Monday, February 21, 2011

Letters from Abroad.

I have over six thousand menus jammed into the little notebook computer which I am using right now - and only 365 of them made their way into Menus From History: menus and recipes for every day of the year. It seems a shame to ‘waste’ the rest of them, but I am bereft of other ideas for their use, save that of doling them out to you at intervals. This I will do during the next five days.

The ‘menus’ are not exclusively decorative table cards listing a formal bill of fare for a civic dinner or restaurant or some such. I use the term loosely for any reasonably comprehensive meal description. Most are specifically dated, which allows me to start my story with ‘On this day in …’, a phrase which I like very much.

On this day in 1860, an English physician called William Bullar was just getting into the swing of a voyage ‘abroad’, apparently for medical reasons. The medical reasons are not spelled out in his subsequent book Letters From Abroad, From A Physician In Search Of Health, but one presumes they were personal, not academic.

Letter number 1 was addressed to his father, and dated February 22, 1860: in it he describes his dinner for the previous day (i.e ‘this day in 1860’). In it we find that the physician-passenger was aboard ‘the good ship Ceylon’, and on the day of writing was ‘about half-way across the Bay of Biscay; the weather all that the most squeamish could hope for, the sun now shining after some gentle rain, and the wind such as to make us carry all our sails.’ He writes:

It is difficult, however, to find a want which is not supplied. The daily dinner may give you an idea of the bounteous table which is kept here; so I send you a copy of yesterday’s “bill of fare;” - Giblet soup, fried and boiled turbot, roast beef, boiled shoulder of mutton, roast goose, boiled calf’s head, roast ducks, boiled rabbits, roast and boiled fowls, corned pork, roast haunch of mutton, corned beef, minced veal and poached eggs, roast loin of veal, pigeon pies, roast leg of pork, mutton puddings, croquets of beef, roast quarter of lamb, jugged hare, ham and tongue, curry and rice.
Second course – Black-cap puddings, fruit tarts, rice puddings, sandwich pastry, jam tartlet, macaroni, cheese, college dumplings. Ale, porter, soda-water, sherry, madeira, port flowed in an unlimited stream. This is the dinner, and the breakfast is very much like it.

It would have been interesting if the good doctor had let us know what his own healthy food choices were for the day. Not many of the dishes listed would be immediately thought to be ‘healthy’ today, but one must remember that calorie-dense foods were prized in an era when ‘consumption’ was rife. I wonder if that was his problem?

For the recipe for the day inspired by this story I have chosen the black-cap pudding. We have met ‘black caps’ before, so what is this ‘pudding’ version? It seems that there are several interpretations of the idea, mostly containing currants.

Black-Cap Pudding.
Make a thin light batter, and just before it is poured into the cloth, stir into it half a pound of currants well cleaned and dried. These will sink to the lower part of the pudding and blacken the surface. Boil it the usual time, and dish it with the dark side uppermost. Send it to the table with a sweet sauce.
The Young Wife’s Cookbook; Hannah Mary Peterson, 1870.

Quotation for the Day.

He that would travel much, should eat little.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Poor Richard’s Almanac.

1 comment:

Marcheline said...

The pudding sounds scrumptious, but I must disagree with the quote at the end of the post. I traveled two weeks in Scotland, came home ten pounds heavier, and had a marvelous time, thank you very much! 8-)