Friday, March 30, 2012

Quails and Quailing.

The ornithological quail is somewhat of a mystery to me. It seems that various small brown birds in various parts of the world, from various families, sub-families, genera etc are called ‘quail.’ I don’t know by which specific scientific name the version presented at restaurants in this part of the world go by – but I love them. The culinary variety of quail, I really get.

There is another culinary ‘quail’ that you might not be so familiar with. This one is a verb, and it has quite a different origin.

The name of the bird appears to be derived from attempts to represent its call. I have never heard a call from a quail in the wild, only a call to come to eat one on my plate, so I don’t know if this is correct, but it is the Oxford English Dictionary’s explanation, so it will do for me.

The verb ‘to quail’ on the other hand, appears to derive from several very old Saxon, German, and/or English words connoting suffering, torture, death, and pain. 

One of the now obsolete meanings of the verb is ‘to cause something to curdle or coagulate.’ There are other meanings, as you are aware. I am sure you would quail at the thought of your custard qualing, and I would certainly quail at the thought of my quail being cooked badly.  I wish I could find a recipe for quail which included method instructions on quailing (or not). I would not want quailed quail custard. Is there a quail recipe which includes quailed milk (aka ‘cottage cheese’)?

As I cannot find such an linguistic treat, I give you two separate recipes. The first is for a delicious-sounding, beautifully garnished braise of quails, flavoured with herbs, spices, and verjus. The second is more obscure, being much older. It is a sort of puree of chicken ground up small, and cooked in spiced and sweetened almond milk before being ‘quailed’ with white wine or vinegar and then strained through a sieve.

To boyle Quailes
First, put them into a Pot with sweete broth, and set them on the fire: then take a Carret roote, and cut him in pieces, and put into the potte, then take parsely with sweet hearbes, and chop them a little, and put them into the Potte, then take Sinamome, Ginger, Nutmegges, and Pepper, and put in a little Vergice, and so season it with salt, serve them upon soppes, and garnish them with fruite.
The Good Huswife’s Jewel (1587)

Blaunche de ferry.
Take Almaundys, an draw þer-of an Chargeaunt Mylke; take Caponys & sethe hem; & whan þey ben y-now, take hem vppe, & ley hem on a fayre bord, & strype of þe Skyn, & draw out þe Brawn & hew hem smal; do hem on a Morter, & grynd hem smal; caste on a potte, & fayre whyte Salt, & boyle hem; & whan þey bey boylid, sette it out, & caste on whyte Wyne or Venegre, & make it quayle; take a clene cloþe and lete it be tryid a-brode, & stryke it wyl vnder-nethe alle þe whyle þat þer wol auȝt out þer-of; þan caste Blaunche powder þer-on, or pouder Gyngere y-mellyd with Sugre; stryke it clene, take a newe Erþen potte, oþer a clene bolle, & caste þin mete þer-on, þer plantyng Anys in comfyte.
Two fifteenth-century cookery-books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55; by Thomas Austin.

Quotation for the Day.

Quaill, and mallard, are not but for the richer sorte.
W.Waterman, tr. of J. Boemus; Fardle of Facions (1555)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hen's Milk.

What dishes or beverages do you consider restorative? Me, I go for a cup of tea anytime. If I am in need of restoration, the very last thing I would consider would be raw eggs. I can do raw eggs in mousses and mayonnaise, no problem. I cannot, and will not, do raw eggs in their unbeaten, undisguised, slippery nastiness. I still have nightmares about the scene in the movie ‘Rocky’ in which Sylvester Stallone drinks several raw eggs cracked straight from shell into the glass. I cannot help wondering how many times he had to repeat that disgusting act until the director was happy with the shot.

There are three egg restoratives which I found very interesting in Cookery and Housekeeping: a manual of domestic economy for large and small families (1882), by Mrs. Henry Reeve. To be perfectly honest, it was the name of the second two recipes that caught my attention. Hen’s Milk. Marvellous name, if not marvellous taste experience.

The first recipe, entitled simply ‘A Restorative’ is interesting in another way. Tell me - would lemon juice actually dissolve egg-shell? I guess I should go and try the experiment (stopping short of drinking it –if raw egg whites are nasty, how much nastier can they be with shell included? there is not nearly enough brandy in the recipe to make me tempted to find out.) 

A Restorative.
Two eggs with the shells broken up small, the juice of one lemon put over the top to cover the shell. Let it stand till the egg-shells are dissolved, beat up, add sugar to taste, and one tablespoonful of brandy. Take two tablespoonfuls at a time.

My question about the second recipe is: how does orange-flower water turn the yolks white? I guess I will try this - and then use the eggs in a cake. I am not going to eat something that sounds like custard made with water, even if it doesn’t have the egg-whites in it.

Hen’s Milk.
Beat up two yolks of fresh eggs with one ounce of powdered sugar, and enough orange-flower water to turn the yolks white; then stir in a cup of boiling water, and serve immediately.

Hen’s Milk No. 2
The yolks of 3 eggs;
5 ozs. boiling water;
If allowed, 3 ounces of brandy.

I give you a fourth and final egg restorative from another source. It is my favourite version of Hen’s Milk - if I must have Hen’s Milk - for the simple and sensible reason that it is, in fact, thin rum custard.  I think I can feel an Unpleasant Complaint coming on.

Lait de Poule au Rhum—Hen's Milk and Rum.
Pleasant Cure for an Unpleasant Complaint.
Boil a pint of good, fresh milk. Beat (not froth) an egg until it has become as liquid as you can make it. Pour it slowly into the milk, stirring gently all the while. When well mixed, add three lumps of sugar. If it be a grown person who has caught the Bad Cold, throw in a wine-glassful of rum; for young people, the dose must be proportionally less. Swallow this cordial hot at bedtime, or, better still, after going to bed. Its effects are so agreeable and comforting, that the only fear is, having taken it once, you will catch another bad cold at the first opportunity, to afford you a pretext for taking it again.
Wholesome fare; or, The doctor and the cook, (1868) by E.S. and E.J. Delamere

Quotation for the Day.

If there existed some one article of food, a restorative for every form of exhaustion, a panacea for every degree of fatigue, the duties of the Doctor and the Cook would be wonderfully simplified.
Wholesome fare; or, The doctor and the cook, (1868) by E.S. and E.J. Delamere

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Man Cook.

I tried, last week, after giving you the (very tongue in cheek)  Twelve Golden Rules for Women Cooks, to find a similar set of regulations for the male of the species – fully expecting them to be the same of course. Sadly, I have been unable to find such a thing, but I do believe I now understand the lack. Advice in The Complete Servant: being a practical guide to the peculiar duties and business of all descriptions of servants (1825) has led me to appreciate the much more difficult job of the Man Cook. His situation is one of far greater labour and fatigue than that of the Female Cook, because of his greater skill and responsibility. He is, in other words, The Boss, and hence is well beyond the range of any rules, anywhere, any time.

The man Cook, now become a requisite member in the establishment of a man of fashion, is in all respects the same as that of a female Cook. He is generally a foreigner, or if an Englishman, possesses a peculiar tact in manufacturing many fashionable foreign delicacies, or of introducing certain seasonings and flavours in his dishes, which render them more inviting to the palate of his employer, than those produced by the simply healthful modes of modern English Cooks.
The man Cook has the entire superintendence of the kitchen, while his several female assistants are employed in roasting, boiling, and all the ordinary manual operations of the kitchen. His attention is chiefly directed to the stew-pan, in the manufacture of stews, fricassees, fricandeaux, &c. At the same time, his situation is one of great labour and fatigue, which, with the superior skill requisite for excellence in his art, procures him a liberal salary, frequently twice or thrice the sum given to the most experienced female English Cook.
As the scientific preparations of the man cook would themselves fill a large volume, and are not generally useful in English families, it is not deemed necessary to give place to them in this work; but the following useful receipts having, inadvertently, been omitted under the head Cook, they are inserted in this place rather than omitted altogether.
As the art of Cookery, or gourmanderie is reduced to a regular science in France, where an egg may be cooked half a hundred ways, so those who can afford large families of servants, and give frequent entertainments, consider a man-cook as economical, because he produces an inexhaustible variety without any waste of materials, and that elegance and piquancy of flavours which are necessary to stimulate the appetites of the luxurious. In France, all culinary business is conducted by men, and there are, at least, as many men cooks as considerable kitchens; but in England, men cooks are kept only in about 3 or 400 great and wealthy families, and in about 40 or 50 London hotels. But it is usual in smaller establishments to engage a man cook for a day or two before an entertainment.

I guess the resident Man Cook at your own establishment is above making such things as omelets. Make one for the poor tired darling, wont you?

An Omelette Souffle.
Put two ounces of the powder of chestnuts into a skillet, then add two yolks of new laid eggs, and dilute the whole with a little cream, or even a little water; when this is done, and the ingredients well mixed, leaving no lumps, add a bit of the best fresh butter, about the size of an egg, and an equal quantity of powdered sugar; then put the skillet on the fire, and keep stirring the contents; when the cream is fixed and thick enough to adhere to the spoon, let it bubble up once or twice, and take it from the fire; then add a third white of an egg to those you have already set aside, and whip them to the consistency of snow: then amalgamate the whipped white of eggs and the cream, stirring them with a light and equal hand, pour the contents into a deep dish, sift over with double refined sugar, and place the dish on a stove, with a fire over it as well as under, and in a quarter of an hour the cream will rise like an omelette soufflé: as soon as it rises about four inches it is fit to serve up.
The Complete Servant (1852)

Quotation for the Day.

A chop is a piece of leather skillfully attached to a bone and administered to the patients at restaurants.
Ambrose Bierce

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How Many Legs Has A Sheep?

There is a lovely story – a comment on what constitutes ‘madness’, I suppose – that I want to share with you today. It appeared in Heads and tales; or, Anecdotes and stories of quadrupeds and other beasts, by Adam White (London, 1870):

When the Earl of Bradford was brought before the Lord Chancellor to be examined upon application for a statute of lunacy against him, the Chancellor asked him, "How many legs has a sheep?” - “Does your lordship mean," answered Lord Bradford, "a live sheep or a dead sheep ?" - "Is it not the same thing?" said the Chancellor. "No, my Lord," said Lord Bradford, "there is much difference: a live sheep may have four legs, a dead sheep has only two; the two fore-legs are shoulders; there are only two legs of mutton.

A (very) brief research foray has led me to assume that the poor Peer under suspicion of lunacy must be Thomas Newport, the fourth Earl of Bradford (c. 1696-1762.)  The title became extinct on his death, as he died ‘without issue’ as they say. He was said to have become ‘feebleminded’ or ‘an imbecile’ after a fall from a horse as a child, but the witty response above is hardly that of someone with a dull mind, is it?

But let us get on with the food part of the story. An eighteenth century gentleman (and a nineteenth century one for that matter) would have been an expert on mutton. We find the adjective ‘inevitable’ frequently used in association with the appearance of mutton on the dinner table. Even Mrs.Beeton uses the phrase. The inevitability of mutton extended to the tables of the well-to-do as well as the boarding house, and it seems that it engendered a strange mixture of both boredom and pride.

We can buy our meat in meal-sized portions nowadays, if we wish, but in the good old days, when there was no refrigeration, and waste of any scraps of food an unconscionable sin, it took some ingenuity on the part of the cook or housekeeper to repeatedly serve up the inevitable remains of the inevitable leg of mutton, without too many complaints from the family. Luckily – or inevitably – there was no shortage of advice on the problem in many decades-worth of British cookery books.

In a post a long time ago, we considered the advice of Australian pioneer woman, Caroline Chisholm, who fearlessly faced-off the problem of how to serve salt beef again ... and again ... and again. Salt beef was the inevitable daily fare of the of the early settlers of the continent in the nineteenth century, and Caroline produced a leaflet describing Seven Things to do with Salt Beef. I think this puts the leg of mutton problem into perspective, doesn’t it?

The leg of mutton problem was not confined to Victorian England. Jennie June's American Cookery Book (1866) gives suggestions on how to make a leg of mutton provide four meals (and remember, this was before domestic refrigeration.)

Leg of Mutton in Four Meals.
For the first meal, cut off a handsome knuckle and boil it; for the second meal, take as many cutlets as required for the family from the joint; for the third meal, roast the remainder of the joint. The remains of both the boiled and roasted meat may then be hashed for a fourth meal.

It is difficult to escape the feeling that the worst thing about the inevitable mutton was the inevitable hash that awaited one on day four or five. Perhaps an elegant title would ‘sell’ the concept better?

The Epicure's Hash.
Cut in slices about one pound of cold mutton; then put two sliced onions into a stew pan with a small piece of butter, and fry brown; then add half a pint of good flavored broth, a dessertspoonful of Harvey sauce, the same spoon three times full of taragon vinegar, two tea-spoonsful of curry paste, a small lump of sugar, and a little pepper and salt to taste; let this sauce just boil up once and then simmer slowly by the fire for half an hour: stir it often, and thicken it with a table spoonful of flour, mixed smooth in a little cold water; or you can use corn starch, half the quantity will do. When the thickening has boiled thoroughly, and the sauce ready, put in the meat, let it heat through but not boil. Serve hot, with pieces of toast round the dish.
Jennie June's American Cookery Book (1866)

Quotation for the Day.

The real fact is that I could no longer stand their eternal cold mutton.
(On why he left England for South Africa)
Cecil Rhodes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tsiology Revisited.

It was common, when I was growing up in the North of England, to hear tea referred to as ‘cha.’ Luckily, when I was growing up, I didn’t know that the use of this word indicated a very low class social status. Now, of course, in its modern form of ‘chai’, it has become trendy, and somewhat yuppy-ish. I don’t know if this is better or worse than being low-class, but it is certainly indicative of the constantly evolving nature of language.

When a foreign word is introduced into a language, it suffers from the pronunciation efforts of its adoptive parent nation, who may of course suffer from local dialect differences between themselves. The result may be etymological confusion, to say the least. There are a multitude of variants of the word for the most essential of beverages, all – apparently – originating with the Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) word. The first mention in English that I am aware of is in 1601, and the OED gives it as:

1601   R. Johnson tr. G. Botero Travellers Breviat (1603) 216;  Water mixt with a certaine precious powder which they [the Japanese] use, they account a daintie beverage: they call it Chia.

Over the next century or so in Britain and Europe knowledge of this ‘daintie beverage’ filtered in independently via numerous travellers and merchants from the East. In some regions the ‘t’ sound became the preferred pronunciation option, and the most essential of human beverages became known as the, tee, tay, tsia and a myriad other forms, and eventually, ‘tea.’

In such a manner are most words adapted and changed by their users over long periods of time. Sometimes, however, only a new word will do, and must be invented – albeit perhaps on the basis of an existing related word. Sometimes the inventor may have a specific, one-off, purpose in mind for the new word. The OED calls these ‘nonce-words’ because they are intended to be used only ‘for the nonce’(i.e for one occasion only.) Sometimes, of course, they do enter the language and become real words, although sometimes with a different meaning to the original. This happened with ‘quark’.

Apart from the writers of nonsense-rhymes and stories (Edward Lear and his ‘runcible’ spoon comes to mind), I find it hard to believe that any word-inventor would wish for once-only use. I am sure the inventor of ‘trophology’, which we met the other day, was intending to be the author of a new discipline (which I guess he was, although in a form distorted from his original intention.) I feel  equally sure that the inventor of  today’s topic - ‘tsiology’ (a ‘nonce word, according to the OED) - hoped it would become a word of enduring value.

The author concerned used the form ‘tsia’ as the stem for ‘tsiology’, which is ‘a scientific dissertation on tea.’  The wonder to me is that for such an vital resource for the well-being of the human race, that no-one had developed a word for its study before this date, and that its use did not immediately take a permanent place in the English language.

The full title of the book is:

&c. &c
(London, 1826)

Alas! The book is a scientific and historical treatise, not a recipe book, so it is unable to provide our recipe for the day. Instead, I give you two variations on a theme of soft tea-breads or tea-cakes, from Good cookery illustrated: And recipes communicated by the Welsh hermit of the cell of St. Gover, with various remarks on many things past and present, (1867.)  The Welsh do know a thing or two about griddle cakes such as ‘pikelates.’

Thick Welsh Barley Cakes.
Take fine barley meal and make into a stiff dough with skim milk; roll out to the size of a small bake-stone, about three-quarters of an inch thick, and bake. It is eaten with cold butter.

Thin Welsh Barley Cake.
Mix fine barley meal and milk together to the consistency of batter and pour slowly on the bake-stone out of a jug until it has formed a circle the size of a small plate, then let it bake slowly. It ought to be very thin, but soft, like a pancake or pikelate; it is likewise eaten with cold butter.

Quotation for the Day.

Untrammelled canteen helpers are sometimes mystified by requests for ‘chah’ from thirsty soldiers.
Manchester Guardian Weekly, Sept 6, 1940.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Twelve Golden Rules for Women Cooks

Twelve Golden Rules for Women-Cooks.

To be hung up over every Kitchen Chimney in the Kingdom.

