Friday, October 16, 2015

Food for World Dictionary Day.

I have been having some fun over the last few weeks with food words and with the idea of cookery books as sources of dictionary references. This has been in anticipation of World Dictionary Day, which is today.

World Dictionary Day the birthday of the great American lexicographer Noah Webster in Connecticut in 1758. His crowning achievement was the publication in 1828 of American Dictionary of the English Language. I am always on the look-out for food words beginning with the letter ‘x’, so it seemed like a good idea for the day to see what Mr. Webster offered in his dictionary. Unfortunately, of the thirteen words beginning with the letter x that he included, only one is food related:-

Xerophagy: The eating of dry meats as a sort of fast among the primitive Christians.

It requires a bit of a stretch, a little imagination, and the assistance of taxonomists to find any actual foods beginning with ‘x’.

There is Xhosa bread, which is the staple of the Xhosa people of South Africa, but it is only another name for ‘mealie bread’, or bread made from maize, so I am not sure it qualifies.

We could also, I suppose, include xanthan gum, which is “a powdery polysaccharide composed of glucose, mannose, and glucuronic acid, produced by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris and used in drilling muds and the food industry. Usu. as xanthan gum” (OED) – but this is an additive, not a real food.

A more realistic list would perhaps include Xanthosoma sagittifolium, otherwise known as arrowleaf elephant ear and a whole host of regional names. It is related to taro, and has an edible starchy root, so definitely qualifies.

Then there is Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus; the yellow-headed blackbird, which must be edible, as I believe there is no member of the animal kingdom whose flesh is intrinsically poisonous (a good survival tip if you happen to be lost in the wilderness.) The yellow-headed blackbird is local to the northern part of the North American continent, and very grateful I am to it too, for it gives us our recipe inspiration for the day.

Blackbird, Bobolink, and Small Birds.
The cut below represents six small birds on the spit, ready for roasting. When the birds are prepared, cut off the ends of the wings and the legs above the first joint. Instead of cutting the legs above the first joint, the ends of the claws only may be cut off, according to taste. Cut thin slices of fat salt pork, of a proper size to cover the breast of the bird; place the slice on the breast of it, run a skewer through the middle of the bird, so that it will run through the two ends of the slice of salt pork also, as seen in the cut.
Have a skewer, or merely a piece of wire, long enough to hold six birds; fix the skewer on the spit, and roast.
When the six birds are on the skewer, fasten them with twine, to prevent them from turning round, as seen in the cut.

Small birds are cleaned and prepared as directed for poultry, but they are not trussed, their legs being tied while tying the salt pork. While roasting, they are basted often with the drippings. Some water-cress and lemonjuice sprinkled upon them may be served with the birds. The twine is removed before serving, and they must be served hot; if allowed to cool at all, they lose their taste. It takes from ten to fifteen minutes to roast.
Baked.—Prepare them exactly as for roasting: place the wire or skewer across a baking-pan, turn them round.
Handbook of Practical Cookery, by Pierre Blot (New York, 1871)

I really wish I had been able to find a historical recipe for Xylophone Cake.

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