Monday, December 5, 2016

Lady Clark's Cookbook, Game Custards and Indian Tarts

Tillipronie House (probably early 20th c photo)

How many of you are recipe addicts? Join the club. For me, it started innocently enough, just clipping out a few recipes here and there from magazines. Next came cookbooks –– one here, one there, a gift or two. The next thing I knew I had giant bookcases filled with cookbooks and later more cases, positively crammed with books about food and cooking and history. I began transferring favorite recipes to notebooks, written in longhand so I could take them with me when I did dinners with friends. I asked for recipes at dinner parties, made notes about interesting combinations at restaurants all over the world and then tried to make the dishes at home. I’ve now been doing this most of my life – I still collect recipes. Once you start it’s hard to stop. Now I can collect digitally and not take up any more shelf space (unless it is absolutely necessary to buy an out-of-print delight).

The cover color was chosen to match the fall leaves of a favorite tree outside Tillypronie

One of the great English cookbooks you’ve probably never heard of comes from a kindred magpie spirit – a fellow collector of recipes. Elizabeth David thought The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie (available HERE) was divine and Virginia Wolfe reviewed it warmly when it debuted in 1909 (“Independently of the knowledge they convey, cookery books such as [Lady Clark’s] are delightful to read... A charming directness stamps them, with their imperative 'Take an uncooked fowl and split its skin from end to end' and their massive commonsense which stares frivolity out of countenance"”). Lady Clark collected her treasures between 1841 and her death in 1897. I can’ t help but think I would have liked her.

1840 London

Lady Clark, née Charlotte Coltman, was born in 1824 although the date of her birth is incorrectly given as 1851 in most internet sources. 1851 was in fact the date of her marriage to John Clark. It was an auspicious time to be born in just the right family for an English woman who loved food and collected recipes with a passion.

Paris, 1846

Her husband explained, “How she originally came to be so interested in them was that her father, Mr. Justice Coltman, had been in early life intimately acquainted with some of the leading émigrés of the First –– great –– French Revolution, and acquired from living a good deal with them, a considerable knowledge and appreciation of the French cuisine, them as now, –– even perhaps more than now –– so superior to our own…”

Paris 1843 (Fox Talbot)

Much traveling to the Continent with her parents awakened her interest in European cuisine and her marriage in 1851 to Sir John Clark further increased the breadth of her knowledge and experience with fine food (he was in the diplomatic service in Paris, Brussels and Turin). Her husband also credited two of their talented cooks (one French and the other Italian) for generously sharing their recipes to further expand his wife’s culinary horizons -- “when any dish interested her…” she would “cross-examine the artist the next day, who, perceiving the intelligent appreciation she evinced in this art, rarely failed to give her the best of his knowledge and experience. In the forty years of our subsequent home life in London, Birk Hall, Bagshot Park and here, she pursued, when opportunity offered, the same system; and what constitutes the value of these recipes is that by far the greater number of them were taken down directly from the lips of the artists themselves under her own acute cross-examination.”

Palais Royale, 1839

Her nephew said, “She remembered every book she ever read and every person she ever met” and her husband recalled “…her mastery of her two departments, housekeeping and the library –– the latter of which was always kept abreast of the time with the newest foreign as well as English books; her brilliant and lively wit; the truth and power of her friendship; her entertaining letters and throughout her exceptionally quiet and undemonstrative life even her best friends did not know the whole of her, nor the half.” After reading this, my regret about the book was that it didn't share the letters or journals of this extraordinary woman who was, it seems, loved and respected by all. I would have liked to know more about her.

None of her delightful work would have ever come to light had it not been for her loving husband who just couldn’t let all her recipes, and the memories of a lifetime together enjoying them, dissolve into the mist. After her death, Sir John asked a writer named Catharine Frances Frere to be Charlotte’s amanuensis and wrangle 16 books covering 50 years and nearly 3000 pages into a manageable form:

Fox-Talbot Paris 1843

“ I have asked you to stand sponsor for the publication of a selection from a number of cookery and household recipes, collected by my late wife – this for two reasons, firstly because I know you to be yourself not a little interested and versed in the science of Brillat-Savarin and secondly, and mainly, because, from your intimate acquaintance with her for many years you can bear testimony to her having been, not the mere "housewife" on culinary things intent, but an exceptionally widely-read woman, gifted with fine literary taste and judgment, a singularly retentive and accurate memory, and great conversational powers, never degraded to mere culinary talk – which she particularly disliked! In fact, a cultivated and accomplished woman with many other and larger interests than such as are indicated by the collection of these recipes.... In this confidence, and in the hope and belief that they may prove of service to many a young matron of like mind with her who made it, I confide the collection to you for your supervision and for publication."

Yours sincerely,

John F. Clark.”

It was no small task. Frere writes of the manuscripts she was handed that, “some of the pages [were] not only written over every available margin, but often crossed like a shepherd’s plaid – added to which were recipes written on loose sheets pinned in, or on the backs of envelopes or of paid bills, or apparently on any half sheets of paper snatched up as the opportunity occurred to get a valuable hint recorded; all bearing witness to the interest and care with which Lady Clark had studied this branch of her responsibilities as hostess.” She continued, “Their practical pages are interspersed with anecdotes, with quaint little rhymes; here is one with reference to local names:

“Tillyorne grows the corn, Westercorse the straw
Meadow Lea the blewits blue, Cald Hame naething ava!”

Frere chose an extract from Voltaire copied into Lady Clark’s manuscript recipe books for the opening of the cookbook:

“Madame, songez à la santé surtout, c'est là ce qu'il faut vous souhaiter -- la beauté, la grandeur, l'espirit, le don de plaire, tout est perdu quand on digère mal, c'est l'estomac qui fait les heureux.”
“Madame, think of health, above all, that is what you must wish for - beauty, grandeur, hope, the gift of pleasing, everything is lost when you digest badly, it is the stomach which makes happiness.”

Tillypronie today, for sale for £10 million.

The word Tillypronie comes from the name of their estate. It means 'top of the hill', and the house looks out across the Vale of Cromar to the Grampian Mountains. Romantic, isn’t it? Also, from all accounts, it was as cold as cold could be even with its barrier of trees to break the wind gusts that assailed its stony walls in the winter –– not the most felicitous environment for an elderly couple.

Although there had been a house there for centuries, the Clark’s house was built in 1867. John’s father, James, was a physician to Queen Victoria and the Queen laid the foundation stone for the house and was a frequent guest (with Mr. Brown).

Tillypronie was famous for its hospitality. Aside from the Queen, the American author, Henry James, came for a visit and fell in love in 1879 when he first visited Tillypronie, “The supremely comfortable house lying deep among the brown and purple moors.”... “The great thing is the color... & the wonderful velvety bloom of the hills, which are powdered over with all kinds of broken & filtered lights.” Of the couple that hosted him he said they “could not be a more tenderly hospitable couple. Sir John caresses me like a brother, and her ladyship supervises me like a mother.” He continued, at the Clarks’, “you get the conveniences of Mayfair dove-tailed into the last romanticism of nature.”

The couple hosted many dinners with menus that read like popular minimalist fare today:

The recipes come from cooks like their own Taton and Cataldi, neighbors like the Emslie sisters, and nobility like the Prince de Polignac and the Duc de Coigny, Doctors Wolff and Liebig, Florence Nightingale’s father and Mrs. Adams of the USA and many of England’s titled class. The names of the dishes can be amusing too. Ritualistic Haddock, Mismash, Wet Devil, Boiled Angels, Grandpapa’s Snuff and Feather Fowlie.

The recipes are organized on nearly 600 pages with dishes listed alphabetically after the chapter headings. The range is quite spectacular.

“So great is the variety of locality from which the recipes were drawn, that Lady Clark may be said to have focused much of the best cookery of Europe in her collection, for the recipes came from France, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Russia, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Holland, Austria, as well ask England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, with some Turkish and Indian dishes thrown in, which give an Oriental flavor.” There were nearly eighteen hundred recipes in the book -- half of the whole of the collection.”

I was fascinated by the multiple recipes for yeast in the book. They would mostly have been made with hops and flour and jumpstarted with brewer’s yeast and then bottled. One that particularly caught my eye and was much lauded was “Ginger Yeast”


PS, they admonish when using hops, use the yellow old ones – fresh green hops are ‘incurably’ bitter. I simply must try this sometimes to see how it tastes and works.

What drew me to the book was its game section. I figured any great Scottish kitchen would be full of game recipes. I was not disappointed. One of the dishes I’ve been wanting to make for years was a game soufflé or custard. It sounds so bizarre I figured it just might be wonderful. While I was at it, I couldn’t resist the little Indian Tartlets. I had some pastry rounds in the freezer and I thought this would be a great appetizer for the holidays.

Game custards are a bit like turning wonderful gravy into a custard.  I think it would be excellent with a simple roast bird and potatoes.  It is intensely flavorful and quite good.

