Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Useful are Turnips?

Unless they are tiny, and called navets, and served with duck, in Paris, by a handsome waiter (with a French accent, naturally), turnips lack both elegance and sex-appeal, methinks. Not that I don’t like them, but we are talking image here. Turnips are most likely to evoke ideas of robust peasant farmers and cold days and thick soup, and they are hardly featured in early cookery books, which describe the food of the well-to-do. Nevertheless, useful things are, well, useful, and we must celebrate useful too, must we not?

The turnip is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the fleshy, globular or spheroidal root of a biennial cruciferous plant, Brassica Rapa, var. depressa, having toothed, somewhat hairy leaves, and yellow flowers, cultivated from ancient times as a culinary vegetable, and for feeding sheep and cattle; also, the plant itself, of which the young shoots (turnip-tops) are frequently boiled as greens.’ As I said, not elegant or sexy, but an ancient, hairy-leaved, animal food. The first quotation in the OED supports its useful, nourishing quality: from Elyot’s Castel of Helth (1533) we read ‘Turnepes beinge well boyled in water, and after with fatte fleshe, norysheth moche.’ I note that the entire list of quotations is devoid of reference to turnip flavour or other deliciousness.

How useful are turnips, really? They turn up in the medicinal chapter of The Queen’s Closet Opened. Incomparable Secrets in Physick, Chirugery, Preserving, Candying, and Cookery (1655)

Syrup of Turneps.
First bake the Turneps in a pot with houshold bread, then press out the liquor between two platters, put a pint of this liquor to half a pint of Hysop water, and as much brown Sugar Candy as will sweeten it, and boyl it to the consistence of a Syrup. It is very good for a Cold or Consumption.

And how much more useful can a recipe be than the following one from the same era – cheap bread for the poor, with medicinal qualities to boot?

Turnip bread.
Take about half a Bushel of middling sort of Turnips, not sticky, but such as will boil soft: being pared and boiled, press out the Water very hard until they are quite dry, beat them in a Mortar, and mix with the Pulp about two pound of fine Wheat-flower, and two ounces of Carraway-seeds; put in a pint, or somewhat more of new Ale-yeast, mould it up as other Bread, and let it be well soaked, and it will not only look, but tast like Bread. This is not only made for saving Charges in poor Families in a dear Year, but of late has been much in esteem for Consumptions, and those troubled with shortness of Breath and Ptissick; being very wholesome and nourishing.
William Salmon’s Household Companion (1695)

Wine is pretty useful too, although I doubt if there were some good shiraz grapes around that this recipe would be popular.

To make Turnip Wine.
Take good many turnips, pare, slice and put them in a cyder press, and press out all the juice very well. To every gallon of juice have three pounds of lump-sugar, have a vessel ready just big enough to hold the juice, put your sugar into a vessel, and also to every gallon of juice half a pint of brandy. Pour in the juice and lay something over the bung for a week, to see if it works. If it does you must not bung it down till it has done working; then stop it close for three months, and draw it off in another vessel. When it is fine, bottle it off.
The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse (1774)

Quotation for the Day.
A degenerate nobleman is like a turnip. There is nothing good of him but that which is underground.
English saying.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fragrant Food.

After pasties and pulpatoons of multiple ingredients and complicated methods, I think it is time for something lighter and more fragrant, don’t you? The decision allows me to indulge myself in something rose-scented. Regular readers will be aware of my weakness for rose-flavoured Turkish Delight. Recently I was delighted to come across a rose-flavoured (non-alcoholic) beverage that is like drinking liquid Turkish Delight, and which for sheer rosiness surpasses both the rose & vanilla tea, and the pure red rosebud tea that have been recent indulgences of mine.

Rosewater was used in Europe (in the kitchens of the rich) from at least medieval times. It was included in all manner of dishes, both sweet and savoury (although as we know, this distinction was not made back then.) I don’t know of any book detailing the definitive history of the use of rosewater in Europe, so someone surely ought to write it? In the meanwhile, I must resort to sweeping generalisations, such as suggesting that it was imported from the exotic east and not home-made, and that the use of it began to decline when vanilla became more accessible in the nineteenth century. Certainly it essentially disappeared from English cookery, even from baked goods, by the end of the century. A sad loss, which makes one think that the good-old days did indeed have some good aspects to them.

There are many recipes in this blog which include rosewater, but today I give you one of my particular favourites.

To make a cake the way of the royal princess, the Lady Elizabeth, daughter to King Charles the First.
Take halfe a peck of Flowre, half a pint of Rosewater, a pint of Ale yest, a pinte of cream, boyle it, a pound and a half of Butter, six Egges (leave out the whites), four pounds of Currants, one half pound of Sugar, one Nutmeg, and a little salt, work it very well, and let it stand half an hour by the fire, and then work it again, and then make it up, and let it stand an hour and a half in the Oven; let not your Oven be too hot.
The Queen’s Closet Opened, by W.M (1655)

Quotation for the Day.

How many flowers there are which only serve to produce essences, which could have been made into savory dishes.
Charles Pierre Monselet (1825-1888)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Puptons and Pulpatoons.

In a post last week we had a recipe for a Pupton of Apples. It consisted of a heavily sweetened apple puree to which egg yolks, bread crumbs, and butter were added, the mixture then being baked, and after baking it was turned out onto a serving dish. Many of us were left confused as to what qualified this dish as a ‘pupton.’

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a pupton as deriving from the French poupeton - a ‘kind of ragout or pâté made with minced meat’. Further etymological explanation is limited. The word may related to the Italian polpettone (a large meatball or rissole), or the French poulpe (fleshy tissue), but other confusions are hinted at elsewhere in the dictionary. The Italian polpettone became pulpatoon in English, and the OED defines this as ‘a dish made of rabbits, game birds, etc., in a crust of forcemeat’, and notes that it is ‘apparently sometimes confused with pupton.’

There is nothing in any of the explanations so far that hints of our apple dish, although by the early eighteenth century a pupton or poupeton was broadly interpreted as ‘a baked dish made with meat or fruit.’ Sometimes it could be described as ‘a Mess made in a Stew-pan, as it were a Pie, with thin slices of Bacon laid underneath; Pigeons, Quails, or other sorts of Fowl dress'd in a Ragoo in the middle; and a peculiar Farce or Dish of stuff'd Meat called Godivoe on the top; the whole to be bak'd between two gentle Fires’, and sometimes it was a fruit dish, thickened with breadcrumbs as in the Pupton of Apples which started this discussion.

I admit to still being confused, and will prove it by giving you a recipe for a pulpatoon – or maybe it is a pupton?. It is from The Compleat Housewife, by E.Smith (1736)

To make a Pulpatoon of Pigeon.
Take mushrooms, palates, oysters, sweetbreads, and fry them in butter; then put all these into a strong gravy; give them a heat over the fire, and thicken with an egg and a bit of butter; then half roast six or eight pigeons, and lay them in a crust of forc’d meat, as follows: scrape a pound of veal and two pounds of marrow, and beat it together in a stone mortar; after it is shred very fine; then season it with salt, pepper, spice, and put in hard eggs, anchovies, and oysters; beat all together and make the lid and sides of your pie of it; first, lay a thin crust in your pattipan, then put in your forc’d-meat, then lay an exceedingly thin crust over it, then put in your pigeons and other ingredients, with a little butter on top.

Quotation for the Day.

Food probably has a very great influence on the condition of men. Wine exercises a more visible influence, food does it more slowly but perhaps just as surely. Who knows if a well-prepared soup was not responsible for the pneumatic pump or a poor one for a war?
Georg C. Lichtenberg

Monday, September 27, 2010

An Amazing Pasty.

This day in 1573 was the birthday of Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, the Swiss-born physician to four kings – Henry IV of France, and James I, Charles I, and Charles II of England. Mayerne left France, where his religion (he was Protestant) and his style of medicine (he did not strictly adhere to the Galenic principles which underpinned medical practice of the time, but promoted ‘chemical remedies’ and empirical methods) put him at odds with his contemporaries. Mayerne is a subject of interest for this blog because he was also a gourmet - or perhaps a glutton, for he became so fat in his age that he could no longer call on his patients, they had to come to him.

Mayerne’s interest in chemical remedies and extended to an interest in cookery, and in 1658 he published a fascinating cookery book with the intriguing title of Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus, or, Excellent & Approved Receipts and Experiments in Cookery. We have featured one of the recipes from his book in a previous post – his famous London Pie. Today I want to give you another of his ‘pies’.

This recipe for a Pasty Royal is long, but it is a wonderful read: a pasty based on a whole leg of mutton, but which includes only one clove of garlic that is removed at the end of cooking; a pasty that takes twenty four hours to cook, and is removed from the oven a number of times during that period, so that various additions can be made to it; a pasty that – in the days well before refrigeration – the author assures can be reheated multiple times, should it not be eaten all at one meal (I don’t recommend you try this yourself!)

The Pasty Royal.
Take a legg of Mutton, strip the skin off from it, take out the bones nd the sinnues, after which beat the flesh to mortifie it and then cause it to be well chopt, and as you chop it, you must season it with salt spices.
Now your meat being thus well chopped, you must make up your paste of Rye-crust, and give it at least two inches in thickness proportionably according to the bignesse of your pasty, and raise the paste therof high enough.
You must line the bottomand sides thereof with fat Bacon in slices, and in the bottome you must also place a good handful of Ox suet which is small minced and thereunto add your meat after it shall have been well minced; and in case Chestnuts be in season, you may add thereunto a reasonable proportion after they shal have been first half roasted.
When your meat shall be thus in your pastie you must add thereunto one handful of Beef suet well minced, and about half a pound of Beef marrow cut into small pieces about the bigness of a walnut; All which composition you must cover or overspred with some slices of fat Bacon.
Finally, you shall cover this Pasty with Rye-crust at least a fingers breadth thick, and you must make a hole in the said lidd.
Such a like Pasty as this must be at least twenty or four and twenty hours in the oven, which said oven you must all the while keep shut, to the end that it may yield a sufficient heat whereby the said Pasty must be thorowly baked, which said pasty you must oftentimes take out of the said Oven to supply it with broth or gravie as often as shall be wanting.
To which purpose, take the bones and the skin and sinews which ye have cut away from the said legg of Mutton, bruise them indifferently, and afterwards boyl them together with the said skin and sinews for the space of one houre and a half in water without salt, and when as the said liquour and broath shall be concocted in such a manner as that there shall be but a pint left, you shall make use of it in the following manner, viz.
After your Royal-Pasty shall have been about the space of four hours in the Oven, you must draw it, and you must poure thereinto with a funnel about the quantity of a quarter of a pint of the said liquor or broath being well heated, after which you shall again put your pasty in the Oven, and within two or three houres you shall draw it and you shall see whether or no it doth want any sauce or liquor, in case whereof you shall add more sauce unto it: and in this manner you shall draw your said pasty at several times until it hath continued in the Oven for the space of fifteen or sixteen houres; when as you shall again draw it forth of the Oven and shall take of its lidd, for to embellish your pasty with the yolks of egs hard boyled cut in quarters; you may also add thereunto Mucerons, the gills and combs of Cocks and other like sweet breads; you may also thereunto add a small clove of Garlick and a drop or two of vinegar, for to make the sauce more pleasing and tart: observe also that your Lambstones and sweet-breads must be seasoned with your sweet spices.
After which you must return the said pasty into the Oven again, and you shall let it remain there till it be thoroughly baked at least three hours afterwards and you must have a care to maintain the fire in the said Oven, in such a manner that there may be sufficient heat to bake the said pasty without burning it.
When the like pasty is thoroughly baked, you shall take out the clove of Garlick which you did put into it before you doe serve it up to the Table, and after that you shall fasten on the lidd of your pasty again, so that your pasty may be brought whole to the Table: and if it be so that the said pye be not eaten up at one meal, you may cause it to be heated again in the Oven, until such time as it is quite expended.

Quotation for the Day.

"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie."
David Mamet,  Boston Marriage.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Johnny Appleseed.

Tomorrow (September 26) is the birth anniversary of ‘Johnny Appleseed’ (1774-1845) – the famous American nurseryman and enthusiastic apple-tree planter. The real name of this deeply religious, eccentric orchardist was John Chapman, and he truly became a legend in his own lifetime. He was by all accounts generous-spirited and big-hearted. He lived rough - often going about without shoes, even in the snow – as he travelled across large tracts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois planting apple seeds in small patches of land, and returning later to check on his developing orchards.

From Hannah Glasse’s classic, The Art of Cookery, made plain and easy, published in 1774, the year of Johnny Appleseed’s birth, please enjoy the following wonderful apple recipe in his honour:

To make a Pupton of Apples.
Pare some apples, take out the cores, and put them into a skillet: to a quart-mugful heaped, put in a quarter of a pound of sugar, and two spoonfuls of water. Do them over a slow fire, keeping them stirring; add a little cinnamon; when it is quite thick, and like a marmalade, let it stand till cool. Beat up the yolks of four or five eggs, and stir in a handful of bread and a quarter of a pound of fresh butter; then form it into what shape you please, and bake it in a slow oven, and then turn it upside down on a plate, for a second course.

Rest assured, dear readers, we have not finished with the subject of puptons – a little more will follow next week.

Quotation for the Day.

There's plenty of boys that will come hankering and gruvvelling around when you've got an apple, and beg the core off you; but when they're got one, and you beg for the core, and remind them how you give them a core one time, they take a mouth at you, and say thank you 'most to death, but there ain't a-going to be no core.
Mark Twain, in Tom Sawyer Abroad.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chowder Beer.

Yesterday we considered chowder – the fish stew/soup claimed by New Englanders as one of their own dishes (although it may have roots in medieval England?). Once upon a time there was also a thing called chowder beer. Beer made from fish? Fish-flavoured beer?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘chowder beer’ is ‘a liquor made by boiling black spruce in water and mixing molasses with the decoction.’ In other words, it is spruce beer. According to the OED, in the fifteenth century (in Britain) ‘spruce beer’ was ‘Beer from Prussia’, and also (simultaneously?) ‘a fermented beverage made with an extract from the leaves and branches of the spruce fir.’ It appears therefore that British spruce (or ‘chowder’) beer well and truly precedes fish chowder stew/soup - which seems to have popped up, linguistically speaking, in eighteenth century America. The ‘American’ connection is presumably the addition of molasses?

I am comfortable with the connection between beer and Prussia, but am baffled by the possible associations between beer and Prussia and fish, soup, and spruce trees. The OED fails to hazard a guess at the connection, but on further examination there does appear to be a vaguely fishy connection. A clue appears in The history of Cornwall, civil, military, religious.., by Richard Polwhele (1816):

In the London Mag for September 1764, a correspondent communicates “the experiences of Mr Peter Kingwood, of Topsham, in Devonshire (who had been many years in the sea service, and continued to his death to be concerned in shipping) in regard to a the utility of a cheap and easily prepared drink, called by him chowder beer, for preventing the scurvy in long voyages, or for the cure of it where it may have been contracted.

It was known well before this time that ‘spruce beer’ was good for ‘inward bruises’ (which could have been caused by scurvy?) So, the connection may be that this spruce (chowder) beer was useful for those embarking on long fishing voyages – perhaps to the distant cod banks of New England??? Remember the possible jowter (fish peddlar)/chowder connection mentioned in yesterday’s post??? Please do be opinionated on this topic, for I am very intrigued.

