The general idea that many people have of cookery and cookbooks in the Victorian Age is that it was Mrs Beeton and no-one else. However Charles Elme Francatelli (1805-1876) was one of the culinary celebrities of his time. An Englishman of Italian extraction who travelled to France to study under the legendary Antonin Carême the founder of French haute cuisine and revered for his blending of the best of Italian and French cuisine, Francatelli was regarded as a leading chef in Victorian London and spent most of his career in Britain directing the kitchens of royalty and noblemen, including Queen Victoria, the Earls of Chesterfield and Dudley and managing both Crockfords, a private club and gaming house and the Reform Club.
However, his greatest love was the simple act of cooking and despite working for some of the most distinguished of British aristocracy and gentry to produce costly and elaborate banquets, Francatelli was known as a culinary economist.
Often quoted, he once remarked that “he could feed every day a thousand families on the food that was wasted in London”. To this end in 1852 he issued A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes which contained information of practical value. This included economical delights such as cow-heel broth, bubble and squeak , sheep’s pluck and a pudding made of small birds.
Here are no recipes for pheasant or partridge or lobster sandwiches for ball suppers, nor instructions to the cook on when to send up a dish. Francatelli starts with what utensils to buy and how much they should cost, that your families may be well fed and your homes made comfortable – comfort and being well fed were clearly very important to him, whether for the rich or the poor. Throughout the work he addresses the reader as “you,” implying that the reader is also the cook: recipes are short and to the point (although for a modern reader irritatingly short on definite measurements), and are aimed at the good plain cook who has no time or food to waste. You have the sense of someone coming home, throwing her coat over a chair and flattening the book out on the table while she prepares food for a hungry family.
His book seems to have been meant for people who had no servants at all. What Francatelli called the working class was divided into two categories. In the upper category were skilled labourers who worked with their hands, like carpenters and blacksmiths. The lower category held the masses of working men and women who provided unskilled paid labour to factories, farms and shops, or who did the dirtier jobs like fishing and butchery. This was the highest class in which women were allowed to work without social repercussions. (Servants were lumped into this category, but at different levels; servants to aristocratic houses or higher-level servants were accorded more respect).
Francatelli’s style is authoritative – as you’d expect from someone who was writing to instruct – but also chatty and there are times when you can almost hear him talking to himself as he wrote the recipes down. There must have times when someone using this book felt Francatelli at her shoulder as she worked (“pay great attention to how you handle the pudding while removing the cloth, so as not to spill or waste the gravy it contains, as that would go very far towards spoiling the pudding you have had all the trouble to prepare”). He recognised that there were going to be days when the family could push the boat out and eat well (should they receive the present of a hare or a rabbit from the “local considerate gentlefolks,” or have a garden where they might raise a goose), and days when money was tight and cheap filling food was needed (“one ox cheek, properly managed, will, by attending to the foregoing instructions, furnish and ample quantity of substantial and nutritious food, equal to the wants of a large family, for three days”) – and also that some of his readers didn’t have an oven at home (“bake it in your oven or else send it to the bakers”) and who lacked either the money or the means (such as a kitchen or a range) to cook the food he wrote about.
Francatelli also comes over as fond of children: acknowledging that they can be very hungry (“Norfolk dumplings are also most excellent things to eke out an insufficient supply of meat for the dinner of a large family of children”): knew that they love sweet things (a recipe for preserve of mixed fruit that can be spread on bread for them during the winter months) and cared for their well-being (“baked apples or pears, with bread, form a cheap, wholesome and proper kind of supper for children.”)
He assumed no great knowledge on the part of his readers and his “How To” recipes must have been a boon for a wife and mother cooking for her family: with no-one to turn to when she wasn’t sure it was turning out right but who didn’t have the luxury of being able to throw out a culinary failure. His cooking directions are simple and clear, none of his recipes are elaborate and some sound pretty tasty – a rice pudding with allspice and brown sugar, bouillabaisse, treacle pudding. I’d like try some of his recipes but of course a great many of his ingredients are now unobtainable (isinglass, pickled pork) or difficult to source (sheeps’ heads) but also he was writing for people who did not have modern cookers – a kitchen range could be as variable and temperamental as the weather, or indeed the cook. So there are no instructions to cook at whatever temperature for how long – this was cooking over an open fire with no temperature regulation and Francatelli left it to the cook who knew her own range to decide when the food was done.
