Friday, November 16, 2018

Cooking Vegetables in Nineteenth Century Britain? A-Maizing!

Ah, yes, it is nearly Thanksgiving here in the States, and thoughts turn to the meal about to be served. I am the most fortunate of women—my husband chooses, purchases, thaws, dresses, cooks, and carves the turkey. It generally looks like something from an ad for the perfect Thanksgiving. The grain and vegetables of the meal fall to me or anyone I can wrangle into helping. (I am also blessed with good friends and family members who cook.) I recently turned to that expert in household management, Isabella Beeton to see what she had to say about vegetables in her 1859 cookbook. The results, were, ahem, a-maizing. 

Mashed potatoes are a classic with turkey. Mrs. Beeton notes that different potatoes have different flavors. The names tickled me: the Shaw, Kidney, Bread-fruit, Tartan, Red-apple, and Lancashire Pink. But though she provides a recipe for mashed potatoes and even mashed turnips, she had a strong opinion about “vegetables reduced to a puree.”
Persons in the flower of youth, having healthy stomachs, and leading active lives, may eat all sorts of vegetables, without inconvenience, save, of course, in excess. The digestive functions possess great energy during the period of youth: the body, to develop itself, needs nourishment. Physical exercise gives an appetite, which it is necessary to satisfy, and vegetables cannot resist the vigorous action of the gastric organs. As old proverb says, ‘At twenty, one can digest iron.' [Note from Regina—please do not attempt to digest iron.] But for aged persons, the sedentary, or the delicate, it is quite otherwise. Then the gastric power has considerably diminished, the digestive organs have lost their energy, the process of digestion is consequently slower, and the least excess at table is followed by derangement of the stomach for several days. Those who generally digest vegetables with difficulty, should eat them reduced to a pulp or purée, that is to say, with their skins and tough fibres removed. Subjected to this process, vegetables which, when entire, would create flatulence and wind, are then comparatively harmless.” 
Word to the wise!

Corn on the cob is generally past its prime for most of us in the U.S. around Thanksgiving, but her advice on how to cook it was fascinating. I had no idea that, even in 1859, the word "corn" wasn't used in Britain, and the plant itself was rarely grown!

INGREDIENTS.—The ears of young and green Indian wheat; to every 1/2 gallon of water allow 1 heaped tablespoonful of salt.
Mode.—This vegetable, which makes one of the most delicious dishes brought to table, is unfortunately very rarely seen in Britain; and we wonder that, in the gardens of the wealthy, it is not invariably cultivated. Our sun, it is true, possesses hardly power sufficient to ripen maize; but, with well-prepared ground, and in a favourable position, it might be sufficiently advanced by the beginning of autumn to serve as a vegetable. The outside sheath being taken off and the waving fibres removed, let the ears be placed in boiling water, where they should remain for about 25 minutes (a longer time may be necessary for larger ears than ordinary); and, when sufficiently boiled and well drained, they may be sent to table whole, and with a piece of toast underneath them. Melted butter should be served with them.
Note.—William Cobbett, the English radical writer and politician, was a great cultivator and admirer of maize, and constantly ate it as a vegetable, boiled. We believe he printed a special recipe for it, but we have been unable to lay our hands on it. Mr. Buchanan, the present president of the United States, was in the habit, when ambassador here, of receiving a supply of Indian corn from America in hermetically-sealed cases; and the publisher of this work remembers, with considerable satisfaction, his introduction to a dish of this vegetable, when in America. He found it to combine the excellences of the young green pea and the finest asparagus; but he felt at first slightly awkward in holding the large ear with one hand, whilst the other had to be employed in cutting off with a knife the delicate green grains.
However you choose to celebrate, Marissa and I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving. We will be off next week, celebrating with our family and friends. We hope you can do the same.

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