There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill.
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses
by Isabel Allende

Starting in November of 2009 Michelle at the Big Black Dog formed a group to bake its way through Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg. I loved Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, so I signed up with the group. Michelle first had us do a couple of warm-up assignments, which were my first attempt at blogging. The first "Official" post was on January 15, 2010, and it was followed by 41 more, on the 1st and 15th of each month. When I signed on I said I would bake the whole book, and like Horton (the elephant) I meant what I said and I said what I meant. I finished baking the book on October 1, 2011. Having completed that challenge, now I am just going to do some stuff, and post about it. As part of that stuff Michelle is posing a new, and different, challenge for us each month.

I am still baking bread, mostly the Five Minutes a Day kind, and if you would like to try the Five Minutes a Day bread method there are some links, with recipes, in the right hand column to get you started. Please give it a try.

But first, a word from my sponsor . . .
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This day be bread and peace my lot.
Alexander Pope

How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?

Julia Child

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.
Yiddish proverb
(And some are only half baked.)

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
George Bernard Shaw, via Sharon

Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.
George Herbert

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dog's Body

Since we have all completed our first challenge, baking our way through every recipe in HB in 5, Michelle has graciously offered to give us monthly challenges, to keep us off the streets.  The challenge this month was to make something historical.  For inspiration I looked to historical fiction: the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.  These novels, 20 of them in all (plus part of an unfinished 21st), cover the period of the Napoleonic wars.  The series begins in 1800 and ends about 1815.  Jack Aubrey is a captain in the royal navy, and Stephen Maturin is his particular friend, a ship's surgeon, and a spy.  The  movie Master and Commander, with Russel Crowe, is drawn from several of the books.  I have read all 20 books, and am gradually working my way through them a  second time. Needless to say I like these books very much, and heartily recommend them.  You should start your voyage of discovery with the first book, Master and Commander.

The series has spawned several related works: an atlas, an "illustrated companion," and a compilation of music.  Most importantly for our purposes it prompted Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels (Patrick O'Brian) by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman, Lisa Grossman Thomas and Patrick O'Brian.  (The "which it's" construction is drawn from a speech convention used by Killick, Aubrey's steward, homage to which I have paid in my own subtitles.)  Lucky Jack Aubrey loves women, he loves sailing, he loves prize money, and he loves food.  The novels lavish significant attention on this last topic, hence the Gastronomic Companion, which recreates recipes for the meals in the books.  For a sense of what these meals were like I strongly suggest you visit Blog d' Ellison, for pictures and a description of a dinner prepared 'a la Aubrey. 

On a sea voyage at the beginning of the 19th century the key to provisions was durability.  Right after leaving a port the food could be pretty good, but voyages lasted years, and the fresh stuff soon ran out.  (When the pickings got particularly slim, they caught the rats and cooked them up.  These they called 'millers,' according to Jack Aubrey "to make 'em eat better; and perhaps because they are dusty, too, from getting into the flour and peas.")  For these long voyages stuff had to last, and there was no refrigeration.  It was hardtack, salt beef and pork, dried peas.

I thought about making hardtack, more properly ship's biscuit, but the recipe requires that the finished biscuits be stored in barrels for many years, preferably at sea and somewhere that they would develop a good crop of weevils.   Looking for something a bit quicker to prepare I opted for Dog's Body, or Pease Pudding.   This is somewhat different than the pease porridge of the nursery rhyme, although it too can be enjoyed hot, or cold, or presumably, nine days old.

At least according to the New York Times pease porridge is more of a soup.   Pease Pudding is much sterner stuff.  The Old Foodie observed that
Some sort of porridge/pottage has been the staple meal of peasants in many countries for many centuries. In its simplest form it is a sort of soup with a starchy base, with other additions depending on the circumstances of the time. On feast days, ale or wine and spices, sugar and dried fruit could be added to make this one-pot meal special, and Sam [Pepys] mentions ‘brave plum porridge’ with apparent relish, in another diary entry. All that was needed was the development of pudding cloths in the seventeenth century to enable Christmas (plum) porridge to evolve into Christmas (plum) pudding, and Pease porridge to Pease pudding.

One might wonder why it took mankind until the seventeenth century to develop the pudding cloth, but then again, one might wonder why it was developed at all.   Apparently, puddings started out like sausages--being stuffed into animal entrails.  Some were stuffed into stomachs, like haggis, others into intestines like black or blood pudding.  In fact, according to my New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary one of the early meanings of 'pudding' is the bowels, entrails and guts.  As Humankind  progressed the entrails were abandoned in favor of basins and cloths.  Broadly speaking, a basin is used for steamed puddings and a cloth for those that are boiled.  Puddings are usually cooked for quite a while.

My recipe for Pease Pudding is boiled in a pudding cloth.  To be accurate I should have used a piece of sailcloth for my pudding cloth, but alas I had none.  Cotton towels will work, but I had some unbleached muslin that I used.

The recipe itself is pretty easy, and since this was just for the two of us I halved it.   I took 1/2 pound of dried split peas(e) and tied them loosely (so that they have room to expand) in my pudding cloth.  I  placed this in a pot of boiling water and boiled it for 1 1/2 hours.  Then I drained it and let it cool enough to handle.  At that point I squeezed out as much moisture as I could and put the resulting lump of pease in a bowl.   The recipe then calls for mixing the pease with some butter and flour and salt and pepper.

 As a note the recipe observes that a more seamanlike version can be made using salt-pork instead of butter.   I confess to being even more lubberly (this challenge did start out as HEALTHY bread in 5 minutes a day), and using light butter.  This mixture is then returned to the pudding cloth and this time it is tightly tied.  The tightness of the tie determines the texture of the pudding.  Then it is back into a pot of (fresh) boiling water for an hour.   
 That is it.  It is then carefully unmolded onto the serving plate. 

At first I was concerned that my pudding was too loose.  In The Far Side of the World, Captain Aubrey is on deck "eating a piece of cold or at least luke-warm pease pudding with one hand and holding on to the aftermost maintopgallant standing backstay with the other, ..."   My pudding had the consistency when unmolded of a semi-firm polenta, certainly not firm enough to eat out of hand.  But like polenta it firmed up as it sat.
 So how was it?  Surprisingly good!!  Pease, butter, salt and pepper, how bad could it be?  We did in fact eat it hot, and we later ate it cold.  Thinking to be clever, I also sliced it and browned it in a bit of olive oil, like a polenta.
 I subsequently discovered from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, however, that this was a traditional treatment for leftover pudding.  There is in fact nothing new under the sun.  Our Dog's Body did not last nine days, so we did not eat it nine days old.  One of the recipes I consulted, posted by Molly at noted that it is  "[a]lso lovely served cold, spread on a chunk of bread and topped with a thin slice of ham."  That does sound good.

Now, as for Dog's Body.  Apparently, according to Wikipedia, this was sailors' slang for pease pudding.  It then became slang for a junior naval officer, and then evolved, as dogsbody, into a term for anyone doing menial work--a drudge.   In usage then it would be "I am my wife's dogsbody."  (And her arm candy.)

So, having baked Dog's Body 'a la Aubrey, I think I will read the next volume on my re-read of the series.

Till next time I wish you all fair winds and a following sea.


  1. Wow Geoff, I am impressed. Growing up in WV, a Christmas day tradition was to eat plum pudding and I enjoyed it very much. Of course, I had nothing to do with the preparation, but I remember it came in a cute tin and was placed in boiling water, I think. I need to re-read my copy of Master and Commander. I am anxious for the next 'at sea food' episode. Thanks for the CF shirt. I did not have one and it is very nice. Happy Thanksgiving and beyond.

  2. Very entertaining and informative post!

  3. You've done it again, Guff! Thanks for the history lesson as well as a book recommendation. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. I've been eagerly waiting to see what you would do for this assignment as I knew it would be something entertaining! I enjoyed the history of seaman's language here as much as their pudding. Thanks, Guff!

  5. We'd have done a pease pudding at our Aibrey-Maturin dinner, but our intention was to re-create the Captain's Table, not the general mess. Which explains our serving items like Strasburg Pie, roast goose, and roast beef. That said, we're certainly not averse to making a pease pudding "just because"!

    Great post, and thankee kindly for the link!

  6. Great post, as usual. I love all the research you do. Love that it's about the sea also, since we're heading out for Key West in 12 days. :)

  7. Great and informative post as usual. Thanks for sharing. Happy Baking!

  8. Wow! Now if anyone says that poem, I know the website they can see....

    Thanks for the story.