Posted on

Mr. Woodhouse’s Thin Gruel

The gruel came and supplied a great deal to be said — much praise and many comments — undoubting decision of its wholesomeness for every constitution, and pretty severe Philippics upon the many houses where it was never met with tolerable; — but, unfortunately, among the failures which the daughter had to instance, the most recent, and therefore most prominent, was in her own cook at South End, a young woman hired for the time, who never had been able to understand what she meant by a basin of nice smooth gruel, thin, but not too thin.
Emma

Of all Jane Austen’s hypochrondriacs, perhaps her most endearing is Mr. Woodhouse. Afraid of germs, draughts, too rich food and all manner of nervous complaints brought on by change, he forces himself, and often those around him, to live on a diet of plain foods:

“My poor dear Isabella,” said he, fondly taking her hand, and interrupting, for a few moments, her busy labours for some one of her five children — “How long it is, how terribly long since you were here! And how tired you must be after your journey! You must go to bed early, my dear — and I recommend a little gruel to you before you go. — You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together. My dear Emma, suppose we all have a little gruel.”

Emma could not suppose any such thing, knowing as she did, that both the Mr Knightleys were as unpersuadable on that article as herself; — and two basins only were ordered.

Gruel was, by nature, a dish reserved for the very poor, who could afford nothing else, and invalids, who could tolerate nothing else. A type of thin porridge, it is made of oats stewed with either milk or water, and is served with salt or sugar and milk.

The first evidence for dishes resembling porridge is prehistoric. Neolithic farmers cultivated oats along with other crops. Various types of grains and grain meals could be stewed in water to form a thick porridge-like dish. Anglo Saxon sources describe “briw” or “brewit” made from rye meal, barley meal or oats served plain or with vegetables in. There are also references to some types of porridges being fermented.

Porridges and gruels were an easy way to cook grains. The grain only had to be cracked, not completely ground into flour. It could be cooked very simply in a pot at the edge of a fire. Bread required an oven to cook in. It formed a basis for many dishes, both sweet and savoury. It was served with meat, stock or fat, as well as with vegetables, fruits, honey or spices. It could be allowed to cool and set in a “porridge drawer”, and could then be sliced to be eaten cold or even fried.

Eighteenth Century cookbooks such as Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, 1747, give recipes for “Water Gruel” made of oatmeal and water, and flavoured with butter and pepper. It might be served with wine sauce, sherry and dried fruits by rich people, whereas the poor ate the dish on its own. It could be served with any meal at any time of the day. Sugar only became widely available in Britain in the Eighteenth Century, so it was probably not used on porridge before then.

Oliver Twist As a inexpensive dish, Gruel or Porridge became the meal of choice served at workhouses around the nation in the early to mid 1800’s. In 1837, Charles Dickens sarcastically wrote “…that all poor people should have the alternative of being starved by a gradual process in the [work] house, or by a quick one out of it. With this view, they contracted with the water-works to lay on an unlimited supply of water, and with a corn-factory (grain processor) to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal, and issued three meals of thin gruel a day….”* Who can forget the image of young Oliver Twist asking, “Please sir, may I have some more?”

This is not to say that all porridges were reserved for the indigent. Oats were a kitchen staple at the time for every household and many richer versions found their way on the tables of the wealthy as well as the working class.These dishes included plumb porridge or barley gruel, made from barley and water, with dried fruit added. Burstin was made by roasting hulled barley grains and then grinding them, it could then be served with milk Frumenty was hulled wheat cooked with milk, cream and eggs and flavoured with spices. SUrely Mr. Woodhouse would have been shocked at such profligacy!

To Make Water-Gruel
You must take a pint of water and a large spoonful of oatmeal; then stir it together and let it boil up three or four times, stirring it often; do not let it boil over; then strain it through a sieve, salt it to your palate, put in a good piece of fresh butter, brew it with a spoon til the butter is all melted, then it will be fine and smooth, and very good: som love a little pepper in it.
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1796

Recipe for Oatmeal Gruel
1/3 cup rolled oats
1 pint water
1 pint or more hot milk
1¼ teaspoons salt

Add the salt to the water, and bring to a boil in the inner cup of a double boiler. Stir in the rolled oats. Boil over the fire two or three minutes, then set the inner cup in the outer cup of the double boiler which contains boiling water, and continue the cooking for three hours or longer. Then rub the oatmeal through a strainer. Add hot milk to make of the proper consistency for gruel.

