Sunday, 17 August 2008

More Cheesy Cheese Stuff

Dr. Alcott published a book on cookery and housekeeping in 1846, titled "The Young House-Keeper; or Thoughts on Foods and Cookery", and thanks to the miracles of modern technology and old-fashioned copyright, it is available online. Read it and laugh. The sample below will give you a fair idea of what kind of a bloviating, pompous, Victorian (American) male know-it-all wind-bag the good doctor was.

I am particularly fond of the fact that he never lowers himself to provide any proof or documentation of his statements. While it is true that dairy products were often rendered dangerous by unmanaged grazing of poisonous plants by cows during the early years of the nineteenth century in America - Lincoln's mother is believed to have died of such poisoning - I have never heard of arsenic being added to cheese from any other source. Although it is well documented that producers of food used to commit some pretty hair-raising acts of alimentary terrorism, before the days of government inspection and regulation, his assertion that this was done loses a great deal of authority in the face of the fact that his real objection to cheese that it was often made by *gasp* WOMEN!

At any rate, while the entire book should leave you slack-jawed and laughing, I will just quote his chapter on cheese:

"CHEESE is generally considered as quite indigestible, and therefore to be avoided by all those who have not very strong stomachs. If, however, a very little good cheese be taken in conjunction with other proper substances, as bread or rice, as a mere condiment, it can hardly be considered as positively hurtful, to those who are very vigorous. A stronger objection to its use is, that it is too concentrated a substance--or too pure a nutriment.

I have spoken, however, of good cheese only. Bad cheese is among the worst of eatables. Cheese is even sometimes poisonous. I have known nearly a hundred persons poisoned at once by eating from a certain cheese. Other instances of the kind have occurred. I do not know that the cause of this phenomenon has ever been detected. Some have supposed it to be a vegetable poison, as the lobelia or the hemlock, eaten by the cows.

The anatto or otto, so frequently used to give color to cheese, is slightly poisonous; but there is another more striking method of poisoning cheese which has been discovered very recently. Some of our dairy women have fallen into the habit of adding a small quantity of arsenic, (ratsbane,) say a piece half as large as a small pea, to each large cheese, especially when made, in part, of old milk. The object is, to give it freshness and tenderness; and the plan is said to succeed admirably. But it produces, or may produce, great injury to the human constitution; and some persons have been made immediately sick by it.

My greatest objection, after all, to the use of butter and cheese both, grows out of the consideration, that their manufacture involves a great amount of female labor, while no permanent or substantial benefit is obtained. What can be more valuable than female labor, applied to the physical and moral management and early instruction of children?

If cheese is to be eaten at all, let it be eaten rather new than old; and let it be well masticated. Do not eat grated cheese. Nor should it be toasted. Toasting, though with many a favorite process, only renders cheese more indigestible."

William Andrus Alcott

And now, if you will excuse me, I believe I will go off and make myself a nice grilled cheese sandwich, with plenty of hot sauce and extra-old cheddar. I hope it was made by a woman.

Last year at this time, I made Savory Mashed Limas and Apple Crisp with the first apples of the season.

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