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.


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.


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


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
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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Diane said...

What an interesting post, so much here I did not know about the Darwins. A table cut to fit his girth is amazing, he must have been huge :-) Your research is always so worthwhile for us readers.

This recipe sounds fantastic, yum yum.
Hope all is well Diane

ArchitectDesign™ said...

As always a FASCINATING post - thank you so much! My father has Crohns disease as did my grandmother....I'm hoping I escape intact! It's awful.

What I've never understood is why evolution and Christianity can't coexist? I mean can't evolution be seen as how God worked? The 'how'?
Just as in politics, I don't know why people can't all just get along and see that we're all on the same side -look past the end of your nose!

Yes - the topics your 'cooking blog' bring up! :-)

La Table De Nana said...

You made that?

You are so creative in your food recipes.. words..creations..research..knowledge..

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh Deana, I am late here; I saw your post come up yesterday but I had just run in from work, then had to do my own COOKING for dinner! I am settled in now this morning, ready for a new day and your post is MOST intriguing.

I love that first quote you begin with. The whole cycle is a conundrum to be marveled out, to be argued over, to explore. Evolution- it's all around us. How anything got started is a huge mystery to me, and I prefer it that way: A MYSTERY.

But your recipes here too are fascinating. FORCEMEAT? I have never heard of this and I need to do some research on this because the idea of how our diets have evolved is an area of study worth the time. And thanks to you and other sources, I have become an official anglophile. I guess I hold duel "citizenship" as a franco/anglophile now! I enjoy the history, the photos, the discussions and of course, the recipes you always share.

And on the note of my blog post, I do agree that kids today are sadly robbed of a most important skill to help THEM EVOLVE: IMAGINATION. It should be natural for us to dream and wonder then invent! But with today's toys and tricks, who needs to think...sad.

Big hugs to you dear Deana! Anita

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I absolutely loved this post Deana! What an interesting and certainly very important family. Erasmus and Robert certainly had appetites. I wonder if the portrait was slimmed down as he looks big but not big enough to cut into a table! And poor Charles and his medical condition. Absolutely fascinating! I always save your posts to read when I have lots of time to devour them :)

Barbara said...

One thing always leads to another, Deana. Reading is the joy of my life and while reading I run often to the computer to look something up. (Much simpler than an encylcopedia as in my younger years!) It's amazing where it leads, isn't it? We never stop learning, which is why I love your posts!

Lunartics made me smile....fascinating to read about Dr. Erasmus Darwin. And I don't think I've ever read anyplace about Charles Darwin's physical problems. The pros and cons re marriage ought to be something everyone does, although it would be kinder to keep it private.
What a marvelous recipe...sort of Emma Darwin's elegant version of a pot pie.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

So interesting that a Wedgwood married into the Darwin family. I always learn something in your posts, Deana :)

What a beautiful (and naturally highly evolved) chicken pie!