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Music – “That Old Recipe” from Pat-a-Cake Baby (Songs from the Show) by Tom Gray. Released: 2017
One of the cookbooks in my collection, published in 1910, is “A Year’s Dinners – 365 Seasonable Dinners with Instructions for Cooking“, by May Little. Well, little did May know (pardon the pun), that, while she was slaving over a six course family dinner in 1910, a hundred years hence, she could have “cooked” a (possibly) nutritious meal in less than 15 minutes, thanks to fast food and instant heat and serve technology! What a difference a generation makes!
According to Human Progress (2017), in 1910, approximately 6 hours a day were involved in cooking meals, including cleanup. And, given these “typical” weeknight family dinners from “A Year’s Dinners“, I’d bet more than 6 hours were dedicated just to cooking! Not to mention procuring the food, stoking the stove, hand washing dirty pots and pans, etc.
By the mid-1960’s, that number dropped to 1.5 hours and by 2008, on average, only 1 hour was engaged in food preparation. The USDA, in 2016, reports that in 2014, Americans aged 18 and over spent only 37 minutes in food preparation, including cleanup (as in “put it in the dishwasher”). As Roberto Ferdman says in his article “The slow death of the home-cooked meal”, 2015, “Cooking isn’t dead in this country. But it isn’t exactly alive and well either“.
And, although cookbooks are still good sellers, most cookbook purchases are for reasons other than cooking. In addition, bestselling cookbooks seem to be “personality driven, not recipe driven” As Diane Jacob says, “Cookbooks still sell well. As cookbook authors, do we not care if our readers ever make a recipe, as long they buy the book?”
According to Publishers Weekly, in 2016, cookbook sales were up 6% from the previous year, and most are print books, not e-books. So, although cookbooks are still alive and well, their usage as cooking guides seems to be less important than, perhaps, celebrity appeal. The dearth of “celebrity chefs” has increased tremendously in recent years, a term I had never heard, even when Julia Child was whipping up a storm in her kitchen in the 1960’s.
In “A Year’s Dinners“, the author points out that “Great care has been taken to avoid monotony, which so frequently occurs in the everyday household“. For fun, I decided to randomly select a day of the year and peruse (note: I said “peruse”, not “cook”) the recipes for that day, May 9, 1910 (which happened to be a Monday, and the day on which George V was formally proclaimed king, three days after his father’s death). So, cooks, gear up for this typical 1910 Monday evening dinner for the family, if you are brave enough and have a day or so to spare:
Grilled Lamb Cutlets
Minced Veal and Poached Eggs
Now, the recipe for the Consomme Brunoise is fairly time-consuming.
Even prior to beginning it, you must have already created your basic stock (in which meat soaks for 1 hour and simmers for another 5), to which you then shred beef, remove the fat, add egg whites and the crushed shells, whisk, add vegetables and boil gently for 20 minutes.
Then, you must pour the stock through a clean cloth, pouring sherry through it first, adding the garnish and the rinsed vegetables (small cubes in Brunoise), etc., etc., etc. Tired already? Too bad. You’ve got a whole lot more to do.
For the Lobster Patties, you must make puff pastry rounds from scratch, bake them, and fill them with minced lobster in white sauce (another recipe).
Grilled Lamb Cutlets need no recipe (figure it out!).
For the Minced Veal and Poached Eggs, you must first cook the veal in white stock, with herbs and spices, then mince it finely and make a white sauce (see page 411). Serve in the centre of a potato border (yup, another recipe), and garnish with cut lemon and parsley.
As for the potatoes and cabbage, you have artistic license here.
Rum Omelet requires separating yolks from whites of eggs, beating with sugar, melting some butter, pouring in the eggs, stirring until the mixture begins to set, shaping the omelet, spreading a little jam of your choice over it, blah, blah, blah, dousing it with rum and setting fire to it just as you serve it.
The author notes that cheap rum will not do: “Good rum is necessary or it will not burn“.
And, for the finale to your mundane Monday night dinner (Marrow Toasts), butter some neat rounds of toast, put beef marrow into a pan with salt, boil, drain and spread on the toast and season with salt and pepper: if you’re very bold, you might add a bit of cayenne to it.
There you go: Bob’s your uncle, as we say in Canada! Just in case you’re not Canadian, “Bob’s your uncle“ is a way of saying “you’re all set” or “you’ve got it made. But, don’t think you can rest on your laurels (or your derriere). There’s May 10th dinner to start planning: American Tomato Soup, Stuffed and Baked Fillets of Plaice, Fried Sweetbread, Fricandeaux of Beef, Potatoes, Asparagus, Maltese Pudding, and Cheese Pyramids. However, if all else fails, there’s always: