Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Servants’ Apple Pudding.

Whenever I hear or read someone going on about ‘The Good Old Days’, I take a deep breath, bite my tongue, and try to stop my eyes rolling heavenward in exasperation. I guess I must look pretty funny, Huh? Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I cannot help saying a few or a lot of words, most of them with a sharp-sounding edge. Guess I sound pretty funny too.

It pays to remember that in The Good Old Days, one’s employer had rather more power over one than is possible today (for those of us in the lucky parts of the world that is.) In olden times, for example, the servants in wealthy households worked very long days, with little or no time off, and received little more than their keep. In the eighteenth century, one expectation on the part of the servants was that their ‘keep’ would include plumb pudding regularly on the menu . We associate plum pudding now with Christmas, but it was once a staple – because the ingredients, and the pudding itself, had good keeping qualities. Plum pudding may not have been a daily dish for most, but nor was it a rare treat.

The most fascinating source of information on life on the farm and the estate is The Country Housewife’s Family Companion (1750) by William Ellis. He describes how one Master of the household made some moves towards economy in the matter of his servants’ food, but not to the point of meanness.

How a Lord’s Family-Servants had Apple-Pudding made for them instead of Plumb-Pudding.
The Lord I mean here, was one that was a true Œconomist, yet kept a good House both for eating and drinking, for I have known him to keep two Men Cooks at a Time. However, to save extraordinary Expense, amongst his other Management, he obliged his many common Servants to eat no other Pudding for seven Weeks together than Apple boil’d Pudding, which with other Victuals gave them a full pleasant Meal; the Apple-Pudding was made thus: - the Dough or Crust was made with Wheat-meal, and either Butter, Suet, or Kitchen Fat, rolled thick to wrap over Apples chopt into small Pieces. When this was done, the Pudding was tied up in a Cloth, and boiled three or four Hours. Then they eat it with Sugar in melted Butter put over the Apples. This was done to save the Charge of Plumbs &c.

Quotation for the Day.

Cooking is the ultimate giving!
Jamie Oliver

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mermaid Pie.

There was a great deal of interest in mermaids in the seventeenth century. Sailors and coastal inhabitants reported sightings of the strange creatures, showmen exhibited cannily crafted specimens for a suitable fee, and the clergy discussed whether or not they had souls.

If it could be determined that merfolk had souls, then eating them would have been an act of cannibalism, and a great sin. I don’t know if the clerics of the time ever satisfactorily settled the debate, but a cook of the time certainly had some fun with the idea. Common belief was that human flesh tasted like pork, so if one wanted to simulate cooked mermaid, it would make sense to use that animal as the substitute.

Mermaid pie had its brief time in the culinary limelight in the seventeenth century. The recipe appeared in several cookery books of the time, and then disappeared, apparently forever. I like to think that the cook who invented the concept had a sense of humour, and wanted to give his guests a momentary frisson of horror and disbelief when the dish was revealed. I certainly hope that a slight persisting sense of naughtiness added piquancy to what would otherwise have been a fairly standard seventeenth century pig pie.

Take a Pig, scald it, and bone it; and having dried it well with a Cloath, season it with beaten Nutmeg, Pepper, and chop’d Sage; then take two Neats-Tongues; when dried and cold after boiling, and slice them in lengths, and as thick as a Half-Crown, and lay a quarter of your Pig in a square or round Pye, and the slices of the Tongue on it; then another quarter, and more Tongue: and thus do four times double, and lay over all these some slices of Bacon, scatter a few Cloves, put in some pieces of Butter and Bay-leaves, then bake it; and when it is so, fill it up with pieces of sweet Butter, and make your Past white of the Butter and Flower. This Pig, or Mermaid-Pye, so called, is to be eaten cold.
The family dictionary, or, Houshold [sic] companion …(1695) by William Salmon.

Quotation for the Day.

Men may come and men may go ..... but Pie goes on for ever.
            George Augustus Sala, 'America Revisited' (1882)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Heather Beer.

I note that there has been a revival of interest in Scottish (or is it Irish?) ‘heather beer’ in recent times. The method of preparation of this almost-mythical beverage was said to have been a national secret amongst the ancient Celtic race of Picts, the secret dying out with its last leader, who gave up his sons rather than the recipe to their conquerors. The story was immortalised in a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, and I give his version to you at the end of the post. Here is the legend as repeated in Notes and Queries (Oxford University Press, 1863)
“The name of this place is Garrywhin, and a tradition exists in connection with it, which says that here the last of the Picts existed. The story goes on to say that the race of Picts was reduced to three persons - an old blind man and his two sons; but before continuing the story it is necessary to mention that a notion still exists that the Picts made ale from heather, and that it can still be made, only we want the knowledge of any barm or yeast suited for it. Now the Picts were said to have guarded this secret with great care from the race that succeeded them, and it seems that these three poor Picts were much persecuted by their conquerors, who wished to get possession of their secret. At last the old man, worried almost to death by being so frequently urged to reveal what barm would suit ‘heather crop,’ consented to tell on condition that his two sons should first be put to death. To this proposal the cruel conquerors readily consented. The sons were slain, but the old man, wishing some of his oppressors to shake hands after they had completed their bargain, they became suspicious of his intentions, and held out to him the bone of a horse's leg, which, with a firm grasp of his old withered hand, he crushed to powder. Made aware by this that it was not over safe to shake hands with the old fellow, they kept at a respectful distance, but still insisted that he should now reveal his secret according to bargain, but they could get nothing out of him but the doggrel couplet which we often still hear repeated -

'Search Brochwhin well out and well in,
And barm for heather crop you'll find therein,'

The place mentioned here as Brochwhin is a glen close by, and the tradition is still believed."

Another version of the story has it that the old man had but one son, and (fearing that his son would relinquish the secret) made the bargain – and then, the sacrifice done,  ‘the stern Pict told his enemies that they might also put him to death, for he could never be prevailed on to disclose a secret known only to himself’,  in response to which, ‘the enraged Scots, as may be supposed, speedily sacrificed the obstinate captive.’

Other stories say it was the Danes who took the method of making heather beer to Ireland in the ninth century, or that perhaps it was an ancient Roman invention. We will likely never know the truth of its origins, but whatever they were, the concept was remarkably enduring.

It seems that the recipe did not completely die out with the Picts however, as heather beer may still have been made in some isolated regions of Scotland in the latter half of the eighteenth century. The Rev. John Lightfoot', author of the extraordinarily comprehensive Flora Scotica in 1777 wrote of the many uses to which the canny Scots put the common heather. He said:

“Formerly the young tops are said to have been used to brew a kind of ale, and even now I was informed that the inhabitants of Isla and Jura still continue to brew a very potable liquor by mixing two-thirds of the tops of hather [sic] to one-third of malt.”

Heather beer persisted yet further. A correspondent to the edition of Notes and Queries mentioned above, published in 1863, said:

“Heather beer, or ale, is still occasionally brewed in Scotland. I have drunk it within these last four years in the Lamermoors. It is brewed from the heather blossoms, and is very light, pleasant, and sparkling.”

I don’t know what happened to the production of heather beer between this mid-nineteenth century report and the present day, so cannot say whether the recently publicised commercial venture to manufacture it represents the resurrection of a completely dead method of beer-making, or the renaissance of an almost-dead one. It has generated sufficient interest however that the Guardian recently published a recipe for what they called a ‘Viking’ heather beer, which you can find here.
As my own recipe offering for the day, I give you a nice take on the idea of Welsh Rarebit, from a classic Scottish cookery book:

Boiled Cheese.
Grate a quarter of a pound of good cheese, put it into a sauce-pan, with a bit of butter the size of a nutmeg, and half a tea-cupful of milk, stir it over the fire till it boil, and then add a well-beaten egg; mix it all together, put it into a small dish, and brown it before the fire; or serve it without being browned.
The Practice of Cookery: Adapted to the Business of Every Day Life (Edinburgh, 1830),
by Mrs. Dalgairns

Quotation for the Day.

The story of heather ale was immortalised by the writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

From the bonny bells of heather
They brewed a drink long-syne,
Was sweeter far than honey,
Was stronger far than wine.
They brewed it and they drank it,
And lay in a blessed swound
For days and days together
In their dwellings underground.

There rose a king in Scotland,
A fell man to his foes,
He smote the Picts in battle,
He hunted them like roes.
Over miles of the red mountain
He hunted as they fled,
And strewed the dwarfish bodies
Of the dying and the dead.

Summer came in the country,
Red was the heather bell;
But the manner of the brewing
Was none alive to tell.
In graves that were like children's
On many a mountain head,
The Brewsters of the Heather
Lay numbered with the dead.

The king in the red moorland
Rode on a summer's day;
And the bees hummed, and the curlews
Cried beside the way.
The king rode, and was angry,
Black was his brow and pale,
To rule in a land of heather
And lack the Heather Ale.

It fortuned that his vassals,
Riding free on the heath,
Came on a stone that was fallen
And vermin hid beneath.
Rudely plucked from their hiding,
Never a word they spoke:
A son and his aged father -
Last of the dwarfish folk.

The king sat high on his charger,
He looked on the little men;
And the dwarfish and swarthy couple
Looked at the king again.
Down by the shore he had them;
And there on the giddy brink -
"I will give you life, ye vermin,
For the secret of the drink."

There stood the son and father
And they looked high and low;
The heather was red around them,
The sea rumbled below.
And up and spoke the father,
Shrill was his voice to hear:
"I have a word in private,
A word for the royal ear.

"Life is dear to the aged,
And honour a little thing;
I would gladly sell the secret,"
Quoth the Pict to the King.
His voice was small as a sparrow's,
And shrill and wonderful clear:
"I would gladly sell my secret,
Only my son I fear.

"For life is a little matter,
And death is nought to the young;
And I dare not sell my honour
Under the eye of my son.
Take HIM, O king, and bind him,
And cast him far in the deep;
And it's I will tell the secret
That I have sworn to keep."

They took the son and bound him,
Neck and heels in a thong,
And a lad took him and swung him,
And flung him far and strong,
And the sea swallowed his body,
Like that of a child of ten; -
And there on the cliff stood the father,
Last of the dwarfish men.

"True was the word I told you:
Only my son I feared;
For I doubt the sapling courage
That goes without the beard.
But now in vain is the torture,
Fire shall never avail:
Here dies in my bosom
The secret of Heather Ale.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

British Tea.

I keep finding interesting bits and pieces in the various volumes of The Food Journal: a review of social and sanitary economy, and monthly record of food and public health. Volume 4 was the source of yesterday’s story. Today I want to share with you a short piece from Volume 3, published in 1873, which concerns an early experiment in growing tea in Britain.

The produce of the tea plant is a matter of so much national importance now, that we may be excused if we refer to a letter which appeared many years ago in the British Journal on tea cultivation. In it Mr. Routsey says:- "Having found the Chinese green tea plant (Camelia viridis) to be more hardy than some other shrubs which endure the open air in this neighbourhood, I have tried it upon the Welsh mountains, and found it succeed. I planted it in a part of Breconshire, not far from the source of the Usk, about 1,000 ft. above the level of the sea, and higher than the limits of the native woods - consisting of elder and birch. It endured the last winter, and was not affected by the frost of May. It has now made several vigorous shoots, and I have no doubt of its thriving very well." Perhaps some of our readers could inform us what was the result of this open-air experiment, and whether it ever happened to be tried elsewhere with success within the British Island?

I too, would like to know the result of this experiment. Was any tea actually produced? Is there anything left of this little experimental plantation? I am totally ignorant about the lifespan of Camelia viridis, but I do hope that somewhere above the treeline on a hillside in Wales, near the source of the Usk, there are a few straggly, neglected tea bushes.

It is interesting that tea is in fact being grown in Britain today. There are small commercial plantations in Cornwall and in Wales (in Pembrokeshire), in areas where apparently the microclimate is similar to that of Darjeeling.

It is said that global warming has enabled this new horticultural success, as it is supposedly assisting the renaissance in English wine-production, but it cannot explain the apparent early success of the 1870’s experiment, can it?

While we try to solve the mystery of the Welsh tea experiment, I give you some recipes from On Uncle Sam’s Water Wagon: 500 recipes for delicious drinks, which can be made at home (New York, 1919.) The book was written all those years ago in response to Prohibition, and proves that flavoured teas are not a yuppie modern tea-shop invention.

First scald the teapot. Allow from half to a full teaspoonful of tea to each cup, according to variety used. Pour freshly drawn boiling water over the tea, and allow to stand from three to five minutes. English breakfast tea should stand at least five minutes before it is served. Serve with sugar, cream, lemon or orange.

Tea à la Commodore
Make tea according to preceding recipe, and serve with sugar and three cloves to each cup.

Tea à la Biltmore
Serve tea sweetened with red and white rock candy instead of sugar. A slice of lemon may be

Honolulu Tea
Make a syrup of one half cup of juice from preserved pineapple to two tablespoonfuls of
sugar, and simmer cubes of pineapple in it until the syrup is nearly absorbed by fruit. Serve
three cubes to each cup of hot tea, and more sugar if desired.

Russian Tea
Scald earthenware teapot with boiling water and put in two teaspoonfuls of tea, pour over
boiling water, filling the pot one fourth full, and let stand three minutes. Then fill pot full of
boiling water and let brew five minutes. In serving, dilute with hot water, and put a slice of
lemon in each cup. Preserved strawberries or cherries may be added.

Tea à la Mitchell
Serve a spoonful of orange marmalade to each cup of hot tea.

