Friday, February 3, 2017

The Country Housewife, Richard Bradley and Crisp Fried Quail


While noodling around on the Thomas Gloning antique cookbook site looking for a recipe,  I discovered Richard Bradley and his book, The Country Housewife and Lady´s Director (1728 -32).  It had many invaluable tips on food, housekeeping, health and gardening –– I loved it.

A Gentleman of the 1720’s – there is no image of Bradley I could find

But once I started reading about Bradley, I couldn’t stop – such a fascinating man. My first stop was a piece on a wonderful site called British Food in America. It began as an article about Bradley’s unorthodox red bean ketchup but flowered into a lengthy tale about Mr. Bradley. The author must have been caught unawares as I was and just had to do more than the required cursory mention of the recipe’s author. After reading the article, I too wanted more. I read contemporary letters, articles and academic papers about him and was intrigued. The recipes are a blast too.

From the History of the Royal Society w. Francis Bacon and King Charles, 1660

What sets him apart from the cookbook authors of the day is that he wasn’t a cook at all. No, he was a botanist! In the first years of the 18th century, botany was a favorite hobby of the upper classes with money enough for the education, travel and experimentation necessary to indulge their botanical pursuits. Poor Mr. Bradley was not rich but he was an inspired observer. He couldn’t afford a university education and found himself rather unfairly pilloried –– his fine accomplishments mocked by his lofty peers who thought it gauche that he had to make a living. It was thought a man without a proper education couldn’t best one that did – period. The Sloane Letters quoted the Royal Society about Bradley, complaining that, “… his ignorance of Latin and Greek and his failure to perform his duties caused great scandal”


Fortunately, Bradley had a few esteemed patrons who admired his natural gifts and gave him helping hands that went so far as to arrange his acceptance into the Royal Society at 24 (extremely rare for an uneducated man). Men like collector James Petiver helped him to travel to the Netherlands with an introduction to a pioneer in the field of microbiology, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  (a trip Bradley helped pay for by drawing bugs and pretending to be a physician), and the royal physician and owner of the vast collection that began the British Museum, Hans Sloane. Sloane got him a prestigious if unpaid posting to Cambridge University as the first professor of botany at the age of 36. Poor Bradley had to publish or perish and was, at the best of times, just a short scratch ahead of penury (he was forever borrowing money from his patrons and publishers - one of his letters began, “Since the Unfortunate Affair in Kensington whereby I lost all my Substance, My Expectations and my friends”).

Publish he did, and Bradley came up with some fine work – most especially the theory that tiny “microscopic agents” transmitted disease in man, beast and plant. In 1721, Bradley wrote, “we may learn, that all Pestilential Distempers, whether in animals or plants, are occasion’d by poisonous insects.” It was revolutionary to postulate that the afflictions of all living things in the natural world were caused by microbes. The author of the British Food in America piece concluded, “In the estimation of the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, “he was an enterprising, open-minded naturalist who succeeded in disseminating his many and diverse thoughts on how plants and animals live and interact.”
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It’s sad that John Martyn, a distinctly Salieri-like successor to Bradley's Botany chair at Cambridge, successfully destroyed Bradley’s reputation (this information comes from Raymond Williamson’s, “John Martyn’) The slander was published in the infamous Grub-Street Journal - written mostly by hack writers of low character – like Martyn). Less talented but full of envy and vitriol, John Martyn penned numerous scurrilous tracts for the "Grub Street Journal" and took every opportunity to condemn Bradley’s work. Martyn accused Bradley of not teaching his classes, being too modern and not respecting the classics and especially not getting a botanic garden planted at Cambridge – making it hard for Martyn to teach botany properly. No mind that Bradley died young (only teaching for 6 years), or that during that time, Bradley diligently but unsuccessfully tried to secure private funds when the money for the garden he had been promised by Cambridge was not forthcoming. Martyn had money and taught for 29 years and didn’t get a garden built either – it was still all Bradley’s fault as far as he was concerned!

Illustration of Bradley’s Kaleidoscope at work 

Bradley accomplished much in his short life.  He was an inventor  (he came up with a simple kaleidoscope that was like a book that could be placed on a drawing and create marvelous designs – perfect for the baroque garden),  he founded the first British horticultural periodical,  "The General Treatise of Husbandry and Gardening" (1721-23), he was a pioneering epidemiologist and was one of  the earliest subscribers to the concept of connectedness of nature, revealing “ all Bodies have some Dependence upon one another; and that every distinct Part of Nature’s Works is necessary for the support of the Rest; and that if any one was wanting, all the Rest must be out of Order.” For instance, he realized birds were friends to farmers, not pests as they ate the insects that ate the crops. He realized that that cover crops like clover can restore soil fertility.  He thought about managing forests and believed in the concept of ecological diversity before there was a name for it. His way of thinking paved the way for the field of ecology.

Country Housewife Frontispiece 

This holistic approach came across in The Country Housewife. Part I is devoted to seasonal foods and recipes but also had observations on farming and animals –– the book was addressed to the women of the house: 

"The Reason which induces me to address the falling Piece to the Fair Sex, is, because the principal Matters contained in it are within the Liberty of the Province, The Art of Oeconomy is divided as Xenophon tells us, between the Men and the Women; the Men have the most dangerous and laborious Share of it in the Fields, and without doors, and the Women have the Care and Management of every Business within doors, and to see after the good ordering of whatever is belonging to the house."

Part II had more new reader’s suggestions for more recipes. He gives advice on planting and even bees but his recipes for “flesh, fish, fowl, fruit and Herbs, which are the Productions of a Farm, or from any Foreign Parts” are quite something. He also explains “the other Reason which as induced me to publish this Piece is, the Difficulties I have undergone in my Travels, when I have met with good provisions, in many Places in England, which have been murder’d in the dressing”. He hoped that it would “improve the Ignorant, and remind the Learned how and when to make the best of every thing: which may be a means of providing every one with a tolerable Entertainment founded upon practice and Fashion; which can never fail of Followers, and of making us fare much better upon the Roads in the Country than we were used to do.” See, he was also quite modern in his belief that you should not adulterate a quality ingredient and that foods had optimal seasons that varied from place to place.


The book begins with January and a treatise on the physical characteristics of all varieties of pigeons from Barbary to Carrier to Turbit and concludes with some fine recipes for the little birds. February is about the fowl and bird eggs and what to do with them but then gives soup recipes and even one for orange wine.  March is fish but also includes a long piece on brewing. You get the idea. Bradley was a polymath with varied interests that he felt would instruct and inform a susceptible lady of the house (and the man of the house as well). The book is 428 pages long and I recommend it for things like marigold or sage cheese, gooseberry wine, Usquebaugh, spirit of lily of the valley, beet-green tart and dozens of recipes for game birds.


Although I don’t have a pigeon today, I do have D’Artagnan’s French Quails and I wanted to make one of Bradley's many bird recipes –– one stuck out particularly. 


After poaching in aromatic stock, the bird is breaded and fried -- it's a great dish. The meat is tender and juicy and so flavorful and that poaching stock is just heaven. Do yourself a favor and look through his book -- you will be surprised by how many fine recipes reside there. For you gardeners, his other books are available online and are interesting reading. 


Another Way of Dressing Quail, serves 2

2  French quail
1 piece bacon, chopped
a sprig of parsley
a sprig of basil
3 sprigs marjoram
a few slices of onion about the size of your thumb
4 cloves
S&P
4 c stock (I saved up my game bird carcasses and made a small batch of stock -- it is superb)
1 T verjuice or 1 t of vinegar or more to taste – it’s just a suggestion not sour.
Egg, beaten
Bread crumbs (about 1 c)
Lard or duck fat  (you can deep-fry if you have enough fat, otherwise, a 6 tablespoons should do it.
Parsley for frying

Take the quail, stuff them with the bacon and herbs and the onion stuck with cloves and salt and pepper the bird inside and out Truss the legs to keep them together. Add the verjuice to the stock and heat to a low boil. Put the quail in and cover. Cook at a medium low heat for about 20 minutes covered (internal temperature around 150º or so.

Remove when done and allow to cool somewhat. Strain the stock and while the birds fry, reduce it somewhat to use for dipping – it is excellent. Heat the oil till hot – around 350º. Roll in the birds in the egg and then bread crumbs (I would roll in flour first, then egg then crumbs to make it adhere better). 

 Place the birds in the fat. Cook, turning till brown (if deep-frying, make sure the top is covered or turn in the fat. Remove from the fat and drain on paper towels. Serve the birds with fried parsley and the reserved and reduced cooking stock for dipping.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Gawain and the Green Knight and Canelyne Beef Pie


Winter ‘tis the season most in need of myth and merriment (this year more than ever –– 2016, annus horribilis). What better way to celebrate it than with the seasonal tale of Gawain and the Green Knight – you have magic, castles, handsome knights, beautiful ladies to cheer you up.

