Slow Food

Of the various impressions made on the English man of letters Joseph Addison during a 1702 visit to a Freiburg monastery, one that lingered longest was the delight its inmates took in eating snails. A thick ragout they would prepare into which they would toss these creatures by the dozen. A great wooden box called an escargotiere ensured a reliable supply, its interior lined with greens in which nestled snails often as large as a child’s fist. “I do not remember to have met with any thing of the same in other countries,” Addison wrote in reference to this ingenious contrivance. In these boxes the snails reposed and ate, ate and reposed, until such time as the cook came and shook out a hundred or two of them for supper.

On the supposed uniqueness of the Freiburg monks’escargotieres Addison proves an unreliable source; one could find versions in Brunswick, Silesia, Copenhagen and other locales. Their design varied by region. The people of Barrois used staved in casks covered with netting. The snails of Lorraine endured a somewhat more picturesque imprisonment: a quiet garden corner stuffed with leafy matter and encased in fine trellis-work. The earthier escargotieres of Dijon consisted of trenches dug by vine growers. Into these they dumped leaves, then snails, and then more leaves before topping everything off with few spadefuls of earth. Voralbergers, who combined gastronomy with good husbandry, preferred their snails free-range. Children made a game of searching farmers’ fields for the tasty pests, which they plucked from lettuce leaves and cornstalks in a bid to see how many they could contribute to the town escargotiere, usually a large plot of land encircled by a moat. These summer games yielded a great harvest: The enclosures contained often some 30,000 snails fattened on cabbage leaves and kept damp by twigs of mountain pine and small clumps of moss.

How snail aficionados, or heliciculturists, cooked their snails varied as much as how they kept them. Some stuffed them with forcemeat, while others steamed them with rice or boiled them in the shell before slathering them with drawn butter and sprinkling them with parsley. Whatever the method, simplicity ruled; snails were typically eaten during Lent. Indeed, a dish of these shelled savories traditionally marked the end of Carnival in Canderan, a town near Bordeaux. What the snail growers didn’t sell they shipped off to convents and monasteries. What the monasteries didn’t eat, they gave to the poor. The “hero who carries his house on his back,” as Hesiod called the snail, could expect life to describe an odyssey that, no matter the length, arrived at the same destination — the plate of some hungry soul.

Should you like to dish up some mollusks of your own then try this recipe from The Edible Mollusks of Great Britain and Ireland (1867).

Ragoût of Snails — Guisado de Caracoles.–Soak the snails in salt water, then wash them in two or three waters; take thyme, marjoram, bay-leaves, and salt, and fry them with chopped onions in butter or oil; boil the snails, and take them out of their shells, or, if you prefer it, put them, shells and all, into the butter, and fry them. Let them be served as follows: — Soak a piece of bread in vinegar and water, and pound it in a mortar with a clove of garlic, a little pepper, salt, parsley, and mint, chopped very find; add oil drop by drop, turning the pestle all the time till it is quite a smooth paste, and place it round the dish, putting the snails in the centre.

Fish Pudding for Fearless Flyers

Some time before 1879 the peasants of the remote and mountainous district of Telemarken, Norway, grew tired of using their skies solely for traveling along snow-clogged highways. They set out to transform this dull wintertime routine into a competitive and pleasurable sport by devising wild races and stunts that tested participants’ powers of vaulting. News of these hyperboreal capers reached nearby towns and districts, creating such a stir that soon annual competitions came to be held outside Christiania (present-day Oslo). In his 1905 book, Ski-running, D.M.M. Crichton Somerville describes these meets as “very ludicrious, the hill being neither steep nor long, the competitors riding astride their poles down the track, and only jumping, if jumping it could be called, a few yards.” The decidedly unspectacular nature of these feats spelled the competition’s early demise.

Yet the competition did not die in vain. Norwegians felt themselves bitten by the ski bug. A few years later they once again took to the slopes, this time carrying “long, stout” staffs that imbued these new jumping contests with a comedic element. “Starting from the summit,” Somerville writes, “riding their poles … like witches on broomsticks, checking the speed with frantic efforts, they slid downwards to the dreaded platform or ‛hop.’” At that point they were supposed to leap, but, as Somerville observes, they instead “trickled” to a soft landing. These flaccid performances did little to diminish the competition’s appeal, however. Curious spectators who flocked to Christiania from far and wide were left with the impression that these displays represented veritable wonders of the world.

The trend sparked by this world wonder swept Christiania and environs. Somerville reports that the city’s youth abandoned their favorite haunts – “billiard rooms” and “ill-ventilated cafes” – for the slopes. Even women suffering “terribly from anemia” braved icy forests and their slick, precipitous terrain. Indeed, nary a brumal day passed without the sight of a hillside dotted with leaping and sliding Norwegians, “a race of robust men and healthy women” rescued from the wasting influences of urban life thanks to this salubrious newfangled sport.

Wholesome exertions require wholesome food. Exhausted from a day’s snowy recreation, Norwegians no doubt repaired to their homes for a hearty helping of fish pudding. Should you wish to make this signature Nordic dish part of your après-ski, this recipe, which appears in The Ann Arbor Cookbook
(1899), should leave you feeling stuffed to the gills.

Norwegian Fish Pudding

Scrape raw white fish to a pulp, add salt, pepper and a little grated onion; rub and beat most thoroughly, add milk little by little, mashing (with a potato masher) and finally beating to a froth with a spoon. Add now 1 or 2 eggs well beaten and a little butter, (when completed it should be about as thick as cream). Bake brown in bread tin or steam it thoroughly. Serve it sliced, hot or cold.

Thanksgiving Games to Cure Turkey-Induced Torpor

Guests lounge in armchairs and on the sofa, refusing to stir, perhaps even refusing to speak. If they do speak, their conversations are punctuated by hiccups, burps and farts so frequent as to constitute a fugue of digestive functions. They are all equally afflicted in this manner, regardless of age or species: children bulge with ill-advised fourth helpings of pie; the family spaniel, heavy with table scraps, wobbles to her favorite corner.

Such is the typical after-dinner scene on Thanksgiving day, a holiday during which syrupy yams, buttery beans, starchy russets, toothsome peas, and, of course, tender turkey and stuffing conspire to sap the vigor of the heartiest diner.

After prodigious eating, the suggestion of further exertion seems unwise and risks adding grumblings to those already issuing from swollen stomachs – unwise to any other hostess but Mrs. Florence Kingsland, that is, who combated the queasy lassitude of her visitors by devising games for them to play. Her 1904 book, In and Out Door Games, is a compendium of postprandial diversions sure to cheer the soul, aid digestion and dispel “the lethargy that is apt to follow the feast.” Her games are simple but do require some  preparation. One involves hollowing a pumpkin, wreathing it with leaves, counting its seeds, which have been first “preserved, washed, and dried,” before returning them to their original vessel. Guests are then invited to guess their number in a bid to win an altogether fitting prize, “[a]n Indian made of dried figs and raisins, threaded on wire.”

Should the pumpkinseed game prove too labor-intensive (or culturally insensitive) for you to handle, you can always resort to another guessing game that is decidedly less so. It involves giving each guest a card on which to compile a “list of objects suggestive of a feast.” Once this is completed, these cards are collected, shuffled and distributed among the group, who “write their guesses of what dishes are described.” Below is an example of Kingsland’s own:

1. Soup—Imitation reptile.
2. Fish—‟Collect on delivery.”
3. Roasts—The country of the Crescent, and Adam’s wife—served with a sauce of what undid her.
4. Vegetables—Two kinds of toes ne’er found on man or beast; a mild term for stealing; what your heart does.
5. Puddings—What we say to a nuisance, and exactly perpendicular.
6. Pies—An affected gait, and related to a well.
7. Fruit—A kind of shot. 

If Mrs. Kingsland happens to have stumped you, you can find the answers below. They appear in order and have attached to them recipes gleaned from various period cookbooks.


Florence Kingsland’s Feast-Game Dishes
1) Mock Turtle Soup

Take half a calf’s head, with the skin on; remove the brains. Wash the head in several waters, and let it soak in cold water for an hour. Put it in a saucepan with five quarts of beef stock; let it simmer gently for an hour; remove the scum carefully. Take up the head and let it get cold ; cut the meat from the bones into pieces an inch square, and set them in the ice-box.

