Author Archive for SJ

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Fall a la Mode

Fall a la Mode

I. Beef a la Mode with a Brief Digression Into Salad

It is rapidly becoming springier in Australia, but here we are entering fall, and my life and my calendar is getting meatier again as I shove the last of the harvestables into pickle jars or smush them into jellies and chutneys. Tomorrow is Aspic Day, a whole day of encasing whatever turns up in the fridge in hoofy goo like bugs in amber. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I decided to tackle the crème de la crème of beef dishes, Beef a la Mode. I have always heard of it, and wondered what made people talk about it in the context of old-fashioned, swanky restaurants our grandparents might have patronized. Beef a la mode can be fairly compared to pot roast, which it greatly resembles, due to the fact that both are giant chunk-o-meat, braised slowly in some kind of liquid. The difference I can see is that beef a la mode is browned or cooked with some kind of bacon or ham product for flavoring as well.

As usual, I tweaked Beeton’s a bit to be more logical and suitable for modern techniques without losing the spirit of the original. There are probably not too many extant recipes for beef a la mode that call for mace and port. Mace! How I missed you.

Beeton calls for slitting up the roast a bit to let the flavors permeate, giving it a spice rub, and then wrapping it up in bacon with meat tape. My kitchen is like a day spa for cow parts.

I am not going to lie to you; I have no idea what meat tape is. It sounds awesome, though. I decided to ensure the bacon would stay on with a couple of pieces of kitchen string.

Five! Hours! Later! Bam, there was a fork-tender roast. Really, I should have sliced it thinner but I was feeling impatient. Then I strained the cooking broth and reduced it by half in a skillet while the meat rested in a just-warm oven. I hate letting meat sit out all naked in the cold air to rest.

See the crust? That is herbs and spices and YUM.

I made a dressing to go with the salad that my sister, Morgan, helped me whisk together. I did not realize I was making a type of mayonnaise until it got rich and creamy and turned a lovely shade of green from the olive oil. No eggs, though. My reference book to keep me on track is The Joy of Cooking–I see it as a baseline sanity check for modern techniques, and when I looked later I did not see a dressing recipe quite like it.

Om nom nom

Morgan thought it needed more sugar, but I said, “Just wait until you taste it on the salad.” She agreed it complemented the greens, tomatoes, and croutons I made that morning really well. I had a feeling it might. Overall, I’d say the recipes like sauces and dressings call for less sugar than modern ones catering to current tastes. I like the interplay and enhancing properties of sugar, salt, and spice that you see in in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, for instance, so sometimes I throw a little extra sugar into dishes that call for salt and cayenne.

Beef a la mode is awesome cold as sandwiches the next day as well–something else it has in common with pot roast.

Beef a la Mode [602.]

Ingredients.
2.5-3 lbs of chuck, round, or top blade roast
a few slices of fat bacon
1/2 cup red wine, cider, or sherry vinegar
black pepper
bunch of savory herbs, chopped
Crush together: 1 tsp allspice, 3 cloves, and 1 tsp peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 onion, sliced
1 turnip, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 cup port

Mode.— Prepare the beef for stewing in the following manner:—Choose a fine piece of beef and with a sharp knife make a few slits deep enough to let in the bacon and other flavorings. Rub beef over with seasonings and minced herbs. Lay 2-3 slices of bacon in your stewpot, which should be heavy and not too much larger than the roast, and turn on the burner to let the bacon warm and begin to brown. Lay the remaining bacon in strips over the herbed roast and tie down with string if necessary.

Set the roast into the pan on the browned bacon, pour the vinegar and 1/2 cup water around the roast, and add the bay leaves to the liquid.  Let it simmer covered very gently for 4 hours, or rather longer, should the meat not be extremely tender. Slice and fry the onions of a pale brown, and in the last hour add the onions and other vegetables, which should add flavor but not disintegrate into the liquid. When ready to serve, take out the beef, remove the string and bacon, and hold in a warm oven to rest. Strain the vegetables and other pieces out, skim off every particle of fat from the gravy, add the port wine, and reduce sauce by about half, using a skillet to speed the process if desired. When the sauce is ready, salt to taste and send it to the table in a tureen; it should be of a lovely garnet color. Send the beef to table on a hot plate, thinly sliced and attractively arranged.

Great care must be taken that this does not boil fast, or the meat will be tough and tasteless; it should only just bubble.

Additionally: A discussion of beef a la mode from Lincoln to Pepys to Beeton.

II. Bunny Gravy Goodness

Preparing to make stock. I need more practice with the saddle.

Originally, this recipe called for some leftover roast hare that was just laying around the hunting lodge or whatever, but most people don’t have rabbit just taking up space in the icebox, so I modified this to use a whole uncooked one. It also called for mushroom catsup, something else we modern pantries don’t feature often. It a delicious jointed rabbit stewed in gravy that is made from stock using the carcass. Amazing. As with most cold-weather Beeton, scratch stock makes all the difference. The red current jelly you serve it with acts a bit like cranberry sauce with turkey.

