Middlemarch Madness

Middlemarch Madness

A couple of Saturdays ago I hosted my sister for dinner, and I decided to pull a recipe almost straight out of one of Beeton’s Plain Family Dinners for February. I did cherry pick a little. This one is from a Sunday dinner [1924] with some modifications. I did not end up making ratafia anything, not soup nor proto-coconut macaroons, which was the suggestion.

Instead I tried liqueur jelly [1449], which tasted delicious and citrusy, having been prepared with lemon juice and bottom-shelf Grand Marnier knock-off, but did not actually set up.

Meyer Lemons, chop chop

It called for gelatin, which I did not have, so I thought I would use arrowroot like I did with the blancmange. Bad plan. It probably would have made a nice sauce for sponge cake, but I was not feeling that patient and ended up pouring it out. I also made a “damson” tart [1270] with Italian prunes I picked last summer, and that called for a puff-paste top, which ended up quite chewy since I did not serve it hot out of the oven.

Tart interior

So dessert was extremely underwhelming, to say the least. Other than that, dinner was a meat party: a big pile of chicken, boiled leg of mutton (which seems SO wrong, but actually turned out flavorful and tender), and Canadian bacon. On the side we had some mashed turnip and carrots, which, MEH. I prefer potatoes.

Lamb Slab

Lamb & Chicken Miasma

Hands down the weirdiest part of dinner for me was the bread sauce [371], which is a known thing, but was not to me. I made it as sort of a last-minute impulse thing, since the recipe for roast fowls [952] calls for it on the side, and though I was already making a cheaty, but necessarily gluten-free modern gravy (so my daughter could partake), I decided one more sauce would make things fun and excessive, which is the Victorian way. Bread sauce is a holdover from Medieval cuisine and appears in my 1985 edition of The Joy of Cooking. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s kind of a creamy gravy made with bread as a thickening agent instead of flour or cornstarch.

I think mine got a bit too thick–it was more like a paste. Beeton’s called for flavoring it with mace, instead of the (more modern?) clove version. Mace is seriously growing on me. I bet I will never taste it without thinking of this year.


Since I have been incredibly caught up in mundane irl nonsense, I have not been posting on the regular. I thought I would fold the following week’s experiment into this post. I decided to make cock-a-leekie soup [134] for dinner, and nuts to everything else. I’ve always been intrigued by the Edward Lear-ish silliness of the name, and I like both cock and leeks, so hey, ho, let’s go. It was amazingly simple and I highly recommend it, though I would not boil a roasting hen for three hours like I did–of course it ended up mushy. If you have some old broad hanging around, though, go for it.

Cock in the leekie

It called for an astounding five quarts of broth, which of course I did not produce myself.

Pureed Leeks in Broth

Once I pureed the leeks at the end, it resulted in this rich silky broth that was heaven. I suppose modern peoples might want to thicken it up with a thickener or add potato puree, too, but I thought this was heavenly on its own with some chicken bits tossed back in.

Broth served over chicken: ta-dah!

Later that week I sautéed some onions and carrots, and poured the vast quantities of green soup I had left over. Once it was simmering nicely I put some quartered mushrooms and threw some rice in to boil. At the last minute I put the remaining chicken in, and it made for a nice mostly-veggie soup with a dreamy broth. One of my favorite things to do with a simple soup is to make the rerun more complex. Cock-a-leekie is very springy. SPROING!

5 Responses to “Middlemarch Madness”

  • Ballard Market carries “stewing hens” for super-duper cheap. They, being old and crusty, do not go to mush when boiled and boiled, and are a damn sight cheaper than Roasters.

  • I will try this! As soon as I am un-86ed from there. They call me Steak Pants Malachie.

  • You could surreptitiously wait outside asking passers by to procure you said aged chickens.. sort of like your teenage years, only poultry instead of Boone’s farm.

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