Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Potted Beef.

On this day in 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth, the sister of the famous poet, travelled from their home in Grasmere in the beautiful Lake District of England to the nearby town of Keswick. They had a nice snack along the way, without getting off their horses.

“…I went to K. Wm rode before me [ie she sat behind him, on the same horse] to the foot of the hill nearest Keswick. … We ate some potted Beef on Horseback, and a sweet cake…”

Well before the understanding of germs (in the mid-nineteenth century), people were aware that if air was excluded from the container, then food could be kept for longer periods of time. The earliest way in which this was achieved was to enclose the food in a very thick, hard pastry crust or ‘coffin’, the resulting dish being called a bake-mete – an early form of pie. As the seventeenth century progressed, the earthenware pot began to be used as an alternative to the pastry. The meat or fish was cooked slowly and then often pounded to a paste with various seasonings before being placed in the pot and sealed with a good quantity of butter. The following recipe allows a nice deceit too.

Potted Beef As Venison.
Choose a piece of lean beef from the buttock, or other part that has no bone in it; rub it all over with saltpeter, and let it lie twelve hours, then salt it thoroughly with bay salt and common salt in equal parts, well blended. Place it in a pot that will only just contain it; let it be completely covered with water, and remain thus four days; then wipe it well with a cloth, and rub it with pepper beaten to a powder; lay it into a pot without any liquor; put over it a crust of brown flour, and let it bake like large loaves six or seven hours; then take it out, and when it is cool enough pick out all the strings and skins, and beat it in a stone mortar finely. The seasoning must be mace, cloves, and nutmeg reduced to a fine powder; and add a little melted butter in which flour has been absorbed; put it down in pots as closely as you can, and pour clarified butter over it.
The Whole Art of Curing, Pickling, and Smoking Meat and Fish, by James Robinson (Practical Curer), 1847.


(1) Dorothy Wordsworth has appeared in previous stories on this blog: they are HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

(2)  It is also the 5th Day of Christmas, which was the topic of the post HERE.

Quotation for the Day.

Nor is it the act of a sinner,
When breakfast is taken away,
To turn your attention to dinner;
And it’s not in the range of belief,
That you could hole him as a glutton,
Who, when he is tired of beef,
Determines to tackle the mutton.

W.S Gilbert, from Songs of a Savoyard.


EB said...

fabulous quote of the day! brilliant

Gary Gillman said...

These old English potted dishes seem to have died away completely, which is unfortunate. E.g. commercial Stilton, a cheese which I find usually way too salty, benefits from being blended 50/50 with sweet (unsalted) butter and packed in small earthenware vessels. This is a tip from the ever-reliable Elizabeth David who, as many here would know, wrote a small book on various potted preparations. But returning to meat, a long-disappeared Toronto butcher used to offer his potted hough, which was always made with shin of beef. The French pates of various kinds are still popular "mais ce n'est pas la meme chose".


The Old Foodie said...

Yes, Gary - it is sad that they do seem to have disappeared. I guess one of the major reasons for making them - to prolong the shelf-life of the food - is redundant now in the days of household refrigeration. As you suggest, made into "pate" sounds posh, but "potted hough" (which I have made, in the past) sounds less appetising. Fridge or not, it is still a great way to use up bits and pieces of protein food.