Friday, May 30, 2014

The Humble Egg.

Where would we be as cooks and bakers without the egg? It is so familiar to us that perhaps we don’t give it due attention nowadays.  Surely there is no other ingredient which is so ubiquitous, so universal, and so essential to the cuisine of so many nations?
Almost every culture uses eggs in its cooking. The exceptions may best prove this general rule. Vegans of course eschew eggs, and historically some African groups apparently did not eat eggs – nor did Pacific Islanders, although they quickly realised their value to visiting ships, and collected eggs to sell to the crew. For most of the rest of us, it is a rare week that we do not have egg in one form or another, even if we do not notice it because it is an ingredient in a cake or a biscuit.

We use eggs in beverages (egg-nog at Christmas), in soups (the egg-drop soups of Greece and China), and in sauces (Hollandaise and mayonnaise, and the famous and ancient ‘egg sauce’ with salt cod). We eat them hard-boiled in sandwiches and salads, and sometimes curries. Without its egg, Sunday breakfast, burgers with ‘the lot’ and our entire cake and biscuit repertoire would fall very short of ideal. Can you imagine a modern kitchen without eggs?

Such is the richness and variety of the world’s cultures however that one person’s eggy delicacy is another’s nausea-inducing horror. In the Phillipines a great delicacy is balut – a boiled fertilised and half-developed duck or chicken embryo - complete with recogniseable beak and eyes and feathers along with some remaining yolk. In China there is a great demand for ‘hundred’ (or ‘thousand’) year old eggs (actually only several weeks or months old) prepared by curing in a mixture of salty, alkaline clay – a process which results in a creamy green yolk nestled in the ‘white’ – now a transparent brown jelly. Both these national delicacies are apparently acquired tastes.

Eggs are also fundamental to many origin myths, fables, and folk-tales. They have been used in the past in art as a binder for paint and as a varnish, in many industries such as the preparation of fine leather, calico, and fine wine. Large shells have been used as drinking cups or cooking vessels, and powdered shells to make imitation ivory as well as tooth powder. Eggs have been used widely in medicine. They are almost unique amongst foods as being considered suitable for ever age and every state of health or illness. In olden times they were believed to neutralise a swallowed poison, to be soothing to diseased eyes, to help dislodge fish-bones in the throat, and to be valuable in the preparation of poultices and plasters.

From a culinary point of view, what I find most fascinating about the use of eggs is just how longstanding are some of their most popular uses. Take custard for example – the style suitable for filling your fruit tarts or profiteroles. I give you below a recipe from the fourteenth century, for ‘boiled cream’ made with cream and eggs. It is made ‘standynge’ (‘standing’) thickness, sweetened with sugar, flavoured and coloured with saffron, and finally sliced (‘lesked’) and garnished with borage flowers (or violets, in other versions of the time.) How wonderful does that sound?

For to make Cremmeboyle.

To make Creme boyle take cowe creme and the yolkes of egges clene drawen & welle beten and boyle it up that it be standynge and put thereto sugre and colour it with saffron and salt it and leske it in dyshes and plante therin flours of Borage and serve it.

And here is a rather interesting way of frying your eggs:

To fry eggs as round as balls.

Having a deep frying-pan, and three pints of clarified butter, heat it as hot as for fritters, and stir it with a stick, till it runs round like a whirlpool; then break an egg into the middle, and turn it round with your stick, till it be as hard as a poached egg; the whirling round of the butter will make it as round as a ball, then take it up with a slice, and put it in a dish before the fire: they will keep hot half an hour and yet be soft; so you may do as many as you please. You may serve these with what you please, nothing better than stewed spinach, and garnish with orange.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Service for Fish Dayes (1620)

A little while ago I gave you the instructions for “The Order of meats on a fleshday” from Thomas Dawson’s A Booke of Cookerie. And the order of Meates to bee served to the Table … (1620.) Today I offer you the suggested bill of fare for a Fish Day:-

Service for Fish Dayes.
Butter, a Sallet with hard Egges, red Herring greene broiled, white Herring, Ling, Haberdine, sauce Mustard, salt Salmon minced, sauce Mustard and Verjuyce and a little Suger, powdered Conger, Shad, mackrell, sauce Vinegar, Whiting, sauce with the Liver and Mustard, Playce, sauce Sorrrell, Wine and Salt, Mustard, or Verjuce, Thornebacke, sauce Liver and Mustard, Pepper and Salt strewed upon, after it is brused, fresh Cod, sauce Greene sauce, Dace, Mullet, Eeles upon soppes, Roche upon soppes, Perch, Pike in pike sauce, Trowte upon soppes, Tench in Gelly, or Gorefish [?], Custard.
The second course.
Flounders or flookes, pike sauce, fresh Salmon, fresh Conger, Brette, Turbut, Breame upon soppes, Carpe upon soppes, Soles or any other fish fryed, roasted Eele sauce the dripping, rosted Lamperns, rosted Porpos, fresh Sturgion, sauce Galentine, Crevis, Crab, Shrimps, sauce Vinegar. Baked Lamprey, Tart, figges, Apples, Almonds blaunched, Cheese, Raysins, Peares.

And here are two recipes from the book which fit this bill of fare nicely:

For Boyl’d Fish.
To boyle a Breame.
Take white Wine, and put it into a pot, and let it seeth, then take your Breame and cut him in the middest, and put him in, then take an Onyon and chop it small, then take Nutmegs beaten Sinamon and Ginger, whole Mace, and a pound of Butter, and let it boyle altogether, and so season it with salte, serve it upon soppes, and garnish it with fruit.

To make a Sallet of all kinde of Hearbes.
Take your hearbes and pick them very fine into faire water, and picke your flowers by themselves, and wash them cleane, then swing them in a Strayner, and when you put them into a dish, mingle them with Cowcumbers or Lemons payred and sliced, also scrape Suger and put in Vineger and Oyle, then spread the flowers on the top of the Sallet, and with every sorte of the aforesaid thinges, garnish the dish about, then take Egges boyled hard, and lay about the dish and upon the Sallet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Rose Hip Collection Campaign (WW II).

During World War II in Britain, the general public were encouraged to return to (or re-learn) the art of foraging in order to supplement or augment rationed foodstuffs.  Most of the emphasis was on wild vegetation, there not being a great deal of wild game accessible to the ordinary person. The concept was not just tossed out to the population to follow-up as they saw fit, it was actively promoted and resourced by the government. The Ministry of Food published several leaflets on how to find and use the “Hedgerow Harvest” and County Herb Committees were set up to organize collections on a large scale. The latter was directed particularly towards wild foods with health benefits – many of the sources of fruit no longer being available – and also included foods for livestock feeding, such as horse-chestnuts (‘conkers.’)

One item singled out for particular attention was the rose-hip - a valuable source of vitamin C. The national diet was at some risk of shortage of Vitamin C due to the cessation of importation of fruit such as oranges during the war. The solution was to ask the public to collect rose hips from wild or cultivated bushes, the harvest then to be processed by commercial companies into syrup which could then be made available in the shops. The details and success of the campaign are eloquently told in two articles in The Times [London, England] in autumn of 1941, and mid-winter 1942.

A national week for the collection of rose hips to be converted into syrup will open next Sunday. The Ministry of Health and the Department of Health for Scotland state that these fruits, which in the past have been allowed to go to waste, are 20 times as rich in Vitamin C as oranges.
The collecting is being organized chiefly through schools, boy scouts, and girl guides, the women’s institutes, and the Scottish womens’ rural institutions. The hips, which must be ripe, can be gathered from wild or cultivated bushes, but they should be free from bits of stems and leaves. Haws, the red berries of May, are not wanted. The picking season extends until the end of October.
The collecting organizations will supply the hips in bulk to firms who have agreed to pay 2s. for 14 lb. (minimum 28 lb.), carriage forward. It is hoped that some 500 tons will be converted into syrup, will be converted into syrup, which will be marketed at a reasonable price.
The Times, 22 September, 1941

National rose hip syrup, the Ministry of Health announced yesterday, will be on sale in chemists’ shops in England, Scotland, and Wales, from February  1. Rose hips are one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C, which is particularly beneficial for children, and the syrup is therefore a useful  war-time substitute for orange juice and a distinct improvement on blackcurrant syrup. It is not intended that rose hip should be used by one and all as a tasty addition to everyday diet, but that is should be used for young children only.
The present supplies of the syrup are the result of a campaign organized last summer and autumn by the Ministry of Health and the Department of Health for Scotland for collecting rose hips. School teachers, boy scouts, girl guides, the W.V.S., women’s rural institutions, and other voluntary organizations co-operated, and some 200 tons, equivalent to 134,000,000 hips, were collected. The hips were converted into syrup by selected firms, and their total output amounts to 600,000 bottles.
A teaspoonful of rose hip syrup a day will supply half the vitamin C needs of a child. It can be taken neat or diluted with water, and has a pleasant flavour. Plans are being made for another collection of rose hips on a national scale this year.
The Times, 15 January 1942

Several recipes using rose-hips were included in the Ministry of Food’s leaflet Hedgerow Harvest in 1943, including this rather interesting one:

Rose Hip Marmalade
The ruby-red seed of the rose makes an excellent marmalade. If you soak the cleaned rose hips for 2 hours in plain cold water; then let boil for 2 hours, and strain. Measure the puree and add l cup of brown sugar to each cup of puree. Let boil down to thick consistency, pour into sterilized glasses, and seal.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Foraging in the French Army.

I have had today’s story in mind for a while, and today seems the perfect day to tell it to you, as it sheds some interesting perspective on yesterday’s post on feeding the military in 1942. The story is in the form of a letter to the editor of The Times [London] on November 10, 1855. The correspondent relates a conversation he had some 35 years earlier with a “Peninsular guardsman” who made some observations about the differences in both supplies of and attitudes to field rations between British and French soldiers. I am guessing that the guardsman’s experiences were during the Hundred Days war of 1815 – but I await clarification and comments from the military historians amongst you.

Sir,- The leading article on the subject of Aldershot, in The Times of the 6th inst., reminds me of the confessions of an old Peninsular Guardsman, with whom I formerly travelled in Spain. John Denny’s words were, so far as I remember them, to this effect: “The French, Sir, never got so good rations as our own men, and yet on the whole they managed to live better, as far as we could pick up a notion of their ways from prisoner, or outpost sentries, indeed, when there was not much going on. Whatever they had in the way of meat they popped into the pot along with dry old ammunition crusts, and any sort of vegetables they could rap or rend, no matter if ‘twas nettle tops; and what with a sprinkle of pepper and salt, which don’t take much room to carry about, they contrived to make a good ‘stodgy’ savoury mess, fit to stick to a fellow’s ribs, as one might say. Now, what did we do? What as soon as a man got his ration of meat, he stuck it on the end of his ramrod – that is, most of ‘em did, till they come to know better – and he went and held it over the hot wood embers till all the fat and goodness of it frizzled out into the fire, and he got nothing most times but a black bit of dry stuff hardly fit for a dog to erat. And that’s how we went on for a long time, for want of the knowledge them French always had of making the most of everything.”
How far are our untrained men advanced in this species of knowledge since the time – some 35 years ago – when the veteran John, whose good sense I much admired, uttered this reminiscence of past times?
Trusting that it may be pertinent to the purpose of your recent well advised strictures, I have the honour to remain,
            Yours obediently,
Malvern, Nov. 8.

Nettles were of course well known and used in Britain at the time, and were a welcome springtime addition to the soup pot as well as being prized for their perceived medicinal benefits. This knowledge however does not seem to have percolated down to the ordinary British soldier of the time, who was likely drawn from the urban poor and had lost the lore of foraging. French men of the same era clearly had not lost touch with the land in the same way – or perhaps they had remained more domesticated. Interesting, Non?

In a previous post I featured nettles (here) and they are mentioned in several other stories, but there is surely room for more ….

Nettles and Dandelions.
These, gathered before they are in flower, may be dressed like turnip tops, and served on toast like spinach, and are a valuable and wholesome addition to the list of vegetables.
The English Cookery Book: Uniting a Good Style with Economy,
by John Henry Walsh (1859)

To Stew Lettuces, Nettles, etc.
Wash them well, drain them, and put them in boiling water with a little salt; boil them from twenty to thirty minutes, press the water from them, and then chop them a little; heat them in a saucepan with a little butter, pepper, and salt, dredging in a little flour as you stir it in; add a little cream, and stew quickly till it is tolerably dry. Stir in a little vinegar or lemon juice, and serve hot with snippets.

The principles and practice of vegetarian cookery. By the author of 'Fruits and farinacea the proper food of man' by John Smith of Malton (London, 1860)

Monday, May 26, 2014

2,000,000 Men for Dinner.

Whether or not the daily challenge of needing to decide what to have for dinner and then having to provision and actually cook the meal is a manoeuvre you abhor or embrace, think on the scale of your problem, and perhaps take some hints from the military. The following story is abbreviated from one appearing in the New York Times of May 24, 1942 - right in the middle of World War II.

2,000,000 Men for Dinner.
By Major General Edmund B. Gregory.

If housewives think they have a few problems they ought to keep the Army Quartermaster Corps in mind. The Army consumes 12,000,000 pounds of food a day and it's the best fed in the world.
Mr. Samuel Johnson once remarked that men seldom think so seriously about anything else as they do about their dinner, and the Quartermaster Corps, which is responsible for feeding upward of 2,000,000 soldiers in our army three times a day, operates on the theory that this goes double for fighting men. We recognize that a well-fed Army is better prepared to do battle. Further, these soldiers are our own sons, and our neighbours’ sons, and they not only need but deserve the best we can give them.
The American fighting man today is well fed – wherever he is. The gigantic job of feeding him involves supplying one kind of ration for men in the Arctic, another for their comrades in the tropics, and an untold variety of meals for their fellow-troups who are stationed at intermediate points. The Quartermasters Corps purchases from 10,000, 000 to 12,000,000 pounds of food each day, and that in itself is a man-sized job. It begins to look more complicated when it is recalled that some of the men we must feed are 12,000 miles away; that others are engaged in unique types of duty where normal rations either cannot be supplied or else are unsuited to their requirements, and that even those engaged in normal troop duty are scattered throughout the 3,000,000 square miles that make up the United States.
The far-flung fronts of World War II complicate the Army supply problem as no other war in our history has done; they make this conflict primarily, as Hanson Baldwin said, a “quartermaster’s war.”
… The soldier at mess is not interested in the fact that we bought some 580,000 head of cattle last year, which is equivalent to a steer every fifty-four seconds. What does interest him is the roast beef on his plate. He gets plenty of it, well cooked. He won’t notice that he is eating more kinds of vegetables than he did back in his civilian days, nor will he realize that what is actually taking place is a revolution in his dietary habits. As a civilian he ate what he liked; in the Army he eats what he likes too, but he augments it with essential foods he never bothered to eat before.
… Master menus are prepared for each day of the month. They vary with the seasons and in accordance with what can be bought on the market. On this Sunday, your soldier in the Second Army Corps Area (New York, New Jersey and Delaware) will be eating three meals based on the menu that appears on this page.
To insure that every Army meal contains all the elements of a good diet, we have adopted the recommendations of the Nutrition Committee of the National Research Council as a minimum standard, and the master menu is so planned that each mess equals or exceeds these recommendations.
… In the main, the Army diet suits the American appetite. There is plenty of beef, poultry and pork for the heavy meal eater, plenty of apple pie and ice-cream, the favorite American desserts, and plenty of all the other food that most Americans enjoy. There are vegetables every day for the confirmed vegetarian, and fish is served as often as it is found on the average home table.

Oatmeal           Fresh Milk
Creamed ground beef on toast
Fried potatoes
Toast   Butter  Coffee
Vegetable soup
Roast fresh ham with raisin sauce
Boiled sweet potatoes             Creamed onions
Lettuce salad with Russian dressing
Bread             Butter
Ice Cream        Coffee
Italian spaghetti with meat sauce
Sliced cheese buttered broccoli
Apple-celery salad with mayonnaise
Bread              Butter
Gingerbread                Coffee

I doubt if basic Army cooking had changed much over the decades before WW II, so as the recipe for the day I give you a couple of no-frill ideas for cooking ham from the cookery manual used by Army cooks during the previous war - the United States War Department’s Manual for Army Cooks (1914.)

281. Ham, boiled (for 60 men).
Ingredients used:
20 pounds ham.
Wash and scrape the ham, removing any part that may be decayed; place in sufficient water to cover it and allow it to boil for one hour; remove from the range and allow to cool before taking from the water; slice and serve either hot or cold.
282. Ham, fried (for 60 men).
            Ingredients used:
            25 pounds ham.
Trim off most of the fat and slice thin: if salty, parboil; fry in its own grease in the oven or top of the range.

Appropriate for breakfast when served with eggs.

Friday, May 23, 2014

To Make a Pye to Keep Long.

In the days long before refrigeration, one way of keeping meat for a prolonged period was to bake it in a pie – a particular sort of pie that could be kept as long as “a twelvemonth” and was especially useful for provisioning long voyages and so on. It strikes horror into our hearts today, to think of a pie being kept without refrigeration for a year before being eaten, but it was an everyday practice for centuries, and most consumers presumably survived. One of the features of pies intended for long keeping was that they had an extremely thick, hard, rye-flour pastry shell which, if it was properly sealed and did not become damp or cracked, functioned as an air-tight container. The recipe below describes the process of making such a pie in some detail. It is from a book I have used as a source several times in the last week - Thomas Dawson’s A Booke of Cookerie. And the order of Meates to bee served to the Table … (1620.)

To make a pye to keep long

First perboyle your flesh and presse it, and when it is pressed, season it with Pepper and salt wile it is hot, then larde it, make your paste of Rie flower, it must be very thick or else it will not holde, wen it is seasoned and larded, lay it in your Pye, then cast on it before you close it a good deale of Cloves and Mace beaten small, and throw upon that a good deale of Butter, and so close it up, you must leave a hole in the top of the lid, and when it hath stood two houres in the Oven you must fill it as full of Vineger as you can, then stop the hole as close as you can with paste, and then set it into the Oven again, your Oven must be very hote as at first, and then your Pyes will keepe a great while, the longer you keepe them, the better they will bee: when they be taken out of the Oven and almost cold, you must shake them betweene your hands, and set them with the bottome upward, and when you set them into the Oven, take great heede that one pye touch not another by more then one hand bredth: Remember also to let them stand in the Oven after the Vineger be in two houres and more. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Queen Leonora dines in Brussels (1544)

I have a glimpse into the life of mid-sixteenth century European royalty for you today. My source is The Foreign Quarterly Review, Volume 11, published in 1833 – although the same piece appeared in several other journals of the same year.

We now turn to the miscellaneous matter in these volumes, consisting of extracts relative to the finances, military regulations, ceremonies, entertainments, &c. of those times, and of descriptions of Germany, Denmark and England, by Italians, at different epochs. From the more miscellaneous extracts we shall select what has, perhaps unreasonably, tickled our fancy, namely, an account of the eatables daily supplied for the use of Leonora, Queen of France, during a visit she paid to her brother Charles V at Brussels, in the year 1544, and then conclude with some of the Italian portraitures of northern countries.

“Queen Leonora received daily for her mouth (omitting vegetables, soups, pastry, and the like), 128 lbs. of beef, sheep, 1 calf, 2 swine, 2 fat capons, 18 fowls, 4 partridges, 2 woodcocks, 2 pheasants, 2 hares, 24 quails or turtle doves."
Perhaps the reader will conclude, as we did whilst reading the list, that this was an ample provision for her majesty’s whole household? Not at all: it was her private bill of fare, for here follows the allowance for her train.
“For the kitchen of the suite were daily supplied 2 oxen, 18 sheep, 3 calves, 12 swine, 60 capons, 48 fowls and pigeons, and 40 head of game.”

“Leonora” was Eleanor of Austria (1498 –1558.) She was born Archduchess of Austria and Infanta of Castile and via strategic marriages became firstly, Queen consort of Portugal and later, of France. She and her siblings virtually comprised the entire royal families of Europe at the time: her brothers were the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I, and her sisters Queen Isabella of Denmark, Queen Mary of Hungary, and Queen Catherine of Portugal. Perhaps luckily, she escaped marriage to Henry VIII of England when he chose her aunt (who also happened to be his brother’s widow,) Catherine of Aragon instead.

In honour of this royal pawn, I give you a right royal recipe from The Cookbook of Sabina Welserin (c. 1553.)

Wild game marinated in peppersauce

Boil fresh game in two parts water and one part wine, and when it is done, then cut it into pieces and lay it in a peppersauce. Let it simmer a while therein. Make [the sauce] so: Take rye bread, cut off the hard crust and cut the bread into pieces, as thick as a finger and as long as the loaf of bread is. Brown it over the fire, until it begins to blacken on both sides. Put it right away into cold water. Do not allow it to remain long therein. After that put it into a kettle, pour into it the broth in which the game was boiled, strain it through a cloth, finely chop onions and bacon, let it cook together, do not put too little in the peppersauce, season it well, let it simmer and put vinegar into it, then you have a good peppersauce.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Right Management of Oatmeal.

William Ellis (c1700-1758) was a farmer in Herefordshire, England, who became a prolific and popular writer on agriculture and rural domestic economy. In his book The Country Housewife's Family Companion (1750) he discussed oatmeal at some length. The short piece provides an interesting perspective on the importance of oatmeal to folk of the time – especially the ‘poorer sort’ – throughout Europe.
In Praise of Oatmeal.
Oats are so valuable a Pulse, that their Meal is made use of in many Nations. But I presume most of all in the northern Parts of Europe, where their Excellence is proved by growing where Wheat, Rye, and some other Sorts of Grain will not. And by its becoming a cheap, sweet, nourishing, wholesome Bread, preserves the Lives of Millions of People in sound Health. Six several Sorts of it may be made, every one finer than the other, as your Anacks, Janacks, and such like. There are also made of it both thick and thin Oatcakes, which are pleasant in Taste and much esteemed. But if it be mixt with very fine Wheat-meal, it maketh a most delicate dainty Oatcake; such that no Prince in the World but may have them served at his Table. And it i's on this Account that vast Numbers of them are toasted and consumed in Winter-time especially, for their agreeable Eating, as a Breakfast with Tea. Great and small Oatmeal mixed, with Blood and the Liver of either Sheep, Calf, or Swine, maketh that Black-pudding, which is well known and affected by most Men. Likewise from small Oatmeal is made that excellent, pleasant, cooling, wholesome Dish called Flummery: A Food so agreeable to all Constitutions, that Physicians have praised it for the best of Food to sick and well People, eaten with Honey, which is reputed the best Sauce, some Wine, either Sack, Claret, or White Wine, Beer, Ale, or Milk. And for the bigger Sort of Oatmeal called Greets or Grouts, many Sorts of Puddings are made, as the Black made with the Blood of Swine, Sheep, Geese, red or sallow Deer, or the like, mixt with Greets or whole Oatmeal, Suet, and wholesome Herbs. Or else white Puddings; when Greets are mixed with Cream, Eggs, Crums of Bread, Suet, Currants, and wholesome Spices stuft in Guts. Of both which Sorts many thousands are sold in Links at Market in a Year, and accommodates poor People with a Dinner at a cheap Rate; and is a Repast for the Rich, when these white Gut Puddings have Marrow mixed instead of Suet. Again, if you roast a Goose, and stop her Belly with whole Greets beaten together with Eggs, and afterwards mixt with the Gravey, there Ecnnot a more pleasant Sauce. Nay, if a Man be at Sea in a long Vo yge, he cannot eat a wholesomer and pleasanter Meal than these whole Greets boiled in Water till they burst, and then mixt with Butter, and so eaten with Spoons, which although formerly called Loblolly (now Burgoo) yet there is not any Meat, how insignificant soever the Name may be, that is more toothsome or wholesome; besides which, it will in a great Measure supply the Use of Rice. In short, the right Management of Oatmeal ought to be one of the chiefest Parts of our Housewife's Study and Care, for indeed no Family can be well thriftily maintained where this is either scanty or wanting, because both Poor and Rich generally Boil it with Meat, and make that Broth we call orridge, and the Poor throughout the Kingdom seldom boil one without the other; for it is to us as Rice is to the Indian, Sago to the Chinese, and Vermicelli to the Inhabitants of the Mediterranean Sea Coast, and is a Common Food for the Sick. The whole Kernels of Oats, called Grotes (says Mr. Houghton) with Milk, Butter, Spice, and Pennyroyal, make Oatmeal Puddings; but some put toss them Suet, Raisins, &c. With the Flower of Oatmeal, Water, and Yeast, are made Oatcakes, which are baked on a Stone, and at London are toasted, slit, butter'd, and eaten as Rarities: With Oatmeal, says he, is made Flummery, with Oatmeal is made Caudle for lying-in Women. In the mountainous Parts of Wales, and elsewhere, most of the Bread the ordinary People eat are oatcakes made in divers Forms, and they thrive well and live long with them. With malted Oats is made pale-colour’d small pleasant Ale, which pleases our Gentry much. I have heard, (continues Mr. Houghton) that the Scots use Oats in a great Degree in their Wars; with a Bag of Oatmeal and a Kettle they’ll sustain themselves a great while, and indeed it is a fit Corn for their Country, for that Oats may be sown and mow'd while the Sun is hot, when harder Corn requires a longer Time. Oats are not only the best Food for Horses, but will also feed Poultry, and make them lay good Store of Eggs. An Ox (says Mr. Markham) has been fed with them till he was sold for thirty Pounds, and Sheep, Goats, and Swine, to great Profit; the last in particular, he says, will fatter apace, if ground Oats are given them with Whey or Butter-milk: But then, as he observes, their Fat should be hardened with the Feed of some Pease besides; and in Case the Swine should be seized with Sickness, some Raddle, or what we call Red-Oker, should be mix'd now and then with their Meat. He also commends ground Oats thus served for sick Dogs and Poultry, and truly almost for every live Creature, thinking the same as useful as Salt.

Burgoo, its cheap Use in a poor Man’s Family.
One of my Day Labourers Wives, having four Children, is often necessitated to find out the cheapest and best Ways to make the daily Shilling go to the farthest. To this Purpose she often feeds them with Burgoo, by stirring some Water and a little Salt into a Quart of ground Oatmeal, that it boils about half an Hour. The longer it boils the thicker it comes; when she takes it up, she puts a little Bit of Butter amongst it, and eats it. This saves Bread and Milk, and is reckoned to go as far as a Pottle of Flower, as it is of a more satiating Nature, for this Quantity will give a hearty wholesome Dinner to a Man, his Wife and four Children, who eat it with a pleasing Appetite.

The Country Housewife's Family Companion (1750), by William Ellis

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Order of Meats on a Flesh Day.

The book which provided yesterday’s recipe, A Booke of Cookerie (1620) by Thomas Dawson, is a wonderful source of information about food and dining in the first decades of the seventeenth century. My favourite historical cookery books include sample menus for various seasons and events, and Dawson’s book is no exception. Many of the days of the year at that time were mandated as fish-days, so it was usual for cookery books to offer alternative menus for these days too.

Heere followeth the order of Meates,
how they must bee served at the
Services for Flesh dayes at Dinner.
The first Course.
Pottage or stewed broath, boyled meate or stewed meats, Chickins and Bacon, powdered Beefe, Pyes, Pigge Roasted, Beefe roasted Veale, Custard.
The second course.
Roasted Lambe, rosted Capons, roasted  Conyes, Chickens, Peahens, Baked Venison, Salt.
The first course at Supper.
A sallet, Pigges Petitoes, Powdered Beefe sliced, a Shoulder of Mutton, or a breast Veale, Lambe, Custard.
The second course.
Capons roasted, Conyes roasted, Chickins roasted, Pigions roasted, Larkes rosted, a Pye of Pigions or Chickins, Baked Venison, Tart.

The pigges’ petitoes (trotters) are my choice for the recipe for the day, and here it is, from the above book:
To boyle a Pigs Petitoes.

Take and boyle them in a pint of Vergice [Verjuice] and Mastard; take 4 Dates minced with a few small Raisins, then take a little Time [thyme] and chop it small and season it with a little Sinamon and Ginger, and a quantity of Vergice.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Tax Upon Your Fireplace.

When Charles II was restored to the throne of England in 1660, Parliament granted him annual income of £1,200,000. Unfortunately for the general public, this proved difficult to fund, even after a perpetual excise on ale and beer was instituted. Parliament’s solution in 1662 was to impose a type of property tax. It was determined that the number of hearths (fireplaces) in a dwelling indicated its approximate size - and, most importantly, was easy to measure, an appointed inspector merely had to count the number of chimneys on the building if he could not gain access. At this time of course, the fireplace was the only source of heating and cooking, so the impact was considerable. Needless to say, the tax was universally hated – the rich did not like what they saw as an invasion of their private business, and the poor by definition were already financially crippled.

The tax payable was 2 shillings per hearth per year, paid in two installments on the regular days for settling accounts – Michaelmas (29 September) and Lady Day (25 March.) One problem was that in the original system there was no distinction between owners and occupiers, nor were there any exemptions. As time went on, poor folk on parish help were exempted, as were some businesses, but the unpopularity (especially that amongst the powerful classes) and the Act was abolished in 1689. It was replaced in 1696 by the infamous Window Tax, which managed to last until 1851.

Over the centuries before stoves became an everyday feature of the most humble home, fuel was one of every household’s biggest concerns. Most cooking was done over or in front of an open fire, and most ordinary homes did not have ovens for bread and pies – the householder sent the dough to the local baker who, for a fee, put it in his oven after the commercial bread was removed.

The recipe I have chosen for you today comes from a book contemporary with the hearth tax. It is the work of Thomas Dawson, published in 1620 and delighting in the full title of A Booke of Cookerie. And the order of Meates to bee served to the Table, both for Flesh and Fish dayes. With many excellent ways for the dressing of all usuall sortes of meates, both Bak’t, boyld or rosted, of Flesh, fish, Fowle, or others, with their proper sawces. As also many rare Inventions in Cookery for made Dishes: with most notable preserves of sundry sorts of Fruits. Likewise for making many precious Waters, with divers approved Medicines for grievous diseasease.  With certaine points of Husbandry how to order Oxen, Horses, Sheepe, Hogges, &c. with many other necessary points for Husbandmen to know.

To boyle a Capon with sirrop.

Boyle your Capon in sweet broath, and put in grosse Pepper and whole Mace into the Capons belly and make your sirrop with Spinage, white wine, and Currans, Suger, Cinnamon and Ginger, and sweete Butter and so let them boyle, and when your Capon is ready to serve, put the sirrop on the Capon, and boyle your Spinage before you make your sirrop.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Chinese Dinner in High Life.

I have often found that searching for the answer to a little puzzle commonly leads to another little mystery. Such is the great joy of research. Today’s mystery began with a short piece in an Australian newspaper (Perth’s Sunday Times) of 1905. The article header read ‘My Chinese Dinner’, but no author was given, nor any details about the circumstances of the meal. 

My Chinese Dinner.
The table was set with twenty-two dishes, and lighted by ten large lanterns. Instead of being served in courses, the dishes were brought in one at a time, and passed to the guests severally, beginning with the most distinguished or with the eldest.
Here is a list of them;-
1.      Doves with mushrooms and split bamboo sprouts – delicious.
2.      Fat pork fritters (or something like fritters) – splendid.
3.      Pigeons’ eggs in meat broth, the whites hard but transparent – very good.
4.      Chinese birds’ nests with ham chips and bamboo sprouts (a mucilaginous dish) – excellent.
5.      Poultry, different kinds, cooked with mushrooms and bamboo sprouts – very agreeable.
6.      Duck with bamboo and lotus fruits, the fruits looking and tasting like an acorn without its cup – tolerably good.
7.      Hog’s liver fried in castor oil – bad.
8.      A Japanese dish of mussels with malodorous codfish and bacon – horrible.
9.      Sea crabs’ tails cooked in castor oil, with bits of bamboo and ham – would have been palatable but for the wretched oil.
10.  A star made of pieces of fowl, bacon, and dove, covered with white of eggs - very juicy.
11.  Slices of sea fish and sharks-fins, with bamboo and mushrooms – it was hard to tell what kind of dish it was, but it was not good.
12.  Giblets of poultry with morels – the morels helped the giblets down.
13.  Ham and cabbage – not particularly nice.
14.  A pause now ensued, during which pipes and tobacco were brought in. The pipes held about a thimbleful of tobacco – enough for two or three whiffs – and it kept one busy filling and lighting them.
15.  15. Land turtles with their eggs in castor oil – abominable.
16.  Ends of ham – good.
17.  Ham with sour cabbage – no delicacy.
18.  Stale eggs (these eggs had been kept one month in salt, and two months in moist earth.) The whites looked like moist sugar and were transparent. The yolks had a greenish color, and the embryos appeared dark, rolled together and perfectly unrecognizable – a terrible dish.
Dessert – Conserve of sitzon, a red fruit that looks like a shadberry, and tastes like a kind of currant – good. Dark green fruit having oval seeds like those of the plum, preserved in brandy – good. A green oval fruit with a long, hard seed, resembling a large green olive, but sharp and sour, and disagreeable to the European taste.
Light cakes – very fine. Nuts, almonds, and castor-oil seeds, roasted and candied with sugar – good, even to the castor-oil seeds. Macaroni, with sesame seeds, and three-cornered cakes covered with castor-oil seeds – passable.
Various bon-bons, very moderate; baked lichis. The lichi is the finest of Chinese fruits, having a white flesh with the taste of the best grapes – excellent. Shaddocks and Mandarin oranges – good.
The only drinks were tea, very weak and without sugar, and samion, a rich wine which is drunk hot like tea, and is wretched stuff.

Two things in this article jumped out at me. One was the unlikelihood that the oil which was so unpleasant to the writer was actually castor oil (it wasn’t, was it?) The other was the fruit called ‘sitzon.’ A search for this in the usual places showed that the article above was the only source for the word – in several papers published in 1886. The meal had clearly been taken in about 1886, and was repeated verbatim in the Australian newspaper of 1905 without any contextual information, but with nothing in the intervening years as far as I have been able to discover so far.

The article actually appeared in a number of magazines and papers in 1886 and 1887, so it was obviously deemed to be of interest to readers of the time. The only other clue to the circumstances of the meal was given in several of these publications, and it read simply:

A Chinese Dinner in High Life. A member of a Bremen trading-house lately had the honor of taking dinner with a Chinese magnate in Pekin, and has given an appetizing description of the feast. (Popular Science Monthly of February, 1886)

If you have any mad guesses as to why an article about an event in 1886 would be re-published in 1905, don’t be shy, shout them out!

And if you have any clue what sitzon might be please do let us all know in the comments!

As the recipe for the day, I give you a little something from a piece entitled ‘Be your own Chinese Chef’ in the Western Champion (Parkes, NSW) of 2nd December 1932.

Chinese Chicken Soup.
For Chinese chicken soup, use one and one-half cupfuls of raw chicken run through the meat grinder eight times. Cover with five cupfuls of cold water and add two teaspoonfuls of salt or soy sauce and let it stand a half our; bring to the boiling point and add a quarter of a cupful of sage; cook gently for 20 minutes; add one-third cupful of thinly sliced celery, one cupful cooked mushrooms and very gently stir in one well-beaten egg to make the tiny yellow shreds characteristic of Chinese soups. Garnish each serving with a sprinkling of ground cooked ham.

P.S. See a previous post A Grand “Chinese” Dinner in Paris, 1858.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Serving up Sage.

Yesterday’s recipe using clary got me thinking about the other varieties of sage, and made me realise how little blog space I have allocated to the Salvia genus so far.

The name ‘Salvia’ derives from the Latin salvere, the verb related to salus, which means health (and prosperity and salvation,) and signifies the reputed medicinal benefits of the plants. In The Universal Library Or, Compleat Summary of Science, by Henry Curzon, published in 1712, the author says that “Sage comforts the Sinews, is good against Trembling, and dryeth Humours.”

