My Year With Mrs. Beeton – Part 5 – Soups and Sauces

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management

After six chapters with Mrs. Beeton, we are finally prepared to dive into the kitchen and prepare something edible – if we are lucky!

Chapters seven, eight, nine and ten of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management provide us with the recipes for all kinds of soups, broths, gravies, sauces and forcemeats, salad dressings, purees, and sauces of all sorts, both savoury and sweet. Before we begin, we are asked to note the following:

“It will be seen, on referring to the Recipes which follow, that by the original method of explanation adopted, the rules for the preparation of each dish are clearly and intelligibly indicated. We would recommend the young housekeeper, cook or whoever may be engaged in the important task of “getting ready” the dinner or other meal, to follow precisely the order in which the Recipes are given.

Thus, let them first place on their table all the Ingredients necessary; then their Method of preparation will be quickly and easily managed. By carefully reading the Recipes there should not be the slightest difficulty in arranging a repast for any number of persons, and an accurate notion will be gained of the time required for the cooking of each dish, the periods when it is Seasonable, and its Average Cost.” p.128

This month, we will attempt to follow Mrs. Beeton’s advice by preparing one recipe from the section of the book that we are contemplating. This month, I have chosen from the hundreds of recipes that make up the soups, sauces, gravies, etc. to attempt a sweet sauce – sauce citron.

Before we get to our experiment in sauce preparation, let us look at what our favourite domestic goddess has to say about soups and sauces.

According to Mrs. Beeton, in 1912, “the valuable dietetic properties of soup have been, and indeed still are, much overlooked in this country.” As we heard in past chapters, soup makes up the first course of any self-respecting meal, but she asks, is soup really appreciated? Soup is easily digestible, easy on the pocketbook, and is one of the best ways of using up pantry items that might have gone bad otherwise.

We are reminded that a “quality” soup is more dependent on the right mix of ingredients and a proper control of your heat source, then it is on expensive ingredients. We must not forget, of course that the skill of the cook is everything in preparing a quality soup!

Mrs. Beeton tells her readers that an important part of cooking any meat for soup is the consideration of not only how old the animal was when sent for butchering but also how it was treated prior – how well it was treated and how it was fed are important to the quality and taste of the meat. This is great importance to the making of soup as we are told that “stock forms the basis of all meat soups and the principle sauces…In France, and indeed throughout the Continent generally, a stock-pot will be found in every peasant’s kitchen. By its means, the basis of many a delicious meal can be provided from materials that would be wasted in the average middle-class household in Britain.”

According to the book, there are between five and six hundred different kinds of soup, but they can be broadly divided into distinct classes – broths, clear soups, thick soups, and purees. Of these, we may wonder what the difference is between broths and clear soups. Broths are the unclarified liquor in which a single type of meat is cooked; and clear soups have a base made up of a double stock – such as a good beef stock with veal stock to improve its flavour.

One of the last words on soups is the stock-pot which is of utmost importance and the importance of the management of a household stock-pot. A few tips in this regard:

1 – the first consideration is the pot – one with a tap on the side is recommended so you can extract some of the stock for use without having to drain the fat off the top first.

2 – the materials to be found in the stock-pot are bones and the trimmings of meat, rinds of bacon, remains of gravies (as long as not thickened with gravy), scraps of raw vegetables.

3 – fat should never be put into the stock-pot, but sometimes bone marrow in small quantities may be used.

4 – flour and anything thickened with flour and potatoes must be excluded.

5 – fresh meat used for stock need not be washed, but should be wiped with a damp cloth before being cut up and placed in the pot for cooking.

Chapter nine provides us with some advice on sauces and gravies and how to prepare all the standard sauces. Mrs. Beeton shares with the reader that until the end of the 18th Century, “cookery was a neglected art in England, and sauces were practically unknown.” Apparently, the English were known to only have one sauce!! Of course, this state of affairs could not continue in a civilized society and so cues were taken from other countries and by the 1912, we are told there are more than 650 sauces a cook could use in their repertoire! We are informed, however, that the foundation of all sauces is the brown and the white sauce, and from these all other iterations can be created to add life to any meal. Sauce is defined as liquid seasoning and is clearly a must to elevate any meal!

The book then takes the home cook on a detailed walk-through of the foundation of all sauces, stock made for gravy versus stock required for sauces, as well as the consistency of each variety of sauce, and how long they take to prepare.

Some helpful instructions in understanding the recipes provided and to consider before preparing any of the sauces include:

a – The vegetables used in any of the recipes must be prepared – peels removed and scraped and peeled.

b – A bouquet garni is noted in many recipes and the one that is used (a small bundle of herbs) consists of a sprig of parsley, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of marjoram, a sprig of basil, and a blade of mace all tied together in a little bouquet.

c – Quantities in the recipes are given to fill a sauce tureen or for pouring round an entrée or pudding.

The Recipe – No. 341 – Lemon Sauce (Fr. – Sauce Citron.) (Economical)

Recipe for Lemon Sauce found on page 267 of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management

In considering what recipe to attempt, first, like the advice provided by Mrs. Beeton, we needed to ensure we had all the ingredients at hand and prepared. For this experiment, we chose to prepare recipe number 341 – LEMON SAUCE (Fr. – Sauce Citron.) (Economical). According to the book, this recipe should take 20-25 minutes to prepare at an average cost in 1912 of 2d. for this quantity.

This recipe only required 4 ingredients – one lemon, sugar, water and corn starch.

While the recipe indicated that this sauce would take 20-25 minutes, in actuality, it took approximately 15 minutes to prepare and it made about 500 ml of finished sauce.

As you will note from the recipe seen above, the method starts with rubbing a lemon with an ounce of loaf sugar. Since we do not have sugar that comes in large lumps any longer, I had to modify this recipe slightly and used a fine grater to remove the rind of the lemon and then I mixed it into the required amount of granulated sugar.

The recipe then calls for the cook to add the sugar and lemon to boiling water and stir until mixed. Then add one dessertspoonful of arrowroot (corn starch in this case) mixed in a small amount of cold water and stir until thickened. This happened very quickly! Also at this point, my kitchen smelled deliciously like lemons! While the sauce continued to thicken, I squeezed the juice from the lemon and added it to the liquid and let it boil for another minute.

This recipe recommends adding more sugar as needed but on taste-testing, it was sweet enough in my opinion so no extra sugar was needed!

The sauce was poured into a jar to cool and could be used in a number of ways – on ice cream or as a glaze on a cake would be especially nice!

I was pleasantly surprised that this recipe turned out exactly as expected. One thing to remember is to try and only remove the yellow part of the lemon rind as the white part can be a bit bitter, which you could just faintly taste in the sauce.

While clearly we chose one of the easier recipes in this section of the book, there are many more complicated soups and sauces with pages of instructions and ingredients that are not easy to find in a 21st century grocery store.

Join our adventures with Mrs. Beeton next month, when we will take a look at how our favourite cookbook writer recommends we cook fish!

Kathleen Powell is the Supervisor of Historical Services and Curator at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre and a proud owner of a 1912 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

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