Thursday, March 31, 2011

Random Ideas for Milk.

The title says it all today folks. I have something different planned for you tomorrow, so to end our milk series I give you a little cache of milk recipes that didn’t fit in the posts earlier in the week.

Milk Yeast.
Take a pint of new milk, a tea-spoonful of salt, and a large spoonful of flour stirred in; set it in a warm place, and it will be fit for use in an hour. Twice the quantity of common yeast is required for use. It must be used soon, as it will not keep.
The Family Doctor, or guide to health, (1844) by H.B.Skinner

Milk Soda.
Half fill a tumbler with milk, and pour upon it soda water.
The Invalid’s own book, Lady Mary Anne Boode Cust, 1853.

Milk Jelly.
Ingredients: One ounce of Iceland Moss. One quart of milk or water. Two tablespoonfuls of powdered loaf sugar.
Time required (after the Iceland Moss has soaked all night), for ‘Water Jelly’, about one hour; for ‘Milk Jelly’, about two hours.
To Make [Milk] Jelly with Iceland Moss:
1. Wash one ounce of Iceland moss well in cold water.
2. Then put it in a basin of cold water and let it soak all night.
3. After that time, take it out of the water and squeeze it dry in a cloth.
4. Then put it in a saucepan, with one quart of cold milk.
5. Put the saucepan on the fire and let it boil for two hours; you must stir it frequently.
6. Then strain it through a sieve into a basin, and sweeten it with loaf sugar, according to taste.
7. When it is cold, turn the jelly out of the basin onto a dish, and it is ready for use.
Lessons in Cookery: Handbook of the National Training School for Cookery (London, 1879)

A Delicious Candy.
Milk Candy is a delicious one for children. It can be made with either brown, castor, or loaf sugar. When made with brown sugar it becomes very hard, with castor sugar slightly sticky, with loaf sugar it is crisp. The method is the same whichever sugar is used, and it can be flavoured to suit the tastes of those who are going to eat it. Lemon juice, vanilla, and peppermint essence can all be used to flavour it. For brown or castor sugar, take a breakfastcupful of sugar and the same quantity of milk. Put the milk and sugar into an enamelled pan, bring it to the boil, and boil it 20 minutes, when the candy should set; pour it into a greased tin, and score it well with the point of a knife before it is cold or it will not break into nice neat pieces. When using loaf sugar, use half a pint of milk to a pound of sugar, and treat exactly as above described. A breakfastcupful of milk and one of sugar will only make a small quantity of candy, as it reduces so much in the boiling.
The Echo, [newspaper], London, July 11, 1905.

Quotation for the Day
I won't eat any cereal that doesn't turn the milk purple.
Bill Watterson

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Milk Cake & Biscuits.

Today I want to continue the milk theme and give you a small selection of bread and cake recipes.

Novice bread bakers are often advised to start with milk breads of the softer, sweeter, quicker rising breakfast variety on the grounds that the dough is more forgiving and the final product closer to cake - so overall it is a less intimidating experiment. Here is a nice easy version from The Cooking Manual of Practical Directions for Economical Every-day Cookery, (1877), by Juliet Corson. You can, of course, substitute regular yeast for the hop yeast, which not too many of us have to hand these days.

Milk Bread.
Take one quart of milk, heat one-third of it, and scald with it half a pint of flour; if the milk is skimmed, use a small piece of butter; when the batter is cool, add the rest of the milk, one cup of hop yeast, half a tablespoon of salt, and flour enough to make it quite stiff; knead the dough until it is fine and smooth, and raise it overnight. This quantity makes three small loaves.

As we have often discussed before, early cakes (before the widespread use of baking powders) were in effect yeast-raised sweet breads. I give you a good example – which we would now call fruit bread - from a source with a most unlikely title for a cookery book.

Sour Milk Cake
Take two pounds of flour, three-quarters of a pound of butter, four eggs, one pound of sugar, one pound of currants or raisins, one-half pint of good yeast; wet it with milk, and mould it on a board. Let it rise overnight. A loaf should bake in three-quarters of an hour.
The Family Doctor, or guide to health, (1844) by H.B.Skinner

The instructions in the next recipe are minimalist to the point of non-existence, reminding us once again that in the not so distant past cooking skills were sufficiently widespread that cookery book writers could assume much knowledge on the part of their readers. Slightly more detailed recipes with the same title have the mixture rolled out and made up into small pieces – so perhaps are ‘cake’ that some of you would call ‘biscuits’?

Hot Milk Cake.
4 eggs, 2 cups sugar, 2 cups flour, ¾ cup hot milk, 2 teaspoonfuls baking powder.
Hanover Cook Book 1922.

For those of you who prefer your cake to be honest-to-goodness, properly cakey cake, may I refer you back to the Chocolate Malted Milk Cake recipe we enjoyed several years ago?

Quotation for the Day
I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.
Woody Allen

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Milk Soup.

No-one utters the phrase ‘milk soup’ anymore, which I guess means that no-one makes it. If one did want to make milk soup, one would first of all have to decide on the style of the soup, for it seems that there are several.

In the time of the inimitable Hannah Glasse, author of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747), milk soup was essentially a custard or a custardy bread pudding.

Milk Soup the Dutch Way
Take a quart of milk, boil it with cinnamon and moist sugar; put sippets in the dish, pour the milk over it, and set it over a charcoal fire to simmer, till the bread is soft. Take the yolks of two eggs, beat them up, and mix it with a little of the milk, and throw it in; mix all together, and send it up to table.

One of the early vegetarian medical men included two recipes for milk soup in his book, Dr Allinson’s Cook Book (1915) The first one is a wheatmeal and vegetable puree, the second one ‘for children’ is another milk pudding.

Milk Soup.
2 onions, 2 turnips, 1 head of celery, 3 pints of milk, 1 pint of water, 2 tablespoons of Allison fine wheatmeal, pepper and salt to taste. Chop up the vegetables and boil them in the water until quite tender. Rub them through a sieve, return the whole to the saucepan, add pepper and salt, rub the wheatmeal smooth in the milk, let the soup simmer for 5 minutes, and serve.

Milk Soup for Children.
1½ pints of milk, 1 egg, 1 tablespoonful of Allinson fine wheatmeal, 1½ oz of sultanas, sugar to taste. Boil 1¼ pints of milk, add the sugar, beat up the egg with the rest of the milk and mix the wheatmeal smooth with it; stir this into the boiling milk, add the sultanas, and let the soup simmer for 10 minutes.

For a decidedly savoury option, we have, from Modern Domestic Cookery, and Useful Receipt Book, by William Augustus Henderson (1828.)

Milk Soup with Onions.
Take a dozen of onions, and set them over a stove till they are done without being coloured. Then boil some milk, add to it the onions, and season with salt alone. Put some butter onions to scald, then pass them in butter and when tender add it to the soup and serve it up.

And finally, a soup (or is it a custard?) which can be savoury or sweet at whim, from Food in Health and Disease, by Isaac Burney Yeo (1890)

Vermicelli Milk Soup.
Into a quart of boiling milk put a level saltspoonful of salt (or celery salt); add slowly (stirring constantly) 2 oz. of vermicelli; keep stirring for fifteen or twenty minutes, until quite soft. The yolks of two eggs should be added when the soup is ready to be removed from the fire. This soup may also be flavoured with cinnamon and sugar.

Quotation for the Day.

There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.
Winston Churchill.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sour Milk.

I thought I might give you a milk diet this week, as I don’t seem to have given much blog time to one of my favourite foods. A brief look at past posts suggests that the only story to date which focussed on milk was about koumiss and artificial asses’milk, although I have alsogiven you recipes for milk punch from 1724 and 1778, and of course a lot of milk puddings. I’ve hardly scratched the surface of milk, really, have I?

So, today I want to look at yoghurt – specifically the early Western experience of it, for the good reason that I can’t read very early references in Arabic or Turkish or other languages of its countries of origin!

The Oxford English Dictionary describes yoghurt as ‘a sour fermented liquor made from milk, used in Turkey and other countries of the Levant; now common in many English-speaking countries as a commercial semi-solid, often flavoured, foodstuff.’ It gives the first reference in English as appearing in 1625, as ‘Neither doe they [sc. the Turks] eate much Milke, except it bee made sower, which they call Yoghurd’ (S. Purchas Pilgrimmes II)

The Monthly Magazine, and American View for the Year 1800, in its section on Useful Economical Information included an extract from Eton’s Survey of the Turkish Empire which described the preparation of yoghurt in its native land, and which will serve for our recipe for the day.

The Arabians and the Turks have a preparation of milk, which has similar qualities to the kumiss of the Kalmuks: by the first, it is called leban; by the Turks, yaourt.
To make it, they put to new milk, made hot over the fire, some old leban, or yaourt. In a few hours, more or less, according to the temperature of the air, it be comes curdled, of an uniform consistence, and a most pleasant acid; the cream is in great part separated, leaving the curd light and semitransparent. The whey is much less subject to separate than in curds made with rennet with us, for the purpose of making cheese. Yaourt has this singular quality; that left to stand, it becomes daily sourer, and, at last, dries without having entered into the putrid fermentation. In this state, it is preserved in bags, and, in appearance, resembles pressed curds after they have been broken by the hand. This dry yaourt, mixed with waiter, becomes a fine cooling food or drink, of excellent service in fevers of the inflammatory or putrid kind. It seems to have none of those qualities which make milk improper in fevers. Fresh yaourt is a great article of food among the natives, and Europeans soon become fond of it.
No other acid will make the same kind of curd-: all that have been tried, after the acid fermentation is over, become putrid. In Russia they put their milk in pots in an oven, and let it stand till it becomes sour, and this they use as an article of food in that state, or make cheese of it, but it has none of the qualities of yaourt, though, when it is new, it has much of the taste. Perhaps new milk curdled with sour milk, and that again used as a ferment, and the same process continued, might, in time, acquire the qualities of yaourt, which never can be made in Turkey without some old yaourt.
They give no rational account how it was first made; some of them told me an angel taught Abraham how to make it, and others, that an angel brought a pot of it to Hagar, which was the first yaourt (or leban).
It merits attention as a delicious article of food, and as a medicine.

It seems that popularisation of yoghurt in the English-speaking world took more than three centuries from that first mention in 1625. It was still essentially unknown in the very working class post-WWII community in the North of England in which I grew up. I do not remember when I first tried yoghurt myself, or when it became part of my daily (almost) routine, but I do remember making it myself in the ‘80’s when we lived in the country with no shops nearby but a house cow which provided more milk than we could use.

Literary references suggest however that the better off and better informed in England did appreciate yoghurt before my time – although it is still surprising that the first mention of it in The Times newspaper was not until 1938, and the first of it being used in cookery not until 1961, in a brief mention of it being a good addition to briefly cooked shredded beetroot.

Quotation for the Day

I asked the waiter, 'Is this milk fresh?' He said, 'Lady, three hours ago it was grass.'
Phyllis Diller

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Fun Food.

Earlier this week we had a couple of heavy-duty (dare I say “unpalatable”?) stories on bread made from blood and sawdust. It is the end of the week, and time for some Friday Fun (I know it is still Thursday for many of you – please don’t email me and tell me I got the date wrong – I assure you it is already Friday in Australia.)

I wondered about the origin of Chiffon Cake. It seems that before it was cake, chiffon cake was a jelly dessert (as in ‘set with gelatine’, i.e Jell-O, not ‘jelly as in jam’). Here is a recipe from a South Carolina newspaper in 1934.

Apricot Chiffon Cake.
1 tablespoon granulated gelatine.
4 tablespoons cold water.
1-2 cups apricot juice.
1 tablespoon lemon juice.
1/8 tablespoon salt.
3 egg yolks.
1 cup sugar.
2 tablespoons flour.
3 egg whites beaten.
1/3 cup cooked apricots.
½ cup whipped cream.
Soak gelatine and water 5 minutes. Beat yolks, add sugar, salt, and flour. Add fruit juices. Cook in double boiler until thick and creamy. Stir constantly. Add gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved. Cool. Fold in rest of the ingredients and pour into a glass mold. Chill until stiff, unmold and serve cut in slices. Garnish with apricots.

I am not certain when the real, cakey chiffon cake came into being. The usually repeated story is that it was invented by Harry Baker, who was not a baker at all but an insurance agent. He kept his recipe secret for two decades until he sold it to General Mills, who gave it away to Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, who published it in May 1948. The problem with this story is that there are recipes for chiffon cake before this date – not much before, I grant you. The Nevada State Journal of April 30, 1947 gave a recipe for “a new cake indeed … the baking sensation of the century” which turned out to be a chiffon cake. There may well be earlier recipes waiting to be discovered, but in the meanwhile, I am happy that it was invented in the late 1940’s.

One interesting thing is that the advertisement (for a brand of flour) which included the recipe said that it was from ‘Martha Meade’ and could therefore be trusted. There was a cookery book promoting the Sperry Brand of flour called Modern Meal Maker edited by Martha Meade and published in 1935. I have not found out anything else about this author, nor have I set eyes on a copy of the book so I don’t know if it included a recipe for chiffon cake.

The ‘secrets’ of chiffon cake are said to be two in number: – the use of vegetable oil, and the whites being whipped separately then folded in (I don’t believe this last one was a new idea in the 1940’s).

Here is the recipe from the Nevada newspaper of 1947.

Velvet Chiffon Cake.
Sift flour before measuring.
Use level measurements for all ingredients.
Preheat oven to baking temperature 325o [F] a slow moderate oven.
Have all ingredients at room temperature (about 70o)
Measure all ingredients before starting to mix cake.
Have ready an ungreased tube pan 10 in. diameter, 4 in. deep.

