Monday, December 15, 2014

Feast of the 7 Fishes, How Cod Came to Italy and Baccalà Mantecato (whipped salt cod)



Every year on Christmas Eve, many people in and from Southern Italy celebrate The Feast of the 7 Fishes (also known as The Vigil). Anywhere from 7 to 13 fish dishes are prepared for the event. I have always been amused that the idea of fish, the food of abstinence and piety in the Catholic Church, would be celebrated in abundant abandon on this day. There is nothing abstemious about this feast. Tables groan with fish and shellfish made from traditional and non-traditional recipes –– some have been handed down through generations. Guests generally eat and drink till they are nearly comatose.

One of the most popular components of the banquet is cod, a decidedly un-Italian fish that hails from cold Northern waters. Thing is, it was absorbed into Italian cuisine more than 500 years ago. It feels as Italian as... tomato sauce (it predates tomato’s introduction by many decades) The story is a dramatic one.

Pietro Querini

In 1431, Pietro Querini, of the famous Querini Venetian merchant family, set sail from Crete with 3 ships laden with wine and spices headed for Bruges. A horrible storm devastated his fleet and only a few men survived on life boats that drifted thousands of miles across the North Sea where they landed on an island near Røst in Norway (nearly 3000 miles off course).

The natives were terribly hospitable, restoring the sailors to health sharing their cod and, according to legend, sharing their wives as well. Three months later, the Venetians sailed back home with boats laden with dried cod fish that became popular all over Italy

Council of Trent (1545-63) in Santa Maria Maggiore Church

I read at Dalmatia that the connection between cod and the church was cemented in 1561 with the Council of Trent’s condemnation of excessive meat consumption.

The Council, Pasquale Cati (1588)

Fasting was the solution but the rich didn’t want to give up taste without a fight so chefs were ordered to come up with suitably delicious meat-free recipes and 6000 scholars tasted the results.  The Verdict? Fish was a pious choice for the believers and cod was king. The pillar of Italian cuisine, Bartolomeo Scappi, included cod recipes in his 1570 Opera, having prepared them for Pope Pius IV and V.  Given the history, having cod at Christmas seems only natural.

Baccalà Mantecato can be made with all olive oil or oil and milk.  Both styles have long histories.   The original Norwegian creamy cod was doubtless made with milk as it is unlikely olive oil was plentiful on frozen islands.  Cousins of this dish are made in France with cream and potatoes (the divine Brandade) and in various similar preparations in Portugal and Spain.  It really is a European classic at this point.  I make one version or another of this dish every winter (along with another favorite cod recipe, a Cod Cassoulet with fish sausage and mussels in a heavenly cream).

You too can sacrifice for your spirit on Christmas Eve with rich cod cream, straight from Norway to Venice with a small, olive oil detour –– may all punishments be so rich and delicious.

Don't stop there. Sasha at Global Table Adventure has enlisted a few other bloggers to share 7  Fishes dishes with you.  You will want to start your own Feast of 7 Fishes tradition.  Do stop by and cruise their virtual 7 Feast tables, won't you?

Salt Cod Tomato Sauce with Linguine by Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure.
Sicilian Citrus Shark Filets by Amanda Mouttaki, MarocMama.
Sweet and Savory Eel by Laura Kelley at Silk Road Gourmet


Baccalà Mantecato

1 piece of salt cod, 12-16 oz.
*1 c milk
*¼ c cream, optional
1 bay leaf
1c to 2c olive oil (use a fine quality for this as the taste will be very noticeable)
salt and pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
parsley

fried polenta*

Soak the cod in a few changes of water for 1 or 2 days -- at least overnight.

Remove from the water and rinse. Cut into pieces big enough to fit easily in a saucepan. Put in water to cover and add the bay leaf and ½ c of the milk. Bring to a boil then cover and turn off the heat. Allow to sit, covered, for 20 minutes or so. The fish should be flaky. Reserve some of the cooking water.

