I am completely unable to resist giving you a little more wit and wisdom from yesterday’s source - The Belgian Cookbook (New York, 1915) by Mrs. Brian Luck, who had the bad luck herself not to be known by her own first name.
The second half of this little book is composed chiefly of recipes for dishes that can be made in haste, and by the inexperienced cook. But such cook can hardly pay too much attention to details if she does not wish to revert to an early, not to say feral type of cuisine, where the roots were eaten raw while the meat was burnt. Because your dining-room furniture is Early English, there is no reason why the cooking should be early English too. And it certainly will be, unless one takes great trouble with detail.
Let us suppose that at 7.30 P. M. your husband telephones that he is bringing a friend to dine at 8. Let us suppose an even more rash act. He arrives at 7.15, he brings a friend: you perceive the unexpressed corollary that the dinner must be better than usual. In such a moment of poignant surprise, let fly your best smile (the kind that is practiced by bachelors' widows) and say "I am delighted you have come like this; do you mind eight or a quarter past for dinner? '' Then melt away to the cook with this very book in your hand.
I take it that you consider her to be the junior partner in the household, you, of course, being the senior, and your husband the sleeping partner in it. Ask what there is in the house for an extra dish, and I wager you the whole solar system to a burnt match that you will find in these pages the very recipe that fits the case. A piece of cold veal, viewed with an eye to futurity, resolves itself into a white creamy delightfulness that melts in your mouth; a new-laid egg, maybe, poached on the top, and all set in a china shell. If you have no meat at all, you must simply hoodwink your friends with the fish and vegetables.
You know the story of the great Frenchwoman:
“Helas, Annette, I have some gentlemen coming to dine, and we have no meat in the house. What to do?"
"Ah! Madame, I will cook at my best; and if Madame will talk at her best, they will never notice there is anything wrong."
But for the present day, I would recommend rather that the gentlemen be beguiled into doing the talking themselves, if any shortcoming in the menu is to be concealed from them, for then their attention will be engaged.
It takes away from the made-in-a-hurry look of a dish if it is decorated, and there are plenty of motifs in that way besides parsley. One can use beetroot, radishes, carrots cut in dice, minced pickles, sieved egg; and for sweets, besides the usual preserved cherries and angelica, you can have strips of lemon peel, almonds pointed or chopped, stoned prunes cut in halves, wild strawberries, portions of tangerine orange. There is a saying,
Polish the shoe,
Though the sole be through,
and a very simple chocolate shape may be made attractive by being garnished with a cluster of pointed almonds in the center, surrounded by a ring of tangerine pieces, well skinned and laid like tiny crescents one after the other. There is nothing so small and insignificant but has great possibilities. Did not Darwin raise eighty seedlings from a single clod of earth taken from a bird’s foot?
It is to be regretted that Samuel Johnson never wrote the manual that he contemplated. "Sir," he said, "I could write a better book of cookery than has ever yet been written. It should be a book on philosophical principles."
Perhaps the pies of Fleet Street reminded him of the Black Broth of the Spartans which the well-fed Dionysius found excessively nasty; the tyrant was curtly told that it was nothing indeed without the seasoning of fatigue and hunger. We do not wish a meal to owe its relish solely to the influence of extreme hunger — it must have a beautiful nature all its own, it must exhibit the idea of Thing-in-Itself in an easily assimilable form.
I am convinced, anyhow, that this little collection (formed through the kindness of our Belgian friends) will work miracles; for there are plenty of miracles worked nowadays, though not by those romantic souls who think that things come by themselves. Good dinners certainly do not, and I end with this couplet :
A douce woman and a fu' wame
Maks King and cottar bide at hame.
Which, being interpreted, means that if you want a man to stay at home, you must agree with him and so must his dinner.
I do love that phrase “There is nothing so small and insignificant but has great possibilities.” Here are two recipes from the book to assist Good Cook and Good Wives everywhere (whatever their gender, marital and occupational status, philosophical stance, or feelings about cold mutton) to put food on the table three times a day.
The Good Wife’s Sauce
This sauce is indispensable to anyone who wishes to use up slices of cold mutton. Trim your slices, take away skin and fat and pour on them the following cold sauce. Hard-boil three eggs, let them get cold. Crumble the yolks in a cup, adding slowly a tablespoonful of oil, salt, pepper, a little mustard, a teaspoonful of vinegar; then chop the whites of egg, with a scrap of onion, and if you have them, some capers. Mix all together and pour it over the cold meat.
This simple dish is much liked by gentlemen.
Break five eggs in a basin, sweeten them with castor sugar, pour in a sherry glassful of rum. Beat them very hard till they froth. Put a bit of fresh butter in a shallow pan and pour in your eggs. Let it stay on the fire just three minutes and then slip it off on to a hot dish. Powder it with sugar, as you take it to the dining-room. At the dining-room door, set a light to a big spoonful of rum and pour it over the omelette just as you go in. It is almost impossible to light a glass of rum in a hurry, for your omelette, so use a kitchen spoon.