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Vegetables from Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor · 16 January 2007

It’s amazing how one’s focus can be totally and completely derailed by the simplest things. Last Wednesday I had the best intentions of finishing up the subject of English vegetable dishes on Friday. The recipes had been selected, the shopping was done, and all I needed to do before finalizing the feast was cut up the eggplant and start soaking it on Friday morning.

Enter in distraction.

On Thursday night, I had an amazing brainstorm while driving home from dinner about the nature of literature and its importance in our society, in part spurred by my recent read of The Onion Girl, by Charles de LintThe Onion Girl.

This revelation led to me staying up until 1:30 a.m. writing notes on the myriad ways I could incorporate it into future posts and stories. It also led to me sleeping through my early alarm so that by the time my biological clock woke me, it was 15 minutes before I had to leave for work. There was no time to soak eggplant for Friday’s dinner.

Saturday and Sunday are out of town days for me, when I brave the wilds of the southern California freeway systems and spend the weekend up in Los Angeles. I could have taken the eggplant with me but I didn’t. It would have had to survive the car trip plus a harrowing three hours in a sunny parking lot while I attended an orientation session for my upcoming HTML/XHTML class (which readers should appreciate me attending as the course will undoubtedly increase my ability to spruce up this site). Instead of making trans-county traveling- eggplant, I ate out. First I attended a family gathering at my aunt’s featuring Chinese food straight from Chinatown, then I partook of a quick visit to the local meat-market (i.e. a L.A. bar on a Saturday night), then discovered a marvelous waffle house, and finally returned to a well known favorite casual hip restaurant.

By the time Monday rolled around, it was time to start a new week’s focus, and I hadn’t even finished up last week’s theme. I hummed and hawed, and eventually decided the eggplant had to be cut from the traditional English food roster. I asked myself, what is this website all about? In part, it’s about taking simple steps to incorporate good food and good reading into a busy life. If I couldn’t be bothered to eek out a little time in pursuit of the eggplant, why would my readers be interested in hearing about it? So instead of belaboring the loss of the eggplant, I resolved to suck it up and present the corn and mushrooms, which did make the cut. Both recipes were inspired by Suite101. These recipes are just a bit after Jane’s time, but they looked interesting, especially the one titled “Mock Oysters.” I figured these may have been the common man’s answer to a replacement for the indulgence of actual oysters featured at Isobel’s ball.

Mock Oysters

Picture of Mock Oysters

Mock Oysters

The original text of the recipe reads like so:

Take six ears of new corn, and grate and scrape them well. Beat one egg very light, and add to it, beating all well together, one tablespoonful of flour, on tablespoonful of cream and a little pepper and slat (sic). Then mix all together, and fry them in lard or butter.

Unlike the next recipe, the Mock Oyster recipe was fairly straightforward and reminded me of making scrambled eggs. The resulting corn was the most decadent I’ve tasted and was by far my favorite dish of the foray into English cooking.

Fricassee Mushrooms

Picture of Fricassee Mushrooms

Fricassee Mushrooms

Again, here is the text as seen on Suite 101 :

Peel and scrape the inside of the mushrooms, throw them into salt and water, take them out and boil them with fresh salt and water; when they are tender, add a little shred parsley, an onion, and a few cloves. Toss them up with a good sized lump of butter rolled in flour; you may also add three spoonfuls of thick cream, and some nutmeg, but be careful to take out the nutmeg and onion before you serve the mushrooms.

The following is my interpretation of what these directions meant.

Wash the mushrooms in salt water. I couldn’t bring myself to scrape out the gills, but I did remove the stems.

Put the mushrooms in a medium sized saucepan, add water to cover, ½ tsp of the salt and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, add the parsley, onion, and cloves. Simmer approximately 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender. I made this assumption because the directions later say to remove the onion and the “nutmeg” (which I took to mean cloves). Since the onion isn’t intended to be eaten, the only reason to have it in the recipe is to infuse the mushrooms with onion flavor. If you add the onions at when the mushrooms are fully cooked, you won’t get much onion flavor at all.

When mushrooms are tender, remove from heat and strain. Remove onion and cloves and then return mushrooms and parsley to sauce pan, stirring in butter and flour. Stir in cream and nutmeg if desired at this time as well.

Serve immediately, garnishing with fresh parsley sprigs if desired.

For those that are incredibly excited about the eggplant that never was, you can find the instructions here.

For those that haven’t been turned off historical English cooking by my less than enthusiastic reviews of the recent recipes, here’s a few sites worth checking out:

Gode Cookery – A great collection of medieval & Renaissance recipes. I’ve made quite a few recipes from this site for various period events, all with great success.

British Library – Books for Cooks – Selection of cookbook pages from the 1700’s

Searchable keywords: Corn, Mushroom, Traditional English, Vegetable side dish, Vegetarian

˜ Kim

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