Wattle Day – Welcoming the Aussie Spring

Wattle Day - Welcoming the Aussie Spring

Welcome to spring from south-eastern Australia!  The bush around Melbourne is a blaze of golden-yellow Wattle blossoms signaling the end of winter and offering the promise of sunshine to come. Now on the one hand I’m loving all the drought-breaking rain we are currently experiencing, on the other hand I’m OVER IT, bring on the sun!

In 1838 the movement to recognise the 1st of September as Wattle Day in Australia seeded in the island state of Tasmania.  This movement, grew throughout the mainland colonies, fully flowering as a day of national celebration in the early 1900′s. Traditions associated with this day include the wearing of a Wattle sprig as a buttonhole and the festooning of public buildings in Wattle garlands.

Our interest in Wattle Day has waxed and waned since 1838. Modern Australians don’t seem as comfortable as the Victorians were with overt demonstrations of national pride (unless we are beating another nation at a sporting event). So there has been no festooning this year. There was a flotilla of politicians wearing Wattle buttonholes just now on the News but that is just of whole lot of ‘baby-kissing’ as we still haven’t managed to form a Government (enough fussing with buttonholes guys and more focus on the politics).

Wattle - The Sprig for Spring

Historians argue that by tracking the history of Wattle Day and the debate to select our national floral emblem (the glorious Golden Wattle – Acacia pycnantha ) it is possible to track the creation of a national identity. This is a link to a really interesting article by the fabulous historian Libby Robin that follows that discussion.

Wattle Day is certainly the closest that we have ever come to developing a spring ‘May Day‘ tradition. Wattle Day was always more about nationalism than the rites of spring. It lacks the sex, drugs and rock and roll of an old fashioned fertility festival.

To the Indigenous Kulin Nations that lived in the Melbourne region Wattle has different associations. The blooming of Wattles signals a time to consider our ancestors and to acknowledge the passing of Elders in the late winter. The Kulin described seven seasons in Melbourne rather than the European experience of four. This time of the year is really a pre-spring or the Kulin Guling Orchid Season. While as a nation we are still battling to reconcile with each other, this landscape and our climate I take it as a sign of hope that the Wattle is often worn, as a substitute for rosemary in remembrance, by people of both Indigenous and European decent.

The Victorians urged us to unite as a nation beneath the golden blossom of the Wattle there may have been some deep wisdom in their musings after all.

I think the final word needs to go to Monty Python’s ‘Bruces’ Sketch.

“This here’s the wattle, the emblem of our land, You can stick it in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand.”

Curry in a Non-Hurry

Curry in a Non-Hurry

“If Leekes you like, but do their smell dis-like, Eat Onyons, and you shall not smell the Leeke; If you of Onyons would the scent expel, Eat Garlicke, that shall drowne the Onyons’ smell.”  –Dr. William Kitchiner

Isabella Beeton includes fourteen recipes for curries in the Book of Household Management, including lobster curry, which I tried earlier this year, and Indian Curry-Powder [449.], from a Dr. Kitchiner’s Receipt. Here again I have struck gold with regards to one of Beeton’s sources.

William Kitchiner, MD (1775–1827) seemed to have been somewhat of a Renaissance man and an eccentric, who was known for his sauces and spice concoctions. His most famous cookbook was called The Cook’s Oracle (thrillingly subtitled “Containing Receipts for Plain Cookery, On the Most Economical Plan for Private Families; Containing Also a Complete System of Cookery for Catholic Families. Being the Result of Actual Experiments Instituted in the Kitchen of William Kitchiner, MD”). Well, now you don’t have to see the movie to know how it comes out, do you? I love the nineteenth century.

Let’s look at the important part of that gargantuan title: “Result of Actual Experiments.” (!!) Beeton went to the sauce source, it seems. Originally published in 1817, Dr. Kitchiner’s book was an attempt at precision in measurements and timing, rather than instructing the cook to add a bit of this-and-that until it was done. However, Kitchiner acknowledges in his preface to the seventh edition that many of the newly-added recipes had not been tested, though curry powder was not on that list of later recipes.

The book was published through and enhanced through at least the 1840s (William Crescent, the editor for the 1931 edition, released posthumously, notes in his introduction that “many receipts for pastry, preserves, &c, &c have been added to the present edition…”,  making it more of a well-rounded cookbook in keeping with others from that era). I assume Beeton got her hands on a later edition, which presumably means that some of the recipes she lifted for the BOHM were tested, and some were not. Many of Dr. Kitchiner’s recipes are very familiar, textually, such as Portable Soup; of course Beeton’s edit is to extract the  ingredients and lay them out for the reader at the outset like most modern recipes, and to make the language clearer, something she excelled at as an editor.

