Monday, September 26, 2011

{review} kitchen essays

Agnes Jekyll Kitchen Essays (1922)


I'm a bit puzzled about this book. It offers a nostalgic glimpse into an age of gracious living that has most certainly passed. It is beautifully written, with some quite wonderful turns of phrase. The writer was a bit of a celeb. at the time she wrote these newspaper columns for The Times (anonymously). It is, as one expects from a Persephone production, quite beautiful in the hands.

OK, maybe I've already answered my puzzled feeling about why this book is significant enough to reissue. Or have I? I quite liked it and I can definitely now characterise desirable food of the early 1920s as being jellied, aspic-ed and/or passed through a "hair-sieve". Couldn't anyone eat solids?! What, dodgy post-war false teeth or something? [I'm joking]
What female intelligence can decipher rapidly those hieroglyphic sheets when presented in restaurants and unerringly select the "spécialité de la maison," or the most acceptable "plat du Jour"? She will vacillate between the super-strange and the ultra-commonplace, or losing her head, will select the cheapest of the mysteries proffered, or else plunge recklessly for something expensive and out of season.
Apart from this stunning piece of misogyny (I'm reading it tongue-in-cheek, as I can't believe Agnes Jekyll would vacillate about anything), a couple of things offered themselves to me for thought. First, we are on the cusp of an era where the servant problem becomes a big problem for the type of households who would read these newspaper columns. A fair whack of these dishes (and the scenarios for which they are intended - shooting parties; dances) require staff.
"Never hesitate to do a kind action," said a cynical friend once in the writer's privileged hearing. "The burden of it almost invariably falls on some one else, whilst you get all the credit." The truth of this dictum, once heard, will often recur to the mind when promising, shall we say soup, or jelly, to some sick friend; for it is the cook who will make the offering, the boy who will carry it to its destination.
Second, I have a mental image of the cook sitting in dread awaiting the mistress's latest crazy idea taken from The Times, which requires production of something exotic and 'new' ("Italians are fond of sweets, but unimaginative in their preparation") in the absence of what we would consider such an essential as refrigeration (I keep thinking of the Provincial Lady's problems with cooks here!). One cannot wonder about the inevitability of the following:
...similar experience may befall many of us, particularly at busy holiday times of the year, when cooks, whose mothers so often specialize in sudden and disastrous illnesses, may leave us to face problems we have never really envisaged before…
You can consider this my Third point: the number of shapes and moulds and ices makes my blood run cold at the thought of the difficulties presented by their production and storage. I enjoyed this book for its writing ("For the Unpunctual, try a savoury dish of Papprika [sic]") and for purely nostalgic purposes (never, ever, ever will I make calves' foot jelly), but never does an era seem to far removed from our own when the kitchen is the subject.
Salted almonds are expensive, and by many thought indigestible; they can be understudied by a packet of the American cereal Puffed Wheat. A few spoonfuls of this, crisped hot in the oven and lying invitingly on small mother-o'-pearl shells, or in some such decorative and labour-saving receptacles before each guest, will comfort the shy, stem the torrent of the fluent-obvious, and generally promote a flow of that pleasant conversation...
Rating: 6/10.

Things that intrigued me enough to google: "centrifugal sugar", "Cerebos" salt, "peptonized cocoa", and when "Pyrex" was invented.

If you liked this... I guess someone'll look back at Jamie Oliver in 90 years and laugh their heads off. If I feel like a spot of witty food-writing I turn to M. F. K. Fisher.

 

5 comments:

  1. Ooooh I remember "Cerebos" salt!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Apparently it's still available tho' I don't recall ever seeing it. I wondered why it had to be listed by brand in the book - some sort of status marker? Or perhaps it was trendy in the 1920s?!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh this brings back memories. I went to an event at the Ilkley Literature Festival last year and Pen, the woman behind the Penguin Great Food box set of books, gave us a wonderful talk about four authors included in the collection - complete with tastings of some of their creations. The Jekyll creation of 1922 was a cake that was laced with booze and which originally contained smelling salts! I wrote up the event at http://alexinleeds.com/2011/10/23/penguin-books-great-food-series/

    ReplyDelete
  4. I went to an event last year at Ilkley Literature Festival hosted by Pen Vogler, the woman behind the Penguin Great Food box set of books, and she explained more about the collection with a focus on four authors included in it. We also got to taste some of their creations. The 1922 offering was from a Jekyll recipe for cake laced with booze, it had to be modified as the original recipe included smelling salts! I wrote up the event at http://alexinleeds.com/2011/10/23/penguin-books-great-food-series/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a recipe for preserving passionfruit with aspirin - the things people put in food Back Then! The food event sounds wonderful.

      Delete

{READ IN 2018}

  • FEBRUARY
  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • JANUARY
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • DECEMBER
  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
  • 116. The Scarlet Button - Anthony Gilbert
  • 115. He Came by Night - Anthony Gilbert
  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
  • NOVEMBER
  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 109. The Midnight Line - Anthony Gilbert
  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
  • 104. Murder has no Tongue - Anthony Gilbert
  • 103. The Man who Wasn't There - Anthony Gilbert
  • OCTOBER
  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • AUGUST
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
  • 79. The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham
  • 78. Murder Underground - Mavis Doriel Hay
  • 77. No Man's Land - David Baldacci
  • 76. The Escape - David Baldacci
  • 75. The Forgotten - David Baldacci
  • 74. Zero Day - David Baldacci
  • JULY
  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
  • 72. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth
  • 71. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth
  • 70. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth
  • 69. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth
  • 68. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth
  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • APRIL
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • MARCH
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • FEBRUARY
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • JANUARY
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore