The Joy of Victorian Cooking

I was reading Bill Bryson’s fabulous book At Home when I came across a reference to Eliza Acton’s cookbook Modern Cookery, in All Its Branches: Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, for the Use of Private Families. In a Series of Receipts, which Have Been Strictly Tested, and are Given with the Most Minute Exactness from 1845. According to Bryson, Acton was one of the first cookbook writers to use precise measurements and cooking times in her recipes. My curiosity piqued, I skedaddled over to Google Books and had a look-see. As is my style, I skipped over meat and vegetable parts and went right for the desserts.  A few days later, I was telling my foodie friend about the book over breakfast. I opened the book on my iPhone and was scanning the pages when I came across a section illustrating the various cooking implements. This excited me because (I’m weird) whenever I visit historically accurate kitchens, I’m just clueless about the equipment. It’s all large and sinister looking, as if the food was first tortured then cooked. I really enjoyed reading the following excerpts (because of the many references to bacon) and came away with a profound appreciation to be born in the twentieth century. So go pop something to eat in the microwave and then munch on it while you read.  



ironboilerLarge joints of meat should be neatly trimmed, washed extremely clean, and skewered or bound firmly into good shape, when they are of a nature to require it; then well covered with cold water, brought to boil over a moderate fire, and simmered until they are done, the scum being carefully and entirely cleared from the surface of the water, as it gathers there, which will be principally from within a few minutes of its beginning to boil, and during a few minutes afterwards. If not thoroughly skimmed off at the proper time, it will sink, and adhere to the joint, giving it a very uninviting appearance.

We cannot too strongly again impress upon the cook the advantages of gentle simmering over the usual fast-boiling of meat, by which, as has been already forcibly shown (see article Bouillon, Chapter I.), the outside is hardened and deprived of its juices before the inside is half done, while the starting of the flesh from the bones which it occasions, and the altogether ragged aspect which it gives, are most unsightly. Pickled or salted meat requires longer boiling than fresh; and that which is smoked and dried longer still. This last should always be slowly heated, and if, from any circumstances, time cannot have been allowed for soaking it properly, and there is a probability of its being too salt when served, it should be brought very softly to boil in a large quantity of water, which should in part be changed as soon as it becomes quite briny, for as much more that is ready boiling.

copperpotIt is customary to lay large joints upon a fish-plate, or to throw some wooden skewers under them, to prevent their sticking to the vessel in which they are cooked; and it is as well to take the precaution, though, unless they be placed over a very fierce fire, they cannot be in danger of this. The time allowed for them is about the same as for roasting, from fifteen to twenty minutes to the pound. For cooking rounds of beef, and other ponderous joints, a pan of this form is very convenient.

Large Copper or Iron Stockpot * The most suitable, and the most usual form of stockpot for making soup in large quantities is the deep one, which will be found at page 2; but the handles should be at the sides as in that shown above, with others on the cover to correspond (or with one in the centre of it), which, from some inadvertence, have been omitted in the present engraving.

By means of two almost equally expensive preparations, called a poêlée, and a blanc, the insipidity which results from boiling meat or vegetables in water only, may be removed, and the whiteness of either will be better preserved. Turkeys, fowls, sweetbreads, calf’s brains, cauliflowers, and artichoke bottoms, are the articles for which the poélée and the blanc are more especially used in refined foreign cookery: the reader will judge by the following receipts how far they are admissible into that of the economist.


Cut into large dice two pounds of lean veal, and two pounds of fat bacon, cured without saltpetre, two large carrots, and two onions; to these add half a pound of fresh butter, put the whole into a stewpan, and stir it with a wooden spoon over a gentle fire, until the veal is very white, and the bacon is partially melted; then pour to them three pints of clear boiling broth or water, throw in four cloves, a small bunch or two of thyme and parsley, a bay-leaf, and a few corns of white pepper; boil these gently for an hour and a half, then strain the poélée through a fine sieve, and set it by in a cool place. Use it instead of water for boiling the various articles we have already named: it will answer for several in succession, and will remain good for many days. Some cooks order a pound of butter in addition to the bacon, and others substitute beef-suet in part for this last.


Put into a stewpan one pound of fat bacon rasped, one pound of beef-suet cut small, and one pound of butter, the strained juice of two lemons, a couple of bay-leaves, three cloves, three carrots, and three onions divided into dice, and less than half a pint of water. Simmer these gently, keeping them often stirred, until the fat is well melted, and the water has evaporated; then pour in rather more than will be required for the dish which is to be cooked in the blanc; boil it softly until all the ingredients have given out their full flavour, skim it well, add salt if needed, and strain it off for use. A calf’s head is often boiled in this.


roasterRoasting, which is quite the favourite mode of dressing meat in this country, and one in which the English are thought to excel, requires unremitting attention on the part of the cook, rather than any great exertion of skill. Large kitchens are usually fitted with a smoke-jack, by means of which several spits, if needful, can be kept turning at the same time; but in small establishments, a roaster which allows of some economy in point of fuel is more commonly used. That shown in the print is of very advantageous construction in this respect, as a joint may be cooked in it with a comparatively small fire, the heat being strongly reflected from the screen upon the meat; in consequence of this, it should never be placed very close to the grate, as the surface of the joint would then become dry and hard.

A more convenient form of roaster, with a spit placed horizontally, and turned by means of a wheel and chain, of which the movement is regulated by a spring contained in a box at the top, is of the same economical order as the one above.

Improved Spring-jack and Roaster

* The bottle-jack, without the screen, is used in many families very successfully; it is wound up like a watch, by means of a key, and turns very regularly until it has run down.

For roasting without either of these, make up a fire proportioned in width and height to the joint which is to be roasted, and which it should surpass in dimensions every way, by two or three inches. Place some moderate-sized lumps of coal on the top; let it be free from smoke and ashes in front; and so compactly arranged that it will neither require to be disturbed, nor supplied with fresh fuel, for some considerable time after the meat is laid down. Spit the joint and place it very far from the fire at first; keep it constantly basted, and when it is two parts done, move it nearer to the fire that it may be properly browned; but guard carefully against it being burned. A few minutes before it is taken from the spit, sprinkle a little fine salt over it, baste it thoroughly with its own dripping, or with butter, and dredge it with flour: as soon as the froth is well risen, dish, and serve the meat. Or, to avoid the necessity of the frothing which is often greatly objected to on account of the raw taste retained by the flour, dredge the roast liberally soon after it is first laid to the fire; the flour will then form a savoury incrustation upon it, and assist to prevent the escape of its juices. When meat or poultry is wrapped in buttered paper it must not be floured until this is removed, which should be fifteen or twenty minutes before either is served.

Remember always to draw back the dripping-pan when the fire has to be stirred, or when fresh coals are thrown on, that the cinders and ashes may not fall into it.

When meat is very lean, a slice of butter, or a small quantity of clarified dripping should be melted in the pan to baste it with at first; though the use of the latter should be scrupulously avoided for poultry, or any delicate meats, as the flavour it imparts is to many persons peculiarly objectionable. Let the spit be kept bright and clean, and wipe it before the meat is put on ; balance the joint well upon it, that it may turn steadily, and if needful secure it with screw-skewers. A cradle spit, which is so constructed that it contains the meat in a sort of framework, instead of passing through it, may be often very advantageously used instead of an ordinary one, as the perforation of the meat by this last must always occasion some escape of the juices; and it is, moreover, particularly to be objected to in roasting joints or poultry which have been boned and filled with forcemeat. The cradle spit (for which see “Turkey Boned and Forced,” Chapter XII.) is much better suited to these, as well as to a sucking pig, sturgeon, salmon, and other large fish; but it is not very commonly to be found in our kitchens, many of which exhibit a singular scantiness of the conveniences which facilitate the labours of the cook. For heavy and substantial joints, a quarter of an hour is generally allowed for every pound of meat; and with a sound fire and frequent basting, will be found sufficient when the process is conducted in the usual manner, but by the slow method, as we shall designate it, almost double the time will be required. Pork, veal, and lamb, should always be well roasted; but many eaters prefer mutton and beef rather under-dressed, though some persons have a strong objection to the sight even of any meat that is not thoroughly cooked.

Joints which are thin in proportion to their weight, require less of the fire than thick and solid ones. Ribs of beef, for example, will be sooner ready to serve than an equal weight of the rump, round, or sirloin; and the neck or shoulder of mutton, or spare rib of pork, than the leg.

When to preserve the succulence of the meat is more an object than to economize fuel, beef and mutton should be laid at twice the usual distance from the fire, and allowed to remain so until they are perfectly heated through; the roasting, so managed, will of course be slow ; and from three hours and a half to four hours will be necessary to cook by this method a leg of mutton of ordinary size, for which two hours would amply suffice in a common way; but the flesh will be remarkably tender, and the flow of gravy from it most abundant. It should not be drawn near the fire until within the last hour, and should then be placed only so close as to brown it properly. No kind of roast indeed should at any time be allowed to take colour too quickly; it should be heated gradually, and kept at least at a moderate distance from the fire until it is nearly done, or the outside will be dry and hard, if not burned, while the inside will be only half cooked.


steamerThe application of steam to culinary purposes is becoming very general in our kitchens at the present day, especially in those of large establishments, many of which are furnished with apparatus for its use, so admirably constructed, and so complete, that the process may be conducted on an extensive scale, with very slight trouble to the cook; and with the further advantage of being at a distance from the fire, the steam being conveyed by pipes to the vessels intended to receive it. Fish, butcher’s meat, poultry, vegetables, puddings, maccaroni, and rice, are all subjected to its action, instead of being immersed in water, as in simple boiling; and the result is to many persons perfectly satisfactory; though, as there is a difference of opinion amongst first-rate cooks, with regard to the comparative merits of the two modes of dressing meat and fish, a trial should be given to the steaming, on a small scale, before any great expenses are incurred for it, which may be done easily with a common saucepan or boiler, fitted like the one shown above, with a simple tin steamer. Servants not accustomed to the use of these, should be warned against boiling in the vessel itself any thing of coarse or strong flavour, when the article steamed is of a delicate nature. The vapour from soup containing onions, for example, would have a very bad effect on a sweet pudding especially, and on many other dishes. Care and discretion, therefore, must be exercised on this point. By means of a kettle fixed over it, the steam of the boiler in the kitchen range, steamingmay be made available for cooking, in the way shown by the engraving, which exhibits fish, potatoes, and their sauces, all in progress of steaming at the same time.* The limits of our work do  not permit us to enter at much length upon this subject, but the reader who may wish to understand the nature of steam, and the various modes in which its agency may be applied to domestic purposes, will do well to consult Mr. Webster’s excellent work, of which we have more particularly spoken in another chapter. The quite inexperienced cook may require to be told, that any article of food which is to be cooked by steam in a saucepan of the form exhibited in the first of the engravings of this section, must be prepared exactly as for boiling, and laid into the sort of strainer affixed to the top of the saucepan; and that water, or some other kind of liquid, must be put into the saucepan itself, and kept boiling in it, the lid being first closely fixed into the steamer.


This very wholesome, convenient, and economical mode of cookery is by no means so well understood nor profited by in England as on the continent, where its advantages are fully appreciated. So very small a quantity of fuel is necessary to sustain the gentle degree of ebullition which it requires, that this alone would recommend it to the careful housekeeper; but if the process be skillfully conducted, meat softly stoved or stewed, in close-shutting, or luted vessels, is in every respect equal, if not superior, to that which is roasted; but it must be simmered only, and in the gentlest possible manner, or, instead of being tender, nutritious, and highly palatable, it will be dry, and indigestible.

hearthThe common cooking stoves in this country, as they have hitherto been constructed, have rendered the exact regulation of heat which stewing requires rather difficult; and the smoke and blaze of a large coal fire are very unfavourable to many other modes of cookery as well. The French have generally the advantage of the embers and ashes of the wood which is their ordinary fuel; and they have always, in addition, a stove of this construction in which charcoal or braise (for explanation of this word, see remarks on preserving, Chapter XXI.) only is burned; and upon which their stewpans can, when there is occasion, be left uncovered, without the danger of their contents being spoiled, which there generally is with us. ovenIt is true that of late great improvements have been made in our own stoves; and the hot plates, or hearths with which the kitchens of good houses are always furnished, are admirably adapted to the simmering system; but when the cook has not the convenience of one, the stewpans must be placed on trevets high above the fire, and be constantly watched, and moved, as occasion may require, nearer to, or further from the flame. No copper vessels from which the inner tinning is in the slightest degree worn away should be used ever for this or for any other kind of cookery; or not health only, but life itself, may be endangered by them.

We have ourselves seen a dish of acid fruit which had been boiled without sugar, in a copper pan from which the tin lining was half worn away, coated with verdigris after it had become cold; and from the careless habits of the person who had prepared it, the chances were greatly in favour of its being served to a family afterwards, if it had not been accidently discovered. Salt acts upon the copper in the same manner as acids: vegetables, too, from the portion of the latter which they contain, have the same injurious effect; and the greatest danger results from allowing preparations containing any of these to become cold (or cool) in the stewpan, in contact with the exposed part of the copper in the inside. Thick, well-tinned iron saucepans will answer for all the ordinary purposes of common English cookery, even for stewing, provided they have tightly-fitting lids to prevent the escape of the steam; but the copper ones are of more convenient form, and better adapted to a superior order of cookery

* Sugar, being an antidote to the poisomous effects of verdigris, should be plentifully taken, dissolved in water, so as to form quite a syrup, by persons who may unfortunately have partaken of any dish into which this dangerous ingredient has entered.

We shall have occasion to speak more particularly in another part of this work, of the German enamelled stewpans, so safe, and so well suited, from the extreme nicety of the composition, resembling earthenware or china, with which they are lined, to all delicate compounds. The cook should be warned, however, that they retain the heat so long, that the contents will boil for several minutes after they are removed from the fire, and this must be guarded against when they have reached the exact point, at which further boiling would have a bad effect; as would be the case with some preserves, and other sweets.


Broiling is the best possible mode of cooking and of preserving the flavour of several kinds of fish, amongst which we may specify mackerel and whitings; it is also incomparably conjurersuperior to frying for steaks and cutlets, especially of beef and mutton; and it is far better adapted, also, to the preparation of food for invalids; but it should be carefully done, for if the heat be too fierce, the outside of the meat will bescorched – and hardened so as to render it uneatable; and if, on the contrary, it be too gentle, the gravy will be drawn out, and yet the flesh will remain so entirely without firmness, as to be unpleasant eating. A brisk fire perfectly free from smoke, a very clean gridiron, tender meat, a dish and plates as hot as they can be, and great despatch in sending it to table when done, are all essential to the serving of a good broil. The gridiron should be well heated, and rubbed with mutton suet before the meat is laid on, and it should be placed slopingly over the fire, that the fat may run off to the back of the grate, instead of falling on the live coals and smoking the meat: if this precaution should not prevent its making an occasional blaze, lift the gridiron quickly beyond the reach of the smoke, and hold it away until the fire is clear again. Steaks and chops should be turned often, that the juices may be kept in, and that they may be equally done in every part. If, for this purpose, it should be necessary, for want of steak-tongs, to use a fork, it should be passed through the outer skin, or fat of the steak, but never stuck into the lean, as by that means much of the gravy will escape. Most eaters prefer broiled beef or mutton, rather under-dressed; but pork chops should always be thoroughly cooked. When a fowl or any other bird is cut asunder before it is broiled, the inside should first be laid to the fire: this should be done with kidneys also. Fish is less dry, and of better flavour, as well as less liable to be smoked, if it be wrapped in a thickly buttered sheet of writing paper before it is placed on the gridiron. For the more delicate-skinned kinds, the bars should be rubbed with chalk instead of suet, when the paper is omitted. Cutlets, or meat in any other form, when egged and crumbed for broiling, should afterwards be dipped into clarified butter, or sprinkled with it plentifully, as the egg-yolk and bread will otherwise form too dry a crust upon it. French cooks season their cutlets both with salt and pepper, and brush a little oil or butter over them to keep them moist; but unless this be done, no seasoning of salt should be given them until they are just ready to be dished: the French method is a very good one.

* Salmon broiled in slices, is a favourite dish with eaters who like the full rich favour of the fish preserved, as it is much more luscious (but less delicate) dressed thus than when it is boiled. The slices should be cut from an inch to an inch and a half thick, and taken from the middle of a very fresh salmon; they may be seasoned with cayenne only, and slowly broiled over a very clear fire; or, folded in buttered paper before they are laid on the gridiron; or, lightly brushed with oil, and highly seasoned; or, dipped into egg-yolks and them into the finest crumbs mixed with salt, spice, and plenty of minced herbs, then sprinkled with clarified butter; but in whichever way they are prepared they will require to be gently broiled, with every precaution against their being smoked. From half to three quarters of an hour will cook them. Dried salmon cut into thin slices, is merely warmed through over a slow fire.

conjurer2Steaks or cutlets may be quickly cooked with a sheet or two of lighted paper only, in the apparatus shown in the preceding page, and called a conjurer. Lift off the cover and lay in the meat properly seasoned, with a small slice of butter under it, and insert the lighted paper in the aperture shown in the plate; in from eight to ten minutes the meat will be done, and found to be remarkably tender, and very palatable: it must be turned and moved occasionally during the process. This is an especially convenient mode of cooking for  persons whose hours of dining are rendered uncertain by the nature of their avocations. For medical men engaged in extensive country practice it has been often proved so. The conjurer costs but a few shillings. Another form of this economical apparatus, with which a pint of water may be made to boil by means of only a sheet of paper wrapped round a cone, in the inside, is shown in the second plate.


sauteThis is an operation, which, though apparently very simple, requires to be more carefully and skillfully conducted than it commonly is. Its success depends principally on allowing the fat to attain the exact degree of heat which shall give firmness, without too quick browning or scorching, before anything is laid into the pan; for if this be neglected the article fried will be saturated with the fat, and remain pale and flaccid. When the requisite degree of colour is acquired before the cooking is complete, the pan should be placed high above the fire, that it may be continued slowly to the proper point. Steaks and cutlets should be seasoned with salt and pepper, and dredged on both sides lightly with flour before they are laid into the pan, in which they should be often moved and turned, that they may be equally done, and that they may not stick nor burn to it. From ten to fifteen minutes will fry them. They should be evenly sliced, about the same thickness as for broiling, and neatly trimmed and divided in the first instance. Lift them into a hot dish when done; pour the fat from the pan, and throw in a small slice of butter; stir to this a large teaspoonful of flour, brown it gently, and pour in by degrees a quarter-pint of hot broth or water; shake the pan well round, add pepper, salt, and a little good catsup, or any other store sauce which may be preferred to it, and pour the gravy over the steaks: this is the most common mode of saucing and serving them.

Minute directions for fish, and others for omlets, and for different preparations of batter, are given in their proper places; but we must again observe, that a very small fryingpan (scarcely larger than a dinner-plate) is necessary for many of these ; and, indeed, the large and thick one suited to meat and fish, and used commonly for them, is altogether unfit for nicer purposes.

The sauté-pan, shown in the preceding page, is much used by French cooks instead of a frying-pan; it is more particularly convenient for tossing quickly over the fire small collops, or aught else which requires but little cooking.

wireAll fried dishes, which are not sauced, should be served extremely dry, upon a neatly-folded damask cloth: they are best drained, upon a sieve reversed, placed before the fire. A wire basket of this form is convenient for frying parsley and other herbs. It must be placed in a pan well filled with fat, and lifted out quickly when the herbs are done: they may likewise be crisped in it over a clear fire, without being fried.


americanovenThe oven may be used with advantage for many purposes of cookery, for which it is not commonly put into requisition. Calves’ feet, covered with a proper proportion of water, may be reduced to a strong jelly if left in it for some hours; the half-head, boned and rolled, will be found excellent eating, if laid, with the bones, into a deep pan and baked quite tender in sufficient broth, or water, to keep it covered in every part until done; good soup also may be made in the same way, the usual ingredients being at once added to the meat, with the exception of the vegetables, which will not become tender if put into cold liquor, and should therefore be thrown in after it begins to simmer. Baking is likewise one of the best modes of dressing various kinds of fish: pike and red mullet amongst others. Salmon cut into thick slices, freed from the skin, well seasoned with spice, mixed with salt (and with minced herbs, at pleasure), then arranged evenly in a dish, and covered thickly with crumbs of bread, moistened with clarified butter, as directed in Chapter II, for baked soles, and placed in the oven for about half an hour, will be found very rich and highly flavoured. Part of the middle of the salmon left entire, well cleaned, and thoroughly dried, then seasoned, and securely wrapped in two or three folds of thickly buttered paper, will also prove excellent eating, if gently baked. (This may likewise be roasted in a Dutch oven, either folded in the paper, or left without it, and basted with butter.)

Hams, when freshly cured, and not over salted, if neatly trimmed, and closely wrapped in a coarse paste, are both more juicy, and of finer flavour baked than boiled. Savoury or pickled beef, too, put into a deep pan, with a little gravy, and plenty of butter, or chopped suet on the top, to prevent the outside from becoming dry; then covered with paste, or with several folds of thick paper, and set into a moderate oven for four or five hours, or even longer, if it be of large weight, is an excellent dish. A goose, a leg of pork, and a sucking pig, if properly attended to while in the oven, are said to be nearly, or quite as good as if roasted; but baking is both an unpalatable and an unprofitable mode of cooking joints of meat in general, though its great convenience to many persons who have but few other facilities for obtaining the luxury of a hot dinner renders it a very common one.

It is usual to raise meat from the dish in which it is sent to the oven by placing it, properly skewered, on a stand, so as to allow potatoes or a batter pudding to be baked under it. A few button onions, freed from the outer skin, or three or four large ones, cut in halves, are sometimes put beneath a shoulder of mutton. Two sheets of paper spread separately with a thick layer of butter, clarified marrow, or any other fat, and fastened securely over the outside of a joint, will prevent its being too much dried by the fierce heat of the oven. A few spoonsful of water or gravy should be poured into the dish with potatoes, and a little salt sprinkled over them.

A celebrated French cook recommends braising in the oven : that is to say, after the meat has been arranged in the usual manner, and just brought to boil over the fire, that the braising pan, closely stopped, should be put into a moderate oven, for the same length of time as would be required to stew the meat perfectly tender.

American Oven.

By means of this oven, which, from its construction, reflects the heat very strongly, bread, cakes, and pies, can be perfectly well baked before a large clear fire; but, as we have stated in another part of our work, the consumption of fuel necessary to the process renders it far from economical. A spit has lately been introduced into some of the American ovens, converting them at once into portable and convenient roasters.


braisinBraising is but a more expensive mode of stewing meat. The following French recipe will explain the process. We would observe, however, that the layers of beef or veal, in which the joint to be braised is imbedded, can afterwards be converted into excellent soup, gravy, or glaze; and English Braising-pan. that there need, in consequence, be no waste, nor any unreasonable degree of expense attending it; but it is a troublesome process, and quite as good a result may be obtained by simmering the meat in very strong gravy. Should the flavour of the bacon be considered an advantage, slices of it can be laid over the article braised, and secured to it with a fillet of tape.

“To braise the inside (or small fillet, as it is called in France) of a sirloin of beef: Raise the fillet clean from the joint; and with a sharp knife stripoff all the skin, leaving the surface of the meat as smooth as possible; have ready some strips of unsmoked bacon, half as thick as your little finger, roll them in a mixture of thyme finely minced, spices in powder, and a little pepper and salt. Lard the fillet quite through with these, and tie it round with tape in any shape you choose. Line the bottom of a stewpan (or braising-pan) with slices of bacon; next put in a layer of beef, or veal, four onions, two bay-leaves, two carrots, and a bunch of sweet herbs, and place the fillet on them. Cover it with slices of bacon, put some trimmings of meat all round it, and pour on to it half a pint of good bouillon or gravy. Let it stew as gently as possible for two hours and a half; take it up, and keep it very hot; strain, and reduce the gravy by quick boiling until it is thick enough to glaze with brush the meat over with it; put the rest in the dish with the fillet, after the tape has been removed from it, and send it directly to table.”

Equal parts of Madeira and gravy are sometimes used to moisten the meat.

No attempt should be made to braise a joint in any vessel that is not very nearly of its own size.

A round of buttered paper is generally put over the more delicate kinds of braised meat, to prevent their being browned by the fire, which in France is put round the lid of the braisingpan, in a groove made on purpose to contain it. The embers of a wood fire mixed with the hot ashes, are best adapted to sustain the regular, but gentle degree of heat required for this mode of cooking.

stewpanThe pan shown at the head of this section, with a closely — fitting copper tray, serving for the cover, is used commonly England for braising; but a stewpan – of modern form, or any other vessel which will admit of embers being placed upon the lid, will answer for the purpose as well. Common cooks sometimes stew meat in a mixture of butter and water, and call it braising.



Cut into slices, of the same length and thickness, some bacon of the finest quality; trim away the outsides, place the slices evenly upon each other, and with a sharp knife divide them obliquely into small strips of equal size. For pheasants, partridges, hares, fowls, and fricandeaux, the bacon should be about the eighth of an inch square, and two inches in length; but for meat which is to be larded quite through, instead of on the outside merely, the bits of bacon (properly called lardoons) must be at least the third of an inch square.

In general, the breasts only of birds are larded, the backs and thighs of hares, and the whole of the upper surface of a fricandeau: these should be thickly covered with small lardoons, placed at regular intervals, and in lines which intersect each other, so as to form rather minute diamonds. The following directions for larding a pheasant will serve equally for poultry, or for other kinds of game:—

Secure one end of the bacon in a slight larding-pin, and on the point of this take up sufficient of the flesh of the bird to hold the lardoon firmly; draw the pin through it, and part of the bacon, of which the two ends should be left of equal length. Proceed thus, until the breast of the pheasant is entirely garnished with lardoons, when it ought to resemble in appearance a cake thickly stuck with slips of almonds.

The larger strips of bacon, after being rolled in a high seasoning of minced herbs and spices, are used to lard the inside of meat, and they should be proportioned to its thickness, as they must be passed quite through it. For example: a fourinch slice from a rump of beef will require lardoons of very nearly that length, which must be drawn through with a large larding-pin, and left in it, with the ends just out of sight on either side.

In France, truffles, anchovies, slices of tongue, and of fat, all trimmed into proper shape, are occasionally used for larding. The bacon employed there for the purpose is cured without any saltpetre (as this would redden the white meats), and it is never smoked: the receipt for it will be found in Chapter XI. A turkey is sometimes larded with alternate lardoons of fat bacon and of bullock’s tongue, which has been pickled but not dried: we apprehend that the lean of a half-boiled ham, of good colour, could answer the purpose quite as well, or better. Larding the surface of meat, poultry, or game, gives it a good appearance, but it is a more positive improvement to meat of a dry nature to interlard the inside with large lardoons of well seasoned, delicate, striped English bacon.


Very minute directions being given in other parts of our volume for this, we confine ourselves here to the following rules:—in disengaging the flesh from it, work the knife always close to the bone, and take every care not to pierce the outer skin.


This is merely to throw either into a pan of boiling water for a few minutes, which gives firmness to the first, and is necessary for some modes of preparing vegetables.

The breast only of a bird is sometimes held in the water while it boils, to render it firm for larding. To preserve the whiteness of meat, and the bright green of vegetables, they are lifted from the water after they have boiled a few minutes, and are thrown immediately into spring water, and left till cold. to 10 minutes.


glazingThis process we have explained at the article Glaze, Chapter III. The surface of the meat should be covered evenly, with two or three separate layers of the glaze, which, if properly made, soon becomes firm. A ham should be well dried in the oven before it is laid on. Cutlets of all kinds may be glazed before they are sent to table, with very good effect. The figure above represents a glaze-pot and brush, used for heating and applying the preparation: a jar placed in a pan of boiling water may be substituted for the first, when it is not at hand.


toastA very cheap apparatus, by which chops can be dressed before a clear fire, is shown by the first of these figures; and the second is peculiarly convenient when bread or muffins are required to be toasted expeditiously and in large quantities, without much time and attention being bestowed upon them.

To brown the surface of a dish without baking or placing it at the fire. 

This is done with a salamander, as it is called, formed like the engraving below; it is heated in the fire, and held over the dish sufficiently near to give it colour.  It is very much used in a superior order of cookery. A kitchen shovel is sometimes substituted for it on an emergency.


Susanna’s note: Here are some instructions on fish


We find that all the smaller kinds of fish keep best if emptied and cleaned as soon as they are brought in, then wiped gently as dry as they can be, and hung separately by the head on the hooks in the ceiling of a cool larder, or in the open air when the weather will allow. When there is danger of their being attacked by flies, a wire safe, placed in a strong draught of air, is better adapted to the purpose. Soles in winter will remain good a couple of days when thus prepared; and even whiting and mackerel may be kept so without losing any of their excellence. Salt may be rubbed slightly over cod fish, and well along the back-bone, but it injures the flavour of salmon, the inside of which may be rubbed with vinegar, and peppered instead. When excessive sultriness renders all of these modes unavailing, the fish must at once be partially cooked to preserve it, but this should be avoided if possible, as it is very rarely so good when this method is resorted to.


The application of the pyroligneous acid will effect this when the taint is but slight. A wineglassful, mixed with two of water, may be poured over the fish, and rubbed upon the parts more particularly requiring it; it must then be left for some minutes untouched, and afterwards washed in several waters, and soaked until the smell of the acid is no longer perceptible. The chloride of soda,* from its powerful anti-putrescent properties, will have more effect when the fish is in a worse state. It should be applied in the same manner, and will not at all injure the flavour of the fish, which is not fit for food when it cannot be perfectly purified by either of these means. The chloride may be diluted more or less, as occasion may require.

* The reader will be sure to obtain the best preparation of the chloride of soda, by ordering Beaufoy’s, which, with the directions for its use, may be procured at any druggist’s in sealed quart bottles, at three and sixpence each. It is better adapted to delicate purposes than the chloride of lime. We would also recommend the use of Beaufoy’s pyroligneous acid.



Never leave it in the water after it is done; but if it cannot be sent to table as soon as it is ready to serve, lift it out, lay the fish-plate into a large and very hot dish, and set it across the fish-kettle; just dip a clean cloth into the boiling water, and spread it upon the fish; place a tin cover over it, and let it remain so until two or three minutes before it is wanted, then remove the cloth, and put the fish back into the kettle for an instant that it may be as hot as possible; drain, dish, and serve it immediately: the water should be kept boiling the whole time.



In season all the year. A fine turbot, in full season, and well served, is one of the most delicate and delicious fish that can be sent to table; but it is generally an expensive dish, and its excellence so much depends on the manner in which it is dressed, that great care should be taken to prepare it properly. After it is emptied, wash the inside until it is perfectly cleansed, and rub lightly a little fine salt over the outside, as this will render less washing and handling necessary, by at once taking off the slime; change the water several times, and when the fish is as clean as it is possible to render it, draw a sharp knife through the thickest part of the middle of the back nearly through to the bone. Never cut off the fins of a turbot when preparing it for table, and remember that it is the dark side of the fish in which the incision is to be made, to prevent the skin of the white side from cracking. Dissolve in a well-cleaned turbot, or common fish-kettle, in as much cold spring water as will cover the fish abundantly, salt, in the proportion of four ounces to the gallon, and a morsel of saltpetre; wipe the fish-plate with a clean cloth, lay the turbot upon it with the white side upwards, place it in the kettle, bring it slowly to boil, and clear off the scum, thoroughly as it rises. Let the water only just simmer until the fish is done, then lift it out, drain, and slide it gently on to a very hot dish, with a hot napkin neatly arranged over the drainer. Send it immediately to table with rich lobster sauce, good plain melted butter, and a dish of dressed cucumber. For a simple dinner, anchovy, or shrimp-sauce is sometimes served with a small turbot. Should there be any cracks in the skin of the fish, branches of curled parsley may be laid lightly over them, or part of the inside coral of the lobster, rubbed through a fine hair-sieve, may be sprinkled over the fish; but it is better without either, when it is very white, and unbroken. When garnishings are in favour, a slice of lemon and a tuft of curled parsley, may be placed alternately round the edge of the dish. A border of fried smelts, or of fillets of soles, was formerly served, in general, round a turbot, and is always a very admissible addition, though no longer so fashionable as it was . From fifteen to twenty minutes will boil a moderate-sized fish, and from twenty to thirty a large one; but as the same time will not always be sufficient for a fish of the same weight, the cook must watch it attentively, and lift it out as soon as its appearance denotes its 3eing done.

Moderate sized-turbot, 15 to 20 minutes. Large, 20 to 30 minutes. Longer, if of unusual size.

Obs-A lemon gently squeezed, and rubbed over the fish, is thought to preserve its whiteness. Some good cooks still put turbot into boiling water, and to prevent its breaking, tie it with a cloth tightly to the fish-plate; but cold water seems better adapted to it, as it is desirable that it should be gradually heated through before it begins to boil.

2 Replies to “The Joy of Victorian Cooking”

  1. I adore old cookbooks—It’s a reminder of how hard it was to cook without modern equipment, to say nothing of prepared and preserved foods. (I’d be in real trouble without canned tomatoes.)
    One of these days I’m going to cook a meal from Mrs. Acton’s book and see how my family reacts.

  2. I would either live on tea and bread or become a cook and cook all day. Cooking and sewing are hard and were harder then.

    And do post pictures of Mrs. Acton’s meal! My friend and I are going to try some of the desserts.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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