Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rolls and Loaves.

Have you ever over-ordered bread rolls for your barbeque, picnic, or hot-dog feast? You know you have. Haven’t you?  Sure, the leftover bread can be frozen, but have you room in your freezer? You know you haven’t, if you are normal. It is already full of the prawn shells and lemon wedges from your last party, isn’t it?.

So, what to do with these untouched specimens of the Staff of Life? You can keep the bread rolls in the pantry until they are stale and/or mouldy, whence you can throw them out with a clearer conscience of course, but there are other options. If I may continue with my theme of odds and ends of ingredients (and bread is surely the ingredient par excellence), then perhaps some of the following ideas from past times, when such profligate waste was considered sinful, may give you inspiration.

Asparagus, forced in a French Roll.
Take three French rolls, take out all the crumb, by first cutting a piece of the top crust off; but be careful that the crust fits again in the same place. Fry the rolls brown in fresh butter, then take a pint of cream, the yolks of six eggs beat fine, a little salt and nutmeg; stir them well together over a slow fire, till it begins to be thick. Have ready a hundred of small grass [asparagus], boiled, then save tops enough to stick the rolls with; the rest cut small, and put into the cream; fill the loaves with them. Before you fry the rolls, make holes thick in the top crust, to stick the grass in; then lay on the piece of crust, and stick the grass in, that it may look to be growing. It makes a pretty dish at a second course.
The Female’s Friend and General Domestic Adviser (London, 1837)

The following idea for a savoury bread-pasta pudding, also from The Female’s Friend, specifies a roll hot from the oven. I presume this means hot and fresh, or perhaps it means re-heated – but as the bread is soaked in wine, I cannot see the necessity for the bread to be hot or fresh. Perhaps there is a scientific explanation for the instruction, so if you know it, please let us all know in the comments.

Drunken Loaf (to make a)
Take a French roll hot out of the oven; rasp it, and pour a pint of red wine upon it, and cover it close up for half an hour; boil one ounce of macaroni in water, till it is soft, and lay it upon a sieve to drain; then put the size of a walnut of butter into it, and as much thick cream as it will take; then scrape in six ounces of Parmesan cheese; shake it about in your tossing pan with the macaroni till it be like fine custard; then pour it hot upon the loaf; brown it with a salamander, and serve it up.

Quotation for the Day.

Poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell.
Walter Bagehot (1826-77) Literary Studies.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Odds and Ends.

From time to time, as I browse old cookery books and other sources, I come across unusual ideas for using up ordinary, everyday ingredients. Usually, at the time I am on a specific search mission and do not want to get side-tracked, but the recipes are too good or too interesting to pass over, so I toss them quickly into my computer or my head. The trick then, of course, is to find them again – an especially tricky problem if they are in my head, where the folder and file system is not so visible.

This week I do want to find some of them again, to share with you. I thought we would have a week of stories about odds and ends of ingredients. 

Have you ever hard-boiled too many eggs? I have. Sure, they will keep for a while in the fridge, but much as one likes them, a diet of egg sandwiches and egg salad pales somewhat after several days. There are other well-known ideas too: devilled eggs, Scotch eggs, the very old tradition of eggsauce with fish, and the almost infamous Anglo-Indian concept of curried egg (with apple.) I would never have come up with the idea of using hard-boiled eggs to make a cheesecake, however, but the following recipe shows how it can be done.

Egg Cheese-cakes.
Twelve eggs, boiled hard and rubbed through a sieve while hot, with half a pound of butter; then add half a pound of pounded loaf sugar, half a pound of currants, and a little nutmeg. Brandy may be added, which flavours them nicely; or, if preferred, a few drops of essence of lemon or almonds.
The Peterson magazine Vols. 55-56 (Philadelphia, 1869)

Quotation for the Day.
Let me tell you, sisters, seeing dried egg on a plate in the morning is a lot dirtier than anything I've had to deal with in politics.
Ann Richards

Friday, January 27, 2012


I cannot imagine what the food world would smell like without the ginger family. We have met two members of the Zingiberaceae this week on the blog – galangal and cardamom. Today it is the turn of turmeric, and maybe in the future we will consider Grains of Paradise (melegueta pepper). There may be others too, that will have their brief blog-moment after I have indulged myself in a crash course in gingerology.

We must first consider the name. Let us just say that ‘the origin is obscure’, and the Oxford English Dictionary devotes a large paragraph to theorising about it. The OED seems to favour the idea that it comes from ‘modern Latin terra merita ‘deserving or deserved earth’, a name which the powder is said by Littré to have borne in commerce.’ 

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is ‘the aromatic and pungent root-stock of an East Indian plant’ and the powdered spice made from this root. In the way of all spices it has various medicinal qualities attributed to it. In particular it is of potential use in cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and you can be sure I will be watching the research in those areas very intently. 

The plant is put to several more uses. Should you need a litmus test but find yourself without any of the standard paper strips, you can improvise with turmeric in water. Paper dipped in this mixture will turn from yellow to reddish brown in the presence of alkali. On a related note, turmeric is used as a dye (bright yellow, naturally). Experts say the dye is not particularly stable, and fades with time and sunlight. This is not my experience. I have several articles of clothing with reminders of curries past in the form of yellow blotches which have resisted all my laundering efforts – and I am a good laundress. 

