Calder, Maritime history and culinary anthropology

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Ever since he was a little boy, Calder ‘s been a voracious reader over a wide range of subjects. But, his latest obsession is pretty funny to me. He’s immersed in a series of books (historical fiction) by Patrick O’Brian on British maritime history.  There are about 22 books in the series and here’s the thing: he’s got them all downloaded on tape too and whenever we travel in the same car–he somehow convinces us all to listen to it. There are also many evenings I hear him falling asleep to these stories.  If you’ve ever seen the film Master and Commander, starring Russel Crow and Paul Bettany, than you can get the picture of this series which centers around the characters Jack Aubrey (a florid seaman) and Steven Maturin (a physician). Anyway–embedded in every story are constant references to the foods (and drink)  they consume with great enthusiasm– be it on land or sea under the most challenging circumstances. They always manage to be ridiculously well fed.

At some point, I noticed a cookbook on our table called Labscouse & Spotted Dog which is a gastronomic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels–compiled by Annie Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas. Evidently, Calder had found and purchased this on line. (Maybe I was just a little concerned at this point??). He proceeded to chat endlessly about these rather bizarre sounding foods especially the “puddings” which can be either “sweet or savory depending on the content or context.” Generally they are comprised of flour, sugar, pork or beef fat (suet), currants, spices etc–boiled and served with some kind of custard sauce.These puddings have names like Plum Duff, Spotted Dog, Spotted Dick–and most horrendously Boiled Baby.

An excerpt: “Jack reached the galley, inspected the coppers, the harness-casks, the slushtubs, the three hundredweight of plum-duff preparing for Sunday dinner; and with some satisfaction he noticed his own private drowned baby simmering in its long kettle. But this satisfaction was as private as his pudding.”

Taking this alarming fascination a step further, Calder wanted me to make a whole feast from this cookbook. Perhaps for his birthday dinner (I joked). We can all dress up too (I joked).  Quiz: do you know what a “Miller” is? OMG!! But, Calder couldn’t wait for me to warm to the idea of creating such a feast so he brought home some suet and a container of currants and yesterday set about making his own private pudding…..Jacks favorite, the unmentionable one. I helped him prepare it but so far I haven’t tasted it. He made Luca eat it with him–neglected to make the custard sauce  to go with and they both said it was “pretty good.” I’ll make some custard sauce today and give it a try.

A big reader of fiction myself, I also find the foods described in period novels to be fascinating—I’ve just never been a reader of naval history before so Calder has taught us all something. THe last book I read where the food compelled me was, The Man in The Shark skinned Suit–a fascinating tale of Edgyptian Jews in Cairo before the war. I could not wait to eat the foods described; spiced apricots and lamb, sour cherries, saffron….That sent me straight to the cookbooks of Claudia Roden and the making of a large exotic feast.  I’m lookng for another one. Any suggestions?

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  • Teresa November 14, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I just wanted to write and tell you how much I enjoy reading your blogs, especially when they involve your boys,they are always so full of heart and humor.Also,thanks for putting out the the Mad Hungry cookbook and sharing your talent and knowledge of cooking with all of us.

  • Lucinda Scala Quinn November 15, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Thank-you Teresa. What a lovely thing to say. i appreciate your support.

  • Mary Drohosky November 18, 2010 at 10:52 am

    How do I get Calder’s chicken thigh recipe and
    also his potato recipe>

  • Carol Larson November 23, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    here is a great book tip for Calder: Two Years before the Mast. He’ll enjoy it, if he loves the Patrick O’brien books. I am so happy you have your own series, since I watch Everyday Food specifically because of you! I have looked forever for Pepperidge Farm White Bread to make that one appetizer you made so long ago. I’ve NEVER found it here in Washington state. The little recipe is what made me take notice of you. So real, just good food with a little twist. Thanks!

  • Ruth January 4, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    I love watching you cook. You are so real. Mistakes happen and you just roll with it showing the viewers that sometimes things don’t need to be done exactly as the recipe calls for. Your explanations for why you do things is so helpful, too. My husband originally found this particular blog and reminded me of ‘Pology Cake in Juliette Fay’s novel, “Shelter Me”. It was a great book and the recipe looks yummy. I’ve yet to try it. Here’s the link:
    Keep cooking and sharing your recipes!

  • Madeline Wisniewski February 20, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    I love your recipes and I’ve tried several and they all come out great. I do wish the nutritional value of the recipes were posted at the end of the recipe, I’m trying to lose weight and need to keep track of calories, fat etc. I hope that infor is forthcoming.

  • Karen September 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Hi Lucinda,

    If you enjoyed The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, you’ll love Out of Egypt, by Andre Aciman. I too am fascinated with Jewish Levantine (Sephardic) cooking, though I myself am Ashkenazic. Claudia Roden’s books are of course wonderful, but I highly recommend Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck. It is an encyclopedic compilation of Syrian Jewish foods and customs. The photos are by Quentin Bacon, so you know the book is gorgeous. My only complaint is that there seem to be errors and/or inconsistencies in some of the recipes—I have a feeling the recipes were not all tested before publication. Let me know if you need a source for homemade tamarind paste, and be sure to try the simple but otherworldly dessert Khushaf!
    Thanks for your great show.

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