WORK BAGS AND THEIR USES©

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Gentle readers, today’s post departs from gardening and cooking as sometimes happens.  I hope that some of you find it useful.

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To research an 18th or 19th century lady’s collection of sewing implements it helps to know what the collection was called during that time. While one can research individual tools, the container that held them, always ready for easy availability, was most often called a work bag. References are found from articles and books published as early as the 1700’s.

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It was important that every woman knew how to sew and embroidery. More well-to-do women and girls might have worked on more delicate garments and smaller fancy items such as handkerchiefs, doll clothes, or delicate underpinnings, but they were still expected to perfect their sewing skills. Most girls learned embroidery stitches by making samplers.

Work-bags ranged from strictly utilitarian to being knitted or made of satin and decorated with tassels, embroidery, and other embellishments and were often made to give as gifts to a friend or loved one. They were often made to sell at church bazaars.

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Women commonly carried work-bags with them as they visited friends, sometimes working on their needlework as they carried on their conversations. Young girls often had their own workbags.

“. . . and brought, for each of the little girls, a present of a sattin [sic] work-bag ornamented with gold. There was in each bag a needle-book, and a piece of muslin, on which was drawn a pretty design”.

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In addition to sewing tools a work bag was also used to carry everyday items as one might use a tote bag today. It might have contained items such as keys, a piece of jewelry, letters or notes, money, toothpick cases, books, sewing, knitting, or embroidery projects, gloves, handkerchief, etc. or it may, on occasion, have been used to gather nuts or flowers. A housewife (a sewn sewing kit of sorts used for holding pins, needles, buttons, etc.) was often part of the contents of a workbag. In 1841 an article was published about the early use of potatoes in which a woman of 45 years said the first potato they ever saw was kept in her mother’s work-bag to await the season for planting.

Reading material and calling cards were often kept in work-bags. “I did intend reading something to the children,” said their mother, as she drew a paper from her work-bag”. The work bags also held scissors, a bodkin, and needles.
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Sewing is done by choice today but in times past clothes were made and mended and the tools to do the job were in constant use. A woman valued them because replacing them was a hardship. A poem [published 1831] entitled “Careless Matilda” addresses a young lady who haphazardly leaves her sewing tools scattered about, never knowing where anything is.

“Again, Matilda, is your work astray,
Your thimble gone! Your scissors, where are they?
Your needles, pins, your thread, and tapes all lost—
Your Housewife here, and there your work bag tost [tossed]”.

The following quote demonstrates the importance of carefully storing away a work-bag for the next time it was needed. “. . . then Lucy’s mother kissed her, and said to her, put your work into your work-bag, and put your work-bag into its place, and then come back to me.”

My workbag is made of toile after a pattern published in Godey’s Lady’s Book. It is a good size with pockets sewn around for keeping various items together. It has a drawstring closure. It has held everything documented above at one time or another. Researching workbags reminded me how much I need to reorganize mine and be as faithful about keeping my sewing implements together in it as my predecessors were. At my age one would hope to be better organized than I generally am.

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Good King Henry:  Perennial Green. ©

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Good King Henry, aka Fathen, wild spinach, English Mercury (in America sometimes corrupted to Markery), goosefoot, or Allgood is not native, but was grown in the U.S. at least by the early 1840’s, perhaps longer.  It is perennial and can be propagated by self-sowing and by root division should you wish to share with your neighbor.  Plant it in a prepared bed where it can grow unmolested and refrain from harvesting until the third year after which it will feed you for years to come.

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Photo:  Stefan Lefnaer, Wikimedia.

“We would particularly recommend to our readers, as a first-class vegetable for early spring use, the Good King Henry (Chenopodium Bonus Henricus), or English Mercury.  This is, in many parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a rather common roadside weed, with a thick fleshy root, like that of a Dock, and grows to a considerable height.  The lower leaves resemble those of Spinach, and are of a broadly triangular shape, often more than 3 inches long, stalked, sinuate, or slightly toothed, rather than thick and fleshy, and of a dark green colour.  This upper ones are smaller and nearly sessile.  It is extensively grown by the Lincolnshire farmers, almost every garden having its bed, which if placed in a warm corner and well manured, yields an abundant supply of delicious vegetables for a fortnight or three weeks before the Asparagus comes in, and for some weeks afterwards.  From a south border we generally commence cutting the Mercury early in April, and continue cutting until the end of June.  Some of our friends say they like it better than Asparagus; but we cannot go that length, though we like it very much.  When properly grown, the young shoots should be almost as thick as the little finger, and, in gathering, it should be cut under the ground something the same as Asparagus.  In preparing it for use, if the outer skin or bark has become tough, strip it off from the bottom upwards, and then wash and tie it in bunches like Asparagus.  It is best boiled in plenty of water, with a handful of salt added.  When tender, strain and serve simply, or upon a toast.  Some have melted butter with it, others eat it simply with the gravy of the meat.  Now, in cultivation, the Mercury will grow anywhere; but, to have it in the best form, superior cultivation is necessary.  To this end you cannot have the ground too deep nor too rich.  Hence we should say trench the ground2 feet deep, mixing in abundance of rich manure, and plant as early in the spring as possible.  As the plant is a perennial, it is necessary to get an abundant yield of shoots, and to get them as strong as possible—and hence, in time, each plant may be a foot or more in diameter.  In planting, we generally put the rows 18 inches apart, and the plants 1 foot apart in the row; and, after we begin to cut, we drench the ground frequently with manure water, or sprinkle the ground with guano in showery weather.  Of course the plants must not be cut too severely until they are thoroughly established—say in the third year—and then you can scarcely injure them.”  – “The Garden Illustrated Weekly Journal”.  London.  April 19, 1873.

In flavor it is comparable to spinach or asparagus.  The shoots may be peeled and prepared as asparagus cooked as greens (alone or mixed with other plants), or put into soup and stew.  Perhaps one of the following appeals to your taste.  Some suggested adding the seed to soup and stew in the manner of quinoa.

GOOD KING HENRY (Boiled leaves).  1916.  Have the leaves well washed, put into a stewpan with the smallest possible amount of boiling water, and let boil for fifteen minutes; then add a little salt, and boil five minutes longer.  Strain off the water and chop the leaves finely.  Have ready hot in a stewpan about one ounce each of butter and flour, with a little pepper and salt, add the leaves, mix well, and heat thoroughly for another five minutes.  Serve hot with garnish of fried sippets (toasts).

GOOD KING HENRY (Boiled Shoots and Stalks).  1916.  Prepare and cook as asparagus, and serve with any sauce suitable to asparagus.  Keep any cold, cooked stalks for salad.   ©

GROUND NUT, aka hopniss, Indian potato, potato bean, openauk, vine potato.©

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Ground nut is a North American native and produces a tuber similar to a potato.  It is edible as are the beans, shoots, and flowers the plant produces.  In 1585 Thomas Harriot said of it, “Openauk, a kind of root of round form, some of the bigness of walnuts, some far greater, which are found in moist & marish [sic] grounds growing many together one by another in ropes, or as though they were fastened with a string. Being boiled or sodden they are very good meat…”.

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One can hardly read a natural history, book of Indian lore, or an account of pioneers or mountain men without finding a reference to hopniss (the Lenape word for the plant) or Indian potato.  Accounts as early as 1626 call it Indian potato and by 1787 it was Apios Americana.  Lewis and Clark described it in their journals.  The name varied with tribe but each used it as food and as a medicinal.

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Modern day permaculturists praise the plant, but it is nothing new to history.  The noted botanist, Peter Kalm, recorded the plant he called hopniss in his journal in March 1749, written from Raccoon Creek New Jersey.  “Hopniss or Hapniss was the Indian name of a wild plant which they ate at that time.  The Swedes call it by that name, and it grows in the meadows, in good soil.  The roots resemble potatoes, and are boiled by the Indians who eat them instead of bread.  Some of the Swedes, at that time, likewise ate this root for want of bread.  Some of the English still eat them instead of potatoes, but likewise take the peas that lie in the pods of this plant and prepare them like common peas.”

Further, Parkman in “Pioneers of France” stated that Charles de Biencourt and his followers at Port Royal [Acadia, New France, now Canada], in 1613, were scattered about the woods and shores digging ground-nuts.  Jacob Cornutus published a history of the plants of Canada in Paris in 1635 in which is found the ground-nut.   Jane Loudon included the plant in her “The Ladies’ Flower-garden of Ornamental Perennials” and in discussing the edibility of the tubers noted that the plant had been introduced in England before 1640 and was cultivated in Germany (1843) where the tubers were sold in markets.  Whittier spoke of “Where the ground-nut trails its vine” in his “The Bare-footed Boy”.

Henry David Thoreau wrote about these tubers in his journal.  October 12, 1852. I dug some ground nuts with my hands in the railroad sand bank, just at the bottom of the high embankment on the edge of the meadow. These were nearly as large as hen’s eggs. I had them roasted and boiled at supper time. The skins came off readily, like a potato’s. Roasted they had an agreeable taste, very much like a common potato, though they were somewhat fibrous in texture. With my eyes shut I should not have known but I was eating a somewhat soggy potato. Boiled they were unexpectedly quite dry, and though in this instance a little strong, had a more nutty flavor. With a little salt a hungry man could make a very palatable meal on them.

On March 17, 1849 an article on apios tuberosa was published in “The Gardener’s Chronicle” which discussed its introduction to Ireland during the potato famine.  “The apios has a curious underground vegetation; its roots are the size of a quill pen, cylindrical, running horizontally under the soil, but close to its surface, and are often two meters long, and sometimes much longer than that.  Here and there the roots swell insensibly; the swellings gradually become spindle-shaped, grow larger, become filled with starch, and form true tubers.  The swellings are sometimes close together, so as to form a sort of chaplet.”  The woodcut that accompanied the article was a fine likeness.

As to flavor the tubers were compared to a chestnut or potato with a bit of artichoke, “which is by no means unpleasant”.  It is almost certainly the Jerusalem artichoke being discussed as other 1840’s sources specify such.

A research team at Southern Louisiana State University invested twelve years in improving the size of the tubers and the number of tubers produced per plant under the direction of Professor Bill Blackmon.  Unfortunately the research was abandoned after Professor Blackmon left the university so we aren’t likely to see them perfected to the point that they are cost efficient to grow commercially.  The tubers going into our garden were ordered from Sow True Seed and were cultivated from that improved LSU stock.  At least two universities have done studies on the nutrition-packed tubers and found they contain significant isofavones, chemicals linked to a decreased incidence of prostate and breast cancers.

Plants are drought tolerant and perennial.  It is slow to establish itself and tubers should not be harvested its first year.  In fact some growers recommend waiting until the third year to harvest tubers.  Tubers grow on a stringy root and resemble beads on a necklace.  The tubers may be some distance from where the plant grows so it is best to start at the plant and follow the string wherever it goes.  Descriptions of growth habit vary from a vine that grows to six foot long to twenty feet.  It is a nitrogen fixing plant meaning it pulls nitrogen from the soil to the surface where it can nourish nearby plants.

The vine is thin, covered with fine hair and rather tough for its size.  Leaves are pinnately compound with three to nine two-inch leaflets (3, 5, 7, or 9) with no teeth.  The flowers are a lavender/brown color and fragrant.  Tubers vary in size from dime size up to grapefruit size, though the larger tubers usually average about the size of an egg.  Second or third year tubers are the largest.  Those can be harvested and the smaller ones replanted.  Tubers can be dug any time of year, but the tubers are sweetest in the fall.  Seeds grow in a pod and can be harvested before they dry enough that the pod shatters sending seed everywhere.

Seeds do not always germinate well, however, and the plants are usually started from tubers planting them individually or in strings.  Suckers can come up some distance away from the host plant.  Vines can be pruned to keep them from spreading too much.

“Most of the research involving cultural practices has been directed towards developing techniques to screen large numbers of plants. Direct-seeding has presented problems. Seeds may take 10 to 30 days to germinate. Seedlings are small and early seedling growth is not vigorous. Seedling death, presumably from insects or diseases, has plagued this technique for starting apios. The most satisfactory method has been to start plants in peat pellets. After germination, when the shoots begin elongation, the plants are pinched back to the first leaves. This prevents the plants in a flat from twining on each other, allows for better root development prior to planting, and permits plants from slower germinating seed to reach sufficient size to transplant. However, pinching back carries a potential risk of spreading disease among the seedlings. Weak seedlings can be discarded at this stage. 

Tubers are planted intact. The buds that give rise to the shoots and rhizomes occur at the distal end of the tubers. The potential of dividing tubers into sections prior to planting needs evaluation. Generally the larger the tuber, the more rapid the early growth.  Seeds may be harvested from the time the pods first begin to dry. If left on the vine too long some pods will shatter.  Tubers are harvested after frost. Since most of the plants are different (originating from seeds), the tubers are harvested with a shovel to insure that genotypes can be evaluated individually. Fortunately, tubers can remain in the soil for extended periods without rotting even under water-logged conditions, thus allowing an extended harvest period.

Although apios in its native habitat is found growing on water-logged and acidic soils (Reed and Blackmon 1985), observations under field conditions indicate that apios grows best on well-drained soils. A pH less than 5 or as high as 8 may also be detrimental to growth. Adequate moisture is important, but excess moisture encourages longer rhizomes.”  Perdue crop proceedings 1990. 

Eat them boiled, roasted, or slice and fry them after boiling.  Tubers can substitute for potatoes in any dish though the flavor has been described as nuttier than potato and they can be cooked peeled or unpeeled.  The tubers can be dried, ground, and used like flour to add to bread or to thicken soup or stew.  The flowers are edible raw or cooked and the seeds can be shelled and cooked.  The seedpods can be cooked like green beans if harvested before they become tough and fibrous.  The tubers have a much higher percentage of protein than potatoes.

I’ve planted these along with Jerusalem artichokes and I’m watching to see if they come up.  As long as the chickens or squirrels don’t dig up the tubers I should be fine in which case I should have tubers I can harvest in two to three years.  Blissful Meals, friends, and happy gardening.©

“THE OLD POT-HERBS IN THE FLOWER GARDEN”©

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I envision a combination of beauty and function with regard to my principal flower garden this year as I intend to tuck herbs here and there into corners and bare spots transforming the existing garden into an old fashioned cottage garden.  The herbs will add to the floral fragrance wafting through the night air while they add beauty and grace through their own leaves and flowers, and, I ask you, who could not love stepping into the flower garden for a few pot-herbs to flavor the evening’s dinner?

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While I have seen it quite clearly in my head through the dreary winter months, I am, after all, Thehistoricfoodie, so is there any historical basis for this co-mingling of flowers and herbs?  Yes!  I’m delighted with my plan and that it mirrors the author’s description in the article below just adds to my gardening giddiness!

I already have seed orders in for most of the flowers and herbs discussed below and intend to transplant some existing herbs.  Having found this article shortly after my second seed order went to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, I see I was remiss in not ordering hyssop.

My seed stash already contains lovage and sorrel, which, due to their size will grace the outer edges of the garden and purslane that will go into its own bed as it self-sows so readily.  Lacinto kale will add color and form to the garden and its leaves will certainly find their way into the soup pot.  Nasturtium is the epitome of beauty and function as its leaves and flowers are beautiful garnishes or salad ingredients and the buds can be pickled like capers.

The plants already at home in the garden include heirloom fragrant roses, daffodils, iris, daylilies, Echinacea, rudbeckia, phlox, verbena, blackberry lily, spider lily, rosemary, hollyhock, Sweet William, snapdragons, hyacinths, etc.  I love the following article because it so beautifully described what I have envisioned my garden will look like after I mix the herbs in with the flowers.

“The Old Pot-Herbs in the Flower Garden.  Some of these pot-herbs are beautiful things, deserving a place in any flower garden.  Sage, for instance, a half shrubby plant with handsome gray leaf and whorled spikes of purple flowers, is a good plant both for winter and summer, for the leaves are persistent and the plant well clothed throughout the year.  Hyssop is another such handsome thing, of the same family, with a quantity of purple bloom in the autumn, when it is a great favourite with the butterflies and bumble bees.  This is one of the plants that were used for an edging in gardens in Tudor days, as we read in Parkinson’s ‘Paradisus,’ where Lavender Cotton, Marjoram, Savoury, and Thyme are also named as among the plants used for the same purpose.  Rue, with its neat bluish green foliage, is also a capital plant for the garden where this colour of leafage is desired.  Fennel, with its finely-divided leaves and handsome yellow flower, is a good border flower, though rarely so used, and blooms in the late autumn.  Lavender and rosemary are both so familiar as flower garden plants that we forget that they can also be used as neat edgings if from the time they are young plants they are kept clipped.  Borage has a handsome blue flower, as good as its relation the larger Anchuss [?].  Tansy, best known in the gardens by the handsome Achilles Eupatorium, was an old inmate of the herb garden.  Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) has beautiful foliage, pale green and Fern-like with a good umbel of white bloom, and is a most desirable plant to group with and among early-blooming flowers.  And we all know what a good garden flower is the common pot Marigold.  From Elgood’s ‘Some English Gardens’.”  – The Garden.  Jan. 7, 1905.

CLASSIC HERBS and HERB BLENDS©

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Up to the early/mid twentieth century, certain culinary herbs were commonly used together in soup, sauces, stuffing, etc. and these blends had various names depending on who you asked about them.  Some are perennial, meaning they come back each spring, and others may have spread through the seed they produced the previous year so that once established the cook need never worry about what to use to season her soup.

“As so many herbs are perennial, coming up year after year and often spreading rapidly from the root or from self-sown seed, as do the lemon balm, bergamot, lovage, thyme, sage, fennel, the various mints, the true tarragon, lavender, and many others it is well to prepare as large a space as possible in planning the original herb-bed”.

These can vary with location and climate, but let’s take a quick look at which herbs are perennial or that readily self-sow (I’m zone 8a):

Self-sow:  garden angelica, borage, basil, calendula, chamomile, chervil, cilantro/coriander, parsley, dill, chives, edible docks, sorrel, fennel, lemon balm, horseradish, oregano, and purslane.

Perennial:  bergamot, caraway, catnip, chicory, chives, fennel, ginger, horseradish, lavender, lemon balm, lemon grass, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, Roman chamomile, sorrel, tarragon, winter savory.

Evergreen Perennial:  bay, hyssop, lavender, rosemary, sage, and thyme.  These are not worth the effort to dry as they can be picked fresh any time of year.

The beauty of herbs for seasoning is not that any one should be dominant, but how some of them blend so beautifully, coming together in perfect harmony.  These should be the basis of any herb garden and the blends may be made after you dry your summer bounty.  The following range in date from 1840s through 1920s.

SOUP-BUNCH.  This is a bunch of young onions or leeks, carrots, and various herbs to be found in the market in most large places such as green sage, thyme, marjoram etc.; celery-tops are sometimes included.d  The onions and carrots and other vegetables can be cut in pieces for the soup, but the herbs are best folded in thin muslin and taken out after 10 minutes of simmering in the soup.

SOUP BOQUET.  A boquet [sic] of herbs for flavoring soups and sauces is much used by foreign cooks, and is made of a few sprigs of parsley, thyme, celery leaves, 1 or 2 leaves of sage and a bay leaf.  This may be folded in a small square of tarlatan or other thin cloth, and wound with a thread.  This can be put in the soup for a little time, and all removed without trouble when the soup is served.  [Cheesecloth works nicely to hold your herbs as does an old-fashioned tea ball.]

VIRGINIA FLAVORING.  Take thyme, mint, sweet marjoram, and rosemary gathered in full perfection; pick from the stalks, put them in a large jar, pour on strong vinegar, and let stand 24 hours; then take out the herbs, throw in fresh bunches, and do this 3 times; then strain the liquor, put it in bottles, cork and seal tight.  Do not let the herbs stay in more than 24 hours at one time, else a bitter, unsavory taste may be imparted.  What is wanted, is just the delicate first flavor which comes from stepping the herbs in the liquid.  It makes a delicious flavor for soups and sauces.

HERBS, A BUNCH OF SWEET.  Is made up of parsley, sweet marjoram, winter savory, orange and lemon thyme; the greatest proportion of parsley.

HERBS, SWEET.  These in cookery are parsley, chibbol, [several spellings, a small onion or leeks] rocambole, [a garlic or shallot] winter savory, thyme, bay-leaf, basil, mint, borage, rosemary, cress, marigold, marjoram, &c.  The relishing herbs or Ravigotte are tarragon, garden-cress, chervil, burnet, civet, [civette is the correct spelling, another name for chives] and green mustard.

BOUQUET GARNI.  It was quite formerly known as a FAGGOT.   Parsley, thyme, and bay-leaf.  In its most simple form it consists of a sprig of thyme, marjoram, and a bay-leaf wrapped together in parsley, and tied into a little roll.  To these may be added a small quantity of one or more of the following:  chervil, chives, celery leaf, basil, tarragon.

FINES HERBS.  Chop fine 6 shallots, place them with 1 ounce butter over the fire, cook 3 minutes; then add ½ cupful fine-chopped mushrooms, cook slowly 10 minutes; remove from fire; dip 2 sprigs of parsley in boiling water, instantly remove, chop fine, add 1 tablespoonful of it to the above preparation; season with ½ teaspoonful salt, and the same of grated nutmeg.  If not used all at once, put it in a small glass jar, cover with buttered paper, and keep in a cool place.

“Fines herbes are used for gratins, barigoules, [formerly this referred to artichokes stuffed with mushrooms] papillotes, [a method of cooking in a folded packet of parchment paper or foil] also for Sharp and Italian Sauce”.

HERBS DE PROVENCE.  Recipes vary from one cook to another but the most common ingredients are basil, bay leaf, marjoram, rosemary, summer savory and thyme with lavender being also quite common.

POT HERBS.  “Pot herbs include all those varieties of herbs which may be grown in the kitchen garden—parsley, chervil, chives, thyme, sage, savory, basil, sweet marjoram, tarragon and rosemary. . .There are other herbs which might be included in this list of pot herbs; they are not so well known but have good qualities; among these are dill, fennel, mustard, caraway and borage”.

As always, Blissful Meals and Happy Gardening. © Blog articles may not be reproduced without permission of the author.

A DINNER OF HERBS©

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As spring approaches I prepare to perfect my herb garden planting as many perennial culinary herbs as I can fit into corners of my flower garden or containers placed in empty spots so my thoughts turned to the old fashioned kitchen gardens.  The following is one woman’s ideas on using her herbs to prepare an entire dinner.  In addition to those discussed in the quote, the author also discussed growing and using tansy, marjoram, basil, balm, rosemary, clary, lavender, dill, fennel, angelica, anise, caraway, coriander, chervil, cumin, horehound, lovage, marigold, samphire, borage, rue, and winter savory.

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“To prepare a dinner of herbs in its best estate you should have a bed of seasonings such as our grandmothers had in their gardens, rows of sage, of spicy mint, sweet marjoram, summer savory, fragrant thyme, tarragon, chives, and parsley.  To these we may add, if we take herbs in the Scriptural sense, nasturtium, and that toothsome esculent, the onion, as well as lettuce.  If you wish a dinner of herbs and have not the fresh, the dried will serve, but parsley and mint you can get at most times in the markets, or in country gardens, where they often grow wild.

Do you know, my sister housewife, that if you were to have a barrel sawed in half, filled with good soil, some holes made in the side and then placed the prepared half barrel in the sun, you could have an herb garden of your own the year through, even if you live in a city flat?  In the holes at the sides you can plant parsley, and it will grow to cover the barrel, so that you have a bank of green to look upon.  On the top of the half barrel plant your mint, sage, thyme, and tarragon.  Thyme is so pleasing a plant in appearance and fragrance that you may acceptably give it a place among those you have in your window for ornament.

