I dedicate this post to friends and family who are enjoying a typical Aussie Christmas holiday at the beach, and to other friends and family for whom relentless sunshine is only a dream.
Mrs. Charles Praga, author of Dinners of the Day, (London, 1899) may not have shared with us her own first name, but she did share her somewhat lengthy thoughts on the trials (inflicted by Seaside Landladies) and tribulations (attributable to the Holidaying Houswife,) of Seaside Cookery:
It needs but a very brief experience of seaside lodging-house keepers and their manifold “little ways” to become speedily convinced that in one respect at least they are miles and miles behind their foreign compeers [sic]. I refer, of course, to their method of preparing and serving meals. Now I think it will be generally admitted that a holiday which results in an attack of acute dyspepsia cannot be said to have been productive of any solid and permanent good. I am not unreasonable, and when I go away for a holiday I do not, despite all alluring advertisements to the contrary, expect to find “all the comforts of a home”; and I equally do not require or expect that my landlady for the time being shall devote herself solely to the interests of myself and party, to the exclusion of every other guest in the house, and by aid of diligent study and the latest book on French cookery endeavour to send up every evening a dinner on similar lines to those I should partake of were I at home. But I do require that my joint of beef or mutton, as the case may be, shall be properly cooked and have enjoyed a sufficiency of basting, also that the potatoes bear a family likeness to potatoes, and not be indistinguishable from small tablets of “Somebody’s Complexion Soap” both in taste and appearance ; that the greens should have had an intimate acquaintance with a colander, and have known the pressure of a firm, yet kindly hand, with a plate or saucer underneath it, and not come up floating in a deep green sea of water; and if I have peas I expect them to resemble peas, rather than bullets, and object to their being basely done out of salt and a sprig of mint, and defrauded of their rightful allowance of two lumps of sugar to a peck. Then, again, I like a custard to contain eggs, and to have at least a semblance to the condiment whose name it bears. Jam roly-poly at best is but a stodgy sort of sweet wherewith to “finish up” a dinner, but its stodginess is increased, not lessened, if the jam it should contain has been allowed to “boil out.” All these be minor evils, doubtless, yet they can do much towards spoiling an otherwise pleasant and, perhaps, much-needed holiday; that they are unexaggerated, who that has ever spent any time, however brief, in seaside lodging, can deny? The writer has a very vivid, unpleasantly so, remembrance of a vacation passed at Southwold, that most charming of East Coast watering-places, during most of which time she and her very hard-working, and consequently hungry, artist-husband were forced to subsist principally upon bread and cheese and Spanish onions; for the joints cooked by the landladies — there were two of them, and in every other respect they were charming and most estimable creatures — were absolutely uneatable, and of their stews the less said the better. In desperation one day — we had been on a sketching expedition to Walberswick, and had returned very hungry — I tried to storm that stronghold the kitchen fortress, and, in the innocence of my heart, asked to be allowed to enter and compound a hasty ragoût. You know one can get tired even of a diet of Spanish onions and cheese, which are apt to grow monotonous, vary the cheese as you will; but its custodians were obdurate. “We make it a rule never to allow visitors to go into the kitchen,” was the blandly firm reply I received; so I had to return, worsted in the encounter, to my — no, not moutons — onions. I think we left for home next day. The air of the East Coast induces an appetite which needs something more than purely vegetarian fare to satisfy it.