If you suffer from uncomfortable sinews or the trembles, perhaps a little Sage Wine would help?

Sage Wine, very good.
To twenty-eight Pounds of Malaga Raisins pick’d and shred, have twenty-eight Quarts of Spring-water well boil’d, but let it be cool as Milk from the Cow, before you put in the Raisins; then put in half a Bushel of Red Sage, grossly shred; stir all together and let it stand six Days, stirring it very well every Day, and cover it as close as you can; then strain it off, and pour it into your Vessel; it will soon be fine, but you may add two Quarts of Sack or White-wine to fine it; Raisins of the Sun will do as well as Malaga, if they cannot be had.
A Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery: For the Use of All Good Wives, Tender Mothers, and Careful Nurses (1734)
by Mary Kettilby.

And if wine, why not cheese? The following recipe also uses red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza.)

To make a plain sage cheese.
Bruise the tops of young red sage in a mortar, till you can press the juice out of them; bruise likewise some leaves of spinach or spinage, and having squeez'd out the juice, mix it with that of sage to render it of a pleasant green colour, which the juice of the sage alone will not make it, and this will also allay the bitter taste of the sage.
Having prepar'd the juice put the rennet to the milk, and at the same time mix with it as much of the sage, &c. juice as will give the milk the green colour you desire, putting in more or less of the sage juice to that of the spinage juice according as you would would have the cheese taste stronger or weaker of the sage.
When the curd is come, break it gently, and when it is all equally broken, put it into the cheese-vat or mote and press it gently, and the gentle pressing will make it eat tender and mellow, when on the contrary the pressing of it hard will make it eat, hard; when it has stood in the press about eight hours it must be tasted.
The London and Country Cook: Or, Accomplished Housewife (1749) by Charles Carter.

Common, or Garden Sage is, of course, a fine traditionally flavouring for all manner of meat dishes. Here, from the book mentioned above, The Universal Library Or, Compleat Summary of Science (1712) is a fine example:

To Boyle a Leg of Veal and Bacon.

Lard your Leg of Veal with Bacon all over, with a little Lemon-Peel amongst it; then boyl it with a piece of Middle Bacon; when the Bacon is boyled, let it be cut in Slices, Season it with Pepper and Dried Sage mixed together; Dish up your Veal with Bacon round about it. Let it be sent up with Saucers of Green Sauce, and strew over it Parsley and Barberries.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Bill of Fare for May, in 1737.

Yesterday I gave you a recipe for fresh vermicelli from one of my favourite eighteenth century sources. I have to admit that part of the reason I love this book is on account of its title, which, in full, is:

The Whole Duty of a Woman, or, An Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex. Containing Rules, Directions, and Observations, for Their Conduct and Behavior Through All Ages and Circumstances of Life, as Virgins, Wives, Or Widows. With Direction, how to obtain all Useful and Fashionable Accomplishments suitable to the Sex. In which are comprised al Parts of Good Housewifry, particularly Rules and Receipts in Every Kind of Cookery.(1737)

Another reason for particularly enjoying this book is that it contains recommendations for bills of fare for every month in the year – and menus are one of my favourite themes, as you know.  Dinners of any degree of importance whatsoever were at this time arranged in two courses, with each containing both sweet and savoury dishes, with the finer and more elegant dishes appearing in the second course. All dishes for each course were placed on the table in a strictly balanced and hierarchical arrangement – the intention being to create an impressive spectacle as guests entered the dining room. At the end of the first course, all food was removed and the table was re-set with the second-course dishes.

Bearing in mind that this was a Northern hemisphere publication, and it was therefore Springtime, here is the recommended bill of fare for the month of May.

First Course.
Sorrel Soop with Eggs.
Rice Soop.
Briscuit of Beef a la Chalo.
Carp au Court Bouillon.
Olio in a Terrine.
Fricasey of Rabbits.
Breast of Veal ragoo'd.
Beans and Bacon.
Ham and Chickens.
Roast Mutton, with Regalia of Cucumbers. 
Second Course.
Turky Polts.
Green Apricock Tart.
Four Chickens, two larded.
Green Pease.
Artichoke Bottoms with Cream.
Pheasants with Eggs.
Green Geese.
Clary with Eggs.
Morels a la Cream.

Many of the dishes on this menu appear in previous posts on this blog – I have linked to some of them in the menu above, as you will see. I would dearly love to have given you the recipe for ‘Briscuit of Beef a la Chalo’, but this is not included in the book, and has so far proved elusive. Instead I give you a delightful dish of herb fritters, and as a bonus, some artichoke bottoms in cream.

Clary is Salvia sclarea, or Clary Sage. The genus Salvia belongs in the very widespread and prolific mint family. Many species are cultivated as pot herbs, including the common sage (Salvia officinalis.)

Clary fry’d with Eggs.
Wash, pick, and dry your Clary with a Cloth; then beat up the Yolks of six Eggs with a little Flour and Salt, make the Batter light, then dip in every Leaf and fry them singly, and send them up quick and dry.

Artichoke Bottoms with Cream.

Get Artichoke Bottoms, boil them in Water, and when they are boiled, toss them up with Butter in a Stew-pan, then put to them some Cream, with a Bunch of C[h]ives and parsley; thicken your Sauce with the Yolk of an Egg, and put in a little Salt and Nutmeg. Serve them in Plates or Dishes.