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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 January 2012

Some like it in the pot, nine days old

Last month I took the Regency Culinary World class offered by the fabulous Delilah Marvelle through the Beau Monde Academe program. If you are interested in food and ever have the chance to take this class, do it! I learned so much and Delilah was incredibly helpful about answering questions. Our big assignment for the class was to recreate a Regency dish. I like cooking, so I decided to do a full dinner. My menu: pease porridge, fried sausages and apples, onion pie, and potato cakes for dessert.

Me in my Agnes and the Hitman apron.

I took the recipes from Hannah Glasse's The art of cookery, made plain and easy (1774).  It's actually a pretty straightforward cookbook compared to some others I've seen from the same era; her confectionery book, which I read for Sweet Disorder, is great too.  And read her Wikipedia page, it's fascinating! (Sample: "In 1760 Ann Cook published Professed Cookery, which contained a 68-page attack on Hannah Glasse and her work. Ann Cook lived in Hexham, and was reacting to an alleged campaign of intimidation and persecution by [Hannah's half-brother] Lancelot Allgood.")

As you can see, I chose a menu that wasn't too daring, but that were still flavor combinations I wasn't too familiar with.  (I had no desire to, say, jug a hare, although I'd love to eat one if someone else did all the work!)


To make pease porridge.

         TAKE a quart of green pease, put to them a quart of water, a bundle of dried mint, and a little salt. Let them boil till the pease are quite tender; then put in some beaten pepper, a piece of butter as big as a walnut, rolled in flour, stir it all together, and let it boil a few minutes; then add two quarts of milk, let it boil a quarter of an hour, take out the mint and serve it up.
 
I've never seen milk used in pea soup before!  I chose this one first of all because of the nursery rhyme, and second of all because all the other pea soups required me to strain/rub them through a cloth.  That's a lot of work, and I really enjoy pea soup where you can taste the peas.  Fancy Regency cooking was VERY into smooth textures, I guess because it showed how much labor you could afford.  I did a half-recipe of this and ended up having to add quite a bit more water to keep the peas from sticking--just make sure you still end up with something very thick.  I added the full quart of milk and at first thought it would be far too much, but I just let it simmer for half an hour instead of 15 minutes, and it thickened up beautifully.

The flavor was a little unexpected, but actually quite good.  It was even better cold the next day--I haven't tried it in the pot nine days old however!  I guess when it was kept continuously hot in the kettle over the hearth, the risk level for food poisoning was...acceptable?


Fried sausages.

         TAKE half a pound of sausages and six apples; slice four about as thick as a crown, cut the other two in quarters, fry them with the sausages of a fine light brown, lay the sausages in the middle of the dish and the apples round. Garnish with the quartered apples.
          Stewed cabbage and sausages fried is a good dish; then heat cold peas-pudding in the pan, lay it in the dish and the sausages round, heap the pudding in the middle and lay the sausages all round thick up, edge ways, and one in the middle at length.

Peas-pudding is peas and butter boiled into a pudding shape by tying them up in a cloth while cooking, evidently.  Not very exciting.  I don't really understand these instructions for presentation, either--do you end up with sausages sticking up out of your pudding like weird little phalluses?  Anyway, I opted to just go with the sausages and apples--5 sausages plus 3 good-sized apples worked out well for my dinner for four, although I had to split it into two frying pans.

I wasn't able to find even remotely authentic sausages--everything at the supermarket was either Italian or German or standard breakfast sausage, which might actually be authentic but I'm not a huge fan and I already know what it tastes like so it wouldn't be expanding my horizons.  In the end I just went with my beloved bratwurst.  It took a little over half an hour on medium heat to get them cooked through, which was also the perfect amount of time for the apples.  I will definitely be making this again!  It was totally delicious and of course very easy.  I used my favorite kind of apple, Cameos, and the flavor combination was awesome.


To make an onion pye.

         WASH and pare some potatoes, and cut them in slices, peel some onions, cut them in slices, pare some apples and slice them, make a good crust, cover your dish, lay a quarter of a pound of butter all over, take a quarter of an ounce of mace beat fine, a nutmeg grated, a tea-spoonful of beaten pepper, three tea-spoonfuls of salt, mix all together, strew some over the butter, lay a layer of potatoes, a layer of onion, a layer of apples, and a layer of eggs, and so on till you have filled your pye, strewing a little of the seasoning between each layer, and a quarter of a pound of butter in bits, and six spoonfuls of water. Close your pye and bake it an hour and a half. A pound of potatoes, a pound of onions, a pound of apples, and twelve eggs will do.

