Friday, January 29, 2010

Plum Duff to Go.

Buying take-out on the way home from work is not a twenty-first century idea. The workers of Victorian London could buy a great variety of cooked food from street vendors who cried their wares from their regular pitches around the city. Make no mistake, this was not the gourmet end of the food spectrum. The arrangement was strictly for the “poorer sort” – which included the vendors themselves. The day to day life of these folk was a constant struggle to maintain a viable business, and the details are told most poignantly in an amazing sociological work by Henry Mayhew published in 1851. The full title is:


Many of the street sellers of food are described in Mayhew’s work. In a previous post we learned something of the sellers of hot cross buns, but there are many more. Amongst them are the vendors of curds and whey, hot elder wine, cakes and tarts, fried fish, hot eels and pea soup, rhubarb and spice, roasted chestnuts and apples, sheeps’ trotters, hot baked potatoes and pickled whelks. Today, to follow-on from yesterday’s story, I want to give you some of the details of the life and business of the street sellers of Plum “Duff” or Dough. It was very much a case of niche-marketing in those days – the Plum Duff vendors were separate from the vendors of “Boiled Puddings” (i.e meat puddings “which might perhaps with greater correctness be called dumplings”.)

Mayhew’s words on the plum duff sellers includes a “recipe” and costings:

“Plum dough is one of the street-eatables – though perhaps it is rather a violence to class it with the street-pastry – which is usually made by the vendors. It is simply a boiled plum, or currant, pudding of the plainest description. It is sometimes made in the rounded form of the plum-pudding; but more frequently in the "roly-poly" style. Hot pudding used to be of much more extensive sale in the streets. One informant told me that twenty or thirty years ago, batter, or Yorkshire, pudding, "with plums in it," was a popular street business. The "plums," as in the orthodox plum-puddings, are raisins. The street-vendors of plum "duff" are now very few, only six as an average, and generally women, or if a man be the salesman he is the woman's husband. The sale is for the most part an evening sale, and some vend the plum dough only on a Saturday night. A woman in Leather-lane, whose trade is a Saturday night trade, is accounted "one of the best plum duffs" in London, as regards the quality of the comestible, but her trade is not considerable.
The vendors of plum dough are the streetsellers who live by vending other articles, and resort to plum dough, as well as to other things, "as a help." This dough is sold out of baskets in which it is kept hot by being covered with cloths, sometimes two and even three, thick; and the smoke issuing out of the basket, and the cry of the street-seller, "Hot plum duff, hot plum," invite custom. A quartern of flour, 5d.; ½ lb. Valentia raisins, 2d.; dripping and suet in equal proportions, 2 ½d.; treacle, ½ d. ; and allspice, ½ d.—in all l0½ d. ; supply a roly-poly of twenty pennyworths. The treacle, however, is only introduced "to make the dough look rich and spicy," and must be used sparingly.
The plum dough is sold in slices at ½ d. or 1d. each, and the purchasers are almost exclusively boys and girls - boys being at least three-fourths of the revellers in this street luxury. I have ascertained - as far as the information of the street-sellers enables me to ascertain - that take the year through, six "plum duffers" take 1s. a day each, for four winter months, including Sundays, when the trade is likewise prosecuted. Some will take from 4s. to 10s. (but rarely 10s.) on a Saturday night, and nothing on other nights, and some do a little in the summer. The vendors, who are all stationary, stand chiefly in the street-markets and reside near their stands, so that they can get relays of hot dough.
If we calculate then 42s. a week as the takings of six persons, for five months, so including the summer trade, we find that upwards of 200 l [pounds] is expended in the street purchase of plum dough, nearly half of which is profit. The trade, however, is reckoned among those which will disappear altogether from the streets.
The capital required to start is: basket, 1s. 9d. ; cloths, 6d. ; pan for boiling, 2s.; knife, 2d. ; stock-money, 2S.; in all about, 7s 6d."

The recipes for the day are taken from yesterday’s source, Camp Cookery, by Horace Kephart, (1910).

Sweet Sauce for Puddings.
Melt a little butter, sweeten it to taste, and flavor with grated lemon rind, nutmeg, or cinnamon.

Brandy Sauce.
Butter twice the size of an egg is to be beaten to a cream with a pint of sugar and a tablespoonful of flour. Add a gill of brandy. Set the cup in a dish of boiling water, and beat until the sauce froths.

Quotation for the Day.

It's not improbable that a man may receive more solid satisfaction from pudding while he is alive than from praise after he is dead.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Duff Paste.

Yesterday we considered something which I daresay is no longer a regular part of anyone’s diet – huff paste or huff crust. Today, the rhyming poet in me could not resist bringing to your attention another lost pastry product – the intriguingly named duff paste.

The Oxford English Dictionary was mysteriously silent on the subject of huff paste, but it is very enlightening on today’s topic. Put simply, it says that ‘duff’ was originally ‘a northern pronunciation’ of ‘dough’. For an amusing insight into English language pronunciation, try saying ‘through enough rough dough’, and you will appreciate the difficulties faced by those non-native speakers who are trying to get to grips with its illogical convolutions.

By the mid-nineteenth century, ‘duff’ came to refer specifically to a boiled pudding or dumpling made from a very basic dough (paste) – hence the well-known ‘plum duff’ or plum pudding.

Plain Plum Duff.
1 quart flour,
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder,
2 tablespoonsful sugar,
1 lb seeded raisins
¾ lb suet (or see below)
Venison suet, chopped fine, or the fat of salt pork minced up, will serve. Marrow is better than either. Mix the dry ingredients intimately. Then make up with half a pint of water. Put this into a cloth bag prepared as in the preceding recipe (). Since suet puddings swell considerably, the bag must be large enough to allow for this. Place in enough boiling water to cover, and do not let it check boiling until done (about two hours). Add boiling water as required to keep the bag covered. Turn the bag upside down when pudding begins to set, or the fruit will go all to the bottom; turn it round now and then to prevent it scorching against the sides of pot. When done, manipulate it like cottage pudding. Serve with sweet sauce.
A richer duff can be made by spicing and adding molasses, or the rind and juice of a lemon.
[Camp Cookery, Horace Kephart, 1910]

Question: any ideas as to what is meant by “manipulate it like cottage pudding”?

Quotation for the Day.

“Make a remark,” said the Red Queen’ “it is ridiculous to leave all the conversation to the pudding.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Huff Paste.

There is to be found in cookbooks of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, something called huff paste (or pastry). The Oxford English Dictionary does not acknowledge it, which is rather remiss of that marvelous reference, but nevertheless huff paste did perform a useful role in the kitchen in times past.

