When we have friends round for dinner and we cook something special we nearly always have something to start with, a main course, a dessert and then cheese and biscuits. When we go out somewhere posh, occasionally there is a sorbet thrown in too – or sometimes soup then a fish course, or amuse bouche/amuse gueules/bonnes bouches/hors d’œvres to start… That’s a menu we recognise. However, when I look back to menus from the past, quite often, after the dessert there is a savoury. I guess we have the remnants of it in cheese and biscuits, but we wouldn’t have a cooked dish… that would seem quite strange I guess.

This struck my last night when I was sharing an eighty year-old menu from Modern Practical Cookery; it was their suggested menu for September, that betwixt-and-between season as the month is described. September’s savoury is mushrooms on toast – very seasonal, especially if you can get lovely big field mushrooms, what my mum called horse mushrooms.

So what are the savouries suggested for the other months?

  • January –  in actual fact, this New Year’s menu has no savoury, but it does have a fish course between Brussels sprouts purée soup and braised fillet off beef; sneaking in between those two big flavours is sole Maître d’Hotel
  • February – prune toast – prunes stuffed with almonds and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, skewered, baked and served on buttered toast
  • March – another month when soup and fish replace a savoury; for this spring month it is clear soup á la Royale (beef and vegetable consommé served with shapes of a savoury custard, and the fish is fried sole and tartar sauce
  • April – anchovy fingers – anchovies mashed with hard-boiled egg yolks served on buttered toast fingers
  • May – cheese sticks
  • June – eggs en cocottes – baked eggs with a cheese sauce
  • July – tomato toast – as it says, with chopped bacon and grated cheese – and of course tomatoes are coming into season!
  • August – cheese soufflé
  • September – the aforesaid mushrooms on toast
  • October – soft roes on toast – herring roes, but I can’t imagine it would be a popular choice today!
  • November – savoury aigrettes – what I would call cheese puffs, deep-fried cheesy yums
  • December  – cheese eggs – hard-boiled egg whites filled with a mixture of cheese sauce and the mashed yolks

To be honest, I can’t see me serving any of these to my guests!

The prim, old-fashioned charm of zinnias

I have no zinnias, and I confess I can’t quite remember what they look like, although they were often in our garden at home. I have a memory of brilliant shocking pinks and deep purples and pastel mauves… but maybe I am thinking of a different flower. The reason I am even thinking about zinnias is that I’m looking at my Modern Practical Cookery – my edition was published in 1936 but I feel it may have been written earlier.

Towards the end, in a section entitled ‘Little Dinners’ are monthly suggestions for dinner parties for six guests. I think it is rather a nice idea – and as well as the menu of soup or starter, main course, dessert, then a savoury, there are also suggestions for table decorations and settings.

What can equal the prim, old-fashioned charm of zinnias in mixed colours? Their bright hues are enhanced by the soft delicacy of a Chinese bowl.

That actually does sound lovely, I can just imagine it!

Here is a delightful menu for the betwixt-and-between season when the days of fresh fruit are behind us, and the time for heat-giving foods of winter is not yet come.

I wonder who wrote this? This is another reason I like old cookery books, they are so charming and often elegantly written. I don’t think I’ll ever find out, lost in the annals of Amalgamated Press who published it… but here is the ‘delightful menu‘:


cauliflower cream soup
roast chicken, bread sauce
potatoes, beans
plum jelly creams
mushroom toast

The soup is seasoned with celery seeds and paprika, there are a pair of roast chickens stuffed with breadcrumbs, onion, parsley, butter, chicken livers, seasoning and bound with an egg; the bread sauce is flavoured with onion and cloves; the plums are set in a lemon jelly, with almonds, and served with cream; the mushrooms are cooked in butter and served on rounds of toast.

PS I know my featured image isn’t a zinnia… the flowers I was thinking of aren’t even zinnias! This maybe a geranium… it is very pretty and pink and would make a lovely table decoration – in the absence of zinnias!


A little dinner for August

Modern Practical Cookery, published in the 1930’s, is indeed that – practical. As well as sections on every course of a meal from hors d’œvres to puddings, and of different meals such as supper dishes, and chapters on pastry, sauces, cakes and preserves, there are other topics which maybe we wouldn’t find in a modern book. Invalid cookery has been a favourite since the first cookery books seem to have been written, empire recipes from when there was an empire, party dishes – well, we might still have a section for those! What I’m not sure we’d find is the A.B.C.  of cleaning and stain removal, the clever hostess, or wedding preparations.

One interesting chapter offers ‘Little Dinners for Every Month of the Year’, a four course menu for six people and suggestions for a table decoration!


TABLE DECORATION – Something quite fresh in colour schemes – marigolds and love-in-the-mist! Consider each flower separately if you would arrange a bowl with charm.


Veal-and-ham pie and salad
Iced pineapple
Cheese soufflé

Although perhaps it is not considered ideal menu-making to serve all the courses cold, yet after a hot summer’s day this is often the only type of meal we feel we can enjoy.
On such a night the little menu chosen would be very welcome.

The prawns, half a dozen per person are to be arranged on a lemon with its top and bottom cut off, and accompanied by thin brown bread-and-butter. The filling of the pie is a pound of prepared veal, ¾ pound of bacon and ½ pound of sausage – so a meaty pie! It has lemon juice, parsley, mace and pepper in the mixture and is encased in flaky pastry; as it is to be served cold, a veal jelly is added when it’s cooked, flavoured with onion, herbs and more mace … sounds good!

The iced pineapple sounds a little unsophisticated to us as it is made from tinned pineapple – but we are so used to having every ingredient, fruit and vegetable available all year round (fresh or frozen) that we are a little snooty about using tinned fruit. There were no domestic freezers so the dessert had to be made using a freezing pail – our lives are so simple and easy compared to people’s in the past! The frozen pineapple is decorated with sweetened whipped cream and glacé cherries, cut into slices and served on individual plates. Tinned pears, peaches or apricots could also be used.

her is the recipe for the cheese soufflés (I wonder if my mum made her cheese soufflés in this way? She would have used Mrs Beeton’s recipe, I think!)

Cheese soufflés

  • 1 oz parmesan, finely grated
  • 2 oz cheddar, finely grated
  • ½ pint milk
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 3 egg whites, whisked until stiff
  • 3/8 oz leaf gelatine
  • salt and pepper
  • mixed mustard
  • ½ gill water
  • 2 dsp cream
  • paprika
  1. prepare the six souffle dishes by securing a band of paper round each case (the recipe says foolscap, but we would just use grease-proof paper or baking parchment)
  2. heat the milk almost to boiling, then add to the beaten eggs, stirring well, and continue to cook over a bain marie, double saucepan, or bowl over a pan of boiling water
  3. when it as thickened remove from the heat and allow to cool
  4. when cool stir in the cheese, mustard and cream and season
  5. dissolve the gelatin in the water, and when completely dissolved, strain and add to the mixture, stirring in thoroughly
  6. when the mixture begins to set, fold in the beaten egg whites
  7. turn into the prepared dishes and allow to set completely
  8. before serving, remove the paper collars very carefully, decorate each with a cross of paprika

I think my mum would have had a recipe for a cooked soufflé!



Should you wish to make spinach custard…

I mentioned that in the ‘miscellaneous’ section, right at the back, pages 727-730, of my Modern Practical Cookery, published in 1936, there is a recipe for spinach custard. My mind actually boggled at this… did it mean something like the children’s dessert we used to have, banana custard, which was chunks of banana in cold custard? or sponge custard – chunks of sponge cake in cold custard? Or was it a hot custard, flavoured with spinach? I know spinach or kale smoothies are popular now (they sound so disgusting, I really am not going to even try one) – so is spinach custard a 1930’s forerunner?

I read through the recipe last night, and when I noticed it said ‘serve with soup’ this seemed even stranger… You can decide what you think, you can even have a go at making the recipe:

Spinach custard – to serve with soup

  • 1 lb spinach, thoroughly washed
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • salt and pepper
  1. remove any large stalks from the spinach and put in a pan with no water, just ½ tsp salt
  2. cook slowly for 10 mins with the lid on
  3. turn off the heat, stir well, replace the lid and let the spinach finish continue cooking in its own juice until tender, for about another 15 mins
  4. strain and press through a sieve, but reserve juice
  5. rub the spinach through the sieve into a basin, add the egg, and salt and pepper to taste
  6. grease an enamel plate, pour on the egg and spinach, and cook in a moderate oven, 160°C, 325°F, gas mark 3, for about 40 mins until set
  7. let it cool, then turn it out onto a board, cut into strips, then into diamonds, or else cut into fancy shapes with a small vegetable cutter sold for the purpose
  8. put them on a plate over the soup you are heating and going to serve the custard shapes with, and allow the shapes to heat for about ten mins
  9. to serve, place shapes in the soup tureen and pour soup over them

Just in case you do want to make this – there is a rather confusing note that 1 pound of spinach cooked dry will make a large plateful of custard – which seems to suggest you might need more spinach than the 1 lb listed in the ingredients in order to have whole dry pound… The juice you have saved from straining ‘has excellent food values‘ – even after 25 mins cooking? You can use it for soup, the recipe says, but doesn’t say whether it should be the soup you serve the custard shapes with.

An observation – the poor spinach has been cooked for over an hour before it is then reheated over the soup. The custard, which seems more like an omelette surely will have the texture of leather, and probably taste of less. The thought of the smell of baking spinach does not sound very enticing… and what sort of soup would you serve it with? Why not have diamond-shaped croutons?

I looked at the soup section of the book to see if there was any guidance about which soup to serve the spinach custard with… At the beginning of the chapter it does give some serving suggestions:

  • croutons
  • toast Melba
  • pulled bread
  • dumplings
  • finely grated cheese
  • chopped herbs such as parsley and tarragon
  • diced carrot
  • sprigs of cauliflower
  • chopped cooked mixed vegetables (carrot, onion, turnip)
  • asparagus tips

… but looking through the recipes I find no mention of spinach custard, not even to accompany spinach soup.

If by some chance you do make this recipe, I would be most interested to hear your comments on the results!


Bath salts and home-made furniture polish

One of the most interesting sections of old cookery books is the household management part of the volume. Probably the most famous book which includes both kitchen and other domestic tasks is Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, but there was a history of such books before her – and even in twentieth century books there are chapters on dealing with various chores.

In Modern Practical Cookery, published in 1936 at the back is the ‘miscellaneous’ section; all the little things which for some reason couldn’t be fitted in elsewhere… how to cook bacon? Grill or fry it (no, really? You do surprise me!!) Baking hints – including the importance of turning on the oven and heating it before trying to bake anything, use of the ‘browning shelf’ and testing an oven, and lining a cake tin.

It’s interesting that when the book was published (or written) there was no way to set the temperature of many ovens – they had to be tested by putting flour on a baking sheet and putting it in the oven for a minute (just one, it emphasises) and seeing what colour it has become:

  • dark brown – very quick
  • light brown – quick
  • dark yellow – moderate
  • light yellow – moderately slow
  • pale biscuit tint – he flour should have been in the oven for five minutes and only just reached this colour

So… to bath salts (they were a favourite gift on birthdays from friends when I was a girl, small cubes wrapped in silver paper then with a pretty paper sleeve and in a box) … if you shoal want to make bath salts, here is how:

  • weigh out several pounds of carbonate of soda crystals, spread them out on an enamel tray, and spray them over with a little very strong cold tea (NOTE:- take care not to use too much) When uniformly coloured, stir in a little perfumed oil, e.g. lavender. Allow a teaspoon of oil to every two pounds of crystals

Well, I won’t be trying that! Home-made furniture polish?

  • mix up a gill of linseed oil, a gill of turpentine and a gill of vinegar. This can be kept in a bottle and used in the usual way.

It may be a marvellous polish for furniture, but it sounds as if it would smell disgusting! So what else is in the miscellaneous selection of household and cookery tips?

  • coddled eggs
  • fried eggs
  • eggs poached
  • frosting a window
  • porridge
  • potted meat
  • pot pourri
  • preserving leaves
  • spinach custard
  • chestnut stuffing
  • sage and onion stuffing
  • forcemeat balls

A curious selection… spinach custard? I think not!

Here is a really interesting article, RECIPES for DOMESTICITY – Cookery, Household Management,
and the Notion of Expertise

A little dinner for July

Modern Practical Cookery has a chapter of suggestions of a menu for each month; it is not as extensive as the recipes and suggestions given in The National Mark Calendar of Cooking which was published in the same year. Modern practical Cookery offers a complete meal for six people plus a table decoration – in July what could be sweeter than sweet peas! “Sweet peas – shall they be pink or spiritual mauve? Shades of one colour with a little fairy-like greenery make a gracious summer centre-piece.”

Whether it is the type of sweet peas we now grow, or the effects of climate change, sweet peas now blossom from May to June… Or so I’ve heard!

So here is the menu:

salmon mayonnaise
roast loin of lamb
new potatoes, peas and carrots
gooseberry pie and cream
tomato toast

Proof readers were so good in times gone by, and yet in the actual menu the book suggests a ‘lion of lamb’ – an accidental Biblical connotation! The actual recipe for the lamb has it correctly as ‘loin’. The salmon, when cooked is decorated with slices of hardboiled egg, a few capers and a dish of sliced cucumber, on a bed of lettuce and endive, and the mayonnaise is home-made with tarragon vinegar. The five or six pound loin of lamb should be cooked for an hour and three-quarters, which sounds as if it will be nice and pink. and served with mint sauce and a thin gravy made from the drippings and stock. The new potatoes will be served with butter and chopped parsley, the carrots should be cubed and mixed with the peas and tossed in butter when cooked.

The gooseberry pie, dredged with castor sugar is served cold with cream. and the tomato toast, which I don’t think would appear on any menu as the finale of a dinner, is made with crisp cooked bacon, cooked slices of tomato, cheese and plenty of pepper, garnished with parsley.

although there are things we might not serve, or we may do things differently, the amount of herbs gives a lovely fresh feel to this menu… I bet the food smelt lovely! Tarragon, mint, parsley – summer cooking!

Tea is usually brought to the drawing room on a tray

In the 1930’s world of ‘Modern Practical Cookery’ one always had a maid, so tea brought to the drawing-room would be your ‘maid’ so called even if she was in her fifties. A previous piece of advice suggested that ‘the mistress’ make sure her maid had rubber heeled shoes if the floor was polished!

Tea is usually brought into the drawing-room on a tray. the plates remain stacked on the tea-table, the knives being placed beside them, each person taking a plate and a knife as required. If it is a dining room tea, though, each plate and knife is laid separately.
The kettle boiling on the tea-table adds to the charm of its appearance. have your spirit-kettle filled with almost boiling water before it is brought to the table, though, and save a long wait. If you make tea in this way, you must have a pretty  tea caddy with its spoon of some quaint design placed on the tea-tray.
If rolled bread-and-butter and dainty sandwiches, sweet and savoury, are served, there will be no necessity for tea-knives to be provided.

I’ve looked at the sandwiches section of the book to see if there are any suggestions of what might constitute ‘dainty’, and was interested to see that ready sliced bread was available then; I had thought it was a post-war thing! before I share some of the more unusual fillings suggested, here is the introduction to the section:

Sandwiches can be varied in all kinds of ways, brown as well as white bread can be used, and bridge rolls should sometimes be included. Ready sliced sandwich loaves can now be bought, which is a saving of much time and labour.
Liver sausage makes an excellent filling; it should be thinly sliced and the skin removed.
Minced ham flavoured with a few chopped chives makes another good filling, as does cold scrambled eggs, well seasoned and flavoured with a little chopped pimento.
Sandwiches should not be made long before they are required as they so soon get dry.
For picnics, they are best wrapped in greaseproof paper, then put in an airtight tin; failing this, wrap them in a cloth.

Liver sausage? Even sliced thin with the skin removed I’m not sure it is to today’s taste – even if you could still get it – however, it’s actually not much different from paté. Scrambled eggs is not something I have ever thought of as a sandwich filling, even flavoured with a little chopped pimento… and can you still buy bridge rolls? I used to love them! No cling film, no plastic airtight boxes, just greaseproof paper,a tin or a cloth!

So how about, these,, dainty enough?

  • banana and jam
  • beef dripping
  • hare and cranberry
  • honey and walnut
  • paste (home-made – fish or meat paste beaten with butter and cooked egg yolks)
  • pineapple
  • sardine
  • tongue
  • tongue and ham