Friday, June 25, 2010

Constance Spry’s Supremes de Poisson Parisienne

Constance Spry

I am going to England in July. To Oxford for the Food Symposium and then driving around the Cotswolds and Cornwall soaking up history and all that gorgeous English countryside and FOOD! Planning my trip got me to thinking about all things English and my mind wandered toward that British institution, Constance Spry (1886-1960), whose cookbook had come to my attention a few months ago thanks to the wonderful blog The Aesthete Cooks . Through the wonders of world commerce, I got a copy through Amazon UK in no time at all (the book was £2. It is available in the US for a few dollars more, just click the link!). I discovered that THE CONSTANCE SPRY COOKERY BOOK is considered the bible of English cookbooks (not unlike Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in America). Large (1200 pages) and thorough (2000 recipes), it was written in the 50s when Spry reached the height of her success with her floral work on Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and with her Coronation Chicken (a creamy curried salad) made for luncheon for the visiting dignitaries and devised with Rosemary Hume, her partner in a home sciences and finishing school, Winkfield Place. Although Hume was the more accomplished cook, Spry supplied the star power for the school. She was the Martha Stewart of England for generations.

Flowers of Fennel and Orange Lilies, 1951
© Constance Spry Ltd

Soft Pink Colourings, 1951
© Constance Spry Ltd

Rose Felicité et Perpetue, 1951
© Constance Spry Ltd

Spry was most famous for her flowers and entertaining advice and not as much for food and The Aesthete Cooks does a great job telling the story of her work (as does The Design Museum ) and her influence on flower arranging as she moved arrangements from stodgy to interesting (with clever containers) inspired by 17th c Dutch still lifes. This is how I knew of Spry… as a society florist to clients like The Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Constance Spry

Spry once said “I do feel strongly that flowers should be a means of self-expression for everyone.” Starting with her first, Flower Decoration in 1934, most of Spry’s books were on flower arranging and all were written clearly and concisely advocating the use of common plants (like Kale!!) in designs and full of sensible information like how to make flowers last as well as professional florist’s secrets.

During WWII she advocated growing and eating your own food in Come Into the Garden, Cook. Other later books like Hostess gave tips for everything from preparing food to running a household to entertaining weekend guests but in my mind Spry had always been about flowers.

David Austin's Constance Spry Rose

She was to English flowers what Gertrude Jekyll was to English gardens. She had a rose named after her! That she was connected to a cookbook was a delightful surprise.

With so many recipes to choose from, it was difficult to know where to begin (I will be sharing more of these recipes with you!) but I decided on a lovely fish mousse called Supremes de Poisson Parisienne. It is a delightful first course or luncheon dish with a spectacular sauce somewhere between a veloute and a hollandaise that is all languorous velvet and luxury in the mouth. They can be made in a mold or simply in quenelles (tablespoon shaped dumplings). They are light and elegant and a fitting introduction to Spry’s mid-century world. It is a perfect dish for all those table-scapers out there…pull out the luncheon china, fine napery, polish that fish set and arrange those flowers!

Honestly, although it seems fancy, it can be made in less than an hour! I made the quenelles too and then reheated them with some capellini tossed in the sauce for a lovely leftover.

Supremes de Poisson Parisienne

Serves 4

Fish Creams

½ lb. boneless, skinless white fish (haddock or sole)

2 small egg whites

½ c cream

S + P

Sauce: Supreme

¾ oz butter (1 ¾ T)

½ oz. flour (2 ½ T)

¾ c fish fumet (fish stock with wine*)

¾ c cream

1-2 T lemon juice to taste

Tarragon sprig, optional

2 egg yolks *

1/3 c cream


12 shrimp, sliced in half

4 shitake mushrooms, sliced thinly

1 T butter

1 T lemon juice

Put fish in processor and process until paste, add eggs then cream and salt and pepper.

Put into 4 small molds and drop into slow boiling water to cover about 7- 10 minutes OR make into Quenelles with 2 tablespoons (it makes 8-10). Put into slow boiling water and poach for 5-7 minutes, turning once.

