Cookery Books and Pickled Beef

Cookery Books and Pickled Beef

Hello! I cannot believe The Queen’s Scullery closed its doors nine months ago, can you? It was nice to have a break. I thought maybe it was for good, but then something happened to awaken the kraken, as they say. I have been fortunate enough to sign a book deal for all the recipes I have reworked for The Queen’s Scullery. The book should be out next year, I hope in spring.

In the meanwhile, I will be editing the book like a mad thing,  tinkering with some of the recipes that I feel I need another pass at, and I will try to mention them here and put up some pictures. I never finished wrasslin with jaunemange, and I’m convinced there’s a way to turn it out without ISENGLASS, for the love of hoop skirts, so I need to wrap that up and make it taste not like horrible burning death.

The cookbook will be a tiny bit academic, feature discussions of techniques, ingredients, and cooking methods, and will of course contain 100+ recipes that I have pulled out of the Book of Household Management and reworked for modern cooks (imperial and metric). It will have a 23-word title, inspired by my hero, Dr. William Kitchiner. Take that, Daniel Pinkwater. (Pardon the librarian hoomor.)

What have I been doing otherwise? It’s pickling season. I did pickled eggs recently but I’m embarrassed to show you because they are so torn up from being boiled brand-new-fresh out of chicken butts. Amateur hour!

BOUNTY!

The Dill Stalks at Midnight

Pickled lemon cucumbers YUM YUM YUM YUM

Pickled Beef

This, above, lately, is the new jam of cows. The excellent cookbook and early-fall savior, The Joy of Pickling, pictured above in the bean and cucumber picture, is responsible for this pickled beef. So simple and so delicious!

So–how are you? Any food adventures to report or links to share?

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Christmas Down Under – Topsy-Turvy in the Antipodes

Christmas Down Under - Topsy-Turvy in the Antipodes

My Great-Great-Grand-Father Edward Hunter arrived in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne, Victoria, on the 3rd of January 1853 aboard a three-masted barque called The Emigrant.  Edward, his wife Jane and their sons Robert aged 6 and Edward Jnr aged 2 spent their first Christmas in the Antipodes on a sailing ship rounding the treacherous southern coast of Australia (today nicknamed The Ship Wreck Coast after all those ships that didn’t make it to port).  After four months at sea, leaving behind the coal mines of Northumberland England, they caught their first glimpses of their new home.

What a Christmas that must have been, far from family, heading to a new world with landfall only ten days away I can’t image how they must have felt.  Instead of snow and an open coal fire the Hunter’s first Christmas was amidst the roaring waves of the Southern Ocean, Seagulls wheeling overhead in a blazing summer sky, the creaking of timber, sails and rope, the smell of salt and eucalyptus in the breeze and no doubt that feeling of sick expectation a mix of excitement and trepidation played on Edward’s mind and in the pit of his stomach.

E. Hunter - Well the beard is kind of festive?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any records of how the Hunter family celebrated Christmas.  I know that by their next Christmas Edward was the manager of Hartland’s Plant Nursery on the banks of the Yarra River in Ivanhoe Melbourne and that Jane had given birth to another son William.  Edward somehow made the leap from Coalminer / Bricklayer to Horticulturalist in a year, resisting the allure of the goldfields and re-inventing his life in a way that would never have been possible in Victorian England.

I’ve been trying to find out more about colonial Christmas in Australia, trying to imagine my way into Edward and Jane’s life and not having much luck until I found this really amusing scholarly article, “Revisiting a ‘well-worn theme’: the Duality of the Australian Christmas Pudding 1850-1950 by Rhiannon Donaldson. Rhiannon writes about the single-minded determination with which the new settlers set about recreating the traditional English Christmas.  Where Ox Tail was not available to make soup Kangaroo Tail was substituted (either sounds kind of yuck to me). Anyway I think it is extremely funny to trace our social history using pudding – I really am going to study in the social sciences next time round.

The thing to remember about transplanting the traditional Dickensian Christmas to Australia is that it is frequently over 100 degrees Fahrenheit here in mid-summer.  I love this quote from Rhiannon’s paper, which sums up the mid-summer Christmas dilemma “Writing in 1855, William Howitt described this process of pretence undertaken by settlers, as they attempted to recreate a traditional Christmas “with the good old orthodox roast-beef and plum pudding. We…drank a Merry Christmas to all our friends in Old England, in a tumbler of brandy-and-water. We tried to believe it Christmas, spite of the thermometer at 120°, of diggers’ tents in the distance, and the Bush around us”.

I imagine that Edward and Jane finding themselves newly middle-class and missing home would have re-created a traditional Christmas feast of roast and pudding. I hope for Jane’s sake that she had a kitchen with a nice high ceiling or that a least she was able to leave the doors and windows open to get a nice breeze without a million blow-flies (the other gift of Australia to the new settlers) descending on her kitchen. Now we may look back at Jane’s folly at creating this dinner in the blistering heat, shaking our head’s and smiling sagely, but we in Australia have persisted with the dream of Christmas for the 175 years since Melbourne was first settled, it made the journey with us in our cultural DNA.

Oh Christmas Tree, oh Christmas Tree!

As well as substituting Kangaroo for Ox tail the settlers needed to find a substitute for the traditional pine, spruce or cypress Christmas Tree as a consequence there are many different native plants which ended up with the common name: Christmas Tree or Christmas Bush.

My Mother’s Father, Edward and Jane’s Grandson, cut Cherry Ballart Trees for Christmas.  This native cherry looks like a Cypress tree and is covered by red fruit in mid-summer (these fruit are a strange flavour like sweet pine but very yummy). Another favourite in Melbourne was Bursaria spinosa or Christmas Bush a beautiful shrub covered in pure white star like flowers. The one I like the best is too big to bring inside as a Christmas Tree but is a wonderful feature of my neighbourhood around Christmas the beautiful paperbark tree called  “Snow in Summer’ by European settlers.

Snow in Summer

Good-bye from the Garden Shed

It is now Boxing Day in Australia and ironically it is so cold that we have the heater on. The drought has broken and it has rained so much that everything has really slowed down in the garden apart from the weeds!

I’ve really enjoyed writing for TQS and would like to thank SJ for the opportunity.  I’ve learnt so much about my family, the history of Australia and gardening over the last year. As I mentioned in a previous post I am going to continue to experiment by trying to grow vegetables using the advice of the Colonial Gardener published in 1854, so I will be moving this research to this blog.

By Christmas 1873 Edward had become a land owner and an Orchardist in Lilydale Victoria, both Head Gardener and Master and by Christmas 1890 he had was elected the founding president of the Wandin and District Horticultural Society – if only he was still around to help me learn how to garden!

The most important thing that I have learnt through this project is that like the Victorians we are trying to learn how to live on this continent – still.

Final Floral Flourishes

Old World - New World Buttonhole

Here is the buttonhole the Undergardener made for the Mistress to wear on Christmas Day.  It is a mix of English Rose, Teatree blossom and banksia leaves.  A mix of the old world and the new, the modern and the Victorian.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

December Has Been Simply Offal

December Has Been Simply Offal

I. Pickled Lamb Tongues and Fried Kidneys

Lamb party! I have decided to mess around with the odds and ends of lambs this month. I religiously followed the directions on Dave’s Cupboard for pickling lamb tongues, with the understanding that it was at my own risk and I could poison myself horribly (I did not).

As you can see in the first picture below, I acquired Instacure #1 (sodium nitrate) and cut the recipe down for just four tongues.

Fresh Lamb Tongues

Once they were cured, they got VERY STIFF and looked like a lady’s boot.

Post-Curing

Then I boiled them as instructed and peeled the skin off the tongues, and then hot pack canned them. I pickled them using what I think of as typical Victorian pickling spices–allspice, pepper, cloves, and mustard. You also cut off the root of the tongue. I thought this might be kind of confusing, but it is easy to tell where the root and extra bits ends and the tongue begins. It makes a big mess, though, all the trimming.

Peeling Skin

Kidneys are mentioned as popular morning fare, but they scream “light supper” to me somehow.

Splitting Lamb Kidneys

Skewering them keeps them from curling up.

Frying Up

They looked good, but were not my cuppa. I did like the tongues when they came out–they were great sliced on sandwiches with some leftover turkey.

II. Bonus Offal!

Okay, so this is not real offal. But I have been enjoying the heck out of my heart mold.

Chocolate Cream

This blancmange was a great improvement over the first time I made it. I’m really good at this now. It’s kind of ridiculous. I can’t wait to tell you what I’ve learned this year.

Blancmange

If you celebrate it, are you ready for Christmas, Victorian or otherwise? What are you making? I got my duck today and it is thawing in the icebox. I have three days left in this experiment  and then I will have 100+ recipes that are completely “fixed” and translated into modern measurements, both metric and imperial. I am going to see if I can get someone to publish them, but I have no connections in the cookbook arena. I think it will be nice to have an update 150 years after the BOHM was first released. I hope someone in publishing agrees with me–wish me luck. Look for a few more posts here before New Year’s. Happy Christmas.

Whipped Cream and Other Gouty Delights

Whipped Cream and Other Gouty Delights

I am making a lot of desserts this month. And I believe I am making my last batches of stock today for the rest of this year! Wow!

I. The Hidden Mountain Redux Redux

Hey, who climbed to the top of the Hidden Mountain? WHY, it’s me. Another bizarre dessert that I can find no mention of before Beeton, which I love, and another that is faithfully reproduced (read:stolen and republished) for 50+ years after the BOHM‘s publication in 1861. But did anyone actually TRY this? She hooks me with those funny names. I am powerless.

Fluffy fluffy eggwhites!

You tell me how to flip a whipped pancake/omelet that is highly whipped and contains no flour, and I will be amazed, I tell you. The fix, in the end, was simple. I just moved the skillet to the oven and did not flip it at all, until it was time to turn it out.

Lovely surface and surprisingly delicious.

Spread with preserves and citron

The Hidden Mountain [1438.]

This recipe was meant to be flipped like a pancake. This is, theoretically, possible in a modern non-stick pan, but I have a hard time believing flipping something so delicate was easily achieved in cast iron. Baking the dish achieves an almost indistinguishable effect without the disappointment of a tear. This dish may be passed at a fancy dinner when flashy appearances and a large variety of food is desired, or it may serve as a modest dessert.

Beeton’s Note: A very pretty supper dish.

