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A Complete System of Modern Cookery and Domestic Economy by Alexander Murray M.D.

If you like to pick your own blackberries, make your own pickles or create a meal out of the most basic of ingredients you will love this book!

The ideology of the book is in parts very similar to that of modern cookeryauthors such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nigel Slater. It's all about using plain and simple ingredients and making the most out of what you have - something that was natural to those of the 1800's because many of the exotic imports we have in the supermarkets today just weren't available. It's a way of thinking some of us have chosen to return to and some of us have been forced into by the current economic climate.

This book has the most basic recipes such as apple sauce, how to mince beef, make custard and bread, and also contains notes on the treatment of servants and children, ailments and how to get stains out of a multitude of fabrics. There are recipes for the nursery and sick and how to look after your teeth amongst many other subjects. It is not your standard recipe book as it talks about 'spoonfuls', 'pecks' and 'pieces' as well as pounds, ounces, pints and quarts. It also uses ingredients you either cannot or would not choose to use today such as turtle, sparrows, larks, calves ears, ambergris and sheep's head!

What I love about this book is both the unusual and the useful to be found within it. There are lovely recipes for tarts, pies and puddings, how to preserve many different kinds of foods and recipes for ales, beers and wines. There are recipes on how to 'pot' a multitude of meats (covered with clarified butter) which is something usually reserved for the expensive shelves of delicatessens these days!

There are recipes that sound wonderfully moreish such as 'New England Pancakes' which take 1 pint of cream, 5 'spoonsful' of flour, 7 egg yolks, 4 egg whites and a little salt, mixed together and fried as very thin pancakes in butter, with layers of sugar and cinnamon dusted in between when cooked. There is a recipe for Beef a la Royale which uses beef, bacon, parsley & oysters which also sounds wonderful.

There are also some lovely lines in the book about general living matters.

"Early rising may be considered as the foundation of fortune; and it is a just remark, that the sooner a person makes it his custom to leave his bed, the seldomer he will be confined to it ."

"Dancing, with proper limitations, in a crowded room, it is extremely pernicious, and has hurried many young persons to the grave."

"To render bread easy of digestion, it ought to be well fermented, and never used till it is at least one day old. The custom of eating it hot from the oven with butter is very injurious."

This book is for people who like cooking good basic food and who like to pickle and preserve their own fruit, returning to the old tried and tested methods of running a house before supermarkets and biological washing powders became the norm.

Contributed by Larissa Robinson-Joice

(Published 8th Dec 2014)

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