Tag Archive for 'preserving food'

Fall a la Mode

Fall a la Mode

I. Beef a la Mode with a Brief Digression Into Salad

It is rapidly becoming springier in Australia, but here we are entering fall, and my life and my calendar is getting meatier again as I shove the last of the harvestables into pickle jars or smush them into jellies and chutneys. Tomorrow is Aspic Day, a whole day of encasing whatever turns up in the fridge in hoofy goo like bugs in amber. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I decided to tackle the crème de la crème of beef dishes, Beef a la Mode. I have always heard of it, and wondered what made people talk about it in the context of old-fashioned, swanky restaurants our grandparents might have patronized. Beef a la mode can be fairly compared to pot roast, which it greatly resembles, due to the fact that both are giant chunk-o-meat, braised slowly in some kind of liquid. The difference I can see is that beef a la mode is browned or cooked with some kind of bacon or ham product for flavoring as well.

As usual, I tweaked Beeton’s a bit to be more logical and suitable for modern techniques without losing the spirit of the original. There are probably not too many extant recipes for beef a la mode that call for mace and port. Mace! How I missed you.

Beeton calls for slitting up the roast a bit to let the flavors permeate, giving it a spice rub, and then wrapping it up in bacon with meat tape. My kitchen is like a day spa for cow parts.

I am not going to lie to you; I have no idea what meat tape is. It sounds awesome, though. I decided to ensure the bacon would stay on with a couple of pieces of kitchen string.

Five! Hours! Later! Bam, there was a fork-tender roast. Really, I should have sliced it thinner but I was feeling impatient. Then I strained the cooking broth and reduced it by half in a skillet while the meat rested in a just-warm oven. I hate letting meat sit out all naked in the cold air to rest.

See the crust? That is herbs and spices and YUM.

I made a dressing to go with the salad that my sister, Morgan, helped me whisk together. I did not realize I was making a type of mayonnaise until it got rich and creamy and turned a lovely shade of green from the olive oil. No eggs, though. My reference book to keep me on track is The Joy of Cooking–I see it as a baseline sanity check for modern techniques, and when I looked later I did not see a dressing recipe quite like it.

Om nom nom

Morgan thought it needed more sugar, but I said, “Just wait until you taste it on the salad.” She agreed it complemented the greens, tomatoes, and croutons I made that morning really well. I had a feeling it might. Overall, I’d say the recipes like sauces and dressings call for less sugar than modern ones catering to current tastes. I like the interplay and enhancing properties of sugar, salt, and spice that you see in in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, for instance, so sometimes I throw a little extra sugar into dishes that call for salt and cayenne.

Beef a la mode is awesome cold as sandwiches the next day as well–something else it has in common with pot roast.

Beef a la Mode [602.]

Ingredients.
2.5-3 lbs of chuck, round, or top blade roast
a few slices of fat bacon
1/2 cup red wine, cider, or sherry vinegar
black pepper
bunch of savory herbs, chopped
Crush together: 1 tsp allspice, 3 cloves, and 1 tsp peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 onion, sliced
1 turnip, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 cup port

Mode.— Prepare the beef for stewing in the following manner:—Choose a fine piece of beef and with a sharp knife make a few slits deep enough to let in the bacon and other flavorings. Rub beef over with seasonings and minced herbs. Lay 2-3 slices of bacon in your stewpot, which should be heavy and not too much larger than the roast, and turn on the burner to let the bacon warm and begin to brown. Lay the remaining bacon in strips over the herbed roast and tie down with string if necessary.

Set the roast into the pan on the browned bacon, pour the vinegar and 1/2 cup water around the roast, and add the bay leaves to the liquid.  Let it simmer covered very gently for 4 hours, or rather longer, should the meat not be extremely tender. Slice and fry the onions of a pale brown, and in the last hour add the onions and other vegetables, which should add flavor but not disintegrate into the liquid. When ready to serve, take out the beef, remove the string and bacon, and hold in a warm oven to rest. Strain the vegetables and other pieces out, skim off every particle of fat from the gravy, add the port wine, and reduce sauce by about half, using a skillet to speed the process if desired. When the sauce is ready, salt to taste and send it to the table in a tureen; it should be of a lovely garnet color. Send the beef to table on a hot plate, thinly sliced and attractively arranged.

