Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Menu for May 31, 1864

One of my favourite Victorian cookery books is Cre-Fydd's Family Fare: or Young Housekeepers Daily Assistant (London, 1864). The author assists the new housewife of moderate means, who has charge of the usual lazy, thieving servant or two, by suggesting menus for breakfast and dinner for the family, and dinner for the servants. Recipes for all of the suggested dishes are also given.

Here are the suggestions for May 31st

BREAKFAST
Cold Beef, bacon, fried eggs, hot cake, marmalade.

DINNER
Mayonnaise of lobster, cold beef, curried kidneys, rice, potatoes.
Sweet tapioca (Portuguese).
Cheese.

KITCHEN [i.e the servants' dinner]
Cold beef, salad, suet pudding.

The beef was leftover from the 'Boiled aichbone of beef (10 lbs) suggested for May 29, which had also made an appearance on the 30th - at breakfast as cold beef, and at dinner as 'bubble and squeak'. This may seem like making ten pounds of beef on the bone go a long way, but as you will see, other dishes were provided too, and in any case the author states that the bills of fare are made out for only two persons (as it is a book for novice housewives, who have presumably not yet had time to fulfil their marital duty of proving a large number of children.)

Tapioca, Portuguese.
Boil three tablespoonfuls of the best tapioca in a pint and a half of new milk till quite tender (about two hours); stir frequently; add six ounces of loaf sugar, and an ounce of fresh butter; when well mixed, stand the saucepan off the fire for ten minutes, then stir in, by degrees, six well-beaten fresh eggs; stir over the fire till at boiling heat, then let it get cold; add twenty drops of essence of vanilla, or any other flavouring. Turn it into a glass dish, and let it stand in a cold place for two hours. Just before serving, sift evenly over the top a dessertspoonful of powdered cinnamon.

The recipe which follows is for Vermicelli, Portuguese - a variation of the above using vermicelli instead of tapioca, half a pint less milk, and an hour less time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Leftover Cake.

For the rest of the week, until my computer is mended, I will bring you some simple stories - essentially just recipes - with minimal commentary. Today I give you some ideas on that perennially popular topic of how to use up leftovers (also called 'secondary cookery', 'made-over cookery', 'second dressing'', and a couple of others that I have forgotten.)

There are a couple of exhortations common to most cookery books or chapters dealing with leftover food. The first is to plan your cooking well, so that you minimise the problem in the first place. I have never managed to do this well - I mean, how can you plan for the appetite of various family members on a particular day? The second is to do it deliberately for those foods that lend themselves to recycling, especially those that require long (or complicated) cooking in the first case - such as roast beef for example.

It may not be that you regularly have the problem of leftover cake in your house, but in the event that you do find yourself in this situation, here are a couple of ideas from The Cook-Book of Leftovers (1911)

Coffee Pudding (from Sponge Cake)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup strong, sweetened coffee, cold
8 small, stale sponge cakes
3 yolks eggs
Cream butter and sugar, add yolks of eggs, and beat very light. Cut sponge cake into slices, and spread with creamed mixture. Pour coffee over cake. Put in mold, let stand, and turn out on dish. Serve with whipped cream.

Mock Plum Pudding (Cake)
Two cups stale cake-crumbs, softened in about one-quarter cup of hot milk. If crumbs are very dry, it might take a little more milk. Add to the softened crumbs:
1 well beaten egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses (Porto Rico)
1/4 cup stewed prunes, chopped
3/4 cup chopped raisins
2 teaspoonfuls mixed spices
1/4 teaspoonful soda
1/2 teaspoonful salt
2 teaspoonfuls lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
Bake in a moderately-hot oven 45 mins. Serve hot with foamy sauce.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Lordly Cookbook.

I will be computer-less for the next week, so my stories will come to you via my trusty iPad, upon which, for reasons known only to itself, Blogger will not allow me to format properly. Maybe I will work it out by Monday, but in the meanwhile, please accept my plain version today.

I get a lot of comments and queries by email. I try to respond to all, but sometimes they slip away through cyber-space and I probably appear to be ignoring them - if this is true of something you have sent me, then I apologise. One reader asked about the 'Lord Ruthven" mentioned in the post on Tewhaddidle a week or so ago.

The enquiry piqued my interest, because the work in question - The Ladies Cabinet Enlarged and Opened (first ed. was in 1639) is widely attributed to a seventeenth century Scottish peer. Several different individuals are credited,including "that learned chemist the Lord Ruthven." This reference appears to be to the seventh Lord (with whom the original line and title expired in 1495). He was indeed a chemist with "a Licence to practise the Transmutation of Metals, by his Philosophical Skill." He is not the man - the work is indisputably much later than the second half of the fifteenth century. Looking at the list of Ruthvens, there are no other likely candidates at all.

One likely theory is that the attribution was an early mistake, and that it was an English, not a Scottish peer - Lord Grey de Ruthyn, whose son became the second Lord Ruthven when the title was reinstated. Again, looking at the birth and death dates of the Ruthyns, there are no likely candidates to have published a book on any topic at this time. Unless one includes the women that is. The twelfth title holder was the Baroness Susan (Longueville).

Now it gets interesting. The full title of the book is:

The ladies cabinet enlarged and opened: containing many rare secrets, and rich ornaments of several kindes, and different uses. Comprized under three general heads. Viz. of [brace] 1. Preserving, conserving, candying, &c 2. Physick and chirurgery. 3. Cookery and houswifery. Whereunto is added, sundry experiments, and choice extractions of waters, oyls, &c.

Noblewomen did not cook. They were expected to supervise and instruct the kitchen staff, and therefore needed to be generally knowledgeable about food preparation, but they did not themselves do any cooking. They were however, responsible for the activities of the still-room, where the preserving, candying, and medicinal remedies were prepared. I get the clear impression that men did not participate in the activities of this particular household department.

This book shows the hand of a woman, not a 'chemist'. The middle section of the work has many remedies for everyday disorders, and many for use in midwifery. Noblewomen of the time would have kept their own manuscript receipt books but it would not have been seemly for them to do something as vulgar as publish a book for the general public. Nevertheless, my money is on Lady Susan. The only confounding part of the puzzle is that the preface is signed 'M.B'. A pseudonym to protect her identity? Maybe we will never know.

As the recipe for the day, I give you, from the book:

To Make an Italian Pudding.
Take a Manchet and cut it in square pieces like a die, then put to it half a pound of beefe suet minced small, raisins in the sun, the stones pick'd out, Cloves, Mace, minced Dates, Sugar, Marrow, Rose-waster, Egs and cReam; mingle all these together, and put it into a dish fit for your stuff; in less than an hour it will be baked; then scrape on sugar, and serve.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Too much Zucchini?

My computer is in the emergency ward, and expected to stay there for at least a couple of days. As most of my 'stuff' is contained within its sad little shell, and it is too tedious to temporarily retrieve it all from cyberspace, my posts for the next few days will be cobbled together on my trusty iPad.

