Victorian Curry

I really enjoy trying recipes that are not only new to me, but ones that are actually quite old. My collection of vintage cookbooks is slowly growing, one thrift store, garage sale, and used book sale at a time. But that’s not the only place that historic recipes can be found. YouTube is a great resource, and I love to have it playing in the background while I’m cooking, giving me ideas for my next meal. That’s how I came across the English Heritage channel, and How to Make Curry — The Victorian Way.

If you visit the actual video on YouTube, the written recipe can be found in the video description.

Now, of course this is English curry from the 1800’s, not authentic Indian dish at all. The ingredients are ones that were possibly to obtain locally or ones that were fairly easy to import; this was generally a dish served to the burgeoning middle class at the time, and the most expensive imports just didn’t make it that far down the social ladder. However, an English soldier or merchant who’d had a chance to try authentic Indian food — and liked it — would probably like something like this dish when they returned home.

I tried making Victorian-style curry for dinner last night, and I’m happy to say that it went pretty well. The recipe breaks down the components of their curry powder, but not the quantities of each spice, so I had to make an educated guess. I put in:

7g turmeric
5g ground ginger
3g white pepper
3g ground cardamom
5g ground coriander
2g cayenne pepper

This ended up being a pretty hot curry, at least to my kids’ tastes (my husband and I actually enjoyed the burn). I think next time I make it I might halve the amount of cayenne pepper, or even quarter it — which may lead to some difficulties in measurement because my scale isn’t sensitive enough to read weight under a gram. Perhaps I need another, more precise scale?

I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of ingredients in this recipe. As the video suggests, I included two chopped shallots and three diced cloves of garlic, since unlike Lord and Lady Braybrooke, I like both. I thought that the five (five!) onions would make it taste too much of onions, but it really didn’t. I couldn’t taste the cucumber at all, though I suspect that it played a part in thickening the sauce (and adding vegetables to a recipe rarely makes it less healthy). The apple was a nice, sweet touch. I did appreciate that this dish is dairy-free without having to make any changes. I’ve found that many curries, at least the ones made in North America and Europe, use cream or coconut milk to thicken the sauce. I have no idea whatsoever if this is also true of authentic Indian dishes, but I’ve never claimed to be an expert on such things. Not having to alter the dish in this respect was a nice change.

I’m hoping to make up some mince pies and gingerbread the Victorian way for the upcoming holiday season. I also have yet to try anything from my English 18th Century Cookery book, so that’s up there on my list. I’m also looking forward to trying a few of the recipes from my recently-acquired The Tudor Kitchens Cookery Book: Hampton Court Palace book, which I found at a local thrift store. This book has both original and modern interpretations of recipes originally from 1485 to 1603, so it should be a little bit easier to follow than those from 18th Century.

Book Fair

This past weekend was a busy one, and it would have been even busier if I hadn’t been sick on Sunday. It started off in grand fashion with a trip to the Rockcliffe Park Book Fair. They advertised that they had over 30,000 used books, CDs, DVDs and records… And I think they delivered.

To be totally honest, a sale like this is a little slice of heaven for me. I’ve been a bookworm ever since I can remember; it was one of the things that I was teased the most for as a kid. That didn’t slow me down, though, and now I wear the label with pride. All of these books piled high in a gym brings me right back to the happiest days of my childhood, when the Scholastic Book Fair would come to my school. I would bring the money my parents gave me, plus all of my saved allowance money, so that I could bring a stack of books home with me to keep. (Libraries are like a second home to me, but having books I didn’t have to give back was an extra-special treat.) Of course, now that I’m an adult I can drive out to a bookstore any time, but the prices at a used book fair are so much more affordable — and it’s somewhere that I can pick up vintage and out-of-print books as well as new releases.

I came home with two big bags of books, mostly novels and a few Christmas gifts. (Yes, I do buy some of my gifts second-hand; there’s a lot of stuff that is just as good that should be reused instead of going to the dump, and some things just aren’t available any more.) I did find a few cookbooks that I just had to have, though.

Julia Child’s Menu Cookbook (Julia Child, 1991) — This one is a reprint of Julia child & Company and Julia Child & More Company. It’s hard to believe, but this is the first Julia Child cookbook that I have ever owned.
The Ontario Harvest Cookbook: An Exploration of Fests and Flavours (Julia Aitken & Anita Stewart, 1996)
Incredible Edibles: 43 Fun Things to Grow in the City (Sonia Day, 2010) — Okay, not technically a cookbook, but it’ll lead to more cooking in the end.
A Modern Kitchen Guide: A complete Book of Up-to-Date Recipes and Household Hints (Farmer’s Advocate and Canadian Countryman, 1946) — This is the book with the blank red spine. It’s one’s old enough that I haven’t found it online, which makes it all the more interesting to me.
A Little Canadian Cookbook (Faustina Gilbey, 1994) — This one is autographed by the illustrator!
Totally Bread Cookbook (Helene Siegel & Karen Gillingham, 1999)

What a great haul! And what a lovely way to spend a few hours for a bookworm like me!

