Thursday, May 30, 2013

Eneas Sweetland Dallas and Duck Breast with Solid-Gold Sauce Financière

Illustration from The Royal Cookery Book

I had it in my head to do something this week that I’ve been wanting to do for some time –– a ‘fork-list’ addition to my Sauce Series –– Sauce Financière. The name has always whispered the Croesusian promise of shimmering golden lucre and made me want to try anything with the name attached to it. I‘m in good company making the golden connection since no less than MFK Fisher said “The word financière, for fairly obvious reasons, means richness, extravagance, a nonchalant disregard of the purse, but I sometimes suspect that I use it oftener than it warrants to denote anything Lucullan. I need only reread some Victorian cookery books to reassure myself and justify my preoccupation with the word."

Illustration from The Royal Cookery Book

There’s a buttery-sweet goldbrick of a cake called Financiére but also a creamy Ragoût a la Financière made with sweetbreads, cockscombs and mushrooms (often nestled in pastry) in addition to that sauce I wanted to make –– the eponymous sauce redolent of truffles and madeira –– hence the financière connection. Truffles are pricy, Madeira is sublime (don’t worry, you can make a version that won’t break the bank even if it tastes as if you have).

Illustration from The Royal Cookery Book

When I started digging for historical connections to financière, I didn’t have to look far. A dinner held for Abraham Lincoln in 1861 had Vol au Vent Financière (a pastry case stuffed with that Ragoût a la Financière). A famous 1877 literary event known as “The Whittier Dinner” saw Mark Twain as the star speaker and most of the literary lions of the day attending featured “Filet of Beef, larded, Sauce Financière.” But as I tiptoed through Google I found the most remarkable thing –– The earliest cookbook review I’d ever seen dating from 1868 in a periodical that covered politics, literature, science and art!

I found it in the Saturday Review,  one of the most delightful publications of 19th century London (although it continued into the 1930's). Contributors included Anthony Trollope, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Oscar Wilde, Abraham Hayward (the gourmet who I wrote about HERE) and Eneas Sweetland Dallas (1828-79) the secret author of the perceptive and erudite Kettner's Book of the Table, a Manual of Cookery (1877), an encyclopedia of gastronomy based on Brillat-Savarin’s opus and full of wit as well as laudable scholarship (that I quoted HERE and HERE) and that I discovered was a favorite of Chez Panisse founding member, Jeremiah Tower who said of the book, “who can live without it?” 

Out of 44 members of the Garrick Club, The seated man is 1, Dallas is 43
I think he's the bearded gent at the edge - it was said he looked like a Norwegian King.  This is the only picture I could find of Dallas

Dallas was a wonderful writer –– his obit in the Dictionary of National Biography said “Few men wrote more careful, graceful English” among the many hosannas to his talents.  He wrote a magnificent book on poetry entitled The Gay Science – The Secrecy of Art that connected psychology to perception and pleasure in words. Dickens and George Elliot were grateful for his positive reviews of their books (writing of it in personal letters). His approbation was much valued and his opinion highly respected in the many periodicals he wrote for. The Times of London had him as their correspondent during the siege of Paris (1870). 

He was a remarkable man who kept a low profile out of choice ­­–– he felt journalists were only effective when they were anonymous as had been the tradition in England till the 1870s (when any brouhaha ensued, the papers defended the articles not the authors and stood by material with their full weight and power). Dallas’s principled stance is why he is so little known even though his output was enormous. He wrote in 1859, “If anonymous is abolished, and we are permitted to speak each in his own name and each in his own character, then gradually it must come to this –– not only that privacy will be invaded, not only that retirement will be a jest, solitude an impossibility, and home the shadow of a dream, but public life also will be outraged –– public intercourse will be bitter as Marah –– public talk will swell with pride, glitter with tinsel, and nauseate us with its magniloquence infinitely more than it now does with its dullness”(thanks to Dallas Liddle for his great article on Mid-Victorian journalists).

Can you imagine, a writer who wants to stay out of the light? How times have changed.

My first thought was that Hayward had written the review because I was familiar with his connection to fine food. But once the Dallas/Kettner's connection was made, the review found its author in my mind (although I cannot prove it). Dallas loved and admired Gouffé in Kettner's and wrote there in 1877 “ Too much art in cookery may be as fatal as too little: and it is impossible to read some of the receipts of the master-cooks without wishing that they could forget high art and come down to common sense”.

