Friday, September 30, 2011

Potato Beer Bread.

After yesterday’s story on potato beer and potato yeast, I could not resist giving you a couple of recipes for ‘potato beer bread’. The recipes prove yet again that language is a dynamic beast, and show how word searches often turn up completely unexpected results. Yesterday we saw that ‘potato beer’ can mean ‘potato yeast’. Today we find that it can also mean ‘potato cooking water - hence, ‘potato beer bread’ does not contain brewed beer.

The recipes are from Keesling's Book Of Recipes And Household Hints (Logansport, Ind. 1890)

Potato Ball BreadMrs. F.M. Harwood – Scald a tablespoonful of flour with a pint of water. Take a pint of fresh mashed potatoes, when cool, add a small potato ball (left from last baking),and one teaspoonful salt, two teaspoonfuls sugar, beat thoroughly. Take out half or three fourths of a cup of this mixture and save it to start bread next time. Mix the remainder of the potatoe with the scalded flour, and let rise overnight; next morning add a pint of tepid water to the yeast or sponge and enough flour to knead well: let rise, work down and rise again before putting in pan, when very light mould into a loaf and a pan of biscuit.

Potato Beer Bread Mrs. PJ Studebaker  — One cup of dried yeast, soak twenty minutes, stir stiff with flour, and let rise; boil four potatoes, scald two spoonfuls of flour with beer from boiled potatoes, mash potatoes and mix with beer and flour. Stir in three quarts of water, then the yeast, let stand overnight; in the morning stir in flour to make thin batter, let rise, then knead stiff with flour, let rise, knead, then rise again, knead out in pans to bake, let rise, then bake in forty-five minutes.

Quotation for the Day.
People who eat potatoes will never be able to perform their abilities in whatever job they choose to have.
Richard Cobden (1804-1865)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Boozy Potatoes.

A reader recently asked for a beer recipe, and I have found one which answers one of my own purposes – an addition to the Fun with Potatoes archive.

It is not surprising that alcohol can be made from potatoes of course - any sugary or starchy plant material can be fermented. The first thing that comes to most of our minds on the alcohol from potatoes topic is probably vodka, or perhaps the sort of nasty illegal hooch originating from prison or Prohibition stills. In the nineteenth century however there was a great deal of interest in the production of beer from potatoes, and it is probably also not surprising that the heart of the potato-booze industry was northern and central Europe, in the nineteenth century. 

What may be a surprise is that the beer might have been better than expected. The Mirror Of Literature, Amusement And Instruction (1837) had this to say:

Potato Beer: M.Balling, professer of chemistry at Prague, has succeeded in making an excellent beer from potatoes; it is the colour of brown sherry, very strong and singularly agreeable. 
The Mirror Of Literature, Amusement And Instruction (1837)

It was a little difficult to find you a recipe for a quantity of beer appropriate for home, rather than commercial production, but this one might qualify:
Potato Beer.
The Plesser Kreisblatt, a Silesian journal, gives circumstantial information how to prepare a wholesome and palatable potato beer, by which every family can supply itself therewith at a very trifling expense. Twenty-five gallons of such beer are made from half a bushel of potatoes, ten pounds of malt, half a pound of hops, and two quarts of yeast. The cost of one tun of such beer does not exceed 22 silver groschen, 6 pfenninge, (two shillings and two pence,) consequently the cost of a quart does not amount to a farthing.
The Year-book of facts in science and art, (1845) by John Timbs

I was interested to find in my meanderings that ‘potato beer’ could also mean ‘potato yeast’, so for those of you who  make your own bread, I offer this:

Potato Beer Risings.
I have seen a great many pieces about making good bread, and I have tried a great many ways, and none I like so well as with potato beer.
Take a double handful of potatoes and boil them good and soft, and mash them; put them through a sieve, put a gallon of water through with them, then put it in a stone jar, and after it is cool enough so as not to scald the yeast, add to it a pint of good yeast.  Do this the evening before you want to bake. If it gets too cold through the night, set your jar in a kettle of hot water in the morning, and stir it till it is warm enough to set your rising. Have your flour warm and ready, then take your beer and set the rising, stir it as thick as you can well with an iron spoon or paddle. It will rise in half an hour, or the longest an hour. When you knead it, add to it a quart of warm milk or water, knead it well, and let it rise again, then take it out in loaves, have your oven ready, and bake as usual. B. A. B.
The Ohio cultivator, Volumes 15-16,  (1859) by M. B. Bateham.

