Except for Martha Stewart, she may be the only cookery book writer who did hard time for financial woes. Author of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, this eighteenth-century woman lived a life that her contemporary Jane Austen could have invented in one of her novels.
You know, young illegitimate daughter of a moneyed gentleman marries n’er-do-well rogue, bears eight children, and ends up on the scrap heap, faced with the need to make money to survive. So, instead of turning to prostitution, she wrote a cookbook that sold and sold and sold, even in the New World where her words seasoned the pots of squirrel or venison bubbling away on remote Virginia plantations.
But no matter. Human nature being what it is, the lure of lucre soon landed her in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison. Afterward, the authorities transferred her to Fleet Prison, where she spent months, longing no doubt for a steaming bowl of eel soup or a piece of eel pie. Altogether she included twelve recipes for eel in her book.
Hannah called one of the sections of the cookbook, “Variety of Dishes for Lent,” in which eel figured prominently.
TAKE eels according to the quantity of soup you would make; a pound of eels will make a pint of good soup : so to every pound of eels put a quart of water, a crust of bread, two or three blades of mace, a little whole pepper, an onion, and a bundle of sweet herbs ; cover them close, and let them boil till half the liquor is wasted ; then strain it, and toast some bread, cut it small, lay the bread into the dish, and pour in your soup. If you have a stew-hole, set the dish over it for a minute, and send it to table. If you find your soup not rich enough, you must let it boil till it is as strong as you would have it. You may make this soup as rich and good as if it was meat. You may add a piece of carrot to brown it.
To make an Eel-Pie.
MAKE a good crust ; clean, gut, and wash your eels very well, then cut them in pieces half as long as your finger ; season them with pepper, salt, and a little beaten mace to your palate, either high or low. Fill your dish with eels, and put as much water as the dish will hold ; put on your cover, and bake them well.
To collar Eels.
TAKE your eel and scour it well with salt, wipe it clean ; then cut it down the back, take out the bone, cut the head and tail off; put the yolk of an egg over it, and then take four cloves, two blades of mace, half a nutmeg beat fine, a little pepper and salt, some chopped parsley, and sweet herbs chopped very fine; mix them all together, and sprinkle over it, roll the eel up very tight, and tie it in a cloth; put on water enough to boil it, and put in an onion, some cloves and mace, four bay-leaves; boil it up with the bones, head, and tail for half an hour, with a little vinegar and salt; then take out the bones, &c. and put in your eels, boil them, if large, two hours, lesser in proportion; when done, put them away to cool; then take them out of the liquor and cloth, and cut them in slices, or send them whole, with raw parsley under and over.
N. B. You must take them out of the cloth, and put them in the liquor, and tie them close down to keep.
To be continued … with an examination of Hannah’s plagiarism. Sometime.
© 2010 C. Bertelsen