In 2011, Gourmet released their list of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. I stumbled on this entirely by accident. One week a couple of months ago, I was meal planning, and didn’t have access to my Ina Garten cookbooks. So, I googled the recipe I was looking for and found it on a blog that was making its way through the list (she’s number 39… I’m a little disgruntled that Rachael Ray is higher up than she is). I was inspired to do the same. I need to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and I thought this would be an excellent way to do so. As I’ve been planning for this, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, checking out websites and buying new equipment, and I’m excited. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about these game changing women, and introducing myself to recipes I’ve never cooked before.
(And since this entire year-long project will be all recipes I’ve never made before, I can’t promise that everything will turn out the way I want it to. But whether a dish is a winner or an epic fail, I’m going to be completely honest about it.)
First of all, I’m hoping these are the last entries on this list that lived over a 100 years ago. This week (and week 3 featuring Fannie Farmer) was challenging!
Week 10 is shared by two women: Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) and Isabella Beeton (1836-1865). Since these women lived well over 100 years ago, we don’t have the wealth of information on them that we have on the more modern women. And what is even more frustrating than the lack of personal information, the lack of modern cooking instructions in their recipes. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, we’ll start with Hannah Glasse. Hannah was born in London in 1708. The little information that we do have about her personal life comes from her correspondance with her father’s younger sister. She married an Irish soldier, John Glasse in 1724, a few years after the deaths of both of her parents. In 1746-1747, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy was published anonymously. in 1754, she was declared bankrupt and forced to auction off her only valuable asset: the copyright to The Art of Cookery. Despite selling her book, and being able to pay off her debt, she found herself in financial trouble once again in 1757, and was taken to a debtors prison. She wasn’t incarcerated for long, and published two more books, neither as successful as her first, before she died in 1770. Here’s a pretty interesting article about her role as the original domestic if you’re interested in learning more about her.
You can find her book in its entirety on the internet. And while that is truly a wonderful thing, it doesn’t make it any easier to read. Not to mention, some of the ingredients she uses are a little scary. But I was determined to find something I wanted to, and would be able to, cook.
Obviously from the highlighted text, I chose to make gingerbread cakes (being honest, I made these back around Christmas). I honestly had no idea where to start. I quickly learned that cooking times and temperatures are a wonderful, wonderful thing. Luckily, the historians over at Colonial Williamsburg stepped in & made this week a little bit easier. Colonial Williamsburgs’ Historic Foodways Program has taken quite a few 18th century recipes and adapted them to the 21st century kitchen. Some of the recipes even include people in period costumes cooking them the way they would have originally been made (just in very, very scaled down portions).
The recipe was incredibly easy to make, and called for ingredients I already had on hand. The one difference from Hannah’s original recipe was the use of molasses instead of treacle. I actually attempted to find treacle, and couldn’t locate it. The only thing I changed about the recipe was adding more flour than the Colonial Williamsburg version called for. The dough was very wet & sticky, so I added more flour until it came to a workable consistency (between 1/2 a cup & a cup).
Unfortunately, changing the amount of flour changed the taste of the cookie. They have a very mild flavor, not nearly the strong taste you typically get from gingerbread. So, next time I’ll probably double up on the seasonings. And there will be a next time, because they have the potential to be really, really delicious. This was my first time making any type of gingerbread and I enjoyed making them. And with a little more flavor, this will be a really delicious cookie.
And because I’m slightly ridiculous, the whole point of this picture is because I wanted to try and recreate my epic wall. Don’t judge me.
So, here you have it. A recipe that is older than America.
Hannah Glasse’s Gingerbread Cakes
(Recipe found here.)
- 3-4 cups of all purpose unbleached flour
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1 stick of room temperature butter
- 2 tbsp. ground ginger
- 1 tbsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/8 cup cream
- Preheat oven to 375°
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the three cups of the flour, sugar and spices thoroughly.
- Warm the molasses and cream together in a small saucepan, on medium-low, stirring to blend. This is not to be hot but warm so that they blend together, not cook.
- Work the butter into the flour mixture with your hands until it has a sort of grated bread look.
- Add the molasses and cream mixture and work it up into a stiff dough with your hands. If the dough is too wet/sticky, add more dough until you reach a manageable consistency.
- Roll out the dough on a floured surface about ¼ inch thick and cut cookies into whatever shapes you want. (Of course, I cut mine into quatrefoils. But if you wanted to be more authentic, you could cut them out with a teacup, or just cut them into shapes.
- Bake these in a 375° oven for about 8 to 10 minutes.
Almost anything you read that was written about Hannah Glasse will also mention Isabella Beeton. Mrs. Beeton, like Hannah Glasse, was also born in London. She was born in 1836, and was the oldest of a blended family of twenty children. She married Samuel Beeton in 1856, who was a publisher of books & magazines. She contributed articles on cooking & household management to her husbands publications, and in 1861 she consolidated them into a new publication, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. It was an immediate best seller, even though there are claims that most of the recipes were plagarized. She died in 1865, age 28, a week after giving birth to her fourth child. Like Hannah Glasse, the copyright to her book was sold when her husband faced bankruptcy.
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management covers everything from not criticizing your husband in public to how to rid fowl of disease before cooking it. One of the recipes she includes is a recipe for roasted chicken. Believe it or not, I have never roasted a chicken. Turkey? Yes. Pork? Yes. I’ve roasted vegetables out the wazoo, but I’ve never roasted a chicken, and I figure it was time I did. As with Hannah Glasse, some wonderful person has brought some of her recipes into modernity. As a way of celebrating the 150th anniversary of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, in 2011 Gerard Baker baker published Mrs. Beeton How to Cook: 220 Classic Recipes for the Modern Kitchen. While this book is a heck of a lot easier to read & understand than Mrs. Beeton’s original, it is still much different than what I’m accustomed to. He uses the metric system for measurement and celcius instead of fahrenheit for cooking temperatures. But I’m not complaining. Those are easy enough to figure out, and at least there is a cooking temperature. Not to mention, some of the recipes are just out there (at least to an American). I knew what I was going to make, but I kept flipping through the cookbook for the heck of it. Once I got to Pig Cheek Jelly, I had to put it down and walk away.
The recipe for the roast chicken was fairly simple, and was absolutely delicious. The chicken was moist, and had so much flavor. I roasted it in a cast iron skillet, instead of a roasting pan, and once I removed the chicken to the cutting board, I moved the skillet to the stove top, and made a simple gravy by adding some flour and stock to the drippings.
Mrs. Beeton’s Roast Chicken
(Recipe adapted from Mrs. Beeton How to Cook, p. 84)
- 3.5 lb whole chicken
- 2 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 a lemon
- Small bunch of thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- salt & pepper
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
- Remove the package from the cavity of the chicken & rinse the chicken until the water runs clear. Dry the chicken off with paper towels and set in your pan (or in my case, a cast iron skillet). Stuff the cavity with the lemon and the herbs. Rub the butter all over the chicken skin and season well with the salt & pepper.
- Roast in the 500 degree oven for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and roast for an additional 35-45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees.
- Remove from the skillet to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.