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March 31, 2012

For to cook a unicorn
Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM * 122 comments

Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library,” announced the British Library in their Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts blog, in a news story dated 01 April 2012.

Uh-huh, sure.

It’s a nice piece of work, and the illustrations are charming. Lo here:

A long-lost medieval cookbook, containing recipes for hedgehogs, blackbirds and even unicorns, has been discovered at the British Library. Professor Brian Trump of the British Medieval Cookbook Project described the find as near-miraculous. “We’ve been hunting for this book for years. The moment I first set my eyes on it was spine-tingling.”

Experts believe that the cookbook was compiled by Geoffrey Fule, who worked in the kitchens of Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England (1328-1369).

Geoffrey Fule’s wife was no doubt named Aprille. I expect she hung out with lady-in-waiting Philippa de Roet, who coincidentally was also married to a guy named Geoffrey.

The nameless experts the story cites are to be congratulated on their knowledge of 14th C. employment records, as are Professor Brian Trump and the British Medieval Cookbook Project for their successful unicorn hunt.

Geoffrey had a reputation for blending unusual flavours — one scholar has called him “the Heston Blumenthal of his day” — and everything points to his hand being behind the compilation.
If we knew this much about a prominent cook of that period, right down to his seasoning preferences, there would already be a scholarly industry devoted to studying him, and he’d be the main character in a series of modern mystery novels.
After recipes for herring, tripe and codswallop (fish stew, a popular dish in the Middle Ages) —
Herring as in red herring, tripe as in tripe, and codswallop as in the modern phrase, “a load of codswallop.”
— comes that beginning “Taketh one unicorne”.
Grammatically, that would be the second-person dubious.
The recipe calls for the beast to be marinaded in cloves and garlic, and then roasted on a griddle.
This is careless. One doesn’t roast on a griddle. Also, the illustration mistakenly depicts the unicorn (which hasn’t been properly cleaned and gutted) being martyred by being grilled on a gridiron in the style of St. Lawrence of Rome, one of the patron saints of cooks.

(Lawrence is notably one of the saints whose colorful Life was probably generated by a typo. When not shown being cooked, he’s generally shown standing around with his gridiron: a reminder to home barbecue enthusiasts that if you don’t keep those things clean, stuff sticks to them. But I digress.)

The cookbook’s compiler, doubtless Geoffrey Fule himself, added pictures in its margins, —
It’s wonderful how they can tell that.
— depicting the unicorn being prepared and then served. Sarah J Biggs, a British Library expert on medieval decoration, commented that “the images are extraordinary, almost exactly as we’d expect them to be, if not better”.
That last line is splendidly impossible. There are no illustrated cookbooks from that period, and darn few pictures of cooking of any sort, so it’s hard to see how Ms. Biggs or anyone else could have had expectations of them. It’s also a remarkable achievement for the illustrations to simultaneously be extraordinary, exactly as expected, and better than that. “Pick one,” as I used to say in my copyediting days.
The recipe for cooking blackbirds is believed to be the origin of the traditional English nursery rhyme “Sing a song of sixpence / A pocket full of rye / Four-and-twenty blackbirds / Baked in a pie.”
There are various theories about the origins of this nursery rhyme, none of them especially good. (See Wikipedia, The Straight Dope, and As the Wikipedia entry says (in a withering remark which I think they lifted from The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes),
No corroborative evidence has been found to support these theories, and given that the earliest version [printed in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, London, c. 1744] has only one verse and mentions “naughty boys” and not blackbirds, they can only be applicable if it is assumed that more recently printed versions accurately preserve an older tradition.
Inventing one more dubious theory about the origins of that nursery rhyme is like inventing one more spurious prophecy attributed to Thomas of Ercildoune. There’s no risk of contaminating a field of scholarship with an unkillable story if it won’t make the subject any more of a mess than it already is.
Professor Trump added that he was tempted to try some of the recipes, but suspected that sourcing ingredients would be challenging. “Unfortunately, they don’t stock unicorn in my local branch of Tesco.”
In popular writing about medieval cooking, that last bit is the equivalent of ending a thumb-sucking news story with “Only time will tell.”

The final illustration is particularly good.

(See also The Arbroath Bestiary: De vombato.)

Comments on For to cook a unicorn:
#2 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 09:06 AM:

The Economist This week is reporting with a very straight face a new technological breakthrough called GeneDupe that will allow people to print pets. At last, TNH, you will have a perpetual supply of hamsters. "If all goes well, these will be available by St Valentine's day. If not, customers will probably have to wait until April 1st of next year."

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 09:10 AM:

BTW, Teresa, how could there be typos before typography?

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 09:32 AM:

An excellent question, Fragano. I expect it's because it's so much easier to say "typo" than to explain what kind of non-typographical error it was. The latter frequently require agency and narrative reconstruction, whereas typos just happen.

Modern conveniences. You know.

#5 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 09:33 AM:

I think that was my favorite from yesterday's news. I dispersed it far and wide.

Think of the ecological implications! Just as laws aren't made to stop things that aren't happening, recipes aren't made for imaginary. This is the first definitive proof that unicorns existed.

#6 ::: Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 09:34 AM:

On a related note, The Mandelbrot Monk.

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 10:45 AM:

TNH #4: Modernity is a very stretchy substance. This explains its convenience.

#8 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 11:36 AM:

I don't get the significance of the name "Geoffrey" here....

#9 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 12:03 PM:

David H., #8: I'm guessing that it's a Chaucer reference, as in "Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog". (E-i-e-i-o!)

Teresa, they could try using ThinkGeek's Canned Unicorn Meat to test the recipe.

#10 ::: Lee has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 12:04 PM:

No idea why.

#11 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 12:27 PM:

Whatever the specific history of the rhyme about four and twenty blackbirds, there are descriptions in medieval and renaissance cookbooks for food-related entertainments that involve the presentation of live creatures. (I'd have to look up the references when I'm at home with my library.) This includes blind-baking a pie shell which is then filled with living creatures (in addition to small birds, I believe frogs are mentioned). Another one involves sort-of "mesmerizing" a chicken (I believe) so that it's presented on a platter as if dead but then wakes up and is expected to run squawking about on the table causing all manner of merriment.

#12 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 12:52 PM:

I note that The Forme of Curry is available in a decent facsimile from the iBooks store (along with Lutrell, Arundel, the Bedford Hours and a handfull of others):

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 02:25 PM:


Modernity is a very stretchy substance. This explains its convenience.
This is true. And well-put. And if there's a pun lurking in it to rival the one you came up with at GaFilk, I'm going to start being scared.

Heather Rose Jones: I know. They did all kinds of strange amusing things with food -- some Laurel did a very good article on it -- and the Ottomans did stranger ones. I'm sure the sentence "Don't play with your food!" made its first appearance early on in human language.

Lisa: The Forme of Cury is great fun in its splatterpunkish way:

GEES IN HOGGEPOT. Take Gees and smyte hem on pecys. cast hem in a Pot do þerto half wyne and half water. and do þerto a gode quantite of Oynouns and erbest. Set it ouere the fyre and couere it fast. make a layour of brede and blode an lay it þerwith. do þerto powdour fort and serue it fort.

FOR TO MAKE II. PECYS OF FLESSH TO FASTEN TOGYDER. Take a pece of fressh Flesh and do it in a pot for to seeþ. or take a pece of fressh Flessh and kerue it al to gobetes. do it in a pot to seeþ. & take þe wose of comfery & put it in þe pot to þe flessh & it shal fasten anon, & so serue it forth.

It's available free -- the text looked decent enough -- at Project Gutenberg and CeltNet, the latter with modern translations for the faint-hearted.

#14 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 03:36 PM:

Does the recipe include dragon heel, or does that date from a later period?

#15 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 03:51 PM:

Heather Rose Jones (11): The not-really-dead chicken dish has been mentioned on Making Light before, I think. One of Teresa's early posts, I believe.

*pokes Google*

Aha! Found it! That was a fun post for fans of weird medieval cooking.

#16 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 03:58 PM:

TNH #4 -- What we used to call "scribal error."

I guess that would make it a scribo?

#17 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 04:15 PM:

The idea of grilling a whole unicorn gets funnier when you consider the likely sources of the unicorn legend. As I understand it, the current theory is that the later descriptions of unicorns represent the results of an intercontinental game of Telephone (before actual telephones), starting with early reports of... the rhinoceros.

#18 ::: David Harmon has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 04:17 PM:

link to National Geographic?

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 04:40 PM:

TNH #13: I grant there was a certain bit of wordplay lurking at the back of my mind. I have had the thought of proposing a convention on scatological literature to be held in a very large sanitary facility. The event, of course, would be called ModCon.

#20 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 04:43 PM:

Jim Macdonald #16: The newspaper I used to work for blamed all such errors on the printer's devil. Presumably there was also a scriptorium devil on whom all such errata could be blamed.

#21 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 04:55 PM:

Fragano (19): That would be Titivullis (spelling varies).

#22 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 05:45 PM:

These days, the really busy member of that family is the programmers' daemon. (Though I want to install Turing's daemon on my computer--each time you try to recompile your code, it only lets the compile happen if the new program is more correct than the previous version.)

#23 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 06:06 PM:

I've been told by a couple of laurels* I know that a very common phrase in medieval cookbooks is "...until it be enough." Today, we want instructions we can follow mechanically and get a predictable result. Whoever said "computer programs are like recipes" was NOT talking about medieval ones! They assume you know all about medieval kitchens, and just need to know how to make this dish...also that you have judgment and a really good feel for your ingredients and the result you want.

I think a lot of the vagueness of medieval recipes is attributable to this; they're shorthand between professionals, not learning materials for amateurs.

I actually have a lot of "until it looks right" in my own cooking. This is because I experiment until it does look right, and seldom wind up with measured amounts. (In baking, except for bread†, I measure meticulously. But even for the famous brownies, I kinda tilt the pan back and forth to see if they're done...if they move a little but not too much, I take them out.) I also eat my mistakes, unless they're just too disastrous (I feel no obligation to eat ashes and dust, but something that's merely nasty? Yeah, I gag it down)—I suspect this is my birth religion (Behaviorism) rearing its ugly head: if I eat everything I cook, I'll get better at cooking!

*As in, they're a couple, and they're both laurels. "Their house is a museum/In Service To The Dre-um/A medieval teaching te-um/The Laurel Family!"

†Bread baking is a great way to persuade people out of the mechanical measure-and-get-reliable-results cooking mindset. Bread machines are one thing, but if you're hand-baking bread, unless you can control the humidity of the kitchen, there's going to be some variation in how much flour you add to the loaf...and flours, even brand-name ones, vary too. Gotta learn the look and feel of dough with enough flour, and the other look and feel of dough that's been kneaded enough.

#24 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 06:08 PM:

That would be Titivullis (spelling varies).

And none of the spellings is correct.

#25 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 06:13 PM:

Michael Ayrton wrote a lovely book called Tittivulus, or the Verbiage Collector, which I recommend to lovers of very offbeat fantasy.

#26 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 06:46 PM:

Xopher #22: Actually, I get pretty consistent results in baking by measure, but I usually measure my flour by weight. Alas, most recipes I come across insist on specifying flour amounts by volume, which is troublesome.

The other necessity for "chemistry-style" cooking is standardized ingredients -- most of the dry and wet ingredients in my kitchen have FDA and/or industrial standards for their composition and/or quality, thus I never have to worry about what my cow's been eating this week, and only rarely about adulteration or the effects of weather upon my produce. Similarly, I rarely work with whole carcasses, and even if I do, they come labeled by weight.

Of course, it's also handy to have a standardized system of measures (not to mention reliable clocks). "A lump the size of the church door-knob", indeed!

Now, I'm off to have a particularly unmeasured dinner (some salad and a chicken sandwich). ;-)

#27 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 06:53 PM:

Xopher @ 22

Anent "until it is enough", earlier this year I taught a 3-hour medieval cooking workshop that was focused almost entirely on "here is how you create and maintain the specific heat necessary for the dish you're cooking". So much of modern recipes assume a consistent and effortless control of heat. When you're starting with a bin full of irregular lumps of hardwood charcoal, even boiling an egg becomes an art.

(There has emerged quite a fad in left-coast SCA cooking circles for "historic cooking as performance art" using reproduction cookware and authentic heat sources. It's resulted in some of the most fun events I've participated in recently.)

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 07:16 PM:

Mary Aileen #20: That may explain why printers' apprentices were known as 'devils'.

#29 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 07:20 PM:

Heather Rose Jones #26: Ah yes, I neglected to mention thermometers and thermostat-controlled ovens!

#30 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 08:19 PM:

I am told that modern professionals' cookbooks - recipe notes for high-class restaurants - are equally terse on times and amounts. Because exactly that - they're cribsheets, not recipes in the modern Joy of Cooking style. All the "how much" and "an it be enough" and "until it's ready" are expected to be assumed. So each individual recipe will be about 3 lines of notes.

I understand that - one of my treasures is a vim quick reference card. Almost useless to a novice, effectively useless to those who don't do it every day, critical for that "how do I do *that* again?" question for me.

Unfortunately, one of the "an it be enough" people tried to teach me better how to cook. I'm guessing a couple of years of being in the kitchen every day, and doing things as the teacher thinks you can have seen it often enough to do, would do it for most people - so about 20 for me, then.

#31 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 08:32 PM:

David 25: Actually, I get pretty consistent results in baking by measure, but I usually measure my flour by weight.

Even with bread? Do you live somewhere where the humidity is always the same (or very close)? Because in Michigan and New Jersey I've found the amount of flour needed varies greatly according to the time of year.

Heather 26: That does sound like fun!

#32 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 09:10 PM:

Xopher #30: Bread is most of what I bake... Admittedly, my bread usually doesn't rise quite as much as I'd like, but it's fairly consistent about the amount it does rise, and the result is good enough that I haven't been "driven" to tinker with it.

Also, it's been a while since I've had the spare time/energy to bake extra loaves for experiments. :-( This week I did try extra yeast -- oddly, it did rise a bit higher, but in baking it shrank back to the usual size. (And final consistency was unchanged.)

I'm not sure about humidity, but the temperature does vary -- that seems to affect how long it takes to rise, but it does seem to have a natural maximum.

#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 09:21 PM:

Yesterday I made a pound cake from a modernized version of early 19th century cake-baking. About half an hour to assembled the parts, and an hour to bake it - that's really 'until it be enough'. The liquid ingredients were brandy rosewater, and white wine - with the spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, and allspice), it made a very tasty batter.

#34 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 09:42 PM:

David, maybe you need to adjust the amounts of honey and/or salt in your recipe. A little more honey might make the yeast produce a little more gas. Salt slows the process, which gives a more consistent rise.

#35 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 10:18 PM:

Xopher #33: Hmm.. That certainly sounds worth a try, thanks for the advice!

Lately I'm actually not measuring those too exactly, especially the honey¹, so I'm guessing my first experiment should probably be to halve the salt, then (different loaf) doubling the honey. Does that sound reasonable? Currently I'm getting a fairly dense crumb; the slices are firm enough to be broken in half, but not too neatly.

¹ I'm sure you know the problem with measuring honey exactly. ;-)

#36 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 10:30 PM:

PS: I see my actual measurements didn't make it into either of my last couple of messages; I'm currently using 1.5 tablespoons honey (generous, but counting the proofing) and 1.5 teaspoons salt for 1.5 pounds of flour (one-third whole wheat, the rest white). This week's yeast increase was to use the whole packet.

A thought: do there actually exist measuring spoons that honey will slide off of?

#37 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 10:47 PM:

If you dip the measuring spoon in oil first, the honey slides off quite easily. Of course, if the recipe contains oil, you can just use the same spoon to measure the oil and then reuse it for the honey. My standard Challah has 1/3 cup each of canola oil and honey, so I use this trick pretty regularly.

#38 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 10:54 PM:

I've never met one. But if you butter it a little, the honey will come off quite nicely.

#39 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 11:42 PM:

I don't know, David. I think I may have used 1/4 cup of honey. I think it was a tablespoon of honey.

As I said, I really don't measure my flour. I mix in whole wheat flour until it's thick enough, then dump it out onto a bed of white bread flour. I work that on the table until enough flour has been added, then knead until it be enough! :-)

#40 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 12:49 AM:

I am finding that I need to add a little extra water to the flour when breadmaking. The moisture content of the flour does make a difference, and that is influenced by general humidity levels during storage.

I wonder what conditions the recipes were developed/tested in, and how recently-milled the flour was.

#41 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 05:25 AM:

I recently altered a recipe to include the instructions "bake until it looks right. Then wait five minutes" or, as I phrased it in an email to a friend, "bake until you start to suspect you've made a terrible mistake."

I have a cupcake recipe I've been tinkering with for four years or so. The last time I made it, I was mucking with the sugar and flour varieties, and I "overcooked" the cupcakes as well. Instead of a light golden, they were more of a medium copper on top. I went to bed thinking "oh well, they still look edible." In the morning I frosted them and took them to work for my coworker's birthday.

He said they were amazing and original... when they're just fairly standard vanilla cupcakes. I gradually figured out that it was the caramelized sugar top that had formed when I "overcooked" them that he liked so much. Everyone else I asked agreed, so I'm going to have to try to reproduce that the next time I have an occasion to make them.

I'm trying to get rid of my tendency to err on the side of overcooking things, but occasionally it leads to interesting successes.

#42 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 06:37 AM:

DavidS #37, P J Evans #38: I have used the "measure the oil first" thing, when I do use liquid oil in the bread. It had not occurred to me to butter a spoon. ;-)

Dave Bell #40: Hmm, I actually reduced the amount of water in mine, from a 16 to 12 oz. With 16 oz, I was getting "damp" loaves that sweated and molded quickly, even after passing crust and thump tests for doneness.

#43 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 09:19 AM:

David Harmon @36:

What brand of yeast are you using?

Most yeast sold in grocery stores is designed to work with bread machines, which means it needs a higher temperature proofing liquid, and a shorter rising time. If you're following the older rising times, the loaf may have risen too long to have the proper oven spring.

As I don't have the hand strength to knead well these days, I make bread using either the Cuisinart (1 loaf recipes) or the standing mixer (2 or more loaves recipes). When I use those the yeast/salt is added to the flour, and the hot liquid is poured into the dry ingredients (mixer/processor running).

#44 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 09:43 AM:

No need to measure anything for bread! Just put some flour in the bowl, (along with salt and any other thing you fancy) add too much water and mix until its too icky for dough, then carry on mixing it by hand and adding flour in small amounts as you do so - sprinkle a large spoonfull of flour on, mix it in, then do it again.

You know you have got the right proportion of flour and water when your hands come out of it cleaner than they went in. :-)

Seriously easier than messing around with weighing stuff. Leave that for pastry and cakes. Also less washing up to do - all you use is a bowl and a spoon and your hands. And the mixing is the start of kneading.

#45 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 02:05 PM:

"until it be enough" -- I have a number of cookbooks that date back to my grandmother's generation (late 19th - early 20th century). At that time, it was apparently assumed that a cook knew how to make all the standard things, and the only information required in the "recipe" was the list of ingredients.

This suited my personal style well, and also that of my children, and they all learned to cook in that way. It's kind of like the distinction between the text and the format when producing a written document. Kids are taught in school how to write "a business letter" for instance. But what they put into it varies from one letter to another, thus changing the flavor.

#46 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 02:27 PM:

WRT temperature & humidity: and let's not forget altitude! (Though I imagine that rarely changes on a seasonal basis.)

David Harmon @36: do there actually exist measuring spoons that honey will slide off of?

Syringe? ;-)

Leah Miller @41: I gradually figured out that it was the caramelized sugar top that had formed when I "overcooked" them that he liked so much.

Ah-yah caramelized sugar yah </animal voice>

I'm always first in line for the overbaked cookies. Num!

Older @45: It's kind of like the distinction between the text and the format when producing a written document.

It's my vague recollection that the modern recipe style came into vogue (most notably with the Joy of Cooking cookbooks) in the years after WWII, when you had a whole lot of women marrying and setting up house simultaneously.

#47 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 02:52 PM:

Me 39: I don't know, David. I think I may have used 1/4 cup of honey. I think it was a tablespoon of honey.

I meant 1/4 cup of honey and a tablespoon of SALT.

#48 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 03:59 PM:

It's one of the things that also develops with the working married woman: you're not spending the day in the house with your daughters doing stuff, and your daughters aren't learning by osmosis/habit/correction one bit at a time all these things that are "assumed knowledge". So a book that teaches this assumed knowledge (like the original Joy of Cooking) becomes useful - and since the format is useful for the "learned all of that, for the recipe styles in my family, at least" people for types of cooking that they didn't do in their family, it keeps being done.

And then there are the people who don't even have the "assumed knowledge" of the Joy Of Cooking, and eventually books like How to Boil Water get made (which was a fabulous book, by the way! Step 1 really was How To Boil Water, but step N was Real Cooking).

And yet, when you're talking to someone who "basically knows", you can still use lines like Ken@44 (which if I did it would mean that either I'd get it wrong - still - or end up with a sticky mess I had to throw out or enough bread for twice as many loaves as I have pans and stomach for).

#49 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 05:54 PM:

Lori Coulson #43: Currently Red Star, but there's another brand that I sometimes use (can't remember the name, brown single packets, "country" style decor, but not showing up in any of my searches). I used to have a jar of Fleischmann's, but I can't seem to find the jars anymore.

I normally do second rise until it "arches over the pan", which is at least double volume. That does vary with ambient temperature, and is usually 45 minutes to an hour. I like kneading bread, indeed I have to be careful not to overknead it -- I stop when it starts to have its own ideas about where its surface is (that is, blisters appear).

#50 ::: Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 07:27 PM:

David Harmon @ #17:

... the rhinoceros

I recently discovered that in the Georgian language rhinoceros and unicorn are referred to by the same word, mart'orka (something like "one-horn").*

Also, in Japanese the word for "giraffe" is kirin, i.e. literally the mythical creature called qilin in Chinese**, which is a sort of unicorn***.****

So: rhinoceros = მარტორქა = unicorn ≅ 麒麟(キリン) = giraffe.

* I actually found this when I ran the Georgian title of Zelazny's Sign of the Unicorn through Google Translate and got "Rhinos rating".

** When the Chinese encountered giraffes in the 15th century they called them qilin, though I don't believe this is the normal word for "giraffe" in Chinese today.

*** Insofar as it's a quadruped which usually has hooves & sometimes has one horn, & vaguely similar positive associations, anyway. It's a bit of a stretch, to be honest, but it has often been called the "Chinese unicorn", e.g. in the book of fabulous creatures I had as a child.

**** Similarly the modern Japanese word for "tapir" is baku, after a creature from Japanese folklore. It's a kind of elephant/tiger chimera which eats nightmares.

#51 ::: Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 07:36 PM:

I have a comment held by the gnomes.

#52 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 08:49 PM:

I get my Fleischmann's yeast in a jar at my local supermarket (clearly YMMV) or Sam's Club (in larger jars). It is not intended for bread machines. Yeast intended for bread machines is labeled as such. And also comes in jars, so I have to be careful. I've given up serious kneading and become a fan of the so-called artisan bread methods and recipes. Just flour(s of various types), water, salt and yeast for the basic versions. No HFCS or ground-up tree trunks (a natural source of dietary fibre).

#53 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 10:43 PM:

Unicorns being rhinos: This was modified by someone seeing a narwhal horn.

Manticores are also, I'm told and believe, a "game of telephone" lion. Human-like face, sting-like tail tuft...

#54 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 10:59 PM:

I do not need to be reading a thread about bread baking less than a week before Passover. It reminds me that I haven't made homemade bread in far too long and there's no way I'd finish off a loaf by Friday.

Re: Mycroft W@48 - I believe the shift started earlier than the Joy of Cooking with Fannie Farmer and the Boston Cooking School and the attempt to quantify cooking in a way that hadn't been done before. The original Boston Cooking School Cookbook (later the Fannie Farmer Cookbook) was pubished in 1896 and the underlying principle was to educate people in the latest scientific principles of cooking (the "you're doing it wrong" factor). The first set of instructions deal with how to build a fire in your stove which by the time The Joy of Cooking was released was rarely necessary. The link leads to an online transcript of the cookbook and the instructions on fire-making start on page 19. Boiling water comes later.

#55 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 12:03 AM:

One of the early "modern" cookbooks was The Settlement Cookbook published by Lizzie Black Kander in Milwaukee in 1901. It was designed to help new immigrants become familiar with the new American ways of cooking, and assimilate into the culture.
From the Wikipedia article here:

I still have my grandmother's copy, dated 1936.

#56 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 12:42 AM:

It took me years to figure out that "cameleopard" meant giraffe. Not so much telephone in that instance as much as the total lack of a frame of reference—referring to it in a list of odd beasts without further context, for example.

I made some thick potato soup last week and the kids refused to eat it. I think they're not happy with the idea of soup in general. So I put some flour, milk, baking powder, and an egg in some of it and made what I told them was "griddlings" (so that they wouldn't expect sweet pancakes.) Those went over reasonably well, though I'm going to add more baking powder and perhaps a little vinegar next time, so I get some rise out of the deal.

I should probably mention that this soup had onions AND ham in it, so the cognitive dissonance between what I'm expecting to taste and what I actually taste is pretty high. Not bad otherwise.

#57 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 03:09 AM:

Some people have the strangest ideas about cooking. The BBC, on their website, put out an article on food intolerances, and included therein the claim that modern bread had too much gluten, which couldn't all be destroyed by the fermentation process.

