Dishes For Days - Eating Without Fear
( Originally Published 1923 )
In these unregenerate days, when religion occupies only a small part of the time of some of us, we still retain the customs of our forbears on their festivals and fasts. The Church in days gone by occupied itself largely with the eating and drinking of its members. It took an intelligent interest in their health. The Lenten fast was merely a Church means of getting the stomach in condition after gross over-indulgence. The Friday fast, too, was originally meant to be a real fast, but insomuch as the embargowas placed on meat, which was intended to be equivalent to food, the monks took it literally and substituted fish. Even the Jews of old, had their clean and unclean food. Moses, not only the first and greatest novelist of all time, was also a man of rare education; and the laws he laid down for the guidance of the Children of Israel in their pilgrimage through the desert, were founded on strict hygienic lines. For instance, he made the pig unclean for the simple reason that, not only is pork "out of season" during the hot weather, and the desert through which the Jews were passing was tropical, and consequently the porkers would be out of season all the year round, but pigs were also the scavengers of the camp. Shell-fish, too, is not at its best in hot climates, and while it is not necessary to take each "unclean" creature and dig out the reason of its uncleanliness, examination will prove that in every case health was at the bottom of the embargo. The story of the quail was founded on actual knowledge of the peculiarities of the bird. Quail, delicious though it be, is very indigestible. It takes more than twenty-four hours to digest, and taking quail into the stomach before the previous portion has been digested, sets up a curious poisoning of the system. I once won a fifty dollar bet on this very thing. A friend of mine visiting St. Louis, where he was going to spend some time, wrote me that he had discovered an hotel where they served most delicious quail. I betted him an even fifty that he could. not eat a quail every day for a month. He took me on and almost day by day reported progress. At the end of three weeks he was in a hospital and it took him a fortnight to re-cover, when he sent me the wager. The last time I had quail was at the Reform Club in London, famed through-out the world as the kitchen of Soyer. It has retained its reputation for excellent cooking; and those stuffed quail ! They were masterpieces. The bird is boned, stuffed with delicious sausage meat, roasted, and served with fried breadcrumbs and red-currant jelly. If I were dying and the doctor said I could have any dish my soul desired before I passed to happier climes, I would have some difficulty in keeping away from a Reform Club stuffed quail. It is said that one can die happily, after tasting curried prawns at Madras, but I would want to know whence the native obtained his prawns. He is not famed for care for cleanliness and sanitation so long as he gets his prawns.
We Anglo-Saxons, however, have some very wholesome dishes for special days in the year, the first of which is the Twelfth Night cake. Somewhat over a century ago, an actor named Baddeley left a small sum of money to Drury Lane theater wherewith to provide yearly a cake for that night to be consumed by the actors of the theater. The ceremony has been kept to this day, and every Twelfth Night a famous actor cuts the cake after the performance, and he and his fellow thespians solemnly drink to the memory of the defunct Baddeley. We used to have a Twelfth Night cake at the Punch Bowl Club, and one year I cut it. The cake contains a silver ring, coin, and thimble, and the persons who get the slices containing any of these are the ones who will, during the coming year, either be married, have wealth, or be an "old maid." On this occasion I remember that the Bishop of London got the ring, much to every one's delight, because he is a confirmed celibate. At this ceremony, I had as a guest, one of my old schoolmasters who had required some pressing to accept the invitation as he feared there might be some hard drinking there. But he came, and it soon got around who he was, and every one determined to make the old boy "three sheets in the wind." He bore up nobly; I would hate to compute the number of punches outside of which he managed to get—and it was real punch, "hot and strong and sweet and plenty of it"—but about 2 A. M. he announced his intention of walking home to Camberwell, where he was staying with a friend, a distance of some seven miles. I offered to call a cab, thinking the cold air might have its effect, but he assured me he needed the walk. As I bid him farewell, he asked: "What time does the drinking start?"
