Sunday, 31 January 2016

3 January 1880 - 'Our Cookery Class' by Phillis Browne - Chapter One

This is part one of the first series of cookery essays Phillis Browne wrote for the G.O.P.

Cookery is one of the Arts. Those who would excel in it must, like other artists, be educated for it. It would be as reasonable to expect that a girl could play one of Beethoven's sonatas, because she had the score, a piano, and a music stool, as it would be to suppose that she could prepare a dinner because she was in possession of a cooking apron, a rolling-pin, a pastry board, and the materials for making an apple pie.

A knowledge of cookery consists in the understanding of a number of details connected with the subject. To be a cook is to be able to set upon that knowledge. This power can only be gained by practice and experience. No one can learn to be a cook by reading papers on cookery any more than they can satisfy their hunger by looking at a sirloin of beef.

It will be my endeavours in these papers to write down the details of cookery as plainly as I can. The girls who read them must, if they would become cooks, go down into the kitchen and prove for themselves whether or not what I say is right. They will feel at first a little awkward; things will not come exactly as they want them. But if they will persevere they will soon become skilful, and after a time they will be able to congratulate themselves on being able to cook. This means that as long as they live they, and more than themselves - those whom they love - will never be dependent upon others  for the comforts of home; that whatever position in life they may occupy they will be able to cook food for themselves or to direct others in doing it; and that they will have gone a long way in the road which leads to their being good daughters, good wives, good mothers, and good mistresses. In addition, they will gain one of the finest things a woman can gain - the power to use their own hands for a useful purpose.

There are six different ways of cooking food. Roasting, broiling, boiling, stewing, baking, and frying. Of these roasting and broiling may be described as the most nutritious; stewing and boiling as the most economical and digestible; frying and baking as the most convenient and speedy. I will begin with roasting.


We English are continually being told how very much better the French cook their food; but at any rate we may pride ourselves on this, they do not roast meat so well as we. A great French cook once said that in England all women roast well, and certainly the roast beef of old England is celebrated all over the world. Those who have travelled on the Continent know that wherever the English go it is thought necessary to provide them with "rosbif", and as a rule I imagine experienced travellers avoid the dish and regard it as a delusion and a snare. Our real roast beef is quite a different thing. Let us see what makes it so excellent.

The first consideration is the joint itself. The superior pieces of meat are generally chosen for roasting. The coarser parts are reserved for stewing. Red meats - that is, beef and mutton and game - should be hung for awhile before they are roasted, for only when this is done can it be expected that they will be tender. White meats, on the contrary - such as lamb, veal and pork - taint quickly, and require to be roasted w- fresh.

The time that meat should be kept must depend upon the weather and the time of year. In cold dry weather a leg of mutton can be hung for three weeks with advantage. In hot, and particularly in what is called "muggy" weather, it will not keep for as many days. In buying meat, therefore, the state of the weather should first be considered. If it is favourable, inquiry should be made when the joint is bought, as to the time which has elapsed since the animal was killed. If it is freshly killed do not be persuaded to roast it at once. Hang it - not lay it in a dish - in a cool, airy larder, and examination it every day. Do this with particular care if the weather should change. If it should get to look at all moist in any part, cook it at once. Good beef, however, does not become moist with keeping. A good many cooks will flour a leg or a shoulder of mutton all over to prevent its becoming moist, and this is a very good plan.

One thing I must not forget to say, and that is that a joint must not be allowed to freeze; if it does it will be sure to be spoilt. When there is a frost, it is advisable to put meat that is to be roasted in the warm kitchen for awhile, in order to soften it, before putting it down to the fire. Houses are built in such a way now that it is not every one who has a "cool, airy larder" in which they can keep meat. When this is the case, there is nothing for it but to trust to the butcher. If you ask him to supply you with well-hung beef or mutton, he will doubtless do so, or will hang the meat for you.

If meat is to be roasted before an open range, the fire must be looked after, fully an hour before the meat is put down. It would be of no use to hang meat before a fire that had just been made up. It would only get a smoky, unpleasant taste, and the juice would be drawn out of it, instead of being kept in the meat as it ought to be. A good cook is very particular about her fire. She first pokes it well underneath, to clear it thoroughly from the dust and small cinders which will have settled at the bottom, pushing the live coals to the front of the range. She then puts fresh coal on the fire, choosing for her purpose not large blocks of coal, but what are called "nubbly" pieces. She does not throw these on from a scuttle, but arranges them with her fingers, protected by an old glove, so that they shall be packed closely, yet leaving room for a draught of air to pass between the lumps. She then sweeps up the hearth, collects the cinders, and places them with some coke or damped coal-dust at the back of the fire. A fire made like this will last a long time. As soon as the front part is clear and bright it is ready  for the meat. It must not be forgotten, however, that it must be watched, and fresh pieces of coal or coke added occasionally, in order that it may be kept up until the meat is roasted.

