“Making the Most of the Meat,” a chapter in Louise Bennett Weaver’s and Helen Cowles Le Cron’s whimsical 1922 tome A Thousand Ways to Please a Family with Bettina’s Best Recipes, begins with a complaint one housewife, Ruth, makes to another, Bettina:
“Oh, dear,” sighed Ruth, taking off her hat and leaning back against Bettina’s cushioned armchair, “I’ve just paid my meat-bill for last month, and it certainly did bite a chunk out of my housekeeping allowance! But I don’t know what to do about it. Fred is like most men and wants meat for one meal at least six days of the week. And that costs money!”
What to make of a man for whom meat is a most serious matter? Weaver and Le Cron present Ruth’s remarks as exemplifying an all-too-common household quandary. Fortunately, ever resourceful Bettina has the answer.
“All kitchens are alike, inasmuch as the various articles used for cooking purposes strongly resemble each other,” an 1851 article from Bizarre observes, “yet there is a marked difference in the quality of such instruments.” Indeed, some kitchen utensils seem altogether more useful than others. And though an anonymous reader of an 1896 edition of The American Kitchen Magazine warns readers about the dangers of “labor-saving machines” in the kitchen, earlier cooks welcomed ingenuity in the field of culinary arts.
Take for instance a particular invention of Sir Samuel Morland, who was known for his inquisitive mind, and who distinguished himself chiefly by his many mechanical inventions: the speaking trumpet, the fire engine, the steam engine, and the capstan for heaving anchors.
Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree investigated the lives of York’s poor and collected his observations in the 1902 work Poverty: A Study of Town Life. “My object in undertaking the investigation detailed in this volume was, if possible, to throw some light upon the conditions which govern the life of the wage-earning classes in provincial town, and especially upon the problem of poverty,” he writes in the introduction.
Rowntree devoted a chapter of his study to the eating habits of the lower classes. He writes that he “obtained exact information regarding the quantity, character, and cost of the food consumed by eighteen families belonging to all sections of the working classes, from the poorest upwards.”
Rowntree’s observations reveal that food like bacon and brown bread appeared frequently on the tables of the poor. Yorkshire pudding seemed an especially popular item among York’s downtrodden. Economical and tasty, it served as a filling side dish to more substantial foodstuffs like roast beef (enjoyed in those rare prosperous times) and cabbage.
Here is a recipe for Yorkshire pudding from the 1902 Mother’s Cook Book that is just as economical and filling as the dinnertime favorite of York’s poor.
Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding
Have your meat ready for roasting on Saturday, always. Roast upon a grating of several clean sticks (not pine) laid over the dripping-pan. Dash a cup of boiling water over the beef when it goes into the oven; baste often, and see that the fat does not scorch. About three-quarters of an hour before it is done, mix the pudding.
One pint of milk, four eggs, whites and yolks beaten separately; two cups of flour — prepared flour is best; one teaspoonful of salt.
Use less flour if the batter grows too stiff. Mix quickly; pour off the fat from the top of the gravy in the dripping pan, leaving just enough to prevent the pudding from sticking to the bottom. Pour in the batter and continue to roast the beef, letting the dripping fall upon the pudding below. The oven should be brisk by this time. Baste the meat with the gravy you have taken out to make room for the batter. In serving, cut the pudding into squares and lay about the meat in the dish. It is very delicious.