Huff paste was a mixture of flour and enough water to bind it to a thick, elastic dough, and was used to wrap a large joint of meat (especially a gammon) before boiling or roasting, or to tightly seal a baking dish in lieu of a lid. Sometimes fat was added, making huff paste similar to suet crust or hot water paste, but regardless, the resulting dish was essentially the same as a medieval pie or bake-meat, with (it is usually said), the pastry being discarded when the dish was served at table. This is not to say that it was not eaten by someone , somewhere in the pecking order – it is difficult to believe that the meat-juice soaked crust was thrown out to the pigs or dogs, is it not? Occasionally the crust was removed and broken up and added to the contents of the cooked pie to thicken the gravy - a fresh ‘proper’pastry lid then put on, and the pie briefly returned to the oven.

Most sources refer to huff paste as a particularly northern British concoction, although the recipe I give you today is from Devizes, a market town in Wiltshire in the South of England.

Devizes Pie.
Thin slices from a boiled calf’s head with the brains and tongue cut into strips. Also slices of cold cooked bacon and lamb and rounds of hard-boiled eggs. Salt, pepper, and ground allspice and cayenne. Brown gravy that will form a jelly when cold. A flour and water paste, and sprays of parsley.
Arrange the prepared meat, &c. in a pie-dish, adding plenty of spice and seasoning. Pour in enough gravy to cover and put on the paste. Bake in a slow oven (325 deg F) for an hour, take out and leave till cold and the gravy set. Now discard the crust and turn the jellied pie out onto a flat dish. Garnish with the parsley and the eggs, shelled and halved.
[The Times, Nov 19, 1956]

Quotation for the Day.

Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australia Day.

Today is Australia Day, hence a public holiday in this fair land. Previous posts on this day can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE. Naturally I am intending to have family fun, so I am sure you will forgive me for a short post.

I want to return to an ingredient much beloved of a previous generation of Aussies, but which is now, sadly, in the nutritional naughty corner. It is Copha. Copha is a product along the same lines as Crisco, although it is made from coconut oil (fully hydrogenated of course) rather than cottonseed or soy oil. As I indicated in a previous story, Copha is indispensible for the making of Chocolate Crackles, which are an indispensible offering at children’s parties in Australia. Chocolate Crackles provide part of the entertainment at children’s parties too, on account of the fact that they are not cooked but ‘set’ – a very temporary situation until they are removed from the refrigerator, when they rapidly melt and facilitate chocolately face and finger painting and general mess.

The manufacturers of Copha kept the adults in mind with a recipe for a ‘cake’ appropriate for dinner parties ,which was quite the vogue for a while. A promotional article in The Melbourne newspaper The Argus even suggested it as an alternative to Christmas cake and mince pies in a December 1935.

“Now we want variety - something utterly different. We know - Copha Chocolate Biscuit Cake! There's an idea – it’s so easy to make, and it's one of the most popular cakes we know. With good reason, too, Copha cakes are always so delicious.”

(Made in 5 Minutes).
5oz. Pure Essence of Copha (melted)
½ lb. icing sugar
1 heaped dessert-spoon of Cocoa
1 Egg
Essence of Vanilla to flavour
½ lb Coffee, Malt, or any suitable biscuits. These should be softened by exposure.
Mix together the sifted sugar, cocoa, egg, and vanilla. Then stir in the hot (not boiling) Copha.
Line cake tin with grease-proof paper; place alternate layers of the mixture and the biscuits until the tin is filled, beginning and finishing with the mixture. Stand in cold place until set.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Turn of the Century Turkey.

Tonight, as those of you with any real or wished-for Scottish heritage are aware, is the anniversary of the birth of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns. We have discussed the essential elements of a traditional Burns Night dinner – haggis and all – in a previous post, so may I refer you to the details HERE? January 25 also happens to be the birth anniversary of Virginia Woolf, which we have also covered in a blog post on this day in a previous year (HERE) .

We are able to maintain the literary theme for January 25 thanks to the wonderful Jane Austen. Miss Austen, at home in Steventon, wrote one of her many letters to her sister Cassandra on this day in 1801.

Steventon: Sunday (January 25).
I dare say you will spend a very pleasant three weeks in town. I hope you will see everything worthy of notice, from the Opera House to Henry's office in Cleveland Court; and I shall expect you to lay in a stock of intelligence that may procure me amusement for a twelvemonth to come. You will have a turkey from Steventon while you are there, and pray note down how many full courses of exquisite dishes M. Halavant converts it into.

The cook in question - M. Halavant - was apparently French, so perhaps was expected to have a more extensive range of turkey recipes than English guests were used to? I thought it might be interesting to see what were the suggestions for turkey in English cookbooks of the time, and chose at random The Complete British Cook, by Mary Holland, published in 1800.

The author notes in the text that “For a turkey, good gravy in the dish, and either bread or onion sauce in a bason, or both” are appropriate sauces, and also that ‘portable soup’ cakes are useful in the making of make gravy for turkey or fowl. As far as specific recipes for turkey are concerned there are only slim pickings in this particular book: there is a single recipe for a turkey sauce (given below), a recipe for a liver ragout which includes turkey livers, and very elementary instructions on how to boil and stew the bird.

[To Boil] Turkey, Fowl, Goose, Duck, &c.
Poultry are best boiled by themselves, and in a good deal of water; scum the pot clean, and you need not be afraid of their going to table of bad colour. A large turkey, with a force-meat in its craw, will take two hours; one without, an hour and a half; a hen turkey, three quarters of an hour, a large fowl, forty minutes; a small one, half an hour; a large chicken, twenty minutes; and a small one a quarter of an hour; a full grown goose salted, an hour and a half’ a large duck, near an hour.

[To Stew] a Turkey or Fowl.
Take a turkey or fowl, put into a sauce-pan or pot, with sufficient quantity of gravy or good broth; a bunch of celery cut small, and a muslin rag, filled with mace, pepper, and all-spice, tied loose, with an onion, and a sprig of thyme; then these have stewed softly till enough, take up the turkey or fowl; thicken the liquor it was stewed in with butter and flour; and having dished the turkey, or fowl, pour the sauce into the dish.

Oyster Sauce for boiled Turkey, Fowls, or any white Meat.
Open a pint of large oysters and just scald them, strain the liquor through a sieve, wash an beard them, put into a stewpan, and pour the liquor from the settlings in, put in half a lemon, a piece of butter mixed with flour, a quarter of a pound of butter, and a gill of cream, boil it gently till it is thick and smooth; take out the lemon and squeeze the juice in, stir it round, and then put in your sauce-boat.

There are other food stories inspired by Jane Austen in previous blog posts HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Quotation for the Day.
What a shocking fraud the turkey is. In life preposterous, insulting – that foolish noise they make … in death – unpalatable … practically no taste except a dry fibrous flavour reminiscent of warmed up plaster-of-paris and horsehair. The texture is like wet sawdust and the whole vast feathered swindle has the piquancy of a boiled mattress.
“Cassandra” (columnist William Connor), The Daily Mirror, 1953.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Mayor and Mayoress at Dinner.

Mr. J. Skeat, the eighteenth century author of our inspiration for the week appears to have been an important member of the catering community in Norwich, England. He details the bills of fare and the table settings for two important civic events – not dated but presumably not too distant from the time of publication of his book (The Art of Cookery and Pastery … ) in 1769. One of these bills of fare – that for the “Mayor’s Feast at Lynn”, is our topic for the day.

In previous times, the bill of fare served to you at an important dinner depended on your rank. Greater choice and finer food went to the most important folk, with fewer dishes and sometimes fewer courses going to those lower down in the pecking order (those “below the salt”, so to speak.) At the Mayor’s Feast at Lynn, all guests received two course, but different choices were offered to the Mayor’s table, the Mayoress’s Table, the Common-Council Table, the Middle Table, the Large Table in the Assembly Room, and the Short Table in the Assembly Room.

Interestingly, there was a greater variety of dishes at the Mayoress’s table than at the Mayor’s table at this feast. Here is the first course for both those tables (the lists also indicate the position of the dishes on the table).

The Mayor’s Table.

Carp &c.
Pigeons Fricandoe. M. Pudding [ Marrow]
Bombard Veal
Haunch of Venison.
Partridge Pye.
Roast Turkey.
Venison Pasty.
Roast Pig.

The Mayoress’s Table.
Pike, &c.
Veal Sweetbreads. Italienne.
Haunch of Venison.
Partridge Pye.
Ducks A-la-Brazed.
Roast Pig.
Veal Olives.
Roast Goose.
Roast Turkey.
Tongue. Udder.
Pidgeons Fricandoe.
Venison Pasty.
White Collops.
Bombard Veal.

White Collops.
Take a clean stewpan with a piece of butter, when melted have some small cutlets of veal, and just warm them through in the butter; dredge in a little flour, and keep shaking it about; season them to your liking; then add a little cream, a little white gravy, and the juice of a lemon; shake them all together, and serve them up with egg balls.

Quotation for the Day.

Banquet: a plate of cold, hairy chicken and artificially coloured green peas completely surrounded by dreary speeches and appeals for donations.
Bennett A. Cerf, Laughing Stock (1945)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lost and Found.

There are some regular themes in this blog that are beautifully illustrated in this week’s source (The Art of Cookery and Pastery … by J.Skeat, 1769). Some of them are:

- That there are dishes which were once desirable, popular, and common which are now unfashionable, unpopular, or just plain unavailable.

- Other dishes which seem wonderful and elegant and are still eminently do-able even in our time-poor, economically anxious, and servant-free lives - yet have inexplicably disappeared and should be considered for reinstatement.

- There are many dishes which we think are modern, yet can be found alive and well hundreds of years ago, their only disguise being a different name.

I would like to give you an example from each category, from Mr.Skeat’s book.

No one eats lamb’s ears anymore – at least not in recogniseable form (no doubt they get into sausage meat). The following recipe makes no attempt to disguise the ears, indeed, it flaunts their useful anatomical shape.

Ragou’d Lamb’s Ears.
Take care to have them well cleaned, and kept as whole as possible; fill the hollow part with good forcemeat; wash them over with an egg, and send them to the oven: have ready a rich gravy for the dish against they come from the oven, with stew’d sorrel around it.

The following recipe is a very glorious take on the humble rice pudding. May I suggest individual servings for a very elegant dinner-party dessert?

To force Oranges.
Fill two preserved oranges full of rich whole rice pudding boil’d in cream, eggs, sugar, nutmeg and wine, and stir in a piece of butter and some sugar; then have a set custard, and fill the dish; put the oranges in the middle, and garnish with sweetmeats and flowers.

And finally, the humble meat patty, rissole, or burger in a very superior pre-incarnation. Served with the recommended spinach it becomes Burgers Florentine, does it not?

Savoury Cakes.
Take a pound of the lean of veal, half a pound of beef suet, a quarter of a pound of bacon, and cut them small; then mix well together the yolks of six hard eggs, some crumbs of bread, half a shallot, nutmeg, pepper, and salt; and break up an egg to mix them to a sort of paste; make them up in round cakes, and fry them brown; lay them before the fire whilst the sauce is making, which is stew’s spinnage, melted butter, or a good ragout sauce in the dish; for either way is good.

Quotation for the Day.

"Offal" is used about 67 times out of a sample of 100 million words spoken or written in English. Its rank is based on over 700,000 words used in the English language
Webster’s Online Dictionary

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Culinary Puzzles.

There are several dishes in our eighteenth century source for the week (The Art of Cookery and Pastery … by J.Skeat, 1769) about which I am mystified, and look forward to your input.

As I discussed yesterday, the rather puzzling names of some of the dishes in this book can be explained as an English cook’s interpretation of the classic French names (‘calf’s foy’ being calf’s foie, or liver). A few have really defeated me, and I ask for your suggestions. First, we have this intriguingly-named dish:

Beef Troublon.
Take a brisket piece of beef, tie it up, and put it into a brazen pot, with the fat of bacon, four bay leaves, three whole onions, a fagot of sweet herbs, two turnips and two carrots; just cover your beef with liquor, and put in a handful of salt, half a pint of vinegar, some mace, cloves, allspice, and pepper; set it over a slow fire, and when tender, which will be in four or five hours, make your sauce for it thus:
Take scooped turnips, carrots, and a few capers, have a clean stewpan,with some good gravy, and be sure to let it be of a high colour; then put in your ingredients, and thicken it with a little flour, and some of the gravy that is cold; for in all things where thickening is required, this method is better than rubbing flour and butter together. Season it to your taste.

Why ‘Troublon’ for a simple dish of boiled beef with caper sauce?

The other puzzling dish I want to give you today is this:

Ragou’d Mela.
Take sweetbreads, and cut them in large pieces, then add artichoak bottoms, cocks-combs, beef palates, forcemeat balls, truffles, and morels; toss them up the same as a fricasey; do this white, then make a leasing, which is cream, nutmeg, lemon, the yolks of egg, and a little flour. When you put in your leasing, serve it up as soon as possible. Garnish with patties.

