Thursday, February 28, 2013

Things to do with Almonds.

I did meet someone once who didn’t like chocolate, but I don’t think I have ever met someone who doesn’t like almonds, although no doubt there is such a person. It was musing on orgeat that made me realize that I seem to have neglected this almost universally liked nut. I want to address this today, and I may as well start with my muse.

Orgeat is a sweet almond drink which in the past was commonly based on barley. The word itself comes from the old Occitan (Southern France) word orge for barley, and in fact, a supporting quotation from the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that a particular sort of barley may have been used:

a1500   in Englische Studien (1885) 8 281   Item, do gete you ayenst hete sum fyne sugre roset in burneys or in close bagges of lethere, a busshell of clene barly for tysayne, with half a busshell of orgeate.

Orgeat was enormously popular in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England, and the Italian version orzata is still much enjoyed in that country.  Orange flower water was a common addition, and the base, as mentioned, was originally barley, but seeds such as melon and pumpkin were also used. Orgeat could be made ready for drinking, but was often made in the form of a sugar syrup, or a simple paste of ground almonds and sugar, and either of these were added to water or milk to make a refreshing beverage, or to an alcoholic mix to make a cocktail. It also of course was used medicinally, as you will see below, in the selection of recipes.

To Make Orzat.
Take half a dozen sweet Almonds and as many bitter ones, and four Ounces of Melon Seeds cleans’d; beat these in a Mortar, ‘till it is reduced to a Pastt, sprinkling it now and then with a few Drops of Water, that it may not oil. When they are thoroughly pounded put in a pound of Sugar, and beat that with your Paste, then put the Paste into a Gallon of Water and let it steep; then put in a coupld of Spoonfuls of Orange Flower-Water, and strain it through a Bag, pressing the gross Substance very hard. Put also a Glass of new Milk into the Bag, then put the Liquor into Bottles, and set it by to cool.
The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary (1723) by John Nott

Orgeat Paste.
Pound the almonds as directed for orgeat, with a little orange-flower water; and when it is very fine, work it with as much weight of pounded sugar; it will keep a long while, and by this means you have orgeat ready much  sooner, by dissolving about an ounce of this past in the proportion of half a pint of water,  and then sifting it for use.
The Professed Cook (1812) by B.Clermont.

Beat two ounces of almonds with a tea-spoonful of orange flower water, and a bitter almond or two; then pour a quart of milk and water to the paste. Sweeten with sugar, or capillaire. This is a fine drink for those who have a tender chest; and in the gout it is highly useful, and with the addition of half an ounce of gum arabic, has been found to allay the painfulness of the attendant heat. Half a glass of brandy may be added if thought too cooling in the latter complaints, and the glass of orgeat may be put into a basin of warm water.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, (1815) by Maria Rundell.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Things To Do With Mutton Fat.

I think that you will agree that mutton fat is not the most attractive form of “kitchen stuff.”  “Kitchen stuff,” according to the OED can mean:

-           Material used in cooking; requisites for the kitchen.
-          The refuse or waste products of the kitchen, spec. dripping.

I am sure mutton fat does not fit into the first category, except by default. It smells and tastes distinctly mutton-y, which is why, I suspect, that it was not the fat of choice for quality pastry and puddings in the past.

Mutton fat more often falls into the second category, although this does not mean it was acceptable to waste it. Some would have been used for cooking, there is no doubt, but fat has many other uses in the world too. Perhaps the most important is, or was, soap-making, of course. In World War II it would have been gratefully received by the dripping pot beside every stove, to be turned in to the butcher who then turned it in to whoever was responsible for recycling it as an ingredient for explosives. Mutton fat has probably been used for all sorts of other non-food applications not relevant here, but such things as greasing wheel axles and saddles perhaps? 