Dissolve two ounces of butter in a frying pan; mince a large onion, and fry it in the butter until nicely browned, and add to the stock in which the head was cooked. Return the bones to the stock; simmer the soup, removing the scum until no more rises. Put in a carrot, a turnip, a bunch of parsley, a bouquet of herbs, a dozen outer stalks of celery, two blades of mace and the rind of one lemon, grated; salt and pepper to taste. Boil gently for two hours, and strain the soup through a cloth. Mix three ounces of browned flour with a pint pf the soup; let simmer until it thick.
2) Baked Cod
One and one-half pounds cod, one teacupful bread crumbs, one dessertspoonful chopped parsley, one teaspoonful dripping or butter, one-half teaspoonful salt, a little pepper, one teacupful milk, a little flour, one egg. Wash the cod, take off the fins, or skin it, which is better. A middle cut is preferable, where the opening of the stomach is. Dry the fish well outside and inside. Rub together the bread and dripping; add the parsley, salt and pepper; moisten the whole with the egg beaten up, and fill the opening in the stomach with the mixture. Dust the fish over with a little flour, and put it in a pudding dish; put in one teacupful of milk, and put the butter all over the top in little bits. Put it in the oven to bake about half an hour, basting it with the milk now and again. Fish contains gelatine, fibrine, albumen, and phosphorus. Take out the fish on a hot dish, and pour the sauce round it. This is a most nutritious dish of fish, seeing that all the substance is retained, making it both light and nourishing.
3) Roast Turkey
Dress, clean, stuff, and truss a ten-pound turkey…. Place on its side on rack in a drippingpan, rub entire surface with salt, and spread breast, legs, and wings with one-third cup butter, rubbed until creamy and mixed with one-fourth cup flour. Dredge bottom of pan with flour. Place in a hot oven, and when flour on turkey begins to brown, reduce heat, baste with fat in pan. and add two cups boiling water. Continue basting even fifteen minutes until turkey is cooked, which will require about three hours. For basting, use one-half cup butter melted in one-half cup boiling water, and after this is used baste with fat in pan. During cooking turn turkey frequently, that it may brown evenly. If turkey is browning too fast, cover with buttered paper to prevent burning. Remove string and skewers before serving. Garnish with parsley or celery tips.
Spareribs and Applesauce
Dredge the spare ribs lightly with salt and pepper, after having washed well and wiped dry with a coarse towel. Place them in the baking pan and dredge with butter; place them in the oven and cover with a piece of buttered paper. Allow twenty minutes to every pound in cooking. About twenty minutes before serving take off the buttered paper, dredge again, with melted butter, and let them brown nicely. Serve with a garnish of parsley and radishes.
lf it is desired to stuff the spare ribs, have the ribs cracked, crosswise, the entire length, in two places. Put a stuffing, as for roast pig, in the center, or a stuffing made of mashed potatoes and three hard-boiled eggs, mixed thoroughly. Close the ends of the ribs over this, tie well and roast as for a roast pig. Serve with an Apple Sauce or a Sauce Piquante. 
4) Boiled Potatoes, Baked Tomatoes, Stewed Cabbage and Roasted Beets
5) Sa-go Pudding
Boil a pint and a half of new milk, with four spoonfuls of sago, nicely washed and picked, lemon-peel, cinnamon, and nutmeg; sweeten to taste; then mix four eggs, put a paste round the dish, and bake slowly.
Plum Pudding
Ingredients.—2 lbs. of flour, 1 lb. of currants, 1 lb. of raisins, 1 lb. of suet, 2 eggs, 1 pint of milk, a few slices of candied peel. Mode.—Chop the suet finely; mix it with the flour, currants, stoned raisins, and candied peel; moisten with the well-beaten eggs, and add sufficient milk to make the pudding of the consistency of very thick batter. Put it into a buttered dish, and bake in a good oven from 2 to 2 1/2 hours; turn it out, strew sifted sugar over, and serve. For a very plain pudding, use only half the quantity of fruit, omit the eggs, and substitute milk or water for them. The above ingredients make a large family pudding; for a small one, half the quantity will be found ample; but it must be baked quite lh hour. Time.—Large pudding, 2 to 2 1/2 hours; half the size, 1 hour. Average cost, 2s. 6d. Sufficient for 9 or 10 persons. Seasonable in winter.
4) Mince Pie
Bake 3 large apples, and press them through a sieve to remove skins and cores; grate the rinds from 3 lemons, and add this and the juice of the lemons to the apple pulp; wash, pick over, and bruise in a mortar 1 cup of currants; stone 2 cups of raisins, and cut them in slices. Mix these all well together, chop into them 1 cup of butter (or cocoanut butter), a little salt, 4 cups of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of candied lemon peel, 1 tablespoon of candied citron, and 1 tablespoon of candied orange peel, all well minced, and after stirring well, add 2 tablespoons of orange peel, cover with wax or brandied paper before the jar is closed, and use for pies in two weeks.
Pumpkin Pie
Mix one cup of milk, one cup and a half of dry, steamed and sifted pumpkin, half a cup of sugar, two tablespoons of molasses, one tablespoonful of ginger, one egg slightly beaten, one teaspoonful of cinnamon, and half a teaspoonful of salt. Bake in a pie tin lined with pastry.
5) A bowl of fresh grapes

