Victorian Cooking

Victorian Cookbook: Syllabub

I thought I knew what syllabub was. A cool, creamy dessert usually eaten by historical romance heroines at a ball or rout.

But then I read Mrs. Beeton’s recipe…

Mrs. Beeton, author of “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Houehold Management” (1860)

1 pint sherry or white wine,

1/2 grated nutmeg

Sugar to taste

1 1/2 pints milk

And, confusingly, she then says:

clouted cream may be held on the top…and a little brandy may be added to the wine before the milk is put in. …Warm milk may be poured on from a spouted jug…but it must be held very high.”

The penny suddenly dropped. It’s a drink! A sort of cloudy wine punch with a head or layer of cream on top. The dessert version was based on the drink and became popular in the eighteenth century. I just needed to substitute cream for milk.

Here’s what I used:

200 ml of white wine

Pinch of nutmeg

1/8 cup of sugar (I don’t like things too sweet, so you may want to increase this)

300 ml of double cream

The Method:

Put the wine, nutmeg, and sugar in a bowl. Don’t do what I did and use the prosecco that you think has gone flat only to whimper when you realize it was still fizzy after all and you could have drunk it. Just some words for the wise.

Perfectly good Prosecco now adulterated with nutmeg and sugar 🙁

Whisk it, then add the cream, and whisk again for bloody ages until your arm feels like it might fall off and the cream forms soft peaks. Or cheat and use an electric whisk. Mrs. Beeton won’t mind and you’ll be done in about 2 minutes.

Transfer between four or more wine glasses until you end up with about 6 of these:

Mrs. Beeton inspired white wine syllabubs

I don’t know what’s happening because these look quite… nice?

Leave somewhere cool for several hours. Full disclosure, I decided not to get too “method” and stuck mine in the fridge.

When they’re ready, bring in your test subjects.

Verdict:

Well, this was a surprise! My hopes weren’t high but Mr Bennet and I ate all of ours. It’s creamy with a delicate white wine taste at first but, the closer you get to the bottom, the boozier it gets. Extremely yummy. Syllabub for the win!

8 yr old tried a speck and pronounced it disgusting but he shouldn’t be having it anyway.

15 yr old liked this and wants a whole one tomorrow. Might let him, might eat it myself.

Victorian Cooking

Victorian Cookbook: Curds and Whey

Little Miss Muffet by Arthur Rackham

Curds and whey seem like a neat step up from Workhouse Gruel. They’re almost as simple but way more nutritious. You can eat them outdoors while sitting on a tuffet or, if you’re the heroine of an historical romance, from your sickbed as a medicinal posset. If you’re the hero of said novel, eat them sitting up in bed as you recover from a flesh wound. Don’t forget to mutter manfully about “sickroom pap” while downplaying the severity of your injury.

The recipe I used is from Victorian chef Charles Francatelli’s “A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes.” If you’ve ever made your own cheese, you’re probably familiar with the process, but lots of people (me included) only know the nursery rhyme “Little Miss Muffet.” Our practical experience of curds and whey is nil.

But that’s all about to change. (Are you excited yet? I’m excited!)

For Curds and Whey, you will need:

200ml of milk,

25ml of white wine,

Sugar to taste

Method:

Boil the milk in a small saucepan.

Add the wine and allow the milk to boil up like this:

Curds and Whey separating = witchcraft!

Once the curds and whey have separated, strain them into a glass until you have something that looks like this:

Curds and Whey

Do the curds resemble very thick porridge/baby vomit?

They do? Excellent! Then it’s time to present them to your test subjects.

Here we have (from the bottom): one small ramekin of curds with sugar sprinkled on top, one small ramekin of curds and whey like in “Little Miss Muffet,” a small glass of whey, and one ramekin containing two ginger biscuits in case you need to bribe your test subjects.

Smorgasbord

Verdict:

Whey: No one liked this much, though Mr. Bennet said he could “acquire the taste.” Fortunately, it makes an excellent, nutrient rich plant food, so I fed it to our geranium.

Curds and whey without sugar: “Perfectly pleasant” according to Mr. B, but 15 yr old grimaced and said they’d be better cold. 8 yr old begged to be excused and not even the promise of a biscuit could move him.

Sugared curds: Actually quite nice, if a bit bland as befits “sickroom fare.” Everyone liked them, except 8 yr old who only ate one speck. He said it was “a bit horrible” but that he still loved me.

So, that’s reassuring.

If you try curds and whey, I hope you’ll let me know how you got on.