There's a couple of problems with that. First, gluten is the protein which stabilises the foam formed when bread rises. It doesn't feed the yeast. Low gluten flour is used for biscuits (cookies) and the like, and the foam of a sponge cake (which doesn't use yeast) is created by mechanical action and stabilised by the fats and eggs.

And the Chorleywood industrial baking process, which is behind most bread baked and eaten in the UK, uses lower gluten flour. It is a sort of sponge cake with yeast, using intense mechanical action, and stabilising the foam with more fats of the right sort and less protein.

Now, for most of my life I have been growing wheat, and what the Chorleywood process meant was that the big industrial bakeries could use a lower gluten grist, mostly British-grown wheat, and using the high-protein hard red wheats to adjust protein levels to the right point.

Anyway, saying that modern bread has more gluten is not in accord with the reality, and it makes me wonder about the quality of the journalism in the article.

There are people who don't tolerate gluten in their food, and so there are gluten free foods in the supermarkets, and recipes for gluten free cooking, but it seems to have become something of a diet fad. And that usually involves some dodgy science.

Incidentally, you can bake bread with low-gluten British wheat. The craft-baking processes can be adjusted to compensate. People have been baking bread from British wheat since the earliest times. But the large-scale industrial processes, Chorleywood and its predecessors, depend on a consistent input.

(This year is the centenary of the bread slicing machine, though it was 16 years before the pre-sliced load went on sale.)

#58 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 03:28 AM:

It's definitely a diet fad. My local excellent supermarket has a whole aisle-full of gluten-free food; I've seen "gluten free" on the label of things like jars of salsa (which strikes me as about as sensible as labeling sushi as "dairy free" and "no nuts").

#59 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 03:59 AM:

David @58

The problem is that gluten intolerance is a genuine medical problem. So it isn't like many other diet fads. But, for some reason, it is picking up many of the signs of becoming a diet fad, such as the marketing tactics, and the adoption of gluten-free diets by celebrities.

(I recall seeing, a year or two back, a report on national differences in the medical use of what might be placebo treatments. The doctors in one country might prescribe a suppository to treat a vague general malaise. In another country, "liver salts". As diet fads go, "gluten free" seems pretty respectable, and might be in that same placebo territory.)

#60 ::: Jen Birren ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 05:39 AM:

David @58:

There can be gluten in surprising things, though- it depends on what they're thickened with (and, like nut allergies, people who really sensitive may need to avoid things made on the same production lines as gluten-containing food.)

#61 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 06:18 AM:

Veering wildly off topic onto gluten - my aunt had a terrible time, losing weight and other problems back in the early 90's. She was then diagnosed with Coeliac disease, which is the problem where you can't eat food with gluten.
So no wheat, no lots of other grains and suchlike and when you look closely, wheat is in so many day to day foods in Scotland.

There is also the problem that medical diagnosis and treatment of food and gut related issues is still rather crude. An elimination diet seems to be the only way to be sure.
So the increase in such things in supermarkets may be driven partly by fashion, but also there is a genuine demand for food free from gluten or wheat or yeast or suchlike, because more people think they have issues with it. And because we don't seem to have a decent way of working with gut problems such as Irritable bowel syndrome, which is what the Dr diagnosed me with, there isn't much else to do except try said fashionable foods.

Now to try and tie it back to the main topic - medieval diets varied by social level, so I wouldn't expect anyone except royalty to be eating unicorn. But a diet high in meat as expected of rich people wouldn't really be that good for you, so the physicians books of the period are full of medicines for stomach upsets and bowel problems.

#62 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 07:52 AM:

David Harmon @49:

I've had good luck in several different cities finding yeast in jars in Mexican supermarkets; places like Whole Foods only have the super-expensive packets.

Unlike others I haven't ever had a problem using jars of yeast in my bread machine, either. There are two types of yeast, "rapid rise" and "active dry"; they'll both work, but the required amounts are very different. (My parents' bread machine actually came with a cookbook that provided both amounts, and I've written down the conversion factor, but I can see where people would have problems using one for recipes written for the other without specifying.)

#63 ::: dana ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 09:02 AM:

My local Whole Foods sells yeast in 1-pound vacuum-sealed packages, as well as in the expensive little packets.

#64 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 09:50 AM:

David Goldfarb @58: Labeling things as "gluten free" (even if you would never expect to have gluten in anyway) is a huge time-saver when you're shopping and need everything to be GF. When I looked into doing gluten free baking for friends, I was astonished at how many products had gluten that I would never have expected. This is about absolutely eliminating even the tiniest amount, for people with celiac disease who are highly sensitive to it. Without the GF designation, you end up reading the fine print on labels, and researching the brand on the web or calling their 800 number for more info.

It's about being sure that the food is processed in a facility that isn't ever used for things with gluten, and about obscure ingredients that are used to make a food shelf-stable or the like which happen to contain gluten. I discovered that some brands of vanilla extract contains gluten, so I bought a brand that guaranteed they were GF.

#65 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 10:07 AM:

AIUI, gluten intolerance is an immune condition, like allergies. That means it's not just a "failure to digest", not even "poison" or "infection" type mechanics -- we're talking about biological detection here, and the body's drastic overreaction is not limited by the original stimulus.

#66 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 10:21 AM:

The Joy of Cooking is one of those books I'd want with me, post-apocalypse, precisely because ith has detailed instructions on things like building a fire, treating a burn, skinning a rabbit, which wild greens are good to eat and how to prepare them, etc. It's also far more likely to be on the shelves of the home you're looting than an actual "prepping" manual.

Leafing through it just now, I discovered that my edition (1964) features a whole section on calories and what intake is appropriate. Having grown up drinking diet cola and eating margarine because those products were allegedly "healthier," it's pretty stunning to read that lactating mothers are encouraged to eat another thousand calories a day, for example, and growing children are encouraged to eat around 2,600kcal.

Related: while skimming the Food Timeline, what struck me was how the amount of protein we're encouraged to eat at breakfast has shrunk. At the beginning of the twentieth century, eating (probably leftover) chicken with breakfast was the done thing. Then over time, more carbohydrates and sugar appeared on the menu. So it's no wonder we feel like snacking throughout the day, these days. We didn't get any damn protein to start off with.

#67 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 12:11 PM:

If you're looking for post-apocalyptic cookbooks, make sure you don't get the New Joy Of Cooking (which is also the new "Joy of Cooking", but it's actually called that). It's much better at being non-Western-European, and the recipes are nice, but a lot of that "basic food science" is no longer there. My mother noticed that and pointed it out to me one time when we were browsing through it like a dictionary (look at this, get sent here, oh, that looks interesting,...)

#68 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 03:42 PM:

Argh. "much better at being not solely-Western-European"; i.e. discussing curries, how to make Vietnamese pho, and the like as well as traditional British, French, Italian, German, etc. style food.

#69 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 03:55 PM:

In re 66 and 67, and the different editions of 'Joy' -- the quickest way I know to check whether yours is the 'right' one or the new, abridged, trendier (with less basic instruction) version is to flip to the index.

If it doesn't have a recipe involving whalemeat (in the 'wild game' section), it's the newer, neutered edition.

Or you can remember a specific publication date watershed, but I'm crap at remembering specific numbers long-term, so whalemeat works for me in my thrift-store bookbuying expeditions.

#70 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 04:16 PM:

The new Joy may be neutered, but it's still invaluable. I use it more than any of my other cookbooks, often to just read about food and cooking techniques, to see if what I'm thinking about doing in terms of seasoning seems plausible, or to figure out substitutions when I don't have an ingredient on hand.

I do some spice selection by the "does this smell like what I feel like eating today" method, but sometimes I'm sitting there with 3 or 4 open containers and thinking, "no, that's not quite right," and I'll flip open Joy, look up one of the seasonings, and soon think, "oh, yeah, I want to add _this_!"

My mother did not own cookbooks other than her own, which consisted of recipes clipped out of magazines and newspapers over the years. I didn't start cooking until I was in my 20s. Joy is the only all-purpose cookbook I own; everything else is cuisine- or food-specific.

#71 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 04:34 PM:

I'm another Joy of Cooking fan.

My check for "is this the edition I want?" is, does it have the "Know Your Ingredients" chapter? That section accounts for at least a third of my uses of the book.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through the "Entertaining" chapter, and ran across one of those time capsules that I love. Quoting from memory: "Normally, matches and ashtrays are put on the table from the beginning; a particularly strong-willed hostess who feels that smoking reduces one's enjoyment of the food may put them on the table when the dessert is served."

#72 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 06:27 PM:

Not sure which JoC edition I have (bought as mass paperback late '70s/early '80s), but it's my go-to for basic "Amurikan" (e.g., stuff my mother made that was edible) food, such as meatloaf and gingerbread.

#73 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 06:38 PM:

The definitive Joy of Cooking edition has a section on mammoths.

#74 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 07:12 PM:

Elliott Mason @69: Hmm, can't find the whalemeat in either the 1943 or '46 edition (on my shelves). Guess there weren't ration coupons for it back then. 3 distinct frog leg recipes, though, and lots of hare and venison. Not especially emasculated, I think. Haven't made a thing of finding the even older editions, though.

#75 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 07:43 PM:

Another Joy of Cooking check is how long the introduction to Octopus/Squid is. We, alas, have the wrong one, but look for lines like "hideous sea creatures that must be eaten to be appreciated" and "first, ensure the subject is dead".

#76 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 08:05 PM:

I dislike the Joy of Cooking. I prefer all my ingredients listed at the top of the recipe, so I can assemble them before starting. Whenever I tried to use the Joy, I would find myself halfway through, without a key ingredient.

#77 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 09:12 PM:

I have at least two editions of JoC; I think of it as a multi-volume set. (I kept hoping that they'd fix the vastly-oversweetened lemonade recipe: about twice as much sugar in it as it really needs.)

#78 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 09:24 PM:

Joy of Cooking; what it does it does well, but it doesn't cover all the ground. Not enough vegetarian, and and not enough international, for me.

#79 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 10:31 PM:

Erik Nelson: Totally agree about the vegetarian lack in Joy; about 1/3 of my "other" cookbooks are vegetarian. I'm not a vegetarian but I often eat like one.

#80 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 10:37 PM:

I have to say that they did a really nice job on the pictures in that manuscript, including the one with the lefover pieces of unicorn.

#81 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 12:16 AM:

#80: "Leftovers," but not useless. They're used for stock. Or Sparkly Pink Slime.

#82 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 02:16 AM:

Since I only bake bread with a bread machine, I use Fleischmann's Bread Machine Yeast. At 2 1/2 tsp per 1 1/2 lb. loaf, one jar lasts a fair while. I know Red Star makes bread machine yeast as well, but none of my local stores carry it. The price differential on and off-base is startling: at Safeway it's $8.99 per 4-oz jar, while at the commissary it's half that.

#83 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 06:48 AM:

Melissa Singer #79: For vegetarian cooking, my "classic" cookbook is still Lappe's Diet For a Small Planet (her third edition has a different title, but I haven't bought that), but recently I've been reaching for Bittman (How to Cook Everything) more often. The former is more portable, but the latter is easier to skim, partly because my eyes aren't what they once were.

#84 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 10:11 AM:

Vegetarian: The Moosewood Cookbook (and other similar from same people) is interesting and a good source of ideas, but almost every recipe contains at least one 'weird' ingredient that I never keep on hand and am not interested in eating or one 'ohgoshno' levels of expensive ingredient, so I end up redacting a lot.

That said, their 'hernerakaa' recipe, simplified down, made an awesome hearty vegan split-pea soup recipe that is bulletproof in preparation and freezes like a dream. People keep telling me (angrily, if they're vegan) that they can taste the ham in it so I should quit lying. :->

#85 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 10:26 AM:

I have Moosewood and Still Life with Vegetables and a couple of others that don't come to mind right now.

David Harmon: I've been tempted by the Bittman--he writes so interestingly about food--but many of his recipes in the NYTimes Magazines on Sunday seem daunting to me even though they are supposedly for the everyday cook. One of the things I like about Joy is that I don't _have_ to do something with 9-million steps to put tasty food on the table. Is the Bittman similar?

#86 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 11:09 AM:

If I was trying to prepare for a guest who needed gluten-free meals, it would be useful to know that the chocolate pudding is gluten-free, as it says in friendly letters on the label, without having to read all the fine print. The jar of horseradish, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward.

It's not that people need to be told that a box of granulated sugar is gluten-free: it's the prepared foods and anything less familiar (these days I'm treating horseradish as a staple, but some people only buy it once a year, at Passover).

#87 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 11:46 AM:

Melissa Singer @85: one of the nice things in Bittman is that he tells about how long the recipe will take, including whether most of that will involve paying attention (baking something might say "Preparation time one hour, mostly unmonitored"). There's a mix of high-attention and low-attention recipes in it. I find it useful but not essential -- but then, I'm mostly a seat-of-the-pants cook and don't hit recipes all that often, so I'll fake it without a cookbook in general.

