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 EatJax.com. 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.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Does a bathrobe count as neat and simple attire?

THE DRESS OF THE MISTRESS should always be adapted to her circumstances, and be varied with different occasions. Thus, at breakfast she should be attired in a very neat and simple manner, wearing no ornaments...it would be well to exchange it before the time for receiving visitors, if the mistress be in the habit of doing so....in changing the dress, jewellery and ornaments are not to be worn until the full dress for dinner is assumed.

As I write this post while wearing my £6 pink sparkly and furry 'dressing gown,' I think to my morning/afternoon schedule now and just a month ago, when I still was working as a copywriter in a small ad agency.

6:50 AM Rise from bed, tired no matter what time I went to sleep.
6:55 - 7:30 AM Gather foodstuffs, quick shower, change, feed rabbits.
7:30 - 8:00 AM Commute to work listening to horrible pop music on radio which I loved.
8:00 - 5:00 PM Spend time at work, doing work, or thinking about work.

10:15 AM Rise from bed, groggy and in a state of confusion as to which country I am in currently.
10:30 AM Breakfast.
10:45 - 12:00 PM Noodle around on Internet or read in bed.
12:00 PM Lunch
12:15 - 1:00 PM More noodling.
1:00 PM Shower, then maybe going outside.
4:00 PM Return home, if I left, and start on various household tasks.

I am currently living what some might alternately call a life of leisure or a level of hell. It feels like both sometimes. In both timelines, I am really not accomplishing anything during the day. In the first, I am making money, for sure. But in the second, I am living relatively cost-free, my only obligations really to myself until it is time to do the dishes and vacuum. I can sleep all day, read all day, go for a walk all day. I am also trading interaction with people, companionship and conversation for this freedom.

The part that bothers me the most is here I am in this foreign-enough country and I'm not really doing anything. Of course, living and being on holiday are two different things. Granted, I have not been here long. I do plan on taking a solo trip to Exeter soon, and engage in other activities, but it's so terribly easy to just be lazy.

I assumed when I came that I would have all this free time to keep up my personal beauty regiment. What else would I do after all? But even this has been lacking. I type with overgrown, chipped fingernails and an unmade face. I do make it a special point to make myself up to the nines when my husband and I go out, whether it be to visit family, have drinks with some of his work-mates, or just catch the closing deals at the supermarket. I take some modicum of pride in appearing cute, pretty, even sexy by his side. I know this isn't an abnormal feeling. I suppose when you are not planning on going anywhere, or doing anything, that day, what is the use?

It makes me think of commercial images of fifties wives, all glammed up in heels and a shirtdress to do the baking and cleaning. What an image for women of the time to live up to!

I have just finished reading Marilyn Yalom's A History of the Wife. Fascinating insight into one of the world's oldest, and most marginalized, career paths.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Freezing Scandanavian Cleanliness is Close to Norse Godliness


CLEANLINESS IS ALSO INDISPENSABLE TO HEALTH, and must be studied both in regard to the person and the house, and all that it contains. Cold or tepid baths should be employed every morning, unless, on account of illness or other circumstances, they should be deemed objectionable.

This is one area where I inadvertently follow Mrs. Beeton's advice. The biggest challenge in this flat is staying warm. I must confess with the greatest affection that my other half is a major power miser. Living in Missouri in a house too large for just me, I kept the house always at a tolerable temperature and didn't even touch the water heater. I never experienced chill or hot water running out on me, and my bills were still fairly decent for a three-story place.

Cut to England: land of chill and damp. Not that I am surprised; England gets the reputation for being soggy and foggy. But even in this flat which you would think would be easy to heat, it is always chilly. And the hot water heater is the size of a teacup. Even if I remember to switch it on, I must wait for a good 30 minutes to have a fifteen-minute hot shower, which at the stroke of whenever magically turns into an icy waterfall. I realize fifteen minutes is long enough, especially for a girl with hardly any hair, but I have been accustomed to luxury 25-minute showers wherein I mostly just stand under the spray and think.

It is enough to make one a shut-in, shabbily piling on dressing gowns and not bathing for days, not stepping outside a four-foot radius of the radiator. I indeed have already spent two entire days inside (not in succession) because lets face it: it's hard to explore a new country when it's freezing and damp and horrible and you don't have a waterproof (or raincoat). Just a shoddy £2 umbrella.

London was even colder and wetter: as there wasn't much time to do something other than the party we were attending, I made plans to wake up early and we would walk down to the Thames, about 1 mile. We made it about .5 miles before we were soaked to the bone and miserable, and turned back. But not before exploring a -covered- Victorian market all done up for Christmas. Thank you, Victorians, for having the foresight to put a roof on top of your primitive shopping mall.

Our stop in Bath on the way home was more pleasant, and we shopped the outdoor Christmas market there in dry weather, ending with Moroccan at a fabulous restaurant.

The best part? The hotel bath tub/shower, which never quit its delicious supply of hot water. The little things.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Heathen Pineapple

I have just searched for a recipe for this ever-ripening pineapple on our countertop; lo but do I find some historical commentary on that curious fruit from Mrs. Beeton herself:

THE PINEAPPLE IN HEATHENDOM.—Heathen nations invented protective divinities for their orchards (such as Pomona, Vertumnus, Priapus, &c.), and benevolent patrons for their fruits: thus, the olive-tree grew under the auspices of Minerva; the Muses cherished the palm-tree, Bacchus the fig and grape, and the pine and its cone were consecrated to the great Cyble.

Oh, those wacky heathen nations. But "the pine and its cone"? Is she confusing pineapples and pine cones? The emphasis is not mine.

At any rate, it appears we will be enjoying the pineapple raw as all Beeton can prescribe for this mysterious fruit is to boil the life out of it.

On Sequined Petticoats and Grave Hues

IN PURCHASING ARTICLES OF WEARING APPAREL, whether it be a silk dress, a bonnet, shawl, or riband, it is well for the buyer to consider three things: I. That it be not too expensive for her purse. II. That its colour harmonize with her complexion, and its size and pattern with her figure. III. That its tint allow of its being worn with the other garments she possesses.

The clothing stores here are filled with the shiniest, sparkliest offerings one could imagine - it's rather disgusting really but I WANT something from Top Shop or River Island or T.K. Maxx (T.J. Maxx here, stretch I know) that is covered with baubles and sequins and feathers. Something akin to a figure-skating costume circa 1989. I know I will only wear it once in December, possibly on New Year's. I know it is bad move trying to match poor outfit decisions with these Hello! reading, like-to-think-they're-in-London-cause-they-can-shop-at-Topshop teens who I have to weave in and out of on my way to Poundland, but I WANT it. My two-suitcases worth of clothing options barely include any sparklers, and how will I go toe-to-toe in this country otherwise?

But, as Mrs. Beeton says, I must consider my purse. Which not only doesn't go with any of those spangly monstrosities, but is also considerably empty. I also don't think mirrored sequins harmonizes with my complexion. As a brunette, I must wear:
silks of a grave hue. Sounds rather uplifting, doesn't it? Hey dark-hair, why don't you go vamp it up in yesterday's burial shroud while us blonde Betties have a laugh in sequined petticoats and dayglo bloomers.

Ah well. At least Mr. Redux and I are off to London tomorrow. We have a pretty posh hotel lined up and who knows what else we will discover. I will just have to do it wearing my old American frocks.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Soup's On

The Bad News: I didn't make it out in time to take advantage of the 2-for-1 pasty deal. The Good News: The missed bargain afforded me the opportunity to try a recipe from the gargantuan food section of Beeton. I went with the vegetable soup, as I had all of the ingredients and it didn't require a meaty stock. Cook time was listed at 3 hours, and I started at 5 pm...luckily Mr. Redux had hockey practice, and wouldn't be home until the target time of 8 pm.

Here is the recipe:

159. INGREDIENTS - 7 oz. of carrot, 10 oz. of parsnip, 10 oz. of potato, cut into thin slices; 1–1/4 oz. of butter, 5 teaspoonfuls of flour, a teaspoonful of made mustard, salt and pepper to taste, the yolks of 2 eggs, rather more than 2 quarts of water.

Mode.—Boil the vegetables in the water 2–1/2 hours; stir them often, and if the water boils away too quickly, add more, as there should be 2 quarts of soup when done. Mix up in a basin the butter and flour, mustard, salt, and pepper, with a teacupful of cold water; stir in the soup, and boil 10 minutes. Have ready the yolks of the eggs in the tureen; pour on, stir well, and serve.

Time.—3 hours. Average cost, 4d. per quart.

Seasonable in winter.

The result? A good amount of somewhat bland soup. I have been trying to look up whether or not all Victorian recipes are bland to taste. I went at it without stock trying to be accurate but afterwards gave in an added a generous dripping of Worcestershire sauce (most def. the easiest to spell and pronounce of all the sauces). Better. There are loads of leftovers and I am hoping to boil it down more to add more flavour. I think the butter and mustard added a bit but of course, meat probably would have kicked it even more.

Mostly, I was proud of myself for creating a big pot of edible soup substance, when it has been known through many parts in America and the UK that I am a deplorable cook and an unskilled novice baker. Though I do make a mean salad.

