Author Archive for SJ

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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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 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.

Hello Sculleryteers

Hello Sculleryteers

Hi! So as the year is rapidly drawing to a close, we are trying to figure out how to have some kind of grand finale. If you have anything you would like to hear or see from us, please let us know.

Frittering the Time Away

Frittering the Time Away

What have I been up to? A lot! I will give you the briefest of recaps (well, brief for me). I have eight weeks of cooking left, and I am really excited about that. It’s fun to look back on this year. Truly, I am a different person now than when I started. I look at food and history very differently now. More about that some other time, though, because there are FRIED THINGS.

I. Fritters

I have been frying everything fryable. Orange fritters? Really? Not too shabby though.

Sectioned Oranges

Orange Fritters with Pounded Sugar

My favorite was this Indian fritter, which has a very light batter that “blooms” beautifully when you put a scoop of it into the hot oil. I also made beef fritters [not pictured], which is more of Beeton’s cold meat cookery. Battered beef is insanely delicious with Worcestershire sauce.

Indian Fritter

II.Rolled Beef, to Eat Like Hare

From the BOHM:

ORIGIN OF THE WORD “SIRLOIN.”—The loin of beef is said to have been knighted by King Charles II., at Friday Hall, Chingford. The “Merry Monarch” returned to this hospitable mansion for Epping Forest literally “as hungry as a hunter,” and beheld, with delight, a huge loin of beef steaming upon the table. “A noble joint!” exclaimed the king. “By St. George, it shall have a title!” Then drawing his sword, he raised it above the meat, and cried, with mock dignity, “Loin, we dub thee knight; henceforward be Sir Loin!” This anecdote is doubtless apocryphal, although the oak table upon which the joint was supposed to hare received its knighthood, might have been seen by any one who visited Friday–Hill House, a few years ago. It is, perhaps, a pity to spoil so noble a story; but the interests of truth demand that we declare that sirloin is probably a corruption of surloin, which signifies the upper part of a loin, the prefix sur being equivalent to over or above. In French we find this joint called surlonge, which so closely resembles our sirloin, that we may safely refer the two words to a common origin.

ARISE SIR LOIN!

I pounded this sirloin pretty flat. I love pounding meat. Then you marinate it in some port and fill with forcemeat and roll up.

Post-marination

Then the roulade is braised in a port sauce. Yum! Looks like some kind of horrible movie prop larva, doesn’t it? Ew.

Sliced rolls, full of forcemeat

Here they are cut. The beef looks extra swirly and lollypoppy because the port colored the outside of the beef. I had forcemeat in the freezer from a previous batch I had made and shaped into patties, but not fried. All I had to do is pull it out and fry it up in a skillet. I am now a person who has frozen forcemeat, suet, stock, heavy cream, sherry, port, and brandy on hand pretty much all the time.

You serve the rolls on a nice puddle of gravy and with red current jelly.

As an aside, the name of the recipe references hare (to eat like hare), but there is no similar recipe made with hare in the BOHM. I did find rolled hare in other, older cookbooks, so perhaps the reference was simply that people knew the dish.

II. WHY GOD WHY: Oyster Catsup

:(

Oysters blanched in sherry with cayenne added, then blended. GREY DEATH.

IV. Long Pepper

Long Pepper

I saw these referred to several times and I could not find them locally. I finally got curious enough and ordered these off Amazon. The BOHM calls for long pepper in a lot of pickle-type recipes. Here’s what Beeton said:

LONG PEPPER.—This is the produce of a different plant from that which produces the black, it consisting of the half-ripe flower-heads of what naturalists call Piper longum and chaba. It is the growth, however, of the same countries; indeed, all the spices are the produce of tropical climates only. Originally, the most valuable of these were found in the Spice Islands, or Moluccas, of the Indian Ocean, and were highly prized by the nations of antiquity. The Romans indulged in them to a most extravagant degree. The long pepper is less aromatic than the black, but its oil is more pungent.

