Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dinner with Victor Hugo, 1872.

Today, February 26, is the anniversary of the birth of the famous French writer, Victor Hugo, in Besançon, in 1802. Quite serendipitously, I very recently happened across the menu for a dinner hosted by Hugo in Paris, in about 1872, and although I have no reason to suspect this was a birthday dinner, I thought it would be fun to give it to you on this day.

The menu is included in The Food Journal (London, 1872-3) in an article on French banquets.

The menus of carefully arranged Parisian dinners, especially when given as early as possible so as still to be in season, which is later in England than in France, are always welcome to gourmets and chefs, so, without further prelude, we subjoin the bills of fare of two remarkable banquets which have recently taken place.

… The second banquet was given by Victor Hugo to the director and company of the Odéon, and the friends whom the author of "Ruy-Blas" had met at the first representation of that admirable play, since the fall of the Empire. The number of guests was sixty, and included many names known in the gastronomic, as well as in the literary world. The host sat between Madame Lambquin and Mdlle. Sarah Bernardt, and amongst the company were Théophile Gautier, Saint-Victor, Arsène Houssaye, Vacquerie, Armand Gouzien, Louis Jourdan, Mélingue, Meurice, Geoffroy, Ernest Blum, Ulbach, Pierre Berton, and many more writers and actors.


Comtesse, Brunoise, Bisque.


Truites saumonées, sauce vénitienne.
Présalé de Béhague à la Richelieu.

Canetons de Rouen aux oranges.
Ortolans à la Marion Delorme.
Sorbets au kirsch.

Dindonneaux et cailles.

Salade de légumes à la Dauphine.
Artichauts à l'Espagnole.
Pois de Paris à la bonne femme.
Buissons d'écrevisses au vin du Rhin.
Glaces à la Neubourg, Brioches mousselines.

Raisin, Noir et Blanc, Prunes, Pêches,
Amandes, Cerises,
Abricots, Figues, Groseilles, Fraises.

Premier Service.
Saint-Emilion en carafes,
Xérès frappe, Sauterne rafraîchi,
Champagne frappé.
Deuxieme Service et Dessert.
Pichon-Longueville, Chambertin,
Vins d'Espagne.

To those unacquainted with the French language, or the technicalities of the French cuisine and manage, should any such exist amongst the readers of the Food Journal, two or three words in explanation of the above menus may not be unacceptable.
In the first place, Présalé stands for gigot présalé, or leg of saltmarsh mutton, the only kind of French mutton that deserves the name. Then with respect to the wines, it will be seen that one in each menu is en carafe, that is to say, placed on the table in decanters, to be drunk with water, while the champagne is in each case frappé or iced, as is the sherry in the latter menu, while the sauterne is only rafraîchi, or moderately cooled.

As the recipe for the day, I have chosen a recipe for artichokes from The Treasury of French Cookery (London, 1866) by Harriet Toogood.

Boil the artichokes in broth until they are sufficiently done to enable you to remove the hairy part, or choke, in the centre. Drain them. Fill the artichokes with a stuffing of mushrooms, parsley, shallots, salt, pepper, butter and oil, all pounded together. Arrange the artichokes on a buttered dish. Pour in a little broth and white wine, and put the dish on a stove. When they are done, sprinkle them with a sauce made of the same articles as the stuffing. It should be clear.


Take four artichokes. Trim them up. Remove the choke in the centre. Scald them lightly. Take parsley, mushrooms, shallots, chopped up and well seasoned. Fry it so as to remove its strong taste. Mingle it with about half a pound of butter and an equal quantity of scraped bacon. Fill the insides of the artichokes with this mixture. Bind them up and put them into a stewpan with some slices of bacon. Put in three or four spoonfuls of oil, and dress them with a gentle heat. The fire should be over as well as under them. Serve with thickened gravy.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Cheese Ration: Digestible Dishes, 1941.