The tale was written at the end of the 14th century by an unknown author who became known as the ‘Pearl Poet’ or ‘Gawain Poet’ (the original Cotton Nero A.x. manuscript is kept in the British Library, part of the remarkable Robert Cotton Collection  –– the notations refer to the placement of the works in Cotton’s original library). Gawain was a particular favorite of J.R.R. Tolkien who worked on the manuscript and put out his own edition in the 1920’s (he was a professor of Anglo-Saxon after all at Oxford).

King Arthur at his round table,14th c

The story commences at Christmastime in Camelot where the court is giving gifts and awaiting the feast that is to come (we discover the Christmas party lasts for 15 days from Christmas Eve through mid-January). We already know of the round table that was created to keep the knights on equal footing with the king so there were no cheap seats, but what might Camelot have looked like at the time of Arthur, or the time of the author of Gawain for that matter.

Burgh Castle 


Portchester Castle
Buildings of 400-500 AD are few and far between in Great Britain (one story says the search for the Grail had to begin 453 years after the resurrection of Jesus so that puts Arthur right around the end of the 5th century). Many buildings just crumbled into dust or were cannibalized – serving as quarries for newer structures. Most remain as ruins that have been absorbed by newer construction. Burgh Castle and Portchester Castle have 12th century additions on Roman walls but retain a lot of the character of the earlier buildings.

Arthur tapestry,14th c

One can imagine that Arthur’s castle must have resembled these structures with the round towers and Roman stonework although they could have had wooden structures within stone walls at that point. Since Arthurian legend was not developed until 500 years or more after Arthur was long in his tomb,  I imagine the descriptions of the French Vulgate Cycle  romances most likely resemble the author's own contemporary structures as they tell Arthur’s story –– many Medieval and Renaissance works of art depicting ancient times have the characters wearing contemporary dress in contemporary surroundings. As described, Camelot's towers, bridges and gates, a main courtyard, bedrooms and feasting chambers would have been familiar to 14th century readers.

When I think of real Medieval English castles, I always think of the 12th century's Dover Castle. A great English block of a building – made to withstand centuries of assaults, it was built on an earlier Roman fort (an 80’ tall Roman lighthouse still stands on the property). This feels like a good set for my Gawain.

Dover Castle 

Dover Castle 

Dover Castle Huebner photo 

Dover Castle

Its rooms give a clue as to what Arthur’s castle may have looked like on the inside with stonewalls covered in recreations of period tapestries and hangings (the rooms were redone in 2009 at a cost of £2.5 million pounds and the work of 140 artists who made furniture, textiles and over 400 feet of wall hangings with some success).

Dover Castle Huebner photo

After an introduction that speaks of Troy and the beginning of Britain, Gawain and the Green Knight begins to spin the tale – see if you can read the original:

Þis kyng lay at Camylot vpon Krystmasse
With mony luflych lorde, ledez of þe best,
Rekenly of þe Rounde Table alle þo rich breþer,
With rych reuel oryȝt and rechles merþes.
Þer tournayed tulkes by tymez ful mony,
Justed ful jolilé þise gentyle kniȝtes,
Syþen kayred to þe court caroles to make.
For þer þe fest watz ilyche ful fiften dayes,
With alle þe mete and þe mirþe þat men couþe avyse;
Such glaum ande gle glorious to here,
Dere dyn vpon day, daunsyng on nyȝtes,
Al watz hap vpon heȝe in hallez and chambrez
With lordez and ladies, as leuest him þoȝt.
With all þe wele of þe worlde þay woned þer samen,
Þe most kyd knyȝtez vnder Krystes seluen,
And þe louelokkest ladies þat euer lif haden,
And he þe comlokest kyng þat þe court haldes;
For al watz þis fayre folk in her first age,
on sille,
Þe hapnest vnder heuen,
Kyng hyȝest mon of wylle;
Hit were now gret nye to neuen
So hardy a here on hille.
(Original text Cotton manuscript)

This king lay at Camelot nigh on Christmas
with many lovely lords, of leaders the best,
reckoning of the Round Table all the rich brethren,
with right ripe revel and reckless mirth.
There tourneyed tykes by times full many,
jousted full jollily these gentle knights,
then carried to court, their carols to make.
For there the feast was alike full fifteen days,
with all the meat and mirth men could devise:
such clamour and glee glorious to hear,
dear din in the daylight, dancing of nights;
all was happiness high in halls and chambers
with lords and ladies, as liked them all best.
With all that’s well in the world were they together,
the knights best known under the Christ Himself,
and the loveliest ladies that ever life honoured,
and he the comeliest king that the court rules.
For all were fair folk and in their first age
still,
the happiest under heaven,
king noblest in his will;
that it were hard to reckon
so hardy a host on hill."  (A.S. Kline translation)

