Friday, July 29, 2011

Champagne Cookery.

I cannot imagine having so much left-over champagne, or any sort of surplus of champagne such that I needed to go looking for recipes to use it up. Neverthless, there are recipes which include champagne as an ingredient, so there must be folk in that situation. 

I found champagne-menu Heaven the other day, and want to share it with you. It was in an account of a journey from Verdun to Tours, sometime in the late 18th or early 19th century, by the British/American Sir Jahleel Brenton, 1st baronet (1770-1844). The extract was included in a lengthy review of his biography, Memoir of the Life and Services of Sir Jahleel Brenton, Bart. K.C.B. By Rev. II. Raikes, Chancellor of the Diocese of Chester (1847) which appeared in  The Gentleman's Magazine of July 1847.

“At Epernay, the chief depot for the wine of Champagne, I called upon Mons. Moet, the great proprietor of this wine. We were all most hospitably received and entertained by this gentleman. In conversation at table respecting the use of champagne in cookery, Madame Moet observed, that she believed there was not a dish in the first course in which this wine was not an ingredient; that the ham was boiled in it, and every other dish had its portion. At breakfast the following morning I observed that champagne was not forgotten even in this meal. The lady replied, that she believed it was in everything but the coffee. This was of course a déjeuner à la fourchette, and a very sumptuous one. By the time breakfast was over the carriage was at the door for us to resume our journey; but Mons. Moet requested me to pay a visit to his cellar before I left Epernay, and the sight amply rewarded me for the detention. It was of immense extent, the wine entirely in bottle, to the amount, I believe, of some hundreds of thousands, beautifully arranged in tiers, with marble conductors, leading to reservoirs of the same material, to carry off and receive the wine from the bottles which burst, a circumstance of very frequent occurrence. On returning from the cellar I found the ladies were already in the carriage, and it was with difficulty I could find a place for myself, in consequence of packages of the very best champagne which Mons. Moet had caused to be placed there. We left Epernay with a very strong impression of the kindness and hospitality we had received.”

I guess if you make the stuff yourself, you quite possibly have enough to cook with.

I thought the following recipe would be eminently suitable for a champagne breakfast:

Kidneys in Champagne - Rognons de Moutons au vin de Champagne ou à l’Italienne.
Skin fifteen kidneys, and mince them; put them into a stew-pan with the size of an egg of butter; do them upon a brisk fire till they are hardened; drain them, and put them into an italienne sauce, with half a glass of Champagne, which has been reduced nearly to glaze; finish by shaking them in this sauce without allowing them to boil
The Art of French Cookery, by Antoine B. Beauvilliers (1827)

And now for something girly, for any time of the day, I give you:

Pink Champagne Jelly.
Beat up the white of an egg to a stiff froth, and then stir it hard into three wineglasses of filtered water. Put twelve ounces of the best double-refined loaf-sugar (powdered fine and sifted) into a skillet lined with porcelain. Pour on it the white of egg and water, and stir it till dissolved. Then add twelve grains of cochineal powder. Set it over a moderate fire, and boil it and skim it till the scum ceases to rise. Then strain it through a very fine sieve. Have ready an ounce and a half of isinglass that has been boiled in a little water till quite dissolved. Strain it, and while the boiled sugar is lukewarm mix it with the isinglass, adding a pint of pink champagne and the juice of a large lemon. Run it through a linen bag into a mould. When it has congealed so as to be quite firm, wrap a wet cloth round the outside of the mould, and turn out the jelly into a glass dish; or serve it broken up, in jelly glasses, or glass cups.
Miss Leslie's Complete Cookery, by Eliza Leslie (1851).

Quotation for the Day.
There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of Champagne.
Bette Davis

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Radishes and Cabbages.

This day is the anniversary of the death (by execution) in 1941 of Georgii Dmitrievich Karpechenko (born 1899.)  The Russian biologist was the first scientist to create a new species of vegetable, hence his interest to us as food scholars and enthusiasts. Karpechenko produced, in 1925, by artificial hybridization of two ancient staples – the radish (Raphanus) and the cabbage (Brassica) - something called Raphanobrassica. The plant turned out to have a cabbage root and a radish flower-top – which, scientific miracle though it undoubtedly  is, is not,  from the eating-point of view, as good as the reverse arrangement would have been.

