Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bamboo, Episode 2.

I know I promised some vaguely Thanksgiving-related postings this week, but I seem to have been waylaid by my little grandsons the last couple of days, and the intended story for today needs too much tweaking for the lateness of the hour. Instead, I give you a story I have had up my sleeve for just such an occasion ….

I came across a reference to bread made from bamboo seed some time ago, and it continues to intrigue me greatly because I cannot find any decently detailed information on where and how it is made. The search led me back to one of my own blog posts, in which I quoted the Oxford English Dictionary to the effect that the first mention in English of ‘bamboo shoots’ as a culinary item was in the words of the writer Rudyard Kipling in 1899. This might technically be true, but only in so far as it applies to the phrase ‘bamboo shoots’ – clearly the English experience of the edible parts of the plant go at least a century further back.

The Cyclopaedia of practical receipts and collateral information in the arts, manufactures, professions, and trades, including medicine, pharmacy, and domestic economy, (London, 1879) has, under the heading ‘Bambusa’, the following information:

“There is, perhaps, scarcely any other plant besides the palm which serves for so many purposes usefl to man, as the various species of bamboo. Its grain is used for bread, the young shoots are eaten like asparagus, and are also pickled; the smaller stalks are made int walking canes …………”

Travellers returning from the exotic East brought back descriptions, and no doubt actual jars, of pickled bamboo shoots long before Kipling tasted them in Japan. The proof is in a recipe for mock bamboo, in A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery ……by Mary Kettilby, published in 1734. Surely a dish can be said to have well and truly ‘arrived’ when it is popular enough to be imitated?

An Admirable Pickle, in Imitation of India Bamboo, exactly as that is done.
Take the largest and youngest Shoots of Elder, which put out in the middle of May, the middle Stalks are most tender and biggest, the small are not worth doing; peel off the outward Peel or Skin, and lay them in a strong Brine of Salt and Water for one Night, and then dry them in a Cloth, Piece by Piece; in the meantime, make your Pickle of half White-wine, and half Beer-Vinegar; to each Quart of Pickle you must put an Ounce of White or Red Pepper, an Ounce of Ginger, sliced, a little Mace, and a few Corns of Jamaica Pepper: when the Spice has boil’d in the Pickle, pour it hot upon the Shoots, stop them close immediately, and set the Jar two hours before the Fire, turning it often; ‘tis as good a way to green this or any other Pickle, as often boiling, though either way is certain, if you keep it scalding hot; always use Stone Jars for any sort of Pickle, if they can be got, the first Charge is inconsiderable, and they do not only last longer than Earth, but keep the Pickle better, because Vinegar will penetrate through all Earthen Vessels, and Glass will not bear the Fire: this is a very crisp pretty-tasting Pickle.

And here is another pre-Kipling version, from A new system of domestic cookery: formed upon principles of economy …(1808) by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell.

English Bamboo.
Cut the large young shoots of elder, which put out in the middle of May (the middle stalks are most tender); peel off the outward peel, or skin, and lay them in salt and water, very strong, one night. Dry them piece by piece in cloth. Have in readiness a pickle thus made and boiled: to a quart of vinegar put an ounce of white pepper, an ounce of sliced ginger, a little mace and pimento, and pour boiling on the elder-shoots in a stone jar; stop close and set by the fire two hours, turning the jar often to keep it scalding hot. If not green when cold, strain off the liquor and pour boiling hot again; keep it hot as before. Or, if you intend to make India pickle, the above shoots are a great improvement to it; in which case you need only pour boiling vinegar and mustard seed on them; and keep them till your jar of pickles shall be ready to receive them. The cluster of elder-flowers before it opens makes a delicious pickle to eat with boiled mutton. It is prepared by only pouring vinegar over.

Quotation for the Day.

When it comes to foreign food, the less authentic the better.
Gerald Nachman, San Francisco Chronicle.

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