Sunday, January 2, 2011

January 2nd -- "Wyvern" on Hors d'Oeuvres


        Now that it is January of a new year, I thought it might be appropriate to give a little bit of thought to little bits of beginnings. On this sure-to-be-slow day, which I began a couple of hours ago lying prone at the bottom of our driveway staring at the sky and hoping for better things after badly pulling my back shoveling snow, Chapter XXII of "Wyvern"'s Culinary Jottings From Madras (5th edition, 1885; republished London, Prospect Books, 2007, ed. Leslie Forbes) came to mind:

       "We must now consider these attractive accessories of an artistic dinner, luncheon or breakfast party, which, under the title hors d'oeuvres, are gradually becoming popular amongst English people whose minds have expanded under the beneficial influence of travel in foreign countries.  

Italian antipasto platter

      Hors d'oeuvres, as you all doubtless know, are little dainties, or kickshaws, carefully prepared, and tastefully served, which, on the continent, are offered to the diner to whet his appetite prior to the more important discussion of the banquet itself.  In Italy the service of these trifles under the title of "antipasto" precedes every meal as a standard custom.  We have not yet acquired this agreeable fashion, notwithstanding that the sending around of three or four oysters to each guest, with a slice of brown bread and butter, &;c., has for a long time, been no novelty in England, or in Madras.  Our custom, as a general rule, is to reserve the hors d'oeuvres to accompany the cheese, and to advocate a change would, I fear, be lost labour on the part of the author of these jottings.  As far as luncheon and breakfast parties are concerned, however, surely we might adopt the Italian custom as a novelty, and watch its effect upon our friends, before passing an opinion upon the suitability of the introduction?

Oysters at Rules, London

      Unlike the greater part of our culinary labours, this pretty item of our menu need cost us but little trouble.  We can obtain many excellent things wherewith to captivate the appetite, and we can make others which in their way are generally successful.  Olives farcies, olives plain, anchovies in oil, sardines, sliced Bologna sausage, preserved tunny, lax, lobster, cod's roes, seer-fish roes, reindeers tongues, ox tongue, devilled ham, potted meats, fancy butters, herrings a la sardine, pilchards in oil, caviare, oysters, pickles, cucumber, radishes, thin bread and butter, wafer biscuits, and last but not least, "Bombay ducks",  provide us with a goodly list from which to choose our tasty morsels".  

     "Wyvern"'s (the pseudonym of British colonial officer Colonel Arthur Robert Kenney-Herbert, b. 1840 - d. 1916) work is a real masterpiece that deserves a fuller examination that I can afford to give it in my currently prostrated condition.  But as a New Year's tribute to him, here are a few hors d'oeuvre recipes from various international sources.  Writing about them (I mean to say, tapping this out on a laptop in bed, prone after crawling home slowly and painfully) removes my mind from present misery and transports me (and you also, I hope) to some lovely places:



This traditional Tunisian dish is served as a dip, or spread on small chunks of baguettes.  

3-4 tomatoes
1 green bell peper
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. cumin
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil to taste 

Traditionally, the tomato and pepper skins are removed by grilling over an open flame.  If you want to peel your vegetables, dip them into boiling water for a minute or so, and follow with a plunge into cold water.  The skins should slip off fairly easily.  Chop the peeled tomatoes and pepper into small chunks. 

Add the salt, cumin and crushed garlic.  If not eating immediately, store the mixture, covered, in the refrigerator.  Before serving, add lemon juice and oil.  

Variations:  Other common additions to Meshwiya are chunks of tuna, bits of black olive, and chopped hard- boiled eggs. 

From:  The Africa News Cookbook (New York, Penguin, 1985).

Flag and seal of Tunisia

Norman Douglas

Oyster Olive

Wrap each oyster after shelling it in a thin slice of lean bacon and fasten them with a wooden toothpick.  Put them in a baking pan and then into the hot oven till the bacon is cooked.  

Serve them with chopped parsley sprinkled over them, and a drop of Worcester sauce.

From:  Norman Douglas, Venus In The Kitchen (Surrey, Kingswood, 1952)

Nepaul pepper

Indian Savoury

Four ounces of Parmesan grated, two ounces of flour, a little butter, one salt-spoon of mustard, a little salt and Nepaul pepper; mix with a well-beaten egg or two, so that the mixture is like a paste; put it in the oven for a minute or two, and then lay it on nicely-cut pieces of toast; put it in the oven again for a minute, and brown the top over with a salamander.  Garnish with parsley.

From:  Norman Douglas, Venus In The Kitchen (Surrey, Kingswood, 1952)

Batter-fried Squash Blossoms 

Batter-Fried Squash Blossoms (Zuni Indian Recipe)
(a hot hors d'oeuvre for 8 persons)

Squash blossoms are considered the greatest of delicacies by the Zuni.  Choicest of all are the largest male flowers, which are carefully gathered from the vine, fried in deep fat, and served as an appetizer or used as a seasoning for vegetables, soups and stews.

8 dozen squash blossoms, picked as they are just about to open.  (Try to get as many male blossoms as possible; they are larger.) 
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup cooking oil
Paprika (garnish)

1.  In a shaker jar, combine milk, flour, salt and pepper.
2.  Place squash blossoms in a large pie tin and gently pour the milk-flour mixture over them.
3.  Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet until a drop of water will sizzle.  Fry the batter-coated blossoms in the hot oil until golden brown.  Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with paprika.  Serve hot.

From:  Yeffe Kimball and Jean Anderson, The Art of American Indian Cooking (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1965).

Herring (above) and traditional Herring Canapes  (below)

A Herring Eye 

With a large wine glass stamp pieces of bread out of a slice of rye bread and butter them.  Around the edge of each build a wall of chopped spiced herrings.   Inside this a wall of minced whites of hardboiled eggs, then one of the minced egg yolks, then one of a good herring salad, and finally in the center of it all the yolk of a raw egg.  Or, if you wish to avoid having eggs twice, you may use minced chives between the spiced herring and the herring salad.  If you have some truly tasty fillets of anchovies you could use them as the outermost wall and would not need to chop then first since both knife and fork are used in eating canapes.  Of course you are at liberty to do away with the suggested kinds of herrings and use your own salted or pickled herrings.  The important point is that each canape is made with loving care and of the best ingredients you can get.

Asta Bang and Edith Rode, Open Sandwiches and Cold Lunches, An Introduction to Danish Culinary Art (Copenhagen, Jul. Gjellerups Forlag, 1953).

      Wyvern was completely correct regarding the delectable Bombay ducks, by the way.  I was first able to sample these dried, salted fish delicacies at the late, much-missed Taprobane Sri Lankan restaurant on West 56th Street in Manhattan.    Another subject for another time.  In the immortal words of Wreckless Eric's lapel pin, "I'm A Mess".  Happy New Year!

Desicated Bombay Duck ready for purchase

 Bombay Ducks that have been soaked and fried

Black pepper drying, Kochin, India

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