Sunday, 22 April 2012

Treats from an Edwardian Country House

Last night I dreamt of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. In my dream he came to my home and taught me to crochet a granny square. The resulting throw was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, with tasteful vegetable died yarn, soft and sumptuous, all homely luxury. When I finally put down the crochet hook, Hugh laid the throw on my bed and I shouted "in your face, Jane Brocket" and Hugh gave me a high five. Then I woke up. What a great dream that was!

I'll leave you to do the Prof. Freud bit, but I shall tell you that the blessed Hugh is once again in my thoughts because Treats from an Edwardian Country House is being repeated on one of those numerous Discovery channels. The eldest girl and I have been loving it. We're going to make Turkish Delight this mid-term break, just like Hugh did. Anyway, what I liked about the series is that the charming Mr Whittingstall has such fun making and doing and eating all in the interest of historical verity. Here's the link to the web-page: great recipes; great household tips; and fun things to do, including a quiz on where you're likely to be on the Edwardian social strata.

So, I thought I'd take a tip from Hugh and trawl through my ancient and venerable cookbooks in search of little luxury. The aim is, to find various recipes for lovely, sumptuous treats, in the style of Fortnum and Masons, but at the fraction of the cost, because being good, prudent huswives, we know that homemade is best for the purse and best for the health.

First up is recipe taken from Mrs Dering's Cookery Book. Mrs Dering was the cook and housekeeper at Baddesley Clinton, during the Georgian period and her personal notebook full of old receipts was found by the National Trust, when they took over the running of the house, and transcribed into a little booklet you can buy for just a few pounds. Why not try some Georgian Raspberry Vinegar, to refresh you during those long, hot summer afternoons?

Fill a jar with ripe raspberries. Then pour on them as much vinegar as the jar will hold. Let it stand ten days. Strain it off and to every pint of juice add 12 oz. of loaf sugar. Boil it as other syrup. One third or fourth part mixed with spring water is a very pleasant cooling cordial.

We move swiftly onto the Victorian period, and who is the epitome of good, Victorian housekeeping? Why, my old favourite Mrs Beeton, of course. Now, although I am well aware that the Victorian era was not renowned for its love of luxury (more it's love of corporal punishment and boiled mutton) I have found a treat which those of us who find ourselves on our feet for most of the day would appreciate.
Feet, Tired,- Dissolve a handful of salt in water as hot as can possibly be endured. Soak the feet for ten minutes, then thoroughly dry. Dust the feet and also inside the stockings with boracic powder 1 part, powdered starch 2 parts, powdered French chalk 1 part, to which is added a few drops of eucalyptus oil.
Hmm, note the use of the words "endured" and "thoroughly." Yes, a very Victorian luxury! But, I do think soaking one's feet after a hard day in the garden, is one of life's greatest a novel and sip raspberry vinegar as well and go the whole shebang!
Now, for the roaring twenties and those new Georgians, in the form of Lady Jekyll's Kitchen Essays, a book which really is all frivolous luxury. Dig this!
Chesnuts Mont Blanc - Italians are fond of sweets, but are unimaginative in their preparation. Here is a delicious one, for which the chestnuts of Vallombrossa yearly patter to the ground in their thousands.
Take of them roasted and peeled, 1 pound and put in a stewpan with vanilla pod, 1/4 pound sugar, a little milk and 1/4 pound best chocolate. Cook slowly until soft. Rub through coarse sieve into a basin-shaped mould and well sprinkled with chocolate. Turn out, and mask to whiteness with thinly whipped sweetened cream. Serve on a silver dish.
And finally, something of a sensible luxury. Why not make some Home-Made Citrus Peel whilst the Spanish oranges and lemons are still cheap and in season? A delicious treat, but a lovely addition to home-made Christmas cake and pudding, as amidst all this indulgence there is always duty, alas.
Home-Made Citrus Peel - Collect 2 or 3 dozen halves of citrus fruits: oranges lemons or fresh grapefruits. 2 good tablespoons of common (not iodized) salt to 1 quart cold water. 4 cups of sugar to 2 cups of water. Sugar for sprinkling.
Strip out sectional pith and put peels into salt solution. Leave for 10 days to 2 weeks. Turn peels every day. Finally, strain and rinse thoroughly. Boil very gently until just soft enough to pierce with a skewer, but don't overcook else peel will fall to piece before finished. Put into a syrup made a s follows. Boil the sugar and water until syrup spins a thread when dropped from tip of a spoon. Syrup must thread. Put peels into syrup and boil for five minutes. Leave in pan until next day. Lift peels out on to plate, boil up syrup, replace peels and boil for three minutes. Do this again next day (three times in all). Then lift peels out while still hot on to a large flat china dish, standing them up to retain a little syrup in each. Syrup can be re-used for another batch. The drying in sometimes slow, but dish should be placed in sunny window when possible, or in a barely warm oven. Drying takes about one week at least and peels should then be sprinkled with sugar and packed in wax paper.
Yes, I know, this is why we buy candied peel! However, as much as a faff as the above looks, what a sense of achievement you'd feel after achieving such a marathon of boiling and sugaring and brining! What a delicious frugal treat to chew on! What sunshiny glories shall be uncovered on Stir-up Sunday when you make that Christmas pud! What luxury!
I leave you to indulge yourselves, fellow huswives. Anon!

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