Karpechenko was an innocent victim of the political environment of his time. He was falsely accused of belonging to a group with anti-Soviet sentiments, was arrested, sentenced to death, and executed.

In his honour, I give the following recipe:

Cabbage Soup.
Eight large turnips, four carrots, one parsnip, the solid white part of twelve leeks, four onions; fry as many of them as will cover the bottom of a small frying-pan with a bit of butter; when brown add water and give them a boil or two; put them in a sauce-pan in a gallon of water; add a bunch of sweet herbs and the head of two cabbages; four roots of cellery, some pepper, and ginger, and a bone of bacon with a little meat on it, not more than half a pound; boil away about half, scumming it nicely, strain it, put in a cabbage that has been boiled cut small; stew it a little, and serve it up hot.
The new practice of cookery, pastry, baking, and preserving, by Mrs Hudson and Mrs Donat (1804)

Quotation for the Day.

The cabbage surpasses all other vegetables. If, at a banquet, you wish to dine a lot and enjoy your dinner, then eat as much cabbage as you wish, seasoned with vinegar, before dinner, and likewise after dinner eat some half-dozen leaves. It will make you feel as if you had not eaten, and you can drink as much as you like.
Cato (Marcus Porcius) 234-149 BC.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Everlasting Cheesecake.

My favourite beginning, ever, for any story is: “Once Upon a Time.” When I read that, I know - I just know -  that I am in for a fine old yarn. 

This short,almost deeply philosophical statement,  is my way of introducing a post that is in large part an apology – or maybe simply an explanation – of my rather short and obviously rushed blog stories over the last few months. You see, “Once Upon a Time”, I used to have these little stories planned and outlined - if not in first draft mode - for at least a few days - if not a few weeks - in advance. Back in this fairy-tale era, I had time to tweak and edit and polish and embellish them, the better to amuse (and perhaps even enlighten) you. 

It must be possible for even the least discerning reader to observe that over the last few months this ideal creative scenario has fallen by the wayside, so that I am sometimes cyber-scribbling my little stories in the evening, after a lovely meal out at a restaurant with friends – as I am right now - so that first draft and final draft are one and the same thing. This dreadful scenario is the result of a number of things happening almost synchronously – computer meltdown, lovely English visitors, too many deadlines elsewhere, and a long-overdue holiday included. Or perhaps my stars are not in alignment.

I am not sure why I feel compelled to keep up this Monday to Friday thing, but think it has something to do with the uncertainty of what might happen if I stop. Heavens Above! The punishment I am threatened with from some of you, dear readers, when all I state I am to do, is to cease giving the Quotation For The Day!

I hope soon to be more organised, or for my stars to get properly in line, or conjuncted, or whatever else it is that stars do.When this happens, I will be able to build up my supply of emergency stories. Every writer needs an emergency supply of stories, just as surely as every cook or mother needs an emergency supply of cheesecake. Wait a Moment! I have a recipe for just that, and here it is:

Everlasting Cheesecakes.
To ¼ lb. of butter and ½ lb. of sifted loaf sugar, the yolks of 6 eggs, the rinds of 2 lemons, and juice of 3, add a little grated biscuit. Put it into a pan, and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, and it thickens like honey. Bake it in a tart dish with the paste around, or in patty pans. A most useful reserve for emergency, as when well made and placed in a close jar it will keep for some months.
Household Hints to Young Housewives, by Mary Careful (pseudonym) (London 1852)

Quotation for the Day.
Because you don't live near a bakery doesn't mean you have to go without cheesecake.
Hedy Lamar

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sipping Simkin.

My mini-research on ‘shrub’ for the post last week turned up a new/old word to investigate and celebrate. One of the supporting references included mention of ‘simkin shrub.’ I had no idea what ‘simkin’ was, and presumed it must be the name of a celebrity or perhaps an exotic location. Not so.  

I was delighted to find that ‘simkin’ is an Anglo-Indian word, as these are amongst my favourite linguistic treats. The Oxford English Dictionary notes it in 1853, and says it is an Urdu corruption of champagne . So, simkin (or simpkin, samkin) shrub is champagne shrub, and this phrase is recorded from 1864. 

