Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fourth Blogoversary!

Today is an important day for two reasons, which is why I am posting on a Saturday. The first reason is that it is Halloween, or All Hallows Night, and I don’t need to spell out what that means, do I?

The second is that October 31 is the fourth anniversary of this blog. I could never have imagined that I would still be happily blogging four years after I, the technophobe, began my little experiment. I certainly never anticipated how much fun it would turn out to be and how much I would learn. In my wildest imaginings I could never, ever, have anticipated how many friends it would bring me around the world – so thankyou, one and all, for sharing the fun and keeping me going with your support and comments.

I set myself the challenge of finding a recipe or topic that would celebrate both events. Cake would be good, I thought, but we had the Halloween connection with Barm Brack in 2008.

Apples are very Halloween, for the obvious seasonal reasons, and many of the traditional Halloween games involve apples – such as apple-bobbing for example. So, I considered apple cakes, but did not find inspiration.

In the North of England, which is where I was born, Halloween is also called “Nutcrack night”, because of an interesting tradition of divination was attempted. There were a number of nights of the old year when folk attempted to look into the future by means of various rituals, and as many of these involve some sort of food, we have considered them before. We have not, however, considered using nuts as a way to determine how an intended or hoped-for marriage might turn out.

On Nutcrack Night one could throw into the fire some hazelnuts – representing a pair of lovers – into the fire, and the way that the nuts burned supposedly indicated the style of the future marital relationship.

“If the nuts lie still and burn together, they prognosticate a happy marriage, or hopeful love; but if they bounce and fly asunder, the sign is unpropitious.”

So, I have a tradition from this day, from the area of my birth, which includes one of my favourite nuts. So, hazelnuts it is for blogoversary day. Here is my pick, a delicate Hazelnut Frangipane from Pierre Blot’s Hand-book of Practical Cookery, for Ladies and Professional Cooks (1867). He gives a basic frangipane recipe made with macaroons, then the variations with almonds or hazelnuts. All we need now is for someone to make a buttery pastry shell, and we have a blogoversary tart.

Set one pint of milk on the fire. Mix well together in another pan three tablespoonfuls of sugar, two of flour, three eggs, three macaroons crumbled, and as soon as the milk rises, turn the mixture into it, little by little, stirring and mixing the while; keep stirring about three minutes; take off, add a few drops of essence to flavor; turn into a bowl, let cool, and it is ready for use. It may be made without the macaroons.
With Almonds: make as above, with the exception that you use sweet almonds, chopped fine, instead of macaroons.
With Hazelnuts: proceed as above, using hazelnuts instead of almonds.

Quotation for the Day.
Two hazel nuts I threw into the flame,
And to each nut I gave a sweetheart’s name;
This with the loudest bounce me sore amazed,
That in a flame of brightest colour blazed;
As blazed the nut, so may thy passion grow,
For ‘twas thy nut that did so brightly glow!
John Gay (1685-1732), from his ‘Pastorals’.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sharks as Food.

Popcorn yesterday, shark today. Why not? I am currently exploring some of the small promotional cookbooks which focus on single, very specific, ingredients. A nice little book published by the US Bureau of Fisheries in 1918 called Sharks as Food; with Thirty Recipes, is our source for today.

Sharks have a reputation for eating humans whenever they get the opportunity, but the reality is that we eat them far often than they eat us (memo: keep a roasted pumpkin handy when swimming in shark-infested waters). Sometimes the eating of shark is opportunistic – one should not waste good protein, even if it is caught inadvertently, and especially when one is thoroughly sick of the alternatives, as the explorer William Dampier found in 1699. More often we eat it unknowingly (as, it could be argued, we eat many things).

Shark goes by the name of ‘flake’ in Australia, where it is commonly purchased from take-away establishments, battered and deep fried as an accompaniment to chips. It more often goes by no name at all, appearing anonymously in all sorts of vaguely piscatorial food ‘products’ such as fish fingers. The fins alone appear in the infamous Chinese Sharks’ Fin soup – a delicacy which supposedly gives a medicinal and aphrodisiac boost to those who believe in it, and a sense of outrage to those who find it cruel and immoral.

Here is my selection from the Bureau of Fisheries booklet: recipes for two salads, one using smoked shark, the other canned.

16. Shark Salad.
2 cupfuls smoked shark.
2 cupfuls potatoes.
1 tablespoonful onion,
1 cupful celery.
2 tablespoonfuls green peppers.
2 cupfuls mayonnaise.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Wash the smoked shark and boil until tender. Shred when cold, and add to the
potatoes, which have been diced. Then put in the minced onion, celery, and green
peppers. Mix thoroughly and add the mayonnaise, stirring slightly.
The addition of 3 hard-boiled eggs gives a more nutritious and palatable salad.

30. Shark Salad.
I pound can of shark.
1 cupful celery.
1 red pepper.
1 cucumber, sliced.
1 head chicory.
1 lemon.
1 onion.
Drain and flake the shark and add to the other ingredients. Mix all lightly with
the mayonnaise and garnish with olives.

Quotation for the Day

When you consider what a chance women have to poison their husbands, it's a wonder there isn't more of it done.
Kin Hubbard.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Many Ways with Popcorn.

Today I want to share with you a lovely little cookbook devoted to popcorn, and produced, not unsurprisingly, by a manufacturer of ‘corn for popping’. I have a special regard for small, single topic cookery books. The level of culinary creativity required in filling a book is sometimes frighteningly large. Who would have thought that you could do so much with popped corn?

Nelson’s Pop Corn Recipes was written by Mary Hamilton Talbott (“a well-known recipe writer for the leading periodicals”) and published in Grinnell, Iowa, in 1916. The reader is addressed as “Dear Madam”, and is informed, or reassured, that Nelson’s corn for popping “is a corn of the highest popping test, and is the pick of Iowa’s best of the Amber Rice Variety”, and is advised, or fore-warned, that “It will pay you to insist upon Nelson’s 10c per pound package.”

There are “recipes of great use in preparing the dainty dishes for that pleasant evening.” Actually, not just for evening: there are plenty of breakfast popcorn suggestions too: as hot or cold cereal, with cheese, in an omelet or as hash, in scrapple, or with bacon (a generous handful of the popped corn being browned in the bacon grease and being served with the meat).

Pop corn also apparently works well in various meat substitutes: there are recipes in the book for Pop Corn Roast, Pop Corn Cutlet, Pop Corn Rolls. It also features in soup, stuffing, salads, and sandwiches, in various vegetable dishes, and, of course, in candy and desserts. I had some trouble choosing what to feature today, I can tell you. In the end I selected two recipes - the first, a savoury dish (which makes a fun and worthy addition to the Fun with Potatoes archive.

As for my second choice, I offer it in the hope of obtaining some understanding of why one would ruin a perfectly lovely custard with the addition of gritty powdered popcorn.

Potato and Pop Corn Balls.
Mix two cupsful of hot mashed potatoes, one teaspoonful of chopped onion, one tablespoonful of chopped parsley, two tablespoonfuls of butter, salt and pepper to taste, then shape them into small balls, open the center and put in some popped corn – Nelson’s makes the crisp and flaky grains – place on a buttered dish and cook in a moderate oven a quarter of an hour, sprinkle ground popped corn over them before removing from the oven, and serve alone or with tomato sauce.

Pop Corn Cream Pudding.
Soak a quarter of a box of gelatine in a quarter of a cupful of cold water. Make a custard of two cupsful of milk, three egg yolks, a third of a cupful of sugar, and a third of a teaspoon of salt; add the gelatine, and strain into a pan set in cold water. Stir in two thirds of a cupful of Nelson’s corn, popped and ground, and a teaspoonful of almond extract, stirring until it begins to thicken. Then add the stiffly whipped whites of three eggs, mould, chill, and serve garnished with the whole grains of popped corn. Whipped cream may be served with this pudding.

Quotation for the Day.

Of course life is bizarre, the more bizarre it gets, the more interesting it is. The only way to approach it is to make yourself some popcorn and enjoy the show.
Unknown (attribute it, if you can, please)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Elizabethan Dinner.

We have spent far too much time in the nineteenth century of late. Let us travel back four hundred years, to the period when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne of England.

It seems that some things never change – the movers and shakers (the fat cat beaurocrats, if you prefer) have always eaten well on the public purse. In 1573, on this very day, a number of the chief advisers to Queen Elizabeth (the powers behind the throne, if you will) sat down to a very fine dinner.These were the men who made the nation’s economic decisions – the Lord High Treasurer (William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley), the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Walter Mildmay), and the Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer (Sir Edward Saunders) and various other officials.

The provisions list for the dinner (with prices in shillings nnd pence) was as follows:

A Dinner for my Lorde Treasurer, Mr. Chanceler, my Lorde Chefe Baron, the Barons and Officers of the Exchequer, upon the 28th daye of October, 1573’

For breade, ale, and beare                   15    0
For a rande of brawne                           5    0
For a surloyne and a double
rybbe of byefe                                        7   0
For 2 geese                                            3   8
For four jointes of veale                          7   0
For sixe capons                                    13   8
For 3 cople of rabbyts                            3   4
For a dozen and a halfe of pigions           3   4
For sixe woodcocks                               5   0
For 4 partridges                                     3   4
For one fessante                                     4   0
For 4 snypes                                          1   8
For 3 dozen of larkes                             2   6
For marybones                                      1    0
For butter                                              4   0
For eggs                                                1   0
For sauce                                              1    0
For spices                                              7   0
For frute                                                1   6
For white wyne                                      0   5
For a pottle of muskeder, a pottle
of sacke, and 2 gallons of
claret wyne                                            5   8
For rose-water and swete-water            0   8
For lemans                                             0   8
For strewing hearbes and p’sly               0   6
For fier in pearlers and kitchin                 6   8
For cookes wages                                  6  0
For boote hier                                        1   4
For occupyenge of plate, naperye,
and other necessaries                              5   0

Today’s recipe is for a dish supposedly first served to the Queen’s father, Henry VIII, if we are to believe John Partridge, the author of a book first published in the same year as this dinner, with the impressive full title of:

The treasurie of hidden secrets, commonly called, The good-huswives closet of provision, for the health of her houshold Gathered out of sundrie experiments, lately practised by men of great knowledge: and now newly inlarged with divers necessary physick helpes, and knowledge of the names and disposition of diseases, that most commonly happen to men and women. Not impertinent for every good huswife to use in her house, amongst her owne familie

A Sawce for a rosted Rabbet: first vsed to King Henry the eight.
TAke an handful of washed percelye, mince it small, boyle it with Butter & veriuce vpon a chafing dish, season it wt sugre and a little Pepper grose beaten, when it is redi: put in a few fine Crummes of white bread, put it in amongste the other, let it boyle agayne till it be standing, then lay it in a Platter, lyke the breadth of three fingers, lay of each side one rosted Conye (or mo[r]e) and so serue them

There are other Elizabethan tales – and recipes – here, here, and here.

Quotation for the Day.

Most banquets turn out to be full discourse dinners.
Ed Whittaker

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Coon Supper.

On this night in 1897, somewhere in the United States of America at an establishment called Bugbee House, a group of men (we can safely presume that the guests were all men, cant we?) sat down to a ‘Coon Supper’.

The menu was as follows:

Bugbee House
G.O.Benison, Prop. C.J. Blackner, Clerk.

*Morse’s Coon Supper*
Wednesday, Oct. 27, 1897


Eastford Coon      Jericho Sauce.

Potato Salad                     Squirrel Pie.
Quail on Toast.

Mashed Potato. Sweet Potato. Turnips.
Boiled Onions.

Red Cabbage. Stuffed Peppers. Celery.
Pickled Onions. Queen Olives.
Mixed Pickles. Tomato Catsup. Gherkins.

Apple Pie. Squash Pie.

Grapes. Pears. Bananas.

There was a Bugbee House in Putnam, Connecticut (and Eastwood and Jericho are in the same state) – Thomas Bugbee was a prominent businessmand and hotelier in that town. A Mr. Orrin Morse was the president of a manufacturing company in Putnam in the late nineteenth century, so perhaps he was hosting the dinner, or alternatively he was being honored in some way?

My own best guess, on a topic I know absolutely nothing about, is that most ‘coon was (is) cooked over a campfire, not in a restaurant. Certainly there is a dearth of recipes for it in conventional cookery books, even those of a certain age. To find out how to prepare, cook, and enjoy raccoon therefore, we must go to one of the huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ types. Alonzo Delano gives the instructions in his book Life on the Plains and Amongst the Diggings … (1857) – although please note, he does not give an accompanying sauce.

"First catch your coon and kill him, skin him, and take out the entrails; cut off his head, which throw away; then if you have water to spare, wash the carcass clean, but if you have not, omit the washing. Parboil an hour to take out the strong musk, then roast it before the fire on a stick. While it is roasting, walk ten miles, fasting, to get an appetite, then tear it to pieces with your fingers, and it will relish admirably with a little salt and pepper, if you happen to have them. A tin cup of coffee without milk, taken with it, makes, under the circumstances, a feast fit for the gods".


A mere few minutes after posting this, I received an email from Gary Allen - and I thought you would enjoy it.

Once, some 30 years ago, when I was young and new to hunting, I found I had an opportunity to shoot a plump raccoon. It was a long and tricky shot, so I was pretty proud of my trophy.

I planned to make a feast of the beast, so I took it home, skinned and dressed (or rather, un-dressed, it -- I wonder why removing an animal's skin came to be considered as "dressing?") it on our kitchen 
table. I was rather surprised --  'though, in retrospect, I don't know why -- at how much fat there was. After trimming away most of it, the raccoon didn't have nearly as much meat as I had hoped. Little did I know that the limited supply of meat was a GOOD thing.

After cooking it for some time, we dug in to our first taste of wild raccoon.

Why specify "wild?" No one in his right mind would try to farm-raise raccoons.

First of all, they're a nasty brutish bunch who would, no doubt, prefer to eat their handlers -- or would if they did no so much despise us.

Second, when not thinking about eating US, they would much prefer to eat our food. Or our garbage. Either way, raccoons have an innate ability to make a mess of anything we hold dear. Inviting them to be 
a part of our lives is just stupid. It reveals an over-weaning lack of foresight.

Third, it's one thing to raise an animal that prefers to eat as we do (pigs, for example), when the food we get in return is worth it. Few would argue that trading excess corn for bacon and pork chops is a 
bad idea. It's quite another to convert perfectly good food into raccoon flesh.

Raccoon, as least the one I ate, tasted like very old and stringy beef -- perhaps the dessicated flesh of some super-annuated ox, an over-worked creature who might very well have expired in mid-furrow. 
Aside from the poor quality of the meat, a certain amount of residual fat remained, despite my earlier efforts to remove it. This fat had the remarkable property of not melting in the mouth -- so that, after 
eating the raccoon, I was convinced that someone had coated the inside of my mouth with tallow, or possibly axle-grease.

Needless to say, the tribe of raccoons has been safe from my predations during the past three decades. I have not yet had, nor do I expect anytime soon to have, an urge to experience another bout of ring-tailed dyspepsia.


Quotation for the Day.

There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870), in Oliver Twist.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Rhyming Recipe.

Silly me. A post popped up “yesterday” (Sunday) instead of “today”(Monday), because I accidentally typed the wrong date into the post-ahead schedule. Lucky you, because this means you get an extra post this week (I have undertaken to post every Monday to Friday, you know, so any Sunday posts, inadvertent or intended, must count as extras.) I will make up the mistake, by giving you a couple more recipes on the same theme.

It seems that producing cookery books was an early consciousness-raising and fund-raising effort of women suffrage advocates. It probably worked well – bringing home a new cookbook must have been a delightfully subversive act for some young wives and daughters, as even the most chauvinistic of the menfolk in the family would hardly have thought it necessary to check the culinary literature entering the household. Similarly, being seen writing or compiling a cookbook would hardly have raised any suspicious eyebrows. There were very few ways for decent women to earn a living in the late nineteenth century, and very few had few a disposeable income that was not scrutinised by a husband or father.

The Woman Suffrage Cook Book: Containing thoroughly tested and reliable recipes for cooking, directions for care of the sick, and practical suggestions... by Hattie A.Burr was published in Boston in about 1886. Many famous women contributed, including Julia Ward Howe, who provided “yesterday’s” quotation. The social activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) contributed the following rhyming recipe for a breakfast dish.

Breakfast Dish.

Cut smoothly from a wheaten loaf
Ten slices, good and true,
And brown them nicely, o'er the coals,
As you for toast would do.

Prepare a pint of thickened milk,
Some cod-fish shredded small;
And have on hand six hard-boiled eggs,
Just right to slice withal.

Moisten two pieces of the bread,
And lay them in a dish,
Upon them slice a hard-boiled egg,
Then scatter o'er with fish.

And for a seasoning you will need
Of pepper just one shake,
Then spread above the milky juice,
And this one layer make.

And thus, five times, bread, fish and egg,
Or bread and egg and fish,
Then place one egg upon the top,
To crown this breakfast dish.

Quotation for the Day.

Any influence I may happen to have is gladly extended in favor of woman suffrage.
Lydia Maria Child (famous cookery book author)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gingerbread for Women.

Methinks it is time to wake up the Through the Ages with Gingerbread archive. A sudden increase in blog hits resulting from searches for “gingerbread” is as reliable a threat of the approach of Christmas as is the appearance of “merchandise” in the supermarket.

There are almost forty recipes already in the archive, covering a period from the fifteenth century to the present day, and many interpretations of the sweet spicy treat. There are wartime eggless and butterless austerity cakes and extravagant cakes fragrant with rosewater and marzipan, cakes with marshmallows, with cornmeal, with coconut, with breadcrumbs, and with all types of ginger. There is a recipe for travellers gingerbread and one to use up stale gingerbread. There are of course, recipes for gingerbread men and gingerbread houses.

It might be thought that there are no more gingerbreads to add, but that would be a mistake. Gingerbread is an inexhaustible subject. I was reminded of this when I recently downloaded the The Suffrage Cook Book, (1915) compiled by Mrs. L.O. Kleber and installed it on my e-Reader. It contains the following interestingly titled recipe:

Parliament Gingerbread
(With apologies to the English Suffragists)
½ lb. flour
½ lb. treacle
1 oz. butter
½ small spoon soda
1 dessert spoon ginger
1 dessert spoon mixed spices
½ cup sugar
A bit of hot water in which soda is dissolved.
Put flour in a basin, and rub in butter, and dry ingredients; then, soda and water; pour in treacle, and knead to smooth paste. Roll quite thin and cut in oblongs. Bake about ¼ hour.

The English suffragists (especially their militant arm, who were called ‘suffragettes’) were causing a great deal of national angst and parliamentary debate at the time, so perhaps that is the ‘Parliament’ connection.

‘Suffragist’ foods (‘Pie for a Suffragist’s Doubting Husband’, Angel Cake, and Salad Dressing), have appeared in previous stories on this blog, but the above recipe for what is obviously a gingerbread, got me intrigued. I also found the following recipe in Economical Cookery, by Marion Harris Neil (Boston, 1918).

Suffrage Gingerbread.
1 cup ( ¼ lb.) ground rice
2 cups ( ½ lb.) flour
1 cup ( 4 oz. whole wheat flour)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon mace
¾ cup (1 ½ gills) honey or molasss
½ cup (1 gill) milk or cream
1 egg, beaten
1 cup (4 oz.) ground almonds
1 cup ( ½ lb. butter substitute
1 lemon
½ teaspoon salt.
Into a bowl sift rice, flours, baking powder, and spices. Melt molasses, add milk and butter substitute, and when dissolved, pour amongst flours; add grated lemon rind, egg, and salt. Pour into a greased and floured flat tin and bake in a moderate oven 45 minutes. Turn out and cool and cut into slices. If liked, the gingerbread may be frosted before it is cut.

I don’t know what it was about the suffragists and gingerbread, if indeed there was a specific connection (perhaps the quotation below is a clue). Ginger is one of the most widely used spices in the world, so for what it is worth, I dedicate this post to all the women around the globe who still do not have equality in the eyes of their families, or in the religious, cultural, or national communities in which they live.

Quotation for the Day.

The radiance which this new light [the woman suffrage movement] must bring into many households may be allowed to counterbalance some falling off in the manner of gingerbread and doughnuts.
Julia Ward Howe, American social activist (1819-1910).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Ideas for the Bride Housewife.

Thanksgiving is approaching over the Big Water, and I promised my American friends some historic menus and recipes. Those of you who are clearly on the wrong side of the Big Water need not worry, there are ideas aplenty for all of us amongst these gems.

I understand that the main delight (or not) of Thankgiving Day is to gather together as many family members as possible in order to enjoy (or not) a feeding experience and level of jollity similar to that of Christmas. I also understand that the household disruption, cooking, entertaining and cleaning up required by this event is somewhere on the scale between awesome and impossible. It may have been an easier task for our forebears, familiar as they were with much larger families living in much smaller communities, often with domestic help, and mercifully free of television and its celebrity chef standards.

Once upon a time a two-person household was a rare thing – a temporary circumstance until the new bride dutifully fulfilled her role and became a mother of many. The little advice that was around to help her cope with this hopefully very temporary state might be of particular interest today to modern cooks wishing to recreate historic recipes – often a frustrating task given the sheer quantities of ingredients involved.

Mrs. Wilson’s Cook Book, 1920, published in 1920 in the USA, noted the particular problem faced by the new wife at Thankgiving.

“The bride housewife who is planning a Thanksgiving dinner for “just the two” frequently finds herself in a dilemma. Turkey is much too large for her and chicken hardly appeals to her for this day.”

Mrs Wilson gave three “suggestive” menus for a Thanksgiving dinner for two. This one is my pick:

Shrimp Cocktail
Celery Olives
Roast Squab Duckling, Currant Jelly
Creamed Mashed Potatoes Peas
Lettuce Pimento Dressing
Mince Turnover Coffee
Cheese and Crackers
Nuts and Raisins.

Mrs Wilson kindly gave some useful basic recipes for two persons:

Pastry for Two.
Place in a mixing bowl
One cup of flour
One teaspoon of baking powder
One-half teaspoon of salt
Sift to mix, then rub in three tablespoons of shortening and mix to a dough with three tablespoons of water. Chop the water into the flour, then turn on the pastry board and roll out one-quarter inch thick. Use for tarts and turnovers. Brush with milk or syrup and water and bake in a moderate oven.

Cake for Two.
Place in a mixing bowl
Three-quarters cup of white corn syrup,
Yolk of one egg,
Four tablespoons of water,
1 cup of sifted flour,
Three level teaspoons of baking powder,
One level teaspoon of flavoring.
Beat to mix thoroughly and then add two tablespoons of melted shortening, folding in carefully. When thoroughly mixed, cut and fold the white of an egg into the dough.Turn into a well-greased and floured pan which has a tube in the centre and bake in a moderate oven for twenty-five minutes.

Quotation for the Day.

Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.
Erma Bombeck.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Curious Peanut Menu.

I often wonder how often people really, truly, follow to the letter the menu suggestions that sometimes feature in magazines and cookbooks. They often seem unrealistic and unattainable for an ordinary cook in an ordinary kitchen with not enough time or money or domestic help, and more than enough in the way of food intolerances or prejudices or preferences to work around.

