May 042017
 

Today is the birthday (1852) of Alice Pleasance Liddell who inspired Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice the fourth child of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and his wife Lorina Hanna Liddell (née Reeve). She had two older brothers, Harry (born 1847) and Arthur (born 1850, died of scarlet fever in 1853), and an older sister Lorina (born 1849). She also had six younger siblings, including her sister Edith (born 1854) with whom she was very close and her brother Frederick (born 1865), who became a lawyer and senior civil servant. At the time of her birth, Alice’s father was the Headmaster of Westminster School, but in 1856 he was appointed to the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford. Soon after this move, she met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who met the family while he was photographing the college’s cathedral on 25 April 1856. He became a close friend of the Liddell family in subsequent years.

Alice was three years younger than Lorina and two years older than Edith, and the three sisters were constant childhood companions. She and her family regularly spent holidays at their holiday home Penmorfa, which later became the Gogarth Abbey Hotel, on the West Shore of Llandudno in North Wales. When Alice Liddell was a young woman, she set out on a grand tour of Europe with Lorina and Edith. One story has it that she became a romantic interest of Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria, during the four years he spent at Christ Church, but the evidence for this is sparse. It is true that years later, Leopold named his first child Alice, and acted as godfather to Alice’s second son Leopold. It is far more likely that Alice’s sister Edith was the true recipient of Leopold’s attention). Edith died on 26 June 1876, possibly of measles or peritonitis (accounts differ), shortly before she was to be married to Aubrey Harcourt, a cricket player. At her funeral on 30 June 1876, Prince Leopold served as a pall-bearer.

Alice Liddell married Reginald Hargreaves, also a cricketer, on 15 September 1880, at the age of 28 in Westminster Abbey. They had three sons: Alan Knyveton Hargreaves and Leopold Reginald “Rex” Hargreaves (both were killed in action in World War I); and Caryl Liddell Hargreaves, who survived to have a daughter of his own. Alice denied that the name ‘Caryl’ was in any way associated with Charles Dodgson’s pseudonym. Reginald Hargreaves inherited a considerable fortune, and was a local magistrate; he also played cricket for Hampshire. Alice became a noted society hostess and was the first president of Emery Down Women’s Institute.

After her husband’s death in 1926, the cost of maintaining their home, Cuffnells, was so high that she decided to sell her original manuscript copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (Dodgson’s earlier title for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). The manuscript fetched £15,400, nearly four times the reserve price given it by Sotheby’s auction house. It later became the possession of Eldridge R. Johnson and was displayed at Columbia University on the centennial of Carroll’s birth. (Alice was present, aged 80, and it was on this visit to the United States that she met Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the brothers who inspired J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan). Upon Johnson’s death, the book was purchased by a consortium of American bibliophiles and presented to the British people “in recognition of Britain’s courage in facing Hitler before America came into the war.” The manuscript now resides in the British Library.

For most of her life, Alice lived in and around Lyndhurst in the New Forest. After her death in 1934, she was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and her ashes were buried in the graveyard of the church of St Michael and All Angels Lyndhurst.

On 4 July 1862, in a rowing trip on the Isis from Folly Bridge, Oxford, to Godstow for a picnic outing, 10-year-old Alice asked Charles Dodgson to entertain her and her sisters, Edith (aged 8) and Lorina (13), with a story. As the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed the boat, Dodgson regaled the girls with fantastic stories of a girl, named Alice, and her adventures after she fell into a rabbit-hole. The story was similar to those Dodgson had spun for the sisters before, but this time Liddell asked Mr. Dodgson to write it down for her. He promised to do so but did not get around to the task for some months. He eventually presented her with the manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground in November 1864.

The relationship between Liddell and Dodgson has been the source of much debate, with some biographers supposing that Dodgson had a pedophilic attraction to the girl. But there is little to no evidence of this assertion. You’ll have to read the voluminous works on this debate if you want to form your own opinion. I’ll just say a few words about it. The biggest problem to overcome in drawing a conclusion is chronocentrism. As Leslie Poles Hartley wrote, “the past is a foreign country.” If we start imputing motives to people who lived 150 years ago we can easily run into grave error. The photo (above) of Alice as a gypsy girl, is frequently seen as erotic. But that is a modern view. Victorian photographers routinely took portraits of little girls in costume, sometimes naked, and they were generally seen as pictures of innocence. Some of them were even reproduced on Christmas cards.  Are we to assume from this that all Victorians were rank pedophiles? I suppose you could draw that conclusion, but . . . are all ancient Greek nudes evidence of their sexuality? I hardly think so.

The Alice in Dodgson’s tales and Alice Liddell are clearly not the same, and recent research has contradicted the long-held assumption that he based the character on her. Dodgson himself said in later years that his Alice was entirely imaginary and not based upon any real child at all. Dodgson’s own drawings of the character in the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures under Ground show little resemblance to Liddell.

There are at least three direct links to Liddell in the two books. First, he set them on 4 May (Liddell’s birthday) and 4 November (her “half-birthday”), and in Through the Looking-Glass the fictional Alice declares that her age is “seven and a half exactly”, the same as Liddell on that date. Second, he dedicated them “to Alice Pleasance Liddell”. Third, there is an acrostic poem at the end of Through the Looking-Glass. Reading downward, taking the first letter of each line, spells out Liddell’s full name. The poem has no title in Through the Looking-Glass, but is usually referred to by its first line, “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky”.

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

In addition, all of those who participated in the Thames boating expedition where the story was originally told (Carroll, the Reverend Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters) appear in the chapter “A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale.”

According to her grandson, Lorinda Liddell (Alice’s mother), gave the recipe for orange marmalade to Frank Cooper’s wife who then produced Cooper’s Oxford marmalade. I can’t say whether this is true or not, but it’s as good an excuse as any to dribble on about marmalade for a while. In Alice’s time, the word “marmalade” was not restricted to preserves made with citrus fruits, just as cognates in Romance languages (marmellata in Italian or  marmelada in Spanish) refer to jams in general. But the word eventually became restricted to preserves of bitter oranges when used on their  own, and more generally to other citrus fruits such as lime or grapefruit. For many years I made huge batches of marmalades in January after Christmas was over and before I had to return to lecturing in February. I experimented with lemons, limes, kumquats, and grapefruit year by year, but they often failed to set properly because those fruits do not have as much natural pectin in them as Seville oranges. Seville oranges are very hard to find in the US, but there rally is no substitute for proper orange marmalade. Regular oranges will not do. The peel must be bitter and laden with the right aromatics. Here’s Mrs Beeton’s discourse followed by one of several different recipes.

