Rupert Croft-Cooke on Food, II

From the fifteenth chapter, “A Man in the Kitchen”, of The Life for Me (London, 1953), pp.  166-67:

Food has taken on an almost symbolic importance in the years since the war with Germany ended, for in the Welfare State a man’s menu is virtually written for him by authority.  The planners employed by government departments throw him, like keepers in Zoological Gardens feeding wild beasts, the scraps of this or that provender which they have purchased in bulk to suit either the exigencies of their trade programmes or the postulations of their theorists on the subject of calories and proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins.  Attempts have been made to stuff down our throats pieces of the filthy carcasses of whales which have the nauseous and retching savour of bad meat steeped in fish oil.  A tinned and tasteless substance of piscine origin has been vociferously recommended to us under the name of Snoek, and Australia has been enabled to solve a vermin problem of Hamelin proportions by sending us the frozen corpses of a million or two rabbits which arrive in solid blocks of ice.  We are forced to eat muddy-coloured bread, a humiliation which is exacerbated by the assurance that is ‘good for us’, and a man’s natural need and liking for meat have been exploited and insulted by drums of tinted and faintly meat-flavoured cereals sold under such names as Ham Loaf, Beef Roll, Luncheon Meat, Pork Sausage Meat.  A whole generation is growing to manhood which would scarcely recognize unadulterated or unintended food if this were offered.  The results have not been quite as the planners supposed.  The various food substitutes have been accepted because many town-dwellers could find no alternatives, but scarcity and lack of variety have produced a new interest and ingenuity in both finding and preparing food, while the indignation of the housewife has never been lulled by the dulcet persuasions of successive Food Ministers or women politicians.  It has, indeed, become the duty of a good citizen to challenge this Cromwellian philistinism with every artifice he can devise, to determine that the generosity of God shall not be flouted by the smug theorizing of bureaucrats, and to defend that most elementary of human rights, the right to enjoy good.


From the sixteenth chapter, “Food”, of The Life for Me, pp.  171-67: 

It would be a cynical exaggeration to say that the task of a good cook in these mid-century years is to make the inedible palatable but is success does depend on ingenuity and courage the face of conditions.  He does not want to know how cook a baron of beef, but how to make such food as he can obtain it fit for consumption.  I like to believe that in my house I can ask a friend to dinner at short notice and be able to see him without a visit to the black market and without having to apologise for the meal which I offer.
Is possible, for instance, to start such a meal, however anticipated, with hors d’œuvre, and if there has been time to consider the matter these need not consist of the dreary collection of cold vegetables steeped in ready-made salad cream, tinned sardines, a sort of maize porridge sold in tins as ‘sweet corn’ and a couple of cold sliced sausages left over from breakfast.  Nor need the choice of them slavishly followed precedent.  There is, for instance, chopped ham, not derived either from a ham sent from aboard in a food parcel or from those tasteless and jellified hams sold in tins at about a fiver a time.  Grocers who supply bacon cannot cut it from the last few inches of the knuckle, and are permitted by the regulations which rule their lives to dispose of these few inches.  Questioned frequently enough about a customer’s ‘turn’ for a ‘knuckle end’ a grocer will occasionally supply one of these, which will serve as a joint of boiled bacon.  Thereafter its rather dry lean may be diced and spiced for hors d’œuvre, or potted and served with toast as a pâté—an excellent beginning to a meal.
Or, when the butcher who seems to like parting with a head no more than did Herod, eventually yields to persuasions, so that a sheep’s head is delivered, the tongue sliced fills another of the hors d’œuvre dishes.  The last scraps from the bones of the chicken or any other bird before it is relegated to the stock-pot will serve for another.  It is possible, moreover, to buy a good salami sausage, but most of the English-made sausages being offered just now are quite abominable.
Because I find all tinned fish anathema, except the honest little Portuguese sardine, and would rather have none on my table than bottled mussels, Russian crabmeat, tinned pilchards and tunny or—and these were actually imported from America by one of our food-buying commissions or some such body—tinned oysters, I will only have such fish in a hors d’œuvre as may be in the house or purchasable on the day it will be eaten.  But soused herrings are easy to prepare by making a marinade of a glass of white wine and half of vinegar, half a teaspoonful of salt, a sliced onion, one clove of garlic, some peppercorns, a small sprig each of chervil and tarragon, a bay-leaf, some cloves and enough water to make this meet the purpose of the marinade, but less than the quantity of wine and vinegar.  This is boiled for a quarter of an hour, then poured boiling over the herrings, which are left to cool and stand in it for a night.
Cold hard-boiled eggs cut in rings will fill another dish, and root vegetables previously cooked, diced and mixed with mayonnaise another.  Radishes, celery, beetroot, shredded capsicums or sliced cucumber or tomatoes in olive oil sprinkled with red pepper, French beans, gherkins, chicory—almost any vegetable cleverly treated makes a variation.
With a taste for hors d’œuvre, or for a guest who believes with André Simon that ‘Hors d’œuvre are a survival of the social spirit of the ancient Chinese and of the epicurean philosophy of the Romans’, one may improvise endlessly within these limits.  Yet perhaps one should remember sometimes the custom in many French families of serving as hors d’œuvre one cold dish, a tomato salad rich in olive oil and sprinkled with chive, an artichoke, pâré-de-foie or a slice of melon.
Many hors d’œuvre, and indeed all cold-fish dishes, deserve an authentic mayonnaise.  This is one of the simplest of all good things in yet one of the most frequently mismanaged.  It has only three main concomitants, and can be made in ten or at the most fifteen minutes, yet for every one occasion on which I have had an eatable mayonnaise, whether in private houses or restaurants, there have been a dozen on which I have been given some sickly substitute.
The making of it is a pleasant little chore to which one should settle down placidly with a pudding basin and a wooden spoon (not an egg whisk or similar contrivance), while about one on the table are two eggs and ready measured quantities of oil and vinegar (half a pint of oil to a dessertspoonful of vinegar), salt, pepper, mustard and, if it is obtainable, some cream.  The vinegar should have been boiled and allowed to cool.  The yolks (only) of two eggs are dropped into the basin and salt, pepper and a good pinch of mustard added.  The oil, which must be true olive oil, should not be cold but at the temperature of the room or even faintly warmer.  When the eggs have been stirred up, a trickle of oil is allowed to fall on them and stirred in rhythmically with the wooden spoon.  Very slowly and steadily this is continued drop by drop, with now and again a few drops of vinegar.  Soon the mixture will thicken almost into a paste, and if it is too thick, a little more vinegar is added.  At last the cream is poured in while the mixture is still being stirred.  This will produce a mayonnaise which cannot be improved by any addition, though there are perverted gluttons who add a sprinkle of fine sugar and more excusable gourmets who rub the basin with garlic.  It will make any hors d’œuvre, any cold fish or any salad about twice as good as it would have been without its rich saffron colour and creamy consistency.
If you are troubled by poltergeist who causes you to curdle things and you find your mayonnaise—or that matter your Béarnaise or Hollandaise sauce—curdling, there is a remedy which seems to me to have something of the supernatural about it with which to defeat your hobgoblin.  You drop a little very hot water in one particular point in the mixture as though you wanted to bore through it.  You start stirring very quickly with a wooden spoon round this point, then slowly increase your circles till you take in the whole mixture.  This will miraculously restore its creaminess.  And never put mayonnaise in a frigidaire, by the way.

