Thursday, October 11, 2007

Family Fare

Today, October 11 …

Deciding what to have for dinner every night is a joyful challenge or a perennial chore, depending on your point of view (which of course may vary from day to day). In the nineteenth century a whole generation of housewives were assisted in this daily exercise by a host of books on the subject. I thought that today and tomorrow we might all be assisted in our challenge or chore by those self-same books.

Today I have chosen Cre-Fydd’s Family Fare, or Young Housewife’s Daily Assistant, published in 1864, in the immediate wake of Mrs Beeton’s Household Manual.

This book, like most of its contemporaries, was specifically aimed at the modest middle-class household, in which the young housewife would not have been expected to cook, but most certainly needed to be able to supervise the goings-on in the kitchen, lest she be ripped-off by the domestic staff. The preface states that the book contains “bills of family fare for every day in the year, which include breakfast and dinner for a small family, and dinner for two servants”, which does leave one wondering how on earth one is to solve the luncheon problem.

For October 11, the Authoress suggests:

Kippered salmon, mutton chops, eggs, hung beef.

Scolloped fish.
Boiled aitchbone of beef (11 lbs), carrots, greens, potatoes.
Belgian pudding
Stewed cheese.

KITCHEN (i.e the servants)
Mutton chops, potatoes.

A “small family” tackling an 11 pound ( kg) aitchbone of beef for dinner sounds alarming until one reads ahead and sees “cold beef” on the family’s breakfast menu for the next two days, and on the servants’ dinner menu for the next three days. Come to think of it, it is still alarming when one realises that there would have been no refrigeration in this modest home.

Likewise, the Scolloped Fish was made from the remains of the previous day’s cod. The recipe describes it as a “second dressing”, which sounds infinitely more appetising than “leftovers”, and essentially consisted of reheating the cod fragments in a liberal amount of butter, with the addition of breadcrumbs or mashed potato.

Belgian pudding - there is never a dinner without pudding - for all its Continental name, is a variation on the very English theme of a suet pudding with dried fruit.

Now for the final course of Stewed cheese. It is a peculiarly English habit to end a meal with a small savoury dish. This one is a variation on the perenially popular theme of Welsh Rabbit (‘Rarebit’, if you insist on being incorrect), and is just the thing to fill up the gaps left by the fish, beef, and suet pudding.

Stewed Cheese.
Three quarters of a pound of rich cheese cut into thin slices (the rind taken off); season it with a teaspoonful of flour of mustard, half a saltspoonful of white pepper, and a cayenne saltspoonful of cayenne; put it into a pie-dish; pour over it a wineglassful of sherry, put in an ounce of butter in small pieces on the top, and bake in a quick oven till the cheese is dissolved (about twelve minutes); then add the yolks of two small eggs, well beaten; when well mixed, pour it into a tin dish, and bake for ten minutes, till the top is of a pale brown colour. Serve very hot, with a rack of fresh-made dry toast, very hot also.

On this Topic …

Welsh Rabbit Chapter 1

Welsh Rabbit Chapter II

Tomorrow’s Story …

Family fare from Phyllis.

Quotation for the Day …

The best way to eat the elephant standing in your path is to cut it up into little pieces. African Proverb

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