Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861, is probably the most famous volume of English cookery, though it is valued more today for its quaint evocations of what was then the disappearing (and now, largely, the disappeared) rural British life than for its recipes themselves.
I admit I find her lengthy descriptions of animals entertaining in a perverse way, alternating between clinical descriptions of their biology, antiquated teleological assertions about the “end and design of nature,” and a frankly disturbing disregard for the possibility that animals might have interests and purposes of their own that don’t involve being boiled, roasted, or fricasseed. Reading her description of domestic fowl, however, I had hoped for a moment of conscience:
Brillat Savarin, pre-eminent in gastronomic taste, says that he believes the whole gallinaceous family was made to enrich our larders and furnish our tables; for, from the quail to the turkey, he avers their flesh is a light aliment, full of flavour, and fitted equally well for the invalid as for the man of robust health. The fine flavour, however, which Nature has given to all birds coming under the definition of poultry, man has not been satisfied with, and has used many means–such as keeping them in solitude and darkness, and forcing them to eat–to give them an unnatural state of fatness or fat.
But just when one anticipates a remonstration against fois gras…
This fat, thus artificially produced, is doubtless delicious, and the taste and succulence of the boiled and roasted bird draw forth the praise of the guests around the table. Well-fattened and tender, a fowl is to the cook what the canvas is to the painter; for do we not see it served boiled, roasted, fried, fricasseed, hashed, hot, cold, whole, dismembered, boned, broiled, stuffed, on dishes, and in pies,–always handy and ever acceptable?
Oh, Mrs. Beeton, the things you say. Anyway, I decided her recipes needed some radical veganizing, and decided to have a go at her recipe for “stewed duck and turnips.” I was making this up as I went along, taking liberties with Mrs. Beeton’s original, and likely made the whole thing far more complicated than it needed to be. But here’s what I did, with what are likely unnecessary steps still left in. Feel free to revise as necessary: Continue reading