Sunday, 16 August 2009

Summer eating

At this time of year the magazines are full of ideas for tossing dreary salads and burning stuff on the barbecue, trying to excite us with beautiful photographs of depressing food. Isabella Beeton, though well aware of the importance of eating what is appropriate to the season (in her day you had to), saw no reason to limit the choice just because the sun is shining.

Here are her suggestions for a week of Plain Family Dinners for 6 in July:

Sunday: 1. Julienne soup. 2. Roast lamb, half calf’s head, tongue and brains, boiled ham, peas and potatoes. 3. Cherry tart, custards.

Monday: 1. Hashed calf’s head, cold lamb and salad. 2. Vegetable marrow and white sauce, instead of pudding.

Tuesday: 1. Stewed veal, with peas, young carrots, and potatoes. Small meat pie. 2. Raspberry-and-currant pudding.

Wednesday: 1. Roast ducks stuffed, gravy, peas, and potatoes; the remains of stewed veal rechauffé. 2. Macaroni served as a sweet pudding.

Thursday: 1. Slices of salmon and caper sauce. 2. Boiled knuckle of veal, parsley-and-butter, vegetable marrow and potatoes. 3. Black-currant pudding.

Friday: 1. Roast shoulder of mutton, onion sauce, peas and potatoes. 2. Cherry tart, baked custard pudding.

Saturday: 1. Minced mutton, Rump-steak-and-kidney pudding. 2. Baked lemon pudding.

A little heavy for our tastes, perhaps, and vegetable marrow with white sauce doesn't sound much fun for a pudding. It's all a bit dull, but this is only for the family so there are no guests to impress. Much more interesting is Isabella's menu for a dinner party of eighteen:

First Course
Soup à la Jardinière, Salmon Trout and Parsley-and-Butter. Fillets of Mackerel à la Maître d’Hôtel.

Lobster Cutlets, Beef Palates à la Italienne.

Second Course
Roast Lamb, Boiled Capon and White Sauce, Boiled Tongue, garnished with small Vegetable Marrows, Bacon and Beans.

Third Course
Goslings, Whipped Strawberry Cream, Raspberry-and-Currant Tart, Meringues.Cherry Tartlets, Iced Pudding.

Dessert and Ices

And very nice too. But goslings for afters? My first thought was that these must be some kind of joky sweet in the shape of a bird, made out of sponge cake and fondant icing, but the dictionaries have no mention of such a thing; the OED gives 1: A young goose 2: A foolish inexperienced person 3: A catkin or blossom on a tree.

Perhaps they were real baby geese, fried in butter and eaten as a savoury: you pick them up by the head, dip them in anchovy sauce, pop them whole into your mouth and crunch them up. Yum!

Mrs Beeton's great work was originally published in 24 monthly parts and then as a bound volume in 1861. The meals she writes about seem a bit excessive to us, but it would be another forty years before the Edwardians began serious gormandising with 24-course dinners.

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