Friday, April 04, 2008

To solve the dinner problem.

Those of you who are regular readers will be aware that I love menu recipe books – especially the sort that give you a menu for every single day of the year, with the recipes for each dish. Takes the work out of planning the dinner. Doesn’t take the work out of actually cooking the dinner of course – and in the early nineteenth century, that could represent quite some work. John Simpson was cook to the Marquis of Buckingham, and he wrote a comprehensive cookbook in 1816, called A Complete System of Cookery, on a plan entirely new, consisting of an extensive and original collection of receipts ….. (it is hard to know when the title stops and the front matter begins in some of these old books). It is not certain whether the Bills of Fare for Every Day in the Year in his book are those such as he would cook for the Marquis, or are for ‘economical dishes to suit the most private families’.

Here is his menu for April 4, demonstrated by an image to best show how the food was set out on the table with great geometrical precision, as was the habit of the day.

As promised, he included the recipes:

Beef Kidney.

Cut the kidney in neat slices, (about the size of a semell of veal) put them in warm water to soak for two hours, and change the water two or three times, then take the kidney out of the water and put it on a clean cloth to dry the water and juice from it, then put clarified butter in the fryingpan, put the kidnies in and fry them of a nice brown; season them with pepper and salt; put them round the dish and ravigott sauce into the middle.

Ravigott sauce.
Put into a stew-pan a very small clove of garlick, a little chervil, a little burnet, a few leaves of tarragon, two or three shalots, chopped mushrooms, thyme, parsley, a little bit of butter, a few spoonfuls of stock, and a little pepper and salt; put the stew-pan on a slow stove to simmer very slow for about ten minutes, then add as much coulis as is requisite for the quantity of sauce wanted, let it boil a few minutes, then rub it through a tammy; return it into the stew-pan and make it hot, then squeeze a little lemon juice in, add a little cayenne pepper and a little salt if wanted.

It is interesting to compare this recipe for ‘Ravigott Sauce’ with one from the mid-twentieth century given in the Larousse, which we saw in a story last year. Just to remind you “ .. sauce Ravigote gets its name from the French verb ravigoter, meaning to cheer or revive. This ability supposedly comes from the four herbs it traditionally contained - tarragon, chervil, chives, and burnet - which together had the reputation for being restorative.”

Monday’s Story …

Rough and Icy.

Quotation for the Day …

Take advantage of the gracious condescension of the elegant calf's kidney, multiply its metamorphoses: you can without giving it any offence, call it the chameleon of cuisine. Des Essarts French actor (1740-1793)


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

I often wonder if homemakers followed the bill of fare to the letter? And, interesting that there were never any "leftover nights" programmed into the calendar, considering the fact that the menus consisted of so much food!

The Old Foodie said...

That was pretty usual in households of middle class or above I think. The servants got the leftovers probably. Also - dont forget that families were larger, and it was common to have guests (and to always be prepared for them)
Of course, they all had cooks and kitchen maids to ...

Rosemary said...

In large households, even middle sized ones, the servants were most certainly not fed the left overs. The Victorians used to joke that there were two fixed points in the universe: Death and the Servants' dinner. The servants eat fast immediately before the 'upstairs' dinner so as to be free to serve at it and clear after it. They usually had (and in any household which had this number of dishes and removes) certainly had food cooked particularly for them, usually unfussy hearty dishes like roast beef, salmon - in fact it is said with some truth that our contemporary Christmas dinner derives form what the servants would have had for that meal - while upstairs food was more fussy. Servants had to be well fed, so it had to be good, but the cook had little time for it, so it had to be simple.

Of course in one or two servant households this was less true.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Rosemary: You are right of course; one of the menu/cookbooks I have from the era lists the servants dinner suggestions, and they are as you say hearty plain food: occasional evidence that leftovers would be used - such as 'cold roast beef' when the upstairs dinner the day before had been the hot roast. I guess a lot of the 'leftovers' were served at breakfast next day.

Rosemary said...

I have to admit that left overs are a bit of a mystery to me - we know that households were exceptionally waste conscious (maids are to show mistresses rags used for dusting to make sure they are really worn out before being given to the rag and bone man!). Plainly cold meats did get used, and breakfast and luncheon would often have cold meat for both servants and masters - and I'm sure though can't prove that things like shepherd's pie and cottage pie got made. I'm sure soups, too, swallowed up leftovers. And stock was made - good stock takes a fair amount of ingredients.