Sunday, March 19, 2017

Feminine Food: “Food That Looks Pretty” (1934)

Last week I gave you some ideas on how to “feed the brute,” 1930’s style. This week I am delighted to provide, from the same era, some alternatives for the more girly members of your family. The information, which I am sure you will find most informative and entertaining, comes from the same source – the scripts from Housekeepers’ Chat, a regular program from the United States Department of Agriculture Radio Service. Today’s story is from Monday, May 7, 1934.

Feminine Food.

                  A while ago — sometime in March, I believe — you and I had a chat about meals for men. Remember? We discussed what to put on the menu to suit the typically masculine taste. And we came to the conclusion that men generally prefer simple, hearty fare to dressy dishes, that they like old-time, substantial food to novelties or frills. For example, most men will choose corned "beef any time to dainty "bits like sweetbreads or squab. And we agreed that men generally liked roasted or broiled meats best, that they count on the old reliable Irish potato with meat, that they like plain, simple vegetables and salads, and that, if they have a sweet tooth, they will incline toward pie and ice cream rather than any other kind of dessert.

                  But when you're having just women in to a meal, that's quite another story. When you're entertaining the girls at a bridge luncheon, say, or when you're having the other wives in to a May-morning breakfast or a springtime tea, then you'll probably reverse many of these rules about menus for men. You know how we women are. When we're out by ourselves, our taste in the food line is usually very different from that which would please our husbands. Feminine inclinations generally are toward light, dainty food and away from calories. We enjoy the frills. We like food that looks pretty. And we like novelty dishes — new ways of cooking or serving.

                  Colorful fruits and vegetables appeal to us. That's one reason why tea rooms catering to women so often make a specialty of good-looking salads, vegetable plates, and fruit desserts. A successful restaurant in New York made a report on pies recently. The report said that mince and apple pies were most popular with men, but that lemon chiffon pies were the biggest sellers to women guests. Frills again, you see.

                  Men enjoy strong flavors and high seasoning. Women, on the other hand, often prefer the more delicate, subtle flavorings and seasoning. Men like onions and strong cheese and catsup and chili sauce and so on. Women prefer only a delicate trace of onion flavor generally; they'll usually choose milder cheese; and less of the highly seasoned sauces.

                  Quantity appeals to men. They like hearty food in generous amounts. Appearance and daintiness appeal to women. The time to plan your table decorations with the greatest care, the time to work out a pretty color scheme in the menu, and to exhibit your best china and linen — the time to pay the greatest attention to appearances, especially to the so-called "little touches," is when your guests are women . I heard someone say the other day that women wanted quality and men quantity in food. I shouldn't express it quite as strongly as that. But certainly women prefer small, perfect dishes, rather than large helpings. They would rather have a tiny chicken pattie, say, that was cooked to the queen's taste, than a large slice of roast beef or a big steak. The feminine eye and appetite will appreciate clever and dainty garnishing, and new and pretty ways of serving food.

                  Spring and early summer seem to be ideal seasons for feminine parties. You can feature the more delicate shades in your table decorations and in your menu. You have the delicate colors of the spring flowers as your guides. And you have the new tender garden fruits and vegetables for your menu. Spring flowers, new garden foods, new spring clothes — somehow they all go together.

                  A feminine company meal doesn't have to be expensive, either. The food nay be low in cost and you never need to serve large amounts. But everything on the menu must be delicious in flavor and attractive to look at.

                  Suppose now that we plan a May luncheon party, maybe for your bridge club, maybe for some other feminine occasion. This is a medium-priced menu with emphasis on delicate color and flavor.

                  Individual rice rings filled with cream salmon; New green peas; Cloverleaf rolls or tiny cheese baking powder biscuit served piping hot; Spring salad of garden greens or garden vegetables; for dessert, Rhubarb or strawberry tarts; Tea or coffee.

                  Just a word about making those rhubarb tarts. They're very simple. Some people like them made with a meringue over the top. Personally, I like just the rhubarb with no meringue. I like to see that delicious pink color suggesting springtime.

                  Well, bake your little pastry shells on the back of a muffin tin. Fill the shells with rhubarb sauce. You remember that when we spoke of making sauce we suggested dropping the diced rhubarb into a thick hot syrup and cooking gently until the rhubarb was tender. We also suggested that you could make sauce just by mixing the rhubarb with sugar and cooking. Always cook rhubarb gently so it will hold its shape. Never remove the skin. That gives the sauce its attractive color.

