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Product Description

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Ceylon Dinner, 1875.

Over the years I have posted quite a number of menus for late nineteenth century civic and other official dinners.  I think it is fair to say that, looked at with modern eyes and tastes, those formal menus appear drearily predictable and ponderous. They were, of course, also written in French, and I have no doubt that the guests knew exactly the ingredients and style of each dish,  even if they had no other skills with the French language.

The report of the dinner that I have for you today suggests that these guests may have not, however, have always taken the process quite as seriously as we tend to believe.

The tradition of London’s “Ceylon Dinners” continued for many decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as a celebration of Britain’s imperial motives and achievements in the country we now call Sri Lanka. An article in the Hindu Organ, of 29th January, 1908 briefly summarises the rationale for the tradition:

The Ceylon dinner in England brings together all Ceylonese young men who are at that time residents in the British Isles as also such Britishers, retired officials and others, as have the welfare of the Ceylonese at heart, and sympathise with their aspirations. The function affords an opportunity for the sons of Ceylon scattered over in different parts of Great Britain and Ireland not only to become acquainted with each other but also to ventilate the grievances of their country in England before the British public.
Hindu Organ, 29th Jan. 1908.

The Ceylon dinner for which I am going to give you the menu details today took place on January 22, 1875, and was duly reported in the Ceylon Observer (Colombo) a few months later – because the British folk doing their colonial service in the far reaches of Her Majesty’s empire were ever keen to know what was happening “at home.”

The writer begins:

For, there was a Ceylon dinner at the Criterion last night. Thirty Ceylon men sat down to feed, in number two of the establishment at the corner of Piccadilly Circus, John Anderson, Esquire, in the Chair; and there were the Patriarch of Uva, the Patriarch of Dimbula, other Patriarchs and merchant Princes, and last, though not least, Mr. John Capper, Prince of Editors.  To begin with the beginning, this, what follows was the



Hors d”oeuvre.
Over-worked horse.
Stable liquor.
Tortue liée
Tortured lie.
Ponche à La Romaine.
Roman Punch.
Saumon – sauce homard
Some one’s saucy Hoer with
Turbans de merlans piqué
Turban and a marlin spike.
Mark and Burn.
Suprême de volaille à la financière.
Supreme wool oily tal de ral de ral de rido.
Hide and Seek.
Ris de veaux piquéaux petits pois
Riddle and woe of picked clean and skinned planters.
Dry Monopole.
Dry mon and pale
Quartier d’agneau.
Hind quarter of Agent with
aiyo salad and sauce.

Raw Peasants.
Pluviers dorés.
The goose that lays the golden eggs.
Savarins chaudes au curacoa
Savvery, hot, in curacao.
Charlotte à la Parisienne.
Parisian Charlottes.
Hide and Seek.
Dry monopole.
Dry mon and pale.
Ramequins au fromage parmesan.
Raman comes into the garden, Maud of age.
Boudins glacé au fruits
Buddha glazed and fired.
Liquors up.
Château Giscours 1864.
Port old and tawny.

I have not come across such a “free translation” of a standard menu of the era before, and I do wonder at the motivation for it being provided. What do you think?

As for the recipe for the day, I have chosen from Savouries à la Mode (London, 1886) by Mrs. De Salis (Harriet Anne.)

Ramequins au Fromage.

Crumble a small stale roll and cover it with a breakfastcupful of milk, which must be quite boiling; after it has well soaked, strain and put it in the mortar with four ounces of Parmesan and four ounces of Gloucester cheese grated, four ounces of fresh butter, half a teaspoonful of made mustard, a little salt and pepper, and a saltspoonful of sifted sugar. These ingredients must be all well pounded together with the yolks of four eggs, adding the well-whipped whites of the eggs. Half fill the paper cases or china moulds with this, bake them in a quick oven about ten to fifteen minutes, and serve hot as possible.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Supper for Persons of Moderate Fortune, 1796.

Modern recipe writers generally note how many persons a dish will serve, and they occasionally suggest accompanying dishes or even complete menus. They don’t however, feel the need to advise how many staff will be needed to serve a suggested menu. In previous times, when servants were found in almost all homes, except those of the lowest classes, this must have been most useful advice.

The popular book The Complete Family Cook; Being a System of Cookery, Adapted to the Tables not only of the Opulent, but of Persons of Moderate Fortune and Condition (fourth edition, 1796) by Menon (writer on cookery) and S. Taylor (writer on cookery) gave suggested menus for meals for different occasions, of varying degrees of seriousness, requiring from five to twelve servers.

Today I have chosen a supper menu from the book, for your late 18th century self, on the assumption that you have a moderate fortune and have five servants at your disposal.

A Table of Twelve Covers for Supper, served by Five.

A leg of mutton roasted for the middle
Four dishes (entrées); veal cutlets à la Lyonnoise, a beef rump en matelote,
a duck with turnips, two chickens en giblotte.

A sallad for the middle.
Two dishes (plats de rôt); a young turkey, a young duck.
A plate with oranges.
Plate with a remoulade in a sauce [pan? unreadable]

Five small dishes, (entremets); cheese-cakes for the middle, eggs with streaked bacon,
Spanish chardons, bread fritters, burnt cream.

Iced cheese for the middle, or a bowl of fruit.
Compote of apples à la Portugaise.
Compote of peaches.
Plate of sweet-meats.
Two plates of nuts.
Plate of grapes.

As the recipe for the day, I give you Burnt Cream, from the same book.

Burnt Cream.
Put two spoonfulls of flour, mixed by little and little with the whites and yolks of four eggs, into a stew-pan, with half a spoonfull of orange-flower water, and a little green lemon peel shred very fine: moisten them with a gill of milk, and put in a little salt, and two ounces of sugar; let it simmer half an hour over a flow fire, constantly stirring ; then put a bit of sugar, with half a glass of water into your dish; set it upon a stove over a good fire, and let it boil till of the colour of cinnamon, and then, pour in the cream: have

ready a large knife to spread the sugar which remains on the rim of the dish upon the cream, taking care to do it quickly.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Potatoes for Breakfast, Dinner, Supper (WW I era)

An American “Southern Food Expert and Lecturer” by the name of Bessie R. Murphy compiled and edited a wonderful set of books called the Three Meals a Day Series during World War II. Each volume was dedicated to

Somebody Somewhere
To be used by
Everybody Everywhere

The editor explains her mission in the Introduction:

This little series of books is a collection of tested and economical recipes for everyday foods that are obtainable everywhere and suitable for any of the three meals of the day. These recipes are written in plain, everyday terms. They are not all original — the authors of many of them are unknown. They form just a little series of everyday books for everybody from everywhere.

The World War gave every homemaker an opportunity to realize the difference between use and abuse of foods. For years we have wasted much of the bountiful supply of food produced by our country. Let us then not go backward, but let us go forward, bending every energy to make lasting the benefit in health and economy gained from a diet that not only eliminates extravagance and waste in buying and serving, but also affords greater variety.

The recipes in this series call for flour, sugar, and butter. To conserve these three foods just as long as our country and the peoples of Europe need them is the loyal and patriotic duty of — not the other fellow — but you.

The principle concept was to give recipes based on a single staple item which were suitable for one or more of the three main meals of the day. I do love that theme. To date I have found volumes focused on rice, corn meal, peanuts, legumes, salad and potatoes. I have featured several of these in previous posts (see the links below) but have not so far covered the potato – which is a strange oversight given that I have not yet met a potato I didn’t like. Today I want to rectify that omission.

Note that in the following recipes the editor refers to the white potato as the “Irish” or “English” potato (Solanum tuberosum) to distinguish it from the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) – which, to add confusion to the puzzle, is in some regions referred to as the yam (Family Dioscoreaceae) which it  most certainly is not. Sweet potatoes are covered in the second half of the book, and I will surely make them the subject of another post in the future.

