Friday, July 30, 2010

Benedict Returns.

In a post last week I mused on the question of ‘Who was the Benedict in Eggs Benedict?’
Several theories were mooted, but no conclusions reached. As I always hope will happen, a reader offered another idea to the mix (read it at the end of the post, here), which is confirmed by the Oxford English Dictionary. A ‘Benedick’ is ‘A newly married man; esp. an apparently confirmed bachelor who marries’, the usage coming from a character of that name and situation in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. It is interesting that this is the spelling used by Ranhofer in his recipe, the earliest I have found for the egg dish to date. Perhaps (and it is admittedly a long-shot theory) the dish was considered to be appropriate for a bachelor breakfast?

One of the other theories mooted was that the name relates ultimately to the Benedictine order of monks, and specifically to their Lenten dish of salt cod with white sauce. The most famous delicacy associated with the Benedictines is, of course, the liqueur of the same name. It is assumed, and often stated as fact, that the beverage was ‘invented’ by the Benedictine order based at the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy. The story, I am sad to say, is only as true as a good advertising agent needs to make it.

Once upon a time there was indeed a Benedictine abbey at Fécamp – but this was a casualty of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century. Monastic orders have always been associated with medicine – producing remedies using ingredients grown in their extensive herb gardens, along with expensive imported spices. TheBenedictine order at Fécamp was no exception. Unfortunately their manuscript book of recipes was lost when the monastery was destroyed. A man called Alexandre Legrand, who is said to have been related to the original aristocratic owners of the area, supposedly discovered the lost manuscript in the mid-nineteenth century. He did not recreate an ancient Benedictine remedy, but, working with a chemist, interpreted one or more of the formulae in the manuscript and developed the liqueur we know now.

There are said to be 27 different ingredients in the beverage, but the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret known only to three people at any one time. Naturally, there have been, and continue to be, many attempts to copy the liqueur, but the company works hard to protect its product, to the extent that it maintains a museum – the ‘Hall of Counterfeits’ at its plant in Normandy.

The word ‘Benedictine’ of course cannot be copyrighted, and there is nothing to stop anyone using it, so long as they do not attempt to pass off their alcoholic blend as the real thing. You can, for example, make a Benedictine ‘essence’, if you wish, and think you have identified the flavouring ingredients correctly. Should you wish to do so to flavour your home-made chocolates, you can follow this recipe, from the Manual for the essence industry (1916) – assuming you are not breaking any liquor laws in your place of residence of course. Oh! and you will need to scale down the quantities for home use!

Essences for Filling Confections with the Taste of Liquors and Cordials.
General Method:

Macerate 5 lb of the drugs with 10 lb proof spirit, allow to stand for a week, then express off 6 lb extract. Then add the volatile oils to the residue, add 10 lb water, place in the still, and distil off the whole alcohol content, then add water to bring the distillate to about 17o underproof, filter with the aid of infusorial earthy to remove the terpenes, and rectify the filtrate to a yield of 4 lb. which then mix with the expressed extract to the final yield of 10 lb. After allowing to stand for a few days, filter the essence if it is not quite clear.

Benedictine Essence.
Tonka Beans 1 ¼ oz
Calamus Root 4 oz.
Thyme Herb 4 oz.
Mace 4 oz.
Cinnamon Bark 4 oz.
Cloves 4 oz.
Arnica Flowers 6 ¾ oz
Angelica Seed 10 oz.
Musk Mallow Seed 10 oz.
Angelica Root 1 lb
Balm Leaves 1 lb
Oil of Coriander 7 dr.
Oil of Cardamom 7 dr.
Oil of Peppermint 1 ½ oz.
Oil of Lemon 4 oz.

Quotation for the Day.

I think a man ought to get drunk at least twice a year just on principle, so he won't let himself get snotty about it.
Raymond Chandler

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fighting and Dining.

When the Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz said that "there are generals who win battles and there are generals who dine well", he would no doubt have included Napoleon in the first category and excluded him from the ranks of gourmet.

Clausewitz would have been correct. For all his pre-occupation with feeding his troops, Napoleon was remarkably uninterested in his own meals. He preferred plain food, which he ate very quickly. He said that ” A man's palate can, in time, become accustomed to anything” and told his colleagues "If you want to eat well, dine with the Second Consul; if you want to eat a lot, visit the Third Consul; if you want to eat quickly, dine with me." Small wonder that chefs, frustrated by their poor pay and the lack of appreciation for their efforts, did not stay very long in his employ.

Napoleon was by no means the first military leader to realise that “an army marches on his stomach”, nor would he be the last, but his constant efforts to feed his troops had ramifications far beyond the mere provisioning of his army. The usual strategy of the time was that the army lived off the land as it moved, but this was the largest land army the world had seen, and a supplementary strategy was needed.

Feeding the army was already a problem in 1795, and the Food Preservation Committee of the Societé d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale in that year offered a prize of 12,000 francs for a method of preserving food, especially for use by the army and navy. Eventually the news reached the ears of Nicolas Appert, a small town mayor and a chef and confectioner by trade. The idea of food preservation was already his personal passion, and he had spent years experimenting with various methods in his own workshop, initially using champagne bottles as his preserving vessels. By the turn of the century he was beginning to develop a reputation in this field, and had a thriving small business in Paris where his preserves were sold. His foodstuffs were eventually tried aboard French naval ships, and the reports were favourable. In 1810 Appert published his findings and on January 30th received his award, paving the way for the food “canning” industry as we now know it. You can read more about Appert in a previous post here.

The other significant development dating from this time was precipitated by Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. The ensuing English blockade of cane sugar imports from the Caribbean into continental Europe stimulated interest in alternative sources of sugar. Napoleon had heard of the pioneering work on the extraction of sugar from beets by Marggraf in Berlin 50 years earlier, and the progress made by Marggraf’s student, Franz Achard, but it was still not possible to produce sugar in any significant quantity.

Napoleon issued a decree on March 25th 1811 which was intended to stimulate experimentation in this area. It set aside 80,000 acres of land for production of beets, and established schools, scholarships, and factories in beet sugar production. In 1812 he awarded the Légion d'Honneur to Benjamin Delessert for his technical advances in the clarification of sugar, which enabled the process to be carried out on a viable scale. By 1814, there were 40 beet sugar factories were in operation in France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria. The industry did temporarily decline after Napoleon’s defeat, but eventually revived, and by the late 19th century, beets had again become the major source of sugar.

It became popular in the nineteenth century for chefs to name dishes after important guests or famous events such as battles. One dish named for (but NOT immediately in the wake of) a battle was Chicken Marengo, which has been a previous topic on this blog. One of the most famous foodie-generals of the time had a number of dishes named in his honour. He was Pyotr Bagration, the Russian general who died following Borodino ultimately had several dishes named after him, and these became standard items on European menus for decades. It seems that he may have been in Clausewitz’s second category as Napoleon said of him "The man is an absolute fool who has not the slightest idea how to command an army." Certainly he was well known for his extravagant dinner parties, their legendary status being assured when Tolstoy chose to write about them.

Fish Soup; so named from Prince Bagration
(Potage de Fillets de Poisson à la Bagration)
Prepare a good consommé, make a quenelle of soles with crayfish butter, trim in escalopes the fillets of a sole, perch, and carp, and throw a little salt over them; an hour afterwards wash, drain, and place them in a sauté-plate, mark [make?] an essence with the bones and trimmings of the fish, squeeze it through a tammy upon the escalopes of fish, and boil them slowly for ten minutes, then pour the liquor from them to the consommé, and clarify it as usual; reduce it one fifth, then pour it into the tureen upon the escalopes and quenelles poached in consommé, six roes of carp boiled in water with salt, and fifty tails of cray-fish (using the shells for the butter), some chervil blanched, two parsley roots cut in small pieces, and stewed in consommé, and the flesh of two lemons cut in thin slices and blanched, carefully withdrawing the pips
The Practical Cook, English and Foreign; Joseph Bregion, 1845

Quotation for the Day.
Happiness: a good bank account, a good cook, and a good digestion.
Jean Jacques Rousseau

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Food of the Gods.

There is a particular American dessert (it is unequivocally American), called ‘ambrosia’. Now, the ‘original’ ambrosia, according to Greek mythology, was the food (and drink) of the gods. Naturally the word came to refer to other things ‘divinely sweet or exquisitely delightful to taste or smell’ (OED). It was surely inevitable that somewhere in the world a cook somewhere would one day appropriate the word for a new dish – or more likely a variation of an existing one.

As with so many recipes, we will almost certainly never know who first used the word in this way, but some angles seem likely. The place, we have established, is America – probably the South. The time was probably in the mid-nineteenth century. The first recipe I have found so far is from 1861, but recipes are usually established well before they appear in print. The earliest recipes for ‘ambrosia’ consist essentially of sliced oranges and grated coconut, and it seems likely that it was the addition of coconut (available and popular by the 1830’s) that justified a new name for the already common dish of chilled or iced oranges.

The modern dish of ambrosia - the one for mere mortals such as ourselves - has many interpretations. I give you a short selection, for you to judge if they be sweet and heavenly enough.

Grate cocoanut, and mix with it powdered loaf-sugar to suit the taste; slice sweet oranges and sift over them powdered loaf-sugar, fill a fancy glass, dish with layers of the oranges and cocoa, heaping the dish with cocoa.
[appears that ‘cocoa’ means cocoanut]
The Housekeeper’s Encyclopaedia of Useful Information, E.F. Haskell, 1861

Ambrosia Cake.
1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, ½ cup milk, 3 cups flour, 4 eggs beaten separately, 1 teaspoon soda, and 2 of cream of tartar; bake in layers.
Filling: Mix together, with 1 beaten egg, ½ pint whipped cream, 1 full cup grated cocoanut, ½ cup sugar, juice of one orange. Put this preparation between the layers and on top of the cake.
Queen of the Household: a carefully classified and alphabetical repository of useful information that constantly arise in the daily life of every housekeeper. Mary W. Janvin, (Detroit, c1906)

Ambrosia, or Tutti Frutti
1 pint (2 cups) brandy
Various ripe fruits.

Put the brandy into a large stone jar, and add the various fruits as they come in season. To each quart of fruit add the same quantity of sugar; then stir the mixture with a wooden spoon each day until all the fruits have been added.
Raspberries, oranges, currants, cherries, strawberries, bananas, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, pineapples and apples are the best fruits to use.
Apricots, peaches, pineapples, apples, bananas, pears and plums should be cut in small pieces.
Keep covered with a cloth and a tight fitting cover.
This ambrosia is delicious to serve with ice creams, frozen puddings, sauces, cornstarch puddings and jellies.
Canning, preserving and pickling, Marion Harris Neil, c1914.

Ambrosia Pie [Warning: this makes 8 large pies!]
Yield 8 8 inch pies; 6 10 inch pies
Size of serving: 1/6 or 1/8 of a pie.

2 ¾ quarts of hot water
5 ½ cups flour
5 ½ cups sugar.

Mix the flour and sugar thoroughly; add about a quart of the hot water to this mixture and stir until perfectly smooth; add this to the remaining hot water and cook the mixture until thickened, stirring constantly with a wire whip.

27 (2 ¼ cups) egg yolks, beaten.

Add a little of the hot mixture to the egg yolks and combine. Return this to the hot mixture and cook it for about 5 minutes. Remove it from the heat.

4 ¾ cups orangjuice
1⅛ cups lemon juice
3 tablespoons grated orange rind
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
2 ¼ teaspoons salt.

Add the juice and rind from the oranges and lemons; add the salt. Cool the mixture and put it into baked shells.

6 to 9 oranges
3 cups coconut

Cover the mixture with meringue but do not brown it. Section the oranges and arrange the sections on top of the meringue and sprinkle ½ cup coconut over each pie.

*Meringue [for same number of pies as above]
2 ¼ cups (from 18 to 22) egg whites
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
2 ¼ cups sugar, granulated.
Add the salt and flavouring to the egg whites.
Beat them until stiff but still shiny.
Add the sugar gradually; beat until the mixture piles up well in the bowlk and the sugar is dissolved.
Cornell Extension Bulletin 477.

Tamarind Ambrosia, from mid-nineteenth centrury Honduras is described here.

Quotation for the Day.

Bread and butter, devoid of charm in the drawing room, is ambrosia eating under a tree.
Elizabeth Russell

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Baptist Fritters.

I could hardly be expected to resist a dish referred to as ‘Baptist Fritters’ could I? I have, after all, devoted many posts in the past to the naming of dishes, including one devoted specifically to those with religious or clerical connotations. My personal favourite is Eggs à la Huguenotte, (also known as Protestant Eggs, or Presbyterian Eggs), which appears regularly in eighteenth century cookery books (and perhaps earlier, I have not checked). Protestant Eggs are my favourite so far largely on account of the facts that I love a culinary mystery, and have absolutely no idea how the name came about. I would love to hear your suggestions.

Jessup Whitehead, the very prolific author of The American Pastry Cook (1894) gives a recipe for ‘hard-shell fritters’ which he says are referred to as ‘Baptist fritters’ – for a very good reason, which he explains. I do love the explanation, although staunch Baptists may not find it so funny. I give Mr. Whitehead’s amusing pre-amble to the recipe and explanation, for your delectation.

As to the Charybdis Hotel fritters, they were hollow, it is true, but they were little, old hardshell things, and whenever they were served the guests had to be furnished with nut-crackers to break them with. And yet, that cook was so proud of them that he guarded the secret of making them from the boys as carefully as if he had discovered a new Aladdin's cave. 

He needed not have been so careful. If there were any use of it, no doubt but as many as fifty varieties of hollow fritters could be made. The key to the whole matter is this :
If you make a very stiff, smooth, cooked paste of flour, then work in gradually about half its weight of raw eggs you have a fritter paste that when dropped in hot lard will swell, and each piece become as hollow as an egg shell. Any other substance, corn starch, corn meal, banana pulp, fruit pulp of any kind, cheese, almost anything smooth will act the same way, either alone or mixed with flour. We shall have more to say about this when we come to souffle pudding.

But these simple foundations are not particularly good eating, and have to be enriched. Their tendency to puff up is already at the strongest, and whatever is added must be so balanced more eggs against more butter and sugar as not to destroy it. In things like these requiring exact proportions it may make a difference if the eggs used be unusually large or small. There is no magic in the number; it is weight you want. Ten eggs average a pound. And it may make a difference, too, if the water be allowed to boil away after being measured.

The receipt next following gives the kind that was made by the Charybdis Hotel cook, and which he was so afraid lest anyone should find out. They used to be called Baptist fritters, because they are never truly good until they have been immersed in syrup. In campmeeting countries where they are sold on the grounds by measure, the statute requires them to weigh four pounds to the bushel. They can be made to weigh less if made larger. The number of eggs in the receipt is left optional. The Charybdis man only used four because they were dear, and he had to carefully round off the fritters as he dropped them, because while the rich kinds will smooth themselves in the frying fat, these only come out with all the rough corners magnified. You will like them with six eggs, and are not obliged to furnish nut-crackers, even with the other proportion.

Hardshell Fritters.

1 pint of water.
½ pound of flour.
4, 5, or 6 eggs.
Slight seasoning of salt.

Bring the water to a boil in a bowl-shaped sauce-pan of good size ; drop in the flour all at once and stir to a firm, smooth paste, which will require about five minutes over the fire. Then take it off and, after letting it stand a few minutes, work in the eggs one at a time with a large spoon. Beat the paste up against the side for at least five minutes. It does no harm to let the paste stand an hour or two before frying, after it is made, but it must not be allowed to get cold before the eggs are beaten in. Set on an iron frying kettle half filled with clarified meat fat, and when that is hot drop in pieces of the paste about as large as guinea eggs. Only a few at a time. When done, take up with a skimmer; drain on a colander or sieve; serve with syrup. Makes twenty-five.

Quotation for the Day.

I would say to housewives, be not daunted by one failure, nor by twenty. Resolve that you will have good bread, and never cease striving after this result till you have effected it. If persons without brains can accomplish this, why cannot you?
Marion Cabell Tyree, Housekeeping In Old Virginia. (1878)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lets make a Condita.

I came across a new (to me) old word the other day. I was delighted, of course, as I love rediscovering old words. The fun was enhanced enormously by the fact that I found it in one of my favourite sources of old recipes – a druggists’ manual, or pharmacopoeia. The Supplement to the Pharmacopoeia, being a Treatise on Pharmacology in General (London, 1821) really is a treat – it has an entire chapter on ‘Condita.’

The Oxford English Dictionary tells me that the various forms of the word are ultimately derived from the Latin for ‘put or lay together, put or lay away, hide, etc’, which in reference to food means to preserve or pickle, and by extension ‘to season or flavour’. There is a medical usage too, with a condite often meaning ‘an electuary’ such as an apothecary might make as a sort of tonic. Sir Thomas Elyot in his Castel of Helthe (1533) refers to ‘Olyves condite in salte lykoure, taken at the begynnynge of a meale doth corroborate [strengthen] the Stomake’ – a nice early English reference to the custom of nibbling salty olives as an appetiser. If the remedial condite did not work, ‘to condite’ could also mean ‘to embalm’, so it is a useful word indeed.

