Perhaps the beginning of the end of pure, honest, and delicious made-from-scratch meals came about in the 1880’s in America.  We can hardly blame the Victorian housewife considering enough of them were still cooking at the hearth that a few cookery books published around that time still gave instructions for making a dish much as they had decades before, but somewhere in recent years mixes that may have initially been meant as a kitchen aid somehow often became the norm. 

Steamed puddings flavored with fresh orange, made at Ft. King George.  No dried eggs in these desserts.

Steamed puddings flavored with fresh orange, made at Ft. King George. No dried eggs in these desserts.

As one who takes a pot of freshly brewed coffee quite seriously, I can honestly say I’ve never seen an instant coffee that can begin to taste like freshly brewed.  A cake made from a mix is better than no cake, but would any of us actually argue that it is as good as its freshly mixed counterpart?  I’ve used mixes, as has every other cook in America, especially when my boys were growing up and time was something we never had enough of, but for me the food made from the mixes was good, it wasn’t memorable.  Let’s have a look at the argument for conveniences in the eyes of those who experienced them. 

“New Recipes for Old Sweetmeats.

One of the great conveniences of the present day is the large number of economical preparations for culinary and domestic use.  Not only have we numerous kinds of prepared soups, more or less excellent adn moderate in price, but there are tinned vegetables, meat, fish, fowl, and fruit, all of first-rate quality, for it does not pay to preserve any but the best articles, though some brands are far superior to others.  Condensed milk has now an established reputation, and is an invaluable addition to the fresh milk supply.  Nothing can be better than a cup of coffee made with Cafe Vierge, an extract of coffee which may be cited as possessing the highest strength and flavour, with the addition, when required, of a teaspoonful or two of Swiss milk.  Most useful, too, are the preparations of cocoa manufactured by such additions as malt, as in Liebig’s cocoa.

No one, in these days, need be worried about the preparations for a party, especially in the sweetmeat-department, for jellies, creams, and custard are all so nearly prepared for the table as to require little more skill than goes to mixing the contents of bottles and tins with the requisite quantity of milk or water.  By all these useful and excellent preparations, catering is made a much easier and simpler affair for both cook and housekeeper than any other period of our domestic history.

In this paper we purpose to give a few recipes for making favourite little cakes and sweetmeats with very little trouble and comparatively small expense.  Time was, when preparing almonds for cakes was an affair of much labour, and it was only at certain seasons of the year that cocoa-nuts were to be had.  At present almonds can be bought ready pounded, and desiccated cocoa-nut is, for culinary purposes, as good as that which is freshly grated.  To add to the conveniences of having these nuts ready preparedm, we now have dried whites of egg, known as ‘Nelson’s Albumen.’  This preparation is the whites of eggs carefully dried, so that it will keep for an indefinite length of time.  It is useful for any purpose to which the white of egg is applied and answers well for clearing soup and jelly.  When required for use, the Albumen is soaked in cold water, and whisked in the usual way.

This Albumen will be found very useful, when, as in the following recipes, only the whites of eggs are required for use, or when, as is often the case, an extra white of egg is wanted. 

The strength of the Albumen is fully equal to that of the fresh egg, and it is even more readily whisked to a strong froth.” – Charles Dickens, editor.  Household Words.  Saturday Apr. 12, 1884.