Wednesday, September 30, 2015
One of the intriguing offshoots of the period of European colonization was the establishment of Acclimatisation Societies. The idea was to enrich the fauna and flora of both the colonizing and the colonized countries by a process of import/export and – well, acclimatization of the said flora and fauna. This is the official explanation for the formation of Acclimatisation Societies. It is difficult to avoid the impression that an important secondary was to provide an excuse for prolonged dinners featuring novel dishes prepared from the imported exotic fauna (and to a lesser extent, the flora.)
In a previous post some time ago I gave you the menu of the second annual Dinner of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria [Australia] in 1864. Today I give you a description of some of the highlights of the Acclimatisation Society of Britain in 1863. My source is an article in the Spectator of 4 July of that year.
“The annual dinner of the Acclimatisation Society was held at St. James's Hall on Wednesday. Our modern explorers and wild hunters were well represented, Captains Speke and Grant, M. du Chaillu and Mr. Grantley Berkely all being present. The dinner comprised all kinds of strange food - conger-eel soup, ostriches' eggs, "poulets de l'emancipation des negres "—there is some chance of emancipation becoming fashionable after this—frogs dressed like chickens, bear's ham, sand grouse, "bourgoul" from the Lebanon, and many other novelties were cautiously partaken of. Some of them seem, however, to have possessed but little charm besides that of novelty, for Mr. Bernal Osborne declared flatly that he would rather starve than eat conger-eel soup. The chairman, in calling attention to the more important objects of the Society, reminded the members that there was a time when the only vegetable grown in England was the cabbage, when wheat was unknown, and the only trees in our forests were the oak and the beech.”
The dish that stood out for me in this meal description was the bourghul, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “In the Middle East: wheat which has been cooked, dried, and then crushed; cracked wheat.” The first reference in the English language given by the OED is given as appearing in 1764: “Burgle is wheat boiled, then bruised by a mill, so as to take the husk off, then dryed and kept for use.”
I hoped to find some early recipes for burghul in nineteenth century texts, but so far have not succeeded. In lieu of a real cookery book recipe, I give you the following description of the method of preparation in Syria in the 1850’s, as described by a contributor to The Home friend, a weekly miscellany of amusement and instruction, by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge:
“The [peasant] wife now separates from the wheat so much of it as has to be converted into burghul, and having done this, she proceeds to make her burghul. First and foremost this wheat has to be well washed; and the easier to accomplish this the family generally encamp for a few days under some tree on the borders of the nearest stream. Here mats are spread; the wheat is carefully washed by the hand, and then spread out to dry on the mats: when perfectly dry, it is boiled in immense iron boilers till each grain attains to nearly double its size. This is then thoroughly dried again in the sun; then the husband places it in sacks, and carries it off to burghul mills, erected expressly for this purpose. Here the boiled grain is ground into gritty substances of two very different dimensions; the larger, coarser-ground grains are placed in a sack, and that portion which is ground much finer is placed in another; the former only serves for making kubays [an entirely Arab dish, of which the Syrians are very fond, and which consists of a species of forced meat ball, made of suet and meat cut very fine, and mixed with red chillies, onions, garlic, salt and pepper; the whole is then bruised on a flat stone till it assumes the substance of paste; this is then formed into oval balls, and is either fried in butter or simply boiled, or else boiled in a soup composed of curdle-cream, cabbage, sour grapes, and the kubas]; the latter is used in pillaufs, or simply boiled like rice. Sometimes the kubay is baked in tin squares in ovens, and then to those who are unaccustomed to such a dainty, it has much the same effect as chewing a mouthful of hard gravel. Of the remaining wheat, one-half is immediately ground into flour for bread, &c., and the other half remains to be ground as it may be wanted, some portion of it being occasionally boiled with meat, and seasoned with onions and pepper, which is another dish to which the Syrians are much addicted.”
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Earlier this month I gave a recipe for Almond Faggots, and the name intrigued me a great deal, and I have been meaning to explore the topic further ever since. I was intrigued because where I grew up, in the North of England, a “faggot” was about as far as you can get from a delicate almond biscuit. It was identical in concept if not in form to a Scottish haggis - a robust, savoury block or ball of offal (organ meat, most commonly from pork) mixed with a filler such as oatmeal or breadcrumbs, ideally flavoured with various herbs, and traditionally served with a side of mushy peas. Faggots were street-food for the labouring poor, and were sometimes enobled by them with the name of “ducks”, in the same way as cheese on toast became “Welsh Rabbit.”
The faggot may perhaps be better understood and appreciated via some nineteenth century definitions and descriptions:
1851: Henry Mayhew, in his London Labour and the London Poor references it thus:
“He ... made his supper … on ‘fagots’. This preparation … is a sort of cake, roll, or ball, ... made of chopped liver and lights, mixed with gravy, and wrapped in pieces of pig's caul.”
1858: George Augustus Sala in Journey due North refers to them as:
“The curious viands known in cheap pork-butchery … as Faggots.”
1861: The Slang Dictionary Or the Vulgar Words, Street Phrases, and Fast Expressions of High and Low Society Many with Their Etymology, and a Few with Their History Traced by John Camden Hotten gives an interesting insight into the etymology with its definition of a faggot as:
“ … a bundle of bits of the “stickings” (hence probably its name) sold for food to the London poor. It is sometimes called a DUCK. In appearance it resembles a Scotch “haggis.” FAG-END of a. thing, the inferior or remaining part, the refuse. FAGOT:, a. term of opprobrium used by low people to children and women; “you little FAGOT, you!” FAGOT was originally a term of contempt for a dry, shrivelled old woman, whose bones were like a, bundle of sticks, only fit to burn—Compare the French expression for a heretic, sentir le fagot.
1872: A contributor to All the Year Round, a periodical edited by Charles Dickens, included a short description of faggots in a piece which firmly places it in its nineteenth century social and historical perspective:
"Late on certain evenings the nostrils of the wanderer in Newport Market are assailed by an odour of exceeding savouriness. This hunger-compelling scent proceeds from a singular dish called "faggots," all hot—round lumps compounded, it is believed, chiefly of the interior organs of animals, highly seasoned; the faggot is, indeed, a sort of degenerate Southern imitation of the Scottish national dish, haggis. Hungry children crowd round the steaming dishes of brown and savoury spheres, greedily inhaling the delightful odour, while those happy in the accidental possession of "browns," rush to gratify their appetites in more substantial fashion. Under the flaring gas-lights slipshod girls, carrying basins hidden under their pinafores, bear off triumphantly their supper to the poor home, where probably even such slender meals as "faggots" afford are somewhat scarce."
Here is a recipe for a rather posh version of faggots for those of you who love pig offal:
“Crepinettes”— Baked Faggots.A pound and a half of calf's or pig's liver, minced fine, as also half a pound of fresh fat pork, and an onion, must be steamed over a slow fire, with a little thyme, sage, basilicum, salt, and pepper, for half an hour. It must not brown. Drain all the fat away, and when the mince is cool, mix in by degrees three well-beaten eggs, and grated or fine breadcrumbs enough to bind it; add a grate of nutmeg, and mix thoroughly. Form round balls of the mass; fold each in a piece of pig's caul; or, without this, lay the balls close together in a buttered dish or stew-pan, moisten them with well-seasoned gravy, cover, and let them bake slowly till done a pale brown, but not dried. They should be glazed with rich gravy stock.
German National Cookery for English Kitchens (1873) by Chapman and Hall.
Monday, September 28, 2015
The Ichthyophagous Club was started in New York in 1880. According to an article in the New York Times in July 1881, the club “was organized ostensibly to eat novel and entertaining fish. Its founders professed to believe that there are as good fish in the sea as have ever been put in the frying-pan, and they proposed to demonstrate this by eating fish that had hitherto being looked upon as inedible.”
The annual dinner of the Ichthyophagous Club in 1885 was held at the Hotel Buckingham on October 21st. There were certainly some marine creatures placed before the club members at the annual dinner in 1885 which are not commonly seen on bills of fare:
-- Fin de Graves
Extract of Razor Clams
Bisque of Star Fish
Radishes Celery Olives Royal Sherry
Squid, Fried [Chondopterygien]
Winkles, Burgundy Fashion
Sea Spider Crab a l’Infernal Liebfraumilch
Cray Fish du Potomac
Cucumbers Hollandaise Potatoes
Skate, Cream Sauce [Acandopterygien]
Crevalle a la Marsellaise.
Sea Robins, Bakes a l’Amphitrite
Salmon [Royal Fish,] Parisian Style Pontet Carnet
Buisson of Lobster, Tartare Sauce
Filet of Beef
Mushrooms and Tomatoes Farcies French Peas
Stewed Terrapin, Buckingham Style
Broiled Teal Duck G.H. Mumm’s
Lobster Salad Crab Salad Lettuce Salad
Neapolitan Ice Cream Fruit Jelly Assorted Cakes
Fancy Pyramide Fruit Cheese
I would like to have given you a recipe for the bisque, but sadly I was unable to find anything at all made from starfish.
Skate or Bale au Naturel.
