A delightful gift to receive: excerpts from the first official Royal Navy cookery book, published in 1930. The rules are an entertaining mix of the common-sense (‘scrupulous cleanliness is imperative’) and the now-forgotten-and-therefore-exotic (‘Mock Turtle Soup: half tin calf’s head, 2 oz ham …’), mingling with a dash of frowning Authority (‘In the Hobart [mincing machine] … the hand is on no account to be inserted … any rating seen to insert his hand is to be reported to the Accountant Officer … Hurt Certificates will not be granted in case of accidents.’
The practical instructions for boiling a thousand eggs for breakfast so that each and every man could receive his personal two eggs soft boiled are impressive in a different way, but in spite of this consideration I guess they were none of them fat – 25 lb of sausages allowed for 100 men, for example. At the same time the cooks received firm instructions that ‘food should be presented in as attractive a manner as possible’, along with recommendations about garnishing with vegetables cut into little star shapes, and ‘cocoanut delicately tinted pink’, which come rather oddly from the mouths of Their Lordships of the Admiralty.
There is a chapter on Invalid Cooking too, though you might have to be a very sick matelot to receive these preparations. I was pleased to see beef tea taking a prominent place, and there were careful instructions for preparing a single Invalid Chop to make it easy to consume. Deep-fried brains sounded less digestible as well as less palatable, though I suppose you could pick off the fatty breadcrumb coating and eat the brain chunk within. The Albumen Water sounds very odd, but was a kind of fortified lemonade.
And then there was the Egg Jelly, and yes of course I had to try it out. Basically it is jelly with eggs in (duh!) and the flocculent mixture lightly dressed with scum did look pretty bad (in fact, worse than the photo).
However: ‘Have faith!’ I cried, ‘Their Lordships would never tell you wrong!’ and I brought up the heat, whisking at intervals and watching intently for the first signs of movement on the surface to avoid it boiling. The fluid strained off looked much better:
As invalid food it has much to recommend it. The ingredients are nutritious; the jelly texture would slide into a very poorly patient’s mouth without any effort on their part; and the sharp flavour would be refreshing. The finished product comes out with a texture between shop-bought jelly and lemon meringue pie filling, and you know what? It is nicer than either of them.
Should you wish to try: 1 egg, 3 oz sugar, juice and very thinly peeled rind of 1 lemon plus enough cold water to make up the juice to half a pint, half an ounce of gelatine (perhaps a little less gelatine as we now all have fridges to help it set). Whop it all up very thoroughly to break down the egg particles, heat gently until it is quite hot and slightly thicker, but ON NO ACCOUNT SHOULD IT BOIL. Strain into a bowl/mould to set.