Friday, January 31, 2014

Prisoners’ Bill of Fare.

The Annual Report of the Correctional Association of New York in 1864 gave considerable detail about the bill of fare served to inmates at Clinton Prison, and even included recipes for several of the dishes. That the men “enjoyed very much” the ersatz coffee and gruesome gravy probably says more about prisoners’ expectations and experience than about the food quality, taste, and nutritional value!

Bill of Fare.
Breakfast is uniform throughout the week, and consists of coffee, corned beef, bread, potatoes and gravy.
The coffee is made by browning crusts of bread in the oven until the outside is black. Then 8 lbs. of these burned crusts and 2 gallons of molasses are boiled with 30 gallons of water; this makes a pleasant and healthy drink, which is much liked by the men. We believe it to be far the best substitute for coffee in prisons and alms houses that can be made.
The beef is corned beef, boiled in the ordinary way.
The gravy is made by melting 13 lbs. of lard, and warming 20 lbs. of flour; the warm flour is then rubbed evenly into the melted lard, and cooked fifteen minutes; 24 gallons of warm water are then poured in to the flour and lard, and the whole boiled together half an hour; it is seasoned with salt and pepper well stirred together, and it is then fit for use. Each man receives one gill of the gravy. The men like it very much.

Dinner.—Boiled beef and pork with bread.
The use of cake in the dietary of a prison is, so far as we know, a novelty. We do not disapprove of the innovation. It is made as follows: 20 Ibs. of lard is melted, and 1 lb. of ginger and 1 Ib. of saleratns are then stirred in; 160 Ibs. of flour are weighed, and enough of this flour is taken to mix with the lard until it is of a proper consistency, and 7 gallons of molasses are then mixed with enough of water to form the remainder of the flour into a stiff paste; this paste is then thoroughly incorporated with the lard and flour mass, rolled out and cut into 410 cakes, which are baked in tin pans. They are highly prized by the men for their Sunday supper.
Dinner.—Pork and boiled beans. 150 Ibs. of beans are allowed for 410 men. The beans are cleaned on Sunday night and put to soak in cold water. On Monday morning they are parboiled for fifteen minutes, the water is then mostly drawn off, and they are boiled three hours. Salt and pepper are added just before they are finished.
Supper.—Mush or bread, with half a gill of molasses to each man.
Dinner.—Salt beef boiled, bread, potatoes and gravy.
Supper.—Bread and molasses, half a gill per man.
Dinner.—Meat hash, corned beef and potatoes, with lard and half a gill, of vinegar, which is much relished. Supper.—Same as Monday.
Dinner.—Fresh boiled beef, with potatoes and soup.
Supper.—Same as Tuesday.
Dinner.—Codfish hash with vinegar.
Supper.—Same as Monday.
Dinner.—Peas soup with corned beef.
Supper.—Same as Tuesday.

Peas soup is made by soaking them the preceding night, as was done with the beans. 120 lbs. of peas are then boiled with 20 gallons of water, until they are quite soft; they are then diluted with the liquor in which the corned beef has beeu boiled and seasoned with pepper.
On Tuesday morning codfish gravy is served with boiled potatoes. It is made as follows : on the preceding afternoon, 100 lbs. of confish are put into a bag and simmered long enough in water to loosen the bones. The bones are then removed, and the fish is picked into fine pieces. Next morning, 15 lbs. of lard are melted, and the picked fish put in; 20 lbs. of flour is then wetted evenly with water; then add to it six pails of water, and stir in the lard and fish; boil for fifteen minutes, and give a pint to each man.
The mush at Clinton prison is made thus: Soak 40 lbs. of meal in 25 gallons of4cold water for an hour; then put in 5 lbs. of lard, and boil for 5 hours. This would be much improved by putting in half a gill of molasses for each man, about half an hour before the boiling is finished. When the molasses is thus cooked with the mush, it has never been known to cause bowel complaints.
The bread at Clinton is made by the following process: 314 Ibs. of flour; 130 lbs. corn meal; 2 lbs. saleratus; 4 lbs. salt; 357 Ibs.-water. At night, mix half a gallon of yeast and two pails of water with sufficient flour to thicken it. In the morning dissolve the salt and saleratus; wet up the flour with the remainder of the water, and incorporate the mass thoroughly with the sponge; let it rise sufficiently; then put into pans and bake. The above amount of flour and meal makes 632 lbs. of bread when weighed, as it comes from the oven, and 615 Ibs. when kept for 24 hours.

We have been thus particular in giving the dietary economy of Clinton, believing that it will be of much interest and advantage to the prison officers, into whose hand this report may fall. As much meat, bread, and vegetables, are allowed to the men as they desire. The appearance of the men and the hospital register concur in showing that the diet is well suited to the condition of the prisoners.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Radical Breakfast Powder.

Food and politics intersect in many ways, but a rather unusual connection came across my radar recently. The story takes place in Britain in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and the chief protagonists are members of the Radical movement. The radicals were champions of the common man, and agitated for extensive reform of the parliamentary system in general and the electoral system in particular, along with repeal of the Corn Laws, freedom of the press and other outlandish ideas.

One of the agitators was Richard Carlile (1790-1843).  Carlile wrote of one of the strategies recommended to supporters of the movement in an edition of  The Republican published in early 1820.

There are a variety of other things which are heavily excised, the use of which might be prudently dropped, and which are not essential either to the health or the comfort of mankind. Speaking for myself, I can say, that I do not recommend more than I practise, and that my fare for the last year has consisted chiefly of milk, bread, and raw native fruits. I have been fatter and stronger than in any former year of my life, and I feel as if I had obtained a new system by the change. My natural disposition is luxurious, and under a better system of government, or where this rational warfare was not called for, I should at all times live up to my income: but I feel that I should not half do my duty were I to recommend what I did not practise. The cost of my food has not more than averaged five shillings per week for the last year, and what I should have otherwise spent I have now had the satisfaction to give away. This system of abstinence from exciseable articles was well begun last year, but it must be continued, to be effectual: six, twelve, or eighteen months will not suffice; it must end only with the present system of government. Persevere, Reformers; increase your fortitude and your Virtues as you proceed.
For a considerable time last winter I made a liquor as a substitute for tea from hay, and I found it very pleasant. I would prefer it to the Breakfast Powder, or the British Herb Tea, which are now selling in London in such large quantities. In London good milk is not to be obtained, therefore some beverage is necessary as a substitute, and from universal habit something warm in the shape of tea is looked for. Nothing can be more wholesome than the Breakfast Powder or British Herb Tea, as the former I understand to be manufactured from the best wheat, and this might as easily be done by persons in country places, as to fry a pancake or bake a loaf on the hearth. A variety of substitutes have been already pointed out for various exciseable articles, so that I need not enumerate them here: my chief object is to stimulate all Reformers to the further use of them, and not to grow weary of so easy and so effectual a mode of warfare. In this pursuit we do not punish ourselves but the common enemy. We aggravate not our own evils but we increase the difficulties of those who oppress us. Shrink not then ye Male and Female Reformers from this virtuous mode of warfare, for to conquer our injurious habits, and our enemy at the same time, is a double conquest, to obtain which, both man, woman, and child can very properly assist.

The Breakfast Powder to which Carlile referred was likely the one developed by a radical colleague, Henry "Orator" Hunt (1773 –1835.)  Hunt was imprisoned for two years for his involvement in the protest that became the infamous Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, on August 16, 1819. Hunt was released from prison with his fortune gone, and the need to earn an income urgent. He tried several new business ventures, including the production of a “Breakfast Powder” made from roasted corn (which in England at the time meant wheat, not maize!) His breakfast beverage was promoted not just as a way of subverting the tax on tea and coffee, but as a healthy alternative. It was a "… most salubrious and nourishing Beverage that can be substituted for the use of Tea and Coffee, which are always exciting, and frequently the most irritating to the Stomach and Bowels."

Breakfast Powder remained popular (in virtuous theory, at least) for another decade or so. An article in The Atheneum, Volume 19 (1826) described the method of making one version, using rye flour.


It is stated that if rye be divested of its skin, the beverage is more mild and agreeable ; but how to do this we are without information. To get the skin from wheat, for domestic use, it is customary to soak a small bag, half filled with the grain, for a quarter of an hour, and then beat it with a rolling pin, by which the skin is disengaged. This method seems, however, inapplicable to rye, as the bruising would render it unfit for roasting. One way of preparing the rye is to steep it in water for forty-eight hours, or till it be a little sprouted; then drain it thoroughly ; put it. in its damp state into a frying-pan, and keep it well stirred with a spoon during the operation of roasting. Or it may be dried, after undergoing the malting process, before it be roasted, but not by artificial heat. Another method is as follows :—Take a common frying-pan ; put into it a small piece of lard or butter, the size of a marble, and then a quantity of rye, and keep it over the fire, stirring it with a spoon to prevent its burning, until it be of a regular dark-brown colour. A bushel of rye will return forty-eight pounds of prepared breakfast powder; and as two ounces will fully serve three or four persons, the cost of the powder is about one farthing. Only enough for two or three days should be roasted at a time; and no more ground than is wanted for immediate use. Rye fresh roasted, and ground or bruised when warm, is as superior to that which has been prepared for some time, as Mocha is to the commonest Colonial coffee. That which is roasted, and remains unground, should be kept in a bottle or jar, secured from external air. A rolling pin, or a mortar and pestle, will fully answer the purpose of pulverizing the roasted grain, if a mill be not at hand.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Leftovers made Palatable.

We who live in the rich countries of the world are told that we throw out one fifth of the food that we buy. By any standard, this is a disgraceful situation, and goes to a mindset that would have astonished our not-so-distant forbears.

That we must change our attitude to food waste I am sure we would all agree, but it is almost impossible to imagine us ever getting back to following the suggestions outlined in the Small Aids for the Thrifty Housewives given in today’s source - Left-overs made palatable. How to cook odds and ends of food into appetizing dishes; a manual of practical economy of money, time and labor in the preparation and use of food by Isabel Gordon Curtis (New York, 1902.)

Small Aids for the Thrifty Housewife
If the end of a beefsteak has been blackened during the broiling process, and you wish to convert it into a mince or stew, simply wash it by pouring boiling water over it.

If a recipe calls for a cup of left-over gravy, and there is not such a thing in the refrigerator, make a substitute by stirring into a cup of boiling water a teaspoon of beef extract.

When you want a spoonful of onion juice, cut the vegetable in two and press it in a lemon squeezer kept specially for this purpose. If you need only a few drops, cut a slice from the onion and scrape the surface three or four times with a sharp knife, holding it over the dish you wish to flavor. If you want a teaspoon of chopped onion, cut a slice from one end, then hold it in your left hand while with a vegetable knife you cut into it for a half inch, first one way, then the other. Slice off the onion that has been cut, it will be in very fine cubes.

Grow a box of parsley in the kitchen window all winter long and find a corner for it outdoors in the summer. A pinch of parsley in the cooking and a few sprigs of it as a garnish are the very finish of some tasty rechauffes.

When a dish that has a liberal garnishing of parsley is removed from the table, put each green sprig in ice water to revive if wilted and lay away wrapped in wet muslin, to be used again as a garnish or in cooking.

When you add dried macaroons, chopped nuts or dry brown bread crumbs to ice cream, allow one cup of the crumbs to one quart of cream.

Chop all meat for sandwiches, and if there is too little of one sort to be used, combine with any other left-over, provided it is of a flavor that makes a good combination. Chicken, veal, ham, sweetbreads and tender white pork may be used together. Meat used in slices, as in old-fashioned sandwiches, cannot be well seasoned. Minced, it can be mixed with mayonnaise, softened butter, cream or stock, and the seasoning may consist of anything, lemon, chopped pickles, celery or olives, a spoonful of mustard and lemon juice, a drop of tabasco or onion extract, grated horse-radish, vinegar, catsup, chives, parsley or grated cheese. The seasoning is limited only by taste and the ingredients on the pantry shelves. Nothing is too humble to be transformed into a delicious sandwich. Morsels of meat or fish can be chopped and rubbed to a paste, even one hard-boiled egg, with several tablespoons of meat, will make half a dozen excellent sandwiches. The secret lies in fine seasoning and dainty service.

When buttering pans, Dario molds, cake tins, or anything which requires greasing, use a small, flat bristle paint brush. It costs ten cents, and if kept clean will last for years.

Cold soda biscuits can be dipped quickly in water and heated through, or they may be sliced thinly, toasted crisply and served with coffee. Cold muffins are good split and toasted. Cold johnnycake, sliced thin, makes a sweet crisp toast for breakfast.

Do not throw away the salt left in the ice cream pail after freezing. Pour it into a colander, shake the water from it and leave it there till it dries, then return to the bag to be used again. You will be surprised to find nearly a pint of salt saved after the freezing of a couple of quarts of cream.

If you have no fat at hand in which to fry croquettes, roll them pyramid shaped, set them on their broad base in a baking pan, pour a tablespoon of melted butter over each one and bake in a hot oven till crisp and brown. It will take from ten to fifteen minutes to cook them.

Keep constantly in the refrigerator a wide-mouthed glass jar with mayonnaise or a boiled salad dressing. It can be made with some left-over yolks of eggs in an odd quarter of an hour while you wait for something to bake or stew, and the convenience of it can be realized only when the supply is out.

Wash eggs before using them, then save the shells for clearing coffee or soup. Four eggshells, to which something of the albumen clings, are enough to clear one pot of coffee. The crushed eggshells are capital for cleaning the insides of cruets or any bottle with a narrow neck.

One is often puzzled to think of ways of utilizing the whites or yolks of eggs when the other part has been used. If making boiled custard, salad dressing or anything which calls for only yolks, plan to make either a snow or white cake, meringues for puddings or pies, frosting, etc. Soft-boiled eggs may be boiled again till, hard, and the yolks mashed and seasoned and used in sandwiches, or served plain in meat and fish sauces, salads or soups ; the whites may be put into the stock kettle or used as a garnish for all sorts of dishes.

Dropped eggs, bits of omelet and other cooked eggs may be used in egg sauce, soup, stuffing, or in made-over fish or meat dishes.

Sometimes yolks of eggs are left over when making a dish which calls for only whites; drop them gently in a bowl of cold water if you do not need them immediately. They will not spoil if they stand for several days. Handle them carefully so they will not break.

A cold fried egg chopped and seasoned makes a good sandwich. Children like an oyster sandwich made by putting cold stewed oysters between buttered crackers.

When you serve a baked bean salad, accompany it with olive or anchovy sandwiches.

Before making a chicken salad, let the pieces before being cut stand in some chicken or white stock for a few hours. It will make it deliciously moist and tender. Roast or boiled chicken, or even a bit of canned chicken, can be treated in this way and improved.

A pint of new potatoes, too small to serve in presentable fashion, may be boiled, skinned and covered with a white sauce or allowed to cool and served whole as a potato salad with a few shredded chives sprinkled over them.

If the liquor about olives gets emptied accidentally, make a fresh brine of salt and water and replace the olives in their bottle.

A pinch of ground cloves in a warmed-up meat dish is often a pleasing addition. Nutmeg is the spice to use with poultry.

In making hash, never stir with a spoon, it makes the mixture disagreeably pasty. Toss lightly with a fork.

Save the skins of particularly fine oranges and lemons, they may be very easily candied at home and save buying an expensive item in cooking. Use the skins in two halves as when you cut them to extract the juice on a lemon squeezer. When you have a dozen or so on hand, drop them in boiling water and cook for half an hour, changing the water three times before they are done. When ready you can pierce them with a straw. Make a sirup of equal parts of sugar and water. Cook the skins in it till they grow transparent and you have a thick sirup. Drain the skins on a plate, then roll in pulverized sugar and set in a cool oven to dry. Save the sugar into which the sirup changes to flavor and sweeten sauces for puddings or fritters. Keep the lemon and orange peel packed in a fruit can with a close lid. When using peel, cut it in fine strips with a scissors. You will find it much easier to use than a knife.

Save the oil from good sardines ; a tablespoonf ul of it gives an agreeable flavor to a brown sauce for heating sardines and it economizes on butter.

A slight flavor of onion is almost a must-have in hot dishes prepared from cold meat. Rubbing the inside of the salad bowl or fork with a cut clove of garlic or onion will give all the flavor desirable where the least flavor possible is desired.

If you cannot allow soup stock time enough to cool and the fat to harden, remove fat with absorbent cotton. Roll it in a tiny pad, dip it deftly across the top of the soup and the fat will be absorbed. If there is much fat, several bits of cotton may be necessary to clear it.

When you begin to grow tired of a watermelon that refuses to be eaten up, chop it coarsely, add a cup of sugar and a few tablespoons of sherry and transform it into one of the most luscious of sherbets.

Before you fry cold potatoes, dust them with flour. They will taste better and brown better.

One of the most successful transformations of a plain omelet into a delicious dish is the pouring over it when cooked a cup of hot white sauce containing a cup of green peas.

A cup or two of blanc mange enriched with eggs and well flavored may be made into a delicious
pudding. Reheat it in the double boiler and press into a half-pound buttered baking powder can. When required cut in inch thick slices, roll till dry in flour, egg- crumb and fry in smoking hot fat. Serve with a wine sauce.

Save the blanched, crisp feathery tops of celery. They make the most sightly of garnishes.

Hands up those of you who save – or now intend to save – the oil from the can of sardines.

Sardine Sandwiches.
Take one can of sardines put up in oil, mix well with fork adding enough catsup to make bright red. Mix thoroughly and spread on thin buttered slices of bread. The mixture provides enough for one loaf of bread.
Lawrence Journal World August 16, 1907

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Instant Tea: the beginnings.

Instant tea is commonly said to have been invented in the 1930’s, quickly adapted to British and Canadian military ration packs during World War II, but not commercialized until about 1946. However, the wonderful book which was the source of our recipe for the day yesterday (The cyclopædia of practical receipts in all the useful and domestic arts (London 1841) shows that the concept had already been around for a century or so.

No-one publishes this sort of book anymore – the sort of book that helps you to acquire every imaginable skill necessary to running a household. Here you will find recipes for matches, ink, glue, gunpowder, sealing wax, Elephant milk, and purified opium as well as a surprising number of remedies for gonorrhea and a few for the itch and other unpleasant medical issues. There are also instructions for removing freckles (I bet Google cant tell you that,) perfume for gloves – and even your own condoms.

But I digress: tea is the topic for the day today. Here are the instructions for the tea:

Tea,         1 part.
Boiling water,             7 part.
Digest at a heat of 170o for half an hour, and evaporate at a low temperature.
*** In this way I have made an excellent extract of tea, which preserves many of the virtues of the leaves, and will produce a decent tea by adding a few grains to the hot water.
oooo The lower the temperature at which the evaporation is carried on the finer the quality.

There are more tea ideas in the book too:

I.                   Clean chopped meadow hay is said to make a very good substitute for tea if used in the proportions of three to one.
II.                Rosebus, dried            5 parts
Rosemary leaves         1 part
Balm leaves     2 parts.
III.             Strawberry and black currant leaves make a very good substitute for tea when properly treated.
IV.             The herb spring grass (anthoxanthum odoratum), when dried, forms an excellent substitute for China tea, and is more wholesome.

