Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dinner with the Kaiser.

I have another historic menu for you today. On January 27, 1898 a banquet was held to celebrate the birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II (27 January 1859-1941). Wilhelm was Queen Victoria’s first grandson, and the last German Emperor and King of Prussia from June 1888 until he abdicated at the end of WW I on November 9, 1918.

The menu was held at the Military Casino, in the town of Metz, which is now in the part of France known as Alsace, but which was part of Germany between 1871-1919. There is no suggestion that this was a night of cards or roulette - because a ‘casino’at this time meant ‘a public room used for social meetings; a club-house; esp. a public music or dancing saloon’, it only later came to specifically refer to a gambling venue.

It was certainly an impressive dinner: the menu is given in both German and English – and for reasons which escape me, was headed with the Latin words suum cuique – ‘to each his own’. The dishes served were typical of a late nineteenth century grand dinner, and it featured a dish that had already been a specialty of the region for centuries – foie gras (see a previous post on the topic here.)


Skinbutte mit
Austersauce und Kartoffeln.
Rinderfilet mit Gemüsen.
Strassburger Gänseleleberpastete.
Eingemachte Früchte.
Charlotte Russe.


Caviar Canapes.
Ox-tail Soup.
Turbot with
Oyster Sauce and Potatoes.
Fillet of Beef with Vegetables.
Strasbourg Foie Gras.
Preserved Fruit.
Charlotte Russe.

I am amazed to find that in over thirteen hundred posts, I do not appear to have ever given you an explication or recipe for the obligatory nineteenth century banquet dessert – Charlotte Russe! How can this have happened?

As with so many things, culinary and otherwise, what goes by the name of ‘charlotte’ can include a wide variety of dishes. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the definition as ‘A dish made of apple marmalade covered with crumbs of toasted bread; also, a similar dish made with fruit other than apple. Hence, charlotte russe, a dish composed of custard enclosed in a kind of sponge-cake’, with the first reference as appearing in 1797. The ‘russe’ clearly suggests that it was attributed to Russia – the ‘Charlotte’ is variously attributed – so there is fodder there for another post, Time willing.Here is one interpretation.

Charlotte Russe
½ lb. ratafia biscuits, ½ pint cream, 1 oz. sugar, 1 tablespoon sherry, 1 tablespoon raspberry jam, ½ oz. gelatine, 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Rub the jam through a sieve, dip the ratafias first into it, then into the sherry, and with them line the side of a plain Charlotte mould, the first row should be put in quite dry. Whip the cream to a stiff froth, add to it the sugar, vanilla, and melted gelatine. Fill the mould, when set, turn out and garnish the top with whipped cream.
Cookery. Maud C. Cooke. London, Ontario.1896.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The royal dinner, 1938

Today's post was to be on 'Appreciating your Garlicke', as it seemed a nice idea to follow on yesterday's Knowing your Onions. I find myself short of time this week however (what else is new?), so to save ruining the almost five-year old tradition of Monday to Friday posts, I give you a menu which was to be included in  Menus from History, but ultimately ejected. The story is two weeks late, as it relates to a royal dinner during Ascot week in 1938, but I am sure you will enjoy dining in right royal style anyway.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother) were enjoying the horse-racing during Ascot week (see June 15) in June 1938, as has been the tradition of the royal family for over a century. The royal family usually live at Windsor during Ascot week, but the dinner menu for the evening of June 14, 1938 bears the Buckingham Palace insignia.

Consommé Jeanne Garnier.

Filet de Sole du Bon Normand.

Carré d’Agneau Bouquetière.

Caneton Glacé Montmorency.
Salade Alice.

Fonds d’Artichauts Colbert.

Coeur Flotant aux Fraises.
Bonbonnière de Petits Fours.

Cassolette à l’Indienne.

Instructions or descriptions of all of these dishes are described in Royal Menus by Rene Roussin, who was the Chef de Cuisine to King George VI.

Consommé Jeanne Garnier: a chicken consommé with pigeon added when the consomme is clarified, then champagne is added; then a final garnish with rice and prawns.

Filet de Sole du Bon Normand: the fish is poached, and served on a mushroom pureee

Carré d’Agneau Bouquetière: this consists of the best chops from one side of the lamb left in a small joint, with the ends of the chop bones trimmed short; served with a selection of vegtgables poached then buttered

Caneton Glacé Montmorency: the duck is served with a sauce made from the duck jus and pineapple juice, and is garnished with pineapple.

Salade Alice: this consists of dessert apples, cored and stuffed with apple, redcurrants and blanched slivered almonds and cream

Fonds d’Artichauts Colbert: artichoke hearts are buttered and baked in the oven.

Cassolette à l’Indienne: these are pastry tarts filled with chicken breast meat mixed with curry sauce and served warm.

Recipe for the Day:

The making of a Coeur Flotant aux Fraises relies on the previous preparation of several ‘sub-recipes’ which are fundamental to the pastrycook’s repertoire. The following are taken from Roussin’s book.

Coeur Flotant aux Fraises
(Strawberry Heart)
Take a ‘round’ of sponge-cake made in the form of a heart – i.e. in a heart-shaped tin. Cut the sponge carefully into thin layers. Separate the layers and sprinkle them with kirsch and maraschino until they are well damped but not in danger of disintegrating. Now spread a coating of thick apricot sauce (see page 240) on each piece and sprinkle the surface with currants and chopped blanched almonds. Reassemble the sponge cake in layers and coat the top with crème chantilly well flavoured with vanilla. Sprinkle the cream with chopped Pistachio nuts and more currants. Arrange the cake on a serving dish with a raised centre, surrounded by a circle of custard (crème anglais) set with large ripe, raw strawberries.
A little light strawberry syrup (about 14o) made by poaching ripe strawberries in syrup until soft, passing them through a sieve, and straining off the clear liquor, should be poured over the border of the crème anglaise and raw fruit.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Knowing your Onions.

Onions have been human food for millennia, and perhaps familiarity has bred, if not contempt, then disinterest. Food fashions come and go – beetroot and parsnips and celeriac and a host of other vegetables keep on getting rediscovered and are briefly novel and interesting again, but I don’t remember the same honour ever being given to the onion.

The onion has a long history of medicinal use, as a food for the poor, and as a flavouring ingredient – but seems to have only rarely been prepared and celebrated in its own right as culinary treat. Why is this? How could a mid-eighteenth century wife or nurse prepare ‘a cataplasm of roasted onions and bruised mustard seed’ as an ‘excellent external application for the piles’ (or the chilblains), and not be tempted by the aroma to pile the leftover cataplasm on the dinner plate? On the other hand, maybe a haemorrhoid medication could never be appealing for dinner.

Even by the mid-nineteenth century the onion was hardly a culinary delicacy, if we are to judge from the following opinion:

Great use is made of the onion in the United States; but I do not regard it as a very valuable esculent, except for medicinal purposes. It is somewhat stimulant and heating, as well as diuretic. Dr. Paris says it certainly contains a considerable portion of nourishment; but his manner of expressing his opinion appears to me, to imply doubts of the truth of his own statements. He relates, moreover, from Sir John Sinclair, that a Scotch Highlander, with a few raw onions in his pocket, and a crust of bread or some oatcake, can travel to an almost incredible extent, for two or three days in succession, without any other food. This is not very strange, however. Who could not travel, with crusts of good bread in his pocket, if in sufficient quantity? There is no better food in the world for a person who is to travel violently a few days, than this; but I have yet to learn that the raw onions would add much to the amount of real sustenance. They might serve as a condiment.
Since, however, the onion is much in fashion, it may be well to say that the best method of cooking it is either by boiling or roasting; and the worst by frying. The fried onion, either alone, or with apples, potatoes, or meat, is exceedingly indigestible and unwholesome; and to any but a perverted taste, highly offensive and disgusting. As a medicine, it is sometimes properly used raw.
[The young house-keeper: or, thoughts on food and cookery (Boston, 1839) by W.A. Alcott.]

I admit it. My taste is perverted. I love fried onions.

I do wonder what future readers will think of our current theories of food and disease (“How ridiculous! Back then, they actually thought BUTTER was BAD!”)

As for the ‘exceedingly indigestible and unwholesome’ combination of onions and apples, we have previously come across the very thrifty idea of onion-apple pies – for rough farm-workers of course.

What about this repeated connection of the Scots with onions? It is mentioned again in that very Scottish cookery book by ‘Mistress Margaret Dods’ (aka Christian Isobel Johnstone) - Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1826). The book does actually contain a recipe for roasted onions – to be eaten, not applied.

