mrs beeton’s

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861, a guide to all facets of running the Victorian household.

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I love it particularly for its colour plates of an endless variety of beautiful dishes;

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For such beautiful little prints, and such fascinating style and language;

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And for its illustrations and discussion of household tools, solutions, recipes, remedies. It’s an extraordinary bit of history to page through. I had a peek at Mrs Beeton’s apple turnover recipe, of course.

I love that she calls pastry, simply, paste. So it is! Patisserie.

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This is a 1906 edition of the book, first published in full in 1861. I’ve borrowed it from a friend and found it full of yellowed clippings and ads dating back from the 1920’s. Entrancing stuff.

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The book is available to read online, and for a bit of social history along with a look at Isabella Beeton’s life, there’s Sophie Dahl’s The Marvellous Mrs Beeton.

copperware

Over the weekend we drove through beautiful countryside to visit a dear friend, Catherine, who is a brewer in a local pub. She’s taught me about hops and coppers, carmelised barleys and the whole alchemy – we will tell you the story sometime! We took a walk along miller’s streams in the Worthies, pottered about the vintage market in Winchester, and shared a gorgeous meal at a pub with an enviable potager in West Meon. The last afternoon we looked round the astonishing Petworth House. Its galleries, architecture and park are all quite incredible, but it’s the kitchens that I adore.

copper pots at petworth © elisa rathje 2012

The kitchens boast a copper batterie de cuisine of a thousand pieces. I believe them. Copperware all over. There are fascinating relics preserved by the National Trust in every room, the scullery, the pastry room, the larder, the servants quarters. You’ll know by now that I was in heaven. I can only imagine the dinner parties that were thrown in such a place, a shame Turner didn’t paint those too. Petworth has a gorgeous park, one cannot blame him for painting outside.

Now I must go look at the kitchen being spring cleaned.

mozzarella

For a while now I’ve been perfecting the art of making mozzarella. It’s a fabulous party trick, that stretchy stuff, so I often make it with friends visiting the cottage. My dear Catherine, an artist and a fine brewer (with whom I have exciting brewery plans…) made mozzarella with me this weekend and we took some pictures of the happy event. Here’s an illustrated guide, based on a brilliant recipe I’ve had great success with.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the ingredients: 8 pints of fresh whole milk (we use demeter-approved organic raw whole milk from our beloved local farm), a bit of rennet, citric acid, and sea salt.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the tools, sterilised, and keep them close to hand; make sure your sink is clean and has a good stopper. A sieve or a colander, a slotted spoon, a 2 gallon pot, measuring cups and spoons, a wooden spoon, a large heatproof bowl or pot, a long sharp knife and a cooking thermometer. Also, rubber gloves if you’re a sensitive creature and for children who want to pull the mozzarella. Ready?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure a quarter teaspoon rennet (or a quarter tablet) into a quarter cup cool water, stir it well and set it aside.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid into half a cup cool water, and stir til dissolved.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Place the large pot into the sink, and tip the citric acid solution into the pot.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour in all the milk and immediately stir;

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stir it very well. Now the milk is acidified and we’re on our way.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stand the thermometer in the milk, and fill the sink, around the pot (no! not in it!) with hot water, just from the tap should do. Keep watching the thermometer, it need only go to 90 F/32 C, which isn’t very hot at all. Much like making cream cheese. I generally fill the sink about two thirds of the way up the pot. Reached the right temperature?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now pour in the rennet solution, and stir up and down for 30 seconds. Excellent.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Let the mixture stand for about five minutes. While you’re waiting, get a full kettle of water to the boil, we’re going to need it soon.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Press the top with a flat hand. You should feel soft curds, and along the edges the chartreuse whey should show. If in doubt, give it a couple more minutes. (This didn’t happen for us the first time, as the milk we were using was over-pasteurised, no luck.)