This particular pharmacopoeia has instructions for ‘conditing’ vegetable and animal matter for botanical and zoological specimens, for medicinal ingredients such as ‘vipers, skinks, cantharides, cochineal etc’ as well as the expected herbs, flowers, and bark, and of course for prolonging the life of various foodstuffs. The relatively new method of preserving ‘vegetables as well as animals’ ‘by heating in well-closed vessels’ is mentioned too – this is the work of the Frenchman Appert which led to the entire canning industry we know now (remember, this was before the scientific understanding of micro-organisms as the cause of food spoilage and many human diseases.) Other food preservation methods which are mentioned are drying, freezing (natural of course, no refrigerators then), ‘bottling’ in water (for fruits), preserving ‘dry’ in sugar or ‘wet’ in sugar syrup or honey, picking in brine or vinegar, dry salting, covering with oil or butter, or a spirit such as brandy, and smoking (meats). Sauer Kraut has its own paragraph, and here it is:

Sauer Kraut. Brassica acidulata.
Large white cabbages are cut into thin horizontal slices, and placed in a barrel with a layer of salt at top and bottom, and between each layer of cabbages. A board with some weights on it is then put on the top, and it is kept in a cool place for some weeks: a kind of fermentation takes place, and vinegar is formed.
Some add juniper berries, coriander seeds, tops of anise, or carui [?caraway] seeds, to the salt, as a kind of spice. It may be dried in an oven without any loss of its flavour.

Quotation for the Day.
Cabbage as a food has problems. It is easy to grow, a useful source of greenery for much of the year. Yet as a vegetable it has original sin, and needs improvement. It can smell foul in the pot, linger through the house with pertinacity, and ruin a meal with its wet flab. Cabbage also has a nasty history of being good for you.
Jane Grigson.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Who was Benedict?

Eggs Benedict is a breakfast staple at virtually every posh restaurant and corner café you care to enter, and is a dish only a little over a century old, yet no-one is quite sure of its history. It is likely that we will never be sure who the original ‘Benedict’ was, but it is fun attempting to unravel the various claims.

It seems pretty certain that the dish was ‘invented’ in the late nineteenth century in New York. It is very certain that it was not named for the American Revolutionary War general, Benedict Arnold (1741-1801). It is also a good bet that the idea of muffin / ham/ poached eggs/ Hollandaise sauce was based on an existing idea that was tweaked and re-named – because that is the way recipes are always ‘invented’. It is even possible that the existing idea is much older, and that the ‘Benedict’ is a reference to the Benedictine monastic order, not an individual New Yorker.

So, who is the real Benedict, and who was the inventor? The chief protagonists for putting together the original idea are the maître d’hôtel of the Waldorf, Oscar Tschirky, and the chef at Delmonico’s, Charles Ranhofer - either perhaps being inspired or instructed by the mysterious Benedict him/herself.

One of the major claims begins with Lemuel Benedict, a retired stock broker and regular at the Waldorf, who claimed to have presented there one morning in 1874, with a hangover. He thought that a plate of buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon and Hollandaise sauce would just do the trick. The famous ‘Oscar of the Waldorf’ supposedly thought the idea was good enough to offer other customers, but substituted an English muffin for the slice of toast and Canadian bacon for the ham.

A second claim is that the dish was named for Commodore Elias Cornelius Benedict (1834-1920), a New York City baker and yachtsman. This version is ‘authenticated’ via a long chain of participants – the Commodore gave the recipe (presumably his own invention) to a friend who gave it to the mother of one Edward P. Montgomery, who gave it to her son, who told it to Craig Claiborne, who wrote about it in The New York Times Magazine in 1967.

Yet a third set of claimants hotly dispute that of Montgomery. Friends of a certain Mr. and Mrs. Le Grand Benedict – also prominent New Yorkers of the time – say that they were regular diners at Delmonico’s, and the dish was invented there. Mrs. Benedict asked for something new one day, and when asked what she would like, suggested toasted English muffins topped with ham, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce - with a truffle on top.

Up to this point, the evidence is all hearsay and claim and counterclaim.  There is a little more circumstantial evidence to factor in, although I am not sure what conclusions to draw. Both Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf, and Charles Ranhofer of Delmonico’s published cookery books in the late 1890’s. There is nothing like Eggs Benedict in Tschirky’s The Cook Book (1896), which would reduce the Waldorf’s claim significantly, I would think. The book did include recipes for both eggs poached with béchamel sauce and for cod with hollandaise – the significance of which I hope to show might be more significant than at first glance. Ranhofer did include a dish called Eggs à la Benedick in The Epicurean (1894), which I give below, but it did not include the truffle insisted upon by Mrs Le Grand Benedict, and I find the spelling a little strange, if the dish was indeed named in their honour. As background, a previous chef at Delmonico’s, Alessandro Filipini, did not mention the specific dish in his One hundred ways of cooking eggs (1892), although he does have eggs a la béchamel (using hard boiled eggs) and poached eggs with bechamel – the latter dish including truffles.

As for the proto-type or inspirational dish, there is perhaps an interesting connection with the cod recipe. The Larousse Gastronomique (first published in 1938, I am quoting from the first English edition of 1961) has “Bénédictine: Garnish suitable for poached fish or eggs. It is composed of a brandade of [salt] cod and truffles”, and also describes “Eggs à la bénédictine (soft boiled or poached): Pound some cod with garlic, oil and cream, and some chopped truffles. Arrange the eggs on the mixture and mask with a cream sauce.” Elizabeth David references this dish of œufs bénédictine in her wonderful work French Provincial Cooking and notes the poached eggs and brandade of cod, but also includes potatoes, and specifies Hollandaise sauce. In support of the bénédictine–cod association is Escoffier’s Morue à la bénédictine.

So, who or what is the bénédictine referenced in these French sources? The connection with salt cod suggests it was the Benedictine monks, as salt cod was a mainstay of the many fast days of the Catholic calendar, so a large part of the monks’ diet. Egg sauce with fish – especially cod – goes back a long, long way, so it is not too far a step to making the eggs the feature, I guess, serving them with a white creamy sauce, and then a rich eggy Hollandaise. The ham is an outrageous step away from Lenten fare of course, so sufficient to justify a whole new name, perhaps.

As usual, I eagerly await your comments on all of this. Now, I give you Ranhofer’s recipe – the earliest one I can find specifically named Benedict.

Eggs à la Benedick.
Cut some muffins in halves crosswise, toast them without allowing to brown, then place a round of cooked ham an eighth of an inch thick and of the same diameter as the muffins on each half. Heat in a moderate oven and put a poached egg on each toast. Cover the whole with Hollandaise sauce.
The Epicurean, Charles Ranhofer, (New York, 1894)

Next I give you Mrs. Rorer’s rather confusing instructions in Many Ways for cooking Eggs (1907) – I have no idea what is meant to be done with the egg mixture cooked in the muffin rings [it appears that this is in fact the muffin]. I am, however, intrigued that the dish does have the truffle, so fits the story of Mrs. Le Grand Benedict at Delmonico’s.

Eggs Bénédict.
Separate two eggs. Break the yolks, add a cupful of milk, a half teaspoon of salt, one and a half cupfuls of flour and a tablespoon of melted butter. Beat well, add two level teaspoonfuls of baking powder, and fold in the well-beaten whites. Bake on a griddle in large muffin rings. Broil thin slices of ham. Make a sauce Hollandaise. Chop a truffle. Poach the required number of eggs. Dish the muffins, put a square of ham on each, then a poached egg and cover each egg nicely with sauce Hollandaise. Dust with truffle and serve at once.

Quotation for the Day.
I'm frightened of eggs, worse than frightened, they revolt me. That white round thing without any holes have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid? Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I've never tasted it.
Alfred Hitchcock.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sweet as Eggs.

It goes without saying that our repertoire of sweet dishes would be sadly depleted if we did not use eggs. Sure, eggless cakes (and here) are possible – but in the absence of war-time shortages, veganism, and egg-allergy, are hardly most folks’ first choice, are they? Without eggs there would certainly be no soufflés or crêpes, and chocolate mousse would be a travesty. As for a life without custard! Unimaginable!

Eggs may be essential in many of the best desserts, but they are however, an invisible ingredient – their essentially eggy shape and style lost in the mix. The challenge was up, and I set out in search of really sweet, really obviously eggy dishes. The wonderful Lady’s Companion: or, An infallible guide to the fair sex (1743) came good with these two wonderful ideas:

To dress Eggs the Italian Way.
Make a Syrup with Sugar and a little Water, and when it is something better than half make, put the Yolks of Eggs in a Silver Spoon, one by one, and hold them in the Syrup to poach. Serve them up to the Table, covered and garnished with Pistachoes, Orange-flowers, and Slices of Lemon-peel, boil’d in the same Syrup, and sprinkle a little Lemon-juice upon them.

And with the leftover whites? From the same book:

A pretty Dish of Whites of Eggs.
Take the Whites of twelve Eggs, beat them up with four Spoonfuls of Rose-water, a little grated Lemon-peel, a little Nutmeg, sweeten with Sugar, mix them well, boil them in four Bladders, tie them in the Shape of an Egg, and boil them hard; they will take Half an Hour. Lay them in your Dish when cold; mix Half a Pint of thick Cream, a Gill of Sack, and Half the Juice of a Seville Orange. Mix all together, and sweeten with fine Sugar, and pour over the Eggs. Serve it up for a Side-dish at Supper, or when you please.

Quotation for the Day.
The vulgar boil, the learned roast, an egg.
Alexander Pope.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Eggs Preserved.

I am almost equally interested in and terrified by old methods of food preservation. A few centuries ago, according to the cookery books of the time, the thick hard pastry ‘coffin’ of a meat pie would keep the contents edible for a year. I don’t think I am unadventurous with food, but I am pretty sure I would not try a twelve month old unrefrigerated pie. Knowledge of ‘germs’ and their role in the useful processes of fermentation as well as in producing disease did not come about until the mid-nineteenth century, but centuries before the scientific explanation was known, cooks had used the empirical knowledge that excluding air from the container kept foods edible for a longer period.

The exclusion of air method is behind most of the old ways of preserving eggs, and a number of these were explored in a previous post. Other common alternatives for preserving eggs are drying them to a powder, and pickling them. I thought these methods pretty well covered all the options for keeping eggs, but yesterday’s source, Eggs: Facts and Fancies about them (Boston, 1890) suggested another, supposedly ‘Australian’, idea. I really don’t see how this would exclude enough air to make it work. It seems to me to be a formula for a very foul sulphurous explosion of the preserving jar, but I await your valuable opinions.

Australian Method of Preserving Eggs.
Glass jars with patent stoppers having vulcanised India rubber joints, making them perfectly air-tight, are used.
These jars are placed in hot water until the air in them is warm and rarefied.
As soon as the eggs are collected they are wrapped in paper to prevent knocking, and are placed in the warm jars, with the pointed ends up. The jars are immediately closed up, and removed from the hot water.
If this process is skilfully carried out the eggs will be fit for the table months afterward. The secret is to heat the air in the jars thoroughly; the papers may be baked and used warm.
Any stopper will do that excludes the air.

Quotation for the Day.
I bet you think an egg is something you casually order for breakfast when you can't think of anything else. Well, so did I once, but that was before the egg and I.
Claudine Colbert.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Illusory Eggs.

I made reference to the ‘illusion food’ of the Middle Ages in yesterday’s post, and want to show you a nice example - which fits the egg-theme for the week - from half a millennium later. It is a simple idea, found in Eggs: Facts and Fancies about them (1890) thanks to a Japanese contributor.

Egg Apples.
Boil the eggs hard. Remove the shells one by one, while they are under the water; press both ends softly between the first finger and thumb till it assumes the same of an apple. Color each slightly with red, or make spots to simulate the appearance of an apple. If real apple leaves or stems cannot be obtained, get some other and decorate with them.
Pile them in a dainty dish and place it on the table and it will make a pretty display of un-timely apples, pleasing to the eyes, and satisfying to the taste.
Miss Kin Kato, of Japan.

The late fourteenth century manuscript written by the Master Cooks of King Richard II known as The Forme of Cury also included a wonderful recipe for illusory apples – actually meatballs, ‘gilded’ with egg and saffron (or parsley if you wanted green apples.) Now, if you are planning to serve meatballs and boiled eggs sometime soon, why not present them both as apples? Or they might make an interesting idea for next Easter?

If you are not yet tired of apple illusions, and it is not taking a theme too far, you can reverse the illusion and use plain crackers to make the ‘apple’ filling in the (in)famous Mock Apple Pie recipe.

Quotation of the Day.
Eggs have two advantages over all other foods. First, they are procurable nearly everywhere; second, the most dainty person is sure when eating eggs that they have not been handled.
A Book for A Cook, The Pillsbury Co. (1905)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Eggs any Size.

I have been considering eggs lately. They surely come closest to being the quintessential all-purpose ingredient in the kitchen - capable of forming a perfectly adequate meal all by themselves, as well as being indispensible in many dishes from soups to salads to desserts.

I have featured eggs in many posts in the past, and they have even had their own week in which we looked at a brief selection egg recipes through the centuries (see the links at the end of this post.) It is going to be Egg Week again folks, for I have been looking at historical cookery books specialising in egg recipes.

Firstly, I want to remind you of the marvellous medieval tradition of ‘Illusion Foods’ – that is, foods made to fool the eater in some way, either as a symbolic message, as a demonstration of skill (which required wealth and power) or purely for fun. One of my favourite examples was the giant egg, made from thirty or more ordinary eggs, recipes for which appear in several medieval manuscripts. Another was a ‘Lenten’ egg (real eggs being forbidden at this time) made from almond milk.

I was delighted to find that the tradition had not completely died out at the end of the nineteenth century. In Egg Dainties; how to cook eggs in 150 ways English and Foreign (1899) there are instructions for a ‘monster egg’. True, it is a mere shadow of the fifteenth century version, as it is made from only half dozen ordinary eggs, but it is fun nonetheless. I do not, however, suggest you try it yourself at home, as there are serious safety issues with the method - unless you can come by the ‘specially designed appliance in metal’ mentioned in the recipe.

As a bonus, the author of the book also offers instructions for miniature eggs – which would, methinks, be perfect for ‘Mock Quail Eggs.’

Monster Egg.
Ingredients. – Six eggs.
Break the eggs,and separate the yolks carefully from the whites. Beat the yolks, and pour them into a bottle sufficiently large just to hold them. Cork and suspend it in boiling water until they are set. Then break the bottle, taking care than no fragments of glass adhere to the egg. Take a larger bottle with a wide moty, place the yolk in the centre, pour the whites around it, an boil until they are set. Break away the bottle, and take out the egg, which can be served in a roll, or in slices, with a rich sauce.
NOTE: The risk in breaking the bottles may be avoided by the use of a specially designed appliance in metal, which can be obtained at the SCHOOL OF COOKERY, Mortimer Street.

Little Eggs.
Ingredients.- Ten eggs, one ounce of butter, one tea-spoonful of vinegar one salt-spoonful of sugar, two tablespoonfuls of cream, one dessert-spoonful of flour.
Boil six of the eggs for ten minutes, throw them into cold water, shell them, and take out the yolks; mix them in a basin with three raw yolks, salt and pepper. Turn the mixture onto a board well covered with flour, and roll into the shape of thin sausages; cut them into equal parts, and form them in the hands to little eggs. Throw them into boiling water for three minutes, drain and serve with the following sauce:- Mix the flour smoothly in half a teacupful of water; add the butter, cream, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, and a little nutmeg, and stir it over the fire till it boils. Thicken with the yolk of an egg, but do not let it boil after it is added. Pour the sauce over the little eggs, and serve.

Eggs Through the Ages.
Eggs 16thC style
Eggs 17thC style
Eggs 18thC style
Eggs 19thC style
Eggs 20thC style

Quotation for the Day.
It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Medicinal Chocolate.

Yesterday’s ‘medical’ source for an ice-cream sundae recipe reminded me of just how many ‘new’ ingredients have been used first for their medicinal properties. Rhubarb, which featured in a post a few weeks ago, is one such example. The tomato too, when it first came from the New World was suspected as a food, but got an early step up the familiarity ladder on the basis of its supposed therapeutic purposes.

Chocolate (also from the New World) met a different reception from the tomato and the potato when it was introduced to Europe. Not surprisingly, it was instantly embraced by the aristocracy for the sheer deliciousness of it – and for the same reason instantly suspected by the clergy, on the principle that if it was delicious, it must be sinful. A happy solution for all was the determination that chocolate had medicinal qualities, and was therefore acceptable.

Various therapeutic benefits were attributed to chocolate, and it really took off as a medicine in the seventeenth century. The opinion quoted below highlights how much our attitudes to ‘preserving health’ have changed since that time – when being fat was a health advantage!

The confection made of Cacao called Chocolate or Chocoletto which may be had in diverse places in London, at reasonable rates, is of wonderful efficacy for the procreation of children … for it not only vehemently incites to Venus, but causes conception in women . . . and besides that it preserves health, for it makes such as take it often to become fat and corpulent, fair and amiable.
William Coles, Adam in Eden (1657)

Chocolate was useful also as a vehicle for other medications – and a significant step better than ‘a spoonful of sugar’ to make the medicine go down, methinks. One did not need a medical degree to publish medical advice in the seventeenth century, so there was no barrier to the famous scientist Robert Boyle (1627-1691) doing just that. Here is one of the remedies from his little book Medicinal Experiments, or, a collection of choice and safe remedies for the most part simple and easily prepared.

