Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Basting and Dredging.

I have a final puzzle today from A dictionary of archaic & provincial words, obsolete phrases ... (1852), by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps.

Basteler: A person who bastes meat. In the accounts of the churchwardens of Heybridge, 1532, is the following entry: “Item: to the basteler, 4d.”

Now, this word is most intriguing. If there was such a specific occupation in the Tudor period, I would expect there to be other references, but there are none. I eagerly await the advice or opinions of those of you who may be scholars of that period.

Naturally, during my very brief research, I looked up the word baste in the Oxford English Dictionary, and found to my surprise, that the origin is unknown, but ‘it has been conjectured to be a transferred sense of baste [the verb meaning ‘to beat soundly, thrash, cudgel.’]  I admit to being at a loss to see the connection between the gentle art of ‘moistening (a roasting joint, etc.) by the application of melted fat, gravy, or other liquid, so as to keep it from burning, and improve its flavour’ and giving someone a sound thrashing.

I suspect that the definition of basteler is that of the author of the nineteenth century dictionary, and is based on a mis-spelling or mis-interpretation of pasteler, meaning ‘a person who makes pastries; a pastry-cook; a baker.” What do you think?

Whether the occupation of basteler ever existed (and I would like to think that it did), or the task was simply carried out by an nameless kitchen minion, it was an important technique to help prevent meat drying out. It was often accompanied by dredging, which added further flavour and texture. The process is nicely explained in the following recipe from A Modern System of Domestic Cookery, (1823) by M. Radcliffe.

Curious method of Roasting a Pig.

The pig is not to be scalded; but, being drawn and washed, must be spitted with the hair on, and put to the fire, yet not so as to scorch. When it is about a quarter roasted, and the skin appears blistered from the flesh, the hair and skin is to be pulled clean away with the hand, leaving all the fat and flesh perfectly bare. Then, with a knife, the flesh is to be scotched or scored down to the bone, and exceedingly well basted with fresh butter and cream very moderately warm, and dredged plentifully with fine bread crumbs, currants, sugar, and salt, mixed up together. Thus basting on dredging, and dredging on basting, must be constantly applied, in turns, till the entire flesh is covered a full inch deep; when, the meat being fully roasted, the pig is to be served up whole, with the usual sauce for a pig roasted in the common way. In a very old manuscript collection, this is stated to be a peculiarly delicious as well as curious dish.


T said...

The latin verb bastire means "to build". It is the root for the English/French bastle/bastille/bastion as well as bastler (German for 'tinker' or 'handyman').

I'd consider the basting of meat in the context of 'building up a layer of flavor', but am guessing that the basteler referred to in your book is a tinker/builder.

T said...

The latin verb bastire means "to build". It is the root for the English/French bastle, bastille, and bastion as well as the German Bastler ('tinker' or 'handyman').

I'd consider the basting of meat in the context of 'building up a layer of flavor', but am guessing that the basteler referred to in your book is a tinker/builder.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks, T! A very interesting idea indeed! I wonder if we will get any other insights?

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall something about basting using a rosemary (or other?) twig dipped in oil or other liquid, then brushing or beating it on the meat that was roasting in front of the fire. I have no idea where I read it (I think more than one place), or how old the usage was, though, so I don't know if that's the answer.

chops said...

Here's my thought about your "basteler." I have a great deal of experience with Churchwarden accounts, which drive me nuts. I'd be inclined to think that the reference itself is accurate, but whether Halliwell-Phillipps' interpretation of its meaning is correct is hard to say. You'd have to see the context. Maybe there are payments around it, for example, to people who provided other services associated with cooking meat. On the whole my instinct is to say that the interpretation is spurious. Let us suppose that the interpretation is correct, though. That does not necessarily mean that this was any kind of common paid occupation – could be a one time deal. You would need to look at the accounts to see if such payments recur. I don’t have all my handy-dandy stuff on 16th economics with me, but if memory serves 4d would be a day’s wage.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Sandra. This is, I think, a Greek tradition. If we all keep adding ideas, I am sure we will come up with an authoritative text on basting!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi chops. thanks for this very informative note. I will try to track down the original reference (with the payment of 4 pence) - might be interesting to see what other kitchen workers were on the same account, as you suggest. It would be particularly interesting if there is also a mention of a pastrycook!