Great care must be taken that this does not boil fast, or the meat will be tough and tasteless; it should only just bubble.

Additionally: A discussion of beef a la mode from Lincoln to Pepys to Beeton.

II. Bunny Gravy Goodness

Preparing to make stock. I need more practice with the saddle.

Originally, this recipe called for some leftover roast hare that was just laying around the hunting lodge or whatever, but most people don’t have rabbit just taking up space in the icebox, so I modified this to use a whole uncooked one. It also called for mushroom catsup, something else we modern pantries don’t feature often. It a delicious jointed rabbit stewed in gravy that is made from stock using the carcass. Amazing. As with most cold-weather Beeton, scratch stock makes all the difference. The red current jelly you serve it with acts a bit like cranberry sauce with turkey.

I did not know until this year that a rabbit’s front legs are not attached to their skeleton. You just slice straight through the muscles.

Hashed Hare [1030.]

Ingredients.
A whole rabbit, skinned and prepared for cooking
1 blade of pounded mace
2 or 3 allspice
pepper and salt to taste
1 onion, sliced
a bunch of savoury herbs (thyme, oregano, bay, parsley &c)
3 tablespoonfuls of port wine
2 tablespoons drippings or butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoonfuls of mushroom ketchup or Worcestershire sauce

Mode.—Joint the rabbit, slicing the saddle into bite-sized pieces. Put the bones, trimmings, and organs, if any, into a stewpan, with a cup and a half of water; add the mace, allspice, seasoning, onion, and herbs, and stew for an hour, covered. Strain the resultant stock allowing any herb leaves to remain if liked. Whisk together the drippings and flour at the bottom of the stewpan, and add the strained stock gradually, whisking to keep the gravy smooth. Add the wine and Worcestershire, season with salt and pepper, and bring the gravy to a gentle boil to thicken it. It should not be terrifically thick. Lay in the pieces of rabbit so they are mostly covered by the gravy. Allow the rabbit to simmer for 20 minutes, turning once and serve on the bones, or allow to simmer for an hour and shred the meat into the gravy. Excellent over mashed potatoes. Garnish the dish with sippets of toasted bread. Send red-currant jelly to table with it.

III. Picklesplosion

Last weekend was Pickle Weekend. Why not learn how to can, right?

I decided to make Indian Pickle (Very Superior), and it is superior, and gorgeous. You prep the veg for a couple of days in salt, and then you have carte blanche to throw anything seasonal in as it ripens. This made John Smythe, my canning consultant, very nervous. “You don’t want it to ferment, or worse,” he warned me.

Salting the pickle mix

A small child performs the traditional dance in the background to placate the pickle gods.

I promised I would get it all together and can it sooner, rather than later. I included napa cabbage (Beeton called for “lettuces’), green and wax beans, pickling onions, cauliflower, garlic, chile peppers, and probably something I am forgetting.

Pickle packing.

As a bonus, my sink is a lovely turmeric color for the time being.

I also made Bengal Mango Chetney, which charmingly contains NO MANGOS. It is fricking delicious and spicy as hell, in part because I found some fresh and evil ginger powder at a halal store, rather than relying on that milquetoast baloney you find at Large Gringo Chain Grocery. This stuff is going to be the bomb with mulligatawny.

Apples, raisins, and SPICE.

Finally, here is the fruit of my efforts (green pickles belong to John Smythe):

And this is not even including all the Very Superior Indian Pickle. This is going to be a spicy winter, and [SPOILER ALERT] I know what some people are getting for Christmas.

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.

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.

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.

Driving Six-Up Mushrooms

Driving Six-Up Mushrooms

I pickled some mushrooms per instructions in Beetons.  Why mushrooms, you might ask, rather than something standard like cucumbers?  Well, it’s February, and the cucumbers at the grocery are looking mangy and expensive, while the mushrooms look great, cozily tucked into their mounds of steaming horse manure.

Speaking of disease vectors, just then I caught a lovely virus.  It was pretty standard as these things go.  The usual getting kicked by a mule feeling the microbes are so good at.  One day of high fever followed by six days of low fever and dragging around like I’d given up caffeine.  I did switch from coffee to tea because in my weakened condition, I probably couldn’t fight off whatever is living in the urn at work.  How is my health related to pickles?  How are mule hooves related to bottoms.

