Wednesday, January 28, 2009


There was a recent post on slashfood about haggis, which included a link to an interesting YouTube video. Of course this got me thinking. I've come across medieval recipes for haggis before, but I hadn't compared them to modern recipes. How different was medieval haggis?

The recipe in the program seemed pretty simple: onion, suet, sheep's offal, cracked wheat, and spices, all stuffed into a casing (traditionally a sheep's stomach, but in this case beef intestines) and boiled.

After a brief search I found a recipe in Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (England, 1430) titled Hagws of a schepe. It calls for sheep's offal, suet, spices, bread, egg yolks, and cream. All mixed, stuffed into the sheep's stomach, and boiled. That's very close - even the name is similar - all that's missing is the onion.

Here's the part that surprised me. After looking further, I didn't find any other recipes like this one. Nothing earlier from England, and nothing from any other country. This suggests that haggis is not only a very English dish, but it also hasn't changed in over 500 years.

Now the remaining question is: can I get my family to eat it? The kids maybe, but my wife hates the taste of liver. Maybe I can make a pseudo-haggis using ground lamb ...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Goose and Sauce Madame

[Sorry about the recent lack of posts. Chalk it up to a combination of a minor flu bug and a hectic schedule.]

Back in December we had some friends over for a Winter Solstice dinner, and one of the dishes I cooked was Goose with Sauce Madame. I should have taken some pictures, but (of course) things were behind schedule and the kitchen was crazy and yadda yadda yadda, so you'll just have to imagine what it all looked like (though I'll admit it wasn't this pretty). I'll be posting the recipe for Sauce Madame on the website sooner or later (maybe after a couple more tries using chicken or duck instead of goose), but I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on the dinner and how things turned out before I completely forget things.

First, the goose: I'd never made goose before, and the one I got from the grocer was actually relatively small - 10 to 12 pounds. Geese are weird, plain and simple. The skin was tougher than I thought, the meat was (way) darker in color than I expected, and while it put out lots of fat in the roasting pan (which I did expect) there was almost nothing in the way of juices. The meat tasted good enough to eat, but wasn't anything to rave about. Maybe bigger geese are better? Dunno. I've always heard that goose was something people ate more out of tradition than because they like it. That seems believable now.

The Sauce Madame smelled fantastic up until I added the goose drippings as instructed. Everyone seemed to like it (especially my wife), but it had an oily aspect that just didn't sit well with me. Maybe with more broth instead of oil (which implies some other bird than goose)?

The Wastel y-Farced turned out fantastic. I'd used a square, 2 pound loaf of sourdough bread. I had to improvise a steamer using a large pot with some water in the bottom and a bowl to act as a spacer, and the bread resting on the bottom of a small tart pan. It was warm, slightly gooey, and slightly sweet. Got to remember to make it again soon.

For a vegetable I went with the inevitable Brussels sprouts. I was too rushed by this point to make a cream sauce or anything, but perhaps next time. They were fresh, easy, and the family likes them, so if nothing else they blended into the background.

Finally there's the plum pudding. I love making plum pudding each year, and this one turned out just fine. Hector, who had just returned from school in England, noted the amount of butter and brandy used over there when serving these things, but otherwise didn't comment. Maybe I should take that as a bad sign. Then again, I like my plum pudding the way it is (as does the family), which I guess is what's important. Though ... more butter and brandy ... that doesn't sound too bad, eh? Maybe a tweak or two is in order.

So on the whole, it was a bit hectic and crazy, a good amount of yum, a heap of traditional, and a lot of fun. That's what the holidays are all about.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kokbok för Husmödrar

I am filled with geeky excitement! I just received a neat book in the mail. It was found by an acquaintance's mother (thanks to Laureen and her mom!) at a rummage sale - and of all things, it's a late 19th century Swedish cookbook. Here's what the first page says:

Gustafva Björklunds
Kokbok för Husmödrar

innehållande beskrifningar öfver
mer än 2000 anrättningar.
(Jemte 100 anvisningar för tillredning af Svamprätter.)
Med 106 gravyrer.

Obviously this isn't medieval (misses the mark by a scant 400 years or so), but still it's filled with awesome - in fact, 512 pages of Swedish awesome. The last recipe (Tätmjölk) is numbered 2081!  I plan on transcribing the book to text (or more likely HTML given the number of letters like å and ö) and eventually translating it to English.

Oh, as best I can tell the text on the title page translates to something like:
Gustafva Björklund's Cookbook for Housemothers, containing observations and more than 2000 recipes. (Plus 100 instructions for making Mushroom dishes.) With 106 engravings.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Food Through the Ages

This is a really nice book.

Ok, I probably should admit that I've got a slight bias here. About a year ago, Anna Selby emailed me with some questions. There was a flurry of emails back and forth, I did a little translating, and gave permission to use some recipes. I then got wrapped up in other projects and promptly forgot about the whole thing. Lo and behold, a few weeks back this book comes out and a friend mentions it on a mailing list, and notes that it refers to me and my website. I ordered a copy and eagerly awaited its arrival.

While it's fairly basic in content, it doesn't make any of the blunders so common in books geared to the general reader. What's more, it's an absolutely beautiful book, well laid out and loaded with pictures. The text is clear and Anna's writing style is easy to soak in. It may not be detailed enough for a fanatical food historian, but it's perfect for the beginner (or for a fanatical food historian to give to a non-fanatical family member to help explain their fanaticism).

It also includes several of my recipes and refers to me and my website many times, so it really is a very nice book.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Kalendarium Hortense - January

The Kalendarium Hortense was published by John Evelyn in 1683. It contains instructions for what a gardener should do throughout the year. The excerpt below is the list of what is to be done in the "Orchard and Olitory1 Garden" for the month of January.

Trench the Ground, and make it ready for the Spring: prepare also Soil, and use it where you have occasion: Dig Borders, &c. uncover as yet Roots of Trees, where Ablaqueation2 is requisite.

Plant Quick-sets, and Transplant Fruit-Trees, if not finish'd: Set Vines, and begin to prune the old: Prune the branches of Orchard Fruit-Trees; especially the long planted, and that towards the decrease: but for such as are newly planted, they need not be disbranched till the Sap begins to stir, that so the wound may be healed with the Sear, and Stub, which our frosts do frequently leave: In this work cut off all the shoot of August, unless the nakedness of the place incline you to spare it: You may now begin to Nail and trim your Wall-fruit3, and Espaliers4.

Cleane Trees of Moss, &c. the Weather moist.

Gather Cyors5 for Graffs before the Buds sprout; and about the latter end graff them in the Stock, Pears, Cherries, and Plums, and remove your Kernel-stocks to more commodious distances in your Nursery, cutting off the Top root. Set Beans, Pease, &c.

Sow also (if you please) for early Caully-flowers.

Sow Chervil, Lettuce, Radish, and other (more delicate) Salletings; if you will raise in the Hot-bed.

In over-wet, or hard weather cleanse, mend, sharpen, and prepare Garden Tools.

Turn up your Bee-hives, and sprinkle them with a little warm and sweet Wort; do it dexterously.

1 - Olitory: of or pertaining to, or produced in, a kitchen garden.

2 - Ablaqueation: The act or process of laying bare the roots of trees to expose them to the air and water.

3 - Wall fruit: trees trained against a wall.

4 - Espaliers: trees or shrubs that are trained to grow in a flat plane against a wall, often in a symmetrical pattern. Also, a trellis or other framework on which an espalier is grown.

5 - Cyors: Probably cions - Detached shoots or twigs containing buds from a woody plant, used in grafting.