As my friend on Facebook said, “There’s a reason everyone was going to Freudian analysts in the ’50’s.”
Surrealism and cuisine go back a long way, with greater or lesser results in terms of success. This is one of the all-time highs.
Another high point was the publication of The Surreal Gourmet: Real Food for Pretend Chefs, which introduced the world to the concept of dishwasher salmon. Keeping it surreal, yo.
Meet one of the most successful cookbook authors in history, Mrs. Isabella Beeton. Yes, that Mrs. Beeton.
Although she died in 1865, just about a month before her twenty-ninth birthday (of peritonitis and puerperal fever, following the birth of her fourth child), Mrs. Beeton remains a household name through much of the English-speaking world.
Her book, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management has been reprinted, updated, and collected ever since it was first published in 1861.
In fact, I have two different versions in my own collection. One is my own copy of the 1992 edition that I bought shortly before I got married. The other is my mother’s long-cherished copy sans a publication date. My guess is that it dates back to somewhere between the late 1930’s and the fall of the British Raj. Why? Because of the sorts of recipes, the instructions included with them, the advertisements shown on the endpapers, and the fact that there is a significant section on cooking in India.
The recipes are, of course, a major reason for the long popularity of the franchise. Over time, old recipes that are no longer fashionable or practical have been dropped in favor of things more in line with modern tastes. The sheer range of recipes makes the volume a great choice if you only have room or interest for one or two cookbooks in your world. And despite the common wisdom, there have never been very many extravagant dishes, nor was anyone ever instructed to ‘first catch your hare.’ Mrs. Beeton didn’t worry about whether you found your meat at the market or in the local Lord’s woods. Her concern was making sure you cooked it in the tastiest, most healthful possible ways and carved it neatly so that every person at the table could get an equal and attractive share.
But there’s a great deal more to the Book of Household Management than just the recipes. After all, there’s a lot more to managing a household than cooking. From the first, the Book has included lots of information on cleaning, organizing finances, child care, and medical advice. My 1992 edition includes a rather fascinating section on legal issues, and the older one has a section to teach your servants how to wait at table properly.
Did Isabella know her stuff? Well, she was the oldest of four children. Her father, Benjamin Mayson, died quite early. Her mother then remarried a gentleman named Henry Dorling, who was a widower with four children of his own. The Dorlings proceeded to have another thirteen children. That made Isabella the eldest of twenty-two offspring. I’m guessing her emphasis on practical matters and economical management was based strongly in her early life.
You can find the complete text of the original book at ExClassics.com, but I’m going to go ahead and include one of the recipes here To Dress Carrots in the German Way:
TO DRESS CARROTS IN THE GERMAN WAY.
1101. INGREDIENTS.– 8 large carrots, 3 oz. of butter, salt to taste, a very little grated nutmeg, 1 tablespoonful of finely-minced parsley, 1 dessertspoonful of minced onion, rather more than 1 pint of weak stock or broth, 1 tablespoonful of flour.
Mode.– Wash and scrape the carrots, and cut them into rings of about 1/4 inch in thickness. Put the butter into a stewpan; when it is melted, lay in the carrots, with salt, nutmeg, parsley, and onion in the above proportions. Toss the stewpan over the fire for a few minutes, and when the carrots are well saturated with the butter, pour in the stock, and simmer gently until they are nearly tender. Then put into another stewpan a small piece of butter; dredge in about a tablespoonful of flour; stir this over the fire, and when of a nice brown colour, add the liquor that the carrots have been boiling in; let this just boil up, pour it over the carrots in the other stewpan, and let them finish simmering until quite tender. Serve very hot.
This vegetable, dressed as above, is a favourite accompaniment of roast pork, sausages, &c. &c.
Time.– About 3/4 hour. Average cost, 6d. to 8d. per bunch of 18.
Sufficient for 6 or 7 persons.
Seasonable.– Young carrots from April to June, old ones at any time.
See? No need whatsoever to catch your own hare. But you could cook that today, and it would still be nice with pork.
This is weirdly brilliant, in the way turducken is weirdly brilliant. It’s nice to see some respectful innovation around traditional holiday meals, while still putting a kooky, 21st-Century, I-wouldn’t-do-it-but-Reddit-will-go-apeshit-for-it slant on things.
This is nothing less than a Thanksgiving cake made out of ground turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and yams, and frosted with mashed potatoes. Here’s your recipe, don’t all click at once!
Before you laugh, remember the hottest item in the gourmet’s arsenal over the past few years has been flavoured foam. We are obviously cooking in the time of Surrealism, and this is a perfect, and not difficult, iteration of the meme. And think about it; this would be darn tasty. It’s basically just a vertical, poultry-based Shepherd’s Pie, and who doesn’t love Shepherd’s Pie?
That’s the watchword for the new Nora Ephron movie, Julie & Julia, in which Meryl Streep once again proves herself to be the screen actress without peer. Like the food she prepares, her performance is simply scrumptious.
“What do you like to do?” Paul asks Julia.
“Eat!” she says with her inimitable hoot. “I like to eat!”
And from this moment of insight, as simple as it is penetrating, a woman accustomed to getting things done set about to change the way Americans eat.
