Few Words About Meals of Yore

Rare books are not exactly my cup of tea. However, a friend of mine, who is a serious collector of antique printed matter, recently permitted me to have a look at one of his newest (which is the oldest) acquisitions. And I must report that a single glance blew my 20th-Century mind.

The volumes were two enormous, yellowed folio editions of Dr. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary. The first English encyclopedia of the meaning of words, this book printed in 1775 predated Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary by more than a century.

Quite an Eye-Opener

For 100 years, Johnson's formidable tome was the supreme arbiter of the English language. So, it was quite an eye-opener to me--rifling through a dozen or so pages at random--to realize how the sense of words still very much in common use in 1988 have drastically altered from their original 1788 meaning.

Speaking as a food writer and stove-top jockey, almost all the words that I logged were recipe terms or in some odd way related to the ordering, preparation or serving of meals. But I tell you here and now, I don't think I would have survived long in yesterday's kitchens--language alone would have done me in.

Words do change obviously, but many dishes prepared and consumed almost 300 years ago still come to the table approximately the same.

Here are two recipes that seem to be just what the doctor ordered:


3 large potatoes

4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

6 tablespoons whipping cream


Chopped parsley, optional

Peel, cube and cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and wipe out pot with damp paper towel.

Force potatoes through ricer back into hot pot. Place pot over low heat. Using wooden spoon, beat in butter and cream. Potatoes should be light and fluffy. Season to taste with salt. Sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.



1 cup whipping cream

2 cups fresh peas, blanched, or frozen, thawed

1 cup torn lettuce leaves (bibb, Boston, or romaine)

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives or green onion tops


Freshly ground pepper

Heat cream to boiling in medium skillet. Reduce heat and simmer until cream has reduced to 1/2, about 12 minutes. Stir in peas and lettuce. Toss until lettuce is just tender, about 3 minutes. Add chives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.

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