Pare and cut off the fins from half a skate weighing four pounds the half; divide it into six square pieces, wash them well, being very careful to scrape it with a sharp knife, so as to remove the mucus adhering to it. Put the pieces into a saucepan in which are already placed one sliced carrot, one onion, half a bunch of parsley- roots, one sprig of thyme, two bay-leaves, half a handful of whole peppers, plenty of salt — at least a handful — and half a cupful of vinegar. Cover it well with water, boil on a moderate fire for forty-five minutes, then take it off and lift up the pieces of skate with a skimmer; lay them on a table, and remove the skin from both sides; place them on a deep dish, and strain the stock slowly over, and use, whenever needed, with any kind of sauce desired.
The table: how to buy food, how to cook it, and how to serve it;
by Alexander Filipini (New York, 1895.)
Friday, September 25, 2015
I do love a good travel-food story, as many of you know. Most of the stories that I use as starting-points for posts on this topic come from British travellers of the past who were usually as unstinting in their condemnation as they were reluctant in their praise of the food they were subjected to while ‘abroad.’
Today I am going to turn the tables and give several visitors to Britain an opportunity to give an opinion on the food they experienced in that country. The stories come second-hand, via Michael Demiashkevich, the author of the impressively-titled The National Mind: English, French, German, (American Book Company, 1938). The front matter of the book tells us that the writer is a ‘Graduate of the Imperial Historic-Philosophical Institute (Petrograd), Officier d’Académie, Professor at George Peabody College,’ so he is a well-travelled man himself.
It has been remarked that the English have fifty religions and only one sauce, but a Spanish visitor credits them with not even one sauce:
"England is a country that eats without sauce and gelatin … The Englishmen eat much, but as they eat simple food they do not puzzle the taste and never eat more than what their stomach needs. On the other hand, the English do not have any taste. The English meal that is so practical, has a number of absurd things. I cannot yet understand why they do put their jelly to the omelette and syrup to the kidneys. The first time that they served me an omelette in this way I protested respectfully.
“Is it that you do not like jelly?” the waitress asked me.
“'Yes, I like it very much.”
“Then, do you not like omelette?”
“Yes, I do also.”
“Then undoubtedly you must like jelly omelette?”
“That is the English logic. I was convinced, but my stomach remained skeptic.”
While in France eating is an art and drinking a noble rite, only Englishmen of continental culture may be expected to appreciate good food and drink. These sporadic sybarites merely go to prove the corrupting influence of less manly nations. The downright Britisher, in the words of Mr. H. A. Vachell, "detests fancy cooking and all kickshaws." In the words of the same commenter, "he disdains dietetic experiments; he eyes distrustfully all dishes unfamiliar to him."
The average Englishman is, in matters of food, well represented by the English skippers who were called to Paris in 1904 to give evidence before an international commission upon the action of the Russian fleet, which had inadvertently fired upon English fishing boats at Dogger Bank. The skippers complained to an English journalist who visited them at their headquarters in Paris:
“Them Frenchies started giving us a lot of little bits of things to eat. They started giving us a thin sort of broth with little white worms in it. So we took and flung all the lot straight out of the windows. "Give us beef and mutton," we says to that there interpreter, and he passes on the word. ‘So, in Paris,' concludes the chronicler, 'that center of culinary art, beef and mutton they got, and what Paris thought of such a reproach I did not hear.”
In a case so grave let us call in another witness, whose study of English inns marks him as an expert:
"It was, I think, the innkeeper who discovered that a tin can be opened in a few seconds, who started the trouble. From shirking his kitchen-business by tin-opening, he sank to shirking other departments. He neglected to welcome his guests, or even to see that they were welcomed by one of his hirelings. From that he has sunk to practical jokes to putting in his bedrooms bells that do not ring, or bells that do ring and are never answered. He has discovered that one kind of soup will do for his customers, and it does. He gives it different names, but it is always the same soup. He has fish in his bill of fare, but from my collection of bills of fare I gather that the waters of this island afford no other fish than sole and plaice. The same with cheese. Last week, at the end of one of these mortifying lunches, hoping that I might yet get something to eat, I asked the maid what cheese they had. She said 'Cheese.’ I said, 'Yes, but what cheese - Stilton, Camembert, Roquefort, Cheshire, or - ' ' No, sir. Only Cheese.’
"A French innkeeper is delighted to meet a guest who discusses the carte intelligently, and orders a special and sensibly-planned meal; it is a demonstration of mutual interest in one of the graces of life. An English innkeeper positively dislikes such a guest, and sees nothing in him but a man who is disturbing the routine of tin-opening."
Mr. Vachell sadly and not without an undertone of irritation concludes that "Englishmen get the food they deserve." "It is shockingly bad," he testifies, "in most inns and hotels out of the big cities; and is it pathos or bathos to record that for the most part [native] tourists believe it to be good? When I wrote on this subject some years ago a gentleman from the Antipodes took exception to what I said. He replied that he had travelled from John o' Groats to Land's End, staying in many hotels, and that he had found the food provided better than what he had at home." In this connection, Mr. Vachell quotes the following epigram:
"The French have taste in all they do,
Which we are quite without,
For Nature, that to them gave gout,
To us gave only gout."
M. Poincare remarked of Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales, on the occasion of his visit to the Marquis de Breteuil in 1913: "A young man of remarkable self-restraint, he showed disdainful indifference to the excellent cuisine.”
It is a fact almost without precedent in history that the English ruling classes, the aristocracy, whether hereditary or monetary, have never become victims of sybaritism. The ruling classes of Greece and of Rome fell to this temptation; so have the ruling classes of the European Continent. But even when their incomes were highest and their positions appeared indefinitely secure, the ruling classes of Britain practiced a non-hedonistic or only moderately hedonistic conception of comfort.
Well, there you have it. Please don’t hold back your comments.
The recipe for the day is an obvious choice, once the American ‘jelly’ (the source book is American) is translate to the English ‘jam’! From Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861):
OMELETTE AUX CONFITURES, or JAM OMELET.
Ingredients.—6 eggs, 4 oz. of butter, 3 tablespoonfuls of apricot, strawberry, or any jam that may be preferred.
Mode.—Make the omelet by recipe No. 1459*, only instead of doubling it over, leave it flat in the pan. When quite firm, and nicely brown on one side, turn it carefully on to a hot dish, spread over the middle of it the jam, and fold the omelet over on each side; sprinkle sifted sugar over, and serve very quickly. A pretty dish of small omelets may be made by dividing the batter into 3 or 4 portions, and frying them separately; they should then be spread each one with a different kind of preserve, and the omelets rolled over. Always sprinkle sweet omelets with sifted sugar before being sent to table.
Time.—4 to 6 minutes. Average cost, Is. 2d.
Sufficient for 4 persons. Seasonable at any time.
*The recipe referred to is:
TO MAKE A PLAIN SWEET OMELET.
Ingredients. —6 eggs, 4 oz. of butter, 2 oz. of sifted sugar.
Mode.—Break the eggs into a basin, omitting the whites of 3; whisk them well, adding the sugar and 2 oz. of the butter, which should be broken into small pieces, and stir all these ingredients well together. Make the remainder of the butter quite hot in a small frying pan, and when it commences to bubble, pour in the eggs, &o. Keep stirring them until they begin to set; then turn the edges of the omelet over, to make it an oval shape, and finish cooling it. To brown the top, hold the pan before the fire, or use a salamander, and turn it carefully on to a very hot dish: sprinkle sifted sugar over, and serve.
Time.—From 4 to 6 minutes. Average cost, 10d.
Sufficient for 4 persons. Seasonable at any time.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
It seems that a ‘vegetable marrow’ is a peculiarly British concept. It is an ordinary thing of itself, being, according to the Oxford English Dictionary:
‘any of various kinds of squash or gourd which are chiefly the fruits of varieties of Cucurbita pepo, eaten as a vegetable …. esp. one of the larger round or cylindrical kinds.’
In other words, it is a mere variation on the theme of zucchini (courgette.) I have no idea how or why this very plain, inherently watery, vegetable became associated in name with the unctuous, fatty deliciousness of bone marrow, so this post was the result of my brief research into a possible explanation.
As a mildly confusing aside, the name of ‘vegetable marrow’ was also applied in the past to the avocado, which does at least have a buttery texture, and according to some, a ‘marrow-like taste’ (OED reference from 1866.) If there is any similarity in either appearance or taste between an avocado and a large type of squash which might have led to the overlap in names, then it has escaped me completely.
The first reference in English given in the Oxford English Dictionary to the vegetable marrow is in 1822, in a horticultural journal:
1822 J. Sabine in Trans. Hort. Soc. 2 255 (title) A description and account of the cultivation of a variety of gourd called vegetable marrow.
The following brief piece, written less than a decade later, may perhaps go some of the way to explaining the name. It is from A Description and History of Vegetable Substances: Used in the Arts, and in Domestic Economy: Timber Trees, Fruits, Volume 1 (London, 1830) by C. Knight.
Vegetable marrow (Cucurbita succada) is a very important gourd; and though it has been but lately introduced into this country, it is already cultivated to a considerable extent. It is straw coloured, of an oval or elongated shape, and when full grown attains the length of about nine inches. When very young, it eats well, fried in butter; when half grown, it may be cooked in a variety of ways, and is peculiarly soft and rich, having an oily and almost an animal flavour; when fully matured, it may be made into pies, for which purpose it is much superior to any of the other gourds. But it is in the intermediate or half grown state only, that it deserves its common appellation of vegetable marrow.
So, the writer opines that it has ‘an oily and almost an animal flavour.’ From my single experience of a decidedly bland sample of the vegetable marrow – or any other example of Cucurbita pepo which has crossed my plate – I would beg to disagree. ‘Animal flavour’ presumably equates to umami, and oily and umami are not taste experiences I personally associate with squash of any sort – although they have their virtues. Perhaps you disagree?
Any large essentially hollow or hollow-able vegetable is just made for stuffing (or ‘forcing,’ if you will.) The following recipe is interesting in that it would be a useful way of helping eke out a smallish serving of meat, but at the same time, preserving the momentary appearance of a lump of roast.
To Dress a Vegetable Marrow.
Have an ordinary sized vegetable marrow, skin and cut a small piece out of the side of it, with a tea-spoon take out the seeds gently, fill the space with force meat made of veal or fowl (see Force Meat), and fit in the piece again which you cut out. It may either be stewed in a rich sauce, or baked from an hour to an hour and a half. Serve with white sauce, with plenty of lemon pickle in it.
The Practice of Cookery and Pastry (Edinburgh, 1862) Mrs. I. Williamson
My next example is for a faux vegetarian dish. It adds nicely to our occasional theme of ‘mock’ dishes. The deceit in the case of this particular recipe would certainly be enhanced if the vegetable did indeed have an oily meaty taste.
Take a good-sized vegetable marrow, boil till tender. Plunge in cold water, and peel, taking out seeds and core, and the end in shape of a stopper. Make stuffing of sage, onion, and breadcrumb, with pepper and salt and one egg; put inside the marrow and replace stopper; dredge with flour, place on a greased tin and bake until nicely browned, basting well. Serve with brown gravy and apple sauce. Brown gravy, 2 oz. butter, 1 oz. flour. Fry flour in butter till it is a nice brown, add as much boiling water as will make it the thickness of cream.
London Monitor and New Era August 20, 1910
The dictionary of daily wants, by the editor of 'Enquire within upon everything' (London, 1861) by Robert Kemp Philip includes ten recipes for vegetable marrow, which would be most useful should you find yourself faced with a glut of gourds. I have selected three for you today.
Vegetable Marrow Marmalade.
Peel the marrows, and grate them. To six pounds of fruit, put six pounds of loaf sugar, and the juice and grated rinds of two lemons; boil it for half an hour over a moderate fire, stir it frequently, and pour it into small moulds.
Vegetable Marrow, Fried.
Take one marrow, one egg, and two ounces of bread crumbs. Peel and cut the marrow in slices, three-quarters of an inch thick; let it drain for a quarter of an hour, and season it on both sides with pepper and salt, then brush each slice with egg; sift the bread crumbs over, and fry the slices in batter till they attain a light brown on both sides; bake in a tin in the oven till done, and serve in a strainer, with crisped parsley, and brown sauce.
Vegetable Marrow and Celery Pie.
Cut three roots of celery into small pieces, with a proportionate quantity of vegetable marrow, and an onion, season with pepper and salt, add a dessertspoonful of tapioca, steeped in a quarter of a pint of cold water, and an ounce of butter; put all together into a pie dish, cover with paste, and bake it in a moderately hot oven.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
The onion must surely lay claim to being one of the most widely known and used vegetables in the world. Aside from some religious groups, such as followers of the Hindu deity Krishna, who are forbidden to partake of onions and garlic, it is difficult if not impossible to name a nation or culture which does not use one or other member of the Allium family. Onions are almost a given in any savoury dish. I know a number of cooks who would say that they chop up an onion and start to saute it even before they have made a decision about what is on the dinner menu.
Familiarity with the onion has perhaps bred some boredom with it. It has played a supporting role in cookery for so long that to consider it in a starring role requires some conscious consideration. Perhaps today I can offer you some insight into the possibilities of this most useful vegetable.
Onions have a long history of medicinal use, but the following remedy could perhaps be adapted to a side-dish:
Onion for Colds.
Another way of preparing onions for use in cases of cold used to be, and probably still is, much employed by Highland people. It is as follows:—Open a large onion in the centre of the top and remove enough of the centre to make room for about a dessertspoonful of treacle. Put in the treacle, close the onion, and bake till soft. To be peeled and eaten hot by the patient.
The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld.) 16 February 1895.
