Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On the Naming of Beans.

If you guessed that Lima beans are so called because they came from Lima, Peru, and Navy beans because they were important to the navy, then you would be in pretty close agreement with the folk who think deeply about these things. I will get to navy beans another day, in this post I want to focus on the Lima.

Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus) did not come exactly, specifically, from the capital city of Peru, but they certainly originated in the South American subcontinent, where they had been cultivated for millennia before citizens of the Old World turned up in the closing decade of the fifteenth century. Close enough was good enough for Europeans a couple of centuries later, who associated it with the city of Lima - and so the name stuck.

There are two main types of Phaseolus lunatus, a small seeded type called Sieva, and a large seeded type, generally called the Lima – or in some places, the butter bean or chad bean. In many areas, the beans are known only, or mostly, in their dried or canned form. This is reassuring, in a way, as raw Lima beans contain a compound called linamarin, which, under the influence of digestive enzymes, results in the production of cyanide, which we all know from watching old spy movies, is highly poisonous. Thorough boiling (as with the dried beans, or during the canning process) inactivates this compound, making the beans safe to eat. I have no idea how significant this is in real life – if anyone has actually died from eating too many raw beans – but will endeavour to find out and will let you know. In the meanwhile, I give you a few Lima bean gleanings from nineteenth century newspapers.

Salad of Lima Beans.
Put some lima beans, potatoes and beans (all boiled tender) on ice, and a short time before serving, cut the potatoes and beets into rather thin slices, add the beans, and dress with oil, pepper, salt, and vinegar. Garnish with a few watercresses.
Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye of October 16, 1880.

The following recipe appears to use the beans as a thickener, which is interesting, and indicates that dried, pre-cooked beans are used:

Asparagus and Beans.
Cut the tender parts of asparagus in ½ [?] inch lengths, boil in an equal quantity of water, adding about an equal amount of well-cooked Lima beans. Cook until the asparagus is tender, and serve warm. Instead of the beans, the asparagus may be thickened with flour or with cracker crumbs.
The Decatur Local Review July 8, 1875

And here we have a very minimalist recipe for lima bean soup.

Dried Lima Bean Soup.
Soak one quart Lima beans overnight; the following day boil them until tender; drain and press them through a colander; put them over the fire with a pint of veal stock; put a pint of milk on the fire, and when it boils, thicken it with two tablespoonfuls of flour rubbed into one of butter; stir until it thickens, and then add it to the stock, and season with salt and pepper; let it boil up once; add the beaten yolks of two eggs and serve.
The Weekly Wisconsin, May 17, 1890

Quotation for the Day.

I like refried beans. That's why I wanna try fried beans, because maybe they're just as good and we're just wasting time. You don't have to fry them again after all.
Mitch Hedberg

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Useful Soy Bean.

Fresh green soy beans are pretty trendy right now. Call me a cynic, but I attribute this largely due to a name change (in the West, that is.) A consumer is more likely to chose ‘edamame’, which sounds exotic and oriental, rather than ‘raw beans in the pod, open them yourself’, which sounds altogether too aggressively healthy and fiddly.

I saw edamame on a menu recently, and this is what precipitated my mini-rant. It also made me realise that I have not given the soy bean much attention on this blog, apart from a few words on the role of Henry Ford in its promotion as an American crop. The topic, of course, is overwhelmingly large, and it is difficult to know where to start and what to include. A blog is not the place for an exhaustively detailed history of anything, but is an opportunity for brief and hopefully interesting, snippets on everything. I am resolved to give you, from time to time, a little on the soya bean.

The soya bean took on role beyond its nutritional value in America during World War II. Eating soy beans became a patriotic act because it assisted with catering for the meatless days encouraged by the authorities. I give you the text of an article in the New York Times of April 26, 1942.

“Eat Soy Beans for Freedom” is the slogan and theme of a current campaign sponsored by the New York League of Women Voters. The organisation is distributing a leaflet of soy bean recipes to non-members as well as members.
New and somewhat exotic by American standards, this prolific all-purpose vegetable is regarded by science as an almost complete food. Soy beans are one of the few vegetable sources of complete protein, and contain[s]as well Vitamin A, Vitamin B1 and riboflavin.
One of the recipes in the League of Women Voters’ leaflet is for soy-bean casserole. To make the casserole, soak one-fourth cups of dried soy beans overnight. Simmer in the water in which they were soaked until they are soft – about an hour and a half. Drain and mash the beans. Mix in one-half cup cottage cheese, one-half cup strained tomatoes, two eggs, two tablespoons fat, one-fourth teaspoon basil, one teaspoon salt, one tablespoon chopped onion, and one-half cup dry bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly. Place in a well-greased casserole and bake at 375 F until firm and brown on the top.

