Friday, July 31, 2009

Maiden Yeast.

If wet grain is allowed to ferment, you end up, more or less, with either bread or beer, depending on how much water there is in the mix. We don’t know (as far as I know) who first noticed this serendipitous natural event and decided it was worth harnessing and taming, nor where they lived. Likely it happened in many places independently, and certainly it happened a long, long time ago.

The most ancient method of encouraging fermentation was of course to save a bit of dough from the previous batch to inoculate the new. This dough, which had continued to slowly ferment between batches (and to attract local bacteria too, which also contributed to the ‘work’), became sour to a varying degree as a result of the process. This then, is ‘sourdough’- the newly popular very ancient method of leavening (meaning ‘lifting’).

Bakers at some time in history began to borrow from the other side of the process, and used ale or beer yeast from the brewery to raise their dough. Eventually, in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, dried yeast began to be made on a large scale in Europe from the yeasty waste of commercial breweries. Home bakers in particular must have loved this new product which helped to take much of the chancy guesswork away from bread-making.

But – every now and again, for all sorts of reasons, there was a need to start again with a fresh lot of yeast. This most likely happened from time to time even in the best regulated households because the dough had gotten unpleasantly sour due to the inability to control the culture, and had to be thrown out. The resourceful housewife would then start again with a fresh batch of bread mix, which she would dose with just a tiny bit of remaining leaven, or ale yeast or commercial dry yeast. This starter mix would be her new, sweeter tasting, leaven.

Once in every so often a really fresh start had to be made from scratch. A young, fresh, pure, unsullied, and sweetly fragrant yeast was needed. A virgin yeast, or a maiden yeast, as it was not unsurprisingly called. How did the housewife do this?

There were many methods using a variety of ingredients, all based on the same principle – harnessing the natural yeasts and bacteria in the local environment. With luck the local community of micro-organisms would produce a particularly good flavour, as happened with the famous sourdough of San Francisco.

Many yeast starters used potato starch, such as the one I give you today, from the irresistibly named A Thousand Notable Things, Embracing a Collection of Scarce, Curious, and Valuable Receipts, &c … , published in Manchester in 1822. The recipe refers to it a s a ‘substitute’ for yeast, but of course it is actual yeast, captured and brought into service as a substitute for a more commercial variety.

Substitute for Yeast.
The following new invented composition may be used instead of yeast. Boil four pounds of potatoes bruise them quite smooth and mix them warm with an ounce of honey. The composition is to be used a few hours after it is made, in proportion of a pint and a half to half a bushel of bread flour worked with warm water, and to be put into the oven as soon as the sponge begins to fall the first time.

Quotation for the Day.

A Book of Verses undeneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—
and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When is a Chipolata Not a Chipolata?

A ‘chipolata’ here in Australia is, unequivocally, a sausage. Until recently I understood that this was pretty much what it was everywhere else in the civilised world. Not so. Some time ago I came across a mention of a Bavarois Chipolata in a Netherlandish wedding menu of the 1930’s and was briefly, but deeply, horrified. A sweet cream dessert with sausage?

A brief request to the Oracle at Google confirmed that there is a dessert-type Pudding à la Chipolata. Curiously enough it does seem to be associated with the Dutch – at least in its modern incarnation. The story is far from clear however, with one source (1877) insisting it is un gâteau anglais-italien and another that it was invented (and the recipe kept a secret), by the famously tragic French chef François Vatel (1631-1671). Most versions have it as a set or iced pudding, but there is also a version called Plum Pudding à la Chipolata.

So, my question is, what has chipolata – either the sausage or the word – got to do with a sweet dessert? The word apparently comes from the Italian cipolla for onion, and the the classic garnish à la Chipolata does contain onions, as well as chestnuts and small sausages. The sausages used in the chipolata in turn became called chipolata sausages or simply chipolatas. At least, that is my working theory on how the chipolata sausage got its name. None of which explains the pudding variety however (although chestnuts are a common ingredient in nineteenth century iced puddings, so perhaps there is a connection there.)

Frustratingly, after an intense and harrowing full twenty minutes of research, I have been unable to come up with a convincing ‘historic’ recipe for this pudding. I hope that perhaps one of you might be able to fill in this gap. Instead I give you this rather tasty-sounding ‘foreign ragout’ which might make a nice one-pot winter dinner.

A foreign ragout. Blanch two dozen of carrots, two dozen of turnips, the same quantity of large chesnuts and onions; let these stew for some time over the fire with some consommé and a little sugar. Having fried separately a dozen sausages and a dozen slices of bacon, add them with two dozen champignons and a few spoonfuls of espagnole sauce to the vegetables, adding from time to time a little consommé or gravy. These are to stew for an hour.
The domestic dictionary and housekeeper's manual, by G. Merle, 1842

Quotation for the Day.

A high-brow is someone who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Rum Time of It.

I am always intrigued by the special dishes that attend special life events. I wrote a story last year about some of the food traditions associated in previous times with a ‘lying-in’ or a ‘groaning’ (childbirth), and thought that I had exhausted the topic. It seems that this is not the case.

A recent hunt for an entirely different food tradition turned up a book with the amusing title of The Remains of John Briggs: Containing Letter from The Lakes; Westmorland as it Was; Theological Essays; Tales; Remarks on the Newtonian Theory of Light And Fugitive Pieces, (by John Briggs, 1825). Mr Briggs was clearly not afraid to spread his subject matter far and wide. He could have benefitted from a little editorial advice however, as he tackles the same topic (food at a lying-in) twice in the chapter on Westmorland As It Was.

Firstly, he writes:

At a lying-in the matrons of the lating, were regaled with furmity [frumenty] and sweet butter; the latter of which was a compound of sugar and butter boiled together, and seasoned with spices and spirits: this and a new milk cheese were always provided a few weeks before they were wanted; and amongst poor people the expense attending these preparations for each addition to a family was defrayed by a “gathering” amongst the gossips.

A little later he refers to the practice again:

“Lying-in:” It has not been our fortune to obtain very much of the customs formerly practised on these occasions, though we believe there were some very interesting ones What we have obtained we shall give. Previous to the time, a quantity of sweet butter was prepared; for many of the Dale-landers believed that a lying in woman would never recover unless she had plenty of sweet butter. It was thus prepared. The butter was melted (not boiled) in a brass pan, till the milk ran to the top, and the salt sunk to the bottom. The milk was then scummed off, and the butter decanted clear from the salt. A quantity of rum and sugar having been well beat together in a bowl, with a little grated nutmeg, was then mixed with the butter, when all was stirred till the mixture began to cool. Thus prepared it would keep for any length of time, and few houses were without a pot of sweet butter at all seasons of the year.

The word ‘lating’ (spelled elsewhere in the book as ‘laiting’) is a bit of a mystery – not just to me, but to the OED and its colleagues too. The connection with milk would seem obvious (lait is French for milk), but I cannot find any support for that idea. The verb late used to mean ‘to seek or find, or examine’ – but I cant fit that concept into the reality of childbirth either.

By way of another linguistic aside, I must come to the defence of ‘gossips’. A gossip was not always a talkative busybody. The word was originally godsibb, and indicated ‘one who has contracted spiritual affinity with another by acting as a sponsor at a baptism [in other words a godparent]’, and also, specifically ‘a woman's female friends invited to be present at a birth’.

I love that idea of wetting the baby’s head with rum (he mentions this elsewhere), and the new mother being fed rum and butter and sugar!

