Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
|The Miser, Thomas Couture 1876|
To what depths of destitution had Osterwald and Danden sunk that they would die in such a needlessly agonizing manner? The answer is, none at all. Both men were rich – indeed perhaps fatally so, each unwilling to part with the few shillings necessary to secure their sustenance.
Though he did not share Osterwald and Danden's fortunes, John Overs certainly gave them a run for their money when it came to world-class miserliness. Overs never allowed quality to trump savings; only the moldiest marrow bones would he buy for his daily broth, which he no doubt needed in order to soften the stale bread that was his other staple. On the subject of Overs, Frederick Somner Merryweather writes in his Lives and Anecdotes of Misers (1850) that the old skinflint "would buy meat so tainted that even his dog would refuse it." This squeamishness on the canine's part Overs treated with contempt. He would chide the hound, calling it "a dainty cur," one that was "better fed than taught." Otherwise unfazed by this show of ungratitude, Overs would help himself to his mongrel's miserable portion.
Such obduracy Overs extended to include his two-legged fellow creatures. So avaricious was he that he would feign death so that his servants would not "be so unnatural as to partake of food whilst his body was above ground, but would lament his loss, and observe a rigid fast." But rather than lament the death of their master, the servants threw open his cupboards and "indulged in huge slices of cheese. " So joyful were they that they "even ventured to cast aside the parings, and to take copious draughts of the miser's ale." Wrapped in his death shroud, Overs could only lie mutely by and suffer "their mutinous disrespect."
Yet Overs found he could endure this saturnalia but briefly. Enraged by the pillaging of his larder he started up, intending to chastise his perfidious servants. Thinking he was seeing Over's ghost, one of them caught hold of an oar, and smashed the poor miser's brains from his head. The servant, however, never suffered punishment for his action. A novel bit of legal reasoning secured his acquittal. It was determined that Overs, "who thought only to counterfeit death, occasioned it in earnest," and was therefore "the prime cause of his own death." The festivities, Merryweather happily reports, continued unabated.
Should a spirit of thrift take hold of you, consider preparing this casserole known as Ffest Y Cybydd, or "The Miser's Feast," the recipe for which appears in Bobby Freeman's guide to Welsh cuisine, First Catch Your Peacock (1996).
The Miser's Feast (Ffest Y Cybydd)
Cover the bottom of a saucepan with peeled potatoes (whole) and a sliced onion, with a little salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, place on top of the potatoes and onion a few slices of bacon or a piece of ham, replace the lid and allow to simmer till the potatoes are cooked, when most of the water will be absorbed.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
As legends ceded ground to science in modern times the marigold lost nothing of its cachet. The Swedish botanist Linneaus confessed himself delighted to discover that its petals unfold in the morning and close in the afternoon around three o'clock. Though perhaps less taken than Linnaeus with the marigold's daily habits, early twentieth century health guru George Julius Drews found its nutritional value most impressive. In his 1912 health manual Unfired Food and Thropho-Therapy Drews recommends marigold petals "pulled out the of flower head, chopped, mixed with a few pignolias or chopped walnut and dressed with honey" as a salad whose initially unpleasant odor is quickly forgotten once the dish itself is sampled. Indeed, Drew assures readers that "after the flowers are tasted about three times they will be craved, because their sweet aftertaste is like that of the dandelion flower."
Those unwilling to endure these three requisite tastings can obtain the marigold's benefits by infusing its petals in vinegar. Marigold vinegar not only has its culinary uses, being found in many Continental poultry and mushroom dishes, but its topical uses as well. Folk wisdom had it that it soothes skin complaints and measle symptoms, and when eaten with salad it fairly eases any ailment. This recipe for marigold vinegar from an 1889 edition of Good Housekeeping offers instructions on how to harness this flower's power.
Pick off the petals, and press them into a pint measure to get the proper quantity; lay them in the sun for four or five hours, then put them into a quart bottle with a teaspoonful of fine salt and the same quantity of sugar; fill up with white-wine vinegar. In a fortnight it will be ready, and it will keep twelve months or longer.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Yet the Reich encouraged as many activities as it discouraged. As the First World War raged, rationing became necessary. Ersatz comestibles, which came to replace the natural ones that were reserved for the Kaiser's army, inspired something of a new culinary art in Germany. It was said the German Food Commission could work wonders, producing as if out of thin air a servicable substitute for almost any foodstuff. Sugar, flour, eggs and milk – each had its synthetic Doppelgänger that civilians, war-weary though they were, ate without complaint. (To balk at oleo or pine-needle tea was no doubt also deemed Verboten.)
Germany in War Time: What an American Girl Saw and Heard (1917) is the memoir of one Mary Ethel McAuley, a Yankee lady who spent the war years on the Continent. In it she praises the Commission, which "has everything figured out so that provisioning shall be divided proportionately each week, and just what each person shall receive." To each according to his needs seems to have been the governing maxim, because "everybody does not receive the same amount of food in Germany." Office workers received less bread than factory workers, and the aged and infirm received extra rations of cereals, butter and eggs.
An austere diet of carefully doled-out powdered eggs and saccharine tablets did little to sap the citizenry's health and vigor. Indeed, McAuley observes that ""nine out of every ten Germans have never been so well in their lives as they have been since the card had been introduced." "[S]pry, active and energetic" is how most of them reported feeling, primarily as a consequence of the fact that "one is constantly thinking of things to eat."
This having things to eat constantly on the mind was perhaps relieved somewhat come Sunday, whose dinner, though still meager by peace-time standards, offered portions substantial enough to calm any hunger-induce antics. McAuley records in her memoir a sample Sabbath bill of fare:
130 grams of beef
300 grams of potatoes
If you should happen to feel your vigor flagging, and believe that a little wartime dearth can restore it, try this recipe for plum soup, which is taken from McAuley's memoir. And if dessert isn't strictly Verboten, you can follow your plum soup with some drop cakes without eggs, sugar or milk. Just make sure you don't bake them at home.
1/2 pound of plums boiled in a quart of water and strained.
2 tablespoonfuls of sugar.
1/2 cup of oatmeal.
Boil and serve cold.
Drop Cakes Without Eggs, Sugar or Milk
1/2 cup walnut meats.
2 eggs substitutes.
1/2 cup milk substitute, 1/2 teaspoon saccharine.
1 tablespoonful baking powder.
1 cup flour.
Add a little cinnamon. Bake as drop cakes. Flour the baking pan instead of greasing it.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
"I saw all with mine own eyes, the fish, the maw, the piece of sail cloth, the book, and observed all I have written," remarked one eyewitness in a letter, who hastened to add that he observed "not the opening of the fish, which not many did, being upon the fish-woman's stall in the market." Indeed, the fish-woman was alone with the cod for some time. It was she "who first cut off [its] head" and noticed that it seemed "much stuffed with somewhat." Having aroused curiosity, it was duly searched and the contents "found as aforesaid." Yet lest there arise any suspicion of funny business the eyewitness adds, "He that had had his nose as near as I yester morning, would have been persuaded there was no imposture here without witness."
Whether an imposture was indeed pulled off remains a matter of speculation. It was determined, however, that this curious find, which was "much soiled, and covered with slime," was penned by one John Frith, an adherent of the "reformed religion." Condemned for his heretical beliefs, Frith composed his text while imprisoned in a fish cellar in Oxford. His was a mostly solitary confinement, his cellmates having succumbed to "the impure exhalations of unsound salt fish." One supposes that just before his removal to the Tower of London, where in 1533 he was burned at the stake, Frith slipped his work into one of the fish that shared his quarters.
Frith's book, a duodecimo volume of religious treatises, endured this second confinement for almost a century, commingling matters of the spirit with decidedly less wholesome vapors. Upon its fortuitous discovery, authorities at Cambridge commissioned a reprint. Rechristened Vox Piscis, or The Book-Fish, it featured a frontispiece depicting emblems of that fateful market morning -- a stall, a cod, a knife, and a book.
A summer meal of salted codfish ought not to encourage schisms. Folks of all confessions will enjoy this recipe for salted cod with egg sauce, which appears in The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769). After all, they have far less at stake than did poor John Frith.
Salted Cod with Egg Sauce
To dress a Salt Cod.
Steep your salt Fish in Water all Night, with a Glass of Vinegar, it will fetch out the Salt, and make it eat like fresh Fish, the next Day boil it, when it is enough, pull it in streaks into your Dish, then pour Egg Sauce over it, or Parsnips boiled and beat fine, with Butter and Cream; send it to the Table on a Water Plate, for it will soon grow cold.
To make Egg Sauce for a Salt Cod.
Boil four Eggs hard, first half chop the Whites, then put in the Yolks, and chop them both together, but not very small, put them into half a Pound of good melted Butter, and let it boil up, then pour it on the Fish.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Originating in the warmer climes of western Asia, horseradish has since become a favorite condiment of the decidedly cooler climes of Central and Northern Europe, where it is cherished for its peppy, pungent flavor. The 1901 edition of the South Australia Journal of Agriculture reports that the zesty root grows "on a considerable scale in various parts of Bohemia," favoring "a deep, loose, strong soil, with plenty of moisture," which "is considered the most suitable."
Once horseradish finds suitable soil, it grows with abandon, sometimes colonizing entire gardens. During the September harvest a long-bladed mattock or spade is used to pry the tenacious roots from the ground. Once harvested, the horseradish enjoys a remarkably long shelf life; restaurateurs have been known to store roots in moist sand for months in order to obviate the need for frequent re-provisioning.
The horseradish has throughout history been highly regarded. Apollo learned from the Delphic oracle that it was worth its weight in gold, and Pliny the Elder recommended it for its medicinal qualities. In his 1858 book Soil Culture J.H. Walden considers horseradish "a healthy condiment, especially in the spring of the year," which "with a little vinegar ... may be eaten with any food you choose."
And horseradish's virtues are as much cosmetic as they are alimentary. When "steeped in vinegar for two weeks," Walden writes, "it is said effectually to remove freckles from the face."
Whether you use this versatile root to spice up your refection or to spruce up your complexion is entirely a matter of personal preference. But should you intend the former, try this recipe for horseradish dressing from The Rumford Complete Cook Book (1908).
1 cup heavy cream.
1 tablespoon grated or evaporated horseradish.
2 tablespoons lemon juice.
Salt and paprica
Beat the cream till quite thick and then add the horseradish finely grated. If evaporated horseradish is used, pour over it a tablespoon of cold water and allow it to be absorbed before adding to the whipped cream. Put in the lemon juice slowly, stirring all the time; season to taste, and serve very cold. This dressing is especially good with tomatoes.