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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Delectable Past

Leafing through the brittle and grease-stained pages of cooking volumes is much like peering through a kitchen window: the recipe book alludes to meals and events, people and places, successes and failures, joys and sorrows, lives and deaths of those loved and known.
Janet Theophano, curator; Aresty Collection

Esther Bradford Aresty

Delectable PastMarch 26th (1908) is the birthday of Esther Bradford Aresty. I was first introduced to Esther Bradford Aresty when I stumbled upon her collection at the University of Pennsylvania. Now, here was a woman who moved to a small town in Iowa, enjoyed a suburban life and valued good food. She had a prominent career and, she was also a collector of rare books on etiquette and the culinary arts. Spanning five centuries, her books fill the Esther B. Aresty Collection on the Culinary Arts at the University..
The Esther B. Aresty Rare Book Collection on the Culinary Arts comprises cookery manuscripts and published books of recipes, etiquette and household advice. Spanning an historical period from the earliest printed folios of the fifteenth century to the more recent and familiar volumes of the twentieth century, the books represent cultural and geographical diversity ranging from Europe and the New World to the Far East. (source)

The Delectable Past

For the past twenty years, it has been my rewarding hobby to collect old and rare cookbooks. This book is the result of my adventuring through their pages. The more I wandered around in those precious volumes, the more I wanted to share them with others, and so, The Delectable Past came about. (Esther B. Aresty)
A light went on in my head. I have a book by her in my library. I dug it out. As soon as I read the above lines, I knew I craved a way of sharing my cookbooks.  If only I could digest everything ever written on the culinary history of the world. If only I could express to someone who would listen. Much like Esther, my cookbooks are a rewarding part of my life. I have received unconditional comfort with them, in them and yes, by them. Sometimes, I suppose, I get "angry" at them. They take up so much room. I am forever reorganizing and resorting them. Collectively, they are very heavy and quite cumbersome. And quite frankly, they take up much of my free time. Like brothers and sisters, they share the same shelves. At times, I've had them sprawled all over tables and chairs and floors, but, they are always together.
It wouldn't be fair for me to attempt to digress The Delectable Past - The Joys of the Table - From Rome to the Renaissance, From Queen Elizabeth I to Mrs. Beeton, The Menus, The Manners - and the Most Delectable Recipes of the Past, Masterfully Re-created for Cooking and Enjoying Today, by Esther B. Aresty, (1964) when it is so eloquently served within the pages of the book itself.
Here, for perusing and cooking, are the lost joys of the table garnered by Esther Aresty from her collection of rare old cookbooks. Here is a 16th century version of Italian Green Sauce, and the original Pie That the Birds May Flie Out Of. Here is the banquet menu for a Renaissance Pope, and a Victorian clergyman's poetic Potato Salad. An Elizabethan cook sets down a recipe for a Tart to Provoke Courage Either in Man or Woman, while a housewife lists her dowry including "45 payer of sheets and one gray horse." We discover from the great La Varenne, chef in the time of Louis XIV how noblemen dined when they went to war; we learn why we owe French sauces to a Bavarian baron (Ed note: Count Rumford) from Massachusetts, and so says the 17th century Roti-Cochon that "Venison pate is too good for disobedient children."
Just as difficult, is selecting a recipe. I did a quick pop around the internet to see if I could find any recipes from the book. Although, I did find a few sites with "adapted" recipes, from her book, I was a bit disappointed not to find any verbatim. Perhaps, I didn't dig deep enough. I'm usually delighted when I don't find a recipe online. It affords me the opportunity to make a contribution but, in this case, it's a shame. What I'm trying to say, is find the book, buy it and enjoy it. You won't be disappointed. I promise:) I've chosen the Mustard Soup recipe to share because I am slightly crazed by mustard. I like it A LOT! Before I leave the recipe, let me give you a taste of Esther's introduction to the soup.
While Richard Plantagenet's cooks were smiting and hewing their way through royal menus, a move gently phrased cookery manuscript had been prepared in the kingdom across the Channel. Le Viander was compiled by Guillaume Tirel (Tailevent) about 1375 for the cooks of Charles V, also a monarch with a taste for the better things. A "viander" is a meat cook, and the manuscript had a special section on roasts which included along with mutton, kid and venison pigeons roasted with their heads intact...Among the potages (soups-stews), one recipe employed mustard as a seasoning for the broth. Using Taillevent's ingredients, a delicious soup emerges that may be served hot or cold. Either way, its lovely green color is as refreshing as its taste.
Mustard Soup
2 tbs. butter
3 tbs. prepared yellow mustard
2 tbs. flour
2-1/2 cups thoroughly skimmed chicken stock, heated
1-1/4 c. rich milk, heated
1/2 tsp. salt, dash white pepper
1/2 tsp. onion juice
2 egg yolks
2 to 3 tbs. sweet cream
Directions: Melt the butter, stir in the flour and blend smoothly. Add the hot chicken stock and milk, and whisk until smooth. Add salt, pepper and onion juice. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Combine egg yolks and cream and add to the soup, custard style that is, temper first with a few spoonfuls of the warm broth. Last, add the mustard. If served cold, garnish with a dab of whipped cream. If hot, garnish with pancake shreds or green peas.
I couldn't resist including this scanned recipe for Stuffed Mushrooms. The previous page has the introduction which goes like this:
La Verenne used mushrooms in many recipes, but none surpasses the stuffed mushrooms he introduced to French cookery (Champignons Farcis). He also devised the famous sauce of onions and mushrooms which now goes by the name of Duxelles, but which La Varenne called simply Champignons a l'Olivier. The custom of honoring a man's name in a recipe had not yet begun; at some later point the sauce was renamed for La Varenne's employer, the Marquis d'Uxelles. Just who selected the Marquis for immortality instead of La Verenne is not clear; at any rate it was an injustice.
FYI: Today also happens to be the birth date of Benjamin Thompson; Count von Rumford. (mentioned above) Count Rumford invented the percolator, a pressure cooker and a kitchen stove. He is frequently encased in the History of Baked Alaska.
Resources
1. Esther Bradford Aresty (bio)
2. To make Pies that the Birds may be alive in them...scroll down
3. New York Times (obit)