Bread Pudding in Guts

From a 1694 London cookbook comes this recipe that I thought amusing. Unfortunately it leaves a lot out, like cooking time, but I’m sure a modern cook could experiment and figure it all out.

Bread Pudding in Guts
Take some Cream and boil it with Mace and mix therewith some Almonds blanched and beaten with Rosewater, then take Cream, Eggs, Nutmeg, Currans, Salt and Marrow, and mingle them all together, with as much grated white Bread, as you shall think sufficient, and herewith fill your guts.

Source: The Compleat Cook, by T. P. J. P. R. C. N. B., et. al., London, 1694, pages 317-8.

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The New Hygiene, or, Everything Is Bad for Us

We often assume that the way things are today isn’t the way things used to be; we live in very different times compared to our ancestors. Take, for example, attitudes toward food. A lot of our attitudes about food are negative today, with lots of lists of foods that are bad for us and things we should stay away from.

It’s easy to assume that’s a new way of looking at food, but the fact is that negative ideas about food have been around for a long time. I was looking through some very old magazines and came across a poem from Munsey’s Magazine that illustrates some fairly negative ideas about foods, and a reaction against those ideas.

Munsey’s was a general interest magazine, so the issue that ran this poem also has articles on a war between Russia and Japan, and some short stories. The April, 1904, issue includes a number of poems, and one in particular caught my eye. The magazine apparently offered prizes for submitted poems, since this poem won second place.

What’s interesting is how many food fads and ideas this 114-year-old poem hits. Vegetarianism, teetotaling, eating raw foods, drinking raw water, rejecting canned foods–it’s all here. It even hits on some problems with outdoor activities like playing football and driving the car.

There’s a new-fangled science that sets at defiance
All efforts to have any good of our wealth.
In eating or drinking, in working or thinking,
Whatever we do, it is bad for our health.
We must not eat toffee; we must not drink coffee;
In cocoa there’s paresis, poison in tea.
Disease germs just swarm in the room that we’re warm in,
And drafts of cold air mean a gravedigger’s fee.
There’s nothing that’s healthful, there’s nothing that’s clean,
If we heed all the rules of the new hygiene!

Raw food is pernicious; if cooked, not nutritious;
Fruit makes us too bilious, and sugar too fat;
Vegetarian diet runs down those who try it,
And meat’s only fit to be thrown to the cat.
If we fry it we spoil it; ’tis deadly to boil it,
And nothing should ever be roasted or stewed;
All canned stuffs infected; fish must be rejected,
And all breakfast foods with suspicion be viewed.
It’s a safe proposition that man will grow lean
If he eats by the rules of the new hygiene!

One tells us ’tis risky to drink any whisky;
Another, teetotal regime will deride;
Wine causes hysteria; milk’s full of bacteria;
Of lager beer many a victim has died.
The typhoid bacillus that’s likely to kill us
Is found in the water we draw from the well,
While that from the river is bad for the liver.
And fouled are the springs that they bottle and sell.
If all this is true, it is plain to be seen
There is naught fit to drink in the new hygiene.

In sports we grow colder, for golf has its shoulder,
Lawn-tennis its elbow, and football its knee;
While automobiling and all kinds of wheeling
Will give us the face that is frightful to see.
We must not dress thickly—that makes a man sickly;
We must not dress thinly—we may catch the grip.
And—here’s the most awful—a kiss is unlawful,
Especially when it is pressed on the lip.
Oh, few will our joys be in life, if we mean
To abide by the rules of the new hygiene!
-Ross Lawrence.

Source: Munsey’s Magazine, Volume XXXI, Number 1, April 1904, pages 24-25.

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Liquor in the old South

Years ago I read in some food history book or another that the South, before the 20th century, was a culture with a serious drinking habit. The United States as a whole back then drank a lot–most of it in the form of hard liquor rather than beer or wine, and the per capita annual amount of hard liquor consumed was measured in the gallons–but southern culture was known to take drinking even beyond that.

This was driven home to me in reading Martha McCulloch-Williams’s Dishes and Beverages of the Old South, which I wrote about previously. In that book McCulloch-Williams, who was raised on a large plantation her father owned, writes about the foods she remembered from her childhood.

Liquor shows up throughout the book. Her tea recipe, she admits, is “unorthodox, but people like to drink the brew.” Her method of making the tea is pretty typical, having the cook boil water, then add a tablespoonful of tea per gallon of water, let it boil a minute, then strain into a warm container. The tea should then be served “in tall glasses with rum and lemon, or with sherry syrup, flavored with lemon, add a Maraschino cherry or so, or a tiny bit of ginger-flavored citron.” (234-5)

She has a recipe for persimmon beer (which she calls “The poor relation of champagne”) that’s unlike any other beer recipe I’ve seen. To make the beer the cook first mashes ripe persimmons and mixes those with wheat bran “to make a stiffish dough.” That dough is made into thin cakes which are baked until crisp. The cakes are broken up into a barrel filled with rain water that is then covered by a thin cloth and set in a warm, dry place. After some time–maybe days, maybe weeks, she doesn’t say–“the persimmon cakes will rise and stand in a foamy mass on top.” (73-4) You’ve got your persimmon beer.

Southerners took their liquor seriously. At several places in the book McCulloch-Williams refers to “peach and honey,” and then finally describes how it was made. “Peach and honey” was apparently the finest homemade liquor made where she grew up, although it took years to produce. One first makes homemade peach liquor (which, since that requires distilling alcohol, is illegal today) and lets the liquor stand in barrels for two years. That peach brandy is then mixed with honey, the amount of honey being up to the maker. “Some used one measure of honey to three of brandy, others put one to two, still others, half and half, qualifying the sweetness by adding neat brandy at the time of drinking.” The mixture was kept in stone jugs where it “improved mightily with age, and was, at its best, to the last degree insidious. Newly mixed it was heady, but after a year or more, was smooth as oil, and as mellow.” (244) She especially recommended using honey made from bees that fed on wild raspberries.

Peach and honey took years to make but was not especially complicated; McCulloch-Williams’s recipe for Punch á la Ruffle Shirts (pages 79-82) is faster but insanely complicated, the type of recipe that could only be feasible if one has lots of cheap labor around (i.e. slaves) and was only worth it if one was hosting very large gatherings. To make it one first peeled two dozen oranges and one dozen lemons, cutting the pith from the peel and cutting the peel into strips. “Put the pared peel in a deep glass pitcher and cover it with one quart of brandy, one quart of old whiskey, one generous pint of Jamaica rum, one tumbler of cherry bounce, one tumbler of peach liqueur, or else a tumbler of ‘peach and honey.'” That chilled for three days.

In the meantime the cook should combine the juice from all those oranges and lemons with four pounds of sugar, and put that in a container. A half pound of sugar is combined with an entire shredded pineapple in another container, and a third container is filled with half a gallon of hulled strawberries covered liberally with sugar. All of this is also chilled during the three days.

At that point the fruit is strained and the fruit juice mixed together. A gallon of weak green tea, made hot, is mixed into the liquor, and then the fruit juices are mixed in as well. To serve it all, a block of ice is placed in a punchbowl and wine (“whatever sort you prefer”) is poured in along with the liquor, in equal portions. That should stand for half an hour before serving, and at the very end cold Vichy water is added, although McCulloch-Williams gives no indication of how much water to add.

The book also has some very good-sounding recipes for peach liquor and strawberry liquor that sound amazing, and are made with commercial brandy. If you’re interested in making anything like that, this is a good place to get your recipes from.

Source: Martha McCulloch-Williams, Dishes and Beverages of the Old South (New York: McBride Nast and Company, 1915), available as a free download on Google Books.

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A Plantation Kitchen

Martha McCulloch-Williams’s Dishes and Beverages of the Old South, from 1915, is quite a unique book. McCulloch-Williams had grown up on a plantation in the years before the Civil War, and the book is a combination of cookbook and reminiscences of her childhood. Her childhood was incredibly privileged, as her father owned the plantation and the many slaves necessary to work on the plantation.

Slavery was awful but you certainly don’t get that idea from reading the book, nor should you expect to. The slaves depicted in the book are generally happy and dedicated to their work. If the book fails at describing what slavery was actually like, though, it does succeed at describing some of the locations slaves worked in. One of those locations, the focus of cooking on a plantation, was the plantation’s kitchen, and the book has some good descriptions of that plantation’s kitchen.

