Two-Chambered Bread Oven

I am not sure where this set of three videos was made. If you know, please leave a comment. I am assuming North Africa or Central Asia. I have personally never seen an oven of the type filmed here. The baker is using a double chambered oven. There is a firebox that communicates with the section of oven where the bread is baked. This separate chamber facilitates the burning of a variety of materials in addition to brush or branches. One could easily fire the oven with straw, bean husks, or some other agricultural waste.

This first video is terribly short. It does offer a look at how the dough is kneaded. I advise replaying this several times. You need to guess dough hydration from this kneading scene. It looks to me to be a fairly wet extensible dough.

The dough has risen and the breads are being formed and baked. I think you can assume that this is a single rise of a yeasted dough. You can see from the ease with which the baker pulls out a piece that it is a soft dough. There is a bowl of water between the dough and the oven. The baker is keeping his hands wet and is using the water to keep the bread from sticking to peel. Note the dipping of his hands in water and then touching the surface of the bread which then b Note that the bread is formed on the peel and then immediately baked. There is no proofing period.



This video offers the best look at the oven — a craggy ancient looking thing — and also offers the best look at the forming and baking of the bread. I think the real secret to this process is the wetting of the surface of the bread that is placed down on to the peel. Watch carefully. I’d also note the bent wire tool being used to pull bread out of the oven. This clearly seems to be a better choice than a peel for breads like this but might prove to be a generally useful oven tool. It would move pizza’s, too.


Egyptian bread textSo much of the history of bread is unknown. What might the white barley bread referred to in this ancient Egyptian text have been like? Much closer in time, what was the bread sold in New York in 1720 like, or the bread in Marseilles in 1848, or Moscow in 1880, or London in 1914?

I have spent years researching historic bread recipes in English and French, the two languages I can read. I have approximately 10 feet of shelves of notebooks with bread recipes and supporting material from the first published  recipes in the late 1400s to the mid 19th century.

There is a level on which bread is produced through a natural process so our loaves are not necessarily so different now than they were one-hundred, four-hundred, or even two-thousand years ago. This said, the devil is in the details. I am doing my best to tease out details but welcome any help that you might be able to give me. Much of what I post in this section are working papers — my thinking as of the day I post them and thus very much open to suggestions.

I have not always worked up the recipe into an absolutely modern format. For my own purposes I redact the recipes into baker’s math. This makes it possible to compare recipes on the level of percentages of ingredients in relation to the amount of flour. I am  working many of the recipes that I am (and will be) posting here into a book of historic recipes.

What I offer here is probably not for someone who has never baked a loaf of bread before. But if you have, then perhaps in a recipe or in a commentary on an ingredient or process you will find an idea that you can use in a bread you make. If any readers make a bread from one of the recipes I publish here then please send me a photograph of  it and I’ll post it.

Historic Breads at Plimoth Plantation

Wheat and corn, maize, breads, Plimoth Plantation circa 1620

Corn (maize) and wheat breads baked at Plimoth Plantation.

Plimoth Plantation is a national park. The primary attraction is a reenactment village that is designed to provide a sense of what life was like for the early settlers. The village is frozen in time. It is always 1627 at Plimoth Plantation. By focusing on a single year the staff is forced to delve into details. With regard to bread — just what was the bread like in Plimothin 1627? What were the ingredients? How was it prepared? How was it baked? I took this photograph in 2003. It illustrates at least one conception of what the breads of 1627 might have been like. As conceived by the curators in 2003 they were at least sometimes flat, coarse, and made with some or a lot of corn flour. In this illustration the corn and wheat breads are distinct. It is possible to imagine, however, based on the settlers’ experience with maslin — a mixture of grains such as wheat and rye or barley and rye that they might also have mixed corn and wheat flour.

The Forest of Memory, Rye Bread from Belarus

Nina in her forestThis is indirectly a story about rye bread from Belarus. When I was in my twenties, which was in the 1970s, I bought a beautiful book on bread called Le Pain. I bought it in a bookshop in Paris. My French is poor but I could get something from the text. There was a mention of oak branches being added to the dough when rye bread was made in Belarus. Seemed very odd. In the early 1990s it occurred to me that the author, Bernard Dupaigne might very well still be alive. This was before the internet but the book had mentioned that he worked at the Museé de l’Homme so I called the museum and, indeed, he still worked there. I met him on my next visit asked about his source for the oak in dough reference. He said that he could send me to her.

