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)


Foose said...

Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, by Karen Hess, suggests that "huguenotte" refers to an "earthenware casserole, unfooted, for use with a chafing dish, an ideal arrangement for cooking eggs. What is not agreed upon is the origin of the word, but the French habit of naming a dish after its cooking vessel calls for a bit of reflection on the pat Protestant connection."

Not entirely satisfactory, as the question then remains: Why is the cooking pot named "a la Huguenotte?"

The Old Foodie said...

Wonderful comment, Foose. I love investigating words, and especially the folk etymology stuff. You are a fund of interesting information!

Anonymous said...

Looks an awful lot like choux paste to me!

Shay said...

There's an old joke (early 20th century US) about a man who passes a small boy fishing alongside a river. The boy hauls up a big fish, makes a face, and tosses it back.

"Son, what kind of fish are those?" the man asks.

"We calls them Baptist fish, on account of they ain't no good once they's out of the water!"