"There is," writes Alexis Soyer, "one dish which the Devonshire cottager can procure and enjoy better than even the most wealthy person." It is an exemplary starter: The great Alexis Soyer originally improvised this dish by cooking big field mushrooms on toast under a drinking glass just off a hot fireplace. Jane Grigson suggests placing the mushrooms on toast with clotted cream on a cookie sheet covered by inverted ovenproof glass bowls. A big casserole with a tight lid works just as well. This is our adaptation of Mrs. Grigson’s interpretation of Soyer.
- 1 large flat mushroom per person, stemmed and wiped clean
- 1 slice of good brown or white bread, toasted
- Devonshire cream (see notes) or unsalted butter mashed with about half as much heavy cream
- finely sliced scallions
Preheat oven to 400°
- Spread each slice of toast evenly with a layer of the Devonshire cream or butter and cream mixture.
- Salt and pepper the underside of each mushroom cap, spread it with the cream and place it upside down on a slice of toast.
- Sprinkle the mushroom with a few scallions and place the toast assembly in a heavy casserole.
- Cover tightly and bake for 20 minutes.
Notes: Amounts of cream, or cream mixed with butter, are not specified out of common sense: You will need enough to film whatever number of mushrooms you prepare.
- The Devon Cream Company produces a good jar of Devonshire cream called 'Double Devon Cream' cream: The company’s clotted cream, which is richer, also works well in this recipe. They are available from upmarket food shops and better supermarkets in the United States. Both products have a long shelf life.
- ‘Portobello’ (never use the ghastly ‘portabella’ spelling) mushrooms work for this recipe too.
- You may want to take Susan Spicer’s advice, especially if using Portobellos. She does not like her mushrooms gloppy, and therefore recommends carefully scraping away the ciliac gills from the underside of the cap with a spoon. Her cookbook, Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer’s New Orleans (New York 2007) is wonderful except for the dark, colored art stock that makes reading some pages difficult while trying to cook from the book.
- Try not to be misled by the simplicity of this preparation. The flavors jump right up. Fussy guests will be impressed.
- Soyer himself, in a characteristically endearing and restrained passage, describes the visual and gustatory impact of these mushrooms:
The everlasting snows of Mont Blanc
"The sight, when the glass is removed, is most inviting, its whiteness rivals the everlasting snows of Mont Blanc, and the taste is worthy of Lucullus. Vitellius would never have dined without it; Apicius would never have gone to Greece to seek for crawfish; and had he only half the fortune left when he committed suicide, he would have preferred to have left proud Rome and retire to some villa or cottage to enjoy such an enticing dish.
Therefore, modern gourmets, never fancy that you have tasted mushrooms until you have tried this simple and new discovery."
This and the quotation in the introduction to the recipe are from Soyer's A Shilling Cookery for the People (London and New York 1854) 159,160.