In anticipation of next month’s homage to Mrs Beeton we are pleased to introduce you to Jo Stephenson, comedy song writer and lover of all things Beeton related. Jo will be performing some of her witty ditties at our supperclub and so we invited her to guest blog to introduce herself:
Greetings supperclubbers. I’m really looking forward to coming to the Mrs Beeton-themed Dinner at the Manor on March 10. I’ll be singing some songs, which will hopefully add to everyone’s enjoyment of the night, but – to be honest – I’m mainly interested in the food. I have sampled the culinary genius of the delightful Dinner at the Manor hosts many times before at informal gatherings but I have never actually been to their supper club. I have been following its progress, however, and am constantly impressed with the menus, attention to detail and emphasis on using local produce.
Alongside writing and performing my own songs, my main passions in life are food and cooking and Mrs Beeton has a special place in my heart because, for some of her short life, she lived in my home town of Harrow in north London. It was from here that she used to get the train into the centre of town every day – one woman in a carriageful of men. In fact some people credit her with being the first female commuter. Sadly the house where she used to live has gone but she is still remembered by the road name – Beeton Close. I also feel drawn to Mrs Beeton because she was basically a journalist – more so than a cook – and that’s what I do for my day job. She may not have been a genuine domestic goddess but what she was good at was picking and choosing the best of other people’s recipes – including those of posh male French chefs – explaining them clearly and presenting them in a way that was accessible to Victorian women. That’s why she was so influential then – her book was very often given as a wedding gift to young brides – and why her legacy lived on.
I am privileged to own a fairly old edition of her Book of Household Management – from 1884, published nearly 20 years after her death in 1865. One of the things I love best about it is that people who have owned it over the years have written or pasted in their own recipes. There is one for “apricot cream” on the very first page, written in faded ink in beautiful copperplate handwriting.
Fresh vegetables are a particular passion of mine. I have my own allotment, which was the inspiration for the show I took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer. Called Can You Dig It? it’s basically a collection of funny songs by me and my comedy partner Dan Woods all about the ups and downs of growing your own and is coming to The Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds on 11 July (tickets not on sale yet, but pencil in your diary and we’ll do an announcement when they’re available). It was while doing the show in Edinburgh that I had my very first supper club experience at the marvellous My Home Supper Club and was very impressed with the restaurant-quality cooking and how elegant it all was. The Manor folk have a lot to live up to. I can’t wait to see how they will interpret some of Mrs B’s classics although I am a bit worried because she was a fan of cooking vegetables for a VERY long time.
Cheers Jo! We’ll be publishing the Beeton menu in the next week or so, and we can guarantee an exclusive ‘boiled salad’ in honour of her favourite cooking technique!! You can check out some of Jo’s songs ahead of her performance at the Manor on her website or on you tube (Allan or Dr Moo)
Her album is for sale here – http://www.jostephensonsings.com/album/