Sift together in a mixing bowl:-
     2 cups sifted Sperry Drifted Snow “Home Perfected” Enriched Flour.
     1 ½ cups granulated sugar.
     2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder.
     1 teaspoon salt.
Make a well in center of dry ingredients and add in order listed:-
     ½ cup cooking (salad) oil
     5 egg yolks, unbeaten
     ¾ cup cold water
      2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon each vanilla and almond extracts.
Beat with a spoon until it forms a smooth batter.
In a very large mixing bowl place:-
     1 cup egg whites, unbeaten (7 or 8)
     ½ teaspoon cream of tartar.
Whip (using hand whip, rotary beater, or electric mixer) until whites form very stiff peaks, Do not underbeat. (Whites should be much stiffer than for angel cake or meringue.) Then pour batter slowly and gradually over stiffly beaten egg whites, while gradually folding in with a rubber scraper or large spoon. Fold in until blended: do not stir. Pour immediately into the ungreased tube pan, Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour 15 minuts. When done, top surface of cake will spring back when lightly touched with the fingers, and the “cracks” will look dry. Take from oven and immediately place pan upside down, placing the tube part over a funnel or bottle. Let hang, free of table, until thoroughly cold. Loosen cake from sides and tubes with spatula. Turn pan over and hit edge sharply on table to loosen. Frost or not as desired.
16 to 20 serve in slices.

Quotation for the Day.
When baking, follow directions. When cooking, go by your own taste.
Laiko Bahrs

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Coffee: First Impressions.

Centuries before it spread to Europe, the use of coffee was virtually confined to the Arab and then the Ottoman Empires. The Arabs protected their control of the coffee industry fiercely, not allowing plants to leave the country, and par-boiling or roasting all beans to destroy their fertility. They were remarkably successful in maintaining their monopoly, and until the end of the sixteenth century very few Europeans had tasted coffee.

The first reports to reach Europe were from the few diplomats or merchants who were sent to the Arab or Ottoman lands, or the rare, adventurous independent traveller. First accounts described coffee simply as a curiosity, a strange black brew made from berries and drunk - very hot - as the Muslim alternative to wine or beer, or for its medicinal qualities. Most of these early reports also made specific mention of the consumption of coffee in public places.
Prosper Alpinus was a physician and botanist who observed its use in Egypt, and is credited with bringing coffee back to Venice in about 1570. He was primarily interested in coffee as a botanical specimen, and does not mention drinking it himself, but noted that “Among the Arabs and Egyptians there is made a kind of decoction which is heavily used, and which they drink in place of wine: it is likewise sold in public places, just as wine is sold among us”

In 1573 a Bavarian – also a physician and botanist - called Leonhard Rauwolf, went to Egypt. He was the first person to describe the preparation of the drink , from a “fruit” which he recognised as being similar to that described by the classical Arab physicians as “buncho”, the name given to the green coffee bean. He said “Among the rest they have a very good Drink, by them called Chaube, that is almost black as Ink, and very good in Illness, chiefly that of the Stomach; of this they drink in the Morning early in open places before everybody, without any fear or regard, out of China cups, as hot as they can; they put it often to their Lips, but drink but little at a Time, and let it go round as they sit”

Several of the English travellers who visited Turkey at the end of the first decade of the 17th century returned to write about their adventures, reviving the enormous fascination with the Orient which had really begun with the crusades. They had some comments on the strange black brew.
William Biddulph was an English clergyman who visited Turkey in 1609. His reaction to the use of coffee was similar to Rauwolf’s in Aleppo “Their most common drink is coffa, which is a black kind of drink made of a kind of pulse like pease, called coava; which being ground in the mill and boiled in water, they drink it as hot as they can suffer it; which they find to agree very well with them against their crudities and feeding on herbs and raw meats”

The British poet George Sandys also visited Turkey at about the same time. He was singularly unimpressed with the lack of provision of places for travellers to eat or stay in “inhospitalle Turkie” , but did sample coffee for himself. He was not impressed. "Although they be destitute of taverns, they have their coffa-houses, which something resemble them. They sit there chatting most of the day and sip a drink called 'coffa' in little china dishes as hot as they can suffer it: black as soot, and tasting not much unlike it." He also noted that coffee was not the only thing on offer at the coffee shops: “Many of the Coffamen [keep] beautifull boyes, who serve as stales [i.e lures] to procure them customers.”
In 1610 William Lithgow left Scotland to escape a scandal involving a young woman. He spent many years travelling Europe and the East and survived many adventures, including torture at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. He was impressed with the “delectable” sherberts in Constantinople, but noted that the drink given to honoured guests was “a cup of coffa, made of a kind of seed called coava, and of a blackish colour; which they drink so hot as possible they can”.

About ten years later, Sir Thomas Herbert visited Persia(Iran) and tasted coffee; he was definitely not impressed, calling it "a drink imitating that in the Stygian lake, black, thick, and bitter." The intrepid Robert Burton happened to be in Turkey at about the same time and was similarly unimpressed, saying “The Turks have a drink called Coffee (for they use no wine), so named of a berry as black as soot, and as bitter, (like that black drink which was in use among the Lacedæmonians, and perhaps the same), which they sip still off, and sup as warm as they can suffer” He added “they spend much time in those Coffee-houses, which are somewhat like our Ale-houses or Taverns, and there they sit chatting and drinking to drive away the time, and to be merry together, because they find by experience that kind of drink so used helpeth digestion, and procureth alacrity. Some of them take Opium to this purpose”

Within a few decades coffee went from being a talked about curiosity, to a popular if still controversial beverage in England and Europe. The first recorded instance of coffee being drunk in England was in 1637 in Oxford, where a Cretan scholar named Nathaniel Conopios “disseminated his grave learning and amused his colleagues by brewing a black drink from roasted coffee berries".
The coffee houses flourished and although much of the promotion was still related to its medicinal qualities, there is no doubt that simple enjoyment, particularly of its social aspects, was becoming its main attraction. The first treatise on coffee was published in 1657, by Walter Rumsey, and in the same year in London it was advertised as a drink which

"……closes the Orifice of the Stomack, fortifies the Heart within, helpeth Digestion, quickeneth the Spirits, maketh the Heart lightsom, is good against Eye-sores, Coughs or Colds, Rhumes, Consumptions, Head-ach, Dropsie, Gout, Scurvy, Kings Evil and many others."

Not everyone was pleased however, and also in that year, James Farr, the man who opened the second coffee house in London, the Rainbow, was taken to task “for making and selling a drink called coffee, whereby, in making the same, he annoyeth his neighboors by the evill smells, and for keeping of fire the most part night and day, whereby his chimney and chamber has been set on fire, to the great danger and affreightment of his neighboors.”

Recipe for the Day.
It is only relatively recently, historically, that coffee has been used as a cooking ingredient. May I refer you to the Coffee Recipes Archive for some early inspiration?

One thing that frustrates me is a recipe for ‘coffee cake’ that does not contain coffee. I know how this occurs (please don’t email me) – it often refers to cakes to have with coffee, which is not helpful as this includes all cakes, really.

Here, to redress the balance, is a true coffee cake:

Coffee Cake
5 cupfuls Flour
1 egg
2 cupfuls Currants (or 1 ½ cupfuls stoned and chopped raisins)
2 cupfuls sultanas
1 cupful butter
1 cupful treacle
1 cupful brown sugar
1 small cupful Lemon Peel
2 cupfuls boiling coffee
2 teaspoons Carbonate of soda
1 dessertspoonful ginger
Mix the butter with the flour, then add the fruit, egg, sugar, lemon peel, ginger and treacle. Mix the soda into the boiling coffee, then stir the coffee, still boiling, into the mixture. Stir quickly and thoroughly , pour into buttered tims, and bake in a quick oven for about 2 hours.
New Standard Cookery Illustrated (London, 1933)

Quotation for the Day
Coffee is real good when you drink it it gives you time to think. It's a lot more than just a drink; it's something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.
Gertrude Stein

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sawdust Bread.

Blood Bread may not have appealed to you yesterday, but there is no doubt it would be more nutritious than ‘Sawdust Bread’. The epithet of ‘sawdust bread’ has been applied in past times to many breads of uncertain constitution and gritty, hard texture which have been produced in times of great privation or punishment such as wars and prisons. Sometimes such bread did literally contain sawdust – or ‘tree flour’ as it is also called, as this sounds slightly less inedible.

Nineteenth century scientists were able to justify the addition of sawdust to ordinary bread by claiming not only its nutritional value but its digestibility. The subject of ‘sawdust bread’ got quite a bit of journal space at the time on account of the possibility of it assisting the feeding of the poor at little cost to the rich during times when wheat prices were high.

Here is an extract from the Proceedings of the New York Agricultural Society in 1868.

“Pereira says, "When woody fibre is comminuted and reduced by artificial processes, it is said to form a substance analogous to the amyloceous (starchy) principle and to be highly nutritious." Schubler states that "when wood is deprived of everything soluble, reduced to powder, subjected to the heat of an oven, and then ground in the manner of com, it yields, boiled with water, a flour which forms a jelly like that of wheat starch, and when fermented with leaven makes a perfectly uniform and spongy bread. …
Tomlinson, in his Cyclopedia, asserts that in Norway and Sweden sawdust is sometimes converted into bread for the people by a similar process; and the newspapers have stated, lately, that Norway was reduced to the necessity of using sawdust bread. So we see that woody fibre, practically as well as theoretically, is nutritious, and that heat will develop this nutriment. Heat will develop it into starch, and the action of an acid is necessary to turn it into sugar. The gastric juice supplies this acid, and after the proper application of heat, can dissolve woody fibre or starch, and probably convert it into sugar before it becomes nutritious. Starch is an element of respiration, and supplies animal heat, and, according to Liebig, the surplus contributes to the formation of fat in animals. ….And it is highly probable that even the trunks of trees, when so reduced, are nutritious.”

There is a recipe for bread containing ‘tree flour’ for the use in prisoner of war camps, which is said to have been published in Germany in 1841. It sounds grim.

Black Bread.
50% bruised rye grains.
20% sliced sugar beets.
20% tree flour (saw dust).
10% minced leaves and straw.

Quotation for the Day
O God! that bread should be so dear,
And flesh and blood so cheap!
Thomas Hood.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nic-Nacs for a Nic-Nac?

Yesterday’s source - The Complete Bread, Cake, and Cracker Baker, J. Thompson Gill, (Chicago, 1881) – taught me something new (two things actually), which is always fun. The introductory pages are not wildly exciting either in content or style, but they did include this description:

‘Nic-Nacs is a name given to hard sweet biscuits or crackers, to distinguish them from other. As their name implies, they are small, and are a combination of fancy shapes. They were first made in London.’

Naturally, as I had never heard of these biscuits, I wanted to know more. Equally naturally, the Oxford English Dictionary was my first step on the road to enlightenment. The primary spelling was ‘knick-knack’, and the first definition was ‘A petty trick, sleight, artifice, subterfuge’. An extended usage can refer to ‘a light, dainty article of furniture, dress, or food; any curious or pleasing trifle more for ornament than use’ – which explains our biscuits, I suppose.

What delighted me even more was the subsequent usage of ‘nick-nack’ to refer to ‘A feast or social meal to which each guest contributes in kind.’ A ‘pot-luck’ or ‘bring a plate’ meal , in other words. The supporting quotation for this use is about 1777, showing us that this sort of community catering has been happening for well over two hundred years. The sound is perilously close to ‘pic-nic’ too, isn’t it (although I am not sure if that is at all relevant to anything)?

So that you can take some nic-nacs to your next nic-nac, I give you two very different recipes from the book. Note that the industrial quantities specified are because the book was meant for commercial bakers – which also explains the minimalist instructions.

I love it that there was something called a nic-nac cutter too.

Nic-Nacs (1)
16 lb flour
1 ½ ozs soda
½ oz tartaric acid
2 ½ lb sugar
1 ¼ lb lard or butter
½ gal sour milk
Oil lemon to flavor.
Cut with nic-nac cutters.

Nic-Nacs (2)
2 lbs flour
2 lb butter
4 oz fine loaf sugar.
Make into a stiff paste with milk; roll out thin and cut into fancy shapes; brush with a little milk; bake in a quick oven; when done, glace with a brush dipped in egg.

Quotation for the Day.

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.
Carl Sandburg

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blood Bread.

The simplest recipe in the world is for bread: take flour, water, and yeast; mix, leave, and bake. You can even avoid the nuisance of adding the yeast yourself, by ignoring the dough long enough that it picks up its own supply from the atmosphere. This simple formula gives us the basic, sustaining, staff of life. But how marvellous are the ways that we have learned to embellish this blank canvas over the millennia.

I thought I had seen all possible bread ideas, until I came across the following ‘health food’ recipe recently:

Blood Bread.
“Make as ordinary wheat bread, using about 20 per cent of uncoagulated blood from raw flesh, preferably beef. It is nutritious and anti-scorbutic.”
The Complete Bread, Cake, and Cracker Baker, J. Thompson Gill, (Chicago, 1881)

For those not forbidden by their religious beliefs to eat it, blood is highly nutritious; for those not held back by an apparently not uncommon repugnance, it is also pretty tasty. Culinary history includes a long litany of recipes specifying blood as an ingredient. Blood sausage (‘black pudding’) was a tradition at the annual harvest time pre-winter animal slaughter, and is still by many considered an essential component of a traditional British breakfast (whatever that is – but don’t get me on that topic.) Blood Pie was not unknown either, and it featured in a blog post some time ago. Another idea, suggested in a recipe from 1790, was that a pig be rubbed over with ‘a little rosin beat exceeding fine and its own blood …’ before it was put to be roasted.

Pig’s blood mixed with vinegar was supposedly the base for the infamous and maybe mythical melas zomos (‘black broth’) that supposedly gave the famous and apparently fearless Spartans of Ancient Greece their fighting edge (see the quotation below for a theory of why it might have worked.) And at the five-star end of the culinary spectrum, the blood of the hare is a key ingredient in the famous dish Lièvre a la Royale.

But blood in bread? Wouldn’t have thought of it in my wildest vampirest cooking dreams? What do the bread enthusiasts amongst you think?

P.S Blood is also an ingredient in ‘American Cutcheree Soup’ (1827)

Quotation for the Day.
“Now I do perceive why it is that Spartan soldiers encounter death so joyfully; dead men require no longer to eat; black broth is no longer a necessity.”
Supposedly said by ‘a certain native of Sybaris’ after he tasted the soup.

Friday, March 18, 2011

‘Foreign’ Recipes.

Part of the fun of exploring this week’s cookery book choice (Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery, or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d, published in 1744) has been considering old recipes as a source of new inspiration. I am sure I have gone on about this before, but I am constantly surprised, and more than a little disappointed, that modern cooks rarely seem to use history for inspiration. We are very comfortable with cultural inspiration however, and think nothing of incorporating ingredients and ideas from other countries in our recipes, even if we revert to familiar dishes for their comfort value.

It seems that ‘foreign’ food ideas were also appealing to cooks and diners in 1744. Here are a couple of recipes for peas with an international flavour, from Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery.

Peas the Portuguese Way.
Wash your Peas, cut in some Lettuce with a Lump of Sugar, some fine Oil, a few Mint Leaves, cut small, with Parsley, Onions, Shallots, Garlick, Winter Savory, Nutmeg, Salt, Pepper, and a little Broth; put some over the Fire, and when ‘tis almost ready, poach some new Eggs in it, making a Place for each Egg to lie in; then cover your Stew pan again, and boil your eggs with a little Fire upon the Cover; then slide them into your dish, and serve them.
Fine beans may be dress’d in the same manner, but you must blanch them, and put them in as they are, without putting them in Butter.

Peas the French Way.
Shell your Peas, and pass a quarter of a Pound of Butter, gold colour, with a Spoonful of Flower; then put in a Quart of Peas, four Onions cut small, and two Cabbages cut as small as the Onions; then put in half a Pint of Gravy, seasoned with Pepper, Salt, and Cloves. Stove this well an Hour, then put in half a Spoonful of fine Sugar, and fry some Artichokes to lay round the Side of the Dish; serve it with a forced Lettuce in the Middle.

Quotation for the Day.

LAUREL, n. The laurus a vegetable dedicated to Apollo, and formerly defoliated to wreathe the brows of victors and such poets as had influence at court.
Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Different Spin on Salad.

Our source for the week, Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery, or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d, (1744), has, I think, singlehandedly put to rest the myths that vegetables were essentially neglected by our ancestors, and if they were served at all, the recipes were uninspiring.

One of the other things the book demonstrates is that at the time, many of the plant foods that we consider as salad vegetables were much more likely to be cooked before serving. As a sweeping generalisation, raw vegetables and fruits were considered with some suspicion in the past as being unhealthy. Remember the story of Samuel Pepys, who believed his neighbour died from eating ‘cowcumbers’? This was the topic of my very first blog post over five years ago.

One of the other things that stands out in cookery books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is the number of recipes for cooking the vegetables that we now mostly eat raw in salads. When was the last time you had a dish of celery or cucumber cooked, as a side dish? I I am not talking about a couple of sticks of celery added to a stew, or cucumber to a stir-fry here, I am talking about these vegetables performing solo.

From our cookery book of the week, I give you a couple of ideas worth reviving.

Cellery with Cream.
Tie up your Branches and boil them tender; then cut them into Bits three Inches long, and put to them half a Pint of Cream, four Yolks of Eggs, a little Butter, and season it with Salt. Shake it together and serve it.

A Regalia of Cucumbers.
Slice twelve Cucumbers, put them in a Cloth, beat and squeeze them dry, flower and fry them brown; then add half a Gill of Claret, a little Gravy [broth], and some Salt, Pepper, Cloves, Mace, Nutmeg, and Butter work’d in Flower; toss them together, and serve them.

Quotation for the Day.

We can get fuel from fruit, from that shrub by the roadside, or from apples, weeds, saw-dust - almost anything! There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There is enough alcohol in one year's yield of a hectare of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the field for a hundred years. And it remains for someone to find out how this fuel can be produced commercially - better fuel at a cheaper price than we know now.
Henry Ford.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Take Some Wild Thistles ….

I have never eaten cardoons. I know a little about them, of course, but it is all theoretical. Now that I have realised this, deficit in my life, eating cardoons is on my A list, which I prefer to call my TTT-list (Things To Try list). I don’t remember ever seeing cardoons at any of the Brisbane farmers’ markets, but perhaps this will change now that they are on my curiosity radar.

I did consider the cardoon in a post a long time ago (here), but this week I am seeking vegetable inspiration from Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery, or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d, published in 1744. What does this lovely book have to give us on cardoons (which it calls chardoons) ? Four recipes, as it turns out – which is four more than any of the high profile celebrity chef cookery books that have ended up on my bookshelves over the last few years. How come we keep losing vegetable recipes from our cookery portfolios?

A couple of the recipes are quite substantial – chardoons with cheese, and one with bacon and marrow and more cheese, and one is for buttered chardoons. I am going to give you the first one in the book, which shows that if you prepare them right, they can substitute for asparagus, or even peas.

Chardoons Fried and Butter’d.
They are a wild Thistle that grows in every Ditch or Hedge. You must cut them about ten Inches, string them, tie them up twenty in a Bundle, and boil them like Asparagus: Or you may cut them in small Bits, and boil them as Pease, and toss them up with Pepper, Salt, and melted Butter.

Quotation for the Day.
I am better off with vegetables at the bottom of my garden than with all the fairies of the Midsummer Night's Dream.
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) 'Lord, I Thank Thee'

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Red is Good.

The Cabbage has been a staple vegetable for humans for millenia. We probably domesticated the wild form well over two thousand years ago, which has given us plenty of time to develop the different varieties from which we can now choose. The one I want to focus on today red cabbage.

As you well know, red cabbage is the litmus vegetable of the garden and kitchen – turning bluish if it is grown or cooked at the alkaline end of the pH spectrum, and red if it senses an acidic environment. This ability is due to the presence of one of the flavinoid pigments called anthocyanins – the same pigments that give the red colour to blood oranges, red apples, and autumn foliage, and which may well act as powerful anti-oxidants when we eat red foods.

Blue food on the other hand is not ‘natural’ to humans, probably because there are no really, truly blue foods in nature – only a few at the purplish (reddish) or blackish end of the spectrum such as blueberries and blackberries. Truly blue food is therefore quite repellent to humans – a fact exploited by the famous film-maker and practical joker Alfred Hitchcock when he held his legendary ‘Blue Dinner’ for some selected industry guests. And it is the reason why recipes for red cabbage almost always include a little vinegar or other acid, as this ensures the desirable red does not become disgusting blue in the cooking process.

As promised yesterday, my recipe inspiration this week is coming from Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery, or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d, published in 1744. Amongst its cabbage offering, this book has three methods for stuffing the vegetable – I don’t know of any modern or celebrity cook books that include that number for stuffed cabbage - but I digress. The red cabbage recipe is my focus today, and a fine one-pot dish this book recommends too, and ideal for a winter night or your slow-cooker. The ‘gravy’ referred to probably means meat broth, not the thickened ‘sauce’ that the word usually refers to today. The touch I like is that not just any vinegar is added at the end to preserve the colour and give the dish an edge, but elder-flower vinegar is specified.

To Stew Red Cabbage.
Cut your cabbage very fine, and stew it with Gravy, Sausages, and Ham, and season it with Pepper and Salt. Before you serve it, put in a little Elder-Vinegar, and mix it well together.

Quotation for the Day.

