Monday, January 25, 2010

Turn of the Century Turkey.

Tonight, as those of you with any real or wished-for Scottish heritage are aware, is the anniversary of the birth of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns. We have discussed the essential elements of a traditional Burns Night dinner – haggis and all – in a previous post, so may I refer you to the details HERE? January 25 also happens to be the birth anniversary of Virginia Woolf, which we have also covered in a blog post on this day in a previous year (HERE) .

We are able to maintain the literary theme for January 25 thanks to the wonderful Jane Austen. Miss Austen, at home in Steventon, wrote one of her many letters to her sister Cassandra on this day in 1801.

Steventon: Sunday (January 25).
I dare say you will spend a very pleasant three weeks in town. I hope you will see everything worthy of notice, from the Opera House to Henry's office in Cleveland Court; and I shall expect you to lay in a stock of intelligence that may procure me amusement for a twelvemonth to come. You will have a turkey from Steventon while you are there, and pray note down how many full courses of exquisite dishes M. Halavant converts it into.

The cook in question - M. Halavant - was apparently French, so perhaps was expected to have a more extensive range of turkey recipes than English guests were used to? I thought it might be interesting to see what were the suggestions for turkey in English cookbooks of the time, and chose at random The Complete British Cook, by Mary Holland, published in 1800.

The author notes in the text that “For a turkey, good gravy in the dish, and either bread or onion sauce in a bason, or both” are appropriate sauces, and also that ‘portable soup’ cakes are useful in the making of make gravy for turkey or fowl. As far as specific recipes for turkey are concerned there are only slim pickings in this particular book: there is a single recipe for a turkey sauce (given below), a recipe for a liver ragout which includes turkey livers, and very elementary instructions on how to boil and stew the bird.

[To Boil] Turkey, Fowl, Goose, Duck, &c.
Poultry are best boiled by themselves, and in a good deal of water; scum the pot clean, and you need not be afraid of their going to table of bad colour. A large turkey, with a force-meat in its craw, will take two hours; one without, an hour and a half; a hen turkey, three quarters of an hour, a large fowl, forty minutes; a small one, half an hour; a large chicken, twenty minutes; and a small one a quarter of an hour; a full grown goose salted, an hour and a half’ a large duck, near an hour.

[To Stew] a Turkey or Fowl.
Take a turkey or fowl, put into a sauce-pan or pot, with sufficient quantity of gravy or good broth; a bunch of celery cut small, and a muslin rag, filled with mace, pepper, and all-spice, tied loose, with an onion, and a sprig of thyme; then these have stewed softly till enough, take up the turkey or fowl; thicken the liquor it was stewed in with butter and flour; and having dished the turkey, or fowl, pour the sauce into the dish.

Oyster Sauce for boiled Turkey, Fowls, or any white Meat.
Open a pint of large oysters and just scald them, strain the liquor through a sieve, wash an beard them, put into a stewpan, and pour the liquor from the settlings in, put in half a lemon, a piece of butter mixed with flour, a quarter of a pound of butter, and a gill of cream, boil it gently till it is thick and smooth; take out the lemon and squeeze the juice in, stir it round, and then put in your sauce-boat.

There are other food stories inspired by Jane Austen in previous blog posts HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Quotation for the Day.
What a shocking fraud the turkey is. In life preposterous, insulting – that foolish noise they make … in death – unpalatable … practically no taste except a dry fibrous flavour reminiscent of warmed up plaster-of-paris and horsehair. The texture is like wet sawdust and the whole vast feathered swindle has the piquancy of a boiled mattress.
“Cassandra” (columnist William Connor), The Daily Mirror, 1953.


KT said...

A boiled mattress... yeah, I was just thinking that a boiled turkey wouldn't be very appetizing.

The Old Foodie said...

Agreed, KT - I have never found the idea of boiled meat very appetising, apart from corned beef, which is gently simmered, not boiled. funny how 'simmering' and 'poaching' sound more appetising, isnt it?