Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How to become a good pie-crustian.

I came across the article below during my research into the history of vanilla cultivation in Far North Queensland. I was about to dismiss it on account of the author’s admonition against the reckless over-use of the vanilla bean (and many other flavourings) , but the last word in the piece won her a reprieve. I do love a good new food word. I have not come across “pie-crustian” anywhere else, and the Oxford English Dictionary does not know it, so presumably it is the invention of the author of the piece.

The article appeared in The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld.) of 26 April 1890. The author’s subject is the making of pies and puddings, and she speaks in the uniquely British Imperial tone of the era, and with the stern Victorian manner that brooks no argument.

It was well for pretty Ruth Pinch that she bethought herself (on the memorable morning on which she captivated her brother's faithful friend) to turn her 'prentice hand to the making of a pudding rather than of a pie. For - whether Dickens knew it or not – it is a much easier thing to make a good pudding than a good pie. As to making light pastry with an aspirant to one's hand and heart looking on the while – such a thing is scarcely possible. There could be no clear reckoning kept as to the number of times one had rolled out the paste, for one thing, and the result would be leaden. There are so many good and simple recipes to be had in every cookery book from which even the least experienced housewife can, with ordinary care, make a quite presentable pudding that I will only give her a few hints as to the rocks on which, one is likely to come to grief. The first is over sweetening. It is easy to add a little sugar, jam, or sweet sauce after a pudding is oooked, and it it therefore only fair to those who are unable to eat anything very sweet that where there are but one or two "sweets" usually provided to choose from at table, these should be carefully made, so that, if anything, they are less sweet than is directed in the recipe. Over-flavouring is another too common weakness of many cooks. To those who have at all a fine - that is, a discriminating  - palate, any flavouring used so that it prevails over the taste of the viand to which it is added is most unpleasant. It deranges not only the appetite of such a person but the digestion also. For my part I believe that if the history of the culinary art ever comes to be analysed for philosophical purposes it will be found that the delicacy of the human palate has everywhere been a sign of the improvement of a race and of its advance in civilisation. We no longer admit to our kitchens asafoetida and other horrible condiments of the ancient world. Nor do we concoct therein such messes as were relished in the Middle Ages. "High" game, even, is coming to be looked upon as an unpleasant fashion of the old coaching days, when city people could not get their venison fresh. By-and-by, it may be hoped, we shall find that essences, spices, and ready-made sauces are also declared obsolete or that, at all events it will be made possible for one to use them in accordance with one's own taste and not of that of the cook. Meanwhile I will beg my readers to beware of the too-reckless use of the vanilla bean, the peach leaf, the bay leaf, the essence bottle, and the nutmeg grater. In making boiled puddings in which a rolled-out "paste" is necessary it is always a good plan to make this as carefully as if it were intended for a pie. Two purposes will thus be served. In the first place the paste will be lighter and flakier, and consequently daintier and more digestible, for every time one rolls it out. And in the second place one will thus learn more quickly how to make good pastry for baked pies, tarts and so on. In making pie-crust practice is indispensably necessary in order to arrive at perfection. Some have naturally the "light hand," without which nobody can ever make good pastry, just as some pianists have what is called "touch." To these lucky folks the business soon becomes easy. Even they, however, cannot learn in a day. A good plan is to select from the variety of recipes always offered in one's cookery-book the one which best suits the ingredients most readily procurable. In some households butter is plentiful. In others there is abundance of dripping going to waste while butter must be purchased. Again, where there is a large number to cook for, and the beef and mutton are home-killed, it saves a great deal of time and toil to use suet for the pastry, as Chinese cooks mostly do, without rendering it at all. Pastry made  with suet can be as light and as palatable as any one need, desire. When one has chosen one's recipe the next thing to do is to keep to it. If one does not suoceed with that one would very likely fail with another. An excellent method is to bake a saucer pie every day until one has mastered the art of pie-crust making. This is far better than undertaking a dish of ordinary site once a week and failing time after lima. A month's daily practice, with due regard to the recipe, can scarcely fail to make even the slowest and heaviest handed quite a clever pie-crustian.

The recipe for the day is from another late nineteenth century Queensland newspaper. It is for a creamy egg custard set with gelatin, made exotically French by its name of ‘Nun’s Cheese.”

Fromage des Nonnes.
This “nuns cheese” is an acceptable dish to those who do not like the flavour of rich cheeses. Boil half a pint of cream in an earthen pipkin. When it begins to boil, add a tablespoonful of sugar and a teaspoonful of vanilla extract, or a piece of vanilla bean. Remove it from the fire, cover the pipkin, and let the cream cool. Then add six yolks of eggs, and strain the mixture through a hair sieve; return it to the pipkin, and set it over the fire, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the cream thickens let it cool, and add one ounce of dissolved gelatin. Pour into a mould, and set on ice. It will harden in about the same time as jelly. When it is to be served, wrap a napkin dipped in boiling water around the mould to loosen it, and turn it out. Serve with vanilla cream biscuits.

                           The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld) 16 April 1898


Ferdzy said...

I'm pretty sure I'd find the pastry writers cooking unspeakably dull, but I recognize the "Fromage de Nonnes" as what was known in our family as "spanish Cream". I have ranted about the fact that nowadays the name has been changed to "pannacotta", to make it sound like a new thing, but apparently this is not the first time this has happened!

srhcb said...

Speaking of coined words: While I consider myself a good cook, and a pretty fair baker, I am definitely "unpie-crustian".

Anonymous said...

"Pipkin" is not a word one hears very often either, sadly. However, there's a new phrase that I have to assume is an OCR error, and not invention: "time after lima."