How to Skin a Lion Challenge: The Conclusion

Over the last few months I have been blogging about my challenge to try out some of the outmoded advice in my HTSALx600upcoming book How to Skin a Lion.

It has been a fun adventure and I have learnt some new skills that I will put to good use.

The most interesting challenge was trying the 1856 recipe for making mushroom ketchup (incidentally it has also been my most popular post with over 90 people reading it – seems there is a crowd of mushroom-lovers out there!). The recipe itself was a bit vague so I had to freestyle a bit, but I was really excited to try this forgotten condiment.

I imagined myself as a Victorian, chowing down on some meat with mushroom ketchup at a back-alley Ale House. Unfortunately this is not how it turned out and it seems my modern palate cannot deal with the amount of salt used in the original recipe.

I am still interested in trying to find a less salty recipe for mushroom ketchup and hope to mushroomsx600have another attempt at making it in the future.

I really enjoyed trying out some of the ‘mystical’ advice and although I am a sceptic at heart I was fascinated to see if any insight could be gained through trying to tell my fortune with playing cards.

The fortune-telling thus far has not proved to be accurate, but it was a good way to self-analyse and provided some useful starting points for introspection.

Trying to assess someone’s character through their facial moles was always going to be dubious and it didn’t disappoint but it kept me amused for a few hours while I searched for celebrities with moles who I could analyse!

The most useful skills I learned were how to darn (although I certainly need some more practice!) and how to bandage an arm, which was actually pretty simple but definitely a good skill to have.

The instruction I am most likely to use again is how to make lemon barley water as it was really easy but tasted delicious and fresh and I think makes a perfect drink for a summers’ day.barleyingredientsx600

There is a lot more advice in How to Skin a Lion that I would love to follow, such as some of the recipes for making lip balm and ginger wine, but unfortunately due to being Victorian recipes they use ingredients that are either frowned upon – spermaceti (the oil from a sperm whale’s head) or very hard to source (sugar loaf).

However even if I can’t actually try all the advice and recipes contained in the book it is still really interesting to marvel at how things used to be done and take pleasure in collecting and sharing lost or outmoded advice.

Just a few weeks now until How to Skin a Lion comes out, so hopefully some readers might stop by this blog and report on trying out some of the advice themselves, that would be wonderful!

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How to make barley water

When I was searching for entries in the book which I could recreate myself this one immediately jumped out at me. I have lovely memories of drinking lemon barley water on hot sunny days as a child and it was something I was keen to recreate (shame about the lack of hot sunny days in March, damn you British weather!).barleyingredientsx600

The ingredients are nice and simple so I thought this would be an easy task, however I did not bank on the international barley crisis*. I tried my usual supermarket, no barley (not even in the health foods section with its shelves heaving with dried beans, pulses and obscure grains). I tried my closest supermarket, feeling more confident I would find the elusive barley as this is a ‘posh’ supermarket, but no, still no barley.

Supermarkets failing me I trekked into Cambridge where I sought out a health food shop and there at last was some barley. Ingredients secured, let the task begin <blows whistle>.

* There isn’t really an actual international barley crisis.

The instructions

The recipe comes from Cassell’s Home Encyclopedia (1934) a fascinating book full of amazing advice and instruction (there is a really lovely entry in the How to Skin a Lion on how to set a sundial that I also got from this book). The instructions are as follows:

barleycookingx600Wash 2 tablespoonfuls of pearl barley in cold water, put it into a saucepan with two pints of cold water, bring to the boil and boil gently till the liquid is reduced to 1 pint.’

It is at this point I realise my barley quest wasn’t quite as successful as I first thought, I had bought ‘pot’ barley not ‘pearl’ barley. A quick google suggests the difference is not disastrous and in fact the pot version may be a little healthier.

I left the concoction to boil and reduce for at least half an hour and it turned a lovely caramel brown colour. The instructions gives various options at this point, either adding salt, sugar or milk to enhance the drink, but I opted for lemon:

For large quantities of barley water as a wholesome drink make as above, adding to every pint, while hot, the  juice of half a lemon and one tablespoon of sugar.’

I squeezed in one whole lemon (not worrying about the pips as it was going to get strained anyway) and two tablespoons of caster sugar, which quickly dissolved.

I then strained the liquid into a jug to cool. Unfortunately I didn’t leave it long enough so when I served some up for the kids to try over dinner they were a little put off that it was still warm!barleydrinkx600

My 7-year-old was most impressed declaring ‘You made this drink all on your own – wow!’ He was fairly keen and said it was ‘warm and zesty’. The 3-year-old was less keen and said ‘I don’t like it’, while the 4-year-old was in such a bad mood he wouldn’t even try it!

It was nice warm, but was even better the next day when it had properly cooled down. It tasted really nice and lemony and almost exactly like the lemon barley drink from my childhood. I will certainly be making this recipe again as it was so easy and I can see it being a lovely refreshing drink to have on a summers day.