I tend to grow pietistic on the subject of soup, to insist on a severe orthodoxy and to writhe with prejudice against dissent.  Good soups, like good cocktails, are rarely achieved fortuitously and never without the observance of certain principles.  Nor other great standard soups made by guesswork, by compromise or by substitution.  Minestrone is not any vegetable soup with cheese sprinkled over it; bortsch is not the water in which beetroot has been boiled garnished with a spoonful of cream; Scotch broth is not diced vegetables boiled with a handful of pearl barley, nor does mulligatawny soup consist of stock and curry-powder.  Broth-like liquids can, of course, be made from almost any scraps of meat or vegetable, and with enough flavouring of herbs or spices, or enough admixture of ‘thickening’ preparations and colouring, may deceive the undiscriminating.  But soup is a great nourisher; it can be, and in many poor European homes is, a meal in itself, from which the very name of supper derives.  It is not a means of using up stale and miscellaneous food-scraps.
It is easy enough to find a recipe for soups.  Miss Nell Heaton* has some clever ones, though as usual, with all her originality and common sense, the recipes seem to me to be based on the deep knowledge of dietetics rather than on respect for the haute cuisine.  Mrs Beeton has about a hundred and forty of them.  The Countess Murphy gives several from most countries.  They are so varied that whatever stock may be available, whatever materials at hand, there will be a choice of a dozen soups to be made, and a dozen garnishes.  No need to give these recipes, but let me roll on my tongue the names of some classic soups which we have made here without deviating in any detail from the traditional precepts.
First, of course, the Pot-au-Feu, the stockpot soup of all French families.  Perhaps the fact that it needs stewing-beef accounts now for its rarity in England, since what we once knew as stewing-beef is sold now in curious ‘joints’ for the rations of small families; but beef bones, which are also an essential, may still be bought fairly easily and a passable Pot-au-Feu made with them.
Bouillabaisse is a fish-stew rather than a soup and in any case essentially a local dish, seeming out of place even a hundred miles inland from Marseilles.  But one need not go north of the tweed for a good Scotch Broth if one has mutton stock and leeks and the other necessary vegetables, nor cross the Channel for Julienne and Jardinière—those stand-bys of the French pension and hotel—nor go to India for mulligatawny, which does not owe its name to an Irishman, but to Joseph’s language, Tamil, in which Milagu means pepper and tannir water.  The often-forgotten essentials in this soup are a couple of apples and some coconut, though none of its ingredients should be neglected.
Cocky-Leeky, another from Scotland, must have chicken stock, and it is folly to try to make that glorious springs soup Printanière without green peas, French beans, lettuce and asparagus, though with these and a good stock it is excellent.
The herb-garden’s supply of sorrel is essential for many of these, but for none more than the various rabbit soups.  Purée à la Palestine is made from Jerusalem artichokes, and is one of the best of white soup, with Cream of Celery as a close competitor.  These are both popular in my house, perhaps because they need croûtons of fried bread, and Mrs.  Rummery, who has an economical mind, delights in using the last of a superseded loaf.  Green-pea soup is another purée of which it may be remembered that a little added spinach gives it a good colour and that the stock must be derived from pork or bacon bones.  And there is the classic Bonne Femme.
Minestrone can be as good in England as in Italy if one takes the trouble to get the little kidney-beans which are so important to it and some of the Parmesan cheese which is being sold again now.  Onion soup is best made the Spanish way, with the onions fried before they put in the stock.  All the German and Austrian cabbage-soups are good, and demonstrate that caraway seeds are useful for other things than cakes.  So is Weinsuppe, in many forms, from the same countries.
As for Bortsch, on this I follow very literally the instructions of Countess Morphy, though they entail a good deal of work.  I am still not swept away by enthusiasm for a soup which seems to owe its fame to its colour and the dab of sour cream which contrasts with it.  Eel soup, one of the best and easiest of fish soups, is made in several ways, but always served thick and white and garnished with a few capers.  The American Clam Chowder, which is one of the best dishes to come for the Northern continent, can only be made here in order to use up those tinned oysters which were imported a few years ago by Government buyers, just as a poor sort of crab bisque can be made from Russian crabmeat.  They will be recognisable as something in the tradition, but very little more.

