Monday, January 31, 2011

Take a Clove or Two.

There are two quite different types of cloves in our kitchens: the fragrant dried flower buds of Caryophyllus aromaticus that we use as a sweet spice, and the segments of garlic that we break off from the bulb. How is it that two such different foods are connected by name?

The answer is that they are derived from two different words. The Oxford English Dictionary explains that ‘clove’ as it is used to refer to garlic comes to us from an old German word for cleft (as in a ‘cloven hoof), which makes eminent sense as one splits or cleaves off each individual segment from the bulb. To avoid being beaten about the head with an old dictionary by some of you word pedants out there, I should indicate that I am now aware that a ‘segment’ of garlic can also be referred to as a ‘bulb’ - which is part of the ‘compound bulb’ of the garlic root. Had I been aware of this some weeks ago, I might not have attributed the apparent discrepancy between recipes for garlic butter to a translation error. I live to learn.

In the case of the spicy clove, the word appears to come from the French clou meaning a nail, which also make eminent sense as soon as one looks at a whole clove, doesn’t it?

As an interesting food aside, the OED also informs us that a ‘clove’ was also ‘a weight formerly used for wool and cheese, equal to 7 or 8 lbs.avoirdupois.’ The word in this case also appears to derive ultimately from the word for nail via the Latin clavus (and thence the Anglo-Norman clou), but OED is baffled as to the connection with weights and measures. Ignorance of the etymological details does not spoil my enjoyment of the concept of ‘a clove of cheese’ one tiny whit, I have to say.

The spicy kind of cloves plays a part in most of our fruit cakes and Christmas puddings, but once upon a time, particularly in parts of the USA, it seems that it used to take a starring role. I give you three recipes for clove cake – one unleavened, which would be somewhat like a ginger-biscuit dough, one leavened with yeast and so a sort of sweet fruit bread, and the third, moving into more modern times, leavened with an early type of baking powder.

Clove Cake.
Three pounds of flour, one of butter, one of sugar, three eggs, two spoonfuls of cloves - mix with molasses.
The American Farmer, 1828

Clove Cake.
One pound sugar, one pound flour, one-half pound of butter, four eggs, one cupe of EWELL’S X.L. DAIRY BOTTLED MILK, two teaspoons yeast powder, one teaspoon of mace, one of cloves, one of cinnamon, one large cup of raisins, the same of currants, and some citron.
One Thousand and One Useful and Valuable Hints About Cooking. Edited by Ewell’s XL Dairy Bottled Milk Company (1890)

Clove Cake.
One tea-cup of sugar, one coffee-cup molasses, three cups of flour, half a cup of butter, two thirds of a cup of sour milk, one coffee-cup of raisins, three eggs, two tea-spoonfuls cinnamon, one of cloves, one nutmeg, one tea-spoonful saleratus.
The Practical Cook Book, Helen M Robinson, 1864.

Quotation for the Day.

The clove is a handsome tree.
E. Lankester, 1832

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Ginger State.

Pineapple, as my story a couple of days ago pointed out, is an important product in this state of Queensland. What is less well known, at least by non-Australians, is that we are also famous for our ginger.

According to the Queensland Government’s Primary Industries & Fisheries website, ginger was first grown commercially in Buderim, in the beautiful hinterland of the Sunshine Coast (a mere hour or so from Brisbane), in the early 1900’s.

It seems that the promotion of ginger as a crop was a project of the Queensland Acclimatisation Society, and that it was already being grown successfully in the early 1870’s. The monthly report of the society, published in The Queenslander in August 1873 had this to say:

The society having been largely instrumental in establishing the fact, for a long time controverted, that ginger could be successfully grown as a field crop, and the Queensland-grown root having now become an article of general culture and commerce, the following practical recipe, kindly forwarded by Dr Waugh, may be considered in place in this report :— Ginger for market.—The rhizomes are left in the ground until the annual stalks are withered. When for preserving it is dug while in sap, the stalks not being more than five or six inches long. The young roots are scalded, then washed in cold water and carefully peeled; they are then soaked for three or four days, changing the water frequently, and then put into jars and covered with a weak syrup - afterwards ex changed for a stronger one, and so one for two or three times. It is the method adopted by tho Chinese and Indian preservers. The tenderness and delicacy of the preserve depends, of course, very much on the age of the root. 

Ginger was grown in the Buderim region initially to supply the local domestic market, but a large amount is now exported around the world. The Buderim Ginger factory and tourist venue is now actually located in Yandina, but the ginger is still fabulous, and the ginger shop is said to stock the world’s largest selection of ginger products.

In addition to the above recipe for ginger in syrup, as my final contribution to Australia Day week I give you a few more recipes featuring green ginger root, sourced from Australian newspapers.

Ginger Beer.
[From an article entitled ‘Wholesome Field Drinks’]
Take of white Jamaica ginger root four ounces; pound it sufficiently to break the fibres; add to it three gallons of boiling water and two ounces of cream of tartar; boil it for five or ten minutes; then strain it and add two pounds of sugar; stir it until all is dissolved; pour it into a pail, and add half an ounce of tartaric acid, and let it stand until lukewarm; pour in three tablespoonsful of yeast, and mix it well; let it rise for six to eight hours; then bottle, securing the corks tightly. In two or three days it will be good to drink, and it will keep five or six weeks. It is a very delicious drink, and can be drank without injury in the hottest weather. Six lemons can be substituted for the tartaric acid. Grate the peels and squeeze the juice into the boiling water when the ginger is first added.
The Queenslander, December 16, 1871.

To Preserve Citrons, but not whole, try as follows:-
Boil till tender, cut in half, and remove pulp. Lay them on a dish (earthenware or tin) covered with syrup (½ lb sugar to each citron, boiled with two or three spoonfuls of water for a quarter of an hour) for two or three days, then pour the syrup off and boil it with 1 lb. sugar, skim and pour boiling upon the fruit. Soak twelve races of whole ginger in water for three days, scrape well, and boil in a little thin syrup, and add the ginger to the fruit.
The Queenslander, July 30, 1881.

Ginger Pudding.
Pick and wash ¼ lb. of Patna rice, and put it to boil with one pint of milk; when thoroughly done turn it out into a basin. Take a small bottle of preserved ginger, drain off the syrup, and mince the ginger quite fine, add it to the rice, and work it well with a spoon for some time. Beat up half a gill of cream with the yolks of six and the whites of three eggs; strain this into the mixture, and keep on stirring it for some time longer, then pour it into a buttered mould, and steam it for one hour and a half; strain the ginger syrup, warm it, add a glass of brandy to it, and pour it on the dish on which you turn out the pudding.
Burra Record, May 1, 1883.

Melon Jam with Green Ginger.
201b. of melon cut into large pieces, 201b. of sugar, the rind and the juice of four lemons, 2oz. of green ginger boiled and sliced, and one teaspoonful of cayenne pepper tied tightly in a thick piece of muslin. Boil all together till the melon is clear; when soaked take out the pepper, add one glass of brandy. N.B.Green ginger can be bought from the Chinese or from Mr. Germain Nicholson, grocer.
Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.), June 26, 1884. Recipe contributed by ‘Housewife’.

Quotation for the Day.

He boils milk with fresh ginger, a quarter of a vanilla bean, and tea that is so dark and fine-leaved that it looks like black dust. He strains it and puts cane sugar in both our cups. There's something euphorically invigorating and yet filling about it. It tastes the way I imagine the Far East must taste.
Smilla's Sense of Snow

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Aussie Barbecue.

Australia was alive with barbecues yesterday (which is still today for some of you), as many good citizens burnt all manner of proteins in the name of patriotism (it being our national day and all.)
I rather belatedly wondered when the Australia Day barbecue ‘tradition’ became established. The short answer arrived at from my short search is - not many decades ago. I did come across a few interesting ‘barbecue’ recipes in my search, which I have put away for a future historical barbecue event.

The first one was under the heading ‘Breakfast Dishes’, and I see no good reason not to start the national day next year with “Ham on the Barbie.”

Barbecued Ham.
Fry slices of cold boiled ham; keep warm while you stir into the gravy left in the pan four teaspoonfuls of vinegar, mixed with a teaspoonful of mustard, a teaspoonful of sugar, half a teaspoonful of catsup or chilli sauce and a little pepper. Boil up once and pour on the fried ham. This dish is sometimes called "devilled ham," and is a good spur to appetite.
Western Mail (Perth, WA) March 3, 1894

Barbecued ham appeared again in an article on how to cook ham in The Brisbane Courier of December 10, 1913.

Barbecued Ham.
Slice cold boiled ham, and fry it in its own fat. Remove the slices into another dish, and keep it hot while there is added to the fat a teaspoonful of white sugar, a little pepper, and a second teaspoonful of made mustard and three tablespoonfuls of vinegar. Let this boil up once and pour it over the ham. Serve hot.

Of course, seriously dinky-die Aussies won’t eat anything other than our national meat on our national day. I give you a recipe from The Australian Women’s Weekly of October 20, 1934 for the sort of barbecued lamb you have when you don’t have a barbecue.

Barbecued Lamb.

Slices of cold roast lamb reheated in a sauce made as follows: 2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon vinegar, ¼ cup redcurrant jelly, ¼ teaspoon French mustard, salt, and cayenne to taste. Serve with mashed potato and moulds of spinach.

And what would a barbecue be without burgers? Here is a nice idea from The Australian Women’s Weekly of February 19, 1944.

Barbecued Patties (With Apple Rings.)
One pound minced meat, 1 tablespoon chopped onion, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons flour, 2 cooking apples, 1 tablespoon melted dripping or cooking oil, mixed spice, parsley.
Pound together meat, onion, salt, sauce, and flour, and form into patties. Dry fry or grill, turning frequently. Peel, core, and slice apples into ½ inch rings. Saute in dripping or brush with melted fat and grill. Sprinkle lightly with spice while hot. A brushing with brown sugar mixed with spice gives a good glaze and flavour. Serve patties on apple rings, brush with parsley and serve at once. For four.

Quotation for the Day.

The barbecue has endured as an institution because nobody has been allowed to put on an apron and begin monkeying with it.
Columnist in The Queenslander, Brisbane, June 26, 1930.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Australia Day Menu, 1922.

Today is Australia Day, so naturally I feel obliged to have an Australian theme. My problem is that all of my historical Australian cookery books remain in boxes. The excuse(s) I am touting is a rapid sequence of events in my life - “house move + Christmas fun/chaos + beach holiday + Brisbane floods and no power for 10 days”. Oh! And no bookshelves (yet) to store the books, so no point in unpacking them anyway. I am not sure how much longer this excuse will be viable.

The Internet has come to my rescue (Thank You, Cyber-Gods) and I give you the “All Australian Menu” from the Australia Day dinner to Sir Joseph Cook, in London on January 23, 1922. The menu comes to you from the Sydney Morning Herald, which noted that “It was the first occasion in London that Australian products had been served at a public function.”

Tasmanian Tomato Soup.
New South Wales Grilled Rabbits and Victorian Green Peas.
South Australian Lamb and Victorian Celery Sauce.
Fruit Salad (New South Wales Peaches, Victorian Pears, and Queensland Pineapple)
West Australian Passionfruit
Mildura (Victorian) Grape Sweets
Wines: Australian “Imperial Reserve” (Red and White)

For the recipe for the day, I give you some pineapple recipes from The Brisbane Courier of November 8, 1923.

Pineapple Preserves.
Cut fruit in slices, chips, or quarters. To each pound of fruit add a cup of water. Put in a preserving pan, cover, and boil slowly until tender and clear. Then take from water in a dish. Add to the water, sugar, pound for pound. Stir till all is dissolved, put in pineapple, cover the pan, and let boil slowly until transparent, then take out the fruit and put in glass jars. Let the syrup cook till thick and rich,then pour over fruit.

