Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Recipes from Scutari.

Today, June 26th

Alexis Soyer was a famous French-born chef in Victorian England who cooked for aristocrats and gentlemens clubs, and achieved celebrity status in his own time. He was also famous for his philanthropic works in Ireland during the potato famine, and in the Crimea during the war of 1854-6.

Soyer volunteered to go to the Crimea at his own expense, to assist in the task of provisioning the troops at the front line. He worked alongside Florence Nightingale, with whom he had corresponded, in the hospital at Scutari, helping her to improve the feeding and hence the health, of the injured soldiers there. While he was in the Crimea, Soyer kept up a steady stream of letters to the editors of The Times, and these were published regularly, along with many of his recipes.

Here is an extract for his letter published on this day in 1855.

To the Editor of the Times,

Sir,- I herewith beg to forward you some of the most important receipts which I have concocted out of the soldiers’ rations, and which are now adopted in various parts of the camp, and will no doubt shortly be extended to every regiment in the Crimea, having had them printed for circulation throughout the army. Some of the receipts were printed at head-quarters and issued for distribution. The reason for my return to Scutari for a short time is to place a civilian cook who understands his business in each hospital, which cannot fail to be beneficial to the patients, and by a due organisation in those departments economy will in the end be effected.

I brought with me from head-quarters 12 complete rations as given daily to the troops, and with these provisions I am now teaching ten of those very willing fellows who were originally engaged as cooks in the hospitals the plain way of camp cookery, and, instead of being almost useless, as they were, in so important a branch, they will now turn out, if not the bravest in the army, at least the most wonderful, being able to face both fire and battery when requisite.

With the highest consideration, I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient servant,


Barrack Hospital, Scutari,

(Receipt No. 1) Stewed Salt Beef And Pork A La Omar Pasha
Put into a canteen saucepan about 2lb of well soaked beef, cut in eight pieces; ½lb of salt pork, divided in two, and also soaked; ½lb of rice, or six tablespoonsful; ½lb of onions, or four middle-sized ones, peeled and sliced; 2oz of brown sugar, or one large tablespoonful; ¼oz of pepper, and five pints of water; simmer gently for three hours, remove the fat from the top and serve. The first time I made the above was in Sir John Campbell’s soup kitchen, situated on the top of his rocky cavern, facing Sebastopol, near Cathcart’s-hill, and among the distinguished pupils I had upon the occasion were Colonel Wyndham, Sir John Campbell, and Dr Hall, Inspector-General of the Army in the Crimea, and other officers. This dish was much approved at dinner, and is enough for six people, and if the receipt be closely followed you cannot fail to have an excellent food. The London salt meat will only require a four hours soaking, having been only lightly pickled.

(Receipt No. 7) Cossacks’ Plum Pudding
Put into a basin 1lb of flour, ¾lb of raisins (stoned, if time be allowed), ¾lb of the fat of salt pork (well washed, cut into small dies, or chopped), two tablespoonsful of sugar or treacle; add a half pint of water; mix all together; put into a cloth tied tightly; boil for four hours, and serve. If time will not admit, boil only two hours, though four are preferable. How to spoil the above:- Add anything to it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

A pot of the best tea.

Quotation for the Day …

An old-fashioned vegetable soup, without any enhancement, is a more powerful anti carcinogen than any known medicine. James Duke M.D.(U.S.D.A.)


Anonymous said...

That's a side of Soyer I knew nothing about, Janet. And from the little I know of the Crimea, that was no little traipse in the woods for fun that he undertook.
Thanks for sharing the knowledge - it shapes Soyer differently than is just commonly known. Astonishing, really.

Chef JP said...

A wonderful article today. I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I mentioned your site in my blog post today (My Favorite Food Blogs - http://www.hellchef.com/foodblog) Thanks for a great site! chefjp

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Karen - yes, he was an interesting man. I think there is a relatively new biography out there somewhere (have forgotten the title, but will track it down - i've been meaning to buy it for some time). The Crimea experience ruined his health apparently, and contributed to his death not long after.

Hello chef jp. Thankyou for that! And for enjoying the stories.