The omelette is an excessively shy French creature which eludes most English cooks, and I have no secret process, no wonderful tip learnt from an old woman in Normandy, no elixir and no certainty of success.  I do not dilute the beaten eggs with water, as I have been recommended to do, nor with milk, though if there is a dessertspoonful of honest cream in the house I add it.  I use a very small scrap of butter to fry it in and have a flexible knife in hand while it cooks.  I am lucky in having a special frying-pan for this which I bought in France before the war.  It has such low sides to it that one may scrape under or fold the omelette at will.  Finally, it is only for an omelette aux fines herbes that anything except salt and pepper goes into the egg when it is mixed, even cheese being coarsely grated and folded inside it rather than beaten in.  [See also here.]
The only other egg dish with which I introduce a meal is that excellent little French entrée, œufs en cocotte.

So to the large and entrancing topic of fish, doubly important now that, six years after the end of war, a half-witted system of bulk-buying and futile games of argument with the Argentines have reduced our Government to the status of a lap-dog sniffing for scraps of meat from the tables of other nations.  We must depend on fish to give us several meals a week, and since in its richer kinds, such as salmon, its price becomes exorbitant, we must do what we can with the commoner species.
There is a cardinal rule about the cooking fish which is scrupulously observed in the kitchen here, and which I would like to see posted in every place where fish is prepared, particularly in hospitals and hotels.  It is that fish, the natural element of which is water, should never in any circumstances be boiled in it.  The only exception to this rule is for prawns and shrimps, and they should be cooked when possible in sea-water.  Boiling or even steaming fish is an inexcusable misuse of it which destroys the flavour and the natural fats and oils in the flesh of the fish, which reduces even further to tasteless pulp a food which is (in most cases nowadays) has already been frozen and thawed perhaps more than once, which so degrades the art of cookery but one who, for instance, boils or steams a piece of fine Scotch salmon should be put in charge of a washing-machine or a steam-engine rather than entrusted with the delicate and important processes of cookery.  Even English writers on cookery speak cheerily of ‘boiling’ fish in water and describe pans in which the crime can conveniently be committed.
There are certain fish which may be poached, but it is another matter.  For these a fish-kettle with a wire tray must be used and the fish laid in a court-bouillon—a stock specially prepared for it.  Like the countless marinades which are used by cooks, the court-bouillon is often made according to individual taste or an ancient family recipe.  In this the fish is not boiled, but very gently poached, the liquid only trembling with heat.  Or it may be put in a casserole in an oven slow enough to keep it on the point of boiling.  We use several kinds of court-bouillon for different purposes.  The first is for salmon, and consists of a few pints of indeterminate fish stock, a wineglassful of vinegar, some salt if necessary, a couple of shredded carrots and a sliced onion, a big and varied boquet garni, some peppercorns and a bay-leaf.  This is boiled for an hour, then, strained or not, is cooled to be ready for the fish.  For large fresh-water fish there is a far more highly seasoned version of this with nutmeg and other spices, a little garlic, some shallots and if possible some white wine.  For ‘white’ fish like turbot or brill, three of water to one of milk, and one of white wine, salt, pepper, a little cinnamon and a bay-leaf.  This latter should not be strained before the fish is put in it.  With these three all ‘boiling’ is avoided, and the results are incomparably better than those blocks of white fish which appear, smothered in parsley sauce, on too many restaurant tables.
We in England have the most delicious and varied fish round our coasts, and it is sad to think that to many, perhaps to a majority of the population, ‘fish’ means a sliver of dog-fish or skate with sodden batter round it cooked in nauseous oil and wrapped with potatoes in a thumbed newspaper, or else, at home, fried herrings or boiled kippers.  A method of cooking as simple as à la meunière or doré for our exquisite lemon and Dover soles or for fillets of plaice seems rarely to be attempted, while a gratin is thought to be something luxurious and difficult.  As for sauces, an ancient stigma is still on them—they are ‘Frenchified messes’ or ‘foreign clap-trap’, unless made by putting anchovy essence or chopped parsley into a paste of flour and water.
Madame Prunier gives forty-two sauces for fish, from the familiar Béchamel or ‘white sauce’ to such Lucullan delicacies as Sauce Newburg.  What could be easier to make than Sauce Ecoffier, which, she says, is mayonnaise with grated horse-radish and chopped chervil and parsley in it?  Or more voluptuous than Sauce Diplomate?  Some of them are rendered impossible for us both shortages of one commodity or another, but there are plenty which can be made without great difficulty or expense.  Moreover, the same admirable instructress gives twenty garnishes, and though perhaps her Joinville (mushrooms, truffles, crayfish, prawns) may sound a trifle ambitious, her Chauchat, consisting of slices of hot boiled potato arranged to overlap on another in a ring round the dish with cheese sauce over them, is perfectly practicable and delicious.  What is more, she has no fewer than thirty savoury butters.
These may help a dull fish, but only imaginative cooking will make it palatable.  Cod, for instance, can make a meal if it steaks are stuffed with forcemeat or if it is used instead of salmon to make that which dish a coulibac.  Those unnamed fish fillets which are sold at not much more than shilling a pound a satisfying and palatable when you bake them à la Portugaise, with onion, garlic, tomatoes, marjoram and parsley, and no more than one glass from a bottle of white wine, the rest of which you may drink en mangeant.  And the fresh-water fish which so many anglers about here throw back, believing them inedible, can be made worthy of any taste if they are treated with sympathy.  Even bream, fried in butter and served with a horse-radish sauce, becomes pleasant, while carp, eaten with red butter after it has been basted with burning brandy, is something to remember.  Pike, perch, tench are worth preparing and eating, while trout can be better than almost any salt-water fish.  Nor need eels be supposed the prerogative of London shops, in which they are sold ‘jellied’.
But the favourite fish in my kitchen is the fleshy, satisfying yet exquisitely flavoursome scallop.  It is not outrageously expensive, and cooked in any of a dozen ways and served his own shell it makes an excellent introduction to dinner, a sort of hot hors d’œuvre or fish course which is almost universally liked.  The shell, too, maybe used for planning for many small savoury dishes afterwards.

