Wednesday, December 16, 2009

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)


Diana said...

It's funny how they use "went out of fashion" as a euphemism for the Xinhai Revolution. The queue represented the old imperial dynasty.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Diana - yes, I almost made a comment about the "fashion" but decided it was too complicated for a food blog!