Wednesday, August 05, 2015

How They Cook in Cuba, Part 2 (1898.)

My search for a ‘Cuban’ recipe for yesterday’s post turned up an interesting piece in the Cambridge Tribune [Mass.] of September 10, 1898. The writer in this case appears to be a New Englander, and his or her (the author is not named) travel experiences were at the much more comfortable, more well-to-do end of the scale. The writer also has a quite different view of the use of garlic in Cuban cuisine at that time compared with the traveler quoted in yesterday’s post. As a bonus, the article includes several recipes, although one of them demonstrates the perils of copy-editing in the short going-to-press time of a daily newspaper.

Curious Details of their Menus — Coffee Growing Handy in the Courtyards
- A Rice Casserole.
The kitchens of the Cubans are always either in the courtyard back of the house or on the roof. Unlike the Irish, they never dream of making the kitchen a sitting or dining room. And unlike the Americans they do not cook three times a day. Twice a day the Cuban servant or housewife goes to her kitchen and does her cooking: at ten o'clock, to cook the breakfast which is served at eleven, and about six o'clock to cook the dinner which is served at eight. In the morning, at six or seven o'clock, coffee is served, though for this purpose the kitchen is not used. The coffee is cooked in a French coffee pot on the sideboard of the dining room. And as for coffee, nowhere in the world, Paris and the German cities Included, do they make such excellent Coffee as that made by the Cubans. They use the coffee grown on the island, and oftentimes the housewife picks the beans from a coffee-bed in her courtyard, just as we would pick green peas in our own gardens. Cuban coffee is very black and strong, but never muddy like the Turkish. The coffee bean is usually cheap, and plentiful, and the Cuban cook has learned that, to make good coffee and not brown water, he must not be sparing of the raw material. He never allows less than a full tea cup of ground coffee to a pint of water. At breakfast, at every place, stands a bottle of red Bordeaux or Catalonian wine which is drank as freely as water. The food is usually abundant and nourishing. After breakfast, and not with it, coffee is served. At breakfast they have the inevitable honey and fruit and eggs, this last being cooked in styles about the same as in the States. In addition, a favorite breakfast dish is a small tenderloin steak served with sliced fried potatoes, a most palatable dish, for which Dr. Erastus Wilson, one of the foremost physicians of Havana and an epicure, gave me the following recipe: "Have some small tenderloin steaks cut and well trimmed; broil them over a good quick fire for eight or ten minutes. Half an hour before broiling prepare some very fine sliced potatoes, wash and dry them well, season with salt and pepper and put in well buttered tartelette molds about the size of the steaks. Put some melted butter over the potatoes and cook them in a slow oven for about twenty-five or thirty- minutes. When cooked, turn from the mold on a warm dish and dress the broiled tenderloin steaks on top. Prepare a colbert sauce as follows: Melt two tablespoons of beef extract in a small saucepan: when hot, add by degrees a quarter of a pound of butter, so that you will get a nice light brown sauce, add a small pinch of red pepper, a teaspoonful of chopped parsley and the juice of half a lemon. Wash and slice a few fresh mushrooms: cook them in butter and add to the sauce. Pour all this over the small tenderloin steaks and potatoes and serve hot." This seems like a very elaborate recipe, and yet the Cubans have used it for so many years that, to them, it seems as simple as one of our own household recipes. Of course, in any part of the world and particularly in Cuba, where fresh beef is scarce, tenderloin steaks are only for the well-to-do. The poorer people do as little cooking as possible, living chiefly on the natural products of their rich soil. Any able-bodied man with n few square feet of land at his disposal, even in the cities, can raise enough for his family, at any time of the year. He can raise bananas, yams, tamarinds, Indian corn, pineapples, cocoa, oranges, coffee, plantains or any of the many delicious fruits or nutritious vegetables common to Cuba. The island has ninety different kinds of rice, which the natives cook in almost ninety different ways. In Cuba, rice grows in the water or it grows on dry land: some varieties come to maturity in three months, others not for four or six months. Besides the ordinary ways of cooking rice in puddings, curries and so on, the Cubans have a dish of their own, Rice Casserole. It is usually served as an entree. Its ingredients, sufficient to fill a moderate sized casserole, are a pound of rice, two pints of weak stock, two slices of fat ham, and one teaspoonful of salt. The casserole, when ready, is used, of course, as a border for ragouts, and fricassees. Translated from the Spanish, the Cuban recipe for this dish is: "After having washed the rice in water two or three times, drain it well and put it in a stew pan with the stock, ham, and salt; cover the pan and let the rice gradually swell over a slow fire occasionally stirring to prevent its sticking. When it is quite soft strain it, pick out the pieces of ham, and with the back of a large wooden spoon, mush the rice into perfectly smooth paste. Then well grease a mold and turn it upside down for a minute or two to drain, then put some rice all around the bottom and sides of it, place [text missing here] cover it with rice; press it in equally with the spoon, and let it cool. Then dip the mold into hot water, turn the casserole carefully on a dish, mark where the lid is to be formed on the top by making an incision with the point of a knife about an inch from the edge all around, and put it in a very hot oven. Brush it over with a little butter, and bake about half an hour, or rather longer. Then carefully remove the lid which will be formed by the incision having been made all around, remove the bread [not previously mentioned in the ingredients – presumably is intended to maintain the hollow in the middle of the rice mould] in small pieces with the point of a knife, being careful not to injure the casserole. Fill the centre with the ragout or fricassee, which should be made thick; put on the cover, glaze it, place it in the oven to set the glaze. Serve as hot as possible. With Cubans, the favorite birds are geese, turkeys, peacocks and pigeons, Peacocks, of course, are served only at the best hotels and in the houses  of the rich. But goose is an ordinary dish, just as chicken is ordinary in New England. The Cuban rule, in cooking a goose, is: "Split the goose down the back, beat it well, cook it with a little onion, chopped fine and partly cooked, a glass of Sauterne boiled down with thyme and bay leaf. Moisten with melted butter and season well. Cover the goose with a thick layer of bread crumbs, Let it brown, basting frequently, Put in melted butter and some mushrooms; add to the goose and let all simmer." The Cubans also have a way of cooking pigeons that might well be copied in this country. Here is their favorite way of cooking the delicious birds which are so plentiful there: "Dry, pluck, singe and divide six pigeons in halves. Season with cayenne and lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt, und set them aside until wanted. Next, slice up an onion and fry it in butter to a light brown, throw in a tablespoon of flour, some chopped parsley, a little garlic on the point of a knife, a little grated nutmeg, and half a pint of white wine: stir the whole over the fire to boil about ten minutes. A pudding dish should be lined with a thin crust of suet paste, the pigeon and sauce put in and the whole covered with paste: steam for an hour and a half and turn out carefully." There seems to be a prevailing idea among Americans that Cuban cooks use a great deal of garlic. Of course, garlic is not entirely a foreign matter in Cuban food, but still it is not used so universally as Americans suppose. During all my stay in Cuba, eating here and there in hotels and private houses, good, bad and fair, I did not once notice the presence of garlic. And as for grease, the Cubans use it, in cooking, only when absolutely necessary. At any farm kitchen in the New England or Middle States I have had to eat a great deal more grease than at any of the haciendas in Cuba. As a rule. Cubans do not like to cook, but they usually cook intelligently. They always boil their milk. You seldom find a Cuban drinking milk "raw." The reason for this is their fear of drinking anything, even water, that has been or is exposed to air loaded with elements of contagion. With all their dislike of cooking, the Cubans can never be accused of a want of variety in the preparation of vegetables, game, meats or desserts. On the menu card of my last dinner at the Inglaterra Hotel in Havana, that card being now before me, I find that the hotel cook, who was neither a Frenchman nor a Spaniard, but just a plain Cuban, had prepared ten different soup's, fish in twelve different forms, seven side-dishes, twelve kinds of relishes, a choice of nine entries, five boiled meats and ten roasts, eleven different cooked vegetables, nine salads, and twelve kinds of dessert. The Cubans are adepts in pastry, but they never make pies. In making puddings and cakes for dessert they use principally oranges, bananas, figs and lemons. The most homely dessert, and the favorite with Cuban housewives, is something like our custard, only a great deal sweeter and, I am bound to say, more tasty, and more substantial. The Cubans call this dessert "flam.” As I have said, it is made like our custard or our cornstarch, only it is flavored with just the right quantity of lemon, or orange, or banana, and, last, with a dash of red or white wine. Everybody in Cuba from the captain-general in his palace to the negro scullery maid in the kitchen eats "flam" for dinner and "monte  cardo" (ice cream) before going to bed. The ice cream, by the way, is sent in from pastry shops in the evening, just as the bread rolls are sent in every morning for breakfast.

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