Imagine, a journalist who reads cookbooks in 1868!

Similar sentiments were expressed in the 1868 review of The Royal Cookery Book, the English translation of Gouffé’s Livre de Cuisine; “But the main point of difference between the Livre de Cuisine and most other books on the same engrossing topic is, the entire absence of “oddity, extravagance and affectation” which not only professedly, but in truth actually, characterizes it.”

Illustration from The Royal Cookery Book (from a later edition, perhaps more decorated than Dallas would have liked)

The article continues about Gouffé’s use of wine, “ In reviewing the French edition we noticed its author’s sensible remarks as to the wine to be used for soups and sauces –– not Chateau-Lafitte or Joannisberg, but good average Burgundy, claret, and Spanish wines, so with his ideas on dressing fish; the noble turbot he would boil in salt water, in stead of letting it swim in Madeira, and garnish with friend smelts and parsley, and potatoes cut olive-fashion, instead of disfiguring it with an array of decorated skewers. Like a practiced artist, he knows which of his materials have beauty enough to be best unadorned, and reserves his triumphs of disguise for setting off things that are naturally deficient therein.”

Dallas never flagged in his determination to laud chefs who made food beautifully, without too much fuss with great ingredients. These ideas are the core of Gouffés book and the review. A fancy presentation does not mask poor quality –– bad butter makes a bad dish. The author of the review specifically points to Gouffé saying, "The crucial test" in cookery "is the palate."

The reason I found the "Saturday Review" piece in the first place was because it mentioned financière; “In enumeration too, of game for domestic purposes, the pheasant has no place. One can understand the braized pheasants with foie gras à la Bohèmienne, and à la financière are incompatible with plain tables, yet we should have thought that a simply-roasted pheasant was consistent with due economy and with domestic cookery. Still the bills of fare that could be constructed from the first part, containing recipes for making beef à la mode, veal à la bourgeoise, fricandeaus of veal, roast turkey stuffed with chestnut, salmis of larks, grey and red mullets à la maître d’hotel, and eel and carp matelotes, might, by skillful ringing the changes, keep a tolerably exigeant gourmand some little time in good humour."

I think you will love peeking at his Kettner's Book of the Table (available to read online HERE) or the review (HERE).  You will find as I did that his views on food are not quaint or quirky in the the least because they are true and honest and thoughtful as well as entertaining –– his passion for the topic is infectious

Since this is another entry into my Sauce Series,  I am making my financière sauce using some great D'Artagnan products.  I'm using their Moulard duck breast as the base for the dish because it is perfect for the sauce with its meaty lusciousness.  For the sauce itself you can make the"Federal Reserve" version with sliced truffles or the "Banker's Reserve" using truffle oil and truffle butter for that truffle magic.  You can use pricy mushrooms like morels (although a good handful is only $6) or buttons.  Either way, you will love the sauce on pretty much anything from chicken to game birds to steak.  It's a keeper.  I decided to combine a few recipes for the sauce from Gouffé, Francatelli and even Oscar of the Waldorf.  The result was just what I wanted and it is quick to make and has not terribly rich –– just rich tasting!

Illustration from The Royal Cookery Book

I also read about fried block of bread used for serving  in Gouffé's book.

Illustration from The Royal Cookery Book

It was used to prop up the meat or fowl for presentation but I liked the idea of modifying it for a single portion of duck breast.  The idea that it would soak up the delicious sauce was compelling (you can just toast it and skip the frying if you want to lower the calories).

If you want to go for full-out Fort Knox extravagance, you can use a few shavings of fresh white truffle in season,  add a cube or 2 of foie gras to the sauce before serving and use a splash of 1912 D'Oliveira Verdelho Madeira from The Rare Wine Company for pure sorcery on your palate ––I know I've said it before, but what it does to this sauce is nothing short of apotheosis (you can read more about madeira and The Rare Wine Company HERE).

Duck Breast with Sauce Financiére serves 2 -4

2 duck breasts, cooked and sliced (each breast gives about 8 slices)
1 recipe sauce financiére
2 - 4  pieces fried bread
herbs for garnish (sage, chervil, marjoram)

Place the sliced duck breast on the the bread and spoon the mushrooms and sauce over the meat.

Sauce Financiére

1 cup mushrooms (morels and sliced shitakes or creminis)
2 T butter or truffle butter or olive oil
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 t pepper
1 t mushroom ketchup (Complete Cook recipe HERE) or salt to taste
1 c D'Artagnan demi-glace
1 T meat glaze (a super reduced demi-glace or stock)
1 T Espagnole sauce (optional - the recipe is HERE)
3 T madeira (I would use Rare Wine Co. Savannah Verdelho or 1912 D'Oliveira Verdelho)
1 D'Artagnan canned truffle, sliced and/or about 1/2 t D'Artagnan white truffle oil or to taste

Sauté the mushrooms in the butter till softened a bit, add the truffle slices.  Add the spices and mushroom ketchup or salt.

Add the demi-glace and meat glaze and Espagnole.  Reduce to a slightly syrupy consistency (you will have around 1/3 to 1/2 a cup) and add the madeira and keep warm or reheat gently. Add the truffle oil just before serving.

Duck Breast (virtually foolproof technique)

2 large duck breasts from D' Artagnan* (there are smaller ones, if you use them change the cooking time)
Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400º With a sharp knife score the fat of the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern. Season the duck with salt and pepper. Warm a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Place the duck breasts, fat side down, in the skillet to render the fat, about 6 minutes. Turn the duck breasts over and sear for 1 minute. Turn the fat side down again and place the skillet into the oven to roast for 7 minutes, until breasts are medium rare (4 minutes for the smaller breasts). Rest them for 5 minutes then slice (this technique is from the Food Network).

Fried Bread

Cut 2 - 4 crustless wedges of bread from a good peasant loaf
Fry in 1 T olive oil and 1 T butter for 2, double that amount for 4 (or just toast the bread for lower calories).  Turn to brown all sides and reserve –– you can warm in a toaster when you are ready to serve.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Sisters Tatin and Their Famous Apple Tart

When my invite to join Anita's Simply Irresistible party at Castles Crowns and Cottages I was happy as could be and set to putting together a piece on regional French delights.  I visited my favorite writers and cookbook authors Madeline Kamman and MFK Fisher for inspiration.  Although wonderful things bubbled up, all of the dishes I liked were fall and winter stews or simple salads.  As work overwhelmed me this week I wailed and rent my garments that I would never find the perfect thing but somewhere in my fevered brain,  two currents kept surfacing –– Tarte Tatin and the book,  Auberge of the Flowering Hearth ––  Baron Roy Andries de Groot's magnificent classic about following the seasons at an inn in the alpine valley of La Grande Chartreuse with 2 ladies making magic with local ingredients and a wood-burning stove.

I loved the book and it provided one of my first introductions to the Tarte Tatin.  The ladies of the inn included it in a menu for "A Provincial Lunch" that included tapenade and crudites, Hochepot de Poule (chicken in a creamed wine), cheeses and Tarte aux Pommes des Belles Demoiselles Tatin

Hotel Tatin, La Motte-Beuvron

The story behind the tart as de Groot told it involved an accident that began in a covered pan in the embers of an open hearth. The pan is called a four de campagne (a kind of dutch oven) I discovered, thanks to the research done by Henri Delétang who has written an entire book on the subject (La Tarte Tatin – Histoire et Légendes") and the website Tarte Tatin that I used for much of the intertesting tidbits on my favorite tart.

Henri Delétang, La Tarte Tatin

de Groot's version of the invention of the tarte involved the Tatin sisters in what was then a small Hôtel de la Croix Blanche in the Sologne district of central France (could it be the Hotel Tatin was originally called this – the only one I could find was at Mont Blanc).  

"The story is that one day the younger sister was carrying an apple tart into the dining room when it slipped off the platter and fell on the floor upside down. She managed to scoop it up, but couldn't turn it over,  because the crust had cracked.  So she rushed it back to the kitchen and glazed it with caramel to hide the crack.  It was such a a success with the customers that it has become one of the classic recipes of  France."

Wikipedia posits that it was a forgotten pan of sauteéd apples that led to the dish.  

From Tarte Tatin site

The site Tarte Tatin had the notes from a good friend of the sisters named Marie Souchon that involved a covered copper four de campagne topped with embers.  Within were layers of apples and sugar and butter that were topped with pastry -–– nothing else (no cinnamon, vanilla or calvados).  Unlike all of my favorite recipes, the apples are not cooked first.  I tried this method once and was not pleased.  The apples didn't caramelize at all rather they stewed –– blech.  This technique may work with embers but not in a modern oven or perhaps that pre-cooking instruction was left off.  

Fairy-book Chateau de Tracy

Apparently, Souchon said the recipe was passed along to the sisters by Count Chateuvillard's cook at Chateau de Tracy.  Other suggestions as to its beginnings find Caréme had an upside-down cake in the 1840s (glazed gâteaux renversées) and the Solonge area  had something similar called tarte solognotte (it is thought the Tart Tatin was invented toward the end of the 19th century).  Since the sisters never wrote down their inspiration or recipe, no one will ever know for sure.  Frankly, I was slightly stunned when I saw how much had been written trying to figure this out and enormous energy spent ferreting out the most original recipe –– but only slightly.  

This is a truly great dessert. Over one summer holiday weekend I made 3 of them (one of my best friends ate nearly a full one right out of the oven –– his joy was so infectious I wasn't angry and made another, then another).  Although one author felt leaving the apples unpeeled would add body to the dish, I didn't like the idea of any strings of texture since one of the things I like most about the dish is the melting texture of those apples.  The other thing I do is leave it in the pan.  I don't tip it over very often –– only when I know the whole thing will be eaten in one sitting.  That way the crust stays beautifully crisp. A quick reheat in the oven the next day makes it perfect (I also don't refrigerate it but leave it on the counter topped with a big wire colander).

I use the Julia Child recipe for Tart Tatin as a base but have made a few changes over the years.  I love the rustic quality of whole wheat in the tart crust.  Julia goes the opposite direction and actually adds pastry flour instead with the AP flour.  I always make it in an old 9" cast iron skillet.

Tarte Tatin

5-6 apples (Granny Smith), peeled and cored sliced into about 8 slices each
rind and juice of one lemon
½ c sugar

1 c sugar
6 T butter
½ t cinnamon
1 T cognac

whipped cream or ice cream and/or sliced almonds are good for accompaniments

Steep the apples in the lemon and sugar for about 20 minutes. Drain

Preheat oven to 425º

Heat the sugar and butter till brown and medium caramel colored in a heavy, cast iron skillet –– stir after the sugar melts and it will look like caramel candy with a good varnish of butter.  Remove from stove and place the drained apple in the caramel.  Cook at medium high heat for about 10 minutes, basting with the juices.  Then cover and cook another 10 minutes on a low heat. Remove from the heat and do another ladle of caramel over the top while you roll the pastry out.  Place the crust on top, tucking in the sides. Put slits in the pastry to let the steam out.

Cook 20 -30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.   You can serve it hot (wait about an hour) or serve it room temperature with whipped cream, ice cream and sliced almonds if you would like. You can serve it flipped or non-flipped as you wish.


¾ c flour
1/3 c whole-wheat flour
½ t salt
1 T sugar
1 stick frozen butter, cut into small pieces
2 T frozen lard, cut into small pieces
¼ c cold water

1/4 c flour for smearing

Add the dry ingredients and pulse to blend.  Add the butter and lard and pulse a few times till it is still full of little chunks but not as fine as cornmeal.  At this point I remove the blade and add the water by hand, stirring with a fork. Grab clumps and set them on a piece of wax paper.   If the last bits aren't holding together, add a bit more water.

Take each clump, smear them on a well-floured portion of the work surface and pile them up.  This makes the flakes. When done, form into a round and let chill for an hour.

Roll into a circle.

Please visit Castles Crowns and Cottages to look at all the simply irresistible blogs that are honoring the best of France –– you will love them.  They are about food, decorating and, well,  life!

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pirates, Jamaica and the Best Jerk Chicken Salad Ever

Errol Flynn as my favorite Pirate of the Caribbean, Captain Blood

Memorial Day will soon fling open the gates to a new summer and turn my thoughts to Jerk Chicken Salad –– Jerk Chicken Salad means Memorial Day for me.

I wrote about my Memorial Day visits to Vermont (HERE) and the food-fest of grilling and eating that goes on there for days and days. The grilled salmon, duck breast and pork take center stage for dinner but part of the schedule of the massive grill is always reserved for the making of jerk chicken for my friend Kath’s Jerk Chicken Salad.

It’s a recipe from an old 90’s cookbook that I don’t recall the name of but whoever conceived of its extravagant flavors deserves a medal.  It is a great recipe with banana ketchup and heat –– lots of heat via the melting pot of world spices that is Jamaica.

