Posts Tagged ‘Household Management’

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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Away with that box of gravy!

January 17, 2010

Forgive me, boxed gravy lovers, for what I am about to say.

Gravy doesn’t – or let me say shouldn’t – come in a box.

The argument for convenience is a very valid one.  Take a few spoonfuls of gravy granules, add some water, and hey presto! you have yourself some gravy.

But (there’s always a but)  the ingredients on the box are enough to put me off using any of them.   Why are E numbers often included?  And what exactly are the ingredients labelled as ”flavour” and ”colour”? If something cannot be openly named, then that’s enough to scare me off ever buying it.  And, I would argue, it’s dishonest – or, at the very least, supremely dodgy.

Besides, home-made gravy is such a cinch and costs next to nothing.  It’s much healthier by default, and you have precise control over what exactly goes into your food and how it’s flavoured.  What’s more, the base thickener can be used for an incredible variety of brown gravies or white sauces.  How wonderfully easy and convenient is that?

Isabella Beeton gives the following base thickener (roux) instructions:

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BROWN ROUX, a French Thickening for Gravies and Sauces.

6 oz. of butter, 9 oz. of flour.

Mode.—Melt the butter in a stewpan over a slow fire {stove}, and dredge in, very gradually, the flour; stir it till of a light-brown colour—to obtain this do it very slowly, otherwise the flour will burn and impart a bitter taste to the sauce it is mixed with. Pour it in a jar, and keep it for use: it will remain good some time.

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WHITE ROUX, for thickening White Sauces.

Allow the same proportions of butter and flour as in the preceding recipe, and proceed in the same manner as for brown roux, but do not keep it on the fire {stove} too long, and take care not to let it colour. This is used for thickening white sauce.

Sufficient,—A dessertspoonful will thicken a pint of gravy.

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To make a fresh and easy brown gravy, for each dessertspoonful of roux, slowly whisk in 1 3/4 cups of stock mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, a couple of good pinches of curry powder, plus salt and pepper to taste.  A 1/2 tablespoon of red wine improves the flavour even more (optional).  Give it an occasional stir for 2-3 minutes until the gravy begins to thicken.  Serve.

The above brown gravy recipe is my own.  For a million variations of white and brown gravies, Household Management is a fabulous source (if you’ll forgive the pun):

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Brown Gravies (Recipes 433 – 444): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/10-chapter10.html#434

White Sauces (Recipes 367-8, 509, 517, 537-9) Same link