I am moving much closer to modern times for my story today. To 1983, to be exact, to an article by Craig Claiborne in the New York Times. I am amused by 'single ingredient' dinners - and have occasionally had my fun with them here on the blog. An all-peanut menu springs to mind, but you will have to find it for yourself, as it definitely too tedious to find it and link it under the present conditions. Claiborne featured an inventive home cook faced with a superfluity of zucchini who gave a dinner party in which each dish included the vegetable. The menu was: Zucchini blossoms stuffed with tuna, Pizza Pollo, Zucchini and Rice Casserole, Zucchini and Dill Salad, Zucchini Dessert Loaf with Lemon Sauce.

I was surprised to find that the first mention of 'zucchini' (spelled 'succini') mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary was as late as 1929, in an American magazine. The explanation of the name is that it is Italian (no surprises there) and that it is the plural of zucchino (small) marrow, which is the diminutive of zucca gourd.

Recipes for all of the dishes were included in the article. Here is the recipe for the loaf.

Zucchini Dessert Loaf.
3 cups enriched wheat flour (or 2 cups unbleached and 1 cup wholewheat flour)
1 tab baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
salt, if desired
3 eggs
1 cup safflower, corn, or peanut oil
1 cup honey
2 cup grated zucchini
1 cup broken nut meats such as pecans or walnuts
Lemon dessert sauce.
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
2. Sift flour, baking powder,ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and salt into mixing bowl.
3. Beat eggs in another bowl, and add oil and honey; fold in zucchini.
4. Fold zucchini mixture into flour mixture and blend well. 
5. Lightly oil two loaf pans, and divide batter between them.
6. Place in oven and bake 1 hour. Let cool briefly. Unmould. Slice and serve with lemon sauce.

Quotation for the Day.
I don't want any vegetables, thank you. I paid for the cow to eat them for me.
Doug Coupland

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Edible Locksmiths' Apprentices.

My computer is refusing to co-operate today, but never fear, my iPad and I will bring you my little stories until such time as it revives, or dies and is replaced. I can't promise beautiful formatting however. Here goes:

I just love dishes with odd or intriguing names, and I cannot resist sharing this little pair with you today. I found these little delights in The Encyclopaedia of World Cookery (c1958) by Elizabeth Campbell, who includes them in the chapter on Austria. I would love to know if the name is an accurate translation of whatever they are called Austria, so please do let me know if you are familiar with the cuisine of that country.

I admit that for a moment or two I didn’t ‘get’ the name, but then I remembered the effect of prunes on the digestive tract …

Locksmiths’ Apprentices, Baked.
12 large prunes
12 blanched almonds
½ lb flour
White wine or cider to mix
1 oz sugar
Salt
1 egg yolk
For the garnish:
2 oz caster sugar
2 oz plain chocolate, grated.
Soak the prunes overnight. Stew until tender. Replace each prune stone with an almond. Make a paste with the flour, salt, and egg yolk and wine. Roll out thin, cut into 12 rounds and wrap one prune in each. Bake on a very well buttered baking sheet in a moderate oven for 30 minutes, turning at half time to brown both sides. Serve hot rolled in sugar and chocolate.

Locksmiths’ Apprentices, Fried.
12 large prunes
12 blanched almonds
¼ lb flour
Salt
¼ pint water or cider
For the garnish:
2 oz caster sugar
2 oz plain chocolate, grated.
Soak the prunes overnight. Stew until tender. Replace the prune stones with blanched almonds. Prepare a batter beating the wine into the flour and salt. The batter should be runny. Dip the prunes into the batter and fry in deep hot fat until golden. Drain on soft paper. Roll in grated chocolate and sugar. Serve hot.

Quotation for the Day.

According to the statistics, a man eats a prune every twenty seconds. I don't know who this fellow is, but I know where to find him.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Banana Coffee.

The extraordinary range of things that desperate coffee addicts will use to imitate their necessary beverage is testament to human creativity, that’s for sure. We have considered several of these in previous blog posts (here, here, here), and I was delighted to come across another one recently. At least, the phrase ‘banana coffee’ momentarily triggered that particular sort of excitement that only a new discovery can bring. An honest reading of the piece in Bananas; the golden treasure of the tropics (1905) however led me to reluctantly decide that the beverage described is more properly described as a coffee alternative, not a coffee substitute. But then, isn’t that true of all coffee ‘substitutes’?

The drink does sound quite delicious however – rather like a hot malted milkshake, perhaps? I wonder if anyone makes this product anymore? If you know, do please tell.

Many people have become convinced that they are harmed by the use of coffee, and have tried various substitutes for the berry of Arabia; There is no doubt that free use of coffee, particularly if milk or cream is added, does cause harm; but there is reason for the opinion that some, if not most, substitutes are even more injurious. Those who manufacture some such substitutes boldly assert that their productions are nutritious; but the highest authority in the land, the United States Department of Agriculture, says:

The average of five analyses of cereal coffee is: Water 6.2, protein 13.3, fat 3.4, carbohydrates 72.6, and ash 4.5 per cent. Only a portion of the nutrients, however, enter into the infusion.

The Department then shows that in the decoction there are 98.2 parts water, protein 0.2, carbohydrates 1.4, and ash 0.2 per cent, and that the total number of units of energy in a pound is only 30, which is so little as to be wholly unworthy of consideration. Some at least of such so-called cereal coffees are said to be made of damaged grain, of the refuse from brewers' vats, of bran and other like substances soaked with coffee extract or with chicory added. The worthless nature of such mixtures must be apparent to all.

There is cause for congratulation, therefore, in the fact that bananas of the proper states of maturity, properly mixed, dried and roasted, furnish material for a beverage which is palatable, perfectly harmless, and really nutritious. The whole may be taken as chocolate is used, and as the Turk takes his pulverized coffee, grounds and all. Many who now habitually use so-called banana coffee are firm in declaring that it is more palatable than genuine coffee can be, and has no bad effect. So far, the demand has constantly exceeded the supply.

There are very few recipes for using bananas in cooking which have any significant age, for the very practical reason that they do not transport well, and it took significant late nineteenth century technological developments to make it possible to get them to distant cooler climes in decent condition. Here in sunny Queensland, bananas thrive, and are an important crop. They are usually cheap all year round, but this year due to the devastation wreaked by cyclones and floods, they are unbelievably expensive. I doubt any of my local readers will be making the following pudding, although it does sound tempting as the cooler weather sets in and winter approaches. Note that the recipe appeared in a Temperance publication, which makes my dark side want to suggest adding a splash of sherry to the mix ..


Steamed Banana Pudding.
3 oz Butter or Margarine.
1 small cupful Sugar.
2 small cupfuls Flour.
¼ teaspoonful Salt.
2 Bananas.
Grated rind of 1 Lemon.
1 Egg.
About ¾ cupful of milk.
½ teaspoon Cream of Tartar.
¼ teaspoonful Bicarbonate of Soda.
Cream the butter and sugar, add salt and grated rind, the beaten egg, then the flour, tartar and soda, with the bananas cut in thick slices, and the milk. Put into a greased pudding basin, cover with greased paper, and steam for two hours. Serve with sweet or lemon sauce.
The Temperance Caterer. Nov 15, 1916

Quotation for the Day.

On a traffic light, green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it’s just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, an red means where the hell did you get that banana at.
Mitch Hedberg.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cooking with Cider.

I came across a recipe for cider cake recently, and it made me remember previous posts on cooking with beer and with sherry. Why not cooking with cider? Naturally, one can use it as one would use wine, in casserole-type dishes, especially those made from pork, but what else?

If you happen to have a huge surplus of cider, you can make cider vinegar or cider brandy, of course, but these are outside the range of the average householder, methinks. How about the following ideas, if your surplus is more modest?

Cider Soup.
Stir 2 tablespoonfuls of sifted flour and 6 fresh yolks of egg into 1 quart of cider and 1 quart of water, sweeten, and add a few slices of lemon without seeds, a pinch of salt, and put on the fire in a pot that has been thoroughly cleaned. Stir constantly with a wire egg-beater over a hot fire, and as soon as it boils, pour into a tureen, into which a little powdered mace (outer hull of nutmeg) has been put. The whites of the eggs may be beaten stiff and formed into small dumplings, which are then put on top of the soup and dusted with sugar. If the cover is quickly put on, the dumplings will be cooked before the tureen reaches the table. Serve sugared croutons or sweet biscuits with the soup, which may be varied by taking the whole eggs, instead of the yolk only, and only half the quantity of flour. This will make the soup frothy. In either case, the soup will be delicious.
The Standard Domestic Science Cook Book, Chicago, 1908.

Cider Pudding.
Two pounds of flour, two teacupsful of suet chopped fine, a cupful of raisins or currants. Mix well with cider until it is a stiff batter. Boil two hours. This will be found equal to plum pudding.
Genesee Farmer, Vol 25, 1864

Cider Cake.
Cider cake is very good, to be baked in small loaves. One pound and a half of flour, half a pound of sugar, quarter of a pound of butter, half a pint of cider, one tea-spoonful of pearlash; spice to your taste. Bake till it turns easily in the pans. I should think about half an hour.
Mrs. Ellis's housekeeping made easy, or, Complete instructor in all branches, by Sarah Stickney Ellis (1843)


Quotation for the Day.

Give me yesterday's Bread, this Day's Flesh, and last Year's Cyder.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) ‘Poor Richard's Almanac’

Friday, May 20, 2011

When Life Gives You Apples.

I couldn’t resist continuing the theme of ‘When Life Gives You … Make …’ for just one more day. Apples are pretty good any time of the year, but here in this part of the world, and now, in autumn, they are damn good. I frequently find myself with a ridiculous quantity of something, due to my problem with Farmers Market Addiction, and at the moment, I have rather more apples in my kitchen than one person can eat in a week or four.

It got me thinking about the sheer usefulness of the apple, and the huge variety of things you can do with it. I was going to find some unusual thing for you to make should you find yourself in a similar situation to mine, but for sheer outrageousness cannot beat the apple/onion pie that has previously featured here. What I did discover – or rather, re-discover – was the Many Wayes of Baked Apples. In a post some time ago we had ‘Black Caps’. Today I give you ‘Green Caps’, in a recipe which shows its age due to a dangerous act that occurs in it.


From John Farley’s The London art of cookery, and housekeeper's complete assistant. On a new plan. Made plain and easy to the understanding of every housekeeper, (1787) …

Green Caps.
Having gathered as many codlings as you want, just before they be ripe, green them* in the same manner as for preserving. Then rub them over with a little oiled butter, grate double-refined sugar over them, and set them in the oven till they look bright, and sparkle like frost. Then take them out, and put them into a china dish. Make a very fine custard, and pour it round them. Stick single flowers in every apple, and serve them up. This is, for either dinner or supper, a pretty corner-dish.

* ‘green them’ means ‘make them an attractive green colour’, and commonly involved the use of highly toxic copper salts – not recommended today! Use nice green Granny Smiths instead.

My own modest variation on the theme, which also avoids the use of artificial green colour, is to use red apples and call them ‘Red Caps’.

Quotation for the Day.

What plant we in this apple tree?
Sweets for a hundred flowery springs
To load the May-wind's restless wings,
When, from the orchard-row, he pours
Its fragrance through our open doors;
A world of blossoms for the bee,
Flowers for the sick girl's silent room,
For the glad infant sprigs of bloom,
We plant with the apple tree.

- William Cullen Bryant,
The Planting of the Apple Tree

Thursday, May 19, 2011

If Life Gives You Lemons.

The suggestion that ‘If life gives you lemons - make lemonade’ is, of course, about Life, not Lemons. It is not a bad philosophy of Life to live by, I guess. It is not a bad idea for a surfeit of lemons either.

I don’t know who first said it, and I don’t know why I was pondering on it recently (in its ‘Life’ meaning), but I do know that it got me thinking that I have not done a post on it (in its ‘surfeit of Lemons’ meaning.)

Lemonade is “a drink made of lemon-juice and water, sweetened with sugar. In England now very commonly applied to ‘aerated lemonade’, which consists of water impregnated with carbonic acid with the addition of lemon-juice and sugar”, and the first usage quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1663.

I am not too sure that the ‘addition of lemon juice’ is at all accurate in relation to modern, commercially prepared lemonade, are you? Lemon-flavouring, perhaps? Bottled lemonade is decidedly un-lemony, and overwhelmingly sugary, and decidedly unpleasant, to my taste. How much lovelier do the following versions of lemonade - from The Lady’s Assistant for Regulating and Supplying the Table, by Charlotte Mason (1787) – sound? I guess they should be more properly called citrus-ade: note the added flavourings (rosemary!) and the interesting milky version. May I make a plea for the return of genuine lemonade?


Lemonade.
Pare two oranges and fix lemons very thin, steep the parings in two quarts of water, four hours; put the juice of twelve lemons and fix oranges upon twelve ounces of fine sugar; when the sugar is melted put the water to it; add more sugar, if necessary, a little orange-flower water: pass it through a bag till fine.

Another Way.
Half a pint of lemon-juice, the juice of two oranges; pare the rind of the lemons, as thin as possible, into one quart of spring-water; let them stand all night, strain it, sweeten it; boil the peels in another quart of water; mix the lemon juice with a pint of milk, put to it the water that is sweetened; add the other while it is hot; when cold pass it through a bag, into which put a sprig of rosemary.


Quotation for the Day

If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade. However - if life gives you a pickle, you might as well give up, because pickle-ade is disgusting.
Clifton J. Gray.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Little Tewahdiddle?

It seems a long time since we talked about an old food word. A lost food word usually means a lost food, you know. And what sort of pathetic excuse for a culture loses a perfectly good food, I ask? And does beer count as food, I also ask? I ask the second question because today’s topic is a slightly mysterious, enhanced beer beverage called ‘Tewahdiddle.’

