Tag Archive for 'comfort food'

Hard Labor with Costume Changes (and Preserving Pineapple)

Hard Labor with Costume Changes (and Preserving Pineapple)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and I was feeling a little sorry for myself until I started flipping through Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders.  I’m a working mom with a long commute, so I am, legitimately, an overworked and often tired person.  Compared to a Victorian-era maid-of-all-work, however, I’m a huge slacker who sits around with her feet up all day.  All I need is some bon bons to complete the picture.  Judith Flanders creates some pretty vivid descriptions of the kind of life these women led and the hard labor (complete with costume changes!) they put into every day.  Here’s just a quick peek:

“… She folded up the hearth rug for shaking outside and laid a coarse cloth over the carpet so that she could put down the blacklead box, the cinder sifter, and the fire irons.  Cleaning the grate, fire irons, and the fender – which had to be done daily – was supposed to take twenty minutes but often took longer.  The fire was then lit to warm the room before the family came downstairs for breakfast.  Then she cleaned and rubbed the furniture, washed the mantelpiece and any ledges, dusted the ornaments.  She strewed damp, used tea leaves, rinsed the day before, over the carpet to help collect the dust, then swept them up again…  This was the last of the early-morning dirty work, and now the maid was expected to change into a clean cotton dress, apron, and cap.”

And this was just a very small piece of what she did after getting up, cleaning the kitchen, lighting the range, cleaning the boots, and making breakfast.  The family, presumably, is not even awake at this point in the day.  For me, loading the dishwasher after sitting at a desk all day suddenly seems like a breeze.

I’ve just scratched the surface of  Inside the Victorian Home, but I’m enjoying it so far.  I’ve been struggling to put Mrs. Beeton’s book in an accurate context, and this book is helping me move from the Victorian England I know from movies and half-remembered History classes towards something a bit more fact-based.  I’ll put together a review when I’ve had time to get through the whole thing.  Maybe after I shake out the hearth rug and put on a clean dress.

So what I’ve managed to squeeze in between being super busy and reading about women who were even busier is Preserved Pineapple, for Present Use  [1579].  Notice the contradiction in the title?  This isn’t the recipe for Preserving Pineapple [1578] which keeps for some unspecified amount of time; this recipe is for pineapple that’s preserved but that doesn’t keep (Beeton’s recipe actually advices, “It must be eaten soon, as it will keep but a very short time.”).  So this doesn’t fall under the “preserved foods” section of my Beeton adventures; it’s actually closer to comfort food.

The recipe is quite simple – you boil the peel and core of a pineapple for 15 minutes, strain it, boil the pineapple in the same liquid for 10 minutes, add as much sugar as you want (“to sweeten the whole nicely”), boil it again for 15 minutes, and then you’re done.

Doesn't look like such a great idea, does it?

This recipe actually fits best under the category “things you boil the hell out of” and I expected it would taste like most things that undergo that sort of treatment – bland, flat, just generally unappealing.  But Beeton surprises as only she can.  Boiling a pineapple for an ungodly amount of time  actually improves its consistency – it’s not at all stringy or tough, as it can sometimes be when it’s fresh, but it’s also not mushy.  It held its shape but came apart easily with the back of a spoon.  And it had a full, almost smoky flavor that I wasn’t expecting.  I might actually try using this in a savory recipe if I make it again.  The addition of a cinnamon stick would have make it pretty interesting, too.  I added just over a cup of sugar and the finished product was fairly sweet, but it’s easy enough to adjust the sweetness up or down, depending on your preference.  So overall it was a good experience – not a lot of effort for a surprisingly pleasant outcome.

Still doesn't look like much, but the taste is good.

Still, it’s more work than I’m generally inclined to do for what is essentially canned pineapple in light syrup, and it would be a criminal use of really good, fresh fruit.  Plus, my eight year-old said it tastes like, “Halloween candy, like, five days after Halloween,” so it might not be to all tastes.  But if you’ve got a less-than-perfect pineapple on hand give it a try.  It makes the house smell great and gives a bit of a different take on a familiar fruit.

Scotch Woodcock

Scotch Woodcock

I’ve mentioned this new blog to a few people and they almost invariably ask, “Why?”  It looks to me like the reasons people are writing here are as varied at they themselves are, but for me it’s part of a trend of doing for myself.  It’s very simply that the idea of going back to some of the old ways of doing things around the house to find out what’s been forgotten appeals to me.

So what has been forgotten?  Something inherently missing in today’s world?  Absolutely not.  I am infuriated by “the good old days” syndrome in which the past is fine and wonderful and today is somehow weaker and wrong.  And believe me when I say that Mrs. Beeton and I have some fundamental differences of opinion.  For example, she says of the tomato plant that it “has a most disagreeable odor” whereas I’ve been known to stick my face in one and swoon.  And I won’t be taking up her suggestion of beef tea when I’m ill (the whole “Invalid Cookery” section really kills).  But there are things we have forgotten how to do that are described here; ways of preserving food and ways of working with vegetables we don’t find in the grocery store or at the nearest chain restaurant are two that interest me most.  That’s primarily what I’ll be talking about in my posts, in addition to exploring whatever random Victorian-era comfort food tickles my fancy.  And gravy, good lord, Mrs. Beeton’s world is all about gravy, and I am right behind her on that.

The first thing I was planning to do here was chronicle my attempts to keep eggs without refrigeration.  Mrs. Beeton offers several suggestions, and I’d figured that by now I’d have been able to get my hands on a big box of saw dust and some extremely fresh local eggs.  It is, however, harder to find saw dust than you might think.  Still, the call has gone out and by this time next week I should have something to show you.  In the meantime, let me introduce you to my friend, Scotch Woodcock.  This falls under the “random comfort food” category.  I was thinking about doing Welsh Rare-bit but was, honestly, seduced by the name “Scotch Woodcock.”  The recipe is quick, so I include a slightly abbreviated version below.

Scotch Woodcock

1653. Ingredients – A few slices of hot buttered toast; allow 1 anchovy to each slice.  For the sauce – ¼ pint of cream, the yolks of 3 eggs.

Mode. – Separate the yolks from the whites of the eggs; beat the former, stir to them the cream, and bring the sauce to the boiling point, but do not allow it to boil, or it will curdle.  Have ready some hot buttered toast, spread with anchovies pounded to a paste; pour a little of the hot sauce on the top, and server it very hot and very quickly.

Ok, so, I first went out to get some good bread with a little heft.  This is the only part of the recipe that worked for me.

Damn fine bread.

The recipe appears super simple, but it’s that “to the boiling point, but do not allow it to boil” part that killed me.  I curdled the damn sauce every time.  This is partly due to my being a generally impatient person, and partly due to the difficulty of not boiling such a small amount of cream mixed with egg yolks.  Eventually I put some sauce on the bread, even though it was essentially like really runny scrambled eggs.  It tasted fine, but looked frightening.  Feel free to turn away.

Scotch Woodcock FAIL.

Would I make it again?  Possibly, but I would skip the anchovies and tart the whole thing up with some fresh dill or maybe even curry powder.  Other ideas?  I’d love to hear them.