The kitchen on her father’s plantation was a log cabin, about twenty feet square. As she writes, the building was “built stoutly of hewn logs, with a sharply pitched board roof, a movable loft, a plank floor boasting inch-wide cracks, a door, two windows and a fireplace that took up a full half of one end.” (12) This design was typical for plantation kitchens, and the loft was often where the cook slept.

McCulloch-Williams doesn’t say how many slaves her father owned but the kitchen was set up to cook for a large number of people. The fireplace was the main cooking space and her description puts it at about ten feet wide by three feet deep, and it was probably tall enough for the cook to walk into. Instead of having one large fire, cooking fireplaces were set up for a number of smaller fires to be burning at once, each having iron pots of varying sizes set over them.

Cooking over an open fire, in that way, isn’t practiced today–grilling over an open fire is only a small component of how they used to cook. McCulloch-Williams describes a cooking technique that I haven’t seen used today, but one that certainly could be if you cooked with a live fire. We might assume that cast iron pots, placed directly on hot coals, would become red hot, but McCulloch-Williams points out that that didn’t happen. She doesn’t say why, but it probably had to do with the fact that the pots would not be placed on the coals for hours, since that would certainly burn the food, and because the food in the pots would keep the overall temperature of the iron below what would cause the metal to become hot. No, the red hot material was actually the pot lid, which she says was hung over the fire before applying to a pot, and then, when it was applied, live coals would be shoveled onto the pot lid. As she puts it, “then the blanket of coals and embers held in heat which, radiating downward, made the cooking even.” (14)

You can download Dishes and Beverages of the Old South for free from Google Books.

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A few thoughts about some older foods…

I’m looking through an 1893 cookbook titled Cooking for Profit, which, as the subtitle explains, is a cookbook “Adapted for the Use of All Who Serve Meals for a Price.” It has menus and recipes for all the sorts of food businesses that were popular in the late 1800s in America, like coffee shops and hotel restaurants. Below are some observations on what appears in the book.

Many of the recipes are for dishes that are still common today, although there are some interesting variations. For example, the coffee recipes include a variation popular at the time, which was the addition of raw egg to the raw coffee. The point of the addition was to clarify the coffee in some way (I don’t quite understand just what that means), but it also apparently “seems to give it [the coffee] a mild taste like the addition of milk.” (page 15)

The book includes a recipe for “Filet a la Chateaubriand,” which is a thick tenderloin steak sandwiched between two thin steaks and then cooked on a grill over a fire. Only the thick steak is served to the diner. The two outside steaks should keep the inner steak moist as it cooks. This dish isn’t unique to this cookbook; it was fairly standard at more expensive restaurants back then.

The economics of the restaurant business shifted with a change from using coal as a fuel source to using gas as a fuel source. A gas stove can be turned on and off quickly while a coal-burning stove has to be left burning as long as the restaurant is open, which means the coal stove gives off lots of excess heat. Therefore the book advises restaurant cooks to keep a large pot, filled with water and some leftover cuts of meat, simmering for a few hours each day to supply cooking stock for the next day. Today that’s a waste of cooking fuel but back then the cook could simply use the excess heat that was there anyway.

Oysters were extremely popular, probably because they were inexpensive and plentiful. The book has pages of recipes for dishes like oyster omelets, fried oysters, and oysters on toast.

Americans loved their meat and were not so into vegetables at all. There are scarcely any vegetable recipes, and most of those are either for different forms of potatoes or for pickled vegetables.

Many of the candy recipes call for gum arabic, which is sap from the acacia tree. I assumed this was an old-fashioned ingredient that is impossible to get today. A quick web search reveals that it’s still widely used, particularly in the beverage industry, although a price hike in 2011 (much of it comes from Sudan, which has some political instability, to say the least) has led food processors to look for substitutes.

The most exciting recipe is the one for Hot American Punch (page 125), mainly because you need to be mixing in ingredients while it’s on fire:

Hot American Punch

Take a punch-bowl; put in a quarter pound of loaf sugar, the juice of a lemon; then add half a pint of brandy and half a pint of Jamaica rum; then set light to this; next make an infusion of green tea, one ounce to a quart and a half water; pour the tea gently into the bowl, and add the rind of half a lemon. The compound must be served flaming, and will be found sufficient for a party of fifteen.

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