25 May 2009

The Victorian Kitchen

I love Victorian kitchens. They tend to have Victorian kitchen gardens with lovely glass houses attached. The Victorian kitchen was often a multi-room cathedral to cooking. Like so much of the Victorian era there was rabid kitchen excess, much as there is today. The kitchen was becoming mechanized and there were fabulous gadgets obscure enough to make James Bond drool, such as Burgess & Sons Patent Signal Egg Boiler. This device, available in wood, or iron or brass could be set to ring at specific intervals for the perfectly boiled egg. There was a special stand you could buy and each Burgess & Sons Patent Signal Egg Boiler came packed in its own wooden box.

Victorian kitchens were filled with cooper pots and pans and molds of every kind. Of course, like so many things Victorian, you needed a gigantic manor house to support such a large kitchen and garden. Then there is the staff, a head cook, the gardener, the guy to shovel the coal for the stove, all those people to clean. I know it is too impractical for words. Still it seems so romantic to those of us aspiring to the “upstairs”.

In the late 1980’s, the BBC took a shine to those pesky Victorians and began a series of programs trying to replicate that time. First they found an old walled garden that they were able to restore. The Victorian Kitchen Garden was huge success. After they had the garden up running the BBC found they needed a place to cook those vegetables. The hunt was on to find an actual Victorian kitchen to restore. In a moment of serendipity, they found a dilapidated kitchen complete with rusty stove within a few miles of their walled garden. The Victorian Kitchen was a go and of course, a book followed.

Ruth Mott, who had been a scullery maid in the 1930’s came aboard as the cook. The recipes were culled from a collection of antique cookbooks. Here’s a recipe from The Cook’s Oracle, 1840, for a usual luncheon dish or snack.

Scotch Woodcock

4 slices bread
10 anchovies
4 egg yolks
1/2 pint cream

Toast the bread and butter it well on both sides. Take the anchovies, washed, scraped and chopped fine, and put them between the slices of toast. Have ready the yolks of four eggs well beaten, and half a pint of cream, which set over the fire to thicken but not boil. Pour it over the toast and serve it to the table as hot as possible.

Ruth’s note A tasty and less fiddly alternative is to use Gentleman’s relish or anchovy essence instead of the anchovies.

I am as adventurous as the next person, but frankly, anchovy toast poached in milk is beyond me, no matter how many cooper cauldrons you have hanging over the stove.

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