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.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Piece of Coffee Cake

Who invented coffee cake and when did they do that? I mean  yeast-based coffee cakes, the ones that have a vein of cinnamon and brown sugar in them and scribbles of white icing. When did they first appear? Streusel kuchen (crumb cake), fruit kuchen, stollen, and babka  are among the many traditional European sweet breads eaten at breakfast and they have been around for generations. But it was probably the German crumb cake that gave rise to the modern American coffee cake at the end of the 19th century.

Before that, in the 1870s and 1880s, Coffee Cake was often featured in American cookbooks but meant something else altogether. These early Coffee Cake recipes are for something very close to gingerbread: a coffee-flavored molasses and spice cake. According to The Home Cook Book (1876) you were to use a full pound of raisins and a cup of cold coffee in your cake, and it could be turned into a proper fruit cake with the addition of more candied or dried fruits.

Aunt Babette's Cook Book (1889), by Bertha F. Kramer, has a whole chapter on Coffee Cakes - all sorts of cakes to have with coffee. Included among them are recipes for German and French Coffee Cakes. The The Complete Bread, Cake and Cracker Baker's German Coffee Cake was to be made from leftover bread dough with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top. Here you can see both types of coffee cake recipes in the book.

French Coffee Cake is a sweet yeast bread with candied fruit, baked in a ring. Aunt Babette's standard, plain Coffee Cake, however, is the same coffee-flavored raisin-gingerbread, to which you could add chopped citron and "English currants" if you liked. Her recipe for "Kaffee Kuchen" is closer to modern coffee cake: a sweet yeast bread brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and chopped almonds. In 1881,

This coffee cake recipe from a 1936 newspaper states that it is a "novelty" that "never lets a man down" when it's time for breakfast. Presumably it didn't let women down either. I've boiled down (hah) the recipe below:

Coffee Cake

1 cup sifted flour to which add 1 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, and resift.
Cream 3 Tb butter or shortening and add 2 Tb sugar and an egg, beating which each addition.
Add alternately, to the creamed mixture, the flour mixture and 1/2 cup of milk.
Turn the dough into a 9 inch greased pie pan.
Sprinkle with a mix of 4 Tb sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.
Bake "in a moderate oven" (350 degrees, in other words) for about 20 minutes.
Take out of oven, moisten top with 2 Tb each mixed melted butter and milk. Return to oven for another 15 minutes and "serve piping hot."

Now of course there are hundreds of coffee cake recipes and mixes and you can pretty much make or buy whatever you like best. At our house we have blueberry coffee cake made with applesauce and soy milk on holiday mornings - by which I mean mostly Christmas, because I bake more in the winter and I only haul out the Bundt cake tin around the middle of December.