Yet another seaside experience — this time at Eastbourne. Last year we made a sojourn to that highly fashionable resort, and in highly-priced apartments too; yet the cooking was so bad that we were forced over and over again to incur double expense by dining or supping at restaurants, of which, to its credit be it said, Eastbourne contains a variety, and mostly good, especially those under Italian or French management. The landlady of our apartments was of a strongly religious turn of mind. Texts bestrewed our walls, good books were placed about with conspicuous carelessness wherever a vacant space on table, sideboard, or whatnot afforded an opportunity. I hope I am not irreligious when I say that I could not help wishing that she would take just a little thought as to what her visitors — you must not say lodgers nowadays, we are all either visitors or “paying guests” — ate and drank. Our beef was invariably roasted to rags, and our mutton was as invariably underdone; whilst the memory of the solitary occasion upon which we indulged in Irish stew haunts me yet. Once, and once only, did we, in our rashness, ask her to make an attempt at a ragout; but when, after partaking of it with great caution and much protestation as to lack of appetite, my husband mentioned casually that he thought he must run up to town for a few days as he had to see a man on business, and that he would sleep at the club, as our studio was shut up, I gave in, and took a furnished house. The “rest” from the worry of housekeeping was too great and sudden a change to enable me to appreciate it properly, and really, once installed in our new quarters, I don’t think we ever had such a good dinner as that served up by my own cook, who had arrived in a costume of delicate white trimmed profusely with brightest green, after sundry formalities in the shape of telegrams and postal orders had been gone through. For the time being we were completely cured of apartments; but others, though they may find themselves in a like predicament, cannot rush off and take a furnished house, more especially if they happen to have a brood of children, and have perhaps “booked” their lodgings for weeks in advance. How then to remedy these discomforts which, though perhaps small in themselves, can do so much towards spoiling a holiday? Personal supervision of the cookery arrangements is, of course, out of the question. Nor, indeed, would one desire that this should be different; materfamilias, when on holiday-making thoughts intent, naturally desires to spend as much of her hardly-earned leisure out of doors as possible, but at the same time desires equally that the food for which she has paid a seaside, not to say fancy, price, should be well and properly cooked. Especially is this the case with the remains of a cold joint, which if not devoured by the far-famed cat every lodging-house, whether in town or country, seems to possess, is invariably served up in such a manner as to be almost if not quite uneatable. I annex a series of recipes so simple in themselves and so easy of achievement, that even the most ignorant girl or woman can carry them out if my instructions are carefully followed; further, they will be found to take no more time in preparing than will the ordinary stew so beloved of landladies. Take these recipes and give them to your landlady, and I am sure that if you ask her “pretty,” as the children say, you will neither meet with a refusal nor will failure result from her efforts; indeed, as I said before, failure is simply impossible if the recipes are strictly carried out.
Hash of Cold Beef. — Reserve the underdone portion of the beef for this purpose; cut it up into small, neat pieces, and free it from an excess of fat. Place an ounce of butter or beef dripping in a clean enamelled-iron stew-pan; as soon as it oils add a sliced onion or two or three shallots and the pieces of meat, fry for five or six minutes, and then dredge in by degrees a large tablespoonful of flour, moisten with half a pint of stock made from any well-known essence of meat, such as Liebig’s or Brand’s, stir rapidly all the time until the sauce thickens, then if not quite thick enough add a little more flour; season with pepper and salt to taste, and serve with any vegetables best liked. Potatoes should always form one of these, especially where there are children to be catered for. For hash of mutton proceed as follows: Fry the pieces of mutton, with a sliced onion, as directed in the foregoing recipe, having previously freed them from skin and fat; instead of the stock, however, add a large glassful of Harvey’s sauce and the same quantity of water, then thicken with flour. Chop finely four large pickled walnuts, and as soon as the sauce has thickened add these, together with a spoonful of capers, to the hash; season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with sippets of fried bread or toast. Another equally nice, and at the same time uncommon, hash can be made from the remains of cold veal, and will be found to be appreciated when every member of the party would turn up his or her nose in scornful refusal if it made its reappearance as a cold joint. Cut up the remains of the meat into neat, rather thin slices; dust each of these separately with white pepper ; take a clean enamelled iron saucepan and rub it with a