Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bananas galore.

My intermittent search for the first recipe for banana cake (and I do not mean a plain cake filled with sliced bananas) has led me to discover some interesting banana ideas.

Although I love bananas I have a low level of enthusiasm for bananas in fruit salad (unless eaten immediately, at the pre-brown stage). I definitely do not feel enthusiastic about the idea of banana ‘dressing’ on my fruit salad, but am aware that some of you may get quite excited about the concept. To you I dedicate the following two recipes, taken from Two hundred recipes for making salads with thirty recipes for dressings and sauces, by Olive Hulse (Chicago, 1910)

Banana Dressing.
Mix the juice of two lemons with half a cup of sugar. Mash two bananas and work into the pulp one tablespoonful of olive oil. Stir all together.

Banana and Grapefruit Salad
Peel two grapefruit, and slice, removing all the tough bitter membrane. Line the salad dish with the white leaves of head lettuce, then put in alternate layers of sliced bananas and grapefruit until the dish is full, and pour banana dressing over. Serve very cold.

I am decidedly not enthusiastic about the idea of baked bananas being served up with baked monkey, as the author of The Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering (Chicago, 1903) alleges is a combination enjoyed in Brazil (‘like our opossum with sweet potato.’) I am, however, quite tempted by the following recipe for duck with bananas, from Standard Paper-Bag Cookery, by Emma Paddock Telford (New York, 1912)

Ducks With Banana Dressing.
Wash with cold salt water inside and out, drain, wipe dry and season lightly with salt and pepper. Make a dressing of toasted bread crumbs mixed with an equal quantity of banana. Cut in small pieces, well seasoned with chopped celery, salt and pepper. Stuff, truss, grease all over, and tie slices of bacon over the breast. Put in a well greased bag, add the juice of a lemon, and a wine glass of sherry. Seal and put in a very hot oven. At the end of fifteen minutes reduce heat one-half and cook for fifty minutes longer.

Quotation for the Day.

A stockbroker urged me to buy a stock that would triple its value every year. I told him, ‘At my age, I don’t even buy green bananas.’
Claude Pepper.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Picalilli - Picalillo

I have always loved the word piccalilli. I have always loved the condiment too. I like the many variations of the word, but am particular about the actual recipe. My preferred form of piccalilli is thickish, bright yellow, mustardy, and has slightly crunchy vegetables. It is close to a chutney, except not so sweet, and my personal version is definitely not a clear pickle.

Historically, there are almost as many variations of the actual pickle as there are of the word itself – which is of ‘uncertain origin’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. I love words of uncertain or obscure origin. There is the air of mystery, for one thing, plus the sneaky delight that the wordsmiths don’t know it all after all, and of course there is the secret hope that I myself might discover a new clue.

Piccalilli has been known as paco-lilla, peccalillo, piccalillo, pickalilly, and pickylilly – to name but a few. The OED defines it as ‘A pickle made from a mixture of chopped vegetables, mustard, and hot spices’, and tells us that it was ‘formerly also called Indian pickle.’ The first reference given by the OED is from Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery (1758 edition), but today I am going to give you a version from The Court and Country Confectioner, published in England in 1770, because I love the description of the author – ‘An Ingenious Foreigner, now lead confectioner to the Spanish Ambassador in England’

Take colliflower, radish pods, white cabbage, cucumbers or any fruit in season, put them on a sieve , throw salt on them and set them in the sun or before the fire two or three days to dry; when the water is out, put them in layers in a pot, and between the layers put a handful of mustard seed; take as much vinegar as you think will cover them, to every four quarts put an ounce of gum arabick boil them together and pour it on them quite hot; let it stand ten or twelve days upon the hearth, or till it is all of a bright yellow and the liquor soaked up; then take two quarts of vinegar, one ounce of mace, one ounce of white pepper, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of long pepper, and a quarter of an ounce of nutmeg beat together; boil it ten minutes and pour it hot on your pickle, with four ounces of garlic peeled.

Quotation for the Day.

The next time you feel like complaining, remember that your garbage disposal
probably eats better than 30 percent of the people in the world.
Robert Orben

Monday, March 29, 2010

Z is for Bread.

Silly me! In my post of last week “A is for Bread”, in which I mentioned my burgeoning alphabetical list of bread recipes, I said that the letter ‘Z’ was a problem. It is not. There is Zwieback, of course – and I have even discussed it in a previous post. I can only blame the fact that I am working with limited resources on a temporary computer until the hard drive on my fancy new notebook is fixed and I can face the laborious job of restoring all my files.

Today I offer you some more ideas about the other bookend to my alphabetical list. Zweiback is simply ‘twice-cooked’bread, or bread toasted and dried out in an oven. It was considered to be ‘healthy’(I hate that word in relation to food. Unhealthy is no food) in the past, and perhaps still is amongst those sad folk who sneer at hot fresh bread lathered with lots of butter ……

From an early twentieth century vegetarian cook book - Food and Cookery by H.S. Anderson, (California 1917) - I give you two ways to dry out your bread, and a recipe for using it in a nutty alternative to meat loaf.

Cut Zwieback.
Cut bread in slices about three-fourths of an inch thick, put in shallow baking-pan in single layers, and put in a very slow oven or a warming oven for three hours or more, until thoroughly dried. Then put into a moderate oven, and allow it to brown to a golden colour through entire thickness. Baker’s bread makes very good zwieback.

Pulled Zwieback.
Take fresh bread, break carefully, pulling it into pieces instead of using pressure. The pieces should be about the size of a medium apple. Proceed to dry and bake same as for cut zwieback.

Walnut Roast.
¼ cup chopped walnuts.
1 cup zwieback crumbs.
1 cup milk.
2 teaspoons grated onion.
1 egg.
Pinch of sage.
Salt to taste.
Beat the egg, add the milk, and pour over the crumbs, let soak twenty minutes. Mix all ingredients, put in oiled brick-tin and bake until brown and cooked through. Egg may be left out if desired.

Quotation for the Day.

The odds of going into a store for a loaf of bread and coming out with ONLY a loaf of bread are three billion to one.
Erma Bombeck.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pikelets Anyone?

Everyone knows about the Aussie food icons of damper, lamingtons, pavlova, and pie-floaters, but there is another favourite snack in this wide brown land, and today I want to tell you about it.
It is the pikelet. You probably already know it, but by some other local name.

Pikelets came to my mind recently (the part of my mind that told me that I have not yet written about them) when I went in pursuit of something called a bara-picklet. I thought I had found an old food waiting to be rediscovered. Instead I found an old name and a nice example of recipe evolution.

According to the Dictionarium Rusticum, Urbanicum, & Botanicum (1726), bara-picklet is ‘Bread made of fine Flour, and kneaded up with Barm [yeast], which makes it very light and spungy. Its Form is round, about an Hand’s breadth.’ A later dictionary - an updated version of the above, it seems, with the far less interesting name of The Universal Etymological Dictionary (1773) describes bara-picklet as ‘Welsh. Cakes made of a fine Flower [flour] kneaded with yeast. So, we have a change of idea from ‘bread’ to ‘cake’, but still yeast-raised (there being no baking powder yet for half a century or so.)

Most sources do give the picklet a Welsh heritage, the name coming from bara, the Welsh word for bread, and usually referring to a type of ‘bun’ or griddle bread cooked on a hot plate, not in an oven. As always however, regional names and recipe variations abound. In several sources it is referred to as ‘a sort of muffin’ or a ‘glazy kind of muffin.’ In some references it is associated with London, in others with Midland counties of England, and in others with the North of the country. Sometimes it is a ‘pyflet’, and occasionally there is a reference to a ‘picklet (or pyflet) stone’ on which they are cooked.

The OED calls the pikelet ‘a thin kind of crumpet (also) a type of small round teacake made of fine flour; a muffin’, which is not a very definitive definition – which fits the variety of styles of pikelet. The modern variety is made with modern powder leavening agents rather than yeast, of course, it being far quicker and easier to make them this way – and indeed they do lend themselves jolly nicely to a spontaneous treat or unexpected visitors. Pikelets then fall somewhere on the multiple cusps between ‘English’ muffins, crumpets, griddle cakes and pancakes. In Australia they are usually eaten as a sweet snack for morning or afternoon tea, spread with jam and dolloped with cream.

I give you two versions of the pikelet today. Firstly, an early yeast-raised griddle ‘bread’ from the 1786 edition of Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper.

To Make Picklets.
Take three pounds of flour, make a hole in the middle with your hand, then mix two spoonfuls of barm, with as much milk and a little salt as will make it into a light paste; pour your milk and barm into the middle of your flour and stir a little of your flour into it, then let it stand all night, and the next morning work all the flour into the barm, and beat it well for quarter of an hour, then let it stand an hour; after that take it out with a large spoon, and lay it on a board well dusted with flour, and dredge flour over them; pat it with your hand, and bake them upon your bake-stone.

And a modern quicky version from The Sydney Morning Herald of September 10, 1953.

Golden Pikelets.
Every young housewife dreams of making perfect pikelets. Here’s how to start, but remember that practice will help too.
Pikelets may be made with a special iron griddle iron, a very heavy quality frying pan, or directly on the solid type hotplate of an electric range.
The iron pan, or hot plate, must be heated first, greased quickly with a little white vegetable shortening of butter. The heat of the iron may be tested by cooking a couple of pikelets.
1 large or 2 small eggs.
2 level tbsps. Sugar
1 level dstspn. golden syrup or honey
½ to ¾ cup of milk.
1 heaped cup S.R. flour
Good pinch salt.
Beat eggs with sugar until fluffy, add golden syrup, then ½ cup of the milk. Sift in flour, salt,mix well with wooden spoon until smooth. If necessary add remaining ¼ cup of milk. Allow to stand one hour if possible. Drop in spoonfuls on heated, greased iron, reduce heat, when surface begins to bubble, turn to cook other side. Keep hot between two plates on top of saucepan of hot water.

Quotation for the Day.

The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A is for Bread.

One of my many, many, many, projects is the collection of recipes for bread of all types. I recently found myself arranging them in alphabetical order. Please don’t ask me why. Please. The letters Q and Z are problematic, but in I am hopeful of completing my alphabetical series one day. I promise to book in for therapy soon. In the meanwhile, I thought perhaps that you would like to share - so, from the beginning of my list I give you my two favourites from the letter A.

To Make Acorn Bread.
Take a quantity of acorns, fully ripe, deprive them of their covers and beat them into a paste, let them lay in water for a night, then press it from them, which deprives them of their astringency. Then dry and powder the mass for use. When wanted, knead it up into a dough, with water, and roll it out into thin cakes, which are to be baked over the embers.
Bread made after this method is by no means disagreeable, and was much used in former times; and even to this day, it is said to be made use of in some countries.
A Treatise on the Art of Breadmaking, 1805

My second choice is the intriguingly named ‘Anadama Bread.’ There are a number of explanations of the semi-mythological variety of this name – all variations of the idea of a disgruntled man referring to his wife as ‘Anna, Damn Her’, on account of some dissatisfaction with the bread (or cornmeal porridge) that she provided all too often for his daily meal. I have no idea how old the name is, but it appears that it was ‘Ammy-Dammy’ before it was Anadama. There are plenty of recipes from the second decade of the twentieth century, but as written recipes usually appear long after the real thing, it surely goes back at least to the end of the nineteenth century. Please do let us all know if you have any further knowledge.

Today’s recipe for Ammy-Dammy Bread comes from The Syracuse Herald of November 25, 1933, but is said to have been ‘taken from an old kitchen scrapbook of a real Marbleheader.’

Ammy-Dammy Bread.
One-half cup of yellow cornmeal, one-half cup of molasses, one tablespoon of lard, one teaspoon of salt, and two cups of boiling water. After the mixture has become lukewarm, add one yeast cake dissolved in a half-cup of water. Now, mix in sufficient bread flour – in Colonial days this flour was the home-milled product – to make a stiff dough. Let it rise overnight. In the morning stir down and divide into four baking pans. Again it should be allowed to rise, and then into the oven for 45 minutes baking.
Well, that’s your Ammy-Dammy bread!
And was there ever such a crust?

Quotation for the Day.

I would say to housewives, be not daunted by one failure, nor by twenty. Resolve that you will have good bread, and never cease striving after this result till you have effected it. If persons without brains can accomplish this, why cannot you?
Housekeeping In Old Virginia' Marion Cabell Tyree ed. (1878)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gold Prize Dinner.

I don’t know anything about the history of national or community competitions for ‘best recipe’ or ‘best menu’– is it a topic crying out for a PhD student? – but I came across a nice example of the latter the other day, and I thought I would share it with you.

The front page of a book called One Hundred Prize Dinners, or, how to provide a good dinner for four persons for one dollar, published in 1889, states that it was ‘compiled from the columns of the New York Press, the publishers of which offered a prize of $100.00 for the best Bill of Fare offered.’

Bill of Fare No. 4 was the winner of the $100 in gold, and here it is:

Bill of Fare No. 4
Oysters on Half Shell.
Tomato Soup.
Breaded Lamb Chops (five or six).
Mashed Potatoes.
Lettuce Salad. French Dressing.

Twenty-four oysters, 24 cents; soup, 9 cents; chops, 32 cents; potatoes, 6 cents; salad, 8 cents; charlotte-russe, 16 cents ; coffee, 5 cents.

Tomato Soup.
Let one half can tomatoes and one half pint of water come to a boil. Rub one heaping table-spoonful of flour and one of butter, with a little tomato. Stir into the boiling mixture, season with one half teaspoonful of salt and one half teaspoonful of sugar. Boil ten minutes. Rub through a sieve, and serve with toasted bread. (Cut the bread in thin squares, butter, and place in a hot oven.)

Dip in one beaten egg and fine crumbs, seasoned.

French Dressing.
Mix one saltspoonful of salt and one half saltspoonful pepper in a cup. Add one table-spoonful of
oil. When thoroughly mixed, add one table-spoonful of vinegar and two more table-spoonfuls of oil.

Made with pieces of stale sponge cakes and flavored whipped cream, piled in the centre; or they
can be bought for four cents apiece.

To make mashed potatoes look, as well as taste, deliciously, buy a potato-masher that is full of fine holes, through which the potato or any vegetable is easily pressed, and it looks like vermicelli.
Filtered coffee is much better than boiled coffee.

Quotation for the Day.

Never serve oysters in a month that has no paycheck in it.
P. J. O'Rourke

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Samuel Pepys, who is a dear friend to this blog, made mention one day of a style of dinner that was unfamiliar to me.

“… At noon went by water with Mr.Maylard and Hales to the Swan in Fishstreete at our colly-feast, where we were very merry at our Jole of Ling.”

The world of dictionaries is pretty quiet on the topic of colly-feasts, but the definition which pervades the Internet is that a colly-feast is ‘a feast of collies (cullies, good companions) at which each pays his share.’ The OED doesn’t seem to know colly-feast (which seems strange to me since it was mentioned by Pepys) but it does have an interesting definition of ‘cully’ (etymology uncertain), which it says is ‘a man, fellow; a companion, mate.’ It seems, then, that a colly-feast was an early version of a boys-only meal.

It also seems difficult not to believe some connection with the word colleague, doesn’t it? The OED opines that colleague derives from the French, and originally meant ‘one chosen along with another, a partner in office.’ The idea of choice in relation to work colleagues is intriguing, isn’t it? Anyhow, perhaps you have a new name for the next office get-together – one that makes it quite clear who is paying, which might save embarrassment.

The other words in Pepys’ diary entry that might need explaining are – ling and jole. Ling we have dealt with previously. A ‘jole’ is a jowl, or a jaw, but in the case of fish (especially salmon, sturgeon, and ling) usually refers to the ‘head and shoulders’ which used to be considered a delicacy in Britain, and still are in many parts of the world.

The following recipe, from a very popular cookbook of Pepys’ era -The Accomplish’t Cook, or, the Art and Mystery of Cookery, by Robert May (1660) can be adapted to ling, if you want to eat fish seventeenth century style.

To broil Sturgeon, or toast it against the fire.
Broil or toast a rand or jole of sturgeon that comes new out of the sea or river, (or any piece) and either broil it in a whole rand, or slices an inch thick, salt them, and steep them in oyl-olive and wine vinegar, broil them on a soft fire, and baste them with the sauce it was steeped in, with branches of rosemary, tyme, and parsley; being finely broiled, serve it in a clean dish with some of the sauce it was basted with, and some of the branches of  rosemary; or baste it with butter, and serve it with butter and vinegar, being either beaten with slic’t lemon, or juyce of oranges.

Quotation for the Day.

Good cookery is not an extravagance but an economy, and many a tasty dish is made by our Continental friends out of materials which would be discarded indignantly by the poorest tramp in Whitechapel.
General Booth, in Darkest England and The Way Out.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Harvest Supper.

There is a lot of discussion these days in the ethical-eating press about our distance from the source of our food – not just the geographical distance (food miles, carbon footprint etc), but also the emotional distance. A huge percentage of folk (maybe most?) have never actually seen an apple still on a tree, or a potato still damply dirty from the ground - never mind a pig being slaughtered to make the breakfast sausages. We pay a huge price for this distance, not the least of which is a lack of reverence and appreciation for the earth’s bounty. It is this which makes us waste at least one fifth of all the food that we purchase.

There is a great loss that we have suffered too, which I have not heard discussed. We no longer participate in, or even know about, the wonderful celebrations and feastings that used to mark many of the important milestones in the food-production year. To lose an opportunity for a community party of thanksgiving is not progress, my friends.

A week or two ago we discussed ‘missing meals’, and now I want to remind you of some of the annual feasts that are missing completely from our civilized calendar. In previous blog posts I have talked about Martinmas (or ‘Split Stomach Day’), St. Thomas’ Day, and Midsummer’s Day.

Today it is the turn of the Harvest Supper (or the Churn or Kern Supper, Mell Supper, Feast of Ingathering, Harvest Home etc) There are regional differences in the use of the names, in some places the feast followed the reaping rather than the ‘ingathering’, and in other places there was a celebration at the end of the sheep-shearing season, but no matter – the idea is the same.

There are many common themes to the harvest supper. It was the time of the year when Master and servant sat down together to feast ‘on terms of perfect equality’. Corn dolls (‘corn’ referring to wheat in early English usage) were made and dressed, and games of ‘guising’ were played. Young men were the usual participants in the ‘guising’. They would dress up in clothes of ‘the gayest motley imaginable’, with masks or blackened faces, and would then ‘force entry’ into the supper hall, claiming ‘the privilege of conquerors’ (which no doubt they hoped included the favours of the young women present.) Any votes to bring back the Harvest Supper?

The man we go to for advice on the harvesting business in the eighteenth century is William Ellis, who wrote The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, in 1750. We have previously heard his thoughts on ‘Victualling Harvest-men in Hertfordshire’, and on the importance of apple pies and pasties as part of that process. There is no doubt that the housewife spent a large part of the year putting by supplies to feed the huge increase in the number of labourers she would have to feed at this time. Ellis discusses in his book the importance of a good housewife furnishing herself with ‘a due Quantity of Suet against Harvest-time’ – the suet being an indispensible ingredient for the puddings expected in great quantity by the harvest workers. He reminds us of the importance of supplying ‘culinary vegetables’ at this time too.

The Benefits of getting Roots, Herbs and other culinary Vegetables against Harvest-Time.
In our Chiltern country of Hertfordshire, several of our prudent housewives foresee the great conveniency of having broad beans, pease, carrots, turnips, potatoes, cabbages, onions, parsley, and other kitchen ware, ready for use against a want of them in harvest-time; for that some of these not only prove a sauce, but also help meat to go the further. And here I think it necessary to inform our country housewife, that she ought to have a bed of grass-onions ready all the summer time for her pot uses, even 'till Allholland-Tide. Now what I mean by grass-onions, are Welch onions; whose green large flaggy stalks will endure cutting many times in a year, and will last ten or twenty or more years, provided the bed is dressed once in three years with soot, ashes, or malt-dust, and not suffer'd to run to seed. This I yearly prove to my great conveniency, as being thus furnish'd with early and late onion-stalks, when roots and stalks of others are not easily had; and for having these onions, its seed may be had at any of the London seed-shops, by asking for a pennyworth or two of Welch onion seed: But I have further to inform my reader, that this is the seed which produces the forward sort of young onions, which are drawn by May-Day to be eat with sallads; therefore this Welch onion seed may be sown for an early drawing of them, as well as for a durable crop to cut in flags. And as for broad beans, they serve, in some measure, as a second sort of meat as well as sauce, and are so necessary to a family in harvest-time, that that gentleman, yeoman, or farmer, who does not provide a sufficient crop of them against such an occasion, is very much wanting to his own interest; for it is this most cheap and serviceable vegetable which allays thirst, and so relishes fat bacon, or salt pork, that the men often eat it with a good stomach, to the saving of much expence in the consumption of beef and other meat; it is easy of carriage to the field, will keep hot some time, and prove a very wholesome nourishing eatable. Pease also are valuable, as a change of satiating diet, and are cooling and pleasant to the taste. In the harvest of 1748, as well as in former harvests, I fed my harvest men almost every other day with bacon and beans, or pickled pork and beans. Carrots, turnips, cabbage, and potatoes, are also good kitchen provision to be eaten with salt or fresh meat. Onions, sallary, leeks, parsley, thyme, and savory, are also necessary in harvest-time, because with these our country housewife cooks up her lean orts of beef, her pieces of bacon or pork, her offald cold turnips, carrots, cabbage, or potatoes. And if the meat is a little tainted, yet by her skillful management in the use of some of these roots and herbs, she may recover such meat, by causing it to be hashed or minced according to the art of good housewifery.

How to make Hertfordshire Cakes, Nuts, and Pincushions.
These are much used in Hertfordshire, for giving farmers servants a changeable dinner now and then to their satisfaction; for if they are made as they should be, the men are generally fond of them. To do which, our housewife puts skim milk and hogs-lard over the fire, and warms them only for mixing. Then she takes some flour, sugar, yeast, and an egg or two, with the powder of Jamaica spice, and makes a paste of these and the milk and fat, as if for pye-crust; and when it is work'd and rolled enough, to the thinness of about a quarter of an inch, she cuts it out in two-inch square pieces, and boils them in hogs-lard in a little kettle, or in a stew-pan or frying-pan. Others roll up this paste in the shape of walnuts, and dress them in the same manner the square pieces are.--N. B. No fat is so good for this as hogs-lard, because the lard hollows the cushions or nuts, and makes them look whiter than any other fat does; though some for want of this make them with dripping, &c.

