365 Days Draw to a Close…

December 1, 2010

Although it’s been a little while since I’ve posted (finishing up a job in Germany, moving to Canada, setting up a new business, etc. have kept me rather busy), Mrs Beeton and Household Management are very often in my mind.

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Over the last year, as I’ve tried a multitude of her wonderful (and not so wonderful) recipes and tips, I’ve drawn quite a few conclusions about Victorian England and the art of running a household in general.  Here are a just a few of them:

1. That English food is ‘rubbish’ or ‘sub-standard’ (as many people I’ve spoken to seem to unhesitatingly think, even if they’ve never tried it) is a fallacy.  English cooking often gets bad press, as far as its image goes.  But reputation in this case has very little to do with reality.  Perhaps there was a time when it wasn’t as inspirational or interesting as it could have been (I suspect the 1970s, but I could be wrong), but the lingering perception amongst the general public is really quite unfair when compared to reality.

2. That England has lousy cooks.  Again, I don’t know where this general idea comes from, and nor do people I’ve spoken to when pressed to back up their claim with an example.  If television is anything to go by (in the 21st century alone, think Rick Stein, Keith Floyd, Nigella Lawson, Anthony Worral-Thompson, Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre-White, Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal, Gary Rhodes, etc. etc. etc.), then the great English cook is alive and lustily kicking.

3. That running a household is something easy and effortless – ‘just a woman’s job’.  If my other half was fond of joking about this a year ago, he certainly isn’t now. What’s more, for those women and men who choose to make housekeeping / home-making a full-time job (and even for those who do it in addition to raising kids and working outside the home), I say ‘bravo’.

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As I finish my year of running my household with the reassuring guidance of Mrs Beeton, I feel I’ve come away from this adventure with a richer kitchen repertoire, a broader range of household tactics, and a whole lot more self-respect for my roles as Head of Finance, Head of Cooking, Head of Cleaning and Head of Procurement.

Thank you, Isabella Beeton.  It’s been an absolute pleasure.

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Canadian-Approved French Chicken Cutlets

July 25, 2010

My boyfriend (the Canadian of the title) gave a hearty thumbs up to this dish.

Actually, I thought he was going to hate it.  “What were you thinking ,” I imagined him spluttering, as he spat out the first half-chewed mouthful, ”putting lemon in the breadcrumbs?!”

To my astonishment, he never even noticed.  In fact, he was so busy plowing through it (passing tit-bits all the while to our three delighted greedy cats) that I never had the fun of informing him mid-way through dinner.

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INGREDIENTS – The remains of cold roast or boiled fowl, fried bread, clarified butter, the yolk of 1 egg, bread crumbs, 1/2 teaspoonful of finely-minced lemon-peel; salt, cayenne, and mace to taste. For sauce,—1 oz. of butter, 2 minced shalots, a few slices of carrot, a small bunch of savoury herbs, including parsley, 1 blade of pounded mace, 6 peppercorns, 1/4 pint of gravy.

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I had a piece of chicken in the fridge, practically blinking back at me forlornly, waiting for an opportunity to be turned into something interesting.  Then there was my boyfriend, actually blinking at me forlornly, waiting for an opportunity to say something interesting (despite claiming that I make him sound horrible, even though I repeat real quotes, he still manages to laugh uproariously at his own comments after they’re published).

So, the only thing I didn’t do with this recipe was to use pre-cooked chicken.  But, I think, it makes little difference – it only took a few extra minutes to cook it and put the dish together.

Mrs Beeton says to add ‘sippets’ to the dish.  Strangely, she makes no mention of these in the list of ingredients, so a bit of head scratching went on in my kitchen until I figured if Google could map the world, then it could certainly solve this small mystery.  So it turned out.  A bit of research revealed that ‘sippets’ are really just fried bread / croutons.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to make any, so I left this out.

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One thing I found really interesting was using butter and egg yolk together to dip the chicken / veg chicken.  Naturally, being Mrs Beeton’s, there of course had to be butter somewhere in the recipe.  Once beaten together, I have to confess it worked really well – with egg alone, it has the tendency not to stick consistently on whatever’s being dipped, meaning that it has to be dipped again to ensure a more even coating.  Not so when clarified (melted) butter is added – it was all very uniform on the first attempt.

The biggest hit with both of us (I had a vegetarian chicken substitute) was the gravy.  It was absolutely delicious.  I have to confess that the basic gravy was my own recipe, but Mrs Beeton’s added ingredients turned it into something else altogether.  My boyfriend is normally iffy about mot of those ingredients (the length of the list of things he doesn’t like would out-do Santa’s list of gifts to distribute worldwide, hands-down), this time he made no complaint.