Ingredients.
6 eggs, separated
1 tbsp. candied citron
2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup cream
1/4 c. any kind of jam (a red berry works well)

Mode.—Set oven to 325F. Warm a cast iron skillet in the oven in preparation and melt a tablespoon of butter in the skillet. Beat the egg whites until stiff and set aside. Whip cream and sugar until fluffy, but not stiff. Beat yolks until smooth. Gently fold the cream into the whites, and fold the yolks into the whipped mixture. Turn the mixture into the skillet, which is warm and has been tilted so that every inside surface is covered with butter. Smooth the top and cook for 20 minutes. When it is removed from the oven, allow to cool slightly so it will begin shrinking from the sides of the pan a bit. This can be assisted with a spatula. Be sure to very carefully ease the “cake” from the sides and bottom of the pan using your spatula, before flipping it onto a plate. Allow the “cake” to chill for at least two hours. Before serving, spread with a thin layer of jam and sprinkle with minced candied peel, and the hidden mountain may be cut like a pie for serving.

II. Mincemeat

As instructed by Beeton, I let my mincemeat sit in the fridge for two weeks. I took it out and stirred and sniffed and looked very carefully for any signs of trouble (mold or other lifeforms). I think the citrus plus sugar plus booze kept decay at bay, and it was all beautifully candied and macerated. I was going to make handpies, but decided to strike out with a big ‘un on my first go.

Glazed crust

My pie crusts are graceful like a donkey wearing a tutu. I have no real love of baking, I cannot lie. That was one of my major fears this year, was the baking recipes. Lucky for me I have an in-house baker and a lot of motivation just to strike out and take a crack at things this year. Fortunately, the short crust I adapted from the BOHM is very forgiving and delicious.

Turned out okay

If I was a real food blogger, I would have cut pieces until one was perfect.

I love mincemeat. The lamb tasted candied. When I cut it, I was hit by the wave of VICTORIAN SMELL. Suet and sugar! I was afraid that it was going to be too sweet (sugar, raisins, candied peel) or too suety, but this recipe is really well-balanced! Whew.

III. Geneva Wafers

Geneva wafers are very similar to modern tuile cookies. There are a few wafer recipes floating around in 19th-century cookbooks, but I am unsure where Beeton got this one from, or what the significance of “Geneva” is. She did this a lot. Pick up a recipe, tweak the wording slightly, and bang on a fancy word. Done! I am curious about her “Sunderland” gingerbread nuts (kind of like a gingerbread cookie, but not a snap) as well, which seem to be a copy of Kitchiner’s gingerbread nuts but with a mention that some people like cayenne added. Through my researches, I can see no apparent connection to Sunderland. I get it, though. I like Beeton’s tendency to fancify things.

And Beeton was so popular her recipes were picked up and passed on, so again the only reference I find to Geneva wafers starts in Beeton and carries on to other cookbooks for 50+ years. Her exact recipe is even reproduced (without credit) in a book called Presidential Cookies as a historic 19th- century recipe.

I am here to tell you that they are delicious, but some will fail. And some of the funky-looking ones end up making interesting little cones.

Grease Party!

Cooling

A finished one and a half-filled one

An array of cones

Astute readers who follow me elsewhere may notice that these colors are rather Halloweeny. Yes, my smallest scullery maid had a brainstorm there. I think the Victorians would have appreciated goth Geneva wafers.

The ones with minced citron were wonderful. I used lingonberries, which were sometimes referred to as the “whortleberry” by Beeton’s contemporaries. Neither term appears in the BOHM, and most references I find in English refer to the lingonberry growing in North America at this time. I’ve been using lingonberry preserves a lot this year, because the tartness offsets the extreme sweetness of many of the recipes. I alternated filling the cones with homemade Italian prune preserves, picked locally last summer.

Beeton says Geneva wafers are “easily-made” but I found them fussy and prone to breakage at first. After two or three goes and finding the right temperature, it went well.

Geneva Wafers [1431.]

These wafers are similar to modern tuiles, which are so sugary they can be coerced into various shapes and frozen that way. There are mentions of “wafer” cookies in other nineteenth-century cookbooks, but Beeton seems to be the first to call them “Geneva.”

Ingredients.
3 oz. butter, room temperature
3 oz. sugar
2 eggs
3 oz. flour
About a 1/3 cup of preserves, a variety of them if liked
Sweetened whipped cream (half-cup unwhipped should be sufficient)

Mode.—Heat oven to 350F. Cream the butter and sugar. Add in one egg at a time, blending well. Add the flour gradually, and then mix all well together. Butter a baking-sheet, and drop on it a large teaspoonful of the mixture at a time, leaving a space between each. The cookies may be most easily handled if a minimal number is baked at one time, no more than 6, and if an attempt is made to round the dough on the sheet before putting it in the oven (ideally resulting in a round cookie). Bake for ten minutes; the edges should be brown and the cookies not gooey or moist in appearance. If possible, leave the oven door open and pull out one cookie at a time to curl into cone shapes. A funnel or baster tip works well for this. Allow cookies to cool on a rack, seam-side down so they do not reopen. Before serving, put a spoonful of preserve in the widest end, and fill up with whipped cream. This is a very pretty and ornamental dish for the supper-table, and is very nice and very easily made. The cream can be sprinkled with colored sanding sugar, nutmeg, minced candied peel, or chopped nuts, whatever suits the preserves.

Produces 10-15 Geneva wafers, depending on the skill and patience of the cook. Allow for breakage!

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I’ve got a nice dinner coming up on Saturday night with some guests I am looking forward to who are friendly, funny, and interested in culinary history. This will be my penultimate feast before my Dickensian Christmas I have coming up. I am splashing out on partridge and going to take another shot at aspic, which I will not tint pink this time.

An American Victorian Thanksgiving

An American Victorian Thanksgiving

I. Candied Citrus

Hello, and welcome to this week’s internet-based installment of One Woman’s Descent into Madness, Part 47. How was your Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it? I had a very nice day overall, except for the fact that I wrote and swilled coffee all morning in lieu of eating, which guarantees that I will and did have acid stomach by the afternoon. I took remedies all afternoon–NONE recommended by Beeton, however, who mentions calomel and TOMATOES (this just in, folks, gasoline is excellent for putting out fires). Lucky lucky lucky for me it subsided exactly five minutes before I got dinner on the table and I got to enjoy the feast, and so I have learned my lesson again until next time.

Chicken Foot Crown

I have been busy here with a few things. One is making vast amounts of candied citrus peel. I took apart a buddha’s hand, and you know, nothing was in it! I thought there would be some small amount of useless vestigial fruit like there is in the round citrons, but it was just pith. I also candied orange and lemon peel.  (You might be interested to learn that I have collected all my Victorian experiment pictures in a set, including ones I have not written about.)

Brigid Keely asked me about candying citrus. Really, it could not be easier. First, peel the zesty part off of your citrusy victim, trying not to skim off the pith. I like a vegetable peeler for this as pictured here. If you want fat slices then you are done, but I usually like to use a chef’s knife to slice them down into skinny strips that would make a cute pile of shavings on a cake or fancy drink. If you want to mince them later to go into a cake or pudding you can do this as well after they are done.

Then, heat a simple syrup solution until the sugar is melted (1 part sugar to 1 part water, usually for one fruit a half-cup of each is enough), then simmer the strips for 10 minutes, after which they should look slightly translucent. Strain out the syrup. I also lay the drained strips out on paper towels so they cool just slightly, then sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over them and toss them to coat. Then eat one. YUM! They store in the fridge for a long time, at least all through the holidays.

II. Thanksgiving

So, the interesting thing about American Thanksgiving, foodwise, is that it has barely changed since its official founding in 1863 by President Lincoln. It is kind of a late harvest festival, which is in keeping with what the Pilgrims supposedly ate almost 400 years ago. I decided to mix things up a bit, since the modern food I serve every year is a lot like an American Victorian-era Thanksgiving–turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, seasonal vegetables like squashes. Since it was just three of us this year, I also decided not to make 4 frillion side dishes like I usually do and just focus on experimenting with various dishes.

First, I eschewed a turkey and ordered a goose. I have never had a goose. I assumed they are a lot like turkey, but when I looked into it I was delighted to discover the flesh is, of course, a lot closer to duck, which I love. I have also heard they make a vast amount of grease while they cook, also a bonus, since I am going through grease like water right now, and I knew I wouldn’t have to fuss about the breast drying out like you do with turkeys.

Beeton, of course, instructs us on the removal of feet, how to snip the wings down, and says

Beat the breast-bone flat with a rolling-pin, put a skewer through the under part of each wing, and having drawn up the legs closely, put a skewer into the middle of each, and pass the same quite through the body. Insert another skewer into the small of the leg, bring it close down to the side bone, run it through, and do the same to the other side. Now cut off the end of the vent, and make a hole in the skin sufficiently large for the passage of the rump, in order to keep in the seasoning.

What the…this is way too much like math for me. Smash the breast bone? Can we not just stuff it and roast it? She goes on…

Be careful to serve the goose before the breast falls, or its appearance will be spoiled by coming flattened to table.

The breast might fall, perhaps, because you smacked it with a rolling pin? I decided to follow the modern technique of simply pricking some holes in the skin to allow the grease to drain adequately, and stuffed it with Beeton’s sage and onion stuffing. Beeton called for bread “crumb,” which might mean cubes and might actually mean crumbs. I opted for cubes, since I didn’t want the stuffing to turn into a soggy mass. I often put a LOT of  ingredients into stuffing, following modern recipes, but a nice loaf of bread, some fresh sage, a couple of sauteed onions, and salt and pepper was perfect.

Goose Out!

Cutting the Goose

While the goose was setting up after cooking, I pulled it off its drip pan so I could get access to the yummy lake of grease that had formed under it. I put a couple of generous spoonfuls onto the leftover stuffing I had in a pan waiting to go in after the goose went out.

I also used a few more large spoonfuls to fry up the rissoles. I have made potato rissoles before, but I think they reached their apex of deliciousness this time around. Fowl fat was much better than lard for cooking them in, and I sauteed the shallots they were filled with and used minced ham I had leftover from making white broth.

Rissoles Frying

Barely visible in the above picture, behind the rissoles, is the gravy, also made with some goose fat, rich stock, and a splash of gin. I have become very, very good at making gravy this year, which is one of those “simple” operations that a person can do adequately once a year on Thanksgiving, but to really get a feel for gravy, it helps to do it a couple of times a week for, you know, a year.

This little websitelet I found when doing research on making really kick-ass gravy has one of my most favorite phrases I have ever read on cooking ever: “After you have made gravy maybe 50 times, you will develop your own eye for how dark you will like the roux.” I like it when people take the long view towards perfecting simple tasks. And because it is cooking, you will still fail sometimes.

Scullery maid Jane surveys rissole-pyramid

A Simple Table This Year

The Plate

As a concession to my victims, I served a modern typical winter salad topped with cranberries, pecans, and blue cheese with a mustard vinaigrette I knocked together at the last minute. Instead of cranberry sauce, I sent a store-bought red current jelly to the table, which we have been eating a lot this year, especially with hashes and rabbit.

III. Dessert

For dessert I decided to use my delightful turkey pan my sister gave me for my birthday this year. I have been intrigued by a poundcake recipe in Beeton’s that calls for no liquid, except eggs, and no leavening agent, except whipping the eggs.

It turned out fairly dreadfully, as you might expect. The center was underdone and the outside was crispy like a biscuit. We discussed shallower pans and lower cooking temperatures, but I don’t think it’s really worth salvaging. Many of the recipes just aren’t worth it, especially when there are modern ones that are perfected already. I could take a nice pound cake recipe and add currents and candied peel, but EH.

I also decided to make a couple kinds of gingerbread, thick and white. The white gingerbread was a lot like a scone, and not very appetizing. The thick was made with treacle and turned out more like traditional gingerbread, very dense with good spice balance.

White Gingerbread

Gingerbread Batter

Gingerbread with too much egg wash!

Out of three desserts, I’d say one was a keeper, the thick gingerbread. I was pleased with Thanksgiving and despite the time an energy it takes to make things like stock from scratch, it felt a lot simpler than what I normally make.

The Lady’s Horse- Part II

The Lady's Horse- Part II

In the second installment of The Lady’s Horse, we will take a look at another source for equestrian wisdom in the Victorian Era, and see what it has to say about the nature of the horse appropriate for a lady:

Park riding with some remarks on the art of horsemanship, written by J. Rimell Dunbar, Professor of Horsemanship, 1859.

Those of you who read Part I will be relieved to know that this post will be much shorter, as this particular author says much less about the proper horse for the lady rider than Matthew Horace Hayes.

So much less in fact, that Dunbar’s thoughts can be summed up by the following:

“Horses with bad habits are never fit to carry ladies.”

That and his ‘Golden Rule’ which is that “a lady ought never, if can be avoided, chastise her horse: let someone else undertaking the breaking him of any vice”, which explains why the horse must not have bad habits. If a lady is not supposed to chastise her mount, then it had better behave for the entirety of her ride.

He discusses the issues of the equestrienne in the chapter titled ‘STYLISH RIDING’.

From the title we have chosen for this division of our work, the reader may discover our intention to confine it to that branch of riding, practiced by gentlewomen, thoroughly instructed in the equestrian art, in which we see displayed those inimitable beauties that have carried horsemanship to the highest pitch of perfection; and although we feel bound to admit that perfection in the art of riding, as in every other art, is the limit to which improvement can be carried, we trust we shall be excused for maintaining that perfection itself may be rendered more pleasing and agreeable by the aid of style, and where style is required, in how infinitely greater a degree do we sometimes find it in the female than the other sex. An accomplished horsewoman rides with elegance, propriety, and a good grace, united to a noble boldness, beautiful yet modest, which never fails to command attention and excite admiration.

Ah yes. The gentleness and style of the female rider. Very important.  On to the horse.

We will assume that a lady having selected a horse for her own use, before she purchased him, took an opinion, as to his qualities and ability to suit her, from a competent judge, and that he was found in all respects what a lady’s horse should be—wellbroke. No lady should ever attempt to ride a horse which does not in every particular answer this description.

Yup. That’s basically it. Dunbar writes more, but it’s to give instruction on riding, not in regard to the horse itself. I think that this book is probably a little more typical an example of Victorian views (‘the horse must be well behaved as to not distress the lady’) than the one written by Hayes; but I believe I prefer Hayes’ more progressive confidence (comparatively speaking) in the ability of a lady to ride well.

Are there Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden?

Are there Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden?

If you live in country Victoria or have the means to get there (I may have discovered the real reason why Airforce 2 dropped Hilary Clinton in Melbourne instead of our capital Canberra) then you have until this Saturday the 28th of November 2010 to see a fabulous exhibit of Australian Fairy Art from the Victorian era at the Bendigo Art Gallery.

After stopping in Castlemaine recently to visit Tute’s Cottage I drove onto Bendigo especially to see this exhibit – it was well worth the drive.

Beautiful Bendigo

Bendigo is an extraordinarily gorgeous town. The Victorian architecture surrounding Queen’s Park, at its heart, shows the amazing wealth and opulence of the goldfields at their peak. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring but I only had enough time to see the exhibit and get on my way back to Melbourne. I have been eagerly anticipating this exhibit since February as it promised to explore the transposition of the English Victorian Fairy Art craze into an Australian context – very pertinent to our interests at TQS.

The exhibition was beautifully mounted with works from national collections, ‘never been seen before’ works from private collections (fancy how special a family would feel to own their very own fairy art) and illustrations from period books. I loved it but left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

For me the best works of the exhibit were the two beautiful painting by the Australian painter Frederick McCubbin. Frederick’s work is well known to many Australians as his triptych called ‘The Pioneer’ has graced many a lounge room wall, biscuit tin and tea towel.  It is a stunning work that subtly shows the impact of settlement on the bush. As time passes from left to right in the triptych more and more of the bush is cleared until you can just see a hint of a city in the distance. Unfortunately familiarity has bred contempt for McCubbin’s work and I get the sense that we don’t love his painitings as much as we could – too sentimental for modern sensibilities perhaps.

McCubbin’s fairy paintings have the same sombre mood as ‘The Pioneer’ until you begin to catch glimpses of the winged creatures hidden in the bush. The only clue to finding the fairies quickly is following the gaze of the small children in the paintings. In a way McCubbin is encouraging us to look through the eyes of childhood to see the bush in a new way.

Another highlight of the exhibit was a chance to see new prints of the ‘Cottingley Fairy Photographs‘. These faked photographs from 1917 show two young girls and fairies frolicking in a garden. If you haven’t ever read about the Cottingley Fairy Scandal and the role of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creater of Sherlock Holmes, it is worth following the link above. Given that the girls cut the fairy images out of a popular children book of the time – it is a wonder that anyone thought they were real. I suppose sometimes we just need to believe – and that might be why I love the Cottingley Fairy Photographs. The Cottingley Fairies are also behind the plot of the 1997 fantasy film – Photographing Fairies.

So why did I leave unsatisfied? While the craze for fairy art was an English Victorian era phenomenon it didn’t really take off in Australia until the Edwardian period – so not so much Australian fairy art of the Victorian era. The catalogue to accompany the exhibition is OK but not great. I was left disappointed by the lack of Australian context provided in the curator’s notes. Here there is a brief discussion of Victorian England’s representation of the fae as mischievous, wanton and dangerous as a salve to the taming of the wild by the industrial revolution, when an enormous proportion of the population forsook the rural life for cities. In Australia the burgeoning of fairy art in the Edwardian period is seen as a retreat from the horror of war.

I think that Australian fairy art of the Edwardian period is another version of the ‘Lost in the Bush’ myth of Australian settlement. It might surprise non-Australians to know that in Primary School we are all read and re-read the story of three young children who stray from their parents and become hopelessly lost in the bush. The children become increasingly frightened, the older sister (my hero) snaps gum of Eucalypt trees for her brothers to eat and covers them with her skirt to keep them warm at night until eventually at the point of no hope they are rescued. This is our ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and our cautionary tale about the wild wood, nature as savage and unknown. Europeans decided very early on after drought and flooding rains that the bush was out to get us. Fairies are a way of making the Australian bush safe. They are chubby cherubs looking out for us or as the Australian Girl Guide rhyme says of the bush spirit the Melluka,  ’I'm a Melluka but you will find, though I play tricks, I’m always kind’.

The answer to the question is of course ‘Yes’!

Purple King Climbing Bean and Fairy

Victorian fairy folklore is full of cautionary tales about farmers who failed to heed the warnings of fairies: don’t plant your potatoes here, don’t call your cows without using their proper name, don’t use all the milk without leaving us a saucer by the front door (so like living in a share house) and the ever popular don’t forget to leave us a corn-dolly from your new harvest. Ruin, failed crops and disappointment in love follow all who don’t do as they are bid.

As a gardener I am fully prepared, if the fairies at any point tell me where they want the carrots planted, I will do as they say (actually I would do pretty much anything to get carrots growing properly)!

Pollen pants means that it is both 'Hammer Time' and a Bee - so not a fairy!

If you look carefully through my posts you will see that on a number of occasions I have been lucky enough to accidently capture images of the fairies that live in my garden – I could tell you how many there are – but the fairies don’t want me to spoil the fun.

Queen Victoria on Horseback

Queen Victoria on Horseback

This is a fantastic picture of Queen Victoria on horseback- you can clearly see the type of habit she wore and that she’s riding side saddle. The man holding her horse is the famous Mr. Brown.

Long live the Queen!

If you get a chance to see the movie based on their friendship, I highly recommend it. It’s entertaining and has great Victorian Era visuals.


Has Beans!

Has Beans!

Throughout this project I have been haunted by the question – what types of vegetables did people grow in Melbourne during the Victorian era (well haunted might be an overstatement … so Victorian). Discovering the answer to this question has not been straight forward. This is an update on an earlier post in which I searched through a collection of ancient seed catalogues in the National Herbarium of Victoria‘s library.  The selection of vegetable seeds available in each catalogue was surprisingly small.  There were artichoke, cabbage, carrot, turnip, onion and other basics. Mmmm…

…so I began trawling other other library collections…

My next step was to visit the State Library of Victoria, in June, a magnificent Victorian beauty, in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business district.  I went to the State Library to read an original copy of ‘The Colonial Gardener : being a guide to the routine of gardening in Australia with a catalogue of select kitchen, garden and flower seeds as sold by Smith, Adamson and Co, 1854‘. This short pamphlet, with a surprisingly long title, published twenty years after the settlement of Melbourne is now digitized and available to read on-line (and as SJ has said – the Victorians would have loved the internet. I did however enjoy the experience of handling an original copy).

Reading Room at SLV - or what the afterlife looks like!

The ‘Colonial Gardener’ provides advice to commercial and beginner gardeners in an almanac style. I love the foreword to the pamphlet – authentic 1850′s marketing spiel!

“At considerable trouble and expense, we have got the following calendar compiled, by a thorough gardener to meet a very obvious want. It has been criticised by and had the approval of some of the oldest resident gardeners in the colony and though printed principally for the guidance of our non-professional customers, professional gardeners but of short experience in the colony might do worse than be guided by it. It may not enter sufficiently into detail to satisfy all, but we flatter ourselves that the information it does give is substantially correct. Smith, Adamson and Co.”

Finally, a proper list of vegetables! The interesting thing about the ‘Colonial Gardener’ is that it shows the beginnings of working out how to grow vegetables in the new colony. The entries each month provide general growing advice, invariably refer to the unpredictability of rainfall and the extremes of temperature. One of the interesting things I’ve noted about their advice is that they are encouraging gardeners to plant ‘a little and often’ this is still great advice as it means that you have a succession of vegetables available rather than them being ready all at once. This is something that I still struggle with as a gardener because once I’m out there with the seed packet open I’m in a planting kind of mood! ‘Little and often’ also has the advantage of ensuring that in an unpredicatable climate you are more likely to get at least some of your crop. Very clever Messers Smith and Adamson!

My next challenge is to see how many of the seed varieties listed in ‘The Colonial Gardener’ still exist in modern seed catalogues. This task is likely to take longer than the life of this blog – so at the end of December 2010 I will move this research to my regular gardening blog.

Making a start on this research in June the first Victorian vegetables to go into my garden were broad beans (Yes Fava Beans! Liver and Chianti fffff). The Colonial Garden lists two bean varieties for planting in June: the Mazagan and the Long Pod. Looking in the American Heirloom Seed Companies catalogue the Mazagan are described as an early fruiting dwarfed plant.  I can’t find seeds available to Australia so far.

Long Pod have also been hard to identify as there seems to be a long list of bean types that have been called Long Pods – the Mr Smith of the vegetable world. In Mrs Beeton’s Garden Management – The Art of Gardening, Mrs B cautiously promotes both the Mazagan and Early Long Pod with the following advice

“…but whatever sort is grown, the culture is the same, and as it is not a favorite vegetable with many persons, it should be carefully considered how much ground can be devoted to it without encroaching on space required for more important crops”.

Crimson Broad Bean in flower by October (mid-spring Melbourne)

Eventually I found an ‘Early Long Pod’ Broad Bean in the Australian Yates Seed Catalogue. I love broad beans so despite Mrs B’s warning I planted a whole garden bed and added some ‘Crimson Flowered’ Broad Beans another old variety of bean rescued from extinction by seed savers in the 1970′s. One of the main themes that I keep returning to in my reading, and it is especially evident when you look at old fruit catalogues or read ‘The Victorian Kitchen Garden’ by Jennifer Davies, we have far less variety of vegetable seeds available to us now than the Victorian gardeners had.  One of the losses that I feel most keenly is that we no longer have the knowledge of what grows well in our own neighborhoods and in many cases we have lost the plants.

Now it is November (late-spring in Melbourne) and there are broad beans ready to eat. They have grown so well this year as the weather has stayed wet and humid. Our first wet spring in ten years! I harvested a big pile and turned to Mrs Beeton’s Household Management to see if she included receipies for broad beans.

Has beans!

Young beans liberated from their pods.

Here is Mrs B’s receipe

1092. INGREDIENTS – To each 1/2 gallon of water, allow 1 heaped tablespoonful of salt; beans.

Mode.—This is a favourite vegetable with many persons, but to be nice, should be young and freshly gathered. After shelling the beans, put them into boiling water, salted in the above proportion, and let them boil rapidly until tender. Drain them well in a colander; dish, and serve with them separately a tureen of parsley and butter. Boiled bacon should always accompany this vegetable, but the beans should be cooked separately. It is usually served with the beans laid round, and the parsley and butter in a tureen. Beans also make an excellent garnish to a ham, and when used for this purpose, if very old, should have their skins removed.

Time.—Very young beans, 15 minutes; when of a moderate size, 20 to 25 minutes, or longer.

Boiled Ham Beans and Swirls of Parsley Butter - Yummy!

Something to bear in mind is that if you salt and boil tender young broad beans for 15 to 25 minutes they will taste and look like grey sludge (hence Mrs B’s contradictory views on the enjoyment of beans). My advice is to get some unsalted water boiling rapidly and blanch for 3 minutes any longer and they are yuck, yuck, yucky.

Parsley butter (cut parsley up finely and mix with butter) was a revelation with the ham and beans and is really worth trying. I made little swirls with a piping bag rather than placing in ‘a tureen’ as directed – with only two to feed a tureen would be over-kill and the parsley butter doesn’t keep very well.

All in all I highly recommend growing and eating broad beans with or without cannibalism and Chianti.

Time Traveling to Tute’s Cottage, Castlemaine

There is a garden in country Victoria that I’ve been wanting to see ever since Mandy Stroebel’s fantastic new book ‘Gardens of the Goldfields – A central Victorian sojourn’ came out in July this year – Tute’s Cottage. This tiny cottage now jammed between a road reserve and the Forest Creek embankment was built in 1858 when the surrounding area was still being mined for gold. Tute’s cottage was occupied under miner’s rights – the right to fence off a small amount of land to create a productive garden, these types of gardens were amongst the first gardens of settlement, and were not owned by the occupiers but leased from the Crown.

Tute's Cottage - lived in by 'Miner's rights' from 1858 to 1997.

In Mandy’s book she describes her project to recreate an 1850′s productive garden in the bones of the remaining allotment garden at Tute’s. This garden is now looked after by a collective of neighbours who live near the cottage and is occasionally open to the public – especially on Castlemaine’s Open Garden Weekend – the weekend after the Melbourne Cup each year.

Broad Beans (Back Left) growing in Tute's Cottage Garden.

Mandy also notes the difficulty of finding nurseries and seed catalogues that still stock Victorian seed varieties and plants. You will see in the photo of Tute’s Garden that the beds are edged with local sandstone rocks. Miners had to be resourceful in creating their productive plots from materials at hand and gardens of this period were often edged with bones or bottles – these were subsistence rather than pleasure gardens.

If you feel like time traveling to the 1850′s and can’t afford a Tardis or Star Gate then a day in Castlemaine during the yearly Garden Festival is the strategy for you. Failing that boil up some broad beans and ham.

The Gift of Meat: Victorian Potted Ham and Rabbit

The Gift of Meat: Victorian Potted Ham and Rabbit

Preserving food was an important part of Victorian life, as we have demonstrated through the year with experiments in pickling, canning, and drying. If I had a domestic staff, I would be a terrible tyrant, making them save and use every scrap of food and every animal bone. The Book of Household Management lists several recipes for potted meats, including veal, anchovies, and more.

Potted Ham with Red Currant Jelly and Fig Paste

What was, 150 years ago, an exercise in thrift and practicality is now an elegant snack that brings something unique to the table for holidays and entertaining. Potted meat can be thought of as a British precursor to deviled ham or paté. This is a great host/hostess gift or something unique for a meat lover you know. The potted meat keeps a long time, but it’s not shelf-stable like a pickle, so plan accordingly. It’s wonderful on crackers or spread on bread as a sandwich. Once you get the lid on, you can fancy it up with some pretty cloth or ribbons.

"Unpacked" Rabbit Meat

Recently, I potted some rabbit. They are worth shopping around for, because I see greater discrepancies in rabbit prices than any other meat. One Seattle store carries $25 rabbit, while at one of my favorite Asian markets I can usually get one for around $6.

Preparing the Rabbit for Stewing

Potted Rabbit [1028.]

This recipe just fills a pint canning jar for me, and can be easily doubled. The liquor that the rabbit is stewed in can be strained and used for soups and gravies.

Ingredients.
1 rabbit
4 slices of raw bacon
a large bunch of savory herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and parsley
1 cup of decent sherry
4 whole cloves
Pinch of powdered mace or a finely-chopped blade [optional]*
1 teaspoonful of whole allspice
2 carrots, chunked
1 onion, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
A small quantity of melted butter [1-2 tablespoons]

Mode.
1. Skin, empty, and wash the rabbit, if needed; cut it down the middle, and put it into a stewpan, with a few slices of bacon under and over it; add the spices, herbs, vegetables, sherry, and sufficient water to cover the rabbit (usually about a pint). Bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Stew very gently on low, covered, for 2 hours, until the rabbit is tender, and the flesh will separate easily from the bones.

2. When done enough, remove the rabbit from the broth, separate the tender flesh from the bones, and pound the meat, with the bacon, in a mortar, until reduced to a perfectly smooth paste. [The Victorians were very fond of pounding everything, but for this step I pulse the mixture gently in a food processor. You could also chop the meat very finely.] Should it not be sufficiently seasoned, add a little cayenne, salt, and pounded mace, but be careful that these are well mixed with the other ingredients.

3. Press the meat compactly into potting-pots (I like clear glass canning jars for this), pour over melted butter, and keep covered refrigerated.

* Mace, especially whole blades, can be challenging to source. It is possible to substitute ground nutmeg in much smaller quantities (usually half). I recommend mace for an authentic Victorian flavor, and also to blow people’s minds trying to figure out what it is, since many people are unfamiliar with it now.

Potted Ham, That Will Keep Good for Some Time [814.]

This recipe is great for using up leftover baked ham.

Ingredients.
To 2 lbs. of lean ham allow
1/2 lb. of fat (bacon grease, duck fat, or other drippings)
1 teaspoonful of pounded mace
1/2 teaspoonful of pounded allspice
1/2 teaspoonful of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoonful of cayenne
pepper to taste
clarified butter or lard

Mode.
1. Mince the ham and stir together the softened or melted fat in the above proportion, seasoning it with cayenne pepper, allspice, pepper, pounded mace, and nutmeg.

2. Grind to a smooth paste in a food processor, or chop very finely if needed.

3. Press the mixture firmly into potting-pots or a jar to prevent air pockets, pour over clarified butter, and keep it refrigerated. This recipe produces about 3 pints. If well-seasoned, it will keep a long time in winter, and will be found very convenient for sandwiches, &c.

Related: The first post where I mention potted ham.