Thursday, October 7, 2010

A 1912 Chicken Tale

Marion Nicholson's 1912 Fannie Farmer Cookbook, open to page on how to cook a chicken.

I have been listening to Singled Out on BBC 7, the serialization of book by Virginia Nicholson about the women left manless after the First World War.

I have heard it before, on BBC Radio Four, but I am catching new items of interest, especially in relation to Tighsolas. Of course, in England where 700,000 young men were killed and millions others maimed, eligible women far outnumbered eligible men in the post War Period. Indeed, some women were told they'd have better luck in the colonies, but not in the cities,where there were women aplenty, but in the tough rural areas.

Nicholson repeats one point over and over, that single women's freedom was severly limited because of the stigma of prostitution. So Edith and Marion Nicholson, of Richmond Quebec, were typical of the women of the era.

I have been writing about a final chapter in the Nicholson saga of 1908-1913, when Marion Nicholson took the bold step of finding a flat on Hutchison to share with three other girls, one being her sister Flora, who was in her first year of teaching in Griffintown. In this she helped by family friends, the McCoys, so not everyone got their knickers in a twist over girls, whoops, young women, living alone.

In March, Marion writes to her Dad.

" We have had a very busy day here. Dr and Mrs. Skinner and Lloyd were here for dinner and I had some job preparing it. Aunt Christie had sent us in a chicken with Christina and I cooked it. Was rather scared as I had never done one before then they managed to eat it so perhaps it wasn't too bad. I also treated them to one of my apple pies. Tell Mother I made three and on the Sabbath too and there is not a crumb left now so I think they must have been good. George Miller came up and went to church with Flora and May. He seems to be quite a nice chap but of course not like Hughie. But not the old Hughie you had in the cards last Xmas."

(That "in the cards" business stymies me. Hugh is the man Marion will marry in October, but did he write something nasty at Christmas, or did Margaret get her fortune told. I suspect the second thing. I have letter from Hugh to Marion at Christmas and it is,well, a bit conflicted. He thanks her for her Christmas gift and then says his gift, a Teddy Bear, must have been lost in the mail. Hmm. Maybe that's it. He had cold feet and sent Marion no gift. He was also involved with another woman his parents wanted him to marry. Alas.)

Chicken was a relatively expensive meat in those days, available only half the year. Here's Fannie's recipe. "Dress, clean, stuff, and truss a chicken. Place on its back on a rack in a dripping pan, rub entire surface with salt, and spread breast and legs with three tablespoons butter, rubbed until creamy and mixed with two tablespoons flour. Dredge bottom of pan with flour. Place in a hot oven and when flour is well browned, reduce the heat and then baste. Stuffing 1: I cup cracker crumbs, 1/3 cup butter, 1/3 cup boiling water, salt and pepper, Powdered sage, summer savory or marjoram."

The legendary Fannie Merrit Farmer ran a cooking school in Boston, where the specialty was a course for nurses in sick-room cookery. According to info in the back of the cookbook, the training course offered one lesson weekly for ten consecutive weeks, by appointment. The cost: $65.00 and travelling expenses if given at a hospital. Lessons were on the chemical composition of food; correct proportions for well-balanced dietaries; proteids; starch; gelatin; fats and oils; alcohol; fermentation; fish classification and preparation.

Living in an era where a healthy person could catch pneumonia "The King of Death" one week and drop dead from it the next, (in the US almost 200 cases per 100,000 population in 1900 according to a 1912 article in Technical World Magazine) Fannie Farmer believed in the healing power of food.

But then nothing has changed in 100 years. Salmon in a blueberry sauce anyone, with some shitake mushrooms for good measure?