I say ‘mysterious’ because there only seems to be one authority on the topic – our old friend Dr William Kitchiner (1775-1827). Certainly The Oxford English Dictionary does not know tewahdiddle.

Here are Kitchener’s words in The Cook’s Oracle (1817).


Tewahdiddle. – No. 467
A pint of Table Beer (or Ale, if you intend it for a supplement to your "Night-Cap"), a tablespoonful of Brandy, and a teaspoonful of brown Sugar, or clarified Syrup No. 475; a little grated Nutmeg or Ginger may be added, and a roll of very thin cut Lemon Peel.
Obs.- Before our readers make any remarks on this composition, we beg of them to taste it; if the materials are good, and their palate vibrates in unison with our own, they will find it one of the pleasantest beverages they ever put to their lips,- and, as Lord Ruthven says, "this is a right Gossips' Cup, that far exceeds all the Ale that ever MOTHER BUNCH made in her lifetime."

What do you think? A good beverage for a cold night?


Quotation for the Day

I fear the man who drinks water and so remembers this morning what the rest of us said last night.
Anon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Breakfast with the Earl, 1523.

The surviving household account books of the great aristocratic estates of Britain and Europe are a wonderful source of information about costs, provisioning, and meals in previous times. They were maintained by the steward, who was the most important and powerful member of the household staff –accountable for all of the financial and other day-to-day transactions, and answerable only to his Lord or Lady.

Some of these books contain detailed information about meals served on specific days. Large manorial and aristocratic households were expected to provide hospitality to travellers and other guests, and the number of these ‘strangers’ was also recorded. The meal I am going to tell you about today fits (unintentionally) into the meaty theme of yesterday. It describes breakfast on a day in August in 1523, in the household of the Earl of Surrey.

The concept of breakfast as consisting of entirely different dishes from those served at the other main meals of the day is a nineteenth century construction. In previous times, breaking the fast’ was achieved by eating up whatever was leftover from the previous night’s dinner. This was pragmatic, there being no refrigeration, so food had to be used up pretty quickly, and anyway, breakfast cereals as we know them were not invented until the second half of the nineteenth century.

Here is what the nobility had for breakfast on the day, in addition to bread and ale, which were a given.

Brakefast.
To ye Duke’s Grace of Norf [Nofolk?], a bowled [boiled]capon and a peyce of beyfe. To my Lorde Hawarde, a brest of mutton and a checkyn. To the Duchess of Norf, a capon bowled and a peyse of befy. To my Lady and my Lady Wyndham a peyse of beyf.

As the recipe for the day, I give you the instructions on baking chickens from A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde, written in about the year 1500. Note that ‘baking’ meant cooking in a pastry ‘coffin’ in the oven – a pie in other words – there being no shaped metal baking containers at the time. ‘Roasting’ used to refer exclusively to cooking on a spit over an open fire.

Bak chekyns

To bak chekyns tak chekins clene skaldid and truse them as short as ye may colour them with saffron and salt them then couche them in coffins and take salt lard of pork and dice it smale and melleit with vergious saffron and good poudurs and couche them in coffins and close them and bak them and serue them.

Quotation for the Day.

I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.
King Henry IV of France (1553-1610)

Monday, May 16, 2011

An All Beef Dinner.

After the stringent seventeenth century animal-flesh-free diet of last week, I thought I had better feed the dedicated carnivores amongst you. The ‘all beef dinner’ I am going to tell you about today has been impossible (so far) for me to verify, but it is an interesting, enduring food history story (or myth), so I will do my best with it.

If the dinner did take place, the year was 1757, during the period around the invasion of Hanover by the French during the Seven Years War. The location was East Frisia/Germany/Prussia – the story is a bit muddy here. The chief protagonist and instigator of the meal was the military man leading the campaign in the second half of 1757, Marechal (Marshall) Richelieu, whose full name was Armand de Vignerot du Plessis. He was the son of the Duc de Richelieu, and the great-great nephew of Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642). The meal is commonly attributed to his great-great uncle, no doubt because he is the most famous member of the powerful family, and in spite of the fact that the meal described is clearly well and truly eighteenth century, not early seventeenth century in style.

The primary source for the story (or legend) is the Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine (1870), by Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) – the man who gave us The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Note that he was writing over a hundred years after the event. I would dearly love it if any real historians of the era could verify that the dinner (or supper) did in fact take place.

The story says that Marshall Richelieu had taken twenty or so royal and aristocratic prisoners, whom he wished to treat as befitted their station. He called his ‘officer of the mouth’ (chief caterer) and advised that he wished to give his noble prisoners a good supper. Sadly, the country had been devastated by war, and the military pantry was bare. The officer was aghast, claiming that it was impossible, all that was available was an ox and a few roots. Richelieu calmed the man, took pen to paper, and wrote out the bill of fare:

DORMANT

Le grand plateau de vermeil avec la figure équestre du Roi ; les statues de Du Gueslin de Dunois, de Bayard, de Turenne. Ma vaisselle de vermeil avec les armes en relief émaillé.

PREMIER SERVICE

Garbure gratinée au consommé de bœuf

QUATRE HORS D’OEUVRE

Palais de notre bœuf à la Sainte-Menehould
Petit pâtés de hachis de bœuf à la ciboulette
Les rognons de bœuf à l’oignon frit
Gras-double à la poulette au jus de limon

RELEVÉ DE POTAGE

La culotte de bœuf garnie de racines au jus
(Tournez grotesquement les racines à cause des Allemands)

SIX ENTRÉES

La queue de bœuf à la purée de marrons
Sa langue en civet (à la bourguignonne)
Les paupiettes de bœuf à l’estouffade aux capucines confites
La noix de notre bœuf au céleri
Rissoles de bœuf à la purée de noisettes
Croûtes rôties à la moelle de bœuf
(Le pain de munition vaudra l’autre).

SECOND SERVICE

L’aloyau rôti
(Vous l’arroserez de moelle fondue)
Salade de chicorée à la langue de bœuf
Bœuf à la mode à la gelée blonde mêlée de pistaches
Gâteau froid de bœuf au sang et au vin de Jurançon
(Ne vous y trompez pas !)

SIX ENTREMETS

Navets glacés au suc de bœuf rôti
Tourte de moelle de bœuf à la mie de pain et au sucre candi
Aspic au jus de bœuf et au lait d’amandes
Beignets de cervelle de bœuf marinée au jus de bigarades
Gelée de bœuf au vin d’Alicante et aux mirabelles de Verdun

... Et puis tout ce qui reste de confitures et de conserves.

Richelieu’s final words appended to the bottom of the bill of fare said:

Note: If by an unfortunate coincidence that meal was is not very good, I would withhold the wages of Ronquelières Maret and a fine of one hundred pistols. Go and do not hesitate!

In case none of the above ideas appeal, I give you as the recipe for the day, the following recipe from A Complete System of Cookery, by William Verral.