Finally we come to its culinary use. It is most familiar to most of us as an ingredient in curry powder. I give you a nice example from the exciting early days of the British Empire.

To Make a Currey the Indian Way.
Take two small chickens, skin them and cut them as for a fricasey, wash them clean, and stew them in about a quart of water for about five minutes; then strain off the liquor and put the chickens in a clean dish; take three large onions, chop them small, and fry them in about two ounces of butter, then put in the chickens, and fry them together until they are brown, take a quarter of an ounce of turmerick, a large spoonful of ginger and beaten pepper together, and a little salt to your palate; strew all these ingredients over the chicken whilst frying, then pour in the liquor, and let it stew about half an hour, then put in a quarter of a pint of cream, and the juice of two lemons, and serve it up. The ginger, pepper, and turmerick must be beat very fine.
The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1784), by Hannah Glasse,

Quotation for the Day.
Eating highly seasoned food is unhealthful, because it stimulates too much, provokes the appetite too much, and often is indigestible.
Catharine E. Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book (1846)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I was fascinated to find out that our English word ‘fenugreek’ is a legacy of the Romans. The word comes from the Latin fænum Græcum meaning ‘Greek hay’- because it was used extensively as fodder for animals. 

Fenugreek is a leguminous plant with the botanical name is Trigonella fœnum græcum. It has been used by humans for at least six thousand years, and all parts of the plant have something to offer - it is both a herb and a spice. It is most familiar to us in the West as an ingredient in curry powders. You may be more familiar with it in Indian grocery shops as methi

As we would expect, various medicinal properties are associated with fenugreek. If you need scientific proof for many of the claims, you will have to wait a while, for there is as yet no high-level evidence for its benefits. It is claimed to be good for arthritis and diabetes and poor libido, so if the proof comes in, and if drug companies manage to locate and extract its active molecules, they will be sure to have a steady and increasing market for their product.

Unlike many other ‘Indian’ spices, fenugreek never became indispensible in Western cuisine. It was difficult to find any examples of its use, other than in curry powder, except for a single recipe in one of the cookery books of the famous Victorian chef, Alexis Soyer. The book is Pantropheon: or, a history of food and its preparation(1853), and the recipe is for Noix de Veau à la Tarentaise. I give you the recipe with a ‘please explain’ plea, as I am quite puzzled by it. The dish appears to be Soyer’s interpretation of an ancient Roman dish, but the appellation ‘à la Tarentaise’ indicates it is in the style suggestive of food from the Vallée de la Tarentaise, a valley of the Isère River in the Savoy region of the French Alps.

Noix de Veau à a Tarentaise.
Take a noix de veau [nut of veal], cook it in a saucepan with pepper, alisander*, and fenugreek seed; add, later, some wild marjoram, pine nuts, and dates; then moisten with a mixture of honey, vinegar, garum**, mustard, and oil. When the cookery of these various substances shall have made an homogeneous whole, serve.

*alisander: ‘herb Alexander’, also known as Horse-parsley, Smyrnium, Black pot-herb; somewhat like celery; native to the Mediterranean, but widely naturalized in British coastal regions. Smyrnium olusatrum, Fam. Umbellliferae
*garum: a universal condiment made from fermented fish used by the Romans.

Quotation for the Day
The winter hours were long to him who had no spice-warmed cup.
Eliza Cook, Sunshine (1846)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The thing I like about cardamom - apart from its delicious flavour and fragrance, - is that according to a thirteenth century medical manuscript, it helps with ‘wamblyng and indygnacyon of the stomak.’ Herbs and spices were, of course, commonly used as medicines in the past, and over recent times there has been a resurgence of interest in their potential medical applications. I don’t know if there is any good scientific evidence for the use of cardamom in cases of wambly or indignant stomachs, but I will watch out for it eagerly.

The Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges the medicinal applications of cardamom:

A spice consisting of the seed-capsules of various species of Amomum and Elettaria (family Zingiberaceæ), natives of the East Indies and China; used in medicine as a stomachic, and also for flavouring sauces and curries. (Rarely applied to the plant from which the spice is obtained.) The only kind included in the British pharmacopœia is the Malabar cardamom, obtained from E. cardamomum.

One thing is for sure, if cardamom once again becomes a prescription item, it will not need a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. But the admixture of a little turmeric, cloves, mace and black pepper will surely always be a welcome idea, as in the following fine recipe for ‘kedgeree’ from the Practice of Cookery, by Mrs Dalgairns, 1830.

Boil a quarter of a pound of split peas till they be tender; drain them in a cullender. Wash very clean a pound of rice; chop the peas finely, mix them with the rice, and season with a little turmeric. Fry in an ounce and a half of butter, a minced onion, and of cloves, mace, cardamom, and black pepper, when pounded, half a tea- spoonful each; stir them constantly, to prevent their burning. Season a quart of veal stock with salt and pepper; put in the rice and the fried onion and spices; cover the stew-pan closely, and let it simmer till the rice becomes tender and dry. Serve it with a cup of oiled butter.
Quotation for the Day.

Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go.
Erma Bombeck.