In a cookery programme broadcast over the weekend, a well-known chef mentioned an old cooking pot called a conjuror… I had never heard of one before, and I guess not many viewers had either! however, when I consult Eliza Acton, who wrote a popular cookery book published in 1846, there is a section on ‘stewing and broiling’ and there is an illustration of a conjuror. I can imagine that these might become the latest popular cookery item, I can imagine manufacturers making them by the thousand, every home having one, every gift to the dedicated cook being one, cookery books written about them…
A conjuror seems to offer an economical and efficient way of cooking which keeps direct heat from the food being cooked, leaving it tender and juicy. This is what Eliza has to say on the matter… I love the last couple of lines!
Steaks or cutlets may be quickly cooked with a sheet or two of lighted paper only, in the apparatus shown in the preceding page, and called a conjuror. lift off the cover and lay in the meat properly seasoned with a small slice of butter under it, and insert the lighted paper in the aperture shown in the plate; in from eight to ten minutes the meat will be done, and found to be remarkably tender, and very palatable: it must be turned and moved occasionally during the process. This is an especially convenient mode of cooking for persons whose hours of dining are rendered uncertain by the nature of their avocations. For medical men engaged in extensive country practice it has often proved so; and we would especially recommend it tot the notice of emigrants, to whom it would prove invaluable. The part in which the meat is placed is of black tin and fits closely into the stand, which is of sheet iron. The conjuror from which our design was drawn, was purchased in a country town in Essex, and was exceedingly well made and very cheap. we find on inquiry the maker has quitted the place or we would insert his address.
I investigated further, and found that the earlier cookery writer, Hannah Glass, also referred to them, but she called the equipment a ‘necromancer’… similar sort of a name! Between Hannah and Eliza, another cookery book was published by ‘A lady’, called ‘Domestic Economy and Cookery for Rich and Poor’: in it, a conjuror is described as ‘an excellent contrivance, and no-one should travel by land or sea without a couple of them’; ‘the lady’ goes on to say they should have ‘lamps, by which anything may be cooked in a few minutes, or stewed at pleasure at the side of the grate, or by setting them in the oven’. She continues, ”from the close fitting of the cover, and the broad make, water is quickly boiled, which is often ill to be had abroad, in small vessels or in hot countries; it may even be used in a carriage, and is excellent for a sickroom or nursery, where common cooks are not to be depended on for the diet of invalids or children’.
She finishes off, so expressively, ‘it is as well fitted to these orders where the careful housewife has to prepare something more nourishing, than the other branches of the family require; for the husband that works early and late at some poisonous manufacture, ¼ lb meat with a little vegetables, well and properly cooked, will make an excellent dinner for one person’.