I did not know until this year that a rabbit’s front legs are not attached to their skeleton. You just slice straight through the muscles.

Hashed Hare [1030.]

Ingredients.
A whole rabbit, skinned and prepared for cooking
1 blade of pounded mace
2 or 3 allspice
pepper and salt to taste
1 onion, sliced
a bunch of savoury herbs (thyme, oregano, bay, parsley &c)
3 tablespoonfuls of port wine
2 tablespoons drippings or butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoonfuls of mushroom ketchup or Worcestershire sauce

Mode.—Joint the rabbit, slicing the saddle into bite-sized pieces. Put the bones, trimmings, and organs, if any, into a stewpan, with a cup and a half of water; add the mace, allspice, seasoning, onion, and herbs, and stew for an hour, covered. Strain the resultant stock allowing any herb leaves to remain if liked. Whisk together the drippings and flour at the bottom of the stewpan, and add the strained stock gradually, whisking to keep the gravy smooth. Add the wine and Worcestershire, season with salt and pepper, and bring the gravy to a gentle boil to thicken it. It should not be terrifically thick. Lay in the pieces of rabbit so they are mostly covered by the gravy. Allow the rabbit to simmer for 20 minutes, turning once and serve on the bones, or allow to simmer for an hour and shred the meat into the gravy. Excellent over mashed potatoes. Garnish the dish with sippets of toasted bread. Send red-currant jelly to table with it.

III. Picklesplosion

Last weekend was Pickle Weekend. Why not learn how to can, right?

I decided to make Indian Pickle (Very Superior), and it is superior, and gorgeous. You prep the veg for a couple of days in salt, and then you have carte blanche to throw anything seasonal in as it ripens. This made John Smythe, my canning consultant, very nervous. “You don’t want it to ferment, or worse,” he warned me.

Salting the pickle mix

A small child performs the traditional dance in the background to placate the pickle gods.

I promised I would get it all together and can it sooner, rather than later. I included napa cabbage (Beeton called for “lettuces’), green and wax beans, pickling onions, cauliflower, garlic, chile peppers, and probably something I am forgetting.

Pickle packing.

As a bonus, my sink is a lovely turmeric color for the time being.

I also made Bengal Mango Chetney, which charmingly contains NO MANGOS. It is fricking delicious and spicy as hell, in part because I found some fresh and evil ginger powder at a halal store, rather than relying on that milquetoast baloney you find at Large Gringo Chain Grocery. This stuff is going to be the bomb with mulligatawny.

Apples, raisins, and SPICE.

Finally, here is the fruit of my efforts (green pickles belong to John Smythe):

And this is not even including all the Very Superior Indian Pickle. This is going to be a spicy winter, and [SPOILER ALERT] I know what some people are getting for Christmas.

Curry in a Non-Hurry

Curry in a Non-Hurry

“If Leekes you like, but do their smell dis-like, Eat Onyons, and you shall not smell the Leeke; If you of Onyons would the scent expel, Eat Garlicke, that shall drowne the Onyons’ smell.”  –Dr. William Kitchiner

Isabella Beeton includes fourteen recipes for curries in the Book of Household Management, including lobster curry, which I tried earlier this year, and Indian Curry-Powder [449.], from a Dr. Kitchiner’s Receipt. Here again I have struck gold with regards to one of Beeton’s sources.

William Kitchiner, MD (1775–1827) seemed to have been somewhat of a Renaissance man and an eccentric, who was known for his sauces and spice concoctions. His most famous cookbook was called The Cook’s Oracle (thrillingly subtitled “Containing Receipts for Plain Cookery, On the Most Economical Plan for Private Families; Containing Also a Complete System of Cookery for Catholic Families. Being the Result of Actual Experiments Instituted in the Kitchen of William Kitchiner, MD”). Well, now you don’t have to see the movie to know how it comes out, do you? I love the nineteenth century.

Let’s look at the important part of that gargantuan title: “Result of Actual Experiments.” (!!) Beeton went to the sauce source, it seems. Originally published in 1817, Dr. Kitchiner’s book was an attempt at precision in measurements and timing, rather than instructing the cook to add a bit of this-and-that until it was done. However, Kitchiner acknowledges in his preface to the seventh edition that many of the newly-added recipes had not been tested, though curry powder was not on that list of later recipes.

The book was published through and enhanced through at least the 1840s (William Crescent, the editor for the 1931 edition, released posthumously, notes in his introduction that “many receipts for pastry, preserves, &c, &c have been added to the present edition…”,  making it more of a well-rounded cookbook in keeping with others from that era). I assume Beeton got her hands on a later edition, which presumably means that some of the recipes she lifted for the BOHM were tested, and some were not. Many of Dr. Kitchiner’s recipes are very familiar, textually, such as Portable Soup; of course Beeton’s edit is to extract the  ingredients and lay them out for the reader at the outset like most modern recipes, and to make the language clearer, something she excelled at as an editor.

It is interesting to note that in his preface to the third edition (1819-20?) Kitchiner includes curry powder on a list of sauces, with a little disclaimer:

Store Sauces and many items of Domestic Comfort, which are extravagantly expensive to purchase, and can very seldom be procured genuine, he has given plain directions to prepare at Home–of infinitely finer flavour, and considerable cheaper than they can be obtained ready made…

While 44 years later in her introduction to her chapter on Sauces, Beeton declares that

ALTHOUGH PICKLES MAY BE PURCHASED at shops at as low a rate as they can usually be made for at home, or perhaps even for less, yet we would advise all housewives, who have sufficient time and convenience, to prepare their own.

…Demonstrating that times had changed.

So I decided to try out Dr. Kitchiner’s recipe for curry powder. My old neighbor was from India and he was always exhorting me to make my own. “It’s so much BETTER!” he would say, as he foisted some of his on me as proof.

First, I had to assemble all the spices and let them heat overnight in a cool-ish oven. I did not track down cinnamon seed, but instead used sticks. I didn’t think the powdered and dried ingredients like turmeric and ginger really needed a go in the oven overnight, but I thought I would keep to the spirit of it. Modern curry recipes usually call for toasting the spices in a skillet on the stove top.

Then it was time to grind up the spices. A friend of mine once told me not to monkey around with a mortar and pestle, but to instead use a coffee grinder, so I did. As I ground the spice pile in small batches, I began to sneeze uncontrollably. I think I lost half the contents of my head and the tissues were beginning to turn yellow. My nose burned all day afterward from all the cayenne. Next time I will be smart and wear a handkerchief like a cowboy.

As I ground the spices, I saw that the coriander seeds were losing their outer shells, and that there were a few chunks left behind. I sifted the mixture when it was done to get rid of the excess debris.

It made about two-and-a-half cups, certainly more curry than I have ever purchased in one go.

I decided to use it almost immediately in Curried Fowl [941.]. The base of the curry was meant to be veal gravy, which is not something I keep on hand, so I made some quick gravy with bacon drippings and chicken broth out of the carton. It went over very well and was a nice mixture of hot and flavorful. The dish did not at all resemble what you get in modern Indian restaurants I have eaten in, but was in line with other Victorian Indian dishes I’ve made–the focus is on the curry, a simple gravy, and loads of onions. This one also called for diced apple, which was nice. I will be using the powder for all of the rest of the curry dishes I make this fall.

Visually unexciting, as usual.

I can’t think of anything duller than a long essay on the etymology of the word curry, but I admit I got a little curious about it after stumbling on some writing by Richard Sainthill, an art patron and coin collector who compiled a book of reminiscences and other hodge podge appropriately named An Olla Podrita: or, Scraps, Numismatic, Antiquarian, and Literary, Volume Two [1853]. In this second volume, which features riveting chapter titles such as “The Use of the Samaritan Language By the Jews Until the Reign of Hadrian Deduced from the Coins of Judea” and “Objections to a Laurel Wreath for the Bust of Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the Coinage,” is proof of what can happen when you sarcastically tell someone incredibly dull to “get a hobby already” and they DO, and then they write all about it and expect you to read it.

(Ironic Pause.)

Anyway, Sainthill reproduced some correspondence between himself and a friend whom he only refers to as “Madam Soyers” in regards to Kitchiner and what “real” curry is. Even in the nineteenth century there were obnoxious foodies arguing about authenticity, isn’t that grand? I got all excited because I thought maybe his correspondent was Emma Soyer, Alexis Soyer‘s wife, but I think she was dead by this time and did not travel to India besides. I thought it was worth looking into in spite of the typo, as Sainthill misspelled Kitchiner’s name in the article as well. Sainthill asked Madam Soyers what she thought about Kitchiner’s recipe.

She replied:

Now, both as an eater and maker of curries, I affirm that during nine years’ residence in India I never saw or tasted a curry like Dr. Kitchener’s [sic].

However, she does go on to say that every chef has his own recipe for curry, and surmises that Kitchiner’s recipe may be more similar to concoctions that were created to be imported to London (too turmeric-heavy, suiting English tastes) and not for use in India. I felt that Kitchiner’s was missing garlic, and the “authentic” recipe Madam Soyer includes in her letter from a “most capital cook, Haji Ali” includes it.

Very briefly I will say that while the OED claims the word “curry” comes from a Tamil word, “kari,” meaning sauce/relish for rice, I was interested to see that there is some debate about it. Of course the British appeared in India in the early seventeenth century, but the word “curry” or “cury” was already in the English lexicon. I was interested to find another discussion about the literal meaning of the Tamil word “kari” as well.

As a final aside, Dr. Kitchiner invented something he called “wow-wow sauce,” which does not seem to appear in any form in Beeton’s. There are similar sauces, but no real match. Perhaps it had fallen out of fashion by that time. When I stumbled across this tidbit, I knew the name sounded familiar, and then I got it. Wow-wow sauce is referenced in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an ingredient for a hangover cure. I could be wrong, but based on Kitchiner’s love affair with flash and the exclamation point, I bet the name is pure nonsense. I love it. I am going to order his biography Regency Eccentric as soon as my library reopens from furlough.

Puff Paste for Absolute Beginners

Puff Paste for Absolute Beginners

I. Fruit Turnovers (Suitable for Pic-Nics) [1248.]

I went blackberry picking two weekends ago and decided to jump into the world of pastry with both feet so I would have something to do with the berries besides just eat them. The extent of my pastry “expertise” is making quick pâte brisée and simple crusts for things like empanadas. I peeped at the puff pastry recipe in my 1980s edition of the Joy of Cooking and immediately took note of the fact that it was a page and a half or so, whereas Beeton’s recipe for “puff paste” was not much more than a paragraph. Turnovers called for the Medium Puff Paste [1206.], which called for a mix of lard and butter.

I immediately decided to chuck out modern recipes, and see what Beeton’s would produce. As is often the case, the recipe proved to be a rough outline for, perhaps, what many cooks knew. Many recipes I feel are more of a reminder or the Cliff’s Notes version for rusty experts than a step-by-step.

Rolling the paste

I rolled the “paste” out after stirring the flour and water together, and began slicing the butter over the dough, or in the case of the lard below, spreading it on. I chilled the lard a bit, but perhaps it was too warm. The order was butter, lard, butter.

Spreading the lard layer

I let the dough chill overnight because I was running out of time, and thought warm turnovers would be nice for morning. Plus I knew the air would be nice and cool then. I cut rounds using a small plate and filled them with fresh blackberries that had been lightly macerated with granulated sugar.

Filling the turnovers

They looked pretty and they tasted good, but the dough was a bit “heavy.” Edible, but certainly nothing like what comes out of a pastry case. Plus there was a river of grease in the pan when I took them out of the oven. Seasoned bakers will scoff at my naivité, but I did a little looking online and discovered that croissants, danishes, and their ilk will leak their grease if they do not go into the oven quite cold. I think these turnovers should have had a little sojourn in the fridge before I baked them.

Not all was lost, though. As I said they were perfectly edible.  I decided I am going to make some modern recipes this week that call for quickie frozen puff pastry, like a tomato goat cheese tart, to get some more practice in.

Overall, I am glad I went in blind without trying to remember 4,000 tips, since I tend to over-research things like this. I got a feel for the process without stressing out. I think I will attempt to apply this lesson to more aspects of my life. It is not always necessary to do things perfectly the first time, is it?

NYARM! goes the Strudel.

II. Strawberries in Madeira Redux

GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE. I finally figured out the point of preserving strawberries in madeira. I mentioned earlier this month that two months later the strawberries were unlovely and not very tasty, either. However! The resulting madeira is very, very delicious. It still tastes strongly of madeira, but also completely like strawberries. I am enjoying a small glass of this once and a while on ice.

Liquid Strawberry

This week I am making “curry powder.” I know there are many, many varieties available–I am going to see if I can figure out what this recipe was attempting to ape. I have been meaning to try this for years, so I am excited.

The Haunted Liver

The Haunted Liver

From this point on, for the most part I will be focusing more on individual recipes and less on giant epic meals, though I do have some planned for the holidays. I have been and am going to be doing a lot of pickling from now through September, including genuine Mango Chetney (Caution: Chetney contains no mangos. Do not taunt happy fun chetney.).

I. Pickled Eggs

Because my house needs to have more of the atmosphere of a ye olde pub, I decided to pickle eggs. The jar can sit on a shelf with some relics from the Crusades, and the shelf can sit next to a giant taxidermied black bear.

Measure twice; cut once

The pickling spice was black peppercorns, Jamaica pepper (a.k.a allspice), and fresh ginger in vinegar.

You simmer this for ten minutes. I chose white wine vinegar, as I have been for my projects lately, because I feel like it is pretty middle of the road as far as vinegars go–about as close to “neutral” as you are going to get. White vinegar always seems too harsh for anything except cleaning the floor and dying eggs, and anything else has too much character.

16 naked hardboiled eggs stand before me.

I put the eggs into a jar and then you put the pickling juice over them. Easy!

I shall call my pub The Haunted Liver

I will come see you again in a month, girls. Wikipedia says that “pickled eggs have been linked to unpleasant smelling intestinal gas.” I enjoy the fact that this is mentioned under the subheading, “Uses.” Beeton says,”A store of pickled eggs will be found very useful and ornamental in serving with many first and second course dishes.” Indeed, a few recipes suggest garnishing with hardboiled eggs. This should work as well.