His source was Nina. I have no idea where the notes are to my meeting with her so I cannot tell you her last name. When I went to visit her in the late 1990s she lived in a suburb on the outskirts of Paris. I had clear instructions to her house — the house number as I recall was 22 on a cul-de-sac. What could be easier? But no house number 22 was visible which was strange because this was a neighborhood of modest homes that fully revealed themselves to the street. Where 22 ought to have been there was a lot overgrown with trees, a dead car, and no house number. After walking back and forth and consulting a neighbor it turned out that there was a house, and that was its number. When I got to the house it seemed abandoned. Only a tray of chitted potatoes indicated that someone might actually live there. I called out and of course a wonderfully energetic wildly eccentric and deeply interesting old woman opened the door.

In 1952, exiles in France, Nina and her husband bought a lot in a new part of Paris, surely cheap, where they built a house, and planted a forest around it to remind them of their home in Belarus. Fifty years later, this forest of memory had become a real forest, with mature trees, and an understory of shrubs and small plants. It was an entire ecosystem. She harvested sap from the birches to make birch wine. She picked herbs for medicines. I’ve spent time in Lithuania near the border with Belarus so I recognized the bathtub set to collect water from the roof as a convenience for people who use wells.

Nina had been brought to Paris as a slave by the Nazis but couldn’t go home after the Soviet Union occupied her country. As exiles both she and her husband were involved in anti-Soviet protests in support of freedom for her country. Until the fall of the Soviet Union she was trapped in Paris and the closest could get home was through this magical landscape that she and her husband had created.

I met with Nina to talk about traditional rye bread and  did talk about bread, but our talk began with a walk in her forest and is the that proved more important than the bread. In this excerpt from our walk, and I apologize for the erratic sound quality of the recording, I was new to field recording and didn’t have the right equipment for a walk, Nina speaks about her nostalgia for home. She speaks of the night, which is the time when she feels closest to her country because at night the same stars shine above Paris and Belarus. When her family was still living, inspired by a poem she had read, she sent them letters in which she arranged with them to look up at the stars at the same moment, she in her forest of memory, and they in their forest of tears.

Here is thelink to the recording of Nina talking about arranging to look up at the night sky at the same time as her mother. As for the rye bread, I no longer recall what she said, and while somewhere I must have the recording of the interview, my French is poor and I was asking her about a detail from a long time ago. What I learned from her was the reminder that foods and places go together and whatever the rye bread was like in Belarus in the 1930s we cannot make that bread, even if we could.

Charles Dickens and Turkeys

It seems impossible, but the fact is that Christmas wasn’t celebrated in the United States until well into the nineteenth century. The Puritan settlers in New England did not celebrate any holiday that was not specifically sanctioned by the bible. Christmas is not a biblical holiday, and so Christmas was a workday. Even in the 1830’s, New England diaries show that Christmas was just another day. (Saltwater Foodways, Sandy Oliver, 1995)

When Christmas finally came to America in the mid-nineteenth century, the version of the European Christmas that arrived was primarily the one being celebrated in Victorian England. While turkey had a place in the English Christmas feast as early as the later part of the 16th century, by the 1850’s turkey had assumed the central place that it holds in America for the Thanksgiving table. I suspect, in fact, that our exclusive focus on turkey for the Thanksgiving table may owe something to the English Christmas.

Here is how Mrs. Beeton, the most popular English cookbook author of the mid-nineteenth century writes about the Christmas Turkey in Mrs. Beeton’s Every Day Cookery and Housekeeping Book, 1868.

