Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll

I wrote this 5 years ago and posted it on the other blog I was writing at the time. Since I no longer post there, I thought I might recycle the occasional review that might still be of interest. This was for Agnes Jekyll's superb Kitchen Essays, in the beautiful edition published by Persephone.

A syren’s tea-party of two
Clarify 1 lb. butter. When cold beat to a cream, add 12 oz. sugar, 1 lb. potato flour (sieved), 4 whole eggs and the yolks of two, the zest of 1 lemon. Beat the whole mass for 1 hour, when it should form bubbles. Bake in a buttered and finely bread-crumbed mould in a moderate oven. Halve these quantities for a small cake.
[M]ight be served with honey-dew and the milk of Paradise when procurable.

I should think that if I beat a cake by hand for an hour, I would form bubbles.

Lady Jekyll’s charming and amusing book of essays offers all sorts of culinary advice, from preparing shooting lunches to managing without your cook (goodness, unthinkable – but it is she who would beat the Venus Torte for an hour, not the lady of the house). First published in 1922 (and reprinted by the redoubtable Persephone Books), the essays combine humour with practical information, thereby ensuring our lady housewife’s dining table will be a pleasure to all comers, young and old. Should you need to provide a light supper for artists and performers, Lady Jekyll will be your guide:
Mrs Gladstone’s practice of sending her husband into battle on an egg-flip, cleverly produced at the psychological moment, can be imitated with this Frothed Wine Soup, good for a prima donna or pianist soon going into action, and can be made simply by anybody who can whisk an egg.
I have informed OH that, should I be ill, a better recovery will be aided by regular small and tempting meals. For lunch, Lady Jekyll advises a “nicely cut and fried bread canapé, on which may be placed partridge breasts resting on softly-mashed potato and “some mushrooms buttered, grilled and added piping hot”. OH reassured me that he will do his best, and added that he hoped for my sake I would be stricken soon.

I am determined that, over Christmas, we shall dine en famille in grace and elegance; recommended for a first dinner party, for example, is a “very small Selle de Pré Sâle (Saddle of Welsh Mutton) in winter”. The recipe begins “For a saddle weighing about 8 lb. . . .”. We might start with home-made foiegras, perhaps, and finish with Cold Lemon Soufflé accompanied by some delicate Cat’s Tongue Biscuits. Now, if you will excuse me, I am just going to telephone The Lady to place within its pages an advertisement for a good, plain cook.


  1. I love this book. 'beat for an hour', ha ha!

  2. Always love a cookery book! My ancient inherited from Victorian ancestors one includes newspaper cuttings from many following decades. The 1920's seemed to go for delicate things. "Little Gatelles" for bridge teas is,I think, the same as Cat's Tongue Biscuits.

    1. Lovely to have an inherited one, aren't you lucky!

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  4. I have some old cookery books that were my grandmother's, dating from the early 20thC, including one on making ices, with illustrations and instructions for using Edwardian freeing machines. There's no indication of the time involved, but there was lots of beating and turning and scraping, and it sounds like hard work.

  5. Where would one find 'the milk of paradise'? lol I have wanted this book for a little while just because I am interested in the history of cooking and older dishes. I've been eyeing this in the Persephone Catalogue, so thank you for the review, Geranium Cat. At the very least, this one would be good if writing a novel set in the early 20th century!