Next time: Syllabub!

#History, Victorian Cooking

Victorian Cookbook: Workhouse Gruel

Welcome to what might be the first in a series of posts on Victorian recipes. I hope most of them will taste nicer than this one for workhouse gruel, but this seemed like a nice simple recipe to begin with.

Ingredients:

3 dessert spoons of oats

1 pint of water

Salt to taste

Method:

Mix the oatmeal with a little of the water until it looks like the image to the right. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited.

Put the rest of the water in a pan and add the oat mixture. Boil for ten minutes.

This may or may not be how wallpaper paste was invented.

If it looks like dirty washing up water, you’re doing it right.

Add salt to finished gruel and allow to grow tepid.

By this stage, the gruel should look like despair. Specifically, the despair of Victorian orphans.

Next, you’ll need some test subjects.

Because I’ll do anything in pursuit of my art, I sampled this and, let me tell you, it looks like it tastes. The salt doesn’t seem to aid the flavour unless you like the taste of bilge water.

Test subject 1 (age 40) described it as “inoffensive” but I found it highly offensive. His nickname from now on will be Mr. Bumble.

Test subject 2 (age 15) said “Good grief” when he tried it. He now sympathises even more with the Victorian poor.

Test subject 3 (age 8) consented to have his photo taken:

But he wouldn’t actually eat the gruel.

If you make this, let me know how it went in the comments. Next time, I’ll try to make something you might actually enjoy eating.

Not About Writing

Top 10 Film Costumes

Recently, I posted some images of some costumes from Crimson Peak to Facebook. My followers seemed to like them and, well, I certainly liked them, and you know I’m always looking for an excuse to share costume porn here, so I decided to do my own Top 10 costumes from film.

Here are the rules:

  1. Only one costume per film allowed.
  2. I had to be able to find good quality images of the costume (which ruled out The Artist and Wings of the Dove).
  3. It had to be from a film I enjoyed and would recommend (which sadly ruled out Marie Antoinette, Batman Returns, and the Duchess. It nearly ruled out Titanic but I decided to be lenient).

Here we go then:

10. The Marquise de Merteuil’s Travelling dress, Dangerous Liaisons (1988), costume designer: James Acheson. Genres: Psychological drama; literary adaptation.

This gown has stuck with me over the years despite not actually being on screen that long. It’s a triumphant moment for Glenn Close’s Merteuil as her plans begin falling into place, a powerful gown for a character at the height of her own power.

Honestly, though, all the costumes in this film are amazing and gorgeous. All of them.

9. Claire Fraser’s wedding dress in Outlander (season 1), costume designer: Terry Dresbach. Genre: Time travel; romance; epic; literary adaptation.

Another 18th century style dress. Not only is the gown stunning (my god, the embroidery!) but it symbolizes so much to the characters; Jamie’s hopes for their marriage, the seriousness of Claire’s situation (Jamie’s all in, so it’s going to be hard to go through with deserting him), as well as fulfilling the wishes and dreams of everyone who read the book and had waited years to see this moment on screen. It’s a lot for a dress to measure up to, yet this one does.

8. Romeo and Juliet (1998), costume designer: Kym Barrett. Genres: Shakespeare adaptation.

Almost every teenage girl in the ’90s seemed to be obsessed with this film, myself included. I was already a literature geek, so of course I was going to love this. Even though I suspect this dress owes a lot to Claire Danes’s ethereal beauty, it has a magic that still works on me more than twenty years later. (20 years? Seriously? The ’90s was just the other day!)

7. Satine’s trapeze costume, Moulin Rouge, costume designer: Catherine Martin. Genres: Musical.

Another Baz Luhrman film. There are several gowns I could have chosen but it’s this one that sticks with me. This is the first glimpse we get of Nicole Kidman’s Satine and she manages to do Diamonds are a Girls’s Best Friend with enough style and attitude that I don’t immediately wish I were watching Marilyn Monroe instead (which is a huge achievement in and of itself). It’s just an amazing, versatile, fun and glitzy costume.

6. Rose’s boarding gown, Titanic, costume designer: Deborah Lynn Scott. Genres: Drama.

Say what you like about Titanic (this film is a guilty pleasure for me), the costumes were amazing. I almost chose the red dress she wears when she tries to throw herself overboard. I’ve got to be honest, my choice here is 75% about the hat. That being said, the boarding outfit, inspired largely by a contemporary source gown (see slideshow), is so crisp and smart. It’s an outfit for the woman Rose is trying so hard to become.

