Monthly Archives: June 2013
June 24, 2013
In preparation for our upcoming wedding, my fiancée, Kelly, and I visited a wonderful cheese shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan this weekend, hoping to explore different cheese options for our reception. The tiny shop was packed with wide-eyed shoppers, and the busy shopkeepers raced back and forth between the cooler and counter with armfuls of carefully double-wrapped cheeses. Samples were generously supplied.
As we savored a delightfully salty aged Gouda from the Netherlands, a creamy Irish white cheddar made with morning milk, and one of my favorites -- a smooth and buttery Manchego from Spain, I overheard one patron after another succumb to the will of the expert cheesemongers. "Oooo, I'll take a pound of that too, please."
This little store was stocked with everything one could possibly need for the finest cours de fromage. To customers' backs was an entire wall of chutneys, crackers, preserves, and dried fruits. It was on this wall that I made a wonderful discovery: preserved young walnuts produced by Harvest Song.
I called Kelly over. I was eager to explain how I have for some time now wanted to preserve my own young walnuts according to the old recipes from Hannah Glasse and John Farley. Before she could make her way against the lines of people, two samples awaited our approval at the counter.
Walnuts, in the 18th century, were often pickled with vinegar, preserved in sugar syrup, or processed into walnut catsup. Generally, young walnuts were used before their shells had the chance to harden. Recipes instruct that the nuts are to be harvested while a pin can still be pushed through them. Most of, if not all of the walnut was preserved -- meat, shell, and husk alike, depending on whether they were to be preserved white, black, or green.
These recipes have always captured my curiosity, but in the busyness of modern life, it seems I have routinely either missed the harvest window, or have lacked the week and a half to dedicate to the process. So I was thrilled to find these preserved walnuts on the shelf and was willing to pay the $10.00 price for an 18.9-ounce jar. No preservatives -- only young walnuts, cane sugar, and lemon juice. I suppose I could throw in a few whole cloves and let them sit in my refrigerator. That's about all they're missing.
Kelly and I squeezed in between the lines to get to our samples. The sweetness was the first thing we noticed...almost cloyingly sweet...but they were a bit earthy too. These walnuts remind me of the flavor of dates...sending my thoughts longingly back to that first bite of aged Gouda. This would be a perfect compliment.
But beyond the flavor, probably the more memorable experience was the texture. How can I describe it without diminishing the surprise? The snap of an excellent refrigerator pickle...the crunch of a freshly roasted jumbo cashew...the pop in my back when my chiropractor finally gives me relief...yeah, that visceral...my attempts seem absurd.
The shop manager noticed our surprise and was delighted in our willingness to try them. I explained my fondness for historical foods. Out of curiosity, I asked if he was familiar with a French cheese that was very popular in the 18th century. I couldn't remember its name...it started with an "M." The most peculiar thing about this cheese is how it gains its flavor through the secretions of cheese mites that infest the block.
"Mimolette!" he interrupted.
"Yes! That's it! Do you happen to have any?"
"No, I'm sorry, sir. You see the FDA has banned Mimolette in the U.S. They won't allow it through customs. It seems that customs officials don't like how it comes all covered with bugs! What a shame!"
"Yes, isn't it...what a shame."
So to my disappointment (but not necessarily to Kelly's), there will be no Mimolette at the wedding reception, but I'm thinking a bowl of sliced preserved walnuts will be in order.
While we don't offer the walnuts here at Jas. Townsend & Son, you can find them in my new favorite cheese shop in Kalamazoo, or you can order them on line. I will shamelessly say that the bowl and knife in the picture above are sold on our website.
If you prefer to try your hand at making your own preserved walnuts, I wish you success in your endeavors. I would love to hear of the outcome. Here's a recipe from John Farley's 1800 edition of The London Art of Cookery.
June 12, 2013
June 11, 2013
Many recipes in the 18th century use biscuits as an ingredient in other foods.
Now I'm a biscuit fan. I'll take mine hot with a dab of butter and a little honey. It just so happens that my bucket list includes the goal of producing lightest, flakiest biscuit I've ever eaten...and it's likely that the more I attempt to accomplish this so I can check it off my list, the more urgent the matter becomes.
But that's truly beside the point. The old English recipes aren't referring to the Ol' Southern variety that utilize chemical leavening agents, i.e., baking powder and baking soda, in order to reach new heights. 18th century biscuits were most often flat and crisp -- more like a cookie or cracker.
