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
I recently bought Mark Kurlansky’s ‘Choice Cuts: a miscellany of food writing’ published by Vintage in 2002 (from the Marie Curie shop on Green Lanes for £1). It’s a 450 page selection, with authors including Pliny the Elder, Ludwig Bemelmans, Wole Soyinka, and M.F.K Fisher (and of course, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin). Among the 19th and 20th century writers, there is a bias towards female food writers from the U.S. which I think is partly Kurlansky’s effort to boost the reputations of some authors overlooked in favour of European men. It’s full of great recipes in the various sections on meat, carbohydrates, fruit, vegetables and puddings, although I skimmed over some of the more verbose pieces.
I decided to only going to cook half of this recipe from 1393’s Le Menagier de Paris (translated by Kurlansky himself, although there’s another version here), as the majority of the steps are concerned with cooking a piece of beef so as to make the cut tough and bloodless (no, thanks – just a medium rare steak is fine). One of the most obvious (and delicious!) differences between 20th and pre-20th century recipes is the use of spices. Before the advent of the electric fridge, seasonings such as garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper and lemon juice were used liberally, both to preserve food and to disguise the any fetid notes in the flavour.
First, let us praise the author for not ****ing about regarding the title of this book. Ms Elaine Hallgarten, freelance food and travel writer, is the creator of and contributor to many works, including the Jaffa Cookbook, Mince Matters, Cookery Do, The Yoghurt Cookbook, Gourmet’s Guide to London (1992 ed) and Reminiscences and Recipes of the Bakharian Jews of Samarkand. I’m not mocking her oeuvre - someone on Amazon has called Mince Matters an ‘excellent practical cookbook‘, something many, many cookbook writers fail to achieve (I should know).
Here’s two from Kenneth Lo’s 1978 book on Chinese cooking - Cheap Chow. I’ve been meaning to cook more from this book, and now my budget is somewhat tight I hope to get on with some of the more adventurous recipes. There’s one for Broad Bean, Potato and Belly of Pork Soup, which sounds amazing, but would require me to tackle pig’s trotters and I’m just not sure I’m ready for that kind of commitment. Today’s recipe features the much more familar mince, because, as Kenneth points out ‘In facing up to the problems of budget cookery, sooner or later one has to resort to the use of minced meat‘. So here goes!
Posted in 1970s, Cheap Chow, Kenneth Lo
Tagged cornflour, garlic, ginger, lard, mince, mushrooms, onion, parsley, peas, plain flour, red wine, soy sauce, vegetable oil