Friday, October 29, 2010

A Posset for a Pirate.

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1618, of Sir Walter Raleigh. The date of his birth not being known (it was sometime between 1552-54), this must serve for the day that we celebrate the life and achievements of this perhaps heroic, perhaps piratical, Elizabethan adventurer .

Raleigh did not leave a legacy of exotic food stories, in spite of his amazing voyages to the New World in search of the legendary ‘City of Gold’. He was certainly one of the first Europeans to taste the pineapple (and the armadillo), but was almost certainly not responsible for establishing the potato in Ireland, in spite of popular belief.

There is an early nineteenth century posset named for Sir Walter however, and it was repeated, with minor variations, in books, for many decades. A posset was ‘a drink made of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or the like, often sweetened and spiced’ (OED). Possets were certainly very popular in Elizabethan times, but I have no idea why Sir Walter would have one named in his honour - but as this recipe pops up two hundred years after his death, it seems reasonable to assume that it was named by one of his nineteenth century admirers.
I give you the earliest recipe I can find for this beverage – and it comes from yesterday’s featured book, by the mysterious Dick Humelbergius Secundus.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s Sack [Sherry] Posset.
Boil a quart of cream, with a quantum sufficit of sugar, mace, and nutmeg; take half a pint of sack, and the same quantity of ale, and boil them well together, adding sugar; these being boiled separately are now to be added. Heat a pewter dish very hot. and cover your basin with it and let it stand by the fire for two or three hours. - Prob est.
Apician Morsels: or tales of the table, kitchen and larder, (1829) by Dick Humelbergius Secundus.

Quotation for the Day.

Sherry . . . a sickly compound, the use of which will transform a nation, however bold and warlike by nature, into a race of sketchers, scribblers and punsters, in fact into what Englishmen are at the present day.
George Burrow.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eating to Live, or Living to Eat.

Today I want to feature some words from a nineteenth century book of food tales and anecdotes. I do this for a number of reasons, but mostly because I love the title page.

“O vos qui stomacho laboratis, accurrite, eg ego vos restaurabo!”
                                                              Vide p. 202
“Always breakfast as if you did not intend to dine; and dine as if you
had not broken your fast.” Code Gourmand.

The book was published in New York in 1829, and the real identity of the writer remains a mystery, although there are several theories. The name is meant to suggest the return of Gabriel Hummelberger (Humelbergius), the sixteenth century annotator of the Roman cookery manuscript ascribed to Apicius (whose exact identity is also somewhat of a mystery.)

A front page like this is worth the cost of the book, methinks, but front pages today are not what they used to be. They are certainly not as much fun as this one. Humelbergius even invents a new word – eatics – which sadly has not been absorbed into the language, for it is a lovely counter to the rather chilly concept of ‘dietetics’.

This front page would also have given me a worthy quotation for the day, but as many of you go straight to the bottom of the blog page, I did not want to cause confusion by leaving it blank.

The author is not afraid to tackle the big questions of gastronomy. I give you his words on the old conundrum of ‘Do we eat to live, or live to eat?’, and his advice on how best to treat your host, in order to secure a return invitation and avoid the dreadful situation of eating all alone, in your own home.

The Knotty Point.
A QUESTION, hitherto undecided in this all-consuming world, and particularly with gourmands, connected with the philosophy of the stomach, is, do we eat to live, or live to eat?The temperate man adopts the first; the man of appetite the other. Now, as there are fewpeople, of whatsoever country, calling, or sect, who would not prefer a good dinner to anindifferent, and one of an indifferent quality to none at all; we maintain that it is nearly asrational for a man to live to eat, as it is for him to eat to live; nay, did we only eat to live, how
little would satisfy nature, - "man's life,'' as the poet says, "would then be as cheap as beasts." But eating and drinking have such irresistible appeals to the palate and stomach, that insensible indeed must be the nerves of either the one or the other that could withstand the argumentum of a smoking Sir Loin, or round of good English beef, even upon a GoodFriday, were the appetite jaded to eat.
A good dinner being one of the greatest enjoyments of human life, is it to be wondered that so many ruses de guerre are adopted to procure one abroad, when it is not convenient to find one at home ? Besides, ought we not to be grateful to those benefactors, who are open to such satisfactory accommodation, and who take so much trouble to make us eat and drink their substance ? Far, indeed, from jesting, or treating such hospitality with levity, we should endeavour to pay our host with appropriate encomia on everything set before us; and to settleour reckoning, with sallies of wit and humour, short and amusing stories, anecdotes, a thousand times told, glees, catches, compliments, and conundrums; in short, to secure another invitation, feel the pulse of the Amphitrion, get hold of his weak side, his hobby; you then invest the main post, and if ever you lose it, it will be your own fault; flatter him to the skies - say yes and no - But stop - we are proceeding rather too fast; let us first saySOMETHING ABOUT BREAKFAST.

Here endeth my extract for today, I will give you his thoughts on breakfast some other time, dear readers.

The recipe for the day is from a well-known cookery book contemporary with Apician Morsels. It is The Cook’s Dictionary and Housekeeper’s Directory (1830), by Richard Dolby.

Beef (Sirloin of) in Epigram.
Having roasted a sirloin of beef, carefully take up the skin of the meat, which you must cut out and mince in fine shreds; but take care that you do not cut the sides. Have a strong brown sauce ready with a few mushrooms, pepper and salt, and a little lemon juice. Put in the mine, lay it inside the beef, and cover the skin over. Serve it up with a strong gravy.

We will consider epigrams (the culinary kind) on another day too, never fear.

Quotation for the Day

A dinner invitation, once accepted, is a sacred obligation. If you die before the dinner takes place, your executor must attend.
Ward McAllister

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lemon Butter Many Ways.

Before I leave the subject of butter entirely, I want to briefly ponder on the nature of lemon butter. Where I grew up, we had a spread for toast called ‘lemon curd’. It took me some time to adjust to calling it ‘lemon butter’, and I don’t always get it right, even today. Lemon curd is a thick yellow paste which plays the same role on the breakfast menu as jam (or in filling tarts and cakes), but it is more like custard in the making. Strangely, in some parts of the world it has another name - ‘lemon cheese.’

Clearly, there is no cheese, curd or otherwise, in this spread, so why the name? It is for the same reason that damson cheese and almond cheese and Bavarian cheese are so named – because they have a similar consistency to soft cheese, or are made in a mould like some cheeses. Or, if you prefer the name ‘lemon butter’ it is because, and I quote the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘butter’ can be ‘a name for various substances resembling butter in appearance or consistence (butter of almonds, butter of mace etc).

I was delighted to discover that lemon butter or lemon curd or lemon cheese is also, according to the same logic, called lemon honey, as the following recipe shows.

Lemon Honey.
Cream six tablespoons of butter, adding slowly a cup of sugar, then heat in a double boiler until the butter is melted. Now mix in three egg yolks beaten until thick, and the grated rind of a large lemon. Stir until it begins to thicken, then add the juice of a lemon, and continue stirring until the consistency of honey is reached. Turn into sterilized jelly glasses and cover.
The Times, May 22, 1939

Of course, ‘lemon butter’ can simply mean butter flavoured with lemon, and sweetened, or not, depending on whether it is going to be poured over your fish or your pudding - but we might look at variations on that theme another day.

My mother-in-law keeps us supplied with magnificent home-made lemon butter of the spreading kind (I admit to stirring some through yoghurt the other day), but one day I am going to take the plunge and try the following recipe – a‘lemon butter’of the dessert kind.

Lemon Butter with Sweetmeats.
Blanch and pound very fine an ounce of sweet almonds, put them to a quart of boiling cream, add the whites of three eggs well beaten, a little orange-flower water, and sweeten according to taste. Then take a lemon, grate the rind into some lemon juice, add it to the cream and make it oil; the put it into a hair sieve, and when well-drained, beat it together, and lay it in a high dish, with sweetmeats or ratafia cakes all round.
The Cook’s Dictionary and House-keepers Directory, Richard Dolby, 1830

Quotation for the Day.

I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade... And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.
Ron White.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Buying Better Butter.

The London Adviser and Guide (1776) by John Trusler, must be one of the earliest guide books published for travellers to that great city. The author included advice on how and where to source the best household goods and services. Our topic of yesterday was butter, and I feel sure that his general advice on sourcing and purchasing a good quality product was the same as would have been offered by his worthy contemporary Hannah Glasse, who provided yesterday’s recipe for roasted butter.

Today we simply go to the refrigerated section of our supermarkets and buy butter already cut and wrapped in such accurate and convenient portion sizes that we don’t need to cut it to make it fit into our butter dishes, or use in many of our favourite recipes. It was a far different exercise in the eighteenth century. Getting half a firkin of butter home instead of half a pound would be quite a logistical issue - and one had to deal with unscrupulous butter-men too.