An Excellent Remedy for the Gonorrhoea.
Take of choice Amber [ambergris], and of Mastich, both reduc’d to very fine Pouder, and very well mixt, equal parts, and of this Mixture give half a Dram at a time in proper Vehicle, or in a draught of Chocolate. Continue this for three Weeks, or a Month, if need require, purging the day before you begin to take it, and once every Week afterwards, especially when you leave off the use of the Pouder.

Chocolate still had a firm place in the therapeutic armamentarium as the nineteenth century advanced. The first known recipe pamphlet issued by Walter Baker & Co. in the USA was entitled An Account of the Manufacture and Use of Cocoa and Chocolate and was published in 1876. It was followed by Chocolate Receipts, in about 1880. The medical and nutritional value of chocolate was heavily promoted by the company, with the usual expert testimonials for support. A German physician called Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland is quoted as saying “I recommend good chocolate to nervous, excitable persons; also to the weak, debilitated and infirm; to children and women. I have obtained excellent results from it in many cases of chronic diseases of the digestive organs.”

Modern medicine is catching up with this old idea too, as there seems to be good evidence for the health benefits of small amounts of dark chocolate in the diet.

For today’s recipe, I give you a treat from a cookery book heavily biased towards healthy food. It is Miss Beecher's Housekeeper and Healthkeeper: containing five hundred recipes for economical and healthful cooking; also, many directions for securing health and happiness ... published in New York in 1873. Miss Beecher’s Chocolate Cake is a variation of the basic recipe for One, Two, Three, Four Cake.

One, Two, Three, Four Cake.
Take one cup of butter (half a cup is better), two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs. Mix butter, sugar, and yolks. Then add the flour very thoroughly, and lastly the whites in a stiff froth. Bake immediately, and the cake will be light, with nothing added. But it is equally light to omit the eggs and work two tea-spoonfuls of cream tartar into the flour, athen mix well first the butter and sugar, and then the flour. When ready to bake, mix very thoroughly and quickly a tea-spoonful of soda, or a bit of sal volatile dissolved in a cup of warm (not hot) water. This makes two loaves.

Chocolate Cake.
Bake the above in thin layers, only a little thicker than carpeting. When nearly cool, spread over the cake a paste made of equal parts of scraped chocolate and sugar wet with water. Place the cake in layers one over another, frost the top, and then cut in oblong pieces for the cake-basket.

Quotation for the Day.

Make a list of important things to do today. At the top of your list, put 'eat chocolate.' Now, you'll get at least one thing done today.
Gina Hayes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Charlotte meets Sundae.

There seems to be no end to the variations on the theme of Charlotte Russe. The beauty of today’s recipe find is that it comes from a pharmaceutical publication, which is strongly suggestive of its being a health food, which in turn is strongly encouraging of us consuming more of it. Isn’t it?

Soda Fountains were originally situated in dispensaries, and ‘formulae’ (I almost said ‘recipes’) for sodas and sundaes commonly appeared in publications for pharmacists. The Bulletin of Pharmacy (Detroit, 1912) included in the section called The Soda Fountain, several of the winning formulae from a competition it had just run.

The first prize (of $5) was awarded for a formula for Turkish-Italian Sundae, which sounds very nice (a mound of chocolate ice-cream to represent Italy, and one of peach to represent Turkey, with various additions and decorations), but several others were awarded ‘lesser prizes’, including our feature for the day - the Charlotte Russe Nutae. In this interpretation, it is the creamy filling for the sundae that is referred to as the ‘charlotte russe.’

Beware! this literally makes an industrial quantity!

Charlotte Russe Nutae.
Sweet cream, 20 per cent, 1 quart; powdered sugar, 6 ounces; extract of vanilla, 2 fluid drachms, ice cream powder, 2 teaspoonfuls; chopped nuts (very fine), 6 ounces. Mix by whipping the cream until almost stiff with the sugar, ice cream powder and extract; then add the chopped nuts until the mixture will stand. Having previously made ready one dozen ice-cream saucers, take 24 lady-fingers, slice them into halves and place four of the halves around on each saucer and fill the center with charlotte russe. Then take a small quantity of whipped cream, colored a light red or pink, and decorate the dish, topping off with a maraschino cherry. Sell this for 15 cents. It makes a nice profit.

I am unable to resist giving you another recipe from this Bulletin, on account of its delightful name. This recipe was not offered in the competition, but quoted from another publication called The Liquid Dispenser (which would be a great name for a bar, methinks.)

Mutt and Jeff.
Slice one banana and lay it flat on a split-banana sundae dish. Set one disher chocolate cream at one end, and the same amount of vanilla ice cream at the opposite end. Cut another banana in two unequal lengths, and place it upright in the cream. One fresh marshmallow is placed on top of each banana. Serve with a small slice of orange between the upright banans and decorate the ice cream with a few whole cherries.
If desired, a loaf of sugar saturated with brandy or alcohol can be placed on each marshmallow and then lighted when about to serve.
This novelty must not sell for less than 25 cents.

A little more on the phenomenon of soda fountains tomorrow, perhaps?

Quotation for the Day.

Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes. It makes people overjoyed, and puts them in your debt.
Judith Olney

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Eating 'à la française'.

It is a bit difficult to avoid a French flavour to today’s post, it being Bastille Day (or La Fête Nationale, or simply Le Quatorze Juillet, if you prefer.) I am quite intrigued by what various authorities and cookbook writers consider makes a dish French-style (à la française). When I started looking, it quickly became apparent that the question is not answerable in a short blog post, it requires the work of at least a dozen PhD students working round the clock for a number of years. The range of ingredients and combinations of ingredients is so great that I can only say there is no possibility of consensus. It appears that a dish is à la française if the cook names it so.

My 1961 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique seemed a good place to start. On garnitures à la française, it gives this description:

Small nests made from Duchesse potatoes, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, fried and hollowed out, filled with diced mixed vegetables; bunches of asparagus tips; braised lettuces; flowerets of cauliflower, coated with Hollandaise sauce … [used] for large cuts of meat.

As for sauce à la française , the Larousse quotes Careme (1784-1833), in his Art de la Cuisine Française aud XIXe siècle, noting that this sauce is for fish.

Put into a saucepan some Béchamel sauce based on fish stock. When it is almost boiling, add a little garlic, a little grated nutmeg and mushroom essence. When it has boiled for a moment, and just before serving, add crayfish butter to give it a pinkish colour.
Note: Shelled crayfish tails and small peeled mushrooms may be added to this sauce. I served this sauce for the first time in the house of Prince Paul de Wurtemburg.

Richard Dolby’s The Cook’s Dictionary and Housekeeper’s Directory (1832) includes the following:

Croquignoles à la française:

Break up half a pound of bitter macaroons, so small as to be able to sift them; and having laid half a pound of sifted flour on your slab, and made a hole in the middle, put in the macaroons, with six ounces of powdered sugar, three yolks of eggs, three ounces of fresh butter, and a grain of salt; make these ingredients into a paste, and form the croquignoles of the shape and size of olives; dores them lightly, and bake them in a gentle oven. These must be of a lighter colour than other croquignoles.
Instead of macaroons you may use any other ingredients you please.

In Dainty Dishes from Foreign Lands (1909), the author starts her chapter on Some Delicious French Dishes with the caveat

I do not think that the French have so many distinctive dishes as other nations, but have, rather, a certain style of cooking all things. The recipes which I give, herewith, convey something of the French spirit.

She goes on to single out truffles and mushrooms as being “considered, quite rightly , to distinguish French cookery, but too often they are bedevilled out of all resemblance to their original succulent selves by people who imagine they must be cooked elaborately.” She then provides a few recipes which are simple, and ‘genuinely French.’

Mushrooms with Chicken Livers.
Mushrooms with chicken livers is a dish literally fit for a King; to make it take a dozen (or as many as you want) of chicken livers, and fry them with one or two strips of very thin, very sweet bacon; when the livers are just turning brown, add at least a dozen mushrooms, peeled, and wiped very dry. Simmer five minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft, and serve on hot toast. Into the grease left in the pan drop a tablespoon of flour, and let it brown, stirring constantly. Make this into a gravy by pouring into the pan, very quickly, a cup of cold milk; let it boil up once and pour over the toast, livers, bacon and mushrooms.

And finally, from 365 Foreign Dishes: a foreign dish for every day in the year (1908), a recipe for apple dumplings. I am at a loss to know what the author considered quintessentially French about this dish.

French Baked Apple Dumplings.
Peel and core apples; sprinkle well with sugar. Then mix some cold boiled rice with 1 egg, a pinch of salt, sugar and cinnamon, flour enough to make a dough. Cover the apples with this dough; put in a well-buttered baking dish with 2 tablespoonfuls of butter, and bake to a delicate brown. Serve with whipped cream.