The gospel on Anglo-Indian words is the marvellous Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases ... (1903) and it gives the following definition: “Simkin: s. Domestic Hind, or champagne, of which it is a corruption: sometimes as samkin.”  It gives the same first written mention as the OED, in 1853 as “The dinner was good, and the iced simkin, Sir, Delicious”(Oakfield, ii, 127)

Those who have mixed Simkin Shrub in the past seem to have failed to record their recipes, so I am forced to offer you a recipe for Champagne Punch as the recipe for today.

Champagne Punch.
In a bowl place one sliced orange, one lime sliced very thin, and the juice of another lime, one-fourth of a pineapple sliced, and one fourth of a pound of sugar. Let it stand twelve hours. Put a large block of ice in a punch bowl, add the above ingredients with a wine glass of Maraschino, two tumblers of sauterne, a wine glass of raspberry syrup, and last of all one quart of champagne, a few whole strawberries, and a claret glass of Benedictine may also be added.
Joe Tilden’s Recipes for Epicures (1907).

Quotation for the Day.
My only regret in life is that I didn't drink enough Champagne.
John Maynard Keynes

Monday, July 25, 2011

Black Bread Pudding.

Once upon a time, to waste even a crumb of bread – the staff of life itself – was a sinful act as well as an uneconomic one. Cookery books of the Victorian era and newspapers of the World War (I and II) era in particular are full of hints on how to use up scraps and crusts of bread. Mostly today, we throw it out without a moment’s hesitation, because commercial bread is cheap, and we have no respect for it anymore.

Our predecessors had a myriad ways of using up stale or leftover bread, and I am always interested in finding a new/old idea. Bread pudding in one of its more or less rich forms is one well-known English solution to the problem - and a happy one too, for as we all know the English do love their puddings.

I recently came across an interesting variation of the bread pudding concept. The bread-and-butter pudding of my childhood was pale and sweet and soft and studded with currants. Here is a far more robust version: 

Black Bread Pudding.  A Heidelberg Receipt.
Grate fine a quarter of a pound of stale black bread, a quarter of a pound of fine white sugar, a few almonds, a little citron cut very fine; eight eggs beaten separately very light. Mix all well together, then add the yolks gradually, and lastly the whites. This pudding must bake about three quarters of an hour in a quick oven. Make a wine sauce to serve with it.
Home cookery: a collection of tried receipts, both foreign and domestic, by Mrs. J. Chadwick (1853)

Naturally, I looked to see how common this idea is in the English language corpus. The answer is – not particularly common at all. But I did find the following recipe, which contains a small puzzle.

Black Bread Pudding.
Take yolks of 3 eggs and beat with 1 cup of granulated sugar; add 1 cup of grated stale black bread gradually. Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of allspice, or a very little ground cloves if desired. Mix all together and then add the beaten whites of the eggs. Bake in a tube form or pudding dish; when baked, leave it in the oven, and pour 1 cup of red wine over it. Serve the pudding with either a Charlotte russe, or a rich wine sauce.
San Rafael Cook Book (1906)

The instruction to serve with “a Charlotte russe or a rich wine sauce” is odd. A Charlotte Russe is a dish in its own right, not a pudding accompaniment. Did the cookbook author make a mistake, or is there some small region where it IS a sauce?

Quotation for the Day.

The bread I eat in London, is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum, and bone ashes: insipid to the taste, and destructive to the constitution.
Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Some uses for buckwheat.

Yesterday we looked briefly at millet; today, the ‘other’ grain I want to talk about is buckwheat. I can offer no better start to my little discussion than to give you the definition of buckwheat from the Oxford English Dictionary: it is botanical description, micro-history, and culinary comment in two short paragraphs:

Etymology:  perhaps immediately [from] Dutch boekweit (bockweydt in Lyte) or German buchweize ‘beech-wheat’ from the shape of the triquetrous seeds, whence also the botanical name Fagopyrum; but it was referred to as a familiar name by Turner, [1548] 30 years before Lyte professed to take it from Dutch, so that the name may have been of English origin, after buck-mast n. or buck n.2 Barnaby Googe [1577] apparently independently called it beech-wheat.

Definition: A species of Polygonum ( P. Fagopyrum), a native of central Asia, whence it was introduced into Europe by the Turks about the 13th c. The seed is in Europe used as food for horses, cattle, and poultry; in N. America its meal is made into ‘buckwheat cakes’, regarded as a dainty for the breakfast-table. Formerly also called brank.