There were different kinds of biscuits, each with their own texture and method for making. Some recipes called for the dough to be violently beaten with a rolling pin or paddle. This softened the dough and made the finished product lighter. Other recipes required whipping eggs for a long time and then gently folding in the flour. This was actually a early form of leavening. It resulted in a light and spongy texture. Most biscuits, like the simple biscuit, were sweetened with sugar, some, like the ship's biscuit, were not.
While biscuit recipes differed in ingredients and techniques, the one element that seemed to be common across the board was that they were either twice-baked or baked for a longer period of time at lower temperatures. This ensured their crispiness and also allowed them to be stored for long periods of time. The word "biscuit" is believed to come from the Old French that means twice-baked.
The biscuit I'm focusing on today is the ship's biscuit -- the plainest of them all. The ship's biscuit usually consisted of just flour and water. They were favored by quartermasters and ship's captains for their ability to last. They were baked at least twice, sometimes four or five times to drive as much moisture from the crumb as possible. What was left behind was a hard, barely edible puck, that usually required soaking in beer, coffee, milk, water, broth, or wine to make more palatable.
Here are some recipes that utilize the biscuit as an ingredient from Charles Carter's 1749 cookbook, "The London and Country Cook."
It could be debated that Carter was referring to a sweetened simple biscuit in this recipe. It's unclear, however. The addition of sugar to the mix would suggest that ship's biscuit could be used.
Also, here's a remedy for the dropsy from the same work:
Another common and apparently popular dish among sailors, depending on the skill of those who prepared it, was lobscouse (a.k.a. Lobscourse, scouse, lap's course, or lobskous) -- a thick and hearty stew of beef or pork, often with root vegetables, that was thickened with crushed ship's biscuit. Be sure to check out our previous post on how to make lobscouse, and don't miss the video on lobscouse on our Youtube channel.
June 11, 2013
Here's an interesting passage from William Ellis's 1750 book, "The Country Housewife's Family Companion" (page 65). Ellis speaks of the virtuous timing of slaughtering a "porker" prior to harvest. The scrap pieces of meat could be used in making portable meat pies or pasties for the harvest workers.
"...our Housewife takes [the pieces of meat], and chops them into Bits, about the Bigness of a Pidgeon's Egg; then peppers and salts them pretty high, for at this Time of Year this is more than ordinarily necessary to be done, because these Pyes or Pasties are to be kept for some Days for being eaten cold. This done, make a regular Mixture of the fat and lean Pieces, if there be not fat Pieces enough, the Pye will eat dry, and if there be too much Fat, it will be apt to make the Harvest-men sick. Now with these fleshy and bony Bits of Meat, several large Pyes may be made, and baked, either in raised Paste, in earthen Pans, or in pewter Dishes, or in the Shape of turnover two-corner'd Pasties, and thus they become a most necessary and convenient Food at this Time of Year, for Farmers Families in particular, because the cold Pyes and Pasties are a portable, wholesome, and satiating Victuals for Breakfast or Dinner."
For a nice pork pie recipe check out the recipe in our earlier post "A Pork Pie with a Standing Crust."
June 10, 2013
As I began my quest to understand the 18th century pasty, I figured the first thing I needed to do was to leave behind all of my modern notions of what they were. I needed to travel light, leaving plenty of room for the period recipes and definitions and between-the-lines clues that I would gather as I combed through my resources. I visited many of the old cookbooks, dictionaries, journals, and magazines, looking for signs leading to a uniform definition, so that I could recommend the historically accurate method of making pasties. Whenever I hit a dead end, I'd consult the secondary sources for hints that I may have overlooked.
After studying all the souvenirs I collected along the way, I decided to return home, leaving the path for others to explore. I did so not with some sense of defeat, but rather with the somewhat enigmatic conclusion that there simply is no definitive answer...no single historically accurate method of making an 18th century pasty.
The Oxford English Dictionary claims pasties were pies made without a dish. This same definition can be traced back to 18th century dictionaries. Yet, the most commonly published recipes in 18th century cookbooks utilized baking dishes.
The Oxford Companion to Food attempts to delineate between pies and pasties by claiming either a multiplicity or singularity of ingredients used in each dish. Yet you look across the terrain of period recipes and you'll find the two terms, pie and pasty, are often used interchangeably (The Country Housewife Family Companion, for example, by William Ellis).
Hannah Glasse recommended the use of a baking dish. William Rabisha, in his 1682 cookbook, "The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected" suggested crimping together two pieces of pastry. Other authors recommended a tin patty pan.