In the midst of a Christmas party, a green knight appears and challenges the knights:

“…there hales in at the hall door a dreadful man,
the most in the world’s mould of measure high,
from the nape to the waist so swart and so thick,
and his loins and his limbs so long and so great
half giant on earth I think now that he was;
but the most of man anyway I mean him to be,
and that the finest in his greatness that might ride,
for of back and breast though his body was strong,
both his belly and waist were worthily small,
and his features all followed his form made
and clean.

Wonder at his hue men displayed,
set in his semblance seen;
he fared as a giant were made,
and over all deepest green.”

He is beautifully dressed yet with no armor, carrying a giant ax and a holly bough and is leading a “green as the grass and greener” horse. He comes to the party requesting a Christmas gift. He will not fight the assembly because they are all too young and not a match for his prowess and strength but instead proposes someone use his ax to strike him and then be ready to accept the same fate 1 year later. Gawain accepts and cuts the knight’s head off in one blow-- but the knight does not die!!

The headless knight from original manuscript

The green knight picks his own head up, mounts his green horse and his disconnected head mouths the words reminding Gawain of their bargain -- they must meet in the Green Chapel in a year.

Gawaine from original manuscript

When a year has past, Gawain dutifully begins his journey to the chapel to fulfill his promise to the Green Knight. After many adventures along the way, he stops at a castle of Lord Bertilak and his wife and an elderly lady who live close to the chapel. He convinces Gawain to stay for a few days. Bertilak says that he will go out hunting and whatever he gets he will give to Gawain in exchange for whatever Gawain has received that day in his house. It is an odd bargain but Gawain agrees – and it gets curiouser and curiouser.

Gawain and Lady Bertilak from the original manuscript

Bertilak’s wife tries to seduce him for three nights, and each time he politely refuses, allowing only one kiss the first night, then two the second which Gawain dutifully gives Sir Bertilak upon his return to the house. On the 3rd day however, the lady gives 3 kisses and a belt that she says will protect Gawain from harm. Gawain gives Bertilak the kisses but keeps the belt.

Dover Castle bedchamber,Huebner photo

Gawain goes to the chapel with the magic belt and the green knight feints his ax blow twice to test Gawain who flinches the first time but then steels himself. The green knight then strikes Gawain but only slightly wounds him.

The Green Knight from the original manuscript

It is then he reveals he is really Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert and the old lady was in fact Arthur’s magical sister, Morgan le Fay. It is she who has enchanted Bertilak, devising the adventure to frighten Guinevere. Both men part cordially and Gawain keeps the belt to remind him to be honest and not to cheat on a promise to save his neck. It’s a good lesson for an honorable knight and a fitting ending to a chivalric quest tale.

Now that the tale is told, you may ask, how did they eat??? Gawain’s meal at Bertilak’s castle is sumptuous:

“And he sat on that settle seemly and rich,
and chafed himself closely, and then his cheer mended.
Straightway a table on trestles was set up full fair,
clad with a clean cloth that clear white showed,
the salt-cellars, napkins and silvered spoons.
The knight washed at his will, and went to his meat.
Servants him served seemly enough
with several soups, seasoned of the best,
double bowlfuls, as fitting, and all kinds of fish,
some baked in bread, some browned on the coals,
some seethed, some in stews savoured with spices,
and sauces ever so subtle that the knight liked.”

Sadly, I have discovered that there is a dearth of knowledge about dining in England before the Norman Conquest. What we know of European recipes of the time isn’t much better but thanks to the Apician collection of recipes and a bit from Anthimus (a Byzantine in the court of Theodoric in the 6th century),  we know that the Roman traditions lived on past the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe. We can imagine the Roman recipes lived on in England as well, up to a point. When we once again find real recipes in collections like the late 14th century Forme of Cury, we can have a pretty splendid idea how the author of Gawain and the Green Knight might have eaten if he had a bit of gold in his purse.