Preparing for Halloween

This coming Saturday I’ll be hosting my annual family Halloween party, and I am currently in full-on party-prep-panic mode. Half of the interior decorations aren’t even up, the house is in a desperate need of a cleaning, and I still have all kinds of food to make. However, I recently treated myself to a few new cookbooks, which happily arrived in the mail just in time to make some of the dishes for the party.

Those books are Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016), and The Pumpkin Cookbook by Deedee Stovel (2017). I’ve been taking Purely Pumpkin out of the library on a regular basis ever since it was published, so I figured that it was high time that I actually go out and get my own copy. I’ll admit that The Pumpkin Cookbook was one of those, “people who liked this book also liked” kind of suggestions, and I thought that yes, I would probably like this one too. Even if I don’t use these books for party food, I know I’ll need them next week after Halloween when I’ll have a bunch of big Jack-o’-lanterns to turn into food before they rot.

I also took a few minutes out of my hectic day to make a few fairy skeletons. There’s a great tutorial for a Fairy Skeleton Candle over on Epbot, but when I tried to stick my fairy onto an artificial candle, it just wouldn’t stay. Serves me right for buying one of those fake candles that’s supposed to look real because it has real wax on the outside; in retrospect, I should have known that glue wouldn’t stick. I still like the skeleton fairies (I made three), though, and I’ve used them to help decorate my house. They were super-easy to make and my kids thought that they were great. Honestly, it took longer to source the tiny skeletons for a reasonable price (no way was I paying $5.00 apiece like they wanted at one shop — I got these ones at Dollarama, originally attached to a plastic chain) and to find faux butterfly wings (Dollar Tree) than it did to make the actual craft. Total cost for three fairy skeletons: $2.50 plus tax. Not bad!

Thrifting

I absolutely love going thrifting, i.e. going to second-hand shops, antique stores, flea markets, and giveaways in search of treasure. I mean, it’s the kind of treasure that is other peoples’ trash, but that’s totally okay by me. Treasure is in the eye of the beholder, really. Also, this is treasure I can actually afford.


613flea at Aberdeen Pavilion (Lansdowne Park).


The Original Fabric Flea Market at the Glebe Community Center.


The Ottawa Antique Market on Bank Street.

I did find some great treasures lately, like this stack of fabric from the Original Fabric Flea Market. I arrived with only an hour left of the market, and I really regret not showing up for the opening. I still scored some cute vintage prints, a bit of Halloween fabric, and a good chunk of grey faux fur (always in demand for costumes).

I also found two vintage tablecloths and two vintage-style (but brand new) aprons. The aprons are especially useful because I’ve found myself relying on them more and more to save my clothes when cooking — and they get dirty pretty fast, so it’s essential for me to have a small stash of them.

Recently there was a 50% off all books sale at Value Village, and the Salvation Army is currently running a coupon special that if you buy 3 or more books they’re all 50% off. (The coupon is valid until October 31st and is available here, for my fellow thrifters.) My girls are voracious readers, so I picked up dozens of new-to-them books that I will dole out over the coming months. For myself, I picked up the above-pictured Halloween books:

– I Can Decorate: Pumpkin Fun from Practico Media (2007)
Halloween Recipes & Crafts by Christine Savage (2003)
A Zombie Ate My Cupcake by Lily Vanilli (2016)

Books I’d like to go through with the kids:

Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers & Eaters by Jane Yolen (2009)
Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking by Sarah Elton (2014)

A bunch of cookbooks, which are disproportionately from Canadian Living because most of the other ones I was interested in that were available, I already had:

The Canadian Living Entertaining Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1990)
The Canadian Living Christmas Book from the Canadian Living Magazine (1993)
– Canadian Living’s Family Cookbook from the Canadian Living Magazine (1995)
Canadian Living’s Country Cooking by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Vegetables by Elizabeth Baird (1995)
Canadian Living’s Best Soups and Stews by Elizabeth Baird (1997)
Canadian Living’s Best One-Dish Meals by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Light Cooking by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Breads And Pizzas by Elizabeth Baird (1998)
Betty Crocker’s Bread Machine Cookbook from Betty Crocker (1995)
– Restaurant Recipe: Ottawa’s Best Recipes from Loeb (2000)
How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson (2003)

Tucked away in one of these cookbooks was a clipping from a newspaper, which reads (translated roughly from French):

FOUR HAPPY YOUNG LADIES made their Brownie promise at the Notre-Dame d’Aylmer convent last Sunday. They are Dominique Robert, Elaine Davis, Analisa Lemieux, and in the back, Lyne Bisaillon.