  1. Marmalades, jams, and fruit pastes are of the same nature, and are now in very general request. They are prepared without difficulty, by attending to a very few directions; they are somewhat expensive, but may be kept without spoiling for a considerable time. Marmalades and jams differ little from each other: they are preserves of a half-liquid consistency, made by boiling the pulp of fruits, and sometimes part of the rinds, with sugar. The appellation of marmalade is applied to those confitures which are composed of the firmer fruits, as pineapples or the rinds of oranges; whereas jams are made of the more juicy berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, currants, mulberries, &c. Fruit pastes are a kind of marmalades, consisting of the pulp of fruits, first evaporated to a proper consistency, and afterwards boiled with sugar. The mixture is then poured into a mould, or spread on sheets of tin, and subsequently dried in the oven or stove till it has acquired the state of a paste. From a sheet of this paste, strips may be cut and formed into any shape that may be desired, as knots, rings, &c. Jams require the same care and attention in the boiling as marmalade; the slightest degree of burning communicates a disagreeable empyreumatic taste, and if they are not boiled sufficiently, they will not keep. That they may keep, it is necessary not to be sparing of sugar.

ORANGE MARMALADE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Equal weight of fine loaf sugar and Seville oranges; to 12 oranges allow 1 pint of water.

Mode.—Let there be an equal weight of loaf sugar and Seville oranges, and allow the above proportion of water to every dozen oranges. Peel them carefully, remove a little of the white pith, and boil the rinds in water 2 hours, changing the water three times to take off a little of the bitter taste. Break the pulp into small pieces, take out all the pips, and cut the boiled rind into chips. Make a syrup with the sugar and water; boil this well, skim it, and, when clear, put in the pulp and chips. Boil all together from 20 minutes to 1/2 hour; pour it into pots, and, when cold, cover down with bladders or tissue-paper brushed over on both sides with the white of an egg. The juice and grated rind of 2 lemons to every dozen of oranges, added with the pulp and chips to the syrup, are a very great improvement to this marmalade.

Time.—2 hours to boil the orange-rinds; 10 minutes to boil the syrup; 20 minutes to 1/2 hour to boil the marmalade.

Average cost, from 6d. to 8d. per lb. pot.

Seasonable.—This should be made in March or April, as Seville oranges are then in perfection.

Decades ago I began with this recipe as a guide, but then played with it over the years. First I boiled the fruit very slowly for a very long time over low heat.  For many years I filled a big stock pot with oranges (or other citrus fruit), covered them with water, and set the pot, covered, on my wood stove overnight. The water barely simmered, but in the morning the fruit was completely cooked. I then took the fruit out, weighed it, chopped up the peel into thin slices, and returned them to the cooking water while discarding the seeds. I added as much in weight of sugar as the weight of oranges, and brought the mix to a boil on the stove on high heat. At first you need to stir occasionally with a wooden spoon to make sure the sugar dissolves, but as the marmalade thickens you must stir more often to avoid scalding or burning. Determining when you have achieved the right temperature and consistency for the marmalade to set you must take a very little in a teaspoon and drop it on a cool, clean saucer. If it flows at all, it is not ready. If it forms a concave droplet, or “bead,” it is ready. I used to use small canning jars, place the marmalade in them hot from the stove almost to the brim, and cap them. They formed a hermetic seal and would keep like that, unrefrigerated, for a year or more. With some fruits lacking in adequate pectin, such as kumquat or lime, I added a little extra pectin to be sure. Be careful, though; too much pectin makes a set well enough, but the product can have a weaker flavor.

 

Apr 232014
 

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Today is the feast of Saint George (Greek: Γεώργιος (Georgios), Classical Syriac: ܓܝܘܪܓܝܣ (Giwargis), Latin: Georgius) He was born in Lydda in Roman Palestine some time between 275 and 281, and was a soldier in the Roman army. He was later venerated as a Christian martyr. His father was Gerontius, a Greek Christian from Cappadocia, and an official in the Roman army. His mother, Polychronia was a local Greek Christian of Palestine. George became an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian. In hagiography, Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic (Western and Eastern Rites), Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches. He is immortalized in the tale of Saint George and the Dragon, and is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

Saint George has numerous patronages around the world, including: Georgia, England, Egypt, Bulgaria, Aragon, Catalonia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Russia and Syria, as well as the cities of Genoa, Amersfoort, Beirut, Drobeta Turnu-Severin,  Fakiha, Bteghrine, Cáceres, Ferrara, Freiburg im Breisgau, Kragujevac, Kumanovo, Ljubljana, Pérouges, Pomorie, Preston, Qormi, Rio de Janeiro, Lydda, Lviv, Barcelona, Moscow, and Victoria, and of the Scout Movement and a wide range of professions, organizations and disease sufferers.

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Along with all ancient saints’ lives there is a great deal of uncertainty as to the actual facts of his life. The following is usually accepted by church historians as reasonably accurate. You’d do well to take it with a grain of salt. George’s family were Greek nobles who were faithful Christians, so he was raised Christian. His father, Gerontios, was a Greek from Cappadocia, an officer in the Roman army; and his mother, Polychronia, was a Greek native of Lydda. They decided to call him Georgios, a stock name meaning “worker of the land” (i.e., farmer). At the age of fourteen, George lost his father; a few years later, George’s mother, Polychronia, died. When his mother died George decided to go to Nicomedia, the imperial city of that time, and present himself to Emperor Diocletian to apply for a career as a soldier. Diocletian welcomed him with open arms, as he had known his father personally and considered him one of his finest soldiers. By his late 20s, George was promoted to the rank of tribune and stationed as an imperial guard of the emperor at Nicomedia.

In the year  302, Diocletian (influenced by Galerius) issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods of the time. However, George objected, and approached the emperor. Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best tribune and the son of one of his best officials. But George loudly renounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Roman gods. George refused them all.

Recognizing the futility of his efforts and insisting on upholding his edict, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have George executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s city wall, on 23 April 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honor him as a martyr.

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George’s most famous exploit, his slaying of the dragon, is undoubtedly apocryphal unless dragons existed in the 4th century that I am unaware of. In tamer versions of the story the dragon is a crocodile. The original story was brought back to Europe by the Crusaders and retold with the courtly appurtenances belonging to the genre of Romance (courtly knight rescuing a damsel in distress). The earliest known depiction of the legend is from early 11th-century Cappadocia (in the iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church, George had been depicted as a soldier since at least the seventh century); the earliest known surviving narrative text is an eleventh-century Georgian text.

In the fully developed Western version, which was part of the Golden Legend, a dragon or crocodile makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of “Silene” (perhaps modern Cyrene in Libya or the city of Lydda in the Holy Land, depending on the source). Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon at first a sheep, and if no sheep can be found, then a maiden is the best substitute for one. The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, this happens to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life to be spared, but to no avail. She is offered to the dragon, but then Saint George appears on his travels. He faces the dragon, protects himself with the sign of the Cross, slays the dragon, and rescues the princess. The citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.

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Depictions of Saint George slaying a dragon often contain the image of the young maiden who looks on from a distance. The standard iconographic interpretation of the image icon is that the dragon represents both Satan (Rev. 12:9) and the monster from his life story. The young maiden is the wife of Diocletian, Alexandra. Thus the image, as interpreted through the language of medieval iconography, is a reference to the martyrdom of the saint.

Saint George’s patronages are so vast it would be impossible to cover them all. St George’s Day is celebrated in various ways in numerous countries. St George is the patron saint of England, and the national flag is a St George’s cross, a red cross on a white background. When I was a teenager living in England you almost never saw an English flag, nor paid any attention to St George’s day. It was probably the FIFA World Cup that brought the English flag to the fore because the nations of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), compete individually. Thus, fans of the English team use the St George cross instead of the internationally more familiar Union Jack which represents the U.K. as a whole.

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There have also been lame attempts to make St George’s Day a national day in England akin to St Patrick’s or St Andrew’s. In truth, none of these national saints’ days was much of a deal until ex-pats used them in their adopted countries as symbolic of national pride. The oldest and biggest St Patrick’s Day parade, for example, is the one in New York. The one in Dublin is a later copy. So now you can buy St George’s Day cards to send, and there are parades in some towns – usually featuring scouts since he is their patron (my copy of Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys has a chapter on honor and chivalry with a prominent image of George and the Dragon). But, from what my friends tell me, it’s really all very low key as it should be.

Nonetheless I can still use the day to trumpet the glories of English cooking once more. This time I want to turn my attention to kidneys. Most of my friends in the U.S. turn up their noses at kidneys (not quite as high as when I mention tripe, but almost). But kidneys have been a solid part of English cuisine for centuries. They were especially prominent in Victorian cuisine where deviled kidneys, or fried kidneys were a standard on the breakfast buffet. What is more, it was not just ox kidneys that were popular. Lambs’ kidneys were much favored too. My association with kidneys goes back to my childhood. Steak and kidney pudding was a beloved meal for me – sadly, most often the soggy kind from cans. But as a student I was addicted to the steak and kidney pies, homemade at my two favorite pubs: the Garibaldi in Burnham (Bucks) where I went to grammar school, and the Wharf House in St Ebbes in Oxford, when I was in college.

Since those days, kidneys have been ever present in my culinary life. I’ll make a steak and kidney pudding or pie at the drop of a hat; kidneys form a part of my “full English” breakfast when I can get them; kidneys in gravy with mashed potatoes are an eternal bond between me and the (former) love of my life; and now kidneys are an essential ingredient when I have an asado (Argentine mixed BBQ). I have made ox kidneys, lambs’ kidneys, pigs’ kidneys – even rabbit kidneys – each with a slightly different taste. I’ve also experimented with new ideas.  Here’s an image of a steak and kidney empanada I made at Christmas time 2 years ago, served with leeks, mashed potato, and gravy (extra kidneys on the side).

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Here is an unusual recipe I culled from Isabella Beeton the other day. It is her version of Toad in the Hole which is a famous English dish normally made nowadays with sausages. It consists of an egg batter base which is topped with meat and then baked until golden. If you make it with sausages you should brown them first but not cook them through. You can find my video for making the batter here, if need be: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMEpmZkVZLUJsR1U/edit?pli=1

The main trick is to mix the flour and cold water to a paste first, and then add the eggs one at a time. This video is part of a series on making a classic Argentine tortilla, but the batter recipe is the same for making Toad in the Hole, and also for English pancakes and Yorkshire pudding.  It rises naturally without any baking powder, although it will collapse somewhat when removed from the heat.

Mrs Beeton does not specify the type of kidneys, but I presume she means lamb (or possibly sheep’s) kidneys. Her recipe is one of her “using up” recipes, that is, dealing with leftovers. One hour seems a trifle long to me to bake the dish. I’d suggest no more than 40 minutes in an oven set at 350°F/175°C. I’d also check regularly and remove the dish once the batter has risen and nicely browned.

TOAD-IN-THE-HOLE (Cold Meat Cookery).

743. INGREDIENTS.—6 oz. of flour, 1 pint of milk, 3 eggs, butter, a few slices of cold mutton, pepper and salt to taste, 2 kidneys.

Mode.—Make a smooth batter of flour, milk, and eggs in the above proportion; butter a baking-dish, and pour in the batter. Into this place a few slices of cold mutton, previously well seasoned, and the kidneys, which should be cut into rather small pieces; bake about 1 hour, or rather longer, and send it to table in the dish it was baked in. Oysters or mushrooms may be substituted for the kidneys, and will be found exceedingly good.

Time.—Rather more than 1 hour.

Average cost, exclusive of the cold meat, 8d.

Mar 082014
 

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Today is the birthday (1859) of Kenneth Grahame, a Scottish writer, most famous for The Wind in the Willows (1908), one of the classics of children’s literature, but beloved by adults too. He also wrote The Reluctant Dragon; both books were adapted into popular films.

Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh. When he was a little more than 1 year old, his father, an advocate, received an appointment as sheriff-substitute in Argyllshire at Inveraray on Loch Fyne. Kenneth loved the sea and was happy there, but when he was 5, his mother died from complications of childbirth, and his father, who was an alcoholic, gave over care of Kenneth, his brother Willie, his sister Helen, and the new baby Roland to granny Ingles, the children’s grandmother, in Cookham Dean in the village of Cookham in Berkshire in England. There the children lived in a spacious, if dilapidated, home, “The Mount,” on spacious grounds, and were introduced to the riverside and boating by their uncle, David Ingles, curate at Cookham Dean church.

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This ambiance, particularly Quarry Wood and the River Thames, is probably the inspiration for the setting for The Wind in the Willows.

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He was an outstanding pupil at St Edward’s School in Oxford. During his early years at St. Edwards, a sports regimen had not been established and the boys had freedom to explore the city and upper reaches of the river Thames (known as the Isis in Oxford), and the nearby countryside.

Grahame wanted to attend Oxford University, but was not able to because of cost. Instead he was sent to work at the Bank of England in 1879, and rose through the ranks until retiring as its Secretary in 1908 due to ill health, which may have been precipitated by a strange, possibly political, shooting incident at the bank in 1903. Grahame was shot at three times – all shots missed. An alternative explanation, given in a letter on display in the Bank museum, is that Grahame had quarreled with Walter Cunliffe, one of the bank’s directors, who would later become Governor of the Bank of England, in the course of which he was heard to say that Cunliffe was “no gentleman,” and that his retirement was enforced ostensibly on health grounds.

Grahame married Elspeth Thomson in 1899. They had only one child, a boy named Alastair (whose nickname was “Mouse”), born blind in one eye and plagued by health problems throughout his short life. On Grahame’s retirement, they returned to Cookham where he had lived as a child, and lived at “Mayfield,” now Herries Preparatory School, where he turned the bedtime stories he told Alastair into his masterpiece, The Wind in the Willows.

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Alastair eventually committed suicide on a railway track while an undergraduate at Oxford University, two days before his 20th birthday on 7 May 1920. Out of respect for Kenneth Grahame, Alastair’s death was recorded as an accidental death.

Grahame died in Pangbourne, Berkshire, in 1932. He is buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford. Grahame’s cousin Anthony Hope, also a successful author, wrote his epitaph, which reads: “To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time.”

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While still a young man in his 20s, Grahame began to publish light stories in London periodicals such as the St. James Gazette. Some of these stories were collected and published as Pagan Papers in 1893, and, two years later, The Golden Age. These were followed by Dream Days in 1898, which contains The Reluctant Dragon.

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There is a ten-year gap between Grahame’s penultimate book and the publication of his triumph, The Wind in the Willows. During this decade, Grahame became a father. The wayward headstrong nature he saw in his little son Alastair he transformed into the swaggering Mr. Toad, one of its four principal characters. Despite its success, he never attempted a sequel. The book was a hit and is still enjoyed by adults and children today, whether in book form or in the films, while Toad remains one of the most celebrated and beloved characters of the book. Wind in the Willows won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958. In the 1990s, William Horwood came up with a series of sequels, but they lack the charm and eloquence of the original.

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What could be better to celebrate Grahame than a Victorian summer picnic by the river? As ever, I turn to Isabella Beeton.  This bill of fare is for 40 people but it gives the general idea.  Notice that it spreads over both lunch and tea. It’s rather heavy on meat and light on veggies.  I also love her occasional asides – “1 large cold plum-pudding (this must be good)”—and the occasional enigmatic comment – “Take 3 corkscrews.” Priceless.

BILL OF FARE FOR A PICNIC FOR 40 PERSONS.

2149. A joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue, 2 veal-and-ham pies, 2 pigeon pies, 6 medium-sized lobsters, 1 piece of collared calf’s head, 18 lettuces, 6 baskets of salad, 6 cucumbers.

2150. Stewed fruit well sweetened, and put into glass bottles well corked; 3 or 4 dozen plain pastry biscuits to eat with the stewed fruit, 2 dozen fruit turnovers, 4 dozen cheesecakes, 2 cold cabinet puddings in moulds, 2 blancmanges in moulds, a few jam puffs, 1 large cold plum-pudding (this must be good), a few baskets of fresh fruit, 3 dozen plain biscuits, a piece of cheese, 6 lbs. of butter (this, of course, includes the butter for tea), 4 quartern loaves of household broad, 3 dozen rolls, 6 loaves of tin bread (for tea), 2 plain plum cakes, 2 pound cakes, 2 sponge cakes, a tin of mixed biscuits, 1/2 lb, of tea. Coffee is not suitable for a picnic, being difficult to make.

Things not to be forgotten at a Picnic.

2151. A stick of horseradish, a bottle of mint-sauce well corked, a bottle of salad dressing, a bottle of vinegar, made mustard, pepper, salt, good oil, and pounded sugar. If it can be managed, take a little ice. It is scarcely necessary to say that plates, tumblers, wine-glasses, knives, forks, and spoons, must not be forgotten; as also teacups and saucers, 3 or 4 teapots, some lump sugar, and milk, if this last-named article cannot be obtained in the neighbourhood. Take 3 corkscrews.

2152. Beverages.—3 dozen quart bottles of ale, packed in hampers; ginger-beer, soda-water, and lemonade, of each 2 dozen bottles; 6 bottles of sherry, 6 bottles of claret, champagne à discrétion, and any other light wine that may be preferred, and 2 bottles of brandy. Water can usually be obtained so it is useless to take it.

Here is a recipe for veal and ham pie (also called veal, ham, and egg pie), a mainstay at picnics now as then.  Homemade cannot be beaten.  The pastry is called slack paste and breaks all the common rules for pastry using boiling fat instead of ice cold.  It is not rolled, but pulled and poked whilst warm until it lines the baking vessel.  The result is a surprisingly light and flaky yet strong pastry that holds its shape when pies are removed from their containers.  For smaller, individual pies the pastry is strong enough for them to be baked without containers, as with Scotch pies (see here for recipe).

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Veal and Ham Pie

1lb/450 gm ground veal
4 oz/110 gm ground, boiled ham, minced
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp ground mace
¼ tsp ground bay leaves
1 lemon, zest only
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 oz/110 gm lard, plus extra for greasing the tin
3/4 cup/200 ml water
12 oz/350 gm plain flour
1 egg yolk
3 eggs, hard-boiled and shelled
2 tsp powdered gelatin
½ pint/300 ml boiling light stock

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to  350 °F/ 180 °C

Grease a 2 ½ pint/1.4 liter loaf pan and line the base with greaseproof paper. Put the veal, ham, parsley, mace, bay leaves, lemon zest and onions in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.

Put the flour in a heatproof mixing bowl. Put the lard and water in a saucepan and gently heat until the lard has melted. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and tip in to the flour all at once. Using a wooden spoon mix to form a soft dough. Beat the egg yolk into the dough. Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rest until it has cooled just enough to be easy to work with bare hands. Do not allow the dough to cool completely. Cut the dough into two parts –3/4 for the base and 1/4 for the top. Reserve the top part in a warm place under a damp cloth and work with the base part.  Flatten it a little and lay it in the base of the pie pan. With your fingertips work it into the base and and up the sides of the pan, making sure it is evenly distributed and a little hangs over the edges. Press in half the meat mixture and place the eggs down the center. Fill with the remaining meat mixture. Roll out the remaining pastry for the lid. Cover the pie with the pastry and seal the edges. Use the pastry trimmings to decorate the top, then make one large whole in the center of the pie.

