This comes from the oldest of my cookbooks – a recent score from Help The Aged. It’s C.E Francatelli‘s Cook’s Guide, first published by Richard Bentley of London in 1860 (as far as I can tell), and this edition is from 1864. Part of me is incredulous that I would find a 145 year old book for £1.50, but it appears I did. It’s a fascinating read, the vast majority of the dishes look like they would be pretty hard to make, for want of obscure or obsolete cuts of meat, brands of seasoning or kitchen equipment. The end of the book does have a series of adverts, including one for Adams and Son, Kitchen Outfitters of Haymarket, and one for Crosse and Blackwell (‘Purveyors in Ordinary to Her Majesty’), both merchants advertising a staggering array of goods unfamiliar to modern cooks (see Flickr for images from the book).
The layout of the book is dense, and complicated. Each recipe is a single paragraph, with no ingredient list – to know what is in a dish requires the entire recipe to be read through to the end. Many of the recipes read like a Choose Your Own Adventure, for example Salmon Fillets à l’Indienne (recipe No 205) requires one to also make Indian Sauce (No. 73), which in turn requires some Tomata (sic) Sauce (No. 21), which again requires you to use an ounce of glaze from No. 14, which is a second boiling of stock, so you have to have first made some stock (various recipes). It’s exhausting. There’s no helpful pictures either, just minute woodcuts of dishes like Croustade of Larks.
The book has a chapter of different ways to prepare eggs, and this is one that sounded practical (it also sounds pretty gross, but in for a penny, in for a pound, eh).
Eggs a la Suisse
Spread the bottom of a silver dish with two ounces of fresh butter; cover this with rather thin slices of fresh Gruyère or any other cheese; break eight whole eggs upon the cheese without disturbing the yolks; season with grated nutmeg, mignionette pepper, and salt; pour a gill of double cream on the surface; strew the top with about 2 ounces of grated cheese, and set the eggs in the oven to bake for about ten minutes; pass the hot salamander over the top, and serve with strips of very thin dry toast separate on a plate.
How this looked before cooking:
And served up:
- I halved the amounts.
- Weirdly, I couldn’t lay my hands on a single item from my vast collection of silver dishes, so had to use a ceramic dish. Hard times indeed.
- Very tricky to spread an ounce of butter evenly. Even worse when you realise you have buttery fingers and the radio is playing The Corrs and there’s no way to change the station. I’m telling you; I suffer for this blog.
- A gill is a quarter of a pint. Even halved this seemed like an awful lot of cream.
- I don’t have a salamander. I’m not even sure what one is (Adams and Son sell them though). I guessed that putting the dish under the grill for a few minutes would suffice. Does anyone have a salamander?
- My oven was heated to 180°C
- I used medium mature cheddar on the top.
- No dry toast here – I had a soft brown roll.
- Didn’t know what mignionette pepper was, so used black pepper. Appears these are one and the same, hurrah for lucky guesswork!
I was expecting this to be inedible as it is incredibly rich, but it was rather nice. Admittedly I could only eat a small portion before starting to feel queasy and I’m not sure I can face the other three quarters of the dish that’s leftover, but the cream works nicely with the albumen, the yolk firms up nicely, and the Gruyère is vaguely chewy on the bottom and the cheese on top crisps up like sugar on a crème brûlée. It occurs to me that that’s a fairly accurate description of the dish – savoury crème brûlée. With a fried egg in it.
Suissed by Alix