Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dormers and Cecils.

I cannot leave yesterday’s source of inspiration (Martha Careful’s Household Hints to Young Housewives) without sharing her solution to another of life’s little problems. She sets the scenario – and it is everybody’s favourite scenario – a scary beginning with a romantic ending:

I will imagine to-day that your husband unexpectedly brings a gentleman home to dinner, and that at the sound of a second voice, you begin wondering and conjecturing how you shall manage to have what is right and proper. Therefore, after a gentle introduction, in which you are to appear for your husband's sake to the most advantage - that is, as the quiet cheerful lady - you will repair to the cook, and request her to speed with the following arrangements - naming a half hour later for dinner, and recommending James to stroll either in the garden, or round the pretty village, or so to occupy his friend till dinner, that your absence may not be noticed. There must be a little extra activity on your part to see things done creditably to the bride and young housekeeper. Clean cloth and napkins, a little extra dessert from the store closet. Sweetmeats, interspersed with the apples and pears, with a few biscuits, always kept in a canister, really make the table look quite well.


You were going to have cold mutton and a duck, but as your house is too far off the town to secure fish, or little sundries in an emergency, you must simply make a little alteration in cooking the same articles.

After dinner you sit awhile at the dessert and the wine passes, while conversation mingles with the pleasant smile. But when you find a little weariness pervading the scene, you rise and retire to the withdrawing room - this being of course always required when a friend is with you. Lamps lighted, and curtains closed, tea and coffee are announced to the gentlemen, as prepared, and they join you at the summons. Your servant stands and assists you to the caddy, water, &c. watching your wants, and waiting on the company; after tea you look over the views of spots visited in your wedding tour; hear from your friend the contrast existing between this scene and that which he has visited, and thus by interchange of thought and idea, you have almost double the information you possessed before he joined your party. The piano is open - you play - your husband accompanies you on the flute, or you sing duets, and your friend lingers still - and still seems unwilling to leave the tiny circle, made so magical by harmony, love, and good management; and when he bids good night, he determines, as soon as possible, to break the chain which now rivets him to a bachelor's condition.

"And thus we banish cloud and care,
And feverish passion comes not there;
And I, if such the joys of home,
Will pitch my tent no more to roam." - C. Neale.

In larger parties, coffee is always sent in to the gentlemen before they leave the table. When a friend dines, you do not ask him to sup—in fact this is almost an obsolete meal, dinners being generally fixed at so late an hour. A glass of wine and cake are frequently handed before a friend leaves. Now your servant has had but little extra to do, and that little, from her regular habit of doing all things in order, has been done, and nothing of her regular work left undone. Your fine things are starched and ready for the ironing to-morrow. You are satisfied - your husband pleased, and you are more than ever convinced that a married life is a happy one.

"Thus habits mould the soul to be a place
Wherein may dwell forms of immortal grace;
While thoughts and tempers in the spirits shrine,
Grow into shape, and take the life divine." - R. J. Williams.
                                               Faithfully yours,
                                                      MARTHA CAREFUL.

I had no idea what ‘dormers’ were – other than a way to disguise the leftover mutton that was on the family menu. Mrs Careful gives the recipe of course:

Half a pound of cold meat, 2 ounces of beef suet, 3 ounces of boiled rice, all chopped fine and well seasoned.Roll them into sausages, egg and breadcrumb them all over, and fry a nice brown; serve with gravy in a dish with them.

Well, I think we are agreed that ‘dormers’ certainly sound better than ‘cold meat rissoles’, dont we? But why the name? The Oxford English Dictionary does not know any edible dormers, only the varieties which are sleeping chambers or vertical windows in the sloping roof of a house.
The author of The Best of Everything, Robert Kemp Philp (London, 1870) comes to the rescue with an explanation of dormers in the middle of his recipe for ‘cecils’.

Cecils: an excellent way to use up cold meat.
Mince 1 lb of cold beef or mutton with ¼ lb of beef suet, ¼ lb breadcrumbs; season with pepper, salt, mace, Cayenne, and a tablespoonful of Worcester sauce, and the same quantity of mushroom catsup; mix all well together with three eggs well beaten, form into small cakes or balls, fry of a nice brown, and serve with a rich brown gravy. These cakes are very nice if made with well-boiled rice instead of breadcrumbs, particularly if the meat is veal or lamb; they are then called ‘Dormers’. Cold fish or kippered salmon cooked in a similar manner, with potatoes in place of the rice or breadcrumbs, and with anchovy sauce and hard-boiled eggs chopped small, is extremely good and savoury.

The OED does have an opinion on cecils, which it says is ‘A name for hashed beef’ (Simmonds Dict. Trade). Minced meat, crumbs of bread, onions, chopped parsley, etc., with seasoning, made up into balls, sprinkled with bread-crumbs, and fried.’

So, there you have it – some useful advice for re-branding the leftover cold roast that is lurking in the back of your refrigerator. I can just hear you asking at breakfast one morning “Would you like dormers or cecils for dinner tonight, dearest? I must advise the cook of your preference.”

Quotation for the Day.
Meat eaten without mirth or music is ill of digestion.
Sir Walter Scott.


KT said...

Ahhh, yes - harmony, love, and good management.

The Old Foodie said...

Ahh, if only the third would guarantee the first two!

Unknown said...

I'm going to have to play the devil's advocate and say that "Dormers" does sound a fair bit like "Doormice"... ;) hehehe

Les said...

Oh my, I have a leftover grilled round roast in the fridge right now. I used part today for some quick soft tacos on homemade corn tortillas but the rest would go well as dormers especially with the smokey grilled flavor.

Thanks for the recipe! I even have some suet I rendered on hand.

Lapinbizarre said...

The Dormers and the Cecils were distinguished English families of the 16th c & later. Maybe a Victorian attempt to give an aristocratic air to a dish of left-overs?