The lavender of London

Last weekend, the Carshalton Lavender fields opened up to the public for their annual harvest fair. Visitors were free to explore three acres of fragrant purple flowers – an unlikely floral haven in the middle of a London borough.

Carshalton's community lavender field in July 2013

Carshalton’s community lavender field in July 2013

The lavender field is at the centre of a community-led project with an impressive vision: to revive the lavender industry in the south-west reaches of Greater London.

Up until the First World War, Mitcham, Sutton and Waddon were host to acre upon acre of blue lavender: a flourishing industry that had grown up from the beginning of the 18th century. The flowers were destined for a variety of uses. Some were cut, dried and sold on the streets of London, while others were sent to the distilleries for the fragrant oil to be extracted.

A lavender seller from William Marshall Craig's prints of 'Itinerant Traders'

A lavender seller at Temple Bar in the early 19th century

In the Victorian era, the Mitcham area became important supplier for cosmetic companies such as Yardley’s. But the flower was also historically prized for its medicinal properties.

Today’s recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is for ‘compound spirit lavender’, a powerful infusion of fresh lavender flowers, brandy and spices. Our unknown ladies don’t indicate what the concoction was to be used for, but lavender was commonly thought to aid recovery from fainting and dizziness. Some even believed that it could help to cure infertility.

18th century method for making compound spirit lavender

18th century method for making compound spirit lavender

To Make Compound Spirit Lavender

Take a quart of lavender flowers, pickd from the stalks, & put them into a q[uar]t of brandy. Cork them close. Put half a pint of brandy into another bottle with the size of two large nutmegs of ginger, a quarter of an ounce of mace bruised, a drachm of cochineal, half a quarter of an ounce of saffron & a quarter of an ounce of cloves, all beaten togather. Let them stand a month or more, then filter them off. Mix them & you may put a little fresh brandy into the bottles to extract the virtue.

As with all the medicinal recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies we’d advise you not to try this at home! But if you’d like to experience a bit of London’s lavender heritage, do take a trip over to Sutton.  Carshalton Lavender will be closed until next year’s harvest, but commercial field Mayfield Lavender will be welcoming visitors until late September…

There’s also a great article on the history of local lavender production on the Sutton Council website. Enjoy!

The Cooking Up History sessions – 3: summer tea party

Our Cooking Up History volunteers returned to the Archives kitchen at the end of June to try out some more recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. And how better to celebrate the onset of summer than with a table laden with lemon creams, Savoy biscuits and a jug of refreshing spring fruit sherbet?

We were all excited about the menu, and pleased to find we were starting to become familiar with the tastes of the Georgian period. As Christina set to work zesting the lemons for our ‘lemmond cream’, she remarked how popular citrus seemed to be with the Cookbook’s compilers. In the early part of the 18th century oranges and lemons were still relatively expensive, and it is unlikely that our unknown ladies had their own orangery or glass-house where the fruits could be grown. We can only assume that their household brought in enough income to allow them the luxury of lemons in their puddings! 

Christina zests the lemons for our "lemmond cream"

Christina zests the lemons for our “lemmond cream”

“Lemmond Cream”

Our first recipe sounded rather appetising: a refreshing mix of lemons, sugar and eggs would go into making our Lemmond Cream. It was quick and easy to make up the mixture, although we all observed that it took much longer to thicken on the heat than we’d anticipated. Perhaps this was a touch of 21st century impatience coming into play?

Thickening up the lemon cream on the hob

Thickening up the lemon cream on the hob

The end result was a sweet-smelling and “extremely strongly flavoured” dish which defied all the expectations the name had given us. A splash of orange flower water lent the creams a highly-perfumed flavour, but the appearance was rather less appealing. We’d all expected a light creamy colour, but they actually turned out a rather lurid yellowy brown!  Maybe the long process of thickening the mixture on the stove had led to the sugar caramelising a bit. The texture looked a little grainy but was in fact very smooth to the taste.

Our lemon creams!

Our “lemmond cream”!

On balance, we all quite liked the creams, but a few felt the flavours were a little on the over-powering side. David, on the other hand, could have done with even more of a punch: he felt that by straining the mixture and removing the zest we’d lost a strong element of our ingredients, which could have provided added layers of extra texture and taste.