I absolutely love them! They have a smell that makes me think of incense or opium, which is cool. I’ve been dropping them into stock and sauces, and they are easy to pull out again. If you want to try something new, I think they are totally delicious.

I ordered my goose today for Thanksgiving. I know, I know, Victorian England did not have American Thanksgiving, but it was made a holiday in 1863 in the U.S., which is perfect timing. According to some preliminary research I’ve been doing on early American Thanksgivings, it has not changed much between then and now–cranberries, stuffing, etc., in keeping with the story of the first Thanksgiving. So I will put together a large spread where every element is Victorian, but it will probably be more like an English dinner party that an 1860s than an American Thanksgiving. Stay tuned!

Reading About Arsenic and Regency Eccentrics

Reading About Arsenic and Regency Eccentrics

I have been reading some great stuff about the nineteenth century lately. One title was based on my interest in William Kitchiner after I made curry and started prying into his life a bit. The other book I stumbled onto at the library, entirely by chance.

The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, & Play, James C. Wharton, Oxford University Press, 2010.

The Arsenic Century

The Arsenic Century, my accidental find, is an exhaustive look at the extremely liberal use of arsenic in the nineteenth century, with a focus on England and Victorian London. The author, James C. Whorton, delves into every aspect of it: how it is produced, how it was detected, the awful “cures” people used, and he does not shy away from graphic descriptions of the sicknesses and deaths it caused. It’s (in large part) a fascinating history book that is sprinkled with science and riveting murder mysteries in the form of poisoning cases.

To this day, I think that is the association most people have with arsenic: murder by poison. In many instances it was deliberately administered to the unsuspecting with the intent of causing death, but in others, people were poisoning themselves by working with it to make artificial flowers, wallpapers, and dyes. I’d heard of “arsenic green” but was unaware that arsenical compounds were used to make a vast array of colors.

People living in this time were also poisoned by their consumer products. If making the wallpaper was making the manufacturers sick, naturally it was making the people whose homes it hung in sick as well. Candles, cloth, paper, and more contained arsenic. Arsenic was sold alongside other products in pharmacies and dry-goods stores, and was sometimes mistakenly dispensed as something innocuous like baking powder. Mislabeled arsenic at home lead to deadly meals.

One of the saddest stories Wharton tells is about adulteration of candy, which was a known problem during this period before strict food ingredient, labeling, and quality laws. Wharton tells us of a candy maker who sent his assistant off to buy a large sack of plaster of Paris so he could make a large batch of peppermint candies with a great deal of filler to extend his profits. When it was time to make the candies, someone in the shop went to fetch the filler from the back room and instead grabbed a container of arsenic (which was labeled, but only on the bottom). When the candy was distributed for sale, dozens were killed, and many more were sickened.

Another aspect of arsenic use I found shocking was that people elected to deliberately take arsenic themselves on a regular basis, and that there were commercial preparations containing arsenic that were sold and intended for use much like vitamins today, or as facial washes to eliminate skin problems. Writers and the press called these people “arsenic-eaters.” They were convinced arsenic in controlled quantities made people more energetic, plumper, and more vital, and there was a lot of anecdotal evidence from people and animals like horses working more efficiently and putting on weight (of course underweight at this time often signified poverty or sickness) in response to small doses.

Wharton includes tale after tale of death due to stupidity, carelessness, or honest mistakes from being surrounded by arsenic. The body count gets so high in some chapters, it’s almost laughable, in a morbid way. Considering how much Wharton fits into this very dense and fact-filled book, it’s a lively read.

So what does Beeton’s say about arsenic?

There is faintness, depression, and sickness, with an intense burning pain in the region of the stomach, which gets worse and worse, and is increased by pressure. There is also vomiting of dark brown matter, sometimes mixed with blood; and mostly great thirst, with a feeling of tightness round, and of burning in, the throat. Purging also takes place, the matters brought away being mixed with blood. The pulse is small and irregular, and the skin sometimes cold and clammy, and at others hot. The breathing is painful. Convulsions and spasms often occur.