5. Edith’s black bow dress, Crimson Peak, costume designer: Kate Hawley. Genres: Gothic horror.

This is the gown that inspired this post. I fully intend to watch Crimson Peak again soon just for the costumes, which are all amazing. I love how everything Edith wears in New York, all beautiful, up to date (for the 1890s) gowns, contrasts with Jessica Chastain’s dresses which, while equally beautiful, all look 10-20 years behind the fashion. Edith dresses like a strong, confident New Woman, but the bow somehow renders her vulnerable. Like a hand might reach out from the dark, take hold of all that fabric, and never let go.

4. Sarah’s ballgown, Labyrinth. Costume designer: Ellis Flyte. Genres: Family film; Musical.

What is that dress made of? It has a definite cellophane-ish quality, yet I love it. Perhaps it’s because I saw this film when I was small. Perhaps it’s because I still love that song they dance to. Perhaps it’s the peak 80s-ness of it all. I don’t even know.

3. Danielle’s ballgown, Ever After, costume designer: Jenny Beavan. Genres: Fairy-tale retelling.

This was a perfect moment. So much so that I’m afraid to re-watch this film as a proper adult in case it doesn’t stand up. The dress, though, will always hold up.

2. Ellen Olenska’s red gown, The Age of Innocence. Costume designer: Gabriella Pescucci. Genres: Pychological drama; literary adaptation.

This is a case of the perfect dress for the scene. Madame Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) is different from every other character. As wonderful as she is, she doesn’t fit in, and this dress underscores that fact beautifully. Unbeknownst to her, she’s moving around in hostile territory where it might be smarter to pass unnoticed. Of course the fact that she floats around in her crimson gown completely oblivious to this hostility, is why we love her.

1.Anna’s ballgown, The King and I, costume designer: Irene Sharaff. Genres: Musical, literary adaptation.

This dress is largely responsible for beginning my Victorian obsession. It is directly responsible for little Julia insisting her first ever bridesmaid dress have a hoop skirt. It also led to compulsive use of the silver crayon when it was coloring-in time at my primary school. Despite the film’s problems, I still get chills when Anna dances with the king. I love the way the dress looks like liquid as she moves.

There you go; my top 10. I hope you’ll let me know your favorite costumes from film in the comments here, or on Facebook or Instagram.

history

Eminent Victorians: Kate and Maggie Fox

Kate and Maggie Fox, via Pinterest.

The heroine of my next book (The Ruin of Evangeline Jones, coming soon from Entangled Publishing) is a charlatan medium. To tell her story, I researched the Victorian spiritualist movement, which is how I found out about Kate and Maggie Fox. These two sisters are in large part responsible for starting the entire 19th century spiritualist craze.

It all began in the 1840s when they were still children. According to the PSI Encyclopedia, “Maggie and Kate Fox were at the centre of a poltergeist-type disturbance in 1848 that led to the emergence of Spiritualism, a religion based on communication with spirits of the dead.”

The sisters claimed to hear strange knocking and rapping sounds through which they could communicate with the spirit of a murdered peddler haunting their home. Spookily enough, searches under the house revealed bone fragments. Tables moved, doors shut spontaneously and the spirit (whom the girls nicknamed Mr. Splitfoot after the devil) urged the sisters to hold public meetings to spread the word about life after death. Visitors descended on their house and eventually, since the spirit seemed to follow the girls wherever they went, they took their show on the road, joined by their older sister Leah (the entrepreneur of the family).

They became a sensation, attracting many famous admirers and, because of their many imitators, spawned a new religion. Not bad for three ordinary Victorian women from a tiny hamlet in New York state.

The Fox sisters in later life: Leah (1814–1890), Margaretta (also called Maggie) (1833–1893) and Catherine (also called Kate ) (1837–1892).

To this day, many believe the sisters to be genuine mediums despite the fact that Kate and Maggie both took to the stage in 1888 to reveal how they accomplished the fraud. The rapping was nothing more than the cracking of toe and ankle joints. At the same time, both denounced the spiritualist movement as a whole and their now estranged sister Leah in particular. Perhaps those who continued to believe in Mr. Splitfoot put this down to a family quarrel that got out of hand and, to be fair, Maggie and Kate, both in dire need of cash, later resumed giving seances. Maggie also renounced her confession.

Even though I think the sisters were charlatans, I can’t help but admire what they accomplished at a time when women had few career options. They attained a level of success few achieved and sparked a movement that took the western world by storm. What may have started as an innocent prank when they were children still colors people’s beliefs to this day.