This dish initially caught my attention while browsing April menus to see what was served at this time of year. Pouding au Pommes was in fact served several times in different seasons (February, August and December as well as April).
After some challenges, big and small, it is long past time to begin once more…
In some ways the biggest intervening challenge has been the smallest: the birth of our daughter Morag in November of 2015 – and moving house the summer before she was born. Seems we’ve been playing catch-up ever since, though what a wonderful game!
We have been looking to take on some of the fish dishes – which brings its own set of challenges for the responsible culinary re-enactor…
Lamb and mutton were served frequently (according to season) at Whistler’s table. ‘Côtelettes de mouton, purée Champignons’ is a fairly clear description: mutton cutlets served with a purée of mushrooms. However on other occasions cutlets were served with ‘purée d’Or’ and that is not at all clear. One menu – a lavish menu, served on 18 January 1876 – reads: ‘Cotelettes de Mouton – purée d’Or – Champignons’.
We attempted to make a golden mushroom purée (and no, we haven’t yet tried it with chanterelles), based on a recipe from Escoffier’s Guide to modern cookery. It was an interesting but not entirely successful experiment.
‘Potage tomate, à l’Americain’ was served on the 17th November 1875, as the first course of what Alan S. Cole described as ‘A capital small dinner’. Whistler seems to have been developing an American theme in this menu which also included ‘Poulet à la Baltimore’ served with Hominy grits.
A highly elaborate dinner held on 2nd July 1888, possibly to celebrate Whistler’s forthcoming marriage to Beatrice Godwin on 11th August, included ‘Potage a l’oseille’.
There are distinctly Scottish references in Whistler’s Mother’s cookbook, reminding us that she came of a Scottish family, and that Whistler still had aunts living in Scotland. When he was designing a menu this personal element emerges occasionally. Scotch broth, for instance, appears as ‘Potage écossais’ on 11 June 1877, and ‘Purée à l’Ecossaise’ on 6 December. ‘Pouding’ à l’Écossaise’ (Scotch pudding) was served several times: once on 29 January 1877 when the artist Matthew Robinson Elden and Rev. Frederick Kill Harford, Minor Canon of Westminster Abbey, a poet and hymn writer, were the proposed guests. On 2 July it rounded off a ten-course meal, so elaborate that one wonders how anyone could possibly have had room for pudding.
And then on 12 October 1877 it was served for a rather more intimate dinner with friends and family: Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, diplomat, Secretary of the Office of Works, and collector; Charles Samuel Keene, etcher, cartoonist and illustrator; Charles Augustus (‘Owl’) Howell, entrepreneur; and William McNeill Whistler, physician, Whistler’s brother.
Fish Shop, Chelsea, etching and drypoint, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
Herring was and is a somewhat under-appreciated fish, at least in restaurants and chic dining. In A guide to modern cookery Escoffier describes fresh herring as ‘abundant and of excellent quality; seldom used in first-class cookery, except, perhaps, for their milt.’ Whistler seems to have had little compunction about serving Herring with a red wine sauce for the fish course in fine dinners, for example on 7th December 1875 for guests including Alan S. Cole, Cyril Flower and the artist Jacques J. Tissot.