Monday, August 31, 2009

Any Apple in That?

Our sugar-saturated society sees a clear divide between “sweet” and “savoury” dishes - and we wrinkle our noses in distaste, and puzzle over the odd taste preferences of our medieval ancestors when we read ancient recipes with sugar and fruit included in predominantly meat dishes. The crucial point of course is to do with quantity. A small amount of sugar, used in the way of an exotic, expensive, imported spice, was the medieval way. And we have not abandoned the idea of fruit with meat completely, have we? We have apple sauce (or prunes) with pork, cranberries with turkey, and pineapple in some of our interpretations of “Chinese” sweet-and-sour dishes for example.

A week or two ago, we looked at bananas in savoury dishes. A year or more ago we had William Ellis’ mid-eighteenth century Onion Pye made by labouring Mens Wives, - which was as much apple as onion, and was clearly meant to be a “sweet” (i.e “dessert”) dish to rival pumpkin pie. Today I have for you a recipe for a “savoury” pie with apple, to remind you of the almost infinite adaptability of the fruit. It is taken from The English Art of Cookery, by Richard Briggs (1788) - but plagiarism was rife in those times, and the exact same recipe appeared in a number of popular cookbooks of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is called “onion” pie, but has equal amounts of potato, apple, and onion.

Onion Pie.
Pare a pound of potatoes, slice them thin, peel about a pound of large onions, and slice them, pare the same quantity of apples, core and slice them likewise, boil six eggs hard, take off the shells,and cut them in slices; lay a thin sheet of puff-paste over the bottom of the dish, put on a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, mix a quarter of an ounce of beaten mace, a tea-spoonful of pepper, and three of salt, strew some over the butter, then lay in a layer of potatoes, a layer of onions, a layer of apples, and one of eggs, strew some seasoningon, and so on till all the ingredients are in; strew the remainder of the seasoning on top, put on a quarter of a pound of butter, and our in half a pint of white wine; put a thin puff-paste over it, and bake it one hour and a half.

Quotation for the Day.

The onion being eaten, yea though it be boyled, causeth head-ache, hurteth the eyes, and maketh a man dimme sighted, dulleth the senses, ingendreth windinesse, and provoketh overmuch sleepe, especially being eaten raw.
John Gerard (1545-1611)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Canteen Cookery.

We have met the World War II housewife and diarist, Nella Last, in several previous stories (here, here, and here.) The nervy, headachy, severely frustrated and unfulfilled woman “found herself” (to use a modern phrase) - and lost her headaches - during the war. Her “personal growth” (hate that phrase too, but what else to use?) is clear to the reader long before it seems to be clear to Nella, and it is so profound that when the war ends and her husband expresses a fervent hope that very soon their personal lives will go back to being what they were before the war, one tiny piece of her is saying No! No! No!

Nella’s skills – she had no idea that they were skills - in what would have been called “Domestic Economy” came to the fore during those times of austerity, and she became a local expert and leader in all sorts of projects. Her diary reveals that it was on this day in 1941, that some sort of realisation dawned on Nella that she was a valued and useful member of the community.

“ … there was a ring and Mrs Thompson, our canteen head, was at the door. She had come to tell me that we will have the two new American mobile canteens any time now, as well as our own Jolly Roger, and also a ‘first grade’ canteen for the soldiers. She wants me to give an afternoon and / or evening as advisory cook. … It’s what I’ve always wanted to do – I am realising more each day what a knack of dodging and cooking and managing I possess, and my careful economies are things to pass on, not hide as I used to!”

Many communities set up canteens to provide cheap and nourishing meals for local workers during the war, and suitable recipes for canteen organizers were often provided in the newspapers. An article in The Times in 1941 gave several provided by “a correspondent” under the heading:


My pick for today, from the article is Poor Knights of Windsor – an English version of French Toast, or Egg Bread, or one of the myriad other names that the simple dish goes by. It is an austerity triumph – a real Loaves and Fishes job – a sweet treat for 25 people using only 2 eggs, a pint of milk, and a large loaf of bread.

Poor Knights of Windsor
For 25 people
Two eggs, 1 quartern loaf, 2 lb. jam, 1 pint milk. Cut crust away from loaf, then cut slices of even size. Cut these again into fingers. Soak them in mixture of milk and eggs without allowing them to absorb too much. Drain and fry them in deep fat, golden brown. Spread them with hot jam and pile up in a hot dish. Good with hot treacle.

Quotation for the Day.

Be temperate in wine, in eating, girls & sloth;
Or the Gout will sieze you and plague you both.
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1734

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Airship Luncheon.

The gigantic German airship, the Graf Zeppelin, set off from Lakehurst, New Jersey on August 8, 1929, on the first leg of the first official round the world flight to be taken by such an aircraft (the designated route chosen by its chief financer – William Randolph Hearst.) The first destination was Tokyo; the second leg was to Los Angeles, which was reached on August 26. The following day the Zeppelin set off for Lakehurst, which was reached three days later. The airship spent 12 days in the air, and flew over 30,000 miles.

The twenty-odd lucky (wealthy) passengers aboard the airship enjoyed delicious food in the dining room of the gondola. The menu for the first luncheon (on this day in 1929) on the final leg from Los Angeles to Lakehurst was:

Honey Dew Melon au Citron
Hungarian Goulash
Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette

“Hungarian Goulash” is a great subject for the great authenticity debate. The name comes from the Hungarian gulyás meaning herdersman (or cowboy), and hús meaning meat. It is a soup, or a stew, or a soupy stew that is the pot-au-feu or hot-pot of the Balkans - and as with every staple one-pot dish, every mother’s son in every village claims hers as the “authentic” version. So, is “authentic” goulash made from beef, or pork? Is it cooked in lard, or oil? Does it include tomatoes? Potatoes? Is it garnished with sour cream, or is that a sacrilege? The only constant is the paprika, right?

About the only thing I am sure of (I think) is that there is no “authentic” vegetarian goulash.

Here are two versions from The International Jewish Cookbook, by Florence Kreisler Greenbaum, 1921 – not a Hungarian cookbook, an American one. I don’t read Hungarian, but I do read American (although admit to being confused by it at times). I eagerly await comments from better linguists and better informed culinary experts.

Note that in these versions, there is no paprika, no sour cream, but one version has pasta.

Hungarian Goulash.
Have two pounds of beef cut into one inch squares. Dredge in flour and fry until brown. Cover with water and simmer for two hours; the last half-hour add one tablespoon of salt and one-eight of a teaspoon of pepper. Make a sauce by cooking one cup of tomatoes and one stalk of celery cut in small pieces, a bay leaf and two whole cloves, for twenty-five minutes; rub through a sieve, add to stock in which meat was cooked. Thicken with flour tablespoons of flour moistened with two tablespoons of water. Serve meat with cooked diced potaotes, carrots, and green and red peppers cut in strips.

Russian Goulash.
To one pound of beef, free form fat, and cut up as pan stew, add one chopped green pepper, one large onion, two blades of garlic (cut fine), pepper and salt, with just enough water to cover. Let this simmer until meat is very tender. Add a little water as needed. Put in medium sized can of tomatoes an hour or so before using and have ready two cups of cooked spaghetti or macaroni, and put this into the meat until thoroughly heated. This must not be too wet; let water cook away just before adding tomatoes.

See also a previous post on “Eating in the Air”

Quotation for the Day.

Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh... Now you tell me what you know.
Groucho Marx.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to Cook a Rhinocerus.

