Monday, June 15, 2009

Resurrection Pie.

In 1863 the Epidemiological Society of London conducted an inquiry into the state of health of young women employed in the large dressmaking and millinery houses of the West End of that city. Unfortunately the inquiry could not be completed because “the time which could be devoted to it proved to be too short for its successful prosecution.” The contributing reasons for the difficulty in completing the study are in themselves very illuminating. The young women “lived in” at the great houses, and worked punishing hours, especially during “the season”, so could only be examined“after work hours or during a short relaxation from business late in the evening and then for a brief time only.” Another factor was that “the examined were very reticent” – a similar issue to that which had “to a great extent foiled the official investigations of the First Children's Employment Commission and of the Select Committee of the House of Lords in 1853 on this subject.

The reason for the reticence on the part of the employees was obvious. The young women were concerned “lest they should in some way or other compromise themselves with their employers … some declined because they held that it would not be right to give information concerning the state of the employed and internal economy of the houses of business in which they were living … ”. Some employees “freely avowed that the existing state of things in millinery and dressmaking so far as the employed were concerned was as a rule most unsatisfactory, but they maintained that it would not be honourable whilst eating the bread and living under the roof of an employer to make any statement which might be prejudicial to him whatever just source of complaint there might be.”

The working day usually started at 8.30 or 9, and a 12 hour day was usual - but during the peak season, the women often worked until the early hours of the morning. The arrangements for food and meals in four “first-class” houses (of dressmaking an millinery” were included in the report. This is the report from house number IV.

"Breakfast at 7 am summer: 8 am winter: tea bread and butter. Dinner from 1 to 2 pm Chiefly beef and mutton, sometimes roast, sometimes boiled beef, steak pies, cabbage pies, kidney pies. Monday “resurrection pie” and potatoes. Tuesday hot joint, but not regularly. Wednesday, cold joint. Thursday, boiled salt beef. Friday, cold boiled beef Saturday, beef steak pudding, Yorkshire pudding with roast joint. Fruit puddings or pies very rarely. Rarely any vegetable but potatoes.Sameness of meat and vegetables repulsive. Cooking very inferior. Tea - hour very irregular - from 5 to 7 pm: tea, bread and butter. Supper 10 pm at the earliest: bread and cheese sometimes butter.
Occasionally an egg in place of cheese or butter. No occasional refreshment however late work may be protracted. A very limited quantity of beer allowed. The meals are not nicely served The food is placed on the table in a disorderly manner and the table linen and furniture are far from clean. The drinking vessels are pot mugs not glasses. The quantity of food is not stinted and the quality is very fair if it were properly prepared."

All I can say is - Thank goodness for modern labour laws!

It is the “resurrection pie” that captures my imagination today. It refers to a pie made from the previous weeks leftovers and scraps (a concept we came across in a previous post), often served in boarding schools and similar institutions. I have seen one reference to a similar concept being called “Gunpowder Pie”, on account of the large amount of pepper included to disguise the taste of the elderly ingredients. There is no “recipe” of course, by definition – a resurrection pie being a mere assembly of the detritus of the pantry, most usually, it seems, mixed with a lot of potato. Instead then, I give you a pie of potatoes only – with pepper (feel free to make it gunpowder-hot). The recipe is from the inimitable Dr William Kitchener’s Cook’s Oracle (1836).

Potato Pie.
Peel and slice your Potatoes very thin into a pie dish; between each layer of Potatoes put a little chopped onion (three quarters of an ounce of onion is sufficient for a pound of Potatoes); between each layer sprinkle a little pepper and salt; put in a little water and cut about two ounces of fresh butter into little bits and lay them on the top; cover it close with puff paste. It will take about an hour and a half to bake it.
N.B. The Yolks of four Eggs (boiled hard) may be added; and when baked a table spoonful of good Mushroom Catchup poured in through a funnel.
Obs. - Cauliflowers divided into mouthsful and Button Onions seasoned with Curry Powder &c make a favourite Vegetable Pie

Quotation for the Day.

If there were only turnips and potatoes in the world, someone would complain that plants grow the wrong way.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

1 comment:

Shay said...

Resurrection pie -- or something along those lines -- is or was also served in large families. I can remember my mother chopping up Sunday's roast and Saturday's vegetables and serving it all under a mashed-potato crust.