Onion vinegar is a useful thing to have, especially where a delicate flavour of this vegetable is required; it improves many salads. To every couple of large Spanish onions one quart of the best white wine vinegar, one teaspoonful of salt, and two of caster sugar. Grate the onions, sprinkle over them the salt and sugar, cover them over, and let them stand two or three hours in a cool place; after that time add the vinegar, put the mixture into wide-mouthed bottles, tie them down with paper, set them in a cool room, and shake them every day for about a fortnight; strain through a fine cloth, put into small bottles and cork tightly. This can easily be prepared at any time when Spanish onions are available, so that it is best to make small quantities and have the vinegar fresh.
The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld.) 16 February 1895
Take half a dozen young onions, boil them (changing the water twice, so that they may not be too strong); when cooked drain and chop finely. Place onions in a basin, add ½ oz. of butter, pepper, and salt to taste. Stir all together, and place in saucepan of boiling water until the contents become hot. Have ready some slices of buttered toast and on the centre of each place a slice of hard-boiled egg, cover with onions, and serve immediately.
Sunday Times (Perth, WA) 9 November 1913
To mitigate the insipidity of the meatless day to which housewives all over the country are pledging themselves there is a piquant dish of onions much used by Italians and warranted to banish the longing for any other viand. Cut two large Brmuda onions in rather thick slices, thick enough to prevent their falling into rings. Soak the slices for a couple of hours in a cup of sweet milk., drain and sprinkle with toasted and rolled breadcrumbs into which a tablespoonful of melted butter has been rubbed. Fry the slices in olive oil and serve at once on lettuce leaves or toast points.
La Crosse Tribune and Leader Press (Wisconsin) April 25, 1917
Take four Spanish onions and parboil. Take two mutton kidneys and skin them; mince them, adding breadcrumbs, sage, pepper, and salt to taste; mix all together with the yolk of an egg. Peel the onions and take out the centre and stuff with ingredients; put them into a tin with a little butter and bake a light brown; serve on hot buttered toast.
London Evening News January 21, 1898
Finally, my favourite recipe of the day: let me know if you try it!
Slice a pound of onions into a crock, and also add a pound of barley or sliced potatoes. The recipe calls for two pounds of raisins, which are out of sight now. (I think a good substitute might be to add two sliced oranges and two sliced lemons.) Heat two gallons of water and in it dissolve four pounds of sugar. When lukewarm, add two packs of yeast.
When this ferments it will drive you out of the house, but when fermentation ceases the odor is tolerable. Let it age a year, and you have a truly delicious nectar that doesn’t smell or taste like onions.
Athens Sunday Messenger (Ohio), March 20, 1977
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Recently, in an early 20th century Australian newspaper I came across mention of a pastry with the intriguing name of Desdemonas, and naturally was inspired to look further. So far I have not looked at English-language resources in other countries, so my research on these little cakes is hardly begun, but perhaps your interest may be piqued also. If you know more, or find more, please do let us know.
The earliest mention of Desdemonas that I have found so far is in Christmas: A lecture by Rev. Charles Chark, which appeared in Melbourne Punch (Vic.) on 26 December 1872:
Pomona was the goddess of fruit and cakes. A temple to her honour has been erected in Bourke-street, and daily sacrifices of strawberries and cream, 6d., triangular tarts, very spotty ditto, known as Desdemonas,and dusty jellies are offered up by clerks in the civil, and every other service.
So, a Desdemona was a spotty tart? They are no tarts among the many, quite varied, recipes I have found so far.
The earliest recipe for Desdemonas I have found to date is from The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.) 15 May 1886.
Desdemonas, to Make.
Rub 6oz.of butter into 1 lb. of flour, add a pinch of salt and three tablespoonfuls of sugar, and a little powdered cinnamon. Work the mixture into a paste with four well-beaten eggs; roll it into balls the size of a walnut, brush these over with beaten egg, and sprinkle upon them chopped almonds which have been shaken in a small portion of the white of one egg mixed with pounded sugar. Bake the cakes in a slow, steady oven, and when they are lightly coloured they are done enough. When cool a spoonful of whipped cream is introduced into the centre. A little sugar frosting is placed on top of the cakes when the cream has been inserted.
It was not long before Othellos appeared on the scene:
Othellos and Desdemonas.
Make a good sponge, bake it in little round tins; when done open with a knife and insert a filling of good thick custard flavored to taste. Close the aperture and cover with chocolate icing. To make the sponge, follow any good recipe for same. To make the filling, beat the yolks only of 6 eggs 20 minutes, add half a pint of cream and stir it into half a pint of milk hot, but not boiling. Remove it before it boils, flavor and set to cool. Shred some chocolate and add it to plain icing to make the covering, then sprinkle dry icing sugar or thousands and millions over them. Some are covered with white icing only.
