Friday, January 22, 2010

An omelet fit for a bachelor

The illness is over although I didn't have to bleed anything or apply turpentine to my face or break out the leeches. And it may be in part to the improving weather. It seems the mild English winter finally decided to show up, creating a still wet yet warmer environment in which I can walk with jacketed abandon.

I decided that I had been neglecting Beeton's recipes, and resolved to make a delicious breakfast dish. But the book is pretty light on breakfast items, so I was wondering about baking a trout souffle until I saw the omelet recipes. Nestled in the dessert section. In fact, most of the omelets contained a fair amount of sugar and jam. I am an American and I eat my omelets savoury! Finally I settled on a recipe called the Bachelor's Omelet. I assume it is for bachelors because it doesn't require the standard six eggs that the other ones do; it also has a lot of milk as a filler so I suppose it is cheaper to make.

Here is the recipe:

1462. INGREDIENTS - 2 or 3 eggs, 2 oz. of butter, 1 teaspoonful of flour, 1/2 teacupful of milk.

Mode.—Make a thin cream of the flour and milk; then beat up the eggs, mix all together, and add a pinch of salt and a few grains of cayenne. Melt the butter in a small frying-pan, and, when very hot, pour in the batter. Let the pan remain for a few minutes over a clear fire; then sprinkle upon the omelet some chopped herbs and a few shreds of onion; double the omelet dexterously, and shake it out of the pan on to a hot dish. A simple sweet omelet can be made by the same process, substituting sugar or preserve for the chopped herbs.

Time.—2 minutes.

Average cost, 6d.

Sufficient for 2 persons.

I like how it's a bachelor's omelet but she says it's sufficient for two persons. I picture some consummately single young man reading these instructions and shedding a tear. "I wish I had another persons to share this with."

I have never before made cream in my life. I mixed the milk and flour and stirred for ages; when I tasted the result, it was...floury milk. Hmm. Maybe it would work out in the cooking process.

Only eggs from foraging hens are acceptable.

When I added the eggs and 'beat them up,' it ended up looking like this:

You may notice the yellow swirls. This is butter. You see, I misinterpreted the directions and when it said "pour in the batter," I poured the butter in the batter rather than the batter in the pan. I just assumed it was part of Mrs. Beeton's crazy Victorian butter fetish. Instead, I got something that looked and smelled like it belonged on my popcorn at the movie theatre.

Caution, the following pictures are graphic:

Attractive, isn't it? I guess an omelet full of butter and fake cream doesn't flip too well. It looked like something that I cleaned out of the bottom of the sink. With the addition of those onions and some Tabasco sauce, it ended up being edible though still too sweet for my liking.

I would say Mrs. Beeton won this round, but I effectively smothered her in habanero sauce, so we can consider it a draw.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Paging Dr. Beeton

So apparently the answer to the question of "what now?" is "get sick." Or rather, stay sick. Never fully recovering from my flu bout over Christmas, I am sore-throated and stuffed up. Which freezing temperatures and lack of any physical activity don't seem to help. Luckily, Mrs. Beeton has an entire health section in her book, which may be of some limited help.

All I know is this cold is seriously putting a cramp in my housewifing style (who wants to brew with butter sauce or rend a fish into paste when they're ill?) Let's see what the Victorian doctor ordered.

To oppose cholera, there seems no surer or better means than cleanliness, sobriety, and judicious ventilation. Where there is dirt, that is the place for cholera; where windows and doors are kept most jealously shut, there cholera will find easiest entrance; and people who indulge in intemperate diet during the hot days of autumn are actually courting death.

Ok, so I don't have cholera. Which is actually caused by infected food and water. But sound advice indeed. I have been sober, partially clean, and without much ventilation. But I don't exactly want to fling open a window in January. So how else may I heal myself?

TO CURE A COLD.—Put a large teacupful of linseed, with 1/4 lb. of sun raisins and 2 oz. of stick liquorice, into 2 quarts of soft water, and let it simmer over a slow fire till reduced to one quart; add to it 1/4 lb. of pounded sugar-candy, a tablespoonful of old rum, and a tablespoonful of the best white-wine vinegar, or lemon-juice. The dose is half a pint, made warm, on going to bed; and a little may be taken whenever the cough is troublesome. The worst cold is generally cured by this remedy in two or three days; and, if taken in time, is considered infallible.

