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Florence Petty’s beef trifle with walnut gravy.

Petty’s brief may have been economy but she also hoped to instill a certain sense of fun in food that the working poor could afford. The original recipe for this ‘trifle’ in fact creates individual terrines of leftover meat brightened with horseradish and stretched by breadcrumbs. It loses nothing for that. The walnut gravy, while a creature of interwar thrift, should prove intriguing to contemporary palates. Four generous individual trifles; you will need a ramekin for each one or may, as Petty does, use ovenproof cups or other suitable vessels. Le Creuset miniature lidded casseroles are particularly nice even if antithetical to the thrifty philosophy behind the original recipe. Oysters lurk here; see the Notes.

Beef-Old-Gloucester.jpgFor the gravy: 

  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • about ½ cup chopped onion
  • a minced shallot
  • about 3 Tablespoons smashed and minced walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon flour (preferably Wondra)
  • about 10 oz warm beef stock
  • 2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet (optional but recommended)
  • Worcestershire or walnut ketchup (optional; see the Notes)
  • salt and pepper


  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or beef dripping
  • 1 lb finely chopped beef (see the Notes)
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • salt and pepper
  • heaped Tablespoon grated horseradish
  • about ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • perhaps a little beef stock if needed to bind
  • about ½ cup Cheddar or other hard British style cheese

  1. Make the gravy. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat, then fry the onion, shallot and walnuts until the mixture turns a deep gold. You may need to reduce the heat to prevent scorching.
  2. Shower the walnut mixture with the flour, stir until it loses its raw color and slowly dribble the warm stock into the mixture, stirring as you go.
  3. Add the Kitchen Bouquet and Worcestershire or walnut ketchup if you have them and simmer the gravy until it thickens to a consistency that you consider acceptable but for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavor tones to mesh.

    Preheat the oven to 375°.

  4. Make the trifles. Melt the butter or dripping over medium high heat and brown the beef with the onion.
  5. Reduce the heat to low, season the beef mixture with salt and pepper, then stir the horseradish and breadcrumbs into the mix.
  6. Turn off the heat and allow the trifle mixture to cool to room temperature before turning the eggs into it. If it looks like the mixture refuses to adhere, drip a little stock into it, but be as stingy as humanly possible or your trifles will wind up sodden.
  7. Grease your ramekins, cups or little casseroles with generosity, spoon a dollop of the mixture into each one, top them all with cheese and bake the trifles until they set and the cheese turns gold, usually in about 20 minutes.
  8. Let the trifles stand for about 10 minutes, then ladle a lake of gravy onto a hot plate for each one, turn them out of their containers and serve with the remaining gravy in a boat, some horseradish sauce and any green salad or vegetable.



- The trifles of course are but elegant little English meatloaves, Petty’s playful masquerade that transforms workaday thrift into something a little sparkly. Presentation, however, even counts on ‘Chopped,’ and don’t you like their name?
- Horseradish is the English mate for roast beef and its inclusion by Petty in her trifles is more than passing clever. The stuff was, and is, cheap, and provides some sudden snap.If you grate your own, more the better, but a readymade jar works nearly as well here and we like to substitute prepared sauce for the root in its raw state to smooth the texture of the trifle.
- Ours is a substantial departure from the original recipe. As always, Petty specifies margarine instead of the considerably dearer butter. She dispenses with the Worcestershire or ketchup and, ever frugal, spots her cook but a single egg. There is no cheese, but what is a burger or, by extension, these trifles without it?
- In building the gravy Petty allows her cook to use water instead of stock (a heresy as far as the deities of the bfia kitchen are concerned) and makes a fiddly liaison of flour and cold water that is likely to lump instead of dumping the flour direct into the skillet.
- Petty’s recipe also is characteristically cryptic. She lists, for example, the onion as an ingredient for the gravy, then ignores it in her instructions. She does not remind her reader to beat the egg for the trifle either.
- The original recipe is considerably simpler because it is based on leftover beef, which is a good thing too. Petty precooks nothing before popping her trifles in the oven, but that makes the onion a tad too assertive so, if you are capitalizing on the recipe to transform leftovers into Delicious Remnants™, do fry the onion at least until it clears.
- Some people find that chopping beef fine is tedious. You could give it a couple of quick turns in a processer instead but try not to grind it or substitute ground beef as a shortcut; as with cinnamon beef sauce for pasta, the texture that the chopped meat gives the trifle justifies the added effort.
- A reminder: It is essential to allow the mixture to cool before adding the eggs or they will curdle and you will end up with a sort of Anglo-egg foo yong.
- It is most difficult to find walnut ketchup in the United States but easy to make your own, although the potion does require some aging time and its required filtration takes eons. The Editor therefore offers our readers a special bonus recipe for walnut ketchup under its own heading elsewhere in the practical.
- You also can make trifles of duck, goose, lamb, pork, venison…. Season the variations with common sense. Ditch the horseradish for some orange zest, Cumberland sauce or redcurrant jelly (or orange and one of the two) for the duck; grated apple or tart applesauce with sage and onion for the goose or pork; some minced shallot and fresh rosemary or a daub of decent mint jelly for the lamb (Crosse & Blackwell is particularly good); diced bacon and a pinch of cayenne for venison; &c.
- Are you subversive? If so, The Editor approves and suggests turning the original economic emphasis topsy. Chop up a few freshly shucked oysters and turn them into the trifle glop with the eggs at Step 8. Now you have carpetbagger trifle.