In a word, delicious.  In two words, easy and delicious.

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French Chicken Cutlets (Recipe 927: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/21-chapter21.html#927)

A Hidden Wee Recipe

July 7, 2010

I found the following line tucked away under an entry for ‘How to Use Cold Potatoes‘:

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In Scotland, cold boiled potatoes are frequently squeezed up and mixed with flour or oatmeal, and an excellent cake, or scon, obtained.

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Remembering the time I lived in Scotland when I was younger (hey!  I’m only 33.  Where on earth did ‘when I was younger’ thing spring from??), and Ireland a few years later, I have a soft spot for potato-based food stuffs.  I remember very well the stodgy loveliness of flat, hot potato scones (the type that was kind of like a small thick square pancake), oozing and slippery with melted butter.  Mmm.  Mmmmmm.  Mmmmmmm.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, Mrs Beeton.  Potato scones.  Mmmm.

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This is a fantastic use of a bit of potato.  Sometimes, I get a little bored with the standard potato side-dish fare (mashed, boiled, fried, frittered, roasted – or, my boyfriend’s absolute favourite, fries).  Even though this is a very simple recipe, I was grateful for the opportunity to present something a little different.

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I found that a generous pinch of salt and pepper gave the mix a little more oomph – not too much, but enough to make it a respectable, welcome alternative to the usual potato dishes.

Altogether, they took approximately 10 minutes to cook (5 on either side) and slid with hearty cheerfulness onto our plates.

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My boyfriend wasn’t overly excited (”Meh.  They’re OK”) but I really loved them.  No doubt nostalgia played a part, but still, they were quite fine and tasty to me!

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Potato Scones (Recipe ): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/25-chapter25.html#1141

Queen Cakes, Minus the Final Portrait

July 7, 2010

I’m such a twally sometimes.  I don’t know where my mind was today, but it certainly wasn’t on what I was doing.  I was thinking of the World Cup.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely not a fan.  I’m not even sure what type of ball they use (it gets confusing – North Americans call football soccer, and the rest of the world, as far as I can tell, calls soccer football).  Added to this my complete lack of interest in any type of sport, and you can understand my problem.

We’re living in Germany at the moment, and as most of the world except me seems to know, Germany’s doing quite well in the current World Cup series.  The reason I was distracted was the overwhelming number of kids dashing around in the park downstairs, blowing those damn vuvuzelas as loud as they can.  I don’t even know how to pronounce the word.  I certainly don’t want to hear them.

So, distracted as I was by dark thoughts about where said vuvuzelas ought to be shoved, I completely forgot to take a final photograph of Mrs Beeton’s Queen Cakes.

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INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of flour, 1/2 lb. of butter, 1/2 lb. of pounded loaf sugar, 3 eggs, 1 teacupful of cream, 1/2 lb. of currants, 1 teaspoonful of carbonate of soda, essence of lemon, or almonds to taste.

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I laughed when I saw how many eggs and how much butter were required.  Then I saw the cream – at which, my boyfriend laughed (I don’t usually keep cream, because as soon as I turn my back, it’s down my boyfriend’s throat faster than I can say ‘Where’s the damn cream?”).

I didn’t have lemon essence, but luckily Mrs Beeton advises “Grated lemon-rind may be substituted for the lemon and almond flavouring, which will make the cakes equally nice.”

(Un)fortunately, the recipe doesn’t state how many mini-cakes this recipe produces.  So, (un)fortunately, I reduced the quantity by 2/3rds – more than enough for the two of us, as it turned out.

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The final result is a slightly flat muffin-like patty cake.  I have to admit it, the cream does give it a wonderfully (and naughtily) fluffy texture.

All 12 cakes were gone within 12 hours.  As I only ate 3, I leave you to guess where the rest went, and how much they were liked.

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Queen Cakes (Recipe 1773): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/35-chapter35.html#1773

Pork Cutlets

July 7, 2010

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OK.  So it’s not exactly like returning home from war, granted.

My boyfriend was away for the last two days, running a workshop.  The sight of him rising at 4.45am (no, sorry, 4.52am – ”Just one round of snooze, I promise” he muttered, thumping the button desperately) on his day of departure was something not seen very often around here.  I, meanwhile, instantly sprang out of bed – never mind that it was an hour before my usual rising time – and sprightly hopped along to the kitchen to make him a cup of coffee.  I think he might have hated me at that moment.

I enjoyed the bliss of having the house to myself, but I was beginning to look forward to him walking through the door.  Uno sucks when you play it on your own.

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I felt the returning hero – well, in this case, English trainer – deserved a nice tasty treat to welcome him home.  No, not that sort of treat.

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INGREDIENTS – The remains of cold roast loin of pork, 1 oz. of butter, 2 onions, 1 dessertspoonful of flour, 1/2 pint of gravy, pepper and salt to taste, 1 teaspoonful of vinegar and mustard.

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There are times when I love cooking up a feast, and there are times when I think ‘Sod it, enough of this already!’   Today is one of the latter days.   I managed to lazily slap a pork cutlet on the bench to defrost this morning, but other than that, I wasn’t willing to invest very much effort on this hot summer’s day.

I figured Mrs Beeton wouldn’t mind if I used a fresh cutlet instead of the remains of cold pork.

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Given the quantity of onions, I’m assuming this recipe was meant to feed 2-4 people.  Or else, someone who really doesn’t mind the smell and taste of onion.  As I’m vego and my boyfriend probably ate all the hotel’s cake (yet again), I pared it down to just one onion.

The 1/2 pint of gravy I made myself from my own recipe, but the rest I followed as per Mrs Beeton’s instructions (well, except for the cold pork part…  And, why always so much butter?? I used slightly less than the stated quantity.  I already think that Mrs Beeton is making me fat.  I don’t need any more help, thank you very much).

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I managed to get both a meat and vegetarian portion out of the onion and gravy.  I can’t say tofu is the most exciting stuff on the planet, but boy did this sauce perk that slab of white right up.

My boyfriend enjoyed it.  I enjoyed it.  You’d enjoy it, too.

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Pork Cutlets (Recipe 796): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/17-chapter17.html#796

Mrs Beeton’s Most Delicious Dessert

June 25, 2010

This has got to be the most delicious dessert I’ve ever eaten from Household Management.

Undoubtedly the ridiculous amount of cream in Mrs Beeton’s Apple Trifle went a long way to its delicious-osity.  My boyfriend very rarely gets involved in kitchen stuff, but the look on his face when he realised there was cream in the house was priceless (as he’s a guy who happily sprays an entire can of whipped cream down his throat, to my cringing disgust, I do my very best to hide such things from him.  Lucky for me he can hardly tell the difference between a fridge and a dishwasher).

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10 good-sized apples, the rind of 1/2 lemon, 6 oz. of pounded sugar, 1/2 pint of milk, 1/2 pint of cream, 2 eggs, whipped cream.

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This is a 3-stage recipe.  Creating a syrup-ified base of sweetened apples comes first, followed by the custard, followed by the (“More!  Put some more on!” whipped cream on top.

By the time I got around to doing stage 2, my boyfriend, sensing that something to his sweet-toothed benefit was actually afoot, suddenly appeared by my side and offered to help.  No, just not offered to help – he actually took over the whipping and beating of the cream while my back was turned.

“I think you should let this set for a while,” he instructed, popping the trifle gingerly into the fridge before turning back to lick the cream bowl.

We waited 30 minutes before hurrying back to the kitchen, my boyfriend scurrying about 2 million steps ahead of me.

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The Cheshire Cat held nothing over us as we stuck in our spoons and grinned like naughty, naughty children.

“Mmmmm”

“Double mmmm.”

“It’s good.”

“It’s damn good.”

“The apple’s a bit sweet.  And that’s coming from me” (commented my ridiculously sweet-toothed other half).  “But I like it.  ‘Specially the cream!”

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It’s not the ‘traditional’ trifle I’m familiar with (i.e. with alcohol-soaked sponge cake ), but everything about this dessert is just incredible (incredibly delicious, incredibly easy, incredibly calorific…).

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Apple Trifle (Recipe 1404): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/29-chapter29.html#1404

Drunk Cherries

June 25, 2010

Well they look drunk, drowned and infused as they are in a good amount of brandy.

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Supposedly I was following a recipe for Cherry Brandy, but I can already see incredible opportunities for using the succulently brandified cherries too, once they’ve done they’re preserving thing.  Cherry Cheesecake?  Cherry Pie?  Cherry Torte?  Mmmm.

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INGREDIENTS – Morella cherries, good brandy; to every lb. of cherries allow 3 oz. of pounded sugar.

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I’ve no idea what Morella cherries are… or indeed what type of cherry I actually bought at the market on Saturday (so long as they aren’t sour, I’m a happy camper).  However, they were fresh, they were sweet and, what’s more, delicious.

