Thursday, June 30, 2011

London Flavour.

Today, if the airline does its bit, and the Chilean volcano doesn’t, I arrive in London. This post is brought to you while I am en route, thanks in advance to the proper functioning of Blogger’s post schedule feature.

Naturally, I want to give you a story with a London flavour. But what shall it be? I have given you London Pie in the past, and two London Puddings. There is London broil, of course, but that is an unequivocally American, not English, dish whose name is puzzling. Or is it? I found a reference to London Steak in the very English The Country Gentleman's Magazine, in 1868 – and to my delight, it appears that Charles Dickens might be the culprit ! Perhaps his phrase then became adapted and Americanised? The man even gives us our recipe for the day in his instructions for cooking the perfect steak

ASK for a "bifstek" in the Palais Royal, par exemple, and Francois or Pierre will bring you a little lump of beef of a pleasant savoury brown colour, a little crimsoned, embedded in crisp shavings of baked potatoes. You know that the white-capped chef has longed to anoint it with sauce Robert, Sorel, Sharp, or Tomato, to remove its barbarous simplicity. It eats well and tender, but a little tasteless, and it is without much natural fat of its own, the Norman beast being of the lean kine genus, and by no means a bull of Bashan; you eat, and as you eat patiently, you ruminate on the past life of the unknown animal, part of which you are devouring. But a London steak is a far different thing - it is thicker, fatter, juicier, and of a rarer merit; it has been beaten worse than any Christian galley slave by the Turks, and has been broiled with a learned and almost unerring instinct. It requires no effort of digestion, it melts in the mouth like a peach, passes at once into the blood, and goes straight to recruit the heart. It is a sort of meat fruit, and merely requires the soft pressure of the lips. Broiling, to tell the truth, however, requires no common mind. "To broil" is to perform an operation which is the result of centuries of experience acquired by a nation that relishes, always did relish, and probably always will relish, broils. It requires cleanliness, watchfulness, patience, profound knowledge of great chemical laws, a quick eye, and a swift hand. The Homeric heroes are supposed to have lived on broils, and this branch of cooking is deserving of the utmost respect. A young cook should be always informed that it takes years to learn how to broil a rumpsteak ; for a thousand impish difficulties surround the broiler, and do their worst to spoil the dainty morsel, and prevent its reaching the expectant jaws. If the gridiron be not bright as silver and clean between the bars, the meat will suffer. If the bars be not rubbed with suet they will print themselves on the steak. If the fire be not bright and clear there is no hope for the broiler. If the broil be hurried, it will be smoked or burnt. If the gridiron be over-heated before the steak is put on it, it will scorch the steak. If the gridiron be cold the part of the meat covered by the bars will be underdone. If the gridiron be not kept slanting, the constant flare and smoke, from the fat streaming into the fire, will spoil the steak. If no salt be sprinkled on the fire, the meat will very likely taste of brimstone, which the salt should exorcise. Few people, seem to know that rumpsteaks are not at their best except from October to April. It is only in the colder months that they can be taken from meat hung at least four days to make it tender. When fresh they are mere fibrous masses of unconquerable gristly fibre. A good steak, often turned to prevent burning, and to keep the gravy at the centre, takes ten minutes to broil. It should be eaten with a tablespoonful of warm catsup, and a little finely minced shalot.
Dickens' All the Year Round.

Quotation for the Day.
Just the other day in the Underground I enjoyed the pleasure of offering my seat to three ladies.
 G. K. Chesterton (1874—1936), British writer (and a large man).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Traveller's Bread.

Today I leave for England, and well overdue I am too, for a grown-up holiday – especially after the brief but traumatic disappearance of this entire blog (all 1566 posts of it) from the internet yesterday. I am still not sure exactly what happened, save that the domain name was temporarily re-assigned, but am most relieved that it is fixed. Blogger-willing, the next few days’ posts will come to you more or less on time thanks to its post-ahead facility.

The getting of food - good food, that is - while one is on the road or in the air is often frustrating, is it not? The idea got me thinking about what travellers did about this problem in the past. There are quite a lot of references to ‘traveller’s bread’ in the literature, and I wondered what this could mean.

Often of course, ‘bread’ in this context has its old meaning of any staple food, so we find it referring to something like pemmican, as in this extract from A Concise history of the introduction of Protestantism into Mississippi and the Soutwest, by the Rev. John Griffing Jones (1866)

“Their families and neighbors hastily collected and prepared such supplies as they would need on their long and perilous journey through the various tribes of Indians inhabiting the vast region between the Natchez country and Georgia. Travelers' bread was made by a union of corn meal and bear's oil, and other articles were added in the way of food such as they could carry.”

Often also, for obvious reasons, ‘traveller’s bread’ meant hardtack or sea-biscuit. Also for pretty obvious reasons, in the deserts of the Middle East, ‘bread’ might mean dates, as in a stanza from a poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath in The Christian's monthly magazine and universal review (1846), it

I lay awake—my saddle for a pillow neath my head,
And a wallet of dry dates, the desert-traveller's bread;
My caftan well spread out, o'er my feet and o'er my breast,
And near me, firelock, sword, and spear, to guard our nightly rest.

I did, thankfully, find an actual recipe for the topic of the day. It is from What to eat, and how to cook it: with rules for preserving, canning and drying fruits and vegetables, by John Cowan (1870) – the source of the wedding cake recipe from last week.

Travelers' Bread.
Take wheat meal and currants—or figs, dates, or raisins may be used by chopping them; stir quite stiffly with the coldest water—as briskly as possible so as to incorporate air with it; then knead in all the wheat meal you can. Cut in cakes or rolls one-half inch thick, and bake in a quick oven.

Quotation for the Day.
A trip is what you take when you can't take any more of what you've been taking.
Adeline Ainsworth.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Olives Anyone.

The olive was as much a mystery to me growing up in Yorkshire in the 1950’s as was garlic (see yesterday’s post, including the Quotation of the Day). I don’t remember my first taste of an olive, which is strange, considering how unique it is. I also don’t know why they failed to make the everyday table amongst us ordinary working-class folk, given that the English have a love of salty savoury tastes – although I strongly suspect cost was the culprit, olives being an exotic imported item from The Continent and all.

While I was growing up, olive oil was purchased in tiny bottles from the chemist for medicinal reasons (sore ears, I think), but definitely not used for cooking. I am sure that the rich and cultured in England did appreciate good olive oil however, because there are references to it in English from the fourteenth century. As for olives themselves, here are recipes using them in English cookery books of course, and it seems that they were considered ‘French’, if most of the sources are to be believed. Today I give you a couple of elegant ideas for olives from well-known nineteenth century sources.

French Olive Sauce.
Stone the olives, and stew in veal stock till tender, and the liquor nearly reduced ; season with cayenne, salt, and lemon juice.
London Art of Cookery, John Farley (1811)

Stuffed Olives For Garnish
Take 1 lb. of large and round olives; remove the stones with a cutter, and blanch for three minutes in boiling water; drain, and fill the hollow in each olive with some Chicken Forcemeat, mixed with some d'Uxelles.
The royal cookery book: (Le Livre de Cuisine), Jules Gouffé (1867)

Quotation for the Day

The ripe Olives overturne the stomacke, and cause wambling therein.
W. Langham Garden of Health.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Garlicke Goodness.

When I was growing up, garlic was something awfully smelly that ‘Eyetalians’ ate. The British in the post-war years, and for some considerable time before that, were highly suspicious of garlic on the grounds that it was – well, just not British. I draw your attention to the quotation for the day as illustrative of this point. Today this attitude seems bizarre, given that all the well-informed and important people (Nigella, Delia, Jamie etc) have no fear of, or prejudice about this indispensible plant.

The strangest part about the whole strange situation is that hundreds of years ago garlic was used regularly, if not with gay abandon, in the British Isles. Then somewhere along the line, the very idea of it became far too foreign and therefore abhorrent – to be discovered again (by Mr and Mrs General Public) in the 1950’s in garlic bread. Perhaps I am being unduly harsh in my assessment of British tastes in this regard, but apart from garlic butter – which never really went away – I cant find much evidence of daily enthusiastic use of garlic for a very long time.

In the fifteenth century, according to the Book of Nurture, garlic was an important sauce for
‘Roost beeff & goos’, and here it is in a chicken dish in another manuscript of the same era (Harlein MS. 279)

Hennys in Gauncelye.Take Hennys, an roste hem; take Mylke an Garleke, an grynd it, an do it in a panne, an hewe þin hennys þer-on with ȝolkys of eyron, an coloure it with Safroun an Mylke, an serue forth.

Quotation for the Day

England and the English: As a rule they will refuse even to sample a foreign dish, they regards such things as garlic and olive oil with disgust, life is unliveable to them unless they have tea and puddings.
George Orwell.

Friday, June 24, 2011

An Improved Dessert Maker.

You know how much I love to find recipes in unusual places, don’t you? Well, I have a classic for you today from a patent application made in April 1878 by William H. Silver. It is a recipe for crème patisserie. Note that Mr. Silver was not attempting to claim the recipe itself as his own invention, which he could clearly not have gotten away with, but he used it as an example of what could be made with his new improved dessert maker. I give you an extract from the patent application.

Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 203,081, dated April 30, 1878; application filed April 1, 1878

"In making various dessert preparations it is necessary not only to measure several different ingredients, but also, usually, to beat the several ingredients, or two or more of the same, together until they assume a given consistency or shade of color, or until they are thoroughly mixed. For example, a recipe for "creams patissiere" is as follows: First, beat four whites of eggs to a very firm body, and then mix with them about one ounce of pulverized sugar; second, take four yolks of eggs and half a gill of milk, and beat well together until thoroughly mixed; third, take about two ounces of pulverized sugar, with a tea-spoonful of potato-starch and two-thirds of a gill of milk, mix the same well, then add the yolks and milk, and beat the whole well together, &c."

[there follows some technical stuff, and then the applicant goes on to describe his invention]

“My dessert-maker is a most efficient eggbeater for all purposes; but its adaptation for mixing two or more ingredients is the basis of my present claims.

I do not claim the glass measuring-jar herein described, in itself considered; nor do I wish to cover by my claims a stationary agitator in combination with a glass receptacle having a contracted waist, this being old in egg-beaters.

The following is what I claim as new and of my own invention, and desire to secure by Letters Patent, namely:

1. The combination, in a dessert-maker, of a cylindrical, or nearly cylindrical, vertical receptacle, of transparent glass, having measuring-graduations on its outer surface, and a mixing and beating dasher, adapted to reciprocate within said receptacle, substantially as herein shown and described.

2. The combination, in a dessert-maker, of a cylindrical, or nearly cylindrical, vertical receptacle, of transparent glass, having graduations for different substances on its sides, a close cover tightly fitted to the top of said receptacle, and a reciprocating dasher, for mixing two or more ingredients within said receptacle, substantially as herein specified.”

P.S an actual recipe for ‘Improved Tomato Soup’ was in fact patented in 1865: you can find the details HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

A good cook is the peculiar gift of the gods. He must be a perfect creature from the brain to the palate, from the palate to the finger's end.
Walter Savage Landor

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Almanac On My Mind.

I am pleased, proud, and a little scared to announce that I have a new book project. It is to be a Food History Almanac to be published by AltaMira Press - but not for a couple of years as it is a big, two-volume project.

I can only hope to provide as much fun as Morton's Sixpenny Almanack And Diary, With Diary and Compendium, published in London, in1876.  Today I give you some gleanings from this delightful book – the food-oriented ones, of course.

Firstly, I give you A String of Mottoes, and encourage you to add your own to the list:
A String of Mottoes.
For Publicans                         Love me, love my grog.
For Cooks                   Onion is strength.
For Bakers                  Early to bread, and early to rise.
For Cheesemongers    High and mighty.
For Fishmongers        Confession is good for the soul.
For Milkmen               Chalk it up.
For Pork Butchers      The whole hog or none.
For Woodcutters         Chops and Steaks.

Secondly, I give you a small selection of the riddles scattered through the text (focussing on those with a food reference of course):

-          Why is a publican's trade a profitable one to follow ?—Because, by conducting it with good spirit, he has more bar-gains than most others, and all the pull is on his side.

-          What animal has death no effect on?—A pig, because directly you have killed him you can cure him, and save his bacon.

Next, I give you some of the medical advice from the book (something that will NOT be included in my own Almanac, I promise)

Dr. Brown-Sequard's method of treating dyspepsia, which he has found successful in the majority of cases during ten years' practice, is on the principle of eating little but often. Take from one to four mouthfuls at once, but eat again in ten, twenty, or thirty minutes. Use nourishing food and drink, as roasted or boiled meats, and especially beef, mutton, eggs, well baked bread, and milk, with butter and cheese, and a very moderate quantity of vegetables and fruit. Beef tea or milk is recommended instead of water, and the quantity of solid food for one day should not exceed forty ounces. This plan need be pursued but two or three weeks, when return may be had to the ordinary rule of three meals a day. By this method the stomach is gently and steadily occupied but not over-loaded.

(P.S. We had a recipe for Dyspepsia Bread in a previous post.)

Advice to Consumptive People.
You want air, not physic. You want nutrition, Each as plenty of meat and bread will give, and they alone. Physic has no nutriment; gaspings for air cannot cure you; monkey capers in a gymnasium cannot cure you, and stimulants cannot cure you. If you want to get well, go in for beef and out-door air, and do not be deluded into the grave by advertisements and unreliable certifiers. - Dr. Hall.

And, finally – what is an Almanac without recipes? I can certainly promise that some will be included in my own work. Here is the example that followed the above advice to consumptives:

Barley Water.
Wash two ounces and a half of pearl barley; boil for one minute in half a pint of water, which throw away; then pour on to the barley four pints of water; boil down to two pints, and strain. Flavour with sugar and lemon to taste. This is an excellent drink in cases of fever.

Quotation for the Day.

All hail! a cow, with coat of silk,
That yields the rich and poor the milk,
Supplying peasant and the peer
With yellow butter—giving cheer
To rustic's and to prince's board,
The creamy store she doth afford.

[From an un-credited poem in Morton’s Sixpenny Almanac.]