And I still think it should be How to Cook Anything rather than How to Cook Everything -- I'm not interested in recipes for Baked Universe.

#88 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 12:27 PM:

Tom Whitmore @87: How to Cook Everything -- I'm not interested in recipes for Baked Universe.

To accomplish that, doesn't one just have to wait—for a reely reely long time...?

#89 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 12:34 PM:

Elliott Mason et al: I like The Enchanted Broccoli Forest for a basic go-to vegetarian cookbook. Straightforward, doesn't assume you know how to do anything, fairly non-exotic ingredients. It tends to give you the basic template for, say, a quiche and then include further suggestions for variations.

Deborah Madison also has several good cookbooks. The Savory Way is a good vegetarian one, with lots of range from very simple to fairly elaborate.

#90 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 04:45 PM:

Melissa Singer #85: Most of the recipes are pretty straightforward, and many of them are one-pot (or one-pan) recipes. Some do have multiple steps, but on examination, a lot of those are simply explanatory, e.g. for pasta with clam sauce, he explains how to prepare fresh clams for the recipe.

There are also cross-references; for example, under "Roasted Winter Squash", he tells you to clear out the innards, gives a hint for separating seeds from strings, then points you to "Spicy Pumpkin Seeds" for what to do with those seeds.

#91 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 08:42 PM:

I prefer to buy cookbooks by the number of words in them, like dictionaries. The old Joy of Cooking is a good example.

The proliferation of new cookbooks with glossy pictures of the finished items, resembling cooking magazine articles and TV shows, drives me crazy; you're paying for food stylists and photo shoots, not recipes, and with that few recipes in the book, they had better all work.

#92 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 09:01 PM:

At the used-book shop I work for, the boss has certain rules¹ for which cookbooks get a saving throw against Weeding: They need to have either an actual culinary theme (e.g. "French cuisine", "Appetizers"), or individual authors. "Good Housekeeping" and the like do not count as an author², and neither "microwave cooking" nor "30-minute meals" counts as a theme.

¹ Based on his experience of what sells, natch.

² I got "Cooking with a Harvard Accent" as a freebie when I mentioned that was where I went.... Yeah, snagging (r)ejects is one of my perks. No, I don't abuse the privilege, despite being the Champion Weeder³.

³ I still get a chill seeing inscriptions like "In memory of the Summer 1899." (That one wasn't a cull -- we hadn't had it that long, and it was in Poetry anyway.)

#93 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 09:16 PM:

My typpod.
Unicorn stock - what would that be used for? It would have to be a meat dish of some kind.... (With all those bones, it should gel well. Unicorn aspic, perhaps?)

#94 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 09:22 PM:

One of my complaints about Bittman is that some of the recipes require one or two more recipes to be used that are somewhere else in the book, so you have to copy pages to get the whole recipe in one place and find out what you really need to make it.

#95 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 09:33 PM:

P J Evans #94: I like having recipes for components! He's even got some spice mixes in there....

#96 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 10:22 PM:

I was thinking of the lobster with vanilla sauce, where there's one for the stock used in the sauce, and one for the lobster, and (IIRC, and it isn't at hand for me to check) one for the sauce.
It sounds delicious, but with a multiple-component-recipe, it should be laid out so all the pieces are close enough together that you can follow it without going nuts.

#97 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 10:57 PM:

P J Evans #96: I just looked, and couldn't find that recipe, nor does the index have "vanilla sauce". Could that be from one of Bittman's more advanced books?

Mine (yellow softcover, © 1998) has 5 lobster recipes: Bisque (in with the soups), Boiled or Steamed, Grilled, "Stir-Fried Lobster with Black Bean Sauce" and "Broiled Lobster with Herb Stuffing". The stir-fry does have a parenthetical "see 'Soups' for stock recipes", but the recipe options amount to "whatever stock you've got, or the cooking water from this lobster, or just water"¹. The bisque is a tad more specific: chicken or fish stock, or lobster-cooking water.

¹ Similarly, the cornbread recipe suggested "butter, olive oil, lard, or bacon drippings". I figured "olive oil [or] lard..." means "any fat will do", and indeed, peanut oil worked fine.

#98 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2012, 12:18 AM:

It was from the earlier edition of 'Everything'. (which is the only one I have. Somewhere in a box....)

#99 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2012, 12:52 AM:

David Harmon @49:

there's another brand that I sometimes use (can't remember the name, brown single packets, "country" style decor, but not showing up in any of my searches)
Around here that would probably be Bob's Red Mill; the website shows only a bulk version, but I've bought the individual packets as well light brown packets with their usual "mill" motif, somewhat larger than the usual packets (1 1/2 ounce packets instead of the usual 1 1/4).

#100 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2012, 01:55 AM:

Ah, Bob's Red Mill. I love them, but they disappoint in a very specific way. In some stores (most recently Sunflower or Sprouts) I'll ask a grocery store staff member if they carry grits, and they'll bring me to the Red Mill display, where they will indicate "Yellow Corn Grits (Polenta)" with a ta-da! flourish. I haven't the heart to say anything other than "Thank you," and maybe even buy some. It's perfectly edible, adequately tasty, but even with a heckalotta butter and salt and pepper it's simply not the same.

Sometimes a southern gal just wants to make breakfast porridge out of actual ground-up hominy. Is that so much to ask, Bob? Is it? *pout*

#101 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2012, 02:06 AM:

I'm not sure that's their fault, though; I've always seen the real thing fully named as "hominy grits" around here (northeast Ohio), suggesting that there are indeed other kinds of grits.

#102 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2012, 03:18 AM:

Jacque @88: Universe sous vide?

#103 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2012, 07:16 AM:

geekosaur #101: That sounds right, even down to the "20% more!".

#104 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2012, 09:26 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @100:

It's even worse if you want stone-ground grits. We're spoiled, we used to go to Mabry Mill every time we visited my late grandparents in Roanoke, Virginia.

Try these, they're pretty good:

Stone Ground Grits

#105 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2012, 02:34 PM:

elise @ 102:

Well, the current theories call for an extremely high baking temperature for the first few seconds, slowly going to down to room temp over the succeeding few hundred thousand years. Be sure to add Higgs bosons early on or your universe will rise far too much and make a mess.

#106 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2012, 02:45 PM:

Considering the unknown that is currently labeled "dark energy", arguably it is over-rising. (Kinda makes you wonder if this is why they still haven't found the Higgs.)

#107 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2012, 12:00 AM:

Those stories about the origin of the nursery rhyme are apocryphal, awry.

#108 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2012, 10:04 PM:

Lori, that looks delicious. I may have to order some.

#109 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2012, 11:00 PM:

I think they stash those with the cereals, in my area. Bob's Red Mill may be with the cereals or with the baking goods, depending on what the store think it is.

#110 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2012, 01:01 AM:

geekasaur @ 101 -- Oh, I never fault the grocery store staff for showing me a bag of grits when I ask for grits. My exasperation is with Red Mill for never seeming to have hominy grits in its display.

P J Evans @ 109 -- Yes, the cereal aisle is always the first place I look. The query to the staff member who brings me to the Red Mill display generally happens after I find no grits in the cereal aisle.

It almost always seems to be that the stores with a full Red Mill display (Whole Foods, Sunflower, Sprouts) are not the stores that carry hominy grits (King Soopers, Safeway). Though I may have just come to assume that and could benefit from revisiting the conundrum.

Or I could just order some from The Old Mill, as per Lori's link. Two bags white, one bag "cheesy garlic." That would last me quite some time. :-)

#111 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2012, 08:41 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little@100- Unfortunately Albers seems to have become a Nestle company, so I don't buy their grits (which are the ones at Safeway.) Occasionally I'll see more interesting grits somewhere, but the reliable place to find grits is (sigh) Walmart.

As for how long to cook a universe, it depends on the texture you're looking for - if you like the cool thin version, you should cook for a very long time at low temperatures, but if you prefer the warm thick lumpy kind like I do, you'll want to add some quark and let it proof for about 10^-32 seconds at immeasurably high temperatures, and then let it rise and cool after that.

#112 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2012, 10:14 AM:

Nicole, glad to be of service. Occasionally Fresh Market in Upper Arlington will have the real thing, but I can't count on it, so mail order is often the only way to get them.

#113 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2012, 11:54 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @100: The NCAR cafeteria sometimes serves grits for breakfast, or at least they did when I was working there.

@102, @105, & @111 : ... but ghods help you if the bag breaks.

#114 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2012, 05:22 PM:

sara @91: Interestingly, I find that for many of the uses to which I put cookbooks, having good pictures of the food is invaluable. This is when I am thinking, "I would like to cook something interesting and new for dinner," and am looking through cookbooks for inspiration. It is hard for me to get that sort of inspiration from text on a page while flipping through pages. Not only is a picture worth quite a lot of words (and most cookbooks that describe a dish use on a few!), but I can take it in a lot quicker.

On the other hand, when I do know what I want to cook already, the pictures are fairly superfluous.

#115 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2012, 05:27 PM:

While we're on the subject of cookbooks that don't assume that one has the experience to do all the little things that make up cooking a dish correctly, let me mention one of my newly-discovered favorites: Julie Sahni's Indian cookbook from the 1980s. It describes all the details of cooking a dish -- including not just "simmer for ten minutes" but "and here's what it should be like when it's simmered enough", for American audiences, and the result tastes like real Indian food rather than Americanized.

The cauliflower-potato-pea soup in it is my new favorite comfort food.

The vegetarian sequel is equally good.

#116 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2012, 11:50 PM:

Grammatically, that would be the second-person dubious.

Looks more like third-person dubious to me.

#117 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2012, 12:25 PM:

Dave B., #57: I have been told that some of what people interpret as gluten intolerance is actually sensitivity to the genetically-modified high-yield wheat which has been the standard crop since the 1950s, and that returning to the older heirloom varieties (such as your low-gluten British wheat) would provide significant health improvements for people with that sensitivity. Unfortunately, heirloom wheat is not as practical for an individual gardener to grow as heirloom tomatoes.

My partner more or less stopped eating bread (and other wheat products) altogether, and the chronic sinus drainage he'd had for almost 20 years just... went away. I've had a couple of other friends talk about similar health improvements happening after going on a gluten-free diet, even though they'd never been diagnosed as gluten-intolerant. This suggests that gluten is indeed not the whole problem.

#118 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2012, 01:58 PM:

Ken Brown @44: The only hazard with the "add water, then add enough flour, is the issue of salt.

Salt inhibits rise, but strengthens gluten. The right amount is a really small one (about .2 percent of the total mass), but it's critical for flavor and texture.

What I'm having troubles with are oven problems. I can't get it hot enough, or wet enough, and so my crust is thin, and my spring is flat.

Dave @49: It's almost impossible to overknead, if one is working by hand. Overhandle, once kneading is done (esp. after proofing), but not int the intial kneading.

Vicki @86: The changes for making kosher for passover are astounding. What's more a pain has to do with how rulings on kitniyot have changed the landscape for people with non-wheat related allergies. Given all the things Ashkenazim are forbidden, and the trend to make things with potato starch, heaven help the person who has a nightshade allergy.

Brooks @115: I love those books. I am most fond of what I refer to as, "technique books" which talk about how/why. But I can get away with that because I've been cooking for a long time. If you want a serious "tech manual" for food, I commend, "On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen", by Harold McGee (who drops into Books Inc, in Mountain View, on occasionally; though I've never been in when he was).

Cookwise, by Shirley Corriher, is a sort of repair manual, for all those things that aren't quite what you wanted.

I find those two more useful (for me) than Alton Brown, but I like his books too.

#119 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2012, 03:47 PM:

Terry Karney #118:

Both of those "tech-manual" books have sequels: Corriher's Bakewise and McGee's The Curious Cook. I think (cookbooks downstairs, I'm up) that it's the latter rather than On Food... that has a really neat table for proportions for all sorts of sorbets and granitas, based on main ingredient.

#120 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2012, 10:18 PM:

Bakewise is sort of companion volume. The Curious Cook isn't a sequel (I have both, of both, and both editions of On Food and Cooking). The Curious Cook does, IIRC, have that table.

The closest to a sequel, IMO, to On Food and Cooking is How to Read a Recipe, which I found a bit disappointing, mostly because it was terribly remedial for me.

I really like, "The Curious Cook" (which is the name of McGee's blog), but it's a bunch of essays about things which tickled his curiosity, such as why one get more grease on the back of one's glasses than the front.

#121 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2012, 11:23 PM:

Lee @117

Genetically modified? In the 1950s?

They did manage to cross wheat and rye, to create Triticale, and that took some pretty crude gene-mashing. And that goes back way further than I thought, over a century.

There's certainly been a lot of breeding of new wheat varieties, with steadily increasing use of gene analysis, since the 1950s, but somebody telling you it's "genetic engineering" strikes me as a source with a hazy acquaintance with the truth.

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