Pineapple Marmalade.
To one pound of grated pineapple allow one-half pound of sugar. Scatter sugar over fruit and let stand three hours, then put on stove, and let simmer slowly one hour. Store in air-tight jars.

Pineapple Fritters.
Sift together a cupful of flour, a few grains of salt, a tablespoonful of sugar, and half a level tablespoonful of baking powder. Beat an egg, add a third of a cupful of milk, and gradually stir into the dry ingredients, then add a cupful of pineapple, chopped or cut up into small pieces. Drop by spoonfuls into the fat, and fry a golden brown. Drain on soft paper and serve hot, sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Pineapple Pudding or Pie Filling.
Peel pare and chop a pineapple; sprinkle with sugar and let stand an hour. Arrange in a buttered pudding dish slices of bread over which pour the juice from the pineapple and sugar.
Beat the yolks of three eggs, with half cup of sugar, adding last the whites, which should have been, beaten separately. A tablespoonful of white wine, and half a cup of chopped almonds will improve this. Pour over the juice-soaked slices and bake. '

Previous Australia Day stories can be read (or re-read) at the following links: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010.

Quotation for the Day.
In Australia, what they do to eggs is incomprehensible-they serve them with spaghetti at breakfast. They cook the eggs for nine hours until all moisture is removed, then they cosy them up to thick chewy noodles, warmed in the can not moments before.
Jon Carroll.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Cook a Snake.

After the dinner-party standby of garlic butter as the topic for yesterday’s post, I feel the need to be a little outrageous. It is time to cook a snake.

I start with the instructions on the Australian ‘native method’ of catching and preparing snake from a book which today has a very un-PC The Uncivilized Races of Men in All Countries of the World, by J.G. Wood (1882)

Although the idea of snake eating is so repugnant to our idea that many persons cannot eat eels because they look like snakes, the Australian knows better, and considers a snake as one of the greatest delicacies which the earth produces. And there is certainly no reason why we should repudiate the snake as disgusting while we accept the turtle and so many of the tortoise kind as delicacies, no matter whether their food be animal or vegetable. The Australian knows that a snake in good condition ought to have plenty of fat, and to be well flavored, and is always easy in his mind so long as he can catch one.
The process of cooking is exactly like that which is employed with fish, except that more pains are taken about it, as is consistent with the superior character of the food. The fire being lighted, the native squats in front of it and waits until the flame and smoke have partly died away, and then carefully coils the snake on the embers, turning it and recoiling it until all the scales are so scorched that they can be rubbed off. He then allows it to remain until it is cooked according to his ideas, and eats it deliberately, as becomes such a dainty, picking out the best parts for himself, and, if he be in a good humor, tossing the rest to his wives.
Snake hunting is carried on in rather a curious manner. Killing a snake at once, unless it should be wanted for immediate consumption, would be extremely foolish, as it would be unfit for food before the night had passed away. Taking it alive, therefore, is the plan which is adopted by the skilful hunter, and this he manages in a very ingenious way.
Should he come upon one of the venomous serpents, he cuts off its retreat, and with his
spear or with a forked stick he irritates it with one hand, while in his other he holds the narrow wooden shield. By repeated blows he induces the reptile to attack him, and dexterously receives the stroke on the shield, flinging the snake back by the sudden
repulse. Time after time the snake renews the attack, and is as often foiled; and at last
it yields the battle, and lies on the ground completely beaten. The hunter then presses
his forked stick on the reptile’s neck, seizes it firmly, and holds it while a net is thrown
over it and it is bound securely to his spear. It is then carried off, and reserved for the
next day’s banquet. Sometimes the opossum-skin cloak takes the place of the shield, and the snake is allowed to bite it.
The carpet snake, which sometimes attains the length of ten or twelve feet, is favorite
game with the Australian native, as its large size furnishes him with an abundant supply
of meat, as well as the fat in which his soul delights. This snake mostly lives in holes at
the foot of the curious grass-tree, of which we shall see several figures in the course of
the following pages, and in many places it is so plentiful that there is scarcely a grass-tree
without its snake.

One compelling reason for eating snake is hunger. In a situation of necessity, when unappealing protein substitutes are all that is available, the disappointment (or disgust) can be eased by re-naming. This is in the hope that the nostalgia triggered by the name will fool the tastebuds. Snake, in some parts of the world has, when being used for culinary purposes, been re-branded (as we would say today) ‘Hedge Eel’ or ‘Bush Eel’ (or anguilles des haies, if you want to be French about it.) This, of course, was in a time when eel was a desirable dish – I can’t see the real thing being much more popular than the substitute in  our more fussy age, when folk reject eels because they look like snakes..

Vipers were once highly sought after for medical use, and in a previous post I talked about viper wine. Another way of preparing the snake for therapeutic purposes was in soup. I discuss this in the chapter on Medicinal Soups in my book Soup: A Global History, which you can buy, if you wish. Here, to tempt you (to buy the book, not to make the soup) is the recipe from the book.

TAKE Vipers, alive, and skin them, and cut off their Heads; then cut them in pieces, about two Inches in length, and boil them, with their Hearts, in about a Gallon of Water to eight Vipers, if they are pretty large. Put into the Liquor a little Pepper and Salt, and a Quart of White Wine to a Gallon of Liquor; then put in Some Spice, to your mind, and chop the following Herbs, and put into it: Take some Chervill, some white Beet-Cards or Leaves, some Hearts of Cabbage-Lettuce, a Shallot, some Spinach-Leaves, and some Succory. Boil these, and let them be tender; then serve it up hot, with a French Roll in the middle, and garnish with the raspings of Bread sifted, and slices of Lemon.
The Lady's Assistant for Regulating and Supplying the Table, Charlotte Mason, 1787

Quotation of the Day.
Edible, adj.: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.
Ambrose Bierce

Monday, January 24, 2011

Garlic Butter.

You might not think that you do, but you probably do some historical cookery from time to time. Take garlic butter for example. Garlic butter = garlic + butter, Yes? The recipe has remained unchanged for at least a couple of hundred years. Hasn’t it?

