The marvellous Mrs Beeton never ceases to surprise and delight me. Dipping into her Book of Household Management provides the social historian with an invaluable insight into domestic life of the middle classes during the Victorian and Edwardian era. Much of her advice and many of the recipes are just as relevant to the modern-day cook as they were to the Victorian and Edwardian housewife.
Mrs B’s chapters on cooking styles and recipes from around the world really is an exciting and inspirational read. Not just content to include recipes from Europe, which in itself was quite a cosmopolitan gesture at that time, she features a chapter on Jewish cookery, with a lovely selection of Passover dishes to recreate and background detail on the Jewish culture. There are also recipes from far-flung corners of the Empire including: Australia; Canada; America; South Africa and India.
According to Mrs B, the first cookery book in a modern language was published in Madrid in 1521. She also informs us that during the reign of Henry III, the Cordon bleu, the order of knighthood of the Saint Espirit, became the recognized definition of a skilful female cook. On the subject of poultry feeding in France, Mrs B is uncomfortable with this method but nonetheless shows respect to its practice by another food culture. ‘Poultry feeding is quite an art in France, and every French cook knows how to cram a fowl, duck, or goose. To watch them, they would appear to go at the process with a will. Seizing the unfortunate bird three or four times a day, they open its bill and stuff a quantity of warm meal and potato down its throat, caressing it and talking to it the while, and when they consider it has had food enough, wind up by giving it a very small walnut by way of a digestive.’ (p.1527, 1915 edition).
Here are a small selection of the fascinating recipes that Mrs B features:
Brown Onion Soup (Potage Soubise Brune)
Ingredients - 4 medium-sized onions cut into dice, 2 ozs of butter or 1 1/2 ozs of good dripping, a few scraps of stale bread cut into small pieces, a few rinds of bacon, the water in which a cauliflower has been cooked.
Method – Melt the butter in a stewpan, put in the onions, cover closely, and let them cook very slowly for 1 hour. Meanwhile, boil the cauliflower in slightly salted water, drain it, and pour the water over the onions when they are sufficiently cooked. Add the bacon rinds, bread and a little pepper, cover and cook gently for 1 hour, then press the whole through a fine sieve. Replace the soup in the stewpan; if too thin, let it boil rapidly until sufficiently reduced; or if too thick, add a little milk. Re-heat, season to taste, and serve. Takes 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours to cook and is sufficient for 4 or 5 persons.
Ingredients - 8 ozs of butter, 6 ozs of castor sugar, 4 ozs of fine flour, 4 ozs of vanilla chocolate, finely grated, 8 eggs, the finely grated rind of 1/2 a lemon, 1/2 a gill of whipped cream, apricot marmalade.
Method - Beat the butter to a cream, stir in the yolks of eggs separately, add the sugar, grated chocolate, lemon-rind and lastly the flour, and beat briskly for at least 20 minutes. Whisk the whites of eggs to a very stiff froth, stir them into the rest of the ingredients as lightly as possible, pour the mixture into round shallow tins, and bake in a moderate oven from 40 to 45 minutes. When quite cold spread the surface rather thickly with apricot jam, and decorate tastefully with whipped cream. Takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours to make and is sufficient for 2 or 3 tarts.
Ingredients – 2 lbs of lean veal, eggs for frying, 1 or 2 lemons, clarified butter, fillets of anchovies, gherkins, capers, egg and breadcrumbs, brown sauce, pepper and salt.
Method – Cut the meat across the grain into thin slices, beat with a cutlet bat, trim them neatly, and season them with salt and pepper. Coat the slices carefully with egg and breadcrumbs, and fry in hot clarified butter until lightly browned on both sides. Fry the eggs in clarified butter, or, if liked, good salad-oil, then drain them well, and trim them neatly. Heat the sauce, season to taste, and add a little lemon-juice. Dish the meat either in a circle or lengthwise on a potato border, place the eggs on the meat, and on each egg arrange 2 or 3 small fillets of anchovies. Garnish the dish with slices of lemon, fancifully cut gherkin, and capers. Serve a little sauce on the dish, and the remainder in a sauce-boat. Takes 3/4 of an hour to make and sufficient for 6 or 7 persons.
‘The Collazione, the midday meal of the upper classes, is almost identical with the English luncheon or the French déjeuner à la fourchette, while the simple meal of the poorer Italians frequently consists of nothing more substantial than chocolate or fruit and bread.’ (p. 1551, 1915 edition)
Polenta Alla Bologna
Ingredients – 3 or 4 sausages, 1 lb of Indian corn meal, 1 pint of boiling water, 1/4 of a pint of tomato purée, grated Parmesan cheese, butter, salt and pepper, breadcrumbs.