Here is Mr.Trusler’s advice on the matter:

For fresh butter, Leadenhall market is the best and cheapest in London. The best lump butter, in summer, may be bought for 9d [pence] halfpenny or 10d. a pound; in winger for 11d or 12d. … In winter time, Cambridge and Dorsetshire salt butter arrives fresh in London twice a week, and is within one penny or a halfpenny a pound as dear as fresh; but the best way for a family is to buy half a firkin, which weighs 28lb.of the best Yorkshire butter. This may be bought for 17s. or 18s. the half firkin, less than 8d. a pound, and may be bought agreeable to the palate of the buyer; but when you taste it, taste a piece on the outside, next the tub; if this is good, and free from any rankness, you may be certain the middle is. But the middle shall often be sweet, when the outsides are rank; and butter-men, knowing this, always give a taste out of the middle.

Bad butter-men who were caught were heavily penalised:

Bad butter is not to be mixed with good, on pain of forfeiting double the value. Buyers of butter should set their mark on the tub &c, and if the sellers open the tubs, or put in other butter, after the tubs are thus marked, they are liable to a fine of 10s. for every hundred weight.

So, what delights could the eighteenth century housewife prepare with good fresh butter? How about flavouring it with orange ? This recipe is far more elegant than the early twentieth century version of orange butter I gave you in an earlier post, for serving with your Finnan Haddie.

Orange Butter.
Take new cream two gallons, beat it up to a thickness, then add half a pint of orange-flower water, and as much red wine, and so being become the thicknesse of butter, it has both the colour and smell of an orange.
Closet of Rarities, 1706

Quotation for the Day.
Honest bread is very well - it's the butter that makes the temptation.
Douglas Jerrold (1803-1857)

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Curious Recipe for Butter.

There is avery curious recipe for butter which I have been meaning to post for some time, in the hope that your comments will enlighten me as to how it actually ‘works’. I have never tried to roast butter, but the amazing Hannah Glasse describes the method in her wonderful The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1774). The intention seems to be to make a buttered breadcrumb topping for oysters, but I really don’t understand why it would not immediately melt off the spit and drip into the ashes – even over the very low fire she suggests. If buttered crumbs are needed, why not simply melt the butter in a pan and then toss in the breadcrumbs?

To roast a pound of butter.
Lay it in salt and water two or three hours, then spit it, and rub it all over with crumbs of bread, with a little grated nutmeg, lay it to the fire, and as it roasts, baste it with the yolks of two eggs, and then with crumb of bread all the time it is a roasting; but have ready a pint of oysters stewed in their own liquor, and lay the dish under the butter; when the bread has soaked up all the butter, brown the outside, and lay it on your oysters. Your fire must be very low.

I have searched for other recipes for roasted butter, in the hope of gaining some insight, but without success. That is not to say there are not any interesting variations of the idea however. Firstly I give you a version from The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, by William Ellis (1750), which was sliced and eaten as a sort of snack.

TO roast a Pound of Butter or more the Irish Way. Take a pound of butter, season it well with salt, and put it on a wooden spit; place it at a good distance from the fire, let it turn round, and as the butter moistens or begins to drip, drudge it well with fine oatmeal, continuing so to do till there is any moisture ready to drip, then baste it, and it will soon be enough. A certain Irish woman told me this eats very nicely, insomuch that she has done on a Christmas eve twenty-seven different pounds so, at a farmer's house in her country, where it has been kept all the holidays, to accommodate a friend with a slice or two, as we do cakes or minced pies here.

The following recipe, from a century and a half earlier, is quite different and obviously intentionally sweet – but I still don’t understand how, even with the sugar and the repeated dredging with breadcrumbs, it would stay on the spit. Do you? The recipe is from Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife (1615), and he describes how to roast the butter ‘curiously and well’. The word ‘curiously’ had different meanings in the past – it could mean ‘carefully, attentively’, ‘skilfully, exquisitely, cunningly’, and ‘finely, handsomely, beautifully’, and (but perhaps not until after Markham’s time), ‘in a way that excites interest or surprise.’

To roast a pound of butter curiously and well.
Take a pound of sweet butter and beat it stiff with sugar, and the yolks of eggs; then clap it roundwise about a spit, and lay it before a soft fire, and presently dredge it with bread crumbs; then as it warmeth or melteth, so apply it with dredging till the butter be overcomed and no more will melt to fall from it, then roast it brown, and so draw it [from the spit], and serve it out, the dish being as neatly trimmed with sugar as may be.

Quotation for the Day.
Butter is "...the most delicate of foods among barbarous nations, and one which distinguishes the wealthy from the multitude at large."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Vegetarian Delight.

Nineteenth century vegetarians were something of a mystery to most of the populace in the English-speaking world, whose ideal meal had contained meat, and preferably plenty of it, for hundreds of years. Vegetarian events were wonderful fodder for journalists, who reported the proceedings - particularly the bills of fare - with varying degrees of amusement and disdain.

When the Vegetarian Society of New York held a picnic in June 1899, it was reported in some detail the following day in the New York Times – the reporter seeing fit to include a recipe for one of the dishes. I give you the article in its entirety, and hope you enjoy the insight into the vegetarian movement of the time.

It was a Red-Letter Day for Potatoes, Onions, Cabbages, and Fruit
– Consumption of Meat Denounced.

The Vegetarian Society enjoyed a picnic yesterday afternoon on the grounds surrounding the home of the Rev. George Donaldson, at Edgewater-on-Hudson, N.J. Mr. A. Haviland, the Secretary of the society, and the Rev. George Donaldson welcomed the vegetarians.
During the laying of the vegetable feast many opinions were advanced as to why man should not eat meat. One woman who had presented a new succotash of radishes, potatoes, and beets said, that according to the matured opinions of eminent scientists, the custom of flesh eating leads to the “setting apart of a whole class of the population for the disgusting, brutalizing, and unwholesome occupation of butchery.”
Another mentioned the theory that life can be prolonged and health and happiness enhanced by eating vegetables only, and again it was heard that neither justice nor benevolence nor compassion can sanction the “revolting cruelties that are daily perpetrated in order to pamper perverted appetites. Still another held that vegetarianism was a protest against luxury, intemperance, and vice, and finally, when it was absolutely decided that old roast beef and Spring lamb and kidney stew were responsible for the entire gamut of sin and destruction, the feast of the day was begun.
There were potatoes cooked in such a variety of styles that one could not remember the names of all. There was plenty of haricots, peas, cauliflower, asparagus, lettuce, onions, a great array of tempting fruits, assorted nuts, and pickled cabbages. One of the members brought a dish made of peas and asparagus tips. It was served cold, in small dishes, with sliced radishes on top and mayonnaise dressing. The dish was called “mayonnaise succotash.”
A woman from Brooklyn brought a dish which rejoiced in the name of “Potato Charlotte.” Her recipe was to take boiled new potatoes sliced. She stewed them in milk, adding a dash of vanilla. When cold she spread over the top some whipped cream and sprinkled it with cinnamon.
One young woman who was heard to remark that she “wouldn’t even eat a slice of chicken if her life depended on it” brought to the gathering a recipe which she called “Vegetarian Delight’. She wrote the following recipe for it.

Take one whole young white cabbage. Chop fine in a bowl; then sprinkle with pepper and salt and add a dozen young silver onions, also chopped fine. Boil the whole then let it stand till cool. Take a lump of butter the size of an egg, a cup of sugar, four tablespoonsfuls of cinnamon and mix well together. To this add the cabbage and onions, also some carrots chopped very fine, and a quart of mashed potatoes. Cook the whole slowly in milk till done, and then serve. Can be served hot or cold.

After discussing at length how humane men and women revolt at the “cruelty, degrading sights, distressing cries, perpetual bloodshed, and other attendant horrors” which surround the slaughter of sentient animals, the picnic was ended.

Quotation for the Day

Sure I want to win and smash records, but winning medals is not like going to the market and getting cabbage.
Ante Kostelic.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fattening Recipes.

I have heard it said that the best time to have lived was in a country estate in England, between the wars – if one lived upstairs, of course. If you have seen the movie Gosford Park, you will know what I mean.
I was browsing a cookery book of this era recently – New Standard Cookery Illustrated, by Elizabeth Craig (1933), when I came across a chapter heading I don’t believe I have ever seen in a modern cookery book. Page number 545 begins with the heading ‘To Put on Weight’. A few pages later there is the sub-headings ‘Fattening Recipes.’ This sort of advice being sadly lacking in modern cookery books, we are lucky that history has come to the rescue.

Generally speaking, it is easy to prescribe a diet for leanness, which is usually caused through run-down tendencies. Very often the introduction into the diet of foods containing plenty of vitamins will build up the body, but care should be taken to provide only food that is easy to digest. For unless the food that is taken is easily assimilated, the indigestion that will result will cancel the value of the food itself.
One should start a campaign for putting on weight by planning well-balanced menus, and then by adhering strictly to them.

BREAKFAST:- Half a grapefruit. Cereal and milk. One steamed egg and 2 grilled rashers of bacon. Toast, butter, and honey. Coffee or tea.
LUNCHEON OR SUPPER:- Tripe and onions, mashed potatoes. Baked rice pudding, stewed figs. Celery, biscuits or toast, cream cheese. Small cup of black coffee.
TEA:- Brown bread and butter, as much as liked, jam, bloater cream. Ham, tongue, and celery sandwiches, or sandwiches made of brisling paste. One piece of plum, cherry, seed, madeira, or sponge cake, or a choice of ginger snaps and gingerbread.
DINNER:- Barley mutton broth. Large portion of roast beef, chicken or game, large portion of buttered greens, spinach or Brussels sprouts, baked potatoes. Pancakes, followed by fresh fruit, if liked.

Much other general advice follows, and then comes the sample of fattening recipes, from which I give you the Potato Soufflé. It will make a nice change from mashed potato, I think - and you don’t have the bother of making a béchamel sauce.

Potato Soufflé.
2 cupfuls hot mashed potatoes, 1 tablespoonful of butter, 1 tablespoonful chopped Parsley, ½ cupful tepid milk, Mint, 4 whites of eggs.
Utensils: Saucepan, soufflé dish, knife, chopping board, tablespoon, wooden spoon, cup, basin, wire whisk, grater. Enough for 2 persons.
Season the potatoes very delicately with powdered mint, then stir in the parsley, butter and salt, and pepper to taste. Add the milk, and beat well till smooth, then stir in the egg whites and bake at once in a buttered soufflé dish till puffy and brown on top. Serve sprinkled with grated cheese.

Quotation for the Day.

I worry about scientists discovering that lettuce has been fattening all along.
Erma Bombeck

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Idea of Egg Salad.

I don’t know by what means the idea of egg salad popped into my head as a subject for a blog post. I am not sure what ‘Egg Salad’ is, exactly, and I am pretty sure I have never followed any recipe for it’, although I suspect I have in fact made and eaten it at some stage in my life.
The idea of ‘Egg Salad’ brings up all sorts of questions about the nature of salads in general, and the quantity and exact role of the egg component required for a dish to qualify as specifically ‘Egg Salad’. If I have thought about egg salad at all, the eggs have always been hard-boiled. Are greens a necessary ingredient? And salads are cold dishes, are they not? Until I looked into it, I had no idea just how varied the simple dish can be.
So far, the earliest recipe I have found for Egg Salad is from one of my favourite cookery books - Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady; 1827. The recipe was repeated in cookery books, more or less word-for-word, for at least four decades. There are no greens or other ‘salad’ ingredient, but only hard boiled eggs, with dressing.

Egg Salad.
Boil six cloves of garlic six minutes, and pound them with a few capers and two anchovies; mix them very well with oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar, and dish it under hard-boiled eggs, whole or cut in two.

The following recipe gives a whole different spin on the concept. This is a pretty dish indeed, and with its lovely red and green sprinkles would make a lovely Christmas salad. The eggs are certainly hard-boiled – as a first step.

Egg salad consists of an ordinary salad made with French lettuces, with an extra quantity of hard-boiled eggs. If you want to make the salad look very pretty on the top, cut up the lettuces and dress them with oil and vinegar in the ordinary way. Make the tops of the lettuces (which should be placed in a round salad-bowl) as smooth as you can without pressing them down unnecessarily. Now take six hard-boiled eggs, separate the yolks from the whites, powder the yolks, and chop up the whites small. Sprinkle a ring of yellow round the edge of the salad-bowl, say an inch in width, then put a ring of white round, and place the remainder of yolk in the middle, almost up to the centre. Have the centre about two inches in diameter. We now have a yellow centre surrounded by a broad white rim (as, of course, there is more white than yellow), and an outside yellow ring, which meets the white china bowl. Reserve about a teaspoonful of pieces of finely chopped white, and put them in a saucer, with a few drops of cochineal, and shake them. This turns them a bright red. Sprinkle these red specks very sparingly on the white, and take about half a teaspoonful of chopped blanched parsley, and sprinkle these green specks on the yellow. This makes the dish look pretty.
Cassell’s Vegetarian Cookery, 1891.

Did I say ‘salad’ was a cold dish? How about this idea:

Hot Egg Salad.
Miss Juliet Corson.
A tablespoon of salad oil made hot. Break three eggs into it, and stir a little. Season with salt and pepper. Turn out as soon as it hardens a trifle, sprinkle over the top a tablespoon chopped cucumber, same of grated lemon rind, a tablespoon lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons salad oil.
From: Mrs Owens’ Cook Book, by Frances Owens, 1903

Stuffed eggs work too, again, without greens:

Egg Salad.
Remove the shell from six cold, hard-boiled eggs, cut in halves lengthwise; take out the yolks; mash fine, season them with an eighth of a teaspoon of mustard, quarter of a teaspoon salt, and a dash of red pepper; add just enough cream to make a smooth paste (about two tablespoons of cream are generally enough); put back into the halves of the eggs, and arrange on a bed of crisp lettuce leaves. Make a boiled dressing of eight tablespoons of vinegar, four of hot water, quarter of a teaspoon of mustard, half a teaspoon each of salt and flour, and one egg. Boil until thick; then pour over the eggs and serve at once.
The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), June 30, 1900

Finally, it seems that the eggs do not need to be hard-boiled, but may be scrambled – after being reconstituted:

Scrambled Egg Salad.
1 oz margarine; 3 dried eggs, reconstituted; 4 tablespoons milk; salt and pepper; 3 or 4 spring onions or 1 leek; ½ lb cabbage heart; 1 lb cooked potatoes, sliced; ¼ lb cooked green peas; 2 or 3 cooked carrots, sliced; chopped mint; salad dressing.
Melt the margarine in a pan. Mix the eggs, milk, half the onion, and seasoning, and pour into the pan. Cooke gently until just set; leave to cool. Shred the cabbage finely and mix in the rest of the chopped onion. Place in the bottom of salad bowl. Pile the eggs in the centre and arrange the potato, carrots and peas around it. Sprinkle with chopped mint and serve with salad dressing.
British Ministry of Food, Food Facts leaflet of July 1944

Quotation for the Day.

Eggs have two advantages over all other foods. First, they are procurable nearly everywhere; second, the most dainty person is sure when eating eggs that they have not been handled.

A Book for A Cook, The Pillsbury Co. (1905)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Brief History of Cakes.

In the past, when I have posted a recipe originating from before the mid-nineteenth century for ‘cake’, I have often gotten a query from a reader who is confused either about the use of the word ‘cake’ for what appears in fact to be a yeast-risen sweet bread, or about the nature of ‘saleratus’ or ‘pearl ash.’ I hereby give you a very brief summary of the history of ‘cake’ as we know it.

I understand that the word ‘cake’ comes to us from the Vikings – an ancient and allegedly tough and manly race who we would hardly associate with something fluffy like Angel Food Cake. To the ancient Vikings, and to many generations of their descendants, a ‘cake’ was a slab of bread, baked hard, and by extension came to refer to a hard slab of anything – such as a ‘cake’ of soap.

How did this dense, hard bread develop into the lightest of light sponge cakes? The dough had to be lightened somehow, and the first method was with the use of yeast. Yeast has been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians, who probably discovered it by accident when some dough was accidentally left aside and became contaminated with local wild varieties. The yeast cells produce carbon dioxide as a by-product, and it is this gas that ‘rises’ the dough.

As time progressed, the basic bread dough was enriched with eggs, butter, spices and fruit, and sweetened with sugar for special occasions such as feast days. For many centuries this sweet yeast dough was the only sort of ‘cake’. Here is an example from a cookbook published in 1596 – which specifies the use of ‘Gods good’ (an obsolete word for yeast).

To make fine Cakes
Take fine flowre and good Damaske water you must have no other liqueur but that, then take sweet butter, two or three yolkes of egges and a good quantity of Suger, and a few cloves, and mace, as your Cookes mouth shall serve him, and a lyttle saffron, and a little Gods good about a sponfull if you put in too much they shall arise, cutte them in squares lyke unto trenchers, and pricke them well, and let your oven be well swept and lay them uppon papers and so set them into the oven. Do not burne them if they be three or foure days old they bee the better.

A soft dough can also be ‘risen’ with eggs. The protein from the egg encloses bubbles of air produced by the beating process – which was very arduous in the days before food processors. This recipe from the famous Mrs. Raffald required well over an hour of hand-beating of the mixture.

To make Queen Cakes.
Take a pound of loaf sugar, beat and sift it, a pound of flour well dried, a pound of butter, eight eggs, half a pound of currants washed and picked, grate a nutmeg, the same quantity of mace and cinnamon. Work your butter to a cream, then put in your sugar, beat the whites of your eggs near half an hour, mix them with your sugar and butter. Then beat your yolks near half an hour and put them to your butter, beat them exceedingly well together. Then put in your flour, spices, and currants. When it is read for the oven, bake them in tins and dust a little sugar over them.
The Experienced English Housekeeper. Elizabeth Raffald. 1769

Sometime near the end of the eighteenth century, in America, baking soda and powders were developed. Sodium and potassium bicarbonates (baking soda, ‘saleratus’, and pearl-ash or potash) had been known about for a long time - they were used in soap-making, in curing hams, for softening the tough skins of beans, and for preserving the colour of green leafy vegetables. These alkaline agents produce carbon dioxide gas when they are mixed with an acid (such as in buttermilk) – and someone obviously got the idea that the gas might lighten a cake mixture. Here is a nice example:

Shelah, or Quick Loaf Cake.
Melt half a pound of butter - when cool, work it into a pound and a half of raised dough. Beat four eggs with three-quarters of a pound of rolled sugar, mix it with the dough, together with a wine glass of wine, or brandy, a tea-spoonful of cinnamon, and a grated nutmeg. Dissolve a tea-spoonfu1 of saleratus in a small tea-cup of milk, strain it on to the dough, work the whole well together for a quarter of an hour, then add a pound of seeded raisins, and put it into cake pans. Let them remain twenty minutes before setting them in the oven.
The American Housewife … An Experienced Lady, 1841

Baking powder came about when someone thought to pre-add the acidic component to the soda, in a form that was released in contact with the ‘wet’ ingredients. It was a good advance, but the mixture had to be got into the oven quickly before the gas-production ceased. Finally, in 1889 double-acting baking powder was invented, with a slower-acting acid which hardly worked at all at normal temperatures, but was much quicker in the higher temperature of the oven.

Of course, the several methods of leavening remained in use simultaneously – and the yeast from the manufacture of ale was always popular. Here is an early nineteenth century recipe that uses ale-yeast as well as eggs.

Plum Cake.
Flour dried, and currants washed and picked, four pounds; sugar pounded and sifted, one pound and a half; six orange, lemon, and citron peels, cut in slices; mix these.
Beat ten eggs, yolks and whites separately; then melt a pound and a half of butter in a pint of cream; when lukewarm, put it to half a pint of ale-yeast, near half a pint of sweet wine, and the eggs; then strain the liquid to the dry ingredients, beat them well, and add of cloves, mace, cinnamon, and nutmeg, half an ounce each. Butter
the pan, and put it into a quick oven. Three hours will bake it.
A New System of Domestic Cookery … By A Lady. New York, 1814

The final recipe I give you today uses another type of baking powder that I have not mentioned: bakers ammonia, also called sal volatile, or sal ammonia – the main ingredient in smelling salts. I leave you with the knowledge that in really old times, sal volatile used to be made from stale urine.

Pound Cake.
Take one pound of flour toasted, one pound of grated loaf sugar, and one pound of butter beat to a cream ; separate one dozen of eggs, the yolks from the whites, beat up the yolks with one half of the sugar, the other half with butter ; then put them together
and beat well, you cannot beat it too much ; put in the fourth part of a tea-spoonful of sal volatile; have the whites beat to a snow upon two dinner plates ; they should be as thick as to carry the fork; sift in the flour amongst the yolks and sugar, with a little of the whites ; mix it lightly, do not stir it much, and when the flour is all in, add the whites, and an ounce of carraway seeds ; have your pan or hoop buttered and ready. It will take one hour and three quarters in a moderate oven.
Practice of Cookery and Pastry,... Mrs I Williamson. Edinburgh. 1854

Quotation for the Day.

Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we're here we should dance.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Salad Thoughts.

In a post last week I hoped to convert you to the use of old-fashioned oxoleum instead of the new-fangled French vinaigrette for your salads. I thought that perhaps a little more on the virtues of ‘sallets’ might help convince you. I therefore give you the words of the eccentric English garden designer Batty Langley (1696-1751), which demonstrate that there is no expiration date on good principles. His words are a plea for the use of freshly-picked seasonal produce, freshly and cleanly prepared, carefully and appropriately seasoned, and stylishly presented.

Directions for the gathering ordering and dressing of a Sallet.
In the choice of sallets observe,
- First that the kinds are young and delicate.
- Secondly that they are picked very clean from imperfect, slimy, etc leaves.
- Thirdly that each kind be washed separately in two clean waters.
- Fourthly that they are well drained in a cullender and afterward swing’d dry in a clean napkin.
- Fifthly and lastly, that every sort be proportioned as directed in the preceding sections, and laid singly in the dish, in such a manner as to form a pyramidical or other agreeable figure.
N.B. That during the months of January February and March, sallets may be cut at any time of the day, but when the weather increases in heat the best time to gather or cut a sallet, is about eight or nine o clock in the morning, to be afterward kept in a cool place till within one hour before it is eaten, at which time it should be washed as before directed and not immediately before it is eaten as practised by many.
And when you are obliged to cut a sallet in very hot weather, put it into spring water for the space of half an hour or more, and then take it out and order it as before directed. And having thus gathered and washed your sallet, the next work is the dressing wherein observe,
- First that the oil be very clean, smooth, light, and perfectly sweet, without any sort of rancid smell.
- Secondly that the vinegar or other acid, be perfectly clear and fresh.
- Thirdly, that the salt be of the brightest and best refined kind, and moderately dry.
- Fourthly, when sugar is used that it be the very best refined.
- Fifthly that the vinegar, salt and sugar be proportioned to the heat or cold of the stomach, as near as can be.
- Sixthly that the sallet be composed of such herbs as are agreeable to both weather and constitution.

Salads in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were often highly complex constructions with a large number of ingredients, which in truth are probably not much to today’s taste. Simple salad ideas did exist however, and for today I have chosen not one, but two eighteenth century recipes for you:

Sallad for Winter.
Take a hard cabbage, and with a sharp knife shave it as thin as possible and serve it up with oil, mustard, and vinegar.
Or else take corn salad and Horse radish scrap’d fine, dish it handsomely and serve it with oil and vinegar.
The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary, John Nott, 1723

Brockely in Sallad.
Broccoli is a pretty dish by way of Sallad, in the middle of the table. Boil it like asparagus (in the beginning of the book you have an account how to clean it); lay it in your dish, beat up with oil and vinegar and a little salt. Garnish it with nasturtium buds.
The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, 1774

Quotation for the Day.

Salad "freshens without enfeebling and fortifies without irritating."
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Five a Day.

Do you get your recommended ‘five a day’? Nutritionists suggest that we should all be eating four hundred grams of fruit and vegetables a day, made up from at least five different varieties (one serve is about half a cup of vegetables, or a cup of raw salad.) It can be quite a challenge to do this, even in the most motivated households. It seems to me that part of the solution might be to eat more vegetables for dessert.

To determinedly take up this challenge requires more choices than pumpkin pie and carrot cake however, lest boredom creep in after a few weeks. In previous posts we have had parsnip cake and sauerkraut cake – and no doubt there are others I have forgotten about, but there are still not enough choices for a long campaign. I have, therefore, collected some recipes from history to help you in your efforts. Bon appétit!

How to make a Pudding in a Turnep root.
Take your Turnep root, and wash it fair in warm water, and scrape it faire and make it hollow as you doo a Carret roote, and make your stuffe of grated bread, and Apples chopt fine, then take Corance [currants], and hard Egs, and season it with Sugar Sinamon, and Ginger, and yolks of hard egs and so temper your stuffe, and put it into the Turnep, then take faire water, and set it on the fire, and let it boyle or ever you put in your Turneps, then put in a good peece of sweet Butter, and Claret Wine, and a little Vinagre, and Rosemarye, and whole Mace, Sugar, and Corance, and Dates quartered, and when they are boyled inough, then willl they be tender, then serve it in.
Boke of Cokerye 1591

Carrot Cheesecake.
Boil a moderately sized carrot until tender. Pound it in a mortar, and pass the pulp through a fine hair sieve. Mix with an ounce of oiled butter, two dessert-spoonfuls of washed currants, two table-spoonfuls of sugar, half a nutmeg grated, a table-spoonful of fresh curd, and a well-beaten egg. Line some patty pans with good puff paste, half fill them with the mixture, and bake in a good oven for twenty minutes.
Cassells Dictionary of Cookery, London, 1877.

To make a carrot pudding.
You must take a raw carrot, scrape it very clean and grate: Take half a pound of the grated carrot, and a pound of grated bread, beat up eight eggs, leave out half the whites, and mix the eggs with half a pint of cream: then stir in the bread and carrot, half a pound of fresh butter melted, half a pint of sack, and three spoonfuls of orange-flower water, a nutmeg grated. Sweeten to your palate. Mix all well together, and if it is not thin enough, stir in a little new milk or cream. Let it be of a moderate thickness, lay a puff-paste all over the dish, and pour in the ingredients. Bake it; it will take an hours baking. Or you may boil it, but then you must melt butter and put in white wine and sugar.
Art of Cookery, Hannah Glasse, 1774.

Potato Jelly.
Take equal quantities of potato flour and finely powdered loaf sugar, incorporate them well together by rubbing them with the back of a spoon until a perfectly smooth powder is produced; pour upon it some boiling water, keeping it stirred the while; when you think the jelly is of the proper consistency, flavor it with wine, brandy, vanilla, or orange-flower water, essence of lemon, noyeau, or anything you prefer.
This is quite as nourishing as arrowroot, and possesses the great advantage of not turning watery when it grows cold. Two good teaspoonfuls of the meal and the same quantity of sugar will be found to be sufficient for half a pint.
How to cook potatoes, apples, eggs, and fish; Georgiana Hill, 1869

Beet Cake.
Two cups sugar, one cup oil, three large eggs, two teaspoons cinnamon, one teaspoon ginger, one-half teaspoon salt, one teaspoon vanilla, two cups flour, two teaspoons baking powder, one eight-ounce can crushed pineapple, two cups grated or ground raw beets, one cup coconut, nuts if desired.
Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together. Add the dry ingredients and continue beating until thoroughly blended. Stir in pineapple, beets, coconut and nuts in that order. Bake in 9 by 13 by 2 inch pans at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. Frost with the following recipe.
Frosting: four teaspoons dry cherry gelatine, one-fourth cup melted margarine, four cups confectioners sugar. Blend ingredients thoroughly.
Syracuse Herald-American, 1980

And if we can have tomato marshmallows, why not tomato cake? The following recipe “uses the unlikely combination of tomatoes and raisins … stays moist and is “oh, so good.”

Tomato Cake.
1 stick [½ cup] margarine, 2 cups sugar, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 2 cups fresh tomatoes
1 cup raisins, 1 cup nuts, 2 ½ cups flour, 2 teaspoons soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon.
Cook tomatoes, add raisins to hot tomatoes and let mixture cool. Combine ingredients and beat. Bake at 250 degrees F [approx.150 degrees Centigrade] in fluted or angel food pan for 1 hour.
Lebanon Daily News (Pennsylvania), May 19, 1973

Quotation for the Day.

Large, naked, raw carrots are acceptable as food only to those who live in hutches eagerly awaiting Easter.
Fran Lebowitz

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dinner Abroad.

Traveller’s responses to the food they come across in far off lands are always interesting – and often they reveal as much about the writer as about the food and dishes being described. Many, or perhaps most, European travellers of the nineteenth century seemed to find it impossible to compare favourably the food which was graciously provided by their generous foreign hosts, with that of their homeland. Worse, most seemed incapable of actually enjoying the experience – the only value of the meals appearing to be in their story value after they returned home. Funny people, foreigners, what?

How about the attitude of the writer who attended this magnificently fragrant Moroccan feast, which he (I am assuming it was a 'he') described in the New York Times in 1880:

A Feast in Morocco.
We seated ourselves, and were served at once. Twenty-eight dishes, without counting the sweets! Twenty-eight immense dishes, every one of which would have been enough for twenty people, of all forms, odors, and flavours; monstrous pieces of mutton on the split [sic], chickens (with pomatum), game (with cold cream,) fish (with cosmetics,) livers, puddings, vegetables, eggs, salads, all with the same dreadful combinations, suggestive of the barber’s shop; sweetmeats, every mouthful of which was enough to purge a man of any crime he had ever committed; and with all this, large glasses of water, into which we squeezed lemons that we had brought in our pockets, then a cup of tea, sweetened to syrup; and finally, an irruption of servants, who deluged the tables, the walls, and ourselves with rose-water. - Morocco de Amicis.

Not all travellers were quite so crass however. Compare this Moroccan feast story with the more considered, kind, and informative report of Mr. Charles White, Esq, who visited Constantinople (Istanbul) in the 1840’s, and wrote of his stay there in Three Years in Constantinople; or, Domestic Manners of the Turks in 1844. He says:

‘Turkish culinary productions are numerous and diversified’, and that ‘the culinary art in Turkey varies, as it does elsewhere, according to the fortune and taste of its patrons.’ He describes the ingredients and the cooking and serving methods of the kabâbs, pilafs, dolmas, and other dishes he comes across, with obvious care and interest. Here are his words on dolmas:

Dolmas are of fifty kinds. They consist of minced or forced meat, rice, vegetables, or other well-seasoned substances, stuffed into young pumpkins or melons, or enveloped with lettuce, vine, or cabbage leaves. The most popular are those made of young green pumpkins. Their frequent use for this purpose has caused them to be called dolma, where the true meaning of this word signifies any substance cut into minute particles, as well as earth employed to fill up excavations. Thus the palace of Dolma Baghtshy, as justly remarked by the learned Dr.Reumont, derives its name from a portion of the valley being filled up with earth for garden ground.

He also describes a typical meal in a well-to-do family:

The following specimen of a bill of fare may be taken as a criterion of the dinners given, and the order in which they are served, to six or eight guests, in families of superior station. The dishes therein specified are also met with in the houses of the most wealthy, whose repasts merely differ in the quantity contained in each dish, with some additions tedious to enumerate.

Bill of Fare of Turkish Dinner for eight or ten persons.
Chehrya tchorbassy (town soup), mutton, vermicelli, eggs, and vinegar.
Ormau kabâby (lamb roasted whole).
Poof-beurighy (cheese puffs)
Nohoot yanissy (fricassee) of fowl and young peas.
Yernik halvassy, a sweet mixture made of semolina, butter, and fresh honey.
Yaprak or lany dolmassy (dolmas), rolled in cabbage leaves, or stuffed into other vegetable substances.
Elmassya (the diamond), calves foot jelly sweetened.
Katayif (the velvety) a sort of pancake made of flour, eggs, and butter, having cream or sweet vermicelli inside.
Assyda, a paste of semolina, garnished with bahmias, and stewed in rich sauce.
Gulatch (the rose dish), a kind of cream, thickened with fine starch and scented with rose water.
Zerdeh pilaf (the golden pilaf)
Khosh-âb (the agreeable water).

As the recipe for the day, I give you a genuine nineteenth century Turkish recipe for ‘dolmas’ made with vegetable marrow. It is from the absolutely delightful Turkish Cookery Book, compiled by Turabi Effendi in 1862.

Peel very thin seven or eight small-sized vegetable marrows, and take out the insides; then stuff them with some nice cheese, grated and mixed with one or two tablespoonfuls of chopped parsley, and half a tablespoonful of mint chopped; then beat up three or four eggs, in which dip the vegetable marrows, and fry them a nice brown in hot fresh butter; then take them out and place them in a stewpan, cover them with broth, set the pan on a charcoal fire and let it boil gently, until the liquor is nearly absorbed; then dish up and serve.

Quotation for the Day.
There are a lot of people who must have the dinner table laid in the usual fashion or they will not enjoy the dinner.
Christopher Morley.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Ironmongers’ Feast.