Beurre d’Ail was mentioned by the famous French chef Antoine Beauvilliers, in Le Cuisinier Royal (1814). In the English translation of 1837, the recipe read:

Garlic Butter - Sauce au Beurre d’Ail.
Take two large heads of garlic; beat them with the size of an egg of butter; when well beaten rub it through a double hair search [searce or sieve] with a wooden spoon; gather it, and use, either with velouté or with reduced Espagnole.

Popular stereotyping has it that the English have (or used to have) a notorious disgust for the French appetite for garlic, while at the same time being somewhat in jealous awe of their culinary reputation and skills. How would a nineteenth century foodie-cook cope with the paradox of wanting to cook like the French, but without so much garlic?

In French domestic cookery, by an English physician (1825), the recipe asks for two large cloves instead of two large heads of garlic to the egg-sized nut of butter. I really don’t know if this is an error of translation, or was an intentional adaptation to suit English readers – do you?

Beurre d’Ail (Garlic Butter)
Take two large cloves of garlic, pound them in a mortar, and reduce them to a paste, by mixing with a bit of butter about the size of an egg. This garlic butter may be put into any sauces you think proper. Those who like the taste of garlic, season their roast or broiled meats with it.

However good and simple a basic recipe might be (and you cant get much better and simpler than garlic + butter), there is that irresistible human urge to fiddle, isn’t there?

In Charles Ranhofer’s The Epicurean (New York, 1893), an even greater reduction in the pungency of the garlic is effected by a previous blanching, this then being offset to some extent by the heat of the red pepper.

Garlic Butter (Beurre d’Ail)
Blanch one ounce of garlic in plenty of water, drain and pound it well, adding half a pound of butter and seasoning with salt and red pepper.

Personally, I like it made with roasted garlic.

Quotation for the Day.

Garlic used as it should be used is the soul, the divine essence, of cookery. The cook who can employ it successfully will be found to possess the delicacy of perception, the accuracy of judgment, and the dexterity of hand which go to the formation of a great artist.
Mrs. W. G. Waters

Friday, January 21, 2011

Griddle Cakes: Final Episode.

After a week considering griddle cakes, all that has become clear is that one cook’s griddle cake is another’s crumpet, hoe-cake, Johnny-cake, drop scone, drop cake, flannel cake, Singing Hinnie, Welsh cake, flapjack, slapjack, slapper, or batter-cake. In some cook’s minds it is also indistinguishable from a fritter, pancake, or pikelet.

The explanation of the multitude of overlapping names and recipes of course is that griddle cakes represent the simplest and earliest form of household bread. They require no oven, but only a fire and a flat pan or hot stone. They are almost infinitely adaptable, and can be made with any grain and a wide range of flavouring ingredients. They are so universal and so basic that there are as many regional names as there are regions.

The 1883 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook dares to be definitive on some of these names:

“For convenience and clearness, the following names will be used in this work:-
Griddle Cakes: any kind of small, thin batter-cakes cooked on a griddle.
Pancakes: larger, thin batter-cakes, made without soda, and cooked in a small frying-pan.
French or Rolled Pancakes: same as the preceding, buttered, sweetened, and rolled.
Fried Drop Cakes or Fried Muffins: any muffin mixture, dropped from a spoon into deep hot fat.
Fritters: a thinner mixture made without soda, either plain or with meat, fruit, or fish, and cooked by dropping into deep hot fat.”

The same edition has recipes for basic griddle cakes, rice or hominy, bread, and raised Graham griddle-cakes. The 1896 edition includes Sour Milk, Sweet Milk, Entire Wheat, Corn, Rice (2 types), and Bread Griddle Cakes. This final recipe seems to me to be particularly interesting, in that it is a way of recycling old ‘bread’ into new.

Bread Griddle Cakes.
1 ½ cups fine stale breadcrumbs
1 ½ cups scalded milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 ½ teaspoons baking powder.
Add milk and butter to crumbs, and soak till crumbs are soft; add eggs well beaten, then flour, salt, and baking powder mixed and sifted. Cook as other griddle cakes.

Quotation for the Day.

There is such a build-up of crud in my oven there is only room to bake a single cupcake.
Phyllis Diller

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Griddle Cakes,Continued.

This brief story comes to you from flood-damaged Brisbane. My home (which stayed dry) is still without power. I am, however, indisputably one of the lucky ones. I am staying with family for the duration, and working outside of my familiar home office and references, so my stories may be shorter than usual for a little longer.

It may be hard to believe, but the griddle cake story is far from over. I give you a nineteenth recipe from Australia which uses an unequivocally ‘American’ ingredient.

From The Queenslander (Brisbane) of February 7, 1880, I give you a recipe for ‘Umbiram’ cakes. Umbiram is a small town in SE Queensland, not far from Toowoomba on the Darling Downs. Toowoomba suffered badly in the recent flooding, with what has been called ‘an inland tsunami’ sweeping the main street and continuing down through the Lockyer valley, leaving devastation and death in its wake.

Umbiram Cakes.
EIGHT tablespoonfuls of maize meal, two of sugar, half a tablespoonful of butter, half a tea- spoonful of cinnamon, half a cup of milk, two eggs, a little soda. Mix together and drop into a frying-pan of hot dripping, and bake a nice brown on both sides. These cakes to be tried on any child that does not like Indian meal.

Quotation for the Day.
Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky.
Fran Lebowitz

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Welsh Cakes.

There seems to be no end to the variations on a theme of griddle cakes, and I feel inspired to see if I can fill the week with them.

Today I have chosen ‘Welsh Cakes’, a supposedly ‘traditional’ treat from that country. I am not sure how long a dish has to be in existence before it can claim the honour of being ‘traditional’, but as the first mention of these delicacies is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1932, it appears that it does not have to be too long at all. More importantly, this first reference is from Dylan Thomas, which delights me no end.

The OED says that Welsh Cakes are ‘a kind of individual spicy cake made in Wales with currants and ginger.’ I don’t know about the ginger being crucial, but it appears that spice of some sort, and currants, are the defining ingredients for this particular griddle cake.
A griddle is, of course, a metal implement, and no doubt its most distant ancestor is the hearth stone. According to an article in The Times of Monday, March 28, 1960, a metal griddle may still be called a ‘bakestone’ in some parts of the world. I give you the article in its entirety, as it includes the recipe for the day.

Bakestone Cookery.
A well-tempered bakestone is something to treasure: the longer you have it and the more you use it the better it gets.
“Bakestone” is Anglo-Welsh for the old Celtic greidell which my dictionary says is “a broad disc of iron for baking on” and that is just what it is, but what is not said is much more important. The disc must be of cast iron not less than ½ of an inch thick and must be cherished like an omelette pan; never washed but anointed with pure lard until it attains a patina like a dull black mirror.

Welsh Cakes.
½ lb. self-raising flour.
¼ lb. pure lard.
¼ lb. sugar
2 oz sultanas (or currants)
1 egg.
1 heaped eggspoonful nutmeg
1 heaped teaspoonful salt.
Crumble the lard into the flour by hand; add sugar, sultanas, nutmeg, and salt. Mix in the beaten egg – adding a little milk if necessary – till just right to roll out to about a bare quarter of an inch thick. Cut into rounds about 2 ½ inches in diameter.
In the meantime the bakestone should have been heating, and when you think it is ready, rub it over with larded paper. Try it for temperature with a scrap of dough and regulate the heat so that the dough browns evenly without burning in about seven to ten minutes, then place as many of the Welsh Cakes on it as possible. Turn over when all are evenly brown (about ten minutes) and cook the other side the same. When cold dust with caster sugar.

Quotation for the Day.
A genial hearth, a hospitable board, and a refined rusticity.
William Wordsworth.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Flannel Cakes.

Here is your daily food-history fix, from flood-damaged Brisbane. Please, if you have not already done so, consider giving generously to the flood appeal. 

Flannel cakes sound a lot more boring and utilitarian and correspondingly less affection-inducing than Singing Hinnies, the subject of yesterday’s post, but they are a variation of the same theme. I assume the name connects these particular griddle cakes with the softish, fluffyish fabric particularly favoured for winter pajamas – but I could very definitely be wrong.

Some descriptions insist they are crumpets, which throws up a whole new debate, as many or most definitions of crumpets give them as being leavened with yeast – yet most recipes are egg or baking-powder leavened. Deconstructing crumpets is perhaps a future blog post.

Many or most descriptions of flannel cakes do mention their thinness, and/or their lightness, so perhaps the fabric metaphor is correct. They are first mentioned in print in the late eighteenth century, but very little consensus about what makes a flannel cake different from a common garden kind of griddle cake. I give you two quite different versions for your griddle cake collection.

Flannel Cakes.
One quart of milk, three eggs, the yolks and whites beaten separately, a little salt, a small piece of butter melted, and as much flour as will make a batter. Stir the whites into the batter just before baking. If sour milk, with soda, is used, no butter is needed.
The Young Wife’s Cook Book, Hannah Mary Peterson, 1870

Flannel Cakes, or Crumpets
Two pounds of flour, sifted.
Four eggs.
Three table-spoonfuls of the best brewer’s yeast, or four and a half of home-made yeast.
A pint of milk.
Mix a teaspoonful of salt with the flour, and set the pan before the fire. Then warm the milk, and stir it into the flour so as to make a stiff batter. Beat the eggs very light, and stir them into the yeast.
Add the eggs and yeast to the batter, and beat all well together. If it is too stiff, add a little more warm milk.
Have your baking-iron hot. Grease it, and pour on a ladle-full of batter. Le it bake slowly, and when done on one side, turn it on the other.
Butter the cakes, cut them across, and send them to table hot.
Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, Eliza Leslie (1836)

Quotation for the Day.
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, January 17, 2011

Singing Hinny.

 Every culture with a grain-based cuisine has its own version of a griddle (or girdle) cake. The difference is more in the naming than in the ingredients, and I take particular delight in these names. My favourite is ‘Singing Hinny’. The ‘hinny’ in the name is apparently a dialect (Scotland or North of England) version of ‘honey’, and is used as a term of affection as there is no actual honey in the recipe. The ‘singing’ is said to refer to the sizzling noise as the cake cooks on the griddle – a similar rationale to the naming of that other famous British dish, ‘Bubble and Squeak.’

Simple dishes requiring only one pan which could be used over the fire, such as bubble and squeak or griddle cakes, were the mainstay of the ordinary working family, who certainly did not have ovens in their homes. John Brockett in his Glossary of North Country Terms (1825) describes Singing Hinny as ‘a kneaded spice cake baked on the girdle; indispensable in a pitman’s family.’ Another nineteenth century source specifically associates them with the miners of Northumberland miners, and says they were served up ‘fizzing hot, with a glass of rum emptied over a dish of them.’ I am not convinced that rum would have been a regular cooking ingredient for miners’ wives back then, miners wages being what they were. And I suspect that miners were beer men. It sounds like a great serving suggestion though!

I give you a recipe from a contributor to The Times, in July, 1928.

Old Time Recipes.
The recipe for the now famous tea dainty the “Singing Hinny” is:-
Ingredients: 1 lb. flour, 1 pinch salt, 4 oz. lard, 4 oz. butter, 1 teaspoonful baking powder, sufficient milk to make a stiff paste, 6 oz. currants.
Method:- Rub the lard and butter into the flour, add salt, baking powder, and currants. Mix to a stiff paste with the milk. Roll into one large round cake about ½ in. thick: place on a girdle and cook slowly until the first side is well-browned; slip a cake turner under and turn on the other side and cook it also till browned. The girdle usually requires frequent turning round. After the second side is cooked, the cake should be again turned over and allowed to cook for a few further minutes. When cooked, place the cake on a pastry board, cut into squares, split and well-butter. Serve hot. – Mrs. F. Defty, 9, Beach-avenue, Whitley Bay.

