Happy Valentine’s Day! I return after my two week hiatus. Cooking like it is ye olde thymes it not easy if you are traveling out of town for two weekends in a row. I feel refreshed after the trial that was Beefuary, and I am REALLY feeling poultry this month.
I was also not feeling fancy. I was thinking about interesting things I’ve read lately, regarding what people actually ate then, opposed to how they aspired to eat. I think Beeton’s sold a fantasy of that, of what it would be like to have twenty guests coming to dinner, how that would look and how that could affect one’s social status.
[As a related aside, I am reading House of Mirth and in the introduction the author informs us that Edith Wharton's family is the origin of the phrase "Keeping up with the Joneses." (Wharton was born Edith Jones.)]
I had the remains of a cold chicken in the fridge from Thursday night, and I recalled I was always seeing mentions of “cold meat cookery” in Beeton’s–repurposed leftovers from the excesses of dinner parties, perhaps, or what was more likely, regular old leftovers. I decided to make it into minced fowl .
First, you must hand-mince the leftover chicken. I always forget how long it takes to mince meat relatively finely and uniformly. I last did this for my croquettes I made for Christmas. This recipe calls for homemade stock, but I had already chucked my chicken carcass into the carrot soup , so I boiled the herbs and chopped onion the stock called for in storebought broth.
Finally, I got to use my mace which I bought specially a few weeks ago, once I realized that every other recipe called for it. I was going to just dash a little nutmeg into everything, but I decided to try the real deal. I don’t know if I am easily fooled or what, but the mace really does taste different to me. I find it fruitier and more harmonious with what it often goes with in Victorian cooking, like chicken or cream sauces.
The recipe called for the broth to be thickened with flour, which is right out for my gluten-intolerant children, so I used a little cornstarch. I am not quite brave enough to throw arrowroot into everything yet, because I don’t always know how much to use or how it will react. Much like the béchamel that I love so much, this broth came out deliciously once the herbs and onion had been steeped in it.
The broth gets stirred in with the chicken, minced hard-boiled egg, and some cream, and it turns into this creamy slurry of herby awesomeness that is excellent on toast. It is like out of control gravy. My girls enjoyed theirs on mashed potatoes.
I served it with the carrot soup I mentioned, which was different than I expected. I think now we expect vegetable soups to be really pure concentrations of the vegetable they are representing, perhaps thinned with a little stock or water. This soup had onions, a turnip, and enough broth to choke a small army and the recipe says it serves ten. I believe it.
I put the chicken carcass in and snapped the small chicken bones to let all their goodness out. The soup simmered for three hours and then I strained it to get the bones out, and then blended it. It doesn’t get any additional herbs or spices and it was wonderful the way it was. Beeton’s notes that the soup should be served the next day, and I cannot wait to try it. I am foisting it on unsuspecting friends who are in the air as I write this, and this after I told them “No Victorian food.”
Dessert was the only little road bump in the meal, and even that was decent and edible. I made blancmange, which is something I’ve always been idly curious about. Blancmange, English-style, is basically a milk jelly. Beeton’s advised stirring in a little brandy at the end, and I had dark rum, so I used that. The recipe also called for steeping lemon peel or bay leaves in the warming milk. I opted for lemon peel, which gave the finished product a really pleasant citrus flavor.
I thickened it with arrowroot, which I bought a large quantity of last month. When it was done simmering, it looked a lot like tinned sweetened condensed milk for baking, and not at all like warm Jell-O does. It was kind of bland and unimposing, and I served it with homemade grape jelly. My one real snag with it was unmolding it. I thought it would slide cooperatively like Jell-O might, but it was stubbornly sticky once decanted. Whoops!
There are a couple more pics at my flickr.