16 May 2009

Kitchen Essays

Agnes Jekyll was the sister-in-law of famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. It has been said that if Gertrude Jekyll was an artist-gardener, then Agnes was an artist-housekeeper. Mary Lutyens, the daughter of designer Edwin Lutyens, described Agnes Jekyll’s house as, “the apogee of opulent comfort and order without grandeur, smelling of pot-pouri, furniture polish and wood smoke.”

Her witty kitchen essays offer tips and recipes for many occasions. Her notes on a first dinner party fail to reveal that Agnes Jekyll's first dinner party included Robert Browning, John Ruskin, and Edward Burne-Jones, so the bar is set a bit high! But if you follow these simple steps you can invite anyone you please.

Their First Dinner Party

It must not err on the side of parsimony, nor yet by its lavishness vex those new relations or old aunts whose attitude has been characterized as “affectionate but hostile.”

“Not fewer in number than the Graces, nor yet exceeding the Muses,” runs an old adage regarding the perfect party.*

If you can establish a name for having good food…friends will grow lyrical over your cold mutton.

Julienne Soup

Clear soup gives the cook her first chance, and already a dress rehearsal will have given a taster of it’s quality. Having attained to a taste of its quality. Having attained a well-flavoured consommé, cut some carrots, onions, celery, turnips, into a small dice, if for a Brunoise; and into fine strips with the green parts of leeks added, if for Julienne. Cook these slowly to a golden color in plenty of butter for an hour (the butter does again for similar purposes), and sprinkle them lightly with white sugar. Drain them dry, put them into the simmering consommé, and let them gently cook from 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Julienne soup sounded fun, but I must tell you that cooking julienned carrots for an hour in butter and then 2 hours in a consommé leads me to believe there will be gracious little "julienne" in that broth. Seriously, cooking carrots, turnips and onions for three hours gives you mush, but it must have been good mush because John Ruskin never complained.

Kitchen Essays is another in the series of books published by Persephone Books. Persephone Books is a small British press that reprints lovely copies of lost classics. The plain grey covers give way to glorious endpapers like the ones in Kitchen Essays, taken from a printed silk designed by George Sheringham for Seftons in 1922. (Yes the covers are a respectable light grey and not that dark flannel that came out in the above photo. Rest assured I am a better cook than photographer.) Check out They Can't Ration These, another Persephone Book featured at Cookbook of the Day.

* Three Graces and Nine Muses -- add in yourself as the Hostess and your dinner party should be 4 to 10 people. Don't set out the caviar for those bitchy "aunts," you weren't good enough for their nephew anyway. But do try the julienne soup with that cold mutton and old girls should wax positively lyrical.

Of course, if they like it too much, you might have to invite them again. What a dilemma.

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