Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Iguanodon Dinner.

Tonight is New Year’s Eve - the global secular celebration par excellence, and indisputably THE party night of the year. No doubt we will be reading about some of the more spectacular events in the newspapers, and seeing the more picturesque antics of the rich and famous on television tomorrow.

The New Year’s Eve dinner party I am going to tell you about today takes some beating for sheer ingenuity of venue – and I can pretty well guarantee that it wont be re-enacted in the foreseeable future.

The dinner took place on the last night of 1853. The host was Benjamin Waterhouse, an artist-sculptor who became famous for the dinosaur sculptures (33 in all) that he created for a great exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London. Waterhouse had been working with the palaeontologist who coined the word ‘dinosaur’ – Sir Richard Owen – to give the world its first glimpse of what one of these massive prehistoric creatures looked like.

Waterhouse’s dinner took place inside his mould of the giant iguanodon, at the Crystal Palace. Twenty literary and scientific men were his guests, and a fine dinner was provided, as the following menu shows.

Mock Turtle.    Julien.   Hare.

Cod and Oyster Sauce.   Fillets of Whiting.   Turbot à l’Hollandaise.

Roast Turkey.   Ham.   Raised Pigeon Pie.
Boiled Chicken and Celery Sauce.

Cotolettes de Moutonaux Tomates.    Currie de Lapereaux au riz.
Salmi de Perdrix.       Mayonnaise de filets de Sole.

Pheasants.     Woodcocks.    Snipes.

Macedoine Jelly.    Orange Jelly.    Bavaroise.
Charlotte Russe.    French Pastry.   Nougat à la Chantilly.
Buisson de Meringue aux [Confiture ?]

Grapes. Apples. Pears. Almonds and Raisins. French Plums.
Pines. Filberts. Walnuts &c, &c.

Sherry. Madeira. Port. Moselle. Claret.

Recipe for the Day.

What to chose from this menu? Recipes for many of these classical nineteenth century dishes are scattered through this blog, and was the recipe archive up to date, I could point you there. Sadly, I never seem to find the time to catch up with archiving the last couple of years of recipes, but you can search via the box in the side-bar.

To modern eyes, this dinner seems to offer a great deal of food for twenty people, but the practice of the time was that each guest would make choices from the menu, as we would today in a restaurant. A mere glance at the menu makes me feel sated before I start, so how about a nice fruity jelly today?

Maçedoine Jelly.
Strawberries, raspberries, grapes, currants, and cherries, are the only fruit that can be used raw for a macedoine; but it is to be observed, they should be perfectly ripe; eaches, apricots, apples, and pines, require to be boiled in syrup before they are put into the jelly: in the first place, have a good clear jelly prepared, rather sweet for a macedoine, because raw fruit takes off the sweetness ; put a little jelly into a mould, which you set on the ice, then array the fruit variously, according as your fancy suggests ; then pour in some more jelly; when that is firm, lay more fruit and jelly, and continue to do so till you have filled the mould to the top; keep the jelly in the ice till dinner time, then dip the mould into hot water, turning it into the dish you
intend to serve : in winter, you may make a handsome macedoine with preserved fruit, such as greengages, peaches, pineapples, plums, and cherries.
The Young Cook’s Guide… I. Roberts.1836


(1) Today, if you are Scottish, or wish you were, it is Hogmanay which you can read about HERE.

(2) Today is also the 6th Day of Christmas which you can read about HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

Heaven is what I cannot reach,
The apple on the tree.
Emily Dickinson, Forbidden fruit (c1861)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Potted Beef.

On this day in 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth, the sister of the famous poet, travelled from their home in Grasmere in the beautiful Lake District of England to the nearby town of Keswick. They had a nice snack along the way, without getting off their horses.

“…I went to K. Wm rode before me [ie she sat behind him, on the same horse] to the foot of the hill nearest Keswick. … We ate some potted Beef on Horseback, and a sweet cake…”

Well before the understanding of germs (in the mid-nineteenth century), people were aware that if air was excluded from the container, then food could be kept for longer periods of time. The earliest way in which this was achieved was to enclose the food in a very thick, hard pastry crust or ‘coffin’, the resulting dish being called a bake-mete – an early form of pie. As the seventeenth century progressed, the earthenware pot began to be used as an alternative to the pastry. The meat or fish was cooked slowly and then often pounded to a paste with various seasonings before being placed in the pot and sealed with a good quantity of butter. The following recipe allows a nice deceit too.

Potted Beef As Venison.
Choose a piece of lean beef from the buttock, or other part that has no bone in it; rub it all over with saltpeter, and let it lie twelve hours, then salt it thoroughly with bay salt and common salt in equal parts, well blended. Place it in a pot that will only just contain it; let it be completely covered with water, and remain thus four days; then wipe it well with a cloth, and rub it with pepper beaten to a powder; lay it into a pot without any liquor; put over it a crust of brown flour, and let it bake like large loaves six or seven hours; then take it out, and when it is cool enough pick out all the strings and skins, and beat it in a stone mortar finely. The seasoning must be mace, cloves, and nutmeg reduced to a fine powder; and add a little melted butter in which flour has been absorbed; put it down in pots as closely as you can, and pour clarified butter over it.
The Whole Art of Curing, Pickling, and Smoking Meat and Fish, by James Robinson (Practical Curer), 1847.


(1) Dorothy Wordsworth has appeared in previous stories on this blog: they are HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

(2)  It is also the 5th Day of Christmas, which was the topic of the post HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

Nor is it the act of a sinner,
When breakfast is taken away,
To turn your attention to dinner;
And it’s not in the range of belief,
That you could hole him as a glutton,
Who, when he is tired of beef,
Determines to tackle the mutton.

W.S Gilbert, from Songs of a Savoyard.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Eat Texan Today.

When I first started this blog, the theme was a very broad interpretation of “What Happened on this Day in Food History”. The source of inspiration each day was what, in my head, I grandly call my Food History Almanac (a computer file so large that even in cyberspace it is too heavy and unwieldy ever to be published – although, being the eternal optimist, I do live in perpetual hope.)

Methinks I shall return to this theme for the next week or so. OK?

Today, December 29th, is Texas Admission Day. That is, the anniversary of the admission of the state of Texas to the Union in 1845. So, today is a fine opportunity to address my neglect of this particular corner of the good old US of A.

My difficulty is that I know nothing about the food of Texas apart from what I have learned from watching cowboy movies. I do admit to being greatly intrigued by this dish called ‘chili’, as I love any dish containing ‘chillies’ (or is that ‘chiles’?).

A love of dishes containing chillies hardly, however, qualifies me to enter the ongoing debate about what constitutes an authentic recipe. I assume it is an interpretation of chili con carne? I can say that the dish was already a local delicacy (if anything containing chillies can be said to be delicate) by 1893, when a State chili booth was set up at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

To compensate for the void that is my knowledge of Texan food, I give you a small collection of other people’s thoughts on the topic, and I eagerly await feedback from those of you better informed.

“Texas does not, like any other region, simply have indigenous dishes. It proclaims them. It congratulates you, on your arrival, at having escaped from the slop pails of the other 49 states.”
Alistair Cooke.

“To the goggling unbeliever (Texans) say - as people always say about their mangier dishes – “but it's just like chicken, only tenderer.” Rattlesnake is, in fact, just like chicken, only tougher.”
Alistair Cooke

[On Texas chilli] “It can only truly be Texas red if it walks the thin line just this side of indigestibility: Damning the mouth that eats it and defying the stomach to digest it, the ingredients are hardly willing to lie in the same pot together.”
John Thorne, Simple Cooking

“Congress should pass a law making it mandatory for all restaurants serving chili to follow a Texas recipe.”
Harry James (band leader and trumpeter.)

To give an ‘authentic’ historic recipe for Texas chili clearly puts this little Aussie at far too great a risk of offending a large percentage of her readers. May I compromise, and instead give you a recipe for Chili Sauce, taken from a Texan newspaper (The Hearn Democrat) of October 7, 1927?

Chili Sauce.
5 quarts chopped ripe tomatoes.
2 cupfuls chopped red pepper.
2 cupfuls chopped green pepper.
1 ½ cupfuls chopped onions.
3 tablespoonfuls salt.
1 cupful sugar.
3 cupfuls vinegar.
1 teaspoonful cloves.
1 teaspoonful allspice.
1 teaspoonful cinnamon.
Combine the chopped vegetables, the salt, the sugar, and simmer this mixture until it begins to thicken. Then add the vinegar and spices and cook the mixture down until it becomes a thick sauce. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal. Or bottle the sauce and seal with wax. This recipe yields about three quarts of sauce.

For dessert, may I suggest Texas Pecan Pie?


Today is also the 4th Day of Christmas: to read a previous blog post on this, go HERE.

Monday, December 28, 2009

An Italian Cake for Me.

Today is my birthday and tomorrow I am going to the beach with my gorgeous little grandson (and his parents). Usually I have stories written ahead and pre-posted, but somehow I have used the supply up, and must do them on the hoof, so to speak - so it is quite possible that posts will be shorter than normal for a week – the distractions of sun, sand, sea and good food and wine being what they are.

Today, I give you my chosen birthday cake recipe, and hope that one of you will make it for me and send it to me by express post. I am co-opting a Christmas cake for the purpose. It is from The Italian Confectioner, by William Alexis Jarrin (1827)

Another sort of Spongati, or Italian Christmas Cakes.
Five yolks of fresh eggs; one pound seven ounces of sugar in powder; seven ounces of bread, dried and powdered; one pound two ounces of almonds, blanched and roasted like cocoa; four ounces of wild pine-apple kernels [pine nuts]; three drachms of fine cinnamon; three drachms of cloves; three and a half drachms of nutmeg; two ounces of preserved cedratys*; and one drachm of ground pepper.
This mixture must likewise be put into a crust or covering made of the following paste, viz. steep two ounces of gum-dragon [gum traganth] in twice its volume of orange-flower water, and put on your marble slab fourteen pounds of pulverized sugar, and six pounds of fine starch; add your gum, and strain it through a cloth like the paste for drops; form a malleable paste by adding a little white wine; make your crust, put in the above ingredients, and cover them with thick wafer paper; make them an inch thick. You may have wooden moulds representing different subjects, into which you may put your paste, and fill the moulds as above, covering them with a wafer paper. They must be kept in a stove in a gentle heat a day before they are baked, in a slack oven.

*The Cedraty [Citron]: a fragrant and beautiful variety of the lemon species growing chiefly in Italy and the South of France is preserved in quarters in the same manner as the quince.


Today is also the 3rd day of Christmas: you can read an explication of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and a story about the 1st day, HERE. You can catch up with the 2nd day of Christmas HERE, and the 3rd day is HERE.

Quotation for the Day.
I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, toys not included.
Bernard Manning.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Old, Christmas New.

My dear readers and friends: whether, at this time of the year, you celebrate Chanukah, Christmas, Saturnalia, Newtonmas, the Soltice, or simply a day off work, I wish you a happy and peaceful time with those you love and who love you.

In case you should find yourselves in need of a little light reading or listening while you await the cooking or digesting of your dinner, or avoid the cleaning up thereof, I give you the following little treats.

Christmas Past and Christmas Present: the podcast.

I recently took part in a program on ABC Radio National on the subject of the traditional Christmas dinner. I was honoured to share air-time with the marvellous Australian cook, food writer, television personality Maggie Beer.  You can download the podcast HERE.

Christmas Pie.

Please enjoy a slice of Christmas Pie HERE. My book Pie: A Global History gets a mention in this delightful Christmas e-card (middle wedge on the left), but please do start with the lovely music in the top right, and work your way around, slice by slice.

Historic Christmas Menus.

The menu of Queen Victoria’s Christmas Dinner in 1899 is HERE.

Christmas in Faraway Places: menus from explorers and travellers from a previous blog post are HERE.

The menu of Christmas dinner held by the Duke of Buckingham in 1808, and attended by the exiled French King Louis XVIII is HERE.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas in 1674.

No matter how many guests you are having over the next day or two, and how much cooking you are submerged in, the following Christmas dinner menu suggestion will probably give you a little perspective. It is from The English and French Cook, by ‘several approved Cooks of London and Westminster’, 1674.

A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day.

A Coller of Brawn with a large sprig of rosemary, iced.
Stewed broth of mutton and marrow bones.
Boil’d Partridge.
A Sur-loyn of beef.
Minced Pyes.
A made-dish of Sweet-breads.
A roasted Swan.
A Venison Pasty.
A Steak Pye.
Venison Roasted.
A Turkey stuck with Cloves, and roasted.
Bran Geese, roasted.
Roasted Capons.

Second Course.
A whole Kid, roasted.
Two couple of Rabbets, two larded.
A Pig souc’d, with Tongues.
Three Ducks, one larded.
Half a dozen Teal roasted.
Half a dozen Plovers, some larded and roasted.
A Quince-Pye.
Half a dozen Wood-cocks, some larded.
Two dozen of Larks, roasted.
Powdered Geese.
Dryed Neats Tongues.

That is not all: saving the best till last, perhaps, these two courses would have been followed by a separate ‘banquet’ course of sweetmeats, fruit, biscuits and other small sweet treats. Although the number that this is intended to serve is not stated, this is still an awesome amount of food. Of course any household owning a copy of The English and French Cook would certainly have had a large number of kitchen and serving staff – but no appliances, no oven thermometers, and no refrigeration.

Two particular ideas jump out at me from this menu. One is the ‘large sprig of rosemary, iced’ to decorate the collar of brawn. A frosty-looking sprig of rosemary must have looked like a mini snowy Christmas tree, mustn’t it? What a lovely garnish. The second thing is the idea of turkey flavoured with cloves: I would never have thought of that, would you?

The recipe for the day, from the same book, is for turkey (with cloves). I remind you that in the seventeenth century, ‘roasting’ meant cooking meat on a spit in front of an open fire, while ‘baking’ specifically referred to cooking in an oven. The difficulty in those times was the lack of shaped metal baking dishes – which did not become possible until the advances in metal technology during the Industrial Revolution. The solution was to make a baking container out of very thick pastry – in other words, a ‘baked’ dish was a form of pie.

Turkey baked in the French fashion.
Having boned your Turkey, lard it with big Lard, then season it with Pepper, Cloves and Mace, Salt and Nutmeg; put into his belly some interlarded Bacon, some Rosemary, Bays, whole Cloves, whole Pepper and Mace, then let it steep all night in White wine; in the morning close it up in a sheet of course [coarse] paste, and bake it in a Pan with the same liquor it was in, it will require four hours baking; when it is enough, serve it on a Pye-plate stuck with Rosemary and Bays, with Mustard and Sugar in saucers.

Quotation for the Day.

This December.
That love weighs more than gold!
Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas in 1507.

Medieval manorial households were like miniature self-sufficient villages, and keeping the community fed was a massive undertaking. In addition to the extended family members and frequent guests, there were large numbers of household staff (including bakers and brewers) and farm workers, and there was also an obligation to provide hospitality to any travellers (and their servants) passing by.

The job of recording the comings and goings from the household and the management of the accounts fell to the steward, who kept a detailed day to day tally in the Household Book. Some of the surviving household books are a marvellous source of information on daily life on a manorial estate, and one of them is a source for us today.

Thornbury is near Bristol in Gloucestershire, England. In 1508, the holder of the manor, the Duke of Buckingham, began to ‘castellate’ the manor – which then became Thornbury Castle, which you can visit today. The Duke’s household book records the guests and provisions for the Christmas just before this conversion began.

Thornbury, The Feast of the Nativity, Saturday 25th December 1507.

Dined 95 gentry, 107 yeoman, 97 garcons. Supped 84 gentry, 114 yeoman, 92 garcons.

