Friday, February 05, 2010

Angels, Devils, and Pigs.

I have been side-tracked recently into a minor exploration of historical bacon recipes. Life’s interesting little side-tracks have a secondary level of deviations and detours all of their own, as I am sure you have found for yourself. One along which I found myself wandering was the trail of the original ‘Angels on Horseback’. I am sure you are all familiar with these delicious items – oysters wrapped in bacon and served as an hors d’oeuvre – or, if you have traditional English eating habits, as the small savoury dish which represents the final course at dinner or supper.


If you are familiar with Angels on Horseback, you are probably also familiar with their cheaper cousin, Devils on Horseback, made with a devilishly black prune (or occasionally a date) where the oyster should be? There are other interpretations of the idea too – we had Oysters Dick Turpin some time ago, but have yet to enjoy Pigs in a Blanket (which are served on toast, therefore technically a canapĂ© not an hors d’oeuvre – for those of you inclined to pedantry in these matters.)

So, when did Angels on Horseback first appear, and whence their name? The second question I cannot answer, there being a surfeit of theories which I have not attempted to authenticate at this time. The first question I cannot answer either with any degree of certainty save to say that the Oxford English Dictionary is not correct. The OED gives the first citation as the 1888 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, but a very superficial search retrieves some earlier mentions. I make no claim that the following one (from 1800) is the absolute earliest, but it provides a much earlier and very different interpretation of ‘Devils on Horseback’.

“All frequenters of London restaurants know, I suppose, the pleasant little dish called “Angels on Horseback”, sometimes transformed into “Devils.” I find them extremely agreeable with brown bread and butter, and any favourite beverage – cocoa, chocolate, wine, or beer – on returning form an evening’s amusement with exhausted energies; and, lest any of my readers should not know how to arrange them, I give the directions:-
Take a dozen or more fine native oysters, according to your party, remove the beard, and wrap each oyster up in a tiny very thin slice of good bacon, having first salted and peppered it to taste, and added a few drops of lemon juice. Procure some well galvanized or silvered thin skewers, and string the rolled up oysters onto these till each skewer is full. Place them in a Dutch oven before the fire, turning them until the bacon is well done, brown, and crisp, serve on a hot dish, leaving the oysters on the skewers, which can be removed as wanted with a fork.
To transform the “angels” into “devils”, add a larger quantity of cayenne pepper or even a few shreds of capsicum. I prefer the “angels” as retaining the flavour of the oysters, just as I think whitebait is best not devilled. These delicate morsels keep hot for a long time before the fire in my plate warmer, which for the occasion becomes an oven, for the preservation of viands and hot plates, after the prescribed hours of bedtime for the household.
[Aberdeen Weekly Journal, Dec 11, 1800 in ‘Our Ladies Column’]

And as for ‘Pigs in Blankets’, here is a recipe from the Household Column of the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle of January 8, 1887.

“Little Pigs in Blankets” are made by first draining the oysters and seasoning with salt and pepper, and then cutting fat bacon into very thin slices and wrapping a big oyster in each slice, fastening with a wooden skewer – a toothpick is best. The frying pan must be heated well before the little pigs are put in, and they must be cooked long enough for the bacon to crisp. These are to be served immediately on toast cut into small pieces.

Quotation for the Day.

“I've long said that if I were about to be executed and were given a choice of my last meal, it would be bacon and eggs. There are few sights that appeal to me more than the streaks of lean and fat in a good side of bacon, or the lovely round of pinkish meat framed in delicate white fat that is Canadian bacon. Nothing is quite as intoxicating as the smell of bacon frying in the morning, save perhaps the smell of coffee brewing.”
James Beard (1903-1985)

2 comments:

Kathryn McGowan said...

What an interesting usage of "pigs in blankets." The modern American dish of that name is a bite sized cocktail sausage or hot dog wrapped in biscuit dough, I guess in Oz and the UK that would be plain scone dough (no currants). They are commonly sold pre-made and frozen so you can just pop them in the oven and serve to guests.

I do like devils on horsback (the prune ones) as a bar snack though. Yum!

Fay said...

I've always known pigs-in-a-blanket to be a cocktail frank or chipolata wrapped in a slice of puff pastry or one of those little cocktail sized bread rolls.Sometimes they are wrapped in bacon, or bread and I've seen recipes that use cabbage as the blanket.
We tend to have less pre-packaged options here in Australia, though sadly it is changing fast.
I guess technically any form of pork sausage wrapped in any thing could be called pig-in-a-blanket.