Remove the fish and dry a bit. Crumble into processor. Add the oil slowly in a stream with the processor running. Add the garlic.  At this point add the milk/cream or more olive oil, checking for texture. It should appear whipped like heavy cream and smooth. Add extra cooking water if it is too dry and add salt and pepper to taste. It will need salt unless you didn’t soak it for very long. Serve at room temperature with parsley on fried polenta.


*Fried Polenta

For every 1/3 c polenta –– 1 cup water.
I would say every 1/3rd cup makes 3 large rounds or 6 smaller shapes like diamonds.
1 2/3 c should be enough for pound of fish.

Boil water. Add the polenta in a stream while stirring. Stir for 4 minutes at a good high heat. Remove from heat and spread in large oiled sheet pan. Chill for 20 minutes.

Remove and cut into shapes and fry in olive oil.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Flying Scotsman Train and Salmon with Sauce Raifort


‘Flying Scotsman' poster, Leo Marfurt, 1928

The legend of the Flying Scotsman began in 1862. The name was bestowed upon the lightening fast 10am train that ran between London and Edinburgh on the Special Scotch Express line –– in 1928 that became the Flying Scotsman Service.

Flying Scotsman, 1928

With speeds that reached 126mph, it was a grand ride for over 50 years (it was the first train to break 100 mph). As a steam train, it was finally sidelined in 1963. This engine is a legend among train aficionados.

Sean Connery on The Orient Express in From Russia with Love, Guardian

Raise your hand if you’ve always wanted to indulge in the old-world luxury of travel on the Orient Express or the Flying Scotsman trains. Mine is high in the air for this one –– a bucket list entry for sure. When I was sent a copy of a book on the venerable Flying Scotsman, I dove right in.

Flying Scotsman: The Most Famous Steam Locomotive in the World was written by James Baldwin –– a man possessed with the train. Specifically, possessed with the legendary engine called the Flying Scotsman –– a name synonymous with speed and luxury.

Flying Scotsman 1963

Allan Pegler, formerly involved with the British Railway, called the train ‘the lady of his dreams’ and bought the Flying Scotsman engine (rechristened with the original number 4472), taking it all around the country until British Railways put a stop to it in 1968 (it had been the only steam train allowed to use British Rail tracks –– other enthusiasts complained).

The train toured America, ending up in California but met an ignominious end in Stockton due to collapsing finances. There, many of the cars were dismantled for scrap. Some were repurposed for the Victoria Station restaurant at Universal Studios in LA –– the engine languished in storage.

Royal Scotsman 2002

The engine was repatriated to England in the 70’s where it was restored and refurbished.  In an odd way, the story reminded me of an iron version of the story Black Beauty (my favorite book as a child), with the train going through highs and lows through various owners -- snatching fame from the jaws of doom multiple times and still much loved.  After Pegler, it saw 2 more owners before reaching its final home.  All of the owners were crazy about the train –– a very, very expensive mistress (her spa visits cost millions).

The book tells the story of the train from its 1862 beginning to its latest restoration at the Railway museum – it’s quite a tale, sure to delight any railway enthusiast and full of photographs of the old girl from the beginning to various stages of undress during the refurbishing. Who knew so much went into a train!

You can look into the progress of the restoration of the iconic train engine HERE.  It should be ready to roll again in 2015.

View from The Royal Scotsman window, Peter Jordan/Time Life Pictures

Although train enthusiasts think of the Royal Scotsman as an engine, the romantic notion of the Royal Scotsman as a passenger train has been reborn. Once again it ferries passengers in total luxury touring Scotland whilst indulging in fine and fabulous food in gorgeous train cars that look like something out of Murder on the Orient Express. No wonder, the same company owns both trains (in a nod to progress, for better or worse, the Belmond Royal Scotsman uses a diesel engine, not coal-powered steam like the original train).

With only 36 passengers and a 3 to 1 staff ratio, it is indeed a luxury (starting at £2,350 for 2 nights, £4,330 for 4 nights, for food, drinks and tours –– you can book it HERE). I can't think of a better way to see the natural beauties of Scotland than from a train (they even stop at night so you can sleep without the motion of the car on the tracks).