I will admit to you that I am completely blanking on the name of the doctor who wrote most of the chapter in the BOHM on medicine and treatments, aptly titled “The Doctor.” There is a section devoted to arsenic, and they recommend treatment with “Emetics, Lime–Water, Soap-and-Water, Sugar and Water, Oily Drinks.” So, something that would make the patient vomit, or dilute the poison. Wharton lists several “cures” Beeton’s does not mention that could be just as deadly as arsenic, such as calomel or opiates.

Dr. William Kitchiner, Regency Eccentric, Author of the Cook’s Oracle, Tom Bridge and Colin Cooper English, Southover Press, 1992.

I have also been reading about one of my new favorite people, William Kitchiner, MD, who famously wrote The Cook’s Oracle. Tom Bridge and Colin Cooper English do Kitchiner justice in a terse volume called Dr. William Kitchiner, Regency Eccentric, Author of the Cook’s Oracle. At the outset, the authors admit that not a whole heaping ton is known about Dr. Kitchiner’s life, which makes for my favorite kind of biography, one that does not start seven generations back on a beet farm.

Kitchiner, denied the ability to practice medicine in London since he was certified in Glasgow, was most famous during his lifetime for his Committee of Taste, a small group of men who rotated based on their availability. The Committee were the taste testers for the recipes that would come to fill out The Cook’s Oracle [1817].

The routine was invariably as follows: invitations were sent, a response was expected within a day, guests arrived at 5 p.m. sharp and the door was promptly slammed shut and locked at 5:02. Dinner was served at exactly half-past nine, and when the clock struck eleven, guests were handed their hats, the end, GET OUT.

As a writer of books and music, an inventor of a stove and a sauce (Zest) meant to fight scurvy in the Royal Navy, and an educated man of taste, Kitchiner was acquainted with renowned people and invited them to his tastings. Famous writers, actors, and poets were often in attendance, and Kitchiner even hosted George IV when he was still the Prince Regent, who was attracted by the plain, practical dinners and interesting company.

Many modern historians agree that Beeton certainly would have had a copy of The Cook’s Oracle, probably even before she began compiling the BOHM. Sarah Freeman, in Isabella and Sam [1978], calls Kitchiner “prissy, demanding, dictatorial,” which is well-evidenced by his dinner party dictates, but also that The Cook’s Oracle was “the oldest book she definitely made use of–though perhaps the most modern in spirit.” Freeman writes:

Isabella was preceded by Kitchiner in very many essential respects: he was the first cookery writer ever to give accurate weights and measures; he included detailed marketing tables listing the seasonal prices of foodstuffs…and he emphasized economy rather than elegance, taking as his motto: ‘ORDER AND ECONOMY ARE THE BASIS OF COMFORT AND INDEPENDENCE.” [Emphasis Freeman's.]

I will personally vouch for Kitchiner here. When I get to what looks like one of his recipes, notable for their clear measurements and unambiguous instructions, I know that I have encountered something that will actually work.

Kitchiner had one bastard son from a long-term relationship he had after his brief marriage, which resulted in a separation, but not dissolution. His legitimate wife is not mentioned in his will, but his companion, Elizabeth Friend, was provided for. Sadly, speaking of poisons, it it suspected Dr. Kitchiner was poisoned by amanita mushrooms under very suspicious circumstances shortly after changing his will to make his son a majority recipient of his estate.

Another enjoyable read, and the last chapter provides an interesting selection of his recipes from his most famous book.

FINALLY:

A million thank yous to the Under Gardener, who told me a months ago to watch The Supersizers Go Victorian. A recent comment from MadamQ nudged me toward it again, and I was ready this time! In case you do not know the Supersizers, they are two British comedians/TV presenters who immerse themselves in the culture of a time period for a week. I thought this was a scream, but in the past year I have found increasingly bizarre things relating to the nineteenth century funny, so take me as you will.

The Supersizers enjoy a Christmas feast that would make Dickens envious, a calf’s head, many jellies, fried ears, very sad, thin soup for the poor a la Soyer, and more.

I like what cohost Sue Perkins said about the Victorians–I think she nailed it: “The fascination with rare and beautiful creatures, combined with the desire to kill them and eat them.”

Here is the first part:

The rest is on the YouTubes. I am still cooking, don’t worry. I’ll be back soon with glistening piles of who knows what.

Mid-Fall Munching

Mid-Fall Munching

Well, hello October. I’ve been busy cooking, reading, and mushroom hunting. Lately I am enjoying breaking food into “categories” by type or ingredient and having a spree with them all at once, much like my Pickling Extravaganza. I’ve got an Almond Day coming up, including “cheesecakes” that in no way resembles the modern New York style.

I. Toad in the Hole and a Digression

Sometimes I think I find aspects of Victorian food so appealing because I grew up with Southern U.S. cuisine. I am completely talking out of my hat here, because I am an observer rather than an expert, but I see correlations between Southern food and Victorian food in the desire to use every part of an animal, like pickled pigs feet or watermelon rinds (U.S.); the existence of more than one type of dumpling or fried bread product, like hushpuppies or soup dumplings (U.S.) and forcemeat, savory puddings, and fritters (Victorian); and the liberal use of economical gravies, which is basically fat, flour, and some kind of flavorful broth or liquid.

Of course, most cultures have some version of the sandwich or dumpling, a starch or bread, and sauces to go with it, but I feel there is a closer connection between Southern cuisine and the Victorians than a lot of other food types. Part of that, obviously, is the fact that the British and Irish brought their food to the U.S. with them during colonization and immigration, and it became part of the mix along with American Indian, African, and French foods. It’s kind of a remix of what was happening in nineteenth-century England, but with MUCH LESS nutmeg and mace.

Somehow, this brings me to toad in the hole, a classic British dish. I told a few friends I was making toad in the hole, and I was asked more than once, “Oh, the thing with egg cooked in toast?” Apparently there is enough confusion about this among Americans that Wikipedia’s Egg in the Basket page offers clarification between the two dishes first thing.

One digression I will skip is how the recipe earned its name. There’s several theories about this one–it was named after a pitching-disc game, the meat/offal chunks look like hibernating toads (many people don’t know the dish did not originate as sausages and spend a lot of time shouting “The sausages don’t look like toads at all!” on message boards. Duh.), and some internet wags say the dish was charmingly called “turd in the hole.”

Beeton’s
, like other recipes of the time, calls for bits of meat to be added rather than the modern dish of Yorkshire pudding poured into a hot dish around sausages, and is billed as “Cold-Meat Cookery,” which is Beeton-speak for “How to Use Up Leftovers from That Ridiculous 12-Course Dinner Party You Threw to Impress Your Bougie Friends.”

Of course I went with Beeton, but I used fresh lamb bits rather than the cold mutton she calls for. At her suggestion, I decided to substitute mushrooms and oysters for the kidneys. I browned the lamb without cooking it through and cooked the mushrooms down so they would not release their liquid into the pudding while it was trying to rise. I shucked the oysters and drained the liquor (which I am saving in the freezer for the next time I make fish stock), and decided to put the oysters into the batter raw.

Toad in the Hole

We liked the results a lot, and agreed it made a really tasty meal, especially with the addition of onion gravy, which was recommended by British friend. In the scheme of things, not so hard to make, either. This is yet another dish that I will add to my normal repertoire once this year is over.

Served with pickles, of course.

II. A Most Bizarre Luncheon

As I’ve mentioned, for the most part I am making batches of food, like “pickle day” or am making one component per meal, and then plainer, more modern food to go with. I cannot completely tread upon the patience and tastebuds of my erstwhile guinea pigs. A couple of weekends ago, however, I decided to make a whole meal on a Saturday afternoon.

There was lots of boiling. First I boiled Spanish onions for an hour, followed by baking them in foil for almost another hour. You then peel, score, and smother them in gravy. I burned myself taking them out of the oven–boiling water dripped out of the foil on onto my foot, which now has a little brown mark on it, I think in part from the dark color the onion water turned from the skins.

Boiled Spanish Onions

In the meantime, I pounded a tenderloin and made it into a roulade filled with garlic bits and grease. As Beeton recommended, I basted it frequently while it cooked, with more delicious grease I had laying around. Then I boiled celery, to be covered in a cream sauce. It takes longer than I would have thought, even though it has all the cellulose and…what have you. I try not to think about celery. It’s goat food, I tell you.

Waiting for Luncheon

Two Kinds of Applesauce

Probably my favorite part, though, was the two kinds of applesauce I made. Applesauce is delicious with pork and poultry, isn’t it? It’s easy to make a quick one with a little water and sugar, but Beeton has one I really liked–the gravy and spice makes it a great mix of sweet, spicy, and savory, which as I have mentioned, is my crack.

Brown Apple Sauce [364.]

Ingredients.

2 good-sized apples
1/3 cup brown gravy
cayenne to taste

Mode. — Put the gravy in a stewpan, and add the apples, after having pared, cored, and quartered them. Let them simmer gently till tender; beat them to a pulp, and season with cayenne.

III. Crab with Jane

Finally, here is something I liked a LOT. I am a crab person anyway, so this was an easy win. I knew I was going to be home alone with one my scullery maids, Jane, so I invited her to come upstairs and dine with me. I picked up a couple of iced crabs (I was not in the mood to go all Circle of Life and cook them in front of little Jane, who was eyeballing them dubiously as it was), cleaned them, and pulled all the meat out, saving the shell.

Looks like someone's got a case of the Mondays!

Jane enjoyed clicking their little claws and stealing nips of leftover meat as they fell on the counter. I taught her about exoskeletons as we worked. Educating the lower serving classes at every reasonable opportunity is one of the duties of the mistress of the house, after all. If Jane can get her tendency to blaspheme at every opportunity under control, she may someday make a fine lady’s maid.

Once I had extracted all the meat, I blended it with nutmeg, cayenne, melted butter, and salt and pepper. The reserved shell gets stuffed with the meat, and you cover the exposed meat with seasoned breadcrumbs, and it gets warmed and toasted in the oven.

Stuffed and ready to cook

About crab “fur”–you can see on the underside of the shell there are “hairs” that I decided to leave in place, though I cleaned all the “crab butter” and other liquid or grit out. Do people remove these or leave these on? I suppose it’s somewhat moot most of the time, since most crab I see is served in the shell or in a dish ready to eat, like in pasta.

Scullery Maid Jane enjoys a simple meal of hot crab, apple slices, and bread. She will catch Hell when the other servants discover what they have missed.

Beeton suggests that one crab can be shared among three people, making it just another side dish that you can take morsels from during the fish course. I decided to focus on the crab, since it is a rare treat for us. Jane could not finish hers, so I turned it into crab salad for sandwiches the next day (Beeton would approve of this economy).

The crab disappeared very quickly.

I think this would be a wonderful Christmas dish.

Hot Crab [245.]

Ingredients.

1 crab
1/8th teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoonfuls of vinegar

Mode.—After having boiled the crab, pick the meat out from the shells, and mix with it the nutmeg, vinegar, seasoning, and melted butter. Put the whole in the large shell, cover the visible crab meat with bread crumbs, and cook at 375 for 20 minutes.

Aspects of Aspic*

Aspects of Aspic*

I. Aspic, or Ornamental Savory Jelly

Have you ever had aspic? At one time it was a handy way to coat and preserve foods. Also, it is just fancy as heck. If you’ve never had one or read about them, a quick image search will give you the idea of what it is–savory gelatin with just about anything you can imagine suspended in it–veggies, hard-boiled eggs, meat bits. A creamy aspic is a chaud-froid. Modern recipes often call for packet gelatin, rather than boiling down cow bits for hours, I can’t imagine why. Mine turned out rather ridiculously, you’ll see.

Aspic starts with feet and flavoring. Beeton’s calls for calf heel, but this was labeled as cow foot, which should do, I suppose.

