This is one in a series of posts in which I sample recipes from the days of yore (i.e., not the 1990s). The dishes featured were mainstays of nineteenth-, eighteenth- and even seventeenth-century tables, but for one reason or another (unusual taste, archaic ingredients), have fallen out of culinary fashion.
I'll admit I was a bit hesitant when my colleague Sophie Weeks suggested we make a WWII British menu for our June meeting of the Society for Anachronistic Cookery. The wartime years were hardly the golden age of British cuisine, as food shortages meant things like sugar, meat, fats and eggs were available in very limited quantities. An average weekly ration for an adult during this period included, among other things, two ounces of butter, four ounces of bacon/ham, and one "shell egg" (as opposed to packets of dried egg).
But I think it's generally a good idea to give a friend the benefit of the doubt, especially if her name means "wisdom," so I told Sophie, "Right-O!". Using a lovely and somewhat reassuringly titled cookbook, We'll Eat Again: A Collection of Recipes from the War Years Selected by Marguerite Patten, we planned a menu of Artichokes in Cheese Batter, Mock Duck, Fish Envelope, and Farinoca.
I was excited about the Fish Envelope, which was originally designed as a substitute for other heavier red meat entrees. Here is the recipe:
Mashed Potato Pastry
- 8 tablespoons national flour
- 4 tablespoons mashed potato
- 2 ounces fat
- 12 tablespoons mixed vegetables, mashed
- Salt and pepper
- 4 ounces cooked or tinned fish well drained
- ½ teacup thick white sauce
Blend flour and potato together, soften the fat slightly and blend in with the potato mixture.
Roll out thinly and divide into two pieces.
Spread one piece with the cooked vegetables, mashed and seasoned.
Cream fish with the white sauce and spread on the other piece of pastry.
Combine two pastry pieces to form "envelope." Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Eat hot or cold.
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Tips: "National flour" was a type of wheatmeal flour introduced in England during the 1940s. If you have none in your cupboard, try white-whole wheat flour. For "fat," use butter or margarine. "Mixed vegetables" may be an assortment of your choosing, but for the sake of authenticity, try carrots, parsnips, leeks, and/or peas as those were most readily available at the time. "White sauce" is a basic béchamel sauce.
While preparing the potato pastry, I could tell that the small amount of fat would make for a rather dull crust. I higher hopes for the fish filling (we used tuna, but cod would also be appropriate), as Sophie had made a lovely white sauce to mix with our colorful array of garden vegetables.
Served hot, the fish envelope was bland in taste and mealy in texture. I skipped a second helping, turning instead to the heartier mock duck and artichokes in cheese batter. But this is not to say I was dissatisfied with the fish envelope, as it seemed perfectly fitting that a dish based on rations and substitutions would have something left to be desired.
The next morning I gave it one last shot, but I quickly decided I'd had my fill of this culinary re-enactment, and I poured myself a bowl of Quaker Oat Squares.