Some pasties were baked. Others were fried (e.g., Charles Carter's recipe, below, from his 1749 cookbook "The London and Country Cook").
Pasty crusts were often highly decorated -- one of many showpieces that might adorn a multi-course meal. Pasties were also made in a free-form crust to be taken into the field or on a journey to be eaten cold, out of hand. Ellis copies the following pasty recipe from Rabisha:
Rabisha's Way to bake Brawn to be eaten cold.--Take (says he) your raw lean brawn, that is not useful to collar, and as much fat bacon, mince them small together, and beat them in a mortar; beat a good handful of sage with them; season them with some pepper, salt, and beaten ginger; pour in a little vinegar, and break in a couple of eggs; you may make a cold butter paste in a sheet form, and lay this your prepared meat on it; put in butter, and a few bay-leaves on the top, and so close up your pasty for baking.
(Brawn is any meat suitable for roasting, but often is the breast and/or leg of fowl.)
John Mollard, in his 1836 cookbook, "The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy," includes a recipe for a "Puff for a Journey."
So which style of pasty is most historically accurate? They all are. It seems the common denominator between all pasties is simply two things: a crust and a meat filling....oops, then again, there were fruit pasties. Ok, it seems there is ONE common denominator: crust. And that takes us back to the O.E.D. which explains that the word "pasty" can be traced back through the Old French language to words from the ancient Latin dialect meaning, "something made of paste."
I feel as though I'm walking in circles.
Why all the variations? It could be due to possible regional differences; possibly socio-economic differences as well. I mentioned in my last post that the beloved modern pasties that exist in similar form in insular regions throughout the United States, Latin America, Australia, and South Africa, are culinary descendants of the Cornish pasty of the Cornwall region of England. While the folded-over meat pastry may be the most common form of the pasty today, it appears it was only one of many forms in the 18th century.
Here's our take on a recipe for a delicious meat pasty from an earlier version of Mollard's cookbook:
About 1 pound of veal, coarsely chopped (Beef will also do)
2 ounces Fat Bacon (modern-day salt pork or jowl bacon), coarsely chopped
1 cup each, green beans, asparagus, mushrooms, onion, parsley (all fresh), coarsely chopped
Salt and Pepper
1 cup Bread Crumbs
1 Egg Yolk
1/2 cup Cream
Lard, a sufficient amount for deep frying.
Combine the veal and the vegetables in a large bowl, and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat a large skillet or spider and fry the fat bacon for 2 or 3 minutes until much of the fat is rendered. Add the meat and vegetable mix and fry for about 5 minutes. Return the mix to the bowl, add the bread crumbs, and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolk and cream together. Add this mixture to the meat and vegetable mix, and stir it until it is well incorporated.
Roll out your puff pastry dough until it's about 1/8" thick, keeping it as square as possible. Then cut it into about 6" squares. Once the meat and vegetable mix has cooled, spoon a portion of it onto the middle of each pastry square.
In a cooking pot or kettle, preheat the lard to about 350-degrees (F). carefully add the pasties, 3 or 4 at a time, and fry for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. You'll want to keep the lard around 350-degrees. Any lower, and the pasties will be greasy. Any higher, and the crust may become golden brown on the outside, but remain doughy on the inside. Drain on sheets of paper or on a cloth.
June 3, 2013
Say the word "Pasty" (pronounced "past-ee"), and you'll likely receive a passionate Pavlovian response from hungry folks from several regions of the U.S. (i.e., Michigan's U.P., or parts of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Montana, and California). Echoes of the lip-smacking cheers reverberate across the globe from distant parts in Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. But the loudest ruckus of all comes from enthusiasts in a western region of England; whose fierce pride is expressed through laws and regulations that define authenticity while protecting the tried-and-true recipes of old -- making the Cornish Pasty a National Heritage Food (and some would argue, a national treasure more valuable than even the Crown Jewels).
While other forms of hardy meat turnovers exist elsewhere around the world, the pasties so beloved in the regions mentioned above, find their common culinary roots in English cooking. Food historians tell us that the free-form pasty co-migrated with 19th and 20th-century Cornish tin miners as the tin mines at home dried up and other hard-rock employment opportunities opened abroad.
