Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shish ka bob or cubbub

Get out the grill!  An 1815 encounter with the dish was described by an American cookbook author who pondered "does he mean that the skewers run through the meat?"

The marvelously titled The Cook not Mad, 1830, relates how the cook prepared the beef in the Moorish method for Captain Riley and his crew who had been shipwrecked then enslaved in the Sahara Desert in 1815.  It was such a new technique for the New York state author, who ponders "does he mean that the skewers run through the meat? we think he must..."

The sketch from Captain's book depicts the starving men being rescued (ransomed) by William Willshire then taken to his home where his cook prepared their first meal.

"A Moorish method of cooking beef, as described by Captain Riley, the shipwrecked mariner."

"Mr. Willshire's cook had by this time prepared a repast, which consisted of beef cut into square pieces, just large enough for a mouthful before it was cooked; these were then rolled in onions, cut up fine, and mixed with salt and pepper; they were in the next place put on iron skewers and laid horizontally across a pot of burning charcoal, and turned over occasionally, until perfectly roasted:" [Query.--Does he mean that the skewers be run through the pieces of meat? we think he must, as it would be difficult to make such small pieces lie on the skewers, without falling through into the fire; especially when the meat came to be turned.] "This dish," continues Captain Riley, "is called cubbub, and in my opinion far surpasses in flavour the so much admired beef steak; as it is eaten hot from the skewers, and is indeed an excellent mode of cooking beef."

Remark.--How would it do to cut up flakes here and there on our common steak pieces, and put under pieces of raw onion, pepper and salt, and fasten the flap down by means of little wooden pins or pegs, to be pulled out after cooking?"
The Cook Not Mad, or Rational Cookery. Watertown, NY: 1830 

Captain Riley, born in Connecticut in 1777, continued to describe their first meal after being rescued in his book An authentic narrative of the loss of the American brig Commerce: wrecked on the western coast of Africa… August, 1815… revised 1828.  Hartford, Ct: 1833 

"We ate sparingly of this delicious food, which was accompanied with some good wheaten bread and butter, and followed by a quantity of exquisite pomegranates : for our stomachs were contracted to such a degree by long fastings, that they had lost their tone, and could not receive the usual allowance for a healthy man. A doctor then appeared, and administered to each of us a dose of physic, which he said was to prepare our stomachs for eating. …

In the mean time, this most estimable and noble minded young man [William Willshire c1790-1851] had neither spared pains nor expense in procuring for us every comfort, and in administering, with his own hands, night and day, such relief and refreshment as our late severe sufferings and present debility required. He had sent off persons on mules to the vicinity of the city of Morocco, more than one hundred miles, and procured some of the most delicious fruits that country can produce, such as dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, &c. He gave us for drink the best of wines, and I again began to have an appetite for my food, which was prepared with the greatest care. My men were furnished with shirts, trowsers, and jackets, and being fed with the most nourishing soups and other kinds of food, gained a considerable degree of strength."

©2015 Patricia Bixler Reber
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