Thursday, September 22, 2011

Calke Abbey and Mrs Beeton’s Veal Tenderloin “Fricandeau”

When I was in England this summer I went to Derbyshire to see Chatsworth and Kedleston Hall –– they are monumental manors with equally monumental reputations for grandeur.  And they were grand, so very grand.  There’s a good reason they are often locations for BBC dramas.

But I had heard about another house that was never as grand or as famous, and what I heard made me want to go there. 

Calke Abbey was called “a country house in decline” in the National Trust literature. The Harpur family had owned the property since 1622, only giving it up to The Trust in 1985.  It was said they never threw anything out and had a kitchen that hadn’t been touched in 100 years… that I wanted to see.

National Trust Photo

Although there had been a priory where Calke Abbey stands that was built in the 12th century, the only architectural remnant of that time is a delightfully blissed-out face bracket.

The Visible Elizabethan Construction, National Trust Photo

The priory building was remodeled in the 1575 (more likely torn down and built over) and that building was quite large by the 17th century ––the 1662 Hearth Tax accessed it for 23 hearths (Chatsworth had 79) but only a little of the Elizabethan construction is still visible in the present house.  Calke, as it was known then, was completely rebuilt at the beginning of the 18th century.  

Calke Abbey may not be an exceptional house, but it is a remarkable reflection of a very singular family who accumulated (bordering on hording) a very special assortment of objects.  I could have spent days there.

The Harpur family initially made their money with law and a particularly brilliant marriage in the 16th century by Richard Harpur to the ancient Findern family.  The fortune was concentrated rather than dispersed (as is usually the case) through unexpected early deaths among the heirs in both families.  As a result,  John Harpur was very wealthy. He was also an esteemed politician in his day.

John Harpur (1680-1741) 4th Baronet

It was his great-grandson, another John, who inherited from all sides again upon reaching his majority at the dawn of the 18th century.  He was the one that built the house we see today between 1701-04.

It took another generation for the eccentricity of the family to begin to show with Henry (1763-1819)… and that eccentricity flourished from then on.  The Caricature Room is a good example of the beginning of their eccentric decorating style.   Caricatures and cartoons were applied to the walls from the late 18th century through the early 19th century and a conservation effort uncovered as many as 3 layers of the engravings–– revealing many years of changing displays.  A letter to the 8th Baronet, George (1795-1844) that was found in the house papers revealed that guests would bring engravings for the walls, even though the author of the letter was miffed about his last offering (perhaps papered over?) and said he would bring no more.

Henry, the 7th Baron, renamed the house Calke Abbey in the early 19th century. Henry also changed the family name  to Harpur-Crewe in 1808 to pick up an ancient barony,  but his petition was dismissed (he had done nothing to earn the title save a half-hearted stab at being high sheriff of Derbyshire). It is likely his marriage to a ladies' maid didn't help and the fact that he shut himself off from society might have had something to do with the rejection.  

Henry Harpur

The Trust notes quoted an 1812 account of Henry:

"At dinner he sits down alone at a table covered for several persons, and after dinner glasses are placed as if for several persons and he takes wine in that form, but does not allow any servant to wait in the room.... His shyness is a disease of the mind, which he is sensible of but cannot conquer, and in his letters to his friends he laments that he labours under this difficulty.... He is shy of communication to such an excess that he sometimes delivers his orders to his servants by letters." 

After Henry,  the Harpur-Crewe men began turning inward, staying out of society–– collecting stuffed birds ––lots and lots of birds (George, the 8th Baron was an exception).  The collection went from 400 cases in 1840 when his father John was in charge,  to thousands of stuffed birds in the 20th century with Vauncey.  Vauncey Harpur-Crewe (1846-1924) took collecting to a whole new level.

Vauncey’s room from childhood to adulthood, Trust photo

Vauncey’s room from childhood to adulthood

Vauncey was by all accounts a great and caring landlord much loved by his tenants but an awkward parent with unorthodox methods of communication with his own children just as his great grandfather Henry had been (his father had married a cousin descended from Henry so poor Vauncey inherited Henry's idiosyncrasies from 2 lines of the family).  He also preferred writing notes to direct address, sending letters on silver salvers delivered by servants or even going so far as to post them to be re-delivered to his own house!