I was recently given a charming book on Medieval food called Fabulous Feasts by Madeleine Pelner Cosman.  It’s a fun read and covers the pomp and ceremony of Medieval dining as well as its food. It is also scrupulously researched with 12 pages of readings covering enormous ground (everything from records of food legislation to coroner’s rolls). The author lists original manuscripts as well as scholarly publications but notes they are a fraction of the total that she poured over (she said she looked at 800 recipes just for one chapter). It’s a lovely book but I do wish she gave the originals or at least the original source (she lists the manuscripts at the end but the recipes aren’t connected). I would like to see if there are any exotic ingredients that were left out (the book is 18 years old and resources have improved dramatically). As it is, salt and pepper aren’t mentioned and I put them in. I also increased the amount of liquid… it wasn’t enough for the sauce which was too thick as written – even if it was very good.

Dover Castle Kitchen gives you an idea of a medieval kitchen – you can imagine the feast being prepared here.

Dover Castle Privy Kitchen, Huebner photo 

Dover castle’s guest hall is set up to much like the description in the poem (although I wonder that a table would be set directly in front of a fire in winter – they would have been well done at the end of the meal).

Dover Castle Guest hall Photo by Michael Garlick

How and with what was the table set? Cosman describes the traditional table quite precisely in her book:

“Upon the table a white cloth, covered with and overcloth called a sanap, was background for few table adornments and less cutlery. A salt, an open embellished container, stood before the seat of the most honored – thus the others sat “below the salt”.

“One type of saltcellar more popular on the continent than in England was the boat-shaped nef whose often elaborate rigging and jewel encrusted boat made it more ornament than utensil.”



French Nefs (salt cellars) 1400

“Table fountains, either on the main tables or more centrally situated in the hall, spouted wines of fragrant waters. The more complex their pipings, the more varieties of drinks they served front their turrets, spigots and sculptured terminals.”

1320 table fountain (only about 12” high, it would have had a large basin beneath it).

“Goblets or tankards made of glass or metal, or double cups called hanaps – in which the cup’s cover itself was another cup –– were used for drinking. So too was transparent crystal stemware. Mazers were bowls, sometime footed, used as drinking vessels. Wooden, porcelain, glass or metal, the mazers often had elaborate rim embellishments. Both open and covered pitchers and flagons with decorated finials and handles were used to pour wine, ale, and mulled ciders…. “


 13th c cup
 1225 standing cup, Belgian 
 1450 hanup 
500-1000 golden mazer 






Medieval wooden Mazer 


“Silver or gold spoons and a few sharp knives completed the table settings. Guests often carried their own knives, encased with other necessaries such as a pair or scissors or a file, in a chatelaine….”


15c belt and pouch 


14th c silver spoon

“Individual plates at place settings were only rarely used. Food conveyed from kitchen to table on serving platters called chargers –– such as the 12 silver dishes set before Sir Gawain – were selected by guests and then placed before them upon large slices of bread, round in shape or, more usually, square, called trenchers. Often colored and spices green with parsley, or yellow with saffron, or pink with saunders, trenchers serve as edible platters.”



Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry Janvier, 1412-16


After much deliberation over which of the book’s recipes to make (parsley bread, chicken stuffed with lentils and cherries or stuffed with cardamom-scented nuts, raisins and apples and gilded with saffron-colored egg, a stuffed date dessert and a brie tart), I decided on a pie. This Canelyn pie is remarkable – I loved the cranberry base of the pie. I made a small version and halved the ingredients. Since I couldn’t see the original, I made a few changes. I would advise a bit more liquid inside the pie (8-10 T instead of 7). I also thought this could be great with leftovers with a few changes – cook the beef trimmings to get the flavor and for browning for the sauce, remove them and then toss the rare cubed cooked beef left-over from a roast in the dish – or start from scratch as in the original. The pie isn’t bad as a cold snack, btw – a kind of mincemeat but with cranberries.


Canelyne Beef Pie


1 pound lean beef cut in small cubes (anything from beef tenderloin to stew meat – but marbled is best because it doesn’t have a long cooking time)**
2 T oil
2/3 c boiling water (I think 1 cup is better for enough sauce)
1 T cinnamon
½ t nutmeg
¼ t thyme
¼ t sage
9’ pastry shell and lid
1 c raw bogberries (a close relative to cranberries which is what I used)
2 T honey
2/3 c currants

(although the recipe did not mention salt or pepper, I added a both to taste)




Garnish

“Cinnamon sugar” (1 t sugar to ½ t cinnamon)

Sauce

½ c ground almonds
½ c dry white wine (again, you might want a bit more – the almonds really soak up the liquid)


Sauté meat in the oil till somewhat browned.

Dissolve cinnamon nutmeg, thyme and sage in boiling water. Add to meat and simmer slowly for 15 minutes. Remove meat and reserve liquid.

Preheat oven to 425º 

Line the pastry shell with cranberries and drizzle honey over them and sprinkle with currants. Put meat pieces over the top and add 7 T of the reserved cooking liquid (I think a bit more is good).

Cover with the lid and pierce top. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake at 375º for 35-40 minutes

Add almonds and white wine to remaining cinnamon meat broth and simmer very gently 7 minutes – you may want to add a bit more water or wine as the sauce thickens considerably to a paste. Serve with pie.


*** If you are using leftover beef, I recommend saving the trimmings and sautéing them for color and simmering them for flavor for the sauce, then removing them -- quickly tossing cubed leftover beef in the liquid and proceeding with the recipe.

   
Fabulous Feasts: Mediaeval Cookery and Ceremony (Medieval Cookery and Ceremony) by Madeleine Pelner Cosman (1-Jan-1999) Paperback

Monday, December 5, 2016

Lady Clark's Cookbook, Game Custards and Indian Tarts



Tillipronie House (probably early 20th c photo)

How many of you are recipe addicts? Join the club. For me, it started innocently enough, just clipping out a few recipes here and there from magazines. Next came cookbooks –– one here, one there, a gift or two. The next thing I knew I had giant bookcases filled with cookbooks and later more cases, positively crammed with books about food and cooking and history. I began transferring favorite recipes to notebooks, written in longhand so I could take them with me when I did dinners with friends. I asked for recipes at dinner parties, made notes about interesting combinations at restaurants all over the world and then tried to make the dishes at home. I’ve now been doing this most of my life – I still collect recipes. Once you start it’s hard to stop. Now I can collect digitally and not take up any more shelf space (unless it is absolutely necessary to buy an out-of-print delight).

The cover color was chosen to match the fall leaves of a favorite tree outside Tillypronie

One of the great English cookbooks you’ve probably never heard of comes from a kindred magpie spirit – a fellow collector of recipes. Elizabeth David thought The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie (available HERE) was divine and Virginia Wolfe reviewed it warmly when it debuted in 1909 (“Independently of the knowledge they convey, cookery books such as [Lady Clark’s] are delightful to read... A charming directness stamps them, with their imperative 'Take an uncooked fowl and split its skin from end to end' and their massive commonsense which stares frivolity out of countenance"”). Lady Clark collected her treasures between 1841 and her death in 1897. I can’ t help but think I would have liked her.

1840 London

Lady Clark, née Charlotte Coltman, was born in 1824 although the date of her birth is incorrectly given as 1851 in most internet sources. 1851 was in fact the date of her marriage to John Clark. It was an auspicious time to be born in just the right family for an English woman who loved food and collected recipes with a passion.

Paris, 1846

Her husband explained, “How she originally came to be so interested in them was that her father, Mr. Justice Coltman, had been in early life intimately acquainted with some of the leading émigrés of the First –– great –– French Revolution, and acquired from living a good deal with them, a considerable knowledge and appreciation of the French cuisine, them as now, –– even perhaps more than now –– so superior to our own…”

Paris 1843 (Fox Talbot)

Much traveling to the Continent with her parents awakened her interest in European cuisine and her marriage in 1851 to Sir John Clark further increased the breadth of her knowledge and experience with fine food (he was in the diplomatic service in Paris, Brussels and Turin). Her husband also credited two of their talented cooks (one French and the other Italian) for generously sharing their recipes to further expand his wife’s culinary horizons -- “when any dish interested her…” she would “cross-examine the artist the next day, who, perceiving the intelligent appreciation she evinced in this art, rarely failed to give her the best of his knowledge and experience. In the forty years of our subsequent home life in London, Birk Hall, Bagshot Park and here, she pursued, when opportunity offered, the same system; and what constitutes the value of these recipes is that by far the greater number of them were taken down directly from the lips of the artists themselves under her own acute cross-examination.”

Palais Royale, 1839

Her nephew said, “She remembered every book she ever read and every person she ever met” and her husband recalled “…her mastery of her two departments, housekeeping and the library –– the latter of which was always kept abreast of the time with the newest foreign as well as English books; her brilliant and lively wit; the truth and power of her friendship; her entertaining letters and throughout her exceptionally quiet and undemonstrative life even her best friends did not know the whole of her, nor the half.” After reading this, my regret about the book was that it didn't share the letters or journals of this extraordinary woman who was, it seems, loved and respected by all. I would have liked to know more about her.

None of her delightful work would have ever come to light had it not been for her loving husband who just couldn’t let all her recipes, and the memories of a lifetime together enjoying them, dissolve into the mist. After her death, Sir John asked a writer named Catharine Frances Frere to be Charlotte’s amanuensis and wrangle 16 books covering 50 years and nearly 3000 pages into a manageable form:

Fox-Talbot Paris 1843

“ I have asked you to stand sponsor for the publication of a selection from a number of cookery and household recipes, collected by my late wife – this for two reasons, firstly because I know you to be yourself not a little interested and versed in the science of Brillat-Savarin and secondly, and mainly, because, from your intimate acquaintance with her for many years you can bear testimony to her having been, not the mere "housewife" on culinary things intent, but an exceptionally widely-read woman, gifted with fine literary taste and judgment, a singularly retentive and accurate memory, and great conversational powers, never degraded to mere culinary talk – which she particularly disliked! In fact, a cultivated and accomplished woman with many other and larger interests than such as are indicated by the collection of these recipes.... In this confidence, and in the hope and belief that they may prove of service to many a young matron of like mind with her who made it, I confide the collection to you for your supervision and for publication."

Yours sincerely,

John F. Clark.”


It was no small task. Frere writes of the manuscripts she was handed that, “some of the pages [were] not only written over every available margin, but often crossed like a shepherd’s plaid – added to which were recipes written on loose sheets pinned in, or on the backs of envelopes or of paid bills, or apparently on any half sheets of paper snatched up as the opportunity occurred to get a valuable hint recorded; all bearing witness to the interest and care with which Lady Clark had studied this branch of her responsibilities as hostess.” She continued, “Their practical pages are interspersed with anecdotes, with quaint little rhymes; here is one with reference to local names:

“Tillyorne grows the corn, Westercorse the straw
Meadow Lea the blewits blue, Cald Hame naething ava!”

Frere chose an extract from Voltaire copied into Lady Clark’s manuscript recipe books for the opening of the cookbook:

“Madame, songez à la santé surtout, c'est là ce qu'il faut vous souhaiter -- la beauté, la grandeur, l'espirit, le don de plaire, tout est perdu quand on digère mal, c'est l'estomac qui fait les heureux.”
translated:
“Madame, think of health, above all, that is what you must wish for - beauty, grandeur, hope, the gift of pleasing, everything is lost when you digest badly, it is the stomach which makes happiness.”


Tillypronie today, for sale for £10 million.

The word Tillypronie comes from the name of their estate. It means 'top of the hill', and the house looks out across the Vale of Cromar to the Grampian Mountains. Romantic, isn’t it? Also, from all accounts, it was as cold as cold could be even with its barrier of trees to break the wind gusts that assailed its stony walls in the winter –– not the most felicitous environment for an elderly couple.

Although there had been a house there for centuries, the Clark’s house was built in 1867. John’s father, James, was a physician to Queen Victoria and the Queen laid the foundation stone for the house and was a frequent guest (with Mr. Brown).

Tillypronie was famous for its hospitality. Aside from the Queen, the American author, Henry James, came for a visit and fell in love in 1879 when he first visited Tillypronie, “The supremely comfortable house lying deep among the brown and purple moors.”... “The great thing is the color... & the wonderful velvety bloom of the hills, which are powdered over with all kinds of broken & filtered lights.” Of the couple that hosted him he said they “could not be a more tenderly hospitable couple. Sir John caresses me like a brother, and her ladyship supervises me like a mother.” He continued, at the Clarks’, “you get the conveniences of Mayfair dove-tailed into the last romanticism of nature.”

The couple hosted many dinners with menus that read like popular minimalist fare today:


The recipes come from cooks like their own Taton and Cataldi, neighbors like the Emslie sisters, and nobility like the Prince de Polignac and the Duc de Coigny, Doctors Wolff and Liebig, Florence Nightingale’s father and Mrs. Adams of the USA and many of England’s titled class. The names of the dishes can be amusing too. Ritualistic Haddock, Mismash, Wet Devil, Boiled Angels, Grandpapa’s Snuff and Feather Fowlie.




The recipes are organized on nearly 600 pages with dishes listed alphabetically after the chapter headings. The range is quite spectacular.

“So great is the variety of locality from which the recipes were drawn, that Lady Clark may be said to have focused much of the best cookery of Europe in her collection, for the recipes came from France, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Russia, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Holland, Austria, as well ask England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, with some Turkish and Indian dishes thrown in, which give an Oriental flavor.” There were nearly eighteen hundred recipes in the book -- half of the whole of the collection.”

I was fascinated by the multiple recipes for yeast in the book. They would mostly have been made with hops and flour and jumpstarted with brewer’s yeast and then bottled. One that particularly caught my eye and was much lauded was “Ginger Yeast”

 

PS, they admonish when using hops, use the yellow old ones – fresh green hops are ‘incurably’ bitter. I simply must try this sometimes to see how it tastes and works.


What drew me to the book was its game section. I figured any great Scottish kitchen would be full of game recipes. I was not disappointed. One of the dishes I’ve been wanting to make for years was a game soufflé or custard. It sounds so bizarre I figured it just might be wonderful. While I was at it, I couldn’t resist the little Indian Tartlets. I had some pastry rounds in the freezer and I thought this would be a great appetizer for the holidays.


Game custards are a bit like turning wonderful gravy into a custard.  I think it would be excellent with a simple roast bird and potatoes.  It is intensely flavorful and quite good.


Game Custards, makes 6


6 egg Yolks
6 T of cream
2 c strong stock (I took my game stock and reduced a quart to a few cups)
S&P to taste
pinch of nutmeg
fresh bay or herb for garnish

Blend the yolks and cream then add the stock and the flavoring to taste.  Put through a sieve.  Put into small, heatproof custard cups or cocottes if you have them.  I put a round rack in a large pot and poured a few inches of water in it to come just over the rack.  Then I put in the pots and added more  hot water to come just about 1/3 way up the custard cups.  Bring to a low boil. Cook for about 10 -15 minutes.  You can check to see if they are done by sticking a knife in and seeing how they look. To keep the moisture out you might want to put a bit of parchment over the top -- I didn't but gently took a piece of paper towel and wicked up the bit of water on the top when cooking was done.

Serve hot.




Game soufflé is an interesting idea for big dinner leftovers. Perfect for a Sunday supper after a fancy Saturday dinner party.  It reminds me of a savory frittata -- the mushrooms are perfect with it.


Game Soufflé, makes 4 small or 2 large

2 t flour
1 c rich stock
S&P to taste
nutmeg
pinch cayenne
1 T cream
1/4 lb minced, cooked game bird (like D'Artagnan's wonderful French Quail) or chicken (the recipe called for 1/2 lb but I thought that was too much)
yolks of 2 eggs
whites of 3 eggs, whipped to good peaks.

8 mushrooms, sliced
1 T madeira
2 splashes Worcestershire sauce
S&P


Melt the butter and add the flour.  Cook for a few moments, stirring.  Add the stock slowly and then cook for about 15 minutes -- it will thicken and reduce.  Stir so it doesn't stick.  Remove from heat and cool. 

Heat the oven to 400º. 

When it is cool,  Add the meat and the egg yolks and combine well.  Add a good spoon of the beaten egg whites and mix thoroughly.  Then add the rest of the whites, folding them in gently.

Butter 2-1 c molds or 4-1/2 c molds ( used the truffle butter for this too.)

Gently pour the mixture into the molds.  Place on a tray and put into the oven.  Immediately turn the oven down to 375º.  Cook for 15-20 minutes.  Keep an eye on them.  Remove when puffed and golden and serve immediately.Serve with the mushrooms scattered on top.

If you are doing this for a dinner party, you can have everything ready to go but the egg whites and put them together in a flash.



This recipe is perfect for leftovers too.  It can be made just for a single serving or scaled up for a dinner party.  It is a brilliant and eccentric combination that shouldn't work (mango and parmesan?) but it does.  


Indian Tartlets, makes 4-6

1 cooked, diced chicken breast or 2 D'Artagnan French Quail breasts
1 slice ham, diced
chopped truffle (optional - D'Artagnan has them if you would like to be extravagant)
1 T chutney
1/4 mango
2T Parmesan cheese, grated
S&P to taste
pinch cayenne
pinch curry
3 -4 T velouté *
4-6 pastry rounds or tartlet cases

Combine the fowl, ham, truffle, chutney, mango and Parmesan cheese.  Add the velouté.

Put the pastry on a baking sheet and put dollops of the mixture on top. You can add a bit more parmesan on top if you would like.  Then broil for a few minutes until hot and bubbling.  Serve hot or warm.

* to make the velouté, put 2 t truffle butter and 2 t flour in a sauce pan.  stir till blended and bubbling. add 1/3 c stock slowly -- stirring all the while.  Remove from heat when thick.  Taste for seasoning.

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