Brighton, Beer, and Bavaria. Part II.

In considering what exactly was “Bavarian Ale” in the mid-19th century, it is useful to examine citations from before 1864, when Hallett & Abbey use the term in Brighton to brand a prime beer of the house.*

First, I found no earlier use of the term by a British brewery. Should same exist we are all ears, of course.

Second,  the term does appear earlier, in literary treatments where it is used vaguely to mean beer connected to Germany in some way. But there are also technical treatments. This one, from William Loftus in his 1857 brewing text The Brewer, will illustrate.

There are one or two others of similar stripe, here is a second, earlier, by George William Francis in his (1853) Dictionary of Practical Receipts.**

(Note his comments on the lambic-like fermentation method. By this I refer to the cooler serving as fermentation vessel, not the yeast, which presumably was a pitched bottom yeast, unless the beer was naturally fermented, in which case it would be a true ale (top yeast). Whether such beers (using wild yeast) were actually fermented in Bavaria in the mid-1800s I cannot say, I would have thought not).

Each seems clearly a recipe for lager given the temperature of fermentation – 45-50 F. – the length of time to complete the fermentation (weeks), and the behaviour of the yeast. It looks a kind of bock beer, made in the winter says one of the writers.

Could Hallett’s have followed this method, at least for its star performer, Bavarian Ale? Again, I don’t rule it out although it seems unlikely. Rather, standard ale brewing was probably done, with some tweaking to give a German character, maybe even from imported hops.

The term also appears erratically in the U.S., in a way to suggest loosely beer of German type, but not more (that I found).

This doesn’t solve anything, but does suggest to me, given Loftus especially who was a well-known brewery writer, that a lager process may have been employed commercially by Hallet’s. If so that would be most noteworthy, but until its brewing records pop up, it seems unlikely much progress can be made.

I’m getting ahead of myself, but in 1954 Charrington bought out Hallett’s, by then called Kemp Town Brewery. So the records may still exist, wherever Charrington’s papers reside.

Our Part III follows.

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*See my Part I, here.

**I’ve tracked earlier editions at least to 1848.

 

 

 

Brighton, Beer and Bavaria. Part I.

English Beer With a German Accent

The Anglo-Bavarian Brewery of Shepton Mallet, Somersetshire, so-named from 1872, was set up in 1864 as a pale ale brewery. It did not manufacture lager during its fairly long run, even from 1872.

At least, that seems the critical consensus. Rather, Anglo-Bavarian fermented by usual English means a conventional group of ales that in some fashion resembled lager.

Period sources speak of its “imitation” lager (per Edward Willoughby’s 1890s Handbook of Public Health and Demography). A principal, William Garton, had evolved an invert sugar to use in brewing.

Not very Bavarian as Willoughby noted, but this probably assisted an unusually clear drink. Together with water adjustment, a moderate strength, and fizzy body, his darkish ale might have resembled a Vienna, or some Munich beer.

Possibly, too, the vats and casks were lined with a resin or enamel in the fashion of Continental lager to impart a taste noted by some British tasters then.

Further supporting the no-lager case is a statement in Brewers’ Guardian in 1878 quoting a taster’s comment at the recent Paris Exposition:

… “where is the Bavarian style implied by the name of the firm?”

Yet, in a box ad in 1889, an “Anglo Bavarian Lager Beer” was advertised in the Year-book of Australia. Ron Pattinson in a blogpost of 2012 seemed not to exclude the possibility that lager was made, I should add.

Still, most critical opinion, which I share, inclines toward ale-brewing, see in particular R.G. Wilson in (1993) A Special Brew: Essays in Honour of Kristof Glamann, and (2010) Martyn Cornell.

As to the first true U.K. lager, while trials occurred earlier in the 1800s, regular commercial production seems to have started with London-based Austro-Bavarian Brewing Company, in 1881 or 1882.

See this confirmation in Modern Refrigeration, 1951, which has interest due to mentioning the owners: not Germans, although some Germans did staff and consult to the company, but a family called Evans.

There followed shortly after in Wrexham, as well-known to brewing historians, an eponymous lager brewery. I discussed it in 2017 in this post, notably for an early, Michael Jackson-style taste note in the Wrexham Advertiser in 1890 that attested to a pale-coloured beer with a Champagne effervescence.

Returning to Anglo-Bavarian, the local history site Sotonopedia states that William Garton arrived in Southampton in the late 1860s. Garton helped refashion the Shepton Mallet brewery to one making lager-style beer after he bought the site at bailiff’s sale in 1871.

But his original Southhampton business that brewed beer with his new sugar styled the beers Anglo-Bavarian even before that. In his essay M. Cornell cites an 1869 advertisement in a Hampshire newspaper styling the ales “Anglo-Bavarian”. The compound name, apparently the formal name of the Southampton business, was later bestowed on the brewery in Shepton Mallet purchased to concentrate on this line.

William was brother to Charles Garton, who brewed in Bath and later Bristol where first trials with inverted sugar occurred. The Gartons in time became known for their line of brewing sugars, manufactured in premises separate from the brewing.

The year 1869 was the earliest I knew for a British brewery to sell beer monikered to suggest German influence, until I found an older one recently. In Folthorp’s Directory for Brighton, etc., “corrected to July 1864”, Hallett and Abbey of Brighton include in a handsome ad their Bavarian Ale:

 

 

It was billed as “extra quality (XXX)”, at 18d./gal., clearly among the top-priced offerings. A strong ale of this type did not emulate, clearly, a typical Bavarian lager of moderate gravity. These rarely reached beyond 5% ABV.*

But perhaps the model was a strong bock beer, there were of course such specialties of high ABV then, as still today. Ron Pattinson, citing Wahl & Henius (1902), mentioned a Kulmbacher Actien in 1880 at over 7% ABV, and another of the era even stronger.

Hallett & Abbey’s English ale à la Bavaria may have been 7-8% ABV. Later, in 1881, the same business directory, now titled Page’s, has an ad for the same ale, called here Bavarian Strong Ale. It now carries a slightly higher price, 19d./gal., fetching more than the I.P.A.

By this year the era of regular commercial production of (true) lager finds its legs. Yet, would-be’s were in the market earlier, with some success evidently; Hallett and Abbey seem to have been the first.

This brewery is of good interest, little explored to date; I will revisit it in a further part. I love, don’t you, its homely fish logo. No sleek herring, or gastronomic star like sole was chosen, but an ungainly spiny looking thing.

To all appearances it seems a gurnard; a face only a fish-mom could love!

It’s that kind of humble touch we love about the history of brewing. In many cases in the old days superlatives were avoided due to natural modesty, or a quiet pride. The graphic symbols and copywriting made an impact through understatement, you see.

N.B. As in the case of Anglo-Bavarian, it seems doubtful Hallett & Abbey made true lager. But I can’t rule it out, either. The fact that the term Bavarian appeared foursquare in the logo mentioned shows, atypically for the period, some pride was taken in this foreign-sounding beer.

See here for Part II of this study.

Note re image: Image above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*(Added December 19, 2020). By the mid-1880s Hallett & Abbey’s Bavarian Ale was styled Brighton Lager Ale. See our post today, on this point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Brewery, Netanya (Part II)

My post on July 31, 2020, National Brewery, Netanya, was a coda to my multi-part series on beer and brewing in British Mandate Palestine.

I’ve found interesting photos of National Brewery in its earlier years, which emphasize points made in the coda. Hence, this post serves as a kind of coda to the coda.

For clarity, my intention was and is not to trace brewery history in modern Israel, i.e., from 1948. Not that this wouldn’t be a valuable exercise, but lacking Hebrew makes it problematic.

I did the first National Brewery post as an epilogue, a summing up of the history I delineated to ’48. Its first beer, brewed by a Czech, was typical of the quality pilsener style that had prestige in the Thirties. Even its equipment was 1930s plant or earlier, fetched half a world away in New York where once it powered the storied Fidelio Brewery.

This is an image, via Wikipedia Commons (public domain), that shows aging tanks at National Brewery in 1964. The tanks appear to hold 177 hl.

 

 

Note the handsome wood construction, which appears well-maintained. The stray planks on the right may be for maintenance. The iron cradles look venerable, and I’d think it’s a safe bet that these tanks once served Fidelio Brewery, possibly originating before Prohibition.

1964 is only a dozen years after National Brewery was founded, on the plain between Netanya and Tel Aviv. The tanks are probably those installed in 1952.

(The piece of wheeled equipment in front of the tanks is not known to me, any ideas? I thought perhaps a carbonating unit).

To see the brewery shortly after construction, this Facebook link contains a rare image. As discussed in press stories I linked in the earlier part, the brewery is mostly one level. In this respect it reflected the future, as newer technology permitted to dispense with the tall designs of earlier that took advantage of gravity.

