The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Soups & Sauces Challenge: Caviche.

ingredients for Caviche.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
So, I'm still working on Challenge #1 for the Historical Food Fortnightly: I'm having trouble finding a piece of literature that mentions a specific dish that I have a period recipe for!  There's a lot of general mentions of meals, without saying what dishes or foods make up the meal, or only mentioning foods that don't really require a recipe, like fruit or a glass of wine, or foods that are made exactly the same way today as they were in the period (like tea and coffee).  I've decided on Calf's Foot Jelly, mentioned in one of the earliest novels, in 1807.  I think I ruined it, though, so I'll have to come back to the recipe and post about it later!  In the meantime... 

The Challenge: Soups & Sauces 

The Recipe: "Caviche" from the recently printed excerpts from Recipes from the White Hart Inn by William Verral, originally published in 1759.  The original recipe reads: 

Take three Cloves, 7 scruples of Coriander-seeds bruised ginger powder'd and Saffron, of each half a Scruple, three Cloves of Garlick, infuse them in a pint of good white-wine vinegar, and place the bottle in a gentle heat, or in water to warm gradually.  It is to be used, as Catchup, in small quantity as a sauce for cold-meats.

The Date/Year and Region: 18th century England.

How Did You Make It: First, I had to convert the apothecary's measurements to kitchen measurements, since I don't have a set of scales!  That was difficult because I was working with such small amounts, plus trying to convert from weight to volume measurements.  I ended up making as close an estimate as I could; according to the conversion table I found, 1 scruple is about equal to 1/4 teaspoon, or 1 large pinch. 

cooking the Caviche. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
I discovered that I only had ground coriander seeds, so instead of pounding them with the other spices in my mortar and pestle, I mashed the garlic with the side of my knife and threw the clove and saffron in whole.  The rest of the process was really easy: just put it all in a jar and let heat gently for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, funnel into clean bottles for storage.

Caviche [modern redaction]
3 cloves
1 ¾ tsp. coriander seeds
1/8 tsp. saffron
1/8 tsp. ginger
3 garlic cloves
1 pint white wine vinegar

Grind all the spices to a powder. Combine all ingredients in a jar, set in a saucepan of simmering water. Allow to simmer gently for at least 10 minutes, or until the vinegar is strongly flavored and colored with the spices. [I discovered that I only had 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar and had to cut the recipe by 1/6th! I used 1 clove, ¼ teaspoon coriander, 1 small pinch each of saffron and ginger, and 1 smashed garlic clove.]

Time to Complete: a few days of research, but only about 15 minutes to make.  

Total Cost: The saffron was about $2 for the package at the Asian market, and I had all the other things in my pantry and kitchen.  The ground coriander was about $6 if I remember correctly, but there was about 2 Tablespoons in the package. 
finished Caviche. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach

How Successful Was It?: it smelled very garlicky and vinegar-y as it was simmering, with only a slight earthy spiciness.  It tastes good, with a mild garlic and savory spice flavor, which I suspect will get stronger over time, since I left the garlic and spices in the bottles.  It tastes good with vegetables, and it would taste good sprinkled on eggs or fish, I think.  I would call it a success, although if I make this again, I'd use fresher spices and grind them, or even toast them first like they do with their spices in India, to intensify the flavor.  

How Accurate Is It?: my measurements, I know, weren't exact, since I didn't have a set of apothecary's scales to weigh all the ingredients.  I don't know how much my finished product differs from what was originally intended, and I suspect that I have more garlic and less spices in my version than the original would have had.  I would say my version is about 85% accurate.  

I do wonder, however, if this recipe is an early example of the Spanish dish ceviche, since the name is spelled so similarly.  If I were to put this on raw fish as a marinade, I suspect that the vinegar would cook the fish in the same way that the fruit acids work in real ceviche.  Now to find better corks to close my bottles of Caviche ... 

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)