Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lady Marmalade

Imagine the scene: Hampton Court Palace, 1524. Henry VIII is hanging out with the Missus when the mail boy knocks on the door with a package. It’s from a Mr. Hull of Exeter — a box of marmalade. It delights Catherine, who is Spanish, after all, and misses the taste of home. Henry wonders if all that sweet orange jelly will put her in the mood, but doubts it. He wants a son, badly, but so far, his wife has not obliged. They’ve been married 16 years, and the doldrums have set in. She opens a jar and dips her spoon in, then beckons her ladies-in-waiting to try it too.

He keeps looking instead at one of them, a stunner named Anne. She dips her finger right in the jar and sucks the marmalade off it, then licks her lips, looking straight at him. He’s been seeing her sister on the side, but from the way this brunette vixen is acting, he thinks maybe he’ll switch sisters. He is the king after all, and only 33; not yet grotesquely obese and out of shape. She softly mouths the words “Hello hey Joe, you wanna give it a go?”

Later that night, he summons her to his chambers to see what she’ll do in private. “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?” she asks, coyly. “Gitchi gitchi ya ya here,” he replies, reclining on his black satin sheets, and sure enough, she does. He freaks. Her skin feels silky smooth, and because she’s been out in the sun, it’s the color of café au lait. She makes the savage beast inside him roar until he cries “more, more more!”

He calls her Lady Marmalade.


Marmalade first entered the language in 1480, from the French, “marmelade,” which was from the Portugese, “marmelada.” In Portugal, a jelly was made from quinces, “marmelos,” which had lent its name to all jams and jellies in Italy, “marmellata.”

This recipe is from the late 1600s, nearly a century after Henry’s reign. By then, oranges had become widely available, and the Lowther family receipt book opens with several pages of varying recipes for marmalade, many of them made from quince. This was the era when Nell Gwynn started out selling oranges at the theater and became the mistress of Charles II. When he died without an heir, turmoil brought William of Orange to the throne in 1688.

Exactly 450 years after Henry and Catherine received their gift of marmalade, Patti Labelle sang “Lady Marmalade.”

The Lowther Family Receipt Book, MS 3341, late 17th century

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Atomic Chicken

During the Cold War, a generation of children were warned of the terrifying threat of communism with regular nuclear attack drills which dictated that you climb under your desk and put your hands over your head to avoid being evaporated by the blast. This was in the days before video and computer games gave children a better idea about the realities of war, which include being able to eliminate your enemy with powerful hand-held weapons at close range.

But it wasn’t just innocent youngsters who were targeted with fear-mongering propaganda; housewives also needed to be constantly reminded of the threat to their way of life. Take this photograph from a recipe book, for example. Its real purpose isn’t to show a finished dish — it’s a horrifying glimpse into a future drenched with atomic fallout, where whole chickens are reduced to slimy piles of disjointed parts, and creepy plants like this African Violet flourish like mold from every nook and cranny.

The Russians, they were told, couldn’t wait to do this to you, too. Why, no-one has any idea.

Home-Style Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens, 1975

Monday, November 28, 2011

Scrumptious Sweet Potatoes

It’s important to use only tiny marshmallows in this recipe because if you use a cup of the normal sized ones it will be too sweet.

New Junior Cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens, 1979

Also from this book: Close Encounters Of The Meat Loaf Kind

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wikiwiki Ham Bake

In the year 77, Pliny the Elder produced the western world’s first extant encyclopedia, the Naturalis Historia, a summary of everything the Romans knew. Sadly, the Romans didn’t know that Vesuvius was going to erupt and wipe out the charming seaside town of Pompeii, ending Gaius Plinius Secundus’s career as a know-it-all in a fatal downpour of scalding ash.

It could be that Nature was displeased with his dedication which seems to praise its author rather than its subject: “Hail to thee, Nature, thou parent of all things! and do thou deign to show thy favour unto me, who, alone of all the citizens of Rome, have, in thy every department, thus made known thy praise,” and smited him accordingly.

Perhaps Nature was disappointed in his grasp of anthropology, which declared that naked menstruating women had the power to scare away hailstorms, whirlwinds and lightning and that anything they touched turned sour, sterile, and withered away. They could even calm a storm at sea by stripping. One can imagine Mother Nature lighting the fuse under Vesuvius to show Pliny what a real female can do when she has lava at her disposal.

I know this because I looked it up on Wikipedia. Twenty years ago, I would have looked it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica, but the internet has killed off the need to crack open giant tomes in search of knowledge. The word “Wikipedia” has an interesting genesis — it’s clearly based on “encyclopedia” but with a very modern twist. The Greek word enkyklios means “circular, recurrent, required, regularly, general,” which makes sense because this is what “cycle” means. To “encycle” and “encircle” therefore, is to repetitively cover everything. Paideia refers to the education and rearing of a child. Combine the two, as early scribes did, and you have an instrument which seeks to educate on all matters constantly.

Do not feed this to diabetics
The trouble with books is that updating them in a world that is constantly changing is a bitch. Books, especially a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, are expensive. Wikipedia, however, is free (much to the chagrin of its founders whose appeal for funding periodically graces the banner). A wiki is an interlinked  website page that can easily be updated with html markup language, allowing for constant editing by multiple users. This is very useful for an online compendium of knowledge which actually keeps pace with current knowledge, fulfilling the original purpose of an encyclopedia. The word wiki is Hawaiian and means hurry up, as this recipe tells us. The guy who invented the wiki, Ward Cunningham, was inspired by the name of the Honolulu airport bus — the Wiki Wiki Shuttle. Honolulu is another charming seaside town. Well, it was.

The Hawaiian Islands are a chain of volcanoes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They might be a world away from the Bay of Naples, but they are not a world apart; Mother Nature apparently decided to use the lure of the volcano — which once knocked knowledge on its head — to restore knowledge to the world.

Pliny the Elder, when setting sail directly into the eruption to see it up close, claimed that “fortune favors the brave.” Would fortune favor anyone brave enough to eat this Wikiwiki Ham Bake?

Family Circle Casserole Cookbook, Rockville House Publishers, 1972

Also from this book: Bullshit, or Baked Bologna Jubilee

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Heads, Plucks, Shanks and Scrag-Ends

It is a well-known fact that the poor, or “The Great Unwashed” as they like to be called, prefer to eat the crude remnants of meals that their betters, “The Mostly Washed” and “The Squeaky Clean,” find gracing their dinner tables on a regular basis.

The poor, it has been found, do remarkably well on a diet of gruel, rinds, crusts and scraps  —and on special occasions enjoy dishes concocted entirely from foraging weeds, wild roots, and hedgerow berries, perhaps seasoned with a mouse or starling the cat has brought in.

The Criminal Element aren’t content to wait for the charity basket, and are often caught poaching larger game such as raccoons and squirrels from the vast tracts of private property owned by God’s Chosen People. For their crimes they are whipped and placed in stocks in the town square so that Honorable Guildspeople can pelt them with excrement.

Hence the name.

A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes, Charles Elmé Francatelli, The Scolar Press, 1852

Friday, November 25, 2011

Currying F(l)avor

Once upon a time it was 1959. Life had been so good in the United States after World War Two that everyone in the world wanted to get on the gravy train. Except Fidel Castro, who started off the year by marching on Havana. He’s still there. America had the entertainment of Walt Disney and the Marx Brothers, and its little girls could play with the newly minted Barbie while its boys could fantasize about being astronauts. It’s men could drink and smoke all day long from sun-up to sunset and its women could finally cram their legs into pantyhose after 200 years of wearing stockings.

Russia liked America so much it sold Alaska to it for $7.2 million. The trouble was that Americans didn’t want to go on holiday in the far north. They wanted to sit on tropical beaches and wear bikinis. It was because men wanted to see women in bikinis — a garment named for a beautiful pacific atoll they blew up with atomic bombs a few years before — that they set their sights on the lovely Hawaiian islands as a vacation destination. Hawaiians became Americans and were required to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and Americans got an endless supply of pineapples.

Cookbooks went pineapple crazy. Now, instead of eating Turkey a la King and Turkey Casserole with the leftover carcass bits, you could have Hawaiian Turkey Curry, a culturally confused mongrel dish consisting of ingredients that could not possibly have all been produced in the same place — the forerunner of pacific rim cuisine. It’s the opposite of the current trend of eating local and reducing your carbon footprint. Hey; it was 1959 — and the world was America’s oyster. I mean melting pot. I mean hot pot. I mean curry.

The world was henceforth America’s Curry.

Rawleigh’s Picture Treasury of Good Cooking, W. T. Rawleigh Company, 1959

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gobble Gobble Gobble

Thanksgiving is an American national holiday which celebrates how very very thankful the English Pilgrims were to have found a massive continent of unimaginable bounty and potential which had absolutely no people already living there. Because they were the first Europeans to set foot on it, they decided to celebrate their good fortune by holding a party. Representatives of the uninhabited land were invited so that they could be mocked for being such bad real estate managers. After dinner they played a rousing game of “Finder’s Keepers” which the Pilgrims won. The prize was the glorious gift of freedom. Then they sat down to eat a giant plate of parsley garnished with a roasted local bird.

All Holiday Menus, Barbara Grunes

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey a la Death

Where to begin?

How about with the contradictory instructions “DO NOT DEFROST” for microwaving a frozen turkey. If you willfully (and suicidally) ignore this warning, then go ahead and defrost it at medium-high power for 16 – 18 minutes per lb. Or you could do it for 5 – 6 minutes per pound (even more deadly), according to the instructions at the top of the page.

Or, we could just go with the obvious admonition not to put metal in the microwave, something the instructions in the middle of the page appear to ignore. Foil isn’t metal, is it? Oh, it is? How about the “small metal clasp” that the instructions advise leaving in “because of the large mass of food”? So metal buried inside the food is OK?

Maybe we could draw attention to the mysterious “browning agent” mentioned at the top right. It should be noted that a “browning agent” here is neither butter nor oil, which are the traditional browning agents for basting poultry. Sounds carcinogenic.

There is always the troubling idea that the inside of the defrosted turkey “may still be a bit icy” before it is cooked, which the lower illustration shows. (You cannot remove the giblets and neck by running cold water into a turkey, by the way; you have to actually reach into the bird’s body cavity and pull them out.) One wonders how such a thing might interfere with overall cooking times, not to mention cultivating a memorable case of salmonella.

The best thing to do is to AVOID PUTTING A TURKEY INTO A MICROWAVE OVEN TO BEGIN WITH, YOU IDIOT. Sure, you can stuff a turkey into a conventional oven and cook it overnight on low, or all day on medium. You can brine it. You can buy it fresh so that it’s not frozen solid. You can fry it or smoke it and burn your whole house down if you like, but please, PLEASE, do not try to cram a frozen turkey into a microwave oven and expect to come out alive.

The turkey’s had it; it’s deceased, has no hope of a future of any kind. Its head has been lopped off, its innards plucked out, its feet severed, and it has been completely plucked. It is dead. It ain’t going nowhere. It has bit the dust. It is, to borrow a familiar turn of phrase, a former turkey. It probably had a short, miserable, cramped, brightly lit life which is now over. Its mother was artificially inseminated because the genetically engineered breasts of its parents were so large its Daddy could not mate with its Mommy. You, however, and your entire family, probably want to see tomorrow. You might even want to eat leftovers. So do yourself and them a favor and seal the microwave up with bright yellow CAUTION DO NOT CROSS tape and step away.

Microwave Cooking Guide, O’Keefe and Merritt

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sea Cucumber

Shark: Oi! You!

Whale: Wassup!

Shark: What in Neptune’s Depths are you?

Whale: I am a zucchini.

Shark: What species is that?

Whale: Curcubita Pepo.

Shark: Never heard of it. What are you related to?

Whale: Well, all squashes, really — cucumbers, marrows, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, that sort of thing.

Shark: You’re not a Sea Cucumber, then?

Whale: Oh, no — they’re animals, not plants. Completely different Kingdom altogether. You look a bit odd yourself. What are you?

Shark: A pickle. Cucumis Sativus to be precise.

Whale: Then we’re cousins!

Shark: What?

Whale: Sure: we’re both part of the Cucurbitoideae family.

Shark: No way!

Whale: You better believe it. You’re a gourd. You look a bit like a gourd. Except with fins.

Shark: What happened to your fins? How do you swim?

Whale: With great difficulty. Someone forgot to make me any.

Shark: Tough rap, Cuz.

Whale: Tell me about it. Hey — nice running in to you. Maybe I’ll catch you again sometime.

Shark: If no-one catches you first!

How To Garnish, International Culinary Consultants, 1983

Also from this book: Salad Worms And Melon Whales

Monday, November 21, 2011

“Drowsed with the fume of poppies”

In the 1600s, if you suffered from insomnia, you couldn’t just watch some late night TV to help you drop off — you had to resort to hard drugs. Today’s sleep aids make much of the promise to be non-addictive, and to warn you of potential hazards such as operating heavy machinery or driving. Back then: not so much.

Here is a recipe for a very effective-looking bedtime beverage:

To Procure Sleep:

Take half an ounce of Syrup of White Poppy (called Diacodium) & a quarter of an ounce of Syrup of Violets. Put them in a draught of Posset Ale, made of warm ale & milk: & take it when you go to bed.

Posset is a drink made from heated milk curdled with wine or ale. Warm milk’s soporific qualities are well-known; the addition of alcohol makes this a strong hot toddy.

It might be hard to recreate today. The opium poppy, Papaver Somniferum, has a confusing legal standing in the US, where it is legal to grow for food (the edible seeds) or ornament, but absolutely not to procure opiate-rich sap. Though those tiny black seeds contain very little of the active ingredient, it is possible to test positive for opiates after ingesting just four of them. If you plan on competing in the Olympics or the Tour de France, don’t start your day with a poppy seed bagel. Likewise, if you plan on traveling to the United Arab Emirates, make sure none of those seeds fell off your bagel and into the cuffs of your trousers, or you will be sent directly to jail.

 “Drowsed with the fume of poppies” – from “To Autumn,” by John Keats

A Booke of Midicines, Gibson Family, MS 311, 1634 - 1708

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Your Goose is Cooked

No-one wants to be sent on a wild goose chase, even if it is to procure a nice fat goose for your table. Geese are notoriously hard to catch, because they are devilish buggers who run every which way to avoid you, and if you get too close they’ll turn around and attack you with their beaks. Far better to risk disturbing the guard dog than a guard goose, because geese don’t care about being offered treats or bacon or a juicy bone as a distraction.

The wild goose chase — a pointless and overly complex search which will result in failure to find what you’re looking for — is the prank of choice by which institutions initiate new members, a form of hazing whose only wound is likely to be of one’s ego.

What you want even less than to be sent on a wild goose chase is a serving of Winchester Goose, which refers to either syphilis or the 16th century prostitute who gave it to you. The Jacobean red light district of London — Southwark — fell within the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester, hence the name. Poet John Taylor offered this charming verse in 1630 which makes tongue-in-cheek reference to the lividity of infection:

Then ther’s a Goose that breeds at Winchester,
And of all Geese my mind is least to her;
For three or foure weekes after she is rost,
She keeps her heat more hotter than a tost.

Taylor, it might be noted, is also the author of this charming palindrome with which you may be familiar: “Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel.”

He was quite the wag; the opening to his long poem The Praise of Hemp Seed is titled thusly: “A Preamble, Preatrot, Preagallop, Prearack, Preapace, or Preface; and Proface my Masters, if your Stomackes Serve.” It sounds like he was high when he wrote that. In case you’re wondering what his real feelings are about the hard bobbles you have to pick out of your ganja before you can roll a nice big spliff, then these lines should suffice: “This little seed is the great instrument / To shew the power of God Omnipotent.”

To goose someone is to playfully poke them sharply in the buttocks in a manner similar to the way a real goose would. There’s absolutely nothing sexual about this kind of goose either. If you get caught doing this, however, your goose is cooked.

The goose in the picture above has been cooked to death. That’ll serve it right. Or, in the spirit of John Taylor, it’s been served, right.

Grand Diplôme Cooking Course, Vol 1, B.P.C. Publishing, 1971

Also from these books: Sweetbreads NiquetteIn Your Face!Vatel’s Haddock Up To HereFrankfurter Salad

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy Birthday To You: Now, Pony Up

Do you know the real reason you keep hearing restaurant employees singing odd, made-up birthday greetings songs (often accompanied by a lot of aggressive clapping) instead of "Happy Birthday To You" when presenting a cake to someone at a table? It’s because if they sung “Happy Birthday To You,” the most-recognized song in the English language, they would have their asses sued off.

Yes: “Happy Birthday” is protected by copyright and you are not legally allowed to sing it (for profit) without compensating the Time-Warner Corporation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it’s so ubiquitous a cultural phenomenon the company will be blind to your transgression. They DO collect, to the tune of $2 million per year.

The copyright is looked upon by some legal scholars as of dubious validity due to its genesis as the song “Good Morning To All,” published in 1935, which is identical in every respect except for the words “Happy Birthday.” Regardless of whether this most profitable ditty is legal or not, you cannot sing it without breaking the law until 2030, when the current copyright expires. Clowns and kiddie entertainers take note. 

Oh well. At least it can’t be too hard to blow out the candle on this glorious cake out and make all your wishes come true.

Encyclopedia of Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens, 1970

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Vapors

 In the 17th century, people suffered from far more interesting conditions than they do now. Most of them were horrid and caused you to die in agony, but others were pretty harmless. Either way, they had fabulously florid names: the Bloody Flux; the Ague; Consumption, Dropsy, and that curious ancient affliction that struck women, The Vapors.

Today if someone has what used to be called The Vapors, we simply say they are horny. The restlessness, hot flushes, abdominal swelling and desire to cause trouble that distinguish horniness was something that married women could easily ask their husbands to help them assuage with sex.  This was not an option open to virgins, spinsters, widows and nuns.

Galen was correct when he attributed these symptoms to sexual deprivation in passionate women. The prescription for their hysteria (from the Greek for womb) was vaginal massage, or manipulation by a midwife, which could take hours and hours until a satisfying “paroxysm” was reached. One imagines an enterprising lass figuring out how to do that for herself. Or perhaps she preferred to spend quality time with the midwife.

Curiously, vibrators sold expressly for “women’s health” purposes came on the market at about the same time midwives were replaced by mostly male gynecologists.

History accounts for no male equivalent of The Vapors. It is worth noting, however, that football and wrestling are generally sports reserved for men.

The quaint term “The Vapors” is still in use, having found new expression in the American South, where it came to mean a dramatic excitement that demanded a woman take immediately to bed, or to relax on a chaise longue until the vapors passed. Hmm.

The band, The Vapors, continued the theme with their hit song, “Turning Japanese,” a vulgar term for the face one makes when reaching a “paroxysm.”

This recipe for pills against Vapors is as follows:

Galbanum Oil
Castor Oil

Each one dram, make them into Thirty Pills and take two of them when you are not well going to bed.

It is not entirely clear how these pills help.

A Booke of Usefull Receipts for Cookery, Etc.,  (MS. 1325) c.1675 - 1700

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Prairie Oysters

In Season One of the TV show Dallas, THE MOST GLORIOUS SOAP OPERA THERE EVER WAS, JR Ewing fixes himself a Prairie Oyster the morning after a bender. This is because he is woefully hung-over and needs to get himself into shape so that he can go to the office downtown to conduct dastardly business deals of dubious legality and perhaps get it on with one of his secretaries.

The Prairie Oyster is so-named because the raw egg it contains resembles both visually and texturally, a raw oyster. Oysters have long been considered aphrodisiacs, in part due to their slipperiness in the mouth, something the raw egg would appear to approximate. The Prairie Oyster, however, is one of the many names given to bull’s testicles which are breaded, fried and eaten. Eggs are also obviously an essential component of reproduction. The ingestion of another animal’s sexual equipment has also long been an apocryphal method of increasing one’s own sexual prowess. Drinking a Prairie Oyster, then, would constitute a triple-whammy.

Actually downing a glass of brandy and Worcestershire Sauce in which floats a raw egg when hung-over is a challenge only the most steel-stomached drunkard can achieve, meaning that one has to have a rather large set of huevos in the first place.

In the TV show Dallas, THE MOST GLORIOUS SOAP OPERA THERE EVER WAS, the list of principal characters arranged by the size of their cojones (from most to least) is:

Jock Ewing
JR Ewing
Cliff Barnes
Ray Krebbes
Miss Ellie
Lucy Ewing Cooper
Sue Ellen Ewing
Pamela Barnes Ewing
Bobby Ewing

Ray Krebbes, the soft-spoken super-sexy illegitimate son of Jock Ewing, is a cattle rancher, and therefore the only character who is likely to have had experience of actually procuring bull’s testicles, which elevates him far higher on the list than his little brother Bobby, whose name alone implies a child-like innocence and purity in keeping with his role as perpetual underdog.

In case you're wondering why Lucy figures so high on this list, check out this scene, which was part of the storyline where she sleeps with Ray, who turns out later to be her uncle. Also for Pam's gratuitous bum-wiggling shot. 

The House of Calvert Party Encyclopedia, Calvert Distillers Company, 1960

Also from this book: Better Than Anything

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Three Courses (Of Course)

— Derek, Yo — pour me a cold one, yeah?

Hey Bro! How’s it hanging?

— Not bad, not bad. Say — d’you remember that really odd-shaped object that landed in my backyard a few years ago?

Sure. Why?

— Well, you know how it came with that golden record attached?

Yeah. Man, was that weird.

— We had to search for ages to find a record player to listen to that damn thing. And for what? A bunch of people saying hello? And some classical music? And some godawful squeaking.

The stuff by that Chuck Berry dude was OK. I could have listened to that a second time. “Go, go go Johnny Go.” Good stuff, that.

— I would have preferred a bit of classic rock, myself. But that’s just me.

Did you ever figure out what all those engravings were?

— Nope. And then there was that plaque on the side of that object with those nudie drawings.

They weren’t very good. You could see his pecker, but she didn’t have any bits at all.

— Yeah, that was odd. Normally, you know, you give that area a bit more detail. Like you see on the wall of the men’s room. Not that I’ve ever looked.

Yeah, right.

— Who does that though? Who leaves that bit out? It doesn’t make any sense.

So what’s your point, Jim-Bob? I haven’t got all day.

— You’ll never guess.

Try me.

— It happened again: went out this morning and there was another of those wretched smoking heaps of metal in my damn driveway.

No way!

— Seriously. Someone’s messing with me, and I’d like to know who.

Who’d do that? What if they’re coming from outer space? Like some alien race was sending them out as messages, you know, like the way you do with a bottle?

— And landing at my house? Yeah, Derek, that’s plausible. Pour me another, will you?

You never know; just sayin’.

— This one has another diagram on it, and for the life of me I can’t figure it out.

Let’s see. Toss it over here.

— Go on. Tell me if that makes any sense.

WTF? What’s that supposed to be? What’s that big black blob?

— Haven’t the first clue.

Is it a — blimey, I have no idea. A ransom note maybe? A treasure map? Did it come with another LP?

— No. Somebody’s taking the mickey, though, right? Pulling my leg?

Maybe it’s a woman thing. Let’s ask Doris. Oi! Doris!

— What? I’m busy.

Jim-Bob here has something he wants you to take a look at.

— If you think I’m falling for that one again, you’re mistaken.

— No, really, come over here. See if you can make head nor tail of this.

Are you two buffoons kidding me. You can’t figure this out? And I suppose this “dropped from the sky” again, did it, Jim-Bob?

— Yeah!

— Try turning it the other way up, knuckleheads.

— Oh. Yeah. Right. Huh.

Happy Living! A Guidebook for Brides, American Bride Publications, 1965

Also from this book: A Connubial BreakfastCreamed Eggs In A Corned Beef CrustAll For One And One For All!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seafoam Cantaloupe Pie

The names of colors are powerfully evocative, conjuring up not only images of specific items but of entire decorating aesthetics. Who can forget the horror inflicted upon kitchens in the 1950s with the ubiquity of “mustard” colored appliances, or in the 1970s with the introduction of the surprisingly popular “avocado” color scheme?

Various colors have had their day in the fashion sun and inevitably faded. Ecru had a good run in the late 1980s; Teal appeared inexplicably in countless bridesmaid dresses.

Some color names are extremely specific and denote an exact hue: Robin’s Egg Blue is the color nature attributed to the eggs of the robin. Some are named for the mineral from which they are derived: Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine, for example. Some colors are named after people: Hooker’s Green and Davy’s Grey are a couple.  But others are named after far less exact sources and are thus subject to interpretation. Navy Blue gets its name from the color of the British Nay’s uniforms and has come to mean all dark blue. All dark blues are not the same, however.

Colors can be “hot,”  “cold” or “neutral.” Winsor Yellow and Lemon Yellow are hot and cold respectively and will never be able to produce the same colors when mixed with other pigments. Turquoise and Cobalt are very different mid-spectrum blues, the former leaning towards the green, the latter towards the purple, yet both can be “hot.” Hot Pink is generally accepted as being bright and aggressive compared to a Petal Pink or Coral — you know it when you see it.

Seafoam is a color that might bring to mind the color of bathrooms or the color of the mother-of-the-bride’s hat. Named for the frothy spume that collects where ocean meets sand, it could be described as a light greenish gray with a hint of Manganese Blue. Pantone, the authority on color, describes it as a “light spring budish gray” and assigns it the HEX (hexdecimal) number #CCDDB4. Crayola, that other authority on colors, has a crayon occasionally named Seafoam, whose HEX number is #24C7B7, though it is also called Spring Green.

Neither of these colors is close, relatively speaking, to the color this pie is named after (which has been created by adding a few drops of green food coloring to gelatin). (An analysis of the pie shows that its html color falls somewhere between ccffcc and aaff99. A visual calculation puts it nearer ccff99.) “Seafoam” is not a word it seems prudent to associate with food, since it is a salty combination of tidal effluent containing potentially harmful bacteria not fit for human consumption. 