As an aside, if anyone in this photo wants the original copy or a high-res scan, I’d be happy to send it to them.

To satisfy my knitting curiosity, I snatched up:

2-at-a-time Socks by Melissa Morgan-Oakes (2007)

I also thought that these old drop spindles were interesting. I’ve made a few attempts at spinning my own yarn in the past; perhaps it’s time to give it another go?

Some of my favourite finds of the last little while were two Pyrex England casserole dishes. The one on the left was originally my mother’s (although probably not the original lid) and it came to her as a wedding gift; the ones on the right I found last weekend. I believe that I mentioned in my Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese recipe write-up that this is, to me, the proper dish for my mother’s casseroles. Mom taking this dish out of the cupboard meant that I was about to have one of my all-time favourite meals. I still feel happy just looking at these dishes. It’s probably silly, but I bet everyone has a simple object with emotional connections to their childhood like this.

I’d have to say that my absolute favourite find was a copy of The New Purity Cook Book by Anna Lee (1967). This cookbook was a mainstay in my mother’s kitchen, which is why when I moved out I made sure to buy the reprint The All New Purity Cookbook. And you know, I probably would have been quite satisfied with that, except they made one crucial error to my mind: instead of organizing the index alphabetically like in the original, it was organized by category. This means that’s it’s impossible to quickly search for dishes with one main ingredient. It also leaves me trying to figure out which category some dishes fit into (it can be subjective). So it’s not just for nostalgia, but for practical reasons that I’m so happy I found a copy of the original book, and not only because they’re over $50 each on Amazon (I paid thrift store prices for mine). Not only that, but it’s in near-mint condition — much better than my mom’s well-loved copy!

There are a bunch of flea and Christmas markets coming up soon, which I’m looking forward to even though I’m not even ready to think about the holiday season yet. Heck, I haven’t even gotten through Halloween yet! What I’m looking forward to soonest is Ottawa Give Away Weekend, when people put items they don’t want on the side of the road for anyone to pick up for free if they are so inclined. I’ve found some lovely treasures on this weekend in previous years, including the beautiful antique mirror that hangs in my front hall. You might call it trash picking, but I call it recycling. Why should I buy all new things when there is such a huge variety of awesome second-hand items out there? Newer doesn’t always mean better — and it almost always means more expensive.

Second-Hand Cookbook Finds

This past Friday I went thrift shopping with a friend of mine, and we must have spent at least an hour going through shelf after shelf of second-hand books. In addition to finding a stack of books for my girls (classic Nancy Drew mysteries for my eldest and Garfield comic books for my youngest), and a number of vintage copies of the Serendipity series for my friend, who collects them. For me, I found another copy of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition) that I plan on gifting one of my girls when she eventually moves out — or I will use to replace my own copy should I ever dump a cupful liquid in it. What made me most excited, though, was:

Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook (Terry Pratchett, 1999), which is a “useful and improving Almanack of Information including Astonishing Recipes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld”. As my ComicCon costume of Discworld Death probably hinted, I am a huge fan of this series of books. I’m currently loaning my copies out in the hope that my friends will want to do a group costume next year. I am looking forward to trying such recipes from the book as Sticky Toffee Rat Onna Stick (page 98) and Nanny Ogg’s Perfectly Innocent Porridge with Completely Inoffensive Honey Mixture Which Shouldn’t Make Anyone’s Wife Laugh (page 70). Honestly, the book is more of a hilarious commentary than an actual cookbook, but I do hope to try out some of the recipes just for fun.

I also picked up English 18th Century Cookery (Roy Bloom, undated but online research indicates it was first printed sometime in the 1970’s). I look forward to going through the book and recreating what recipes I can, which will be a challenge because, well, as per the foreward:

Many [of the recipes] are still favourites today, yet others have somehow been forgotten. Certainly the quantities are often overwhelming, the directions not always precise and indeed sometimes the ingredients are not suitable for present-day use. Nonetheless the able cook need not be disheartened — commonsense and a little imagination are all that is required to adapt some of these ideas into delicious realities.

The contents of the book are much older than the printing date, as they originate from an 18th-century household library. Luckily there is a glossary, as some of the terminology is no longer in use, and the Net will help me fill in the other blanks. Some substitutions will have to be made, since a number of the ingredients are no longer in common use, and others aren’t available outside of England. Updating recipes from this book looks to be an interesting challenge that I hope I am up to!

Blueberry Bran Muffins Recipe

Recently I came across a copy of The United Churches in Canada: Let’s Break Bread Together — the September 1988 version, though, not the current one. I love cookbooks that are comprised of favourite recipes contributed by members of the organization. I mean, where else can you find quality recipes like this one:

Jokes aside, I have learned how to make some really great dishes from books like these. I have also contributed to a few; off the top of my head I know some of my recipes have ended up in books published by my high school, the local chapter of the Girl Guides of Canada, and my kids’ preschool. Not only are these cookbooks great fundraisers, they’re also a nice way to bring the community together by introducing neighbours to the flavours and dishes that are important to them.

