williams fork

Culinary Technology (Part 8): The Aristocracy

Petworth House (Sussex) is one of the grandest houses in England.  It belonged to the Egremonts from 1150 (it is now managed by the National Trust).  The current building is from the 1600′s.

Today, it has an enormous array of kitchen utensils, over 100 pieces in total.  There are rows of saucepans and stewpans, with matching lids, lined up on dressers.  There are stockpots with taps at the bottom (like tea-urns), sauté pans and omelette pans, a large braising pan with an indented lid to hold embers (so the food could be cooked from above at the same time).

The Petworth batterie de cuisine.

Copper braising pan (front); small steaming kettle with handle cover (back).

Particulary impressive is the wide variety of fish pans.  In the old days, fish came from the Sussex coast.  The kitchen has fish kettles, with pierced draining-plates inside, so that the fish could be lifted from the water it was being poached in, without falling to pieces. There is a fish fryer (a round, open pan with a wire drainer), and a specialist turbot pan (diamond-shaped, the same shape as the fish). There are several smaller pans for cooking mackerel.

Victorian copper fish kettles.

A tin fish kettle (cheaper than copper).

Modern fish kettle, with a better view.

The fish fryer probably looked like this.

Turbot pan.

Of course, not all of these items would have been in use during every era.

In 1624 (during the Stuart era), Petworth didn’t have any saucepans or stewpans.  For boiling/stewing, they had a large fixed “copper” (a giant vat of boiling water, which supplied hot water for the whole household as well as the kitchen); nine stockpots (cauldrons), an iron cockle pan, a few fish kettles, and five small brass skillets (3-legged, to stand in the fire).

Modern stockpots.

A brass skillet - not sure of the era.

The kitchen’s focus was on roasting, not boiling.  They had 21 spits, 6 dripping pans, 3 basting ladles, and 5 gridirons.

Medieval spit.

Gridiron (not sure of the era).

Basting ladle (1745).

But by 1764 (in the Georgian Era), things were different.  Only 9/21 spits were left.  Petworth now had 24 large stewpans, 12 small stewpans, and 9 bain-maries & saucepans.

Modern stewpans.

Georgian saucepans.

This increase in pans (both number & variety) was because of a new style of cooking.  The old heavy medieval cuisine was on its way out, and a fresher, more “buttery” cuisine was on its way in. There were many new foods in the Georgian Era that the Stuart Era did not have.  For example: frothy chocolate; crisp biscuits; sharp, citrusy sauces; the truffly ragouts of French nouvelle cuisine.  And all of these new dishes needed new equipment to cook them in.

Hannah Glasse (1708-70) was one of the most well-known cookery writers of the 1700’s.  She wrote that it was important to use the right pan when melting butter – a silver pan was best, she thought. (A type of thickened melted butter was beginning to be served as a universal sauce, to go with meat or fish.)

But by 1869 (in the Victorian Era), this was definitely not enough. The focus of the kitchen was finally moving away from spit-roasting – now the most important equipment was the copper pans, resting on steam-heated hotplates.

There were three steamers, for those foods that needed gentler cooking than boiling.  The number of stewpans & saucepans had risen from 45 to 96.  This was because of the huge variety of sauces, glazes and garnishes that were part of Victorian cuisine.

There isn’t much difference between a saucepan and stewpan.  In the 1700’s, saucepans were smaller (like the left-hand one further up), suitable for furiously whisking sauces and gravies, after they’d been made in a stewpan, and sieved.  Stewpans were bigger, and had lids.  They could hold a lot of food, and they were the main pan for cooking the meal.  However, the saucepan eventually overtook the stewpan.

In 1844, Thomas Webster wrote in An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy that saucepans were “smaller round vessels for boiling, made with a single handle”, and that stewpans were made with a double handle (one on the lid, and one on the pan).  The metal of stewpans was thicker, and they had a more rounded base, which made them easier to clean.

(Nowadays, we don’t use the term “stewpan” – we say “saucepan” for pretty much every pan.)

The idea of the batterie de cuisine came out of the 1700’s.  It was the opposite idea of the one-pot cooking – you should have a certain pan/vessel for each component of the meal.  You can’t sauté in a slope-sided frying pan; you can’t fry in a straight-side sauté pan.  You need a turbot kettle for poaching fish.  You need the right tool for every job. This was influenced by France, and by the new professionalism of cooking during the 1700’s.

William Verrall (1715-61) was the chef & landlord of the White Hart Inn (Lewes, Sussex).  He disparaged cooks that tried to make do with “one poor solitary stewpan” and one frying-pan “black as my hat”.  He said that “a good dinner cannot be got up to look neat and pretty without proper utensils to work it in, such as neat stew-pans of several sizes” and various other things.  He tells of “half of a very grand dinner” being completely spoiled “by misplacing only one stew pan.”

This obsession with pans was partially because of the English copper industry. Prior to the 1700’s, copper had been imported from Sweden.  But in 1689, their monopoly had ended, and England’s production of copper increased greatly (especially from Bristol).  And of course, now it cost less – so cooks could have many copper pans.  The French word batterie actually means copper that has been battered into shape.  By the 1800′s, batterie de cuisine had become the universal term to refer to cooking equipment (excluding fixed objects such as the oven).

The Victorian copper batterie was the apogee of the history of pots and pans.  They were well-crafted, and made from high-quality metal; they were tailored to the specific requirements of cooking; and wealthy Victorians had huge kitchens, with many cooks.

Some have criticized the Victorians for boiling vegetables for too long, and reducing everything to a soupy mush.  Victorian and Regency-era recipes say to boil asparagus for 15-18min; broccoli for 20min; carrots for 45min to an hour!  But this actually made sense for the time, and didn’t actually wreck the vegetables.

William Kitchiner (author of The Cook’s Oracle) says to boil asparagus for 20-30min, which seems far too long to us. He also says, “Great care must be taken to watch the exact time of their becoming tender; take them up just at that instant, and they will have their true flavour and colour: a minute or two more boiling destroys both.”  We tend to boil asparagus as individual stalks, whereas he says to tie it in a bundle – which takes longer to cook. But there is a lot more to the long boiling times than that.

Recipe-writers in the 1800’s were very keen on cooking scientifically.  And the most important thing about boiling, they said, was that no matter how long you boil water for, it’ll never go above 100°C. This was noted by Robert Buchanan (an expert on fuel economy) in 1815, and cookbook-writers often quoted him on this.  What was the point of boiling things hard, when it doesn’t raise the temperature any more?  It was just a waste of fuel/energy.

William Kitchiner experimented with putting a thermometer in water “in that state which cooks call gentle simmering”.  At simmering-level, the water was also 100°C – the same as if it was boiling.  Logically speaking, it would be better to cook at a simmer, rather than a boil – same temperature, less fuel.

In 1868, Pierre Blot (Professor of Gastronomy at the New York Cooking Academy) criticized cooks & housewives who boiled “fast instead of slowly”.  “Set a small ocean of water on a brisk fire and boil something in it as fast as you can, you make as much steam but do not cook faster; the degree of heat being the same as if you were boiling slowly.”

Simmering instead of boiling is good for meat.  Kitchiner said, “The slower it boils, the tenderer, the plumper and whiter it will be.”  But for vegetables (except for potatoes), it takes ages – especially because Victorian cooks liked to cook things in the smallest pan possible.

Kitchiner said that the size of the boiling-pot should be proportional to what it will contain.  The reason for that, he continued, was that the larger the pot, the more space it took up on the fire, and the more water & fire was needed.  This is true.

The Victorians were partially right, and partially wrong.  It is true that boiling water won’t go above 100°C (unless under higher pressure, such as in a pressure cooker).  But temperature isn’t the only important factor.  Another factor is ebullition – how much boiling water bubbles.  Heat transfer is determined by the temperature difference between the food and the heat source (water).  Boiling water moves more chaotically, and transfers heat to the foot several times faster than simmering.  Also, heat transfer is faster when there is more water in the pan (in proportion to the food).  So Kitchiner’s small, simmering pot will take ages longer to cook than a modern-day large, boiling pot.

Another reason for the long cooking times was that Victorian vegetables were different from now – less tender.  Their asparagus was stalkier, and their carrots & greens were tougher.

Victorian pots and pans, despite their craftmanship and variety, had a big problem – their material.  Copper is a great heat conductor, second only to silver.  But when it comes into contact with food (particularly acidic foods) pure copper is poisonous.

Tin is neutral, and their copper pans were thinly lined with it.  Of course it wore down over time, exposing the copper beneath. Therefore, 1700’s & 1800’s recipe books often give the advice to “Let your pans be frequently retinned.”

But cooks probably put off retinning their pans as long as possible.  In fact, cooks who didn’t realize that the copper was poisonous used its “greening” powers, using unlined copper pans to pickle green walnuts and green gherkins.

Culinary History (Part 27): Egg-Beaters

The fact that eggs can be used as a raising agent in baking was discovered during the Renaissance.  Previously, cakes (when made at all) used ale barm or yeast for this purpose, which made them taste rather yeasty, and have a bread-like texture.

Now, cooks could produce a wide variety of sweet dishes, with air as the primary component.  Pillowy cakes with a much lighter sponge were made.  The Elizabethans had yellow and white tarts (made from beaten yolks & whites respectively), sweetened with sugar & cream. Syllabub – a dessert made with wine, cream and egg whites – was very much in fashion.

Lemon syllabub.

The banqueting course after a feast often included “a dishful of snow”. This was made by frothing up many egg whites with cream, sugar and rose-water; it was then piled on a platter.

But the new discovery was not accompanied by any technological innovation to do it.  So cooks and servants toiled away, wearing out their arms to beat the eggs for the grandees.  This was the norm, of course, for no-one cared for the comfort of servants.

Le Ménagier de Paris, an advice book from 1393, gives a pancake recipe.  These are the instructions:  Get a quart-sized copper pan, and melt a large quantity of salted butter in it.  Take eggs, some “warm white wine” (we would use milk) and “the fairest wheaten flour” and beat it all together “long enough to weary one person or two”.  When one person was worn out, the next took their place.

Eggs raise a cake because the stable protein foam holds the bubbles together as it cooks.  For this to happen, the protein molecules must partially unfold (upon contact with the air), and re-form as an air-filled lattice, or “stiff peaks” as we say.  This was very hard work back then, because they didn’t have the balloon whisk that we do now.  It is possible that some households made their own versions of our whisk – an illustration in The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570) looks rather like one – but none have survived.  If they did exist, they certainly weren’t common.

The usual tool for whisking eggs was a birchen rod - a bunch of stripped twigs (occasionally feathers), tied together.  The twigs were usually birch, and this twig bunch was used well into the 1800’s.  The benefit was that they could flavour the cream or egg whites.  Some recipes taslk of tying the twigs together with peach branches, or strips of lemon peel.

But they were very slow.  A 1654 recipe by Joseph Cooper, “chiefe cook to the late king”, says that beating eggs for pancakes will take 30min or more.  Mary Eaton (early 1800’s) advises that it will take THREE HOURS to beat the egg whites enough for a cake.

And to make matters worse, superstition said that the eggs had to be beat in the same direction the whole way through.  This superstition may have come about because it was so difficult to get the froth, and they were worried about not achieving it.  Some believed that on damp days, the egg whites would become bewitched, and not get stiff enough.

But the birchen rod was better than a lot of other tools used for beating eggs.  Some cooks used a spoon, or a broad-bladed knife – neither gave much traction.  Forks became common from the late 1600’s onwards, and of course were much better.  A really gross method was to wring the egg whites repeatedly through a sponge.  And it was a pretty useless method as well.

At the end of the 1600’s, the moliquet or chocolate mill arrived in Britain.  It was made of wood, and is still used in Mexico & Spain for foaming hot chocolate.  It consists of a long handle and a notched head (rather like a water mill), and is spun between the palms of the hands.  At this time, they begin to appear in the inventories of large country-house kitchens, probably to whip eggs as well as froth chocolate (which was the new fashionable drink).  Even as late as 1847, an American cookbook mentions the moliquet as an alternative to the birchen, for whipping cream.  But even the moliquet was labour-intensive and not as good as the balloon whisk.

A modern moliquet.

Sugar was a problem, too.  Most recipes with egg whites also included sugar, or rather, double-refined sugar.  It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that sugar began to be sold ready-ground, and customers could choose between granular, caster and icing sugar.

Sugar was sold in a lump or loaf – a cone-shaped block weighing 5-40lb (2.3-18.1kg).  It was “nipped” into small pieces with sugar nippers.  But for cooking, it had to be pounded (in the mortar) and then sieved through a series of sieves, gradually getting finer. Like the mortar and pestle, colanders & sieves have changed little over the centuries.

In 1874, the chef Jules Gouffé described what was involved in processing sugar.  This is how he made granulated sugar, which was sprinkled onto sweet pastries:

Procure three sifters or colanders, one with holes 3/8 inch in diameter, another with holes ¼ inch in diameter, a third with holes 1/8 inch, and a hair sieve.

Chop the sugar into pieces with a knife, and break up each piece with the end of a rolling pin, being careful not to grind any of the sugar to powder as this would take away the brightness of the remainder.

Then, the sugar is sifted through each sieve, ending with the hair sieve. Gouffé complains that not everyone does the full process “owing to its being rather…troublesome”, instead pounding it in a mortar without sieving it.  He regrets such laziness, saying that mortar-pounded sugar lacks the brightness of sugar sifted “the old-fashioned way”.  He is of course also regretting the decrease in kitchen staff & the lack of armies of servants who are expected to wear themselves out for the rich.

