Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Coffee as a metaphor for what's to come

It's the mid-21st century, and real coffee is scarce.

   "Now then." Roarke slid in beside her, reached for a decanter. "Would you like a brandy to fight off the chill?"
   "No." She felt the warmth of the car sweep up from her feet and was afraid she'd begin to shiver in reaction.
   "Ah. On duty. Coffee perhaps."
   Gold winked at his wrist as he pressed his choice for two coffees on the AutoChef built into the side panel. "Cream?"
   "A woman after my own heart." Moments later, he opened the protective door and offered her a china cup in a delicate saucer. "We have more of a selection on the plane," he said, then settled back with his coffee.
   "I bet." The steam rising from her cup smelled like heaven. Eve took a tentative sip -- and nearly moaned.
Source:; Photographer: rsbc
   It was real. No simulation made from vegetable concentrate so usual since the depletion of the rain forests in the late twentieth. This was the real thing, ground from rich Columbian beans, singing with caffeine.
   She sipped again, and could have wept.
   "Problem?" He enjoyed her reaction immensely, the flutter of the lashes, the faint flush, the darkening of the eyes -- a similar response, he noted, to a woman purring under a man's hands.
   "Do you know how long it's been since I had real coffee?"
   He smiled. "No."
   "Neither do I." Unashamed, she closed her eyes as she lifted the cup again. "You'll have to excuse me, this is a private moment. We'll talk on the plane." 
From Naked in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

English fare in Raj era India at its worst

As described by E.M. Forster in A Passage to India:
 ...the menu was: Julienne soup full of bullety bottled peas, pseudo-cottage bread, fish full of branching bones, pretending to be plaice, more bottled peas with the cutlets, trifle, sardines on toast: the menu of Anglo-India. A dish might be added or subtracted as one rose or fell in the official scale, the peas might rattle less or more, the sardines and the vermouth be imported by a different firm, but the tradition remained; the food of exiles, cooked by servants who did not understand it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Yorkshirewoman comments on food

The passage below might well have been written in answer to this.
...a bowl of soup was set before her. 'How very good it smells!' said Venetia, picking up her spoon. 'Oh, Imber, fresh bannocks? Yes, indeed I’ll take one! Now I know I’m at home again!' She turned her head to address Damerel. 'My aunt, I must tell you, has a French cook. He contrives the most delectable dishes, but I couldn’t help yearning sometimes for plain Yorkshire food.' 
From Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Afternoon tea in early 19th century Yorkshire

From Shirley by Charlotte Brontë:
"Afternoon Tea Party", Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789)
Yorkshire people in those days took their tea round the table, sitting well into it, with their knees duly introduced under the mahogany. It was essential to have a multitude of plates of bread and butter, varied in sorts and plentiful in quantity. It was thought proper, too, that on the centre plate should stand a glass dish of marmalade. Among the viands was expected to be found a small assortment of cheesecakes and tarts. If there was also a plate of thin slices of pink ham garnished with green parsley, so much the better.

Eliza, the rector's cook, fortunately knew her business as provider. She had been put out of humour a little at first, when the invaders came so unexpectedly in such strength; but it appeared that she regained her cheerfulness with action, for in due time the tea was spread forth in handsome style, and neither ham, tarts, nor marmalade were wanting among its accompaniments.
(Chapter VII)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Léon at table

More from These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer:

What is the matter now?”
Léon was examining a black pudding with an expression akin to loathing on his face.
“Monseigneur, this—” he pointed disdainfully at the pudding—“this is not for people to eat! Bah!”
“Is aught amiss with it?” inquired his Grace.
“Everything!” said Léon crushingly. “First I am made to feel sick upon that ship, and then I am made to feel sick again by an evil—pudding, you call it? Voyons, it is a good name! Pig-pudding! Monseigneur, you must not eat it! It will make you——”
“Pray do not describe my probable symptoms as well as your own, infant. You have certainly been prodigiously ill-used, but endeavour to forget it! Eat one of those sweetmeats.”
Léon selected one of the little cakes, and started to nibble it.
“Do you always eat these things in England, Monseigneur?” he asked, pointing to the beef and the puddings.
“Invariably, my infant.”
“I think it would be better if we did not stay very long here,” said Léon firmly.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A French teenager of the 18th century encounters English food for the first time

From These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer:

Breakfast with Ham by Pieter Claesz (c. 1597–1660)

Léon eyed the meal with some disapproval and not a little surprise. A sirloin of English beef stood at one end of the table, flanked by a ham and some capons. A fat duck was at the other end, with pasties and puddings. There was also a flagon of burgundy, and a jug of foaming ale.
“Well, my Léon?”
Léon turned. His Grace had entered the room, and stood behind him, fanning himself. Léon looked sternly at the fan, and seeing the condemnation in his eyes Avon smiled.
“The fan does not find favour with you, infant?”
“I do not like it at all, Monseigneur.”
“You distress me. What think you of our English meats?”
Léon shook his head.
“Terrible, Monseigneur. It is—it is barbare!”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Quick and easy meze or appetizers: Bread rusks with tomatoes, olive oil and capers

I have been trying out some Greek recipes lately, mostly from two Greek cookbooks I own: Modern Greek by Andy Harris, and The Book of Greek Cooking (Icelandic translation) by Lesley Mackley. Meze are Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean small dishes or appetizers, much like the Spanish tapas or the Chinese dim sum.

Here is a meze from Modern Greek that I tried recently and loved. I did find it to be rather a lot of work to peel and deseed the tomatoes, so I didn't, but feel free to follow the exact recipe. My alterations are in the brackets. It is clearly a relative of the Italian bruschetta:

To serve 4 to 6 persons:

12 paximadia (dried bread rusks - I used lightly toasted slices of baguette)
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (I used fresh, perfectly ripe (completely red and slightly soft) sweet summer tomatoes and neither peeled nor seeded them the second time I made this, and it was just as good. However, it was a bit little wetter that way, so if this is going to stand for a while before you serve it, you'd better follow the original instructions and peel and deseed)
12 caperberries, rinsed (may be left out, especially if the tomatoes are perfectly ripe and sweet)
2 tbs olive oil (must be good quality oil, and make sure it's not rancid - yep, this happened to me the first time around, but fortunately I discovered it before I had ruined all the slices)
freshly ground black pepper

Arrange the rusks/toast on a serving platter and top with the chopped tomatoes. Put 2-3 caperberries on top of each, drizzle with olive oil and season with the salt and pepper.

Friday, June 14, 2013

...and one of them continues eating (continuation of yesterday's quotation):

...he whistled, looked impatiently round, and seemed to feel a great want of something. This time Moore caught and, it appeared, comprehended his demonstrations.

"Mr. Malone," said he, "you must require refreshment after your wet walk. I forget hospitality."

"Not at all," rejoined Malone; but he looked as if the right nail was at last hit on the head, nevertheless. Moore rose and opened a cupboard.

"It is my fancy," said he, "to have every convenience within myself, and not to be dependent on the feminity in the cottage yonder for every mouthful I eat or every drop I drink. I often spend the evening and sup here alone, and sleep with Joe Scott in the mill. Sometimes I am my own watchman. I require little sleep, and it pleases me on a fine night to wander for an hour or two with my musket about the hollow. Mr. Malone, can you cook a mutton chop?"

"Try me. I've done it hundreds of times at college."

"There's a dishful, then, and there's the gridiron. Turn them quickly. You know the secret of keeping the juices in?"

"Never fear me; you shall see. Hand a knife and fork, please."

The curate turned up his coat-cuffs, and applied himself to the cookery with vigour. The manufacturer placed on the table plates, a loaf of bread, a black bottle, and two tumblers. He then produced a small copper kettle—still from the same well-stored recess, his cupboard—filled it with water from a large stone jar in a corner, set it on the fire beside the hissing gridiron, got lemons, sugar, and a small china punch-bowl; but while he was brewing the punch a tap at the door called him away.

"Is it you, Sarah?"

"Yes, sir. Will you come to supper, please, sir?"

"No; I shall not be in to-night; I shall sleep in the mill. So lock the doors, and tell your mistress to go to bed."

He returned.

"You have your household in proper order," observed Malone approvingly, as, with his fine face ruddy as the embers over which he bent, he assiduously turned the mutton chops. "You are not under petticoat government, like poor Sweeting, a man—whew! how the fat spits! it has burnt my hand—destined to be ruled by women. Now you and I, Moore—there's a fine brown one for you, and full of gravy—you and I will have no gray mares in our stables when we marry."

"I don't know; I never think about it. If the gray mare is handsome and tractable, why not?"

"The chops are done. Is the punch brewed?"

"There is a glassful. Taste it. When Joe Scott and his minions return they shall have a share of this, provided they bring home the frames intact."

Malone waxed very exultant over the supper. He laughed aloud at trifles, made bad jokes and applauded them himself, and, in short, grew unmeaningly noisy. His host, on the contrary, remained quiet as before. 
From Shirley by Charlotte Brontë.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gluttons in action:

Mr. Donne and his guests, as I have said, are at dinner; Mrs. Gale waits on them, but a spark of the hot kitchen fire is in her eye. She considers that the privilege of inviting a friend to a meal occasionally, without additional charge (a privilege included in the terms on which she lets her lodgings), has been quite sufficiently exercised of late. The present week is yet but at Thursday, and on Monday Mr. Malone, the curate of Briarfield, came to breakfast and stayed dinner; on Tuesday Mr. Malone and Mr. Sweeting of Nunnely came to tea, remained to supper, occupied the spare bed, and favoured her with their company to breakfast on Wednesday morning; now, on Thursday, they are both here at dinner, and she is almost certain they will stay all night. "C'en est trop," she would say, if she could speak French.

Mr. Sweeting is mincing the slice of roast beef on his plate, and complaining that it is very tough; Mr. Donne says the beer is flat. Ay, that is the worst of it: if they would only be civil Mrs. Gale wouldn't mind it so much, if they would only seem satisfied with what they get she wouldn't care; but "these young parsons is so high and so scornful, they set everybody beneath their 'fit.' They treat her with less than civility, just because she doesn't keep a6 servant, but does the work of the house herself, as her mother did afore her; then they are always speaking against Yorkshire ways and Yorkshire folk," and by that very token Mrs. Gale does not believe one of them to be a real gentleman, or come of gentle kin. "The old parsons is worth the whole lump of college lads; they know what belongs to good manners, and is kind to high and low."

"More bread!" cries Mr. Malone, in a tone which, though prolonged but to utter two syllables, proclaims him at once a native of the land of shamrocks and potatoes. Mrs. Gale hates Mr. Malone more than either of the other two; but she fears him also, for he is a tall, strongly-built personage, with real Irish legs and arms, and a face as genuinely national—not the Milesian face, not Daniel O'Connell's style, but the high-featured, North-American-Indian sort of visage, which belongs to a certain class of the Irish gentry, and has a petrified and proud look, better suited to the owner of an estate of slaves than to the landlord of a free peasantry. Mr. Malone's father termed himself a gentleman: he was poor and in debt, and besottedly arrogant; and his son was like him.
Mrs. Gale offered the loaf.

"Cut it, woman," said her guest; and the "woman" cut it accordingly. Had she followed her inclinations, she would have cut the parson also; her Yorkshire soul revolted absolutely from his manner of command.

The curates had good appetites, and though the beef was "tough," they ate a great deal of it. They swallowed, too, a tolerable allowance of the "flat beer," while a dish of Yorkshire pudding, and two tureens of vegetables, disappeared like leaves before locusts. The cheese, too, received distinguished marks of their attention; and a "spice-cake," which followed by way of dessert, vanished like a vision, and was no more found. Its elegy was chanted in the kitchen by Abraham, Mrs. Gale's son and heir, a youth of six summers; he had reckoned upon the reversion thereof, and when his mother brought down the empty platter, he lifted up his voice and wept sore.

The curates, meantime, sat and sipped their wine, a liquor of unpretending vintage, moderately enjoyed. Mr. Malone, indeed, would much rather have had whisky; but Mr. Donne, being an Englishman, did not keep the beverage. While they sipped they argued, not on politics, nor on philosophy, nor on literature—these topics were now,7 as ever, totally without interest for them—not even on theology, practical or doctrinal, but on minute points of ecclesiastical discipline, frivolities which seemed empty as bubbles to all save themselves. Mr. Malone, who contrived to secure two glasses of wine, when his brethren contented themselves with one, waxed by degrees hilarious after his fashion; that is, he grew a little insolent, said rude things in a hectoring tone, and laughed clamorously at his own brilliancy.
From Shirley by Charlotte Brontë.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Everyday meal in a Regency era English country home

"The Dinner Table" by Henri Matisse
I love to read descriptions of meals in novels, and knowing that Georgette Heyer would have researched it well, I have no reason to doubt that the meal described below, in a scene from The Reluctant Widow, is a genuine example of fare one could have expected to find on the dinner table of an English country house during the Regency era.
What I marvel at is the size of the meal and the number of dishes in what is, despite there being a guest at the table, an everyday meal.

"He partook lavishly of every dish and was so much moved by the excellence of the Davenport fowls, stuffed, parboiled, and stewed in butter, that he sent a complimentary message to the cook and congratulated Carlyon on having acquired such a treasure. By the time he had worked his way from the Hessian soup and ragout which began the repast through a baked carp dressed in the Portuguese way, some beefsteaks with oyster sauce, the fowls, and a floating island, with a fruit pie as a remove, he was so far reconciled to his nephew’s death as to be able to recount three of the latest good stories circulating town and to confide to Carlyon as he ecstatically savored the bouquet of the port, that he really could not agree with his old friend Brummell in deeming it a wine only fit for the lower orders to drink."