Scotch Woodcock

Scotch Woodcock

I’ve mentioned this new blog to a few people and they almost invariably ask, “Why?”  It looks to me like the reasons people are writing here are as varied at they themselves are, but for me it’s part of a trend of doing for myself.  It’s very simply that the idea of going back to some of the old ways of doing things around the house to find out what’s been forgotten appeals to me.

So what has been forgotten?  Something inherently missing in today’s world?  Absolutely not.  I am infuriated by “the good old days” syndrome in which the past is fine and wonderful and today is somehow weaker and wrong.  And believe me when I say that Mrs. Beeton and I have some fundamental differences of opinion.  For example, she says of the tomato plant that it “has a most disagreeable odor” whereas I’ve been known to stick my face in one and swoon.  And I won’t be taking up her suggestion of beef tea when I’m ill (the whole “Invalid Cookery” section really kills).  But there are things we have forgotten how to do that are described here; ways of preserving food and ways of working with vegetables we don’t find in the grocery store or at the nearest chain restaurant are two that interest me most.  That’s primarily what I’ll be talking about in my posts, in addition to exploring whatever random Victorian-era comfort food tickles my fancy.  And gravy, good lord, Mrs. Beeton’s world is all about gravy, and I am right behind her on that.

The first thing I was planning to do here was chronicle my attempts to keep eggs without refrigeration.  Mrs. Beeton offers several suggestions, and I’d figured that by now I’d have been able to get my hands on a big box of saw dust and some extremely fresh local eggs.  It is, however, harder to find saw dust than you might think.  Still, the call has gone out and by this time next week I should have something to show you.  In the meantime, let me introduce you to my friend, Scotch Woodcock.  This falls under the “random comfort food” category.  I was thinking about doing Welsh Rare-bit but was, honestly, seduced by the name “Scotch Woodcock.”  The recipe is quick, so I include a slightly abbreviated version below.

Scotch Woodcock

1653. Ingredients – A few slices of hot buttered toast; allow 1 anchovy to each slice.  For the sauce – ¼ pint of cream, the yolks of 3 eggs.

Mode. – Separate the yolks from the whites of the eggs; beat the former, stir to them the cream, and bring the sauce to the boiling point, but do not allow it to boil, or it will curdle.  Have ready some hot buttered toast, spread with anchovies pounded to a paste; pour a little of the hot sauce on the top, and server it very hot and very quickly.

Ok, so, I first went out to get some good bread with a little heft.  This is the only part of the recipe that worked for me.

Damn fine bread.

The recipe appears super simple, but it’s that “to the boiling point, but do not allow it to boil” part that killed me.  I curdled the damn sauce every time.  This is partly due to my being a generally impatient person, and partly due to the difficulty of not boiling such a small amount of cream mixed with egg yolks.  Eventually I put some sauce on the bread, even though it was essentially like really runny scrambled eggs.  It tasted fine, but looked frightening.  Feel free to turn away.

Scotch Woodcock FAIL.

Would I make it again?  Possibly, but I would skip the anchovies and tart the whole thing up with some fresh dill or maybe even curry powder.  Other ideas?  I’d love to hear them.

23 Responses to “Scotch Woodcock”

  • I am having this same issue. Things look UGH but taste pretty good (for the most part–I did have a disaster this weekend that I am writing up). At this point it seems the trend was much less about aesthetics. I often find myself wanting to put herbs on or some kind of interesting color for variation. And I also love the name. I’m glad I got to rubberneck on someone else’s trials with Beeton’s.

    As far as the cream-based custard, yes, I have failed at this as well, notably with cooking a custard for ice cream.

  • I am wondering if this boiling point delicacy with eggs might be solved by doing the sauce in a double-boiler. I do a lot of tricky egg-related things that way – sabayon and sauce bearnaise, for examples.

  • Yes – the double boiler is a great idea and would likely solve the problem. Again with the impatience on my part! Sauces and baking – not at all my thing. A good soup? Now that’s how I like it!

  • I, too, swoon over tomato plant smell! I say it smells like Love.

    This preserving eggs in sawdust is most interesting and is exactly how ice used to be kept from melting in icehouses. In winter, ice would be cut from the surface of a frozen lake into large cubes and stacked in an icehouse with 6 inches of sawdust between each cube. Ice would last through to the next winter. It’s funny that I read this ice trivia as a child in the Farmer Boy book from the Little House on the Prairie series which chronicled a settler family in the US during the Victorian Age.

  • One of the problems with using Mrs Beeton’s recipes is that it’s obvious that many of them where never properly tested. Scotch “Woodcock” is in fact simply scrambled eggs enriched with cream served on top of good toasted bread spread with anchovy paste or anchovy butter or “Gentlemen’s Relish” and garnished with anchovy strips. Cayenne pepper was usually added and in my opinion really makes the dish. The dish doesn’t work any other way. Trying to make an egg yolk based sauce and pouring it over the anchovies isn’t what this dish is about.

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  • You did it correctly, but you didn’t stir long enough. You should set the stove to the setting you usually use to simmer soups. Then you need to stir the egg-creme mixture for 15 minutes, briskly after 10 minutes. The consistency should be like thick cheese sauce when it is done. Add parsely, butter, and red peppers after removing from the heat. The consistency should not be like scrambled eggs.

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