Archates: 4 swans price 12s, 4 geese 2s, 5 suckling pigs 20d, 14 capons 8s, 18 chickens 18d, 21 rabbits 3/6d, 1 peacock 2s, 3 mallards 8d, 5 widgeons 10d, 12 teals 12d, 3 woodcocks 8d, 22 syntes 12d, 12 large birds 3d, 400 hens eggs 3/4d, 2 dishes of butter 20d, 10 flagons of milk 10d, 1 flagon of rum 6d, 2 flagons of frumety 4d, in herbs 1c.

Kitchen spent of the Lord’s store:
1 carcase and seven rounds of beef 20s
9 carcases of mutton price 16s
4 pigs 8s
1½ calves 4s

Cellar spent:
11 bottles and 3 quarts of Gascony wine price 13s
1½ pitchers of Rhenish wine price 15d
½ pitcher Malvoisey price 6d
Spent in aile [ale] 171 flagons, 1 quart, price 13s 7½d

In spite of the spelling, it is not difficult to understand the basic meats and so on served at this dinner. This menu is rich in birds – considered fine food partly because, having an aerial life, they were closer to God, and therefore suitable for the fine aristocratic body, especially on a holy day.

It is interesting that ‘flagons’ of ‘frumety’ were purchased. ‘Frumenty’ was a sort of wheat porridge – a staple food for most ordinary folk, but a mere side-dish for the wealthy, and almost obligatory alongside venison. On ‘fish’ (that is, not-meat) days, the well-to-do might have it with porpoise or whale, as in the following recipe, taken from the Form of Cury (the book of the Master Cooks of King Richard II, written about 1390)

Furmente With Porpeys.
Take clene whete and bete it small in a morter and fanne out clene the doust, þenne waisthe it clene and boile it tyl it be tendre and broun. þanne take the secunde mylk of Almaundes & do þerto. boile hem togidur til it be stondyng, and take þe first mylke & alye it up wiþ a penne. take up the porpays out of the Furmente & leshe hem in a dishe with hoot water. & do safroun to þe furmente. and if the porpays be salt. seeþ it by hym self, and serue it forth.
[Form of Cury, c.1390]

Quotation for the Day.

He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.
Roy L. Smith

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Guests: Menus for three days.

Much of the population becomes very mobile around Christmas as everyone tries to catch up with relatives - friendly or not – over a few short days. Often this means overnight (or over several nights) visitors, who must be fed.

As Christmas 1930 approached, the English newspaper - The Manchester Guardian - gave some very specific advice as to how to plan the menu for three days with visitors.

Menus for Three Days

Those who are expecting to have a larger number than usual in the house at Christmas-time may be glad of ideas for feeding their guests. With good supplies of pickled eggs and rashers of bacon ready to hand the breakfasts will require little thought. Then for afternoon tea there is sure to be a large Christmas cake, and this with some fancy biscuits and shortbreads as well as bread and butter, will be ample provender.
Presuming that hot dinners are to be served at midday and cold suppers given at night, the following will be suitable for these meals from Christmas Eve till Boxing Day evening.

Cold ham (a large piece of gammon or whole ham on the table for the first time). Pork pie. Sliced beetroot in vinegar. Chocolate mould. Mincepies. Cheese, biscuits, and butter.

Roast turkey (stuffed with chestnuts or forcemeat, sausages, bread sauce. Steamed potatoes, brussels sprouts. Christmas plum pudding, hard brandy sauce, hot mincepies. Dessert.
Cold ham. Tongue. Tomato salad. Trifle. Fruit jelly. Cheese, celery, biscuits, and butter.
Hot roast beef, horseradish sauce. Baked potatoes, cauliflower and white sauce. Apple and cranberry tarts, custard.
Remains of ham, pork pie, and tongue. Beetroot and celery salad. Fruit salad. Mincepies. Cheese, biscuits, and butter.

A great deal can be prepared for those menus before the actual holiday. [Christmas Day was on a Thursday in 1930] On Tuesday the ham may be boiled, the beetroot cooked, and a batch of mincepies made. And on Wednesday the turkey can be stuffed, more mincepies, and the fruit tarts made as well as the chocolate mould, fruit jelly, trifle, and fruit salad. Then the vegetables for the two days may be prepared and left in cold water to which a little salt has been added. With all these things in readiness, the rest of the kitchen preparations on Christmas and Boxing Days will prove a fairly simple matter.

Recipe for the Day.

Here is a slightly different stuffing for your turkey – from The Times, in 1956.

Watercress and Celery Stuffing.
Chop a head of celery and cut up a bunch of watercress. Also chop an onion finely and cook in 1 ½ oz of butter with the celery for a few moments. Add salt and pepper to taste, and the watercress; continue cooking gently until fat is absorbed. Add, together with 2 oz. of melted butter and the grated rind of a lemon to a basinful of fine breadcrumbs. If a soft stuffing is required, moisten with a little cold water; if, on the other hand, a compact one is required, add a lightly beaten egg and a little scalded milk.

Quotation for the Day.

Were I a philosopher, I should write a philosophy of toys, showing that nothing else in life needs 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 (1892-1970), American sociologist.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Four Courses at The Front, 1915.

I thought that in the remaining few posts before Christmas day we would look at some historic menus for the season. There is no doubt that when times are hard (especially when someone is also a long way from home), personal and traditional celebrations take on a new significance. Often a great deal of determination and defiance is needed to carry on regardless – not to mention a great deal of imagination and humour.

One English army officer of WW I wrote a letter to The Times in which he described the very satisfying surprise Christmas dinner he enjoyed “somewhere in France” in 1915.

A non-commissioned officer in an Infantry regiment writes from France:-
I’ve got quite settled down again, and am at present suffering from bad indigestion consequent upon a huge and most unexpected Christmas dinner. It happened thus.
We are quartered in a large chateau “somewhere in, &c.”, and the C.O. gave a swagger dinner to the officers – a real imitation of the Ritz affairs. I have a little room to myself (the study of the one-time owner, now an officer in the French army), and was sitting disconsolate therein. The adjutant strolled in, and asked me what I liked to drink! Result – one bottle of port. He then gave orders that a portion of the banquet should be brought in for me and one of my clerks, which was awfully decent of him. In about ten minutes came course 1 – soup. Course 2 – turkey, peas, greens, and “spuds”, and gravy followed; and then close on the heels of this came course 3 – plum pudding and brandy sauce. No.4 consisted of cherries and blancmange, and this was hotly pursued by fruit, nuts, coffee, cigars, crackers (with paper hats!), various drinks and liqueurs. How’s that for Christmas on active service,eh?
The sequel was amusing. I gravely discussed some business matters after dinner with an officer decorated with a paper “baby’s bonnet”, and a wreath of paper festoons, myself likewise ornamented with a gaudy plumed helmet and flourishing a bunch of grapes.

The Vintage Christmas Recipes archive has many choices for the soup, turkey, and pudding on this menu, so I invite you to visit it for inspiration. The Christmas recipe archive does not, however, appear to have any recipes for ‘spuds’- for these you will have to visit the Fun With Potatoes collection.

Before I could turn to the challenge of giving you a WW I recipe for ‘spuds’ the word itself. The first port of call, of course, is the Oxford English Dictionary. This gives a number of definitions for ‘spud’, my ridiculously brief and highly selective summary of which is:

- in the fifteenth century it meant ‘a short and poor knife or dagger’
- in the seventeenth century it meant ‘an iron head or blade socketed on or fixed to a plough-staff’, and also ‘a digging or weeding implement of the spade-type, having a narrow chisel-shaped blade.
- by the early nineteenth century it was ‘a digging fork with three broad prongs’
- by the mid-nineteenth century it had come to mean ‘a potato’ – with the specific citation being from the
English social researcher Henry Mayhew’s extensive writings on ‘London Labour and the London Poor.’ The context was of ‘spuddy’ as ‘a nickname for a seller of bad potatoes.’

The word ‘spud’ itself is, (as if you could not guess), of ‘obscure origin.’ I am sure someone somewhere has some theories, and one day I am going to continue this little research thread.

In the meanwhile, the recipe idea for the day comes from an article on ‘Simple Hints for Light Dishes, appearing in The Times just before Christmas in 1915.

