Archive for March 30th, 2011
1 lb. almonds, blanched
1 lb. sugar
Lemon peel, grated
1/2 lb. flour, sifted
Pound in a mortar one pound of blanched almonds quite fine, with the whites of three eggs; then put in one pound of sifted loaf sugar, some grated lemon-peel, and the yelks [yolks] of fifteen eggs– work them well together; beat up to a solid froth the whites of 12 eggs, and stir them into the other ingredients with a quarter of a pound of sifted dry flour; prepare a mould; put in the mixture, and bake it an hour in a slow oven; take it carefully from the mould and set it on a sieve.
The Cook’s Oracle by William Kitchiner, MD, New York, 1829
Comment: We trust that our readers, presumably computer owners all, would beat the egg whites for a recipe like this with an electric mixer. Should you wish to get the feel for how a cook in the 19th century would work, you should get a couple of thin wooden rods (your local Chinese restaurant would be a potential source of supply as they usually carry inexpensive chopsticks) and carry out the operation with those. You will soon get an understanding of why a fancy dessert like this was most often enjoyed in a household which employed servants, for whom a sore wrist was the least of the injuries they were liable to incur in the course of a day’s work.
Another standard practice was to use a small dish or plate when separating eggs. Crack the egg carefully over the plate and separate the shell into two reasonably equal halves. The white will start to fall out onto the plate as soon as it is divided. Then pour the yolk back and forth a couple of times to let the remainder of the white fall out. Dump the yolk into one mixing bowl, toss the shells, then pour the white into a separate vessel (keeping careful count as you go!) This served a double purpose:
–if the yolk breaks and bleeds into the white, toss both parts into a separate container and make an omelet later. The tiniest trace of yolk will keep the whites from frothing properly so must be discarded.
–In those days before commercial egg-packagers had expensive inspection techniques at the factory level, it was much more common to get a “bad egg” in the middle of an otherwise good batch. This too will pollute the entire container–not to mention stink up the kitchen!– so using the small dish method was absolutely essential. It’s still a good habit to practice.
The goodness of a cake or biscuit depends much on its being well baked; great attention should be paid to the different degrees of heat of the oven: be sure to have it of a good sound heat at first, when, after its being well cleaned out, may be baked such articles as require a hot oven, after which such as are directed to be baked in a well-heated or moderate oven; and lastly, those in a slow soaking or cool one. With a little care the above degrees may soon be known.
In making butter cakes, too much attention cannot be paid to have the butter well creamed; for should it be made too warm, it would cause the mixture to be the same, and when put to bake, the fruit, sweetmeats, &c., would, in that event, fall to the bottom.
Yest [yeast] cakes should be well proved [risen] before put into the oven, as they will prove but little afterward.
In making biscuits and cakes where butter is not used, the different utensils should be kept free of all kinds of grease, or it is next to impossible to have good ones.
In buttering the insides of cake-moulds, the butter should be nicely clarified, and when nearly cold, laid on quite smooth, with a small brush kept for the purpose.
Sugar and flour should be quite dry, and a drum sieve is recommended for the sugar. The old way of beating the yelks and whites of eggs separate (except in very few cases) is not only useless, but a waste of time. They should be well incorporated with the other ingredients, and, in some instances, they cannot be beaten too much.
From The Cook’s Oracle by William Kitchiner, MD, New York, 1829
Comment: One of the reasons 19th century recipes often seem so sparse as to be little more than lists of ingredients, is that great slabs of cookbooks of the period were occupied with general cooking instructions like the one above. After such discussion of matters which would be applicable to all the recipes following, the individual recipes themselves could avoid excessive repetition. This makes for pleasantly efficient book design perhaps, but makes the life of recipe compilers in later centuries correspondingly more difficult.
In addition to which, the advice dispensed is not always good advice. “The old way of beating the yelks and whites of eggs separate” is not in fact considered a useless waste of time, and we have no idea where Dr. Kitchiner came up with such a silly notion in the first place. We cannot on the other hand fault him for spelling the yellow parts of eggs as “yelk” instead of yolk since that was entirely common and unremarkable in his day
1/2 pint currant juice
1/2 pint Port wine
peel of 1 lemon, thin yellow part only
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
Sugar, white or brown
3-4 pints milk
Half a pint of currant, the same of Port or white wine, half a grated nutmeg, and the peel of a lemon; sweeten well with pounded loaf or good brown sugar, and mix it together in a China bowl, and when the sugar dissolves, milk upon it three or four pints of milk. Serve it when cold.
From The Cook’s Own Book by “a Boston Housekeeper” (Mrs. N. K. M. Lee) Boston 1832
Comment: Syllabubs were wildly popular drinks as far back as the Middle Ages, which have inexplicably gone out of fashion. However, to say “a” syllabub is about as useful as saying “a” milkshake without specifying whether it be vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or some more exotic variety. Some syllabubs, probably the majority, contained alcohol but many others did not. Some were heavily spiced and others exceedingly bland.
The comparison to milkshakes above is intentional, because that is essentially what syllabubs evolved into. A special mixer was often used to produce them, known as a “syllabub churn” and in fact a miniature version of a butter churn. A circular piston with holes in it was attached to a rod, which was pulled up and pushed down rapidly in the glass to froth the milk and mix the other ingredients through it.
And note the interesting phrasing Mrs. Lee uses, that one should “milk upon” the other ingredients the three or four pints of milk called for. This sounds very much like one is expected to take one’s “China bow” of other ingredients out to the barn and tap the cow juice straight from the cow. We leave this possibility as an option for the cow owners among our readership while pointing out to the rest that this part is not mandatory.