Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History, Mrs Beeton

The Edwardian Craze for Paper Bag Cookery – Part 2

Gas cooking ranges, 1915. (Left) large double gas oven with hot plate, for a large kitchen, (right) gas oven with hot plate, for ordinary use. Edwardian cooks recommended cooking with gas as the best method for paper bag cooking.

Following on from my previous posting, on paper bag cookery, I have selected a few recipes from cookbooks by Vera Countess Serkoff (1911); Emma Paddock Telford (1912) and Mrs Beeton (1915).  Since Christmas is nearly upon us, I thought I would choose recipes with a festive theme.  The more adventurous cooks among you may wish to experiment with some of these recipes and have a go yourself.  Edwardian cooks would have purchased purpose-made paper bags and special clips, although not entirely flame retardant, were reasonably robust for the job in hand.

The contemporary cook could use baking parchment as a substitute and care with temperature settings on your oven should be taken, underestimate and keep a close eye on it during the cooking process in case the bag burns or bursts. I suggest double-lining your parchment parcels. To secure the parcel’s openings first fold the parchment paper over and then seal the edges tight with a generous amount of cooking foil.  If you are cooking a recipe that is likely to produce a lot of juice, place the parcel on a deep baking dish or roasting tin.  I find my own oven, which is fan-assisted, can be quite fierce, many a cupcake and biscuit has turned to charcoal after just a few minutes cooking! I now move the oven shelf into one of the lower groove settings for certain types of baking and I would adopt this approach when experimenting with paper bag cooking as well. Paper bag cookery is sometimes now called cooking En papillote.

I also discovered some additional and really interesting quotes in Vera Countess Serkoff’s Paper-Bag Cookery book which I would like to share with you here.  Her musings do give us an interesting insight into living and cooking conditions in the UK, for the less well-off, at the turn of the last century.  Her suggestion to erect the gas stove in your bathroom when cooking your evening meal is quite an alarming piece of advice though!

‘Those who live in small houses or flats know the misery of having each meal heralded by a violent smell of cooking, which invades every room, and robs the average person of all appetite; the tenant of those uncomfortable dwelling-places known as ‘Maisonettes’ knows only too well what it is to inhale the fragrance of the downstairs burned onion or frying bloater; while the occupants of the lower maisonette suffer from audible and pungent remarks upon the odours from their kitchen, remarks which frequently lead to friction. Now, paper-bag cookery does not smell.’ (p. 68)

Doing without a Kitchen

‘With the aid of paper-bag cookery, the up-to-date householder may eliminate the kitchen altogether, thus gaining another room.  The small flat at a moderate rent usually consists of one sitting-room, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. It is equally unpleasant to sit in the room in which one has just dined, or to take meals in the room where they have just been cooked.  With a little contrivance and ingenuity, the kitchen may be transformed into a neat little dining-room, a gas stove erected in any convenient rececessor in the bathroom and with paper-bag cookery, nothing more elaborate will be needed.’  (p. 69)

Bedroom Cookery

‘For the business woman, living in one room, ordinary cooking is out of the question, yet most landladies refuse to cook for their lodgers, except at a high charge, and restaurant living is expensive.  Ordinary cooking, too, means more or less heat and odours, incompatible with keeping the one room fresh and neat.  In this case, too, paper-bag cookery solves the difficulty.’ (p. 69)

 ‘Wild West’ Cookery

‘Paper-bag cookery has been seized upon with thankfulness by a girl who went out to keep house for a brother in the ‘Wild West’, and found the toil of cooking with rough and old-fashioned utensils beyond her capacity. So incessant were her labours, so unsatisfactory the results, that she hailed with joy and gratitude a newspaper article and some bags sent her by a compassionate relative, and now writes triumphantly that all her cookery troubles are over.’ (pp. 69-70)

Recipes for Paper Bag Cooking


  • A White Plum Pudding and Fruit Sauce;
  • Mince Pie;
  • Walnut Macaroons;
  • Date Pudding;
  • Cinnamon Apples;
  • Cranberry Pie;
  • Colonial Pumpkin Tartlet;


  • Cheese Straws;
  • Lentil Cutlets;
  • Cod Steak and Bacon;
  • Stew;
  • Yorkshire Pudding;
  • Veal Steak With Mushrooms;
  • Kidney Potatoes.