Pancakes are the dish for Shrove Tuesday. I believe it is on that day that the pancake scrimmage takes place at Westminster school. All the lower form boys line up in the big schoolroom; the cook, in white, enters bearing in his hand a frying pan in which is a large pancake, He takes his stand at the end of the room, on a dais, swings the pan three times around his head, and tosses the pancake as far as he can down the schoolroom. The boys at once scramble for it and the one who emerges with the largest portion, is awarded a guinea—left by some long-since dead benefactor. I once met a man who was exceedingly proud of having been the boy of his year to get the largest piece of pancake and also the guinea.
I have never discovered why pancakes are the dish for Shrove Tuesday; true, I have not worked very hard at finding out, but I have done my best to observe the behest of the church and have eaten pancakes on most of the fifty Shrove Tuesdays it has been my pleasure and privilege to celebrate. And would you make a pancake? Then here it is, within reach of him who will.
Six eggs beaten to a froth, yolks and whites together; two tablespoonfuls of flour in which is a salt-spoonful of baking powder; sufficient milk to make it the consistency of thin cream. Take a frying pan with a base of six or seven inches. Warm it and melt a piece of butter about the size of a small walnut. Then pour in sufficient of the mixture to just cover the surface of the pan. As soon as it commences to harden, slip a pastry knife under it, shake the pan to loosen the half-cooked pancake, and then with a dexterous turn of the wrist, toss the pancake in the air and catch it in the pan with the uncooked side downward. Cook it for a minute, fold it four times, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over it and sprinkle with sifted sugar. Serve smoking hot with lemon and sugar. A well made pancake should not be tough, but it should "hang together." A good pancake is excellent; but for some reason or other it is absolutely necessary to toss it as described. It does not taste the same if it be turned over with a griddle slice. Tossing is not difficult when once the knack is acquired it only needs courage. Never was the saying, "He who hesitates is lost," truer than when about to toss a pancake. Many a cook has tossed a pancake up the chimney never to return; still, this need not deter the valiant soul who essays to make "a pancake wot's a pancake."
The next day—Ash Wednesday—ushers in Lent, with salt cod with egg sauce and parsnips. The salt cod should not be dried salt cod, but that which comes especially for the day, freshly salted. The fish is split and boned and packed in barrels in salt. The large-flaked fish is the best. This is boiled for about twenty minutes it depends on the thickness of the fish—and it is not a bad plan to put half a teaspoonful of vinegar into the water in which it is to be boiled. This does not in any way flavor the fish, but it tends to take off some of the salt.
Egg Sauce is made as follows: Melt a quarter of a pound of butter in a saucepan, but do not let it boil. Add to this a cupful of milk in which a teaspoonful Of flour has been thoroughly mixed. Stir till it boils, when it should be medium thick—not like paste but like hot thick cream. Add a little salt and white pepper and two hard-boiled eggs chopped in small pieces, but not too fine.
If the dried salt cod be preferred, soak it in water over-night. Then boil it gently in milk and water for twenty minutes and serve with mustard sauce, which is made as follows:
Oil half a pound of butter and add a little pepper. Then mix up a half teaspoonful of dry Colman's mustard in a cup with some of the oiled butter. Turn this into the saucepan and heat thoroughly, but do not boil it or an unpleasant scum will form on the top. This is a delicious sauce for salt fish. There is the flavor of mustard without the burn.
As a matter of fact, this is not the way to make a hot-cross bun, which to be good should be made as follows: Half a pound of flour, four tablespoonfuls of sugar, and a teaspoonful of mixed spice. One yeast cake dissolved in sugar and stirred in a cup till it is creamy, when the cup is filled with warm water and restirred. This is added to the flour, etc., and is well kneaded and put in a warm place, covered with a cloth, to rise. It is then kneaded again, rolled out, and cut into circles with a tumbler. Each circle is crossed with the back of a knife, and the buns are then baked for twenty minutes in a hot oven. When done they are brushed over with white of egg and sugar. Some hot-cross buns have currants in them, some do not. It is purely a matter of taste. But they should be eaten hot, with butter. When stale, they are delicious toasted.
