Friday, May 27, 2016

Ginger Biscuits

Here at MLK we offer you all kinds of recipes: treasured family favorites, crazy things we’ve stumbled over in our travels, quick and easy ones, innovative ones. Everything you will ever need! Which means we’re always looking for another recipe.

Recently at Malice Domestic I stopped at the vintage-bookseller’s table. They always put it right next to the entrance (how cruel!). I should know by now to shut my eyes and march past, but I don’t.

This year’s prize is The Complete Illustrated Cookery Book, with no apparent author, edited by “CHEF.” It contains “Over two thousand recipes” plus hints on just about everything else related to food and kitchens. There are pictures, some in color (all of which the editor promises were made from recipes included in the book). It was published in England in 1934.

The world has changed a wee bit since then. The thing weighs several pounds and is 2-1/2 inches thick, with small print. I sat myself down with it to skim through it, and ended up laughing hysterically. You’ll see why when I give you only a few examples of suggested recipes:

Baked Eels: to skin an eel, hold it with a cloth. The head should be cut off, the skin turned back at the top all round the neck, then drawn downwards. Draw the head one way and the skin the other. Open the fish and remove the inside. Cut off the back bristles. [Needless to say, I will not be cooking eel any time soon.]

To Dry Haddock at Home [another “I don’t think so” recipe]: Remove the eyes, the gills and the inside, and cleanse the blood from the backbone… Now fill the body and eye sockets with salt.”

Liver Crepinettes: One can buy pig’s caul from the butcher. [Not in this town!] …rinse it well and cut it in pieces with a pair of scissors to any size desired. [How do I know what size pieces of pig’s caul I want?]

But wait! There’s more!

Calves Brains en Matelotte: The brains should be washed in cold water with a little salt. Take away the loose skin and any clots of blood…

Is it just me or is this beginning to sound like a CSI episode?

Here’s a good one: Stewed Tendons of Veal [Yes, you read that right—the tendons, aka the gristles—do something else with those nice tender veal breasts they were attached to.]: Put them [the tendons] in a stewpan…put the pan over the fire, then simmer for 4 hours. [To serve] arrange the tendons in a circle round a dish with a fried crouton between each and fill the centre with a puree of green peas. [Are you hungry yet?]

And it goes on. There is a recipe for Larks a la Bourgeoise (doesn’t say where to get the larks); for a Pupton of Pigeons (which in addition to pigeons includes 1 sweetbread, ½ pound of bacon, and 1 ox palate (???). Later there is a recipe for a Turkey Stuffed with Truffles [really?], and instructions for How to Truss Blackcock [excuse me, I wouldn’t know a blackcock if I met one—apparently it’s a kind of black grouse]. The instructions include “scald the feet, peel off the skin, and cut off the toes.” And if you leave the head on, you must remember to tuck it under one wing. And finally, there’s Rook Pie (you must be sure to remove the backbone, else it will be bitter). [Would a crow do?]

Oddly enough (by MLK standards, at least), there is much more emphasis on meat and poultry than on desserts or sweets. But it may be revealing that a former owner marked very few pages—and the one for Rich Bride Cake was one of them. There is (hard to believe) only one recipe for Cookies in the book, with the notation “(An American Recipe).” It involves boiling them in lard. No thanks.

What? You want a recipe? I will gladly offer you Ginger Biscuits.

Ginger Biscuits


1/2 lb flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger (you can use more)
4 oz butter
4 oz castor (white) sugar
2 eggs

I don't know what I did before I
had a kitchen scale! (BTW, it also
works for postage.)


Mix together the flour and salt with the ginger in a basin. Beat the butter and sugar to a cream. Add the eggs one by one, beating each in well, then gradually stir in the flour. Should the mixture be too dry, add a very little milk.

About a tablespoon?

Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on greased paper on a greased tin a very short distance apart. Put them into a rather slow oven [I guessed 325 degrees, and I found 20 minutes worked well at that temperature] and bake a pale brown for 15 to 20 minutes. Note, Ginger Biscuits do not become crisp until they are cold.

That’s the recipe as given. I love the way older cookbooks assume you know what you’re doing in the kitchen and can fill in the blanks! You will note a few rather vague points, like the temperature of the oven, and the size of the spoon. I beefed up the ginger and the butter, and everything worked fine. I will say I approve of the greased baking sheet plus the greased parchment paper—the cookies slid right off.

Actually the cookies or biscuits were rather nice—not too sweet, not too spicy, and easy to make. I might just keep this recipe handy.

Hey, less than two weeks before Dead End Street hits bookstore shelves everywhere! 

No recipes, but I did send Nell back to the Reading Terminal Market again in the book. I can't stay out of that place! Maybe next week I'll give you a Philadelphia recipe? (Not scrapple, I promise--the less you know about that, the better.)

Dead End Street is available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


  1. We have some ethnic markets around here which sell some pretty unusual things including chicken feet (with the toenails), duck tounges, and cows feet. Needless to say I haven't been tempted to try any of them yet.

    1. There's a Russian market not far from here that sells packages of chicken feet. So far I've resisted them. I've never tried cooking cow's feet. My mother once fed us pig's feet, when I was young. Notice I say "once." We never saw them again.

  2. I actually have a recipe for scrapple and have made it many times. I really like knowing what's actually in it. :)

  3. Thank you for the laugh of the day, Sheila! Fascinating. Tucking the head of the bird under the wing reminded me of a dinner in Hong Kong. We ordered a chicken dish and when they brought it to the table, the head was, shall we say, very prominent? We all stared at it, speechless. Without a word, my mother picked up a piece of the skin and covered the bird's head. That small gesture restored our appetites.

    1. What a lovely gesture! It's bad enough being served a whole fish that stares at you.

  4. One needed a strong stomach to be a cook back then! It's also a reminder of how no part of the animal could afford to be wasted in those days--feet, head, gizzards, they ate it all! My dad talked about eating lamb's head (capuzzelle in Italian) when he was a kid. Still, I'm grateful for our nicely packaged anonymous looking meat parts!

  5. Great post, Sheila, fascinating historical recipes--and lovely looking tea biscuits. I'm stuck on the "American" recipe of cookies boiled in lard. While it sounds awful, I wonder... Could it be some form of doughnut? Or something like an Angel Wing cookie (aka fried bow ties)?

    The 1950's Joy of Cooking included a section on how to skin a squirrel. The latest edition has left that one out--but in Western PA, deer steaks and deer sausage are still on the menu for many families. Peg's right about the old timers not wasting any part of the animal. While I'm not a fan of sheep's stomach or any animal's brains and eyes, I respect the reason behind the cuisine. Thanks for the food...and the food for thought!

    1. You raised a good point. It crossed my mind that, given the era (between the two World Wars) there might have been shortages, so a cookbook like this might have offered interesting recipes for foods that weren't normally on the menu.

      Checking the lonely cookie recipe. It sounds like an ordinary raisin-nut cookie, but then you drop spoonfuls into boiling lard. Turn once, remove, then dredge with sugar and fine cinnamon. They probably taste fine.

      I have my mother's 1948 Fannie Farmer that I think also includes a squirrel recipe.

      And I'm still wrestling with the concept of "prairie oysters." (Clearly a macho cowboy recipe.)

    2. Cleo, deer is popular in Michigan, too. Someone told me that if he bagged a deer, he'd have meat for his family all winter.

    3. We have a friend whose family owns land in New York state. Every year he and his brothers go hunting on the property, and he always brings back a deer and freezes a lot of it. We've had his homemade sausages.

  6. What ever you paid for the book, I'd say you got your money's worth and more from the entertainment!

    Know of someone who traveled to Greece to visit family she'd never met. She stayed in their compound and got to know them and all the animals well. They planned a big celebration for her final dinner and roasted the lamb she'd been playing with. And served her the head! How to decline without being rude? "But he was my friend." "Ah, silly Americans!" It worked.

    1. Things Emily Post does not prepare you for. Or, what we do in the interest of international relations.

      I often think of an anecdote that Anthony Bourdain passed on. He and a friend were filming a segment in the south of France somewhere, and "tete de veau" was on the menu. But that particular tete was a bit past its prime. They didn't have time to reshoot, so they went ahead with it. By the time they were finished, they were both green. But they soldiered on.

  7. I used to have a cookbook that was very old and the measurements were odd. I must have given it up when we downsized, but it was fun to read!

  8. They are fun! One might call for a "teacup full" of an ingredient--but I have a lot of tea cups, and they come in a lot of sizes. Or a "knob" of butter. I do find that a lot of earlier recipes are very stingy with spices, but that may have been because they were hard to get and expensive.