PPC 64 (June 2000)
|The first issue of Petits Propos Culinaires since its move from the editorship of Alan and Jane Davidson into my hands at Allaleigh House is now with subscribers.
of APPLE PYES
William Ellis, whose Country Housewife’s Family Companion (1750) we republish this month, included this poem in his text. Although I feel I may have encountered it in one anthology or another, I cannot lay my hands on the culprit, so deem it possible that others may not have met it. It is enjoyable. The author is Leonard Welsted (DNB, 1688–1747) a civil servant and occasional poet, epitomized by Pope in The Dunciad in the lines, ‘Flow, Welsted, flow! like thine inspirer, beer; / Though stale, not ripe; though thin, yet never clear; / So sweetly mawkish, and so smoothly dull; / Heady, not strong; o’erflowing, though not full.’ It was his first poem, written in 1704. In The Oxford Companion to Food, it is mistakenly ascribed to William King, the author of The Art of Cookery, 1708. Of APPLE-PYES: A poem, by Mr. WELSTED. OF all the delicates which Britons try, To please the palate, or delight the eye; Of all the several kinds of sumptuous fare, There’s none that can with apple-pye compare, For costly flavour, or substantial paste, For outward beauty, or for inward taste. WHEN first this infant dish in fashion came, Th’ ingredients were but coarse, and rude the frame; As yet, unpolish’d in the modern arts, Our fathers eat brown bread instead of tarts: Pyes were but indigested lumps of dough, ’Till time and just expence improv’d them so. KING Coll (as ancient annals tell) Renown’d for fiddling and for eating well, Pippins in homely cakes with honey stew’d, Just as he bak’d (the proverb says) he brew’d. THEIR greater art succeeding princes shew’d, And model’d paste into a nearer mode; Invention now grew lively, palate nice, And sugar pointed out the way to spice. BUT here for ages unimprov’d we stood, And apple-pyes were still but homely food; When god-like Edgar, of the Saxon line, Polite of taste, and studious to refine, In the dessert perfuming quinces cast, And perfected with cream the rich repast: Hence we proceed the outward parts to trim, with crinkumcranks adorn the polish’d rim, And each fresh pye the pleas’d spectator greets With virgin fancies and with new conceits. DEAR Nelly, learn with care the pastry art, And mind the easy precepts I impart; Draw out your dough elaborately thin, And cease not to fatigue your rolling-pin: Of eggs and butter, see you mix enough; For then the paste will swell into a puff, Which will in crumbling sound your praise report, And eat, as housewives speak, exceeding short: Rang’d in thick order let your quincies lie; They give a charming relish to the pye: If you are wise, you’ll not brown sugar slight, The browner (if I form my judgment right) A tincture of a bright vermil’ will shed And stain the pippin, like the quince, with red. WHEN this is done, there will be wanting still The just reserve of cloves, and candy’d peel; Nor can I blame you, if a drop you take Of orange water, for perfuming sake; But here the nicety of art is such, There must not be too little, nor too much; If with discretion you these costs employ, They quicken appetite, if not they cloy. NEXT in your mind this maxim firmly root, Never o’er-charge your pye with costly fruit: Oft let your bodkin thro’ the lid be sent, To give the kind imprison’d treasure vent; Lest the fermenting liquors, mounting high Within their brittle bounds, disdain to lie; Insensibly by constant fretting waste, And over-run the tenement of paste. TO chuse your baker, think and think again, You’ll scarce one honest baker find in ten: Adust and bruis’d, I’ve often seen a pye In rich disguise and costly ruin lie; While the rent crust beheld its form o’erthrown, Th’ exhausted apples griev’d their moisture flown, And syrup from their sides run trickling down. O BE not, be not tempted, lovely Nell, While the hot piping odours strongly swell, While the delicious fume creates a gust, To lick th’ o’erflowing juice, or bite the crust: You’ll rather stay (if my advice may rule) Until the hot is temper’d by the cool; Oh! first infuse the luscious store of cream, And change the purple to a silver stream; That smooth balsamick viand first produce, To give a softness to the tarter juice.
Dominique Michel: Vatel et la naissance de la gastronomie: Fayard, Paris, 1999: ISBN 35-0713-4 99-IX: 349 pp., b/w illus., notes, bibliog., glossary, p/b, 130FF. An important and attractive book. Vatel, son of a labourer in the north of France, rose to the summit of his profession (maître d’hôtel), but committed suicide and has lived on as the stereotypical subject of an anecdote which appears in virtually every work on history of French cuisine or gastronomy. The picture presented here is far richer and more subtle. I must have read about Vatel’s suicide in 50 or more other books without ever comprehending it. Now, thanks to this sympathetic description of the man, his awesome responsibilities, and the cultural and political context in which he worked, I understand. However, the book is far more than a key to this one tragic event. Vatel’s career is presented as a marker for a turning point in the history of French cuisine and gastronomy. And the recipes which have been adapted from the 17th-century originals by Patrick Rambourg (who is both a professional chef and, like Dominique Michel, a historian working under the distinguished leadership of Professor Jean-Louis Flandrin) nicely illustrate a period of transition whose consequences have reverberated into the new millennium. A.E.D. Bridget Ann Henisch: The Medieval Calendar Year: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999: ISBN 0-271-01904-2: 232 pp., colour and b/w illus., appendix, select bibliog., index, h/b US$55.00, p/b US$19.91. A charming survey of the ‘labours of the month’ theme in medieval calendars, of the period when this theme was most popular. Do not mistake this for a coffee-table trophy; it is a serious work offering new analysis and insights but presented with the lightness of touch and the deft wit for which the author is renowned. The food content is high; but if using food scenes as historical evidence attend first to the author’s words: ‘Each month has its allotted task, and each of these represents one stage in the never-ending process of providing food for society. The animated little scenes offer delightful glimpses of everyday activity, and for this very reason have often been used as illustrations of daily life in the medieval world. Their surface-realism is deceptive, however, and the aim of this study is two-fold: to explain the principles of selection which shaped the cycle and determined its contents, and to examine the ways in which the conventions and assumptions of art at a particular time styled and disciplined the unwieldy, unsatisfactory complexities of life, to create an image of reality more beguiling and beautiful than any attempted re-creation of reality itself.’ A.E.D. Larry Zuckerman: the Potato: Macmillan, London, 1999: ISBN 0-333-75064-0: 304 pp., notes, selected bibliography, no index, h/b, £10.00. Deserving winner of an André Simon Memorial Prize this year, Larry Zuckerman’s book will reach a very wide audience, for its broad scope and lively style will round up not just the usual suspects (cooks, food historians, social historians, etc) but also lots of people who fall in the larger category of those who enjoy a good read. Those who, like myself, frown at reviewers who give their general blessing to a book and then proceed to drone on about some minuscule point where the author has supposedly gone off the rails, should stop reading this review here. The remainder, banished to Notes and Queries, represents nothing more than the buzzing of a bee which has been in my bonnet for many years and which may be of some slight use to the author for subsequent editions (as may be our hint above that his book should really have an index). A.E.D. Sonia Uvezian: Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen: University of Texas Press, Austin, 1999: ISBN 0-292-78535-6: 438 pp., b/w illus., notes, select bibliography, index, h/b, US$29.95. The author, originally from Lebanon, has already acquired an enviable reputation for good writing on food (for example The Cuisine of Armenia, 1974 and recently reprinted by Hippocrene Books). With this new book – for which she and the University of Texas Press deserve hearty congratulations – she has climbed several rungs higher on the ladder of excellence. Drawing on her recollections of food in the Eastern Mediterranean, and digging deep into the extensive literature of travellers in the region, she has produced a book which I have found quite irresistible. There is a wealth of recipes, skilfully embedded in their historical contexts. The illustrations (many of the 19th century) are evocative and the quotations from a wide variety of sources constitute one of the best collections I have ever seen in a book about food. The sub-title is ‘A culinary journey through Syria, Lebanon and Jordan’: an exciting journey and one for which one could wish no better guide. A.E.D. Julia Child and Jacques Pepin: Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home: Alfred A Knopf, New York, 1999: ISBN 0-375-40431-7: 430 pp., numerous colour photographs, index, h/b, US$40.00. A companion volume to a public television series. Transferred to the printed page, the comments on their recipes by the two famous principals might have created a confusing impression, but in practice it works very well and soon one is yearning to know what both of the two have to say about a given dish before one makes it. To take but one example, the whole matter of ‘hash-browns’ is brilliantly illuminated. For me, illumination began when my eye lit on the recipe for Pommes de terre Macaire: a flat potato cake ‘special enough for a dinner party, particularly when glazed under the broiler with a topping of sour cream and grated cheese’. Jacques remarks that there is a more luxurious glazed version called after Byron, using crème fraîche. OK, but I was more interested in his comment that the coarse chopping of the potatoes after initial cooking is best done with the open end of a used can (e.g. a small soup can, costs nothing, whereas a cookie cutter has to be bought and lacks the desirable height); and by Julia’s further comment that she learned about this from James Beard, who had been ‘impressed by some breakfast chefs who used an open ended can to chop up leftover boiled potatoes, which they fried in bacon fat and butter to make wonderful hash-brown potatoes’. This leads on to the recipe called ‘Julia’s Old-Fashioned Hash-Browns’, based on Beard and studded with the practical tips which Julia so often imparts to her readers. The result: I now know much more than I ever did before about hash-browns and have two enticing new recipes to build into our family repertoire, plus anecdotes with which to regale any guests enjoying the results with us. As I say, this is but one example. The general effect of the book is to make it seem as though you can settle down for a fascinating chat with these two complementary authorities. A.E.D Asun Balzola, Alicia Ríos: Cuentos Rellenos: Ediciones Gaviota, S.L., Madrid, 1999: ISBN 84-392-8884-0: 159 pp., colour illus., bibliography, index, h/b. The fertile brain of Alicia Ríos and expressive brush of Asun Balzola have produced this collection of foodish folktales from the regions of Spain, each amplified by its relevant recipe. ‘Diverting, baroque and authentic,’ is how they describe the tales which they retell as a corrective cry from the past against the modern slip-sloppery of the fast-food invaders, ‘to recover… the innocence and the humour’. Andrew F. Smith: Souper Tomatoes – The Story of America’s Favourite Food: Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick and London, 2000: ISBN 0-8135-2752-X: 236 pp., b/w photos, notes, bibliography, index, h/b, £19.95. Andrew Smith has made a literary career out of the tomato. The early history was The Tomato in America, then there was Pure Ketchup for the sauce angle, followed by the development of the breed in Livingston and the Tomato getting us to the book reviewed here which traces the impact of the fruit on New Jersey, home of the Campbell Soup Company. While once it could have been rightly described as ‘the Tomato State’, its pre-eminence yielded to the better climate and agriculture of California. Campbell’s headquarters remain, but the processing is no longer. Smith gives all we could ever need about canning, souping, juicing, growing and cooking, with extra dollops on Warhol’s Campbell icon and a bushel of historical recipes. His academic background ensures full annotation, indexing and the like. Sara Jayne-Stanes: Chocolate – the definitive guide: Grub Street, London, 1999: ISBN 1-902304-195: 240 pp., b/w photos, bibliog., index, h/b, £20.00. This is a brown book, with sans-serif typography that will inhibit long-reading. Press on, the content is definitive – they say it, so do we. From botany, history and a bit of agronomy to everything you need to know about cooking the stuff, rescuing your errors, correcting your temperatures and so forth, from England’s première truffle-maker. There is even a consumer’s guide to British and French chocolatiers, though none for Belgium. The recipes are challenging. Lisa Chaney: Elizabeth David – A Biography: Macmillan, Basingstoke and Oxford, 1998: ISBN 0-330-36762-5: 482 pp., b/w photos, sources, bibliography, index, p/b, £10.00. Artemis Cooper: Writing at the Kitchen Table – The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David: Michael Joseph, London, 1999: ISBN 0-718-14224-1: 364 pp., b/w photos, notes, bibliography, index, h/b, £20.00. That someone so reticent as Elizabeth David should provoke two – almost three, because Lisa Chaney’s paperback version is considerably reworked – biographies is moral enough that discretion is unwise in the modern world: think of poor old Salinger. That a writer of recipe books should provoke this outpouring is even more unlikely, and shows our insatiable need for a good gossip. Her life, after all is said, was not exactly action packed and might be rich tilth for a long New Yorker piece rather than two and a half books. But there is hardly space here for appraisal. In brief, Artemis Cooper is more readable, Lisa Chaney has more information and has ferreted out sources with considerable energy; Artemis Cooper is less voluble about context; Lisa Chaney gives you more of a sense of the woman. Neither explains why ED got into food, though perhaps the fact her mother ended up an antique-dealer is just as unlikely. So too is the irony that Britain’s most famous writer about food was in thrall to instant coffee, strong cigarettes and alcohol, and lost her sense of taste after 1963. The urge to make events into history is very pressing nowadays, which contributes to the sense of overkill in these books. As well as history, so too literature: the quoting – as if the books were things of pure beauty rather than immense skillful utility – is somewhat disquieting. Much of the contextualization of ED’s career may seem very different in 2100. We think of her as revolutionary when she may be more an end, not a beginning of an era. Her Mediterranean dream was that of the British upper classes before the wars; she was of the British upper classes too. Joe Roberts: Abdul’s Taxi to Kalighat – A celebration of Calcutta: Profile Books, London, 1999: ISBN 1-86197-192-3: 301 pp., b/w illus., glossary, h/b, £15.99. Joe Roberts’ latest is an excursion with his wife Emma and son Llewellyn. Through forty chapters, he builds a pointilliste landscape of the city, with more emphasis on life than death or suffering. Dialogue, anecdote and staccato impressions are his means, not long drifts of imperial prose. Inevitably, food gets a mention – fish dishes, sweets – as does life in hotels, and the coexistence of western and indigenous cookery. ‘”Most westerners have such bullshit ideas about Calcutta,” declared Jay. “They come here expecting a disaster zone and they’re not really contented until they’ve seen the worst of it…”’ Joe Roberts does his best to confound our expectations. There is a gentle deftness to the writing. Alice Arndt: Seasoning Savvy – How to Cook with Herbs, Spices, and Other Flavorings: The Haworth Herbal Press, New York, 1999: ISBN 156022-0325: 265 pp., b/w photos, index, p/b. This is no book of recipes but a long catalogue of the world’s botanical seasonings. Essential facts are retold clearly and the assessment of each flavouring has obvious grounding in curious experiment. Accounts of the different ways a herb is used by one cuisine or another demonstrate wide reading and investigation. History is given less place than description of the world today. It may seem that the flora of the earth are there to knock us flat – or that our ancestors’ digestions were stronger than our own. Certainly Ms Arndt has plenty of admonitions to warn the enthusiast from too much indulgence. Leslie Beal Bloom and Marcie Ver Ploeg: Seafood Cooking for Dummies: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 1999: ISBN 0-7645-5177-9: 351 pp., colour photos, b/w illus., index, p/b, £14.99. I recently bought QuarkXpress for Dummies, a companion volume. My first, because I have been put off the series by the insolence of its titles and their garish design. While admitting their use, I am no fonder than I was. Their appallingly joshing turns of phrase and ludicrously slow approach to the nub of any question make the books an irritation. But how they do sell. This one suffers from its brothers’ complaints (it has the same effect on you as Delia Smith at her worst), which is not to impugn the information – nor indeed the recipes – which does seem fairly accurate. On the other hand, it is entirely American-centred, and has surprisingly few recipes when you look at the size of the book: only one for scallops, two for oysters, one and a half for lobster, for instance. James Crowden: Cider – The Forgotten Miracle: Cyder Press 2, Somerton, Somerset, 1999: ISBN 0-9537103-0-0: 120 pp., b/w illus., notes, bibliog., p/b. £12.95. James Crowden is the laureate of cider, and of Common Ground, the charity concerned with orchards and locality. Before that, he was a shepherd. This is a wonderful book. It has several lodes of hard information. There is something about the art of home-distilling; there is an account of the early days of the Somerset Cider Brandy Company; there is a fine account of working in orchards and making cider (at Burrow Hill Farm); look here, too, for a discussion of sparkling cider and early bottling techniques (with reference to Kenelm Digby) with some thinking about the English invention of the méthode champénoise. The whole is wrapped by an entertaining narrative about cider, real cider, in general. The printing and design by Bigwood & Staple of Bridgewater, are exemplary (even if the proof-reading is not). If you have trouble getting the book, Cyder Press 2 is at the Old Parsonage, Somerton, Somerset TA11 7PF. Brian & Lynne Chatterton: Discovering Oil – Tales from an Olive Grove in Umbria: Pulcini Press, Castel di Fiori & Renwick NZ, 1999: ISBN 0-473-06289-5: 116 pp., b/w photos, index, p/b. After careers that took in mixed farming in South Australia and consultancy specializing in sustainable dry-land farming, the authors were not on unfamiliar territory when they began restoring their olive grove. This book is something of a how-to, served up with an account of how they did it too. Their agronomists’ perspective ensures that the matter is factual, not mythical, and it usefully connects practices in several olive-producing countries, not least Australia and New Zealand. While cantering over the fields of varieties, yields, flavours, pruning, fertilizers, pollination, picking, pressing, labelling, marketing and much else besides, it is also graced with a beautifully succinct account of depopulation, changes in agriculture and land use, and an explanation of those exquisitely terraced and walled hillsides we so admire: ‘Stones dominated the life of the share farmer in the hills. They made his life a misery. He picked them out of the fields, carted them into heaps and then when the heaps took up too much room, turned them into dry stone walls. The attractive dry stone walls that form the terraces of the abandoned hill farms are not retaining walls for deep and fertile soil but controlled stone heaps. We found this out the hard way when we planted half a dozen walnut and chestnut trees in a small terraced field behind our house. Most of the holes we dug hit sheet rock but when we dug near the walls in the expectation of finding a good depth of soil we found only loose stones. On our farm the lay brothers from the abbey at the bottom of the hill…had picked up the stones off the hillside with a sledge drawn by oxen, put them into a heap and then built a wall below the heap to prevent the stones rolling down to the field below.’ To those who think Tuscany Arcadia, the pages detailing decline and devastation are sobering. There are distributors in Australia and NZ, but readers may find it simpler to write to the authors at Castel di Fiori, 05010 Montegabbione (TR), Italy. Ivan Day (ed.): Eat, Drink & Be Merry – The British at Table 1600-2000: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, London, 2000: ISBN 0 85667 519 9: 168 pp., colour and b/w illus., notes, select bibliog., glossary, index, h/b, £19.95. This is a companion volume to an exhibition. If the TV preview is anything to go by – it is now at York and will later be found in London and in Norwich – it will catch the breath of most visitors. The book is pretty good too: no expense spared on colour and an enticing choice of illustrations with long narrative captions. The text is by many hands: Laura Mason, Lisa Chaney, Ivan Day, Peter Brears, Eileen White, C. Anne Wilson and Peter Brown, with the pictures chosen by Gillian Riley. It is another emanation from the ‘Leeds School’ of food history. It has a satisfyingly close contact with reality. Pictures are combed for the telling detail; books are quoted for their corroboration of objects seen or touched; dishes, settings and decorations are recreated. As in film and television, we need leave nothing to the imagination. But the very realism provokes thought to new flight. Teresa Lust: Pass the Polenta – and other writings from the kitchen: Ballantine Books, New York: ISBN 0-345-43565-6: 273 pp., index, p/b, $11.95. First published in ’98, this is American. Europeans will sometimes tire of the chirpy, folksy tones, but there is sensible information imparted through thickets of anecdote and family. Most of the score of pieces have a basic recipe or method embedded among lush prose: risotto, bread, polenta; or a discussion of food history (aphrodisiacs) or wine buying. Non-threatening, but the comparison with Elizabeth David made by the publishers is not apposite. Compiled by Editors of Hippocrene Books, Rafael Marcos (trans.), Rosemary Fox (illus.): Old Havana Cookbook – Cuban Recipes in Spanish and English: Hippocrene, New York: ISBN 07818-07670: 123 pp., b/w illus., h/b, $11.95. Another foreign cookery book from the cornucopia that is Hippocrene. This is a bilingual collection, with little by way of introductory or contextual matter. You can tell its origin by the frequency of Bacardi in the ingredients. It also has a recipe for mamey (or mamee) pudding which sent me off at full speed to the Oxford Companion. A cornstarch pudding heavy with egg yolks, cinnamon and lime, topped with caramel, was a winner at the supper table, even if the instructions were not entirely helpful. Anna Tasca Lanza: Herbs and Wild Greens from the Sicilian Countryside: Stamperia Zito, Palermo, 1999:110 pp., colour prints, p/b. This attractive small book was written after promptings from foreign visitors to the author’s Regaleali wine estate south of Palermo. It contains some recipes not often encountered: roast artichokes with catnip, cardoon fritters, nettle sauce for boiled meats, and sow-thistle salad – which is what Theseus ate in prodigious quantity before meeting the Minotaur – news to me, and endearing the book to me too. Lonely Planet World Food Joe Cummings: Thailand: ISBN 1-86450-026-3: 286 pp., £7.99 Catherine Hanger: Morocco: ISBN 1-86450-024-7: 222 pp., £6.99. Richard Sterling: Spain: ISBN 1-86450-025-5: 302 pp., £7.99. Richard Sterling: Vietnam: ISBN 1-86450-028-X: 254 pp., £6.99. Bruce Geddes: Mexico: ISBN 1-86450-023-9: 254 pp., £6.99. Matthew Evans: Italy: ISBN 1-86450-022-0: 303 pp., £7.99. Travelling has never been the same since Rough Guides and Lonely Planet quartered the globe. Pitched at the 20–34 age group (what happens at 35?), they do not patronize, and are usually well-briefed on history and politics as well as sightseeing. Food and cookery would seem a natural to hive off into its own series, treated in the same enquiring manner. Here are the first half-dozen of a collection that may fill a bookcase, though one will take little room in a backpack. There are (virtually) no recipes, buckets of photos, endless boxes outwith the main narrative, enough maps, long glossaries, and much information. A truly useful traveller’s companion, though don’t expect depth. Michelle Berriedale-Johnson: Food Fit for Pharaohs – An Ancient Egyptian Cookbook: British Museum Press, London, 1999: ISBN 0-7141-1929-6: 64 pp., colour illustrations, index, h/b, £8.99. Ancient Egypt is ever popular among the curious and the children – as are dinosaurs – so recipes would seem a good wheeze. However, ‘fit for’ is carefully inserted in the title because there is absolutely nothing to go on (in the recipe field). Dishes, therefore, are basic Middle Eastern cooking that might well have survived from the time of the pharoahs. This is, by design, a little book – a handbag or a satchel present from Bloomsbury.