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.
Penn's advice to children was this, as regards appetizing condiments, and spices: "Let your chiefest Sauce be a good stomach, which temperance will help to get you." The question of Sauces in general certainly concerns epicures, and gourmets, rather than persons seeking to recover their health in times of sickness, and convalescence, when plain, unsophisticated nourishment is needed without artificial adjuncts. Nevertheless, certain simple Sauces are frequently of excellent supplementary use; as, for example, when white fish is eaten, which is chiefly nitrogenous food, and is rendered more complete as sustenance by combination with a bland Sauce of carbonaceous, warmth-giving materials.
Art of Cookery.
It is said that the noted Worcester Sauce was first skilfully 'Compounded by a clever physician to disguise the flavour of asafcetida given for the benefit of a dyspeptic nobleman whose health was being treated thereby. Cassareep, from Demarara, the thickened root-juice of the Cassava utilissima, boiled down until of the consistence of molasses, is believed to be the basis of Worcester Sauce; this is of great digestive assistance, and has an extraordinary power of making tough meat tender, also of rendering fat pork edible without subsequent discomfort, by a curious change which it effects thereupon. Dr. Thudicum explains the importance of a proper Sauce as a lubricating principle, demonstrating this by an experiment upon potatoes, cooked first with a Sauce, and then without it. "The Sauce served to smooth the morsel for passage along the digestive canal, and stimulated an increased flow of saliva, thus augmenting the juices for solution of the potato, whilst also improving the appetite." Several of the most familiar Sauces in common culinary use have definite objects in view, to be effected by their respective special qualities; such as Mint Sauce with lamb, Apple Sauce with goose, Bread Sauce with fowl, or game, Fennel Sauce with mackerel, Egg Sauce with salt fish, and various other Sauces. Mint "stirring up the appetite for meat," which makes this so general in our acid Sauces, said Pliny; whilst the vinegar dissolves the young albumin; apples being laxative with rich flesh of domesticated birds, or pork; bread furnishing bodily warmth, and fat with lean flesh of fowl; fennel "consuming the flegmatick quality of fish "; and eggs being the complement of innutritious salted Lenten fare; whilst horse-radish, again, is a digestive spicy antiseptic Sauce with fatty roast beef; and Soy corrects the possible ptomaines of salmon.
What is known as Mayonnaise Sauce (a corruption of Magnon-aise), which is an emulsion of egg-yolk with olive oil, serves by its condimentary vinegar to aid in dissolving the albumin of cold viands, from which the natural digestive volatile spices have now evaporated. For half a pint of this Sauce, put one raw yolk of an egg into a basin, with a pinch of salt, and of white pepper; also a saltspoonful respectively of English, and of French mustard, with just a dust of Cayenne; mix this combination with some of the best salad oil, drop by drop, using a wooden spoon; when it is as thick as butter, add a teaspoonful of Taragon vinegar, and eight or ten drops of lemon-juice. Pepys has noted in his Diary on December 2nd, 1660: "Lord's-day: home to dinner; my wife, and I all alone to a leg of mutton, the Sauce of which being made sweet I was angry at it, and eat none, but only dined upon the marrow-bone that we had beside'.
'What is called by trans-Atlantic locution "Apple Sass" is a jam-like compound of apples boiled down with sugar, and potted by thrifty American housewives, to be used for the open tarts which are so popular in New England. Dr. Doran tells about an eccentric dinner on record, which consisted entirely and exclusively of Sauces, but without conferring any adequate benefits on the guests; indeed, quite the reverse. "The soup was represented by Gravy Sauce; whilst Oyster, and Lobster Sauce were handed round in lieu of fish; Egg Sauce did duty for a joint, on the ground probably that an egg is proverbially ' full of meat'; Bread Sauce suggested pheasant to the hungry guests; and Brandy Sauce stood in stead of plum pudding; wine was served after each Sauce-boat had been emptied".
Anchovies (For A Sauce) form a flavouring zest of high value; these small fish are taken on the Eastern Coasts of Italy, France, and Spain, by night, and are salted in barrels with brine, to be cooked in various ways; if made too dilute they lose their flavour, and become spoilt. They are deservedly called "the drunkard's delight," because of their powerfully saline taste, and stimulation of palate; moreover, they are noted of old as good against agues, and for loosening the belly.
