-quarters of an hour, then take off the fire and beat till it gets
a little thick, and pour into a buttered tin.
You can tell if it is done by stirring a little in a saucer.

My questions are these. Why would the hungry hunters not simply eat the chocolate from the pack? How did they store the generous hunk of butter in the absence of refrigeration? Are not saucers a little namby-pamby for the huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ sorts of men to include in their packs?

Quotation for the Day.

There he stands, draped in more equipment than a telephone lineman, trying to outwit an organism with a brain no bigger than a breadcrumb, and getting licked in the process.
Paul O'Neil.

Friday, March 13, 2009

“Bombay Duck”

I cannot resist this final (for the time being) and famous Misleading Food Name. Bombay Duck is not a bird but a fish.The official name of the fish is Harpadon nehereus, and in various Indian dialects is bamaloh, bumla, or bombil. It is native to the waters of the coastline of South East Asia and Western India, and forms an important article of food for the poor. It is sold fresh or salted, and it is the latter that is known in Anglo-Indian cuisine as Bombay Duck.

Bombay Duck’s great claim to notoriety is its extraordinarily pungent smell, which manages to seep out of the most airtight container, and which is nothing at all like duck. The dried salted smelly crumbly fish was held in such great affection by returning British colonials (who used it as a relish to accompany their curries) that until 1997 over 13 tonnes a year were imported into England. In the fateful year of 1997 the European Commission of the European Union banned its importation under the rule (based on a vaguely sanitary justification) that denied any Indian fish not produced in “approved” canning or freezing facilities.

The name is slightly mysterious. One theory is that it derives from the Bombay Dak (the Bombay Mail train) which carried large quantities of the fish and consequently smelled strongly of it as did everything else carried by the train. The Bangladshi version of this that Clive of India himself gave it the name because of the smell of the newspapers that came from Bombay. It may of course have its origins in an ethnic-slur in the same way as Welsh Rabbit and some of the other examples we have considered this week.

This is how to use it:

“Bombay Ducks” or “Bummaloes”
Use the prepared kind sold at the Army and Navy Stores, Westminster, to eat with curry.
Toast these dried fish as you would bread, and send them to the table hot in a warm napkin – allow one apieces for each person, to put by his plate like a bit of toast, to eat with his curry, or to crumble over, eating the whole with a spoon.
It is nicest hot, but is also eaten cold.
If bought unprepared it means that each fish must be split and soaked before toasting, to draw out the salt.
The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie (1909)

Quotation for the Day.

“To-day have curry and rice for my dinner, and plenty of it as C—, my messmate, has got the gripes, and cannot eat his share.”
Entry in 1781, the Hon. J. Lindsay’s Imprisonment, in Lives of Lindsays,

Thursday, March 12, 2009

“Cape Cod Turkey”

A theme seems to be developing this week in spite of myself. If you are already thinking that Cape Cod Turkey is not a big gobbling bird, you are right. It is of course, a fish.

Specifically, it was (is?) dried salt cod. Or sometimes it is baked stuffed cod. Or, very elegantly, salt cod ‘encased in a cloth between two thin fishes of the same variety.’ It may be a dish of codfish or potatoes. Occasionally it even refers to codfish cakes. I am beginning to think I’d never trust a menu in New England!

Like Albany Beef , Cape Cod Turkey represents wry humour or an ethnic slur, depending on your perspective. Cape Cod Turkey was served at Thanksgiving, in the absence of the real thing, at a time when the day to day was Salt Cod. Funny, I guess, if you weren’t the one eating a monotony of it.

Fish (especially herring) seems to have attracted the largest number of these names – and they collectively remind us of times when many varieties were cheap food for poor folk. Times before we over-fished them into absent or expensive luxuries. Times before we worried about mercury poisoning. Times before food-labelling laws and libel laws and political correctness.

For memory’s sake, we have, for example:

Billingsgate Pheasant = red herring or bloater
Norfolk Capon = red herring
Alaska Turkey = salmon
Connecticut River Pork = Shad
Alaska Turkey = Salmon.

Please feel free to add to this list - I know there are a lot more!

