Archive for english

Late Night Gruel

Posted in late medieval, veganmofo 2009 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2009 by hoveringdog

Looks disgusting, I know. But forget oil painting or the printing press, this was the best thing ever to come out of the fifteenth century, perfect for when you’re laboring late on an autumnal evening over some tome of ancient lore:Late Night Gruel

Taylours. Take almondes, and grynde hem raw in a morter, and temper hit with wyne and a litul water; And drawe hit þorgh a streynour into a goode stiff mylke into a potte; and caste thereto reysons of coraunce, and grete reysons, myced Dates, Clowes, Maces, Pouder of Peper, Canel, saffron̄ a good quantite, and salt; and sette hem ouere the fire, And lete al boyle togidre awhile; And alay hit vp with floure of Ryse, or elles grated brede, and cast there-to sugur and salt, And serue hit forth in maner of mortrewes, and caste there-on̄ pouder ginger in þe dissh. (Harleian MS 4016)

The simplified, roughly translated version? Pour some almond milk in a small saucepan, add powdered cloves, mace, pepper, cinnamon, salt, a pinch of saffron. Throw in some raisins and chopped dates, bring the whole thing to a simmer for a bit. Then stir in a little rice flour. You don’t need a lot. I’d start with a tablespoon, maybe two, let it thicken for a minute, and then add more as needed. It turns into a gummy gruel fairly quickly. Stir in some sugar, sprinkle on some powdered ginger. Consume.

The end result is somewhere between hot cereal and a big steamy bowl of spiced cookie dough. It’s great in the morning as an alternative to oatmeal or cream of wheat, or in the evening if your insomnia makes it difficult to tell your dawn from your dusk…


Stewed Seitan and Turnips

Posted in nineteenth century with tags , , , , on August 27, 2008 by hoveringdog

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861, is probably the most famous volume of English cookery, though it is valued more today for its quaint evocations of what was then the disappearing (and now, largely, the disappeared) rural British life than for its recipes themselves.

Stewed Seitan with Turnips

I admit I find her lengthy descriptions of animals entertaining in a perverse way, alternating between clinical descriptions of their biology, antiquated teleological assertions about the “end and design of nature,” and a frankly disturbing disregard for the possibility that animals might have interests and purposes of their own that don’t involve being boiled, roasted, or fricasseed. Reading her description of domestic fowl, however, I had hoped for a moment of conscience:

Brillat Savarin, pre-eminent in gastronomic taste, says that he believes the whole gallinaceous family was made to enrich our larders and furnish our tables; for, from the quail to the turkey, he avers their flesh is a light aliment, full of flavour, and fitted equally well for the invalid as for the man of robust health. The fine flavour, however, which Nature has given to all birds coming under the definition of poultry, man has not been satisfied with, and has used many means–such as keeping them in solitude and darkness, and forcing them to eat–to give them an unnatural state of fatness or fat.

But just when one anticipates a remonstration against fois gras…

This fat, thus artificially produced, is doubtless delicious, and the taste and succulence of the boiled and roasted bird draw forth the praise of the guests around the table. Well-fattened and tender, a fowl is to the cook what the canvas is to the painter; for do we not see it served boiled, roasted, fried, fricasseed, hashed, hot, cold, whole, dismembered, boned, broiled, stuffed, on dishes, and in pies,–always handy and ever acceptable?

Oh, Mrs. Beeton, the things you say. Anyway, I decided her recipes needed some radical veganizing, and decided to have a go at her recipe for “stewed duck and turnips.” I was making this up as I went along, taking liberties with Mrs. Beeton’s original, and likely made the whole thing far more complicated than it needed to be. But here’s what I did, with what are likely unnecessary steps still left in. Feel free to revise as necessary: Continue reading

Mr. Shaw’s Vegetable Goose

Posted in nineteenth century with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2008 by hoveringdog

Famous playwright, vegetarian, and cantankerous old bastard George Bernard Shaw was a critic of a great many things, not the most trivial of which, for my purposes here at least, was his disdain for vegetarian faux-meats, “such weak concessions to the enemy as ‘vegetable rabbit,’ ‘vegetable sausage,’ and the like.”

Mr Shaw's Vegetable Goose

Nonetheless, there was one vegetable beast of which he approved: “‘Vegetable goose’ is, however, to be commended when in season. It is simply a vegetable marrow with sage stuffing and apple sauce.” So, as a particular fan of cantankerous old bastards, I offer my attempt at vegetable goose with a caramelized onion, pecan, and sage stuffing. I made this with two massive zucchinis picked from our garden, but any squash ought to do, though you may need to adjust the cooking time accordingly: Continue reading

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.

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

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.”

Lentil Cakes

Posted in twentieth century with tags , , , , on May 2, 2008 by hoveringdog

Modern vegetarianism as an organized movement, oddly enough, derives historically not from the self-flagellating liberal middle class with whom many associate it today, but rather, from nineteenth-century working-class radicals in England’s industrialized north. The first official vegetarian society (apart from the short-lived and awkwardly named British and Foreign Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food) was founded in 1847 by activists in Salford, England. The movement took off, and by 1914, there was a vegetarian society in nearly every country of Europe. Hell, in 1908, there was even an International Union of Vegetarian Esperantists, who advocated vegetarianism and … Esperanto. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Lentil Cakes

Anyway, back to the lentil cakes: By the early 1900s, and well before the founding of the Vegan Society in 1944, several members of the UK Vegetarian Society had already begun questioning the ethics of egg and dairy consumption. From this discussion was born the first vegan cookbook, although the word vegan itself had not yet been coined: In the year 1910 appeared the cookbook No Animal Food by Rupert H. Wheldon, who, after filling almost half the volume with preachy advocacy for a diet completely free of animal products, finally got around to providing a few recipes. After the fold is my updated version of Wheldon’s original recipe for lentil cakes.

Continue reading