Our culinary history insights today come, as they did yesterday, from a missionary. The Rev. John Campbell went to South Africa in 1822, and subsequently recorded his adventures in his book, Missionary Travels in South Africa, undertaken at the Request of the London Missionary Society: being a Narrative of a Second Journey in the Interior of that Country.

As with yesterdays source, it must be remembered that the views are those of a man firmly secured in his own heritage and prejudices, without any hint of today’s political correctness. The reverend gentleman also gives us some idea of how to cook a rhinocerus. The text below is taken from an extensive review of the book.

… Fond as they are of salt, they never take it out of the pond, but purchase it from others; and though they readily eat potatoes, they cannot be prevailed on to plant them, because they resemble nothing which has been handed down to them by their forefathers, to whose manners and customs they appear to be strongly not to say superstitiously attached. The women eat with their husbands at home, but are not allowed to be present at public feasts. If the wife should fail in providing a supper for her husband according to his liking, he proceeds to the door of the house and certifies her negligence with a loud voice to the whole neighbourhood. If on the contrary the husband takes the correction of his wife into his own hands, she repairs to the same spot, and publishes her grievance to such of her neighbours as may choose to listen to it. Something not much unlike this takes place we believe in countries nearer home
… The larger species of wild beasts were abundant; and gnoos, hartebeests, quachas and rhinoceroses supplied the party with plenty of food. Of the last mentioned animals, one, of a large size was shot near the waggons. ‘I was astonished,’ says Mr Campbell, ‘at its bulk, being eleven feet long, six feet in height, four feet broad or in thickness, three feet from the top of the nose to the ears length of the fore legs two feet, circumference of the upper part of the fore leg three feet, length of the hind leg three feet, and its circumference at the upper part three and a half feet, the circumference of the body about eleven feet. - The whole party set about cutting it up, and in less than an hour every inch of that monstrous creature was carried off,and nothing but a pool of blood left behind; and when they halted in the evening, no less than fifteen fires were set a blazing, and eighty nine persons all busily employed in roasting, frying, boiling, and devouring rhinoceros flesh with disgusting voraciousness.’ A dead quacha was brought in by way of a second course. In order to cook the lower legs and hoofs of the rhinoceros, ( the calipash and calipee of a Booshuana epicure,) an ant's nest is selected, being a structure of hard clay about three feet high, and shaped like a bee-hive; the inside is a cellular turfy substance, which being removed and the cavity heated by burning brushwood, within it an excellent oven is prepared for the purpose.

The quotation that was originally going to go at the bottom of this post makes it into the text today:

Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.
Alice May Brock.

It is impossible to summarise “African” cuisine so easily. Before the continent was scrabbled over and subdued by competing European nations in the nineteenth century, its people belonged to a huge number of cultural groups and tribes – often in fierce opposition to each other, certainly, but with no concept of nationhood or its associated borders. Europeans, however, seemed to have an idea of what characterised African-style food, for a number of recipes for dishes à l’Africaine began to appear on menus.

There was no consensus however. There phrase à l’Africaine can refer to many dishes from consommé, to sorbet, to eggs to fish to chicken to ground meat patties to gateaux, and to many different combinations of ingredients. It would be perfectly possible to create a menu entirely of dishes styled à l’Africaine, without repeating any flavours.

Here are a few of the ideas, – you may be able to add more.

- in the classic French repertoire it often refers to a garnish of small balls of black or purple potatoes braised in butter with small marrows.
- many dishes containing horseradish
- stewed or ‘curried’ chicken or chicken with rice
- fish, fried, and garnished with fried bananas and a ‘devilled’ sauce.
- Escoffier has a Bombe à l’Africaine, made in a mould lined with chocolate ice and filled with an apricot ice.

Here are a couple more ideas for your dinner à l’Africaine.

Dates – Stuffed “à l’Africaine”
First blanch some pistachio nuts and stone some dates.
Pound the pistachio nuts with white sugar into a stiff paste.
Stuff the dates with this paste and glaze them with caramel mixture (mere sugar and water.)
Use for dessert.
[The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie, 1909]

Lamb Chops à l’Africaine.
Cut a lamb chop or cutlet, broil over a very sharp fire, turning it continually; when nearly done, season highly with salt and pepper and rub a spoonful of chutnee on both sides of each cutlet, put them again on the gridiron; broil for another minute and serve.
[Dainty Dishes: receipts collected by Lady Harriet Elizabeth St. Clair, 1866]

Quotation for the Day.

If African women were to stop working for one day, there would be no food, no caring for the sick, no sewing, no trading in the market - life would stop for that day.
Ruth Bamela Engo-Tjega, founder of Advocates for African Food Security

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Greenlander Feast.

In August 1761, the Dutch missionary David Cranz was sent by his sect to propagate Christianity in Greenland – “a region of cold, gloom, and defoliation, where nature has scattered no herbage, and art can produce no grain: where there are neither flocks nor herds, nor woods nor fields … and the inhabitants are savages, deplorably wretched and grossly ignorant, living in hovels no better than the dens of wild beasts, and subsisting on the oil and flesh of whales, frequently in a state of putrefaction.”

Some years later he published his insights in The History of Greenland, containing a description of the country and its inhabitants, and of the mission carried on for above thirty years by the Unitas Fratrum and New Herrnhuth in that country.

The author describes in great detail the day to day lives and traditions of the Greenlanders – noting (in spite of himself, it seems,) the unfailing hospitality, the good humour, and the high morals of the “savages” who are his putative flock. Naturally, the discussion of the foodways of the eighteenth century Greenlanders is what interests us on this blog. Here, then, is a description – filtered, it must be remembered, through the Christian European eighteenth century sensibilities of the author.

“They are very dirty in dressing their meat as well as in every thing else. They seldom wash a kettle, the dogs often spare them that trouble, and make their tongue the dishcloth. Yet they like to keep their bastard marble vessels neat. They lay their boiled meat in wooden dishes having first drunk the soup, or eat it with spoons made of bone or wood, but their undressed meat lies on the bare ground or on an old skin not much cleaner. Fish, they take out of the dish with their hands, pull fowls to pieces with their fingers or their teeth, and flesh meat they take hold of with their teeth, and bite off the mouthful. When all is over they make the knife serve the office of a napkin, for they give their chops a scrape with it, lick the blade and lick their fingers, and so conclude the meal. … And when they vouchsafe to treat an European genteelly, they first lick the piece of meat he is to eat, clean from the blood and scum it had contracted in the kettle, with their tongue; and should any one not kindly accept it he would be looked upon as an unmannerly man for despising their civility.
… They know nothing of salutations, tokens of respect, or reverence: they laugh at a European’s compliments, and at a man standing uncovered [presumably unhatted] before his superior; and wonder to see a man strike his servant.
They sometimes visit, and give entertainments. The following is the bill of fare at a great entertainment, given by some principal Greenlanders to a factor: 1. Dried herrings. 2. Dried seal-fish. 3. Boiled ditto. 4. Half-raw and half-rotten ditto, called mikiak. 5. Boiled willocks. 6. Piece of half-rotten whale’s tail; this was the dainty dish, or haunch of venison to which the guests were properly invited. 7. Dried salmon. 8. Dried rein-deer venison. 9. A desert of crow-berries, mixed with the chile [chyle] from the maw of a rein-deer. 10. The same enriched with train-oil [whale oil.].”

Well, there it is. The eighteenth century European was revolted by the thought of mikiak, but expected his own partridge to be “well-hung” (i.e slightly putrefied). Even in the best regulated households however, things can get a bit out of control, but the housekeeper be unwilling to throw away good and expensive protein. Some of the “rescue” attempts made on stinking meat products in the English kitchen of yesteryear seem pretty scary today. Here is one such retrieval method, from The Art of Cookery, made plain and easy, by Hannah Glasse, 1774.

