Monday, 24 March 2014

And to finish....

It is with a heart as heavy as the stodgy Corned Beef Fritters I cooked in entry 5 that I announce this to be my final entry on Marguerite and Me.

Talking about Marguerite with my Mum in the video above has shown me that the reason her writing is so interesting to me - the easy methodology and simple language - is exactly why my Mum likes it too. Passing on the gift of cookery is something that I really appreciate my Mum doing for me, and she clearly feels the same way about my Nan passing that gift along to her all those years ago.

I still think that Marguerite Patten is important in the cookery canon for the entirety of the British nation, and that her ethos of using the "minimum of time and expense" is one that we would all do well to adopt. However it occurs to me that the personal experience of Marguerite's work, and the way it has let me explore the social history of my family, is what I truly take away from this blog as being her "importance."

The cohesiveness of three generations using the same cookery book is incredible and I really hope that in 20 or so years time I can send my children off to University with a copy of Step by Step Cookery, albeit it a slightly crumbling one.

Marguerite Patten will continue to be important as long as she is being used within the kitchen, and it gives me hope that women of my age are still using her work, as well as women of my Grandmother's generation. Whilst not all her recipes will remain relevant, I believe her methodology will for years to come.

And that's what I know about Marguerite and Me.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Foods the Family need.

In the "Before you start to cook" section of Step by Step Cookery Marguerite Patten offers information to do with the basic rules of cookery, time management and, as in this chapter "Food the family need", instructions on how to stay healthy.

These sections are reminiscent of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management in that they aim to teach you just that - how to a manage a household.

Marguerite Patten tells her readers to "make sure" that they "provide" (14) their family with such things as a "reasonable amount of fat" - this commands makes it clear that Patten feels it is a woman's role as a mother and wife to maintain a healthy household. She also goes beyond simply making suggestions about what food to serve in order to remind her reader that "Children should be encouraged to clean their teeth." This fairly obvious statement fits with the identifiable tone of Marguerite Patten's work - easy to digest information that all women should know, offered in a way that doesn't seek to patronize - and is in many ways, utterly timeless. 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Bits and Bobs

Today I'm going to be blogging about the various clippings found inside my Mother's copy of Step by Step Cookery. When I started to pull the pieces of magazine, newspaper and strangely enough Christmas Card from the book I was struck by just how many there were. Why, if my family find Marguerite and her recipes so wonderful, would we need quite so many recipes from other sources? There were a few things in there that were obvious - for example a hand written recipe for Bara Brith, a Welsh kind of fruit cake, which would have been unlikely to register highly on Marguerite Patten's list of recipes to include in her books. And there were a few that just seemed plain odd, or I wished weren't in there at all...

French Scalloped Potatoes, or as they've come to be known in my family "Yucky Potatoes", have been the bane of my existence since I was a young girl. There is only one recipe my Mum makes that I rate lower than "Yucky Potatoes" and that is the equally vomit inducing "Faggots and Peas". These are the foods of nightmares, the meals where I spent hours at the table being unable to leave until I'd finished. Luckily my Mum has all but stopped making these two food stuffs, but I was incredibly tempted to run the recipe through the shredder for old times sake. The other picture above is a recipe in Welsh. Why it's in my Mother's cookbook I really couldn't tell you - not one member of my family speaks Welsh to a standard higher than "Rydw i'n hoffi coffi!" (That's "I like coffee." for anyone interested.)

The recipe on the back of a Christmas Card really interested me. We've spoken a little in class about how recipes get shared and passed around but on the back of a greetings card is a way I hadn't even considered. Reading the recipe I'm pretty certain "Chicken Polyana" has never been served in my household. The instructions are concise and clearly written but by someone who didn't know my Mother's cooking habits that well since it uses degrees F/C as the cooking temperature - we've had gas cookers my whole life and we always will do. This method of sharing recipes is one Marguerite Patten would've been sure to like - although I'm not sure how she would've felt about using Ginger Ale in a Chicken dish.

One reason behind the multitude of clippings became increasingly clearer as I flicked through them - a large majority of the recipes were modern, exotic dishes that don't fit in with Marguerite Patten's ethos. This recipe for a "Speedy prawn curry and naan" (courtesy of the Asda Magazine from May 2009) was just one of many different curry recipes my Mother had collected over the years. I decided to have a look inside Step by Step Cookery to see whether Marguerite Patten had a similar recipe and was struck by just how few pages she dedicated to curried dishes. There is a full page that includes a simple Lamb curry recipe and a list of options for other meats and flavourings that could be used, as well as a small section on the previous page listing the accompaniments. For my generation Curry is a staple dish that has spread across the nation to be eaten in households everywhere, so it was interesting to see just how little weight they had for Marguerite Patten in the 1960s. I wonder if she was writing today whether this would have changed, or if her love for English food would've lasted.