Parrot Pie for Paranormal Picnics

Only the pause of a train in their sleepy station lured the inhabitants of Woodend, Australia from their homes to consider the faces of passengers en route to larger cities. Not that Woodend lacked attractions; quite the contrary. Standing some 1,850 feet above sea level, the town enjoyed a climate moderate enough to recommend it as an attractive summer destination. Its eucalyptus forests hid within them health resorts and mineral springs. Its rich volcanic soil, the color of chocolate, made it a thriving agricultural district that trafficked in root vegetables, raspberries and currants. Its winds, which blew wholesome and tranquil, cooled those travelers disembarking at Woodend to eat, rest and recover their nerves.

Many also came to see an unusual prehistoric landmark, Hanging Rock. It sits five miles outside of town and rises 400 feet above the surrounding countryside. Narrow paths winding along slanted sides bring intrepid climbers to a flat summit strewn with huge boulders bearing such names as Whale’s Mouth and Alligator’s Jaw.  The summit affords an excellent view of the rich farmsteads stretching toward distant towns, which no doubt explains why picnicking among the megaliths remains a favorite way of beguiling a lazy summer Sunday.

One such outing serves as the subject of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, The Picnic at Hanging Rock. A group of girls from exclusive Appleyard College take a trip to this famous formation on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day, 1900. There they nibble sandwiches and sunbathe. After lunch, four of the girls ask to go exploring. Granted permission, they wander off. A few hours later, only one of them returns. Hysterical and dumbstruck, she cannot recall what befell her friends, who have seemingly vanished without a trace. And so the mystery begins….

To discover what happened to those inquisitive young ladies that bright February afternoon, you’ll have to read Lindsay’s book – which you can enjoy with a slice of parrot pie prepared according to a recipe  in The Book of Household Management (1888). This Australian picnic dish does equally well without its main ingredient.

Australian Parrot Pie

Ingredients.—1 dozen paraqueets, a few slices of beef (underdone, cold
beef is best for this purpose), 4 rashers of bacon, 3 hard-boiled eggs, minced parsley and lemon-peel, pepper and salt, stock, puff-paste.

Mode.—Line a pie-dish with the beef cut into slices, over them place 6 of the paraqueets, dredge with flour, fill up the spaces with the egg cut in slices and scatter over the seasoning. Next put the bacon, cut in small strips, then the beef, seasoning all well. Pour in 6 paraqueets and fill up with stock or water to nearly fill the dish, cover with puff-paste, and bake for 1 hour.

Time.—1 hour.
Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
Seasonable at any time.

Lobster à la Robinson

Kinsmen shipwrecked in the East Indies become means by which to impart the virtues of proper husbandry, self-reliance and thorough knowledge of the natural world – such is the conceit of the pastor Johann David Wyss’s 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson. As much a child of the Enlightenment as a man of the cloth, Wyss presents his subjects’ exploits as a series of lessons in morality, natural history and the physical sciences. An ostrich tamed is transformed into transport, soil into earthen vessels. The heteroclite character of the island – elephants cavort with kangaroos, tapirs with giraffes; coconut palms grow side-by-side with fir trees – perplexes not the resourceful Swiss family; they draw from it nourishment, entertainment and comfort, as well as valuable insight.

