Monday, August 26, 2013

First Look To Your Oven

Duke University Collections
Be-Ro was (and is) a well known brand of self-raising flour in Britain. The firm is still in business; their website is here. Thomas Bell, a Newcastle grocer, sold self raising flour and baking supplies in the late 19th century under the name "Bells Royal" (no apostrophe). Self raising flour was invented by Bristol baker Henry Jones in 1845, but Be-Ro really popularized it in the early 20th century.

After the Edwardian era it was illegal to use "Royal" in product names so Bell renamed his products Be-Ro. It looks like you can now get a reprint of the first Be-Ro cookbook from 1923, too - see here.This promotional cookbook featuring a girl apparently wearing lipstick dates from the 1920s.

The booklet is full of wonderful things and is well worth paging through, virtually (just follow the link under the image). Early on in it, under the heading "Why BE-RO Flour is so Popular" it is stated that it is "the ideal Self-Raising Flour for the slow amateur." Not just amateurs, you understand - the slow ones. I have been baking for some time, but even if you do know your way around a muffin tin, sometimes you have times when the term "slow amateur" fits like a perfectly tailored oven mitt. I know I do. So I read on.

Next we are all encouraged to teach our daughter to make "Scones and Cakes for daddy's tea." I was hoping that after that there would be a section on teaching the girls to make Mummy's cocktails and hot hors d'oeuvres, which she is going to need after a long baking section, but alas, no. I then read the Useful Hints section and was delighted with this one:

First, look to your oven.

I felt enormously clever without even getting up from the kitchen table, I tell you, as I glanced over at the oven. Check that one off the list!

Duke University Collections
Anyway, there are some nice recipes in Be-Ro Home Recipes, all the standard traditional British cakes and scones and pasties and things. Having married a Briton (do people say 'Briton' anymore, by the way, or do you only use the term when referring to, say, 'Arthur, King of the Britons'?) - I always like to check any British cookbooks i come across, to see if there's anything I might want to know about. The Family Cake recipe is one that I will probably copy out and stick in my recipe file box.

Family Cake is a light fruit cake that is very similar to Luncheon Cake in my 1920s Mrs. Beeton's Cookery, or to a Dundee Cake without the almonds. It travels well and really isn't heavy at all, unlike the stereotypical  fruit cake typically dreaded around Christmas. This recipe makes a pretty small cake, so I'd suggest doubling the ingredients. I think it would freeze quite well, too.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Some Hot Tomata Sauce

Mr. Samuel Pickwick is the hero of Dickens' first novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836). He and his three fellow Pickwick Club members travel around the countryside observing things and occasionally getting into trouble (Dickens hadn't quite got the hang of plotting yet, but I still enjoyed it). Anyway, Mr. Pickwick writes a very curious little note to a landlady named Mrs. Bardell, who uses it as evidence in the breach of promise she brings against him. That is, she is suing him for promising to marry her and not doing so. The note containing the so-called promise is read out in court:

"'Dear Mrs. B. - Chops and Tomata sauce, Yours, Pickwick.' Gentlemen, what does this mean? Chops and Tomata sauce. Yours, Pickwick! Chops! Gracious heavens! and Tomata sauce! Gentlemen, is the happiness of a sensitive and confiding female to be trifled away, by such shallow artifices as these?"

All this time I thought that part of the humor of the note was Pickwick misspelling the word tomato. But it seems that I was wrong. Mutton chops and "tomata" sauce was indeed a dish listed in several cookbooks of the 1830s. Simpson's Cookery (1834) uses the spelling "tomata" all throughout the book and includes two recipes for "Cutlets of Mutton with Tomata Sauce."

As The Virtual Linguist points out, tomata was a spelling also used by Jane Austen and that indeed there were several spellings of the word. As I know from hunting for ancestral surnames in the census, spelling conventions were a little lax back in the day.

But why did Pickwick's note meet with such indignation, if not for the spelling? Why did they think it was code for a proposal of marriage? Critic J. Hillis Miller writes that "perhaps this is because tomatoes were thought to be an aphrodisiac" and that "for a man to says 'Chops and Tomata sauce' to a woman is an implicit proposition." I assume that Mr. Miller is being ironic here. But tomatoes were certainly associated with love and sometimes even called "love apples." And the phrase "a hot tomato" was slang for a passionate woman, by the 1920s or the 1950s, depending on which slang dictionary you check.

The recipe above, for "Tomatas, or Love-Apples," is from an 1838 cookbook with the grand title The Modern Process for the Preservation of All Alimentary Substances. Imagine what trouble Mr. Pickwick would have got into if he had sent that in a note to Mrs. Bardell.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Napoleon's Indigestion

We talked about Napoleon's great love of omelets a while back, but he was not only known for his fondness for eggs. He was also a fast eater. A bolter. A gulper. Busy man, on the move, needing to eat and run, and all that. But no one is so busy and important - not even the Emperor of the French - that they must eat as fast as Napoleon Bonaparte did. He demanded food at "all hours" and his favorites included "roast chicken, cutlets and coffee."

It wasn't just annoying for the guests and the servants and Josephine, though. His fast eating led to chronic indigestion which in turn led, it is said, to his losing the battles of Borodino and of Leipzig. One etiquette book from 1873 admonishes gentlemen about bad table manners, which include eating too fast: "Have you not heard that Napoleon lost the battle of Leipsic by eating too fast?...His haste caused indigestion, which made him incapable of attending to the details of the battle."

And on another occasion in Dresden, he had such a stomachache from
stuffing himself with "a shoulder of mutton with onions" that he couldn't focus. Too bad Tums weren't on the market until 1930.

Maybe that is why pictures of Napoleon often show him with his hand on his abdomen.


Anecdotes for the Steamboat and Railroad (1853), p. 125
The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness (1873), p. 62

Follow my blog with Bloglovin