To Stew And Roast Onions
Scald and peel a dozen middle sized, or two or three Spanish onions. If old and acrid, parboil them, and stew very slowly for nearly an hour in good veal or broth, with white pepper and salt; thicken the sauce with a little white roux or butter kneaded in flour, and dishing the onions in a small hash-dish, pour it over them. A little mushroom catsup may be added or they may be browned. Onions are roasted before the fire in their skins, and served with cold butter and salt. They are in Scotland served with roasted goose or pork, and eaten alone or with roasted potatoes or red or pickled herrings. In the latter case we would recommend mustard as well as butter. Obs. Stewed and roasted onions used to be a favourite supper dish in Scotland, and were reckoned medicinal .The onions were stewed (after parboiling) in a butter sauce to which cream was put, i.e. the Sauce blanche of France.

Quotation for the Day

The onion being eaten, yea though it be boyled, causeth head-ache, hurteth the eyes, and maketh a man dimme sighted, dulleth the senses, ingendreth windinesse, and provoketh overmuch sleepe, especially being eaten raw.
John Gerard (1545-1611)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Peanuts Galore

I love peanuts (or any other nut for that matter), but am much more appreciative of its overall value, having read the words of one of its great champions -George Washington Carver (1864-1943), who we met in a previous story.

From How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption (Seventh Edition, January 194, here are some of his words, and a couple of very interesting recipes.

Of all the money crops grown by Macon County farmers, perhaps there are none more promising than the peanut in its several varieties and their almost limitless possibilities.
Of the many good things in their favor, the following stand out as most prominent:

1. Like all other members of the pod-bearing family, they enrich the soil.
2. They are easily and cheaply grown.
3. For man the nuts possess a wider range of food values than any other legume.
4. The nutritive value of the hay as a stock food compares favorably with that of the cowpea.
5. They are easy to plant, easy to grow, and easy to harvest.
6. The great food-and-forage value of the peanut will increase in proportion to the rapidity with which we make it a real study. This will increase consumption, and, therefore, must increase production.
7. In Macon County, two crops per year of the Spanish variety can be raised.
8. The peanut exerts a dietetic or a medicinal effect upon the human system that is very desirable.
9. I doubt if there is another foodstuff that can be so universally eaten, in some form, by every individual.
10. Pork fattened from peanuts and hardened off with a little corn just before killing, is almost if not quite equal to the famous red-gravy hams, or the world renowned Beechnut breakfast bacon.
11. The nuts yield a high percentage of oil of superior quality.
12. The clean cake, after the oil has been removed, is very high in muscle-building properties (protein), and the ease with which the meal blends in with flour, meal, etc., makes it of especial value to bakers, confectioners, candy-makers, and ice cream factories.
13. Peanut oil is one of the best known vegetable oils.
14. A pound of peanuts contain a little more of the body-building nutrients than a pound of sirloin steak, while of the heat and energy producing nutrients it has more than twice as much.

Carver gives recipes for soups, breads, cakes, cookies, ice-cream,and candy - plus a few others that definitely enlarged my peanut-cooking repertoire.


Boil the liver from two fowls or a turkey; when tender mash them fine; boil one pint of blanched peanuts until soft; mash them to a smooth paste; mix and rub through a puree-strainer; season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice; moisten with melted butter; spread the paste on bread like sandwiches, or add enough hot chicken stock to make a puree; heat again and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.


Cream a slice of bread in half a cup of rich milk; beat the whites and yolks of two eggs separately; add the yolks to the bread crumbs and milk; to half a cup of finely ground peanuts add a dash of pepper and salt; mix thoroughly; fold in the whites, and cook as usual in a buttered pan.

Quotation for the Day.

I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts.
Orson Welles.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

To Make the Medicine go Down.

In my forthcoming book Soup: A Global History, I reserve a chapter for 'Medicinal Soups'. One of the soups I feature in this chapter is Snail Broth – an example of the cure being worse than the disease in many cases, perhaps (such as respiratory complaints or jaundice.) The author of Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, (1827), who provides the recipe, offers some suggestions for overcoming the ‘mawkish taste’ and general repugnance.

Snail Broth.
Wash them extremely well, and throw them into very hot water; take them out of the shell, and pass them through several waters; working them well with the hand; slice them, pound the shells, and put all into a saucepan, with as much water as will cover; boil, skim, and let them simmer for several hours; add a little salt, sugar, and a very small quantity of mace, to correct the mawkish taste: a tea-cupful may be taken four times a day, with or without conserve of roses. Should the patient have any repugnance to it in this form, let it be put into some weak veal broth; this is far preferable to slater [woodlouse] wine.

One way of administering unpleasant medicine is to hide it in something strongly flavoured, and desirable in its own right - such as gingerbread. A writer of a letter to the Editor of the Medical Times and Gazette in 1859 wrote:

Sir, - In your last week’s number, page 69, you give an extract of a process, suggested by M. Bassi, for the purpose of rendering cod-liver oil palatable.
We beg to inform your readers that we have already effected this, and in a manner essentially the same as M. Bassi proposes. In your paper of 12th February last,, you reported upon our preparation as follows:- “We have examined a specimen of gingerbread made by Messrs. Newbery, each cake containing a teaspoonful of cod-liver oil. The gingerbread is extremely light and pleasant, the flavour of the oil being completely covered.”
Should your readers desire to try M.Bassi’s preparation they will find in ours a representative, without the trouble of adopting the elaborate process suggested by the French Medical man.
Our cod-liver oil cakes have been largely inquired for by Medical Practitioners, and their sale testifies to their great utility.

I am, &C., F. Newbery and Son, by A.W.B. Newberry
45, St. Paul’s Churchyard, October 12, 1859

Of course, the spicy taste of gingerbread can be used to hide other unpleasant ingredients too. As regular readers will know, I particularly enjoy finding recipes in non-traditional sources, and today I have another opportunity. From the Druggist’s Hand-book of practical receipts (1853) , I give you a gingerbread recipe quite suitable for hiding a purgative medication, should you so wish.

Gingerbread: A confection often used in which to administer purgatives to children. If required to be purgative, sufficient jalap* must be added to allow each cake 7 grains.
Ormskirk: Flour, 4 lbs., sugar, 2 lb., treacle, 2 lb., butter, 22 oz., candied lemon, 8 oz., and 1 nutmeg. Mix the flour and powdered spices with the butter, add the treacle and sugar, and divide into cakes.

* Jalap: the tuberous roots of Ipomoea purga, known to be cathartic.


The Through the Ages with Gingerbread archive is here.

Quotation for the Day.

Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Richard Sherman, songwriter, Robert Sherman, songwriter, and Clarence Brown. from Mary Poppins (1964).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Olive Butter.

Well, we have had a couple of interesting breads this week, so how about an interesting-sounding spread to go on them? A new American product launched in Philadelphia in 1882 caught my eye in this regard.

The problem is, I don’t know if ‘Olive Butter’ is being made anymore, and if it is, the manufacturers would certainly have had to make some changes to its labelling. The ‘butter’ turns out to be not a bit ‘buttery’ (in the sense of being spreadable) at all – it was a cooking oil. It also turns out not to have had any olives in it either – although it was, however, olive greenish in colour. Olive Butter was actually made from cottonseed oil – a product now ubiquitous in many commercial bakery items, especially biscuits (by which I mean ‘cookies) because it adds crunch.

At the beginning of the small recipe booklet that was released along with the product were a number of testimonials from ‘The Press.’ The one that I have chosen, from the Public Ledger, (Philadelphia),of October 1882 says much, and I don’t mean just about the product itself.

“The new olive butter is excellent for frying purposes. There's something ina name, but, probably, nothing of the "olive" in the butter, except its color; but, besides being assured by chemists that this is a perfectly pure vegetable oil, allhousekeepers who have tried it will agree that it is extremely economical and makes a very delicate frying material. Here was formerly the situation in the kitchen over the frying-pan: You could take lard, which was not cheap and "used up" very fast; you had butter, which, besides being expensive, required a skilful cook to keep it from burning; or you could use salad oil, which, though costing alarmingly to begin with, required so little to do the work that the cooking school would tell you it was like the widow's cruse - it did not seem to lose perceptibly; after frying fifty oysters the bottlewas nearly as full as before. But very few American housekeepers could be brought, by its first expensiveness, to try using sweet oil, which is the frying material of all South Europe. We leave out of the list "clarified fat," or dripping, because there is seldom enough of this to do the entire cooking with, even with a conscientious person in the kitchen who understands how to save and use it all, as should always be insisted on.
The two best known vegetable oils that this country produces are cotton-seed oil and peanut oil, both of which are understood to have been for years exported to Europe, coming back to us in wicker-covered flasks as Italian olive oil. Real olive oil from California is too small a product, as yet, to count much in the home market. The manufacturers of the new Olive Butter - which is not butter at all, but a clear, greenish oil - have agreed to give us a home product, warranted pure, without the ocean voyage; though, to conciliate our ridiculous American prejudices, do not label it cotton-seed or peanut oil, the former of which it probably is.
Anybody who tries it will agree that it cooks as well as salad oil; and as all vegetable oils heat at a lower temperature than the solid animal fats, it does not burn away or waste as rapidly as lard. It comes in convenient cans, with a mouth-piece, like the kerosene oil cans.

And another testimonial manages to appeal to jingoism, invokes authorised opinion, and suggests a challenge, all in two sentences:

Frenchmen have for a long time re-sold the oil to us both as pure olive oil and as a packing for sardines. An Atlanta authority defies any one to tell the difference between a steak fried in lard and one fried in cotton-seed oil.
Evening Telegraph, August 1882

How well did the product compete with the genuine article (which I take to be genuine olive oil)? Here is an unequivocally French dish as interpreted by the manufacturers, from the promotional recipe book mentioned above. How good would it be with cottonseed oil instead of the traditional real olive oil do you think?

Lyonnaise Potatoes.
Pare two large potatoes and cut them into dice. Put two tablespoonfuls of Olive Butter into a frying pan, in which fry two sliced onions; put in the potatoes, and toss them now and again until they have a nice yellow colour; add a tablespoonful of chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Shake the pan until all are well mixed; dish and serve very hot.

Quotation for the Day.

Except the vine, there is no plant which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive.
Pliny (AD 23-79)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Apple Bread.

In one of those beautiful serendipitous research finds, just as I finished my search for a non-cakey, genuinely bread-y banana bread for yesterday’s post, I came across the following article in a 1938 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine (which also happens to fit beautifully also into my recent ‘recipes from non-traditional sources’ theme too!):

"Bread baked from apple flour is a tasty innovation in Seattle. Each one and one-half pound loaf contains the equivalent of a large apple. The milling of apples into flour was made possible by a vacuum dehydration process which reduces the moisture content to about one percent; the flour is then added to other dry ingredients used in the bread mix, including a proportion of wheat flour. Due to the presence of apple pectin, apple bread does not dry out like ordinary wheat breads and so can be used to the last slice. A ton of apple flour calls for fifteen tons of apples."

Someone in Seattle please tell me that this bread is still being made there, so I can book my flight immediately. What a gorgeous idea, isn’t it?

Most of us don’t have access to apple flour, and the production sounds beyond the scope of even the most enthusiastic home baker, so we must be content with apple bread made from pulp. At least the recipe for today is yeast-leavened, and has no added sugar, so would not be cake-y. I am definitely going to try this very soon.

Apple Bread.
Weigh seven pounds of fresh juicy apples, peel, core, and boil them to a pulp, being careful to use an enamelled saucepan, or a stone jar placed inside an ordinary saucepan of boiling water, otherwise the fruit becomes discoloured; mix the pulp with fourteen pounds of the best flour, put in the same quantity of yeast you would use in common bread, and as much water as will make it into a fine smooth dough; put it into a pan, and stand it in a warm place to rise; let it remain for twelve hours at least; form it into rather long-shaped loaves, and bake it in a lively oven. This bread is very much eaten in the south of Europe.
How to Cook Apples: shown in a hundred different ways of dressing that fruit … Georgiana Hill, , (London, 1865)

Quotation for the Day

Why do we need so many kinds of apples? Because there are so many folks. A person has a right to gratify his legitimate taste. If he wants twenty or forty kinds of apples for his personal use…he should be accorded the privilege. There is merit in variety itself. It provides more contact with life, and leads away from uniformity and monotony.
Liberty Hyde Bailey

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bread or Cake?

I have this vague sense of being sucked in by someone’s clever marketing-by-renaming trick when I make or eat banana 'bread'. I have the same feeling about muffins, which in their common modern form (not the traditional yeast-raised ‘English’ muffin) are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. I hasten to add that this fleeting feeling does not interfere with my enjoyment of the said ‘breads’ however.

Without getting involved in a convoluted argument about what constitutes ‘bread’, I would be interested to know your opinions. Is it only bread if it is leavened with yeast - which would make Irish soda bread not real bread? Or does it depend on the amount of sugar – and if so, how much (a teaspoon to start the yeast bubbling OK?). Or the fat (lots of butter in a lot of muffins)? The absence of fruit, nuts, spices …… ? Must it be baked, or are Chinese steamed buns also ‘bread’?. You get my definition drift?

There is probably no debate about bread being a starch-based food – but which starch? There is no debate about wheat being the best source of gluten, or the fact that gluten is what gives ‘bread’ its structure and texture, which makes wheat bread the ‘best’ bread from that point of view - it is the Gold Standard, so to speak. Nevetheless, many folk around the world are happy with, and even prefer, bread made from other grains and seeds such as rye, barley, oats, corn etc.

Bananas are starchy too, so it is not surprising that bananas can be used to make non-cakey banana bread. The trick, it appears, is not to use the mashed fruit, but to use banana flour – and Boy! Would I like to get my hands on some. I tried to find a complete recipe for banana bread using banana flour, but only managed to find general advice about using it to substitute for an amount (about a quarter?) of the wheat flour.

Banana flour is made by drying and grinding the green fruit – not an easy operation for the home cook. It was advocated as a healthy food in several books of invalid cookery in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Mrs Rorer’s Diet for the Sick (1914). The well-known Mrs. Rorer says “banana flour is made from under-ripe bananas, thoroughly dried and ground. It is exceedingly good for diabetic, rheumatic, and gouty patients. It may be made into mush, or gems, or small cakes.”

Another ‘healthy’ (in this case vegetarian) cookery book, Reform Cookery: Up-to-date Health Cookery for the Twentieth Century (1909) by Jean Oliver Mill gives a recipe for Banana Flour Scones, which is the closest I could get to a banana bread recipe today – and they sound absolutely delicious.

Banana Flour Scones
1 lb. banana flour, 2 oz. butter or “Nutter”, 2 oz. sugar, 1 teaspoonful baking powderd, milk. Mix flour – the banana flour sold by the lb. is best – sugar, and baking powder. Rub in butter, make into a light dough with milk. Cut into small scones, and bake in a good oven about 15 minutes.
These scones are exceedingly good, and quite different from those made with ordinary flour. They may be varied by adding a few Sultanas or a beaten egg.

P. S In case you want a reminder about ‘scones’ – go here, and here

Quotation for the Day

Yeah, I like cars and basketball. But you know what I like more? Bananas.
Frankie Muniz

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bacon Week: Part the Fifth.

World War II finally ended with the Armistice of 14 August 1945 (or with the formal surrender of Japan on 2nd September 1945), but rationing in Britain did not finally end until midnight on Saturday 26th September 1953. The total period of rationing in Britain was 13 years, 8 months, 2 weeks and 6 days - only slightly less than the 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, 32½ minutes of the “noble experiment” of Prohibition in the USA.

In many ways the post-war period was more dismal, food-wise, than it had been during the conflict, and it was indeed a lamentable situation when the ‘already meagre’ bacon ration was halved in mid-October 1947 – two years after the war’s end. The lament was sung poignantly in an article in The Times of that week that is also a hymn to the English bacon-based breakfast.

Lament for Bacon.
In a sombre world we miss more acutely those little flashes of happiness which can lighten the gloom, and so the halving from next Sunday of the already meagre bacon ration is a hard blow. Bacon is sweet at all times, but even as fruit is said to be golden in the morning, so is bacon for breakfast. It is then that it announces its coming by a subtle and pervasive odour. Then the householder stepping grumpily from the bathroom, with no enthusiasm at all for the day’s task, suddenly detects that fragrant herald and makes a scramble of his dressing. “Here’s to thee, bacon, “ he exclaims, dropping the capital letter and adapting his Calverley to his own ends, and rushes down to find it still hissing and sizzling on his plate. He may like it frizzled almost to dryness, so that it can be eaten not indelicately with the fingers, or he may prefer a more unctuous treatment, with rich juice that must be mopped up with bread lest a drop of the precious liquid be wasted. This is a matter of taste, but in either instance it makes the most heartening of starts to a new day. In the most famous of its alliances it is usually named second, but it is a mere accident of everyday talk, as in the case of Oxford and Cambridge. It implies no inferiority, and it is noteworthy that Mr. Wooster, no mean breakfaster, referred indifferently in his elliptical speech to the “e and bacon” and “the eggs and b.”
But indeed this comradeship with the egg is but one aspect of bacon’s character. It is the best mixer in the world and may be said, in a too well-worn phrase, to have a genius for friendship. The roast chicken looks lonely and miserable without those entrancing little rolls, of which the carver is tempted to appropriate an additional one to himself, as a reward for his labours. It is surely the bacon which gives to angels on horseback their celestial title. There is a certain greyness about liver or even kidneys when they lack their rosy companion. And then there is

Leicester beans and bacon, food of Kings!

Why the seventeenth century poet, Mr. William King attributed this divine dish to Leicester we do not know, but if that city originated a blessing which has since spread over the civilized world it would be ungrateful to grudge it the honour. With all its seductive charms bacon is so essentially innocent and virtuous that there is not sense of greed in loving it. Vegetarians have been known to make a tacit exception in its favour even as teetotallers do sometimes, by a curious process of mental gymnastics, in favour of port wine. Our allowance was paltry before and now it will be almost wholly illusory. It will be futile to try to spin it out. Far better to save our bacon for one breakfast of frenzied happiness in the fortnight, then smart in the fires of abstinence til the brief moment of repletion comes “slow, how slowly” round again.

For those unwilling to eat the whole, entire, complete bacon ration in one meal of ‘frenzied happiness”, the Ministry of Food gave some suggestions for eking it out in one of their post-war Food Facts leaflets.

Pan Hash.
- economical on your bacon ration, and a tasty way to use up cooked vegetables. Try the alternative flavourings too.
Ingredients (enough for 4): ½ lb cooked mashed potatoes, ½ lb, mixed cooked vegetables, chopped, 2 oz. chopped bacon, fried, salt and pepper.
Method: Mix all ingredients together, and fry the mixture in the fat from the cooked bacon on both sides till well-browned – about 15 minutes.
Note: if not cooked vegetables are available, 1 lb. mashed potatoes can be used.
Alternative flavourings to use instead of the bacon” (1) 2 oz. grated cheese (2) 2 oz. chopped cooked meat (3) 2 oz. flaked cooked fish.

Variety Fritters.
Try these on Monday, when you may have a little fat to spare from the Sunday’s meat.
Ingredients (enough for 4)
4 oz. self-raising flour or 4 oz. plain flour and 2 level teaspoons baking powder, 1 level teaspoon salt, ¼ level teaspoon pepper, ¼ pint milk (approx.), 2 oz. chopped bacon, fat for frying.
Method: Mix flour, baking powder if used, salt and pepper, well together. Mix to a stiff batter with the milk. Beat well. Add the chopped bacon. Fry tablespoons of the mixture in hot fat until golden brown on both sides. Serve at once. This quantity makes about 8 fritters.

Quotation for the Day

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.
Doug Larson

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bacon Week: Part the Fourth.

We go to Britain during World War I, for today’s bacon-focussed story. The importance of bacon to the British psyche (and nutrition status) is really underscored by an article in The Times, of Tuesday, Apr 16, 1918. An announcement had been made by the Food Ministry that supplementary bacon rations to manual workers were to begin, thanks to the arrival of increased supplies.

‘At present all classes of men, and some women, engaged on industrial or agricultural work are receiving the same additional allowance, but in view of the probable necessity of further developments of rationing according to occupation, the following grading has been arranged:-
Class F . – Men engaged in mines, quarries, metal manufacture, shipbuilding and ship-repairing, gas and coke manufacture, transport workers, navvies, boiler stokers, and fireman.
Class E. – Men engaged on heavy bodily work in agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
Class D. – Practically all men engaged in bodily labour, except where, in the case of jewellers and watchmakers, their work, though manual, is essentially sedentary. This class includes postmen, policemen, firemen, coastguards, and men employed on sanitary services, roads, gas, water, and electricity supply.
Doctors and surgeons in general practice, and veterinary surgeons, also come in Section D.

For a wartime recipe for bacon, we go a little further back in the same newspaper ( February 22, 1917) to a feature entitled Economy In Cooking: Further Recipes For The Thrifty. The recipe is from a leaflet put out by the Association of Teachers of Domestic Science of recipes. I wonder what my Canadian readers and friends have to say about its ‘authenticity’!

Canadian Stew.
¾ lb. butter or haricot beans (soaked in boiling water with a little soda, overnight and boiled till soft, without salt)
1 lb. salt pork or fat bacon, cut into dice
2 tablespoonfuls of golden syrup
1 good teaspoonful of mixed mustard
2 teaspoonfuls of salt
1-3 teaspoonfuls pepper
Some warm water
Mixed together to make sauce.
Method: put in casserole or covered stew jar a layer of beans, then pork, and so on, till used up. Pour sauce over, enough to cover but not to make the beans float, cover and cook for four hours in slow oven. When cooked there should be no liquid, only thick moisture. If necessary, mix a little golden syrup and water, and add while cooking. This is nice served with cold beetroot.

Quotation for the Day

Dr. Murchison, the late eminent physician, was wont to declare that bacon fat or ham fat was worth a guinea an ounce in the treatment of wasting diseases.
P.E.Muskett, The Art of Living in Australia (1893)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bacon Week: Part the Third.

I have noticed recently a spate of recipes popping up - mostly in blogs - for bacon in such ‘odd’ things as doughnuts, muffins, ice-cream, and even alcoholic beverages. There are probably more blogs devoted to bacon than to any other single food (with the exception of bread), and perhaps this recipe angle can be attributed to the drive for novelty, and the hope that this novelty will provoke blog hits.

There is nothing really ‘novel’ of course about something like bacon as an ingredient for ‘sweet’ dishes (although I am not so sure if this is true about alcoholic drinks!). In medieval times, as we know, there was not the strong distinction between ‘sweet’ and ‘savoury’ dishes that is familiar now. Sugar was very expensive in medieval times, it being an exotic imported item, and it was used more in the way of a spice. An early iteration of ‘blancmange’ was, as we have seen previously, a dish of chicken, rice, almonds, cream and eggs, sweetened with sugar.

Here is an interesting dish from the early eighteenth century. It is a sort of elegant, creamy, bacon custard pie which would be quite sweet as it contains ‘a handful of sugar’

A Bacon Pudding.
A Quart of Cream, and boil it, with a handful of Sugar, an a little Butter; Yolks of eight Eggs, and three Whites, boil it together, with three spoonfuls of Flower [flour] and two spoonfuls of Cream; when the Cream boils, put in the Eggs, stirring it till it comes to be thick, and put it in a Dish, and let it cool; then beat a Piece of fat Bacon in a Stone Mortar, till it comes to be like Lard, take out all the Strings from it, and put your Cream to it little by little till it’s well mixed; then put some Puff-past round the Brim of your Dish, and a thin Leaf at Bottom, and pour it into the Dish. Do the Top Chequerwise with Puff-Paste, and let it bake half an Hour.
Court Cookery: or, the Compleat English Cook, Smith, 1725.

Quotation for the Day

I eat bacon for breakfast, bacon for lunch, and I drink my dinner.
Grumpy Old Men (movie)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bacon Week: Part the Second.

Yesterday we considered bacon and eggs as they were described and cooked in the early seventeenth century – which is pretty well the same way as they are cooked today. Sadly, one thing that has not persisted since early times is the enormous pie. Nowadays we have shaped metal containers to hold the food we wish to bake in an oven, but before the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution, the only baking ‘dish’ for a large joint of meat was a thick pastry shell or ‘coffin.’

The source for yesterday’s recipe, The English Houswife, by Gervase Markham, published in 1615, also gives a wonderful description of how a whole gammon (leg) of ham could be baked at that time. Notice that the ‘pie’ is shaped to make it look like a pig, the ‘head’ being modelled separately out of pastry and attached to the ‘body’ – a nice take on the ‘Sham Pig’ idea of a few days ago.

A Gammon of Bacon Pie.
Take a Gammon of Bacon, and onely wash it clean, and then boyl it on a soft gentle fire, till it be boyl’d as tender as is possible, ever and anon fleeting [skimming]it clean, that by all means it may boyl white: then take off the sward [skin], and farce it very well with all manner of sweet and pleasant farcing herbs: then strew store of Pepper over it, and prick it thick with Cloves: then lay it into a coffin made of the same proportion, and lay good store of Butter round about it, and upon it, and strew Pepper on the Butter, that as it melts, the Pepper may fall upon the Bacon: then cover it, and make the proportion of a Pigs Head in paste upon it, then bake it as you bake red Deer, or things of the like nature, only the Paste would be of Wheat-meal

William Salmon’s The Family Dictionary, or Household Companion (1695) describes how to dress ‘in the neatest way’, a Gammon of Bacon. I love this book: the next entry in this very useful general household manual is ‘Gangreen’.

Gammon of Bacon.
To dress this the neatest way, having water’d it [soaked it to remove the excess salt], scrubb’d it with a Brush, and scraped the Rind, and dry’d it again with a Cloth, put it into a Kettle wherein it may have sufficient room: then take Sage, Marjoram, Fenel, Sprigs of Bays and Rosemary, and boil it till it is enough; then split the Skin, and so curiously carve it, and stick the places so stript with Cloves; strew some Pepper on it, and serve it up with Mustard, Pepper, Vinegar, and the Herbs small minced, cut up in fine slices of what length you please, but of very indifferent thickness.

Quotation for the Day.

He describes it as a large apartment, with a red brick floor and a capacious chimney; the ceiling garnished with hams, sides of bacon, and ropes of onions.
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bacon Week: Part the First.

There is something about bacon, isn’t there? I am not sure what it is, but aside from vegetarians and those who eschew it for religious reasons, bacon rules, doesn’t it? Is it the fat, the salt, the umami, the smell of it frying (especially early in the morning)? The sheer efficiency of it as a flavour additive to almost any savoury dish? Or perhaps it is some sort of ancestral memory thing? Bacon is an ancient comfort food at the most basic level. A flitch of bacon hanging in your chimney in the days before refrigeration and convenience stores meant that all was well with the world, even when it wasn’t.

It is time for this blog to give bacon its due reverence. When I feel stronger and better informed, in a future post I will attempt to clarify American, English, Canadian, Australian and other national interpretations of bacon, but for today, a short glossary of bacon-related words might be in order.

Bacon: the word originally comes from an old German word for ‘back’, because originally it referred to salted meat from the back (and sides) of a pig. Nowadays it often refers to cured meat from the belly of the pig, and at different times in-between and since it has also meant the entire pig, live, fresh, or salted. The salted (cured) element being crucial to most of its usage, there was in medieval times such thing a thing as whale blubber ‘bacon’ – and now we have the modern descendants such as turkey bacon etc, as well as 'mutton ham' and other cousins.

Ham: The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of this word as ultimately deriving from an Old German word hamm meaning crooked (is this where we get ‘ham-fisted’ from?) The first definition given by the OED is ‘that part of the leg at the back of the knee; the hollow or bend of the knee’, and this usage is recorded over two thousand years ago. By the seventeenth century it was being used to refer specifically to ‘the thigh of a slaughtered animal, used for food; spec. that of a hog salted and dried in smoke or otherwise; also, the meat so prepared.’

Gammon: the word is related to the words jamon (Spanish) and jambon (French), and refers to the ‘haunch of a swine’. As the ‘j’ is pronounced ‘h’, you can hear that it is really another way of pronouncing 'ham'. ‘Gammon’ has been used in English since the fifteenth century, if the OED is to be believed, and I see no reason why it should not be.

Flitch: I love this word. It is much older, it seems, than ‘ham’ or ‘bacon’, but essentially means the same thing – ‘the side of an animal, now only a hog, salted and cured.’ In other words, it is a whole side of bacon. The OED records its use as far back as about the year 700.

Rasher: The word has been used in English to refer to ‘a thin slice or strip of bacon, or (less commonly) of other meat, intended to be cooked by grilling, broiling, or frying; a slice of meat cooked in this way’ (OED) since the sixteenth century. Interestingly however, in spite of such ‘recent’ usage, the origin of the word is uncertain. The OED notes a ‘recurrent suggestion’ that it may be a borrowing from the Middle French rasure, or shaving, but ‘this is implausible on phonological grounds’. I await suggestions from the linguists’ world.

Now, onto our recipe for the day - and where else to start but with its best-known application - our breakfast bacon and eggs? One upon a time this was called 'collops and eggs', and we have previously had word fun with ‘(s)collops' too. I doubt that even the most inept or disinterested amongst us needs an actual ‘recipe’ for bacon and eggs (or ‘eggs and bacon’ if you prefer - some folk seem to be pernickety about which is correct), but it is always interesting and edifying to read the instructions and appreciate the style of old cookery books, isn’t it? Here is how the inimitable and profilic Gervase Markham described the process in 1615.

Collops and eggs
To have the best Collops and Eggs, you shall take the whitest and youngest bacon; and cutting away the sward, cut the Collops into thin slices; lay them in a dish, and put hot water unto them, and so let them stand an hour or two, for that will take away the extreme saltness; then drain away the water clean, and put them into a dry pewter dish, and lay them one by one, and set them before the heat of the fire, so as they may toast sufficiently through and through: which done, take your Eggs and break them into a dish, and put a spoonful of Vinegar unto them, then set on a clean skillet with fair water on the fire, and as soon as the water boileth put in the Eggs, and let them take a boil or two, then with a spoon try if they be hard enough, then take them up, and trim them, and dry them; and then, dishing up the Collops, lay the Eggs upon them, and so serve them up: and in this sort you may poach Eggs when you please, for it is the best way and most wholesome.
[The English Housewife, Gervase Markham, 1615]

Quotation for the Day

We plan, we toil, we suffer in the hope of what? A camel-load of idol’s eyes? The title deeds of Radio City? TheEmpire of Asia? A trip to the moon? No, no, no, no. Simply to wake in time to smell coffee and bacon and eggs.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Recipe Science and Mechanics.

I must have one more final little fling with recipes from non-traditional sources. How about publications for mechanics and scientists? It was not rare for nineteenth century magazines written for those with a mechanical or scientific bent to contain recipes for preserving various foods. Food preservation in the days before refrigeration was a rapidly expanding area of scientific interest for obvious reasons. I have previously posted a recipe for ‘preserving’ (prolonging the shelf life) of potatoes in 1894 from a cookery book, but an essentially identical recipe appeared several decades earlier, in an edition of Mechanics Magazine in 1828. Similarly, investigation and explication of the processes involved in yeast and bread-making were quite commonly covered in this sort of publication.

My challenge then was to find at least a couple of different recipes for you today. I guess the first one is a bit of a cheat, it being of interest to magazine readers interested in the scientific processes of fermentation (remember, this was before the understanding of the role of micro-organisms in baking, brewing – and disease.) The second recipe is, however, unequivocally culinary only, but perhaps does fit the ‘philosophical’ part of the magazine title?

Recipe for the beverage called imperial pop. - Put into an earthen pot two pounds of sugar, two lemons cut into slices, and two ounces of cream of tartar. Add nine quarts of boiling water, mix the materials well, cover the vessel with a stout cloth and let it cool. When cold, spread two table spoons full of good yeast from beer on a thin slice of bread and put into the vessel, which must be covered as before, and left till the next day. It may then be filtered through a fine cloth, and bottled and corked tight in strong bottles. In the course of three or four days the fermentation will be nearly complete and the liquor may be drunk. Jour. Con. Us.
The American Journal of Science and Arts, 1835

Cheap, Wholesome, and Savoury Food.
The different Committees for the relief of the distressed manufacturers would do well to promulgate the following recipe:
Take one pound of East India rice, steep it in cold water for several hours (or from the night before would do better) then put it into boiling water, and previously steeped enough, it will be sufficiently boiled in about then minutes; then pour off the water, and dry it on the fire, as in cooking potatoes. Use with the following gravy or sauce:- Two or three ounces of mutton suet fried with onions until done enough; then add some flour and water (as in making gravy) with salt, and about as much Cayenne as will lie on a sixpence; the different ingredients may be varied to the taste. At the present wholesale prices of East India rice, the above would only cost about threepence, and would be a sufficient meal for a family of six persons.
Glasgow Mechanics Magazine, and Annals of Philosophy, 1826

Quotation for the Day.

Some things you have to do every day. Eating seven apples on Saturday night
instead of one a day just isn't going to get the job done.
Jim Rohn

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It’s all in the method.

Yesterday I had a mini-rant about the mean-spiritedness of folk who decline to share their recipes when asked nicely. Aside from the meanness of it, there is a very pragmatic reason why this is a silly reaction. A recipe is more than a list of ingredients. The method instructions are the tricky part. It is very difficult to write them in such a clear and unequivocal way that the recipient - working in a different kitchen with a different interpretation of terms such as ‘mix thoroughly’ and ‘chop finely’ – can reproduce the dish exactly. Heck! I can’t even get the same result from my own recipes every time! I want to touch on this topic again today.

One of my other recent themes is the finding of cookery recipes in places other than regular cookery publications. Today’s story touches on this too, as the recipes I want to share with you come from the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society Transactions, published in 1861 (and which is largely a report on the tenth Annual State Fair in the previous year).

Today’s recipes are a selection from those which won prizes in various cookery categories at the Fair, and which were published in the report. Did I say ‘recipes’? There was no danger of loss of intellectual property here, as you will see. Perhaps this was not the rationale anyway – no doubt the good women (and girls) of Wisconsin did not need to be told how to assemble the ingredients ‘according to the usual manner.’

Genuine Sponge Cake.
3 cups of flour, 3 cups of sugar, and ten eggs.
Mrs. H.W.Hayes, Palmyra.

Premium Corn Cake.
Two qts. Indian meal, 1 qt. Graham flour, 1 cup yeast, 1 cup molasses or sugar, ½ tea-spoonful soda, ½ tea-spoonful salt.
Mrs. H.W.Hayes, Palmyra.

Premium Cookies – Juvenile List.
Six spoonfuls of sugar, four of butter, and three eggs.
Miss F.V.Niles, (10 years)

Premium Gingerbread.
One cup molasses, one-half cup butter, one-half cup buttermilk, two eggs, one table-spoonful brown sugar, one tea-spoonful ginger, one tea-spoonful saleratus, flour enough to make a stiff batter.
Miss Josephine Peffer (under 12 years)

Quotation for the Day.

A recipe is not meant to be followed exactly – it is a canvas on which you can embroider.
Roger Verge.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Secret Soup.

I have never understood the refusal of some folk to share their recipes. I am not talking here about professional chefs, for whom the issue is their bread-and-butter, if you will pardon the pun. I am talking about ‘enthusiastic amateurs’ such as myself. Surely a request for a recipe is a compliment? To me, a refusal seems just plain mean-spirited. There are, I understand, some spectacularly mean-spirited folk who, when asked for a recipe, deliberately change or omit an ingredient. This is worse than mean - it is nasty and dishonest.

The story I am about to tell you today takes the deceit to a whole new level. It concerns an eighteenth century Shakespearian actor called James Quin (1693-1766), about whom the famous eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1911 said:

“His personality was not gracious. His jokes were coarse; his temper irascible; his love of food, his important airs, and his capacity for deep drinking do not command respect; on the other hand, a few of his jokes were excellent, and there was no rancour in him.”

The story became an urban myth during his own lifetime, and the first telling of it was still being repeated verbatim in all sorts of publications well into the next century. From a biography published shortly after his death, this is the story:

Quin in his old age, everyone knows, became a great gourmand, and among other things, invented a composition, which he called his “Siamese Soup”, pretending that its ingredients were principally from the “East”. The peculiarity of its flavour became the topic of the day. The rage at Bath was Mr Quin's soup; but as he would not part with the recipe, this state of notice was highly inconvenient; every person taste was endeavouring to dine with him; every dinner he was at, an apology made for the absence of the soup. His female friends Quin was to put off with promises; the males a respectful but manly denial. A conspiracy was accordingly projected by a dozen bon vivans of Bath, against his peace and comfort. At home he was flooded with anonymous letters; abroad, beset with applications under every form. The possession of this secret was made a canker to all his enjoyments. At length he discovered the design, and determined on revenge. Collecting names of the principal confederates he invited them to dinner, promising to give them the recipe before they departed - an invitation as my reader will suppose, which was joyfully accepted. Quin then gave a pair his old hoots to the housemaid to scour and soak, and when sufficiently seasoned, to chop up into fine particles like minced meat. On the appointed day he took these particles and pouring them into a copper pot with sage, onions, spice, ham, wine, water, and other ingredients, composed a mixture of about two gallons, which was served up at his table as his “Siamese soup.” The company were in transports at its flavour, but Quin pleading a cold did not taste it. A pleasant evening was spent, and when the hour of departure arrived each person pulled out his tablets to write down the recipe. Quin now pretended that he had forgot making the promise but his guests were not to be put off, and closing the door they told him in plain terms that neither he nor they should quit the room till his pledge had been redeemed. Quin stammered and evaded and kept them from the point as long as possible, but when their patience was bearing down all bounds his reluctance gave way. ‘Well, then, gentlemen,’ said he, ‘in the first place take an old pair of boots -!’ ‘What! an old pair of boots!’ ‘The older the better;’ – (they stared at each other) – ‘cut off their tops and soles, and soak in a tub of water’ – (they hesitated) - ‘chop them into fine particles, and pour them into a pot with two gallons and a half of water.’ ‘Why, d—n it, Quin,’ they simultaneously exclaimed, ‘you don’t mean to say that the soup we’ve been drinking was made of old boots!’ ‘I do, gentlemen,’ he replied, ‘By G-d, my cook will assure you she chopped them up.’ They required no such attestation; his cool, inflexible expression was sufficient: in an instant, horror and despair were depicted on each countenance, in the full conviction they were individually poisoned. Quin, observing this, begged them not to be alarmed, since he could contemplate not dangerous results from their dinner; but if they thought it would sit uneasy on their stomachs, there was an apothecary’s shop in the next street. The hint was taken: an idea of personal safety subdued the rising throbs of indignation. Seizing their hats, away flew the whole bevy down the stairs, and along the street to the place advised, where ipecacuanha and other provocatives were speedily procured, and the “Siamese soup’ (and all its concomitants) were speedily disgorged.
The Life of Mr. James Quin, comedian … 1766

A joke too far? Or one of Quin’s ‘excellent’ jokes? A joke perpetrated by an ungracious man? Or a man without rancour? You decide.

The story also begs the question of course, of what was in the ‘real’ Siamese soup that made him famous, and why did the guests at this dinner, who had presumably eaten it before, not notice that it was different on the day in question? An odd sort of revenge, isn’t it - a kind of ‘cutting your nose off to spite your face’ kind of revenge.

I have tried to find a recipe for a ‘Siamese soup’ that might have found its way to eighteenth century England and inspired Mr Quin, but I have been unable to do so. Eighteenth century English cookbooks contained a dearth of ‘Asian’ recipes, but by the nineteenth century, exotic food ideas were slowly creeping in. However, even the wonderful Domestic Economy, and Cookery, for Rich and Poor, (1827) with a complete chapter on Oriental Cookery has nothing from the Far East.

What to do? Give you Sham Pig, made from potatoes, from a cookbook published in the last decade of Mr Quin’s life. Methinks the comedian would have approved. And it fits nicely into the Fun with Potatoes project too.

Sham Pig
Boil and peal as many Potatoes as will be the Bulk of a little Pig, which you must take while they are hot, and beat a Quarter of a Pound of Butter in them, break six Eggs (leaving out the Whites of four) very well, and mix with the Potatoes; add to them Sugar, Nutmeg, and Salt, to your Taste; let them stand to cool, and then make it up in the Form of a roasted Pig; make a Skin to cover it of Paste as for a standing Pye; let it have Head, Ears, and Mouth in the Form of a roasted Pig; let it be set in an Oven and baked brown. Then take a little clarified Butter, and a few clean Feathers, dip their Ends in the Butter, and whisk the Pig with it, just as it is taken out of the Oven; this will make the Paste shine as a natural Pig’s Skin. For Sauce, have melted Butter, Sugar, and red Wine, then serve it up.
Professed Cookery, Ann Cook, c1760.

Quotation for the Day.

If a lump of soot falls into the soup and you cannot conveniently get it out, stir it well in and it will give the soup a French taste.
Jonathan Swift (really? Need to verify this!)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

To make you feel better.

The medical symbol ℞ (sometimes written Rx) which indicates a prescription is an abbreviation of the Latin recipere, which is an instruction to ‘take the following’. Clearly the word also gave rise to our word recipe. That food and medicine are closely related, and may indeed often be the same thing, has been well accepted for millennia, and I am particularly fond of this little word reminder.

I am also fond of finding recipes in unusual sources. The first edition of the great Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1768 provided the bread recipe for a previous blog post, and we have had some good recipes from agricultural journals, farmers magazines, and popular science magazines in the past. We have also had recipes from pharmaceutical sources on a number of occasions, and I want to revisit that idea again today. Admittedly, many ‘recipes’ in dispensatories and pharmacopoeia are excruciatingly medicinal, and far too clearly on the ‘remedy’ end of the prescription spectrum. Some, however, can be seen as culinary recipes in their own right, and of these I am particularly, inordinately fond.

I give you a selection of remedies/recipes from A new supplement to the latest pharmacopoeias of London, Edinburgh, Dublin ... by James Rennie (1833), in case you should feel poorly sometime soon.

Put a glass of white wine or half a glass of rum into two to four glasses of water, with a little sugar and lemon-peel, or nutmeg; bring to the boil, and then put in some grated bread till is of a proper thickness.

Garlic Vinegar
Peel and chop 2 ounces of garlic, pour on this a quart of good white wine vinegar, digest in a close vessel for seven days, shaking it every day; decant off and bottle up. A very few drops to flavour soup, to make mustard, &c.

Celery (Essence of) is prepared by steeping half an ounce of the bruised seeds in a quarter of a pint of brandy, or other spirit, for a fortnight. A few drops will flavour a pint of soup, or broth.

Ginger Beer is prepared by adding to a gallon of soft water 2lb of refined lump sugar, two lemons sliced, 2 ounces of powdered ginger, and a dessert spoonful of bitartrate of potass; simmer over a slow fire for half an hour, but do not let it boil; add a tablespoonful of yeast, ferment in the usual way, and bottle.

Pineapple Cream.
Grate 1 lb of fresh pine-apple; add half a pint of syrup, a pint and a half of cream, and the juice of two lemons; rub through a sieve, cut two slices of pine in small dice, and freeze.
[the book also had recipes for pineapple compote, jam, water ice, and preserved slices.]

Quotation for the Day.

Eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.
Mark Twain

Monday, June 07, 2010

Food as Propaganda.

Unravelling urban myth from real history is a constant challenge, whatever the topic, isn’t it? The problem is, that if a sufficiently magical explanation is repeated often enough (an easy thing, nowadays, thanks to the Internet), it becomes indistinguishable from truth, doesn’t it? I make no claim to have unravelled the real story in today’s story – I haven’t spent nearly enough time on it, for starters – but I hope you find it interesting anyway.

The repeated factoid that intrigued me this week was the statement that ‘German Biscuits’ were renamed ‘Empire Biscuits’ in Britain as anti-German sentiment escalated in the prelude to World War II. This linguistic jingoism of this period has been a previous topic on this blog, when we considered the patriotic name-changes of sauerkraut to ‘liberty cabbage’, hamburgers to ‘liberty steak’, frankfurters to‘hot dogs’, and even ‘sauce allemande’ to ‘sauce blonde’. Then, in 2003, French fries and French toast briefly became ‘freedom fries’ and ‘freedom toast’ in the House of Representatives cafeteria, in response to French opposition to American invasion of Iraq. Other countries have done the same thing – just to name a couple: supposedly in Germany in WW II, ‘Norwegian sardines’ briefly became ‘Hindenburg Sardines’, and during the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon controversy in 2006, some groups in Iran wanted ‘Danish pastry to be renamed ‘Roses of the Prophet Muhammad.’

I had not previously heard the German biscuit name change theory, but it seems like a nice one to add to the list. I found many recipes for German biscuits, and a paltry few (much later) recipes for Empire biscuits, but I found no clear reference that commented on an intentional name change for patriotic reasons.

So - are German biscuits and Empire biscuits indeed the same thing? Recipes for German biscuits are common in cookbooks from the early nineteenth century, and they seem to fall into two broad groups. One is a spiced biscuit, reminiscent of one type of gingerbread. The other is a plain biscuit, with jam, or icing, or both. This latter sort is also called a ‘Linzer biscuit’ and it is clearly a bastard descendant of the Austrian (not German) ‘Linzertorte.’ The Linzertorte is a wonderful tart made from pastry which includes ground almonds or hazelnuts, with a jam filling, and a lattice top. It claims a heritage dating back to at least the seventeenth century in Austria. It seems that this last version is the one which became the Empire biscuit (or, alternatively, the ‘Belgian biscuit.’)

Mentions of the ‘Empire biscuit’ do seem to appear around about the time in question, but, rather oddly, are referred to as a specialty of Scotland. They consist of a couple of plain sweet biscuits sandwiched together with jam, and topped with white icing and a glace cherry.

That something as apparently innocuous as the name of a biscuit can inflame patriotic passions is demonstrated in the following article from the Washington Post in October 1933.

Paris, Oct. 7. Uproar ensued at the Valenciennes railway station today when a customer in the buffet asserted the biscuits he was eating were stamped “Hindenberg.”
The crowd pulled down the trays and trampled them on the ground until the police rushed in. The manager sued the customer for the lost case of biscuits.
In court, the judge reserved his finding after the manager produced samples of the biscuits. All were stamped “Made in Edinburgh.”

I give you a selection of German biscuits from which to take your pick:

German Biscuits.
Take cloves, cinnamon, corianders, nutmeg, of each a quarter of an ounce, and pound and sift them (or the essence of those spices will answer the same purpose); two ounces of preserved lemon peel, and one pound of sweet almonds cut into fine prawlings [as for pralines]; mix these ingredients with twenty four eggs, and five pounds of sugar, and as much flour as will make it of a malleable paste. Roll it out into squares, lozenges, ovals, or any other shape; when baked put on them an iceing of chocolate &c. to your taste.
The Italian Confectioner, William Alexis Jarrin, (London, England, 1829)

German Biscuits.
Rub in a quarter of a pound of butter amongst half a pound of flour, one quarter of a pound of sugar, a little carbonate of soda; moisten with one egg, and season with a few drops of essence of bitter almonds; put it in small bits on a buttered tin as rough as possible. Bake in a slow oven.
The Practice of Cookery and Pastry, I. Williamson, (Edinburgh, Scotland, 1862)

German Biscuits.
Whisk two eggs thoroughly, and stir into them half a pound of sifted loaf sugar. Beat them for twenty minutes, then add the peel of a small lemon, grated, two dessert-spoonfuls of cream, and, gradually, half a pound of fine flour. Mix all well together, roll the pastry out very thin, stamp it, with an ordinary pastry-cutter, into different shapes, and bake in buttered tins, in a quick oven, till light and coloured, which will be in about seven or eight minutes. Probable cost, 6d.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, (London, England, ca. 1870)

German Biscuits.
One cupful each of flour, ground rice, and sugar, 2 oz. butter, two eggs, half a packet mixed spice, one teaspoonful of soda, and two of cream of tartar. Roll out and cut into rounds, and when baked stick two together with jam. Put icing on top, made as below:- To the white of an egg beaten to a stiff froth add ¼ lb powdered sugar, spread on the biscuits, and place in a cool oven for a minute or two to dry.
The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), June 29, 1895

I finally found a recipe for Empire Biscuits – in an American newspaper, but apparently from an English contributor.

Empire Biscuits (Cookies)
You will need the following ingredients:
½ lb butter (or oleo)
¾ C sugar
2 eggs beaten slightly
3 C flour
1 t. soda
1 t. Cream of tartar
Cream shortening and sugar together, add eggs, then dry ingredients sifted together. Mix well.
Roll very thin, 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Cut with cookie cutter.
Spread one-half of the cookies with raspberry jam or other tart jam. Place on second cookie sandwich fashion.
Bake10 minutes in slow oven 350 degrees.
Mrs Wharton warns that these cookies must be watched carefully so they don’t brown.
When cool, ice with confectioners sugar icing. Place a chip of cherry in the center of each cookie. Makes 60 double cookies.
Chronicle Telegram (Ohio) Dec 17, 1954

Quotation for the Day.

How can one make friends without exquisite dishes! It is mainly through the table that one governs!
Jean-Jacques Regis de Cambaceres.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Clubby Food.

Yesterday’s discovery of Cookery made Easy by the mysterious Michael Willis is too much fun to abandon after only one post, so today I give you a little more wonderful advice from its pages.

I would like to know more about Mr Willis but there seems to be a dearth of easily-discoverable information about him. There is a little more however on his place of work. The Thatched-House Tavern was no mere pub. It was in fact a rather posh gentleman’s club in the very posh area around St. James’s Palace in Pall Mall (home of the current royal princes). I understand that the Conservative Club is now on the site in St James’s Street. The Thatched House was already over a hundred years old (maybe a lot more) when Michael Willis became cook there sometime in the Regency era. It was a favourite venue for the male members of the literati and aristocracy of the time, so we can assume that Mr Willis was competent at the regular manly club food, especially broiled steaks.

