March 11th, 2010

I really ought to know better

When I was wondering about the claims that pie could preserve meat for up to a year, I ran across Janet Clarkson, author of _Pie: A Global History_, part of a series with similar names. I was highly suspicious, since Clarkson was the author of at least one implausible quotation on the subject of meat preservation, but the preview on Amazon looked like she'd done a decent job on her research.

Alas, here is evidence to the contrary:

"Oil is fat that is liquid at room temperature -- there is no other essential difference -- but good pastry cannot be made with oil. Flour simply absorbs the oil and the resulting dough is mealy, not tender and flaky." p 23

Phyllo does not appear in the index, and I suspect it doesn't appear in the book, either.

Yeah. "Global" history. Sure. *sigh*

ETA: Phyllo not in index, nor is filo, but filo is in the text, p 97-8:

"There is one other type of pastry that we have no touched on so far, but which surely should not be neglected. It is filo pastry (the name refers to the fine 'leaves'), so well known in Middle Eastern cuisine. Wrapped around a nutty filling and drenched in honey syrup, it is used to make some highly addictive pastry sweets such as baklava. [What, we're not going to mention spanakopita? At all?] Filo is not just used for tooth-achingly sweet pastries. There is one filo pastry pie that deserves special mention. It is the Moroccan pie called b'stilla, a ssweet pigeon pie which is a legacy of the early Arab influence on pastry-making, and of the medieval tradition of sweet with meat."

Really. That's all she has to say about it in the entire book. It blows up her _entire_ theory of how pastry can be made flaky, which thus blows up her theory of where pies originated. And she tosses it off in one unindexed paragraph focusing exclusively on a meat pie. Well, I guess that just proves she's from Oz. Which we knew.

I am exasperated.

about those meat pies lasting a year

I knew that people preserved all kinds of stuff in crockery or whatever, filled with oil or fat: cheese, pickled anything, etc. Apparently, before the crockery was widely available, crusts were used for a similar purpose. So that boar pie (I've been able to find references to the book in Clarkson, but haven't found a transcription of the book online that I can get access to. Yet.) may well have been: boar meat turned into sausage, cooked, dried, covered with oil or butter and sealed into a pie.

Not exactly what _I_ was thinking of, but that's because I was headed down the smoked/jerk path. ;-) Obviously a real botulism risk. Other sources indicate that stuff preserved this way (whether in a crust, crockery or a tin) should be kept in a cool, dry, place. According to a book I found on Questia, other near-contemporary sources to the William Salmon book indicate that meat pies had a tendency to go off around midsummer, so that whole keeps for a year thing was optimistic.

Context is everything.

Here's the most annoying bit:

p 46 Clarkson: "Keeping a meat pie for a whole year without refrigeration is a terrifying thought today, but it was such a common practice that we have to assume that most of the time consumers survived the experience."

Actually, we don't. First of all, not all sources claim a year -- some very much the contrary. Second, "without refrigeration" is misleading. People were pretty emphatic about keeping this stuff in a cool, dry place. Third, most of these things wouldn't have been kept around for a year; they would have been consumed much earlier. Finally, there were a variety of other practices prevalent for decades during the European middle ages that killed more than half the participants. Weaning at birth, as practiced in Iceland and parts of Austria, springs to mind.

turducken?!? in Hannah Glasse?!?

To make a Yorkshire Christmas Pye

...

Open the Fowls all down the Back, and bone them, first the Pigeon, then the Partridge, cover them; then the Fowl, then the Goose, and then the Turkey, which must be large: season them all well first, and lay them in the Crust so as it will look only like a whole Turkey

...

Quoted p 76-7 in Clarkson; I haven't checked it yet in the original. A hare, a woodcock and "more Game, what Sort of wild Fowl you can get" went in surrounding the turkey.

Wacky. I know it isn't really turducken for a host of reasons.

ETA: Oh, I'm a little late to be making this observation:

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/27/dining/l-ye-olde-yorkshire-pye-120090.html

Nice!

ETAYA: Any stunt cooking I've ever done pales in comparison to what these folks accomplish:

http://www.historicfood.com/events%202009-10.html