From time to time, for various reasons, meals are arranged around a particular theme, and sometimes this is a single food. There are a few examples of this sort of dinner in my book Menus From History: Historic Meals and Recipes for Every Day of the Year. One example was the ‘remarkable fish banquet’ held by the American Fish Culturists’ Association during the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, which featured 58 varieties of fish and seafood from around the world. Another was ‘The American Maize Banquet’ held by American diplomats in Copenhagen in 1893 as advance publicity for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Yet another was an ‘All Soy’ meal, held by the automobile pioneer Henry Ford (who was mildly obsessed with the soy bean) at the Ford exhibit at the Century of Progress International Exposition (‘The Chicago World Fair) in 1934.

For sheer creativity, a menu of dishes made primarily from peanuts that featured in the regular column ‘Hints for the Household’ in the New York Times edition of April 16, 1882 is hard to beat. The article began with a general discussion of the peanut, the writer noting that ‘twenty or thirty years ago our pea-nuts came chiefly from Africa’, and that ‘the bulk of the African product goes to France, whence the oil is exported as “pure olive.” He also commented on the enormous economic value of the domestic crop (specifically from Virginia) – nothing being wasted, as the residual ‘cake’ from the oil pressing was a valuable animal feed, and even the shells were used for horse bedding. Naturally, he also felt that the local peanut was superior to the African.

The ‘curious menu’ was not an actual meal eaten, it was simply a device for demonstrating the remarkable culinary versatility of the peanut. The article included recipes for every dish on the menu, and these were provided by the well-known cookbook writer of the time, Juliet Corson.

A Curious Pea-Nut Menu.
Pea-nut Soup.
Pea-nut Soup with Oysters.
Breaded Chops,with pea-nut croquettes.
Pea-nut salad.
Pea-nut souffle.
Pea-nut patties. Pea-nut cakes.
San Domingo ground-nut cakes.
Pea-nut candy Roasted pea-nuts
Pea-nut coffee.

Pea-nut Soup.
To make this dish shell three pounds of roasted nuts, rub off the dry, brown skin carefully, pound the nuts to a smooth paste in a mortar, gradually adding a tablespoonful of brandy to prevent oiling; put this paste into a saucepan, set it over the fire, and gradually stir into it two quarts of boiling water; season it palatably with salt and cayenne pepper; let it simmer gently until it thickens, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, and then serve it hot.

Pea-nut Souffle.
Line a two-quart tin mold with buttered paper, letting the paper rise two inches above the top of the mold; mix together in a saucepan three ounces of the purée of peanuts prepared as directed above [soup recipe], six ounces of flour, a saltspoonful of salt, and gradually stir in a pint and a half of milk: set the saucepan over the fire and stir its contents until they have boiled two minutes: then remove it to the side of the stove, where they will not boil, and stir for one minute: separate the yolks of seven eggs from the whites, and stir the yolks one at a time into the soufflé mixure, taking care that it does not boil; add the whites, beaten to a stiff froth, stirring them very lightly; put the soufflé quickly into the mold and bake it 20 minutes in a moderate oven. Serve it hot in the mold as soon as it is done.

Pea-nut Coffee.
The nuts must be shelled, the brown skins removed, and the kernels roasted the second time very dark brown; then, by crushing or coarsely grinding them, they can be boiled with water, affording a pleasant beverage when used with hot milk and sugar. The quantity of nuts required to make coffee of the desired strength must be decided by individual taste, but a first experiment might be made with a cupful of nuts to a quart of water.

Quotation for the Day.

No man in the world has more courage than the man who can stop after eating one peanut.
Channing Pollock.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sour Sauces.

I want to wrap up, for the time being, the topic of fruit with meat. Yesterday we looked at pork (and goose) with apple. In previous posts we have explored the quite ancient ideas of pairing chicken with pears, turkey with raspberries or pomegranate (a much older idea than with cranberries, it seems), and duck with orange (originally, and much more deliciously, the bitter Seville orange). If we extend the idea of ‘meat’ to include other forms of animal protein, then we have also met the idea of eggs with orange (Seville oranges again) in a recipe from Hannah Glasse’s famous cookbook The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.

It is time to consider fish with fruit - over and above the ubiquitous but uninspiring wedge of lemon with every dish. A sour edge to an otherwise sweet or oily dish is not difficult to understand, but a much earlier pairing with fish was gooseberries. Citrus fruits were an expensive imported delicacy during the medieval era. It is recorded that the Leathersellers’ Company (one of the Liveried Companies of England) paid six silver pennies for a single lemon for a feast they gave to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533.

Gooseberries, on the other hand, were very easily available, having been cultivated from ancient times, and persisting even in the wild. Think on that, you English fish-eating locavores and wild-foodies. Gooseberry sauce with fish, especially mackeral was a favourite combination in the relatively recent past, and perhaps the idea deserves re-discovering. What was a cook to do however, to get that desired sour note in the fish dish, if there were no lemons and no gooseberries for whatever reasons?

Use rhubarb, of course. No argument about its sourness, and no thorny bushes to harvest. Here are a couple of rhubarb sauces for you.

Rhubarb Sauce.
To make a mock gooseberry sauce for mackarel, reduce three dozen sticks of rhubarb to a marmalade [ie a thick puree], and sweeten it with moist sugar. Pass it through a hair sieve, and serve it up in a boat.
The cook and housekeeper's complete and universal dictionary, Mary Eaton, 1822.

Rhubarb sauce [to keep.]
Boil the stalks over a slow fire, till tender, in a small quantity of water with sugar and such spices as suit the taste, and strain off the liquor, squeezing the stalks dry, and when the liquid syrup or sauce is cold, bottle and cork it tight; this will keep for years.
The Farmers' Register, Edmund Ruffin , USA, 1841

Quotation for the Day.

My living in Yorkshire was so far out of the way, that it was eleven miles away from a lemon.
Sydney Smith (1771-1845)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why Apple With Pork?

Today I want to follow-on from the ideas posed in yesterday’s story. As we discussed in that post, in medieval times there was no clear distinction between ‘sweet’ and ‘savoury’ dishes, and sugar was used as an expensive imported spice (and medicine) rather than primarily as a sweetening agent.

In the time of Henry II (who reigned from 1154-1189), even the king’s household was only able to buy 4 pounds of sugar at a time. Accounts from the Durham Cathedral Priory in the late sixteenth century show that the consumption of sugar was only 8.5 ounces per monk, per year. Although sugar refining began in Europe in the first half of the sixteenth century, it was not until well into the seventeenth century that sugar started to become significantly cheaper. By the end of the seventeenth century the distinction between ‘sweet’ and ‘savoury’ dishes had become much more distinct, and along with it an apparent enjoyment of an actual sour note.

What has this to do with the topic of the day, you may be asking? Well, humans are not entirely stupid about food. If you are onto a good thing, stick to it, and it seems that perhaps we were reluctant to completely give away this idea of fruit (‘sweet’) with meat (‘savoury’). But why particularly apples, with pork, you may be asking?

The association of pigs with apples is obvious at one level – pigs were often let to graze in apple orchards, where they could feast on the windfalls, so the fruit was converted by the pig’s metabolism into pork, instead of rotting into compost and being ‘wasted’ as a food source. Perhaps a concept of terroir is relative here – the pig meat being intrinsically compatible with the apple? Or maybe even flavoured with it, in a very subtle way? I did read some years ago of an artisan producer in Australia who was rearing piglets exclusively on a diet of blemished or othewise unmarketable apricots, which supposedly gave the flesh a particularly delicate and presumably fruity flavour, for supply to trendy restaurants. I wonder if this still happens?

On with our topic. Apples are ripe in autumn, which was also the traditional time for culling the surplus stock that could not be overwintered. The pig was the victim of choice here as much of it was eminently preservable for winter use in the form of sausages, ham, and bacon. The offal and fresh cuts were enjoyed at the time (traditionally at Martinmas) in a fresh meat feast which would be the last for a long time – and as the apples were ripe and in abundance at the same time ….. apple sauce with pork made sense.

Even when animal husbandry improvements began to facilitate the over-wintering of stock, thanks to gentleman farmers with an experimental bent, such as ‘Turnip’ Townshend, the tradition of apple with pork remained. This is beautifully illustrated in The House-keepers Pocket-Book, published in 1760. Amongst the dishes suggested by the author for ‘the Second Course, in January’ are:

Hog’s Head roasted.
To be served with a little warm Claret and Water in the Dish, and Apple Sauce in a Plate.

Hog’s Hearslet [harslet] roasted, with Spices and Sweet Herbs, to be served with Claret and Water in the Dish, and Apple Sauce in a Plate.

Hind Loin of Pork roasted, to be served with Claret and Water in the Dish, and Apple Sauce in a Plate

Pigs were not the only animals culled in late autumn. The goose was another victim, and not surprisingly, apple was also a traditional accompaniment to goose. The author of our book for the day also recommends, as ‘a first course in September’

Geese roasted, and served with a little warm Claret, pour’d through their Bellies in the same Dish, and Apple Sauce on a Plate.

We must have a recipe for the sauce itself, and here it is, from The Lady’s Assistant for Regulating and Supplying her Table (1777) – and, like the mint sauce yesterday, it shows that some recipes have not changed at all.

Apple Sauce.
Pare, core, and slice some apples, put a little water into the saucepan to keep them from burning, a bit of lemon-peel; when they are enough take out the peel, bruise the apples, add a lump of butter, and a little sugar.

Quotation for the Day.

If you want a subject, look to pork!
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why Mint With Lamb?

I am going to reverse the usual order of things today, and begin with the Quotation for the Day because when I came across it it took my fancy, and it also indicated a serious omission in blog topics to date. It is from the American writer Charles Farrar Browne (1834-1867), and goes ….

“My wife is one of the best wimin on this Continent, altho' she isn't always gentle as a lamb with mint sauce.”

Over the course of almost four years of week-daily blogging I have made numerous references to mint and have featured a number of historic menus in which mint sauce appears as the inevitable accompaniment to lamb or mutton – yet I have never explored mint sauce itself, nor given a recipe for it.

Why is it that we have mint with lamb, apples with pork, cranberries with turkey, and lemon with fish and so on? How did the traditions of these very specific fruits with very specific meats begin?

In medieval times, there was no clear distinction between ‘sweet’ and ‘savoury’ dishes, because sugar was a very expensive imported luxury used – generally speaking – in very small amounts, in the way of a spice. From today’s perspective, many individual medieval dishes seemed to contain a bewildering mixture of ingredients - fruit, meat, fish, almond milk, eggs, spices, sugar and so on. By the standards and beliefs and agricultural conditions of the time however, there was nothing random about the ingredient selections.

The prevailing medical doctrine of the time (the Humoral Theory) influenced which foods should be mixed for a particular person, event, time of the year etc. Of course, in the days before refrigeration and canning, local eating and seasonal eating were the norm, so whatever herbs, fruits or vegetables happed to be ripe and ready on your farm at lamb or pig-killing time were the ones you ate with your meat, and learned to associate and expect with that meat. It is also reasonable to assume, as human taste buds have not changed over the centuries, that our medieval ancestors enjoyed the same interplay of sweet - salty - sour – bitter - and umami that we do today, and developed their recipes accordingly.

There are other forces at work too. One theory of the development of the lamb/mint association suggests that it is a legacy of the roast lamb and bitter herbs eaten by the eaten by the Israelites on the eve of their Exodus from Egypt.

I have not explored the historic connection between lamb and mint exhaustively – this is a daily blog, after all, not a daily treatise - but interestingly it seems that pig was just as likely to be sent to the table with mint in the early eighteenth century - in its own right, not necessarily only when it was sent as counterfeit lamb, as in the following rather fun recipe from The House-keepers Pocket-Book (1760).

To Roast the Hind Quarter of a Pig, Lamb-fashion.
At the Time of Year when House-Lamb s very dear, take the Hind Quarter of a large Pig, take off the skin, and roast it, and it will eat like Lamb, with Mint-Sauce, or with a Sallad, or Seville Oranges.

We must have a recipe for the sauce, of course, and this one shows that some things don’t change at all!

Mint Sauce.
Wash your mint perfectly clean from grit or dirt, then chop it very fine, and put to it vinegar and sugar.
The Accomplished Housekeeper and Universal Cook, by T.Williams (1717)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Imitation Soy Sauce.

How is it that soy sauce became an important ingredient in nineteenth century English cookery? Englishmen had certainly developed a taste for salty, vinegary, strongly flavoured foods over the previous few centuries – at least in part thanks to the long sojourns that many of them spent in the furthest reaches of the Empire. Long slow journeys meant that preserving these flavours for travelling purposes was also desirable. Were these the reasons for the well-known love of the English for bottled sauces (such as Worcestershire sauce, for example)?

Many of the recipes for sauces in nineteenth century English cookery books – sauces of the bottled kind, that is – include soy sauce as an ingredient. Dr. William Kitchiner in his Cook’s Oracle (1817) included it in the list of essential components of his Magazine of Taste. He included a general description of its manufacture in his book, the information apparently coming from a person who had been to the East - but the details of the process remained mysterious.

How then, was the English cook of the nineteenth century to obtain this important ingredient? The book that has been our source of fun for the last couple of days - Pharmaceutical Formulas - A Book of Useful Recipes for the Drug Trade (1898) – agreed that the details of the manufacture of soy sauce in China, India, and Japan were “practically a secret” and added that “as the product cannot be accurately imitated, we recommend only imported soy to be used in making sauces.” In spite of this advice, and no doubt in consideration of its vital role in the kitchen, the authors then went on to give recipe for:

Factitious Soy
… is made by mixing together 1 gal. of malt syrup (extract of malt 4 lbs., water to 1 gal.), 5 lbs. treacle, 4 lbs. salt, and 2 pints of mushroom juice. Heat gently in order to facilitate the mixing, set aside for a fortnight, and decant from it any deposit.

I guess the mushrooms provide the umami flavour. How convincing do you think this ‘soy’ sauce would be?

Quotation for the Day.

If I could only have one type of food with me, I would bring soy sauce. The reason being that if I have soy sauce, I can flavor a lot of things.
Martin Yan

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Prescription Sausages.

Yesterday’s source - Pharmaceutical Formulas - A Book of Useful Recipes for the Drug Trade, published in 1898 – provides much other food for thought. The ‘Drug Trade’ includes all manner of fascinating formulas for household use, including cleaning materials, writing materials, perfumes, preparations for the hair and teeth and so on, as well as those with medicinal applications.

Quite a number of the recipes in the chapter on Household and Domestic Requisites (in which we found yesterday’s sauces), are decidedly difficult to reconcile with the health implications implicit in a publication for pharmaceutical professionals, but neither do they seem to fall on the industrial chemical side of things. Yesterday I said ‘I live in hope of the day when the friendly neighbourhood pharmacist will provide recipes for the daily dinner’. Even if this were to happen in the amazingly mysterious future, I cannot image that the meal prescription will ever, ever, ever, include sausages (although it should, with reservations, of course). In our source manual for the day however, we find the following recipe (without comments as to meat quality or type, it must be said) ….

Pork Sausage Flavouring.
White Pepper 2 oz.
Jamaica Pepper 6 dr.
Black Pepper 3 dr.
Ginger 3 dr.
Capsicum 2 dr.
Mace 1 dr.
Cloves 10gr.
All in fine powder, mixed. A little nitre helps to keep the colour of the meat.
(an alternative recipe suggests “tinting the powder a dark salmon colour by means of finely powdered red sanderswood.)

The pharmaceutical focus is evident in the use of pharmaceutical units of measurement in this recipe. The abbreviations and conversions are:

gr = grain (not gram!); one gram is about 60 grains
dr = dram, or drachm; one dram is approximately 3.89 gm.

Here is another lovely idea from the book.

Lemon Pickle.
Slit unpeeled lemons, previously cured, into quarters, without separating the pieces, sprinkle with salt, and lay aside in dishes for a week. Then pack in jars with two or three cayenne pods to each lemon and a good sprinkling of turmeric, and cover with hot vinegar.
[the instruction “previously cured” is odd here. It presumably means salted, but then the recipe goes on to describe the salting process. Perhaps an example of the inexact art of recipe writing?]

Quotation for the Day.

We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.
Alfred E. Newman

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Drug Trade, on Sauces.

I never tire of the ‘food as medicine’ theme. It is an ancient theme indeed - and one which has been undergoing something of a revival over recent decades. The modern thrust tends to be deconstructionist - promoting nutrients rather than food, or at least single specific foods such as the supposed ‘superfoods’ (avocado, berries, etc). The pity is that very little of the advice distributed by professionals in the health and nutrition fields is recipe driven. With many folk feeling themselves de-skilled in the kitchen arts, or time-poor, or just not interested, the default meal is often purchased pre-prepared and its ingredients (and their health-impact) are slightly mysterious.

I love it that the ‘Rx’ symbol used to indicate a medical prescription is actually an abbreviation of the Latin for ‘recipe’(or ‘receipt’). Not so long ago, the medicinal ‘recipe’ aspect was more obvious, and in fact druggists manuals were quite like cookery books, even to the extent of overlapping content. I live in hope of the day when the friendly neighbourhood pharmacist will provide recipes for the daily dinner.

We have touched on this issue before, with selections from the Druggists General Receipt Book (1850) [here, and here]. Today I want to give you some recipes from Pharmaceutical Formulas - A Book of Useful Recipes for the Drug Trade, (the ‘Drug Trade’ – now there’s a phrase with an entirely different connotation today!) published in 1898. It is a book that would be quite at home on your cookery book shelf. It includes recipe for almost 30 sauces of the bottled kind! In some, the measurements are apothecarial (is that a word?), so I have selected those with more accessible units of measurement. Beware – they make industrial quantities!

Newmarket Sauce.
Shallots 40 oz.
Capsicum 1 lb
Cloves 3 oz
Celery-seed 2 oz
Mace 1 oz
Walnut Ketchup 2 qts.
Indian Soy 3 qts.
Beafoy’s acetic acid 1 gals.
Water 6 gals.
Salt 2 lb.
Peel and slice the shallots, bruise the capsicum, cloves, celery-seed and mace, and pour on the other ingredients.

Penny Sauce.
Sauce gruffs* 6 lb.
Vinegar 2 gals.
Sliced garlic 2 oz.
Treacle 3 lbs.
Soy 2 lbs.
Salt 8 oz.
Capsicum ½ oz.
Caramel 1 lb.
Essence of anchovy 8 oz.
Boil the gruffs with the vinegar, garlic, and salt half an hour; strain, add the rest of the ingredients, and boil for another half-hour, and bottle when cold.

*“the accummulated remains of chutney or any kindred sauce preparations.”

Quotation for the Day.

The longer I work in nutrition, the more convinced I become that for the healthy person all foods should be delicious.
Adele Davis.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ancient Cheese.

Any cheese that is not intended to be eaten very fresh (eg ricotta), is, therefore, by startlingly obvious definition, matured for some time before it is considered ready for consumption. We all have a general idea of what is meant by ‘mature’ cheese, don’t we? What then, is ‘ancient’ cheese – references to which do pop up from time to time?

There are two possible interpretations: either it means a particular variety which has been made since ancient times – such as Italian Taleggio or English Cheddar, for example. Alternatively, it may mean a particularly aged specimen.

An example of both may be the cheese called Saanen- a Swiss cows’ milk cheese made in the valley of the same name. It is usually aged for 3 to 7 years, and has exceptional keeping qualities. A custom is described of making a cheese to celebrate the birth of a child –that cheese then being kept and sampled on special occasions, and becoming part of that person’s bequest. It is said that the cheese can remain edible for 100 years, with some anecdotes describing 200 year old samples owned by some families.

On an entirely different tack altogether is a massive lump of cheese (or possibly butter) unearthed in 1987 in a peat bog in Tipperary, in Ireland. It is believed to be at least 1,000 years old, weighs about 50 kilos, and was enclosed in a wrapper made from an animal paunch. Peat provides a marvellous preserving environment (remember the long-dead Peat-Bog Human bodies?), and was regularly used by the ancient Irish for storing their butter for long periods. This ancient cheese was apparently sampled by several brave souls, who declared it edible, but who apparently did not enthuse about its taste. The story reminds me of the even braver souls who ate the 30,000 year old frozen bison in Alaska some years ago.

Today’s recipe provides a solution to a form of ancient cheese with which we are all familiar – the type found in the depths of the refrigerator during an overdue clean-out. It is from Cookery for Working-Men’s Wives (originally published in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1890)

Rice and Cheese with Green Peas.
One pound rice, 1 ½ d; three fourths pound dry green peas, 1 ½ d.; one fourth pound cheese, 1 ½ d.; vinegar, sugar, pepper, and salt, ½ d.; milk, ½ d.; total 5 ½ d.
Wash the rice and put it on to boil in 2 quarts water, with a teaspoonful of salt. When soft and all the water taken up, stir in the milk with more salt, if required, and pepper to taste. Grate the cheese (old cheese is best), mix it in, but keep a tablespoonful to put on top of the pie dish. Put tablespoonful of cheese on the top, and let it brown in the oven or before the fire. Get the common dry green peas, soak them for sixteen hours with a bit of soda the size of a bean in the water. Then boil in salt and water. When soft, drain, and add 2 tablespoonfuls of vinegar, 1 teaspoonful of sugar, pepper andsalt to taste; shake in the saucepan well. Serve hot.

[there is a recipe for Ramakins, suitable for old cheese, HERE]

Quotation for the Day.

A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be oversophisticated. Yet it remains cheese, milk's leap toward immortality.
Clifton Fadiman.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The original junk food.

It is time for us to talk about junk food – and if you need any convincing that the English language is a dynamic, ever-evolving thing – constantly co-opting old words to new uses, then here is the evidence.

‘Junk food’ is modern food with a ubiquity and popularity far beyond what it deserves on the basis of its nutritional value – Yes?. It is usually high in calories, fat, salt and/or sugar, and low in fibre and vitamins. It has the apparent virtues of cheapness, convenience, and availability. It is is ‘fast’ to prepare and eat, and ‘fast’ to consume - meaning that it bypasses the satiety centre in your brain, leaving you (the purchaser) wanting more a short time later. It not only has no inherent health-giving properties, it is actively blamed for causing the obesity, heart disease, and diabetes epidemics.

‘Junk’ is a generic word for rubbish, right? Let us to the Oxford English Dictionary for confirmation of our assumption.

It turns out that we are correct, but only from a relatively recent perspective. The word junk is in the uncomfortably, intriguingly, large cohort of words with ‘obscure origins’. In medieval times it apparently referred to prickly rushes, similar to those used for making mattresses; it also referred (in a predominantly seafaring sense) to old, damaged rope (I do wonder if that is where our phrase ‘money for old rope’ comes from, but I digress.)

By the eighteenth century ‘junk’ had another nautical meaning. ‘Junk’, or ‘salt junk’ was the inevitable, indestructible, salt beef (or ‘salt horse’, to use another less than affectionate term) that was the mainstay of the sailors’ diet. The supporting quotation used by the OED for this usage comes from the novelist Tobias Smollett, who gave ‘… old junk, pork-slush, or stinking stock-fish … ’ as a metaphor for something of poor value.

By the mid-nineteenth century ‘junk’ had extended to include anything of poor quality or low value. It was not for another century (into the 1970’s) that it was specifically applied to food.

But the plot thickens here. There is one other old food-related meaning of the word ‘junk’. According to the Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English: Containing Words from the English Writers (By Thomas Wright, 1857) in the South it could mean (1) A lump, and in Gloucestershire it was (2) A favorite dish. Unfortunately I have been unable (so far) to find out any more about this favourite Gloucestershire dish called ‘junk’, as Mr. Wright’s attribution is the only one which pops up.