There will be more posts from this treasure-trove of a cyclopaedia, folks, and that’s a promise!

Monday, January 27, 2014

DIY Flavoured Tea.

The distinctive fragrance and flavour of Earl Grey Tea is due to the presence of bergamot, a type of citrus native to South Asia but strongly associated with its secondary home in Calabria, Italy. You can make your own bergamot-flavoured tea by following the instructions in The House Book; Or, Family Chronicle of Useful Knowledge, and Cottage Physician: Combining Medicine, Cookery, Diet, General Economy, Health, Sea-bathing, Gardening, Manufactures, Arts, Etc., ... Including Upwards of a Thousand Select Recipes and Prescriptions (London, 1823) by William Scott. Your own blend may not taste exactly like Earl Grey, but it may still be pretty good.

To render Tea at Five Shillings a Pound, equal to Tea at Twelve shillings.
The cheapest and most expensive teas are all the leaves of the same tree, at least they should be so, and if there were no sloe-leaves nor privet-leaves, they would be so. The high flavour, therefore, of some of the sorts of tea, and the want of flavour in others, must arise from the manner of preparing them, and must be in some measure artificial. It follows, that if we can discover any fine-flavoured substance, and add it to the tea in a proper manner, so as to make it agree and harmonise with the original flavour, we shall be able to improve low-priced an flavourless tea, into a high priced article of fine flavour, The flavouring substance found to agree best with the original flavour of tea, is the oil of bergamot; by the proper management of which, you may produce from the cheapest teas, the finest flavoured bloom, hyson, gunpowder, and cowslip. There are two ways of managing the bergamot. Purchase at the perfumers some of the perfumed pieces of wood, which they call bergamot fruit. Keep one such piece in your cannister, and it will flavour the tea in the same way as a tonquin bean flavours snuff. If your canister be a small one, the flavour perhaps would be too strong; in that case you may chip the bergamot fruit in pieces, and put only a little bit among your tea. Or procure a small phial of the oil of bergamot; take some of the smallest of your tea, and add it to a few drops of the oil, till you form a sort of paste, which is to be carefully mixed with the whole tea, in proportion to its quantity, and the degree of flavour you like best. If you make the flavour too strong, you have always an easy remedy, namely, by adding more unflavoured tea. When it is thus improved, it is often sold at eighteen shillings, and a guinea a pound. Cowslip tea has been as high as thirty-two shillings.

Tea (the leaves or the brew) can be flavoured with almost anything that takes your fancy – a slice of lemon, or a little mint, or cinnamon, cherry blossoms or verbena perhaps? Or if something a little more exotic is in your mind, how about anise or ambergris? No? Mutton fat then?

Tea itself can act as the flavouring ingredient for other dishes too, of course:

Tea for Icing.
Cream for Icing, 2 pints
Strong tea, 4 ounces
Sugar, 1 ounce
Yelks of four eggs.
Mix well and strain, ready for icing.
The cyclopædia of practical receipts in all the useful

and domestic arts (London 1841.)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Take a little Purslane.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea ) is an annual succulent plant which is widely distributed throughout the Old and the New Worlds. It is (or was) a popular wild food, and at least forty varieties are under cultivation – meaning that it is considered a weed or a desirable pot herb, depending on your perspective and circumstances.  

Nowadays portulaca (pigweed, moss rose, and a number of other local names) is exceptionally rarely seen in greengrocers or at farmers’ markets – at least, this is true of Brisbane – perhaps it is different in your part of the world?  It certainly rarely features in modern cookery books, so I suspect it is not commonly used in other developed countries.
To encourage your Inner Forager, I give you some recipes for portulaca from eighteenth and nineteenth century cookery books – starting with the most interesting:

Snipes dressed with Purslain Leaves.
Draw your snipes, and make a forcemeat for the inside, but reserve your ropes for your sauce. Put them across upon a lark-spit, covered with bacon and paper, and roast them gently. For sauce, take some prime thick leaves of purslain, blanch them well in water, put them into a ladle of cullis and gravy, a bit of shalot, pepper, salt, nutmeg, and parsley, and stew all together for half an hour gently. Have the ropes ready blanced, and put them in, dish up your snipes upon thin slice of bread fried, squeeze the juice of an orange into your sauce, and send them up to table.
The Universal Cook, and City and Country Housekeeper,
by Francis Collingwood (1797)

To make a nice ragout of our chosen herb, follow the recipe below, but substitute purslane for the sorrel.

Ragout of Sorrel.
Boil it to half in water, with a few lettuces, and a little chervil, then chop all together; put it into a stew-pan with a few chopped mushrooms, green shallots, a slice of ham, a little broth and cullis, pepper and salt; let it simmer a good while, then take out the nam, reduce the sauce quite thick, and serve with what sort of meat you please. This is mostly done to serve with a fricandeau. If the sorrel is too sharp, you may mix spinage with it, or a bit of sugar, to take off the sharpness. Few people use chervil with it, as the flavour is too strong for many, although it is very agreeable when used with moderation.
Pourpier, viz. purslane, is very little used in England, but may be dressed in the same manner as the former, and a small quantity of it is very good in a mixed salad.
The Professed Cook, by B. Clermont (1812)

The best-known use of wild greens such as purslane is, of course, in soup or salad.

A Purslain Soup.
WHEN your Purslain is young, cut the Sprigs off but keep their whole Length; boil them in a Stew-pan, with some Pease-soup, and small Onions; when your Purslain is boiled in good Broth, put a Crust of Bread soaked in Broth in the dish, then pour your Soup on it with the Purslain; season it to your Taste.
A New and Easy Method of Cookery, by Elizabeth Cleland (1755)

Herb Soup.
Wash and cut small twelve cabbage lettuces, a handful of chervil, one of purslane, one of parsley, eight large green onions, and three handfuls of sorrel; when peas are in season omit half the quantity of sorrel, and put a quart of young green peas; put them all into a sauce-pan, with half a pound of butter and three carrots cut small, some salt and pepper; let them stew closely covered for half an hour, shaking them occasionally to prevent their adhering to the pan; fry in butter six cucumbers cut longways in four pieces; add them, with four quarts of hot water, half a French roll, and a crust of bread toasted upon both sides; and let the whole boil till reduced to three quarts, then strain it through a sieve; beat up the yolks of four eggs with half a pint of cream, and stir it gently into the soup just before serving.
The Practice of Cookery: Adapted to the Business of Every Day Life,
by Mrs Dalgairns (1830)

Purslain, a herb now little cultivated in England, is an excellent ingredient in summer salad, which should consist of young Cos lettuces, mustard and cress, very young radishes, any kind of fine herb in season, and chives placed round the edge of the dish, and not cut into it; in winter endive, cabbage lettuce, beet-root, celery and onions. The excellence of a salad consists in the vegetables being young and fresh; they should be prepared only a short time before they are wanted, the salad mixture being either poured into the bottom of the bowl, or sent up in a sauce-tureen, and not stirred up with the vegetables until they are served.

A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Maria Rundell (1808)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dinner in a Chinese Tavern in the 1840’s.

The nineteenth century British Naval Officer Frederick E. Forbes’ narrative of his experiences of Five Years in China: From 1842 to 1847 gave us yesterday’s story on food in China at that time – or more accurately, a nineteenth century Englishman’s impressions of Chinese food. Forbes has one other interesting food story for us:

Returning one day from Tien T'hung, a party of five of us agreed, as a matter of curiosity, to sit down to a regular tavern dinner. By great good luck one of the party happened to be the consular interpreter, who induced his linguist and teacher to take the chair: to him, a fine old Chinese gentleman of convivial habits, and great information, we left the entire management, stipulating only that the dinner should be the best that the first tavern in Ningpo could produce. He promised to take us to one in the principal street which he himself frequented. He was to direct us in the most accomplished way of dining à la Chinoise, and to illustrate the courses, in order that our repast should be perfectly à la mode. I have unfortunately forgotten the beautiful collection of monosyllables that composed his name. In the lobby of our hotel was a tempting display of, to us, very novel delicacies, illustrative of mine host's proficiency in his calling, together with a cloud of steam and a most variegated odour. Calling the waiter, our major domo ordered that every dish the house could provide should be served as soon as possible, at the same time requiring a private apartment. The waiter (whose dress was not calculated to impede his movements much, consisting merely of a pair of short unmentionables, it being the height of summer) led the way up stairs, through a large apartment, in which at small tables, one or two at each, sat respectably dressed Chinese, taking their afternoon meal, or conversing over a cup of hot sam-shoo, into a neatly furnished small apartment. No sooner had we entered than a pipebearer, with necessary paraphernalia, introduced a pipe (technically a hubble-bubble) into the mouth of one of the party, who, being told by our preceptor that it was selon de règle, drew a whiff or two and passed it on to another, and so on all round. After a few moments' delay tea was served, succeeded by six small saucers, containing separately sugar-candy, cherries, dried pips of melons, walnuts, ground-nuts, and brown sugar; these, we were informed, were for our amusement, while the landlord prepared a dinner worthy the reputation of his establishment; our Chinese friend beguiling the time with anecdotes of heroes who had distinguished themselves in the convivial line, and heroes with a vengeance they must have been, if these stories  of their mighty appetite, and grand exploits of gormandising had any foundation in fact. Soon the
advanced guard made its appearance, consisting of several small basins, filled with soups and stews of birds'-nests, beche-de-mer, sea-slugs, and other light and stimulating delicacies, patties of shrimps, &c, fried in pork-fat, salted and boiled eggs, and boiled and stewed vegetables (salt, pepper, soy, and oil, in smaller saucers, were in every part of the table.) These, we were given to understand, were mere provocatives of appetite, intended as a foundation for more substantial fare, they were ranged in a line round the table, leaving an open square in the centre. The best wines were now produced, warm, in small metal pots (not unlike coffee-pots) and poured into very small China cups; from our maître de ceremonie, we took our queue, and, seizing the diminutive vessel in both hands, we half rose, and reaching across in direction of the person whom we wished to honour until both vessels met, when, each making a profound bow, and Chin-chin, we reseated ourselves, and emptied the cup, which was no sooner empty than refilled
by our officious Ganymede.
Before each of us were two or three small basins to serve as plates, and a pair of chop-sticks. The repast might be said now to have commenced in earnest, with the appearance of a large bowl of stewed mutton, by no means bad, which was placed at an angle of the square, at which each pecked with chop-sticks, and the more finished example was set by our accomplished friend, breaking a piece with his own chop-sticks, giving us at the same time to understand that it was highly complimentary, and handing it over to me. After an interval of ten minutes, viz-a-viz to the stewed mutton, appeared a corresponding bowl with the tripes of a rare fish, found on the coast of Coromandel. Our Chinese friend was an epicure, and this a favourite dish with him, and he was now in his glory, and did full justice to it in no equivocal manner. The other angles, at equal intervals, were occupied by stewed fowl and puff-puddings, and these four surmounted by a dish of salted blubber. The pile of five dishes being complete, so was the course, followed by other piles of five dishes, consisting of stews of fowls, ducks, puddings stewed in gravies, kabobs, sweetmeats, gelatinous soups and vegetables, to the number of thirty, in fact, every variety of fish, fowl, and pastry, when it was agreed we should move that the repast be brought to an end, upon which everything was removed but the salt, &c, when, all of a sudden, a stewed duck with some peculiar sauce appeared. We had all, with the exception of the Chinaman, long cried, "Hold, enough:" but when that worthy, after many vain attempts to cheer us up, told us of an extensive friend of his, who, having dined, topped up with six ducks out of compliment to him as host; we could not do otherwise than make an effort to help him out of his difficulty, and managed the one before us: a bowl of rice for each concluded the feast. Our officious waiter now appeared with warm water, and a very dark coloured and uninviting towel, which, to his astonishment, we rejected, when offered to us as a general finger-glass and napkin.
On calling for the reckoning we were whisperingly instructed by our friend to fee the waiter and pipe-bearer who would stand our friend with the landlord; they received a rupee each; presently they re-appeared with a long account which, when totaled, amounted to five dollars, or altogether a most extensive feast for about twenty-five shillings in all for six. The above, one might imagine, would have been a feast for the lord-mayor, aldermen, and all the civic dignitaries of Ningpo (if such had any existence), but it was served up extemporaneously; the dinner was on the table within a quarter of an hour of our ordering it; the waiter apologized, and said if more time were given a grander entertainment would be provided. The price of a good tavern dinner, consisting of fish, flesh, fowl, and entries, would be about a shilling of our money; a common club dinner a mace, or fourpence.

Today’s recipe for comes from the Chinese-Japanese Cook Book (Chicago, c1914) by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watanna [pseud.] The recipes in this book are, as you would guess, “American-Chinese.”
Seaweed Soup.
Two yolks of hard-boiled eggs; one can of seaweed; three chicken giblets; two tablespoonfuls of syou; [soy sauce] one and one half teaspoonfuls of Quong Sang Chong (water chestnut flour).

Boil one can of seaweed until it is like thin jelly. Have ready three chicken giblets, chopped very fine, having first boiled them one hour in a quart of water. Add the seaweed, and boil all together for half an hour. Strain, then crumble in the yolks of two hard-boiled eggs, stir in two tablespoonfuls of syou, and salt to taste. Rub smooth one and a half teaspoonfuls of Quong Sang Chong in a little cold water, then add to the soup and stir until it thickens slightly. Serve with a small piece of seaweed on top that has been soaking in spiced vinegar.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Chinese Bill of Fare.

I have another traveller’s tale for you today. It is from Five Years in China: From 1842 to 1847, by Frederick Edwyn Forbes. Forbes was a British Naval Officer famous for the rescue of an orphaned child princess who was intended as a human sacrifice by West African slave-raiders, in the kingdom of Dahomey (in present-day Benin.)  Forbes gave the child the name Sara Forbes Bonetta (the last name after his ship of the time.) Forbes persuaded the King of Dahomey to present the child to Queen Victoria as “a gift from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.”