A noble dish is a turkey, roast or boiled. A Christmas dinner, with the middle-class of this empire, would scarcely be a Christmas dinner without its turkey; and we can hardly imagine an object of greater envy than that presented by a respected portly pate families carving, at the season devoted to good cheer and genial charity, his own fat turkey, and carving it well. The only art consists, as in the carving of the goose, of getting from the breast as many fine slices as possible; and all must have remarked the great difference in the large number of people a good slicer will find slices for, and the comparatively few a bad carver will succeed in serving.

Mrs. Beeton’s roasting recipe calls for a small, moderate, or large bird. Her moderate bird is ten pounds and roasts in two hours. A likely candidate for this bird would have been a Norfolk Black. The birds were raised in the countryside — for example in East Anglia — and were driven to London along the road. Their feet were sometimes dipped in pitch or asphalt to protect them for the long walk. In the US this breed is often just called Black. Before moving on to Dickens, I think it worth noting the emphasis that Mrs.Beeton places on the carving of the white meat. This focus on beautiful slices of breast meat is one factor that has created, one hundred and fifty years later, the breast-heavy modern turkey.

Mrs. Beeton was an influential cookbook author, but not a great influence on English prose. Dickens, however, remains one of the greatest English prose stylists. There is power in art — and Dickens’ influence over all of us through his ability to conjure visions out of words is felt today in our own dream of the Christmas dinner. “The Christmas Carol” is the literary source for the English Christmas dinner — and it is the book that celebrates the turkey as the essential element of the Christmas feast. But first, before we get to Christmas turkey — here is the great Charles Dickens Christmas Dinner.

The moment Scrooge’s hand was on the lock; a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.
It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrifaction of a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see: who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in. and know me better, man!”
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me!” 

We all know the story. Scrooge, the miser, changed. Scrooge, the man with the heart of stone became the man with a heart of gold. He didn’t just become a man who spoke kindly to others, who said all the right things, who showed sympathy, he became a man who acted generously. And his first generous act was to buy a Christmas turkey for the long-suffering family of his employee, Bob Crachit.

`What’s to-day, my fine fellow.’ said Scrooge.
`To-day.’ replied the boy. `Why, Christmas Day.’
`It’s Christmas Day.’ said Scrooge to himself. `I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow.’
`Hallo.’ returned the boy.
`Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner.’ Scrooge inquired.
`I should hope I did,’ replied the lad.
`An intelligent boy.’ said Scrooge. `A remarkable boy.’ Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there — Not the little prize Turkey: the big one.’
`What, the one as big as me.’ returned the boy.
`What a delightful boy.’ said Scrooge. `It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck.’
`It’s hanging there now,’ replied the boy.
`Is it.’ said Scrooge. `Go and buy it.’
`Walk-er.’ exclaimed the boy.
`No, no,’ said Scrooge, `I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell them to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown.’
The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.
`I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s.’ whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. `He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending it to Bob’s will be.’
We have hundreds more books for your enjoyment. Read them all!
The hand in which he wrote the address was not a steady one, but write it he did, somehow, and went down-stairs to open the street door, ready for the coming of the poulterer’s man. As he stood there, waiting his arrival, the knocker caught his eye.
`I shall love it, as long as I live.’ cried Scrooge, patting it with his hand. `I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its face. It’s a wonderful knocker. — Here’s the Turkey. Hallo. Whoop. How are you? Merry Christmas.’
It was a Turkey. He never could have stood upon his legs, that bird. He would have snapped them short off in a minute, like sticks of sealing-wax.
`Why, it’s impossible to carry that to Camden Town,’ said Scrooge. `You must have a cab.’
The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.

So, the turkey that Scrooge purchased — the huge bird that could “never could have stood upon his legs” was a prize bird that hung in the poulterers window to draw people in. It wasn’t the only prize bird — there were two prize birds in the window — a little one and a big one. The prize birds were everyone’s dream, but they couldn’t afford to eat these dreams — on Christmas day these visions of unlimited bounty were still unsold. What people actually served at home for the Christmas dinner were smaller turkeys — very likely the eight to twelve pounds implied by Mrs. Beeton’s recipe.

We live in a time where the prize turkey — the prize everything — is always within reach. The middle-class of our empire can well afford a bird that is so large it could “never could have stood upon his legs,” and, in fact, does eat such a bird.

The humor in this passage from “A Christmas Carol” depends upon the fact that that turkey could walk. Dickens’s readers would have known seen or at least known about turkeys being herded into town for the Christmas season. The humor depends on our knowing the turkey was a normal turkey, which leaves the supernatural impression it makes on Scrooge a clear reflection of his own changes. Scrooge has undergone a rebirth; he is seeing the world with new eyes. It could be said that Scrooge is seeing the world for the first time. He imparts his own happiness, his own delight, his own sense of wonder, and his own new sense that everything is the mostest onto the turkey. It is a turkey seen through the eyes of a man who has just awakened into a world of color. How big was the turkey? Well, how small was the boy? How intelligent? How wise was the face on Scrooge’s doorknocker?

A modern author could not write this passage because the central image, the massive turkey that couldn’t walk, could be read as literally true. And that wouldn’t be funny. If the turkey were literally a gargantual freak — a creature that cannot hold up its own weight — then the core lesson of the story — that a great deal of what we see is a projection of our own spirit, would be lost. If the bird were literally so huge it couldn’t walk, it would mean serving a crippled bird for dinner — a terrible thought in its own right — and an especially awful thought in the context of the Christmas Carol as it would mean serving a crippled bird to a cripple, Tiny Tim.

When recreating a Dickensian Christmas — or an American Thanksgiving — select a turkey that is in the range of twelve pounds. Historically, turkeys have always been big birds. But also, historically, people have generally eaten them when they are, by our standards, comparatively small.

A bird around twelve pounds is still a very large bird — but importantly, it preserves the practice of fantasy that is so important in life. That beautiful turkey, roasted golden brown, seen through generous eyes will be the biggest and most beautiful turkey in the world.

The variety of turkey that was eaten in Dickens’s time was what in America we are now calling a “heritage turkey.” Heritage turkeys are increasingly available during the holiday season in specialty grocery stores, such as Whole Foods.

String Roasting

string roasting a heritage turkey

A turkey roasting from a string.

String roasting is an ancient roasting method. It is a method that enables you to roast meat or poultry in front of the fire even if you don’t have a spit. I own a beautiful old spit that is turned by a clock motor but I rarely use it because I find string roasting to be more satisfying. It roasts meat silently — and perfectly. String roasting is roasting method you can use on a fireplace or campfire. I wrote about string roasting in my book, The Magic of Fire. You may read the string roasting pages in PDF format.

I tell everyone who is willing to listen to me to read Charles Dickens. I am especially insistent in my recommendation of Dickens to anyone I even remotely suspect might have an interest in hearth cooking. Dickens is the master of the literary fire. The fireplace, the fire, embers and ash, are often characters in his books. Dombey and Son ( link) is a Dickens novel that is rich in everything a Dickens novel can be expected to be rich in — extraordinary characters, beautiful writing, deep emotion — but it is also extraordinary for the way in which fire is woven into the story.

The passage from Dombey and Son that follows involves a meal prepared by the comic character Captain Cuttle for Florence on the night of her great distress. The meal that Captain Cuttle makes for her is a meal of love and it is cooked entirely on a small parlor fireplace. The chicken is hanging from a string and is the only representation in fiction that I have found of string roasting.

The Captain had spread the cloth with great care, and was making some egg-sauce in a little saucepan: basting the fowl from time to time during the process with a strong interest, as it turned and browned on a string before the fire. Having propped Florence up with cushions on the sofa, which was already wheeled into a warm corner for her greater comfort, the Captain pursued his cooking with extraordinary skill, making hot gravy in a second little saucepan, boiling a handful of potatoes in a third, never forgetting the egg-sauce in the first, and making an impartial round of basting and stirring with the most useful of spoons every minute. Besides these cares, the Captain had to keep his eye on a diminutive frying-pan, in which some sausages were hissing and bubbling in a most musical manner; and there was never such a radiant cook as the Captain looked, in the height and heat of these functions: it being impossible to say whether his face or his glazed hat shone the brighter.

