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A Ragout of Beef

Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards, who, when he found her prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her. Pride and Prejudice By Georgian times, Roast Beef* had become the staple of the Englishman’s diet. The subject of song and legend, this particular dish was credited with everything from Englishmen’s courage and stout hearts to their victories over France. A traveler of the 1700’s observed: “Roast meat is the Englishman’s delice and principal dish. The English roasts are particularly remarkable for two things. 1. All English meat, whether it is of ox, calf, sheep, or swine, has a fatness and delicious taste, either because of the excellent pasture…or for some other reason. 2. The English men understand almost better than any other people the art of properly roasting a joint, which also is not to be wondered at; because the art of cooking as practiced by most Englishmen does not extend much beyond roast beef and plum pudding.” During the Regency, however, British cooking had changed. French recipes became the rage. Indeed, Mrs. Bennet supposed Mr. Darcy to keep “…two or three French cooks at least.” With this change came a desire for more “exotic” dishes. Fricassees and Ragoo (ragout) began to appear on English tables. Though merely stewed meat and vegetables, they were certainly (more…)
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Mock Turtle Soup

Mr. J. Plumptre joined in the latter part of the evening, walked home with us, ate some soup, and is very earnest for our going to Covent Garden again to-night to see Miss Stephens in the “Farmer’s Wife.” Jane Austen to Cassandra Henrietta Street: Saturday, 5 March, 1814 At Valentine’s day, it’s easy to think of foods that promote love and romance. Strawberries, chocolate, Champagne, Turtles. Turtles?? But of course. Tradition has long held with the aphrodisiacal properties of this meat, along with such standards as oysters, honey and almonds. Stranger items have been sought throughout history, most of them expensive and only available to the upper classes. Regency wives loved to show off at dinner providing the most expensive and exotic of every dish they could afford. Turtle soup, made from the meat and the green cartilage lining of a Green Turtle’s shell, certainly fit the bill. This gelatinous dish suggested oppulence and wealth: turtles had to be imported to England from the Cayman Islands especially for this meal. In fact, it was so popular that it was always included on the menu for a banquet of the Lord Mayor of London. Heavy harvesting of the Green Turtle caused near extinction. Around the turn of the 19th century, cooks got busy experimenting with less expensive ways to create the same effect. The result was “Mock” Turtle soup. Mrs. Fowle’s Mock Turtle Soup Take a large calves head. Scald off the hair. Boil it until the horn is tender, then (more…)
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The Sandwich Tray

“…it was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray…” Mansfield Park 1783 Portrait of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, by Thomas Gainsborough. Tradition holds that the Sandwich was born sometime around 1765 when “A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London: it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.“* That Minister was, of course, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. There is doubt as to whether this was the actual origin, though no one seems to be too keen on disproving the Earl. It is just as possible, however, that he requested this favorite dish while spending hours at his desk with papers of State rather than at the gaming tables. He was a busy man, known for his early rising, with duties as Politician, Naval Administrator, Duke of Bedford, Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of state, and patron of Capt. James Cooke (who named the Sandwich Islands–Hawaii– in his honor.) At a time when dinner was the large meal of the day (served at 4 p.m.) and lunch not yet invented, it would make sense that a busy man would need some (more…)
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Roast Michaelmas Goose with Apples and Prunes

“Mr. Rob. Mascall breakfasted here; he eats a great deal of butter. I dined upon goose yesterday, which, I hope, will secure a good sale of my second edition. Have you any tomatas? Fanny and I regale on them every day.” Jane Austen to Cassandra, October 11, 1813 September 29, the Feast of Saint Micheal is one of the extant quarter days which survive from the agricultural calendar. In medieval England it was the start of the fiscal year,and even through the Regency and Victorian times it was celebrated as an end of Harvest holiday with feasting and special food. In Ireland and northern England, it was thought that if you ate goose at Michaelmas you would have good fortune for the rest of the year. This image was selected as picture of the day on the English Wikipedia for August 27, 2006. ‘Green’ geese which had fed on pasture, made a traditional feast for Michaelmas, in late September, and were less fatty than Christmas geese. The roast bird was always accompanied by apples, as windfalls were plentiful. Geese are in season from September to December but are not so widely available nowadays. You will roast a [Goose] after it has been well plucked, cleaned and washed; and after roasting it, put it into a dish before it cools off and pour over it either orange juice or verjuice with rosewater, sugar and well-ground cinnamon, and serve it to your guests. Cariadoc’s Miscellany Roast Michaelmas Goose with Apples and Prunes (more…)
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A Dish of Mutton

And it all ended, at last, in his telling Henry one morning that when he next went to Woodston, they would take him by surprise there some day or other, and eat their mutton with him. Henry was greatly honoured and very happy, and Catherine was quite delighted with the scheme. Northanger Abbey, 1818 For hundreds of years, mutton was the staple meat of the British household, considered superior in both texture and flavor to lamb. According to legendary cook Fanny Farmer (The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, 1918) Lamb is the name given to the meat of lambs; mutton, to the meat of sheep. Lamb, coming as it does from the young creature, is immature, and less nutritious than mutton. The flesh of mutton ranks with the flesh of beef in nutritive value and digestibility. The fat of mutton, on account of its larger percentage of stearic acid, is more difficult of digestion than the fat of beef. Lamb may be eaten soon after the animal is killed and dressed; mutton must hang to ripen. Good mutton comes from a sheep about three years old, and should hang from two to three weeks. The English South Down Mutton is cut from creatures even older than three years. Young lamb, when killed from six weeks to three months old, is called spring lamb, and appears in the market as early as the last of January, but is very scarce until March. Lamb one year old is called a yearling. Many object to (more…)
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The Comforts of Cold Ham

My Mother has undertaken to cure six Hams for Frank;–at first it was a distress, but now it is a pleasure. Jane from Southampton to Cassandra October 1, 1808 Officers in His Majesty’s Navy, if they wished to avoid a diet of hardtack at sea, were responsible for providing their own meals. As you can see from the above quote Jane Austen’s mother was helping her son, Frank, prepare for a voyage. Butchering time came around every fall along with the harvest, once the weather had cooled from the heat of summer. It was an all consuming task as wisdom of the day encouraged cooks to “use every part of the pig except the squeal.” Sausages, hams, bacon and more were put aside to last through the coming year. The following recipes give some idea of the work that lay ahead for the cook of the family, once the hogs had been butchered. The first two are from Martha Lloyd’s Household book, the one for bacon, coming from Mrs. Craven, Martha’s aunt by marriage. To Cure Bacon Rub the flitches over the Salt Petre, particularly observing to force some in where the hocks are taken off, then take one pound of coarse feeding syrup [molasses] and as much common Salt as will mix together. Strew it regularly over the flitches, cover it over with the common salt and press down close with the hand, let it lay twenty four hours, then rub it well and add a little fresh salt, (more…)
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A Platter of Pasties

Pasties were the staple of the working man’s noon meal. Legend holds that the meat filled pastry was brought all over England by miners from Cornwall. Cooks there would place each individuals’ initials in the corner of the the pastie making them easily identifiable to the owner. There were various strategies to eating your pastie– though most included holding it at the seam and eating towards it– this provided and handy way to identify unfinished pieces and avoid getting dirty hands on your lunch. Pasties are a delicious way to warm up on a chilly winter day. Petit Pasties Make a short crust, roll it thick, make them about as big as the bowl of a spoon and about an inch deep; take a piece of veal enough to fill the patty, as much bacon and beef-suet, shred them all very fine, season them with pepper and salt, and a little sweet herbs; put them into a little stew-pan, keep turning them about, with a few mushrooms chopped small, for eight or ten minutes; then fill your petty-patties and cover them with some crust; colour them with the yolk of an egg, and bake them. Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery made Plain & Easy, 1792 Pasties with White Wine Sauce 7 oz/ 200 g shortcrust pastry egg wash for glazing 5 oz/ 150 g lean cooked veal or chicken without gristle or bone 5 oz/ 150 g rindless bacon rashers (slices), blanched 1 tablespoon shredded suet salt and pepper (more…)
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Mulaga-Tawny Soup

Now we have heard how Mrs. Sedley had prepared a fine curry for her son, just as he liked it, and in the course of dinner a portion of this dish was offered to Rebecca. “What is it?” said she, turning an appealing look to Mr. Joseph. “Capital,” said he. His mouth was full of it: his face quite red with the delightful exercise of gobbling. “Mother, it’s as good as my own curries in India.” “Oh, I must try some, if it is an Indian dish,” said Miss Rebecca. “I am sure everything must be good that comes from there.” “Give Miss Sharp some curry, my dear,” said Mr. Sedley, laughing. Rebecca had never tasted the dish before. “Do you find it as good as everything else from India?” said Mr. Sedley. “Oh, excellent!” said Rebecca, who was suffering tortures with the cayenne pepper. “Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp,” said Joseph, really interested. “A chili,” said Rebecca, gasping. “Oh yes!” She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported, and was served with some. “How fresh and green they look,” she said, and put one into her mouth. It was hotter than the curry; flesh and blood could bear it no longer. She laid down her fork. “Water, for Heaven’s sake, water!” she cried. Mr. Sedley burst out laughing (he was a coarse man, from the Stock Exchange, where they love all sorts of practical jokes). “They are real Indian, I assure you,” said he. (more…)