Tucked away inside an 1894 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book is one of my most prized possessions. It is a delicate, hand bound Almanac for 1871 containing number of cake recipes (which incidentally are little more than lists of ingredients). Some of the text on the front cover has been crossed out but two names remain just about legible: Eliza Anna Anderson and Emma Reader. The latter was my grandmother’s great aunt. Underneath the Eliza’s name it proudly proclaims that it is her “Own Book”. It is my theory that both of these ladies contributed to this book out of a desire to keep the recipes for posterity (although nobody in the family in entirely sure).
While accusations are frequently slung by social commentators about our fascination with cookbooks in an age where nobody either wants to or is able to cook (supposedly), it’s reassuring to know that cooking intrigued some of our ancestors long before television and social media came to rule the roost. For centuries we have been noting down recipes. Sometimes this has been a record of a recipe previously handed down by word of mouth perhaps by a relative or friend. Other times it may merely have been a quick jotting down of an adjustment to a recipe in an existing cookery book or maybe at the back in its notes section (something you rarely see in todays cookery tomes). During the 20th century as recipes began to appear in magazines these may have been torn out and kept to be made again one day.
As a cookbook collector, Rita Godfrey, has been privy to many of these culinary secrets. She has gathered some of the recipes she has come across in a new book called Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen. As she says on the back cover
“There is a great joy in finding an old recipe that someone has jotted down and in trying it out – even more in tasting the results.”
The book is a potted history through 200 years of our culinary history as recorded by regular people who presumably enjoyed these recipes so much that they were driven to write them down. Each section covers a specific period of time and is prefaced with a little bit of kitchen history to put them into context. It’s true that the book is not as slickly produced as other cookery books but this is of no consequence (I think sometimes too much emphasis is placed in food photography, as lovely as it can be. After all, right up until the mid to late 20th century it was rare to have a the obligatory food porn shot for every recipe we have come to expect these days). I love the fact that Rita provides a brief introduction to each recipe such as the explanation of what a flummery is (apparently the word could have derived from a Welsh word meaning empty nonsense). The book makes fun reading and those that I have tried delicious eating (spiced treacle scones – great with toasted cheese on top. Strange but true!).
The recipe I have chosen to reproduce here is for salad cream. I know it’s not a salad time of year but it seemed apt given that it is 100 years since Heinz introduced salad cream to the UK market. Reading around this product’s history I discovered that salad cream was considered to be the very down market (i.e. working class) cousin to mayonnaise. I found this strange as I always thought it added a rather sophisticated element to the classic egg and cress sandwich when I was a child (read into this what you will…). Anyway, I’ve also provided my favourite way to make an egg sandwich just to prove that it can be classy when made with salad cream.
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp mustard (I used Coleman’s mustard powder)
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 heaped tsp corn flour
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 150ml cream
- Mix all the dry ingredients then add the egg yolks.
- Put into a food processor and add water and vinegar gradually to make a smooth mix then add the olive oil.
- Pour into a pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring constantly until it forms a thick sauce.
- Cool then stir in the cream. Transfer to a sealable bottle with a wide neck. Despite the addition of cream it will keep in the fridge for up to six months.
To make my favourite egg sandwich mix 1 – 2 chopped hard boiled or scrambled eggs with 1 – 3 dessert spoons of salad cream (depending on how hungry you are!). Add to this 3 – 4 sun dried tomato halves which have been finely chopped and mix together. Put a layer of fresh baby spinach leaves onto a slice of bread (my favourite for this filling is ciabatta) the spoon the egg mix over the top. This is quite messy to eat but oh so delicious!
You may also want to try salad cream in a fish finger sandwich like Daniel from Young & Foodish.