Monstrous chickens and prime geese

Here is something I wrote a couple of Septembers ago about the great little 1936 book, National Mark Calendar of Cooking:

The National Mark Calendar of Cooking, published in 1936, was complied for the Ministry of Agriculture by Ambrose Heath, a well-known and respected food writer and critic, and Mrs. D. D. Cottington Taylor, the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute. The National Mark had been introduced in the early 1930’s to ensure the standardisation of grades and packaging of all sorts of food.

The Calendar of Cooking is a delightful little booklet, with excellent recipes, wonderful illustrations by Blair Hughes-Stanton; each month is introduced with an elegantly written couple of paragraphs, which eighty years on seem sweetly dated, for example, the roles of men and women – ‘the mere man relapses into his autumnal habits, and the housewife knows her task will be less exacting’.

We are so used to standardisation, and so many shop in supermarkets where everything is identical, that it is interesting to see how seasons really can affect the produce and the products.

September brings cooler and more autumnal weather. darker and damper evenings impel the production of the soup index once more, and we can look a roast joint in the face again with equanimity, if not definite approval. The happy housewife’s list of vegetables grows. Brussels sprouts are now included and endive – a pleasant and unusual salad.

Chickens are much larger, almost monsters now; and with Michaelmas day, the goose comes into his prime. Grapes hang luscious in te greenhouses, tomatoes on their vines. Long evenings and idle dinner-time propel us towards dessert, and before the cobnuts we shall sample an apple or perhaps one of the first pears; for apples, say a Worcester Pearmain, with its crisp sweet flesh; for pears, that loveliest of all, Doyenne do Comice – names to conjure with. Hungrier and less difficult to please, the mere man relapses into his autumnal habits, and the housewife knows her task will be less exacting for the next six months!


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