Monday, February 28, 2011

On The Use and Abuse of Condiments.

The title of the following article from the South Australian Advertiser, of September 21, 1858, was irresistible - as was the urge to share it with you. It gives a little insight into some of the prevailing medical opinions and dietary ideas of the time.

On The Use and Abuse of Condiments.
(From the Family Herald)

Of the substances that find a place in the diet of mankind, many are used only to please the palate, the consideration of which belongs to the art of cookery. Apart, however, from epicurean taste, there are some condiments used to facilitate digestion, and to impart principles essential to the healthy condition of the body. These may be divided into five classes: 1. Saline; 2. Acid; 3. Aromatic; 4. Saccharine; 5. Oleaginous.

Saline condiments. – Common salt is the only necessary saline condiment. It is found in every fluid and soft part of the body, and also in some of the hard parts. It exists in large quantities in the blood, and forms a principal ingredient in the gastric juice. When taken in too large quantity, salt causes thirst, irritation of the alimentary canal, and various disorders. When too little is taken, or when it cannot be procured, as is the case at times in regions remote from the sea, putrid fevers may be produced, and worms are liable to be generated in the bowels. Some persons profess to abstain wholly from salt; but there is a certain amount in bread and many articles in common use, sufficient to save them from the evil consequences of their foolish theories. Salt provisions ought not to form too large a proportion of diet, being apt to produce scurvy, the tendency to which is counteracted by lemon juice, when fresh meat or vegetables cannot be procured.

Acid Condiments. – Of all the acids, vinegar is the best, and it is the most commonly used. It is antiseptic or corrective of the tendency to putrescence, and it also assists digestion if taken in moderate quantity. With shell-fish, uncooked vegetables, and oily substances, it forms a wholesome condiment. Vinegar formed part of the rations of the soldiers of ancient Rome, every man carrying a small stone bottle of it to correct the qualities of doubtful water which they might have to drink on their marches. It is sometimes used largely to reduce corpulency, but this effect can only be obtained at the cost of injury to the stomach. The vinegar at inferior oyster-shops and stalls, is commonly adulterated with oil of vitriol, and will be shunned by those who value their health. Tartaric acid, citric acid, lemonade, and other vegetable acids belong to this class of condiments. Moderate use of fruits, although not fully ripe is sometimes wholesome from the acidity. In other constitutions and states of the body, soda and alkalis are required for health.

Aromatic Condiments.- Mustard, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, horse-radish, and the various aromatic condiments are chiefly used in promoting the secretion of the gastric juice. In moderation they are beneficial, but when taken in excess the digestive power is weakened, and it is not easy again to diminish the quantity, as we see in the hot spices which old Indians continue to use after their return to this country. In hot climates, where less exercise are taken, the habit is acquired of artificially stimulating the appetite. With most kinds of vegetables it is advisable to take pepper, especially when the stomach is not strong. Cayenne pepper is very wholesome, but it must be remembered that, as sold in shops, it often contains a large amount of red lead, or other heavy poisonous mineral. Garlic, onions, shallots, and other vegetables of the class may be ranked among aromatic condiments by those who like their flavor, but they contain a sufficient amount of direct nutriment to entitle them to be classed with ordinary diet.

Saccharine Condiments:- Sugar in its great diversity of forms, including coarse and refined sugar from cane, molasses, honey, &c., is a nutritious as well as a palatable condiment. Being a corrective of acidity, it ought generally to be taken with fruit. When taken in excess it causes indigestion, and the large use of sweetmeats by the young is the source of frequent stomach disorders, which are aggravated by the noxious substances often mixed with the sugar in their preparation. Cases of death from the poisonous colouring matter of sweetmeats are not infrequent.

Oleaginous condiments:- Oily substances, moderately used, are of great benefit to the body, and the consumption of them, in the shape of butter, olive oil, ghee, and other forms is large amongst all nations. They are in themselves very nutritious, and they assist the digestion of vegetables and other articles of diet. Butter is the most wholesome of these condiments, but if taken in excess it causes indigestion and bilious disorders, and also leads to the formation of unhealthy fat instead of firm flesh in the body. Rich pastry is amongst the most indigestible of all articles of diet.

Mixed Condiments: - Combinations of condiments of various classes are made sometimes extemporaneously, as for salad, or for preserving in different kinds of seasonings and sauces. Ketchup is formed from fermented juice of mushrooms, to which salt, vinegar, and aromatics are added. Soy, and other Indian sauces, are made from various vegetables, with salt and spices. There are also various kinds of curry powders and other mixed condiments in the solid state. Of all these preparations, while it may be admitted that they help digestion, the chief object is to gratify the palate and to stimulate the appetite. The young ought not to accustom themselves to their use, and the healthy do not require them. Where there is a deficiency of appetite, or feebleness of digestion, they may be used with thankfulness.

As the recipe for the day I give you a spice cake – a variation of the seed cake recipe in The young cook's assistant, and housekeeper's guide; P. Masters, 1841.

A Seed Cake.
Take a little light dough as prepared for rolls. Warm six ounces of butter in a saucepan, and with two pounds of dough mix three eggs, a cupful of milk or cream, six ounces of sugar, and one of carraway seeds. Butter the shape, mix up the cake lightly, and put in enough to half fill it. Set it by the fire to rise to the top of the shape before baking.

A Spice Cake.
Prepare a cake as the seed cake, leaving out the caraway seeds only. Pound and sift some allspice, and put in a large teaspoonful. Finish as in the preceding.

Quotation for the Day.

Condiments are like old friends – highly thought of, but often taken for granted.
Marilyn Kaytor.

Friday, February 25, 2011

An Operatic Supper.

The final menu for the week is a treat for music (especially opera) lovers. It is the menu for the farewell supper given to Giacomo Puccini on the occasion of his departure to Europe by Enrico Caruso, at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York on February 25th, 1907.

Oyster Cocktail

Celeri        Olives

Gumbo de Volaille

Cotelettes de Homard

Pigeon sur Canape
 Tomatoes Surprise

Glace Fantaisie     Gateau Assortis

Chicken Gumbo.
Dress, clean, and cut up a chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, dredge with flour, and sauté in pork fat. Fry one-half finely chopped onion in fat remaining in frying pan. Add four cups sliced okra, sprig of parsley, and one-fourth red pepper finely chopped, and cook slowly fifteen minutes. Add to chicken, with one and one-half cups tomato, three cups boiling water and one and one-half teaspoons salt. Cook slowly until chicken is tender, then add one cup boiled rice.
Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896)

Quotation for the Day.

Lunch kills half of Paris, supper the other half.
Charles de Montesquieu

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Best of All Possible Worlds.

Some historians say that the best time of all – by which I assume they meant the most fun time - to be alive was between the two world wars, assuming one was sufficiently flush to be unaffected by the Great Depression and Prohibition of course.

The best of all possible worlds then, would surely have been aboard ship on a voyage to somewhere (who cares where?) in that hopeful time at the beginning of the 1920’s. The Great War had just ended, the Roaring Twenties was just beginning, and the nasty reality of the Great Depression was yet to spoil the dream.

If you were lucky enough to still be able to afford ocean travel and were aboard the SS Sonoma of the Oceanic Steamship Company, on February 24th 1929, here is what you would have had for dinner in second class.

Second Cabin Dinner.

Chow Chow Pickles
Puree of Split Pea & Sippets
Baked Flounder Fine Herb Sauce
Haricot of Mutton
Ribs of Beef Spanish
Leg of Mutton & Jelly
Mashed Potatoes Boiled Onions Boiled Potatoes

Sago Custard Vanilla Sauce
Water Ice Pie
Fruit in Season
Coffee      Cheese      Crackers     Tea

For today’s recipe, I give you a very dainty dish indeed, from a very aristocratic cookery book author, Lady Harriet Elizabeth St.Clair.

Sago Custard Puddings.
Take a spoonful and a half of sago, and put it into a saucepan with as much water as will cover it, a drop of cinnamon, three blades of mace, and some lemon-peel, and set it on to boil. When you find it clear and thoroughly done, add to it half a pint of new milk, and keep stirring it over the fire. When it becomes thick take it off, remove the seasoning, beat the yolks of four and the white of one egg well up with half a pint of cream; sweeten to taste; then take the milk and sago boiling hot, and mix well with the cream and eggs. Put it into small moulds, and bake or steam for ten minutes. Tapioca may be done in the same way.
Dainty Dishes (1866)

Quotation for the Day.

Who discovered we could get milk from cows, and what did he think he was doing at the time?
Billy Connolly.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Steamship dinner, 1935.

I have another nautical menu for you today. Dinner aboard a steamship of the French Line on this day in 1935 was classical French cuisine as one would expect. This menu does not seem to be the usual multi-choice shipboard restaurant à la carte menu, so perhaps it was for a private dinner party.
The menu has the words ‘Saint Dominique’ printed opposite the list of dishes, but I cannot find any mention of a ship by this name, so presumably it indicates the location of the vessel at the time of the dinner.

Potage Fontange
Poisson Gratine Menagere
Aubergines Farcis
Coq au Vin Auvergnate
Pommes a l’Anglaise
Fromages – Fruits

In a previous post some long time ago I gave you the recipe for Potage Fontage. Today I give you a recipe for stuffed eggplant from that wonderful book The Epicurean, by Charles Ranhofer (1893), and one from The Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering, by Jessup Whitehead (1903) for the potato dish.

Aubergines Farcies Gratinées.
Divide some small eggplants, each one in two, without peeling them; score and fry, then drain and empty out the centre with a spoon, leaving a layer a quarter of an inch thick against the peel. Chop up the parts that have been removed, adding as much soaked and well-pressed bread-crumbs, and a clove of crushed garlic; cook the preparation for a few moments, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and remove from the fire until it loses its greatest heat, then finish with a few raw egg-yolks and chopped parsley. Fill the interior of the halved eggplants with this, smooth the tops and range them on a baking sheet; pour over plenty of oil and cook in a slack oven. When a fine color, dress them on an espagnole sauce reduced with tomato sauce and run through a fine sieve.

Pommes à l’Anglaise.
Boiled in their skins, peeled, cut into quarters if large, shaken up in a hot dish with soft
butter, salt and parsley dust; sent in hot with the butter poured over.

Quotation for the Day.
What shall we say of the hundreds of cooks who, for several centuries now, leave France every year to exploit the appetites of other lands?
Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin; The Physiology of Taste (1825)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Washington’s Birthday, 1910.

This day, as my American friends are aware, is celebrated as the birthday of George Washington, first President of the United States. Washington himself celebrated his birthday on February 11, but this date became the 22nd when the Gregorian calendar was finally accepted in Britain and all her Dominions in 1752. I briefly explained this re-jigging of the calendar in a story several years ago, and made mention of it again in one about Frances Trollope (mother of the novelist Anthony Trollope ), who attended a ball in honour of the great man on this day in 1829.

Today I give you the menu from U.S.S Wilmington on Washington’s birthday in 1910. The ship was in Canton, China at the time, but there is nothing even vaguely oriental on the menu – nor should there be, for such an important national day. I am not sure then, why ‘English’ ham is there – perhaps it was symbolically routed in recognition of the Washington’s success in leading the American army to victory over her colonial masters. The other puzzle, which perhaps a military historian can answer, is why the menu styles the U.S.S Wilmington as ‘the trophy ship.’

Queen Olives      Celery
Oyster Soup
Roast Goose      Roast Chicken
Chestnut Dressing
Giblet Gravy     Cranberry Sauce
English Ham
Mashed Potatoes      Sweet Potatoes
Cream Peas
Pumpkin Pie
Lemon Custard Pie
Chocolate Layer Cake
Jelly Roll Slices
Oranges     Bananas      Apples
Cigars    Cigarettes    Mixed Nuts

Chestnut Dressing – Mrs. L.A.Lancel
1 lb. chestnuts boiled, 1 lb. beer, ½ lb. fresh pork, chopped all together. Season with salt and pepper; add ¼ loaf of baker’s bread soaked in water and drained, and 2 beaten eggs.
San Rafael Cook Book, 1906.

Quotation for the Day.
Birthdays are nature’s way of telling us to eat more cake.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Letters from Abroad.

I have over six thousand menus jammed into the little notebook computer which I am using right now - and only 365 of them made their way into Menus From History: menus and recipes for every day of the year. It seems a shame to ‘waste’ the rest of them, but I am bereft of other ideas for their use, save that of doling them out to you at intervals. This I will do during the next five days.