To save potted birds that begin to be bad.
I have seen potted birds which have come a great way, often smell so bad, that no body could bear the smell for the rankness of the butter, and by managing them in the following manner, have made them as good as over was eat.
Set a large sauce-pan of clean water on the fire; when it boils, take off the butter at the top, then take the fowls out one by one, throw them into that sauce-pan of water half a minute, whip it out, and dry it in a clean cloth inside and out; so do all till they are quite done. Scald the pot clean; when the birds are quite cold, season them with mace, pepper, and salt to your mind, put them down close in a pot and pour clarified butter over them.

Quotation for the Day.

It is not the quantity of the meat, but the cheerfulness of the guests, which makes the feast.
Edward Hyde.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Italy's Pride.

I have a fancy this week to give you some of the menus that didn’t make it into Menus from History. The following one, for “an Italian dinner” in April 1890 was rejected primarily because I could not discover the story behind it. The menu is in the Buttolph collection of the New York Public Library (Thankyou, from the bottom of my heart, Miss Buttolph.) The location of “Providence, Rhode Island” is handwritten on the menu, underneath “Eight O’Clock”, in what appears to be the writing of Miss Buttolph herself (a deduction I made on the basis that a lot of the menus are annotated in the same handwriting.) I assume that the location is correct – it would not seem to be Miss Buttolph’s style to be sloppy in this regard.

The Autocrat Club.
Saturday Night, April 3, 1890.
Eight O’clock
Rolls and Butter.
Piccoli. Formaggio.
Ravenelle. A cuiggo in sale.
Spaggitti a le Napolitan.
Feaccalla di pallo.
1. Here the Autocrat will Unlock his Crib.
Salamone a la Mayonese.
Festecchi a le sardegnola.
2. Conferring of Title.
Frai yoster.
Coffee de Turin.
Principe carignario Sigari.
-- Offering --

I was unable to find out anything about Burlando’s – perhaps someone out there with knowledge of Rhode Island history can help? I was also puzzled by the name of the club, and was unable to find out anything about such a thing in Rhode Island. There was a famous club of that name which began in New Orleans in 1909 – nearly two decades after this menu. The New Orleans Autocrat Club was formed by “coloured men”, and became infamous in the 1950’s when it was alleged that a “paper-bag” test (a brown paper bag that is) was used to restrict entry to light-skinned “coloreds”. So, my friends, what was this Rhode Island club, and what happened to Burlando’s restaurant?

What do we make of the execrable Italian wording on the menu? That the menu-writer was not Italian, seems so obvious as to not need suggesting. Was this a spoof of some sort? Any ideas will be gratefully circulated in the hope of some clarity. In the meanwhile – being unable to find a suitable recipe for spaggitti, I give you this interpretation of an Italian dish, from a cookbook of the time.

Italia’s Pride.
This is a favorite dish in the writer’s family, having been sent many years ago from Italy by a friend who had learned its composition from her Italian cook. Its name was bestowed by the children of the house. One large cup of chopped meat: two onions minced and fried brown in butter; a pint of cold boiled macaroni or spaghetti; a pint of fresh or cold stewed tomatoes; one teaspoonful of salt: half a teaspoonfful of white pepper. Butter a pudding dish, and put in first a layer of macaroni, then tomato, then meat and some onion and seasoning, continuing this till the dish is full. Cover with fine breadcrumbs, dot with bits of butter, and bake for half an hour. Serve very hot.
The Easiest Way in Housekeeping and Cooking, by Helen Campbell, 1893

Quotation for the Day.

Italian restaurants with more than 120 entrees are always disappointing.
Miss Piggy, 'Miss Piggy's Guide to Life' (1981)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dining Out

Travelling as I am to my homeland in a couple of short weeks, it is time for me to investigate the dining opportunities. First, a little historical perspective. The following comments are from Imitations of Celebrated Authors: or, Imaginary Rejected Articles, by Peter George Patmore, published in London in 1844.

Dining Out is an accomplishment in which we English do not excel. It demands a certain politic pliancy both of mind and body which we cannot boast. It is that one among the Fine Arts in which we are immeasurably behind our continental neighbours. In fact we are the worst Diners out in the world. We do not understand the principle of it. Even the South Sea Islanders understand and practice it better; for when they go to a dinner party, it is for the express purpose of dining upon an enemy; whereas an Englishman when he does not dine at home dines upon his friend. The truth is that in civilized society, Dining out has nothing whatever to do with eating and drinking. Who asks a man to dine out that cannot afford to dine at home? The thing never happened. It is altogether incompatible with the “scope and tendency” of dinner parties.
… eating and drinking have no more to do with the immediate end of Dining Out than love has to do with that of marriage,. or marriage with that of love. In England there is nothing to be done, or even undertaken, without a dinner party. From the governing of the nation to the goings on of the pettiest of its parishes, all begins and all ends in a dinner. Accordingly there is no country in which dinner parties assume so pleasing a variety as they do here. We have dinners on all occasions from the Coronation of the King to the Christening of the newest born of his subjects; dinners in all places from the palaces of the peers in Saint James's, to the buck slums of the beggars in Saint Giles's; dinners of all dimensions from the calipash and calipee of the cabinet minister to the pot- luck of the cabinet maker. We have dinners of all denominations: diplomatic dinners, and patriotic dinners, and pugilistic dinners, and parliamentary dinners; cabinet dinners and reform dinners, ministerial dinners and opposition dinners, … theatrical dinners, and literary dinners and scientific dinners. Is a minister to be ousted from his place? The cabal is concocted and carried on at a dinner party. …

Instead of Dining Out, of course, the English held Dinner Parties. After the above justification, the author goes on to “invite” his readers to a typical dinner party at the home of a “characteristically English” family who move “in the first circles of city life.” He describes the progress and rituals of the meal in excruciating detail – from the “fine young women” (the daughters of the host), the seating arrangements, the conversation, and the manners, right to the withdrawing of the fine ladies from the table, leaving the men to pass the wine around “two or three times.”

Sadly, in spite of all of this peripheral detail, the author gives no information about the food. For an idea of what was served at a mid-nineteenth century dinner party, I turned to The English Cookery Book: Uniting Good Style with Economy, by John Henry Walsh (1859.) Note that, as was usual for the time, a menu recommendation incorporated advice as to how to position the dishes and decorations on the table. Also, the meal consisted of two courses, each with a variety of dishes, much as had been the tradition since the middle ages. The method of service that we are familiar with now –called service à la russe was already starting to become popular, but still had several decades to go before it became the norm.

Mock-turtle soup

Remove – Chickens
Lobster Patties             (Vase)           Lamb Cutlets, with
                                                             stewed beans in centre.
Veal cutlets     (Vase)           Currie
Remove – Neck of venison
Vegetables – potatoes, peas, salad
on side-table
Jelly     (Vase)             Cheese-cake
Stone Cream             (Vase)         Apple Cake
with custard

Stone Cream.
Put a small pot of preserved strawberry, gooseberry, raspberry or apricot jam in a crystal dish. Peel off the rind of one lemon, squeeze out the juice, run it through a bit of muslin and pour it over the fruit. Take a quarter of an ounce of gelatine, dissolve it in a small drop of water put it into a small brass pan, adding half an English pint of good cream, the rind of the lemon, and two ounces of lump sugar. Let it boil for two or three minutes, run it through a bit of muslin into a small basin, and stir it occasionally till cold. Pour it upon the fruit in the dish. Set it to cool, it will be firm in half an hour. Before dinner, take half an English pint of cream, a tea spoonful of sugar, and whisk it to a froth. With a spoon heap the frothed cream high on the top of your dish. This is a beautiful cream and can be made just a few hours before dinner.
The Practice of Cookery and Pastry, by I Williamson, 1862

Quotation for the Day.

