Bread and Thread Tasting History

Opening music

Liz

Hello and welcome to bread and thread a podcast about food and domestic history i’m liz.

Hazel

I’m hazel. We’re two friends who studied archaeology together and love history and today we have an important extra person.

Liz

Yes we have max from tasting history on youtube.

Max

Thanks for having me, hello, hello.

HAZEL

Thanks for agreeing to be on our tiny podcast with your very cool internet self.

MAX

Of course it’s food history, culinary history, you can’t keep me away so i’m here if i’m asked.

HAZEL

Awesome i’m super excited about the topic today, as well. It’s something i know nothing about and it sounds like a cornucopia of delights.

LIZ

But first we always start by talking about what we’ve been making and baking this week.

MAX

Aah.

LIZ

Maybe our guest should go first.

MAX

Well i’ve been making something called farts of portingale, probably one of the worst names for a dish and i’ll be doing an episode on it they’re little meatballs from the time of shakespeare with a terrible name.

HAZEL

That sounds much more delicious than the name would suggest. Cool.. liz?

LIZ

I got hold of some wool from bury market which is a rainbow variegated yarn twisted around a black one so i’m making a jumper that looks like a roller disco is the only way i can describe this yarn.

HAZEL

Does that mean one will be able to roller skate on you?

LIZ

One could try.

HAZEL

That sounds fantastic. Did i talk about the nettles last time?

LIZ

I think you might’ve done when you did the trifle one.

HAZEL

Ok, i can nettle progress update i hvae been well the attempt is to make fabric out of nettles as that’s a historically was a source of cheap fabric there are currently several bundles of nettles in my back garden retting down so the fibres separate which is what normal people do with their weekends right?

LIZ

I’m very excited about this are you using your drop spindle?

HAZEL

Probably i’ll try some on the wheel as well, i’ve heard it helps if you wet spin them if you dip your fingers in water then spin. We’ll see. It’s definitely an experimental process. There are certainly a lot of parts of the world where people use nettles for clothing. I’ll have to do some research on that and see where i’m going wrong or right.

LIZ

We’re going to have to do an episode on nettles at some point, cause they can be food they can be clothing, i basically self medicate with nettle tea cause it’s an anti-inflammatory.

HAZEL

Nettles are a wonderful plant, a friend has a book 101 uses for nettles.

LIZ

That’s very on brand.

HAZEL

That is very on brand for people i know.

LIZ

But that’s not what we’re talking about today, Max what are we talking about?

MAX

We are talking about fanny farmer and her boston cooking school cookbook from 1896. she was a… So ms farmer was born in 1857 outside boston and got polio when she was young and at 16 she had a stroke which left her paralysed from the waist down and it took quite a number of years for her to walk again. When she finally did she decided she was going to take up cooking she had been cooking at her parents house which was part boarding house for a while and people liked her food so said she was going to do this for real and she went to the boston cooking school and in 1889 she graduated and was asked to be the vice principal if you will right after she graduated, and in 1891 just a few years later she took over the whole school. She obviously knew what she was doing; she ended up writing a book that was for her students originally but it’s the first cookbook to use science the science of cooking and incorporate all of that. She would talk about the molecular formula for glucose and lactose, what cold water is vs tepid vs warm, very precise measurements, she talked about the amount of food people need in a day, the average ration – 4 1/2 oz protein, 18 oz starch 2 oz fat 5 pints water 1/3 of which through food, the rest in a beverage. That might seem dull and not something people need to know it’s important because before ms farmer wrote her cookbook sometimes cookbooks would give you amounts, temperatures, sometimes they wouldn’t, if you just go back a few years i listened to your podcast on alexander dumas and that was only 20 odd years before this and his recipes didn’t give specific amounts or they’d say a handful of this a pinch of that, no specific temperatures, fanny farmer ended up called the mother of level measurement cause that’s what she standardised. Not only did she say a cup of flour she said take a knife scrape off the top and that’s a level measurement. She didn’t necessarily come up with it but she standardised it, and made the entire book follow this one style and basically every cookbook since has in some way followed that style, a very very influential book on later cookbooks and how we cook today.

HAZEL

That is a fantastic title as well-

MAX

Yeah tells you what it does, boston school cookbook.

HAZEL

But yeah cause most older than that recipes seem to assume you know how much of whatever to put in and you just need ideas.

LIZ

Yeah this early modern recipe from castle howard for humble pie said put some cloves in, like ok how clovey am i making this? There’s a big difference between a couple cloves and chucking a handful into this pie

HAZEL

Yeah if you’re not habitually using cloves that’s a problem cause they’re expensive, if you’re coming up in the world and you’ve got a few cloves at christmas and just how many cloves – who knows? You end up with clove centrla in your christmas pudding or whatever.

LIZ

A lot of absolutely foul food on the table of the nouveau riche.

MAX

Yeah a lot of the cookbooks of the time assumed you knew what you were doing already, and they were written for professional cooks but since she was working at the cooking school she had students in mind who weren’t already professionals where most cookbooks assunme you knew what you were doing, she assumed you did not know what you were doing. She has a great line at the beginning of the book she says good measurement with experience has taught some to measure by sight, but the majority need definite guides. That’s so true i need a definite guide. You can play with stuff in the kitchen, unless you’re baking, but without some idea of how much to put in you can end up with vastly different dishes. That said, even with a recipe and while she gets a lot of credit she also has her detractors, especially in recent years who say she gave people a false sense of perfection – if i follow this recipe exactly as she says i’m going to come out exactly like fanny farmer. But that’s not the case there’s some things that influence that can’t be written down. Like the ambient temperature of the kitchen or the humidity or what type of flour or how old or compact the temperature of your water, how old it is… she gave very precise measurements but it gave people the sense they couldn’t go wrong. I was listening to someone the other day talking about how cake has been in the oven 45 miunutes i’m taking it out cause the recipe said 45 minutes it’s still raw but i’m taking it out anyway. With the precise measurements you lose that knowledge of what you’re doing and that savvy and being able to see what you’re doing.

LIZ

I have a story about this. I was teaching a friend to cook. He had never cooked anything in his life, so i started with a victoria sponge. You put in set amounts you bake it. Something went wrong with the oven so i got a burnt shell of cake entirely raw in the middle. We sort of salvaged it by dunking chocolate in the middle and making it a cake fondue.

MAX

So many things that can go wrong.

HAZEL

Do you think it was a badly regulated oven temperature?

LIZ

Yeah we knew it was a bad oven. We just didn’t think it was going to be that bad. It was like you know when you bbq something it’s charcoal on the outside but inside it’s still pink?

HAZEL

It was bbq cake?

LIZ

It was bbq cake.

MAX

Terrific.

HAZEL

I don’t think i did anything terribly wrong. Although i did make a cake with rose and we put six packs of tutti frutti in the middle cause we thought it was a good idea but also the ants thought it was a good idea.

MAX

I once made a wonderful blueberry pie but on the top i made a really intricate design on the top with the dough to make blueberry vines with leaves and little blueberries and the pie was done but the top was just too light and i needed to darken it up just a little, i looked online and someone said “turn on the broiler” and it said just for a bit, but for me a bit is two minutes. One minute in the apartment is full of smoke, the top of the pie is ruined. I think a bit meant ten seconds. If you’re not specific you can come up with something very very different. I was so sad i still lament this pie cause it took hours.

HAZEL

I am in mourning for this pie that never was.

LIZ

So am i. blueberry is my favourite.

MAX

The inside was still fine, we ended up making a cobbler out of it we took out the burnt top and ate it with cream. It was still good, it wasn’t beautiful.

LIZ

You always meant to make a tart and no-one can prove otherwise.

HAZEL

I guess you could say that’s a bittersweet ending.

MAX

Indeed. Another interesting thing about this cookbook that she- really one fo the impressive things about it is not just the actual cookbook which is still in print overr 120 years later it’s still in print but the impressive thing was her. She had cobbled together this cookbook from – some were her recipes some were recipes her predecessor mrs lincoln had given her, she had almost 1850 recipes for this book and nobody would publish it because nobody thought it would go well, and when she found a publisher little and brown they would only do 3000 copies and she had to pay for it. So essentially it’s a self published book they didn’t have any skin inn the game at all. She paid for it and self published it which was a good move she retained copyright and sold hundreds of thousands of copies, it made her a very wealthy woman. A few years later in 1902 she opened her own fanny farmer school of cookery and that was unique and it was not for people who were becoming professional cooks and servants because servants were starting to disappear from middle class households at the time, and it was for housewifes. She was teaching people who knew actually nothing about cooking because their mother had to cook in the house, so she couldnt’ teach them. for $40 you got a month of classes 2 each day 6 days a week, at the end you were supposed to be able to cook pretty much everything.

LIZ

Like cooking boot camp. All i can think of now is the show worst cooks in america but in victorian outfits.

HAZEL

I’d want to see that.