Quotation for the Day.

Care less for your harvest than how it is shared and your life will have meaning and your heart will have peace.
Kent Nerburn.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Holiday Catering.

The Easter-time holiday approacheth, and with it the necessity to plan the holiday food. One cannot always take one’s servants with one on holiday, and the problem of food preparation and service, is, for some, tedious. I must add that I am not one of those folk – planning holiday food is a large part of the fun for me, and this year it is nine-days worth – how good is that?!

In previous times - in Britain at any rate - one could manage quite nicely by letting Harrods do some of the work. A display advertisement for the store in July 1919 was reassuring to those who wanted (and could afford) to out-source the difficulty.

“Wherever your holiday may take you, any difficulty in the matter of food supplies will quickly vanish if only you avail yourself of Harrod’s help. Be it no more than a ‘Hamper’ you require or be it the food needs of a household you can depend on Harrod’s absolutely. Simply send a clear note of your particular requirements and trust Harrods to do the rest.

Harrod’s 2-Guinea Holiday Box.
1 lb. TEA
1 lb. COFFEE
1 Tin CHEESE BISCUITS (Assorted)
1 carton HONEY (N.Z)
1 Pint Packet JELLY
1 lb. DATES
1 Pkt. DRIED EGGS (Spencer’s)
3 Tins SOUP (Assorted)

How wonderful! Even without a servant, one could whip up a nice dessert for the kiddies in no time at all, using some of the ingredients provided.

Pearl Cream.
Make one pint of double strength lemon, orange, or pineapple jelly, and pour it over four crushed banans with pulp from pine, lemon, or orange. Pass through a sieve, and when cool stir in a little less than ½ pint top milk, thin cream, or evaporated milk. Turn into wetted mould or moulds and set. Any fruits at all may be used in this recipe. Gelatine crystals and fruit juice may be used instead of ordinary jellies, and the quantity of milk may be increased. Decorate with fresh fruit.
[The Times, July 6, 1938]

Quotation for the Day.

This recipe is certainly silly. It says to separate two eggs, but it doesn't say how far to separate them.
Gracie Allen

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Perfumed Cake.

After this week’s gastronomical traumas of ersatz coffee and rhubarb with ketchup, I feel that perhaps we need something comforting today. From a new find - One Hundred and One Layer Cakes, by May E Southworth, (San Francisco and New York, 1907) - I give you an exceedingly fragrant, and very girly cake.

Violet [Layer Cake]
Cream a half-cupful of butter; add a cupful of sugar and cream again. Sift together a teaspoonful of baking-powder, one and a half cupfuls of flour and a quarter of a teaspoonful of salt; add this to the butter and sugar with a half-cupful of milk and the beaten whites of four eggs. Flavor with a teaspoonful of violet-extract and four drops of vanilla.
Whip a pint of cream dry and stiff; add the beaten whites of three eggs and a half-cupful of confectioner’s sugar. Flavor with a teaspoonful of crème yvette cordial and a half-teaspoonful of vanilla. Color violet with coloring paste. Put this between the two layers and make a plain icing for the top flavored with crème yvette. Decorate with crystallized violets, making stems of shredded angelica.

And to gild the lily, what better than some violet tea?

Violet Tea.
This is a soothing beverage for persons suffering from bronchitis and similar affections. Put a teaspoonful of dried violets in a jar, and pour upon them half a pint of boiling water. Let them infuse for five minutes, strain the liquor, sweeten with honey, and it will be fit for use.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, c.1870’s

Quotation for the Day.

I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.
Henry David Thoreau.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cooking with Ketchup.

As explained yesterday, short recipe curiosities are the order of the day until the IT issues are sorted out at the Old Foodie residence. Today’s treat is the joy that can result from cooking with commercial condiments – specifically, Heinz Tomato Ketchup. If you are having a ‘secret ingredient’ dinner, the following fruit crumble might do nicely for dessert.

Major League Rhubarb
Combine ½ cup sugar with 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg and 2 cups soft breadcrumbs. Stir 1 ½ cups of this mixture into one 12 ounce package of frozen rhubarb that has been thawed in a greased 1 ½ quart casserole. Add 1 medium banana and 1 medium tart apple, each peeled and thinly sliced. Pour over casserole contents a mixture of ½ cup ketchup and 1 tablespoon each lemon juice and rind. Sprinkle with remaining breadcrumb mixture, dot with 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, and bake, covered, in a moderate (350 degree) oven 30 minutes. Uncover, bake 20 minutes longer. Serve warm or cold, garnished with either whipped cream, cottage cheese, sour cream or ice-cream.
[Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Oct 3, 1957]

Of course, you may prefer something a bit more conventional, and considerably less scary, so, from a Heinz advertisement of 1957, we have:

Almond Chick-Up.
Heat oven to 375 degrees F (Moderately hot.)
Shake 3 lb cut-up frying chicken in paper bag with ½ cup flour, 1 Tabs. Salt, ¼ tsp pepper, 1 Tbs. paprika. Brown chicken in ½ cup melted shortening. Place in 2-qt. casserole. Sauté ¼ cup blanched almonds, slivered, in same shortening. Blend in remaining flour mixture. Stir in ¾ cup water and 1 can Heinz Consommé, undiluted. When thick, add 14oz. Heinz Tomato Ketchup, ½ cup dairy sour cream. Pour over chicken – cover – bake 50 min. Top with ½ cup grated process American cheese. Bake, uncovered,10 min (8 servings)

Today is also a fine opportunity to remind you of the history of Tomato Soup Cake:

Quotation for the Day.

“Blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household!”
Heinz slogan for ketchup, 1876.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Coffee? Gravy?

For the next week or so (hopefully not longer), posts will consist of short-ish snippets and recipe curiosities, while my new notebook computer is resuscitated after its premature hard drive demise. The ‘spare’ computer suffered exactly the same fate on exactly the same day, and although it has been resurrected and is working very well, I am not inclined to restore every file to it, only to have to repeat the process when the baby returns – so, I do not have access to all of my stuff.

The incident made me think about how we get on and make do when the best is not available – which is not unusually determined by cost. Cost was undoubtedly the rationale for the excruciatingly awful versions of ‘coffee’ and ‘gravy’ supplied by the Correctional Association of New York to its guests in Clinton Prison in 1864, which were explained in their nineteenth annual report.

Bill of Fare.
Breakfast is uniform throughout the week, and consists of coffee, corned beef, bread, potatoes and gravy.
The coffee is made by browning crusts of bread in the oven until the outside is black. Then 8 lbs of these burned crusts and 2 gallons of molasses are boiled with 30 gallons of water; this makes a pleasant and healthy drink, which is much liked by the men. We believe it to be far the best substitute for coffee in prisons and alms houses that can be made.
The beef is corned beef boiled in the ordinary way.
The gravy is made by melting 13 lbs of lard and warming 20 lbs of flour; the warm flour is then rubbed evenly into the melted lard,; and cooked fifteen minutes; 24 gallons of warm water are then poured in to the flour and lard, and the whole boiled together half an hour; it is seasoned with salt and pepper well stirred together, and it is then fit for use. Each man receives one gill of the gravy. The men like it very much.

P.S. There are other stories on ersatz coffee HERE and HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

Forever: Time it takes to brew the first pot of coffee in the morning.
Author Unknown

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bummer's Custard.

I am fond of custard (you can take a girl out of England… and all that), so naturally homed in on the phrase ‘Bummer’s Custard’ when it popped uninvited into my Google field of view one day recently. A less well-known brand than Bird’s perchance? A name for custard made especially for tramps or hoboes? A custard to compensate for a bummer of an outcome in something or other?

The recipe appears in two or three cookbooks of the 1909-1912 period, then seems to have sunk without a trace – or so it appears from my brief investigation. The real mystery however, lurks in the recipe itself.

Bummer’s Custard.
Take half a pound of Roquefort cheese, divide into three equal parts. Rub up one-third with olive oil, one third with Worcestershire sauce, and one third with cognac. Mix all together until it is of the consistency of custard, and add a dash of cayenne. This is delicious served on hot toast or crackers.
Two hundred recipes for making salads with thirty recipes for dressings and sauces, Olive Hulse, Chicago, 1910

In other words, it is the custard you have when you would really rather be having Welsh Rabbit, or vice-versa. How strange is this? And from whence did the strange name originate?

Another recipe book has it:

Bummers Custard Sandwich.
Take a cake of Roquefort cheese and divide in thirds; moisten one third with brandy, another third with olive oil, and the other third with Worcestershire sauce. Mix all together and place between split water biscuits toasted. Good for a stag lunch.
The Up-to-Date Sandwich Book,1909

Peripheral mysteries to the naming are (i) why would anyone use three bowls to mix this? (ii) what makes it so suitable for a stag party?

Quotation for the Day.

When men reach their sixties and retire, they go to pieces. Women go right on cooking.
Gail Sheehy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Parting Dish.

I want to give you two more ‘meals’ today, to complete our series. Firstly, lets take a break for ‘bever’ (or ‘beaver’). ‘Bever’ is another small refreshment with flexible timing in the day. According to the OED it is ‘A small repast between meals; a ‘snack,’ nuncheon, or lunch; esp. one in the afternoon between mid-day dinner and supper’, so perhaps does fit better at afternoon tea-time. It is most usually taken to refer to a liquid refreshment, as you can guess from its association with the word ‘beverage’.

Our final meal, for now, is also beverage-based. It is ‘a collation consisting of wine accompanied by spices, comfits, or the like, partaken of before retiring to rest or the departure of guests; a repast of this nature following upon a feast or fuller meal; a parting dish, and in medieval times was known as the voidé (or voidée). The name is not hard to fathom as it took place as the guests were leaving and the hall was being cleared of the trestle tables (the hall then reverting to a large communal bedchamber). It was usually taken standing up, even by the King. There was a medicinal element to this little ceremony, the spices and beverages being chosen for their digestive and strengthening qualities. The traditional drink was hippocras ‘a cordial drink made of wine flavoured with spices’ (‘cordial’ here referring to its supposed tonic benefits.)

Ancient cookery manuscripts commonly contain instructions for the making of hippocras, but I found some interesting ‘new’ interpretations of the idea in How to mix drinks: or, The bon-vivant's companion,… by Jerry Thomas, and Christian Schultz (1862)

Hypocras Framboisé (Raspberry Hippocras.)
3 lbs. of raspberries made to a pulp; add 9 gallons of claret wine, and ½ gallon of alcohol, 95 per cent. Dissolve 8 lbs of sugar in powder in it. Filter.

Hypocras au Vin d’Absinthe. (Absinthe Hippocras)
2 ½ lbs fresh wormwood; macerate for 12 hours in 9 gallons of white wine, filter; add to this
40 lemons, the thin yellow rinds only.
40 cedrats, ditto
5 ounces of anise-seed
½ ounce of cloves.
Ground and cut; macerate the whole with ½ gallon of alcohol, 95 per cent; add 8 lbs of powdered sugar; strain and filter.

Quotation for the Day.

The king and the ambassadours were serued at a banket with two hundred and sixtie dishes, and after that a voidee of spices with sixtie spice plates.
Holinshed’s Chronicles III.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nammet and Nunchin.

Today we are going to try to squeeze in nammet and nunchin. Nunchin (nuncheon) was the subject of a previous post, so I don’t need to repeat the whole story, but will help you schedule it in your day by reminding you that the word is not related to ‘noon’ but to ‘nones’ meaning the ninth hour after sunrise, therefore about three in the afternoon – meaning it competes with afternoon tea rather than luncheon.

‘Nammet’ (or nummit), if you remember as far back as Monday, was one of the meals claimed by Dorsetshire harvest workers in times past. Fitting in our nammet is made frustratingly difficult, or perhaps delightfully flexible by the variety of definitions it has attracted over the years.
According to the OED, it is (or was) ‘ A light meal, esp. one taken in the middle of the day’ – in other words, it is luncheon. An eighteenth century source however refers to it as ‘A short intermeal between Breakfast &; Dinner, or between Dinner & Supper’, which give us great latitude. Mr. Grosse, in one of his linguistic works, intriguingly says it is ‘a luncheon before dinner.’ Novelists have opinions on nammit too. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, ‘nammet time’ is ‘around three o’clock’. To add to the confusion (or the flexibility), the novelist John Galsworthy in his book Bit O’Love (1915), has a character say “I give 'im a nummit afore 'e gets up; an' 'e 'as 'is brekjus reg'lar at nine”, making it similar to dewbit, or maybe first breakfast.

I have no idea of the origin of the word ‘nammit’, but I do prefer the explanation that it is the same as, or related to ‘nemmen’ and ‘nemnen’ which are are forms of usage of ‘remnant’ in Middle English. Whenever it is, one carries one’s nammit in a nammit-bag, of which I have read, and of which I wish I was in possession.

For the recipe for the day I give you a nice breakfast cake or currant bun – quite suitable for anything from dewbit to afternoon tea. It is from English Housewifry, by Elizabeth Moxon ( 1764).

To make Breakfast Cakes.
Take a pound of currans well washed, (rub them in a cloth till dry) a pound of flour dried before a fire, take three eggs, leave out one of the whites, four spoonfuls of new yeast, and four spoonfuls of sack or two of brandy, beat the yeast and eggs well together; then take a jill of cream, and something above a quarter of a pound of butter, set them on a fire, and stir them till the butter be melted, (but do not let them boil) grate a large nutmeg into the flour, with currans and five spoonfuls of sugar; mix all together, beat it with your hands till it leave the bowl, and then flour the tins you put the paste in, and let them stand a little to rise, and bake them an hour and a quarter.

Quotation for the Day.
Christopher Robin was home by this time, because it was the afternoon, and he was so glad to see them that they stayed there until very nearly tea-time, and then they had a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards, and hurried on to Pooh Corner, so as to see Eeyore before it was too late to have a Proper Tea with Owl. .. A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards.
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Luncheon, again.

I was going to skip luncheon today (as a topic, not as a meal – do you think I am crazy?), because I have talked about it before in previous posts (including the origin of the word, and good lunchtime manners, and what to serve at a Shooting Lunch). I came across some enlightening comments, however, which suit our theme of the week perfectly. They are from a lovely book on etiquette called Etiquette of Good Society (1893), by Lady Gertrude Elizabeth Campbell.

