Friday 18 June 2010

Victorian Recipes and Cookbooks

Interest in ancient recipes is growing, and whilst the Celtnet Recipes site caters for recipes from all historical periods it is now tackling an almost forgotten culinary age; the Victorian period. Covering almost 80 years from 1830 to 1910 (marked by the passing of the Reform Act and Queen Victoria’s death) this period saw huge social and domestic changes, with the rise of an increasingly affluent middle class.

These people, typically, had not run a large household before and writers came to occupy this gap in the market, providing recipes and tips on household management. One of the most famous of these authors is Mrs Beeton who began writing for her husband’s periodical, The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine before collating these writings into the archetypical cookery book of the age, her ‘Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management’.

It is also true to say that cooking and cookery became a form of entertainment at the time, with dinners lasting up to five hours and with many courses, some very fancy, being served. To cater for such tastes, clubs hotels and restaurants began hiring a more professional class of chef. As a result, as a chef’s reputation grew they began being hired by higher and higher classes of establishments. This gave rise to what we would consider today to be the ‘celebrity chef’. One of the most notable chefs of the age was Charles Elme Francatelli, at one time chef to Queen Victoria and the Reform Club. He wrote several cook books, the most notable of which being his 1861 volume: ‘The Cook's Guide and Housekeeper's & Butler's Assistant’.

This is the period in which cooking and cookery became engrained in society’s psyche. So much so that in his encyclopaedia of every day things, the ‘Dictionary of Daily Wants’ Robert Kemp Philp devotes considerable space to foodstuffs and the manner of their preparation.

Below you will find two classic recipes, the first from Mrs Beeton and the next from Francatelli. Both are given in their original forms, followed by a modern redaction.

Red Mullet

Original Recipe:

285. INGREDIENTS.—Oiled paper, thickening of butter and flour, 1/2 teaspoonful of anchovy sauce, 1 glass of sherry; cayenne and salt to taste.

Mode.—Clean the fish, take out the gills, but leave the inside, fold in oiled paper, and bake them gently. When done, take the liquor that flows from the fish, add a thickening of butter kneaded with flour; put in the other ingredients, and let it boil for 2 minutes. Serve the sauce in a tureen, and the fish, either with or without the paper cases.
Time.—About 25 minutes.
Average cost, 1s. each.
Seasonable at any time, but more plentiful in summer.

Note.—Red mullet may be broiled, and should be folded in oiled paper, the same as in the preceding recipe, and seasoned with pepper and salt. They may be served without sauce; but if any is required, use melted butter, Italian or anchovy sauce. They should never be plain boiled.

Modern Redaction:

1 red mullet
1 tbsp flour mixed to a paste with 1 tbsp butter
baking parchment, oiled
1/2 tsp anchovy sauce
150ml dry sherry
salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

Clean and scale the fish then remove the gills. Grease a sheet of baking parchment then fold the fish inside, place on a baking tray and transfer to an oven pre-heated to 180°C. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until done (when the flesh flakes easily with a fork).

When ready, pour the liquid from the fish into a pan (set the fish aside to keep warm) then add the flour and butter mix a little at a time, whisking to combine, then stir in the sherry, anchovy sauce and seasonings. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.

Serve the fish in its paper parcel accompanied by the sauce.

Pheasant à la Gitana
Pheasant, Gypsy Fashion

Original Recipe:


Truss a pheasant as for boiling, put it in a stewpan with half a pound of streaky bacon cut into squares of about an inch; add an ounce of butter and a clove of garlic; fry all together over the fire, until the pheasant has become equally browned all over; then pour off all grease, add two Portugal onions, and four ripe tomatas, sliced thin, and two glasses of sherry; put the lid on, and set the stewpan to stew gently over a slow fire for about three-quarters of an hour, gently shaking the pheasant round occasionally; just before dishing up, add a teaspoonful of sweet red Spanish pepper.
Note.—All kinds of game and poultry, or indeed all kinds of meat, or firm-fleshed fish, are most excellent when dressed à la Gitana, or gipsy fashion.

Modern Redaction:

1 dressed pheasant, trussed for boiling
225g streaky bacon, cut into 2.5cm squares
30g butter
1 garlic cloves, sliced
2 white onions, thinly sliced
4 rip tomatoes, thinly sliced
300ml sherry
1 tsp paprika

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the pheasant, bacon and garlic and fry over medium heat, turning the pheasant over until it is evenly browned all over. Pour off all the fat from the pan then add the onions and tomatoes.

Pour in the sherry, secure a tight-fitting lid and simmer gently for about 45 minutes, or until the pheasant is tender. Occasionally stir or shake the pan during the cooking time to ensure the contents do not catch and burn.

Just before serving, stir in the paprika then transfer the pheasant to a serving dish, pour over the sauce and serve.

For many more Victorian recipes, please visit the Celtnet Victorian Recipes page, or any of the individual pages devoted to Mrs Beeton and Francatelli on the site.

UPDATE! The complete text of Francatelli's Cook's Guide has been edited and published!

This recipe and over 1000 other recipes published in Francatelli's 1661 'The Cook's Guide and Housekeeper's and Butler's Assistant' has been published in eBook format. The complete text and all images from Francatelli's book has been re-edited and made available with an introduction and new biography. You also get essential Victorian recipes for basic pastries and store sauces that are needed to re-create Francatelli's recipes but which Francatelli himself did not publish.

In addition over 100 of Francatelli's recipes, including all the Reform Club recipes have been redacted and published as a separate chapter so that a modern cook can copy them. Using these recipes and the additional Victorian recipes provided you can re-create all of Francatelli's dishes from scratch.

So why not re-create a Victorian dinner party, or a Victorian Christmas meal as described by Francatelli himself in his Bills of Fare? Learn why Francatelli is one of the most well respected of the Victorian cookery writers and get a copy of his book for yourself today.

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