For the sauce: Melt butter and add flour and cook for a few moments. Slowly add the fumet until a sauce is formed. Add the cream and lemon juice to taste. You can leave a sprig of tarragon in the sauce while it sits for flavor or chop the tarragon and sprinkle on top as you serve. Just before serving, warm, add the beaten egg yolk and cream and warm a few moments for a silky yellow sauce (my pasture-raised eggs have insanely yellow yolks).

For the Garnish: Saute the shrimp and mushroom slices in butter, toss with lemon juice and sprinkle on the plates. Pour sauce over all.

* I always save fish bones (white fish like cod, trout etc) and shrimp & lobster shells in the freezer till I get enough to make a pot of fish fumet. That way it’s nearly free. Saute a little onion, garlic, carrot and celery in butter and add the bones and shells, bay leaf and peppercorns then toss in 2 c white wine to around 8 cups of water (the liquid should just cover the bones) and cook for 90 minutes at a slow simmer (if you have a hot plate you can make it outside if you don’t like that fish smell in the kitchen) then strain, pushing on the solids. Let it sit for a while and the solids will settle to the bottom, then package. Put it in 1 c bags and store in the freezer and then you can make lovely fish sauces in a flash!

*the eggs from Grazin Angus Acres in Union Square make the sauce this color... they are fabulous eggs

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The San Francisco Earthquake, John Barrymore & Louie!

John Barrymore as Hamlet. Autographed photo, 1922. Folger Shakespeare Library

John Barrymore was 24 in 1906, and at that point, a relatively obscure member of a famous American theatrical family who had little interest in the family business, even though his breathtaking good looks dropped him squarely on that path. His grandmother, mother and father had all been stars of the American stage in the 19th century.

His sister Ethel was currently the toast of Broadway

His uncle John Drew was knocking them dead on the Great White Way as he had been doing for a quarter century (In case you are wondering, yes, John Barrymore—who was born in 1882, is the grandfather of Drew Barrymore!!). John was supposed to have been staying at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco when the earthquake struck. Instead, he was hiding out in an attempt to elude his cast-mates who were shipping off to Australia to perform a forgettable but successful play that he was starring in.

John Barrymore, 1906

Dressed in evening clothes, he spent the next few days playing at being a reporter, getting cashiered by the militia and nearly being shot for trying to break into a friend’s house to retrieve things before it was bombed for fire break (so many beautiful undamaged houses were destroyed to stop the progress of the fire). He wrote to his sister Ethel telling her of his adventures, hoping to sell the letter for $100 to a NY press hungry for first hand news from the disaster. When his sister read John’s letter to John Drew, she asked if he believed any of it. Drew replied “I believe every word of it. It took a convulsion of nature to get him up and the US Army to make him go to work!” He admitted years later he had indeed made up most of his stories from the quake, but by the time of the admission he was very famous and his embellishment of the truth was thought to be charming... he was a rogue after all!

The St Francis was the place to be during the quake. It survived the shocks and was not seriously damaged till fires came through.

Until then it stayed open and served what it could to anyone who came through its doors for free until the food ran out (including Enrico Caruso with a fur coat over his pajamas, smoking a cigarette and muttering, " 'Ell of a place! 'Ell of a place!" and reported survivor and famous photographer, Arnold Genthe). No wonder, the kitchen was run by the indomitable chef, Victor Hirtsler, who served food himself during a labor strike in 1901 so his guests wouldn’t be disappointed. Surely an earthquake wouldn’t stop him… it took a conflagration for that.

Call me crazy, but for some reason I always conflate Crab Louie with the 1906 SF earthquake (did Jeanette McDonald have it in the movie, San Francisco?). It seems I am not too far off with the notion since turn of the century San Francisco was one the first places to make a Louie or Louis. Hirtsler’s ’The 1910 Hotel St. Francis Cookbook has a recipe for it within its pages. It would be the earliest written recipe for it. The 1919 version of the book has a much spicier version than I was used to:

What's Cooking in America tells us also in the running were San Francisco’s Solari’s Restaurant and the Olympic Club in Seattle . James Beard said the best one he ever had was in Portland at The Bohemian Restaurant before WWI. Solari’s recipe was published in Clarence Edword’s 1914 “Bohemian San Francisco and ran like this:

Solari's Crab Louis

Take meat of crab in large pieces and dress with the following: One-third mayonnaise, two-thirds chili sauce, small quantity chopped English chow-chow [spicy vegetable pickles], a little Worcestershire sauce and minced tarragon, shallots and sweet parsley. Season with salt and pepper and keep on ice.

I was going to make the louis with crab but got shrimp at the last minute. It is all about the sauce, after all, which is sort of a thousand island dressing. It is so good when made with Miss Jennie’s silken mayonnaise. Make it the new way or with all that lovely chili sauce. I just couldn't help myself and made the Solari version with crab.... delicious and sweet!

Shrimp Louie adapted from Epicurious

1 cup mayonnaise (store-bought or Jennie's amazing version below!!!)
1/4 cup chili sauce or ¼ cup ketchup + 1T chili powder
1 T lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 T grated fresh horseradish, or 1 teaspoon bottled horseradish
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 lb jumbo lump crabmeat or cooked, shelled shrimp
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Hard-boiled egg
Whisk together mayonnaise, chili sauce and chili pepper. Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and salt and pepper to taste.
Pick over crabmeat (or shrimp) then toss with dressing. Divide among 4 plates lined with lettuce. Garnish with capers, tomato, hard-boiled egg, scallions and shallots.

Jennie Benedict’s Mayonnaise

Yolk of 1 hard-boiled egg
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup olive oil
1 t. mustard
yolk of raw egg, well beaten
1 T vinegar
1-2 T lemon juice to taste
white of one egg beaten stiffly
Rub yolk through a sieve. Using a food processor, add mustard salt and pepper and raw yolk. Add the vinegar and then the oil slowly until a thick mayonnaise is formed and then fold in the egg white. Add lemon juice to taste.

Come and visit my article on Blog Critics about bloggers and with a great chocolate cake! Thanks to Lazaro for telling all his readers about it!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Punch Romaine on the Titanic

"Orders had been issued Sunday to make the dinner the finest ever served on a ship, regardless of expense, and the orders were carried out. I believe it was soon after 6:30 when the passengers strolled in. Mr. Ismay sat alone at a table a few feet away from that of Mr. and Mrs. Astor. He was in a corner. The Astor table was to the right and the captain's table was in the center. At Mr. Astor's table Dr. O'Loughlin, the ship's surgeon, was seated … At one time Dr. O'Loughlin stood up, and, raising a glass of champagne, cried, "Let us drink to the mighty Titanic.” So reported Thomas Whitely, asst. steward, Sunday, April 21 1912 from his hospital bed in NYC according to the Encyclopedia Titanica

Sends chills, doesn’t it? They ate like locusts (that consume their own weight daily) on the Titanic if the provisions list is any indicator. David Smith says the quantity of provisions on the Titanic were, well, Titanic! There were 75,000 pounds of fresh meat and 11,000 pounds of fish and 40 tons of potatoes. There was a ton of coffee, and enough flour for 60,000 loaves of bread! How about 16,000 lemons, 35,000 fresh eggs and 10,000 pounds of sugar (although with only 1500 bottles of wine… I think they were short in that department!)? All of this for only 3500 passengers and crew for a 5 day trip!

Did you ever wonder what they ate that last night (completely unaware of a really big iceberg looming ahead with an ocean liner on its dance card and 2 left feet?)? A great book Last Dinner On the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner, by Rich Archbold gives some wonderful details of the ship and menus.

Although I’ve discovered that dishes from the 19th century are often like another language that needs translation, the 1912 Titanic menu with its 10 courses is pretty recognizable to anyone with a passing knowledge of classic cuisine (I write more about that HERE).

