Assuming you are, like me, the sort of person who enjoys reading cookbooks from cover to cover, and that you have the imagination to do without pictures, you will find this is a most entertaining book.
I first saw the name of Lady Clark of Tillypronie in Elizabeth David's Summer Cooking (Penguin Cookery Library)
. One of her recipes given there describes how to make use of a grouse that is too old and tough to eat, by using it to flavour beefsteak. Anyone who has lived in the household of a hunter will know that simply throwing game away on the grounds that it is uneatable is not an option that the hunter will willingly entertain; so I marked her down as a canny woman who knew how to avoid domestic ructions, but fondly imagined her, with the confidence that comes from complete ignorance, as the wife of a rustic Scots laird. In fact her husband was a career diplomat, the son of Sir James Clark, who was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's physician. The pair resided at various times in Paris, Brussels, Turin and Vienna. She was also the daughter of Justice Thomas Coltman of the Court of Common Pleas, and as a girl was annually taken to continental Europe on holiday. So it's no surprise that she was a culinary sophisticate, who employed French and Italian chefs, and was able to quote recipes from the royal kitchens, as well as knowing how to keep the flavour of turnips out of a cow's milk.
Luckily for us, she was also a compulsive notetaker, and so provides us with a capacious and mixed bag of recipes. Her and her father's high social connections give some of the recipes the air of Hello! magazine. The Prince de Polignac seems a regular guy: he likes his eggs on fried bread with tomato sauce. Mrs Ford Maddox Ford suggests rabbit in a very spicy chasseur sauce. Did she really mean a whole chili and its seeds? It would seem that the Prince of Wales was partial to a sort of Cheese Jelly. ( It's called "Parmesan Cream", but it's clearly a Cheese Jelly.) The Clarks' Milanese chef, Cataldi, had worked for the Rothschilds, and his syrup for a savarin certainly indicates a casual extravagance in culinary matters: it's tempting to recreate it, but a well stocked drinks cabinet is required. We also get his take on Chicken Marengo, as well as an interesting version of risotto.
Amongst other things I was treated in imagination to a `ball supper' of chilled cream of chicken, washed down with champagne punch in which floated lemon water ice. This book certainly leaves us in no doubt about the elevated position of chilled and frozen food in the social and gastronomic hierarchy of the late nineteenth century. We are also told, not how we, but how our butler, should serve a baba. As with most general cookbooks of this vintage, there is also a selection of recipes for invalids, including Effervescing Gruel, which I've not heard of before, and which should, if nothing else, keep the patient entertained.
Sir John provides a single recipe, for chicken fried in batter seasoned with a mixture of spices: too bad for him that he died before the Colonel came on the scene.
I'm off for a Polignac sandwich.