Short Paste for a Covered Tart: Simpson’s Cookery, 1816

FB_recipe_Simpson's Cookery_1816

Tart Paste

Commonly called Short Paste.

To one pound of flour, rub in a quarter of a pound of butter; make a whole in the middle; put in a little water, and two yolks and one white of an egg; put the other white of an egg on a plate, to beat up, and put over the tart, when finished; work it up to a proper stiffness, and roll out for use.

N. B. There should be about to table spoonful[s] of sugar in the paste, when for tarts, or any other think sweet. This is the proper kind of paste for meat puddings, only leave out the sugar.

From, A Complete System of Cookery, on a plan entirely new. By John Simpson. 1816 edition published in London. Page 508.

Implicit in this recipe is that the tart has a top crust. Top crusts were standard in British tarts until the last decades of the nineteenth-century. In British cooking, the topless tart was associated with France. In the American cooking tradition, one of the ways in which we seemed to have set out in the early nineteenth-century to differentiate our American culture from British was our early adoption of the topless tart as the standard for tarts and the renaming of the British covered tart tradition as “pie.”

Americans in first decades of the nineteenth-century were, of course, close to France. France had helped the British Colonists overthrow British rule while it had remained an enemy of Britain until the final defeat of Napoleon in 1814.  It is thus not entirely unexpected that American’s might have adopted a Francophillic tart style a bit earlier than the British.

When I tested this recipe the first time my daughter, age ten, didn’t want me to put on the top crust because, as she said, “Tarts don’t have a crust.”

This dough, with sugar, is intended for a covered dessert tart and without sugar for a covered meat tart. While the recipe doesn’t call for it, I suggest that you add salt when making this as a savory crust.

There is relatively little fat and relatively more water than in a modern “short paste.” The crust is therefore not light and fluffy. This is a crust from a different tradition and as such ads variety to your pie crust repertoire.

Dessert Tart: Add the sugar to the dough and fill with any fruit filling.

Savory Tart: Replace the sugar with salt. Fill with a vegetable, meat, or fish filling.

You need a pastry brush to brush the egg white onto the top crust. Besides the shiny top-crust, this is a classic American fruit pie.

450g flour

110g butter

60g  sugar if being used for a dessert tart

[5g salt if being used for a savory tart]

90g to 110g water

1 egg plus 1 yolk

1 egg white set  aside in a small plate

 

Bake in a moderate pre-heated oven, 350F or 180C.

 

 

 

Starting out with Wild Greens

Dandelion and wild lettuces are common in the Northern Hemisphere. During the growing seasons it is pretty impossible, even in a big city, to not pass dandelion and wild lettuce. But, I know for myself, that even though I love foraging that there is often some kind of impediment, like a force field, that seems to keep me from just reaching down and picking off a damn leaf! On most walks out of my house I stop to look at at a wild lettuce or particularly striking dandelion specimen, even take a picture, but the bending over, picking and taking home to eat — that part — extremely rare. I don’t think I am alone in being more of aspirational gatherer than an actual gatherer.

I’m trying to change the habit — break through the force field — and introduce wild greens into my daily diet so that I am no longer dreaming about it but actually doing it. Towards that end, I have made an entry-level program for myself. One leaf! One leaf of Lactuca serriola (or something) added to a salad of domestic greens every day. Such a no big deal that even for me it has been working. For the last couple weeks I’ve been adding one leaf, five leaves, tiny amounts of different edible urban weeds to salads and boiled greens. The smaller the ambition the easier it is to get started.

I like wild dandelion. Yesterday, I picked dandelion and a few leaves of the spiny lettuce, Lactuca serriola to blanch and eat with French lentils for lunch. As I eat wild dandelions reasonably often — the breakthrough yesterday was adding that little bit of lettuce that you see in the two left-hand images.

Important American Rye Bread Blog

I would like to call your attention to Stanley Ginsberg’s rye bread blog, The Rye Baker. The recipes in the site are varied. The geographic region unusually large — from the Alps to the Baltics — and the recipe notation is impeccable.

Stanley has a book, forthcoming as of this writing — The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America.

Stanley’s interest in rye began with what in America we call “Jewish rye.” It is a wheat/rye mix, usually yeasted, with caraway seeds. It is far more wheat than rye — a bread that would be unrecognizable in the countryside of Northern Europe where the people who created this bread in America came from. Judging by the recipes posted on Stanley’s blog, his book will be hugely informative.