One odd inclusion to the clippings was a recipe for Shortbread. It's clearly printed from an internet webpage and I was interested as to why my Mother would need to do this, since I knew full well that Marguerite Patten had a good recipe for it, having made it myself quite recently. Opening up to the page I read through them both side by side to try and spot the differences. One I noticed quickly is Marguerite's insistence that you "knead together with your fingers" vs. the clipping's permission to "Beat" and "Stir" your ingredients instead. Another clear difference is the metric/imperial divide that stretches across many cookbooks and recipes. Where Marguerite Patten says to 'Remove and allow to cool on tin." the clipping specifies that it must be chilled "for 20 minutes". I have always found the writing in Marguerite's cookery book avoids being patronizing and gives the benefit of the doubt that the reader would know how long something needs to cool. The 'Shortbread' recipe may be easier but it certainly doesn't teach you about cookery in the way Patten's 'Shortbread Biscuits' does, and that is why I think that my Mother was wrong to need a clipping - she should just have trusted in Marguerite as she usually does.

Rather than leave you with a tip from Marguerite Patten I'll direct you to one from the 'Shortbread' clipping:

Top Tip: Why not try adding cocoa powder for delicious chocolate shortbread?

Well, who would've thought it?!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Corned Beef Fritters

Full Disclosure: I love Corned Beef.

Love might even be too tame a term for it since I'm fairly sure I would be happy eating it straight from the can with a spoon if that wasn't completely socially unacceptable. My Mum's Corned Beef Pie (oddly not a Marguerite Patten recipe) with chips, peas and gravy is the best meal I could possibly think of, so when it came to WW2 food there really was no choice for me other than returning to my favourite canned meat food. (I also love Spam.)

On page 34 of We'll Eat Again the graphic introduces us to 'The Butcher' who explains to us (through Mrs. Smith - whose name is delightfully generic) the inclusion of Corned Beef in the meat ration. The paragraph tells us that the people of WW2 are "lucky" to have such a versatile meat that can be served "Cold or hot, (...) in a dozen different ways" and if The Butcher has a slight mocking tone when he refers to Lord Woolton "watching his socks" then its forgotten in the realisation that this meat doesn't cost any of Mrs Smith's precious coupons at all. The Ministry of Food's propaganda was designed to speak directly to the people of Britain and this instance is particularly effective in that the reader comes away intrigued and confused as to the many different ways they could possibly cook this new food. Thankfully Marguerite Patten has more than a few suggestions as to what you can make and I will be following her recipe for Corned Beef Fritters.

The recipe is a simple one - essentially a batter mixture with bits of corned beef flaked in and then fried - and it makes a large serving for the amount of precious rationed goods such as eggs and milk it requires you to use. It says 4 helpings but I think I made closer to 6.

Chopped parsley was beyond my budget (especially when you only need a teaspoon) and I didn't fancy attempting to use reconstituted eggs so my ingredients are slightly more modern than what Marguerite Patten suggests. I did however go to the trouble of getting my hands on some dripping for use in the recipe. The packaging is delightfully nostalgic and I felt as though I really should have been asking for it over the counter at my local shop with my rationing tokens rather than picking it off the shelf in Morrisons!

In the typical Marguerite Patten way the recipe offers no flowery language or advice on how to make your fritters look an attractive shape. I blended and beat, melted and spooned and before long seemed to be making meaty pancakes out of a mixture that looks a bit like beef porridge. (If such a thing has ever existed - I really hope not!)

The results of my cooking were varied. I had to use far more dripping, which made my skin crawl with how fatty it was, than the recipe stated - though this may have been to do with my not cooking them half as quickly as Marguerite specified. "Crisp and Brown" (36) however they most certainly were on the outside, and the inside was a molten, melting, meaty mix that warmed my insides and filled me up really quickly. I can see exactly why these were popular during the war and deemed by Patten to be a recipe worthy of sharing in her role as ambassador for the Food Advice Bureau.

