Friday, 21 August 2015

"The Horror, The Horror" Vegetable Stew; and What Rich People Think the Poor Should Eat

Despite having a truly chef-worthy name, Adolphe Smith (the author of today's recipe) was not a cook. In fact, he was an early radical socialist whose best known work was the written element of the photojournalism book Street Life in London (1877), which offered the middle classes an insight into just how grim poverty could be.

"The Old Clothes of St Giles." Or, where poor people bought their clothes.
Street Life in London (Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, London, 1877) by John Thomson and Adolphe Smith,

So why, in 1870, was Smith writing to the Food Journal with an article on vegetarian recipes?

Well, like many middle class people before and after him, Smith wanted to help the poor, and he thought a good place to start would be to address the fact that they obstinately wouldn't feed themselves nutritious food.
"To remedy these evils [poor nutrition among those living in poverty], good teachers and willing pupils are wanted: but in England the poor decidedly object to learn, and no one has had the courage to attempt to teach them."  
Vegetables Better than Nothing. (1870). Food Journal, 1, 125-125.
It all rather reminds me of that classic bully move, where the bully hits their victim with their own fist, while saying "Stop hitting yourself!". Yes, poor people, "Stop starving yourself!"

In any case, after some half-baked political theories Smith goes on to offer three vegetarian recipes, which form the portion of the Food Journal article that were excerpted in the Melbourne Leader later in 1870.

'The Horror, The Horror' Vegetable Stew.
I fed this to my toddler and she looked like she had feasted on the blood of her enemies.

Today, we turn to the first of the three recipes, root vegetable stew (or, 'A Medley of Out-of-Season Vegetables You Can't Afford'). The first defining characteristic of this recipe is the sheer variety of vegetables involved. And as anyone who has ever been poor knows, 'variety' is the watchword of frugal eating. The second defining characteristic of the recipe is beetroot, so consider yourself warned.

Here is the original recipe, as it appeared in the Leader:

COOKING VEGETABLES.— For a cheap; yet tasty and substantial dish let me suggest that the housewife grate two carrots, two turnips, one parsnip, a little beetroot and artichoke, into one   pint of split- peas, boiled in two quarts of soft water for two hours. The whole might then be boiled with three teaspoonfuls of Indian, wheaten,   or Scotch meal, mixed in cold: water, leaving it to simmer for two hours more ; a little parsley, mint, and thyme will flavour the dish. More     water might be added if necessary. This some what complicated : ' hodge-podge' would well satisfy a middle-class family, and cost less, at     any rate, than a joint. It would not do, perhaps, every day, but might occasionally save the   meat, and avoid the horror, of stinting at dinner.
RECIPES. (1870, September 3). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918), p. 5. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from


1 large carrot
1 turnip
1 small parsnip
1 small beetroot
1 small artichoke
250g split peas
1.5l water
2 T cornflour
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped mint
A few springs of thyme

Cooking Time

2 and a half hours, most of which will not require your presence.


4 serves filling enough to get you through a cold night on the streets of Victorian London


Grate all the vegetables, and put them in a large saucepan with the split peas and water. A food processor with a grater attachment makes quick work of this – although when you put the beetroot through it will look like you’ve blended some small hapless critter, so prepare yourself for the gore. Seriously, we’re talking blood spatters here reminiscent of a promotional poster for Dexter.

Bring the water to the boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Cook for one hour.

In a cup, mix the cornflour with a dash of cold water. Stir it into the soup.
Cook the soup for a further hour, stirring to prevent it sticking.
Ten minutes before serving, add the parsley and mint, and the leaves stripped from the thyme.

Add more water at any point if the vegetables rise above the water line.

Season with salt and pepper before serving.

Don't wear white while eating this dish. Or any clothes that you like. Maybe eat it naked.