A Fine Basic Madeleine Recipe from 1893

Who doesn’t love a madeleine?  The recipe I’ve used since I first bought the New Larousse Gastonomique (1977) is its recipe for plain madeleine.  that makes it almost 40 years since I bought the book new when it came out. What I like about the New Larousse Gastonomique recipe is its utter simplicity. It’s a poundcake. You mix equal parts by weight of sugar, flour, melted butter, and eggs and that’s it.  Continue reading “A Fine Basic Madeleine Recipe from 1893”

Amanita Muscaria Toxicity and Vinegar Preserved Mushrooms

A look at an historic mushroom text.

“In 1879 mushrooms were exported from Japan to the value of 243,440 yens. The yen is equal to 99.7 cents. Among the northeastern tribes of Asia fungi are largely used as food. One species, when pounded, forms their snuff, while another, the Fly Agaric, which is utilized in Europe as a fly killer, and is regarded as one of the most poisonous forms, is used by them as a substitute for ardent spirits. One large specimen is sufficient “to produce a pleasant intoxication for a whole day,” the alcohol being obtained by the usual method of fermentation. In many parts of Europe fungi are a favorite food, being eaten fresh, and also preserved in vinegar for winter use. For pickling purposes, all kinds, it is said, are gathered, the vinegar being supposed to neutralize the alkaline poison of the noxious species.”

Thomas Taylor, Mushrooms, United States Department of Agriculture Division of Microscopy, US Government Printing Office, 1894, p. 7.

What I find interesting about this passage from an 1894 US government publication on Continue reading “Amanita Muscaria Toxicity and Vinegar Preserved Mushrooms”

Zadock Steele, starving, eats too much bread.

Zadock Steele  was captured by Mohawk Indians allied with the British in a raid in Vermont in 1780. It was called the Royalton raid. Zadock was transferred to British custody and eventually escapes. Starving, he and a companion are taken in by a “poor widow”.  In this short scene he  describes over eating what she calls  “wheat bread”and that we can understand as a good-quality white bread.  One of the forms of control the British exercised over their captives was under feeding  so he and his companion approach this bread with avarice. Despite the text’s stiff language one can feel the loss of control, the impulse to gorge. Continue reading “Zadock Steele, starving, eats too much bread.”

The History of the Garden Dandelion

dandelion taprootFirstly, I love dandelion. It is one of the most delicious vegetables. Why dandelion is not a standard on the grocery shelf along with other tiller weeds, like lettuce, chicory, and cabbage is difficult for me to understand. But, there it is. A delicious wild green that remains largely wild.

The history of the dandelion that follows as written by E. Lewis Sturtevant, a man who was well known in the latter decades of the nineteenth-century but is now largely unknown. Among other things Sturtevant was a farmer, an agronomist, a book collector, and an historian. His library of 1,000 Pre-Linnaean volumes are at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The Missouri Botanical Gardens is a leader in the digitization of rare books so many of Sturtevants books referenced in this article can be found online and can be downloaded. Continue reading “The History of the Garden Dandelion”

Flour Mills on the Seine, Paris

Image of a flour mill floating on the Seine circa late 18th century
A boat water mill floating on the Seine in the 18th century towards the back of Notre Dame Cathedral

This is an eighteenth-century print of a flour mill floating on the Seine with Notre Dame in the background. Until well into the nineteenth century mills were attached  bridges that crossed the Seine and smaller mills, like the one in this print, were actually small boats, or barges, attached to shore or anchored in the river. The infrastructure for producing bread was everywhere.

Paris, in 1800 had a population of 540,000 compared to today’s 2,300,000. This refers to the city itself, not environs If you estimate per capita bread consumption in 1800 at 900g per person and use today’s figure of 130g per person it would seem that approximately 40% more bread was consumed in Paris some two-hundred years ago —490 230 000 grams versus 299 000 000 grams today. Just accepting these as rough figures it suggests the huge number of vehicles — on land and water — that must have been needed to move the grain, the flour, and the breads.

Paris did not produce all of its own bread. Demand from Paris fostered a plethora of bakeries in villages circling Paris, with Gonesse, now a suburb of Paris more or less between the two airports, Orly and Charles de Gaulle, being the most famous of the supplier villages. It is known for the quality of its white bread. Even English-language atlases tie Gonesse to its bread.

Here is a text sent to me by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, founder of the extraordinary Facebook Group, Universalbread, and editor of the Dictionnaire universal du pain (2010) from his dictionary. This was written by Jean-Pierre Blazy, the current mayor of Gonesse.

“Le pain de marché, qui était en grande partie le pain des forains, assurait les deux tiers des ventes de pain consommé à Paris en 1727, un peu moins six ans plus tard, selon les registres Delalande conservés à la bibliothèque de l’Institut. Les boutiques progressent sans menacer la prépondérance des marchés. Les estimations concernant le nombre des boulangers forains dits de deuxième classe, ceux qui transformaient les blés qui n’étaient pas entrés à Paris avant d’être convertis en pain, demeurent incertaines. En recoupant les différentes sources (Traité de la Police de Nicolas Delamare et registres Delalande), Steven L. Kaplan estime qu’il y avait au total une majorité de boulangers de marchés sur les 2 000 boulangers qui s’activaient dans la capitale, mais les chiffres très variables du seul corps des forains (900, 850, 650…) lui paraissent excessifs. En 1727, sur les 927 boulangers fournissant les
douze marchés (et non plus quinze), il y avait 369 forains, soit près de 40 % ; et sur 747 enregistrés en 1733, on relève 298 forains, soit toujours près de 40 %. La boulangerie foraine s’inscrivait dans une couronne d’approvisionnement s’étendant de Saint-Germain-en-Laye et de Versailles à l’ouest, de Sceaux et de Villejuif au sud, de Créteil et de Vincennes à l’est jusqu’à Goussainville et Roissy-en-France au nord. Les boulangers du Pays de France, ceux de Gonesse et du village voisin de Bonneuil-en-France étaient alors les plus nombreux et les plus actifs en quantités de pain vendu.”

From Dictionnaire universel du pain, Bouquins Laffont 2010

Jean-Pierre Blazy is also the author of “Gonsesse, la terre et les homes: Des origines a la Revolution” (1982)

Cooking a Road-kill Raccoon

Skinning a Raccoon
Skinning a road kill raccoon by flashlight.

This is the first time I have skinned and butchered road kill. Yes, I was apprehensive. But the raccoon was young, small by raccoon standards, had no visible injuries from having been hit and was clearly  healthy. I looked up skinning online but ended up being helped y a friend who had grown up skinning raccoons and other small animals in Arkansas. Certainly, doing this for the first time with someone who has experience is helpful though in many ways the biggest help was simply having the confidence to open the raccoon up and work the knife to separate the skin from the body.

Skinning the raccoon is easier than boning a chicken. There is nothing about skinning a raccoon that is as challenging as separating the skin of a chicken from the back without tearing. My primary advice if you haven’t done it before is just to be sure your knife is very sharp and wear thick rubber gloves to protect yourself from accidental cuts. Past that, it is really the first cut up the belly (you will cut straight up to the head) that presents a challenge — and it is purely psychological. There is a layer of fat between the raccoon’s flesh and the skin which makes it obvious to see where you are cutting.

The hind and fore-legs have lots of meat. For this small raccoon that is all we saved to eat. I wilted some onion in olive oil in a Dutch oven in the fireplace. When the onion was wilted, added the raccoon, a couple bay leaves, salt, and then wine to just cover. I cooked it at a very low simmer for hours. Utterly delicious.

 

Yeasted Bread and Good Health

Warner's Safe Yesat Advertisement
A yeast advertisement that focuses on very old ideas associating poor digestion and ill health with dense bread.

A wonderful massively interesting trade card for Warner’s Safe Yeast circa 1885-1890. To this day, companies sell products by creating fear and then offering a solution. This ad falls squarely in the fear mongering tradition. It would not have seemed so absurd to people in its own time.

For hundreds of  years dense bread was thought to be indigestible. Its indigestibility had been  mentioned in health manuals going back to the 1500s. The poor  were often afflicted with gastrointestinal illnesses and for various reasons, their breads were also often dense. In the 1880s the germ theory of disease was still reasonably recent and so the bad water and unsanitary conditions that were in fact responsible for the gastrointestinal ill health of the poor was not yet fully appreciated by popular culture. Thus, in folk culture, dense bread made you sick. That is the back story. Commercial yeast reliably yields a lighter bread, one with a more open crumb, than breads leavened with homemade yeasts or sourdough cultures. Given an unscientific understanding of stomach cramps well made yeasted bread could be imagined to prevent them.

But there was a rub. Commercial yeast cost money; many American cookbooks included recipes for home yeast cultures, and had since the early decades of the century. Homemade yeast was a well established part of American home baking, which was itself at this point in our culinary history an established part of the home economy. Waste not want not. Why buy yeast if you could make your own? A simple answer to that would be that yeast is quasi-medicinal in its effects. Who would turn their backs on the health of their family? Affluent households had long been buying commercial yeast by the 1880s. This ad is not addressed to them.

Lest you think I exaggerate the nineteenth-century fear of heavy bread. Here is Catherine Beecher on heavy bread published in her 1848 cookbook, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book.

Perhaps it may be thought that all this is a great drudgery, but it is worse drudgery to have sickly children, and a peevish husband, made so by having all the nerves of their stomachs rasped with sour, or heavy bread.

Similar sentiments were expressed into the early twentieth century, if with less animus toward the put upon baker.