Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How to Fake Vegetables with Vegetables.

One of my favourite themes, as many of you know, is that of ‘mock’ food. Mock food has a long and illustrious history over many centuries, and I have included numerous examples here in almost ten years of blogging. There are many reasons why cooks may choose to mimic a particular dish. Nostalgia may be the impetus, if a favourite dish or ingredient is not available for reasons of (for example) migration, famine, or war. Economic reasons may apply too, if a preferred ingredient is unaffordable. Cultural and religious reasons can either dictate or forbid a specific dish, and hence the desire for an acceptable alternative – such as providing ‘mock’ animal products during the Christian period of Lent, for example.

There are also interesting issues of transparency and intent in the mock food debate. Is the dish a temporary trick, intended to amuse, impress, or induce horror in the guests when the truth is ultimately revealed, or is the intent a deliberate deceit on the part of the perpetrator for some sort of slightly sinister motive?

I can understand one or more of these justifications being applicable in many examples of mock food, but I am hard pressed to understand what is behind some of the following examples. Why not just serve bean shoots openly as bean shoots, rather than pretend they are spinach, for example?

Mock Spinach.
Pick young, green bean tips, boil or steam with a sprig of mint, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon sugar (if liked). Serve with butter, salt and pepper, as spinach. This method matures and strengthens the main bean crop.
Examiner (Launceston, Tas.) 6 December 1947

Onions are available cheaply everywhere, and they store easily, so their lack is not likely to be a common occurrence - and even if they are unavailable, in what dish are fried onions so absolutely essential that one would need or want to ‘mock’ them? And would anyone really be fooled?

Mock Fried Onions.
½ medium-sized cabbage, sliced.
1 tbsp. margarine
2 tbsps. vinegar.
Parboil cabbage. Strain. Add margarine and vinegar. Place in pan, cove and fry till brown and tender.
Freeport Journal Standard of January 27, 1955

Substituting low-status turnips for elegant and slightly mysterious artichokes seems like a strange subterfuge to me. The economic argument might be appropriate, I guess, but would it fool anyone?  
Mock Artichokes.
Pare a solid white turnip, cut it into slices a quarter of an inch thick, and with a round cutter, cut from each slice a “cake” about an inch and a half in diameter. Cook in boiling unsalted water until perfectly transparent. Arrange them on a small platter, one slice overlapping the other; put at the end of the platter a well-made egg sauce.
Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick (1914)

My final example for the day is for mock olives. Would anyone be fooled, do you think? Or impressed, if you chose to tell? Why not proudly put out your home-preserved pickled green plums, instead?

Mock Olives.
¼ peck of green plums                   1 ounce of white mustard-seed
2 quarts of cider vinegar                 2 heaping tablespoonfuls of salt
Add the mustard and salt to the vinegar, pour into a porcelain-lined kettle, and bring quickly to boiling-point, pour it while boiling over the green plums, and stand away over-night. In the morning, drain off the vinegar, and make it again boiling hot and pour it over the plums. When cold, put into bottles and cork tightly.

Canning and Preserving (1887) Sarah Tyson Rorer


korenni said...

I'd like to try the mock artichokes -- there's never enough artichoke bottom compared to the rest of the artichoke, and it's so much trouble to get to!

I once did a medieval illusion feast that included roast chickens stuffed with hard-boiled eggs from which the yolks had been removed and substituted with soaked and softened dried apricots (which looked kind of like egg yolks) with blanched almonds in the middle (instead of apricot pits). All just for fun!

Shay said...

If you seasoned it enough, I suppose you could substitute turnip for Jerusalem artichoke?

The Old Foodie said...

Hi korenni - your roast chicken dish sounds amazing, and fun! I love the whole concept of mock food, even if the reality is not always interesting.
Hi Shay: I think a lot of these mock dishes are made from a bland-tasting base, with the sauce or seasoning associated with the real thing. Here in Australia, the choko (chayote) grows so easily that it used to be used a lot in place of other things (most infamously as a subsitute for stewed or canned pears, by being cooked in syrup.)