Well, hello October. I’ve been busy cooking, reading, and mushroom hunting. Lately I am enjoying breaking food into “categories” by type or ingredient and having a spree with them all at once, much like my Pickling Extravaganza. I’ve got an Almond Day coming up, including “cheesecakes” that in no way resembles the modern New York style.
I. Toad in the Hole and a Digression
Sometimes I think I find aspects of Victorian food so appealing because I grew up with Southern U.S. cuisine. I am completely talking out of my hat here, because I am an observer rather than an expert, but I see correlations between Southern food and Victorian food in the desire to use every part of an animal, like pickled pigs feet or watermelon rinds (U.S.); the existence of more than one type of dumpling or fried bread product, like hushpuppies or soup dumplings (U.S.) and forcemeat, savory puddings, and fritters (Victorian); and the liberal use of economical gravies, which is basically fat, flour, and some kind of flavorful broth or liquid.
Of course, most cultures have some version of the sandwich or dumpling, a starch or bread, and sauces to go with it, but I feel there is a closer connection between Southern cuisine and the Victorians than a lot of other food types. Part of that, obviously, is the fact that the British and Irish brought their food to the U.S. with them during colonization and immigration, and it became part of the mix along with American Indian, African, and French foods. It’s kind of a remix of what was happening in nineteenth-century England, but with MUCH LESS nutmeg and mace.
Somehow, this brings me to toad in the hole, a classic British dish. I told a few friends I was making toad in the hole, and I was asked more than once, “Oh, the thing with egg cooked in toast?” Apparently there is enough confusion about this among Americans that Wikipedia’s Egg in the Basket page offers clarification between the two dishes first thing.
One digression I will skip is how the recipe earned its name. There’s several theories about this one–it was named after a pitching-disc game, the meat/offal chunks look like hibernating toads (many people don’t know the dish did not originate as sausages and spend a lot of time shouting “The sausages don’t look like toads at all!” on message boards. Duh.), and some internet wags say the dish was charmingly called “turd in the hole.”
Beeton’s, like other recipes of the time, calls for bits of meat to be added rather than the modern dish of Yorkshire pudding poured into a hot dish around sausages, and is billed as “Cold-Meat Cookery,” which is Beeton-speak for “How to Use Up Leftovers from That Ridiculous 12-Course Dinner Party You Threw to Impress Your Bougie Friends.”
Of course I went with Beeton, but I used fresh lamb bits rather than the cold mutton she calls for. At her suggestion, I decided to substitute mushrooms and oysters for the kidneys. I browned the lamb without cooking it through and cooked the mushrooms down so they would not release their liquid into the pudding while it was trying to rise. I shucked the oysters and drained the liquor (which I am saving in the freezer for the next time I make fish stock), and decided to put the oysters into the batter raw.
We liked the results a lot, and agreed it made a really tasty meal, especially with the addition of onion gravy, which was recommended by British friend. In the scheme of things, not so hard to make, either. This is yet another dish that I will add to my normal repertoire once this year is over.
II. A Most Bizarre Luncheon
As I’ve mentioned, for the most part I am making batches of food, like “pickle day” or am making one component per meal, and then plainer, more modern food to go with. I cannot completely tread upon the patience and tastebuds of my erstwhile guinea pigs. A couple of weekends ago, however, I decided to make a whole meal on a Saturday afternoon.
There was lots of boiling. First I boiled Spanish onions for an hour, followed by baking them in foil for almost another hour. You then peel, score, and smother them in gravy. I burned myself taking them out of the oven–boiling water dripped out of the foil on onto my foot, which now has a little brown mark on it, I think in part from the dark color the onion water turned from the skins.
In the meantime, I pounded a tenderloin and made it into a roulade filled with garlic bits and grease. As Beeton recommended, I basted it frequently while it cooked, with more delicious grease I had laying around. Then I boiled celery, to be covered in a cream sauce. It takes longer than I would have thought, even though it has all the cellulose and…what have you. I try not to think about celery. It’s goat food, I tell you.
Probably my favorite part, though, was the two kinds of applesauce I made. Applesauce is delicious with pork and poultry, isn’t it? It’s easy to make a quick one with a little water and sugar, but Beeton has one I really liked–the gravy and spice makes it a great mix of sweet, spicy, and savory, which as I have mentioned, is my crack.
Brown Apple Sauce [364.]
2 good-sized apples
1/3 cup brown gravy
cayenne to taste
Mode. — Put the gravy in a stewpan, and add the apples, after having pared, cored, and quartered them. Let them simmer gently till tender; beat them to a pulp, and season with cayenne.
III. Crab with Jane
Finally, here is something I liked a LOT. I am a crab person anyway, so this was an easy win. I knew I was going to be home alone with one my scullery maids, Jane, so I invited her to come upstairs and dine with me. I picked up a couple of iced crabs (I was not in the mood to go all Circle of Life and cook them in front of little Jane, who was eyeballing them dubiously as it was), cleaned them, and pulled all the meat out, saving the shell.
Jane enjoyed clicking their little claws and stealing nips of leftover meat as they fell on the counter. I taught her about exoskeletons as we worked. Educating the lower serving classes at every reasonable opportunity is one of the duties of the mistress of the house, after all. If Jane can get her tendency to blaspheme at every opportunity under control, she may someday make a fine lady’s maid.
Once I had extracted all the meat, I blended it with nutmeg, cayenne, melted butter, and salt and pepper. The reserved shell gets stuffed with the meat, and you cover the exposed meat with seasoned breadcrumbs, and it gets warmed and toasted in the oven.
About crab “fur”–you can see on the underside of the shell there are “hairs” that I decided to leave in place, though I cleaned all the “crab butter” and other liquid or grit out. Do people remove these or leave these on? I suppose it’s somewhat moot most of the time, since most crab I see is served in the shell or in a dish ready to eat, like in pasta.
Beeton suggests that one crab can be shared among three people, making it just another side dish that you can take morsels from during the fish course. I decided to focus on the crab, since it is a rare treat for us. Jane could not finish hers, so I turned it into crab salad for sandwiches the next day (Beeton would approve of this economy).
I think this would be a wonderful Christmas dish.
Hot Crab [245.]
1/8th teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoonfuls of vinegar
Mode.—After having boiled the crab, pick the meat out from the shells, and mix with it the nutmeg, vinegar, seasoning, and melted butter. Put the whole in the large shell, cover the visible crab meat with bread crumbs, and cook at 375 for 20 minutes.