The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.53
SUMMER2017

Nostra culpa redeemed, perhaps, by some advice about celery.

Earlier this month we posted a recipe for oysters in consommé with the comment that the soup did not have much if any historical antecedent. We therefore gave credit to Rowley Leigh, whose column in the Weekend FT we have found much cause to criticize. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Our conclusion that Leigh created the concept rested on inadequate research. It remains the case that nothing much resembling the soup comes up online, and the Editor did take a considerable amount of time trolling through cookbooks old and new for a similar recipe, but those are unsound excuses.

A recipe lay beneath the Editor’s proverbial nose behind glass doors in the acreage of her kitchen bookshelf. Worse, it originated with one of her favorite figures, the great Marcel Boulestin. A version appears in The Best of Boulestin, a rather curious compilation of recipes interspersed with some of his culinary commentary. Curiosities include the decision of its editors, the colorfully named Elvira and Maurice Firuski, not to reveal the source of individual selections; Boulestin was nothing if not prolific, so their omission stings.

It is a strange imprint, written in Salisbury, Connecticut and in one place apparently printed there by or for the Housatonic Bookshop, or perhaps not; the reverse of the page where the Housatonic appears indicates that it was printed by the Windmill Press in Kingswood, Surrey. Elsewhere neither small business is the indicated imprint but rather the behemoth Heinemann out of London.

Many English preparations appear, all of them with Frenchified names; Windsor soup as Crème Windsor, potted shrimps as Crevettes en Terrine (but indexed under ‘shrimps, potted’). The index also includes an intriguing reference to something that sounds tasty, a bacon and beet salad; frustrating too, for in fact it does not appear anywhere in the book.

Some recipes are curious indeed. Céleri au jus for example; “Having prepared the celery, allowing one head for each person, drain it well and fold it in two.” This is no typographical error; later, the recipe in includes the instruction to “Place the folded celery in a flat saucepan.” If a ‘head’ is a stalk, then it is too small a serving; if it means the entire plant, too large, and how the hell would you fold either of them anyway?

Boulestin, however, is mostly good. On cucumbers (“Concombres”) more generally, he advises his reader to do something that nobody, unfortunately, seems to do:

“This delicious vegetable, which in England is better than anywhere else, can be used in other ways than sliced around salmon. Cooked, it retains its quality of proverbial coolness. It is perfect cooked in thick slices and boiled in salted water, then served with a cream sauce; it contrasts pleasantly with the richness of the sauce.”

And in some detail:

“Cucumbers are delicious when properly cooked. They should be cut in four or six pieces, peeled, cooked in hot water with salt and a little vinegar for about ten or fifteen minutes, and served with either a sauce a la poulette or maître d’hôtel (Chopped parsley cooked with butter and lemon juice). They are very good cut in thin slices and fried.”

Timeless advice conveyed with clarity and elegance by a writer whose first language was not English: Impressive indeed.

Not so impressive the Editor’s research about consommé with oysters, but because it would seem a bit narcissistic of the Editor to climb her own Wall of Shame, something that could be akin to the Literary Review awarding itself the coveted Bad Sex Prize, this apology will have to do. The error may perhaps be redeemed by this disclosure and its inclusion of Boulestin’s advice about celery.

For his part Leigh of course adhered to a rich tradition of filching the recipes of others without attribution.