Pasties have been a popular dish on English tables for centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary claims the earliest use of the word in English literature was in 1300. The OED's definition of a pasty matches most modern expectations of the dish: a meat filling, enclosed in a crust of pastry, and baked without a dish. I have traced similar definitions at least as far back as 1764. Earlier definitions seem to be a bit more generic or obscure, describing a pasty as "a great pie" or "a pie made with flesh or fruit."
I think it's important, however, to try to consider such definitions apart from our modern expectations. For instance, "baked without a dish" could mean the pie used a standing crust instead. But when one examines 18th century pasty recipes, contrary to contemporary definitions, a completely different sort of dish takes shape: most often it's a meat pie prepared in an earthen dish that is partially lined with a thick puff paste and then topped with the same.
Now that's not to say that the free-form versions of the pasty are an inaccurate option for historical re-enactors and foodies. I'll share some period recipes free-form pasties in my next post. But today, I want to give you a typical 18th-century recipe for a beef pasty that uses what some cookbooks called "a proper paste" (I say that at the risk of raising the hackles of many free-form fans).
Our recipe comes from Charles Carter's 1749 cookbook, "The London and Country Cook."
While most 18th century recipes were for venison pasties, other types of meats were used (e.g., beef, pork, mutton, and poultry). Most period pasty recipes also call for either neck, shoulder, or breast meat (brisket), while a few call for rump or sirloin. The previous cuts are from the front end of the animal, and are usually more flavorful than those from the rear. They are, however, also tougher due to high levels of collagen or connective tissue between the strands of muscle.
Collagen is broken down through slow roasting or boiling. Some of the best modern barbecue brisket can be roasted for 12 hours or more. If you try to roast your meat too quickly, it will turn out too tough to eat. Some 18th century recipes for venison pasties argue against what was apparently conventional wisdom: that one had to be careful not to overcook venison. To the contrary, these recipes claim that when it comes to pasties, you can't overcook the meat. I suspect, that is why the pastry crusts on these pies are so extraordinarily thick -- up to 1/2" thick...before it's baked! One such recipe even suggested covering the thick paste with buttered paper to prevent it from scorching due to the long baking time.
Many period recipes also suggest marinating and aging meat for several days, as well as beating it to a pulp with a rolling pin. This was done to further tenderize the meat. Beef was likely much tougher then than it is today. Most of the meat sold in U.S. markets is aged prior to hitting the store shelves, so we skipped this step...it's another example of how modern food developments have made exact historic food reproduction difficult, if not in some cases impossible.
Carter's recipe also uses cochineal -- a red dye ("Natural Red 4") derived from parasitic scale insects living off cacti throughout warmer climates. Carter's recipe was the only one I found that used this ingredient. We've eliminated it from our rendition primarily because many people today are highly allergic to it. If you want to try it, you can purchase it online.
18th-Century Beef Pasty
1 to 1-1/2 pound Beef, cut into 1-1/2" to 2" chunks (we used chuck roast (or shoulder) ...in honor of Charles Carter!)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon each, Salt & Pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup Burgundy wine
3 to 4 Tablespoons Suet, grated or crumbled fine (multiple period recipes suggest using butter instead)
1 pound Beef Bones, cut or broken into chunks
salt and pepper
Several hours before you wish to serve your pie, or even the night before, combine the beef, salt, pepper, and wine in a ceramic or glass bowl. Set aside to marinate.
Preheat your oven to 350-degrees (F).
Roll out your puff pastry dough to between 3/8" and 1/2". Lay an inverted pie pan on top of your pastry and cut out a circle slightly larger than the pan. In the center of this circle, cut out a hole approximately 2" in diameter. Save the plug from this hole.
Fill your pastry-lined dish with your meat mixture. Top the meat mixture with the suet or butter. (If you are planning to use suet, be sure to first read our post on what suet is and what it is not.) Finally, cover the meat with the pastry round, and replace the plug that was cut from the center hole.
Prior to placing the pasty in the oven, place your beef bones into a cooking pot, season with salt and pepper, and pour in just enough water to cover them. This will be placed in the oven and baked alongside the pasty. This will make a lear or thin gravy that will be poured into the pie once it's done baking. Other recipes suggest placing the bones in a pot over medium heat and simmering the bones until the liquid is reduced by half.
Bake the pasty (and lear pot) for 2 to 2-1/2 hours. If your crust looks as though it's getting too dark, cover it with paper.
Once the pie has finished baking, remove the center plug from the crust. Strain the lear, discarding the bones, and pour the lear into the hole. Then replace the plug. Allow this to set for about 15 minutes before serving.