Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens!

A Plain Family Dinner for February (from the first edition of Beeton's Book of Household Management):
  1. Roast leg of pork, sage and onions and apple sauce; greens and potatoes.
  2. Spinach and Poached Eggs instead of pudding. Cheese and water-cresses.
It's hard to believe in 2012 that a Victorian "plain" family dinner used to consist of so many different dishes! To my mind, each course is a meal in itself. Of course, I don't have someone else to do the cooking and I certainly don't have a scullery maid! I don't know what engineers were making in the nineteenth century, but according to a Condé Nast pamphlet I have from 1929, an engineer's salary would have merited the addition of a live-out maid and laundress to our household. One of Paul's managers could have had two live-in servants and laundry service. My, how times have changed!

Since Paul and I have to do our own housework (boo), I only made the first course, which ended up being quite enough food. The pork was pretty amazing, if I do say so myself, the apple sauce was yummy (we ate it warm) and the kale was actually pretty good.

P.S. The potatoes are just baked in the oven and served with lots of butter and sour cream and salt and pepper.

Sage and Onion Roast Pork

1/4 cup unhydrogenated lard
1 3-lb boneless pork loin roast
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
a couple sprigs of parsley
a few sprigs of thyme
bay leaf
several sprigs of sage
1/2 cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt the lard over medium-high heat in a large dutch oven. When the fat is nice and hot, sear the roast on all sides then remove to a platter. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, parsley, thyme and bay. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Season the pork roast with salt and pepper and return it to the dutch oven (push the onion and herbs to the outer edges of the pan). Cover the top of the roast with sage leaves. Cover the dutch oven and place it in the bottom third of the oven. Roast until a meat thermometer reads 180 degrees, basting two or three times during the cooking process. The roast will need 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check it early, because there are few things worse than a dried-out pork roast.

When the pork is cooked, remove and cover it to rest for twenty minutes before carving.

To make the gravy, heat the contents of the dutch oven over high heat until boiling. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. Reduce, stirring occasionally. Because it doesn't have any added thickeners, the gravy will be more like a thick jus. Strain into a gray boat and serve alongside the pork.

Serves 6

Adapted from "Rôti de porc poêlé" in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Apple Sauce

4 Granny Smith apples (approximately 5 oz. each)
2 teaspoons butter
pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)
1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, or to taste

Peel and core the apples then chop them into 1/2" to 3/4" cubes. As you chop, place the apple cubes in a saucepan half-full of cold water. When all the cubes are in the water, place the saucepan on high heat and bring to a boil. Boil 10 minutes, or until apples start falling apart.

Strain out water using a fine-mesh sieve and return the apples to the saucepan and beat with a wooden spoon. Stir in the butter, salt if using and sugar. This can be made several days in advance and reheated, or not.

Makes about 1 pint

Adapted from "Apple Sauce" in Beeton's Book of Household Management.

Sautéed Kale

1 bunch Lacinato kale (also called cavalo negro) or curly kale, cut into strips and washed
sea salt
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

Blanch the kale for 5 minutes in boiling, salted water. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion until softened and translucent. Add the minced garlic and give the onion and garlic a stir, then stir in the blanched kale. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 2

Adapted from "Spring and Winter Greens" in Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book (New York: Atheneum, 1979), 480-481.

This Victorian feasting was all to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of writer Charles Dickens. I thought it only appropriate to celebrate since Dickens is one of my absolute-favorite writers. I've still got four of his novels to read (Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son and Our Mutual Friend), but so far my favorites are David Copperfield and Bleak House.
Illustrations from Wikipedia 
Doesn't Agnes (top left) look just like Bette Davis? Anyway, either David Copperfield or Bleak House would make a great introduction (or reintroduction) to the work of Charles Dickens. Both are typical of his style (long, frequently humorous and filled with numerous seemingly-unrelated characters) and both are set in Victorian London and the English countryside. They go so well with Mrs. Beeton's menus!
 Illustrations from Wikipedia
In other Dickens news, I'll be participating in an A Tale of Two Cities read-along sponsored by the Victorian Literature department at the University of Leicester. It starts in April and I'll let you know more as I find out about it.


  1. This meal would make my family VERY happy! The pork roast sounds amazing...and we all love homemade applesauce. Great news about participating in a read along...so fun!

  2. I love this! I really wanted to blog about Dickens today but just didn't have the time. Maybe by the end of the week. Thanks so much for the great images of his books and also I love that you will be participating in a read-along of "A Tale of Two Cities." He is one of my favorite writers!

  3. What a lovely meal. Happy birthday Mr. Dickens indeed!

  4. Yum! I'm not an applesauce fan--but pork and sage, yes! I love Dickens, too, and Bleak House is probably my favorite. I haven't read A Tale of Two Cities yet, so I might need to check out this read-along. I'll be watching your blog for more news of this.

  5. Our Mutual Friend nearly killed me in college. I found it ridiculously long and terribly boring. But since I'm not a Dickens fan in general, it's not surprising.
    I do think I would be quite a fan of that pork. Looks damn fine.

  6. how fun! Dickens AND Laura ingalls, what a literary day! This pork looks yummy too :) I just started watching Bleak House on Netflix, there's a pretty new adaptation on there from the BBC. I confess though, I have no idea what's going on...its all so dark and sinister ;)

  7. Loved your tribute to Dickesn and I am especially glad to know that he is one of your favorites. (Well, I kind of knew that from your comment on my blogpost.) But still, I like to see things reinforced. This makes me surer than ever about reading Dickens this year.

    I'm definitely beginning with BLEAK HOUSE since I have a nice hardcover copy of it here.

  8. I love a Tale of Two Cities. That was my introduction of Charles Dickens. It was a must read in junior high. I loved it so much, I think I had read it three times through before everyone else had read half of it!

  9. The pork looks good, I'll save that, we both like pork.

    I also love Dickens. 'Martin Chuzzlewit' I like. 'Our Mutual Friend' is my favourite with such terrific characters. The TV versions are good but miss out too much for my taste. Having said that I have loads of the TV versions!

  10. What a lovely tribute to Charles Dickens! A Tale of Two Cities was the first of his that I read and fell in love with. I just got a new copy of David Copperfield and can't wait to read again. I haven't read Bleak House - next on the list. Your meal sounds perfect for Dickens' birthday (and certainly filling - I can't imagine adding more to it!).


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