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.
The Latin term for bread is panis, and its diminutive is pastillus, a small baked loaf, or roll; and hence has come our word Pastry; else through Pastus, "something eaten." From a very early period the Orientals were acquainted with the art of making Pastry. At first it generally consisted of certain mixtures of flour, oil, and honey, to which it was restricted for centuries; subsequently, at the commencement of the middle ages, changing to a compound of flour, eggs, butter, and salt, made into a paste for enclosing meat, whilst seasoned with spices. And the next step was to further include fruits, conserves, and cream. Finally, ornamental pastry, built up as pyramids, castles, and other fanciful designs, brought the art of pastry-making to supposed perfection.
"You that from pliant Paste would fabricks raise,
Expecting thence to get immortal praise,
Your knuckles try, and let your sinews know,
Their power to knead, and give the form to Dough; Chuse your materials right, and seasoning fix, And with your fruit resplendent sugar mix; From thence, of course, the figure will arise, And elegance adorn the surface of your Pyes".
Art of Cookery, 1708.
Three Greek capital letters formed Hogarth's design for an invitation to dinner, - H. B. P., - Heeta, Beta, Pi, - to "eat a bit o' pie." Against Mince-pies great conscientious objections were at one time raised. In the seventeenth century Quakers denounced these dainties as an invention of the Scarlet Woman of Babylon; a hodge-podge of superstition, Popery, the Devil, and all his works.
A couple of hundred years ago it was a question of ecclesiastical debate whether clergymen ought to eat Mince-pies, because of their Popish origin; they were baked in a coffin-shaped crust to represent the manger in which the infant Christ was laid.
Puddings are of more modern invention, seeing that sugar and spices were rare and costly luxuries in the middle ages. Pepper was then the most common spice; and the old term of a "peppercorn rent" survives to show how highly this condiment was valued by the landlords of old times. It was frequently used for spicing over sweet pastry. Ginger, and cloves were the next common spices. Sugar was cheaper in those days than spices, but even this was costly, and difficult to obtain, so that it could not be employed after our present lavish way. In pastry-making the quality to be desired is lightness, which depends on the amount of air in the dough beforehand, and the expansion of the air after it is put in the oven. Therefore the best pastry is that which contains the greatest quantity of the coldest air before it is baked. The foldings, and rollings of pastry during its making have this increase of air in view; so that pastry should always be prepared in a cold place, and if set aside to wait between rollings, it should stand on a cold stone, or on ice. Eggs are used to increase the tenacity of the paste, and thus to make it hold more air. Baking powder has the same effect in pastry; it should be used rather for pastry to be baked at once, and little handled.
The richer the paste, as a rule, the hotter should be the oven for baking it. All boiled puddings should be put on the fire in boiling water, and the pudding must always be kept covered with the water while simmering. The. ingredients for puddings are generally better for being mixed some time before they are wanted. As an acceptable dish for dyspeptics, whilst good also for juveniles, an eggless plum pudding, of which a generous helping can be safely given, is to be made as usually; the materials being two small apples, and a medium-sized carrot, a pound each of stoned raisins, and currants, half a pound of mixed peel (minced), a grated nutmeg, half a teaspoonful of salt, an ounce of sweet almonds, chopped, or shredded cocoanut, twelve ounces of moist sugar, the same of chopped suet, twenty ounces of bread-crumbs, and a scant half-pint of home-made wine (raisin, or cowslip). No flour except what is used in chopping the suet, and as little as possible. This quantity composes three medium-sized, or four, small puddings, requiring four and a half hours' cooking. It is not advisable to form it into a single large pudding. For young children the currants may be replaced with advantage by sultanas, and the wine may be omitted in favour of milk with a good dessertspoonful of cornflour.
In Alice through the Looking Glass the White Knight invented a new pudding during the meat course at dinner. "What did you mean to make it of?" Alice asked. "It began with blotting-paper," the Knight answered; "not very nice alone, but you've no idea what a difference it makes mixing it with other things, such as gunpowder, and sealing-wax".
"In Hamelin Town" (R. Browning, 1842) "the inhabitants cling so devotedly to the Pied Piper Legend (Browning's poem) that they take every opportunity of commemorating it, one of the ways being by the manufacture of representative rat-like doughnuts, which is quite a local industry. The Hamelin Rats are made from a fermented dough of so light a character that they look almost like biscuits. It is composed of the very coarsest kind of flour, and becomes so hard that unless having teeth as sharp as the rat itself anyone attempting to eat the dough-nut would fail to make an impression thereupon. The tails,. and paws are put on separately, but the ears are cut, and two currants form the eyes, whilst a few stout bristles passed through the dough make the rat's whiskers; the shapes are then baked of a dark-brown colour, and glazed; they find a ready sale as associated with the legend.
The Saturday Review has said in cynical mood that "pie-crust has killed more people than drink." For all persons who lack strong digestive powers, especially for the sick, pastry, of whatever sort, and however well made, is very questionable. Puddings, pies, and sweet confections of this character are baked, or boiled, at a high temperature, so that changes take place in the fats used, with formation of butyric, and other unwholesome acids; the flour, too, is altered in condition, and if a pudding or paste is boiled, the mass becomes solidified, and tenacious, so that the digestive juices cannot easily penetrate it. Goldsmith, who was always at his wit's end for money, and seldom sat at a well-furnished table tells in the Haunch of Venison respecting such feasts as he obtained access to in his day: -
The Pasty, Or Turn-Over, in truth a Cornish device, originated in the need by the miners of a portable food which they might carry with them to the mines for their dinner, and might eat without suffering harm by handling it with coppery fingers. Hence arose the Miner's Pasty, which is commonly slipped by them into a small cotton bag with a string run into the top, so that the contents may be eaten from out the bag, to be held in the miner's hand, and turned back as the Pasty diminishes. A Rhubarb pie is improved by sprinkling lemon-juice over it when eaten. A beef-steak pudding is to be preferred before a beef-steak pie (which often engenders harmful gaseous products within it). A mutton-chop pudding, with oysters therein, is excellent.