I had not thought of its use as an artistic medium until I read a report of a cookery demonstration and competition in London in 1885. The Times reported the work of one entrant:

Mutton fat would not by the uninitiated be thought a promising material for artistic manipulation; … It is of suet that the genealogical tree designed by Mr. Louis Cebat, [?] chef at the Freemasons’ Tavern, is made. Each branch of this arborescent adipose biography bears a dated label, and, in miniature, some dish invented by a cook whose school may be traced to the master on whom he modelled his style. The tragic end of Vatel, who is represented to have slain himself with his own sword in a fit of despair at the failure of the expected supply of fish for dinner, is symbolised by a broken branch. The menu presented suggests “darnes de saumon à la Vatel: petits poulets printaniers à la Carême; timbale d’ecrevisses à la Thiou; pain de volaille à la Guipièro; estomac de pintade à la Chandelier; côtolettes d’agneau à la Benoit; aspic de foies gras à l’Eliot; chuadfroid de cailles à la Tavenet; turban de filets de soles à la Guignard; queues de homard à la Duglerêt; mauviettes en caisse à la Vincent la Chapelle; and crème  de crabe à la Francatelli.” Under this fateful tree, oxen, sheep, ducks and poultry, game and small birds disport themselves, and fish, just caught, lie on the green borders of a transparent stream of isinglass.

Does not that inspire you to go out and roast a sheep, just to get some fat to carve? No? Then let us revisit the idea of using it for cooking after all. I did not for a moment think I would find recipes specifically for mutton fat, but a nice little booklet called Mutton and its value in the diet (US Dept. Agriculture, 1913) came to my rescue.

Sour Butter Sauce for Mutton and Cabbage-leaf Rolls.
1 tablespoon chopped pickle
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons mutton fat (savory or plain rendered)
3 tablespoons vinegar (spiced vinegar from pickles preferable)
Salt and red pepper to taste
Beat the butter and mutton fat with a spoon until smooth, then beat in the vinegar until the sauce looks light colored and the vinegar has been taken up. Add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped pickles and 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley.

Oyster Sauce [to serve with boiled mutton.]
2 tablespoons butter or mutton fat.
1 tablespoon flour.
½  pint oysters.
½ cup of the liquid in which the mutton has been boiled.
Drain the oysters and heat and strain the liquor. Wash the oysters, add them to the hot oyster liquor and cook until they are plump. Remove the oysters and keep warm while making a sauce of the butter, flour, oyster liquor, and mutton stock. Add the oysters and season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When a hundred is not a hundred.

In a post a long time ago I talked about one of the many difficulties in interpreting historical recipes (and there are many) is that a pound or a gallon or a number of other measurements have not always been the same everywhere or in every era.  

It is also true that a hundred did not always equal 10 x 10. This did not matter to the ordinary household cook, but it was very important to anyone buying or selling commodities.

In 1440, in the great fishing town of Yarmouth, a regulation was established (or confirmed) that:

Hearings [herrings] are sold freshe by the meise, which is five hundred, eche hundred contayning 
vj xx.

That is, a “hundred” of herrings was actually one hundred and twenty herrings. This was technically a “long hundred,” but the “long” was often understood. There was a lot to “understand” however because the actual number represented by a long hundred depended on the item and the era.

Fish were commonly traded in long hundreds and this usually indicated six score, or 120, as in the fifteenth century reference above. It could mean more however. A reference in the Household Ordinances of Edward II (1284-1327) noted that  “Of somme manner of fish the hundred containeth six score, and of some other sort, nine score.” A seventeenth century reference says “Ling, Cod, or Haberdine, have 124 to the Hundred.” It could even mean as much as nine score, or one hundred and eighty. Other items commonly counted in long hundreds were eggs (120,) sheep in some areas (106,) dried salt fish (160,) and onions and garlic (225, made up of 15 “ropes” of 15 heads each.)

Complicated, isn’t it? Anyway, just in case you have a lot of herrings and eggs, how about a nice herring omelet?

Omelettes. (Omelets)
Beat up any quantity of eggs you think necessary, with fine salt and pepper, parsley and green onions shred very fine; put some butter into a fryingpan, let it melt, and then put in the eggs; fry the omelet till it is of a good colour underneath, and. turn it into a dish for table. To make any particular omelet, as with bacon, veal kidneys, heads of asparagus, truffles, morels, or mushrooms, the ragout must be first made, seasoned as you wish, and, when cold, minced, that it may mix well with the eggs; beat the whole well together, and then make these omelets in a fryingpan, the same as others. Regulate the seasoning of the omelet according to that of the ragout, taking care that it be not too highly seasoned.

