Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Bits from Books

( A photograph of my home town centre, taken in the 1950s when my copy of Newnes Household Management was first published)

So I'm sitting here waiting for the snow to come. We've not had the bad weather here in the middle Midlands, but we're due it today and my girls are expecting their schools to close at lunch-time so they can come home and make a snowman on the green. What can I say? They're an optimistic pair. I've been watching the chaos the bad weather has been causing in other parts of the UK with interest. Apparently, there's a poor woman in Scotland who left her home on 23rd December to buy a turkey for Christmas and is still stuck in town, unable to get back to her cottage, her husband and their six dogs. And the bad weather brings me, in a very roundabout way, on to some bits from books; bits from books I had for Christmas, in fact.

I remember one time, just after one Christmas in the late 1980s we has such bad snow that our water pipes froze and we had long power cuts. Roads were pretty impassible for a few days, but we had a house full of Christmas left-overs and we melted snow on the gas hob for water...believe it or not, we had a lot of fun! I completely forgot about this until my sister gave me Jocasta Innes Country Kitchen as a Christmas present this year, and my mum said "can you remember making the syllabub from that book when we had all that snow?" It all came flooding back, I was about fifteen or so and the syllabub is one of the first recipes I followed from a book. I've never looked back. Here's the recipe.

Good cows they were and never ailed, and plenty of everything there was in that house, good milk and cheese and buckets and buckets of skim for the pigs.
Precious Bane, Mary Webb.

1 lemon
1 small glass (4 fl oz approx) Marsala, Madeira or sweet sherry
2 tablespoons castor sugar
1/2 pint double cream
pinch of ground nutmeg
Grate the lemon rind, squeeze the juice and combine both with the sherry and the sugar. Leave to stand for a few hours, or overnight. Strain (to remove the rind) and add to the cream. Then whisk till thick, fluffy but not too stiff. Spoon into little glasses and serve cold with biscuits.
Well, the snow is falling now. And I quite fancy some rich, snowy-white syllabub to fortify me against the vagaries of the weather. Actually, I can't help but think that syllabub would make a great rich topping for a trifle. I am incorrigible.

Next up, we have two volumes of Alison Barnes' Newnes Household Management from the 1950s. These were a present from the DH and I love them. They offer a complete and comprehensive journey into the 1950s housekeeping ideal, and have a lovely idealistic and business-like tone. Volume one alone includes advice on: pressure cooking; tea party food; getting your figure back to normal after having a baby; how to lay out a herbaceous border and the ABC of dressmaking. But first, I offer you an extract from the foreword.

Home is the most important place in the world. It may be a bachelor bed-sitting room, a rather poky little flat, a part of someone else's house, an inconvenient cottage or a rambling barn of a place. Whatever it is, making it into a home brings its own unique brand of personal satisfaction.

A good home is a well-organised one and produces happy, well-balanced, tolerant human beings, able to give and take. It is in the badly managed homes that you find constant quarrelling, strain, distrust, emotional tension and spoilt, undisciplined children destined, if their parents only realised it, for untold unhappiness when they get out into the world and can no longer have their own way. For a child's earliest experience of adapting itself to others - and so into the pattern of a civilised community - begins in the home. Without the right home atmosphere, no child can ever really learn the true art of living.

Personal happiness and national welfare therefore depend very largely upon sound home management, which is the joint responsibility of all who live in the home.

Here let me add a word of warning: the house that runs as smoothly as well-oiled machinery (and just as soullessly) must never be confused with a real home that has a warm, friendly atmosphere because it is built on a sure foundation of affection and understanding.

Has never a truer word been written, gentle reader?

But now onto volume two, which offers the homemaker instructions on: etiquette; how to make a Christmas centre piece; traditional Jewish food and how to deal with dry rot. However, I shall leave you with their chapter on Elizabethan recipes. There was quite a fad for the Virgin Queen in the 1950s, they were, after all, the new Elizabethans! Here's what Alison Barnes has to say on the matter.

Authentic traditional fare from the days of Good Queen Bess, as served in the Elizabethan Room at the Gore Hotel, London.
Take a pint of canary or white wine, a pint of raspberry juice, a sprig of rosemary, a nutmeg quartered, the juice of a lemon, and some peel with sugar, put these together in a pot all night and cover them. In the morning take a pint and a half of cream, and a pint and a half of new milk. Then take out the lemon peel, rosemary and nutmeg, and squirt your milk and cream into the pot. With a wooden cow, fold at the corners. (The nearest modern equivalent of a wooden cow is a grooved wooden butter par, but this part of the recipe can be omitted without damage to the resulting dish.)

Never mind finding a wooden cow, how in the heck do I squirt the milk and cream? The mind boggles. I imagine Jocasta Innes reading this recipe sometime in 1955 and thirty years later finally coming up with a workable syllabub and punching the air in satisfation. On that note I must anon goode huswives! I shall see you in the mid-term break!


~~louise~~ said...

Good morning Dulce. As I sit here looking out my window, with morning coffee in hand, the snow doesn't look so bad as the thought of syllabub and your cherished books have warmed my heart.

That poor woman. Has she made it home yet? I do hope the girls get to build their snowman today. The biggest snowman EVER!!!

Anonymous said...

What does a pint of canary look like? ;P

I agree a lovely quote, I particularly like the last paragraph - warms the cockles of me soul. I love good books.

Though even as I type the noise of discord upstairs beckons me - this well oiled machine has just jammed a cog!

Oh and so sorry didn't get to the post office today due to being knee deep in snow (our local P.O. has shut down). But as soon as I am able to I will post your books back along with Rosamunde Pilcher (if she'd just lie still enough for me to wrap her up) Ho ho ho! :)


Left-Handed Housewife said...

I hope you received the exact right amount of snow--enough to build a snowman, not enough to leave you stuck in town for two weeks.

I'd love to know where you find these books of yours. I do like their no-nonsense tone, and I'm sure I could learn loads from them (I say this as someone who still needs to reduce after the baby--who was born seven years ago, mind you).

Hope you have a chance to drop in again before too long. We miss you when you're gone.


Gumbo Lily said...

The quotes are lovely. I'm so glad you chose to share them. I wondered about the "squirt of milk" too.....perhaps you take the bowl out to the barn to catch the squirts? I had a little boy here who loved to catch the squirts of milk in a tin cup and drink it warm, fresh from the cow.

I've never heard of Syllabub, but it sounds really delish. I may have to give it a try.


Anonymous said...

I sent the books to you on Thursday first class, hope they got to you safely.

Also, hope all is well in the new job