There were a number of enlightening sight-bites for me in the OED information. The first surprise was just how long buckwheat has been known in Britain. The second was the alternative name of ‘brank’. The dictionary refers to Googe’s Foure Books of Husbandry [1577] as its source for this word, but interestingly also mentions in its definition its old name of frumentum Turcicum – which presumably indicates the fact or belief that it was used by ‘the Turks’ (which meant any ‘Asian’) in the same way that other grains were used in Britain to make frumenty in medieval times. 

Buckwheat is lacking in gluten, so bread made from it does not have the texture of that made from wheat. The Journal of Health (Philadelphia, 1832) has this to say on buckwheat bread:

Buckwheat Bread:- The farina of this grain requires as much labour to be converted into bread as that of barley. The leaven employed must be fresh, and in considerable quantity, and the paste very thoroughly kneaded. The baking must also be continued for a longer time than in barley bread; the paste is more clammy, and acquires with more difficulty a proper consistence. After all precautions are taken, however, this kind of bread is of bad quality; the day after baking, it dries and crumbles so as to be unfit for use. It affords comparatively speaking, but little nourishment.

Most recipes for ‘Buckwheat Bread’ contain a significant proportion of wheat flour. I give you a recipe for bread made exclusively from buckwheat, and baked in an iron pot over the fire:

To Make Buckwheat Bread.
From the Reports of the Board of Agriculture.
Take a gallon of water, set it over the fire, and when it boils, let a peck of the flour of buckwheat be mixed with it little by little, and constantly stirred, so as to prevent any lumps from being formed till a thick batter is made like that of Scotch or Yorkshire pottage. Some salt is now to be added, then set it over the fire, and allow it to boil an hour and a half. The proper proportion for a cake is then to be poured into an iron kettle that hangs .over the fire, and baked, taking care to turn it frequently, lest it should burn.
A treatise on the art of bread-making; Abraham Edlin, 1805.

The most-widely known use of buckwheat is probably in the breakfast ‘cakes’ (pancakes, fritters, Johnny-cakes) mentioned in the OED definition. I give you a recipe for a yeast-raised version, from the prolific Mrs Rundell.

Buckwheat Fritters, called Bockings.—Mix three ounces of buckwheat flour with a teacupful of warm milk, and a spoonful of yeast; let it rise before the fire about an hour; then mix four eggs, well beaten, and as much milk as will make the batter the usual thickness for pancakes, and fry them the same.
A new system of domestic cookery: formed upon principles of economy; Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, 1808

Quotation for the Day.
Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, an dinner like a pauper.
Adele Davis.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Millet Pudding.

There is much interest these days in "alternative" grains - alternative to wheat, that is - wheat historically being the "gold standard" in most of Europe. Wheat is certainly the best for making bread, if you like your bread in the form of lighter well-risen loaves, because of its hight gluten content. Other grains and cereals are useful for pottages and porridges (which are variations of the same word), and coarse heavy breads, or flat breads and pancakes, and some of these (such as oats and rye, for example) formed the bulk of the diet for the les well-off folk of most of Europe for millenia.

The less-well known grains and cereals such as millet were known by the cookery book writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (whoby definition were writing for the better-educated and better-off folk), as the following extracts show:

Millet.—This is much used in eastern countries, as food for horses and cattle, and to fatten poultry. It is also sometimes used by the peasants of Europe for bread. It is, however, more fashionable to make it into puddings; and some prefer it in this way to rice. In America, or at least in New England, it would be hardly worth cultivating.
The young house-keeper, or, Thoughts on food and cookery, By William Andrus Alcott, 1838.

Bread made of millet, if eaten when warm, is pretty palatable, but when cold, it becomes dry and crumbly. Besides, though nutritive when boiled, it is not so in bread, but becomes a very powerful astringent. According to Pliny, however, it would appear, that millet was in very general use as food in Italy among the peasantry. " There is no grain," he says, " more heavy, or which swells more in baking." Probably the Italians had some method for counteracting its astringent properties. It is said to be an excellent leaven, and has been recommended for malting.
The Complete Cook, J.M.Sanderson 1846

There is a dearth of recipes for millet in early cookery books, but here are a a few that might tempt those of you interested in Trying a "different" grain.

MIllet Pudding.