I wasn't sure if "eggs" meant raw, or hard-boiled and crumbled.  I asked Delilah, who said definitely hard-boiled, and that for a pie like this oftentimes the different filling ingredients would be cooked in advance to ensure even cooking.  So I also sliced and roasted the potatoes on a cookie tray.

Mace is a spice derived from the dried covering of the nutmeg fruit seed; they didn't sell any at my grocery store so I just used regular old nutmeg instead.

Here's the crust recipe I used:


A cold crust.

         TO three pounds of flour rub in a pound and a half of butter, break in two eggs, and make it up with cold water.

Four cups of flour, two sticks of butter, and an egg would be plenty for a two-crust pie (I made a half-recipe even though in my heart I knew better and wound up with WAY too much dough).  On Delilah's advice I cooked the bottom crust alone for 15 minutes at 375 (actually, 400 because my oven runs cold, but whatever).  I then put it in the fridge until it was cool, filled it up with my layers, rolled out the top crust, and baked it for about half an hour at 350 (you can tell when it's done because the crust will start to turn golden; once it's completely lost that doughy, translucent look, you're done!).  

The crust came out nice and flaky, and it was super easy to roll, too, maybe because of the egg.  Next time I might chill the bottom crust before baking and then the whole pie once it's assembled, to see if I can get just a little more flake, but it's really not necessary.  I halved the recommended amounts and still ended up with a lot of leftover filling stuff, I think next time I'll start with one large potato, half a large apple, half a large onion, and four hard-boiled eggs.  But I just made an egg-salad-potato-avocado sandwich with the leftovers the next day (so awesome, will eat again!).  (I also used a lot less butter layered with the filling than recommended, probably only two to three tablespoons, and it came out well, but I'm going to be slightly more indulgent next time.)

I thought this was just okay (although my guests were enthusiastic), but when I tried it cold the following day, it was fantastic.  The flavors and textures combined really well cold and overnight. 


I put everything on the table for guests to help themselves, as would have been done in the Regency.  Classy!  You can also see the bottle of wine and our pig salt-and-pepper shakers...and that we don't own a ladle so we used a half-cup measure.  Oops!  I moved out of a shared house not that long ago, and it turned out a lot of essential cooking stuff belonged to my roommates.

(The little rolly cookies are rugelach--the u is an uh, not an oo, and the ch is a hard H like Chanukkah--a delicious Ashkenazi Jewish cookie that, while it did exist during the Regency, was unlikely to be on Hannah Glasse's radar.  I used a very modern recipe which I highly recommend, I get the most compliments on those cookies of anything I make ever.)

And for dessert: 


To make potatoe cakes.

         TAKE potatoes, boil them, peel them, beat them in a mortar, mix them with the yolks of eggs, a little sack, sugar, a little beaten mace, a little nutmeg, a little cream or melted butter, work it up into a paste; then make it into cakes, or just what shapes you please with moulds, fry them brown in fresh butter, lay them in plates or dishes, melt butter with sack, and pour over them. 

I definitely messed these up in that I added a little too much cream and they didn't cohere and flip nicely while frying, so be careful and stop while you still have a very thick texture.  They were still delicious though!  I totally recommend.

Sack is a old-school type of white fortified wine; I used the sweetest cheap sherry they had at the store as a substitute.  Make sure you boil the butter/sherry sauce mixture until it stops smelling strongly of alcohol and starts tasting really, really yummy (I added a little sugar into the sauce too although I might try without in future).


Happy new year, everyone!  I hope the coming year is full of deliciousness.

Tell me about the best dinner party you ever threw or attended!

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16 Comments:

Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Happy New Year, Rose! The food looks and sounds wonderful and it's so cool to cook a meal as a research project! Did you invite people over to try it? What did they think?

I was at a wonderful dinner party on New Year's Eve - we had winter vegetable stew, spinach salad, and gingerbread cake, played a hilarious game called Loaded Question, watched the fireworks over San Francisco Bay. And the best part was sharing her first new year with my newborn daughter :-).

10:27 AM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Oh wow, that sounds amazing! I haven't made gingerbread in forever...What is Loaded Question? (And a million congratulations on your daughter, that is so wonderful!)

My roommate and a couple of friends shared the food with me. They all seemed pretty happy, and one immediately requested the onion pie recipe, so I think overall it was a success!

11:17 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Glad people got to enjoy your amazing meal! The onion pie sounds amazing.

Loaded Question is a board game where you draw a card and ask a question on it. Everyone else writes down an answer and the person who drew the card has to guess which answer belongs to who. Great way to learn more about your friends!

11:27 AM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Ooh, that does sound fun!

11:37 AM  
Blogger Cecilia Grant said...

I hate cooking and I'm terrible at it, but I love reading old recipes, especially the ones where they're all conversational and inexact about the ingredient measures. ("A pound will do.")

Also love the instruction to "strew" your seasonings.

And I, too, am baffled by what she's telling you to do in that recipe with the sausage and the peas-pudding. How can you lay a sausage edge ways? It hasn't got an edge anywhere!

11:44 AM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Right? "Strew" is so rare nowadays it sounds terribly glamorous. But maybe in a hundred years they'll feel the same way about "sprinkling"!

12:18 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

Sounds delicious, especially the potato cakes, and I wish I could've been there.

Not a formal dinner party, but I think my favorite food-event I've ever hosted was the new house/first book party my husband and I threw where I had Dreamland barbecue flown in from Alabama and got to introduce my Seattle friends to Alabama-style ribs and pulled pork.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Oh, Rose, I wish I could have been there! The onion pye sounds fantastic.

For a high school project, my best friend and I recreated a menu from the Titanic. (Well, two dishes from each course, not every dish from six courses.) we suckered my mother into cleaning the crab but did everything else by ourselves. We served the meal in period garb, too. I mostly remember how hot the kitchen became and the way our guests fell upon dessert when it finally arrived.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Barbara Monajem said...

What fun! I have tried a few recipes from Mrs. Beeton's cookbook -- the plum cake worked well -- and I also made Dr. Ratcliffe's Restorative Pork Jelly, which I found in an 18th Century cookbook, although I can't remember offhand which one. (What a delight to find out it really existed. I thought Georgette Heyer had made it up!) The result was a lovely light pork broth which worked well as a base for Chinese soup.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Susanna--that may be my favorite food event too! Mmmm I have very fond memories of that barbecue.

Diane--that sounds like fun, but a LOT of work. It also sounds like you and your friend were pretty cool kids.

Barbara--Is the restorative jelly designed to be eaten cold then? Which Heyer is that in? It sounds familiar...

11:19 PM  
Blogger Barbara Monajem said...

It was in both Frederica and The Reluctant Widow. When I read the books, I got the impression it was eaten cold. (The broth cools to a light jelly.) However, the recipe (which is from A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Rundell, published in 1808, so it's 19th C -- whoops) recommends a chocolate cup three times a day, so I assume she means re-warmed to a liquid. Here is a bunch of French aristos in 1768 drinking from chocolate cups. Not sure if this was the same size cup used in England in 1808, but I like the pic anyway: http://tinyurl.com/chocolatecup

11:57 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I went to a wonderful New Year's Day brunch thrown by a friend of mine, who made one of my favorite things, deviled eggs. We've all decided that we need to have a deviled egg-off at one point since we all have our own versions.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Matti said...

I'm so jealous of your guests - that looks delicious!

I didn't realize the everyone-helps-themselves model was common in England that recently. Do you know why people moved away from it?

10:09 AM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Elizabeth--mmmm, I love devilled eggs! I make mine with lots of dill, how about you?

Matti--I'm not really sure when that happened--even in the early and mid-Victorian period I'm pretty sure the common fancy thing was service a la russe which still involved everything on the table for people to help themselves, just it was done in more set courses and things were brought out and taken away on a more precise schedule, so that everyone had to eat at the same pace.

I imagine it went out of fashion because it was very expensive--you always ended up with lots of leftovers--and it made it difficult to ensure that food was eaten hot. As technology for refrigerating and hot-holding food improved, serving food at the "proper" temperature probably became more important. But that's just a guess, I don't actually know! Anyone want to weigh in?

2:08 PM  
Blogger Delilah Marvelle said...

Rose,
I am SO proud of you! You did it and blew my very corset off! LOL. I love all the pictures you included and your journey through cooking each dish. My chefs in culinary school would have been proud of you. We always had to keep journals for our cooking and for a writer, needless to say, it's easy. Brilliant. And traditional plating of British foods weren't all that pretty to look at once you involve sausages. It's all phallic, lol. The French are the ones that introduced pretty and the French were also the ones that introduced smooth soups because the Brits actually were into the chunky soups for the longest of years... Again, brilliant! You get an A++++++

11:39 AM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

I will TAKE that grade! So what were some pretty French ways to plate sausage? (Dirty!)

11:02 AM  

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