Omelette aux Harengs Sorés (Red Herring Omelet)
Open the herrings at the back and broil them, then mince and put them into the omelet: do not add any salt to the eggs and finish the omelet as others.
French domestic cookery, by an English physician 1825.

Monday, February 25, 2013

First Things First.

I want to talk today about firsts or nearly firsts, in the way of recipes. It is impossible, of course, to give a real first, because no recipes are completely new, but are built on previous recipes. Sometimes the discussion is about when a dish is given a particular name, such as in the case of the pavlova. After all, meringues were made for centuries before someone, somewhere, someday decided to name one particular version after a Russian ballerina.

Another problem is that a recipe is often cooked for a long time before it is written down, so often the best we can do is give the first known written or published recipe – then wait until another cook or historian finds an earlier version.

I was moved to ponder on this when I found myself reminiscing about my trip to the UI.K last year, and the few days I had in the Peak District. It is a truly beautiful part of England, and the home of a great specialty – the Bakewell Pudding. This is often referred to as a Bakewell Tart, but a tart, of course, has a pastry shell. There are several shops in the town claiming to sell the original pudding, but this original pudding has a pastry shell.  Another item with an almond-y filling and a cherry on top is sold at the same venues under the name of Bakewell Tart. It also has a pastry shell.

It seems that the original version was a genuine pudding (whatever that is), in that it does not have a pastry shell. The first known published recipe appears in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families, (London, 1845,)  and here it is:

Bakewell Pudding.
This pudding is famous not only in Derbyshire, but in several of our northern counties, where it is usually served on all holiday occasions. Line a shallow tart-dish with quite an inchdeep layer of several kinds of good preserve mixed together, and intermingle with them from two to three ounces of candied citron or orange-rind. Beat well the yolks of ten eggs, and add to them gradually half a pound of sifted sugar; when they are well mixed, pour in by degrees half a pound of good clarified butter, and a little ratifia or any other flavour that may be preferred; fill the dish two thirds full with this mixture, and bake the pudding for nearly an hour in a moderate oven. Half the quantity will be sufficient for a small dish.
Mixed preserves, 1 ½ to 2 lbs.; yolks of eggs, 10; sugar, ½ lb.; butter, ½ lb.; ratifia, lemon-brandy, or other flavouring to the taste: baked, moderate oven, ¾ to 1 hour.
Obs.—This is a rich and expensive, but not a very refined pudding. A variation of it, known in the south as an Alderman's Pudding is, we think, superior to it. It is made without the candied peel, and with a layer of apricot-jam only, six ounces of butter, six of sugar, the yolks of six, and the whites of two eggs.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Mock Menu.

I am, as many of you know, intrigued by the concept of ‘mock’ food. I am also, as most of you may not know, slightly worryingly interested in the concept of ‘freak dinners.’

The first topic is too well known to need an explanation, unless you have never been exposed to mock chicken (eggs and tomato), mock apple pie (made with Ritz crackers, please,) ersatz coffee, or the like.

Freak dinners are not so well known or appreciated. They are, or were, an American invention of the last few decades of the nineteenth century. The inventors had enough money to keep up with each other in exotic ingredients and fine wine. It must have been very frustrating, having the Jones’ always being able to keep up with one. Then someone, somewhere, with more money than they could count and more time on their hands than was healthy (and some say, more than a little bad taste) came up with a new idea.

Novel, or ‘freak’ dinners were born. They were dinners with a novel theme, a novel venue, a novel menu, or all of the above. Dinners were held in giant boilers, giant Easter eggs, and chimneys. Restaurants were re-fitted to mimic the desert, or the canals of Venice, or a stable. The guests dressed as babies, or zoo animals, or their own servants. The menus were in theme, of course.

One event should have satisfied both my interests, but has left me frustrated as I can find out nothing about it other than the teaser in the English publication, The Strand Magazine of May 1904.