South Australian Chronicle (Adelaide, SA) 5 August 1893.
The ‘thousands and millions’ (which we now call ‘hundreds and thousands’) would account for the 1872 allegation of spottiness, perhaps.
A number of variations on the theme were developed over the following decades:
A good recipe for Desdemonas and Othellos runs thus:-
Take the weight of five eggs in sugar, half their weight in flour, essence and salt to taste. Beat the whites and yolks of the eggs separately. Add the sugar to the yolks, then add the whites and flour, with which has been mixed as much as half a teaspoonful of baking powder. Mix all together, add the essence and salt, and bake in small, round patty tins for about twenty minutes. When done turn out and allow to cool. Scoop out the middle of the cakes and fill with whipped cream. Place two together, and ice half of the cakes with chocolate icing and the other half with sugar icing.
The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.) 13 April 1895.
Desdemonas and Othellos.
Take 1 lb. of butter, 2 lb. of self-raising flour, ½ lb. of powdered sugar, four eggs, and two small cupfuls of milk. Melt and stir the butter to a cream, put in the sugar, and mix thoroughly for a few minutes,then add your eggs one at a time, stirring well between whiles; then add the flour with the milk, and mix up again. Pour the mixture into small, round, buttered shapes, and bake in a moderate oven for about 25 to 30 minutes. When cold scoop a little out of the middle, and place one on another, with whipped cream in between each. Ice them over half with chocolate icing and half with plain white icing.
The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.) 29 August 1896.
And another recipe that references the spottiness of the 1872 description:
Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas.) 29 January 1903.
Three decades later, two completely different interpretations from the same year – 1937. In the first recipe, just in case the metaphor had escaped the reader, the naming of the cakes is explained.
Desdemonas and Othellos
Six eggs, 6 ozs. sugar, 6 ozs. flour, custard, essence, chocolate icing and soft icing. Method: Separate the whites from the yolks of the eggs, beat the yolks and sugar well together, then the whites to a stiff froth. Beat all lightly together. Sift the flour and stir in gently and quickly. Then add any essence preferred. Have ready a baking dish lined with buttered paper and drop the mixture on this with a spoon in little round cakes, taking care they do not touch. Bake 15 or 20 minutes, take quickly off the paper. Scoop out a little of the centre of the flat side of each cake, fill this with custard and press two cakes together. Coat half of them with chocolate icing, dotted with soft white icing, and the other half with white icing
dotted with chocolate. The white cakes are the Desdemonas and the dark Othellos.
The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.) 2 October 1937
Othello and Desdemona Cakes.
¼ [lb.] butter, 6 oz. soft white sugar, 3 eggs, ½ lb. flour, ¼ teaspoon carb.soda, ½ teaspoon c.[cream] tartar, flavoring to taste.
Beat butter to a cream, add sugar, eggs (one by one), flour, with c. soda and c. tartar sifted through it. Run on to a greased tin through a ladies finger tube. Bake in a moderate oven. Put two together with icing, any desired flavoring: ornament top also.
Advocate (Burnie, Tas.) 4 December 1937.
There seems to be a dearth of recipes for Desdemonas and Othellos after the end of the 1930’s. Perhaps political correctness came early to the naming of these little cakes. I will keep looking into their history however, and would be delighted if you can add anything to the story.
Monday, September 21, 2015
Today I plan to give you some recipes for pawpaw, so my first step must be to explain exactly which fruit I am referring too.
In America, I understand that ‘pawpaw’ refers to Asimina triloba, a plant in the same family as the cherimoya and the soursop. The fruit has a large number of common names, many of which seem to include the word ‘banana’ (poor man’s banana, Kansas banana, Missouri banana, banago etc etc.). The tree is native to the North American Continent, and is somewhat of a mystery to me, so I leave it to my American friends to comment.
In Australia, when we say pawpaw, we are referring to the fruit of Carica papaya, a tree native to the South American continent, but now widely grown in the tropical parts of the world, including my home state of Queensland, where it grows as easily as a weed in any backyard. The fruit comes in two main colour-ways – the yellow-fleshed, and the red-fleshed (which is really nearer orange-coloured) – except when it is unripe and green, in which state it makes a fine vegetable. For marketing purposes in Australia, the yellow is referred to as the pawpaw, and the red as papaya.
To give a little historical perspective, I give you the first recorded uses of the words in English, from the Oxford English Dictionary:
Papaya: 1598 W. Phillip tr. J. H. van Linschoten Disc. Voy. E. & W. Indies i. liv. 97/1 There is also a fruite that came out of the Spanish Indies, brought..to Malacca, & from thence to India, it is called Papaios [Du. Papaios], and is very like a Mellon, as bigge as a mans fist.
Pawpaw: 1624 J. Smith Hist. Bermudas in Gen. Hist. Virginia v. 171 The most delicate Pine-apples, Plantans, and Papawes
And, because I love a literary food mention:
1932 W. S. Maugham Narrow Corner xix. 143 Breakfast in the little hotels in the Dutch East Indies..never varies. Papaia, œufs sur le plat, cold meat, and Edam cheese.
The recipes for the day are for Carica papaya, and come from Australian newspapers, because a glut of pawpaw/papaya is not an uncommon problem in the tropics. But firstly, a brief summary of Australian thoughts on the fruit in the 1930’s, from The Northern Herald (Cairns, Qld.) of 26th August 1933:
From a paper read at the annual meeting of one of the West Indian Agricultural Societies last January, and reproduced in the Proceedings of the Agricultural Society of Trinidad, we make the following extracts: After giving various particulars of the fruit, most of which already are familiar to our readers, the paper gives the following amongst the purposes for which the pawpaw is used:
(a) As a food in various forms, viz., in its ripe state as a breakfast fruit, for which purpose it is cut lengthwise into individual portions and the seeds are removed. It is flavoured to suit the taste by the addition of lime juice, salt, pepper, or sugar.
(b) As a dessert fruit when it is sliced, and eaten with sugar and crushed ice.
(c) As a salad combined with lettuce; or in Mayonnaise; or served with greens celery and onions.
(d) The green fruit may be boiled or baked and served as a vegetable.
(e) As a crystallised fruit, and it is sometimes made into pickles, marmalade, jelly, pie, jam, ice cream and sherbet.
(f) The by-product “Papain” may be used in the clarification of beer and syrups containing proteins.
Nearly all parts of the pawpaw are said to have some medicinal value. The most important medicinal properties are said to be found in the milky juice which occurs most abundantly in the green fruit. Most of the medicinal properties of the juice are said to be due to the active principle called “Papain,” which has been recognised as one of considerable value in dyspepsia and kindred ailments. Its digestive action has long been recognised here, where it is not uncommon practice to rub a slice of green juicy papaya on tough meat to make it tender. Another practice is to wrap the meat in crushed papaya leaves overnight preparatory to cooking it.
The first batch of recipes is from the Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld.) of 16 November 1934.
Pawpaws Are In.
Some Novel Recipes.
Always peel pawpaws thinly, as the part nearest the skin is best in flavour, and the most nutritious. Being rich in pepain, this fruit is utilised in various medicinal preparations. The seeds are particularly rich in pepain, and in South Africa they are often used in summer time to form a basis for a refreshing lemon or orange drink.
Soak the seeds for a few hours in boiling water, and then strain off the liquid and add it to any ordinary cool drink, such as is made with water, lemons, and sugar.
A Quaint Breakfast Dish.
Cut a firm, ripe pawpaw into slices, pass each through flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and fry in bacon fat; serve on slices of toast with rashers of fried bacon – if you prefer eggs to bacon fry the pawpaw in similar manner and lay it on thick slices of hot buttered toast, piling some nicely scrambled eggs on top and dusting the egg with finely chopped parsley.
Pawpaw Fritters for Luncheon.
Wash and peel the fruit, and cut into convenient pieces – round or long as you prefer. Place in a dish, add a good squeeze of lemon juice, and a dusting of good castor sugar, and leave for an hour. Make a really good fritter batter and flavour it with vanilla essence. Drain the pawpaw, dip in the batter, and fry quickly in boiling fat or oil. Serve at once with a dusting of ground nuts, mixed with powdered cinnamon, spice, and castor sugar.
For some rather more traditional recipes for fruit, the Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW) of 5th November 1925, has a few simple ideas:
Cut two green paw-paws into discs, 2 dessertspoons of mustard, 1 teaspoon of peppercorns, 1 cup of brown sugar, ½ cup raisins (seeded); 1 onion - (finely chopped), and 1 bottle vinegar.
Boil all together, until paw-paw is soft, then let it thicken. Allow to cool before bottling.
Take two green pawpaws; 2 lemons and 3 cups sugar. Slice the paw-paws and lemon and sprinkle with sugar, and stand overnight. Boil all together until syrup thickens.
One green paw-paw, a few cloves, chillies, and peppercorns, and a little salt and pepper.
Chop up paw-paw finely,and boil with one bottle of vinegar for half an hour. Bottle when cool.