You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

sabato 28 agosto 2010

Beef Tea

No one – as far as I know – has written a cookbook with the title Appropriate Dishes for Mourning or What to Eat When You Absolutely Have No Appetite, or Happy Meals to Eat When Feeling F’ing Miserable. Imagine the covers draped in crepe or widow’s weeds. These wouldn’t sell, would they? Or perhaps we know enough to bring over the obligatory casserole without having to consult a niche cookbook? People have, however, written recipes, articles, and essays re: feeding the invalid.

Let’s allow heartbroken-ness into the Invalid Category, shall we? Though we might not be in our beds awaiting our gaily decorated trays, we metaphorically are in those beds, and not getting up any time soon.

Seems that most of the experts think we ought to be eating Beef Tea. Eliza Acton (1799-1859), in her Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845), has a recipe for “Extract of Beef, or, very strong Plain Beef Gravy Soup (Baron Liebig’s Recipe)[1]: “Take a pound of good, juicy beef (rumpsteak is best for the purpose), from which all the skin and fat that can possibly be separated from it, has been cut away. Chop it up small like sausage meat; then mix it thoroughly with an exact pint of cold water, and place it on the side of the stove to heat very slowly indeed; and give it an occasional stir.” You then cook it for 2-3 hours before allowing it to simmer, then you let it boil for 15 minutes. You add salt when it comes to a boil but, she cautions, “[it] is the only seasoning required.” She then elaborates: “To make light beef tea or broth, merely increase the proportion of water to a pint and a half or a quart, but in all else proceed as above.”[2] Her proportions: 1 lb. beef, 1½ pints or 1 quart of water.

Mrs. Beeton’s Every Day Cookery and Housekeeping Book has a special section devoted to Invalids. Isabella Mary Beeton was roughly a contemporary of Miss Acton (1835-65): her Book of Household Management came out in 1861. Judging by these books, you can see why the British were an Empire.

Mrs. Beeton advises that all kitchen utensils be “scrupulously clean … For invalids, never make a large quantity of one thing, as they seldom require much at a time … Always have something in readiness; a little beef tea, nicely made and nicely skimmed, a few spoonfuls of jelly, &c.,& c., that it may be administered as soon as the invalid wishes for it.”[3] She also advises that the tray toting the food is clean, that the “spoons, tumblers, cups and saucers, &c. be very clean and bright.” Suggested dishes, besides beef tea? Gruel, milk kept on ice so as not to sour, roast mutton, chickens, rabbits, calves’ feet or head, game, fish, mutton chops. She also cautions: “Never serve beef tea or broth with the smallest particle of fat or grease on the surface. It is better to, after making either of these, to allow them to get perfectly cold, when all the fat may be removed; then warm up as much as may be required. Two or three pieces of clean whity-brown paper laid on the broth will absorb any greasy particles that may be floating at the top, as the grease will cling to the paper.” She must think making beef tea a no-brainer, as she doesn’t give a recipe for it. Instead, she offers up “Invalid’s Cutlet” (mutton, in this case), “Invalid’s Jelly” (made from 12 mutton shanks), and Lemonade for Invalids.

Agnes Jekyll (1861-1937) has an essay called “Tray Food,” which begins: “Ill-health may be said to resemble greatness in that some are born with it, some achieve it, and some have it thrust upon them.”[4] She tends to go on a bit about the esthetics of trays (referring to them as “exasperating”). She calls for attractive trays “in various sizes and japanned in cheerful colors.” What’s on them? Eggs and fish au gratin, or mushrooms, vegetables, or cooked fruit. She suggests putting a bunch of violets on the tray, or primroses, a single rose, a spray of lemon verbena. She doesn’t suggest imbibing beef tea, but a layer thick of chestnut puree “with a couple of stoned and heated black plums at each corner. On this lay several delicately-cut slices of pheasant or turkey roasted or braised, a little good gravy poured very hot over it.” That sounds like a lot of work, and a perfect dish for a cold November day.

The Joy of Cooking (1931 edition) advises 1 pound of round steak, placed in a quart mason jar with 1 c. cold water and ½ t. salt, then again placed in a pot with water to cover, bringing it to a slow boil and allowing it to cook for an hour; take out the jar, cool on a rack, strain.[5]
And then there’s the lovely, wonderful late Laurie Colwin, and her beyond-marvelous essay “Nursery Food.”[6] I would copy the entire essay, but it would take too long, and I could probably be sued for copyright infringement. But yesterday, reading it aloud to the Scallion, we both burst out into much-needed laughter. It starts like this: “A long time ago it occurred to me that when people are tired and hungry, which in adult life is much of the time, they do not want to be confronted by an intellectually challenging meal: they want to be consoled … Once upon a time when I was in mourning for my father I was taken home by my best friend who sat me in a chair, gave me a copy of Vogue and told me not to move until called .. When I got to the table I realized that this angelic pal had made shepherd’s pie. I did not know that shepherd’s pie was just what I wanted, but it was just what I wanted.”

She writes that she has stretched the notion of Nursery Food like Silly Putty, and includes fried chicken, lamb stew, macaroni and cheese, meatballs, baked beans, lentil soup, chili, baked stuffed potatoes, and lasagna under this rubric. But the best part is this: “The ultimate nursery food is beef tea; I have not had it since I was a child, and although I could easily have brewed myself a batch, I never have yet. I am afraid that my childhood will overwhelm me with the first sip or that I will be compelled to sit down at once and write a novel in many volumes.”

And here’s how her mother made it: one pound of ”absolutely fatless silver tip of beef … on a doubled sheet of butcher paper or a wood board cut into tiny dice. Place it and any juices the meat has yielded in the top of a double boiler and gently cook, covered, over simmering water for several hours. Do not use salt or pepper. Simply leave the meat alone to give off its juices. After several hours you will be left with pure essence of beef, perfectly digestible and nourishing. Strain into a warm bowl … The meat itself is useless, a mere net of fibers, and should be given to the dog.” (Fortunately, we still have a few living with us.)

It’s also occurred to me that Beef Tea might provide us a key ingredient for Bullshots; ah, bliss.

Guess what’s for dinner?
Read this three years ago, and remembered it, of course right around now. Do check out Arthur Phillips’s heartbreakingly beautiful “My Dog Days” in the June 10, 2007 New York Times. Expect tears.

[1] Baron Justus Liebig, born Darmstadt 13 May 1803, was an “eminent chemist,” according to his 19 April 1873 obituary in the New York Times: “… by the aid of a traveling stipend allowed him by the Grand Duke he removed to Paris, where he remained from 1822 to 1824 … Baron Liebig was the author of numerous works, in which his researches are set forth with great minuteness … In his Familiar Letters he developed his views on chemistry, and its relations to commerce, physiology, and vegetation.” And, perhaps, beef tea.
[2] The Best of Eliza Acton, ed. Elizabeth Ray, New York, 1968.
[3] Mrs. Beeton’s Every Day Cookery and Housekeeping Book, New York, 1984.
[4] Agnes Jekyll, Kitchen Essays, New York, 2001. Originally it appeared in 1922.
[5] No recipe appears for it in the penultimate version of Joy; seems rather likely that it’s not in the most recent tweaking, either.
[6] From Home Cooking, New York, 1988. It is still very much in print, and any serious cook/reader should have it on her shelf.

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