Wednesday, August 29, 2012
For dinner: stuffed little patty-pan squash. Inspired by the Shakespeare cookbook, I spiced the breadcrumb, onion, and insides-of-squash filling with fresh thyme (also from the market), nutmeg, lemon zest, and raisins. It wasn't a Shakespeare recipe, though, just an improvisation.
The farmers market here is a bit sad this year because so much of the tree fruit was destroyed by an early warming period in March followed by bad frosts last April. Moreover, the drought is serious; some farmers have been able to water their crops, but others are suffering.
I talked to one farmer who said that throughout July, he drove 5 miles to a city water supply and brought a 3000 gallon tank of water back to irrigate his tomatoes, peppers, and other field crops, supplementing his well. I have no idea of the cost tradeoffs or efforts this implies. In sum, the weather of all sorts, mostly bad, has also caused prices to increase.
This was my first trip to the market for the year. The plums, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs I bought were delicious for lunch; we'll also be eating eggplant, patty-pan squash, early apples, and a few other items this week.
Friday, August 24, 2012
What did Shakespeare eat?
Definitive answers here: The Shakespeare Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Maureen Dalby, published by the British Museum Press this year. Andrew Dalby is a culinary historian, so this is a work of scholarship, using contemporary cookbooks and dietary advice books that were in print during Shakespeare's lifetime. I had no idea how many such works existed!
Another surprise: many recipes are simple and close to modern cooking. For example, chicken fricassee described on page 54 is almost exactly the way I sometimes use up leftover chicken, though the modern version often includes pimentos (a variety of capsicum peppers, which Dalby says hadn't reached England from the New World yet) and the Shakespeare-era version uses the spice mace, which isn't on my spice shelf.
A variety of pies of all sizes combine meat, fruit, suet, and spice into a preparation that predates our mince pies. The small ones are called "chewets" and contain saffron and ground ginger along with cooked meat. If I could find suet, I would be interested to try pies or chewets, as I have always liked that funny packaged mincemeat that is featured at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and I would like to meet its ancestor. (If I could find a swan, there's another recipe in the book I might try too.)
Similarly there are recipes for a sort of meatball including meat-egg-dried fruit and flavored with mace. Large ones were called Farts, small ones were called Fysts. I definitely plan to try these, as the modernized recipe doesn't require suet at all. And the name is so amusing! Dalby doesn't offer any word history on this. Although there are many references on the Web to the original recipe, a quick look didn't offer me any insight into why this word meant little meatballs in Elizabethan times.
The explanation of what the word "cake" meant to Shakespeare is very interesting. "A cake, to Shakespeare, was a concept that overlapped with the modern English cake but didn't coincide with it." (page 70)
So, the authors point out, cakes could sweet or savory in the famous line
"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, that there shall be no more cakes and ale?"The word cake could refer to a loaf cake, a tea-cake, or a waffle. It could mean a biscuit. (I think this is the British biscuit, which in America we call a cookie -- the problem of terminology didn't stop in Shakespeare's time.) The book's cake recipe is for Barm Brak, made from white-bread dough, sugar, lard, eggs, raisins, and sweet spices.
Every section of the book has a discussion of a food reference in a particular Shakespeare play, with elaborations from the literature of Shakespeare's contemporaries as well as contemporary food sources. Almost every page includes an illustration, also contemporary to Shakespeare. And every section offers a wide range of interesting references and information, as well as at least one recipe quoted directly from the sources and then a modernized version. A fantastic book, for which I'm grateful to my friend Sheila!
Monday, August 20, 2012
More spinoff from thinking about Julia Child's 100th birthday ...
August 17: Champignons a la Grecque, served with tomato, cucumber, and cilantro.
Tonight: a clafoutis made with huge black cherries. I think I last made this in 1965, though I suspect I have made clafoutis with other fruit once or twice in the intervening years. My guest in 1965 quipped, "What about clafou-coffee?"
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Julia Child would be 100 years old today -- as every food blogger and food writer knows. I first encountered her work and TV show in the fall of 1964, when I was newly married and learning to cook. Marcy, the secretary of the office where I was working was a member of Book of the Month Club, and purchased Mastering the Art of French Cooking for me at a reduced price. I loved it immediately!
In gratitude, we invited Marcy to dinner, though in fact we didn't have much in common with her. I made the recipe on page 246: "Roast squab Chickens with Chicken Liver Canapes and Mushrooms" -- I used Rock Cornish Hens. I have never made that recipe again, though I've tried dozens of others in that book. Why I remember that one, I can't imagine. I served it on a beautiful Danish Modern wood tray that had been a wedding present. Forever after it faintly smelled of liver.
Over time, I've memorized many of the recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and now make them without looking. A few of these favorites: onion soup, carbonnades a la Flamande, casserole roasted veal, gratin Dauphinoise, salade Nicoise. I once roasted a goose according to her recipe (memorable, but it's hard to find another goose), and once made Riz a l'Imperatrice (disappointing). I made clafoutis a few times. I use her recipes for crepes, ratatouille, daube de Provence, and chicken with tarragon, and quite a few others. Despite my love of artichokes, I don't recall having tried her method of trimming them down to the artichoke bottoms and then stuffing them. And I admit that I've never had the patience to try the most challenging desserts, those with puff pastry.
Over the years, I have acquired other Julia Child books, beginning with the second volume of Mastering..., which was published a few years later. Compared to my original copy of Volume I, full of stains, splashes, and dog-ears, my Volume II is pristine. I'm not sure I've ever made a single recipe from it, though Lenny did make the French bread recipe for a while. It's full of things I would be afraid to try, like roast suckling pig.
Julia Child & Company, published in 1978, turned out to be a real favorite. My copy is full of notes about when I cooked various dishes or even whole meals. For example, the "Indoor Outdoor Barbecue" gave us the idea of cooking a butterflied leg of lamb on the barbecue. It's fantastic -- we have done it often. My handwritten notes on page 193 record that I made the entire dinner on May 6, 1984 (including the Topinambours, or Jerusalem artichokes), and repeated all or part of it in 1992, 2004, and 2010. Here's the photo of that meal from the book:
I have loved all her books that I own -- shown at the top of this post. The one I bought most recently was My Life In France, her wonderful autobiography. And I have also enjoyed her kitchen in the Smithsonian, which I wrote up here.
Happy Birthday, Julia. And also happy birthday Evelyn, who shares her birthday.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Favorite salad flavor for Miriam and Alice: the spice blend Maggi Number 4, available only in Germany. They unselfishly gave me a jar of it, which you can see I have all ready to make a salad. Last night, I mixed some of this blend with olive oil and red-wine vinegar and sprinkled it on skewers of mushrooms, onions, and red/orange bell peppers. I kept this separate from meat, so after cooking we used the remaining marinade as a dressing for the vegetables. It's really a wonderful flavor blend.