Quotation for the Day.

“Even the coeur flottant merveilleux aux fraises, presented with a great flourish, made little impression, for it was no more than what may happen to the simple, honest dish of strawberries and cream once it falls into the hands of a Frenchman.”
Dr. Watson in 'Sherlock Holmes and the Hapsburg Tiara' by Alan Vanneman (2004)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Maize Meal.

Sometimes a cook or producer or marketing guru will stage a dinner in which most or all dishes feature a specific ingredient. We have had several examples in this blog. Some ingredients are obviously more adaptable than others, and maize is quite clearly one of the stars in that regard. The organisers of the menu I give you today however were intent on promoting only one product of maize – the flour. The following story was written some time ago specifically for a bakery industry magazine for which I write regularly. I have tweaked the article slightly for this post, as I thought regular readers might enjoy the menu.

By the mid-ninteenth century America was well and truly aware of the value of maize as a crop, and marketing of products derived from it had already begun. The usefulness of cornstarch (cornflour) for thickening gravy and sauces, and for making light cookies and cakes had been promoted for some time, and in 1864 with the American Civil War dragging on, the manufacturers of one brand of cornflour managed to promote the use of their product as a patriotic duty.

A great exhibition was held in Philadelphia in the first week of June in 1864 in aid of the Sanitary Commission. The Commission had been formed at the beginning of the war in 1861 to improve conditions in Union Army camps and provide medical and hospital care – for which of course it constantly needed funds. The fair’s ‘great, indeed sole aim … is to do good to the sick and wounded of our gallant army; and though the feeling which will prompt all who contribute is that of gratitude to our soldiers, the occasion may be used, incidentally, to bring before the public eye, the varied manufactures of our country … ’

The manufacturer of one brand of cornstarch called Maizena, had a restaurant concession at the fair, and all the items on their bill of fare were made with this product. The menu does not specify whether or not other starches were used in addition to the cornflour, but if they did not, then this would make a fine gluten-free dessert menu for today.



Maizena … Vanilla 15c Maizena … Pineapple 15c
Maizena … Chocolate 15c Maizena … Strawberry 15c
Maizena … Orange 15c Maizena … Lemon 15c


Maizena … Cup Lemon Pudding 20c Maizena … Prince Albert Pudding 25c
Maizena … “ Orange Pudding 20c Maizena … Plum 15c


Maizena … Strawberry Sponge 20c Maizena … Baked Custard 20c
Maizena … Lemon 20c Maizena … Boiled  20c
Maizena … Orange 20c Maizena … Floating Island 25c
Maizena … Charlotte Russe 25c Maizena … Charlotte Fruit 20c


Maizena …Blanc-Mange and Syrup 20c Maizena … Wine Jelly 20c
Maizena … “ Plain 15c Maizena … Orange Jelly 20c


Maizena … Chocolate 10c Maizena … Strawberry 10c
Maizena … Lemon 10c Maizena … Orange 10c


Maizena … Sponge Cake 5c Maizena … Meringues 25c
Maizena … Sultana “ 5c Maizena … Cream Tarts 25c
Maizena … Pound “ 5c Maizena … Wine Cake 15c
Maizena … Croquettes 5c Maizena … Chocolate Meringues 25
Maizena … Cream Puffs 10c Maizena … Tipsey Cake 15c
Maizena … Spanish Puffs 10c Maizena … Meringue Tarts 25c
Maizena … Omelette Comfits 15c Maizena … Pies 15c

By the end of the century the potential value of the crop as an export item was being exploited at every opportunity. During the lead-up to the great Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, there was a huge public relations campaign to encourage the participation of overseas exhibitors. The aim of the exhibition was to celebrate the discovery of the New World by Columbus, and what better way than by promoting one of his most useful finds – maize? American representatives in Europe gave a ‘Maize Banquet’ in Copenhagen in which almost every dish, sweet or savoury contained maize in one form or another. The banquet raised a great deal of interest and was widely reported in the American newspapers. The aim of course was not simply to raise awareness of the exposition but also to specifically seek foreign markets for maize products (keeping the industry firmly on American soil)

Maizena Ice-Cream.
Take 2 oz of Maizena, mix it smoothly with a little cold milk; place 2 quarts of milk on the fire, when boiling, add the above; beat briskly, remove it from the fire, add 1 lb fine sugar, 4 eggs, stir well together, flavor to taste; when cold it may be frozen the same as other ices.
Recipes for the use of Duryeas’ Maizena, 1864

There is a recipe for Maizena cake in a previous blog post here.

Quotation for the Day.

Gardens, scholars say, are the first sign of commitment to a community. When people plant corn they are saying, let's stay here. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another.
Anne Raver.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Carach Sauce.

Last week I was confused over ‘corach’ sauce. Thanks to pointer from a regular reader and commenter (see the post here), I am now a little clearer. The name is sometimes spelled ‘carach’ and sometimes ‘carachi’ – knowing alternative spellings helps when researching old recipes, and sometimes the only way to start off is by trying various phonetic variations of the word! One theory is that name is related to the city of Karachi (Pakistan), and suggests that it was believed that the sauce originated there. An alternative theory is that the sauce takes its name from Carache in Venezuela.

One early recipe is from that marvellous book, The Cook & Housewife's Manual (1826) by Mistress Margaret Dods (the pseudonym of Christian Isobel Johnstone). The recipe is uber-simple:

Mix pounded garlic, Cayenne, soy, and walnut-pickle in good vinegar.

For those of you who prefer more exact measurements, a slightly earlier book - Five Thousand Receipts in all the Useful and Domestic Arts, (1825) by Colin MacKenzie has a more detailed version:

Carach sauce.
Take three cloves of garlic, each cut in half, half an ounce of Cayenne pepper, and a spoonful or two of Indian soy and walnut pickle; mix it in a pint of vinegar, with as much cochineal as will colour it.

A more elaborate version is in one of my favourite Victorian sources - Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (c1870’s):

Pound a head of garlic, and put it into a jar with three table-spoonfuls each of walnut pickle, mushroom ketchup, and soy, and two tea-spoonfuls of cayenne pepper, two tea-spoonfuls of essence of anchovies, and one of pounded mace. Pour onto these one pint of fresh vinegar; let them remain in the liquid two or three days, then strain, and bottle it for use.

Note: After partly solving the ‘corach’ mystery (with a little help from my friends), I am now left with the concept of ‘Indian’ soy. Please do continue to share your insights, and to watch this space.

Quotation for the Day.

On England and the English: As a rule they will refuse even to sample a foreign dish, they regard such things as garlic and olive oil with disgust, life is unliveable to them unless they have tea and puddings.
George Orwell.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Russian Soup.

Bear with me, Dear Readers, for I must have one more dalliance with ‘Russian’ food - Russian food as it was perceived by the English-speaking world that is. One of the favourite ‘Russian’ dishes at this time was ‘Salade à la Russe', but I discussed it (and Strawberries Romanoff) and gave a recipe in a post some time ago, so please re-visit if you are interested. The remaining ubiquitous ‘Russian’ dish is of course borscht – or beetroot soup by its translated and variously spelled name. The interesting thing is that this soup is certainly not exclusively Russian, and was not originally made with beets.

The Poles and the Ukrainians also claim this soup, and its name comes from a plant similar to the parsnip, belonging to the carrot family. One traveller in Russia in 1808 said ‘They have a kind of soup, however, which is made of groats and vegetables, of which they are very fond: this soup is rather sour, and is called borsch, from the name of the carrot which is boiled in it.’

This soup is a peasant dish, and like all soups and all peasant dishes is as infinitely variable as circumstances and ingredients allow. There are fermented versions and hot and cold versions for the varying seasons, but the dollop of sour cream may well be a modern abomination. I await advice from those of you familiar with ‘authentic’ Russian food.

Take some red beetroots, wash thoroughly and peel, and then boil in a moderate quantity of water from two to three hours over a slow fire, by which time a strong red liquor should have been obtained. Strain off the liquor, adding lemon juice, sugar, and salt to taste, and when it has cooled a little, stir in sufficient yolks of eggs to slightly thicken it. May be used either cold or hot. In the latter case a little home-made beef stock may be added to the beet soup.
If after straining off the soup the remaining beetroot is not too much boiled away, it may be chopped fine with a little onion, vinegar and dripping, flavored with pepper and salt, and used as a vegetable.
International Jewish Cook Book. Florence Greenbaum. 1919.

Quotation for the Day.

“I believe that I once considerably scandalised her by declaring that a clear soup was a more important factor in life than a clear conscience.”
‘Saki’ (H.H.Munro) (1870-1916), The Blind Spot

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Russian Sauce.