Nonetheless, there are upper stories, possibly used for storage, or offices, as all production functions (mashing, boiling, fermentation) were apparently on the main floor.

The site outside the main building is crowded with what appears be packaging inventory: cases, probably bottles, and kegs among the stock. In the background some details of topography may be noted.

Finally, this Ebay link shows a colourful label from the brewery that appears to be late 1950s, early 1960s vintage. It is for a “British Shandy”. This is another inheritance of prewar habits, no doubt installed by the British when they ran the show under the Mandate.

It may be too that the tourist market was primary for this beer, as British tourism to Israel started to burgeon in the 1960s.

National Brewery merged, according to numerous sources, with Palestine Brewery and Galilee Brewery in 1973. Incidentally, I found very little on Galilee apart a few labels. There is a modern craft brewery of that name, not connected to the earlier one, to my knowledge.

Today National Brewery is part of Tempo Industries as I mentioned earlier, a publicly-traded integrated drinks company. Tempo is partly owned by Heineken, as confirmed in a recent news story (Times of Israel).

Note re image: Image above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

Tea? Totally! (Part II)

The Breakfast of Disconsolates

Having discussed the nonplussed reaction of a visiting American to English ways with tea in 1832, it’s instructive to examine the converse.

John George Wood was a noted natural historian of the Victorian era. Well-educated at Oxford (some bio here)he was a curate before turning to the natural sciences.

He joined the ranks of many Britons who made the reverse trek to the former colony, America, to “compare and contrast”. He came to give lectures, covering large swaths of the country by train.

This provided good material for magazine pieces, and one appeared in 1885 in the London-based Gossip of the Week, called “Among the Americans“.

Like many travellers from Great Britain his experiences seemed largely negative. The tone is querulous, impatient, not discerning really, but as social history of good interest.

Of American ways with tea, Rev. Wood had firm views:

 

 

One doesn’t have to know Latin to get the full meaning: the American stuff, a) had little connection to English tea, b) wasn’t particular to the breakfast hour despite the name.

Even though I knew, until recently, almost nothing about tea, I did know that breakfast tea is orange pekoe. And breakfast tea is a term widely used still in North America; I am less sure of the UK, as British blends imported here might carry a different description at home.

Still, pekoe is breakfast tea and breakfast tea is pekoe. After all, I asked the Internet if this was so, and it answered:

In fact the term “orange pekoe” identifies a leaf size or a grading measurement. Most teas labeled orange pekoe are a blend of black teas from India or Sri Lanka. The popular “Breakfast” blends – English, Irish, Scottish – are created by blending together several different types of orange pekoe black teas.

So, whatever its status as a trade description in Britain, breakfast tea here means, and has for a long time evidently, orange pekoe or a proprietary blend of same. It’s black tea of course, the main type always consumed in the U.K., too.

Coming from the main English-speaking tea country Wood’s critique deserves a hearing. So why did American tea not rate? One or more reasons may explain it.

First, coffee has always been the main caffeinated drink here, aside the soft drink/energy group. Tea is an after-ran, and maybe an indifferent quality (with price commensurate) had writ versus the better qualities available in Britain.

Second, before the tea bag was adopted, Americans probably didn’t make tea as well as the British. That still probably applies for the true brewed loose tea vs. the tea bag way.*

Third though, maybe a different blend, this Breakfast, became established in America and was simply different – not inferior to – the home article. Before globalization and ultra-efficient logistics, this was plausible, just as America evolved its own beers before craft brewing, and even after, for that matter.

However you look at it, Rev. Wood was an unhappy customer. Oh well. He wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last of the disapproving foreign tourists. That said, my experience has been that British visitors to our shores are much taken with our ways in the last generation or two.

If anything, cultural leadership in many fields has shifted here. For good, bad, or indifferent, well, that’s another matter.

Note re image: Images above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*This is a general statement. Obviously there are many here with expertise including in various Asian communities.

 

 

 

 

Tea? Totally! (Part I)

But not Teetotal

Since we talk here about brewing, does tea fit? Tea is brewed, of a fashion. Well, steeped really, but let’s not be technical. For once.

I always liked tea and probably started drinking it even before coffee, in my early or mid-teens.

My first memory is drinking it in my grandmother’s flat in Montreal: tea with honey cake, or roly-poly, or poppy seed cookies. We took it plain, no milk or sugar. In later years I might add milk, but for many years drink it plain again.

50-60 years ago in Montreal, the type we drank, as in most of Canada then, was orange pekoe. Until recently I never knew exactly what orange pekoe was, other than being a black tea. Green tea was familiar to us too, at Asian restaurants, but not used at home.

Looking into this, I found an excellent description at Lady Baker’s Tea, in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

In part it states:

First of all orange pekoe is not an orange-flavoured tea nor in any way associated with the orange fruit!

… [it is] a classification of black tea based upon the origin of the leaf. To be classified as pekoe, the tea must be composed purely of the new flushes – a flush being the leaf bud plucked with two youngest leaves. (Any other leaves produce teas of lower quality.)

So…the orange pekoe term refers to a grade of black tea based on the size of leaf and its location on the tea plant.

The site has good additional discussion with links to further information.

The orange pekoe taste I recall in in the 50s and 60s was dominated by a floral note, both the taste and scent. However, I can’t recall the brand(s) we used.

I asked my mother, whose memory is excellent generally, but she can’t recall either. It might have been Red Rose, always popular in Canada, or Salada, or another brand.

Until recently the orange pekoes I’ve tried in Toronto, including some well-known UK imports, seemed somewhat different. There is an earthy tone, even slightly smoky. I like this too, but it’s not quite as I remember it.

I did finally find the taste I remember, but first an interlude.

An American’s impression of English ways with tea was recorded back in 1832. Zachariah Allen was from a prominent Rhode Island family. He made a pilgrimage to England as many Anglo Americans (his term) did in the 19th century.

His memoir The Practical Tourist records the trip and is full of engaging detail. Upon landing in Liverpool, his first impressions were anti-climatic. Buildings looked similar to those in the main American cities, and people dressed and spoke similarly.

Later in England he might note differences in accent and vocabulary, here and there. He makes no reference to a distinctive accent in Liverpool, which makes me wonder if the way the Beatles spoke developed later on.

The buildings were coloured differently, he said. Pervasive coal smoke had a darkening effect vs. the brightly painted American structures.

Slowly he unpacks further differences, like tea service. You may read it here, but summarizing, in America the tea came hot and ready made in the cup.

In Liverpool, one was presented with a box of different teas from which to make a selection. The guest had to place his tea in a freshly rinsed teapot, into which the waiter poured hot water from a  flagon.

Allen is confused what to do but finally twigs, in part. He selects a few strands from the box and puts them in the teapot. The water duly goes in (the waiter saying nothing) but the tea emerges useless, barely coloured.

Allen on his next try took a much bigger quantity of leaves, but this produced a black tannic drink also undrinkable.

Allen later became a noted industrialist, inventor, and benefactor of Brown University. A man of that stripe wasn’t likely to muff his third try with the tea, and he didn’t. Thenceforth he knew the drill.

He noted too the English habit to mix green and black tea, not done in America, he said. This is not generally practised today, I believe (anywhere), which is interesting.

As to my quest for a Proustian taste of tea-youth, quite by accident recently I found it. Emerging with a cup of tea and a muffin from a local coffee shop, the tea had the floral note I remember. Looking at the triangular bag, the tag read Sloane Breakfast Tea. It’s a Toronto-based tea merchant.

This website describes the various brands, and I plan to stock up on Breakfast soon.

Although I am quite happy with the tea of our time, it’s good to know I can get this other taste, one I remember from Sunday afternoons visiting grandparents on rue Esplanade. Now all I have to do is get the roly poly. Hmmm.

 

 

 

Guinness Extra Stout – Canadian Version

In parts of Canada including Ontario, Guinness is available as an import, canned or draught, and locally-made brew. The local one, from Labatt (Anheuser-Busch InBev), is Extra Stout, a form Guinness Dublin has long exported to the United States and the U.K.

Interestingly, the Canadian Guinness is also sold in some U.S. states, but in different channels than the import Guinness.

The first Guinness I ever had was the Labatt version, some 45 years ago in Montreal. The second was Extra Stout as exported to the U.S. Both had a strong characteristic flavour, with an edge in richness and character to the Dublin import.

In contrast, the imported draught, which I also first tasted back then, seemed rather milder – and not much changed today, in fact.

Tasting the Labatt Extra Stout again after a hiatus, it seems reduced in character from the 1970s. While quite pleasant on its own terms, the stout “character” was hard to detect. Although I did drink it quite cold.

I’ll try it again warmer, but I think a porter or stout should have a frank characteristic taste at any temperature.

In its favour was a good body – better than the import, IMO – and interesting dryish/acidic finish. It’s not so much a roasted (burnt, charred, etc.) taste as a drying one, if that makes any sense.

 

 

Guinness apparently still relies on “Guinness flavour extract” to impart the Guinness character to a local pale brew. The essence is exported around the world to this end.* Bill Yenne in his Guinness history explained it in fairly non-technical terms, see here.**

The main difference, today, from the canned “Pub Draught” and barrelled import seems to be carbonation. Extra Stout has a full, fizzy character, probably all-CO2 driven. The others have a restrained, nitrogen-influenced carbonation that derives from the pre-1960s, naturally-conditioned or “real ale” era.

So where does it leave me with five beers to go in the pack? Actually, I’m chill, although the second one to taste won’t be – more around cellar temp, let’s say. The last four will be put to good use in home blending.

As always I have a variety of stout and porter of different strengths and origins – local craft, import, etc. I like to blend them to get the kind of taste and strength I like. For example, 10-15% bourbon barrel Imperial stout can add a lot to a 5% ABV porter, or a mix of them.

A mild-tasting beer such as Labatt Guinness can work well to smooth out a blend of flavours, or to reduce the alcohol level.

This often can produce something better than the parts – so Beer et Seq judges. And who can gainsay that?

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*I could ask Labatt or Diageo, but my interest is not that acute. If Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and the newer Guinness stout iterations were sold here, I’d be much more interested. It is a sticking point with me that these are not available in Ontario.

**For the more detail-oriented, David Hughes’ “A Bottle of Guinness Please” is indispensable.

 

 

 

 

The Sand Porter of Montreal (Part III)

In Parts I and II in January of this year, I discussed a “sand porter” advertised in Quebec Province newspapers in the early 1880s and 90s. I plumped for the porter being filtered through sand.

I retweeted the posts a few days ago, which elicited this Twitter exchange. Beer historian Martyn Cornell mentioned another Canadian citation for sand porter, in 1879 in Ottawa, Ontario, from Carling Brewery.

Martyn felt the riddle of the term sand porter remained. Other participants made interesting comments, e.g. that bottles of porter might have been stored in a bed of sand to promote a good maturation, or that filtration might have been useful to eliminate solid matter from molasses, sugars, or the roasted malts in use at the time.

Martyn pointed out since there was no known “sand pale ale”, why filter a porter in sand, especially as filtration was less important for porter (due to the dark colour)?

This point suggested itself to me when I wrote the posts, but it didn’t rule out for me a singular method of porter filtration.

Maybe sand imparted a colour to pale ale not noticeable in a blackish porter. Maybe isinglass finings, or just normal settling, produced clear ales, especially pale ales, but did not suffice for porter. Maybe …

Also, clarity was still a desideratum for porter vs. a “muddy” appearance. Mid-century beer writers William Tizard and Thomas Hitchcock emphasized the point. Hitchcock wrote that “perfect brilliancy” was “admired”.

Of course, I would not claim proof, or proof positive, that order of certainty. With historical questions, frequently that is not possible. Nonetheless using relevant knowledge and deductive thinking one can sometimes posit a plausible solution, one that will persuade some at any rate.

Another thing I was mindful of when drafting those posts was something I read years ago, that aging vats at a British porter brewery were covered with a layer of sand to help the beer in some way. I couldn’t remember what effect was claimed exactly, but was fairly certain I had read this at one point.

In January 2020 I tried hard but could not find the reference. I decided to try again, and this time I found the reference, I guess I used the right key words.

An 1871 article in The Brewers’ Guardian, a reprint from the Irish Times, recounted a tour of the Guinness facility in Dublin. The writer noted:*

To keep the porter cool in summer the tops of the vats are covered with a layer of fine sea sand.

Many breweries at the time had some mechanical temperature control, e.g., for fermentation and cooling the wort, but the vatting stage was more difficult. Evidently Guinness was trying to keep the contents, cooled over the winter and early spring, as cool for as long as possible.

Netting or a sheathing such as wetted straw was used for casks of pale ale stored outdoors by some Burton breweries, a similar idea. Pictures have been posted by beer writers showing the “ale banks” covered in such fashion.

Even today Greene King in Suffolk, UK continues to layer marl, a locally sourced gravel, on its wooden vats for its 12% abv, Old 5X strong ale.

The website explains in that case that the weight keeps the secondary fermentation from raising the lids. Comparing to the Guinness example, it may be six of one, half a dozen of the other (sorry).

Carling and some Quebec breweries perhaps used a sand covering for porter similar to what Guinness used, to similar purpose, and this suggested the name.

The example of Guinness, a famous brewery by the period discussed, may have spurred some Canadian brewers to follow its example. Sand porter is hardly an evocative phrase, and probably meant little outside brewery walls, but it was early days for marketers.

The Canadian advertisements I cited were published between June and early September – the hot time in Eastern Canada.

Martyn’s ad was somewhat later, in November when it would have cooled down. But the vats for summer trade may not have been fully emptied, or…

This is as far as I can take it now, which is a good distance, IMO.

N.B. Alfred Barnard’s early 1890s The Noted Breweries of Great Britain, etc., in his detailed chapters on Guinness and other porter breweries, does not mention this feature of vat houses. While it is unknown for how long Guinness continued using sand to insulate its aging vats, it is quite conceivable some Canadian breweries stayed with the practice longer than the “parent” firm.

 

 

 

 

Mutton Worth a Million. Part III.

There are numerous modern recipes for curried mutton, from the Caribbean, and many other places including, still, Britain.

The whole question of the origin of curry and its reception and spread from a Portuguese and British expatriate context is of absorbing interest, but beyond our scope here. Those interested might start with Michael Snyder’s essay in The Takeout two years ago.

Snyner, based currently in Mexico City, writes on a diverse range of topics including food and architecture. He cites the two leading full-length studies (to my knowledge, they are) and adds his own trenchant insights. Another essay, from English Heritage in 2016, adds a further dimension.

In terms of modern approaches to curried mutton, this videon YouTube from a Trinidad-based channel offers an easy-to-follow, evidently authentic recipe.

There are other YouTube demonstrations of this dish, of course each with its own riff. You can find them from Jamaican cooks, from the Bahamas, and elsewhere in the region. I have absorbed something from each, and will put it all to good use soon.

A few years ago in the U.K. two brothers, Craig and Shaun McAnuff, wrote a best selling book, Original Flava. While London-raised, the book draws on the Jamaican cooking heritage of their family.

Their curry mutton pie looks excellent, a combining of traditional curried mutton and British shepherd’s pie recipes. They flavour the potato topping with coconut, which is just the right touch.

Going back earlier in the U.K. but not quite to the 19th century, a news report in 1944 described a mutton curry at a London club before the war, where particular efforts were made to ensure quality. This is underlined by the fact that it was served with a “pale India ale” –  at near room temperature.

All indices are good, in other words. I liked the fact that the dish was served with only two “side kicks”, Bombay duck and one other. So often too many choices ruin the honest frank flavours of a characteristic dish. The East India Club, the venue in this case, evidently knew how to do things right, in the context too of what was probably a mid-day specialty.*

The report appeared in the Evening Star of Washington, D.C. The author, “Victory Chef”, wrote other columns on wartime cookery, which I may revisit.

(As Snyder points out, curried dishes were regarded as a novelty by the wider population – Victory Chef reflects this – but were by no means new to American cooking, having been received by the mid-1800s at least).

Finally, returning to the 19th century, the great English cookery writer Eliza Acton gives useful background on mutton per se: the raising, the ideal age, and other tips for the advised shopper. (See pp. 233 et seq).

She was, parenthetically, an acknowledged influence on Elizabeth David; the crisp and authoritative treatment on this subject alone shows why.

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*The Club carries on to this day. According to menus on its website, the Indian curry is now of the past. On the other hand, the banqueting menu lists a Thai vegetable curry, so tradition is withal retained. (Maybe the curries change from time to time, as well).

 

 

 

Mutton Worth a Million. Part II

To vault to the 21st century from the 19th, let’s look at a current recipe for mutton hot pot.

Mark Hi’s recipe for Lancashire hot pot in the Independent is just the ticket. While dating from 2005, there is every indication similar conditions prevail today: mutton of traditional quality can still be found, one may need to look around, but it is there.

Mark Hi is the lightly disguised pen name of UK restaurateur and hospitality executive Mark Hix. The Dorset-born entrepreneur has long been a fixture on the London restaurant scene, notably in Soho, but is only 57 still.

This story by Hix in the Evening Standard brings career matters to present date. The London Hix restaurants had to close due to Covid-19. Sadly, 130 staff lost employment and the story conveys Hix’ emotions at having to inform staff.

But like inveterate entrepreneurs everywhere, Hix took the opportunity to rethink and regroup.

He’s got a business now in Morcombelake (outside Bridport, Dorset), Hix Fish and Oysters, selling marine produce from a vintage black Chevvy ambulance. He writes:

I struck upon something close to my heart: local fishermen, and the idea of supporting them whilst restaurants, shops and hotels were closed. Once I had my licence to buy and sell fish I got a pitch at Felicity’s Farm Shop in Morcombelake and started selling marine reserve fish and shellfish.

He’s also writing a book, working for others in hospitality, and planning the return of his own restaurant and bar with a new focus.

It’s this kind of can-do attitude so admirable in people who don’t give up, who try to find another way. I’m sure before long he will be a noted force in hospitality again.

His hot pot recipe has a keynote, apart the mutton and optional kidney, of rosemary. That’s a good choice to counterpoint an assertive meat. Other herbs of potency might suit as well, thyme I think, but your imagination is the limit.

Note how he doesn’t mix herbs, not that it’s “wrong”, but there’s no need to. He’s putting up one assertive taste to contrast with another, and job done.

This is food with strong roots in the meadow, the earth, and husbandry. Take it too far from origins and it loses its frank, rustic appeal.

Note: Part III concludes the discussion, here.

 

 

 

 

Mutton Worth a Million. Part I.

On Twitter tonight I quoted a morsel from Jane Grigson’s estimable (1974) English Food, to the effect mutton was never the same in England after World War II.

Grigson wrote that the special art butchers had to prepare it was lost under pressures of war austerity, and not regained evidently by the time of writing.

Michael Fullilove’s 2013 book Rendez-vous With Destiny is some validation, as the author quotes an exchange between Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine regarding the fallen quality of mutton as served to an American diplomat (Harry Hopkins) early in the war.

I asked Twitter if this is still the case, all these years after Grigson’s (truly wonderful) book. Nigel Sadler, an East Anglia-based beer sommelier and educator, also highly knowledgeable on food and wine (and cider), responded that his parents source mutton in Kent of evidently good quality.

He included a link to a supplier that distinguished between lamb, hoggett (of intermediate age) and mutton, seeming to reflect all the old learning.

That said, as staple of the English table it seems to have declined. Grigson attributed this in part to the popularity of New Zealand lamb. She liked it well enough although not placing it clearly on the same plane as English-raised.

She implied in other words that less expensive New Zealand lamb ousted English lamb as a frequent meal, with an obvious implication for the restoration of mutton.

Anyone familiar with the 19th century English diet, at least of prosperous classes, knows how important mutton was. Generally it was served in the saddle, a large roast, but also in chops. Mutton chop and a mug of ale was a stand-by of the good old cuisine of Albion.

Then there was haricot of mutton and the many hashes, hot pots, and subsidiary meals made of lesser cuts or left over roasts.

In America too, as I had occasion to note when I wrote my article for Brewery History on American musty ale, the mutton chop was a staple of hearty Northeast eating. It was associated especially with the chop house, the club, the upper echelon saloon.

All this has fallen away in North America except for pockets where sheep meat is still appreciated. Owensboro, KY is an American – probably the – redoubt of mutton, famous for its mutton barbecue, I have written on it earlier. Indeed I ate the article in one of the sacral haunts, Starlite – well worth the trouble.

Of course too some Asian cuisines highlight mutton. In Indian restaurants both here and in the U.K. I have eaten excellent dishes advertised as made with mutton, although to my taste it seemed as lamb, maybe was lamb.

I think too I’ve seen the term on some Szechuan menus, although I never tried the dish.

An index of the admiration of gourmets of the late 1800s for mutton can be found in the travel memoir, England Without and Within, by the American Richard Grant White. I discussed it a few posts ago in connection with his reaction to English beer.

He ate a matchless saddle of mutton in a restaurant off Regent Street in London. So much was it an apotheosis that henceforth all gastronomic experiences, he said, were to be judged by that landmark experience.

He went on to say that no English mutton imported to America, much less the domestic variety, ever matched the in situ taste. This was of course mutton as it should be, fed on the right grasses (Southdown was formerly prized, also Welsh mountain sheep), aged the right time, cooked rather rare, and sliced by expert waiters with sabre-like implements.

You may read White’s extended remarks, here.

Note: Part II continues, here.