For Easter Day, of course lamb and mint sauce. Here the Church borrowed from the Jews' Passover, the paschal lamb. Whether the mint takes the place of the herbs of scripture, this deponent knoweth not, but lamb is not worth eating without mint sauce. I have always objected to the term "baby lamb," and I certainly would refrain from patronizing a restaurant that insisted on carrying such an item on its bill of fare. Not only is it a nasty phrase, savoring of cannibalism, but it is, as a lawyer once told me, "supererrogatory." Lamb is necessarily baby, unless it be like the fatted calf that was killed for the prodigal son, which I once heard described by an eloquent preacher as "the calf which had been loved and fondled by the children of the family for many years." I confess that I have had lamb which I will swear died of old age; but the Easter lamb, the lamb of which I speak, is the most succulent of dainty morsels—that is, if it be properly roasted.
To be absolutely perfect, it should be roasted in front of the fire; but few of our modern houses are equipped with real ranges, and we are forced to bake our meats—a custom observed by the ancients only at their funeral feasts.
Mint Sauce, without which lamb is not lamb, is made as follows: The leaves of a sprig of mint are chopped fine and put in the sauceboat. They are then crushed with a little granulated sugar, over which is now poured some wine vinegar, diluted with water so that it be not too acid. This is served cold, even with hot lamb, but only a little is used on each portion, so that it does not in any way cool the hot meat.
All joints of lamb are so delicious that it is difficult to say which is the best. The leg of lamb-with the tail on -is supposed to be the chief delicacy, and the fat of the tail the bon-bouche. The knuckle, too, is most excellent. Lamb and mutton should always be cut thick; beef and veal thin.
There is a story told of the poet Tennyson, relative to this very thing. An American girl, visiting the Isle of Wight, was invited to a house at Freshwater, where Lord Tennyson was to dine. Great was her joy at hearing that she was to sit next to the great man at the table. The splendid, poetic things he talked about would be cherished in her memory for life. As a matter of fact, all he said was : "I like my mutton in chunks!"
We have already talked about roast duck, the dish for Trinity Sunday, but the green peas that go with it are worth a word or two. Here is the way to cook them: Have plenty of boiling water in which is a large teaspoonful of salt, one lump of sugar, and a piece of common washing soda, the size of a large pea. Put the peas in and boil gently, so as not to break the skins, for ten minutes. Then strain off all the water and serve in a vegetable dish with a lump of butter the size of a walnut. Cooked this way the peas will be brilliant emerald green, soft, sweet, thoroughly cooked but not broken.
The Twelfth of August has always struck me as a curious day on which to eat the first grouse. I clipped the following from a London paper—the Daily Mail:
THE FIRST GROUSE BY AEROPLANE TO LONDON IN TIME FOR LUNCHEON
By a Gourmet
"I had my first grouse of the season to-day (Friday) at "luncheon. What is there about the first grouse that makes it so delicious, surpassing all the later and perhaps bet-"ter grouse that come after? It is partly in anticipation "and partly in sentiment. The epicure can get enjoyment "even without tasting.
"Grouse are such glorious birds. Their season is too "short for one ever to tire of them. You carry in your "gastronomical cells the memory of honored grouse which "died last year in a good cause. The pleasures of anticipation are nearly as great as those of realization. And "there is the sentiment of eating grouse on the twelfth, "especially at luncheon.
"I was invited to join a small party for a grouse lunch "eon at the newly formed Epicures Club, which meets at the Café Royal. The Epicures Club is a little coterie of food lovers, of those who regard eating as a fine art, "who meet together to discuss delightful fare. It was "founded only a few months ago, and it has only some "seven or eight members. It prides itself on being the "smallest club in London, and it intends to keep small.