Quotation of the Day.
Ah hinnies! About us the lasses did lowp,
Thick as cur’ns in a spice singin hinnie.
Song, Canny Newcassel.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sustaining Soup.

Only a brief post today, folks, from the heart of flood-damaged Brisbane. If you enjoy my little stories, please consider donating to the flood relief appeal. You can do this, wherever you live in the world, by going HERE.

I give you a favourite historic recipe – a recipe which plays a feature role in Soup: A Global History. It is a sustaining soup from another hard time – World War II. I found it in one of the early pamphlets from the wartime British Ministry of Food.

Soup for Air-Raids.
Try to make soup every day so that you always have some ready to heat up. A hot drink works wonders at a time of shock or strain. Nothing could be better than hot vegetable soup as this is nourishing as well as soothing.
Prepare and cut up 2 or 3 carrots, 2 onions, ½ small swede, and if possible 2 or 3 sticks of celery. Make 1 oz. dripping very hot in your saucepan. Put in the vegetables and cook for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add 2 pints hot water and bring to the boil. Put in 2 oz. rice or pearl barley, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. More water may be added if necessary. A little chopped parsley just before serving is a pleasant addition.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Heroic Sandwiches.

Brisbane is under water, and as my own home is only a couple of hundred metres from the river, I am waiting out the floods at my son’s home along with several other flood refugees. Seventy-five percent of the state of Queensland (an area about the size of Britain and Europe) is in the grip of the worst natural disaster in its history, and I am too pre-occupied to write anything lengthy.

We have been glued to the television all day, watching in horror scenes of utter devastation, enormous tragedy, and great heroism. Thankfully, there seems to have been very little in the way of looting reported so far. It is expected that 16,000 people will spend the night in the evacuation centres set up in the city, as the greatest flood peak is expected in the early hours of the morning.

In the background of the television scenes of the evacuation centres, working quietly away, were the sandwich makers. This post is dedicated to those essential members of the disaster teams.

I give you a couple of recipes chosen at random from One hundred &one sandwiches, published in about 1906.

Rub yolks of hard-boiled eggs through fine strainer; mix with creamed butter. Add sardines, skinned, boned, and mashed to a paste. Season with lemon-juice and minced olives.

Take a half-cupful of white celery cut fine and add a quarter of a cupful of pecan or walnut meats chopped fine. Mix with one and one-half tablespoonfuls of mayonnaise dressing and season with salt and cayenne. Spread between water wafers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Emergency Cooking.

This post comes to you from flood-bound Brisbane. I am writing from my high and dry third floor apartment, but the river is only a couple of hundred metres away, and serious flooding is expected in the next 48 hours. I have moved my car to higher ground, and retrieved thirty-year’s worth of family photographs from the garage, which may well flood in the next 48 hours. I could live for weeks on the contents of my pantry, so I don’t intend to go anywhere, and unlike thousands of my fellow-Queenslanders, I am safe and snug.

The thought did cross my mind however that we could lose power in the wake of this disaster, so I may have to eat cold food – which is not really a problem as this is summertime (wait! No cuppa?!). Naturally, I wondered what lessons there are in history for this situation.

An article from the 1960’s in The Times caught my eye with the title ‘Cooking when the power is off’. As it turns out, a child in the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides is a great advantage in this situation, for their camping kit might contain a solid fuel cooker, which can be used to cook an emergency meal. I am sadly short of children or grandchildren of the right age for this, so still have not decided how I might have to cook if the power goes out, but I give you the information anyway, in case you should be better equipped.

The article is from 1966, and shows that gender stereotypes were still alive and well at that time. The article begins:

“When the gas jets dwindle and electric hot plates stay as cold as charity, one is bound to reach the conclusion that there has been another power cut. With a wage earner on his way home, and several small mouths held open around your skirts, the only thing to do is to fall back on a few night lights to help you produce and emergency meal.”

‘Night lights’ appear to be similar, or the same as the solid fuel blocks for the boy scout soldi fuel stove, and as well as being cheap ‘are a useful thing to have in store anyway.’

Here is what you do:

"To cook by night-light heat, put three or four of them together in a group on the bottom of the grill pan, or a baking tin. Place a wire rack across the pan and there before you is an emergency stove. … Any tinned foods can be emptied directly into the pan. Soup, for example, takes about half an hour to heat up over night lights…. Using kitchen foil one can even prepare a complete meal. For example: bring a pint of water to the boil; meanwhile, peel two potatoes and cut them in small pieces. Place inside a square of foil, add salt, pepper and half an ounce of butter. When the water has boiled place the parcel of potatoes in the water and boil on – about 45 minutes using the solid fuel cooker, an hour over the night lights. You can also heat up slices of meat or fresh white fish, wrapped first in foil, and placed alongside the potatoes about 15 minutes later. Add frozen beans or some other vegetable later still,also parcelled up in foil with a knob of butter and seasoning. Cooked this way the vegetables taste very good indeed. … should the power be restored during the cooking time, simply transfer the saucepan to the cooker and carry on cooking."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Novel Recipe for Ginger Pudding.

I cannot resist giving you my serendipitous find for the week – ‘a novel recipe for ginger pudding’, found whilst I was browsing the Australian newspaper archives for something far more important. There may be an element of political incorrectness in giving this recipe, appearing as it does to take some of its novelty value from poking fun at the educational standard of the cook. I have chosen however to see it as a paean to several hundred years’ worth of cooks (mothers, grandmothers, aunts …) who, despite lack of education or access to cookbooks, just kept on cookin’ good food anyway, and sometimes left behind a treasured legacy of scribbled, badly-spelled recipes.

The recipe appeared in The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld) on Saturday 25 April 1896.

A Queensland correspondent writes to the “Australasian”:- Whilst visiting a friend who has a most excellent cook, I tasted some ginger pudding which was “positively ambrosial”. The cook wrote the recipe for me as follows:-

Gingar Puddin’
Won cup of Flor
Won cup of Brad Crums
Won spoonful of gingar
Tree ounce of suit
Half-cup of trackel
Won cop of shugar
Won cup of sor milk
Won pinch of spise
Won pinch of sode.