Barley gruel, cornmeal gruel, or rice gruel may be made by the same recipe, using one-third cup pearl barley, one-fourth cup cornmeal, or one-fourth cup rice, instead of the rolled oats. And in making cornmeal or rice gruel one hour’s cooking of the cereal is sufficient. It may be necessary to cook the barley four or five hours.

It may sometimes be desirable to make the gruel entirely of water.

Portions of this article are quoted from Nicky Saunder’s article, “The History of Cooking: Porridge”. Many thanks to Lothene: Experimental Archeology for their kind permission to reprint.

*Oliver Twist, Chapter 2

Enjoyed this article? Browse our giftshop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk for Regency recipe books!

Posted on

Pickling Plums and Other Indigestibles

My cloak is come home. I like it very much, and can now exclaim with delight, like J. Bond at hay-harvest, “This is what I have been looking for these three years.” I saw some gauzes in a shop in Bath Street yesterday at only 4d. a yard, but they were not so good or so pretty as mine. Flowers are very much worn, and fruit is still more the thing. Elizabeth has a bunch of strawberries, and I have seen grapes, cherries, plums, and apricots. There are likewise almonds and raisins, French plums, and tamarinds at the grocers’, but I have never seen any of them in hats. A plum or greengage would cost three shillings; cherries and grapes about five, I believe, but this is at some of the dearest shops. My aunt has told me of a very cheap one, near Walcot Church, to which I shall go in guest of something for you. I have never seen an old woman at the pump-room.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
June 2, 1799

In his work on period fruits, Mark Harris provides the following information:

“Plums (Prunus domestica) originated around Armenia in Asia Minor and are only botanically distinguished from cherries by their size. Plums were first cultivated in western China. Wild plums, the Bullace (Prunus instititia), Cherry Plums (Prunus cerasifera) and the Sloe (Prunus spinosa) now grow wild throughout Europe and have hybridized extensively. Cultivated plums arose as a cross between the sloe and the cherry plum in the Caucasus region. Damsons are a variety of bullace plum well known in Roman times, and imported from Damascus in Syria, hence its name. At the time of Cato, Romans were familiar with prunes but not the plum tree itself. Besides the Damson, Pliney described 12 varieties of plums growing in Italy in the 1st century A.D. Plums have been cultivated in Europe since the 8th century and are recorded in England from the 13th century. Chaucer described a garden with “ploumes and bulaces” in 1369; “Damaske or damassons” (damson) plums are mentioned in the 1526 Grete Herball of Peter Treveris.

Blue Pérrigon or the Précoce de Tours was both a blue-black prune and dessert plum grown in Italy and France near the Basse Alps. It was first imported to England in 1582.

Another French bullace was the Reine Claude (103), dating in France from the reign of Francis I (1494-1547). It came from Italy, where it was called Verdocchia (104); it came to Italy from Armenia via Greece. This plum is better known by its English name of Greengage.”

To preserve this delicious summer fruit, one could either dry them, creating prunes, or pickle them, as the following recipe from Martha Lloyd’s Household book records:

To Pickle Dutch Plum or White Damsons and Orleans Plum
(also melons and cucumbers)
To a gallon of white wine vinegar put 3 pints of mustard and heads of garlick, a good handful of shallots, a good handful of horse radish, when it is sliced, three races [roots] of ginger sliced, half and oz of Jamaica pepper, and what salt you think fit. The plums must be gathered before they are quite ripe, when they are turning yellow. They must be cut a little on one side to let in the liquor. Put them in a row. Your mustard must be made as to eat. You may do melons or cucumbers the same way, only take ou the inside and rub them with salt.

Pickled Damsons or Plums
2 lb Damsons or Plums
1 lb Granulated sugar
½ pint Malt Vinegar
½ Lemon, zest only
2 Cloves
1 Small Piece Root Ginger, peeled and bruised

Place all the ingredients except the fruit in a saucepan.

Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly, strain.

Return the vinegar to the saucepan and bring to the boil.

Prick the fruit, place into a deep bowl, pour over the vinegar.

Cover and leave in a cool place for 5 days.

Strain the liquid into a saucepan, bring to the boil.

Pour over the fruit.

Cover and leave in a cool place for 5 days.

Strain the liquid into a saucepan, bring to the boil.

Place the fruit into jars, pour over the boiling liquid.

Immediately seal with airtight lids.

Leave for 6 weeks to mature before using. Serve as a side to cold meats.

Recipe reprinted with Permission from The Foody.

Enjoyed this article? Browse our giftshop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk for Regency recipe books!

Posted on

The Spices of Life

 

The kitchen-garden was to be next admired, and he led the way to it across a small portion of the park.
Northanger Abbey

“Season the gravy very high,” advised Thomas Jefferson in a household recipe for beefsteak pie. Such instructions sound a bit vague to modern cooks, but the colonial kitchen-master no doubt understood how to proceed.

A recipe might state, “first make your coffin,” referring to the fact that “pyes” were baked in rectangular, narrow pans (“coffins”) similar to our loaf pans. The British adored their “pyes”, and of course when they settled in [America], whenever feasible, prepared comforting foods reminiscent of those served in merrie old England.

Favorite pies included those containing plovers’ eggs, sparrows, robins, pigeons, pheasant, turkey, veal mutton, pork, “leman” rind, and dates.

A smaller version of the pie was the “pastie” or “pasty” or “fried pie” or “turnover.” These portable pies were handy (and tough-crusted enough) to slip into a saddlebag for journeying, and added variety to other travel fare like journeycake (or johnnycake) and corn bread.

When preparing savory colonial pies and pastries, the cook had but to step outside to the nearby herb garden to gather savory, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme, chives, garlic, onions, etc. In winter, dried herbs hung from the kitchen rafters ready for use. To add flavor and fat to the dry, lean meat of venison, elk, and moose, sugared racoon fat was utilized.

Other colonial flavor enhancers included an abundance of imported nutmeg, ginger, vinegar, and wines. Moreover, the basic flavor of olden-times meat and fowl was more distinct than much of that served today. After all, the fat hen destined to be the prima donna of the chicken pot pie had actually seen the light of day, eaten tasty earthworms and grubs, and known the attentions of a rooster.

Some food critics claim that early American foods were heavily spiced and seasoned to disguise rancid meat and dairy products, and old, dried-out vegetables and fruits. Though there were periods when hot weather did cause food to spoil quickly, and seasons of long winters when the stored root vegetables began to wrinkle from age, colonial meals were not normally dismal repasts of poor-quality foods disguised with herbs.

The prosperous colonists actually ate an enviable diet — home-grown, “organic,” whole foods; no chemicals, no peculiar-sounding additives. The preservatives used were natural, like salt, vinegar, and particular herbs. (Sage and rosemary are natural preservatives, and mustard seeds also inhabit the growth of mold, bacteria, and yeasts.)

In “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” by Hannah Glasse (1796), a recipe is represented “For Captains Of Ships” which is also billed as “very useful in Families.” This concoction is a heady mixture of ale, anchovies, shallots, mace, cloves, pepper, ginger, and mushrooms, and is entitled “To make Catchup to keep twenty years.”

No nasty added nitrates or nitrites in that list of ingredients! The colonial family was able to enjoy a nutritious diet, most of which was produced on their own land, the result of individual expenditures of time, energy, skill, and attention. That hearth-baked, steaming pot pie had not hibernated in the local supermarket’s frozen food section, or suffered the abuse of a crowded check-out line food conveyor belt and the crushing constriction of a plastic grocery bag. Its experience was very personal and loving.


For Captains of Ships: To Make Catchup to keep Twenty Years
Take a gallon of strong stale beer, one pound of anchovies washed from the pickle, a pound of shallots peeled, half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of whole pepper, three or four large races of ginger, two quarts of large mushroom flaps rubbed to pieces; cover all these close, and let it simmer til it is half wasted, then strain it through a flannel bag; let it stand til it is quite cold, then bottle it. You may carry it to the Indies. A spoonful of this to a pound of fresh butter melted makes a fine fish-sauce, or in the room of gravy sauce. The stronger and staler the beer is, the better the catchup will be.
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy
Hannah Glasse, 1796

According to the authors at About.com, the word ketchup is derived from the Chinese ke-tsiap, a pickled fish sauce. It made its way to Malaysia where it became kechap and ketjap in Indonesia. Seventeenth century English sailors first discovered the delights of this Chinese condiment and brought it west. Ketchup was first mentioned in print around 1690. The Chinese version is actually more akin to a soy or Worcestershire sauce. It gradually went through various changes, particularly with the addition of tomatoes in the 1700s, and by the nineteenth century, ketchup was also known as tomato soy. Early tomato versions were much thinner and more like a soy or Worcestershire sauce. F. & J. Heinz Company began selling tomato ketchup in 1876. By the end of the nineteenth century, tomato ketchup was the primary type of ketchup, and the descriptor of tomato was gradually dropped. Catsup and catchup are acceptable spellings used interchangeably with ketchup, but ketchup is the way you will find it listed in the majority of cookbooks.”

 

This article by Patricia B. Mitchell was first published as part of her “A Fork in the Road” column in The Register and Bee, Danville, Virginia, Sunday, March 3, 1991. Paticia Mitchell is the author of numerous period recipe cookbooks when she’s not managing the Sims-Mitchell House Bed and Breakfast. Copies of her various cookbooks can be purchased from her website: www.foodhistory.com. Please contact the Mitchells for information on international shipping.

Enjoyed this article? Browse our giftshop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk for Regency recipe books!

Posted on

Barmbrack

Barmbrack (sometimes called Bairin Brack), a rich Irish fruit bread, is the food most associated with ancient Halloween customs. The “charms” baked into each loaf would fortell the future of the recipiant. Placed in the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth and a ring. Whovever received in their slice the pea, would be unmarried; the stick, would be a fighter (or wife beater!); the cloth or rag, would be poor; and the ring, would be wed within the year.

Barmbrack is similar in style, though denser, to the Italian Pannettone.

The word barm comes from an old English word, beorma, meaning yeasty fermented liquor. Brack comes from the Irish word brac, meaning speckled – which, of course, it is, with dried fruit and candied peel.

Barmbrack is usually baked in a round (20 cm or 8″) cake tin with a loose base, but this recipe works just as well with a rectangular loaf tin. The quantities given here will make one large loaf.

  • 2 tea bags, or 3 tsp. loose tea (a strong black blend works best)
  • 3½ cups (12 oz, 350 g) mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins/sultanas, currants, candied peel)
  • 1 cup (8 fl oz, 240 ml) milk
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. dried active yeast (not instant yeast)
  • 3 cups (1 lb, 450 g) strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup (1 oz, 25 g) brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (3 oz, 75 g) butter or margarine
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp. mixed spice

Oven: Pre-heat to 350F (180C).

Start by making two cups (16 fl oz, 480 ml) of strong black tea. Remove the tea bags, or strain the tea to remove the leaves. Soak the dried fruit in the tea. Ideally, the fruit should soak for several hours or even overnight, but if this is not possible, don’t worry – just leave it soaking for as long as you can.

Warm the milk until it is hand-hot (you can do this in the microwave). Stir in the teaspoon of sugar and the yeast, and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes or until it becomes frothy.

Mix the flour, salt and brown sugar in a large bowl. Rub in the butter or margarine. Add the frothy yeast, the beaten egg and the spice. Drain any remaining liquid from the fruit, then add the fruit to the mixture. Mix well to make a smooth dough (add extra flour if the mixture is too wet).

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead it thoroughly. Place it in an oiled tin, cover with a cloth, and leave in a warm place to rise for 45 – 60 minutes; the dough should have doubled in size.

Place the tin in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the loaf from the tin, turn it upside down and put it back in the tin or directly on the oven shelf. Bake for another 20 minutes or so. The loaf will be ready when it sounds hollow when you tap on each of the sides. Cool the loaf on a wire rack before serving.

Recipe written by Mike Lewis, courtesy of veg-world.com

Enjoyed this article? Browse our giftshop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk for Regency recipe books!

Posted on

Mashed Potatoes for Christmas

 

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone–too nervous to bear witnesses–to take the pudding up, and bring it in.
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843

Goose, stuffing, applesauce and mashed potatoes. The Cratchitt’s Christmas dinner sounds a lot like what many of us will be enjoying this Christmas, but in Jane Austen’s day, only twenty or thirty years before the writing of A Christmas Carol potatoes were a fairly new offering on the dinner table. One that was often eyed with suspicion more than anything else.

Though potatoes were brought to Spain from South America in the 1500’s, it would take almost 300 more years before they were adopted with any alacrity by the rest of Europe. Eventually, they were recognized to contain almost every necessary vitamin for survival. The idea that one acre of potatoes could support a family of 10 was especially well received in Ireland. In 1780 widespread cultivation of white (versus sweet) potatoes began in Ireland, eventually reaching Britain and beyond. The population explosion in Ireland in the early 1800’s owes itself to this new food source, and when, in the 1840’s a blight wiped out the entire crop, there was widespread famine across the country, bringing to life a massive exodus of Irish immigrants to the United States.

We know that Jane Austen was familiar with potatoes and probably enjoyed them frequently, though it is left to our imaginations to wonder if the dish enjoyed by Dr. Grant in the Mansfield Parsonage was baked, boiled, roasted or mashed. It is curious to note that what was once served as a delicate and rare dish became, in a few decades time associated with a poor man’s dish and therefore fit for the Cratchitt’s table.

Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients:
Potatoes: to every lb. of mashed potatoes allow 1 oz. of butter,
2 tablespoonfuls of milk, salt to taste.

Mode
Boil the potatoes in their skins; when done, drain them, and let them get thoroughly dry by the side of the fire; then peel them, and, as they are peeled, put them into a clean saucepan, and with a large fork beat them to a light paste; add butter, milk, and salt in the above proportion, and stir all the ingredients well over the fire. When thoroughly hot, dish them lightly, and draw the fork backwards over the potatoes to make the surface rough, and serve. When dressed in this manner, they may be browned at the top with a salamander, or before the fire. Some cooks press the potatoes into moulds, then turn them out, and brown them in the oven: this is a pretty mode of serving, but it makes them heavy. In whatever way they are sent to table, care must be taken to have them quite free from lumps.
Isabella Beeton Book of Household Management, 1859

 

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 1/2 lbs potatoes, peeled and quartered
    (Yukon Gold are best)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • Salt and Pepper
  • A potato masher

Put potatoes into a saucepan. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add water until potatoes are covered. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes, or until done (a fork can easily be poked through them.)

Warm cream and melt butter together, either in microwave or in a pan on the stove. Drain water from potatoes. Put hot potatoes into a bowl. Add cream and melted butter. Use potato masher to mash potatoes until well mashed. Use a strong spoon to beat further, adding milk to achieve the consistency you desire. (Do not over-beat or your potatoes will get gluey.) Salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoyed this article? Browse our giftshop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk for Regency recipe books!

Posted on

Clotted cream

 We are not so happy as we were. A message came this afternoon from Mrs. Latouche and Miss East, offering themselves to drink tea with us to-morrow, and, as it was accepted, here is an end of our extreme felicity in our dinner guest. I am heartily sorry they are coming; it will be an evening spoilt to Fanny and me.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
November 24, 1815

Clotted cream is a thick yellow cream made by heating unpasteurized cow’s milk and then leaving it in shallow pans for several hours. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms ‘clots’. Clotted cream purists prefer the milk to come from cows in the English counties of Devon and Cornwall.

Scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, served in our Tea Room.

Clotted cream is generally served as part of a cream tea (also known as a Devonshire Tea) on (warm) scones with strawberry or raspberry jam.

Legends vary, assigning the origins of Clotted Cream to both Devonshire and Cornwall, but regardless of it’s beginnings, it had become a popular dish in it’s own right by the late 1600’s. Numerous recipes abounded, some for creating a plain cream dish, others used citrus flavourings to make a sweet dessert. Common period instructions suggested that you:

“Take the night’s milk and put into a broad earthenware pan. In the morning, set over a slow fire and allow it to stand there from morn to night, making certain not to boil the liquid, only heat it. Take off the fire and set overnight in a cool place. Next morning, dish off your cream and it will be quite thick.”

Clotted Cream can often be purchased for an authentic tea-time treat. When clotted cream is not commercially available, a reasonable facsimile may be made by combining two parts whole milk with one part whipping (heavy) cream, heating at the very lowest possible heat for a couple of hours until a skin forms, leaving it undisturbed overnight, and then harvesting the skin and its underclots. The remaining milk may be consumed or used in any number of recipes.

Some information from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

Enjoyed this article? Browse our giftshop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk for Regency recipe books!