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The Food Almanac: Monday, September 2, 2013

The Food Almanac: Monday, September 2, 2013

Today's Flavor
This is National Frittata Day. A frittata is an unfolded omelette. The ingredients added to the eggs are usually incorporated into them rather than being enclosed by the finished omelette. They're served flat on a plate when made for one person. Sometimes they're made rather large, with as many as a dozen eggs, then sliced before serving. When made with cheese and the likes of bell peppers, tomatoes, and sausage, it becomes something like a breakfast pizza, with egg instead of the bread crust. The style began in Italy, but has spread into other cuisines.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
The best frittatas start on top of the stove and end in the oven. This is how restaurant chefs cook a lot of things, and it may be the biggest difference between restaurant food and home cooking.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Egg Hill is in the northeast corner of Maryland, twenty-five miles west of Wilmington, Delaware. It rises 401 feet--one of the highest points in the area--and is completely covered with woods. An enormous auto junkyard is just west. On a more appetizing note, the nearest eatery is a mile and a half away in Pleasant Hill: Uncle Bob's Western Corral.

Edible Dictionary
Dutch baby, n.--An unusual kind of pancake, made by baking a rather light, runny, eggy batter in a preheated cast-iron skillet in a very hot oven. As it bakes, it spreads, forcing the sides to rise above the rim of the skillet. The texture is like that of a soufflee, but a little heavier. The classic way to serve it is with a squeeze of lemon juice and powdered sugar. A Dutch baby is a smaller and more popular version of the German pancake, which is a bit harder to handle at home. Both were made popular by the Original Pancake House, an old, loose chain of breakfast specialists around the country.

Deft Dining Rule #130
Grits are delicious, but hash browns go better with an omelette.

Food And Sports
Eddie Price was born today in 1925. He was a major football hero during his years at Tulane. He went on to have a professional career with the New York Giants. After he retired, he opened a restaurant and bar on the corner of Broadway and Zimpel, near the Tulane campus. It was open twenty-four hours and was a major hangout for Tulanians in the 1960s and 1970s. Eddie Price's was the place I ever played a pinball machine that would pay off. Eddie handed me the $5.75 I won on one of his nickel-a-play, no-flipper machines himself, in 1968. He was the father of the recently deposed mayor of Mandeville, Louisiana.

Dining On The High Seas
Today in 1985, after decades of fruitless searching, the wreck of the Titanic was found on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The discovery fired off a swell of interest in the luxurious ship. The dining rooms for the first-class passengers were alleged to have been magnificent. The cruise ships of today are much larger than the Titanic and incomparably more luxurious--to say nothing of being more egalitarian. The only ships on which the classes are kept apart now are the Cunard ships Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. The Queen's Grill and Princess Grill passengers have their own dining rooms and even their own section of the deck. But even the hoi-polloi live very well on those ships.

Food In Show Biz
Meinhardt Raabe was born today in 1915, but he never got a lot bigger. He played the Munchkin coroner who declared the Wicked Witch of the East dead in The Wizard of Oz. He went on to work for the Oscar Meyer wiener outfit, portraying Little Oscar, the World's Smallest Chef. He traveled around the country in the original Wienermobile in the 1930s. He wrote an autobiography, and he still turned up on television now and then. He also has a food name: raab is one of the words for the vegetable also known as broccoli di rape.

Great Food Disasters
Today in 1666, a baker who lived on Pudding Lane in London started a fire that spread to the entire city. It ultimately burned down over 10,000 houses, and became known as The Great Fire. Ironically, a pudding maker named Tommy Tucker who lived on Baker Street was one of its victims.

Food Namesakes
William Frye, who represented Maine in Congress from 1870 to 1911, was elected to life today in 1830. Jim DeMint, the current U.S. Senator from South Carolina, was born today in 1951. Grady Nutt, a comedian and Baptist preacher, made his mother smile today in 1934 by being born. This is the second day in a row we've had someone named Nutt in this department.

Words To Eat By
"He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart."--C.S. Lewis.

Words To Drink By
"Whoever takes just plain ginger ale soon gets drowned out of the conversation."--Kin Hubbard, cartoonist and humorist, 1868-1930.


Temporality in John Dauntesey’s Recipe book (1652-1683)

In May and June of this year, I had the opportunity to research recipe books and midwifery manuals at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. One manuscript, inscribed “John Dauntesey 1652,” contains several manuscript copies of printed medical texts, including information on gynecology and alchemy, along with numerous English and Latin recipes in nearly half a dozen hands. While I had anticipated focusing much of my attention on its gynecological recipes, I became fascinated by MSS 2/0070-01’s treatment of time.

The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript MSS 2/0070-01 (Signature Page), Photo included with permission.

Mastering time to manipulate the material world was a significant component of seventeenth-century recipes when treating and preserving the body, as Wendy Wall has recently considered and as Rachel Rich has discussed in terms of the Victorian kitchen. Recorded in John Dauntesey’s (1629-1693) Recipe Book, an unidentified scribe advises, “Also note that the houres of the planete be different to them of the Clock for the houres of the Clocks be alwais equall of 60 minute” (fol. 9r). That recipes often speak in time—the time to pick particular herbs, the time and duration to perform a step, the time to ingest food or medicament for the body, etc.—is not surprising, yet what I find fascinating here is the scribe’s awareness that recipes employ and distort different types of time: one natural and one artificial in order to preserve the natural world and the human body. To preserve is “to protect or save from (injury, sickness, or any undesirable eventuality)” (“Preserve”). Consequently, to participate in food preservation through recipe writing is to obviate undesirable contamination as to slow entropy and prolong the time that a product can askew the natural growth of bacteria, fungi, or other microorganisms. However, in early modern recipes, food is not the only object being preserved. Understood through Galen’s humoral theory, recipes exist to preserve, sustain, and prolong human life. Controlling Nature’s and human-made temporalities, then, becomes a means of both making recipes and treating the body.

The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript MSS 2/0070-01, Personal photo included with permission

I’m also interested in MSS 2/0070-01’s own temporality, what it may suggest about early modern medical practice, and how changes in medical practice effected the period’s perception of the body. Compiled from the mid- to late-seventeenth century, Dauntesey’s Recipe book is situated in a time when renouncing Galenic medicine and turning to alternative medical practices became increasingly common. Shortly after the above discussion of clock and planetary time, the manuscript turns to a section titled “12 Celestiall signes,” an almanac that describes the humors and character traits of those born in each month, again reminding us that much of early medicine depended on reading time (fol. 10v).[1] The section incorporates many terms and phrases associated with Galenic medicine: “hot and drie cholericke nature,” “cold & dry and . . . Melencholy meridionall,” “Sanguine of Complexion hot & moist,” “cold moist & waterie fegmatuke of Complexion” (fol 10v, 111r, 112v). Understanding this almanac would have been instrumental, presumably, when choosing and creating recipes to balance the humors and restore bodies to good health. However, after recording only one month, the almanac is interrupted. A second scribe turns to transcribing “An hundred and fourteene Experiments and cures of Phillip Theophrastus Paracelsus” before the first scribe continues the almanac over one hundred pages later (fol. 11r).[2]

The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript MSS 2/0070-01 (fol. 11r), Photo included with permission.

Of course, my literary heart fluttered to see two of the century’s most influential medical theories interrupting each other, and as I continue to study issues of chronology, genealogy, and geography present in MSS 2/0070-01, I hope to be able to address the following types of questions: Can MSS 2/0070-01 be used to understand the ideological shift from humoral theory to Paracelsus’ hermetical views? How is the ideological shift manifest in the period’s recipe writing? And what effects did the change in focus from balancing humors to treating symptoms have on the early modern period’s perception of the body?

Melissa is an MA candidate in English at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Her research interests are in early modern English literature, the history of medicine, ecocriticism, and feminist and queer studies. You can follow her on Twitter @MelSchultheis and @Engl3000Omeka.

[1] For more information on early modern astrology and medicine, see Lauren Kassell’s chapter “Astronomy, Magic, and the Mathematical Practitioners of London” in Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London for more on almanacs, see Bernard Capp’s English Almanacs, 1500-1800: Astrology and the Popular Press.

[2] Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), also known as Paracelsus, was a physician and alchemist known for his rejection of many sixteenth-century medical traditions and his contributions to what we now call toxicology. For more information on Paracelsus’ thoughts on medicine, theology, and occultism see Charles Webster’s Paracelsus: Medicine, Magic, and Mission at the End of Time.


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