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This is not exactly rocket science, this recipe.  Place cherries in preserving bottle.  Add sugar.  Add brandy (I went a bit mad, as you do, and added regular brandy and Mrs Beeton’s very own Lemon Brandy that I made several months ago).  Then “put corks or bungs into the bottles, tie over them a piece of bladder, and store away in a dry place” for 2-3 months.

Unfortunately, not having a bit of bladder (ick!), corks or bungs (what are they?) to hand, I used my steam oven to ensure that the jar was as sterile as possible.

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However, steam = heat = big fat boiled cherries.  All of a sudden, I went from having plenty of space at the top of the preserving jar, to pretty much none at all.   As a general rule, when whatever’s being preserved actually sticks above the liquid line in the jar, mould could potentially follow.  Not a good thing.

So,  I decided to leave it alone for a week or two and then use the contents for a dessert (and perhaps the semi-cherrified brandy for a punch?).  Not exactly what Mrs Beeton had in mind, but, as we’re moving to Canada in a few weeks anyway, maybe it’s just as well.

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If nothing else, the colour of the liquid inside the jar looks absolutely heavenly!

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Cherry Brandy (Recipe 1561): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/31-chapter31.html#1561

Apricot Tart with a Shuffle

June 19, 2010

No matter how hard I try, there’s a particularly irritating sound I find very difficult to bite my tongue and ignore.

For anyone who’s gone food shopping with a partner who is not as “into it” as yourself, the hopelessly bored shuffle of unwilling feet behind you as you go about trying to gather everything you need can be a bit of a – now, how can I put this politely? – pain in the posterior.

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There’s not much that I love more than food shopping, especially at the market.  Most of the time I manage just fine getting it all home (with a fair bit of dexterous arrangement) on my bicycle, but occasionally a little help is needed.  On these occasions, I tend to play on the ‘you’ve got such big muscles’ tack, but I think I’m wearing that one out.

But anyway, on to the main theme.

We had friends round for dinner tonight, and of course I leaped at the opportunity to “do something Mrs Beeton-y”.

With a bag of golden-orange apricots in my boyfriend’s unwilling hands (“Can you please go and weigh these?” I directed, hoping to distract him from sighing and twitching desperately behind me.  Off he went, shuffling and sighing forlornly.  Geez and blimey!!!)

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INGREDIENTS – 12 or 14 apricots, sugar to taste, puff-paste or short crust.

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“Sweeten with good moist sugar”, Mrs Beeton advises.  I’ve long been puzzled as to what ‘moist sugar’ is – I’ve been given a few hints about modern equivalents, but I’ve found myself puzzling over the question on occasion for quite a while.  Eventually, after quite a bit of internet research, ‘moist sugar’ in Mrs Beeton’s world was something like Muscovado Sugar (which is not actually moist, but has a higher molasses content, apparently, hence the ‘moist’ – in comparison to other sugars – label).  Off I rushed to hastily grab a box, my poor suffering boyfriend shuffling forsakenly behind me.

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Our friends are German, and they’d never heard of Mrs Beeton.

“She studied in Heidelberg, really?’ one of them cried.  An instant convert was born.

I opted for (shop-bought) puff-paste (pastry) – one of these days I’ve got to give Mrs Beeton’s recipe for this a try.  In the meantime, the pre-made stuff made a very good substitute.

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However, the recipe doesn’t specify clearly whether pastry is meant to form the sides of the tart, or if it’s just to go on top.  After debating it with my boyfriend for a few moments, we figured she meant ‘just on top’.  On it went, over the fresh apricot halves, and popped into the oven.

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Unfortunately, I served the dessert after a rather large dinner and too short a pause between the main and sweet courses.  Politely reluctant looks dressed the faces of our guests as I keenly encouraged them to try a little bit, whilst at the same time deftly putting all the blame on Mrs Beeton should it not be to their taste.

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Thankfully, they really liked it.  I accompanied it with Mrs Beeton’s custard, which I’ve made before (http://mrsbeetonin365days.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/day-91-lemon-brandy-custard/).   This time, unfortunately, I curdled it ever so slightly – but I sploshed enough brandy into it to mask any deficiencies.  I hope.).

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“Mmm, interesting,” one of them commented about the sauce as she took another bite.  Luckily, this sort of custard is not a typically German thing, so I got away with the slight curdling by saying it was an English sauce.  (“Oh, OK then.”)

The fact that there was nothing left is a testament to the simple tastiness of this simple dessert (thank you Mrs Beeton).

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Apricot Tart (Recipe 1239 ): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/27-chapter27.html#1239

Lemon Brandy Custard (Recipe 404): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/10-chapter10.html#404

Mrs Beeton’s (Hot – But Not Spicy) Tomato Sauce

June 14, 2010

“N…yeah”.

This was the hesitant response mumbled at me by my boyfriend when I asked him what he thought about the latest Mrs Beeton recipe I’d put together.

“So, is that a no or yes?” I clarified warily.

“N… yeah.”

Despite this – how to put it politely – not exactly eloquent critique, I’d be lying if I said my reaction was any different.  It really was rather n…yeah.

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INGREDIENTS – 6 tomatoes, 2 shalots, 1 clove, 1 blade of mace, salt and cayenne to taste, 1/4 pint of gravy, No. 436, or stock No. 104.

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The problem is – the base flavour of the recipe entirely depends on the use of a specific gravy or stock blend.  Now, I can’t imagine that every Victorian housewife would have always had these precise blends to hand when flicking through Mrs Beeton, would she?  Undoubtedly, they’d have concocted something of their own devising and gone from there.

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Such was my reasoning, anyway, as I prepared this sauce for use with my boyfriend’s pork cutlets tonight (and my vegetarian equivalent).

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I really don’t know where I went wrong (well, besides not using the stated stock or gravy).   As so often with Mrs Beeton, this sauce wasn’t complicated to throw together.  Halve the tomatoes, squeeze out the juice and seeds, and pop them into a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients (maybe I should have used mace, instead of nutmeg.  And cayenne instead of paprika.  shalots instead of baby onions.  Hmmm…).

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OK, so the sauce wasn’t so very bad.  It really wasn’t.  But what it definitely was, was too salty (my fault) and rather bland (my fault?).

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It looked nice on the cutlets, I’ll give it that.

But still.  N…yeah.

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Hot Tomato Sauce (Recipe 529): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/10-chapter10.html#529

Lemon Blancmange

June 5, 2010

I’m really getting into the swing of making a more-than-occasional dessert these days.

I’ve never been big on them, and certainly wouldn’t order them in a restaurant (My typical splutter: “What! €7 for a ball of ice-cream and some sauce?  No thanks!”).

But, as the crafty hausfrau that I am, a lightbulb plinged brightly in my head as I read through Mrs Beeton’s recipe for Lemon Blancmange.  With quite a lot of fresh lemon juice being added at the final stage, surely, I realised, surely this is an excellent (and yet so subtly sneaky!) way of slipping in the benefits of more fruit into our – well, specifically my veg-and-fruit-shy boyfriend’s – diet.

I sincerely hope he never reads this post.

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INGREDIENTS – 1 quart of milk, the yolks of 4 eggs, 3 oz. of ground rice, 6 oz. of pounded sugar, 1–1/2 oz. of fresh butter, the rind of 1 lemon, the juice of 2, 1/2 oz. of gelatine.

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Again, this is a recipe where agar agar (or, I guess, any other vegetarian gelatine substitute) works very well.

It’s a 3-stage recipe, but none of these are long or complicated – and in fact, I had some of the pots with various separated ingredients on the go at the same time.  At the final stage, everything gets added together – including the lovely, fresh, vitamin-rich lemon juice – and popped into the refrigerator to chill.

The only thing I was a little confused about was the ”lemon rind”.  Most recipes these days calls for it to be grated.  However, Mrs Beeton made no mention of this, and later refers to ”…leaving out the lemon peel” (which I could only assume meant the aforementioned lemon rind).  So I peeled the rind into thin slices and added this to the mix, removing them later just before chilling.

“How did you like it, then?” I queried cheerily as we finished our bowls (to which I’d added the first of the season’s sweet cherries and strawberries, plus a helping of vanilla ice-cream for good measure).

“It was OK.  Nice.  Very nice.  I mean, nice.  It was OK.”

It was OK, nice, very nice, OK.  It would have been more OK, nicer, very much nicer, nicer, more OK, had I not accidentally added a little too much rice flour (I’d absent-mindedly added the remains of the pack into the mix, instead of the precisely weighed amount I’d already put aside for use).  Possibly if it was a little more sweeter, that would also have helped.

But, I don’t think he’s against finishing the rest of the blancmange for dessert tonight.  Especially with the sweet lure of bourbon vanilla ice-cream heaped alongside it!

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Lemon Blancmange (Recipe 1142): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/29-chapter29.html#1442


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