The “technological conservatism” of food-processing equipment is part of this issue.  Cookbook-writers wrote for people who didn’t do the work themselves, but took credit for it.  In their eyes, there was no need for technological innovations in the kitchen, if there were servants to do it for them (or a wife in poorer households).

It was really only after the Industrial Revolution that things began to change, due to the changing labour situation, and factories that could mass-produce cheap metal objects.  The term “labour-saving” was first used in 1791, in a manufacturing context.  It was another half-century before the concept was used for the kitchen.

In the 2nd half of the 1800’s, the US was suddenly flooded with various types of “labour-saving” kitchen devices, including apple-corers, cherry-pitters, coffee-mills, potato-mashers, and raisin-seeders.  Many were cheap and made of tin, and many were heavy pieces of equipment, meant to be clamped to the kitchen table (like mincing machines).  And there were so many egg-beaters.  Hundreds and hundreds of varieties of them.

From 1856-1920, 692 patents for egg-beaters were granted in the US (east coast only?)  In 1856, only one was issued; in 1857, only two; in 1858, only three.  But in 1866, 18 patents were granted.  The 1870’s 1880’s and 1890’s were the worst for it.  Designs included jar-shakers, tin-shakers, ratchets, and the Archimedes – a sort of up-and-down mixer, based on the Archimedes screw used in shipbuilding.

An Archimedes egg-beater.

Late 1800′s egg-beaters.

Most were no good at all.  Wooden handles fell off, and tin handles stained your hands black.  Some were made of “whirligigs” inside a tin cylinder, which was great until you had to wash them, and they were too big to whip small quantities.

The Williams’ Egg Beater, patented on May 31st, 1870, was one of the first egg-beaters to make it past the novelty stage.  It was known as the Dover, and it set the basic form of the cheapest hand-operated egg-beaters, using two whisks instead of one.  The earliest Dover egg-beaters consisted of two bulbous beaters, and a rotary wheel to turn them.  The inventor was Turner Williams (Providence, Rhode Island), and he said that the advantage of his invention was the “very peculiar shearing action” which resulted from two wheels revolving in opposite directions, in the same space and at the same time.  This was the first egg-beater to have that happening.

1870 Dover egg-beater.

The Dover was an immediate success.  “Dover” became the generic term in America for an egg-beater.  A 1891 advertisement says to look for “DOVER” on the handle, because “NONE OTHERS ARE GENUINE”. The 1883 book Practical Housekeeping informs the reader that the Dover is “the best in the market”.

Marion Harland, a cookery writer whose real name was Mary Virginia Terhune, also praised the Dover.  In 1875, she wrote that “egg whipping ceased to be a bugbear to me” the day she bought one, and that she wouldn’t sell it for $100.  A portable egg-beater cost about 10-25c at that time.

Light, portable, rapid, easy and comparatively noiseless, my pet implement works like a benevolent brownie.  With it I turn out a meringue in five minutes without staying my song or talk.

Harland was born in 1830, in rural Virginia, one of nine children.  Her mother did little cooking: the task was left to “black mammies”. Harland was more active in the kitchen, and she believed it was her calling to master the role of “homemaker”.  After she married, she decided to teach herself and her cook, to increase their skills in the kitchen.  In 1873, she published the results in Common Sense in the Household. It sold 100,000 copies.

In the book, Harland assumes that her readers will have a cook, but one who will need a lot of guidance.  At this point, middle-class American women usually only had one cook, so they also worked in the kitchen.  Harland writes about her servant Katey in a very patronizing way.

The egg-beater boom coincided with a period in American cuisine when desserts at respectable tables were very much aerated.  Apple snow, orange snow and lemon snow each required four egg whites, whipped to a “standing froth”.  The Orleans cake needed 6 eggs beaten light, and the yolks strained; the Mont Blanc cake needed 6 very stiff egg whites.

Charlottes, creams, muffins, syllabubs, trifles, waffles, whipped frostings, and of course meringues – all these needed highly-aerated eggs (the yolks were beaten to a cream, and the whites to a fluff).  They were important to a housewife’s reputation, and even though her cook did most of the work, Harland took credit.  She criticizes her friend for not having been “alert” that her cook wasn’t beating her eggs properly, with “half a dozen strokes of the wooden spoon”.

So the new egg-beaters were welcomed by middle-class housewives, who wanted to get more air into their eggs, and more work out of their servants.  And to those who didn’t have servants, they could feel that they weren’t really doing much work, even when they were.  A Holt-Lyon egg-beater (similar to the Dover one) in 1901 was advertised with the claim that its unique “flared dashes” could “instantly tear the eggs into the minutest particles”; it could beat “eggs lighter and stiffer than the best hand whips in one-fourth the time.”

But the new egg-beaters weren’t very labour-saving at all, really.  The Dover egg-beater (and others like it) needs both hands to use, so you can’t hold the mixing bowl.  The paddles sometimes jam in one place as they rotate, or rotate too fast.  They often slip around in the bowl and spatter mess everywhere.  The Dover promoters claimed that it could beat 2 egg whites in 10sec, but this is nonsense – it would take minutes, not seconds.

Many people invented egg-beaters that (supposedly) fixed these problems, but they only created new ones.  Some inserted the paddles into an attached jar/bowl so that the bowl wouldn’t slide around, but you could only use it for small quantities, and the bowl attachment was just one more thing to wash up.

Some beaters tried to fix the problem of needing two hands.  A 1902 Roberts egg-beater was a type of Archimedes whisk, and its advertisement claimed it was “A New Idea in Egg Beaters”.  It was “the only automatic beater made that works with one hand…simply press on the handle and release.”

This was a good idea, but as usual, there were other problems.  The one-handed beaters (their mechanisms including wire whirls, springs, and discs like potato-ricers) took ages to beat the eggs, and could malfunction if you tried to speed them up.

There was also a family of water-operated egg-beaters, which you hooked up to the new running water that was appearing in American homes.  A World Beater advertisement proclaimed, “Turn the Faucet and it Starts!”

Water-powered egg-beater (1924).

Despite all the effort put into creating new fancy egg-beaters, none of them were better than the French balloon whisk, which had been used since the 1700’s by confectioners (only by them?)  The egg-beater boom wasn’t really useful, and wasn’t really about saving labour & time, just the illusion of it.  Cooks had started to rebel against tired arms, and they could feel that the manufacturers were on their side in this.  But their arms would only get a rest with the advent of the mixer and food processor.

Glass jar turbine egg-beater (1930′s.)

anonymous asked:

William totally shipping his daddy and Barry tho

I drabbled again. I’m not even sorry.

An Outsider’s Perspective

Oliver hadn’t planned on running into Barry during his time with William, but William seemed all too happy to have Oliver’s friend join them, and both Barry and William had looked so hopeful, and, well, who was he to refuse them?

He’s starting to regret it, though. Every warm feeling towards Barry that he’d repressed – every ounce of love and devotion that he’s felt towards the younger man seems to flurry through him as Barry sits next to him in the diner booth, and William stabs at his chicken nuggets with his fork across from them, eyes fixed on his plate.

“You look tired,” is one of the first things that Barry tells him in a concerned voice.

Oliver peers at his friend, narrowing his gaze. “Well, work has been sort of… tiring, lately,” he offers weakly, eyes darting towards his son, and Barry nods in understanding, ducking his head with his lips dipped into a frown.

“You know, if you ever need any help for, uh, work-” Barry tells him, and it’s with a meaningful look that pierces right through him, “You can always ask for help. I’d race over in a heartbeat.”

It’s a simple statement – something that Oliver’s always known, but the tone, the look in his eyes, the way that Barry nibbles on his bottom lip… it’s laced with a meaning that he can’t quite decipher.

His son, though, having been distracted from playing with his food, is now staring between the two men with a smirk on his face, and Oliver sends him a questioning look. “What’s that look for?”

“Nothing,” William shrugs, abandoning his fork and dipping one nugget into his ketchup. “Mom didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend.”

“That’s not-” Oliver starts in an attempt to correct his son.

“We- we’re not-” Barry splutters, a panicked look sent in Oliver’s direction, all wide-eyed and adorable and fuck, Oliver just wants to reach over and kiss him right then and there.

William just raises his eyebrows, though, sending them a skeptical look, and damn, the kid is way more perceptive than Oliver would have expected from someone his age.

“I should, um… I should go,” Barry practically squeaks, face flushed and eyes adamantly avoiding Oliver’s gaze.

It doesn’t take a lot of thinking. He reaches over and clasps his hand over Barry’s, before turning his palm to lace their fingers together, and Barry’s expression goes from panicked to confused in a matter of seconds, soft eyes once more landing his own, questioning.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Oliver tells him gently, giving his hand a gentle squeeze and sending the younger man a soft smile.

“Y-yeah.” Barry replies, his own lips spreading into a hopeful smile. “Later.”

They’re so lost in staring into one another’s eyes, that Oliver barely registers the grin lighting up his son’s face as his eyes dart between the two men, proud of himself for being right about the obvious nature of their relationship.