Tuesday, May 13, 2014

As Old As It Gets!

Am being a very good girl this week, painstakingly sorting through all the bags/boxes of books we brought with us nearly five years ago.  Several will go to the charity shops but there are many cookbooks I'm still wishing to keep.   One such book is 'The National Mark Calendar of Cooking', compiled for the Ministry of Agriculture.  One of the authors being Ambrose Heath.   Amazing to think this was published in 1936 - just three years after I was born.  In my lifetime (just) but how basic and downright 'old' the recipes seem to be compared to those published today. 

'The National Mark' was a Government trademark, and 'a sign of controlled quality. not only good but the best of its kind.  The housewife can be sure her eggs are fresh, her beef being what the butcher says it is, and the poultry being some of the very best in the world'.   Probably the little red tractor printed on the labels of some of the fresh products sold in supermarkets today promises something similar.

The cookbook gives recipes for each month of the year, as in those days all fresh food was seasonal. Many of the recipes now can be made all the year round, but some are interesting enough for me to publish again today.  As many ingredients are given the 'National Mark' (e.g. 1 oz National Mark flour, 1 National Mark egg etc...) I will leave that bit out and just give the ingredients in the normal way as we do today. 

The first recipe is said to be "particularly suitable for anyone who has a weak digestion, or who is convalescent and does not require large portions of meat.  For anyone with a normal appetite it is not necessary to rub the mixture through a sieve before cooking." 
It's interesting to see that 6oz of meat was then considered a small amount of meat, so I looked up other meat recipes in the book and for (presumably) four people it was not unusual to cook 2lbs beef. Today the recommended (nutritional) portion would be 4oz (and that's before it has even been cooked - it loses a little of its weight in cooking).

The method is copied from the book and different to how it would probably be written today.  But fun to read recipes that our grandparents would follow.  If published again today this would probably be called a 'Beef Spread'.

Beef Creams:
6 oz lean beef
3/4 oz butter
3/4 oz flour
1/4 pint good stock or gravy
pepper and salt
very little ground mace
1 teaspoonful cream
1 egg
Shred or mince the beef very finely, after removing the fat.  Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour, add the stock or gravy and boil until it thickens and leaves the sides of the pan.  Add the beef, and pound the mixture well.
Add pepper and salt, a little mace (if liked), the cream and beaten egg.  Blend all the ingredients thoroughly.  Rub through a coarse hair or fine wire sieve.  Put the mixture into well-buttered small moulds, cover with greaseproof paper and steam for about 20 minutes or until firm to the touch.
Serve with beef gravy or beef tea.

Next recipe looks interesting and I'm surprised it would even work, but presumably it did.  This is said to be 'a very suitable cake to make when eggs are cheap, for the basis consists of a genuine egg sponge cake, and an egg custard is also required'.  The custard in the list of ingredients is made in advance, no details how, just 'prepare half a pint of good egg custard in the usual way, flavouring with vanilla'.   In those days cooks knew how to make such things without continually being told.
As we read through the recipe we see it ends up being more like a trifle than a cake. 

Tipsy Cake:
4 oz flour
3 eggs
5 oz caster sugar
1/4 pint cold water
half pint egg custard
1 can strawberries, raspberries or plums
Boil the sugar and water together for 5 minutes, allow to cool slightly.  Beat the eggs together, pour on the syrup, and continue whisking for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens. 
Then fold in the flour as lightly as possible, blend thoroughly and put into the prepared cake tin.  Bake in a quick oven until golden brown and firm. 
When the sponge cake is cold, put it in a glass or fancy dish. Blanch some almonds, split them in half and cut each half lengthwise.  Stick them into the sponge cake, porcupine fashion.  Soak the cake with fruit syrup from any of the canned fruit.  The addition of a little sherry or home-made wine improves the flavour of the pudding and gives it its name.
Then pour the custard over while it is still warm.  Serve with or without the canned fruit.

Next recipe, simple though it is fits very well in to the cost-cutting recipes we make today as it uses up cooked meats and the large outer leaves of loose-leaved lettuce (not iceberg).  As with any basic recipe of times past we can now use different ingredients that were not then available, so worth using this as a guide then improving it.  This being what cookery writers have been doing for decades and why this recipe seems familiar - the same old thing but that little bit different. 

With this recipe we have to work out how much of each we need.  As we read through the method we discover the rice has already been cooked before using (so another good use of leftovers).

Beef or Chicken in Lettuce Leaves:
beef or chicken, cooked
butter or bacon fat
Take some fairly large and sound lettuce leaves, wash them carefully, dry them and put them aside.
Mince up the remains of the beef or chicken, and mix them with a tablespoon of chopped onion lightly fried beforehand.
Mix again with a small quantity of boiled and well-drained rice.  Add a little chopped tomato if you like, and a light seasoning of herbs.  Moisten if necessary with stock, and use this mixture to wrap up inside the lettuce leaves, rolling each one round the stuffing and tying it with cotton.
Now brown these stuffed leaves in butter or bacon fat, arrange them in a fireproof dish, then cover with some well-flavoured stock. Put a piece of greaseproof paper an the lid of the dish over them, and cook them very slowly in the oven for two hours.

