We met Viscount John Byng in another story, while he was enjoying a good gooseberry tart in one of England’s fine coaching inns, and we meet him again today on another of his journeys around the country. This time the year is 1782, and this time the meal was not a success, and he is not impressed.
“Andover, Hampshire. I never dined worse, or was in a crosser humour about it; a little miserable stale trout, some raw, rank mutton chops and some cold hard potatoes, For the sake of hasty gain, innkeepers hire horrid servants, buy bad provisions, and poisonous liquors; would any man dare, with a large capital, to set up a good inn, with the best beds, and wine, he would get a fortune, let him charge ever so highly. I am more and more convinced that fowls are the only things to bespeak at an inn, every other dish is either ill-dress’d or the leavings of other companies.”
Over two hundred years later most of us who have travelled anywhere can relate to this story of eating badly on the road. There may not have been much in the way of legislation in Byng’s day to help protect the innocent traveller from dodgy inn-keepers, but there were certainly standards, and plenty of books to explain them.
We can consider Byng’s dilemma with reference to a book published in the very same year - E.Spencer’s “The modern cook; and frugal housewife’s compleat guide to every branch in displaying her table to the greatest advantage .. ”
Here we find that trout is in season in April, May, and June – and Byng is offered it in September, which surely is significant? The inn-keeper either did not know or did not care that fish “are known to be new or stale by the colour of their gills, their easiness or hardness to open, the hanging or keeping up their fins, the standing out or sinking of their eyes … or by smelling their gills.” We also find that to judge good mutton “you must look at the lean part, where the fore quarter is cut off from the hind, and it will be marbled with fat, and the lean of a dark red …”.
To add insult to injury, Byng would probably have been aware that at his home in Torrington he would have been served something closer to the book’s suggested bill of fare for September:
Dish of Fish.
Chickens. Veal Collops.
Pigeon Pye. Gravy Soup. Almond Tourt.
Harrico of Mutton. Ham.
Peas. Ragou’d Lobsters.
Sweetbreads. Fruit. Fry’d Piths.
Crawfish. Fry’d Artichokes.
Recipes for the Day …
How much better might Byng’s meal have been with these recipes from the book?
To stew Trout.
Take a large trout, wash it, and put it in a pan with white wine and gravy, then take for stuffing two raw eggs, some pepper, salt, nutmeg, lemon peel, grated bread, a little butter or suet, and thyme, mix them all together, and put in the belly of the trout; then let it stew a quarter of an hour, and put a piece of butter into the sauce, serve it hot, and garnish with lemon sliced.
To dress Potatoes.
Boil them in as little water as you can, cover the sauce-pan close, and when the skin cracks they are enough; drain the water out, and let them stand covered for a minute or two, then peel them, and have ready boiled milk and water to throw them into, as you pare them, which will keep them hot and of a good colour, till you send them to table, but drain them through a cullender.
To broil Mutton Chops.
Cut your chops off the best end of a neck of mutton, pare them neatly, and flat them with a cleaver; season them with pepper and salt, broil them over a clear fire, turning them often; when done, lay them in a hot dish with some gravy under them, and a spoonful of mushroom catchup, and serve them up hot with pickles in a saucer. You may crumb them with bread, the same as veal cutlets.
Tomorrow’s Story …
No Bread for Dogs.
Quotation for the Day …
More than any other in Western Europe, Britain remains a country where a traveler ... has to think twice before indulging in the ordinary food of ordinary people. Joseph Lelyveld "Fish and Chips: Britain's Bargain Fare" 1986