I knew it was only a matter of time. It has turned out to be a matter of barely a week , actually, before I can no longer ignore the rising tide of complaints about the absence of a daily quotation. Sorry folks, but life has been hectic, and a corner or two had to be cut. The reality is that sometimes I spend longer looking for the right quotation than I do writing the actual post. I no longer always check whether or not I have used a quotation before – and with over a thousand posts, I do not intend to revert to the practice. ‘A good quotation is worth repeating’ shall be my new mantra. I am pretty sure however, that I have not previously used today’s choice.

Now, onto the real subject of the day. Russian Sauce. Pursuing the intriguing mention of ‘Sauce à la Russe’ in William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle has turned up a few interesting points.

The context in which Kitchiner mentioned Sauce à la Russe suggested that he was referring to a commercial preparation. Other cookery books of the time mention it too. Mistress Margaret Dods (aka Christian Isobel Johnstone) in The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1826) also refers to ‘a large spoonful of the essence sold at the shops under the name of Sauce à la Russe’ in a sauce for wild fowl.

There certainly was such a thing – an advertisement in The Times of January 17, 1804 reads:

SAUCE A-LA RUSSE, for Game, Steaks, Chops, Cutlets, Stews, Hashes, made dishes, cold Meats, or any Dish that requires a fine flavour. The universal reputation T. AVELING has gained by his SAUCE A-LA RUSSE, has induced many Shopkeepers to prepare a spurious composition which they vend under the same name; articles entirely different; the genuine Sauce a la Russe being prepared after an original receipt, and entirely consists of foreign produce. To be had only of T.Aveling, No. 76, Picadilly, Corner of Dover-street; where likewise may be had, all kinds of rich Sauces, Pickles, Hams, Tongues, Dutch Beef, and every article in the Oil Trade, of the best quality at the lowest prices.

An advertisement in June 1814 indicates that Mr Aveling was deceased, and his successor in the ‘ITALIAN and FISH SAUCE WAREHOUSE’ in Picadilly was a Mr John Hill. The final line in Mr Hill’s advertisement for the sauce read:

N.B Please to observe the label on each Bottle has my Signature, all others are spurious.

I love these old ads. How good is name ‘The Italian and Fish Sauce Warehouse’ for a food vendor ?

Outside of commercial sauces, what did ‘real’ chefs consider to be quintessentially Russian when inventing or naming their dishes? One common ingredient in ‘Russian’ sauces (as interpreted by the British and the rest of Europe), was horseradish. Assuming that it is often the sauce that characterises the dish, here is a version from the same source as the recipe for Partridges à la Russe (the earliest ‘à la Russe’ recipe I have found so far):

Sauce for Boiled Beef à la Russe.
Scrape a large stick of horseradish, tie it up in a cloth, and boil it with the beef; when boiled a little, put it into some melted butter; boil it some time, and send it up in the butter. Some persons like to have it sent up in vinegar.
The Lady’s assistant for Regulating her Table, (1787), by Charlotte Mason

Quotation for the Day.

Sauces are greatly admired by the British. … we like our sauces to come to the table in the bottle so that in between examining the other guests we can read the labels and memorize the list of ingredients.
Derek Cooper, The Bad Food Guide (1967)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Russian style.

Yesterdays musings on Charlotte Russe made me wonder about the larger picture of dishes styled ‘à la Russe.’ Did ‘Russian’ food become fashionable at some point in the rest of the world? Food fashions come and go, and have always done so amongst those who can afford to pick and choose. And what did the rest of the world consider to be specifically ‘Russian’ features or ingredients?

The first recipe I have found so far is for partridges, and it appeared in The Lady’s assistant for Regulating her Table, (1787), by Charlotte Mason. I really don’t know what is ‘Russian’ about this dish.

Partridges à la Russe.
Take some young partridges; when they are picked and drawn, cut them into quarters, and put them into some white wine; then set on a stew-pan, with slices of bacon, over a brisk fire; throw in the partridges, turn them two or three times; then pour in a glass of brandy, and set them over a slow fire; when they have stewed some time, put in a few mushrooms cut in slices, and some good gravy; let them simmer briskly, and take up the fat as it rises: when they are done, put in a piece of butter rolled in flour, and squeeze in the juice of a lemon.

One common theme which did develop in savoury dishes ‘à la Russe’ was some sort of pickle, or at least some vinegar. This idea appeared in an early recipe for a dish styled‘à la Russe’which can be found in A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Maria Rundell (1808).

Sturgeons à la Russe
When the sturgeon is cleaned, lay it for several hours in salt and water; take it out an hour before it is wanted, rub it well with vinegar, and pour a little over it. Then put it into a fish-kettle, cover with boiling water, an ounce of bay-salt, two large onions, and a bunch of sweet herbs. Stew it until the bones will separate easily; then take it up, remove the skin, flour it, and place it to brown before the fire, basting it well with butter; serve it up with a rich sauce, and a garnish of pickles.

The inimitable William Kitchiner, in his Cook’s Oracle (1817) includes a Recipe for Sauce to Wild Fowls for which he proudly asserts ‘the following sauce for wild fowl has been preferred to about fifty other; and, at one time, was not to be got without a fee of one guinea. It includes one tablespoon of ‘Sauce à la Russe (the older the better)’. In a footnote referring to this sauce, he says ‘by à la Russe' we suppose cavice, or corach, or soy, is meant.’ I can see the pickle in ‘cavice’ (which is supposedly ceviche). I am confused about ‘corach’ which the OED knows as an alternative spelling of ‘currach’ or ‘coracle’ – a small wicker boat used in ancient times in Scotland and Ireland – hardly the usage here. ‘Corach’ does appear in John Simpson’s A Complete System of Cookery (1813) in a recipe for Shrimp Sauce, along with a little lemon pickle, but so far I have not been able to clarify what exactly it is. As for sauce à la Russe referring to soy, I can only say that Dr Kitchiner got his culinary wires confused somewhere.

There is much more to be discovered on this ‘Russian’ theme – so please watch this space!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


A week or two ago I mentioned Charlotte Russe, the classic banquet and dinner-party dessert of the nineteenth century. The ‘russe’ part of the name means that whoever did the formal naming (and we may never find out who that was) wanted it associated with Russia. The ‘charlotte’ is more problematic.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, the Oxford English Dictionary says a charlotte is ‘A dish made of apple marmalade covered with crumbs of toasted bread; also, a similar dish made with fruit other than apple. Hence, charlotte russe, a dish composed of custard enclosed in a kind of sponge-cake’ (a ‘marmalade’ in this context meaning a thick fruit puree, not a breakfast preserve.) The OED gives the first use of the word in 1797 – the first use of the generic word ‘charlotte’, that is, not specifically ‘charlotte russe’. The first reference specifically for charlotte russe that is supplied by the OED is from Barnham’s The Ingoldsby Legends (1847)

A huge variety of sweet dishes go by the name of ‘charlotte’. A charlotte may be hot or chilled or frozen, something like an apple bread pudding, or more like a trifle made with Savoiardi biscuits (‘ladyfingers’), and sometimes it is closer to an ice-cream. It is usually (always?) custardy. Nineteenth century chefs produced a huge range of posh charlottes – a very brief search turned up charlottes muscovite, royale, à la Siberienne, à la Sicilienne, à la Chateaubriand, à l’Arlequine, Carmen, à la Chantilly, Montreuil, Plombière, and Renaissance.

Even under the title Charlotte Russe, there were variations. The great Escoffier noted that ‘the flavour or product which determines the character of the Charlotte should always be referred to on the menu, thus: Charlotte Russe à l’Orange, or Charlotte Russe aux Fraises etc.’ The same brief search session found recipes for Charlottes Russes with Apricots, Burnt Almonds, and au Praline too.

There are several theories as to the naming of Charlotte Russe, and I give you the favourite trio:
- It was invented by the famous French chef Carême (1784-1833), in honour of the Russian Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825).
- It was named for Princess Charlotte of Prussia (1798-1860), wife of Tsar Nicholas 1 and mother of Tsar Alexander II.
- It was named in honour of Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of King George III (which might be an attempt to explain charlotte, but it hardly explains russe)

The OED rather half-heartedly suggests that ‘charlotte’ is related to the female name. Another far more intriguing idea is hidden within its own pages however. Is it not far more likely to be a corrupton of the ancient charlyt or charlet, which the OED itself describes as ‘A kind of custard containing milk, eggs, brayed pork, and seasoning, boiled to a curd’? After all, it is no more fanciful than the development of the idea of modern blancmange from the medieval blanc manger made from chicken and rice and almonds, is it?

Here, from A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde, a manuscript written in the year 1500, is a recipe for charlet.