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son

This passage introduces string roasting — but it also demonstrates the incredible versatility of a small parlor fireplace. With pots and frying pan arrayed on the hearth in front of the fire Captain Cuttle was able to cook a complex meal. I take this particular description of a meal literally because my own hearth technique was developed on a parlor fireplace and when I make an ambitious dinner I know that I must look like Captain Cuttle, busy, and glowing from the heat. But, I digress.

There has been a good four hundred years of cookbook publishing in the English language. String roasting is rarely mentioned. It is a folk method that, for lack of documentation, has been nearly lost.

In the United States, Old Sturbridge Village keeps the tradition alive. In France, the method is kept alive by restaurants that prepare legs of lamb hanging from a string — gigot a la ficelle — and by hunters who roast birds on their country-house fireplaces lined up in a row hanging from strings. It is a method, though, that deserves a new look.

There is a nice description of String Roasting in The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, an extremely influential cookbook written by Hannah Glass in 1747. The book was influential in England as well as in the American colonies, and it remained popular into the early decade of the nineteenth century. The recipe for roasting pigeons in front of the fire by hanging them from an iron bar is typical of her careful writing. The second paragraph is really a note. In it Hannah Glasse explains why string roasting is best for roasting pigeons — and by extension all small birds — it keeps the juices in the body cavity — but she provides alternates anyway, including cutting the birds open and grilling them butter fled — what she refers to as “broiled.”

To roast Pigeons.

Fill them with Parsley clean washed and chopped, Pepper and Salt rolled in Butter; fill the Bellies, tie the Neck-end close, so that nothing can run out, put a Skewer through the Legs, and have a little iron on purpose, with six Hooks to it, on each hook hang a Pigeon, fasten one End of a string to the Chimney, and the other End to the Iron (this is what we call the poor Man’s Spit) flour them, and baste them with Butter, turn them gently for fear of hitting the Bars, they will roast nicely and be full of Gravy: Take Care that you take them off with Care, not to lose any of the Liquor; you may melt a very little Butter and put into the Dish; your Pigeons ought to be quite fresh and not too much done; this is by much the best way of doing them, for then they ill swim in their own Gravy, and a very little melted Butter will do.

When you roast them on a Spit all the Gravy runs out, or if you stuff them and broil them whole you cannot save the Gravy so well, though they will be very good with Parsley and Butter in the Dish, or split and broiled with Pepper and Salt.

Hannah Glasse,
The Art of cookery Made Plain & Easy, 1747

Hannah Glasse specifies string roasting for this dish because she wants the body of the bird to retain all of what she calls its “gravy.” When roasted on a string the bird hangs vertically — legs up — and if the neck-end is tied up tightly, no fluids are lost. The trick to this recipe is how to tie the neck-end tight enough. During the 18th century, and also even now in French cuisine, meat is almost always served with a sauce — with gravy. The object of this dish is to create a light natural sauce while cooking the pigeons. If you don’t get the neck-end completely closed and some of the juices drip out while the birds are turning in front of the fire then you will have to make up a gravy for the birds before service and the dish will not retain its character. This recipe for pigeon is easily adapted to young pigeons — squab — and to quail.

My redaction

Full instructions for building and maintaining cooking fires are found in my book, The Magic of Fire. However, I think you will be able to make this recipe from the instructions provided here along with reference to a PDF of the string roasting pages from my book.

The Fire: Build a hot fire. The air where the birds roast should be so hot that you cannot long hold your hand there. Start the fire about 1 1/2 hours before you plan to cook.

The string roasting system: Read the PDF from my book. For this recipe you will be roasting several birds at the same time. The birds hang from a horizontal rod — Hannah Glasse suggests an iron bar with hooks. While a metal bar with hooks could be commissioned from a blacksmith or assembled out of parts purchased at a hardware store, the simplest approach is to hang the birds from a stick or 1 inch (2.5 cm) dowel. The stick or dowel should be a little longer than your fireplace opening is wide. Before starting the recipe, hang the stick or dowel so that it hangs just under the height of your mantle, and so that strings hanging from it will clear the face of your fireplace by 1 inch (2.5 cm). See instruction 9 (below) for details on how the birds are attached to the horizontal pole.

