Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cookbook of Empire

Victorian Cook book
I was given a tattered copy of a small book "A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes" many years ago. Written by Charles Elme Francatelli back in 1852. For me it was a mere curiosity not being my style of cuisine. It is not an original but a 1978 reprint, and subsequent reprints you can still purchase. However the other week I came across the following...
"In January 1860 T. B. Potter Esq. M.P. presented 1,500 of Francatelli's cookery books for distribution amongst the members."

A generous gift to the M&SE Co-op from the radical politician and member for Rochdale, who would be well known to the directors of the Society. They shared the same politics of support for the Union cause in the American Civil War with the Union & Emancipation Society, and support for Garibaldi, a hero to radicals all over the world. Burning topics of the day.

Though Mr. Francatelli made his living and reputation as a chef for the toffs it was practical cookery books for the lower classes that he is remembered for. Those with an interest in improvement and ability for self-help might have found them useful. Recipes for a pie of small birds, or cooking oysters when those creatures were plentiful are included. How to cook potatoes in several styles covers some of the basics. Over a full page is given over to the humble haricot.

Besides the recipes it starts with what kitchen equipment to purchase. Those Victorians had to be content with a black cooking range with an oven next to a coal fire. Smoke, ash and no thermostats. A contrast to the current times when people have the best kitchens in the whole of human history but rely on ready made sauces and takeaways. Cooking from scratch ingredients is a minority activity, back then it was a neccessity. The values of economy and no waste still hold good today, even if the vegetables are boiled to almost mush. 

I'm going to use one of the recipes. It's long overdue. Some interesing biscuits called "Ginger Nuts". They are shaped like walnuts, and ginger was a popular spice in the days of Empire...

References :

Wikipedia entry for Charles Francatelli
Free e-book version
Manchester & Salford Co-operative Herald 1909 page 153

1 comment:

Andrew Simpson said...

Now that is real cooking and reminds me of the earlier cooks books which go back into the late 18th century and were popular with the aspiring middle class, long before Mrs Beaton. I like the link with Empire.

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