Showing posts with label 16thC recipe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 16thC recipe. Show all posts

Friday, July 02, 2010

Naughty Bakers.

Medieval punishments such as we considered yesterday were frequently made to fit the crime in a marvellously creative way that would not be possible in our modern criminal justice system. As was pointed out yesterday, the most important foodstuff at that time was bread, and as a consequence, bread-crimes were taken very seriously.

In medieval times, only the grandest houses had their own ovens. Most ordinary housewives took their own dough to the local baker, where for a small fee it would be cooked in the residual heat of the oven, after the baker had baked his own bread. Those bakers who did get caught cheating their customers were punished in a variety of ways. In England they were initially fined. After three offenses they could be sent to the pillory, or to gaol, or even lose their occupation. The pillory or ‘stretch neck’ was a very public humiliation. The accused was locked with head (sometimes shaved) and hands fixed in holes made between two horizontal boards set up in the market place where he or she could be pelted by disgruntled customers with anything noxious that came to hand.

The prize for the most creative deceit (and most appropriate punishment) must go to bakers at a public bakehouse in 1327. There were secret cavities built under the moulding boards from which an assistant would reach up and pinch off a chunk of the dough from a customer’s loaf, and over the course of the day built up a nice supply for themselves. The offending bakers in this instance were placed in the pillory with slabs of the dough around their necks. In other instances, bakers were forced to sell the underweight loaves at a loss (which was a gain for the previoius ‘victims.’)

In other parts of the bread-eating world the punishments varied. In Vienna, bakers caught selling underweight bread were put in the baeckerschupfen – a sort of cage which was then plunged into the river several times. In Turkey, a bad baker was stretched out on his own kneading table and the bastinado (foot-beating with a stick) was administered. Perhaps the most public and painful punishment was in ancient Egypt, were an offending baker could be nailed by the ear to the door of his shop, where no doubt his customers gave him even more abuse.

Cookery manuscripts and cookery books of early times contained recipes suitable for the wealthy, and did not include bread-making instructions. It would not have been considered necessary. Every large household had its own bakehouse. The bakers and bakehouse were quite separate (in several ways) from the kitchens and cooks, and bakers did not need written instructions for the various types of bread for the various ranks of persons within the household. Instead of a medieval ‘recipe’ for bread, I therefore give you, from the same source as yesterday, a nice recipe for stewed chicken. This sounds quite delicious, and quite Middle Eastern (although the source is unequivocally English)  – the chicken is stuffed with herbs, and braised in wine, and flavoured with saffron, ginger, sugar, and cinnamon, with the final sauce containing dates and currants.

A stewed capon.
To stew a capon tak parsly saige ysope rosmary and brek them between your handes and stop the capon ther with and colour it with saffron and couch it in an erthen pot and lay splentes under nethe and about the sides of the pot and straw erbes about the capon and put ther to a quart of wyn and non other licour then couer the pot close that no brothe passe out then set it on a charcole fyere and stew it softly and when it is enoughe set it on a wispe of strawe that it touche not the ground for brekinge then tak out the capon with a prik and luk yf it be enoughe or els stewe it better and mak a ceripe of good wyne mynced dates and canelle anld draw it with the same wyne put ther to raissins of corands sugur saffron and salt and guinger and wyn then lay the capon in a dysshe and put the fat of the sew to the ceripe and poure it on the capon and serue it.
A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde (1500)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Deserving of the Pillory.

On this day in 1552, in Cheapside, (the old market area of London) a man was pilloried for cheating the customers who bought his strawberries. He had filled out the pots with too much fern for the amount of berries.

“The furst of July ther was a man and a woman on the pelere [pillory] in Chepe-syd [Cheapside]; the man sold potts of straberries, the whyche the pott was not alff fulle, but fylled with forne [fern]”

Legislation to protect the customer from unscrupulous food merchants is not new, although the nature of the penalties has changed somewhat. The most regulated food, from earliest times, was the Staff of Life – bread. In 1266 in England, King Henry III revived an ancient statute that determined the price of a loaf of bread and a quantity of ale in relation to the price of wheat. This Assize of Bread and Ale remained on the statute books in England until 1863! The aim of the Assize was to fix the size (weight) of a loaf of bread, regardless of the cost of wheat (called ‘corn’ in those days). Loaves were sold at a farthing, a half-penny, or a penny. As the price of corn went up, the size of the loaf purchased for a particular price went down. The limits were set once a year at harvest time, after the Feast of St Michael on September 29, but were occasionally modified during the year if the price of corn varied significantly.

There are of course, unscrupulous members of every profession. Dishonest medieval bakers developed some creative ways of cheating both the public and the official Bread Examiners. An obvious technique was to keep the full-weight loaves on the shelves when the Examiners were due, and hide the low-weight ones out the back. Another method was to hide coins or bits of metal in the dough, which were presumably taken out once the bread was weighed. Even more creatively, in the sixteenth century there is a record of some bakers found to have been soaking stale bread in water and mixing it with the new dough 'to the great abuse and scandall of their Mysterie [their Trade] , and the wrong of his Majesties' subjects.'

I don’t need to give you a recipe for medieval bread – there is no essential difference from modern bread. Basic bread has always been made from grain plus a leavening agent plus water – all other ingredients are optional embellishments. Instead I give you a wonderful custard recipe from half a century before the strawberry offence which kicked off this story – and very nice indeed it would be with some of those berries. It is from A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde, a manuscript written in the year 1500. Basic custard hasn’t changed much either. This one is a ‘standing’ (thick, sliceable) version, made as it is today with cream and eggs and sugar – but marvellously coloured and flavoured with saffron and decorated with borage flowers.

To mak creme buyle.
To mak creme buile tak cow creme and yolks of eggs drawe and well bet that it be stonding and put
ther to sugur and colour it with saffron and salt it then lesk it in dyshes and plant ther in floures of
borage and serue it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Notable Things about Fowl.

Yesterday we received some interesting insight into historical methods of prolonging the life of fresh food from the book of the week (A Thousand Notable Things, 1815, original version late sixteenth century). One of those methods was for keeping fowl meat fresher for longer, in the time well before refrigeration. The threat of salmonella and other unpleasant bugs springs to the forefront of the mind today, but in 1815 the public (and the scientific community) lived in blissful ignorance of microbes, as it was still several decades away from Louis Pasteur’s seminal work, and the development of Germ Theory.

I wondered what else the book had to say about the preparation of fowl for the table.

Out of the Fig Tree there comes such a sharp Vapour, that if a Hen be hanged thereon, it will so prepare her that she will be soon and easily roasted. Plut. And the like will be if the feathers be plucked off from the Fowls, and then laid or covered a day or two in a heap of Wheat. - It is confirmed by experience, saith Mizatdus

How to tell if it is boiled enough:

If the bottom of a Seething Pot, with Meat, newly taken from the fire, may be touched or felt without harm or danger of burning, then certainly the same Meat is boiled enough; but if it be hot, and not sufferable, then it is not sufficiently sod. This I know to be true, for I have seen the trial thereof.

Quotation for the Day.

As for those grapefruit and buttermilk diets, I'll take roast chicken and dumplings.
Hattie McDaniel

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Notable Food Things.

Today I am going to share with you some ideas on keeping food “fresh” for longer, from our source for the week - A Thousand Notable Things. The edition I am using is from 1815, but the original version was written in the late sixteenth century. Some of these techniques sound very scary today, when we are obsessed with staleness, germs and disease. The fact that so many survived such undoubtedly contaminated food should perhaps give us pause to give credit to the human gastro-intestinal and immune systems. (But I don’t recommend that you test your own out with the following ideas for meat and fish preservation!)

Easy Method of preserving Animal Food sweet for several days in the heat of Summer.
Veal, mutton, beef, or venison may be kept for nine or ten days perfectly sweet and good in the heat of summer, by lightly covering the same with bran, and hanging it in a high and windy room; therefore a cupboard full of small holes, or a wire safe, so as the wind has passage through, is recommended to be placed in such a room, to keep away the flies.

The method was apparently also used to preserve fish.

To keep Dead Fish long.
Roll them in Wheat Bran, and lay them on a stone pavement in a cool cellar, or underground kitchen, cover them lightly with flags, grass, or rushes, and they will keep sweet a week, evne in the summer season.

Another suggested method of preserving (and tenderizing) fowl flesh is:

To keep Fowls long, and make them tender.
Have a White Wine or Rhenish Cask set up on end in a cool cellar, cut it so that the Fowl may be hanged up in it, and they will keep many days longer than otherwise.

And as for fruit and nuts, the following ideas might still work today.

Whosoever will preserve Chestnuts, and keep them safe and sound, let them lay and mix them with Walnuts; for they will drink up and consume such humours whereby they corrupt; and they will not suffer them to wax mouldy. Mizuldus.

To Preserve Apples or Pears from specking or rotting.
Dip their stalks in melted Pitch, and rub the fruit over with the Juice of Spearming, and hang them up by their stalks, that they touch not each other, and so that he air may freely come at them, but no rain or damp mists, and so they will keep very long.

Quotation for the Day.

The difference of a single day is perceptible. Vegetables can only be tasted in perfection, gathered the same day.”
John Pintard (1759-1844)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Elizabethan Dinner.

We have spent far too much time in the nineteenth century of late. Let us travel back four hundred years, to the period when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne of England.

It seems that some things never change – the movers and shakers (the fat cat beaurocrats, if you prefer) have always eaten well on the public purse. In 1573, on this very day, a number of the chief advisers to Queen Elizabeth (the powers behind the throne, if you will) sat down to a very fine dinner.These were the men who made the nation’s economic decisions – the Lord High Treasurer (William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley), the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Walter Mildmay), and the Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer (Sir Edward Saunders) and various other officials.

The provisions list for the dinner (with prices in shillings nnd pence) was as follows:

A Dinner for my Lorde Treasurer, Mr. Chanceler, my Lorde Chefe Baron, the Barons and Officers of the Exchequer, upon the 28th daye of October, 1573’

For breade, ale, and beare                   15    0
For a rande of brawne                           5    0
For a surloyne and a double
rybbe of byefe                                        7   0
For 2 geese                                            3   8
For four jointes of veale                          7   0
For sixe capons                                    13   8
For 3 cople of rabbyts                            3   4
For a dozen and a halfe of pigions           3   4
For sixe woodcocks                               5   0
For 4 partridges                                     3   4
For one fessante                                     4   0
For 4 snypes                                          1   8
For 3 dozen of larkes                             2   6
For marybones                                      1    0
For butter                                              4   0
For eggs                                                1   0
For sauce                                              1    0
For spices                                              7   0
For frute                                                1   6
For white wyne                                      0   5
For a pottle of muskeder, a pottle
of sacke, and 2 gallons of
claret wyne                                            5   8
For rose-water and swete-water            0   8
For lemans                                             0   8
For strewing hearbes and p’sly               0   6
For fier in pearlers and kitchin                 6   8
For cookes wages                                  6  0
For boote hier                                        1   4
For occupyenge of plate, naperye,
and other necessaries                              5   0

Today’s recipe is for a dish supposedly first served to the Queen’s father, Henry VIII, if we are to believe John Partridge, the author of a book first published in the same year as this dinner, with the impressive full title of:

The treasurie of hidden secrets, commonly called, The good-huswives closet of provision, for the health of her houshold Gathered out of sundrie experiments, lately practised by men of great knowledge: and now newly inlarged with divers necessary physick helpes, and knowledge of the names and disposition of diseases, that most commonly happen to men and women. Not impertinent for every good huswife to use in her house, amongst her owne familie

A Sawce for a rosted Rabbet: first vsed to King Henry the eight.
TAke an handful of washed percelye, mince it small, boyle it with Butter & veriuce vpon a chafing dish, season it wt sugre and a little Pepper grose beaten, when it is redi: put in a few fine Crummes of white bread, put it in amongste the other, let it boyle agayne till it be standing, then lay it in a Platter, lyke the breadth of three fingers, lay of each side one rosted Conye (or mo[r]e) and so serue them

There are other Elizabethan tales – and recipes – here, here, and here.

Quotation for the Day.

Most banquets turn out to be full discourse dinners.
Ed Whittaker

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Keeping the Innkeeper Honest.

We have had previous stories about sumptuary laws as they have applied to dining (here and here), but until recently I had no idea that in some areas of England in the sixteenth century the law protected the traveller from unscrupulous and greedy innkeepers and other victuallers. As I am about to set off half way around the world, getting a good meal and not been ripped off is a priority concern for me.

At the end of my trip, I will be spending a few days with a lovely cousin and her family in Norfolk. Some laws pertaining to the meals provided and charged to travellers were legislated there in 1566. They are quoted in A general history of the county of Norfolk by John Chambers, published in 1829.

The following extracts from the Mayoralty Books are curious:
1566: Whereas there hath been compalynt to Mr.Mayor and the Justices, of the excessive charges that Gentylmen, Survingmen, and other Travillers be at, when they have occasion to resort to this city, as well for their Dyett as ther Ostles howses, or at other victualling howses, as for their horses meate and grass for ther horses.
Therefor, this day, by the hole concent and adviced of this howse, yt ys ordeyned and agreed, for the Reformacion thereof, that no Inkeeper or Victuler, dwelling within this cittie, shall, from this day tyll the ffeaste of the byrthe of our Lord next comyng, take any more for a dynner or supper of any body than iiiid. [ d = pence] and to provyde for them porage or stew, with befe or mutton boyled, and a stroke of some kynde of roste, and no more; and that from the sayde ffeaste of the byrthe of the Lord until Ester then next following, to ake vd. for for a mele, and no more, and the dyet to be as before ys declared, saving in Lente. And that no Inkeeper, nor any other that use to take horses to grasse within this Cittie, from this day tyll the said ffeaste of the byrthe of our Lorde next coming, shall take above iiid. the daye and nyght for a horse, and yf he tarry but a nyght, then to take iid. and no more.

I wonder if these laws have ever been taken off the books  - will I be able to invoke the law and pay no more than fourpence for a good meal?

How to make stewed Broth either with Veale, Mutton, or Cocke.
Take it and set it on in a faire Pipkin of water, and when it is farie skimmed, take a handefull of good hearbes and put in it, and grated bread, Prunes rasons and Currans, Nutmeg, Pepper and sault, and let them boyle all together.
The Good Hous-wives Treasurie, 1588

Quotation for the Day.

The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a refuge from home life.
George Bernard Shaw.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"To make meat of parsley."