Surloin of beef, the fillet hashed.
Trim your beef to look decent, and put it into a marinade the day before, as you did your veal, wrap it up in paper to roast it; take out the inside fillet, and slice it very thin; take care of your gravy, and put your meat into a stewpan with it, and as much of your cullis as is necessary to well fill the part where the meat was taken out, with some flowing in the dish; season with only pepper, salt, a shallot or two, and minced parsley; make it thorough boiling hot; add the juice of a lemon, and serve it up what we call the wrong side uppermost.


Quotation for the Day.

Beef is the soul of cooking.
Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thomas Tryon, Ep.5

Thomas Tryon, our seventeenth century subject for the week, took a stance on a number of philosophical issues which he translated into personal lifestyle choices not commonplace for the time. He avoided alcohol and flesh-eating, denounced cruelty to animals and slaves, and was rather the ascetic in his approach to life. His asceticism did not go so far as to eschew puddings however, as quite a few of his Seventy Five Noble Dishes indicate.

21. There is also made of Milk, several other sorts of Foods, viz.Cheese-Cakes, Custards, White-Pots, all which are much of one Nature and Operation, they nourish much, and are substantial, but are not to be eaten too frequently.
37. Apple Dumplings eaten with Butter, or Butter and Sugar, hath the first place of most sorts of Puddings; they are easie of Concoction, and afford a friendly nourishment.
38. Plain Dumplings made very small, viz. with good Flower,Milk, Eggs, and a little Butter mixed or work’d up in them, and made thin like small Cakes, about as large as a Crown Piece, and put into boiling Water, which will be boiled in a little time; this is a noble substantial Food, very sweet and pleasant, of a warming nature, of an easie friendly operation.
39. Plain Puddings made with Eggs, Flower, and Milk, well boiled and buttered, makes a firm Food, agreeable to the Stomach, being eaten temperately is both wholsom and healthy.
40. Boiled Dumplins made only with Flower, Milk, or Water, with a little Ginger, which is the best Spice for Puddings, with Yeast or Barm, and when done buttered, is a very good wholsom Food, and of easie digestion; of this alone, a Man may now and
then make a good Meal.
41. Boiled Puddings made with Flower Milk, and Eggs, and Raisons or Currans, and buttered, makes a pleasant Food, and a Man may now and then, give himself the liberty to make a Meal thereof without prejudice.
42. There are also several sorts of light Puddings made of Bread, and various sorts of ingredients, which are pleasant to the Palate, and not ungrateful to the Stomach, if sparingly eaten.
43. Rice Puddings both plain and made of Fruit, which for the most part are a pleasant sort of Food, easie of digestion, and may be freely eaten.
44. There are also several of Baked Puddings, which to most young People are delightful, they afford a good strong nourishment, and are best for such as Labour.
45. Apple Pies made with Fruit, that is neither too green or unripe, nor too cold or far spent, are a very good Food, especially for young People; they afford a good nourishment, and are friendly to Nature.
46. Pear Pies being full, ripe, makes a fine, gentle, friendly Food, of easie Concoction.

Quotation for the Day.

Of Flesh and its operation in the Body, and also on the Senses. That the continual Eating thereof without due distinction of proper Times and Seasons, does darken the Spirits, and distempers Natures. Likewise of the excellency of Herbs, Fruits, and their inward operation on the Body and Mind.
Thomas Tryon.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thomas Tryon, Ep.4

I am grateful to Thomas Tryon (1634-1703) for providing virtually all of the content for my blog posts – including ‘recipes’ for the day - during this busy week. Several of Tryon’s Seventy-Five Noble Dishes include ‘spinnage’, but today I am going to give you a selection of his ideas on other vegetables. Tomorrow we will see if he has anything to offer us in the way of sweet treats.

27. Asparagus, boiled and eaten with Bread, Butter and Salt, is a most delicious Food, they afford a clean nourishment, and are friendly to the Stomach, opens Obstructions, loosens the Belly, and powerfully purges by Urine.
28. Artichokes boiled, and eaten with Bread, Butter, and Salt are an excellent Food, and generates a substantial nourishment; a Man may make a noble Meal of them.
29. Green Beans, boiled and eaten with Salt, Butter and Bread, is a most pleasant food, they gently open the Belly, affording a good nourishment, if you eat temperately of them, for they are an enticing Food. Let all People, subject to windy diseases, eat them sparingly.
30. French, or Kidney-Beans boiled in plenty of Water with a brisk Fire, and eaten with Bread, Butter, and Salt, makes a brave delightful Dish of Food, of a cleansing opening nature and operation, they purge by Urine, and gently open the Belly, affording a good nourishment, provided they are eaten temperately; which is chiefly to be regarded in all green Foods.
31. Green Pease boiled, and seasoned with Salt and Butter, and eaten with Bread, makes a most pleasant Dish of Food; their nourishment is not strong, they are windy if not sparingly eaten.
32. Dry Pease being boiled in plenty of good soft Water, being seasoned with Salt and Butter, makes a substantial Dish of Food, and affords a strong nourishment, and are good for all strong labouring Men.
33. Boiled Turnips make a very good Dish of Food, being seasoned with Salt and Butter, and eaten with Bread, especially for all young People; they open and cleanse the Passages, and are easie of digestion, and may with safety be eaten plentifully; their colour declares their excellent Virtues.
34. Parsnips boiled in plenty of good Water, seasoned with Salt, Vinegar, Butter and Mustard makes a brave substantial hearty Dish of Food, and are friendly to most Constitutions.
35. Carrets boiled and seasoned with Salt and Butter, and eaten with good Bread, is a fine Dish of Food, very pleasant and wholsom, and are of easie Concoction; the deep red are best.
36. Roasted or boiled Potatoes eaten with Butter, Salt, and Vinegar, makes a pleasant Dish of Food, very grateful to the Stomach, and are easie of digestion; now and then a Meal of them may do well.

Quotation for the Day

Consider also, that thy Life is near and dear to thee, that like is to be understood of all other Creatures, as I have at large demonstrated in our Way to Health, Long Life, and Happiness.
Thomas Tryon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thomas Tryon, Ep.3

Thomas Tryon, our food guru for the week, included many ideas for eggs in Wisdom’s Dictates (1696). A number of his Seventy Five Noble Dishes contain raw eggs, which I cannot bring myself to eat no matter how strong the recommendation. I am, however, delighted that he includes eggs fried, poached, boiled, and roasted. Here are his ideas 6- 11.