I have talked about rationing in Britain in WW II on a number of occasions in the past, but there is always more to explore on the subject. I am thinking of cheese today. Cheese rationing began in May 1941 and remained rationed until 1954 – nine years after the war finished. At its most severe, the amount allowed for most folk was an almost-negligible one ounce per person per week (vegetarians and workers in some industries got more.) Over the next thirteen years the most common allowance was four ounces a week, with a glorious period in July 1942 when it was the luxurious amount of eight ounces a week.

Methods of making the most of the cheese ration were regularly included in the Food Facts leaflets published weekly by the British wartime Ministry of Food, and in newspaper columns across the land. Today I bring you an article from The Manchester Guardian published a few weeks in advance of the formal beginning of cheese rationing.

Digestible Dishes

The cheese ration can be made to go much farther, and, incidentally, it will be more digestible of cooked or grated than if eaten raw. It should be remembered that cheese is a highly concentrated food as it takes approximately a quart of milk to make a quarter of a pound of cheese. As cheese contains natural protein of high value, to get the most out of the ration it should be used as a main dish on a meatless day. In warmer weather it can be well used in a salad. The following, eaten with brown bread and butter or margarine, makes a perfectly balanced meal of high nutritive value. At the bottom of a dish put some cold sliced potatoes. These should be well seasoned and mixed with some salad cream or oil and vinegar dressing. Put round the dish some heaps of grated raw carrot and tufts of whatever green stuff is available. While lettuces are dear, shredded cabbage makes a good substitute. Grate the cheese into a mound in the centre.
When cooking cheese, remember that great heat will harden it and render it indigestible. A nourishing dish for four people can be made with two ounces of cheese; it makes an excellent substitute for meat or fish. Grate the cheese and put in a bowl with three and a half ounces of breadcrumbs and a tablespoonful of margarine. Add a pint of milk just off the boil, salt and pepper, and two beaten eggs. A teaspoonful of made mustard can be added also. Mix all well together, put in a greased pie-dish, and cook in a very moderate oven until just set. Cheese turnovers are very savoury. Just stir the grated cheese into a very little thick white sauce and put portions on rounds of thinly rolled out pastry. Turn over and fasten down. Bake in a moderate oven and eat hot or cold. Here is a simple cheese toast. Take a breakfast-cupful of milk and blend a teaspoonful of cornflour with some of it. Boil the rest and add the cornflour to it. Stir, and cook for a few minutes slowly. Season with cayenne, salt, and a little made mustard. Stir in some grated cheese, and pour over slices of toast when the cheese has melted. Sprinkle more cheese over the top and brown lightly under the grill.
Potato cheese is an excellent dish. Boil the potatoes in their skins, peel, and cut into small chunks. Make some ordinary white sauce and stir in some grated cheese. Pour over the potatoes and bake in the oven for about half an hour. Stale slices of bread or bread and butter can be used up with cheese. Cut into fingers and place a thin slice of cheese on one finger. Cover with another piece of bread, press together, and dip in well-seasoned beaten egg and milk (use one egg to about a teacup full of milk). Fry in bacon fat or dripping until golden brown.

Previous posts on wartime cheese rationing can be found here:

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cod Liver Oil, & the Food of the Shetlanders, 1872.

Today I bring you a small part of an article from The Food Journal: A Review of Social and Sanitary Economy and Monthly Record of Food and Public Health, Volume 3 (London, 1873.) The topic of Shetland: Its Manners and Diet was covered over two editions of the journal, and the author began by noting:

“Until within the last few years, Shetland was almost a terra incognita, and the visitors to its bleak and barren shores were few. The state of things is greatly changed; the number of tourists increases every year, and, indeed, Ultima Thule bids fair to be as regularly "done" as any other fashionable resort of the pleasure-seeking Briton. The absurd notions entertained respecting Shetland, its climate, and its people, are, as a consequence, rapidly vanishing, to be replaced by others more correct.”
The second part of the feature covered the fisheries and the food of the people.

