Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Charles Dickens' Summer Beverages

Right off the bat, this was a bit of a bust. From 1881 Household Words-

We decided to go with Black Currant Water. 

Sounds simple enough, however after several grocery stores searching for black currant jam, all we could find was red currant jam. On to Plan B. 

Done and Done. Although Charlie's recipe calls for the jam to be mixed with water, thus making the drink, I mixed it with club soda. It was delicious and refreshing. Nevertheless, we decided to do Charles one better. 

The Miss Havisham 
8 parts Pisco
4 parts sweet and sour
3 parts Black Currant Syrup
Adjust parts to taste- 

Then, add 1 egg white
crushed ice, "perfectly clear" and "not pond ice" as per Dickens' instructions 
Blend together until frothy 
Serve with kumamoto oysters and listen to Al Stewart

I don't really feel it's fair to rate the recipe for Black Current Water, seeing as how we didn't actually make it. However, on a scale of 1 to 10 Wedding Cakes, I would give the Miss Havisham a 16. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Charles Dickens' Cheese Straws

And so begins my grand experiment where I follow recipes that are at least one hundred years old. Although I have started several Dickens novels in the past, I've never finished any of them. I've tholed through Stendhal, I love Dostotevsky and Gogol, I've even put a significant dent in Remembrances of Things Past, but Dickens... nope, nothing. So when I decided to start this project, I thought I'd give him a second chance and cook one of his recipes out of his magazine, Household Words (1881).

Rather than bite off more than I can chew, (Ha) I thought I'd start small and try out his recipe for Cheese Straws. The instructions looked simple enough.

Easy enough. 

Cheese, egg, and flour

Things quickly took a confusing turn when I "Mixed into a paste with the yolk of an egg." 

This is not a paste

So I added another yolk. No paste. And another yolk. No paste. And then I thought, perhaps Mr. Dickens or his readership would read those instructions and know to add a bit of liquid? Maybe that would be so common, it wouldn't have to be explicitly written into the instructions? So I added about a quarter cup of milk. The dough was very sticky, and I didn't chill it because I was still determined to follow the instructions to the best of my ability. 
Rolled out, cut, and twisted

"Bake in a moderate oven until crisp..." I started at 325. After 20 minutes, I got bored and cranked it to 400. "... but they must not be the least brown." Whoops. 

"Serve cold, piled tastefully on a glass dish."

And done. They taste okay, but more crumbly than crisp. I wouldn't serve these to quests, but I admit I keep munching on them. That speaks more to my laziness than Mr. Dickens' recipe. 

On a scale of 1 to 5, here's how Charlie's Cheese Straws rate-
1 Little Dorrit for cooking instructions
2 Nicholas Nickelbys for taste
A total score of 1.5 Bleak Houses

Luckily, I have a back up plan for dinner. 
Salmon I smoked, raspberries from the yard, and Akvavit from the booze store.