It is unlikely that you will see a dish such as this on the menu of your local restaurant soon, but in the eighteenth century these were all the most delicate and desirable ingredients. A pie containing these delicious tidbits would have been called a Battalia Pie, the word coming from beatilles, or beautiful little things. I am stumped as to the name ‘mela’. The Oxford English Dictionary gives mela as being ‘Hindu religious or cultural festival. Also more generally in South Asian communities: a fair’, and ‘ In Carnatic music: a scale type around which a raga is formed’. Neither of these seem likely. Is it somehow related to the French miele for honey?

Quotation for the Day.

On ‘Escargot’ - Nobody is sure how this got started. Probably a couple of French master chefs were standing around one day, and they found a snail, and one of them said: 'I bet that if we called this something like "escargot," tourists would eat it.' Then they had a hearty laugh, because 'escargot' is the French word for 'fat crawling bag of phlegm.'
Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need, (1991)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Culinary Franglish.

This week’s source of inspiration (The Art of Cookery and Pastery … by J.Skeat, 1769) has many recipes with bizarre names I’ve never seen in modern cookbooks. Names like Beef Meriton, Beef Troublon, Calf’s Foy, Rabbits Pouleard, Ragou’d Mela, Pigeons a la Perigode, and Palpitune of Pigeons. And what, pray is a ‘Baragade’? Are these ‘lost’ dishes, begging to be rediscovered in the twenty-first century?

The naming of some of these dishes remains a mystery to me, and we will leave them until tomorrow to puzzle over. A few however, come a little clearer when you say them with French attitude. French food became increasingly fashionable in England in the seventeenth century following the return of King Charles II from his prolonged exile in Europe in the aftermath of the Civil War. There was a reaction against this ‘Frenchification’ in the eighteenth century (see Hannah Glasse’s words at the end of this post), but the classic names of classic dishes were far too entrenched to be reversed. Besides, it was convenient, for the name of a dish spoke the style to a chef or sophisticated diner, meaning that a lengthy description was not needed. We have to remember that even the spelling of English words was not standardized at this time, and it is not rare to see the same word spelled two different ways on the same page. As for “French” words – most chefs neither spoke nor read French, so the names were interpreted phonetically (and not necessarily accurately, as most would not have heard the word spoken by a fluent speaker of French.)

For example, bisshmell and beshmell both appear in this book, and are dishes with thickened white sauces – in other words, they are béchamel. Several dishes are cooked in, and served with a cooley, which in the short glossary is called ‘white broth or weak gravy’ – so methinks it is an interpretation of coulis.

As for our named dishes, Palpitune is from polpettone, and Perigode is presumably from à la Périgord. The latter classically refers to a dish which includes truffles, but in this book is a simple dish of roasted pigeons in gravy (or ‘cooley’). Say ‘Calf’s Foy’ with a bad French accent and you get Calfs Foie – or Calf’s Liver. Sure enough, here is the recipe.

A Calf’s Foy.
Take a calf’s liver, and fry it in slices not quite enough; then drain off the fat and put them in good gravy, with some chopt parsley and shallots. Garnish with rolls of bacon, and fry’d parsley or stewed spinage.

More puzzles tomorrow.

Quotation for the Day.

So much is the blind Folly of this Age, that they [Gentlemen] would rather be imposed on by a French Booby, than give encouragement to a good English Cook!
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cook, Author, Publisher, Bookseller.

This week I thought we might have some fun exploring just one historic cookery book. I have chosen the book I used for last Thursday’s post on ‘Sham Tortoise’- for no better reasons than I have a print-out of the pdf (sorry to the dead trees) which remains beside me on my desk, and because apart from the serendipitous find of the tortoise recipe, I am completely ignorant as to its other offerings.

The book is The Art of Cookery and Pastery Made Easy and Familiar, in upwards of two hundred different receipts and bills of fare, never before made public, by J.Skeat, published in England in 1769. I hope to discover some new/old ideas and at least one mystery, have some fun with words, and of course, give you some interesting recipes.

The author (who styles himself “Cook”) must be a Norwich man, for there are several references to the city in the book. The frontispiece notes that the contents include ‘an exact representation of the Tables of the Guild-Feasts of Norwich and Lynn’, and below the brief glossary the author has inserted a footnote saying:

‘Any Gentleman or Lady, in or near Norwich, that chooses to have a proper set of stew-pans, sauce-pans &c, in exchange for those that are old and of no use, by applying to the Author of this Book, may be furnish’d therewith, as he has the opportunity of having them made in the most serviceable manner, and as cheap as in London.’

Mr. Skeat must have been busy. As well as being cook, cookbook author, and retailer of kitchen equipment, he appears to have not only self-published his work but sold it from his own home. The footer at the bottom of the front page says:

‘Printed for the Author and Sold by him at his House next Door to the Maid’s Head, in St. Simon’s; and by J.CROUSE, at the Back of the Inns, NORWICH.’

Sadly, I have not been able to find out anything about Mr. Skeat (I am assuming the author is male) in the brief amount of time I allocated to the search. I wonder if any Norwich residents can offer any ideas ? Is there still a house next door to the Maid’s Head pub? Is there even a pub (tavern, inn, whatever) with that name still there? What about a Skeat family?

For today’s choice of extract from the book, I go no further than the author’s preface. The advice is still pretty sound, over two hundred years later.

For all Cooks to be govern’d by, in the Management of their Business.

FIRST, be sure to have all saucepans, stewpans, coppers and whatever else is made use of in cooking, in very neat, clean, and good order. Provision for entertainments of all kind is very expensive, and frequently spoil’d for want of proper care. Again, cleanliness and a good fire are two excellent requisites in cooking, without which no ordinary progress can be made, nor any thing in that branch effectually completed. I would also strictly recommend it as a rule, to lay down to the fire to roast, or put in the pot to boil, any thing of meat, or a large fowl, half an hour sooner that the time allow’d for its being ready, thinking it rather better to wait for company, than they should wait, though sometimes it will happen either on one side or the other, but I think ‘tis best to keep everything in forwardness, and to have all sauces ready at least half an hour before you dish up.
N.B If these rules are properly observ’d, I doubt not but they will meet with their desired effect.

The recipe I have chosen for the day is also very adaptable to modern times.