If Madame Prunier is my authority on fish, it is to Major Hugh Pollard that I turn for suggestions in the matter of cooking game.  And game in many varieties and conditions is important in the countryman’s larder.
The grand scheme which I had for life in this house, life which was to be the apotheosis of all my experience and imagination, had one little aspect, a mere fanciful snapshot, which I meant to make real.  Remembering some appetising descriptions, in the last chapters of Lorna Doone, of a a farmer’s food supplies in a part of England which could become isolated in winter, I saw the great iron hooks which hang from the beams in my larder not suspending a couple of geese, a hare and half a dozen hams, but at least not not unoccupied in the winter months.  And with some luck and much generosity from my friends this came to pass.  There were at various times a ham brought by John Hitchcock from the United States after a mission there on the irrelevant subject of nickel, and a haunch of venison sent to me by a landowner lucky enough to be able to play Robin Hood in his own grounds.  Moreover, there was a succession of rabbits, hars, and wildfowl from my curious friend Cocker and his earthly associates.
Cocker lives in a house beside a wood in one of the loneliest rifts of country around our village.  Cocker works as a builder for certain hours of the week, but his real life begins I think, when, with a mongrel bitch at his heels, he goes with his friend Perce into unknown country, carrying a box containing two ferrets, the ‘old ’un’ and the one which Cocker is training (he is always training a ferret), a couple of guns, a dozen nets and a spade.  Then the two of them are happy as few human beings can be for an hour, a day, or if they are really are elysian hunting-grounds, forever.  I cannot give them their full names here because I’ve never heard them; they are invariably and to all men ‘Perce’ and ‘Cocker’ and Cocker’s brother ‘Boy’.  Saturday, Sunday, week-end in and out from September to March, will see them, muddy to the ears, listening at a rabbit bury (as it is called hereabouts) digging for a ferret which has gone to earth, watching the sky with furtive glances, listening for ‘that old cock pheasant that I saw yesterday when I hadn’t got my gun’, or trudging home with the bag.  Cooker was born to dogs and birds and the earth; he knows all wild things and loves the chase of them.  A ruddy, not over-talkative young man, he is less at home among human beings than with the creatures of the woods, but I have never known one so clearly predestined to a certain kind of life.  He will marry—indeed, his excursions now abbreviated by the need to do ‘go courting’—he will settle in a council house, perhaps, while he continues to work as a builder.  But he will never know sounds dearer than the thud of a shot pheasant to earth, the squeal of a rabbit as the ferret bears down on it, the flap of wild wings.
To Cocker I owe many a good bird and a supply of rabbits which continued steadily through last winter.  But to Major Hugh Pollard I owe the knowledge of eighteen ways of cooking rabbit which have helped to make that supply a blessing, during the almost meatless weeks.  And if ever a creature needed care and variety in cooking it is this little ‘beast of warren’ which can be sickly and insipid or almost as crisp and savoury as pheasant.
I have, then, learnt something about cooking rabbits since I came to live at Ticehurst.  I have consulted all the oracles, from the early cookery books of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to Francatelli, Escoffier and the moderns.  I have experimented with strange concomitants like prunes and almonds, and pestered friendly cooks for information.  From all this I have drawn certain conclusions.  First I would debar from the kitchen any rabbit which has been frozen, chilled, or brought from abroad.  Such a thing is not fit for human consumption even in England, where things are eaten which would turn the stomach of an African primitive.  Next I would generalize boldly and say that any tough rabbit, or any one intended for roasting or frying, should be marinated for at least twenty-four hours.  And last I conclude that cooks must have seen the necessity variety in this matter, for apart from endless further modifications there are eight distinct ways of cooking a rabbit:  he can be stewed, roasted, fried, in casserole, jugged, curried, cooked in a pie, or, in the gypsy manner, made into a steamed pudding.
All these methods are worth examination.  I for one see no chance of meat in such plenty that we shall be able to forget the rabbit and the cooking of him.  Stewed he can be with onions, white wine, and a good large boquet garni of herbs which should contain thyme and lovage.  Or with red wine, if the onions are fried and a duck stock used.  Or .  Or in milk and mushrooms.  Or with onion sauce.  Or with tomatoes.
If he is to be fried, he can be served golden brown or he can be removed when nearly cooked, covered in egg and breadcrumb, browned and served like chicken Maryland.  If roast, he must be stuffed with forcemeat in which thyme is the chief flavouring and served with a brown sauce made with Sherry.  Or he can be roast with a stuffing of tarragon and breadcrumb.  Again, if he is to be in a casserole, it will be with the usual flavourings, including several herbs, with the almost inevitable thyme predominant.  Then a glass of red or of white wine can be added or one of brandy if you like a certain fierceness in the flavour.  Or he may be done à la mode de Touraine, for which the liquor in which he is cooked is pressed through a sieve, re-flavoured, whitened, thickened, given a cheese flavour and poured again over him.
For hare I know of no better way than the sovereign dish, jugged hare, but it is incomplete without forcemeat balls in which grated lemon rind is strong enough to be tasted when they have been cooked.  Red-currant jelly is usually served with this, but we make a thyme jelly which is even better adapted, for thyme, that scent of summer fields, is the natural garnish for hare or rabbit.
A good many birds have hung in my larder here:  pigeons which can only satisfactorily be cooked en casserole; wild duck, but never again the fishy shovellers or any bird that is skinned rather than plucked; golden plover, which is best cooked in a casserole and served under a blanket of Madeira sauce; and the excellent woodcock which must be roast as pheasant.
If I could find a way to do it, I would like to have an aviary of field buntings (ortolans) such as I remember in the garden of a little inn in the Landes, that region of forest fires and pine-trees in the south-west of France.  The proprietress was—and I use the term advisedly—a great artist and cooked things over her charcoal stove in the general sitting room, things which I had not forgotten in all the years since I ate them.  There was no plumbing to speak of in her little house hot, and the sanitation was provided in a shed twenty yards away, but she kept her stock of live ortolans and cooked them for her favoured customers.  They must be eaten whole, she said, head, beak and all.  How gratifying it would be to breed those tender little birds as chickens are bred for eating.  But how impossible.