Charlet forced [stuffed].
To mak charlet forced tak cowe mylk and yolks of eggs draw throughe a stren and bet it to gedur then tak freshe pork smalle hewene and cast all to gedure in a pan and colour it with saffrone and let it boile till it be on a crud then take it up and lay it on a clothe upon a bord and presse out the whey then tak the mylk of almondes or cow creme and sett it on the fyere put ther to sugur and colour it depe with saffrone then leshe out the crud and couche it in dishes and pour out the ceripe and cast on sugur and canelle [cinnamon]and serve it.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Saving Bacon.

Today's post was originally intended for a few weeks ago, as a follow-up to a story about bacon in World War II. It has been waiting in my stash of 'spare' stories ( a stash now completely depleted, I have to say) and has come in handy this morning as I have been having too much fun this weekend to get around to writing!

On June 4, 1918 the British Food Ministry announced to a no doubt happy public that wartime rationing of bacon was to be eased until the 29th of the month.

‘Although bacon … is comparatively plentiful just now, its food value should be taken full advantage of and every effort made to prevent waste. The following hints as to how to make the most of the bacon ration are issued by the Ministry of Food.

1. Do not wash the pan immediately after frying bacon, or the fat which coats the pan will be wasted. The greasy pan can be used for frying cooked haricots, or sliced cold potatoes. A little fat bacon served with fried haricots or potatoes makes a good breakfast and saves bread.
2. The rind of bacon should be removed before cooking, and should be fried to melt the fat from it. The rind should afterwards be added to vegetable stock or soup to give flavour. Bones from bacon should be added to the stock pot or soup pan.
3. When bacon has been boiled it should be left to cool in the water in which it was cooked. In this way less fat is lost, and any juice which might otherwise be lost, catches the stock.
4. The liquor in which ham or bacon has been boiled should be allowed to become cold. The fat should then be skimmed off and clarified. From 2 oz. to 4 oz. of clear white fat can in this way be recovered from 1 lb. of fat bacon.
5. As vegetables contain very little fat, a little bacon added to a vegetable stew makes a nourishing and appetising dish. This is a particularly economical way of cooking a small quantity of bacon as the fat which comes from the bacon enriches the stew and is not wasted on the sides of the pan.

Recipe for the Day.

A feature on Economical Cookery from The Manchester Guardian of July 12, 1915 indicated that one way of achieving this goal was by making dishes that were ‘verging on vegetarian cookery and yet containing just such an amount of flesh food as will satisfy those who do not care to follow a non-flesh diet.’ Bacon is an optional flesh food in the following dish.

Baked Vegetable Marrow.
Vegetable marrow baked makes a dish which can be enjoyed by all. Take a moderate-sized marrow and boil it till half cooked (about ten minutes) without removing the peel or cutting it open. Drain it and remove the peel, then cut it open and remove the pulp and seeds and cut it into neat, rather small, pieces. Put these into a shallow pie dish, which should be lightly greased with butter, melt two ounces of butter and pour over the marrow, season it well, and cover over. Bake for about twenty minutes in a moderate oven. When cooked, cover the marrow with strips of bacon or a layer of cooked meat minced and seasoned. A very small quantity of meat is sufficient – a quarter of a pound is enough, and it may quite well be left out of this recipe altogether, tomatoes being substituted for the meat.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Naughty Bakers.

Medieval punishments such as we considered yesterday were frequently made to fit the crime in a marvellously creative way that would not be possible in our modern criminal justice system. As was pointed out yesterday, the most important foodstuff at that time was bread, and as a consequence, bread-crimes were taken very seriously.

In medieval times, only the grandest houses had their own ovens. Most ordinary housewives took their own dough to the local baker, where for a small fee it would be cooked in the residual heat of the oven, after the baker had baked his own bread. Those bakers who did get caught cheating their customers were punished in a variety of ways. In England they were initially fined. After three offenses they could be sent to the pillory, or to gaol, or even lose their occupation. The pillory or ‘stretch neck’ was a very public humiliation. The accused was locked with head (sometimes shaved) and hands fixed in holes made between two horizontal boards set up in the market place where he or she could be pelted by disgruntled customers with anything noxious that came to hand.

The prize for the most creative deceit (and most appropriate punishment) must go to bakers at a public bakehouse in 1327. There were secret cavities built under the moulding boards from which an assistant would reach up and pinch off a chunk of the dough from a customer’s loaf, and over the course of the day built up a nice supply for themselves. The offending bakers in this instance were placed in the pillory with slabs of the dough around their necks. In other instances, bakers were forced to sell the underweight loaves at a loss (which was a gain for the previoius ‘victims.’)

In other parts of the bread-eating world the punishments varied. In Vienna, bakers caught selling underweight bread were put in the baeckerschupfen – a sort of cage which was then plunged into the river several times. In Turkey, a bad baker was stretched out on his own kneading table and the bastinado (foot-beating with a stick) was administered. Perhaps the most public and painful punishment was in ancient Egypt, were an offending baker could be nailed by the ear to the door of his shop, where no doubt his customers gave him even more abuse.

Cookery manuscripts and cookery books of early times contained recipes suitable for the wealthy, and did not include bread-making instructions. It would not have been considered necessary. Every large household had its own bakehouse. The bakers and bakehouse were quite separate (in several ways) from the kitchens and cooks, and bakers did not need written instructions for the various types of bread for the various ranks of persons within the household. Instead of a medieval ‘recipe’ for bread, I therefore give you, from the same source as yesterday, a nice recipe for stewed chicken. This sounds quite delicious, and quite Middle Eastern (although the source is unequivocally English)  – the chicken is stuffed with herbs, and braised in wine, and flavoured with saffron, ginger, sugar, and cinnamon, with the final sauce containing dates and currants.

A stewed capon.
To stew a capon tak parsly saige ysope rosmary and brek them between your handes and stop the capon ther with and colour it with saffron and couch it in an erthen pot and lay splentes under nethe and about the sides of the pot and straw erbes about the capon and put ther to a quart of wyn and non other licour then couer the pot close that no brothe passe out then set it on a charcole fyere and stew it softly and when it is enoughe set it on a wispe of strawe that it touche not the ground for brekinge then tak out the capon with a prik and luk yf it be enoughe or els stewe it better and mak a ceripe of good wyne mynced dates and canelle anld draw it with the same wyne put ther to raissins of corands sugur saffron and salt and guinger and wyn then lay the capon in a dysshe and put the fat of the sew to the ceripe and poure it on the capon and serue it.
A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde (1500)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Deserving of the Pillory.

On this day in 1552, in Cheapside, (the old market area of London) a man was pilloried for cheating the customers who bought his strawberries. He had filled out the pots with too much fern for the amount of berries.

“The furst of July ther was a man and a woman on the pelere [pillory] in Chepe-syd [Cheapside]; the man sold potts of straberries, the whyche the pott was not alff fulle, but fylled with forne [fern]”

Legislation to protect the customer from unscrupulous food merchants is not new, although the nature of the penalties has changed somewhat. The most regulated food, from earliest times, was the Staff of Life – bread. In 1266 in England, King Henry III revived an ancient statute that determined the price of a loaf of bread and a quantity of ale in relation to the price of wheat. This Assize of Bread and Ale remained on the statute books in England until 1863! The aim of the Assize was to fix the size (weight) of a loaf of bread, regardless of the cost of wheat (called ‘corn’ in those days). Loaves were sold at a farthing, a half-penny, or a penny. As the price of corn went up, the size of the loaf purchased for a particular price went down. The limits were set once a year at harvest time, after the Feast of St Michael on September 29, but were occasionally modified during the year if the price of corn varied significantly.

There are of course, unscrupulous members of every profession. Dishonest medieval bakers developed some creative ways of cheating both the public and the official Bread Examiners. An obvious technique was to keep the full-weight loaves on the shelves when the Examiners were due, and hide the low-weight ones out the back. Another method was to hide coins or bits of metal in the dough, which were presumably taken out once the bread was weighed. Even more creatively, in the sixteenth century there is a record of some bakers found to have been soaking stale bread in water and mixing it with the new dough 'to the great abuse and scandall of their Mysterie [their Trade] , and the wrong of his Majesties' subjects.'

I don’t need to give you a recipe for medieval bread – there is no essential difference from modern bread. Basic bread has always been made from grain plus a leavening agent plus water – all other ingredients are optional embellishments. Instead I give you a wonderful custard recipe from half a century before the strawberry offence which kicked off this story – and very nice indeed it would be with some of those berries. It is from A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde, a manuscript written in the year 1500. Basic custard hasn’t changed much either. This one is a ‘standing’ (thick, sliceable) version, made as it is today with cream and eggs and sugar – but marvellously coloured and flavoured with saffron and decorated with borage flowers.

To mak creme buyle.
To mak creme buile tak cow creme and yolks of eggs drawe and well bet that it be stonding and put
ther to sugur and colour it with saffron and salt it then lesk it in dyshes and plant ther in floures of
borage and serue it.