Stew’d Beef.
After your beef hath been in salt two days, take and bone it, have some bards of bacon rowl’d in sweet herbs, pepper, salt, and nutmeg, and force your beef with the bacon across the grain of the meat; after you have larded it as thick as possible in reason, lay it in a doubing pot [as in a pan suitable for making a daube?], with some vinegar, a pint of red wine, some mace, plenty of shallots, the lean of ham, a fagot of all sorts of herbs, parsley, turnips, carrots, and a parsnip; let this stand all night; the next day almost cover it with broth, and let it stew as gently as possible, when done, serve it with a good ragout sauce, in the dish. The sauce must be made very high [i.e.highly seasoned] with Chian [Cayenne] pepper, and lemon.

Quotation for the Day.

Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread - there may be.
David Grayson, Adventures in Contentment (1907)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Near Possum.

Today I want briefly to carry on yesterday’s theme of mock food. One common reason for substituting one main ingredient for another, while trying to maintain the illusion of the original recipe is, of course, economy. Seventeenth and eighteenth century English cookery books are full of recipes for cooking beef to appear (and hopefully taste) like venison, for example, and in Australia ‘Colonial Goose’ was made from lamb. The motive here is fairly easy to understand.

The opposite substitution can be found occasionally in old cookery books – the case of a “good” meat being substituted for one of lesser reputation. I have not read too many reports which eulogize possum flesh, for example, and suspect that the intense desire to try to mimic its delights does not figure too commonly in the breasts of cooks around the world. The only reason I can think of that anyone would want to do this is not related to the delights of the dish itself, but the wish to recreate an experience – a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ style of experience in the wilderness perhaps? A tough, manly, campfire sort of experience, to be remembered fondly back in civilization, where at times life seems just a little too soft?

From The All American Cook Book; being a collection chiefly of recipes of the favorite dishes of famous Americans, by Gertrude Frelove Brebner, (Chicago, 1922), the proceeds of which were to go to “the relief of disabled, needy, and unemployed ex-servicemen and their dependent families”, I give you a recipe from a military man - Brig.-General D.E.Aultman, Camp Knox, Kentucky.

Near Possum.
This is a Dixie recipe that tastes just as good when made north of Mason’s and Dixon’s line. For this toothsome dish take a pound slice of pork steak and roll it about the following dressing: Boil and peel two medium sized sweet potatoes and press through a colander. Season them with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of cane syrup, 1 egg, salt, red pepper, and a touch of ginger. Tie the dressing securely in the steak, rub with salt and pepper and put in dripping pan with 1 pt. of hot water. Bake 1 ½ hours and serve garnished with halved, baked apples.

Quotation for the Day.

It scored right away with me by being the smooth, fine-grained sort, not the coarse, flaky, dry-on-the-outside rubbish full of chunks of gut and gristle to testify to its authenticity. I sometimes feel that more lousy dishes are presented under the banner of pâté than any other.
Kingsley Amis, discussin the pâté at London’s Simpson's-on-the-Strand restaurant, in the London Illustrated News May 1986

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sham Tortoise.

Regular readers will be aware that one of my particular amusements is the concept of ‘mock’ food. There are a number of things that intrigue me about this topic. One is the sheer ingenuity demonstrated by some of the ideas – chicken and cheese to make “mock crab”, or crackers biscuits to make “apple pie”, for example. Another is the variety of motives for wanting to do it in the first place.

Sheer unavailability of the original ingredients are possible reasons for clever substitutions of course. I can understand how, if in the grip of severe nostalgia for the homeland, an emigrant or expatriate might try really hard to make mock sole en papillote out of a sow’s ear. I just cant quite appreciate how the resulting dish could ever be close enough to appease the longing.

I guess not too many of us are sufficiently nostalgic about tortoise flesh to feel the need to mimic it - but if we were, the following recipe might do a passable job of at least recreating the shape of the beast. Of course, a valid reason for mock food is sheer fun, and there is always the possibility that this dish might convince the kids to eat up their liver and bacon with relish.

From The Art of Cookery and Pastery Made Easy and Familiar, in upwards of two hundred different receipts and bills of fare, never before made public, by J.Skeat, Cook (1769), I give you a recipe for “Sham Tortoise.”

A sham tortoise is made of a calf’s liver. There is a small nut of liver that hangs to it, which serves for the head; the thickest part of the liver must be stuff’d with a good forcemeat, and the back larded with bacon. Have a tin that will hold it, with plenty of bacon fat; then was your tortoise over with egg, and send it to the oven. Be sure not to let it be set in when the oven is hot, and an hour will do it. The milt of the calf is to be stuffed also, and that is to serve for feet. When done, lay your tortoise in the dish, and a ragout sauce made high with it. Rub it all over with a glossee*.

*A ‘glossee’ is a glaze, or, in the words of the author ‘Strong gravy boil’d down to the consistence of treacle.’

Quotation for the Day.

Our forefathers did without sugar until the 13th century, without coal fires until the 14th, without buttered bread until the 16th, without tea or soup until the 17th, without gas, matches or electricity until the 20th.
Anonymous (until I track it down!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When is a Fruitarian not a Fruitarian?

I came across a reference to ‘fruitarian’ the other day, and wondered when the term originated – and what it means, exactly.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it very simply, and extremely strictly, as “one who lives on fruit”, and gives the first citation from 1893, in something called The National Food Magazine. This definition naturally requires that one knows what fruit is – which is not as silly a statement as it might at first sound. Botanically speaking, fruit is “the edible product of a plant or tree, consisting of the seed and its envelope” – which means that a strawberry is not a fruit (each of the little seeds speckled over its surface is a fruit), nor is a banana. The tomato however, is a fruit – although the United States legal system in decided in 1893, in spite of botanical evidence to the contrary, that it was a vegetable.

Individual ‘fruitarians’ interpret the idea widely, with varying impact on their nutritional security. Some apply the common-usage definition (the sweet dessert or snack food definition), some admit the botanical definition and include pulses (thus reducing their risk of nutritional suicide). Some will eat only fruit which has naturally fallen to the ground, thinking not to harm the tree. Some only eat ‘fleshy’ fruits – the rationale being that Nature (feels like this needs a capital here) made them thus to encourage animals to eat them and thence assist in seed dispersal – I am not sure of the sanitation arrangements of urban fruitarians who follow this particular practice, and would rather not enquire, thankyou.

Most fruitarians include nuts and seeds in their diets, but some high-minded adherents refuse them on the grounds that they contain future plants. Some allow cereals (that is, edible grains - which are only seeds after all), others eschew these as being “unnatural” food for humans (but seem unclear as to why they are merely unnatural, rather than a method of plant infanticide). Some only eat raw food (applying heat to food also apparently being abnormal, or unethical, or something), others allow a random percentage of cooked food to be included.

Amazing, isn’t it - the human capacity to justify almost every lifestyle choice in an apparently logical or morally sound way?

