Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Pocket Food.

You think you don’t cook historic recipes, don’t you? OK. Next Sunday morning, why not cook your eggs from this mid-fifteenth century recipe?

Potage de egges.
Take faire water and cast in a faire frying pan, or elles in a other vessel, til hit boyle, and skeme it well; and then breke faire rawe egges, and cast hem in the water, and let the water stonde stil over the fire, and lete the egges boile harder or nessher as you wilt.
Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books , Thomas Austin (from the Harleian MS 4016)

You did it! You probably call them poached eggs however, and you may have been confused by the recipe title and thought you would end up with egg soup. In Old Speak, a ‘potage’ simply meant something cooked in water in a pot. Such is the nature of language – words are not fixed and immutable things, they change in meaning and occasionally terrible confusion occurs.

So, how did we come by the word ‘poach’? I was delighted to find that it comes from the Middle French pocher, and ultimately references pocket and poke (i.e a bag). It is suggested by the Oxford English Dictionary that pocher (in the sense of cooking eggs) is usually explained as referring to the enclosure of the yolk in the white as in a bag. I guess then, that the word poacher, when it does not refer to a pan specifically for cooking by poaching but to a man who steals game, indicates that his ill-gotten gains were quickly secreted in a bag or pocket.

You can, of course, cook your eggs in another sort of bag, if you wish. Nicolas Soyer, the grandson of the famous Alexis Soyer, gives the instructions in his book Soyer’s Paper Bag Cookery (1911)

Eggs aux Tomates.
Butter a bag thickly. Put into it half a pint of thick tomato catsup and a lump of butter the size of a walnut. Cook in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Cut a square from the centre of the bag, and break in one by one four eggs. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Dish up. Cut away the top of the bag only and serve at once.

Quotation for the Day.

He that wyll potche egges well muste make his water sethe first.
J. Palsgrave (1530)

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