In the meanwhile, Richard Polwhele’s book gives a very basic recipe for chowder beer:

The method of preparation of chowder beer is as follows: take twelve gallons of water, and put therin three pounds and a half of black spruce. Boil it for three hours; then take out the fir, and put to the liquor seven pounds of melasses, and just boil it up. Then take it off, strain it through a sieve, and when milk warm, put to it about four spoonfuls of yeast to work it. For common drink for seamen, two gallons of melasses may e sufficient to an hogshead of liquor. It soon works. In two or three days stop the bung in the cask, and in five or six days, when fine, bottle it for drinking.

Quotation for the Day

Scurvy: A disease characterized by general debility of the body, extreme tenderness of the gums, foul breath, subcutaneous eruptions and pains in the limbs, … Now recognized as due to insufficient ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the diet.
Oxford English Dictionary.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Original Chowder.

Today I want to discuss chowder, for the very good reason that today is an anniversary of sorts for the famous New England fish soup/stew. On this day in 1751 the first known printed recipe for chowder appeared in the Boston Evening Post, and very poetical the recipe was too.

Directions for Making a Chouder
First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning,
Because in Chouder there can be no turning;
Then lay some Pork in Slices very thin,
Thus you in Chouder always must begin.
Next lay some Fish cut crossways very nice
Then season well with Pepper, Salt, and Spice;
Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory and Thyme;
Then Biscuit next which must be soak'd some Time.
Thus your Foundation laid, you will be able
To raise a Chouder, high as Tower of Babel;
For by repeating o're the Same again,
You may make Chouder for a thousand Men.
Last Bottle of Claret, with Water eno' to smother 'em,
You'll have a Mess which some call Omnium gather 'em.

I have been unable to check the source of this recipe myself, but the Oxford English Dictionary is reliable enough, I think – and it uses the poetical recipe as its first reference for the word chowder. The definition given by the OED for chowder is ‘In Newfoundland, New England, etc.: A dish made of fresh fish (esp. cod) or clams, stewed with slices of pork or bacon, onions, and biscuit. ‘Cider and champagne are sometimes added’ (Bartlett).

The OED proposes that the word ultimately derives from the Latin calderia, which meant ‘a place for warming things’ and later, ‘a cooking pot’ (or cauldron.) There is another etymological possibility for the word however, and one which I much prefer. It may derive from an old English word jowter (of various spellings) which originally meant a fish peddler before it extended to apply to other sorts of hawkers and dealers. The OED does not hazard a guess as to the etymology of the word jowter, but it seems to have referred particularly to the female of the species, and has been used since at least the sixteenth century.

If the poetical recipe above is not to your liking, here is an alternative from a century later. I look forward to the inevitable authenticity debate which will surely follow.

As this is the season for deep-sea fishing, and as the chowder is the favorite mode of preparing the fish thus caught, we give the following genuine recipe for making that celebrated Yankee dish, furnished by a correspondent of the New York Commercial Advertiser, who obtained it at the Massachusetts coast, from the most authentic source.
“Here let me tell you how to make a chowder:-
1st, Fry a large bit of well salted pork in the kettle over the fire. Fry it thoroughly.
2nd, Pour in a quantity of water, then put in the head and shoulders of a codfish and a fine, well-dressed haddock, both recently caught.
3rd, Put in three or four good Irish potatoes, and then boil them well together. An old fisherman generally puts in three or four onions.
4th, When they are about done, throw in a few of the largest Boston crackers, and then aplly the pepper and salt to suit your taste.
Such a dish, smoaking hot, placed before you after a long morning spent in the most exhilarating sport, will make you no longer envy the gods.
Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, [Maine] August 9, 1843

Quotation for the Day

Chowder breathes reassurance, it steams consolation.
Clementine Paddleford.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Little More on Mint.

I got carried away with mint beverages last week (here, and here), but hope you are not bored with the topic, because I found a couple of rather unusual ideas for eating the herb too. There are more creative ways of adding mint to your diet than simply using it to sauce on your lamb, you know.

Mint Sandwiches.
Brown bread, cream cheese, and freshly minced mint leaves make extraordinarily good sandwiches. Steam the brown bread in baking-powder tins so that it will make neat round slices. Soften 3 ozs cream cheese, adding cream to make it a good consistency for spreading, season with salt and a little pepper, and add 1 tablespoon of minced mint leaves. Use as a filling for the buttered brown bread.

[I have unfortunately forgotten to note the source of this recipe!]

Yorkshire Mint Pasties
Yorkshire Mint pasties ‘are still made in old-fashioned Yorkshire farm-houses, and very good they are. The pasties are made by mixing equal quantities of chopped-up mint, brown sugar, and currants, and putting this mixture, instead of apple, into a turnover.
[Garden-craft in the Bible, and other Essays, by Eleanour S. Rohde (1917)

P.S You can find out a little about the famous English Kendal Mint Cake in a previous post here.

Quotation for the Day.

… mint is not cultivated in French gardens. I did not know then that there are many kinds of mints, and that one which is used for the sauce does not grow wild.
Myself, My Two Countries, X.M. Boulestin (1920’s)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Losing it with Liquorice.

I am leaving Sydney today to return to Brisbane after a marvellous weekend. Just for the fun of it, I decided that for my final Sydney-themed post I would try to find at least one food-related story in the Sydney newspapers of one hundred years ago today.

Sadly for us, the Sydney Morning Herald of 20 September 1910 (a Tuesday) did not contain any recipes. There was mention of the Lord Mayor’s dinner the previous evening, with an extensive discussion of the speeches, but none of the bill of fare. Several other articles covered the success (or not) of the market for Australian products such as oranges, butter, and chilled beef in Britain. And there was this interesting ‘scientific’ article:

The marvellous progress of modern medical science shines all the more markedly for the acknowledged ignorance of old-time practitioners in their treatment of many diseases – especially that of obesity, with which nobody can deny that they boggled [?] deplorably. Nowadays the matter is simple. Any over-fat person can make up the following efficacious prescription, or get his (or her) chemist to do so: Take one ounce of fluid extract of Glycyrrhiza B.P., one ounce of pure Glycerine R.P., one half-ounce of Marmola, and mix with peppermint water, to make six ounces in all. Dose: Two teaspoonfuls after each meal. The rapid reduction of weight effected by this simple and harmless remedy is delightful to every stout person who tries it, especially as there are no exacting dietary or other restrictions imposed. The tonic value of this remedy is as highly appreciated as is its reductive properties; the entire digestive system undergoes a beneficial change. Health, vigour, pure rich blood, renewed muscular development, are amongst the valuable results of this truly scientific and reinvigorating treatment, which leaves no wrinkles, however great the reduction effected.

It seems that the weight loss industry was already alive and well a hundred years ago. So, how efficacious would this ‘remedy’ have been? It might actually have worked – at a price. The active ingredient was Marmola - a patent medicine of the time containing ‘thyroid substance’ which was sold over the counter as a cure for obesity. Sufficient of this product would cause the equivalent of an over-active thyroid gland, so it would certainly have had the potential to cause weight loss – or death due to heart damage. The American inventor of this product, Edward D. Hayes, had for several decades been the subject of much activity on the part of government agencies in his own country, over his claims for the benefits of several of his snake-oil nostrums, including Marmola. The dangers and controversy must not have reached Australia – so the marketing in Australia may well have been a clever move on Mr Hayes’ part.

The other ingredients were presumably in the product for reasons of taste and texture.
Glycerine (glycerol) is a sweet, viscous liquid obtained from the saponification of fats and oils, and which has many applications in the food, pharmaceutical, medical, and beauty industries. Glycyrrhiza is an ingredient derived from the rhizome (‘root’) of the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra – commonly known as licorice (or liquorice). Licorice was used for medicinal purposes since at least since the early middle ages - long before it became used as a sweetmeat (beware: nowadays, ‘licorice’ candy is frequently actually flavoured with anise.)

The story seems a good excuse to give you a recipe for licorice. If you take out the thyroid extract, the ‘remedy’ for corpulence given above would probably make a quite delicious ‘tea’, but I thought you would want more. I had a mind to give you a recipe for licorice toffee, but was unable to find a convincing historical version. Instead, I give you licorice tablets – intended presumably for medicinal use, but quite an acceptable confection, methinks. There are two particularly interesting points about this medicine/confection. One is that the resulting cake is white, not black as we think of liquorice today. The other is that it takes three hours beating (never suffering it to stand still during that time) – in the days well before electrical appliances were available! Kitchen hands must have had a lot of stamina in those days.

Cakes, Liquorice.
Take hyssop and red rose water, of each half a pint, half a pound of green liquorice, the outside scraped off, and then beat with a pestle; put to it half a pound of aniseeds, and steep it all night in the water; boil it with a gentle fire till the taste is well out of the liquorice; strain it, put to it three pounds of liquorice powder, and set it on a gentle fire till it is come to the thickness of cream; take it off, and put to it half a pound of white sugar candy seered very fine; beat this well together for at least three hours, and never suffer it to stand still; as you beat it, you must strew in double-refined sugar finely seered, at least three pounds; half an hour before it is finished, put in half a spoonful of gum dragon [gum traganth], steeped in orange-flower water: when it is very white then it is beat enough; roll it up with white sugar; and if you want it perfumed, put in a pastil or two.
The cook's own book, and housekeeper's register, by Mrs. N. K. M. Lee (1854)

Quotation for the Day.

Not on morality, but on cookery, let us build our stronghold: there brandishing our frying-pan, as censer, let us offer sweet incense to the Devil, and live at ease on the fat things he has provided for his elect!
Thomas Carlyle.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stealing Bread.

I found more than I was looking for when I went in search of an early recipe for rice bread the other day. Just below the recipe (which follows) in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, of August 1, 1839, was this short, sad, tale.

DISTRESS: On Tuesday last a little boy of about seven years of age was committed to take his trial for stealing three loaves of bread from a shop. The boy stated that he was hungry, and his mother was in the watch-house on a charge of drunkenness.

A ‘little boy’ – not even worthy of his own name! It is hardly likely, given the era, that his name was withheld on account of his young age. And he was ‘about seven years of age’ – did someone ask, or did he not even know his own birthday?

Most of the early convicts transported to Australia in the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries were the urban poor, driven to crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread, by hunger. Supply problems were serious for the first decades in the new settlement, and convicts who stole food were severely punished – sometime actually executed. In the very first year of 1788, on February 11 - less than two weeks after the colony was declared - the first criminal court session was held. Three convicts were tried, and all were found guilty. One Thomas Hill was accused of stealing bread and was sentenced to a week in chains, on bread and water (and presumably not much of that), on a tiny, bare, rocky outcrop called ‘Pinchgut Island’ (now Fort Denison) in Sydney Harbour. The name may have reflected the nautical use of the term to mean the point where a channel becomes very narrow, but it certainly became apt as far as its temporary convict inhabitants were concerned.

I wonder what happened to the little Australian boy mentioned in the Sydney newspaper article in 1839? I don’t think there would be any doubt that he would have been convicted.

Rice and Wheat Bread.
Simmer 1 lb. Rice in 2 quarts of water till it becomes perfectly soft; when it is of a proper warmth mix it extremely well with 4 lbs. Flour and yeast and salt as for other bread; of yeast about 4 large spoonfuls. Knead it well, then set it to rise before the fire, some of the flour should be reserved to make up the loaves. If the rice should require more water it must be added, as some rice swells more than others. From this 8 ½ lbs of good bread will be produced.
(A gentleman of our acquaintance has requested us to give the above recipe publicly through our columns, and informs us that he has tried the experiment in his own family with perfect success. Now that wheaten flour is so dear, and rice so cheap, we cannot do better than to recommend our readers to go and do likewise.)

Quotation for the Day.

“There's a bread van outside Kathleen O'Connell's shop. The back door is open on shelves of steaming newly baked bread. The van driver is inside the shop having tea and a bun with Kathleen and it's no trouble for me to help myself to a loaf of bread. It's wrong to steal from Kathleen with the way she's always good to us but if I go in and ask her for bread she'll be annoyed and tell me I'm ruining her morning cup of tea, which she'd like to have in peace, ease and comfort thank you. It's easier to stick the bread up under my jersey… and promise to tell everything in confession.”
Frank McCourt,  Angela's Ashes (1996)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sydney Snippets.

Today I am heading off for a few days in Sydney, to cheer on my daughter as she competes in a half-marathon. And to have some peripheral fun too, of course (shopping, eating, etc). I thought I would start the fun by keeping to a ‘Sydney’ theme this next couple of days, and the first thing my memory turned up was a recipe for ‘Veal-Sydney’ from Eliza Acton’s classic Modern Cookery for Private Families, published in 1845.

I have long been intrigued by the name of the dish, but have absolutely no idea where it comes from, or what it means. Miss Acton’s exact recipe is repeated in a couple of other nineteenth century cookery books, but the only other version I have come across is in the Manchester Times (Manchester, England) in May, 1886 – and it is essentially an abbreviated version of the former. I have also seen the dish is listed on one menu from 1897. Other than these miserable gleanings, it remains a mystery.

Anyone out there have any ideas? Cockney rhyming slang for ‘steak and kidney’ is ‘Kate and Sydney’, but there is no kidney in this dish, and even if there were, it would be a bit of a credibility stretch to think that was the basis for the name. Here is the recipe. I eagerly await your insightful comments, informed opinions, and wild guesses as to the origin of the name.

Veal-Sydney (good)
Pour boiling on an ounce and a half of fine bread crumbs nearly half a pint of good veal stock or gravy, and let them stand till cool; mix with them then, two ounces of beef suet shred very small, half a pound of cold roast veal carefully trimmed from the brown edges, skin, and fat, and finely minced; the grated rind of half a lemon, nearly a teaspoonful of salt, a little cayenne, the third of a tea-spoonful of mace or nutmeg, and four well beaten eggs. Whisk up the whole well together, put it into a buttered dish, and bake it from three quarters of an hour to an hour. Cream may be used instead of gravy when more convenient, but this last will give the letter flavour. A little clarified butter put into the dish before the other ingredients are poured in will be an improvement.
Bread crumbs 1 ½ oz; gravy or cream, nearly ½ pint; beef suet 2 oz; cold veal ½ lb; rind of ½ lemon; salt, small teaspoonful; third as much mace and nutmeg; little cayenne; eggs 4 large or 5 small; ¾ to 1 hour.

Veal Sydney.
Mix one and a half ounce of breadcrumbs with half a pint of gravy, two ounces of beef suet, half a pound of cold veal, half the grated rind of a lemon, a small teaspoonful of salt, one-third as much each of mace and nutmeg, and a fourth of cayenne pepper, and four eggs. Bake one hour.
Manchester Times, 1886

Quotation for the Day.

God sendeth and giveth both mouth and meat.
Thomas Tusser (1524-1580)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Drinking Mint, Part 2.

Yesterday’s post on the definitive Southern US beverage of mint-julep was the result of a deviation from the rather convoluted search for the prize-winning recipes from the state-wide competition run by the Milk Board of Victoria (Australia) in 1936. It seems the board had copied the idea from the British Milk Board, who ran a similar competition in the previous year. The competition proved to everyone’s obvious relief that ‘Victorian housewives show they know how to make attractive milk dishes.’

One of the winning recipes was for a mint beverage at quite the opposite spectrum to the mint-julep.

Supper Drink.
Place one or two strong peppermints in one cup of boiling milk, stir till dissolved.This is especially wholesome for winter nights before retiring to bed or before setting out on a cold journey.