“Spring Fruit Sherbet”

Kim had prepared the Spring fruit sherbet earlier on in the day: an infusion of rhubarb, water, lemon and sugar syrup. It had been cooling in the fridge for some five hours by the time we came to try it.

The spring fruit sherbet went down well with some...

The spring fruit sherbet went down well with some…

Everyone admired the pretty pink colour of the drink – a bit like pink lemonade or a summery Pimm’s punch – but its taste really divided opinion. Some were extremely keen. Georgina felt the blend quite purifying whilst David claimed it to be ‘very tart’ – not necessarily a bad feature in David’s opinion! And Kim was at the other end of the scale, needing to add extra sugar to her glass as it was far too bitter for her. Angela stood somewhere in the middle on all this, finding it not bad at all, but wondering whether a more dilute version might be better.

“Savoy Biscuitts”

The Savoy biscuits were the highlight of our afternoon’s cookery escapades.

Dropping the Savoy biscuit batter on to the prepared trays

Placing the Savoy biscuit batter on the floured trays

The method was easy to follow. David commented that these biscuits seemed likely to have been made in large volumes, although following the extremely lengthy whisking of our eggs we questioned how easy this method would have been for a greater quantity in a Georgian household. Today we would normally have resorted to an electric beater but perseverance by Angela and a fork eventually paid off to give us the desired soft peaks!

Angela drew the short straw of whisking the egg whites

Angela drew the short straw of whisking the egg whites and sugar

The biscuits took 20 minutes in our electric oven and were very aesthetically pleasing, with a light brown colour. This, combined with the soft and slightly chewy meringue texture, meant they went down really well with all of the team.

The recipe specified that these biscuits would be “proper with tea in an afternoon” and so we popped the kettle on and enjoyed a good brew. A relief to Kim, who had been less than keen on the spring fruit sherbet!

Savoy biscuits, lemon creams and spring fruit sherbet: our Georgian-style spread!

Savoy biscuits, lemon creams and spring fruit sherbet: our Georgian-style spread!

What a lovely afternoon! David and Christina both commented how well everything had turned out, and what a nice spread it had been. A proper summer tea, which was certainly well-deserved by our Cooking Up History team!

"Cheers to a wonderful afternoon!" Our Cooking Up History group raise a toast with a glass of rhubarb sherbet

“Cheers to a wonderful afternoon!” Our Cooking Up History group raise a toast with a glass of rhubarb sherbet

Fancy having a go at these recipes at home? Visit our Cooking Up History section for all the details!

Oysters for everyone!

Oysters today are considered a delicacy and the reserve of the rich. Back in the 18th century however, they were served up liberally and savoured by all levels of society. London’s many shellfish shops often offered an ‘oyster room’ where their wares could be sampled on site, and oyster-men did the rounds of the city’s theatres and public houses, selling produce from the oyster-beds of the Kent and Essex coasts. The shores of the Thames are still littered with oyster shells, discarded by Georgian Londoners at a time when the shellfish were considered fast, cheap food.

Whitstable is a fishing town that has that supplied the London markets for centuries. This weekend, hosts of Londoners will be making the journey over to Whitstable harbour for the start of the town’s annual Oyster Festival. It seems a fitting occasion to explore a couple of oyster dishes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

The recipes below each call for a hundred oysters, making them expensive dishes by today’s standards! While our unknown ladies’ oyster loaves recipe sees each crusty roll stuffed with 16 of the shellfish, Paul Hollywood’s modern version on the BBC website is scaled down to suit 21st century wallets.

 

This 18th century recipe for oyster loaves calls for 100 oysters!

This 18th century recipe for oyster loaves calls for 100 oysters!

To Make Oyster Loaves

Take half a dozen of French roules, cut of the top of the crust about the breadth of a shilling piece and scoop out all the crum and be sure not to breake the crust. Then take a hundred of oysters, open them and wash them very well in […] their own liquor. Then take the oysters and some crums of bread and two spoonfulls of their own liquor and a bout half a pint of white wine. Take some mace and cloves and a little nutmeg and pound them in a morter and put all these in your sause pan and stir them all together. When you find your oysters prity well stued, then take three prints of butter drawn very thick, put into your oysters. Take your Frensh roules and fry them in fresh butter, very crisp. Then put your oysters into them. Then put on the tops which you cutt of and keep them very hot till you serve them up.