MAX

Absolutely. She was a really remarkable woman especially cause i said she had a limp, she was a woman in turn of the century boston which was a strike against her, she continued to have health issues as she went along, she had another stroke but she was still lecturing she had a lecture at harvard. She was the first woman to lecture at harvard medical school which was rather impressive because she focused a lot on food as medicine, because they used the term an invalid for the longest time growing up she knew what foods helped her at the time, what was easy to digest and whatnot and in her books was always a section on foods for being sick and she ended up doing an entire book called food for the sick and convalescent, which was en entire diet and nutrition programme for the ill which was pretty new. There had been – it wasn’t a new concept but for an entire book to be on that subject was fairly impressive.

HAZEL

She was an early nutritionist basically.

MAX

She was very into the science behind food and its effects on the body. It wasn’t just this will taste good it was this needs to do good as well. I don’t know if you know alton brown one my favourite but he used to have a show all about the science of food and when you read her books it’s like she was the late 19th century verison of alton brown she was obsessed with the science of food. Granted, science was still – there were a lot of things she’d count as scientific that you need to put quotes around because they were complete bunk, but that was a step in the right direction.

HAZEL

There is a lot of bad science around food, still, isn’t there – every time there’s a study that seems to confirm fatty foods are bad or something all the papers are like don’t eat this – then the next time there’s a slight thing that comes out they’re like do eat this.

LIZ

Yeah as someone fat with digestion issues it’s a minefield.

HAZEL

At some point you think what’s the truth here? Yeah, so did her work in terms of nutrition and health get adopted in medical circles?

Hazel

did she have any effect on the medical community with her ideas?

Max

i think so it’s hard to tell what impact she had, but she lectured at harvard med school so i think she definitely was regarded as an expert in the subject. her book was more for home use, so the recipes were made for convalescing at home, i don’t know how hospitals were introduced to her work, but the ideas behind her convalescent foods were really – no heavy meats lighter things no heavy cream it was more light broths and things – it was more can you digest this is it easily digestible? cause you’re laying in bed all day that was the idea behind most of it. hospitals still do that, you get ice chips or whatever.

Hazel

yeah i remeember i had a short stay in hospital when i was ten, i remember very bland sponge cake in a square.

Liz

i had what was supposed to be outpatient surgery but ended up staying overnight last year i had very bland fish pie but idk if that’s because i’m used to putting a lot of seasoning in my food?

Max

hospital food has gotten a bad rap, rightly so in most cases, so y’know.

Hazel

maybe that’s designed to not give you the collywobbles, not a bad thing.

Max

or that you don’t want to stay there longer than you have to.

Hazel

true. this is too nice, i’ll stay.

Max

i”ll get out of here get some real food.

Hazel

i might be better but the food here’s great.

Liz

i guess when you’re home sick with the flu or whatever you gravitate towards chicken soup or cups of tea rather than anything more substantial.

Max

a double cheeseburger doesn’t go down too well usually.

Liz

or at least doesn’t stay down.

Max

yeah. this is delicious and it’ll be delicious in a moment whne it comes back up.

Hazel

either that or it goes down and keeps going.

Max

indeed, indeed. one more thing about the book i find so interesting is in the back she has menus and they are – menus of the time period for upper middle class households and they’re like 12 courses, 30-40 dishes and it’s just if you’ve ever seen in late victorian kitchen just i can’t even compute how you would put all that together in a timely manner. i have to imagine that so much of the food was being served at room temperature. it’s ready but ok that’s course 7 and we’re on course 3 so it’s gotta sit there for 40 minutes.

Hazel

and this is aimed at people without cooks.

Max

yeah though with these giant menus you’d have to hire some outside help.

Hazel

you’d have to have ten arms.

Liz

i wonder though how much time there would be between courses, because i remember hearing about queen victoria so slightly earlier than this, that she’d have huge banquets but as soon as she was finished with a dish it would be cleared away and it was time for the next one.

Max

and she ate rather quickly.

Hazel

i heard about that as soon as she put her knife and fork down the plates of everyone would be whisked away.

Max

yeah

Liz

so i do wonder if it was more conspicuous consumption than actual consumption.

Max

i think that’s possible, and especially in america you’re not eating american sized portions you’d have a few bites of everything it’s like going to a buffet i suppose.

Hazel

there are a lot of victorian era recipes for using up stale things or making things into other things like leftovers so maybe that was just normal you’d have a lot of leftovers and would use them in something else.

Max

or give them to the staff.

Liz

like making a turkey curry at christmas.

Max

yes, my father always makes we call it thanksgiving pie the day after thanksgiving and it’s a huge food holiday over here we make a pie with mashed potatoes stuffing sweet potatoes cranberries gravy turkey everything mashed together it’s completely wonderful. i actually prefer it to the meal the day before.

Liz

i’m happy to hear someone else does this. cause after a sunday roast my mum would make a leftover pie. i’m so happy this isn’t just a my family thing.

Hazel

that doesn’t surprise me cause you are from lancashire and that is the county of pie.

Hazel

i used to go out with a guy who would get a pie and put it in a bread roll and eat it.

Liz

a pie butty! is this your ex from wigan by any chance?

Hazel

yes.

Liz

it’s a wigan delicacy.

Max

i love that you have a pie of course what you need with a pie is more carb.

Hazel

more flour based food.

Liz

working class fuel, just like chip butties.

Hazel

we have those but where i’m from we don’t even put gravy in our chips.

Liz

illegal.

Hazel

there is a hot debate in our country on what to put on our chips.

Liz

there is a north south divide though i did convince someone from gibraltar to try chips and gravy and thaht’s the most southern you can be from while still being from a british territory and she liked it.

Max

i have to go with plain ketchup i love ketchup i’m so boring. whenever i’m in england everyone’s dipping it in vinegar or lea and perrins and i’m like what are you doing?

Hazel

that’s my favourite salt and vinegar.

Liz

nick’s from bristol, goes with lots of vinegar, lots of salt, ketchup.

Hazel

i like mushy peas too.

Liz

love a mushy pea. i got cravings now. our local chippy closed where am i going to get chips and pie and gravy/

Hazel

didn’t you once make your own chip spice?

Liz

yeah it’s not the same though. we don’t really have chip spice in lancashire we have to buy it online. max i should probably explain chip spice.

Max

please do.

Liz

it’s paprika and salt and tomato powder adn onion powder and sometimes garlic powder all mixed together into this red concoction you put on chips and it’s the best thing but you only get it in the northeast.

Hazel

you probably have had it it’s a roulette, i’ve had it in a couple places here.

Max

i think i’ve had it, i was in the lake district in a bed and breakfast in keswick and somebody served me that and i was relaly upset cause i don’t like paprika all that much. just give me plain fries please.

Hazel

i imagine that is quite unusual though i can imagine you going into a chip shop and them going what do you want on your chips? and you saying nothing, and them saying NO, what do you want on your chips>

Max

love it.

Hazel

after that long chip interlude, did she remain successful?

Max

she did she remained very successful until she was actually she gave a lecture a few days before she died, from a wheelchair she had another stroke but in her wheelchair she gave a lecture at 57. she didn’t have a long life but 57 isn’t bad if you’ve been ill all your life, and the school she founded stayed open until ww2.

Liz

is she still famous in america now or did she fade?

Max

i think she was one of the people who fades. she was a celebrity chef if you can say that of someone back then but her legacy lives on. whehter you agree with her or not her recipes in her book they are formatted the same way you’re going to see recipes today. a list of ingredients and a paragraph on what you’re going tod o with those ingredients. her work is famous even if her name is not. her unfortunate name.

Liz

we have one more question for you i’m afraid, courtesy of nick.

Max

go on.

Liz

what does history taste like?

Max

an old book, you know that wonderful dusty smell that you get in old bookshops? that’s what history tastes like.

Liz

that is a good smell i have a soap that smells like that.

Max

one of my favourite things is ordering an old book online and getting it and smelling it, like that good smell of dust mites and old leather.

Hazel

i thought you were going to say then i eat it. i wouldn’t blame you.

Max

i would blame me.

Hazel

you’d blame oyu afterwards maybe.

Liz

you’re a trained archaeologist you can’t condone eating books.

Hazel

i can if it’s for science. it’s like you iknow when you lick a rock to determine if it’s ar ock or a bone?

Liz

you lick a book just to see how old it is?

Hazel

yeah you can date books by the taste of the pages.

Max

lovely.

Liz

i want to thank you so much for being on our little podcast.

Max#

thank you so much it was a real pleasure.

Hazel

this was fantastic i’d never heard fo this wonderrful woman before and now i want to go read her bookks so thanks you.

Max

you’re most welcome.

Liz

if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode feel free to email us at breadandthreadpodcast@gmail.com if you have a suggestion.

Hazel

you can also find us @breadandthread on twitter where there are some pictures of what we’ve been doingg

Liz

we also have a patreon breadandthread, max i believe you also have a patreon.

Max

i do it’s tastinghistory, you can also go to the youtube channel tasting history.

Hazel

it is a fantastic channel.

Liz

i have watched all the videos on there now i’m inspired.

Hazel

yeah you watch a documentary or read about food in history but you don’t see that many people actually making it and not in a way that you could actually do so it’s good to see that and go i could try it myself.

Liz

even if it is really weird to see an american talk about newky brown.

Max

i love england so much but it is odd i said – on an episode, it’s weird to hear you say [redacted] in an american accent.

Liz

thank you for listening and we will see you next time.

closing music.

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