I have mixed feelings about parsley. It has a very long and extensive history as both a culinary and medicinal herb – for which I admire it enormously. Its reputation has, however, been sullied, I believe, by its modern use as the lazy cook’s generic green sprinkle over anything and everything – a ploy which leaves me saddened and disappointed.

I happen to like parsley, myself, although don’t use it much in cooking as I am married to a parsley-hater. The parsley-hater hates the green leafy bits – but I don’t believe either he or I have ever eaten parsley root - so methinks, if I can source some, I will try it out on both of us.

The whole of the parsley plant is edible, but at least one cultivar is grown specifically for its thicker root. This type is used enthusiastically in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe, which accounts for some of its common names of Hamburg parsley, Dutch parsley, Rock Parsley, Rock Selinen, Turnip-rooted parsley, Parsnip-rooted parsley, Padrushka, and Heimischer. I understand that parsley root looks similar to parsnip (to which it is related), but tastes quite different. It is used in the same way as parsnip and other root vegetables, which means it comes into its own in stews and soups, and would presumably be sweetly delicious when roasted.

I give you a recipe for parsley root taken from Epulario, or, The Italian Banquet (the English translation of 1598). Note that ‘meat’ does not imply a vegetarian recipe, but the word is used in the old sense of ‘meat’ simply meaning ‘food’.

To make meat of parsley
Take Parsely rootes, and pull out the string or pith which is within them, and make them very clean, and boile them very well in flesh broth with Pepper and saffaron, this may likewise be done with oile.

Quotation for the Day.

Parsley is gharsley.
Ogden Nash (1902-71)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Good Basting.

I came across the phrase ‘a good basting’ recently in a non-culinary sense. It was in an old story, and referred to a good beating or whalloping – a right royal punch-up, in fact, or a good-old bastinado, perhaps. The very same day I tidied up my disgracefully messy sewing room (a displacement activity akin to sharpening one’s pencils), and the remembered that ‘basting’ is also a needlework phrase for joining something up with long, temporary stitches. ‘Basting’ is also, of course, something you do to roasting meat while it is cooking.
Naturally, three such different uses of the word intrigued me, so off to the authorities I went. To put it briefly, the various dictionaries hazard lots of guesses, but dare not get definitive. In dictionary-speak therefore, the origin of the various uses of the word is ‘obscure’ or even ‘unknown’. I did find one attempt to connect the meanings of beating and meat-basting. It is in A New Dictionary of the English Language (1844), by Charles Richardson. The author quotes a source called ‘Sk’, who ‘believed is baste – to strike; because formerly it was the custom to rub the meat with a stick covered with fat; though now the liquid is dropped upon the meat from a distance’.

The idea, of course, is to keep the meat moist, and to add flavour. So, what to use to do this? One of my favourite books, William Salmon’s Household Companion (1695)- which is written in dictionary format – has, under the heading ‘Bastings of Meats or Fowls’, the following suggestions:

(1) Clarified Suet (2) Fresh Butter (3) Minced Sweet-herbs, Butter and Claret-wine; and this last is excellent for Mutton or Lamb (4) Water and Salt (5) and especially for a Flayed Pig, Cream and melted Butter well beaten up together (6) Yolks of Eggs, Juice of Oranges, and grated Bisket: And if this be intended for large Fowl, as Bustards, Peacocks, or Turkeys, you may use the same.

There is no doubt about it - the obscure origin of the word indicates that the use (in the culinary sense) is very old – much older than Salmon’s time. The earliest OED reference is from 1509 ‘The fat pygge is baast, the lene cony is brent.’ The second is from the famous cookbook called Epulario (or, The Italian Banquet), the English edition of 1598, which instructs, in a recipe for roasted kid ‘Let it rost sokingly, basting it oft with the foresaid sauce.’

I love that loving phrase ‘to rost sokingly’, so I hereby give you the actual recipe (and a spare, with a LOT of garlic) from Epulario. You could subsitute lamb, if you like.

To rost a Kid with Garlike.
Take the kid and larde it with Garlike very well, and stuff it full of cornes of Garlike well pilled, then take Verjuice, the yolkes of two Eggs, and two cornes of Garlike well beaten in a morter, with a little Pepper, and some fat broth, mire them all together, and set it under the kid while it rosteth, and bast it therewith, and when it is rosted, put it in a dish with that sauce: the kid would be well rosted, and eaten hote.

To rost a Kid otherwise without Garlike.
Take the kid and larde it well, then take the Liver and lights and beat them well togeher with suet, that done, take seven or eight Egges sodden [boiled], and beat them with Parsely, Mint, and a little Sage, and mingle them together, putting thereto Pepper, Saffron, and a few cloves, wherewith you shall stuffe the Kid, and so lay it to the fire, and let it rost sokingly, basting it often with the aforesaid sauce, without garlike.

Quotation for the Day.

“The human body, when it freezes in eternal silence, is said to be worth about ninety-eight cents. The body of an ordinary south European, if we could devise the means for extracting the garlic from it, would be worth a bushel of gold.”
Angelo Pellegrini, 'The Unprejudiced Palate' (1948)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Any Oranges With That?

Lemon with fish is pretty much an incontrovertible rule in the kitchen, is it not? Break the rule and risk punishment by mass exodus of customers, and mass sackings of staff. Once upon a time citrus was used pretty commonly with meat too. Of course we are all familiar with the idea of duck with an orange sauce. Sadly, usually nowadays it comes as a tacky, sickly-sweet marmalade-y mess that is centuries away from the elegant original form made with the bitter Seville orange - a far better foil for the rich and fatty duck meat, methinks.

Here is an early version of the idea, from The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin (1594)

To boyle a Capon with Oranges after Mistres Duffelds way.
Take a Capon and boyle it with Veale, or with a mary bone [marrow bone], or what your fancie is. Then take a good quantitie of that broth, and put it in an earthen pot by it selfe, and put thereto a good handfull of Corrans [currants], and as manie Prunes, and a few whole Maces, and some Marie [marrow], and put to this broth a good quantitie of white wine or of Claret, and so let them seeth softly together: Then take your Orenges, and with a knife scrape of all the filthinesse of the outside of them. Then cut them in the middest, and wring out the ioyse [juice] of three or foure of them, put the ioyse into your broth with the rest of your stuffe, then slice your Orenges thinne, and haue upon the fire readie a skellet of faire seething water, and put your sliced Orenges into the water, & when that water is bitter, have more readie, and so change them still as long as you can finde the great bitternesse in the water, which will be sixe or seven times, or more, if you find need: then take them from the water, and let that runne cleane from them: then put close Orenges into your potte with your broth, and so let them stew together till your Capon be readie. Then make your sops with this broth, and cast on a litle Sinamon, Ginger, and Sugar, and upon this lay your Capon, and some of your Orenges vpon it, and some of your Marie, and towarde the end of the boyling of your broth, put in a little Vergious [verjuice], if you think best.

We did play with the idea of orange food once before, and our source was Aunt Babette's Cook Book: Foreign and domestic receipts for the household (Cincinnati, 1889). On that occasion I gave you four orange recipes – all sweet ones however - orange fritters, cake, ice, and orangeade. I was reminded of that post recently as I was browsing 365 Orange Recipes; an Orange Recipe for Every Day in the Year (c1909). Today, to match the numbers, I give you a further three recipes for the use of orange in savoury dishes, taken from the latter book.

Onions with Orange Sauce.
Boil 1 dozen onions in three changes of water until tender but not broken; drain them and add ½ cupful of melted butter mixed with a little grated rind, 1 teaspoonful of minced parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serve very hot.

Calf’s Liver with Orange.
Cut 1 pound of calf’s liver in slices one-half inch thick, cover with boiling water for a minute, drain and cook brown in bacon fat. Chop one onion and brown in butter adding 1 peeled and chopped orange two minutes before removing from the fire; season with salt and pepper and place one spoonful of the sauce on each slice of liver.

Finnan-Haddie with Orange Butter.
Soak finnan-haddie for one hour in two changes of warm water, drain well and fry in butter or broil over slow coals. Melt ½ cupful of butter, stir into it the diced pulp and the grated rind of ½ an orange; spread over the fish and serve at once.

Quotation for the Day.

When life sucks and hands you lemons, I say beat the crap out of it and demand some Florida oranges as well.
By ?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

To keep Venison Fresh.

Housekeepers and cookbook writers of olden times were much more pre-occupied with preserving food than they are today. Every item of food was much more hard-won and the attitude to waste was very different. Did I read somewhere recently that one fifth of all the food purchased in Britain is thrown out? That would have been an unthinkable idea once upon a time. Of course, some of the ideas in old cookbooks seem quite scary today – and many are unsafe.

Our sixteenth century source from yesterday (The widowes treasure …) has this interesting idea for preserving venison.

To keepe Venison fresh a long time.
Presse out the blood cleane, and put it into an earthen pot, and fill it with clarified Honey two fingers aboue the fleshe, and binde a Leather close about the mouth that no ayre enter.

Honey had been used in this way for since ancient times, and there are stories of its use as a preserving agent for the human corpse too. The Greek historian Herodotus claimed that the Babylonians and Assyrians buried their dead in honey. The kings of Sparta were said to be buried in this way too. It is commonly said that Alexander the Great’s body was preserved in a crock of honey (or in some stories a golden coffin) and kept for three years as it was returned to Egypt (or 300 years in some stories). This is likely apocryphal, but as his burial place is not known, the story will have to remain mysterious. It is possible that his body was only anointed with honey, but the amount got magnified as the centuries wore on!

Another story that is also trotted out when burial in honey is mentioned took place in the early 1800’s when some archeologists (or treasure seekers) were exploring some eight hundred-year old tombs in Egypt. They found a crock of honey and were amazed to find it still eatable – so they dipped into it. During their snacking moment, one adventurer found some hairs in the honey – and further investigation discovered an infant fully preserved in the bottom of the pot. Meal discontinued abruptly.

The exclusion of air was known to be important in preserving food for centuries before germ theory was proposed in the mid-nineteenth century by Louis Pasteur, as was the use of a lot of sugar – but was there more to this method than that? Honey is reputed to have anti-bacterial properties, and there has been a huge resurgence of interest in its external use for wounds and ulcers in recent times.There is clearly more to discover on this topic – so watch out for future posts.

Quotation for the Day …

History: an account mostly false, of events unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
Ambrose Bierce.

Monday, February 02, 2009

To keep Pears.

There are some wonderful and wonderfully awful recipes and remedies in a little book called The widowes treasure plentifully furnished with sundry precious and aprooued secretes in phisicke and chirurgery for the health and pleasure of mankinde: hereunto are adioyned, sundry pretie practises and conclusions of cookerie;with many pofitable and holesome medicines for sundrie diseases in cattell, published in London in 1588.

Amongst the formulae for artificial colours, ink, and a whole lot of other ‘secrets’ are specific remedies for ‘sundrie diseases’ in humans (such as ‘To cause one to pisse’ and ‘For one that is deafe’) as well as cattle - and a few recipes for preserving.

Food preservation methods were limited in the sixteenth century (no canning no refrigeration), but necessity breeds some very creative inventions, as you can see from these alternative 'conclusions',  for prolonging the life of pears.

To keep Peares.
Put them in a vessell that they touche not each other, and make a bed of peares and an other of fine white Salt, and cover them close.

To make drye Peares.
Take faire water and Rosewater according to the quantitie of your peares, then take Honye as much as you thinke good and put in your Peares, then let them seethe very softlye that they breake not, then take them out and put them in a Collander and let them drain, then when you drawe your bread put them into the Oven in some earthen panne, and if they be not drye at the first, put them in againe until they be dry, then barrel them.

So, what do you think? I am most intrigued by the idea of pears kept in layers of salt. I guess they would take on a salty tang? And the honey-poached and then dried pears sound absolutely wonderful and eminently tryable today.

Quotation for the Day …

Pounding fragrant things - particularly garlic, basil, parsley - is a tremendous antidote to depression. But it applies also to juniper berries, coriander seeds and the grilled fruits of the chili pepper. Pounding these things produces an alteration in one's being - from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure. The cheering effects of herbs and alliums cannot be too often reiterated. Virgil's appetite was probably improved equally by pounding garlic as by eating it.
Patience Gray.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Laws of Eating.

Today the only worries we have in relation to our daily meals are paying the grocery bill, and eating locally and ethically in a manner acceptable to the nutrition police. Mind you, the latter can be quite tricky – it must be low-fat, low-carb (I live in terror of a fashion for low-protein), high-fibre, low GI, additive-free (unless the additives be vitamins, minerals, good bacteria, natural flavours and colours). But I digress. The only real
police you might have to worry about are the International Environment Police (I am sure they exist) if you tuck into someone from an endangered species. In the past, it was not always the case, and if you were unlucky or greedy you could fall foul of Sumptuary Laws.
Most sumptuary laws related to what you could or could not wear, but some determined what you could and could not eat. There are a number of reasons for the enactment of sumptuary laws. The moral, of course – to minimise the sins of pride, gluttony, or lust (the degree of neckline plunge has previously been legislated). The economic - to protect people from themselves by reducing the temptation to fall into debt; maybe also to provide jobs (enforcers) and raise revenue (fines)? And, perhaps most importantly - to reinforce the social structure in a very visible way, by ruling that only those of a certain rank could wear fur, or the colour scarlet for example, or have more than a couple of blackbirds in a dish.
In 1517, early in the reign of Henry VIII, to reduce the excessive fare at feasts (isn’t that the whole point of feasts?), it was proclaimed that the number of dishes served depended on the rank of the highest person present. A feast with a cardinal could have nine dishes, a parliamentary lord, lord mayor, or knight of the garter could have six, and (to prove that money also talks) anyone who could spend ₤40 a year or whose fortune was worth ₤500 could have three. The problem with enforcing laws of that kind is that the enforcers are from the same class who enjoy the feasting too, so it has rarely worked in practice.
In 1541, Archbishop Cranmer (the man who facilitated Henry VIII’s divorce so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, converted to Catholicism during the reign of Mary I, then recanted and was burned as a Protestant heretic) took his clergy to task on their indulgent lifestyles. His reforming regulations said that a meal for an Archbishop could include not more than six dishes of meat, and four of ‘second dishes’(what we would now call ‘dessert’ dishes), a bishop five of meat and three of second dishes, a dean or archdeacon four of meat and two of second dishes, and the ordinary clergy only two dishes of meat. The rule was honoured more in the breach than in the observance, and everyone gave up on it after a few months. The details are more interesting in their original language, so here they are, in the words of Henry VIII’s antiquary, John Leland (1506-1552)
“In the yeare of our Lord MDXLI it was agreed and condescended upon, as wel by the common consent of both tharchbishops and most part of the bishops within this realme of Englande, as also of divers grave men at that tyme, both deanes and archdeacons, the fare at their tables to be thus moderated.
“First, that tharchbishop should never exceede six divers kindes of fleshe, or six of fishe, on the fishe days; the bishop not to exceede five, the deane and archdeacon not above four, and al other under that degree not above three; provided also that tharchbishop myght have of second dishes four, the bishop three; and al others under the degree of a bishop but two. As custard, tart, fritter, cheese or apples, peares, or two of other kindes of fruites. Provided also, that if any of the inferior degree dyd receave at their table, any archbishop, bishop, deane, or archdeacon, or any of the laitie of lyke degree, viz. duke, marques, earle, viscount, baron, lorde, knyght, they myght have such provision as were mete and requisite for their degrees. Provided alway that no rate was limited in the receavying of any ambassadour. It was also provided that of the greater fyshes or fowles, there should be but one in a dishe, as crane, swan, turkey cocke, hadocke, pyke, tench; and of lesse sortes but two, viz. capons two, pheasantes two, conies two, and woodcockes two. Of lesse sortes, as of patriches, the archbishop three, the bishop and other degrees under hym two. Of blackburdes, the archbishop six, the bishop four, the other degrees three. Of larkes and snytes (snipes) and of that sort but twelve. It was also provided, that whatsoever is spared by the cutting of, of the olde superfluitie, shoulde yet be provided and spent in playne meates for the relievyng of the poore. Memorandum, that this order was kept for two or three monethes, tyll by the disusyng of certaine wylful persons it came to the olde excesse.”
To assist you to flout the old law, here are a couple of nice recipes from a cookbook of the time – A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye (about 1545)

To make a Custarde.
A Custarde the coffyn must be fyrste hardened in the oven, and then take a quart of creame and fyve or syxe yolkes of egges, and beate them well together, and put them into the creame, and put in Suger and small Raysyns and Dates sliced, and put into the coffyn butter or els marrowe, but on the fyshe dayes put in butter.

For to make wardens in Conserue. [Pears in Syrup]
Fyrste make the syrope in this wyse, take a quarte of good romney and putte a pynte of claryfyed honey, and a pounde or a halfe of suger, and myngle all those together over the fyre, till tyme they seeth, and then set it to cole. And thys is a good sirope for manye thinges, and wyll be kepte a yere or two. Then take thy warden and scrape cleane awaye the barke, but pare them not, and seeth them in good redde wyne so that they be wel soked and tender, that the wyne be nere hande soked into them, then take and strayne them throughe a cloth or through a strayner into a vessell, then put to them of this syrope aforesayde tyll it be almost fylled, and then caste in the pouders, as fyne canel, synamon, pouder of gynger and such other, and put it in a boxes and kepe it yf thou wylt and make thy syrope as thou wylt worke in quantyte, as if thou wylt worke twenty wardens or more or lesse as by experience.

Quotation for the Day …
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. Ernest Hemingway.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On the naming of dishes, Part 2.

July 16 ...

Global citizens that we are, connected to everyone, everywhere, 24/7, it is almost impossible to imagine what life was like in the days when the circle only stretched to your immediate community. For most folk, for most of history, the circle was as far as you could walk in the course of your daily work. For some folk, who could read, knowledge of the wider circle could come from books (and newspapers), depending on which were available. There is a delightful point in the diary of the eighteenth century country Parson James Woodforde (who we have met many times before in this blog) when he has sent ‘the boy’ into the big town on an errand. The boy brings the newspaper back to the village – the news by now days to weeks old. The good parson notes briefly in his diary the news about some sort of kerfuffle in France (i.e the beginnings of the Revolution) – the brief note given perspective by appearing in the midst of great detail about the vitally important trivia of day to day life in the parish.

Are we less on mystery and adventure now, for knowing (or being informed of) so everything that is happening everywhere else? For an island nation (like Britain, or Australia), by definition ‘everywhere else’ is ‘overseas’. ‘Overseas’ is far more mysterious than ‘over the border’. Imagine living a couple of hundred years before the good parson, when a dish was strangely, slightly exotic, so that you knew it was not local, but all that you could guess was that it came from ‘beyond the sea.’

To make a stewe after the guyse of beyonde the sea.
Take a pottel of fayre water, and as much wyne, and a breste of mutton chopt in peces, than set it on the fyre and scome it cleane, than put therto a dyschefull of slyced onyons, and a quantite of synamon, gynger, cloves and mace, wyth salte and stewe them all together, and than serve them with soppes.
[Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, c1545]

Tomorrow’s Story …

High and mighty tasty?

Quotation for the Day …

The only cooks in the civilized world are French cooks. . . . Other nations understand food in general; the French alone understand cooking, because all their qualities - promptitude, decision, tact - are employed in the art. No foreigner can make a good white sauce. Louis Victor Nestor Roqueplan, 1853.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Entertaining the Queen.

July 9 ...

Queen Elizabeth I arrived at Kenilworth, the home of her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester on this day in 1575. It was the highlight of her summer ‘progress’ (Royal Tour): the visit, the feasting, and the pageantry lasted eighteen days. Impressing the Queen was an expensive exercise and the honour cost Dudley an unbelievable thousand dollars a day.

There was morris dancing, ‘sundry kinds of very delectable music’, play-acting, stag-hunting, bear-baiting, and all sorts of other frolicsome pastimes in addition to many extravagant dining experiences. The details of this fine little holiday were recorded by one Robert Laneham. He hints at the vast quantities of dainty viands and says that there were ‘full cups everywhere, every hour all kinds of wine’, but unfortunately for us does not give any detailed bills of fare. We must be satisfied with a general description of one of the banquets:

“After the play, out of hand followed a most delicious and (if I may so term it) an ambrosial banquet: whereof, whether I might more muse at the daintiness, shapes, and the cost; or else, at the variety and number of the dishes (that were three hundred), for my part, I could little tell then; and now less, I assure you. Her Majesty eat smally or nothing; which understood, the courses were not so orderly served and sizely set down, but were, by and by, as disorderly wasted and coarsely consumed; more courtly, methought, than courteously : But that was no part of the matter : it might please and be liked, and do that it came for, then was all well enough.”

I have chosen a chicken recipe for you from the Elizabethan era. Simple, but quite good enough to serve a Queen.

To bake a Capon with yolkes of Egges.
When the Capon is made redi, trusse him in to a Coffyn: then take .viii. yolks of egges sodden hard, a pick into every one of them, .v. Cloves, and put the yolks into the Coffyn with the Capon. Then take a quantitie of gynger and salt, and cast it upon the Capon and bake it .iii. houres. Then take .ii. raw yolkes of egges beaten into a Gobbett of veriuce, with a good quantitie of sugre sodden togither, put it into ye Coffyn and so serve it.
[A Treasurie of commodious Conceits, & hidden Secrets. John Partridge, published in 1573.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Gravy, Part 1.

Quotation for the Day …

I never see an egg brought on my table but I feel penetrated with the wonderful change it would have undergone but for my gluttony; it might have been a gentle, useful, hen leading her chickens with a care and vigilance which speaks shame to many women. St. John de Crevecoeur.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi(e) No. 5

March 14 ...

Pi day dawns. In gratitude to the mathematicians of the world who do mathematics ungrudgingly, leaving me free of the worry of it, I give a thanksgiving pie. A thanksgiving pumpkin pie of course, even though I am from the wrong continent(s) entirely for such a tradition. Or am I?

Once upon a time there was ‘a kynde of Melones’ called ‘pompones’ or ‘pompion’. Certainly the pompion was known in England by 1526, when it was described this way in the Grete Herball of Peter Treveris. The term may have been used fairly loosely for a number of edible gourds, but let us stay in the spirit of the day and consider a pompion was close enough to what we would call a pumpkin today (or maybe a squash). There are many recipes for pompion pie in English cookbooks, and when the early seventeenth century English went to the new colony across the Atlantic, they took their cookbooks with them. The pompion/pumpkin pie thrived in its new home so well - as it simultaneously slipped into an elegant decline in its ‘old’ - that it all but forgot its heritage.

Its heritage was not pure Anglo of course (but then the English are a mongrel race if ever we were one) – it seems it had an Italian parent. An ancestor of the pumpkin pie appears in a book published in Venice in the sixteenth century – an ancestor containing cow’s udder - but a recogniseable pumpkin pie nontheless. The first edition of Epulario was in 1516, but it is accepted to be a plagiarised copy of the work of Maestro Martino of Como at least half a century before. The recipe I give you today is from the 1598 English translation, grandly entitled Epulario, Or, The Italian Banquet; Wherein is shewed the maner how to dresse and prepare all kind of Flesh, Foules, or Fishes. As also how to make Sauces, Tartes, Pies, &c. After the Manner of all Countries. Translated out of the Italian into English..

To make a Tart of Pompeons.
Take Pompeons and make them cleane and grate them as you doe Cheese, and boile them a little in broth and milk, then take as much Cheese as aforesaid, adde to it also a little old Cheese, take also a pound of the panch [paunch] of a Hogge, or a Cowes Udder well sodden [boiled] and chopped small, and if you will you may use Butter instead of those two things aforesaid, or Suet, adding to it halfe a pound of Sugar, a little Saffron and Sinamon with a quart of milk, and Egges, as need requireth. And when you thinke the Pompeons are sodden, take them up and straine them, and colour it with Saffron, then make a crust of past under it, put it in a pan, and make a soft fire both under and over it, and being half baked, cover it with Wafers or such like stuffe instead of an upper crust, and being thorow baked, straw it with Sugar and Rosewater.

Monday’s Story …

A dispensation for St Pat’s Day.

Quotation for the Day …

Her washing ended with the day,
Yet lived she at its close,
And passed the long, long night away
In darning ragged hose.
But when the sun in all its state
Illumed the Eastern skies,
She passed about the kitchen grate
And went to making pies.
‘The Wife’ Phoebe Cary (1824-1871)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Succulent Esculents.

February 26 ...

Yesterday’s wonderful source – the Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1715) was so happy to be discovered that it has donated several stories. I wasn’t sure why one seemingly ordinary definition – “Esculents: Plants for Food; as Chokes, Carrets, Turneps etc.” - caught my eye initially, but it had something to do with the idea of esculents sounding succulent, and that phrase sounding catchy. I had no doubt that the words had a similar origin, but it turns out that I was wrong. Both are from the Latin: succulent (from succulentus) meaning “full of juice”, but esculent comes from esca (food), and means “suitable for food”.

I have sadly neglected the carrot up to now. It has been a much esteemed vegetable for many centuries, and at its best should certainly be a succulent form of esculent. It originated in what is now Afghanistan, was prized by the Ancient Romans, and was well known in Europe and England by the Middle Ages. By 1533 the English diplomat Thomas Elyot noted in his book The Castel of Helthe, that “Parsnepes and carettes ... do nourishe with better iuyce [juice] than the other rootes”. According to the Doctrine of Humours (the prevailing medical doctrine of the day) this meant that as a “moist” vegetable they would be very suitable for those of dry “complexion” or temperament, or those suffering from diseases characterised by dry humours. Aside from its caloric and medicinal value, the carrot was also prized for its inherent sweetness, as sugar was still far too expensive for profligate use in medieval times. The sweetness came in handy again four hundred years later during both World Wars when sugar was rationed in the U.K, and carrots (which were home grown and therefore in good supply) were made into jam and put into puddings, pies, and cakes.

Early carrot varieties were white, yellow, red, purple, or black. The orange colour that we now know, which was probably the one familiar to Thomas Elyot, came about as a result of intensive horticulture on the part of the Dutch. We have orange carrots today thanks to a deliberate decision to breed a national vegetable in the patriotic colour of the House of Orange during the fifteenth century.

Perhaps we can best pay homage to the humble carrot by skipping through the centuries, sampling as we go.

Here is how to cook carrots Ancient Roman style, from the Vehling translation of the cookbook of Apicius. Authenticity would demand white or purple carrots, as these were the only ones the Romans knew. These colours are being revived again as “heirloom carrots” if you can find an artisan grower, but in the meantime I am sure you will get the idea with “modern” orange varieties.

Carrotæ et Pastinacæ
The carrots [are] boiled [and] sliced, stewed with cumin and a little oil and are served. At the same time [here is your opportunity] make a cumin sauce [from the carrot juice] for those who have the colic.

If sixteenth century German carrots are more your fancy, and you like some meat with your vegetables, try this recipe from Ein New Kochbuch (1581), by Marx Rumpolt.

Yellow Roots
[could be carrots, parsnips or turnips]
Take yellow roots that are large/ hollow them out/ and take cooked veal that is fine roasted/ chop it with beef fat/ and with bacon/ put many eggyolks thereunder/ and little black raisins/ yellow it/ and fill the yellow roots therewith/ block the opening so that the filling does not climb out/ cook it with a beefbroth/ or brown it in hot butter and when you have browned them / so cook them in beef broth. Make it yellow though/ that it is not brown/ chop green welltasting herbs thereunder/ with whole pepper and whole nutmeg blossom. You may season the filling with garlic or onions/ so it is good and welltasting.

Finally, a sweet pudding from the eighteenth century, from a book with one of my favourite titles: Adam’s luxury, and Eve’s cookery; or, the kitchen-garden display’d (1744). It is actually a pie (or tart), and clearly demonstrates the shared heritage of Pumpkin Pie.

To Make Carrot Puddings.
Scrape your Carrots clean, and grate them; to half a pound of Carrots put a Pound of grated Bread, a Nutmeg, a little Cinnamon, Salt, half a Pound of Sugar, half a Pint of Sack [sherry], eight Eggs, a Pound of melted Butter, as much Cream as will mix it together; stir it and beat it up well, then sheet a Dish with Puff Paste and send it to the Oven.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Whetting the Appetite.

Quotation for the Day …

I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond. Mae West.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Pope comes to dinner.

January 14 ...

Over a thousand people, including Queen Christina of Sweden attended a banquet give for Pope Innocent XI in Rome on this day in 1687. Mine host was His Excellency the Earl of Castelmaine, English Ambassador to Rome, and he put on a fine spread indeed – so fine that the feast remained set out “for two whole days, (according to the Roman way) that everyone's curiosity might have some share in the Entertainment”.

