Archive for June, 2008

Cauliflower in an Orange Reduction

Posted in seventeenth century with tags , , , , on June 26, 2008 by hoveringdog

I’ve mentioned it before, but late-medieval Europeans—at least, the small minority who could afford it—consumed a ridiculous amount of spices by modern standards. In Spice: The History of a Temptation, Jack Turner describes one early-fifteenth-century aristocratic household that in twelve months “devoured no less than 316 pounds of pepper, 194 pounds of ginger, and various other spices, translating into an average of around two pounds of spices per day.” In late-medieval Europe, such a quantity of spices would also have required an enormous sum of money, and the spice trade was potentially one of the most profitable gigs around. Men would literally risk their lives, fortunes, and reputations in the hope of finding faster, more profitable ways of obtaining spices from abroad and bringing them to market.

But, in a sense, the spice merchants were too clever (or where they couldn’t be clever, merely ruthless) for their own good. As new trade routes were opened up, novel foodstuffs discovered in the Americas and elsewhere, and the rare spice plants of Asia successfully transplanted to more-accessible (and more-exploitable) colonial possessions, the price of spices declined, and the power of spice to stand as a symbol of affluence and luxury waned. Tastes moved on, and the conspicuous use of spice, by the mid-seventeenth century, had become a mark of boorish, old-fashioned affectation. Food begins to look more decidedly modern, with more delicately seasoned dishes, often of few ingredients, and with the flavors of the food appreciated for their own sake.

Cauliflower with Orange Reduction

This dish was inspired by Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook (more background and images from the British Library here), a manual of cookery that still retains quite a few examples of the highly-spiced medieval style, but also a number of recipes for more subtle, delicately flavored dishes. I won’t provide a formal recipe for this, because it’s dead easy. Here’s May’s original for “Buttered Colliflowers”:

Have a skillet of fair water, and when it boils put in the whole tops of the colliflowers, the root being cut away, put some salt to it; and being fine and tender boiled dish it whole in a dish, with carved sippets round about it, and serve it with beaten butter and water, or juyce of orange and lemon.

I adapted May’s original by first melting ¼ cup vegan margarine in a small saucepan, pouring in 400ml of pulp-free orange juice (about 1 ⅔ cups), and letting the whole thing simmer until it was reduced to about a third of its original volume (took me about twenty minutes or so). I removed the sauce from the heat and let it cool while I steamed a head’s worth of cauliflower. The sauce thickened considerably while it cooled. When the cauliflower was done steaming, I just poured on the sauce and served. I added a few orange slices, some fresh herbs for decoration, and plenty of “carved sippets” (i.e. sliced bread) to soak up the tangy orange goodness.


Posted in nineteenth century with tags , , , , , on June 19, 2008 by hoveringdog

So I was looking through a few British and American cookery books from the early years of the modern vegetarian movement, and good lord were their recipes bland. A recipe for pureed lentils in E.E. Kellogg’s Science in the Kitchen, for example, is exactly that: lentils, pureed, without the slightest bit of seasoning (which Mrs. Kellogg deemed too “stimulating,” a reflection of the Kelloggs’ shared terror for the evils of sexual desires they thought stoked by the consumption of anything remotely savory). So I’ve decided to pull instead from my own archives a favorite recipe of my own devising along with a bit of tenuously related history from further afield geographically.

H-Dog's Special Borscht

After a few typically tortured years of experimentation with various diets, the Russian author Tolstoy in the latter decades of the nineteenth century began to advocate for ethical vegetarianism. By chance, Tolstoy’s writings ended up in the hands of one Peter Verigen, the leader of the Doukhobors, a minority religious sect that rejected the organizational church, the inspiration of the Bible, and the divinity of Christ, preaching instead a direct, unmediated relationship with the divine. Continue reading

Sauce Gamelyne

Posted in late medieval with tags , , , , , , , on June 15, 2008 by hoveringdog

I figured if medieval chefs could make their salted, preserved meats palatable with the copious addition of heavily-spiced sauces, I should be able to rescue tonight’s seitan disaster by a similar method. Granted, I long ago anesthetized my taste buds with relentless drunken curry nights, so your experience may well differ. Continue reading

Caramelized Onion Quiche

Posted in twenty-first century with tags , , , , on June 12, 2008 by hoveringdog

Caramelized Onion Quiche

I won’t pretend that the above has anything to do with history, not yet at least. It’s a tester recipe for a forthcoming book by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, using tofu and other ingredients to substitute for the traditional egg. But the quiche itself actually does go back quite a way, to the medieval kingdom of Lotharingia, roughly corresponding to the region of Lorraine in modern-day France (hence, quiche Lorraine). In the English-speaking world, the word quiche itself doesn’t appear in the language until the early twentieth century, but instructions for egg-based tarts appear as early as the fourteenth, in Forme of Cury, a manual of cookery for the court of Richard II. Medieval quiches appear to have been typically more heavily spiced, slightly sweetened, and often mixed with chopped beef marrow or pork. When I feel sufficiently motivated, I might just have to whip up some seitan and make a mock-medieval version…

World Carrot Museum

Posted in miscellanea with tags , , on June 7, 2008 by hoveringdog

Nothing says pretentious hipster foodie...

I love vegetable geeks. While searching around the Internets for information on whether carrot greens are edible, I stumbled upon this site, a virtual museum all about the humble Daucus carota. And yes, it turns out, carrot greens are edible. According to the physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-c. 90), carrot greens were ingested among the Greeks as a remedy for cancerous tumors, but apart from any dubious medicinal benefit, carrot greens aren’t too bad tasting either. They’re slightly bitter but have a flavor reminiscent of parsley and so work well to bulk up your soups, stews, and pottages. And they add a fair amount of vitamins…

Cinnamon and Sugar Parsnips

Posted in long eighteenth century with tags , , , , on June 3, 2008 by hoveringdog

As fascinating as the image may be of portly, bewigged dudes sitting around coffee shops being witty, I confess that as an English major I never found the literature of the “long eighteenth century” particularly interesting. But it did, admittedly, produce some of the most colorful characters of British history: A contemporary and frequent correspondent with Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn was a noted bibliophile, diarist, and gardener, and became in his elder years one of the first in early modern Europe to advocate for a diet of “wholsome Vegatables.” His book Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets, both a compendium of horticultural lore and manual for vegetarian cookery, was written in part as a corrective to the current and unhealthful vogue for red meat (and, not unlikely, for the associated problem of the aforementioned portliness among the gentlemanly class).


I followed here Evelyn’s description of the preparation of parsnips, substituting a non-hydrogenated vegan-friendly margarine for butter, and dusting the finished product with a two-to-one mixture of sugar and cinnamon: “Take the large Roots, boil them, and strip the Skin: Then slit them long-ways into pretty thin Slices; Flower and fry them in fresh Butter till they look brown. The sauce is other sweet Butter melted. Some strow Sugar and Cinamon upon them. Thus you may accomodate other Roots.”