One interesting man associated with the fruitarian movement was Dr. Josiah Oldfield (1863-1953), who set up a ‘fruitarian’ hospital in Kent, England, in the early twentieth century. His definition included “the produce of harvest field, garden, forest and orchard, with milk, butter, cheese, eggs and honey” – which isnt even "vegan", by today's definition. One of his recipes was included in The Kitchen Garden and the Cook: an alphabetical guide to the cultivation of vegetables, with recipes for cooking them, by Hearst and Herndon (1913).

Margaret Plum Pudding.
(as used at the Lady Margaret Fruitarian Hospital) .
One pound of grated bread-crumbs, one pound of stoned raisins, one pound of sultanas, half a pound of candied peel, half a pound of sweet almonds, a few bitter almonds, a quarter of a pound of butter, half a pound of pine kernels, a quarter of a pound of shelled Brazil nuts, half a pound of brown sugar, the grated rind of threelemons, six eggs. Finely cut up the peel and blanch all the nuts, except the pine kernels, pass through the nut mill; the latter are to be simply chopped. Rub the butter into the bread-crumbs; add the fruit, sugar, grated lemons, and lemon peel; then the eggs, well beaten and mixed together. Put into a basin and boil in the usual way for six hours. The eggs may be replaced by a cupful of milk, half a cup of syrup, and a teaspoon of baking powder.
(Dr. Josiah Oldfield, Fruitarian Diet.)

Inevitable, isn’t it, that most of us would see fruitarians as being amusing eccentrics at best – as in this lovely extract from H.G.Wells’ 1909 novel Ann Veronica?

“Very central in Miss Miniver’s universe were the Goopes. The Goopes were the oddest little couple conceivable, following a fruitarian career upon an upper floor in Theobald’s Road. They were childless and servantless, and they had reduced simple living to the finest of arts. Mr. Goopes, Ann Veronica gathered, was a mathematical tutor and visited schools, and his wife wrote a weekly column in New Ideas upon vegetarian cookery, vivisection, degeneration, the lacteal secretion, appendicitis, and Higher Thought generally, and assisted in the management of a fruit shop in the Tottenham Court Road. Their furniture had mysteriously a high-browed quality, and Mr. Goopes when home dressed simply in a pajama-shaped suit of canvas sacking tied with brown ribbons, while his wife wore a purple djibbah with a richly embroidered yoke. He was a small, dark, reserved man, with a large, inflexible-looking convex forehead, and his wife was very pink and high-spirited, with one of those chins that pass insensibly into a full, strong neck. Once a week, every Saturday, they had a little gathering from nine till the small hours, just talk and perhaps reading aloud and fruitarian refreshments – chestnut sandwiches buttered with nutose, and so forth – and lemonade and unfermented wine; and to one of these symposia, Miss Miniver after a good deal of preliminary solicitude, conducted AnnVeronica."

Quotation for the Day.

Avoid fruits and nuts. You are what you eat.
Jim Davis (creator of “Garfield” )

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

American Condums for Breakfast?

Yesterday’s flirtation with a suggestive blog post title was so much fun, I just had to follow it with a little mystery I have been hoarding for ages. There is indeed a recipe for such a thing as ‘American condums’, and they are indeed recommended for breakfast. They appear in The Pastrycook and Confectioners Guide, by  Robert Wells, 1889.

American Condums
(For Breakfast)
Use the same dough as for plain breakfast rolls; mould them up the shape of an egg, but the dough must be if anything a little tighter: when moulded take your pin and press it on the middle of the roll; have a tin or board with a cloth laid on it well dusted with flour, lay your condums on the cloth, and let a small piece of the cloth between each condum to keep them from sticking.
Prove, and bake on the oven bottom.

Plain Breakfast Rolls.
Set a sponge with 8 lbs. of Hungarian or best flour; give it 4 oz. of good German yeast, and let the water be of the same heat as for rye bread. It should be ready in about two hours. Dissolve 2 oz. of salt in a small cup of water, mix it well in the sponge, and make it into dough. Let it stand a little till it proves; then work it off into long rolls; lay them side by side on an edged pan, grease the ends, let them prove, and bake in a sharp oven.

Now, I am greatly intrigued by this condum thing, as I am sure you are. The contraceptive device with a similar name has been around since at least the early eighteenth century (and probably, in some form or another, a lot longer). Why would anyone call a perfectly respectable breakfast bread-roll such as you would be proud to put before elderly maiden aunt, by such a snigger-inducing name? The bread dough is rolled in a ‘sheath’ of kitchen cloth, it is true, but this seems a little salacious for a respectable cookery book of the time, does it not?

Of course, the dictionary might be to blame, as respectable dictionaries did not include such words as condom until well into the twentieth century. It is possible that there were pastrycooks and bakers of the 1880’s who had led such pure and sheltered lives as to not have learned of their existence in other ways. It is possible. If this is the case, however, it still begs the question of what then, are these bread rolls named for?

Any ideas, you ‘Americans’ out there?

Quotation for the Day.

Anyone who eats three meals a day should understand why cookbooks outsell sex books three to one.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Queer Vegetables.

I almost gave this post the header ‘Queer Gear’, as in the title of one of today’s sources – Queer Gear: How to Buy and Cook Exotic Fruit and Vegetables, (1986) by Carolyn Heal and Michael Allsop, but I thought perhaps it might attract some disappointed readers. It is a strange title, I think, considering that the word ‘queer’ was already well and truly hijacked by, or applied to, the gay community by the 1980’s. Actually it was applied in the early part of the nineteenth century, in a derogatory sense – by the 1980’s it had all but lost its negative implications and in some circles was an adjective of pride.

The authors of the book clearly meant ‘queer’ as in one of its sixteenth century definitions as referring to something strange or exotic. I am not sure how they selected the vegetables and fruits for inclusion. ‘Exotic’ clearly depends on location: I guess mangoes and custard apples might have been ‘exotic’ in England in the 1980’s, but figs and horseradish and garlic – I don’t think so.

I do like discovering previously unknown foods, and re-discovering forgotten ones. Previous stories have covered crosnes, salsify and scorzonera, and mangelwurzels, but there must surely be many more delights skulking in the culinary history wings.

There was nothing particularly tempting to be found in Queer Gear, but it set me on the trail of looking for other sources on forgotten vegetables. I found (in the wonderful Internet Archive) The Book of Rarer Vegetables (1906) – which is surely a far less provocative title. Aubergine and artichokes may have been rare-ish in Edwardian England, but why include dandelion and horseradish? I was temporarily waylaid by Couve Tronchuda, but it turns out to be sea-kale. Eventually I selected for your delectation Scolymus and Sweet Cicely.

