This is from The English Cookery Book by Lucie G. Nicoll, published by Faber and Faber in 1936, though this is the 6th edition dating from 1947. The introduction explains that Ms Nicoll is a farmer’s wife and has written the book with the intention of providing a range of seasonal recipes, compiled in a ‘book that can be washed over after having been soiled with flour, and a book in which the recipe stands out in good bold type, so that time is not wasted in peering into small and difficult lettering’. It’s a compact, uncomplicated and indeed well laid-out book, and looks well kept, so the rough treatment Ms Nicoll prepared it for looks to have not come to it (yet). The introduction also explains how farm wives have naturally developed a tradition of good cookery, and she emphasises that this is not haute cuisine, but good solid English food “They are not for the epicurean or frequenter of the Ritz or such-like places…but again if any of my tired epicurean friends with jaded palates should care to risk say a slice of the cold spiced beef or the hotpot of pigeons I doubt they will regret it”.
Notably the book is divided into recipes for the four seasons. Ms Nicoll says in the introduction how it is odd this has not been done before (it seems to me to be the preserve of most recipe books to consider themselves to be introducing new, improved methods in their approach to cookery), seasonal cooking is something that has had something of a renaissance in recent years – when this book was penned it appears to be an approach so obvious it hasn’t been acknowledged (at least in the recipe books Ms Nicolls knows).
There is also a chapter entitled The Ramblers Harvest, (subchapter Hedgerow Cookery,) with recipes including numerous blackberry conserves, dandelion wine, medicinal elderflower concoctions, nettle beer and other tempting things that I will probably make at some point using the spoils of my forages on Walthamstow Marshes.
What I cooked was a very simple soup. It’s from the section for the First Season, ie January-March. Here’s the recipe:
Haricot Bean Soup
1 pint of milk
1 pint of water
1/2 pint of haricot beans
1/2 oz of dripping
salt and pepper and a pinch of bicarbonate of soda
Soak the beans in cold water overnight with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. To make the soup, melt the dripping in a saucepan, add onion sliced and the drained beans, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the water and simmer for three hours. Rub through a sieve and add the milk. Season to taste, serve very hot with fried croutons of bread. Sufficient for 4 people.
- Firsly, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was something left out for the cat.
- I didn’t soak the beans as I bought them in a tin, in some brine or…something. This was a relief as I’d spent five minutes before reading the recipe beyond the ingredients list searching for the bicarb, which was either in the black hole section of my store cupboard or not there at all. Whichever it turns out to be (I gave up looking) it wasn’t looking good for its inclusion in the recipe.
- It occurs to me that I may have used too few beans. I measured them by putting them in a pint glass to the halfway mark, as I can’t see how else one would measure beans by the pint. Perhaps this was wrong?
- I almost didn’t bother because I didn’t think I would be able to get dripping. Dripping is so Victorian; it felt like being tasked to locate a Psammead. However, Morrison’s had some. Britannia Finest Beef Dripping, 67p for a hundredweight (or a half-kilo, I forget which) –
- Dripping is weird. More like wax than fat as I know it, it flaked off into the pan, but melted down beautifully.
- The 3 hour simmer of the fat, water, beans and onion produced a delicious smelling liquid. At this point I was very happy with the recipe.
- I don’t have a suitable sieve for rubbing things through, handy food processor to the rescue!
- Then I added the pint of milk. This is where I stopped wanting to consume what I had made.
- A whole pint of milk is a lot of milk! The soup is now a very pale, vaguely beany liquid. It’s mostly milk.
- I suspect it would have made a difference to use full fat instead of semi-skimmed milk. When was skimming cream from milk popularised?
A very cheap, simple and labour unintensive recipe for a very pale milky soup. Would not make again. I am going to blame post-war austerity for this recipe. I’m not going to eat more of it in it’s current state – am thinking add as many beans again, and perhaps some bacon.