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
One of the great things about this blog are the books people give me – this gem, purchased somewhere in south London, is a stone-cold classic. Spiral-bound like a desktop calendar and part of the ‘Standeasy Cookbook’ series, Special Occasions was published in 1979 by Bay Books, edited by Vivian Allwood, with the home economist Ann Page-Wood. You can tell it’s a late 70s cookbook, because two out of the 48 recipes contain tragically misplaced grapes. As you can see – it’s still fully operational:
Nestled between the recipes for vermouth fish loaf and guinea fowl madelaine however, there are some tasty dishes – dinner party standards like devils on horseback and duck a l’orange and from this range, I chose the boeuf en daube after a craving for beef stew persisted after eating an excellent boeuf carbonnade (made by someone else).
I cooked a much smaller portion than listed in the recipe. used some excellent stewing steak from Marsh produce (currently selling through Harringay market) and instead of belly pork, I used a thick rasher of back bacon. I also added larger quantities vegetables than listed and left the meat to marinate for longer (two days, in fact!). Also, as I added just a couple of dried mushrooms for flavour (and picked them
It may not be lovely looking, but it was easily the best stew I’ve ever made. Whether it was the extra veg or the extra marinating time, the sauce was smooth and delicious with tender (somewhat irregular…) pieces of meat and vegetables. Highly recommended (as long as you add an extra leek).
Daube’d by Elly
Today, a guest post by Martha (her others are here and here).
I bought Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking sometime last year and we haven’t really had a summer since. So I hadn’t got around to making anything from this until a week ago when after a day of sun I remembered that it was June.
Ms David is of course famous for her cookery writing as much as her recipes, and for shocking post-war English palettes with her re-introduction of the long-lost concept of flavour. Her achievements also include persuading Le Creuset to increase the number of colours in which its cookware was available, pointing at a pack of Gauloises and stating “That’s the blue I want,” (source).
It’s a travesty that this is the first time we’ve made something by the queen of all things aromatic, Claudia Roden (a short bio of whom can be found here), however to me the interesting thing currently about this recipe is what it represents in terms of time and cost.
This recipe comes from a vintage classic, Diet for a Small Planet (1971, Frances Moore-Lappé). This book, joint published by Friends of the Earth and Ballentine, is one of the first which pulls together environmentalism and nutrition, and has become short-hand for a certain kind of eating associated with the 1970s – all brown and fibrous, all the time.
The theory behind this book is that combining certain vegetables proteins gives equivalent nutrition to eating meat (more about that here). Various substances not normally found in my kitchen make frequent appearances in this book: skimmed milk powder, brewer’s yeast, soy flour. The recipes are grouped into protein matches, some of which sound more appetising than others: rice and yeast, peanuts and sunflower seeds, potatoes and milk.
I’ve made things from this book before, and although it seems a little unassuming they’ve usually turned out ok. I was making dinner for my neighbours and needed something fairly wholesome but filling. This recipe seemed appropriate. I used turkey instead of chicken.