Botany, n. The science of vegetables - those that are not good to eat, as well as those that are. It deals largely with their flowers, which are commonly badly designed, inartistic in color, and ill-smelling.
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) 'The Devil's Dictionary' (1911)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Beetroot à la 1744.

In the year of 1744, France declared war on one old enemy (England), and made peace with another (Prussia), James Bradley, the English Astronomer Royal, discovered that earth periodically wobbles on its axis, Abigail Adams (wife of President John Adams) was born, and William Byrd of Westover (Virginia) died.

But what really important things were happening? What was going on in the kitchens around the country? Some pretty good things with vegetables, it seems.

There is a common assumption that in the past vegetables played an insignificant role on the dinner table. The assumption has been fuelled, I think, by the study of menus and meal descriptions of the time. Menus (or Bills of Fare, if you like) were kept or recorded only for important events, so no inference can be drawn from them as to the daily meals of most ordinary folk. Meat was the star at important meals and in wealthy households, because protein food was more valuable and more expensive (and not easy to preserve), so is presence was emphasised – leaving us to assume that vegetables were the poor relations.

Vegetables were grown and used extensively of course in the eighteenth century. There was a great flourishing of the herb and vegetable garden at this time, and great interest in horticulture and the development of new and useful food plants. One of my favourite food books was published in 1744, the chosen year for this post. It is Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery, or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d , and I like it in part because of its title, and in part because of the range and variety of recipes included at the end of the book.

I have given a couple of recipes from this book in previous posts: To butter Onions, and an interesting sweet Bean Tart made with green beans. There are more delights within it, and this week I want to feature the book, and see if it gives us inspiration several centuries later.

One of my favourite themes is the re-discovery of old recipes that would seem interesting and innovative on a modern restaurant menu. The recipe I have chosen today fits this bill, I think. I am not sure whether or not beetroot is still trendy, but if it is, it is no doubt the small roasted beet, served with goats cheese or similar. I have never seen anything on a modern menu like today’s recipe for what is essentially fritters of beetroot – especially fritters in the shape of fish.

To Fry the Roots of Red Beets.
Wash your Beet-roots, and lay them in an Earthen glaz’d Pan, bake them in an Oven, and then peel the Skin off them: After this is done, slit them from the Top to the Tail, and cut them in the Shape of a Fish call’d Soal, about the Thickness of the third Part of an Inch. Dip these in a thick Batter, made of White Wine, [fine] Flower, sweet Cream, Eggs, Pepper, Salt, and [?] beaten, and all well mix’d. As you dip each Beet-root in this Batter, strew them over thick with fine Flower mix’d with grated Bread and Parsley shred small, and then fry them in lard. When they are enough, let them dry, and serve them with a Garnish of Lemon. These likewise may be put about Carps, Tench, and roasted Jacks, by way of Garnish.

Quotation for the Day.

A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.
Gertrude Stein.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Short, Sweet Story.

I have for you today a fine romantic tale in which the food is as much a star as the two lovers. It has only a tenuous connection with food history, its sole excuse being that I found it in a marvellous book from which I have previously drawn blog material - Morton’s Sixpenny Almanack and Diary published in 1876.

For those wordsmiths amongst you, this story inspires a challenge. The story is a mere 149 words long – but every word begins with the letter ‘S’. Can you do better with another letter of the alphabet (the story must include mention of food)? I promise to try my best to find a historical recipe for any entries submitted. There is no prize except the honour of your clever work being included in a blog post.

Here is the story:

Sam Small sauntered slowly scullery-ward, supperless. Saw Sal Swift sitting silently-shelling small sweetpeas. Says Sam, snappishly, "Some supper, Sally ?" Says Sal, "S'pose so." Says Sam, "Stir smartly, Sal, Sam's starving." Says Sal, smilingly, "Some soup Sam, sauer-kraut, sausages. Say something suits." Says Sam speedily, "Stir some shortcake. Some strawberries, syrup, sugar. Some such sweet stuff suits Sam." Sal stirred self spryly, stepped swiftly, spread sideboard speedily; supper soon stands smoking side Sam. Says Sam, sheepishly, " Soon's supper's swallowed shall say something, Sally." Sal sat stirring sweetmeats. Sam stole several sidelong squints Sally-wards. Sal started, simpered, stammered, spying, " Speak Sam." Says Sam, " Shall select spouse sometime. Sally, s'pose Sam'll suit? Shall Sam stand side Sal?" Sal stole swiftly Sam's side, saying softly, "Sam suits Sally." Sam seized Sal's slender self, stole several sweet smacks speedily, sealing Sal securely. Sal seemed supremely satisfied. So story stops short.

For the recipe for the day I give you Strawberry Shortcake from Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, published in 1866, a decade before our short sweet story for the day.

Strawberry Shortcake.
Mix dough as for soda biscuit; that is to say, one quart of sifted flour, piece of butter size of an egg, two tea-spoonsful of cream of tartar, one of soda, a pinch of salt, and sweet milk to form a soft dough. Put cream of tartar in the flour, and soda in dry also, and, when thoroughly mixed, roll out half an inch thick and bake in a shallow pan fifteen or twenty minutes; have ready two quarts of fresh, fine strawberries; split the cake, place half the strawberries between and cover thickly with white sugar and cream; put the other half on the top and cover in the same way; send to the table immediately. This is the method of making at the finest city restaurants.

Quotation for the Day.

“Even the coeur flottant merveilleux aux fraises, presented with a great flourish, made little impression, for it was no more than what may happen to the simple, honest dish of strawberries and cream once it falls into the hands of a Frenchman.”
Dr. Watson in 'Sherlock Holmes and the Hapsburg Tiara' by Alan Vanneman (2004)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Russian Afternoon Tea Cake?

An ultra-short (but sweet :) ) post today folks, as other things seem to have taken over my life this last few days.

Could the pastry described in the following article from the New York Times of April 8, 1909, be filed under ‘fusion cuisine’ do you think? Does this combination of flavours and layers - suggested to be ‘Russian’ - have any degree of authenticity in that country? It sounds delicious. I am intrigued.

A young woman who has been to Russia has introduced on her tea table a little cake that is popular among her friends.
A rich, puff paste is divided into four parts, each rolled as thin as possible. On one sheet is put almond paste, on another pounded peanuts or pistache nuts, on a third currant jelly or orange marmalade. The layers are placed on each other, honey or maple syrup is poured over, and the whole baked in a moderate oven until delicate brown.
When cold the crust is cut in squares or diamonds, and passed on a plate covered with a lace doily.

Quotation for the Day.

Tea pot is on, the cups are waiting, Favorite chairs anticipating, No matter what I have to do, My friend there's always time for you.
Anon (?)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

To Dress Frogs.

I seem to have become distracted somewhat from my original intention to focus on liqueurs this week. I am going to give you a brief glimpse of frogs-as-food instead. I guess no-one makes a liqueur out of frogs, do they?

Amongst the English, the idea of eating frogs is so indelibly associated with the French, that the affectionate (not) nickname for persons of that nationality is, as you probably know, ‘frog.’ It may be somewhat surprising then, to find out that severable venerable English cookery books of the nineteenth century do include recipes for cooking frogs (albeit with a rather apologetic tone and a reference to the frog-eating habit in France. Here is what the author of The Domestic Dictionary and Housekeeper’s Manual, (G Merle; London, 1842) has to say on the topic.

