Friday, February 27, 2009

Golden Rod Cake.

I had a query some time ago about Goldenrod cake. I seem to have lost the email, but not the memory of it. It was from my frequent correspondent, ‘Anonymous’.

I am pleased to report that I have tracked down Goldenrod (or Golden Rod) Cake in several versions. It is clearly an American cake, and it seems a reasonable assumption that its name comes from its colour, as the recipes often, but not exclusively, contain orange. They must have been quite in vogue for a while, so that special pans were made for them. Fannie Farmer makes mention (in 1918) of ‘golden-rod pans’ as a suitable baking receptacle for ‘Newport Cake’, and they are advertised elsewhere as being suitable for making ‘Waldorf Triangles, Golden Rod Cake, Orange Slice Cake and other fancy cakes.’

Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) is a plant with a long history of medicinal use, especially in wound healing and urinary complaints, and it also used to be a source of yellow dye. As its name and usage suggests, it has golden-yellow daisy-like flowers. Presumably the colour inspired the cake? Seems odd, why not simply Orange Cake? Why special pans?

The first version is from 365 Orange Recipes: An Orange Recipe for Every Day in the Year (1909)

Goldenrod Cake.
Cream 1 pound of butter with 1 ¼ pounds of sugar, add the yolks of 10 eggs and the
whites of 3; beat until smooth and light and add the juice and grated rind of 1 large
orange, 1 pint of milk, 2 pounds of flour sifted with 1 ½ ounces of baking-powder and
stir until smooth. Bake in goldenrod pans and when cold ice with the following ICING: Grate the rind of 1 small orange, add the yolk of I egg and stir in confectioner's sugar until stiff; add a tablespoonfuls of boiling water, the juice of 1 small orange and ½ lemon and sugar to make as thick as fondant.
Color a delicate orange, ice the tops and sides of the cakes and leave them in a warm place to dry.

And another version, from The Rocky Mountain Cook Book. For High Altitude Cooking (1903)

Golden Rod Cake
Beat the yolks of six eggs till light; gradually beat into these one-half cup of sugar, then two tablespoon-fuls of orange juice and one-half cup of sifted flour, sifted again with a level teaspoonful of baking powder and one-fourth teaspoonful of salt; bake in small cakes and cover with orange icing.

And a very sophisticated version, suitable for a ‘novelty dessert’ for a ‘company meal’, from the Syracuse Herald of August 19, 1937

Golden rod cake.

For white part take 3 egg –whites, ¾ cup sugar, ½ cup shortening, ½ cup milk, 1 ¾ cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ¾ teaspoon salt and 1 ½ teaspoon almond extract. Beat egg whites until stiff. Add ¼ cup sugar gradually, beating constantly. Cream shortening and remaining sugar. Mix and sift flour, baking powder, salt; add alternately with milk to second mixture. Fold in egg whites and extract.

For gold part use ½ cup shortening, ¼ cup sugar. 3 egg yolks, 1 ¾ cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Cream shortening and sugar thoroughly. Add egg yolks and beat well. Mix and sift
flour, baking powder and salt. Add alternately with milk to first mixture. Add vanilla. Fill greased 10-inch tube pan by spoonfuls, alternating the white and gold mixture. Base in a moderate oven (350 degrees F) 50 to 60 minutes. Frosting: Frost with
uncooked frosting, tinting ½ yellow.
Serves 10 to 12.

Quotation for the Day.

I remember his burlesque pretense that morning of an inextinguishable grief when I wonder that I had never eaten blueberry cake before, and how he kept returning to the pathos of the fact that there should be a region of the earth where blueberry cake was unknown.
William Dean Howells (1894)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Cheese Gourd.

The trusty old Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (c1870’s) came up with another surprise for me the other day –a recipe for soup made from the fruit of the cheese-gourd. I had never heard of it before, and immediately in my mind paired it with spaghetti squash to produce a fantasy dish - low-carb, low-fat totally vegan cheesy pasta.

Wrong. It appears that the cheese gourd gets its name from its shape, which is somewhat like a wheel of cheese, not its flavour. It is a type of bottle gourd or calabash – originating in Africa and one of the first cultivated plants, yet cultivated not for food but to make bottles, bowls, and pipes. Its Latin name describes it perfectly: Lagenaria siceraria comes from the words for ‘Florence flask’ and ‘dried’.

Very few recipes specify the cheese-gourd, particularly English recipes, confirming to me yet again to me what a lovely book is Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery. There are several nineteenth century recipes from American sources, such as this nice pair in The Gardener's Magazine and Register of Rural & Domestic Improvement, 1831. I am sure you could substitute other squash quite successfully.

To make Soup of the Cheese Gourd.
Take the fleshy part of the gourd when ripe, and cut it into small pieces; put it into a pan with a small bit of butter, set it upon a slow fire until it melt down to a pure; then add milk in the proportion of half a gallon to i Ibs. of gourd; let it boil a short time with a little salt and sugar, enough to make it taste a little sweet; then cut some slices of bread very thin, toast it very well, and cut them into small dice; put them in a dish, and pour the pure over, and serve it up.

Cheese Gourd dressed in the Spanish Way.
When ripe, cut the fleshy part into slices about half an inch thick; score it across into small dice about half through one side of the slices; scrape a little of the fat of bacon, and put it into a saucepan, with a little parsley, shallots, and mushrooms, chopped very small, adding a little salt and pepper; put them on a slow fire to fry a little, and place this seasoning upon the cut sides of the gourd slices. Put the whole into a quick oven, with a little butter or olive oil; and, when baked a little, serve up the dish.

Let me know your thoughts on the cheese gourd, wont you?

Quotation for the Day.

The first zucchini I ever saw I killed it with a hoe.
John Gould, Monstrous Depravity, 1963.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Tragedy of Fat.

Theories of the cause and cure of ‘corpulence’ are not new. Neither is the Weight Loss Industry. Those who write about nutrition and weight loss are divided into two camps, to my mind. Those with a genuine, scientific interest in the topic, and a genuine desire to make a difference, and those who just want to make money. The latter rule, it seems, because they sell magic - which always rules over common-sense and hard-work. Oh Dear! I am cynical today, aren’t I?

My theory of the two distinct groups fell apart a bit with the discovery of Eat and Grow Thin: the Mahdah Menus, written by Vance Thompson in 1914. Clearly, the man is passionate – No!, evangelical, about his subject (being a reformed corpulent person himself). A bit of evangelism doesn’t go astray if one wants to be the sort of nutrition guru in the make-money camp. Evangelists always offer a simple solution to an enormously difficult problem, which is alluring magic in itself. So, Vance has one strike against him already. Second strike – he is horribly judgemental. Here is a random selection of his ‘scientific’ theories:
One thinks of the beautiful women one has known - loved perhaps - who have vanished forever, drowned in an ocean of turbulence and tallow ..
There is a strange kinship between obesity and financial crime - almost all embezzlers are fat.
To the scientist there is nothing so tragic on earth as the sight of a fat man eating a potato.

The fat man, to the reformed writer, is ‘A tragedy in suet’

… the fat man may clown and slap himself and wag a droll forefinger, but he is not merry at all … He knows he is ridiculous … He falls in love. (It is a destiny - like being born with the sun in Aquarius; always the fat man falls in love.) And this is his bitterest tragedy. He cannot kneel at Beauty's feet without a derrick to let him down ; and a man who goes a-wooing with a derrick looks like a fool. He cannot clasp the dear girl to his heart - for fear of smothering her. … Fierce burn the fires of love within him and the fiercer they burn the faster flees the terrified girl - for he looks like a vat of boiling oil; and that is a fearsome thing to fall into. So, wrapped in tallow, the poor lover goes his sebaceous way - wearing his maiden aunt's bracelet for a ring. …. A tragedy in suet.

Strangely, the actual advice given is eminently sensible. He warns against extreme measures, such as ‘devastating baths’:

And one had far better be fat than ruin one's digestion with drugs, weaken the body by fasting, and strip it of all symmetry by undue exercise and devastating baths.
… a fat man is an ill man — [he] can boil out a great deal of his fat in a Russian bath, but the cure is neither lasting nor safe
All the violent anti-obesity cures are touched with this defect — they work no permanent result.

He acknowledges that success can be a slow process:

You have only to persevere and week by week and month by month you will see that you are going back to your healthy, normal condition, having lost all superfluous fat and recovered pristine energy.

The choice is simple:
Either you sink, cowardly, in the sea of tallow and your life as a man is over; or, you "take advice."

The ‘advice’ is to follow the ‘Mahdah Menus’. The specific food advice is essentially sensible:
And the rule is a simple one : - Eat the right food rightly prepared.
It is axiomatic: Fat foods make fat and lean foods make for leanness.

There is a serious list of ‘Don’t’s’

Don’t sleep too much
Don't take naps.
Don't overeat, even of lean dishes.
Don't eat unless you are hungry.
Don't drink with your meals.
Don't drink alcoholic beverages.
Don't eat bread - except gluten bread toasted, and this in moderation.
Don't take a cab - WALK.

But he reassures that ‘the list of things one may eat is far longer than the list of forbidden things.’

There is one potential down-side to the regime:

There is no wine list is printed on the back of the Mahdah menus. This deficiency is not due to any “mystical horror of fermented drinks” - it is due to the somber fact that wine makes for corpulency. (Beer and ale are worse still.)

And there is one unexplained mystery. Who is Mahdah? She is female, that is all we find out.

Naturally, there are recipes, including some slightly exotic Turkis, Spanish, and Russian dishes, for those who like the idea. If not:
Regarding the Turkish, Spanish and Russian dishes given, they may be eaten or not, as you wish. For instance, the Dolmas or Turkish mutton is a very nice dish, and it has nothing fattening in it, but plain boiled mutton with mint or caper sauce will be simpler and answer the purpose quite as well - if not better.


Take the tender leaves of a young cabbage, place three or four together and fill with the following mixture :
Two pounds of raw mutton hashed through the meat-chopper, two large onions, one-half cup chopped parsley, salt and paprika. Stir in three beaten eggs, form the mixture into oblong meat balls, roll and tie in thinly-buttered cabbage leaves. Place the Dolmas in a bake dish in layers with a plate to press them down and keep in place. Cover with the stock of any meat and cook slowly one and a half hours. When done make a sauce of the juice with the yolks of eggs or simply pour over the Dolmas. The Dolmas are very good served with tomato sauce. A can of Campbell's condensed tomatoes, to which has been added a boiled onion, finely chopped, and a bay leaf for flavor, makes an excellent and quickly prepared tomato sauce.

This post has been long enough to try your patience! I will give you a daily menu another day.

Previous posts on the diet topic are HERE and HERE.

Quotation for the Day ….

The hippopotamus is a vegetarian and looks like a wall. Lions who eat only red meat are sleek and slim. Are nutritionists on the wrong track?
Erma Bombeck

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Florence Nightingale, On Tea.

Feeding the troops is a special sort of catering art, and the military in various countries have published instruction manuals from time to time on how to do it properly. In a nice little booklet published in 1861 called Directions For Cooking By Troops, In Camp And Hospital, Prepared For The Army Of Virginia, And Published By Order Of The Surgeon General, there were two essays included called ‘Taking Food’ and ‘What Food’ by the famous English nurse Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

'The Lady with the Lamp' had much to say on tea:

A great deal too much against tea is said by wise people, and a great deal too much of tea is given to the sick by foolish people. When you see the natural and almost universal craving in English sick for their “tea” you cannot but feel that nature knows what she is about about. But a little tea or coffee restores them quite as much as a great deal, and a great deal of tea, and especially of coffee, impairs the little power of digestion they have. Yet a nurse, because she sees how one or two cups of tea or coffee restores her patient, thinks that three or four cups will do twice as much.
This is not the case at all; it is, however, certain that there is nothing yet discovered which is a substitute to the English patient for his cup of tea; he can take it when he can take nothing else, and he often can't take anything else if he has it not. I should be very glad if any of the abusers of tea would point out what to give to an English patient after a sleepless night, instead of tea. … The only English patients I have ever known refuse tea, have been typhus cases, and the first sign of their getting better was their craving again for tea. …

Here are two alternative beverages from the book:

Crimean Lemonade.
Put in a basin 2 tablespoonfuls of white or brown sugar, ½ a tablespoonful of lime juice, mix well together, and add one pint of water.

Citric Acid Lemonade.
Dissolve 1 oz. citric acid in one pint of cold water; add 1 lb. 9 oz. white sugar, mix well to form a thick syrup; then put in 19 pints cold water, slowly mixing well.

Quotation for the Day ….

Let experience, not theory, decide upon this as upon all other things.
Florence Nightingale.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Eating Local in 1918.

A nice little book called Wheatless and Meatless Days, by Pauline Partridge and Hester Conklin, 1918 caught my eye recently. The title comes from the First World War campaign in the USA to conserve vital food resources and save shipping by urging some days to be either wheatless or meatless. The book begins with a list of the appeal by the US Food Administrator.

I couldn’t help thinking that it reads pretty much like an ethical message for our modern times – eat less animal products, more fruit and vegetables, don’t waste food – and EAT LOCAL!

The wise and careful use of butter, fat, and milk.
The substitution of other fats for butter in cooking.
The substitution, wherever possible, of other
cereals for wheat.
The use of fish, eggs, and cheese to reduce the
demand for beef, pork, and mutton.
The more extensive use of vegetables and fruits.
Waste must be eliminated.
Perishable foods locally grown must be consumed
more freely.

The book is dedicated "To American Soldiers and Sailors", so it seems appropriate to give you a couple of recipes specifically named in their honour. I do admit to not ‘getting’ jellied salads. A personality flaw on my part presumably

Army and Navy Salad.
1 envelope or 2 tablespoons gelatin
½ cup cold water
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup ginger ale
¼ cup blanched chopped almonds
12 chopped ripe olives
½ small can chopped pimentos
Soak gelatin in cold water, add boiling water and salt, and when slightly cooled, add ginger ale. Set aside in a cold place and when mixture begins to thicken add almonds, olives and pimentos. Pour into a mold which has been wet in cold water and set in a cold place for 3 or 4 hours, or until firm.
Serve with mayonnaise on lettuce.

Navy Loaf With Gunner Sauce.
1 medium sized can or 2 cups cold baked beans
1 cup crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup tomato catsup or chili sauce
1 egg
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
¼ teaspoon pepper.
Mix beans, crumbs, salt and pepper; add well-beaten egg, catsup, and onion. Mix thoroughly, pour into a greased pan and bake in a moderate oven 30 minutes. Serve with Gunner Sauce.

Gunner Sauce.
2 tablespoons fat
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon mustard (dry)
I teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups milk
Melt fat, add flour, mustard, salt, and pepper; when mixed remove from fire and add
milk. Return to the fire and bring to the boiling point, stirring constantly.

Quotation for the Day ….

I idolized my mother. I didn't realize she was a lousy cook until I went into the army.
Jackie Gayle.

Friday, February 20, 2009

An Austerity Menu.

The source from yesterday, the Australian wartime book edited by Dr. Phyllis Cilento (The Truth and Daily Mirror Cookery Book, c1943) contains numerous ‘austerity’ dishes. In view of the economic doom and gloom, it may be as well to have a few of these up our community sleeves.

There are recipes for sugarless cakes and butterless biscuits and so on, but I am particularly attracted by the recipes that have ‘austerity’ in the title. No harm in advertising the fact to those who dine at your table that you are doing your bit.

Here is a complete austerity dinner for you:

Austerity Spiced Steak.
Take one pound of beef steak (cheap cut), and cut into squares about two inches; roll in a little sugar and nutmeg, then in flour, and put into a piedish. Mix one tablespoonful each of tomato and Worcester sauce, and one cup of cold water, and pour this over the meat; cover with a lid and bake in a moderate oven for two hours. Serve with mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Austerity Potatoes.
Required: Potatoes, breadcrumbs, milk, butter, salt, water. Use half usual quantity of potatoes, cut into quarters, boil in a little salted water. When cooked, drain off water, but leave a little in the saucepan. Add breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon to every two medium-sized potatoes, mix with vegetable so that crumbs take up water. Let stand few minutes, add lump butter, and little warm milk. Mash thoroughly. Little chopped onion or parsley may be added if liked.

Austerity Ginger Pudding.
Required: ¼ lb butter or dripping, ½ cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 ½ cup treacle or golden syrup, 1 cup milk, 4 cups flour, 3 teasp ginger, 2 teasp spice, 1 teasp cinnamon, 1 teasp soda bicarb. Cream butter, sugar, add egg, beat well, add treacle, beat again. Sift all dry ingredients together add alternately with milk. Bake in a well buttered tin 1 ½ hours slow oven. Serve with sauce made from 1 tabsp syrup mixed with ½ pint hot water, thickened with a little blended arrowroot.

Quotation for the Day …

Frugality … It is not equivalent to parsimony, the latter being an excess of frugality and a fault. Frugality is always a virtue. Nor is it synonymous with thrift, in its proper sense; for thrift is the effect of frugality.
Webster's, 1st ed., 1828

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cheating with Fruit.

There is an apocryphal story of an Australian who visited Louisiana, and, having been told that the local specialty was ‘mirliton’, ordered it in a restaurant. After the usual anticipatory interval, the dish arrived – to be met with disgust by the Aussie who immediately noted that this delicacy was, in fact, ‘bloody choko!’

Sechium edule, a.k.a choko, mirliton, sayote, tayota, choko, chocho, chow-chow, christophine, and vegetable pear, is a native of Central and South America. It was perpetrated upon Australia at some time early in the country’s history, and there are some who believe that if the identity of the importer is ever found, then retrospective retribution will be applied. The choko grows on a vine, and to say that it is quick-growing and prolific in its country of adoption are understatements of great magnitude.

The particularly tenacious vine has a favoured tethering post in Australia. It is an accepted fact in this country that the sole purpose in life of the choko plant is to grow over (and therefore partially camouflage) the ‘dunny’ (the outside toilet shed). Its growth rate is so spectacularly rapid that it has entered the language as a metaphor for something happening ‘quicker than a choko vine growing over an outhouse.’ The ‘free’ fruit, in perennial back-yard surplus, was used in everything and anything, to the extent that for several generations of Australians, it represented far too much of a not-very good thing.

It stands to reason that any plant as ubiquitous and utilitarian (and intrinsically tasteless) as the choko, although it may not be despised, exactly, is not going to be loved in a gourmet-sort of way. In Australia, familiarity from the contemplative position of the dunny throne has led, if not to contempt, to lack of enthusiasm. Added to that is the ineradicable belief in the country that canned ‘pears’ were in fact cheating chokoes. More recently this has led to a similar accusation in relation to McDonald’s ‘apple’ pies. Whether or not the substitution actually happened at a commercial level, the story is testament to the very bland nature of the fruit.

The demise of the outdoor ‘dunny’ has meant that chokos are now actually purchased from greengrocers and supermarkets. Multiple generations of previous Australians are no doubt rolling their dead eyes in amusement and astonishment at the thought of people willingly parting with hard-earned money for the fruit of the dunny vine.

The mock pear story has some truth in it. I found the following recipe as proof. It was probably served as dessert at the same meal as corned beef, boiled chokos with white sauce (ersatz cauliflower), and choko chutney (no substitute for mango!). I wonder if there was choko cake?

Mock Pears.
Peel some chokoes, take out the seed pith, cut lengthwise into four, and put in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Add three tablespoonsfuls of sugar, juice of half a lemon, and a few drops of cochineal. Boil slowly till tender; serve with sauce or custard.
The Truth and Daily Mirror Cookery Book, c1943.

Quotation for the Day …

Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.
Jim Davis.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Camp Cooking.

There are some who love camping, and to those intrepid souls I dedicate this post.
I am not an experienced camper. My experience of camping on as a child growing up in the north of England (with family, with small tent, with tight budget, with - every single time without fail - constant wet weather) did not make me love it. I am now a grown-up Old Foodie, but the Old Foodie Spouse says he will go camping when they have valet parking. I too am inclined to err on the side of luxurious hotels - when I can get them, which is not nearly often enough.

I do not fear the snakes of the Australian bush, in spite of on one occasion coming within seconds and centimetres of being bitten by a particularly deadly variety when I was 38 weeks pregnant and we were cut off from the town by a flood-swollen river. It is not the mosquitos or the spiders. It is not our occasionally wild weather, or the more general heat and humidity (do they air-condition tents these days?). It is the food. Can it be good? Can it be varied enough?

The flora and fauna may be different in the north of America, but no doubt the camping experience is otherwise similar. I do like the attitude of Horace Kephart, the author in 1910 of Camp Cookery. The book is dedicated to ‘Mistress Bob’, which is an intriguing start.

The Foreword spells out his philosophy:

The less a man carries in his pack, the more he must carry in his head.
A camper cannot go by recipe alone. It is best for him to carry sound general principles in his head, and recipes in his pocket.
The simpler the outfit, the more skill it takes to manage it, and the more pleasure one gets in his achievements.

The recipes are certainly varied. For protein, he includes along with the expected ham and bacon, recipes for everything from muskrat to venison. There are lots of interesting-sounding breads and puddings. Each recipe is listed as quick, medium, or slow to cook, and each has a legend to indicate whether butter, eggs, or milk are required or optional in each dish. That was a new insight. How did campers of 1910 carry their milk, butter, and eggs?

It appears to me from my vicarious camping with Horace in 1910, that camping aint what it used to be. Modern packaging materials must be a huge advantage over old – especially in terms of weight. He suggests that ‘salt is best carried in a wooden box.’ Not in hot humid tropical Queensland it isnt.