Mr. Wright’s book gives another example of the creative use of language – at least, that is how I interpret the dish he describes as Lumpy-Jumms (from the North), which will function as our ‘recipe’ for the day. I really don’t know anything else about this dish - I have found no other references at all – but it seems to me that it might be an example of adding value to a food of necessity, or perhaps a culinary error, by glorifying it with its own name. The cook who perhaps under-boiled the oatmeal dumplings was in a similar situation to the one who forgot to reheat the soup, so served it chilled (one of the explanatory myths about vichyssoise), or more recently to the one who underbaked the chocolate puddings and served them with magnificently molten centres. What to do? Pre-empt the complaints or comments, and serve a ‘new’ dish, of course!

A dish made of oatmeal, sprinkled with water, and boiled in lumps of about the size of a nut, which, when eaten, are found to be dry meal in the inside. North.

Quotation for the Day.

Luck is like having a rice dumpling fly into your mouth.
Japanese Proverb.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Rice for Breakfast.

A final word, for the time being, on the vexed question of what shall we have for breakfast. Over the last two days we considered the breakfast problems posed by the shortage of wheat during WW I (which recurred in WW II). In the East of course, this would never be an issue as the breakfast of choice is rice, especially as rice ‘soup’. This has an almost an infinite number of manifestations, and is generally referred to in the West as congee, but is known by specific names in each country where it is enjoyed, such as jook (China), khao tom (Thailand), and lúgao (Phillipines).

Strangely, rice has never featured at breakfast in the West in spite of its easy availability  - with the exception of the Anglo-Indian dish beloved of the Victorians, called kedgeree, and perhaps the odd bowl of leftover rice pudding. At least one Western cookbook writer of the early twentieth century felt that rice should have more of a place on the table – the author of Rice for breakfast, dinner, supper (Chicago, c1919)

I give you a couple of suggestions from the book that would make fine breakfast dishes – and would be very useful ways of using up leftover rice.

Rice Spoon Bread.
1 cup cooked rice
1 pint sweet milk
2 eggs
½ cup corn meal
½ tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt.
To the well-beaten eggs, add the rice, milk, and butter. Sift the dry ingredients together and add them to the first mixture. Pour the batter into a hot, well-greased pan and bake for 45 mintues in a moderate oven. Serve hot.

Soft Rice Bread.
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup milk
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup corn meal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 tablespoon fat.
Mix the rice, fat, salt, and well-beaten yolk of egg. Add flour and milk. Mix thoroughly and fold well-beaten white of egg into mixture. Pour batter into greased baking dish and bake ½ hour in moderate oven. Serve hot or cold.

P.S if you have not had enough of the breakfast topic, perhaps you would like to re-visit the idea of Second Breakfast?

Quotation for the Day.
A bachelor's life is a fine breakfast, a flat lunch, and a miserable dinner.
Francis Bacon.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Fewer Breakfast Eggs.

Promoting the idea of going without wheat bread at breakfast, was, as we saw yesterday, quite a challenge for the food authorities in Britain during WW I. Imagine the difficulties when the egg shortage also become an issue. In The Times of December 1, 1915 there was a short article addressing just this issue under the heading Breakfast Fare: The Economical Use of Eggs.

“Mr. Iwan Kriens, the Duthch chef in charge of the kitchens at the Westminster Technical Institute, yestersay suggested a number of breakfast dishes. Cheese, shaved fine like cucumber and eaten on bread, a favourite breakfast dish in Holland, might, he said, be tried in this country, Cheddar being the best cheese for the purpose. ‘Eggs at 3d. each are prohibitive’ he went on, ‘but if they must be eaten, the same device might be used as in the case of bacon. Desire for both is greater than the need, and instead of eating two eggs, one would be sufficient by boiling it soft, emptying it from the shell, and eating it with breadfingers … A very satisfying egg omelette sufficient for two people can be made with two eggs with the addition of the soft part of a baked potato. Egg croquettes too are good, and used in this way one egg can by made to do the work of three.’

The chef suggested other non-egg savoury breakfast dishes: liver and bacon, or fish, or mushrooms fried with tomato and one slice of bacon, curried dishes, and home-made sausages (“every woman aught to have a sausage machine and make her own sausages”) He also gave a recipe for meat loaf (small, apparently individual sized), acknowledging that they were not a common dish in England.

Meat Loaves.
Meat loaves are rarely seen on English tables, but are excellent. This is the recipe. Take 4 oz cooked meat, 2 oz breadcrumbs, fresh or soaked and squeezed dry, one egg,1 oz fat, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and mix well together. Shape into rolls, place in a greased baking dish,sprinkle with breadcrumbs and fat, and bake in the oven.When done add a little gravy over the loaves.

Quotation for the Day.
You can trifle with your breakfast and seem to disdain your dinner if you are full to the brim with roasted eggs and potatoes and richly frothed new milk and oatcakes and buns and heather honey and clotted cream.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

More on Breadless Breakfasts.

In yesterday’s post we considered the US response to the necessity to conserve wheat during WW I. The necessity was even greater in Britain, which was very dependent on imports of wheat to meet demand. As in the US during the war, newspapers in Britain worked hard to invoke patriotic sentiments in order to encourage householders to do their bit to reduce wheat consumption, and assisted by supplying recipes for substitutes.

The concept of any meal without bread was just as difficult to accept in Britain (and Europe) as it was in the USA. In Britain, potatoes were an obvious starchy substitute, but maize an unfamiliar and not particularly popular (and very “American”) alternative. The Times of April 13, 1917 ran an article headed Breadless Meals: Palatable Substitutes for Wheat, and suggested that the obvious place to start was at breakfast. The article read, in part:

“The greatest saving in flour can be effected at breakfast, at wihc meal bread usually takes a prominent place. It is suggested that economy in the consumption of bread exercised at the earliest meal of the day is likely to be continued at other meals. To avoid as far as possible such breakfast dishes as necessitate the eating of bread with them is an excellent plan. Perhaps the best dish of all is porridge. The porridge habit has been growing, but those who do not care for it and those who find a difficulty in getting oatmeal may try maize porridge or flaked rice as porridge.”

The newspaper article then provided recipe for the maize porridge and flaked rice porridge as well as maize or rice cakes, an semolina, hominy, or maize fritters. It also gave the following recipe as a possibly more palatable oatmeal dish for “those who do not like oatmeal porridge.” It could also , I guess, also be adapted to recycle leftover porridge.

Oatmeal Fritters.
Make a very stiff porridge, adding to it ½ teaspoonful finely cut chopped onion and parsley. Spread it on a plate to cool. Then cut into pieces, dip in frying batter, and fry. To add to the food value a beaten egg may be stirred in when the mixture is almost cooked.

Quotation for the Day.

Either oatmeal or hominy should always be served at breakfast.
Maria Parloa, Miss Parloa’s New Cookbook.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Corn Bread to Help the Allies.

Breakfast has been the subject of the last two posts, and as it is an intriguing (and inexhaustible) topic, I am of a mind to continue with it for perhaps a few more days.

In both World Wars, wheat conservation was a huge issue. There were several reasons, not the least of which was that every available ship was required to transport troops, not agricultural products. There was also a strong belief that what wheat was available should be fairly distributed amongst the Allies.

In the USA, the obvious substitute was corn. A large part of the responsibility of saving wheat and using corn or other substitutes obviously fell to the housewives of the times, and large amounts of newspaper space were given over to exhortations to acts of housewifely patriotism in this regard.

The New York Produce Exchange ran a "Corn Bread for Breakfast Until the End of the War” campaign during WW I “as a practical method of increasing the supply of wheat available for the Allies.”A New York Times article in June 1917 reported on the official statement from the Exchange under the header “Corn Bread to Help Allies”. In part it read:

“Eating corn bread for breakfast may not - on the face of it – appear to be either an act of sacrifice or service contributory to winning the war. It is, however, a very definite and effective form of service to that end, and if the propaganda can be spread far enough to enlist the co-operation of a great mass of the people, it will help mightily to solve the crushing problem which is now facing the Food Administrator of the United States.
If there could be a complete substitution of corn and other cereal products for wheat bread on the breakfast table of the nation, it would increase our exportable surplus of wheat by 150,000,000 bushels. This sould solve the immediate problem of wheat for our Allies.
We suggest that special efforts be made to enlist the patriotic women of the country for the idea, and its house to house promulgation.”
… We urge that each one adopt the habit in his own household, and that he begin today.”

Now, we have had stories before on the “wheatless” days of WW I, and we have certainly had several recipes for cornbread and muffins, corn puffs, and other corn concoctions such as Johnny Cakes. Here is an alternative corn dish that would be perfect as a bread substitute at breakfast, from Meatless and Wheatless Days(New York, 1918)

Belgian Corn Fritters.
1 ½ cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup milk
2 egg yolks
Corn scraped from 2 ears cooked green corn.
1 teaspoon melted fat
2 stiffly beaten egg whites.
Mix and sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar; add the corn, milk, egg yolks, and melted fat slowly, stirring constantly. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites. Cook like pancakes on a hot greased griddle, turning until a golden brown on both sides. A piece of bacon or pork rind may be used for greasing the griddle.

Quotation for the Day.

We breakfast at seven on beef, potatoes, tea, coffee, new bread, and butter.
Isabella L. Bird, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Royal Breakfast in Nepal

In December 1911, King George V of England visited Nepal, and during the visit a shooting expedition was organised by the Maharajah and his three sons in their “tiger-infested jungles.” An artist was given special permission to accompany the royal party on the ten-day visit, and he sent a lengthy report on the events along with the expected drawings. The report found its way into the New York Times, and I give you some of the details.

Two “camps” were used, but these were not rough bush tent-sites with pit latrines and all of the other enticing features of the archetypal outdoor life. There were bungalows with “modern fittings” including electric lights, and there were also automobiles to supplement the elephant transport. The King himself shot “remarkably well”, rarely requiring a second barrel to complete his personal total kill of 37 tigers. A great deal of other wildlife was also consigned to trophyism, including 19 rhinos.

Our focus is of course, on the food in the story. The artist enclosed “the ordinary breakfast menu” of the camp – which I note does not include tiger or rhino meat in any form.

Bekti [a freshwater fish]Maitre d’Hotel.
Oeufs aux choux saucisses.
Curry de legumes viandes.

The Curry de Legumes Viandes is presumably meant to be Curry de Legumes et de Viandes (curry of vegetables and meat), and represents an Anglo-Indian “fusion” dish. From The Englishwoman in India, by “a lady resident”, published in 1864, I give you the following receipt for a nice pickle to accompany your curry.

Dried Mango Pickle.
Salt, brown sugar, onions, garlic, green chillies, gren ginger, raisins, and mango slices (sliced and dried in the sun), take half a pound of each; cut the ginger and onions in slices, put all the ingredients into a jar, fill with vinegar, and stand in the sun every day for a month.

Quotation for the Day.
We had kangaroo curry for breakfast next morning; and having fed our horses, and sounded to saddle, set out again in pursuit of game.
Edward Wilson Landor, The Bushman.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Four Styles of Breakfast.

However adventurous we are about the other meals of the day, we tend not to tolerate novelty at breakfast, and make our personal choices from a narrow range of options. In the West, we usually consider a grain-based option (bread or hot or cold cereal), or perhaps eggs, with the biggest decisions being secondary – do we have milk or yoghurt with our cereal, marmalade or strawberry jam on our toast, or our eggs boiled, poached, fried or scrambled?

It was not always quite so simple, according to The Breakfast Book, by Georgiana Hill, published in London in 1865. Ms Hill says:

“What shall we have for dinner, is a question easily answered; but what can we have for breakfast is quite another thing. The object of this work is to solve the domestic difficulty.”

And she continues:

“Generally speaking, breakfastst may be classified under four heads: the family breakfast, the déjeuner à la fourchette, the cold collation, and the ambigu. The first is with us entirely made up of hors d’oeuvrres, or by-dishes, either hot or cold, which are served without sauce. In a déjeuner à la fourchette things are introduced in courses, similar to a dinner. Cold collations need scarcely to be defined: almos all recherché things are proper for them, provided they are prepared for the purpose, so as to produce an ornamental effect. The ambigu is an entertainment of a very heterogeneous character, having resemblance to a dinner, only that everything is placed upon the table at once: and relevés, soup, vegetables, and hot entremets are held to be ineligible. Our everyday breakfasts are in a small way served en ambigu, inasmuch as broiled fish, cold pasties, devilled bones, boiled eggs, cold ham, etc, all appear together.”

I admit that until I came across this summary, I had never agonised over what style of breakfast to offer my family. The Breakfast Book is helpful in this regard, and includes chapters on such topics as has chapters on Things most commonly served at family breakfasts, and Savory Pies for Eating Cold. It also has suggested bills of fare for breakfasts throughout the year. Here are the author’s suggestions for breakfast for 8 or 10 persons for the Spring Quarter.

Middle of the Table.
Ox-tongue, glazed.
4 By-dishes, Cold.
Prawns. Potted Birds.
Potted Oysters. Preserved Sardines.
4 By-dishes, Hot.
Sausages, tossed. Sweetbreads, grilled.
2 Entrées.
Rump Steaks, broiled. Fillets of Sole, tossed.
Marmalades, Creams, Dried Fruits, Biscuits or Bonbons at discretion.

I assume ‘tossed’ as it applies to the sausages and fillets of sole means tossed in a hot pan (as suggested by Ms, Hill’s recipe below), I am intrigued by the idea of bonbons at breakfast, and I am heartily grateful that this range of breakfast options is no longer expected by the modern family.

It is the usual practice to simply toss sausages in lard or butter, for if broiled they are apt to become smoky before they are properly done. As they take some time to cook, first prick them with a needle to prevent the skins from breaking. Garnish with pickled red cabbage, or apples sliced and tossed till nicely browned. Observe that underdone sausages are execrable.

Quotation for the Day.

I went to a restaurant that serves "breakfast at any time". So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.
Stephen Wright

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Plethora of Puddings.

Well, I did promise a story about the Pudding Club. Seven traditional English puddings are served at each Pudding Club dinner. After a small main course, the puddings are carried in in great state, to be admired before they are demolished. The rules are (1) each table can only go up to the pudding counter when called (2) only one pudding at a time (3) you must finish your pudding each time – clean your plate right up!.

I am proud to say I sampled all seven. On the evening I attended, the seven were:

- Spotted Dick- Bread and Butter Pudding (here, here, here)
- Autumn Pudding (a steamed pudding with dried fruit and apple)
- Ginger Syrup Pudding (another steamed pudding with a lovely sticky ginger coating)
- Squidgy Chocolate Pudding with nuts (and chocolate sauce)
- Lord Randall’s Pudding (a steamed pudding with apricots and orange, and marmalade – lovely). This is a special recipe of the club.
- Eton Mess with blackberries instead of the traditional strawberries.

Naturally, the puds are served with lashings of custard (8 gallons per evening), and by popular request over the decades, this is not made from scratch, but is the iconic British Bird’s brand.

Accolades and Congratulations for the Club for keeping these puddings alive.

Eton Mess is now a traditional part of the Eton Open Day in June, as well as of course, Wimbledon and the Henley Regatta. It seems that originally it may have been made with bananas, and was essentially just a mixture of these (or the strawberries) and cream or ice-cream. At some time (maybe in the 1930’s?), broken up meringues were mixed with the cream, and this is now the “traditional” recipe.

“Recipe” is not quite the right word, it is more of an assembly really. Just take approximately equal amounts of strawberries and cream, and fold them together with the broken up pieces of meringue – and serve immediately.

I should be arriving home in Brisbane shortly after this story pops up!