"Its gatherings are never less than three—the number "of the Gracesnor more than nine—the number of the "Muses. The grouse, however, shot this morning, had "been sent by aeroplane from Yorkshire.
"There is only one way to cook grouse. Roast them to "a turn and serve them with their own natural gravy on, "toast spread with a paste made of their inner organs with "a little brandy added. And to drink with grouse there "is nothing better than a light claret. Burgundy is good "with highly flavored game, such as woodcock. But with "grouse a good vintage claret is best."
Now, grouse shooting opens on the twelfth; it is against the English law to shoot them before, and yet they are al-ways on sale on the morning of that day and apparently no questions are asked. But with all due regard to our gourmet's, opinion about the first grouse, I am sure the generation to which I belong would not care to eat a grouse so terribly fresh; for, within four hours of its having been shot, it would, I should think, be tough and tasteless. I must say I like my game, grouse included, to be hung, and I have known it to take fourteen days to bring a brace of grouse to perfection. I am not one of those who want the birds to walk to the fire, but there is a something about a grouse that has been properly hung that is wonderful. It is difficult in the United States to get game well hung unless it be done in one's own house—or in the woods. Years ago there was a place in Boston Billy Parkes' in Bosworth Place—where game was in perfect condition.
But Billy, who by the way invented broiled live lobster, retired from business back in 1894 and refused to sell his chop-house for fear his reputation might suffer.
Thanksgiving Day without turkey and cranberry sauce would not be Thanksgiving Day. I suppose if the United States has a national dish it is turkey. And yet how tired one can get of it. Traveling through the country, staying at hotels where the American plan is prevalent, turkey is always served for Sunday dinner. Some of my older readers may remember a play that was very popular up to about twenty years ago, James A. Hearn's "Shore Acres." In one of the acts a dinner was in progress, and Hearn, a slave to realism, had a real roast turkey carved every night. During the meal, a tramp arrives, and he is bidden to partake; but instead of sitting at the table, which was rather upstage, he is given a seat right down near the footlights. There he is provided with a drumstick, which he has to eat. The actor who played the part, being so near the adience, was forced to eat this, and by the end of the season he was so thoroughly weary of turkey, that if any waiter at a hotel even suggested turkey there was a scene.
For some reason, turkey is nearly always roasted, but the cooking can be varied. There is an old saw:
Turkey roast is turkey lost
As a general rule roast turkey is dry, but that is because the oven has been too fierce and the bird has not been sufficiently basted. A turkey roasted on a jack in front of the fire is quite different, and much better than one baked in an oven; but inasmuch as we are limited-most of us—to the latter method of cooking, we must bow to the inevitable. The bird is trussed like a chicken for roasting. It is stuffed in the crop with oysters or chestnuts, and in the south end with veal stuffing. Forcemeat balls and fried pork sausages are served with it, and either bread sauce or cranberry sauce. The oysters for the crop stuffing should not be too large. All the liquor should be strained off and then they are mixed with salted and. peppered breadcrumbs, a little chopped suet, a chopped onion, and chopped parsley, bound together with one egg well beaten. The crop is filled with this and then it is sewn up.
Cranberry sauce I like better than cranberry jelly, but these can be found in any American cookery book. I do like a little chopped apple with it, however, as it takes off the bitterness of the cranberries.
Braised Turkey is good, although I must confess I don't know that it is to be especially "praised. Slice two large onions into rings. Put them into a large stewpan with some butter and fry to a golden brown, with a clove of garlic cut into small pieces. Then cover the onions with a layer of carrots cut thin, a white turnip cut into dice, four small onions stuffed with cloves, a little salt and pepper, and about three-quarters of a pint of stock or water. On the top of these vegetables place the bird, either whole or jointed. Over the top place wrapping paper on which the cover is tightly fixed down. Then leave the pan on a low fire to simmer slowly, allowing twenty minutes to the pound. Never raise the lid, but shake the pot occasionally. Serve on a large dish with all the vegetables around the turkey.