The dripping-tin, with a good-sized lump of dripping in it, should be put down ten minutes or so before the meat. This is to be done so that there may be dripping at hand to baste the meat with as soon as it is put down. The goodness of roasted meat depends very much upon its being frequently basted, and this is particularly necessary when the joint is very close to the fire, as it is at the beginning. If a meat-screen is used, it also should be put before the fire, so that it may not be cold when the meat is put into it.

While the dripping is melting the meat may be got ready. It should be looked over and trimmed neatly if required, any rough or jagged pieces, or superfluous fat or suet being cut away with a sharp knife. A leg of mutton should have the knuckle bone cut off, and the skin from the thickest part of the leg, where it joined the loin, cut away. These trimmings must of course be preserved. They can be stewed, and will make very good stock. A sirloin of beef should have the soft pipe that runs down the middle of the bone taken away. This has a very unpleasant appearance if left on the joint. All white meats are better for being wrapped in greased paper before they are put to the fire.

Some cooks think it necessary to wash meat before putting it down. If the joint has been bought of a respectable dealer, and has not been roughly handled, it is most undesirable that this should be done, as nothing draws the goodness out of meat more than washing it. If there is any suspicion that it has been touched by dirty fingers, it may be scraped and wiped with a damp cloth, or if it is in such a condition that it must be washed, it should be plunged in and out of hot water. The business must be performed as quickly as possible, and the meat must be dried at once and thoroughly with a soft cloth. If it should happen that the meat has been kept a little too long, or if it is discoloured in any part, it should be washed quickly with vinegar and water and wiped dry afterwards.

The next thing is to wind up the meat-jack, to weight the joint, and then to hang it on the meat hook. And here it must be remembered that the meat is to hang by the small end, so that the largest or thickest part should hang a little below the hottest part of the fire. The thickest part of the meat will take more roasting than the rest, therefore the fiercest heat of the fire must fall upon it.

It is a great object both in roasting and boiling meat to keep in the gravy or juice. In both cases this is best effected by cooking the outside very quickly, so that it shall be a sort of case through which the juices of the meat cannot escape. It is for this purpose that the meat should be put quite near the fire to begin with - that is, as near as it can be not to burn the outside; and it should be basted immediately to prevent its becoming hard and dry. Then in about five or six minutes it may be drawn back to the distance of about a foot from the fire, and basted frequently till it is done. By frequently I mean as much and as often as possible, for meat can scarcely be basted too much. It is the lean part of the meat that requires basting. The screen that is put round it will keep the cold air from blowing upon it.

This is a very important part of roasting, and I should like to impress it upon you. I once heard a very clever cook say that in every dish she made there was a secret; and her great desire was to keep the secret very safe, so that no one might make such good things as she did. We will act quite differently. We will try to discover the secrets, and if they are worth knowing we will tell them all around.

As to the time that meat will take to roast, that will vary with its quality, its thickness, and the heat of the fire. This is one of the points on which a cook cannot go by a book, but must use her common sense. The great general rules are a quarter of an hour to the pound and a quarter of an hour over for red meat, and twenty minutes to the pound and twenty minutes over for white meats - lamb, veal and pork. These rules, however, cannot always be followed. A thick, solid piece of meat, such as rolled rib of beef, or the topside of the round of beef, or a loin of mutton boned and rolled, would need to be roasted longer per pound than a shoulder of mutton or a loin of mutton that was not rolled; while a joint that had a good deal of gristle and bone in it, such as the thin flank of beef, would need to roast half-an-hour to the pound. Then the time of the year has something to do with it. Meat requires longer roasting in winter than it does in summer time. This is one of the lessons that only experience can teach.

There is one very important point that I must not forget to mention, and that is - take care of the dripping. This is a most valuable article. It can be used for a great many purposes, which we will speak of later; therefore we must look after it now. It may be that we have a dripping-tin made with a well to receive the fat, and if this is the case it will be kept free from dust and cinders without any difficulty. But a very great many people have merely a shallow tin or wrought-iron pan to put under the meat. When this is the case, the fat must be looked after. If any cinders fall in they must be removed, and the fact must be poured away once or twice whilst the joint is roasting, to prevent its getting burnt. Of course, enough dripping must still be left in the pan to baste the meat. If dust should fall from the fire to soil the side of the tin, the opposite side should be at once turned to the fire.

And now we have kept up our fire and basted our meat vigorously, and the time is drawing near when it should be sufficiently roasted.  I am quite sure that a pleasant odour is making itself felt which is enough to make our mouths water. The dishes and plates are on the plate warmer, and everything seems ready. But what about the gravy? We must leave that until the next lesson.

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