Monday, 26 November 2012

Cooking from Vintage Cookbooks - 1

Oh dear. It's been a very very long time since I've posted anything.  So, to force me  to get back in the habit: here's a bit of an oddball.

I've got a burgeoning collection of fairly vintage cookbooks, or relatively modern cookbooks with vintage recipes in them: ranging from the 16th century up to the 1960s.

One book is called Good Breakfasts by Ambrose Heath published in 1945 - at the end of the Second World War, but right in the middle of rationing.
The rationale behind the book was to give alternatives to the lack of bacon - which was apparently a cause of distress in early morning kitchens. Personally I'd be distressed at the early morning all by itself, never mind the lack of bacon!

It's heavy on boiling, baking or frying ovine, bovine, porcine & piscine protein, liberally coated in carbs: often what I consider to be the more scary extremities.  Obviously I approve of nose to tail eating, until it's on my plate, or worse, on my chopping board!  I can't imagine eating much of it for breakfast, but for lunch or an easy dinner I think a lot of the recipes would still work if not being entirely to my taste.  I've been thinking this for a couple of decades when I'd leaf through it and think that sounds nice, and do absolutely nothing about it.

What is surprising now I've looked at it in detail recently is the way Ambrose includes Olive Oil in some recipes - I'd previously believed the Elizabeth David school of thought that Olive Oil was sold in tiny bottles for medicinal rather than culinary purposes.  The bottles here are old ones my mum's given me to use on my unvarnished furniture - the one on the left is from Boots 'for use with salads and general culinary purposes. But at just 2.5fl oz a bottle (71ml) you'd have to be mean!

As I've just found out from a post here by the British Food in America site, it's not just my book that casually includes Olive Oil as though it's as easy to find as Reindeer Tongue or Sheep's Head & Feet or Hominy Grits: Ambrose uses Olive Oil in other books as well.  Then again, as one of the recipes in this book is for Pineapple Jam - I suspect he lived in Central London and shopped at Fortnums or other specialist grocers!  You can't get some of the stuff he mentions quite so easily even from large supermarkets or specialist shops these days - Reindeer tongue for example.

I am very fond of kippers.

That's not the non sequitur it might at first appear - it's these older cookbooks that I turn to first if there's ingredients that I like but have limited experience of. Sadly there's no kippers in my 18th Century dinners book, nor my Country House cooking book, nor my Channel 4 historical dinners book.  And Ambrose has only a couple of recipes - though he has lots for other fish which can probably be adapted.

But Ambrose came up trumps with KIPPER CREAMS

His recipe, (as altered by me for modern laziness) is as follows:

  1. Wash a kipper well (they come in packs of 2, I used both with the following quantities - quality local Craster kippers - gorgeous)
  2. Skin it and remove the bones (mine was pretty well deboned, some little ones were still there, but hey I need the calcium)
  3. Rub the flesh through a wire sieve into a basin (yeah right. That was hard and fruitless work. So I stopped and chopped it quite roughly instead)
  4. Add one whole egg and the raw yolk of another egg (I recommend separating the eggs before you touch the kippers, my leftover egg white won't be used for anything fancy, I had kippery fingers by this stage... An omlette that needs no anchovies maybe?)
  5. Add pepper (at this point the man is mad: his recipe says add salt.  Like the sat-nav believer who obediently turns onto a railway line then looks in horror at the tracks stretching ahead of them - adding salt is something you will live to regret. I've drunk a pint of milk since I ate my Kipper Cream a couple of hours ago and still feel thirsty now. So, no extra salt!)
  6. Mix in 2 tablespoons of thick cream (I used half fat creme fraiche).
  7. Put into little dariole moulds or paper cases. (Dariole moulds? I had to google these, they're like little metal flower-pot shaped tins.  I used 2 buttered ramekins - just the right size for a light dinner or lunch portion).
  8. Bake until their tops are a 'nice brown'. (Ambrose doesn't give instructions for temperature or length of time.  His books are obviously not for novices, and I'll bear that in mind in future attempts to widen my culinary horizons.  I pre-heated the fan oven at between 200 & 220 and cooked them for 10 mins.  They could have done with a bit less if I wanted a less firm result, but the eggs were a couple of weeks old, and I prefer to make sure they're cooked solid if I'm using up older supplies or non-supermarket eggs. Salmonella & all that. Don't fancy it much).
These amounts produce two half ramekins of mixture which rise up to nearly full ramekins on cooking. If served with vegetables and maybe potatoes, it could be quite a hearty meal.

Were they nice? Yes!  Ignoring the salt issues: they were quite fluffy in texture, the firmness of the kipper bits contrasting with the omletty egg.  I had chopped spinach with mine, (and gallons of milk due to the salty mistake) and very nice they were too.  Would I make them again? Definately. Easy to do, pretty foolproof and very fast. Could be nice in the summer with a green salad.

Ivorcat liked the mean amount of kipper scrapings I gave him and was treated to a bit of skin (with a good helping of watered down milk - I worry about the salt, it can't be good for him, but he does love tiny little bits of smoked salmon, kippers, salami etc) so he's still purring madly!

It's encouraged me to try other recipes out of the book, and maybe work my way backwards to Edwardian, Victorian, Regency and even Tudor food.  I'll keep you posted.  In one of the other books there's a recipe using spagetti at the base of a pie that you turn out and serve upside down to make a 'thatched house chicken pye' which I've a hankering to try. And the idea of 'jumbles' has always fascinated me.  But don't worry I won't be using heads and feet any time soon!


  1. You're my type of cook, Toot :-)
    I like kippers about once every two years, maybe this is my next recipe!

  2. I was going to do another post on another recipe. But as I've just turned my raw chestnuts to charcoal, they are destined for my sister's chickens and no blog post will be done. sigh.


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