Game Custards, makes 6

6 egg Yolks
6 T of cream
2 c strong stock (I took my game stock and reduced a quart to a few cups)
S&P to taste
pinch of nutmeg
fresh bay or herb for garnish

Blend the yolks and cream then add the stock and the flavoring to taste.  Put through a sieve.  Put into small, heatproof custard cups or cocottes if you have them.  I put a round rack in a large pot and poured a few inches of water in it to come just over the rack.  Then I put in the pots and added more  hot water to come just about 1/3 way up the custard cups.  Bring to a low boil. Cook for about 10 -15 minutes.  You can check to see if they are done by sticking a knife in and seeing how they look. To keep the moisture out you might want to put a bit of parchment over the top -- I didn't but gently took a piece of paper towel and wicked up the bit of water on the top when cooking was done.

Serve hot.

Game soufflé is an interesting idea for big dinner leftovers. Perfect for a Sunday supper after a fancy Saturday dinner party.  It reminds me of a savory frittata -- the mushrooms are perfect with it.

Game Soufflé, makes 4 small or 2 large

2 t flour
1 c rich stock
S&P to taste
pinch cayenne
1 T cream
1/4 lb minced, cooked game bird (like D'Artagnan's wonderful French Quail) or chicken (the recipe called for 1/2 lb but I thought that was too much)
yolks of 2 eggs
whites of 3 eggs, whipped to good peaks.

8 mushrooms, sliced
1 T madeira
2 splashes Worcestershire sauce

Melt the butter and add the flour.  Cook for a few moments, stirring.  Add the stock slowly and then cook for about 15 minutes -- it will thicken and reduce.  Stir so it doesn't stick.  Remove from heat and cool. 

Heat the oven to 400º. 

When it is cool,  Add the meat and the egg yolks and combine well.  Add a good spoon of the beaten egg whites and mix thoroughly.  Then add the rest of the whites, folding them in gently.

Butter 2-1 c molds or 4-1/2 c molds ( used the truffle butter for this too.)

Gently pour the mixture into the molds.  Place on a tray and put into the oven.  Immediately turn the oven down to 375º.  Cook for 15-20 minutes.  Keep an eye on them.  Remove when puffed and golden and serve immediately.Serve with the mushrooms scattered on top.

If you are doing this for a dinner party, you can have everything ready to go but the egg whites and put them together in a flash.

This recipe is perfect for leftovers too.  It can be made just for a single serving or scaled up for a dinner party.  It is a brilliant and eccentric combination that shouldn't work (mango and parmesan?) but it does.  

Indian Tartlets, makes 4-6

1 cooked, diced chicken breast or 2 D'Artagnan French Quail breasts
1 slice ham, diced
chopped truffle (optional - D'Artagnan has them if you would like to be extravagant)
1 T chutney
1/4 mango
2T Parmesan cheese, grated
S&P to taste
pinch cayenne
pinch curry
3 -4 T velouté *
4-6 pastry rounds or tartlet cases

Combine the fowl, ham, truffle, chutney, mango and Parmesan cheese.  Add the velouté.

Put the pastry on a baking sheet and put dollops of the mixture on top. You can add a bit more parmesan on top if you would like.  Then broil for a few minutes until hot and bubbling.  Serve hot or warm.

* to make the velouté, put 2 t truffle butter and 2 t flour in a sauce pan.  stir till blended and bubbling. add 1/3 c stock slowly -- stirring all the while.  Remove from heat when thick.  Taste for seasoning.

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Parnassus said...

Hello Deana, Lady Clark indeed does sound like an interesting person. It is lucky that she kept such detailed records of her recipes. Many great cooks only make shorthand outlines of recipes, because they know what they mean, or their usual methods of preparation. I also like her description of the recipes--so often, beyond the title one has little clue as to how a recipe should come out.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

AMAZING old photos of Paris -just stunning. and this receipe sounds so yummy!

Barbara said...

Hello Deana! Loved hearing from you...yes, it's been a while, but as usual, I loved reading your post.
Kudos to Mr. Clark for preserving his wife's recipes, a labor of love and a lovely gift to us, via you. I've never made game custards, tarts or souffles, but this is certainly right up my alley. Love the game souffle particularly...and mean to try it.
Hope all is well with you; have a wonderful holiday.

La Table De Nana said...

I hope your holidays comfort you Deana:)All the very best to you.

Painting the hamptons said...

This looks like an amazing cookbook! Thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Great website! I love how you provide so much information and photos that pique our interests and then you give us the recipes so that we can taste a bit of history ourselves!