It is interesting to note that in his preface to the third edition (1819-20?) Kitchiner includes curry powder on a list of sauces, with a little disclaimer:

Store Sauces and many items of Domestic Comfort, which are extravagantly expensive to purchase, and can very seldom be procured genuine, he has given plain directions to prepare at Home–of infinitely finer flavour, and considerable cheaper than they can be obtained ready made…

While 44 years later in her introduction to her chapter on Sauces, Beeton declares that

ALTHOUGH PICKLES MAY BE PURCHASED at shops at as low a rate as they can usually be made for at home, or perhaps even for less, yet we would advise all housewives, who have sufficient time and convenience, to prepare their own.

…Demonstrating that times had changed.

So I decided to try out Dr. Kitchiner’s recipe for curry powder. My old neighbor was from India and he was always exhorting me to make my own. “It’s so much BETTER!” he would say, as he foisted some of his on me as proof.

First, I had to assemble all the spices and let them heat overnight in a cool-ish oven. I did not track down cinnamon seed, but instead used sticks. I didn’t think the powdered and dried ingredients like turmeric and ginger really needed a go in the oven overnight, but I thought I would keep to the spirit of it. Modern curry recipes usually call for toasting the spices in a skillet on the stove top.

Then it was time to grind up the spices. A friend of mine once told me not to monkey around with a mortar and pestle, but to instead use a coffee grinder, so I did. As I ground the spice pile in small batches, I began to sneeze uncontrollably. I think I lost half the contents of my head and the tissues were beginning to turn yellow. My nose burned all day afterward from all the cayenne. Next time I will be smart and wear a handkerchief like a cowboy.

As I ground the spices, I saw that the coriander seeds were losing their outer shells, and that there were a few chunks left behind. I sifted the mixture when it was done to get rid of the excess debris.

It made about two-and-a-half cups, certainly more curry than I have ever purchased in one go.

I decided to use it almost immediately in Curried Fowl [941.]. The base of the curry was meant to be veal gravy, which is not something I keep on hand, so I made some quick gravy with bacon drippings and chicken broth out of the carton. It went over very well and was a nice mixture of hot and flavorful. The dish did not at all resemble what you get in modern Indian restaurants I have eaten in, but was in line with other Victorian Indian dishes I’ve made–the focus is on the curry, a simple gravy, and loads of onions. This one also called for diced apple, which was nice. I will be using the powder for all of the rest of the curry dishes I make this fall.

Visually unexciting, as usual.

I can’t think of anything duller than a long essay on the etymology of the word curry, but I admit I got a little curious about it after stumbling on some writing by Richard Sainthill, an art patron and coin collector who compiled a book of reminiscences and other hodge podge appropriately named An Olla Podrita: or, Scraps, Numismatic, Antiquarian, and Literary, Volume Two [1853]. In this second volume, which features riveting chapter titles such as “The Use of the Samaritan Language By the Jews Until the Reign of Hadrian Deduced from the Coins of Judea” and “Objections to a Laurel Wreath for the Bust of Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the Coinage,” is proof of what can happen when you sarcastically tell someone incredibly dull to “get a hobby already” and they DO, and then they write all about it and expect you to read it.

(Ironic Pause.)

Anyway, Sainthill reproduced some correspondence between himself and a friend whom he only refers to as “Madam Soyers” in regards to Kitchiner and what “real” curry is. Even in the nineteenth century there were obnoxious foodies arguing about authenticity, isn’t that grand? I got all excited because I thought maybe his correspondent was Emma Soyer, Alexis Soyer‘s wife, but I think she was dead by this time and did not travel to India besides. I thought it was worth looking into in spite of the typo, as Sainthill misspelled Kitchiner’s name in the article as well. Sainthill asked Madam Soyers what she thought about Kitchiner’s recipe.

She replied:

Now, both as an eater and maker of curries, I affirm that during nine years’ residence in India I never saw or tasted a curry like Dr. Kitchener’s [sic].

However, she does go on to say that every chef has his own recipe for curry, and surmises that Kitchiner’s recipe may be more similar to concoctions that were created to be imported to London (too turmeric-heavy, suiting English tastes) and not for use in India. I felt that Kitchiner’s was missing garlic, and the “authentic” recipe Madam Soyer includes in her letter from a “most capital cook, Haji Ali” includes it.

Very briefly I will say that while the OED claims the word “curry” comes from a Tamil word, “kari,” meaning sauce/relish for rice, I was interested to see that there is some debate about it. Of course the British appeared in India in the early seventeenth century, but the word “curry” or “cury” was already in the English lexicon. I was interested to find another discussion about the literal meaning of the Tamil word “kari” as well.

As a final aside, Dr. Kitchiner invented something he called “wow-wow sauce,” which does not seem to appear in any form in Beeton’s. There are similar sauces, but no real match. Perhaps it had fallen out of fashion by that time. When I stumbled across this tidbit, I knew the name sounded familiar, and then I got it. Wow-wow sauce is referenced in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an ingredient for a hangover cure. I could be wrong, but based on Kitchiner’s love affair with flash and the exclamation point, I bet the name is pure nonsense. I love it. I am going to order his biography Regency Eccentric as soon as my library reopens from furlough.

Puff Paste for Absolute Beginners

Puff Paste for Absolute Beginners

I. Fruit Turnovers (Suitable for Pic-Nics) [1248.]

I went blackberry picking two weekends ago and decided to jump into the world of pastry with both feet so I would have something to do with the berries besides just eat them. The extent of my pastry “expertise” is making quick pâte brisée and simple crusts for things like empanadas. I peeped at the puff pastry recipe in my 1980s edition of the Joy of Cooking and immediately took note of the fact that it was a page and a half or so, whereas Beeton’s recipe for “puff paste” was not much more than a paragraph. Turnovers called for the Medium Puff Paste [1206.], which called for a mix of lard and butter.

I immediately decided to chuck out modern recipes, and see what Beeton’s would produce. As is often the case, the recipe proved to be a rough outline for, perhaps, what many cooks knew. Many recipes I feel are more of a reminder or the Cliff’s Notes version for rusty experts than a step-by-step.

Rolling the paste

I rolled the “paste” out after stirring the flour and water together, and began slicing the butter over the dough, or in the case of the lard below, spreading it on. I chilled the lard a bit, but perhaps it was too warm. The order was butter, lard, butter.

Spreading the lard layer

I let the dough chill overnight because I was running out of time, and thought warm turnovers would be nice for morning. Plus I knew the air would be nice and cool then. I cut rounds using a small plate and filled them with fresh blackberries that had been lightly macerated with granulated sugar.

Filling the turnovers

They looked pretty and they tasted good, but the dough was a bit “heavy.” Edible, but certainly nothing like what comes out of a pastry case. Plus there was a river of grease in the pan when I took them out of the oven. Seasoned bakers will scoff at my naivité, but I did a little looking online and discovered that croissants, danishes, and their ilk will leak their grease if they do not go into the oven quite cold. I think these turnovers should have had a little sojourn in the fridge before I baked them.

Not all was lost, though. As I said they were perfectly edible.  I decided I am going to make some modern recipes this week that call for quickie frozen puff pastry, like a tomato goat cheese tart, to get some more practice in.

Overall, I am glad I went in blind without trying to remember 4,000 tips, since I tend to over-research things like this. I got a feel for the process without stressing out. I think I will attempt to apply this lesson to more aspects of my life. It is not always necessary to do things perfectly the first time, is it?

NYARM! goes the Strudel.

II. Strawberries in Madeira Redux

GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE. I finally figured out the point of preserving strawberries in madeira. I mentioned earlier this month that two months later the strawberries were unlovely and not very tasty, either. However! The resulting madeira is very, very delicious. It still tastes strongly of madeira, but also completely like strawberries. I am enjoying a small glass of this once and a while on ice.

Liquid Strawberry

This week I am making “curry powder.” I know there are many, many varieties available–I am going to see if I can figure out what this recipe was attempting to ape. I have been meaning to try this for years, so I am excited.

The Haunted Liver

The Haunted Liver

From this point on, for the most part I will be focusing more on individual recipes and less on giant epic meals, though I do have some planned for the holidays. I have been and am going to be doing a lot of pickling from now through September, including genuine Mango Chetney (Caution: Chetney contains no mangos. Do not taunt happy fun chetney.).

I. Pickled Eggs

Because my house needs to have more of the atmosphere of a ye olde pub, I decided to pickle eggs. The jar can sit on a shelf with some relics from the Crusades, and the shelf can sit next to a giant taxidermied black bear.

Measure twice; cut once

The pickling spice was black peppercorns, Jamaica pepper (a.k.a allspice), and fresh ginger in vinegar.

You simmer this for ten minutes. I chose white wine vinegar, as I have been for my projects lately, because I feel like it is pretty middle of the road as far as vinegars go–about as close to “neutral” as you are going to get. White vinegar always seems too harsh for anything except cleaning the floor and dying eggs, and anything else has too much character.

16 naked hardboiled eggs stand before me.

I put the eggs into a jar and then you put the pickling juice over them. Easy!

I shall call my pub The Haunted Liver

I will come see you again in a month, girls. Wikipedia says that “pickled eggs have been linked to unpleasant smelling intestinal gas.” I enjoy the fact that this is mentioned under the subheading, “Uses.” Beeton says,”A store of pickled eggs will be found very useful and ornamental in serving with many first and second course dishes.” Indeed, a few recipes suggest garnishing with hardboiled eggs. This should work as well.

II. A Simple Supper

Last night I quick-fried flounder fillets and they were completely scrumptious. I have been wanting to make more fish recipes, and I hit on the recipe for fried flounder as something that was both “in season” (I know seasonality is practically moot now, and indeed the fillets arrived frozen, but Beeton says they were in season from August to November), and something I have never tried. I have fried fish many, many times in panko and “ordinary” crumb, and in corn and wheat flours.

What made this slightly different is that the recipe called for garnishing with fried parsley. Were the Victorians even cooking PARSLEY inappropriately? You bet your hook-and-eye boots they were.

A casual look reveals something that looks like ordinary parsley, but it had a nice snap and green flavor. I love parsley, but I find it overpowering at times. Frying it really mellowed the flavor. A recipe is hardly needed–make oil hot, gently set parsley in, and remove with a slotted spoon. Beeton called for quickly drying them fireside so I popped them into a warmed oven on a paper towel-covered plate to let them drain and stay crisp.

Fried flounders with parsley

And it worked very well with the texture of the flounders.

I served it with a simple cucumber dish which is titled “To Dress Cucumbers.” I think it’s funny that so many dishes are listed as “To Cook X” or “To Make X.” When people ask what they are eating, it makes things somewhat unwieldy. “What’s this? It’s To Cook Carrots in the German Way.” If anything else, I suspect it just reveals the diversity of Beeton’s sources and her haste in the editing process. I have been staring at this book for so long I can sometimes guess if she stole a particular recipe from Eliza Acton or M. Ude.

The salad was VERY simple, featuring cucumbers, salad oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. A good pairing with the fried fish.

III. Anchovy Redux

Last time I posted I was pretty excited about anchovy butter. I did it again:

I think you can see little fish-bits, maybe? They are very finely minced. I spread the butter on toast.

And broiled them for a couple of minutes.

This is really an excellent alternative to garlic bread. I served these with a tomato-heavy salad with vinaigrette, but I could see these with meat or a bolognese. I rewrote the recipe, below. Obviously, it is easy to divide this recipe. I used one American stick of unsalted butter (4 oz.) and mixed in two anchovies.

Anchovy Butter [1637.]

Ingredients.

To every lb. of room-temperature unsalted butter allow 6 jarred anchovies

1 small bunch of parsley, finely minced

a pinch of salt if desired

Mode.—Finely chop anchovies and mix well all ingredients, and make the butter into pats immediately. This makes a pretty dish, if fancifully moulded, for breakfast or supper.

Sufficient to make 2 dishes, with 4 pats each.

Seasonable at any time; delicious on corn on the cob, spread on good bread and then broiled or toasted, chicken, or mild fish.

****

I am going out of town this weekend. When I return, I will write about my recent adventures with booze and cordials.

Umami Wears Army Boots

Umami Wears Army Boots

Hello Victorianophiles, I suppose you must think I fell down some consumption-induced rabbithole in my quest for authenticity. Have I been in a syphilis-induced fugue? WORSE! I moved. It went very well, and I have moved to another rental. Many people assumed I was buying, but no, no interest in doing that in the city I currently reside in. I understand from my readings that sometimes Victorians would enter into leases up to seven years, and that most people rented at that time. It’s interesting to me that there was some minority of people who held the majority of the real estate if this was the case.

I come to you selfishly with a short update that is meant more as a kick in the pants for me to start again than anything profound or detailed. I have discussed this with other bloggers, and we often agree that the longer you wait, the harder it is to restart again.

So, I bring you a picture of my Strawberries Preserved in Madeira.

Rather puce

As you can see, the color has been somewhat bleached out of them. I pulled one out the other day, about two months later, to see what they are like. They are getting a little “hairy” (not mold, but kind of fruit softening around the edges), but still have a firmness to them at their center. They almost completely taste of Madeira now, with a very slight fruit undertone. This is yet another recipe in Beeton’s that does not explain what to do with fruit preserved in this fashion. I think I will make a cake from the BOHM soon and try the fruit over that. It will be fun to strain the wine off and drink it as well.

I took pictures of the sliced strawberries before they went down mine and my daughter’s eager hatches, and I also photographed a reconstituted bowl of Portable Soup. I can show you what the cubes look like, but not the soup, because somehow I deleted both the soup and the sliced berries pictures. Again, I blame the move. Sigh.

Recently, I also made Anchovy Butter [1637.] which, unsurprisingly, appears twice with slight variations. I used one that called for mixing anchovies, butter, and chopped fresh parsley.

I am no fan of anchovies, really, though I do generally like fish. I added two jarred anchovies, the kind you lay on pizza, chopped, to a stick (8 ounces) of butter, and a small handful of flat chopped parsley from the garden in the old house. (There is a major lack of herbs at the new house, which I am working to remedy as soon as possible.)

I was prepared to dislike anchovy butter, but surprise! I did like it very much. I served it soft in a dish and that night we spread it on chicken breast, steamed corn on the cob, and french bread. I will tell you what happened: Reader, I umami’d them. Okay, so the bread ended up tasting slightly fishy. But the other two foods were totally kicked up. I will make it again.

So, I am back on duty. For the rest of the summer I am going to concentrate on reworking meat and veggies recipes. I hope your summer/winter is going well (depending on where you are).

Mint Juleps? Yarm!

Mint Juleps?  Yarm!

I was reading about bootleg bourbon and came across a note about the fermentation stage. Grind up a bunch of corn, mix with water, warm up, and then leave it in the woods to get stanky. Kind of like coming back from a week’s vacation to discover you forgot to wash out the polenta pot, except with bourbon, you do it on purpose. So that’s kind of gross, but it gets better.

