Friday, August 17, 2007

Advice to picnic parties.

Today, August 20th

This time of the year seems to be a perfect time for considering picnics. In the northern hemisphere it is time to tally up the number of picnics enjoyed so far and make up for any shortfall before the summer ends; in the southern hemisphere where it is still cool, it is time to start planning picnic menus in time for spring.

In a previous story I gave you Mrs Beeton’s suggested list of comestibles for a picnic for forty persons, and it would do well to refer to it in your planning. As to the venue and logistics, here is some advice from Punchinello on this date in 1870:


At this culminating period of the summer season, it is natural that the civic mind should turn itself to the contemplation of sweet rural things, including shady groves, lunch baskets, wild flowers, sandwiches, bird songs, and bottled lager-bier.
The skies are at their bluest, now; the woods and fields are at their greenest; flowers are blooming their yellowest, and purplest, and scarletest. All Nature is smiling, in fact, with one large, comprehensive smile, exactly like a first-class PRANG chromo with a fresh coat of varnish upon it.
Things being thus, what can be more charming than a rural excursion to some tangled thicket, the very brambles, and poison-ivy, and possible copperhead snakes of which are points of unspeakable value to a picnic party, because they are sensational, and one cannot have them in the city without rushing into fabulous extra expense. It is good, then, that neighbors should club together for the festive purposes of the picnic, and a few words of advice regarding the arrangement of such parties may be seasonable.
If your excursion includes a steamboat trip, always select a boat that is likely to be crowded to its utmost capacity, more especially one of which a majority of the passengers are babies in arms. There will probably be some roughs on board, who will be certain to get up a row, in which case you can make the babies in arms very effective as buffers for warding off blows, while the crowd will save you from being knocked down.
Should there be a bar on board the steamer, it will be the duty of the gentlemen of the party to keep serving the ladies with cool beverages from it at brief intervals during the trip. This will promote cheerfulness, and, at the same time, save for picnic duty proper the contents of the stone jars that arc slumbering aweetly amongst the pork-pies and apple-dumplings by which the lunch-baskets are occupied.
Never take more than one knife and fork with you to a picnic, no matter how large the party may be. The probability is that you may be attacked by a gang of rowdies and it is no part of your business to furnish them with weapons.
Avoid taking up your ground near a swamp or stagnant water of any kind. This is not so much on account of mosquitoes as because of the small saurian reptiles that abound in such places. If your party is a large one, there will certainly be one lady in it, at least, who has had a lizard in her stomach for several years, and the struggles of the confined reptile to join its congeners in the swamp might induce convulsions, and to mar the hilarity of the party.
To provide against an attack by the city brigands who are always prowling in the vicinity of picnic parties, it will be judicious to attend to the following rules:
Select all the fat women of the party, and seat them in a ring outside the rest of the picnickers, and with their faces toward the centre of the circle. In the event of a discharge of missiles this will be found a very effective cordon – quite as effective, in fact, as the feather beds used in the making up of barricades.
Let the babies of the party be so distributed that each, or as many as possible of the gentlemen present, can have one at hand to snatch up and use for a fender should an attack at close quarters be made.
If any dark, designful strangers should intrude themselves upon the party, unbidden,
those gentlemen present should by no means exhibit the slightest disposition to resent the intrusion or to show fight, as the strangers are sure to be professional thieves, and, as such, ready to commit murder, if necessary. Treat the strangers with every consideration possible under the circumstances. Should there be no champagne, aplologize for the absence of it, and offer the next best vintage that you happen to have. Of course, having lunched, the strangers will be eager to acquire possession of all valuables belonging to the party. The gentlemen, therefore, will make a point of promptly handing over to them their own watches and jewelry, as well as those of their lady friends. Having arrived home, (we assume the possibility of this), refrain, carefully, from communicating with the police on the subject of the events of the day. The publicity that would follow would render you an object of derision, and no possible good could come to you from disclosure of the facts. But you should at once make up your mind never to participate in another picnic.

One of the items on Mrs B’s list is “2 cold cabinet puddings in moulds”, which I am sure you would not consider leaving off your picnic menu. In case you have mislaid your recipe, here is a nice one, with an entirely appropriate sauce.

Cabinet Pudding.
Time, to steam, one hour.
Seven or eight small spongecakes; a large cupful of white wine; three ounces of loaf sugar; seven eggs; one quart of new milk.
Pour a large cupful of white wine over seven or eight small spongecakes to soak them through. Sweeten a quart of new milk with about three ounces of loaf sugar, stir into it seven well-beaten eggs, and mix it well together, pour it over the soaked spongecakes, and then carefully turn the whole into a buttered mould, tie it securely over and steam it. Serve it with the cabinet pudding sauce given below.

Cabinet Pudding Sauce.
Yolks of two eggs; two tablespoonfuls of pounded sugar; four or five spoonfuls of white wine.
Well beat the yolks of two eggs, and mix them with the pounded sugar and the white wine. Simmer it over a slow fire for a few minutes, stirring it constantly, and pour it round the pudding.
[Warne’s Everyday Cookery, 1890’s]

I would reinforce Mrs Beeton’s implicit advice to carry these to your picnic in the moulds in which they are prepared, as no-one likes smashed up pudding.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Sunflowers, art, and salad.

Quotation for the Day ….

I've liked lots of people 'til I went on a picnic jaunt with them. Bess Truman


Lapinbizarre said...

Have you ever made cabinet pudding? It sounds deathly dull, at least in Mrs. B's version, and the sauce doesn't sound any better.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Ha! Sounds just like a summer weekend on Long Island!

The Old Foodie said...

I've never made cabinet pudding for that exact reason. It needs a big dose of chocolate and rum or something. Sounds so bland, doesnt it?

t.w - I'd always wondered what a Long Island weekend picnic was like ....

Lapinbizarre said...

The link you have posted to Eliza Acton has a couple of cabinet puddings (p.377), both of which sound more interesting in that they have a wider range of ingredients.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello lapin - you are right, I remember this now. I have some notes somewhere on the evolution and vague history of cabinet pudding (and its various names) - fodder for another story methinks. When are you going to do a guest blog story for me? You are such and enthusiastic commenter, and I always learn something from your comments or emails.

Lapinbizarre said...

It's very sweet of you to say that, but where would I start? I mentioned to you the other day about walking that tightrope between the banal and the "precious" - something that you handle so beautifully.

A lovely thing about Miss Acton's two cabinet pudding recipes is her comment, in the first recipe, "though an extremely delicate and excellent pudding, a little flavouring would, we think, improve it" - pretty well both our reactions to Mrs. Beeton's recipe.

The Old Foodie said...

lapinb - some of your emails to me would make great posts as they are. One man's "banal" is anothers "precious" so you dont need to worry about that. How about something on your search for the perfect marmalade pudding?

Lapinbizarre said...

OK. Good idea. Let's see what we can do. Not immediately, I hope. We're in the middle of a heat-wave - hottest August on record, 13 days over 100 F so far and no end in sight. Not good boiled/steamed pudding weather. Even with air-conditioning, you appreciate why the early settlers down here either had a kitchen built separately from the main house (larger, wealthier houses and plantations, at any rate - this was also because of the fire risk) or barbecued outdoors and cooked outdoors over coals with "dutch ovens".