When I healed up a bit, I took a bleary look at the jars.  I eat pickled mushrooms all of the time, but I’d never made any.  So when I made the ones from the Beetons recipe, I also made a batch with a modern recipe that looked reasonably close in terms of preparation and ingredients to the nineteenth century version.  I wanted some comparison so that if I ended up giving the Beetons mushrooms the raspberry, I’d know it wasn’t just because pickling mushrooms is really hard and I’d fouled up the recipe.

The modern recipe called for simmering the mushrooms in the pickling liquid, while the old-school recipe called for cooking them in a dry pan until they gave up their juices and continuing until those juices had dried back up.  That takes a lot longer and makes a pan that’s real hard to scrub out, the dried-out mushroom juice causes a lot of murk in the jar.  The modern recipe is hands-down easier and gives a prettier result, but how about flavor?

Mushrooms with salt and herbs

Mushrooms with salt and herbs

Spice-wise, Beetons calls for mace and nothing else.  The modern recipe has allspice, peppercorns, onion, and bay.  I liked the mixture of spices in the modern recipe a bit better, but the real deal breaker with the Beetons recipe was the pickling liquid.  The modern recipe calls for 1/3 vinegar with water making up the rest.  Beetons calls for pure paint-stripping vinegar.  Everyone who tried them said biting into the Victorian pickles was like a mule kick in the tongue.

Pickled mushrooms in the jar

Pickled mushrooms in the jar

To be fair, the Victorian recipe was designed to be shelf stable without canning, while the modern recipe has to stay in the fridge.  Old pickle recipes that use salt brine rather than vinegar used to require enough salt to float an egg.  That’s a ten-percent solution.  Pickles preserved in ten-percent salt brine would have needed a couple days soaking in fresh water to remove some of the salt before eating.  I’ll make more pickles as the fruits and vegetables come into season.  I imagine dealing with the kick of the strong salt or vinegar solutions will continue to be the major challenge.

The Citrus Saga Continues

The Citrus Saga Continues

This past week was spent babysitting lemons as a part of my lemon pickling experiment.  I periodically turned over a salted lemon without a peel and regularly stirred two brining lemons with peels, looking for signs of some magic alchemy taking place.  Sadly, none was immediately evident, which was not surprising but was disappointing, nonetheless.  Still, I put my faith in Beeton and dutifully tended my citrus for six days.

As soon as I had free time this weekend I sprang the lemons from their respective brines.  There was little obvious change, but I did notice that the lemons with the peels on were slightly heavier than they had been before brining, and their peels were slightly smoother.  The one without the peel on had shrunk a bit, as if it knew what awaited it.  And (spoiler alert!) what awaited it was not good.  I tackled this one first, following Mrs. Beeton’s instructions to heat the lemon to dry the salt.  Not having a fire in the same way I imagine she’s describing, I put the lemon in a heavy lidded pot over a very low flame on my gas stove.  Since the idea is, as I mentioned, to dry the salt – for what reason I’m not exactly sure, as the next step has you pouring boiling vinegar over it all – I think it would have been wiser to do this in a low oven.  But I’m apparently more of a trial and error cook and in this case that was pretty much exactly as it turned out – I tried it and it was an error.  Insert rim shot here.   The problem was that, even on a super low flame the salt on the outside burned before the rest of the salt was even remotely dry.  Eventually, the entire business got brown and stuck to the pan, and when I tried to get it up the lemon pulled apart and it all went to hell.

poor, sad lemon

I didn’t bother continuing with the process, because there was so little left to keep and it really needed to be put out of its misery.  RIP, pickled lemon without the peel.

