This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
To cook food au gratin means that the substance is covered with fine bread-crumb, so as to absorb the gravy thereof. "Gratins "were originally the browned parts of cooked rice. The French dishes "au gratin "signify soups, or sauces consolidated by dry heat round spongy objects, such as crusts of bread. When the great Duke of Wellington returned to Dover in 1814, after an absence abroad for six years, the first order he gave at the "Ship Inn "was for an unlimited supply of buttered toast. Moore's pathetic lines, (in The Fire Worshippers, 1839) -
" I never nursed a dear gazelle,
To glad me with its soft black eye, But when it came to know me well, And love me, it was sure to die," have been adroitly parodied thus -
" I never took a piece of toast, Particularly long, and wide, But fell upon the sanded floor, And always on its buttered side".
It is aptly said, "An epicure can breakfast well with fine bread and butter, and good coffee. "Nine persons out of ten, when they call a man an epicure mean it as a sort of reproach, as one who is not content with everyday food, one whom plain fare would fail to satisfy; but Grimod de la Reyniere, the most famous gourmet of his day, author of Almanack des Gourmands, (Paris, 1812), said: "A true epicure can dine well from one dish, provided it be excellent of its kind. Yes! excellence is the object to be aimed at; if it be but potatoes and salt, let the potatoes be mealy, and the salt ground fine."Thackeray declared an epicure to be "one who never tires of brown bread, and fresh butter".
"There was a Prince of Lubberland, A potentate of high command: Ten thousand bakers did attend him, Ten thousand brewers did befriend him; These brought him kissing crusts and those Brought him small beer before he rose."*
The Art of Cookery.
"Likewise a few rounds of buttered toast,"said Mrs. Gamp, when giving her orders for her tea to Jonas Chuzzlewit's servant, "first cuttin' off the crustes in consequence of tender teeth, and not too many on 'em, which Gamp hisself, being in liquor, struck out four at one blow, - two single, and two double, as wos took by Mrs. Harris for a keepsake, and is carried in her pocket at this present hour along wi' two cramp-bones, a bit of ginger, and a grater like a blessed infant's shoe in tin, with a small heel to put the nutmeg in." "Toast and water is a friend, a sickroom ally. It is as cooling as the wind of the morning across fields of dew."Again, toast swimming in beef-tea constitutes the first solid food that a convalescent patient may take.
For Brown Bread soup, stew half a pound of brown breadcrumbs in half a pint of light beer, and half a pint of water; when these are well blended, add half a pound of brown sugar, and half a pound of stewed French plums; boil all together, and serve hot. Whipped cream will improve the soup, if suitable.
In Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford we read of "Bread-jelly, for which Mrs. Forester was famous. A present of this Bread-jelly was the highest mark of favour dear Mrs. Forester could confer. Miss Pole had once asked her for the receipt, but had met with a very decided rebuff; that lady told her she could not part with it to anyone during her life; and that after her death it was bequeathed, as her executors would find, to Miss Matty. What Miss Matilda Jenkyns might choose to do with the receipt when it came into her possession, whether to make it public, or to hand it down as a heirloom, she did not know, nor would she dictate. And a mould of this admirable, digestible, unique Bread-jelly was sent by Mrs. Forester to our poor sick conjuror. Who says the aristocracy are proud? "
* In imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry (de arte Poetica), by the author of Tale of a Tub, (W. King, 1709.) "Coquus omnia miscet "(Juvenal).
In a Choice Manual: or Rare Secrets in Physick and Chirurgery (1653) is the following as "a good remedie against the pleurisie ": "Open a white loaf in the middle (new baked), and spread it well with triacle on both the halfes on the crown side, and heat it at the fire; then lay one of the halfes on the place of the disease, and the other half on the other side of the body directly against it, and so bind them that they loose not, nor stirre, leaving them so a day and a night, or until the imposthume break, which I have sometimes seen in two hours, or lesse; then take away the Bread, and the patient will immediately begin to spit, and void the putrefaction of the imposthume; and after he hath slept a little, yee shall give him meat; and with the help of God hee shall shortly heale".
For ear-ache the country people in some districts pound up the crumb of a loaf hot from the oven, together with a small handful of bruised caraway seeds; then wetting the whole with some spirit, they apply it for a while to the painful, and swollen part.
In former English days the way to "make a Panada" was "to set on the quantity you will make in a posnet of fair water; when it boils put a mace in, and a little bit of cinnamon, and a handful of currans, and so much bread as you think meet; so boil it, and season it with salt, sugar, and rose-water; and so serve it".
Muffins consist of a dough made soft with milk, first mixed with German yeast, the white of egg being added, and the dough being put under cover before the fire to rise. When saturated with hot melted butter, the muffin needs a vigorous digestion to negotiate it. Sam Weller told to Mr. Pickwick a story which is much to the point about a man who "killed hisself on principle,"giving the doctor to know he had eaten four crumpets every night for fifteen years "on principle ": "Four crumpets a night,"said the doctor, "will do your business in six months".
"Are you sure of that 'ere?" enquired the patient. "I'll stake my professional reputation on it,"answered the doctor. "How many crumpets at a sitting do you think would polish me off? " asked the patient. "Do you think half-a-crown's worth would do it? ""I think it might,"said the doctor. "Three shillings would be sure to do it, I suppose?" says the patient. "Certainly,"says the doctor. "Wery good,"says the patient; "Good night."Next morning he gets up, has a fire lit, orders in three shillings' worth o' crumpets, toasts 'em all, eats 'em all, and so puts an end to hisself."The crumpet resembles the spongy inside of a muffin. It much resembles a round piece of a blanket soaked in butter, and is nearly as indigestible; the slang title "sudden death "has been given to this risky comestible.
"Bread," said the Psalmist "eaten in sorrow is vain. "Yet for a sick person of feeble digestive powers, and with a capricious appetite, simply-made bread-sauce, which can be most readily prepared, will often prove grateful, and nourishing, being, moreover, suggestive of game, or fowl. Take a pint of milk, a cupful of crumbled bread-crumb, a small onion, a blade of mace, a little pepper, and salt; peel, and cut the onion into quarters, and simmer them in the milk until tender, then take them out; stir the fine bread-crumbs into the boiling milk, and beat this with a fork very smoothly; add the seasoning, and batter, and a little white pepper, and give one more boil. To enrich the sauce, if desired, a spoonful of cream may be added. Time of making will be altogether only half-an-hour.