The ‘menus’ are not exclusively decorative table cards listing a formal bill of fare for a civic dinner or restaurant or some such. I use the term loosely for any reasonably comprehensive meal description. Most are specifically dated, which allows me to start my story with ‘On this day in …’, a phrase which I like very much.

On this day in 1860, an English physician called William Bullar was just getting into the swing of a voyage ‘abroad’, apparently for medical reasons. The medical reasons are not spelled out in his subsequent book Letters From Abroad, From A Physician In Search Of Health, but one presumes they were personal, not academic.

Letter number 1 was addressed to his father, and dated February 22, 1860: in it he describes his dinner for the previous day (i.e ‘this day in 1860’). In it we find that the physician-passenger was aboard ‘the good ship Ceylon’, and on the day of writing was ‘about half-way across the Bay of Biscay; the weather all that the most squeamish could hope for, the sun now shining after some gentle rain, and the wind such as to make us carry all our sails.’ He writes:

It is difficult, however, to find a want which is not supplied. The daily dinner may give you an idea of the bounteous table which is kept here; so I send you a copy of yesterday’s “bill of fare;” - Giblet soup, fried and boiled turbot, roast beef, boiled shoulder of mutton, roast goose, boiled calf’s head, roast ducks, boiled rabbits, roast and boiled fowls, corned pork, roast haunch of mutton, corned beef, minced veal and poached eggs, roast loin of veal, pigeon pies, roast leg of pork, mutton puddings, croquets of beef, roast quarter of lamb, jugged hare, ham and tongue, curry and rice.
Second course – Black-cap puddings, fruit tarts, rice puddings, sandwich pastry, jam tartlet, macaroni, cheese, college dumplings. Ale, porter, soda-water, sherry, madeira, port flowed in an unlimited stream. This is the dinner, and the breakfast is very much like it.

It would have been interesting if the good doctor had let us know what his own healthy food choices were for the day. Not many of the dishes listed would be immediately thought to be ‘healthy’ today, but one must remember that calorie-dense foods were prized in an era when ‘consumption’ was rife. I wonder if that was his problem?

For the recipe for the day inspired by this story I have chosen the black-cap pudding. We have met ‘black caps’ before, so what is this ‘pudding’ version? It seems that there are several interpretations of the idea, mostly containing currants.

Black-Cap Pudding.
Make a thin light batter, and just before it is poured into the cloth, stir into it half a pound of currants well cleaned and dried. These will sink to the lower part of the pudding and blacken the surface. Boil it the usual time, and dish it with the dark side uppermost. Send it to the table with a sweet sauce.
The Young Wife’s Cookbook; Hannah Mary Peterson, 1870.

Quotation for the Day.

He that would travel much, should eat little.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Weighty Topic.

One of the cookery books I recently quoted from used the term avoirdupois in relation to a quantity of some staple ingredient. It reminded me that I have been meaning to look up the origin of the word for a very long time. I thought the wordsmiths amongst you might be interested in my mini-summary. Naturally, my first and major source is the Oxford English Dictionary.

Avoirdupois is ‘a recent corrupt spelling’ of avoir-de-pois or aveir de peis, which translates roughly as ‘of good weight’, and, as you might guess, comes to us from the French. It is presumably a legacy of ‘1066 and All That’ as it has been in English use since at least the thirteenth century. ‘Avoirdupois weight’ is ‘the standard system of weights used, in Great Britain, for all goods except the precious stones, and medicines.’ The word avoirdupois alone is used to refer to ‘merchandise sold by weight.’

Why specify the standard system of weights? Because what constitutes a pound, or a pint, or a dozen, and many other units of measurement that you can think of, have varied over time and between products - and still vary between nations. Cooks know this of course, as this is a frequent source of grief when using recipes from other countries than one’s own.

The other standard system of weights - that used for precious stones - is troy weight (weight of Troy). Interestingly, for those of us interested in food, this was also formerly used for bread and ‘all manner of Corn and Grain.’ My first assumption was that Troy weight had something to do with the ancient site (in what is now Turkey) of the Trojan wars, and of the beautiful Helen whose face launched a thousand ships. According to the OED however ‘the received opinion is that it took its name from a weight used at the fair of Troyes in France’, and ‘a pound troy is less than the pound avoirdupois.’
Mrs. Dalgairns, in The Practice of Cookery: adapted to the business of everyday life (1830), uses the term in her lesson on cheese making, so this is our ‘recipe’ for the day. The recipe also nicely demonstrates that Scottish volume measures were different from English measures at this time.

In cheese-making, it is of the utmost consequence to have good rennet, which may be obtained from the stomachs of calves, hares, or poultry; that from the maw or stomach of calves is most commonly used, and the following Scotch method of preparing it seems to be the simplest and best:—When the stomach or bags, usually termed the yirning, in dairy language, is taken from the calf's body, straw, or any other impurity found in it, ought to be removed from the curdled milk, which, with the chyle, must be carefully preserved; a handful of salt is put inside; it is then rolled up, and put into a basin or jar, and a handful of salt strewed over it; after standing closely covered for eight or ten days, it is taken out and tied up in a piece of white paper, and hung up near a fire to dry, like bacon, and will be the better for hanging a year before it is infused. When rennet is wanted, the bag with its contents is cut small, and put into a jar or can, with a handful or two of salt; new whey, or boiled water, cooled to 65°, is put upon it. If the stomach is from a newly-dropped calf, about three pints of liquor may be employed. If the calf has been fed for four or five weeks, which will yield more rennet than that of one twice that age, eight pints or more of liquid may be put to the bag in mash. After the infusion has remained in the jar from one to three days, the liquid is drawn off, and about a pint more of whey or water put on the bag; when it has stood a day or two, it is also drawn off, strained with the first liquid, and bottled for use us rennet. Some people put a dram-glassful of whisky to each quart or choppin of the rennet. Thus prepared, it may be used immediately, or kept for months. One table-spoonful of it will coagulate, in ten or fifteen minutes, thirty gallons, or sixty Scotch pints, of milk, which will yield more than 24 lbs. avoirdupois of cheese. In England, the curdled milk is generally washed from the stomach, and in consequence, the rennet is so much weaker than that made in Scotland, that double the quantity is used, and it requires from one to sometimes three hours to form the milk into curd. The milk ought to be set, that is, the rennet put to it, at 85° or 90° of Fahrenheit, when the heat of the air is at 70°; but as the season gets colder, the heat of the milk should be increased, and covered till it coagulates.

