Tag Archive for 'macaroons'

Doing Bad Things to Innocent Cucumbers

Doing Bad Things to Innocent Cucumbers

What did the Victorians have against vegetables, exactly? Beeton’s provides a fraction of the recipes for vegetables compared to meat. Vegetables are fried, boiled senseless, mashed, pummeled, and drowned in creamy sauces that glisten with butter or animal fat. One way I cannot force myself to be authentic is to boil carrots for 45 minutes. It’s like you can hear the vitamins screaming as they perish.

Meat usually fares better. And yes, you can hear the scare quotes around the “usually.” Part of my goal for this year is to try things I have never had before, which in most cases means new flavor combinations or cooking techniques. This meal was a prime example of that.

For the closing meal of Beefuary, I decided to cook kidney and beef pudding. Thus far I had only ventured into the world of sweet puddings, which made sense and seemed like very moist cake, or like modern recipes I had cooked that were meant to ape old-fashioned puddings. There were a couple of hitches with the pudding. It called for nice suet crust [1215] with milk added. One funny thing, which is a pretty typical editorial error, I suspect in part due to Mrs. Beeton’s great haste in compiling her book, and in part because it was released in serial form, was that I could not find a suet recipe containing milk. I decided to follow the recipe as printed, which called for water.

I am a little adrift when it comes to baking anything that is like a biscuit or crust, especially if it involves yeast. I think it’s important to get food into your mouth as quickly as possible, really, so I would always choose a quick bread over one that called for rising first. People who know me well know that I love to spend hours in the kitchen touching things–chopping vegetables, poking my fingers into raw meat, cracking a dozen eggs for a chiffon cake–but I usually hate the way dough feels. I had cleverly pawned off the making of the arrowroot biscuits [1738] on my maid-of-all-work, but I wanted to experience cutting the suet into the flour.

I sprinkled the suet, which as I have mentioned comes shredded, into the flour and let it thaw a bit from frozen. When the time was right, I dug my hands in with great gusto, bracing myself for a similar experience as when you hand-cut butter into flour.

Boy howdy did I guess wrong. The suet was gluey and sticky and did not want to incorporate, and at this rate it would never become a crust with the addition of liquid. I thought maybe I could do it similarly to a pâte brisée and cut the fat in with my food processor, so I got that out quickly and began pulsing furiously. In the end, I was left with a mixture that was still a little too lumpy for my liking, but I reasoned it would have to do. I poured the water in slowly through the top of the food processor as I gave it a few more pulses.

What I was left with was the most disgusting dough I have ever seen, which is surprising considering it only contained three ingredients. Apparently the amount of water was too much, and the dough turned out quite sticky, much like drop biscuit dough. I mixed in some more flour, gave it a few kneads, and let it rest, hoping for the best.

Beeton’s beef-steak and kidney pudding [605] (or Kate and Sydney) must be a massive thing, calling for two beef kidneys and two pounds of rump steak. I did not see kidneys in the store I was in, so I grabbed liver. Are organs interchangeable? We shall find out. Mrs. B. notes that the pudding may be “very much enriched by adding a few oysters or mushrooms.” I happened to have some criminis, so I added about a quarter of a pound.

Liver *shudder*

Full disclosure: I have never bought beef liver, nor have I knowingly eaten it. I have a long-running joke with my girls that I completely gaffled from Gary Larson about the liver and onions truck, so liver is known as a Pretty Bad Yet Mysterious Thing at my house. I slid it out of its package and it slorped onto my cutting board, where I was meant to cube it for pie. The smell hit me–it was like beef times ten. Hmm. Urgh. I cubed up the steak to go with it, and sliced the mushrooms.

Of course I still don’t have anything remotely approaching an appropriate pudding vessel, so I used a ceramic bowl. I rolled out the dough, which was sticky, tore easily, and acted generally wretched, so I installed it in the bowl as best I could and piled the filling in. The recipe called for water almost up to the brim to make a gravy, so I filled it with water, slapped the top on, tied it down, and set it to steam for four hours.

Pudding filling mix

I confess hadn’t looked at the arrowroot biscuit recipe closely, so I didn’t realize I was doing the brunt of the dough work, as it is a drop biscuit recipe. To me, the main appeal of the biscuits was that they used a significant amount of arrowroot (6 ounces) and I was curious about that ingredient. I got a great deal on a whomping big bag because I knew I would be using it a fair amount this year. The interesting thing about arrowroot, unlike cornstarch, is that it thickens while leaving sauces very clear.

“There is a lot of sugar in this biscuit recipe,” remarked my maid-of-all-work.

“Hmm,” I said. “Perhaps they will be good with jam.”

“There is no leavening, either!”

“Just make the biscuits,” I said, pausing at the end without adding, “or I will send you back to the workhouse with no employer reference.”

Then it was time to do terrible, appalling, shameful things to cucumbers. Out of some sense of masochism, I chose cucumbers a la poulette [1112]. Well, not complete masochism. I attended a book club dinner party thrown by my friend Ruby last spring that featured dishes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking while we discussed Julie & Julia. One of the biggest surprises from that dinner, other than how many people genuinely enjoyed Julie Powell’s bleating, was the baked cucumbers.

I did not know you could cook cucumbers and have them turn out at all edible. Cucumbers a la poulette seemed to be some prehistoric version of the Julia Child recipe, so I thought I would take a crack at it. The first move is to quick-pickle the cucumber. This is when we depart from reality and good sense, and make a u-turn into “WTF Victorians?”

Not even the good kind of fried pickles.

Next we fry the pickled cucumbers in butter, sprinkle flour over them, and make an unholy GRAVY with chicken broth. At the last, I stirred in two egg yolks and sprinkled chopped parsley on top. This resulted in a yellowish, mucilaginous goo for the pickles to swim in. Perhaps, I said optimistically, this combination will magically fuse to produce something wondrous and new.

The finished cucumbers

I laid the table, scooping clumps of ugh out of my makeshift pudding bowl, and serving cucumbers, which glistened at me sinisterly. The arrowroot biscuits were flat but the bottoms were nicely browned, and they resembled chocolate chip cookies sans chips.

Arrowroot Biscuits

I took a bite of the steak and liver pudding. UGH UGH UGH. The texture of the pudding was Not Okay, and the taste…not good. I tried to pick around it and eat the steak and the mushrooms, but everything was infused with the taste of the liver. The crust wasn’t too objectionable–it resembled dumplings, like in chicken and dumplings. The biscuits were sweet, and decent with butter, but not good with dinner. This is a typical problem I have with Beeton’s–I see a recipe for a sauce or some kind of side dish and I cannot always imagine when it would be suitable to serve it and what with.

There is no Dana, there is only Zuul. I mean, pudding.

My younger daughter, who is four and was not informed about what she was eating, remarked, “I’m impressed of this meat,” and continued shoveling it in.

In a way, the cucumbers a la poulette was the hit of the meal, in that it was the most edible. It didn’t really concatenate into anything new though–it was pickles in a creamy, heavy sauce to the end, a kind of primordial hollandaise.

This is what they serve on Tuesdays in Hell.

For dessert, I was going to serve something called apple snow [1401], but I received a coconut in the mail last weekend and decided to make what I think of as modern macaroons, which are called coco-nut biscuits or cakes [1740] and included instructions to shape the sweetened, egg-moistened coconut into pyramids before baking. Shaping the coconut was not even remotely possible, and the eggs migrated out of the coconut haystacks to form custardy pools around the macaroons’s ankles, which turned crispy in the oven. When they came out, they tasted delicious, but fell apart the minute I tried to move them off their tray. The funny thing was that the recipe did not differ greatly from modern coconut macaroon recipes–I’m not sure what went wrong, exactly. Shelling and preparing fresh coconut was a fun experience, and it was noticeably different from preshredded coconut from the store.


Do I recommend anything from this meal? Sadly, I do not. For gawping purposes, I will leave you with Cucumbers a la Poulette. As always, my modifications are included.

2-3 cucumbers [one large English]
Vinegar [unspecified, so I used plain white. In hindsight, apple cider probably would have been more accurate]
½ pint of broth [chicken]
1 tsp. minced parsley
A lump of sugar
Yolks of two eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Mode: Pare and cut the cucumbers into slices of equal thickness, and let them remain in a pickle of salt and vinegar for a half hour; then drain them in a cloth, and put them into a stewpan with the butter. Fry them over a brisk fire, but do not brown them, and then dredge over them a little flour [2 tbsp.]; add the broth, skim off all the fat, which will rise to the surface [unless you are using modern broth in a carton, of course], and boil gently until the gravy is somewhat reduced; but the cucumber should not be broken [ten minutes]. Stir in the yolks of the eggs, add the parsley [I sprinkled it on the top at the end], sugar, pepper and salt; bring the whole to the point of boiling [emphasis hers], and serve.