Bake for 1 ½ hours. If necessary, cover the pastry with foil towards the end of the cooking time to prevent over-browning. Leave to cool for 3-4 hours. Make up an aspic by dissolving the gelatin in the boiling stock. Cool for about 10 minutes. Pour the liquid aspic through the hole in the top of the pie. I usually use a small funnel to prevent the aspic spilling over the pastry.  Leave to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before removing the pie from the pan. If you wait too long, the fat from the pastry will bind the pie to the pan.  If it does not come out easily, dip the pan in hot water for a few minutes.

Wrap the pie in a kitchen cloth and refrigerate.  Serve by cutting into ½ inch/1.25 cm slices. Each slice will have a nice roundel of egg in the center.  At home, serve this slice on a garnish of greens; at a picnic just pick it up and eat it with your hands.  I like mine with a dab of hot English mustard and a pickled onion, but plain is perfectly fine.  The combination of mace, bay, and lemon zest is astounding and needs no help.

Serves: 8-10

Nov 132013
 

RLS2

Today is the birthday (1850) of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, Scottish novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer.  In popular tradition he is chiefly remembered for the characters Long John Silver, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  But in his lifetime his writing on a wide range of issues including world travel were immensely popular.  I first encountered Stevenson as an 8 yr old boy when my teacher read us “The World of Counterpane” (counterpane = bedspread) and explained that Stevenson was very sickly as a boy and had to spend long periods in bed.  So he invented a world of his own where his knees were hills and the flat places were plains where soldiers could march. I was deeply touched by this. I had no idea at the time who Stevenson was except this poor sick boy who could not go out to play. In celebration, therefore, I am going to focus on Stevenson’s childhood and children’s verses.

RLS1

Stevenson was born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson at 8 Howard Place, Edinburgh to Margaret Isabella Balfour and Thomas Stevenson, a leading lighthouse engineer. Lighthouse design was the family profession: Thomas’s own father (Robert’s grandfather) was the famous lighthouse designer Robert Stevenson, and Thomas’s maternal grandfather, Thomas Smith, and brothers Alan and David were also in the business. On Margaret’s side, the family were gentry, tracing their name back to an Alexander Balfour, who held the lands of Inchrye in Fife in the fifteenth century. Her father, Lewis Balfour, was a minister of the Church of Scotland at nearby Colinton, and Stevenson spent the greater part of his boyhood holidays in his house. “Now I often wonder,” wrote Stevenson, “what I inherited from this old minister. I must suppose, indeed, that he was fond of preaching sermons, and so am I, though I never heard it maintained that either of us loved to hear them.”

Lewis Balfour and his daughter both had weak chests, and often needed to stay in warmer climates for their health. Stevenson inherited a tendency to coughs and fevers, exacerbated when the family moved to a damp, chilly house at 1 Inverleith Terrace in 1851. The family moved again to the sunnier 17 Heriot Row when Stevenson was six years old, but the tendency to extreme sickness in winter remained with him until he was eleven. Illness would be a recurrent feature of his adult life and left him extraordinarily thin. Contemporary views were that he had tuberculosis (or consumption), but more recent views are that it was bronchiectasis, an obstructive lung disease.

rls6

Stevenson’s parents were both devout and serious Presbyterians, but the household was not strict in its adherence to Calvinist principles. His nurse, Alison Cunningham (known as Cummy), was more fervently religious. Her Calvinism and folk beliefs were an early source of nightmares for Stevenson, and he showed a precocious concern for religion. But she also cared for him tenderly in illness, reading to him from Bunyan and the Bible as he lay sick in bed, and telling tales of the Covenanters.

An only child, strange-looking and eccentric, Stevenson found it hard to fit in when he was sent to a nearby school at age six, a problem repeated at age eleven when he went on to the Edinburgh Academy; but he mixed well in lively games with his cousins in summer holidays at Colinton. In any case, his frequent illnesses often kept him away from his first school, and he was taught for long stretches by private tutors. He was a late reader, first learning at age seven or eight, but even before this he dictated stories to his mother and nurse. He compulsively wrote stories throughout his childhood. His father was proud of this interest; he had also written stories in his spare time until his own father found them and told him to “give up such nonsense and mind your business.” (“business” here means “studies”)

In September 1857, Stevenson went to Mr Henderson’s school in India Street, Edinburgh, but because of poor health stayed only a few weeks and did not return until October 1859. During his many absences he was taught by private tutors. In October 1861 he went to Edinburgh Academy, an independent school for boys, and stayed there sporadically for about fifteen months. In the autumn of 1863 he spent one term at an English boarding school at Spring Grove in Isleworth in Middlesex (now an urban area of West London). In October 1864, following an improvement to his health, he was sent to Robert Thomson’s private school in Frederick Street, Edinburgh, where he remained until he went to university.

I thought I would select a few favorites from A Child’s Garden of Verses, to give more personal insight into Stevenson’s childhood.  The collection was first published in 1885 under the title Penny Whistles.

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First, the one that started it all for me:

Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

This is matched by a less well known and sadder one:

Bed in Summer

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

Then as testament to the fact that even when he was well enough to play, he was an only child:

Unseen Playmate

When children are playing alone on the green,
In comes the playmate that never was seen.
When children are happy and lonely and good,
The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.

Nobody heard him, and nobody saw,
His is a picture you never could draw,
But he’s sure to be present, abroad or at home,
When children are happy and playing alone.

He lies in the laurels, he runs on the grass,
He sings when you tinkle the musical glass;
Whene’er you are happy and cannot tell why,
The Friend of the Children is sure to be by!

He loves to be little, he hates to be big,
‘T is he that inhabits the caves that you dig;
‘T is he when you play with your soldiers of tin
That sides with the Frenchmen and never can win.

‘T is he, when at night you go off to your bed,
Bids you go to sleep and not trouble your head;
For wherever they’re lying, in cupboard or shelf,
‘T is he will take care of your playthings himself!

And finally one that I love because it evokes an era when the speed of a train was pure magic in comparison with horse-drawn vehicles:

From a Railway Carriage

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

What better guide to cooking for Victorian invalids than my old standby Isabella Beeton?  Here’s some lovely tidbits from the chapter Invalid Cookery in Household Management:

A FEW RULES TO BE OBSERVED IN COOKING FOR INVALIDS.

