Taking Stock of The Situation

Taking Stock of The Situation

Recently I decided to hit the stock section of the BOHM hard. REALLY hard. I should note that Kerewin has already done a pretty deep dive into Beeton stock, but I have approached it from a slightly different angle, I promise.

One thing that interests me about Beeton’s is that in Isabella’s frenzy to cram recipes in and crank her serial out, she often included recipes that were nearly identical for modern purposes. We are used to cookbooks that provide a good deal of variety as far as ingredients go. In general English-language cookbooks I have encountered, I expect to find Mexican-style food, dishes with Chinese, Thai, or Japanese influences, European dishes like pastas or roasts, and more. In the BOHM, however, one will find variety in the form of the dishes’ cost.

In the preface Beeton declares:

In this book I have attempted to give, under the chapters devoted to cookery, an intelligible arrangement to every recipe, a list of the ingredients, a plain statement of the mode of preparing each dish, and a careful estimate of its cost, the number of people for whom it is sufficient, and the time when it is seasonable.

This leads me to conclude that when the book was compiled, costs were fairly stable. There were no giant savings warehouses, no bargain grocery outlets, and no high-end organic grocery where angels polish each leaf of lettuce and fairies water every plant with unicorn tears. Everything was organic, because modern pesticides and factory farming techniques had not yet been invented [Edit: see the Under Gardener's excellent comment on this post for the real scoop on pesticides. I happily stand corrected.]. There was one thing that we had in common with the Victorians: they had access to foods from a variety of climates and seasons. For instance, I knew Victorians enjoyed the pineapple as a symbol of hospitality and as an artistic motif, but I assumed it was something grown in the hothouses of the rich or brought from hot climates on occasion. I was very surprised to see Beeton casually refer to pineapples as being “cheap and plentiful” when in season.

But back to stock. The BOHM features three kinds of basic stock: Rich Strong, Medium, and Economical. The ingredients vary, of course, which is what accounts for the price difference. A casual glance at the rich and medium stocks tell me that they are not that different, price and ingredients wise, and yet the rich stock is 1s., 3d., and medium stock is only 9d.

Okay, I hear you asking, what does this even mean? It’s hard to say. There are lots of reasons it is very difficult to compare modern spending power to hundred or two hundred years ago. This is very rough, but using the retail price index, we can say that the cost of the rich stock ingredients is about £4.36 ($6.30USD) and the cost of the medium stock ingredients is £2.62 ($3.78USD). The economical stock, which is basically some broth off the part of some beast you boiled up and some crap you found, is only £0.87 ($1.25USD).

In today’s dollars, because of the reasons listed above, I believe the difference in cost would be a lot less marked, so I decided to go for the gusto and make the rich stock, which by my very rough estimate probably costs around $15USD, since it involves soup bone-type things and veggies, mostly.

The resulting stock was splendid and alarming in its assertiveness and presence. When it chills it solidifies into jelly, making it fairly easy to measure with dry measure measuring cups. I like chilling the stock after making it to remove the half-inch of fat that inevitably collects on the top.

Defatting the broth

I was concerned the first time I made it, because it contained a significant amount of Our Friend Mace, and I was worried the flavor, which is much more ubiquitous in Victorian cuisine, would overpower the stock. As it turned out, the stock was perfectly balanced and really, absolutely makes the most drab-sounding Victorian soup recipe taste AMAZING. It also tastes like you have slaved over the soup for hours instead of just dumping a carton of chicken broth in, which, you have. As Kerewin noted in her article referenced above, it is a “multi-animal broth” that takes five hours to simmer. Once it is rolling, of course, you can wander off, do laundry, take a nap, contract consumption, epistolate in an overwrought fashion, and &tc.

The beginnings of stock

On the same day I first tried the rich stock, I also tried the white stock [107] and the fish stock [192].

White broth and rich broth

Both were delicious, though the white broth was less useful than the rich stock, which is called for in many more recipes. I was concerned about making fish stock out of fear that it would be fishy and overpowering, so I used modern wisdom from The Joy of Cooking and only simmered the fish stock for 15 minutes, which resulted in a light and flavorful stock that was delicious with clams simmered open in it later that day.

I see u there.

Since Beeton is often vague, I have decided to formalize her recipe into something I could see using for years to come. If you try this, let me know what you think. My next move is to freeze the stock and see how it holds up.

Browned bones

[N.B.: I have decided to incorporate a modern technique in and brown the bones. Brown bones at 350 for 1 hour. Stir frequently and watch carefully to avoid burning the bones. Pop out any marrow (you could spread it on toast with some salt, yum yum) and pour off extra fat.]

Rich Strong Stock

½ lb. ham or bacon, sliced
1 lb of center-cut shank or shin with the bone in
3 chicken wings, a back, or other poultry trimmings
Browned shank bones and a 3-4 marrow bones, cut short
1 turnip, cut into wedges
Plum tomato, quartered
1 carrot, chunked
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
Small handful of mushrooms, halved
Handful of savory herbs like thyme, parsley, oregano, and a little rosemary (“Poultry mix” or another prepackaged one works well for this)
6 peppercorns
3 blades of mace
4 cloves

Mode.– First, cut any beef off the shank bones and cube as you might for rustic stew and reserve. Brown bones as above. Add ham and beef to pot with some grease and stir occasionally until it is browned. Add 2 litres of water and the chicken. As the water comes to a gentle boil, skim any scum from surface and re-add the amount of water removed. Add to this the rest of the ingredients, adding a little more water to cover the pot’s contents if necessary. Bring to gentle boil and, if needed, remove more scum. Reduce to a gentle, consistent simmer and simmer for 5 hours. Strain stock through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and it will be ready for use, though it is recommended that it be chilled for a time first, so that the layer of fat may be removed from the resulting stock, which will appear quite gelatinous when cold.

32 Responses to “Taking Stock of The Situation”

  • The Under Gardener

    Interesting stocks SJ we are in soup season here so I will be trying this one.

    Organic – not so much.
    The idea that Victorian food was organic is a bit of a furphy. It is something we all think was the case but in fact they were the ones who invented non-organic (if that is a word) farming. In big English Victorian estates Head Gardeners used some really deadly chemicals in pest control such as Parisian Green. Parisian Green was used to kill rats but was also sprinkled onto plants. Depending on how it is made it is a copper, arsenic and lead compound – very nasty and only one of the deadlies they favored. Using fancy chemicals on crops was part of the Victorian drive to scientifically control, improve and grow foods. The first chemical fertilizers were also developed in this era.

    We know that ready made foods purchased during the Victorian era England in cities were often adulterated with chalk, lime or ground bone to bulk out the contents.

    I imagine that if you were poor and still living in the country or in the colonies and growing your own food you would be eating organic because you wouldn’t be able to afford the new chemical wonders to control your pests or the new convenience foods. I wonder what studies of poor v rich, rural v city would reveal about Victorian health.

    Pineapples were grown in England in the large estates in specially heated pineapple houses. They were a symbol of affluence because a really topnotch Head Gardener could produce a pineapple out of season – for the Christmas table. This would take an enormous amount of money (fuel to heat the Pineapple house), time and fiddly horticulture to get right. My impression is that even as pineapples became more affordable due to imports from the colonies the Duchess would still want on her table a truly magnificent specimen that came from her own garden because it would prove just how stonkingly rich she was.

    I find the interplay of class, food and health really interesting and very complicated.

  • MULTI ANIMAL STOCK. Fanfreakintastic.

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