Helpful Hints for the Victorian Cook

Last week I spent an evening researching the merits of various multi-cookers, slow cookers, pressure cookers, and rice cookers. Finally, hopelessly confused, I went with what America’s Test Kitchen recommended. In an oddly parallel situation, I spent a frustrating few hours yesterday researching cooking with antique open ranges, kitcheners, closed ranges, gas ovens, or on open grates in fireplaces. I wish there was a Victorian’s Test Kitchen with recommendations and explanations to guide the clueless.

On a positive note, I found some helpful Victorian kitchen hints in The Illustrated London Cookery Book, containing upwards of fifteen hundred first-rate receipts selected with great care, and a proper attention to economy; and embodying all the latest improvements in the culinary art; accompanied by important remarks and counsel on the arrangement and well-ordering of the kitchen, combined with useful hints on domestic economy. The whole based on many years’ constant practice and experience; and addressed to private families as well as the highest circles… Profusely illustrated with engravings on wood. This 1852 volume was written by Frederick Bishop, the late cuisinier to St. James Palace, Earl Grey, The Marquis of Stafford, Baron Rothschild, Earl Norbury, Captain Duncombe and “Many of The First Families Of The Kingdom.” It also contains a short story and poetry!


IMPORTANT HINTS TO COOKS, which they will not regret following with attention.

Let there be a place for every article, and when not in use let every article be in its place.

Keep every utensil clean and ready for immediate use.

The stockpot should never be suffered to be empty, as almost any meats (save salt meats) or fowls make stock; the remnants should never be thrown anywhere but into the stockpot, and should too much stock be already in your possession, boil it down to a glaze: waste is thus avoided.

Keep your meat in a cool dry place, your fish on ice, and your vegetables on a stone floor free from air.

Cut your soap when it comes in, and let it dry slowly.

Keep your sweet herbs in paper bags, each bag containing only one description of herb. They should be dried in the wind and not in the sun, and when ordered in a receipt should be cautiously used, as a preponderance in any seasoning spoils it.

When oranges or lemons are used for juice, chop down the peel, put them in small pots and tie them down for use.

Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Pomegranate – Jan van Hulsdonck

Apples.—In choosing apples, be guided by the weight; the heaviest are the best, and those should always be selected which, on being pressed by the thumb, yield with a slight crackling noise. Prefer large apples to small, for waste is saved in peeling and coring.

Apples should be kept on dry straw in a dry place, and pears hung up by the stalk.

Batter for fish, meat, fritters, &c, —Prepare it with fine flour, salt, a little oil, beer, vinegar, or white wine, and the whites of eggs beaten up; when of a proper thickness, about the size of a nutmeg, it will drop out of the spoon at once. Fry in oil or hog’s lard.

Carrots, if young, need only be wiped when boiled—if old they must be scraped before boiling. Slice them into a dish, and pour over them melted butter.

Cauliflowers.—Cut off the stalks, but leave a little of the green on; boil in spring water with a little salt in it: they must not boil too fast.

Celery.—Very little is sufficient for soups, as the flavour is very predominating. It should be particularly cleanly washed and curled when sent to table. To curl celery, wash well, and take off the outside stalks, cut it to a proper length, split each stalk into three or four divisions with a large needle, then place the head of celery in spring water with the root uppermost, and let it remain for four or five hours—it may then be tastefully arranged on the dish.

Game may often be made fit for eating when it seems spoiled, by cleaning it and washing with vinegar and water. Birds that are not likely to keep, should be drawn, cropped, and picked, then wash in two or three waters, and rub them with salt; have in readiness a large saucepan of boiling water, and plunge them into it one by one, drawing them up and down by the legs, so that the water may pass through them. Let them stay for five or six minutes, then hang them up in a cold place; when they are completely drained, well salt and pepper the insides, and thoroughly wash them before roasting.

Juan Sánchez Cotán

Gravies.—The skirts of beef and the kidney will make quite as good gravy as any other meat, if prepared in the same manner. The kidney of an ox, or the milt, makes excellent gravy, cut all to pieces and prepared as other meat, and so with the shank end of mutton that has been dressed, if much gravy is not required. The shank bones of mutton add greatly to the richness of gravies, but they should be first well soaked and scoured clean. The taste of gravies is improved by tarragon, but it should be sparingly used, immediately before serving.

Lard should be carefully melted in a jar put in a kettle of water and boiled, and run into bladders that have been strictly cleaned; the bladders should not be too large, as the lard will become rank if the air gets to it. While melting it, put in a sprig of rosemary.

Mustard mixed smooth with new milk, and a little cream added, will keep; it is very soft, and by no means bitter.

Sago should soak for an hour in water previous to using, to take off the earthy taste.

Suet may be kept for a twelvemonth, thus: choose the firmest and most free from skin or veins, remove all trace of these, put the suet in a saucepan at some distance from the fire, and let it melt gradually; when melted, pour it into a pan of cold spring water; when hard, wipe it dry, fold it in white paper, put it into a linen bag, and keep it in a dry cool place; when used, it must be scraped, and will make an excellent crust, either with or without butter.

Tongue, which has been dried, should be soaked in water three or four hours. One which has not been dried will require but little soaking; put it in cold water, and boil gently till tender.

Raisin wine may be substituted for sherry, for sweets generally.

Copper vessels, when the tinning is worn off, must never be used, or the poisoning of those who partake of whatever may have been cooked in them is inevitable. They should be sent to be re-tinned immediately they require it.

Still-life with various copper cooking utensils on a hearth – Martin Dichtl

Keep tapes and jelly bags clean, or when again used they will impart an unpleasant flavour.

All soups should be moderately thin and bright.

Meats such as beef, mutton, and venison, must rather be underdone than overdone, excepting veal and pork, which require to be well done.

Fish should be quite done, but not overdone.

Pastry must be carefully baked; it should be sent to table a pale gold colour.

Onions should be kept on ropes in a dry place—a specked one should be removed or it will contaminate the others.

Cold water cracks hot iron infallibly.

Pudding towels should be carefully washed, and kept clean in a dry place. Put a clean round towel on the jack roller quite as often as necessary.

Be very particular in not letting your stocks and sauces pass over two days without boiling them up, and be careful to stir the thick soups and sauces all the time they are on the fire, and change all your cold meats into fresh clean dishes every morning, wiping down the dressers and shelves, and if allowed larding cloths see that they are clean. Keep your larder door shut, free from dust and damp; do not have your baked paste in the larder, but in your kitchen cupboard, and then see to your game larder, wiping and peppering and gingering your venison, arranging the game which requires to be dressed first, and see that all the blood which may have dropped from the game or venison is cleaned from the dressers and flooring. Then see to the vegetables, removing all stale and what is not wanted, giving it to the poor, either as dressed in some way or natural; do not be over-stocked, yet always keep a little reserve. This will save much trouble to the gardener, and frequently to the kitchen-maid, who will otherwise have to run from her work down to the garden, which, even if she likes it, takes her from other more important things. Be sure to look well every morning to your pickled pork and hams, keep and rub them well and turn them, marking those to be used first; your fish must be looked to and well cleaned and washed, and if intended for that day’s dinner, kept in water until required; if not, keep it on the marble or stones; your doors should always be shut.

Still life of game in a larder – Benjamin Blake

Clean hands, always clean hands.

A dirty kitchen is a disgrace to every one connected with it.

In conclusion, the mistress of the household will understand that the well-being of her establishment depends upon her surveillance; and though her too frequent presence in the kitchen would be unnecessary and annoying to the cook, yet she should not be deterred from visiting it by any false delicacy, or deference to an absurd custom which makes it vulgar for a lady to visit her cook in her own domains. If the cook is thrifty and clean, she will be glad to receive the praise to which she is fairly entitled; if dirty and careless, it is very essential that the lady should be acquainted with the fact in order to remedy it by a change.

Good housewifery provides, ere a sickness do come,
Of sundry good things in her house to have some—
Good aqua composita, and vinegar tart,
Rose water, and treacle, to comfort thine heart.
Cold herbs in her garden, for agues to burn,
That over strong heat to good temper may turn,
White endive and succory, with spinach enow—
All such, with good pot-herbs, should follow the plough.
Get water of fumitory, liver to cool,
And others the like, or else lie like a fool.
Conserves of barbary, quinces, and such,
With sirops that easeth the sickly so much.
Ask medicas‘ counsel, ere medicine ye take,
And honour that man for necessity’s sake:
Though thousands hate physic because of the cost,
Yet thousands it helpeth that else should be lost.;
Good broth and good keeping do much now and then—
Good diet, with wisdom, best comforteth man.
In health, to be stirring, shall profit thee best—
In sickness hate trouble; seek quiet and rest.
Remember thy soul; let no fancy prevail;
Make ready to God-ward; let faith never quail :—
The sooner thyself thou submittest to God,
The sooner he ceaseth to scourge with his rod.

Tusser, 1710.

La Petite cuisinière – Pierre Édouard Frère

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