He was, above all, a serious ornithologist. He considered his estate a bird sanctuary, actually directing that hedges be left untrimmed so the birds would have more attractive places to nest. He also bought thousands of stuffed birds from dealers to augment the birds he had gathered himself.

Life changed radically in the house after Vauncey’s death, owing to reduced circumstances from death duties –– Calke Abbey went from having dozens of servants to just a few.  Remarkably, some of the rarest books and finest specimens of the birds in the collection were sold to get some cash… it is hard to believe there was MORE here, considering how full the place is now. 

Almost nothing had been done to the house since the 1840’s (save adding more things to it) and that’s what makes it such an interesting place.

The upside of this was that time stopped at Calke Abbey–– the house didn’t even get electricity till 1963!  This incredible State Bed was discovered in a box when the National Trust took over the house in 1985.   The bed had come into the house in 1734 (a royal present from Princess Anne, daughter of George II, to her bridesmaid Caroline Manners when she wed Henry Harpur)  but had never been installed (it was too tall for the bedroom floor of the house).  As a result, the elaborately embroidered silk fabric is in perfect condition and the Trust installed the bed in a climate-controlled cube to keep it that way.

Do visit the National Trust site HERE to read about the Calke Abbey Library that has recently had its 8,500 books catalogued.  Even with the books that were sold, it is still a formidable collection.

Word of warning… I had bitten off more than I could chew with my schedule and arrived less than an hour before Calke Abbey closed with a storm coming on.  By the time I got to the kitchen it was positively black inside (kudos to my camera for what it was able to get without a tripod… it was DARK as pitch in there!) and I had to work fast with the clock running and the lovely hosts at the house wanting to leave as soon as they could. As a result, the pictures weren’t as clear as I might have hoped and for that I am sorry.

Kitchen, built in 1794

Can you see the gout treatment chair on the table??

cook’s closet

I loved the noble wreck of a kitchen and its side rooms that were built in 1794.  Until the end of the 16th Century, kitchens were either separate buildings or on the public floors of the house.  At Calke Abbey the butler’s pantry had been the original kitchen until the “modern” 1794 basement addition.

Butler’s Pantry/new kitchen

That enormous kitchen was abandoned in 1928… and remained just as it was. The butler’s pantry (that was closer to the living area) was re-purposed as the kitchen for the house once again (don’t get me wrong, that room was wonderful in its own simpler way). But the 18th century kitchen is so fantastic because time stopped there nearly 100 years ago.

So, what did they eat? 

For a house that was caught in amber sometime in the mid 19th century, I thought fricandeau might easily have been on the menu.  What is fricandeau, you may ask?  You are not alone.  I didn’t know what it was either.

I discovered fricandeau a few months ago when I read Abraham Hayward’s 1852 book, “The Art of Dining”.  No less a person that Leigh Hunt wrote a charming introduction that mentioned “frican”.

Leigh Hunt (friend of Byron, Keats and Shelley) was quoted on the frontispiece of Hayward's book:  “ It is well known that to constitute a perfect entrée there must be observed a certain coherence and harmony among the dishes – so that fish may not interfere with fowl, or stew take the place of roast.  How should we be shocked to see a syllabub responsive to sirloin – a cod’s head yoked to a mince pie—or a frican [fricandeau] lean shouldering a plate of cherries?”

Mrs Beeton's 1861 Book

Veal fricandeau has been on my to-do list, especially since it’s been popping up in my reading lately… reminding me I should make it.  This is a perfect opportunity to share the dish with you.  The recipe comes from an Edwardian reprint of Mrs. Beeton’s (1836-65) Household Management cookbook, Everyday Cookery.  It was a very popular dish in the 19th century that has gone out of fashion.  Why did that happen? I have to ask, because it’s so good!

Mrs Beeton's Recipe

Just so you know, Veal Fricandeau is a lovely piece of veal tenderloin that has been larded with pork –– bacon or pork belly––to moisten the meat, and moisten it does.  

