Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Nice Way of Cooking Fish

Some of us fear cooking fish. I know that I do. I get all hung up on finding the right fish. I'm always wondering about freshness - the local mega mart fish counter scares me a little, and the prices at the fancy mega mart make me anxious. If I screw it up by over cooking or by letting all the skin stick to the pan I'll be bummed considering the price per pound. Now, Glasgow is a major port town, and the River Clyde is still full of salmon and trout, so I can only imagine how abundant and economical fish was in the 1880s. Not that any self respecting house keeper would want to mess up dinner back then either. But, with Mrs. Black's help, you can't fail, right?

In her words: "Get about 1 1/2 lbs. of fish, either three small ones or a large one that can be cut in three pieces. Scrape and wash them very carefully, cutting off the fins and taking out the eyes and dry them in a cloth. Place them in a pie-dish. Mix in a bowl 1 dessert-spoonful of flour, 1 teaspoonful of butter melted, 1 egg well beaten, 1 teacupful of milk, a little pepper and salt; pour all this over the fish in the pie-dish, and put it in the oven for half an hour, or on a toaster in front of the fire for the same length of time. Both the fish and the custard will be found delightful."

Clearly, the Glaswegian housewife of the 1880s had bigger problems than whether or not her fish was sustainably harvested. She was too busy taking out eyes and cutting off fins! And while fish and milk together isn't a dish you see regularly on the menu, how often have you had lox and cream cheese without batting an eye? Or seen jars of herring in cream sauce at Ikea? I'm curious about the low volume of poaching liquid. A nice thick custard solidifying around the fishies. Yummy... Perhaps a little dill, parsley, or lemon? With these additions, I am sure it could be quite delightful. Unusual, yes, but delightful under the right circumstances perhaps. I may have to spring this on on the husband someday soon, using a 350F degree oven instead of an open fire (some instructions are meant to be updated). I'll let you know how that goes.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Simple Pudding

This is a pudding in the Scottish sense. Dense, dry and chewy. Mistake it for a sweet dessert at your own risk. Bill Cosby would not recognize this as even a distant cousin of his beloved Jello pudding, and I know for a fact it would make a terrible pudding pop. That said, notwithstanding the cup of chopped suet, this is a very healthy addition to any Glaswegian table from the 1880s.

In Mrs. Black's words: "I am going to give you directions for making a simple pudding, which I hope you will like: 1 full teacupful of flour, 1 thick slice of bread grated (there should be a breakfast-cupful), 1 teacupful of chopped suet, 1 table-spoonful of sugar, 1/4 b. of currants, 1/4 lb. of raisins, 1 table-spoonful of either golden syrup or jam, 1 breakfast-cupful of milk, 1/2 teaspoonful of carbonate of soda, 1 teaspoonful of ground cinnamon. Wash and dry the currants, pick the raisins, and mix them and all the dry things together, afterwards add the syrup and the milk, and give the whole a good mixing. Butter a pretty large bowl inside, put in the pudding, cover it over with a piece of paper rubbed with a little dripping, and put it into a pot with a very little boiling water in it, to steam for at least one hour and a half.

"This pudding is much improved by having a warm sauce like this served with it. Mix in a little pan 1 teaspoonful of butter, 2 teaspoonfuls of flour, 1 table-spoonful of sugar, and 1 1/2 teacupsful of water--stir it all over the fire till it boils, then pour it over or round the pudding. A doctor writes about the use of suet in some such form as in this pudding -- "That the use of fat would diminish the victims of consumption by nine-tenths, and that the whole secret of the use of Cod Liver Oil is to take the place of fat meats."

Tasty, no? Certainly the cup of suet is the first clue that this is of another era, but if you are honest with yourself, you know you have made desserts with a cup of butter from time to time. Suet is just a bit more, well, savory. The raisins and currents sound yummy, if you are into dried fruit, as I am. It's the scant 2 tablespoons of sweetness (sugar and "golden syrup") that throws me. Though, with all those raisins, it might not be necessary. The sauce sounds pretty dreadful though. As an alternative, might I suggest what is the tradition at our house - douse the whole thing in Bacardi 151, light a match and flame the sucker. Serve with sweetened whipped cream, or Devonshire cream. Much better, yes? Especially knowing that you are staving off the possibility of coming down with consumption through the use of all that suet. It's a win, win!