There is a kind of game which Cocker cannot bring me, but which occasionally makes its presence noticeable in the larder, the most romantic of foods and, carefully prepared, one of the best—venison.  The trouble about it now is that it is sold without any indication of its kind, and it needs an experienced marketer to know whether his joint is from the fallow deer of our parks or the roe or red deer of Scotland and Ireland, or whether it is roe imported from the continent.  The red deer certainly gives the finest venison, though none are to be despised.
I hang for ten days at least any joint which I know to have been freshly killed, and then put it in a marinade for another two or three, for dryness and toughness are its dangers.  Before hanging it should be rubbed with ground ginger, and tansy leaves maybe tied inside the butter-muslin with which it should be surrounded.  It is at its best when roast, but if in spite of marinating it is tough it can be braised in a casserole.  To a good stock should be added onions, carrots, chopped celery, lovage, thyme, bay-leaves, cloves, peppercorns and a tumbler of red wine.  It will take two to three hours, and should be served, like most venison, with red-currant or marjoram jelly.  The reindeer which occasionally appears in shops may be cooked in the same way, though it should be soaked for several hours in water with salt, lemon-juice and vinegar in it.
What convolutions does history perform!  We’re back to the days when only rich men (who nowadays buy black-market meat at savage prices or dine in restaurants even more outrageous ones) can afford to eat more than particles of beef and mutton, and we must go ‘chasing the wild deer and following the roe’ through the nearest shopping-centre.
But there is game being offered as a sop to the housewife Cerberus which the most broad-minded lover of foods cannot tolerate.  Such is the squirrel.  It may be that, as its propagandists maintain, it was the favourite food of the early American settlers; it is still just a bushy-tailed right to me.  It may even be that I would not recognise it as other than rabbit if it was put before me, any more than I should know horsemeat in certain forms if it was called beef.  It is in the knowledge that the nausea lies, and the hooks in my larder will not, until the famine of the future is brought on us by the progressive idiocy of bureaucracy, have ‘tree-rats’ (as they are called in India) hanging from them.

