Contemporary British Literature

A year’s worth of Samad softly inclining his head at exactly the correct deferential angle, pencil in his left hand, listening to the appalling pronunciation of the British, Spanish, American, French, Australian:

            Go Bye Ello Sag, please.

            Chicken Jail Fret See wiv Chips, fanks.  (White Teeth, 46)

Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is a relatively recent novel, written when she was still in college and published in 2000.  This was one of the books we read in my modern British Literature class, which contains many elements of postmodern literature, including an interest in hybridity and, in this case, a questioning of colonialism.

In the novel, Samad Iqbal is a man born in Bangladesh who now lives in Britain with his wife and works as a waiter in an Indian restaurant.  This quote gives a description of a day at work, where Samad has to listen to customers mispronounce many of the Indian dishes they serve:  Gobhi Aaloo Saas – Go Bye Ello Sag; Lamb Dhansak – Lamb Dawn Sock, later on in the novel; and Chicken Jalfrezi – Chicken Jail Fret See (Shackleton).

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By looking at the references to food, and how people pronounce them, we get better insight not only into the historical relationship between India and Britain, but also the contemporary reciprocal influence.

Before 1947, Britain had ruled the Indian subcontinent since its colonial beginnings (Buettner, 872).  As Asian immigrants began to settle in Britain and open new restaurants, the reception was mixed, but in the 1960s and 1970s, curry began to gain gradual acceptance and popularity.  Because of the need to thrive in a white-dominant society, “many establishments opened or adapted their offerings to attract a white clientele and spread from areas with large immigrant concentrations to become a nationwide presence” (Buettner, 879).  This blending of traditional Indian cuisine with Britain’s preferences can be seen in many of the dishes served, like Chicken Jalfrezi.

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Jalfrezi is believed to be created during British rule, or the Raj, of India by Governor General for the state of Bengal, Lord Marcus Sandys (India Curry).  The word “Jhal” means “spicy” in Bengal, and Lord Marcus Sandys was known for enjoying spicy Indian food.  In order to use all of the leftover food from before, the British reheated the leftovers as a stir fry, and thus Jalfrezi came to be and has been gaining popularity ever since.

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A new poll in 2011 found that Chicken Jalfrezi has become the most popular choice in Britain’s Indian restaurants, even over Chicken Tikka Masala (which is considered one of Britain’s national dishes) (Hall).  This trend is thought to be due to Britons’ evolving and more adventurous preference for spicier foods.  We can see this budding development in White Teeth, even though it is not exactly pronounced correctly.  Still, the novel emphasizes the merging of Indian and British culture, not only through the history of Chicken Jalfrezi, but also with the addition of chips, or fries to the dish.



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I had never made Indian food or curry from scratch before this, and I had never had Chicken Jalfrezi before, either.  When looking for a recipe, I found one on BBC Good Food, and I figured that this would be perfect, since the quote from White Teeth is about Indian food in Britain.

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There were a lot more steps to making it than I thought, from marinating the chicken in spices, to creating the sauce, to making the stir fry vegetables.  However, each step allowed for more flavor to come into the dish.  The sauce was so good on its own, even without the chicken or stir fry!

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I got some frozen fries to include, just to see what it would be like to eat “chips” with chicken jalfrezi.  The fries were good to dip in the sauce, but I ended up sticking mainly to eating the Indian food with rice.  I really liked the taste of it, and it was not very difficult to make, so I would highly recommend it to whomever is feeling as adventurous as the British with their evolving taste in Indian food!

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Chicken Jalfrezi

Ingredients

The sauce:

  • 1/2 a large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 green chilli, chopped
  • 1 tin plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 pint of water
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric

The meat & veg:

  • 2 or 3 chicken breasts, diced up
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 a large onion, sliced
  • 2 red chillis (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp garam masala (spice mix)
  • a handful of fresh, chopped coriander leaves

Directions:

1. Take the chopped chicken and coat it in the cumin, ground coriander and turmeric then leave it to marinade in the fridge while you make the sauce.

2. To make the sauce, fry the roughly chopped onions with the garlic and green chilli in a large pan until browned. Add the water to the onion mixture and simmer this for around 20 minutes.

3. While that is simmering, put the plum tomatoes in a food processor and give it a good whizz – aim for a smooth consistency. Heat another large pan and gently fry the ground coriander, cumin and turmeric in a splash of oil for about a minute. Add the tomato ‘sauce’ to this pan and simmer for around 10 minutes.

4. Next give your onion mixture a good whizz in the food processor and add it to the spiced tomato sauce. Give it a stir and simmer for 20 minutes. You can make large batches of this sauce and freeze it for later use.

5. Fry the marinaded chicken in oil and stir continuously. After a few minutes, turn down the heat and add the other half of the chopped onion, the red pepper and chillis. Stir this until the onions and pepper soften (and the chicken is cooked, of course).

6. Add the earlier prepared sauce to the cooked chicken and simmer for around 10-20 minutes. Just before you dish it up, stir in the garam masala and chopped coriander leaves. Serve with basmati rice or naan bread.

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Sources:

Buettner, Elizabeth. “’Going for an Indian’: South Asian Restaurants and the Limits of Multiculturalism in Britain.” The Journal of Modern History, 80.4 (2008): 865-901. Online.

Hall, James. “Move over masala, jalfrezi is now our favourite curry.” Telegraph.July 21, 2011. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/8653054/Move-over-masala-jalfrezi-is-now-our-favourite-curry.html>

India Curry. “What is Jalfrezi?” <http://www.indiacurry.com/faqterms/whatjalfrezi.htm>

Shackleton, Mark. “More Sour than Sweet? Food as a Cultural Marker in Timothy Mo’s Sour Sweet, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Salman Rusdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet.” The Electronic Journal of the Department of English at the University of Helsinki, 3 (2004). Online. <http://blogs.helsinki.fi/hes-eng/volumes/volume-3-special-issue-on-literary-studies/more-sour-than-sweet-food-as-a-cultural-marker-in-timothy-mos-sour-sweet-zadie-smiths-white-teeth-and-salman-rushdies-the-ground-beneath-her-feet-mark-shackleton/>

Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. New York: Vintage International, 2000. Print.

Modernism

Lipp’s is where you are going to eat and drink too […]

                There were a few people in the brasserie and when I sat down on the bench against the wall with the mirror in back and a table in front and the waiter asked if I wanted beer I asked for a distingué, the big glass mug that held a liter, and for potato salad.

                The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes à l’huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I grounded black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly. When the pommes à l’huile were gone I ordered another serving and a cervelas. This was a sausage like a heavy, wide frankfurter split in two and covered with a special mustard sauce. (A Moveable Feast, 68-69)

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As Norman Mailer put it, Ernest Hemingway was a “dedicated gourmandise” – his obsession with food is most present in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, which is about his adventures in Paris during the 1920s.  I took a seminar called “Americans in Paris,” and this is one of the novels we read, and one of the inspirations for why I started this blog in the first place.

While Paris in the 1920s brings to mind many things depicted in Woody Allen’s magical movie Midnight in Paris including literary expatriates, beautiful clothing, jazz music, and many exciting artists, food might not be such an obvious characteristic of the time.  This is why I think A Moveable Feast stuck with me so much: it brings to life the world Hemingway was a part of, including the world of food and drink.

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In this quote, Hemingway gives a vivid description of his experience eating and drinking at the Brasserie Lipp.  This image brings insight into the significance of café culture in Paris.

Even though I have never been to Paris before, as I “walked” along the Parisian streets with Google Maps I noticed that the place is sprinkled with cafes and restaurants, which emerged during the modern era.  A typical café serves a selection of foods and coffee, with the large majority of them having outdoor seating for prime people-watching.   Cafes “notably provided an ambiance quite different from the boozy miasma of the tavern” where people could read the newspaper and have a stimulating conversation over a cup of coffee and a pastry (Abramson 24).

Cafes come in many variations, including the brasserie, or brewery. “Brasseries appeared during the Second Empire, increasing in number after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and the development of the train line linking Strasbourg to Paris” (Abramson 120).  Many brasseries, because of the influence of the Franco-Prussian war, have a Germanic flair, including the Alsatian brasserie.

Alsace, a region of France with Germany as its neighbor, blends German and French cuisines to create the traditional food of the area.  These distinctive dishes include cervelat, or pork sausage, as well as other items presented in copious portions (Price 155-157).  Brasserie Lipp is one of the famous eateries in Paris that offer Alsatian cuisine.

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Léonard Lipp, who couldn’t stand to live under Kaiser Rule after the French-Prussian war of 1870 and the loss of the Alsace-Lorraine region, came to Paris and opened his own brasserie.  In 1918, the name was changed to today’s Brasserie Lipp as Marcellin Cazes took over the business (“Brasserie Lipp”).  Brasserie Lipp remains a famous landmark for tourists who want to sit where Hemingway sat as he contemplated his future career with a plate of French potato salad and a liter of beer.  

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Hemingway’s memoir took place before he was rich and famous, and he struggled with affording food and often times skipped meals.  Perhaps this is why he chose the Brasserie Lipp to eat in this particular scene – if Alsatian food comes in large amounts, and the Brasserie Lipp offers Alsatian cuisine, maybe he got a satisfying amount of potato salad for a fairly reasonable price.   Additionally, we know that Hemingway loved his alcohol; after all, it was Hemingway who said, “Write drunk, edit sober.”  Because the Brasserie is known for its beer, this was the perfect place for him to enjoy his meal with quality alcohol.   Looking at his writing style, we can find a link between his “meat and potatoes” writing and his meat and potatoes meal.



 

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When figuring out where to get a recipe for French potato salad, the first thing that came to mind was Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When Child fell in love with French cuisine after World War II, she also became one of the most recognizable and iconic Americans promoting French food just like Hemingway in his writing.

I went directly to her cookbook in the school library, and used her “pommes de terre à l’huile” recipe, which includes fresh, clean ingredients that can be used just as successfully in America as in France.

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I tried following her recipe as closely as possible with the ingredients I had.  I think the biggest issue cooking was the potatoes.  The recipe calls for “boiling potatoes” and I thought that the red potatoes I had would work well for potato salad; however, as I sliced the potatoes and tossed them in the dressing, they began crumbling slowly, which made me apprehensive to toss even more.

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Despite that minor bump in the cooking process, the potato salad tasted delicious and filling without being too heavy.  The white wine used really made a difference in the overall taste. I would definitely make these again!

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As for the rest of the dish, I wanted to make sure I included slices of a French baguette as well as the sausage to bring Hemingway’s description to life.  Alsatian sausage is not very easy to come by in San Luis Obispo, so I got bratwurst because I figured it would have the closest resemblance.

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Pommes de Terre À l’Huile – sliced potatoes in oil and vinegar dressing

Ingredients:

2 lbs. “boiling” potatoes (8 to 10 medium potatoes)

4 Tb dry white wine

2 Tb wine vinegar

I tsp prepared mustard (Dijon)

¼ tsp salt

6 Tb olive oil

Pepper

1 to 2 Tb minced shallots or green onions

2 to 3 Tb chopped mixed green herbs or parsley

Directions:

1.  Scrub the potatoes. Drop them in boiling salted water to cover, and boil until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with a small knife. Drain. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel, and cut them into slices about 1/8 inch thick. Place them into a mixing bowl.

2.  Pour the wine over the warm potato slices and toss very gently. Set aside for a few minutes until the potatoes have absorbed the liquids.

3.  Beat the vinegar, mustard, and salt in the small bowl until the salt has dissolved. Then beat in the oil by droplets. Season to taste, and stir in the optional shallots or onions. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and toss gently to blend.

4.  Serve them while still warm, or chill. Decorate with herbs before serving.

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Sources:

Abramson, Julia. Food Culture in France. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2007. Print.

“Brasserie Lipp.” The History of Parisian Cafes. Paris Bistro Editions. 2013.  <http://www.paris-bistro.com/english/histoire_lipp.html&gt;

Child, Julia. “Pommes de Terre À l’Huile.” Recipe. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. New York: Random House, Inc., 1961. 541. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York: Scribner, 2009. Print.

Price, Pamela Vandyke. “Alsace and Lorraine.” Eating and Drinking in France Today. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974. 153-165. Print.

The Victorian Age

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After a velvety oyster soup came shad and cucumbers, then a young broiled turkey with corn fritters, followed by a canvas-back with currant jelly and a celery mayonnaise. (The Age of Innocence 63)

Even though Edith Wharton is known as a prominent female writer during the Modernist period, The Age of Innocence depicts high society New York during the Victorian Age.  This might have been the reason why this novel was included in the course about Victorian literature – it gives a vivid representation of what it might have been like to be witness Old New York in the 1870s.  

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The quote describes the various courses at the dinner between Newland Archer, the novel’s protagonist, and Mr. Letterblair, an “accredited legal adviser of three generations of New York gentility” (Wharton 59).  The narrator explains that the two men dined “copiously and slowly,” as well as “deliberately and deeply” (Wharton 63), indicating the importance of dinner and being able to savor every flavor and dish.

At least for Mr. Letterblair and others of the upper class who regularly ate formal meals with multiple courses, one can assume that the quality must have been just as essential as quantity, since they mention so many dishes.  While they do indicate many important and historical food different items, like corn fritters and canvas-back, I am going to be delving deeper into the significance of the “velvety oyster soup,” since it is the only dish that comes with a gastronomical description.

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Because this novel takes place in 1870s New York, it is only fitting to include a reference to oysters.  New York today may be the place of bagels and smear, street hot dogs, and cheesecake, but in the 19th century New York was all about the oyster.  Oysters were so abundant that Ellis Island and Liberty Island were known as Little Oyster Island and Big Oyster Island; however, “by the early 19th century, the most prolific oyster beds around Manhattan and Staten Island were nearly played out, and for the remainder of the century, New York, like a great, gobbling maw, would eat its way up and down the coast of Long Island, overconsuming and polluting the oyster nigh unto extinction” (Grimes).  By the late 1920s, the oysters from New York were too polluted and the last few oyster beds were closed.  Oysters from New York are still not edible today (Nigro).

What is interesting is that, unlike what I expected, being able to eat oysters in the late 19th century did not mean you were particularly wealthy. “Unlike the lobster or the canvasback duck, its value was not a function of scarcity” and oysters were not only eaten in high-end restaurants, but were also sold by street vendors (Grimes).  Everybody, from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor, ate oysters!

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While Mr. Letterblair’s canvas-back probably displayed his wealth and status in society more than the oyster soup, the fact that this soup is only the first course emphasizes his ability to present more food than the average New Yorker at the time, when some only ate oysters and bread (Nigro).

It is interesting that Wharton would slip in a small detail like oyster soup in her novel.  Even though it takes place in the 1870s, Wharton’s personal experiences as someone of high society during the 1920s would have exposed her to the events surrounding the diminishing abundance of oysters in New York.  It is amazing how such a seemingly insignificant detail so casually mentioned could hide such rich history of the culture enveloping the novel’s characters, as well as the author herself.



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I have probably been the most apprehensive about this post because I had never eaten an oyster before this.  While I do like pretty much every other shellfish I have had, I was worried that I would make this oyster stew and end up really not liking the taste.

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So, I got a can or two of smoked oysters just to try it out beforehand.  And…I really liked it! They reminded me slightly of a mix between clams and sardines. After that hurdle, I knew I was ready to cook the stew.

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Upon taking the fresh oysters out of the jar, I was surprised at how big some of them are! (Keep in mind I did not really know much about oysters before this week.)

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As I was looking for oyster stew recipes, I wanted to find one that would match the “velvety” description in the novel, and I found the perfect one from Fat of the Land; it was very easy to follow the directions.  I only made half of the recipe, though, just in case this oyster stew was not my cup of tea.  I think it turned out pretty nicely!