Codfish Balls
Take a pint bowl of codfish picked very fine, two pint bowls of whole raw peeled potatoes, sliced thickly; put them together in plenty of cold water and boil until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked; remove from the fire, and drain off all the water. Mash them with the potato masher, add a piece of butter the size of an egg, one well-beaten egg, and three spoonfuls of cream or rich milk. Flour your hands and make into balls or cakes. Put an ounce each of butter and lard into a frying pan; when hot, put in the balls and fry a nice brown. Do not freshen the fish before boiling with the potatoes. Many cooks fry them in a quantity of lard similar to boiled doughnuts.
White House Cook Book, Fanny Lemira Gillette, 1887.

Quotation for the Day.

It has always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses has it coming.
John Steinbeck

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

“Albany Beef"

Humans have a long tradition of substituting an inferior ingredient for an unaffordable, unavailable, or forbidden one – and then naming it in a quite misleading way. Welsh Rabbit is the best known example, but there are many others.

It seems unbelievable today that sturgeon would be the inferior substitute for beef, but that was indeed the situation in the Hudson River Valley in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The town of Albany was once known as ‘Sturgeontown’ on account of the large amounts of ‘Albany Beef’ caught in the Hudson river.

The Atlantic sturgeon is an impressive fish, that is for sure. It is capable of living up to the age of 50 years, and growing up to 14 feet in length. It was fished extensively for its oil, as well as its roe (‘caviar’) and vealy-pink flesh – and was fished so successfully that it was almost fished out by the 1990’s. The slow development to maturity mitigates against its slow return to significant numbers, so we can only protect and hope.

Not everyone was impressed with the substitution. The military journal of James Thatcher during the Revolutionary War has this entry:

July 2lst 1779 - The officers of our regiment invited a select number of officers of the Pennsylvania line to dine on sturgeon, a large fish which Major Meriweather caught in the North river. This fish is a favorite with the Dutch, at Albany, and is on that account by some called Albany beef; but in my view it is worse than horse beef, and it was merely an auxiliary at our table.

The deceit was so good, and the cost-saving so great, that it is said that restaurants often served sturgeon as veal. It was common in both Europe and America over many centuries for cookbooks to give recipes for sturgeon cooked as veal – and for veal disguised as sturgeon.

Veal Disguised As Sturgeon For Six Platters.
The evening before, or early in the morning, take six calves' heads without skinning, and scald them in hot water like a pig, and cook them in wine, and add a half-litre of vinegar and some salt, and let it boil until the meat comes off the bone; then let the heads cool and remove the bones. Then take a piece of good coarse cloth, and put it all in it, that is to say, one on top of the other in the smallest space you can, then sew with good strong thread, like a square pillow, then put put it between two strong planks and press very hard, and leave overnight in the cellar; then slice it up with the skin on the outside like venison, and add parsley and venison, and only put two slices on each dish. Item, if you cannot find enough heads, it can be done with a (skinned?) calf.
Le Menagier de Paris (late 14th C)

Quotation for the Day.

An angler is a man who spends rainy days sitting around on the muddy banks of rivers doing nothing because his wife won't let him do it at home.
Author Unknown

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hard Cheese.

“Hard Cheese” is “Bad Luck”. Cheese so hard that you can use it to shoe your clogs with is Very, Very Bad Luck. Such cheese was the dinner-time luck of the peasants in olden times, along with the sort of very hard bread we heard about yesterday. It was made from the thin, several-times skimmed milk that was left over after the cream had been used for the landlord’s purposes. The older it was, the harder it got. It was hard work to cut, and hard work to eat.

“It has often been remarked, that farmer’s servants, or others who are condemned to this kind of food, find the time spent in eating it, the hardest part of their day’s work.”

One version of hard cheese for the peasants and labourers (read “slaves”) was the Whillimer cheese of Cumberland that featured in yesterday’s post, and it was reputed to be hard enough to sole one’s clogs. Every county seems to have had its own version. In Yorkshire, it was Whangby cheese – from ‘whang’ meaning anything unbearably tough, such as a piece of leather (particularly a leather thong), or Old Peg Cheese. In Suffolk it was Suffolk Thump or Suffolk Bang, perhaps because thumping or banging made little or no impression on it. Suffolk cheese made from thrice-skimmed milk was supposedly the worst in England, and jokes about it abound. It was said that “Hunger will break through stone walls, or anything except Suffolk cheese”, that knives wouldn’t cut it, fire wouldn’t sweat it, and even the dogs couldn’t eat it, but that it was eminently suitable for making wheels for wheelbarrows. In the Isle of Wight it was Isle of Wight Rock – a cheese that was “too big to swallow and too hard to bite”, that would “mock the weak efforts of the bending blade”, and was hard enough to make pins on which to hang the farm gates.