Quotation for the Day.

A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.
Benjamin Franklin.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Epitaph for a Foodie.

I fear I am leaning towards posts on food trivia, rather than food history of late, but this semi-retired life is incredibly hectic, and to keep up five days a week posting means that sometimes I have to err on the side of the quick and frivolous. The same excuse serves for my shameful failure in responding to those who have taken the time to comment on various recent posts. My apologies to one and all.

I do hope you are not disappointed in today’s gleanings from Morton’s Sixpenny Almanack and Diary for the year 1876. I do love almanacs. This one has the usual listings of anniversaries, astronomical events, tides, gardening and nature lore, postal rates and so on, but intermingled with these are a random lot of odd stories and anecdotes with no obvious relevance to anything almanacal (almanackial?).

My favourite is this:

In a village near Newmarket there is an iron dish fixed into a gravestone at the request of William Symons, who, at the age of eighty, a great gourmand, dying, left a request that the following lines should tell the story of his besetting sin:-

“Here lies my corpse, I was the man,
That loved a sop in the dripping pan;
But now, believe me, I am dead:
See here the pan stands at my head.
Still for sops till the last I cried
But could not eat, and so I died.
My neighbours, they perhaps will laugh,
When they do read my epitaph.”

In case you didn’t know it, the almanac (from 1876, I remind you), informs us that the quatern loaf sold for 1s. 10 ½ d. in the year 1801.

Breadth of stories may perhaps compensate for lack of depth, so I give you the following snippets:

A Monster Vine.
A vine, situated about three miles and a half from Santa Barbara, California, has a trunk 4ft. 4in. in circumference. It begins to branch out at about six or eight feet from the ground, and is then supported on framework, which it covers as a roof. The whole vine thus supported now covers over an acre of ground. Several of the limbs are as much as 10 inches in circumference at a distance of 25 or 30 feet from the trunk. The annual yield of grapes from this mammoth vine is from 10,000 to 12,000 pounds. The clusters average, when ripe, from 2 to 24 pounds each.

A Curious Table.
A novel dining-table is now in use in one of the palaces of the Emperor of Russia. The table is circular, and is placed on a weighted platform. At the touch of a signal, like a rub of Aladdin's lamp, down goes the table through the floor, and a new table, loaded with fresh dishes and supplies, rises in its place. But this is not all; each plate stands on a weighted disk, the table cloth being cat with circular openings, one for each plate. If a guest desires a change of plate he touches a signal at his side, when his plate disappears and another rises. These mechanical dining tables render the presence of servants quite superfluous.

To my absolute delight, the almanac also contains a scattered few recipes, thus filling up that bit of reserved space too. Please someone offer some suggestions as to the particular instruction in this recipe to ‘stir with the right hand’?

How to make a Good Old-Fashioned Soup.
Procure a soup bone, boil until tender, remove the meat, add to the soup a few onions, season to suit the taste; slice the onions very thin: set it to boil. Then take some flour in a bowl, drop sweet milk in by the drop, and keep stirring with the right hand, until you think you have enough to thicken the soup sufficiently, and you will have what we call flour rubbings. Add to the soup; let it boil up, stirring it all the time, and it is done. It is excellent warmed over for next day.

Quotation for the Day.

Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.
Elizabeth Berry.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Usual Allowances.

I know that I have several times in the past repeated the shameful modern fact that we in the developed world throw away one fifth of the food that we buy for the household. Clearly, we do not accurately estimate the quantity of food that we get through at home each week. Alternatively - we do estimate it correctly, but then can’t be bothered to cook it, and decide to eat out instead.

So, how much food does one person get through in a week? We had a glimpse of this in a previous story about WW II rationing and the Food Ministry’s hints about how to manage within those restrictions, if one lived alone. Today I want to revisit the issue from a different perspective.

British cookery book writer Mary Jewry’s intent in Food Consumption and Kitchen Equipment (c.1894) was to assist the inexperienced housewife to estimate food requirements for the whole household based on what one member would be expected to consume in a week.

She says:

It is essential that a housekeeper should know the average weekly consumption of food of each person in an ordinary family … For this purpose, we subjoin a list of the usual allowance, which will of course vary much from differing circumstances, but it will give a general idea on the subject.

Food for one person weekly.

Tea – two ounces
Coffee – one quarter of a pound, for breakfasts
Cocoa paste – one quarter of a pound, for breakfasts
Sugar – one half pound
Cheese – one half pound
Butter – one half pound
Milk – one quart, varying with the taste of the family
Bread- eight pounds for a woman, sixteen pounds for a man or boy
Meat – six pounds
Beer – one gallon for a woman, seven quarts to a man
Potatoes – three and a half pounds

Of course this estimate of quantities must be modified greatly by the habits and tastes of the family, and by the fact of residence in the town or the country. A large supply of vegetables, fish, or puddings will greatly reduce the scale of meat; and making tea and coffee for numbers will reduce the amount of these articles. We merely give this general idea of quantity to guide, in a measure, the inexperienced housewife. We should have been thankful for such knowledge ourselves, as without it one invariable buys more than is actually needed for the consumption of the household.

These amounts seem enormous to me. I am not having my quota of breakfast chocolate, that is for sure, and I am certainly not eating six pounds of meat a week, nor (sadly), half a pound of cheese. Do you – could you – get through this much in a week? Remember that the butter, sugar, and milk would include that used in cooking, and that bread would be the breakfast cereal.

For the recipe for the day I give you one which will reduce your meat consumption at the same time as it helps you avoid wasting leftovers, by using salt fish remaining from the previous day. It is from one of Mary Jewry’s other books - Warne’s Every-day Cookery: containing one thousand eight hundred and fifty-eight distinct recipes (1872),

Salt Fish the Second Day.
Time, twenty minutes.
The remains of salt fish previously dressed; same quantity of mashed potatoes and parsnips ; a quarter of a pound of butter; a little Cayenne; one egg.
Pick the remains of the fish into small flakes; butter the bottom of a pie-dish, place it in alternate layers with the mashed parsnips and potatoes ; sprinkle a little Cayenne in the dish. Bake for about twenty minutes in the oven; turn it out on a dish; garnish with a hard-boiled egg cut in slices, and pour over it a little melted butter, or instead of the sliced egg, use egg sauce.

Quotation for the Day.

