Thursday 22 February 2024

Book Review and Recipe Test Feb 2024

 Here is another fine book review and recipe test from VSA member Marian Gibbard.

Tasty Precious!
The Victorian Society of Alberta

Book Review with Bonus Recipe Test

Title: How to Cook the Victorian Way with Mrs Crocombe
by Annie Gray and Andrew Hamm
Published:    2020

About the Book:
This is the companion book to the English Heritage YouTube series, The Victorian Way, and invites you further into Mrs Crocombe’s kitchen, exploring the culinary story of the real Avis Crocombe, head cook at Audley End in the 1880’s.  This is not just a collection of recipes and beautifully photographed food - it also presents the story of how Mrs Crocombe’s original kitchen notebook was rediscovered and returned to Audley End, some history of the site and fascinating social and practical information about the dishes and the ingredients used to prepare them.

The majority of the recipes presented are slightly modernised versions of recipes found in Mrs Crocombe’s notebook, with the addition of some additional period recipes that she would almost certainly also have prepared. All of the recipes include both mass (grams and ounces) and volume (cups) measurements, making it much easier for international audiences. Some of the recipes are repeats of those presented in the YouTube series, with minor variations and more detail in the cooking and preparation instructions.

The full text of Mrs Crocombe’s manuscript is transcribed as the final chapter of the book.

This is an excellent book - engaging, informative, lovely photography, and well presented recipes. I would recommend both the book and the YouTube series for anyone interested in Victorian country house cooking and culture.

Amazon link:

Recipe Trial:

For this review, I tried the ‘Swiss Baskets’ recipe (page 103 in the book, 25 December 2020 episode of the YouTube series).  The recipe is quite straightforward - basically miniature pound cakes made with lemon zest which are then garnished in an interesting manner.

I made a few minor adjustments due to what I had on hand; rose hip rather than red currant jelly, drained maraschino rather than candied cherries, omitted the Angelica stem garnishes, and used a NordicWare Multi Mini Bundt pan which makes six 0.3L cakes rather than individual dariole moulds. Using the Bundt pan meant that I didn’t have to cut a hole in the centre of the cakes myself. Heating the jelly in the microwave for about 30 seconds made it much easier to brush onto the cakes. Spooning the chopped pistachios over the cake surface produced the same effect as rolling them in the nuts and seemed simpler given both the shape of my cakes and the fact that two of them had broken when I was unmoulding them.

I then placed the cakes on individual serving plates and set them aside until just before serving time when the centres were filled with lightly sweetened whipped cream and garnished with a well drained maraschino cherry.

The end result was a delicious and attractive dessert that we agreed would be well suited to a special occasion dinner or tea time.  The preparation effort and time requirements were not onerous, and much of it could be done in advance. Next time, I would make smaller individual servings, or plan for the cakes to be shared - while not excessively rich, 1/6 of the recipe is still a large serving and could easily have been divided between two or more people.

In terms of taste and texture, these are most like a dense, old-fashioned lemon pound cake. The jelly adds a slight tartness and flavour burst, while chopped pistachios provide additional texture, colour and a sweet nutty flavour.  I think any slightly tart jelly could be used - apricot will likely be the next one I try.  The suggestion of using lemon curd to replace the whipped cream also generated much interest.

Overall, I think this is a crowd pleasing taste and presentation, easily modified to suit individual preferences or ingredients on hand, and one that has an excellent effort to wow-factor ratio.  Definitely something that I will make again.


Mrs Crocombe's playlist on YouTube:

Learn more about Audley End:

English Heritage’s Victorian England main page:

English Heritage’s Victorian recipe page:

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