Of the domestic fowl I have not much to say, though I would like to argue with the epicures about the one garnish which appears in English homes and restaurants whenever there is a roast bird—bread sauce.  It can be excellent.  Cruel things have been written of it by critics, and foreigners have asked plaintively why we serve this taste pap with roast chicken or pheasant, but that is chiefly because bread sauce is often badly made.  Carefully done, the breadcrumbs rubbed through a series to enjoy fineness, a thin white stock used, a grating each of onion and nutmeg, a clove, some butter and enough of salt and pepper, and you have something which may justly be called a relish, while a little cream will give it distinction.
Mrs. Beeton give sixty ways of cooking chicken, and there must be a hundred more, all with valid differences, but for the kind of pterodactyl which is sold in shops, at times with some honesty as a ‘boiling fowl’, at times more ambiguously, there is nothing to do but stew it, so Suprême de Volaille, with mushrooms deputizing for truffles, not infrequently appears in my home.
In Madagascar during the war I must have been offered the ceremonial and symbolic chicken—with which the villagers receive strangers—more than a score of times, and have watched it roasted on a spit over a slow wood fire almost as many, though I was once given it garnished with grilled bananas.  I have eaten in Chinese restaurants those morsels of long-dried white flesh, which might have come from the bones of almost any bird or beast, cooked with armaments or pineapple.  I have enjoyed chicken Maryland; in Norway I have eaten the bird braised in pure butter and in Hungary swimming in red paprika sauce.  There seems to be no temperate country in which the ugly little creature does not flourish, and most nations have evolved their own ways of treating it.  Our standard method—stuffed, roast and served with bread sauce—demands a fine young bird, but with that is as good as any of them.
Less can be said for our roast turkey, with its great cuts of insipid white meat; or for our roast goose, which brings out in that bird its worst qualities—the greasiness and solidity of its lean flesh.  The French stuff the turkey with truffles and stew it with red wine and even brandy, while the goose, though spit-roast by many peoples, would scarcely be left in a gas oven and basted only with its own unflavoured fat anywhere but England.
Duck is better able to stand rough treatment, though even this I prefer in the French dodine or in a casserole, unless it is a young Aylesbury duckling in high summer, when our English way of roasting with green peas and apple sauce suits it well.  I have twice eaten roast peacock, once in Gloucestershire—a young one of my own which had been wounded by a fox and had to be killed—and one in Central India, where we used secretly to pot at them with service revolvers, along the roadsides south of Delhi, in spite of their protection under Hindu law.  It is not a remarkable bird—indeed, its flesh is rather heavy and savourless—but it looks well served with a few of its tail feathers.