Today’s historical menu comes from the seventeenth century. The liveried companies of England held annual ‘Election Days’, at which office-bearers were selected and other important business settled. Naturally, feasting was on the agenda too. For the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, on July 7, 1687, the bill of fare was as follows:

First Course.
4 hammes and 24 chickens
2 grand sallets.
2 sirloynes of beef, 1 clod.
4 dishes of turkeys, 3 in a dish
5 venison pattyes
4 tongues, 4 udders
4 dishes pullets, 2 in a dish
4 custards

Second Course.
4 dishes ducks, 3 in a dish
4 Lombard pyes
4 dishes sturgeon
4 dishes of cream and sullabubbs
4 dishes of fruite
4 dishes of tarts

5 gallons Canary
3 gallons Rhenish
1 gallon claret
5 gallons white wine
20 lbs bisketts
4 lbs wafers
4 lbs double refined sugar
1 quar lamb, 2 rabbets (‘for the music’ – ie the musicians)

I give you the recipe for a ‘Grand Sallet’ from Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook (1660)

To make a grand Sallet of divers Compounds.
Take a cold roast capon and cut it into thin slices square and small, (or any other roast meat as chicken, mutton, veal, or neats tongue) mingle with it a little minced taragon and an onion, then mince lettice as small as the capon, mingle all together, and lay it in the middle of a clean scoured dish. Then lay capers by themselves, olives by themselves, samphire by itself, broom buds, pickled mushrooms, pickled oysters, lemon, orange, raisins, almonds, blue-figs, Virginia Potato, caperons, crucifix pease, and the like, more or less, as occasion serves, lay them by themselves in the dish round the meat in partitions. Then garnish the dish sides with quarters of oranges, or lemons, or in slices, oyl and vinegar beaten together, and poured on it over all.
On fish days, a roast, broil’d, or boil’d pike boned, and being cold, slice it as abovesaid.

Quotation for the Day.

We have said how necessary it is that in the composure of a sallet, every plant should come in to bear its part, without being overpower'd by some herb of a stronger taste, so as to endanger the native sapor and virtue of the rest; but fall into their places, like the notes in music, in which there should be nothing harsh or grating: And though admitting some discords (to distinguish and illustrate the rest) striking in all the more sprightly, and sometimes gentler notes, reconcile all dissonances, and melt them into an agreeable composition."
John Evelyn, 'Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets' (1699)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fit for a Queen.

We must be due for some more historical bills of fare, so without further ado, let us go straight to the sixteenth century. In a previous post I gave you the provisions list for a great entertainment given by ‘eleven gentlemen of the law’ in London in 1532. Guests on that occasion included ‘King Henry and Queen Catherine …with all the foreign Ambassadors, all the Judges, the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London, all the King's Court, and many of the nobility.’ It was noted at the time that the feasting (which lasted five days) rivalled that of a coronation. I thought it might be interesting to look at another right royal catering exercise from the same era.

In 1544, Queen Eleanor (Eleanor of Castile, Queen consort of Portugal and France) was visiting her brother, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in Brussels. She received daily ‘for her mouth’ (that is, to supply her own table), ‘omitting vegetables, soups, pastry and the like’, the following supplies:

128 lbs of beef, 2 ¼ sheep, 1 calf, 2 swine, 2 fat capons, 18 fowls, 4 partridges, 2 woodcocks, 2 pheasants, 2 hares, 24 quails or turtle-doves.

For the kitchen of her suite (her retinue), the following daily supplies were made:

2 oxen, 18 sheep, 3 calves, 12 swine, 60 capons, 48 fowls and pigeons, and 40 head of game.

I wonder how many butchers were employed to supply and dress all that meat?

I do hope that a couple of the nice fat capons went to making an elegant braised chicken such as the following one, from A Proper New Booke of Cokerye, (published about 1545.) Please note the use of prunes in this dish – a forerunner of the famous Scots Cock-a-Leekie soup perhaps?

To stewe capons in whyte brothe.
Take foure or fyve biefe bones to make your brothe, then take them oute when they are sodden and streyne the brothe into another potte, then putte in youre capons hole wyth rosemarye and putte them into the pot, and let them stewe, and after they have boyled a whyle, putte in hole Mace bounde in a whyte clothe, and a handefull or twayne of hole perseley and hole prunes, and lette them boyle well and at the takyng up put to a lyttle vergis and salte, and so strawe them upon soppes and the marybones aboute and the marrowe layde
hole above them, and so serve them forth.

Quotation for the Day.

Much meat, much malady.
Thomas Fuller, English clergyman (1608-1661)

Monday, October 11, 2010

How to make a good Oxoleum.

You probably don’t need a recipe for oxoleum - I am sure you already make it regularly- but I thought you might be interested in a seventeenth recipe, to compare with your own version. An oxoleon (oxoleum, oxelam) is simply a mixture of oil and vinegar used to flavour food – in other words, it is a salad dressing – something we would nowadays call vinaigrette.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word oxoleum (in its alternative spelling of oxelam) is recorded in English usage in 1575. If I understand the etymology correctly, the word derives from a fourth century Hellenistic Greek word, and came to English via sixth century Latin. I am curious, now, and wonder at what point did the English abandon this perfectly good word with its ancient and illustrious heritage - a heritage inextricably linked with the history of Britain - for the indisputably French vinaigrette? Nor is it just a question of word usage. At some point for the mass of Britons, the idea of a simple oil and vinegar dressing for salads became viewed as a slightly nasty Continental Idea, to be eschewed, if one had a patriotic bone in one’s body, for a boiled salad dressing or a commercial ‘salad cream.’ I know this to be true, growing up in post-war northern England, where the only use for olive oil was for medicinal purposes (I seem to remember for sore ears), for which it was purchased in tiny bottles from the pharmacy (I mean ‘the chemist’)

As for vinaigrette, originally it simply meant vinegar-sauce. In seventeenth century England – French things being very fashionable at the time – a vinaigrette was a ‘a condiment prepared with vinegar’ such as pickled cucumbers. It did not become vinaigrette dressing until the second half of the nineteenth century in England. The supporting reference cited by the OED for this change in English usage is from one of my favourite sources – Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1877).

The dictionary (which does not list oxoleum) certainly attributes the idea of an oil and vinegar dressing to the French:

Vinaigrette, Sauce à la: This sauce is much used in Paris for cold viands. Sauce à la Vinaigrette is composed of salad oil, vinegar, finely chopped parsley, and shallots, onions, or chives, with pepper and salt to taste.
The dictionary goes on to discuss the uses and variations of this sauce, but as this post is about oxoleum, I thought I would give you the earliest recipe for it that I know – from Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets, by John Evelyn, 1699.

Then, for the Oxoleon; Take of clear, and perfectly good Oyl-Olive, three Parts; of sharpest Vinegar, (sweetest of all Condiments), Limon, or Juice of Orange, one Part; and therein let steep some Slices of Horse-radish, with a little Salt; Some in a separate Vinegar, gently bruise a Pod of Guinny-Pepper, straining both the Vinegars apart, to make Use of Either, or One alone, or of both, as they best like; then add as much Tewkesbury, or other dry Mustard grated, as will lie upon an Half-Crown Piece: Beat, and mingle all these very well together; but pour not on the Oyl and Vinegar, 'till immediately before the Sallet is ready to be eaten: And then with the Yolk of two new-laid Eggs (boyl'd and prepar'd, as before is taught) squash, and bruise them all into mash with a Spoon; and lastly, pour it all upon the Herbs, stirring, and mingling them 'till they are well and throughly imbib'd; not forgetting the Sprinklings of Aromaticks, and such Flowers, as we have already mentioned, if you think fit, and garnishing the Dish with the thin Slices of Horse-Radish, Red Beet, Berberries &c.
Note, That the Liquids may be made more, or less Acid, as is most agreeable to your Taste.

The French are notoriously protective of their language, to an extent which seems to many of the rest of us to represent nationalism gone down a ridiculous blind alley. Also it seems pointless - languages are dynamic things, ever adapting and changing, and the meaning of individual words not constant across time. I would hate to be thought to be one of the frozen language crowd, but nevertheless, there is something sad about the complete loss of a lovely word such as oxoleon, when the actual thing still remains – leaving no option but the substitution of a ‘foreign’ word – especially one with a slightly different meaning, such as vinaigrette.

I think I will start the Society to Save Old Food Words.

From henceforth, my salads will be dressed with oxoleum.

Quotation for the Day.

To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist – the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one’s vinegar.
Oscar Wilde.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Sorbet Story.

I admit it. I have fallen behind. Or, I have ceased being ahead, with respect to my Old Foodie posts. Today (by which I mean yesterday, when this was written) I was to going to ‘get ahead’, but things got in the way (as they are wont to do) – and by the time evening came, the lure of dinner at a local Japanese restaurant with friends won. So – today’s post is a cheat. It is a very slightly tweaked version of an article I wrote for a now defunct magazine. It is about delicious frozen things.

Sorbet is not what it used to be. It used to be sherbet (or sherbert), with pretensions of an Italian heritage. But sherbet is also not what it once was. It was certainly not originally a frozen dessert item. And if they were once the same thing, are sorbet and sherbert now different? And what about granita and gelato and frozen punch and (sorry about this one), the violently coloured slushy drinks sold at the movies?

Culinary experts apply the various terms with linguistic abandon, leaving us only with the certainty of iciness. Lawyers of course, are certain - at least in some parts of the world – that the differences are strictly in the proportions of fat and sugar and the inclusion, or not, of dairy produce. It hardly needs to be stated, however, that truth in food is not the primary motivation of the legal system – the sort of system which, in 1893 in the USA determined, in the face of overwhelming botanical evidence to the contrary, that the tomato is a vegetable.