                  Some people like rhubarb tarts made spicy with the addition of nutmeg or even a bit of cinnamon. Other people like it cooked with a little orange or lemon peel. You suit yourself about that. Also suit your own taste about the meringue.

                  Once more — that menu: Individual rice rings served with creamed salmon; New green peas; Cloverleaf rolls or tiny hot cheese biscuit; Spring salad; Rhubarb tarts; Coffee or tea.

The recipes for the day come from the same era as the article above, but from the other side of the Atlantic. I give you the ideas for variation on a theme of rhubarb tart (including one topped with meringue) from a feature on seasonal rhubarb recipes which appeared in the Manchester Guardian of March 9, 1936.

Rhubarb in Season
Some Recipes

 …. Several varieties of rhubarb tart can be made, and these are a pleasant change from apple. Here is one. Line a pie-dish with short or puff pastry. Stew three or four sticks of rhubarb with very little water and some sugar until half-cooked. Beat together the yolks of two eggs and two tablespoonfuls of sugar, add the grated rind of half a lemon, and mix with the rhubarb. Put the mixture on the pastry and bake in a moderate oven until it is cooked. Whisk the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, fold lightly in two tablespoonfuls of castor sugar and pile it on the tart. Sprinkle more sugar on the top and put into a cool oven to set the meringue.
With Figs.

Rhubarb and figs are a good mixture. Choose the plump cooking figs usually sold on strings, and cut them into pieces. Cover a pie plate with pastry, put on it a layer of figs, then the rhubarb cut in pieces. Sprinkle liberally with sugar, add more figs, and cover with pastry. Bake for at least an hour, in a hot oven at first, then reducing the heat. Should the figs be at all hard, it is preferable to soak them in water overnight. Rhubarb and pear, rhubarb and pineapple, or rhubarb and banana can also be tried.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Menus for Men: Feed the Brute, 1934.

As regular readers know, one of the sources I return to regularly is the scripts of The United States Department of Agriculture Radio Service program called Housekeepers’ Chat, which aired regularly during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  They always offer an interesting historical perspective.

Today’s story is from the program of March 26, 1934.

Menus for Men.

How about this matter of the way to a man's heart. We women have often been told that food is what takes us there. But that's rather indefinite advice to go to work on. Another humorous maxim says, "Feed the brute." Also indefinite. Feed him what? We need to know what kind of food appeals especially to masculine taste, what certain dishes he likes best, and what kind of menu pleases him. For example, suppose that you have some men guests coming to dinner tonight and want to serve them their idea of a perfect meal. What will you plan for the bill of fare?

Well, I listened the other day to a group of men discussing their ideas versus their wives' ideas of satisfying food. And I'll pass on their remarks to you for what they are worth. How and then a man's viewpoint on matters of food is very enlightening.

The tall, dark man sitting in the corner began the discussion by saying, "Women are funny, aren't they? They all seem to like real he-men. In general their movie favorites are all of the knock-down and drag-out type. Yet when it comes to meals, they will go on serving their husbands or their men guests feminine food — you know, dainty, fluffy- ruffles dishes, dabs of nothing all dressed up."

Another man in the group agreed, "Yes, sir, that's just the way it goes. I've often told my wife that she can't appease a man's appetite with a fruit salad or a bit of marshmallow whip. I've often said to her, 'For goodness' sake, let's have some muscle and brawn food for once!"

Still another man added, "Why don't they save their dainties for women's luncheons and teas and give us some real food when we come home?"

In general they all agreed that the food they liked best was simple, substantial fare; that they preferred corned beef any time to delicacies like sweetbreads and squab; that they liked broiled or roasted meats best, and vegetables simply cooked and simply served without sauces; they preferred simple salads with just plain French dressing, and desserts like those two old-timers — pie and ice cream.

From that conversation I decided that no matter how cultured or refined a man may become, nor how far he has left his football days behind, still his ideas about food don't change much. He still prefers plain fare to dressed up food. And he's still a carnivorous animal and likes steak and roast beef usually better than the daintier meats. And in spite of present day diet fads that rule it out, most men feel that no dinner is complete without the good old potato in some form or other. Men also like highly seasoned foods. They're fond of onions. They're fond of strong cheese. They like catsup and chile sauce and so on. You may be so refined that you shudder at the thought of strong- smelling cheese, but for the sake of household happiness, better have it on the table once in a while, so your husband won't have to leave home to satisfy his appetite.

As for this matter of meal plans, I gathered from the remarks on all sides that the masculine ideal of a menu starts with soup, continues with meat or fish and potatoes and ends with a plain salad, crackers and cheese, and coffee. A man with a sweet tooth may want ice cream or pie or stewed fruit for dessert. Other men may want one good cooked vegetable besides potatoes with the main course.

Well, of course, I'm repeating to you the conversation of just one group of men. Tastes may differ. But I think this group voiced the opinion of the sex in general. Have you ever noticed what specialties are featured in men's clubs? They're usually dishes like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding or beef and kidney pie or some other plain substantial food. This is the kind of food universally served in England where everything is planned to please the men.

The soups men like are generally the heavier soups, bean or lentil soup, onion soup with cheese, chowders and oyster stew. Men like Boston baked beans with brown bread. They like calf's liver and bacon. Among the Lenten main dishes they like Welsh rabbit and broiled fish steak. They like big baked potatoes and French fried potatoes. For dessert, you'll find them pleased with deep-dish apple pie, cherry pie, strawberry shortcake and plain ice creams.

So much for my report on a masculine conversation. Now let's plan a dinner to suit men guests. Let's start the meal with a tomato juice cocktail, seasoned with onion juice, a bit of horseradish and so on. Then let's have a planked steak or just a thick broiled steak. Baked potatoes and French fried onions next. And green beans with butter. For dessert, deep-dish apple pie. You can make it "a la mode" if you like it. Finally, coffee.

Once more. Tomato juice cocktail; Broiled steak; Baked potatoes; French fried onions; Green beans buttered; Deep-dish apple pie; Coffee.

Rather unusually for the program, this episode did not give an actual recipe for any of the dishes mentioned. The French Fried Onions leapt out at me as being the most “knock-down and drag-out” dish on the menu so I went in search of contemporary instructions for cooking them. Serendipitously the search led me to a little booklet called French Frying, published by the Home Economics Department of the Procter & Gamble company in 1932 in support of their popular product, Crisco.

French Fried Onions (flour coated)
Cut large onions into slices about ¼ inch thick. Separate slices into rings. Dip rings into milk, dredge with flour, and fry in deep Crisco heated to 365o-375oF. or hot enough to brown an inch cube of bread in 60 seconds. Drain. Salt slightly.

You will be pleased to know that some weeks later, the program did feature Feminine Food. I will be sure to give the insights from that script, at a date in the near future.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Give them Bread, not Muffins or Cake.

“Muffins” are, if we are honest enough to admit it, simply an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. Or at least they are nowadays. Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away – by which I mean when I was growing up in the north of England - a muffin was what we now are forced to refer to as an “English” muffin. The distinction is now necessary to avoid confusion with the modern usurper of the name – the cup-cakey, dare I say, “American,” version. The “original” muffin was made from a yeast-leavened batter on a hot griddle, and commonly served split and toasted. With butter of course.
A similar situation exists with Banana Bread, Gingerbread, Coconut Loaf, Date Loaf and other similarly named baked goods. The names of these breakfast and tea-time staples comes from their bread-like shape of course, and they do lend an air of plain respectability to the items, making us feel less greedy and indulgent about eating cake yet again. Do you agree?

Some time ago, I gave you a recipe for “real” coconut (cocoa-nut) bread from Eliza Acton’s marvelous work The English bread-book for domestic use (1857.) This is a yeast-risen bread whose sweetness derives solely from the included grated fresh coconut (cooked in milk.) In the same story was a World War 1 recipe for “real” carrot bread – again, leavened with yeast, and with no added sugar.

I am returning to the theme today, with another recipe from Acton’s The English bread-book for domestic use. This time, it is a variation on a basic bread, not cake, recipe, with ginger flavouring. I have not tried this myself, but intend to very soon. Let me know if you make it too!

Ginger Loaf, or Rolls.
Mix intimately two ounces of good powdered ginger,—called in the shops prepared ginger,— and a little salt, with two pounds of flour, and make it into a firm but perfectly light dough with German or brewers' yeast, in the usual manner. Bake it either in one loaf, or divide it into six or eight small ones.
Flour, 2lbs.; prepared ginger, 2oz.; little salt; German yeast, ½ oz. , or fresh brewers' yeast 1 large dessert-spoonful; milk, or milk and water, 1 pint: to rise one hour or until quite light: to be kneaded down and left again to rise until light.
Remark. — When diarrhoea or other complaints of a similar nature are prevalent, this bread will be found of excellent effect, especially in travelling; far better, indeed, than many of the compounds to which people have recourse to avert disturbance of the system. The proportion of ginger can be much increased if desired; but the bread should not then be habitually eaten for a long continuance, as the excess of any stimulating condiment is often in many ways injurious. Rather less than the pint of milk will often prove sufficient.

Finally, I offer you an alternative idea which is a compromise of sorts: a type of soda-bread with about 4 ounces (114 gm) of sugary stuff to a pound (454 gm) of flour.

Ginger Treacle Bread.
You require 1 lb. flour, 3 oz. butter, 2 oz. sugar, 2 tablespoonfuls treacle, 1 teaspoonful (level) baking soda, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoonful ground ginger, buttermilk or milk and water to mix. Sieve all dry ingredients together and rub in butter. Mix treacle and milk together by slightly warming, and stir into the dry ingredients to make a medium dough. If you have not buttermilk, a mixture of milk and water is good to mix. Form into round loaves about two inches thick or put into greased bread tins. Bake in moderately hot oven about thirty minutes till brown and firm. – Kathleen O’Leary, ad 10, Castelnau Gardens, London, S.W. 13.
"Readers' Recipes." Sunday Times [London, England] 21 May 1939

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dinner with Victor Hugo, 1872.

Today, February 26, is the anniversary of the birth of the famous French writer, Victor Hugo, in Besançon, in 1802. Quite serendipitously, I very recently happened across the menu for a dinner hosted by Hugo in Paris, in about 1872, and although I have no reason to suspect this was a birthday dinner, I thought it would be fun to give it to you on this day.

The menu is included in The Food Journal (London, 1872-3) in an article on French banquets.

The menus of carefully arranged Parisian dinners, especially when given as early as possible so as still to be in season, which is later in England than in France, are always welcome to gourmets and chefs, so, without further prelude, we subjoin the bills of fare of two remarkable banquets which have recently taken place.

… The second banquet was given by Victor Hugo to the director and company of the Odéon, and the friends whom the author of "Ruy-Blas" had met at the first representation of that admirable play, since the fall of the Empire. The number of guests was sixty, and included many names known in the gastronomic, as well as in the literary world. The host sat between Madame Lambquin and Mdlle. Sarah Bernardt, and amongst the company were Théophile Gautier, Saint-Victor, Arsène Houssaye, Vacquerie, Armand Gouzien, Louis Jourdan, Mélingue, Meurice, Geoffroy, Ernest Blum, Ulbach, Pierre Berton, and many more writers and actors.


Comtesse, Brunoise, Bisque.


Truites saumonées, sauce vénitienne.
Présalé de Béhague à la Richelieu.

Canetons de Rouen aux oranges.
Ortolans à la Marion Delorme.
Sorbets au kirsch.

Dindonneaux et cailles.

Salade de légumes à la Dauphine.
Artichauts à l'Espagnole.
Pois de Paris à la bonne femme.
Buissons d'écrevisses au vin du Rhin.
Glaces à la Neubourg, Brioches mousselines.

Raisin, Noir et Blanc, Prunes, Pêches,
Amandes, Cerises,
Abricots, Figues, Groseilles, Fraises.

Premier Service.
Saint-Emilion en carafes,
Xérès frappe, Sauterne rafraîchi,
Champagne frappé.
Deuxieme Service et Dessert.
Pichon-Longueville, Chambertin,
Vins d'Espagne.

To those unacquainted with the French language, or the technicalities of the French cuisine and manage, should any such exist amongst the readers of the Food Journal, two or three words in explanation of the above menus may not be unacceptable.
In the first place, Présalé stands for gigot présalé, or leg of saltmarsh mutton, the only kind of French mutton that deserves the name. Then with respect to the wines, it will be seen that one in each menu is en carafe, that is to say, placed on the table in decanters, to be drunk with water, while the champagne is in each case frappé or iced, as is the sherry in the latter menu, while the sauterne is only rafraîchi, or moderately cooled.

As the recipe for the day, I have chosen a recipe for artichokes from The Treasury of French Cookery (London, 1866) by Harriet Toogood.

Boil the artichokes in broth until they are sufficiently done to enable you to remove the hairy part, or choke, in the centre. Drain them. Fill the artichokes with a stuffing of mushrooms, parsley, shallots, salt, pepper, butter and oil, all pounded together. Arrange the artichokes on a buttered dish. Pour in a little broth and white wine, and put the dish on a stove. When they are done, sprinkle them with a sauce made of the same articles as the stuffing. It should be clear.


Take four artichokes. Trim them up. Remove the choke in the centre. Scald them lightly. Take parsley, mushrooms, shallots, chopped up and well seasoned. Fry it so as to remove its strong taste. Mingle it with about half a pound of butter and an equal quantity of scraped bacon. Fill the insides of the artichokes with this mixture. Bind them up and put them into a stewpan with some slices of bacon. Put in three or four spoonfuls of oil, and dress them with a gentle heat. The fire should be over as well as under them. Serve with thickened gravy.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Cheese Ration: Digestible Dishes, 1941.

I have talked about rationing in Britain in WW II on a number of occasions in the past, but there is always more to explore on the subject. I am thinking of cheese today. Cheese rationing began in May 1941 and remained rationed until 1954 – nine years after the war finished. At its most severe, the amount allowed for most folk was an almost-negligible one ounce per person per week (vegetarians and workers in some industries got more.) Over the next thirteen years the most common allowance was four ounces a week, with a glorious period in July 1942 when it was the luxurious amount of eight ounces a week.

Methods of making the most of the cheese ration were regularly included in the Food Facts leaflets published weekly by the British wartime Ministry of Food, and in newspaper columns across the land. Today I bring you an article from The Manchester Guardian published a few weeks in advance of the formal beginning of cheese rationing.

Digestible Dishes

The cheese ration can be made to go much farther, and, incidentally, it will be more digestible of cooked or grated than if eaten raw. It should be remembered that cheese is a highly concentrated food as it takes approximately a quart of milk to make a quarter of a pound of cheese. As cheese contains natural protein of high value, to get the most out of the ration it should be used as a main dish on a meatless day. In warmer weather it can be well used in a salad. The following, eaten with brown bread and butter or margarine, makes a perfectly balanced meal of high nutritive value. At the bottom of a dish put some cold sliced potatoes. These should be well seasoned and mixed with some salad cream or oil and vinegar dressing. Put round the dish some heaps of grated raw carrot and tufts of whatever green stuff is available. While lettuces are dear, shredded cabbage makes a good substitute. Grate the cheese into a mound in the centre.
When cooking cheese, remember that great heat will harden it and render it indigestible. A nourishing dish for four people can be made with two ounces of cheese; it makes an excellent substitute for meat or fish. Grate the cheese and put in a bowl with three and a half ounces of breadcrumbs and a tablespoonful of margarine. Add a pint of milk just off the boil, salt and pepper, and two beaten eggs. A teaspoonful of made mustard can be added also. Mix all well together, put in a greased pie-dish, and cook in a very moderate oven until just set. Cheese turnovers are very savoury. Just stir the grated cheese into a very little thick white sauce and put portions on rounds of thinly rolled out pastry. Turn over and fasten down. Bake in a moderate oven and eat hot or cold. Here is a simple cheese toast. Take a breakfast-cupful of milk and blend a teaspoonful of cornflour with some of it. Boil the rest and add the cornflour to it. Stir, and cook for a few minutes slowly. Season with cayenne, salt, and a little made mustard. Stir in some grated cheese, and pour over slices of toast when the cheese has melted. Sprinkle more cheese over the top and brown lightly under the grill.
Potato cheese is an excellent dish. Boil the potatoes in their skins, peel, and cut into small chunks. Make some ordinary white sauce and stir in some grated cheese. Pour over the potatoes and bake in the oven for about half an hour. Stale slices of bread or bread and butter can be used up with cheese. Cut into fingers and place a thin slice of cheese on one finger. Cover with another piece of bread, press together, and dip in well-seasoned beaten egg and milk (use one egg to about a teacup full of milk). Fry in bacon fat or dripping until golden brown.

Previous posts on wartime cheese rationing can be found here:

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cod Liver Oil, & the Food of the Shetlanders, 1872.

Today I bring you a small part of an article from The Food Journal: A Review of Social and Sanitary Economy and Monthly Record of Food and Public Health, Volume 3 (London, 1873.) The topic of Shetland: Its Manners and Diet was covered over two editions of the journal, and the author began by noting:

“Until within the last few years, Shetland was almost a terra incognita, and the visitors to its bleak and barren shores were few. The state of things is greatly changed; the number of tourists increases every year, and, indeed, Ultima Thule bids fair to be as regularly "done" as any other fashionable resort of the pleasure-seeking Briton. The absurd notions entertained respecting Shetland, its climate, and its people, are, as a consequence, rapidly vanishing, to be replaced by others more correct.”
The second part of the feature covered the fisheries and the food of the people.

The Food of the People.
Every fisherman in Shetland is also a farmer, having five or six acres of ground, the produce of which supplies him with the greater part of the oatmeal he requires for himself and his family, and at the same time with fodder for his cattle. Each patch is cultivated by manual labour, the chief implement used being the tuiscar, or native spade, and in the vore, or labouring season, every member of the family capable of working, male and female, is pressed into the service. . The usual crops are black oats - the light-coloured or  Scotch kind, though much better and yielding more meal, not being reckoned so suitable to the climate – beans, potatoes, and turnips. As the Shetlanders sow the same ground year after year without intermission, the soil, naturally poor, soon becomes completely worn out, and they are obliged to recruit its exhausted strength by the imposition of fresh earth. This, which they call truck, is brought from the neighbouring scathold, or outlying and uncultivated district, with great pains and labour, and is formed into a kind of compost before being used. In consequence of this constant scalping, the ground for a considerable distance around each hamlet is as bare and barren as a stony desert.
The staple article of diet among the Shetlanders is fish, and so fond are they of it that they could eat it at every meal, and never wish a change. What they call the greyfish, or sillock, already alluded to, is the most esteemed. These swarm in countless numbers along the coasts, and whenever weather will permit every spare moment is spent in catching them. It is surprising how a man will sit on the rocks, or in his boat, on a cold winter day, regardless of the piercing winds and driving sleet, till he has filled his "buddie," and so secured the evening's meal and next morning's supply. In cooking these fishes the people boil them with potatoes, as it is supposed that a finer relish is thus imparted to the latter. The piltock, which is the sillock in its second year, is with all classes reckoned a great delicacy, especially when eaten cold with vinegar. Sillocks and piltocks are used fresh, or sour, or "blawn." The "sour" are semi-putrid, but are much liked notwithstanding. "Blawn" sillocks are those which have been dried for some time in the open air. Before they can be used they must be thoroughly soaked in water, and even then are very insipid. Great quantities of these are regularly prepared by every family for winter consumption, and hung in rows under the roof of their houses. The skate is also in great repute, and in summer it is common to see two or three hung up at every door, drying in the sun. Like the "blawn" sillocks, they need to be thoroughly steeped in water before they can be used. With plenty of butter they are very fine. The larger fish, such as cod and ling, are not much eaten, and the people imagine that they are not so good for the health as the grey-fish; but the chief reason doubtless is that the cod and others mentioned are reckoned the property of the tacksman, and to appropriate them would be little better than theft. Turbot is used in its season, and, among the very poorest, even the dog-fish is used for food, but only in the absence of everything else. The roe of the cod boiled entire is an excellent dish, and the same, mixed with flour, is formed into a paste called "slot," which is eaten fried with grease or suet. The cod is eaten with its own oil, and this dish, which the Shetlanders like very much, is called "fish and gree." Many a hearty meal is made of the heads and livers of the cod, after the fish has been prepared for salting.
In taking their meals, the Shetlanders do not arrange themselves around a table, but each person sits wherever he finds most convenient. The pot, with the potatoes, stands near the fire, and the fish is laid upon a square wooden platter with raised sides, called a "trough," and placed upon a small table. No knives or forks are used, but every one helps himself with his fingers, and holds a bit of fish in one hand and a potato in the other. In every house there is a pig or two, which the family either use for themselves or send to the market. The Shetland native pig is not an attractive specimen of its kind, and its flesh is not the best of pork, the quality by no means being improved by the feeding, which almost always imparts to it a fishy taste. The flesh of fowls is affected in the same way. These last are small, but are very tender when young. Beef and mutton are not extensively used among the lower classes in Shetland, but it is not uncommon for two or three families to join in having a cow killed at Martinmas for their winter's stock of provisions. This was until recently the invariable custom with the better classes, but now fresh meat can be had all the year round. The beasts intended for slaughter are entirely grass-fed, and generally from ten to twelve years old, at which time they are considered to be in prime condition. The meat is very fine, but shrinks considerably in boiling.
Tea is a favourite beverage with the Shetlanders, and the value of yearly imports is considerably more than the rental of the whole country. With a great many it is as much an article of extravagant dissipation as whisky is in other places. It is drunk without cream or sugar, and generally boiled. Sometimes a piece of lump-sugar is held in the mouth, which sweetens the tea as it is swallowed. The bread eaten with it is oat-cake, which is used in almost every house throughout the isles. Wheaten or bakers' bread has, however, lately begun to come into use, even among the peasantry; but formerly it was a thing scarcely ever seen in any family, and when it was procured it was enjoyed as a great delicacy. The Shetlanders also use oatmeal porridge, but not so much as the lower orders in Scotland. In winter, boiled cabbage, potatoes, and fish are commonly taken at supper.
The Shetlanders are not a drunken people, but although they are all very fond of a glass of spirits at times, they generally contrive to keep within due bounds. Their principal times for rejoicing are Old Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Johnsmas (St. John's day), and the foy, which every boat's crew has at the close of the haaf fishery. Even at such times it is very rare that there is much excess of any kind.
Owing to the exceedingly healthy nature of the climate and the temperate lives of the people, many of the Shetlanders attain a great age.

The famous Victorian chef, Alexis Soyer was well aware of the common prescription of cod-liver oil by the medical men of the day – although clearly the hardy folk of the Shetlands would have had no such need. In his book A Shilling Cookery for the People (London, 1854) Soyer noted:

Being aware of the immense quantity of cod-liver oil taken by delicate persons, now-a-days, and the great benefit derived from its use, I asked the medical officer present his opinion of its efficacy.  Nothing can be better," was his reply, "in many cases. But," said he, "many patients cannot take it, being of such an unpleasant taste, more especially children, and as we in this establishment use the second quality, from motives of economy, it is doubly unpleasant." I myself tasted some, and must say that I found it anything but relishing.
After bidding adieu to the doctor, I and my host left, and while returning to my hotel, I thought that something could be done to alter the present unpleasant way of administering it. Accordingly, upon reaching home, I sent for the following:—

103. One pound of fresh cod-liver; I then peeled and steamed two pounds of nice floury potatoes, then cut the liver in four pieces, placed it over the potatoes, and then steamed them, letting the oil from the liver fall on the potatoes; I then made some incisions in the liver with a knife, to extract the remaining oil, afterwards dishing up the liver, which was eaten with a little melted butter and anchovy sauce. The potatoes were served up with a little salt and little salt and pepper. Both dishes were found extremely good.
The following is another way of extracting the oil of a cod's liver, with the aid of that abundant article, rice.

104. Rice and Cod Liver.—Boil half a pound of rice in two quarts of water. When nearly done, remove three parts of the water; then put over your rice a pound of cod's liver, cut in large dice. Put the saucepan in a slow oven for about thirty minutes, by which time it will be nicely cooked. Then take the liver out, which serve as above directed. Stir the rice with a fork, and serve it; if allowed by a medical man, add a little salt and pepper. If no oven, cook the liver and rice on a very slow fire, for otherwise it would burn, and be unwholesome as food.
Of course you can easily see what a blessing such diet as this must be to a person incapable of taking the oil by itself, as, by mixing it with the food, it entirely loses that rancid quality for which it is proverbial.

105. Tapioca and Cod Liver.—Boil a quarter of a pound of tapioca till tender in two quarts of water; drain it in a cullender, then put it back in the pan; season with a little salt and pepper, add half a pint of milk, put over one pound of fresh cod liver, cut in eight pieces. Set your pan near the fire to simmer slowly for half an hour, or a little more, till your liver is quite cooked. Press on it with a spoon, so as to get as much oil into the tapioca as possible. After taking away the liver, mix the tapioca. If too thick, add a little milk, then boil it a few minutes; stir round, add a little salt and pepper, and serve. If you have a slow oven, use it in preference to the fire; but if you are without an oven, here is another good way of cooking it:

106. Put three inches depth of water in a largish pan; then put the pan containing the tapioca in the above-mentioned pan; let it simmer till quite done. It will take about an hour. By adopting this plan, all fear of burning is obviated; afterwards remove the liver, which serve as at No. 103.

107. Sago, or semolina, may be done the same way, and by adding an egg, it will make a delicate pudding; or by cutting the liver in small dice, you may add it to your pudding, putting in a little more milk to make it moist; then add a couple more eggs, well beaten, and mix; putting it in a basin, previously well buttered; then let it simmer in a stewpan for half an hour, or till set; then turn it out on a dish; sauce with a little plain melted butter, anchovy, or parsley and butter.

A little stringent food, such as the above, will be found to be very refreshing, even to persons in good health.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

A Picnic on the Cusp of War.

A scant two weeks before Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, The Times (of London) included a feature article (in the section clearly aimed at women) entitled “Luncheons for the Moors: Ideas for Menus.”

One could have skimmed the newspaper and barely been aware that war was looming. Three short paragraphs half way down the first column on page 7 reported the need for more volunteers in the eventuality that children may need to be evacuated from London; about half of page 9 was given over to “World Peace” and events in Europe; and in a few column inches on page 11 under the header “Critical Days” it was noted that there were “many signs of heightened tension in international affairs.”

In view of the imminent inevitability of war in Europe at the time, the tone and tenor of the piece seems rather surreal today. Was the focus on the concept of a leisurely 3-course lunch on the moors (after a bracing walk, of course) a determined celebration of all that was good about England, in spite of the situation evolving in Europe? Was it outright denial that the Best of Times was about to devolve into the Worst of Times? A simple example of a British stiff upper lip and carry on regardless? An offering of “bread and circuses” to the masses?  

Here is the piece: may you enjoy it in all its evocative, nostalgic glory:


“Young people enjoy the scramble of a picnic on the moors, but after perhaps a hard morning’s walking older men would often be glad of a leisurely and ordered meal. It is also economical, for the housekeeper knows just how much to provide for each course. If the meal is carefully thought out beforehand, it actually takes up little room and can be packed in one side of the usual large leather pony bags, the other side being kept for drinks, glasses, and so on. This is an important consideration where there is no road near the trysting place.
The only extra that is wanted for a “course” luncheon is an additional set of plates, but these can be had in aluminium quite inexpensively, and are so thin and light they take up hardly any room. The second set should be only “cheese” size. These are for the sweet and cheese courses, but “dinner” sized ones will be more easily balanced for the meat course, when both hands are wanted for knife and fork.

Everything should as far as possible be in rectangular packets to save waste of space in packing. Bright biscuit tins can hold any course that is in small portions, and for the two main ones, the enameled oblong tins of luncheon baskets are best. The hostess should have a good eye for a “terrain” where everyone can sit in a rough circle and pass things without having to get up.

The bag should be put down beside her and she should, if possible, unpack it herself, placing each packet in its proper order. Every parcel should of course be carefully labelled. She will want only one person to help her by giving out plates and another to take round knives, forks, and spoons, the dishes themselves being handed to her nearest neighbor and passed on when he has helped himself. The drinks naturally will be in the charge of the host. The first course should be something that can be eaten in the fingers. Here are some ideas for menus:-“

I have chosen menu Number 2 for you today: stuffed eggs, cold lamb with mint jelly and salade russe followed by pain d’apricots, and a “black” gingerbread to serve with the cheese and butter course.  As an alternative to the salad, a cold curry of vegetables might be served, in which case it was suggested that the mint jelly be omitted, as “the strong flavours would not agree.”

Naturally, the article included a couple of recipes:

Stuffed Eggs.
Hard boil the eggs, cut them in two crosswise, take out the yolks, pass through wire sieve, mix with a very little thick whipped cream, salt, pepper, and a dash of Worcester sauce, fill the eggs, put the two halves together and twist up in greaseproof paper. Pack in tin and warn guests to open the parcels carefully.

Pain d’Apricots.
It is a pleasant and refreshing sweet.
Take 2 lb. of fresh or bottled apricots stewed and then passed through a sieve. Add four leaves of melted gelatine and see that the mixture is sweet enough. Pour into the enamel box to set. Serve this with a pot of Devonshire cream, which can easily be had by post and will keep fresh for a day or two.