Friday, August 06, 2010

Battles and Biscuits.

Sometimes I give you an ‘on this day’ story which has a food angle, but the problem with giving you the story on the actual day is that it gives you no time to prepare a commemorative food in advance. I intend to remedy that glitch today by giving you an ‘on the morrow’ story.

Dishes are, as we have found out repeatedly, often named for famous events as well as for famous people. The opposite does occur too, and a historic event is given a foodie name. We have had stories about the Pastry War and the Battle of the Herrings, for example, in previous posts.

Tomorrow, August 7, is the anniversary of The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuit – an event that took place early in the history of the Irish rebellion against English rule.

In February 1594, at the beginning of what became known as the Nine Year’s War, an English army captured and garrisoned the Ulster stronghold of Eniskillen Castle. The Irish response was to place the garrison under siege. On August 7 the advancing English relief forces were ambushed at the Arney River by Irish rebels led by the famous Hugh Maguire, Lord of Fermagh, and leader of the Maguire clan. The English were well and truly routed, and the sight of English rations floating down the bloody river gave the event the name of the ‘Battle of the Ford of the Biscuit.’

The ‘biscuits’ were of course not Gingernuts or Oreos or Chocolate Digestives, but the traditional military campaign ration of ‘hardtack’ (or sea-biscuit, in the case of the navy). You can find a story about hardtack on the now-defunct Companion to the Old Foodie site, here. The recipe has remained unchanged for centuries – take flour and water (and salt, if you wish), make a paste, roll it thin, and bake it very hard so that it will keep for many years. It was most certainly NOT like the following biscuit, in spite of its name.

Sea-biscuit – Biscuit de Mer.
Take half a pound of sugar and half a pound of flour, mix in a bason with a little lemon grate and four eggs; mix them with a spatula to make rather a liquid paste, but if too much so add flour and sugar, or if too firm, add an egg: the cases must be the size of half a sheet of paper folded in, with the sides much lower than those made for the gros biscuit à couper: put the pâte into these cases, and set them in a hotter oven than for ordinary biscuit; when enough, take them out, and cut them in pieces the length and thickness of the little finger, and put them upon a copper leaf, on the side that has been cut, that all sides may be equally coloured.
The Art of French Cookery, Antoine Beauvilliers, 1827

Quotation for the Day.
You had to eat with all your mind on the food...and how good it tasted, that
black bread!
A. Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

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