Honest bread is very well, it's butter that makes the temptation.
Douglas William Jerrold.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What in the world is Cangeraux?

I can answer the question “What in the (food) world is cangeraux?” I cannot, however, confidently explain the word itself.

‘Cangeraux’ is, to judge by the recipe in The Practice of Cookery and Pastry, by I. Williams (1862), the same thing as ‘kedgeree.’

Take the fish off a cold boiled haddock, or about the same quantity of cod, should you happen to have it beside you, two hard-boiled eggs, a breakfast-cupful of boiled whole rice, and mince it together. Add cayenne and a little salt; melt two ounces of butter in a frying-pan, and put it in; heat all thoroughly, and keep stirring it with a fork, so as to make it light.

Cangeraux another way.
Take the same quantity of fish and boiled whole rice, and mince them together; add cayenne, one table-spoonful of ketchup, one dessert-spoonful of mustard, and two eggs beat up a little; melt four ounces of butter in a pan, put it in, and stir till it is thoroughly done.

The one and only reference to the word that I can find is in The Practice of Cookery and Pastry, so regardless of what the explanation is, this particular word does not appear to have been plagiarised in either direction. Very odd. The words don’t sound sufficiently alike to me for it to be an auditory misinterpretation. Now if the recipe was for kangaroo, I would not be puzzled. The word is not hidden anywhere in the full text of the Oxford English Dictionary, including amongst the dozen acknowledged alternative spellings of ‘kedgeree.’ A simple mis-spelling of ‘kedgeree’ by a single writer seems a little far-fetched too.

Once again I am throwing a food-word puzzle out into cyberspace, in the hope that it will land on the computer screen of one of the food-word cognoscenti. I know you are out there.

Quotation for the Day.

Kedgeree is a capital thing for breakfast.
Bp. Fraser in Hughes Life (1887)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Cake.

Whatever happened to Love Cake? Love cake seems to have been born and died during the Victorian era. Perhaps we could help it stage a come-back this particular Valentine’s Day? The beauty of Love Cake is that if you didn’t get to the diamond-jewellers before closing time, you can demonstrate undying love equally convincingly by whipping one up at the last minute, for the object of your affections.

One of the things I love about old cookery books and household manuals is that it is usually delightfully difficult to tell where the title ends and the front matter begins. The first Love Cake for the day comes from a book whose first page confidently announces:

5,000 Gems for the Household.
A Book That Teaches Everything A Lady Would Like To Know.


It tells you how to make paper, wool, feather, hair and tinsel flowers; how to paint on satin, silk and velvet; full list of characters for masque ball; a chapter on bead and embroidery work; a list of over three hundred new names for children.
1,000 Useful Receipts for Anyone and Everyone.

By M.S.Fox (Albany, Oregon, 1887)

Love Cake.
Sift through one pound of flour two heaping teaspoonfuls of baking powder, whip to cream half-pound of butter, then stir into the butter one pound of sugar, the yolks of six eggs and about half of the flour, then add one cup of sweet milk and the remainder of the flour, lastly, the white of five eggs beaten to a stiff froth, and flavor with extract of vanilla. Bake in
moderate oven.

From other sources, I give you two other quite different interpretations of ‘love cakes’. The first is a cookie or biscuit (depending on where you come from), the second is a rich fried batter.

Love Cakes
To one pound of powdered sugar, and six well beaten eggs, put as much flour as will make a stiff paste; flavor with essence of lemon. Roll it about half an inch thick, and with a tin cutter the size of the top of a wine glass, cut it in small cakes; strew some sugar and flour over a baking tin, and lay the cakes on it; bake them in a quick oven for ten or twelve minutes; when cold, ice the tops with plain white frosting, and set them in a warm place to dry ; finish by putting a bit of jelly, the size of a large nutmeg, in the centre of each. The edge may be finished with ornamental frosting.
Every Lady’s Book: an instructor in the art of making every variety of plain and fancy cakes, pastry, confectionery, blanc mange, jellies, ice creams, also for the cooking of meats, fish, vegetables, &c., by A Lady of New York (1845).

Bola D'amour—Love Cake.
Take the yolks of eggs, as many as are required for the dish (about twelve), and beat them up in a pan with an equal weight of sugar, the same as sponge cakes, using any kind of liquor or essence for flavouring. When the mixture is beaten up light and got thick, have ready some clarified butter in a stewpan, made hot enough for frying. Pour the mixture into a funnel having a small bore or pipe, and let it run into the hot butter, turning the hand while it is running, so that it may be formed into threads all over the surface of the pan. In about two minutes it will be done, when it should be taken out with a skimmer, and be placed on the dish for serving, garnishing it with any kind of preserve, and serve cold.
Another way is, to beat up the eggs with some liquor, and run it into some boiling syrup at the blow.
The modern housewife: or, Ménagère, Alexis Soyer, 1851.

Quotation for the Day.
Love is much nicer to be in than an automobile accident, a tight girdle, a higher tax bracket or a holding pattern over Philadelphia.
Judith Viorst.

Friday, February 11, 2011

In Advance of Valentine’s Day.

It will be here on Monday, folks – that day of romance, sweethearts, kisses and gifts, or, if you are not a true believer, of crass commercialism, cheap chocolate, cheaper bubbles, and cheesy cards.
My gift to you for the day, given in advance to give you chance to use it for inspiration, is a wonderfully kitchy menu from the Café Bova, Boston, on Valentine’s Day 1912. The image of the menu I cannot give - it is too fuzzy, and if the resolution were any lower it would slide off the bottom of the page - so you will have to imagine the decoration of red hearts.


Consommé De L’Amour

A Plaice in your Heart

My Own Sweet Lamb

A Little Duck

You for my Sweetheart

Ice-simply adore You

I’m hungry for your sweet affection
So don’t leave me starving I pray
For the menu I’ve made a selection
Let me dine on the same every day.

The love-struck beau wishing to impress his sweetheart with this romantic meal had to dig relatively deep, for the time. The meal cost $2.00.

From Household Cookery Recipes (London, 1901), I give you a recipe for the fish course.

Fillets of Plaice with White Sauce.
1 medium-sized plaice.
1 teaspoon lemon juice.
¾ pint fish sauce.
Salt and pepper.
Wash and dry the plaice on a cloth, and remove the fillets carefully thus: Take a sharp knife and cut a clean cut right down the middle of the fish from head to tail; then raise the fillets from the bones, keeping the knife flat on the bone and taking long clean cuts (not jagging,
or the fish will be wasted) ; season the fillets and fold them into three, skin side inside, or they will unroll in the cooking ; place them on a buttered baking- tin, sprinkle the lemon over them, and cover closely with buttered paper. They should be kept quite white in the cooking.
Bake in a slow oven for from 7 to 15 minutes, according to the size; dish up nicely and coat over with the sauce. Decorate with red crumbs or chopped parsley.

Fish Sauce.
The bones of a plaice, sole or whiting.
1 oz. butter.
1 oz. flour.
1 small onion.
1 small bay leaf.
1 sprig parsley.
1 sprig thyme.
½ pint milk.
½ pint water.
1 small piece carrot.
1 small piece turnip.
1 small piece celery.
6 peppercorns.
Cut the head off the bones, wash and break them up, put them into a saucepan with the vegetables left in blocks, the herbs and spice ; season and pour over them the milk and water; simmer the stock slowly for 10 minutes ; strain ; dissolve the butter and cook the flour in it slowly for 3 or 4 minutes to make the sauce shiny, then off the fire, mix in the stock, stir to the boil and cook for 5 minutes ; strain the sauce.

Quotation for the Day.
I don't understand why Cupid was chosen to represent Valentine's Day. When I think about romance, the last thing on my mind is a short, chubby toddler coming at me with a weapon.
Author Unknown

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ethical Eating, 1841.

Yesterday I gave you some extracts from a recent Google Books find - Popular Errors Explained and Illustrated (John Timbs) published in London in 1841. It reminded me that subjects such as sensible, seasonal eating are not new issues. In fact, these were not new issues in 1841 when Timbs wrote his quirky, opinionated book, they had already been fodder for food writers for several centuries.
Timbs’ book also proves that ethical eating is not a twenty-first century (or even twentieth century) idea. Here is his exposé of those who would do harm to shellfish, and his refutation of the argument that a cruel death results in tastier meat.

It has been satisfactorily proved, by the experience of Mr Saunders, a respectable London fishmonger, that driving pegs into the claws of Lobsters, instead of tying them, is an act of unnecessary cruelty. The custom of boiling Lobsters alive to improve their flavour, is also found to be as erroneous as it is cruel. The best method is, before boiling, to deprive the Lobster of life by putting it into fresh water - the hardest pump-water answers best - in which the fish will live but a short time. Lobsters thus dressed have been declared to be improved rather than deteriorated in their quality: the tail will be found to lose much of its hardness and indigestibility; the watery taste is equally common to those dressed in the usual way, which arises from the fish having been sickly and diseased. The preceding observations apply to Crabs, Shrimps, Prawns, &c. The horrible cruelty of dressing Shell-fish alive is the same as if another fish, which does not possess their amphibious property, but soon dies when taken out of the water, were to be instantly conveyed out of its native water either into the frying pan or the saucepan.
Fish may be crimped* nearly as well a few days after death as when alive. A question, however, occurs why the epicure should give the preference to Fish after it has parted with a considerable portion of its rich and soluble parts in boiling water, as in dressing crimped fish?

*Crimping is “to cause (the flesh of fish) to contract and become firm by gashing or cutting it before rigor mortis sets in.”

From John Timbs’ contemporary, and yesterday’s recipe source, I give you an idea for your humanely-killed lobster. Recipe fashions come and go – surely this one is due for revival? Although on second thoughts, anything with ‘butter’ in the title or the ingredient list might have a hard time of it today in any shape or form – more’s the pity, I say.

Lobster Butter.
Pound to the smoothest paste the coral of one or two fine lobsters, mix with it about a third of its volume of fresh butter, and the same proportion of spices as are given in the preceding receipt**. Let the whole be thoroughly blended; set it by for a while in a cool place and pot it, or make it up into small pats and serve them with curled parsley round the dish or with any light foliage that will contrast well with their brilliant colour. The flesh of the lobster may be cut fine with a very sharp knife and pounded with the coral.
A New System Of Domestic Cookery, Formed Upon Principles Of Economy by Maria Rundell (1840)

** ‘a high seasoning of mace and cayenne, and a small quantity of finely-grated nutmeg.’

Quotation for the Day.

A woman should never be seen eating or drinking, unless it be lobster salad and Champagne, the only truly feminine and becoming viands.

Lord Byron.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Popular Food Errors.

I couldn’t help looking to see if the author of Popular Errors Explained and Illustrated (John Timbs) published in London in 1841 included any food-related issues. Indeed he did – a whole chapter of them. What is fascinating is that many of the issues he raises are still current, proving yet again that there is nothing new under the sun.

Here is what he has to say on nutrition and cookery:

It is a very mistaken idea that the nourishment in food is according to the quantity: a person may eat a great deal of some articles and receive very little nourishment from them. The quantity of nourishment depends greatly on the aromatic flavour contained in food, and whatever is insipid to the taste is of little service to the stomach. Now the difference between good cookery and bad cookery lies principally in the development of the flavour of our food; articles properly cooked yield the whole of it; by good cookery we make the most of everything, by bad cookery the least.

And on eating seasonally he says:

Forced Fruits realise a high price from the early period at which they are brought to market, and not from superiority of size or flavour, as their dearness leads many persons to imagine. Indeed Forced Fruits are very inferior to those of natural growth the former are obtained at a season when there is little light, whereas the latter are matured in the full blaze of a summer's sun. Thus melons grown in frames covered with mats and carefully excluded from the influence of that solar light which is indispensable to their perfection have, whatever may be their external beauty, none of that luscious flavour which the melon when well cultivated possesses so eminently. …Hume thus refers to this false taste of the rich ‘The same care and toil that raise a dish of peas at Christmas would give bread to a whole family during six months.’

One does not have to eat hot-house fruit in order to eat out-of-season fruit of course. One way to do this is to make it into wine.Wine is never out of season. Today’s recipe is from a popular cookery book contemporary with that of Mr. Timbs. It is A New System Of Domestic Cookery, Formed Upon Principles Of Economy by Maria Rundell (1840)

Raspberry or Currant Wine.
To every three pints of fruit, carefully cleared from mouldy or bad, put one quart of water; bruise the former. In twenty four hours strain the liquor and put to every quart a pound of sugar of good middling quality of Lisbon. If for white currants use lump sugar. It is best to put the fruit &c in a large pan, and when in three or four days the scum rises, take that off before the liquor be put into the barrel. Those who make from their own gardens may not have a sufficiency to fill the barrel at once; the wine will not hurt if made in the pan in the above proportions, and added as the fruit ripens and can be gathered in dry weather. Keep an account what is put in each time.

Quotation for the Day.
What I like to drink most is wine that belongs to others.
Diogenes , 320 BC.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Black Beetle Sauce.

I remember as a child growing up in the North of England in the 1950’s being told – and wholeheartedly believing – that the spaghetti beloved by Italians was actually worms. I understand that this was a common story perpetrated at the time. I do not know if the perpetrators were adults or other children, nor if it was done in jest or out of post-war jingoism, or simple monumental ignorance. How do these stories start?

Today I am going to give you one fine historical example of the process in action. I found it in Popular Errors Explained and Illustrated (John Timbs, London, 1841) – a book I am sure I am going to delve into again.

Sailors have a notion that Soy is made from cockroaches; and however absurd the belief may appear the reason for it is worthy of investigation. The Chinese at Canton have a large Soy manufactory and they are particularly solicitous to obtain cockroaches from ships; from which circumstances sailors immediately conclude that it is for the purpose of making Soy from them. But it is better established that cockroaches are used by the Chinese as bait in fishing. The infusion of cockroaches is also used in medicine; and Mr Webster, surgeon of H.M.S. Chanticleer, states that common salt and water saturated with the juices of the cockroach, has all the odour and some of the flavour and qualities, of Soy; so that the sailors notion after all may not be far from the truth.

This story must not have had wide currency outside of the maritime community, I wouldn’t think, because soy sauce was eagerly taken up by the British - certainly by the second half of the eighteenth century, who imported it from the East Indies. The British seem to have an ancestral love of salty spicy sauces, perhaps as a result of that long Roman occupation, and exposure to their favourite salty, fishy garum?

As evidence for this popularity, I remind you that soy sauce was one of the indispensible inclusions in Kitchener’s ‘Magazine of Taste’, which he explains in The Cook’s Oracle (1817). In addition, I note (cooks being no exception to the concept of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery) that the nineteenth century was rife with recipes for imitation Soy and Worcestershire sauces.

Here is a recipe using soy sauce to make another ‘catsup’, from the inimitable Eliza Acton.

Mix well by shaking them in a bottle a quarter pint of Indian soy, half a pint of Chili vinegar, half a pint of walnut catsup, and a pint and a half of the best mushroom catsup. These proportions make an excellent sauce either to mix with melted butter and to serve with fish, or to add to different kinds of gravy, but they can be varied or added to at pleasure.
Indian soy ¼ pint; Chili vinegar ½ pint ;walnut catsup ½ pint; mushroom catsup 1 ½ pint .
Obs: A pint of port wine a few eschalots and some thin strips of lemon rind will convert this into an admirable store sauce. Less soy would adapt it better to many tastes.
Modern Cookery in all its Branches (1845)

Quotation for the Day.
A well made sauce will make even an elephant or a grandfather palatable.
Grimod de la Reynière

Monday, February 07, 2011

A Useful Man.

I expect that a number of my (female) readers may find the concept of a ‘Useful Man’ amusing. I have no intention of participating in that debate, no matter how hysterical. I have my own private thoughts on the matter, which will remain just that – private.

Once upon a time, for those in need of their services, a Useful Man could be purchased. The price was ‘thirty or forty dollars a month.’ The time was the early 1900’s. The place was America (but no doubt the Brits had their own equally useful men.)

This fascinating information was gleaned from Millionaire Households and their Domestic Economy, with hints upon Fine Living, a wonderfully useful book written by Mary Elizabeth Carter in 1909.

What sort of person is this ‘useful man’ retained by Millionaire Households? According to the book he ‘needs an angelic disposition to get along, and deserves canonization as a saint when his earthly probation is over.’ This is clear from the job description, which is summed up by the following ominous sentences: ‘his individual duties are many and varied, his odd jobs legion. They usually comprise what no one else can or will do’, and ‘he is the universal pack-horse of the house.’ He must be an early riser, as ‘unless he is up betimes he can never get through with his ante-breakfast work,’ for ‘he must perform a large proportion of them [his duties] before the family are astir.’ The physical requirements are ‘a cast-iron back with arms and hands of steel.’ Oh! And, like most important servants, he was expected to remain unmarried, lest he develop other priorities.

The detailed breakdown of work of this angelic and useful man (hereinafter also called ‘the exhausted man’) takes up thirteen pages of this book. I hereby give you my succinct summary.

• His regular duties comprise window and sidewalk, piazza and balcony cleaning, the vestibule in a town house,
• the getting up of wood and coal for kitchen, laundry, and for all open fires over the entire establishment,
• trunk lifting, ice breaking and carrying, bedroom supplies of cold water at night,
• boot and shoe polishing,
• running upon errands.
• He may be required to lend a hand in turning the laundry mangle when the maids are doing plain things, because the mangle requires a strong and muscular arm.
• Of course the useful man must be an expert scrubber. Often the tiled floors of the lower hall fall to his charge.
• At odd times he is called to the pantry to assist in washing costly engraved crystal, cut glass, and priceless Sevres.
• He carries the garbage from the pantry to the outside can.
• In some houses he is obliged to …don a braided coat decorated with gold buttons, scarlet waist- coat, velvet knee-breeches, silk stockings, patent-leather pumps with gold buckles, immaculate linen and white gloves, and thus arrayed ascend to the main hall or to the dining-room there to lengthen the line of liveried men, and perform a part in the society's endless drama … and help usher into the house the world of wealthy and fashionable people.
• Fires form an important part of the useful man’s service.
• In a summer home where guests are constantly coming and going, the handling of baggage is a labor in itself.
• temporary repairing or tinkering when the carpenter is not on hand.

Luckily for us, this gem of a book also contains some recipes, and I have chosen one as the recipe for the day. Note that the sum mentioned here would represent 2-3 days wages for the Useful Man.

A Three Dollar Recipe for Waffles.
Thick sweet cream 1 quart.
Sweet milk 1 pint.
Flour, sifted, 1 quart.
Baking-powder ½ teaspoonful.
Salt ¼ teaspoonful.
Sugar 1 teaspoonful.
Eggs, whites and yolks beaten separately, 6.
Throw together milk, sugar, and salt. Beat yolks of eggs and add cream and well-whisked whites stiff. Beat well and add milk, etc. Mix the baking-powder through the flour before stirring all together. The mixture should be a thick batter. Bake in well-buttered, hot waffle-irons.

Quotation for the Day.
I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.
Henry David Thoreau.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Cake to Celebrate.

It has been all drama here in the state of Queensland over the last few weeks, as most of you are aware. Three weeks ago today, my Little Sister was worried about all of us in Brisbane in the path of the catastrophic floods. For the last 24 hours we in Brisbane were all worried about Little Sister in Cairns, in the path of Cyclone Yasi. All is well for my family and their home, thank goodness, but many others are not so lucky – although amazingly, for a weather event that was bigger than Hurricane Katrina, no life was lost. Kudos to the Disaster Management teams, I say.

I feel that a Thanksgiving of sorts, is in order, so am going to give you a classic cake. Then I want to get my post-house move, post-Christmas, post-holiday, post-flood, post-cyclone life in order and endure a boring anxiety-free routine for a while, and provide you with some more food-focussed, thought provoking stories. Thankyou for your patience during these trying times.

Devil's Food Cake
Two and a half cups of sifted flour, two cups of sugar, one-half cup of butter, one-half cup of sour milk, one-half cup of hot water, two eggs, one-half or one-fourth cake of chocolate, one teaspoon of vanilla, one teaspoon of soda. Grate chocolate and dissolve with the soda in the hot water. Use white icing.--Mrs Nelson Ruggles.

The Good Housekeeping Woman's Home Cook Book Arranged By Isabel Gordon Curtis. Chicago: Reilly & Britton, c1909.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Unmentionable pies.

Some long time ago I included a sixteenth century recipe for a ‘Pie of Bulls’ Testicles’ in a story. Perhaps you couldn’t source the main ingredient. Perhaps you didn’t fancy the dish.

Today I give you another rather unusual pie. ‘Muggety Pie’ is made, as its name suggests, from ‘muggets’ or ‘muggities. Calves’ or sheeps’ entrails, in other words. Offal is making a come-back, I hear.

Muggety Pie.
Take the long cord [small intestine] of a calf, clean it, soak for an hour in salt water and then boil a short time. Cut core lengthways with a pair of scissors. Cut into convenient lengths, place in a pie-dish with pepper, salt, and flour to taste. Add onions, if liked, and a white sauce. Cover with pastry and bake.

I am embarrassed to admit that I have mislaid the source of this recipe. I will find it, I promise, and amend this post. In the meanwhile, some real work threatens, so I must away. Before I leave, by way of compensation I offer you another pie: quite elegant, if you can be bothered, and if you can avoid the members of the Nice Little Songbirds Protection League.

Lark Pie.
Pluck, singe, and flatten the backs of two or three dozen larks, draw them, throw away the gizzards, and pound the trail in a mortar with scraped bacon and mixed herbs; fill the larks with this, and wrap each one in a slice of bacon. Line a plain mould with paste, fill it with the larks, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, spread a thick layer of butter over them, add two or three laurel leaves, and a pinch of mixed spice; cover with paste, and bake for two hours and a half. Turn out of the mould, and serve cold.
366 Menus and 1200 Recipes of the Baron Brisse, 1868.

Quotation for the Day.

Men may come and men may go.....but Pie goes on for ever.
George Augustus Sala, British journalist. 'America Revisited' (1882)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Beating Butter.

I am sure I have neglected butter in my posts (but not in my real life, I assure you) over the last five years. I intend to try to remedy that situation, starting right now.

Many folk think margarine is an acceptable substitute for butter. I am not one of those folks, for two reasons that come to mind immediately. One is that I feel vaguely uneasy about margarine – a feeling summed up nicely by the quotation (attributed to Joan Gussow) “As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.” This logic may have nothing at all to do with scientific evidence - it is a logic which perhaps proves that that butter is an emotional concept as well as a physical fact. The other reason is more pragmatic. Butter tastes better.

I give you a recipe from the famous Hannah Glasse. A recipe that makes me enormously grateful that I live in the era of electric beaters, not the good old days of beating by hand (literally.)

Butter Cake.
You must take a dish of butter, and beat it like cream with your hands, two pounds of fine sugar well beat, three pounds of flour well dried, and mix them in with the butter, twenty-four eggs, leave out half the whites, and then beat all together for an hour. Just as you are going to put it into the oven, put in a quarter of an ounce of mace, a nutmeg beat, a little sack or brandy, and seeds or currants, just as you please.
The Art of Cookery, made plain and easy; Hannah Glasse, 1747

Quotation for the Day.
Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be past.
Old Dutch proverb

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Mace & Maces.

Yesterday I talked about the two different sorts of cloves we use regularly in cooking. As I puddled around in the Oxford English Dictionary, mace suddenly jumped into my mind.

A mace is a nasty club used to hit your enemy on the head, isn’t it? Or a ceremonial version of the same thing, used by civic organisations in their less violent version version of Intimidate and Subdue the riff-raff.

What have these war-like connotations got to do with mace, the spice, you may ask? Before we go any further, it may bear repeating that mace, the spice, is the outer covering of the nutmeg, and has a clearly related aroma and flavour.

On the topic of mace, the weapon, I am a little confused by the entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. It appears that the word is ultimately derived from French mace or masse, but is unclear what this actually means - although it does sound weighty - and there is some suggestion that it might relate to classical Latin ‘mateola (rare) an agricultural implement, probably a maul or beetle.’

As for mace, the sweet spice, the OED says that it is the French name for the aril, or outer covering to the nutmeg, which hardly answers our question. It is now as clear as mud to me, and I eagerly await the comments from the wordsmiths amongst you.

Here is a nice way to use up some of those blades of mace you have lurking in your pantry. I don’t believe I have ever cooked fish with mace.

Strong Fish Gravy.
Skin two or three eels, or some flounders; gut and wash them very clean; cut them into small pieces, and put into a saucepan. Cover them with water, and add a little crust of bread toasted brown, two blades of mace, some whole pepper, sweet herbs, a piece of lemon-peel, an anchovy or two, and a tea-spoon of horseradish. Cover close, and simmer; add a bit of butter and flour, an boil with the above.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell, 1814.

Quotation for the Day.
This is the icing on the gravy.
Lucas Glover.