Friday, 15 February 2013

Old-fashioned cookbooks, bags of nostalgia and Boeuf a la movie - a random recipe

I have recently inherited a collection of old recipe books from my mum. 


A couple are 'fundraising' efforts, with recipes provided by the good people from a variety of parishes. In the case of "My Favourite Recipe" (circa. 1984), in aid of the Merseyside Association for Kidney Research, it includes Ken Dodd's 'Steak Diane', John Inman's Beef Wellington, and my personal favourite, Willy Russell's 'Midnight Madness' - which is essentially how to cook 2 slices of toast when you come home rather worse the wear for drink... reminds me of a story of a friend from law school who was once roundly berated by his wife, the long suffering Barbara (I never knew any more about her, and never met her) for frying ice cream wagon wheels one night, which he mistook for burgers. The mess was apparently something truly terrible to behold.  Willy Russell's method for toast fills just over 2 pages of the book:

"Switch on the kitchen light; you may have just put the world to rights and drunk eight pints of bitter beer but, and I am quite confident of this, YOU CANNOT SEE IN THE DARK, the best chefs of the best kitchens of the world agree with me on this." etc

The Carrier book "Childrens Party Menus" is one I remember flicking through incessantly as childhood birthdays approached.

Mum, why did you NEVER make me the carousel cake? Or hard boiled eggs decorated like mice and rabbits?



Best of all, the pile of books included 2 notebooks from a Great Aunt. Handwritten recipes, cuttings, little comments - I love them.




I was blessed with some great ,Great Aunts, though none of them are still living. I've already mentioned the one who not only worked full time but went home to cook a 2 course lunch every day for her husband - another Random Recipe entry, in fact.

The Great Aunt to whom these notebooks belonged was a cabinet maker and worked with the renowned (and currently in vogue) Edward Barnsley. I am lucky enough to have a stool that she designed and had made in the later years of her life by one of her own apprentices. I believe all her great nieces and nephews have one, elegant and beautiful.



She herself was a fantastic character. All tweed skirts and sensible shoes. She smoked like a chimney (indeed it was the fags what done her in, in the end) and lived with her devoted 'companion' (no other attribution or recognition could be given in those days, even though their relationship was far more devoted than many marriages I have seen). As I recall, they shared their home with a grey African parrot. I always remember how interested she was in anything and everything I was doing; What was going on at school, what I was studying. I was off to France for a year - fantastic! what a great opportunity. She spent hours telling me about her own travels. In fact, she sadly died while I was in France and I missed her funeral, but somehow being in the Languedoc at the time, an area I know she loved, made it more bearable. My memories of her are fading but I have some clear images of her and her partner, their house and beautiful garden, which I know will stay with me.

Having her notebooks has brought many of those images and memories that I do retain back to the forefront of my mind. I can't date the notebooks accurately. One of them includes recipes attributed to "(Delia Smith TV)" in the exquisite handwriting you might expect. In fact all the recipes that have been written out by hand are attributed - names I recognise from my childhood - Jessie (my granny), Mrs Godfrey, Beth - and some I don't. There is an article about aubergine, cut out and kept from a newspaper from the day before my 6th birthday (I am sure the events were unrelated, but it puts things in context for me). I am particularly tickled by the comment accompanying a recipe for Roast Duck: "Very satisfactory." Those 2 words transport me right back in time - the sensibleness and practicality of them. No flowery nonsense. Just "Very satisfactory". I can hear her voice now.



But what of the random recipe? Well, this month the randomness is down to us: Dom's challenge at Belleau Kitchen is to choose a book our own way but to be sure to select a recipe randomly from it.




Alas, the roasted duck was not the random recipe. You'll understand why I had to choose one of these notebooks as my recipe book, tbough, so I very scientifically held them behind my back, swapped them over a couple of times and in my right hand the ringbound, falling apart Sherwood Notebook from Boots Stationery Department. 






And the recipe? Well, the page that I opened included 4 recipes cut from newspapers. 2 veal recipes ('Veal Cutlets - Victoria', and stewed breast of veal), another one  for a 'Standing Pie' (lots of lard) and this one. I couldn't resist. I love the idea that whenever this was written (imperial measurements, oven temp in Gas mark/farenheit only), people were thinking about how best to make sure they had a hot meal on the table - even if they wanted to go out and enjoy themselves in the meantime.

I copy it out directly because I am sure that any copyright has long since passed. If it hasn't and you recognise this as yours, please let me know, and I will offer full attribution.

Boeuf a la movie (for 2)



So called because you throw everything into a casserole, go to the cinema (and come back and eat it)

1lb stewing beef
small tin tomato soup
glass red wine
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
1 medium potato, sliced
bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon of salt, and some screws of pepper

Put everything in a casserole and cover it closely. Put it into the middle of the oven with the heat at mark 1, 275F and leave it for 4 1/2 hours. When you return, serve it with tinned Swedish red cabbage (heated).

And that's it.

I defy anyone to say "Wow, what a beautiful looking dinner" - because frankly it wasn't:


The soup in the sauce made it alarmingly orange, and the fact that you don't brown the meat first meant that there was really quite a lot of fat floating around, but it was all cooked and quite tasty actually. It was completely hassle free - as all slow cooking is - and for a day when I was out at a training course and backwards and forwards on the school run and then delivering children to Rainbows etc, it was super-convenient. The only changes I made were to slightly up the vegetable quantities and I used a large tin of soup to stretch it to 4 of us. I also couldn't bring myself to serve it with tinned red cabbage - indeed I couldn't find any (although I didn't look too hard), but in keeping with the recipe, I did liberate some red cabbage, left over from Christmas, from the freezer.

I'm not sure it's the kind of thing I'd want to come back to from watching a movie, but I can certainly imagine Vera & Freda (you knew they'd have names like that) coming home - more likely from a concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic than the movies (although you never know), kicking off their brogues and sitting down, with their napkins on knees, to a big plateful of this...

28 comments:

  1. What an absolute brilliant post. I loved reading it. I simply adore family history like this. Stuff that's passed down is invaluable and just so personal. Brilliant stuff Sally! I like the idea of the stewed beef too. Anything long and slow is good by me. Great great entry and thank you !!

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  2. what a brilliant brilliant post.. I loved reading it. I simply adore family history like this when it's so personal. You must treasure those books, they will lead to a thousand wonderful things!... I like the beef too but then anything slow cooked works for me... thanks so much for such a fab random recipes entry this month! x

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  3. Thanks Dom! Glad you liked it - I have many more hours ahead of me with the notebooks - deciphering the recipe for 'fish mould' and other delights.

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  4. Great post. I'd forgotten about tinned soup in stews. It was popular in the 1960s and recipes often suggested mixing tomato and oxtail soup.

    I can imagine how orange the stew became. There is some colouring in tinned tomato soup which is very permanent. Don't ask me how I know but don't wear a white blouse when cooking with it.
    http://www.barnsley-furniture.co.uk/superbasket/history
    has some pictures of women working in his workshop - could one be your aunt?

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    1. Hi Pat, thanks for the link - I couldn't immediately recognise her,but it's an interesting read.

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  5. So many things to love about this post RJ, from your beautiful stool to your description of your Great Aunt. Please tell me she had a pith helmet, a carpet bag and a huge travelling trunk! The recipe is a retro delight too.

    The Robert Carrier book bought back memories for me - my mum collected all his magazines and I remember thinking his food look impossibly exotic.

    On the subject of old recipe books, have you seen the one Table has?

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    1. I can vouch for the trunk and an amazing array of woodworking tools: I never saw a pith helmet but no doubt there was one, although to my knowledge she didn't shoot tigers in Inja. Not sure about a carpet bag. if she did, it would have been full of fags and mothballs.

      RObert Carrier - do you know I seriuously longed for a birthday cake like that carousel cake. never got one - his stuff did look exotic didn't it. I'm not sure I have seen Table's one (hurries off to check...)

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  6. PS. I don't suppose you'd reproduce the recipe for John Inman's Beef Wellington would you? My mind is positively boggling.

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  7. RJ, I really do think this year is the year you should get the carousel cake for your birthday...

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    1. I'll have to make it for myself, but may be I'll just do that!

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  8. I love all those old books, I have a few myself from my gran and my husband's gran as well as my mother-in-law's books. The toast recipe sounds hilarious. Thanks for sharing these stories and recipes, this is a really entertaining blog post.

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    1. Thanks Janice - I loved writing this too - made me think a lot about my family and how my older relations really were a pretty fantastic bunch. The toast recipe is very funny - I might post it as a post in its own right - I guess I should make a donation to the Merseyside kidney association first - assuming it is still extant :-)

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  9. Loved this post... It might not be the prettiest dish, but I bet it tasted good! :)

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    1. It did taste good. Pink was a bit sniffy about the onions, but Blue said it was the best thing he'd eaten for AGES...

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  10. This is a lovely post, I'm v jealous of you having those old cookbooks! What a great idea to use them for the Random Recipe challenge too. I came across your blog on UKFBA and will be signing up imminently! :-)

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    1. :-) thanks - good to meet you, too! It's liek discovering a little treasure trove - all these books - gives a whole different perspective on cooking too.

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  11. A joy to read R. Lovely memories of your Great Aunt, and how special to have her handwritten recipes. Glad the movie meal was better than it looks - reminds me of a friend who is fond of putting tinned condensed mushroom soup in her casseroles..worryingly tasty..

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    1. Don't tell anyone, but I have as ecret thing for condensde mushroom soup too... not that I use it much at all, but thoughts of it often floats into my head when there's leftover roast chicken knocking around....

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  13. Great post indeed, love reading the family history. I want one of those Wagon Wheel Burgers... x x

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  14. Oh RJ what a fabulous haul! And what a lovely post. I'm in love with your tweedy great aunt. x

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    1. Thanks - I'm up at mum's this week, pilfering even more from her stash!

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  15. What a superb collection of books. I've got to say that recipes containing tins of soup takes me back - they seemed to turn up a lot in magazines back way back when. Somehow the thought of Ken Dodd working away in the kitchen on his steak recipe won't leave my head.

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    1. Hi Phil - yes I know, I had a lot of rather strange images running round in my head after reading through that book! I'm not averse to the odd can of condensed mushroom soup I have to say - good for putting in stuffed pancakes with left over roast chicken...

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  16. Love love love the old books and your Great Aunt sounds a real fab character. Such a nostalgic post. Have you seen this blog: http://vintagecookbooktrials.wordpress.com/ May interest you. :-)

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  17. What a wonderful post, and what a wonderful lady your Great Aunt sounds. Recipe notebooks handed down like that are worth more than gold; what better memorial to someone we loved than recreating the food that they loved? Very Satisfactory.

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