[picasa username=”lsq713″ albumname=”MaritimeCulinaryAnthropologyFromTheBritishEmpire”]
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?