Lady Campbell expounds rather disapprovingly, but resignedly, to the new fashion of ‘luncheon’, proving to us that although we have ‘lost’ some meals (such as ‘dewbit’), we have also gained others. She writes:

“Luncheon has been defined as an insult to one's breakfast and an outrage to one's dinner. It is clearly an interpolation of no very ancient date. Three meals a day - breakfast, dinner, and supper - were formerly considered as amply sufficient; but now two more have added themselves to the list, and shouldered out to a great extent the old-fashioned after-dinner tea and supper. Luncheonis one of these extra " feeds " which has squeezed itself firmly in, and now the half-hour devoted to this meal is considered indispensable. We leave it to the decision of the medical community whether long abstinence or the too frequent supplying of the inner man is the most deleteriousto health. Luncheons are fairly established in most households. Sometimes they answer the purpose of dinner, and then they require to be more substantial, but still should only exhibit "an elegant sufficiency.”

Lady Campbell goes on to discuss the informal nature of an ordinary lunch – noting that informality is one thing, but ‘An elegant disorder is perfectly distinct from a vulgar confusion.’ A fine distinction, methinks, and I am grateful to Lady C for the statement, which I will apply henceforth to a number of areas of my life.

For the recipe for the day – for your next elegantly sufficient and elegantly disordered luncheon, I have chosen a dish from a cookbook written by another aristocrat – Lady Clark of Tillypronie. Her extensive recipe collection was published in 1909, after her death, but the recipes themselves clearly date back a long way.

Luncheon Cake. No. 2 (Small and very light)
1 lb. flour, ¼ lb. butter, same weight sugar, 3 eggs beaten together ready in a basin, 1 oz. German yeast dissolved n ¼ pt. warm milk and strained, 2 oz. sultana raisins, 2 oz. citron peel.
First rub the butter into the flour, next stir in the yeast and milk; add the fruit, then the 3 eggs; mix all together and pour into the tin, which it should about half fill; let it rise to top of tin before baking in a slack oven. It will take1 to 1 ¼ hours.

Quotation for the Day.

The word lunch is adopted in that ‘glass of fashion’, Almacks, and luncheon is avoided as unsuitable to the polished society there exhibited.
H.Best, Pers. & Lit. Mem. 1829.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Time for Elevenses.

Our quest for an increase in the number of daily meals continues, with inspiration and assistance from history. After our ‘dewbit’, first breakfast, and second breakfast, we have a serious choice: do we have ‘brunch’ or ‘elevenses’ before luncheon ? Brunch seems more of an idle, weekend affair, whereas ‘elevenses’ is for the working day, so perhaps we had better stick with the latter, it being Tuesday and all.

‘Elevenses’ (‘elevensies’ if you are a Hobbit, or a non-Hobbit with a penchant for puerile language) refers, as the word itself suggests, to food taken at eleven in the morning. Actually, the word applies not to the mere snack itself, but to the whole concept of a brief, healing pause in the crisis of the day. It is peculiarly British, and is rather more significant than its common definition of “a light informal snack” would suggest. It is, in fact, an institution, an inviolable right, a routine without which the British could not (would refuse to) continue with their working day. (Note to any country considering invading Britain: do it at eleven a.m. when everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere.)

Alan Davidson, in his wonderful Oxford Companion to Food, dates the origin of the word to the late eighteenth century. I have been unable to find any references before the early nineteenth century, but I do not pretend the wisdom and brilliance of the great man, so you must be content with my findings for now. The word (concept) sometimes appears as ‘elevens’ or ‘eleveners’, and there are certainly references in the 1830’s to ‘elevenses’. I was delighted to find that once upon a time there was also ‘fourses’ (or fourzes) - another lost meal to add to our collection – a similar snack and break from toil taken at that hour of the afternoon. From the OED:

1849 W. & H. RAYNBIRD Agric. Suffolk vi. 296 The name ‘fourzes’ and ‘elevens’, given to these short periods of rest and refreshment, show when taken.

Tea is essential to ‘elevenses’. Only Americans and other foreigners take coffee. The tea is accompanied by a sweet biscuit (a ‘cookie’ if you are an American) – not one of a novel or gimmicky nature, please, but a reliable and comfortingly familiar classic. Here is one such example for you, from Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s)

Ginger Biscuits.
Rub four ounces of fresh butter into half a pound of flour, and add three table-spoonfuls of sugar, half an ounce of ground ginger, and one egg beaten up with a little milk, into a smooth paste. Make up into small round biscuits, and bake on buttered paper for eight or ten minutes; leave a little distance between each cake.

Quotation for the Day.

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Only Seven Meals a Day?

Hobbits, as we all know from the movie, enjoy seven meals a day - breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper. Some non-hobbits have also managed to establish the same habit, according to at least one historical source:

“In Dorset, the agricultural labourers were accustomed some years since to say that in harvest time they required seven meals in the day – dewbit, breakfast, nuncheon, cruncheon, nammet, crammet, and supper.”
[Nall’s Glossary of the East Anglian Dialect, 1866]

Does this seven-meals-a-day stand up to examination? Another nineteenth century commentator opines:

“… this seems to have been rather a quaint jingle than an enumeration of meals, as some of them, nuncheon and nammet for example, clearly indicate the same.”

The story weakens further when you find that cruncheon and crammet appear to have been made up for their poetic value, for there is no mention of either in the Oxford English Dictionary. The idea remains tantalising however, does it not?

It is true that some of us (Bavarians, Poles, and Englishmen who hunt) are familiar with the delights of Second Breakfast, but most of the rest of us are satisfied with three choices of meals every twenty-four hours. Could we do better? Should we do better?

My aim this week is to introduce you to some ‘forgotten meals’, in the hope that, as a race, we can lift our game. In fact, I think it very nearly possible that, if we work at it, we can find a meal for every hour of the day.

We will start Dorsetshire harvestman-style with a ‘dewbit’, or ‘a small meal or portion of food taken in the early morning, before the regular breakfast’. This dewbit – so called, obviously because it is taken while the dew is on the grass - is ‘not so substantial as a regular breakfast’ (regular First Breakfast that is.) It is a habit I have had myself for many years, but I take mine in liquid form only – a cup of tea while the dew is still wet (sometimes while it is still falling, even, being the lark that I am.)

For those of you who prefer some small food portion as your dewbit, yet are concerned about damaging your appetite for first breakfast, may I suggest these light-as-air breakfast cakes?

East-Wind Gems.
It is not known whether these hygienic breakfast cakes are of the days of unleavened bread, or a
modern invention. You need not fear the east wind they may have imbibed, for the hot oven
counteracts its mischievous influence, and they are not only hygienic, but taste good. Their fibre is like nut meats, and you will enjoy giving the teeth just the exercise they need when you are eating them.
You are supposed to have baking-irons for these gems, else you had better not attempt them.
Take very cold milk and water, half and half. Stir in Graham and white flour, half and half, little by little, until you have a batter that will drop from the spoon and not run. It must be stirred rapidly, lightly, and thoroughly, the more the better, to incorporate a large amount of air and insure lightness. It needs a strong arm to carry this into effect.
Have the gem-pans ready hot in a hot oven. This you must be sure about to secure light gems.
Drop the batter into the hot irons while in the oven, or if you are very quick take the irons out for convenience. They require a quick oven to bake them, else you lose the air they have taken in, which is a nice point to determine, for the oven should bake as fast as it can without burning.
If you don't succeed this time try again, - keep trying and don't give it up. Make your batter a little thinner or thicker, your oven a little slower or quicker. There is a way, you may feel sure, and if you keep trying you will find it out, and will be likely to repeat your success often. When these culinary curiosities are in perfection they are light and pufiy, and you have pure unleavened bread, with no taste of "emptyings" or soda.
[What to get for Breakfast; M. Tarbox Colbrath, 1882]

Quotation for the Day.

Oh, my friends, be warned by me,
That breakfast, dinner, lunch and tea,
Are all human frame requires.
Hilaire Belloc.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Cheese Cookery 101.

One of my recent themes has been single-topic cookery books, so naturally this week my thoughts turned to those dedicated to cheese. There have been many manuals written over the centuries for the dairyman and dairymaid, but for the cook – I am sad to say, my friends, there is a dearth. There is The Complete Book of Cheese, by Bob Brown (New York, 1955) – but 1955 is hardly historical, is it? Not for those of us born before that date anyway.

The best I can do for you is explore The Woman’s Institute Library of Cookery, Volume 2: Milk, Butter, Cheese, Eggs, Vegetables, published in the early 1920’s. The book manages quite a reasonable number of very uninspiring recipes for cheese, which are preceded by some general advice (or is it opinion?)

Cheese does not lend itself readily to many ways of serving, still it frequently adds zest to many foods. When grated, it may be passed with tomato or vegetable soup and sprinkled in to impart an unusual flavor. In this form it may also be served with macaroni and other Italian pastes, provided cheese has not been included in the preparation of such foods. When sliced, little slices may be served nicely with any kind of pie or pastry and with some puddings, such as steamed fruit puddings. Thin slices or squares of cheese and crackers served with coffee after the dessert add a finishing touch to many meals. It will be well to note that crackers to be served with cheese should always be crisp. Unless they have just been taken from a fresh package, crackers can be improved by placing them in a moderate oven for a few minutes before serving. Also, firm crackers that do not crumble easily are best to serve with cheese, water crackers being especially desirable.

Because cheese is a highly concentrated food, it is generally considered to be indigestible; but this matter can be remedied by mixing the cheese with other foods and thus separating it into small particles that are more readily digested. The way in which this may be done depends on the nature of the cheese. Any of the dry cheeses or any of the moist cheeses that have become dry may be grated or broken into bits, but as it is difficult to treat the moist ones in this way, they must be brought to a liquid state by means of heat before they can be added to other foods. The cooking of cheese, however, has an effect on this food that should be thoroughly understood.
It will be well to note, therefore, that the application of heat to the form of protein found in cheese causes this food substance to coagulate and harden, as in the case of the albumen of eggs. In the process of coagulation, the first effect is the melting of the cheese, and when it has been brought to this semiliquid state it can be easily combined with other foods, such as milk, eggs, soups, and sauces. In forming such combinations, the addition of a small amount of bicarbonate of soda helps to blend the foods. Another characteristic of cheese that influences the cooking of it is that the fat it contains melts only at a low temperature, so that, on the whole, the methods of preparation that require a low temperature are the best for cooking these foods. However, a precaution that should be taken whenever cheese is heated is not to cook it too long, for long cooking makes it hard and leathery in consistency, and cheese in this state is difficult to digest.

Uninspiring they may be, but there is one treasure amongst the recipes for the collector (me) of variations on the theme of Welsh Rabbit (NOT Rarebit!)

ENGLISH MONKEY. - Another cheese dish that is frequently made in a chafing dish and served from it is English monkey, but this may likewise be made with ordinary kitchen utensils and served directly on plates from the kitchen or from a bowl on the table. A dish of this kind is most satisfactory if it is served as soon as the sauce is poured over toast or wafers and before they have had time to become soaked. English monkey may be made according to the following recipe and served for the same purposes as Welsh rarebit.

English Monkey
(Sufficient to Serve Six)
1 c. bread crumbs
1 c. milk
1 Tb. butter
1/2 c. soft cheese cut into small pieces
1 egg
1/2 tsp. salt
6 buttered wafers
Soak the bread crumbs in the milk. Melt the butter and add to it the cheese, stirring until the cheese is melted. Then add the soaked crumbs, the slightly beaten egg, and the salt. Cook for a few minutes and pour over wafers and serve. If desired, toast may be used in place of the wafers.

P.S You can find Welsh Rabbit HERE and HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

“What a friend we have in cheeses!
For no food more subtly pleases,
Nor plays so grand a gastronomic part;
Cheese imported - not domestic -
For we all get indigestic
From all the pasteurizer's Kraft and sodden art.”
William Cole, 'What a Friend We Have in Cheeses!'

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A Plea for Cheese.

Meat rationing in World War II was a trial and a chore for most Britons, and it might be assumed, it not being an issue for them, that vegetarians had it easy in that regard. When a cheese ration was proposed in early 1940 however, vegetarians became vocal. The President of the Vegetarian Society, Mr.W.A. Silby, was moved to write to The Times newspaper on the issue, with a convincing argument that the general public had reason on a number of counts to be grateful to the vegetarians in their midst. His letter was published on February 6th.


“ … Rather do we feel that we have some claim to the gratitude of the Ministry of Food and of the meat eating-majority, for not a single meat, bacon, or ham coupon have we used since the war began, nor do we take fish, lard, and dripping, and thus either there is more of these commodities for others, or shipping space is saved. … we now learn … that no more shipping space will be found for nuts. Surely, Sir, this is a mistake, from the national standpoint no less than our own. Concentration of nourishment and so also keeping qualities, give the advantage to cheese and nuts all along the line, for a very large part of the space and weight (estimated by some at as high a figure as 70 per cent) concerned in meat and its carriage is sheer waste. On the other hand a single cargo of cheese or nuts has enormous potentialities. … The vegetarians have yet another claim to the nation’s gratitude, for we are living examples of the good advice given in the broadcasts from “The Kitchen Front”, and in the appeals of Lord Woolton. The use of wholemeal bread, the daily consumption of salads, raw carrots, and green vegetables (cooked conservatively), potatoes eaten in their jackets, and all the rest of it have been preached and practiced by many of us from our youth up. …Sir, I beg of you to use your influence to persuade the powers that be to give us fair play and sufficient protein, in the shape of cheese and nuts. To many of us these last are not merely an occasionally after-dinner luxury, but a regular and substantial part of our daily diet."

The following day the newspaper reported that Mr. Silby’s letter had elicited a sympathetic response from the Ministry. “We admit,” stated an official, “that at the moment the vegetarian is pretty badly off [compared to earlier in the war]… I think the position of vegetarians will have to be considered again by this committee.”

Cheese rationing was set to begin on May 5. On April 2, the Ministry confirmed that vegetarians were to be allowed a significant amount of extra cheese – 8oz per person per week instead of 1 oz. There were of course, certificates and application forms to be signed and promises to be made (not to eat meat at a restaurant or other eating place, for example) by those wishing to claim this concession, but nevertheless, Mr. Silby had had a victory. Who said Letters to the Editors are a waste of time?

In mid-1945 the cheese ration stood at 4 oz. per person per week, and the Ministry’s “Recipe of the Week” was clearly designed to make little of it go a lot further.

Cheese Spread.
This filling between two good slices of bread makes an appetizing and nourishing meal especially good for heavy workers.
Ingredients: Left-over cold potato or cooked haricot beans. Grated cheese. Pinch of dry mustard.
Method: Mash the beans or potato and mix well with grated cheese and dry mustard. This can be spread directly on the bread, butter or margarine being unnecessary. To make the sandwiches a perfect meal, raw shredded cabbage, spinach, or sliced tomato, or well-chopped parsley should be added.

Quotation for the Day.

Swiss Cheese is a rip-off! It's the only cheese I can bite into and miss!
Mitch Hederberg.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Cheesy Tale about Rattlesnakes.