I always think of pirates when I think of Jamaica. Even after the Pirate mecca Port Royale was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692, Jamaica had a notorious reputation as a pirate haven. Why do we love pirates and their hangouts? When I read the following descriptions of Jamaica from the golden age of Pirates (the 17th and early 18th centuries) I can see why –– the wicked, wicked ways (that have been rather sanitized in film portrayals) of deliciously bad boys are irresistible.

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow

Ned Ward’s 1697 account of Jamaica (quoted in a great article on Jamaican food by British Food in America) said it was the “Dunghill of the Universe, the Receptacle of Vagabonds, the Sanctuary of Bankrupts, the close-stool for the purges of our prisons, as hot as hell, and as wicked as the Devil.”  It was called The Sodom of the Indies and its pleasures included drinking, wenching, gambling and fencing stolen goods –– a perfect location for Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow or Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood –– and hot and spicy Jerked pork and chicken.


The food of the island was a mix of the cuisines of Britain, Africa, India and China that met thanks to Jamaica’s ports and the trading of its sugar, coffee, chocolate and other valuable commodities the rich land provided.  Jamaica had a lot to trade with and the hard living inhabitants came to love spicy, grilled food. The fact that the hot humid climate made meat go off in the blink of an eye may have had something to do with the fashion for spicy smoking as well.  I had a bottle of hot sauce that I got on a visit to the islands that remained good for years –– nothing can grow in that many Scoville Units to make it go off. The appetite for jerk remained long after the pirates moved on.  

Dave DeWitt of Fiery Foods quoted a Hans Sloane, 1707:  “[Wild hogs were] “cut open, the bones taken out, and the flesh is gash'd on the inside into the skin, fill'd with salt and expos'd to the sun, which is call'd jirking... [This meat was] brought home to their masters by the hunters, and eats much as bacon, if broil'd on coals.”  

DeWitt also posited "The technique of jerking was originated by the Maroons, Jamaican slaves who escaped from the British during the invasion of 1655 and hid in the maze of jungles and limestone sinkholes known as the Cockpit Country. The Maroons seasoned the pork and cooked it until it was dry and would preserve well in the humidity of the tropics. During the twentieth century, the technique gained enormous popularity in Jamaica and today "jerk pork shacks" are commonly found all over Jamaica. The method has evolved, however, and the pork is no longer overcooked." 

There is a theory that the Maroon technique of pit cooking was a way to keep telltale smoke to a minimum and evade capture –– the delicious smokiness was a lucky by-product.  Some feel the earlier inhabitants of the island, the Carib and Arawak Indians were the ones who started using spice and citrus to preserve meat in the hot climate and the Maroons merely borrowed the recipe and innovated the cooking technique.

One of the secrets of true Jamaican jerk is pimento wood.  Don’t worry, if that got you confused you are not alone.  It has nothing to do with little scraggly green pepper plants.  No, it’s actually the greenwood of the allspice tree (although orange and guava wood or laurel wood is also smoked).  It seems you can buy it in the US and Canada if you want to do it properly but a pimento wood expert said fruitwood (like apple) would be a good alternative if not authentic.  Also, the time tested jerk technique involves thick sticks of green wood that are set between the meat and the grill so that the pimento wood touches the meat and both smokes and flavors it over the long cooking time.  Pimento leaves are also added to the smoke mixture.

Recipes for Jerk are as varied as those of spaghetti sauce and have evolved over time.  It seems originally it was salt and a lot of pepper but the mix is now more complex including Scotch bonnet peppers and even rum –– I add rum to my jerk recipe and love it. Although the jerk recipe is blazing hot, grilling cools it down considerably.  Don't be afraid!  Do take care when working with scotch bonnets as they can burn your eyes and nose if you touch them –– do wash your hands well after making this.

If you don’t have access to a grill you can make this in the oven but it won’t be as great –– the smoke is key to its greatness –– do use any fruitwood chips or sticks soaked in water when you make this even on a gas grill.  I think it is the perfect dish to bring to a holiday event, and was the first thing that came to mind when Creative Cooking Crew challenge was announced as a picnic potluck.  I’m crazy about it and think you will be too.