“I have seen this plant grown in this country under the name of GoldenThistle — doubtless that appellation applied to its golden coloured flower heads. These are large, and the growths attain a height of 3 feet. The genus is a small one. There are three species, and the variety, Hispanicus, or the Spanish, is the form grown as a vegetable; it is often known as the vegetable Oyster plant, as the flavour of the roots is supposed, somewhat to resemble oysters. On the continent, especially in Spain, the roots are cultivated in the same way as the Scorzonera, and are considered to be quite as good. The leaves and stalks of the plants are also eaten as Cardoons by the people of Salamanca, but they should be well grown to be equal to the Cardoon. The flowers also are used for various purposes, one being for the adulteration of Saffron.”

The author then goes on to give planting and cultivation advice for scolymus, which is way beyond the scope of this blog. The cookery advice is a little weak, the author merely suggesting that it cooks like salsify – then referring the reader to a book on asparagus.

Sweet Cicely
Sweet Cicely (Scandix odorata) is a plant rarely seen in gardens at the present day, but well worth culture. It is valuable in all preparations in which the flavour of Aniseed is required. By many persons the smell is objected to; as both the leaves and other portions of the plant smell so strongly of the above herb, it is disliked. It is much more cultivated in France and other portions of the continent than in this country, and, of course, from the market point of view it cannot be termed a profitable vegetable. The leaves are mostly used mixed with salads, and the roots also are edible, these being used in soups and with cooked meats.

Again, the author follows with good gardening advice, and minimalist cooking advice – it being merely suggested that sweet cicely roots be prepared exactly as chervil.

Thankfully, he does have some more definitive advice on the cooking of chervil.

To Boil Chervil

Wash and brush the roots, but do not cut them. Place them in a pan, pour over them sufficient boiling water to cover them, and let them simmer for about an hour and a half.

To Fry Chervil

Cook the roots as above for about an hour, then cut into long shreds and fry in butter.

Quotation for the Day.

A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing but vegetables.
Gertrude Stein.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Pigeon Pies and Miss Austen.

The final extract from this week’s source – the charming little Books and My Food (1904) - is particularly appealing to me personally as it includes two of my favourite things - Jane Austen’s novels, and pies.

The entry for January 8th reads:

 Mrs. Elton was growing impatient to name the day, and settle
with Mr.Weston as to pigeon-pies and cold lamb.”
Jane Austen (“Emma”)

For an excellent pigeon-pie for a small family singe and draw three birds, split them down the back, wipe with a clean cloth, but do not wash. Fry half a dozen slices of salt pork and brown the pigeons in the pork-fat. Then put them in a deep baking-dish, slice a small onion, brown in the hot fat and add a pint of stock and a tablespoonful of flour. Stir until slightly thick, then strain over the pigeons. Cover them tightly and cook for two hours in a moderate oven. Remove the cover and replace it with one of pie-crust. Bake until brown.

Quotation for the Day.

Onion soup sustains. The process of making it is somewhat like the process of learning to love. It requires commitment, extraordinary effort, time and will make you cry.
Ronni Lundy.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Soup and Books.

Today’s extract from Books and My Food concerns soup – a very serendipitous topic, as it allows me to mention to you that my book Soup: A Global History (Reaktion Press) is now under production, and should be ready for the shelves at the end of the year.

For January 7th, Elisabeth Luther Cary chose a line from Epistle III, by the English poet and librettist John Gay (1685-1732), and a recipe for a clear soup base or consommé.

“Do daily soups
Your dinners introduce?”

The stand-by for soup is a simple consommé which may be multitudinously varied. Cut up two pounds of lean raw meat, beef or veal, and ad a cupful of cold roast beef cut in pieces. Put over the fire with a cracked knuckle of veal, four quarts of cold water, two onions, one carrot, two stalks of celery, six peppercorns, a spoonful of salt, six cloves, and a few herbs. Cook slowly all day. Strain and when cold skim off the fat. Add the white and shell of two eggs. Bring to a boil and boil ten minutes. Strain through a cloth.

Quotation for the Day.

The fly that sips treacle is lost in the sweets.
John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera. Act ii. Sc. 2.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Cod Cakes and King Cakes.

The traditional fare today, which is ‘Twelfth Day’, or the Feast of the Epiphany (according to the Christian church calendar) – is one or other variation of a Twelfth Cake. The author of Books and My Food, our source for the week, chose a rather different ‘cake’ for her entry on January 6th.

“Said he, ‘Upon this dainty cod
How bravely I shall sup.”
HOOD (“Poems”)

Croquettes of salt codfish are a pleasant variation of the familiar codfish cake. Make a thick cream sauce. Stir into it a pound of salt codfish shredded with the fingers after it has soaked two hours in warm water. Add a dash of red pepper.Do not cook the fish and the sauce, but allow the mixture to get cold and firm. Then shape into croquettes, dip each in beaten eggs, then in fine cracker-crumbs, and fry in very hot fat.

I have long been confused as to the difference between a croquette and a kromesky. Much as I love it, I am not totally convinced of the authority of The Oxford English Dictionary as a culinary reference tool, but here is what it says about the two.

Croquette: The word comes from the French croquer, ‘to crackle under the teeth, to crunch.’ The first reference cited is from 1706, ‘In Cookery, Croquets are a certain Compound made of delicious Stuff’d Meat, some of the bigness of an Egg, and others of a Walnut.’

Kromesky: is derived from the Polish kroméczka, meaning ‘a little slice.’ The OED defines it as ‘A croquette made of meat or fish minced, rolled in bacon or calf’s udder, and fried’, and gives as its first source the one-time chef for Queen Victoria, Charles Elmé Francatelli’s Modern Cook (1846).

I always thought that the essential difference was that kromeskies were dipped in batter before being fried, but it appears that this is not essential to the definition. What do you think?

A random thought on battered things: does ‘Mars Bar Kromesky’ sound more tempting than ‘Deep Fried Battered Mars Bar’?

Quotation for the Day.

Oh, who can hold a fire in his hand,
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite,
By bare imagination of a feast?
Shakespeare, King Richard II, Act I, Sc. 3

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Cakes and Ale.

Today I continue the theme for the week, and give you the January 5 entry from Books and My Food (1904) by Elisabeth Luther Cary. On this day Cary takes as her inspiration the idea of ‘cakes and ale’, via the well-known quotation (given below) from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

The phrase ‘cakes and ale’ as a metaphor for earthly pleasures is generally attributed to Shakespeare, but it is in fact a great deal older. It appears several times in a version of the ancient Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’ – a funerary text (actually a roll of papyrus) containing instructions and advice to help the deceased person negotiate the passing into the afterlife.The following extracts are taken from the version known as ‘The Papyrus of Ani’ (written in about 1240 BC), as translated by E.A.Wallis Budge in 1913.