Stuffed Vegetables.
Besides stuffed tomatoes, it is possible to make light and seasonable lunch dishes by stuffing baked potatoes or baked onions with ordinary mince, having removed the centres, and then putting them back into the oven to get quite hot. A pinch of chopped herbs, a little chutney, or a tiny pinch of mace makes a good seasoning, but this part must never to overdone.

Quotation for the Day.

It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.
Douglas Adams.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Finishing Touch.

There are lots of options to gild the lily that is your Christmas pudding. For many of us, it is custard, pure and simple. For many of you, it may be ice-cream. For some, it is the ‘traditional’ brandy butter’ (or ‘hard sauce’) that featured in yesterday’s post.

If none of these please or excite you, I give you a selection of pudding sauces from The Times of October 17, 1928.

Brandy Sauce.
Cream together two ounces of butter and two ounces of sugar and add very slowly two tablespoonfuls of brandy. Beat very thoroughly and then add the well-beaten yolks of two eggs and a quarter of a pint of cream or milk. Cook in a double saucepan or over hot water until it thickens, then pour on to the beaten whites of the eggs and serve immediately.

Caramel Brandy Sauce.
This is prepared in the same way, but with brown sugar instead of white.

White Wine Sauce.
Cream together four ounces of butter and the same quantity of fine white sugar. Gradually add three tablespoonfuls of sherry or Madeira, stirring it very carefully. Pile it up in a glass dish and sprinkle it with nutmeg. Keep it in a very cold place until it is to be served.

Rum Syrup.
This is made by simply boiling half a cupful of sugar in a cupful of water for five minutes, and then adding a quarter of a cupful of rum. This sauce is excellent served with omelettes and soufflés.

Maraschino Sauce.
Boil two thirds of a cupful of water and then add two tablespoonfuls of cornflour mixed with two tablespoonfuls of sugar. Boil well, stirring until the mixture thickens and cooks. Then add two ounces of Maraschino cherries, chopped, and a half a cupful of Maraschino syrup. A tablespoonful of cream may be added at the last, if liked.

Apricot Sauce.
Put three tablespoonfuls of apricot jam into a saucepan with half a cupful of water. Boil, remove from the stove, and add a wineglass of sherry. Rub through a sieve or strainer and bring once more to boiling point. Add a dessertspoonful of cornflour mixed to a paste with cold water. Stir until the sauce thickens.

Coffee Sauce.
Boil half a pint of black coffee with two ounces of loaf sugar to make a syrup. Then add a dessertspoonful of cornflour, mixed as before with cold water. Stir until the sauce thickens and cook. Strain and serve.

Quotation for the Day.

Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes. It makes people overjoyed, and puts them in your debt.
Judith Olney.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Brandy, Rum, or Hard?

I was asked recently about the history of Brandy Butter in its role as a traditional sauce for Christmas Pudding. Those of you who are regular readers will be aware that I have trouble with the concept of ‘traditional’ in relation to the foods that we eat at particular times or in particular circumstances.

How long does something have to been happening for it to become ‘traditional’? We have a tradition in our family of having red sparkling wine at brunch on Christmas morning (a token drink only, along with the customary berries in some form or other, - it is, after all, very early in the day!) This custom was begun by my son-in-law (knowing my great love of sparkling reds),who has been part of our family for something over a dozen years. Is a dozen years long enough for something to become a tradition? Of course it is!

The ‘traditional Christmas dinner’ (the formula of turkey, ham, flaming Christmas pudding etc) is largely a nineteenth century English construct, for which many historians blame Charles Dickens. Not an ancient tradition at all.

So – what of brandy butter (or ‘hard sauce’, in the US)?

In a previous series on English sauces, we found that for many cookery book writers of olden times, the signature English sauce was ‘melted butter’ (although the phrase often referred to a béchamel type sauce, not simply butter, melted.) Although this perhaps establishes butter as a favoured ingredient in sauces, this is, however, the complete antithesis of hard flavoured butter (which seems to me to be more like butter icing – or frosting, if you prefer.)

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first written reference to ‘brandy butter’ as occurring in 1939, which is clearly very belated. Although the citation (which is also a recipe) occurs under the listing of ‘brandy butter’, it primarily references ‘hard sauce’:

In the USA, a Hard Sauce is made with one measure of fresh butter to two of castor sugar... In England, a similar sauce is called Brandy Butter or Rum Butter.’

Strangely, there is no entry under ‘hard’, but under ‘rum’ we have 'Rum butter, a hard sauce made from rum and butter', with the citation coming from an English cookery book of 1889.

Certainly rum butter (heavily nutmeggy in flavouring) has been considered a specialty in Cumberland (the Lake District) of England since at least early in the nineteenth century. I have no idea why this lovely English region should have a local specialty containing a Caribbean liquor – perhaps some early smuggling pursuits? (Cumbrians, come for the with your theories, please!)

Some by-no-means exhaustive research has uncovered the following snippets, which I give you for your consideration and delectation.

Brandy Butter Sauce For Plum Pudding.
A quarter of a pound of butter to be beaten with a wooden spoon all one way till it looks like thick cream; then add a quarter of a pound of loaf sugar (less is better) a glass of sherry, and a small glass of brandy; mix well with the butter and sugar adding only a small quantity at a time.
Dainty Dishes, by Lady Harriet Elizabeth St. Clair, 1866

Hard Sauce.
Two tablespoonfuls of butter.
Ten tablespoonfuls of sugar.
Work this till white, then add wine and spice to your taste.
Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, (American) 1848

Rum Butter.
Warm a pound of butter and a pound of brown sugar in a basin. Beat it to a cream, and add three ounces of rum and a grated nutmeg to taste. It must be quite smooth. Then put into a jar and cover.
The Times, July 25, 1938

P.S The Times gave this recipe as a summer picnic suggestion, for spreading on bread and butter or biscuits instead of jam. Sounds like a good idea to me. How about on scones?

Quotation for the Day.

The chief fuddling they make in the island [Barbados] is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor.
From a manuscript of 1651.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Menu for Hope 2010.

I am delighted to once again be able to offer a prize in this wonderful fundraiser. The event is being hosted for the sixth successive year by the wonderful Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim, and the beneficiary is again the UN World Food Program.

You can read all about it, and browse the list of wonderful prizes, here.

It works like this. Raffle prizes (mostly food-related of course) are offered by food bloggers all over the world. One raffle ticket costs $10 (that is US dollars) 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 2 volume set of my book Menus from History: Historic Meals and Recipes for Every Day in the Year. There are 365 historic menus here, from over seven centuries – one for every day of the year, for an event that actually happened on that day. Each menu has a commentary, and at least one (usually several) recipes for dishes on that menu, taken from cookery books and other sources from that era.
The code for my prize is AP24. You will need to use this number if you want to bid on my book.

Here is what you do:-

1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope list (which is HERE).

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Please specify which bid item you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item, and please use the bid item code.
Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02 - 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 check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Check back on Chez Pim on Monday, January 18 for the results of the raffle.

P.S The list of prizes offered specifically by bloggers in the Asia Pacific, Australia, New Zealand region is at Ed Charles’ blog Tomato.

Queues in the Kitchen.

Yesterday’s story on the bespoke mutton and pudding which came complete with micro-livestock and a few hairs - courtesy of the lice-ridden kitchen boy - reminded me of an interesting example of entrepreneurial activity from the past. The article is from Popular Mechanics, in February 1921, and in this case, hair is a positive benefit in the kitchen.

Buy Chinese Queues to Make Hair Filters for Soup.
Because long-strand human hair makes an almost ideal filter for straining soup, and other liquid foods, in preparation for canning, a certain manufacturer is reported to have bought recently some $800,000 worth of Chinese queues. These will be used in place of the goat-hair filters formerly employed because of their comparative cheapness. Human hair for various purposes has long been an article of Chinese export, but when the wearing of “pigtails” went out of fashion in the celestial land several years ago, an enormous supply of the material was created. The enterprising buyer was able to obtain for his money a total of 2,450,000 of the long plaits, comprising a load for about 28 freight cars.