Quotation for the Day.
Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,
but don't forget the potatoes.
            John Tyler Pettee, 'Prayer and Potatoes'

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Faggots, Anyone?

Today I give you the fifth instalment in the story of the top ten forgotten British foods, as decided by a competition run in 2006 by the Guild of Fine Food Retailers.

Here is the list, with links to stories to date:

1.‘Eadles’ Bath Chaps 
2. Mrs Grieve’s Fish Custard  
3. Mrs Langland’s Faggots
4. Grey Squirrel Casserole
5. Rook Pie 
6. Rabbit with Prunes
7. Fife Brooth
8. Roman Pie
9. 16th C Pancakes
10. A Grand Sallet

Today it is the turn of faggots. The word has a number of meanings, some with a culinary application. A common early meaning is ‘a bundle of sticks for a fire’ (‘with special reference to the practice of burning heretics alive’), or, by extension, a bundle of something else such as flavouring herbs.

Interestingly, in the eighteenth century, ‘faggots’ could also be ‘orange-Peels turn'd or par'd very thin, in order to be preserv'd (Bradley’s Family Dictionary 1727). I am sure this is not the interpretation listed as one of Britain’s top ten forgotten dishes, but for interest, I give you a recipe from The lady's assistant for regulating and supplying her table (1777) by Charlotte Mason.

Orange Rings and Faggots.
Pare some oranges as thin and as narrow as possible, put the parings into water whilst the rings are preparing, (which is done by cutting the oranges, after they are pared, into as many rings as agreeable) then cut out the pulp from the inside, and put the rings and faggots into boiling water ; boil them till tender, then put them into as much clarified sugar as will cover them, set them by till next day, then boil all together, and set them by till the day after; then drain the syrup, and boil it very smooth, put in the oranges, and give them a boil; the next day boil the syrup till it rises almost up to the top of the pan ; then put the oranges into it, and give them a boil put them into pots to be candied as wanted.

By the nineteenth century ‘faggots’ referred to ‘a sort of cake, roll, or ball, made of chopped liver and 'lights', mixed with gravy, and wrapped in pieces of pig's caul’ – in other words they were awfully similar to haggis, in individual portions. This type of faggot was a popular Victorian street food, sold hot and ready to eat from the premises of pork butchers. Recipes are hard to find in contemporary cookery books, such items for consumption by the urban masses not being commonly prepared in the home. The magnificently reliable Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870) has come up trumps however, with the following. I hope it is as good as that of Mrs. Langland.

Faggots, Baked.

Make a mincemeat of calf’s liver, or if more convenient, pig’s liver and fresh fat pork. Chop very finely one pound and a half of liver with half a pound of fresh fat pork. Season the mince with onion sage, thyme, salt, and pepper. Steam it over boiling water, and throw off all fat. When cold, add a large cupful of bread-crumbs, and three well-beaten eggs; mix all together thoroughly, flavour with nutmeg, and make this into round balls which may be baked in a buttered dish with a small quantity of good gravy, or, as is often done, wrapped separately in a piece of pig’s caul. Either way they should be of a pale brown, and cooked very slowly.
Time: to steam mincemeat, half an hour; to bake, until done a pale brown.

Quotation for the Day.

The food here is terrible, and the portions are too small.
Woody Allen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tea Soup.

I came across a reference recently to ‘Tea Soup’, and was momentarily both intrigued (because I had never heard of it before), and embarrassed (that I may therefore have omitted an important topic from Soup: A Global History.)

The story appears in Travels in France and Germany in 1865 and 1866, by Edmund Spencer, and, as you can probably guess, has as its background theme that old enmity and mutual bafflement that has characterised the relationship between England and France for centuries. Here it is:

In connexion with this subject, I must relate my first adventure in the land of the Gaul, which deserves to be recorded, if for nothing else than to show how widely we differed at that time in all our habits, customs, and usages, from a people who were only separated from us by a narrow channel of the sea. 
My father, who at the period referred to was somewhat of an invalid, rarely took any beverage stronger than tea, and knowing how little the French prized the fragrant herb, had provided himself with a plentiful supply before leaving England.
Now, as my little sister and myself were supposed to speak French with great fluency, having been taught it almost from infancy by a French emigrant, we were deputed by my father to give the necessary instructions to the waiter as to the preparation of a dish of tea; but whether the garcon, who was a native of Picardy, understood no other language than his own patois, or that our French, spoken with an English accent, was unintelligible to him, I cannot say; certain, however, it is, the attempt made by the cook to comply with our wishes was most original, for the waiter laid on the table, much to our discomfiture as linguists, and to my father's infinite amusement, a large soup tureen, filled with the water in which the fragrant herb had been boiled, the whole carefully seasoned with pepper, salt, onions, gravy, and similar savoury ingredients. Tea at this time, as a beverage, was altogether unknown to the majority of the French people, whereas at present it is in general use, and its value as a refreshing beverage fully appreciated.”

My funny bone being tickled in several places by this story, I was left with a vague feeling of unease that there was a real Tea Soup somewhere that I may have overlooked. A little very superficial research confirmed that I had indeed omitted an English soup from my book. In truth, as you will see, ‘Tea-kettle Broth’ is not actually made from tea, the name comes from its method of production. It is a variation on the old theme of bread ‘sops’, from which we get the word ‘soup’. 

Alternative names for this preparation are ‘bread sop’, and ‘water porridge.’ As you can probably guess already, Tea-kettle Broth was a Victorian-era dish consumed predominantly by the poor and by invalids, both groups having no choice, albeit for different reasons.

Firstly, I give you a couple of descriptions:

In Devon, Somerset, Dorset, and Wilts, the breakfast commonly consists of tea-kettle broth, a milk broth or sop, or bread broth (oonsisting of bread, hot water, salt, pepper, and a little milk or a little fat of some kind, boiled together), or broth from bacon liquor, with condiments, eaten with or followed by bread and treacle, and with or without tea or coffee
The Farmer's magazine (1864)

With regard to the food of agricultural labourers, ...  They also buy some tea; and make what is called tea-kettle broth, with sliced bread put into a basin, with onions and butter, or lard, pepper, and salt, upon which the boiling water is poured out of the tea-kettle.
Annual report of the Poor Law Commissioners for England and Wales, 1846

And now, a genuine recipe from the chapter on Invalid Cookery in The English cookery book: uniting a good style with economy, (1859) 

Tea-kettle Broth.
Cut some small squares of crumb of bread into a broth basin, and some finely chopped parsley, with enough of salt to flavour it; pour over it some boiling water, softening the whole with a spoonful or two of cream or milk. Some invalids like the flavour of mint, and peas when in season; and, if this can be allowed by the medical man, the water used must have a few young peas, or pea-pods, and a leaf of mint boiled in it, before pouring it over the bread; without this addition, it is often much liked by invalids, as being so free from grease, and so clean-tasting. A little clear gravy from under the dripping pan may sometimes be added with advantage. Pepper may be used or omitted, according to the palate or the nature of the illness.

Quotation for the Day.

The first time I tried organic wheat bread, I thought I was chewing on roofing material.
Robin Williams

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Morning, And how to get through it.

Ever suffer from “Monday-itis”?  When I found a book, published in 1863, with the title of Monday Morning, And how to get through it, I thought perhaps some of the advice might still be helpful today. I should have read the subtitle more thoroughly. The target readership for the manual is a class that is severely depleted nowadays. The second half of the title reads: A Collection Of Useful Practical Hints On Housekeeping And Household Matters, For Gentlewomen.

Just in case there are any gentlewomen amongst you  - especially gentlewomen new to the marital state, and very especially those who are having trouble keeping their husbands happy, and their servants at their tasks – I give you a short extract from the Preface of the book, in the hope that it will assist you.