I've always believed that Irish Tea Cake contained dried fruits, but in the early part of last century, probably not if this last recipe for today is anything to go by.  Perhaps one of the easiest to make in the book, and although I often feel I'd like to go back to eating meals that my ancestors enjoyed, am not sure this is one worth passing down from generation to generation (unless fruit was added).
As I've not made this, cannot yet work out what it would be like once cooked.  It could possibly end up like a sweet Yorkshire Pudding.  Nothing wrong with that.  I suppose.  Think tomorrow I might make it and see how it turns out.

Irish Tea Cake:
4 oz flour
2 eggs
3 oz sugar
2 tblsp milk
2 level teaspoons baking powder
1 oz butter
Beat the eggs and sugar together, fold in the flour (which has been sieved with the baking powder) as lightly as possible, then add the milk.
Melt the butter in a small meat tin, put in the mixture, then cook in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.  Butter hot and serve immediately.

The group meeting at the spiritualist church was interesting.  Not so many there as some were on holiday and they asked me to give the opening prayer (help!!!).  Somehow I managed to do this without falling over my words, just said what came into my head and kept it short (well, I am a learner).  With much discussion on certain things we didn't have time for the meditation and 'messages' passed through the mediums that were there.  We will be going again this Saturday evening where there will be a visiting medium so am hoping my neighbour will have some sort of contact (I'm going to hide in a corner as the mediums always seem to pick me out).

Watched 'Roots' again early this evening (5.00-7.00pm) and it's unbelievable how cruelly the slaves were treated. It breaks my heart to watch as I know what is being portrayed is what did occur in America in those days.  Maybe in other countries too.

Every time I used to travel down to London, always I would see someone I knew - sometimes in the street, more often at the railway station.  Not always from my home-town, but often people who lived near to where we lived but normally never seen.  I'm getting almost the same feeling when I read some of your comments.

Mary (now in Australia) is familiar with Oadby where we lived for 12 years, this on one of the first estates to be built, close to the Oadby Racecourse.  At one time Mary says she lived in Evington, and my parents moved to Roundhill Road (just off Evington Lane) when I was nine.  So I grew up knowing Evington village very well.  Shady Lane being one place I loved to walk down, but forbidden to do so by my mother as an American camp had been set up down that lane (edge of the golf course). I was 16 at that time and very na├»ve, now I understand why.

The Woolco shop was on the opposite side of the London Road and faced the road that led to our estate, and I was forever in Woolco as it was the nearest thing to a supermarket at that time.  It even had a little 'coffee shop'.  I remember we had to hand in our bags at a counter before we entered the store and collect them on the way out (to prevent shoplifting I suppose).
Yes, Radio Leicester had started, I know this as my friend Gill (the one who phones me each Sunday) was asked on to a chat show when she and her friend started a slimming club. 
Many years later I was interviewed on Radio Leicester when visiting there, and it turned out the presenter lived next door to the man who I used to work for when I was 20.  Small world.

How lovely that your dolls house had window boxes Hazel.  Have a feeling that there was some sort of toy garden that we could buy bits for - a plastic base, possible a piece of plastic grass, and brown base with holes in that we could stick in tiny plastic vegetables and plants.  Could even buy tiny greenhouse and garden frames.  Am pretty sure we had some of these once when our children were small, probably bought more for me to play with, I love miniature things.  Wish I had a dolls house now.

The favourite toys that our children played with were Lego, and Spirograph.  They loved reading and had all the Ladybird books, and also the Observer books.  They also had quite an assortment of board games.  In those days we didn't have TV (couldn't afford it), so we all played games together.  Am so pleased they were able to grow up without the handicap of having computers/mobiles/tablets to hold them back from really enjoying themselves. 

Am giving one more recipe for savoury muffins.  And not the sort of muffin sold by the 'muffin man' in times past.  These are the American muffins.  Am including this as it's pretty basic, and we can use a different cheese, use natural yogurt instead of buttermilk, and leave out the pesto if we wish (or include some other flavouring).  Or why not add some chopped crispy bacon?
Like most muffins, best eaten just warm, or on the day of making. If you wish to freeze them, then warm slightly in the microwave when thawed.

Cheese Muffins: makes 12
1 lb (450g) self-raising flour
2 oz (50g) butter, chopped coarsely
13 fl oz (430ml) buttermilk
2 tblsp pesto
4 oz (100g) grated cheddar cheese
half teaspoon paprika pepper
1 tblsp plain flour
Put the s.r. flour into a bowl and rub in the butter. Stir in the buttermilk to form a soft, sticky dough, then - using a knife - swirl in the pesto and the cheese, but don't overmix.
Divide mixture between greased (or paper lined) 12 muffin-tray holes.  Mix the paprika pepper and plain flour together and sprinkle this over the tops.  Bake at 180C, gas 4 for 25 minutes then leave to stand in the tin for 5 minutes before removing to finish off cooling on a wire rack.

More old recipes tomorrow, more the traditional rather than the basically boring.  Even though in those days it was 'good plain food', much of it was very tasty indeed, and - of course - easy enough to make without the constant need of a recipe book to refer to.  Once made, always remembered.

Hope you will be free to keep up with the recipes over the next few days, who knows what delights will appear in this blog.  Even I haven't decided yet. TTFN.