Although most of the cars are 1960 vintage, they have been retrofitted to feel like an Edwardian train (a dining car is 1928 vintage). Kilts and/or and black tie are required for some of the dinners.

The first class restaurant car on the Flying Scotsman, August 1928. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Davis/guardian.co.uk





CLASSIC JOURNEY

Day One Dinner 

Starter 

Tian of Scottish Salmon, Marinated Cucumber, Dill Crème Fraiche 

Main Course 

Supreme Of Guinea Fowl, Chateau Potatoes, Sautéed Wild Mushrooms, 

Tarragon & White Bean Cassoulet 

Dessert 

Strawberry & Vanilla Crème Brûlée, Orange Shortbread 

Day Two Lunch 

Main Course 

Roasted Sweet Pepper & Pesto Risotto, Chargrilled Asparagus, Parmesan Tuile, Red Wine Reduction 
(Can Serve With Meat and Fish Options) 

Dessert 

Milk Chocolate & Pear Cheesecake, Roasted Baby Pears, Raisin & Pecan Compôte 

Day Two Dinner 

Starter 

Beef Consommé, Oxtail Ravioli, Tomato & Barley 
Main Course 

Baked Fillet of North Sea Halibut, Wilted Spinach, Boulingère Potatoes, Crayfish Butter Sauce 

Dessert 

Timbale of Seasonal Berries in a Rose 


Royal Scotsman sample menu

Every review of the Royal Scotsman that I read talks about the food on the train. The website for the train even includes recipes (HERE) for some of the dishes that are served in the dining cars –– things like monkfish and cod casserole, Fillet of beef with horseradish mash and whiskey panna cotta with raspberry sorbet.  These are so evocative of the Scottish spirit, using products the Scots are justly famous for. Local food is used as often as possible. It is brilliant food.  Gazing at the full menu the company sent me, I can say I would be a very happy camper feasting on wheels.

When I first thought about doing a post on the Flying Scotsman, the first thing that came to mind was salmon.  I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to make the magnificent Sauce Raifort, a creamy classic sauce made with horseradish and walnuts and this seemed like a perfect occasion. See how things fall in to place?

one of the Flying Scotsman's 2 dining cars


Escoffier’s original was served to him in the Haute Savoie on a fish poached in white wine. Elizabeth David recommended it for salmon. Walnuts, horseradish, cream and salmon are so right for a Scottish meal, aren’t they?


Elizabeth David’s Sauce Raifort

2 oz shelled walnuts
2 T freshly grated horseradish
1T sugar
pinch salt
¼ pint heavy cream
juice of ½ lemon

Pour boiling water over walnuts and when they are cool enough to handle, rub off the brown skin leaving the white flesh of the nuts. It’s a bit of a pain to do but makes a better sauce. Toss them in a blender with the rest of the ingredients except the lemon and pulse a few times. Add the lemon and let rest covered for a short time to blend the flavors.

Serve with any poached, grilled, sautéed baked or smoked fish –– hot or cold.


Flying Scotsman (made famous by Harry Craddock of the Savoy Bar, London)

1 ½ oz. Scotch
1 ¼ oz. sweet vermouth
1 t bitters
1 t simple syrup

Stir with ice and strain into chilled glasses. Serve with a twist of lemon





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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chicken the Way It's Supposed to Be and Best Lemon Chicken EVER

Albertus Verhoesen (1806-81), Chickens and Park Vase

Ah, this is how we would all like to imagine our food being raised –– beautiful landscapes, fine architecture, happy pecking birds.  The truth is not remotely pretty –– but it doesn't have to be that way.

D'Artagnan chickens eating  5 star diet, Tony Cenicola/The New York Times photo

Last fall, I read a NYTs article that said that D’Artagnan’s Ariane Daguin and some of the top chefs of New York were joining together to embark on a glorious experiment to improve the taste of the humble chicken by raising them differently. “For Ms. Daguin (as for Gallic chefs like Mr. Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud), a distaste for chicken that was “mushy and full of water,” as she put it, was intensified by nostalgic memories of chickens back home that wandered around the yard nibbling on carrot tops, onion skins and old baguettes — and ended up tasting rich and meaty, with an almost chewy texture.” D’Artagnan’s new Green Circle chicken is the result of this effort and they are now available for the general public to enjoy.