Our second recipe is for an ‘oyester pye’. This is a hearty dish: oysters, sweetbreads, boiled eggs and chestnuts are just a few of the ingredients:

Extract from an 18th century recipe for "oyester pye" from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Extract from an 18th century recipe for “oyester pye” from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An Oyester Pye

Take an hundred of the largest oysters you can get. Wash them, when opend, in […] warm water. Strain all ther own liquor and put ye water yow wash ye oysters in likewise. Cut two large sweet breads in small bits. Have an half hundred bouled chesnuts peeled, six yolks off hard eggs, two anchovys shred, some lumps of whole marrow. Intermix all these in ye pye. Pour on ye liquor & a water glass full of white wine. Fill ye pye with what liquor it wants, with greawy. If you have not marrow, put in butter. Seasone it with salt, mace and cloves.

Pickling the pick of the cauliflower crop

“Take the whitest and choicest collyflowers…”

For Georgian cooks, pickling was an important way of preserving the best of the season’s produce. We may now have the luxury of freezers, but gardeners and allotment owners with an abundance of produce still know the value of pickling!

In today’s recipe, the pick of the cauliflower crop is parboiled in milk and water before being bottled with a mix of vinegar, cloves, nutmeg, mace and black pepper.

Why not give this cauliflower pickle a try? It would work well as an antipasto, or make a tasty side dish at your next curry night!

A pickle of cauliflowers: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A pickle of cauliflowers: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Pickle Collyflowers

Take the whitest & choicest collyflowers you can. Cutt them the length of yr finger from the stalk. Boyle them a very little in a cloth in milk & water but not till they are tender. Then let them cool. Then take vinigar, cloves, mace & nutmeg grated, some whole pepper. Let these boyle together. When cold, put in the collyflowers, cover it close. They are a pickle. Will keep but a very little while with a colour.

Variations on a bread-and-butter pudding

These two variations on a bread-and-butter pudding are economical to prepare, comforting to eat, and could easily be jazzed up to make a eye-catching table piece when guests were around: perfect Regency fare.

Both of today’s recipes were borrowed by our ‘unknown ladies’ from Dr William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle.

This recipe for Newmarket pudding was transcribed by the Cookbook’s compilers from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

This recipe for Newmarket pudding was transcribed by the Cookbook’s compilers from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

Newmarket Pudding

Put on to boil a pint of good milk with half a lemon peel, a little cinnamon and a bay leaf. Boil gently for five or ten minutes. Sweeten with loaf sugar. Break the yolks of five and the whites of three eggs into a basin. Beat them well and add the milk. Beat in well together and strain through a tammis. Have some bread & butter cut very thin. Lay a layer of it in a pie dish and then a layer of currants & so on till the dish is near full. Then pour the custard over and bake ½ hour.

Kitchiner's recipe for a cabinet pudding, as transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Kitchiner’s recipe for a cabinet pudding, as transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Newcastle or Cabinet Pudding

Butter a quart basin and stick all round with dried cherries or fine raisins and fill up with bread & butter &c as in the above and steam it an hour & a half.

Although bread puddings have been eaten by the British for many centuries, it was Dr William Kitchiner who popularised the particular variation known as ‘cabinet pudding’ when it appeared  in his popular cookery manual The Cook’s Oracle.

Several decades later Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) included an upmarket variation on the original ‘plain’ cabinet pudding, substituting the bread-and-butter for layers of sponge. In this new guise, the popularity of cabinet pudding extended long into the Victorian age. It was frequently presented at dinner parties with an elaborate decoration of jewel-like candied fruits, and the sponge was sometimes soaked in liqueur for that added touch of luxury.

But Dr Kitchiner’s bread-and-butter has never gone away. It was widely eaten 1930s as a wholesome and tasty dish that respected the financial constraints of the Depression-era home.

