As most of you know, one of my favourite themes is that of mock food. I hasten to add that I never (or maybe almost never) want to actually prepare it or eat it, but I find it fascinating nonetheless.
One of the things that intrigues me about mock food is the motive for making it. In medieval times mock food played an important role during Lent, when elaborate look-alikes for animal foods were made to fill the groaning tables of the wealthy. Mock food was also one of the important forms of ‘subtelty’ – elaborate, fantastical, sculptural pieces somewhere between food and entertainment that were paraded around the hall between courses to impress the guests or impart a message of propaganda.
In more recent times, the preparation of mock food has been motivated by rather more prosaic reasons – nostalgia for a food remembered but not available because of distances in time and geography, or perhaps hard economic reality when the desire for an expensive dish does not match the household budget. I would like to think also – for fun?
I do always wonder, when I see a story or recipe for mock food, were the guests fooled? Was that the intention?
I found a recipe for the ultimate mock food recently, in a copy of Camouflage cookery; a book of mock dishes (1918) by Helen Watkeys Moore. Would you try to fool your guests with this nice little pre-dinner canapé?
Mock Pâté de Foie Gras Sandwiches.
Mix boneless sardines and cream cheese to a smooth paste
and spread between slices of bread.
And to go along with it, how about this tasty mock champagne?
To make Imitative Champagne.
Take twelve pounds of loaf sugar;
Six pounds of sugar candy;
Two ounces of tartaric acid;
Six quarts of cider, perry, or gooseberry wine;
One quart of French brandy;
Ten gallons of spring-water: Boil the water and sugar fifteen minutes, skim this clean, then put it into a narrow tub, and dissolve in it the tartaric acid: before it is cold, add some yeast to ferment it; draw it from the tub into any clean vessel; add the other ingredients, with a quarter of an ounce of isinglass dissolved in vinegar; stir the liquid well, and when the hissing is over bung it down tight; keep it in a cold place four or five months, then bottle it and keep it cool two months longer; add a lump of fine sugar to each bottle, and cork in the Champagne fashion.
Martin Doyle’s Common things of Every-day Life (1857)