If you want to know how to restore ostrich feathers, how to cure chapped hands, how to make a barometer and how to perform many other useful domestic skills, you need go no further than the book I introduced you to last week - The Country House: A Collection of Useful Information and Recipes Adapted to the Country Gentleman and His Household … (1866.) Sadly, it must be admitted that much of the advice in this fine book is redundant today – but thankfully, not all of it, and there are a few ideas which are perhaps ripe for re-discovery. How about preserving lettuce? I don’t believe I have seen a recipe for preserved lettuce in any modern cookery books I have seen recently but The Country House has two to choose from.
In truth, these are recipes for mock ginger.
Peel off the outer coat of the tender stalks of shot lettuce; cut in 1 in. or 2 in. lengths; throw it into water; for each 1 lb. throw in a teaspoonful of cayenne pepper, and a little salt. Let it stand two days. Strain and wash in clean water. Clarify an equal weight of fine loaf-sugar. Take 1 ½ oz. of good ginger for every 1 lb.; soak it in boiling water and slice it; boil with the sugar fifteen minutes. Pour it boiling hot over the lettuce, which must be well drained. Keep back the ginger, which boil with the syrup three times (at intervals of two or three days), and pour boiling hot on the lettuce. At the last boiling add the juice of two or three lemons. If the syrup is allowed to cool, it spoils the colour of the ginger.
Lettuce, to Preserve.
Take the stalks of white cos-lettuce, when tender and not stringy; skin it and cut it in pieces; blanch it in water two or three days. Make a thin syrup, to a quart of which add 3oz. of sliced ginger; when cold pour it on the lettuce. Boil up the syrup every other day for a fortnight, and at the last time make it thick, and add lemon-peel. The syrup will require to be boiled up often, and reduced or strengthened as found necessary.
As it turns out, recipes for making mock ginger with lettuce stalks are quite common in nineteenth century cookery books. The following example gives more detailed instructions, and is quite clear about the aim being to produce imitation ginger.
To preserve lettuce.
Take about three dozen of tender shot lettuces, peel, cut in pieces about three inches long, and throw into a basin of cold water as you do it. When it is all done, put it on the fire in a brass pan, shake in half a pound of ground ginger, let it boil two minutes, take it off, pour it carefully into a jar, and let it stand for two days ; give it another boil for two minutes, and return it to the jar another day. Put on six pounds of sugar in a brass pan, with a quart of cold water; let it boil for ten minutes, then take the lettuce out of the ginger-water, and wash in cold water; then put it into the boiling syrup, let it boil briskly for five minutes, take it off and pour carefully into the jar. Repeat the boiling until it is clear, allowing a day or two between each time; but before boiling the third time, put on six pounds of loaf-sugar with an English pint of cold water, in a brass pan; let it boil briskly for ten minutes, then pour all together. In the last boiling put in an ounce of the essence of ginger, some shred ginger, and two dozen of cayenne pods, tied in a muslin cloth. When you pot it up, you must let the shred ginger and the cayenne pods lie on the top. This is a beautiful imitation of foreign ginger.
The Practice of Cookery and Pastry by Mrs. I. Williamson (Edinburgh, 1862)