Monday, June 08, 2009

The very crown in the housewife’s garland.

I thought that, in lieu of a holiday, we might take a trip in the cyber time-travel machine and spend the week with the Shuttleworths of Gawthorpe Hall in Burnley, Lancashire. We can do this trip thanks to the survival of part of the household book (the steward’s accounts book) from the heyday of the estate in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

Today’s selection from the carefully edited and annotated version published in 1858 was discovered when I was trying to find out more about clap bread, the subject of a post a week or two ago. The editor has this to say:

“The little charge and great benefit considered, oatmeal is the very crown of the housewife's garland, and doth more grace her table and her knowledge than all grains whatsoever; neither indeed can any family or household be well and thriftily maintained where this is either scant or wanting.”

He then goes on to detail its various uses (the headings below are mine), which surely show us that we underuse it today:

Oatmeal … is that with whick all pottage is made and thickened, whether they be meat-pottage, milk-pottage, or any thick or thin gruel whatsoever.

Six several kinds of good and wholesome bread, every one finer than another, as your anacks, jannocks and such like.

Oat Cakes:  [i.e Clap bread)
Also there is made of it both thick and thin oaten cakes, which are pleasant in taste and much esteemed; but if it be mixed with fine wheat-meal, then it maketh a most delicious and dainty oat-cake, either thick or thin, such as no prince in the world but may have them served at his table.

Also this small oatmeal mixed with blood, and the liver of either sheep, calf, or swine, maketh that pudding which is called the haggas or haggus [haggis]of whose goodness it is in vain to boast, because there is hardly to be found a man that doth not affect them.

Wash Brew and Gird Brew:
Lastly, from this small oatmeal, by oft steeping it in water and cleansing it, and then boiling it to a thick and stiff jelly, is made that excellent dish of meat which is so esteemed in the west parts of this kingdom, which they call wash-brew, and in Cheshire and Lancashire they call it flamery or flummery, the wholesomeness and rare goodness, nay the very physic-helps thereof, be such and so many, that I myself have heard a very reverend and renowned physician speak more in the commendations of that meat, than of any other food whatsoever.

From this wash-brew is derived another coarser meat (as it were the dregs or proper substance of the wash-brew) called gird-brew, which is a well-filling and sufficient meat fit for servants and men of labour — a meat of harder digestion, and fit indeed but for strong, able stomachs, and such whose toil and much sweat both liberally spendeth evil humours, and also preserveth men from the offence of fulness and surfeits.

Puddings or “Pots”:
For of the bigger kind of oatmeal called greets [grits, groats] or corn oatmeal, are made all sorts of puddings or “pots” (as the west country terms them) whether they be black, as those made of the blood of beasts, swine, sheep, geese, red or fallow deer, or the like, mixed with whole greets, sweet and wholesome herbs; or else white, as when the greets are mixed with good cream, eggs, bread-crumbs, suet, currants, and other wholesome spices. Also of these greets is made the Good Friday pudding, which is mixed with eggs, milk, suet, penny-royal, and boiled first in a linen bag, and then stripped and buttered with sweet butter.

With Roast Goose:
Again, if you roast a goose and stop her belly with whole greets, beaten together with eggs, and after mixed with the gravy, there cannot be a better or pleasanter sauce.

Nay, if a man be at sea in any long travel, he cannot eat more wholesome and pleasant meat than these whole greets, boiled in water till they burst, and then mixed with batter, and so eaten with spoons; which, although seamen call it simply by the name of loblolly, yet there is not any meat, how magnificent soever the name may be, that is more toothsome or wholesome. To conclude, there is no way or purpose whatsoever to which a man can use or employ rice, but with the same seasoning and order you may employ the whole greets of oatmeal, and have full as good and wholesome meat, and as well tasted.

The recipe for the day is for Oat Cakes, courtesy of A Modern System of Domestic Cookery, by Mrs. Radcliffe (1823)

Oat Cakes.
Sift a quarter of a peck of fine oatmeal; then take rather more than a pint of milk-warm water, half a gill of mild ale or good small beer yeast, and half an ounce of salt; stir them well together for about ten minutes, strain the whole into the oatmeal, mix the dough high in the same manner as for muffins, and let it remain an hour to rise. Afterward, roll it up with the hand, and pull it into pieces about the size of an egg; roll them out with a rolling-pin on a good deal of flour, cover them with flannel, and they will soon rise to a proper thickness. Should they, however, be found either too big or too little, it will be easy to roll the dough accordingly. They are to be baked on an iron plate, just like muffins. Toast them crisp on both sides, but do not burn them ; then pull them open, and they will appear like a honey-comb; lay in some butter, clap the two pieces again together, and only use a knife for the purpose of afterward cutting them into pieces. This is the best method of preparing muffins, as well as oat cakes.

Quotation for the Day.

One of life's best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you've got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.
Robert Fulghum

1 comment:

srhcb said...

I've always divided "difficulties" into problems and dilema. Problems have solutions, while dilema must be dealt with.