The event was recorded by the Ambassador’s steward, John Michael Wright, and he left some details about the food.

“This large table, having (as is said) these adornments in the middle, had between them, and the napkins, (which were also most artificially folded) two rows of Assiets, or Intermesses, on either side, fill'd with all sorts of relishing bits, whether salt, sweet or soure; as Pickles, Butter, slices of delicate Bacon, Bologna-Sausiges, Taratufoli, Composts, &c., all which, stood in the abovesaid order, for two whole days, (according to the Roman way) that everyone's curiosity might have some share in the Entertainment."

The art of napkin-folding had impressed Samuel Pepys a few decades earlier, so it seems that it was a relatively new fashion in England. The ‘adornments’ were the incredibly elaborate food ‘sculptures’ – like the medieval subtelties or illusion foods that were not necessarily eaten but served as messages of propaganda or symbols of religious devotion, or simply – as in this case – to impress the guests with the wealth and status of the host. These ‘adornments’ were given to eminent ladies to take home – so no doubt they did second duty in eminent homes as symbols of rank and influence.

Mr. Wright’s inclusion of ‘composts’ in his list seems a little old-fashioned for the time. It was already an old word to describe a ‘composition’ or combination of ingredients – as in the modern use of the word to describe a mix of garden refuse in the process of melting down into rich soil. We do still use it in a culinary sense too – although we use the Frenchified version: the little accent mark over the second ‘o’ in compôte indicates the loss of a letter ‘s’. So there you are – next time you have a fruit compote you are really having a modern version of compost.

Composts were not exclusively made of fruit in medieval and early modern times. Here are a couple of versions from Englands first printed cookbook, A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde (1500)

Peres in composte.
To mak peres [pears] in composte tak a good quantite of canelle [cinnamon] and sugur and set it on the fyer to boile and draw yt throughe a stren then lesk [slice or chop]dates thyn and put them ther to in a pot and boille wardens [pears] and pair them and put them in the ceripe [syrup] put ther to sanders [red sandalwood, used to color the dish] and boile them and alay them up with chardwins and salt it and mak yt doucet [sweet] and chargaunt and put it out of the vesselle in to a treene vesselle and let it boille then pare smalle raisins and tried guinger and temper it ij dais or ij nyghtes with wyne then lay it in clarified hony cold a day and nyght then tak the raisins out of the hony and cast ther to peres in composte and serue it furthe with a cold ceripe.

To mak compost.
To mak composte tak chekins [chickens] and halve them then tak saige parsly lekes and other good erbes and chop them small then tak a pint of hony and som of the erbes and lay in the botom of the pot and som of the chekyn then tak lard of pork smale mynced and lay it on and cast ther to pouder of guingere and canelle and boille it and serue it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Living on Parmesan.

Quotation for the Day …

Monsieur Guizot assures us that while he was ambassador in London, his cook was more useful to him politically than his secretaries.
Lucien Tendret (1825-1896) great-nephew of Brillat-Savarin.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Advice for the Melancholy.

Today, October 15 ..

Firstly ….

Before I tell you today’s story, I want to make a little announcement. Small changes are afoot on this blog. I may move away, a little, from the strict “on this day” format (don’t worry, there will still be a story every weekday.)

There are two reasons. One – the negative one – is that I am aware that another blog is systematically stealing my content on a daily basis, with no acknowledgement (I think it is called a “scrapping”). So - if you are reading this and the name The Old Foodie is not at the top of the page, then you are reading this on the site of a word thief. My blog is almost two years old. As the weekend days become weekdays in each succeeding year, if I continue this format by the end of another twelve months I will have covered all 365 days. It is still my hope that I will publish something along the lines of a Food History Almanac in the future, and although I have ample more material for every day of the year, it has been suggested to me that I may be giving away potentially the entire content for such a book to some other thief.

I might add that this person is doing the same thing to another blogger who runs a site called The Art of Drink. By all means go there and say hello to Darcy, who alerted me to the theft and is also trying to get this guy to cease and desist. And no, I am not going to give you the thief’s site address, because if you go to it you will assist him to earn money from the Adsense ads he is running. At this point in time the perp has been notified to the Google Adsense team knee-capping department (at least, I hope that’s one of their disciplinary techniques.)

The second reason for the change – the positive one, I hope – is that there are a lot of lovely stories that do not have a specific date, but do not deserve to be neglected on that account. This applies particularly to the more ancient stories. So, for a little while, or from time to time, I will just give you a random story. It also means that if you have a particular question or idea, then that just might be able to be accommodated too.

And Finally, our story for the day ...

The experts now say that eating chocolate increases our naturally happy-hormones, the endorphins – something that most of us didn’t need scientists to tell us, although their evidence is useful for decreasing any break-through chocolate-guilt.

The idea that food can affect mood is far from new. The ancient Greek Doctrine of the Humours underpinned medical thought until well into the Middle Ages, and it was firmly based in food as medicine and medicine as food and food as potentially mind-altering (and it was not referring only to a certain variety of mushroom). A gross over-simplification of the complex concept that was Humoral Theory goes something like this:

Everything in the natural world is made up of the four elements: Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. Each of these has a particular “quality”: fire is hot, earth is dry, water is moist, and air is cool. A combination of two of these elements gives each natural thing or process its “complexion”, which has an associated “humour”. The four humours are represented in humans by blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile (or choler). A persons “temperament” depends on which humour has “sovereignty”, so there are four basic temperaments:

SANGUINE: complexion is “hot and moist”, blood is the dominant humour.

PHLEGMATIC: complexion is “cold and moist”, phlegm is the dominant humour.

CHOLERIC: complexion is “hot and dry”, yellow bile is the dominant humour.

MELANCHOLIC: complexion is “cold and dry”, black bile is the dominant humour.

Disease was believed to be due to an imbalance of the humours, which is why it was perfectly logical to perform blood-letting if the condition was understood to be due to an excess of that particular humour, or of administering purges or diuretics for other excesses. Alternatively, deficiencies in a particular humour could be addressed by administering a medicine or food which was rich in that humour.

The system was of course more complicated, with varying “degrees” of a quality being assigned to a food, the influence of age, gender and a multitude of astrological and occult influences also having to be taken into account.

To return to our specific topic of the day, first, the diagnosis: a melancholy person could be recognised by these physical signs: digestion slowe and yll, tymerous and fearefull, anger longe and frettynge, seldome laughynge,pulse lytell, urine watry and thynne.

Secondly, the treatment: this was two-pronged. Foods with similar characteristics (i.e that were “cold and dry”) should be avoided, and foods that were “warm and moist” should be eaten. This refers of course to the actual complexion of the food, not its cooking and serving method.

So, if you are of a gloomy temperament, or are in a sad mood, the foods to avoid because they ingendre melancholy are:

Gotes flesshe
Hares flesshe
Bores flesshe
Salte flesshe
Salte fysshe
All pulses except white peason
Browne breadde course
Thycke wyne
Black wyne
Olde Cheese
Olde flesshe
Great fysshes of the see.

As to what to eat, that is proving slightly more complicated for me to advise you. Pork is certainly “hot in the first degree”, so should be good, but I have not been able to find out if it is “moist” enough from a humoral point of view to be suitable for a melancholy person. From a culinary point of view it would certainly be wonderfully moist cooked according to this sixteenth century recipe, if you follow the instructions and use the recommended good store of butter. It is cooked in a pastry “coffin” which functioned like a casserole dish.

