Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Culinary Puzzles.

There are several dishes in our eighteenth century source for the week (The Art of Cookery and Pastery … by J.Skeat, 1769) about which I am mystified, and look forward to your input.

As I discussed yesterday, the rather puzzling names of some of the dishes in this book can be explained as an English cook’s interpretation of the classic French names (‘calf’s foy’ being calf’s foie, or liver). A few have really defeated me, and I ask for your suggestions. First, we have this intriguingly-named dish:

Beef Troublon.
Take a brisket piece of beef, tie it up, and put it into a brazen pot, with the fat of bacon, four bay leaves, three whole onions, a fagot of sweet herbs, two turnips and two carrots; just cover your beef with liquor, and put in a handful of salt, half a pint of vinegar, some mace, cloves, allspice, and pepper; set it over a slow fire, and when tender, which will be in four or five hours, make your sauce for it thus:
Take scooped turnips, carrots, and a few capers, have a clean stewpan,with some good gravy, and be sure to let it be of a high colour; then put in your ingredients, and thicken it with a little flour, and some of the gravy that is cold; for in all things where thickening is required, this method is better than rubbing flour and butter together. Season it to your taste.

Why ‘Troublon’ for a simple dish of boiled beef with caper sauce?

The other puzzling dish I want to give you today is this:

Ragou’d Mela.
Take sweetbreads, and cut them in large pieces, then add artichoak bottoms, cocks-combs, beef palates, forcemeat balls, truffles, and morels; toss them up the same as a fricasey; do this white, then make a leasing, which is cream, nutmeg, lemon, the yolks of egg, and a little flour. When you put in your leasing, serve it up as soon as possible. Garnish with patties.

It is unlikely that you will see a dish such as this on the menu of your local restaurant soon, but in the eighteenth century these were all the most delicate and desirable ingredients. A pie containing these delicious tidbits would have been called a Battalia Pie, the word coming from beatilles, or beautiful little things. I am stumped as to the name ‘mela’. The Oxford English Dictionary gives mela as being ‘Hindu religious or cultural festival. Also more generally in South Asian communities: a fair’, and ‘ In Carnatic music: a scale type around which a raga is formed’. Neither of these seem likely. Is it somehow related to the French miele for honey?

Quotation for the Day.

On ‘Escargot’ - Nobody is sure how this got started. Probably a couple of French master chefs were standing around one day, and they found a snail, and one of them said: 'I bet that if we called this something like "escargot," tourists would eat it.' Then they had a hearty laugh, because 'escargot' is the French word for 'fat crawling bag of phlegm.'
Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need, (1991)


Pete said...

I wonder if the Ragou'd Mela might not be a ragout-ed melee, or stewed mixture [of meats]? I hemmed and hawed over it for some while before I got to that, so I'm just suggesting it. Anyone is welcome to shoot it down.

Anonymous said...

Mela is Italian for apple. And "ragu" is another Italian word for sauces with meat.

Hopefully this helps?

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Pete and "Anonymous" - another reader emailed me with the "melee" idea, whih is certainly plausible.
Mela as apple is interesting - one of the other dishes was "baragade" which might somehow be derived from "bigarade" which means the bitter orange - no apples or oranges in the dishes however.
Keep the ideas coming!