Bread Sauce, delicious when properly made, and suggestive to the invalid of toothsome game, even when such meat cannot be allowed, is nevertheless a positively repulsive mess when wrongly treated, - a mixture which can only be described then as a spiced bread-poultice. The backbone, as it were, of good Bread Sauce is the proper flavouring of the milk used in making it. To effect this, "take a three-ounce onion, peel off the outer skin, and blanch it for five minutes in scalding water; then cut it into quarters, and put them with a dozen peppercorns, six cloves, a blade of mace, a pinch of grated nutmeg, and a salt-spoonful of salt into a saucepan containing not less than half a pint of good milk. Remove the pan from the fire as soon as the surface of the milk looks frothy; let it cool, and replace it, continuing the operation till the flavour is extracted, adding a little milk from time to time to make good the loss by evaporation. Then strain it through a piece of muslin into a clean saucepan, and stir into it (off the fire) sufficient finely-sifted stale crumbs of white bread (that have been dried in the oven) to bring the mixture to the consistency of an ordinary puree, but on no account any thicker. Finally finish off with a good tablespoonful of cream at the moment before serving.
The yolk of one egg beaten up in a little warm milk until it looks creamy may be used as a substitute for the cream, though the latter is to be preferred".
The Sauces Of Classic Times (Greek, And Roman) have been told about in Kitchen Physic, particularly their "garum," and "alec," highly esteemed by the epicures of those days. Amphorae of the former have been exhumed at Pompeii, the contents thereof being now voted "darksome, saltish, biting, and beastly"; though this condiment, prepared from the intestines of fish allowed to putrefy, and then spiced to a degree, was the popular Roman Sauce, as proverbially as melted butter is now that of the English. Sydney Smith writing (June, 1844) to M. Eugene Robin, said: "I am living among the best society in the Metropolis, and at ease in my circumstances; I dine with the rich in London, and physic the poor in the country; - passing from the Sauces of Dives to the sores of Lazarus".
"Fames optimum condimentum est," - "Hunger is the poor man's best Sauce." Some wiseacre has scoffed at us English as "a people with only one Sauce." The fact is we have as many Sauces as we have kinds of meat; each in the process of cooking yields its native sap, and this is the best of all sauces conceivable. Only English folk know what is meant by gravy; consequently the English alone are competent to speak on the question of Sauce. Gravy is a watery solution of meat extract, which is browned by the action of heat whilst nearly dry, the change from broth to gravy being analogous to that which sugar undergoes when it becomes caramel. Broth, however highly concentrated, has never the stirring effect of gravy (not too brown). Such broth still requires the addition of flavouring vegetables, and condiments. When the extractive matters of meat turn in cooking to reddish-brown gravy, the alkaloids, and peptonoids of the previously pale soup undergo a change, like that of starch, and sugar, when heated to a high degree of temperature; they lose water, become doubled, or trebled in chemical structure, and assume new properties, the brown products being caramels, and exercising powerful effects on the nervous system.
Charles Lamb, in Elia's Table-talk, has humorously said: "It is a desideratum in works that treat " de re culinarid" that we have no rationale of Sauces, or theory of mixed flavours, so as to show why cabbage is reprehensible with roast beef, whilst laudable with brawn; why the haunch of mutton seeks the alliance of currant jelly, but the shoulder civilly declineth it; why loin of veal (a pretty problem!), being itself unctuous, seeketh the adventitious lubricity of melted butter; and why the same part in pork, not more oleaginous, abhorreth from it; why the French bean sympathizes with the flesh of deer; why salt fish points to parsnip; why brawn makes a dead set at mustard; why cats prefer valerian to heartsease, old ladies vice versa (though this is rather travelling out of the road of the dietetics, and may be thought a question more curious than relevant); why salmon, a strong sapor per se, fortifieth its condition with the mighty lobster Sauce, whose embraces are fatal to the delicate relish of the turbot; why oysters in death rise up against the contamination of brown sugar, while the sweet yam by turns court, and are accepted by the compilable mutton-hash, she not yet decidedly declaring for either! We are as yet but in the empirical stage of cookery: we want to be able to give a reason of the relish that is in us".