Another novel dinner was that given by a well-known New Yorker, Colonel O'Brien, to the Old Guard of Delmonico's, known to fame as the guard that "dines but never surrenders." For this affair two menus had been provided, one as a joke, the other for consumption. The mock bill of fare contained a list of dishes which might have been provided. For example, under the heading of oysters were the words "half shell," which the waiters solemnly set before the assembled gentlemen, minus the bivalves. These being removed made way for the next item, which, being "cream of celery" and presumably a soup, was found to be small tubes of celery with cold cream inside. Through all the regular courses the joke was carried, with amusing success, the joint being spring lamb with "string," or French, beans. What was the astonishment of the guests to find served for this course, a woolly toy lamb on a spring, which squeaked when pressed, and wore dried beans on a string around its neck! The humour of the dinner came with the continued surprise at the ingenuity shown by the preparer of the feast, and it can be truly said that each item tickled the guests immensely. With the woolly lambs this band of gastronomers were especially pleased, and it was at the moment when these ridiculous toys were handed round to the well-proportioned diners that our photograph was secured.

I am more than a little frustrated by the lack of inclusion of the ‘real’ menu here. From the grainy photo that accompanied this article, there seems to be about 50 men at this dinner (ladies did not attend public dinners.) I find it strange that 50 men in formal evening suits should find a toy woolly lamb on the dining table hilarious. And I certainly don’t believe their appetites were satisfied by empty oyster shells and celery sticks filled with cream cheese. What do you think?

There is no choice here, I have to give you a recipe for real spring lamb from The Epicurean (1894), the cookbook of Delmonico’s chef, Charles Ranhofer.

Lamb Cutlets, Plain, Yearling.
Five or six cutlets can be taken from a rack of yearling lamb, four or five from a spring lamb; remove the skin, cut them into any desired thickness, and should the rack be too thin, then cut them off on the bias. Remove and pare the bone from each chop, then beat down to flatten to half an inch in thickness, and trim them all around, removing the skin from each side of the rib bone; scrape about an inch of the end of the bone, clean off the meat and fat to enable it to be decorated with a paper frill; when cooked season with salt, coat over with butter or oil, place on the gridiron all on the same side and broil on a slow but well maintained fire. When cooked on one side, turn over and finish cooking on the other; the entire operation should take about six minutes; trim the handles with paper frills, dress and serve with a little clear gravy 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Food from the Pharmacy.

There are several theories as to the meaning of the symbol used in medicine to indicate a prescription. It may mean ‘recipe’ or formula, it may indicate that that there are instructions to follow, it may be an invocation to Jupiter … I forget the rest. There is no escaping the connection between medicine and food however. A formula or a recipe? What is the difference?

Old pharmacy texts and journals are a wonderful source of ‘recipes’, such as this one, taken from 350 Dollar Ideas for Druggists (1914)

Chocolate Syrup for the Fountain.
Heat one gallon of simple syrup to the boiling point. Moisten eight ounces of good powdered chocolate with six ounces of glycerin, or just enough to allow the powder to be rubbed down, smooth and free from lumps. Add gradually, stirring constantly, enough of the boiling syrup to the chocolate so that it will pour. Then add the whole mixture to the boiling syrup and boil slowly for fifteen minutes, stirring constantly. Strain through cheese-cloth while hot, and when cold add ½ ounce of vanilla extract.

If your sweet tooth is begging for more, may I offer you some wise words on hot fudge sauce, from the Bulletin of Pharmacy (1887)

Dispensers in charge of some of our leading American fountains insist that the production of hot fudge dressings is not so much a matter of formula as of manipulation.
Considerable practice may be required before a satisfactory product results; and unless the soda fountain operator is willing to experiment with a few preliminary batches, he had better keep away altogether — or else buy his dressings already prepared.
Hot fudge dressings are syrups, or sauces, intended for pouring over ice cream. They differ from the ordinary cold dressings in that they are thicker and heavier and that they must be cooked for a longer period of time.
When the hot fudge is poured over ice cream it thickens still more and assumes a consistency that partly resembles taffy and partly fondant. But it is neither taffy nor fondant ; it is, if properly made, an intermediate product — "fudge."

And one of a number of recipes for fudge sauce from the same text:

Hot Butterscotch Fudge.
Sweet cream 1 quart.
Butter 1 pound.
Sugar 4 pounds.
Put the ingredients in a double boiler (or steam kettle) and bring to a boil, stirring constantly and in one direction to avoid scorching. The heat should be continued until the mixture thickens.