Notable by their absence is much mention of fruit or vegetables except in passing as part of a dish– there are three recipes for salad (lettuce, onions, vinegar, pepper and salt), one vegetable pottage but eleven recipes or descriptions of how to cook potatoes and nine for rice. This was not the excess of the tables of aristocracy and royalty where many courses were served, but carbohydrate heavy food to nourish and fill the stomach after a hard day of manual labour, and prevent the need for dishing up expensive meat.
It was not however a book for the desperately poor or the underclass. Francatelli devoted over three pages to How to Brew Your Own Beer, and at the end of the booklet there are three items about making good, economical and substantial soup for the poor: so he recognised that while he was writing for the working classes there were people underneath them in terms of social status who were a lot worse off. Note the juxtaposition of practical charity, economy but also the recognition that just because the poor were poor that didn’t mean they should be fed slops but instead good soup.
There are also nine pages of recipes for remedies and cooking for invalids – this is a time before the National Health Service when calling out a doctor cost money and for many families was a last resort. A soothing drink for coughs, linseed tea for gout and balm and burrage tea for persons whose system has become heated from any cause (the mind boggles) are a few of the offerings.
A different audience was intended for Cassell’s Shilling Cookery, written in 1888 under the name AG Payne by Arthur Gay Payne, who combined the unlikely interests of cook and sports editor to such publications as The Billiard News. The edition I’m reviewing is dated 1910 and is firmly aimed at the lower middle class and middle class family who could afford a cook, probably a parlour maid as well, who entertained and who could afford to be extravagant when it was called for – recipes with wine and sherry, recipes for turtle soup with dried turtle flesh, haunch of venison, roast game and fillet of turbot are among the offerings. (Not a live turtle, of course – that would be far too expensive and probably the cook in a modest household wouldn’t know what to do with it – but turtle soup with dried meat would impress the guests and look more lavish that it really was). Payne starts straight away with instructions for five types of stock, as well as “Lessons in Plain Cooking” with detailed and like Mrs Beeton somewhat didactic and militaristic explanations of how to boil, steam, roast, stew, bake and broil. This is for the woman who was not expected to do her own cooking but had to know what her cook was up to and what the cook was talking about when they decided on the menu.
Payne never explicitly said who his book was aimed at but it was clearly not Francatelli’s working class with their plain cookery. It’s very obvious from the language and the recipes the two writers were addressing different classes of society. The Shilling Cookery book has its share of economical recipes but it was food for the aspirational middle class audience, and food that was a great deal more expensive and out of the reach of Francatelli’s audience: even if they’d imagined eating such things as pickled salmon or baked turbot or Viennoise pudding stuffed full of eggs and cream and dried fruit.
Sandwiches, he says, can be made so that they are real delicacies. Very high class sandwiches, suitable for ball suppers, may be made as follows – with fillings of white meat from a cold fowl, lobster, salmon (although the salmon can be tinned), anchovy or cold pheasant. If roast partridge was being served – young birds cooked in a brisk oven do not require more than twenty minutes….the cook should be ordered not to commence to cook partridges until she sees the dirty soup plates: supposing the dinner to consist of soup, joint and partridge. Where Francatelli described how to cook for the poor, Payne spent a number of pages fussing over the presentation of food – garnishes for soup, fish, entrees and joints: while he didn’t forget to remind the lady of the house of her duties to her lord and master.
Suppose your husband comes home tired and fagged from a hard day’s work, mentally and bodily, in the City, hot sale rooms or dusty Exchange: he is weary, empty but not hungry. I fear some women do not grasp the awful weariness produced by brain work. A small help at starting, and a second help as hot as the first, thanks to the second edition of gravy, put temptingly on a clean hot plate, and a fresh knife and fork. Why not? The cost is perhaps two minutes extra to an idle kitchen maid. Your husband’s health and comfort ought to be worth more than this. (I looked in vain for any recognition that the “idle kitchen maid” had been up since six o’clock raking out the old coals from the range, setting it going again, scrubbing floors, washing and peeling vegetables in cold water, cooked breakfast for her employers and the cook, prepared meat and fowl for the table while being bossed around by the cook, and in a small household most likely doing the washing up once each meal was over: but found none. I think any kitchen maid worth the name might retort to Mr Payne that she had just as much right as her employer to feel awful weariness).
Only once the proper way to ornament food is out of the way does Payne turn his attention to sick room food, and then only after two pages of discussing Miss Nightingale’s “Notes on Nursing” – a concise writer he was not. Like Francatelli he has recipes for gruel and arrowroot, but the invalids who were fed from Payne’s work could also look forward to egg wine, caudle (gruel with the addition of brandy) and sponge cake pudding (as it sounds, but with sherry or brandy).
AG Payne also wrote Cassell’s Vegetarian Cookery: A Manual of Cheap and Wholesome Diet, first published in 1891 at a time when vegetarianism was associated with cranks, faddism and socialism. Despite such handicaps, by the end of the 19th century, vegetarianism was thriving and in 1889 there were 52 vegetarian restaurants in Britain with 34 in London.
In his introduction Payne made it clear that he is writing a cookery book, not a treatise, but in his introduction he made clear his reasons for advocating such a diet – health, economy and the need of many families to live decently on a restricted income. He recognised the upheaval that a change to a vegetarian diet might make in a household and was understanding about it but dealt briskly with any objections that a vegetarian diet is a limited one:
We believe and hope that the present work will benefit those who are undergoing slow but gradual change in their mode of living. This is easiest in small households, where no servants are kept at all, where the mistress is both cook and mother. It is in such houses that the change is possible and most desirable. In many cases change will be made gradually…there are many housekeepers who would feel that their bill of fare would instantly become extremely limited were they to adopt vegetarian ideas…. then goes onto point out that there is no better dinner than soup with plenty of bread and that his book contained no less than sixty four soup recipes as an inducement to the reader. No contemporary reader of this book need have feared instant starvation by taking his or her first steps as a vegetarian – the recipes ranged from sauces, rice, pasta (macaroni and what he charmingly called sparghetti – a peculiar form of macaroni that is very cheap, very satisfying, and very nourishing; and it is to be regretted that this popular dish is not more often used by those who are not vegetarians, who would benefit both in pocket and in health were they to lessen their butcher’s bill by at any rate commencing dinner, like the Italians, with a dish of sparghetti) – to eggs, salads, savoury dishes, vegetables and fruit, and a few recipes for that eternal vegetarian standby, lentils – vegetarians generally regard them as one of the more nourishing forms of food served at table – which makes it odd that he did not have more than a few recipes for them. All in all for its’ time this is an astonishingly knowledgeable, authoritative and in many ways consoling recipe book for the fledgling vegetarian: not just that someone had written a book to launch them on their journey but one that provided them with help, understanding and the means to cook a nourishing and nutritious meat free diet for the family. Payne was properly respectful of vegetarian principles, declaring in his chapter on Jellies (Vegetarian) and Jam –
By vegetarian jelly we mean jelly made on vegetarian principles. To be consistent, if we cannot use anchovy sauce because it is made from fish, on the same principle we cannot use either gelatine or isinglass which of course as everybody knows, is made from fishes. For all this, there is no reasons why vegetarians should not enjoy jellies quite equal, as far as flavour is concerned, to ordinary jelly.
The books by both Payne and Francatelli are full of the love of good food and show not only the desire of the authors to impart that love and their interest in how that food is cooked, but also how the working and middle classes were expanding and demanded food that would fit their lives and budgets as well as providing something for that special occasion. I’ve no doubt that if they were alive today both Charles Francatelli would be blogging like mad as well as utilising social media and perhaps even having their own television programmes and columns in major newspapers such as The Times or the Daily Mail that would allow them to engage with as many people as possible.
A.G Payne. Cassells’ Shilling Cookery (London, 1910)
A.G Payne. Cassell’s Vegetarian Cookery (Echo Library reprint)
C. E Francatelli. A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (Pryor Publications reprint, 1993)