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.