To bake a Pigge.
Take your Pig and flea [skin] it, and draw out all that clean which is in his bellye, and wash him clean, and perboyle him, season it with Cloves, mace, nutmegs, pepper & salt, and so lay him in the paste with good store of Butter, then set it in the Oven till it be baked inough.
[A book of cookrye Very necessary for all such as delight therin.1591]

Tomorrow’s Story …

The virtues of coffee.

Quotation for the Day …

Pork - no animal is more used for nourishment and none more indispensable in the kitchen; employed either fresh or salt, all is useful, even to its bristles and its blood; it is the superfluous riches of the farmer, and helps to pay the rent of the cottager. Alexis Soyer 1851.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Victualling the ‘Mary Rose’.

Today, July 19th

On this day in 1545, the Mary Rose, the first purpose built man-o’-war of the English Royal Navy and the pride and joy of Henry VIII, set off to engage the French who had already landed on the Isle of Wight. The King proudly watched it sail off – and was distraught when it almost immediately sank into the depths of the Solent. Less than fifty of the four or five hundred men aboard drowned. Naturally the French claimed credit, but it seems that no cannon had at that point been engaged, and the disaster may have been due to some instability in the ship itself.

The location of the wreck was ignored, found, lost, and found again over the centuries. Its location was rediscovered in 1966, and in 1982, this time under the watchful eye of Prince Charles (President of the Mary Rose Trust), the ship was recovered from its watery bed. The wreck (and the bodies of the crew) will continue to give up priceless information about the Tudor era for many decades, and today I want to tell you about some of the food finds.

Even after almost half a millenium under water, it is amazing what information can still be gleaned by clever scientists and historians. A number of barrels which once held ships provisions have been excavated; nine contained cattle bones from mature beasts, all butchered into standard joints of meat, another one contained pig bones, and there was also evidence of supplies of venison (presumably for the officers) and mutton. There were a large number of baskets of headless fish, mostly North Sea Cod, which would probably have been dried and salted for long preservation.

A supply of peppercorns, and a pepper-mill were recovered too, but to me, one of the most interesting finds was of a basket that had held several hundred plums, and they appear to have been fresh, not dried. There were five varieties of plums in the basket, and would have been a great treat, so unlikely to have been for the enjoyment of the ordinary seaman. The ration for seamen of the mid-sixteenth century was generous by historic standards: each man was allowed seven pounds of ships’ biscuit (hardtack), seven gallons of beer, eight pounds of salted beef, three quarters of a pound of stockfish (dried salted fish), three eighths of a pound of butter and three fifths of a pound of cheese each week.

Today I give you a recipe from a cookbook printed in that same year of the sinking, the Proper newe Booke of Cokerye. Lucky landlubbers who lived close enough to water cooked their fish in a variety of ways in the sixteenth century, and this extract describes a few of them.

Perche, Roche, Carpe, Eles, Floykes and al maner of brouke fyshe.
Take a posye of Rosemary and time and bynde them together, and put in also a quantitye of perselye not bounde, and put into the caudron of water, salte and yeste, and the herbes, and lette them boyle a pretye whyle, then putte in the fysshe and a good quantitye of butter, and let them boyle a good season, and you shall have good Pyke sauce.
For all those fysshes above wrytten yf they muste bee broyled, take sauce for them, butter, peepper and veneger and boyle it upon a chafyngdyshe and then laye the broyled fyshe uppon the dysche; but for Eeles and freshe Salmon nothing but Pepper and vyneger over boyled. And also yf you wyll frye them, you muste take a good quantitie of persely, after the fyshe is fryed, put in the persely into the fryinge panne, and let it frye in the butter and take it up and put it on the fryed fyshe, and frye place, whyttinge and suche other fyshe, excepte Eles, freshe Salmon, Conger, which be never fryed but baken, boyled, roosted or sodden.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Heg Peg Dump.

Quotation for the Day …

As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an an angler. Isaak Walton; The Compleat Angler, 1653-1655

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Fourteenth Guest.

Today, June 14th

Lieut.-Col. Nathanial Newnham-Davis was probably one of England’s first restaurant reviewers. If he were alive today he would no doubt be blogging his experiences, but in the late nineteenth century his only options were to write for newspapers, or publish a book. He did both. His articles frequently appeared in The Times, and he published books called The gourmet's guide to London, and The Gourmet's Guide to Europe.

On this day in 1899, he received a dinner invitation ‘with a tinge of mystery’. He was to dine ‘at one of the cheapest but most amusing places in town’, at a venue for which an introduction was required, where the conversation would be in French, and he was sworn to secrecy as to its whereabouts. It doesn’t sound like a commercially viable idea for a restaurant, does it? After walking through a labyrinth of streets in an unpretentious locality, they entered (via a wine-shop) what was clearly a private apartment, presided over by “Madame” (there is no suggestion that she was A Madam however, in spite of the secretive nature of the evening).

The meal began with a soup and continued with the boiled beef, whereupon “the lady in green” (unlucky colour, that) “made the terrible discovery that we were thirteen at table”. Madame was prevailed upon to sit down (she had been “hovering” and superintending the food, it seems) until a couple of belated guests arrived and saved the night. An admirable chicken, a sweet and cheese and coffee completed the meal for a total cost of two shillings.

Thirteen has been an unlucky number in many cultures for many centuries, and all sorts of explanations are given for the superstition, which I wont go into here. Suffice it to say that thirteen at table is a particular worry, the belief being that one of the guests will die within the year. The point was proved to some when President Wilson died within a year of giving an Armistice dinner for thirteen. The belief was (still is, they say) particularly prevalent in Paris, where independent gentlemen made themselves available as paid guests, called quatorizième (“fourteenth”) ready at a moment’s notice to save the life of someone else at table, in the unfortunate event that only thirteen others turned up.

The number thirteen pops up with varying significance in many places. In Norfolk it is (or was) believed that primroses are unlucky, but if one must bring them into the house, the bunch must not be fewer than thirteen in number, or broody hens (or geese) will hatch only the same number of eggs from the clutch as the number of primroses. As an accompanying belief, the traditional number of eggs to set under a hen is 13 – in the belief that she will then rear 12 and the 13th will be addled.

I therefore give you a recipe for a sixteenth century tart of eggs and primroses, and your guests will be very lucky if you go to the trouble of making it for them. The recipe is given as a variation of a tart of borage flowers.

To make a tarte of borage floures.
Take borage floures and perboyle them tender, then strayne them wyth the yolckes
of three or foure egges, and swete curdes, or els take three or foure apples, and perboyle wythal and strayne them with swete butter and a lyttle mace and so bake it.

To make a tarte of marigoldes primroses or couslips.
Take the same stuffe to euery of theim that you do to the tarte of borage and the same ceasonyng.
[A Propre new booke of Cokery; 1545]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Calf’s Head and Pig’s Face.

Quotation for the Day …

Mark Twain told a friend of an invitation to be the 13th guest at a dinner party. Horrified, the friend advised him, “Don’t go! It’s bad luck!” To which Twain replied, “Nonsense.” The next day, Twain met the friend again and said, “I admit that you were right about the dinner. It WAS bad luck. There was only enough food for twelve.”