Today I am delighted to publish this guest post from ace food eater and writer Kake, who has been writing a series on London Road, Croydon which you can enjoy here. The link to this post is here.
While trawling through the archives at the Croydon Local Studies Library recently, I made a delightful discovery that immediately brought the Vintage Cookbook Trials to mind. I had actually been looking for information on Jay’s Furnishing Stores, a chain of hire-purchase furniture shops that operated in the UK during the 20th century — but to my surprise, nestled among the cuttings of newspaper adverts offering “guaranteed delivery” and “the Best Terms in the World” was a small booklet entitled “20 Ways of Cooking Fish”.
Published by Jay’s at an unspecified date (though an anonymous hand has written “prob 1932” on the back), this booklet contains recipes written by a Monsieur X M Boulestin, billed as “The Worlds [sic] Greatest Cookery Expert”. [Editor's note: He definitely knew what to do with potatoes.] The rather tenuous connection between furniture sales and fish is supported by a short statement on the front cover: “Our object has always been a double one – to supply the Best Value in Fine Furniture and to ensure a Happy Home to each of our customers – by freedom from worry – Every housewife knows what part cooking plays in making a happy home.
Flipping through the recipes, I was briefly tempted by Cod Normande (featuring cider, parsley, shallots, and mushrooms) and Skate with Caper Sauce (which involves cooking the skate along with some of its liver plus cloves, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and vinegar). However I thought the cod dish might be a bit boring, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get skate liver; indeed, I hadn’t previously known they even had livers. So I eventually settled on Eels Landaises, a lightly stewed dish of eels with red wine and prunes.
The author states that this recipe comes from “the Landes”, which Wikipedia tells me might refer to several places in France, but I suspect the most likely is the département of Landes itself, particularly as Wikipedia also tells me that M Boulestin had his own holiday home there. I found some interesting pages online while investigating further: Landais Folklore discusses the customs and geography of the area, and Landais Gastronomy discusses the food, mentioning eels among other things.
Take two or three moderate-sized eels
Yet another apple recipe. I’ve never fried fruit, nor have I flamed booze before. I was quite nervous about this, all the other times I’ve had fire in my kitchen, it’s been unintentional and thus rather panic-inducing. Still, I thoroughly dampened a tea-towel, put it in arm’s reach of the cooker and steeled myself. (I don’t have any pets or small children, but we should all practise safe flambé.)
“One cannot help wondering if an English salad is the results of ignorance or the aim of curiously perverted taste…. The French I am told, have many failings, but they can make wine, coffee and salads.”
Thus aphorises X Marcel Boulestin at the start of the salad chapter in Simple French Cooking for English Homes (of which Quadrille were kind enough to send us a copy). The book is a brisk but thorough canter through French home, as opposed to restaurant cooking, meaning it is full of recipes which are damn French but mostly require about 6 ingredients and are compatible with full-time employment. There are sections on sauces, soups, meat, vegetables and a few puddings (on obtient du pain dans les boulangeries, oui?), as well as hilariously didactic final chapter on wine. Salads includes details on the best way to mix dressing as well as recipes of of raw and cooked vegetables, fish and beef.
The lovely Classic Voices (from Quadrille) sent us a little teaser of their summer releases, one of which is ‘Simple French cooking for English Homes’ by X. Marcel Boulestin, first published in 1923 and containing the advice which every food blogger has taken to heart: ‘Food which is worth eating is worth talking about‘. (On this blog we take that even further, by also talking about food which isn’t always worth eating.)
The snack-size preview proves the title is accurate and this pleases me. I like French food but am unable (i.e. too lazy) to cook a lot of Escoffier recipes, as I don’t generally keep meat jelly in the fridge. I have one volume of Julia Child, but the long, long explanations put me off. (Though I am thinking of deploying it the next time I fancy some meringue.)
Last Sunday night it was very chilly and rainy for June, I had not a lot of ingredients in the house and no desire to change out of my pyjamas and go out and buy some. This is what happened: