Posts Tagged ‘kitchen’

Ingenuity and Ignorance

December 1, 2009

My ignorance, their ingenuity.

The Victorians, I mean.

Until I came across  the intriguing line “The freezing-pot is best made of pewter…’’ at the beginning of Isabella Beeton’s section for flavoured ices, I had no idea that such technology even existed back then.  Talk about being a child of the ‘consumer goods’ age!

Some further research into what a freezing-pot actually was reveals little readily-available information, aside from Isabella Beeton’s description.  I found one very informative website that gives a brief overview of the technology, as well as a number of mouth-watering reproductions of Georgian and Victorian ices.

The basic freezing-pot model consisted of a wooden bucket with a smaller pewter container (sabotiere- we always liked borrowing words from the French for fancy stuff) which was placed inside.  In between, a mix of ice (“mixed very carefully with either salt, nitre, or soda” advises Isabella) was added.

The most amazing-looking ices could then be made with this seemingly simple, yet brilliantly effective, device.

So it wasn’t as high-tech as the modern freezer, but it sure beats paying an electricity bill to keep the milk cool.

I was also surprised to learn about Victorian oven technology.  I knew that they had them, because I’d seen them before at various museums.  But I never envied the women who used to manage such comparatively clunky contraptions.

The typical oven would be heated by wood or coal.  Without switches or a temperature gauge, the user needed a great deal of experience (not to mention burnt fingers) to know when the oven was ready.  It took a lot longer than modern ovens to heat up, which meant that cooking and baking was not a speedy process.

The user could, with experience, assess the oven’s readiness by methods such as the arm test (holding an elbow in the oven and counting – e.g. if it got to a count of 10 before the user found it too hot, then it had reached a certain heat– again, this was discovered by experience and the individual oven’s capabilities).  Measuring heat by specific temperatures wasn’t an option, hence Isabella’s broader directions for recipes (e.g. ‘brisk oven’).

Although I’d rather eat a carriage wheel than give up modern technology, I have a new-found respect for the technology of Isabella Beeton’s era.

At some point, I’m going to try and get my hands on a freezing-pot (or if nothing else, a ice mould) and attempt to reproduce one of her recipes.