Methods – Stir the polenta gradually into the boiling water, add salt to taste stir until smooth, and let it be cool. Put the sausages into boiling water, cook them for 10 minutes, and when cool, remove the skins and cut them into slices. Place a layer of polenta at the bottom of a fireproof baking-dish, cover with a layer of sausages, add a little tomato purée, a good sprinkling of cheese, and a seasoning of salt and pepper. Repeat until the dish is full, cover lightly with breadcrumbs, add a few bits of butter, bake in a moderate oven for about 1/2 an hour, and serve hot. Takes 50 to 60 minutes to make and serves 3 or 4 persons.
‘Housekeeping in Spain is primitive and cooking a very simple affair. Every family buys just enough potatoes or beans each day for one dinner, cooks and eats them all, and the next day does the same thing over again. The kitchens are almost bare of utensils with which to cook. Even rolling pins and bread boards are unknown, for both bread and pastry are obtained from the bakery. The bread, by the way, is close-grained, it’s almost solid condition being due to the excessive kneading it receives.’ (p. 1568, 1915 edition)
Estafado (Stewed Chicken)
Ingredients – The remains of cooked chicken cut into dice (about 2 heaped tablespoonfuls), 2 large potatoes cut into dice, 1 slice of toasted bread cut into dice, 1 tablespoonful of raisins, 2 tomatoes, 2 green pepper finely shredded, 1/4 of a pint of wine or vinegar, 1 oz of lard, salt.
Method – Halve the tomatoes, squeeze out all the juice and cut them into dice. Place the chicken, potatoes, toast, raisins, tomatoes and green pepper in a stew-jar, add a good seasoning of salt, the wine or vinegar, and as much water as is needed to barely cover the whole. Place the lard on the top in small pieces, cover closely, and stew gently for about 1 1/2 hours. Serve hot. Takes 1 1/2 hours to cook and sufficient for 2 persons.
‘..there are many interesting dishes peculiar to special feasts and fast days, but in all the directions given for these, it will be noticed that cleanliness and health are regarded as the essential.’ (p. 1572, 1915 edition)
Ingredients – 1 quart of best stock, 1 egg, flour, salt.
Method – Add a little salt to the egg, and stir in as much flour as possible. Knead well, roll out as thin as a wafer, and divide it into three strips. Put these aside until thoroughly dry, then place the strips one above the other, and shred finely. Then put them into the stock when boiling, simmer from 20-25 minutes, remove the scum, and serve. Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
Fricassee of Kangaroo Tail
Ingredients - 1 tail, 2 ozs of butter, 1 oz of flour, 1 onion sliced, 1 carrot sliced, 1/2 a small turnip sliced, 2 or 3 springs of parsley, 1 bay leaf, 2 cloves, 1 blade of mace, 1 dessertspoonful of lemon-juice, salt and pepper, stock or water.
Method - Divide the tail at each joint, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then drain and dry well. Fry the joints lightly in hot butter, then take them up and stir in the flour. Fry until well browned, add the stock and stir until it boils, then put back the tail, and add the vegetables, herbs and spices. Season to taste, cover closely, and simmer gently until tender. Arrange the pieces of tail neatly on a hot dish, strain the sauce over, and serve. Takes 3 hours to make.
Peach and Pineapple Marmalade
Ingredients – 7 lbs of peaches, 1 large ripe pineapple, 3 lemons, 6 lbs of sugar.
Method - Pare and slice the pineapple, peel and stone the peaches, crack half the stones and remove the kernels. Put the peaches and pineapples into a preserving-pan with just a little water to protect the bottom layer, heat slowly to simmering boil, and afterwards cook gently for about 1/2 an hour. Add the sugar gradually, so as not to reduce the temperature below simmering point, the strained juice of the lemons and the kernels, and boil gently for 20 minutes, skimming when necessary. Pour into earthenware or glass jars, cover closely, and store in a cool dry place.
SOUTH AFRICAN COOKERY
‘Many South African colonists consider the iguana a very welcome addition to the bill of fare, and say that the flesh of this reptile is anything but unpalatable.’ (p.1588, 1915 edition)
Ingredients – 2 lbs of meat finely chopped, 1 thick slice of bread, 2 medium-sized onions sliced, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoonfuls of curry powder, 1 dessertspoonful of sugar, 1 tablespoonful of lemon juice or two tablespoonfuls of vinegar, 1 oz of butter or fat, 1/2 a pint of milk, 8 almonds finely chopped, salt.
