Tuesday, June 05, 2007

War and Sprouts.

Today, June 5th

A newspaper article on this day in 1918 described the terrible privations endured by the British Royals during wartime.

The King and Queen gave a small dinner party at Buckingham Palace last evening. During wartime no entertainment of guests on a large scale is attempted, but Their Majesties are keeping in touch with leading members of various branches of society, and last night’s dinner party was the second of a series to theat end. The King and Queen set and maintain an example of rationing, and the dinner last night was practically meatless and the menu strictly moderate.

One can only hope that Their Majesties practically meatless and strictly moderate dinner was not too much of a shock to the Royal Digestive Systems. Meanwhile, Their Loyal Subjects were learning new ways of eating too (apart from having to be very meatless and very strictly moderate). They were learning to embrace foreign food, which probably did not come too easily to British Digestive Systems of the time, but substitutes had to be found for things in short supply. One charming little book was put together by Mrs Brian Luck (I wonder what her own name was?) from recipes supplied by “Belgian refugees from all parts of the United Kingdom”.

I do not know if this was a fund-raising effort, or whether Mrs Brian just wanted to raise awareness of the terrible situation in Belgium, or whether she noted a gap on the bookshop shelves where a Belgian cookbook would fit perfectly. I do know that I have to feature recipes for Brussels Sprouts from it, as a matter of principle. But first, a little from her introduction:

… this small manual is offered for the use of the work-a-day and inexperienced mistress and maid. It is not written in the interests of millionaires. The recipes are simple, and most inexpensive, rather for persons of moderate means. … . A shelf of provisions should be valued, like love-making, not only for itself but for what it may become.

And from her general notes on vegetables and brunettes:

VEGETABLES: Nearly all these are at their best (like brunettes) just before they are fully matured. So says a great authority, and no doubt he is thinking of young peas and beans, lettuces and asparagus. Try to dress such things as potatoes, parsnips, cabbages, carrots, in other ways than simply boiled in water, for the water often removes the flavor and leaves the fiber. Do not let your vegetable-dishes remind your guests of Froissart's account of Scotchmen's food, which was "rubbed in a little water."

And finally, a couple of her recipes for that most opinion-polarising of vegetables:

Brussels Sprouts.
(The best way to cook them)
Having cleaned and trimmed your sprouts, let them simmer in salted water, to which you have also added a little soda to preserve the color. Or, if you do not like to add soda, keep the pan firmly covered by the lid. When tender, take them out and let them drain, place them in another pan with a good lump of butter or fat; stir, so as to let the butter melt at once, and sprinkle in pepper and a tiny pinch of nutmeg.
[The Belgian Cookbook (1915), by Mrs Brian Luck]

Belgian Puree
Cook two pounds of Brussels sprouts in boiling water. Take them out, drain them and toss them in butter for five minutes, sprinkle them with a teaspoonful of flour, and then cook them in gravy (or meat extract and water), fast boiling, over a good fire, and keep the lid of the saucepan off so that they may remain green. Pass them through
the sieve, leave them in ten minutes, bind the mixture with the yolks of three eggs, a pint of milk; then at the last minute one dessert-spoonful of butter for each pint and a half of soup.
[The Belgian Cookbook (1915), by Mrs Brian Luck]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Figgy Puddings.

Quotation for the Day …

We kids feared many things in those days - werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday School - but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts. Dave Barry


Joanna said...

All that trouble to make a puree, and at the end it would still taste of sprouts!

Seriously, though, is it just me, or have the growers improved sprout strains to take out the bitter taste ... what I'm trying to say is - I like them these days!


The Old Foodie said...

Hello Joanna - I love sprouts, I dont know why as my poor old mum cooked them to an anonymous mush. My impression is that they need to be cooked fairly quickly if they are to be eaten "straight". Perhaps you are right, and new varieties are less bitter. Do we have a vege gardener somewhere out there to inform us?