Archive for October, 2006

An afternoon visiting Mrs Beeton

Yesterday I set out to visit to the grave of Isabella Beeton, cook, mother, wife, journalist and author of the eponymous ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’. Which, after perhaps the Bible, is a top contender for ‘book that everybody’s heard of but nobody’s actually read’. Her grave lies somewhere in West Norwood Cemetery, South London. So armed with my D70, and hangover, and the low autumnal sun, I set out to find it. The place is a classic Victorian necropolis, packed with headstones, crosses, angles, urns,mausleiums, and monuments. The Victorian’s took death very seriously indeed, veneration of one’s ancestors perhaps gave people some heritage in a rapidly changing world. Trying to find one grave stone among all this lot is a needle in a haystack. So I just wonder round and take a few shots that look interesting, thinking ‘I’ll come back tomorrow or next week and do this properly’. Then up near the crematorium, I see a fox. It’s just sat there, looking at me. It doesn’t run off, but just stares at me. I take a picture of it, here it is.The fox

I slowly move towards it. It sort of ambles off, as if not in any particular hurry. I follow it…

following the fox

I’m off the main road and footpath now, and see a nice shot with plenty of dappled sunlight,

following the fox

I take another one…

Red Ivy

And then one of some red ivy growing up a headstone, before moving on. This was the only major ‘off roading’ I did.

Walking back down to the main entrance, I stop to ask the gatekeeper if he knows where Mrs Beeton’s grave is. He doesn’t, but on the notice board is a poster for a talk given by the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery. I call the number of that and speak to Jill, she says it’s to hard to describe where it is, but doesn’t mind coming down to guide me to it as she was coming into West Norwood anyway.

After five minutes a little old lady pulls up. ‘Hello I’m Jill’ she says. We do a brief introduction and then I hop in her car and we drive up to where the grave is… and guess where it is? Where the fox was, right in front of the red ivy shot I took not 15 minutes earlier.

Mrs Beeton's grave

To be honest this freaked me out a bit. The combination of a bit of a sore head, the gushing ‘dearly missed’ sentiment everywhere you looked, the odd crow call and the ethereal silence and creepiness of the place was over powering. I ask Jill how many graves there are, 45,000, containing something like 160, 000 people, the site is something like 40 arces in size. What are the chances of coming within a foxes whisker of finding one grave in 45,000? Spooky! Check the EXIF data if you don’t believe me!

Mrs Beeton's grave Anyway, here’s her headstone.

The area where the fox stood, and the short gully that it lead me down was once another road, so that when first buried, Mrs Beeton et al would have fronted to the roadside. The road was removed and the space used for yet more burials as the cemetery filled up in the 40s. She is buried with her husband Samuel Orchart Beeton and the bodies of their other two children who both died in infancy. What’s interesting is that they’re listed in reverse order. Both the infants died first, 1857 & 1863, then Isabella in 1865, at the age of 28, after catching an infection during the birth of her final son, Sir Mayson Beeton, attributed to the midwife or doctor not washing their hands. Finally, Samuel joined them in 1877. So were the infants buried her first? Jill’s none the wiser. The connection with West Norwood (some distance from Pinner where the Beeton’s lived) is that Sam’s father was buried here, his grave now covered in brambles. Also West Norwood was one of the ‘magnificent seven’. seven great cemetery’s build around the then outskirts of London, others include Highgate, Brompton, Nunhead etc. To have a plot in here was the final ultimate status symbol.

The headstone was replaced by her two surviving sons in the 1933 as the original had fallen into decay. The year before Sir Mayson Beeton had donated the only image of his mother to the National Portrait Gallery, it was the first photographic submission they ever accepted.

On Boxing Day 1932 the National Portrait Gallery opened an exhibition of its new acquisitions to the public. There were twenty-three likenesses on display, all of which were to be added to the nation’s permanent portrait collection of the great and the good… Oddly out of place among the confident new arrivals, all oily swirls, ermine, and purposeful stares, was a small hand-tinted photograph of a young woman dressed in the fashion of nearly a hundred years ago.

More about that here, including Mayson Beeton’s numerous rewrites of the title card. He seemed obsessed with promoting his father’s role in the development of the Beeton brand.

No one knows what the original headstone looked like. Jill doubted there were any photographs in the public domain depicting it. Looking closely at the grave, I saw large chunks of granite poking out from the mud and weeds. ‘I wonder if this was part of the original memorial?’ ‘Do you know I’ve never thought of that?’ said Jill. Graves are often topped with gravel, though it is normally white. These however were much to large, and were of red and black granite. We hypothosised that perhaps Mayson and Orchart, both in their late 60s then, had the original monument smashed up and laid on top of their new version. It would seem a shame to waste it, plus it would provide continuity.

There’s plenty of books about and by Mrs Beeton, and BBC Four have a costume drama, the Secret Life of Mrs Beeton rpt 21st October.

The book itself: You can see a lot about attitudes of the time sandwiched between the recipes in Mrs Beeton’s book. I own the Oxford World’s Classic edition, with the excellent introduction by Nicola Humble, who other good read is ‘culinary pleasures’ a history of cookbooks, where she devotes many pages to Mrs Beeton.

I’ve been dipping in the Oxford version a fair bit lately, not so much for the recipes as for the ‘general observations’ essays. It’s an enlightening view of the thoughts of the time. Take this piece from ‘general observations of the common hog’

IN THE MOSAICAL LAW, the pig is condemned as an unclean beast, and consequently interdicted to the Israelites, as unfit for human food. “And the swine, though he divideth the hoof and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud. He is unclean to you.”—Lev. xi. 7. Strict, however, as the law was respecting the cud-chewing and hoof-divided animals, the Jews, with their usual perversity and violation of the divine commands, seem afterwards to have ignored the prohibition; for, unless they ate pork, it is difficult to conceive for what purpose they kept troves of swine, as from the circumstance recorded in Matthew xviii. 32, when Jesus was in Galilee, and the devils, cast out of the two men, were permitted to enter the herd of swine that were feeding on the hills in the neighbourhood of the Sea of Tiberias, it is very evident they did.

Blimey. No holding back on her thoughts of Judaism there then. She goes on..

There is only one interpretation by which we can account for a prohibition that debarred the Jews from so many foods which we regard as nutritious luxuries, that, being fat and the texture more hard of digestion than other meats, they were likely, in a hot dry climate, where vigorous exercise could seldom be taken, to produce disease, and especially cutaneous affections; indeed, in this light, as a code of sanitary ethics, the book of Leviticus is the most admirable system of moral government ever conceived for man’s benefit.

There are some other passages that raise a smile as well as an eyebrow. Her reverence for the scriptures is balanced with praise for science an progress, she also talks about animal welfare and the humane dispatching of animals: We hope and believe that those men whose disagreeable duty it is to slaughter the “beasts of the field” to provide meat for mankind, inflict as little punishment and cause as little suffering as possible..

I’d recommend spending some time reconnecting with the words of Mr & Mrs Beeton. The whole book is available online and anyone with a passing interest in history, heritage, food, recipes, produce, health and legal matters will find something of interest in her pages… me, I’m still freaked out by the fox.

Choice cuts from the BBC feedback log

“i think robin hood will be good but it wont get as many veiwers as doctor who because doctor who has been around for ages and it has loads of monster and it is fiction and sometimes its funny”


What’s for dinner? How about a Britishese.

New from Knorr! (Owned by Unilever, who’s other industrial products include include Persil, Vaseline and um, peperami)

So chilli, very South American, provides the traditional British love of heat and spice, masks other tastes. Cherry tomatoes give the South American/Italian feel allowing us to cross the Atlantic. They also probably also provide the red colour which can hide a lot of other sins. Moving East to the Steppes, we have Vodka, and the British love of cheap booze, Finally we land in the Far East as it’s a sauce for ‘stir fry’ wok’s ahoy!.

I’m calling this fist fight of flavours from across the globe ‘Britishese’. Only in food hating Britain would this ‘alco-slop’ sauce style of cooking be permitted. Who’s it aimed at? Teenagers? Remember a few years ago when fusion foods were in? It sort of happened more in the US and mainly mixed French and Chinese, though a few tried Italian and Japanese. And it was a really bad fad.. This isn’t even that, this is just shity gloopy rubbish.

Other flavours in the range include ‘Sticky Soy, Balsamic Vinegar and Peppers’ (the browny one) and the slightly more normal sounding ‘Thai Style Lime, Red Chilli and Coconut’ (the yellowy one) in that all the ingredients herald from the same Continent.

“New Knorr Chicken Tonight Stir Fry range provides a perfect quick and convenient meal solution, taking only 10 minutes from start to finish” In Britain today cooking is always about doing things in the fastest time possible. We may not have the fastest racing drivers or sprinters anymore, but when it comes to microwaving we’re champions!
“They come in serving sizes for 1-2 people, so no more having to throw out leftovers! What’s wrong with leftovers, some of the greatest dishes in the world start with leftovers, bubble ‘n’ squeak IS leftovers, so much food is wasted these days. After all a ‘proper’ dish like curry, chilli or spag boll tastes better the next day.

So why not try this combination of the same ingredients properly, take some time over it, pop the radio on, open pour a glass of red and treat yourself to Penne with Vodka.

Tassimo twatissimo

So I saw the adverts about ‘the perfect cup’ machines with one effortless touch of a button a while ago, but it only really hit home today when I was coffee shopping in my local Sainsbury’s.Cafe StyleBehold, a new growth sector…Cafe Style, note the accent on the e, so chic, so Frennnnnnch, it’s a agency’s wet dream.Here’s why it’s a nightmare.Tassimo coffee fuel cells | Cafe Direct COST. The Tassimo pods work out at £2.28 per 100g, . The Fair Trade Cafe Direct bag of coffee works out at £1.41 per 100g. That a saving of nearly a quid PER 100g. With the fair trade bag you get 227g, that’s enough for a lot of coffee, with the Tassimo pack you get 18x8g, or 144g. That means more trips to the shops to stock up. And people say they spend too much time shopping….COST OF MACHINE (at John Lewis)Tassimo machine – £99.95Traditional Stove top espresso maker – £24 or Traditional Cafetiere – £25Sure the Tassimo machine lets you make ‘ a variety of hot drinks, including cappuccino, tea and hot chocolate’ But the chances are you all ready own a kettle, and what’s wrong with making a pot of tea? And just how many hot chocolates a year do you really drink?PACKAGINGThe Cafe Direct stuff comes in one bag, that holds the coffee for it’s entire life, right down to the last few grains. The Tassimo pods, hold their contents until each one is used, then they’re thrown away to clog up landfills. This is the equivelent of selling flour in 100g packets, rather than in a bag.FAIR TRADEOne is, (the cafe direct), on isn’t (the other one), nuff said.People who buy this are essentially too lazy to spoon pre-ground coffee into any sort of chamber. This is the 21st Century equivalent of the Toastie maker, only worse. This device will be under the sink at the back within six months. This product/device fails on so many levels, cost to you, the coffee grower and the environment. We sometimes accept products in blocks, dishwashing tablets for example, but not the British cuppa or our new found love of coffee. If anything we want the steam, the spooning, the grinding, the playing at being Barista. It also keeps consumers stupid, buying different mixes of the same product, no learning, no tasting. As for reviews? Well I’ve read a press release or two in my time, and look at this, and Irogers has only reviewed two times, both about the Tassimo. Google Tassimo + rubbish and what comes back is not, ‘it’s rubbish’, but about clearing our your kitchen ‘rubbish’. That’s right, you’re dirty, your kitchen in full of stuff you don’t need says Kraft.So why are they saying this? Simple, it the Gillette model, give away the razors (only in this case it’s £99), make a packet on the blades… It locks people into one source, thus keeping them brand loyal. ‘got six dinner guests, but only 5 Tassimo coffee fuel cells… you’re fucked, bet you go without’ Where’s the fun in that? So if you’re asking yourself ‘should I buy a Tassimo?’ No they’re for twats.

BBC Radio 2 – Elvis’ band

Radio two page about it. Hat’s off to DFGW. Lord knows I’ve slagged off the BBC marketing dept in the past (as have others far funnier than me). BBC Marketing messages were starting to feel a bit like those Government information films from the 50s… ‘Hey you!, yes you, the man on the Clapham omnibus. Did you know you can now get digital television in your parlour?!’ etc. But this is actually a well put together peice that focus’s on the music and sums up radio 2’s output and focus, not it’s (overpaid?) talent. Granted, most of the stars are dead, but death never stopped anyone in the music biz that much.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
October 2006