6. Eggs, Parsley and Sorrel, mixed or stirred together, and Fried in a Pan with Butter and a little Salt, and when done, melt some Butter and Vinegar and put on them, but you must not put too great a quantity of Herbs, for then it will render it more heavy and dull in Operation; this is a Noble and most delicious Dish and it affords a good nourishment, provided you eat not too much in quantity.
7. Eggs beaten together and Fried with Butter, and when done, melt some Butter and Vinegar and put over them is also a delightful and pleasant Dish, being much better and easier of Digestion, than the common way of Frying Eggs, as being lighter and more tender.
8. Eggs Poached, and some Parsly boiled and cut small, and mixed with some Butter and Vinegar melted, makes a very fine Dish and gives great satisfaction to the stomach, supplying Nature with Nourishment to the highest degree, and is very grateful to the Palate.
9. Eggs boiled in their Shells, and Eggs roasted, the last being the best, and eaten with Bread and Salt, or with Bread, Butter and Salt, is a good substantial Food; also Eggs broken and Butter’d over the Fire, is a good Food, being eaten with store of Bread.
10. Eggs being mixed with various sorts of Fruits, with butter and bread made into Pies, is a sort of delicious Food, that a Man may give himself the Liberty to Eat now and then to great satisfaction, and not detriment to Nature, provided it be not too often.
11. Eggs Poached, and eaten with a Dish of boiled Spinnage Buttered, is a good Food, and affords agreeable Nourishment, being eaten with plenty of good bread.


Quotation for the Day

Refrain at all times from such Foods as cannot be procured without violence and oppression.
Thomas Tryon.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thomas Tryon, Ep. 2

Hi Folks: Blogger seems to be misbehaving since last night, and although all other functions are working OK, I cannot put up a new post. So - here goes: my first attempt to email a post in. Lets hopw you get it .....


 

Thomas Tryon, whom we met in yesterday's post, certainly embraced asceticism along with his various causes. The first choices from Seventy five Noble Dishes of Excellent Food listed in Wisdom's Dictates (1696) consist of bread with some very basic additions or with various liquids to sop.

 

1. Bread and Water hath the first place of all Foods, and are the Foundation of dry moist nourishment, and of themselves being wisely prepared, makes a good Food of an opening, cleansing Nature and Operation, viz. Take Oatmeal and make it into a Gruel, as we have Taught in our Monthly Observations of Health, then put Bread into it; also take Water and good Wheat Flower, and make it into a Pap, and put Bread into it, and season it with Salt; this and Bread, with a Glass of Water, a Man may live very well, which a Friend of mine, of no mean Quality, have done for near two Years, eating neither Flesh, nor any of their Fruits, neither does he wear any Woollen Garments, but Linnen.

2. Bread and Butter, Bread and Cheese, being eaten alone, or with Sallad Herbs washed, without either Salt, Oil or Vinegar makes a most excellent Food, of a cleansing exhilarating Quality, easie of digestion; the frequent eating thereof, sweetens and generates good Blood, and fine Spirits, and prevents the generation of sower Humours, also keeps the Body open before those that are eaten with Salt, Vinegar and Oil; especially for Women, and all Constitutions that are subject to generate sower Humours, and windy Diseases.

3. Bread and Butter eaten with our thin Gruel, wherein is only Salt to season it; the best way of eating it is to bite and Soop, as you eat raw Milk and Bread; this is a most sweet and agreeable Food to the Stomach, of easie Concoction generates good Blood

and causes it to Circulate freely, and it is the most approved way of eating Water gruel with Butter.

4. Bread and Milk as it comes from the Cow, or raw, as they call it, is a most delicate Food, and Milk eaten thus is not only the best Food, but the most; the frequent eating thereof does sweeten the Blood, prevents sower Humours, carries Wind downward, and causes it to pass away freely without any trouble or molestation to Nature, maintaining Health and good Complexion, and it is to be preferr'd before all other ways of Eating or Preparations, especially than boiled Milk, for boiling of Milk does fix or stagnate the fine volatile Spirits, and makes it of a tough Nature, by which the Stomach cannot so easily separate it, neither does it generate so fine Blood or Spirits; for this cause, if you boil Milk, and then set it to Cream, it will not separate, or afford more than a thin Skin; but remember that you do not eat your Milk before it be cold, not hot from the Cow as most incline to; the particular Reasons I have demonstrated in our Good Housewife made a Doctor.

 

Here, to use for sopping, are Tryon's instructions for Herb Pottage (number 56 in his list)

 

Directions to make several sorts of Herb Pottage, viz. Take what quantity you please of good Water, make it boiling hot, then have our Herb or Herbs ready washed, not cut as the usual custom is; put them into your boiling hot Water, let your Vessel continue on the Fire till your Liquor begins to boil, then take it off the Fire, and let your Herbs remain in our boiling Liquor two or three Minutes; after which, take your Herbs out, then brew your hot Infusion with a little small Ground Oatmeal, which you must have ready, tempered with a Spoonful or two of cold Water, adding Salt and Butter to it, which ought to be brewed with your Oatmeal. This Pottage or Gruel, you may eat with Bread or without, as you find most agreeable to your Stomach; all Herb Pottages made after this method, are far more commendable, for all good purposes, than that made the common and usual way, for the hot Liquor, in a moments time, draws forth all the fine, spirituous Virtues, and strength of the Malt; for in most, or all

Infusions, the fine spirituous qualities separate, and do first give themselves into any proper Minstruum, or Liquor.

 

Quotation for the Day.

 

The inferior creatures groan under your cruelties. You hunt them for your pleasure, and overwork them for your covetousness, and kill them for your gluttony, and set them to fight one with another till they die, and count it a sport and a pleasure to behold them worry one another.

Thomas Tryon.


Monday, May 09, 2011

Vegetarianism, 17th C Style.

Thomas Tryon (1634 -1703) was an interesting man for his time – or for any time, for that matter. He was the archetypal self-taught, self-made man who rose from poor beginnings to become a successful businessman (in the hat industry) and widely-read author (especially of books that we would now call ‘self-help.’) He seems to have espoused every possible ethical cause of the time: temperance, pacifism, animal rights, and anti-slavery.

Tryon was also a vegetarian, (although it would be several centuries before the phrase was invented) which was certainly not a common choice in the seventeenth century, for those in a position to choose. He believed that man should not be careless of what goes into his mouth, because essentially – he is what he eats. Here are his words on the subject:

“Likewise this Prince, the Taste or Pallate hath another powerful Officer placed in this great Gate the Mouth, or common Road that leads into the Metropolitan or Human City, which is called the Expulsive Faculty, by whose Innate power it can, at the command of its Superior Prince the Tafte or Pallate, immediatley Expel or Spit forth, (and that with great vigour) what Meat, Drink or other thing is distafteful or unpleasing to the Pallate or Sense of Tasting, so wonderfully hath our Creator guarded the Gate, Road or common Passage, that nothing might pass into the Body or Stomach but only what is proper and agreeable to sustain and preferve the Human Nature in a due regular Temperature and Union.
For if this Gate or common Passage be kept from being violated or forced upon, by Adulterers and Thieves, and that no unclean thing enters, then all the whole Body and Mind is Sound, Healthy, and free from all cloudy Burthensom Diseases.
But on the other side, if the Prince the Pallate, or Superior Officer be adulterated, and hath by intemperance and improper Meats and Drinks lost its intire and natural Taste or true distinguising Power, then presently all the under-graduated Officers and Centinels are thereby made heavy, sleepy, dull, idle, careless and impure, and then this great or wonderful Gate or Road stands open to all Intruders, and there is no Uncleanness nor Intemperance that is withstood but all Viciousness doth freely pass without any Examination of the said Officers or sentinels so that the Human City must needs be Defiled, Wounded and Distempered."