Let’s face it, today’s supermarket chicken is a real chemical nightmare full of pesticides and antibiotics, a life lived in an ammoniated atmoshere that is so toxic it makes them blind and burns their lungs as well as being given a diet straight out of a horror film – food that includes animal waste – num. Makes you think twice about cheap chicken, doesn’t it?

Drawing from Opposing Views

Not only that, the chickens are bred so large and fed so much in their 6 weeks of life that they literally can’t move – often dying of heart attacks or thirst because they can’t move to get to the water.


D’Artagnan’s Green Circle Chickens (that are available HERE) are bred from a heritage breed common to Daguin’s home in Gascony. The original group was divided so that each restaurant's scraps were fed to their own chickens so each would have a distinct terroir  from the flavors of their special diet –– there would be a Boulud chicken, a Per Se chicken, etc.  The scraps were dropped off a few times a week.  On top of greens, the chickens also ate stale bread soaked in milk!  The larger flock of non-restaurant supplied chickens are doing pretty well too. They live twice as long as supermarket chickens and are fed beautiful vegetable scraps from farmer’s markets and local farms supplemented by grains and soybeans at an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. Daguin spent $250,000 developing the diet and technique for raising the birds. The result? One heck of a chicken that has eaten well and not spent it’s short life in a putrid atmosphere, sick and suffering horribly. Seems like a win-win to me.

HEINTZ, Joseph the Elder (1564-1609) Still Life of a Roast Chicken

I was lucky enough to try 2 of the birds –– I roasted one and fricasseed the other using my favorite recipes. I concur with the great chefs who swooned when they tasted them last year:

“When I tasted it, I was like, ‘Whoa,’ ” said Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who plans to start incorporating the chickens into his ever-evolving menus. Witnesses say that after his first bite, Mr. Vongerichten was on the verge of tears; Daniel Humm, the chef at Eleven Madison Park, consumed an entire chicken in one sitting.” A group of food critics for the NYTs did a blind test and D’Artagnan’s Green Circle chickens won hands down.

The roast chicken is super easy –– high heat with salt and pepper. The result was sublime -- fragrant juicy meat with a crisp flavorful skin.

For the fricassee I used a recipe that has been on my favorite list since I first tried it in the 80’s – Marcella Hazan’s lemon chicken. I actually looked up the recipe in my ancient More Classic Italian Cooking(1985!) and found that in all these years, the only thing that I had changed was that I left out the flour in the recipe. It’s that simple and that perfect. From time to time I’ve made it with all breast meat, boneless meat and all thigh. The sauce is always amazing.


Fricasseed Lemon Chicken

A 3-4 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
4 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons onion, chopped finely
Salt and pepper to taste
1 c chicken broth (use unsalted since it is much reduced)
1 t flour (optional)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 egg yolks

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces.

Put the butter and chopped onion in the pan and cook at medium until it becomes lightly colored then add the chicken, skin side down. Turn up the heat slightly and brown the chicken pieces.

Remove the breasts from the pan (keep them tented on the side). Add all the broth, adjust heat to cook at a very gentle simmer, and cover the pan with the lid ajar. After 40 minutes, turning the meat periodically, return the breasts and any accumulated juices to the pan and cook for at least 10 minutes more –– until the thighs are tender and breast meat is cooked. If it becomes too dry before the chicken is done, add a bit of water. There should be no liquid left in the pan when the meat is done – just a thick, incredibly flavorful ‘jam’. Remove the pan from the heat.

Put the lemon juice in a bowl and beat in the egg yolks and flour if you are using it. ONLY COMBINE THE LEMON AND YOLK JUST BEFORE YOU ARE READY TO PUT IT IN THE PAN, LEMON WILL ‘COOK’ THE EGG – you want the warm chicken to do that for you – that’s what makes the sauce like velvet. Pour the mixture over the chicken pieces, tossing to coat them well. Transfer the entire contents of the pan to a warm platter, and serve at once. When reheating, do it under low heat so as not to overcook the egg.



