Monday, December 20, 2010

Free Brandy.

The British public received an offer almost too good to believe in November 1905. The makers of Hennessy’s Brandy offered, via display advertisements in the newspaper, “free of charge and carriage pain, a quarter-pint sample” of their One-Star brandy - just in time for Christmas. Customers were to enclose their visiting card with the request form, which was to be cut from the newspaper. The free sample amount of half a pint was double the volume of the smallest bottle sold by James Hennessy, so it was not an insignificant freebie.

Messrs. Jas. Hennessy had two apparent reasons for their generosity. They expressed a heartfelt concern for the decline of Brandy and Soda as a popular national beverage, gave a considered opinion as to the reasons for this decline (a problem which presented ‘a curious psychological study’), and offered as a solution their One Star brandy. They also deeply regretted ‘that “cooking brandy” is synonymous in every home with inferior brandy’, and warned ‘do not imagine that a brandy which makes a superb brandy and soda is too good for cooking purposes.’ The lengthy advice noted that ‘on bad raisin would only spoil a corner of the pudding, but one ounce of bad brandy will spoil the whole pudding’.

The problem of inferior and imitation brandy was not only a problem of the Christmas season, of course. The article (one can hardly call it merely a Display Advertisement) continued:

‘The damage done by the use of inferior and spurious brandy does not stop short at the Christmas pudding, nor at Christmas time; for Brandy is employed in the preparation of numberless dishes. “Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book” gives over fifty recipes in which Brandy is a necessary ingredient; and she very often qualifies the word brandy with the adjective “good”, probably from her own experience of the brandy which is usually used for cooking purposes.’

“Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book” had gone through many alterations and revisions by 1905. The original work was published in 1861 as The Book of Household Management, and was far more than a mere recipe book. It contained, as its title suggests, a wide range of advice on such things as the management of servants, the laundry and linen requirements of a home, and legal matters pertaining to women. It is marvellous that four decades after publication of the book (and the author’s death), when this Hennessy advertisement was made, Isabella Beeton’s monumental work was still the gold standard English cookery.

Mrs Beeton’s Christmas Cake recipe is in the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive. Today I give you her brandy-inclusive Christmas Plum Pudding recipe, from the original edition.

(Very Good.)
Ingredients.—l ½ lb. of raisins, ½ lb. of currants, ½ lb. of mixed peel, ¾ lb. of bread crumbs, ¾ lb. of suet, 8 eggs, 1 wineglassful of brandy.
Mode.—Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them; wash, pick, and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely; cut the candied peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread into fine crumbs. When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together; then moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy; stir well, that every thing may be very thoroughly blended, and press the pudding into a buttered mould; tie it down tightly with a floured cloth, and boil for 5 or 6 hours.
It may be boiled in a cloth without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking.
As Christmas puddings are usually made a few days before they are required for table, when the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that may drain from it. The day it is to be eaten, plunge it into boiling water, and keep it boiling for at least 2 hours; then turn it out of the mould, and serve with brandy-sauce. On Christmas-day a sprig of holly is usually placed in the middle of the pudding, and about a wineglassful of brandy poured round it, which, at the moment of serving, is lighted, and the pudding thus brought to table encircled in flame.
Time.—5 or 6 hours the first time of boiling; 2 hours the day it is to be served.
Average cost, 4s.
Sufficient for a quart mould for 7 or 8 persons.
Seasonable on the 25th of December, and on various festive occasions till March.
Note.—Five or six of these puddings should be made at one time, as they will keep good for many weeks, and in cases where unexpected guests arrive, will be found and acceptable, and as it only requires warming through, a quickly-prepared dish.

Quotation for the Day.
From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it.
Katharine Whitehorn, The Office Party, 1962

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