I.             Never Get Drunk - until the last dish be served up.
II.            Never Be Saucy - unless you happen to be in your airs and can't help it: but then, take, care to have the last word.
III.          Never Be Sulky - unless you have a great dinner to dress: your mistress will then be sure to coax you.
IV.          Never Spoil A Joint - unless you have been unjustly found fault with - (which must be the fact if you have been accused at all) in which case, if complaint be made of its having been under-done - you may, next time, roast it to a cinder; and if that should not give satisfaction - you may, the following day send it up raw.
V.            Never Get Dinner Ready At The Time It Is Ordered- unless you know that the family are not ready for it; in which case, send it up to a moment: if it be cold and spoiled, that, you know, will not be your fault.
VI.          Never Admit That You Are In The Wrong - unless the devil will so have it that you can't help it. If you should transgress your orders, stand stoutly to it -that they were such as you have followed; and if you hav'nt brass enough for that -say, you thought they were.
VII.         Never Take Snuff - unless when you are mixing a stew, or stirring the soup. Nor ever examine the latter without holding a lighted tallow-candle obliquely over the pot: if it should not enable you to see quite to the bottom, what drops from it will at least enrich the contents; and when you taste it - be sure to throw back what remains in your spoon.
VIII.       Never Wash Your Hands - until after you have made the pies: you must do it then, and to do it sooner is only to waste time and soap.
IX.          Never Give Warning To Quit Your Place - until you are quite sure that it will put the family to the greatest inconvenience, and then, be off at a moment; say, "your father's dead, or your mother's "dying, and you can't stay if it was "ever so." If warning be given to you - from that moment you may spoil everything that comes under your hands.
X.            Never Tell Tales Of The Family You Are With - unless they should be to their disadvantage: nor ever speak well of your last mistress, unless it be to contrast her with the present.
XI.          Never Cheat - unless you can do it without being discovered: but if you don't yourself cheat, never prevent others  - " your master can afford it" -  "sarvice is no inheritance" - and, "poor sarvants and tradesfolk must "live."
XII.         Never Tell A Lie - when you can get as much by telling the truth: nor ever tell the truth, when you can get more by telling a lie.
XIII.       Never Support A Sweetheart Out Of The House - unless you can't get one in.

N.B. Lest any fastidious critic, unlearned in the mysteries of the kitchen, should betray his ignorance by commenting on the number of our Rules, let it be understood, that, as at Newmarket pounds once meant guineas, so Cooks ever count by the BAKER’S DOZEN.

The rules given above are to be found in Essays, moral, philosophical, and stomachical, on the important science of good-living, (1823), by the rather mysterious and presumably pseudonymous Launcelot Sturgeon Esq. The Honourable Launcelot dedicates his book to ‘The Right Worshipful The Court of Aldermen’, and describes himself as ‘Fellow of the Beef-Steak Club, and Honorary Member of several Foreign Pic-Nics, &c., &c., &c.’ I do hope someone can tell us who he might be.

I tried, in the interests of gender equity, to find Twelve Golden Rules for Man-Cooks, but to date I have not been unable to do so. Sorry, gentlemen, you will just have to wing it for the time being. 

Launcelot makes comments about various cooking techniques, and give opinions and instructions which one hesitates to call recipes, but that nevertheless will serve that function for us today. Here he is, waxing lyrical on ‘the braise.

“The bottom of a stewpan is strewed with slices of bacon and of beef, chopped carrots, onions, celery, fine-herbs, salt, pepper, mace, and allspice: upon this bed – more fragrant than if it were of roses- is laid, in soft repose, the  joint which is the special object of your care: which is then wrapped in a downy covering of the same materials, and the curtain of the lid is cautiously closed upon it. It is then placed in the warm chamber of the portable furnace, and left to slumber in a state of gentle transpiration, under the guardian protection of a sylph of the kitchen, during as many hours a s the priestess of the temple may deem salutary. When at length it is taken up, it rivals the charm of Dianna newly risen from the bath; and when dressed in all its splendour – that is, dished with its sauce – we question whether the homage paid to the most admired beauty in the drawing-room was ever half so ardent or sincere as that which it receives when it makes its entrée at the table.”

Quotation for the Day.

As eating is the main object of life, so, dining being the most important action of the day, it is impossible to pay too great attention to everything which has any affinity to it.
Launcelot Sturgeon.