Ingredients: For each squab you need enough fresh chopped flat-leafed parsley to lightly fill each bird, 1 ounce of unsalted butter rolled in a mix of 50% freshly ground pepper and salt. Additionally, you need melted butter with which to baste bird, and unbleached white flour to dust it with. You will also need needle and thread for sewing up the bird, and string for trussing it.

Note on buying pigeon or squab: This recipe calls for pigeon — but a pigeon young enough for the flesh to be tender when roasted. In the U.S. we call young pigeons squab and so it is squab that you should use for this recipe. The squab should have its neck and head attached when you buy it. In the United States such birds can often be purchased from Chinese markets. It is important that the neck skin only be cut just below the head. Modern slaughtering practice can be exceedingly sloppy. If the neck skin has holes in it close to the shoulder of the bird it will be impossible to seal the neck. You should select your birds carefully. In large Chinese shopping districts you can sometimes select live birds and have them slaughtered and dressed to your specifications. The more convex the eye of the bird you buy the fresher the bird.

Plan on 1/2 bird per person, so three pigeons or squabs will serve six people. For ease of handling plan on spacing the birds about 10 inches (26 cm) apart. Thus in a fireplace that is approximately 3 feet wide (1 meter) you can roast three birds at one time.

1. Remove the birds from the refrigerator. Rinse, and pat dry.

2. In a mortar, pound 1 part whole pepper with 1 part gray sea salt. One ounce of this pepper and salt mix is sufficient for three birds. If you don’t have a gray sea salt just use whatever salt you have.

3. Cut butter into 1 ounce sections, one section per bird. Thus, for three birds you would cut three 1-ounce pieces of butter. I like to make the butter into a ball, but the shape is not necessary. Roll the butter whatever its shape, in the salt/pepper mix so it is thoroughly covered.

4. Wash and coarsely chop fresh flat-leafed sparsely, including the stems. In the time of Hanna Glasse you can assume that sparsely was growing in the kitchen garden. In my experience, flat-leafed parsley grown at home has significantly more flavor than flat-leafed parsley purchased at the market — even farmers market.

5. Lightly stuff each bird with the sparsely and follow with the prepared butter. “Lightly stuffed” means filled but not firmly packed. Sew shut.

6.Use a shear to cut the neck as close to the squab’s body as possible. Do this by pealing the skin back towards the squab’s body until you can get the shears where you need it. Be careful not to damage the neck skin when doing this. Once the neck is cut, remove it. Depending on how the bird was dressed after slaughter some of the neck skin may still be attached to the neck. The heads and necks can be reserved for the stock you make from the carcasses after the squab have been served and eaten.

7. This is the most important step. If you were able to select a carefully-slaughtered bird, then all will go well. My suggestion is to fold over the neck end 1/2 to 1 inch (.75 to2.5 cm), sew shut, then fold it over again, and sew shut a second time. Remember, the whole reason Hanna Glasse specifies string roasting is to keep in the juices. Once the neck end is sewn shut, then sew it flat against the back of the bird. This further insures the juices stay in. Holes in the skin are very difficult to close tight enough to keep butter from leaking out so I emphasize, again, the importance of trying to get carefully slaughtered and dressed birds.

8. Trussing. Place the wings against the sides of the squab so that the wing-tips just touch. Use cotton string to tie the wings in place so they will not move during roasting. Hannah Glasse suggests skewering the legs, and then hanging the bird by a string attached to the skewer. You should probably feel your way to this detail. I skewer the legs together in two places, once in the upper leg, just under the knee, and once just under the squab’s ankle. I always roast my birds with the feet attached. If your squab doesn’t have feet, then you can only skewer the birds in the main portion of the leg. Insert the skewer near the joint, so that if it slips when cooking it won’t be able to move. The bird should hang straight, so once you have run skewers through the legs truss them to the bird. It can be helpful to tie the string or thread by which the bird will be hung to the skewer before trussing (see step 9 below). Trim the skewers so they do not hang more than one or two inches (2.5 to 5 cm) beyond each side of the bird.

