Consider the Sauce

When does powdered soup not taste like powdered soup?

Why, when you pour a great big dollop of Worcestershire sauce in it, that’s when.

Oh dear. Well, how much Worcestershire sauce are we talking about? “A teaspoon,” says the cheerful 1943 lady stirring the pot down at the bottom of the ad. “Or more,” she adds ominously (not in italics, though – those are mine, because I’m frightened). How much more? Nobody knows.

Lea and Perrins’ is the Worcestershire sauce that came first (back in 1837) and is the kind that I have got hidden at the back of a kitchen shelf somewhere, because when you are married to a British person you need to keep it on hand. Also HP sauce, which may or may not contain bits of the Houses of Parliament, and Marmite – basically, lots of dark, mysteriously pungent condiments.

You can put a dash of Worcestershire sauce in things like stew or Bloody Marys, if that’s what you happen to be making. I was amused to read over at Wikipedia that when Lea and Perrins made the first lot of sauce (in the city of Worcester, of course), it was so terrible and strong that they banished it to the cellar and then forgot about it. It contained – as it still does – a hodgepodge of ingredients ranging from vinegar and molasses to tamarind and anchovies. Kind of like a 50s jellied salad without the jelly.

Of course, when Mr. Lea and/or Mr. Perrins remembered That Sauce about a year later, it had aged, mellowed, et cetera, and was the stuff we all know and love today. And so a bunch of other people got into the Worcestershire sauce making line, including, of course, French’s – who mostly make mustard. They are also, as Kitchen Retro readers may know, the creators of one of the great advertising mascots ever, the iconic Hot Dan the Mustard Man. The picture of him on your left is a detail from a 1951 ad over at the always-piquant LiveJournal Vintage Ads.

Hot Dan, incidentally, is not going to be pleased about this advertisement. He does not think you should put anything extra in soup (or indeed any dish) except – well, mustard. So this couple needs to stop grinning and exclaiming quite so loudly about how clever it is to put Worcestershire sauce in things. Or else they may get a surprise visit from a small angry person in a giant yellow bow tie, brandishing his trademark Hot Dan Spoon of Doom.

Jaffa Cakes and a Victorian Kennel

Since we have family in England, we often go over in the summer – usually during the half term holidays and we like to use the internet to find just the right place to stay. Of course the hotels and guest houses we’ve stayed in have all been really nice – I especially liked the place across from a field full of softly baa-ing sheep, that was in a converted old house. We were right on the top floor and had a lovely dormer window. And the coffee and tea tray there was especially good, with everything you could possibly want to make a hot drink: just add Jaffa cakes (sponge-cake cookies with orange jelly and dark chocolate).

Ightham Mote

Because the UK school holidays and half term breaks don’t always correspond to ours, we have tended to visit England in June or July. The weather is really nice then, which makes it a perfect time to visit some historic houses and castles. One of my favorite historic houses is Ightham Mote, in Kent. We’ve been there a few times; and I like it so much I would like to live there someday. But since is a National Trust site, that seems unlikely (among other reasons).

Kennel at Ightham Mote

Ightham Mote is one of the few medieval manor houses in England that has remained essentially unchanged since the Middle Ages. It is an inward-looking place, with 70 rooms surrounding a courtyard, a gate house, a chapel, and a moat with 3 bridges. The Mote in the name, though, was originally “Moot” or meeting place. The rooms are more Victorian in decor than medieval. But the furnishings are not overdone, and look wonderful comfortable as well as elegant.

But my favorite thing at Ightham Mote is the charming Victorian dog kennel in the courtyard, which is doubtless the only doghouse in Britain that is a Grade I listed structure. It was built for Dido, a St. Bernard dog – who was clearly a very lucky and sophisticated dog.

Visiting places like Ightham Mote and Battle Abbey are a great way to spend school holidays because it is one of the most enjoyable ways to learn a little history – while having a relaxing holiday at the same time.That is multi-tasking at its best, I think. And checking out travel sites is an easy way to plan a perfect school holiday in England. I am sure that Dido, that most stylish of creatures, would approve of this.

Book Review: Discovering Words In the Kitchen

Discovering Words In the Kitchen
Julian Walker
Shire Books, 2010
96 pp.

I am known, in my family, for getting up from the table in the middle of dinner to go look up a word in the dictionary. Often it is the same Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology that my mother used to consult when she needed to look up a word we were using in conversation at dinner many years ago (so you can see where I got it from!). My family are kind and tolerant, and they like word history too, so they just smile when they hear me say “let me just look that up” and go off to the bookshelves in the next room.