"The use of frogs as an article of food is almost peculiar to France, although from the delicacy of the dish it is worth figuring on every table. As only the hind quarters, however, are used, this dish is an expensive one. The flavour resembles very much that of a very fine chicken, but is superior: and the flesh is more light of digestion than that of chicken. There are two ways of cooking frogs; the one is en fricassee, the other is by frying them in batter."

Frogs en Fricassee.

Cut off the hind legs, with so much of the loin as will hold them together. Having put them in boiling water, and subsequently allowed them to lie in cold water for ten minutes, put them into a stewpan with some champignons, a little parsley, chibols*, and some butter. After having given them two or three turns with the butter, add a little flour, a glass of French white wine a little stock, and some salt and whole pepper. Let them stew gently for a quarter of an hour, and then thicken with some yolks of eggs, butter, and a little parsley.
*usually taken to mean a type of young green onion (spring onion).

Quotation for the Day.

France has found a unique way of controlling its unwanted critter population. They have done this by giving unwanted animals like snails, pigeons, and frogs fancy names, thus transforming common backyard pests into expensive delicacies. These are then served to gullible tourists, who will eat anything they can't pronounce.
Chris Harris (2001)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Rook Pie Anyone?

A few years ago, a list of Britain’s ten best dishes was created and made much of. I have previously given this list, and intended to eventually find historical recipes for all the dishes for you. I don’t know how many I have found so far, but I am sure rook pie has not been one of them.
The rook is often confused with the crow, which is a carrion-eater. Humans tend to avoid eating carrion-eaters, I presume out of fear of inadvertently indirectly consuming an ancestor. Rooks, however, I am reliably informed, have a more acceptable diet to those who may choose to make a meal of the birds themselves.

I don’t know how popular rook pies have been in the past – most likely, I would guess, during times of necessity. They certainly seemed to engage some public interest during the meat-rationing times of World War II. There was a veritable flurry of correspondence on the topic in The Times during 1940.
Miss H. Brown, of 27. Peppard Road, Caversham, Reading, submitted the following recipe.

Rook Pie.
Use only the breast and legs of the bird, as the other parts are very bitter and unsuitable for eating. Fill the piedish with layers of breast and legs with hard-boiled eggs and a little fat bacon. Well season with pepper and salt. Cover with a good crust of pastry, and cook well in a moderate oven.

Over the ensuing months, other correspondents weighed in with hints about the making of rook pie. Some of the ideas were: the birds should be skinned, not plucked; best to steam the flesh before baking in the pie; pie is best eaten cold; best washed down with some good Bordeaux wine; pies are spoiled by having too little pepper and salt in them; the gravy should be liquid and the crust thick and flaky.

Quotation for the Day.

Hunting is now to most of us a game, whose relish seems based upon some mystic remembrance, in the blood, of ancient days when to hunter as well as hunted it was a matter of life and death.
Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage (1935)

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Other Chartreuse.

I am tempted by a good liqueur or two this week, and I am going to start with Chartreuse. The name of this yellow/green liqueur name tells its origins very simply, for it is said to have been developed in the Maison Chartreuse – the monastery of the Carthusian monks - in Grenoble, France. Orders of monks have been responsible for many classic liqueurs because many of them began as distillations of medicinal herbs – and herb gardens and medicine preparation was an important function of religious orders in medieval times. It is said that the Carthusian monks of Grenoble have been making this liqueur since the 1740’s – but I suspect that they had in fact been making it for a very long time, but the ‘branding’ and commercial marketing dates from this era. So many stories to research, and so little research time…..

What I have been unable to fathom is the connection between religious orders and the ‘other’ chartreuse, which the Oxford English Dictionary gives as ‘an ornamental dish of meat or vegetables cooked in a mould’, and also ‘fruits enclosed in blancmange or jelly.’

The first citation given for this meaning of chartreuse in English is from John Simpson’s A Complete System of Cookery (1806). It is for a Chartreuse of Roots and Sausages, which I was going to make the recipe for the day, until I realised that in the past we have had recipes for Chartreuse of Mutton and Chartreuse, or Casserole, of Fish. Instead, I give you Chartreuse of Apples and Fruit, from The French Cook, (1822) by Louis Eustache Ude, because we should have a recipe from a Frenchman – and he explains the method in detail, which is useful.

Chartreuse of Apples and Fruit.
A Chartreuse is the same thing as a suédoise, only instead of raising the fruit with the hand over the marmalade, you oil a mould of the same size as the dish you intend to use, and arrange symmetrically fruit of different colours, such as angelica, preserved oranges, lemons, &c. in short, whatever may offer a variety of colours. Apples and pears are in more general use for the outside, but then they must be dyed as directed above, No. 3*. When you have decorated the middle or bottom, proceed to decorate the sides. Next use some thick marmalade of apples to consolidate the decorations. When you have made a wall sufficiently strong that you may turn the Chartreuse upside down, take the whitest apple jelly you can procure, some stewed pears cut into slices the size of a half-crown piece, and some cherries, &c. and mix the whole with the jelly, so as to represent a Macedoine. Do not fill the cavity too full with the miroton, as you are to close it with apple-marmalade that has more substance in it. Then turn over the Chartreuse and dish it. Glaze the fruit over with some thick syrup. This syrup gives additional lustre to the colours, and a fresh gloss to the fruit.

* To dye them you need only dilute with syrup a little carmine or saffron; and give them a boil. Next let the apples cool in the syrup, that the colour may be spread equally over them.

Quotation for the Day.

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.
Ogden Nash

Friday, March 04, 2011

Indian Pease.

Yesterday’s post led me, not surprisingly, to a consideration of that other Indian staple we in the West know as dhal (or dall or dholl or various other spellings.) What did surprise me was that when I went in search of the word itself, it appears that it refers not to the cooked dish, but to the dried pulse that is its main ingredient – especially the pigeon pea (Cajanus indicus.) At least, that is the opinion of the Oxford English Dictionary which says dhall is ‘the pulse obtained from some leguminous plants, chiefly from the Cajan, Cajanus indicus, extensively used as an article of food in the East Indies.’

The pigeon pea probably originated in Asia, and has been cultivated by humans for millennia. It is extremely versatile. It is an important and nutritious food crop – the peas being eaten fresh, dried, canned, or sprouted, or in the form of flour, and the pods and shoots are also eaten. Not to be content with being a human food, the plant is useful as forage, cover, or nitrogen-rich green ‘manure’ crop too.

Here is the Anglo-Indian version of dhal from yesterday’s source, The Khaki Kook Book: a collection of a hundred cheap and practical recipes mostly from Hindustan, by Mary Kennedy Core, published c1917.

Dhal Bhat.
Dhal Bhat is the universal breakfast dish all over India. Prepare as for split pea curry, but omit the curry powder, if desired.
Often it is prepared by frying minced meat with the onions before the peas are added.

Split Pea Curry.
Soak the peas for two or three hours. Fry in the usual way the onion and curry powder. A teaspoonful of curry powder is enough for a cupful of soaked peas. Mix the peas with the fried mixture. Add plenty of water and cook until the peas are soft enough to mash up into a pulp. Serve with rice. An acid is desired with this curry.

Quotation for the Day.

Being pretty on the inside means you don’t hit your brother and you eat all your peas – that’s what my grandma taught me.
Lord Chesterfield.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Chupatti Letters.

Some time ago I spent a week considering the various forms of griddle cakes. There was one very important type that I missed – the Indian chapatti.

There is a marvellous story about chapattis being used for seditious purposes during the Indian Rebellion (the Sepoy Mutiny) of 1857.

On March 8, a Times correspondent in Bombay, wrote:

“A strange and to some observers a very disagreeable incident has occurred in the North-west. A few days since, a chowkeydar, or village policeman, of Cawnpore ran up to another in Futtteghur and gave him two chupatties. These are indigestible little unleavened cakes, the common food of the poorer classes. He ordered him to make ten more, and give two to each of the five nearest chowkeydars with the same order. He was obeyed, and in a few hours the whole country was in commotion with chowkeydars running about with these cakes. The wave swept province after province with a speed at which official orders never fly. The magistrates were powerless, and the chupatties at this moment are flying westward. Nobody has the least idea what it all means. Some officers fancy it is a ceremony intended to avert the cholera; others hint at treason – a view encouraged by the native officials; others talk of it as a trifle – a joke. For myself, I believe it to be the act of some wealthy fool in pursuance of a vow; but its significance is this: there are some 90,000 policemen in these provinces. If they should perchance imbibe dangerous ideas, how perfect is their organisation.”

The explanation that came to be - I don’t know if it is historical fact or fascinating myth – was that the flat cakes of unleavened bread were messages of rebellion, coated in dough and baked, to be broken open and read by the recipient, who then re-coated and baked them (or made new ones) and sent them on to the next community in an ever-widening circle of sedition. I hope the story is true. Perhaps one of you with some knowledge of Indian history can enlighten us?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a chapatti as ‘a cake of unleavened bread, generally made of coarse wheaten meal, flattened with the hand, and baked on a griddle. The usual form of native bread and the staple food of Upper India.’ The OED gives the first recorded use of the word in English as occurring in 1810 in the context ‘chow-patties, or bannocks.’ This seems a late occurrence to me. I suspect that some searching would discover an earlier use of the word, considering how long the English had already had a foot on the Indian subcontinent by this date.

For the recipe for the day, I give you two versions of chupatties from The Khaki Kook Book: a collection of a hundred cheap and practical recipes mostly from Hindustan, by Mary Kennedy Core, published c1917.

Take a pound of whole wheat and mix it with water until a soft dough is formed. Knead this well. Put a damp cloth over it, and let it stand an hour or so. Then knead again. Make out into balls, each ball about as big as a walnut. Then roll each ball into a flat cake about as big around as a saucer. Bake these cakes one at a time over a very thick iron griddle that has been well heated. Keep turning them over and over while they are baking. Fold them up in a napkin as they are baked and keep in a warm place. The inside pan of a double boiler is a good place for them. To be properly made these cakes should be patted into shape instead of rolled, and the Hindustani women always do it that way. These chupatties are eaten with bujeas and curries.

Chupatties (Americanized).

Make a dough from a pound of whole wheat flour, a half teaspoonful of baking powder, and a little salt. Knead well and let stand. When ready to bake them, divide into balls as big as a walnut. Roll each out, spread a little oil or crisco over it; fold up and roll again. Grease an iron griddle and bake, turning from side to side. These are not actually fried, but the crisco in them and the greased griddle prevents them from getting hard, as they are apt to do if made according to No. 68 [the previous recipe].

Quotation for the Day.

There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love.
MFK Fisher

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Polite Management of the Kitchen.

I have been revisiting one of my favourite cookery books recently. It is A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick, and surgery, for the Use of all Good Wives, Tender Mothers, and Careful Nurses, by Mary Kettilby, published in 1714.

Now there is a book title we are not likely to see recycled any time soon - the modern ‘good wife or tender mother’ would not find much medical or surgical advice in the modern cookery book!
The lengthy preface includes the following insights:

The Directions relating to COOKERY are Palatable, Useful, and Intelligible, which is more than can be said of any now Publick in that kind ; some great Masters having given us Rules in that Art so strangely odd and fantastical, that 'tis hard to say, Whether the Reading has given more Sport and Diversion, or the Practice more Vexation and Chagrin, in spoiling us many a good Dish, by following their Directions. But so it is, that a Poor Woman must be laugh'd at, for only Sugaring a Mess of Beans ; whilst at Great Name must be had in Admiration, for Contriving Relishes a thousand times more Distastful to the Palate, provided they are but at the same time more Expensive to the Purse. 

The author hopes that the book will instruct ‘Young and Unexperienced Dames’ in ‘the Polite Management of their Kitchins, and the Art of Adorning their Tables with a Splendid Frugality.’ What a marvellous sentence, and a marvellous sentiment! Methinks the world would be a better place for the reinstatement of the concepts of polite management of the kitchen, and adorning the table with splendid frugality.

From the book, my recipe choice today is:

To Dress Hogs Feet and Ears, the best Way.
WHEN they are nicely clean'd, put them into a Pot, with a Bay-leaf, and a large Onion, and as much Water as will cover them; season it with Salt and a little Pepper; bake them with Houshold-Bread; keep them in this Pickle 'till you want them, then take them out and cut them in handsome pieces; fry them, and take for Sauce three spoon-fulls of the Pickle; shake in some Flower, a piece of Butter, and a spoon-full of Mustard: lay the Ears in the middle, the Feet round, and pour the Sauce over.

Quotation for the Day.

No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.
Laurie Colwin.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Married (and Divorced) Eggs.

Huevos Divorciados is (as I understand it) a Mexican breakfast dish in which two eggs go their separate ways under two different coloured and flavoured sauces, their separation on the plate ensured by a row of chilaquiles (pieces of tortilla, cooked in salsa.) I love the sound of this dish, and am going to make a completely inauthentic Aussie version one day, when I get around to it.

I would love to know the origins of Huevos Divorciados. Is there a Spanish precedent? Or a similar dish elsewhere?

In the meanwhile, I give you Married Eggs, from Oscar Tschirky’s The Cook Book, published in 1896. I wonder how one arranges something ‘systematically’ on a dish?

Married Eggs.
Blanch eight artichoke bottoms, then cook them in some gravy. Make a preparation with four hard-boiled eggs chopped up very fine, mix in plenty of very finely-chopped fine herbs that have been parboiled in hot water, add three raw egg yolks, salt, a little cayenne pepper and a little tomato sauce; mix all together well and cover the artichokes with this, smooth the surface nicely with the blade of a knife, strew with breadcrumbs and melted butter and set them in the oven for four minutes. Arrange them systematically on a dish, and serve.

On the same topic, you can find recipes for Matrimony Pudding and Matrimony Sauce, and Matrimonial Cake, in previous posts.

Quotation for the Day.

My wife and I tried to breakfast together, but we had to stop or our marriage would have been wrecked.
Winston Churchill.