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Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Victorian meal

In order to help himself get over his afflictions, Bob has his father's cook David to prepare a meal, having realized his appetite has been lacking since the disappearance of Matilda.

To tempt his attenuated appetite the unhappy mate made David cook an omelet and bake a seed-cake, the latter so richly compounded that it opened to the knife like a freckled buttercup. With the same object he stuck night-lines into the banks of the mill-pond, and drew up next morning a family of fat eels, some of which were skinned and prepared for his breakfast. They were his favourite fish, but such had been his condition that, until the moment of making this effort, he had quite forgotten their existence at his father’s back-door.

The above scene having taken place in August, the following is a typical Victorian meal in that month for six people according to Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management:

First Course:  Vegetable-Marrow Soup, Stewed Mullet, Fillets of Salmon and Ravigotte Sauce
Entrees:  Curried Lobster, Fricandeau de Veau a la Jardiniere
Second Course:  Roast Saddle of Mutton, Stewed Shoulder of Veal, garnished with Forcemeat Balls, Vegetables
Third Course:  Roast Gouse and Bread Sauce, Vol-au-Vent of Greengages, Fruit Jelly, Rasberry Cream, Custards, Fig Pudding

An omelet belonged to the third course and was called an entremet, or a side dish just before dessert.  The preparation of the omelet was typically the same as that used today, though Mrs. Beeton says that the addition of shrimps or oysters was permissible.  Six eggs was sufficient for serving four people.

Seed-cake was a popular Victorian dessert, known for its pungent taste.  The ingredients included:

1 lb. of butter, 6 eggs, 3/4 lb. of sifted sugar, pounded mace and grated nutmeg to taste, 1 lb. of flour, 3/4 oz. of caraway seeds, 1 wineglassful of brandy.

The caraway seeds give the cake its distinctive taste.  Mrs. Beeton says the dish can also be made with currants replacing the caraway seeds.

Eels were seasonable between August and March.  They were typically washed, skinned, and cut up into pieces.  Mrs. Beeton gives the following warning concerning eels:

There is no fish so tenacious of life as this. After it is skinned and cut in pieces, the parts will continue to move for a considerable time, and no fish will live so long out of water.

The painting above is Dinner Time by William Henry Knight (1823-1863).

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