In honour of those genuine old gossips, and all women approaching their lying-in, I offer this rum and butter and sugar (and bread and milk … ) recipe. The recipe intrigues me greatly because I don’t believe I have ever seen a sweet milk pudding containing cayenne pepper before.

Bread and Butter Pudding.
Stone half a pound of raisins, wash and dry half a pound of currants, cut some slices of bread very thin, pare off the crusts, and butter them. Butter the shape [mould] well and stick the raisins in rows in the inside of the shape. Put in a slice of bread, the buttered side next the shape; lay in some raisins and currants, then a slice of bread, then fruit and so on, alternately until the shape is three fourths full. Beat up six eggs with one table spoonful of sugar, a little lemon juice, grated nutmeg, and cayenne, a little milk and one glass of brandy or rum; mix them well together, and pour into the shape, butter the cover, and boil or steam it for two hours. Serve it with wine sauce in a tureen.

The Practice of Cookery and Pastry, by I.Williams, 1862.

Quotation for the Day.

Rum, n. Generically, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers.
Ambrose Bierce.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"To make meat of parsley."

I have mixed feelings about parsley. It has a very long and extensive history as both a culinary and medicinal herb – for which I admire it enormously. Its reputation has, however, been sullied, I believe, by its modern use as the lazy cook’s generic green sprinkle over anything and everything – a ploy which leaves me saddened and disappointed.

I happen to like parsley, myself, although don’t use it much in cooking as I am married to a parsley-hater. The parsley-hater hates the green leafy bits – but I don’t believe either he or I have ever eaten parsley root - so methinks, if I can source some, I will try it out on both of us.

The whole of the parsley plant is edible, but at least one cultivar is grown specifically for its thicker root. This type is used enthusiastically in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe, which accounts for some of its common names of Hamburg parsley, Dutch parsley, Rock Parsley, Rock Selinen, Turnip-rooted parsley, Parsnip-rooted parsley, Padrushka, and Heimischer. I understand that parsley root looks similar to parsnip (to which it is related), but tastes quite different. It is used in the same way as parsnip and other root vegetables, which means it comes into its own in stews and soups, and would presumably be sweetly delicious when roasted.

I give you a recipe for parsley root taken from Epulario, or, The Italian Banquet (the English translation of 1598). Note that ‘meat’ does not imply a vegetarian recipe, but the word is used in the old sense of ‘meat’ simply meaning ‘food’.

To make meat of parsley
Take Parsely rootes, and pull out the string or pith which is within them, and make them very clean, and boile them very well in flesh broth with Pepper and saffaron, this may likewise be done with oile.

Quotation for the Day.

Parsley is gharsley.
Ogden Nash (1902-71)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Old Pudding Time.

On July 27th in 1774, our old friend Parson James Woodforde - a graduate of Oxford - entertained six guests there. Somehow this seems auspicious to me as I have spent a large part of the weekend finalising my plans to visit Oxford in September for the annual Symposium on Food and Cookery.

So, what did the good parson enjoy at his little dinner party on this day (it is already the 27th in Oz, I assure you)?

“I breakfasted, dined, supped and slept again at College … [Six Gentlemen] dined and spent the afternoon with me at New College. I borrowed the Chequer Room of the Bursars for my company to dine in. We were very merry and pushed the Bottle very briskly. I gave my Company for dinner, some green Pea Soup, a chine of Mutton, some New College Puddings, a goose, some Peas and a Codlin Tart with Cream. Madeira and Port Wine to drink after and at dinner some strong Beer, Cyder, Ale and small Beer. … I had a handsome dish of fruit after dinner… I gave my company only for supper cold mutton. After supper I gave them to drink some Arrac Punch with Jellies in it and some Port Wine. … We drank 8 bottles of Port one bottle of Madeira besides Arrac Punch, Beer and Cyder. I carried of my drinking exceedingly well indeed.”

There are many different dishes called College Pudding in the very vast English pudding repertoire. The earliest known recipe is usually quoted to be that in William Kitchener’s The Cook’s Oracle (1830), and his version is:

College Puddings.
Beat four eggs, yelks and whites together, in a quart basin, with two ounces of flour, half a nutmeg, a little ginger, and three ounces of sugar; pounded loaf sugar is best. Beat it into a smooth batter, then add six ounces of suet chopped fine, six of currants well washed and picked; mix it all well together; a glass of brandy or white wine will improve it. These puddings are generally fried in butter or lard but they are much nicer baked in an oven in patty pans; twenty minutes will bake them: if fried, fry them till they are of a nice light brown, and when fried roll them in a little flour. You may add one ounce of orange or citron minced very fine; when you bake them, add one more egg or two spoonfuls of milk. Serve them up with white wine sauce.

However - there is a recipe specifically named New College Puddings in The Compleat Housewife, by E. Smith, published in 1736.

To make New-College Puddings.
Grate a penny stale Loaf, and put to it a like quantity of Beef-suet finely shred, and a Nutmeg grated, a little Salt, some Currants, and then beat some Eggs in a little Sack [sherry], and some Sugar, and mix all together, and knead it as stiff as for Manchet, and make it up in the form and size of a Turkey-Egg, but a little flatter; then take a pound of Butter, and put it in a Dish, and set the Dish over a clear fire in a Chafing-dish, and rub your Butter about the dish till ‘tis melted; put your Puddings in, and cover the Dish, but often turn your Puddings, until they are brown alike, and when they are enough, scrape Sugar over them and serve them up hot for a side Dish.
You must let the Paste lie a quarter of an hour before you make up your puddings.

Something very like this recipe also appears in a book about the college itself - New College, by Hastings Rashdall (1858-1924) and Robert Sangster Rait (1874-1936), published in 1901. Unfortunately the authors don’t reveal its provenance, although the wording suggests that it is significantly earlier than 1901 – perhaps it is the real original from the college kitchen archives?

New Colledge Puddings.
For one duzon take a penny halfe penny white bread and grate it an put to that halfe a pound of beefe suett minced small half a pound of curantes one nutmeg and salt and as much creame and eggs as will make it almost as stiffe as past then make you in the fashon of an egg, then lay them into the dish that you bake them in one by one with a quarter of a pound of butter melted in the bottom, then set them over a cleare charcole fire and cover them, when they are browne, turne them till they are browne all over, then dishe them into a cleane dishe, for yr sause take sack, suger, rosewater and butter, pour this over yr puddings and scrape over fine suger and serve them to the table.

We have shared many previous meals with Parson Woodforde. If you would like to repeat the experience, they are at the following links:

Quotation for the Day.

It's not improbable that a man may receive more solid satisfaction from pudding while he is alive than from praise after he is dead.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Foodie Birthday.

This day, Juy 24, was the birthday in 1802 of Alexandre Dumas (père), the French author of The Three Musketeers. Dumas was a dedicated and famous gourmet (‘foodie’, if you like), and wished to be remembered for his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine – finally published two years after his death – rather than his novels. He left a legacy of some of the best nineteenth century French food stories and quotations, many of which have been fodder for this blog in the past.

Here is a selection of my favourite quotations from the birthday boy:

“Wine is the intellectual part of a meal, meats are merely the material part.”

“When I eat truffles, I become livelier, happier, Ifeel refreshed. I feel inside me, especially in my veins, a soft voluptuous heat that quickly reaches my head. My ideas are clearer and easier.”

"The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber [the truffle], and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord."

Dumas was inordinately proud of his salad recipe which we have featured in a previous post. He was moderately famous in his own time – at least amongst his friends – for this salad, which he prepared with his own hands. He was also in possession of “a certain recipe for stewed carp” which has retained the air of mystery it had in his own time, and has refused to reveal itself (to me, at any rate.)

Instead, I give you a recipe for fish named in his honour by the very famous nineteenth century chef, Alexis Soyer. The dish will also perfectly fit the bill for those of you in parts of the world where it is still July 23rd and therefore still Neptunalia (see “yesterday’s” post.)

Filets of Mackerel à la Dumas.
Fillet your mackerel as you would whitings by passing the knife down the back bone, lay your fillets in a buttered sauté-pan (the skin side upwards) with two tablespoonfuls of oil, two of port wine, and season with a little pepper and salt; place them over a sharp fire ten minutes, then turn them and place them over again five minutes longer, or till they are done; take them out cut each fillet in halves and dish them round on a dish without a napkin; then put twelve tablespoonfuls of brown sauce (No. 1) into the sauté-pan, let it boil five minutes then add a teaspoonful of chopped mushrooms half ditto of chopped parsley, a little lemon juice, and a small quantity of sugar ;chop the roe of the mackerel and put in the sauce, let it simmer five minutes; pour it over the fillets cover them lightly with bread crumbs, brown lightly with the salamander and serve very hot. The sauce must not be too thick.
The Gastronomic Regenerator, by Alexis Soyer

Quotation for the Day.

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

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The riches of the sea.

Today, July 23, is the day that we would have devoted to honouring Neptune, the god of the sea and water, if we were in Ancient Rome. Actually, now that I think about it, Neptune should be honoured here in Modern Brisbane, which has some pretty damn divine seafood that any god would be honoured to be offered. In fact, I think we’ll go and eat fish (and chips) tonight at the usual place, if we can find a coupla friends to go with us (you know who you are …)

What, exactly, the Romans did to celebrate Neptune is not entirely clear to me, but I am not an ancient historian (you can take that any way you like.) They apparently built small shelters (umbrae) of leaves and branches and so on, under which they enjoyed the Roman equivalent of picnics, drank cool spring water and wine, and otherwise desported themselves.

Today I make a symbolic offering to Neptune and all seafood lovers. I give you all a recipe for the famously, spectacularly, ridiculously extravagant fish soup supposedly made for the Russian Empress Catherine II.

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

If anyone wants to make this soup for me today, I am willing to forgo the fish restaurant. I can be reached by email (see the top of the sidebar), which I will check frequently throughout the day.

Quotation for the Day.

[T]his planet is covered with sordid men who demand that he who spends time fishing shall show returns in fish.
Leonidas Hubbard, Jr.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Furnishing the Table.

It seems to be the trendy restaurant thing nowadays to specify the provenance of the ingredients used in each dish. The idea hooks into so many modern movements or campaigns – eating authentically, locally, organically etc. – and if the origin can be specified down to the actual farm, so much the better.

Once upon a time, eating anything other than local was, of course, the rule. The only exceptions were for foods with naturally long shelf-lives (such as root vegetables, for example), or which could be preserved by the more limited methods available at the time. Naturally, food transported long distances were more expensive too, so generally speaking the non-local food was only available for the wealthier folk.

That is not to say that in the past there was not a sense of foods from some locations being preferable to others, or of some varietals being better – and these therefore should be specified and sourced if at all possible. The following recipe from The whole duty of a woman, or, an infallible guide to the fair sex, of 1737, demonstrates this well. The recipe words are italicized as they are in the original. Notice also how concerned she is that the dish is pleasant to the eye as well as the taste.

Boiled Venison.
Having a Haunch of Venison, salt it well, and let it remain a Week, then boil it and serve it with a Furniture of Cauliflowers, Russia Cabbages, some of the Hertfordshire Turnips cut in Dice, and boiled in a Net, and tossed up with Butter and Cream, or else have some of the yellow French Turnips, cut in Dice, and boiled like the former, or we might add some red Beet Roots boiled in Dice, and buttered in the same Manner. Place these regularly, and they will afford a pleasant Variety both to the Eye and the Taste.

I do like the use of the word ‘furniture’ in this context too. The OED gives one explanation of ‘furniture’ as being ‘a decoration, an embellishment’, as well as ‘a provision, stock, or supply of anything’.

Quotation for the Day.

Fishes considered as a food, make a considerable addition to the furniture of the table.
Thomas Best, A Concise Treatise on the Art of Angling, 1787

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Other Uses of Bread.

In a previous post I introduced you to the idea of divination by cheese (tyromancy) – and now I bring to you the alternative idea of aleuromancy (or alphitomancy) – or divination by bread (or a bread-like material).

There are numerous interpretations and expectations of the ritual. It is said that in Ancient Greece, sentences were composed (by whom, I am not quite clear) and written down (on what, I am definitely not clear, as paper was not invented yet), and rolled up in small balls of flour dough which were then mixed up and randomly selected by those who wished to know the truth, or the answer, or the future. It appears the messages and wrapping did not have to be eaten. A bit like the fortune cookie idea, by the sounds of it.

The other thing that could be divined by ‘bread’ – in the larger European sphere – was one’s guilt or innocence. The ‘ordeal of bread’ was carried out by the accused party being given an amount of barley bread, or dry oatmeal, or whatever the local favourite substance was, and ordered to swallow it at once – choking being indicative of guilt.

The recipe for the day is a divine use of bread indeed – a delicate carrot pudding which sounds light and delicious. It is from A modern system of domestic cookery, or, The housekeeper's guide, by M. Radcliffe (1823).

Fine Carrot Pudding.
Grate half a pound of the sweetest and most delicate raw carrot, and double the quantity of white bread; mix eight beaten yolks and four whites of eggs, with half a pint of new milk; and melt half a pound of fresh butter, with half a pint of white wine, three spoonfuls of orange flower water, a grated nutmeg, and sugar to palate. Stir the whole well together; and, if too thick, add more milk till it be of a moderate consistency. Lay a puff paste all over the dish and bake it an hour. Serve it up with sugar grated over. This fine pudding is easily made still more delicious by using Naples biscuit and cream instead of bread and new milk, and putting in a glass of ratafia with the orange flower water. On account of its beautiful colour this pudding is often sent to table turned out of the crust bottom upward, having a little fine sugar grated over it. Some too boil the carrot, and scald the cream but neither is necessary and by boiling much of the saccharine quality of the carrot is always unavoidably lost.

Quotation for the Day.

Bread is the warmest, kindest of all words. Write it always with a capital letter, like your own name.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Cricket (Widow's) Dinner.

It is that time of the year again, I am afraid. The time of the year that it is even more difficult to prise the Aussie (English, Indian, Sri-Lankan, West-Indian ….. ) man away from the screen - because THE CRICKET IS ON! And when the CRICKET IS ON, it is ON FOR FIVE FULL DAYS.

It is an anachronism, today, a single game of sport that lasts for five days. A game in which, to the uninitiated, nothing much exciting appears to happen for long stretches of time, but to the initiated is packed full of strategy and tactics and decisions and little runs and big scores. A legacy of a more leisured age. Perhaps a reassuring legacy in our short-attention-span world of instant gratification? Something to help preserve the ability of the brain to focus on something for more than five minutes?

From this cricket widow, please accept, for your amusement, this satirical “Bill of Fare for a Cricket Dinner”, from Judy, or the London Serio-Comic Journal of June, 1897.

Hors d’Œuvres: Duck’s Eggs; Hundred-and-Thousands.
Potage: Lob-ster Purée.
Poissons: Wicket-Kippers; Whiting, Crease Sauce.
Entrées: Bals Perdus; Chasse-au-Cuir en Tortue.
Releves: Square-legs of Mutton; Hams (Yorkers).
Rôts: Demi-vollailles.
Entremets: Batter Pudding; Oval Jellies.
Dessert: Long Hops; Chestnuts; Stone-wall-fruit.

The hundreds and thousands (of runs? pigeons on the pitch? commentators trivial asides and non-sequiteurs?) are interesting. They are tiny, garishly-coloured sugared pellets or sprinkles – miniscule comfits, really - used to decorate cakes and trifles, and to make fairy bread. They are the pure modern commercial interpretation of the non-pareils made in France since at least the seventeenth century from powdered orris-root and sugar. Orris root is from a species of iris, and has a long history of medicinal use as well as its value to the fragrance industry.

Here is the way to make the real thing.

Nonpareils may be reckoned among the first species of confectionary, and from their great utility will last probably as long as the art itself. Put into the pan over the barrel half a pound of Florence orris-root, pulverized and sifted, and warmed with a gentle fire. Take about half a table spoonful of syrup boiled to a pearl, moisten the powder with it and with your hands make them into small grains; increase the charges by degrees, sift the nonpareils to take off the small particles and dust of the sugar; repeat the sifting often taking care to have sieves of different sizes. At night place the nonpareils in the stove to dry increasing them in size day after day with the finest sugar, and finish as above. Half a pound of orris will make more than a hundred weight of nonpareils.
The Italian Confectioner, William Alexis Jarrin, 1829.

Quotation for the Day.

Anyone who uses the phrase 'easy as taking candy from a baby' has never tried taking candy from a baby.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Turnips, by many other names.

Lets be brutally honest here - the turnip is not a sexy vegetable. It is too old, for sure - being an ancient crone of the vegetable kingdom, unable to claim even the slightest residual menopausal allure. It is the wrong shape, probably – being centrally obese rather than asparagusly phallic-like. It is wintry and old-fashioned rather than light (or lite) and trendy, and poor and wholesome rather than rich and elegant. It is decidedly not exotic.

The turnip has changed its name regularly over the centuries, perhaps in a series of desperate attempts to re-brand itself, but, sadly, to no avail. Once upon a time in ancient times it was neeps – as it still is in some resolutely old-fashioned Celtic parts of the world. At some point it became rapes – a misguided choice of name, considering the other connotations of the word. At some other (turning?) point it became tourn- or turn-neeps – but it would take a linguistics expert to unravel the significance of that quantum change. One variety took on an exotic foreign persona as the swede, but still could not manage to look tall, blond, and sexy.

Even a wealthy, hard-working sponsor did not help. The the eighteenth century gentleman farmer ‘Turnip’ Townshend got his nickname (his avatar?) on account of his great interest in the vegetable. The problem may be that he emphasised its useful, practical, agricultural value of the turnip – not its culinary significance. Perhaps he should have written a turnip cookbook. However hard you look at it, it seems that the turnip cannot shake its pedestrian, poverty-associated image.

The only slight chance the turnip has to gain any hint of sexiness, in my view, is to refuse to answer to anything other than its French name of navets – a drastic re-branding idea that seems to be working in respect of prunes vs dried plums.

The staple of the poor, historically, has been some form of bread – particularly bread that does not use too much aristocratic, expensive wheat. To bulk out bread dough – albeit at the expense of good bread texture – almost any starch will do. The turnip, being cheap and easily grown even in despicable climates, was ideal. Here is how you do it, according to William Salmon’s Household Companion of 1695. It sounds quite tasty – and medicinal too.

Turnip bread.
Take about half a Bushel of middling sort of Turnips, not sticky, but such as will boil soft: being pared and boiled, press out the Water very hard until they are quite dry, beat them in a Mortar, and mix with the Pulp about two pound of fine Wheat-flower, and two ounces of Carraway-seeds; put in a pint, or somewhat more of new Ale-yeast, mould it up as other Bread, and let it be well soaked, and it will not only look, but tast like Bread. This is not only made for saving Charges in poor Families in a dear Year, but of late has been much in esteem for Consumptions, and those troubled with shortness of Breath and Ptissick; being very wholesome and nourishing.

Quotation of the Day.

One who is proud of ancestry is like a turnip; there is nothing good of him but that which is underground.
Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Good Basting.

I came across the phrase ‘a good basting’ recently in a non-culinary sense. It was in an old story, and referred to a good beating or whalloping – a right royal punch-up, in fact, or a good-old bastinado, perhaps. The very same day I tidied up my disgracefully messy sewing room (a displacement activity akin to sharpening one’s pencils), and the remembered that ‘basting’ is also a needlework phrase for joining something up with long, temporary stitches. ‘Basting’ is also, of course, something you do to roasting meat while it is cooking.
Naturally, three such different uses of the word intrigued me, so off to the authorities I went. To put it briefly, the various dictionaries hazard lots of guesses, but dare not get definitive. In dictionary-speak therefore, the origin of the various uses of the word is ‘obscure’ or even ‘unknown’. I did find one attempt to connect the meanings of beating and meat-basting. It is in A New Dictionary of the English Language (1844), by Charles Richardson. The author quotes a source called ‘Sk’, who ‘believed is baste – to strike; because formerly it was the custom to rub the meat with a stick covered with fat; though now the liquid is dropped upon the meat from a distance’.

The idea, of course, is to keep the meat moist, and to add flavour. So, what to use to do this? One of my favourite books, William Salmon’s Household Companion (1695)- which is written in dictionary format – has, under the heading ‘Bastings of Meats or Fowls’, the following suggestions:

(1) Clarified Suet (2) Fresh Butter (3) Minced Sweet-herbs, Butter and Claret-wine; and this last is excellent for Mutton or Lamb (4) Water and Salt (5) and especially for a Flayed Pig, Cream and melted Butter well beaten up together (6) Yolks of Eggs, Juice of Oranges, and grated Bisket: And if this be intended for large Fowl, as Bustards, Peacocks, or Turkeys, you may use the same.

There is no doubt about it - the obscure origin of the word indicates that the use (in the culinary sense) is very old – much older than Salmon’s time. The earliest OED reference is from 1509 ‘The fat pygge is baast, the lene cony is brent.’ The second is from the famous cookbook called Epulario (or, The Italian Banquet), the English edition of 1598, which instructs, in a recipe for roasted kid ‘Let it rost sokingly, basting it oft with the foresaid sauce.’

I love that loving phrase ‘to rost sokingly’, so I hereby give you the actual recipe (and a spare, with a LOT of garlic) from Epulario. You could subsitute lamb, if you like.

To rost a Kid with Garlike.
Take the kid and larde it with Garlike very well, and stuff it full of cornes of Garlike well pilled, then take Verjuice, the yolkes of two Eggs, and two cornes of Garlike well beaten in a morter, with a little Pepper, and some fat broth, mire them all together, and set it under the kid while it rosteth, and bast it therewith, and when it is rosted, put it in a dish with that sauce: the kid would be well rosted, and eaten hote.

To rost a Kid otherwise without Garlike.
Take the kid and larde it well, then take the Liver and lights and beat them well togeher with suet, that done, take seven or eight Egges sodden [boiled], and beat them with Parsely, Mint, and a little Sage, and mingle them together, putting thereto Pepper, Saffron, and a few cloves, wherewith you shall stuffe the Kid, and so lay it to the fire, and let it rost sokingly, basting it often with the aforesaid sauce, without garlike.

Quotation for the Day.

“The human body, when it freezes in eternal silence, is said to be worth about ninety-eight cents. The body of an ordinary south European, if we could devise the means for extracting the garlic from it, would be worth a bushel of gold.”
Angelo Pellegrini, 'The Unprejudiced Palate' (1948)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


When is a cheese not a cheese? I became puzzled during my research for Menus From History when I came across fromage on several otherwise scrupulously observant bills of fare for dinners taken during Lent. Scrupulously observant Christians of the past were expected to abstain from all animal products the forty days of Lent – and at many periods there were secular penalties too, for breaking the rules.

Historically the word cheese could also mean something compressed or moulded or shaped like a cheese. In the words of John Pinkerton, the author of Recollections of Paris, in the Years 1802-5, “… fromage at Paris is a lax term for any substance compressed. Thus a fromage d’Italie is a Bologna sausage and a fromage glacé is a kind of ice.”

I don’t know of any other references to Bologna sausage that describe it in this way, and suspect it was not universal. Even in Pinkerton’s time I would suspect that most travellers who ordered fromage d’Italie would have expected a nice slice of Gorgonzola or something, not a slice of sausage.

The best known form of non-cheese cheese today is probably that made from fruit pulp – such as the quince paste we eat with real cheese, or the damson cheese we met in a previous post – a form that would certainly have been allowed during Lent.  A form highly unlikely to be found on a modern menu is head cheese – otherwise known as brawn (or souse, or collared head). The name seems to be American in origin, and seems to have appeared sometime in the nineteenth century. The explanation is obvious, of course, the cheese being made from the head and other relatively scrappy sources of meat.

Occasionally on a modern menu we might find a bavarois or bavaroise – a sort of custard or flavoured cream set with gelatin. It was once more commonly called Bavarian Cream or Bavarian Cheese, or even Bavarian Cream Cheese.

I give you two interesting variations on this theme. The first is for a fromage glacé (iced cheese) which, interestingly, the author indicates is English in style, presumably because of the well-known love of the nineteenth century English for iced and moulded puddings. The second is from the seventeenth century and would make a fine accompaniment to a dessert of fresh fruit.

Fromages Aux Epingles ou à’l Anglaise.
This fromage is called épingle, because the cream only receives the first icing; it is put quite liquid into the mould, and is neither to be stirred or worked; thus it will form in threads of ice; these are called épingles. All sorts of creams, &c., can be served thus when not boiled, for if boiled they will not answer
Manner Of Preparing It:
Make a cream with any fruit you like; when well mixed put into a mould à fromage, and put this mould in ice well pounded, and mixed with salt or saltpetre; let it remain three or four hours without stirring or working, only taking care it is well surrounded with ice, then serve. There will be threads of ice on the cream called epingles
French confectionary adapted for English families, by Frances Crawford (1853)

[épingle translates, according to Google, as pin]

Take Almonds beaten fine, make a Sack-Posset made only with Sack and Cream, take off the Curd and mingle it with the beaten Almonds, set it on a Chafing-dish of Coals and put some double refined Sugar to it with a sufficient quantity of Rose-Water, then in a Pye-Plate fashion it into the form of a Cheese; put it into a Dish, and scrape a little Sugar over it, and when it is cold, serve it up.
From William Salmon’s Household Companion (1695)

Quotation for the Day …

Cheese when given with a sparing hand is wholesome.
Aphorism from the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum (the School of Health at Salerno, about 12th or 13th century)


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Any Banana With That?

Sorry folks, I just couldn’t resist continuing yesterday’s theme. A banana, at its simplest, needs no effort – it is already dessert in a skin, is it not? A fruit with a very short shelf-life however, as those of us who have half a freezer full of the super-soft, blackly over-ripe specimens know only too well. There are only so many banana muffins and banana cakes that one little household can consume.

Because of its spectacularly short shelf life, the banana was a great luxury outside of its natural habitat until modern methods of transport and climate-controlled environments enabled it to be delivered to the eager markets of the temperate parts of the world. Recipes for bananas really only start to appear regularly in cookbooks towards the end of the nineteenth century, and then they were mostly for sweet dishes. That is not to say that the idea of a savoury banana (no doubt based on the use of the related plantain) did not exist at all.

To help you use up the over-supply of bananas in your fruit bowl before they become muffin-material, I give you the following recipes for savoury dishes.

Steak with Bananas
Peel one banana and slice in round pieces, and while the steak is cooking fry them in a little hot butter until they are brown. After the meat is on the platter, lay these pieces over it, arranging them prettily, and put the parsley round as before.
Bananas are very nice with steak.
A Little Cookbook for a Little Girl. 1905

Bananas Fried in Egg and Crumbs: for a Savoury.
Sift the following mixture over the banana before coating with egg and crumbs and also before serving:
One teaspoonful of salt, ¼ teaspoonful of dry mustard, ¼ teaspoonful of pepper, a little cayenne, and 1 teaspoonful of red or brown crumbs [of what, the author does not say!]. Mix well together and shake over the bananas.
The banana its cultivation, distribution and commercial uses, William Fawcett 1921

Banana Savouries.
Banana savouries are not unusual. Here is an excellent one. Melt some butter in a fireproof dish and season it with salt and paprika. Cook for a few minutes, stirring well. Then lay in sufficient bananas split lengthways. Turn them several times so that the sauce works in, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs and grated cheese and a very little paprika. Add a few pieces of butter and bake in the oven.
Recipes for Small Households, The Times, Monday, Mar 20, 1939

Quotation for the Day…

Bananas are more like flowers, ... you can't mess around with them.
Richard Benson.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Any Oranges With That?

Lemon with fish is pretty much an incontrovertible rule in the kitchen, is it not? Break the rule and risk punishment by mass exodus of customers, and mass sackings of staff. Once upon a time citrus was used pretty commonly with meat too. Of course we are all familiar with the idea of duck with an orange sauce. Sadly, usually nowadays it comes as a tacky, sickly-sweet marmalade-y mess that is centuries away from the elegant original form made with the bitter Seville orange - a far better foil for the rich and fatty duck meat, methinks.

Here is an early version of the idea, from The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin (1594)

To boyle a Capon with Oranges after Mistres Duffelds way.
Take a Capon and boyle it with Veale, or with a mary bone [marrow bone], or what your fancie is. Then take a good quantitie of that broth, and put it in an earthen pot by it selfe, and put thereto a good handfull of Corrans [currants], and as manie Prunes, and a few whole Maces, and some Marie [marrow], and put to this broth a good quantitie of white wine or of Claret, and so let them seeth softly together: Then take your Orenges, and with a knife scrape of all the filthinesse of the outside of them. Then cut them in the middest, and wring out the ioyse [juice] of three or foure of them, put the ioyse into your broth with the rest of your stuffe, then slice your Orenges thinne, and haue upon the fire readie a skellet of faire seething water, and put your sliced Orenges into the water, & when that water is bitter, have more readie, and so change them still as long as you can finde the great bitternesse in the water, which will be sixe or seven times, or more, if you find need: then take them from the water, and let that runne cleane from them: then put close Orenges into your potte with your broth, and so let them stew together till your Capon be readie. Then make your sops with this broth, and cast on a litle Sinamon, Ginger, and Sugar, and upon this lay your Capon, and some of your Orenges vpon it, and some of your Marie, and towarde the end of the boyling of your broth, put in a little Vergious [verjuice], if you think best.

We did play with the idea of orange food once before, and our source was Aunt Babette's Cook Book: Foreign and domestic receipts for the household (Cincinnati, 1889). On that occasion I gave you four orange recipes – all sweet ones however - orange fritters, cake, ice, and orangeade. I was reminded of that post recently as I was browsing 365 Orange Recipes; an Orange Recipe for Every Day in the Year (c1909). Today, to match the numbers, I give you a further three recipes for the use of orange in savoury dishes, taken from the latter book.

Onions with Orange Sauce.
Boil 1 dozen onions in three changes of water until tender but not broken; drain them and add ½ cupful of melted butter mixed with a little grated rind, 1 teaspoonful of minced parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serve very hot.

Calf’s Liver with Orange.
Cut 1 pound of calf’s liver in slices one-half inch thick, cover with boiling water for a minute, drain and cook brown in bacon fat. Chop one onion and brown in butter adding 1 peeled and chopped orange two minutes before removing from the fire; season with salt and pepper and place one spoonful of the sauce on each slice of liver.

Finnan-Haddie with Orange Butter.
Soak finnan-haddie for one hour in two changes of warm water, drain well and fry in butter or broil over slow coals. Melt ½ cupful of butter, stir into it the diced pulp and the grated rind of ½ an orange; spread over the fish and serve at once.

Quotation for the Day.

When life sucks and hands you lemons, I say beat the crap out of it and demand some Florida oranges as well.
By ?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Liverpool Curry.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (commonly known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition) in London in 1851 made the country, at least for a time, a tourist destination. The visitors seemed to come for some years afterwards, and at least one author (who is not named) felt the need (or saw the niche) for a travel book. The American stranger’s guide to London and Liverpool at Table was published in 1859, and not only advised ‘how to dine and order a dinner, and where to avoid dining’, but also gave ‘practical hints to butlers and cooks’ – and threw in some recipes from the Royal Yacht Squadron Steward’s Manual. It all sounds as if the author wasn’t really sure who his target audience was, doesn’t it?

The author was, however, aware that the shared heritage and common language between the two countries did not obviate all cultural confusion. He spent some time explaining the mysteries of “Curry” to his American readers (the English considering themselves experts on the topic of course, on account of owning India at the time). He is clear and dogmatic on the fine point that Bengal, Madras, and Bombay Curries differ in the details, and pompous and pedantic in the associated footnote.

Speaking of Curries, it is lamentable to witness this aromatic dish served in Europe as an Entrée, sometimes with scarcely any rice, and that in the same dish. The rice should he abundant and carefully boiled; handed round in a separate dish, and then the Curry. It should never appear until the second course, and is an admirable substitute for Game, when the latter is not in season, or to be had. In India this dish is indispensable both at tiffin and dinner daily. It is a hors d’oeuvre that people never tire of, when properly concocted and served à l’Oriental, being in fact the Pâté de Foies-Gras of India. When partaking of Curry, always use a Dessert spoon instead of a fork; the use of the latter betokens a “Griffin”.

There is so much worthy of comment in this short opinion piece that it is hard to know where to start. His use of a capital for ‘Curry’ in every instance; Curry as a second course dish, never, God forbid! as an Entrée; Curry as an hors d’oeuvre; Curry as the ‘Pâté de Foies-Gras of India’; the entire concept of ‘Curry’ as an ‘Indian’ dish when it is unequivocally Anglo-Indian. I am sure those of you with a heritage based in the Indian subcontinent are falling about laughing or crying right now. I would love to hear your thoughts.

The last word intrigues me. It was clearly an undesirable thing to be a griffin, or at least poor form to demonstrate griffinism. I understood a griffin to be a fabulous, imaginary beast, half eagle, half lion – so how does that fit here?

The OED gives an alternative meaning of ‘griffin’ as ‘A European newly arrived in India, and unaccustomed to Indian ways and peculiarities; a novice, new-comer, greenhorn.’ One of the supporting quotations notes ‘Young men, immediately on their arrival in India, are termed griffins, and retain this honour until they are twelve months in the country.’ So, there we have it. Or at least, we have half of it. The definition begs the question of ‘why griffin?’. Why not unicorn or centaur or phoenix or dragon? Is there an Indian dialect word that is similar in sound and meaning?

There was no agonising dilemma in chosing the recipe for the day from this book. The delightful dissonance produced by the collision of words in the name of the dish was instantly irresistible (methinks in inverse proportion to the degree of irresistibility of the dish itself.)

Liverpool Curry.
à la Parry.
Form two table spoonfuls of curry powder into paste. Cut up a rabbit or fowl into small pieces an inch long, rub them over with the paste, fry the meat with butter, and four onions sliced, to a deep brown; then add about two-thirds of a pint of good gravy, and let simmer for twenty mintues, remove all fat and skim, and put by cold; when wanted stew gently for four hours.
Mix together 2 spoonfuls of cream, 1 spoonful of Soy, a tea cupful of sour apples, or a table spoonful of craberries, 1 of flour, Dessert spoon of salt, a bit of butter, which add to the curry half an hour before it is taken from the fire.
When dished up add the juice of half a lemon. In India ham is eaten with curry and pickles, &c., to suit the taste of partakers; the remains of a duck, or of game, all come well into season, if you have them

Quotation for the Day.

Where life is colorful and varied, religion can be austere or unimportant. Where life is appallingly monotonous, religion must be emotional, dramatic and intense. Without the curry, boiled rice can be very dull.
C. Northcote Parkinson.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


With a bit of luck, on this day in 1914, you might have been aboard the SS Minnesota of the Chicago-Milwaukee-Buffalo Line. The breakfast sounds substantial, and is a fine demonstration of the inroads of commercial breakfast cereals into the traditional fare for this meal.

Thursday, July 9th, 1914
Fruit in Season Stewed Fruit
Rolled Oats      Manioca
Egg-O-See     Force     Maple Flakes, Toasted
Boiled Eggs
Fried Eggs or Eggs à la Turque
Fried Spring Lamb Chops, Breaded
Tomato Sauce
Smithfield Sausage
On Toast
Hash Brown Potato à la Spain
Baked Potatoes
Toast, Dry or Buttered Home Made Rolls
Coffee English Breakfast Tea
Uncolored Japanese Tea
Coffee, Boston Style        Milk       Postum Cereal

The proprietary breakfast cereals include the Postum which is listed with the beverages. Postum was a cereal-based substitute for the evil and over-stimulating drink of coffee, and was invented in the late nineteenth century by C.W. Post – one of the converts of John Harvey Kellogg.

We have previously considered Force – also on another steamship menu (and I was much enlightened on this topic by bloggers’ comments on this, thankyou). The Egg-O-See and Maple Flakes remain to be understood.

The Maple Flakes are presumably Mapl-Flake, a direct contribution of the Kellogg family’s Battle Creek company, who invented the whole concept of breakfast cereals in the first place. They are, according to the advertisements of the time “simply the Flakes of the finest Washington white wheat, flavored with pure Vermont maple syrup’ (takes 96 hours to make)”, also conveniently made and served in “leading hotels, clubs and dining car systems” in “‘dainty one-portion package, wrapped in embossed onion-skin paper and sealed with gold seals.”

The Egg-O-See (a strange name?) is yet another offering from Battle Creek. The flaked breakfast cereal‘takes selected wheat and makes it delicious and digestive.’ Advertisements in 1905 informed readers of its popularity with the information that “more than 3600 miles of Egg-O-See are manufactured and consumed annually, that is, over twenty-eight million packages are sold’ (1905), and of its deliciousness with the slogan “Dere aint go’n’er be no leavin’s”.

There is much else to ponder upon in this menu. What is ‘uncolored Japanese tea’? What, specifically, is ‘Boston Style’ coffee? How was the manioca prepared?

While I search out a recipe for my preferred dish for the morning – the Eggs à la Turque, I give you the following idea – nicer than manioca perhaps?

Delicious Maple Sauce.
2 egg yolks.
¼ cup maple syrup.
½ cup whipped cream.
Beat the yolks very light, putting in a pinch of salt; put in the syrup and cook till the spoon coats over when you dip in; then cool and beat in the whipped cream and serve very cold.
A Cookbook for a Little Girl, 1905

Quotation for the Day.

Life is like a grapefruit. Well, it's sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy in the middle. It's got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have a half a one for breakfast.
Douglas Adams.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


I always thought that ‘stick-jaw’ was toffee. I was right, but only partially. It seems that before it was toffee, stick-jaw was a pudding. Not a delicious pudding, but a pudding whose sole purpose was to occupy space in the digestive system and provide calories – especially to those living in institutions of various kinds. It was apparently ranked alongside scrap or resurrection pie as the bane of the nineteenth century boarding schoolboy’s life.

The dictionary describes stick-jaw as “a pudding or sweetmeat difficult of mastication’. To a schoolboy it was “pudding crammed down our throats to take away our appetite for the meat to follow.”

Sometimes it was a simple boiled pudding with the solidity and flavourlessness that only large amounts of suet and completely absent fruit (sugar, butter, eggs, spices) can provide. Often, like resurrection pie, stick-jaw pudding was made from scraps – in this case the scraps of bread accumulated over the course of the week.

Bread pudding, properly made, has a lot going for it of course. Here is a nice version from The Accomplished Housekeeper, and Universal Cook (1797), by T. Williams

A Bread Pudding.
Boil half a pint of milk with a little cinnamon, four eggs well beaten, the rind of a lemon grated, half a pound of suet chopped fine, and as much bread as necessary. Pour your milk on the bread and suet, keep mixing it until ocld, then put in the lemon peel, the eggs, a little sugar, and some nutmeg grated find. You may either boil or bake this pudding.

Quotation for the Day.

Books cannot always please, howver good;
Minds are not ever craving for their food.
George Crabbe (1754-1832), The Borough Schools.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Darkie Pickle, Darkie Pie.

An atmosphere of political correctness makes us shudder at some phrases – food phrases included – nowadays, doesn’t it? Ugly phrases with nasty connotations. Makes one reluctant to mention them. Fearful of being labelled oneself as something equally ugly and nasty. Nevertheless, the names, the phrases, and the concepts all have history, and we cant pretend they don’t.

I give you two recipes from the 1930’s from The New York Times’ column Recipes for Small Households. The common ingredient is Demarara (or Demerara) sugar, which is raw or unrefined sugar named for the colony of Demarara in Guyana.

Darkie Pickle.
Throw salt over half a peck of green tomatoes. Let them stand overnight. Then rinse out the salt and put them into the preserving pan. Now mix in a bowl half a pound of demarara sugar, half an ounce of ground cloves, the same quantity of ginger, pepper, and allspice, and one ounce of dry mustard. Sprinkle the tomatoes with this mixture. Add sufficient vinegar and let it boil for five hours, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Then cool and put into jars. The vinegar must completely cover the pickle. It will keep for a long time.

Darkie Pie.
Cut eight bananas in thin slices lengthways. Place a layer in a buttered pie-dish, sprinkle with Demarara sugar, a little powdered cinnamon, a squeeze of lemon juice. Dot with small pieces of butter. Repeat the layers, finishing with butter, sugar, and lemon. Add a tablespoon of water and bake in a moderate oven for about 45 minutes. Serve hot with whipped cream and brandy snaps.

Quotation for the Day.

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.
Proverbs xv. 17

Monday, July 06, 2009

Jaune Mange

You have all heard of blancmange – the dish literally translated as ‘eat white’ that once upon a time (in the Medieval era) was the pale and elegant fusion of chicken, almond milk, and fragrant spices which somehow over the centuries morphed and degenerated into the artificially coloured and flavoured chilled gelatine and cornflour ‘thing’ served at children’s parties.

Perhaps, like me, you have never heard of jaune mange (eat yellow) before? I love it when ignorance is exposed. Especially my own. I came across the phrase somewhere in my recent wanderings, and want to share my findings with you.

Without searching exhaustively, the first reference I came across is in Charlotte Mason’s The Lady’s Assistant for Regulating and Supplying Her Table, in 1777.

Charlotte gives general directions on how to colour blancmange green (juice of spinach), red (cochineal, steeped in a bit of brandy), and yellow (saffron). She also gives a specific recipe for Jaune Mange – a delicious sounding orange custard set with isinglass (the old-fashioned gelatine).

Jaune Mange.
Boil one ounce of isinglass in three quarters of a pint of water, till melted, strain it; add the juice of two Seville oranges, a quarter of a pint of white wine, the yolks of four eggs beaten and strained, sugar to the taste; stir it over a gentle fire till it just boils up; when cold put it into a mould or mould: if there should be any sediment, take care not to pour it in.

Quotation for the Day.

Chopsticks are one of the reasons the Chinese never invented custard.
Spike Milligan.

Friday, July 03, 2009

All Ahead for Independence Day.

I was going to do an extra Saturday post tomorrow especially for my American friends on their national day, but I realised that I will be having far too much fun at my sister’s wedding. So here is my offering, posted well ahead of time (especially as it is almost two days ahead in my target country) - which makes sense anyway as it gives you chance to plan ahead for a retro feast.

Here, for your delectation, are a couple of patriotic salads to go alongside your barbecued steaks and sausages, from the wartime book (1918) Wheatless and Meatless Days, by Pauline Partridge.

Stars and Stripes Salad.
3 cold cooked beets
1 small onion finely chopped
¼ cup chopped nuts
½ cup chopped celery or 1 teaspoon celery salt
6 chopped radishes
2 sliced hard cooked eggs
French dressing.
Slice the beets and mix with onion, celery, nuts, radishes and eggs.
Arrange on lettuce, pour on French dressing, and serve.

Salad Independence.
3 small tomatoes
2 small green peppers
¼ cup chopped celery
½ small can pimentos
French dressing
Wash tomatoes, pour boiling water over them and allow to stand one minute, drain, and slice. Pour boiling water over peppers, allow to stand 5 minutes, drain, remove seeds and cut peppers into strips. Chop the pimentos very fine and mix with the celery. Put slices of tomato on the lettuce, sprinkle with celery and pimento mixture, garnish with strips of green pepper, add French dressing, and serve.

Quotation for the Day.

Salad freshens without enfeebling and fortifies without irritating.
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Dime A Day.

These challenging economic times are a boon for food magazine editors and writers it seems. Every mag, blog, and paper has ‘new’ ideas for eating, decorating, entertaining, and generally having a good time on less income. Why should this blog be any different?