Tryon did not write cookery books, but one of his works is particularly relevant to this blog. It was published in 1696, and its extended title was:

Wisdom’s Dictates: or Aphorisms and Rules, Physical, Moral, and Divine; For Preserving the Health of the Body and the Peace of the Mind, fit to be regarded and practiced by all that would enjoy the Blessings of the present and future World.
To which is added, A Bill of Fare Of Seventy five Noble Dishes of Excellent Food, far exceeding those made of Fish or Flesh, which Banquet I present to the Sons of Wisdom, or such as shall decline that depraved Custom of Eating Flesh and Blood.

My plan for the remainder of this week is to troll through these ‘seventy five noble dishes of excellent food’, and see what we make of them in the twenty-first century. To start with however, I give you a recipe from a very early ‘vegetarian’ cookery book called Primitive Cookery: or, the Kitchen Garden display’d. Containing a Collection of Receipts for preparing a great Variety of Cheap, healthful and palatable Dishes without either Fish, Flesh, or Fowl, published in 1691. Please note that the book is not exclusively vegetarian in the modern sense – it contains at least one recipe which uses ‘mutton-gravy.’

Artichoke Soup.
Wash the bottoms of the artichokes, and boil them in blanched water, putting in a large piece of butter, kneaded up with a little flour and salt. When they are boiled, take them out, mash them through a sieve, as you do pease; then let them simmer in a stew-pan over a gentle fire, putting in butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cloves pounded in a mortar, also a bunch of young onions, thyme, and a bay leaf. When it is almost ready, pound in a mortar some blanched sweet almonds, candied lemon peel, biscuits, bitter almonds, yolks of hard eggs, sugar, and a little orange-flower water; put this to your soup, set it a little over the fire, then serve it.

Quotation for the Day.

Let none of your food be attended with the dying Groans of the innocent Creatures.
Thomas Tryon, 1691

Friday, May 06, 2011

Breakfast Afloat.

Today I would like you to join me, and the other ‘Second Cabin’ passengers aboard the Cunard liner RMS Mauretania, for breakfast on this day in 1921. There is something about breakfast aboard a cruising vessel, isn’t there? Here is what we are offered today.

Compote of Figs
-
Oatmeal Porridge Fresh Milk.
Grape Nuts Corn Flakes
Fried Plaice
-
Grilled Smoked Bacon
Fried and Boiled Eggs
Minced Veal a la Crème
Mashed Potatoes
-
Radishes Spring Onions
-
Breakfast Rolls
-
Tea Coffee Cocoa

I am not altogether convinced about raw radishes for breakfast, but their inclusion on this menu made me realise that they have featured in only one measly story on this blog in well over a thousand posts. To read that particular post is to believe that radishes only ever appear in salads. Surely there are other alternatives for this particular vegetable? Perhaps even in some recipes suitable for breakfast?


Eliza Acton comes to the rescue in Modern Cookery, in all its branches (1845) with a method of cooking radishes to serve on toast ‘like asparagus.’

Boiled Turnip Radishes.
These should be freshly drawn, young and white. Wash and trim them neatly, leaving on two or three of the small inner leaves of the top. Boil them in plenty of salted water from twenty to thirty minutes, and as soon as they are tender send them to table well drained, with melted butter or white sauce. Common radishes when young, tied in bunches, and boiled from eighteen to twenty-five minutes, then served on a toast like asparagus, are very good.


Quotation of the Day.
The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.
Tom Robbins

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Anglo-Mex Anyone?

My gift to those of you celebrating Cinco de Mayo today was to be the best of all gifts (well, one of them anyway), it was to be the gift of something to think about. I wanted to give you Anglo-Mex food. Sadly, a prolonged search of English cookery books and newspapers produced a single recipe. It is from The Times, and although it is Mexican in name, I have to say that it is a recipe whose nationality is scarcely identifiable, a recipe which singlehandedly makes the whole authenticity debate utterly hilarious.

Mexican Refresher.
Dissolve 6 oz of loaf sugar in a pint of boiling water. Pour in by degrees a quarter of a pint each of sherry and of lemon juice. Then add three quarters of a pint of cold milk. Stir well and pass through a jelly bag until clear. Serve icy cold.
The Times, Monday, Jul 24, 1939.

The magnificent and thoroughly English Victorian tome - Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1892 ed) - did however ease the dearth of recipes with this description of a much more authentic (I think) Mexican beverage:

Pulque:- This is a beverage much delighted in by the Mexicans and inhabitants of
some parts of Central and South America. It is made from the juice of different species of agave. The juice is collected by cutting out the flowering stem just when it is beginning to grow from the midst of the leaves, and scooping a hole for the juice. The cavity being formed, large quantities of juice are removed daily from it for months. When fresh, pulque is an agreeable drink, but it is more frequently drunk after fermentation, when its taste is more
pleasant. The great drawback is a putrid smell, but one gets over that in time. Mixed
with water and sugar, and allowed to ferment for a few hours, pulque forms a beverage called
Tepach.

Quotation for the Day.

I never ask God for anything, I only ask him to put me where things are.
Mexican proverb.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Authentic Mexican?

I would love to be more knowledgeable about ‘real’ Mexican cuisine. I understand that what is commonly claimed as ‘Mexican’ cuisine outside of Mexico itself is more accurately described as ‘Tex-Mex.’ I also must confess confusion about the definition of ‘fusion cuisine.’ Who coined that phrase, anyway? Some cuisines have been fused for so long that they can surely claim an authenticity all of their own - Anglo-Indian and Pennsyvania Dutch, for example - and Tex-Mex too, perhaps?

I am equally confused about the definition of ‘authenticity’ too, as regular readers will know. Regular readers will also probably note that I have used a couple of particular examples previously, but without shame at repeating myself, I would like to know why tomatoes (a New World food, not known in Europe until the early sixteenth century) are considered an indispensible ingredient in ‘authentic’ Italian food, or potatoes (also from the New World) are essential to Irish stew.

I have no trouble actually living with paradoxes, dichotomies or a myriad other inconsistencies however, and can state without (much) fear of contradiction that the following ‘Mexican’ recipes are hardly authentic – the first on account of the inclusion of the very English ingredient of Worcestershire sauce, the second because of its liberal topping of cheese. The recipes come from Fifty choice recipes for Spanish and Mexican dishes (1905)

Mexican Chili Stew.
Four medium-sized potatoes, four large tomatoes, one good-sized onion. Cut all in small pieces; two pounds of lean beef cut in dice. Put beef in pot with two tablespoonfuls of heated butter and the onion, and stew half hour; then add rest of vegetables with one quart of hot water, one tablespoonful of chili powder and three of Worcestershire sauce; salt and pepper to taste with one clove of garlic; cook on slow fire until thoroughly done.