"Monday Mornings!" said a bride once to me; "how I wish the week always began on a Tuesday!"
I said nothing in reply, but I thought to myself, "And perhaps your poor husband does the same."
My little pamphlet is intended to give ladies whose experience is yet to be learnt by habit a few hints how to get through that keystone to the week, both quickly and well. I do not profess to teach them anything new, but to put old things simply in their way, so that they may make fewer blunders when first beginning as housekeepers, and correct those already contracted. Monday, after Sunday, finds "nothing in the house”, the tradesmen call for orders, and bring their books to be paid. "Monday morning" is followed by "Monday evening," when "Edward, dear," or "Charles, love," require of us an account as to how their cheques, given us the preceding week, have been spent. Suppose we have let the morning slip away without casting up our accounts, and balancing "cash received" with "cash spent," "Edward" will get irascible, and "Charles" irritable, and scold us for being bad housekeepers. We shall in vain plead inexperience, and that having been only married a few weeks, we "don't know how to manage." Husbands are all alike; and, if you would retain your influence over them, keep your position - by not disdaining a better acquaintance with homely things, and arrange your duties in simple routine on "Monday morning."
A Woman who respects herself, and her position, as a gentlewoman, will come down to breakfast neatly and appropriately dressed. Her attire will be quiet and perfectly clean, avoiding a soiled silk gown, and choosing a material suitable to the occasion. In her hand she will carry a small, light basket, containing her keys. Suppose she is head only of a small establishment, let us say, consisting of a man-servant, cook, housemaid, and lady's maid.
As she enters the breakfast room, before her husband or brother is there, she gives a glance at the table-cloth, and is very glad to see that it is snowy and clean.
Each person's plate should have a fine damask napkin on it; for, as gentlemen seldom eat luncheon, breakfast ought to be a substantial repast, and hot dishes require napkins in these days of moustaches.
There should be either cold meat, cold chicken, or game on the sideboard; besides which, one small hot dish is a sine qua non on the breakfast-table in England. .... ... Prepare your tea or coffee before your husband is down, so that when he enters the room he may find all ready and comfortable, and then have in your servants for prayers. ...
Breakfast being finished, a lady's male relations, in the country as well as in London, generally leave her alone, more or less, till dinner time; and it is then on "Monday morning" that the business of the day should begin.
We will divide the morning (of course leaving our readers to vary the arrangement, according to the habits of their different families) into different stages. Breakfast from nine to ten, and luncheon at half-past one, and, if in London, seven o'clock is the usual hour for dinner.
From ten to half-past one comprises, then, a lady's morning, and you have on "Monday morning" more to do in that three hours and a half than on any other morning of the week.
Ten to half-past ten may be spent in your drawing-room, as it is better to allow the servants time to clear away the breakfast things before you go down stairs to order dinner.
In the drawing-room your duties appear light, but they will occupy you fully half an hour.
The fire is burning brightly, in a clean and bright grate, and the room is nicely arranged, if your housemaid is a good servant and "knows your ways,” yet still a lady's taste and hand is often required to give that air of elegance and comfort to the gentlewoman's drawing-room that a servant's arrangement never gives; and it is wonderful the difference that bringing this chair or couch forwarder, or pushing them a little backwarder, makes in the appearance of a room.
While on the subject, let me suggest to young mistresses the advantage of keeping a clean duster in some closet in the drawing-room, for a servant to wipe up water, or remove dust, in a hurry.
The housemaid should always dust the drawing-room,
Many young wives find this one of the most irksome of their duties; but it is one that cannot be shirked by any mistress of a household, except in establishments where a housekeeper is kept.
I do not, however, advise ladies to be always in the kitchen; and the morning's visit, once paid, need not be repeated, unless something unusual occurs. First, go into the larder and see what remains from Sunday's dinner, and give your orders accordingly.
It is an excellent rule to write down daily for the cook the dinner and luncheon that you wish sent up, and it prevents mistakes. For this purpose, provide your cook with a good-sized slate and pencil, and write down all you wish.

1st.  For your luncheon.
2nd  For the servants' dinner.
3rd  For your own dinner.
4th The different orders for the tradesmen.

.... A good, considerate mistress, generally speaking, can command the services of faithful servants. It may assist young housekeepers to mention here the allowances generally made to servants, per week; though under the head of "engaging servants," you will find more about this in detail. (See Index.)
Men-servants are each allowed at the rate of one pint of beer at dinner, and one at supper; a pound of meat each meal, and a quartern and half of bread, and three quarters of butter, per week, is the fair average that they may be considered to consume. Female servants ought to have half a pint of beer each. ....

Phew!  So many responsibilities and it is still only mid-morning in the home of the bride-gentlewoman.
The recipe for the day is from the same book, chosen because I couldn’t help wondering if the bride ever wished she had chosen life in the convent. And because the dish sounds very adaptable and versatile for the over-burdened wife.

