Mrs. Beeton’s pastry essentials

Victorian pastry making tools

Victorian pastry-making equipment suggested by Isabella Beeton in 1861.

Mrs. Beeton knew it took time to learn how to make good pastry, which she called paste.

…the art of paste requires much practice, dexterity and skill…
Isabella Beeton, 1861

Her main tips are:

  • Pastry-making utensils must be kept scrupulously clean and not used for anything else.
  • Use a light touch with cool hands and work in a cool place.
  • Water and/or butter must be mixed in gradually.
  • Tins, dishes etc. must be well buttered.
  • Rich pastry must be put in the oven promptly, as soon as it’s made.

Cooking temperature

Her other tips are all about oven heat and are not relevant to owners of electronically controlled ovens. Just as well, because she uses terms that mean little to us. A raised pie needs a “soaking heat”. Puff pastry won’t rise in an oven that’s too “slack”.

Equipment

After rolling the pastry, ideally on a cool marble slab, you could use corner cutters for a neat finish on a square pie. There were plenty of shaped ornamental cutters available in the 1860s or the wheel on the end of the paste-pincers was good for cutting  pastry shapes freehand. The flutings on the wheel would make a patterned edge like pinking shears do on fabric.

The paste-pincers are for pressing together the edges of the top and bottom of a pie to stick them as firmly as possible. These are new to me and I imagine they could be quite useful. Please do comment if you’ve ever used such a thing.

The picture of the jagger isn’t very clear but it looks like an interesting way of making a decorative edge on pies and tarts: an alternative to pressing edges with the prongs of a fork. The raised pie mould is magnificent but how easy would it be to get the pastry out in good condition? Victorian cooks did work a lot with moulds, including the gorgeous copper jelly and pudding moulds that look so splendid hanging on the walls of historic kitchens, so perhaps they wouldn’t have had any trouble turning out a fine raised pie.

A jagger wasn’t just for pastry. It could also mean a toothed chisel, and other similar tools. We don’t use the word now, though jagged edges are still with us. Jagged suggests something undesirable to me, not really a decorative feature

Mix the eggs with flour…cut them the shape of a long narrow leaf…cut them with a jagger so they will be notched.

from the New York Voice, 1892

She didn’t mention pie funnels.


Share

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen December 16, 2011 at 5:32 am

The raised pie mould is a springform pan type. If it were well-oiled or greased and floured, it shouldn’t have any problems releasing a pastry.

Reply

lel December 16, 2011 at 9:35 am

I’m sure you’re right, and it would work well for you and other good pastry cooks with neat fingers, but I have a feeling there would be bits clinging to the fine detail of the moulding if I tried it out.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: