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Below Stairs Recipes & Tips
After a rich or heavy dinner such as will do everyone a power of good in nasty weather (for our stomachs go by the barometer and not the calendar), sliced sweet fruit or a medley of fruit done up in light syrup as a "salad" can be acidic and unsatisfying. Far better after thick soup, then meat and potatoes, to finish off with a pudding which holds its own. What better than the favourite treat of all our childhoods — rice pudding — made even more delicious with just a little butter, cream and eggs and some candied fruits to tempt both palate and eye.
To serve four (or six if there has been a fish course too).
Wash the rice and put in a bain marie with a quarter pint of the milk, half the sugar and the vanilla pod. NB: if the cream has separated, save it until the second stage of the recipe. Cover the bain marie and keep the water boiling under it, stirring the rice from time to time until it is tender and the milk has been taken up into it. (“Mine eyes have seen the Glory” with all four verses and three rounds of glory, glory Alleluia between each is just right. If the rice was well-washed in warm water before beginning, there will be no need to repeat the chorus at the end, rousing though it be.)
Remove the vanilla pod, stir in the butter, which you have cut into chips with a knife and set the rice aside to keep hot.
Now make the custard.
Beat the eggs with the rest of the sugar and milk (using every scrap of cream now). Cook the mixture very gently in a second bain marie until it is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. If the household only possesses one bain marie, it is perfectly acceptable to move the cooked rice into a warm bowl and leave on the back of the range, then start the custard in the same washed-out vessel as before. Such make-do and mend measures have a tendency to lead to frayed tempers and flusterment, however, and in such households as those perhaps a plainer pudding would be preferred.
In a large warmed bowl, gently the stir the hot rice and hot custard together until thoroughly mixed.
Soften the gelatine in the cold sherry for about three verses of Fight the Good Fight (Or since all four verses are equally fine, sing fast and do not stir).
Add the gelatine to the hot rice mixture, set the bowl over a third bain-marie (or one of the first two, rinsed. The rinsing can easily be done while the gelatine is melting and many well-equipped houses nevertheless do not possess three.) Stir over a low heat until the gelatine has dissolved and no dark streaks of sherry are remaining.
Now add the sieved jam, cherries, angelica and ginger, folding them in to achieve an even distribution. Pour the mixture into a basin, cover with a clean cloth and leave until lightly set. A wooden spoon banged on the side of the basin should make the mixture tremble. If it quivers or wobbles it is set too hard and must be warmed through, have a little cream added and allowed to cool again.
When a soft, trembling set is duly won whip the double cream to peaks just rightly between soft and firm and fold this into to the main body of the pudding. Spoon very gently into a mould. Do not pour as this will collapse the cream quite calamitously.
Now leave the mould in a cool larder until it is quite firm, when it can be turned out onto a plate and decorated with more whipped cream, cherries, ginger and angelica leaves. Truly a pudding worthy of Her Late Majesty's imperial stamp. (NB If too much cream was added when the first set was attempted and the second set is too soft, the resulting mess makes a fair start for a trifle.)
In the ordinary way of things, a fish supper is purchased at the harbourside, on the High Street or even from a street vendor, but in exile or extremis can be cooked at home.
First for the batter. Sift the flour into a bowl and whisk in the beer or soda. 2 tbsps of malt vinegar added now will make the batter even crisper. Set the bowl aside to rest for half an hour or more.
Next, the potatoes. Peel them and cut them into "chips" the size of your pinkie. Guddle them in cold water to take off some starch and pat them dry in a tea-towel.
Heat the dripping until it is shimmering hot. Test the heat by dropping in a wee tiny bit of batter off a spoon. It should sink and immediately rise, crisp and gold. If it does not sink, your fat is too cold. If it rises brown, your fat is too hot.
Tip the chipped potatoes into the pan of fat and let them fry until they are palest gold and sparkling, then lift them out with a wire spoon and keep them near.
Now, at last, for the fish. Dip each fillet in the batter until it is coated and lower them gently one by one into the fat. Do not crowd the pan. Each fish will cook in five minutes or so. Take them out of the fat on a slotted spoon when the batter is puffed and golden. Keep the first fish hot in an oven while the later fish cook.
When all the fillets are cooked, return the potatoes to the pan to fry again while the fish is put on warm plates and the diners are called. When the chipped potatoes are golden brown, lift them out of the fat and onto the plates, shaking off a little of the dripping, but by no means all.
Fish is a valuable article of diet for any invalid, as it is one of the lightest forms of solid food and so much less stimulating than meat. There is surely no more tempting dish for the sick than a nice fish custard.
1 fresh egg
Any nicely cooked fish will do for this, but whiting is perhaps one of the most suitable, being so delicate in flavour, tender in its fibres and modest in cost. A sole would be wasted here.
Chop the fish and season very lightly with salt and white pepper. Switch up the egg with the milk and then add in the fish.
Pour all into a cup or small basin well-greased with fresh butter, cover with buttered paper and steam slowly for around ten minutes until set.
Turn out onto a dainty plate and decorate with a sprig of parsley and a slice of lemon.
If the fish custard is too rich or the patient is very weak, egg water, barley water or linseed tea might be tried. My stand-by, though, is toast water.
1 slice of stale bread or crust
The crust of the bread is best as it does not sour quite so readily. Toast it well on both sides until dry and nicely browned, without being the slightest bit blackened.
Have the water, which must be very fresh and cold, in a jug; break the toast into pieces and put it into the water.
Do not pour the water onto the toast. It will turn thick and cloudy and make a drink most unappetising.
Cover the jug and let the toast soak until the water is the colour of sherry wine. Then strain and serve cold.
This makes a refreshing and delicious drink. There is no need for lemon, sugar or any other flavourings. One glass of toast water in place of a meal is guaranteed to see the patient ready to tackle solid food at the next mealtime.
My toast water has, many a time, set a patient on the road to recovery when even peptonised arrowroot, treacle gruel and the apothecary had been powerless to help them.
My own scone recipe came from my grandmother Tilling who was the finest scone-hand in her parish for many a long year, but I am bidden to pass on the following for your interest.
I would no more ruin a good cherry by soaking it in brandy, than I would make scones with eggs, so on the latter of the two recipes here, I cannot pass any comment. Judge not, we are told, and so I won’t, but not, mark you, that I be not judged, for I would put my scones up against these any day.
8oz self-raising flour
Rub the butter through the sifted, salted flour to fine breadcrumbs, then add the sugar and mix well. Beat together the egg and milk and add little by little to the mixture, stirring with a knife until the dough comes together and leaves the bowl clean.
Roll out the dough on a floured board and cut the scones. Cook, brushed with a little egg and milk, on a baking tray, in a hot oven, for ten minutes and cool briefly on a wire rack until teatime. [Note: these scones will be very rich already and will not be palatable if served with good jam, much less with a dollop of cream, so they might be a god-send for any cook who has no talent with the jelly-pan or whose budgeting does not allowed for the use of cream at tea. Mrs T.]
4 lb cherries
Wash and dry the fruit and prick all over with a pin. Put the fruit and sugar in a demi-john and pour in the brandy. Stopper tightly with a cork and keep in the cool and dim for six months, turning the bottle weekly. When the time is up strain the contents through muslin six times, pour into bottles and re-cork. Keep for another six months before opening. There will be a fine tasty liqueur at the end of this, excellent for a pick-me-up or as a general tonic. [A cup of good beef bouillon does the same job a sight quicker. Mrs T.]
The egg should be very fresh. Boil a shallow pan of lightly salted water on top of the stove. When boiling, break the egg into it gently. Simmer with the lid off. The perfect poached egg has no set yolk and no unset white and this stage is reached in two verses and a chorus ofThe Old Rugged Cross or Rock of Ages in its entirety. Lift out the cooked egg with a draining spoon and rest on a folded cloth for a moment before transferring to a warm - not hot - serving dish. Garnish - if the egg is perfectly cooked - is quite unnecessary.
Should the cooked egg have ragged edges these can be trimmed off in an instant with kitchen shears and eaten up with a little salt.
Poached eggs should never be made in advance and left to rest in a chafing dish as this will cause toughness in the egg. In extreme cases the yolk may set. Neither should they ever be taken to the dining room on a slice of buttered toast as this will cause the toast to become soggy. If the egg is to be served on a smoked fillet, however, the dish may be assembled in the kitchen and taken in without danger.
A tomato sandwich is wholesome, delicious and well worth perfecting.
Tomatoes should always be left to ripen on a sunny windowsill, never left in the larder.
If the tomatoes are perfectly ripe and sweet, they will require no more preparation than to be wiped, peeled and thinly sliced. To peel, drop into boiling water and let rest there for two choruses and a verse of Onward Christian Soldiers (or There is a Green Hill Far Away if decorum demands it).
If you have been brought tomatoes which are not what you might have desired, or if some upset in the kitchen has prevented you from planning ahead and bringing them to ripeness, inferior tomatoes may be dealt with thus.
Peel as indicated above, slice thinly and lay out on a large plate. Sprinkle with a judicious combination of salt, sugar, sweet vinegar and pepper in proportions chosen to correct the deficiences. For instance, for over-sharp tomatoes, more sugar than salt; for over-bland tomatoes, more vinegar than sugar etc etc. Leave for twenty minutes.
Drain away any juices which have leached out of the tomatoes as they rested, but do not discard these juices; they can form the base of a dressing for a salad of leaves or of rice. If no dish of salad is planned, the juices can be mopped up with a piece of bread by the cook.
Use fresh white bread, sliced not too thin and liberally buttered - the butter must form a barrier to prevent the tomato juices from rendering the bread soggy and the sandwich inedible. A little extra salt and pepper may be added, especially if the butter is sweet. Mustard, cress, or chopped chives may be added to taste if desired but, when the tomatoes are good, the bread fresh and the butter all that it should be, no garnish is ever necessary.
A good leg of fatty mutton, hung for a fortnight, roasted slowly and served with a fruit sauce will make an excellent winter dinner for the family when there are no, or very few, extra guests.
Take the meat from the larder as soon as the breakfast work is finished. Wipe it with a cloth if the skin is at all damp, then rub all over with salt and pepper and lay in a deep roasting pan. A small glass of port wine may be poured into the pan at this stage, and a branch of young rosemary is not out of place. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or, if the lid is loose, make a paste to seal the join.
Put into a very slow oven and leave to roast. The meat will be ready in three to four hours and will come to no harm inside six, allowing ample time to walk to church and back, no matter the distance nor the length of the sermon.
At the end of the cooking time, lift out the meat carefully on paddles, put onto a warmed plate, cover with the roasting-pan lid and leave in a warm place. With the addition of a little cornflour and a tablespoon of currant, plum, or blackberry jam (sieved) the juices in the pan make an excellent sauce. A little of the fat strained off may be used to coat potatoes if no other dripping is to hand.
The leg of mutton should be served with the crisped potatoes all around. No other garnish is necessary.
Clean and trim but do not peel your onions. Pack them into a heavy, buttered pot as tightly as possible, dot some more butter on top and cover the pot with a close-fitting lid. Put in a stove overnight, all day or until the onions are soft when you press them. If the stove goes out and the cooking stops, just lay the pot aside and start again when your stove is re-heating.
When the onions are as soft as new rolls to the touch, squeeze them out of their skins. You can throw the skins away or put them in the stock pot for a bit of colour if you're that kind of good housewife who never wastes a thing.
Put the onions back in the cooking pot and pour some good creamy milk in with them, but stop before you can see the milk around the onions or your stew will be soup. Add some salt and pepper and a scrape of nutmeg if you have it, then warm through on top of the stove and eat from a bowl.
If you've made a good lot and you live alone, just add milk to a bowlful at a time. The baked onions on their own will keep for days if you store them outside in the winter in the covered pot, but mind out for dogs and foxes.