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.


Anonymous said...

One caveat for modern cooks: The broth from corned beef smells delectable, but if the meat was bright red when you bought it, discard the broth. The red color comes from nitrites that are concentrated in the broth to a dangerous degree. The nitrites are in the meat purely to make it pretty; old-fashioned corned beef is gray, but still wholesome. In the U.S., "gray-cured" corned beef is available primarily in New England, far away from where I live.

It pinches my heart to throw away that wonderful-smelling broth, it truly does. But better safe than sorry.

Jenny Islander

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks Jenny, I didnt think to clarify that for modern readers. I know what you mean though - I do hate throwing out that fragrant broth, even if it is full of nitrates!