Mexican Round Steak.
BAKE in oven for half hour a two-pound slice of the tender side of round steak, in half -pint of water, basting often; season with salt and pepper; take from oven, cover top of meat with finely chopped onion; cook again for fifteen minutes, then add a covering of tomatoes, cut fine. Cook a quarter of an hour, then cover with grated cheese; put back in oven until cheese melts. This must be cooked in moderate oven. The meat will be very tender, and have a delicious gravy.

Quotation for the Day.
If I moved away, I would definitely miss the Mexican food. Every region has its own Mexican food, and they're very chauvinistic - they believe their food is the real Mexican food.
Russ Parson.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Mexican Bread.

In advance of Cinco de Mayo, I thought I would look at descriptions and opinions of Mexico - especially the food - from outsiders.

I give you an article from Putnam’s Monthly, Volume III, 1854, written by (or from the perspective of, it is not clear which) a visitor in 1846 - at the beginning of the war with the United States.


The writer notes that “Life has its varieties even in San Antonio. The fandango of last night is followed by the funeral of this morning;—thus sorrow treads on the heels of joy, and checkers with black and white, the universal picture of human life.” He then puts aside the metaphor of the fandango, and goes on to describe the actual event, and the making of “Mexican bread” – and the use of the latter as payment for the entertainment by American “visitors.” It is written in the tone usual for such conquerors and colonists – a tone which it minds us to remember is still used in modern times in such situations.

The selection includes our recipe for the day – tortillas from scratch.

“"Fandango " is the term given in the dictionaries for a "lively Spanish dance," but is here applied to nocturnal gatherings for dances, ''lively" enough, certainly, but possessing very few of the qualities of the "poetry of motion." The women who attend these assemblies are seen, with their rebozos drawn closely over the face, serving for bonnets, which they never wear, wending their way early in the evening, by tho light of their own cigarretas, and puffing most industriously, to the place of rendezvous. These are of a class not definable, as in Mexican female society here, there appeared to be little distinction between vice and virtue, and the chaste matron or maiden (if there be such), and the leprous prostitute, seemed to be on terms of social equality. The young girl not yet indoctrinated in the ways of vice, finds ready instructors at these gatherings, where she soon loses the modesty of feeling and purity of heart, innate in the sex, and by degrees falls at last into that pit from which there is no recovery. Fandangoes, as conducted here, are mere schools of corruption and immorality for the destruction of the younger attendants, soul and body; in which the alphabet of vice and the rudiments of prostitution are acquired with fatal facility. Yet there is positively nothing more attractive in them, than the discordant tones produced by the untutored hand of a village blacksmith, upon fibres of untanned catgut. The males were drawn entirely from the Americans; the few Mexicans who were prowling round the outside of the building, seemed to surrender without a struggle or a regret, their wives, sisters, and daughters to hopeless pollution and degradation. In the dance, the females are ranged in a right line on one side of the room, and the males opposite their respective partners; then to the sounds of unearthly music, they proceed to go through with the most laborious antics and gyrations; motions fore and aft and up and down, vulgar if not voluptuous; and having succeeded in working themselves up to the proper point of perspiration—thereby generating a species of perfumery less delicious than the "gales of Araby"—the dance ceases, and each man conducts his partner to a refreshment table, where he purchases a dime's worth of cake or tortillas, which she receives in her handkerchief or hands, and proceeds to deposit under a bench, or with a friend, for safe keeping, so that it may not encumber her performances in the next dance. This pile accumulates during the evening, if she is tolerable good-looking, to a mass large enough to feed a small family of Mexicans, until the next fandango. The dance is thus considered a business transaction, conducted on the cash system.
Tortillas constitute the ordinary Mexican bread. They are of corn, and as thin as pancakes, which in appearance (only) they resemble. The grain is first soaked in ley [lye], until it becomes soft and loses the outer covering; it is then thoroughly washed in water, and made ready for the mill. This consists of a flat stone, the upper surface slightly concave, and a cylindrical crusher of the same material. A woman places the corn thus prepared beside her, and with the stones before her, she crushes about a handful at a time, when it becomes pulpy and soft. It is then turned into a trough, and after a little additional manipulation, is ready for the oven. Apropos of this operation, one of our countrymen was in a sort of cake shop belonging to a native, where the woman was making pies. There being no chairs, he was about to make use of the bed as a substitute, when the woman, under an unaccountable excitement, earnestly begged him to desist. As her language was wholly unintelligible, she was compelled at last to reveal the cause of her uneasiness and opposition, by exhibiting a layer of pies which she had snugly stowed away between the sheets, preparatory to transferring them to the oven.”

Quotation for the Day.
A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government.
Thomas Jefferson.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Why is English Mutton So Good?

I understand that mutton is making a come-back in Britain. I do hope I have not been misinformed, as, in the light of this information, I have put mutton on my list of must-eats when I next visit the country of my birth.

I am intrigued by the idea that the flesh of an animal tastes differently depending on its diet. The scientist in me asks “What are these flavourful dietary molecules that become incorporated in muscle tissue – and how do they get there?” I wonder if anyone has actually done taste tests with a panel of experts with discriminating palates on, say, pork reared three ways (solely on peaches? on ginger biscuits? on potato peelings?) If it has not been done, why not? If you have heard of such an event, I would love to know about it.

There was an interesting article on the topic in the New York Times in February 1870, submitted by their Own Correspondent in England. I am unable to detect any tongue in the cheek of this reporter, but surely it must be there?

“I have learned at last what gives its peculiar flavour to English mutton. It is fattened on Egyptian mummies. These are bought from the catacombs on camels to the Nile, loaded on English vessels, and brought to England and ground up for manure. A field of English turnips is only a crowd of ancient Egyptians in a new form, and the sheep eat them with avidity.”

The article also provides our quotation for the day, which I found vastly amusing, and you will find below.

The recipe for the day is for human turnip-eaters (to whom I especially dedicate the quotation). It is from Isabella Beetons’ iconic Household Manual (1861).

TURNIPS, German Mode of Cooking.
Ingredients.8 large turnips, 3 oz. of butter, pepper and salt to taste, rather more than ^ pint of weak stock or broth, 1 tablespoonful of flour.
Mode. Make the butter hot in a stewpan, lay in the turnips, after having pared and cut them into dice, and season them with pepper and salt. Toss them over the fire for a few minutes, then add the broth, and simmer the whole gently till the turnips are tender. Brown the above proportion of flour with a little butter; add this to the turnips, let them simmer another 5 minutes, and serve. Boiled mutton is usually sent to table with this vegetable, and may be cooked with the turnips by placing it in the midst of them: the meat would then be very delicious, as, there being so little liquid with the turnips, it would almost be steamed, and, consequently, very tender.
Time.- 20 minutes. Average cost, 4d. per bunch. Sufficient for 4 persons. Seasonable.- May be had all the year.


Quotation for the Day.
The ethnologists are right. We are all cannibals, only vegetarians who live on the turnips are only one stage nearer direct cannibalism than those who eat the mutton.
Monadnock’: from the article quoted above.