Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ellice Handy's Light Chicken Stew

Towards the end of the nineteenth century on the 15th of August 1887 Sophia Blackmore, a volunteer missionary from England set up the first educational institution for girls in Singapore, then part of Malaya. It became known over time as the Methodist Girls School or MGS. The school was first located in Blackmore Drive in Singapore but later moved to a more spacious area in order to accommodate a larger group of students as the school became popular. It is interesting to note too that some boys , usually brothers of the school girls, were also accepted into the all girls school, albeit under strict parental guidance.

I always wondered who Sophia Blackmore was whenever I browsed Ellice Handy's 'My Favourite Recipes'. On page ten of the 1990 revised edition of the book is a recipe for Jam Drops and in bracket it says "Recipe from Sophia Blackmore". I have tried and tested this recipe many years ago when I was newly married and like all Ellice Handy's recipes I have found that I could swear by it. It was a lovely crumbly pastry filled with jam and quite, quite delicious.

On another page, is a recipe for Cheese Straws and again in bracket it says "From Mrs. P.L. Peach". I have yet to try this one but I can almost guarantee myself that it will be good.

I know now that these were English women and very likely fellow missionaries who had spent part of their lives in colonial Malaya.

Ellice Handy was the principal of the Methodist Girls School just after the surrender of the Japanese troops after World War II. It was she who brought the school back to its feet in the aftermath of the war in 1945.

I must admit, a little belatedly, and of course guiltily, that I had filched the original copy from my mother's cookbook collection when I left home. The original copy had a linen tape binding with a natural printed pressboard cover in beige. Oh if I could only get my hands on the original. It was first published in 1952, obviously after Ms. Handy had become quite familiar with those exotic Asian ingredients and dishes. She had proven herself to be quite adventurous for she even had a recipe for a durian cake. I am inclined to think that that was perhaps one of the first recipes for a western type durian cake in the world.

Her Curry Laksa is very authentic and so are her recipes for Siam Laksa, Indian Rojak, Mee Siam and loads more. I have always depended on her Curry Laksa recipe whenever I entertain and it has never ever failed me. My guests always went back for second helpings if not for thirds.

Her time and dedication to local foods and recipes have, I am sure, been very much appreciated by many a Malaysian during my mother's time. Her cookbook includes 'unusual' Malay recipes and uses both Malay and English terms for fruits and vegetables. I doubt that one can find many cookbooks in Malaysia with local recipes written in accurate detail and true to its origin in form and in taste at the time.

It is for this reason that I have always searched for her cookbook since I lost the original copy, the one that I filched from my mother's collection of cookbooks. I repent, both for filching and for losing that precious book although my mother still does not know it (snigger). I paid RM 39.50 for the reprint but it has never had the same feel as the original. The photograph below shows the 1992 revised edition.

With much nostalgia and searching I came across this website that stocks, buys and sells old cookbooks and it was there that I laid eyes on an image of the original book. Whatever vague visuals I had of it has been, thankfully, embedded deeper and now appears more defined in the recesses of my memory.

One of the first and best banana cakes that I have tasted was made from a recipe from this old cookbook. It was light, fluffy and delightfully delicious. That was the first time that I had used soured milk in a cake recipe.

The chicken stew recipe that I made for lunch today is based on Ellice Handy's recipe. It is utterly simple and although I have made it so many times throughout the years I still find that I need make almost negligible adjustments for improvement. The only thing that I have added that she did not mention in her recipe were two bay leaves. And as always the dish is deeply and satisfyingly delicious with the warm comforting feel that a stew should always have.

Ellice Handy has since passed on but the time that she devoted to 'My Favourite Recipes' will be treasured by many who have come across her book and have sworn their lives by it.

I share with you Ellice's Handy's Chicken Stew. Free range chicken or 'ayam kampung' would be good to use for a stew and this recipe is very good with beef as well.

1 chicken, cut into pieces (I used 4 whole legs)
2 desstspoons diced onion ( I used 1 Large onion) and I believe dessertspoon measures do not exist anymore.
3/4 cup sliced carrots (Iused the same amount of baby carrots)
3/4 cup button mushrooms ( I didn'y have any today)
A small piece of cinnamon stick
2 cloves
2 tblespoon flour
Salt and pepper
2 tblespoon butter (I used 3-4 Tablespoons of cooking oil)
2 bay leaves

Coat chicken chunks with flour. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and brown the chicken pieces all over but leave it half cooked. Remove and drain. Keep aside.

Saute diced onions in a tablespoon of oil until golden and soft. Put in chicken pieces and add enough water to cover chicken pieces. Stir a little.

Add salt and pepper and bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Add carrots and mushrooms and simmer till chicken is cooked through.

I added a tablespoon of cornflour and a little water at the end to thicken the gravy. Simmer a while more and serve.

Slurp and enjoy.


Nadia said...

aiyaa mummy, I'm fasting..this looks so good!!! oh by the way..check it out...i joined the girls in a food blog

LOLOLOLOLOL it's your fault! lol

Aileen said...

Hi, I am thrilled to bits to have come across this blog.. I too have an edition of Ellice Handy's "My Favorite Recipes" which I borrowed from my mother and "YES" the recipes have always turned out fabulous...

I think it is because the recipes were written with so much love by Ms Handy and you could also tell that she was a terrible grateful person because she always gave credit to recipes that she adapted from other persons.. eg.. Sophia Blackmore etc.

You are also spot on on the Curry Laksa... I made it just yesterday and it was FABULOUS... my daughter is allergic to sea food and that is why I always make Curry Laksa at home so I can be sure that it is free from seafood!.

Whenever I thumb through Ms Handy's recipe book and I am whisked back to old Malaya.. I am only 37 and will not fully appreciate what colonial Malaya was like but her insights (she even made references to the name of markets etc)... makes me wish that if I had one wish.. I would wish that I could have met the wonderful person Ms Handy was..

Perhaps all of us could set up a fan club ... and maybe put together a collection of tried and tested recipes... together with some history to carry on the dedication that Ms Handy had for education.

Best wishes,
Aileen (

cell said...

I've grown up on Ellice Handy's chicken stew too! I've just pinched one of my mum's "her world" cookbook magazines from 1990 that features Ellice Handy's recipes that was intrigued as to who this lady was, and how did she become so accustomed to asian dishes and ingredients yet having a very English slant as well, along with the sambal belacan and nasi lemak recipes, there were pages featuring scones, breads and salads too. Very I'm trying to ask around for friend's mums who've got her original book....

eurasiangirl said...

My mum & aunts all received this book as a wedding gift in the later 60.s & early 70' s. Most of them married "europeanos" as my eurasian grandma would say.
I live in texas & have been trying to persuade one of them to give up their book for the last 25 years. That's when my parents divorced & mum went back to england :(
Thanks for this blog
I love the pineapple tarts!! This book is also a gem because you can adapt the recipes if you live overseas.


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