Historic Recipe: Corned Beef and Beetroot Hot (1944)

Source: Good Eating: A Second Book of War-Time Recipes (1944)

I bought beetroot last week to make borscht and had leftovers. This rather imaginative (weird?) little recipe from the height of Second World War rationing seemed to provide an interesting (weird?) way of using it up.

The book I took it from is a classic of the reader-submitted recipes genre, with this one being compiled by The Daily Telegraph. We have Miss Evans of East Horsley, Surrey to thank for this specific gem

Recipe:
2 thick slices of corned beef
1 cooked beetroot
1½ cupfuls brown stock
2 tablespoonfuls margarine or dripping
2 tablespoonfuls flour
1 teaspoonful vinegar
1 teaspoonful made mustard
Seasoning

Melt fat in saucepan, stir in flour. Add stock. Cook till thick and velvety smooth. Add vinegar, mustard and seasoning to taste. Dice corned beef, add to sauce. Have ready hot cooked beetroot sliced into hot pie dish; pour simmering contents of saucepan over. Serve.

So, let’s start by addressing some of the questions I had. How much is a cupful (it’s certainly not an official measurement as in the US), what is brown stock, what kind of vinegar did Miss Evans’ have in mind and, most importantly, what is the editor’s problem with simple abbreviations like ‘tbsps’?

I failed to find an answer to the cupful conundrum, but it turns out brown stock (as opposed to white stock) is made by using meat bones and veg that have been roasted, sometimes with the addition of tomato. I’m afraid I cheated and used some of my homemade vegetable stock as an alternative. It seems a range of different kinds of vinegar (malt, wine, cider) were available in the 1940s, so I used white wine vinegar as it was the first one I found in the cupboard.

Once I had dealt with these queries, the rest was easy enough apart from the bit where the key on the can of corned beef snapped off and I spent a solid ten minutes trying to prize it open with a tin opener. I used about one pretty standard mug of stock and the consistency seemed good, so I don’t that was too far off the intentions of the recipe. Seasoning stumped me a bit as it was plenty salty enough, so I chucked in some rosemary sprigs from the garden, which definitely improved the flavour (one of my neighbours had been doing some serious pruning and there was huge amounts of the stuff).

My beetroot was already cooked, so I heated it, and the dish, up in the oven with a spot of water to stop it drying out, then poured over the sauce. I must, confess I did not have high hopes for this recipe, particularly after I had seen what it all looked like mixed together – a sort of lumpy, greasy, pinky-brown stew effect – but, surprisingly, it was really quite good. The flavours all melded nicely and the sauce was the sort of thick and tasty that you want to dip buttered bread in.

Suggested alterations: Use butter instead of margarine

Final verdict: Honestly, I might make this again. Trust me, I’m as surprised about that as you are.

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