Take the humbles of a buck, and boil them, and chop them as small as meat for minced pies, and put to them as much beef suet, eight apples, half a pound of sugar, a pound and a half of currants, a little salt, some mace, cloves, nutmeg, and a little pepper : then mix them together, and put it into a paste ; add half a pint of sack, the juice of one lemon and orange, close the pie, and when it is baked serve it up.
Keep this one in mind while you’re field-dressing your buck this year, boys and girls! (This one’s for you, Erica: I double-dog dare you to make this pie!) Won’t that make for an unforgettable dish this year at the Thanksgiving table? I admire the determination not to let a sacred scrap of protein go to waste. Yea, verily: we are a slothful and prodigiously wasteful generation!
I bring this to you not in mockery or with an attitude of mock-sophistication encouraging laughter at colonial palates, but rather in the sperrit of thanksgiving for modern kitchens with electricity-powered refrigerators and freezers, and petroleum-fueled trucks to bring us fresh fruits and vegetables from California and Florida all winter long. These marvelous technologies are largely responsible for the fact that we no longer have to rely on salts, pickles, and prodigious amounts of sugar and fat to preserve fresh foods. Here are a few “receipts” for you vegetarians and vegans that suggest the lengths to which eighteenth century women went to preserve fresh vegetables:
To Keep Green Peas Till Christmas, p. 152:
Take fine young peas, shell them, throw them into a cullender to drain, then lay a cloth four or five times double on a table, and spread them on ; dry them very well, and have your bottles ready, fill them and cover them with mutton suet fat ; when it is a little cool, fill the necks almost to the top, cork them, tie a bladder and a lath over them, and set them in a cool dry place.
This pea-preservation is akin to making potted meats (as the English say), or rillettes, rillons, and pâtés, which were invented to preserve meat without refrigeration, and all relied on a thick layer of goose (or other animal) fat to keep it well. I guess all of that “mutton suet fat” on top doesn’t make these peas a vegetarian dish exactly, but the next one surely is, borrowing from salt fish preservation techniques:
To Keep French Beans all the Year, p. 152-53:
Take young beans, gathered on a dry day, have a large stone jar ready, lay a layer of salt at the bottom, and then a layer of beans, then salt and then beans, and so on till the jar is full ; cover them with salt, and tie a coarse cloth over them and a board on that, and then a weight to keep it close from all air ; set them in a dry cellar and when you use them, take some out and cover them close again ; wash them you took out very clean, and let them lie in soft water twenty four hours, shifting the water often ; when you boil them do not put any salt in the water.
I like that final reminder not to salt the beans further. Both of these methods of extending one’s garden bounty into autumn and winter would seem to run the risk of being destroyed by mold, but then again blanching or cooking them like potted meats would make them more vulnerable to other kinds of rot.
Something I’ve observed over the years is that very few professional historians are historical reenactors too. The Society for Creative Anachronism and Civil War battles are things we steer clear of, at least as participants, perhaps because we have no illusions about the glories of the past. I appreciate the work that dedicated reenactors do, and I admire their interest in using their hobbies to educate other people about history, but it’s not how I want to spend my weekends and vacations. Give me refrigeration, vaccination, sterile surgery, central heat, ice cubes, and all of the wonders of the modern world. I like it here. I’m not going back.
16 Responses to “Autumn receipts: An umble pie, and some humble thoughts on food and technology”