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Oyster Stew

Ingredients:

1 cup celery, minced (about 3 ribs)
1 shallot, minced (3 tbsp)
1 large potato, chopped
4 tbsp butter
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 limit large oysters (or 2 12 oz jars)
salt and white pepper
fresh parsley, chopped for garnish
hot sauce

Directions:

1.  In a heavy pot saute shallot in butter over medium heat. Add potatoes and celery, season, and saute for 15 minutes.

2.  Add 3 cups milk and cook just below simmer until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.

3.  Use an immersion blender or food processor to blend milk and vegetables.

4.  Add heavy cream, then oysters and their liquor. (I chopped up my big oysters into bite-size pieces.) Oysters are done when edges curl. Serve immediately with hot sauce.

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Sources:

Grimes, William. “Before There Were Bagels, New York Had the Oyster.” New Work Times. March 1, 2006. <http://events.nytimes.com/2006/03/01/books/01grim.html?_r=1&&gt;

Nigro, Carmen. “History on the Half-Shell: The story of New York City and its oysters.” NYC Neighborhoods. New York Public Library. June 2, 2011. <http://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/06/01/history-half-shell-intertwined-story-new-york-city-and-its-oysters&gt;

Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence. New York: Dover, 1997. Print.

Romantics

“Never take any substance into the stomach that once had life.

Drink no liquid but water restored to its original purity by distillation” (A Vindication of Natural Diet 26)

The Romantic Era is not known for its abundant literature about food and culinary achievement.  Normally, when one thinks of Romanticism, one can recite a few lines from William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” recall the powerful images in Percy Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” or envision a youthful Walt Whitman leaning and loafing on the grass as he describes in Leaves of Grass; picturing these poets scarfing down on steak and wine seems unimaginable. 

The reason for this relates to the strong introduction to vegetarianism, as noted in Shelley’s A Vindication of Natural Diet.  In his essay, Shelley gives many reasons why people should adhere to a more pure diet consisting of “potatoes, beans, peas, turnips, lettuces, with a dessert of apples, gooseberries, strawberries, currants, raspberries, and in winter, oranges, apples, and pears” (Shelley 24-25), including an increase in health and a distinction from brutal carnivorous animals; however, it also provides insight into important cultural values at the time.

With the progress that the Industrial Revolution brought, the Romantic period sought for a return to more natural ways of life.  The emerging popularity of abstaining from meat in Shelley’s time “was a convenient form of social distinction in an increasingly consumer society that had been emerging through the long eighteenth century, and that had reached a reflexive moment ofconsumerism by the Romantic period” (Morton 59).  This “reflexive movement of consumerism” not only included the denial of meat consumption, but also “no spices from India; no wines from Portugal, Spain, France, or Madeira; none of those multitudinous articles of luxury, for which every corner of the globe is rifled” (Shelley 21). Instead of following the consumerist notions and views, many wanted to stress the importance of recognizing and experiencing beauty and delight in their own country’s nature, which would return them to the more innocent and peaceful state that mirrored childhood.  One way of doing so, was to maintain a less aggressive lifestyle, including abstaining from eating meat and drinking liquor.

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Diet was not the only component suggested during the Romantic period; the importance of nature and surrounding one’s self in nature with picnics also emerged. For the pioneers of Romanticism, “picnicking was an aesthetic and ethical act of everyday culture that had the hegemonic effect of recreating cultural relations and identities” (Hubbell 44).  William Wordsworth and his wife Dorothy, who both loved taking frequent walks in the picturesque countryside, became two people responsible for making modern picnicking what is its today.  The established custom of the early 1800s involved eating before or after a walk, but despite this, the Wordsworths became accustomed to taking food with them on their walks so they could eat while enjoying the scenery (Hubbell 46).  This trend of picnicking was not just an excuse to eat with the best view in town, but it also presented itself as a political act: “The picnic was a consumerist practice that refashioned the self through certain tastes, values, and images. Picnics denounce the amoral eating, use of surplus wealth, and leisure of the upper classes and lower classes” (Hubbell 47).  Just like maintaining a vegetarian diet, eating outdoors in the rural countryside was a way for people to improve their lives in a world of consumerism and industrialization.