I do love Horace’s style overall style however. He ends his list of supplies with ‘a half pint of brandy, religiously reserved for brandy sauce, is worth its weight.’ Now that is a tip for elegant camping!

And his muskrat recipe? I bet you thought I’d forgotten.

You may be driven to this, some day, and will then learn that muskrat, properlyprepared, is not half bad. The French-Canadians found that out long ago.
“Skin and clean carefully four muskrats, being particular not to rupture musk or gall sac. Take the hind legs and saddles, place in pot with a little water, a little julienne (or fresh vegetables, if you have them), some pepper and salt, and a few slices of pork or bacon. Simmer slowly over fire until half done. Remove to baker, place water from pot in the baking pan, and cook until done, basting frequently. This will be found a
most toothsome dish.”

Quotation for the Day …

The "substitute" variously known as saccharin, saxin, crystallose, is no substitute at all, ... This drug, which is derived from coal tar, has decided medicinal qualities and injures normal health if persistently taken. It has none of the nutritive value of sugar.
Horace Kephart.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Avocadoes and advocaat for advocates.

I misread the word advokaat as avocado the other evening, in a moment of blurry-eyed confusion that made me realise it was time to go to sleep. Funny, though, that the words are so similar, I thought.

Avocado is one of my favourite foods, and one of my favourite food words, and was the subject of a post quite some time ago. Advokaat I knew as an eggy beverage with a Dutch heritage - but that is about all I knew about it. According to the dictionary (OED) the word is a short form of advocatenborrel meaning, roughly, the drink of lawyers. This sounded a bit far-fetched to me. Why egg-brandy drinks and the legal profession?

Another story is that Dutch colonists in Suriname used to make a beverage with avocadoes, and took their taste for it back to the Netherlands when they returned. Unfortunately their were no avocadoes in their home country at the time, but the texture of the old-fashioned thick drinks of posset and syllabub was similar. The original Aztec name of the fruit was ahuacatl which to the Spanish sounded almost the same as abogado, which means lawyer (hence, advocate). The coincidence of sounds, it is said, led the Dutch to associate the drink with the legal profession, and the dictionary to believe them. So – my confusion was reasonable, was it not?

Here is a nice 1960’s retro dish for you:

Avocado Pears with Prawns
Serves 6.
3 ripe avocado pears
6 crisp lettuce leaves
paprika pepper
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons double cream
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
dash Worcestershire sauce
juice of ½ lemon
8 oz.peeled prawns.
Buy fully ripe avocado pears – they should feel very soft, especially at the narrow end. Prepare the sauce and set aside. In a small mixing basin, combine together the mayonnaise, cream, tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice, and mix well. Add the prepared prawns, and chill until ready to serv.
Using a knife cut each pear in half lengthwise and remove the stone. Rub the cut surface of the six halves with the cut side of a lemon, to prevent them from discolouring. Place each half on a washed crisp lettuce leaf and set on a plate.
Spoon the prawn mixture into the centre of each pear half, filling the hollow. Sprinkle with paprika pepper, and serve.
The Times, March 8, 1967.

Quotation for the Day …

[Avocado growers] denied publicly and indignantly, the insidious, slanderous rumors that avocados were aphrodisiac. Sales immediately mounted
Waverley Root.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Ministry of Domestic Cookery.

We all like to have The Latest and Best Cook Book, don’t we? One of the latest is Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, and I curse him for that title every time I Google for British wartime food information. I don’t know how Jamie got his idea for the book, but not much in cookery (or anything else for that matter) is an entirely new concept. A nice book called – believe it or not - The Latest and Best Cook Book, published in America in 1884 - considers the responsibilities of the ‘Ministry of Domestic Cookery’ – although admittedly with quite a different spin to Jamie's.

The author starts by telling the story of the saintly thirteenth century Queen Elisabeth of Hungary. The usual legend is that the devout and charitable Queen and her husband, Louis IV of Thuringia were idyllically happy. One day when he surprises her going to feed the poor, the bread she is carrying is miraculously changed into roses. I doubt if the hungry waiting for the royal bread scraps would have been ecstatic at getting a bunch of roses instead, no matter how beautiful and fragrant they might have been, but those who are expert in these matters determined the event to be an indication of her saintliness, and eventally she was accorded the official title. The author of The Latest and Best Cook Book however tells a different version. This time, Louis is a thoroughly nasty man who actually forbids her to take food to the poor, then one day surprises her in that very act. He insists, in his ‘stern voice’ that she show him what she carries. In the instant before she is ‘obliged to show him the forbidden burden’ the bread is changed into roses, and he allows her on her way.

The author’s version allows the author’s moral lesson to be drawn of course. It also, rather oddly, allows a grammar lesson.

“It would be well for some husbands if ‘their eyes were hidden’ in such a way that food served them would seem other and better than it really is. But the sense of taste is a rebellious member - especially in the men. It will cry out against the best appearing dish, if its flavor is not of the best. There is but one way to sure success. The housewife herself must be the angel who casts the spell about the humble board and the lowly fare, and invests them with forms and odors of irresistible attractiveness. This is the true poetry of Domestic Cookery; and blessed is the home where one presides who knows this art, and makes each meal a feast, and every guest a glad participant.

But things do not always take so happy a form. For instance: there was recently a brutal murder in Troy, N. Y., and a paper,- reporting the case, clumsily said: ‘A poor woman was killed yesterday in her own home, while cooking her husband's breakfast in a shocking manner.’ Quoting this statement, a contemporary remarked: ‘There are many women who cook their husbands breakfasts in a shocking manner, but it is seldom that justice overtakes them so summarily.’ The subject is a serious one to joke over, but the turn given by the commenting paper is bright and suggestive.

The fact is, that by skillful manipulation the plainest fare may be transformed into dishes fit for kings, while by ignorance and inattention the best viands may be rendered unfit for human food. Which turn should housewives attempt to give their own culinary affairs? There can be but one reply. But, be it remembered, that freaks of favoring fortune, such as came to Elizabeth, come only to those who are zealously pursuing the line of helpful duty. There is no royal road to success as a housekeeper or a cook. You must ‘work your passage,’ but the way will be smoothed by careful study of pages such as follow, provided the study take shape in wise action.

Remember, too, that the ministry of Domestic Cookery is by no means an unimportant one. It is worthy of the best attention of any housewife.”

If you ask me, if the second version is the accurate one, Elizabeth of Austria should have tried cooking her husband’s breakfast in a shockingly poisonous manner. But she would probably not have been granted sainthood if she had.

Here is a breakfast idea from the book. Please give it ‘your best attention.’

Eggs a la Mode.
Remove the skin from a dozen tomatoes, medium size, cut them up in a saucepan, add a little butter, pepper, and salt; when sufficiently boiled, beat up five or six eggs, and just before you serve, turn them into a saucepan with the tomato, and stir one way for two minutes, allowing them to be well done.

Quotation for the Day …

All well-regulated families set apart an hour every morning for tea and bread and butter.
Joseph Addison.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Moravian Love Cakes.

Today in honour of Valentine’s Day, I give you an extra post for the week. Here is a recipe for ‘Moravian Love Cakes’, from With a Saucepan Over the Sea (1902), by Adelaide Keen.

Love Cakes.
(Germany. Eaten at Moravian love feasts.)
Boil 2 cupfuls of honey and 1 ounce of sugar. Add 4 ounces of chopped almonds and simmer 5 minutes longer, then add 8 ounces of chopped candied peel, ½ a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda, ½ a nutmeg, grated, a pinch of cloves, a teaspoonful of cinnamon, rind of a lemon, grated, and a tablespoonful of rum or sherry. Cut into pieces, 4x2 inches large, after adding enough flour to stiffen and rolling it very thin. Bake these in a slow oven, ice with sugar, and eat cold. In Germany they are served with wine to drink, and a bowl of stewed dried apples.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Frank Plank.

We’ve had quite a range this week, havent we? From the challenging (insects) to the cruel (crimped fish) to the solo-soy dinner. Today we go plain and family friendly. Today we have frankfurters – ‘franks’ or to their friends, ‘liberty sausage’ to the patriotic American of WW I, and the key ingredient to a hot-dog.

To the OED, a frankfurter is ‘a highly seasoned smoked beef and pork sausage, originally made at Frankfurt am Main’, and gives the first reference from 1887. Well, not to argue with the OED, smoked sausages have been around in an infinite variety of forms in many places, for many centuries. The really intriguing question is, how did they get associated with that city? I havent so far found a convincing answer, but maybe you have?

A random selection of other dictionaries describe the frankfurter as:

- a thin-skinned sausage, originally from Germany, made of finely minced smoked pork or beef and grilled, fried, or boiled
- a thin red-brown sausage which is preserved using smoke or chemicals and often eaten with bread
- a cooked smoked sausage of beef or beef with pork, turkey, etc., made in cylindrical links a few inches long, now usually without a casing; wiener.
- a smoked sausage of beef or beef and pork made in long reddish links.
- a cured cooked sausage (as of beef or beef and pork) that may be skinless or stuffed in a casing
- a smooth-textured sausage of minced beef or pork usually smoked; often served on a bread roll

Not coming from either of the countries of their birth, nor their main country of adoption, there is another question that has me not-quite lying awake in anguish, but a bit puzzled from time to time, is – is there a difference between a ‘wiener’ (supposedly from Vienna) and a frankfurter (from Frankfurt)?

There is more to frankfurters than hot-dogs. Here is how to dolly them up to make a slightly posh family dinner, courtesy of the Morning Avalanche (Lubbock, Texas) of Nov 5, 1943.

For a quick meal that "looks big", serve a frank plank. On a plank or oven-proof platter broil hot, mashed potatoes with franks and bacon atop so the meat juices run tastily down on the potatoes.
To prepare: peel 6 medium sized potatoes, cook and mash with 3 tablespoons fat, 1/3 to ½ cup hot milk, and salt and pepper. Pile on an oven-proof platter or plank. Arrange 1 pound frankfurts on potatoes, and 4 strips bacon atop franks. Broil until bacon is crisp, and franks and potatoes are thoroughly heated. Serves 4 to 6.

Quotation for the Day …

A hot dog at the ball park is better than steak at the Ritz.
Humphrey Bogart.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

To crimp, or not to crimp?

I always wanted curly hair. My university friend, with whom I shared accommodation (you know who you are, Marj) spent some of her meagre disposeable income on getting her hair straightened. I spent some of my meagre student income on getting mine curled. Life is universally unfair. I especially coveted crinkly, frilled, crimped hair, not the childish ringlet-style. What has this to do with a food blog, you are probably asking.

References to ‘crimped’ fish occur commonly in old cookbooks. I must have read the phrase a thousand times without realising it was describing my dream hair. Suddenly, my brain asked ‘Which came first, the hair-style or the fish-style?’

Both, says the OED, after an extraordinarily long explanation of the sort intelligible to linguists, but not to mere food history dilettantes. The supporting quotes for ‘to crimp’ meaning ‘to curl’, and ‘to crimp’ meaning ‘to cause (the flesh of fish) to contract and become firm by gashing or cutting it before rigor mortis sets in’ are both given as 1698.

The best way to avoid rigor mortis sabotaging your crimping (of fish, not hair) is, of course, to perform the procedure while the fish is still alive. I appears that this was a common, if not a universal practice, and the blame for this idea is almost universally, in old books as well as the OED, placed upon the Dutch. An accusation in that direction, accompanied by an explanation of its rationale, occurs in Culina Famulatrix Medicinæ, (1806)

Crimping Fish.
In Holland, and in families where the dressing of fish is scientifically attended to, the operation of crimping is performed upon most kinds of fish. When it can be done, this cruel operation is performed upon the living fish; but it answers nearly as well, if performed within a few hours after death. The fish, when scored to the bone, is said to he crimped, in which state, or cut into pieces, it is committed to the fish-kettle, after lying a few hours in cold salt and water. And here a question occurs, why the Epicure should give the preference to fish after it has parted with a considerable portion of its rich and soluble parts in the boiling water? Of this question, Ignotus* can see no other solution than, that as the fish has become harder, the masticating powers are longer employed, to the great comfort of the Epicure, whose palate would reluctantly part with a soft morsel, if another was not immediately to follow.

Crimping: a practice which thankfully we twenty-first century ethically superior beings now recognise as being unreasonably cruel to our animal friends, agreed? Actually, no. Reasonable humans have been concerned about this sort of practice for centuries, but in previous times they did not have the benefits of the electronic media to circulate the righteousness. Here is one example of distaste for the procedure, from a dictionary of 1785, no less.

Crimp: ‘a cruel manner of cutting up fish alive, practiced by London fishmongers, in order to make it eat firm’

And, from the same source, the word as a noun (Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue)

‘Cod, and other crimped fish, being a favourite among voluptuaries and epicures’

And from a whole book on the topic (The Rights of Animals; on the Responsibility and obligation of man … Sarah Burdet, 1839)

‘Death, it is true, is the penalty attaching to every living creature, sooner or later, yet, where life must be taken, it ought to be in the least possible painful mode and manner, and without any previous torture; for example, not to crimp fish, nor fry alive the produce of the cruel sport of a whole day!’

To serve with your fish, crimped (pre- or post-mortem), the Culina Famulatrix Medicinæ suggests the following:

Dutch Sour Sauce For Fish.
Take the yolks of two eggs, a lump of butter sufficiently large for the quantity of sauce wanted, and a small bit of mace. A table spoonful of good white wine vinegar. Put all together into a sauce-pan, and melt over a gentle fire, taking care to stir, or shake, only one way. The sauce will be sufficiently thick without any flour.

Fish Sauce To Keep A Year.
Take walnuts of the size fit for pickling. Cut, and pound them in a marble mortar to obtain the juice. To a pint of juice, put a pound of anchovies. Boil till the anchovies are dissolved, and strain through a piece of muslin. Then boil again, and add a quarter of an ounce of mace; half a quarter of an ounce of cloves ; some whole white pepper ; and seven or eight shalots ; a few cloves of garlic, and half a pint of white wine vinegar. Boil all together till the shalots become tender ; then strain, and when cold, bottle for use.

[*‘Ignotus’ apparently roughly means ‘unnoticed’ in Latin. It has been used by several people in history and on the Internet, as a pseudonym. I have no idea who is referred to in the above extract!]

Next week, for those of you not fascinated by words, and not fond of fish, I will try to fit in at least one retro cake.

Quotation for the Day …

At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom.
George Carlin.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

‘A pretty kettle of fish’

Collective nouns are one of my favourite word things, and lists of them inhabit the Internet, and pop up from time to time. The words always have the air of antiquity about them, and seemed a good source for food stories, so I set about a-hunting them.

What was surprising was how few (at a fairly superficial hunting level, I admit) stood up to the test of time. Naturally, I stuck to the more eatable animals. My personal favourite of ‘a pitying of turtledoves”, is not anywhere to be found in the OED, neither are ‘a husk of hares’ or ‘a paddling of ducks.’ A few are genuinely old – ‘a sounder of swine’ is found at least by 1410, and ‘a trip of goats’ by 1310.

How about ‘a kettle of fish’? There is no mention of it as a collective noun in the OED, but it sounds like a fine thing to be offered for dinner, so why does it stand as a metaphor for a troublesome mess or difficult situation? ‘Kettle’ is a very old word indeed, a word of Teutonic origin, apparently, and recorded by the year 700, and ‘Fish’ is probably of a similar vintage. The phrase ‘a kettle of fish’, is defined in the OED as ‘On the Tweed [in Scotland], etc. A kettle of fish cooked al fresco, at a boating excursion or picnic; hence, applied to the picnic itself. Also simply kettle.’ A nice picnic hardly seems to qualify as a great troublesome situation to get oneself into, does it?

The clue, however, may be in one of the supporting quotes, from 1791:

‘It is customary for the gentlemen who live near the Tweed to entertain their neighbours and friends with a Fete Champetre, which they call giving ‘a kettle of fish’. Tents or marquees are pitched near the flowery banks of the river..a fire is kindled, and live salmon thrown into boiling kettles.’

A live salmon, faced with the prospect of being thrown alive into boiling water, would indeed be in a situtation that could be described as ‘a pretty kettle of fish.’ Is that the explanation?

Here is a kinder way of cooking your fish in your fish-kettle.

Whole Cod.
Put a large quantity of water into your fish-kettle, which must be of a proper size for the cod, with a quarter of a pint of vinegar, a handful of salt, and half a stick of horse-radish. Let these boil together for some time, and then put in the fish. When it is done enough (which will be known by feeling the fins, and the look of the fish) lay it to drain, put it in a hot fishplate, and then in a warm dish, with the liver cut in half, and laid on each side. Serve it up with shrimp or oyster-sauce, and garnish with scraped horse-radish.
Modern Domestic Cookery, and Useful Receipt Book, by William Augustus Henderson 1828.

Quotation for the Day …

I think fish is nice, but then I think that fish is wet, so who am I to judge?
Douglas Adams.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All Soy, All women.

Henry Ford, the automobile pioneer, was also a soy-bean fanatic. He was not only interested in the soy bean as food, but also as a source of industrial materials, and he invested millions in technology to exploit its possibilities. Robert Smith, one of his chemists, said that Ford’s intention was ‘to grow automobiles from the soil’, and he did indeed develop a prototype car body made from soy plastic, but sadly it turned out not to be a practical, viable proposition.

Soy-based foods are well accepted nowadays, but in the 1940’s it was a different story - soybeans were not mainstream. The Ford Company hosted many all-soy meals to help popularise them as a source of food. On September 24, 1943 it was the turn of a ‘selected group’ of Detroit newspaperwomen to be the company’s guests. The ‘World Neighbour Luncheon’ was ‘planned especially to introduce practical soy bean dishes to the world’s housewives, and ‘to demonstrate how the soy bean can help to rehabilitate the war-devastated countries where dairly herds and food sources have all but been destroyed.’

The menu was:

Celery stuffed with soy pimiento cheese.
Canapes of soya crackers with soy butter.
Soy bean soup.
Soya Melba toast.
Soy cutlets.
Soy sprouts Creole.
Buttered green soya beans.
Baked soya beans.
Parsley Potatoes.
Soy bean coffee.
Soy bean milk.
Soy sprout salad.
Soy bean bread, butter, and crackers.
Soya ice-cream.
Soy custard.
Soya cookies.

I am not sure how the parsley potatoes snuck in there, but no matter, the significant thing about this meal was that it was the first mention in print of soya ice-cream – and it was described as rich and delicious by the lucky guests. It was not long before at least one company saw a nice ice-cream niche, and a by mid-March 1944 the Old Mills company were running display ads in the Waterloo (Iowa) Daily Courier for their Toasted Soya Ice Cream - ‘a new and delicious wartime flavor’ with ‘fine ground toasted nut meats and has a slight maple flavoring.’ Sadly, I have not been able to find a 1940’s recipe for soya ice-cream, so this one, the ‘Recipe for the Day’ from the Daily Capital News, Jefferson City Missouri will have to do.

One-Hour Soy Rolls
1 cup hot water,
1 teaspoon salt,
6 tablespoons shortening,
¼ cup sugar,
1 or 2 cakes of yeast,
2 tablespoons luke-warm water,
1 egg, well beaten
¼ cup sifted soya flour
3 ¼ cups sifted flour (white)
Combine hot water, sail, shortening and sugar. Cool until lukewarm. Add yeast softened in lukewarm water. Add egg. Mix and sift flour mixtures and all one half to first mixture. Beat well. Add enough flour to make dough easy to handle. Knead on floured greased muffin tins, brush tops with melted butler, cover and allow rolls to rise in warm place, (80 degrees) until in size. Bake in hot oven 425 degrees for 12 minutes. Remove and brush with fat. For later use, store in refrigerator in greasedbowl. Brush with fat, cover. Makes 18 rolls.

Quotation for the Day …

A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
‘Hannibal Lecter’ in The Silence of the Lambs.

Monday, February 09, 2009

You asked for insects!

A woodlouse.

My post last week about ‘cricket’ precipitated a few comments about insect-eating, so you only have yourselves to blame for the unpleasant truths that are about to come your way.

For a start, whether you like the idea or not, you eat insects. About a pound a year, at least, if the information provided in the (now, sadly, defunct) Food Insects Newsletter is correct. You eat them inadvertently in flour, jam, peanut butter, canned fruit, frozen vegetables – in just about everything, really. They are so tiny, or are ground up so tiny, that you don’t notice they are there. I don’t know what sort of position this puts you in if you are a vegetarian, but there it is. Food regulatory authorities around the world have ‘actionable levels’ for bits of insects and other ‘filth’ in food – for example, in the USA, for peanut butter, the actionable level of ‘insect filth’ is an average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams (there is an allowable amount of ‘rodent filth’ too, but that can wait for another time). So, what that means is 39 insect fragments in your PB is a mere ‘natural defect’.

There are a few things you can do, if you are disgusted. One is to stop eating altogether. There is no other way to avoid eating insects. Another is to increase pesticide use – it might reduce but it wont completely obviate insect consumption – and it would hardly be politically correct to suggest that, now would it?

The other way is to embrace the concept wholeheartedly. Twenty percent of the world’s population eat some sort of insects voluntarily – not just as a survival mechanism, but with positive relish. Insects actually increase the nutritional value of many foods, and provide a great source of protein around the world. There has been renewed interest in recent times in this ‘micro-livestock’ which is capable of being reared by small producers – great news for locavores, perhaps?

A pioneer and staunch early promoter of entomophagy was a nineteenth century clergyman called Vincent Holt. His book Why not eat insects ? was published in 1885, and is still a classic. He points out several advantages, including these interesting ‘non-nutrition’ ideas:

“There cannot be said to be any really strong objection, among the upper classes, to making any new departure in the direction of foods, if it once becomes the fashion to do so”

“What a godsend to housekeepers to discover a new entrĂ©e to vary the monotony of the present round!”

Holt also gives some sample menus, to help get the idea across:

Snail Soup.
Fried Soles, with Woodlouse Sauce.
Curried Cockchafers
Fricassee of Chicken with Chrysalids.
Boiled Neck of Mutton with Wire-worm Sauce.
Ducklings, with Green Peas.
Cauliflowers garnished with Caterpillars
Moths on Toast.

Although there is not a recipe section as such in the book, there are a few scattered throughout the text. Here, to get you started on the above menu, is one of them.

Wood-Louse Sauce.
Wood-louse sauce is equal, if not distinctly superior to, shrimp.
The following is the recipe: Collect a quantity of the finest wood-lice to be found (no difficult task, as they swarm under the bark of every rotten tree), and drop them into boiling water, which will kill them instantly, but not turn them red, as might be expected. At the same time put into a saucepan a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, a teaspoonful of flour, a small glass of water, a little milk, some pepper and salt, and place it on the stove. As soon as the sauce is thick, take it off and put in the wood-lice. This is an excellent sauce for fish. Try it.

Quotation for the Day …

What a pleasant change from the labourer's unvarying meal of bread, lard, and bacon, or bread and lard without bacon, or bread without lard or bacon, would be a good dish of fried cockchafers or grasshoppers.
Vincent Holt (1885).

Friday, February 06, 2009

Cricket Dinner, Rangoon, 1825.

I have many historic menus left over, now that the manuscript is in for Menus from History. Not being a person to like waste, particularly of work, I suspect that many of them will find their way to you as the days (and years) go by.

The cricket season is upon us, so from this cricket-widow to cricket lovers and haters all, I give you the following little insight into the sheer fortitude of cricket players.

The Officers of the British Army at Rangoon in the early ninteenth century formed a cricket club, and after a “grand match” on January 18, 1825, they dined together. The bill of fare shows “that our gallant countrymen were not so near to starvation as some have represented.”

Bill of Fare for the Cricket Club Dinner
Six tureens of soup, 4 saddles of mutton, 6 legs of mutton (boiled and roasted), 6 fore quarters of mutton, 2 pieces of surloin beef roasted, 2 rounds of beef (corned), 3 Bengal humps, 4 briskets, 6 tongues, 4 geese, 4 stewed ducks, 6 roast duck, 4 ducks smothered in onions, 6 roast fowls, 6 boiled fowls, 4 country capt, 4 fowl pies, 4 gibblet pies, 2 mutton pies, 2 beef steak pies, 4 dishes of mutton chops, 3 roast pigs, 10 plates of yams, 10 plates of potatoes, 10 plates of onions, 10 plates of pumpkin, 4 dishes of prawn curry, 4 dishes of mutton curry, 6 fowl curries, 3 hams, 4 dishes of beefsteak, 2 fillets of veal (roasted), 2 knuckles of veal (boiled), 2 fore quarters of veal (roasted), 2 dishes of veal cutlets, calf’s head, 4 veal pies, 2 dishes of calf's liver and bacon, 2 bullocks hearts, 4 gooseberry tarts, 4 apple tarts, 4 currant tarts, 4 cherry tarts, 4 rice puddings, 4 plumb puddings, 4 dishes of mince pies 2 cheeses, biscuits, bread. Wine cordials and beer in abundance "

A nice little repast for the hungry players, yes? Last I heard there were only eleven men on a cricket team. Even allowing for a few spares and some officials, that sounds like an awful lot of food in the Rangoon heat. No vegetarians on that team, by the looks.

Bengal ‘Humps’ (bullock, usually) were cured like ham or ‘corned’ and spiced like beef, and according to an article published in 1807 had already “long been a favourite dish at the splendid entertainments of the great Lords .. in India” . Presumably what went down well in India was also enjoyed in Burma, as those staunch British colonials developed their own Anglo-Eastern cuisine.

The ‘Country capt.’ on the bill of fare were a favourite chicken dish, and one of my favourite sources from this time (‘A Lady’), gives us a recipe.

A Country Captain.
Cut a fowl in pieces, and shred a large onion very small, and fry it brown in butter. Sprinkle the fowl with fine salt, and dust it over with fine curry-powder, and fry it brown; put all into a stewpan, with a pint of soup, and stew it down to one half: serve it with rice.
Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady, 1827

Quotation for the Day …

It would be nice if the Food and Drug Administration stopped issuing warnings about toxic substances and just gave me the names of one or two things still safe to eat.
Robert Fuoss. Saturday Evening Post.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Lollybanger anyone?

A lovely forgotten food word wandered through my consciousness a few weeks ago. Lollybanger. A unique-sounding word indeed. But apparently referring to two entirely different food things: a sausage on a stick, and a type of gingerbread with raisins. To confuse the matter it was also sometimes the name for a ship’s cook (a man who was wont to cook loblolly. Don’t worry about it now, we’ll get around to it shortly.)

How can one such strange word mean such different things?

‘Lolly’ is short for lollipop, which is a sweet (candy) or ice on a stick, except in Australia, where any candy is a ‘lolly’. The word apparently comes from a dialect word of the north of England referring to the tongue. ‘Banger’ was seventeenth century English slang for ‘an astounding lie’ (according to the OED) – which presumably eventually led to its twentieth century use to refer to the deceitful nature of a sausage. Hence, we have arrived at lollybanger as a tasty sausage on a stick. I guess the ideas of the tongue and deceit probably cover the ship’s cook too.

The Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words … (1857) tells us that lolly-banger is Somerset dialect for ‘very thick gingerbread enriched by raisins’, but leaves us frustrated for an eytmologically satisfying explanation. The ‘lolly’ fits, gingerbread being a tasty dish, but banger? Scholars of Olde Somerset dialect, please feel free to weigh in.

In the total absence of a recipe for Lollybanger Gingerbread (I have not given up hope), I give you this worthy addition to the Through the Ages with Gingerbread Archive.

How to Make Fruit Gingerbread.
Four cups of flour; one of butter; one of sugar; one of molasses; one of milk; four eggs; three teaspoonfuls of ginger; a teaspoonful of cloves and nutmegs; half a pound of currants and raisins; add the fruit last, and bake in pans in an oven, not very quick.
The Farmer’s Every-day Book, by John Lauris Blake. 1850

Now for loblolly. Loblolly is a thick gruel particularly associated with the seafaring life. Now we find in the OED that ‘lolly’ is also an old Devon dialect word for ‘broth or soup’. Soup, when bubbling away in the pot goes ‘lob-lob-lob-lob’. It really does - listen to it, when you make this gruel. Try it for breakfast, it is just porridge really - with butter and brandy added.

Oatmeal Pottage, or Gruel.
Mix together three table spoonfuls of oatmeal, a very little salt, and a quart of water; put them over a fire, and let it boil gently for half an hour. Then skim and strain it, add to it an ounce of fresh butter, some loaf sugar, a little brandy, and grated nutmeg; or instead of these ingredients put pepper, salt, and fresh butter, to the palate; then boil it again five minutes, mix it till very smooth, and let it be of a moderate consistence.
The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined, by John Mollard, 1802

Quotation for the Day …

He receives comfort like cold porridge.
William Shakespeare.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Potato Bliss.