And some good advice on serving your sundae:

Fudge sundaes should be served in silver dishes, preferably, for the attractive appearance thus created makes it easier to get the 15 cents which every fudge confection should command. If a sprinkling of nuts is asked for, an extra 5 cents should be added.
A whole cherry placed on the apex of the ice cream adds little to the cost but a great deal to the artistic appearance of the confection. And it makes it a whole lot easier for the druggist to ask for and get the better price.
When serving a hot fudge sundae the dressing should not be poured over the ice cream until just before placing it in front of the customer. Some stores, indeed, serve the dressing in a separate pitcher, a practice which allows the customer to mix the sundae as he wishes.

And for those without a soda fountain or a sweet tooth, here is a nice spicy condiment from The Druggist's General Receipt Book: containing a copious veterinary formulary, numerous recipes in patent and proprietary medicines, druggists' nostrums, etc. (1850)

Quin Sauce.
Mushroom catsup ½ pint, walnut pickle ¼ pint, port wine ¼ pint, 6 anchovies, and 6 shallots (both pounded); soy a tablespoonful, cayenne ½ dr.; simmer together gently for 10 minutes, strain and bottle.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Irish Apricots & Potato Cheesecakes.

You are all familiar, I think, with the concept of ‘Welsh Rabbit’ as an ethnic joke (the Welsh are too poor to buy or too stupid to catch real rabbit.)  There are other examples of food names being used in this way. Take Irish Apricots for example.  In A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785,) the author, Francis Grose has:
Potatoes: It is a common joke against the Irish vessels, to say they are loaded with fruit and timber, that is, potatoes and broomsticks.

A magazine of 1821 gave the following alternative names:

Dr. Munster’s pills, Munster plums, Irish apricots, Dungarvon almonds, Hibernian mandrake, Eastham Ginning, Windsor nutmegs, &c.

I must look into the story behind “Dr. Munster’s Pills,” but the other names speak for themselves I think, - r rather, they reflect the attitudes and prejudices of the speaker.

The potato was very slow to be taken up in the West, unlike some of the other New World discoveries such as chocolate and maize. From the beginning, it was considered lowly food, suitable for pigs, peasants, and prisoners. One who did promote it in the seventeenth century was John Forster (‘Gentleman’), who published a treatise in 1664 called:

England's Happiness Increased, Or a sure and Easy Remedy Against all Succeeding Dear Years by a Plantation of the Roots called Potatoes: Whereby (with the Addition of Wheatflower) Excellent Good and Wholesome Bread may be Made Every 8 or 9 Months Together, for Half the Charge as Formerly; Also by the Planting of These Roots Ten Thousand Men in England and Wales Who Know Not How to Live, or What to Do to Get a Maintenance for their Families, may on one Acre of Ground make 30 Pounds per Annum. Invented and Published for the Good of the Poorer Sort.

The potato was grown widely in Ireland a long time before it became common and popular in the rest of Britain, and Forster was the first to refer to it as the “Irish potato” (to distinguish it from the sweet potato which was more widely known.) 

Forster’s booklet included a number of recipes for the potato, including this one, which is my favourite:

How to make Potato Cheesecakes.
You may make Cheesecakes of Potatoes after this manner. Take of the roots, well broken, and rubbed through a wier Sieve, what quantity you please; grated Bread a quarter as much, Cream and Eggs beaten together, enough to make it of a fit consistence, or so thick as is usually made for this purpose; Currants, Sugar, and Spice, of each as much as is needful: Stir all these things well together; then raise your Coffins in form round and shallow, which fill with your former mixture, afterwards bake them in an Oven, and you will have Cheesecakes (so called, à formà & similitudine) in goodness exceeding those that are made of Curd of Milk: These Cheesecakes may be made even in the midst of Winter, when the other sort, by reason of the scarcity of Milk, and the coldness of the weather, are seldom to be seen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Emily Post and ‘The Menu.’

Emily Post and ‘The Menu.’

Dinner parties are not what they used to be. This is certainly a good thing if the gold standard is Miss Emily Post’s standard. In the chapter on formal dinners in her book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home (1922) she first notes that “To give a perfect dinner of ceremony is the supreme accomplishment of a hostess! It means not alone perfection of furnishing, of service, of culinary skill, but also of personal charm, of tact.” Miss Post then moves on to give “detailed directions for dinner giving” that are profoundly exhausting to read, never mind try to put into action.