Best way to get rid of kitchen odors: Eat out.
Phyllis Diller

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A sufficiency of gadgets.

Cooks seem to be divided into two groups – those who love gadgets for gadget’s sake, and those who only ultimately love the ones that prove to be actually useful. Myself, I am of the latter group. An interesting insight into what was considered a necessity in the Victorian era is given by the author (Frederick Bishop) in The Illustrated London Cookery Book: containing upward of fifteen hundred first-rate receipts, published in 1852.

It is difficult to argue with the author when he says:

“In furnishing a kitchen, there should be everything likely to be required, but not one article more than is wanted, unnecessary profusion creates a litter; a deficiency too often sacrifices the perfection of a dish, there should be a sufficiency, and no more.”

Of course, what is an absolute necessity to one cook is a dust-collecting, space-stealing nuisance to the other. Mr. Bishop’s list of requisites included the usual baking and jelly moulds, storage canisters, pots, stewpans, dripping pan (“to receive the unctuous droppings from the roasting meat, and to reapply them to its scorching surface”) and dish-covers. Also on his list were fish scissors, beef fork (for lifting large joints in the pot), mashed potato fork (“for beating up mashed potatoes - much superior to the wooden spoon for this purpose”) wafer tongs (for making wafers, same principle as a waffle iron), a cheese toaster, egg poacher, wine cooler, trussing needle, larding pin, saddle of mutton skewer, and revolving gridiron (“with fluted bars, lined with enamel.”)

There were several more complex pieces of kitchen machinery too: Benham’s Patent Freezing Machine (“by which creams &c. can be frozen fit for the table in five minutes, with the greatest ease and certainty”), Automaton Coffee Roaster (“revolves by clockwork and is placed before an ordinary parlour fire”), Baldwin and Co.’s Potato Steamer and Cover (“for cooking potatoes without water”), and Baldwin and Co.’s Digester (a pressure cooker).

Here is one of the first-rate recipe from the book which would also be ideal for a pressure cooker – a gadget which appears to be making something of a come-back.

Stew of Ox-Cheek.
Clean and wash it well, cut off the fleshiest parts, and break the bones into an available size, put it into a stewkettle with enough water to cover it, season with salt; the pepper should be whole, and with a few cloves, and a blade of mace tied in a bag made of muslin, put it into the water, with three onions, a bunch of sweet herbs, half a dozen carrots sliced, a head of celery sliced, and four or five turnips of tolerable size; stew from five to seven hours; before serving the meat may be removed, and the gravy thickened and browned; serve hot, with the meat in the gravy.
Shin of beef is very excellent, dressed in this fashion.

Quotation for the Day.

I want to get a job as someone who names kitchen appliances. Toaster, refrigerator, blender ... all you do is say what the shit does, and add "er". I wanna work for the Kitchen Appliance Naming Institute. Hey, what does that do? It keeps shit fresh. Well, that's a fresher ... I'm going on break.”
Mitch Hedberg.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Patent Soup.

From time to time in newspapers and blogs one sees episodes of fuss and bother, and righteous indignation, and threats of legal action over “ownership” of recipes. I don’t know anything about intellectual property law, but my personal belief is that every recipe is built on all of those that have gone before - that they are things of adaptation and evolution, not absolute innovation. I uderstand that it is not possible to patent a recipe nowadays.

‘Twas not always so, it seems. On May 2, 1865, James W. Huckins, of Boston, Massachusetts claimed Patent Number 47, 545 for his “Improved Tomato Soup.” The mid-nineteenth century was a time of increasing use of the tomato, and great advances in the canning industry. Mr Huckins claims his soup as suitable for immediate use for the table, or for canning. His application included the recipe, which makes rather a large amount, and is really for a vegetable soup based on beef broth. He does claim its keeping qualities (not specifying the canned variety), which seems dangerously optimistic today.

Here is his recipe:

Take a stock boiler twenty gallons. Put into it fifty pound of beef-shin to fourteen gallons of cold water. Boil it, partly uncovered, for fourteen hours. After the water has partly boiled away add a little hot water from time to time as it may require. After it has boiled the required time, take it from the fire and add to it one quart of cold water. Afterward let it stand for ten minutes. Next, skim off all the fat and strain the liquor from the meat through a fine sieve and we shall have nearly seven gallons of the liquor. Should there be more than seven gallons of the liquor, boil it down to the required quantity, but should there be less, add the difference in hot water. This is called “stock”. Next, take one bushel and a half of tomatoes, put them into a boiler, mash them up a little, and let them boil in their own liquor for one hour and a half. Next, strain them through a fine sieve – fine enough to stop the seeds and the skins. All the rest of the tomato must go throught the sieve, after which we shall have about six gallons of the tomato liquor. If more than six gallons, boil it down to such an amount. If less, add more tomato. Next, mix the stock and the prepared tomato together, and keep the mixture somewhat under a boiling temperature until wanted for further action. Next prepare the following vegetables: Peel and weigh one pound and a half of onions, the same amount of turnips, one pound and three-quarters of carrots, and one pound of beets. Chop them all together until quite fine. Next take a soup-boiler that will hold sixteen gallons. Put into it three and a half pounds of butter. Next, add the chopped vegetables. Put the boiler on a hot fire, and cook the vegetables well. Next add to them three and one quarter pounds of flour, and thoroughly mix the whole together while hot. Next, take the boiler from the fire and let it cool a little. Next, add one ounce of black pepper, one-half pound of fine salt, and three-quarters of a pound of brown sugar. Mix the whole well together, and add the mixture of beef stock and tomato. The composition must now be well stirred for about ten minutes, and afterward put on the fire and stirred until it may boil. Continue to let it boil, and skim it for about five minutes, after which strain it through a fine sieve, but do not press the vegetables through the sieve. The composition will then be ready for the table, or for being hermetically sealed in cans. The amount of the preparation (which I term “tomato soup”) so made will be about thirteen gallons. It is a composition containing preservative qualities, which will prevent it from decomposition for a great length of time.
I claim –
The composition made in manner and materials substantially as herein before specified.

Quotation for the Day.

I think that women just have a primeval instinct to make soup, which they will try to foist on anybody who looks like a likely candidate.
Dylan Moran.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Directions for Dinner Giving.

I am frequently wont to repeat my opinion that everything old becomes new again, sooner or later. I sometimes do wonder, however, if there is perhaps one exception to this rule. Will normal folks like us, ever, do you think, get back to hosting the sort of dinner party in our own homes that necessitated much advice from the likes of etiquette expert Emily Post?

From her famous book Etiquette in Society, in Business, and at Home, written in 1922, she gives the following Detailed Directions For Dinner Giving.

The requisites at every dinner, whether a great one of 200 covers, or a little one of six, are as follows:
Guests. People who are congenial to one another. This is of first importance.
Food. A suitable menu perfectly prepared and dished. (Hot food to be hot, and cold, cold.)
Table furnishing. Faultlessly laundered linen, brilliantly polished silver, and all other table accessories suitable to the occasion and surroundings.
Service. Expert dining-room servants and enough of them.
Drawing-room. Adequate in size to number of guests and inviting in arrangement.
A cordial and hospitable host.
A hostess of charm. Charm says everything - tact, sympathy, poise and perfect manners - always.
And though for all dinners these requisites are much the same, the necessity for perfection increases in proportion to the formality of the occasion.