Mr Willis included in his book some suggestions for bills of fare for each month of the year. For June (remembering that the ideas were intended for the northern hemisphere summer) he recommended for dinner:

Leg of grass-lamb boiled, with capers, carrots, and turnips; shoulder or neck of venison roasted, with rich gravy and claret sauce; marrow pudding.
Or, a haunch of venison roasted, with rich gravy and claret sauce; tarts.

Because it is always seasonal, in either hemisphere, I give you his basic recipe for beef gravy.

Beef Gravy.
Cut a piece of the neck into small pieces; strew some flour over it, and put them into a saucepan, with as much water as will cover them, an onion, a little all-spice, pepper, and salt. Cover close, and skim it; throw in some rasping, and let it stew till the gravy is rich and good; strain it off, and pour into the sauceboat.

Quotation for the Day.

It may not be possible to get rare roast beef but if you're willing to settle for well done, ask them to hold the sweetened library paste that passes for gravy.
Marian Burros.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Sweet chicken.

Two posts with a similar idea doth not a series make - but perhaps three doth? I just had to try to push this week’s accidental theme a bit further. A search for ‘Sweet Chicken’ led me to a new resource – always a wonderful moment.

Cookery made Easy: being a complete system of Domestic Management, uniting Elegance with Economy by Michael Willis (‘many years cook at the Thatched-House Tavern’) was first published in London in the 1820’s. It is quite a ‘retro’ effort for the time, although this does not appear to be intentional. Many of the recipes seem to be firmly grounded in the previous century, many with almost medieval overtones.

Now, Uniting Elegance with Economy is something that I aspire to daily, but pray, tell me what is Easy about the following Cookery recipe?

Sweet Chicken Pie
Break the bones of four chickens, cut them into small pieces and season them highly with mace cinnamon,, and salt four yolks of eggs boiled hard, and quartered, and five artichoke bottoms, eight ounces of sun raisins stoned, eight ounces each of preserved citron lemon, eringo roots, and marrow, four slices of rinded lemon, eight ounces of currants, fifty balls of forcemeat made as for umble pie: put in all, one with the other, butter the bottom of the pie, put in a pound of fresh butter on the top-lid, and bake it. Boil a pint of white wine, sweetening it to your taste, and thicken it with the yolks of two eggs; put it to the pie when very hot and serve it up.
Cookery made easy: being a complete system of domestic management, ... by Michael Willis, 1831.

Quotation for the Day.

A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner.
Samuel Johnson.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Sweet as Cheese.

The trail of ‘sweet bacon’ led me to another term we hardly hear these days - ‘sweet cheese.’ ‘Sweet cheese’ is not necessarily cheese made from ‘sweet milk’, nor is it necessarily the same as ‘sweet-milk cheese.’

Firstly, ‘sweet milk’ is fresh, whole milk – neither skimmed nor soured. While we are at it, let us clarify ‘buttermilk’ too. Buttermilk is both ‘the acidulous milk which remains after the butter has been churned out’ (OED), and in modern times also a commercially prepared beverage and cooking ingredient made in the same way as yoghurt - by culturing it with specific bacteria.

‘Sweet-milk cheese’ is cheese made from sweet milk, such as the famous Dutch Edam.

‘Sweet cheese’ can mean one of several things, depending on regional use and dialect. It certainly may refer to cheese made from sweet milk, but it can also mean cheese prepared by rennet alone (it is ‘acid cheese’, if lactic acid is used), and cheese not properly cured and deficient in salt. Sometimes of course it can indicate cheese (soft curd cheese) sweetened with sugar as we do when we make cheesecakes and other dessert dishes. Here is a nice adaptable recipe for sweetened cheese.

Cheese with Cream (Fromage à la Crème)
This is made in different ways; sometimes with soft curds only, or with curds and cream, or with cream only when very thick. Gelatin dissolved in a little water may also be added. The curds or cream or both are beaten with an egg-beater, sweetened to taste with sugar, and flavored with essence. To make it more sightly, when beaten and flavored ,it is moulded, placed on ice to make it firm, and then turned over a dish, the mould removed and then served. Any kind of essence may be used to flavor it, such as vanilla, fleur d’orange, rose-water, violet, etc.; it may also he made with coffee, tea, chocolate, orange, lemon, etc. Put a few drops of very strong coffee, or tea, or chocolate, at the same time with the sugar and essence. With orange or lemon rub them on a piece of sugar, which you pound and use to sweeten the cheese. Three or more different ones may be made with a quart of curds; for instance flavor one third of it with essence another third with coffee or chocolate, and the other with orange. The colors will be different also. It is an excellent and refreshing entremets in summer- time. Cheese may also be flavored with pine-apple cut in very small dice and mixed with it instead of essence.
Hand-book of Practical Cookery, for Ladies and Professional Cooks, Pierre Blot, 1867.

Quotation for the Day.

Cheese has always been a food that both sophisticated and simple humans love.
M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf (1942)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Sweet as Bacon.

I am extraordinarily fond of maple syrup. Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, the sugar maple does not grow here in the sub-tropics, so I must rely on the imported product, and the occasional generosity of international friends for my fix. Poured liberally over fruit, yoghurt, and pancakes is my usual option, but in the past, under conditions of supreme abundance I have made maple syrup cake, muffins, ice-cream, and – Oh! Glory! maple crème brulée. Imagine my delight to find that there is in the world such a thing as maple-cured bacon! A feast of maple-cured bacon is officially on my bucket list, as of right now.

Sugar in one form or another has been used in curing meats for a long time. As well as assisting the preservation process, the use of sugar (honey, molasses, maple syrup) adds a sweet edge to the flavour, and a nice balance to the saltiness and smokiness of the cured meat - a greater issue in pre-refrigeration days, when both processes were much more heavily applied.

There are many references to ‘sweet bacon’ in historical food literature, but it does not always mean that sugar has been used in the curing process. ‘Sweet’, when applied to such things as meat and fish often refers to the absence of negative qualities such as staleness, fustiness, sourness, offensive smell (or outright putridity), and invasion by ‘nauseous insects' caused by failure of the preservation process. A writer for the New England Farmer (1861) explained the problem rather graphically, and offered a strategy to minimise it:

‘Every person of experience knows how difficult it is to keep bacon sweet throughout the summer months; flies and other nauseous insects are attracted to it, and deposit their filthy eggs and slimy larvae in every available crevice, till the meat is worthless, and more than all that, all animal matter has a tendency to taint and decompose, and bacon is very liable to suffer in that way, unless indurated with salt to such a degree as to make it unpalatable. As smoke is a disinfectant, and a strong antiseptic, all the bacon that is to be kept for summer use I let remain in the smoke-house, and occasionally fumigate it with a pan of smoking cobs, the best preventative of taint as well as repellent of flies, bugs, and other nauseous insects.’

In the same year, in Britain, Mrs Isabella Beeton, in her Book of Household Management (1861) was battling with the same problem, but suggested a different solution:

To keep the bacon sweet and good, and free from hoppers, sift fine some clean and dry wood ashes. Put some at the bottom of a box or chest long enough to hold a flitch of bacon; lay in one flitch, and then put in more ashes, then another flitch, and cover this with six or eight inches of ashes. The place where the box or chest is put ought to be dry, and should the ashes become damp, they should be put in the fireplace to dry, and when cold, put back in again. With these precautions, the bacon will be as good at the end of the year as on the first day.

The problem of invasion of bacon by filthy eggs and slimy larvae is, thankfully, rarely a problem for us today, thanks no doubt to the producers’ impressive armamentarium of chemical preservatives – which may or may not be a different sort of health problem. At least one had a chance of spotting filthy eggs and slimy larvae on one’s breakfast plate.

Now, if you really want sweet bacon, try this!

To make Collops like Bacon of Marchpane.
Take some of your Marchpane [marzipan] Paste, and work it in red Saunders [sandalwood] till it be red; then rowl a broad sheet of white Paste, and a sheet of red Paste; three of the white and four of the red, and so one upon the other in mingled sorts, every red between, then cut it overthwart, till it look like Collops of Bacon, then dry it.
A Queen’s Delight, 1671

Quotation for the Day.

I’ve long said that if I were about to be executed and were given a choice of my last meal, it would be bacon and eggs. There are few sights that appeal to me more than the streaks of lean and fat in a good side of bacon, or the lovely round of pinkish meat framed in delicate white fat that is Canadian bacon. Nothing is quite as intoxicating as the smell of bacon frying in the morning, save perhaps the smell of coffee brewing.
James Beard