They Ate That ! #2

  To Boil Fish Head

Our second receipt for “They Ate That” was boiled fish head. I found four receipts that looked interesting. Mary Smith, The Complete Housekeeper, had a cod’s head with shoulder, boiled with a simple garnish around it when done. Charles Carter, The Practical Cook, Edward Kidder, Receipts of Pastry and Cookery and Robert Smith, Court Cookery all seemed very similar by using a fagot of herbs, dressing it with various seafood and horseradish, and then garnishes. I decided on “To Boil a Codf Head” by Robert Smith, Court Cookery or The Complete English Cook.

When reading the introduction to Robert Smith’s cookery book, I got the feeling that he had a rather high opinion of himself and was rather insecure. He tells us of all the lofty patrons he serves and of how, when he shared his receipts, they would show up in someone else’s work, and done badly at that. So he wished to publish his cookery book and set the record straight as to what he considered his receipts and how they should be executed. He is not the first person to feel this way, I’m sure. Many early cookbooks were copied almost word for word with little changes. He humbles himself by mentioning that he wanted to omit all extravagancy in using silver scallops-shells and silver skewers, yet “left several valuable ones not unworthy the greatest Prince.”

The cookery book also contains a variety of receipts from friends “to render it more complete.” However, he does not give them credit for any particular receipt. It is possibly the use of lobster and shrimp that makes this fish head worthy of a prince. Our team for the “To Boil a Codf Head” comprised of Vicky, Linda, and Tom. The receipt for the fish seems simple, boil the head, make a sauce and garnish it. However, it is really more complicated than that. There is gravy involved in the sauce, and many steps to put it all together. Our trio cuts onions and starts the garnish and reviews the receipt. While Vickie tends to the simmering fish head and Faith blanches the spinach for the pigeon pear, Ryan, our trusty ALHFAM event planner, snaps pictures. Untitled-1a copy Tom and Vicky remove the fish head and take it to the table. Here it is unwrapped from the cheese cloth and plated. Untitled-2 copy Tom had ready all of the garnishes, lobster, shrimp, parsley, toast points and artfully cut lemons. Linda gets ready to pour on the gravy and the dish is ready to serve. Untitled-3 copy Once again we had many a visitor sampling their wonderful cooking. The fish was cooked perfectly, and the gravy delicious, and the presentation as good as any four-star restaurant. Happy cooking! Sandie

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About Sandie

Since I was a small child I have loved early fireplaces and the smell of smoke in an old house. However it was not until about Fifteen years ago that my journey into hearth cooking began. It all started at the Hurd House Museum in Woodbury Ct. I was the director of the Junior Docent program and among the programs each week we cooked. At about the same time a group of us started the Culinary Historians of Connecticut meeting once a month to discuss equipment used, receipt (18th century term for recipe), and anything between the late 1600 to late 1700 that had to do with hearth cooking. We were fortunate to try our hand at cooking at several Museums throughout Ct and many more private homes. We made cheese; we held a late 1600 dinner and shared our knowledge with others. Our group designrd our own tours such as the Kitchens of Old Wethersfield. In 2000 we were delighted to host the Historic Foodways group of ALFAM at the Hurd House during their conference at Mystic Seaport. We put together a great workshop of Puddings, Sausages, Brown Bread, Beverages you name it we offered it. I am now a member of the ALFAM foodways group. Then it was off to Colonial Williamsburg for the seminar The Art of 18th-Century Cooking: Farm to Hearth to Table. During the years I joined many workshops in Sturbridge Village plus their Dinner in a Country Village and breakfast at the Freeman Farm. So I was pretty much hooked on heart cooking and the 18th century way of life. I joined a wonderful group of ladies and we started the “Hive” a place to improve and grow your 18th century impression and offer research about material culture in 17070’s New England. We also travel with friends and have displays of clothing and teas at Museums in Massachusetts. Many events are held at the Hartwell Tavern at Minute Man National Park. They have been gracious enough to let us play there and entertain and share our knowledge with their visitors. Please visit our “Hive” site if the 1700 interest you. Then the move to New Hampshire and a job at Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth as the co-coordinator of the Junior Role Playing workshop and eventually cooking in front of the hearth at the Wheelwright house. Not only did I enjoy making my evening meals at the hearth to take home but also talking with the visitors. I am an entertainer after all, check out my program page. Most recently I am working at the Museum of Old York in Maine as an educator, hearth cook and organizer of the Junior Docent cooking program in the summer. See some photos in the archive file Because I do make food with the docents and serve food to the public at our Tavern Dinners I took the National Restaurant Association tests called ServSafe and now have my Certification as a Restaurant Manager. I look forward to the Museum of Old York opening again this March 2012 and getting back to the hearth and teaching, however for now I’m cooking at home and enjoying doing so.

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