Monday, May 31, 2010

On This Day: Corned Beef for Dinner.

Methinks it is time to give you another ‘on this day in food history’ snippet, as much to remind myself to revive the never-ending project, as to amuse your good selves.

On May 31, 1844, the well-known writer Nathanial Hawthorne was cooking his own dinner, his wife being away. Corned beef was on the menu, but it must have been long-salted and very hard, because it took too long to cook, as noted in his American Journals:

“I get along admirably, and am at this moment superintending the corned beef, which has been on the fire, as it appears to me, ever since the beginning of time, and shows no symptom of being done before the crack of doom. Mrs. Hale says it must boil till it becomes tender; and so it shall, if I can find wood to keep the fire a-going. ... Meantime, I keep my station in the dining-room, and read or write as composedly as in my own study. Just now, there came a very important rap at the front door, and I threw down a smoked herring which I had begun to eat, as there is no hope of the corned beef to-day, and went to admit the visitor.”

We have considered corned beef (and corned buffalo hump) a number of times in this blog (see the links below), but there is always something new to find out about everything in the known universe, isn’t there?

Presumably, eventually, the corned beef did become tender, and presumably, eventually, Nathaniel was faced with a plate of odd bits and pieces - leftovers, comebacks, or bits requiring secondary cookery - call them what you will. The blindingly obvious thing to do with leftover corned beef of course is to make it into hash, but we have explored that option several times already. What else to do with leftover corned beef?

Here is an idea from Miss Eliza Leslie, a well-known cookbook writer from the time of Nathaniel Hawthorne that would seem to suit his purposes very well.

To Stew Cold Corned Beef.
Cut about four pounds of lean from a cold round of beef, that tastes but little of the salt. Lay it in a stew pan with a quarter of a peck of tomatos quartered. and the same quantity of ochras sliced; also two small onions peeled and sliced, and two ounces of fresh butter rolled in flour. Add a tea-spoonful of whole pepper corns, no salt, and four or five blades of mace. Place it over a steady but moderate fire. Cover it closely and let it stew three or four hours. The vegetables should be entirely dissolved. Serve it up hot. This is an excellent way of using up the remains of a cold round of beef at the season of tomatos and ochras, particularly when the meat has been rather under boiled the first day of cooking it.
New Receipts for Cooking, (Philadelphia, 1854)

And if Nathaniel was a truly thrifty (and sensible) man-cook, he could have made soup from the cooking liquor.

Corned Beef Soup.
When the liquor in which corned beef and vegetables have been boiled is cold, remove all the grease that has risen and hardened on the top, and add tomatoes and tomato catsup and boil half an hour – thus making an excellent tomato soup; or add to it rice, or sago, or pearl barley, or turn it into vegetable soup by boiling in the liquor any vegetables that are fancied. Several varieties of soups may have this stock for a basis and be agreeable to the taste.
New England Cook Book, Annie B. Copps, 1905

P.S. The beef did eventually cook, for on June 2nd Nathaniel wrote

“The corned beef is exquisitely done, and as tender as a young lady's heart, all owing to my skilful cookery; for I consulted Mrs. Hale at every step, and precisely followed her directions. To say the truth, I look upon it as such a masterpiece in its way, that it seems irreverential to eat it. Things on which so much thought and labor are bestowed should surely be immortal.”

Corned Beef Stories.

Recipes for corned beef hash are here and here.

A Kind word for Hash is here.

Other food stories starring Nathaniel Hawthorne are here, here, and here.

Quotation for the Day

I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that it does no harm to my wit.’
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bitters make it Better.

I find, from a recent article in a cookery magazine (forgive me, I forget which magazine) that aromatic bitters are in fashion. I admit to having trouble keeping up with food fashions myself, as I keep confusing these new ideas with old.Apparently, if one wants to be à la mode (fashionable) one can create very recherché (choice, exotic) cocktails and cooked dishes by adding a soupçon of bitters to the mix.

None of this is new, of course. Bitters, aromatic or otherwise, have been around for a few hundred years at least. Initially, ‘bitters’ were derived from a number of plants, and were used for medicinal purposes. A medical paper of 1847 summed up the indications for their use:

“Bitters give tone to the stomach, increase appetite, and promote digestion; they are, besides, essentially antihelminthical, .... Most of the bitters have been used as remedies in intermittent fevers, and, doubtless, in many instances with good effect. They have been supposed to be emmenagogue also ....”

An ‘intermittent fever’ is a classical feature of malaria, and the most famous bitter medication used for this was Peruvian bark – from which we get quinine (and tonic water.) A spoonful of sugar (and/or a splash of alcohol) makes a bitter medicine go down more easily, of course, and – in a similar way to rhubarb, which we discussed a few days ago – eventually the bitter-sweet combination became adapted for pleasurable use in beverages and made dishes.

The most famous brand of bitters is Angostura, named for the town on the Orinoco river where it was first made in 1824 – by a medical doctor intending it for therapeutic purposes. Every company which produces ‘bitters’ keeps its recipe a closely- guarded secret, and even with the best guesswork, they are impossible to reproduce. Home-made versions can be differently good however, and the following recipe, from The manufacture of liquors, wines, and cordials, ... by Pierre Lacour (New York, 1868) sounds pretty tasty. I don’t wish to state the obvious too obviously here – the instructions result in an industrial quantity, and need scaling down significantly for household use!

Chandler’s Aromatic Bitters.
Whiskey, two gallons; water, six gallons; take of bruised ginger one pound; calamus, eight ounces; cloves, six ounces, grains of paradise, twelve ounces; cardamom, six ounces; then dissolve in one pint of alcohol the following: oil of cloves, twenty drops; oil of nutmegs, one drachm; oil of bergamot, one drachm; oil of orange, one drachm; then add to infuse with the mass half an ounce of cochineal, digest the whole for one week, and then strain. The essential oils should not be added until the liquid is strained.

Quotation for the Day.

Bitters ... are absolutely essential to the creation of scores and scores of the world’s best mixed drinks: drinks which without such aromatic pointing-up would be short-lived, spineless and ineffectual things.
The Gentleman’s Companion, Charles H. Baker, 1946.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rations for One (2).

Cooking for one is somewhat of a challenge for those of us in the habit of cooking for twelve, even if there are only two. How much harder must it have been in wartime Britain under rationing?

The wartime Ministry of Food thought of everything, and every set of circumstances seem to have been covered in its weekly Food Facts leaflets. Leaflet number 213, in July 1944 gave several suitable recipes, and also advised that ‘A week’s Menus for one person living alone and recipes for many of the dishes mentioned by be had, free of charge. Please send postcard marked “leaflets” to the Ministry of Food, London, W.1’

One of the ‘recipes for one’ given in the leaflet was for Pot Roast, with the suggestion to ‘eat the reminder cold, with some appetising trimming’.

Pot Roast.
Ingredients: The joint or cut of beef, 1 lb., mixed root vegetables including spring onions, 2 tablespoons dripping, salt and pepper, vegetable stock or water.
Method: Melt the dripping in a saucepan with a well-fitting lid. When the dripping is hot, put the meat in and cook it on every side to seal the juices. Take it out and put it aside. Slice the vegetables, drop into the fat with a teaspoonful of salt and a shaking of pepper. Put on the lid and cook the vegetables over a very low heat for five minutes. Replace the meat on a bed of vegetables, replace the lid and cook over a low heat for 1 ½ to 2 hours. If the pan gets too dry, add a little vegetable stock or water.

Quotation for the Day.

The best things in life are never rationed. Friendship, loyalty, love, do not require coupons.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bacon and Peas.

It being cool here at present - ‘cool’ that is, for the sub-tropics - I made pea soup with ham the other day. I made an industrial quantity of it, it being impossible for me to make soup (or anything else for that matter) in small quantities. I thought hard and deeply about the association of pig with peas(e) as I cooked.

The association is very old – it has been common at least since medieval times, it seems. This is presumably because both bacon (or ham) and peas(e) were easily-grown, home-grown, and kept well, so were the meat and veg staples per excellence, for all but the poorest folk.

A dish of ‘bakoñ served with pesoñ’ was listed as suitable for the first course of a feast for a ‘franklin’ (a non-noble landholder) in the mid-sixteenth century Boke of Nurture by John Russell. Staying in the sixteenth century, the nutrition-aware monk and writer Andrew Boorde had clear opinions on both pease/beans and bacon. The pulses, he felt, caused great windiness (venostyte), and the bacon was fit for the hard-working labourers:

“Bacon is good for Carters, and plowe men, the which be euer labouryng in the earth or dunge; but & yf they haue the stone, and vse to eate it, they shall synge 'wo be to the pye!' Wherefore I do say that coloppes and egges is as holsome for them as a talowe candell is good for a horse mouth, or a peece of powdred Beefe is good for a blere eyed mare. Yet sensuall appetyde must haue a swynge at all these thynges, notwithstandynge.”

For the higher classes, bacon was liable to be used in more fancy dishes, for added flavour or fat – or both, as in the following instructions for baked venison, from A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye (c 1545)

To bake Veneson.
Take nothynge but pepper and salte, but lette it haue ynoughe, and yf the Veneson be
leane, larde it throughe wyth bacon.

Quotation for the Day

I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.
Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rhubarb Rhubarb.

I wish I could take rhubarb more seriously. I am guilty of being a bit dismissive towards it, at times - using the word as a sort of metaphor for something obscure or meaningless. I am not, thankfully, averse to eating it, but don’t use it in any interesting way. I poach it. I eat it.

I don’t know why I have this attitude to rhubarb. I blame finding out at an impressionable age that the word ‘rhubarb’, spoken over and over and over by large numbers of film extras is used to create a background anonymous hubbub of noise for a crowd scene.

Rhubarb was originally used for medicinal purposes, but by the early eighteenth century it was appearing in tarts. Tarts were its main culinary use, as far as I can gather, for a very long time. The problem, if it is indeed a problem, with rhubarb, is that for most uses it requires about triple its own weight in sugar to make it edible – and even then the tartness refuses to be hidden. A childhood treat was to be given a stick of rhubarb and a small paper fold of sugar to dip it in. I don’t ever remember any of us actually eating the raw rhubarb – the attraction was the sugar. Did our mothers think we actually ate it?

I wondered, does rhubarb have a secretly intriguing culinary history? I am not sure if it does, but the following recipe is a step in the right direction. It is for a soup – not a ‘fruit’ soup, but a ‘savoury’ soup. The inclusion of ‘two quarts of rich soup’ may seem to be tautological, but it almost certainly means ‘stock’ or ‘broth’. Almost identical versions of this recipe in other cookbooks of the time specify ‘gravy’ at this point – ‘gravy’ also meaning rich meat juice or broth in this instance.

Rhubarb Soup.
There are various ways of dressing garden rhubarb, which serves as an excellent substitute for spring fruit. Peel and well wash four dozen sticks of rhubarb, blanch itin water three or four minutes, drain it on a sieve, and put it into a stewpan with two sliced onions, a carrot, an ounce of lean ham, and a good bit of butter. Let it stew gently over a slow fire till tender, then put in two quarts of rich soup, to which add two or three ounces of bread crumbs, and boil it about fifteen minutes. Skim off all the fat, season with salt and cayenne, pass it through a tamis, and serve it up with fried bread.
The Cook and Housekeepers Complete and Universal Dictionary, by Mary Eaton, 1822.

Quotation for the Day

I want a dish to taste good, rather than to have been seethed in pig's milk and served wrapped in a rhubarb leaf with grated thistle root.
Kingsley Amis

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Science in the Kitchen.

I want to briefly continue the theme of science in the kitchen today. Some time ago I gave you some of the ‘original, palatable, and wholesome recipes’ from a book with the actual title of Science in the Kitchen, published by Ella Kellogg, the wife of John Harvey Kellogg in 1893. A book that could just as easily fall under the heading of ‘High Moral Tone in the Kitchen, and certainly No Sex Anywhere Near It’, and a book based rather more on opinion than science. The nineteenth century was a time of increasing interest in science, so surely, I thought, there must be more ‘cookery’ books with a science spin?

I give you a short extract from The Scientific Phenomena of Domestic Life familiarly explained, by Charles Foote Gower, Esq., published in London in 1847. The book contains two chapters which may be relevant to us: Chapter III, The Breakfast Parlour, and Chapter V The Kitchen. Here is the author’s scientific advice in relation to fruit pies.

“ ... it appears that there are many of the operations of the kitchen conducted on solid philosophical principles; but we now come to one of which the benefit is less apparent, although from the universality of the practice one is inclined to fancy there must be some advantage derived from it. I allude to the custom of placing an inverted cup in a fruit pie, as the cook will inform us, to contain the juice whilst the pie is baking in the oven, and prevent its boiling over; and she is the more convinced in her theory because when the pie is withdrawn from the oven the cup will be found full of juice. When the cup is first put in the dish it is full of cold air, and when the pie is placed in the oven this air will expand by the heat and fill the cup, and will drive out all the juice, and a portion of the present air it contains, in which state it will remain till removed from the oven, when the air in the cup will condense and occupy a very small space, leaving the remainder to be filled with juice, but this does not take place till the danger of the juice boiling over is past. If a small glass tumbler is inverted in the pie its contents can be examined into whilst it is in the oven, and it will be found what has been advanced is correct. Our own cook was very sceptical on this head till she tried this experiment.”

Mistress Meg Dods (aka Christian Isobel Johnstone) does not consider an inverted cup necessary: from her The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1847 edition), we have the following simple instructions.

Ripe Fruit Pies.
Black cherries and currants, damsons, plums of all kinds currants or raspberries and cranberries, apricots and gooseberries suitably mixed or alone, are all made into fruit pies. Place the fruit picked and washed in a flattish pie dish raising it high in the middle. Allow enough of sugar and cover with a rich light paste which fruit pies require more than those made of meat.

Quotation for the Day.

I prefer Hostess fruit pies to pop-up toaster tarts because they don't require as much cooking.
Carrie Snow

Friday, May 21, 2010

On Taste, Nutriment, and Salubrity.

Before Harold McGee on Food & Cooking, there were other writers on culinary chemistry. Perhaps the earliest, and certainly one of the most important was the Friedrich Accum (1769-1838), a German-born scientist who relocated to England as a young man..

Accum was a chemist – a rather broad term at the time, his training and interests including pharmacy, anatomy, and other medical fields. He became a passionate crusader against the adulteration of food – an increasing problem in the early nineteenth century due to the rapid rate at which food production was becoming industrialised. Accum’s best-known work - A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons was published in 1820, and it was the subject of an earlier post on this blog. The book quickly became very popular, and, not surprisingly, it made him a lot of enemies in the food business, which had a great deal to do with his eventual exile to his native Germany.

A year after publication of the Treatise (which became popularly known as There is Death in the Pot), Accum published Culinary Chemistry: exhibiting the scientific principles of cookery. I give you a few extracts from his initial chapter on ‘Cookery as a Branch of Chemical Science.’

‘... cookery ... is a branch of chemistry ... but it is also one of the least cultivated branches of that science’

‘... and much waste of the material, as well as labour of the parties might often be spared, were those to whom the performance of such tasks is committed, made acquainted with simple chemical truths which would invariably lead to certain results. And besides, the same knowledge would enable them to attain a much greater degree of perfection in curing and preserving all kinds of animal and vegetable aliments, and in combining the three grand requisites of taste, nutriment, and salubrity, in whatever manner they may be prepared.’

‘A kitchen is, in fact, a chemical laboratory; the boilers, stew-pans, and cradle-spit of the cook, correspond to the digestors, the evaporating basins, and the crucibles of the chemist. And numerous of the receipts of cookery are, the general operations (like the general processes of chemistry) are but a few.’

‘ ... and , there is reason to believe, that among the variety of circumstances which produce diseases, the improper modes of cooking food, are often the primary cause. Will it be believed, that in the cookery books which form the prevailing oracles of the kitchens in this part of the island, there are express injunctions to “boil greens with halfpence, or verdigrise, in order to improve their colour!” That our puddings are frequently seasoned with laurel leaves, and our sweetmeats almost uniformly prepared in copper vessels?’

Accum’s comments about the use of verdigris and cooking in copper pots refer to the very beautifully green but very poisonous copper salts that result from those practices, and which were, as he says, widely recommended in cookery books of the time. But ‘laurel’ leaves? Bay leaves, without which I could not cook?

It appears that the bay laurel, Laurus nobilis, has been cultivated since very ancient times – certainly since before recipes were written down. This ‘sweet bay’ as it is also called, is, thankfully, not poisonous (although there are a few members of the laurel family which are toxic). Large amounts of fresh leaves apparently can have a mild narcotic effect – a property used to advantage, it is said, by the priestesses of Delphi as an aid to prophetic inspiration.

Most of us however only want to put a leaf or three into our beef stew or Spaghetti Bolognese, and I can assure that at this level there will be no effect on your dinner-time demeanour. The situation is a bit like that of nutmeg – a little of what you fancy, flavouring-wise, will do you no harm.

So, why Accum’s anti-bay leaf stance? Perhaps, brilliant though he was, his botany was not quite up to scratch? Or perhaps the toxic laurel varieties were a common substitute in his time? I don’t know, do you? 

The recipe I have chosen for today uses laurel (bay) leaves both as an ingredient and as a mini-platter for stuffed quail. It is from an English cookbook of Accum’s time - The Professed Cook, by B.Clermont, published in 1812

Quails with Laurel.
Stuff the quails with a farce made of their livers, scraped lard, chopped parsley, shallots, pepper, salt, and one laurel-leaf chopped very fine; roast them, first wrapped in slices of lard, and then in paper; put a slice of ham into a small stew-pan, and simmer it some time; when it begins to stick to the pan, throw in a glass of white wine, a little cullis, and half a clove of garlick; reduce it to a good consistence, sift it ,and add a lemon squeeze: when ready put the quails each upon a laurel leaf and serve the sauce upon the birds.

Quotation for the Day.

Everything I eat has been proved by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison, and everything I don't eat has been proved to be indispensable to life ... But I go marching on.
George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cabbage anyone?

When I am onto an interesting source, I do find it hard to move on, as regular readers probably realise (and to be truthful, in busy weeks it helps maintain the commitment to a story a day!) We have had some interesting snippets this last week from the mid-nineteenth century English monthly magazine, The Family Economist. I don’t want to bore you, but I must give you one more recipe from it before I put it (temporarily) aside.

A recipe for Cabbage Jelly caught my eye, while falling well short of tempting my tastebuds, – until I read the recipe properly. I was expecting some awful coagulated construction, such as the jellified coleslaw I gave the recipe for some time ago. But actually, I quite like the idea of this dish – and surely it would be excellent done with red cabbage cooked initially according to ‘the usual method’?

A tasty little dish, and by some persons esteemed more wholesome than cabbage simply boiled. Boil cabbage in the usual way, and squeeze in a colander until perfectly dry. Then chop small; add a little butter, pepper, and salt. Press the whole very closely into an earthenware mould, and bake one hour, either in a side oven or in front of the fire; when done, turn it out.

In another publication of similar vintage, the Working Man’s Friend, and Family Instructor, (London, 1850), I found the following recipe. Perhaps moulded vegetables are the next new/old idea?

Potato Medley.
Boil some potatoes, and mash them. Boil, also separately from the potatoes, any greens you may choose – savoys, turnip-tops, or spinach are the best. Press the water well out of them. Then chop them well up, mix with the mashed potatoes, and season with salt, pepper, and butter. Grease a pudding-mould, or shape, press your mixture well into it, and put it into a hot oven for about ten minutes. If you are careful to preserve the green colour of your spinach or turnip tops – which you may do by putting a small quantity of soda into the water – this will make a very pretty dish. If you have not a pudding-mould, a basin will answer the purpose.
N.B. Cold vegetables may be made into a dish in the same way.

Quotation for the Day.

"If you lived on cabbage, you would not be obliged to flatter the powerful." To which the courtier replied, "If you flattered the powerful, you would not be obliged to live upon cabbage."
Diogenes, ancient Greek philosopher’s advice to a young courtier

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cheese and ?

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. So goes the old saying. I am constantly reminded of this as I browse old cookery books. A lovely book with the full title of Our Viands: Whence they come and how they are cooked, with a bundle of old recipes from cookery books of the last century, by Ann Walbank Buckland, (London, 1893) notes the tradition in some parts of England of eating cheese with apple pie and with fruit cake. Nothing strange about that – I grew up in Yorkshire with that tradition.

The book also alludes to another tradition (although sadly, it does not note the locality), of serving cheese with toast and marmalade. I don’t know that tradition personally, but the idea is only a step away from serving quince paste on the cheese platter - isn’t it?

The final combination mentioned however, I cannot get my head around. Cheese floated on a cup of tea. It may be not too far from the Tibetan habit of serving a cuppa with yak butter floated on the top, but it is too far geographically to be relevant to an English tradition. If you know of such an idea, do please let us all know.

One might as well put cheese in the porridge!

Cheese Stirabout
One pound of oatmeal, three ounces of salt, half a pound of cheese cut up, two teaspoonfuls of mustard, two gallons of water; add your oatmeal with the hand, stir it all the time.

This wonderful idea comes from The Family Economist, (described as ‘A Penny Monthly Magazine, devoted to the moral, physical, and domestic improvement of the industrious classes’, published in London in 1848), in a batch of recipes from the Association for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes in Dorsetshire.

Quotation for the Day.

He receives comfort like cold porridge.
William Shakespeare

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pig and Whistle.

Is there a tavern in your town called ‘The Pig and Whistle’? It must be one of the most common pub names in the English-speaking world. But what does it mean?

The name is an example of folk etymology – the process by which a mistaken assumption about the meaning of an ‘old’ word causes it to be re-interpreted in the light of new analogies. I love finding examples of folk etymology, and today I want to share with you one of my favourites.

In older times, when utensils of all sorts were not mass-produced but individually crafted and therefore inherently more valuable, tavern patrons shared ale tankards. A series of holes in the side of the tankard were fitted with close-fitting pegs, and each drinker paid for, and drank down to, his allotted peg before handing it onto the next in line. As each man took the tankard, presumably he called out the ancient drinking salutation or pledge of ‘Wassail!’- a word which probably originated with the early Danish visitors to Britain, and can be loosely translated as ‘Your Health!’

So, over time, as one tankard per person became the norm, and folk had forgotten the literal meaning of the salutation – ‘peg and wassail’ evolved into ‘pig and whistle’! As an added bonus, probably from the same origin we get the phrases ‘to take someone down a peg or two’, and ‘pegging away’ at something.

Here is a nice refreshing, prepare-ahead, non-alcoholic beverage for you to share. It is from an edition of The Family Economist, described as ‘A Penny Monthly Magazine, devoted to the moral, physical, and domestic improvement of the industrious classes’, published in England in 1848.

P.S Alternative explanations for the name are given HERE. (Thanks to the anonymous commenter for the link!)

Soda Water and Ginger Beer Powders.
Carbonate of soda and tartaric acid, of each two ounces; fine loaf sugar rolled and sifted, 6 ounces; pure essence of lemon 25 or 30 drops. To be well mixed in a marble mortar,kept in a bottle closely corked, and in a very dry place. When required for use, two teaspoonfuls to less than a half pint of water, to be mixed in a glass that will hold twice that quantity, and drunk while in a state of effervescence. If half an ounce or one ounce (according as it may be liked more or less hot), of best ground ginger be mixed with the above quantity, it will be ‘ginger-beer powder.’

Quotation for the Day.

I fear the man who drinks water and so remembers this morning what the rest of us said last night.

Monday, May 17, 2010

'She Cooked in the Street.'

The New York Times of this day in 1906 carried a wonderful story of one woman’s dignity during an unpleasant interruption to her breakfast preparation.

A Little Thing Like Eviction Didn’t Stop Mrs. Cullum’s Breakfast.
Mrs Mary Cullum, of Lawrence Street and Grand View Avenue, Far Rockaway, after being dispossessed early yesterday morning by Marshall Thomas Hobby and two negroes, cooked her breakfast in the street, and ate it while an admiring crown cheered its approval of her grit.
Mrs Cullum sublet and apartment from Louis Quigley, who rented the building from McCarthy Brothers of Brooklyn. The owners notified Quigley that he must vacate the premises, as they wanted them for business purposes. He declined, owing to a promise that he had given Mrs Cullum that she might remain as long as she liked. McCarthy brothers then got a dispossess order.
Marshall Hobby, who is a small man, engaged the services of two strong negroes to aid him in effecting the eviction. When they appeared early yesterday morning at the Cullum apartment, Mrs Cullum had her hands in the flour making biscuits. Briefly displaying their warrant, the officer of the law and his assistants took the Cullum household effects and hustled them into the street.
“Can’t you let me cook and eat my breakfast in peace?” Mrs Culllum asked.
“Orders is to move things right out, missy,” said one of the helpers.
“I’ve got to eat,” said she.
“Have t’eat in the street, then” was the reply.
Bowing to the inevitable, Mrs Cullum saw her stove, which was red hot in preparation for the biscuit baking, carried from the building and deposited in the street. Following the men, she popped her dough into the oven, and turned her attention to the manufacture of flapjacks and coffee.
A crowd quickly collected and watched Mrs. Cullum while she completed her preparations for breakfast, and seated herself at a hastily cleared table. When she bowed her head to evoke a blessing, many in the street ceased their noise and laughter out of respect, and also bent their heads. Then Mrs Cullum fell to and enjoyed a hearty meal before seeking other apartments. As the last biscuit disappeared, the onlookers again cheered Mrs Cullum before leaving her.

Would this story be possible today, do you think? I suspect she would then have fallen foul of the city ordinances in respect of the absence of a licence to cook in the street. I wonder also how many of us would remain so gracious under such circumstances, and still be mindful enough to give thanks for our daily bread (however we might choose to do that.)

The Oxford English Dictionary gives several definitions of flapjack: "a flat cake, a pan-cake, an apple turnover or flat tart, and a biscuit usually containing rolled oats, syrup, etc". (here meaning ‘biscuit’ as in a ‘cookie’, not ‘scone’!) Certainly in Australia, it means the latter – and it is a sort of variation on the Anzac biscuit theme, cooked in a slab and then cut into squares.

I give you for your breakfast enjoyment, recipes for two versions of flapjacks.

From Camp Cookery, by Horace Kephart, (New York, 1910), here is one version of flapjacks.

Plain Flapjacks.
1 quart flour,
1 teaspoonful salt,
2 teaspoonfuls sugar, or 4 of molasses,
2 level tablespoonfuls baking powder.
Rub in, dry, two heaped tablespoonfuls grease. If you have no grease, do without. Make a smooth batter with cold milk (best) or water - thin enough to pour from a spoon, but not too thin, or it will take all day to bake enough for the party.
Stir well, to smooth out lumps. Set frying-pan level over thin bed of coals, get it quite hot, and grease with a piece of pork in split end of stick.
Pan must be hot enough to make batter sizzle as it touches, and it should be polished. Pour from end of a big spoon successively enough batter to fill pan within one-half inch of rim. When cake is full of bubbles and edges have stiffened, shuffle pan to make sure that cake is free below and stiff enough to flip. Then hold pan slanting in front of and away from you, go through preliminary motion of flapping once or twice to get the swing, then flip boldly so cake will turn a somersault in the air, and catch it upside down. Beginners generally lack the nerve to toss high enough.
Grease pan anew and stir batter every time before pouring. This is the "universal pancake" that Nessmuk derided.

From the Radiation Cookery Book, a popular promotional cookery book produced for use with “Regulo-controlled New World Gas Cookers” in the early 1940’s, the recipe quoted in the OED.

Flap Jacks.
6 oz. butter or margarine
6 oz. Demerara Sugar
8 oz. rolled oats
Pinch of salt.
Method: cream the fat until soft. Mix together the sugar, oats and salt and stir into the fat. Transfer the mixture to the greased tin and spread evenly, smoothing the surface.
Bake for 30 mins with the Regulo set at Mark 5. When cooked leave to stand for a few minutes in the tin and then cut into 16 squares or fingers.

Quotation for the Day.

Please say to yourself, “If a pancake is thick enough to toss, there is only one place to toss it – into the dustbin.
Fanny and Johnny Craddock in The Daily Telegraph Cook’s Book (1964)

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Lost Art of Midnight Suppers.

Midnight suppers – who has them? Proper suppers I mean, not just snacks stolen silently by the light of the refrigerator. Once upon a time they were part of the social entertainment of the hoi-polloi, who had servants to get up at the crack of dawn to blacken the Master’s boots and whitewash the scullery steps and pluck the partridges for luncheon.

I included some details of a midnight supper provided by the City of London to Queen Victoria in 1851, in Menus from History. The menu was impressive enough, in the usual elaborate nineteenth century way, but the wine list was really something. It included an amontillado ‘of curious antiquity’ and a hundred and twenty-five year-old sherry which had been bottled for the Emperor Napoleon. Now THAT is a Midnight Feast, not a mere Supper!

Perhaps we should say To Hell with worrying about the morning chores, and restore the occasional habit of a genuine midnight supper? For catering ideas I suggest we consult May E. Southworth – the author of a couple of cookbooks we have used recently for our recipes for the day. May introduced us to the liberal use of sherry and other beverages in our invalid cookery, as well as some rather interesting ‘Mexican’ recipes in another post. As it happens, May also wrote a book on our topic of today - Midnight feasts; two hundred & two salads and chafing-dish recipes (1914). I liked her attitude in the previous books, so I just knew that she would be in favour of midnight feasts (note that she calls them feasts, not merely suppers - a positive start, I thought.)

May starts off by reassuring us that they are actually good for us:

“There was a time, in benighted ages, when it was considered the height of indiscretion to eat late at night, but in these advanced times, old-fashioned theories are gradually passing, and in eliminating one stupidity after another, we have come to consider suppers at night, after a sociable evening of any kind, both wholesome and beneficial. If we are hungry we are unhappy, and according to the most sensible philosophy, why should we go to bed unhappy, when alleviation lies right at hand, in our pantry?”

So there, if you need it, is a justification for midnight feasting. And don’t you love the idea of alleviation of potential unhappiness by judicious use of a well-stocked pantry? A café-delicatessen in my neighbourhood has a notice that says “The difference between a calm cook and a panicked cook is a well-stocked pantry.”

A favourite after-dinner savoury and supper snack in England in the nineteenth century was Welsh Rabbit. As regular readers will be aware, I am always keen to add to my collection of recipes for this delicious cheesy thing, and I have a good excuse today because May includes an interesting variant, which I give you below. Note that she gets the name wrong by calling it ‘rarebit’, and then demeans the dish itself to the level of a mere sauce – but she is American, after all, and we will forgive her as her heart is in the right place.

Halibut Rarebit
Sprinkle two small slices of halibut with salt and pepper, brush over with melted butter, and place in the greased pan and cook twelve minutes. Remove to a hot platter and pour over it a Welsh rarebit.

Welsh Rarebit
Place a tablespoonful of butter in the chafing-dish; add two pounds of good Eastern cheese chopped fine, a generous pinch of salt, one-third of a teaspoonful of cayenne, four dashes of Worcestershire sauce and stir vigorously until melted. Then add a wine-glass of porter or ale and a teaspoonful of Colman's mustard and stir until it bubbles. Serve on hot toast. Make over hot-water pan.

P.S For those of you who need a refresher on the topic, Welsh Rarebit is explicated HERE and HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

There in long robes the royal Magi stand,
Grave Zoroaster waves the circling wand,
The sage Chaldaeans rob'd in white appear'd,
And Brahmans, deep in desert woods rever'd.
These stop'd the moon, and call'd th' unbody'd shades
To midnight banquets in the glimm'ring glades;
Made visionary fabrics round them rise,
And airy spectres skim before their eyes;
Of Talismans and Sigils knew the pow'r,
And careful watch'd the Planetary hour.
From: The Temple of Fame, Alexander Pope, 1715

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Runcible Peas?

It is difficult to let Edward Lear’s birthday (yesterday) pass without some fun with his ‘runcible spoon’. This utensil used by the Owl and the Pussycat to eat their mince and slices of quince is somewhat of a mystery. It seems obvious to me – obvious that it is a mystery, that is. Edward Lear wrote Nonsense, folks. He wrote recipes for Amblongus Pie and Gosky Patties (thanks, Karen), for Goodness Sake!

Linguists find it hard to believe that words can simply be invented. Words evolve, doncha know, from pre-existing words? The theory pronounced by the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the word is “a fanciful alteration of ROUNCIVAL.” A Rouncival is a variety of pea, known since at least the sixteenth century, and supposedly, possibly, originating in Roncesvalles (Roncevaux) in the Pyrenees. This theory would be less desperately nonsensical (or maybe nonsequiteurial) if there was ever a spoon made specifically for the eating of peas, wouldnt it? Has there ever been such a spoon?

The theory also does not explain Lear's runcible hat, cat, goose – and wall. How are cats, geese, and walls related to peas. Or did they originate in the Pyrenees too?

What I love about runcible spoons is, that they may first have been mentioned by Lear (in 1871) in a nonsense rhyme, but they soon became real spoons. The OED admits that, after Lear “in later use applied to a kind of fork used for pickles, etc., curved like a spoon and having three broad prongs of which one has a sharp edge.” Folk etymology, I love it!

Should you get your hands on some genuine rounceval peas, I suggest this recipe for them:

Peas Francois.
Shell a quart of peas, cut a large Spanish onion small and two cabbage or Silesia lettuces. Put them into a stewpan with half a pint of water, a little salt, pepper, mace, and nutmeg, all beaten. Cover them close and let them stew a quarter of an hour. Then put in a quarter of a pound of fresh butter rolled in a little flour, a spoonful of catcup [catsup] and a piece of burnt butter about the size of a nutmeg. Cover them close, and let it simmer a quarter of an hour, observing frequently to shake the pan. Have ready four artichoke bottoms fried, and cut in two, and when you pour the peas with their sauce into dish a lay them round it.
The Young Woman’s Companion, or, Frugal Housewife ... (Manchester, 1813)

Quotation for the Day.

There was an old person of Putney,
Whose food was roast spiders and chutney,
Which he took with his tea,
Within sight of the sea,
That romantic old person of Putney.
A limerick by Edward Lear.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Birthday Cutlets.

Today in 1812 was the birthday of the English writer famous for his nonsense verse, especially his limericks. In 1870 Lear contributed several recipes to the Nonsense Gazette, and in a previous post I gave you his version of Amblongus Pie. Today in honour of his birthday, I give you his recipe for cutlets. Do try the recipe, and let us all know what you think of them via the comments section, please.

To Make Crumbobblious Cutlets
Procure some strips of beef, and having cut them into the smallest possible slices, proceed to cut them still smaller, eight or perhaps nine times.
When the whole is thus minced, brush it up hastily with a new clothes-brush, and stir round rapidly and capriciously with a salt-spoon or a soup ladle.
Place the whole in a saucepan, and remove it to a sunny place,- say the roof of the house if free from sparrows or other birds,- and leave it there for about a week.
At the end of that time add a little lavender, some oil of almonds, and a few herring-bones; and cover the whole with 4 gallons of clarified crumbobblious sauce, when it will be ready for use.
Cut it into the shape of ordinary cutlets, and serve it up in a clean tablecloth or dinner-napkin.

Quotation for the Day.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.

The Owl and the Pussy Cat, Edward Lear.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What milk was that?

I got to thinking about ‘milk’ after my post of yesterday. I have always had a vague objection to the concept of soy milk in the context in which it is often promoted, because it is hardly ‘natural’. Mammals produce milk, plants definitely do not. The only way to make ‘milk’ out of beans is by a heck of a lot of processing. And anyway, it tastes awful.

Strangely, I don’t have any objection to the concept of almond milk – but then no-one seriously considers it as a nutritional alternative to real (mammalian) milk. Its milkiness is useful for those who eschew animal products (faithful Christians during Lent, and vegans all the time, for example.) And it tastes great.

It seems to me that the non-mammalian milks for which recipes can be found fall into two categories. Firstly, those such as almond milk and soy milk which are used as ‘real’ milk substitutes. Secondly, beverages which the inventor wishes to associate with a particular mammalian characteristic such as strength or power.

In the first category are a number of ‘imitation’ milks, such as artificial asses’ milk and mare’s milk, which we have touched upon in a previous post. These are often intended for medicinal purposes – asses’ milk for example was considered closest to human milk, so suitable for infants or the indisposed, but rarely available, so a mock version was made.

In the second category are a variety of alcoholic ‘cordials’ (the word originally meaning restorative beverages). I give you a couple of examples from one of our recent sources - Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, by William Terrington, 1869. Note that the version of Asses’ Milk that appears below is not suitable for babies, but is probably so named because excessive consumption would cause one to behave like an ass.

Elephant’s Milk.
To 1 oz. of benzoin gum, dissolved in 1 pint of spirits of wine, add 1 lb. of sugar, dissolved in 1 quart of boiling water.

Asses’ Milk.
½ gill of rum; bottle of aerated lemonade.

Quotation for the Day.
Things are never what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream.
H.M.S. Pinafore, W.S.Gilbert

Monday, May 10, 2010

Date Milk.

When I came across a reference recently to ‘date milk’, I assumed that it was something made from steeping or emulsifying dates in a liquid – something therefore along the lines of almond ‘milk’ or a date milkshake. I don’t know how I could have gotten to the age I am, and done the reading I have on all sorts of food topics, without coming to the knowledge that date milk is more along the lines of maple syrup. Sometimes my own ignorance astounds me.

This is how date milk comes about:

A white liquor known by the name of date-milk is drawn from the palm tree. To obtain it, all the branches are cut from the summit of one of these trees; and after several incisions have been made in it, they are covered with leaves, in order that the heat of the sun may not dry it: the sap then drops into a vessel placed to receive the liquor. The milk of the date tree has an agreeable sweet taste when new; it is very refreshing and is given even to sick people.
The companion for the orchard: An historical and botanical account of fruits known in Great Britain, Henry Phillips, 1831.

Naturally, this sweet sap lends itself beautifully to fermentation and distillation. Date wine may also be is made by fermenting a either mixture of dates soaked in water, or a syrup made by boiling dates. Distillation of the fermented beverage produces a form of ‘toddy’, or in the case of the sap, a very potent beverage sometimes called ‘cream of the valley.’

A very famous date wine was apparently produced in Egypt in ancient times, and exported to Rome where it was enjoyed at the best tables. Marco Polo (or his ghost-writer) mentioned Egyptian date wine in his Travels, and noted that it had spiced added “and very good it is.” Some biblical scholars also suggest that the ‘strong drink’ of the Bible may have been date (or palm) wine.

For the recipe of the day, I do not give you the specific instructions for making date wine, but instead have chosen one of the delights included in the Date Cook Book, published in 1919 by May Sowles Metzler – a book originating in Coachella Valley, “The American home of the date”.

Syrian Method of Preserving Dates.
Take the largest dates obtainable, preferably before they are entirely ripe; peel them with a sharp knife, put them in a pot, add a little more than enough water to cover them, boil until they are soft; then slip the seeds out and put an almond or pistachio, with a clove, in the cavity; boil dates in syrup with a little lemon peel until the proper consistency; take them off the fire and let them stand overnight; then bring to a boil again and put in glass jars.

Quotation for the Day.

Men become passionately attached to women who know how to cosset them with delicate tidbits.
Honoré de Balzac (1799-1859)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Patently Useful.

On this day in 1802, Sir Edward Thomason was issued a patent for his "New Invented Material Article in the Making of Cork-Screws" by the English Patent Office.

"To all to whom these presents shall come, I, Edward Thomason, of Birmingham, in the County of Warwick, Manufacturer, send greeting. Whereas His most Excellent Majesty King George the Third, by His letters Patent Under the Great Seal of Great Britain, bearing date at Westminster ... In respect to principle, I cause the cork to be extracted from the simple continuation of turning the screw to the right hand, and this performed without any rack wheel, lock, or spring, and I cause the cork to be discharged from the screw"...

I wish there was an image of this device, but I if there is, I have not found it. I wonder if there is a corkscrew of his design in a museum somewhere? No doubt with the increasing use of screwtops, soon all corkscrews will become curiosities.

Here is an interesting beverage with a nice name and an interesting heritage. I assume it is a ‘modernisation’ of the idea of Aqua Vitae.

Life of Man.
12 drops oil of lemon, 9 drops oil of cloves, 3 drops oil of mace; dissolve in 1 quart of alcohol; at 2 ½ lbs of sugar, dissolved in 5 pints of water; strain; clear; add 2 drops essence of cochineal.
Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, by William Terrington, 1869

Other stories:

There are other stories about patents and trade-marks amongst the over one thousand posts on this blog. Some (maybe all) are here:

Mason Jar
Egg beater
A food-throwing device.
Pineapple Cheese
Tonic Water
Worcestershire Sauce
Chocolate manufacture
Microwave oven
American Cheese
Foie Gras
Hawthorn Tea
Improved Tomato Soup

Quotation for the Day.

The best [wine] Australia produces is a wine called Cwarra, which much resembles a second-rate Rhenish wine. Great efforts have, however, been made of late years to extend and improve the culture of wine in this great country.
Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, by William Terrington, 1869.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Flavours of Sugar.

It doesn’t take much reading of historical cookery books to make one realise that there is little or nothing under the culinary sun that is brand new. Sometimes there is the realisation that a good old idea is waiting to be rediscovered and rebranded as innovative and fashionable.

Flavoured salt is currently quite fashionable. As the fashion for it inevitably wanes (perhaps it is already trending towards passé?), perhaps we should rediscover flavoured sugar? Of course, we all recycle our slightly-used vanilla beans into a jar of sugar, don’t we? And I have come across lemon sugar as a topping for cookies too, but surely there are more ideas?

I recently came across a sentence in Richard Burton’s The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, (1882) which gave me the idea:

“So they waited until Obayd had eaten his fill and washed his hands and drunk coffee and sherbets of sugar flavoured with musk and ambergris.”

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? We have come across ambergris before in this blog, in recipes for negus and almond pudding, but it is not available in my local supermarket or delicatessen, so I cannot make ambergris sugar (I am thinking flavoured sugars might make nice Christmas gifts). There are references to ‘sugar of roses’ and ‘sugar of violets’ being purchased by the nobleman Earl Clare, in 1275, for a total of 27 shillings – an enormous sum in those days – but I have no garden. Cinnamon sugar for cinnamon toast is nice, but not interesting. What else is there?

From The Royal English and Foreign Confectioner, by Queen Victoria’s chef Charles Elmé Francatelli (1862), I give you these ideas:

Clove Sugar.
Dry two ounces of cloves and pound them with one pound of loaf sugar in the manner prescribed in the foregoing number.

Orange-Flower Sugar.
Pound four ounces of candied orange flowers with one pound of loaf sugar; sift this, and put it away in a stoppered bottle.

Ginger Sugar.
Pound two ounces of ground ginger with one pound of loaf sugar, and finish as above.

Quotation for the Day.

Confectionary is the poetry of epicurism it throws over the heavy enjoyments of the table the relief of a milder indulgence, and dispenses the delights of a lighter and more harmless gratification of the appetite.
The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker; Parkinson, (1864)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

But is it really Mexican?

Today, in case you are living in a space totally void of food column news and didn’t know, is Cinco de Mayo (‘Fifth of May’) – the anniversary of the day in 1862 when a little Mexican army defeated a French army twice its size. And don’t we all love it when the underdog wins?

There is no dearth of food suggestions for the day - the great mass of American food columnists, cooking magazines and foodie Internet sites have been flooding cyberspace for a week with Mexican food ideas. So, not to be left out, I thought I would offer you some insights into historic concepts (from outsiders) of ‘Mexican’ food.

I trolled the historic cookbooks of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that had pretensions to ‘international’ coverage, and came up with very little. Such recipes that I did find seemed to scream out their lack of authenticity – but who am I to judge? I am hardly an expert on Mexican cuisine, so please dont shoot me.

I cannot resist the following recipe – on the basis of its name alone it must be included. It is from
One Hundred & One Mexican Dishes, by May E. Southworth, (San Francisco,1906) - a book totally lacking in preface or author credentials.

Fry in a tablespoonful of olive-oil a large slice of onion and eight chopped green peppers; to this add a cupful of uncooked rice and stir constantly until the rice is nicely browned; then put in a half-can of tomatoes and fill up the skillet with rich soup stock and cook slowly, without stirring, for an hour.

My second choice, to my totally Mexican-food ignorant mind, smacks of some authenticity on account of its complexity. I eagerly await comments from those of you knowledgeable about such things.

Chicken Tamales.
This recipe will require a “Metata,” which can be purchased at any Spanish store.Boil in water with half cup of lime, two quarts of yellow, dried com. When wellcooked, wash thoroughly, then grind on the “Metata” three times, until very fine. Boiltwo medium-sized chickens until quite tender; cool and cut in small pieces. Mix with corn enough of the water in which the chickens were cooked to make a soft dough, and add two small cups of lard; season with salt and knead well. Then take three red chilli peppers, remove seeds and roast in oven for a few minutes; take out, place in tepid water, then grind on the “Metata” several times, with two cloves of garlic. In a saucepan put tablespoonful of lard; when hot drop in one chopped onion and [one?] tablespoonful of flour; let cook a minute, then add the chili, then cut the chicken, one cupful each of seeded raisins and stoned olives, and salt and pepper to taste; let come to boil, take from stove and cool.
Have some dry com husks, well soaked for several hours in cold water; shake them well and spread a thin layer of the dough on the half of each leaf; then put a spoonful of the stew on the prepared leaf, and cover with the prepared leaves; tie the ends with strings made of the leaves. When the tamales are finished, place them in a large pot with a little boiling water, and boil gently for one hour. Any other meat can be used.
Fifty choice recipes for Spanish and Mexican dishes (1905)

Quotation for the Day.

I think the great Mexican cuisine is dying because there are fast foods now competing, because there are supermarkets, and supermarkets can't afford to keep in stock a lot of these very perishable products that are used for fine Mexican cooking. Women are working and real Mexican cooking requires enormous amounts of time.
Alma Guillermoproprieto.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Is Gruel Cruel?

I have talked about gruel before, on this blog, but it is a rare (maybe non-existent) food topic that can be exhausted in one short story. Yesterday I delved into an interesting nineteenth century English book of home remedies and recipes called Cookery for Invalids: Persons of Delicate Digestion, and for Children. Given the author’s hearty enthusiasm for the medicinal value of sherry, brandy, champagne, and other alcoholic beverages, I wondered if perhaps she was also upbeat about some of the traditional dishes for invalids – including gruel.

There is often a real kill-joy tone in nineteenth century home medical texts – as if there was a deliberate attempt to be punitive towards the sickly person, or at the very least, to ensure there was no secondary gain in the sick role. The concept of tempting the invalid’s appetite seems seriously at odds with many of the awful-sounding recipes in these books – and ‘gruel’ is the epitome of these.

The word ‘gruel’ is derived from the Old French gruau meaning ‘ground grain’, and in England in the fourteenth century, this is what was meant. Also at this time the word referred to a thin soupy dish made from grain. Gruel could be made from any grain, but in particular oatmeal and barley were used. The liquid might be water, or ‘cow mylke’ - or almond milk for the wealthy, especially during Lent. Depending on circumstances or availability, almost anything could be added to enrich this basic potage – leafy greens, eggs, currants, or wine, for example.

I am sure that some of these early ‘gruels’ or grain potages were delicious as well as sustaining, but by the nineteenth century something had happened to its reputation. Perhaps the Poor Laws had something to do with it, when it became one of the staple foods of the workhouse, its miserably weak character reinforced by the image of Charles Dickens’ Oliver holding out his empty bowl and asking for more?

The word ‘gruel’ instantly evokes the idea of eternally unappeased hunger. It even sounds thin and tasteless. It makes us think of prisons and workhouses, of gruesome conditions and gruelling work, of chronic coughs and wasting illnesses. Doesn’t it?

So, what does the wine-approving Mary Hooper say on the subject of gruel?

“Thus it is that gruel, which in former times was said to ‘gratify nature’ and to be the king of spoon meats and the queen of soups, and which played so important a part in the sick dietary, has fallen into disrepute. The fact is that in these days few persons know gruel except as manufactured from the starchy preparations the chief merits ofwhich appear to be that they “can be made in ten minutes;” and it is, therefore, no wonder so much dislike is expressed for it.
The delicious, creamy, nourishing, one may almost say elegant, gruel, made by the hands of our grandmothers for their invalids, is now hardly known among us. It was either made from groats, crushed in the household mortar, or bought specially prepared, and known as “Embden groats,” and was in either case admirably suited for the purpose. After many hours' boiling the gruel was carefully strained, and was then ready to be served plain, or flavoured, as the case might require. We can hardly wonder in these days that gruel is so unpopular, being what it is - a “patent” hasty compound manufactured to suit the slovenly and impatient culinary habits of the period - or that doctors have almost ceased to order it as an especially useful and restorative diet.
The present writer well remembers her mother, whilst relating to her the sorrow and distress of the nation at the premature death of the Princess Charlotte of Wales, adding it was reported that the Princess shivered when a basin of gruel was presented to her, as though such antipathy was a measure of the hopelessness of her case. But it is no bad symptom now when ladies shiver at the :sight of gruel, but rather an indication of a true taste which revolts against impure and badly prepared articles of diet. Gruel made as it ought to be, is rarely disliked, and is more nourishing, andin many cases to be preferred, to arrowroot - an expensive thing, and one most difficult to procure genuine.”

The author gives many recipes for gruel made from barley, oats, or fine wheat flour. I give you two of the more interesting versions, for your use when the cold virus strikes.

Restorative Gruel.
This delicious substitute for Groat Gruel is made as follows:-one ounce of rice, one ounce of sago, one ounce of pearl barley; put three pints of water, and boil gently for three hours, when the liquor should be reduced to a quart. Strain it in exactly the same manner as groat gruel, and flavour with wine, brandy, or anything else that may be suitable.
If made a little thicker, say with an ounce and a half of each ingredient to three pints of water, a jelly will be produced, which may be eaten cold with sugar, fruit, syrups, or preserve.

Onion Gruel.
This is an old-fashioned remedy for a cold, but can never be recommended unless boiled for at least five hours. The long boiling takes away the pungent odour of the onions and the breath will not then be aflected by them.
Take two ounces of Embden groats and four large onions sliced, put them on in a quart of cold water. Let the gruel boil gently for five hours, stirring occasionally, adding water to keep the original quantity. When done, strain through a fine sieve, salt to taste, and serve with toasted bread. The yolk of an egg beaten up in the gruel
is a good addition.

P.S Other recipes for gruel have appeared in this blog. They are:

Water Gruel (17th C)

Oatmeal Gruel (early 18th C) 

Barley Gruel (18th C)

Potato Gruel (19th C) 

Quotation for the Day.

“I’ll dispose of my teeth as I see fit, and after they’ve gone, I’ll get along. I started off living on gruel, and by God, I can always go back to it again.”
S.J. Perelman.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Sherry Therapy

Last week I gave you a recipe for a treacle posset intended as a remedy for a cold. The source was Cookery for Invalids: Persons of Delicate Digestion, and for Children by Mary Hooper, published in London in 1876. I want to refer to this book again today, because it is a wonderfully refreshing home medical text for the era, for one particular reason.

The author is clearly in favour of alcohol for medicinal purposes – and not just any old alcohol. She stresses the importance of the lady of the house developing her palate for wine in order to ascertain its quality and avoid being cheated by dealers - if wine is a ‘necessity’ for her family.

“Port and Sherry are costly wines, and it is difficult to procure them genuine; indeed, much sold under these names are chemical compositions or vile adulterations, and so uneducated is the public taste that it accepts anything described by the vendors as Port or Sherry. Ladies are very much at the mercy of unscrupulous merchants, and will do well to avoid advertising firms, and still better, if wine is a necessity for themselves or their families, to acquire a correct taste and judgment in the matter.”

If you like her attitude on wine in general, I am sure you will like her specific thoughts on champagne – and so true and important I fell they are that I hope to immortalise them by using them in the Quotation for the Day, which you will find, as usual, at the end of this post.

The author recommends weak brandy and water ‘as without doubt the safest and best beverage for persons of delicate digestion’. She also gives a recipe for ‘Orange Tonic’ which is essentially brandy infused for a month with the peel of Seville oranges, and which can be used to add value to a glass of sherry or claret cup! She also suggests brandy be added to egg-drinks, gruel, wine jelly, tapioca jelly, and custard cream.

Today, however, I want to share with you a selection of Mary Hooper’s recipes which use sherry. Naturally she adds sherry to various puddings and drinks as well as wine jelly. I particularly like the idea of her sweet Sherry Macaroni – it might be just the thing next time I feel a bit poorly.

Sherry Macaroni
Break half an ounce of best Italian macaroni into a quarter of a pint of sherry mixed with a quarter of a pint of water ; let it boil until it is tender and has absorbed the liquid. It can then be served dusted over with sifted sugar, mixed with a pinch of ground cinnamon, or be made into a pudding in the same manner as rice custard pudding.

Sherry Sponge Pudding.
Put two penny sponge-cakes into a buttered tart dish, pour over them a wineglassful of sherry, let them stand until the wine is absorbed. Boil half a pint of milk with two or three lumps of sugar, beat an egg up with it, pour it over the cakes, and bake in a slow oven until the custard is set, when turn out, and serve.

Quotation for the Day.

First class champagne is expensive, but when it is necessary must be looked upon as medicine, which nobody dreams of as getting second or third rate.
Cookery for Invalids: Persons of Delicate Digestion, and for Children; Mary Hooper, 1876