We are spoiled today. Most of us would throw out any cheese hard enough to use as shoe-leather. It is still good protein however, so perhaps we should make more of an effort to make it edible by using it in a recipe. Here is an idea from The West Australian, of Friday 9 January 1880 that would fit comfortably in the Welsh Rabbit (not Rarebit) series (chapter one and chapter two).

Cheese Curry.
Grate a teacupful of rich, hard cheese, and add to it a teacupful of milk, a teaspoonful of mixed mustard and one of curry powder. Stir it over the fire till thick and smooth, and spread it over slices of buttered toast. Brown a few minutes in the oven, and serve hot.

Quotation for the Day.

Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.
[various forms attributed to various people]

Monday, March 09, 2009

“Brown Gwordie.”

I don’t think I ever remember hearing of a modern member of Parliament dressing up and carrying props into the House to make a point during the debate of a bill. The elected M.P. for Carlisle in north-west England did just that on one occasion in the late eighteenth century – and his props were bread and cheese.

J.C. Curwen was an agricultural reformer who supported the Whigs and steadfastly opposed the opposed the principles and beliefs of the Tories – particularly the belief that the common folk were well enough off and any statement to the contrary just made them discontented with the rural bliss that was their lives. Curwen picked a particularly graphic way to illustrate his point that their reality was quite different. He clonked noisily into the House part-way through a debate, dressed as a Cumberland labourer in ‘hodden grey’ with clogs on his feet, and carrying a loaf of ‘brown gwordie’ and a piece of Whillimer cheese in his hand. He proceeded to laboriously cut up the hard bread and hard cheese with his ‘gully’ - the dry crust of the bread making much raspy noise (and no doubt many black crumbs.) Can you imagine a modern politician doing that?

Brown Gwordie (with a soft ‘g’) or Brown Geordie was a loaf of hard bread made from barley, or barley and rye (the word ‘gwordie’ was local slang for a young lad) – the peasant staple for hundreds of years. During the time of the Corn Laws and the wheat shortages in the eighteenth century it also became food for many of the middle classes – remaining for these folk as a delicacy (a sweetmeat, almost) after the repeal of the Corn Laws.

And the Whillimer Cheese? You will have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

Barley Bread.
The following receipt will make excellent barley bread, and by many persons will be preferred to the best wheaten bread: - Take 3 ½ lbs. of wheaten flour, and 3 ½ lbs. of barley meal, mix them well together in a large earthen pan, add yeast and warm water, and then leave the dough to rise for one hour; it must then be kneaded and well worked together for twenty minutes, after which make the above into a single loaf, put it into the oven, and let it bake for four hours. Care should be taken that the barley, is ground fine, and well sifted from the bran through a fine sieve.
Manual of Domestic Economy, John Timbs, 1847.

Quotation for the Day.

A peasant will stand on the top of a hill for a very long time with his mouth open, before a roast duck will fly in.

Friday, March 06, 2009

"A Socialist Bill of Fare"

Dinner in the various ‘Utopian’ societies which were in vogue in the late nineteenth century were not always (or usually) utopian, it seems. Under the heading “A Socialist Bill of Fare”, the following article appeared in a number of antipodean newspapers in March 1896.

“One of the most pathetic documents ever made public is the bill of fare of “Cosme” Colony, the [Australian] settlement in Paraguay where the remainder of Mr. Lane’s followers determinedly pursue ideals … Monotony, faintly relieved by phraseology, is the conspicuous feature of the menu at what is proudly designated the Co-Operative Dining Hall. Breakfast: Maize damper, minced boiled maize with a little treacle, and generally milk, mandioca. Dinner: Maize porridge with milk, mandioca. Supper: Vegetable soup, minced boiled maize, sometimes cold maize porridge with milk or treacle, mandioca, maize damper, sometimes sweetened with treacle. There are other vegetables occasionally, and the monthly press organ of the settlement states that on Sundays the treacle, which they have to go slowly at in the name of the brotherhood during the rest of the week, is laid on somewhat thicker, while a wild revelry and abandon of mandioca is indulged in. … This lamentable diet is not part of the program of communism, but to many of the pioneers is an unforseen circumstance.… There has been a great deal of sickness …. Two families have packed up and left, and the school was closed for eight days because the teacher was otherwise employed, possibly at road-making, but more probably in the effort to make something like variety appear in the bill of fare.”

I love that idea of an ‘abandon of manioca’ (the newspaper’s italics). Is that a new collective noun ?

Mandioca (mandioc), or Cassava, is an important staple in many parts of the world, and is prepared in a number of ways. In other areas it is best known as the source of tapioca (otherwise known as ‘frog spawn’ to a lot of reluctant English children). The interesting thing about mandioca (manioc or cassava) is that it is poisonous when raw, but becomes ‘food’ when properly prepared. Of course, there are those who believe that tapioca is poisonous too.

Previous blog posts have included recipes for Tapioca with Tomatoes and tapioca in a Toasted Cheese dish, but I find that we have never had a recipe for Tapioca Pudding to date. Here are two versions, the plain no-frills version, and the posh version in a pie-shell, from Warne’s everyday cookery (1872)

Plain Tapioca Pudding.
Time, one hour.
One ounce and a half of tapioca; a pint of milk; three eggs; sugar to taste; grated lemon peel.
Soak an ounce and a half of tapioca in cold water until soft, stirring it now andthen; well beat three eggs with sugar to taste, and mix them with a pint of coldmilk ; stir the tapioca into it, and pour the whole into a buttered pie-dish. Grate thepeel of a lemon on the top, and bake it in a moderate oven.

Tapioca Pudding.
Time, one hour to bake.
One quart of new milk; three ounces of tapioca; an ounce and a half of butter; four eggs; grated lemon peel, or any other flavouring; three ounces of sugar; puff paste.
Put the tapioca into a stewpan with a quart of milk, and let it simmer by the sideof the fire for nearly twenty minutes, stirring it frequently to prevent its burning, turn it out to cool, and then stir into it the sugar, the flavouring, and the eggs well-beaten.
Bake it in a well-buttered pie-dish with a puff paste round the edge, or without, asyou may prefer. One hour will bake it in a moderate oven.

Quotation for the Day.
The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Thursday, March 05, 2009

“London Particular.”

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, London used to have thick fogs known as ‘pea-soupers’. The famous historic restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand calls its pea-soup “London Particular” – an idea they perhaps got from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House in which one of the characters refers to the ‘pea-souper’ fog as a “London Particular”. The phrase wasn’t Dickens’ idea however, it had been used for at least a hundred years as the name for a style of Madeira wine.

The word “particular”, according to the OED can refer to “A thing specially characteristic of a place or person; a person's special choice or favourite thing; (sometimes) spec. a kind of Madeira.” So, as I understand it, “London Particular Madeira” was a style specifically made for the London trade. The earliest mention I have found so far is from 1756, but no doubt there are earlier references.

One article from 1791 refers to “Madeira wine of the quality of London particular”, but what that quality was, I have no idea (but hope someone out there does, and can enlighten us all). Some references seem to suggest it was the best quality, but this piece, from The Emporium of Arts and Sciences in 1815 suggests that even “good” Madeira was at least sometimes inferior and adulterated.

Common Madeira may be greatly improved, and is so when wanted for immediate drinking, by a small quantity, (a desert spoonful to a bottle) of well clarified syrup of the finest loaf sugar. I believe in addition to this, it is not unusual to put a tea- spoonful of a filtered vinous solution of isinglass in good Madeira. These give a fullness, a richness, and a silkiness to the wine, that to my palate is very grateful. But the isinglass is apt to precipitate on standing and exposure to the air.
Your next cask is Madeira. Is it London particular ? Is it bill wine or barter wine ? Is it Cercial ? From the north; or the south side of the island ? The London particular, is the highest priced wine for the London market: next to that is the bill wine, sold for bills of exchange : next to that is the barter wine, exchanged for goods. The wine of the south side of the island, as the Cercial wine, is much the richest: the northern side is comparatively harsh. Wine is made up in Madeira, by mixing, 1st, a certain quantity of old with new wine: 2d, a certain quantity of Malmsey with the common wine: 3dly, a certain quantity of north side with south side wine. Tne more old the more Malmsey, the more south side wine, the better and dearer is the mixture. Clarified syrup is a frequent substitute for Malmsey. Teneriffe is, I believe, lately, introduced as an adulteration.

I guess less than fabulous Madeira could be used in a nice Madeira cake? Recipes for this started to appear in about the 1840’s. Unfortunately they don’t contain madeira. A mystery. I’d add some anyway. Here is an example from the magnificent Eliza Acton.

