A World of Menus and Recipes

My mother-in-law called me up last night to ask for a recipe that she'd lost in transition. It comes from a wonderful old cookbook, A World of Menus and Recipes by a lady called Gertrude Bosworth Crum. Mrs Crum, who appears to have led an interesting life, ran Menus By Mail, a subscription service much used (it was said) by diplomats. When she published the book in 1970, it was rumored that Jacqueline Kennedy had relied on Menus By Mail, and that assured the book a success in certain quarters, notably my Jackie-holic mother.

In brisk, soigné prose, Mrs Crum pulls off the neat trick of appearing to address both the well-heeled and well-organized women who bought the book and their cooks. Efficiency is everything, and if there is a corner that can be cut, it's cut. Processed ingredients seem to appear in every recipe, and yet few of the recipes are budget productions. The menu from which the Beets in Aspic recipe is drawn is a "Weekend Luncheon" of Crab Salad (two pounds of crab meat - ouf! - 1½ cups mayonnaise and 1¼ cups mustard; simplicity itself), served with the beets ("If you have used a ring mold for your Julienne of Beets in aspic, fill the center of the ring with crab salad."), and followed by a Compote of Fresh and Cooked Fruits with Chocolate Cookies. I don't think that I've ever followed an entire menu.

I used to make the beet appetizer fairly often, back in the days of large dinner parties. As something that's made ahead and served straight from the refrigerator, it's an ideal starter, and even today its taste is unusual enough to make an impression at a "simple" dinner. (Context is everything.) Chilling the aspic in individual molds makes an even bigger impression, but its hardly necessary, and unmolding one aspic is obviously simpler than unmolding four or six. Don't count on finding the beets at the store you regularly shop at. 

Mrs Crum divides her book into halves: Spring & Summer, Autumn & Winter. The following recipe, needless to say, appears in the first half.

Julienne of Beets in Aspic

1 one-pound can shoestring beets

1 envelope unflavored gelatine

1/4 cup cold water

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon shredded green onion

Celery salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup lime juice

White pepper to taste

1 tablespoon horseradish

Use a 2 1/2 to 3 cup mold in any shape that you wish; or individual molds.

Drain the beets, reserving their liquid. Dissolve the gelatine in cold water. Heat the chicken broth, stir in the shredded onions, celery salt, sugar and lime juice. Add white pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and add the beet juice. Bring this mixture up to very hot, but do not boil. Add all the hot liquid to the dissolved gelatine. Stir to mix thoroughly. Add the beets and horseradish. Pour into a mold (first having rinsed in cold water but not dried) and chill. Serve when firm, or chill overnight. (March 2006)

Serves four to six.

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