I return to the world of Victorian cooking fresh from a February vacation with two children in the grip of cabin fever and a roof that decided to relocate, in part, to my front lawn. It’s good to be back in the land of butter and sheep’s head!
In the rare free moments I’ve had over the past two weeks I cheated on Beeton and spent time exploring Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families. Acton was a poet-turned-cookery author whose Modern Cookery predated Mrs. Beeton’s book by about 16 years. Beeton actually jacked over one hundred recipes from Modern Cookery for her own book; what a naughty little devil she was. In any case, you can read Eliza’s book online here, or read the great bio of her (including a poem) here. Her poetry, by the way… not too bad. Don’t expect it to bleed into the cook book in any significant way, although she does get lyrical on occasion (to boil lobsters, “throw them into plenty of fast-boiling salt and water, that life may be destroyed in an instant.” Poor, lifeless, tasty lobsters.) It’s not that it’s a poorly written book – it’s not – but it’s hardly a lyrical masterpiece. Instead, it’s collection of simply described recipes, written out with amounts and specifics not often included in books of this kind prior to its publication. I would say that Mrs. Beeton takes things a step further in terms of standardizing measurements, and she also gives some more suggestions on how to use certain sauces and other dishes than Acton does. But all in all, I’ve really enjoyed reading Modern Cookery, and I’ve only just scratched the surface.
I choose to try out three of her recipes for flavored vinegars. Mrs. Beeton uses them with some variations in her book, but since these are not complicated recipes, nor are they earth-shatteringly new ideas on how to flavor vinegar, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they were stolen. I tried Acton’s Green Mint Vinegar, Celery Vinegar, and Cucumber Vinegar. They each involve, very simply, pouring vinegar over the main ingredient, adding salt and pepper (and in the case of the celery, cayenne pepper – really), keeping it closed for about one to two months, then straining and using it. In Mrs. Beeton’s book she suggests using these types of vinegars for salads, and Acton mentions using them in any sauce which requires an acid.
I had a hard time remembering not to jam the jars full, since I was not pickling the ingredients, but rather flavoring the vinegar with them. I’m curious how they will taste, especially the mint and celery, and I plan on using the mint for something when I’m done with it, as Acton mentions can be done. So… at the end of April perhaps I’ll try these with the first greens of the season! Any other ideas on what to use them for are quite welcome and encouraged.