Whisk four fresh eggs until they are as light as possible, then, continuing still to whisk them, throw in by slow degrees the following ingredients in the order in which they are written: six ounces of dry, pounded, and sifted sugar; six of flour, also dried and sifted; four ounces of butter just dissolved, but not heated; the rind of a fresh lemon; and the instant before the cake is moulded, beat well in the third of a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda: bake it an hour in a moderate oven. In this, as in all compositions of the same nature, observe particularly that each portion of butter must be beaten into the mixture until no appearance of it remains before the next is added; and if this be done, and the preparation be kept light by constant and light whisking, the cake will be as good, if not better, than if the butter were creamed. Candied citron can be added to the paste, but it is not needed.
Eggs, 4; sugar, 6 oz.; flour, 6 oz.; butter, 4 oz.; rind of 1 lemon; carbonate of soda, 1 of teaspoonful: 1 hour, moderate oven.
Modern Cookery for Private Families, by Eliza Acton, 1845

Quotation for the Day ….

No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and none sober, where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage. It is, in truth, the only antidote to the bane of whiskey.
Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Shadow Larders.

A spokesman at the Ministry of Food made an announcement in late October 1944 in which he disclosed that ‘food arrangements’ had been made in 1940 ‘to guard against invasion risk’. These stores were now to be released into the general pool of food resources.

The scale of the ‘arrangements’ had been huge. In practically every town and village of less than 30,000 people (about 20,000 locations), ‘shadow larders’ had been built up in case of invasion. The stored food totalled 54,000 tons at 20,000 locations.They would have enabled the immediate distribution of about 9 lb a head of ‘emergency biscuits, corned beef, tinned soup or stew, sugar, tea, and margarine. There had been practice runs to test the distribution system, but luckily it had never been needed, and now, he said, the remaining food (26,000 tons had been handed over for the use of the forces in the previous year), was to be released into the general supply system.

One wonders at the appeal of four year old margarine, but no doubt a wartime perspective made it quite attractive. I wonder what is stashed away today, in the bunkers of the movers and shakers of the world, in case of emergency?

Fats such as butter and margarine were rationed during WW II in Britain, and the British were exhorted to save the fat from meat etc that they could as this was then recycled to the manufacture of explosives. The Food Facts Leaflet number 189, in February 1944 focused on fat-saving ideas.

Try These Fat-Saving Tips.
1. Fried potatoes take less fat if they’re boiled first, so boil extra potatoes for frying later.
2. Use wrapping paper from butter, margarine and lard for greasing tins and covering food in the oven.
3. Fat left in frying pan can be strained and clarified, and re-used. Wipe out frying pan while still hot with a scrap of paper and salt – don’t clean with water.
4. After boiling fatty meats and suet puddings, allow the liquid to cool, and skim off the fat which has solidified. Use as dripping.
5. Fry herrings and sprats without fat. Warm the pan and sprinkle in salte before frying.
6. Give children dripping instead of margarine on bread.

From Food Facts Leaflet number 191, a recipe to use up some of that margarine.

Cheese and Potato Lunch.
(One of the prize-winning village recipes collected by the Women’s Institute)
Ingredients: 1 lb potatoes, ¼ teacup rolled oats, 1 teaspoonful dried mustard, 1 oz. margarine, ¾ teacup grated cheese, pepper and salt.
Method: Boil the potatoes and mash with a little milk. Season with pepper and salt and spread evenly in a sandwich tin.
While potatoes are cooking, mix in a bowl the oats, cheese, pepper, salt and mustard. Pour over this the margarine melted and mix to a stiff paste. Spread on top of the potatoes and cook in a hot oven for 10 minutes until a nice golden brown.
Decorate with parsley.

Quotation for the Day.

I haven't trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hour. I've never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex.
Erma Bombeck

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Soup, Glorious Soup.

Soup is so often the last resting place for foods that have seen better days that it is easy to forget, or never know, that it can be an extraordinarily extravagant preparation indeed.

Today, in celebration of my finishing Soup: A Global History (the SEND button was pressed yesterday), I give you a glorious soup recipe. It was named in honour of Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796), also known as Catherine the Great. She was a sixteen-year old German princess when she was married off to her second cousin, the future Tsar Peter III, and although the marriage was far from happy, Catherine apparently relished her royal title. Peter became Tsar in 1762, was deposed after six months, and died three days later (strange coincidence?). Catherine reigned as Empress after his demise, and over the next twenty years earned the sobriquet ‘Great’. I don’t pretend to understand whether she earned the honour, but it seems she had a great number of lovers, spent a great deal of money, and inspired this great soup.

SOUP OF FILLETS OF PERCH; from the Empress Catherine II.
(Potage de Filets de Perches a la Catherine II.)
The consommé being prepared as before, trim, in small escalopes, the fillets of three perch, throw salt over them; an hour after wash, drain, and lay them in a saute-plate; afterwards make a quenelle of crayfish, with crayfish butter; mark an essence of fish thus: cut in lengths a small eel, a sole, a small pike, and the trimmings of the perch ; add four pottles of mushrooms, two onions sliced, parsley-roots, two cloves, a pinch of pepper and grated nutmeg, bay-leaf, thyme, basil, two new anchovies, the flesh of a sound lemon, a bottle of Champagne, and a little salt; boil it slowly for an hour, squeeze it through a tammy upon the fillets of perch, which boil for ten minutes; add six livers of burbots, six roes of carp, and twenty-four small mushrooms turned and very white; having simmered the escalopes of perch for some minutes, drain them and lay them in the tureen, and upon them place the livers, roes, and mushrooms; pour the liquor from them into the consomme, which thicken slightly with a light roux; when serving, add a liaison of twelve eggs, and four ounces of crayfish butter; stir the soup, that the liaison may mix perfectly smooth; and, as soon as it begins to boil, pour it into the tureen, adding the points of a bundle of asparagus, prepared as for an entree; serve.
The practical cook, English and foreign, by Joseph Bregion, Anne Miller, 1845

Any soup with a full bottle of champagne listed amongst the ingredients cant be bad, can it? It is not the most expensive soup in history however. You’ll have to buy the book to find out which soup does earn that title.

Quotation for the Day.
A first rate soup is better than a second rate painting.
Abraham Maslow.

Monday, March 02, 2009


I think it is a pity that we stopped calling tomatoes Love Apples.
I also think it is a pity that we stopped calling eggplants Mad Apples.
I don’t know why we stopped using these fun names.
I do know how the names came about however.

The origin of Love Apples is easy. When the tomato was first introduced to Europe from the ‘New World’ it was viewed with great suspicion, partly on principle, because it was new, and partly because it was assigned to the nightshade family of plants. The nightshade family had two strikes against it. Firstly, it contained a number of poisonous members. Secondly, it included the mandrake, a plant reputed to be aphrodisiac - which was enough to put all its relatives at risk of denunciation from the pulpit. The second reason, of course, is responsible for its name, and I presume was intended to act as a warning to anyone foolish enough to risk its effects. It was still not widely used until well into the nineteenth century, although America took to it before England. Even Mrs Beeton (1861) referred to them as Love Apples, although she did give a couple of recipes.

As for the eggplant, the name Mad-Apple comes by way of a double mistranslation. The Italian melanzana was heard as mala insana, and this was then translated to ‘mad apple’, which is a truly wonderful true explanation. The eggplant is also sometimes called Brown-Jolly in older English texts. This is a misinterpretation of brinjal, the ‘Indian’ name for Solanum melongena, vatimgana, al-badinjan, aubergine, badingan, melongena, berenjena, albergínia, Guinea squash, nasu ……….

Love apple catsup.
Cut up the tomatas or love apples, and between every layer sprinkle a layer of salt; let them stand a few hours before you boil them, which do very well; then strain them through a cullender on some horseradish, onions, or garlic, mustard seeds, beaten ginger, pepper, and mace; cover it close; let it stand a day or two; then bottle and seal it for use.

Love apple cakes for stews, &c.
Prepare the tomatas exactly in the same manner as recommended for sauce, only boil away as much of the watery particles as you conveniently can; then place the residue in a flat dish out in the sun; when it has evaporated so as to become almost a dry cake, cut it into pieces about one inch square, and preserve either in wide-mouthed bottles or canisters; when required for use one of the squares soaked in water for a few hours until dissolved with be sufficient to season a dish of cutlets or soup. This will keep a long time, in fact it is only the inspissated juice of tomatas.

Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book, by R. Riddell, 1860

Quotation for the Day.

A dinner divested of ceremony, is an act of perfidy.