Saturday, 3 July 2010

Kitchen Essays

Should you ever need to know what to cook for a Country Cottage Tea, or Food For The Unpunctual, Tray Suppers, or even for Guests For A Christmas Shopping Luncheon then this is IT.  Of course, it would help if we were all living in 1922 had staff, and had lurking in the larder truffles, cream and the odd lobster or two. (Happy thought.)
Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll is a snuggle down read marathon. I bought it the last time I was in Foyles in Charing Cross Road in their marvelous foodie section. It's quite hard to resist any book there. But this is a real joy. I don't think I'll ever cook from it much, but to read it is a sheer delight.
Agnes Jekyll was the sister in law of the more famous Gertrude who was descibed as an artist-gardener, whilst Agnes was an artist-housekeeper. It's published by the sumptuous Persephone Books which are so tempting, that I could happily buy all of them.
What I specially love is the specifics of this book. There are recipes for what to serve artists before they go on stage (eggs en cocotte, or Mousse of Egg and Sardine which involves pressing hard boiled eggs through a hair sieve, TWICE, boning sardines, adding a filbert-sized peice of fresh butter and moistening all with a little cream.  Good for those of a nervous disposition and equally good for breakfast as it makes a change from marmalade, she remarks.)  She's terribly keen on eggs for all artists, musicians and would be M.P's. Frothed Wine Soup is highly recommended, as is poached eggs, covered in gelatine and garnished with truffles (she uses truffles in nearly everything which makes me suppose that she really was extremely wealthy or that truffles were a damn sight cheaper in the twenties than they are now)
I am also in total awe of the women who cooked these recipes without any of the luxury of the modern kitchen. Sieves are a big thing here.  Nearly everything is sieved, usually more than once.  Aspic, cream, butter and sugar are used with gay abandon.  Even a recipe for cocoa takes FIVE to SIX hours of simmering unbruised coca nibs. Crikey.
There's a wonderfully evocative section of travelling which makes me want to throw on a silk camisole and crush a cloche hat on my head and book the tramp steamer to the Riviera.  For a start she says that food for a journey (implying that the journey itself is arduous and can only be sustained with nourishing food taken at regular intervals) must be 'daintily wrapped individually in grease-proof paper with an outer wrapping of foolscap tied with fine twine and the contents clearly marked outside' Oh, you should also have a nest of horn or silver drinking cups.
What would you find in your travellers basket? Well, she suggests green sandwiches (lettuce and watercress) a wisp of oriental salt and coarsely ground balck pepper, breasts of chicken, pheasant, partridge or grouse enlivened with a little foie gras or thin coating of aspic and some lemon cheese tartlets. Fresh fruit and a few Chelsea buns. Just in case.
There is a wonderful chapter on 'Their First Dinner Party' .  The guests at hers, were Browning, Burne-Jones and Ruskin. She suggests Clear Soup (which lets the cook prove her worth - and after having read the recipe, it really would sort the cooks from the boys - involving hours of slicing vegetables, straining, reducing, clarifying, sieving, re-heating and garnishing) Filets de Sole a la Creme and Pommes Pailles followed by Saddle of Welsh Mutton complete with kidneys, creamed turnips and asparagus with hollandaise sauce, Cremes Glacees Tutti Frutti which has a pint of cream, curacoa and rum in it, frozen in an 'ice cave' then scattered with a 'gay ruching of finely cut crytallised fruits - an apricot, greengage, pink pear and red cherries and macaroons served with liqueurs, follwed by a ripe camenbert and hot home made oat cakes.  Oh yes, and after that cigars (just for the men - natch) coffee and more liqeurs and good quality Barley Water which must be plentiful....
Gosh, excuse me, I had to sit down for a moment after all of that...
Let me leave with you with what she says on picnics 'Let us, then get out of the luncheon basket and have a selection for dessert instead of pudding. A small cream cheese wrapped in lettuce and some crisp plain biscuits with a tiny pot of redcurrant jelly, a box of fresh dates or pulled figs, a carton of almonds and raisons...a handful of glace ginger cubes and a tin of peppermnint creams and lastly the cup of hot coffee tasting as good out of the thermos as tea tastes nasty.'
I don't think I can lose this one - not a cookery book but social history through food.

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