Method - Soak the bread in the milk, drain away all that remains unabsorbed, and beat out the lumps with a fork. Fry the onion in the butter or fat, add the curry powder, 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, the sugar, almonds, lemon juice, meat, bread and 1 egg. Mix well and turn the whole into a buttered pie-dish or into little cups. Beat the remaining egg, add the milk strained off the bread (not less than a good 1/4 of a pint), add a little salt and pepper, and pour over the mixture. Bake gently until the custard is set. When possible, juice obtained by soaking tamarinds in water should replace the lemon juice. Sufficient for 6 or 8 persons.
‘Housekeeping in India is totally different from housekeeping here. The mistress cannot undertake the personal supervision of her kitchen, which is not in the house or bungalow, but outside, and often some distance away…As regards culinary apparatus, the native cook’s requirements are extremely simple. With the aid of a fireplace made of clay, a few earthen dishes, and other utensils of a primitive description, he will produce excellent results.’ (pp. 1599 & 1602, 1915 edition)
Quoorma Curry (We know it as Korma today!)
Ingredients - 1 lb of lean mutton, 2 ozs of butter, 3 ozs of shallots or onions finely chopped, 1 clove of garlic very finely chopped, 1 dessertspoonful of finely grated green ginger, 1 dessertspoonful of rice flour, 1 teaspoonful of ground coriander seed, 1 teaspoonful of ground cardamoms, 1/2 a teaspoonful of ground cloves, 1 teaspoonful of ground turmeric, 1 saltspoonful of sugar, 1 pint of mutton stock, 1/2 a pint of milk, 2ozs of ground almonds, the juice of 1 lemon, salt.
Method - Cut the meat into 1/2 inch squares, sprinkle over them the ginger and a good seasoning of salt, and let them remain for 1 hour. Melt the butter in a stewpan, fry the shallots and garlic until lightly browned, then add the rice flour, coriander, pepper, cardamoms and cloves, and cook gently for 10 minutes. Add the stock, boil up and simmer gently for 15 minutes, then pour over the meat, and let it stand covered for 1/2 an hour. When ready, turn the whole into a stewpan, boil up, and cook as slowly as possible for 1/2 an hour, or until the meat is quite tender. Meanwhile soak the pounded almonds in the milk, and when the meat is tender, strain the milk 2 or 3 times through fine muslin, pressing the almonds well each time, then add it to the contents of the stewpan. Mix the turmeric smoothly with a little stock or water, stir it in, add the sugar and salt to taste, and continue to cook as slowly as possible for 20 minutes longer. Add the lemon-juice just before serving. Takes 2 hours and serves 4 persons.
AMERICAN and CANADIAN COOKERY
Oysters Cooked in a Chafing Dish
Ingredients - 1 pint of oysters, 2 tablespoonfuls of butter, a small teaspoonful of salt, a few grains of cayenne, slices of buttered toast.
Method - Melt the butter in the chafing dish, put in the oysters, and sprinkle in the seasoning. Stir repeatedly and cook gently until the oysters begin to curl at the edges, then serve at once on the prepared toast. Variety may be introduced by adding either 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of thick cream just before serving, or 3 yolks of eggs beaten with the juice of 1 lemon. Takes 10 minutes to make, sufficient for 3 or 4 persons and is seasonable from September to April.
Rye Pop Overs
Ingredients - 1 1/2 cups of rye flour, 1 cupful of white flour, 1 tablespoonful of sugar, 1 teaspoonful of salt, 2 eggs, 1 pint of milk.
Method – Mix the dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs, add to them the milk, and gradually mix with the flour. When sufficiently moist to offer little resistance to the spoon beat well. Stir in the remainder of the milk and egg, turn into well-buttered cups or pop-over tins, and bake in a fairly hot oven. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes.
Ingredients - 1 lb of flour, 3/4 of lb of castor sugar, 1/2 lb of butter, 6 eggs, 1 gill of cream, the finely grated rind of 1/2 a lemon, 1/2 a teaspoonful of saleratus, fruit jelly or apricot marmalade.
Method- Beat the butter and sugar together until white and creamy, then add the lemon-rind and the eggs 2 at a time, beating well between each addition. Mix the saleratus with the cream, stir into the mixture, and add the flour as lightly as possible. Turn into 4 round shallow baking-tins, and bake in a moderate oven. Allow the cakes to get cold, then split them and put a thick layer of fruit jelly, or apricot marmalade, which has been stiffened by a little gelatine, between the cakes. Cut into sections, and serve as a cold sweet. Takes 20 minutes to bake and makes 4 cakes.