Sunday, September 7, 2014
"Women of Britain...Our soldiers are beating the Germans on land. Our sailors are beating them on the sea. You can beat them in the larder and the kitchen."
So reads the preface to the Win-the-War Cookery Book, published in 1917 and featuring a personal message from King George V, exhorting his "loving subjects" to "practise the greatest economy and frugality," particularly in "the use of every species of GRAIN." Before what my great-grandfather's medals call "the Great War for Civilisation, 1914-1918" up to 70% of the wheat used for British bread was imported, much of it from Canada. Once hostilities began, supply and expense became an increasingly serious issue: since an army marches on its stomach, and bread is proverbially the staff of life, people on the home front had to cut back on baked goods, and cut back sharply.
Unlike its sequel twenty-five years later, however, the First World War did not begin with government-mandated food rationing. Instead, the prevailing rhetoric urged Britons to tighten their belts and reduce waste voluntarily, because it was the right thing to do; enforced rationing wasn't instituted until 1918, when it was added to the continually-evolving Defence of the Realm Act. Even the most cursory glance at recipes from the era reveals a deep anxiety about the need for self-policing: posters, pamphlets, newspaper columns, and cookbooks all stress that the best way for women, children, and other civilians to help defeat the enemy was to waste (and eat) less food, particularly bread.
But home front frugality also extended to meat, fats, fuel, and imported goods, and (as in WWII) a good deal of emphasis was placed on the importance of home-grown vegetables, whether fresh or canned, and on replacing meat with other sources of protein such as fish and beans. There were also new products being introduced to the British dinner table during this period, such as tinned tuna fish, which was touted as "something entirely new - quite different from anything that has ever been sold in this country before."
All of which brings me to today's recipe for "fish sausages," from the above-mentioned Win-the-War Cookery Book. In terms of Vegan MoFo, this strikes me as a particularly meta choice: the mashed fish in the prototype (see the image below) is meant to replace ground meat, but since we don't eat meat or fish, my herbivorous adaption takes "ersatz" to a whole new level. I opted to make the "fish" from tofu, and added a dash of Liquid Smoke for a kippery je ne sais quoi. Since the quantities in these recipes are maddeningly vague - exactly how much is a "teacupful," and who cooks two tablespoonfuls of rice? - I adjusted for my family, and have reproduced my approach accordingly. I confess to having some doubts at the "sausage-forming" stage, but in the end this dish turned out to be a big success - sort of a cross between a fish stick and a croquette. (NB I opted for baking as opposed to frying in "boiling fat," since I fear the little darlings would not have survived intact.) I served the sausages with roasted brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and a simple, delicious white sauce from the same cookbook, which I'll be sharing later this week. So as of this posting, I'm cautiously optimistic about Great War MoFo: after all, the kitchen is the key to victory!
~ 1 14 oz. package firm tofu, frozen, thawed, and pressed
~ 1.5 cups water or broth
~ 1/2 cup short-grain rice
~ 1-2 tbsp. cornstarch
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, dill
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, marjoram, sage, Liquid Smoke
~ A few generous grinds black pepper
~ Dash mace
~ 2 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh parsley
~ 3/4 cup fine bread crumbs
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a large baking sheet generously with cooking spray.
~ In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil and add the rice. Cover tightly and cook over low heat until soft (about 15 minutes), but still a bit watery. Set aside to cool.
~ In a large mixing bowl, mash the tofu until no large lumps remain.
~ Add the rice (including any unabsorbed cooking liquid), cornstarch, seasonings, and chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly until you have a relatively smooth mixture and set aside for about 30 minutes.
~ Pour the breadcrumbs onto a large plate.
~ Form the tofu/rice mixture into sausages (this part is fiddly; you might want to dampen your hands with some cold water), roll them in the breadcrumbs, and set aside. I got 14 sausages from this recipe, but your mileage may vary.
~ While you're making the sausages, place your greased baking sheet in the oven to heat.
~ When all the mixture has been used up, place the sausages on your preheated baking sheet, hit them with a little cooking spray, and cook for 30 minutes, turning (carefully) once or twice.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.