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Chicken Mumble

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    Posted: 25 February 2012 at 08:02

In my continuing research into 18th century cooking  I’ve been working with Elizabeth Smith’s The Compleat Housewife or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion.

First published in 1728, this was one of the most influential cookbooks of the day. By the time of the American Revolution it had gone through 18 editions, and had influenced such other cookbooks as Hannah Glasse’s more well known The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, and John Farley’s The London Art of Cookery.

At any rate, one of the “receipts” in The Compleat Housewife is for a mumble. This is the only time I’ve come across this term, and have not, as yet, researched what it means. But the recipe sounded interesting. Here is the original:

To Mumble Rabbits and Chickens

Put into the bellies of your rabbits, or chickens, some parsley, an onion, and the liver; set it over the fire in the stew-pan with as much water mixed with a little salt as will cover them; when they are half boiled take them out, and shred the parsley, liver, and onion; tear the flesh from the bones of the rabbit in small flakes, and put it into the stew-pan again with a very little of the liquor it was boiled in, a pint of white wine, some gravy, half a pound or more of butter, and some grated nutmeg; when ‘til enough shake in a little flour, and thicken it up with butter. Serve it on sippits.

And here is my adapted version:                                                                            

Chicken Mumble

1 large chicken                                               

Handful of parsley, with stems

1 large onion, peeled and quartered               

Liver from the chicken

1 cup white wine                                            

1 pint gravy

½ lb butter                                                      

1 tsp grated nutmeg

Salt & pepper to taste                                    

¼ cup (approx.) flour mixed with an equal amount of softened butter

 

Separate the wings and legs from the chicken. Divide the carcass in half. Put chicken in a deep pot with the parsley and onion. Cover with lightly salted water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 20-25 minutes, skimming any scum. Remove chicken pieces from pot and let cool.

 

When cool enough to handle, strip meat from chicken bones in bite-sized pieces. Return bones to stock pot and let simmer an hour more. Season stock with salt & pepper. Remove as much fat as possible. Reserve for other uses.

 

Meanwhile, cook the liver and chop coarsely.

 

In a large skillet heat 1 cup of the stock, the wine, butter, gravy, liver, nutmeg, and salt & pepper to taste. Add the chicken meat, and simmer until done, about ten minutes. Add the flour/butter mixture and let sauce thicken to desired consistency. 

 

Notice that I cooked the liver separately. That’s because it was obvious that the basic step was making a simple stock, and I wanted to keep it pure for other uses. In fact, next time I’ll actually start with stock, which will make the new one even more enriched.

 

Gravy, in the 18th century, was an important base ingredient. Keep in mind that they made huge roasts, and had quantities of drippings we only dream of today. So we make 18th century gravy as a separate project, and freeze it in use-quantities. You can use any gravy, though. Even jarred gravy would likely work.

 

A note on thickening. This is a very versatile dish, and, depending on how thick you make the sauce, can be a soup, a stew, or even the filling for pasties or ravioli type dishes.

 
***Note: Edited version to show when the wine gets added.***
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Margi Cintrano View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 February 2012 at 12:11
Good researcher !
So happy to see u publishing again.
 
Have nice wkend Brook,
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 February 2012 at 12:13
Chicken Mumble ... Have to try this out ... Thanks for posting,
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 February 2012 at 02:41
Outstanding post Brook....that one is going right to the top of my to-do list. 
Go ahead...play with your food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 February 2012 at 06:39
Note: I seem to have left out when the wine goes in. I've edited the post to reflect that.
 
I haven't tried it yet, but it occurs to me that this would be a great filling for a pot-pie. Use it just as it is, or include some diced carrot, turnip, potato, etc. as well.
 
Savory pies were very popular in the 18th century, so that would certainly be a dish in the spirit of.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 February 2012 at 06:58
Savoury pies seem to also be quite popular in Emilia Romagna, Italy and France ... 17th Century nobles have been preparing dome shaped pastries filled with mushrooms, ground meat, shallots and vegetables for aeons ... There of course is also the sweet variety ... Interesting ... The USA had close ties to France during the American Revolution, and thus, recipes and ingredients migrate across the seas, and the Italians since the Gold Rush and of course the 1920s and WWII, the massive fleeing refugees from all over Europe, west and east.
 
Yes, white wine ... I cook with alot of wines and licores, herbs, and tropical fruits too --- depends, on availability of product, time and what we are up to ...
 
Have nice Sunday.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 February 2012 at 07:47
Even before the Revolution, Margi.
 
Franklin and Jefferson were both Francophiles, and brought back dishes and cooking techniques from their times there. Indeed, we are heirs to the French style of service, rather than the British, primarily because of their influence on the American landed gentry.
 
And Jefferson was, of course, in love with anything Italian. Many of the vegetables he grew, and the dishes he prepared have Italian roots.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 February 2012 at 08:08
Interesting ... Thanks for the knowledge imparted.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 February 2012 at 19:13

 So, what’s a mumble?

After both reading the original and preparing this dish, my speculation was that a mumble refers to food that is cooked soft; perhaps a synonym for braise. Turns out, that’s almost right.

Virtually every published dictionary offers this definition of mumble: “To chew slowly or ineffectively without or as if without teeth; to grind with the gums; chew without teeth and with great difficulty.”

So, it’s reasonable to conclude that a dish cooked to facilitate that activity would be called a mumble. While this conclusion is correct, it could not have been a common term, as it doesn’t appear very often. The Oxford English Dictionary has the culinary sense of mumble, meaning to cook to a soft pulp, first appearing in 1879 with a recipe for “mumbled eggs.” Obviously, we know something the OED editors don’t---to wit, that Elizabeth Smith used the word precisely that way 150 years earlier.

This lack of common usage is supported by the fact that no other cookbook I’ve read from the 17th and 18th centuries uses the word. To the best of my knowledge, it only appears in The Compleat Housewife.

I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and suggest that mumble was a word used more among common folks than by the gentry; probably as slang. This would explain both its association with the hard-to-chew definition and its lack of appearance in cookbooks, which were written by the upper crust.

So, how did it creep into The Compleat Housewife? Without going into detail, Ms Smith claims to have spent thirty years “employed in fashionable and noble Families”. In other words, she was a domestic. And, yet, literate. And with enough free time to write several editions of her book.

It’s a good guess, therefore, that she came from a good family fallen on hard times. Very likely she didn’t actually cook for these families, but managed their kitchens; sort of a culinary factotum . Her details about the costs of ingredients, and how to determine quality, tends to support this.

If that’s true, she would have picked up the word mumble from the actual kitchen staff.

I would further speculate that there's only the one use of it because it's likely it was edited out by the publishers, who weren't familiar with the term, and that the above single recipe was simply missed.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ChrisFlanders Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2012 at 07:32

Very interesting thread, Brook! It's fantastic to see someone try to make his own version of very old recipes.

I would guess the original recipe is very much a posh but popular dish from the "bourgeoisie" kitchen in that time, namely "blanquette". The use of luxury products such as butter and wine in average poorer rural kitchens was certainly not a common thing.

Many young country girls in those days escaped poverty to go to work in upper class homes, many times in bigger cities. Those servants lived in their employer's homes permanently and worked as cleaners, servers and a number of them helped in the kitchen. That's where a lot of contemporary so called "traditional" recipes come from. Many uneducated kitchen aids were maybe exploited financially by the rich families, but on the other hand, these girls learned "good manners" and many times a trade, depending on their talents. Culinary talents learned how to prepare food from their mostly female cook who might have been a former kitchen aid herself who builded up a good kitchen reputation. These women also started to make and keep written recipes. Before that, recipes were given from mother to daughter in a verbal way, many country people didn't even know to read.

Blanquettes were very "bourgeois" (upper class). Blanquette de veau is still a very wellknown dish, but blanquettes are not only made from veal, also from poultry, fish etc. Let's say mainly any "white" meat. That's where the name "blanquette" comes from; blanc or white. It's also very common to divide the preparation in 2 stages; the first stage is cooking in water with aromates without frying the meat first. This yealded also the bouillon (stock) that was used in the second stage, cooking the meat in a sauce.

Poor people usually didn't make a fancy sauce but ate the boiled meat like that with mustard. In my own country, but mainly the French, still call that unsauced meat "bouillie" which translates as "boiled". Even Italians still have their humble but delicious "bollito", also meaning "boiled". The bouillon in which the meat was boiled was mostly turned into a soup.

It looks that the second stage in the original recipe you mention is a braise. Both components, little liquid and butter are present. And slowly cooked until reduced, that's indeed braising.

What intrigues me the most is also the name "mumble"... could it refer to the mumbling sounds a braise makes in the big cooking pot?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2012 at 07:50
 
Chris: Welcome aboard ... this is a wonderful home for your type of gastronomy, knowledge and cooking style.
 
Historic Foodie & Chris:  In Italian the word, MASTICARE means to chew, munch or chomp ... as in Mumbling in Russian, Parlare ( colloquial ) ...
 
Thus, to mumble ...
 
Nice recipe and thanks for posting.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2012 at 08:04
...could it refer to the mumbling sounds a braise makes in the big cooking pot?
 
Nice bit of speculation, Chris. And, of course, we have other dishes which are named that way. Bubble & squeak comes immediately to mind. So there may be something to your supposition.
 
Much of your interpretation is right on the money. With one exception: Kitchen and scullery help remained, essentially, illiterate until well into the 19th century. So the women and girls who did the actual work did so under the direction of somebody who could read the recipes.
 
In the American Colonies, that person was, most often, the lady of the mannor. In England, however, it would likely have been an underling, but not someone from the lower classes. That's why I speculate that Elizabeth Smith had come from a better class family that had fallen on hard times. Not necessarily nobility, but, perhaps, from the emerging middle class. That is, her father may have been somebody "in trade."
 
Whether you or I are closer to the mark is all but irrelevant to the main point, however: Where does the word "mumble" come from? And how did it creep into her book?
 
I've read more than 50 cookbooks and cookery manuscripts from the 17th and 18th centuries, and many travelers' journals, yet had never come across that word anywhere else. And Smith only uses it the one time. So it evidently wasn't a commonly used term among literate food people. And, as we've seen, even the OED only traces that usage to the latter part of the 19th century.
 
"Mumbling" was in common use to mean the act of chewing poorly, as if you had no teeth. So it seems to me a logical linguistic jump to apply the word to food that lends itself to mumbling. But it was probably a slang expression, not normally used by the upper classes.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2012 at 08:27
Cooking in the manner of a blanquette is precisely how I prepared this dish, Chris. Good call on your part.
 
One of the challenges we face, when adapting old-time recipes, is language. For instance, in British (and, of course, British colonial) recipes there was little differentiation made between the various ways of cooking with moist heat. You knew what was meant because of the context and your experience as a cook.
 
Thus, whether boiling, stewing, poaching, steaming, simmering, or braising, the written recipe will, more times than not, direct you to  "boil."
 
And, of course, until French cooking was codified in the 19th century by the likes of Careme and Escoffier, even the French terms were rather loose. Most English cookbooks in the 18th century either ignored the French altogether, or, at best, said "in the French manner." Which could have meant anything.
 
A classic case: Mixing flour and butter was one of the most common methods of thickening liquids. But you won't find "beurre marne" in any British or American cookbook of the day. Instead, they spell it out each time, i.e., "take a lump of butter the size of a hen's egg rolled in flour, blah, blah, blah."
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 June 2012 at 09:51
i was reading a little from this book on my kindle:
 
The Forme of Cury - A Roll of Ancient English Cookery - Compiled, about A.D. 1390
 
Here's a link to a free version from Amazon:
 
 
From what I can gather, this goes back pretty darn far, and mentions "mumble" as referring to the offal or innards of just about any animal; deer, chicken, rabbit etc. It also seemed to be a pretty common term with little explanation necessary (as in "take the mumbles of a (fill in the blank), and put them in a pot). At first I thought it really only referred to the organ meats, but the more I read, the more I figured that it evidently pretty much means the entire gut pile.
 
Anyway, many of the recipes in that book are supposedly from King Richard II himself, who evidently helped compile the book....
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Boilermaker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 June 2012 at 17:02
Originally posted by TasunkaWitko TasunkaWitko wrote:

At first I thought it really only referred to the organ meats, but the more I read, the more I figured that it evidently pretty much means the entire gut pile.
 


Uh..... how about you try that Ron and let us know how it is.Clap
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