Here, just in case, is a nice posh dish from a book especially written for posh English folks in 1893 – High Class Cookery Recipes, by Mrs. Charles Clarke of the National Training School for Cookery, in Buckingham Palace Road.

Civet de Lièvre
One hare
Half a pound of Bacon
Twenty-four Button Onions
Twelve Mushrooms
Bouquet Garni
Half a pint of Claret or Port Wine
Half a pint of Brown Sauce.

Cut the hare in neat pieces, wipe but not wash it; cut the bacon in strips, and fry in a saucepan; add the hare. Let it sauté about ten minutes. Add the claret, bouquet garni, and mushrooms; let this simmer gently one hour, then add the brown sauce and the onions, which should be previously blanched; let it simmer again for about half an hour, remove the bouquet garni, and serve with fried croûtons.

One gill of tomato sauce
Half a gill of glaze
One tablespoonful of chutney,

if added to this, makes a great improvement.

Quotation for the Day.

There are two things that are more difficult than making an after-dinner speech: climbing a wall which is leaning toward you and kissing a girl who is leaning away from you.
Winston Churchill.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Roman Punch.

I became intrigued, as I pored over bills of fare during the research for my book Menus from History (available soon, I hope), as to what, exactly, was the story behind ‘Roman Punch’ - virtually an obligatory item at any dinner of any importance during the nineteenth century.

Punch has been featured on several occasions before on this blog. We have learned about the word ‘punch’ (including a recipe for St Barbara’s Artillery Punch), and we have enjoyed punch at a Prohibition Repeal dinner and punch on St Cecilia’s Day, and about Milk Punch. We have even had a recipe already for Roman Punch, in an amusing story about teetotal Presidential dinner. What we have not had is an explanation of ‘Roman’.

As with other punches, Roman Punch was served mid-way through the meal – sometimes semi-frozen, like a granita or sorbet – to cleanse the palate for what was to follow. There does not seem to be any single specific formula, although citrus seems to be an essential ingredient. So, why ‘Roman’? Here is one theory, from the Epicure’s Almanac; or, Diary of good living, by B.E.Hill, 1842.

The history of Ponch a la Romaine is somewhat curious, and deserves a mention. It had been, for nearly a century, the summer refreshment of successive Popes, and their cooks were threatened with the horrors of the Holy Office, if they ventured to impart the secret of its preparation.
The invasion of Italy, by Napoleon, in 1796, served to break through this terrible interdict; a young man named Molas, son to the chief confectioner of Pius the Sixth, no sooner saw the tree of liberty planted in the Eternal City, than he ran away from his father, leaving the pattipans and jelly-bags of the Vatican to their fate, and united his fortunes with those of the conqueror.
Young master Molas became a favourite servant of the ill-starred Josephine; when she died he obtained a situation in the culinary establishment of the Russian Prince, Lieven, and accompanied his Excellency to London, on his appointment as ambassador to our court. The Signer was the first to introduce the papal delicacy in London, and the guests who partook of it, at the Prince's table, were thrown into extacies. The recipe was sent to Carlton-house, in compliance with the wish of the Prince Regent, and his Royal Highness permitted copies to be given to a select few of those he honoured with his friendship; by degrees it became better known, and I remember, about seven years ago, a pastrycook's shop in the Quadrant where this delicious, but insidious punch, was to be eaten in perfection.
A French lady, once enjoying some such ice, is said to have exclaimed, “What a pity that this pleasure is not a sin !” Taste and morality so Parisian can neither need nor merit a comment.

So, ‘Roman’ punch could be called ‘Papal’ punch, perhaps?

The author gives a recipe for a frozen version which is based on another recipe for Punch à la Ford – which comes complete with its own story.

Punch à la Romaine.
Prepare the quantity of sherbet required in the same manner as recommended in the article, “Punch a la Ford.” For every half dozen lemons used, beat up the whites of three eggs, and pour half a pound of boiling clarified sugar upon it; mix this well, and, when perfectly cool, throw in the sherbet; let all be thoroughly iced. When you intend to use it, add spirits in this proportion, - to every six lemons, add half a pint of old Jamaica rum, half a pint of Cognac brandy, and a glass of Maraschino. If you make it in a large quantity, a bottle of Champagne will much improve the flavour. Serve in tall glasses; and if properly made, your mixture should be smooth, white, and as thick as cream.

Punch à la Ford.
(A recipe from Benson E. Hill, Esq., author of The Epicure’s Almanac.)
The late General Ford, who for many years was the commanding engineer at Dover, kept a most hospitable board, and used to make punch on a large scale, after the following method:
He would select three dozen of lemons, the coats of which were smooth, and whose rinds were not too thin ; these he would peel with a sharp knife into a large earthen vessel, taking care that none of the rind should be detached but that portion in which the cells are placed, containing the essential oil; when he had completed the first part of the process, he added two pounds of lump-sugar, and stirred the peel and sugar together with an oar-shaped piece of wood, for nearly half an hour, thereby extracting a greater quantity of the essential oil. Boiling water was next poured into the vessel, and the whole well stirred, until the sugar was completely dissolved. The lemons were then cut and squeezed, the juice strained from the kernels; these were placed in a separate jug, and boiling water poured upon them, the general being aware that the pips were enveloped in a thick mucilage, full of flavor; half the lemon juice was now thrown in; and as soon as the kernels were free from their transparent coating, their liquor ras strained and added.
The sherbet was now tasted; more acid or more sugar applied as required, and care taken not to render the lemonade too watery. “Rich of the fruit, and plenty of sweetness,” was the general's maxim. The sherbet was then measured, and to every three quarts a pint of Cognac brandy and a pint of old Jamaica rum were allotted, the spirit being well stirred as poured in; bottling immediately followed, and, when completed, the beverage was kept in a cold cellar, or tank, till required. At the general's table I have frequently drunk punch thus made, more than six months old; and found it much improved by time and a cool atmosphere.

Interesting, isnt it? we tend to think of ‘punch’ as a freshly-made party beverage today, not a cellared item aged for months.

Quotation for the Day.

I’ve made it a rule never to drink by daylight, and never to refuse a drink after dark.
H.L.Mencken (1880-1956)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fried Violet Leaves

It often happens, in recipe searching (as in every other sort of searching, I suppose,) that something entirely different from what one was looking for turns up – something too good to ignore, something that just has to be put aside to explore further another day. Such as the following recipe, for Fried Violet Leaves, from the Melbourne newspaper The Argus of July 17, 1945

Fried Violet Leaves
is a recipe that comes from Mrs E. V. Lucas, wife of the noted essayist. Myself, though, I would feel almost a cannibal eating them, for violets are amongst my favourite flowers.
They are fried in a little butter until slightly brownish. They are eaten with orange or lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar.

I am a little baffled by the ‘cannibal’ concept. No matter how purple or fragrant or shrinking Mrs Lucas considers herself herself to be, she cannot by any stretch of the imagination be anywhere close to coming from the exact same species as the violet – which is surely a requirement for cannibalism? However, I digress.

Several things came to mind when I saw this recipe. Firstly, I wondered what they taste like? Are they as fragrant as the flowers? Secondly, they seem to be a sweet ‘dessertish’ item here – I cant think of any other leaves cooked in quite this way, can you?

It also struck me that the cooking of violet leaves in fat is the same method used to make violet ointment. Violets have a long medicinal use, particularly in the internal and external treatment of cancer. Here is a recipe from A Common Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve (1930’s).

Violet Ointment.
Place 2 oz. of the best lard in a jar in the oven till it becomes quite clear. Then add about thirty-six fresh Violet leaves. Stew them in the lard for an hour till the leaves are the consistency of cooked cabbage. Strain and when cold put into a covered pot for use. This is a good oldfashioned Herbal remedy which has been allowed to fall into disuse. It is good as an application for superficial tubercles in the glands of the neck, Violet Leaves Tea being drunk at the same time.

I then wondered how many other culinary uses violet leaves might have had in the past that we have forgotten. Here is an interesting idea from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery (an eighteenth century American MS transcribed by Karen Hess, 1995)

To make a Haggis Pudding.
Seethe a calves haggis [chitterlings], & when it is cold, chopp it with beefe suet, & put into it parsely, time, penneroyall, violet leaves, & margerum, of each an handful chopt together small. then put in creame, grated bread, cloves, mace, pepper, salt & suger, mingle all these well together and make up ye puddings, and boil them.

Quotation for the Day.
If people take the trouble to cook, you should take the trouble to eat.
Robert Morley.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Tobacco Course.

One of the most important and famous food writers of recent times was the vaguely aristocratic and adventurous British woman, Elizabeth David (1913-1992). Elizabeth David convinced the British that French (or French provincial food) was, in fact, no only OK, but quite interesting and do-able, thereby changing British attitudes and tastes forever.

David was slightly shocking for her time – she left home to be an actress, had many lovers, and got involved in some mildly naughty diplomatic incidents (at one stage being deported from Italy, where she was living, to Greece – and that was only the start of her wartime adventures.)

She was also, apparently, not shy of lending her name for marketing purposes. In the 1950’s, at the peak of her fame and influence, her name headed some “suggested menus” in the classified ads section of The Times in London. The menu ideas were sponsored by a tobacco company, so naturally, the meals ended with a tobacco course.

On this day in 1955, the advertisement read:

Diner                                                        13 Aôut
Consommé glacé à l’estragon
Canard aux olives
Pommes de terre fondantes
Côte Rôti 1951
Tarte aux pêches
Château Filbot Sauternes, 1947
Lambert & Butler’s Straight Cut Cigarettes
Henry Clay Cigars
What can I say but “Oh Dear!”
David’s contribution to cuisine in general and food writing in particular – her tobacco endorment notwithstanding – is enormous, as I am sure every reader is aware. In her honour, I give you the following recipe to assist you to repeat the menu above. It is a classic from that other famous cook – Auguste Escoffier.

Pommes de Terre Fondantes.
Cut the potatoes to the shape of large, elongated olives, and let each weigh about 3 oz. Gently cook them in butter, in a sautépan, and take care to turn them over.
When they are cooked, withdraw them, so as to flatten them slightly with a fork without breaking them. Drain away their butter; return them to the sautépan with 3 oz fresh butter per every 2 lb. of their weight, and cook them with lid on until they have entirely absorbed the butter.

Quotation for the Day.

In the 20th century, the French managed to get a death on the myth that they produce the world's best food. The hype has been carefully orchestrated, and despite the fact that the most popular food in the last quarter has undoubtedly been Italian, the French have managed to maintain that mental grip.
Clarissa Dickson Wright, 'Food' (1999)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Rabbit in the Larder.

The packed lunch theme continues for today, with advice from the wartime Ministry of Food in Britain. Rationing remained in force in Britain for years after WW II, and the Ministry continued to put out its weekly Food Facts leaflets until well into the 1950’s.

The Ministry was mindful that the constraints of rationing could only worsen the housewife’s daily challenge of avoiding ‘the same old sandwiches’ for lunch and picnics. To assist her to get around this problem, leaflet No. 516, of May 1950, addressed the issue with a feature on the use of rabbit. It began with the following hint:

“With summer just around the corner there’s and increasing demand for cold meals and picnic snacks. This is no problem if there’s a rabbit in the larder. Here are some picnic ways with rabbit, the frozen rabbit now in the shops – a welcome change from the same old sandwiches. The family will bless you for that extra trouble.”

The leaflet went on to give recipes for Devilled Rabbit, Rabbit Paste, Rabbit Loaf, and the following nice idea for a pasty – surely a nice treat to find in the lunchbox, whatever the era.

Rabbit and Potato Pasties.
Ingredients: Pastry using 6 to8 oz. flour; 8 oz. cooked rabbit, chopped; 4 oz. grated raw potato; 1 hard boiled egg, chopped; 1 tomato, skinned and chopped; salt and pepper to taste; 2 tablespoons of stock or milk.
Method: Divide the pastry into four and roll each piece into a circle about the size of a saucer. Mix all the other ingredients and divide the mixture between the pastry rounds. Damp the edges of the pastry and fold into pasty shapes. Bake in a hot oven 25-30 minutes.

Quotation for the Day.

Luncheon: as much food as one's hand can hold.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), from his dictionary (1755)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Home-Made Lunchbox.

Yesterday’s post made me consider the lunch-box – and how much we take it for granted. What did we do before plastic wrap and plastic lunchboxes (i.e before WW II)?

Way back, I guess, we used large leaves and other natural containers (bamboo tubes?) and pieces of linen, perhaps. Then we moved onto paper packets, wicker baskets, or whatever might be the local variation of tiffin-boxes and bento-boxes.

Or, we got creative, and made our own out of whatever was at hand. Here is a nifty idea (although sacrilegious to a bibliophile) from Popular Science, August 1921.

“A lunchbox can be made from an old book of the proper thickness and size. With a straight-edge and an old safet-razor blade, the center of the pages are cut out as shown. When this is done, a thick preparation of glue is smeared around the inside and over this pieces of cardboard, cut to the proper size, are placed. When the glue sets, the book will stiffen up and a very good little lunchbox will result. Some care and patience will have to be taken to see that the cutting is carried on as evently as possible and keeping the pages uniform.”

Capital Luncheon Cake that will keep Six Months and save the trouble of frequent Making.
Take two pounds of flour, one and a half pound of treacle, half an ounce of ground ginger, quarter of a pound of sugar, quarter of an ounce of ground caraway seed, and candied lemon peel, cut very small. Mix all well with the flour; warm the butter [the recipe omits to say how much butter] and mix with the rest, then warm the treacle; dissolve in a little boiling water a large teaspoonful of carbonate of soda, and stir it well into the treacle; add to the other ingredients; work all well together and bake in a buttered tin two hours; in a rather slow oven.
Wives whose husbands are professional men having frequently only time to take a snack and a glass of sherry in the middle of the day will win admiration by making these cakes and sending them to their husbands offices.
[The Family Save-All, A System of Secondary Cookery, 1861]

Quotation for the Day.

When you make his sandwiches, put a sexy or loving note in his lunch box.
Anne Rice.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Motoring Excursion.

Today is the anniversary of the arrival in San Francisco of Alice Huyler Ramsey (1887-1983), fifty-nine days after she set off from New York in 1909. She was the first woman to drive across the entire North American subcontinent – and she did it at a time when very few men could drive (because the automobile was a rare novelty), and a full decade before women got the vote.

Alice performed the feat as a publicity stunt for the company that made the car she travelled in – a green, 30 HP, four-cylinder Maxwell that could reach an astonishing
top speed of 40 mph. There being a dearth of auto mechanics en route, Alice herself changed the tires multiple times and made many other mechanical repairs en route.

It was not long before the motor-car became the transport method of choice of course – opening up a whole new range of picnic possibilities for lucky owners. Any invention brings in its wake a cascade of sub-inventions – some of you may have a ‘sock’ for your i-Phone, perhaps? The motor-car was no exception. The magazine
Popular Mechanics, of June 1917 described a new, very desirable accessory:

“An automobile lunchbox, designed and manufactured in Portland, Ore., is designed to be carried on the running board of a car, to which it may be attached by means of two small thumbscrews while traveling. It is shaped like a suitcase. One side lets down to form a picnic table, and the box contains a series of hinged and swinging drawers for food and bottles, also a metal-lined ice box with water drain, and a plate and linen compartment.”

Sadly for those of us more interested in what Alice, rather than the car, might have consumed en route across the country, there seems to be very little information. In her honour therefore, I give you a selection of travel-inspired ideas quite suitable for your next motoring excursion, from Sandwiches, by Sarah Tyson Heston Rorer, pubished in 1912.

East Indian Lentil Sandwiches.
Take any leftover boiled or stewed lentils, and press them through a sieve. To each half cupful of this mixture add a half cupful of chopped pecans, a level teaspoonful of curry and a saltspoonful of salt. Spread thin slices of brown bread with butter, then put over a thick layer of this mixture and cover with chopped parsley. Cover with another layer of brown bread, press together, trim the crusts and cut into fingers.

German Sandwiches
Put an pound of Swiss cheese through the meat grinder; add to it the yolks of two eggs, four tablespoonfuls of olive oil, a dash of cayenne and half a teaspoonful of sat. Rub until you have a perfectly smooth paste. Put this mixture between layers of buttered rye bread and serve. Do not trim the crusts nor cut.

Filipino Sandwiches.
Add one grated pineapple to a tumbler of peanut butter, mix thoroughly, add a tablespoonful of lemon juice, a dash of cayenne, a half teaspoonful of paprika. Put this between thin slices of brown bread, buttered; press together and cut into halves.

Turkish Sandwiches.
Chop sufficient cold roasted mutton to make a pint; add two solid tomatoes from a can of tomatoes, or two fresh tomatoes, peeled, the seeds pressed out and the flesh chopped fine. Add half a cupful of piñons or pine nuts, and sufficient olive oil to bind the whole together. Spread this between thin, warm milk or beaten biscuits and serve for afternoon tea or supper.

Quotation for the Day.

A month before the season, I don’t order fries with my club sandwich.
Mario Lemeiux

Friday, August 07, 2009

Keeping the Toaster Shiny.

When did being “time-poor” in the kitchen become an issue (or an explanation, or an excuse, or a justification ….) ? We are used to exhortations to domestic economy. Cookbooks from every era and every culture have preached the doctrine of saving expense – or at the very least, the avoidance of waste. Waste, even in good times in wealthy households, has generally been viewed – at least in theory – as a sinful thing. Somehow in very modern times we have moved well away from this idea: there is plenty of evidence that in developed countries, up to a fifth of purchased food is thrown away – a situation that would have been unthinkeable until …. when?

But to return to my first question – when did saving time in the kitchen become an issue, and why? We feel - and are regularly told - that we have hectic lives and too much to do, and are too busy and too stressed. But we have – at least in theory – a legislated 8 hour working day only five days a week (an unbelievably lazy working life, historically); we have labour-saving devices in our homes; we can get to work in a blink of an eye, relatively speaking. Most of us would certainly feel that we did not have time for the following little domestic chore, described in a 1930’s American newspaper.

“Every toaster should have its little long-handled brush with which to sweep out the crumbs that accumulate after each use. It is a sign of good housekeeping to find the toaster always as shiny as a new dime, with no burnt-on crumbs, butter stains or finger marks.”

Oddly, this same newspaper page also had a column of ideas and recipes for “Half Hour Meals”. Perhaps the time saved was intended to be used to polish the toaster in time for breakfast. The newspaper was the Middletown Times Herald (of Middletown, NY) of May 28, 1936, and the helpful section called Modern Home News was “Conducted for this newspaper in the interest of its women readers by recognized authorities on all phases of home making.”

Here is one of the suggested menus for “a substantial though quick dinner”:

… starting off with a tomato juice cocktail; then broiled beef patties, fried potatoes (which have been cooked in the morning); asparagus, butter sauce, fruited gelatin (also prepared in the morning). Asparagus should be cleaned in the morning, folded in a wet cloth, and put into the ice-box. When preparing the dinner, start the water for boiliing asparagus first; then slice or dice the potatoes and broil the patties.

This is a bit of a cheat, I think, as the half-hour does not include the morning preparation.

I must return to this time-poor in the kitchen approach sometime soon. In the meanwhile, from the same page of the newspaper, from an article headed Vegetables In Spring Attire, we have the following recipe to encourage Dad and Junior to enjoy their vegetables.

Scalloped Cabbage.
Wash and cut into sections a young cabbage. Boil in salted water until tender. Chop very fine (leftover cabbage may be used to advantage.) Add one egg, well beaten; three fourth cup milk; one tablespoon finely chopped broiled bacon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Put a layer of cabbage in the baking dish; sprinkle grated sharp cheese over the mixture, then another layer of cabbage. Continue until baking dish is filled. Cover top with buttered bread crumbs, sprinkle with cheese and bake for thirty minutes in a moderate oven of 350 degrees F.

Quotation for the Day.
Cabbage as a food has problems. It is easy to grow, a useful source of greenery for much of the year. Yet as a vegetable it has original sin, and needs improvement. It can smell foul in the pot, linger through the house with pertinacity, and ruin a meal with its wet flab. Cabbage also has a nasty history of being good for you.”
Jane Grigson (1928-1990)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Square Meal.

Lets get it straight. The Internet has it wrong. The Internet does get things wrong sometimes, you know. The phrase ‘square meal’ has nothing at all to do with square trenchers (of bread, wood, pewter, gold, or any other suspected material) as used in the medieval era, nor has it anything at all to do with sailors in the early days of the Royal Navy being served their rations on square wooden plates. The phrase actually references the idea of something ‘square’ being something right – as in ‘fair and square’, and ‘a square deal.’

The OED has the first mention in 1868, with the supporting quotation “Roadside hotel-keepers … calling the miners' attention to their ‘square meals’: by which is meant full meals.” The OED however, is, by definition, English. And it appears that the OED has it wrong too. A‘square drinker’ was known in England in 1611, according to Cotgrove, but a ‘square meal’ seems to have been perpetrated by those pesky Americans over the big water, and there is certainly one reference from 1856, in a Californian newspaper (The Mountain Democrat).

Here is your recipe for the day - a nice treat made from squares of pastry.

Prepare a puff paste … roll it half an inch thick and divide it into square pieces about as large as a sheet of note paper. Mix half a pound of cream cheese with six eggs, a little salt, and two ounces of flour; beat the whole together; take a portion of it about as large as an apple, and lay it upon a corner of the sheets of paste, not too near the edges; cover it with the other corner and make the edges stick together with a little water; turn the edges up, egg the cake over and set it in the oven. Half an hour's baking is sufficient.
Of course you do what is indicated above until no paste remains and you serve the cakes together
Cookery for English households, by a French lady, 1864

Quotation for the Day.

There is only one difference between a long life and a good dinner: that, in the dinner, the sweets come last.
Robert Louis Stevenson.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Another Breakfast Opinion.

The question in my mind is - was the opinion of Phyllis Browne and her “mere man” (yesterday’s post) on the subject of breakfast the prevailing one in England in the nineteenth century? I consulted the Handbook for the Breakfast Table by Mary Hooper (1873).

The author agrees with Phyllis on the importance of breakfast, and feels particularly strongly about eggs.

