Mrs E, writing her letter of advice to her dear little friend, Maria King Macarthur, recommended this table setting for an intimate dinner with seven or eight friends. Rather daring, perhaps, to feature Maintenon cutlets, which were named after the mistress of Louis fourteenth, but a nice way of describing mutton chops that had been flattened, sweetened, and fried. What intrigued me was the woodcocks on toast. Were there really woodcocks in Australia in 1812?
There certainly were in England, and here is M'sieu Verrall's recipe, published in 1759, and therefore quite possibly in Eleanor Reid's chest of books, when she sailed in 1799.
Woodcocks with orange sauce: Des becasses aux oranges
"Two brace of cocks I think is not too much for a dish as is here proposed," the great chef meditates; "draw them without cutting off the heads, preserve the ropes and livers for a forcemeat to put withinside, twist the feet back and truss 'em neatly with the beak thro' the thighs, and the feet upon the vent, spit them upon a lark-spit across upon another, spit and roast them with lards of bacon, when roasted dish 'em up, and cut a gash or two in the breast of each, squeeze upon them the juice of two or three oranges; your sauce must be a clear gravy with a morsel of shallot, pepper, and salt; under each cock put a nice toast well soak'd in a hot cullis, and serve them up."
Don't you love his style?
The "ropes and livers" simply means all the innards, including intestines (and whatever semi-processed grain they contain); lards of bacon are the fat bits under the rind. "Cullis" is a kind of gravy that was the basic sauce for cooks in Eleanor's era, and this is how you make it:
Take a big pot, and saute some bacon in the bottom, then add about two pounds of veal, a piece of ham, three or four carrots, onions and parsley, a head or two of celery, and pour in a pint of stock. Cover tightly, and simmer for an hour. As it reduces, keep on adding stock. Make a roux from half a pound of butter and three or four tablespoonsful of flour, add to the cullis. After stirring for about ten minutes, take out the meat, and push it through a sieve. Skim off the fat. And there you are.
Says Verrall, "Be sure great care is taken of this, for on it the goodness and beauty of all the rest depends."