What on Earth is Calf’s Foot Jelly? by Susan Karsten

Calf's foot jelly

If you’ve done a significant amount of reading of regency fiction, you’ve come across a female character taking calf’s foot jelly to an invalid, usually someone poor. It was thought to be exceeding nutritious, but that is not necessarily true, according to my research. It was a thrifty, economizing concoction, made from a leftover part of a beef.

Calf’s foot jelly has two forms: sweet, common in 19th-century Britain and America, and savoury–called petcha, a standard of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking. Both dishes start with a long braise of split cow’s feet. The latter (for a sickroom concoction) adds garlic, onion, salt and pepper, and usually retains the meat that falls from the feet; the former (for a dessert) adds sugar, Madeira wine, brandy, cinnamon and citrus, and discards the meat. In both cases the stock is chilled until it sets, and the fat that rises to the top is skimmed.

The key component of both is collagen–a protein found mainly in connective tissue, in which feet abound. Collagen makes meat tough, but it also makes the same cut, after stewing, silky and rich. Smart cooks have long begged chicken feet from the butcher: they give chicken soup extra body. Hot, collagen imparts richness; chilled, it turns to gelatin.

To boil it down/summarize: Stock made by boiling a calf’s foot in water; which sets to a stiff jelly on cooling. It consists largely of water and gelatin, so is of little nutritional value.

Note: The New Female Instructor strongly advises against the addition of wine when the jelly is to be used for an ill person. Lemonade was often given to an ill-person along with barley water and tea.

To the readers, have you come across this, and wondered? To the fellow-Regency writers, have you ever included a character delivering this to a poor sick person?

104_2304Susan Karsten, regency blogger, author

Throw Together a Tradition

Kristi here.

Ask people to list traditional English meals, and you’re very likely to get Shepherd’s Pie in the list right next to Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash, and Yorkshire pudding.

Slice of shepherd's pie and a tomato
Slice of Cottage Pie. Note the meat and vegetables on the bottom layer and the potatoes on the top.

Shepherd’s Pie is really a particular version of a Cottage Pie. Technically, a Shepherd’s Pie should contain lamb or mutton while a Cottage Pie can contain the meat from pretty much any animal, though it usually contains beef.

Simply put, Cottage Pies are a mix of meat and vegetables topped with a heap of mashed potatoes and baked. My family has a recipe for one and lots of people make particular plans to have Cottage Pies for dinner and go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make it.

What I find interesting about that, is that Cottage Pie was originally a thrown together meal used to eat up the leftovers and scraps.

Picture this: The family sits down to eat and the Mom starts dishing up dinner. She says, “Sorry about dinner tonight. I had to sort of throw together whatever I can find. I’ll plan better for tomorrow. I should be able to get to the market in the morning.”

(Yes, I know that is a very modern conversation, but you get the picture.)

Dad and kids tuck in and discover that this is better than the last three meals Mom made. In fact, it’s one of the best! Suddenly the concoction thrown together just so everyone could eat dinner and not be hungry is a family staple.

This happens in our house constantly.

Frequently dinner is a pantry clean-out. Grab a few cans, haul something out of the freezer, throw it together and you have some nourishment. It might be bizarre, but it’ll get the job done.

The other day I did this and ended up trying to remember what I’d done and what all I’d put in it because everyone in the family loved that meal. It is rare that all three of my kids clean their plate, let alone ask for seconds. We devoured this ultra simple meal.

The bonus was that it ended up tasting very similar to a dish my husband loved growing up as a child. His grandparents grew a very distinct type of bean on their farm and it was always served for the bulk of the Sunday afternoon meal.

Just like Cottage Pie, our thrown together meal is now a menu mainstay. It’s purposefully planned and ingredients are bought instead of it being leftovers and forgotten pantry lingerers.

We call it “That turkey and bean dish” right now. Eventually it will get a better name. Want to try it? I’ve included the recipe below.

Have you ever thrown together something at the last minute only to have it be a roaring success?

That Turkey and Bean Dish

Ingredients:

– 1 pound turkey sausage (the kind in the big links, either the horseshoe shape or the two long links.)
– 1 can french cut green beans
– 1 can whole kernel corn
– 1 can black beans
– Spices: Cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper
– butter or margarine

Directions:

– Slice the turkey sausage into bite size pieces. (For me that means half-circles about a half inch thick)
– Brown them in a frying pan
– Sprinkle them with cumin and onion powder

– Drain the green beans and corn
– Drain and rinse the black beans
– Put them in a pot with some butter
– heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally
– Season with cumin, salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder

– Once everything has had a chance to simmer and brown, dump the bean and corn mixture in the frying pan with the sausage.
– Cover and let simmer about 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
– Serve over garlic bread or mashed potatoes

If you give this a try, let me know how it turns out for you. My family loves it!

All photos from WikiCommons.

Ostrich, Eels, Bone Marrow, and Heart – What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?

Food during the Regency period was very different from what a lot of us eat today. If anyone read Ruth’s post on Monday and said, “I totally know how to jugg a pigeon” then they should contact us immediately. There are several Regency authors who would like to talk to you.

In the meantime, we asked our illustrious blog authors to share their worst food memories. We asked them,  “What was the worst thing you ever had to eat?”

Naomi Rawlings
Ostrich. I was traveling in South America at the time. 🙂

Kristy and her pretty plate of Eel
Kristy and her pretty plate of eel

Kristy Cambron
The worst thing I’ve ever had the displeasure of eating? Without question it would have to be eel. My husband and I honeymooned in Cancun, Mexico. I still remember the fabulous food on that trip – except that is, for the “lovely” plate of seafood we received at a gourmet restaurant. (It was plated so beautifully that we actually took a picture of it!) Unfortunately, the majority of the plate included a gray, rubbery, and horrid tasting main course which turned out to be eel. You bet I skipped right to dessert just to drown out the memory of dinner!

Laurie Alice Eakes
Horse meat in Europe. I was a guest, so couldn’t turn it down.

Kristi Ann Hunter
Bone marrow. I was at a restaurant in Switzerland on the edge of Lake Geneva. The plate was gorgeous and the food really good, but on the top of the steak were these little disks in the sauce. I thought they might have been mushroom slices or pieces of water chestnut, so I ate one. I nearly gagged. On our way out I checked the menu and sure enough, there was bone marrow listed in the description.

Large Moose Wading in Lake
Big animal. Big heart. photo: WikiCommons

Jessica Snell
I don’t know about the worst food. Maybe a better question would be, “What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?” My answer is moose heart. And when it was raw, I was able to stick my entire hand in one of the ventricles – those things are huge!

 

Ruth Axtell
I like all foods so can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I really gagged at.

Susan Karsten
The strangest food I have eaten, and enjoyed, is squid. It is also known by the name calamari. You can get it fried, or served in tomato sauce. I have had both and it was good. I would eat it again in a heartbeat.

Have you ever eaten anything that curled your tastebuds and your toes? Chomped down on anything bizarre or strange? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Bride Cakes

The multi-tiered extravaganzas with frosting flowers and sometimes fanciful designs we now associate with wedding cakes are a Victorian invention, as are most of our modern wedding customs. That does not mean, however, that wedding cakes did not exist before Victoria and Albert’s 300 pound confection.

Cake at a wedding dates back at least to Roman times when a cake of wheat or barley was partially eaten by the groom, then broken over the bride’s head, followed by the crumbs being tossed into the crowd. This represented prosperity and fertility and good fortune.

In various forms, the custom continued through the middle ages and into our time of the Regency. Some evolutions took place along the way. Wheat poured onto the bride’s head replaced the cake breaking, though some evidence reports that an oat cake was broken over the bride’s head in Scottish weddings well into the nineteenth century.

In the Regency, bride cakes ranged from what sounds like what we recognize as fruit cake such as those passed around at Christmas, though much, much larger, to flour cakes stacked and held together with icing.

Stacking cakes was a more modern form of the “stack” a pile of wheat rolls piled high to represent prosperity over which the bride and groom kissed. Cakes replaced the rolls, but piling them together created the problem of keeping them piled, making sure they did not crumble away, and keeping them from going stale. Frosting them together seemed like a natural way to solve this problem.

Not too long before the Regency, bride pies became the custom. This was a savory, not a sweet pie. A glass ring was baked into this pastry, and the lady who received the piece with the ring was sure to wed within the next year, rather like the ring in a Christmas pudding.

Many cake customs had not died by the Regency. One that seems to have survived was the cutting the cake into small pieces to distribute through the guests. Young women took their pieces home to lay beneath their pillow. They thought this would help them dream of the men they would marry. Other brides carried this further and the piece of cake had to be drawn through the wedding ring as many as nine times before it would reveal the recipient’s future spouse.

Here is a recipe for bride cake from an 1818 housekeeping book by Elizabeth Raffald.
(Note: I have changed the s that look like f to a modern s for ease of reading.)

To make a Bride Cake.

TAKE four pounds of fine flour well dried, four pounds of fresh butter, two pounds of loaf sugar, pound and sift fine a quarter of an ounce of mace, the same of nutmegs, to every pound of flour put eight eggs* wash four pounds of currants, pick them well, and dry them before the fire, blanch a pound of sweet almonds, and cut them lengthways very thin, a pound of citron, one pound of candied orange, the same of candied lemon, half a pint of brandy: first work the butter with your hand to a cream, then beat in yeur sugar a quarter of an hour, beat the whites of your eggs to a very strong froth, mix them with your sugar and butter, beat your yolks half an hour at least, and mix them with your cake, then put in your flour, mace’, and nutmeg, keep beating it well till your oven is ready, put in your brandy, and beat your currants and almonds lightly in, tie three meets of paper round the bottom of your hoop to keep it from running out, rub it well with butter, put in your cake and lay your sweetmeats in three lays, with cake betwixt every lay, after it is risen and coloured, cover it with paper before your oven is slopped *ip: it will take three hour* bakings

To make Almond-Icing for the Bride Cake.

BEAT the-whites of three eggs to a strong froth, beat a pound of Jordan almonds very fine with rose water, mix your almonds with the eggs lightly together, a pound of common loaf sugar beat fine, and put in by degrees; when your cake is enough, take it out, and lay your icing on, then put it into brown.

To make Sugar-Icing for the Bride Cake.

BEAT two pounds of double refined sugar with two ounces of fine starch, sift it through a gauze sieve, then beat the whites of five eggs with a knife upon a pewter dish half an hour; beat in your sugar a little at a time, or it will make the eggs fall, and will not be so good a colour, when you have put in all your sugar, beat it half an hour longer, then lay it on your almond icing, and spread it even with a knife ; if it be put on as soon as the cake comes out of the oven it will be hard by the time the cake is cold.