Quotation for the Day.

Inhabitants of underdeveloped nations and victims of natural disasters are the only people who have ever been happy to see soy beans.
Fran Lebowitz

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Brief Glimpse of the Chickpea.

A chickpea mystery presented itself to me recently. The Oxford English Dictionary tells me that the chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is ‘largely used for food in the South of Europe, in Asia, and in Africa.’ It gives the first reference to it in English as being in 1548, or, in its alternative name of ‘garbanzo, ’ since the mid-eighteenth century. What is strange to me is that in spite of it being known in the English-speaking world for several hundred years, there is a serious dearth of recipes for the chickpea in cookery books or newspaper columns until well into the twentieth century. There are only occasional glimpses of this strange foreign pea in nineteenth century newspapers, and I give you a couple for your interest.

The New York Times of December 26 1898, mentioned garbanzos as one of the favourite foods of “Uncle Sam’s New West Indian Possession” – Puerto Rico. The article noted that the ‘natives’ ‘are fond of good living’, and summarised the food situation as ‘Coffee is fine, butter is scarce, garlic a treat, rich sauces favoured, and sweets are a necessary luxury.'

The article goes on to describe some of the local dishes, such as the following, which will serve as our recipe for the day.

Sancocho is the representative dish of the island. It is the Puerto Rican brother of the Spanish olla podrida, and a distant relative of our vegetable soup. It is a soup or stew into whose composition enters a little of everything, especially of the native products. To make it you require beef, ham, salt pork, chicken, sausage, potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbage, garbanzos, beans, green and ripe plantains, hard squash or calabash, onions, garlic, yucca, celery – all boiled together and well seasoned with different kinds of pepper. The question is not so much what they put in, but rather what they do not put in. The Puerto Ricans think so much of this dish that they, punning on the name, they say “St Cocho (San Cocho) is the best saint of them all.”

Australian Town and Country Journal  of 19 April 1884 had this to say on the new crop:

The chick-pea was hardly known in this country till about 20 years ago, when some enterprising person advertised it as the “coffee plant,” and advised everyone to grown his own coffee. ...... These are rather larger than the common peas; they are so strongly wrinkled that they have been compared to ram’s head. This has given the plant its specific name aristinum ... The reputation of the chick-pea as a substitute for coffee has not yet died out, and we are often asked about it. There is no substitute for coffee. It is either coffee or no coffee. Still, for a warm, coloured drink, chick-pea is just as good as roasted rye, brown-bread crumbs, or parched Indian corn – and no better. Any starchy grain, when roasted, will give a coloured infusion, but it is not coffee. As the chick-pea belongs to a warm country, and its yield is small, it is not likely to gain a prominent place among our crops for ‘coffee’ or other purposes.

Quotation for the Day.

Beans are highly nutritious and satisfying, they can also be delicious if and when properly prepared, and they posses over all vegetables the great advantage of being just as good, if not better, when kept waiting, an advantage in the case of people whose disposition or occupation makes it difficult for them to be punctual at mealtime.
Andre Simon (1877-1970)

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Remains of the Turkey.

There seems to be no doubt that the big bird is the protein of choice for the big holiday gatherings such as Thanksgiving and Christmas – but how long, really, has this has been the tradition?

In the case of Thanksgiving in America, it seems to have been so since the very first celebration in 1621, which is not surprising given that the turkey is indigenous to the New World. As for Christmas, Americans were certainly regularly serving the bird on the big day in the later decades of the eighteenth century, although it was over a hundred years before it was sanctified by an expert as the ideal focus of the dinner. The expert was Miss Caroline L. Hunt of the Bureau of Home Economics of the Department of Agriculture, and her suggestions for the ideal Christmas dinner were reported in an article in the New York Times of December 19, 1915. She specifically recommended a stuffing of ‘stale bread, chestnuts, bay leaves, a dash of cayenne, some fresh (not cooked) celery, and a trace of onion’, and the accompaniments of giblet gravy and cranberry jelly.

The Old World first became aware of the turkey in the early sixteenth century, and it soon found a place on the feasting table. Again, however, it was not until much later – around the mid-nineteenth century – that it convincingly usurped the other favourites such as the goose, and became the standard Christmas bird.

In the wake of Thanksgiving and Christmas of course, the domestic caterer has the not insignificant problem of what do with the leftovers. Whether you call it secondary cookery, cold-meat cookery, or camouflage cookery, or even if you posh it up and call it rechauffé, the challenge is the same – avoiding both kitchen waste and family protest by becoming the master or mistress of creativity and disguise. Can we get any inspiration from nineteenth century kitchen gurus?

