Saturday, September 17, 2011

Charles Dickens' Chocolate Pudding

From Household Words, 1881-

Easy Peasy. First I assembled the ingredients- 

                3 eggs, separated 

          .25 LB of sugar
And then Schweitzer's Cocoatina? 

Yeah. They don't make that anymore. I just used what I had on hand. 

          "Since 1894". We're in the right ballpark.

I brought a pint of milk to boil and added the half pound of stale bread.

As per Dickens' instructions, I cooked it until it became a thick paste and then added the butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and eggs. 

I poured it into the greased baking dish, and guessed at the oven temp, setting it at 375. 
As it baked, I was shocked at the scent emitting from the kitchen. It was pleasant, like brownies. This was a completely unexpected development. *Insert Great Expectations double entendre here*. After 45 minutes, I pulled it out of the oven.

Slice and serve.

I tastes better than it looks, but not by much. It doesn't taste bad, it just doesn't taste like much of anything. It's sweet, and very mildly chocolaty, but it lacks any depth or complexity. Overall, it's pretty bland. The plainest hot chocolate would probably be more satisfying. The texture is a cross between a fallen soufflĂ© and a brownie that hasn't been properly mixed. It's not unpleasant, just unusual. Johnny Murder says, "It was very off-pudding." Ha. 

I rate this recipe- 
4 Great Expectations for cooking instructions
2 David Copperfields for taste 
Resulting in a composite score of 3 Oliver Twists.  

Charles Dickens' Gruel

Johnny Mumbles Presents: Charles Dickens' Gruel (From Household Words, 1881)

 Being my first attempt at gruel and wanting to produce a preparation of the highest quality, I investigated some alternate recipes before beginning. In doing so, I discovered the following: 
Hooper, Mary. Cookery for Invalids: Persons of Delicate Digestion, and for Children. London: H.S. King, 1876.

Evidently, Mr. Dickens needs to learn about attribution.

                                                              Lancet, volume 1, 1853.

Obtaining the right groats was difficult, I really wanted to purchase the proper Robinson's Embden groats or even Robinson's patent groats, unfortunately neither are available. Instead I settled with McCann's whole grain oats.

Following the instructions exactly, 1 quart water, two ounces groats. 
(Two ounces of McCann's is slightly more than 1/3 of a cup)

Gently boil and stir for four hours.

                                                                    After one hour. 

                                                                    After 3 hours.

I added approximately one cup of water per hour to prevent scorching.

Lacking a "Hair sieve" I used a mesh sieve to isolate the gruel from the groat.

Be sure and use two spoons as per the instructions to avoid contaminating your gruel with groat.

                                                               Whisk until creamy.

                                                                      And Serve.

Being a purist I ate my gruel without any accouterments, but I think that the addition of just about anything could improve the flavor tremendously.

In grading:

5 Martin Chuzzelewit's for ease of recipe.
3 David Copperfield's for flavor.

With an overall score of:

6 Edwin Drood's.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Charles Dickens' Bread Soup

From Household Words, 1881-

Despite soups being so troublesome, I decided to go ahead and give Charlie's Bread Soup a whirl. 

This looked fairly easy. Johnny Murder picked up the ingredients and I started chopping. 

Four onions, two turnips, and one celery stalk. 

One pound of sourdough* bread.

I was a little worried, because when I set the water to boil and added the veggies, the water barely covered the veggies. 

Within ten minutes, my eyes were filled with tears from the scent of boiling onions. I opened all the windows while cursing Charlie.

I let the veggies boil until tender, and then added a quart of meat liquor (stock?) and the hunks of bread. I stirred and let boil gently for 20 minutes. 

This is what happened.

Dear Lord.

It tastes mildly sweet and pretty salty, but overall it lacks much of a flavor. The real issue is the consistency, a bit like hot, slimy, wall paper paste. It's really unpleasant, and it coats your mouth and throat so you can't tell when you're done with a bite, or rather, a gag.

In an interesting turn, Johnny Murder ate two bowls of the soup. He said it reminded him of rehab food, of being homeless and eating Food Not Bombs food. He said it's the kind of food you eat because you have no choice, and you make it because you get high yields out of a few ingredients. Around the second bowl he started to get really depressed.

Overall, I give this recipe-
5 Hard Times for cooking instructions
1 Old Curiosity Shop for flavor
A total score of 2.5 Barnaby Rudges. Mostly because I believe this soup has now given my Barnaby a terrible case of the Rudge, if you know what I mean.

"...if the appetite is diminished by good nourishment, a great point has been gained."
Nice try Charles, but I'm pretty sure that's not what diminished my appetite.

*My brother tells me that the use of a "new world bread" may have been the problem with this soup. I think it was the least of the problems. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Charles Dickens' Summer Beverages

Right off the bat, this was a bit of a bust. From 1881 Household Words-

We decided to go with Black Currant Water. 

Sounds simple enough, however after several grocery stores searching for black currant jam, all we could find was red currant jam. On to Plan B. 

Done and Done. Although Charlie's recipe calls for the jam to be mixed with water, thus making the drink, I mixed it with club soda. It was delicious and refreshing. Nevertheless, we decided to do Charles one better. 

The Miss Havisham 
8 parts Pisco
4 parts sweet and sour
3 parts Black Currant Syrup
Adjust parts to taste- 

Then, add 1 egg white
crushed ice, "perfectly clear" and "not pond ice" as per Dickens' instructions 
Blend together until frothy 
Serve with kumamoto oysters and listen to Al Stewart

I don't really feel it's fair to rate the recipe for Black Current Water, seeing as how we didn't actually make it. However, on a scale of 1 to 10 Wedding Cakes, I would give the Miss Havisham a 16. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Charles Dickens' Cheese Straws

And so begins my grand experiment where I follow recipes that are at least one hundred years old. Although I have started several Dickens novels in the past, I've never finished any of them. I've tholed through Stendhal, I love Dostotevsky and Gogol, I've even put a significant dent in Remembrances of Things Past, but Dickens... nope, nothing. So when I decided to start this project, I thought I'd give him a second chance and cook one of his recipes out of his magazine, Household Words (1881).

Rather than bite off more than I can chew, (Ha) I thought I'd start small and try out his recipe for Cheese Straws. The instructions looked simple enough.

Easy enough. 

Cheese, egg, and flour

Things quickly took a confusing turn when I "Mixed into a paste with the yolk of an egg." 

This is not a paste

So I added another yolk. No paste. And another yolk. No paste. And then I thought, perhaps Mr. Dickens or his readership would read those instructions and know to add a bit of liquid? Maybe that would be so common, it wouldn't have to be explicitly written into the instructions? So I added about a quarter cup of milk. The dough was very sticky, and I didn't chill it because I was still determined to follow the instructions to the best of my ability. 
Rolled out, cut, and twisted

"Bake in a moderate oven until crisp..." I started at 325. After 20 minutes, I got bored and cranked it to 400. "... but they must not be the least brown." Whoops. 

"Serve cold, piled tastefully on a glass dish."

And done. They taste okay, but more crumbly than crisp. I wouldn't serve these to quests, but I admit I keep munching on them. That speaks more to my laziness than Mr. Dickens' recipe. 

On a scale of 1 to 5, here's how Charlie's Cheese Straws rate-
1 Little Dorrit for cooking instructions
2 Nicholas Nickelbys for taste
A total score of 1.5 Bleak Houses

Luckily, I have a back up plan for dinner. 
Salmon I smoked, raspberries from the yard, and Akvavit from the booze store.