Since my books from the Victorian era on on their way to being reissued, I thought it would be fun to post some snippets from the housekeeping bible of its day. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, compiled by Isabella Beeton, was published in 1865 by her husband, who was a publisher. It quickly became a bestseller, with information on fashion, the hiring, treatment and duties of servants, etiquette, care of the sick, legal advice, care of livestock, and of course, many recipes. It really was quite an accomplishment for a young mother still in her twenties.
Back in the eighties, I watched a fascinating show called the Victorian Kitchen on PBS, where a woman who was a cook on an English estate prepared meals in the old manner, in a fully restored Victorian kitchen, complete with an original range. Obtaining, storing and cooking food was so much more laborious then. Preparing and serving meals in a large house kept a good-sized staff busy from before dawn, when the young scullery maid lit the kitchen fire, till the dishes from the family’s late dinner were washed and put away. There were no convenient grocery stores nearby and no refrigeration, so food was canned, salted, pickled, or stored in root cellars. Meals were carefully planned so that fresh food could be used before it spoiled.
One way of getting the good out of leftover meat or fish was to use it for soup and stocks. These were made in large quantities, for home use and to give to the poor. Here are two recipes from the collection:
INGREDIENTS.— A sheep’s head, 3 quarts of water, 12 leeks cut small, pepper and salt to taste, oatmeal to thicken.
Mode.— Prepare the head, either by skinning or cleaning the skin very nicely; split it in two; take out the brains, and put it into boiling water; add the leeks and seasoning, and simmer very gently for 4 hours. Mix smoothly, with cold water, as much oatmeal as will make the soup tolerably thick; pour it into the soup; continue stirring till the whole is blended and well done, and serve.
USEFUL SOUP FOR BENEVOLENT PURPOSES.
INGREDIENTS.— An ox-cheek, any pieces of trimmings of beef, which may be bought very cheaply (say 4 lbs.), a few bones, any pot-liquor the larder may furnish, 1/ 4 peck of onions, 6 leeks, a large bunch of herbs, 1/ 2 lb. of celery (the outside pieces, or green tops, do very well); 1/ 2 lb. of carrots, 1/ 2 lb. of turnips, 1/ 2 lb. of coarse brown sugar, 1/ 2 a pint of beer, 4 lbs. of common rice, or pearl barley; 1/ 2 lb. of salt, 1 oz. of black pepper, a few raspings (dried bread crumbs), 10 gallons of water.
Mode.— Cut up the meat in small pieces, break the bones, put them in a copper, with the 10 gallons of water, and stew for 1/ 2 an hour. Cut up the vegetables, put them in with the sugar and beer, and boil for 4 hours. Two hours before the soup is wanted, add the rice and raspings, and keep stirring till it is well mixed in the soup, which simmers gently. If the liquor reduces too much, fill up with water.
10 gallons of water. Now that’s a batch of soup. Of course, on a large estate, all the meat and produce would be homegrown. I wonder what my butcher at Sobeys would say if I asked for a sheep’s head?