Thursday, February 23, 2017

Victoria, Francatelli, Crockford's Club and Quail à la Sefton

Victoria and Albert Wedding

Have you been watching,  the PBS series, Victoria ?

The real Victoria and Albert wedding, 1840

It is a real treat for the eyes with astonishing locations, voluptuous set dressing and costumes to die for. It’s a decent script with a now ubiquitous upstairs/downstairs story that includes a famous chef – Charles Elmé Francatelli (1805-76), in a fanciful, romantic below-stairs subplot.

chocolate covered ice cream bombe

Francatelli and Skerrett

Illustration from Francatelli’s The Modern Cook 1859

The fictional Francatelli (played by Ben Kingsley’s handsome son) is forever conjuring up faultlessly executed sugar confections for the royals and delicacies to impress Miss Skerrett, the ladies’ maid with the solid gold palate he is courting (the chocolate bombe scene is charming).

Francatelli (whose recipes I recreated HERE, HERE and HERE), was an English-born chef who studied in France. Although most of us are only familiar with him because of his association with Victoria, the truth is he only lasted at the palace for 2 years (a battle of wills with castle staff shortened his tenure there). 

Before his royal appointment, he gained his reputation by cooking at Crockford’s –– a gambling club famous for the amount of money that it siphoned from the upper classes and for its fine food that was almost as legendary for it’s quality and novelty—no one had done club food well until then. The whole environment was, at least in its first decade, nonpareil – the best customers, staff, appointments and food.

I must admit, I had no memory of Crockfords - it had slipped by me completely. I knew the Reform Club well –– both Soyer and Francatelli manned the stoves at that venerable institution, but not Crockfords. As I began to research the club, I was astonished how famous the place had been for the 20 years of its existence (1828-48).

Rees Howell Gronow

Thanks to an article about it in the Smithsonian Magazine, I discovered a remarkable chronicler of the early 19th century.  Rees Howell Gronow (1794-1865) was a Welsh Grenadier, a crack shot, a well-dressed dandy and an Etonian classmate of Shelley. His 2 volume Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow written in 1862, is rich with tales of all the celebrities and royals of the day (they are a fun read and there are 2 other recollections of London and Paris if you want a full, 19th century immersion). He shares their adventures as well as their stories and witticisms. His chapter on Crockfords began:

William Crockford, 1828 (1775- 1844)

“In the reign of George IV, a new star rose upon the horizon in the person of Mr. William Crockford  …. He built the well-known palace in St James’s Street, where a club was established and play organized on a scale of magnificence and liberality hitherto unknown in Europe. One may safely say, without exaggeration, that Crockford won the whole of the ready money of the then existing generation…in a few years, twelve hundred thousand pounds were swept away by the fortunate fishmonger.”

Crockford  gaming room

At one point Crockford was worth the equivalent of $160 million in today’s currency earned through a preternatural skill at calculating odds and the brilliant manipulation of his patron's financially fatal hubris. He developed an ingenious human inventory with an inheritance calendar noting the moment young aristocrats came into their fortune. From that moment, the mark would be expertly lured to Crockford's tables (usually to play the dice game called Hazard). He would often soak much of their new money away before they knew what hit them. He liked his patrons young, rich and bored or war weary and in need of excitement. It has been said families are still recovering from the damage to the family fortune wrought at Crockfords.

Crockford gaming room

Gronow continued: “The members of the club included all the celebrities of England… and at the gay and festive board, which was constantly replenished from midnight to early dawn, the most brilliant sallies of wit, the most agreeable conversation, the most interesting anecdotes, interspersed with grave political discussions and acute logical reasoning on every conceivable subject, proceeded from the soldiers, scholars, statesmen, poets and men of pleasure, who, when … balls and parties at an end, delighted to finish the evening with a little supper and a good deal of hazard at old Crockey’s. The tone of the club was excellent. A most gentleman-like feeling prevailed, and none of the rudeness, familiarity, and ill-breeding which disgrace some of the minor clubs of the present day, would have been tolerated for a moment.”

But it wasn’t just the gambling. Where most gambling clubs of the day served gray plates of boiled meat and pallid cheeses to fortify the gamblers as they played through the night, in 1828 Crockford hired Louis Eustace Ude (who had cooked for Louis XVI, for the 2nd Earl of Sefton and the Duke of York) to ply his well-healed clientele with the finest French food for an astronomical £2,000 a year (when a good cook made perhaps £20 a year). 

Louis Eustace Ude

Eustace Ude’s The French Cook, 1822 – a lavish table setting

Regency Mahagony wine cooler

The gamblers could eat and drink all they wished all night long for free (giant tubs of French champagne were always at the ready -"not in bottles but in dozens ... the pride of Rheims and Epernay" -- the wine cellar held tens of thousands of bottles). Ude continued there for 10 years, at which time Francatelli took the reins for 2 years before his appointment to Queen Victoria’s kitchen.

Henry Luttrell

In 1827, poet and renowned wit Henry Luttrell wrote a 112 page poem in two cantos entitled Crockford House, A Rhapsody. In it, he waxed poetic about the food – for many, many lines -- this is the beginning:

“Eyes were pleased, but Crockford, knew
Stomachs claim their pleasures too;
And that nine, at least, in ten,
Dully polled, of moral men
Think, no mater what the treat,
‘Tis but fudge – unless they eat.

Hastening, having bribed the sight,
To engage the appetite,
First, he turned his conjuring book
For a spell to raise a cook.
Thrice invoked, an artist came,
Not unworthy of the name;

One who with a hand of fire
Struck the culinary lyre,
And through all its compass ran”
Taste and judgment marked the man:
Ever various, ever new,
Was this heav’n-born Cordon Bleu.

Next, he waved his golden wand.
Earth and sea, at this command,
Gave their choicest treasures up,
That his customers might sup,
And his judgment was, in this
Clearly not so much amiss:

Thirst and hunger, as they say,
Being mortal foes of Play.
But as high celestial blood
Reckons on ambrosial food,
Every luxury was there
Deemed (to borrow from Voltaire)
Superflu si necessaire…”

Earl of Sefton

Ude and then Francatelli set groaning boards of ever changing delights from midnight on to the early hours to stoke the player’s fires to play and spend. How to choose from such wonders?  In the end, I decided to go to the last of my quails  to make Ude’s Fillets à la Sefton to honor his generous patron (upon Sefton’s death, Ude received a bequest of 100 guineas p.a. – a bit over £100 a year, even though he hadn't worked for him for many years).

Ude honored Sefton well with this recipe.  It is a very elegant dish and terribly good. This makes a wonderfully luxurious dinner and a fun presentation. Since it’s so rich, I think one full breast is fine per person, but you can double it if you want a lot more meat. I even found an early 19th century dish to serve them in to give you the flavor of the day. You can see why everyone thought life at Crockfords was heaven when you bite into this – and you don’t have to worry about gambling a fortune away to taste it!

Fillets of Quail à la Sefton

2  Dartagnan French quail, breasts removed – either 2 bone-in or 4 boneless pieces (save the rest of the bird and bones for stock)
2 T Dartagnan black truffle butter
1 black truffle from Dartagnan, sliced and notched – reserving trimmings
Sauce à la Lucullus

Sauce à la Lucullus

2 ½ c stock (either game stock made from bones or chicken stock)
1 slice of ham
2 sprigs of parsley
pinch of mace
1 clove
½ t thyme
2 berries or ½ t allspice
truffle trimmings
2 mushrooms, chopped
2 green onions
small bay leaf
truffle trimmings

2 T Dartagnan black truffle butter
2 T flour
1/3 c cream

Make the sauce by adding the seasoning to the stock and cook for 20 minutes then strain.

Take 1 cup and reduce it to a glaze and reserve (your should have around 3-4 T).

Put the butter in the pan and add the flour. Slowly add 2 c of the hot stock, stirring all the while. Add the cream. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes to ½ an hour (this does make a difference – I always used to make a velouté quickly but this adds more flavor and texture).

Cook the quail breasts in 2 T truffle butter till browned and cooked through. I left them on the bone but you can also make 4 – half breasts. Remove them and make a deep slice in each for the truffles. Keep warm in a warmed serving dish.

Put the truffles in the pan the quail was cooked in for a moment – don’t make them too thin or they will disintegrate.

Dip the truffles in the reserved glaze and place some in the cut in the quail. I then brushed the quail in the remaining glaze.

Pour the sauce around the quails and lay the other truffle slices in the dish.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Country Housewife, Richard Bradley and Crisp Fried Quail

While noodling around on the Thomas Gloning antique cookbook site looking for a recipe,  I discovered Richard Bradley and his book, The Country Housewife and Lady´s Director (1728 -32).  It had many invaluable tips on food, housekeeping, health and gardening –– I loved it.

A Gentleman of the 1720’s – there is no image of Bradley I could find

But once I started reading about Bradley, I couldn’t stop – such a fascinating man. My first stop was a piece on a wonderful site called British Food in America. It began as an article about Bradley’s unorthodox red bean ketchup but flowered into a lengthy tale about Mr. Bradley. The author must have been caught unawares as I was and just had to do more than the required cursory mention of the recipe’s author. After reading the article, I too wanted more. I read contemporary letters, articles and academic papers about him and was intrigued. The recipes are a blast too.

From the History of the Royal Society w. Francis Bacon and King Charles, 1660

What sets him apart from the cookbook authors of the day is that he wasn’t a cook at all. No, he was a botanist! In the first years of the 18th century, botany was a favorite hobby of the upper classes with money enough for the education, travel and experimentation necessary to indulge their botanical pursuits. Poor Mr. Bradley was not rich but he was an inspired observer. He couldn’t afford a university education and found himself rather unfairly pilloried –– his fine accomplishments mocked by his lofty peers who thought it gauche that he had to make a living. It was thought a man without a proper education couldn’t best one that did – period. The Sloane Letters quoted the Royal Society about Bradley, complaining that, “… his ignorance of Latin and Greek and his failure to perform his duties caused great scandal”

Fortunately, Bradley had a few esteemed patrons who admired his natural gifts and gave him helping hands that went so far as to arrange his acceptance into the Royal Society at 24 (extremely rare for an uneducated man). Men like collector James Petiver helped him to travel to the Netherlands with an introduction to a pioneer in the field of microbiology, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  (a trip Bradley helped pay for by drawing bugs and pretending to be a physician), and the royal physician and owner of the vast collection that began the British Museum, Hans Sloane. Sloane got him a prestigious if unpaid posting to Cambridge University as the first professor of botany at the age of 36. Poor Bradley had to publish or perish and was, at the best of times, just a short scratch ahead of penury (he was forever borrowing money from his patrons and publishers - one of his letters began, “Since the Unfortunate Affair in Kensington whereby I lost all my Substance, My Expectations and my friends”).

Publish he did, and Bradley came up with some fine work – most especially the theory that tiny “microscopic agents” transmitted disease in man, beast and plant. In 1721, Bradley wrote, “we may learn, that all Pestilential Distempers, whether in animals or plants, are occasion’d by poisonous insects.” It was revolutionary to postulate that the afflictions of all living things in the natural world were caused by microbes. The author of the British Food in America piece concluded, “In the estimation of the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, “he was an enterprising, open-minded naturalist who succeeded in disseminating his many and diverse thoughts on how plants and animals live and interact.”

It’s sad that John Martyn, a distinctly Salieri-like successor to Bradley's Botany chair at Cambridge, successfully destroyed Bradley’s reputation (this information comes from Raymond Williamson’s, “John Martyn’) The slander was published in the infamous Grub-Street Journal - written mostly by hack writers of low character – like Martyn). Less talented but full of envy and vitriol, John Martyn penned numerous scurrilous tracts for the "Grub Street Journal" and took every opportunity to condemn Bradley’s work. Martyn accused Bradley of not teaching his classes, being too modern and not respecting the classics and especially not getting a botanic garden planted at Cambridge – making it hard for Martyn to teach botany properly. No mind that Bradley died young (only teaching for 6 years), or that during that time, Bradley diligently but unsuccessfully tried to secure private funds when the money for the garden he had been promised by Cambridge was not forthcoming. Martyn had money and taught for 29 years and didn’t get a garden built either – it was still all Bradley’s fault as far as he was concerned!