"Convent Eggs," For Breakfast Or Second Course.
Take three eggs, which boil very hard, five or six minutes. When cold, shell and halve them. Take three potatoes, as near as possible of the same size; boil and halve them. Place the eggs and potatoes alternately on a flat dish, and pour over them a thick, hot, white sauce, made with cream and flavoured with peppercorns; then serve up very hot. The eggs and potatoes should be prepared in good time, but be kept hot, and only placed on the dish when the same is quite ready, so that the whole may be eaten soon after it is prepared.

Quotation for the Day.

I haven't trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hour. I've never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex.
Erma Bombeck.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Plain Vanilla.

There is a relatively new, but very promising industry in tropical Far North Queensland – the production and processing of vanilla beans. I was recently in the area, and bought some of these local beans, and a bottle of vanilla extract. They are reputed to be amongst the highest vanillin-content beans grown anywhere in the world, and I can’t wait to try them out. My Little Sister lives in the region, and has her very own vanilla orchid vine in her very own little piece of rainforest paradise. It is going to be fascinating watching (from our terrible distance) how it grows.

As a child, I thought that ‘vanilla’, when it referred to milkshakes and ice-cream, meant ‘unflavoured’. Naturally, I defaulted to chocolate, given the choice. I was clearly not alone in my belief. The concept has pervaded our language, so that if we wish to identify something as bland, or uninteresting, we label it ‘vanilla.’ This is irony in the extreme, for true vanilla has a unique, intense fragrance and flavour.  Perhaps we have been too much influenced by the sad fact that 95% of ‘vanilla’ products actually contain artificial vanillin derived from a variety of sources.

My own childhood preference for chocolate-flavour over vanilla-flavour is also ironic, for in its place of origin, Mexico, the vanilla bean was used to flavour that other marvellous gift from the New World – chocolate. When the Spanish arrived in what is now Mexico, ‘chocolatl’ was a beverage believed to have aphrodisiac properties, and was reserved for the very privileged. Cortez said of  Montezuma that he "took no other beverage than the chocolatl, a potation of chocolate, flavored with vanilla and spices, and so prepared as to be reduced to a froth of the consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth and was taken cold."

I give you some nineteenth century instructions for making Vanilla Chocolate, which was quite a different preparation from the one made for Montezuma before he entered his harem. First, you must make your basic chocolate from scratch. From The complete cook: Plain and practical directions for cooking and housekeeping, (1846) by J. M. Sanderson:-

The Making of Chocolate.
An iron pestle and mortar is requisite for this purpose, also a stone of the closest grain and texture which can be procured, and a rolling-pin made of the same material, or of iron. The stone must be fixed in such a manner that it may be heated from below with a pot of burning charcoal, or something similar.
Warm the mortar and pestle by placing them on a stove, or by means of charcoal, until they are so hot that you can scarcely bear your hand against them. Wipe the mortar out clean, and put any convenient quantity of your prepared [cacao] nuts in it, which you pound until they are reduced to an oily paste into which the pestle will sink by its own weight. If it is required sweet, add about one-half, or two-thirds of its weight of loaf sugar in powder; again pound it so as to mix it well together, then put it in a pan, and place it in the stove to keep warm. Take a portion of it and roll or grind it well on the slab with the roller (both being previously heated like the mortar) until it is reduced to a smooth impalpable paste, which will melt in the mouth like butter. When this is accomplished, put it in another pan, and keep it warm until the whole is similarly disposed of; then place it again on the stone, which must not be quite so warm as previously, work it over again, and divide it into pieces of two, four, eight, or sixteen ounces each, which you put in moulds. Give it a shake, and the chocolate will become flat. When cold it will easily turn out.

Vanilla Chocolate.
Ten pounds of prepared nuts, ten pounds of sugar, vanilla two ounces and a half, cinnamon one ounce, one drachm of mace, and two drachms of cloves, or the vanilla may be used solely.
Prepare your nuts according to the directions already given. Cut the vanilla in small bits, pound it fine with part of the sugar, and mix it with the paste; boil about one-half of the sugar to the blow before you mix it to the chocolate, otherwise it will eat hard. Proceed as before, and either put it in small moulds or divide it in tablets, which you wrap in tinfoil. This is in general termed eatable chocolate.

There is much more to tell you about vanilla, but that must wait for another day.

Quotation for the Day.
The centuries last passed have also given the taste important extension; the discovery of sugar, and its different preparations, of alcoholic liquors, of wine, ices, vanilla, tea and coffee, have given us flavors hitherto unknown.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin