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 Posted: Sun Feb 16th, 2014 05:57 am
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Xanthippe
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Heya hellcat....

Glad to see people are still reading--and trying--the recipes. To take some of your questions in no particular order:

Think about food marketing in the 19th century. We are talking townsfolk here, not farmers who grew, foraged or shot their own. In town no supermarkets yet, each shop sold their specialty item. The fishmonger goes to the docks before dawn and sees what's available and takes the whole fish back to the store to sell as is or possibly cut in half or quarters. It ain't gonna be sardines and they are most certainly not going to be packed in little cans. :)

To do this recipe get a chunk of fish. Nowadays this is probably fillet flash-frozen and in a bag but that will do if you are not in a location that can get fresh off the boat. Other fish recipes in the Spaulding's Godeys book include cod, herring, perch, shad, salmon...even eels. (I dare you... ;)

Anyway the idea of this fritters recipe is to use up leftovers. "Bread crums" come from a day when somebody, either housewife or servant, made with her own hands every loaf of bread eaten. NOTHING was let go to waste or thrown away as heels are today: the crumbs left on the tablecloth were brushed off and put into the crumb jar. Leftover bread, if any, dried quickly so was crushed and added as well. You can make this the same way, or spring for a can of premade bread crumbs, they're cheap. Your use of croutons was ingenious as improvisation.

Cream makes a difference. I would get a carton of half and half at least, what's left over you can use in coffee. And beat the eggs before adding to the mixture.

You should see some of the directions for making things like this: "pound in a mortar" is roughly the equivalent of spinning the product through a food processor. They want mush here, totally pulverized to bits. Mushing with a fork is not quite equivalent. "Push through a double-hair sieve with the back of a wooden spoon" is a direction from another recipe we will get to in a moment. They want this fine, very very fine.

Since we are, happily, not in the 19th century at present I would get a blender or food processor for your next attempt. Get some nice fish and have it for dinner one night. Make extra so you have a piece left over, cooked but preferably kept aside from any breading or spicing. Likewise save some mashed potatoes either from this meal or an earlier one (isn't refrigeration a wonderful thing?)

Blenderize fish, dump into bowl. Toss the potatoes, cream, eggs and cayenne in and blenderize them together. Dump them into bowl with fish and stir, stir, stir. Fine-tune the consistency at this point remembering that potatoes and breadcrumbs are supposed to be roughly the same quantity.

Now: the anchovy sauce. Chances are that this, unlike the above items, WOULD in our 19th century town be available as a already-prepared bottled condiment, probably at the apothecary or spice seller's shop. But if you were making it at home, we must turn to another book: The Cook's Oracle and Housekeeper's Manual by "William Kitchener MD", who is credited as having adapted the recipes of an English cookbook "to the American public." Copyright law was not in those times what it is today. US Copyright was 1832 so this was in its prime of life in the Civil War years.

ANCHOVY SAUCE

Pound three anchovies in a mortar with a little bit of butter; rub it through a double hair-sieve with the back of a wooden spoon, and stir it into almost half a pint of melted butter, or stir in a table-spoonful of essence of anchovy. To the above many cooks add lemon-juice and Cayenne.

See I told you we'd get back to hair-sieves, a topic I invite you to google. The point here is that this meant, again, to mince the items extremely fine. Chuck 'em in the blender again if you want to achieve this without ridiculous expenditure of energy. Considering that half a pint is 1/2 lb or 2 sticks of butter, and that we are unlikely to want more that a couple of tablespoons worth for the fritters and you are entirely excused for omitting this or at least drastically reducing the recipe.

In regard to the issue of the salt content there are some other 19th century differences to keep in mind. Butter sold in town was almost certainly salted, not for flavoring purposes but as a preservative. Butter is a milk-preservation storage device. It lasts longer than fresh milk does (again, no refrigeration to speak of at this time) but not indefinitely so it was packed in salt for future use. If you bought butter at the store you got this wad of yellow, salt-encrusted fat which you would of necessity rinse off at home just to make it edible. The level of salt used in modern butter does not remotely compare.

I suspect the bacon grease contributed much of the salty flavor. Lard was of course common but even more so was the fat rendered from any meat cooked in the home. This would be saved for future use because fat was an absolute good in the days before central heating. People needed calories in their bodies for the heat value and work represented. So your use of bacon grease is perfectly in keeping with the period. But if you want less salt save the fat from your next roast chicken, beef or pork and it will serve.

Hope this has helped expand some of the background of this recipe. Do let us know if you try it again and how it went. Best regards...

xan

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