10 March 2011

10 March - The Telephone; Telephone Pudding

Today in 1876, after much work and experimentation, Alexander Graham Bell uttered those immortal words "Mr. Watson, come here! I want to see you!" into his contraption and the telephone was born.  I wonder if he knew then that he was creating a tyrant that would rule us all and eventually deform an entire generation into Unfocused Creatures Whose Heads Rest On Their Shoulders As They Wander Aimlessly Along Seemingly Talking To The Air.

[Not to mention the number of first dates which never make it to second dates, because Mr. I-Am-An-Important-Jerk spends more time talking on his phone than to his companion.]

This page, Alexander Graham Bell's Path to the Telephone, has much information on the steps leading up to the invention.  Also see Wikipedia's articles, here for how it works and here for a timeline with links to the Other People Who Invented the Telephone First.  Funny how everybody seems to be inventing the same thing at the same time.

Yes, children, the above picture is a 'rotary phone'.  Once upon a time, we had to dial each number separately and wait for the dial to swing back into position before dialing the next number.  And there was no redial button.

It was also completely necessary if one was to have any social life at all.  How else could one tell one's girlfriends, not one hour after seeing them at school: what-she-said, what-he-said, who's-cute, who's-not, who's-going-to-the-prom-with-whom (with commentary on the suitability), and who-is-wearing-what-tomorrow, and, oh yeah, what-was-the-homework-in-history-class-again?  Since there was usually only one phone line to the house, this continued until Dad stormed in saying that he'd been trying to get through for the last hour (Dads always exaggerate) and what could be so important that it couldn't wait until tomorrow?

But that was a big improvement on the candlestick telephone, for which one clicked the receiver switch-hook (what the receiver is hanging on in the drawing to the left) to get the attention of the operator, who would then connect you to whomever you were calling (you'll see these in old movies especially - "Hello, operator?  Get me the police!  There's been a murder at Millstone Manor!").

And that, being of a useful size for desks, was a big improvement over the large wall-box magneto telephone, the crank on one side being turned rapidly several times to get the attention of the operator, who could then switch the caller to the callee.  (They do look like something out of a cartoon, don't they.  This one is at the Binghamton, New York, Historical Society

For more on antique phones and their history, check out the Antique Telephone History Website.

Meanwhile, tonight would be a good night for TELEPHONE PUDDING [if you are looking for the South African version, you need to look further.  This recipe is from the South United States]:

To start with, you will need about 2 dozen almond macaroons (either buy them or try one of the many recipes online).  Cut them into halves and use the halves to line a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish.

Heat oven to 350° F.  Separate 6 eggs.  Scald 2 cups of cream [the recipe calls for 'medium' cream, so I mixed together 1 cup of light cream and 1 cup of heavy cream.  Seems pretty medium to me].

Beat the yolks with 6 tablespoons of sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of salt until the mixture is thick, then add 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla.  Add a little of the scalded cream to the egg yolks, beating as you do so [you don't want to cook the yolks... yet], then gradually beat in the rest of the cream.  Pour this mixture over the macaroons.

Place the dish in a larger pan of hot water; place both in the oven and bake until the custard sets, about 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and dot the top of the custard with 1 cup of blackberry jam.  Turn the oven down to 325° F.

Now take the egg whites which have been sitting so patiently off to one side and beat them with 1/4 teaspoon of salt until foamy.  Then beat in 6 tablespoons of sugar (1 spoonful at a time) until the meringue is stiff.  Carefully spread the meringue over the custard (edge to edge).

Return it to the oven (without the pan of hot water, this time) and bake it for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve it either warm or cold, but not - NOT - while you are clacking away on the 'phone.  Let's give the dessert the respect it deserves, and our fellow diners as well.