Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Gofers, Gaufres, and Gophers

I came across a reference to 'gofers' while I was preparing my recent post on teacakes, and was intrigued by this new/old word. It must have already been an old word in 1846, or presumably it would not have found its way into 'A dictionary of archaic and provincial words, obsolete phrases' which was published in that year. This dictionary defines a gofer as 'A species of tea-cake of an oblong form, made of flour, milk, eggs, and currants, baked on an iron made expressly for the purpose, called a gofering iron, and divided into square compartments.'

Leaving aside such complexities as how a hot iron with square compartments can make oblong tea-cakes, I found this an interesting idea. The Oxford English Dictionary was my next step, and, as I hoped, it nicely solved the etymological puzzle with its description alone - no need to go to the detailed explanation of the derivation of the word itself. The OED says that a gofer is ' A thin batter-cake on which a honeycomb pattern is stamped by the iron plates between which it is baked'. A 'tea-cake' always suggests to me a rather more substantial article that this description, which, I am sure you will agree, sounds more like a wafer. And of course, that is what it is - a gaufre adopted by the English.

Mrs Raffald gives the first recipe in The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769), if the OED is correct, and here it is:

To make Gofers.
Beat three Eggs well, with three Spoonful of Flour, and a little Salt, then mix them with a Pint of Milk, and an Ounce of Sugar, half a Nutmeg grated, beat them well together, then make your Gofer Tongs hot, rub them with fresh Butter, fill the Bottom part of your Tongs and clap the Top upon, then turn them, and when a fine brown on both Sides, put them in a Dish, and pour white Wine Sauce over them, five is enough for a Dish, don't lay them one upon another, it will make them soft.—You may put in Currants if you please.

I have not been able to perform an exhaustive study of the history of gaufres as my computer is still indisposed (but due home today) and many of my books still unpacked awaiting bookshelves, but presumably it was the English who added the currants - for what is an English tea-cake without currants? They also may be responsible for changing its nature, in some instances, from the 'melt-in-the mouth kind of pastry' mentioned in another dictionary to 'tea-cakes of the muffin sort, square, and stamped like net-work with the ‘gaufering-iron'. Note the addition of yeast in the following version, from 'The Practical Cook, English and Foreign', by Joseph Bregion and Anne Miller (1845)

Take a pint and a half of new milk, two ounces of butter, eight tea-spoonfuls of flour, half a teaspoonful of yeast, a quarter of a pound of fine sugar, and a quarter of a pound of currants; let the mixture stand to make it light before you bake it; rub your irons every time with a piece of fresh butter tied up in a cloth. Some think eggs preferable to yeast.

Mis-hearing, mis-pronunciation, spelling confusion, and an overwhelming urge to be ridiculous (on this writer's part) may also lead us to gophers of the rodent variety [see the comments- my error: this almost certainly reefs to the gopher tortoise. Still fun though!]. With absolutely no apologies to those of you in a rather more serious mood this morning, I offer you gopher stew, from 'Family Living on $500 a Year' (1888) by Juliet Corson. The recipe is given as a variation of stewed terrapin.

Stewed Terrapin [or gopher]
To stew terrapin in the old Virginia style, boil it and remove it from the shell, as directed above; to each pint of the dressed terrapin, add the ingredients specified below and show all together gently for twenty minutes: the yolks of eight hard-boiled eggs, rubbed through a sieve with a potato masher, half a pint of cream, a quarter of a pound of butter, a tablespoonful of dry flour, and a gill or two of Madeira; season the terrapin palatably with salt and pepper, stew it gently and serve it hot. Gophers are cooked in South Carolina by first dressing them according to the above directions: for each gopher allow a quarter of a pound of butter; in this fry a level tablespoon of grated onion then a tablespoonful of flour, half a pint of Madeira or sherry, the gopher meat, and high season with Cayenne pepper, shalt and pepper, and powdered mace, as soon as the gopher is tender, serve it hot.

Quotation for the Day.

Waffles are like pancakes with syrup traps"
Mitch Hedberg


Mantelli said...

Very interesting, given the similarity between this "gofering iron" and the goffering iron used for fluting ruffs and ruffles in clothing with which I'd long been familiar.

Fay said...

Thanks for the gopher recipe. I shall file it in between my Smothered Muskrat and Jellied Moose Nose and mourn the fact I live in a country where these ingredients cannot be easily procured.

Anonymous said...

The gopher in question is probably neither the small rodent that ruined the golf course in Caddyshack, nor the gopher snake, but the gopher tortoise.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks Entspinster! That makes eminent sense and I will edit the post ASAP. Marvelous what some local knowledge does. Doncha love the Internets for facilitating this sort of thing?
Mantelli - I must look up the etymology of the goffering iron - watch out for a note added to the blog. And thanks!
Fay - I have a recipe folder like that myself.

SharleneT said...

I was thinking that it was very similar to the iron cakes but I think Mantelli is probably right. They sound delicious, though, and worth a try.

carolina said...

I did some posts on this very thing awhile back. And yes, afterwards I came upon a b/w photo and a definition of a "gophering/goffering iron" in an old book (1977). Yep, it states, "A useful iron for women in 'primping.' This iron when heated was inserted in a sheath or tube-like receptacle which is on a small stand. The hot tube was then used for ironing ruffles (crimping or fluting." Still, I'm not convinced that it's one and the same. Or maybe it is? I don't think there are any waffle-like indentations on 'em, tho. And why would you use a clothes-ironing tool to make a food item?

Laura Serena said...

Gofers. Never heard of them. Now I can say I've officially learned something new for today. I found that there were some older terms that I had to look up too, when I was transcribing my Great Grandmother's recipes from the 1930s through 1950s. I have recently published them as "Emma's Pennsylvania Kitchen" at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/64229