Cow Foot

As an aside, I love ripping open packages of feet, marrowbones, and soup bones–there is this lovely buttery cow-y perfume that comes rising up that completely makes my mouth water.

After making the stock and clarifying it using egg whites, I decided to add celery, hard boiled eggs, olives, chicken cubes, and rinsed cubes of the beets I had pickled a couple of weeks ago. This is where things went from a lovely light tea color to, well. Pink.

Getting ready to unmold

What was I thinking? I will tell you: Pickled beets, yum yum.

Aspic Turned out of the Brain Mold

At first I was dismayed to lose the pale color, and then I realized I liked it a lot! The beet juice did not seem to affect the flavor at all, which was subtle and savory. We had some spread on crackers.

II. Three Things to Do with Pork

I decided to try something simple for the weekend–How to Boil a Ham to Give it an Excellent Flavor. You sort of create a stock around it as you simmer it, by filling the pot with vegetables and spices. Beeton says that if your ham is dried out, you must soak it in vinegar and split it open to see if it’s bad-stinky and whatnot. Modern hams, at least ones I have access to, are pretty much ready to go and injected with various flavor enhancers already, but I thought I would give it a try.

Pre-simmer

Still, it was nice in the end and kind of falling apart. I thought I would be game and give it the 3 hours it called for, but next time, less.

Of course there was leftover ham, since this one was massive. I minced it up and POTTED it, which results in a creamy pink paste very much like modern deviled ham, but with more of a mace overtone, of course, and it about a fifth lard. It’s incredible on sandwiches or with cream cheese and a little berry jam or fig paste on crackers.

The Way We Live Now

If you would have told me a year ago that I was going to be going through buckets of lard like water and hoarding every scrap of grease I could, I would have laughed my head off at you. I thought maybe I could fudge things and use butter, or, GASP, olive oil. I was a vegetarian in college and I was gifted a copy of White Trash Cooking, (a thoughtful present that was a nod to the trailer park parts of my upbringing) to which I made hundreds of lame edits so I could have a spinach onion pie without lard in the crust. I SUBMIT TO YOU, LARD.

You know what the really crazy part is? I eat like this all the time now, weird meaty thingies and pickled eggs with a glass of whiskey and so forth and I am losing weight. Probably unrelated, but I was quite certain I was going to transition to muumuus doing this this year. Is this a diet? NO. I assume I will have a coronary and drop dead in January. But by Trollope will I be an attractive corpse with shiny hair and nails.

Jarring the ham, pre-lard seal

There’s just something so sexy about how luridly real grease glistens at you. Do I want to eat this food or rub it on myself? I can’t decide. I think my children are the only ones on the block who eat nutmeg and mace almost every night of the week and go “MMMM” when that smell fills the kitchen.

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

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

Time.—1/2 hour.
Seasonable at any time.

III. Fowl and Rice Coquettes

I like fried food a lot, and I like how Beeton’s offers recipes that are both elegant and at the same time, fried grease wads. I made Croquettes of Fowl last Christmas, but I was curious to see what the rice option was like. It was pretty simple–stuff minced fowl mixture into rice balls, coat with crumb, and fry. Kind of like onigiri but much worse for you. I am working on browning them uniformly, but I like them. I did not make any sauce to go with them this time, but served them with “Carrots in the German Way” and pickled eggs.

One ball asplode due to being mishandled.

The innards

The rice is cooked in stock, which produces extra yum. I made a note to add more salt next time, but it is easy to sprinkle it on.

Speaking of pickled eggs:

Note brown outside

They are WONDERFUL, absolutely my most favorite pickled thing so far. I am loving them with an icy glass of whiskey or scotch and the promised intestinal distress has not come to pass, so I guess they are not weapons for me. Next time I will eat two and report back.

Next on the docket: steak frites a la Beeton, and homemade Devonshire cream, made with unpasteurized milk. GASP AGAIN!

* Hey, I almost called this post Apsic: Bold As Love. Maybe I should write terrible greeting cards for a living or something.