Before his stint in Dahomey, Forbes spent several years in China, hence the lengthy memoir which is to be our source for the day. On the subject of food in the country, he wrote:

The Chinese bill of fare may be said to include everything animal and vegetable that nature will digest, together with some few items of minerals, with the exception of milk and its preparations. It is only for the use of foreigners that cows and goats are ever milked, but otherwise no part of the animal is lost; but when one is killed the blood is carefully collected, the hair is removed, and the skin, and offal, apportioned in lots and sold.
Poultry, game, and fish, all kinds of grains, vegetables, fruits, are to be had in the different parts of the empire, abundant in quantity and excellent in quality. Some, together with the dishes made from them, were new to me; such, for instance, was the King of Cabbages, indigenous to the Shangtung province, which would form a splendid acquisition in England to the cattle grazier; it is a thick-set cabbage, perfectly white, and so close that when required to be kept, removing an outside leaf or two about once a week, will make it last for many months; it has found its way I hear to Paris, where it is known as the "Chou de Nankin.'' It is used as a simple vegetable cooked or "au naturel," or in winter a most excellent mild salad, and the Chinese salt and pickle both this and other cabbages, and make a kind of sour krout. It frequently weighs twenty pounds. In the south is a species of orange called the Kin-kengh, or Kum-kwat, very small and of very high flavour; in size and shape it resembles a pigeon'segg, it is eaten, skin and all, and when preserved makes a very fine marmalade. In the Fu-kien province is the hand citron somewhat resembling a hand, with a multitude of fingers. The Loquat, a yellow fruit, with a most velvet skin, has four or more stones, and a most peculiar flavour which an acquired taste only can admire. The Liche is a most delicious melting mouthful, the outside shell must be burst first, it grows in clusters, and is not unlike a strawberry in appearance but in nothing else. Most European and tropical fruits flourish in different parts of the country, according to the climate, and a large trade in fruits is carried on by means of junks, these are mostly preserved in different modes, moist and dry, whole and in shreds, with vinegar or sugar, which latter, in the province of Fo-kien, and the island of Formosa, is grown and manufactured in high perfection, but is never used to sweeten tea. Honey is abundant, oils are extracted from the olive, sesame, cotton-seed, several kinds of cabbage, pork-fat, and fish, which, together with the castoroil, are all used for culinary purposes; the use of the latter for any purpose other than a medicine, is, I should suppose, peculiar to the Chinese; it is expressed through a cullender, and when fresh has not the aroma that it afterwards acquires. Ducks'eggs are in great requisition, and in order to meet the demand for them great numbers are kept on all the navigable rivers and canals, in floating poultry houses. They are under very remarkable discipline, they go out to feed, and return home with wonderful expedition, and at a word from their masters will do almost anything that can be required of them; he stands meanwhile at the entrance, and flogs the straggler, and rewards the foremost. They are never allowed to hatch their own eggs, almost all towns having ovens for that purpose. The eggs of all birds are used, but those of the ducks are salted in the shells, as is the flesh also, for sea stores. Considerable quantities of fish are salted and dried; the collared eel is very fine, but none are thrown away, blubber even is eaten, as are water snakes, frogs, toads, shell-fish of every species, tortoises, snails, gelatinous worms, and lizards.
The various grains are used in making unleavened bread, not unlike a muffin in appearance, cooked on the side of a portable oven, and generally by steam, together with pastry of divers sorts, among which are some very similar to European, as wafers, sponge-cakes, &c, which would be palatable enough were it not for the introduction of a lump of pork fat, discoverable only by the uninitiated, at a most disagreeable period. The introduction of pork-fat into these articles of Chinese gastronomy is universal and disgusting.
Imported are Ginseng, a kind of liquorice, which was formerly a royal monopoly, and could only be grown on the Emperor's property in the north, but has latterly been introduced from Canada, and some parts of the United States; and birds'-nests of the sea-swallow, a transparent substance, in appearance somewhat resembling a gum, reckoned a great delicacy, and sold at very high prices. I have seen four or five when very clear, weighing only three or four ounces each, sell for thirty dollars. They are brought from the islands of the Eastern Archipelago, as likewise are Beches-de-mer, or sea-slugs, brown looking snails about six or seven inches long. They are an expensive luxury as are  the exotic dainties of roes, sounds, tripe, fins, and tails of sharks. In fact, a Chinaman will eat everything but his own father. Great art is shewn in dressing all these delicacies; the cookery is perhaps a little richer than most English palates would relish, but some of the stews, soups, and made dishes are excellent, and a good dinner may be eaten and relished if no questions be asked.

Forbes’ recollections and insights will be continued tomorrow.

As our recipe for the day, I give you something really nasty which shows how the concept of  “Chinese Food” was interpreted in the West in the nineteenth century:

Chop Sin (Chinese)
Take chickens’ and ducks’ livers, gizzards, and hearts, and cut them into dice; some fried fresh pork, celery, asparagus tops, bamboo shoots, dried mushrooms, and greens, and cut them up into convenient-sized pieces; pour over it some good gravy, then put it in a spider and fry it.

National Viands a la Mode (1895) by Mrs De Salis.