The Food of the People.
Every fisherman in Shetland is also a farmer, having five or six acres of ground, the produce of which supplies him with the greater part of the oatmeal he requires for himself and his family, and at the same time with fodder for his cattle. Each patch is cultivated by manual labour, the chief implement used being the tuiscar, or native spade, and in the vore, or labouring season, every member of the family capable of working, male and female, is pressed into the service. . The usual crops are black oats - the light-coloured or  Scotch kind, though much better and yielding more meal, not being reckoned so suitable to the climate – beans, potatoes, and turnips. As the Shetlanders sow the same ground year after year without intermission, the soil, naturally poor, soon becomes completely worn out, and they are obliged to recruit its exhausted strength by the imposition of fresh earth. This, which they call truck, is brought from the neighbouring scathold, or outlying and uncultivated district, with great pains and labour, and is formed into a kind of compost before being used. In consequence of this constant scalping, the ground for a considerable distance around each hamlet is as bare and barren as a stony desert.
The staple article of diet among the Shetlanders is fish, and so fond are they of it that they could eat it at every meal, and never wish a change. What they call the greyfish, or sillock, already alluded to, is the most esteemed. These swarm in countless numbers along the coasts, and whenever weather will permit every spare moment is spent in catching them. It is surprising how a man will sit on the rocks, or in his boat, on a cold winter day, regardless of the piercing winds and driving sleet, till he has filled his "buddie," and so secured the evening's meal and next morning's supply. In cooking these fishes the people boil them with potatoes, as it is supposed that a finer relish is thus imparted to the latter. The piltock, which is the sillock in its second year, is with all classes reckoned a great delicacy, especially when eaten cold with vinegar. Sillocks and piltocks are used fresh, or sour, or "blawn." The "sour" are semi-putrid, but are much liked notwithstanding. "Blawn" sillocks are those which have been dried for some time in the open air. Before they can be used they must be thoroughly soaked in water, and even then are very insipid. Great quantities of these are regularly prepared by every family for winter consumption, and hung in rows under the roof of their houses. The skate is also in great repute, and in summer it is common to see two or three hung up at every door, drying in the sun. Like the "blawn" sillocks, they need to be thoroughly steeped in water before they can be used. With plenty of butter they are very fine. The larger fish, such as cod and ling, are not much eaten, and the people imagine that they are not so good for the health as the grey-fish; but the chief reason doubtless is that the cod and others mentioned are reckoned the property of the tacksman, and to appropriate them would be little better than theft. Turbot is used in its season, and, among the very poorest, even the dog-fish is used for food, but only in the absence of everything else. The roe of the cod boiled entire is an excellent dish, and the same, mixed with flour, is formed into a paste called "slot," which is eaten fried with grease or suet. The cod is eaten with its own oil, and this dish, which the Shetlanders like very much, is called "fish and gree." Many a hearty meal is made of the heads and livers of the cod, after the fish has been prepared for salting.
In taking their meals, the Shetlanders do not arrange themselves around a table, but each person sits wherever he finds most convenient. The pot, with the potatoes, stands near the fire, and the fish is laid upon a square wooden platter with raised sides, called a "trough," and placed upon a small table. No knives or forks are used, but every one helps himself with his fingers, and holds a bit of fish in one hand and a potato in the other. In every house there is a pig or two, which the family either use for themselves or send to the market. The Shetland native pig is not an attractive specimen of its kind, and its flesh is not the best of pork, the quality by no means being improved by the feeding, which almost always imparts to it a fishy taste. The flesh of fowls is affected in the same way. These last are small, but are very tender when young. Beef and mutton are not extensively used among the lower classes in Shetland, but it is not uncommon for two or three families to join in having a cow killed at Martinmas for their winter's stock of provisions. This was until recently the invariable custom with the better classes, but now fresh meat can be had all the year round. The beasts intended for slaughter are entirely grass-fed, and generally from ten to twelve years old, at which time they are considered to be in prime condition. The meat is very fine, but shrinks considerably in boiling.
Tea is a favourite beverage with the Shetlanders, and the value of yearly imports is considerably more than the rental of the whole country. With a great many it is as much an article of extravagant dissipation as whisky is in other places. It is drunk without cream or sugar, and generally boiled. Sometimes a piece of lump-sugar is held in the mouth, which sweetens the tea as it is swallowed. The bread eaten with it is oat-cake, which is used in almost every house throughout the isles. Wheaten or bakers' bread has, however, lately begun to come into use, even among the peasantry; but formerly it was a thing scarcely ever seen in any family, and when it was procured it was enjoyed as a great delicacy. The Shetlanders also use oatmeal porridge, but not so much as the lower orders in Scotland. In winter, boiled cabbage, potatoes, and fish are commonly taken at supper.
The Shetlanders are not a drunken people, but although they are all very fond of a glass of spirits at times, they generally contrive to keep within due bounds. Their principal times for rejoicing are Old Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Johnsmas (St. John's day), and the foy, which every boat's crew has at the close of the haaf fishery. Even at such times it is very rare that there is much excess of any kind.
Owing to the exceedingly healthy nature of the climate and the temperate lives of the people, many of the Shetlanders attain a great age.

The famous Victorian chef, Alexis Soyer was well aware of the common prescription of cod-liver oil by the medical men of the day – although clearly the hardy folk of the Shetlands would have had no such need. In his book A Shilling Cookery for the People (London, 1854) Soyer noted:

Being aware of the immense quantity of cod-liver oil taken by delicate persons, now-a-days, and the great benefit derived from its use, I asked the medical officer present his opinion of its efficacy.  Nothing can be better," was his reply, "in many cases. But," said he, "many patients cannot take it, being of such an unpleasant taste, more especially children, and as we in this establishment use the second quality, from motives of economy, it is doubly unpleasant." I myself tasted some, and must say that I found it anything but relishing.
After bidding adieu to the doctor, I and my host left, and while returning to my hotel, I thought that something could be done to alter the present unpleasant way of administering it. Accordingly, upon reaching home, I sent for the following:—

103. One pound of fresh cod-liver; I then peeled and steamed two pounds of nice floury potatoes, then cut the liver in four pieces, placed it over the potatoes, and then steamed them, letting the oil from the liver fall on the potatoes; I then made some incisions in the liver with a knife, to extract the remaining oil, afterwards dishing up the liver, which was eaten with a little melted butter and anchovy sauce. The potatoes were served up with a little salt and little salt and pepper. Both dishes were found extremely good.
The following is another way of extracting the oil of a cod's liver, with the aid of that abundant article, rice.

104. Rice and Cod Liver.—Boil half a pound of rice in two quarts of water. When nearly done, remove three parts of the water; then put over your rice a pound of cod's liver, cut in large dice. Put the saucepan in a slow oven for about thirty minutes, by which time it will be nicely cooked. Then take the liver out, which serve as above directed. Stir the rice with a fork, and serve it; if allowed by a medical man, add a little salt and pepper. If no oven, cook the liver and rice on a very slow fire, for otherwise it would burn, and be unwholesome as food.
Of course you can easily see what a blessing such diet as this must be to a person incapable of taking the oil by itself, as, by mixing it with the food, it entirely loses that rancid quality for which it is proverbial.

105. Tapioca and Cod Liver.—Boil a quarter of a pound of tapioca till tender in two quarts of water; drain it in a cullender, then put it back in the pan; season with a little salt and pepper, add half a pint of milk, put over one pound of fresh cod liver, cut in eight pieces. Set your pan near the fire to simmer slowly for half an hour, or a little more, till your liver is quite cooked. Press on it with a spoon, so as to get as much oil into the tapioca as possible. After taking away the liver, mix the tapioca. If too thick, add a little milk, then boil it a few minutes; stir round, add a little salt and pepper, and serve. If you have a slow oven, use it in preference to the fire; but if you are without an oven, here is another good way of cooking it:

106. Put three inches depth of water in a largish pan; then put the pan containing the tapioca in the above-mentioned pan; let it simmer till quite done. It will take about an hour. By adopting this plan, all fear of burning is obviated; afterwards remove the liver, which serve as at No. 103.

107. Sago, or semolina, may be done the same way, and by adding an egg, it will make a delicate pudding; or by cutting the liver in small dice, you may add it to your pudding, putting in a little more milk to make it moist; then add a couple more eggs, well beaten, and mix; putting it in a basin, previously well buttered; then let it simmer in a stewpan for half an hour, or till set; then turn it out on a dish; sauce with a little plain melted butter, anchovy, or parsley and butter.

A little stringent food, such as the above, will be found to be very refreshing, even to persons in good health.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

A Picnic on the Cusp of War.

A scant two weeks before Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, The Times (of London) included a feature article (in the section clearly aimed at women) entitled “Luncheons for the Moors: Ideas for Menus.”

One could have skimmed the newspaper and barely been aware that war was looming. Three short paragraphs half way down the first column on page 7 reported the need for more volunteers in the eventuality that children may need to be evacuated from London; about half of page 9 was given over to “World Peace” and events in Europe; and in a few column inches on page 11 under the header “Critical Days” it was noted that there were “many signs of heightened tension in international affairs.”

In view of the imminent inevitability of war in Europe at the time, the tone and tenor of the piece seems rather surreal today. Was the focus on the concept of a leisurely 3-course lunch on the moors (after a bracing walk, of course) a determined celebration of all that was good about England, in spite of the situation evolving in Europe? Was it outright denial that the Best of Times was about to devolve into the Worst of Times? A simple example of a British stiff upper lip and carry on regardless? An offering of “bread and circuses” to the masses?  

Here is the piece: may you enjoy it in all its evocative, nostalgic glory:


“Young people enjoy the scramble of a picnic on the moors, but after perhaps a hard morning’s walking older men would often be glad of a leisurely and ordered meal. It is also economical, for the housekeeper knows just how much to provide for each course. If the meal is carefully thought out beforehand, it actually takes up little room and can be packed in one side of the usual large leather pony bags, the other side being kept for drinks, glasses, and so on. This is an important consideration where there is no road near the trysting place.
The only extra that is wanted for a “course” luncheon is an additional set of plates, but these can be had in aluminium quite inexpensively, and are so thin and light they take up hardly any room. The second set should be only “cheese” size. These are for the sweet and cheese courses, but “dinner” sized ones will be more easily balanced for the meat course, when both hands are wanted for knife and fork.

Everything should as far as possible be in rectangular packets to save waste of space in packing. Bright biscuit tins can hold any course that is in small portions, and for the two main ones, the enameled oblong tins of luncheon baskets are best. The hostess should have a good eye for a “terrain” where everyone can sit in a rough circle and pass things without having to get up.

The bag should be put down beside her and she should, if possible, unpack it herself, placing each packet in its proper order. Every parcel should of course be carefully labelled. She will want only one person to help her by giving out plates and another to take round knives, forks, and spoons, the dishes themselves being handed to her nearest neighbor and passed on when he has helped himself. The drinks naturally will be in the charge of the host. The first course should be something that can be eaten in the fingers. Here are some ideas for menus:-“

I have chosen menu Number 2 for you today: stuffed eggs, cold lamb with mint jelly and salade russe followed by pain d’apricots, and a “black” gingerbread to serve with the cheese and butter course.  As an alternative to the salad, a cold curry of vegetables might be served, in which case it was suggested that the mint jelly be omitted, as “the strong flavours would not agree.”

Naturally, the article included a couple of recipes:

Stuffed Eggs.
Hard boil the eggs, cut them in two crosswise, take out the yolks, pass through wire sieve, mix with a very little thick whipped cream, salt, pepper, and a dash of Worcester sauce, fill the eggs, put the two halves together and twist up in greaseproof paper. Pack in tin and warn guests to open the parcels carefully.

Pain d’Apricots.
It is a pleasant and refreshing sweet.
Take 2 lb. of fresh or bottled apricots stewed and then passed through a sieve. Add four leaves of melted gelatine and see that the mixture is sweet enough. Pour into the enamel box to set. Serve this with a pot of Devonshire cream, which can easily be had by post and will keep fresh for a day or two.