II. A Simple Supper

Last night I quick-fried flounder fillets and they were completely scrumptious. I have been wanting to make more fish recipes, and I hit on the recipe for fried flounder as something that was both “in season” (I know seasonality is practically moot now, and indeed the fillets arrived frozen, but Beeton says they were in season from August to November), and something I have never tried. I have fried fish many, many times in panko and “ordinary” crumb, and in corn and wheat flours.

What made this slightly different is that the recipe called for garnishing with fried parsley. Were the Victorians even cooking PARSLEY inappropriately? You bet your hook-and-eye boots they were.

A casual look reveals something that looks like ordinary parsley, but it had a nice snap and green flavor. I love parsley, but I find it overpowering at times. Frying it really mellowed the flavor. A recipe is hardly needed–make oil hot, gently set parsley in, and remove with a slotted spoon. Beeton called for quickly drying them fireside so I popped them into a warmed oven on a paper towel-covered plate to let them drain and stay crisp.

Fried flounders with parsley

And it worked very well with the texture of the flounders.

I served it with a simple cucumber dish which is titled “To Dress Cucumbers.” I think it’s funny that so many dishes are listed as “To Cook X” or “To Make X.” When people ask what they are eating, it makes things somewhat unwieldy. “What’s this? It’s To Cook Carrots in the German Way.” If anything else, I suspect it just reveals the diversity of Beeton’s sources and her haste in the editing process. I have been staring at this book for so long I can sometimes guess if she stole a particular recipe from Eliza Acton or M. Ude.

The salad was VERY simple, featuring cucumbers, salad oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. A good pairing with the fried fish.

III. Anchovy Redux

Last time I posted I was pretty excited about anchovy butter. I did it again:

I think you can see little fish-bits, maybe? They are very finely minced. I spread the butter on toast.

And broiled them for a couple of minutes.

This is really an excellent alternative to garlic bread. I served these with a tomato-heavy salad with vinaigrette, but I could see these with meat or a bolognese. I rewrote the recipe, below. Obviously, it is easy to divide this recipe. I used one American stick of unsalted butter (4 oz.) and mixed in two anchovies.

Anchovy Butter [1637.]

Ingredients.

To every lb. of room-temperature unsalted butter allow 6 jarred anchovies

1 small bunch of parsley, finely minced

a pinch of salt if desired

Mode.—Finely chop anchovies and mix well all ingredients, and make the butter into pats immediately. This makes a pretty dish, if fancifully moulded, for breakfast or supper.

Sufficient to make 2 dishes, with 4 pats each.

Seasonable at any time; delicious on corn on the cob, spread on good bread and then broiled or toasted, chicken, or mild fish.

****

I am going out of town this weekend. When I return, I will write about my recent adventures with booze and cordials.

Umami Wears Army Boots

Umami Wears Army Boots

Hello Victorianophiles, I suppose you must think I fell down some consumption-induced rabbithole in my quest for authenticity. Have I been in a syphilis-induced fugue? WORSE! I moved. It went very well, and I have moved to another rental. Many people assumed I was buying, but no, no interest in doing that in the city I currently reside in. I understand from my readings that sometimes Victorians would enter into leases up to seven years, and that most people rented at that time. It’s interesting to me that there was some minority of people who held the majority of the real estate if this was the case.

I come to you selfishly with a short update that is meant more as a kick in the pants for me to start again than anything profound or detailed. I have discussed this with other bloggers, and we often agree that the longer you wait, the harder it is to restart again.

So, I bring you a picture of my Strawberries Preserved in Madeira.

Rather puce

As you can see, the color has been somewhat bleached out of them. I pulled one out the other day, about two months later, to see what they are like. They are getting a little “hairy” (not mold, but kind of fruit softening around the edges), but still have a firmness to them at their center. They almost completely taste of Madeira now, with a very slight fruit undertone. This is yet another recipe in Beeton’s that does not explain what to do with fruit preserved in this fashion. I think I will make a cake from the BOHM soon and try the fruit over that. It will be fun to strain the wine off and drink it as well.

I took pictures of the sliced strawberries before they went down mine and my daughter’s eager hatches, and I also photographed a reconstituted bowl of Portable Soup. I can show you what the cubes look like, but not the soup, because somehow I deleted both the soup and the sliced berries pictures. Again, I blame the move. Sigh.

Recently, I also made Anchovy Butter [1637.] which, unsurprisingly, appears twice with slight variations. I used one that called for mixing anchovies, butter, and chopped fresh parsley.

I am no fan of anchovies, really, though I do generally like fish. I added two jarred anchovies, the kind you lay on pizza, chopped, to a stick (8 ounces) of butter, and a small handful of flat chopped parsley from the garden in the old house. (There is a major lack of herbs at the new house, which I am working to remedy as soon as possible.)

I was prepared to dislike anchovy butter, but surprise! I did like it very much. I served it soft in a dish and that night we spread it on chicken breast, steamed corn on the cob, and french bread. I will tell you what happened: Reader, I umami’d them. Okay, so the bread ended up tasting slightly fishy. But the other two foods were totally kicked up. I will make it again.

So, I am back on duty. For the rest of the summer I am going to concentrate on reworking meat and veggies recipes. I hope your summer/winter is going well (depending on where you are).

A Hole In The Osmazome* Layer [Updated with results]

A Hole In The Osmazome* Layer [Updated with results]

26-Jun, Saturday, 9:08 a.m. Good morning! I have just completed what I consider Stage One of Portable Soup, which took twelve hours (largely unattended simmering…okay, you caught me, I slept through most of it). This recipe has intrigued me for months, since it aims to help the cook produce highly condensed soup that can be diluted and used later–sort of a proto-bouillon. Stage one was very reminiscent of making stock, except for the overnight simmering instead of five hours.

A huge pile of meat scrap, veggies, herbs, and spices.

Twelve Hours Later, Broth Forms

The leftovers with all the goodness simmered out.

The result was a golden, slightly viscous liquid that was very similar to the stocks I’ve been making. My next step is to let it sit in the fridge for 4-6 hours until the fat settles out, and then back to boiling. I’ll let you know how it’s going.

27-Jun, Sunday, 12:16 p.m.

Well, after many hours of soup-reducing toil, we have results. Are they the proper results? I am unsure.

Stage Two commenced Saturday afternoon after I entered the original post above. I removed my large pot of strained broth from the refrigerator and skimmed off much of the still-liquidy fat that had risen to the top. Then I started to boil. And boil, and boil, and BOIL. Beeton’s called for eight hours of boiling, which I thought sounded a little excessive (which, admittedly, is keeping with the spirit of this entire weekend’s work) so I kept an eye on things.

The broth had boiled down about as low as I felt comfortable letting it go over open heat in about two hours, and the reduction was maybe one-sixth of the size it had started at in my large stockpot.

Condensed stock. You can see how the fat is already separating out moments after taking it off the hob.

The broth at this point smelled rich and delicious, and looked like fresh espresso. My sister was over and we joked that it was so concentrated if you drank the glass you would instantly gain 600 pounds. I set it aside overnight covered so it could do its final settle and fat separation.

Cold Goo Almost Ready for Stage Three

This morning I was greeted by a stewpot full of goo: Stage Three. I carefully peeled off the thin layer of fat and transferred the goo into the bowl I would be using as a makeshift double boiler. A double boiler is something else I have not bothered to invest in. What do you think, worth it?

You Encounter a Gelatinous Cube!

After two hours of double boiler action, the soup seemed reduced down enough to maybe harden into cakes. Maybe? I was unsure.

Beeton’s suggests using them in walnut-sized chunks, so I decided to just form the like that in the first place, in this handy ice cube tray that I never use. After they cool I will pop them out and let them dry out for a while “on a flannel.” These directions are all so nebulous it makes me tear my hair.

7 Cubes that We Pray Can Be Extricated

Aren’t they lovely, though? They look like lacquer or something.

Here is Beeton’s original recipe that so far I am using with very few modifications, if any that I have modified in stages two and three:

PORTABLE SOUP

180. INGREDIENTS – 2 knuckles of veal, 3 shins of beef, 1 large faggot of herbs, 2 bay-leaves, 2 heads of celery, 3 onions, 3 carrots, 2 blades of mace, 6 cloves, a teaspoonful of salt, sufficient water to cover all the ingredients.

Mode.—Take the marrow from the bones; put all the ingredients in a stock-pot, and simmer slowly for 12 hours, or more, if the meat be not done to rags; strain it off, and put it in a very cool place; take off all the fat, reduce the liquor in a shallow pan, by setting it over a sharp fire, but be particular that it does not burn; boil it fast and uncovered for 8 hours [two hours seemed like enough], and keep it stirred. Put it into a deep dish, and set it by for a day. Have ready a stewpan of boiling water, place the dish in it, and keep it boiling; stir occasionally, and when the soup is thick and ropy, it is done [again, another two hours]. Form it into little cakes by pouring a small quantity on to the bottom of cups or basins; when cold, turn them out on a flannel to dry. Keep them from the air in tin canisters.

Average cost of this quantity, 16s.

Note.—Soup can be made in 5 minutes with this, by dissolving a small piece, about the size of a walnut, in a pint of warm water, and simmering for 2 minutes. Vermicelli, macaroni, or other Italian pastes, may be added.

* From Beeton’s, in the preface to the soup chapter:

100. OSMAZOME is soluble even when cold, and is that part of the meat which gives flavour and perfume to the stock. The flesh of old animals contains more osmazome than that of young ones. Brown meats contain more than white, and the former make the stock more fragrant. By roasting meat, the osmazome appears to acquire higher properties; so, by putting the remains of roast meats into your stock-pot, you obtain a better flavour.

Capturing Early Summer

Capturing Early Summer

“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I’m cooking.” –Julia Child

Here it is June, somehow, and I find myself thinking about strawberries. I wondered if Beeton thought of strawberries in June as well. The BOHM has very few strawberry recipes: a simple one for strawberries and cream, which I will be trying tonight, a jam and a jelly recipe, and lots of advice for arranging fresh fruit on trays and platters in pleasing pyramid and tower shapes. The unspoken message here, I suppose, is that strawberries are excellent fresh and enjoyed with no adulteration.

Beeton tells us that the name “strawberry” is derived from

an ancient custom of putting straw beneath the fruit when it began to ripen, which is very useful to keep it moist and clean. The strawberry belongs to temperate and rather cold climates; and no fruit of these latitudes, that ripens without the aid of artificial heat, is at all comparable with it in point of flavour. The strawberry is widely diffused, being found in most parts of the world, particularly in Europe and America.

This is a popular story that I had heard well before reading it in Beeton’s, but by some accounts, untrue. It looks like another case in the English language where the meaning is assumed to be very literal (strawberries=berries bedded in straw) much like “forcemeats,” which meant “spiced meat” rather than the very literal “filling that is stuffed (forced) into other meats.” I know I am going all Captain Obvious on this topic, but I do like how English is never as simple or literal as it may seem on the surface.

So, strawberry pyramids seem like a fun way to impress guests, but what if it is 1865 and you want to save strawberries to enjoy later? I decided to Preserve Strawberries in Wine [1595]. The wine it calls for is madeira or port, which is something I enjoy, but do not have a lot of taste or experience in. I am much more of a sauvignon blanc person–very fruity, green wine suits me.

I went to a local wine shop where I knew they would know MUCH more than I did. I chose some midrange-priced, “rainwater” madeira, with the intention of sweetening it, and thinking I would drink the leftovers. I am having a small glass as I write this–delicious.

Two Pounds of Strawberries

The recipe is very simple: stem and hull the strawberries and cover them with sweetened madeira. This is where we get into trouble with Beeton’s. How long do we keep them for? Strawberries float, is that a problem for rot? John Smythe, our pickling master here at TQS, has advised me to “weight” the strawberries using a plastic bag filled with water as is sometimes done with pickles. I think I am going to give them a day or so to see if the berries become wine-logged and sink on their own.

Strawberries in madeira

I used two pounds of strawberries, three ounces of sugar, and a bottle (750 ml) madeira. My plan is to pull some out in August and test them, and slice them over ice cream or poundcake. The rest I will pull out during the holidays–I think they could be very interesting as a compliment to the rich meats served at that time. I am sure I will do something with the leftover madeira as well–it could be easily reduced to be a dessert sauce, I think.

One more thing that I am very excited about that I should have done months ago:

EXACTLY Three Ounces

A food scale! Even if it is not perfectly accurate, it got decent reviews and will cut out a lot of my careful math and guesswork.

PRESERVED STRAWBERRIES IN WINE.

1595. INGREDIENTS – To every quart bottle allow 1/4 lb. of finely-pounded loaf sugar; sherry or Madeira.

Mode.—Let the fruit be gathered in fine weather, and used as soon as picked. Have ready some perfectly dry glass bottles, and some nice soft corks or bungs. Pick the stalks from the strawberries, drop them into the bottles, sprinkling amongst them pounded sugar in the above proportion, and when the fruit reaches to the neck of the bottle, fill up with sherry or Madeira. Cork the bottles down with new corks, and dip them into melted resin.

Seasonable.—Make this in June or July.

1595. Preserved Strawberries in Wine [My version]

1 750 ml bottle rainwater madeira
3 ounces sugar
2 lbs. hulled and cleaned strawberries

In a wide-mouthed jar, stir sugar into wine until dissolved and then add strawberries. Screw on lid and hope for the best! I’ll let you know.

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

INGREDIENTS.
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.

Victorian Photocollage

Victorian Photocollage

I nabbed this quickly from Jezebel and thought I would put it up here: Victorian photocollage. From the Met site:

Sixty years before the embrace of collage techniques by avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, aristocratic Victorian women were already experimenting with photocollage. The compositions they made with photographs and watercolors are whimsical and fantastical, combining human heads and animal bodies, placing people into imaginary landscapes, and morphing faces into common household objects. Such images, often made for albums, reveal the educated minds as well as the accomplished hands of their makers. With sharp wit and dramatic shifts of scale akin to those Alice experienced in Wonderland, these images stand the rather serious conventions of early photography on their heads. The exhibition features forty-eight works from the 1860s and 1870s, from public and private collections.

I am going to look into this further!

Is There Anything Sadder Than Ruined Dessert?

Is There Anything Sadder Than Ruined Dessert?

I was looking for an excuse to make a feast, and one presented itself: I was having a house guest! Not just any house guest, but my youngest’s grandfather. I planned my menu and made my shopping list, and acquired the usual metric butt-ton of meat. Then, my children came down with “the consumption” and my guest canceled. Who can blame him, really? I didn’t want to be there either. My coping technique was: cooking the mountain of food I bought!

Since I was making two cold desserts, I decided to make them the night before. I chose Lemon Custard [1446] and Apples in Red Jelly [1399]. I was especially intrigued by the apple dessert. The idea was to bake them and surround them with a lake of tinted, clove-flavored jelly that would set up around the apples. It seemed VERY uber-Victorian somehow and I was excited.

I should have probably consulted a more modern technique for baking the apples. I diligently cored the apples and I put the bottom of the cores back in the apples as a plug to keep the sugar from running out, and filled them with sugar and two cloves. Then I surrounded the apples with a rough mixture that resembled lemonade.

Bottom Plug!

Following the advice in the BOHM on apple baking resulted in surprise applesauce!

Apples asplode!

I could not waste four good Granny Smiths, so I scooped the bulk of it out of the pan and into a sieve. The lemony, clove-y juice that the apples were baked in was supposed to be mixed with gelatin and tinted red. so I moved forward with the operation. It looked like this batch of gelatin was going to set up, unlike previous experiments.  Sadly, the same could not be said of the lemon custard. I let it sit in the fridge overnight in glasses so I could at least see what the flavor was like. It tasted repellent and metallic, which was a a mystery to me. I know everything was super fresh, and there was hardly anything to it–eggs, lemon juice, sugar, a little milk. I poured it out.

The next day I moved on to preparing the giant slab of meat I was planning on stuffing with forcemeats. Our Victorian friends believed that forcemeats evolved from an OE word, “farse,” which referred to spiced, highly seasoned meats. A couple of nineteenth-century texts make reference to Libre Cure Cocorum, a medieval cookbook that provides a recipe:

Conyngus in gravé.

Sethe welle þy conyngus in water clere,
After, in water colde þou wasshe hom sere,
Take mylke of almondes, lay hit anone
With myed bred or amydone;
Fors hit with cloves or gode gyngere;
Boyle hit over þo fyre,
Hew þo conyngus, do hom þer to,
Seson hit with wyn or sugur þo.

[Translation] Coneys [Rabbit] in gravy.

Seethe well your coneys in clear water,
After, in cold water you wash them separately,
Take milk of almonds, mix it anon
With grated bread or amidon [wheat starch];
Season it with cloves or good ginger;
Boil it over the fire,
Hew the coneys, put them thereto,
Season it with wine or sugar then.

*************

But I digress. The point is, forcemeats, if you have never used or made them, are kind of a stuffing. Beeton emphasizes that no one part should overwhelm the other. I can get behind that. She also talks about frying them and sewing them into whatever meat is to be cooked. I’ve not yet acquired a trussing needle, so I did something a little different.

First things first, though: the forcemeat. The recipe called for bread crumbs (I used gluten-free, which worked well), lemon rind, some herbs, bacon, suet, egg yolks for binding, and some stuff I am probably forgetting. Since my scullery maids were off blowing bubbles and dismembering innocent tulips, I had to call on Mechanical Millie: my food processor.

Uniform!

I turned around after mixing everything and turning it into a bowl, and discovered I had left the suet out. Whoops.  I formed the doughy mix into balls which I fried in some leftover bacon grease. I seem to always have some of that stuff around. My Southern grandmother would be proud.

Once the were fried, I let them cool a bit. They look like meatballs, don’t they? Beeton recommended balls, but you could make patties as well, which might fit into a cut of meat better.

Meanwhile, I opened up the lamb shoulder, which I purchased boned.

I filled the shoulder with the forcemeats and awkwardly trussed it with string. It was kind of like a big lamb sandwich. The lamb was to be boiled, which seemed odd to me since it was full of fried food. The recipe did not call for the meat to be submerged, however, just kind of poached or steamed in some stock. The recipe also called for me to toss a bunch of onions and celery in and around the lamb, after setting it on a layer of bacon.

Cozy Bacon Bower

Awkwardly trussed.

Here was what the mess looked like in the pot. Then it was set to simmer for a couple of hours with the lid on. Every so often I checked it to make sure it did not need more broth added. I knew that at the end the resulting liquor was to be strained and reduced for glazing the meat.

When it was done, I could see the advantage of sewing from a visual perspective. The meat had shrunk back some. But it smelled delicious. As with my last lambstravaganza, the meat looked rather grey and unappealing, unlike times when I have roasted lamb in the oven.

Uh...hrm.

The meat sliced easily and made a funny little sandwich. I imagine the juices from the cooking lamb were absorbed by the forcemeat as well. Maybe I could eat this, if I didn’t look at it. Boiling the last one made it fabulously tender.

Served with bread sauce and peeled, boiled asparagus

This lamb was fork tender. Odd, but good. And came with its own stuffing.

OM NOM NOM

And how was the Apples in Red Jelly?

The AppleSAUCE on Red Jelly was delicious. I was suprised how good clove-lemon jelly was. I would make this again. Spring is sproinged and there is more lamb on the horizon.