Bailed Turkey is certainly not turkey spoiled. It is remarkably good. The turkey is trussed with the wings and legs pressed down so that the bird is somewhat the shape of a Rugby football. It is not stuffed. The bird is sewn up in a white cloth and cooked in a large pan, with plenty of water which is brought to the boil before the turkey is placed therein. The water is salted and two large whole onions are cooked with the bird, though they are not served on the dish with it. The pot should not boil hard, but simmer very gently, allowing twenty minutes to the pound. When ready to serve, the bird is covered with a thick white sauce, made as follows:
Take half a pint of the liquor in which the turkey has been boiled and half a pint of milk, and put them on the fire in a small saucepan, with a few whole peppers, a piece of mace, two onions cut in rings, and the yellow rind of half a lemon, cut very thin. Boil gently for ten minutes and then strain, putting the strained liquor back into the saucepan. Mix a large teaspoonful of cornstarch in a cup with a little cold milk, just sufficient to make it the consistency of thin cream. Pour this into the boiling liquor and stir till it thickens. Then pour this over the turkey so that the entire bird is covered. If desired, a little chopped parsley can be sprinkled down the center of the turkey, and the dish can be garnished with slices of lemon.
Boiled Ham is served with turkey, either roasted or boiled. And by the way, here is an excellent recipe of boiling a ham. A large ham is always better than a small one —the flavor is better; it is tenderer and less salt. The out-side should be yellow rather than red or brown, and a well matured ham should be covered with green mold. This shows that it has been well kept. Before cooking, the mold should be wiped off with a clean cloth and then the ham is placed in a large pot and covered with cold water in which is half an ounce of ground cloves. As soon as the water boils, the pot should be drawn to one side of the fire, or if cooked on a gas stove, the gas should be turned down very low so that the water only just moves. If the water boils hard the ham will be tough and stringy. Twenty minutes to the pound should be allowed, and when it is done the skin will come off easily. The ham is then covered with toasted breadcrumbs and the knuckle decorated with a "ham frill." If the ham is not to be eaten hot it is much the best to let it get cold, after it is skinned, in the water in which it has been boiled. In this way it be-comes much more "juicy."
Another way of cooking a ham is to bake it in a paste crust. Soak the ham overnight in cold water. Then make a paste of flour and water, roll this out till it is about three-quarters of an inch thick. Cover the ham with this paste and seal all the joints or thin places with flour and water so that it is absolutely closed. Then bake the paste-covered ham in a medium oven, allowing twenty-five minutes to the pound. When it is done, break off the paste, which will be as hard as rock, skin the ham, breaderumb it and serve.
A very easy way of making toasted breadcrumbs is to cut thin slices of bread and bake them in a very slow oven till they are perfectly dry. Then fold them in wrapping paper and roll them with the rolling pin. Breadcrumbs are much better for cooking purposes than cracker dust; the latter is apt to become pappy.
Remember that half of a large ham is much better than a small whole one, and the thick upper end is the better half. The knuckle of ham is practically uneatable except hot, and it is really a very extravagant way of eating ham to have it hot. An economical way of carving it, however, is to cut it longways from the top to the knuckle instead of across, down to the bone, as is usually done. By the former method long slices are obtained, and with each slice is the tender upper part and a little of the harder, dryer lower part, which, cut very thin, passes unnoticed. All of one side is carved this way till the bone is reached, and then the carver starts on the other side. When a ham is carved in the ordinary way, i. e., down to the bone from the upper surface, the underneath part is left untouched and is consequently wasted because it is not only hard but salt.
