16 July 2012

The Mistress Cook

In 1867 Mrs. Beeton wrote the following:

“Men are now so well served out of doors – at clubs, hotels and restaurants – that, to compete with the attraction of these places, a mistress must be thoroughly acquainted with the theory and practice of cookery, as well as all the other arts of making and keeping a comfortable home.”

Peter Gray’s “mistress” is the 1950’s mistress of the house and not of merely the bedroom.  Peter Gray was indeed a “mistress” of all trades.  He became enamored of the culinary when he was a boy spending time in Paris.  He would eventually become a professor of Biological Science at the University of Pittsburgh.   Along the way he was a printer, bookbinder, gem cutter, fisherman and photographer.

In The Mistress Cook, Gray brought together a thousand recipes from twelve countries over six centuries.  The recipes are at once simple and familiar as well as exotic and complex.    There is an extended chapter at the end of the book devoted to spices and spice mixes.  There is a chapter full of sauces and stocks devoted to major and minor sauces. 

It is a book written in the 1950’s, so there are no lists of exact ingredients.  There are two pages of instruction for puff pastry.  According to Gray, the best way to learn to make puff pastry is the to do it over and over.  One does not become tennis pro by reading about tennis.  Go ahead and buy puff pastry.

This book is an excellent overview of the history of cooking and cooking techniques.  It is indeed what Gray set out to do, provide a vast collection of recipes over continents and time periods.  One would be best served to find a recipe and search out a modern recipe.

Here is a recipe for a favorite Southern fare – collards.


I am told by an elderly Southern gentleman of my acquaintance, that this leather-leaved survivor of the past can be rendered edible by boiling it for a week with fat pork.
Seriously, collards only need about 8 hours to cook!

Here is another recipe featuring my favorite cauliflower with the regal name, Crème du Barry. 

Crème du Barry

Cook a small cauliflower in slated water until it can conveniently be divided into florets.  Mix the florets with an equal volume of grated potatoes and a quarter of their volume of grated onion.  Put this mixture in a pan, cover it liberally with milk, and simmer until the vegetables are sludged.  Put it through a sieve or food mill.

Don’t you just love a recipe that has “sludged” vegetables?   Though not that appetizing, sludged is the perfect description for what these vegetables will look like when simmered.  There is not a cookbook publisher out there who would let an author describe veggies as "sludged" and yet it is spot on.

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