Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The First Domestic Goddess.

Today, March 14th …

Today was the birth day in 1836 of Isabella Beeton, who did not get to celebrate nearly enough birthdays, dying as she did just before her 29th birthday from complications of childbirth.

In her too-short (and obviously computer-less) life she produced her encyclopaedic ‘Household Manual’ with no more formal education than ladies generally received at the time, between assisting her husband in his publishing business, managing the household, and bearing four children.

In the chapter which gives suggested ‘Bills of Fare’ for each month of the year, for a ‘plain family dinner’ for a Tuesday in March she suggested:

Mock turtle soup.
Hashed mutton, rump-steaks and oyster sauce.
Boiled plum-pudding.

The soup was “made with the liquor that the calf’s head [from Sunday’s dinner] was boiled in, and the pieces of head”.

Perhaps she might have had a small dinner party on her birthday? Her suggested menu for a dinner for 8 persons in March was:
First Course.
Calf’s head Soup.
Brill and Shrimp Sauce. Broiled Mackerel à la Maitre d’Hôtel.

Lobster Cutlets. Calf’s Liver and Bacon, aux fines herbes.

Second Course.
Roast Loin of Veal. Two Boiled Fowls à la Béchamel. Boiled Knuckle of Ham.
Vegetables – Spinach or Brocoli (sic)

Third Course.
Wild Ducks.
Apple Custards. Blancmange. Lemon Jelly. Jam Sandwiches.
Ice Pudding. Potatoes à la Maitre d’Hôtel.

Dessert and Ices.
The menu has two dishes “à la Maitre d’Hôtel” - literally meaning “by the master of the house”, but in practice referring to a base of classic “Maitre d’Hotel” butter – butter creamed with chopped parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper, either used alone or incorporated into another sauce.

From her magnificent manual:

Potatoes à la Maitre d’Hôtel.
Potatoes, salt, water; to every 6 potatoes allow 1 tablespoonful of minced parsley, 2 oz. of butter, pepper and salt to taste, 4 tablespoons of gravy, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
Wash the potatoes clean, and boil them in salt and water; when done, drain them, let them cool; then peel and cut the potatoes into thick slices; if these are too thin they would break in the sauce. Put the butter into a stew pan with the pepper, salt, gravy and parsley; mix these ingredients well together, put in the potatoes, shake them two or three times, that they may be well covered with the sauce, and, when quite hot through, squeeze in the lemon juice and serve.

Tomorrow: A bloodless feast.

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