Christmas Day, throughout the English-speaking world, is celebrated with turkey and plum pudding although here and there you find people whose forbears hailed from Yorkshire, who claim that sucking pig is the dish of dishes. And by the same token, sucking pig is a remarkably tooth-some morsel. He should weigh not over six pounds. He is cooked and served whole, but before he is roasted the mouth is pried open and held open with a small skewer so that before serving the skewer can be removed and a small lemon or a lime inserted in the mouth. Why? I know not. But 'tis done.
A sucking pig is stuffed with sage and onion dressing, the same as that used for roast duck, except that one clove of garlic should be chopped up with it. It is roasted in a medium oven, allowing twenty minutes to the pound; but it should be thoroughly cooked. Pork should never be eaten the least bit under done or rare, and about a quarter of an hour before serving, the whole pig should be brushed over with sweet oil and put back into a hot oven. This will crisp up the "crackling." Apple sauce is served with sucking pig as with all other pork. The prime cut is the back.
For any but those of the strong digestion, pork should be taken very sparingly. I do not recommend it and on no account should it be eaten except in very cold weather. Garlic is said to neutralize its bad effects, and apple sauce to counteract biliousness. Of course when I refer to pork, I mean fresh pork and not ham or bacon, which can be eaten with safety at any time of the year.
Christmas plum pudding is much more the Chieftain of the Pudding Race than Haggis, notwithstanding Robert Burns' dictum. A well-made Christmas plum pudding is positively wonderful, but it must be made at home. Did you ever read Leigh Hunt on this wonderful dish?
You may say you cannot get the sherry and the rum, but do not let that deter you from trying, and if you cannot possibly get it, use cider. It is not quite so good, but serves if you do not propose to put any of the puddings away for a future date. With the rum and sherry, I have known puddings kept in perfect condition for six months.
And now to make this glorious pudding. Wash all the dried fruit and be sure there be no stalks on the currants nor stones in the raisins, nor skin with the chopped suet, which must be as fine as coarse flour. Into a large basin put the breadcrumbs, sift in the flour, and mix thoroughly. Add the fruit, the candied peel cut in small thin slices, the almonds which have been blanched and chopped, but not too fine, because you want them to show in the pudding, the mixed spice, nutmeg, sugar, and chopped apples. Stir thoroughly so that all these ingredients are well mixed. Then beat the eggs to a froth in another bowl, add the sherry and rum (or cider) and lemon juice, and beat again. Then pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and well stir with a wooden spoon. Every one in the family should stir the pudding for luck, and when it is thoroughly mixed, put it into a pudding basin with a lid, over which a cloth can be tied. The basin should be well buttered and quite full of the mixture, which is then covered with a piece of oiled paper over which a pudding cloth is tied down tightly. It is very necessary that the basin be quite full or the pudding will get water-logged. The puddings are then placed in boiling water ,and boiled hard for not less than eight hours. The longer they are boiled, the better they are and the blacker they become. They should be made several days before Christmas and then given a second boiling of not less than three hours before serving. When turned out on a hot dish, properly speaking a wine glassful of rum, brandy, or whiskey should be poured over it and set on fire, and the pudding brought to the table all aflame. A good pudding should hold together so that it can be cut in slices; it should not crumble, but at the same time it should not be pasty. There is nothing indigestible about this dish. Everything in it is good, and it is thoroughly cooked.
Sometimes brandy sauce is taken with it, but I prefer "guard sauce," or even plain fresh butter and a little sugar, By the way, the pudding should not be too sweet. You will notice that for this large pudding only half a pound of sugar is recommended; but of course all the fruit has sugar with it, and a little sifted sugar over the slice is better than a really sweet pudding which might be a trifle nauseating.
Guard sauce is made by working sugar and rum, brandy or whiskey into hard fresh butter with the flat of a spoon. A piece about the size of a large dice is put on each slice of pudding, and a little taken with each spoonful. Inasmuch as Christmas plum pudding, with some people, al-most amounts to a religious observance, I think that those who feel sufficiently strongly about it, ought to be able to obtain the necessary spirit, for "sacramental use.