Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nic-Nacs for a Nic-Nac?

Yesterday’s source - The Complete Bread, Cake, and Cracker Baker, J. Thompson Gill, (Chicago, 1881) – taught me something new (two things actually), which is always fun. The introductory pages are not wildly exciting either in content or style, but they did include this description:

‘Nic-Nacs is a name given to hard sweet biscuits or crackers, to distinguish them from other. As their name implies, they are small, and are a combination of fancy shapes. They were first made in London.’

Naturally, as I had never heard of these biscuits, I wanted to know more. Equally naturally, the Oxford English Dictionary was my first step on the road to enlightenment. The primary spelling was ‘knick-knack’, and the first definition was ‘A petty trick, sleight, artifice, subterfuge’. An extended usage can refer to ‘a light, dainty article of furniture, dress, or food; any curious or pleasing trifle more for ornament than use’ – which explains our biscuits, I suppose.

What delighted me even more was the subsequent usage of ‘nick-nack’ to refer to ‘A feast or social meal to which each guest contributes in kind.’ A ‘pot-luck’ or ‘bring a plate’ meal , in other words. The supporting quotation for this use is about 1777, showing us that this sort of community catering has been happening for well over two hundred years. The sound is perilously close to ‘pic-nic’ too, isn’t it (although I am not sure if that is at all relevant to anything)?

So that you can take some nic-nacs to your next nic-nac, I give you two very different recipes from the book. Note that the industrial quantities specified are because the book was meant for commercial bakers – which also explains the minimalist instructions.

I love it that there was something called a nic-nac cutter too.

Nic-Nacs (1)
16 lb flour
1 ½ ozs soda
½ oz tartaric acid
2 ½ lb sugar
1 ¼ lb lard or butter
½ gal sour milk
Oil lemon to flavor.
Cut with nic-nac cutters.

Nic-Nacs (2)
2 lbs flour
2 lb butter
4 oz fine loaf sugar.
Make into a stiff paste with milk; roll out thin and cut into fancy shapes; brush with a little milk; bake in a quick oven; when done, glace with a brush dipped in egg.

Quotation for the Day.

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.
Carl Sandburg

3 comments:

The Jr. Chef said...

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Shankie said...

Strange you mention.
Here in Belgium NickNacks are called PicNics

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Shankie - that is very interesting. Does it back up the theory that NickNacks (the meal) were the same as PicNics?