All that being said, these cookbooks are not written — and as importantly, are not edited by — professionals. These days it’s not as bad, what with spell check and the ability to digitally track changes when a document is being sent around for review. But you have to be very, very careful to fully read a recipe from start to finish with pre-2000 cookbooks. Well, I mean, you should probably do that anyway with any recipe, but at least in professional cookbooks they’ll generally include all of the ingredients in the ingredient list, and a general expectation of yield, and have fairly clear instructions.

I’ll use the blueberry bran muffins recipe on page 86 of Let’s Break Bread Together as an example. It specified All-Bran Cereal — but what kind? Right now, in Canada, there’s All-Bran Flakes, All-Bran Buds, All-Bran Multigrain Crunch, and All-Bran Granola. Now, I understand that in some cases with older recipes, there was only one variety of an ingredient even though now the company may have branched out. In this case, though, a quick search of the Internet reveals that in the mid-’80’s there was the equivalent of Flakes and Buds, so it should have been specified.

Also, the blueberries in the muffins, which were so clearly stated in the title, were not in the ingredient list. Instead, the kind and quantity of berry were buried in the baking instructions. As you can see from the recipe above, the formatting of this books is such that the ingredients are supposed to be in bold and indented from the rest of the text; they are most often found at the start of the recipe as well. It can be really confusing when ingredients are not where you expect them to be.

Now, please don’t think I’m angry about all this. I’m really not. This book was put together by volunteers (in this case, the United Church in Meadowood, Winnipeg, Manitoba) in their free time before the general use of the home computer. However, what it does for me is it makes me aware of how important precise instructions are to the ease of success of a recipe. It definitely makes me want to give another go-over of the recipes I’ve written, that’s for sure. And if anyone else uses one of my recipes and notices something that should be changed, please let me know so I can fix it!

Here is my version of the blueberry bran muffins recipe, updated for accuracy and to make it a little bit healthier. I have tried out the changes and it resulted in the delectable muffins seen pictured above.

Blueberry Bran Muffins
Makes 16 muffins

In a large mixing bowl, beat:
2 large eggs
Mix in:
1 cup 2% milk*
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup All-Bran Buds
Let stand 15 minutes for Buds to hydrate.
Preheat oven to 400°F (175°C).
In a separate mixing bowl, combine:
2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 cup white sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring until blended.
Fold into batter:
2 cups fresh blueberries**
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake 15-18 minutes, until done. You will be able to tell that the muffins are done when the tops turn golden-brown and a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted at the center point comes out clean.
Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the pan, until the tops are just cool enough to touch. Gently, with your fingertips, spin each muffin a quarter turn in the pan. This will dislodge the muffin from the pan and help keep it from sticking. Remove the muffins from the pan and finish cooling them on a wire rack. Once cool, they may be stored in a container for about five days. However, they are best eaten as fresh as possible.

*Alternately, a milk substitute such as almond milk or soy milk may be used. If you do so, reduce the volume of milk substitute by 1 Tbsp, and add 1 Tbsp light vegetable oil such as sunflower or canola.
**Alternately, you may use frozen blueberries. However, before using they should be thawed and the excess liquid drained.

Ottawa ComicCon Day 2: Pro Photos

Day 2 of Ottawa ComicCon (Saturday) I went as Death from the Terry Pratchett Discworld novels. In these novels, Death is an anthropomorphic personification that is generally regarded as a male skeleton, with glowing blue eye sockets, in black robes, who is about seven feet tall. By making a frame that sat on my shoulders, my Death was actually closer to eight feet tall, and would be even taller if someone bigger than me were to wear the costume. It only just fits under average ceilings. The belt at Death’s “waist” is actually in my armpits. It’s hard to get an idea of scale without anything in these photos to compare it to. This costume is almost more of a puppet than anything else.

(All photos in this post by Richard Dufault Photography, also known as Open Shutter Photography.)


Discworld Death loves cats.


The arms of the costume are articulated and can be manipulated from inside. The hands, however, are stuck in one position.


Death with Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery Service.


My mother as Death of Rats.

My mother went along with me and made a costume for Death of Rats, another Discworld character. This character is also known as The Grim Squeaker, and is really more of a small aspect of Death given physical form in the book Reaper Man. As per Wikipedia, “Death of Rats resembles a rodentine skeleton walking on its hind legs, wearing a black robe, and carrying a tiny scythe”.


Unfortunately the Death of Rats’ cowl kept falling down, and we didn’t notice until after the photo shoot.