Monday, March 14, 2011

Beetroot à la 1744.

In the year of 1744, France declared war on one old enemy (England), and made peace with another (Prussia), James Bradley, the English Astronomer Royal, discovered that earth periodically wobbles on its axis, Abigail Adams (wife of President John Adams) was born, and William Byrd of Westover (Virginia) died.

But what really important things were happening? What was going on in the kitchens around the country? Some pretty good things with vegetables, it seems.

There is a common assumption that in the past vegetables played an insignificant role on the dinner table. The assumption has been fuelled, I think, by the study of menus and meal descriptions of the time. Menus (or Bills of Fare, if you like) were kept or recorded only for important events, so no inference can be drawn from them as to the daily meals of most ordinary folk. Meat was the star at important meals and in wealthy households, because protein food was more valuable and more expensive (and not easy to preserve), so is presence was emphasised – leaving us to assume that vegetables were the poor relations.

Vegetables were grown and used extensively of course in the eighteenth century. There was a great flourishing of the herb and vegetable garden at this time, and great interest in horticulture and the development of new and useful food plants. One of my favourite food books was published in 1744, the chosen year for this post. It is Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery, or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d , and I like it in part because of its title, and in part because of the range and variety of recipes included at the end of the book.

I have given a couple of recipes from this book in previous posts: To butter Onions, and an interesting sweet Bean Tart made with green beans. There are more delights within it, and this week I want to feature the book, and see if it gives us inspiration several centuries later.

One of my favourite themes is the re-discovery of old recipes that would seem interesting and innovative on a modern restaurant menu. The recipe I have chosen today fits this bill, I think. I am not sure whether or not beetroot is still trendy, but if it is, it is no doubt the small roasted beet, served with goats cheese or similar. I have never seen anything on a modern menu like today’s recipe for what is essentially fritters of beetroot – especially fritters in the shape of fish.

To Fry the Roots of Red Beets.
Wash your Beet-roots, and lay them in an Earthen glaz’d Pan, bake them in an Oven, and then peel the Skin off them: After this is done, slit them from the Top to the Tail, and cut them in the Shape of a Fish call’d Soal, about the Thickness of the third Part of an Inch. Dip these in a thick Batter, made of White Wine, [fine] Flower, sweet Cream, Eggs, Pepper, Salt, and [?] beaten, and all well mix’d. As you dip each Beet-root in this Batter, strew them over thick with fine Flower mix’d with grated Bread and Parsley shred small, and then fry them in lard. When they are enough, let them dry, and serve them with a Garnish of Lemon. These likewise may be put about Carps, Tench, and roasted Jacks, by way of Garnish.

Quotation for the Day.

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

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