clove of garlic, then pour into it half a pint of fresh milk, add a small blade of mace, together with the slices of veal, and simmer at one side of the stove until the meat and milk are thoroughly hot; remove the blade of mace and place the slices of meat on a very hot dish, thicken the milk with a heaped spoonful of flour, add salt to taste, boil up once, pour over and around the meat, and serve with the customary two vegetables. The garlic can be omitted if desired, but will be found to be a great improvement. Any stuffing which may have been “left over” can also be added if liked. Very often, when a couple of fowls have been indulged in for dinner, the leg pinions may have been left. These, if treated properly, will make a nice little supper dish for the mother and father of a family, when the wee ones have retired to rest wearied out with a long day on the sands. Disjoint the remains of the fowl yourself before it leaves the table, and dust each piece liberally with pepper. Then ask the landlady, or the myrmidon to whose lot it falls to prepare the various meals, to fry two rashers of back bacon, and when the bacon is sufficiently cooked to place it upon a very hot dish and fry the fillets of fowl in the fat which will remain in the pan. Five or six minutes will suffice to do this. She should then dish up the fowl upon the pieces of bacon, place a border of peas round, and serve as hot as possible. If your landlady objects to cooking hot vegetables twice a day, have an extra quarter of a peck of peas cooked for the midday meal. These can then be heated up in the bacon fat, or in a saucepan at the side of the stove. In the latter case a tablespoonful of milk should be added to them to prevent burning. Another very nice supper dish in which bacon also plays a prominent part is “Golden Eggs.” Boil half a dozen eggs hard, throw them into cold water, and take off the shells. In order to save trouble, this can be done in the morning when the breakfast eggs are being cooked. Next cook half a dozen rashers of bacon, and place them on a hot dish; egg and bread-crumb the hard-boiled eggs, and fry them in deep fat — this will only take two or three minutes ; dish up on the slices of bacon, and serve with a border of fried cabbage. The latter should have been saved from the early dinner, chopped finely, and then fried in the fat remaining from the rashers of bacon. If your landlady objects, as perhaps she will, that she doesn’t understand “frying in deep fat, and would rather not attempt it,” tell her that all she has to do is to put a pound of lard into a deep saucepan, shake it occasionally whilst it is melting, and as soon as it ceases to “bubble” and a thin blue smoke arises, to throw in the eggs, cutlets, or potatoes, whatever the article in question which she wishes to fry may be. Tell her also that she must not attempt to cook more than two or three eggs or a couple of cutlets at a time, or the fat will be chilled and her dish consequently spoiled.
A curry may seem an ambitious dish for an English landlady to essay, but in reality it is not more so than many other things she would attack without a grumble. Of course, a curry made in the following fashion would not compare very favourably with one whose sauce had been made according to the recipe given in a previous chapter. Still, it will, if my instructions are carefully carried out, prove both economical and appetising. Cut the meat — mutton for preference — into small, neat pieces; free it from skin and fat, and fry it in an ounce of butter, with two or three sliced onions; next dredge in by degrees a heaped tablespoonful of flour and a dessertspoonful of curry powder, add a tablespoonful of vinegar, a dessertspoonful of desiccated cocoanut, and a heaped teaspoonful of brown or sifted sugar; next add by degrees half a pint of stock, made according to directions given in the recipe for hashed beef, and simmer gently over a slow fire for fifteen minutes. If the curry is not thick enough, dredge in a little more flour, serve with a border of rice — to boil which, if you can persuade your landlady to follow out the recipe given in another chapter for boiling rise to perfection, so much the better, if not, why you must content yourself with her efforts, only beseeching her not to forget the salt. Now, for sweets recommend to her notice that recipe for strawberry custard, which is very quickly and simply made. Cocoanut pudding is also a sweet very easy to compound. Russian pudding takes no longer time to make than would a jam roly, and is infinitely healthier and better for both grownup people and children. If it does not seem very firm when mixed, add an extra half-ounce of bread-crumbs. The recipes for all these puddings have been given. Another delicious and most healthy sweet is the old-fashioned Devonshire dish of junket. To make it, proceed as follows : Warm a quart of new milk to just blood-heat; then sweeten with sifted sugar, and add either a tablespoonful of brandy or else a few drops of vanilla essence ; next add a level spoonful of rennet powder, and leave in a cool place. When quite cold pour some cream on top, grate a little nutmeg over the whole, and serve. Rennet powder is sold by most chemists in sixpenny bottles, with a tiny spoon attached. It is this spoon which must be used when adding the rennet.