Archive for the 'Cooking with Mrs. Beeton' Category

Page 2 of 4

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).

Weird animal heads fine; cheese too smelly.

Weird animal heads fine; cheese too smelly.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of Victorian literature lately, mostly Mrs Gaskell. I started with Cranford, inspired by the first season of the BBC series (the second series is pants, unfortunately), and have currently moved on to Wives and Daughters, which handily has the full text available online for anyone inspired to follow up.

Anyway, one of the recurring motifs in the book is that chaps like to eat cheese. Bread and cheese, usually, even if they are lords, and their wives find this vulgar.

There is one character in particular (the widowed Mrs Kirkpatrick) who is concerned about the gentility of cheese-eating, and eating in general. She is horrified to learn that her fiance, Dr Gibson, likes nothing better than a bit of bread and cheese, when she asks his daughter Molly what his preferences are.

‘Papa doesn’t care what he has, if it’s only ready. He would take bread-and- cheese, if cook would only send it in instead of dinner.’
‘Bread-and-cheese! Does Mr Gibson eat cheese?’
‘Yes; he’s very fond of it,’ said Molly, innocently. ‘I’ve known him eat toasted cheese when he has been too tired to fancy anything else.’
‘Oh! but, my dear, we must change all that. I shouldn’t like to think of your father eating cheese; it’s such a strong-smelling, coarse kind of thing. We must get him a cook who can toss him up an omelette, or something elegant. Cheese is only fit for the kitchen.’
‘Papa is very fond of it,’ persevered Molly.
‘Oh! but we will cure him of that. I couldn’t bear the smell of cheese; and I’m sure he would be sorry to annoy me.’

When she marries, she upsets her new household by moving dinner from mid-day to evening, and then she starts in on her husband (who is a busy doctor) and his habit of snatching a snack in the kitchen. The new Mrs Gibson is constantly worried about the smell of food permeating the dining room, but it’s cheese that really agitates her.

Of course, this made me wonder if Mrs Beeton condoned recipes for cheese (toasted or otherwise). Actually, as it turns out, Mrs Beeton is credited with popularizing cheese on toast (aka Scotch Rare-bit), and macaroni cheese, according to some sources. Her recipes include an putting mustard or anchovy paste in cheese sandwiches, and there’s a rather dashing Brillat Savarin fondue recipe replicated verbatim.

Although apparently free from anti-cheese prejudices, given that she does present a number of cheese-based recipes, Mrs Beeton does have a few cautionary words to say:

CHEESE.– It is well known that some persons like cheese in a state of decay, and even “alive.” There is no accounting for tastes, and it maybe hard to show why mould, which is vegetation, should not be eaten as well as salad, or maggots as well as eels. But, generally speaking, decomposing bodies are not wholesome eating, and the line must be drawn somewhere.

That’s a no to casu marzu, then.

The cheese course Mrs Beeton describes seems to be designed for a rather fancy dinner, with little bits of cheese cut up and accompanied by “Rusks, cheese-biscuits, pats or slices of butter, and salad, cucumber, or water-cresses”. This fiddly method of serving would seem to be right up Mrs Gibson’s alley, since she insists on serving a “dessert” of nuts and dried fruit, whether anyone wants to eat it or not.

So, although Molly knew full well, and her stepmother knew full well, and Maria knew full well, that neither Mrs Gibson nor Molly touched dessert, it was set on the table with as much form as if Cynthia had been at home, who delighted in almonds and raisins; or Mr Gibson been there, who never could resist dates, although he always protested against ‘persons in their station of life having a formal dessert set out before them every day.’ And Mrs Gibson herself apologized as it were to Molly to-day, in the same words she had often used to Mr Gibson, – ‘It’s no extravagance, for we need not eat it – I never do. But it looks well, and makes Maria understand what is required in the daily life of every family of position.’

Mrs Beeton does allude to bread and cheese as being filling and thus popular with labourers, in her recipe for cheese sandwiches, which is perhaps the source of Mrs Gibson’s horror at the doctor’s overt enjoyment of such a meal.

Mrs Gaskell seems quite fond of using food and food preferences as a way of giving an insight into her characters’ social and economic status. The ladies in Cranford, for instance, have a hilarious pretense of being surprised by the contents of meals they have cooked themselves. Here, she’s clearly building up what eventually becomes a very unflattering portrait of a shallow and materialistic woman in Mrs Gibson, who is desperately trying to appear of a higher status than she is, while her husband, confident in his own character and merits, sends her into conniptions by eating bread and cheese in the kitchen.

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.

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.

In Which We Look at Adulteration and Brain Molds

In Which We Look at Adulteration and Brain Molds

Hello kind and proper ladies and gentlemen. I have been recently subsumed by work, but that situation seems to have a lid on it for the time being. I cannot believe it has been about a month since my last meal, so I will hit the highlights, since it is starting to fade in my memory a bit, unfortunately.

Now that the first quarter of this year is passed and it is properly spring in the Northern hemisphere, I feel like I can reflect on winter. I made an attempt to choose items from Beeton’s seasonal meal lists. Winter was fairly bleak in England for most people, from all accounts. Lots of preserved food was consumed, which could be done at home, or procured at a market.

In fact, Mrs. Beeton, who was, of course, in the business of selling recipes to housewives in serial form, acknowledges the availability of canned goods:

360. 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. The only general rules, perhaps, worth stating here,—as in the recipes all necessary details will be explained, are, that the vegetables and fruits used should be sound, and not over ripe, and that the very best vinegar should be employed.

It’s interesting to me that Beeton doesn’t really give a great reason for making them at home. At the introduction of Chapter IX. Sauces, Pickles, Gravies, and Forcemeats she mentions, as she often does, of the importance of choosing quality ingredients.

So, since Beeton is not explicit, it is fun to guess at a couple of reasons behind making one’s own preserved foods. The most obvious and easy to pinpoint would be a way to save food produced by the household, like eggs or fruit. This would matter less if you were a city mouse, and had your servants do regular marketing, unless you were one of those “screaming deal, I could not pass it up” people. I am one of those people. A giant flat of blueberries seems like a great deal until you get home…then what? Jam time!

The second is an issue that Beeton probably would have been aware of in the news, which was the investigation led by Arthur Hill Hassall into the adulteration of food stuffs produced outside the home, and how food production should be regulated, from 1850 on. Isabella did not embody the stereotype of the Victorian housewife, childlike and blindered. Quite the contrary, letters between Isabella and her husband Sam paint her as a shrewd businesswoman, showing that she was the one concerned with and capable of doing figures and ordering related to their publishing house, and that she was the origin of many of their profitable ideas.

Dr. Hassall’s investigations uncovered unsafe drinking water and the contaminants within; alum, lead, strychnine, chalk and more added to food to sell less or inferior-quality food for more money; and vermin and human or animal hair that could sicken people once ingested. The Lancet picked up the gauntlet in 1873 when the Adulteration of Food Act passed, calling for even tighter regulations and definitions of allowable levels of adulteration. No doubt this investigation, legislation, and the shocking abuses it revealed trickled down through the popular media and magazines. Was it safe to eat the store-bought jam? Maybe, maybe not.

The third reason may be similar to why people in wealthy nations produce handicrafts today: domestic pride, hobbyism, and a sense of satisfaction. Beeton knew that many women collecting her serialized Book of Household Management were leaning heavily on one servant, or (gasp) could not afford even one, and were doing a lot of work themselves, and were expected to adhere to that Cult of True Womanhood bullshit. In Barbara Welter’s famous article “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860″ (1966), Welter discusses one of the “virtues,” domesticity:

In the home women were not only the highest adornment of civilization, but they were supposed to keep busy at morally uplifting tasks. Fortunately most of housework, if looked at in true womanly fashion, could be regarded as uplifting.

Changing tack a bit, I will also say winter is also about citrus, loads of it, thanks to the Victorians’ wide reach with trade routes.

I decided to make Orange Cream [1463], which is a creamy gelatin, for dessert. Since my children are gluten-intolerant, and Victorians loved jellies, I decided to finally invest in a mold. The recipe calls for regular oranges, but I found some blood oranges on special and could not resist.

Blood orange

It was fun to make the jelly. I love juicing oranges, though I usually have little nicks on my hands in the winter due to hangnails and dryness.

Blood orange juice

The result was delicious, but I was amused to see that it separated out in the end.

Brane Jelly

The entree was not much to write home about. I was in the mood for fish, which usually means fried or smothered, as far as the Victorians are concerned. I chose smothering in the form of Soles [328] with Brown Mushroom Sauce [474]. I gently simmered the sole in milk until it was cooked, and then covered it in a mushroom gravy.

Yep, that is smothered.

Probably the most successful part of the meal was the Potato Rissoles [1147]. This involved boiling and mashing potatoes, combining them with fried onions and chopped ham…

Mashed potatoes with ham and onion

…forming them into balls…

…breading them, and frying the balls.

They were absolutely delicious with gravy. One thing that cracks me up about Beeton’s is that she was always describing things as “much improved” or “much increased” by adding mushrooms, some kind of sauce, or other flavor booster. In the case of this recipe, the “flavor of these rissoles may be much increased by adding inley-minced[sic] tongue or ham…” It is usually worth taking her advice, though.

I will reproduce the recipe for the rissoles. It was my first experience ever with lard, and if I made these again, I would probably use vegetable oil. I am not punk rock enough for lard. It will sit in my cupboard and menace me, I reckon.

Potato Rissoles [1147]

Ingredients:

Mashed potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
when liked, a very little minced parsley
egg
bread crumbs

Mode.—Boil and mash the potatoes by recipe No. 1145; add a seasoning of pepper and salt, and, when liked, a little minced parsley. Roll the potatoes into small balls, cover them with egg and bread crumbs, and fry in hot lard for about 10 minutes; let them drain before the fire, dish them on a napkin, and serve.

A Child’s Party

A Child's Party

My youngest was about to turn five and I suddenly became very interested in Victorian children’s parties, of course. We know the Victorians were the original Goths, with their dark clothes and near-fetishization of death through elaborate mourning rituals and codes. How did they feel about the celebration of life?

Through a little searching, I found a child’s novella called The Birth-day Visit to Holly Farm [1860] by Susan Bogart Warner, wherein a girl turns eight and is immediately showered with presents when she wakes up, and is taken to a farm field with a picnic packed for a “birthnight tea” with a friend and her governess.

The only mention of birthdays in Beeton’s is historical. She gives a history of the Greek dinner party, and adds that “a birthday, too, was an excuse for a dinner; a birthday, that is, of any person long dead and buried, as well as of a living person, being a member of the family, or otherwise esteemed [1883].” She does not mention specific occasions for throwing a birthday dinner in her time, but she does comment in the same passage on the British predilection for having parties: “Douglas Jerrold said that such is the British humour for dining and giving of dinners, that if London were to be destroyed by an earthquake, the Londoners would meet at a public dinner to consider the subject.”

I understand that sentiment. I think I look for any excuse as well. I wonder if birthdays were such commonplace affairs that there was no need to really explain to the reader how they happened? I imagine you celebrated according to your means and desires, much like today. There was no need to lay out an elaborate code, such as with calling cards or mourning dress.

I made an interesting accidental discovery by flipping through Beeton’s as I was planning this birthday dinner relating to children’s parties: negus. Negus was a popular wine-based party punch referenced in several early Victorian novels.

Negus appears in a couple of forms in a charming “collection of receipts” called Oxford Night Caps (1847) by Richard Cook. There is a recipe for white wine negus, calling for calf’s foot jelly, which I imagine is somewhat like a boozy warm Jell-o drink, a cold white wine negus, and a port wine negus, which is what is offered in Beeton’s. By the time the recipe is recorded in Beeton’s, negus had apparently become passé. She notes: “this beverage is more usually drunk at children’s parties than any other [1835].”

I wondered if she meant it had become a children’s drink, or if adults drank it there to stave off the potential boredom of watching a bunch of children gavotte or attempt to play whist. Could children really be guzzling cups of fortified wine, asked your author, clutching her modern American pearls?

Answer: looks like it. The Churchman, a British quarterly dedicated to Christian thought that has been published since 1879, has a story in its 1 July 1882 edition about charitable treatment of poor children at Christmas. The author writes, “She concocted a glass of steaming negus, much to the delight of the children.”

A reasonably-priced port

Negus is very easy to make. Most recipes call for rubbing sugar on the peel of a lemon, which I figure is ye olde zesting, since sugar often came in lumps or loaves. I chose to just zest the lemon instead. Beeton’s never mentions zest, but peel only, and this rubbing technique. Then you add sugar, juice, and watered-down port, and simmer slightly. It called for grated nutmeg as well (surprising, I know), but I threw in a couple of mace blades instead, since I don’t care for the way grated nutmeg feels in liquid when you drink it.

My guests both enjoyed the warm negus. One said that the only drawback was, despite the fact that the concentration of the booze was theoretically weak, was that “you just get trashed instantly.” Don’t drink this if you have anywhere else to be or have higher math to do. Heretic that I am I was enjoying my beer so much I opted not to have a glass.

I did give the children about an inch of negus in mugs so they could try it, and told them it was a child’s party drink from 150 years ago. It is one thing to tell children something about how the old days were, but I thought it would make an impact on them if they tried a little. “BLECH,” declared my older daughter. “Tastes like alcohol.” Well, yes. They quickly abandoned it in favor of the goat cheese I had set out for an appetizer.

The majority of the work was allotted to the Soup a la Julienne [131], which involved julienneing a bunch of vegetables (something I freely admit I suck at, since I do it so rarely) and then simmering the fuck out of them until it hardly matters which shape they started in. It contained carrots, turnip, onions, leeks, and celery.

Turnip

The soup also called for generic “lettuce” added, which, I have had soup with kale, watercress, or other greens in, but I could not see adding perfectly nice lettuce to the pot, so I used sturdier chopped napa cabbage. Another thing I did not feel like tracking down was sorrel and savory, which a more run-of-the-mill supermarket does not carry, so I grabbed some parsley and a smidge of tarragon from the backyard. The soup is served over bread. I cubed some peasant bread and sprinkled it on for those who could eat gluten, and it absorbed the flavorful broth very nicely.

The veggies were higher than the broth level until the cooked down a bit.

The soup was springy, much like the cock-a-leekie, and reminded me of a very particular veggie soup you will get in a small cup at Thai or Vietnamese restaurants that comes free with the lunch special. I liked the combination of flavors, but it was nothing too extraordinary, and not worth all the julienneing. I was disappointed when I discovered the next morning that my scullery maid had swilled too much negus and fell asleep rather than putting the soup away.

I also mashed sweet potatoes [1146], which behaved just like you would expect them to. I served these with a lobster curry [274] over rice. I was kind of intrigued by this, since it’s not what you usually expect to see in an Indian-style curry. I bought a large frozen lobster tail and cooked it as it instructed, and then simmered the chunks in the curry. This is where things went wrong–it made the lobster bits tough. I should have stirred them in at the last minute instead.

Lobster curry and yam mash

I topped a gluten-free chocolate cake with an almond icing [1735] that was much like marzipan. I liked the clash of the old with the very new–a 150-year-old frosting recipe atop a gluten-free cake mix was very pleasing somehow, and it went over well. The interesting part to me was that the frosting contained egg whites, and once you top the cake it goes back in the oven for a bit and it cooked on the cake.

I have no idea if it was a traditional Victorian birthday meal, but everyone had a good time and enjoyed trying something new. I will have to try the negus again next fall for a grown up party, no matter that Beeton thinks it’s a kiddie drink.

1835. Negus

Ingredients:
To every pint of port wine allow 1 quart of boiling water
¼ pound sugar [I added a half-cup]
1 lemon
Grated nutmeg to taste [I used 2 mace blades]

Mode:
As this beverage is more usually drunk at children’s parties than at any other, the wine need not be very old or expensive for the purpose, a new fruity wine answering very well for it. Put the wine into a jug, rub some lumps of sugar (equal to 1/4 lb.) on the lemon-rind until all the yellow part of the skin is absorbed, then squeeze the juice, and strain it. Add the sugar and lemon-juice to the port wine, with the grated nutmeg; pour over it the boiling water, cover the jug, and, when the beverage has cooled a little, it will be fit for use. Negus may also be made of sherry, or any other sweet white wine, but is more usually made of port than of any other beverage. [Of course I simmered it all in a saucepan.]