Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Part of the fun for any book is in the details—the clothes, the settings, and the food. Yes, the food. In the Regency, the upper class had fabulous meals. French chefs were imported by those who could afford the cost, and for some it became a competition to see who could serve the finest delicacies. Dishes such as “curry of rabbits”, “fricando of veal”, or even sugar icing moulded into “The ruin of the Turkish mosque” were dishes designed to impress. However, there was also good English fare to be found, such as leg of mutton, pheasant, salmon, trout, ham, chickens, macaroni, and all types of puddings. But to be truly fashionable, the fare should be French—meaning sauces.
The old joke has always been that France is the land of one religion and a thousand sauces, while England is the land of a thousand religions and one sauce. There is a good bit of truth in that, for many a country squire likes his beef and ale, and quite a few ate little else (for breakfast, and dinner—lunch is a more modern invention). Today, English pub-grub can also bring this saying to mind, for very often the only sauce is either salad dressing or malt vinegar for your “chips”. However, there are good English restaurants (Rules has been serving in London since the late 1700’s and offers up perhaps one of the finest Dover soles I’ve ever had, with as delicate a sauce as you can find on either side of the English Channel). And Regency recipes can set your mouth watering.
Below are a few of the more “doable” recipes. Quantities back then were not standardized and often ask for “a good handful” or for items that are much harder to come by today. However, these are recipes you can make on your own.
Maria Rundell’s book, Domestic Cookery by A Lady, became a best seller, with both recipes and household advice. Here is one of her recipes for a French Salad.
"Chop three anchovies, a shalot, and some parsley, small; put into a bowl with two table-spoons-full of vinegar, one of oil, a little mustard, and salt. When mixed well, add by degrees some cold roast or boiled meat in very thin slices; put in a few at a time; not exceeding two or three inches long. Shake them in the seasoning, and then put more; cover the bowl close, and let the salad be prepared three hours before it is to be eaten. Garnish with parsley and a few slices of the fat."
This recipe also comes from Mrs. Rundell. But the “pudding” is not anything like what we would call a pudding but is a baked dish (and quite tasty). If you actually wish to try this, you may want to start with gooseberry jelly. For the 'few crumbs of roll’ called for, think of this as something like a bath bun--a sweet roll. For biscuit, think cookie, something sweet to crumble into the dish.
"Stew gooseberries in a jar over a hot hearth, or in a sauce pan of water till the will pulp. Take a pint of the juice pressed through a coarse sieve, and beat it with three yolks and whites of eggs beaten and strained, one ounce and half of butter; sweeten it well, and put a crust around the dish. A few crumbs of roll should be mixed with the above to give a little consistence, or four ounces of Naples biscuits.”
In setting The Cardros Ruby in Yorkshire, I opted for a place of rugged beauty, which also allowed the guest to be housebound by frost. The cook for the household is French, and so serves up a few exotic dishes, including a sorrel soup and beef ala royale. My father's mother came from Sheffield in South Yorkshire, and I felt quite at home on the rugged moors with its purple heather blooming or roaming the green Dales. This other recipe, therefore, that might well have been used in The Cardros Ruby. This recipe comes from Hanna Glass’s cookbook, published in 1765.
“Take two pounds of flour, and mix with it four ounces of butter melted in a pint of good milk, three spoonsfull of yeast, and two eggs: beat all well together, and let it rise; then kneed it, and make into cakes; let them rise on tins before you bake, which do in a slow oven.”
To translate this to the modern era (and add in my grandmother's Yorkshire secrets), melt 4 oz of butter. Add the melted butter, a pint of milk, and a packet of self-rising yeast to two pounds of four. Add two eggs and mix well. Cover and let rise in a warm place. When dough has doubled in size, beat down by hand, and kneed (this is a perfect task to have your kids do—we did this for grandmother). Tear off fist sized pieces of dough, shape into round forms and lay on a baking sheet. Cover and let rise again (for 1/2 to 1 hour). Bake at 350 degrees until brown.