Back in the day I baked lemon bars and forgot to cover them up before going to bed. I came back and there were tiny mouse footprints all over the lemon curd. Similarly, the bootleggers hop in their Charger and peace out back to their farm leaving a giant cauldron of corn goo in the woods. And approximately the same thing happens to the goo that happened to my lemon bars. Which, again, is kind of nasty. And, again, it gets better.

Possums being the horrible reprobates they are will find the corn mash, climb in, and start chomping. Unfortunately for the possums and also for the corn mash, they don’t hold their liquor too well. They have a tendency to get super drunk, pass out, and drown in the mash. But hey, a little possum never hurt anyone, right? So we’ll go ahead and distill the mash.

I shouldn’t like mint juleps, I really shouldn’t. Or any other cocktail made of bourbon. I know about the possums in the bootleg stills. I shouldn’t be able to calmly sip a julep from a sweating glass, but you know what? I can do it. No possum’s going to be the boss of me. And anyway, look at these gorgeous cups.

The julep has been around a long time. It shows up in Beeton’s. And I found a bunch of old recipes for various versions. Though I notice that neither of these use any possum bourbon:

AMERICAN MINT JULEP
Put into a tumbler glass some powdered sugar, a bunch of spear-mint, a wine-glass of sherry wine, the same quantity of brandy, and fill the tumber[sp] with broken ice.


Mint Julep
.–To equal quantities of rum, cognac, and sugar, add fresh mint, herb, and fill the glass half full with gin and water.

So what’s my point? Don’t have one. It’s summer. I’m going home and have a julep.

Weird animal heads fine; cheese too smelly.

Weird animal heads fine; cheese too smelly.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of Victorian literature lately, mostly Mrs Gaskell. I started with Cranford, inspired by the first season of the BBC series (the second series is pants, unfortunately), and have currently moved on to Wives and Daughters, which handily has the full text available online for anyone inspired to follow up.

Anyway, one of the recurring motifs in the book is that chaps like to eat cheese. Bread and cheese, usually, even if they are lords, and their wives find this vulgar.

There is one character in particular (the widowed Mrs Kirkpatrick) who is concerned about the gentility of cheese-eating, and eating in general. She is horrified to learn that her fiance, Dr Gibson, likes nothing better than a bit of bread and cheese, when she asks his daughter Molly what his preferences are.

‘Papa doesn’t care what he has, if it’s only ready. He would take bread-and- cheese, if cook would only send it in instead of dinner.’
‘Bread-and-cheese! Does Mr Gibson eat cheese?’
‘Yes; he’s very fond of it,’ said Molly, innocently. ‘I’ve known him eat toasted cheese when he has been too tired to fancy anything else.’
‘Oh! but, my dear, we must change all that. I shouldn’t like to think of your father eating cheese; it’s such a strong-smelling, coarse kind of thing. We must get him a cook who can toss him up an omelette, or something elegant. Cheese is only fit for the kitchen.’
‘Papa is very fond of it,’ persevered Molly.
‘Oh! but we will cure him of that. I couldn’t bear the smell of cheese; and I’m sure he would be sorry to annoy me.’

When she marries, she upsets her new household by moving dinner from mid-day to evening, and then she starts in on her husband (who is a busy doctor) and his habit of snatching a snack in the kitchen. The new Mrs Gibson is constantly worried about the smell of food permeating the dining room, but it’s cheese that really agitates her.

Of course, this made me wonder if Mrs Beeton condoned recipes for cheese (toasted or otherwise). Actually, as it turns out, Mrs Beeton is credited with popularizing cheese on toast (aka Scotch Rare-bit), and macaroni cheese, according to some sources. Her recipes include an putting mustard or anchovy paste in cheese sandwiches, and there’s a rather dashing Brillat Savarin fondue recipe replicated verbatim.

Although apparently free from anti-cheese prejudices, given that she does present a number of cheese-based recipes, Mrs Beeton does have a few cautionary words to say:

CHEESE.– It is well known that some persons like cheese in a state of decay, and even “alive.” There is no accounting for tastes, and it maybe hard to show why mould, which is vegetation, should not be eaten as well as salad, or maggots as well as eels. But, generally speaking, decomposing bodies are not wholesome eating, and the line must be drawn somewhere.

That’s a no to casu marzu, then.

The cheese course Mrs Beeton describes seems to be designed for a rather fancy dinner, with little bits of cheese cut up and accompanied by “Rusks, cheese-biscuits, pats or slices of butter, and salad, cucumber, or water-cresses”. This fiddly method of serving would seem to be right up Mrs Gibson’s alley, since she insists on serving a “dessert” of nuts and dried fruit, whether anyone wants to eat it or not.

So, although Molly knew full well, and her stepmother knew full well, and Maria knew full well, that neither Mrs Gibson nor Molly touched dessert, it was set on the table with as much form as if Cynthia had been at home, who delighted in almonds and raisins; or Mr Gibson been there, who never could resist dates, although he always protested against ‘persons in their station of life having a formal dessert set out before them every day.’ And Mrs Gibson herself apologized as it were to Molly to-day, in the same words she had often used to Mr Gibson, – ‘It’s no extravagance, for we need not eat it – I never do. But it looks well, and makes Maria understand what is required in the daily life of every family of position.’

Mrs Beeton does allude to bread and cheese as being filling and thus popular with labourers, in her recipe for cheese sandwiches, which is perhaps the source of Mrs Gibson’s horror at the doctor’s overt enjoyment of such a meal.

Mrs Gaskell seems quite fond of using food and food preferences as a way of giving an insight into her characters’ social and economic status. The ladies in Cranford, for instance, have a hilarious pretense of being surprised by the contents of meals they have cooked themselves. Here, she’s clearly building up what eventually becomes a very unflattering portrait of a shallow and materialistic woman in Mrs Gibson, who is desperately trying to appear of a higher status than she is, while her husband, confident in his own character and merits, sends her into conniptions by eating bread and cheese in the kitchen.

A Hole In The Osmazome* Layer [Updated with results]

A Hole In The Osmazome* Layer [Updated with results]

26-Jun, Saturday, 9:08 a.m. Good morning! I have just completed what I consider Stage One of Portable Soup, which took twelve hours (largely unattended simmering…okay, you caught me, I slept through most of it). This recipe has intrigued me for months, since it aims to help the cook produce highly condensed soup that can be diluted and used later–sort of a proto-bouillon. Stage one was very reminiscent of making stock, except for the overnight simmering instead of five hours.

A huge pile of meat scrap, veggies, herbs, and spices.

Twelve Hours Later, Broth Forms

The leftovers with all the goodness simmered out.

The result was a golden, slightly viscous liquid that was very similar to the stocks I’ve been making. My next step is to let it sit in the fridge for 4-6 hours until the fat settles out, and then back to boiling. I’ll let you know how it’s going.

27-Jun, Sunday, 12:16 p.m.

Well, after many hours of soup-reducing toil, we have results. Are they the proper results? I am unsure.

Stage Two commenced Saturday afternoon after I entered the original post above. I removed my large pot of strained broth from the refrigerator and skimmed off much of the still-liquidy fat that had risen to the top. Then I started to boil. And boil, and boil, and BOIL. Beeton’s called for eight hours of boiling, which I thought sounded a little excessive (which, admittedly, is keeping with the spirit of this entire weekend’s work) so I kept an eye on things.

The broth had boiled down about as low as I felt comfortable letting it go over open heat in about two hours, and the reduction was maybe one-sixth of the size it had started at in my large stockpot.

Condensed stock. You can see how the fat is already separating out moments after taking it off the hob.

The broth at this point smelled rich and delicious, and looked like fresh espresso. My sister was over and we joked that it was so concentrated if you drank the glass you would instantly gain 600 pounds. I set it aside overnight covered so it could do its final settle and fat separation.

Cold Goo Almost Ready for Stage Three

This morning I was greeted by a stewpot full of goo: Stage Three. I carefully peeled off the thin layer of fat and transferred the goo into the bowl I would be using as a makeshift double boiler. A double boiler is something else I have not bothered to invest in. What do you think, worth it?

You Encounter a Gelatinous Cube!

After two hours of double boiler action, the soup seemed reduced down enough to maybe harden into cakes. Maybe? I was unsure.

Beeton’s suggests using them in walnut-sized chunks, so I decided to just form the like that in the first place, in this handy ice cube tray that I never use. After they cool I will pop them out and let them dry out for a while “on a flannel.” These directions are all so nebulous it makes me tear my hair.

7 Cubes that We Pray Can Be Extricated

Aren’t they lovely, though? They look like lacquer or something.

Here is Beeton’s original recipe that so far I am using with very few modifications, if any that I have modified in stages two and three:

PORTABLE SOUP

180. INGREDIENTS – 2 knuckles of veal, 3 shins of beef, 1 large faggot of herbs, 2 bay-leaves, 2 heads of celery, 3 onions, 3 carrots, 2 blades of mace, 6 cloves, a teaspoonful of salt, sufficient water to cover all the ingredients.

Mode.—Take the marrow from the bones; put all the ingredients in a stock-pot, and simmer slowly for 12 hours, or more, if the meat be not done to rags; strain it off, and put it in a very cool place; take off all the fat, reduce the liquor in a shallow pan, by setting it over a sharp fire, but be particular that it does not burn; boil it fast and uncovered for 8 hours [two hours seemed like enough], and keep it stirred. Put it into a deep dish, and set it by for a day. Have ready a stewpan of boiling water, place the dish in it, and keep it boiling; stir occasionally, and when the soup is thick and ropy, it is done [again, another two hours]. Form it into little cakes by pouring a small quantity on to the bottom of cups or basins; when cold, turn them out on a flannel to dry. Keep them from the air in tin canisters.