Oh, I thought for the grilling season I'd share a favorite thing with you.  A zillion years ago, a friend brought a brilliant housewarming present for a weekend.  It was a stack of melamine plates that looked like Provençal pottery but were unbreakable.  In the many years I have used them, I've gotten so many compliments and requests,  "Where did you get them?" Mine came from a place in the Hamptons but I looked up a resource for them for you –– you can get them HERE or HERE.  Since they are light and unbreakable, they go easily from kitchen to picnic table and last forever –– taking a dozen to the picnic table won't require a trip to the back doctor!

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Banana Guava Ketchup serves 6-8

1 recipe for jerked chicken cooled, bones removed and chicken chopped roughly –– skin included.
1 recipe banana ketchup (you may want to use  ¾ of it depending on how sweet you like it and reserve the rest, taste and decide)
1 large red onion, chopped

½ c mayonnaise
1 c chopped parsley
additional salt to taste

You should have around 7 cups of chicken.  Add red onion, ketchup, parsley and mayo and toss for Kathy’s best jerk chicken salad.

Serve with salad greens –– I like the bitter ones with this like radicchio, arugula, friseé and endive.

Jerk Chicken

½ c Inner Beauty hot sauce or 10 scotch bonnet chilis
2 T  Fresh rosemary
2 T  Fresh parsley
2T Fresh basil
2T Fresh thyme
½ to 1 t allspice
2 T mustard seeds
3 scallions finely chopped
1 t salt
1 t pepper
juice of 2 limes
¼ c yellow hot dog mustard
2 T orange juice
2 T white wine vinegar
2 T rum

6 chicken thighs with legs

Combine ingredients and put in a blender or processor to have the texture of tomato sauce. If it’s too thick, thin with vinegar.  Let paste sit for 2 hours.  Rub on thighs and grill over low heat to get as much smoke as possible–– I'd say 1/2 an hour at least.  I added more wood chips mid-way to get maximum smoke.

Banana Ketchup (freezes well)

1 yellow onion
2 T oil
5 ripe bananas
4 oz guava paste -- although I have used 1/2 c guava nectar successfully
2 T brown sugar
2 1/2 T raisins
1 T curry powder
½ c fresh orange juice
2 T white vinegar
2 T lime
s & pepper

Sauté onion in oil 5-7 minutes.  Add banana and cook 5 minutes.  Add guava paste and the rest of the ingredients save 1 T vinegar and 1 T lime juice and boil. Then simmer 15 minutes till the consistency of applesauce.  Add remaining 1T of vinegar, lime juice and s & p.

Come by HERE or HERE this week to see the great sandwiches the crew has come up with

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

William Burges, Victorian Gothic, Jimmy Page and Sauce Romaine

The office in William Burges's chambers, 15 Buckingham Street, London 1876

Some of my best trips have been detours. This is a well-known joke amongst my friends because, as I often say, I could get lost inside a paper bag with a map. Although my life has changed enormously with the advent of Google maps, my detour-prone brain has not.  I still have a hard time following a line –– I am often distracted by shiny objects as I research a given topic.

Vita Nova Washstand

One such detour occurred as I was putting together the piece on the designer Edwin Lutyens a few weeks ago (that I wrote about HERE ). I chanced to find a photo of the Vita Nova washstand designed by one William Burges –– a man whose work I admired during the velvet-and-lace-jabot period of my youth but had lost touch with as time passed. The washstand was great fun with its topside-reservoir providing running water to fill the basin and to wash hands (you can see a video about how it works HERE –– it's very cool).

Even the marble washbowl has a shimmering charm–– the silver inlaid fish appear to swim when the sink is full of water –––

Silver butterflies light on the handles that one grasps to empty the water into the cunning hidden receptacle beneath.

I know many people think Victorian Gothic is dark and dreary. I have always had just the opposite reaction to the style. Admittedly, my grandparents had a big old barn with a bit of the Gothic to it and I loved its nooks and crannies –– fondness for it was bred in my youthful bones and I have long thought the style was a reflection of the ambitious, onward-and-upward of the age (I wrote about the American take on Gothic HERE).

Victorian Gothic was a dizzy mix of showing off and wanting to have an anchor in the past as the industrial age was taking off and that past was disappearing –– new money wanted to look like old money. If you hadn't inherited a castle you could make your own.  It was a very man-made style with a lot of craftsmanship involved in carving the swooping arches (that always remind me of forest canopies), trefoils and gargoyles ­­– craftsmanship and color –– jewel-like and super saturated like my favorite illustrations for fairytales. I love saturated colors and so did Burges who saw no reason “why we should not have buildings in smoky London glowing with imperishable color.”