The correct name for the color of this pie is “Blech,” not to be confused with Black, or Bleach. 

Encyclopedia of Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens, 1970

Also from this book: It’s A Green, Green, Green, Green WorldTeddy Bear’s Picnic, Cooking By Encyclopedia

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mock Turtle Soup

Tenniel's witty interpretation of a Mock Turtle

The Victorians loved their turtle soup. They loved it so much they ran out of turtles.

If the Victorians were good at anything, however, it was tinkering, and getting around troublesome problems like things running out. Things hadn’t run out before, because the machinery for eradicating them hadn’t been developed, though a few species Victorians found delicious were rapidly discovering that the rifle was an instrument well-suited to reducing their ability to find a mate. The Dodo, the Passenger Pigeon, the Buffalo — not big fans of the rifle. Whales, which seemingly filled an ocean so large as to supply them into infinity, found themselves speared unendingly on the points of harpoons. Giant sea turtles were not nearly as quick as those sent to catch them.

 So enterprising cooks invented Mock Turtle Soup out of what they had at hand: namely, lots of calf’s heads, horns, hoofs and tails. Animal husbandry was really taking off, with domestic species being bred to produce larger, better-tasting, and more docile versions of themselves on farms increasingly dedicated to the factory means of production, and since the people they fed worked in factories, there was far less time to butcher an animal at home and render the tough bits edible for hours and hours over an open flame.

Tinned food was a blessing for working Moms, and Mock Turtle Soup was one of their favorites. It’s almost identical to Calf’s Head Soup. Actually, it is Calf’s Head Soup, but that doesn’t sound nearly as appetizing. The Victorians weren’t afraid to call a thing according to its composition or destiny, and knew they weren’t fooling anyone if a little bit of fakery was involved, so they had a lot of mock this and mock that’s.

 Those witty Victorians Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel were very up-front about the mock turtle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the perfect creature for a world of make-believe. Tenniel’s illustration gives the hapless creature the appropriate parts, making of it a Frankenstein of calf and turtle. Here it is being addressed by the equally patchwork Griffin-like thing. The Victorians took too much laudanum by far. It helped them cope with the damp, the whalebone corsets, the primitive dentistry, the grime, the constant childbearing and puerperal fever, the handlebar mustaches, the parlor games and the terrible, stifling ennui.

 Mary Harris Frazer offers several recipes for Mock Turtle Soup in her Kentucky Receipt Book of 1903 — as do all cookery books of the era — plus one for Calf’s Head Soup and even one for Mock Terrapin Soup. They are all much the same, and usually include the distinctive addition of hard boiled egg yolks and lemon.

Kentucky Receipt Book, Mary Harris Frazer, 1903

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scotch Woodcock

An American Woodcock. Very sharp beak. Best avoided.

Scotch Woodcock is not what you think it is.

It is not, for instance, something that you might hope to find at the end of a date with a handsome northerner. Or perhaps during the date, if you’re that kind of girl, and happen to accidentally do a little undercover research while adjusting your napkin during the main course. You might decide to skip dinner altogether if you discovered the presence of a Scotch Woodcock while leaning in to say hello with a peck on the cheek.

Do not be put off if your date claims to have a taste for Scotch Woodcock. Scotch Woodcock is not an adult film actor.

Scotch Woodcocks available for private use can be purchased by purveyors of quality game, or rather games. For “games,” read “toys.” They require the occasional rub with oil to prevent them from drying out. Use of normal household polishing agents such as Pledge is not recommended, lest the Woodcock become damaged.

A Scotch Woodcock is also not a reference to a stiff drink, though it may be swallowed, and comes in individual-sized servings. Scotch Woodcock is picked up with the fingers, rather than cutlery, and eaten either as a starter when the appetite requires whetting in preparation for the main course, or afterwards, for a savory flourish. It is an acquired taste that can be a bit messy.

The presence of Scotch Woodcock on the menus of public houses wanting to recapture a bit of the old Pax Britannica glory with antique food should not make tourists think they have wandered into a house of ill-repute.

A woodcock may be enjoyed with a scotch, but that’s something altogether different.

A woodcock is also called a Snipe. Do not let anyone take you snipe hunting. The people who hunt snipe are known as "snipers." It's a term you may be familiar with. There's another reason you should never let anyone — even if they sound sincere — take you snipe hunting, but it's a secret. On a related note, do not let anyone persuade you to hunt for woodcock, or film you doing so for posterity. 

Ingredients:  The yolks of 2 eggs, 1 gill of cream (or cream and milk in equal parts), anchovy paste, toast, butter, cayenne pepper and salt to taste.

Method:  Cut the toast into 2-inch squares, butter well, and spread them with anchovy paste. Season the yolks with a little cayenne and salt; when slightly beaten add them to the hot cream, stir over the fire until they thicken sufficiently, then pour the preparation over the toast, and serve as hot as possible.

Time: About 10 minutes. Sufficient for 6 to 8 persons. 

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Bird’s Eye View of Bird’s Eye Peas

For the next round in our epic dinner battle we will have each contestant compete to see who can finish his dinner first. You will be racing against the clock, and I have to warn you: points WILL be deducted for spillage.

What’s the catch, you say?

You will have to complete your task while suspended by a harness from the ceiling! There you will dangle just within reach of your meal for as long as it takes to consume all of it — wine included.

That’s not so hard! I hear you say.

Well, consider this: have you ever tried swallowing against the force of gravity? No? I can see by the look on your faces that you appreciate our brave contestants’ dilemma.

In order for us to follow along, each contestant will be wearing a head-mounted camera so that we can view the spectacle from their perspective.

Are we ready? Yes?

On your marks . . . get set . . . go!

Pillsbury’s Creative Cooking in Minutes, The Pillsbury Company, 1971

Also from this book: Green Bean Casserole

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Poetry of Wanton Gastronomy

A Seven-Eleven in Pennsylvania

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Auguste Escoffier, for I drove down Main Street under the stars with a heartache self-conscious looking for a convenience store.
In my heavy fatigue, and in need of sugar, I went into the neon Seven-Eleven, dreaming of your concoctions!
What chips and what candy! Whole carloads of teenagers shopping at night! Aisles full of sophomores! Girlfriends in the popcorn, their sisters in the jellybeans! — and you, Nicolas Appert, what were you doing down by the day old donuts?

I saw you, Escoffier, peerless, lonely old genius, poking among the sodas in the refrigerator and eyeing the cashier.
I heard you asking questions of each: Quelle est cette de Coca-Cola? Combien coûte la Mountain Dew?
I wandered in and out of the perilous stacks of cans shadowing you, and watched on the CCTV by the manager.

We strode down the well-lit aisles together in our solitary adventure tasting Jujubes, grabbing every frozen novelty, and never passing the register.
Where are we going, Auguste Escoffier? The doors never close here. Which way does your knife point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our ramble in the market and feel absurd.)
Will we drive all night on these empty highways? The streetlights add glow to moonlight, no-one left in the bars, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we roll on dreaming of the lost America of my youth past blue cars in driveways, home to our quiet kitchens?

Ah, dear father, chef, solitary old craft-master, what Paris did you have when Carême quit stoking his coals and you stepped out on a smoky pavement and stood watching his blackened ghost disappear in the rain?

* Thanks to Allen Ginsberg

More Favorite Brand Name Recipes Cookbook, Publications International, Inc., 1984

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Parsley Merkin

Do not scoff at the idea of a pubic wig, the venerable merkin.

While used rarely today due to the ascendency of the bikini wax, they once provided an invaluable service to humble women suffering from the scourge of the middle ages, pubic lice. The only way to avoid the beasties was to give them no place to hide. In order to protect her modesty, she resorted to a bit of crotch fluff, a bit like a sporran worn inside her skirt.

Crabs were the least of a prostitute’s problems, however. The average medieval john left her with more than coin in her purse, so she employed a merkin to hide a litany of pustules, open sores, genital warts, and every kind of venereal disease you can imagine lest she be forced to retire from the world’s oldest profession through lack of customers. Add to her misery, the treatment for syphilis — mercury — caused hair loss, which meant she couldn’t use her natural assets to cover up.

Merkins are offered today to actors who may find themselves excessively depilated for a role set during a hairier time, or to guard against revealing too much flesh and earning a higher MPAA rating.

Food stylists use parsley for pretty much the same reasons: to add allure with frothy vividly colored curls, or to disguise a bare plate or deflect from a problematic area which has been rendered unappetizing.

Any likeness between a medieval prostitute and the caption offered alongside this Ten-in-one Sandwich Loaf is purely accidental and should not be interpreted as an unfortunate instance of sexual innuendo. In order not to be offended, do not look up the word “spunky” in a dictionary of British slang. You have been warned. Have a nice day.

Cooking With Cheese, Better Homes and Gardens, 1966

Also from this book: Fondue? Fondon't
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