Linguists know the truth about sorbets and sherberts. ‘Sherbert’ derives from the Turkish/Arabic word for ‘drink’. In other words, a sherbet used to be a beverage – a costly beverage to be sure, in its home culture. Early European visitors to those fantastically distant and exotic places described it raptly as a sweetened fruit drink made fragrant with expensive ingredients such as roses, violets, musk and ambergris. Those intrepid adventurers made the best fist they could of the strange language, and the Arabic word gave rise to a multitude of phonetic interpretations from charbe to zerbet. ‘Sorbet’ came about as a result of the phonetic and linguistic coincidence of the Italian verb ‘to drink’ – sorbire – and the name stuck because the Italians became masters of frozen confections during the Renaissance.

So, the original sorbet was a drink. Not frozen, just a drink. As the idea spread beyond its origins to other climes, sometimes the drink was chilled with snow or ice, but the tyranny of climate means that the coldest drinks are desired in the hottest months. The very rich could afford to have ice cut from mountains or frozen lakes and stored in deep pits or caves for summer enjoyment, but most of history’s citizens had to wait for technological progress to bring salt-and-ice churns and eventually refrigeration for all, in order to be able to enjoy such incredible treats.

It constantly surprises me that unlike many other artists, cooks don’t often consciously use the past as an inspiration. Many very old recipes sound amazingly innovative and cutting edge and deserve rediscovering. A manual Containing Original Recipes for Preparing Ices (1851) from that supposedly dull and stodgy English Victorian era contains over one hundred ideas, including for example ‘water ices’ flavoured with aniseed and sweet fennel. The recipe is a variation of a basic vanilla ice, using four ounces of either seed instead of the vanilla.

‘Crush half an ounce of vanilla and a stick of cinnamon, in a mortar, add a pint of water, cover it over, and let it stand for ten hours; then pass it through a sieve, and add the juice of two lemons, if you choose; put in twenty-four ounces of sugar a lisse, and freeze it. This may be varied by using milk instead of water.’

Quotation for the Day.

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate that's my philosophy.
Thornton Wilder

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Changing the Recipe.

There is no doubt that the housewives of WW II had to be resourceful. Rationing was in force, to some degree or other, in all the involved nations, and ingredients for favourite recipes could not necessarily be obtained, or afforded. In Britain, the Ministry of Food was there to help, however, and every week for a decade, starting in mid 1940, they turned out a single-page ‘Food Facts’ leaflet full of good ideas and practical advice.

I have often featured recipes from these leaflets in previous posts, but today I give you the whole spiel from No. 406, issued in April 1948 - well after the war finished. Rationing did not cease completely in Britain until July 1954, and in many ways the situation was more difficult, as resources were diverted to the restoration of Europe. There is much to learn from this wartime attitude of ‘waste-not, want-not, and try to make it nutritious and tasty while you are at it’, methinks.

When you have to change your mind …
You can change the recipe too!

Sometimes you shop in vain for a certain vital ingredient, and have to change your mind at the last moment. So it’s useful to have a basic recipe all ready; one that can be varied two or three ways according to what you find in the shops.

Basic Recipe.
8 oz. sausage meat, 1 onion or leek (about 2 oz.) finely sliced, ¼ oz. dripping, ¼ pint boiling water, salt and pepper to taste, 1 level teaspoon mixed herbs, 4 oz. apple, diced, 8 oz.cabbage, shredded.
Divide the sausage meat into 8 portions and form into balls. Fry the onion or leek in the dripping for a few minutes, add the sausage balls and brown all over. Add the water, seasoning, herbs, apple and cabbage, and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn onto a hot dish and serve immediately.

1.When you are unable to get sausage meat, this recipe is just as good with corned beef – to prevent the corned beef from breaking too much, dice it and add to the hot-pot only 10 minutes before serving.
2. Instead of onions you can use 6 spring onions chopped, or one clove of garlic finely chopped.
3. Instead of apple use 4 oz finely sliced carrot or two level tablespoons of apple chutney, or two tomatoes, sliced.
4.Instead of mixed herbs, use one level teaspoon dried parsley, or one tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley.

Basic Recipe.
8 oz plain flour and 4 level teaspoons baking powder, or 8 oz. self raising flour, ½ - 1 level teaspoon salt, 1 level tablespoon sugar, about 6 tablespoons milk and water, or water to mix.
Mix flour, baking powder if used, and salt. Add sugar. Mix to a soft dough with the liquid and shape into small balls. Drop into boiling liquid and boil for 15-20 minutes with the lid on. Serve with syrup.

1.Add ½ level teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, or mixed spice to dry ingredients. Serve with custard.
2. Cook in boiling sweetened fruit juice, stewed fruit, or diluted fruit squash and serve in the liquid in which they were cooked.
3. Use the recipe for the dumplings, roll out the dough into an oblong. Spread with 1 level tablespoon syrup, roll up like a Swiss roll and place in a greased pie-dish. Pour over ½ pint of sweetened fruit juice (or 4 tablespoons orange squash and 2 level tablespoons syrup made up to half a pint with water) and bake in a hot oven for 25-30 minutes. Serve hot with syrup.

Each recipe serves four and has been kitchen tested.

Quotation for the Day.

That's something I've noticed about food: whenever there's a crisis if you can get people to eating normally things get better.
Madeleine L'Engle

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Mangoless Mangoes.

The mango season is just getting underway here in sunny Queensland, and if the early samples are anything to go by, a lusciously sweet and sticky time we are going to have of it this year. It occurred to me that I have not dedicated a post to this most delicious of all fruits, a fruit which compensates somewhat for the heat and humidity we suffer during summer in this state.

The mango (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) is ‘a sweet orange-fleshed drupe which is much eaten as dessert, especially in the tropics, and is used in its unripe state to make chutney and jam.’ It is the fruit of various species of the genus Mangifera, the most common of which is Mangifera indica (the Common or Indian mango), and which is native to India and Myanmar.

The OED gives several other definitions of the word mango. Two of these have nothing at all to do with food, but they too much fun not to share with you. A mango may also be
- ‘a dealer in slaves, esp. in prostitutes ( a 19th C usage, perhaps deriving from an ancient Greek word indicating ‘means of charming or bewitching others’ or perhaps from an Indo-European word ‘mangonel’, meaning to deceive.)
- In Ireland in the 19th C it was also ‘a substance used in the bleaching of linen’(perhaps related to ‘mangle’)

There is a third use, in evidence since the last half of the seventeenth century. A mango may also be ‘A pickle resembling that made of green mangoes; (later) spec. a pickle made of whole fruits stuffed with spices; a whole fruit stuffed and pickled in this way.’ This gave rise to the verb ‘to mango’, or ‘to pickle as green mangoes are pickled.’

The only mangoes to reach Britain in the early days were not the ripe variety, for obvious reasons, which gave rise to this last usage. A nineteenth century article explains it all:

It is much the fashion in this country to imitate the Indian mangoes as they are pickled at Bombay, namely, by being gathered green, cut open, the stone taken out, and bound together with string. Young melons are usually employted for this purpose, though they have not in taste the most remote resemblance to the flavour of the mango, which, when ripe and of a good species, is the most delicious as well as the most wholesome of fruits, and when unripe is more like the unripe apple than any other of our European fruits, And this similitude is so strong, that in India we have ourselves often had tarts made of the unripe mango to resemble the apple tarts of England. The apple is therefore the best fruit to pickle in imitation of the Bombay pickle ….
The Magazine of domestic economy, London 1839

The above magazine then went on to give a recipe for pickled melons, but today I give you a recipe for another common alternative – cucumbers – from a century earlier.

To Mango Cucumbers.
Cut a little slip out of the side of the cucumber, and take out the seeds, but as little of the meat as you can; then fill the inside with mustard seed bruised, a clove of garlick, some slices of ginger, and some bits of horse-radish; tie the piece in again, and make a pickle of vinegar, salt, whole pepper, mace, and boil it, and pour it on the mangoes, and do so for nine days together; when cold, cover them with leather.
The Compleat Housewife, or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, E.Smith, 1728

Quotation for the Day.

The number of mangoes that a practiced person may eat with impunity is astonishing.
Sketches of India, 1850

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Surfeit of Parsnips.

Yesterdays recipe for mock oysters made with parsnips made me realise that parsnips, overall, are as useful as turnips. To prove it, I give you a selection of things to make when life gives you parsnips in abundance.