The one thing that caught my eye was Punch Romaine. The wonderful blogger, Hobson’s Choice had mentioned this punch a few months ago and piqued my interest. I was curious that it sat in the middle of the menu as the 6th course. It seems no less than Escoffier worked with this class of punches as alcoholic palate cleansers with citrus, rum and champagne topped with a meringue froth. They are amazingly good and so refreshing. I can see that you might want to have something like this after salmon mousse, Filet Mignon, Lamb, Duck, and Sirloin of beef. You might want a break before the Squab and Pate de Foie Gras!!

There are a million recipes for it. Hobson’s Choice gave a few sources starting with the legendary THE BARTENDER'S GUIDE by Jerry Thomas published in 1862.

I found a wonderful book by William Terrington called Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks
from 1869.

There I hit the Comstock Lode of “Ponche a la Romaine”. So many versions! I got some insight into things like lemon water ice thanks to my old friend Charles Ranhofer’s Epicurean (but had to work to find what the h-ll a syrup gage was—as it turns out, a saccharometer) and made some changes including a larger sparkling wine to lemon water ice ratio (big surprise!), taking my cue from Hobson’s Choice and Jerry Thomas and noting that quite a few recipes said that it was to be drinkable and not spoonable. I thought that the ginger addition was genius and happened to have some of Aftelier’s Ginger essential oil which is absolutely brilliant stuff. I decided to go with the Italian meringue that many recipes used only because it is more stable and being cooked, safer on a hot day than meringue. I also decided to do single servings so things stayed fresh and the meringue didn’t break down in the punch and the drink kept its layers. As for the sparkling wine, I discovered this fabulous wine called Donati Malvasia (that I got from the charming Appellation in NYC after tasting it at Gramercy Tavern). It is dry and made from the ancient malvasia grape used in Madeira. It can stand up to the sweetness of the lemon water ice and meringue. I give you the authentic 1869 recipe below if you want to make it old school—more a melty sorbet than a boozy cocktail.

My friends at 12 Bottle Bar have given a great history of this drink and an alternate recipe.... stop on by to see what they have done.

My recipe based on Brunning’s version of the drink in Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks
You can make this in 15 minutes if you buy lemon sorbet!

Punch a la Romaine (enough to use 2 bottles of champagne easily for 12- 16)

1 recipe for lemon water ice (or, if you are in a hurry, buy a good lemon sorbet and add the rum and ginger to it)
1 recipe for meringue (Italian or plain)
2 bottles Sparkling wine (I recommend Donati Malvasia 2008—otherwise a very dry sparkling wine)

Lemon Water Ice

2 1/2 c sugar (organic is best)
2 cups water
juice of 6 lemons (at least ½ c)
peel of 2 lemons.
¼ to 1/3 c dark rum (or to taste)

6 drops Aftelier ginger essential oil (if you must, you could use a quarter-sized piece of ginger grated with the lemon peel and then strain it out but it wouldn’t be as good)
Make a simple syrup… heat the sugar and water and add lemon and peel (and ginger if you are doing it that way). Let cool for 2 hours, strain and add ginger essential oil and freeze. Add the rum and stir just before serving.

Charles Ranhofer’s The Epicurean, 1894

Italian Meringue
3 egg whites, beaten
2/3 + ¼ c sugar
¼ c water
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

Bring sugar and water slowly to the boil… stop cooking when it reaches 237º
Beat the egg whites to firm with cream of tartar added at the end. Add this syrup slowly with the mixer running and then beat a few minutes longer till cooled, refrigerate till cold.
Just before serving, add some of the sparkling wine, lemon ice mixture (at a proportion of 1 lemon ice/wine (that is 1 lemon-6 wine) to 3 meringue—enough to give it the texture of soft whipped cream. I would say 3 T meringue is enough per glass


Uncooked Meringue
4 egg whites
½c + 2 T sifted powdered sugar
¼ t. cream of tartar
Whip the whites and add the sifted sugar slowly until a good stiff meringue is formed. Add a little of the wine mixture to flavor it but it will not take as much… less than 1-4.

To Make the Drink

Add a 1 Tb of the lemon ice in the bottom of the glass. Pour sparkling wine over it (around 1/3 c), then top with a dollop of meringue. This way there are 3 layers of flavor.
OR, mix it all together in a punch bowl and serve!

Just for the heck of it… here is some of the first class china on the Titanic, lovely, isn’t it? The glass and plate that I used are of the same vintage, around 1910.

Photos from Marconiograph

Thanks for hosting Foodie Friday Gollum!

And thanks to everyone for doing the Google ad click... less than a month to go!

Come see my article on blog critics about blogging and a great chocolate cake!!!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Chocolate Cream Pie

Sometimes you just gotta have it. You lust after it, dream about it. Chocolate Cream Pie
From reading my blog you may think all I do is lay around on silk cushions eating hummingbird tongues and drinking ancient wines out of silver chalices. Not true (only do that sometimes, friends)! I will admit, as the world grows more homogenized I crave the unusual and individual and love looking backward to reclaim original dishes from all that has come before. This works for everything from Roman banquet food to … chocolate cream pie! It was not always a diner food made of plastic and corn syrup. In my mind it is a great thing rich with chocolate and good cream. A luxury… a cool rich chocolate treat when prepared correctly.
The pie probably had its roots in the depression and was served at the Hershey Hotel in Hershey PA., the town and the Hotel that chocolate built… or at least that the founder of Hershey built. Milton Hershey was a community spirited man who built quality affordable housing for his workers who loved him. This is my idea of a great industrialist and a lovely man.
He and his wife had wanted to build a hotel for many years but his initial plan to duplicate the Heliopolis Hotel in Cairo was prohibitively expensive at $5 million (and rather mad for a tiny company town like Hershey PA) The death of his beloved wife Kitty in 1915 put a stop to the plan.
However, when he saw so many out of work in the Depression (even though he kept his factories going and his workers paid) he decided to build a less ambitious hotel (based on one he had seen with his wife on the Mediterranean) for his community in 1932, putting 600 men to work and taking advantage of depression prices on materials. The 2 million dollar hotel opened in 1933. The Hotel still thrives, Hershey PA is still the “Sweetest Place on Earth” (where else can you meet at the corner of Chocolate Avenue and Cocoa Avenue beneath Hershey’s kiss shaped streetlights?) and the Hershey Hotel still serves Chocolate Cream Pie!

Chocolate Cream Pie


1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs or chocolate wafer crumbs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Stir together crumbs, butter, and sugar and press on bottom and up side of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake about 15 minutes, and cool on a rack.

Filling (Based on a King Arthur Recipe)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (sorry Mr Hershey, I used 70% Callebaut)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Drops Jasmine Absolute from Aftelier (optional)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, divided
2 cups milk

1) Place the chopped chocolate, butter, and vanilla extract in a 2-quart mixing bowl; set aside.
2) In a medium saucepan away from heat, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and salt. Whisk in 1/4 cup of cold heavy cream until the mixture is smooth, with no lumps. Repeat with another 1/4 cup of the cream. Whisk in the egg yolks
3) Place the saucepan over medium heat, and gradually whisk in the remaining cream and milk.
4) Bring to a boil, whisking constantly as the mixture thickens; boil for 1 minute
5) Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture over the reserved chocolate and butter.
6) Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
7) Pass the filling through a strainer into a bowl to remove any lumps.
8) Place plastic wrap or buttered parchment paper on the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and chill thoroughly


1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whip the cream till it begins to form soft peaks, Sift the powered sugar over the cream and add the vanilla and whip to blend

1) Place the heavy cream in a chilled mixing bowl.
2) Whip until the whisk begins to leave tracks in the bowl.
3) Add the sugar and vanilla and whip until the cream holds a medium peak.

Transfer the cooled filling to the cooled crust. Level the top with the back of a spoon or an offset spatula. Let it chill thoroughly.
Serve with the whipped cream on the top of the pie or top individual slices with the cream.

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