Best Roast Chicken based on Thomas Keller recipe

3-4 lb chicken
1 T kosher salt
1-2 t ground pepper
Herb sprigs (thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram) optional


Heat oven to 450º

Dry the chicken. Salt and pepper the inside of the chicken – add the herbs if you are using them. Truss the bird and generously salt and pepper all sides of the bird. Place in a pan that just fits it and cook for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes (depending on the size of your bird). Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

*Mike Rowe has a video about the chickens on Somebody's Got to Do It playing on CNN on 11/12/14 at 9 pm (it may go on YouTube after that).

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Emma Darwin and Her Highly Evolved Sausage-Crusted Chicken Pie



“Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.” Pope Francis

Including the whole of the human race in the “beings that evolve” group would be somewhat optimistic –– some of us seem to be going retrograde in a Dark Ages, World-is-Flat kind of way. You’d think more than 150 years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of the Species evolution wouldn’t be news, would you? Yet the theory of evolution is fomenting controversy in 2014 nearly as dramatically as it was in 1859.

Evolution is happening all around us (you can watch a superb video about it HERE.

EVOLUTION:

The process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth.

OR

The gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

I can’t help but see evolution at work as I read about Charles Darwin’s own family history and explore the zeitgeist of the time. So many elements in Darwin’s background pointed him toward writing his magnum opus ––would it have happened had he not sprung from and been nurtured by his family’s storied intellectual roots? Would he have written On the Origin of the Species if his grandfather hadn’t begun working on the topic so brilliantly 70 years before?

That’s one of the best things about working on this blog. I started reading Emma Darwin’s cookbook, and ended up learning about the remarkable Darwins!

Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), 1770 by Joseph Wright

It’s a history that begins with Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin –– a genius in his own right and a founding member of the Lunar Society –– a full orchestra of geniuses whose ideas and inventions would lead to the birth of the Industrial Age in Britain (there’s a book about them The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World if you want to know more).

Soho House in Birmingham, one of the meeting places for the Lunar Society (1765-1813).

First, to explain the name, Lunar Society –– it’s not all DaVinci Code dark or metaphysical in the least –– it was practical. It seems that the group met on the full moon of every month because the moon lit the dark streets and made it easier to return home after gatherings that lasted into the night. The members proudly called themselves “Lunartics”

Wedgwood Jasperware Pegasus Vase, 1790

Aside from Darwin, other members included Matthew Bolton (who worked with Watt on the steam engine), James Watt (who invented the steam engine), Josiah Wedgwood (potter and close friend of Erasmus Darwin –– it was Wedgwood’s son who convinced Charles Darwin’s father to let him go on the voyage of the Beagle –– Josiah was also the grandfather of Emma Darwin), Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Wright (painter), William Small ( Physician and Thomas Jefferson’s professor) and assorted other important philosophers, scientists, abolitionists, chemists, engineers, inventors, lawyers, printers and poets from Europe and the United States. Although many members could not attend the meetings in person, there was a lively correspondence between them that went on for decades –– new members were recommended by established Lunartics.

The Lunar Society began with Erasmus Darwin.

Erasmus Darwin House Museum, Lichfield and another Lunar Society meeting place

Darwin was born in Nottinghamshire and went to university in St John’s College, Cambridge, then studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School –– the best there was at the time.

In 1757 he moved to Lichfield, Staffordshire and became a successful physician.