Illustration of Bradley’s Kaleidoscope at work 

Bradley accomplished much in his short life.  He was an inventor  (he came up with a simple kaleidoscope that was like a book that could be placed on a drawing and create marvelous designs – perfect for the baroque garden),  he founded the first British horticultural periodical,  "The General Treatise of Husbandry and Gardening" (1721-23), he was a pioneering epidemiologist and was one of  the earliest subscribers to the concept of connectedness of nature, revealing “ all Bodies have some Dependence upon one another; and that every distinct Part of Nature’s Works is necessary for the support of the Rest; and that if any one was wanting, all the Rest must be out of Order.” For instance, he realized birds were friends to farmers, not pests as they ate the insects that ate the crops. He realized that that cover crops like clover can restore soil fertility.  He thought about managing forests and believed in the concept of ecological diversity before there was a name for it. His way of thinking paved the way for the field of ecology.

Country Housewife Frontispiece 

This holistic approach came across in The Country Housewife. Part I is devoted to seasonal foods and recipes but also had observations on farming and animals –– the book was addressed to the women of the house: 

"The Reason which induces me to address the falling Piece to the Fair Sex, is, because the principal Matters contained in it are within the Liberty of the Province, The Art of Oeconomy is divided as Xenophon tells us, between the Men and the Women; the Men have the most dangerous and laborious Share of it in the Fields, and without doors, and the Women have the Care and Management of every Business within doors, and to see after the good ordering of whatever is belonging to the house."

Part II had more new reader’s suggestions for more recipes. He gives advice on planting and even bees but his recipes for “flesh, fish, fowl, fruit and Herbs, which are the Productions of a Farm, or from any Foreign Parts” are quite something. He also explains “the other Reason which as induced me to publish this Piece is, the Difficulties I have undergone in my Travels, when I have met with good provisions, in many Places in England, which have been murder’d in the dressing”. He hoped that it would “improve the Ignorant, and remind the Learned how and when to make the best of every thing: which may be a means of providing every one with a tolerable Entertainment founded upon practice and Fashion; which can never fail of Followers, and of making us fare much better upon the Roads in the Country than we were used to do.” See, he was also quite modern in his belief that you should not adulterate a quality ingredient and that foods had optimal seasons that varied from place to place.

The book begins with January and a treatise on the physical characteristics of all varieties of pigeons from Barbary to Carrier to Turbit and concludes with some fine recipes for the little birds. February is about the fowl and bird eggs and what to do with them but then gives soup recipes and even one for orange wine.  March is fish but also includes a long piece on brewing. You get the idea. Bradley was a polymath with varied interests that he felt would instruct and inform a susceptible lady of the house (and the man of the house as well). The book is 428 pages long and I recommend it for things like marigold or sage cheese, gooseberry wine, Usquebaugh, spirit of lily of the valley, beet-green tart and dozens of recipes for game birds.

Although I don’t have a pigeon today, I do have D’Artagnan’s French Quails and I wanted to make one of Bradley's many bird recipes –– one stuck out particularly. 

After poaching in aromatic stock, the bird is breaded and fried -- it's a great dish. The meat is tender and juicy and so flavorful and that poaching stock is just heaven. Do yourself a favor and look through his book -- you will be surprised by how many fine recipes reside there. For you gardeners, his other books are available online and are interesting reading. 

Another Way of Dressing Quail, serves 2

2  French quail
1 piece bacon, chopped
a sprig of parsley
a sprig of basil
3 sprigs marjoram
a few slices of onion about the size of your thumb
4 cloves
4 c stock (I saved up my game bird carcasses and made a small batch of stock -- it is superb)
1 T verjuice or 1 t of vinegar or more to taste – it’s just a suggestion not sour.
Egg, beaten
Bread crumbs (about 1 c)
Lard or duck fat  (you can deep-fry if you have enough fat, otherwise, a 6 tablespoons should do it.
Parsley for frying

Take the quail, stuff them with the bacon and herbs and the onion stuck with cloves and salt and pepper the bird inside and out Truss the legs to keep them together. Add the verjuice to the stock and heat to a low boil. Put the quail in and cover. Cook at a medium low heat for about 20 minutes covered (internal temperature around 150º or so.

Remove when done and allow to cool somewhat. Strain the stock and while the birds fry, reduce it somewhat to use for dipping – it is excellent. Heat the oil till hot – around 350º. Roll in the birds in the egg and then bread crumbs (I would roll in flour first, then egg then crumbs to make it adhere better). 

 Place the birds in the fat. Cook, turning till brown (if deep-frying, make sure the top is covered or turn in the fat. Remove from the fat and drain on paper towels. Serve the birds with fried parsley and the reserved and reduced cooking stock for dipping.