9. If you haven’t already tied a thin string — kite string or even a piece of thick cotton thread — to the skewer between the squab’s legs. The thinnest string that will support the weight enables the squab to turn the longest without being given a push. Cut the strings so you have plenty of extra string, thus, if the pole is 3 feet (1 meter) above the hearth, cut the string at 4 feet (130 cm).

10. Brush the birds with melted butter. Rub with salt and dust with unbleached white flour.

11. Once the birds are prepared and the fire is hot, hang the birds from the horizontal pole already in place. (See “String roasting system” above, if you haven’t already.) Hang them over a drip pan, so, first, put a drip pan down on the hearth under where the birds will hang. This will be exactly on the edge that separates the hearth from the firebox. Tie the birds to the pole so they clear the drip pan by about 3 inches (7.5 cm). Space the birds approximately 10 inches (25 cm) apart — far enough so they will not touch each other when you turn them.

10. Hannah Glasse suggests that the birds be “not too much done.” Depending on how the fire is, the squab will be done in 20 to 30 minutes. When done, bring a serving platter to the hearth, cut the strings, and place the birds on the platter. Let them rest ten minutes. Remove the trussing strings and skewers, cut the birds in half, and serve. Each half the bird should be filled with parsley. Following Hannah Glasse’s suggestion, you may wish to pour some melted butter into the serving plate. The juices that run from the bird will mix with the butter, augmenting the gravy that should be served with the squab.

Further notes: Hannah Glasse suggests hanging the string from the “chimney.” In very large kitchen fireplaces it is possible to hang a hook on the inside of the chimney. The fireplace itself can be so large one can stand up inside it. Most of us are cooking on what Hannah Glasse would have considered to be a parlor fireplace. Affluent households did not cook meals on their parlor fireplace. That Captain Cuttle, in the Dombey and Son quote, above, string roasts his chicken and prepares a complete meal on his parlor fireplace is a sign of his relative poverty. For those of us, like Captain Cuttle, who cook on parlor fireplaces, the string will have to be hung outside the chimney.

String roasting is always a fine method for small birds. Quail do well string roasted. Hang the birds by their ankles in groups of three. Both Chinese and Mexican markets are a good source of reasonably priced quail. If there is a choice, buy fresh rather than frozen quail.

Wild Mushrooms

Mixed mushrooms from Lithuania

MUSHROOMS ARE THE GIFT of the forest. They are the summer fruit and the winter meet. On the luckiest of days they spread out between the trees like meadow flowers—yellow, red, russet, white, blue, gray. Whether you are out on one of these days, or on a day in which the mushrooms are hiding, every hunt has the feel of a treasure hunt.

The array of mushrooms you see, above, were ones I collected in an afternoon in Lithuania. Judging by the black trumpets, the Craterellus cornucopioides, I think this must have been in the late summer, but I don’t actually recall. In the upper left are boletes. If you aren’t a mushroom collector, then these are the mushrooms that are often imported from Italy as dried mushrooms. They are in the Boletus edulis group meaning that there are a few mushrooms that are so closely related that people picking them for dinner don’t really care which is which. Moving along the top, the mushrooms with the scaly stalk are are in the Boletaceae family. These are in the genus Leccinum. They often grow when the B. edulis is growing. They tend to be denser and not always as flavorful but should always be picked. Like the B. edulis group they also dry well for use in soups and stocks and stews during the winter. The reddish mushroom with white dots is Amanita muscaria. (This mushroom is widely published as being poisonous, but it isn’t if parboiled. I authored a paper on its edibility along with the mycologist David Arora which you can find at the link, just above.)  In the bottom right is a parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera). It is an unbelievably delicious mushrooms. I fry the cap in butter. Along the bottom a few small Leccinum and then Lactarius species in the bottom left corner. I have been collecting wild mushrooms for years but to be honest I am terrible with names and I often only know the more general rather than the more specific name for what I collect. I am pretty sure these are Lactarius deliciosus and if they aren’t precisely, then close enough. These were favorite mushrooms in ancient Rome and are still very popular around the Mediterranean. In the middle are the black trumpets, a terrific mushroom, and chanterelles.