To celebrate the anniversary of Charles Dickens' birthday today, we are serving up some of the classic meals that he would have eaten, and that feature in his most loved books...
Mrs. Gamp, in Martin Chuzzlewit, settles in to nurse her patient by taking his pillows and ordering in “a little bit of pickled salmon, with a nice little sprig of fennel, and a sprinkling of white pepper….” Londoners loved “Newcastle pickled salmon,” but Dickens is amused to discover (in his re-write of Grimaldi’s memoirs, 1838) that it was “an article unknown in Newcastle, all Newcastle pickled salmon being sent to London for sale.”
SERVES 4 AS A MAIN COURSE OR 8 AS AN APPETIZER
1 ¼ cups/300ml good-quality white wine vinegar
1 ¼ cups/300ml water
3 red onions, peeled and sliced
1 turnip, peeled, quartered, and roughly chopped
a bunch of flat-leaf parsley and thyme (tied together)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt
2–3 teaspoons sugar
12 whole white peppercorns, slightly crushed
1 lb 2 oz/500g salmon fillets, skinned
a handful of dill
For the dressing
reserved marinade olive oil
Dijon or wholegrain mustard
sprigs of fennel, fennel flowers, or dill
To make the marinade, put all the ingredients except the salmon and dill in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10–15 minutes, then put through a strainer/sieve, keeping the marinade.
If you wish, reserve 4–7 tablespoons/50–100ml of the marinade for a salad dressing.
If you wish to poach the salmon, put the strained marinade back in the pan, lower the fish into it, and let it simmer gently for 8–10 minutes, then set aside to cool.
For salmon that is a little raw and soft in the middle, place the salmon fillets in a glass or ceramic dish in a single layer and pour the hot marinade over them. Set aside to cool.
When the liquid is tepid, add the dill to the marinade. Chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
Remove the salmon from the marinade. Using a sharp knife, slice the fish thinly. Arrange on a plate, decorated with fennel sprigs, fennel flowers, or dill.
There are innumerable roast fowl in Dickens: the working Gargerys in Great Expectations have a pair for Christmas dinner, and Flora Casby tries to entice Little Dorrit with a leg of fowl for breakfast. Bella Wilfer in Our Mutual
Friend insists on cooking them for her parents’ anniversary dinner, twirling them on the spit so fast that they are pink inside; “is it the breed?” she asks Cherubic Pa. Alexis Soyer’s lovely recipe is here adapted to pot-roasting, which suits modern-day chickens better than boiling.
2 ¾ –3 ¼ lb/1.25–1.5kg free-range chicken
½ a lemon
a few sprigs of tarragon, plus 30–40 leaves
2 slices of unsmoked streaky bacon
oil, for frying
2 onions, thickly sliced
2 or 3 carrots, thickly sliced
1 or 2 turnips, thickly sliced
2 sticks of celery
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs of thyme
a wineglass of sherry
or 2–3 glasses of white wine, plus enough stock to make
about 2 ¼ cups/500ml liquid
salt, freshly ground black pepper, and nutmeg, to season
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4.
Rub the skin of the chicken all over with the half lemon, then put the lemon in the bird’s cavity with the sprigs of tarragon. Season the chicken inside and out with a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Chop the bacon and fry quickly in a very little oil in the bottom of a large casserole. Add the onions and fry until they are beginning to soften.
Add the remaining vegetables, turn them in the oil, and let them sweat for a minute or two. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and sherry or wine, and bring to the boil; bubble for a moment, then add the stock and bring back to the boil, then turn off the heat.
Place the chicken on top of the vegetables. Put a lid on and put in the oven. Cook for 1 hour with the lid on, then remove it and cook for another 30–45 minutes, to brown the chicken skin.
When it is cooked through and the juices run clear, take the chicken out of the casserole and keep warm.
Strain the cooking juices into a small pan and reduce to thicken. Add the tarragon leaves and serve the gravy separately.
Henry Dickens recalled a joke his mother liked to tell about a Scotswoman’s view of Eve being tempted in Paradise: “Eh mon, it would be nae temptation to me to gae rinning aboot a gairden stairk naked ’ating green apples.”
Dickens’ ‘wife, Catherine gives recipes for Eve’s pudding and also this light apple pudding, which she must have encountered in Switzerland, known as a Betty or Charlotte in England.
2 lb 3 oz/1kg cooking apples
½ cup/100g soft brown sugar (or to taste), plus an extra dessertspoon
2 tablespoons/30g butter
3 cups/175g day-old breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas 5.
Peel, core, and slice the cooking apples. Place in a saucepan with the sugar and 1 tablespoon water, cover, and cook for 5–10 minutes until soft.
Melt the butter in a large skillet/frying pan and fry the breadcrumbs until they are lightly golden brown. Sprinkle in the nutmeg.
Put half the breadcrumbs in the bottom of an ovenproof dish (approx. 2 ¾ –3 ½ pints/1.5–2 litres), pushing them down in the center so they rise up slightly at the sides. Add the stewed apple and put the remaining breadcrumbs on top. Sprinkle the top with the extra sugar.
Warm through in the preheated oven for 15–20 minutes.
These recipes are from Dinner with Dickens by Pen Vogler.