The cabinet pudding continues to fluctuate between these two identities : refined sponge versus simple but satisfying bread and butter. Both are delicious, so the choice is yours…

Cheese-less cheesecake

Almond cheesecakes such as these may well have drawn in the punters at the popular Hyde Park ‘Cheesecake House’. The recipes yield quite different results from the American-style baked cheesecakes we are familiar with today – the first produces a fragrant kind of  frangipane, and the second a pastry tart with a dense and buttery sweet almond filling.

Neither of today’s recipes have complete instructions (both miss out the baking stage), but if you fancy a go at Georgian cheesecake, you can find an adapted recipe in our Cooking Up History section.

A recipe for almond chese cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A recipe for almond chese cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Almond Chese Cakes

Take half a pd of Jordon almonds. Pound them with rose water, but not to mash. The yolks of 5 eggs well beat with half a pd of loaf sugar pounded, a qr of a pd of butter drawn thick, prity cool. When in, 3 spoonfulls of orange flower water. Take care the almonds bent the least oyled in pounding. Mix all the ingredients well together. Ye allmond cheese cakes.

The bitter almonds and ratifia in our second recipe should be avoided if you value your health, as they can lead to cyanide poisoning. Ground almonds from the supermarket and almond essence are perfectly fine and much safer substitutes!

Another recipe for cheese cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Another recipe for cheese cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Cheese Cakes

Take half a pound of sugr well dried, pounded & sifted, half a pound of Jordon almonds, with a few bitter almonds among them, pounded but not to fine, the yolks of eight eggs. Beat your eggs & sugr well to gather before you put in the almonds. When near going into the oven, put in a little brandy and a cup of sweet cream. Drudge them well with sugar as you fill them. Wet your almonds when pounding with with a little ratifie or rose water. Keep out part of the sugar for drudging them or they will be too sweet. The paste for cheese cakes must be made with half a pound of butter and half a pound of flower.

Check out our adapted recipe for Georgian almond cheesecakes, and let us know how you get on with making them up in your own kitchen! Leave comments here on the blog or send your photos and findings into us at archives@westminster.gov.uk!

The story of Hyde Park cheesecake house

Hyde Park has long been famous as a place for Londoners to gather and enjoy themselves. The park was London’s playground back in the 18th century, just as it is today. People would promenade in a circle of trees in the north of the park known as ‘The Ring’ taking a leisurely walk or riding their horses. It was the fashionable place to be seen, in your best outfit with your friends.

Hyde Park was the place to be and be seen for Georgian Londoners. This view of 1804 shows the park on a Sunday.

Hyde Park was the place to be and be seen for Georgian Londoners. This view from 1804 shows the park on a Sunday.

Another attraction for the Georgian Londoner were the Park’s refreshment rooms. Samuel Pepys spoke of a lodge in the middle of the park that served cheesecakes and other delicacies. It was known by lots of different names including the Cheesecake House, the Cake House, the Mince-Pie House, the Keeper’s Lodge and Price’s Lodge (Gervase Price being the chief keeper in its early years).

The Hyde Park Cheesecake House sketched in 1776.

The Hyde Park Cheesecake House sketched in 1776.

The Cheesecake House is thought to have been a timber and plaster building near the Serpentine, that was accessed over the water via a small footbridge. An investigation by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in 1993 found no trace of the building but we know it existed from many drawings and paintings.

Depiction of the Hyde Park Cheesecake House by artist W. H. Knight (1823-1863)

Depiction of the Hyde Park Cheesecake House by artist W. H. Knight (1823-1863)

There are also several references to the house in literature, including this extract from Howard’s English Monsieur (1674):

Nay tis no London female; she’s a thing that never saw a cheesecake, a tart, or a syllabub at the Lodge in Hyde Park

The Cheesecake House was such a feature of London life, you wouldn’t be considered a Londoner unless you’d enjoyed the refreshments on sale at this Hyde Park lodge.

So that’s a bit about the building and its business. But what did the famous cheesecakes taste like?

In the next Cookbook of Unknown Ladies article we’ll be taking a look at an 18th century cheesecake recipe…

[Jo]