Tag Archives: The English Housewife

Salads: “Cooking” and a recipe of sorts

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Please forgive the sizeable gap between the first post on salads and this one, it’s been a busy January. Anyway, I have finally made an early modern salad, and as you can see from the picture above, it’s a rather magnificent looking thing. Here’s another photo of it pulled apart a bit. 

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And here is the recipe I used, from Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife (1631):

The compound Sallet.

To compound an excellent Sallat, and which indeed is vsuall at great feasts, and vppon Princes tables: Take a good quantity of blancht Almonds, and with your shredding Knife cut them grossely; then take as many Raisins of the Sunne cleane washt, and the stones pickt out, as many Figs thred like the Almonds, as many Capers, twice so many Olyues, and as many Currants as of all the rest cleane washt: a good handfull of the small tender leaues of Red Sage and Spinage: mixe all these well together with good store of Sugar, and lay them in the bottome of a great dish; then put vnto them Vinegar and Oyle, and scrape more Sugar ouer all: then take Orenges and Lemons, and paring away the outward piles, cut them into thinne slices, then with those slices couer the Sallet all ouer; which done, take the fine thinne leafe of the red Coleflower, and with them couer the Orenges and Lemons all ouer; then ouer chose red leaues lay another course of old Olyues, and the slices of wel pickled Cucumbers, together with the very inward heart of your Cabbage lefee cut into slces; then adone the sides of the dish, and the top of the Sallet with mo slices of Lemons and Orenges, and so serue it vp.

It seems odd to provide a recipe since it’s so straightforward and there’s no cooking involved so I won’t, but see the bottom of the post for a loose ingredients list. First, I’ll just go through some of the ingredients. Some are obvious – olives, capers (delicious!), currants and the like – but others a little less so. I couldn’t locate either red “coleflower” aka cauliflower or red sage, so I had to make do with their white/green alternatives. I used the outer leaves of the cauliflower rather than the florets, as instructed. This seemed a bit odd at first, but I suppose that raw cabbage is found in coleslaw, so it’s not too unusual. Pickled cucumbers are of course gherkins – another favourite of mine. The sliced lemons were a very unusual addition, I am not really used to actually eating lemons, just flavouring things with their juice. When combined with some of the sweeter flavours like the currants or indeed oranges, however, it lost it’s sharp edge and was a lot more palatable then I expected. 

When I first read the recipe I thought this recipe sounded pretty unpleasant and rather odd. Once I actually made it, however, I found it had a lot more in common with modern salads than I expected. The oil and vinegar dressing for one thing, is something we still use today. The combination of sweet, pickled and savoury was unexpectedly good, and it certainly lived up to it’s name of a “compound salad”.

If you do fancy making one, here are the ingredients in handy list form (no quantities though, just go by what you like – though I do encourage you to try the things you think sound a bit odd):

A compound salad

Blanched almonds, roughly chopped

Raisins

Figs, fresh or dried (I used dried but fresh would be lovely I think), roughly chopped

Capers

Olives

Currents

Whole sage leaves

Spinach leaves

Sugar (a tablespoon or so)

Vinegar (1/2 tablespoon)

Oil (1/2 tablespoon)

Orange and lemon, peel cut off and cut into thin slices

Outer leaves of cauliflower, sliced

Cabbage hearts, sliced

Gherkins, sliced

Arrange in layers as described above, mix together, or construct in any other way you see fit. Go on, try something new (well, old I suppose) and brighten up your January!

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Salads

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“Lettuce “Concept” ” by photofarmer. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 2.0)

Happy New Year everyone! Christmas, with all its delightful foods, is over, and now it’s January, the month when many people resolve to change their eating habits – ranging from a new year’s resolution to eat a bit more healthily, to those bizarre faddish diets peddled by the likes of Heat magazine. As one of my main research interests is cultural attitudes to food, I inevitably end up thinking about these annual rituals of consumption we have created, and wonder what that says about our culture. There seems to be a strange pattern of indulgence and shame around food at Christmas and new year – we’re encouraged to treat ourselves, and then in January we have to atone for our sins of consumption.  At this time of the year, food is represented as able to influence our emotional state and change our lives – Christmas food is a treat and a comfort, it inspires nostalgia, but salad will make us feel better about our bodies and ourselves, it is full of promise and hope for the future (especially if you are a woman).

I was fascinated when reading the little playlet/dialogue that I posted recently to find that the idea of having special, indulgent foods that are only eaten at Christmas was not a modern thing at all. Of course I know that eating particular foods to celebrate a particular festival or event was as old as the hills, but it was the idea of indulgence that interested me -the sweet treats of plum pudding and mince pie at Christmas were welcome over the Christmas period, but deemed not appropriate for the rest of the year, apparently because of their sweetness.

Having said all of that, I am in fact doing a post on salad. This is partly inspired by the aforementioned January custom, and partly by a suggestion from my friend Lana who has been researching some early modern cookbooks recently and came across some recipes. It is timely for me as well, since I have recently been eating a lot more vegetables over the last few weeks, for reasons that have nothing to do with the season or any sudden urge to diet, and everything to do with the fact that I got this as a Christmas present.

Anyway, we begin our journey into the world of salad with these lines from Samuel Daniel’s The Queen’s Arcadia (1607):

I will attend thy flockes better then she, 

And dresse thy Bower more sweete, more daintily,

And cheerish thee with Salets, and with Fruites, 

And all fresh dainties as the season sutes;

Salads, perhaps more than any other dish, are strongly associated with the seasons. Even today, with most vegetables available all year round, you will still find recipes for “winter salads” made of roasted root vegetables and “summer salads” with fresh green vegetables. The seasonality of salads is, you might expect, much more evident in early modern cookery. Seasonal salads were certainly on the menu, winter salads were often made entirely of preserved and pickled vegetables:

Ant.But how shall wee dispose of them?

Lou.Wee’d best
Barrell them vp and send them for new England.
Ant.A pox there’s fooles enow already there.
Let’s pickle them for winter Sallads.

Admittedly, the characters in Peter Hausted’s The Rival Friends (1632) are not actually discussing vegetables but some people they are considering murdering, but I still think it illustrates the point.

This leads us to ask, what exactly is a salad? Even today, I think there is probably some confusion over the term. I generally think of leafy green vegetables as the basis for a salad, perhaps with other ingredients and/or a dressing. Salads can mean a lot of things, they can be raw or cooked, elaborate or simple. They are usually, I think, made of separate ingredients tossed together. The term is certainly murky. The OED gives us the following definition:

A cold dish of herbs or vegetables (e.g. lettuce, endive), usually uncooked and chopped up or sliced, to which is often added sliced hard-boiled egg, cold meat, fish, etc., the whole being seasoned with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar.

It also refers to an earlier, broader, definition of herbs, pickles, cucumbers and the like which were eaten with roast meat.

There certainly seems to have been a lot of variety in the kinds of salads served up at an early modern feast. Gervase Markham, in The English Housewife (1631), gives us recipes for simple salads, compound salads, boiled salads, preserved salads, compound preserved salads and, most intriguingly, “sallats for shew only”. These are made as follows:

Now for Sallets for shew only, and the adorning and setting out of a table with numbers of dishes, they be those which are made of Carret rootes of sundrye colours well boiled, and cut out into many shapes and proportions, as some into knots, some in the manner of Scutchions and Armes, some like Birds, and some like wild Beasts, according to the Art and cunning of the Workman; and these for the most part are seasoned with Vinegar, Oyle, and a little Pepper. A world of other Sallets there are, which time and experience may bring to our Hous wifes eye, but the composition of them, and the seruing of them differeth nothing from these already rehearsed.

It reminds me of those carved raw root vegetables you sometimes see in Chinese restaurants. You might get a swede carved into an elaborate rose, and there is a place I sometimes go to that has thick carrots carved into miniature Venus de Milos that they put on the plate when you order a mixed starter for a large group.

Do you remember Calandrino from Philip Massinger’s The Great Duke of Florence, who made an appearance in the post on custards? There we saw custards, cakes and the like associated with the court, while “plain Sallads” were for the countryside. I recently came across this rather interesting passage in Thomas Dekker’s Northward Hoe (1607) which situates the salad eaters not only in the country, but also in a particular region:

looke you Sir, the Northerne man loues white-meates, the Southery man Sallades, the Essex man a Calfe, the Kentishman a Wag-taile, the Lancashire man an Egg-pie, the Welshman Leekes and Cheese, and your Londoners rawe Mutton, so Father god-boy, I was borne in London

Having lived my entire life on the South coast, I suppose this means I shall enjoy the cookery part of my adventures in early modern salads. Stay tuned for some recipes coming up in a week or so!

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