Monday, February 28, 2005

Chocolat Chaud

18thC Rouen Chocolatière, dollops of chocolat and molenillo

Analysis of residue from a ceramic vessel similar to a "teapot" suggests that the Maya, and their ancestors, may have been drinking chocolate as far back as 2,600 years ago, pushing back the earliest evidence of cacao use more than 1,000 years.

It was an art to make a good Spanish chocolate because it had many spices, much too much for the refined palate of the French. One even recognizes a touch of hot red pepper and cinnamon, and the cocoa paste required multiple ingredients and a delicate proportioning to arrive at harmony. For 100 roasted, crushed and degreased cocoa grains, one needed 12 crushed almonds and 12 hazel nuts, a half crushed sugar loaf, a spoonful of honey, anise grains and two grains pepper of Mexico or grains of Chile, six pinks of Alexandria, a pod of campêche and two drachmas of cinnamon.

Diderot's Encyclopédie gives the following recipe:
cocoa, powdered sugar, cinnamon, one egg, water or milk, one drop of distilled orange flower water and 2 drops of ambergris. "There had been a lot of discussions and lots of articles published on the virtues and dangers of the use of chocolate, depending on what was added to it. Some almonds could be added to the hazelnuts. There had been a big debate (religious) to decide if chocolate was "food" or "liquid". Because liquids could be had on Catholic Fast Days. The rumor has it that Louis XV himself drank chocolate only on Fast Days." FandIWomen

Sparrow-billed spouted pot with molenillo

Chocolate seems to have been a staple in the 18thC preacher, Jonathan Edwards, household, as it was in many American colonial homes. "In the 18th century, one of the larger general merchandise firms in Philadelphia was Baynton, Wharton and Morgan. When the F&I war ended and the old Northwest territory became British property, the company seized on the opportunity to open a new market. They sent the junior partner, George Morgan, to the small village Kaskaskia, on the east bank of the Mississippi river in what is now Illinois to set up an outlying store. All the goods on my list were ordered for that store, not for any particular number of individuals. Still, even for a store, the amounts are impressive, considering the location. In the spring he ordered: 6000 Wt Loaf Sugar, . . . and 2000 pounds Chocolate"--quite an order for so remote a village.

A recipe I use for making chocolate tablets is: 200 grams pure good unsweetened chocolate (30 grams = 1 ounce), 4 medium size cinnamon sticks (about 2" long), 1 teaspoon anise seeds, 2 tablespoons almonds or hazelnuts ground, and 1 vanilla bean split and seeds scraped to be ground with spices. Melt all ingredients together in bain marie and pour out as dollops on paper to make tablets about 1 1/2 tablespoons each.

To make a chocolate drink, grate one tablet into your chocolatière and add 6 ounces of water per person. Froth with your molenillo or moulinet. Add sugar to taste. Recipe courtesy Hélène Gousse. You could experiment with cayenne pepper, orange flower water or ambergris and different types of sugars. Aztecs used corn flour and eggs, too.

French chocolat frothed by molenillo

Porcelaine chocolate pots are being reproduced today and in-depth information is also available.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Life on the Margins

sherds from a box under the bed
Walthall p. 252

A treasure box under a young boy's bed reveals broken sherds of faience, usually a type of eating plate found only in established areas, but found in this case, at 21-Mo-20, a French outpost in the wilds of Minnesota, and the possible location of the Fort Duquesne of Jospeh Marin. Broken personal accoutrements here highlight the type of life lived on the margins fully two and one half centuries ago--a life with faience dishes and glassware lugged deep into the bush and used for only a season and a half during the winter of 1752 and part of the following year. Not only do the faience sherds speak to the fineness of the table, but the design on one plate illustrates typical colonial French housing.
sherds natched up after professional archaeological dig
Walthall p.258

Today, we laugh at the native porters in safari flicks lugging trunks deep into the bush so the commandant can have his tea at a table covered by white linen using silver and porcelaine dishes. But evidently our ancestors liked to keep up appearances, even in the bush, on the margins between Native cultural overlap in American fur trading areas.

Sherds recovered from Fortress Louisbourg in Nova Scotia and Fort Massac on the Ohio in the Pays Illinois show evidence of mending using channels drilled and filled with lead. It would seem that pretty dishes were so treasured that when broken were mended, whether to sit on a sideboard or for actual use.
18th Century Faience from Fortress Louisbourg
Faience recovered from Fortress Louisbourg excavations

We appreciate that special plate to highlight our latest culinary creation--but that spot of color used on the wall or nestled among the rails of the sideboard brings pleasure, too.

1991 French Colonial Achaeology: The Illinois country and the western Great Lakes, edited by John A. Walthall. Springfield, IL

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Close Your Eyes and Take a Bite!

This is for Jennifer's Fond Food Memories .

One of the church elders' inlaws had come to town and I wanted to have them all over for dinner, as I also knew them. This particular elder had raved about my cooking from the pulpit and I was out to impress. My favorite food at the time was Hungarian Goulash served on a bed of sauerkraut and potatoes--I could eat it seven days a week and cold for breakfast. My teenage children liked it too, but they are not good judges, because unlike most children today, my kids would eat all kinds of vegetables and were always willing to try my new cooking experiments. They usually found that when I told them to "close your eyes and take a bite" they were in for a taste treat that most mothers didn't even dare to proffer.

My recipe for goulash takes about 6 hours to prepare, and may indeed look a little strange if ethnic food is not one's choice, but I was pleased with the taste and aroma and proudly bore the tureens to the table. When the elder removed the lids from the goulash and the kraut and took a deep breath and said, "Carolyn, I thought you always cooked something good when you had company," I was crushed. I told him, "Fred, you know I would never serve a guest something that was not scrumptious--close your eyes and take a bite--I promise you won't be disappointed." He steeled himself to take a tiny bite of each onto his plate and then into his mouth--and he did close his eyes! And he wasn't disappointed, he even told his teenage kids that they had to eat some. But I learned a valuable lesson--when you're out to impress--it has to look as good as it tastes!

Hungarian Goulash with Sauerkraut from McCall's Cooking School Magazine

For the Goulash:
3 lb boneless beef chuck cut into 1 1/2" cubes
1 lb onions sliced
1/4 cup salad oil
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 can (10 1/2 oz) condensed beef broth, undiluted

For the Sauerkraut:
2 cans (14-oz size) or 1 quart bag sauerkraut
1 large potato
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Boiling water

For the Finish:
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup sour cream

In a large skillet, heat oil over high heat and sauté beef cubes until brown on all sides. Remove to a Dutch oven as it browns. It will take 30 minutes or so. Add sliced onions to drippings, cooking and stirring until golden, about 10 minutes. Spoon over beef. Add paprika, salt and pepper. Stir 3/4 cup beef broth into skillet to deglaze pan and bring to boiling. Scrape all into Dutch oven over meat and onions. Place into 300ºF oven and cook, covered about 4-5 hours. When it is done, it will look brown and soft, and the onions will be melted away. Just before beef is done, prepare sauerkraut.

Drain sauerkraut well. Pare potato or not, and grate enough to measure 3/4 cup. In hot butter in a large skillet, sauté chopped onion until golden. Add sauerkraut, potato, caraway seed, brown sugar and 2 cups boiling water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

To finish, stir remaining beef broth into flour until smooth and then stir into beef goulash, stirring constantly. Simmer on the stove, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Just before serving, slowly stir 1/2 cup hot gravy into sour cream in a small bowl. Mix and add slowly back to beef mixture. Stir well to blend, reheat, but do not boil. Serve goulash over sauerkraut. Makes 8 servings.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


- Telling Time

February 1 marks a cross-quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox and is celebrated both in religious and cultural ways.

In France and Canada February 2 is known as Chandeleur--Candlemas, and Navettes in the shape of boats that brought Mary Magdalene to France are eaten. Another food used to celebrate this day is the crepe or pancake in the shape of the solar disk, a reminder that the days are getting longer and Spring will eventually come.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...