Brighton Meat Press: A Brimfield Treasure

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As a culinary historian, I am always drawn to vintage cookery books and kitchen tools that tell a story of that period in time.  On my last visit to the Brimfield flea market, I came across this amazing Brighton Meat Press on a table in an obscure section of the market.  The gentleman had a mere folding table with a few kitchen wares on display.  After a short negotiation, I was able to purchase the meat press for only $20.00 and thus began my research for more information on this beautiful cast iron piece of history, later finding them for sale upwards of $165.00.

The press was manufactured in the late 1800s by the Logan & Strobridge Iron Co. in New Brighton, Pennsylvania.  The press is just over 5 pounds and measures 8 inches tall and 4 1/2 inches wide. The press consists of 3 piece including the base with a twistable threaded rod, a cup to collect the juice with a pouring spout, and the top press plate.  The Logan & Strobridge Co. crafted a variety of these products geared towards making women’s work in the home easier.  They produced many manual coffee grinders, fruit presses, ice shavers, and meat grinders.

What exactly is a meat press and why would this have been found in late 1800s household?  The answer to these questions came from much research to find the reasoning behind it’s  intended purpose.  The meat press was used to extract the juices of meats to feed infants, invalids, convalescents and nursing mothers.  The concoction generally created was known as “Beef Tea” and unlike today’s versions of beef broths, the beef tea contained far superior nutrients from the meat and believed restorative qualities. This vintage meat press would have been used to press out every last drop of nourishment for the sick household member or the soldier recovering from wounds, such as those in the care of Florence Nightingale.  Beef tea was often prescribed by physicians through the early 1900s for patients experiencing inflammatory diseases and digestion problems. As you can read in the excerpt below the beneficial effects were assumed yet they were unable to confirm how the tea exactly helped the ill.  It has become a general consensus that the beef tea was far easier to digest and get nutrients from, rather that the often unpalatable cooked meats available at that time.  Often it was believed that meats required hours of boiling, which left the meat unflavorful and tough to chew and difficult to digest.  These beef teas when prescribed were often served at every meal.

To Make Beef Tea. (The Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton)

1858. INGREDIENTS. — 1 lb. of lean gravy-beef, 1 quart of water, 1 saltspoonful of salt.

Mode. — Have the meat cut without fat and bone, and choose a nice fleshy piece. Cut it into small pieces about the size of dice, and put it into a clean saucepan. Add the water cold to it; put it on the fire, and bring it to the boiling-point; then skim well. Put in the salt when the water boils, and simmer the beef tea gently from 1/2 to 3/4 hour, removing any more scum should it appear on the surface. Strain the tea through a hair sieve, and set it by in a cool place. When wanted for use, remove every particle of fat from the top; warm up as much as may be required, adding, if necessary, a little more salt. This preparation is simple beef tea, and is to be administered to those invalids to whom flavourings and seasonings are not allowed. When the patient is very low, use double the quantity of meat to the same proportion of water. Should the invalid be able to take the tea prepared in a more palatable manner, it is easy to make it so by following the directions in the next recipe, which is an admirable one for making savoury beef tea. Beef tea is always better when made the day before it is wanted, and then warmed up. It is a good plan to put the tea into a small cup or basin, and to place this basin in a saucepan of boiling water. When the tea is warm, it is ready to serve.

Time. — 1/4 to 3/4 hour. Average cost, 6d. per pint.

Sufficient. — Allow 1 lb. of meat for a pint of good beef tea.

MISS NIGHTINGALE says, one of the most common errors among nurses, with respect to sick diet, is the belief that beef tea is the most nutritive of all article. She says, “Just try and boil down a lb. of beef into beef tea; evaporate your beef tea, and see what is left of your beef: you will find that there is barely a teaspoonful of solid nourishment to 1/4 pint of water in beef tea. Nevertheless, there is a certain reparative quality in it — we do not know what — as there is in tea; but it maybe safely given in almost any inflammatory disease, and is as little to be depended upon with the healthy or convalescent, where much nourishment is required.”

 

 

The Brimfield antique flea market is held three times a year in Brimfield, Massachusetts.  This outdoor flea market hosts near a mile of various vendors and private sellers.  The flea market is held every May, July and September for a 6 day period each time. For more information visit their website at https://brimfieldantiquefleamarket.com/

©Susan Brassard, chef411@wordpress.com, July 10, 2017

Open Hearth Cookery: Historic Deerfield Massachusetts

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Amelia Simmons may not be well-know amongst the mass variety of modern cookbooks available today, yet she is of critical importance to those who study the history of cookery books in America.  I am writing this as a reflection during this week of our country’s Independence Day, where much of what I consumed came from random posts, blogs and tweets touting public selfies of celebrations.  During these times I find it comforting to reflect on where we have come from as a country, gender and as modern culinary experts.

Often, I find many historic cookbooks tossed aside at local yard sales and flea markets, many for prices less that a dollar.  These books, manuals and pamphlets are tossed aside as being “old” and outdated for modern society.  Where others see old, I see as a window into a time and place where I get to step into the author’s shoes and live their life for a moment.  This also helps validate my collection/obsession with acquiring these texts before they are gone forever.

This past spring I was fortunate enough to see one of my favorite cookery books come to life in the open hearth kitchen at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts.  This hand-on hearth cooking class was based on the first published American cookbook….American Cookery by Amelia Simmons.  The book was first published in 1796 during a time when the cookbooks available to Americans came mainly from England.  These European books often added side notes to their original texts to appeal to American buyer by including recipes based on ingredients available within the colonies at that time.

American Cookery is the first American cookbook to pair turkey with cranberries, offer a receipt for Independence Cake and Johnny Cakes using the widely available Indian corn meal.  Little is known of Amelia Simmons except her own self-title as “An American Orphan” on the cover of her book.  Many have claimed Ms. Simmons as their own as she mentions ingredients available specifically to the Connecticut and New York regions.  It is fitting that no one area can claim to have produced Ms. Simmons as she is now remembered as the first American cookbook author, a symbol for the whole country of those who broke away from the norm and claimed independence in all areas of their lives including the dinner table.

My personal experience at Deerfield allowed me to step back in time and comprehend the difficulty of preparing meals with an open hearth fireplace.  This is a rare glimpse into the amount of labor and planning one must have had to accomplish the day’s chores and produce a meal that was well-prepared and nourishing for the family.  On this day I was charged with preparing the stuffed fowl (chicken) for roasting on the manual rotisserie.  The recipe was vague compared to modern standards of precision, yet it gave enough critical information to produce a tender fowl.

The stuffing consisted of wheat bread, beef suet, eggs, thyme, marjoram, pepper, salt and a gill of wine.  The birds where trussed, skewered onto the rotisserie and place towards the fire.  Every 20 minutes I rotated the rotisserie manually and basted the birds with salt water, using a whisk brush.  These recipes do not come with and oven temperature, nor do they tell how to know when the birds are done other than “hang down to a fteady folid fire….and rosft until fteam emits from the breaft”

As you can see in the pictures above, the final result was magnificent.  The chicken was moist, tender and flavorful.  Working an open hearth takes patience, attention to the coals of the fire, and physical strength.  The day’s experience was hot, dirty and yet so rewarding whence we all gathered around the tables to consume the fruits of our labor.  An experience I hope to repeat again in the near future.

©Susan Brassard, chef411@wordpress.com, July 2017