Appropriately, as today is joined up for blog-tea with Cornflower day, it's but a short hop from there across Russell Square to Persephone Books in Lamb's Conduit Street and they very kindly gave me shelter for various lunches and teas during my three days of London gallivanting. It's no hardship to sit in amongst all the books, I addressed a few catalogues to help out, and this time I explored the seventeenth century cellar complete with seventeenth century spiders and also took in the annual Persephone Lecture delivered by Bee Wilson.
You might remember the venue and the chairs from last year, The Art Workers Guild in Queen Square, a short walk from the shop and delightfully historic surroundings in which to sit and listen to Bee talking about A New System of Domestic Cookery by Mrs Rundell.
The Guild was Founded in 1884 by twenty-five painters, architects, sculptors, designers and craftsmen who, drawing in William Morris a few years later, established themselves as a diverse group who promoted education in all the visual arts and crafts, maintaining high standards of design and craftsmanship in any way that may be of benefit to the community.
Bee's talk was fascinating and made more so as she handed round a tub of isinglass for us to sniff.
I'd heard of it from that 1930's Household Wants Indicator that sits on our kitchen wall but I had never really known its purpose.
Prepared from the air bladder of sturgeon and predictably vile to smell I tell you, utterly vile but regularly used as a clarifier in the cookery of yore and the beer-making of today.
I can only wonder who on earth discovered the clarifying properties of a sturgeon's air bladder and how?
Cornflower and I had already decided on Agnes Jekyll's Kitchen Essays, first published in 1922, for this month's tea party and I have a feeling Karen will have prepared something quite delicious from the book and hopefully without the use of isinglass.
Browsing through, it occurred to me how slightly foodily squeamish we've become these days despite the best efforts of Hugh Fearnley Roadkill and, in contrast, what strong stomachs cooks used to have who, working in cahoots with the butcher 'who must be not your enemy but your friend and ally', were busy cooking up a storm in the kitchen as follows
'Having removed the brains from half a calf's head, put it in a stewpan with a little salt and water to cover, and bring it to the boil....simmer gently for five hours, then strain and leave to set. Next day remove fat, and clarify, adding a turtle tablet...'
Eventually this will be set before the eager diners as Consomme Fausse Tortue for which elderly alderman and hunters home from the hill and the rigours of the chase will bless you...yes really.
Can you imagine the complaints to the BBC if Delia Smith started scooping out calf's brains...probably with a tool she's designed specially ?
Or perhaps Sainsbury's would sell out of calf's brains the very next day and Lakeland will put the scooper into mass production, who knows.
We've hardly recovered here from the memorable day Delia pulverized anchovies in the food processor. I had three little screaming children on my hands until I explained that I felt sure the fish were already dead when she pressed the switch, but the nightmares were of the great anchovy massacre for weeks afterwards.
Something called Fritto Misto however really does read like a transplant list, brains, liver, kidneys, sweetbreads (is that spleen?) lights (is that lungs) but Agnes (who was the sister-in-law of Gertrude the gardener) approaches it all with gusto assuring us that this will most certainly remind one of that visit to Venice and the silent gondola gliding along mysterious canals...which all has me quite worried about what might be floating around in those same canals.
Offal has most certainly gone out of fashion but I was raised on a good deal of it and I'll bet some of you were too.
I was also raised on rice pudding and this recipe for Dundee sounds like just the thing to divert the mind from sweet little calves.
'Boil sufficient rice in milk until cooked rather firm, sweeten and fill in therewith a fireproof glass or nice-looking dish, adding a spendthrift's spreading of juicy home-made marmalade, and leaving a small valley in the centre for the following mixture to fill in: Butter, 2 1/2 ozs., melted but not allowed to oil, adding to it while warm, 2 1/2ozs. sugar and the yolks of 5 eggs mixed well together and beaten till light. Pour this all over. Bake in a not very hot oven from 1/2 to 3/4 hour. It should be a pleasant cafe-au-lait brown on the top, like the ideal sponge cake, and there should be enough for six people without the second helpings they will ask for, which are as inartistic as encores at the opera.'
Kitchen Essays is a lovely book combining both recipes and social history with sections as various as A Dinner Before the Play, A Motor Excursion Luncheon, Recipes for the ' Too Fat' or the 'Too Thin', Food for Artists and Speakers, Bachelors Entertaining, A Shooting Party Luncheon so really without much ado I think we should head over to Cornflower and see what Karen has conjured up for us
'Let us housekeepers give more of our best brains to the work. We must put those thoroughbreds, Imagination, Generosity, Invention into harness with our jaded hacks, Custom, Thrift and the Commonplace as they drag along Time's hurrying chariot to the often depressing sound of the family gong.'
I wonder if it's Consomme Fausse Tortue?
Or even better that 'excellent pacificator' Home Cured Tongue.Choose two large fresh ox-tongues turning them every day in their pickling bath for from 3 to 4 weeks and letting them lie in the pickle...