That is not the end of the mint beverage theme. I give you two more, the first from the
Sydney Morning Herald in January 1918, in response to a correspondent’s request for recipes using mint.

First – used as a beverage. The leaves of mint should be steeped in sherry, then pass the flavoured wine through ice, till the whole has become impregnated with the mint aroma. When it is poured off it is regarded as a deliciously cool beverage, or stimulating cordial.

And finally, from the Southern Cook Book of Fine Old Recipes, 1935. What is it about those Southerners and mint?

Mint Tea
2 cups sugar
½ cup water
Grated rind of one orange
Juice of 6 oranges
6 glasses of very strong tea
Several sprays of mint.
Boil the sugar, water, and orange rind about 5 minutes. Remove from the fire and add the crushed leaves of mint and let cool. Into the tea put the orange juice. Half fill the iced tea glasses with crushed ice, add the tea, and sweeten to taste with the mint syrup. A sprig of mint or a slice of orange may be added to each glass as a garnish.

You don’t need to flood my email box, I know I have missed the liqueur, crème de menthe. It was deliberate. I like mint, but it will take me some time to understand crème de menthe.

Quotation for the Day.

Those herbs which perfume the air most delightfully, not passed by as the rest, but, being trodden upon and crushed, are three; that is, burnet, wild thyme and watermints. Therefore, you are to set whole alleys of them, to have the pleasure when you walk or tread.
Francis Bacon

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How To Drink Mint.

You know how, sometimes, when you are looking for recipes for milk drinks, you end up about as far away from that wholesome white beverages that it is possible to be? You don’t? That sort of thing happens to me all the time.

Anyway, I started with milk and ended up with mint julep, which, as I am sure you know, is deeply linked with the Deep South of the US of A. I came across, in my meanderings, the words of the English naval officer and novelist Captain Frederick Marryat (1782-1848) on this beverage. In the late 1830’s the Captain spent a couple of years in Canada and the United States (1837-39), and afterwards he recorded his impressions in A Diary In America (1839). Essentially, he wrote the post for me by including history and quotations on the topic, as well as a recipe, so here it is.

“I must, however, descant a little upon the mint-julep, as it is, with the thermometer at 100o, one of the most delightful and insinuating potions that ever was invented, and may be drank with equal satisfaction when the thermometer is as low as 70o. There are many varieties, such as those composed of Claret, Madeira, &c; but the ingredients of the real mint-julep are as follows. I learned how to make them, and succeeded pretty well. Put into a tumbler about a dozen sprigs of tender shoots of mint, upon them put a spoonful of white sugar, and equal proportions of peach and common brandy, so as to fill it up one third, or perhaps a little less. Then take rasped or pounded ice, and full up the tumbler. Epicures rub the lips of the tumbler with a piece of fresh pineapple, and the tumbler itself is very often incrusted outside with stalactites of ice. As the ice melts, you drink. I once overheard two ladies talking in the next room to me, and one of them said, “Well, if I have a weakness for any one thing, it is for a mint-julep –” a very amiable weakness, and proving her good sense and good taste. They are in fact, like the American ladies, irresistible.
The Virginians claim the merit of having invented this superb compound, but I must dispute it for my own county, although it has been forgotten of late. In the times of Charles I and II it must have been known, for Milton expressly refers to it in his Comus:-

“Behold the cordial julep here
Which flames and dances in its crytal bounds
With spirits of balm and fragrant syrups mixed.
Not that Nepenthes, which the wife of Thone
In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena
Is of such power to stir up joy like this,
To life so friendly, or so cool to thirst.

If that don’t mean mint-julep, I don’t know the English language. The following lines, however, which I found in an American newspaper, dates its origin very far back, even to the period when the heathen gods were not at a discount as they are now.

“’Tis said that the gods, on Olympus of old,
(And who, the bright legend profanes, with a doubt,)
One night, midst their revels, by Bacchus were told
That his last butt of nectar had somewhat run out!

But determined to send round the goblet once more,
They sued to the fairer immortals for aid
In composing a draught which, till drinking were o’er,
Should cast every wine ever drank in the shade.

Grave Cerce herself blithely yielded her corn,
And the spirit that lives in each amber-hued grain,
And which first had its birth from the dews of the morn,
Was taught to steal out in bright dew drops again.

Pomona, whose choicest of fruits on the board,
Were scattered profusely in every one’s reach,
When called on a tribute to cull from the board,
Expressed the mild juice of the delicate peach.

The liquids were mingled while Venus looked on
With glances so fraught with sweet-magical power,
That the honey of Ilybla, e’en when they were gone,
Has never been missed in the draught from that hour.

Flora, then, from her bosom of fragrance shook,
And with roseate fingers pressed down in the bowl,
As dripping and fresh as it came from the brook,
The herb whose aroma should flavour the whole.

The draught was delicious, each god did exclaim,
Though something yet wanting they all did bewail,
But Julep the drink of immortals became,
When Jove himself added a handful of hail.

Is there any support for Capt. Marryat’s claim for an English origin for mint-julep? He quotes the poet John Milton (1608-1674) as evidence for his claim, but in fact the word had already been in use in England for several centuries before Milton’s time, so well before the ‘discovery’ of America by Europeans.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites its use in a medical manuscript in the year 1400 to support its first definition of the word as ‘A sweet drink prepared in different ways; often, simply a liquid sweetened with syrup or sugar, and used as a vehicle for medicine; sometimes, a medicated drink used as a demulcent, ‘comforting’, or gently stimulating mixture.’ Mint, like so many herbs, has a very long history of medicinal use, so it is possible if not probable that juleps were made with mint in medieval times in England. Note that this definition however, does not include alcohol.

The OED’s second definition of the word is ‘U.S. A mixture of brandy, whisky, or other spirit, with sugar and ice and some flavouring, usually mint,’ and the first supporting quotation is from 1804. So, it seems that sometime between colonisation and the early nineteenth century this sweet English medicinal potion became a sweet American alcoholic potion. Evolution happens, my friends.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sausage Puddings.

Sadly, I am still no closer to solving the mystery of ‘snags’ as a word for sausages, but as compensation I have turned up some interesting recipes for their use. These recipes are for those amongst you who love sausages in any shape or form, particularly if you live in the northern hemisphere and winter is on the horizon, and especially if you love the words ‘sausage’ and ‘pudding’ side-by-side - but if, and only if, you are absolutely fearless in the face of suet.

In the grand tradition of hearty English savoury puddings, I give you the following recipes, which do not - but should - come with cholesterol warnings.

Sausage Pudding.
[A cheap diner for a hard-working man]
A sausage pudding will be much appreciated by a hungry man, and can be made during the afternoon of the previous day, when the housework is done. Quickly brown in the frying pan three or four sausages. (They brown better if lightly rolled in flour first.) Place them where they will cool rapidly, and in the meantime make a good solid paste, line a well-greased pudding basin, lay in the sausages with a dash of pepper, salt, and a little dry mustard; add a little water, cover with crust, tie up in a cloth, and boil for an hour and a half or two hours.
Aberdeen Weekly Journal (Aberdeen, Scotland) March 4, 1891.

You will find a suet paste recipe here. 

Sausage Pudding.
Procure 2 lb. of Cambridge sausages, and twist into round balls; put these into boiling water on the stove, merely to parboil them for a minute or so; then throw them into cold water and remove the skins.
Line the basin with suet paste, fill it with sausages and pour the following preparation upon them: - Take1 chopped onion, and 3 sage leaves which have been boiled in water for 2 minutes; drain them upon a sieve and then fry them in a small stewpan until they are light-brown colour. Add a teaspoonful of curry paste, season with pepper and salt, and moisten with ½ pint of good broth; stir the sauce upon the fire and when it has boiled ¼ hour rub it through a sieve and pour it upon the sausages.
Cover the pudding with paste, steam it for 2 hours, and when turned out of the basin send to table with plain gravy under it.
The Australian Home Cookery (1917),

If, however, for reasons of your own, you eschew suet crust, the following recipe may be adequate, although it hardly justifies the name ‘pudding.’

Sausage Pudding.
Half a pound of pork sausages, two pounds of potatoes, an onion. Parboil the sausages, remove the skins, slice the potatoes, previously boiled, in thick pieces, chop an onion. Put alternate layers of potatoes, sausage meat, and onion in a greased pie-dish until it is full; the sausage must be spread very thinly, but as it is rich and pungent, the flavour will permeate the whole. A few browned breadcrumbs may be sprinkled on top. Bake for half an hour. Variety may be given by using rice instead of potatoes.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales) June 10, 1899.

Quotation for the Day.

Cambridge gave the world science and sausage.

Friday, September 10, 2010

At a Sicilian Coffee House.

I have been hoarding today’s little gem for some time. The wait has been worth it, for there is always some extra value when the story can begin with the intriguing phrase ‘On This Day.’

The bill of fare of a coffeehouse in Palermo on this day in 1806 was considered interesting enough to be described in The Times some months later.

In the Coffeehouse of M.Francis Geraci in Centorinara’s street num. 98, at Palermo, a Company of four people served with three dishes of meat and poultry eight dishes of sausage, cheese, olives, fruits, greens, &c. for desert, bread, and two bottles of wine, will pay six dollars.
If the people were more than the said four, every person exceeding that number will pay one dollar.
A company of four people served with six dishes of Meat & poultry, sixteen dishes of sausage, cheese, olives &c, for deserts, bread, two bottles of wine, a dish of sweet-meats, ice, and coffee, will pay two dollars.
If the company would have more things than the above-mentioned, they will pay according to the following prices.
Lionell-wine, Port-wine, Canaries-wine, Malaga-wine &c half a Dollar for every bottle.
Moscato-wine & Mulvassi-wine (these are sweet wines) two shillings a bottle.
A large Cup of Cofee with milk & sugar, six pence.
A little cup of coffee with sugar, one penny.
A Glass of ice of any kind six pence.
Biscuits half a penny each.
A Dish of sausage one Shilling.
A Bottle of Rosolio of Pugioli, of several kinds, half a Dollar.
A small bottle of Rosolio of the same Geraci one shilling.
Those people then, which will have a dinner as before has been mentioned, must advise the said Geraci at least one hour before, in order that he could dress it, & they must leave some money, in order that in case, they should miss their engagement, the said money will remain to Geraci to amend for the loss he will suffer for the dinner left him.
                    Palermo, Sicily, Sept. 10, 1806

Italian Biscuit.
Beat the whites of nine eggs to a froth, then put in the yolks and beat them; add a pound and a half of fine sugar, beaten and sifted, and a pound and a half of fine flour, putting in a little at a time, till it is all in; beat it well for an hour, drop it on wafer paper, with a few caraway comfits on the top; shake a little sugar over it, and bake it in a quick oven; for if it is slow, they will run.
Every Woman Her Own House-keeper: or, the ladies’ library … by John Perkins,

(Note – In 1806, the instruction to ‘beat it all well for an hour’ meant ‘beat by hand’!)

If you are keen to know more about Sicilian food, I can do no better than refer you to my friend Marisa's blog, All Things Sicilian and More.

Quotation for the Day.

A tavola non si invecchia (You don't age while seated for a meal.)
Italian proverb.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Snags and Bangers.

I had a mind today to find out why sausages are called ‘bangers’ (in England) and ‘snags’ (in Australia). The story of ‘bangers’ turns out not to be terribly interesting, so someone needs to invent a good myth pretty soon. It is assumed that ‘banger’ relates to the noise made by a bursting sausage, and the nick-name dates to the first or second decade of the twentieth century.

As for the word ‘snag’, the first reference to it use for ‘sausage’ given by the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1941, which seems very recent to me. There appear to be no theories for this usage of the word, so I have been forced to invent some myself this very day.

The word ‘snag’ can also mean:

- ‘a short protuberance or knob’, usually one left after pruning (perhaps indicating the shape of a sausage?),
- an underwater tree branch or similar, which acts as a hazard to fishermen and sailors (perhaps suggesting the rather risky, hidden contents of the sausage)
- an obstacle or impediment (to good nutrition?)
- the common snail, in the old Sussex dialect, a slug in the West Kent dialect, and a snake in other dialects. I strongly suspect this has no connection to sausages, but place it here to excite your suggestions.
- ‘A Sensitive New Age Guy’. Perhaps SNAGS eschew snags?
- and, apparently, according to one not-very-reliable-looking source, it can also be a dialect word for 'a morsel, a light meal' (the source does not specify which dialect). Which might possibly be relevant, if you believe that sausages constitute a ‘light’ meal.

The lack of conclusions did not prevent me from rediscovering ‘the sausage roll’, which has certainly not featured in this blog before. Sausage rolls are almost as important to the nutrition status of the Average Australian as are meat pies, so they are deserving of some comment.

The sausage roll seems to have come onto the world scene around about the time of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London’s Crystal Palace (in 1851). I am sure that sausage rolls existed before that date - although I have found very little to support that opinion - but it is certain that a total of 28, 046 were consumed by visitors to the exhibition during the five and a half months of its life. If I had ninety-nine lives I could possibly remove a number of things from my ‘to research more fully list’, but my definitive history of the sausage roll ends right here. Over to one of you to complete it, if you will.

The recipe for today is, of course, for sausage rolls, and it comes from one of my favourite Victorian era cookbooks - Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, published in the 1870’s.

Sausage Rolls.
Take half a sausage cut lengthwise for each roll. Enclose the half in pastry six inches square and an eighth of an inch thick. Pinch the edges securely, and then bake the roll on a baking sheet in a well-heated oven. They may be served hot or cold. Or take equal weights of cold dressed chicken and tongue, or cold roast veal and ham. Mince the meat finely, and season well with salt, cayenne, and powdered sweet herbs. The latter may be omitted if liked. Press the mince together, and enclose it in puff paste, or good pastry that is large enough to contain it. Bake in a well-heated oven. These rolls are especially adapted for pic-nic parties. Time to bake, half an hour for fresh meat, fifteen minutes for cooked meat.

Quotation for the Day.

A highbrow is the kind of person who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso.
Sir A.P. Herbert

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sauces Galore.

I thought it might be interesting to look briefly at some of the ‘traditional’ sauces served with certain foods, and see how many have stood the test of time. It was tempting to go back as far as possible, but I decided on the seventeenth century as the recipes and ideas seem more accessible to many of us.

An interesting book called Panzoologicomineralogia, or, a Compleat History of Animals and Minerals … published in Oxford in 1661 gives us an interesting perspective. In the chapter on animals the author includes their use as meats, even going so far as to tell which sauces were considered appropriate for each. The specific choices were in accordance with the prevailing medical opinion of the day, which was still largely rooted in the ancient humoral theory.

As for Sawces therefore, they are either hot, serving, if the stomach want appetite, by reason of cold and raw humours furring it, and dulling the sense of feeling in its orifices, &c; are made of dill, fennel, mints, organy, parsly, dried gilliflowers, galingal, mustard seed, garlick, onions, leekes, juniper-berries, sage, time, vervain, betony, salt, cinamon, ginger, mace, cloves, nutmegs, pepper, pills of citrons, limons, and orenges, grains, cubebs, &c.mixe 1.2. or 3. of them, as need requireth, with wine or vinegar, made strong of rosemary or gilliflowers: or cold, helping the stomach and appetite, hurt by much choler, or adust and putrifyed phlegm; as those made of sorrel, lettuce, spinache, purselane, or saunders; mixt with vinegar, verjuice, cider, alegar, or water; or the pulp of prunes, apples, and currens &c. some help also for slow digestion, which is caused by coldnesse of the stomach or hardnesse of the meat, and helped by hot things; mustard therefore is to be used with beefe, and all kinds of salted flesh and fish; and onion sauce with duck, widgin, teal, and all water foule; salt and pepper with venison, and galingal sawce with the flesh of cygnets; garlicke or onions boiled in milk with stubble goose; and sugar and mustard with red deere, crane, shoveler, and bustard; and others are for temperate meats, and speedy of digestion; as pork, mutton, lamb, veale, kid, hen, capon, pullet, chicken, rabbet, partridge, and pheasant &c these therefore must have temperate sauces; as mustard and green-sauce for pork, verjuice and salt for mutton, juyce of orenges or limmons with wine, salt and sugar for capons, pheasants and partridges; water and pepper for wood-cocks; vinegar and butter, or the gravet of rosted meat with rabbets, pigeons, or chickens; for such meats, their sawces being too cold or too hot, would quickly corrupt in the stomach, being else most nourishing of their own nature; but others are to be corrected by artificial preparation, and appropriated sawce, which nature has made queazy or heavy to indifferent stomachs. These are the chief meats, sawces, or matter of Aliment ……

Now, isn’t that an impressive repertoire of sauce ingredients and sauces? There certainly some good ideas back in the good old days. Why have we forgotten some of them? Galingal doesn’t figure large in too many English recipes nowadays. And when did you last use gilliflowers in your sauce?

The recipe for the day is from Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife (1668)

To make an excellent Sauce for a rost Capon, you shall take Onions, and having sliced and peeled them, boyl them in fair water with Pepper, Salt, and a few bread crums: then put unto it a spoonful or two of claret Wine, the juyce of an Orange, and three or four slices of Lemmon peel: all these shred together, and so pour it upon the Capon being broke up.

Quotation for the Day.

What is sauce for the goose may be sauce for the gander, but it is not necessarily sauce for the chicken, the duck, the turkey or the Guinea hen.
Alice B Toklas.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Borodinsky Bread.

This day is the anniversary in 1812 of the Battle of Borodino. The event was the largest, and by far the most significant, of Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign to invade Russia. There always has to be a ‘winner’ of a battle, and technically on this day it was the French, although the total cost was high – 65,000 bodies, lying six to eight deep in places, littered the battlefield at the end of the day.

The temporarily defeated Russians made a strategic withdrawal, but could recover on their own land, and had a massive population from which to draw more troops. Napoleon’s depleted Grand Armée may have won the battle, but they lost the war – defeated in large part by the bitter Russian winter as they made their way home.

What has this got to do with food, you ask? Well, there is a particular Russian rye bread called Borodino, or Borodinsky Bread which is associated with this day. Myth says that a wife of a General, wishing to cheer the troops on the eve of the battle, made a batch of the staple Russian rye bread, adding wild coriander seeds which she had gleaned that day. Truth says that sour rye bread had been around in Russia for centuries. And common sense says that it would have been logistically impossible for even the most caring and skilled General’s wife to have made rye bread for many thousands of troops (a few select officers, perhaps, but that is not the myth.)

I have been unable to find a genuine historical recipe for this Borodino bread, but can assure you there are many ‘on the net.’ There is however, is an interesting explanation of the Russian method of making sour rye bread in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1778) – a very interesting non-cookery book source of recipes. I guess if coriander seeds were to be added, it might represent the real thing. The article makes a point about the Russian preference for a degree of acidity in their bread, and also discusses the making of quass (kvass) – a fermented beverage made from rye bread.

The manner of making the Russian rye bread. – In the morning they mix as much rye flour with warm milk, water, and a bason full of grounds of quass, or leaven, as will make a thin dough, and beat it up for half an hour with the chocolate staff before described*; this they set in a warm place till night, when they add more meal by degrees, working it up at the same with the staff, till the dough becomes stiff. They then return it to its warm situation till morning, at which time they throw in a proper quantity of salt, and work it with the hand to a proper consistence for bread; the longer this last operation is continued the better; they then place it before the fire till it rises, when it is cut into loaves, and returned once more to the warm place where it before stood, and kept there for an hour before the last part of the process, the baking, which completes it.

*In the instructions for the preparation of quass there is reference to “ a machine resembling the staff of a chocolate pot, but larger”, for the ‘working’ of the liquid.

Quotation for the Day:

Every few thousand years some shepherd inhales smoke from a burning bush and has a vision or eats moldy rye bread in a cave and sees God.
Kerry Thornley.

Monday, September 06, 2010

In Praise of Baked Beans.

A couple of random bits of trivia surfaced during my brief foray into the history of baked beans last week, and they are far too much fun not to share with you. The first is from a homesick ‘Yankee’ whose ode to his favourite dish was published in about 1829 in a number of farming journals, most of which quote the Baltimore Weekly Messenger as the source.

Baked Beans.

Oh! How my heart sighs for my own native land,
Where potatoes, and squashes, and cucumbers grow,
Where cheer and good welcome are always at hand,
And custards and pumpkin pies smoke in a row:
Where pudding the visage of hunger serenes
And, what is far better, the pot of baked Beans.

Let Maryland boast of her dainties profuse,
Her large water-melons and cantelopes fine,
Her turtles and oysters and terrapin stews,
And soft crabs high zested with brandy and wine;
Ah! neither my heart from my native land weans,
Where smokes on the table the pot of baked Beans.

The pot of bak’d beans! With what pleasure I view it
Well season’, well pork’d by some rosy-faced dame,
And when from the glowing hot oven she drew it,
Well crisp’d and well brown’d to the table it came.
O give me my country, the land of my teens,
Of the plump Indian pudding and pot of baked Beans.

The pot of bak’d beans! Ah! the muse is too frail,
Its taste to descant or its virtues to tell;
But look at the sons of New England so hale,
And her daughters so rosy; ‘twill teach thee full well;
Like me it will teach thee to sigh for the means
Of health and of rapture – the pot of baked Beans.
                                                  Signed: A Yankee.

The second amusing story concerns the myth of the Sabbath beans – I think we are all agreed that it is a myth? Several nineteenth century magazines repeat the following nice piece of supporting ‘evidence’:

Baked beans were always the only fashionable meal for Sabbath noon in Massachusetts. A minister who is a very correct mathematician, and a bit of a wag withal, has computed that he preached regularly every Sabbath afternoon to fifty-five bushels and three pecks of baked beans, while their owners were asleep.”

As for the recipe for the day, I was going to give you the earliest one I have found so far for simple ‘baked beans,’ as distinct from Boston baked beans. The earliest I have come across so far was from a magazine article in 1833, but it was virtually identical to the Boston baked beans recipe given on Friday. This may or may not be evidence that Boston baked beans are the real thing, and I leave you to consider this.

Instead, I give you the first cookery book version. It is from the prolific Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife (1835), and appears under the heading ‘Beans and Peas.’ Mrs Child does not used molasses or any other sweetener in her baked beans, but does advocate the addition of pepper for health reasons.

Baked beans are a very simple dish, yet few cook them well. They should be put in cold water, and hung over the fire, the night before they are baked. In the morning, they should be put in a colander, and rinsed two or three times; then again placed in a kettle, with the pork you intend to bake, covered with water, and kept scalding hot an hour or more. A pound of pork is quite enough for a quart of beans, and that is a large dinner for a common family. The rind of the port should be slashed. Pieces of pork alternately fat and lean are most suitable; the cheeks are the best. A little pepper sprinkled among the beans, when they are placed in the bean-pot, will render them less unhealthy. They should be just covered with water, when put into the oven; and the pork should be sunk a little below the surface of the beans. Bake three or four hours.

Quotation for the Day.

I like refried beans. That's why I wanna try fried beans, because maybe they're just as good and we're just wasting time. You don't have to fry them again after all.
Mitch Hedberg.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Baked beans.

