Jamming with Mrs Beeton

The Blitzbokke in action.

It’s apricot jam-making time again. So at the first sight of apricots at the side of the road, I drove straight to the nearest veggie shop, bought 2kg boxes of the fruit and hauled out my hefty 1134-paged recipe “bible” – Mrs Beeton’s Cookery and Household Management.

If you’ve never heard of her, or her name conjures up an image of a plump elderly matron with flour on her hands, let me tell you more about the amazing Isabella Mary Beeton Beaton. Born in London in 1836, she was a young, hard-working journalist and writer whose famous encyclopaedic book has been around for 156 years and is still in print.

At the age of 20, she married Samuel Orchart Beeton, an ambitious publisher and magazine editor, and began writing a cookery column and translating French fiction for one of his publications, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.
Three years later, the couple decided to launch a series of 48-page monthly instalments for that mag. Isabella was so busy churning out her copy that she plagiarised recipes from other works as well as those sent in by readers of her column.
A year later, the instalments were published in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

It sold 60 000 copies in the first year.

Sadly, in 1865, while proofreading an abridged version to be called “The Dictionary of Every-Day Cookery”, Isabella, then 28, went into labour and died of puerperal fever. Biographers believe that Samuel unknowingly contracted syphilis in a premarital liaison with a prostitute and unwittingly passed this on to his wife causing her death, the death of two infant children and several miscarriages.

Another sadness was that hitting hard times, Samuel sold the rights of her book to Ward, Lock and Tyler (Ward Lock & Co) which, with revisions, has continued to be a best-seller. My much-stained copy, published in 1960, contains more than 400 pages of practical advice to housewives and 900 recipes.

It is the one cookery book among our dozens that always has the recipe for something basic. And thanks to Mrs B’s careful instructions, my apricot jam set beautifully!

Blooming good

When returning to the car park near the western gate of Silvermine last week, we came across a clump of badly burnt proteas showing startling signs of recovery.

From a distance, we could not make out what kind of “trees” could be so black. As we came closer, we saw that a mass of green shoots and unopened buds were growing out of the base of a “shrub”, which appeared utterly dead. The new buds looked like those of the common sugar bush (Protea repens) as their fire strategy is to store their seeds in a fire-safe environment.

However, if anybody knows for sure, please let me know.

Another cause for cheer is to see that once again gardens and road verges around Cape Town are bright with masses of blue agapanthus. I’m not sure whether we owe this good fortune to dutiful gardeners spraying against the destructive agapanthus borer, or the climate. The moth/larva is most sensitive to short term climate variations
Whatever the reason, it is lovely to see the mass displays again of what we once thought were indestructible flowers but came to realise they were not.

Backing the Boks

Lately, I’ve been so disappointed watching Springbok rugby games live on TV that I now only look at replays. That’s why I went outside to plant marigolds when the Springbok Sevens were playing Fiji in Dubai on Saturday December 3.

Then hearing how our wonderful, well-named Blitzbokke had trounced the Olympic champions 26 – 14, I watched in quick succession the replays of their quarter-finals against New Zealand, the semis against Wales and the finals. It was so elating to watch the players’ speed, agility and ability to throw and catch. And win!

Sevens may be new to me and many South Africans, but the game goes back to 1883 when two Scottish butchers Ned Haig and David Sanderson, held a fund-raising event for their local club, Melrose RFC. However, the seven-a-side game really only caught on elsewhere in the 1920s and 30s, with its popularity boosted by the Hong Kong Sevens in the 1970s, World Rugby Sevens Series in 1999 and this year when it was included in the Olympics.

The shorter match allows tournaments to be completed in a day or a weekend, and these events are traditionally more relaxed and fun than the often dour 80 minute game with 15 players. Fans frequently attend in fancy dress and entertainment is put on for them both on and off the field.

No tubers for teacher

It has been rewarding to hear from readers that the rather unprepossessing looking tubers I gave them in June are turning out to be lovely salmon pink cannas. As mentioned before, the original plants came from Ladies Mile, where they were in long beds on either side of the road. The pink ones were noticeably more enduring than the yellow or red, so we asked a City council gardener for a few tubers when next he dug them up to divide.

One reader who phoned remains on my conscience. This teacher wanted the cannas to brighten the school garden, which was being revamped during the June holidays. I had to disappoint her but said I would have another source later in the year. If she recognises herself and emails me, I can help her now with a few small growing plants.

Animal arithmetic

If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two – Phil Pastoret

fionachisholm@iafrica.com