A White Plum Pudding (Telford)

Beat to a cream a half cup of sugar and three-quarters cup of butter.  Add four eggs well beaten, a salt spoonful of salt, two cups milk, a quart of flour mixed with one-half cup shredded citron, one-half cup currants, a teaspoonful grated nutmeg and a teaspoonful vanilla.  Just before turning into the mould stir in two even tablespoonfuls pure baking powder.  Put in bag, surround with water, steam two hours and serve with any good sauce.

Delicious Fruit Sauce for Plum Pudding (Telford)

Boil together one cupful of water and two of sugar for ten minutes.  Thicken slightly with three level teaspoonfuls arrow-root or two teaspoonfuls corn starch mixed with a little cold water, simmer five minutes, then add a half cupful candied cherries, cut in halves and a few pistachio nuts quartered.  Flavour with nutmeg or vanilla as preferred.

Mince Pie (Telford)

A simple rule for making mince meat by measure, calls for a pint bowl of well cooked beef chopped to the finest mince and measured after chopping, two bowls  of tart apples chopped into coarse bits and a half bowl of chopped suet.  Add to this a pound of seeded raisins, also chopped, a pound of currants, a quarter of a pound of citron cut in thin slices, a tablespoonful each of powdered cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  Use enough sweet cider to make moist, then add a bowl of sugar and an even teaspoonful salt.  Scald well and put away in a stone jar. When you make the pies add a few whole raisins, chopped nut meats or any jelly you have on hand.  When mince-pie is to be reheated for dinner and served hot, grated cheese may be sprinkled over the top just before setting it in the oven to heat.

Walnut Macaroons (Telford)

One and one-half cupfuls of sugar, one-third cup of butter, three eggs, three cups of flour, one teaspoonful of soda, dissolved in water, one teaspoonful of cloves, one teaspoonful of cinnamon, one cup of English walnut meats, one cup of chopped dates.  Do not roll the mixture as in ordinary cookies, but drop into a greased bag with a spoon. Seal and bake slowly for thirty minutes.

Date Pudding (Serkoff)

Mix six ounces of bread-crumbs, four of self-raising flour, three of grated suet, half a pound of dates, stoned and chopped, but no sugar.  Moisten with a beaten egg, and, if necessary, a little milk, but do not make the mixture liquid.  Put into a greased bag and cook for an hour.

Cinnamon Apples (Telford)

Peel, core and quarter six good cooking apples, preferably greenings.  Melt a tablespoonful of butter in a warm bowl and stir the apples in it until coated with the butter.  Mix a teaspoonful of ground cinnamon with a half cup of granulated sugar, and stir into the apples.  Have a paper bag thoroughly buttered and put the apples in it.  Rinse out the bowl with a cup of hot water, add it to the apples, seal carefully, place on a broiler which rests on a pie plate and bake in a hot oven fifteen minutes.  Half a pint of whipped cream over the apples when served is an addition, but they are delicious, cooked in this way, without it.

Cranberry Pie (Telford)

Line a rather deep pie plate with a plain crust.  Put on a border of richer paste, fill with cranberries cooked according to directions for stewed cranberries, and put strips of crusts over the top, making squares or diamonds as preferred.  Put in bag and bake.

Colonial Pumpkin Tartlet (Telford)

To one quart of cooked and sifted pumpkin add one tablespoonful each of butter and flour, six well beaten eggs, a cupful of sugar, a quarter teaspoonful each of mace and nutmeg, four teaspoonfuls of ginger and one gill of milk.  Bake in patty-pans lined with rich flaky crust, set in paper bag. Remove from pans before serving. A touch of novelty is given by topping each tartlet with a generous portion of maple syrup or strained honey.


Cheese Straws (Serkoff)

Mix together four ounces of butter, four ounces of self-raising flour, four ounces of grated cheese, a little cayenne, a pinch of salt, and a well-beaten egg.  Roll out, cut into thin strips and into one or two rings.  Put inside a buttered bag, cook fifteen minutes, and serve with several straws inside each ring.

Lentil Cutlets (Serkoff)

Either Egyptian or German lentils are excellent in a paper bag.  Wash them well, soak all night in abundance of fresh, cold water.  Next day put them in a well-greased bag with the water in which they have been soaking, a carrot, a turnip, a parsnip, and onion, chopped up roughly.  Add neither salt nor pepper.  Cook two hours, and they will then be tender enough to press through a colander.  Season the resulting purée with salt and pepper, re-heat, and serve as a vegetable.  Or add enough boiling stock to make a thick cream, stir in carefully well beaten egg and serve as soup.

To make the cutlets, cook the lentils in the recipe already given.  When they have been pressed through a colander, add enough bread-crumbs and mashed potato to make a stiff paste, season rather highly with salt, pepper, a little lemon juice, and a tablespoonful of onion juice.  Mix thoroughly, form into neat cutlets, place in a thickly buttered bag, and cook fifteen minutes.

Cod Steak and Bacon (Beeton)

A Slice of cod (½ to ¾ of a pound), ½ a cupful of breadcrumbs, a teaspoonful of chopped parsley, 1 egg and 2 slices of bacon.  Wash and wipe the fish.  Mix the breadcrumbs, the parsley, and the egg (well beaten) together, and add a pinch of dried savour herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spread the mixture over the cod, cover with the bacon and then place carefully in a well-greased paper bag, which should be folded over and fastened with clips.  Bake in a hot oven for twenty minutes.

Stew (Beeton)

1lb of lean beef (rump steak or top side), 2 tablespoonfuls of flour, a teaspoonful of salt and a quarter of a teaspoonful of pepper, savoury balls.  Cut the meat into thin slices, and after mixing the flour, salt and pepper together, dip each piece of meat into it and shake well, then place inside a well-greased paper bag, fasten and cook in a hot oven on a grid for about three-quarters of an hour.  Then turn the contents into a deep dish, surround with savoury balls, and serve.

Yorkshire Pudding (Beeton)

½ a lb of flour, 2 eggs, a pint of milk, 1 oz of dripping, salt.  Sift the flour into a basin.  Beat-up the eggs with the mile, and stir the mixture gradually into the flour.  Then beat for about ten minutes.  Add a pinch of salt, and pour into a Yorkshire pudding tin, containing one ounce of melted dripping.  Slip the tin into a buttered paper bag, fasten with clips, and bake in a hot oven for about twenty-five minutes.

Veal Steak With Mushrooms (Beeton)

A thick fillet of steak cut from the leg part of veal, a thin cut slice of gammon, some cup mushrooms, a lemon, salt and pepper.  Flatten the steak with a bat, and brush over both sides with the cut side of a lemon, season with salt and pepper. Put the slice of gammon on top, place in a well-buttered paper-bag, fasten and place in a very hot oven on a grid, shelf, or trivet, and cook quickly for five or six minutes, and then slowly, allowing altogether from 12 to 15 minutes according to the thickness of the steak.  To serve slit open the bag and carefully take out the steak, place it on a hot dish, together with the slice of gammon, range some broiled cup mushrooms neatly round the dish, and send to table hot.  This dish is particularly nice if served with kidney potatoes.

Kidney Potatoes (Beeton)

About 1lb of small kidney potatoes, salt, a little chopped parsley, and a tiny piece of fresh butter.  Wash and peel the potatoes thinly, plunge them into slightly salted boiling water for a few minutes, and then drain on a dry cloth.  Place the potatoes into a thickly greased paper bag, and bake them on a grid or trivet in a brisk oven for about eighteen minutes.  When the potatoes are done, open the bag, add a good pinch of fine salt, a little chopped parsley and a tiny piece of fresh butter.  Shake the contents well, then dish up, and serve.

Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History, Mrs Beeton

The Edwardian Craze for Paper Bag Cookery – Part 1

Advert for a gas cooker from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915. Cooking with gas was recommended by Edwardian cooks as the best method for success with paper-bag cookery.

‘Paper bag cookery is now accepted by very many housewives as the most economical, efficient, and the simplest method of preparing our food for the table. In the first place, the food loses nothing in the cooking; in the second place, there is no smell;  and in the third place, there are no greasy pots and pans to wash up.’

Woman’s Weekly, 4th November, 1911

Paper bag cookery was popular with frugally minded Edwardian cooks from both sides of the Atlantic.  Woman’s Weekly promoted its use and Mrs Beeton even included a section on it in her Book of Household Management.  Mrs B was cautious about the method and somewhat sceptical that it was simply a passing fad:

‘Paper-bag cookery owes much of the prominence to which it has attained in consequence of its having been boomed in the Press, and because it was regarded as something new…Housewives, however, will do well to proceed cautiously at first and by way of experiment…Enthusiasts have declared that the system may be adapted to every description of food and food preparation, but these assertions are of too sweeping a character.  For vegetables, on the other hand, it may be doubted whether the paper-bag plan is suitable.’ (p.1516, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1915 edition)

In 1911, Vera Countess Serkoff’s Paper-Bag Cookery and Nicolas Soyer’s, Soyer’s Paper Bag Cookery were published.  In 1912, Emma Paddock Telford, who was the Household Editor of The Delineator, New Ideas and The Designer, wrote Standard Paper-Bag Cookery, adapted to the needs of American housewives and published by Applewood Books. Serkoff’s book, aimed at the household of the servantless cook, was very enthusiast about the advantages of paper-bag cookery:

‘A very great advantage both to mistress and maid is the cleanliness of the process.  It is undoubtedly an advantage when doing without a servant to have no pots and pans to soil one’s fingers, or to roughen one’s hands with the necessary strong soda water for cleansing kitchen utensils.’ (p. 6, Paper-Bag Cookery, 1911)

‘Paper-bag cookery is not a mere craze of the moment; for once its advantages have been discovered, it will become firmly rooted as one of the best and most economical means of preparing food ever invented.  Why it should have fallen into abeyance among civilised nations (except in the cooking of one or two special dishes) for so many centuries is impossible to surmise.’ (p.10, Paper-Bag Cookery, 1911)

Emma Telford’s, Standard Paper-Bag Cookery, aimed her book at a wider target audience: ‘…..for the small family, for the woman who does her own work and wishes to minimize labour, or for the epicurean but frugal housewife who looks personally after the details of her own little establishment.’

It was recommended by all the above authors that paper-bag cookery was best undertaken using a gas oven. In today’s risk averse society the combination of a naked flamed and paper seem pretty obvious.  If you want to read more about the history of gas usage in the UK home, then I suggest visiting The Gas Museum’s  fascinating website.  Click Here. 

The Edwardian cook would need to purchase specially created bags, available from department stores, grocers and butchers.  The bags came in a range of sizes, in bundles of thirty, together with sealing clips and a small book of recipes and full instructions.  American authors suggested that to get the best results from using this method, particularly when cooking meat, the food should be placed in a disposable wooden cookery dish which is then put into the bag.  This would ensure that if the bag burst, the juices would not be lost or create a mess in the oven.  The Oval Wood Dish Company, based in Delta, Ohio was one of the manufacturers of this type of cooking vessel.

In my second posting I will be bringing you a range of recipes from some of the above authors.  Paper-bag cookery is still popular today, sometimes called cooking En papillote.  Baking parchment and parchment bags are now used.  Fish cooks beautifully using this method and a theatrical moment is created when the parcel is unwrapped at the dinner table. There are a lot of contemporary paper-bag/En papillote recipes available on-line, but I would recommend the BBC‘s as your first port of call.  Click here.