Let there be given unto me bread-cakes in the House of Refreshing, and sepulchral offerings of cakes and ale, and propitiatory offerings in Anu, and a permanent homestead in Sekhet-Aaru, with wheat and barley therein-to the Double of the Osiris, the scribe Ani.

Hail, O ye who give cakes and ale to perfect souls in the House of Osiris, give ye cakes and ale twice each day (i.e., in the morning and in the evening) to the soul of
the Osiris Ani, …..

Cakes and ale and joints of meat from those which are on the altar of Ra shall be given to him [the deceased person], and his homestead shall be among the fields of the Field of Reeds, and wheat and barley shall be given unto him therein, and he shall flourish there even as he flourished upon earth.

And he [the deceased] shall present as offerings oxen, and feathered fowl [geese], and incense, and cakes and ale, and garden herbs.

The following quote suggests its modern metaphorical usage:

… says the deceased to the god Thoth: “But let the state of the spirits be given unto me instead of water, and air, and the satisfying of the longings of love, and let quietness of heart be given unto me instead of cakes and ale.”

And here is Cary’s entry, and recipe, for today, January 5th.

“Dost think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?”
SHAKESPEARE (“Twelfth Night”)

For good little nut-cakes cream half a cupful of butter and a cup and a half of sugar; add the yolks of two eggs and beat all together. Sift two cupfuls of flour into which has been stirred a teaspoonful and a half of baking powder. Add to the butter, sugar, and eggs a cupful of milk, and then the flour. At the last stir in a cupful of chopped pecan or hickory nuts and fold in lightly the whites of the eggs, beaten to a stiff froth. Bake in patty pan[s], ice and sprinkle chopped nuts thickly over the icing.

Today is also the 11th day of Christmas, which you can read about HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.
Aesop’s Fables.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Books and Food.

Today’s aspiring food writers have a real challenge in finding a new spin on any food-related topic. It seems that every approach, every angle, every theme has been used before – and multiple times at that. Lucky were the cookbook writers of over a century ago, when the genre was still in barely out of its adolescence, and there were still many avenues unexplored.

One author with a new idea was a certain Elisabeth Luther Cary, who, in 1904 published a book of recipes inspired by the written word. Regular readers will be aware of my fondness for menu and cookery books with a day-by-day theme. Books and My Food is one such book. I have decided that it will be my source for the week – and challenge you to be inspired to remember or create your own recipe ideas from the same short quotations. With a bit of luck, we may find some reading inspiration too.

Before we get to Ms Cary’s literary reference and recipe for January 4th, here are some of her preliminary comments.

“It is impossible to read English novels without realizing how important a part food plays in the mental as in the physical life of the Englishman. The sentimental Anglo-Saxon soul goes out to its roast beef and pudding, to its port and ale, with much the same greeting it gives to its blue violets and Devon cowslips. … And if some of us have inherited from transcendental ancestors a species of contempt toward this gross and material affection for the food that gives us life, shares our nationality, and is the intimate of our homes, we may profitably remember the spirit of domesticity and hospitality which makes such an affection possible. … In making up this collection of recipes suggested by quotations chiefly from our English novelists and poets, our idea has been not to provide Bohemian fare for our readers, or give them unfamiliar and unrelishable diet, but to show what a varied list might be gathered from the works of well-known writers, of dishes most of them equally well-known, and all of them good if properly prepared.”

Unfortunately, Ms Cary does not give the source for the actual recipes, only saying that ‘One little cook-book, undated but apparently more than a century old, has furnished some excellent recipes, not one of which has failed in the trying.’

For today, January 4th, the entry reads:

“Well, that is intelligible,” said Lady Selina Farrell, looking at her neighbor, as she crumbled her dinner-roll. MRS. HUMPHRY WARD (“Marcella”)

DINNER-ROLLS are made as follows: Add to a pint of milk, scalded and cooled, a table-spoonful of melted butter, a teaspoonful of salt, half a cake of compressed yeast dissolved in a very little lukewarm water, and six cups of flour. Mix into a sponge and cover. When light, pull off pieces about the size of a large egg, knead each of these into a smooth ball, then roll between the palms of the hands into a long roll about the size of a finger. Place close together in a biscuit pan and when light bake fifteen minutes in a hot oven.


Today is also the 10th day of Christmas, which featured in a previous blog post HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.
Proverbs, ix, 17.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Vouching for Lunch.

On this day in 1955, luncheon vouchers were introduced to Britain on a new, enlarged scale. The concept of employers providing lunch for their workers was not new in Britain, and many companies did provide their employees with vouchers, but the individual systems were an administrative nightmare for individual firms to manage.

A man called John Hack saw this inefficient system in operation, and realised an opportunity. He set up a company to provide vouchers and manage the system for employers, with clients and caterers paying a fee for the service. The British government backed the system by exempting the vouchers from National Insurance Contributions and tax concessions – and the rest, as they say, is culinary history.

Here is a nice 1950’s luncheon dish, from The Times of August 13, 1956.

Spinach Cream with Mushrooms.
(The Constance Spry Cookery Book)
Boil two pounds of spinach, drain and press well. Sieve. Have ready half a pint of béchamel sauce made from one ounce each of flour and butter and half a pint of seasoned milk. Add the spinach purée, mixing thoroughly. Stir in two beaten eggs and a tablespoonful of cream, season with salt and pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Turn into a well-buttered ring mould. Stand in a roasting-tin on a doubled piece of paper, surround with boiling water, lay a piece of buttered paper over the top and cook in a moderately slow oven until firm to the touch, 30-40 minutes. Turn out onto a hot dish and fill the centre with a salpicon of mushrooms.

Salpicon of Mushrooms.
Cook a dessertspoonful of finely chopped onion in three-quarters of an ounce of butter for a minute or two, add 6-8 ounces of mushrooms, peeled and quartered, and cook briskly for 4-5 minutes, shaking the pan frequently and adding a squeeze of lemon juice. Draw aside, mix in a dessertspoonful of flour, three-quarters of a gill of vegetable stock, and half a gill of sherry. Bring to the boil, season well and boil rapidly until creamy; use at once.
Be sure that the spinach purée is thick. If it is watery the ring will flop and run when it is turned out. The spinach will sieve more easily if the stalks and any coarse leaves are torn off the central rib before cooking.

Quotation for the Day.

Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.
Douglas Adams.