Saturday, November 24, 2012

Recipes for the Season, Victorian Style

This week, I ran across an interesting archive
of Godey's Lady's Book,
the popular 19th-century magazine for women 
that was once published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Since Thanksgiving has just ended, 
and the Christmas season just beginning,
I thought it would be interesting to see what recipes
Godey's suggested for Thanksgiving leftovers.
Apparently, leftovers were not so common then,
as there were no recipes for turkey casserole
or turkey sandwiches with stuffing and cranberry sauce or the like
published in any issues I browsed. 

But even though Godey's Lady's Book didn't include such suggestions,
I thought it would be fun to share some of the "receipts" 
published in the November 1885 issue.
The issue had no shortage of instructions 
for preparing hearty meat dishes,
from how "To Broil a Fresh Mackerel" to "Baked Fish," 
"Roast Chicken," "Braised Beef," or "Beef Patties" 
and "Hashed Mutton to eat like Venison"--don't ask.

Most of the meat dishes require prodigious amounts of butter or lard,
and one is instructed to bake, boil, broil, 
and otherwise braise the victuals into culinary submission.
An unusual Godey's tip for roasting chicken 
was to bandage the legs using lard and muslin to prevent uneven browning.
Something to consider if one runs short of aluminum foil.

But I really got interested when Godey's got to the desserts.
The Scotch Shortbread recipe requires lots of butter, of course,
but also suggests adding a sprinkling of comfits, sugar coated nuts or fruits,
over the pastry before baking.
It did sound delicious and very rich.

And speaking of butter,
how about this yummy recipe for Cake Fritters:
Ingredients.--stale cake
Currant jelly. 
Lard or butter.
Cut any kind of stale cake into neat slices,
drop each slice into very hot lard or butter 
and fry until they are a delicate brown.

The homemaker is instructed to place the lard-fried cake slice 
on a plate and top each one with a teaspoon of the jelly.
That recipe makes fried Twinkies sound like a low-calorie snack.

On the other hand, let's say one's dessert preference runs 
more toward semi-raw eggs blended with sugar.
If so, White Pudding is a good choice.
This pudding recipe requires a "teacupful of gelatin," 
water, sugar, two lemons, and five eggs, separated.
Add boiling water to the gelatin along with the sugar and the lemons.
Strain the gelatin mixture, fold in egg whites "whipped to a froth." Chill.

photo courtesy of

I can't visualize it very well, but it sounds too egg-y for me.
But maybe I just don't understand the appeal. 
After all, there is also a sauce made from the egg yolks.
It requires boiled milk, sugar, and yolks topped off with a touch of vanilla.
Whipped into a creamy sauce and poured over the egg white pudding,
and that would just about do it for me.
I'd have to swear off desserts for awhile.

Looking at excerpts from a Victorian magazine like Godey's 
 gives a glimpse into meals of the past. 
Some things are not so different; for example, 
one issue offered recipes for Christmas dinner,
but then, another entire issue boasted
of several economical ways to cook rabbit.
And other issues included New Year's fare,
summer picnic foods, and Easter recipes; 
fortunately, the Easter dishes were not in the same issue as the rabbit cookery.

At the very least, it makes one understand
how much time went into Victorian meal preparation.
In these days of pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals, restaurants, and take-out,
it makes one appreciate just how quickly 
we can satisfy our hunger with a tasty meal.
Whether it's fried in butter or not.

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