“Whilst a great deal of thought is given to ordering dinner, breakfast is left pretty much to the judgement of the cook, and as it is generally, in her opinion, an affair of secondary importance, the result is one directly tending to promote all the evils which follow in the wake of indigestion. But if we consider to how large a portion of the community it is of the first necessity that they should leave their homes in the morning physically fortified against the fatigues of an anxious day, it will at once be seen that it is at least of equal importance to provide a nourishing appetitive breakfast as a good dinner.”
Now the number of dishes used for breakfast, is, in the majority of English families, very limited. Bacon and eggs are the staple, the former generally unsatisfactory, being either over or under cured, too salt or too new; it is besides expensive, a large portion of it running to fat. New-laid eggs, when they can be procured in town, are very costly, they properly, after twenty-four hours, can only be described as fresh. The Cockney mind is not, however, very enlightened on this subject, and the vendors of eggs are persuaded, or at any rate try to persuade the public, that eggs are new-laid until they are “an apology for pepper.” The British cook has no idea of making these London eggs more palatable by the exercise of a little skill or the addition of some sauce, gravy, or cold meat, generally at hand even in households of very modern pretensions.”

The author includes amongst the substantial dishes that she recommends such things as hashes, pressed and potted meats, pigeons, rabbit etc – but, sadly, does not include pie. Or hock.

I do love those phrases “household of modern pretensions” and “apology for pepper.”

The following recipe from the book would seem to risk indigesion, methinks.

Egg Cutlets.
These are very good, and if carefully cooked need not be too rich. Cut hard-boiled eggs into thick slices, dip them in the yolk of an egg well beaten, and then in finely-sifed bread-crumbs seasoned with pepper and salt and a pinch of dried parsley. Have a little butter in the frying pan; let the eggs cook two minutes on one side, turn them on the other and finish. When taken from the frying pan lay them before the fire on white paper to absorb the grease. Serve a little thickened gravy around them.

Quotation for the Day.

And you stagger down to break your fast.
Greasy bacon and lacquered eggs
And coffee composed of frigid dregs.
Ogden Nash

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Mere Man’s Breakfast Suggestions.

Just when you think nothing more can be said about the “traditional” English breakfast, some more opinion comes to light. Today it is that of a “mere man” – the man allowed by the author to include his “tabular introduction” in her book Dictionary of Dainty Breakfasts, in 1899. Our old friend, cookbook and menu-book author Phyllis Browne (whom we have met here, here, here) has done a fine job with her suggestions, although it has to be said that the degree of “daintiness” is tainted with that of the awfully robust.

A Mere Man Considers Breakfast.
A breakfast should consist:-
A. Of a fundamental dish.
B. Of one or more trifling accessories for the benefit of (1) thos who are so hungry that the fundamental dish does not suffice, and (2) those who feel so sick that they cannot touch it.
C. Of fresh fruit, stewed or tinned fruit, jam or marmalade.
D. Of drinks.
E. Of bread, toast, or scones.

The mere man then goes on to clarify the choices within each of these categories. Here they are, much summarised:

Fundamental dishes: ham or bacon, alone or in combination with other articles; eggs cooked in various ways; fish and allied products; “certain internal portions of the animal economy”; meats - chops, sausages, fricasees, curries, etc etc of different kinds hot or cold, including “meat pies of all sorts … [which] should be large: the smaller varieties contain an undue proportion of crust. … The very robust are willing to eat chops and steaks at breakfast. Men in training commonly do so. … The ordinary person eschews butchers meat [ie beef and mutton] at breakfast.”
Accessory dishes: boiled eggs; cold ham or gammon; sardines, in the tin or on toast; anchovies; potted meats; shrimp, bloater, or anchovy paste; mushrooms on toast; herring’s roes on toast; porridge and its allies; cold sausages of sorts.
Fruit and Vegetable products – including tomatoes, stewed rhubarb, tinned fruit, jam and marmalade and honey, and cream “is good with them all, especially Devonshire cream ….the best way of eating Devonshire cream is, however, unquestionably with cheap, black, highly flavoured treacle.”
Drinks: Tea, coffee, cocoa; “when fresh fruit is taken at the beginning of breakfast, a glass of hock is a suitable accompaniment. A glass of good light beer is excellent after breakfast, as they know very well at Westminster school.
Bread, etc. … hot buttered toast, dry toast, tea-cakes and scones – hot and buttered, cut bread and butter, white and brown bread, Vienna and other fancy breads, Hot rolls (for the reckless), Hot Cross buns on Good Friday.

In comparison with this list, the “traditional” English breakfast is a puny, unvarying, unimaginative thing – even such worthy entrants as the “10 deadly sins breakfast” served by the historic London restaurant Simpson’s-in-the-Strand doesn’t quite cut it. The ten sins offered at the venerable establishment are: Cumberland sausage, egg (fried, poached, or scrambled), streaky and back bacon, Stornoway black pudding, fried mushrooms, baked tomato, lamb kidney, bubble & squeak, baked beans, fried bread. Observe that includes neither pie in any form, nor a glass of hock or beer.

It seems that the range of breakfast choices was unquestionably greater a hundred-odd years ago. Bring back pie for breakfast, I say.

Here is a nice dainty dish, from the book – a very British-type of dish - presumably from the trifling accessory range, not the fundamental one.

Bombay Toast
Ingredients: two eggs, toast, butter, essence of anchovy, capers.
Time required: Ten minutes. Prepare slices of buttered toast cut into rounds or fingers. Melt a little butter in an omelette pan. As it dissolves, stir into it two beaten eggs, half a teaspoonful of essence of anchovy an dhalf a teaspoonful of chopped capers and pepper. Spread the mixture on the toast and serve hot.

Quotation for the Day.

Sure I eat what I advertise. Sure I eat Wheaties for breakfast. A good bowl of Wheaties with bourbon can't be beat.
Dizzy Dean.

Monday, August 03, 2009

What Salad Is That?

The iconic wattle is blossoming out in all its madly yellow, pom-pommy, headily fragrant, sneeze-inducing glory in SE Queensland at present – so I am of a mind to give you a salad recipe named in its honour. Wattle Salad, you say, What is that?

It is Mimosa Salad, of course. The mimosa and the wattle are one and the same thing as far as this non-botanist can ascertain. The tree apparently got its local name sometime in the early days of this far-flung reach of the Empire – at a time and place when pragmatism ruled over perfume and colour. The long pliant branches of the indigenous Acacia species were found to be ideal for making – you guessed it – ‘wattle and daub’ fences and huts. I much prefer the name ‘mimosa’ – it sounds sweet and slightly exotic and definitely fragrant, doesn’t it?.

A Mimosa Salad is about as simple as you can get, for a salad. I don’t know who first garnished some lettuce leaves with the fluffy yellow stuff that results when you rub hard-boiled eggs through a sieve, but for a short while it was a classy classic. The salad got an honourable mention in a blog post several years ago, but I did not give you a recipe. The omission is addressed below with a recipe from Royal Menus, the book written by Rene Roussin, the Chef de Cuisine to King George VI (king from 1936-1952).

Salade Mimosa.
Make a salad dressing by mixing two parts of olive oil with one part wine vinegar and adding a little chopped parsley, chervil, chive and tarragon. Stir a tablespoonful of raw cream into every gill of dressing.
Dress the small yellow leaves from the hearts of fresh lettuces with the mixture given above. Pass 1 or 2 hard-boiled eggs – yolk and white together – through a fine sieve and scatter on top of the lettuce.

P.S. If you really want to celebrate the wattle/mimosa, there was a Mimosa Cocktail in a previous post.

Quotation for the Day.

A dressing is not a compôte
A dressing is not a custard
It consists of pepper and salt,
Vinegar, oil and mustard.
Ogden Nash.