There are certain kinds of meat, once almost unsaleable, which have now become the prized trophies in the daily marathon by marketers to the butcher’s shop and the butcher’s heart.  One of these is a sheep’s head, and when I first ate the glutinous and grisly meat from it I decided at once that ways must be found of making it palatable, since it is one of the precious extras allowed unrationed to the victory-flushed people of England in these years of plenty which have followed the privations of war.
Indeed, it is not so bad.  It must be left in brine for a night before it is stewed (with the brains removed to make a white sauce) for two or three hours in a good stock with a positive bundle of a boquet garni, two or three cloves of garlic chopped up, two sliced onions, peppercorns, cloves, salt, pepper and a small piece of stem ginger.  About an hour before serving, some rice, diced carrots, turnips, and more onions should be added.  When it is ready it is laid on the pastry-board and all the meat is transferred in well-shaped slices to a very large open dish, surrounded the rice strained and if possible garnished with red pimentos.  Enough of the thick white sauce, with the brains and parsley in it, to cover all the meat is then poured over.  A purée of sorrel-leaves made with butter and a little vinegar is served with it.  As a dish it would not be much esteemed in vanquished countries untroubled by welfare and rearmament, but here in England I do not refuse my butcher’s offer of a sheep’s head.
Or even of an ox heart, though this is a tougher proposition, from which Mrs. Beeton recoils, so that no recipe appears among the four thousand in her book.  What can be done with this solid block of ungrained meat?  I know of nothing but the obvious—parboil, then roast and stuff and roasted, cut it in slices and pour over it a rich Madeira or a strong caper sauce, the latter with chopped herbs in it.  A sheep’s heart, a more manageable thing, may be treated in the same way. 
There are other oddities and scraps of offal which may be cajoled from the butcher, and it is on these, in my house, but our ingenuity is concentrated, rather than on the cooking of what is now called, in contrast and awe, butcher’s meat.  Though no such vast supply as might be provided by a calf’s head has yet been released to me, I have not lost hope of ox-cheeks, which I have eaten braised, or ox-palates, which are also excellent in casserole, or even calves’ ears, which would be interesting to try, anyway.  I have been privileged to buy an ox-tail, which makes a fine goulash if none of the ingredients of that good Hungarian dish are neglected.  Sweetbreads, too, have been supplied in moments of mad generosity by my butcher, and when these have been blanched (a process not to be hurried or skimped ) the are cooked à la Suprême, with the contents of one of those very small tins of button mushrooms which are so much more useful for cooking than the cultivated mushrooms sold by greengrocers.
From the sheep, in addition to the head, I have had kidneys, and on one occasion enough for a sautée with a glass of sherry in the brown sauce, but more often a pair or ‘one to each ration book’, as the butcher’s roundsman gaily terms it, when one of our somewhat barbaric but nonetheless inviting national dishes is made from them—grilled kidney with bacon for breakfast.  I have never had the courage to ask for sheep’s tails, for although I am not deeply concerned about local opinion, I will not actively seek the reputation of a werewolf, but if my butcher sees this and tears to send half a dozen along some time, I should like to try them cooked according to the recipe which Mrs. Beeton, nothing if not comprehensive, provides.  Nor have I been reduced to sheep’s trotters, though I do not see why they should not be eatable, cooked either or vinaigrette.
A farmer is allowed, by an excessively lenient law which will no doubt be repealed as soon as legislators realise that it brings a little happiness to people, to kill one, or it may even be two, calves a year.  When he does this, in a district in which all ears are to the ground, those of his acquaintance who are first to hear the news may, by deflating the motor-tyres of their rivals and racing dangerously through the lanes, be on time to persuade him to sell at a ruinous price one of those scrawny joints of veal which remind one, even when they are skinned and hung, that the calf killed was so immature that he was lanky and almost bloodless.  Still it is meat, and ‘off the ration’ and—if it is of interest to you—within the law, and there are ways of making it eatable.  The blanquette is hard to beat if it is really well made, but it can be insipid.  I not only insist on lemon-juice in the sauce, but add grated lemon-rind, and make a surround of rice cooked in the veal stock and garnished with red pimentos.  Some fairly violent concomitant must be used with veal in any form if it is to be good, a strongly herbal forcemeat, a highly piquant sauce, a sorrel purée, or something equally potent and sharp.  Even the excellent Wiener Schnitzel is made with plenty of seasoning on the thin slice of veal which is to be cooked in eggs and breadcrumbs and afterwards garnished with the shaving of lemon, olive, anchovy and finely chopped hard-boiled egg.
There is one last hope for the meat-eater when the butcher shrugs, or even, as sometimes happens in our region, apologizes.  (Our butchers are not really full of evil intention and may be honest men, but so much do we discuss them locally, bragging of this one’s bounty, grumbling of that one’s niggardliness, that we all find ourselves playing general post among them, shifting our patronage from one to another and frequent intervals, prompted by greed, hope, invidiousness or disgust.  I remember telephoning one of them with a suggestion that I should register with him, and hearing him proudly claim that above all he was fair, he treated all his customers alike.  I instantly went elsewhere, of course.)  There is one other recourse when butcher and farmer have failed:  it is to find someone who keeps goats. 
More than once here has hung in my stables a kid recently brought from the slaughterer.  It remains there until a friendly and expert craftsman with a butchers knife arrives and divides it into joints which can be kept in the frigidaire.  There need be no hesitation or uncertainty about kid’s meat; it is excellent—indistinguishable, in fact, from very good lamb.  In India the mutton which is universally sold, and on which English residents have lived for two hundred years, is not mutton at all, but goat’s meat; while all over Europe it is sold and eaten, sometimes under its own name, sometimes as mutton.  In England it has never been much wanted, because until these seven lean years mutton and lamb were plentiful and cheap and goats kept chiefly as pets.  Now that they are milked and bred for milking, the young billy is often not wanted, and may be killed by a humane killer without a page torn from the ration book or an application form filled in.
It is godsent as a basis for meals, even enabling one to do that once simple thing—ask one’s friends to dinner.  Sometimes I have told my guests what they are eating with such zest, sometimes left them to envious wonder over my prodigal supply of mutton.  It is satisfying, too, to have the whole and the whole animal—kidneys, heart, liver and lights—to dispose of at one’s own discretion.
As for preparation, it must be remembered that kid’s meat may be lean and dry, so that a rather oily marinade will help it.  Otherwise it can be treated as one would treat prime lamb.
The shavings and fragments of meat which are called ‘the ration’ are so insignificant as to need little inventiveness in the cooking of them.  But there is a dish eaten in Germany which solves the problem of what to do with that curious wedge of beef called ‘stewing-steak’, which is not large enough to stew or tender enough to eat as steak.  This dish is known as Beefsteak Tartar, and the appropriateness of the name in a country once conquered by barbarian Mongols will be evident.  I may say that I am alone in my house in liking or even come countenancing it, and that it produces shudders from many who see it made, so that if I want it I have to prepare it myself.  I put the uncooked meat through the mincer, then mix pepper and salt with it and shape it to the form of a large, round, flat fish-cake.  This is set in the centre of the dish, and on top of it the yolk of a raw egg.  These are surrounded with slices of raw onion, tomato, gherkin, cucumber and, if you like, a little grated carrot.  The whole is sprinkled with cayenne pepper.  A delicious and invigorating dish, critically recommended to the anæmic.