1843. Always have something in readiness; a little beef tea, nicely made and nicely skimmed, a few spoonfuls of jelly, &c. &c., that it may be administered as soon almost as the invalid wishes for it. If obliged to wait a long time, the patient loses the desire to eat, and often turns against the food when brought to him or her.

1844. In sending dishes or preparations up to invalids, let everything look as tempting as possible. Have a clean tray-cloth laid smoothly over the tray; let the spoons, tumblers, cups and saucers, &c., be very clean and bright. Gruel served in a tumbler is more appetizing than when served in a basin or cup and saucer.

1847. Never leave food about a sick room; if the patient cannot eat it when brought to him, take it away, and bring it to him in an hour or two’s time. Miss Nightingale says, “To leave the patient’s untasted food by his side, from meal to meal, in hopes that he will eat it in the interval, is simply to prevent him from taking any food at all.” She says, “I have known patients literally incapacitated from taking one article of food after another by this piece of ignorance. Let the food come at the right time, and be taken away, eaten or uneaten, at the right time, but never let a patient have ‘something always standing’ by him, if you don’t wish to disgust him of everything.”

1849. Roast mutton, chickens, rabbits, calves’ feet or head, game, fish (simply dressed), and simple puddings, are all light food, and easily digested. Of course, these things are only partaken of, supposing the patient is recovering. [Yes, indeed, “light” food! Nothing quite so dainty as roast  mutton.]

1850. A mutton chop, nicely cut, trimmed, and broiled to a turn, is a dish to be recommended for invalids; but it must not be served with all the fat at the end, nor must it be too thickly cut. Let it be cooked over a fire free from smoke, and sent up with the gravy in it, between two very hot plates. Nothing is more disagreeable to an invalid than smoked food.

1852. In boiling eggs for invalids, let the white be just set; if boiled hard, they will be likely to disagree with the patient.

1853. In Miss Nightingale’s admirable “Notes on Nursing,” a book that no mother or nurse should be without, she says,—”You cannot be too careful as to quality in sick diet. A nurse should never put before a patient milk that is sour, meat or soup that is turned, an egg that is bad, or vegetables underdone.” Yet often, she says, she has seen these things brought in to the sick, in a state perfectly perceptible to every nose or eye except the nurse’s. It is here that the clever nurse appears,—she will not bring in the peccant article; but, not to disappoint the patient, she will whip up something else in a few minutes. Remember, that sick cookery should half do the work of your poor patient’s weak digestion.

RECIPES

BAKED OR STEWED CALF’S FOOT.

1861. INGREDIENTS.—1 calf’s foot, 1 pint of milk, 1 pint of water, 1 blade of mace, the rind of 1/4 lemon, pepper and salt to taste.

Mode.—Well clean the foot, and either stew or bake it in the milk-and-water with the other ingredients from 3 to 4 hours. To enhance the flavour, an onion and a small quantity of celery may be added, if approved; 1/2 a teacupful of cream, stirred in just before serving, is also a great improvement to this dish.

Time.—3 to 4 hours. Average cost, in full season, 9d. each.

Sufficient for 1 person. Seasonable from March to October.

NUTRITIOUS COFFEE.

1864. INGREDIENTS.—1/2 oz. of ground coffee, 1 pint of milk.

Mode.—Let the coffee be freshly ground; put it into a saucepan, with the milk, which should be made nearly boiling before the coffee is put in, and boil both together for 3 minutes; clear it by pouring some of it into a cup, and then back again, and leave it on the hob for a few minutes to settle thoroughly. This coffee may be made still more nutritious by the addition of an egg well beaten, and put into the coffee-cup.

Time.—5 minutes to boil, 5 minutes to settle.

Sufficient to make 1 large breakfast-cupful of coffee.

Our great nurse Miss Nightingale remarks, that “a great deal too much against tea is said by wise people, and a great deal too much of tea is given to the sick by foolish people. When you see the natural and almost universal craving in English sick for their ‘tea,’ you cannot but feel that Nature knows what she is about. But a little tea or coffee restores them quite as much as a great deal; and a great deal of tea, and especially of coffee, impairs the little power of digestion they have. Yet a nurse, because she sees how one or two cups of tea or coffee restore her patient, thinks that three or four cups will do twice as much. This is not the case at all; it is, however, certain that there is nothing yet discovered which is a substitute to the English patient for his cup of tea; he can take it when he can take nothing else, and he often can’t take anything else, if he has it not. Coffee is a better restorative than tea, but a greater impairer of the digestion. In making coffee, it is absolutely necessary to buy it in the berry, and grind it at home; otherwise, you may reckon upon its containing a certain amount of chicory, at least. This is not a question of the taste, or of the wholesomeness of chicory; it is, that chicory has nothing at all of the properties for which you give coffee, and, therefore, you may as well not give it.”

EEL BROTH.

1866. INGREDIENTS.—1/2 lb. of eels, a small bunch of sweet herbs, including parsley; 1/2 onion, 10 peppercorns, 3 pints of water, 2 cloves, salt and pepper to taste.

Mode.—After having cleaned and skinned the eel, cut it into small pieces, and put it into a stewpan, with the other ingredients; simmer gently until the liquid is reduced nearly half, carefully removing the scum as it rises. Strain it through a hair sieve; put it by in a cool place, and, when wanted, take off all the fat from the top, warm up as much as is required, and serve with sippets of toasted bread. This is a very nutritious broth, and easy of digestion.

Time.—To be simmered until the liquor is reduced to half.

Average cost, 6d.

Sufficient to make 1-1/2 pint of broth.

Seasonable from June to March.

Sep 192013
 

rackself

Today is the birthday (1867) of Arthur Rackham, prolific book illustrator, whose works are much beloved down to today.  His first book illustrations were published in 1893 in To the Other Side by Thomas Rhodes, but his first serious commission was in 1894 for The Dolly Dialogues, the collected sketches of Anthony Hope, who later went on to write The Prisoner of Zenda. Book illustrating then became Rackham’s career for the rest of his life.

In 1903 he married Edyth Starkie, with whom he had one daughter, Barbara, in 1908. Rackham won a gold medal at the Milan International Exhibition in 1906 and another one at the Barcelona International Exposition in 1912. His works were included in numerous exhibitions, including one at the Louvre in Paris in 1914. Arthur Rackham died in 1939 of cancer in his home in Limpsfield, Surrey.

rack3

Arthur Rackham is widely regarded as one of the leading illustrators from the ‘Golden Age’ of British book illustration which encompassed the years from 1900 until the start of the First World War. During that period, there was a strong market for high quality illustrated books that typically were given as Christmas gifts. Many of Rackham’s books were produced in a deluxe limited edition, often vellum bound and sometimes signed, as well as a larger, less ornately bound quarto trade edition. This was often followed by a more modestly presented octavo edition in subsequent years for particularly popular books. The onset of the war in 1914 curtailed the market for such quality books, and the public’s taste for fantasy and fairies also declined in the 1920s.

rack1

Rackham invented his own technique which resembled photographic reproduction. He would first sketch an outline of his drawing, then lightly block in shapes and details. Afterwards he would add lines in pen and India ink, removing the pencil traces after it had dried. With color pictures, he would then apply multiple washes of color until translucent tints were created. He would also go on to expand the use of silhouette cuts in illustration work, particularly in the period after the First World War, as exemplified by his illustrations for Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Rackham’s work is often described as a fusion of a northern European ‘Nordic’ style strongly influenced by the Japanese woodblock tradition of the 19th century.

I really don’t want to dribble on about his art.  So much better to just give you a gallery to enjoy. Here’s a sampling of images I like:

Fairies

rackfairy4  rackfairy3  rackfairy2  rackfairy5
Sleeping Beauty

racksleep2  racksleep1

racksleep3   racksleep4

Grimms’ Tales

rackgrim30-big  rackgrim19

rackgrim14   rackgrim03

Alice

rackalice4  rackalice3

rackalice2  rackalice1

Christmas Carol

rackxmas1  rackxmas2

rackxmas3   rackxmas4

For a suitable recipe I have chosen the caption for this last illustration from Dickens’ Christmas Carol, “He produced a decanter of curiously light wine, and a block of curiously heavy cake.”  I can’t think of a Dickensian era cake heavier than Isabella Beeton’s “Rich Bride or Christening Cake,” which is a very dense fruitcake much like classic English Christmas cake.  In this case the recipe is not only heavy in texture but also in sheer weight.  There are 17 pounds of dry ingredients along with 16 eggs, which conservatively weigh 1 ½ pounds.  Quarter the recipe and use an 8 in deep pan.

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RICH BRIDE OR CHRISTENING CAKE.

1753. INGREDIENTS.—5 lbs. of the finest flour, 3 lbs. of fresh butter, 5 lbs. of currants, 2 lbs. of sifted loaf sugar, 2 nutmegs, 1/4 oz. of mace, half 1/4 oz. of cloves, 16 eggs, 1 lb. of sweet almonds, 1/2 lb. of candied citron, 1/2 lb. each of candied orange and lemon peel, 1 gill of wine, 1 gill of brandy.

Mode.—Let the flour be as fine as possible, and well dried and sifted; the currants washed, picked, and dried before the fire; the sugar well pounded and sifted; the nutmegs grated, the spices pounded; the eggs thoroughly whisked, whites and yolks separately; the almonds pounded with a little orange-flower water, and the candied peel cut in neat slices. When all these ingredients are prepared, mix them in the following manner. Begin working the butter with the hand till it becomes of a cream-like consistency; stir in the sugar, and when the whites of the eggs are whisked to a solid froth, mix them with the butter and sugar; next, well beat up the yolks for 10 minutes, and, adding them to the flour, nutmegs, mace, and cloves, continue beating the whole together for 1/2 hour or longer, till wanted for the oven. Then mix in lightly the currants, almonds, and candied peel with the wine and brandy; and having lined a hoop with buttered paper, fill it with the mixture, and bake the cake in a tolerably quick oven, taking care, however, not to burn it: to prevent this, the top of it may be covered with a sheet of paper. To ascertain whether the cake is done, plunge a clean knife into the middle of it, withdraw it directly, and if the blade is not sticky, and looks bright, the cake is sufficiently baked. These cakes are usually spread with a thick layer of almond icing, and over that another layer of sugar icing, and afterwards ornamented. In baking a large cake like this, great attention must be paid to the heat of the oven; it should not be too fierce, but have a good soaking heat.

Time.—5 to 6 hours. Average cost, 2s. per lb.

Fruit cake like this was always traditional for English wedding cakes. The top tier was often saved for either the bride and groom’s first anniversary, or their first baby’s christening.  Prince William and Kate are reported to have saved the top two tiers from theirs (below).  This is possible because the cake is so dense (much like Christmas pudding). Note that this one, according to Beeton’s calculation would have cost more than 36 shillings, which was more than Bob Crachit took home in two weeks (he made 15s per week).

rackcake

May 222013
 

Conan_doyle

Today is the birthday of Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1869) best known for the creation of the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. Often the author is referred to as Conan Doyle as if he had a compound last name.  But, in fact, Doyle was his last name and Conan was one of his first names.  He was born and raised in Edinburgh and went to Edinburgh University to study medicine. In 1882 he opened his first medical practice in partnership with a classmate in Plymouth but within months left to set up an independent practice in Portsmouth.  He was not very successful at first, so while he was waiting for patients he wrote short stories. He had trouble finding publishers until he wrote his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. It was picked up by Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, a paperback magazine founded by Samuel Orchart Beeton, husband of legendary cookbook author, Isabella Beeton ( and her publisher). The character of Holmes was loosely based on one of Doyle’s teachers, Joseph Bell, who was noted for his powers of deductive reasoning. One might get the impression from his photo, and his profession that Doyle modeled Dr Watson on himself. Like Watson, Doyle worked as a field hospital doctor (in the Boer War).

Doyle always considered his other writing, especially his historical novels, as more important than the Holmes stories, and so wrote to his mother in 1891: “I think of slaying Holmes… and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.” His mother responded, “You won’t! You can’t! You mustn’t!” Yet, in 1893 in “The Final Problem” he had Holmes tumble over the Reichenbach Falls with his arch enemy Moriarty and thought he was done with him.  But public outcry was so great that he agreed to write more and published The Hound of The Baskervilles in 1901, set at a time before the Reichenbach incident.  Then in 1903 he brought Holmes back in the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes, in which he explained that only Moriarty had fallen to his death, but Holmes let it be thought he was dead because he had other mortal enemies.

In the collection, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, is a story called “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez.” Holmes is able to solve the mystery of a disappearing murderer in part by noting the eating habits of the occupant of the house, a mysterious professor, where the murder takes place. The following exchange occurs between Holmes and the housekeeper.

“I suppose the professor eats hardly anything?”
“Well, he is variable. I’ll say that for him.”
“I’ll wager he took no breakfast this morning, and won’t face his lunch after all the cigarettes I saw him consume.”
“Well, you’re out there, sir, as it happens, for he ate a remarkable big breakfast this morning. I don’t know when I’ve known him make a better one, and he’s ordered a good dish of cutlets for his lunch”

Ever since his first appearance, Holmes has attracted a huge following, and there are scores of clubs devoted to picking apart every detail of the stories trying to complete a biography of him from tiny slivers of evidence.  Dozens of books have been written extending tales of Holmes’ life, and there seems to be no end of movies and television shows attempting to expand our vision of the detective. So I guess I should join the crowd (I am a fan too), and attempt to recreate the dish of cutlets the professor had ordered. If you want to know why the cutlets are important you will have to read the story for yourself.  What sort of fan would I be if I gave away the ending?

Given the connexion between Doyle and Isabella Beeton I give here one of her recipes in her own words for veal cutlets, which is a variant of breaded cutlet recipes found from Vienna to Buenos Aires, but with an English twist. She does not say what “savoury herbs” to use but I would imagine that parsley, thyme, and sage would fit the bill nicely.  I don’t doubt Holmes ate something similar on many occasions. The gravy might be a bit bland for modern tastes so you can use beef stock instead of water and use a few pinches of fresh thyme and parsley to punch it up. Forcemeat balls are meatballs made from equal quantities of finely ground meat and fat pounded together, much like a sausage filling, sometimes bound with an egg (and breadcrumbs) and shallow fried.  Forcemeat made from bacon and suet would work well with this recipe. For some reason Beeton mentions forcemeat balls all the time in her cookbook but gives a recipe only for fish forcemeat. So I have appended a modern recipe from Scotland for bacon forcemeat balls.

VEAL CUTLETS .

866. INGREDIENTS.—About 3 lbs. of the prime part of the leg of veal, egg and bread crumbs, 3 tablespoonfuls of minced savoury herbs, salt and pepper to taste, a small piece of butter.

Mode.—Have the veal cut into slices about 3/4 of an inch in thickness, and, if not cut perfectly even, level the meat with a cutlet-bat or rolling-pin. Shape and trim the cutlets, and brush them over with egg. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, with which have been mixed minced herbs and a seasoning of pepper and salt, and press the crumbs down. Fry them of a delicate brown in fresh lard or butter, and be careful not to burn them. They should be very thoroughly done, but not dry. If the cutlets be thick, keep the pan covered for a few minutes at a good distance from the fire, after they have acquired a good colour:  by this means, the meat will be done through. Lay the cutlets in a dish, keep them hot, and make a gravy in the pan as follows: Dredge in a little flour, add a piece of butter the size of a walnut, brown it, then pour as much boiling water as is required over it, season with pepper and salt, add a little lemon-juice, give one boil, and pour it over the cutlets. They should be garnished with slices of broiled bacon, and a few forcemeat balls will be found a very excellent addition to this dish.

Time.—For cutlets of a moderate thickness, about 12 minutes; if very thick, allow more time.

Average cost, 10d. per lb. Sufficient for 6 persons.

Bacon Forcemeat Balls

Ingredients:

6 oz (175g) breadcrumbs
2 oz (50g) finely shredded suet
2 oz (50g)bacon, finely chopped and fried until crisp
4 teaspoons of mixed fresh parsley, sage and thyme finely chopped
salt
black pepper
1 egg, well beaten
1 1/2 oz (40g) butter

Instructions:

Mix together the breadcrumbs and the suet in a bowl.

Add the bacon, herbs, salt and pepper (to taste).

Stir the beaten egg into the mixture.

Form into balls about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter.

Melt the butter in a frying pan.

Add the forcemeat balls and fry for 6 minutes.

Yield: 6-8 balls

 

 

 

May 122013
 

Florence_Nightingale_CDV_by_H_Lenthall

Today is the birthday (1820) of Florence Nightingale.  Most people know her as “The Lady with the Lamp” because of her habit of making rounds late at night in the hospital in Crimea when all were asleep.  Few people know of her extraordinary accomplishments and diverse interests.  She is rightly considered the founder of modern nursing, beginning with her establishment of a nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860: the first secular nursing school in the world. Because of this fact, today is celebrated worldwide as International Nurses Day.  She was also a tireless social reformer campaigning for better healthcare in Britain, a greater role for women in society, the relief of hunger in India, and the abolition of harsh laws regulating prostitution.  She was a prodigious writer on a wide variety of subjects including feminism, mysticism, and religion.  Although she was a staunch Christian she firmly believed that ALL religions had something to offer spiritually.  She was adept at presenting statistical information to decision makers in simple graphical form, and invented a form of pie chart, the polar area diagram, sometimes called the Nightingale rose diagram, in order to illustrate, simply and graphically, seasonal sources of patient mortality in the military field hospital.  All in all, a powerhouse to be reckoned with, especially considering she lived in an era when women of her class were largely uneducated and expected only to marry and bear children.

For today’s recipe I have chosen beef tea taken directly from the Invalid Food chapter of Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861.  This was my mother’s cooking Bible, and when I was convalescing as a small boy she would often make me beef tea.  Amusingly at the end of the recipe Mrs Beeton quotes Nightingale as saying that beef tea was calming (just like any other tea), but had no real nutritive value for the sick!

1858. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of lean gravy-beef, 1 quart of water, 1 saltspoonful of salt.

Mode.—Have the meat cut without fat and bone, and choose a nice fleshy piece. Cut it into small pieces about the size of dice, and put it into a clean saucepan. Add the water cold to it; put it on the fire, and bring it to the boiling-point; then skim well. Put in the salt when the water boils, and simmer the beef tea gently from 1/2 to 3/4 hour, removing any more scum should it appear on the surface. Strain the tea through a hair sieve, and set it by in a cool place. When wanted for use, remove every particle of fat from the top; warm up as much as may be required, adding, if necessary, a little more salt. This preparation is simple beef tea, and is to be administered to those invalids to whom flavourings and seasonings are not allowed. When the patient is very low, use double the quantity of meat to the same proportion of water. Should the invalid be able to take the tea prepared in a more palatable manner, it is easy to make it so by following the directions in the next recipe, which is an admirable one for making savoury beef tea. Beef tea is always better when made the day before it is wanted, and then warmed up. It is a good plan to put the tea into a small cup or basin, and to place this basin in a saucepan of boiling water. When the tea is warm, it is ready to serve.

Time.—1/4 to 3/4 hour. Average cost, 6d. per pint.