Quotation for the Day.

Hell is a place where the motorists are French, the police are German, and the cooks are English.

Monday, January 10, 2011

39 Ways to Save Food.

In 1946, President Truman’s Famine Emergency Committee issued a list of 39 ways in which American’s could save food, thus enabling resources (especially wheat) to be diverted to assist post-war Europe.

I can think of a number of reasons why some of these suggestions are valid today, so I thought it might be interesting to look at them with modern eyes. Many of the suggestions involve reducing waste – something which should be a perennial hot topic. Some involve relatively painless changes to portion size – which might be helpful to the bottom line in a restaurant as well as the line of the bottom in all of us. Most will surely offer some general health benefits - replacing pastries with fruit, avoiding frying foods, and taking thinner slices of bread, for example. The suggestion to eat seasonal food too, is thoroughly modern advice.

1. Discontinue during the emergency abroad the use of toast as a garniture with meat, poultry, egg, and other entrees.
2. Discontinue the practice of placing baskets of rolls and bread on dining room tables. A single roll or slice of bread should be served with the entrée, and later as requested.
3. Eliminate the custom of trimming toast and sandwich crust.
4. Substitute open sandwiches for many closed or two-bread slice sandwiches in hotels.
5. Use potatoes in place of certain wheat and rice garnitures.
6. Use single crust or open pies in place of two-crust pies whenever practicable.
7. Serve corn and buckwheat cakes in place of wheat cakes where possible.
8. Serve oatmeal, bread, cakes, and cookies as alternatives for products made from wheat.
9. The size of rolls and thickness of toast and bread should be reduced. Bread size could be reduced by not filling the pans as deeply as at present.
10. Substitute fruits and other desserts for pastries and cakes whenever practicable.
11. Limit the number of crackers in individual packages or served with soups, cheeses, and so forth.
12. Eliminate three-layer cakes.
13. Whenever possible induce customers to only order what is needed. Whenever side dishes are included in the meal, the customer should request those side dishes and salads he will eat.
14. Use boiled dressings instead of oil dressings on salads where possible.
15. Use alternates for wheat cereal wherever possible.
16. Encourage re-use of food fats and grease salvage.
17. Develop methods for saving and use of bread ends, many of which are wasted at the present time.
18. Carry back all economies to employees’ meals. Employees should cooperate to the same extent customers are asked to cooperate.
19. Boil or broil rather than fry fish so as to save fats.
20. Eliminate serving of extra dressings on salads already prepared with oil or dressing.
Recommendations for the baking industry follow.
1. (21) Reduce by at least 10 per cent the weight of bread and bakery products.
2. (22) Wherever practicable, bakers should feature smaller weight and size loaves.
3. (23) Bread should be sliced thinner to provide more slices per loaf.
4. (24) Partial loaves of bread should be offered for sale as a waste preventing measure.
5. (25) Save flour and fats and oils by avoiding spoilage and waste.
Recommendations to food distributors and manufacturers were:
1. (26) Promote the use of alternate and more plentiful foods in the diet, such as – currently – potatoes, fish, eggs, poultry, citrus fruits, and seasonal vegetables.
2. (27) Assist customers by providing recipes using the more plentiful foods.
3. (28) Adopt measures for greater conservation and prevention of waste in food distribution channels.
4. (29) Encourage customers to conserve and prevent waste of food and to re-use food fats and salvage waste fats.
5. (30) In the manufacture of food items use alternate ingredients whenever possible in lieu of ingredients in short supply.
Recommendations to consumers follow:
1. (31) Prevent waste of bread. It is estimated that 5 per cent or one slice out of every loaf baked every day goes into garbage.
2. (32) Use less bread at each meal. Use potatoes, for example, as alternates for bread. One small serving of potatoes replaces a slice of bread, nutritionally.
3. (33) Use less wheat cereals and other wheat products.
Suggested ways for saving fats and oils at home included:
1. (34) Make better use of meat drippings for cooking and seasoning food.
2. (35) Serve fewer fried foods.
3. (36) Save and re-use fats and oils for cooking purposes.
4. (37) Render excess fats on meats, and save bacon grease for cooking purposes.
5. (38) Salvage all fats that cannot be re-used, and turn them in to your butcher or grocer.
6. (39) Go easy on oils and salad dressings. A teaspoon of fat a day saved by every person in the United States will mean a total saving of at least one million pounds of fat daily.

The potential to help save a million pounds of fat a day is too great a mission to resist. I therefore give you a recipe for a boiled salad dressing from The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook, a promotional recipe book from a baking powder company, published in 1911.

Boiled Dressing.
3 beaten eggs, 1 cup rich milk, 2/3 teaspoon dry mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 dashes cayenne, 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter, ½ cup vinegar. Cook in double boiler till thick as custard. Strain and keep in a cool place.

Quotation for the Day.

You can have your cake and eat it: the only trouble is you get fat.

Julian Patrick Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot, ch.7.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Pudding Croutons.

This is my final post from the beach - normal service will be resumed on Monday when I am back in the city. For today we stay in pudding-land. ‘Pudding’, as it applies to the final sweet course of a meal, always suggests to me the substantial end of the dessert spectrum.

A little book called Puddings and Dainty Desserts (Thomas Murrey, New York, 1886) sounded like it would have a good range of substantial and the elegant dishes. It did - but it also upset my assumption, drawn from the introductory words on desserts, that the ‘puddings and dainty dishes’ were going to be sweet.

The first recipe in the book is a backward glimpse to the very British idea of the final course of dinner being a small savoury.

After-dinner Croûtons.
The hard water crackers being expensive in comparison with other crackers, I have adopted the crispy croutons as a substitute, and find them very acceptable. Cut sandwich-bread into slices one-quarter of an inch thick; cut each slice into four small triangles; dry them in the oven slowly until they assume a delicate brownish tint, then serve, either hot or cold. A. nice way to serve them is to spread a paste of part butter and part rich, creamy cheese, to which may be added a very little minced parsley.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Choosing a Pudding.

Regular readers will know that I have a particular fondness for books that provide a recipe or menu for every day of the year. I don’t believe I have used Puddings & sweets, 365 receipts (London, 1877) previously, so I assumed that would allow me to indulge my interest in ‘calendar’ recipe books, keep me on the dessert theme for the week, and give me an easy post while I am on holiday.
As it turns out, there are indeed 365 receipts in the book, but they are given alphabetically – the author has not pre-selected one for each specific day of the year. So, I cannot give you the pudding for January 6, but am forced to make my selection by my other favourite system – the intriguing-name method. I hope you like my choices.

Bole Comadree Pudding.

Extract a cupful of milk from two cocoa-nuts, and set it aside; make a syrup of half a pound of sugar; mix into it half a pound of finely sifted rice flour; fry with the yolk of an egg the scrapings of the cocoa-nuts ; add half a pound of treacle and a few grains of aniseed; then mix the whole together; when the oven is well heated pour the mixture into a well buttered dish and bake until set.

Don Juan Pudding.
Blanch and pound up a pound of sweet almonds with a dessert-spoonful of rose water; then add the yolks and whites of six eggs. Beat all together well for half-an-hour; pour the mixture into a rich paste, and bake in a moderate oven.

Ostrich Omelette.
Well beat up an ostrich egg*. Warm some fat in a pan, and pour the egg in; when done on one side turn it over and cook the other side. Let it rise well, and be a nice light brown.

*the author gives no advice as to sourcing an ostrich egg in Britain.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Sand Cake.

I am, I hesitate to repeat to those of you freezing in the Northern hemisphere winter, on holiday at the beach here in South East Queensland. We do have the best beaches in the world here, you know.

About the only thing I don’t like about the beach is its amazing ability to infiltrate everything in the immediately adjacent environment - such as my bed and my food. How can this be when I wash it all off before I enter my bedroom and kitchen?

The unfortunate association of sand with food has not put me off sandwiches, but somehow I don’t fancy something called Sand cake, even though the actual recipe sounds very nice.

Sand Cake [so called, the author tells us, from its fine crumbly texture.]

For Sand cake, which will keep in good condition for many days, take half a pound of butter; beat to a cream, when add the yolks of five eggs and half a pound of sugar. Stir for half an hour, and then add gradually half a pound of cornstarch, one sherry-glassful of Jamaica rum, the grated peel of half a lemon, and lastly the stiff snow of three eggs. Bake like the sponge cake*. It is best made a couple of days before cutting it.

* in a moderately hot oven for from half to three quarters of an hour.

Letters to a Young Housekeeper, Marion Taylor, 1892.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Desserts, Part 2.

I am at the beach having fun with the family, so you will, I am sure, excuse the short posts. I don’t want to leave the dessert theme of yesterday’s story - and perhaps may stay with it all week – so if you have a pudding phobia, please return in a few days.

I am often intrigued by what a particular country considers characteristic of another in the culinary sphere – an impression or opinion which may bear little relation to reality, but nevertheless influences the naming of dishes. Perhaps I can find something to illustrate my point in International dessert and pastry specialties of the world famous chefs, United States, Canada, Europe (Los Angeles, 1913) ?

First, a generic recipe for biscuit paste:

Biscuit Paste.
Beat ten eggs firm and smooth and add gradually one pound of sifted powdered sugar; grate peel of one lemon and beat the mixture very hard. Then take one-half pound of potato flour or fine wheat flour and stir it in lightly and slowly. It must be baked immediately. Have a very thin tin ready to bake. No other cakes require so much care in baking; have the oven even and very hot top and bottom; sprinkle with grated loaf sugar before putting in the oven.

Now, for the distinctive fillings. Can someone please hazard a guess as to what suggests ‘Siam’, Bohemia, or Marseille in the following fillings?

Le Siamois.
Two pomponet shells filled with cream.

Bohemienne Caracas.
Two shells, oval shaped, made of Berlin paste filled with cream of chestnuts with maraschino.

La Marseillaise.
Made of chocolat biscuit filled with chocolate cream of butter; decorated with half an almond.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Just Dessert.

I often get queries when I give menus from the seventeenth century which seem impossibly exhaustive in the first place, and then appear to be followed by another ‘banquet.’ Originally the word ‘banquet’ referred specifically to the dishes served at the end of a feast (which was an entertainment as much as a meal.) The banquet was often taken in a separate room – or sometimes even a ‘banquetting house’ set in the grounds of an aristocratic estate – while the servants cleared the tables in the main feasting hall. In medieval times this consisted of sweetened wine and wafers, but as time went on more and more elaborate sweetmeats and fruits were included.

Early in the seventeenth century a final ‘course’ of predominantly sweet dishes became called the ‘dessert’. The word is derived from the French desservir, meaning to de-serve, that is, to clear the dishes from the table. The notion of ‘dessert’ as a separate course was seen initially by some in England as a French affectation which was bad for the health. Eventually however, popular appeal over-rode nationalism and medical opinion, and ‘dessert’ became an established and essential part of the meal, confectionary became a new career, and dentistry was no doubt also given a boost.

For the Recipe for the Day I give you the entry for this day, January 3, from 365 desserts; a dessert for every day in the year by Harriet Schuyler Nelson (Philadelphia, 1900)

Cocoanut Sponge.
Thicken 1 pint of milk, in which is dissolved ¾ cup of sugar, with 2 tablespoonfuls of cornstarch. Cook thoroughly in a vessel set into boiling water. When cooked and boiling hot, beat this into the whites of 3 eggs beaten stiff. After standing a few minutes add 1 cup of grated cocoanut. Flavor with vanilla and turn into a mould with grated cocoanut on top. Serve with cream sweetened and flavored with wine.

Quotation for the Day.

The dessert, properly prepared, contributes equally to health and comfort; but 'got up' as confectionary too often is, it is not only distasteful to a correct palate, but is deleterious and often actually poisonous.

The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker (1864)