Thursday, July 14, 2011

En route to Siam.

I love Thailand, and as you read this I will be on my way there for an overnight stopover during my trip home to Australia. One of the many things I love about Thailand is, of course, the food. I wondered what travellers in the past had thought about it, and found some interesting comments in Breakfast, dinner, and tea: viewed classically, poetically, and practically: Containing numerous curious dishes and feasts of all times and all countries, by Julia C. Andrews (1860.) I was particularly interested because I have eaten ants' eggs - which I agree are pretty tasteless - and was surprised to find them mentioned in a mid-nineteenth century book.

Mr. Ruschenberger, the surgeon to the American expedition to Siam, in describing a state feast given to the officers, states "that the dinner was remarkable for the variety and exquisite flavor of the curries. Among them was one, consisting of ants' eggs, a costly and much esteemed luxury of Siam. They are not larger than grains of sand, and to a palate unaccustomed to them, are not particularly savory! They are almost tasteless. Besides being curried, they are brought to the table rolled in green leaves, mingled with shreds or very fine slices of fat pork. Here was seen an ever to be remembered luxury of the East."
"When the Siamese would have no more tea, they turn the cups down on the saucer, because it is the greatest incivility in them to refuse any thing, and if they left the cups standing, they would be served with more tea, which they are obliged to receive.
"The Siamese are skilled in making conserves of rose-leaf and lime blossoms, and in preparing the candied lime and citron. They equal the Chinese in making preserved and candied ginger." —Neal's Residence in Siam.

Unfortunately I am unable to give you a historic recipe for ants' eggs! Instead, may I offer you instructions for making candied citron, from Richard Dolby's The cook's dictionary, and house-keeper's directory (1830)

CITRON (Candied)
Pare the citron very thin and narrow, and throw them into water; these are called faggots; then cut the citron into slices of any thickness you think proper; take out the inner part with great care, so as to leave only the white ring, and put them with the faggots into boilingwater; when tender, drain them. Boil a sufficient quantity of clarified sugar to souffle then put in the rings, and boil them together. Take it from the fire, and when a little cool, rub the sugar against the side of the preserving-pan with the back of a spoon; as soon as it becomes white, take out the rings with a fork very carefully, one by one, and lay them on a wiregrate to drain: boil and proceed with the faggots in a similar way; when taken out, cut them into proper lengths with a pair of scissors, and lay them also on the wire to drain.

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