Archive for March, 2012

UPDATE: Summer 2014
Well, there’s nothing more constant than change, ay?! This video
series is always being moved. dagnabit

In any case, the previously-shared links no longer work. Even
what’s in the box, below, is just a quick succession of several
different sections. So, try this one HERE. You should be able
to find ALL of the episodes at this one location on youtube.
Ignore the “unavailable” notation. Just click on the videos
in the list on the right-hand side.

It’s a fantastic series. Enjoy!


I recently re-discovered a fantastic video series that I’d
like to share. Entitled “Tales from the Green Valley,” it
follows five historical experts as they spend 12 months
“living” in the year 1620 on an historical working farm
located along the Welsh borders (so yes, it’s British).
The work they do, the activities in which they engage,
and the challenges they face are all applicable to any
farm in any area during any pre-modern time period.
I hope everyone enjoys them as much as I do.

Comprised of 12 episodes, a playlist of the series exists
on youtbube, wherein one is shown right after another.
Believe me, this feature makes it much easier to view
each episode, rather than doing each one separately
and trying to figure out if E2P1-3 comes before or after
E1P2-5. Now, it will seem as if there are more than 12,
and there sorta are, because the playlist shows the
series in only 15 minute increments. It just means you
can watch as much or as little as you like. In the end,
believe me, it will be well worth it. I guarantee that
you will learn so much, and you’ll gain a very realistic
glimpse into 17th century farm life. HUZZAH!


Read Full Post »

As mentioned previously, the definition of “tin oven” in the glossary
of Prospect Books’ facsimile of The Art of Cookery, made [sic] Plain
and Easy
, by Hannah Glasse (1747), refers to the book’s page 91.
All the receipts on that page, which is one in a group of about 10,
are for fish. These pages, together with 32 others that contain
receipts for everything from soups to puddings to vegetables,
comprise the chapter entitled “For a Fast-Dinner, a Number of
good Dishes, which you may make use of for a Table at any
other Time.” In other words, all are dishes for those assorted
and numerous fast (meatless) days (such as Lent). Naturally,
as author Glasse points out, they could certainly be prepared
for any meal at any time.

Now, at first, I wondered, how is fish cooked in a tin reflector
oven? Do you spit it? However, fish tend to be rather thin, so
won’t it fall apart too easily? Or maybe
you simply tie it to the spit? Sounds
do-able, but seems a bit risky. I then
decided to return to the source, to
look closely at the specific receipt
(“Salmon in Cases”) referred to in
the glossary’s definition of “tin oven.”
A-Ha! I soon discovered that it doesn’t
involve cooking a whole fish! It merely
calls for pieces of fish to be wrapped in paper (“in cases”),
then placed on a tin plate and cooked in “a Tin Oven before
the Fire.”

OK. But, wait a minute. How do you cook a plate of anything,
let alone fish, in a reflector oven? Balance it on the spit? Seems
unlikely (and unwieldy!). Set in on the oven’s floor? That’d work,
I suppose, but won’t it be too low, in relation to the fire? OR,
perhaps a tin oven with a shelf would work? The type that’s
also set before the fire and is used for baking? The thing is,
the definition (mentioned above) didn’t include those. Does
that mean they didn’t exist in the mid-18th century? Or were
they just not widely used? It does seem, however, that if one
type of tin oven was available, then other kinds would’ve
been, as well.

Of course, the best way to find answers
to these questions was to conduct a few
experiments. Shortly thereafter, I did
just that, while cooking at the hearth
of The Israel Crane House. I made up
six (6) little “cases” of salmon, and
cooked half in the tin reflector oven
and half in the “baking” tin oven.

Now, unfortunately, I didn’t have any tin
plates, so I “cheated” and used a small store-bought toaster
oven aluminum baking sheet. I then put this “plate” of fish
on the bottom or floor of the reflector and on the upper shelf
of the other. I must say, it was quite exciting, and I eagerly
awaited the results!

Before I share my pictures of the entire process, I want to add
that the Crane House’s tin reflector oven is in good condition,
and is nice ‘n shiny. However, the shelved-tin oven is the exact
opposite; in fact, it’s downright grungy. I used it anyway, and,
bottom line, both worked really well. The only difference was
that the batch cooked in the shelved-oven took a bit longer.
I imagine, if it were as clean ‘n shiny as the other, the cooking
times would’ve been identical (or nearly so).

Here, now, my photos. Hannah Glasse’s receipt “Salmon
in Cases,” from her book The Art of Cookery, follows.


The salmon; I chose these steaks largely because I figured
they’d be easier to cut into uniformly-sized pieces. The store
had fillets, as well, but they were much larger, overall, and
the thickness of each was rather uneven. Of course, in the
end, it didn’t really matter, because I had to cut it up in small
pieces in order to ferret out a few elusive bones:

The salmon was cut up into pieces:

Several all-white paper bags became the “cases,” and each
sheet was generously buttered:

Salt, pepper, and nutmeg were mixed with the salmon, which
was then divided amongst the three papers:

The papers, with their salmon, were folded into neat little packets:

My “reasonable facsimile” of a tin plate (?!):

Just before everything was ready to be set before the fire,
melted butter was poured, and bread crumbs sprinkled,
over all the packets:

The Crane House’s tin reflector oven:

The “plate,” with its packets, was set on the floor of the reflector oven:

All was set before the fire:

Notice how the fire reflected off the back of the oven; when
I saw that, I knew for certain the fish would cook beautifully,
even though it was “way down” on the oven’s floor:

Lookin’ good!