That said the dripping was, as I mentioned earlier, really not very nice to use as an ingredient and I find it hard to reconcile the fat that dripped off the fritters with what Dr. Alan Borg of the Imperial War Museum says about the diet of the time being "very much in line with the message of many doctors and nutritionists today". (6) "Fighting fit" it may keep you in terms of energy, but I'm glad that I am not expected to cook with dripping for all my meals - give me cooking spray or olive oil any day.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

'We'll Eat Again" - Marguerite Patten and WW2.

I've been interested in the food of World War Two since my Year 6 project on rationing. I wasn't aware until the start of this blog, however, of how big an influence Marguerite Patten had been on the recipes and eating habits of WW2 Britain.

In the introduction to We'll Eat Again, a nostalgic collection of recipes from the War, Marguerite Patten discusses her role as a Home Economist for the Ministry of Food during the years of WW2. She tells us that before War was declared she was working in a job where she gave demonstrations of "lavish recipes" (7) that became simply impossible with the on set of rationing. She began working for the MoF in 1942 and was based in the city of Cambridge. Their job was to set up a stall in the market to impart their knowledge to the local people on how to make the most of what they were being given, and how to stay healthy. She also helped with the introduction of cooked school meals - an important way for the youth of Britain to ingest the vitamins and minerals they needed to become the strong generation the government wanted, and needed them, to be. After this she worked in Harrods at the Food Advice Bureau serving as something of a figurehead for the Ministry of Food. It is easy to see why Marguerite Patten, with her ethos of cheap food of good quality, fit in so perfectly with War Time food. 

When discussing the food of the War in class I was interested in the attitude taken by many writers that to complain about the situation the people of Britain were in - starved of the luxurious food of yesteryear - was somehow taboo. I don't know about you but I tend to complain whenever my creature comforts are taken away, and I doubt the threat of war would change that! In her introduction Marguerite lays my mind to rest slightly by saying that "Looking back I feel we were horribly bracing and we never sympathized with people over food problems if they grumbled." (7) Looking back over the extracts I've read before and this regret that Marguerite mentions, I feel as though after the war many writers would have felt sorry for the way they treated those who complained. After all even the most hard-hearted of Home Economists surely has to admit that dried eggs have nothing over the real thing?!

In my next blog post I am going to be making one of the recipes in We'll Eat Again and I am very interested in seeing whether I will have any complaints about the quality of the food - or whether I will soldier on and make do and mend just like Marguerite and her contemporaries. 

Works Cited

Patten, Marguerite. We'll Eat Again. London: Octopus, 1985. Print.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

What a difference 20 years makes.... or does it?

When it comes to Step by Step Cookery I actually have two books to choose from if I want to find a recipe. The orange book, the one that's been in my life since I was small, is my Mum's, and the garish green and yellow one? That's mine. 

The year is 2011 and I am moving into my room at Lee House on the Roehampton campus with boxes of new bedding, posters to adorn my walls and...a copy of Marguerite Patten's Step by Step Cookery to guide me through my new culinary freedom. My Mum had bought it for me in a jumble sale in the weeks prior to me leaving - unable to part with her much loved copy but unwilling to send me on my way without some way to cook "Hasty Goulash" (pg 107) and "Chuck wagon stew". (pg 67)

As it happens I was quite happy with chicken dippers and oven chips throughout most of my first (and second...) years so the book stood largely discarded first on a book shelf and then on a window sill. That's where the lovely two tone effect on the cover comes from - sorry Marguerite, I promise I take better care of your words nowadays.

The orange copy of the book was published in 1963, but the copy I own wasn't printed (in Czechoslovakia - which certainly ages it) until 1983. In those 20 years you'd have thought the recipes would have moved on substantially - but they haven't. Newfangled cookery methods and convenience foods have largely passed Marguerite Patten by and when you look through the newer copy of the book the recipes are the same.

A new layout can't disguise that when it comes to making 'Compote of fruit' not much has changed in 2 decades. The newer copy lets you know how many servings the recipe makes which is a welcome addition for anyone attempting to cook for the whole family. Another difference I can see is the newer edition of the book tying things together more seamlessly. The line 'Try mixing fruits together and cooking them in the oven as the recipe below." invites readers to move on to making 'Stewed apricots and cherries' in a much more convincing way than the original copy does by making it an entirely new recipe.