Truth to tell, food literature has always found domestic economy to be a sound subject, with managing on a specific weekly or monthly budget to be a particularly popular theme. Some advice comes in a nice book published in New York in 1860 with the full title of How to Live: Saving and Wasting, or, Domestic Economy Illustrated, and the glorious continuing blurb of:

by the
Life of two families of opposite character, habits, and
Practices, in a pleasant tale of real life, full of useful
Lessons in housekeeping, and how to live, how to
have, how to gain, and how to be happy;
including the story
A Dime A Day.

This calculator suggests that a dime in 1860 had the purchasing power of a bit less than two dollars and seventy cents today. The honourable mother who provides the author’s role model in this book tells how she feeds her family of four children for that amount .

“I had, said she one day last week, only one Dime in the world and that was to feed me and my four children all day, for I would not ask tor credit and I would not borrow, and I never did beg. I did live through the day and I did not go hungry. I fed myself and family with one Dime.”
“How ?”
“Oh that was not all. I bought fuel too.”
“What with one Dime?”
“Yes, with one Dime!1 bought two cents worth of coke because that is cheaper than coa,l and because I could kindle it with a piece of paper in my little furnace with two or three little bits of charcoal that some careless boy had dropped in the street just in my path. With three cents I bought a scraggy piece of salt pork half fat and half lean. There might have been half a pound of it - the man did not weigh it. Now half my money was gone, and the show for breakfast dinner and supper was certainly a very poor one, With the rest of my Dime I bought four cents worth of white beans. By-the-by, I got these at night, and soaked them in tepid water on a neighbor's stove till
morning. I had one cent left. I bought one cent's worth of corn meal and the grocery man gave me a red pepper pod.”
“What was that for ?”
“Wait a little - you shall know. Of all things peppers and onions are appreciated by the poor in winter because they help to keep them warm. With my meal I made three dumplings and these with the pork and the pepper pod I put into the pot with the beans and plenty of water (for the pork was salt) and boiled the whole two hours and then we had breakfast, for it was time for the children to go to school. We ate one of the dumplings, and each had a plate of the soup for break fast, and a very good breakfast it was. I kept the pot boiling as long as my coke lasted and at dinner we ate half the meat, half the soup, and one of the dumplings. We had the same allowance for supper and the children were better satisfied than I have sometimes seen them when our food has cost five times as much. The next day we had another Dime - it was all I could earn for all I could get to do - two pairs of men's drawers each day at five cents a pair and on that we lived - lived well”

The woman goes on to describe how she makes a dime feed her family each day for the next few days - manageing some variety too. The next day they have ‘a sort of chowder’ made from scrap pieces of lean beef, potatoes, and more dumplings (made this time ‘about as big as grapes.’)

An interesting story? An inspirational lesson? A project to try out?
Here is a recipe from another book on domestic economy from the same year – hardly a frugal effort however!

A Beef Stew.
Take two or three pounds of the rump of beef, cut away all the fat and skin and cut it into pieces about two or three inches square; put it into a stewpan and pour on to it a quart of broth; let it boil; sprinkle in a little salt and pepper to taste; when it has boiled very gently or simmered two hours, shred finely a large lemon; add it to the gravy and in twenty minutes pour in a flavoring composed of two tablespoons full of Harvey's sauce, the juice of the lemon, the rind of which has been sliced into the gravy, a spoonful of flour and a little ketchup; add at pleasure two glasses of Madeira or one of sherry or port a quarter of an hour after the flavoring, and serve.
Practical American Cookery and Domestic Economy, Elizabeth M. Hall, 1860

Quotation for the Day.

Without frugality none can be rich, and with it very few would be poor.
Samuel Johnson

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What one woman eats.

The concern about food adulteration and safety which led to the formation of the “Poison Squad” and the eventual promulgation of the Food and Drug Law in the United States (which provided yesterday’s story) did not belong solely to enlightened food chemists and socialist writers. The story was taken to the women’s clubs by at least one convert – Mrs. Winifred Harper Cooley. The New York Times in March 1909 reported her address to the ladies of the Rainy Day Club.

“Mrs. Winnifred Harper Cooley told the members of the Rainy Day Club at their meeting yesterday afternoon in the Hotel Astor, that “the food goblins would get ‘em in they didn’t watch out.” She told them that the food adulterators neither slumber nor tarry, and that, while it was alright to take drugs under the doctor’s order, it was dangerous to mix up a lot of them “in our midst,” as bad food people will hand them out to us if not watched.
To show how many opportunities there are to take in bad food, Mrs. Cooley read a schedule of food eaten by one Englishwoman if she lives to be 70 years old. The statistics are guaranteed by a man by the name of Soyer, who, with a passion for facts, and, perhaps, an antipathy to the female sex, compiled them. In her three-score years and ten of life, according to the figures, the Englishwoman will eat 30 oxen, 200 sheep, 100 calves, 200 lambs, 50 pigs, 1,200 fowls, 300 turkesy, 260 pigeons, 120 turbot 140 salmon, and 30,000 oysters.
“Think what a chance for typhoid germs!” interpolated Mrs. Cooley. 
Also she will eat 5,745 pounds of vegetables, 244 pounds of butter, 24,000 eggs, 4 ½ tons of bread, an indeterminate quantity of fruit and candy, and she will drink 3,000 gallons of tea and coffee.
“These next two specifications, I think, must have been intended for men,” said Mrs. Cooley, as she wound up the awful array with 548 gallons of spirits and 49 hogsheads of wine.
“Prof Shepard, State chemist of South Dakota, has proved that in the day’s three meals one may take in thirty-five doses of poison … and 14,000 does in a year.”
Potates are pure, and it looks like we might have to live on them.
In sausages there may be found coal tar, dye, and borax; bacon is cured with creosote, (liquid smoke), maple syrup is made from glucose and hickory bark and contains sodium sulphite; pure oatmeal is eaten for breakfast with cream preserved with formaldehyde; blue points [oysters] are preserved with powdered borax, and there is formaldehyde in pork and beans. ….
… The country is in a serious condition. The commission appointed by the President has reported that some chemicals are not harmful to food, though Dr Wiley has proved that they are. He is a man who could not be bought, and no one knows what he has suffered, for there is no doubt that the Board of Agriculture is against him. (Applause). But by taking pains and looking at the formulas on the wrappers and patronizing honest dealers, we can protect ourselves. Some canned goods are put up under better conditions than they could be in a private kitchen. It ahs been proved that things can be put up without preservatives, and we can find out the good manufacturers if we try.”

A one-hundred year-old battle – and I fear that we have far more ‘safe’ chemicals in our food now than when Mrs Cooley made her speech. What do you think?

In honour of Mrs. Cooley’s idea of safety in potatoes, I give this recipe from The New York Times of September 1910. The article was on Emergency Dishes for the Hostess, and the writer tells the story of one housekeeper suddenly surprised by ‘a guest of epicurean habits … with nothing more special than a broiled beefsteak as the main course of her meal.’ She comes up trumps with the steak and shows her resourcefulness with the potato dish.

Delicious Potato Fluff.
… made of six leftover potatoes, which in less skillful hands might have been warmed up or fried.
The skins of these tubers were removed, and they were put through a colancer, after which there were added one gill of hot cream, a tablespoon of salt, a small piece of butter, and the well-beaten whites of three eggs. The preparation was cooked in a baking dish (using a moderate oven) until prettily browned all over, and was served at once.

Quotation for the Day.

How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to the young?
Paul Sweeney.