Parsnep and Other Vegetable Bread.
Many vegetables may be used in part for making bread, but it is only in cases of real need that such an expedient is recommended. When corn [wheat] is unusually dear, the produce of a kitchen garden or of an allotment ground will serve, in combination with it, to furnish wholesome bread but with the exception of potatoes and the seed of the French bean, all vegetables will impart their peculiar flavour to it, though their presence may not otherwise be perceptible. Parsneps, Swedish turnips, and beet-root will all answer for dough (parsneps the best of any) if boiled tender, mashed to a smooth pulp*, and stirred in a saucepan over a gentle fire until tolerably dry, and left to become cool before they are mixed with flour or meal for the purpose.
*The beet-root, which may also be baked, must be grated.
The English Bread Book, Eliza Acton, 1857

Parsnip Cake.
Boil your parsnips till perfectly soft; pass them through a colander. To one tea cupful of mashed parsnip add one quart of warm milk, with a quarter of a pound of butter dissolved in it, a little salt, and one gill of yeast with flour enough to make a thick batter. Set it away to rise, which will require several hours. When light, stir in as much flour as will make a dough; knead it well and let it rise again. Make it out in cakes about a quarter or half an inch thick; butter your tins or pans, put them on and set them to rise. As soon as they are light bake them in a very hot oven. When done wash over the tops with a little water and send them to the table hot. These biscuits do not taste of the parsnips.
The National Cook Book by Martha Read, 1866

Parsnip Fritters (also called Parsnip Cakes)
Mix two cups mashed cooked parsnips with one beaten egg and one teasp. Flour. Season to taste. Shape into patties and sauté slowly on both sides in hot fat.
[elsewhere in the book the author suggests serving a poached egg on each parsnip cake}
How to Be Well: A Health Handbook and Cookbook Based on the Newer Knowledge, L and J Widsoe, 1943

Parsnip Wine.
Wine made of parsnip roots approaches nearer to the Malmsey of Madeira and the Canaries than any other wine; it is made with little expense or trouble, and only requires to be kept a few years to make it as agreeable to the palate as it is wholesome to the body; yet fashion induces us to give pounds for foreign wine, when we can obtain excellent wines of our own country for as many shillings.
To every 4 lbs of parsnips, clean and quartered, put one gallon of water; boil them till they are quite tender, drain them through a sieve, but do not bruise them, as no remedy would cure them afterwards. Pour the liquor into a tub, and to each gallon add 3 lbs. of loaf sugar and half an ounce of crude tartar. When cooled to the temperature of 75 degs, put in a little new yeast: let it stand for four days in a warm room, then turn it. The mixture should, if possible, be fermented in a temperature of 60 degs. September and March are best seasons for making the wine. When the fermentation has subsided, bung down the cask, and let the wine stand at least twelve months before bottling.
The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Vol. 6, by Thomas Byerly, John Timbs (1825)

Parsnep Soup.
Dissolve over a gentle fire, four ounces and a half of good butter, in a wide stewpan or saucepan, and slice in directly two pounds of sweet tender parsneps; let them stew very softly until all are tender, then pour in gradually sufficient veal stock or good broth to cover them, and boil the whole slowly from twenty minutes to half an hour; press it with a wooden spoon through a fine sieve, add as much stock as will make two quarts in all, season the soup with salt and white pepper, or cayenne, give it one boil, skim and serve it very hot.
Send pale fried sippets to table with it.
Butter 4 ½ ozs; parsneps 2 lbs: ¾ hour or more. Stock 1 quart; 20 to 30 minutes; 1 full quart more of stock; pepper, salt: 1 minute.
Obs. We can particularly recommend this soup to those who like the peculiar flavour of the vegetable
Modern Cookery in All its Branches, Eliza Acton, 1845.

Parsnep Hash.
Mash boiled parsneps and potatoes and chop boiled pork fine. Allow three parts of parsneps and two of potatoes, to one of pork; season with pepper and salt; make them into balls, flat them, and brown on the griddle.
American Agriculturalist, Vol. 20 (1861)

Parsnep Pudding.
Parsneps boiled and the water squeezed from them, four ounces; yolks of eggs two; breadcrumbs four ounces; a little cream. Mash the parsneps well, and add the other ingredients. Make the mixture sweet or savoury as may be desired; beat the whole well together; line a dish with paste, and bake in a moderate oven. Creed rice or rice flour may also be added.
The Principles and Practice of Vegetarian Cookery, John Smith, 1860.

Quotation for the Day.

For ....we can make liquor to sweeten our lips, Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

Monday, October 04, 2010

How to Fake an Oyster.

I have talked about ‘mock’ food in many previous blog posts, but it seems that the topic is inexhaustible. Today’s post was triggered by finding the following recipe, which, I would hazard a guess, would not find much favour in our modern, offal-averse society.

Mock Oysters.
Take brains from the heads of hogs, as whole as possible; remove the skin and throw them into salt and water; let them remain in this two hours; then boil them, until done, in sweet milk; take them up in an earthen bowl or dish, and pour over weak vinegar to cover them; prepare sufficient vinegar to cover them, by adding it to cloves, allspice, and cinnamon to taste; season well with pepper, using part red pepper; scald this vinegar; pour off the weak vinegar, cover with the spiced vinegar. Eat cold, or stewed with crackers as oysters.
Mrs Hill’s Southern Practical Cookery and Receipt Book, 1867.

I wondered what else has been used in the past to imitate the oyster. A more obvious, and conveniently vegetarian option would be to use the ‘oyster plant’ or salsify – so called because of its supposed flavour similarity with the shellfish.

Mock Oysters.
Scrape salsify roots and throw each one as you scrape it into cold water. Cover with boiling water and boil gently three-quarters of an hour. They will then be tender. Mash the roots and put through a colander. Then season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in beaten eggs, allowing one egg to two heaping tablespoons of salsify pulp. Have on a griddle or in a saucepan hot fat. Drop the mixture from a spoon and fry. When one side is brown, turn the salsify cake and brown on the other side. Serve hot.
The Home Cook Book – a collection of practical receipts by expert cooks, 1905.

A further degree of separation from the real thing is achieved by using the parsnip, which presumably is itself standing in for the salsify.

Mock Oysters.
Use three grated parsnips, three eggs, one teaspoonful of salt, one teacupful of sweet cream, butter half the size of an egg, three tablespoonfuls of flour. Fry as pancakes.
Vaughan’s Vegetable Cook Book; how to cook and use rarer vegetables and herbs, fourth edition, 1919.

If one is going to imitate something rare, one might as well use something which is common, which in one large part of the world means – corn. Corn fresh from the cob, corn canned, and corn ground into hominy can all be used to mimic the oyster – or at the very least the oysters generally blobby shape.

Mock Oysters.
Grate the corn, while green and tender, with a coarse grater, into a deep dish. To two ears of corn, allow one egg; beat the whites and yolks separately, and add them to the corn, with one tablespoon of wheat flour and one of butter, a teaspoonful of salt and pepper to taste. Drip spoonfuls of this batter into a frying pan with hot butter and lard mixed, and fry a light brown on both sides.
In taste they have a singular resemblance to fried oysters. The corn must be young.
White House Cook Book, by Fanny Lemira Gillet (1889)

But would anyone really be fooled by fried green tomatoes as a stand-in?

Mock Oysters.
Wash green tomatoes, remove stems, and cut in half inch slices or thicker. Dip in barley four to coat thoroughly. Sauté in hot frying pans containing cooking oil or salt pork drippings to the depth of one-fourth inch. They should be well browned on both sides, but not burned. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper while cooking. Arrange on hot platters; serve with Brown Sauce. To make the latter, add sufficient drippings to the pan in which the tomatoes were cooked, stir in flour, cook until brown; add hot stock, and when thickened and well cooked, strain and pour over tomatoes, or serve in separate dishes.
More Recipes for Fifty, by Frances Lowe Smith, 1918

Here is my recipe pick for mock oysters, on account of its more determined attempt to reproduce the fishy flavour and soft texture of the real oyster.

Oysters, Mock.
Wash and scrub well a dozen deep oyster shells. Mince the flesh of a Dutch herring very finely, divide it into twelve parts and put one part into each of the shells. Place upon it a iece of boiled sweetbread, the size and shape of a small oyster, which has been dipped in egg and breadcrumbs. Sprinkle breadcrumbs thickly over the mock oyster, lay a piece of butter on each, and bake them in the oven, or put them before the fire for a few minutes until they are lightly browned. Serve very hot.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, London, c1870s

Quotation for the Day.

Oysters are the most tender and delicate of all seafoods. The stay in bed all day and night. They never work or take exercise, are stupendous drinkers, and wait for their meals to come to them.
Hector Bolitho, The Glorious Oyster (1960)