 Larding needles from the 1704 wreck of the Dauphine

 Wooden Larding needle from the 1704 wreck of the Dauphine

I hadn’t larded anything since a leg of lamb 20 years ago but discovered it was simple to do without a larding needle (I used a knife and the dull end of a toothpick—not as elegant but effective).  As I larded, I even had a flashback of my gram’s old larding needle that used to fascinate me as a child since it looked like a wicked cool weapon (come to think of it, I believe I once menaced my younger brother with it –– which prompted its removal from the drawer and my reach).

The veal was buttery tender and the larding added a lovely porkiness to the veal when cooked low and slow.  I got my veal and pork belly from D'Atagnan ––I didn't know veal could be this succulent and delicious!  

Served with the vegetables it was cooked with as well as the spinach that was recommended as a side… it is a splendid meal.  I decided to gild the lily further by adding my favorite fennel mashed potatoes, inspired by a Matthew Kenney recipe in the great book, Comforting Foods, that I’ve told you about before.  I’ve been making them for years and they are always wonderful.

Veal Fricandeau, based on Mrs. Beeton’s recipe, serves 4

1 piece of veal tenderloin from D'Artagnan, 1 ½ -2 pounds
A hand size piece of pork belly, skin removed or 4 to 5 strips of thick bacon
¼ c of Madeira
1 c stock
2 carrots (I used lovely burgundy carrots – red on the outside and gold on the inside!)
1 large onion, sliced in half
bunch of herbs ( marjoram, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, savory)
½ t mace
¼ t allspice
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper

extra herbs for garnish

2 T flour (optional)

Take the veal and use a thin knife or a larding needle to insert slivers of bacon or pork belly into the veal, leave a few pieces of the fat (I did around 12 pieces).  Marinate it in the Madeira for an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 250ºTake some of the bacon or pork belly and render some fat. Dry the meat, then salt and pepper the veal and then brown in the fat.  Lay pork skin left over from the pork belly or another slice of bacon in the dish (I used a small ceramic lidded dish). Add the onion, sliced in half, the carrots and herbs.  Pour in the stock, demiglace and left-over Madeira  and place the meat on top of the vegetables.  The idea is that the meat doesn’t sit in the liquid but rather sits above it on a little vegetable “rack”.   Cook for 2 ½ hours, covered, basting from time to time.  Remove the lid and cook for ½ an hour more.

Remove the meat and tent.  Pour out the stock and strain.  Remove the fat and reduce it till it is thickened if you want it plain or, if you wish to add flour, reduce it a little,  add a flour slurry and stir until thickened.

Fennel Mashed Potatoes, serves 4

2 pounds potatoes, cut into chunks
¼ c heavy cream *
¼ c milk*
¼ t mace
2 T butter
salt and pepper to taste

½ large fennel, sliced thinly on a mandoline
½ large onion, sliced thinly on a mandoline
2 T butter
1 T sugar
s & p to taste
fennel fronds for garnish

Melt the butter.  Sauté the fennel and onion slowly until soft and browning… add the sugar and continue to cook till brown and sugary.

While that is cooking, cook the potatoes, drain and mash with milk, cream and the rest.
Add the fennel mixture and serve to very happy guests.

* the amount of liquid needed varies with the potatoes.  Start with the amounts given  and add more if needed.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
We recall our visit to Calke as though it were yesterday having read this most detailed post and looked at your splendid images, including those of the kitchen quarters. Such a wonderful house and the contents, which appeal to us especially for their very eclectic nature, show so well the continuity to be had from living in one place for several generations. And of course all the cases of stuffed birds and animals we love [and collect ourselves].

Certainly a house, as you show, to be well worth visiting and a nice contrast to its somewhat grander neighbours.

pam said...

Oh my gosh, I would totally love that place!!!! How wonderful!

Kathy Walker said...

What a wonderful post. I enjoyed learning about Calke Abbey. I hope to be able to visit it on my travels.
As for the Veal sounds amazing!

tasteofbeirut said...

What an amazing meal! I was in Derbyshire a few years ago to visit relatives (English folks) and also an American childhood friend who lived in a small village with her english writer boyfriend and their two kids in an old stationmaster house! Nothing grandiose like this, but Derbyshire is a lovely area, loved the sheep everywhere...

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Another wonderful, and quite interesting and humorous post about Calke Abbey and it's inhabitants - especially Henry, Harpur-Crewe ;)

Always a delightful read here, Deana.

I've never had a veal tenderloin - it must be so delicate and delicious.

rental mobil said...

Very nice, thanks for sharing.

Barbara said...

Good Lord. I would have been there for a week. I'm so sorry you didn't have more time but you certainly used it to good advantage. And you did a super job with the photos in the kitchen considering the light.
And Vauncey's bedroom would produce nightmares. A serious ornithologist? An understatement!

The last time I saw a larding needle used was by the Two Fat Ladies. Much easier to do it with a knife!

The veal dish looks wonderful, Deana. Love the idea of fennel in the mashed potatoes. They marry nicely.

Priscilla - She's Cookin' said...

That is the most splendid bed - I'm glad they were able to set it up for all to see. As always, a delightful and interesting read, Deanna! I can only imagine how sublime the larded veal tenderloin and fennel mashed potatoes tasted :)

Julian said...

Another fantastic post, which I'm reading today from South Africa having jet lag and being wide-awake in the middle of the night. Your posts are always interesting and somehow comforting to read. I'm going to try both the veal and fennel mash. Sounds wonderful!


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Ahh this is a wonderful post. I too would have loved to have peeked into this grand home and it's very lucky that we have you to show it to us! I'm afraid I might end up a bit eccentric one day...

Frank said...

I saw a documentary once on Calke Abbey, and it's been on my 'bucket list' ever since. You're lucky to have gotten a chance to see this fascinating (if a bit creepy) place.

The veal looks fabulously juicy, which is always a challenge with veal. Larding really does its job, too bad it seems to have gone out of fashion...

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

AGAIN....a brilliant show of HISTORY, ANCIENT ROOTS that are IMPORTANT to understand, and a recipe to beat the band....I SO LOVE the old and Romanesque feel to the history of English architecture for the vestiges are clear that we certainly have a LINK with the ancient view of life and pleasure, and colonialism of all sorts....especially CULINARY!

MAY I SAY AS WELL that you are brilliant. YOUR COMMENT about how ".....wings are meant for flying and not for cages" is absolutely poignant and true. I am going to take that and give you full credit and keep that close at hand. IF I EVER USE IT...which I think I will since I am obsessed with wings and birds, I will speak of YOU and your insight that is a prime motivator in making ME want to connect with you my dear, dear Deana.

LOVE TO YOU ON THIS FINE WEEKEND! Cozy up to a warm cup of soup...I am making CREAM OF MUSHROOM with ROASTED CHESTNUTS...oh yeah! Anita

Diane said...

Deanna this post is amazing. I cannot believe that yo took all those beautiful photos in a hurry. Love the recipe and I am going to try that mashed potato and fennel as soon as possible. Yum yum.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Another amazing home - no electricity until 1963??!! Fascinated by how these grand homes were communities in their own right, even when the number of servants dropped dramatically.

El said...

The house is remarkable. What I wouldn't give to be in that kitchen. It looks like a BBC series- definitely. Your recipes are wonderful. I especially love the mashed potatoes with fennel.

Unknown said...

Just to give you a clue of how strange (obsessed) I've become, whenever you wrote "Calke" my mind reads "cake" LOL. Speaking of cake, how fun would it be to eat cake in that bed?! I could draw the curtains and be a little piggy in complete secrecy. What a wonder that it stayed so beautifully intact!
Lovely veal dish, its been so long since I've had any.
*kisses* HH

Tanantha said...

I like how you always tie history to your food! This veal looks succulent and score for pork belly. Fennel in mashed potato sounds really good. I need to add it next time when making mashed potato!

Sarah said...

Fennel and mashed potatoes, yumm. I must return to England. It is so intriguing.

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Hi Deana:

I really like this house - lots of personality and a love of the natural world with all of that collecting of critters going on.

The kitchens do seem wonderful, pity you didn't have more time for them . . . but that means you have to go back - Yeah!

Wonderfule recipes too - particularly fond of the mash.