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s your knife? Cut the curds right to the bottom, into squares of about 1 inch.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Leave it to rest another two or three minutes. Meanwhile, take your water off the boil and let it sit for a bit.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Lay a sieve or colander (I begin with the sieve, as my colander just doesn’t let much whey out) over a large bowl, next to the pot of curds and whey. Take the slotted spoon and begin to gently lift the curds into the colander to drain. Exciting? I shift curds to the colander, now over the pot, when the sieve gets too full, and tip all the whey around it. The colander will be sitting in whey to keeps the curds warm.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

A few pinches of sea salt go in, and get worked through the curds. The more your work them, the dryer the final mozzarella will become.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour most of the kettle-ful of water into a heatproof bowl or pot (I use that same bowl that caught the whey) and adjust the temperature to about 175 F/79.5C. Reserve some water in case you need it.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Use the slotted spoon to lift the curds into the hot water, working in two or three parts if you like.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Move the curds around to help them melt into a ball.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now! Lift it with the slotted spoon (put on your gloves if you need to!) and begin to pull and fold the mozzarella! If the cheese breaks as you pull it, melt it up again in the bowl, adding hot water as needed. I love this part.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Oh! The mozzarella stretched so far, my arms weren’t long enough! It always makes me laugh. Pull it, fold it, immerse it, pull it, til a sheen like good taffy appears.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Then fold it up, done! I keep our mozzarella submerged it in salted whey, chilling in the fridge, until I need it for lasagna or pizza. Soon we’ll eat it sliced with basil and tomato on fresh bread. Heaven! Do let me know if you make your own.

pasta

Now, you might think that after the surprises I had at how effortless it is to make my own oatcakes and flatbreads and pizzas and English muffins, I wouldn’t be phased by anything. Yet I am astonished by the simplicity of handmade pasta. My lovely friend Sabine inspired me to try it. Flour, eggs, a rolling pin and a good knife are all that is needed.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

I am liberated from the late supermarket run: if there are flour and eggs in the house, and a bit of time, we can eat pasta. I measured out 300 grams of white spelt flour;

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I made a well in the hill of flour, and cracked in three eggs. These are from our local organic farm, Old Plawhatch, aren’t they blindingly yellow! From healthy, happy chickens.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Mix them together with your fingers til you’ve got a breadcrumb-like consistency, and then start kneading. Unlike breadmaking, this dough is incredibly stiff, and put me in mind of wedging clay. Wrap the dough up, airtight, and leave it if you can take the time, at least twenty minutes, to relax the gluten. I went off to a homeschooling group and a violin lesson, and came back to find the dough considerably softer.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the dough in two, shape a flat round, flour your surface and your pin, and roll it out just as thin as you can. Even thinner. Next time I’ll push it a bit further. Amazingly, though it’s very stiff, the dough doesn’t crack easily.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Now flour the dough a little if necessary, and roll it up.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Delightful!

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s that sharp knife? Yes, decide how wide to slice the pasta. I’ll slice them more narrowly next time, say, half a centimeter.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

When I buy a bag of dry pasta I’m not joyful like this, nor am I compelled to gaze at the shapes in delight. The pleasures of homemade continue to astound me.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Unroll the spirals of dough and leave them to dry til brittle. Long enough to make a wonderful sauce, or go for a long walk, depending on the humidity in your kitchen. I laid some over a drying rack, and left some on the marble, but I’d like to hang the noodles over a dowel next time. The pasta nests people make are also very sweet, but wouldn’t dry very quickly in a chilly old cottage like this one!

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cook them in sea salted water as you would cook any fresh pasta, al dente, once you have a sauce ready. Oh! The flavour is quite wonderful. You can freeze the dried pasta for later use. The children are determined to try using cutters on the pasta dough, with grand plans for ravioli and tortellini! For an everyday meal I am completely content with my wide, wobbly linguine. I love it.

potato ricer

Our final River Cottage tried & true is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall himself, with his trusty potato ricer. Hugh tells me his ricer is a sturdy antique and functions beautifully to make gloriously perfect mashed potatoes.

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You too, are duly warned of the dangers of food processing potatoes until they are the consistency of wet cement. (Followed in my experience by crying over one’s food processor when it later expires and is doomed to eternity in a landfill.) I myself use a fork, with lots of butter, but if I begin to throw dinner parties at the volumes Hugh is famous for, I shall invest in a good old fashioned potato ricer. Thanks Hugh!

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I think I may have thereupon received the best and most delicious recipe for mashed potatoes ever, but I was suffering somewhat from an unfortunate attack of starstruckedness and have forgotten. Never mind, he’s written a book.