Mmmmm…salmon, cooked to perfection:


Following the exact same process with the second batch:

The baking style tin oven:

All set ‘n ready to cook:

Another successful round of “Salmon in Cases”:

As you see, fish can be cooked, and cooked well, in different
types of tin ovens. Both of my little experiments was a huge
success! And the final results were mighty delicious. HUZZAH!


Here is the receipt from The Art of Cookery, made [sic] Plain
and Easy
, by Hannah Glasse (London, 1747):

Salmon in Cases.
Cut your Salmon into little Pieces,
such as will lay rolled in half Sheets
of Paper; season it with Pepper, Salt
and Nutmeg, butter the Inside of the
Paper well, fold the Paper so as nothing
can come out, then lay them on a Tin
Plate to be baked, pour a little melted
Butter over the Papers, and then
Crumbs of Bread all over them. Don’t
let your Oven be too hot, for fear of
burning the Paper; a Tin Oven before
the Fire does best. When you think
they are enough, serve them up; just
as they are, there will be Sauce enough
in the Papers.

Read Full Post »

On Facebook recently there was quite a lively discussion,
as well as plenty of oooohhhing and ahhhhhing, amongst
my assorted friends about the tin (or is it copper?) reflector
oven that’s depicted in the painting below:

Initially posted by Tammy DeLauter Fletcher, this is entitled
simply “The Cook.” It was done by the Dutch painter Gabriel
Metsu (1629-1667) and was most likely completed by him
at some point between 1657 and 1662.

Yes, you read that correctly: between the years 1657 and
1662. Indeed, Metsu was a mid-17th century painter.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit it: I thought these ovens were
only in use during the 19th, maybe the very late 18th, century
(at least here in America). I’m not really sure why. I’ve used
them often, but I’ve never really given it much thought. I’ve
never investigated whether they were available/used earlier.
Of course, I’ve done quite a bit of 18th century hearth cooking,
but my main focus has typically been the 19th. Not to mention,
that’s the time period in which I was initially trained (at Conner
, back when the year 1836 was the focus). However,
based on this painting, apparently reflector ovens were
around, even as early as the mid-1600s.

At the same time, though, it IS a Dutch painting. So perhaps
reflector ovens were common in Europe, even during the 17th
century, but were they also used on this side of the pond? It
seems likely that they may’ve been imported. Or perhaps they
were made here. However, I think it is generally believed that
being a tinsmith was more of an 1800s profession. You know,
due to British control of manufactured goods, that sort of thing.
Or, perhaps not? It’d definitely be interesting to research this
further, and to look at store inventories, newspaper ads, ship
records, and other assorted documents, to see if, and when,
such ovens were made in, or transported to, the colonies.

In any event, when this painting and the ensuing discussion
took place on Facebook, I remembered a passage I’d read
in Prospect Books’ facsimile reprint of Hannah Glasse’s book,
The Art of Cookery, made [sic] Plain & Easy (1747). In the
glossary is this definition (and illustration) of “Tin Oven”:

The reference to a tin oven, [on page] 91,
is to the ‘Dutch oven’ which was in common
use and which stood in front of the fire. The
food being cooked was exposed to direct

(c) Prospect Books 1995

heat and also to reflected heat from the polished
tin interior. A door in the back could be opened
to permit viewing and basting.

Now, what’s interesting is that all the receipts on page 91
in Glasse’s book are for fish, and only one specifically calls
for cooking the dish in “a Tin Oven.” It’s the receipt “Salmon
in Cases.” The instructions say to wrap salmon pieces in paper
and “lay them on a Tin Plate.” It then states that “a Tin Oven
before the Fire does best” (I imagine as opposed to a brick
bake oven). Which, of course, obviously means that the fish
is NOT put on the spit!

So, in a typical tin reflector oven, where would you put a plate
of fish “in cases”? On the floor/bottom of it? But that puts it too
low in relationship to the fire, yes? So, in order to gain some
height, could the plate perhaps be balanced on top of the spit?
Could that work, would it stay securely? (I’m thinking maybe,
but not likely?) Then I thought, “Well, perhaps Glasse means
one of those tin ovens with a shelf? The ones that’re often
used for small breads (either loose or in a pan)?” And if so,
does that mean those types of tin ovens were also around
in the early to mid 18th century? Makes perfect sense, yes?
Or no? And so, is there possibly a slight problem with this
glossary’s definition of “Tin Oven”: i.e. it’s not JUST the ones
with a spit and basting door, but it’s also other types?

Luckily for me, I was scheduled to cook again at the hearth
in the kitchen of the Israel Crane House on Sunday, March 1,
which meant I’d be able to conduct my own experiments.
I could figure out just how this fish receipt was to be
cooked. What fun!

So, stay tuned!


UP NEXT: Experiments in cooking fish in reflector ovens


For more information about Gabriel Metsu, his life, this painting
and other works, check out this site.

Read Full Post »