I approve, in principle, the custom in French bourgeois cookery of making a separate course of one vegetable, prepared in one of the splendid ways familiar to everyone who has eaten abroad, but I am deterred by a veto instilled in childhood.  My anxious parents, who must have spent many dreary hours in the pursuit of domestic servants, would impress on us that we must not ‘make extra washing-up’, and I suppose their apprehensions remain.  But how much better can vegetables be appreciated when they are eaten alone—petis pois cooked with a lettuce and onion, the liquor thickened with a beaten egg; cauliflower à la crême, which has for me memories of a long day’s walking in Brittany crowned by dinner in which figured as a course; artichokes served cold, with peppered olive oil in which to dip each leaf till the centre is reached and the heart devoured; broad beans à la Poulette or French beans alla crema; cabbage au gratin or stuffed aubergine; mushrooms in almost any form or spinach soufflé.  Still, even when they are to be served on the side of the plate with meat on it, vegetables need not have all the flavour and nourishment boiled from them while the house fills with the odour of school kitchens, but it may be braised or boiled or, at the worst, steamed, while their natural flavour is heightened rather than spoiled by certain additions.  Here, for instance, is a way we treat that potentially dull thing, the green cabbage.  This costs little more and takes no longer than boiling it to such a mushy condition that it can be, and frequently is, cut into cubes before it is served.  A rasher of bacon is cut into fine strips and fried in a little fat in a saucepan with a finely chopped onion.  The cabbage shredded, and with no more moisture than clings to it after washing, dropped in the saucepan.  The whole is sprinkled with a few cumin seeds or aniseeds, salt, pepper and sometimes a pinch of curry powder.  This is stirred and cooked over a slow fire until the stalks are tender.  The result is very much cabbage and not in the least a mixture of foreign flavours, that makes the vegetable presentable and pleasant to eat. 
I am no partisan of the salad as it is popular in United States, a gallimaufry of vegetables and fruits arranged to please the eye rather than the palate.  A salad served on a crescent plate with game or meat must be, for me, of the simplest kind, consisting of those crisply curling, bitter lettuce or endive leaves so popular in France, with no more dressing than a well-stirred mixture of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Or chicory and beetroot.  Or cucumber.  Or tomato.  Or even a salad deux pommes—potato and apple.  Or any suitable vegetable simply prepared with perhaps a shredding of chive or tarragon over it.  But those elaborate mixtures containing hard-boiled eggs, walnuts, pears, bananas, lettuce, beetroots, tomatoes, plums, potatoes, and any cold vegetables left over from lunch, with some grated cheese and a few flower-petals over them, seem to me to defeat themselves, to grow limp and stale before they are prepared and served, to be appropriate to no part of the meal and to produce an effect on the consumer which would be more pleasantly, quickly and economically achieved by small dose of Epsom salts.  However, their popularity grows with their list of ingredients, so that mine is a voice crying in the wilderness.

Nowhere else is the food known to us as ‘sweets’, or in less exalted homes as ‘pudding’ or even ‘afters’, treated with the earnestness that goes to its production in England.  But that is nothing to be ashamed of, for I know French gourmets who, even after experience of most of our national dishes, still ask for a ‘boudin anglais’.
In my home this matter is left entirelt to Mrs. Rummery, who, like most English housewives, is adept in it.  My only intervention has been to insist that no mis-named ice-cream shall be purchased ready mixed from any shop or itinerant vendor and that no so-called custard shopping made from powders or similar preparations, so that if there are not eggs for custard-making there is no custard.  Some English steamed puddings are first-rate, though only a glutton could tackle them after a sufficient meal.
It would be interesting to revive one or two of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century sweet dishes, the sorbets and junkets of those plenteous times, or even some of the grandiose bombes and timbales of the Victorian age, the soufflés, creams, babas, and flans of Edwardian England; but it would, I’m afraid, be no more than interesting, and the lack of materials for them is one that causes least concern to me.  And occasional English pudding, an open tart with sliced apple glazed withsugar, fruit in syrup bottled at home, a rum or sweet omelette, an apple charlotte or something light on which white of egg has been toasted to a meringue consistency—these with what fruit may be obtainable are our only dessert, and appear only rarely. 
But there are one or two kinds of cheese purchasable which are worth pursuit.  One of the anomalies of life under our rationing system is that while soap-like imported cheese which is only fit for cooking is doled out by the square inch, the eatable cheeses—our own Stilton, ripe Camembert, Brie, Gruyère, Port Salut, Roquefort—are all in more or less free supply, so that is possible to do that extravagant but kindly thing, to offer to a guest a choice of cheeses on a board or stone slab.  If only there were good bread to eat with them!

To end this verbose menu, a word about coffee.  It was in a detective novel§ that I found the most sweeping but profound truth on this controversial subject—‘There only seems to me one essential thing about making coffee and that is to put in enough coffee’.  It is best, of course, to roast one’s own beans by almost burning them in the oven, or even allowing them to begin to burn a little, if one likes them well rested.  It is best to grind only the quantity needed at the time.  It may even be best to use a percolator, or a filter, or one of those alchemist’s contrivances more proper to the laboratory than the kitchen, consisting of glass containers over spirit lamps.  None of these things will save you if you stint the coffee.
In my home it is made on the same principle as tea—simple infusion.  For a pint of coffee a large earthenware pot is warmed and dried before six generous tablespoonfuls of coffee are dropped in with a pinch of salt.  Then boiling water is poured on and the jug is left to stand for five minutes in a warm place.  This produces that rim of amber foam round each cup which is a mark of strength and virtue.

*  The Complete Cook, by Nell Heaton (Faber and Faber).
†  Madame Prunier’s Fish Cookery Book, translated and edited by Ambrose Heath (Nicholson and Watson).
‡  The Sportsman’s Cookery Book, by Major Hugh Pollard (Country Life).
§  Neck and Neck, by Leo Bruce (Gollancz).

[Textual note:  wither in “wither in private houses” was corrected to “whether”; “Lucullan” was capitalised; one instance of “freshwater”, for consistency’s sake, was hyphenated; “pineable” was corrected to “pineapple”; an “a” was inserted before “humane killer”; “else” was added after “Nowhere”; three asterisks were appropriately converted to, respectively, a dagger, double dagger and section sign.]