Delights Of The Table - Eating Without Fear
( Originally Published 1923 )
I have tried, as far as I know, all the known ways of living—hotels, boarding houses, furnished rooms, furnished. apartments with housekeeping privileges," clubs, unfurnished apartments, and houses. But for my acumen, when in my early twenties, I would be a dyspeptic old buffer to-day. Thirty years ago, hotels, as a general mode of living, were beyond my means, and cheap ones were so bad. Boarding houses were impossible—I tried one for six months and came to the conclusion that boarding house cuisine (Heaven help the appellation!) would kill me in a year, notwithstanding th I had a most excellent and amenable landlady, who, as far as in her lay, catered to my every wish, God bless her soul! But her achievements were not on a level with her good will. The best of friends must part when one's own life is at stake, and I found the eternal breakfast of steak, chops, or eggs was getting on, what we nowadays call, my "nerves." While we remained the best of friends, I shook off the dust of the boarding house and rented a furnished apartment with the intention of doing my own cooking. I knew how things ought to taste and look, and I experimented. I had a few failures—one I particularly remember was the stuffing of a roast goose. I put in too much sage, so that it was too bitter to eat, but the goose itself was excellent. And while talking of goose, do not fail to try my imitation canvas-hack duck (page 66). It is delicious.
When I became what I thought proficient, I invited a friend—who by the way is now the premier theatrical power in England—to dine with me. So great was the success of the dinner that the upshot of it was he joined me in the fiat. We had a most wonderful colored lassie to do the chores, but I attended to the cooking. My table obtained quite a reputation on the Rialto of those days. We seldom sat down less than four, and on Sundays provided for six or eight. They were merrie times, those days in the early nineties. When one can get actors away from their boring "shop talk," they are amusing people and the stories I heard and the witty badinage more than repaid for the trouble the dinner had given me. And yet it was not so much trouble after all. Some people make too much of a business of cooking. Properly man-aged, cooking is the simplest of work and nowhere is an efficiency expert so needed as in the kitchen. The fact is that generally the kitchen is the province of the woman, and women, bless their hearts and pretty eyes, are not as a rule efficient managers. There are exceptions, mark ye, great, glorious, and noble exceptions; but there is nothing I hate more than to see a woman, hot, tired, and untidy from cooking a dinner I am supposed to eat. It takes all the pleasure out of the meal.
When I lived in England for some years, while I was yet a bachelor, I rented furnished rooms and let the landlady "do for me," that is, she served all meals in my own rooms. She also did the- marketing. All I had to do was to tell her in the morning what I wanted, and pay the bills at the end of the week. This was a really comfortable way of living, because I had the good fortune to select landladies who, in a previous state of existence, had been cooks in large houses and who, having married the butler, settled down to "let lodgings." So I not only had a first-rate cook, but very often a butler and valet thrown in. While much has been written about the rapacious landlady (and the lodging-house cat, who has acquired the reputation of eating all food belonging to the lodger, from half a dozen eggs to a sirloin of beef,) my own experience has been that they are honest, hardworking, obliging, and in every way admirable. One dear old soul I lived with, was particularly fond of long words. I always enquired after her health—she seemed to think took a personal interest in it. "Well, Mrs. Goodenough," I said one morning, "and how are you to-day?" Oh, sir," she replied, "I'm in a state of collopse. I suffered from insomonia all night." Another landlady of mine had been maid, previous to her marriage, to Mrs. Arthur Bouchier (Miss Violet Vanburgh). One evening we were talking, as she stood at the door, fondling the doorhandle, and we were speaking of different actors and actresses. "Mrs. Alexander is a very nice lady, isn't she?" asked she. "I don't know," I replied, "I've never met her." (We were speaking of 'Mrs. George Alexander, the wife of the famous actor-manager who was afterwards knighted.) "Is she on the stage?" I went on. "Oh, no," she replied, "she's a lady." "Yes, I know," I said, "but is she an actress?" "Oh, no," returned my jewel, "she's quite a lady." Who was it said no man was a hero to his valet? This good landlady was a plain, but very good cook. Her grilled bacon—cooked in a Dutch oven in front of the open kitchen fire—was superb. Sometimes she would serve a tomato with this-also grilled in the Dutch oven. A Dutch oven, by the way, for those unregenerate ones to whom its uses are unknown, is like a tin box with one side missing. This hooks on the bars of the stove, and the bacon, kidneys, sausages, or whatever you are cooking, are hung on hooks for the purpose and toasted, while the back of the box keeps the heat in. There is a trough at the bottom to catch the dripping fat. It is curious how very different things cooked this way taste from the same things fried. There is an oven used by campers for roasting in front of a wood fire, which is much the same principle as the Dutch oven.
This has been a terrible digression from cooking,—this talking of my landladies,—but somehow they are part and parcel of my culinary experience. One of my treasures was a most excellent pastrycook, and even now, after over twenty years have elapsed, I can recall the excellence of her "mutton pies," made from the remains of a shoulder of lamb. Her one failing was she had no idea of a sweet other than a "trifle," and I had to eat many a trifle, sore against my will, for fear of offending her or hurting her feelings. I have seen tears in her eyes when, what she considered a large enough hole had not been made in her chef-d'oeuvre.
I had intended to head this chapter "Poultry" and so far poultry has not been mentioned save for roast goose, and that only casually. But poultry can be so good and so bad. Restaurant and hotel poultry is generally very poor. To me it tastes of little or nothing, and a great deal of it tastes as though it had been boiled before it was roasted. The reason of this, I think, is a lack of seasoning.
Now here is the way to roast a' chicken. And by a chicken I mean a chicken and not an antiquated hen that has been killed before it died of old age. You can always tell a chicken by feeling the breast bone, the tip of which should be soft and gristly. The legs too should be smooth and not scaley. It is a bad plan to let the butcher draw the chicken, because, in nine cases out of ten, he mutilates the bird to such an extent that it is unpresentable. The smallest incision possible should be made to remove the insides, and the crop should be taken out through the neck without splitting the skin. The skin of the neck is then folded back and the bone severed as near the crop as possible. The bird should then be singed to remove all the hairs, and if any quills have been left in the skin, they should be pulled out with pincers. Where the legs have been cut at the joint, they should be folded back until the three tendons show themselves. These should be pulled out—three in each leg—with pincers. This makes the leg—the drumstick—eatable. It is very annoying to have these tendons served you on your plate.
The bird should now be stuffed both fore and aft, and both the neck and the incision in the latter end sewn up with a needle and thread. It should then be trussed, a skewer thrust through the wings, under one of which is the liver and under the other the gizzard, and the wings and legs so tied as to force up the breast and to keep the legs in position. Then it is salted, peppered, and floured all over and is ready to be put in the oven or roasted in front of the fire, covered with fat bacon. The oven should be hot but not too fierce, and the time allowed for roasting is a quarter of an hour to the pound. The bird should be basted every fifteen minutes, and for the last quarter of an hour the bacon should be removed from the breast to allow it to color a golden brown. It can be served with bacon, for preference rolled in little rounds, fried sausages, or force-meat balls and above all with thin gravy. Thick gravy should never be served with poultry.
The stuffing—or seasoning, as ultra-polite people call it-is made as follows: Half a pound of fresh bread crumbs, a cupful of chopped parsley, two chopped onions, pepper, salt, and the skin of half a lemon chopped fine. Add a sprinkling of mixed herbs and a quarter of a cupful of chopped suet. These are all mixed together and then is added one egg beaten to a froth. The body of the bird and also the crop are filled with this mixture. This is called "veal stuffing" and is used for roast veal and turkey.
Forcemeat balls are made from the above seasoning, formed into the shape of small golf balls. These are then dipped, in beaten egg and covered with breadcrumbs and are then fried in deep fat in a fry-basket and stew pan, until they are a rich golden brown. They cannot be made in shallow fat.
Personally I am very fond of bread sauce with roast fowl, capon, or turkey, but it is not every one who likes it. I remember once giving it to a sweet young thing who hailed from somewhere west of Chicago. I noticed a curious look on her face and asked her what was the matter, when she told me she "preferred her bread and milk separate." But here is how you make bread sauce—and I can thoroughly recommend it as a succulent adjunct to an excellent dish.
A large cupful of white breadcrumbs, salt, pepper. Put a cupful of milk in a saucepan with a piece of mace the size of a quarter, a few pepper-corns and an onion cut in half. Place it on a slow fire and gently heat, but do not lei it actually boil. Draw to the side of the stove and keep hot. When ready to serve, strain off the mace, pepper-corns, and onion and mix the milk with the seasoned breadcrumbs so that it is neither stiff nor thin, but about the consistency of thick cream. Get it thoroughly hot, stirring all the time, and serve in a sauceboat.
The gravy is made from the giblets of the fowl or turkey—the heart, half the gizzard, which of course has been cleaned, the feet, neck, and head. These are put in a saucepan with a chopped onion, pepper, salt, a pinch of mixed herbs and gently stewed till all the goodness has been extracted. The liquor, is then strained through a cloth and returned to the saucepan. It is brought to the boil and colored a rich brown.
The trussing of a bird is of great importance because it not only improves his personal appearance but it enables you to get a great deal more breast. To the real gourmet the best part of the bird is the wing under which the liver has been cooked. This flavors the wing and the adjacent part of the breast. And this reminds me of old S. C. Hall, the art critic of a bygone age, who in his day was a great trencherman. He was dining at the house of a friend of mine who asked him what part of the bird he preferred. "Oh, just as you like, Mr. T . It's immaterial to me—say a liver-wing and a bit of the breast." Which also reminds one of another story. My great-grandfather was a noted gourmet in his day who kept open house, and his greatest pleasure was to see his dinner table full. "Have you any preference?" he asked one of his guests, as he carved the bird. "Help me, Mr. Chinnery," responded the guest, "as you would help yourself." "Good Lord," cried the old man,—he was considerably over eighty,—as he laid down his carving knife and fork, "I wouldn't do that to my own father!"
The carver is said to be either a knave or a fool. I have more respect for the knave. Carving is really an art, which, like letter writing, is gradually passing into oblivion. Dining â la Russe has done as much harm to the present generation in the carving line as the type-writer has in the art of letter-writing. My step-father—a noble figure of a man, six-foot-two in his stockings (and there were four men in his regiment taller than he, not including the general of the Division, who was six-foot-seven!) was a most excellent carver. A sirloin of beef would disappear under his hand in perfect full slices, each no thicker than a sheet of blotting paper, delicately flicked onto the plate so that it was perfectly flat. A touch of the scraped horseradish which garnished the joint would he served with each portion, and as he carved he would carry on a brilliant conversation that would keep the diners amused e'er their plates were placed before them. And then when the cold sirloin or York ham was placed on the sideboard at breakfast when guests helped themselves, and he found that either had been badly carved, "Who's the damned fool that's been hacking at this joint?" he would bellow. He contended that part of a gentle man's education was the ability to carve well. I remember on one occasion a man whom he hated was dining with us, when calf's head was the dish. For the hated guest be served the nose, and to make sure he'd get it, "For Mr. Richards," said he to the parlor maid. His rule for us children was that we should eat everything he gave us, and woe betide us if we trimmed off the fat or crispy out-side. A little dish he was exceedingly fond of, and which by the way is excellent, is a thin slice of the fat under the undercut of the sirloin, laid on a piece of hot toast, peppered and salted, and eaten smoking hot. It is as good as marrow on toast.
I almost want to talk of the delights of Yorkshire pudding (see Yorkshire pudding, page 140), but there is a time and place for that, and I must get back to poultry. It seems to be flying away from me.
Boiled fowl is wonderful if properly cooked. I am not sure it is not better than roast fowl. Take a large fowl, about five or six pounds, not too young, but not an old warrior. Truss it so that the legs are folded down straight, close to the tail. Sew up the bird in a clean cloth, an old napkin is excellent for the purpose, and then place it in boiling water in which you have put two tea-spoonfuls of salt and two medium-sized onions. Do not let the water boil hard after the bird has been placed in it, but keep it at the side of the fire so that the surface of the water continues to move. Simmer in this way till done, allowing twenty minutes to' the pound, the weight to be determined after the fowl has been drawn. Serve with parsley sauce, which is made as follows:
Boil a large onion, whole, in a pint of water, a pinch of salt and pepper, and the rind of half a lemon, cut thin so that only the yellow skin is used. When the onion is thoroughly cooked strain the liquor into a clean sauce-pan and bring to the boil. Then, in a cup, mix up a table-spoonful of cornstarch with cold water to the consistency of cream. Pour this into the boiling liquor and stir till it thickens. Just before serving add half a cupful of chopped parsley. Pour this over the fowl so that it is completely covered.
The object of boiling the bird in a cloth is to make the skin white. Boiling is apt to turn it a yellowish gray, which is not appetizing. The sauce also helps to cover discolored parts. Boiled potatoes and a green vegetable are served with boiled fowl. French-fried or baked potatoes are best with roast fowl. The French serve their green vegetables as a separate course, but inasmuch as they do not shine as vegetable cooks, I do not think much stress need be laid on their custom.
Roast duck, properly served, is a dish for the gods. My wife-this is the first time I have mentioned her, isn't it?-always has it for her birthday. Apart from that, roast duck and green peas is the proper dish for Trinity Sunday; but in these days one has such difficulty in remembering when Trinity Sunday is. It is one of those con-founded movable feasts to which the Church is so partial, just to keep one on the gui vive all the time.
For some reason, why I know not, a duck for roasting is trussed like a fowl for boiling, i. e., with the legs down. Now the bon-bouehe of the duck is the leg. "The wing of the bird that flies, the leg of the bird that swims." Al ways give your uncle from whom you have "expectations the right leg, and if he be a real epicure, the Pope's nose also. A duck is the very divil to dismember, consequently the joints of the wing and leg should always be broken when the bird is trussed. There are special clippers for this purpose, but it is quite easy to wrench the joints apart, so that when the point of the knife is inserted, the joint comes off quite easily. The duck is then singed and quilled and if it be thought that Mr. Duck is not as young as he might be, rub him well over with vinegar. Rub it well in so that the vinegar penetrates the skin. Then cover with flour and roast in a medium oven, using his own fat to baste with. Allow twenty minutes to the pound, and about ten minutes before serving, brush the duck over with olive oil and pop it again into the oven. This serves to crisp the skin and make it "melt in your mouth." Owing to the richness of this dish, apple sauce—hot—is served with it; but if for some reason apples cannot be obtained, any sweet jam will answer the purpose. But apple sauce is much the best partner.
The stuffing for duck is made as follows: Chop two large onions fine; add a pinch of salt, pepper and celery seeds. Mix well. Then add a large teaspoonful of dried sage, which you crumble up between your fingers, a little of the duck's 'own fat chopped fine, and half a cupful of breadcrumbs. Bind this all together with a whipped egg and stuff the body of the duck with it. Fill the crop with veal (or chicken) stuffing. Serve a little of both stuffings with each portion of duck, but only a little.
Before dismissing the roast duck altogether it might be well to say that it should not be over-cooked. The meat, near the bone, should be slightly red. A wild duck is absolutely spoiled if it be over-cooked.
The gravy served with duck should be made from the drippings in the pan above which he is cooked. The fat at the top is poured off, the pan is then stood right on the hot stove and with a fork all the thick gravy which sticks to the bottom of the pan is rousted around. Add half a cupful of water and bring to the boil. It should be salt enough, but if it is not, add a little salt, but do not overdo it.
Green peas are inseparable from roast duck, and owing to the richness of the dish, boiled potatoes. If preferred, mashed potatoes (see boiled and mashed potatoes, pages 41-42) may be taken, but on no account fried ones.
When speaking of roast duck, one instinctively refers to tame duck. Wild duck is cooked in exactly the same way, but no vegetables are served with it, although it is accompanied with apple sauce. If wild duck be tough it is be-cause it has not been hung long enough. It depends entirely on the climate in which one lives, but in this temperate zone, twelve or fourteen days is not too long to hang a duck. It should be "gamey" without being "high." By the way, a duck or any game bird should be hung with the "trails" in. It keeps much better than if it be drawn first.
And now comes this threatened, or shall I say promised recipe for imitation canvas-back duck. Take a freshly killed duck and draw it. Fill the cavity with chopped celery—the coarse outside sticks and leaves answer the purpose. Renew this every two days and keep the bird hanging in a cold cellar or in the ice box for ten or twelve days. Then truss it and stuff it with chopped celery—the fine sticks this time—and roast as already described, not forgetting to oil the skin. The meat has a wonderful and delicate taste of celery, not at all unlike canvas-back duck.
Braised Duck: The duck is cut up into portions and turned over in the frying pan with some of its own fat, just sufficient to brown the outside. Into a saucepan place several onions cut in rings, and over these pour the remainder of the fat from the frying pan. Next put some sliced carrots and turnips cut in dice on the top of the onions, a sprinkling of mixed herbs and sage, salt, pepper, and three small onions in each of which are three cloves. On the top of all these vegetables place the jointed duck. Last of all add a cupful of water and then cover with a paper-lined lid and cook very gently for two and a half hours. Never open the pot, but shake it from time to time to prevent it sticking. If anything burns it will be the onions, and that won't matter. But if the fire is right there is no danger. If desired, the gravy can be thickened with cornstarch, but it is not necessary, besides which it destroys the flavor somewhat. Rice served with this is delicious.
Capon au maize is, I believe, a creation of Odinino, of grateful memory. A capon or a chicken is filled with canned corn, salted and peppered, to which is added a small onion chopped fine. The bird is then sewn up and roasted. The meat is flavored with the corn, and when the bird is carved, rich gravy flows from the inside. It is a truly excellent dish, but plenty of corn must be used, as it seems to disappear.
Boiled and roast capon are cooked exactly the same way as boiled and roasted fowl. But do not be palmed off with a big fowl for a capon. There is as much difference between a capon and a fowl, as there is between a pony and a horse.