“What an amazing polymath and Enlightenment thinker Dr. Erasmus Darwin was. He made major contributions to learning in 75 diverse areas that included:

"1) abolition of slavery 2) ventilation 3) mental illness 4) microscopy 5) warm and cold fronts 6) afforestation 7) water closets 8) moon's origin 9) treatment of dropsy 10) animal camouflage 11) nerve impulses 12) wind-gauges 13) artesian wells 14) windmills 15) artificial insemination 16) nitrogen cycle 17) manures 18) women's emancipation 19) biological adaptation 20) biological pest control 21) origin of life 22) canal locks 23) outer atmosphere 24) carriage design including steam carriages 25) phosphorous 26) photosynthesis 27) centrifugation 28) cloud formation 29) compressed air 30) rotary pumps 31) copying machines 32) secular morality 33) educational reform 34) sewage farms 35) sexual reproduction 36) evolutionary theory 37) speaking machines 38) exercise for children 39) squinting 40) fertilizers 41) limestone deposits 42) formation of coal 43) steam turbines 44) geological stratification 45) hereditary disease 46) insecticides 47) telescopes 48) language 49) temperance 50) timber production.”

Erasmus Darwin, 1794

But it was Erasmus’ Zoonomia, or Laws of Organic Life that toyed with the theory of evolution nearly 70 years before his grandson’s book would see the light of day:

“From thus meditating on the great similarity of the structure of the warm-blooded animals, and at the same time of the great changes they undergo both before and after their nativity; and by considering in how minute a portion of time many of the changes of animals above described have been produced; would it be too bold to imagine that, in the great length of time since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind would it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions and associations, and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down these improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”

In this excerpt you can see that Charles Darwin’s path was basically predestined. It's as if it was in his DNA to continue and then improve upon his grandfather’s ideas (some of Erasmus’ ideas had been proved wrong even though they were tantalizingly close – some of his ideas were decades, if not centuries ahead of their time). It was fortuitous that Charles had no interest in becoming a physician –– his father had insisted on medical school but Charles wasn’t keen on the subject and did poorly. He changed course and schools and followed his interest in botany and biology. That choice changed everything. Once his passion was inflamed, his unquenchable thirst for knowledge led him to develop his theories on survival of the fittest. He shared a lot with his polymorph grandfather. You could say evolution was bred in the bone.

Charles Darwin’s recipe for rice in his own hand, written into his wife’s cookbook

What he didn’t share was the family appetite (I did start this research because of food after all—the charming idea of peering into the kitchen of a famous scientist was too much to resist –– yes, Charles Darwin went into the kitchen and even wrote recipes!). The whole reason we are here is a recipe from Emma Darwin’s recipe book that I wanted to make.

Down House, Darwin family home from 1842 – 1906


Darwin’s study at Down House(English Heritage photo) 

 Darwin Dining Room (English Heritage photo)

 Darwin Dining Room(English Heritage photo)

Mrs. Darwin’s Wedgwood China, Water lily pattern (designed 1806)

Emma Darwin and children

Darwin had a large family and a warm and loving home that his wife Emma took great care to feed well. Although Charles may not have always appreciated her efforts –– there was a reason. Thing is, Charles Darwin had a very troubled stomach – they are still trying to figure out what was troubling him (Crohns disease is a contender).

Erasmus Darwin by Joseph Wright, c1792.

Charles’ grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, as you can see, was a rather large man (as he got older, he got fatter –– his dining table had to be cut out to accommodate his girth).

Robert Darwin (1766-1848), Charles Darwin’s father

Erasmus’ son, 6’2” Robert (Charles’ father), was a giant of a man who would grow to over 336 pounds and still live to be over 80!

Charles Darwin, 1840

Darwin was just under 6’ but normal weight (although after his return from the voyage of the Beagle, he weighed but 149 pounds!).

Erasmus’ grandson Charles did not have the appetite of his forebears because of his condition that he described in a ghastly terms:

“For 25 years extreme spasmodic daily & nightly flatulence: occasional vomiting, on two occasions prolonged during months. Vomiting preceded by shivering, hysterical crying, dying sensations or half-faint. & copious very palid urine. Now vomiting & every paroxys[m] of flatulence preceded by singing of ears, rocking, treading on air & vision. focus & black dots – All fatigues, specially reading, brings on these Head symptoms ?? nervousness when E[mma] leaves me ..."