So, how do you fancy your breakfast potatoes?

For my American friends, who persist in calling a scone a biscuit, and a biscuit a cookie (in spite of which I love you anyway) I have chosen:

Irish Potato Biscuit
1 cup mashed potatoes                            1 tablespoon butter
1 cup flour                                                    1 tablespoon lard
4 teaspoons baking powder                   ½ cup milk (scant)
½ teaspoon salt

Sift the dry ingredients. Add these to the potatoes, mixing well. Work in lightly the butter and lard. Add gradually enough milk to make a soft dough. Put it on floured board, roll lightly to about inch thickness, cut in biscuit shape, place in greased pan, and bake in hot oven.

For my own breakfast, I have chosen

Irish Potato Omelet

1 cup potatoes (mashed)                        3 teaspoons milk
3 eggs                                                            ¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Break the eggs and separate the yolks and the whites. Beat the yolks and add them to the potatoes, beating until mixture is light and there are no lumps. Add seasoning. Beat the whites until they are stiff and carefully fold them into the mixture. Put the omelet into a well-greased frying pan and bake it in the oven until it is brown. Turn the omelet out on a hot platter and serve it at once.

For dinner, I feel sure that the concept of cheesy mashed potatoes will not cause any international disagreement:

Baked Irish Potato and Cheese

2 cups cooked potatoes                          2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons grated cheese                 ¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon salt

Run the potatoes through a sieve, melt the butter in a saucepan, add the potatoes, and mix well. Then add the milk, half the cheese, and the seasoning. Put into well-greased baking dish, sprinkle the rest of the cheese on the top, and bake in hot oven about 10 minutes.

And for dessert, who can resist a doughnut?

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Irish Potato Doughnuts

1 ¼ cups sugar                            ½ teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter                 1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs                                              1 cup mashed potatoes
1 cup milk                                      Flour to roll
4 teaspoons baking powder

Cream one-half of the sugar with the butter. Add the remaining sugar and the milk to the well-beaten eggs. Combine the two mixtures. To the cooled potatoes add the dry ingredients sifted together. Mix thoroughly, put on a well-floured board, and roll out and cut. Fry a few doughnuts at a time in deep hot fat.

It is supper time, and what better time to use up leftover mashed potato and cold cooked meat? And as a bonus, you don’t need to put the deep fryer away after dinner!

Irish Potato Surprises

2 cups mashed potatoes                         1 egg
¼ cup cold cooked meat                        Bread crumbs
¼ teaspoon salt                                        Dash of paprika
½ teaspoon onion juice                          1 tablespoon parsley

To the mashed potatoes, add the salt, pepper, onion juice, and half the parsley. Mix well. Add the rest of the parsley to the chopped meat and season well. Flatten out a teaspoonful of the potato mixture and place a teaspoonful of the meat mixture in the center. Fold the potatoes around the meat, then shape into a roll, being sure that the meat is well covered. Roll balls in bread crumbs, then in the well-beaten egg, again in bread crumbs, and fry in hot fat until a golden brown.

As a final act of homage to the potato, I give you the instructions from the book for drying your own potatoes:

Dried Irish Potatoes

In many parts of the country, owing to weather conditions and improper storage, hundreds of bushels of potatoes spoil by rotting. To prevent this waste the potatoes can be dried. Blanch the potatoes about 3 minutes in boiling water, remove, peel, and slice or cut into cubes. Dry in the sun, in oven of the stove, or in a homemade dryer. When they are dry, run them into a hot oven until heated through. This will prevent bugs and weevils. Put into jars or cans. Soak the potatoes ½ hour before using them.

Previous post from the Three Meals a Day series:

From Rice for Breakfast, Dinner, Supper.
From Salads for Breakfast, Dinner, Supper.
From Legumes for Breakfast, Dinner, Supper.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

A Frenchman’s view of English food in 1823.

In 1823 a French liberal economist called Jérôme-Adolphe Blanqui visited England and Scotland. The narrative of his travels was later published under the title Voyage d’un jeune Français en Angleterre et en Ecosse, pendant l’automne de 1823. The book was discussed at length and quoted from quite extensively in The Westminster Review (Vol. 4, 1825,) a quarterly British publication founded by the political radical Jeremy Bentham.

The editors of The Westminster Review justified their interest in the book thus:

The book we are now going to notice is neither the work of a slanderer of our women, our institutions and our manners, like the famous performance of the Knight of the Hulks, alias the Chevalier Pillet; nor is it the production of an outrageous Anglomane, furious in defence of everything English, for no other reason than because he misunderstands our language, and can misapply some misquoted passages from our poetry: but it is the genuine effusion of a genuine Frenchman, sufficiently inclined to libéralisme of all kinds, and equally disposed to regard with indulgence the barbarism of our customs, and with horror our treatment of his great idol Bonaparte. It is in short a publication, which will be looked upon in the French provinces, and among certain classes in the French capital itself, as an authority on the subject of England; and it is on this account, and because we know that it expresses the opinion of nine-tenths of the French, on the subject of English manners, that we shall notice it at so much length here.

Naturally, what is of most interest to us here on this blog is the French visitor’s view of English food:

…. At last the author is introduced, "avec le cérémonial inévitable, dans la salle à manger (dining-room).

“The dinner, without soup, consists of a raw and bloody beef-steak, plentifully powdered with pepper and spices, and covered with slices of horse-radish, similar, in appearance and size, to the chips which come from under the plane of the carpenter. The beef-steak is immediately followed by a plate or two of vegetables in naturalibus, that is to say, plain boiled: then a cruet-stand with five or six bottles, containing certain drugs, out of which you choose the ingredients necessary for giving some taste to the insipid mess. Sometimes a fowl succeeds these dishes of the primitive ages: but the English themselves agree that chickens with them, are tougher than beef, and therefore they prefer ducks. I was thus enabled to understand, why our deck on quitting Havre was so crowded with French fowls. [We appeal to every one who has ever been in France, whether the flesh of French fowls does not resemble ivory in all but whiteness.] The dinner finishes with a heavy tart made of cherries, plums, or apples, according to the season— taking care always to leave the stones in them.”

So much for the dinner—now for the wines and the dessert:

“The English have rather more variety in their drinks: the porter, the small beer, and the ale, which is between the two, and better than either. The wines in use are port, madeira, and sherry, which they drink always without water, though abundantly charged with brandy. From thence, perhaps, arises the bright scarlet complexions, injected with blue, and the carbuncled noses of almost all the English gastronomes. After the raw beef and potatoes were removed, we were consoling ourselves, in our absence from France, by talking of its glory and its pleasures, when the waiter appeared with the dessert, consisting of an enormous cucumber, flanked with four raw onions bedded in watercresses: des gateaux de plomb (plumb-cakes) worthy of their name, and what he called Cheshire cheese. At the sight of these preparations for poisoning us, we all deserted the table. Let it not be said that the description of a dinner is an unimportant matter: besides, English good cheer being absolutely the same in every inn, tavern, and hotel, in the three kingdoms, it is right to prepare Frenchmen for the enjoyments they are to expect on the other side of the channel.”

 One of the most popular English cookery books at the time of M. Blanqui’s visit was Apicius Redivivus, or the Cook's Oracle, by the eccentric Dr. William Kitchiner, first published in 1817. The 1823 edition (I am not sure about the earlier editions) includes a recipe for “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings” – which you may or may not agree are a form of “chips,” “crisps,”  or even “French Fries.” Take that, M. Blanqui.

Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings.
Peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping. Take care that your fat and frying-pan are quite clean; put it on a quick fire; watch it, and as soon as the lard boil, and is still, put in the slices of potatoe, and keep moving them until they are crisp; take them up and lay them to drain on a sieve; send them up with a very little salt sprinkled over them.