Now, with Discovering Words in the Kitchen – a wonderful little culinary etymological dictionary – I can have my words and eat them (or rather, eat my dinner) too. Walker’s introduction is a concise and helpful history of dining in Britain through the ages. The rest of the book is divided into sections dealing with all manner of ingredients – fruits, vegetables, cereals and so on – as well as with a few common dishes such as the omelette. The omelette (to give you an example of the things you can learn from this book) is either a variation of the Old French oeufs mêlés (mixed eggs) or possibly  from the Medieval French alumette (from the Latin for “thin layer” or “sword blade”). Kitchen implements, cupboard ingredients and general cooking terms are also covered.

So now I keep Discovering Words in the Kitchen right in the kitchen and instead of simmering (originally simpering, but also possibly from the Germanic root sim meaning to hum) when I need to drop a bit of word history into the conversational soup (Old English soppe, something in which soppets or suppets – toasted bits of bread – were dunked) – I will be able to stay in my chair and refer to this informative and very enjoyable book. This will please everyone here at home except one of the cats, who feels that she ought to have a place at the table, and takes my seat every time I leave it.

Note: Shire Books was kind enough to send this book to me for free (as well as several other titles that I’ll be reviewing in the future) – but as always the opinions expressed are totally my own.

Mrs. Peek To the Rescue!

Never mind the war effort. Or the fact that Marge is a really good air raid warden and a lot of people are depending on her to, you know, sound the air raid siren so that they can be safe from bombs – that sort of thing.

Never mind all that, because Jim is having a Cold Dinner again!

Fortunately, Warden Sally knows a lady called Mrs. Peek. And she will save the day – and the dinner. Is she also a air raid warden, too, perhaps? Or a kindly old soul who will come over to Marge’s house and rustle up some Toad in the Hole* for Jim?

Well, no. She is a can of pudding. But you can heat her up in a saucepan and everything will be Jim Dandy, so to speak.

Jim is delighted that Marge has given up her job – hasn’t she? No, Jim. You are getting Mrs. Peek in a can from now until V-Day. And Marge can keep wearing that snazzy helmet with the big W on it.

History Note: Mrs. Peek, who has been on the job since 1898, is still at it! And she makes cakes and other goodies, too – though Christmas Pudding is the most famous of her wares.  The Peek Frean biscuit company in Bermondsey, London, created the Mrs. Peek’s brand. The canned puddings that Marge and Jim like so much first became popular during the First World War.

And the wonderful early 1940s ad is from Steve Johnson’s Cyber Heritage.

*Toad in the Hole is an English dish consisting of  sausages in a Yorkshire pudding like batter.

Toad In The Hole

The Importance of Ovaltine

Hooray! here comes Mummy
With more Ovaltine
I’ll pour it on Colin
Who hasn’t quite seen

He’s busily gulping
And quite unaware
That soon there’ll be malted
All over his hair

But Mummy suspects
That my motives are cryptic
She looks awfully grim
Perhaps it’s the lipstick

I smeared on this morning -
I look nearly forty!
Never mind, it’s what ladies
Wear when they are naughty.

And that’s what I am,
As Mummy well knows
So have some more Ovaltine,
Colin – here goes!

[From the British magazine My Home, December 1955.]

Harben’s Alligator

Well, not a real alligator, of course. It’s just that when I came across this photograph in Philip Harben’s Cookery Encyclopedia (1955) I was quite startled for a moment.

But this is, in fact, a gurnet, which is a kind of fish.

It really does look menacing on that plate, though. And the shadow/plate design just under the head looks like a big jaw with long teeth.

Philip Harben was a British cooking authority of the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote a cooking column for Women’s Own magazine, and wrote many cookbooks. He also had the first TV cooking show ever, in 1946, on the BBC. It was called Cookery. (And that is about as many times as I want to use words beginning with c-o-o-k in one paragraph!)

And gurnet or gurnard is a rather cheap, inexpensive and bony fish. Apparently Mrs. Beeton had a recipe for it, see here. It does look bony, doesn’t it? And like it’s ready for a good meal itself, as opposed to vice versa.Philip Harben caricature 1955

Hat Trick

Woman's Weekly 1971 V-P 2Woman's Weekly 1971 V-P 1

Another day, another 1970s era suburban think tank. Or drunk tank.

So “more than sixteen and a half million bottles of VP will be opened,” huh? Well, here’s where most of the bottles were opened.

And VP also wants you to know that its primary virtue is that it is – well, cheap. Really cheap! It’s the drink we can all afford – even if we are the kind of morons who go out and spend ridiculous amounts of money on really stupid-looking hats.

Say, how much was that hat anyway? I suspect that no matter what the tweed-turtleneck woman paid, it was no bargain! They should have paid her to take the hat away. (And what’s with that tweed turtleneck, anyway? Was that a bargain, too?)

Well, at least her friends have some advice! Sort of.

The woman in the middle, who is on her second bottle of VP, and has also bought a stupid hat, is urging her on: “Go on! He’ll love it!” What does she mean, go on? It’s already been bought – signed, sealed and delivered! I guarantee you there’s a no-return policy on this hat. The shop never, ever wants to see it again. Can’t you just see them after closing time, having a laugh? Hope she comes back soon, there’s some more stuff in the back we can’t unload!

The third woman doesn’t care about anything but the VP. And after another glass she is going to tell her friend just how silly her new hat is. That’ll be really fun!

And not only is VP cheap, if you drink enough of it, you can hear the bottle talking to you. It is, apparently, obsessed with its own price. It probably feels left out of the conversation. It should stop talking about itself and do a little magic trick. Like pull a bottle of VP out of one of the hats. They’ll be listening to whatever that bottle is saying then!

In answer to Amy‘s excellent question in the comments – VP stands for Vine Products (though I do wish it stood for Vile Plonk). Here is the link to a 1940s ad for this stuff – thank heavens you could get it despite the wartime rationing!

A Strange and Sunny Canful

IMG 1971 Ardmona cream ad UK

Oh Zena, I don’t know if this is going to work – warm milk and butter in that little thingie, and pump the handle until you get cream? This is like those special TV onion choppers and things, they never work out though, do they? Zena Skinner was a British cookbook author and host of an early 1970s TV cooking show called Ask Zena Skinner. Webrarian has a great photo of Zena on his site.

This cream maker sounds reminiscent of the I Love Lucy episode “Pioneer Women” (1952) where Ethel tries to make butter. It doesn’t work, she needs cream not milk – of course, maybe she needed this Ardmona device. Lucy’s bread works out too well, really – it’s so big it zooms out of the oven and takes over the kitchen.

Oh, and another thing? I really hope that that guy is not part of the special offer. What is he doing lounging around on top of the coupon? Is Zena aware of him? Did he come along with her? And he is about the same size as the stuff on the table. Very strange.

Victoria (Pudding) Day

So it’s Victoria Day here in Canada, not that we really celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday or anything. It falls on the Monday before May 24 (Victoria’s real birthday, in 1819) and is supposed to honor the present monarch’s birthday as well. I must tell you that we celebrated by sleeping a little bit later than usual, which I understand is the traditional thing to do.

One could make some sort of Victoria-themed food, I suppose. (One is not going to, chez nous, but talk is not only cheap, it’s way less work! It’s a holiday after all!) Victoria Sponge (the cake, not a kitchen clean-up thing) would be nice – two sponge cake layers with jam in between, basically. And dear old Mrs. Beeton, the great English kitchen authority, has instructions for a Victoria Pudding, as follows:


INGREDIENTS. -4 oz. finely chopped beef suet
2 oz breadcrumbs
1 1/2 oz. flour
1 oz finey shredded mixed peel
2 oz. apples
2 oz. apricot jam
1 1/2 oz dried cherries cut in quarters
1 1/2 oz. sugar
1 large egg
1/2 wineglassful of brandy (optional)
1/4 gill cream or milk

METHOD. – Peel, core and chop the apples finely, and mix with them the suet, breadcrumbs, flour, peel, cherries and sugar. Beat the eggs well, add the jam, cream (or milk), and brandy (if used); when well mixed, stir them into the dry ingredients, and beat well. Pour into a well-greased mold, cover with a greased paper, and steam from 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Serve with a suitable sauce.

TIME. – Altogether from 2 to 2 1/2 hours. SUFFICIENT for 5 persons.

I really think we should have a Mrs. Beeton Day – and I think I will make one up, down the proverbial road. She was quite as much a monarch in the Victorian era as – well, Victoria. The Beetonian Era doesn’t have quite the same ring, though, does it? Isabella Mary Beeton (1836-1865) was the author of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861), one of the most famous cookery/household books ever written.

There have been cookbooks printed under her name at least into the 1970s (I have one of these); the Victoria Pudding recipe comes from my 1920s Mrs. Beeotn’s Cookery, which does not have much in the way of household hints, but tells you everything that you need to know about – well, cookery. Proper English cookery, that is. And Mrs. B. is never uncertain. She knows about these things, and she is going to tell you all about them.

Leaving Mrs. Beeton (for the present) I would also like to tell you that it is a holiday in the US as well! Not Memorial Day, I know that is next week. It is National Devil’s Food Cake Day. I will be talking about this important holiday later on in the day. And maybe some other things too, depending on whether I celebrate Victoria Day with a little pudding-making or not. (If I do, you know I will not use beef suet, right?)

Or perhaps I will put on my crown and order people around. That could be fun. Or I could just give out a few disdainful looks and say “We are not amused.”

Plum Spin

I was just looking around on the London Times site, and looky what dear cranky old Gordon Ramsey is making! I do believe that might be called Plum SpinMiss Nicholl will be so pleased, though she will be frightened of him, I’ve no doubt.

Actually this looks great, and I might make it – I love yogurt. Plums are good too. Image from Wikipedia