Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Review: Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving

I have over 100 cookbooks. My wife often asks why do I need another cookbook? Don't I have enough recipes? There are few cookbooks that I need at this time for the recipes. Most recipes can be found on the internet and if you know the technique that you want to use then you can find that as well. What is not often found easily are the little serendipitous moments when looking at an array of recipes or at the particular words of an author and get that AHA! moment.

This small cookbook from the Great Food collection at Penguin written by Hannah Glasse provided a few of this interesting moments for me. It was excerpted from a book that was to teach servants to cook. Glasse goes on about how food should be simple and local. Now, with our eyes this seems like a very modern take on food but as we continue to read her introduction, we realize what her intent was. It also begins to show some of the problems that I wrestle with around locavorism.

It seems that our Hannah, being a good Brit, has a problem with the French. The French style required more; more ingredients, more flavours, and more sauces. Her views may be more anti-French than they were a celebration of local cuisine. It was slightly xenophobic and maybe even a bit protectionist. I know that this isn't quite what happens in cities and areas such as Toronto. We have a litany of interesting ingredients from different cultures being grown locally such as Mexican chilies, Chinese and other Asian greens, and island ingredients like callaloo. Still, is the growth of locavorism pushed by a slight conservative bent?

Despite the reason behind the sentiment, I tend to agree that things that are grown closer taste better. This is not because they are inherently better tasting but rather that the ingredients don't spend a long time on trucks, boats, planes or trains. They require less gilding but I am not sure that I agree with the intimation that simple food is better or that all complex preparations should be shunned.

Another interesting note is the sheer amount of different meats available. In today's modern grocery store there is only a few options whereas in her day, there was an amazing array. I have seen the stores starting to carry more options but it still is not anywhere near the many that an ordinary householder in London would get at the turn of two centuries ago. Mass production has lead us to cheaper meat through picking the meats that are the fastest growing that can be tamed. It has lead to a truism of meat all tasting like chicken. Maybe that statement should say truthyism...

Two small moments stopped me dead in my tracks to note the pages and think about the recipe. The first was a common biscuit recipe (p.62:)
Beat up six eggs, with a spoonful of rose-water and a spoonful of sack, then add a pound of fine powdered sugar, and a pound of flour; mix them into the eggs by degrees, add an ounce of coriander-seeds; mix all well together, shape them on white thin paper, or tin moulds, in any form you please. Beat the white of an egg, with a feather rub them over, and dust fine sugar over them. Set them in an oven moderately heated, till they rise and come to a good colour, take them out; and when you have done with the oven, if you have no stove to dry them in, put them in the oven again, and let them stand all night to dry.
I'm thinking that rose-water and coriander seed might make a really good cookie. I am definitely going to get my wife to do this one or maybe even attempt it myself.

The second moment is seeing a recipe for quince wine. I love quince, a relative of the rose, when it turns the lovely pink-red after being boiled in sugar and water. It has a delicate flavour that does remind me of roses and apples. I think that flavour would make an interesting ale. You would have to cook then dry the quince before adding it to the beer. Alternately, maybe there is something in a rosewater beer but I think it would require cumin or something to offset the perfume taste.

Dieu du ciel does a beer based on Hibiscus.... and that is why I have over 100 cookbooks. The good ones send you off into the great blue making all sorts of connections where there were none. I will not be buying this book. The full transcript is available on the internet. I may revisit the link from time to time when I feel as if I am getting bored with my simple cookery.

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