Tuesday, January 29, 2013

19th century foods on a 21st century palatte

A fellow foodie was asking if I had tried any of the recipes I listed in my menus. Yes, I have tried several of the recipes I listed in the Meals Through the Year Series. I found my expectations colored the process.

The first I will share is the cold slaw.
I was depicting a picnic and was looking for a veggie based side dish. In theory, a cold slaw would fit the bill nicely. I was expecting a type of pickle... so I got out the period Mason jar and got to work.

Take a nice fresh white cabbage, wash, and drain it, and cut off the stalk. Shave down the head evenly and nicely into very small shreds, with a cabbage-cutter, or a sharp knife. Put it into a deep china dish, and prepare for it the following dressing. Take a jills or a half-tumblerful of the best cider vinegar, and mix with it a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, divided into four bits, and rolled in flour; a small salt-spoon of salt, and the same quantity of cayenne. Stir all this well together, and boil it in a small saucepan. Have ready the yolks of three eggs well beaten. As soon as the mixture has come to a hard boil, take it off the fire, and stir in the beaten egg. Then pour it boiling hot over the shred cabbage, and mix it well, all through, with a spoon. Set it to cool, on ice or snow, or in the open air. It must be quite cold before it goes to table.
(From Directions for Cookery by Eliza Leslie, page 226)

This recipe seemed simple enough.  I cut the cabbage and put it in the Mason jar. I made the sauce as instructed. Uh-Oh! There wasn't enough to cover the cabbage. So I made more sauce...and more... until the cabbage was covered in the jar.Once the mixture had come to room temperature, I set the jar in the refrigerator to become cold.
This is when disaster struck. The butter solidified into a gritty mess. The cabbage was a stringy mess. The smell of vinegar almost bowled me over as I opened the jar. Inedible was the nicest that could be said and my roomie declared it "scary... no, really scary."

It was my expectations. I expected a pickled cabbage, like modern coleslaw. I got a period cabbage dressing.
For another event, I tried again, altering my expectations. I followed the instructions more precisely.  It was edible and not nearly so scary.

Another recipe that shocks a modern palette is the pumpkin pudding.

Take a pint of pumpkin that has been stewed soft, and pressed through a cullender. Melt in half a pint of warm milk, a quarter of a pound of butter, and the same quantity of sugar, stirring them well together. If you can conveniently procure a pint of rich cream it will be better than the milk and butter. Beat eight eggs very light, and add them gradually to the other ingredients, alternately with the pumpkin. Then stir in a wine glass of rose water and a glass of wine mixed together; a large tea-spoonful of powdered mace and cinnamon mixed, and a grated nutmeg. Having stirred the whole very hard, put it into a buttered dish and bake it three quarters of an hour. Eat it cold.
(From Directions for Cookery by Eliza Leslie, page 288)

I was looking for a pot luck dish for an early autumn event that was dessert-ish without being a dessert. (Long political discussion that isn't appropriate here.) These recipe seemed nice, especially with a short cut of using canned pumpkin.
I had to search out several of the ingredients.  I found the rose water I needed at a small local grocery catering to the Indo-Pak community. I also found ground mace in smaller than a year supply at this grocery.
A foodways historian commented that a whole nutmeg ground by hand would be stronger than nutmeg packaged ground. I went with the pre-ground nutmeg anyway.

I carefully followed the instructions and the measurement table in the front of the book to decipher quantities. The pudding took longer to bake than 45 minutes, but maybe that was my use of electric based baking instead of fire/coal based baking.

The house was permeated with the smell of roses and spice. It smelled terrific. ...but... when enjoying the pudding, the rose water was the dominate taste.
Were I to try this recipe again, I'd use less rose water.

So... in some recipes my expectations needed adjustment, in others modern ingredients and cooking methods needed adjustment. I'm usually willing to try a period recipe and believe the recipes should be followed closely to produce a period correct result. A modern palette CAN enjoy period foods, just don't be surprised if they are a bit different than a modern classic.

No comments:

Post a Comment