1. Aren't most coughs gone in two or three days? 2. More rum please.
Not wanting to drink melted candy, vinegar and raisins, as appetizing as that sounds, I could go for another proven (?) Beeton cure:

COLD ON THE CHEST.—A flannel dipped in boiling water, and sprinkled with turpentine, laid on the chest as quickly as possible, will relieve the most severe cold or hoarseness.

So I'm supposed to make my best flannel shirt and myself flammable? Maybe I would be better off just opening a window. Or claiming "hysteria."
"Yep, here's the seem to have a vagina where your penis should be."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Christmas is what?

After experiencing everything England had to offer this Christmas (including mince pies, crackers, flaming puds, and a mild strain of flu), I am left in this flat wondering what now?

It has snowed about five inches, which is a very exciting topic for a lot of people and sparks numerous news reports, school closures and travel delays, and entire conversations. Apparently I happen to be in England during the Winter Of Our Discontent. Epic weather that they make TV movies out of.

Really the effect it has had is: it is too cold for me to give a damn about going outside, I am wearing my wellies more often, I want soup. Lots of canned soup. I have been scanning Beeton for some good winter recipes and will probably give a try soon. As for now, a can of clam chowder is good enough for me.

So Mrs. Beeton, what must one do when feeling stalemated by the cold and snow? Here is her domestic advice for last month:

In December, the principal household duty lies in preparing for the creature comforts of those near and dear to us, so as to meet old Christmas with a happy face, a contented mind, and a full larder; and in stoning the plums, washing the currants, cutting the citron, beating the eggs, and MIXING THE PUDDING, a housewife is not unworthily greeting the genial season of all good things.

Hmm. Ok. First of all, I didn't do any of that in December. Secondly, I don't know why MIXING THE PUDDING is in all caps, but I will guess that it is extremely important and to hammer this home, Mrs. Beeton is shouting at us.

But the important thing is: what now?

Beeton makes no mention of winter activities, except that servants will be making a lot of fires. And I should probably be enjoying all of the preserves and pickles I prepared this summer.

I guess it's time to get to cookin'. I don't have any preserves or pickles anyway.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Leadenhall: More MEAT Plz

As it is related to things Beeton, I will share some photos of the Leadenhall Market in London, the covered Victorian market that Mr. Redux and I escaped into while being pelted with wind and rain.
While walking through the market, I noticed long rows of very scary hooks lining the walls. I asked the husband, who, being British, is an automatic Expert On All Things British, what the hooks were for.

"I don't know...probably for hanging up wares, like vegetables."

Now, I may not be an Expert, but I doubted that brussel sprouts needed such a formidable claw to be displayed. So I found an image of Leadenhall in its glory years, and lo and behold:
The original meat market, surprisingly not located in Picadilly Circus.

Luckily, the hooks are now only ominous reminders of the hundreds of beasties hung out in the element, which presumably is a perfectly safe and incredibly attractive way of displaying meat products. The Victorians thought so, which is why they spoke so highly of Leadenhall:

Leadenhall Market is the greatest market in London for the sale of country-killed meat, particularly beef, and was till lately the only skin and leather market in the metropolis.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

Butchered beef and its skin: surely one of the finest sights London had to offer in 1844. But it wasn't all a delightful, bloody diversion.

It would scarcely be credited that, in splendid London, women are subjected to various kinds of severe and repulsive toil .... For example, the porterage of meat at the wholesale markets, as Newgate and Leadenhall, is performed by women, many of them old. You will see these wretched creatures stagger under the weight of a side of beef, or having an entire sheep upon their heads, conveying their burdens to the butchers carts, drawn up in the vicinity of the market ...

The World of London, by John Murray, in Blackwoods Magazine, July 1841

You may think John Murray is bemoaning the plight of poor Black Beauty and other sad workhorses, but he's talking about the most maligned pack animal of all: women! All I know is that if I could lift a whole sheep on my head, I would feel pretty damned proud of myself.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Economy of the Kitchen, or What's a Meat Screen?

Another night of late-night (7:30 pm) grocery shopping, and I am still amazed at how inexpensive food is in England.