But how did Julie Powell swing this book deal and then this movie deal? To be portrayed by Amy Adams, and to garner Meryl Streep as your star takes moxie.
Amy Adams bubbles with her usual performance – perky and cute – with an occasional dramatic reach into pouty and cute. The angst of wanting to be a writer, however, is nowhere shown convincingly on screen.
Having taken a look at Julie Powell’s blog, however, Mr. Henry thinks perhaps Amy Adams may have been appropriately cast after all. It’s no wonder Julia dismissed Julie. Julia was a serious person, someone who wouldn’t waste her time or yours. No matter the subject, Julie writes sentences that are perky and cute spiced here and there with swear words. Like red pepper flakes on overcooked broccoli, it’s both overdone and under-imagined. The tone is breathy, squishy and, most damning, cheerful.
That Julie learned how to cook through Mastering the Art of French Cooking and took along thousands of readers along with her, however, is indeed commendable. Learning to cook enriches your life and the world around you. If you cook with what the French call intelligence, that is, practical good sense, you will perforce buy good local food which in turn promotes markets for that food.
Mr. Henry is not a jealous person but he wonders whether or not Judith Jones, famed Knopf editor, might possibly work him into her schedule. He’s thinking of which actor might portray him in the movie. Tyrone Power, Jr., perhaps?
You may be right, but basic middle-school mathematics remain essential to adult life, particularly the concept of ratio as amplified by Michael Ruhlman.
Baking always seems to be more wizardry than science. While rolling dough you must pay special attention to keep the butter from melting. With confidence only gained by experience, that is, the experience of failure, you must administer timely applications of ice water.
Firm in the belief that all sensuous pursuits require spontaneity, however, whenever Mr. Henry sings, bakes or makes love, he likes to wing it. And since winging it precludes thumbing through cookbooks searching for recipes, he rarely follows directions.
Ruhlman’s Ratio is the new bible for a chef in the heat of passion. No fumbling around for cookbooks. No fluttering the pages. No searching in the dark for your chef’s toque.
Do you judge a book by its cover? For Ratio, the book is the cover, that is, the treatise inside is summarized in the chart illustrated on the cover. Ratio is a Periodic Table of the elements of cooking, especially for custard, crust, dough and sauce.
Mr. Henry’s favorite ratio is phi, the golden ratio first described by Euclid in 300 BC (or very nearly). The angle of the Great Pyramid (Khufu) at Giza conforms precisely to this ratio. Some argue that the Parthenon does, as well.
The golden ratio is 1 to 1.6180339887. Unique among positive numbers, the ratio of the short part to the long part is the same as the ratio of the long part to the whole. That is, A is to B as B is to A + B. This ratio occurs naturally in the arrangement of branches along stems as well as in the geometry of crystals. Throughout the Renaissance the golden ratio was considered to be the guiding principle of aesthetics.
What does the golden ratio have to do with food? Although Ruhlman fails to pursue this avenue of enquiry, a serious lacuna in his exegesis, fortunately for his readers Mr. Henry can report the surprising answer here:
Bread, the staff of life, man’s essential food, what Charles Issawi called “the only thing worth eating.”
In bread the ratio of water to flour is 3 to 5, close to the golden ratio of 10 to 16, arguably close enough to achieve mathematic and aesthetic harmony. Q.E.D.
This is the story of a duck that became a ham but failed to find happiness roasted atop lentils. Chopped into hash and sautéed in two spoons of its own pure white fat, however, the duck found bliss as simple peasant fare.
Following instructions has never been one of Mr. Henry’s signal virtues. He subscribes to the well-worn opinion that “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” an argument applicable to husband or father, young or old. When banging kitchen pots and pans, a real man resents the intrusion of recipes. This applies equally when asking directions from his car.
Mr. Henry decided to do duck, a dish he rarely attempts principally because its stubborn flesh refuses to become tender. Either it emerges undercooked – chewy and bloody – or it emerges overcooked – dry and tough – its rich dark flavor forever lost in murky, carbonized grease.
For help Mr. Henry turned to a platter of figs, his favorite new cookbook.
After cutting away a thick winter’s layer of fat and skin, leaving only a modest covering, he brined duck sections for two days and then boiled them for 45 minutes. The results were neither beautiful nor appetizing.
In the leftover duck stock he cooked lentils which were quite tasty. Then he sautéed a mirepoix (diced carrots, celery, and onion) in duck fat. Mixed into the lentils, the result was scrumptious, precisely fulfilling the requisite Valentine profile of a rich, robust and lusty meal.
Because the duck hams were dry, oh so dry, Mr. Henry put the brined, boiled, and baked fowl out of its overwrought misery. He chopped the flesh into hash, giblets and all. Mixed with lentils and reheated in a skillet (with another tablespoon of duck fat), the mishmash magically transformed into a wintry romance.
The remaining ham stock will be used to make Boston baked beans. The remaining pint of rendered duck fat, Crisco of the gods, snowy promise of singular flavor, will be used to coat duck legs for that ultimate slow-cooked taste delight – confit – or else to make the very best fried potatoes.