The only glaringly different thing about the two editions is the pictures. A few pieces of clementine in a serving bowl next to some flowers doesn't really correlate with the recipes alongside it as well as the 'Rhubarb fool' in the 1983 edition with its lady fingers and dollops of cream. However the 1963 picture fits far better with Marguerite Patten's proclamation that fresh fruit "makes a perfect dessert with no effort involved at all". I don't know about you, but beating rhubarb with a wooden spoon certainly sounds like effort to me!

My Mum's copy came from a similar place as mine - she bought hers at a jumble sale before moving to University - and the orange book has history seeping through its pages. (And not just because of all the bits of cake mixture I managed to drop on it last week!) There is some confusion as to where my Nan's original copy of the book is, but she assures me it was the same orange hardback copy.

The inside front cover has a name, Stephanie B. Williams, as well as this date and place on the inside. I find things like this fascinating in second hand books. Who was Stephanie? How did the book make its way from Oxford in 1969 to my Mum's hands in 80's Cardiff? Did she like to cook Hasty Goulash and Chuck wagon stew? And most importantly...

Why was she willing to give up on Marguerite's guidance?

I'll leave you with another of her Secrets of Success, this time in relation to the Rhubarb Fool...

The easiest way to prepare this is to emulsify the fruit puree and custard together in a liquidiser goblet.

(Don't worry - I don't have a clue what a liquidiser goblet is either!)

Monday, 3 February 2014

Let them eat cake.

As I mentioned in my last blog post; Marguerite Patten's recipe for "Rich queen cakes" has been the basis for every cake my family and I have made for as long as I can remember. It's a simple recipe but an effective one and even when I'm making a cake far more complicated than just flour, sugar, eggs, butter and some sultanas I always seem to come back to Marguerite to find out in what order exactly I should be adding each ingredient. (It doesn't seem to matter how many times I make cakes - I always want to add the flour first.)

I decided I would try to follow the recipe in my family's copy of Step by Step Cookery to the letter, but was thwarted when I realised I don't actually like sultanas. A quick switch for raisins had me on my way but it did lead me to wonder about what Marguerite Patten would think of my not wanting to follow her recipe exactly. Not that changing her recipe to suit my family's taste is a new phenomenon since my Mum has added a handwritten note to the recipe that says "Sprinkle caster sugar over uncooked cakes for a nice cracked effect". I find it really interesting to compare the way my mother's extra step is worded in comparison to Marguerite's recipe. Where Marguerite is as "straight" as she proclaims herself to be, with little in the way of descriptive language, my mum specifically refers to the cracked effect as being "nice". It's a lovely personal touch to a recipe that is quite cold and calculated - especially since cakes are for me a comforting food that reminds me of my childhood.

Of course this 6 step recipe can be adapted in more interesting ways than just adding a bit of sugar on the top and switching out sultanas for raisins. Marguerite herself offers some alternatives under her Rich queen cakes recipe, one of which is for "Economical queen cakes" where you essentially just use less ingredients and cook it a bit hotter - a perfectly thrifty way to still give your family a treat.

Use above recipe but reduce the margarine or butter and sugar to 2 oz. each. Bake near top of a hot oven (425-450F. or Gas Mark 6-7)

 My adaptions to the recipe, however, take Marguerite's cakes from thrifty to extravagant. I added lashings of food colouring and various different flavours to her Rich queen cakes recipe and the results couldn't be more far removed from the black and white, dull photos of my family's recipe book. One thing I'm almost certain Marguerite would disapprove of me using is the tub of Betty Crocker icing - she would definitely have tried to convince me to make my own if she could've.

As you can see the 6th step of Marguerite Patten's recipe - "Ice if liked" is one that I buy into in a huge way when making my cakes. Sometimes I take ideas from other sources - the mint chocolate cupcake was a suggestion in a Tesco magazine - but often I let my imagination run away with me using the basic recipe Marguerite has given me, and that often creates the best cakes. In this batch I've tried a Lemon & Mint combination (which really, really didn't work) and a Caramel and Chocolate one (which most certainly did). That is in essence what I believe the power of Marguerite's simple recipes to be - they teach you the skills you need to really let loose with your cooking, and I like to think she'd be proud of what I've come to achieve through her teaching.

And today? Today I finally managed to make a Red Velvet cupcake that was red and not a dull, drab pinky brown colour.

I definitely call that an achievement.

Thank you, Marguerite.

Marguerite's Secrets of Success for Rich Queen Cakes - Do not bake too slowly. Cream mixture well at stages 1-2.