I cannot imagine the work involved in making a sieve from hair!

One of the other old methods of making a very clear broth or fine puree in the old days was to strain it through a bolt of fabric – another laborious job, which must have created an enormous pile of difficult laundry. Thank heavens for blenders and food processors, I say!

Here is a recipe for celery soup which specifies a hair sieve. It is from The Cook’s Own Book, by Mrs. N.K.M.Lee (‘A Boston Housekeeper’).

Split half a dozen heads of celery into slips about two inches long; wash them well; lay them on a hair sieve to drain, and put them into three quarts of clear gravy soup in a gallon soup-pot; set it by the side of the fire to stew very gently till the celery is tender; this will take about an hour. If any scum rises take it off; season with a little salt.
Obs.- When celery cannot be procured, half a drachm of the seed, pounded fine, which may be considered as the essence of celery, put in a quarter of an hour before the soup is done, and a little sugar will give as much flavor to half a gallon of soup as two heads of celery weighing seven ounces or add a little essence of celery.

Quotation for the Day.

Do not arouse disdainful mind when you prepare a broth of wild grasses; do not arouse joyful mind when you prepare a fine cream soup.
Dogen (Japanese 13th C Buddhist monk and philosopher)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Bespoke Pudding.

Yesterday we considered the joys of bespeaking the suet for an authentic Christmas pudding. Today I give you a cautionary tale about bespeaking a pudding itself.

This tale does not take place at Christmas, but at a time when puddings had a regular place at every dinner. These were suet puddings, boiled in a cloth and meant to fill the belly, often with the specific purpose of ekeing out the more expensive meat – in which case they were ‘plain’ and served with the broth or gravy. Often of course they were the everyday version of the Christmas pudding – sweetened, and hopefully studded with raisins or apples or other fruit – and, if you were very lucky, perhaps served with a sweet sauce.

The heroes of our tale are none other than the famous Dr Samuel Johnson, and his young biographer James Boswell. We have met the pair before on a number of occasions, and already know Dr Johnson’s mindfulness of his belly, and his particular reverence for pudding. The story takes place during the journey the pair took to Scotland in 1773. It is related by “a traveller” in Scotland many years later, who, with a storm approaching, took refuge in small inn.

Dr Johnson’s Pudding.

The landlord I found to be as the Scotch generally are, very intelligent, and full of anecdote, of which the following may serve as a specimen.
“Sir,”said he, “this inn was formerly kept by Andrew McGregor, a relation of mine, and these hard-bottomed chairs in which we are now sitting, were years ago filled by the great tourists Dr Johnson and Boswell, travelling like the lion and jackal. Boswell usually preceded the doctor in search of food. Being much pleased with the cooks of the house he followed his nose into the larder where he saw a fine leg of mutton: he ordered it to be roasted with the utmost expedition, and gave particular orders for a nice pudding. ‘Now,’ said he ‘make the best of pudding.’ Elated with his good luck he immediately went out in search of his friend, and saw the giant of learning slowly advancing on a pony.
‘My dear sir,’ said Boswell, out of breath with joy and good news, ‘I have just bespoke in a comfortable and clean inn here, a delicious leg of mutton; it is now getting ready, and I flatter myself we shall make an excellent meal.’
Johnson looked pleased. ‘And I hope,’ said he ‘you have bespoke a pudding.’
‘Sir, you have your favorite pudding,’ said the other.
Johnson got off the pony, the poor animal relieved of the giant, smelt his way into the stable. Boswell ushered the doctor into the house, and left him to prepare for the delicious treat. Johnson felt his coat rather damp from the mists of the mountains, went into the kitchen, and threw his upper garment on a chair before the fire. He sat on a hob near a little boy who was very busy attending to the meat. Johnson occasionally peeped from behind his coat, while the boy kept basting the mutton. Johnson, moreover, did not like in the least the appearance of his head, when he shifted the basting ladle from one hand, and the other was never idle; and the doctor thought at the same time he saw something fall on the meat, upon which he determined to eat no mutton on that day.
The dinner being announced, Boswell exclaimed –
‘My dear doctor here comes the mutton. What a picture! Done to a turn and looks so beautifully brown!’
The doctor tittered. After a short grace, Boswell said, -
‘I suppose I have to carve as usual. What part shall I help you to?’
The doctor replied, ‘My dear boy, I did not like to tell you before, but I am determined to abstain from meat to day.’
‘O dear, this is a disappointment,’ said Bozzy.
‘Say no more, I shall make myself ample amends with the pudding.’
Boswell commenced the attack and made the first cut at the mutton. ‘How the gravy runs! What fine-flavoured fat, so nice and brown too! Ah, sir, you would have relished this prime piece of mutton.’
The meat being removed in came the long-wished-for pudding. The doctor looked joyous; fell eagerly to, and in a few minutes nearly finished all the pudding. And Mr Boswell said, -
‘Doctor, while I was carving the mutton, you seemed inclined to laugh; pray tell me what tickled your fancy?’
The doctor then literally told him all that had passed at the kitchen fire about the boy and the basting. Boswell turned as pale as a parsnip, and sick of himself and the company, darted out of the room. Somewhat relieved on returning, he insisted on seeing the dirty little rascally boy, whom he severely reprimanded before Johnson. The poor boy cried, the doctor laughed.
‘ You snivelling fellow.’ said Boswell, ‘why did you not put on the cap I saw you in this morning.’
‘I couldn’t sir,’ said the boy.
‘Why couldn’t you?’ said Boswell.
‘Because my mamma took it from me to boil the pudding in.’
The doctor gathered up his herculean frame - stood erect - touched the ceiling with his wig - squinted – indeed, looked any way but the right way.
At last with mouth wide open, and none of the smallest, and stomach heaving, he with some difficulty recovered his breath, and looking at Boswell with dignified contempt, he roared out, -
‘Mr Boswell, sir, leave off laughing, and under pain of my eternal displeasure, never utter a single syllable of this abominable adventure to any man living while you breathe.’ ”

[From The cyclopaedia of anecdotes of literature and the fine arts, by Kazlitt Irvine, 1856]

To sweeten the pudding, I give you a brief idea from yesterday’s recipe source, a 1939 edition of The Times.

Honey and Butter Sauce.
Mix a cupful of heated strained honey with a third as much melted butter and a tablespoon of rum.

Other Stories featuring Dr Johnson and James Boswell are to be found here, here, here, here, and 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 (1783-1859)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bespoke Suet.

I dedicate today’s story to those of you who have had the purity and foresight to order bespoke suet for your Christmas pudding, as well as to those who have ever tried to earn a living wage from their writing.

From the New Monthly Magazine in 1822, I repeat for your enjoyment, the following letter to the editor:


MR EDITOR, - For the sake of giving harmonious clearness to this Essay, let me describe the circumstances that have induced me to send it. This is beginning ab ovo, or from the egg; but what then? is a fresh egg an unimportant ingredient in a plum pudding? I must also speak of myself. But be so good, Sir, as to respect me; for though poor, I am a gentleman. I am no admirer of such vulgar plum puddings as are doled out to the unwashed artificer from the common cook's shop or the wheelbarrow. No, Sir, I love only such as breathe, like Milton's music, “a steam of rich distilled perfumes.” Such were those which were once revealed to me from beneath the silver cover of my friend; - but he is gone, and with him the days of pleasurable and pudding recollections - perhaps never to return.
I live genteelly in an attic lodging up three pair of stairs, and support myself and a grey cat in a state of honourable independence and sleekness - (I apply the sleekness to my cat and not myself.) Necessity, however, drove me lately to make a sly attempt at employment from a bookseller. I called on Messrs. Blank and Blank – (well may I call them blank, for they sent me away very blank, and I could have piously tossed them in a blanket.) I inquired about literature, and how authors contrived to live. “On bullock's liver,” said the bookseller. “We have two hundred sermons a year from the Reverend Hum Drum, and fifty volumes of history from Dr Dryrott , warranted to us better than Hume's, or Robertson's, at the rate of a halfpenny a paragraph. High feeding Sir, makes authors abdominous and stupid. What clever selling elegies Boyce would have written, with his hand stuck through a hole in the blanket, had you kept him from porter. But we are liberal, Sir, - nobody more so.” I thought to myself, there is no plum-pudding to be found here; and went home chop-fallen to dine on a solitary chop. But the thoughts of plum-pudding still haunted me. Next morning came the red-cheeked and curly-pated butcher's boy to my door, and hinted his expectation of a Christmas-box by a message desiring to know if I wanted any suet for a Christmas-pudding; for that the apothecary over the way had bespoken nine pounds of suet for the aforesaid dish. “Go,” said I, “boy, learn of the apothecary's cook how many guests are to consume this pudding, and be assured of thy Christmas-box.” He returned like lightning. Cook was positive that the dining room could dine only eighteen persons. Now then began I to reflect. Nine pounds of suet, suppose as many of flour, and twice as many of fruit, besides etceteras. Here is half a pound of suet to each particular stomach, without reckoning other things. Let me call upon you Mr Editor, by all that is dear to you in Christmas revels, to reflect on the sublime and beautiful conception of this apothecary's plum pudding. What “double double toil and trouble” to his cook, and what clanging of pestles and future employment for his prentices, thus providently stored up by his hospitality in the bowels of his friends and customers! - I meant to have written a long Essay on the subject, but hope that what 1 have written will bring me a sum sufficient to save me from the horrors of spending Christmas without a pudding. And with respectful compliments from my grey cat, which a punning friend calls a cat of praise-worthy humour, (or laudable pus,) I remain your respectful humble servant,

There are instructions for many suitably suety puddings in the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive. Here is a nice way to ring the changes to any one of them, from The Times of December 18, 1939.

A Good Way with Plum Pudding.
For a change, when dishing up plum pudding, scoop a piece out of the top as large as a teacup. Put four ounces of Demarara sugar in this cavity, and fill up with either clotted cream or brandy butter.

Quotation for the Day.

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.
Peg Bracken.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Buttery.

The last of our kitchen words for this week is ‘buttery’. The buttery was another ‘room’ in a medieval household which has long since become obsolete, for a whole lot of reasons, not merely technological change and shortage of servants.

The word ‘buttery’ – as with our other words this week – has a French origin and a usage in English dating to medieval times. The first thing to clarify about the buttery is that it was not the place where butter was stored - at least, not originally or solely - as even the largest medieval household would not have required an entire room for this purpose.

The buttery was where the butts and bottles (of liquor and wine) were stored – the French connection being obvious in the word bouteille for bottle. In a relatively short time the word was extended to include a room where other provisions were stored (the similarity to the word ‘butter’ no doubt helping this transition) – in other words it was the same as the pantry.

The buttery was the domain of the butler. The modern concept of a butler is of a glorified table servant, standing to attention at the periphery of the range of vision of the Master or Mistress at mealtimes, supervising minutely the work of the staff serving the food, and ready at any instant to pour the wine. Originally however he (it was always a ‘he’) had complete control of the wine and other liquor stores for the household. Because of the high level of responsibility and trust implied by this role, he had a high status in the servant world. A dishonest and poorly supervised butler could, and no doubt often did, divert some of the liquor and wine to his own purposes – this giving rise to the phrase ‘a butler’s grace’, meaning a discretionary drink.

Yesterday we had Hannah Woolley’s comments on scullery maids from her book The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673). She had a warning to those employing butlers:

“In the Buttery and Cellars, that the Butler be careful of not making every idle fellow drunk that comes to the House, and so squander away without credit the Wine, Ale, and Beer.”

Today’s recipe must be for a nice discretionary drink. And who better to advise us than the inimitable and authoritative Sir Kenelme Digby, in his The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby …. (1658)

To Make Wine of Cherries alone.
Take one hundred pounds weight, or what quantity you please, of ripe, but sound, pure, dry and well-gathered Cherries. Bruise and mash them with your hands to press out all their juyce, which strain through a boulter [a cloth], into a deep narrow Woodden tub, and cover it close with clothes [cloths]. It will begin to work and ferment within three or four hours, and a thick foul scum will rise to the top. Skim it off as it riseth to any good head, and presently cover it again. Do this till no more great quantitiy of scum arise, which will be four or five times, or more. And by this means the Liquor will become clear, all the gross muddy parts rising up in scum to the top. When you find that the height of the working is past, and that it begins to go less, turn it into a barrel, letting it run again through a boulter, to keep out all the gross feculent substance. If you should let it stay before you tun it up, till the working were too much deaded, the wine would prove dead. Let it remain in the barrel close stopped, a month or five weeks. Then draw it into bottles, into each of which up a lump of fine Sugar, before you draw the wine into it, and stop them very close, and set them in a cold Cellar. You may drink them after three or four months. This wine is exceedingly pleasant, strong, spiritful, and comfortable.

Quotation for the Day.
It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, one's present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason.
[attribution ?]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Scullery.

It has taken until this, day four of our exploration of ‘kitchen’ words, for me to fully realise the extent to which modern technology has enabled entire rooms to be omitted from modern house design. Food processing, transport, and supermarkets have allowed the pantry room(s) to be replaced by a glorified cupboard and the larder has been made obsolete by the refrigerator. Today we are considering the scullery – also long since gone, albeit with no-one mourning its demise.

The scullery has disappeared thanks to modern plumbing, cleaning products, and especially the dishwasher. Originally it was ‘the department of a household concerned with the care of the plates, dishes, and kitchen utensils … also the room or rooms in which the work of this department is carried on’. By the eighteenth century it was no longer a ‘department’ but merely ‘a small room attached to a kitchen, in which the washing of dishes and other dirty work is done; a back kitchen.’

The scullery was occasionally separate from the main house, presumably in order to distance the dirty and noisy work from the Master and Mistress, thus avoiding offending their aristocratic sensibilities. Sometimes it was where the laundry and brewing were carried out, but primarily it was the place where the big cleaning jobs got done. A large and wealthy household might even have a ‘silver scullery’ where the good cutlery and plate was cleaned and polished.

The first reference for ‘scullery’ cited in the OED is from 1330 – and as with ‘pantry’ and ‘larder’, the word has French connections. The word has its roots in the Latin scutella, meaning a salver or dish-stand. In French this gave rise to esculier ( escuillier, esquelier)- a maker or seller of dishes. The word was further adapted in English to give squiller – the name for a servant in charge of the scullery.

In the servant hierarchy of big houses, the scullery maid was the lowest of the low. Her job (it was always a ‘her’) was to clean, clean, clean. Hannah Woolley in her Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673) has this to say about her duties (although it is highly unlikely that a seventeenth century scullery maid would have been literate, so presumably the instructions would be passed on verbally).

To Scullery-maids in great Houses.
There are several Rooms that you must keep sweet and clean, as the Kitchen, Pantry, Wash-house, &c.
That you wash and scowre all the Plates and Dishes which are used in the Kitchen, also Kettles, Pots, Pans, Chamber-pots, with all other Iron, Brass, and Pewter materials that belong to the Chambers or Kitchen; and lastly you must wash your own Linnen.

The recipe for the day has to be something in a large pot, methinks, to give the scullery maid something to work on. I am returning to my promise of a seventeenth century recipe, and give you the following, from one of the most important cookbooks of the time – William Rabisha’s The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1661)

To make Stewed-Broth.
Take your shins of Beef or Mutton, otherwise what meat is allowed, being washed and set on, scum it clean; then slice your brown bread and soak it in the said Broth; when it is so soaked, rub it through a strainer with your hands, put in as much as you judge will make your Broth thick in the boyling; when it is half boyled, at thereto your Raisons, Currans, and Pruins, according to the quantity of your Broth, with beaten Cloves, Mace, and Cinamon, and Ginger; taking a good quantity of your Pruins up when they are boyled, mash them together, and strain them as you did the bread with the Clarret; so let it continue till its boyled, then season it further with sugar and Rose-water, and serve it up with some of the best of your meat.

Quotation for the Day.

Have you any idea how many kids it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen? Three. It takes one to say, "What light?" and two more to say, "I didn't turn it on."
Erma Bombeck

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Larder

Today in the kitchen word series it is the turn of the larder. Who has a larder these days? Nowadays the word ‘larder’ is sometimes used as a synonym for ‘pantry’, especially if the writer is aiming for a nostalgic feel - the original usage was, however, quite different.

As with ‘pantry’, ‘larder’ has a French heritage, and is no doubt another legacy of those pesky Normans who invaded England in 1066. The OED gives the first recorded use in English as being in 1305, but undoubtedly the word was in use long before this. ‘Larder’ is related, quite obviously, to lard – pig fat, in other words. Originally a larder was a room in which meat (originally probably bacon) was stored, and naturally also other foodstuffs prone to rapid spoilage found a home on its shelves.

The modern refrigerator has of course taken the place of the domestic larder. Before refrigeration technology, a great deal of careful planning went into the building of the larder, as the following extract from The English cookery book: uniting a good style with economy ... by John Henry Walsh, (1859)

The Larder, which is the place set apart for keeping fresh provisions is, and also, in most cases, for the salting of pork, beef, &c., should be placed where it has a thorough draught, and where it is sheltered from the sun. A northerly aspect is therefore the most suitable, or, next to that, an easterly one. The thorough draught cannot always be procured directly; but if it cannot in that way, a large air-drain may be carried under the floor to the opposite side of the house, where a grating may be fixed, and thus a free draught may be obtained. Underground larders are seldom efficient for the keeping of meat, because this perfect draught is not attainable except in windy weather, when there is little difficulty in effecting its preservation; but in moist and muggy weather the air is quite stagnant in the basement story of a town house, and consequently, though tolerably cool, the air is not rapidly changed, and putrefaction goes on without let or hindrance. To fit up a larder for a small house merely requires a number of deal shelves and a door, of which the panels are replaced by plates of perforated zinc, of a pattern sufficiently close to prevent the entrance of flies, yet large enough to admit the air freely. Where there is also a window, it should in like manner be guarded by similar sheets of zinc.

I know I promised at the beginning of the week that all recipes would be from the seventeenth century – I have no idea why I promised that, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but instead I give you one from the same source as the above quotation.

Egg and Bacon Pie to Eat Cold.
Steep a few thin slices of bacon all night in water, lay them in a pie dish; beat eight eggs with a pint of cream, add pepper and salt, and pour it on the bacon; cover with a crust, and bake in a moderate oven the day before you require it.

Quotation for the Day.

Next was November, he full gross and fat, As fed with lard, and that right well might seem; For, he had been a fatting hogs of late.
Edmund Spenser

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Pantry.

This is our week of ‘kitchen’ words, and today it is the turn of the pantry. There is no need for scholarly research here, an educated guess about the word’s origins will suffice. The word ‘pantry’ is related to the French word pain for bread, and pain was stored in a paneterie.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives the first reference in English to ‘pantry’ as being in 1325, and defines it as: 'Originally: a room or set of rooms in a large household in which bread and other provisions are kept. Later also: a room used for storing china, silverware, table linen, and glass ...'

The pantry now finds itself in much reduced circumstances, the ‘room or set of rooms’ now more usually a mere glorified cupboard – certainly no longer sufficient to require its own management person. In a large medieval household, the pantry was the domain of the pantler (or panter) – an officer whose role was later absorbed into that of the butler (more on the butler later in the week.)

By the mid-nineteenth century, the housekeeper/cook was in charge of the pantry, and she would be overseen by the Mistress herself. In a well-regulated household, the Mistress would make it her duty to inspect the kitchen each day, as per the following advice given in The Housekeeper’s Guide (1838)

At least twice a week there will be a thorough clearing of the pantry, and in summer this must not be allowed to pass the second day. Habit and experience will teach the housekeeper to provide a sufficiency and no more, according to the style of table required, and humanity will impel her to give to the poor any remaining surplus while it is still palatable and wholesome.
The salt-pan must be daily attended to,- that meat is properly salted, turned daily, and dressed in due time; and if the servant be young and thoughtless, it may be necessary for the mistress daily to look into the bread-pan and cheese-pan also, at least until she has got into the habit thoroughly inwrought in her, of daily wiping those pans with a dry cloth, and scalding them once a week …

This careful attention to food hygiene and to minimising waste was a hallmark of efficient kitchens in the past, and one that perhaps we would do well to reinstate.Safe methods of food preservation (particularly refrigeration) have obviated the need for many of these old kitchen routines, but there is surely another factor operating today too. We are distant from our food sources, and as a result have developed an ‘easy-come, easy-go’ attitude to the provisions that find their way into our pantries and refrigerators – to the extent (we are told,) that one fifth of the food that we purchase is thrown away. Is that not a disgrace?

The following recipe, from the source of the above insights into nineteenth century kitchen management, even recycles the water (now broth or stock) in which salt meat has been boiled.

Ox Heart Stewed.
Cut it up lengthways into thin long pieces. Put them into a stew-pot with a table-spoon of salt, and as much liquor as will cover them. (If the liquor has boiled salt meat, little or no salt must be added). It will throw up a great deal of scum or blood,which clear off as fast as it rises; then add six or eight moderate sized onions, a stick or two or celery cut up, and a dozen of parboiled potatoes; let them stew gently together till all is tender and well incorporated. A quarter of an hour before serving, rub up an ounce of butter with as much flour as it will carry, and a wine-glassful of catsup or walnut pickles.

Quotation for the Day.

My curse upon your whunstane hearts, Ye Enbrugh Gentry! The tythe o' what ye waste at cartes Wad stow'd his pantry!
Robert Burns

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Kitchen.

This week I want to have fun with ‘kitchen’ words – starting with ‘kitchen’ itself. I also intend, for no reason other than writer’s privilege, to keep the recipe offerings firmly in the seventeenth century.

The word kitchen is very ancient; the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites the earliest known reference to it in the year 1000. The derivation is convoluted, to say the least, as a result of which there are many and varied spellings. It appears to be associated with Latin words relating to cookery - coquere (to cook), coquinas (of cookery), and coquus (cook), and the early example given by the OED also begins with ‘c’ - cycene . This became kitchene, kychene, or kechene in Middle English, the letter ‘t’ therefore being a late addition.

We don’t need the OED to know that a kitchen is “That room or part of a house in which food is cooked; a place fitted with the apparatus for cooking.” There is another use of the word cited in the dictionary however, which was certainly new to this little word fossicker:

Formerly also kitchen meat: Food from the kitchen; hence, any kind of food (as meat, fish, etc.), eaten with bread or the like, as a relish; by extension, anything eaten with bread, potatoes, porridge, or other staple fare to render it more palatable or more easily eaten. Thus butter or cheese is ‘kitchen’ to bare bread, milk is ‘kitchen’ to porridge. Chiefly Sc. or north. Ir. (= Welsh enllyn.)

So, I give you a nice recipe for some ‘kitchen’ to your bread – a ‘marmalade’ of plums - from The Queen’s Closet* Opened: Incomparable Secrets in Physick, Chyrugery, Preserving, Candying, and Cookery; As They Were Presented to the Queen By the Most Experienced Persons of our times … by W.M (‘one of her late Servants), 1658. This would have been a very stiff, dry, paste – not quite so much boiling would give a more acceptable modern ‘jam’ consistency.

To make Marmalet of any tender Plum.

Take your Plums, and boil them between two dishes on a Chafing-dish of coals, then strain it, and take as much Sugar as the pulp do weigh, and put to it as much Rose water, and fair water as will melt it, that is, half a pint of water to a pound of Sugar, and so boil it to a Candy height, then put the pulp into hot sugar, with the pap of a roasted apple. In like manner you must put roasted Apples to make Paste Roayl of it, or else it will be tough in the drying.

*A ‘closet’ was a private room or chamber, in the seventeenth century often specifically referred to one used to make or store sweetmeats and preserves.