A friend once said that he hadn’t yet met a potato he didn’t like (you know who you are.) I feel the same way myself – with the exception of the sort of mashed potatoes that manage in one and the same mouthful to be watery/gluey/gritty/crunchy. I live in terror that the low-carb fashion presages the extinction of the potato. I feel the need to start a Potato Fan Club, or a Save the Potato Campaign. The very least I should do is pay attention to the Fun with Potatoes archive, and bring it over to this blog from the defunct Companion Site.

It was all very different in WW II. The specially created ‘Potato Pete’ character promoted himself as an energy food, a protective food and a good soup-maker. He was also used in bread, to eke out precious wheat. The Ministry of Food’s Food Facts Leaflet No. 29 (February 1941) focused on the potato – and, listen to this and weep with nostalgia, you potato lovers! - the Ministry recommended potatoes THREE TIMES A DAY.

"Potatoes help to protect you from illness. Potatoes give you warmth and energy. Potatoes are cheap and home-produced. So why stop at serving them once a day? Have them twice, or even three times – for breakfast, dinner, and supper."

To remind you of the reasons to eat potatoes (including the patriotic), the leaflet provided this jingle:

P’s for Protection Potatoes afford’
O for the Ounces of Energy stored;
T’s for Tasty, and Vitamin rich in;
A’s for the Art to be learned in the kitchen;
T’s for the Transport we need not demand;
O’s for Old England’s Own Food from the land;
E’s for the Energy eaten by you;
S’s for the Spuds that will carry us through.

Potatoes are indeed nutritious. What we do to them often destroys the good stuff in potatoes and adds a whole lot more of the bad stuff. An average-sized baked potato is about 150 gm. Naked except for its own skin, it is virtually fat-free (and you cant say that about any naked human) contains about the same protein as half a glass of milk, the same amount of potassium as a banana, almost half the daily requirement of Vitamin C, and goodly amounts of lots of other vitamins and minerals. All this in return for about 26 gms of of carbohydrate (only 1 gm of which is in the form of sugars), lots of bowel-friendly fibre, and a total of 110 calories. Sounds like a good set of trade-offs to me.

A couple of weeks ago I gave you the recipe for Potato Coffee Scones from this leaflet. Today, to assist you to eat potatoes three times a day, I give you this recipe – adaptable to any meal as it points out, and I am sure would adapt well to other fillings. Maybe finger food for your next party? At least they are not deep-fried.

Surprise Potato Balls.
Cook 1 lb. potatoes and beat well with a fork. Add a large grated carrot, 1 teaspoonful chopped parsley and some salt and pepper. Use a little milk, if necessary, to bind the mixture, but do not make it wet. Form into balls. Make a hole in eat, drop in a small teaspoonful of sweet pickle, and close the hole. Roll the balls in browned breadcrumbs, place on a greased baking sheet. Bake in a moderate oven for 15 to 20 minutes. These are good for any and every meal.

Quotation for the Day …

Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,
but don't forget the potatoes.
John Tyler Pettee, 'Prayer and Potatoes'

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

To keep Venison Fresh.

Housekeepers and cookbook writers of olden times were much more pre-occupied with preserving food than they are today. Every item of food was much more hard-won and the attitude to waste was very different. Did I read somewhere recently that one fifth of all the food purchased in Britain is thrown out? That would have been an unthinkable idea once upon a time. Of course, some of the ideas in old cookbooks seem quite scary today – and many are unsafe.

Our sixteenth century source from yesterday (The widowes treasure …) has this interesting idea for preserving venison.

To keepe Venison fresh a long time.
Presse out the blood cleane, and put it into an earthen pot, and fill it with clarified Honey two fingers aboue the fleshe, and binde a Leather close about the mouth that no ayre enter.

Honey had been used in this way for since ancient times, and there are stories of its use as a preserving agent for the human corpse too. The Greek historian Herodotus claimed that the Babylonians and Assyrians buried their dead in honey. The kings of Sparta were said to be buried in this way too. It is commonly said that Alexander the Great’s body was preserved in a crock of honey (or in some stories a golden coffin) and kept for three years as it was returned to Egypt (or 300 years in some stories). This is likely apocryphal, but as his burial place is not known, the story will have to remain mysterious. It is possible that his body was only anointed with honey, but the amount got magnified as the centuries wore on!

Another story that is also trotted out when burial in honey is mentioned took place in the early 1800’s when some archeologists (or treasure seekers) were exploring some eight hundred-year old tombs in Egypt. They found a crock of honey and were amazed to find it still eatable – so they dipped into it. During their snacking moment, one adventurer found some hairs in the honey – and further investigation discovered an infant fully preserved in the bottom of the pot. Meal discontinued abruptly.

The exclusion of air was known to be important in preserving food for centuries before germ theory was proposed in the mid-nineteenth century by Louis Pasteur, as was the use of a lot of sugar – but was there more to this method than that? Honey is reputed to have anti-bacterial properties, and there has been a huge resurgence of interest in its external use for wounds and ulcers in recent times.There is clearly more to discover on this topic – so watch out for future posts.

Quotation for the Day …

History: an account mostly false, of events unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
Ambrose Bierce.

Monday, February 02, 2009

To keep Pears.

There are some wonderful and wonderfully awful recipes and remedies in a little book called The widowes treasure plentifully furnished with sundry precious and aprooued secretes in phisicke and chirurgery for the health and pleasure of mankinde: hereunto are adioyned, sundry pretie practises and conclusions of cookerie;with many pofitable and holesome medicines for sundrie diseases in cattell, published in London in 1588.

Amongst the formulae for artificial colours, ink, and a whole lot of other ‘secrets’ are specific remedies for ‘sundrie diseases’ in humans (such as ‘To cause one to pisse’ and ‘For one that is deafe’) as well as cattle - and a few recipes for preserving.

Food preservation methods were limited in the sixteenth century (no canning no refrigeration), but necessity breeds some very creative inventions, as you can see from these alternative 'conclusions',  for prolonging the life of pears.

To keep Peares.
Put them in a vessell that they touche not each other, and make a bed of peares and an other of fine white Salt, and cover them close.

To make drye Peares.
Take faire water and Rosewater according to the quantitie of your peares, then take Honye as much as you thinke good and put in your Peares, then let them seethe very softlye that they breake not, then take them out and put them in a Collander and let them drain, then when you drawe your bread put them into the Oven in some earthen panne, and if they be not drye at the first, put them in againe until they be dry, then barrel them.

So, what do you think? I am most intrigued by the idea of pears kept in layers of salt. I guess they would take on a salty tang? And the honey-poached and then dried pears sound absolutely wonderful and eminently tryable today.

Quotation for the Day …

Pounding fragrant things - particularly garlic, basil, parsley - is a tremendous antidote to depression. But it applies also to juniper berries, coriander seeds and the grilled fruits of the chili pepper. Pounding these things produces an alteration in one's being - from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure. The cheering effects of herbs and alliums cannot be too often reiterated. Virgil's appetite was probably improved equally by pounding garlic as by eating it.
Patience Gray.