Monday, April 19, 2010

Asparagus Loaves or Sparrow Grass Rolls

The term Sparrow Grass, was occasionally used in the 18th and 19th centuries to refer to Asparagus. "Sparrow-Grass. A vulgar pronunciation of asparagus both in England and America, sometimes in the New York market contracted to 'grass.' " [Dictionary of Americanisms by John Bartlett. 1877]  Recipes below.

An 1816 work presented various words from Northern dialects, such as the German spargel, but the author stated that "an intelligent English lexicographer says—' I rather think sparrowgrass to be the proper English name of the plant, than a corruption of the Latin asparagus; and in this I am supported by Miller in his Gardener's Dictionary.' "  [A Vocabulary; or, Collection of words and phrases... by John Pickering. Boston: 1816]  Batty - yes Batty - Langley wrote in 1728 that “The Top or Bud is of the form of a Sparrow's Bill, and from thence vulgarly called Sparrow-grass.“   [New Principles of Gardening by Batty Langley.  1728]

Only a few printed cookbooks used the common terms ”Sparrow grass” or “grass” in the recipes.  Hannah Glasse wrote “grass” in receipts for A Ragoo of Asparagus, Asparagus and Eggs,To pickle Asparagus, and Asparagus forced in French Rolls [see recipe below].  In his 1725 book, Court cookery: or, The compleat English cook, Robert Smith used the term Sparrow-grass.   “To make a Pettelo Pie” in which “…Artichoke-bottoms, with Tops of Sparrow-grass, boil’d tender…“ were added to numerous ingredients including pigeons and various other meats, mushrooms, eggs and spices.

Having scraped the stalks of three bundles of fine, large asparagus, (laying it, as you proceed, in a pan of cold water,) tie it up again in bunches, put them into a pot with a great deal of boiling water, and a little salt, and boil them about twenty minutes, or till quite tender. Then take out the asparagus, and drain it. Cut off the green tops of two-thirds of the asparagus, and on the remainder leave about two inches of the white stalk; this remaining asparagus must be kept warm. Put the tops into a stew-pan with a pint of cream, or rich milk, sufficient to cover them well; adding three table-spoonfuls of fresh butter, rolled in flour, half a grated nutmeg, and the well-beaten yolks of three eggs. Set the stew-pan over hot coals, and stir the mixture till it comes to a boil. Then immediately remove it. Have ready some tall fresh rolls or penny loaves; cut the tops carefully off, in a nice circular or oval piece, and then scoop out the inside of the rolls, and fill them with the stewed asparagus while it is hot. Make small holes very nicely in the tops or lids. Fit the lids again on the rolls, and stick in the holes (of which you must make as many as you can) the remaining asparagus, that has had the bit of stalk left on for this purpose. Send them to table warm, as side-dishes.
Leslie, Eliza. The Lady's Receipt-Book; a Useful Companion for Large or Small Families... Philadelphia: 1847

NOTE: I have often made this dish, and it is delicious each time.  The Glasse receipt is similar, but I find I can make more holes in the roll top if it does not have to be fried. 

Asparagus forced in French Rolls.
Take three French rolls, take out all the crumb, by first cutting a piece of the top-crust off; but be careful that the crust fits again in the same place; fry the rolls brown in fresh butter; then take a pound of cream, the yolks of six eggs beat fine, a little salt and nutmeg, stir them well together over a slow fire till it begins to be thick; have a hundred of small grass boiled; then save tops enough to stick the rolls with, the rest cut small and put into the cream, fill the loaves with them: before you fry the rolls make holes thick in the top crust and stick the grass in; then lay on the piece of crust and stick the grass in, that it may look as if it were growing. It makes a pretty side-dish for a second course.
Hannah Glasse. The Art of Cookery.  London: 1796

To dress Asparagus. - [on toast rather than rolls] - 1717
Having scraped your asparagus, tie them in bundles, cut them even, and throw them into water. Tie them up into little bundles, and put them into a stewpan of boiling water with some salt. Let the water keep boiling, and when they are a little tender, take them up; for, if you boil them too much, you will spoil both their colour and flavour. Lay them on a toast that has been dipped in the water the asparagus was boiled in. Pour over them melted butter, or put butter into a bason, and send them up to table.  [The Accomplished Housekeeper, and Universal Cook. T. Williams  London: 1717]

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