Eliza Acton, in her wonderful Modern Cookery in all its Branches (1847) has no recipes using cold roast turkey, nor does Queen Victoria’s one-time cook, Charles Elmé Francatelli include any in The Modern Cook (1846). The celebrity chef Alexis Soyer does, however, include an idea for the remains of the turkey in The Gastronomic Regenerator (1847) – one glamourised with a French name, which his perhaps a good tip with any dish of leftovers. Here it is:

Emincée de Dinde a l’Italienne
Is made with the remains of a turkey from a previous dinner, cut large slices from the breast-part, as much as you may require, and put them into a stewpan with six gherkins cut in long slices, have ready a pint of good sauce Italienne, and when boiling pour it over; warm them gently, but do not let them boil, and serve in a dish with very small croquettes de pommes de terre round.

Naturally, Isabella Beeton’s incredibly comprehensive The Book of Household Management (1861) includes several recipes for leftover turkey meat. I particularly like this one:

Croquettes of Turkey (Cold Meat Cookery).
Ingredients. — The remains of cold turkey; to every ½ lb. of meat allow 2 oz. of ham or bacon, 2 shalots, 1 oz. of butter, 1 tablespoonful of flour, the yolks of 2 eggs, egg and bread crumbs.
Mode.—The smaller pieces, that will not do for a fricassée or hash, answer very well for this dish. Mince the meat finely with ham or bacon in the above proportion; make a gravy of the bones and trimmings, well seasoning it; mince the shalots, put them into a stewpan with the butter, add the flour; mix well, then put in the mince, and about 4 pint of the gravy made from the bones. (The proportion of the butter must be increased or diminished according to the quantity of mince.) When just boiled, add the yolks of 2 eggs; put the mixture out to cool, and then shape it in a wineglass. Cover the croquettes with egg and bread crumbs, and fry them a delicate brown. Put small pieces of parsley-stems for stalks, and serve with rolled bacon cut very thin.
Time.— 9 minutes to fry the croquettes.

And last, but by no means least, as an American representative we have Fannie Merritt Farmer, author of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896), which includes this extremely minimalist recipe for turkey soup - which is really turkey stock.

Turkey Soup.
Break turkey carcass in pieces, removing all stuffing; put in kettle with any bits of meat that may have been left over. Cover with cold water, bring slowly to boiling point, and simmer two hours. Strain, remove fat, and season with salt and pepper. One or two outer stalks of celery may be cooked with carcass to give additional flavor.

NOTE: Previous posts have included other ideas for leftover turkey. You can find them HERE and HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often.
Johnny Carson

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, Boston 1886.

The Boston Daily Globe of November 21, 1886 prepared its readers well for Thanksgiving. Plans for the big night were sought from ‘cooks from the leading hotels of Boston’ – all of whom were members of the New England Culinary Club, ‘the leading club of its kind in the country’, and ‘gentlemen of good standing.’ Recipes for all dishes were also obtained, and most conveniently appear to have been scaled down for the household.

“The following bill of fare, with details of preparation, was contributed to the Sunday Globe by the president and secretary of the New England Culinary Club, and has the sanction of every member.’

American Thanksgiving Dinner.


Baked Cod, New Bedford Style

Roast turkey, St James style.
American roast ham

Chicken Pie, American style

Baked mashed potatoes.
Boiled onions.
Squash – mashed turnip.

Cabinet pudding, lemon sauce.

Fruit and cake.

I was astonished to note the complete absence of pumpkin, apple, pecan, mince, or any other sort of sweet pie in this menu! What does that say about ‘tradition’?

Recipes for all of the major dishes were given in the article, but I could hardly chose anything other than the chicken pie, could I?

Chicken Pie, American style.
Take two large chickens. Singe, draw, and wash. Cut in medium sized pieces. Take three onions chopped fine, a little celery, one small carrot scraped and cut in very thin slices. Put this in a stew pan with four ounce of butter. Let it cook ten minutes, then put in the chickens, cover with hot water. Let cook slowly till tender; add two bay leaves or sprig of mace, pepper, and salt. Thicken with two tablespoons of flour kneaded with butter. Line the sides of an earthen pie dish, put in the chickens, and cover with a rich paste. Glace the top with beaten eggs. Bake twenty minutes until a rich brown. Serve.

Quotation for the Day.

Turkey: A large bird whose flesh, when eaten on certain religious anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary