We all like to have The Latest and Best Cook Book, don’t we? One of the latest is Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, and I curse him for that title every time I Google for British wartime food information. I don’t know how Jamie got his idea for the book, but not much in cookery (or anything else for that matter) is an entirely new concept. A nice book called – believe it or not - The Latest and Best Cook Book, published in America in 1884 - considers the responsibilities of the ‘Ministry of Domestic Cookery’ – although admittedly with quite a different spin to Jamie's.
The author starts by telling the story of the saintly thirteenth century Queen Elisabeth of Hungary. The usual legend is that the devout and charitable Queen and her husband, Louis IV of Thuringia were idyllically happy. One day when he surprises her going to feed the poor, the bread she is carrying is miraculously changed into roses. I doubt if the hungry waiting for the royal bread scraps would have been ecstatic at getting a bunch of roses instead, no matter how beautiful and fragrant they might have been, but those who are expert in these matters determined the event to be an indication of her saintliness, and eventally she was accorded the official title. The author of The Latest and Best Cook Book however tells a different version. This time, Louis is a thoroughly nasty man who actually forbids her to take food to the poor, then one day surprises her in that very act. He insists, in his ‘stern voice’ that she show him what she carries. In the instant before she is ‘obliged to show him the forbidden burden’ the bread is changed into roses, and he allows her on her way.
The author’s version allows the author’s moral lesson to be drawn of course. It also, rather oddly, allows a grammar lesson.
“It would be well for some husbands if ‘their eyes were hidden’ in such a way that food served them would seem other and better than it really is. But the sense of taste is a rebellious member - especially in the men. It will cry out against the best appearing dish, if its flavor is not of the best. There is but one way to sure success. The housewife herself must be the angel who casts the spell about the humble board and the lowly fare, and invests them with forms and odors of irresistible attractiveness. This is the true poetry of Domestic Cookery; and blessed is the home where one presides who knows this art, and makes each meal a feast, and every guest a glad participant.
But things do not always take so happy a form. For instance: there was recently a brutal murder in Troy, N. Y., and a paper,- reporting the case, clumsily said: ‘A poor woman was killed yesterday in her own home, while cooking her husband's breakfast in a shocking manner.’ Quoting this statement, a contemporary remarked: ‘There are many women who cook their husbands breakfasts in a shocking manner, but it is seldom that justice overtakes them so summarily.’ The subject is a serious one to joke over, but the turn given by the commenting paper is bright and suggestive.
The fact is, that by skillful manipulation the plainest fare may be transformed into dishes fit for kings, while by ignorance and inattention the best viands may be rendered unfit for human food. Which turn should housewives attempt to give their own culinary affairs? There can be but one reply. But, be it remembered, that freaks of favoring fortune, such as came to Elizabeth, come only to those who are zealously pursuing the line of helpful duty. There is no royal road to success as a housekeeper or a cook. You must ‘work your passage,’ but the way will be smoothed by careful study of pages such as follow, provided the study take shape in wise action.
Remember, too, that the ministry of Domestic Cookery is by no means an unimportant one. It is worthy of the best attention of any housewife.”
If you ask me, if the second version is the accurate one, Elizabeth of Austria should have tried cooking her husband’s breakfast in a shockingly poisonous manner. But she would probably not have been granted sainthood if she had.
Here is a breakfast idea from the book. Please give it ‘your best attention.’
Eggs a la Mode.
Remove the skin from a dozen tomatoes, medium size, cut them up in a saucepan, add a little butter, pepper, and salt; when sufficiently boiled, beat up five or six eggs, and just before you serve, turn them into a saucepan with the tomato, and stir one way for two minutes, allowing them to be well done.
Quotation for the Day …
All well-regulated families set apart an hour every morning for tea and bread and butter.