12 September 2009

Spices, Salts and Aromatics In The English Kitchen

Grub Street is a small British publisher devoted to food and military history. We make no judgments here at Cookbook Of The Day. Grub Street is dedicated to keeping in print venerable old cookbooks from the history of English cuisine. This reprint bring to light probably the least known of Elizabeth David's cookbooks, Spices, Salts and Aromatics In The English Kitchen. It is no big surprise that we love Elizabeth David. As with many of David's books, this volume is not just a Cookery book but a history as well as a cultural survey of how the English feel about spices. she devotes a full five pages to salt alone.

In her original preface to the book she writes:

"For some two thousand years, English cookery has been extremely spice-conscious, not surprisingly to anyone in the least familiar with the history of the spice trade in Europe and the part it played in it, successively, by the Phoenicians,the Romans, the Arab conquerors of Spain, he Norman crusaders, the merchants of Venice and Genoa, the religious orders which fostered the arts of healing, medicine and distillery, the Portuguese explorers who opened the sea route to the Indies, the Dutch empire-builders who wrested the spice trade from Portugal, the British East India company whose merchants in their turn made London for two centuries the greatest spice mart in the world."

Here is David's "spicy" dish of mushrooms. Double the recipe for a lovely side dish.

Coriander Mushrooms

This is a quickly cooked little dish which makes a delicious cold hors-d'oeuvre. The aromatics used are similar to those which go into champignon à la grecque, but the method is simpler and the result even better.
Ingredients for three people are: 6 oz firm white, round and very fresh mushrooms, a teaspoon of coriander seeds, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, freshly milled pepper, and one or two bay leaves.
Rinse the mushrooms, wipe them dry with a clean cloth, slice them (but do not peel them) into quarters, or if they are very large into eighths. The stalks should be neatly trimmed. Squeeze over them a little lemon juice.
In a heavy frying pan or sauté pan, warm the olive oil. Into it put the coriander seeds which should be already crushed in a mortar. Let them heat for a few seconds. keep the heat low. Put in the mushrooms and the bay leaves. Add the seasoning. Let the mushrooms cook gently for a minute, cover the pan and leave them, still over very low heat, for another 3-5 minutes.
Uncover the pan. Decant the mushrooms–with all their juices–into a shallow serving dish and sprinkle them with fresh olive oil and lemon juice.
Whether the mushrooms are to be served hot or cold do not forget to put the bay leaf which has cooked with them into the serving dish. The combined scents of coriander and bay go to make up part of the true essence of the dish. And it is important to note that cultivated mushrooms should not be cooked for longer than specified.

My favorite history of the British East India company is The Honourable Company by John Keay.

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