Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Food

Some tid-bits from The British Housewife, or the Cook, Housekeeper’s, and Gardiner’s Companion, by Martha Bradley. 1756.
A facsimile edition is available from Prospect Books, Allaleigh House, Blackawton, Totnes, Devon, UK TQ9 7DL ISBN 0907325637

This edition covers the twelve months, and under December, we have the following.
“BUTCHERS Meat in general is never in better Season than at this Time of the Year, and Beef in particular may now appear in the largest Pieces at the best Tables: The French Fashions have carried it a great Way against us, [Ah, the never-ending competition with the French!]but they are not arrived yet so far as to banish the Sirloin of Beef from a Christmas Dinner; that will always be received with Honour.
The Rump makes to the full as good an Appear­ance roasted: The Sirloin is particular to the roast Way of dressing, but the Rump may also be boiled, and it is one Way as genteel as the other.”

A little later we have the puzzling statement: “Lamb is now in prime Season; it is small and delicate, and nothing looks handsomer at a Table: The common Way is to cut the hind Quarter, boiling the Leg, and frying the Loin in Chops round it; but in this Case they spoil one another, and the polite Tables have banished this Method.”

I would have thought December young for lamb, but perhaps this has changed over time.

December was a time of limited fresh vegetables, but without freezing or importation, there was still variety. There was asparagus, and “From the Hot-beds also there is at this Season Plenty of young Salleting, Raddish and Cress, Rape and Mustard, and young Lettuces; the Hot-beds we also ordered to be planted last Month with Mint will now afford Crop after Crop of it, to be cut young, and eat with the Lamb, which is at this Time so great a Delicacy.

The common Ground affords also Abundance of the more ordinary Products, which from their own Hardyness, or the careful Manner of planting, escape the Frost; the Savoy is in good Order, and there are common and red Cabbages. The more usual Kinds of Roots are very properly taken up before this Time, and kept in Sand, but such as remain in the Ground, except the Potatoe, will be very good; and when the Frost will give the Gardiner Leave to get at them, he may take up Car­rots, Parsnips, and Dutch Parsley, as also Turnips, Salsify, and Scorzonera:
[Salsify and scorzonera are slender rooted vegetables said to taste like oysters when fried.] The red and white Beet is also very good now, and the red Kind makes an agreea­ble Figure at Table: Celeri is in Perfection, and Chardoons are very good; Endive also continues in very good Order, and there are Dutch Lettuces from under Glasses. All the Onion and Leek Kind are in very good Order, as is also Garlick; the Shalot and Rocambole also are fit for Use. Thus in the deadest Season of the whole Year the Care and Industry of the Gardiner supplies the Kitchen in the Country, and in London, where there is a Demand for every Thing, every Thing is ready to answer it; the Markets are supplied with these, and all in their Perfection, as in Summer.”

They wasted little of the animal. Consider “Roasted ox palates.” A suitable dish for Fear Factor! Mind you, this strikes me as one of those “stone soup” recipes, where the stated ingredient is only an excuse for many other more edible ones. “This is an extreamly elegant Dish,” Mistress Bradley assures us.

"Pick and perfectly clean Some fine Ox Palates; throw them into a Saucepan of Water with a little Salt, and two Spoonfuls of Vinegar, and boil them unti1 they are tender; then lay them on a Sieve to drain and cool.

Pick, draw, and truss three Pigeons for roasting; lard one half of each Pigeon with thin square Pieces of Bacon, and fill the Bodies with good Forcemeat made as we have directed in a foregoing Chapter. [Chicken, veal, bread, eggs, seasoning and spices. In other words, sausage meat.]

"Lay these ready, the Palates will by this Time be cold and fit for preparing for the Spit; cut them out into long slices, and lard them with long slices of bacon.”

The above are all threaded on spits and roasted with the addition of oysters, cock’s combs while basted with egg yolks.
"Meanwhile, cook some sweetbreads and artichokes, and a sauce of rich veal gravy and red wine."
So let's see. We have pigeons, bacon, sausage meat, more bacon, oysters, cock's combs, eggs, sweetbreads, artichokes, veal gravy and red wine. I suspect finding the ox palates in the dish might be a trick!

To broil a Lamb’s Head.
A tasty dish from the past that might also scare people on Fear Factor.
“Chuse a moderately large Lamb’s Head and split it, clean it very carefully, and then put it into a Pot with a little water to boil till it is half done. In the mean Time pick some Leaves of Sweet Herbs clean from the Stalks; add to them some grated Bread, some Pepper and Salt, and a little Nutmeg. Take up the Head and fet it to drain.

When it is half dry dust it very well over with the Seasoning we have just directed to be made, and set a Gridiron over a fine clear Fire; throw in some Salt, and when the Fire is in perfect fine Order, lay on the head; turn it occasionally, and see that it gets a fine brown.”

It is served with a mushroom gravy.

She concludes with: “There is but little upon the Head thus done, but what there is, is fine. There is not a prettier dish for a person of delicate stomach.”

Which only goes to prove that stomach delicacy changes over time.

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