I recently bought Mark Kurlansky’s ‘Choice Cuts: a miscellany of food writing’ published by Vintage in 2002 (from the Marie Curie shop on Green Lanes for £1). It’s a 450 page selection, with authors including Pliny the Elder, Ludwig Bemelmans, Wole Soyinka, and M.F.K Fisher (and of course, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin). Among the 19th and 20th century writers, there is a bias towards female food writers from the U.S. which I think is partly Kurlansky’s effort to boost the reputations of some authors overlooked in favour of European men. It’s full of great recipes in the various sections on meat, carbohydrates, fruit, vegetables and puddings, although I skimmed over some of the more verbose pieces.
I decided to only going to cook half of this recipe from 1393’s Le Menagier de Paris (translated by Kurlansky himself, although there’s another version here), as the majority of the steps are concerned with cooking a piece of beef so as to make the cut tough and bloodless (no, thanks – just a medium rare steak is fine). One of the most obvious (and delicious!) differences between 20th and pre-20th century recipes is the use of spices. Before the advent of the electric fridge, seasonings such as garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper and lemon juice were used liberally, both to preserve food and to disguise the any fetid notes in the flavour.
It’s a travesty that this is the first time we’ve made something by the queen of all things aromatic, Claudia Roden (a short bio of whom can be found here), however to me the interesting thing currently about this recipe is what it represents in terms of time and cost.
Despite the fact that I really like Indian food, I don’t think I’ve made any Indian recipes for the blog yet, so typically I’ve now done two. The first is chicken curry, Britain’s Most Popular Dinner (according to every arm of the food industry with a finger in the pie of Indian food retail. Wait, hang on…).
I’m not going to go into how curry is not actually a dish and trade routes between England and India are hundreds of years old, because other people have done that already and better. (I found a fantastic concise history of all this on an old website, but then my virus software went berzerk, so you’ll have to make do with Wikipedia.)
Hannah Glasse was one of the first famous English women of domestic writing, pre-dating Eliza Acton by almost a century (this is a cracking article about her).
‘Cooking means carefulness, inventiveness, willingness and readiness of appliance. It means the economy of your grandmothers and the science of the modern chemist; it means much testing and no wasting; it means English thoroughness, French art, Arabian hospitality’ These are Ruskin’s words, as true and inspired today as they were when he wrote them eighty-five years ago.’
So begins The Blender Book by Gwen Robyns, first published by Hamish Hamilton for Thorn Domestic Appliances in 1971.
I’ve made things from this book before, and although it seems a little unassuming they’ve usually turned out ok. I was making dinner for my neighbours and needed something fairly wholesome but filling. This recipe seemed appropriate. I used turkey instead of chicken.
Yeah, so basically if it has soy sauce and is fried I want to eat it. Plus meat. This is another from Practical Shoyu Cooking.
After the simplicity of the butter cakes, I swung in the opposite direction with some biscuits where the quantities of spice listed were borderline worrying – how much clove?!
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup molasses
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped
3 ½ cups sifted enriched flour
Despite the somewhat dubious results of my last attempt at cooking from Practical Shoyu Cooking I returned to it for dinner the other night. I’m not sure I’d heard of tempura pork before but using my usual method of choosing recipes depending on whether I can easily source the ingredients, this one leapt out at me (it’s a great system, one which stops me murdering people in Tesco). I watched Dr Who whilst making this dish. I’m not sure why anyone needs to know this though.
Now, first off, I couldn’t find a leek, so forget about that. I also didn’t really chop the ginger and garlic that finely, so there was lumps of both. I like both and can handle them in large quantities so no problem there, but the lesser of heart might want to make the effort to chop properly (I was probably being distracted by Amy Pond at the time. Ahem).
I wasn’t sure if cornstarch was the same thing as cornflour. I used cornflour. My cavalier attitude to proceedings did not pay off here, as I attempted to mix the cornflour straight into the egg yolk. There’s a reason why recipes are in a particular order; this fact occurred to me quite soon after and I won’t be quite so slapdash in the future (Oh, who am I kidding? Course I will be. I never learn). Anyway, my PROTIP here would be to mix the cornflour/ starch/ whatever into the water first AS INSTRUCTED. You will then avoid 15 minutes of trying to get the damn stuff to mix. At this stage I also added pepper after picking up the wrong sellar.
Also, don’t look at the bit saying ’4tbs of cornstarch’ and mutter ‘No way, that’s loads’. It may well be, but it’s the right amount. I ran out of cornflour and had to add plain flour until I had something thicker than milk to coat the pork with.
And then I started cooking. I could only find olive oil, which wasn’t ideal. I also opted for a small saucepan but lobbed loads of the pork in at once. After a few minutes the meat and batter had formed into a floating island of pork, terrifying and impressive in equal measure.
And you know what? It was delicious. Terribly unhealthy, certainly, but lovely. Like fried chicken but less greasy and with a soy undercurrent. I’ll cook this again, next time I’ll get the cornflour right, use different oil and a larger pan and it will be even more tasty.
Tempura’d by Alix
I have almost nothing to say about why or how I choose this recipe other than it looked like it would be flavoursome and that the cakes would not go stale quickly. This recipe is from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Compendium (1956 edition), section 3: Picture Cake Making, Children’s Cakes. A tempting illustration is provided by the book:
As requested by in the comments on this post, here’s the recipe for Coral Island Eggs:
For 4-8 people you need:
8oz peeled shrimps
2oz butter or pork fat
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons Chinese (Shao Shing) wine, or sherry
2 teaspoons ginger juice from preserved ginger seasoning
8 slices thick white bread
4 hardboiled eggs
deep fat for frying
1 Finely chop the shrimps and mix with butter
2 Add 1 egg white and mix in sherry, ginger juice and seasoning
3 Cut bread into diamond shapes, place a small mound of mixture on each piece
4 Halve hard-boiled eggs lengthwise, place 1 half, flat side down, on each mound, pressing mixture firmly round base
5 Brush all over with second egg white
6 Fry in deep fat, egg side downwards, turn over and continue cooking until bread is golden brown
7 Remove from fat, drain on absorbent paper