Jimmy Page with Burges author Matthew Williams

This little trek down memory lane may have ended with a visit to Wikipedia and a bit of disappointment that there was so little written about Burges but no, another thing caught my eye and drove me back to do some further digging on the subject. I discovered my ne plus ultra of guitar players, Mr. Jimmy Page  was a huge Burges fan when he confessed, "I had an interest going back to my teens in the pre-Raphaelite movement and the architecture of Burges," he said. "What a wonderful world to discover."

Jimmy Page? Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page? Yup. He’s also a serious lover of Victorian gothic and William Burges.

Tower House

Tower House

I discovered in a BBC article that Jimmy Page bought what had been Burges' own house called the The Tower House in 1972. That’s a fan.

Page said, "I was still finding things 20 years after being there - a little beetle on the wall or something like that...  It's Burges' attention to detail that is so fascinating."

 Tower House
Tower House
 Tower House
Tower House bedroom, Country Living

Go figure, a Rock God loves a Victorian flight of fancy. You can’t make this stuff up. First guitar-smashing Pete Townsend of The Who buys Ashdown (a Baroque love nest I wrote about HERE), now I read Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin has owned his Victorian Gothic dream house since his early days of super-stardom. In the case of the Tower House, the story gets better.

Tower House had languished for years after its last tenant politely withdrew–– the poet John Betjeman shared Burges love of ecclesiastical architecture and was a founding member of the Victorian Society but lacked the wherewithal to give the house the care it needed so he walked away in the early 60’s. Liberace was all set to buy it in 1968 –– until edgy, hard living actor Richard Harris heard about the deal and swooped in to clutch it from Liberace’s bejeweled grasp for a song (£75,000). 

You might imagine Harris would have hipped the place up to match the swinging lifestyle for which he was famous –– you know, Lucite, steel and bad Victorian furniture upholstered in virulently colored plush. Au contraire, Harris actually engaged the original decorating company for the house (Campbell Smith & Company –– still gilding up a storm today) and dug up original plans to bring the never-quite-finished house to its well-deserved glorious completion (Burges died shortly after moving in leaving projects undone).

Just goes to show you, don’t always judge a book by its cover when it comes to matching people with their homes. Divination of the relationship between places and their owners is often far more nuanced and surprising than one first imagines –– rock stars restore and heavily titled aristos destroy fine old houses –– or vice versa. You never know.

William Burges 1827-1881

The architect of Tower House, William Burges, built to the style you would imagine from his profile to be sure. He had very definite and exacting tastes that burbled up from his history and personality.

Burges design for the smoking room at Cardiff Castle

William Burges by Henry Van der Weyde

He was educated at King’s College in London where he was contemporary with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and was independently wealthy thanks to his father who was the civil engineer that built the Cardiff docks under the auspices of the ruling family –– that connection to Cardiff and John Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute would provide a grand patron and kindred spirit for Burges. Commissions for Cardiff Castle  and nearby Castle Coch  ‘would be his best known and most pleasurable efforts’ owing to the bottomless pockets of the richest man in Britain –– Burges expensive style lost him many jobs but the Marquess called Burges “the soul inspiring one.” Bute admired and could afford the mad details Burges loved to put in his work.

Cardiff Castle, Arab room ceiling – very trippy in a kalaidascopy way

Although Burges began studying construction, he soon moved to architecture and signed on with historical novelist, Sir Walter Scott’s friend Edward Blore (working on Buckingham, Lambeth and St James Palaces) and then with Matthew Digby Wyatt working on his authoritative books on Metalwork and Industrial Arts of the 19th Century. He left that to tour France and Italy and write of Domestic Architecture of France with Henry Clutton. 

Burges was a great believer that all architects should travel to increase their style vocabularies. He was a huge fan of medieval restoration expert, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (you'll love his Dictionnaire raisonné du mobilier Français, it's full of wonderful engravings).  The opposing view was held by John Ruskin who felt Viollet-le-Duc’s technique of altering ancient buildings was "a destruction out of which no remnants can be gathered: a destruction accompanied with false description of the thing destroyed." Much of Burges’ work involved significant alterations to existing structures, not new construction, although in many cases it involved re-building and topping off ruins not knocking them down.