Average cost of this quantity, 16s.

Note.—Soup can be made in 5 minutes with this, by dissolving a small piece, about the size of a walnut, in a pint of warm water, and simmering for 2 minutes. Vermicelli, macaroni, or other Italian pastes, may be added.

* From Beeton’s, in the preface to the soup chapter:

100. OSMAZOME is soluble even when cold, and is that part of the meat which gives flavour and perfume to the stock. The flesh of old animals contains more osmazome than that of young ones. Brown meats contain more than white, and the former make the stock more fragrant. By roasting meat, the osmazome appears to acquire higher properties; so, by putting the remains of roast meats into your stock-pot, you obtain a better flavour.

The Tea Trade

The Tea Trade

It’s hard for me to imagine England without tea.  High tea in the afternoon with scones, three kinds of jam, and terribly unsatisfying sandwiches.  The gentry taking tea in paper-thin porcelain cups after doing in a fox who seriously wasn’t asking for it.  John Cleese as some ridiculous character drinking his tea with his pinkie out so far, passerby are endangered.  But how’d it get that way?  Tea is from China, after all, half a world away.

The tea shrub (Camellia sinensis) is thought to be native to that part of the world where India, China, Burma and Tibet rub shoulders.  But it was first widely cultivated in China.  People have grown and drunk tea in China for so long that it’s origins are archaeological, rather than historical.  But for our purposes the important part is that when the British began trading with China, all the world’s tea was in China.

Cultivation of tea is a good deal more involved than say growing tomatos.  After propogation the tea plant requires pruning for ease of harvest and to get the maximum output.  Once picked, the tea requires several processing steps to produce a finished product.  Besides all of the worlds tea plants growing in China, so were all of the people who knew how to grow and process tea.  Europeans thought green tea and black tea came from different plants.  Botanists even went so far as naming two different tea plants, one black and one green.

The British would have to trade, but that wouldn’t turn out to be so easy.  Tea is a mountain plant, growing well as high as the foothills of the Himalayas.  Good tea growing geography is not so good for growing grain like wheat and rice, and tea was traditionally traded within china for food.  When the British trade ships arrived in China, the Chinese did not particularly need a new tea market, were not that excited at the prospect of British trade goods, and were not at all interested in cultural exchange.  Foreign traders were restricted to the port of Canton and the only trade good the Chinese would accept was silver, not something in over abundance in England.

With the almost complete disinterest China had in British traders and with the restrictions placed upon those traders, it’s a bit surprising that coffee didn’t become the caffinated beverage of choice in England.  But the history of Europe is not particularly harmonious.  The Portugese and Dutch traders were already established in the coffee growing regions of Africa and not at all interested in competition from the British East India Company.  The British had taken over large tracts of land in Ceylon to grow coffee.  But the plantations fell victim to a fungal epidimic, almost totally demolishing production.  So goodbye Ceylon, for now, but we’ll come to back to you in awhile.

Now back to Canton.  Paying silver for tea was expensive.  In a story reminiscent of the triangular trade of molasses for rum for slaves, the British hit upon growing opium in India to trade to China for tea which was then sold in England.  Part of the money from the sale of the tea was then used to pay for troops to maintain control in India. Troops were quite necessary to maintain control in India.  The opium was grown on land traditionally used for cotton or food production, leading to economic hardships for the Indian workers.

China was and is immensely large, populous, and tough.  It’s central government was quite well established.  The British East India Company was able to continue trading opium for tea in the face of Chinese objections.  But there was essentially no posibility of them colonizing China as they had done in India.  Up to this time, all the tea in China was still all the tea in the world.  But this was about to change.

Let’s now return to the ruined coffee plantations of Ceylon and the jungles of India.  A botanist named Robert Fortune managed to secure tea plants.  Using elephants and Indian laborers, they cleared vast areas of Indian jungle to plant tea gardens.  Eventually, the tea harvests of India and Ceylon rivaled those of China, which is kind of amazing considering that before the Victorian era, neither country grew any tea at all.  When I consider how the colonization of India effected British kitchens, I usually think of curry.  But that’s nothing compared to tea.

Sources:
Harvesting Mountains: Fujian and the China Tea Trade, 1757-1937
Tea: The Drink that Changed the World
Wikipedia

Timeline of the Tea Trade

1557 Portugal trades with China at Macao
1600 British East India Co. chartered
1619 British East India Co. establishes factory in Western India
1657 Dutch trade tea in London
1662 Catherine of Braganza marries Charles II, bringing habit of tea drinking from Dutch capital to London. Marriage allows British access to trade routes controlled by Dutch
1669 First tea imported by British East India Co.
1685 All Chinese ports open for trade
1715 All Chinese ports except Canton closed
1729 Chinese edict against using opium
1750 > 10 million lbs. tea imported by British
1757 Battle of Plassey
1758 Parliament grants British East India Co. monopoly to produce opium in India
1796 British East India Co. switchs to trading tea for opium via independant traders
1799 Chinese edict against importing opium
1803 Anglo-Maratha conflicts begin
1805 Anglo-Maratha conflicts end
1830 Son of Chinese emperor dies of opium overdose
1834 British East India Co. monopoly on trading tea from China ends
1840 First Opium War begins
1842 First Opium War ends, Treaty of Nanking opens ports to British and cedes Hong Kong
1848 Conquest of the Sikhs in India
1848 Robert Fortune collects and ships to India twenty-thousand high-quality tea plants, in addition to instruction from 8 Chinese tea experts
1856 Second Opium War begins
1857 India becomes British colony
1858 Second Opium War ends, Treaty of Tientsin opens more ports and allows Christian missionaries into China
1862 2 million lbs lbs tea imported from India
1866 6 million lbs tea imported from India, 90% of British tea still from China
1869 Fungus begins killing coffee plants in Ceylon
1888 86 million lbs tea imported from India, for the first time more tea from India than China
1900 Tea replaces coffee as major crop in Ceylon
1911 End of opium shipments to China by British East India Co.

Capturing Early Summer

Capturing Early Summer

“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I’m cooking.” –Julia Child

Here it is June, somehow, and I find myself thinking about strawberries. I wondered if Beeton thought of strawberries in June as well. The BOHM has very few strawberry recipes: a simple one for strawberries and cream, which I will be trying tonight, a jam and a jelly recipe, and lots of advice for arranging fresh fruit on trays and platters in pleasing pyramid and tower shapes. The unspoken message here, I suppose, is that strawberries are excellent fresh and enjoyed with no adulteration.

Beeton tells us that the name “strawberry” is derived from

an ancient custom of putting straw beneath the fruit when it began to ripen, which is very useful to keep it moist and clean. The strawberry belongs to temperate and rather cold climates; and no fruit of these latitudes, that ripens without the aid of artificial heat, is at all comparable with it in point of flavour. The strawberry is widely diffused, being found in most parts of the world, particularly in Europe and America.

This is a popular story that I had heard well before reading it in Beeton’s, but by some accounts, untrue. It looks like another case in the English language where the meaning is assumed to be very literal (strawberries=berries bedded in straw) much like “forcemeats,” which meant “spiced meat” rather than the very literal “filling that is stuffed (forced) into other meats.” I know I am going all Captain Obvious on this topic, but I do like how English is never as simple or literal as it may seem on the surface.

So, strawberry pyramids seem like a fun way to impress guests, but what if it is 1865 and you want to save strawberries to enjoy later? I decided to Preserve Strawberries in Wine [1595]. The wine it calls for is madeira or port, which is something I enjoy, but do not have a lot of taste or experience in. I am much more of a sauvignon blanc person–very fruity, green wine suits me.

I went to a local wine shop where I knew they would know MUCH more than I did. I chose some midrange-priced, “rainwater” madeira, with the intention of sweetening it, and thinking I would drink the leftovers. I am having a small glass as I write this–delicious.

Two Pounds of Strawberries

The recipe is very simple: stem and hull the strawberries and cover them with sweetened madeira. This is where we get into trouble with Beeton’s. How long do we keep them for? Strawberries float, is that a problem for rot? John Smythe, our pickling master here at TQS, has advised me to “weight” the strawberries using a plastic bag filled with water as is sometimes done with pickles. I think I am going to give them a day or so to see if the berries become wine-logged and sink on their own.

Strawberries in madeira

I used two pounds of strawberries, three ounces of sugar, and a bottle (750 ml) madeira. My plan is to pull some out in August and test them, and slice them over ice cream or poundcake. The rest I will pull out during the holidays–I think they could be very interesting as a compliment to the rich meats served at that time. I am sure I will do something with the leftover madeira as well–it could be easily reduced to be a dessert sauce, I think.

One more thing that I am very excited about that I should have done months ago:

EXACTLY Three Ounces

A food scale! Even if it is not perfectly accurate, it got decent reviews and will cut out a lot of my careful math and guesswork.

PRESERVED STRAWBERRIES IN WINE.

1595. INGREDIENTS – To every quart bottle allow 1/4 lb. of finely-pounded loaf sugar; sherry or Madeira.

Mode.—Let the fruit be gathered in fine weather, and used as soon as picked. Have ready some perfectly dry glass bottles, and some nice soft corks or bungs. Pick the stalks from the strawberries, drop them into the bottles, sprinkling amongst them pounded sugar in the above proportion, and when the fruit reaches to the neck of the bottle, fill up with sherry or Madeira. Cork the bottles down with new corks, and dip them into melted resin.

Seasonable.—Make this in June or July.

1595. Preserved Strawberries in Wine [My version]

1 750 ml bottle rainwater madeira
3 ounces sugar
2 lbs. hulled and cleaned strawberries

In a wide-mouthed jar, stir sugar into wine until dissolved and then add strawberries. Screw on lid and hope for the best! I’ll let you know.