Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Gentleman’s Club.

Today, May 24th ...

The famous Reform Club opened this day in London in 1836. The Gentlemen’s clubs which were an integral part of the life of the Victorian London male had begun life a century and a half earlier as coffee-houses. Coffee took Europe by storm during the seventeenth century, but it was a beverage not easily prepared at home, requiring as it did special equipement for roasting and brewing. Inevitably, people met other people at the coffee houses, and inevitably, people with particular interests tended to gravitate to the same venues. Entire economic and political organisations – such as Lloyds of London – arose from individual coffee houses.

By the early nineteenth century, more and more of the (male) movers and shakers of the Industrial Revolution spent more and more of their time in the Big City, while maintaining homes and families in the country. The gentlemen’s clubs (there were about 30 in London by mid-century) provided “an aristocratic home and admirably-regulated menage, without any of the trouble inseparable from a private household” for several generations of men schooled in the all-male environments of prestigious universities.

London clubland was centred around St James and Pall Mall. The Reform Club was there, and as with most clubs, it was a “special interest” club. In 1832, The Representation of the People Act 1832 (commonly known as the Reform Act) was introduced by Whig politicians to make dramatic changes to the electoral system to reflect the demographic changes resulting from the Industrial Revolution. The Reform Club was decidedly not a Tory club. It became famous on account of its food – thanks to the famous chef Alexis Soyer, who presided over the kitchens from 1837-50. One of his signature dishes was “Lamb Cutlets Reform” – a dish of breaded cutlets served with a sweet-sour sauce based on a classic poivrade sauce. I have been unable to find his original recipe, although he alludes to it in his book, The Modern Housewife. The dish clearly outlived his time at the club, for one of the later chefs, Charles Elmé Francatelli included the recipe in one of his own books, The Cook’s Guide and Housekeepers and Butler’s Assistant.

It is worthy of rediscovery, if you can source some Harvey’s Sauce.

Reform Sauce.
Prepare some poivrade sauce, No. 19; to this add a glass of port wine, half that quantity of Harvey [sauce], a teaspoonful of anchovy, and two good tablespoonfuls of red currant jelly; boil together for five minutes, and pour into a clean small stewpan for use.

Poivrade Sauce.
Cut up into very small square pieces an ounce of lean ham or bacon, the same quantities of carrot, celery, and onion, a bay-leaf and thyme, twenty peppercorns, and a bit of mace.
Fry these ingredients in a small stewpan, with a piece of butter the size of a walnut, until the whole becomes well browned; add a wineglass of vinegar and half that quantity of mushroom catsup, and a teaspoonful of anchovy; and when this has boiled down to half its original quantity, then add about half a pint of brown sauce, a few spoonfuls of good stock, and a wineglassful of sherry.
Let the sauce boil gently by the side of the fire, to throw up the grease, &c, which having been removed, strain through a sieve or strainer into a small stewpan for use.
Note. It frequently happens in small households that ready-made brown sauce is not to be had; in such cases, and in order to save time and expense, a little thickening can be easily made by using for that purpose equal proportions of butter and flour kneaded together, and stirred quickly over a slow fire for three minutes, and moistened with good stock, or any kind of broth

Tomorrow’s Story ….


This Day, Last Year …

It was Queen Victoria's Birthday.

Quotation for the Day …

Speaking of food, English cuisine has received a lot of unfair criticism over the years, but the truth is that it can be a very pleasant surprise to the connoisseur of severely overcooked livestock organs served in lukewarm puddles of congealed grease. England manufactures most of the world's airline food, as well as all the food you ever ate in your junior-high-school cafeteria. Dave Barry.


Lapinbizarre said...

Have you ever made mushroom catsup? I tried it once, about 25 years ago, when I was younger and more adventurous. I ended up with a thick, dark-brown sludge, which tasted of little except allspice. Not nice. Didn't even bother to strain it - just decanted it down the sink. I would be interested to try it again, which is why I inquire. Roger

The Old Foodie said...

I did once make it and had the same result. I have never been inclined to make it since, but then I no longer have a fanastic supply of wild mushrooms. If you do it again, do please post about it, wont you?