The Belgians make a parsley soup that might begin your dinner, or rather your luncheon.  For the soup, thicken flour and butter together as for drawn butter sauce, and when properly cooked thin to soup consistency with milk.  Flavor with onion juice, salt and pepper.  Just before serving add enough parsley cut in tiny bits to color the soup green.  Serve croutons with this.

For the next course choose an omelette with fine herbs. . .added to it minced thyme, tarragon and chives. . .

Instead of an omelette you may have eggs stuffed with fine herbs and served in cream sauce.  Cut hard-boiled eggs in half the long way and remove the yolks.  Mash and season these, adding the herbs, as finely minced as possible.  Shape again like yolks and return to the whites.  Cover with a hot cream sauce and serve before it cools.  Both of these dishes may be garnished with shredded parsley over the top.

With this serve a dish of potatoes scalloped with onion.  Prepare by placing in alternate layers the two vegetables; season well with salt, pepper, and butter, and then add milk even with the top layer.  This dish is quite hearty and makes a good supper dish of itself.

Of course you will not have a meal of this kind without salad.  For this try a mixture of nasturtium leaves and blossoms, tarragon, chives, mint, thyme and the small leaves of the lettuce, adding any other green leaves to the spicy kind which you find to taste good.  Then dress these with a simple oil and vinegar dressing, omitting sugar, mustard or any such flavoring, for there is spice enough in the leaves themselves.

Pass with these, if you will, sandwiches made with lettuce or nasturtium dressed with mayonnaise.  You may make quite a different thing of them by adding minced chives or tarragon, or thyme, to the mayonnaise. . .

Whether this ‘dinner of herbs’ appeals to the reader or not, I venture to say that no housewife who has ever stuffed a Thanksgiving turkey, a Christmas goose or ducks or chickens with home-grown home-prepared herbs, either fresh or dried, will ever after be willing to buy the paper packages or tin cans of semi-inodorous, prehistoric dust which masquerades equally well as ‘fresh’ sage, summer savory, thyme or something else. . .”.

Blissful meals and Joyful Gardening!©

Source:  Kains, Maurice Grenville.  “Culinary Herbs”.  New York.  1920.

MUSCOVY FOR THE TABLE ©

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Those unfamiliar with Muscovys may refer to my previous article.

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Our Muscovy drake, Ralph, approximately 1 1/2 years old.

Muscovy flesh was noted to be excellent in flavor.  Dixon wrote that the flavor was excellent if killed just before fully fledged [having wing feathers sufficient enough to enable the bird to fly], but it took longer in achieving growth for the table than the common duck.  “The flesh is at first high flavoured and tender, but an old bird would be rank and the toughest of tough meat.”

Most potential poultry growers eventually get down to brass tacks and ask about the meat harvested from this breed.  Muscovy meat is thinner-skinned, less fat, and deep red, often compared to beef in flavor and tender.  A Muscovy carcass is heavy for its size and the breast is larger than a Pekin.  Muscovy eggs are rich in flavor and excellent for baking.

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  1. T. G. Carey, a Muscovy breeder in Australia said of his “aquatic fowl” they have more flesh upon their body than any other poultry. “. . . learn how to relish the juicy Muscovy duck-meat with green peas, and the trial must convince him or her how remunerative this proposition [raising Muscovys] may prove.” –

Robert Schomburg pronounced wild Muscovy flesh, “excellent eating”.  –

  1. W. Summers likewise noted that Muscovy were, “the best table fowl of any of the water-fowl variety”.

Marguerite N. de Freltas replied to a previously published comment in “Pacific Poultry Craft” advising that anyone reporting on fowl should have kept them long enough to know their habits and worthiness before submitting information to magazines and disagreed wholeheartedly with the writer of the previous article.  “. . . we eat the drakes at two years and consider them very fine—they are not ‘hard, dry nor rank’.  On the contrary, the family all decided that the last one we ate was better than the previous one of seven months. . . I can cook one of my birds at two years, and . . . it will be very good to eat”.  Dec. 1914.

Recipes specifying Muscovy are rare, probably because, as Todd Goodholme noted, Muscovy was among the various breeds, “which are very fine for the table” and as such any of the better breeds was suitable for preparation.  After all, chicken recipes do not specify a particular breed.  His recipes were noted suitable for any type of duck.

William Gibson likewise discussed Muscovys, and, under that heading, we find in his index, “To cook [a Muscovy].—See Duck”.

The following recipe from “Good Housekeeping” did specify using a Muscovy.

“The best duck for ordinary occasions when such luxuries as canvas back, red head, and teal are not to be thought of is a young Muscovy drake.  Choose a fat tender one; there is too little meat on a duck for it to be worthwhile to take the trouble to cook a tough stringy one.  Rub it well inside and outside, first with plenty of fine salt and black pepper, then give it a second rubbing with finely pounded sage, marjoram, and savory all equal quantities, pounded together, and sifted free of stalk and stem.  Always add a dash of cayenne inside and out to any meat or game that is being seasoned.  Make a stuffing of bread crumbs (either corn or wheat bread as preferred, that is a matter of taste. . .) about a pint, or more, according to the size of the duck in a bowl with a teaspoonful of powdered sage, marjoram, savory and black pepper, a small onion minced, or grated, which is better, two tablespoons of fresh butter, and enough sweet cream to moisten it into as soft a mass as can be handled. . . Stuff the duck well and sew it up, dredge it with flour and put it in a pan with half a pint of water, and half a pint of red wine, have the oven very hot, so the duck will cook quickly and be a rich brown when only about half done, for ducks are eaten quite half raw!  Baste it well with flour and butter on a larding mop, and pour over it from time to time the liquid in the pan.    When the ducks are taken up if the gravy is not thick enough add a little flour and sage rubbed together and allow it to come to a boil, then add a wine-glass full of walnut or mushroom catsup, a spoonful of sugar or currant jelly, the juice of half a lemon, a good dash of red pepper, and serve very hot.”

STEWED WITH GREEN PEAS.  [Goodholme]  Half roast the duck; skin it, and put it into a stew-pan with a pint of beef gravy [stock], a few leaves of mint and sage cut small, pepper and salt, and half an onion shred as fine as possible.  Simmer a quarter of an hour, and skim clean; then add about a quart of green peas.  Cover tightly and simmer about half an hour longer.  Add a tablespoonful of butter and as much flour, and give it one boil and remove from fire; serve with the peas around it on the dish.

DUCK RAGOUT.  1866.  Half roast a duck, then score the breast in three places at each side, lightly strew mixed spices and cayenne into each cut, and squeeze lemon juice over the spices.  Stew the bird till tender in good brown gravy; take it out and keep it hot; add one or two finely-shred shallots to the gravy, also a glass of red wine, and pour the gravy over the duck.

ROAST MUSCOVY DUCK.  1919.  (Served with apple sauce).  Clean a Muscovy duck, season with salt and pepper, and stuff with a piece of celery and two shallots chopped very fine.  Put the duck in a roasting pan with a sliced onion and carrot, add a little water, and put in a hot oven.  The water will evaporate quickly, and the fat from the duck will be sufficient to roast it.  Baste often.  When done place the duck on a platter, remove the fat from the pan, add one cup of stock and a spoonful of meat extract, boil for five minutes, and pour over the duck.

TO DRESS A DUCK WITH JUICE OF ORANGE.  1723.  Roast the Duck, till it is half enough; then take it up, lay it in a Dish, and cut it up so as to leave all the Joints hanging to one another.  Then take Salt and Pepper pounded, and put between every incision; also, squeeze in some Juice of Orange.  Then lay the Duck in a Dish upon the breast, and press it hard down with a plate; set it over the Stove for a little time; then turn the Breast upwards again, and serve it hot in its own Gravy.

Should your experience with Muscovys resemble ours, you will have quiet but friendly companions and their offspring should furnish your table with fine dining.  As always, Blissful Meals.

See:  – “The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary. . .”.  London.  1723.  – Hirtzler, Victor.  “The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book”.  Chicago.  1919.  – Philip, Robert Kemp.  “The Dictionary of Daily Wants”.  London.  1866.  – “Good Housekeeping”.  Feb. 1890.  – “Camp Life in the Woods and the Tricks of Trapping and Trap Making”.  1881.  – Goodholme, Todd S.  “Goodholme’s Domestic Cyclopaedia of Practical Information”.  New York.  1889.  – “Ducks and Geese”. Published by Reliable Poultry Journal Publishing Company.  1904.  Schomberg, Robert.  “Report of the Third Expedition into the Interior of Guayana”.  1837.  Queensland Agricultural Journal”.  May 1920.  – Brown, Edward.  “Races of Domestic Poultry”.  1906.

© May not be reproduced without the permission of the author.

CHEESE STRAWS: A Quick History©

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One of my favorite finger foods is cheese straws.  I have little self-restraint when I have access to them.  Being the “historic” foodie, I’m honor bound to pass on a little knowledge today concerning this basic, but oh so divine, snack.  Join me as I stroll down memory lane.

Cookbooks often suggest serving cheese straws with salads or soup, others list them with appetizers, or occasionally served with raw celery.  In some instances they were served between the main course and dessert, perhaps with almonds or other nuts.  Occasionally one finds instructions for presentation such as, “When served, the cheese straws should be piled log fashion on a plate.”  Notice the 1930 recipe below in which the cook is told to cut some in rings and some in straw-shape.  To serve those the straws were inserted through the ring as noted in the photo.

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Cheese Crackers were the lazy housewife’s alternative to delicate cheese straws.  Butter, cayenne, salt, sometimes dry mustard, and cheese were spread on crackers, often thicker and harder than today’s saltine, and baked to a nice brown to melt the cheese.  Thick crackers were often split in half prior to spreading on the cheese mixture.

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By the turn of the 20th century commercial products were available including Huntley & Palmer’s Cheese Straws Biscuits, Sunshine Cheese Sticks, Sunshine Cheese Wafers, and National Biscuit Company’s Al Fresco Cheese Wafers.  The price and quality varied widely with the quality and amount of cheese used.  A commercially product as good as the real thing baked at home was, and is, as hard to find as the proverbial needle in a haystack.

To study recipes for cheese straws is first realize the same product may go by different names.  For example, in 1828, Louis Eustache Ude’s recipe for Ramequins a la Sefton, is cheese straws made from puff paste.  “After you have made the pastry for the first and second course, take the remains of the puff-paste, handle it lightly, spread it out on the dresser, and sprinkle over it some rasped Parmesan cheese; then fold the paste in three, spread it again, and sprinkle more cheese over it:  give what we call two turns and a half, and sprinkle it each time with the cheese:  cut about eighteen ramequins with a plain round cutter, and put them into the oven when you send up the second course;  dish them the same as the petits pates, and serve very hot on a napkin”.

1837, repeated in 1847.  “The Cook and Housewife’s Manual”.   In a menu in this book we find Cheese Biscuits, however, there is no recipe given.  “. . . a silver bread-basket in the centre [of the table], in which rusks or cheese biscuits are served on damask or fancy-netted napkin. . .”

In 1864, “Cre-fydd’s Family Fare”, published in London, contained a typical recipe for cheese straws, exact in ingredients and method, but called them Cheese Biscuits.  There is no way to know for sure, but there is a good likelihood that the 1837 and 1847 versions were the same.

  1. “Godey’s Magazine”. October, 1865.  This issue of the popular magazine contained three recipes for Cheese Straws.  The first was, “half a pound of puff paste, three ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, a little Cayenne, salt, and pepper, roll it very thin, cut it in narrow strips, bake them in a moderate oven, and send it up very hot.

#2, “Take a quarter of a pound of flour, and two ounces of butter broken into the flour with the fingers, and rubbed in till quite smooth, two ounces of good cheese grated on a bread-grater, the yolks of two eggs, and the white of one; season to taste with Cayenne pepper and a small pinch of salt.  Mix all together, roll it out to the thickness of rather less than a quarter of an inch (say one-eighth), place it on a well buttered tin, and cut it with a paste-cutter into strips about the width of those used to put across an open tart, and four or five inches in length.  They must be removed from the tin with care, so as not to break them, after having been baked in a moderate oven for about five or six minutes.  Biscuits can be made of a mixture prepared in the same way by using biscuit tins for cutting instead of a paste cutter.”

  1. “Dainty Dishes, Receipts.” Pailles au Parmesan, or Cheese Straws.  Take six ounces of flour, four of butter, two of cream, three of grated Parmesan cheese, the slightest grating of nutmeg, two grains of cayenne, a little salt and white pepper;  mix the whole well together, roll it out, and cut it in strips the size and thickness of a straw.  They must be baked in a moderate oven, should be quite crisp, and of a pale colour.  Serve very hot in the second course.
  2. “The Official Handbook for the National Training School for Cookery.” The basic method for most of these recipes is the same and modern recipes are easily found so we will not trouble the reader with inserting it into every entry.  Ingredients for this version were 2 oz. butter, 2 oz. of flour, 2 oz. grated Parmesan, 1 oz. of grated Cheddar, 1 egg, salt and cayenne pepper.
  3. “Everyday Housekeeping”. Their version contained a quarter cup of bread crumbs with the flour, butter, and cheese and white pepper in addition to the cayenne.
  4. “One Thousand Salads”. This dandy gem of a cookery book contains 27 recipes for Cheese Straws, made in varying ways from strips of puff paste sprinkled with grated cheese and seasonings to mixtures like the 1877 version – flour, grated cheese (Cheddar and/or Parmesan), butter, egg yolk, salt and cayenne.  A few also suggest grated nutmeg or paprika.
  5. “Better Meals for Less Money”. One of the recipes in this book recommends the addition of 1/8 teaspoon [dry] mustard, reminiscent of versions of Welsh Rarebit.
  6. “Old Southern Receipts”. 2 ounces of flour, 3 ounces of parmesan cheese, yolk of one egg, a little pepper, cayenne, a little salt.  Mix the flour, cayenne, salt and cheese together.  Moisten with the egg and work into a smooth paste.  Roll out on a board one-eighth inch thick, five inches wide, five inches long.  Cut some of the paste in small rings—some in small strips one-eighth inch wide.  Place both on greased paper and bake ten minutes, or to a light brown.  Put the straws in bundles in the rings.  [Rings and straws were documented in some of the earlier recipes.]
  7. By WWII era recipes for Cheese Straws were virtually unchanged.

I leave you, as always, with a fond wish for Blissful Meals and an invitation to visit often.  – Victoria Brady, The Historic Foodie.©  All Rights Reserved.

Lettuce Through Time©

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A nice gentleman contacted me recently with a question about 18th century lettuce and I promised to share some information.  His question was about period recipes for cooking lettuce and whether lettuce then was anything like what we have now.

Long leaved, cos type lettuce is ancient and depicted in wall and tomb paintings as early as 4500 B.C.  Lettuce is found among plants accompanying the Egyptian god, Min [4th Millennium BCE].

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Cabbage-leaved lettuce is traced from 1543.  Columella knew a few different varieties, and documented the Romans eating young tender lettuce and cooking older and tougher lettuce.  They ate lettuce with hot dressing on it much like the wilted lettuce salads popular in the 20th century.  Lettuce was cultivated to improve its texture and flavor and by the medieval era there were distinct varieties of three types – heading, loose-leaf, and tall or cos.  William Woys Weaver credits the name Romaine, a cos, to it being grown in the papal gardens of Rome, although the name Romaine isn’t commonly found until the latter third of the 19th century.

“Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery”, 1744 is a good early source showing varieties during the 18th century.  Some of those listed are available through heirloom seed companies.  Dr. Weaver, in his heirloom vegetable treatise, tells us some of the early varieties later underwent name changes requiring some gardening knowledge to identify them and locate seed.  For example, Green Capuchin is now Tennisball and Silesia is now White-Seeded Simpson or Early Curled Simpson.

Cos lettuce was common during the 18th century.  Accounts such as the one from “The New London Family Cook” instructing the gardener to tie up the leaves of cos lettuce, “the same as endive”, to shield the inner leaves from the sun rendering them tender and crisp indicates that without special care some lettuce was tough.  The center leaves would have been preferred for salads while the outer leaves would have benefitted from cooking.

Jamie Oliver's braised peas with spring onions and lettuce

Jamie Oliver’s braised peas and lettuce

Lettuce that formed a loose head was called cabbage lettuce and that which produced tall leafy to very loose-headed plants was cos.  The varieties were divided further by season – that which could withstand a European winter, spring lettuce that headed rapidly, summer lettuce which were usually larger than spring lettuce and which tolerated more heat without bolting as fast.  Cutting lettuces never form a head and are harvested a few leaves at a time as the plants grow.  This is sometimes referred to as cut and come again.  Southern Europe also had a, “perennial lettuce”, which resembled dandelion.

Lettuces varied in depth of color from very pale to very dark green.

In John Randolph’s eminent Gardening Treatise penned in 18th century Virginia, we see the cutting lettuce, Cabbage lettuce, and cos.  Randolph found the cabbage lettuce the least pleasing of the three.  “This sort of lettuce is the worst of all the kinds in my opinion.  It is the most watery and flashy, does not grow to the size that many of the other sorts will do, and very soon runs to seed”.

Randolph found the cos the, “sweetest and finest”, because it washed the easiest, it remained longer before bolting, and, it was the, “crispest and most delicious of them all”.

Salads, raw and cooked, date to ancient times, however, here we will look only at ways in which lettuce was cooked.  It was put into soup, made into ragout, cooked with green peas, etc.  Elizabeth Lea [1859] had this advice for her readers, “Where there is a large family, it is a good and economical way to cut the fat of ham in small pieces, fry it, and make a gravy with flour, water and pepper to eat with lettuce.  To cook lettuce you must fry a little ham; put a spoonful of vinegar into the gravy; cut the lettuce, put it in the pan; give it a stir, and then dish it”.  Your author remembers the delight of eating this prepared by her aunt Dora, who was a master of the “use what’s in the garden and larder” method of cooking before it became trendy with preppers.

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TO MAKE GREEN PEASE SOUP.  “The New Book of Cookery”.  1782.  Take a small knuckle of veal, and a pint and a half of old green pease; put them in a saucepan with five or six quarts of water, a few blades of mace, a small onion stuck with cloves, some sweet herbs, salt, and whole pepper;  cover them close, and boil them;  then strain the liquor through a sieve, and put it in a fresh saucepan, with a pint of young pease, a lettuce, the heart of a cabbage, and three or four heads of celery, cut small;  cover the pan and let them stew an hour.  Pour the soup into your dish, and serve it up with the crust of a French roll.

EGGS WITH LETTUCE.  “The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy.  Glasse.  1786.  Scald some cabbage-lettuce in fair water, squeeze them well, then slice them and toss them up in a saucepan with a piece of butter;  season them with pepper, salt, and a little nutmeg.  Let them stew half an hour, chop them well together; when they are enough, lay them in your dish, fry some eggs nicely in butter and lay on them.  Garnish with Seville orange.

TURKISH MINCE.  “Domestic Economy and Cookery”.  1827.  Mince hard [boiled] eggs, white meat, and suet in equal quantities, season with sweet herbs and spices, mix it with boiled chopped lettuce, bread crums [sic], a little butter and a raw egg or two; dip lettuce, vine, or cabbage-leaves into boiling water, roll up the mince in them, and fry them of a nice light brown, or bake them in a quick oven, buttering them from a buttering pan, which is a better method than laying on bits; when rolled up for frying, fix the leaves with a little egg; meat may be used instead of egg.

LAITUES AU JUS.  “How to Cook Vegetables in one Hundred Different Ways”.  1868.  Blanch the lettuces for about five minutes in boiling water, drain them; place some nice slices of bacon in a stewpan;  lay the lettuces upon them; add sufficient strong gravy [broth];  simmer for a quarter of an hour, and serve with the strained gravy.

LAITUES FARCIES.  “How to Cook Vegetables in one Hundred Different Ways”.  1868.  Remove the outer leaves from some good large white lettuces, blanch these for a few minutes in boiling water;  drain them;  make them hollow by cutting out from the stalk end;  fill them with a very good white forcemeat, and stew them gently in consommé, or braise them.  Serve with the gravy poured over.

LETTUCES—LAITUES AU LARD.  “The Treasury of French Cookery.  1866.  The salad being made, salt and pepper are added in the requisite quantities.  Cut bacon up in small dice.  Melt it in a heater [cook].  Pour it very hot over the lettuces.  A little vinegar is immediately put into the heater, and when warm is poured over the salad.

LETTUCE SOUP.  “The Master Books of Soups”.  1900.  2 pints veal stock, 1 large head of lettuce, 1 oz. butter, 1 oz. flour, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt and paprika.

Cook lettuce in 1 pint of the stock and press through a sieve.  Heat butter in a pan and add flour and the other 1 pint of stock.  Cook till smooth and creamy.  Add lettuce pureé, season to taste, re-heat, add lemon juice, and serve.

“Inferior heads, or the lettuce which does not form heads, is very nice if cooked just like spinach and dressed with cream.  Some varieties which have large white veins and mid-ribs may be made to serve a double purpose.  Strip out the thin parts of the leaf for use in the salads and then cook the stems and dress them just like asparagus.  It will make a substitute for asparagus which will go unsuspected with a good many people”.  – Cutler.  1903.

See:  Vilmorin-Andrieux, “The Vegetable Garden”, 1920.  Randolph, John, “A Treatise on Gardening”, mid-18th c.  Weaver, William Woys.  “Heirloom Vegetable Gardening:  A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History”.  1997.  Weaver.  “100 Vegetables and Where they Came From”.  2000.  Lindquist, K.  “On the Origin of Cultivated Lettuce”.  Landskrona, Sweden.  April 1960.  Eaton, Katherine.  “Ancient Egyptian Temple Ritual:  Performance, Pastterns, and Practice”.  2013.  Cookery books listed above.

Spooners and Spoon Holders: Gone the way of the Dodo Bird.©

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This might be considered a companion piece to yesterday’s post on Celery Vases in that with one significant difference it might be hard for today’s collector to tell the difference between a spoon holder and a celery vase.  In short, celery vases are tall enough to easily hold celery stalks while spooners, sometimes called spoon holders, were much shorter so that the handles of the spoons stood above the rim of the holder.

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Spooners sometimes looked like handled sugar bowls, however, the absence of a ring in which a lid would have seated will confirm the piece is a spooner rather than a sugar bowl.

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Knives and forks were usually kept in drawers while spoons were kept in spooners on the table.  Spooners were made of cut glass, silver, white metal, Brittania ware, etc.  The glass ones were clear, colored, or clear with colored accents.  Spooners were squat or sometimes on bases increasing the height of the overall piece without making the container too tall to hold the spoons.  Silver bases with glass inserts and round, silver combination sugar bowl and spoon holders also decorated many a Victorian table.  A spooner might have one handle or two.

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Spooners were often offered as prizes at agricultural fairs, given as prizes for subscriptions to magazines,  or given as wedding or anniversary gifts.  Miss Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, daughter of William Astor and great grand-daughter of John Jacob Astor, received a silver spoon holder and “several sets” of silver spoons when she married Marshall Orme Wilson in 1884.

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Silver spooners were one of the souvenirs of the 1903 World’s Fair and I found them listed in household inventories and appraisals into the 1920’s, but while those who had them sometimes continued to use them after they were no longer advertised for sale, by the 1930’s spooners were rarely seen except in museums or antiques shops.  And now, gentle reader, I bid you adieu and Blissful Meals.©

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