August, 2012

Sallat of cucumers

August 14th, 2012 by KM Wall

What do you do when the woodchucks (not to be confused with woodcocks) eat your cucumber vines?

Go to the Plymouth Farmer’s Market- Thank you, Plato’s Harvests Harvest

“Springes to catch woodcocks”

August 8th, 2012 by KM Wall

Springes for woodcocks…..

August 7th, 2012 by KM Wall

Now by what the Country hath nor, you may ghes at what it hath; it hath no Nightingals, nor Larks, nor Bulfinches, nor Sparrows, nor Blackbirds, nor Magpies, nor Jackdaws, nor Popinjays, nor Rooks, nor Pheasants, nor Woodcocks, nor Quailes, nor Robins, nor Cuckoes, &c.

- 1672. John Josslyn. New England Rarites Discovered. London. MHS ed, 1972, pp. 12-3.


European woodcock

but also……

American woodcock

OK – there are North American quails, too.

It was seeing Hamlet that got me thinking of woodcocks. Polonius

mentions them…they’re such easy birds to trap, to be compared to one is to be called a fool.

Josslyn mentions them as NOT being in New England, but he thinks quails aren’t here either. Sparrows weren’t here – yet. They were brought out in the 19th century, with some of every other sort of bird mention by Shakespeare.

There are recipes for woodcocks – and quails – and sparrows -  in English cookbooks.

To carve a woodcock you would thie or thigh that woodcock, as you thigh that pidgeon or thie all manner of small birds. And how would you do that? According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

a)  [f. THIGH n.]

1. trans. To carve (a small bird): see quots.

c1470 in Hors, Shepe, & G. etc. (Caxton 1479 Roxb. repr.) 33 Alle smale birdes thyed. 1508 Bk. Keruing Aj, in Babees Bk. 265 Thye that pegyon..thye that wodcocke, thye all maner of small byrdes. 1675 H. WOOLLEY Gentlewom. Comp. 113 In cutting up all manner of small Birds, it is proper to say, Thigh them. 1796 H. GLASSE Cookery xxvi. 382 So you thigh curlews, plover, or snipe.

I’ll keep looking for a illustration…..

More lobster

August 2nd, 2012 by KM Wall

Still Life with Fruit, Flowers, Glasses and Lobster by Jan Davidszoon de Heem (1660s) Oil on canvas, 87,5 x 72,5 cm. Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels


“The best dish they could present their friends with was a lobster or a piece of fish without bread or anything but a cup of fair spring water. And the long continuance of this diet, with their labours abroad, had something abated the freshness of their former complexion; but God gave them health and strength in a good measure, and showed them by experience the truth of that word, (Deut. viii.3) “That man liveth not by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth a man live.”
- Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford, Morison ed. from 1623.

Now, what, pray tell, could be so bad as HAVING to eat lobster?

Read more closely – it all lobster, all day – every day. And not much more. This isn’t a bread and water diet – it’s a fish and water diet. What does this mean in terms of nutrition? One pound of lobster has 444 calories. So a hard working man who needs 3,000 calories a day (and that’s our guys) would have to eat 6.7 pounds of lobster a day just to break even. But lobsters are large, they’re easy to get and that amount is certainly available without extraordinary effort, which is why they were eating this way.

Lobster is high protein  – about 92 grams of protein per pound. (I’m extrapolating these figures from various government publications, all of which deal in smaller portion sizes). A pound of lobster also has 4 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fat and zero fiber. So there is definitely a down side to the all-lobster, all-the-time diet.

But it doesn’t last long. The harvest comes in, there’s bread again, the autumn comes with the vast numbers of wildfowl.

So, sometimes eating lobster isn’t such a great thing. Right, you say, weren’t there laws that said you could have lobster more then twice a week?

I’ll let food historian Sandra Oliver tackle that one from the Debunk house section of her Food History News website.

The lobster and salmon story is one of the most frequently told about New England seafood. It generally goes like this: Salmon and lobster “used to be so abundant that, it is said, ” pick one—the apprentices, servants, boarders, lumbermen, occupants, prisoners, and slaves of-pick another–Newcastle, England, Boston or Lowell, Massachusetts, Puget Sound, Bristol, Rhode Island, Islesboro, Maine, the Maine State Prison, or the South-refused to eat either lobsters or salmon, more than twice a week. Recent versions of the story usually feature lobster, but the vast majority of accounts prefer salmon.
All the stories have in common some group of people who have no control over their food choices, people who have to eat what is served them. The stories all explain that these sufferers had a meeting to form a complaint presented to an official in charge. The story, substantiated only by reference to an alleged expert who “has it on good authority” or words to that effect, is usually put in the context of former natural abundance. So the tale is reported second hand, refers to a time from fifty to one hundred years earlier than the usual late 1800s publishing date. The most common sources for this particular tale are town histories which abounded in the nineteenth century often written by a local antiquarian, though it appears also in George Brown Goode’s The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States published in 1887. Lack of primary evidence is the main reason to doubt this story. No minutes of these indignation meetings, nor ordinances outlawing sea food more than twice a week, have ever emerged. But why salmon, why lobster, why twice a week?
The stories appear when salmon or lobster are becoming historically scarce, when the author wants to recall a distant, more abundant past. Twice a week was for many in early England or the colonies, the number of fast days a week on which one customarily ate fish. As Protestantism neglected religious fasts marked by fish consumption, the idea of having to eat fish more than one’s religion formerly required sounded like an imposition on people who always preferred meat to fish.

And one more recipe from a little later in the seventeenth century that would taste just as good in the 21st century.

How to Frigacy or Butter Crabs or Lobstors.
Take out all the meat in the shells, and break the Claws of your Lobster, and take out the meat, mince it, or slice it, and put it into the other; add to it a spoonful or two of Claret-wine, a little Fennel minced, and a grated Nutmeg; let it boyl up. Then put in a little drawn Butter, a little Vinegar, and the yolk of an egg, if it not be thick enough; if there are Lobsters, you may dish them in a dish with sippets round in saucers, on a plate garnish them with Fennel and Bay leaves; or you may dish them in a dish with sippets; if they are Crabs, put it in the shell it was taken out, and garnish it round with their Fins, stick them with toasts, and to them only should you add a little Cinamon and Ginger beaten in the buttering.
-1682. Rabisha, William. The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected. Prospect Books ed., 2003. p. 141.

Lopster lurking

August 1st, 2012 by KM Wall

“…our bay is full of lobsters all the summer, and affordeth variety of other fish…”
-Mourt’s Relation, Applewood ed, p. 84. 11 Dec 1621 letter from E.W. to “Loving and Old Friend”.


Willem Claeszoon Heda. Breakfast with a Lobster (seventeenth century).

“In the same bay, lobsters are in season during the four months [May, June, July and August] –so large, so full of meat, and so plentiful in number as no man will believe that hath not seen. For a knife of three halfpence, I have bought ten lobsters that would well have dined forty labouring men. And the least boy in the ship, with an hour’s labour, was able to feed the whole company with them for two days; which, if those of the ship that come home do not affirm upon their oaths, let me forever lose my credit!”

-John Pory to the Earl of Southampton, Jan 13, 1622/3 in Three Visitors to Early Plymouth, James,ed.p. 9.

Although the painting is labeled “Breakfast with Lobster” it’s pretty apparent that it’s a crab….and at looking at what few recipes there are for lobster (or lopster) they are very often used in the same recipe as a crab. There are also not a whole lot of lobster recipes before the first half of the seventeenth century in English cookbooks, although I do now want to check out all the crab recipes to see if there is more lopster lurking there.

When I look at recipes, I look for persistence – how does this foodstuff show up over the long haul? Since there are so few recipes for lobsters, I ended up going VERY far back. And the recipes are very similar:

1381 Pegge Cook.Recipes (Dc 257) p.115:  Nym the Perche or the Lopuster and boyle yt and kest sugur and salt also thereto.

1381 Pegge Cook.Recipes (Dc 257) 117:  For to make a Lopister. He schal be rostyd in his scalys in a ovyn.

C. 1500 Gentyll manly Cokere (MS Pepys 1047)
A lopstere. A lopster shall be bakyn yn a noven or vnder A pan by the fyre side and then ete hym with vyneAger.

To boil Lobster or Crab.

Take Water, Vinegar, Salt, and Pepper-powder, let it cook well together (let it come to a rolling boil), add Lobster or Crab. He will have a beautiful color.”

-         Rose, Peter. Sensible Cook, p. 70.

The Sensible Cook is a Dutch Cookbook (translated by  Dutch Foodways historian Peter Rose ) from mid-seventeenth century, so that’s three hundred years of pretty much the same treatment for the lobster   – boil it or bake it and serve it with vinegar. Notice the no butter.

In 1660 Robert May, in The Accomplist Cook tosses in a real game changer: He has a whole section of lobster recipes, starting off with “To stew Lobsters” which includes Claret wine, butter, and then some more butter….; to stew them in clarified butter; to hash them with – yep, that’s right – more butter; and then to boil them,to keep them, to farce them, to marinate them, to broil them, to roast them, to fry them, to bake them, to pickle them, to jelly them, and then there are the ‘otherways’. There are twenty-one recipes in all. Butter abounds. Crabs have a section all their own.

And lobsters rate their own section in the Plimoth Colony story, too. But that’s for tomorrow.

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