Today: woke up at quarter till 11. An improvement on yesterday, I must say. I am trying to do it naturally to get in the swing of things. Not sure about the average Victorian's use of the alarm clock. I found on Richard York's website a description of the alarm clock from a Victorian magazine of the time.

The alarm clock is really of very little use; we soon get accustomed to it, and its jingle ceases to attract attention.

So alarm clocks were used in the day, but found lacking (this particular article goes on to describe a new, Rube Goldberg-esque alarm clock which drops books on a sleeper's toes). I will give it another week or so and see when I rise.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fancy A Nooner? Let Me Get Up First

Early rising is one of the most essential qualities which enter into Good Household Management, as it is not only the parent of health, but of innumerable other advantages. Indeed, when a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well-managed...If you do not rise early, you can make progress in nothing.

The first point, and already some contention. I write this at 13:51, or -subtract 12- 1:51 PM, after rising at ten till noon. Already I have munched a bowl of cereal, popped in a load of laundry, and checked my RSS, Facebook and other Internet ventures. And showered and put on my dressing gown (the positively Dickensian moniker the husband bestowed on my furry, pink and sparkly £6 robe).

I agree that I should rise earlier. It's just so damn hard when one doesn't have to. Think, reader, if you were to lose your job tomorrow. After much boo-hooing about your pay, of course, what is one thing that always comes to mind: Well, at least I'll get to sleep in. Sleeping in is what 90% of Americans dream of. It's why we go into business for ourselves and retire. And here is my opportunity for six months to do exactly that: sleep in. And who knows when I may do so again.

Besides, to be honest, there isn't much to wake to during the week here. Rain, and bitter cold, and a small empty flat all tend to tuck me in even tighter. I suppose one advantage is a good English breakfast at mainstay Wetherspoon. One short walk to a cuppa and some beans on toast, and a veggie sausage. And I can be the first to snatch the Sun (30p - quality) or the Star (25p - budget) before they are totally depleted from the nearby news agent. Oh, the places I'll go - namely around the block and back - for a good choice of fake newspapers.

I think it all stemmed from my lack of sleep on the plane. I arrived at 7 AM having slept naught, and I crashed through most of my first day. It was the joint fault of the screens on the back of the seats in the Airbus (Five movies to choose from! Popular TV shows!) and my nervousness at meeting customs. Which, was completely founded. For I nearly didn't enter this gray country due to what the curmudgeonly agent deemed "a lack of funds." Although I had a note from my sponsor saying I would be staying here rent-free, somehow $3,000 isn't enough to live six months - even when I can get a head of lettuce from Morrison's for just 15p.

Not until I waved my plastic around - the joint credit card my mum and I share - was I finally let in. Plastic does make it possible. Viva imagined and invisible wealth.

Tomorrow I must see to the bag of potatoes in the kitchen before they grow more potatoes themselves. There are approx. 50 potato recipes in Beeton and I hope to find a simple one. Tonight though, two-for-one veggie curry pasties. I'm on a roll not having dishes to do and I want to keep it that way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First Blog Posts, Like Sitcom Pilots: Quite Unnecessary

I must frankly own, that if I had known, beforehand, that this book would have cost me the labour which it has, I should never have been courageous enough to commence it.
-From the Preface, Beeton's Book of Household Management

I think it's the dream of every American post-English major to drop her life in the States completely and take up residence in England; the country from which words filled our Norton's Anthologies and term papers. Indeed, I have known many, including myself, who have romanticised Great Britain to the point of fictionalizing it. But I attest it's realness...because here I am, freshly married, typing this blog entry in a flat which is about the size of a public toilet, above a keymaker/shoe repair man who hammers away most of the day.

I am here for six months with no real expectations to speak of. I have no Visa; therefore I can't work or even volunteer. I am strictly a visitor. My husband, we will refer to as Mr. Samuel Redux, does work, and does so all day. Leaving me quite alone in this small shopping town. What's a new wife to do? I barely can sort the coin money and sometimes I can't even understand the locals even though I know they are speaking English. I can only read so many tabloids a day (which I must say provide the most thorough education on British life and customs).

So I have brought someone with me, in the form of a tremendously compacted volume of literature. Beeton's Book of Household Management, published in 1859 in serialized form and considered a bible for the English Victorian household. I chose Mrs. Beeton's tome because I needed an anchor. And the sight of all those recipes and stringent guidelines is comforting, in a way. Like staying with your grandmother (mine happens to be British also - did she or her mother ever rely on Beeton?)

My flat is tiny. I have no domestics. I am a vegetarian, making many of the 900 pages of recipes invalid. I am lazy and American and quite boorish. But I am here, alone for most of the day, a young bride in a strange land. But Mrs. Beeton would have me to do something, right away. So it is just her and I, then.