Meeting new fruits

Wench  John Sherrin (1819-1896)- Still lifeJoanna here. I was eating a kiwi fruit the other day. It showed up coyly snuggled next to a breakfast sandwich sold to me by the delightful ladies who run the catering and breakfast bar at the Rockfish Gap Community Center. I found myself trying to remember when I’d first seen kiwi. I was young and they showed up in the grocery store one day and my mother, who was a wild woman in her own way, brought them home and figured out how to serve them. They were just mind-bogglingly exotic to me. Furry fruits. I rather distrusted them.

Wench fruit 2

There are many different kinds of kiwi fruits, not just the ones in US supermarkets

Kiwis apparently came from China and were originally called “Chinese gooseberries” as they spread around the world. The Chinese called them "macaque peaches" but that didn't catch on so much. The fruit was popularized in the US by WWII servicemen who’d met them while stationed in New Zealand. And they seem to come to the store from California, not New Zealand. Life is a rich pageant of happenstance, isn't it?

“Hmmm,” I hmmed to myself while I was feeding much of my breakfast sandwich to the dog Mandy but eating all the kiwis, “What did my Georgian and Regency heroine encounter as new and exciting fruit as she went about her adventures?” Kiwis and avocados hadn’t arrived in her world. Apples and apricots and even dates were known from Roman times and before.

I thought of two possibles.

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The Story of a Fork

Wench fork circa 1600 mother of pearl and beads VandAIf you figger folks in ye olden days had it tougher than we do now, you don’t have to look further than the matter of forks. Oversimplifying like mad, one may say that Europe went from a state of no forks whatsoever, to the slightly more satisfying condition of two-pronged forks, to the multiply pronged jobbies we enjoy today.

Let us go back to the very beginning of fine dining in Europe. Here’s a Medieval feast. White cloth, pretty

Wench bosch wedding at cana crop

click for closeup

dishes, probably wonderful food  and wine or mead or whatever. But the guests were expected to manage the food with their knives and spoons, which they brought with them, and their fingers which they also brought with them and washed from time to time with fingerbowls and clean linen.

See how that table has knives set about here and there. There’s no soup or stew in evidence so folks

Wench 1656 maes crop

I don't know why the knife is pointed at her

haven’t taken their spoons out.

 

Here's another picture. Her dinner is soup and fish and maybe a veggie. She has a spoon, I think, in her bowl and a knife, but she has no fork. It's 1656. 

We are pre-fork.

Of course, there had been forks in the kitchen forever, poking roasts and holding meat down to be carved and fetching beets out of boiling water. Now the fork emerged into the culinary daylight and took a place at the table. It served two purposes there. It secured food so your knife could cut it. And the fork could be used to convey food to the mouth, a job that had heretofore been performed by the sharp point of a knife or the bowl of a spoon. Or, you know, fingers.

I have no doubt folks were nimble at this eating food off a razor-sharp knife tip. However, I’m glad I didn't have to teach a three-year-old the knack. Knives doubtless made food-fights in the nursery an altogether more deadly affair.

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Food, Still Glorious Food!

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

I've been crazily pulling together collections of my Christmas novellas, including a couple that have never been digitized before, so I decided to exercise Wench Prerogative and recycle an older blog with a bit of updating. When I wrote the original of this blog, it was almost Thanksgiving, so it did seem appropriate. 

I’d been ruminating on the differences between being a good cook and a good baker, and Thanksgiving is a good time to talk about that because family feasting is in the air. 

Most of us know the basics of cooking and baking, but mastery of the two skills does represent different personality types. A cook can be more improvisational.  If you lack mushrooms for that interesting chicken dish, you can probably do without, or maybe substitute bacon bits or something quite different. 

Pumpkin pieBakers, however, can’t generally improvise as much, at least not without courting disaster.  You can add chopped walnuts to a cookie recipe and it will probably be just fine, but fail to use have the basic ingredients—flour, eggs, baking powder, et al—and use them in the right order, may give results that aren't pretty, much less edible!  So following a recipe fairly carefully is advisable for baking, especially something complicated.

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The Return of English Saffron

SaffronNicola here. Today I am talking about one of my favourite spices, saffron. I absolutely love saffron flavouring in my food and when I read recently that saffron was being grown in England for the first time in 200 years I was quite excited. English saffron tastes different from imported saffron. It has a honey sweetness and scent that offsets saffron’s slightly bitter under taste. This adds a very distinctive flavour to all sorts of recipes from those involving fish to cakes and even potatoes.

 Saffron is obtained from Crocus Sativus and it was once
a flourishing industry in England. In 1597 Gerard wrote in his Herbal "Saffron groweth plentifully in Cambridgeshire, Saffron Walden and other places thereabouts as corne in the fields". 

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Elizabeth David — food writer extraordinaire

Anne here, still thinking about food in books. Liz+in+kitchen
There's a very funny scene in a P.G.Wodehouse story, Something New, where the young hero, Ashe, has been hired supposedly as valet, by Mr Peters, an overweight, dyspeptic, cigar-smoking, insomniac millionaire. For his health Mr Peters has been placed on a diet of "seeds and grasses" by his fashionable doctor. In order to help his employer get to sleep, Ashe reads to him from Peters' favorite bedtime reading book . . .

Ashe said, "Lie back and make yourself comfortable and I'll read you to sleep first."
"You're a good boy," said Mr Peters drowsily.
"Are you ready? 'Pork Tenderloin Larded. Half pound fat pork—"
A faint smile curved Mr Peters' lips. His eyes were closed and he breathed softly.
Ashe went on in a low voice: "four large pork tenderloins, one cupful cracker crumbs, one cupful boiling water, two tablespoons butter, one teaspoon salt, half teaspoon pepper, one teaspoon poultry seasoning."
A little sigh came from the bed.

The scene made me chuckle, but it also made me think that if I were to be read to from a recipe book, my absolute first choice would be the books of Elizabeth David — not just for the recipes, but for the beautiful prose, the evocative images, the absorbing discussions of various methods of cooking, and the delightful food-related anecdotes she includes in her books.

“To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean.” ― from An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

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