Wash four tablespoonfuls of the seed, boil it in a quart of milk with grated nutmeg and lemon-peel, and stir in, when a little cooled, an ounce of fresh butter; sweeten with brown sugar, and add the well-beaten yolks of four, and the whites of two eggs, and a glass of wine or spirits. Bake it in a buttered dish.

A Millet Pudding.
Spread a quarter of a pound of butter at the bottom of a dilh ; lay into it six ounces of millet, and a quarter oT a pound of fugar. When going to the oven, pour over it three pints of milk.
The London complete art of cookery containing the most approved receipts ...1787

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Yesterday I mentioned ‘shrub’ – an old fashioned drink worthy of its own post, and more than worthy of rediscovery. ‘Shrub’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is:

“A prepared drink made with the juice of orange or lemon (or other acid fruit), sugar, and rum (or other spirit).Often rum-shrub; also with other qualifying words indicating the ingredient which takes the place of the rum in drinks prepared in this way to which the name ‘shrub’ is extended.”

The name comes ultimately from the Arabic 'shurb', meaning drink or draught, so it is related to ‘sherbert’ (and via Italy, to sorbet.) The first mention in the OED is from Elizabeth Moxon’s English Housewifry, and I give you her recipe below. It seems that it was the base for the ubiquitous punch, without which no social occasion would have been complete. Today, in our more hurried life, it might perhaps be very refreshing diluted with soda water or lemonade. 

To Make Orange Shrub.
Take Sevile Oranges when they are full ripe, to three dozen oranges put half a dozen of large lemons, pare them very thin, the thinner the better, squeeze the lemons and oranges together, strain the juice thro’ a hair sieve, to a quart of the juice put a pound and a quarter of sugar; about three dozen oranges (if they be good) will make a quart of juice, to every quart of juice put a gallon of brandy, put it into a barrel with an open bung with all the chippings of your oranges, and bung it up close; when it is fine, bottle it.
This is a pleasant dram, and ready for punch all the year.
English Housewifry: exemplified in above four hundred and fifty receipts giving directions in most parts of cookery ... with an appendix containing upwards of sixty receipts, by Elizabeth Moxon, 1743.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thunder and Lightning.

As a little variation from the topic of old food-words, today I want to briefly revisit an English dialect phrase which I have touched on previously, in one of my posts on ‘The Naming of Dishes.’ ‘Thunder and Lightning’, as far as I understood it, refers to clotted cream and treacle, or bread or scones served with the same, in a regional variation of the standard English afternoon ‘cream tea’ concept. 

I came across another reference to Thunder and Lightning the other day, as indicating a beverage, so I went in brief pursuit of the phrase. It apparently also sometimes refers to gin & bitters (an Irish usage), or (less commonly), shrub & whiskey (Anglo-Indian.)  Finally, it may mean ‘brandy sauce ignited’ - so think on that next time you inflame your Christmas pudding.

‘Shrub’ deserves its own post tomorrow, so the recipe for the day, inspired by today’s topic, is for Treacle scones. These are a wonderful northern English and Scottish variation on the inexhaustible topic of scones in general, and are particularly associated with Halloween. The recipes are taken from Daily Cookery from Breakfast to Supper, by Eleanor Sproat, 1923

Oven Treacle Scones.
1 lb. flour, 1 teacupful of milk, 1 tablespoonful of treacle, 3 ozs. lard or margarine, ½ teaspoonful of baking soda, ½ teaspoonful of sugar, a pinch of salt.
Rub lard into flour and sugar, then add baking soda and salt. Have the egg [not listed in the ingredients] well beaten with a teacupful of milk into which the treacle has been mixed. Stir all into the flour and mix altogether with a knife into a fairly stiff dough. Roll out into the thickness of an inch, cut into four and put into a floured baking tin and bake in a quick oven from ten to fifteen minutes. A teaspoonful of cinnamon or ginger may be added, according to taste.

Treacle Scones.
¼ lb flour, ½ tablespoonful sugar, ¼ teaspoonful ground ginger, ½ tablespoonful melted treacle, ¼ oz. butter, ¼ teaspoonful baking soda, a good pinch of salt, a little buttermilk.
Method: Mix [dry] ingredients. Rub in butter. Milk to make a softish dough. Finish like ordinary scones. Bake on hot girdle or oven.

Quotation for the Day.
Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors.
Alice Walker, Author of The Color Purple