Sherbet Tea
Place a spoonful of lemon sherbet in a glass with two tablespoonfuls of lemon syrup and a
dash of acid phosphate. Nearly fill the glass with cold tea, and add a little cracked ice and soda
water. This is a delicious drink for hot days.

Quotation for the Day.

Thou Female-Tongue-running, Smile-smoothing, Heart-opening, Wink-tipping Cordial.
Cibber, The Lady’s Last Stake.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Great and Terrible Waste.

We in the lucky parts of the world are told that we waste about one fifth of the food that we buy, and that when we waste food, we also waste the resources that went into producing that food. It is a serious accusation, but does it point to a modern problem?
Often, in magazine articles and suchlike, we are pointed to the wisdom of our housewife-ancestors, who wasted nothing in their kitchens for reasons both moral and economical. I have referred to this ‘waste not, want not’ attitude of our predecessors, and included some of their practical hints to utilise every last scrap of food, in a number of blog posts over the years.

Waste is not just a sin perpetrated in the kitchen, however. An article in The Food Journal: a review of social and sanitary economy, and monthly record of food and public health (1874) reported the following:-

This year, in the markets and slaughterhouses of the city of London alone, the inspectors have condemned 195,522 lb. of meat as being unfit for human food; 189,390 lb. in the New Meat Market, 5,084 lb at Aldgate, and 1,039 lb. at Leadenhall. 74,463 lb of it was diseased meat, 102,050 lb was putrid meat, 19,009 lb was the flesh of animals that had died from accidents and other causes which rendered it unwholesome. The returns embraced 913 sheep and lambs, 108 calves, 380 pigs, 736 quarters of beef, 2,760 joints of meat, besides 3,149 plucks, 12 baskets of kidneys and melts, 1,572 kidneys, 51 hams, 190 sides and pieces of bacon, 4 barrels of pork, 17 pigs chaps, 35 tongues, 35 ox-tails, 2 goats, 12 fawns, 100 quarters and pieces of venison, 142 hares, 5 boxes and cases of rabbits, 644 rabbits, 2,146 head of game, 1 box of plovers' eggs, 2 hampers of eggs, 200 eggs, 29 cheeses, 1 cask of turtle, 1 barrel and 1 pad of fish, 1 basket of plaice, 1 barrel of cods' roes, 27 mats of dates, 6 boxes of grapes, 2 boxes of pears, 2,500 oranges, and 106 cocoanuts. At Billingsgate and Columbia Markets were seized about 287 tons of fish, consisting of about 232,945 herrings, 171,826 plaice, 167,749 haddocks, 142,270 whitings, 129,050 smelts, 66,660 dabs, 2,900 gurnets, 8,586 thornbacks, 3,457 codfish, 9,105 soles, 19,300 of various descriptions of fish, 7,907 lobsters and crabs, 205 bushels of sprats, 338 bushels of whelks, 216 bushels of mussels, 60 bushels of cockles, 9,603 gallons of shrimps, 21 bushels of oysters, 235 bushels of periwinkles, and 8,879 lb of salmon and eels.

Note that this estimate only applies to the city of London, which had a population of 3,254,266 in 1871. Food inspectors in other large cities in Britain presumably condemned similarly large quantities of food.

This large-scale waste was attributable to a number of issues. Clearly, the actions of unscrupulous butchers and slaughterhouse-men who put up the flesh of diseased beasts for sale were partly to blame, but the larger culprit must surely have been the lack of refrigeration?

On Monday, I said that the word ‘burnt’ in relation to a recipe did not sit comfortably with me. I am also uncomfortable with the idea of cooking ‘fawn’ – although venison is very fine with me. Such is the emotional power of words. In recognition of the twelve fawns whose great sacrifice was wasted in 1873, I give you the following recipe:

A Fawn.
Skin your fawn, and make a stuffing in the following manner: rub the crumb of a penny loaf through a cullender, pick and chop half a pound of beef-suet, pick and chop a handful of parsley, some lemon-peel and sweet herbs chopped fine, seasoned with pepper and salt, and half a nutmeg grated, break in two eggs, and mix them all up together; put it in the belly, sew it up, truss it, spit it, roast it before a good fire, and baste it well all the time it is roasting; (a middling-sized one will take one hour and a half, a large one two hours) when it is done baste it with butter, sprinkle some salt on it, and dredge it with flour; take it up and put it in a hot dish, with gravy in the dish, and mint sauce in a boat.
N. B. A young kid is roasted in the same manner.
The English Art of Cookery, According to the Present Practice (1788)  by Richard Briggs.