On the plus side, the lemons with the peel on fared much better.  I boiled them, as instructed, and can recommend this as an air freshener, too.  The lovely, lemony smell almost covered the boiling vinegar smell that preceded it.  After boiling, the lemons were even heavier and smoother than before.  Who knew how much liquid a lemon could absorb?  Once they were cool I popped them in sterilized jars (Mrs. B doesn’t specify that you must sterilize the jars but the USDA canning site has scared me so deeply that I fear I will soon be sterilizing our silverware and plates and anything, basically, that comes into contact with our mouths) and watched the cloves and other spices swirl around.  It was kind of dazzling, to be honest, even if it’s not the most amazing culinary feat ever attempted.  I have just been kind of skittish about canning in any way (picking, fermenting, whatever) because of the aforementioned site o’ horrors.  It’s a great site, really, a deeply informative site, but the underlying message I pick up is that if I don’t do everything just right I will die.  The minute the jar is opened, instant death.  So you can see how spending a week with a couple of lemons and finally wrangling them into what I assume is a fairly disease-free environment for what I hope is about a year or so might bring a measure of satisfaction.

Lemons pickled (or, pickling), I decided to end the Beeton-related activities for the weekend.  I’ve got my eye on some more comfort food recipes for this week, though (bread and butter fritters, for example?), and the sawdust quest from my first post continues.   And – prepare for another rim shot – the picture I grabbed of my pickled lemon includes, I kid you not, my favorite uninvited guest…  Eggs, anyone?

Hello, my little friend in the background.

Kidnapping chickens and pickling lemons

Kidnapping chickens and pickling lemons

Week two, for me, of all things Beeton and the going is best described as… slow.  Both in terms of what I wanted to have done by now and in terms of what I’m actually tackling this time around.

First off, the egg experiment promised in my last post has come to a stand still.  The first problem is that it requires really fresh eggs, and every time I acquire really fresh eggs I eat most of them immediately.  It’s like eating a different food altogether when you compare them to grocery store eggs.  People rave about the incredible yolks of fresh eggs and I get it, but for me the biggest difference is in the whites.  They set up better, they taste better, they look better… The whole thing is just a big improvement on mass marketed eggs.  My neighbor keeps chickens but uses all the eggs for his family (or perhaps they have them packed away in sawdust).  I have been showing some restraint and getting them from a lovely woman at work instead of sneaking over and raiding the neighbor’s coop.  Their chickens, however, keep getting into my yard.  I may start holding them ransom, and offer them back in exchange for a dozen eggs per bird.  Or maybe two dozen… We’ll see.

Returned without a ransom note. This time.

That’s not really the biggest issue, though; I’ve been known to not eat delicious things I shouldn’t eat.  No, the biggest problem is the sawdust.  I live in a fairly urban area, admittedly, but I’m surrounded by vast stretches of deeply rural land.  Like, unincorporated,  no local government, rural-type country.  And yet sawdust seems to be a rare commodity.  I enlisted a little help from someone who is married to a carpenter for heaven’s sake, and the best he could do for me was wood chips.  Wood chips?  Not the best thing, I imagine, in which to preserve an egg.  So I’m going to go begging at a lumber yard, I think.  Or I might just do a little scavenging behind a big box hardware store.  We’ll see.  I’ve found that a lot of people are interested in how this thing is going to work – and so am I – so I’ll find a way to put this together soon.

In the meantime, I’m tackling a much slower project – pickling lemons.  Mrs. Beeton offers two recipes (numbers 455 and 456); one with the peel on and one without.  I’m trying both.  The one with the peel on takes about a year or “rather sooner” (what a tease); the one without the peel takes about nine months.  I know, there are many recipes out there, in books and online, that are much quicker (including this one for an Indian pickled lemon I might also try – it only takes two months and looks really flavorful), but I am throwing in my lot with this Victorian-inspired ultra-slow food madness.  And I’m looking forward to it, honestly.  I like the idea of some lemons pickling over here, eggs in saw dust over there, and so on.  Sure, my kitchen is best described as microscopic, but it will be nice to have some long-term food-related projects going, especially during these months when the garden is on hold.

The first steps for both are fairly simple.  The lemons with the peel just have to be brined for about a week; the lemons without the peel have to be packed in salt for about the same length of time.

The peeled lemon in salt.

After that (and you’ll get pictures of this next week), it’s the pretty standard process of packing them in a jar and adding vinegar and assorted spices.  Then the waiting… If it works and I can resist I’ll crack open the peeled lemons in the fall, and the unpeeled ones around Christmas.  In the meantime, I’ll keep you updated periodically and will pick a slightly less long term project for next week.