Not sure what to attribute it to. Without the 24-hour Wal-mart culture, perhaps actual closing times make the shelf life of fresh food more measurable. Which is why we can buy bags of day-old rolls for 9 p. NINE PENCE! I can't think of the last time I bought anything in America for less than a quarter.

But you can buy day-old bakery items at Wal-mart. What you can't buy is close-to-expiration meat, vegetables and fruits at lowered prices. So why here? I think it's the fact that Americans are keyed to buy EVERYTHING NOW and store it up like the cold war is back in fashion, grocery shopping maybe once a week but more likely once every two or even three weeks. But here, where a lot of people don't have cars and shopping carts (or trolleys) are roughly a third of the size of those in America, grocery shopping can be a several times a week thing. Which doesn't make it odd to buy a trout that will expire tomorrow, if you are eating it tomorrow.

Another factor is the lack of taxation on food products. Which is pretty commendable considering people need food to, well, survive.

Today I was flipping through the section in Beeton entitled, "Economy of the Kitchen." I found this listing of items that Mrs. Beeton considered important for the running of a kitchen. Let's see if it's aged well over time:

1 Tea-kettle
Well, yes. This seems to be a necessity over here. Give me a crust of bread, water, shelter, a tea kettle.
1 Toasting-fork
Gone with the invention of the toaster, I'm afraid.
1 Bread-grater
Hmm. Had to look this one up. Apparently they still sell these to restaurants. To make bread crumbs, from what I gather. Bread was a lot harder and courser in those days.
1 Pair of Brass Candlesticks
Class. I think I have a jar candle somewhere.
1 Teapot and Tray
Ooh-la-la. Suppose I can still get this at Pier One, so not so odd.
1 Bottle-jack
Ok, I'll get it out of the way: One bottle of Jack! Essential.
6 Spoons
Well, yeah.
2 Candlesticks
To go in the candle-holders, presumably.
1 Candle-box
Not sure. When I search for this all I get is that grunge band.
6 Knives and Forks
Also a given.
2 Sets of Skewers
Still use 'em today.
1 Meat-chopper
You mean a knife?
1 Cinder-sifter
I think electric and gas stoves snuffed this one out.
1 Coffee-pot
Natch. Everyone has a coffee maker.
1 Colander
I have two.
3 Block-tin Saucepans
5 Iron Saucepans
Woah. What is this? Did someone not look at the wedding registry? Attack of the saucepans!
1 Ditto and Steamer
Not sure either.
1 Large Boiling-pot
How large? Clambake large? Witches' brew large?
4 Iron Stewpans
Please tell me the difference between a saucepan and a stewpan.
1 Dripping-pan and Stand
1 Fish and Egg-slice
Too bad Mrs. Beeton died before the Slap Chop was invented.
2 Fish-kettles
Ok, so you like to poach fish. But do you really need two fish kettles?
1 Flour-box
Gone with pre-packaged groceries
2 Frying-pans
I have three.
1 Gridiron
Sounds like a torture implement. Apparently lets you grill things over a fire. Not too hand unless one has a roaring fire in the middle of their kitchen.
1 Mustard-pot
1 Salt-cellar
1 Pepper-box
Again, all useless. Who doesn't keep their mustard in the squeezy tube, or for the ritzy, the jar?
3 Jelly-moulds
Maybe your Aunt Agnes has one left over from when Jellied items were considered acceptable pot-luck contributions, but three?
1 Cheese-toaster
This is the thing you order when your friend has a Pampered Chef party and you have to buy something.
1 Coal-shovel
Last time I checked, I didn't cook my Spaghetti-Os in a steamship.
1 Wood Meat-screen
Torture device or gay porno? Neither. A box that sat in front of the fire to roast meat.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Winter Salad!

Last night's attempt at a winter salad was far more delicious than my soup. Here is the recipe:
1153. INGREDIENTS - Endive, mustard-and-cress, boiled beetroot, 3 or 4 hard-boiled eggs, celery.

Mode.—The above ingredients form the principal constituents of a winter salad, and may be converted into a very pretty dish, by nicely contrasting the various colours, and by tastefully garnishing it. Shred the celery into thin pieces, after having carefully washed and cut away all wormeaten pieces; cleanse the endive and mustard-and-cress free from grit, and arrange these high in the centre of a salad-bowl or dish; garnish with the hard-boiled eggs and beetroot, both of which should be cut in slices; and pour into the dish, but not over the salad, either of the sauces No. 506, 507, or 508.

Seasonable from the end of September to March.

I made a trek out into the cold to find vegetables, first to the local greengrocer (how cute is that?) Where I got the beetroot and celery. They sold cooked beetroot but I decided that we would eat it raw and risk it, because I can't stand cooked beets.

My second trip, to Morrisons, was less fruitful. I assume this is a winter salad because these were the only fresh veggies that one could procure in the Victorian winter; however, in a humorous reversal I could only find "summer vegetables" in the grocery store and not endive or mustard and cress. I ended up going with little gem lettuces because of the similar texture and overwhelming cuteness, and some plain salad cress (like bean sprouts in the States?)

I also bought a 'cucumber portion,' if only for the sheer novelty of buying half of a cucumber. I am constantly amazed at how inexpensive produce is here. Even considering the exchange rate, 30p for a bag of carrots and 78 p for a bag of lettuces is mind-boggling.

The beets, while extremely messy, were actually quite good raw rather than boiled. I arranged everything, then poured on dressing no. 506 (yes, poured on rather than under, sorry Mrs. Beeton...)

506. INGREDIENTS - 1 teaspoonful of mixed mustard, 1 teaspoonful of pounded sugar, 2 tablespoonfuls of salad oil, 4 tablespoonfuls of milk, 2 tablespoonfuls of vinegar, cayenne and salt to taste.

Mode.—Put the mixed mustard into a salad-bowl with the sugar, and add the oil drop by drop, carefully stirring and mixing all these ingredients well together. Proceed in this manner with the milk and vinegar, which must be added very gradually, or the sauce will curdle. In mixing salad dressings, the ingredients cannot be added too gradually, or stirred too much.

The stern warnings were for naught, as minimal effort produced a creamy, if not very watery, dressing. I was surprised at the addition of milk, but it really just ended up tasting mustardy. Mixed powdered mustard is some strong stuff.

See that seal? That means the MFin QUEEN uses this mustard. Tell me that's not ballin'.

Anyway, here is the spectacular result:
Looks good, tastes good...thanks Mrs. Beeton!

For another attempt on a Beeton recipe, see this article at It seems I'm not the only one without an appreciation for the Victorian palate.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Danger of Salads

Being fond of salads, I decided to scan Beeton to discover some Victorian salads. I was prepared for a lack of lettuce-y salads (approx. two to speak of), but wasn't ready for the warnings and admonishments surrounding the eating of salads, and gasp! raw vegetables. Horrors!

Let's take a look at the cucumber. Innocent, if not a bit rudely-shaped, no? Not according to Mrs. Beeton!

The cucumber is refreshing, but neither nutritious nor digestible, and should be excluded from the regimen of the delicate.

Oh snap! I've been digesting indigestible cucumbers for years. If I went back in time to the Victorian era, could I get a job as some sort of side-show eating machine?

Mrs. Beeton also has nothing favourable to say about radishes:

They do not agree with people, except those who are in good health, and have active digestive powers; for they are difficult of digestion, and cause flatulency and wind, and are the cause of headaches when eaten to excess.

I would like to note that one of her two salad recipes calls for raw radishes. Is this lady trying to kill her readers? Or just cause some humorous "wind"?

We get similar warnings for raw celery, cauliflower, and in general, we find that Mrs. Beeton cares not for raw vegetables at all:

As vegetables eaten in a raw state are apt to ferment on the stomach, and as they have very little stimulative power upon that organ, they are usually dressed with some condiments, such as pepper, vinegar, salt, mustard, and oil. Respecting the use of these, medical men disagree, especially in reference to oil, which is condemned by some and recommended by others.

Hear that? Even salad oil is questionable. Good to see that in the era of syphilis and other horrible diseases medical science was quibbling about salad dressing.

I never knew eating my (raw) greens was so rough. No wonder Mrs. Beeton suggests boiling everything, ever.

So to recap, in the Victorian era:
Sex with multitudes of prostitutes: OK
Sending ten-year-olds to work in coal mines: OK
Cucumbers: HELL NO

Will post the results of my winter salad excursion soon. I should maybe invest in a hard hat of some sort.