Yesterday’s post reminded me that I have hardly touched the topic of baked beans in this blog. I have featured two baked bean recipes in the past, one from 1877 and one from 1943, but neither of these was for Boston baked beans – which, I understand from my limited discussions with friendly Bostonians, are the real thing.

Where I hail from, baked beans come in a can (courtesy of Mr. Heinz), are an orangey-red colour due to their coating of tomato sauce, and are essential to a traditional, full English breakfast. I realise now in my maturity that the baked beans that I grew up on may not speak to authenticity in the matter, so I - upstart outsider that I am - decided to seek the truth on Boston baked beans, and provide for you an authentic, original recipe.

I do understand now that I have bitten off more than I can chew, if you will pardon the pun, in the matter of authenticity as it relates to baked beans. It appears that passions can be easily aroused on the subject, and that there are, in fact, almost as many authentic recipes as there are cooks in their country of origin.

The country of origin is, of course, presumed to be America, and the original cooks its original inhabitants, who taught the technique to the migrants/colonists/invaders. It is difficult to sort out the truth from the pretty legend here, and I eagerly await enlightenment from you, dear readers.

The original inhabitants and their early international visitors clearly used the local beans - but pulses have long been a staple in Europe, and migrants/colonists/invaders take their familiar recipes and preferences with them and adapt them as they need to. For the English, pease cooked slowly (with some bacon, if available) were a staple. And what about the French? Did they not adapt their cassoulet when they went to America?

My favourite interpretation of the story of 'American' baked beans (I do hope that it is true) is that the native American method of cooking the native beans was to mix them with bear fat and maple syrup and slow-cook them in earthen or deerskin ‘pots.’ The early Pilgrims did not allow cooking on the Sabbath, so the slow cooking method suited them perfectly as the pot of beans could be left to cook on the back of the stove the previous night, and eaten next day without any further attention.

Next questions. Why the ‘Boston’ connection? And what is specific about ‘Boston’ baked beans? I am bravely entering a mine-field here, folks, so be kind.

The most popular story has it that in the early days, Boston became the centre for rum production, using sugar from the Caribbean. A by-product of the process was molasses, which therefore became the sweetener of choice. So - the early settlers substituted pork for the bear fat, and molasses for the maple syrup, and Voila! Baked beans for breakfast.

The first mention I have found to date specifically for Boston baked beans is in 1800. I feel sure that there are earlier references, and hope that one of you can point me in the direction of a genuine study of the topic. In the meanwhile I give you a recipe which appeared in the Massachusetts Ploughman, in 1847, which was repeated in a number of agricultural journals around the country in that year. An identical recipe was also included in The Improved Housewife: or,Book of Receipts … by Mrs. A.L.Webster, a married lady, published in 1847.

Boston Baked Beans.
The Massachusetts Ploughman gives the following recipe for cooking this famed Yankee dish. We can vouch for its excellence. Take two quarts of middling sized white beans, three pounds of salt pork, and one spoonful of molasses. Pick the beans over carefully, wash and turn about a gallon of soft water to them in a pot; let them soak in it lukewarm over night; set them in the morning where they will boil til the skin is very tender and about to break, adding a teaspoonful of saleratus. Take them up dry, put them in your dish, stir in the molasses, gash the pork and put it down in the dish, so as to have the beans cover all but the upper surface: turn in cold water till the top is just covered; bake and let the beans remain in the oven all night.
[Southern Cultivator, Volumes 6-7, 1847]

Quotation for the Day.

Beans are highly nutritious and satisfying, they can also be delicious if and when properly prepared, and they posses over all vegetables the great advantage of being just as good, if not better, when kept waiting, an advantage in the case of people whose disposition or occupation makes it difficult for them to be punctual at mealtime.
Andre Simon (1877-1970), in The Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy (1952)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

In prison again.

A few weeks ago I gave you a menu from the Dallas County Jail in the 1930’s. The story was actually about the food in the infamous prison at Alcatraz, but at the time I could not find an Alcatraz menu from this decade. I still cant - but can move a step closer, thanks to the online image gallery of the prison museum.

I am delighted to report that on this very day in 1946 (a Monday), the daily menu for the inmates of Alcatraz was as follows:

Stewed prunes.
Bran Flakes.
Fresh Milk.
Orange Roll.
Bread and Coffee.

Split Pea Soup.
Roast Shoulder of Pork.
Sage Dressing.
Brown Gravy.
Mashed Potatoes.
Stewed Corn.
Apple Pie.
Bread and Coffee w/Milk.

Split Pea Soup.
Boston Baked Beans.
Tomato Catsup.
Beet and Onion Salad.
Canned Pears.
Bread & Coffee.

Not bad, for the worst prisoners in the federal system, was it? As I indicated in the previous blog post, the policy at Alcatraz was to provide better than the usual prison fare, in an attempt to reduce rioting – prison food being a common source of complaint by prisoners. I guess it would also be harder to get up the energy to riot with a belly full of pea soup and roast pork and apple pie, wouldn’t it?

Beet and Onion Salad.
1 large cooked Spanish onion.
1 large cooked beet.
1 teaspoonful chopped tarragon.
1 teaspoonful chopped parsley.
Salt and pepper to taste.
4 tablespoonfuls olive oil.
2 tablespoonfuls vinegar
Slice the onion, add the beet chopped and the seasonings, oil, and vinegar. Mix well and serve with cold roast beef.
Salads, Sandwiches, and Chafing Dish Recipes, by Marion Harris Neil (Philadelphia, 1916)

Quotation for the Day.

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

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Do you like a thumb-bit for a quick snack? I do, although I admit it is not an elegant meal. It is just right for some occasions however - such as when you are cleaning out the fridge and some of the scraps are too tempting to scrap, or when the desire for a supper snack cannot be resisted, or when it is too late for breakfast but too early for lunch and you are not pretentious enough for brunch.

It is obvious that I have been doing some foraging for old food words. A ‘thumb-bit’ is a piece of meat eaten on bread, and is so called for the obvious reason that the thumb is used to secure the meat in place. Delightful, isn’t it? Sounds more fun than ‘open sandwich’, doesn’t it?

The word is recorded in A dictionary of archaic and provincial words, obsolete phrases … (1847). The nineteenth century was a time of great interest in ‘lost’ English dialects, and there are many similar texts waiting to provide linguistic fodder for us in the coming weeks and months.

For added historical interest, you can, if you wish, use your thumb not to hold the meat on a vapid modern slice of white foamy stuff, but on a substantial large piece or ‘dad-of-bread.’ This treat is courtesy of Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words (1825). A plain meat sandwich is getting more interesting and more fun all the time, isn’t it?

I have, I think, chosen an interesting recipe for the day. It is a sandwich. It is true that it is more complicated and more elegant than our thumb-bit, but who needs a recipe for a piece of meat on bread? It is attractive on a number of counts. It sounds interestingly savoury and tasty, which should be reason enough. It is versatile, which is always a virtue in a sandwich. It would, methinks, make a marvellous canapé, if cut as suggested, or a marvellously substantial snack if left intact. It requires a ‘knife-point’ amount to be spread on the bread – and when did you last see an instruction like that in a recipe book?

It is also impossible to resist the title of the book from whence it came - Culina Famulatrix Medicinae: or, Receipts in Modern Cookery, with a Medical Commentary, written by Ignotus (York, 1806). How many publishers of cookery books today would accept a title in Latin? Have we cookbook buyers become dumbed down?

A Cheshire Sandwich.
Take anchovies, Cheshire cheese, and butter, of each equal parts. Made mustard to the taste. Pound in a marble mortar till all the ingredients become well incorporated. Spread a knife-pointful of this upon slices of white bread, and between two pieces put a thin slice of ham, or any kind of cold meat. Press together, and with a sharp knife, divide the sandwich into mouthfuls.

Quotation for the Day.
Too few people understand a really good sandwich.
James Beard.