I skipped the sections on the proper selection of guests, how to keep a dinner list, asking someone to fill a place (one cannot be a gentleman short, can one?) and other practices at which I am totally unskilled, and moved straight to the menu section, to see how badly I am performing in that area.

                                                               THE MENU.

It may be due to the war period, which accustomed everyone to going with very little meat and to marked reduction in all food, on their tables than formerly. The very rich, living in the biggest houses with the most imposing array of servants, sit down to three, or at most four, courses when alone, or when intimate friends who are known to have moderate appetites, are dining with them.

Under no circumstances would a private dinner, no matter how formal, consist of more than:

1. Hors d'oeuvre
2. Soup
3. Fish
4. Entree
5. Roast
6. Salad
7. Dessert
8. Coffee

The menu for an informal dinner would leave out the entree, and possibly either the hors d'oeuvre or the soup.

As a matter of fact, the marked shortening of the menu is in informal dinners and at the home table of the well-to-do. Formal dinners have been as short as the above schedule for twenty-five. A dinner interlarded with a row of extra entrees, Roman punch, and hot dessert is unknown except at a public dinner, or in the dining-room of a parvenu. About thirty-five years ago such dinners are said to have been in fashion!


  One should always try to choose well-balanced dishes; an especially rich dish balanced by a simple one. Timbale with a very rich sauce of cream and pâté de foie gras might perhaps be followed by French chops, broiled chicken or some other light, plain meat. An entrée of about four broiled mushrooms on a small round of toast should be followed by boned capon or saddle of mutton or spring lamb. It is equally bad to give your guests very peculiar food unless as an extra dish. Some people love highly flavored Spanish or Indian dishes, but they are not appropriate for a formal dinner. At an informal dinner an Indian curry or Spanish enchillada for one dish is delicious for those who like it, and if you have another substantial dish such as a plain roast which practically everyone is able to eat, those who don’t like Indian food can make their dinner of the other course.

It is the same way with the Italian dishes. One hating garlic and onions would be very wretched if onions were put in each and every course, and liberally. With Indian curry, a fatally bad selection would be a very peppery soup, such as croute au pot filled with pepper, and fish with green peppers, and then the curry, and then something casserole filled again with peppers and onions and other throat-searing ingredients, finishing with an endive salad. Yet more than one hostess has done exactly this. Or equally bad is a dinner of flavorless white sauces from beginning to end; a creamed soup, boiled fish with white sauce, then vol au vent of creamed sweetbreads, followed by breast of chicken and mashed potatoes and cauliflower, palm root salad, vanilla ice cream and lady-cake. Each thing is good in itself but dreadful in the monotony of its combination.
Another thing: although a dinner should not be long, neither should it consist of samples, especially if set before men who are hungry!

The following menu might seem at first glance a good dinner, but it is one from which the average man would go home and forage ravenously in the ice box: 

  A canapé (good, but merely an appetizer)
  Clear soup (a dinner party helping, and no substance)
  Smelts (one apiece)
  Individual croutards of sweetbreads (holding about a dessert-spoonful)
  Broiled squab, small potato croquette, and string beans
  Lettuce salad, with about one small cracker apiece
  Ice cream.

The only thing that had any sustaining quality, barring the potato which was not more than a mouthful, was the last, and very few men care to make their dinner of ice cream. If instead of squab there had been filet of beef cut in generous slices, and the potato croquettes had been more numerous, it would have been adequate. Or if there had been a thick cream soup, and a fish with more substance—such as salmon or shad, or a baked thick fish of which he could have had a generous helping—the squab would have been adequate also. But many women order trimmings rather than food; men usually like food.

Well, I hope you are not too intimidated to invite guests over ever again. I give you a recipe for a nice dish from Ms. Post’s menu, which will suit just about any type of event – even a barbecue.

Broiled Squab.
Young pigeons or squabs are the nicest for broiling. Cut them down the back, clean them nicely, wash them and dry them on a clean napkin. Have ready a bed of clear coals, heat your gridiron, grease the bars to prevent the pigeons from sticking, and place them over the fire; turn them frequently, and be careful not to let the legs and wings burn. When they are done put them on a dish, season them with pepper and salt, and baste them well with butter on both sides.
The National Cookbook (1856), by a lady of Philadelphia.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Counterblaste to Mustard.

King James I (1566-1625) hated the increasingly popular herb in his kingdom – tobacco. He was a man ahead of his time in warning of its dangers. In his famous Counterblaste to Tobacco of 1604, he denounced it as “… a custome loathsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse.”

It appears that the king also disliked a couple of popular dishes of the time as much as he disliked tobacco. He once said that should he invite the devil to dinner he should have these three dishes: 1.a pig; 2. a poll of ling and mustard; 3. A pipe of tobacco.

So, James did not like pork. That must have put a bit of a strain on the royal kitchens, pork being a very important flesh-meat of the time. I wonder if his dislike included bacon?

Ling is a type of cod, and also very common and popular at the time. A ‘poll’ (or ‘jowl’) was the head and shoulders of the fish – considered by many to be the best part. My second wonder of the day is – I wonder if it was the ‘poll’ he disliked, but would have been happy with a fillet, or was it the mustard sauce?

I am pretty sure we will never know the answers to those questions, but while we puzzle over them, here are some alternative ways of cooking ling (or cod, or even sturgeon) in case you have a mustard-sauce hater in your family.

For Ling.
As for Ling you may send it up dry, garnish with raw Parsly; another way is boil'd with Poached Eggs on it; another way is fry'd after it is boil'd, washing it over with the Yolk of an Egg, or with Eggs; or you may make a lng Pasty, putting Cream, Eggs, and melted Butter over it.
The Compleat City and Country Cook: Or, Accomplish'd House-wife, (1732) by Charles Carter.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mutton with Lemons.

I don’t know why we rarely see mutton in the butchers’ shops today. We are offered lamb, only lamb, aren’t we? In past times, the reverse was true, I don’t know when or why the change happened, but I think it has something to do with it being considered wasteful to eat a young animal before it has supplied some worthwhile wool. Whatever the reason, we have now lost our taste for mutton, it seems – people say it is too strong or too tough.

When we do eat roast lamb, or lamb chops, for many of us it would be unthinkable not to have mint sauce alongside. I have asked the question “Why Mint with Lamb” in a previous post, and received some interesting comments. So what would we have with mutton? One of the most common accompaniments was caper sauce. There is certainly a tradition of serving “sharp” sauces with meat, perhaps to counter its fattiness?

I came across a very nice seventeenth century idea the other that is perhaps worth reviving, if only you can get hold of some mutton. It is from A book of Fruits and Flowers (1653.)

To roste a Shoulder of Mutton with Lemmons.
Take a Shoulder of Mutton halfe rosted, cut off most of the meat thereof, in thin slices, into a faire dish with the gravy thereof, put thereto about the quantity of a pint of clarret wine, with a spoonful or two at most of the best wine Vineger, season it with Nutmeggs, and a little Ginger, then pare off the rines of one or two good Lemmons, and slice them thin into the Mutton, when it is almost well stewed between two dishes, and so let them stew together two or three warmes, when they are enough, put them in a clean dish, and take the shoulder blade being well broyled on a grid-iron, and lay it upon your meat, garnishing your dishes with some slices and rinds of the Lemmons, and so serve it.

The book contains a number of home remedies too, which was common in cookery books at the time – administering to the family members’ minor complaints being one of the housewife’s duties. For your interest, here is one of the Medicines made of Lemmons from the book.

To take away the Spots, or red Pimpels of the face.
Take halfe a pint of raine water, and halfe a pint of good Verjuice, seeth it till it be halfe consumed, then whilst it boils fill it up againe with juyce of Lemmon, and so let it seeth a pretty while; then take it from the fire, and when it is cold put to it the whites of four new laid Eggs, well beaten, and with this water annoynt the place often.

Sounds like it would make rather a nice salad dressing, Yes?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Punch Perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Today I give you the menu of a St. Valentine's Dinner held by the Woman's Press Club at the Hotel Windsor, Fifth Avenue, New York, in 1897, and hope that your own dinner this day is just as fine.

Blue Points
Consomme, Princesse
Olives              Salted Almonds          Celery
Chicken Halibut, Diplomate
Cucumbers                           New Potatoes
Philadelphia Capon, Braised, Madeleine
Macédoine de Légume
Lamb Chops, Printanier
Petits Pois, Parisienne

Lalla-Rookh Punch

Quail sur Canape
Lettuce                        Tomatoes
Charlotte Chantilly                 Champagne Jelly
Nesselrode Ice Cream in Cases           Assorted Cake
Fruit                Roquefort Cheese

Lalla-Rookh is the eponymous heroine in Lalla-Rookh, an Oriental Romance, an epic poem written in 1817 by the Irish poet and song-writer Thomas Moore. The story is about a princess’ journey to meet her betrothed. On the way she falls in love with the poet in her entourage who entertains her with his stirring stories of heroism and passion. Spoiler Alert coming up: in the end, she finds that her poet is in fact her prince.

Lalla-Rookh Punch was, in fact, a favourite of the time. Charles Ranhofer in his classic book The Epicurean, published in 1893 describes it thus:

Siberian or Lallah Rookh punch is merely vanilla ice-cream worked in a freezer, mixing in with it as quarter as much Italian meringue and about two gills of good rum for each quart of the ice cream; with this fill plain punch glasses with handles, or cups.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An Elizabethan Dinner.

Queen Elizabeth I made many ‘progresses’ around the country during her long reign. Progresses were massive undertakings. Virtually the whole court and the key administrators of the country, representing hundreds of people, decamped from the royal residences of London and moved for weeks or months to a provincial location. There were several reasons for these trips, but a significant benefit to the royal purse was economic. It was an honour to accommodate the Queen and her retinue, and naturally she was not charged for rent and meals by the aristocratic subjects and towns who provided this service. The costs were staggering, of course, and it is said that some were bankrupted in the process.

Some expenses were paid, however, and the records give an idea of what was served at dinner in the sixteenth century. The following account suggests that several gentlemen of the Exchequer sat down to a very fine meal indeed. Note that the spices cost more than the cooks wages for the day.

A Dinner for Mr. Chanceler, my Lorde Chefe Barron, the Barrons, and others the Officers of Thexchequer, upon the 11th daye of Februarye [1573]

Imprimis, for breade, ale, and beare
Item, for a surloyne and a doubble  rybbe of byeffe. 
Item, for a loyne, a breaste, and a legge of veale
Item, for iii capons
Item, for a lambe
Item, for two teles
Item, for two woodcocks
Item, for iii plovs
Item, for five snipes
Item, for a dozen of larkes
Item, for butter   
Item, for eggs
Item, for sauce    
Item, for oringes
Item, for marybones
Item, for bacon
Item, for spice
Item, for frute     
Item, for white wyne in kytchen
Item, for a pottle and a quarte of sacke
Item, for rose-water and swete water             
Item, for fyer in the parlers and kytchen
Item, for cooke’s wages
Item, for occupyenge of plate, naperie, and other necessaryes
Item, for boote hier

I would love to know what was covered by the 8 pence-worth of sauce. Does it mean that the sauces were bought in from an outside sauce-maker? And I wonder what, exactly the sauce or sauces were.
To get some idea of sixteenth century sauces, I went to

A Book Of Cookrye, Very Necessary for all such as delight therin, gathered by A. W. And now newlye enlarged with the serving in of the Table, With the proper Sauces to each of them convenient.Printed by Edward Allde. 1591.

For the capons, perhaps this:-

To make sauce for a capon another way.
Take Claret Wine, Rosewater, sliced Orenges, Sinamon and ginger, and lay it upon Sops, and lay your Capon upon it.

The various joints of veal would probably have been baked in pies:-

For fine Pyes of Veale or Mutton.

Perboyle your meat and shredde it fine, and shred your Suet by it selfe.  When your Suet is fine shred put it to your Mutton or Veale and mince them togither, put therto halfe a dozen yolkes of Egges being hard sodden and fine minced, small Corance, dates fine minced, season it with cloves and mace, Sinamon and Ginger, a very little Pepper, a handfull of Carowaies, Sugar and Vergious, and some Salt, and so put it into your paste being Chewets or Trunk pyes.