Quotation for the Day.

I liked the energy of cooking, the action, the camaraderie. I often compare the kitchen to sports and compare the chef to a coach. There are a lot of similarities to it..

Todd English

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Walking Cake.

I came across a rather intriguing advertisement recently, in an American newspaper from 1930 (the Lebanon Daily News). The Lebanon Hardware Company were holding a very interesting cooking demonstration:


Do not fail to witness this UNUSUAL EVENT. The cake is 17x17 inches, 5 layers high - Baked right here in our store, in a Majestic operated with a paper smoke pipe. Ten ladies will stand on this monster cake. After being crushed it conies back to its former height, and is served to those present.

It seems that the Majestic Range Air-Tight Oven had been promoted in this way for several decades. An advertisement from 1911 explained (and illustrated) how a large number of ladies (in this case twenty –five!) could stand on one cake – two 12-foot planks were placed upon it, crushing it flat, whereupon ‘in five minutes it will rise to its natural height, when it will be cut and served to all present.’

What sort of cake pops back up to its original size after having twenty-five ladies stand on it? The only other reference to a ‘walking cake’ references a baba – as a cake suitable for folk to eat on the run. A baba does not seem to be the cake in the advertisement. Can any of my enthusiastic informants out there offer any more information?

I don’t think this baba would stand up to the treatment.

Baba with Raisins.
Mix half an ounce of German yeast and four ounces of sifted flour with warm water to a soft dough, and put it near the fire to rise. Rub twelve ounces of butter into twelve ounces of flour, work it into a smooth paste with eight well-beaten eggs, one ounce of powdered sugar, and a little salt. When the paste is ready, and the sponge sufficiently risen, blend them well together and mix in two ounces of finely minced candied citron-peel, two ounces of well-dried currants, and three ounces of stoned raisins. Butter a small mould – fill it about half full, and allow it to rise until it is nearly at the top, when it may be baked at once in a moderate oven.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, 1870’s.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tea-time again.

As I said yesterday, postings may be briefer than usual for a short while for various reasons beyond my control – including internet access. [Postscript: just restored – so almost normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!]

Today I give you some hints from The Times, of June 10, 1940 – a nice article on old and new favourites for wartime tea parties.

“Tea-time entertaining offers no great difficulties. Good cakes can be made without eggs. A tablespoon of golden syrup to half a teacup of milk may be used in place of two eggs. The addition of a spoonful of good strong coffee makes the mixture darker and richer looking.”

An Eggless Cake.
Melt half a pound of dripping with two ounces of golden syrup in a pan on the stove. Pour in half a pint of milk, and stir in very thoroughly a previously made mixture of a pound of self-raising flour, half a pound each of stoned raisins and brown sugar, and a teaspoon each of ground mixed spice and cinnamon. To conclude add a teaspoon of carbonate of soda. Bake in a moderate oven half an hour.

Spanish Chocolate Toasts.
Cream together equal parts of margarine and unsweetened chocolate (powdered). Flavour to taste with cinnamon or coffee. Spread this mixture on rounds of toast and heat in the oven until the chocolate has melted. Serve at once.

Australian Oat Fingers.
Melt three ounces of margarine in a pan with three tablespoons of honey. Then add eight ounces of rolled oats, a quarter of a teaspoon of ground ginger, and the juice of half a lemon. Stir thoroughly, press into a shallow tin quarter of an inch thick, and bake for 20 minutes in a very slow oven until golden brown. Leave to cool and then cut into fingers.

Quotation for the Day.

The pleasures of afternoon tea run like a trickle of honey through English literature from Rupert Brooke's wistful lines on the Old Vicarage at Grantchester to Miss Marple, calmly dissecting a case over tea cakes at a seaside hotel.
Stan Hey.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An Unusual Cake.

Well folks, I usually have a week’s worth of stories posted ahead, but these have now been all used up. I am rather busy and pre-occupied with non-bloggy stuff at present, so my posts may be rather more brief than usual over the next week or so. On top of that was no Internet access in the local area for over 24 hours - and although it appears to be back, I cannot currently connect from home.

I know that many of you are keen bakers, and stories about cakes often get the greatest interest. Just for the fun of it, a few weeks ago I did some searching for ‘unusual cakes’, and now have quite a little store for your future delectation. Here is my pick for today, from a feature article extolling the domestic skills of the wives of government officials, in The Washington Post of January 1914.

Raisin Potato Cake.
This unusual cake is made as follows: One cup of butter, one cup of mashed Irish potatoes, one-half cup pecans, one cup of grated chocolate, one-third teaspoonful ground cinnamon, one third teaspoonful ground nutmeg, two cups of sugar, two cups of flour, one cup of seeded raisins, four eggs, one-third teaspoonfl cloves, two teaspoonfuls baking powder, one-half cup of milk.
Cream the butter and the sugar, add the eggs, which have been beaten separately, and also the milk. Stir in the chopped raisins and the pecans, both of which have been floured, and also the chocolate. Sift the flour, baking powder, and the spices together, and add gradually to the rest of the ingredients, beating until very light. Add the mashed potatoes last, being sure that they are light and creamy and entirely cold.
This cake is best when baked in layers, the quantity above being sufficient for four layers.
[Recipe from Mrs. John N. Garner, wife of Representative Garner, of Texas].

A good thing about this substantial cake is that it is a worthy addition to the Fun with Potatoes archive too.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Putting the Coffee into Christmas.

Well folks, I usually have a week’s worth of stories posted ahead, but these have now been all used up. I am rather busy and pre-occupied with non-bloggy stuff at present, so my posts may be rather more brief than usual over the next week or so. On top of that there has been no Internet access in the local area for 24 hours (although our provider is assuring its customers that it will be restored by this afternoon).

But, dear readers, rest assured, there will be posts – cant spoil a four-year old record, can we? Today’s story is reaching you – albeit belatedly - via a USB stick and my daughter’s computer in another suburb.

So - why are there no ‘plums’ in plum pudding? Because Once Upon A Time, the word ‘plums’ was used generically for any dried fruit, that’s why. The idea of ‘plum pudding’ can therefore be interpreted very widely indeed – if you need proof, just go over and browse the offerings in the Vintage Christmas Recipes Archive.

It seems that the word ‘Creole’ can be interpreted widely too. Here is a ‘new’ plum pudding recipe from a wartime edition of an Australian newspaper (the Melbourne Argus). Please do not be reticent with your theories as to what is ‘Creole’ about this dish!

The pudding is a nice take on the old standby, methinks, and happily also a new addition to the coffee recipe archive (go to the link in the sidebar - until I can regain Internet access I cannot find the direct url – sorry!)

This ‘new note in plum puddings’ won a prize of £1 worth of war savings certificate and 5/ worth of war savings stamps for the contributor (Mrs Cecile Besnard). The recipe for Creole Coffee Pudding was, according to the cookery columnist ‘succulent enough for the all-important Christmas festival dinner. Here it is.

Creole Coffee Pudding.
Take 3 oz. of light brown sugar, 4 oz of maple or golden syrup, 4 oz. sultanas, 2 cups of flour, 1 egg, ½ teaspoon carb soda dissolved in a little warm water, ½ cup of chopped almonds, 2 tablespoons black coffee, 1 tablespoon brandy (can be omitted). Unsweetened coffee essence can be used instead of the ordinary black coffee.
Heawt the butter, syrup, and coffee, and stir until melted not hot. Add the egg, sift in flour, then add sultanas, almonds, brandy, and lastly soda. Beat thoroughly, and steam 2 ½ hours. Serve with the following sauce:
Take one cup of milk, 1 dessertspoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of syrup, I tablespoon of coffee. Heat these ingredients in a saucepan, and thicken with 1 tablespoon of cornflour blended in a little cold milk. Bring to the boil, stirring well. Mask the pudding with this, or if preferred, serve in a sauce-pan.
[The Argus, Nov 21, 1944]

Quotation for the Day.

The discovery of coffee has enlarged the realm of illusion and given more promise to hope.
Isidore Bourdon.