Emma Wedgwood Darwin 1808-1898

It seems his wife was his rock, his nurse and his loving companion. She catered to his every complaint without complaining. They had a long and loving relationship with 10 children –– he adored her. Remarkable considering the famous ‘note’ that Darwin wrote before proposing to her:

“This is the question

Marry

Children — (if it Please God) — Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, — object to be beloved & played with. — —better than a dog anyhow. — Home, & someone to take care of house — Charms of music & female chit-chat. — These things good for one's health. — Forced to visit & receive relations but terrible loss of time. —

W My God, it is intolerable to think of spending ones whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all. — No, no won't do. — Imagine living all one's day solitarily in smoky dirty London House. — Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music perhaps — Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro' St.

Marry — Marry — Marry Q.E.D.

Not Marry

No children, (no second life), no one to care for one in old age.— What is the use of working 'in' without sympathy from near & dear friends—who are near & dear friends to the old, except relatives

Freedom to go where one liked — choice of Society & little of it. — Conversation of clever men at clubs — Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. — to have the expense & anxiety of children — perhaps quarelling — Loss of time. — cannot read in the Evenings — fatness & idleness — Anxiety & responsibility — less money for books &c — if many children forced to gain one's bread. — (But then it is very bad for ones health to work too much)

Perhaps my wife wont like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool…”

July 1838


Charles and Emma were first cousins

Emma Darwin was a brilliant woman in her own right. Now that the Darwin papers are online, you can actually read her diaries and letters –– they are warm and intelligent.

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795)

Her side of the family wasn’t too shabby either. Her grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, was a brilliant and creative man who was constantly innovating both his pottery and the methods for creating them  –– he was a 4th generation potter but an injury prevented him from doing the work himself.  He was also a passionate abolitionist.  Wedgwood pottery continued to thrive for over 200 years (it recently joined with Waterford in what proved to be a poor alliance meant to keep it afloat –– people don’t buy such things anymore -- a pension scandal nearly lost the Wedgwood Museum's treasures).


What to put on that amazing Wedgwood china?  I found Emma’s cookbook (available online HERE) a few years ago and saved a virtual clipping of a recipe I wanted to try ––  a chicken pot pie that I believe is named Mont Coquins which would mean Mount rascal, brat or bastard –– Bastard Mountain??? Perhaps it’s a private joke? The idea for it is not –– it’s a great recipe. I tried something like it years ago when I enclosed sausage in the lip of a pizza crust… great idea that didn’t work at all (oozed grease, didn’t cook properly.)


This one works. I changed it only a little. You put pie dough in a pan, edge it with sausage and cook, leaving the center empty. Cook the puff-paste top separately to keep it fresh and crisp. When the crust is done and sausage cooked, fill with chicken fricassee. Then pop the top on and serve for a fabulous combination of flavors and texture.

There’s also a book out there Mrs. Charles Darwin's Recipe Book: Revived and Illustrated Ill Edition by Dusha Bateson, Weslie Janeway, written by two fine scholars using original material and interpreting the recipes for today’s cooks. My recipe was not in the book so I had to do a bit of sleuthing to put together the different parts so you can cook it.

I decided to go to Queen Victoria’s chef Francatelli’s cookbook, The Modern Cook  and a popular 19th century cookbook, The Cooks and Housewife’s Manual by Margaret Dod  (that I wrote about HERE) for guidance. From these I came up with some recipes for forcemeat and white fricassee of chicken.

You only need a whir or 2 of a food processor to make the sausage for 'padding' the pie and the chicken comes together quickly.  There was plenty of sausage left over and it's delicious as a breakfast patty or with pasta.  The piecrust can be prepared beforehand and then deployed and the puff pastry purchased. If you don’t have the puff pastry handy, use regular pie crust dough. You can make one large or 4 small – just make sure you have enough dough since it takes a bit more for 4 dishes. I used a smaller pie pan and then used the rest of the crust in a pate dish since my puff pastry remnant was a bit small for a full size pie plate.  I have to say I used my recipe puff pastry that I had made 9 months ago and it rose like mad with a zillion layers -- takes time to make but so worth it.

Here are the original recipes. You can make changes as you see fit. I for one decided the suet to meat ratio a bit high for my sausage (and remembered the oil spill of my pizza experiment) so I cut it down considerably –– Emma's dish makes no mention of additional fat but I only had ham slices and they were fat free so the mixture did need a bit of moistening. The extra sauce is delicious on the side.

From The Modern Cook:



From The Cook and Housewife's Manual:



Mrs Darwins Chicken Pie (Mont Coquins Chicken Pie)

1 piece piecrust dough
1 recipe forcemeat
1 recipe fricassee
1 piece puff pastry (bought or from recipe HERE) or another piece of piecrust dough

Preheat oven to 400º.

Place the piecrust dough in the serving dish.  Press the forcemeat against the sides of the plate.   Put into the oven and cook till sausage is done and crust browned, about 20 minutes.  While that is cooking, put the puff pastry cut in the shape of your dish on a piece of parchment paper and pop in the oven for about 10 minutes with a piece of parchment over the top.  Remove parchment, bake for
10 more minutes then brush gently with egg wash and cook 5 more minutes until golden.

Sop up any excess oil.  Put the fricassee in the pastry with some of the sauce and sprinkle with fresh herbs.  Top with the puff pastry and serve extra sauce separately


Fricassee of Chickens

2 chicken breasts and 2 chicken thighs with bones and skin
OR
2 boneless chicken breasts.
1 T butter
1 carrot, sliced
½ an onion sliced
1 stalk celery
½ c mushrooms or mushroom trimmings
3 cloves
12 peppercorns
½ t mace
3 sprigs of parsley
1 quart broth
2 T butter
3 T flour
4 egg yolks
1 T butter
3 T cream
½ cup sliced mushrooms, sautéed in butter (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1 -2 T madeira to taste (I used Rare Wine Co. Porto Moniz Verdelho Special Reserve-fabulous)
fresh herbs for garnish

Sauté the chicken in butter till lightly browned. Add the vegetables spices and herbs to the pot with the chicken broth and simmer for about ½ an hour for the whole chicken. Only cook the chicken breast for 15 minutes. Remove and keep cooking the vegetables for another 15.

Strain and reserve the chicken. Melt the butter and flour in a pan and cook, slowly, for 3 minutes – do not allow to brown. Slowly, add the broth stirring all the while. Cook for ½ an hour at a good slow boil. Skim and boil until it thickens a bit. Then add the eggs and cream and butter. Heat till thickened always staying below a boil and add the mushrooms. Bone the reserved chicken pieces and toss the torn up meat with any accumulated juices into the sauce OR tear up the chicken breast meat and add with any accumulated juices into the sauce. Salt to taste. You will have a good deal of sauce which is delicious served with the pie.


Ham and Veal Forcemeat

5 oz. ground ham (from slices -- If you have a chunk of ham with fat you could lose the bacon and suet –– make it about 8 oz of ham meat and fat)
2 T beef suet
1 -2 pieces of bacon, chopped (the bacon and suet should be about 3 oz)
1 pound ground veal
2 egg yolks
½ c bread crumbs
2 T milk
¼ t nutmeg
salt and pepper
¼ t allspice
¼ t mace
2 T chopped parsley
3 T grated onion

Soak the bread in milk

Pulse the ham, suet and bacon till ground.

Add the veal and the rest of the ingredients and pulse till combined.

Sauté a small piece to taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Raw sausage in the crust before baking...



Pie Crust

1 c flour
1/4 c whole wheat flour
1 stick butter
3 T lard or suet
¼ t salt

Blend the flours. Chop the stick of butter and the lard into small pieces and add to the flours. Pulse till just blended -- leaving the mixture resembling course meal. Add about ¼ c cold water to the mixture, stirring with a fork until it becomes a rage dough. Take from bowl in handfuls.  Put a handful of flour on parchment and and smear the dough on the flour, stacking the pieces of smeared dough. Press into a round shape about 2½" tall and refrigerate for 1 hour.


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