The often perplexed housewife

A couple of years ago I began writing about a wonderful little recipe booklet, published nearly eighty years ago:

I am enjoying reading the national Mark Calendar of Cooking, a booklet of over two hundred recipes published in the 1930’s promoting food  to improve the nation’s health and support the farmers and the agricultural communities. Considering it is eighty years old, the recipes seem quite modern and familiar in many ways, and the messages of healthy eating, standards of food and the production of food, and looking to local producers is very current.

However, there are little things which seem quaint and old-fashioned, and yet rather charming. The booklet takes the ‘perplexed housewife’ through the year offering recipes for the foods that are in season, as well as the preserved foods always available – in 1934 this was by bottling and canning, not freezing, and no such thing as ‘convenience’ foods or ‘ready-meals’!

Here is the introduction to January:

JANUARY is the month of New Resolutions! Another year lies ahead of the often perplexed housewife with its problems of purchase and of cooking, of meal building and seeking after variety. What shall we have today? How can I make it up to-morrow? These questions have to be answered, by most of us, three-hundred-and-sixty-five times a year. It does seem rather hard!

But with this new National Mark cookery calendar in her hand, she should be a good deal happier. By buying national mark goods, the anxiety which so often attends a careful purchase (and we all have to be careful nowadays) will be taken of her shoulders. For she will know that what she is buying is the best she can get. She will have no need to examine it; if it is in a tin, she will feel quite safe about the guaranteed contents. The recipes which have been collected here will help her too, and save her trouble in planning her meals. They may suggest others to her, and she can turn with confidence to each month and find there dishes suitable for the weather and her shopping list.

To buy National Mark goods should be certainly one of her New Year Resolutions, if not the first one. If persuasion is needed, then let the following pages convince her!

A most savoury dish!

Christmas party time begins… here’s a great recipe to share… and something I wrote this time last year:

As you might guess, Burgundy beef is either a beef dish from Burgundy, or a beef dish cooked with Burgundy. This recipe from the National Mark is the latter; in the national Mark Calendar of Cooking in the December section, Burgundy beef appears – as a way of using up ‘a little red wine left over… the tail end of a bottle or two will do…” that actually doesn’t often happen with us, any tail ends get finished up the next day!

Here is the recipe anyway:

  • 2 lb beef, diced
  • a handful of button onions
  • 2 thick rashers of bacon, diced
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and a bayleaf
  • red wine
  • Burguindy should be used though claret will do – says the recipe, it’s more likely to be a Shiraz or a Merlot here!
  1. heat the oil and butter and lightly fry the onions and bacon
  2. add the beef and toss in the pan until it is ‘closed’ (sealed) and lightly brown
  3. sprinkle on the flour and cook for a further two minutes, stirring well
  4. add the bouquet garni and pour in the wine mixed with water half and half, enough to only just cover the meat
  5. cover with a lid and cook for 2½hours,checking it isn’t getting dry

“A most savoury dish!”

As I have no pictures of this dish, not of a glass of red wine, Burgundy or otherwise, my featured image is herbs

Christmas party and Apple Meringue

It’s our family Christmas party tonight…

The National Mark, introduced in the late 1920’s, aimed to improve the quality of food, by regulating it; to help people become better and more creative cooks, while still being careful and economical, using locally grown produce, a Calendar of Recipes was produced in a little booklet.

At the beginning of each month’s recipes was a list of vegetables in season and obviously these would have been things families would eat. Much on the list is exactly what we would find in our greengrocer’s today, such as broccoli, celery, leeks and parsnips, but there are some items which I’m not sure would be in every fruit and vegetable department:

  • chicory
  • horseradish
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • mustard and cress (this seems to have gone completely out of favour)

As well as the foods, there are eleven recipes to go with them each month, and December obviously features turkey ‘and its Accompaniments’ including a recipe for chestnut stuffing, an idea of how to use up leftovers and Christmas cake. I was interested to see that included in the recipes is one for Brussels sprouts with chestnuts… and this is a recipe written over eighty years ago; it only seems recently that all the TV chefs were cooking this, and I read a comment recently that nearly all the chestnuts sold are cooked with Brussels sprouts… well, the National Mark was certainly ahead of the game!

As we come up to Christmas, there are loads of get-togethers and parties, and next week our book club are having a gathering; I am making a dessert and I think I will use this National Mark recipe:

Apple Meringue

  • 1½lb apples
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz butter
  • 3-4 oz sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • mace
  1. peel, core and slice the apples, simmer in a little water with the sugar
  2. when cooked, beat to a smooth paste adding the yolks of the eggs and the other ingredients
  3. put in small oven-proof dishes, or a single larger dish
  4. beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in the remaining sugar
  5. put the meringue on the puddings 9 the recipe suggest decorating at this stage with angelica or glacé cherries but I won’t)
  6. bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly brown

December and the last month of the calendar!

I shared this last year – and as it is the first day of December, it’s timely to share it again:

The little National Mark booklet, published in the early 1930’s follows the year with recipes and suggestions of what to cook with the seasonal produce available. In December, the cookery booklet applauds the ‘hostess-housewife’ in what we would think is a very dated way, but it was of its time and is rightly celebrating the very hard work that most housewives undertook every day, without our wonderful technological gadgets and aids, and in many if not most cases without the help of the husband.

Here are the words of wisdom from Ambrose Heath and Mrs D.D. Cottingon Taylor, and I love the surreal image of the housewife enthroned upon her kitchen table!:

December and the last month of the calendar! Of all the months this is the one when Cook holds sway. and some sign of greediness may be permitted. The hostess-housewife girds herself for the fray of entertaining friends and relatives and with a determined mein prepares her Christmas kitchen battery. Pardonable that she should feel a kindly rivalry towards those who will receive her hospitality. She naturally wants her entertaining to be the best, for she is a proud woman. Amid the congratulations of her guests – enthroned on the kitchen table with her rolling-pin sceptre-like in one hand and the National Mark Book in the other – she will reveal her secret : National Mark! A happy Christmas! Tired out but happy in her triumph, the crockery washed, the children packed to bed, the guests all gone, she reaps the reward of her labour and her enterprise. And in the morning she will awake to another day, the same as so many before but, after the twelve months’ experience easier and happier… Hurrah for National mark! And a Happy New Year!

A simple homely dish

November from the National Mark Calendar of Cooking – I shared this a couple of years ago:

The 1930’s National Mark recipe book has some recipes which we could find today in any modern recipe book, which again proves that British cooking doesn’t deserve the reputation it had. I dare-say after the war there were many cafés and restaurants which served sub-standard food, and there were plenty of good reasons for that. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants today where the food is ordinary or poor – but that doesn’t mean British cooking as a whole is poor… but I’d better get off my pet hobby-horse and get back to the November recipes from the National Mark Calendar of Cooking.

The recipe book, written by Ambrose Heath and Mrs D.D. Cottington Taylor, is already looking forward to Christmas because there is a pudding recipe included (flour, eggs, beef suet, breadcrumbs, raisins, currants, sultanas, sweet almonds, mixed peel, dark brown sugar, nutmeg, mixed spice, zest and juice of a lemon and brandy) and mincemeat ( apples, carrots, beef suet, mixed peel, currants, raisins, sultanas, glacé cherries, Demerara sugar, almonds, mixed spice, brandy or raisin wine)

  • leek and potato soup
  • braised beef
  • onions stuffed with beef and mushrooms
  • bubble and squeak – a good tip!
  • egg and potato casserole
  • red cabbage
  • apples with chocolate
  • fruit milk pudding
  • cheese bread
  • stuffed celery

The soup sounds quite luxurious with eggs, cream and butter added towards the end, once it has been blended and sieved; the braise beef is prepared in an economical but creative way – the meat cut into slices but not quite cut right through so it has the appearance of a book and between the ‘pages’ is a stuffing of liver, onion and breadcrumbs, tied round to secure it and simmered in stock with herbs and added vegetables. There are two recipes for red cabbage, one from Limousin in France with added chestnuts and pork fat, and the other as a casserole with onions and spices and vinegar and sugar to give a sweet and sour slant.

The apple dessert has the cooked fruit filled with a chocolate sauce and covered in meringue which is baked in the oven until golden; the fruit milk pudding seems the most dated of recipes, but I guess it could be reworked to make something more current but with a retro style it is a dish with fruit in the bottom (the recipe calls for canned fruit, but I think we would use fresh!) covered with tapioca simmered in milk and with egg yolk and sugar added when it is cooked, then a meringue topping added and put back into the oven to brown.

The cheese bread is a simple homely dish, of bread soaked in milk and gently fried in butter with a cheesy topping, and the stuffed celery is celery stuffed with Stilton…

A fabulous autumn day

It’s been a lovely day today… and looking back over my blog, I see it was also a lovely day two years ago! here is what I wrote:

It’s a fabulous autumn day, pale blue sky with a lovely opalescence along the horizon as the sea mist disappears, the sun strong enough to set the leaves glowing in all their vivid fire colours, the evergreens polished and shiny…

The National Mark Calendar of Cooking, the little recipe booklet produced in the early 30’s by the Ministry of Agriculture to encourage cooks to make the most of locally produced fruit and vegetables grown to a national standard, and to be creative in the kitchen.

Each month has a charming little introduction:

November, the month for fireworks! Fogs, cold rain; short afternoons, cosy evenings. Why not plan some fireworks in the kitchen? Now’s the time for those difficult dishes, but only difficult because they take a little longer than usual. Now we’ve time to spare. happy housewife,what will you try today?
The vegetable list lengthens: leeks and onions, celery,chicory, root vegetables and savoys, and spinach useful both to gourmet and dietician. Horseradish is here for roast beef, and for our lingering dessert the fragrant Cox’s Orange Pippin, the best apple in the world. No more plums, alas! But hothouse grapes are perhaps more suited to the season.
And if on foggy nights she wishes to conjure up the distant days of summertime, her national Mark genii of the can will help her. For here are peas and beans, tiny carrots for garnishing and even new potatoes. Fruit salads and pies sometimes taste even more delicious for being out of season, and blackberries, cherries, loganberries, strawberries, in fact nearly all the berries are waiting in their attractive tins for her to buy. Nor must our housewife forget that this is the eleventh month, nor omit to let National Mark help her with Christmas puddings, cakes and mincemeat.

In the days when Ambrose Heath wrote these little introductions, very few houses would have had central heating, most families would have had coal fires in their sitting and dining rooms, and heavy curtains at the un-double glazed windows. Many workers and school children would have cycled or caught the bus or train to work if it was too far to walk, and shops would have closed at five or maybe six o’clock. No freezers, not many refrigerators, and certainly no microwaves! Many women would have been at home, housewives, keeping the house clean and tidy and cooking all meals, as economically as possible. I’m not sure I would like to go back to those times, but it is an interesting snap shot on the past!

An annual event in our kitchen

This is becoming an annual event… The 1936 National Mark Calendar of Cooking, has a recipe forMadeleines in its October suggestions. My beautiful daughter is Madeleine, so this is exactly the right thing to make for her…

  • 4 oz flour
  • 2 eggs
  • seedless raspberry jam
  • 4 oz butter
  • 4 oz caster sugar
  • dessicated coconut
  • glacé cherries and angelica for decoration
  1. butter 10-12 thimble-shaped moulds
  2. beat butter and sugar together until it is pale and fluffy
  3. fold beaten eggs one by one into mixture
  4. lightly fold in flour
  5. three-quarter fill each mould
  6. bake for 20 mins at 200ºC, 400ºF, gas mark 6 (this seems a little hot to me… but I’ll follow the recipe!)
  7. take out of tins, cool upside down on a baking tray
  8. it may be necessary to trim the bottoms so they all stand firm and are the same
  9. when still warm brush with raspberry jam, roll in the coconut, and decorate with a sliver of cherry and angelica cut to look like leaves