Burges was known to have a passing addiction to opium (which may have enhanced his already dreamy nature), and was friendly with all the Pre-Raphaelites. On his deathbed his last visitors were Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler.  He was known to be  “eccentric, unpredictable, overindulgent and flamboyant” as well as so nearsighted he once mistook a peacock for a man.  He was also child-like by all account.  Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote;

"There's a babyish party called Burges,
Who from childhood hardly emerges.
If you hadn't been told,
He's disgracefully old,
You would offer a bull's-eye to Burges."

Knightshayes Court drawing

Most of his architectural work remained on paper. He was forever winning commissions that failed to be built for the cost. Many plans for cathedrals, churches and public buildings were drawn up, won contests and great praise and then went no further.

Few of the buildings that he did complete remain. Of those Cardiff Castle, Coch Castle and Knightshayes Court are open to the public (Burges was sacked from completing Knightshayes by its owner and the design was completed by J.D.Crace) – sadly Tower House is not, unless you are a pal of Mr. Page. Also, the Victoria and Albert Museum has a splendid collection of his furniture and art pieces –– yes, he was not just an architect he also designed superb furniture…

Great Bookcase

Narcissus Washstand 

The Zodiac Settle (“painted, stenciled and gilded wood, decorated with rock crystal and slips of vellum”)

Drawings for Yatman cabinet, V&A

Yatman Cabinet

… and amazing objects, glass, tile and wallpaper for his clients.

drawings for jar, V&A

Drawings for Ewer, V&A
Ewer, V&A 

14th c mazer, V&A 

Burges 1878 version V&A

1340-50 Paris

The Burges Decanter, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 

Chalice 1867 V&A 

Epergne 1880-1 V&A

stained glass

Wallpaper sample 1870 V&A 

Dr. Lostpast would say at this point, what about food (he gets cross with me when I stray too far from the food path)? Well after all this, something with a jeweled gothic quality would suit the bill, wouldn’t it? What does a sensibility like this inspire gustatorially?

In researching for my Sauce Series, I have tried to cover all the classic mother sauces and their permutations but I also find it interesting to present some bygone relics that have fallen from grace and are forgotten. In that, I feel a certain fellowship with Burges who loved to mine the past for inspiration for the present.

I came across a beauty in my wonderful book Le Repertoire De La Cuisine (that I told you about HERE) called Sauce Romaine made with caramel, vinegar reduced stock and pignoli nuts with raisins. It is one of the sweet and sour family of sauces with ancient roots.  One version was made with demi-glace and another with Espagnole (one of the mother sauces). I believe the inspiration for it may be very old.  Raymonia is a medieval dish based on the Arabic Rummaniya with a sauce of pomegranate, ground almonds and sugar –– an ancient agrodolce (an Arabic-influenced Sicilian sweet and sour sauce still popular today like a gastrique).  Not much of a stretch to go to the raisins and pine nuts of  Sauce Romaine. After a thousand-odd years, this family of sauces is still divine with grilled poultry, game birds or pork or, as luck would have it, a small boar roast from D'Artagnan.  It's also fat free, full of flavor and actually good for you with all that lovely reduced stock.

Wild Boar Roast with Sauce Romaine

1 D'Artagnan small boar roast or a pork roast (about 1 1/2 pounds)
salt and pepper
1 T olive oil
2 carrots, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
Brussel sprouts, sliced (optional)
2 t chopped herbs (sage or thyme would be nice)
Sauce Romaine

Preheat the oven to 375º.  Toss the vegetables in some of the oil an put in the bottom of a small heavy pan. Oil the roast and rub with salt and pepper and herbs.  Put the roast on top of the vegetables and roast for about 35 minutes or until the inner temperature is  140º.

It comes with a string covering which you can remove but it will spread.  It is better to leave it on or tie it up so the roast cooks properly (so some isn't overdone).

Tent the meat and rest for 10 minutes.  Place the vegetables on the platter and slice the roast.  Spoon the sauce over the roast and serve warm or room temperature.

Sauce Romaine

2 T sugar
1/2 c vinegar
1 c demi-glace from D'Artagnan
2 T Sauce Espagnole (optional)
1/2 c white raisins
1/4 c pignoli nuts

Melt the sugar gently in a heavy pan.  When it melts and browns remove from the heat and add the vinegar.  Reduce it to a thin syrupy consistency. Add the demi-glace and raisins and reduce somewhat.

The sauce will thicken on its own as it cools - the raisins will also soak up some of the sauce so don't go nuts reducing it.  Serve it warm or at room temperature.

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