An award, and a bit more about us…

We’re thrilled to have received a Very Inspiring Blogger Award for The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies!

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

We were nominated for the award by Karen Hammonds, who writes the wonderful Revolutionary Pie blog. Inspired by a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, she is now documenting her own mission to re-create the tastes of the 18th and 19th century in her New York apartment. Her site is beautifully illustrated and bursting with enthusiasm for food history – definitely worth a look!

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award is a way in which fellow web writers can show their appreciation for other blog sites. To accept the award, you just have to follow the following rules:

  • Thank and link back to the person who nominated you
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers and comment on their blogs to tell them

What a great opportunity to share a few facts about Westminster City Archives and what we do! Here goes…

7 facts about Westminster City Archives

  1. Westminster City Archives is a free, public service, dedicated to documenting and sharing Westminster’s rich history. Our local studies library and archive are open to everyone: you’ll find us in St Ann’s Street, a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey

    The Searchroom at the Archives Centre

    The Searchroom at the Archives Centre

  2. The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is our first foray into the blogosphere, but there are lots of ways to discover our collections online. Visit our Archives Showcase hub to explore more of our digital projects, or follow us on Facebook!

    Discover The Life and Loves of a Victorian Clerk, our online Victorian diary project

    Discover The Life and Loves of a Victorian Clerk, our online Victorian diary project

  3. The earliest item in our collections dates back to 1256 and the reign of King Henry III

    Letters patent of 1256: the oldest document in the Archives

    Letters patent of 1256: the oldest document at Westminster City Archives

  4. All of the items at the Archives help to tell the story of the development of Westminster, and we have particularly strong collections in Art & Design and West End Theatre.

    Interior view of the New Queen's Theatre, 1834

    Interior view of the New Queen’s Theatre, 1834

  5. Many people visit us to trace their ancestors who lived in Westminster. Within our parish records you will also find some well-known names. Purcell, Cromwell, Byron and Constable are just a few of the famous figures you might stumble across in the Archives!

    Haydn witnessed this marriage at St James, Piccadilly, in 1795

    Haydn witnessed this marriage at St James, Piccadilly, in 1795

  6. Our Cooking Up History  group members are among 30 fabulous volunteers who regularly dedicate their time to supporting the work of the Archives

    Volunteer Jim Garrod researching political cartoons for one of our projects

    Volunteer Jim Garrod researching political cartoons for one of our projects

  7. We run a busy programme  events, including tours, talks and exhibitions, and give the public a behind-the-scenes look at the Archives for the annual Open House London event. You can find out what’s on by checking our Facebook page or visiting our dedicated events page

    Our Pass the Flame exhibition was held to celebrate the London Olympics in 2012

    Our Pass the Flame exhibition was held to celebrate the London Games in 2012

So that’s us! Now for our nominations. Being new to blogging, we’re still discovering the many fascinating sites out there, but here are a few of our favourites so far…

The Old Foodie – The author of Pie: a global history offers rich pickings for anyone interested in the history of food!

Food History Jottings – Ivan Day’s blog never fails to fascinate with its informative and entertaining articles on British culinary heritage.

History is Served – This historic foodways blog from Colonial Williamsburg is delightfully presented and a great way to discover cooking techniques from centuries gone by.

Bites of Food History – Historic recipes, step by step in words and pictures.

Westminster Walking – Few people know London as well as City of Westminster Guide Joanna Moncrieff does.

Tired of London, Tired of Life – Something to do in London every day of the year, including lots of great suggestions for history enthusiasts!

The Library Time Machine – A great blog from Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s Local Studies Library. Indepth articles along with fantastic images from their collections.

Jane Austen’s World – A bit of fun for Jane Austen fans, this lively blog covers everything Austen, and offers a good insight into life in the Regency period.

These are just a few of the blogs that have caught our eye. There are many more great sites about food heritage and London history… get Googling!

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The Cooking Up History sessions – 2: kidney florentine and fruit dumplings

Following the successful launch of our Cooking Up History sessions last month, we were inspired to put on our pinnies again to try out some more recipes from our Georgian cookbook. Willing volunteers David and Christina joined us in the Archives kitchen, and enthusiastically took up the challenge of recreating a couple of rather unusual recipes.

Our Archives Assistant Kim sits down with David and Christina to try the Florentine

Our Archives Assistant Kim sits down with David and Christina to try the Florentine

First up on the menu was a sweet and savoury dish called ‘Veal Kidney Florentine’.  Baked in a pastry case, the dish didn’t look anything out of the ordinary: a generously filled pie with a decorative latticed topping. We all agreed, however, the flavour was distinctly out of kilter with today’s cuisine, and tasted nothing like anything we had ever tried.

We were really pleased with the look of our veal kidney florentine

We were really pleased with the look of our veal kidney florentine

Not everyone was keen, but David was fairly positive. He thought the dish was “not unpleasant, but very unusual and exotic”. Perhaps not surprising given the unfamiliar blend of ingredients used in the filling: a tongue-tingling mix of kidney, apples, orange peel and lettuce, spices (mace and nutmeg) and a good glug of sherry.

Christina felt it was “more of a sweet dish like an apple pie rather than a savoury one”, and rather unusual therefore to find served as a first course. The method was easy to follow, and everyone agreed that the dish looked stunning, even if the taste didn’t quite live up to its appearance! We wondered whether the recipe could be tweaked for modern palates by adding more meat, and decreasing the fruit content, as the taste of the apple was pretty overpowering.

Our 18th century style orange and lemon dumplings

Our 18th century style orange and lemon dumplings

Moving on from the florentine, we had a go at ‘Orange and Lemon Dumplins’. To make these, we scooped the flesh out of lemons and oranges, and filled the zesty casings with a spice and brandy infused almond breadcrumb mixture.

The batter resembled the texture of thick porridge as we spooned it into the fruit shells. The ‘lid’ of each fruit was then put back, and secured by wrapping the whole citrus in muslin. We then faced an agonising decision. How long should we cook them for? The recipe suggested that they would “take as much boyling as a piece of beif”. How long is a piece of string?

The orange and lemon dumplings, boiling in their muslin wrappers

The orange and lemon dumplings, boiling in their muslin wrappers

In the end, we did cook the fruit too long. Overboiled, the dumplings were at the point of near collapse when we took them out of the pan.

The orange and lemon dumplings received a mixed reaction. Someone described the filling as “good comfort food” whilst David preferred the zestiness of the actual lemon and orange casings that held the mixture. We all thought  the dish was somewhat lacking in flavour. On reflection, maybe we hadn’t sweetened the mix enough. As with many other recipes in the Cookbook, there were no quantities to go by – only the vague instruction to add ‘some sugar to taste’.

The dumpling ingredients – sugar, brandy, almonds and citrus – had led us to think of the dish as a dessert, but in fact the Cookbook describes it as an accompaniment for a main course. Perhaps the blandness of the dish was intended to balance the flavour of the richer main course dish. Maybe we missed a trick by tasting the florentine and dumplings one after the other rather than together.  It is possible that eating the two dishes together would have offered us quite a different taste experience.

Tempted to take up the challenge? See our Cooking Up History page for all the recipes our intrepid volunteers have tried to date.

We’d love to know how you get on with these, or any other recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies… Email your photos and findings to archives@westminster.gov.uk, or post a comment on the blog!

[Georgina]

Barley sugar

The perfect traditional sweet treat: barley sugar twists. These candies were originally prepared by boiling sugar in barley-infused water, but here a little lemon essence is the only flavouring.

The sugar is boiled ‘to a crack’, the temperature at which it starts to become brittle. Our unknown ladies record a rather perilous method for checking this point: “dipping your fingers into the sugar and then into cold water, and if you find the sugar to crack in moving your finger, it has boiled enough”. We say, don’t risk burning your fingers – use a sugar thermometer instead to bring the temperature of the boiling sugar between 132ºC and 142ºC. At this, the ‘soft-crack’ stage, the sugar will form stiff but malleable threads, making it perfect for forming your sugar twists.

A nineteenth-century recipe for barley sugar from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A nineteenth-century recipe for barley sugar from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Barley Sugar

Clarify three pounds of refined sugar. Boil it to a crack. Squeeze in a teaspoonful of the juice and four drops of the essence of lemon. Let it boil up once or twice. Set it by for a few minutes. Have ready a marble slab rubbed over with sweet oil. Pour over the sugar. Cut it into long stripes, twist it a little, and keep in a canister from the air.

A puzzle about pikelets

Sometimes the spellings in our Cookbook can cause some confusion. Today’s recipe for “Barrow” pikelets had us scratching our heads for some time. What could it mean? A traditional dish from Barrow-in-Furness? Some reference trading pikelets from barrows or carts?

Finally, it dawned. Our ladies’ “barrow” pikelets have their roots in bara pyglyd  – a Welsh term for a bituminous (sticky) bread. The term was later corrupted to bara-picklet, then bara pikelet, until finally the ‘bara’ fell out of use.

To further confuse matters, ‘pikelet’ is used in different regions and countries to refer to slightly different things – in the North of England pikelets take the form of a  flat, rounded bread with tiny holes, which can be spread with butter. In Australasia, a pikelet is a kind of drop scone or griddle cake.

The pikelet recipe in the Cookbook describes how to prepare something more akin to a crumpet. The dough is cut and moulded into shapes before being cooked on the griddle, creating deeper cakes than the flat, free-form pikelets that are traditional in the northern counties:

"To Make Barrow Pikeletts": an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

‘To Make Barrow Pikeletts’ – an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Barrow Pikeletts

Take a pottle of the finest flower. Add to it the 3 part of a pint of bleachd barm. Work the dough & let it stand half an hour, then cut the cakes into what size you please. Then mould them up & let them stand half an hour before you put them on the gridle & at first have a slow fire, but when you turn them make quick.

Cow heel

Despite the current culinary revival of using offal and cheap cuts of meat, there are some recipes in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies which only the most adventurous of cooks are likely attempt today.

Among these intrepid cooks is historical food expert Annie Gray, who gave nineteenth-century cow heels a try.

A nineteenth-century recipe for fried cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A nineteenth-century recipe for fried cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Cow Heel

This will furnish several good meals. When boiled tender, cut it into handsome pieces. Egg and bread crumb them, fry them a light brown, lay them round a dish and put in the middle sliced onions, fried.

The heel ready for boiling

The heel ready for boiling

Annie boiled the cow’s heel with a little carrot and leek to add flavour to the stock. Once cooked, she chopped the heel into pieces and coated them in breadcrumbs before frying up the whole lot in a deep pan of oil.

Once fried and drained of excess oil, the cow's heel is ready to serve

Once fried and drained of excess oil, the cow’s heel is ready to serve

What did she make of them?

It was not vile. Indeed, at first, they were rather pleasant. I would say that deep fried pigs’ ears, which are beginning to appear more and more on menus now, are better, as they have more crunch. These are a bit more gooey, and you do need to like the taste of cow – pork, I think, is a bit more accessible. As a starter or snack, they’d be great

Annie served her cow’s heel with cream and horseradish – a popular Georgian accompaniment. Alternatively, you could try it with ‘Mr Kelly’s Sauce for Boiled Tripe, Calf Head or Calf Heel’:

Garlick vinegar, a tablespoonful – of mustard, brown sugar & black pepper, a teaspoonful each stirred into half a pint of oiled melted butter.

Like many Georgian and Regency dishes, cow heel was highly economical to prepare. The stock formed when boiling the heel could be used to make jelly, and whole of the boiled heel could then be eaten, skin and all, with no waste.

If you take a liking to cow’s heel, you can even serve it as a sweet dish! In the following eighteenth-century recipe, the boiled heel is finely chopped and added to a fruited suet pudding mix:

Neat’s foot pudding, made with cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Neat’s foot pudding, made with cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Neat Foot Pudding

Let your feet be well boyled. Take half a pound of them chopd small, half a pound of beef shuit, half a pound of currants, four eggs well beatten, some sugar, three or four spoonfulls of flower, salt, sack, brandy and nutmeg. Mix all to gether. An hour will boyle it.

Lemon pudding

In its thin puff pastry case, this lemon pudding would have resembled tarte au citron, only the lemon custard is stiffened with breadcrumbs (the pith of a ha’penny loaf).

Until the 19th century, bread prices were regulated by an assize: an official scale that linked the cost of bread to the price of wheat. The weight of a halfpenny loaf therefore fluctuated over the course of the 18th century.

In 1758, the Lord Mayor of London ruled that a white halfpenny loaf weighed 3 oz 1 drachm. Wheaten bread at the same price weighed 4 oz 10 drachms. Later in the century, poor harvests and the inflation and shortages caused by the French Revolutionary Wars resulted in higher bread prices for Londoners.

Recipe for an eighteenth-century lemon pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for an eighteenth-century lemon pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A lemon pudding

Pare the outward rind of 4 lemons & squeese out all the juice clear. Take the pith of an hapenny loaf, crumble it in half a pint of whit[e] wine, bruse it very well & mix it with your juice & rine, 6 or 8 eggs, half the whites, half a pd of melted butter, half a pd or more of powder sugar. Paste yr dish very thin. A little time bakes it. Take care it dos not scortch.

A surf and turf soup

Oysters, crab and lobster are the stars of this rich stew, which is based on a thick broth of mutton and veal.

To make crab and lobster soup: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To make crab and lobster soup: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Crab & Lobster Soop

Take a neck of mutton & a nuckle of veal. Put them over the fire and make some strong broath with a bunch of time, 2 whole onyons & a little whole pepper. Then take all the fish out of 6 lobsters & as many crabs and put it in the strong broath & let them stew one hour over a slow fire with a pint of clarret. Then, strain yr liquor through a hair sieve, put it over the fire with 4 handfulls of grated bread, about a score of oysters & let them stew all together with a qr of a pnd of fresh butter melted in a little flower, with half a greated nutmeg. So thicken it over the fire then serve it up with a broyled crab in the middle & garnish yr dish with sliced lemon and crabs claws.

Lobsters fished from British waters could be bought more cheaply in the 18th century than they are today, and oysters were also used liberally in the Georgian kitchen.

Mutton and oysters were a celebrated combination of the period. Several Georgian cookery books include a recipe for roast mutton, in which oysters are stuffed into slits in the meat before cooking.