Even a contretemps with a cantankerous crustacean proves instructive. While wading in a pool, the third eldest Robinson son Jack, a spirited boy, steps on a lobster, who retaliates in the only way available to it. Caught in its “terrible powerful claws,” Jack suffers a “terrible fright.” The ensuing commotion draws to the scene Jack’s father, who frees his son from the lobster’s grip and brings the offending creature to shore. Jack angrily grips the creature, who, by now exasperated, again retaliates with a sharp blow with its tail. Its reward is to be flung down and crushed with a stone.

Robinson père looks on with anything but approval. “You are acting in a very childish way,” he tells Jack, adding that to “strike an enemy in a revengeful spirit” is unwise policy. His reproof falls on deaf ears, however. Too caught up with his triumph, Jack rushes his shattered adversary home to his mother, who in a spirit of strict domestic economy tosses it into a soup kettle simmering nearby.

The absence of an enemy to vanquish need not mean an empty stock pot. In her delightful volume, The Storybook Cookbook (1967), Carol MacGregor assures her readers that you “don’t need to catch your own lobster, but you can make this delicious seaside soup” using the eminently sensible canned kind.

Lobster Soup

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
A dash of pepper
1 1/2 cups light cream
1/2 cup milk
10 oz. of canned lobster
Red coloring (optional)

1. Put a medium-sized saucepan on the stove and turn the heat on low. Melt the butter in the pan, but do not let it burn.

2. Add the flour, salt, and pepper to the butter. Stir over low heat until you have a paste.

3. Gradually add the cream and milk, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. You may have to turn up the heat a little to thicken the sauce.

4. Open the can of lobster meat and drain off all the liquid. Break the lobster into pieces, and be sure there are no little scales in it. Add it to the cream sauce and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Place a sieve over a medium-sized bowl and pour the lobster bisque into the sieve. With a spoon, press as much of the sauce and lobster meat as you can through the sieve. Discard the remaining lobster meat or feed it to your cat.

6. If you want to, add 2 drops of red coloring to give the soup a nice pink color.

7. Pour the bisque back into the saucepan and reheat it, as it will have cooled off. Serve it hot. Makes 4 servings.

The Mighty and the Offal: Humble Pie

Some carried long bows and forked arrows; others harquebusses, muskets and Lochaber axes. They wore thin-soled shoes, tartan hose, knotted handkerchiefs, sky-blue caps, and garters fashioned from wreathes of straw. Thus equipped and adorned, they, the Irish nobility of Braemar, ventured into the Highland countries to hunt deer.

Numbering fourteen or fifteen hundred, these noble hunters would rise with the sun to consult on the particulars of the day’s enterprise. After deciding the best place to herd their quarry, they dispersed in all directions. Sixteenth-century Londoner John Taylor,  ferryman by trade and chronicler by avocation, relates the details of one such hunting party. The participants were intrepid. No obstacle proves too formidable to overcome. They waded “up to their middles through bournes and rivers” in search of cover. Upon a signal from scouts charged with spotting game, the “tinchel,” or circle of sportsmen, would close in, driving the startled ruminants toward other hunters lying in wait, who greeted them with hundreds of snapping Irish greyhounds and scores of “arrows, dirks and daggers.” In less than two hours’ time “fourscore fat deer were slain” for the noble hunters “to make merry withal.”

The choice cuts of venison went to high-born hunters and were baked into a pastry served on the manor lord’s dais. Seated lower because a few rungs down on the social ladder, the master of the hunt and his fellows received their due in the form of a pie containing the heart, liver and other inward parts of the deer. Known colloquially as “humbles,” “umbels” or “numbles,” these ingredients have since come to be associated with acts of mortification and obeisance. An old saying goes, “Whence, as the haunch and neck were for ‘Lordings’ and the umbles … for the yeoman.”

Victorian writer George Augustus Sala insists, however, that humble pie’s reputation is wholly unearned. “He who first decried Humble Pie, and libelled it as a mean and shabby kind of victuals,” he observes in his 1862 tome The Seven Sons of Mammon, “was very probably some envious one who came late to the feast, and of the succulent pasty found only the pie-dish and some brown flakes of crust remaining.”
If you wish to secure yourself a piece of savory humble pie, the recipe below, which also appears in Sala’s work, should, despite its fragmentary character, spare you any unwarranted culinary humiliation.
Humble Pie
“Take the humbles of a deer,” says the recipe, – you see, there is venison for you to begin with, – and then it goes on to enumerate slices of bacon, condiments, buttered crust, and so forth.