1066 William the Conqueror…
1776 Washington crosses the Delaware…
1804 Lewis and Clark expedition….
I loathed those history lessons with the mind numbing dates – which had to be memorized.
How much more interesting would it not have been to learn what – or who – ‘William’ ate –and what Mrs. Washington packed in George’s Bistro bag for his historic ‘journey’?
History does tell us that the Lewis and Clark expedition downed 9 lbs of meat PER DAY – PER MAN… which must have spawned the now famous cry ‘Where’s the beef’? We also know that Napoleon’s army marched on its stomach and their commander ordered that dinner should be ready IN HIS TENT at any time the battle was done – thus causing his chefs to prepare endless wasted meals – not ever knowing his ETA. But what was on the menu??
Years ago, I got my hands on a wonderful old book that gives a peek into the lives, and lunches, of our predecessors. Most of it makes me glad I live in 2011 and not 1810.
Let’s look at a little comparative history of menus, shall we?
THEN: Stewed Kidney
“Boil kidneys the night before till very tender…. In the morning, boil for a few minutes, thicken with flour and water – add part of an onion chopped very fine, salt, pepper and a lump of butter and pour over toasted bread well buttered.”
NOW: Orange Juice – Cheerios – Coffee
THEN: “Do not feed the poultry for 24 hours before killing. Catch them without frightening or bruising, [Edit Note: Are chickens REALLY that stupid???], tie the feet together, hang up on a horizontal pole, tie wings back. Let them hang five minutes, then cut the throat or cut off the head with a very sharp knife and allow them to hang until the blood has ceased to drip.”
NOW: Pop in to the supermarket and buy a roast chicken.
THEN: Hard Money Cake
“Gold Part: Yolks of 8 eggs, scant cup butter, two of sugar, four of flour, one of sour milk, teaspoon soda, tablespoon cornstarch, flavor lemon and vanilla.
Silver part: Two cups sugar, one of butter, four [scant] of flour, one of sour milk, teaspoon soda, tablespoon cornstarch, whites of eight eggs. Flavor with almond or peach.
Put in pan alternately – one spoonful of ‘gold’ and one of ‘silver’ [sic].”
NOW: Pop down to the supermarket or bakery and buy a cake.
THEN: Ambushed Asparagus
“50 asparagus – a stale/dry biscuit for each serving, top cut off and inside scooped out. [Prepare] a sugarless custard made from 1 pint milk and 4 eggs, butter, salt and pepper. Add asparagus minced fine and fill biscuits. Put on tops fitting them carefully, set in oven three minutes after which arrange on a dish. To be eaten hot.”
NOW: Pop down to the supermarket and pick up a package of frozen asparagus. Follow directions on the package.
Typical Daily Menu
- Breakfast: Corn pone, stewed tripe, potatoes al la Lyonnaise
- Dinner: Whole boiled potatoes and carrots, baked heart, stewed tomatoes, canned fruit and cake
- Supper: Toasted pone, cold heart sliced, plain bread, quince preserves with whipped cream
- Breakfast: A toaster strudel dashing out of the door
- Lunch: Sandwiches or fast food at one’s desk
- Dinner: Swing by a drive through on the way to the soccer practice….
Here are some other rather “stern Instructions” offered in this More-than-a-Cookbook:
- “When really sick, send for a GOOD physician – and as you value your health and life, have nothing to do with quacks or patent medicines.” [Edit: YESSS!]
- “Let the amount of the meal bear some relation to future needs as well as present appetite: but it is better to carry an extra pound in your pocket than in your stomach.” [Edit: Yess again!]
- A Life Preserver: “A felt or silk hat – held so as to keep the crown full of air will sustain a person above water for a great length of time.” [Edit: Good advice for all who insist on driving through flooded Texas streets.]
- Bites of [rabid?] dogs: “Burn out the wound thoroughly with a red hot iron… for fully 8 seconds so as to destroy the surrounding surface of the wound.” [Edit: … and possibly the patient.]
- Under Medical: “When people fall sick they seem to lose what little common sense they possessed when well.” [Edit: I guess there was no such thing as Political Correctness in those days!!]
- Blackened Eye: “Should the eye… be blackened by a blow or fall, apply a cloth wrung out in very warm water… the moisture and heat will liquefy the blood and send it back to its proper channel.” [Edit: wherever that may be.]
And a last timely gem………….
- “If your mistress scolds and loses her temper, be sure and control yours. If you feel you have been wronged, talk quietly and kindly after the storm has blown over.” [Edit: Are you listening guys???]
About the Author
McKinney resident Kyra Effren is a contributing writer for TownSquareBuzz.com’s “Food” section. She is a retired food stylist and contributing writer for the “Food” section of Dallas Morning News. In 1975, Effren opened Cours de Cuisine Cooking School in Dallas and in 1978, she was awarded The Commanderie des Cordon Bleu in France for her contributions to French cooking. She has edited multiple cookbooks and served as recipe tester for a number of cookbooks including both of the Mansion on Turtle Creek cookbooks by Dean Fearing and baking books by Nick Malgieri.
Kyra welcomes any and all reader comments and suggestions. What would you like to have for dinner?