Here in Queensland, Australia, we feel some affinity with Florida, USA. There is an ongoing friendly rivalry between our states as to which has the greatest number of sunny days and the highest incidence of skin cancer. I am not sure how or why that contest popped into my head in what was going to be a cheese-themed week. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that here in sunny Queensland we are having a cool wet spell which is most unseasonal and has made me put a pot of lentil and spinach soup on the stove (soup? In early March?) Or perhaps it is because I am reminded that today is Florida Admission Day - the day in 1845 that Florida became the 27th state in the USA.

The random series of thoughts put me in mind to give you some recipes from historical Florida cookbooks, of which, thanks to the ‘State University System of Florida PALMM Project’, there are a couple online.

Wait! I don’t need to abandon the cheese theme!

From Florida salads: a collection of dainty, wholesome salad recipes that will appeal to the most fastidious, Frances Barber Harris (1918) we have:

Cheese and Green Pea Salad.
Cut American cheese in tiny little blocks and mix with green peas which have been cooked and drained. Sprinkle with white pepper, lightly fold in mayonnaise and serve on lettuce.

Cheese and Nut Salad.
Mash American cream cheese with pimentoes and peanut butter. Form into balls and press between halves of blanched English walnut meats. Serve on lettuce leaf with mayonnaise.

From Canning in Florida (1944) – a decidedly non-cheesy but nevertheless irresistible bite of non-recipe information on a topic in which Queensland cannot compete:

Canned Rattlesnake.
A novelty for many years in the State’s canning industry is a plant at Rattlesnake, Florida, where rattlesnake meat is canned. From a small experiment in 1930 with an investment of $130, this business has grown into a substantial and profitable one with 1940 sales reaching 15,000 small cans, retailing at $1.25 per can. To this income was added that from profitable by-products: venom for medical laboratories, and skins for use in making such articles as shoes, belts, caps, purses and jackets. About 2,500 rattlers were used in the 1940 pack. Another source of income is from thousands of tourists annually, who pay admission to the plant to inspect the novel operation, and from the sale of souvenirs such as the vertebrae and rattles.
The canned meat is white and tender and is said to taste something like chicken-breast or quail. It brings fancy prices as a special dish in a number of hotels in America. The plant also produces “Snake Snacks,” smoked bits for hors d’oeuvres.
The process of canning rattlesnake meat is simple. The reptile is milked of its venom, then decapitated and the body hung up for 24 hours. It is then skinned and dressed and partially cooked, cut into small slices and a special sauce added, packed into cans, sealed and cooked again. It is marketed as “Genuine Diamond Rattlesnake Meat with Supreme Sauce.” A second cannery operates at Ocala.

Quotation for the Day.

What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone?
Bertoldt Brecht

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Cheese Rules.

‘Cheese Rules’- how did you read that? Cheese, does, without doubt, rule. There are also (or used to be) rules about the eating of cheese.

The fourteenth century book of manner for children, called The Babees Book advises to “have a clean trencher and knife for your cheese.”

A book of manners for children from the fifteenth century – The Lytlylle Childrens Lytil Boke advises not rushing at the cheese, with the words:

“And cheese come forthe, be not too greedy,
Ne cutte thow not thereof to hastely”

And also in the fifteenth century, the Latin poem Modus Cenandi (The Way of Dining) informs as to the polite way of taking cheese.

“Let old cheese be cut thin
And let fresh cheese be cut thick for those that eat it
Do not press the cheese & the butter on to your bread with the thumb.”

And getting closer to modern times, we have:

Another correspondent asks, “Should cheese be eaten with a fork?” We say, decidedly, “Yes,” although good authorities declare that it may be put on a morsel of bread with a knife, and thus conveyed to the mouth. Of course we refer to the soft cheeses, - like Gorgonzola, cream-cheese, Neufchatel, Limburger, and the like – which are hardly more manageable than butter. Of the hard cheeses, one may convey a morsel to the mouth with the thumb and forefinger; but, as a general rule, it is better to use the fork.”
[Manners and Social Usages (American), by Mrs John Sherwood, 1887]

Nowadays we make much ado about the pairing of food and wine, which some interpret as an opportunity to make rules (never red with fish, only white with chicken, sweet wines with dessert etc). There have always been some such folk:

It was formerly the custom to drink porter with cheese. One of the few real improvements introduced by the “Napoleon of the realms of fashion” was to banish this tavern liquor and substitute port. The dictum of Brummel was thus enunciated: “A gentleman never malts he ports
[The Laws of Etiquette; Or, Short Rules and Reflections for Conduct in Society, 1836]

Good manners rule – that’s my opinion. And good manners stand the test of time. Five or six hundred years later, it is still considered correct to cut oneself a piece of cheese – especially blue cheese - from the side of the wedge, preserving the general wedge-shape, and ensuring that everyone gets a share of the rind and the centre.

For the recipe for the day, I give you an egg and cheese dish from the late fourteenth century The Forme of Cury.

Brewet Of Ayrenn.

Take ayrenn [eggs], water and butter, and seeþ hem yfere with safroun [saffron] and gobettes of chese [cheese]. wryng ayrenn thurgh a straynour [strainer]. whan the water hath soden [boiled] awhile: take þenne the ayrenn and swyng [mix] hem with various [verjuice]. and cast þerto. set it ouere [over] the fire and lat it not boile. and serueit forth.

Quotation for the Day.

Ladies must decline cheeses, and, above all, ‘must not touch the decanters.’
National Encyclopedia of Business and Social Forms, 1882.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Moon and Green Cheese.

When you were little, did you ever wonder about the stories about the moon being made of ‘green cheese’? Perhaps it is not so strange or silly an idea to the generations of children reared on ‘green eggs and ham’, but it certainly mystified me as a child.

There are references to ‘green cheese’ as far back as the fourteenth century, but the name does not refer to the colour, but to the unripe newness of young (‘fresh’) cheese. The name might have needed a little clarification even as far back as the sixteenth century, for we find the monk Andrew Boorde noting in his Dyetary that ‘Grene chese is not called grene by the reason of colour, but for the newnes of it.’

I guess that explains the moon myth – the moon does look a bit like a ball of soft cheese with a lumpy surface, doesn’t it?

Green cheese also at times refers to an inferior sort of cheese made from skim milk or whey – good whey being said to have a greenish hue. The author of one eighteenth century dairying manual explains at one point in his cheese-making instructions:

“When the Whey is of a white colour the Curd is not fully settled, &; if it is so to any great degree, the Cheese is sure to be sweet, and in that case you are sure to cast away a great part of what should be Cheese, for the Whey thus put away would neither turn to Butter nor Cheese, though of a considerable substance, remaining of an undigested nature; If you pursue the method I have laid down, you will always find the Whey quite green, which is the colour it ought to be of;”
Dairying Exemplified, by J. Twamley, 1784

Finally of course, cheese can be made green by the addition of herbs. Here is a nice recipe from, of all things, an animal husbandry book with the full title of:

With an enlivening Selection of the
The whole forming an invaluable and useful Companion to all Persons
concerned in the Breeding and Managing of domestic Animals.

Green cheese.
Green cheese is made by steeping over night in a proper quantity of milk, two parts of sage with one of marigold leaves, and a little parsley after being bruised, and then mixing the curd of the milk thus greened, as it is called, with the curd of the white milk. These may be mixed irregularly or fancifully according to the pleasure of the operator. The management in other respects is the same as for common cheese. These are mostly made in Wiltshire.
The modern farrier … A.Lawson 1828

Quotation for the Day.

‘I haue no peny’, quod Pers, ‘poletes to bugge, Nouther gees ne grys, bote twey grene cheeses’.
The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman, William Langland (1362)