 

With the growing recognition of vegetarianism defended by Shelley, and the emergence of modern picnics started by the Wordsworths, I wanted to incorporate these two components to connect them with the importance of nature present in Romantic poetry.  Even though food is not really at the forefront in poetry during this literary era, if Whitman tells us lean and loaf with him on the grass this day and night in “Song of Myself,” we have to have some sort of food to eat!  I wanted to come up with food items that were not only perfect for a picnic, but that were also vegetarian or vegan to stick with Shelley’s dieting philosophy. 

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For the savory dish, I made a veggie roll with a white bean spread.  By using natural ingredients, fresh vegetables, and a vegan tortilla, this roll would have worked great on some of William and Dorothy Wordsworths’ picnics. 

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Any combination of vegetables can be used, depending on what you have, or what you like; I used carrots, yellow bell pepper, cucumber, and red onion.

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The white bean spread works like a hummus, but has a more “American” or “UK” feel to it because of the type of bean (I figured it fit better with the growing sense of nationalism in Shelley, Wordsworth, and Whitman’s time).  I found the recipe on treehugger.com.

 

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What I was most excited about, though, was the sweet treat – honey almond cake with raspberries and blueberries. 

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I found the original recipe on Pretty.Simple.Sweet., but I wanted to alter it to make it more appropriate for the Romantic outlook on food by using more natural ingredients and a few vegan substitutions.  For example, I used honey instead of white sugar, and I used apple sauce instead of eggs.  I also used a mixture of lemon and blood orange olive oil, which gave the cake additional depth in flavor without making it taste too citrus-y. 

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I can just picture William and Dorothy Wordsworth or Walt Whitman snacking on little pieces of the cake after enjoying the veggie roll, all while completely surrounded by a breathtaking landscape on a beautiful sunny day!  I think they would have loved the San Luis Obispo landscape.

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Creamy White Bean Spread

Ingredients:

1 can Cannellini or Navy beans, drained and rinsed

1 small clove garlic, smashed

¼ cup roughly chopped parsley, plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped, divided use

2 teaspoon lemon juice

¼ teaspoon lemon zest

salt

black pepper

olive oil

 

Directions:

1. Begin smashing the white beans, and incorporate the garlic, parsley, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper.

2. Add a little olive oil at a time until the spread is creamy enough or at the consistency of your liking.

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Honey Almond Cake

Ingredients:

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoon oil

 1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup almond flour

Raspberries and blueberries

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325F/160C. Grease an 8×8-inch pan.

2. In a medium bowl sift together all-purpose flour and baking powder. Add almond flour and mix. Set aside.

3. Beat together oil and honey for about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the applesauce and beat well. Beat in vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and beat just until combined. Do not overmix.

4. Spread the batter into prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Arrange raspberries and blueberries on top of the batter.

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack. 

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Sources:

Hubbell, Andrew. “How Wordsworth invented picnicking and saved British Culture.” Romanticism, 21.1 (2006): 44-51. Online.

Morton, Timothy. “Joseph Ritson, Percy Shelley and the Making of Romantic Vegetarianism.” Romanticism, 12.1 (2006): 52-61. Online.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Vindication of Natural Diet. Harvard: F. Pitman, 1886. Google Books. Online.

 

Shakespeare

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Let me see; what am I to buy for our sheepshearing feast? Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice – what will this sister of mine do with rice? But my father hath made her mistress of the feast, and she lays it on […] I must have saffron to color the warden pies; mace; dates? – none, that’s out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many raisins o’ th’ sun. (The Winter’s Tale 4.3.36-48)

Food comes up frequently in many of Shakespeare’s works, but when readingThe Winter’s Tale for my Shakespeare seminar, this passage stood out to me.  In this part of the play, we are introduced to the pastoral setting of Bohemia, where shepherds are preparing for the sheep shearing feast.  The clown, who is speaking these lines, talks to himself as he walks down the road, listing off what seems like a grocery list of items he needs to get to prepare for the feast.  Even though he mentions specific ingredients, like sugar, ginger, and raisins, he only mentions one actual dish: warden pies.

Warden Pie has a rich history in the countryside of England.  Warden Pies get their name from the pears that were traditionally grown and used at Warden Abbey in Bedfordshire (Tastes of Bedforshire).  The Abbey was founded in 1135, and was known for its peaceful activities, like cultivating these small pears used for cooking (The Landmark Trust).  Shakespeare, who was Catholic, was probably aware of this abbey, which is only about an hour away from London. Because of the serene and rustic atmosphere of this abbey, it makes sense that the peaceful country land of Bohemia would also use pears from the countryside of Bedforshire. 

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In addition to using the Warden pear, this time-honored pie also uses other traditional ingredients like ginger and saffron.  Because the clown specifically mentions the importance of the saffron to color the pies, this spice remains integral in the baking and overall look of the pie; however, while the pears are local, saffron is far from it.  Historically, this vibrantly colored spice was cultivated in places in Italy since the 13th century, making the prices of this spice extremely expensive for people of England, for example. (Basker and Negbi 231). They would have to pay a lot for a very small amount (same as today).  This can also be said for many of the other spices the clown mentions.  With the spice trade active in England during the 1600s, Shakespeare and his fans would have been familiar with the efforts of getting foreign spices like sugar and saffron.

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Because of this, we can see how important this sheep shearing feast was for the people of Bohemia in the play.  Shepherds are not known for their wealth, so being willing to spend however much money is needed for sugar, currants, saffron, ginger, and other foreign spices implies not only the value of this feast, but also the hospitality of the clown’s family.  We as readers can better understand the customs at the time by looking at such seemingly insignificant references like warden pie and saffron in this play. 

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For making the Warden Pie myself, I wanted to find a recipe that included many of the items the clown lists in his little monologue.  While it is not the traditional Warden pie that was baked in Shakespearean England, I baked a rustic pear tart with saffron pastry using the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens.  I liked that this recipe is meant to look rustic, because it fits the pastoral feel of Bohemia in The Winter’s Tale.  The recipe includes pears (not Warden Pears, unfortunately), ginger, sugar, dried cherries (to substitute the prunes and raisins), and cinnamon (to substitute the mace, nutmeg, and cloves).  

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This was the first time I had made a tart, or even used saffron in a pastry dough, so I was excited!  To think about it, I had never really made dough from scratch by myself either; most of the time I was just helping my mom.  The saffron dough took a little more time and arm muscle than I expected, but using the saffron to color it was really interesting to see, since it made the dough a vivid yellow color.  

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In addition, the recipe called for four medium pears, but I could only fit slices from about two and a half pears, and the tart was stuffed!  I’m not sure if the pears I bought were bigger than what the recipe called for, or if I did not roll out the dough to make the tart bigger, but nevertheless, it did not change the flavor or look of it.

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Overall, I was pretty happy with the outcome!  The pears and cherries paired well together, and the saffron not only gave the crust a nice color, but also a delicate flavor that tasted delicious. A slice of pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’re good to go! And I think I now have a better appreciation of the history of warden pie and why it is included in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

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Rustic Pear Tart with Saffron Pastry

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons boiling water
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
4 ice cubes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
4 medium Anjou or Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and sliced (about 4 cups)
3/4 cup dried cherries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
Dash salt
1/4 cup pear nectar or apple juice
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger 
Milk
Sugar
1 pint ginger, cinnamon, or vanilla ice cream (optional)

Directions:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. For dough, in a small bowl pour the boiling water over saffron threads; let stand for 15 minutes. Add the ice cubes to chill the mixture; set aside. In a large bowl stir together the 2 cups flour, the 1/4 cup sugar, and the 3/4 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. In a small bowl combine egg yolk and 3 tablespoons of the saffron-water mixture. Stir egg yolk mixture into flour mixture. Stir in enough of the remaining saffron-water mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, to just moisten the flour mixture. Gather mixture into a ball, kneading gently until it holds together; flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes to 3 days. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to a 13-inch circle. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. For filling, in a large bowl gently toss together pears, dried cherries, and lemon juice. Add the 2 tablespoons sugar, the 1 tablespoon flour, the cardamom, and the dash salt; gently toss to combine.
  3. For pear syrup, in a small saucepan combine pear nectar, the 3 tablespoons sugar, and the crystallized ginger. Bring just to boiling over medium heat; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add to fruit mixture; gently toss to coat.
  4. Spoon fruit mixture onto dough circle, leaving a 2-inch border of dough around the edge. Fold dough edge up and over fruit mixture, pleating as needed and leaving center uncovered. Spoon any liquid remaining in the bowl over fruit mixture. Brush dough edge with milk; sprinkle with additional sugar. Cover the fruit in center of tart with foil.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes or until dough is golden and filling is bubbly. Cool on baking sheet on a wire rack. If desired, serve with ice cream.

 

Sources:

Basker, D, and M Negbi. “Uses of Saffron.” Economic Botany, 37.2 (1983): 228-236.

Shakespeare, William. The Winter’s Tale. Ed. David Bevington. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Sixth ed. New York: Pearson, 2009. 1527-1569. Print.

Tastes of Bedforshire. “Warden Pie.”http://www.tastesofbedfordshire.co.uk/Uploads/Recipes/Warden%20Pie.pdf

The Landmark Trust. “Warden Abbey.” http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/our-landmarks/properties/warden-abbey-12823#tabs=1

Introduction

Literature allows us as readers to be transported to a new world – whether that is 16th century England, high society New York during the Victorian Age, or Paris in the 1920s.  We become observers in the spaces that surround the characters as we watch them interact with the society and culture that influence their actions and thoughts.  Food, in particular, is a vehicle for us to better understand a specific sphere in the world of literature.  Many times when we look at a novel or memoir, we not only witness the history of the time period and the people, but also the food history of those people.  By focusing on the references to food in literature, it can “help to humanize the absent figures of the past and make tangible the history they lived” (Elias 13), even if those figures and histories are fictional.

I’m pretty sure everyone has heard the saying “you are what you eat.” In this case, it could not be more accurate.  Even though we eat food literally for survival, food also gives us ways to make statements about who we are and what we like. Food offers a glimpse into the life of people.  I bet if you took a peek into my kitchen, you would undoubtedly be able to guess that I am a college student: packages of pasta, canned soup and frozen dinners (for emergencies); five dollar wine for those long days; and the occasional batch of chocolate chip cookies or brownies for when I really need a pick-me-up.  However, it is what is less obvious – shelves of spices in the cabinet, a phone app dedicated to over 200 recipes to try, and my decision to live just a few blocks away from Albertson’s for when I need to quickly grab ingredients for a special dinner – that exposes my willingness to try new things and experiment with food.

As a fourth year English Major, reading has become a huge part of my life (obviously); even though my passion for literature has remained strong, my passion for food has grown since I have been forced to cook for myself and find new ways to satisfy my appetite after long hours of working on research papers at the library.  For me, cooking food and finding new recipes is a way to relax and learn in ways not necessarily possible in a University classroom setting. So, for my senior project at Cal Poly, I have decided to combine these passions of reading and cooking (and eating) to make a literary cookbook of sorts.

I will look at significant works from different literary time periods that were highlighted throughout my years of taking English classes, and find food references. After reflecting on the historical and cultural significance of the particular item or dish of food, as well as the significance of incorporating that food in the work, I will include a recipe inspired by the reference and show my process of cooking it.

Essentially, the writings about food “create both literal and metaphorical connections among members of our classes, between the books and our analyses of them, between bodies and minds” (Cognard-Black and Goldthwaite 433).  It is through these connections that we better relate to others.  Hopefully throughout this process I will be able to better recognize just how important food is in understanding characters and society in literature, as well as the world at large, and I want you to enjoy this journey with me through the literary history of food.

By: Elyse Vincenty

Sources:

Cognard-Black, Jennifer, and Melissa Goldthwaite. “Books That Cook: Teaching Food and Food Literature in the English Classroom.” College English, 70.4 (2008): 421-436. JSTOR. Online.

Elias, Megan. “Summoning the Food Ghosts: Food History as Public History.” The Public Historian, 34.2 (2012): 13-29. JSTOR. Online.