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Music: Playtime Songs by The Countdown Kids. Released: 2002
One of the great things about having so many cookbooks is tracing the history of cooking techniques and cookery advice. Marketing, food trends and such were popular topics in 18th and 19th century cookbooks. Hannah Glasse, in her classic “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy”, first published in 1747, provided very detailed descriptions of how to market, select and purchase comestibles such as meat, fish, vegetables, etc.
Presumably, her advice was based on her own experiences and the use of her senses: smell, sight, touch, and on occasion, taste. To select mutton, she advises that “If there be rot, the flesh will be palish, and the fat a faint whitish, inclining to yellow…”.
Pork selection requires intense scrutiny: “As for old and new killed, try the legs, hands and springs, by putting your finger under the bone that comes out: for if it be tainted, you will there find it by smelling your finger; beside the skin will be sweaty and clammy when stale, but cool and smooth when new”.
When was the last time you asked a butcher (if you even saw one at your local supermarket), if you could poke your finger into a pork roast?
Or, opened a carton of eggs in the grocery store and licked one? (“Eggs hold the great end to your tongue; if it feels warm, be sure it is new…”) Certainly makes a case for washing your eggs first before cracking them open!
When it comes to actually cooking your finely selected purchases, Hannah advises that to roast a pig, “…take a little sage shred small, a piece of butter as big as a walnut, and a little pepper and salt; put them into the pig and sew it up with coarse thread: then flour it all over very well, and keep flouring it till the eyes drop out…” No mention of what to do with the little orbs once they have fallen into the firepit.
Clearly, cheese selection in Hannah’s time was an art: “…if old cheese be rough-coated, rugged, or dry at top, beware of little worms of mites: if it be over full of holes, moist or spongy, it is subject to maggots”. Not a pretty picture.
Small birds were a mainstay dish in the late 18th century, including Woodcock and Snipe. Hannah advises that “The Woodcock, if fat, is thick and hard; if new, limber-footed: when stale, dry-footed: or if their noses are snotty and their throats muddy and Moorish, they are not good”. Makes sense to me. Few things are worse than a Woodcock with a snotty nose.
Now, as to the variety of comestibles, which people will partake of, although some of us (myself included) might find it a tad squeamish to even consider downing a goblet of fresh pig’s blood (or cow‘s blood), in 1893, Helen Campbell in her book “The Easiest Way in Housekeeping and Cooking”, discusses the popularity of blood-puddings among the Germans. She suggests that “…we are not likely to adopt their use. Fresh blood has, however, been found of wonderful effect for consumptive patients and there are certain slaughter-houses in our large cities where every day pale invalids are to be found waiting for the goblet of almost living food from the veins of the still warm animal. Horrible as it seems, the taste for it is soon acquired ; and certainly the good results warrant at least the effort to acquire it.” (Dracula: your supply may be diminishing!)
There is an answer for just about anything in some early cookbooks. For example, I had never given a lot of thought to the effects of moonlight on fish (have you?) According to Virginia Reed, in her 1896 book, “The Way we Did at Cooking School”, moonlight causes fish to spoil “…on account, of the attraction it has for the phosphorus in the fish”.
I’m not clear on the exact causal relationship here, but the bottom line suggests that you should only fish during daylight hours.
Apparently a live fish will not spoil when the sun is shining. The peril comes after he retires for the night.
After all is said and done, Hannah Glasse might breathe a sigh of relief if she were marketing today. In addition to stringent Federal standards for the sale of fresh and processed foods and “use by” labels, she might even invest in a Stable Micro System instrument to measure the ripeness in fruits, or a Stable Micro System device, which measures the extensibility of pizza cheese. No more sniffing, poking or pulling. Ah, behold the wonders of modern technology (but not nearly as much fun as poking your finger into the pork!)